Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Movie/TV Tie-ins, Part III: The Warrior of Waverly Street #2

A comic that’s a prequel to a movie everyone wants to forget.

If the image from the cover of The Warrior of Waverly Street #2 jogs your memory, changes are high that you were still in school in 1997. WoWS was a working title to the movie Star Kid starring Joseph Mazzello, also known as “that kid from Jurassic Park”. If you need a bit more jogging check out the trailer on imdb here:

Star Kid didn’t really look like it needed a prequel. It was a fairly straight-forward ET meets Last Starfighter blend with heavy doses of pre-teen gross-out humor. But Dark Horse Comics has made a very successful business out of licensing movie properties for comics. What with the popularity and sales results of their Star Wars and Aliens/Aliens vs Predator series, it’s easy to see that they might go a bit overboard when licensing new properties. So we get a two issue mini-series that introduces the characters for a movie that doesn’t really need it. Seriously, if you’ve watched the trailer (or the movie for that matter), what more do you need to know about the two main characters? Spencer Griffith is a picked-on nerd who reads comics. Cy is an alien created battlesuit that is sentient and designed to kick bad alien’s butts. There! I just saved Dark Horse 44+ pages of ink and paper.

Dark Horse realized this of course and tried to take the story in a different direction. The comic is split very unevenly into two parts. The smallest part is reserved for Spencer, following him around in the weeks before finding the Cyborsuit in the junkyard. We get about 4 pages of him being a geek and getting his teeth kicked in by the punk who wears his ball cap backwards. The majority of the book follows Tenris, the lumpy, reptile/Ewok-thing that is the designer of the Cyborsuit. In the opening few pages, his planet is being systematically destroyed city by city. Tenris is plotting to escape with his wife. He’s being approached about continuing work on the cybot, but his answer is a resounding “NO”.

There is nothing more exciting in comics than a protracted argument about military contractor’s rights. And while the preceding three pages have been battle scenes of these reptile/monkey things fighting against the tree-like Brood warriors, there is a suspicious absence of real fight scenes for the rest of the book. Next we shift focus to Spencer for two pages as he starts his first day in school and shows up the class bully by answering a science question correctly. Silly and quite unnecessary. The few pages given to Spencer in this book could have been better used to flesh out the battle with the Brood warriors.
Meanwhile, our alien contractor has gotten off-planet with wife in tow. Unfortunately for them, it’s going to be a short trip. No sooner do they reach low orbit then they are spotted and shot down by a Brood warrior ship.

Yup, that’s a mighty imposing space ship there. Looks kinda like the “Delta Queen” being ridden by a Notre Dame gargoyle with two nasty caveman clubs stuck through it. I’ve got to hand it to the Brood warriors,  that is one innovative design for a space ship. Not really sleek or aerodynamic, but it definitely takes home the prize for “most original”. Anyway, Tenris’s wife bites it in the crash leading him to go back to the council. He gives them “one chance” to hire him back. They accept his offer using the power of the mystic pink pyramid.

“Tenris demands white women, lots of Shiner Bock and a BLT with plenty of crisp bacon.” Ok, so he just wants his lab set back up. He gets to work on the Cybot. We get to see them working on things with Star Trek names like the “cyber-cerebellum”, “mecha-musculature” and “servo-tendons”. It’s almost enough to give me tingles in my “techno-testicles”. While Tenris’s first Cybot was a true robot, this one he designs with an eye for putting someone inside. Someone like a Victoria’s Secret fashion model or Jessica Alba. NO? Then all his design changes are stupid! Stupid, I say! Let’s check in on Spencer:

I like comics and all, but if they were the only friend I had, I’d shoot myself. Sorry Spence. He gets hit in the head with a tether ball. Meanwhile, Tenris tries out the Cyborsuit. After hooking himself up as a test pilot, Tenris has success after success until the suit see a few test dummies and decides on its own to take them out. Tenris sees the suit as a failure and starts to shut it down for good.

Nice shout out to the Cthulhu Mythos too, there.  

Seems the Cyborsuit is sentient due to the neural link with Tenris. It was only acting as it thought he wanted it to. Tenris finds himself hesitant to shut it down.

And that panel clinches it. Tenris joins forces with the Cyborsuit and they are shown punching a Brood warrior in the final panel. As for the movie tie-in, the next page is a movie poster that uses the Warrior of Waverly Street title and the most goofy cut-n-paste job ever. 

So, Star Kid fans should rush out and snap these two up. Or not. You be the judge.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Guide to Werewolves, Part IV: Dog Boy #1

Makes Robin plus Fang’s end joke look like a comedic masterpiece

Dog Boy was picked up by Fantagraphics Books in 1987. Created by writer-artist Steve Lafler, the Dog Boy character had already experienced a small press success under Lafler’s own Cat Head Comics imprint. After a seven issue run, Lafler signed on with Fantagraphics to continue his adventures. Fantagraphics Books is known for publishing some of the best independent underground books of the 80’s, including the award winning books Love & Rockets and Ghost World. Sadly Dog Boy isn’t up to the caliber of those two books.

What is Dog Boy? I am asking myself too. It’s the story of an anthropomorphic dog and his anthropomorphic dog girlfriend. Mostly there’s relationship humor played for broad sitcom laughs by someone with a terrible sense of pacing. It contains mildly anti-establishment and counter-corporate themes without any philosophy underpinnings to back those positions up. To quote from its own letter pages “Dog Boy (sic)… was, as usual, a ton of insane fun. I’m never sure that I understand it all…”. Like this reader, I’m not sure if I understand it all either. The first story in this issue rambles round, picks up steam, heads for a fairly obvious mistaken motivation ending and then suddenly stops short of actually telling any kind of joke. Like the reader above, I find myself perplexed and bewildered.

The book starts with Dog Boy’s pal, Alfred Knoot driving aimlessly across the country side while drinking. Because it’s rebellious to drink and drive and the counter culture doesn’t need to follow any rules. While he makes a pit stop to pick up more beer, Alfred thinks back to his morning commute and his impulsive decision to ditch his job.

Yes, it is nuts to work for a decent wage so you can afford necessities and still have money left over for things like beer and other luxuries. Anyway, Alfred’s epiphany leads him to rush to the nearest pay phone and call his boss. Also, I’d like to mention that the artwork for this book is leaps and bounds above the standard B&W books of the day. Whatever other critiques I have of the book, at least it looks nice.

And with that, Knoot chucks all his responsibilities and goes for an extended drive. Next issue watch as Knoot files for public assistance and gets kicked out of his apartment. All is going well with Alfred’s immature ducking of responsibility until he runs afoul of a group of bikers. And not just any bikers, mind you…

Note that being surprised while driving drunk may cause your eyeballs to pop out of your head. Glad I never drink and drive. It would cost me a heck of a lot in eyeglass repair bills. Wait a second, here. Just who are these “werewolf bikers”? I’m not expecting the dose of social commentary that gets laid on me. Why they are all corporate shills!

Marketing Executives, Stock Analysts, Bank Officers and various other white collar workers are all evil shapechangers. Why it all makes perfect sense! They are working together to prevent anyone else from climbing the social ladder, squashing the spirit of independence and viciously gutting anyone out walking their dog after 11 PM on the night of a full moon. They are keeping the man down! And by that I mean they are eating him and not regurgitating any of the pieces. Also they support state run lotto, but that’s a different problem entirely.

Where is the title character of this book though?


We leave Alfred to catch up with Dog Boy, who happens to be waiting for Alfred at their neighborhood drinking establishment. When Alfred doesn’t show up, Dog Boy decides to leave the bar and head home. He even muses that for once he won’t show up late and drunk, which has been pissing off his live-in partner, Dog Girl.

In the meantime, Dog Girl has tied one on herself and suddenly finds herself in an amorous mood. Here is part of the big misunderstanding setup being put together: Dog Girl is drunk in the apartment wearing lingerie, Dog Boy’s keys fall down the sewer. Next up, Dog Boy decides to climb up the side of the building because he doesn’t see any lights on in his apartment and the bedroom window is open a crack. We return to the werewolf biker story at this point. They drive Alfred into a cactus and then get ready to cook him in a giant pot. Because you can carry giant pots around on motorcycles.

After Hulking out, Alfred steals a bike and motors away with the gang in hot pursuit. He comes across a completely random plot element that gives away where we are going to end up.

That’s right, Albert ends up in the city’s sewer pipes. Some part of me is saying that sewer pipes all end up dumped into waterways or at chemical treatment plants, but that must be my corporate, establishment mindset at work. Surely some sewer pipes end up funneling waste out into the desert/country. Maybe I should toke up and not worry about it. Anyway, Alfred loses the werewolf bikers. Then he decides to climb out and see where he is. Before getting out of the sewer he makes a startling find.

That’s right, he’s come up under Dog Boy’s apartment building. Not only that, he’s got Dog Boy’s apartment keys. Even a five-year-old could see the comedy of errors type pathos that this situation has a potential of creating. But Lafler is no five year old, and I mean that in a bad way. Let’s add some more fuel on the fire first.

Dog Girl has a semi-automatic weapon trained on the window. You know, if Tarantino were scripting this Dog Boy would end up full of holes and dropping three stories. Instead Dog Girl’s shots all miss. Then we get the high comedy of Dog Boy breaking in at the same time Alfred opens the front door. How does everyone react? In the most bizarrely out of ordinary way possible.

I’d rather have a joke about how slow-witted Robin is than an ending like this one. To say the story doesn’t have a payoff is underestimating how let down I really felt here. I can’t understand why anyone would buy stories that ended like this. And the second story isn’t any better. It is a story about a real dog that is playing tricks on Dog Boy. In the end he finds out there are witches living under his basement stairs. After clobbering them, he takes one final peek under the stairs to be sure he’s gotten them all. What does he find?

YES. YES IT DOES MATTER! It absolutely matters. When you tell these stories they need to have a point! An ending. The audience deserves that. Something relevant to the story at the end that wraps things up. You know, that part after rising action. The climax. Just like in sex. You wouldn’t want people to sex you up and then not let you climax, would you Mr. Lafler? Would you?

Obviously he would. And so would his readership, since Steve claims that more than 400 pages worth of Dog Boy stories have seen print. I guess I just don’t get it. Unfortunately, not getting it for me means I wouldn’t buy the book anymore. But someone else will, obviously…

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dead Eyes Open #1

The most inventive take on a zombie comic you’re likely to find

Produced by independent publisher Slave Labor Graphics, Dead Eyes Open is a thinking man’s zombie comic. It was a six issue mini series started in July 2005 and wrapped up one year later. The brainchild of writer Matthew Shepherd, DEO presents a world where someone could die in their sleep and wake up “not even knowing you were dead.” The book looks at a zombie plague and asks the hard questions about individual rights. Shepherd likens it to the “1960’s civil rights meeting today’s right-wing paranoia, except it is discrimination against the Undead.” An undead book with sociological overtones? Yeah, and it works really well. Better than Romero’s Land of the Dead, anyway.

The art is provided by Roy Boney, Jr. and in most instances wouldn’t score favorably with me. In this story and with this topic, Boney’s dark and heavily inked style is the perfect medium to convey the complex topics handled in this material. Superman or Spiderman it’s not, and we should be glad of it.

We begin our tale in the office of psychologist John Requin. Note the dark pencils originally drew me to this book when I saw it in the quarter bin thinking it would turn out amateurish. Give it a few panels to grow on you. Oh and shh! Dr. Requin is with a patient, Henry is his name I believe.

Dr. Requin is seeing Henry because Henry has lately been experiencing difficulties controlling his anger. Currently the doctor believes he’s made good progress at arriving at a channel for Henry’s violent behavior. Unfortunately his recent addition of having sessions in a freezingly cold, dark room aren’t going over so well with his patient.

It’s also unfortunate that Henry’s seen through Dr. Requin’s ruse. It appears the good doctor has something to hide. Henry decides to seek therapy elsewhere. Dealing with Henry appears to have unsettled our physician. I wonder why?

No, he’s not alright Mrs. Haliburton. In fact Dr. Requin is quite dead. With such a simple beginning we enter into a zombie tale unlike any previous. John Requin is dead yet still walking around among the living, and as we’ll find over the next few pages that presents a whole slew of problems. First up as he starts his drive home is a call from his wife.

It appears his daughter is having some trouble. She’s going through some tough emotional times. Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Daddy is a reject from a George Romero flick, could it? Naw.

It’s right about this point that DEO grabbed me by my balls and pulled. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

I’m a Father of a ten year-old and a twenty-three year-old. The most heart wrenching thing you can imagine as a parent is to be shunned by your child. Additionally the thought of becoming a burden to the ones you love because of forces beyond your control, make this series very cerebral. Shepherd isn’t just talking about zombies here. He’s making a clear statement about the real life terror of aging and all that goes along with it: infirmity, disease, decreased mental faculties, and changed familial relations. Heavy metaphorical stuff for a simple zombie comic. And yet it’s done so effortlessly. Watch this next series of panels and see if the hairs on the back of your neck don’t stick up just a bit.

Physician, heal thyself. John’s in a bit of denial about how serious his “condition” is. Note that they next try to discuss if he should see a doctor. His wife is pro on the idea, but John quickly tables it as “having been discussed.” About this time his daughter pokes her head into the kitchen. Guess she’s worried he’s snacking on Mom.

Imagine how it must be for all the trust built up over the years between yourself and your child to just disappear in an instant. While we ponder that issue, Shepherd decides to distract us with a humorous twist.

And then digs right back into the mega-heavy bizarreness of this situation. Followed by another brief chuckle.

But the end result of all this is the visual representation of a total break in the bond between Father and daughter. John’s death has made him into a monster in the most horrible way possible. He has become a monster in the eyes of his child. Even if his spirit and actions do not paint him as such, that is what she sees. Again, this is symbolic of what aging does to us in modern society, where our seniors are shuttled off to nursing homes lest their gruesome appearance offend the eye of those still in the bloom of youth.

Julie’s confusion becomes a point of hostility against her Father. She threatens to tell everyone at school what’s happened to dearly departed Daddy. John clearly is afraid of her telling anyone and tries to barter with her. Next he threatens her with the normal grounding-no allowance-no toys responses. Seeing this is getting him no where and desperate to not have his secret out, John does something regrettable and utterly human. He lies to save himself, further damaging his relationship to his daughter. Desperation is a horror unto itself.

The final panels in this sequence underscore Julie’s frustration with the situation, her Father’s need to reinstate his position in the family and his complete and total anguish at his physical and emotional state. I’m speechless at how the minimalist art and on point dialogue translate all of the raw emotions so well here. Bravo!

There’s more to the issue. John finds out there are more “people” just like him through an Enquirer-type article. The same article mentions that the government is destroying any living dead they find. John spirals into despair as he notices he can’t smell anymore, a subtle hint that more of his humanity disappearing. Julie, frustrated and in trouble for fighting, spills the beans at school. But not before Henry calls John, having OD’ed on pills but failed to “pass on” so to speak. All of this being overheard by our big brotherish government, who promptly send in the troops to dispose of Henry’s still moving body. The army men turn zombie Henry into Swiss cheese.However, John is rescued from the same fate by Major Garrett and his underground group of zombie revolutionaries. I’m not going to show you any of this because for once I’m going to heavily suggest you trot down to your retailer and ask for the trade paperback. Expect me to be in line for a copy too. I’ve got to see how this turns out for “Mr. Carrot.”