Comic Review: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Published: May 7th, 1996 – October 1st, 1996
Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Kilian Plunkett, Hugh Fleming, John Nadeau
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 158 Pages

Review:

Shadows of the Empire was a massive multimedia event in 1996. There was a novel, this comic series, a super popular video game, action figures and even a soundtrack. It was the biggest Star Wars event outside of the movies themselves and it was used to get the public hyped for the special editions of the Original Trilogy, which came out a year later. This also probably helped generate momentum as George Lucas went into production on 1999’s The Phantom Menace.

I haven’t read this story in comic book or novel form in at least ten years. Being that I have been dealing with a sense of Star Wars fatigue, at least in regards to Disney’s mismanagement of the property, I didn’t want the candle to fully burn out. I decided to go back and reconnect with the stories I loved the most from the past, as the Expanded Universe will always be the canon I choose to accept. I invested too much time and money into it and even if there are some terrible installments in the massive Expanded Universe, there are still great stories like this one that I will always be able to go back to and enjoy.

I forgot how much I loved this. The art was really good for the time. Also, the writers did a nice job of filling in the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which is when this takes place. It’s kind of like Episode V.5.

We get to see Luke experiment with the Force, which just adds some depth to how his powers evolved between the two films. We also get to see him use the green lightsaber for the very first time, as he thinks about how difficult the process of building it was.

Additionally, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and a large portion of this epic tale revolves around Boba Fett transporting Han from Bespin to Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine. Fett faces a lot of challenges and ends up in an all out war with all the other famous bounty hunters, as they want to claim the prize that is Han Solo. This was actually my favorite plot in this large story, as it served to really develop Fett as a character and truly shows why he is the “best of the best” because in the movies, he went out like a bitch.

We also see friction between the Emperor and Vader and the seeds of Vader’s betrayal against his master are planted. This plot thread also brings Prince Xizor into the picture, as he is a professional adversary to Vader and sort of a lapdog for the Emperor.

Other things of note are that we get to see how Leia gets the Boushh disguise, how heroic Lando actually is and we meet Dash Rendar, who would go on to be the most popular Star Wars character of the ’90s that wasn’t featured in a film.

Reading this now, brought me back to where my head was at in 1996, when I was still obsessed over everything Star Wars. Back before I was a jaded prick and had immense love for these characters and this universe. It was awesome feeling like that about Star Wars again.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Wars comics put out by Dark Horse in the ’90s. The Dark Horse stuff was so damn enjoyable before Disney bought the franchise and killed the Expanded Universe.

Comic Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic – SDCC Ashcan

Published: July19th, 2018
Written by: Harold Buchholz, Joel Hodgson, Matt McGinnis, Mary Robinson, Seth Robinson, Sharyl Volpe
Art by: Mike Manly, Todd Nauck, Wes Dzioba
Based on: Mystery Science Theater 3000 by Joel Hodgson

Dark Horse Books, 16 Pages

Review:

I got this digital version of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 ashcan for free on Comixology. It was actually a free physical ashcan comic book that was given out at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con.

This thing is really short though and it’s only real purpose is to get you excited for the upcoming MST3K comic, which is supposed to hit in September.

This is a good prologue to what is coming and it sets up the story by showing Kinga Forrester and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (a.k.a. Max) debuting their new machine, which is able to take shitty comic books and turn them into a virtual world that Jonah and the ‘Bots have to live in and interact with.

All you get, as far as an adventure, is seeing Tom Servo accept this new form of Forrester torture and get swept into a “teen investigator” comic where he becomes, Tom Servo Teen Reporter. Even then, the story ends a bit anticlimactically, as 16 pages isn’t enough to really let you delve into this.

I am interested in the comic, as I have been a fan of MST3K since I was in middle school.

I just hope that the full comic gives you something to really sink your teeth into and is handled with care and respect for this franchise and these characters. It has the potential to be great. But from this, it is hard to gauge whether or not it will be.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The upcoming, hopefully longer and more exciting Mystery Science Theater 3000 comic.

Comic Review: Black Hammer, Vol. 1: Secret Origins

Published: April 11th, 2017
Written by: Jeff Lemire
Art by: Dean Ormsto

Dark Horse Books, 152 Pages

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect from Black Hammer but in the last year and a half that it has been out, it has been pretty popular and even spawned a few spinoffs within its unique universe.

I have historically loved Dark Horse’s original titles. I’ve read Hellboy and B.P.R.D. on and off for years, I was a massive fan of Umbrella Academy and have occasionally checked out other titles. Plus, I was always happy with their Star Wars books for the long period of time that they had the publishing rights to that megafranchise.

I saw that this was a series by Jeff Lemire, who had some good runs on some major titles over the years, most notably SuperboyJustice League DarkAnimal ManGreen ArrowTeen Titans: Earth OneHawkeyeOld Man LoganMoon Knight and Bloodshot.

Originally, Lemire was going to do the art for this book but he’s a busy guy, so the art was created by Dean Ormsto.

I love that this is a book about a superhero team but it is probably the most nontraditional superhero team book that I have ever read. The story follows a group of former heroes, trapped in a Twilight Zone type of small town. They have been stuck there for years with no way of getting back to their own reality.

The story is highly emotional, as each character tries to deal with their new reality in their own way. The most interesting character is Gail, who was a superhero woman that grew into old age but is now trapped in her superhero persona: a small girl. She has lived a full life, enjoyed sexual maturity but is cursed with an adult mind and needs in the body of an elementary school student.

All of the other characters are interesting too but I felt that Gail’s story had the most to offer, at least only having read the first story arc.

I’m looking forward to keeping up with this series. So far, it’s pretty good. Time will tell how it develops and if it can grow legs. So far, things look pretty promising.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: I’d have to assume Black Hammer, Vol. 2. There are also some similarities in style with other Dark Horse series Umbrella AcademyHellboy and B.P.R.D.

Film Review: Sin City (2005)

Also known as: Frank Miller’s Sin City
Release Date: March 28th, 2005 (Mann National Theater premiere)
Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Based on: Sin City by Frank Miller
Music by: John Debney, Graeme Revell, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Nick Offerman, Marley Shelton, Nick Stahl, Tommy Flanagan, Devon Aoki, Rick Gomez, Frank Miller (cameo), Robert Rodriguez (cameo)

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, Miramax, 124 Minutes, 147 Minutes (unrated recut)

Review:

“Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then.” – Dwight

When Sin City came out, it was a bit of a phenomenon. Well, at least with fans of comic books and especially those who love the work of Frank Miller.

I haven’t watched this in a really long time and I wanted to revisit it after spending a lot of time delving into classic film-noir, which this picture takes some major visual cues from. Well, the original comic this was based on used a lot of noir visual flair, so it was only natural that this film adaptation followed suit.

As an overall cohesive story, the film doesn’t work that well. I get that it is a linked anthology with overlapping characters but it feels like it is just running all over the place. Frankly, this would work better as a television show where all of these characters could be better developed and jumping around with the narrative would just seem more organic.

This is still a cool movie with cool characters but sometimes they feel more like caricatures of pulp comic and noir archetypes. There isn’t really any time to get to know anyone beyond what’s on the immediate surface. Nancy and Hartigan are the only characters with any sort of meaningful backstory and even then, it is pretty skeletal and doesn’t have the meat it needs to really connect in an emotional way.

The film is highly stylized and while it looks cool, it almost works against it, as the grit and violence almost becomes too comic book-y. But this is supposed to be the comic stories coming to life and it represents that with its visual style. And I like the visual style but this is still a live action motion picture and it sort of forgets that.

I’m not saying it can’t have immense and incredible style but it needs to have a better balance between what would exist on a black and white comic book page and what works best for the medium of film. Being that this is the first film to sort of use this visual technique, I think people looked past its faults. I also think that once it was done here, the initial surprise and awe was gone, which is why no one cared much when the sequel came out and why the visual flare didn’t work to hide the faults of Frank Miller’s very similar film, The Spirit.

Additionally, sometimes the comic book elements seem very heavy handed and forced. The scene where Marv escapes the SWAT team may work in the comics but it felt bizarre and goofy in the movie. It would have been more effective if it was toned down and reworked, as opposed to Miller and Rodriguez trying to copy the comic panel by panel. This never works well, which was also why 2009’s The Watchmen had a lot of problems. Personally, I’d rather just stick to the comics if the filmmakers want to just recreate everything panel to shot.

Another problem with directly adapting comics is that the dialogue that works in one medium sometimes sounds terrible in another. Some lines when delivered on screen were cringe worthy moments. Still, I mostly liked everyone’s performance in this despite the sometimes questionable direction and script.

Sin City didn’t blow my mind like it did when I first saw it thirteen years ago. That’s fine. It is still pretty damn good and enjoyable but at first glance, way back in the day, I probably would have given this a nine out of ten rating. But at its core, it just isn’t that good of a film, even if it caused me to fanboy out in 2005.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Spirit.

Comic Review: Fight Club 2

Published: June 28th, 2016
Written by: Chuck Palahniuk
Art by: Cameron Stewart, David Mack
Based on: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Dark Horse, 256 Pages

Review:

About two decades after releasing Fight Club and then seeing it made into a film that most consider to be a classic, Chuck Palahniuk finally followed his most famous tale up with a sequel. However, instead of writing another book or working up a screenplay for a film, Palahniuk teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to make a ten issue comic book series.

The result is something really weird and I don’t mean that in a good way. Being that this is Palahniuk’s story, it is how he sees the future lives of these characters. But ultimately, Tyler Durden is just some powerful mystical being that possesses people and that’s not even the weirdest part.

What this story does, is it takes everything you thought that the original book and film were about and turns it on its head in favor of some insane random ass shit that almost feels like a big “fuck you” by the author, who may have just been annoyed by people asking for a follow up.

I don’t really know what the hell I just read. It started out pretty interesting but quickly unraveled into incomprehensible shit. And this is coming from a guy that loved the first half dozen or so Chuck Palahniuk novels. I know how shocking and surprising he can be but this is some next level batshit fuckery.

The art was good and I really wanted to enjoy this but it sort of just shits on Fight Club. That being said, I can’t really accept it and it has some bullshit non-ending that makes the whole damn thing pointless. But I’m glad I read this in one sitting over an hour and a half than issue by issue, over ten months. Had I spent that much time on it, I would have been pissed off. Right now, I’m just baffled and irritated.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Absolutely nothing.

 

Book Review: ‘Frankenstein: The Shadow of Frankenstein’ by Stefan Petrucha

*written in 2014.

I like reading books that are authors takes on sequels of famous stories, especially when it has to do with monsters like Frankenstein’s big undead creation.

At some point, Dark Horse, who are known as a major comic book publisher, acquired the publishing license for the Universal Monsters franchise. Instead of doing comic books, they made literary sequels to the Universal Monsters films. This one had a pretty awesome premise.

This book takes place after the classic film Bride of Frankenstein and it ignores all the other sequels after that film and branches off in its own direction. So essentially, this is a sequel to just the two James Whale Frankenstein films.

The premise sees Frankenstein’s monster, the Boris Karloff version, arrive in London. While there, he goes toe-to-toe with Jack the Ripper. I was pretty much sold when I read the description on the back of the book. And who wouldn’t be?

The book was ambitious and started with a lot working for it but in the end it fell kind of flat and didn’t really seem to hit the mark that it needed to. I did enjoy it overall and it is a quick and easy read but it just didn’t feel as authentic as I had hoped and just didn’t capture the vibe and magic of the James Whale films.

Regardless, I still like the idea of it and it wasn’t poor execution, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. It also felt like a lot of the book was filler or the author playing it a bit too safe with the property and not putting enough of himself into it.

The author, Stefan Petrucha is obviously a fan of the James Whale films but I don’t feel like he was able to make the tribute he could have, whether due to his respect for the source material or because the publisher had a tight leash on him. This is a problem that also appears in the other Universal Monsters books from Dark Horse: great and interesting ideas that are snuffed out early in what feels like an attempt to bring something original to these characters but too timid to really explore those ideas.

20 Comic Book Properties That Haven’t Gone Live-Action Yet

*written in 2015.

There is a rumor that Netflix is now developing a Moon Knight series in addition to Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. It hasn’t been officially announced, so I included Moon Knight on this list. It could just be a rumor but I really hope it isn’t. Because I’m now really looking forward to it and Iron Fist.

But this maybe news got me to thinking about what other comic book properties still haven’t gotten the live-action treatment yet.

These properties are my top twenty comic book franchises (or characters) that I would like to see come to life in live-action form.

1. Umbrella Academy
2. Hawaiian Dick
3. Hack/Slash
4. Moon Knight
5. X-Factor
6. Dr. Fate
7. Nightwing
8. Turok
9. Bloodshot
10. Grendel
11. The Spectre
12. Morbius
13. Thunderbolts
14. The Maxx
15. Invincible
16. The Savage Dragon
17. Sleepwalker
18. Simon Dark
19. X-O Manowar
20. Doom Patrol