Documentary Review: Marvel 75 Years: From Pulp to Pop! (2014)

Release Date: November 4th, 2014
Music by: Lauren Pardini, Daniel Sternbaum
Cast: Axel Alonso, Hayley Atwell, Gerry Conway, Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Seth Green, Clark Gregg, Jimmy Kimmel, Stan Lee, Ralph Macchio, Todd McFarlane, Patton Oswalt, Nicole Perlman, Joe Quesada, Peter Sanderson, Jim Shooter, Kevin Smith, Jim Starlin, Emily VanCamp, Len Wein, Ming-Na Wen

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

I recently reviewed a short, made-for-TV documentary on Disney+ called Assembling a Universe. That one was a piece on how Disney and Marvel assembled a movie franchise based off of Marvel’s rich treasure trove of characters and stories.

This short documentary is kind of more of the same but it focuses mostly on the comic books themselves and how Marvel grew into what it is today.

Like the previous documentary, which came out earlier in the same year, this one is really just a marketing tool to try and get people to go see their movies. It’s made by Disney, Marvel and ABC, all of whom are essentially the same company, so this is made to sort of pimp themselves out.

Ultimately, this is an autobiographical puff piece. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things of value in it. It’s informative and gives you a good amount of info to start with for those interested in Marvel’s history but there are much better documentaries, books and magazine articles on the subject.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Assembling a Universe and Empire of Dreams.

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: The Tomb of Dracula – The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

Published: October 4th, 2017
Written by: Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin
Art by: Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Gil Kane (cover)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Marvel Comics, 518 Pages

Review:

This was an interesting collection, as it not only featured the first few story arcs of The Tomb of Dracula comic book series but it also featured issues of the black and white comics magazine Dracula Lives!

Additionally, this features the first appearance and first story of Blade, the character made most famous by Wesley Snipes in the film trilogy that kicked off in 1998. It also has a story that pits Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane against Dracula, capitalizing off of the popular sword and sorcery trend in comics at the time.

Overall, this is a pretty neat comic and since I love the Dracula character in many of his incarnations, it’s cool seeing Marvel’s take on him. I also like that Dracula exists within Marvel canon, as well as Robert E. Howard’s canon, because it opens up a lot of possibilities. Sadly, I don’t think we ever got a Dracula and Godzilla crossover even though both of them existed at Marvel at the same time.

I absolutely love the art in this whether its the stuff from the Tomb stories or the Lives! ones. But I do kind of wish that they would’ve made this a beefier collection of just The Tomb of Dracula while also making a collection just for Dracula Lives!

Both series are great but they’re also very different in that the Dracula Lives! comics didn’t have to adhere to the Comics Code Authority and therefore, were a lot darker, more violent and much sexier.

Anyway, I enjoyed both halves of this huge collection and I look forward to delving into the second volume in the near future.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the later Marvel Dracula stories, as well as other ’70s Marvel horror titles.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Hugo Strange

Published: April 24th, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 240 Pages

Review:

There really aren’t a lot of Hugo Strange stories. Well, at least when compared to the amount of Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin or Catwoman stories. But there were still enough to fill up an installment in the Batman Arkham Collections, which has been a trade paperback “best of” series for many of Batman’s top villains.

Granted, we might be scraping the bottom of the barrel now that they’ve done one for Joker’s Daughter and they have an upcoming one for Victor Zsasz but I digress.

I like most of these villain-centric collections and this one is no different, as it is nice to have the key Hugo Strange stories in one book. However, this also goes to show that the guy has been underutilized and underappreciated by Batman writers over the years.

This is over 200 pages but some of the stories are multi-part arcs. There’s maybe a half dozen different tales here but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough when compared to Batman Arkham Collections of the past.

Most of them were enjoyable but this makes me question as to whether they should have made this one.

It also made me wish that a good writer would come along and use Hugo Strange more or at least come up with something really great for him to do. He was utilized greatly in the Arkham Asylum games, as well as the Gotham TV show.

But maybe he’s just too much of a generic mad scientist type and with that, overloaded with tropes that most writers just aren’t interested in writing about. But the character debuted in 1940. So in 80 years, there really hasn’t been one great Hugo Strange story? C’mon, DC.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Killer Croc

Published: June 28th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 291 Pages

Review:

Killer Croc is a Batman villain that I have dug since I first read a story with him in it in the late ’80s. I’m glad that he has had staying power and is now pretty close to being an B+ level villain in the Batman and larger DC mythos.

This collection, like the other Batman Arkham villain compilations features a dozen or so stories focused on this specific character, all from different eras with a slew of different writers and artists.

But in the case of this book, that kind of hurts the overall compilation.

Now most of the writing is good with stories by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Gerry Conway, Tim Seeley and others. It’s the big style variance in art that damages the overall presentation.

The problem is that most of the stories featured here are from the ’90s. At the time, DC Comics had a lot of artists that experimented with a lot of different art styles. Most of the stuff here looks like ’90s indie stuff that is trying way too hard to be edgy and extreme. A lot of it comes off like massive eye sores and the strong contrast in style from chapter to chapter is kind of jarring. But this is a compilation and these things happen when you’re wedging a dozen or so stories into the same book.

However, this collection also brings to light one of my biggest gripes about the Killer Croc character and that’s that everyone draws him differently. Sometimes he’s just a jacked dude with scaly skin and other times he’s the size of the Hulk with an actual crocodile looking head, snout and all. I’ve never been a fan of his inconsistent look and some of these artists go too wild with it.

Being mostly a product of the ’90s we also get some over the top violence in one story in particular, which sees Killer Croc literally chomp a woman in half. While that stuff doesn’t bother me, it seemed out of place in the book and just reminded me of a time when DC Comics seemed like they were trying too hard to fit within what they thought were the times.

I did enjoy this collection, despite my gripes about it. They could only work with what they had in their library but I can’t believe that some of these are considered the best Killer Croc tales. Maybe someone needs to step up and do the character some justice, treat him with care and give us something with more meat.

I also found it odd that none of his Suicide Squad stuff was here, as some of those stories really build up the character in interesting ways.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

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.

Film Review: Fire & Ice (1983)

Release Date: March 25th, 1983 (Germany)
Directed by: Ralph Bakshi
Written by: Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas
Music by: William Kraft
Cast: Susan Tyrrell, Maggie Roswell, William Ostrander, Stephen Mendel, Steve Sandor

Polyc International BV, Producers Sales Organization, 20th Century Fox, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Next time you present me with one of your little sluts, Mother dear… I’ll squash you like a bug.” – Nekron

I have a funny story about this film. I saw it when I was probably about four or five when my aunt told my uncle to take my cousins and I to a movie. However, she said it had to be a cartoon because he always took us to see movies he wanted to see, which were usually violent action films. So my uncle took us to this and while it was rated PG by 1983 standards (before PG-13 was even a thing), it certainly wasn’t a kids’ cartoon due to its level of violence and barely clothed voluptuous women.

Anyway, I thought it was cool as hell as a young kid and since I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s, I thought that revisiting it was long overdue.

Luckily, Fire & Ice is still a lot of fun. It has held up tremendously well and it has that early ’80s sword and sorcery spirit. Plus, the visual style is incredible.

What’s really interesting, and it wasn’t something I knew about or would have cared about as a kid, is that the film was made with rotoscoping. What that means, is that live action actors were filmed and then those frames were then traced over for the animation. This early ’80s rotoscoping isn’t as clean as the technique is in more modern films like A Scanner Darkly but it still gives fluid movement and realistic motion.

I also love the character design and the way the fantasy world was drawn. The ape men look great, the monsters are cool, especially the giant octopus, and the rotoscoped characters just fit naturally with the painted landscapes.

The story is also entertaining and what’s really cool about it, is that it was written by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, two guys that had previously written Conan comic stories for Marvel. For fans of classic Marvel Conan, you will see parallels to those tales. It’s also worth noting that Peter Chung, the guy who would later create Æon Flux, was an artist on this picture.

Fire & Ice is imaginative and badass. It’s a cool world and a great looking film. I heard a few years ago that Robert Rodriguez was trying to make a live action adaptation of this and frankly, I hope that he does. This is a world that could and should be explored more. Maybe a live action resurrection will help turn Fire & Ice into more than some forgotten ’80s sword and sorcery cartoon. There’s a good story here with really cool characters.

Hell, maybe a comic book company can get the publishing rights and put out The Further Adventures of Darkwolf because he is one of the coolest barbarian heroes of all-time.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other early ’80s sword and sorcery movies, as well as the animated films Wizards, The Lord of the Rings from 1978 and Starchaser: The Legend of Orin.