Friday Night Fights: A Visit From St. Nicholas

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Bahlactus soon would be there!

 

Superman beats up Santa in front of wide-eyed impressionable kids in the pages of DCU INFINITE HOLDIAY SPECIAL #1, in a story by Kelley Puckett and Pete Woods that is unquestionably the funniest–and almost the best–DC Holiday story of all time.

The Week In Ink: December 4, 2007

With all the excitement of Dr. Doom’s Mirror-Spidey yesterday, it completely slipped my mind that Wednesday was the first night of Hanukkah. Shameful, I know, but the nice thing about Hanukkah is that even if you miss a day, you’ve still got seven more to make it up.

Still, I guess I’ll just have to wait until next year for an eight-day ISB extravaganza called Hanukkick!, a celebration of the Festival of Lights done entirely in foot-to-face violence! Because really, if someone getting kicked so hard that their entire head turns into a sound effect doesn’t qualify as miraculous, then brother, I don’t know what does.

 

 

Until then, however, we’ll just have to content ourselves with another round of the Internet’s Most Festive Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and now, let’s find out if I got any comfort and/or joy out of ’em!

 


 

Comics

 

The All-New Atom #18: Okay, seriously guys. I know the Atom shrinks and it’s his deal–and that Ray Palmer had the crazy suit in the Silver Age that was invisible at full size and all–but come on, man! Can’t we get that guy a full-sized chair? It’s been like forty-six years!

Oh well. Anything’s better that sitting on Hawkman’s shoulder, I guess, but judging your furniture by how it compares to a half-naked alien cop in a bird costume is no way to get through life, son.

Seating arrangements aside, it’s another fantastic issue from Gail Simone and Mike Norton, with the normal rapid-fire string of craziness that’s as close as modern comics come to guys like Bob Kanigher. And of course, I mean that in the best way possible, because really: There’s no way I’m not going to love a comic where the lead character’s in imminent danger of being murdered by a “Ted Grant Grease-Grabbin’ Grill.” That’s just genius.

 

Atomic Robo #3: Not since the heyday of Luchadore cinema has their been a battle of Robot versus Mummy this furious!

I’ve been enjoying the heck out of Atomic Robo so far, and while this issue does a pretty nice job of continuing that streak, I’ve got to say that this is probably my least-favorite of the run. It’s not the story per se that’s the problem here; Brian Clevinger’s usual bombast comes right through with a story of the Action Scientists! taking on a mobile, death-ray enabled pyramid powered by Ancient Egyptian computers, and Scott Wegener’s art fits beautifully, especially in the way that he’s able to make Robo, a character with no actual features to speak of, so darn expressive. No, for 90% of the story, it’s great. It’s the ending where it all falls apart.

Specifically, it’s the last panel, where things just explode and the story grinds to a halt. I think the record’ll back me up when I say that I probably like explosions way more than your average guy, and I’m assuming that the next issue’ll pick up with the next part of the story, but the actual issue has no indication whatsoever that that’s the case. Even one more panel could’ve wrapped things up or set them up nicely for the next issue, but that panel never shows up, and I can’t figure out why, especially given that it’s followed almost immediately by a four-page backup.

Still, it’s a fun book, and if you haven’t given it a shot already, it’s well worth checking out. I mean, sudden ending or not, it’s still a comic where guys called the Action Scientists! fight ancient death rays, and that pretty much sells itself.

 

Avengers: The Initiative Annual #1: I’ve gone on at length about my affection for the Enforcers in the past, and rest assured that it’s pretty much boundless. Only slightly less well-known, however, is my love for the Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind and their leader, a sinister terrorist mastermind whose only goal appears to be hitting things with his stick.

It doesn’t usually work out too well for him.

Still, I cannot get enough of Flagsmasher and ULTIMATUM, which probably stems from the fact that it was pretty much a rite of passage for any character in the ’90s to team up with the Punisher to stop him from accomplishing his vaguely nefarious schemes around issue #5, and darn it, that’s one tradition that I’m glad to see back.

Beyond that, however–and let’s be honest, folks: Flagsmasher shows up for a grand total of four pages here–Dan Slott, Christos Gage and the art teams do a fine job of filling in the histories of one of the most enjoyable casts in comics, and they even have time to include the secret of unlocking optimum human potential. Great stuff.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

House of M: Avengers #2: You know, this thing might as well just be called MARVEL COMICS: THE ’70s.

I mean really: If you went back in time and told me a year ago that I’d not only be reading a House of M spinoff, but enjoying it more than just about anything else on the stands today, I would’ve thought you’d lost your mind. “Listen, pal,” I would’ve said, “I’m sure in 1985 you can buy plutonium at any corner drugstore, but around here, House of M is awful. Just awful.” And yet, here we are with a book by Christos Gage adn Mike Perkins that’s delivering on every bit of potential that it could’ve asked for.

After all, it’s a book that opens up with Luke Cage and Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, throwing down in an alley, and if you’re reading this on the ISB, then there’s a good chance that’s all you really need to know about why you oughtta be buying it. And of course, there is the small matter of the fact that this issue introduces this guy called Frank, who brings us the most clever bit in the issue.

Admittedly, I probably think about the Punisher more than anyone really should, but if memory serves, part of the deal with House of M was that the Scarlet Witch created the “perfect world,” where everyone got what they wanted. Magneto got a world where mutants were in charge, Spider-Man got a life where he didn’t fail to save Uncle Ben, and so on. And in this, we see Frank Castle, who manages to save his family and still gets to become the one-man crime-fighting badass that he was always meant to be. It’s great.

And it doesn’t stop there, either: From the Sons of the Tiger to the secret origin of “Sweet Christmas,” this thing’s just full of good old-fashioned fun. And punching. But mostly fun.

 

Justice League of America #15: Earlier tonight, I had a pretty interesting conversation with my pal Chad about his frustrations with this issue. Initially, I didn’t notice too much out of the ordinary going on–mostly because I was basking in the glow of an issue where Firestorm shows up to save everyone, which I honestly don’t think has happened before in my lifetime–with the exception of the really weird scene with Dr. Light and the Cheetah. The more that he pointed out, however, the more I had to concede that he’s right: There’s an awful lot that’s just jumbled up in this issue, from Hawkgirl making a big deal about grabbing a couple of arrows and then never doing anything with them to a scene where Superman beats up Lex Luthor while his friends hold him down. Evil mastermind or not, that’s pretty low class.

And it’s pretty disappointing, too, especially considering how good Dwayne McDuffie’s doing on Fantastic Four, and how much promise his Justice League run showed in the pages of the Wedding Special. Still, there’s so much disconnect between the art and the script in certain places that you’ve got to wonder how much of that goes with Ed Benes, too.

There is one pretty big redeeming quality, however–aside from the fact that it’s still worlds better than the Brad Meltzer run–and that’s the panel included in the shopping list above. I’d pay good money for a book where Lex Luthor just stared pensively at household objects and said the names of third-string super-heroes:

 

PANEL ONE

Lex Luthor holds up a pot of gardenias, looking at them wistfully.

LUTHOR: Blue Devil…

 

It’d be like printing gold.

 

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #4: At this point, I’ve gone on enough about my love of Mike Mignola in general and the pulp-style action of Lobster Johnson specifically, and honestly, four issues into a five-issue series, I don’t think I’m going to win anybody else over here.

However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the “True History of Lobster Johnson” one page text pieces that have appeared as backups in each issue, for the simple reason that this issue details the ’50s and the Lobster’s brief tenure as the Luchadore focus of a series of “amazingly low-budget Mexican horror films.”

And yes. It’s every bit as funny as it sounds.

 

Robin #169: And now, a blunt, authoritatively stated review in the Mighty Chris Sims Manner:

Hey, you know what’s not very good?

This.

 

Suburban Glamour #2: And also falling into the category of Things I Don’t Really Think I Need To Say Anymore, we have the absolutely gorgeous art of Jamie McKelvie. By now, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ve all listened to my constant praising and picked up a copy of McKelvie and Keiron Gillen’s Phonogram and seen for yourself how great the guy’s work is, and just like the pleasant surprise of the first issue, the story stays as entertaining as ever in this one, driven by an extremely engaging cast of characters. But yeah, already said that last month, so let’s skip to the new bit:

In this issue, there’s a scene where Astrid has an appointment with her guidance counselor, who tells her that a career in music or music journalism just isn’t a reasonable goal. And the guy who tells her that? It’s totally Phonogram‘s David Kohl. Seriously, cracked me right up. Well done, McKelvie.

 

Uncanny X-Men #493: Step off, Evan Dorkin! Back the hell up, Johnny Ryan! Watch your ass, Michael Kupperman! You guys might’ve thought you knew how to do comedy, but Ed Brubaker’s here to show you how it’s really done!

I mean it, man: I haven’t laughed this hard reading a comic since The Cowboy Wally Show, and while I didn’t initally think that was the intent here, it’s hard to argue with a shot of a dour-ass Cable tromping through the jungle wearing a baby harness with a big X-Men logo on it.

And as funny as that is, it’s a mere prelude to the real punchline, which comes when Cyclops mentions that it’s time to “up the stakes,” which Wolverine takes to mean “Go get everyone with a knife and/or claws and go kill my son from the future.” And they call it… X-Force. I had tears in my eyes. Heck, it was almost as great a gag as Chris Giarrusso’s haiku joke.

 


 

Trades

 

Saga of the Super-Sons: Ahem:

 

 

So yeah. You’re gonna want that.

 


 

And that’s the week! As always, any comments, questions or debate on whether it’s my love of Owly or my love of Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon that makes me a bigger teenage girl can be left in the comments section below.

As for me, I’ll be trying to find that new issue of Tiger Beat. My store got shorted again!

Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: Courtney Crumrin and Wonton Soup

Despite the fact that my usual method for critical assessment seems to be grabbing whatever’s within arm’s reach, scanning a panel and calling it a night, I occasionally find myself in contact with someone who’s mistaken me for what the boys down in Marketing refer to as “a reputable influencer.” Thus, they send me something to tell you guys about, and in a tribute to my love of getting stuff for free, I try to get through an entire review without making jokes about monkeys.

Let’s see if I can manage it this time.

 

 

It’s funny how things work out sometimes: When it first hit shelves a few weeks back, Courtney Crumrin and the Fire-Thief’s Tale, was recommended to me by a reader, and I mentinoed being curious about it, but not having the chance to actually check it out. Cut to this week, and there’s a package on my doorstep from the friendly folks at Oni Press with a copy to enjoy at my leisure. Seriously, those cats are on the ball.

I’ll admit to being only passingly familiar with Ted Naifeh’s work, because let’s be honest here, the gothic romance that is Gloomcookie is probably as far away from being my thing that it possibly could be, even if there is a Christmas issue. That said, last year’s Polly and the Pirates was not only an incredibly enjoyable comic, but was easily one of my favorite books of the year.

It was Polly–and specifically its title character, a proper young lady turned Pirate Queen–that made me more curious about Naifeh’s other work, and all things considered, I probably should’ve jumped on earlier.

And not just because The Fire-Thief’s Tale is a fun story, either–and it is, which I’ll get to in a second–but because just from reading through this one, it’s pretty obvious that I’m missing out on a lot as latecomer to the story. Don’t get the wrong idea, though: Naifeh doesn’t make it hard for a neophyte to jump right in and find himself having a good time with a the story of a little girl’s vacation in a town plagued by werewolves, but he doesn’t shy away from slightly oblique references to what’s gone before, either.

But then, those same references to Courtney’s past are what offer up my absolute favorite moment in the book. For context, here’s the plot: Courtney, an aspiring young witchity type who manages to be utterly charming despite a complete lack of a nose, and her creepy, Crowleyesque Uncle Aloyisius take a trip to see a friend in small-town Eastern Europe, where the gun-happy locals are beset by a gang of gypsy werewolves–only that the ruthless townsfolk, led by the mustachioed Petru, are the ones doing the besieging.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Petru’s fiancee, Magda, is in love with Jan, a traveling fiddle-player who happens to be the werewolf that Petru’s chasing after with a shotgun every night, thus creating a love triangle that features both gunplay and lycanthropy, and is thus eighty percent more awesome than the standard model. In any case, Magda’s too timid to leave Petru and follow her heart to go with Jan, to the point where she’s willing to stand by and let her future husband track down and murder her lover and his whole family, which is when Courtney sets out to do it her own damn self if she has to.

And that’s when we get this:

 

 

That’s a great line to begin with, but having it delivered to a grown woman from a little girl right before she sets off alone to try to stop a massacre? That’s fantastic.

And the art’s no slouch either: Courtney herself is essentially a cartoon character–big eyes, little mouth, no nose, a bat-shaped barrette in her hair–but the world around her is done in a detailed style that’s reminded me more of Mignola than anything else. Admittedly, that could just be the subject matter coming through, but have a look for yourself, and keep in mind that these are sequential panels:

 

 

Hellboy-ish or not, it works, and not just because it makes for a very appealing design. The contrast just reinforces Courtney as an outsider among everyone else, and the emotion that Naifeh’s able to show with those simple lines–especially in the last few pages–is just incredible, and it’s the kind of thing that makes me want to see more. Which, lucky for me, there’s plenty of, just waiting to be read.

It’s a fun read, and really, with 56 pages for $5.99, it’s well worth picking up, either from your local shop or from Oni themselves.

 


 

There’s a scene in James Stokoe’s Won Ton Soup where the main character says:

 

There’s that old saying: “Everything’s been done, nothing’s original.” That’s just what people with no passion say when they’ve run out of ideas.

Fuck those people.

 

…and considering that the guy delivering this soliloquy is a renegade master chef/space trucker using a sentient spice that only wants to become a delicious meal while he’s cooking on an illegally modified plasma oven, I think it’s safe to say that Stokoe himself doesn’t suffer from any such limitations.

At first glance, Wonton Soup reminded me an awful lot of Corey Lewis’s Sharknife, which made a lot of sense once I got to the end and found out that Stokoe’s actually part of Lewis and Brandon Graham’s YOSH Collective. But it’s not just the similar art style that tipped me off, and for that matter, it’s not the nigh overpowering emphasis on food that you see in those guys’ work, either, even if one of them did make a book about a guy who turns into a super-hero when he eats a fortune cookie.

Instead, it’s Stokoe’s practice of just bombarding the reader with idea after idea after idea like the target of a unrelenting high-concept machine-gun. Within the first third of the book, you’ve got Space Ninjas, sentient spices, angry redneck pandas, secret alien cooking techniques, and a dozen other great throwaway gags that Stokoe uses to keep the story moving. Heck, there’s even a part where someone’s constructing a catapult designed to throw planets into each other, and that only gets mentioned in passing!

I mean really, you guys: There’s a character in this comic with an extra robot hand, and I’m almost positive that its only function is giving high fives.

 

 

Needless to say, it makes for a fun read, but while the crazy concepts are unquestionably its biggest strength, there’s a lot of places where they become the book’s biggest drawback. In fact, there are a lot of places where it seems like they’re just ornaments thrown into the book to disguise the fact that the actual plot is razor-thin:

Boy (or at least, Johnny Boyo) leaves his home and life of tedium to seek adventure, but returns unexpectedly to the arms of his lover, only to be challenged by rivals from that very same life he left behind. With the help of a mentor, he triumphs over adversity in the form of a sporting competition of some kind (Spoiler Warning!), but forsakes his winnings to return to a life of adventure away from his beloved, because he’s as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change.

See what you’ve reduced me to, Stokoe? A Skynyrd reference! I oughtta slam this freakin’ book for that.

But I won’t, because even though it features the same plot–sans endangered rec center–as virtually every single movie made in the ’80s, it actually is a lot of fun. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Boyo’s going to win the cooking competition, and there shouldn’t be. After all, Stokoe’s under no illusions here:

 

 

And it certainly is. But it’s a fun gimmick, and sometimes, that’s all that matters.

As for the book itself, it ought to be hitting shelves pretty soon, or–just like Courtney Crumrin–you can skip to the source and order one from Oni.

 

As mentioned above, review copies were provided by the publisher. I really did like ’em, though.

Movie Review: Black Belt Jones

About a week ago, I mentioned that I’d recently bought myself a copy of the 1974 classic Black Belt Jones, and the response from the ISB’s readership was immediate. No sooner was the post online than I was besieged with requests–nay, demands–to review this one.

Unfortunately, I can’t do it. Black Belt Jones is just too awesome for one man to handle, even someone with my experience with cinematic awesomeness.

And that’s why I had to bring in some backup. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome a very special guest to tonight’s installment of the ISB:

 

 

DAVE CAMPBELL
The Human Tornado!

 

That’s right, folks: this is an event so titanic that we’re putting aside our bitter rivalry for a team-up with one mission in mind: Rocking Your Face. So when you’re done here, head over to Dave’s Long Box for his side of the story.

Now then, on with it!

 

 

First things first: If you’d like just a small sample of how mind-blowingly awesome this movie is, download the original 1974 radio ad and give it a listen, because that just about sums it up.

In the title role of Black Belt Jones, we have none other than Jim Kelly, and like the ad says, you’ll probably remember him as Williams from Enter the Dragon,where he gets a pretty raw deal. Originally, that movie was planned to end with Roper, John Saxon’s character, getting killed with Lee and Williams taking on Han in the big climax. However, when Saxon’s agent complained, the roles were reversed, and Kelly’s character took a powder so the future star of Mitchell could get a little extra screen time.

Fortunately, Jones suffers from no such problems, as it’s pretty much wall-to-wall Jim Kelly beating ass for about eighty-four minutes.

It all gets started with Jones–who, as we’re about to learn, is the baddest mothertrucker on Planet Earth–doing a little bodyguarding on the side for some vaguely Latin American ambassadors, which leads directly into what is unquestionably the greatest opening credit sequence of the ’70s:

 

 

Dave Sez:

The opening sequence in Black Belt Jones is one of the greatest beginnings to any movie. Ever. It may SEEM like Black Belt Jones is moving slow, and that the guys he’s fighting are drunk, but I assure you that’s not the case. In order to get an “R” rating they actually had to slow the film down because audiences in the Seventies could not handle that much brutal action. They just weren’t equipped for it back then.

 

Interestingly enough, the assassins don’t bother to actually go after their target, instead preferring to wait their turn while Jones completely demolishes them–and a police car–in a truly incredible four-minute sequence while three gentlemen who may or may not be “The Man” look on with interest.

Admittedly, it’s actually more like a two minute sequence dragged out by the fact that it freeze-frames for a good twenty seconds every time Jones punches someone. And really, why wouldn’t it?

Once the preliminary ass-kicking and a scene where Black Belt argues with his boss (thus characterizing him as a loner who doesn’t play by the rules) are out of the way, we get the basics of the plot: There’s a new Civic Center being built, and the mob’s bought up all the necessary land, with the exception of one last holdout: Pop Byrd who runs the Black Byrd Karate School when he’s not out, and I quote, “gamblin’ and ho-chasin’.” And yes: He is played by Scatman Crothers.

 

Dave Says:

Black Belt Jones is the best movie Scatman Crothers has ever been in. I’m counting The Shining, too. He kicks 100% more ass in Black Belt Jones than that Kubrick wankfest.

 

As you might expect, the Black Byrd Karate School holds a special place in the heart of its foremost student, Black Belt Jones. Unfortunately, all of Pop’s aforementioned gamblin’ and/or ho-chasin’ have caused him to get in debt to local facial-hair afficionado Pinky:

 

 

In addition to the duties of maintaining that luxurious beard of his, Pinky’s also the local gang boss, which is revealed in a scene where he threatens to knock a young Socialist’s teeth out with a billiard ball because, as he says, “no teeth, no cavities.” Suck on that, Crest.

Anyway, the Mob goes to him with their problem, and so he sets about leaning on Pop by taking his crew of unarmed flunkies to a Karate school and starting a fight.

You might be wondering how that works out. Well…

 

 

…it’s about like you’d expect.

And here’s the thing: That’s just the students. Jones, meanwhile, is across town, hanging out on a beach with his shirt off and watching hot girls jump on trampolines.

 

 

You know, when I heard the radio ad, I always assumed that Black Belt’s “army of girl high jumpers” were, y’know, paratroopers or something. But, as it turns out, they’re just ladies who really, really like to bounce. And somehow, that’s way better.

Anyway, after giving Pop a lecture on changing his ways and devoting more time to the school, Black Belt decides to lay a trap for Pinky’s men, who return that night to find Jones and another karate instructor laying in wait to beat the living crap out of them in the dark, flipping the lights on every three seconds to keep the thugs confused.

Under normal circumstances, a fight scene with no lighting would be pretty rough, but this one manages to become one of the greatest scenes in cinema history with the addition of one line:

 

Ray: Who the fuck hit me?!

Black Belt Jones: BATMAN, MOTHERFUCKER!

 

Dave Says:

It’s hard to pick a favorite line, but I liked the bit where BBJ says to the karate students: “We’re going to McDonalds!” and they all scream: “MCDONALDS!!!!”

 

Unfortunately, they can only delay Pinky for so long, and he eventually catches up with Pop on one of his Ho-Chasin’ outings and roughs him up to the point where he accidentally kills him. Thus, control of the dojo falls to the mysterious Sydney, who turns out to be Pop’s estranged daughter, who–if you’ll remember–is a super chick who’s a smash at Karate and really means business.

Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Gloria Hendry:

 

 

And she does, too. In fact, the first thing she does after burying her father is to go find Pinky’s men in their pool hall hangout and then kick the hell out of ’em. It’s just how she rolls.

Of course, that’s not without his consequences: Realizing that he’s now facing down two karate experts, Pinky decides to hire a band of more competent thugs, and ends up with a gang of guys so tough that when they bust up into the dojo to find Sydney, they’re able to bounce one of the students off of a trampoline…

 

 

…and through the damn ceiling.

Clearly, action must be taken, and in order to bust this case wide open, Black Belt needs proof that the Mob’s been behind Pinky’s attempts to get the dojo. Thus, he recruits the only people you want to turn to when you’re up against the deadly scourge of organized crime:

 

 

Trampoline Jumping Bikini Girls!

 

By the way, their names are Charlene, Mary, and Pickles.

 

Dave Says:

Pickles. Jesus Christ.

 

You know, it occurs to me that this is probably the most trampoline-centric action movie of all time.

Anyway, despite hitting a snag–I know, with all the careful trampoline training, it’s hard to believe it didn’t go off as smooth as they wanted–that part of the plan’s a success, and after a scene where Black Belt proves how awesome he is by using his karate skills to hit even the freakin’ elevator button, it’s time to go rescue Quincy.

Who’s Quincy, you ask? He’s this movie’s federally mandated Scrappy Kid Sidekick who was kidnapped when the new set of thugs took on the karate school, which means that at this point, Pinky’s been holding him at gunpoint for like four days. But really, why sweat the details? All you really need to know is that the whole thing ends with Jones showing up and kicking pretty much everybody through windows.

Still, Pinky’s not quite out of the game yet, and after he convinces the Mob that it’s Jones who’s at fault for the missing $250,000 that he’s been skimming off the drug trade, they send him after him for one last shot.

Jones, meanwhile, has moved on, and taken Sydney to the beach for a little romance. Except that “romance” is here translated as Sydney telling him he’s “gotta take it,” backhanding him twice, and… let’s just say that she casts aspersions on his sexuality. This, I guess, is Action Movie Foreplay.

 

Black Belt Jones: I’m gonna make you sweat. One way… and then the other.

 

Unfortunately, before they can get much sweating done, Pinky and his boys show up kick off the Big Fight, getting into a car chase with a shirtless Jones–who at one point throws Sydney’s panties at them after telling her “You don’t need these!”–that ends up with Jones and the thugs throwing down in an automatic car wash.

And yes: it is awesome.

 

Dave Says:

Dave says: It’s a testament to the originality and daring of this film that there has never been another martial arts brawl in a sudsy car wash in movie history. It’s like, why bother? You can’t touch Black Belt Jones!

 

Agreed, Dave. After all…

 

 

…if they have karate battles in Heaven, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what they look like.