Comic Review: What If Thor Battled Conan?

Published: June, 1983
Written by: Alan Zelenetz
Art by: Ron Wilson
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

I’m planning to review many of the classic What If? stories but in doing so, I wanted to start with the ones featuring Conan first. This is the second of the four Conan stories.

While Conan briefly crossed over with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in his first What If? tale, it was just a small cameo by Spider-Man and his future wife and the characters didn’t actually interact. This story, however, is the first time that Conan actually has fisticuffs with an iconic Marvel character.

The comic also features Conan villain Thoth-Amon, a brief appearance by Loki and a strange, bonkers appearance by Crom, who shows that he just doesn’t have time for Thor’s shit.

The comic’s title is somewhat misleading, as Thor and Conan do actually battle but it’s pretty short and they start working together to try and figure out how to get Thor back home, as he’s trapped in Conan’s realm and time.

The setup for this is pretty basic. Thor follows Loki into a cave and ends up in a different time and place. Part of me was kind of hoping to see Loki team up with Thoth-Amon but that didn’t happen.

Overall, this was a pretty cool read but the scene with Thor meeting Crom felt really out of place, strange and as if the writer didn’t really know much about Conan lore. Crom isn’t like Odin, just chilling on a throne for anyone to confront and chat with.

This isn’t my favorite of the Conan What If? stories but none of them are bad and they’re all amusing and entertaining in their own unique way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

Film Review: Hulk (2003)

Also known as: Big Green (fake working title), The Hulk (working title)
Release Date: June 17th, 2003 (US premiere)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: James Schamus, Michael France, John Turman
Based on: The Incredible Hulk by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Cara Buono, Lou Ferrigno (cameo)

Marvel Enterprises, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Universal Pictures, 138 Minutes

Review:

“You know what scares me the most? When it happens, when it comes over me… and I totally lose control, I like it.” – Bruce Banner

I haven’t watched this since around the time that it came out and with good reason. Despite liking the cast, this was a boring dud of a film that ran on for way too long and didn’t really give us a whole lot to care about.

Which is probably why a sequel was never made and the character of the Hulk was rebooted for the Marvel Cinematic Universe just half a decade later.

I did like Eric Bana as the title character and I thought that he was a solid choice. However, the script just made him completely vanilla. And I guess I can say the same for everyone else other than Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte.

Elliott was perfect as Thunderbolt Ross. But, then again, he’s perfect in just about everything.

Nolte was also damn great and committed to the role so well, that he was the only character I truly felt anything emotional from. The character was awful, though. He was sort of like the Absorbing Man but he was a different character, altogether and his story just didn’t work for me. That’s not to say that Nolte didn’t nail the part, he did. It’s just to say that the part was pretty shit.

The story was also shit and that’s really the main issue. The script and the plot were both uninspiring and slower than a mentally handicapped snail trying to compete at Monaco.

Additionally, Ang Lee wasn’t a wise choice for the director. It was a baffling decision to me in 2003 and even more so in 2020, looking back at this green turd sandwich and being annoyed by his visual style and his failed attempts at trying to give this some sort of artistic merit, inspired by his more beautiful Hong Kong pictures.

The audience wants to see Hulk smash, not kung fu masters magically flying over bamboo forests or gay, emotionally conflicted cowboys staring at meadow grass blowing in the wind. While Lee has an action background with his Hong Kong pictures, those movies are such a vastly different style than this one. Additionally, his style of really emotional human drama is great in the right picture but it’s not necessary in something like this.

Ultimately, this felt like a weird amalgamation of all things Ang Lee mashed together in the most non-Ang Lee style of motion picture.

Other than a few performances, the only other thing I really liked were the special effects.

What sucks, is that I really wanted to like this but I knew before even seeing it that it was destined to be a strange misfire.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel movies before the MCU was established in 2008.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 6

Published: February 23rd, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 240 Pages

Review:

I feel like it would be hard to top the greatness that was the previous Fantastic Four – Masterworks volume but this did follow it up pretty nicely and also expanded the Marvel universe by introducing the world to Black Panther and his enemy Klaw.

The earliest arc in this collection focuses on Black Panther and his home of Wakanda. It also brings in the Inhumans, as well. While I love this story, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the epic tale of Doctor Doom stealing Silver Surfer’s powers and cosmic surfboard.

It also features some other Fantastic Four villains sprinkled in but it’s the Doom story that really takes the spotlight, here.

As is the norm for these early Fantastic Four – Masterworks editions, the stories were written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby. While I’m now sixty percent of the way through their 100 issue run, the series hasn’t gotten dull or even really tapered off. Everything is still damn solid and Kirby’s artwork seems to still improve with each volume, even if he was a long-time veteran by this point.

All in all, this is still a great collection that lives up to the hype and only serves to make me appreciate Lee and Kirby’s partnership on this title even more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Film Review: The Punisher (1989)

Release Date: October 5th, 1989 (Germany)
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Boaz Yakin
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Dennis Dreith
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeroen Krabbe, Kim Miyori

Marvel Entertainment, New World Pictures, 89 Minutes, 76 Minutes (heavily cut), 98 Minutes (workprint version)

Review:

“If you’re guilty, you’re dead.” – Frank Castle

While I know that this isn’t as good as the 2004 Punisher movie, this is still my favorite film of the lot and Dolph Lundgren really embodied the version of Frank Castle that I envisioned as a kid in the late ’80s, just discovering Punisher comics.

I loved the fuck out of this movie when I saw it in 1990, once it hit video store shelves in my area. I would’ve loved to have seen it in the theater but I lived in a small town with small theaters that played it safe, didn’t take risks and have now mostly been replaced with better theaters offering more variety… and alcohol.

Dolph Lundgren is just fucking perfect in this and nothing else about the film really matters. Sure, I like Louis Gossett Jr. but he’s kind of a non-event in the picture, as is everyone else, except the mob boss turned vigilante that helps the Punisher fight ninjas in an effort to rescue his kidnapped son.

This wasn’t made by Cannon, it was in fact made by New World, but it has that Cannon vibe to it albeit with an even cheaper budget. Still, its a solid mix of gritty, ’80s action, a badass hero and more ammo wasted than an Argentinian coup.

One sequence that really stands out is where we get to see the Punisher battle a hoard of machine gun ninjas in a decrepit carnival funhouse. Granted, I also loved the big finale that saw our hero and the mobster douche machine gun the crap out of ninjas.

All in all, this is just a badass flick with uber amounts of testosterone, one of the best, most physically intimidating action stars of all-time and it feels true to the source material. It’s certainly better than everything that came after that Thomas Jane Punisher movie. 

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel live-action films pre-MCU.

Film Review: Elektra (2005)

Release Date: January 8th, 2005 (Las Vegas premiere)
Directed by: Rob Bowman
Written by: Zak Penn, Stuart Zicherman, Raven Metzner
Based on: Elektra by Frank Miller
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Will Yun Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Terence Stamp, Bob Sapp, Jason Issacs (uncredited), Ben Affleck (cameo, scene cut)

Marvel Enterprises, Regency Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 97 Minutes, 100 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I like your bracelet, by the way. Do you know what those are? Here. They’re warrior beads. They’re from Indonesia. Centuries ago, you had to be the best fighter in your village to earn them.” – Elektra, “Wow. I bought’em off eBay.” – Abby Miller

I never wanted to see this because the trailer was a complete turnoff that made this film look like absolute schlock of the highest and worst caliber. Not good, cheesy schlock but the kind that’s so drab and pointless that it’s shocking it even got a theatrical release and wasn’t used to torture terrorists.

Having finally seen this, I wasn’t wrong. This is definitely a terrible movie, littered with atrocious special effects, generic and lifeless characters, as well as wasting the talents of the few good actors in it.

What’s even worse is that this doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same universe as 2003’s Daredevil, which was a pretty decent movie if you watch the Director’s Cut instead of the theatrical version. Hell, even Ben Affleck filmed a cameo scene to tie them together and for whatever reason, it was cut from the final version of this film.

What this does feel like is a made-for-TV SyFy movie of the week. It’s duller than a plastic knife left too close to an open flame with about as much personality and charm as a lobotomized sloth.

The only real silver lining in this is that Jennifer Garner looks absolutely stunning. But she’s always pretty stunning and one shouldn’t have to suffer through this deplorable production just to see her kick the shit out of people while being super hot.

Elektra is bad, really bad. I mean, I guess it’s better than 2004’s Catwoman but at least that film had some memorable moments. Everything in this film is completely forgettable.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: the 2003 Daredevil movie, as well as other superhero films from the mid-’90s through mid-’00s.

Comic Review: What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth TODAY?

Published: February, 1979
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Glynis Wein
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

finally collected all four issues of What If? that feature Conan the Barbarian. So I figured that I’d read them all and review them. In fact, I’ve had plans to review all of the What If? comics in my collection, as some of them are great alternative takes on the heroes and villains we all love.

This is the first story to feature Conan and it’s probably the most well-known of the four. Also, it is penned by regular Conan the Barbarian comic writer Roy Thomas.

The question posed by this issue of What If? is an intriguing one, especially for the time when it came out. While Conan has been to the modern world several times since the 1970s, this was the first of those stories.

Now I can’t call it the best of those stories, as I am digging the absolute hell out of the Savage Avengers title that started last year but this took a typical “fish out of water” story and just made it more badass and cooler than they typically are.

This also features a very brief cameo by Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson but unfortunately, we don’t get to see Conan and Spider-Man tussle.

The story sees magic from Conan’s time send him to 1970s New York City, a time of rampant crime and a Times Square filled with grindhouse theaters, lots of drugs and affordable sex services. Being that Marvel likes to sell comics to kids, we don’t get to see Conan partake in any of these awesome activities.

What we do see, is Conan not knowing how to adapt to this strange land and quickly finding himself a wanted man because half naked dudes swinging swords in New York City was really frowned upon, even in the ’70s.

He also meets a cool chick that is way too trusting and they do “Conan and lady” thangs.

Ultimately, he arrives back home by the end of the issue and it left me wanting more. I get that What If? is a series of one-shots, essentially, but this really could’ve worked and been better as a multi-issue story.

In the end, it was a solid read and I liked seeing Roy Thomas’ take on Conan in the then-modern world.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

Comic Review: Eternals by Neil Gaiman

Published: June 18th, 2008
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics, 231 Pages

Review:

The thought of reading an Eternals comic written by Neil Gaiman was an exciting one. I loved the original Jack Kirby series, as well as the second big Eternals story that saw them appear in the pages of The Mighty Thor for over a year.

Sadly, this was an underwhelming disappointment.

What sucks even more about this is that the art was done by John Romita Jr., one of my favorite artists, whose work I fell in love with when I discovered him during Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run.

The big problem with this story is that it’s just really boring. It features many of the core Eternals characters, brings in the Celestials and the Deviants, while also featuring Iron Man, Yellowjacket and Wasp. Still, it’s drab and reading this was a slog.

I really wanted to like it. It seemed like a potential perfect storm of awesomeness. It just left me feeling bored and empty.

It’s hard to peg why this didn’t work but maybe Gaiman was resting on his laurels. While I mostly liked the Romita art, it also felt like it was unfinished. Maybe the coloring was the issue but for whatever reason, nothing truly popped off of the page.

Frankly, this was a weak effort and a really forgettable comic regardless of the names attached to it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other earlier Eternals stories, primarily those by Jack Kirby and their early crossover with Thor.

Film Review: Daredevil – Director’s Cut (2003)

Also known as: Daredevil: A Daring New Vision (Director’s Cut title)
Release Date: February 9th, 2003 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Written by: Mark Steven Johnson
Based on: Daredevil by Stan Lee, Bill Everett
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantoliano, Jon Favreau, David Keith, Leland Orser, Erick Avari, Ellen Pompeo, Paul Ben-Victor, Robert Iler, Coolio (Director’s Cut only), Mark Margolis (uncredited), Kane Hodder (uncredited), Frank Miller (cameo), Kevin Smith (cameo)

Marvel Enterprises, Horseshoe Bay Productions, New Regency Pictures, 103 Minutes, 133 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“[Director’s Cut version/Narrating] Violence doesn’t discriminate. It hits all of us… the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick. It comes as cold and bracing as a winter breeze off the Hudson. Until it sinks into your bones… leaving you with a chill you can’t shake. They say there’s no rest for the wicked. But what about the good? The battle of Good vs. Evil is never-ending… because evil always survives… with the help of evil men. As for Daredevil, well… soon the world will know the truth. That this is a city born of heroes, that one man can make a difference.” – Matt Murdock

My review of this film is specifically for the Director’s Cut. It’s a far superior version of the movie and frankly, it’s the version that should have been released in theaters.

The theatrical version was kind of shit and a major disappointment. The Director’s Cut, however, showed that the director had made a much better film that was unfortunately butchered by the studio, probably due to its running time. In fact, the theatrical version chopped off thirty minutes from director Mark Steven Johnson’s preferred body of work.

If I’m being honest, though, Johnson is not a great director and this film, even in its superior Director’s Cut presentation, still has a lot of flaws and feels kind of dated, even for its year of release. Although, comic book movies hadn’t really found their proper groove yet, as Nolan’s first Batman movie was still two years away and the first MCU movie was still half of a decade out.

Daredevil also didn’t have the budget that other comic book movies would get just a few years later, as it was made by a smaller studio that had to offset the licensing fees they paid to acquire the character and his pocket of the Marvel Comics universe.

Still, the performances mostly make up for the weaker things in this film. I really liked Ben Affleck as Daredevil and Jennifer Garner did well as Elektra. Most importantly, the two had tremendous chemistry, which I guess was pretty natural and genuine, as they got married a few years later and stayed together for thirteen, which is a lifetime in Hollywood.

I also really liked Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk and Jon Favreau was a great Foggy Nelson.

My only real issue with the cast for the larger roles was Bullseye. Colin Farrell is a good actor but this version of the character was baffling and if I’m being honest, stupid. Bullseye should have been a bit nutty but he also should’ve been in his proper costume and not looked like a guy selling codeine at a rap-metal concert. But I guess Marvel editor Joe Quesada suggested to the director that Bullseye shouldn’t wear his traditional outfit. I guess that’s just another reason to dislike Quesada on top of his large part in destroying his own industry because of politics, hiring unproven talent for diversity reasons and lashing out at customers on social media. But I digress.

The film has a decent enough story, even if it feels pretty bare bones and paint by numbers. The Director’s Cut actually expands on the story, adding in more context and nuance, as well as a side plot that makes the overall experience a much better one than the theatrical version.

I especially liked the origin stuff about Daredevil as a kid. The scenes between the kid actor and his dad, played by the always underappreciated David Keith, are damn good.

Another thing I don’t like, though, is the style of the fighting in the film. It’s fine when everything feels grounded and real but it gets ruined by relying too heavily on the Hong Kong style of martial arts filmmaking. There are too many moments where it is obvious that the characters are on wires and you see them move in ways that don’t make sense in regards to actual physics. That shit doesn’t work for this sort of film. But I get it, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a massive hit a few years earlier and Hollywood tried to emulate the Hong Kong style but kept failing miserably outside of The Matrix movies.

Daredevil – Director’s Cut is still pretty enjoyable, though. Age didn’t really improve it or ruin it. It’s mistakes are pretty clear but they were also clear in 2003.

However, I still really like the cast, for the most part, and it would’ve been interesting seeing how this could’ve continued had sequels bee made. Instead, the studio stupidly opted out of that and went with an abominable Elektra spinoff, a film that I still haven’t been able to stomach in its entirety. But I guess I should review it soon, as I work my way through all of the Marvel movies ever made.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel comics films before the Marvel Cinematic Universe started in 2008.