Film Review: Toy Soldiers (1991)

Release Date: April 26th, 1991
Directed by: Daniel Petrie Jr.
Written by: David Koepp, Daniel Petrie Jr.
Based on: Toy Soldiers by William P. Kennedy
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, Keith Coogan, Andrew Divoff, Denholm Elliot, Lou Gossett Jr., George Perez, T.E. Russell, Shawn Phelan, R. Lee Ermey, Jerry Orbach (uncredited)

Island World, TriStar Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Great, the school gets taken over by terrorists and I’m still on pots and pans.” – William “Billy” Tepper

I thought this movie was pretty badass when I was twelve years-old. I mean, it’s still okay but it hasn’t stood the test of time very well. Plus, I think at twelve, I still believed that being a real G.I. Joe was an obtainable life goal.

Toy Soldiers like Red Dawn, Iron Eagle and The Rescue before it, sees its teen stars pick up arms to take down some corrupt, evil motherfuckers.

In the case of this film, the teens’ military school is taken over by a Colombian drug cartel because the cartel’s leader’s daddy is being held captive by the United States government. The reason he chose the school was because the son of one of the U.S. government officials is enrolled there. However, he was pulled out of the academy just before the evil shitheads arrived. So the bad guys already suck before the ball really gets rolling.

Anyway, we see a pretty solid cast of Sean Astin, Keith Coogan and Wil Wheaton (before he totally sucked) work with their other buddies in an effort to stop the drug cartel and take their school back.

The adult officials in the movie are also pretty solid, as they’re played by Louis Gossett Jr. Denholm Elliot and R. Lee Ermey.

Seeing this now, almost thirty years later, all the film’s extra excess of cheese is very apparent. Sure, I noticed it when I was a pre-teen but having just come out of the ’80s, cheesiness was still at the forefront of American pop culture. So was patriotism and kicking foreign ass, as we had just won the Cold War, conquered mainstream communism and were embroiled in the first Gulf War. Also, for kids my age, we had guys like Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan preaching to us about the awesomeness of Americana. Don’t talk to me about Slaughter becoming an Iraqi sympathizer because that wasn’t real, you imagined it.

So the movie is still enjoyable in spite of its goofiness and its awkward stars trying so hard to be tough guys. It’s hard to buy into, especially when you see little Willy Wheaton shooting a machine gun on the steps of the school, only to be gunned down in an effort to give this meaningless movie more meaning.

As mindless entertainment goes, you could watch much worse. This is a pretty forgettable film but it had some good young actors for its time. I only wish it would’ve been retooled into a Pauly Shore movie because that would’ve taken it to a whole other level.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other teen soldier movies like Red Dawn, Iron Eagle and The Rescue.

Comic Review: Crisis On Infinite Earths

Published: 1985-1986
Written by: Marv Wolfman
Art by: George Perez

DC Comics, 359 Pages

Review:

Crisis On Infinite Earths is one of DC Comics’ sacred cows. Yet, I’ve never had much urge to read it because my experience reading massive DC Comics crossovers has never been that great.

But now I have read it because I felt like it was long overdue and because this is a storyline that is referenced a lot, still to this day, thirty-five years later.

The first problem with this story might be apparent by the number of tags at the top of this post. It’s overloaded with so many characters that it is mostly a convoluted clusterfuck of biblical proportions.

In fact, this post may be the record holder for the number of tags I had to add to it. And frankly, that’s not all the characters, just the ones I know because two-thirds of the characters here are generic one-offs or so minute to the DC universe that they aren’t worth noting.

Now I know that some people love the splash pages from this series, as they showcase dozens (if not over a hundred) different characters all in one giant image. If I’m being honest, I’ve always disliked them and they are why I never really wanted to read this. Most of the action is minimal and many of these scenes are just characters standing around. They lack the energy that a splash page needs and look more like they belong in a Where’s Waldo? book. And I don’t say that to come off as a dick because I almost always love George Perez’s art. This just seems like DC management telling Perez to squeeze in as many characters as artistically possible. It’s hard on the eyes and it’s shit.

Another big problem with this twelve issue story arc is that every moment feels larger than life. Well, when everything is so big and grandiose, that becomes normal and status quo. You can’t possibly go bigger and with everything being so big from start to finish, none of it is memorable. It’s just a busy, stressful read without allowing the reader to catch their breath and reflect on what’s happened. It’s kind of like a Michael Bay movie. Throw so much intense shit at the audience, don’t let them stop and think and they’ll just move from point A to point B to point C and so on, forgetting everything that happened two points prior.

This event was made in an effort to sort of reset the DC universe. Honestly, all it does is make a giant fucking mess of things and splatters the mess all over everything it touches.

The plot doesn’t make sense, I’m not sure what exactly changed and with so many universes crashing together into one, it’s not properly organized and then re-established in any sort of way that a reader can follow. If this was supposed to be a jumping on point for readers in 1986, I don’t know how they made sense out of any of it and then knew which characters to follow.

The main reason for the previous sentence is that this is so overloaded with people that you don’t get to really know any of them. There is no character development and this is written in a way that it assumes the reader knows all about every character in the story. For a seasoned comic book reader like myself, who has been reading comics for three and a half decades, I was lost and didn’t know who half of the low tier characters were.

Crisis On Infinite Earths should have been written as a Justice League story with some inclusion of the Fawcett Comics characters and the Golden Age DC heroes. All the third tier and lower characters could have made cameos but even then, they don’t really need to.

I really hoped that this was going to pleasantly surprise me but it hurt my head.

It was too much, too big and too long.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: mid-’80s DC Comics titles, as well as all the other massive DC crossover events.

Vids I Dig 216: Comic Tropes: The History of Every ‘Crisis’ in DC Comics

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: The CW is adapting DC Comics seminal crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths. This video takes a look at the various Crisis stories in DC Comics which have been running since the 60s. The word “crisis” in a title in DC Comics tends to imply an epic event with changes to their ongoing comics.

Comic Review: Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up

Published: March 4th, 2015
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 458 Pages

Review:

This was a comic book series that I had wanted to read for a long time. I was collecting all of the single issues, in an effort to get the whole shebang before reading any of them, as I wanted the full experience.

However, I found the beefy collected edition at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet for like $4.95. So I couldn’t pass up that deal and because tracking down the whole series, as well as its crossovers was taking some time.

Anyway, this wasn’t exactly what I had hoped it was but it was still a really fun comic, especially as a fan of Doctor Doom, who is mostly the main character, alongside Namor, throughout the series’ run.

What I had hoped (or assumed) this was, was a book that put two villains together like a tag team in an effort to see them fight their regular nemeses. I expected more of a mix up of villains but the vast majority of this pairs Doom and Namor. And honestly, most of the time, they’re at odds with each other, so “team-up” isn’t all that accurate.

Other villains come into the series towards the end. We get to see Red Skull, Arnim Zola, The Hate-Monger, Magneto and a few others. But most of this is Doom having schemes that typically involve Namor. It pits them (well, mostly Doom) against superhero teams like The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the ’70s version of The Champions but it also sees Doom come into conflict with other major villains.

For the most part, this is a really fun and energetic series that highlights what was great about ’70s Marvel. However, the series kept switching writers and artists and some of the issues aren’t nearly as great as the more solid ones.

It’s definitely better written in the first few issues, as those duties were handled by the great Roy Thomas. Towards the end, the book gets more exciting, as a lot of characters get wedged in but the earliest stories were just better written tales.

All in all, this is definitely worth picking up for those out there that are into ’70s Marvel and/or Doctor Doom. If you can find the collected trade paperback for as cheap as I got it, you should definitely pick it up and give it a shot.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the Avengers and Fantastic Four comics of the ’70s.

Comic Review: Logan’s Run

Published: 1977
Written by: Gerry Conway, David Kraft, John Waner
Art by: George Perez, Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson, Paul Gulacy, Tom Sutton, Terry Austin, Gil Kane
Based on: Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson

Marvel Comics, 160 Pages

Review:

I’ve been collecting a lot of Marvel’s movie adaptations from the late ’70s and early ’80s. I was inspired to round as many up as I could after really loving Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey comic series. And like that one, the story in this adaptation goes beyond the movie.

This series only gave us seven issues, as it was cancelled prematurely and didn’t even get a proper conclusion. However, it really comes alive in the final two issues, where it moves on beyond the film.

The first five issues are a direct adaptation of the Logan’s Run movie from 1976. Even though the story is pretty much a replay of the picture, there are some “deleted scenes” sprinkled in that give some parts of the story more context and more plot and character development. There are a few minor deviations from the finished film but this may have been made with an earlier draft of the script and with some of the cut scenes left in. Also, this probably had to do things somewhat differently due to the time and space constraints of wedging the plot into just five thin comics.

I really dug this though, as I love the film and seeing it play out in a different medium was a cool treat. Plus, I love George Perez’s art and this has his patented flair while still being true to the style cues of the film.

It’s issue six that really peaked my interest though, as it starts where the movie’s plot stopped. Everything wasn’t fine once the people discovered the truth behind their existence. In fact, everything goes to shit almost immediately and the now free citizens turn against the Sandmen, especially Logan-5.

The Sandmen are imprisoned but they are released shortly after when the free people of the city don’t know how to solve all the new problems they are faced with. Logan takes it upon himself to try and bring peace and to set in motion a better world but then the series ends… on a cliffhanger.

So that was like a punch in the gut but I enjoyed the comic nonetheless. I just wish Marvel, knowing they were going to cancel it, at least did another issue to wrap things up, even if it came across as rushed. But I guess I’ll have to use my imagination to come up with my own ending like so many television shows that were cancelled on cliffhangers.

Anyway, if you dig the movie, you’ll probably dig this. Just be forewarned that it leaves you hanging like a drunk significant other passing out prematurely.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi comic book adaptations by Marvel in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Comic Review: Vigilante by Marv Wolfman, Vol. 1

Published: 1983-1984 (original single issues run)
Written by: Marv Wolfman
Art by: Keith Polland, George Perez, various

DC Comics, 318 Pages

Review:

I remember seeing copies of the Vigilante on shelves and in long boxes back in the day when I used to spend every dollar of my allowance on comics. I never knew much about the character other than he always had comics with striking covers. At the time, I think I just assumed he was one of a million Punisher or Deathstroke ripoffs and never really gave him a shot. But now that I am an adult with some disposable income, I wanted to see what was beyond the great covers that always adorned this comic book series.

Seeing that Marv Wolfman created the character and wrote this series was a big selling point, as this came out when Wolfman was writing some of his best work. I’m primarily talking about his run on The New Teen Titans, which is also where Vigilante debuted – in the second annual, to be exact.

This collection starts with that first appearance and then collects the first 11 issues of the Vigilante comic.

I guess the thing that’s most cool about Vigilante is that while the hero is a gun carrying vigilante out for justice in an effort to correct a flawed system, his backstory certainly isn’t cookie cutter. While he loses his family in a similar way to Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher, it’s almost as if he is a cross between Castle and Harvey Dent. Although, he luckily avoids getting half of his face melted off with acid.

The Vigilante is Adrian Chase, an attorney that has tried to stop the mob for years but constantly sees a corrupt legal system fail, again and again. The murder of his family is the final straw. But his origin, once you get to that issue, is really weird and even has some mystical elements to it.

The Vigilante is probably the best good guy out of all the other characters that embody the “vigilante” trope. While he breaks the law, trying to uphold the law, he is often times at odds with himself and second guessing his tactics. After the first 11 issues of his series, he’s still not settled on what way is the right way or if he’s even doing what’s best for society.

There are a lot of layers and Marv Wolfman gave us a really dynamic series here. Frankly, this is vastly underappreciated and sadly, mostly forgotten.

Adrian Chase got new life in modern times as a character on the TV show Arrow but that incarnation was called Prometheus and he was a straight up villain out to make Green Arrow suffer.

If you like these type of characters, this will most assuredly be a refreshing read for you. It is not a retread of dozens of similar characters. It’s a unique take on the genre and it’s much more intelligent than most of the titles you can compare it to.

Plus, the art is strikingly beautiful and the Vigilante has a really cool costume that’s one part retro and two parts badass.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Marv Wolfman’s run on The New Teen Titans, as well as ’80s stories featuring Deathstroke.

Comic Review: The New Teen Titans, Issue #2 – First Appearance of Deathstroke

Published: November 30th, 1980
Written by: Marv Wolfman
Art by: George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, Adrienne Roy

DC Comics, 26 Pages

Review:

If you’ve been reading Talking Pulp for awhile, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Deathstroke. That being said, I have never read his first appearance. The main reason is because this single issue is pretty expensive nowadays, as Deathstroke has gone on to get more and more popular over the years. Especially, after appearing in live action form in the Arrow TV series as well as the recent Justice League movie.

I read this digitally. This single issue is still on my bucket list for comics I want to own before I die but I really wanted to read this simply because it was the first time the world got to see Deathstroke, the Terminator.

On a side note, it also features Grant Wilson’s first time out as Ravager. He is the son of Deathstroke, which isn’t much of a spoiler, as this story is almost 40 years old.

Anyway, this adds a lot of background context to the events of the more famous New Teen Titans story arc, The Judas Contract. We understand more about Deathstroke’s motivations because of this first appearance.

Like The Judas Contract, this story was written by Marv Wolfman and the art was done by George Perez. They were one of the best tandems in comics history and it’s pretty apparent that they were writing this story with the long game in mind.

Perez designed Deathstroke in the same year that he designed Taskmaster for Marvel in Avengers issues 195 and 196. I mentioned in my review about that story arc that the two characters have very strong design similarities. Also, both are at the top of my list as favorite characters under the banner of their publishers.

This was a really exciting read for me. I have a strong bias towards Deathstroke but Wolfman wrote some of the best team superhero comics ever. Perez’s art is fluid and mesmerizing. The two together are pure dynamite.

This issue also reminds me of a time when single issue comics could tell a self contained story with limited space but cover a lot of ground.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Teen Titans stories from the Marv Wolfman and George Perez era.

Comic Review: The Avengers, Issues #195-196 – First Appearance of Taskmaster

Published: May, 1980 – June, 1980
Written by: David Michelinie
Art by: George Perez

Marvel Comics, 36 Pages

Review:

The Taskmaster is the shit! Which is why the two issues that make up his first appearance have been on my comic book bucket list for years. Recently, I tracked down affordable copies and finally gave his first little story arc a read.

Well, I wouldn’t call this great but if you like Taskmaster, this is still worth a look. Plus, it also has his origin wedged into the story, as he describes his abilities and history to the Avengers through flashbacks.

I think the thing that really stands out about this story and this era in Avengers history is the art of George Perez. In fact, since this is all about Taskmaster, I should point out the visual similarities between him and another George Perez creation, Deathstroke. He would create both of these iconic villains just a few months apart in 1980.

Anyway, the story sees the Avengers try to rescue the Wasp, who has been captured and is being experimented on in a castle. The Scott Lang Ant-Man and Hank Pym, as Yellow Jacket, infiltrate the castle and reach the Wasp. Once they are inside and have a scuffle, the Taskmaster makes his presence known with a big final page reveal.

In the second issue, the Taskmaster takes on the Avengers and nearly beats them. He also tells his origin story, explaining his unique skills that give him an advantage over all of the Avengers he’s observed in the past. However, we quickly discover his Achilles heel, at least in this story, as he doesn’t know how to defeat an Avengers teammate he’s never seen before.

The story is enjoyable and there is a lot of action. The real highlight is the George Perez art, though. Man, he really was one of my favorite artists from this era.

While these single issues aren’t cheap, due to them being a first appearance, you can read them on Comixology for just a few bucks.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Avengers stories circa 1980.

Comic Review: Marvel Premiere Featuring Man-Wolf

Published: December, 1978 – February, 1979
Written by: David Anthony Kraft
Art by: George Perez, Frank Giacoia, Ricardo Villamonte

Marvel Comics, 38 Pages

Review:

I’ve been picking up old issues of Marvel Premiere lately. Mainly, because this anthology series predates the era where I first started reading comics and because Marvel’s ’70s fantasy stuff is pretty rad.

This Man-Wolf story was released over two issues, starting in the month I was born. Also, the Man-Wolf character is pretty damn cool when used in the right sort of story. This is definitely one of those stories, as this is where he becomes the super powerful Stargod.

The thing that really sold this for me though, was the George Perez art. His style has always resonated with me and his art was one of the factors that really got me into comics. When I first started drawing, I mimicked Perez a lot.

I think the thing that makes this a pretty cool story though, is the fantasy setting. Man-Wolf ends up in a weird place and becomes a god to a crew of barbarian type heroes. When you see him unleash his raw power, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

On the other hand, he was almost too powerful for this story and when the big showdown with the baddies happens, it felt a bit lazy in how easy it was for him to basically just turn into a friggin’ magic bomb. But I’m not complaining because the badassness of it is stronger than how convenient it was. Plus, it works for the narrative, as this was more about Man-Wolf becoming Stargod than fighting generic fantasy villains.

This was a really cool story to pick up. I think it would have been better though, if it was spread out over four issues and gave us a bit more depth and character development for Man-Wolf’s allies.

But comics are supposed to be fun escapism and that’s exactly what this is.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Man-Wolf stories from the era, most notably the issues that feature him in another Marvel anthology series, Creatures On the Loose.

Comic Review: The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Published: January 31st, 1984 – June 30th, 1984
Written by: George Perez, Marv Wolfman
Art by: George Perez, Romeo Tanghal

DC Comics, 192 Pages

Review:

This is one of the biggest stories in Teen Titans history. Many say that this is the biggest and best tale. I haven’t read this since around 1990 or so but I loved it back then. But does it measure up for me now, decades later, and no longer having an elementary school level brain?

Yes!

In fact, I enjoyed this now much more than I did as a kid where some of the emotional weight of the plot didn’t have as much context. I also don’t think that I was mature enough to really understand this very human tragedy and the significance of the characters’ relationships and trials.

The only down side of this collected edition was the inclusion of the Brother Blood story. I know that it is tied in to the bigger picture and is also sandwiched by Robin and Kid Flash leaving the Titans and then the actual four-part Judas Contract storyline but it just feels like filler wedged in. But it isn’t a complete waste of time as it helps to develop Terra and also adds more depth to Dick Grayson’s transformation from Robin into Nightwing.

And yes, this story is the first appearance of Nightwing, which makes it even cooler, as Nightwing is one of my all-time favorite characters, even if his earliest outfit was a bit goofy.

The biggest theme in this story is betrayal and it manifests nicely, which is due to the skill of writers George Perez and Marv Wolfman. In a lot of ways, it feels like this story was a major influence on Marvel’s New Mutants stories several years later, especially when the team started to grow into adults and started to question their place in the world.

The absolute highlight for me is Deathstroke. Here, he was still mostly referred to as the Terminator. The name sort of got phased out after the success of the unrelated Terminator film series that kicked off just after this story arc.

Deathstroke was still a complete and total villain when this tale was written. It introduces members of his family though and if you are reading the current Deathstroke comic series, a lot of these characters are relevant again and this story arc is good for adding more context to Deathstroke’s current run.

This may be a comic book about a bunch of teens but it is more adult than most of the adult heroes’ books from the same era. Honestly, I forgot about how hard of an edge the old school Teen Titans stories had.

If you are a fan of any of the characters in this book, this is definitely a must read.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The most current run of Deathstroke, as they share a lot of the same characters and plot threads related to Deathstroke’s personal life and family.