Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Black Pearl #4

Luke Out! The joke(r) is on us, this time.

What do I do about Mark Hamill?

I've said before how much his performance in Star Wars meant to the young, impressionable me. How I identified with his character on a very foundational level. His performance led to a lot of that. Hamill made Luke relatable, he played his lines with the right mix of youthful passion and allowed the 11 year old me to tap into Skywalker on a personal level. Had it been someone more cocksure, the effect wouldn't have been the same.

Years later when I found out he was a fan of comics, I was doubly excited. It confirmed that he was one of "us", the generation of kids that grew up having our world shaped by four-color heroes and tales of daring-do. Then his phenomenal work as the Joker in Bruce Timm's Batman series added to that (not to mention his brief appearance on TV's original Flash show as The Trickster) and I knew we had an ally that was a Hollywood insider.

I mean, sure Nicholas Cage likes comics, but let's be honest here, Nic Cage seems kinda "loco in la cabeza."

But Hamill is one of us.

So much one of us that in 1996 he did the thing many of us dreamed of doing as kids: write a comic book. Hamill's vision came to life with some help from Hamill's cousin Eric Johnson on the scripting chores and Serbian artist and heavy metal drummer H. M. Baker on pencils and the duo of Bruce Patterson and Dan Schaeffer on inking duties. And it is his book. He claims it. It says his name right on the cover.

It is a book that came to life in the same way Frankenstein's monster did...creepy and unsatisfying and occasionally murderous.

This issue is an uneven tale that highlights a vigilante's activities. It contains one panel of a topless woman. In an otherwise standard story we have a picture of boobies thrust in our face when we least expect it. It is so glaring that I point it out first because it doesn't match the tone of the rest of the book. 

As stories go, it's not great, by anyone's shakes. There are about three plots going on that look like they are working toward an intersecting wrap up in the next issue. And it doesn't help that it feels like it is doing what a low-budget, B-grade horror moving would do to garner attention: throw in a scene of a busty co-ed taking her top off.

The book was traded the following year and, as if Dark Horse realized its mistake, all the nudity and any over the top language was "remastered" out of existence, moving the title from an "R" to a much toned down "PG-13."

Hamill wanted to use the book as a springboard for a movie and it does appear to have had many deals at various times for a film adaptation, all of which have lapsed due to unspecificed reasons. Hamill has stated a desire to keep the production small and to helm it himself. The last project update was over six years ago. With his "Force Awakens" funds and any from the  sequels that surely are to follow, he definitely will have the budget to do this now, if he wants. 

Only time will tell if we get a Black Pearl movie.

But movie or no, rating of 18+ or not, what we DID get was a comic series. What I can tell you coming in at issue 4 of a 5 issue mini series is that there are NO catchup panels. As a jumping on point, I felt like I had been standing still by the side of the railroad tracks with my arm stretched out when I suddenly hooked the handle on the side of a bullet train already in motion.

We start here, with three people fleeing from The Black Pearl. They are (and I had to look this up, there isn't a clue where this book is beginning in the actual comic) Tina, a blonde ex-pornstar who was saved by the Black Pearl in the first issue; Andy, her preteen son; and Frank, a tabloid journalist in search of a story on the masked vigilante.

They are running away because it appears to them that the Black Pearl murdered Tina's roommate Rhonda. Unknown to them Black Pearl is actually a prosecutor named Luther Drake. Even though he thwarted Tina's abduction by unknown assailants in issue 1, it seems likely that Pearl has some kind of sick designs on Tina. I'm getting ahead of myself though.

Here note that the Black Pearl is running away from the scene in white poka-dotted briefs. He does this a lot. Like that’s his secret identity: man fleeing scene in underwear and trench coat.

Meanwhile Tina is caught by the investigative skills of her new rescuer, Frank. It appears she was underage in those pornos and could have blown the lid off of a gangster's empire, except she was pregnant and cut out before the cops could pin her down. Now she is worried the Black Pearl may be a mob enforcer.

He's not, but more on that later.

For now the book turns to our half-naked superhero as he watches the impact of his exploits. On a lark he rescued Tina. Since then he has taken on a drug lord's operation and given the money to a group of neighborhood "white knights". The news runs a story of them changing their group moniker to "The Pearl Patrol" and they are using the funds to open a homeless center and free daycare. 

The next news story up is a piece about how the crime riddled neighborhood is learning self-defense techniques to because of the Pearl's example in an effort to take back the streets from crime. Then these people get a moment on camera

And all of this ends up burning two pages in long, drawn out exposition as newscasters spoon feed the audience the idea that no matter his motives, the Pearl has had a positive outcome on the entire city. Once you turn the page and think it is over, the next sub-plot comes barreling in.

Now we have two pages of Jerry Delman, a local "shock jock" who has made a name for himself using the Black Pearl to boost his ratings. He is getting fired because …. His station doesn't like high ratings? I guess? No clue on this one and Mark/Eric aren't dropping any hints. Anyway, Delman is plotting a big shindig at the beach, which is where all these storylines appear to be heading as the grand finale.

And it is right about here that I want to stop and state something for the record. In the words of the immortal Joe Bob Briggs, the drive-in movie critic from Dallas, Texas, there is just "way too much plot getting in the way of the story here."

By that I mean the shock jock side trip introduces three characters to the story. With very little background from prior issues, the preceding two pages had a good half-dozen more, some with enough "screen time" for me to think they might be important to the plot later.  Add in our three runaways from the beginning, not to mention the title character…AND we haven't even introduced any of the actual bad guys he is supposed to fight....

It's all too much. The story is starting to get muddled in all these details that may or may not have any payoff. We get characters jumping in for one panel that have a HUGE deal of exposition and when that happens we invest a little in them being a part of this larger story…yet in hindsight by issues end, they don't appear to have anything but walk on parts. The important thing about storytelling is to only introduce elements that have a purpose. Throwing everything out there so it seems like "real life" rarely works. Mostly what it does is distract your audience from the plots you are building and the rising action you are attempting to create.

Things get back on track after two more pages on Delman and his beach event. There is ONE panel here with nudity on it where Delman is looking at two models in swimsuits. One has a two piece bikini on and the other just the bikini shorts. He makes a comment about "This is great! We'll have shirts vs skins volleyball!" He's speaking of the beach event he has planned to jumpstart his stalling career.

The panel is just pandering and shouldn't be in the book. It feels gratuitous and unnecessary. And no, I'm not showing it to you. There's plenty of that on the internet already. Go re-read a review where the nudity is art not exploitation.

Anywho, the main character decides to rob another mob person in a setup that takes one panel of exposition. The Black Pearl sees them inside their mansion using heat vision goggles and hears through his sophisticated spy something from outside the mobster's compound, neither of which devices seem plausible that they actually WORK that way, but whatever. He knows they have loot to purloin.

So on to three pages of ACTION!

First he slides over to the house.

In the words of Agent 86: "Missed it by THAT much!"

So now he has to deal with a guard dog. When all of a sudden he pulls out…

Now where have I seen that little item before? Oh, yeah! In Jurassic Park Raptor #2! It's that insanely powerful knockout aerosol spray. I need to get me some of those in case I'm attacked by guard dogs or velociraptors.

With the dogs out of the way, the Black Pearl uses his sophisticated AMEX card technology to jimmy open the door…only to find the safe holding the valuables being guarded by a guy asleep in a nice comfy chair.
That safe is easy pickings to a guy with a doctor's stethoscope. For his trouble, the Pearl literally bags a load of jewelry. Now using his stealth powers he proceeds to….

Step on his own…


Right Edna.

…and fall right onto the sleeping mobster, waking him up.

The Pearl tries to beat a hasty retreat, but that's not happening.

Looks like this guy wants The Pearl to sleep with the fishes.

Or maybe he just hates fish. Either way, he's out to kill Pearl.

Peal has other ideas and a half-full can of "Roofie spray." The experience leaves Pearl a bit worse for wear however and ends up pinned.
Story shifts gears (or slips out of them) and we jump back to Frank, our investigative journalist and Tina the following morning. Seems his PI friend has found out that the Black Pearl's identity as he catches him disposing of half-burned pictures of Tina taken without her knowledge. Yeah, our hero appears to actually be a stalker/creepier and the end game that plays out here will confirm that.

Anyway, back to Pearly-boy, who has just woken up still pinned under the bulk of the tough he was robbing. As he rolls tubbo off of himself and gets a good look at his messed up kisser in the mirror he realizes he needs to get out of there. He retreats from the mansion with his ill-gotten gains, but note that again he runs out in his FREAKIN' UNDERWEAR!

What is it with this guy? I mean surely he could just take off his mask and walk out in his pants and shirt, right? Why strip down to your skives after every night of super-heroing? Makes zero sense. Unless that's some sick turn-on of yours or something.

Which, with all we are about to learn concerning our night-vision goggled marvel, may be the case. So Frank breaks into his place and is a bit shocked at what he finds. For those youngsters in the audience I'll explain that those are VHS tapes containing porn. It's what we used to watch before it was free. Also you youngsters should really read my blog instead of watching porn. 

Looks like Pearl is burning them and the why isn't because he's found religion. More like he found a telescope and a good vantage into Tina's apartment. Also possibly a stalker-like tendency.

WOAH! A HUGE obsessive stalker-like tendency.

That could almost could be RELIGIOUS. So our titular hero turns out to be a creepy perverted nutjob. *shrug* I mean, it's not like hanging around in cave all day with a teenage boy while dressing up like an animal isn't somehow socially acceptable in superhero circles.

Sadly Frank doesn't get a chance to call the cops as Pearl-bailey gets the drop on him. Frank is tranked and out for the count for a bit. I don't know about the "friend bit" but I'm pretty sure friends don't do this to each other.

As he puts a very "Black Pearl" like mask on Frank, the starts monologuing in a very "I'm psycho" kind of way.

Remember folks, THIS is the hero of the book. The guy whose name is across the top of the masthead. I don't know where to go with this. I liked him better when he didn't speak but just ran around in public in his underwear.
Two cops show up and Pearl-crazy convinces them to help him carry the doped up reporter in the closed box to their car where they give him a lift, no questions asked...a lift to the beach...where Delman's big shindig is scheduled to occur.
And that's where the issue ends. I can't fault it for building up suspense. I mean, if you enjoyed issues 1-4, with a build up like this you HAD to see what happened in issue 5.

I can, however, take points off for telling a superhero story about a guy who doesn't appear to be an actual hero. Or even likeable. Frank is the closest thing we have to a likable protagonist, but his long-term prospects don't look good at this point.

I wonder if Hamill is still trying to get this made into a movie? With the current glut of superhero flicks out there, it wouldn't surprise me. And as I stated, those Star Wars sequel checks have to get spent on something. I asked Mark about it but his reaction was pretty much what I expected.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Fairer Sex, Part XVII: MaxiMage #6

Always StayFree and Ultra Thin, MaxiMage!

In 1995, Image tried to hop on the Sorceress Supreme wagon with their own take on a mystical superhero. The result of this decision was MaxiMage, a Liefield concept that was to last a scant seven (some sources say ten, but those sources don’t provide pictures) issues before being dispelled. Tell me I’m not the only one who reads the title and thinks someone was playing around with Max (as in Maximum) Image?

Eric Stephenson began as the scripter on the book, a position that he wisely vacated to make way for William Messner-Lobes. Stephenson made a much smarter move to work in the background of Image, and in 2008, made the jump from Executive Director to Publisher of the whole ball of wax. He filled the shoes of the departing Erik Larsen. 

Issue 6 that I hold in my sticky little hands is a mixed-up tale if ever there was one. 

I was always fond of Messner-Loebs due to his work on the relaunched Flash series that brought Wally West to fame. It is also hard to kick a guy like Bill since he’s a talented writer and artist even though he only has one arm. Messner-Loebs right arm was amputated in infancy due to a cancerous tumor. I can’t spare MM#6 just because the writer has a physical disability, however. I never spared writers of other works when they have obvious mental disabilities, so no one catches a break. Sorry, Bill.

As our issue opens, we find MaxiMage and her mentor, The Ancient, hiding out in their subterranean lair. Earning a mark under the category of “Crap I wouldn’t believe I’d ever see in a comic”, MaxiMage is shown petting her companion Sluggsy, a giant glob of green snot with the head of a dog wearing goofy antenna. Take a look for yourself.

Why are they hiding, you may ask. Is it because Animal Control doesn’t take to huge dog-headed plies of sentient lime jello? Perhaps that’s partially the reason, but the main cause of their concealment is that The Ancient has the embarrassing habit of turning anyone he touches into a piece of hard rock candy. I think he’s also worried about MaxiMage’s propensity for public nudity.

I might be wrong on the public nudity part. It’s hard to interpret what The Ancient means here. He must have something against prostitution however, as he sends MaxiMage the “hundreds of feet” to the surface to stop a “transaction”.

So the super heroine prevents this "John" from getting his jollys off and costs the ho half a c-note. Justice has prevailed! Okay, so the John does pull a gun on them both and demand his pussy. MaxiMage uses her power to zap  the guy to Antarctica. Looks like not only his balls will be blue in color. 
And speaking of blue in color, a magical blue hologram of The Ancient appears telling MaxiMage that she screwed up.

Oh, crap! She was suppose to protect the gun wielding John from the lethal infestation of genital herpes that the prostitute is carrying! Well no, not really. Maxi was suppose to help save this distraught scientist guy who’s threatening to smash a vial containing a newly-created vaccine. Why would he do that?

Awww. He just misses his mommy.

Course he’s also bat-shit insane from overwork and lack of sleep. When MaxiMage appears he flips his wig even further. 

It’s about here that the story starts to get in the way of the plot. This nut case will become MaxiMage’s project for the remainder of the issue. She takes it upon herself to save basket case boy from himself. But first she needs to save that vaccine, which he tosses in hopes of shattering. Maxi does her best Michael Irvin impression (no, not snorting cocaine) and saves it. Only then does she notice something.

Ooops! Boy is his face red. If that vial had busted it would also be covered in fluid filled blisters. But MaxiMage saved him and everyone in a three county area. So of course our scientist is remorseful and does what anyone would do: grab one of the police officer’s guns while claiming that no one there deserves to be alive and waving it around. Maxi disintegrates him.

What she really does is teleport him away so the cops don’t plug him. My thoughts are she should have let them put the guy down. Either way everyone reacts like she poofed our insane chemist to death. The dialogue in this book is almost as wacky as the story. That “sword of mystic blah-dee-blah” line is just so out of place. Who talks like that? And if you think the story isn’t wacky, just hold on to your hats.

Dwayne, our mixed up scientist ends up in a park in west Hollywood. Maxi shows up in her civilian identity and convinces him to drop the gun. A pair of homeless guys in the park get involved in their conversation because Dwayne can’t keep it together. Lori (MaxiMage) had an awful relationship with her alcoholic mom and decides to help poor Dwayne by bringing his dead mother back to life. 

Watch that flick of the wrist up there because that’s when this book goes off the deep end.

You’re seeing that correctly: Dwayne’s mom comes back as a giant praying mantis that can talk and wears a pink poka-dotted kitchen apron. At least you can say the book isn’t predictable. In fact, I have no idea where this book is going next.

Why didn’t our sorceress bring Dwayne’s mom back as a person? I have not a clue. She seems as mystified as I do. Not only that but she can’t get rid of her either. Nor does Dwayne want her to. Maxi gets a bit testy and then everybody goes and gets hot dogs. Including the giant talking praying mantis wearing a frilly apron. See, I told you this book was going to veer into uncharted waters.

Maybe this is some kind of metaphorical way for Lori to deal with her own mother’s neglect and absence is the best excuse I can come up with. Lori’s mom bugged her, and that’s the template she’s drawing from here. A mother figure in her mind is seen as a pest that will eat its own mate. That’s why she created Dwayne’s mother in that form. And then they eat hot dogs. And the hot dogs symbolize…yeah, I got nothing here. 

Anyway, while they are all chowing down on the franks, Lori has this long extended flashback to her own mother, who was a worthless alcoholic who ruined every second of Lori’s childhood. Ahh, those were the good ole days. Days that didn’t include lunching with smelly bums and giant bugs.

And somehow these flashbacks lead Lori to wander with this group to the neighborhood where she last heard from her Mother, which conveniently is located a mere panel boarder away. It’s like she wasn’t even thinking of going there either. It’s just “Whoops, here we are at the last address where my Mother lived, who I just happened to be thinking and talking about.” Then suddenly they are accosted by gang members, who are not dissuaded by a giant flesh-eating insect. Very ballsy gangmembers, is all I’ve got to say.

Lori has the Earth split open and swallow the Russian mafia gangstas then proceeds to barrel headfirst into their hideout. What she finds is their leaders who are harboring a big chained up mutant guy. They sic him on Lori, now in her MaxiMage outfit. When suddenly muscle-mutant turns on his captors and beats them senseless. Why?

I wasn’t sure when they attacked the group walking around with the 20-foot tall preying mantis in it, but I am now. These guys are complete idiots. Maxi does find her mother upstairs, half-dressed and drunk off her ass. That’s where the issue ends, but the next issue teaser takes the cake. It’s called “Sex Slaves of Bomba Island”. Sadly that doozy of a title didn’t keep MaxiMage on the shelves nor did it find it's way into my clutches.

So the issue is all the way off the rails, but in an entertaining way. If you are doing shrooms or want the comicbook equivalent of doing shrooms, I highly recommend it.