Comic Review: M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, Vol. 2: Rise of V.E.N.O.M.

Published: December 13th, 2017
Written by: Brandon M. Easton, David A. Rodriguez
Art by: Andrew Griffith, Drew Moss, Juan Samu
Based on: M.A.S.K. by Kenner Products

IDW Publishing, 162 Pages

Review:

I really wanted this comic to be good, as I was a huge fan of the toyline when I was a young boy in the ’80s.

There are a few reasons as to why this just doesn’t cut the mustard but the biggest is that it doesn’t know what the hell it needs to be. This is the second and final volume in IDW’s run on the M.A.S.K. property but it sacrifices the property itself by wedging in G.I. Joe and Transformers characters, essentially being a crossover with those other Hasbro franchises.

And when it isn’t focused on other franchises, it just keeps giving us origin stories and nothing with any real meat to it. There is nothing here to make me care about M.A.S.K. on its own.

I feel as if IDW didn’t have any faith in M.A.S.K. and tried to draw more attention to it by throwing these characters into a G.I. Joe and Transformers story. It reminds me of when Marvel would have a new or struggling comic book in the ’90s so they had to throw Spider-Man in it and on the cover in an effort to generate more sales. It isn’t a tactic that worked a quarter of a century ago and it doesn’t work now.

The writing is a mess, the story is all over the place and then the art isn’t very good either. There just isn’t much here worth giving a crap about.

M.A.S.K. vs. G.I. Joe vs. Transformers story could be great but M.A.S.K. needs to swim on its own first.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other M.A.S.K. comics, as well as comics for other Hasbro properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers.

Comic Review: M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, Vol. 1: Mobilize

Published: August 23rd, 2017
Written by: Brandon M. Easton
Art by: Juan Samu, Tony Vargas
Based on: M.A.S.K. by Kenner Products

IDW Publishing, 146 Pages

Review:

Man, I really wanted this to be good.

I was a big fan of M.A.S.K. when I was a kid in the ’80s. I used to watch the cartoon daily and I owned a lot of the toys, including the massive Boulder Hill headquarters playset.

IDW Publishing had also done a really good job with other Hasbro properties, specifically G.I. Joe and Transformers for several years before this came out.

The problem was that M.A.S.K. got its comic adaptation too late, as it started off as part of the Revolution crossover that saw the world of M.A.S.K. meld together with G.I. JoeTransformersROMMicronauts and Action Man. That crossover really muddled things up for me and it’s where IDW’s great G.I. Joe run ended.

I don’t blame IDW for the crossover, as it was something that Hasbro wanted as an experiment to see how their multiple toy brands could co-exist in a shared universe because shared universes are hot right now and Hasbro wants to attempt this on a larger stage: motion pictures.

While this takes place mostly after the crossover, the worlds of G.I. Joe and Transformers are still referenced here and it doesn’t allow M.A.S.K. to establish its own unique mythos and story. The tech used in this is descended from Cybertronian tech, which sort of cheapens the rich property that M.A.S.K. once was.

I’m not trying to be overly negative but I think that M.A.S.K. can and should stand on its own, at least this early into its comic book run.

The tone of the writing also didn’t mesh well with the art style. The covers were great but the interior art was a bit too kiddish for the seriousness of the story. I felt like something along the lines of Robert Atkins’ art style during his G.I. Joe run would have been more appropriate.

I did mostly like the story and how things were set up between the M.A.S.K. team and the villainous V.E.N.O.M. I liked that Miles Mayhem trained the heroes but was now their primary enemy.

But sadly, I thought that this was too light on the vehicle action. It seemed like the masks and their powers were used more frequently than the cool, transforming vehicles. The vehicles are why every kid liked M.A.S.K. in the first place. They need to be front and center in every issue and utilized in the story. In fact, I forgot that the masks actually did anything other than making a cool fashion statement.

I have the second volume and I plan to read it and review it as well. Hopefully, it finds its groove and builds off of this mostly mediocre start.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other M.A.S.K. comics, as well as comics for other Hasbro properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Classics, Vol. 6

Published: December 16th, 2009 (IDW reprint version)
Written by: Larry Hama
Art by: Rod Whigham, Todd McFarlane, Ron Wagner
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro

Marvel Comics (original printing), IDW Publishing (reprinted), 236 Pages

Review:

This collection of the classic Larry Hama G.I. Joe comics is probably most unlike any of the others before it. The string of issues collected here, numbers 51 through 60, showcase a lot of new Joes and members of Cobra, as well as dealing with Serpentor taking control of Cobra while Cobra Commander spends some time connecting with his estranged son and trying out his battle armor, which was worn by his action figure after G.I. Joe: The Movie in the cartoon series and toy line.

One cool thing worth noting is that one of the issues here was drawn by Todd McFarlane before he would achieve fame with The Amazing Spider-Man and later, Spawn.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as some of the collections before it, it is still a good string of tales. However, this is getting closer to the era of G.I. Joe that I didn’t like as much as the earlier stuff.

The franchise, at this point, has so many characters that comic book debuts happen nearly every issue and usually with multiple new faces showing up at the same time. One issue in here had the new look Cobra Commander out on his first mission with the debuting Raptor, Fred VII and a new group of Joes like Tunnel Rat and Outback. And I know I’m probably missing several others. It’s just hard for the comic to follow a tightly knit narrative like this series did at it’s peak from volumes 3 through 5.

Don’t get me wrong, if you love G.I. Joe, especially the Larry Hama side of the universe, then this should still satisfy you. It just shows that this is a franchise in constant flux and this feels more like a transition to newer things than something that builds off of what we’ve come to know thus far. But this is also planting seeds for the Cobra Civil War storyline, which was one of the high points in the comic’s entire run.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Any of the original Marvel G.I. Joe and Transformers comics.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Classics, Vol. 5

Published: September 9th, 2009 (IDW reprint version)
Written by: Larry Hama
Art by: Rod Whigham
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro

Marvel Comics (original printing), IDW Publishing (reprinted), 235 Pages

Review:

This was such a fun read and I powered through it pretty damn quickly for a trade paperback of its size.

This volume is also a transitional period for the G.I. Joe franchise. This is the bridge between the first generation of toys to the second. This starts with the characters and vehicles you know from the first season of the TV show but it slowly introduces characters and vehicles from the second season. This also ends with the story that sees the creation of Serpentor, the short lived Cobra leader that wrestled power away from Cobra Commander.

Other first appearances here, just to name a few from memory, are Scrap Iron, Dr. Mindbender, Airtight, Alpine, Quick Kick, Beachhead, Bazooka and Zarana.

The stories here are all pretty good. This continues to go the route of being a bigger interconnected saga than just having episodic tales, which is how I prefer the G.I. Joe comic series.

There are two big highlights to this volume, one is the aforementioned creation of Serpentor, the other is the first real team-up of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. They finally discover who killed their master and go to Cobra Island to seek revenge.

Volume 5 also has a lot of Dreadnok stuff and as I’ve said in earlier reviews, they are my favorite group in the G.I. Joe universe. And since Zarana shows up, at the end, we also get our first new member of the group since their debut some time before this. That only means that Monkey Wrench and Thrasher aren’t too far behind.

There was also a lot of good stuff regarding the “Fred” character in this. He becomes even more important later on. We also got to see more of Billy training with Storm Shadow.

This was a solid volume of classic G.I. Joe tales. Larry Hama was on his A game with these stories and Rod Whigham was killing it on the art side.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Any of the original Marvel G.I. Joe and Transformers comics.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Classics, Vol. 4

Published: July 1st, 2009 (IDW reprint version)
Written by: Larry Hama
Art by: Mark Bright, Bob Camp, Larry Hama, Frank Springer, Rod Whigham
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro

Marvel Comics (original printing), IDW Publishing (reprinted), 235 Pages

Review:

The collection before this one, as well as the back half of the one before that, got more into longer epic stories that carried over from issue to issue. This collection gets back to being more episodic like the earliest volumes. I prefer my G.I. Joe stories to be larger and having multiple issue arcs but this string of issues is a good balance between the two, as some plot threads continue to be sewn into the larger tapestry.

This collection also introduces us to Lady Jaye, Flint and the Cobra twins: Tomax and Xamot. It also starts the Billy storyline, which I don’t want to spoil but he’s a little kid with ties to Cobra Commander and is initially used by Cobra agents to try and assassinate the Commander.

Most importantly, we get the debut of my favorite member of G.I. Joe, Hector “Shipwreck” Delgado. Now he was my favorite character in the TV series. I just need to see how he stacks up in the classic comics, as I haven’t read these stories since the ’80s and I never got to read the complete saga. It’s also worth noting that Barbecue first appears in the same issue as Shipwreck.

While this does have a more episodic format, the last few issues collected here sort of string together and get back towards giving us a more long-term story.

I felt that Larry Hama and this series really hits its peak with the issues in the collection before this one. However, this continues to build off of those really well. The comic book G.I. Joe universe keeps getting larger, the stakes keep getting higher and this doesn’t feel safe unlike the cartoon.

This is just another solid string of issues, the momentum is still going strong and I’m looking forward to volume 5, which is where Serpentor eventually shows up.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any of the original Marvel G.I. Joe and Transformers comics.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Also known as: Dark Sky: First Strike (fake working title), G.I. Joe (Czech Republic, Japan, Spain)
Release Date: July 27th, 2009 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Written by: Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, Paul Lovett, Michael B. Gordon, Stephen Sommers
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lee Byung-hun, Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Said Taghmaoui, Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, Karolína Kurková, Brendan Fraser, Kevin J. O’Connor, Gerald Okamura, Grégory Fitoussi

Spyglass Entertainment, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Hasbro Studios, Sommers Company, Paramount Pictures, 118 Minutes

Review:

“Technically, G.I. Joe does not exist, but if it did, it’d be comprised of the top men and women from the top military units in the world, the alpha dogs. When all else fails, we don’t.” – General Hawk

*Let me preface this by saying this review will have a massive amount of profanity. You have been motherfucking warned.

Directed by Stephen Sommers, a man that shouldn’t be allowed to touch a camera after The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing, this movie is a massive piece of shit and a huge disappointment to any fans of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, whether in cartoon or comic book form.

I don’t know where to start, as everything about this is bad but I have to point out the biggest issue with it and that’s the fact that it has no idea what G.I. Joe is, who these characters are or why any of this is awesome and really hard to fuck up. That is, unless you’re just someone that doesn’t give a flying fuck about the property your adapting and just see it as nothing more than a cash cow with a massive amount of built-in merchandise already attached to it.

Frankly, Hasbro needs to respect their own properties more and stop whoring them out to anyone willing to write stories and make movies and shows based on them. They’ve forgotten what their core brands represent and why they resonate with people. Between this film and the live action Transformers movies and that awful Jem film, Hasbro needs to get their shit together.

Anyway, they couldn’t have chosen a worse director than Stephen Sommers. Okay, they could’ve gotten Uwe Boll, but his film probably would’ve at least been fun and ridiculous for the right reasons.

What I hate the most about this is that none of the characters apart from the ninjas, are even close to who they are in the cartoon series or the comics. For fuck’s sake, Larry Hama wrote amazing comic stories that all could have translated well to screen. The cartoons even had some great epics mixed in that could have been adapted. Stephen Sommers and his staff of a half dozen writers couldn’t come up with a single scene in a two hour film’s script that represented anything close to what was great about the source material.

One of my favorite characters, the Baroness, wasn’t even close to what her character is. She is an incredible character with a great backstory and is really, the most vicious member of Cobra. Here, she is just a brainwashed American girl that can’t be the badass she should be because she’s got a hard on for Channing Tatum the whole picture and turns back into a good guy and helps defeat Cobra. What in the holy fuck?! This is the goddamned Baroness we’re talking about!

It’s not just her though, Cobra Commander was a joke, Destro was boring, Duke was lame, Ripcord was annoying and Scarlett was so terribly uncharacteristic that she should have just been named Ginger Brainy Girl.

In one of the biggest action sequences in the film, we get Duke and Ripcord running around Paris in generic Iron Man suits. Why? Those suits never existed once in any G.I. Joe continuity that I’ve ever seen and I’ve read and seen everything. This was a poor attempt at trying to piggy back off of the success of Iron Man a year earlier. But, Sommers, this isn’t a Marvel film, it’s G.I.-fucking-Joe!

Also, in the big finale, Cobra Commander tries to destroy the Joes by blowing up the ice shelf above them. What does ice do in water people? It fucking floats! So how in the hell does the ice come crashing down like boulders in the goddamned ocean? How?!

But there’s still so much more wrong with this motion picture.

Why does Snake Eyes have fucking lips?! He’s a ninja in a ninja mask. He doesn’t need rubber lips. His head looks like it was ripped from a full size sex doll.

Why does Duke have to be restrained from punching a hologram? It’s a fucking hologram!

How does Ripcord’s jet plane go from Moscow to Washington in just a few minutes? How?!

I mean, there are a lot of other stupid things in this film too but you probably get the point by now.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was an expensive movie, given to a four year-old, mentally challenged kid, that just wants to play with his G.I. Joe toys in the bathtub. I’m talking about Stephen Sommers, for the record. And while that may sound harsh, it’s not as harsh as Sommers was to this beloved franchise. Fuck this guy, he’s one of the worst directors of the last two decades.

I never wanted to see this film again but I suffered through it just to review it. The sequel to this was actually better but still far from great. Hasbro needs to stop whoring out their properties unless they can learn how to vet these filmmakers better. Seriously, Hasbro, G.I. Joe is a franchise deserving of a great motion picture. Hell, I’ll make it. I can certainly do better than this film and I know these characters because I’ve spent over 35 years with them.

Seriously, Hasbro. Call me.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, as well as the crappy live action Transformers movies.

Talking Pulp: The Death of Optimus Prime and Why It Was Great

August 8th, 1986. That was the day where everything changed.

Transformers: The Movie hit theaters and little boys and little girls had their hearts broken when they witnessed, on the big screen, the death of the franchise’s biggest hero, Optimus Prime.

I was seven years-old when I saw the movie and it had a profound effect on me. I was crushed when the film got to that moment but unlike most of the kids in the theater, I got over it as the film rolled on. Because even though I was shocked, I knew that everything changed and nothing was safe. I mean, that was kind of cool. No one had any idea where the movie could even go after that moment, which was very early on in the story.

In that moment, I knew that even though all seemed lost, the stakes had never been higher and that the Autobots faced their greatest challenge. I knew that fresh, exciting and different days were still ahead. And I may have not actually understood this with great detail but I remember vividly what I felt: shock, awe, surprise and an overwhelming desire to see the Autobots overcome adversity, hardship and evil. It also made the villains darker, which I loved.

I guess that this had a huge cultural impact because parents were so upset that they made their feelings widely known. Hasbro responded by having G.I. Joe: The Movie altered so that Duke’s death, the G.I. Joe’s beloved field commander, was rewritten so that he just fell into a coma for the rest of the film. It doesn’t matter that you saw a venomous snake bite him through the heart with actual blood splatter, he lived to be okay.

Hasbro certainly didn’t want more backlash from angry parents with kids that had their hearts crushed like Duke’s in the snake’s mouth. But really, Duke’s “death” was more violent and shocking to see than Optimus Prime’s. I mean, Duke was human, there was blood and his human facial expression really sold the moment. But I’ll probably save this whole topic for an article at a later date. I just wanted to shed some light and add some context on the Optimus Prime death situation from a cultural perspective.

Anyway, Transformers: The Movie moved forward past that tragic scene. Optimus Prime’s Matrix of Leadership was first passed to Ultra Magnus but by the end of the movie, it found the one Autobot truly worthy of carrying it into the future: Hot Rod. Hot Rod unlocked the power of the Matrix and evolved into Rodimus Prime, a sort of hybrid between himself and Optimus, as he grew taller, broader and went from being a cool hot rod to a hot rod mixed with a semi truck.

Rodimus (with the Matrix) defeated the Decepticons and their new leader Galvatron (a suped up version of the former leader Megatron). Rodimus also helped destroy Unicron, who was basically the Transformers version of Marvel’s Galactus but actually cooler. By the end of the movie, Rodimus Prime rose to the occasion and the Autobots that survived this nearly apocalyptic event would go on to protect Earth from Galvatron and his minions in the future.

When the later seasons of the Transformers cartoon hit the airwaves, it took place after the movie and things were very different. Many episodes were dark and bleak and while this probably didn’t appeal to parents looking out for their kids’ best interest, as a kid, I really liked these episodes.

It was the first time that I experienced something I love in entertainment, going darker and getting grittier. As a kid, I thought it was cool as hell and it made this show about cartoon robots seem more real and more mature. In a way, the show was growing up and evolving with me. People look down on this era of the show but if I’m being completely honest, I preferred this era. Plus, the feeling that no one was truly safe, carried over from the movie.

I also preferred the characters and the toys that came out that tied into this post-Movie era. The toys got more elaborate and creative. You had Headmasters, Triggermasters, more creative and futuristic vehicles and Hot Rod was always f’n cool to me, even as Rodimus.

On the Decepticon side, as much as I loved Starscream and his Seekers, I really loved Cyclonus and the Swoops. Megatron is my favorite Transformer of all-time but Galvatron was less bumbling and seemed like he was a more capable madman. Also, Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe even shows up in an episode with the name “Snake”. It’s obvious that it’s Cobra Commander and he is there to assist the villainous Decepticons, years after Cobra has ceased to exist.

You also got really cool Combiners like Predaking and awesome battle stations that transformed into massive robots. I owned Fortress Maximus and it was probably my most beloved toy in the ’80s. It was also a sign of pride for me, as I saved up over $100 to buy it with my own money. I also bought Skorponok and Trypticon because they were two of the coolest f’n toys ever made.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love so many of the original Transformers, as well as the earliest episodes, but there was just something more grown up about the show after the death of Optimus Prime.

If Optimus Prime didn’t die and the show didn’t take a darker turn and get more mature, I probably would have lost interest in it. There were already 65 episodes before The Movie. The formula had run it’s course and change was needed to make things fresh and interesting again. Plus, Hasbro had all these new toys to sell and the old robots were just in the way of the new ones. This is the same reason why the G.I. Joe and Cobra teams changed so frequently on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

But then, like a beacon of light and hope at the end of the dark tunnel, Transformers did something really amazing. The show found a way to resurrect Optimus Prime.

I remember seeing the ad for the Return of Optimus Prime and it’s like the world stopped. After truly enjoying the post-Optimus era, absence made the heart grow fonder and it’s as if I didn’t realize how much I wanted him and needed him during his absence. Optimus Prime going away for awhile made the character stronger. Everyone I knew, back when I was in second grade, was glued to their television sets on February 24th and 25th, 1987 for that two-part story that closed out Season 3.

And what a story that was! Optimus Prime took the Matrix back, Rodimus stepped aside and everything was restored. Plus, the Autobots now had the edge over the more sinister Decepticons.

The point here, is that Optimus Prime dying created backlash and made children cry but it was necessary in making Transformers survive. It enriched the mythos, it paved the way for new characters, new toys and it opened the door for riskier and more interesting storytelling. It changed the tone of the franchise, which I feel was needed after the 65 episodes before The Movie.

I think Hasbro was smart in doing what they did. Without the death of Optimus Prime, we might not have Transformers today. The sacrifice of the franchise’s most popular hero gave that franchise meaning beyond just being some cartoon made to sell toys.

Also, no matter how much money they dump into these modern Transformers movies, they have yet to come up with a story that can even exist in the same orbit as the original animated film. Without the death of Optimus Prime, what was that film? It probably would’ve just felt like a normal multi-part episode like G.I. Joe: The Movie did because they didn’t commit to the bit and kill off Duke.

With Transformers: The Movie, Hasbro did everything right.

And now I leave you with Stan Bush’s “The Touch”. Drink it in, bathe in its glory.