Friday, February 27, 2015

Of Myths and Men #2

Which way did the plot go George, which way did it go.

Of Myths and Men had a two issue run at Blackthorne publishing, before being tossed on the scrap heap. One look at the cover and you’ll see that they are obviously trying to grab some readers by knocking off Robert Lynn Asprin’s popular MythAdventure series right down to the artist copying Phil Foglio’s distinctive style of drawing. The book came out at the right time to be picked up by the easily misdirected too, as the MythAdventures books were serialized in the mid-80’s by WaRP Graphics and traded a few years later. This book’s debut was 1987. What kind of a company would stoop to publishing a book like this one?

Blackthorne Publishing came about after the breakup of Pacific Comics. The brainchild of Bill and Steve Schanes, Blackthorne was named after the street Steve lived on. It originally published cost effective comic reprints of things like Dick Tracy and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Many of these titles were over a quarter of a century old and in the public domain when Blackthorne put them out. The money garnered from these titles allowed the small publishing shop to branch out into 3D titles and original series. Legal loopholes allowed them to put out 3D titles for properties held by Marvel, like a successful Star Wars 3D series, by creating a new product category that the licensing contracts didn’t cover. The creator-driven black and white comics were a very mixed bag, but mostly low quality rip-offs of current trends. An example would be TMNT clone Pre-Teen Dirty Jean Kung Fu Kangaroos. Or this issue of Of Myths and Men.

The book is broken up into three stories. There are no ads to detract from them which is unfortunate. Art like this needs as much distraction and diversion as you can get. All three stories are drawn and written by Timothy J. Tobolski. The first is a superhero story with five characters who each gain the power of one element or plant control. The second is a occult superhero story. And the third is…well, it’s hard to describe what the third is. I’m sure it’s meant to be a superhero parody, but the plot is completely missing, the art so poor none of the characters are distinct from one another and they keep changing into outfits of better known heroes so they lose whatever individuality they might have started out with anyway. In short: the third story is a mess. A gawd-awful, “why am I still reading this?”, “wait, start back over at the beginning and maybe it’ll make sense this time”, “I’ve read it four times now and it still makes no sense” M E S S!

Let’s start with story number one and work our way to the chaos. The five person superhero story is called “Power in Numbers”. This is the setup for our heroes and stories to come. I’m giving away the mystery right now, the fifth hero’s power is plant control. Note that none of these guys have actual names and if you blink you’ll miss their superhero handles.

Nor do they have really defined sexes. I can’t tell how many are girls and how many are guys. They all have metrosexual hairstyles and their torso’s are so ill-defined that what I’m mistaking for pecks in one picture looks suspiciously like breasts in another. Without names and with ambiguous sexual characteristics, we have nothing but dialogue to flesh out the characters. And dialogue in this book appears to have been written by a middle-schooler. I love the way he introduces the villains.

The “Revered One” will even give up his 1978 Scooby Doo lunch pail with matching thermos for those powers. He’s that committed. The writer has a horrible habit of repeating himself at this point. Horrible. I don’t think that could ever get annoying. Ever! Horrible! Aaaah, it’s contagious.

Super hero conflict goes something like this: lame villain tries one trick on super hero. Super hero deflects attack and incapacitates villain. No back and forth and barely a hint of dialogue, none of it as witty as the writer thinks it is. Here’s a sample:

“…a broad with guts” must mean that “Drip” is a she. That dialogue sure is snazzy too. I really like the villain’s power though. Projectile hands are really useful. Like when you need a beer but are too lazy to get off the couch. Just shoot one into the kitchen to bring back the brewski. Niiice! In this situation, however, the hand thing doesn’t work so well.

And if the bitch-slapping they are getting here wasn’t bad enough, the fifth member shows up riding a giant vine and wraps them all up. Again not sure if it’s a man or woman, but he/she pats the big rocky guy and calls him “my love”. These characters are so crudely drawn that even Pat Robertson couldn’t figure out if that panel shows gay love or not. I’m kinda wondering if the artist/creator didn’t draw them that way on purpose because he hadn’t decided himself what sex to make them.

The heroes smash the loser villains who “never disappoint a paying customer. Never.” through the roof and proceed to begin talking to themselves. I can only assume that’s what they are doing since no combination of the text bubbles will make a coherent conversation.

See what passes for dialogue in this book. Wait, it gets worse in the other stories. However, to wrap this one up we end with the heroes being zapped away. Not for good, I’m afraid. They appear to be crossing over next issue with Kelly Darklighter, the star of our second story. Kelly is sort of a low-rent Dr Strange. How is Kelly’s story you might ask? It’s even less entertaining. Kelly is called by his faithful pet/associate Stonehenge (and by called I mean called via telephone) to check out a magician who appeared in an alley. The magician appears addled and cast a few spells at Kelly. Kelly pulls out test tubes and uncorks them to counter the spells and to cast one of his own. The magician breaks free and then summons “the fury of the elements unleashed” which leads to the five heroes from our first story appearing. Out of the three stories this was possibly the easiest to follow. Not enjoyable, mind you, but straightforward enough for one to come away knowing what happened. Not so with story number three.

Story number three starts out with a Superman origin homage with the twist being that Krypton is actually a bee hive about to be fumigated and the baby bee shot from it lands near some ants. It looks like a fairly easy to follow parody beginning and I’ll admit that it had me anticipating an enjoyable tale. Then what appears to be five other stories intersected it and blow those thoughts all to hell. Here’s the title page to this mess.

See this guy. I have no idea who he is. Nor will I after I’ve read the entire 12 page story. I guess his name is Teeja, as a few of the other characters mention that name in an offhand way. Appears he’s ultra powerful and can grant wishes or something. Well you have four other superhero guys in the story who Teeja decides need to be taught a lesson. So he turns them into random characters from other comic books. Sounds like an ok story idea, right.

Let me show you why it’s not. 

Combine the lackluster art, the clich├ęd dialogue and the inability of any reader to distinguish one character from another and you end up not knowing who is who. Think about it this way: imagine reading a Marvel mutant book, but instead of drawing Cyclops, Rogue, Storm etc. the same way each panel, the artist decided to completely change their outfits every page. Not just that, the writer decides to change their powers every two pages too. And then imagine that none of the characters actually address one another by name or superhero handle, they just shout things out to the room in general, adding to the confusion. To top all this off, break both the artist’s hands, so he has to draw with his feet or mouth and fire the colorist. Ta-Daa. You now have the Of Myths and Men experience.

I’ve read this story about five times now, and I have no clue what happens. The characters get wishes, then they change outfits a half dozen times, then one of them called The Bulk tries to swat our superfly with a flyswatter only to get flipped, then they let the fly join them as they form a detective agency. I’ve never read a comic before where I don’t remember even one of the character’s names in it. Hell, I think one of the names is even printed on the cover. When this came out, audiences thought it was completely forgettable too. OMAM lasted a scant 2 issues and then became the stuff of legends. Really confusing unmemorable legends.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rayne #4

A fantasy concept that the publisher should have said “neigh” to.

Rayne is a sword and sorcery tale with a twist. In Rayne’s world all the characters are portrayed by anthropomorphized animals. This was possibly an attempt at cashing in on the TMNT popularity of the times. Needless to say, this book took a wrong turn in its execution. The villains in this issue are bird-men, a rat-man and a large man-cockroach.

The worst thing about evil bird-men is that they aim. Think about it. 

Who are our heroes, then? Why Rayne and Dohr.

Whoa there, Rayne and Dohr are horse-people! Rayne is clad in a sexy mid-drift and cleavage-baring barbarian bikini. Ewww. I will agree that this character idea hasn’t been tried before. There’s a very good reason why: it sends very mixed signals of sex and bestiality. That’s something I wouldn’t want my youngster to be saying “Giddy-up” to.

The story is pretty standard: Rayne and Dohr were seeking medical help from the lord of this wizard tower. Seems Dohr was bitten by a rabid monster and needs a cure before he goes insane. They dispatched the host last issue when his true motives became apparent (he wanted Rayne’s body to transfer his mind into). Left on their own in the tower, Rayne and Dohr have to find a way past the monsters in residence to get outside. Unfortunately Dohr gets pushed out a window with one of the monsters.

Bye-bye, horsy, Bye-bye. So Rayne teams up with this useless bouncing puffball thing. Note Rayne’s legs and hooves in these pictures. Doesn’t something just seem wrong about them? like one too many angles or knees or something?

The puffball thing ends up being handy later…

Before Rayne can trot on out to check on Dohr, the man-cockroach blocks her exit. That’s where the story ends. And by ends, I mean the book was cancelled.

There is a bit of good news in all of this. Rayne had an real winner of a backup feature by Richard Moore called “The Magic Jester”. The art was crisp and clean, dialogue was snappy and the story was just enough to fill 6 pages without seeming rushed. Four bored jesters borrow a magician’s staff without permission. 

Sadly they don’t understand its power and end up transmuting themselves into all sorts of oddball things.

That porridge line kills me. It’s possible that this is the same Richard Moore who ends up doing “Far West” and “Boneyard” from NBM Publishing. The style looks very close. Plus the fact that Richard Moore is known for some of his own “furry” art would lend itself to him being involved in a project like Rayne. Either way, this backup feature is worth the price of the book.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sable: Return of the Hunter #5

Actually, Theft and treachery trap Sable in a fight he cannot LOSE!

In 1983, Mike Grell created a mercenary character with a softer side in “Jon Sable, Freelance”. The series was a success for First Comics and with Grell at the helm, went on for over 50 issues. Sable was a creator-owned concept and in 1988 Grell agreed to a new series of Sable books without him on art or writing chores. Thus began “Sable: Return of the Hunter”. The series was made to capitalize on Sable the TV show and ended shortly after it was pulled by the network. Still it had a good run, lasting over two years.

Issue five was helmed by ex-Marvelite Marv Wolfman, with pencils done by a future Batman artist Denys Cowan. In it, we pick up Sable’s ongoing story as a freelance do-gooder and children’s book author. Sable recently was bested by another mercenary named Penelope in taking down an old enemy. In the ensuing melee, his current girlfriend and illustrator of his children’s books, Myke Blackmon, was shot and injured. We open on a money drop with someone who’s very guilt-ridden over something.

Meanwhile Sable is helping Myke recuperate, when he receives a call for a freelance job. It’s for a money-drop with supposedly no danger involved. If Sable won’t take it, his agent drops the hint that Penelope would. Myke is dead-set against Sable going out for this type of dangerous work.

And of course he says yes, stays there and makes hot monkey sex to the woman he loves instead of rushing off into danger for money he doesn’t need, his vengeance over losing his wife and daughter years ago put to rest cause he took care of their killers in the first series. So that’s the end of this story. Because that’s what I’d do.

…but I guess I’m not a macho guy out to prove something and possibly get killed while losing the woman I love in the process. Silly me.

Sable decides to take the job, which is dropping 2.5 million off in exchange for a stolen computer chip. His employer is the company who made the chip, but it was stolen by the Tong gang. The drop goes easy, but the chip he receives is a fake. Sable says hasta because going after the Tongs wasn’t part of the deal. Then this fella approaches him before he leaves.

Seems the guy was hard up for some dialysis that his insurance won’t cover. He stole the chip for the Tongs but didn’t see any of the money from it. Now he just wants the chip back to restore his honor. Sable agrees and has a friend look up the Tong’s address.

In the dead of night, Sable sneaks over the wall, dodges a security camera and knocks out two guards. Then he meets a pretty big obstacle.

The big guy says to kill him and there are two guys right there with guns. I guess it’s all over for Sable because the obvious thing to do here is…

…hit him with nunchuks?

And then beat him with a bo staff? Are we trying to kill him or bruise him?

Oh, the villain is monologuing. So this is just a warm up until he says kill him and really means it.

Hey, they are using sharp objects now! Still they had guns just a minute ago.

Finally the bald baddy tells his guys to "Finish him" which obviously means the henchmen can use…

… their feet to stomp on him? WTF? Now baldy has to be getting a bit peeved with his workforce at this point. They had rifles trained on Sable not four pages ago. And now we get them trying to riverdance him to death? 

Boss: “Kill him”. Henchman as he jumps at Sable: “Weeeee”. You know you guys are giving him a chance to do something to get out of this, right?

And suddenly, the henchmen all have Uzis. Uzis that they could have used 9 pages ago on Sable. And there are like six of them. Any one of whom could have killed him when chrome dome got “fatigued”. If I were egg head, as soon as this was over, I’d  take one of those Uzis and show these numbskulls how it works. By making all of them into Swiss cheese.

So Sable cuts a deal and gets back both the chip and the money. The chip goes back to the company and the money goes to the dialysis dude. Oh and when he gets back home, Myke has left him. I’m not sure who’s dumber, Sable or the henchmen.