Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Motorcycle Samurai: An apocalyptic western comic that goes down a fiery road

The Motorcycle Samurai: An apocalyptic western comic that goes down a fiery road
by rick olivares

If you enjoyed Mad Max Fury Road and are waiting for the fifth film, supposedly titled, “Wasteland,” that won’t happen until another year or so then you might want to check out Chris Sheridan’s “The Motorcycle Samurai Volume One: A Fiery Demise.” 

Originally published digitally and now available in trade paperback format thanks to Top Shelf Productions, “A Fiery Demise” is a dangerous mix of George Miller’s apocalyptic anti-hero and the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1970s. The film analogies aside, “A Fiery Demise” stands on its own legs as Sheridan leaves room not just for one anti-hero but two. He doesn’t try to make sense out of a world where the lines between good and bad are blurred. There’s moral ambiguity but by story’s end, it’s all about doing what you can while trying to survive.

The writing is taut and inspired. It feels like you’re living on the edge. Even during the down time in the comic it is still like you’re seated next to a grenade with its firing pin pulled out.

As for the art? No doubt,  Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung would love this.

The story revolves around the mysterious rider White Bolt who transports a prisoner across the desert where some folks will stop at nothing to retrieve the captive. White Bolt is able to deliver the prisoner the town of Trouble (population: 108) that is a wild west version of the Thunderdome. 

Now when you have a town named “Trouble” then it stands to reason that is exactly what you’re going to find in mad world that Sheridan creates. Especially when there are two sides that are going to war (I had to play the Destructo Mix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” while reading this because it seemed just right). 

White Bolt arrives just in time for a boxing match between the sheriff of the town, Roy Keane (who looks like a New Wavish Evel Knievel), and a man called, “the Aussie.” 

When I heard the barker’s impassioned soliloquy that precedes the fight, I am reminded of the soliloquy of Dr. Dealgood, the master of ceremonies in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome that works everyone up to a blood frenzy: "Listen all! This is the truth of it. Fighting leads to killing, and killing gets to warring. And that was damn near the death of us all. Look at us now! Busted up, and everyone talking about hard rain! But we've learned, by the dust of them all... Bartertown learned. Now, when men get to fighting, it happens here! And it finishes here! Two men enter; one man leaves.” 

And for Dr. Dealgood's classic and timeless denouement: "Right now, I've got two men, two men with a gut full of fear. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... dyin' times here!”

Trouble’s barker has the same flair for whetting the crowd’s appetite for destruction when he calmly says, “We all know you hard working and deeply devoted people did not come here to pay tribute as if we were still whelps at the teats of that grand old cow, the queen across the sea. We bow to none, no matter their ilk, or stupid tall hat. We are here for blood. Plain and simple. And then later, maybe, well have some fireworks too. But that is for later. Now is the blood.”

Ach. But isn’t any MPF Interceptor that runs over a biker gang. White Bolt, who later allies herself with the sheriff, go up against the town’s mayor so this too has the feel of that Clint Eastwood classic, "Unforgiven.”

It’s explosive, and so is the conclusion. Yet surprisingly, Sheridan doesn’t go overboard with the violence. And maybe that is good with even mainstream comics becoming way too graphic as the creators try to top each other in showing its audience a million and one ways to die. So props to Sheridan.

The fact that “The Motorcycle Samurai” evokes a lot of feelings and many favorites from pop culture does right by me. 

As for my copy of this trade paperback (that a friend got for me in the last San Diego Comic Con), it sits nicely next to that other apocalyptic western, “The Sixth Gun.” Furthermore, when creators like Jeff Lemire, Mark Waid and Geoff Darrow rave about “The Motorcycle Samurai” then you can’t go wrong.

While “The Motorcycle Samurai” might not be available locally (a copy was given away as part of this year’s Free Comic Book Day), you might want to ask your comic specialty shop or even Fullybooked to get you a copy.

The Motorcycle Samurai TPB is 176-pages long and is published by Top Shelf Productions. 

In our next part, we feature a lengthy interview with creator Chris Sheridan.

Why Iron Man is my favorite superhero film

Iron Man is my favorite superhero film. For one, it  has a real A-List star in Robert Downey Jr. (he was always one of my fave actors since I first saw him in Chances Are then with Air America and Chaplin) although he was on the comeback trail at this point following his lengthy bouts with substance abuse. As Iron Man director Jon Favreau said, he made Iron Man believable and added credibility to the film. 

Two, it incorporated many elements of what made Marvel Comics the success it is today -- flawed real people in real life situations with a healthy dose of humor. It has a great script and plot and even better action sequences. The infusion of the US military especially in the Mid-East theater made it even more believable and timely. Director Jon Favreau who I first became a fan with when he starred and wrote Swingers is a fave. Iron Man is his best work. 

Three, today's technology allowed such a film to be pulled off and seven years after its initial release, it still makes for great viewing. 

Four, it opened what is the expanded cinematic universe and was the first Marvel film with its now trademark post-credits scenes. 

And lastly, the music. Superhero film adaptations didn't use popular music. Iron Man made AC/DC viable again with its classic song, "Back in Black." And it also closed out the film with Black Sabbath's "Iron Man."

Plus, I love the cameos! Iron Man featured not only the co-father of the Marvel Universe in Stan Lee but Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello (see pics below) was in the film as "Insurgent #5.'

Saturday, July 25, 2015

SDCC Gift! Chris Sheridan's The Motorcycle Samurai

Got this as a gift from a friend who went to the San Diego Comic Convention. Been a fan of the digital strip and seeing it in print was an even bigger thrill because now, you can actually hold a copy.

Thanks to creator Chris Sheridan for the autograph and the sketch!

Woo hoo!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant-Man film review: Big things in a small package

Ant-Man film review: Big things in a small package
by rick olivares

 What did I like about Ant-Man?

I had giant-sized concerns heading into the showing of Ant-Man.

For starters, the trailer was rather underwhelming. Nothing really impressive and I wondered if this is where the gravy train would come to a screeching halt. The trailer for Iron Man III was good except for the revelation that Ben Kingsley reprised Gene Hackman’s buffoon of a Lex Luthor in the first ever Superman film with a moronic portrayal of the Mandarin who has always been a terrifying foe for old Shellhead. So when the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy hit, there was a form of trepidation. Guardians who? I know them having read them as a kid but for the world at large, it’s WTF? The Guardians aren’t even a second tier group in Marvel. They are probably third. For crying out loud, they didn’t even have a comic book when it was announced that the space-faring team was getting its Hollywood treatment. But Marvel hit a home run with Guardians so maybe we had to take a leap of faith for Ant-Man.

And that leads me to the character itself. In Marvel Comics mythology, Ant-Man was a founding member of the Avengers. Yet for its entire place in history, Ant-Man in both the Hank Pym and Scott Lang incarnations have been largely underused if not misused. Hank Pym went from heroic to a bad guy while Scott Lang went from a bad guy to a good guy.

In the Marvel pantheon, Spider-Man is its most recognizable character on a worldwide scale followed by the X-Men and Captain America and Iron Man to a certain extent. But I’ll say this for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they got cojones. 

Here’s what I loved about Ant-Man:
The Marvel formula for its comics was to feature the most unlikely character to be a hero and torment them with real life problems. Steve Rogers was a soldier. Tony Stark is an industrial warmonger. Peter Parker is an unpopular high school nerd. The film adaptations have added several crucial ingredients to the Eureka mix: A-list actors, humor, and great soundtracks. 

A-List Actors
Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) has that comedic background (Saturday Night Live) and has a resemblance to Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) with an aww shucks look that makes him likeable and sympathetic. Pratt’s Scott Lang is a true accidental hero.

Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) The gravitas Robert Redford provided for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Douglas reciprocates the same for Ant-Man. Age certainly hasn’t dulled his intensity. 

Michael Peña (Luis) IS A SCENE STEALER. As the wise cracking Luis, he not only provides comedy relief but is always in memorable scenes. His punchlines are awesome. When he recounts stories in a good-natured but long and winded way, it’s absolutely hilarious!

Howard Mackie (Sam Wilson aka "the Falcon”) Who says that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is the only hero with eagle eyes? Pretty cool fight scene between the Falcon and Ant-Man.

Love how Bobby Canavale as Paxton, the boyfriend of Lang’s estranged wife, Maggie, doesn’t end up as the stereotype jerk/bad boyfriend.

Hip hop artist T.I. “Tip” Harris (Dave) and David Dastmalchian (Kurt) who we last saw as a deranged henchman of the Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight are part of Luis’ team of ex-cons on the mend. They hold their own and actually remind me of a modern-day Ghostbusters unit.

Am not sure about Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne who is expected to be the Wasp, the partner of Ant-Man. Maybe because she looks older. But she definitely isn’t any cookie clutter. She provides a fount of strength for the cast.

Corey Stoll as the vengeful and deranged Darren Cross could use a little more malevolence. Sort of like how Jeff Bridges portrayed Obadiah Stane in the first Iron Man film. 

It never gets cheesy and it’s just right. What makes the injection of humour is it is never expected. It just happens. In a tearjerker moment when the Pyms — Hank and his daughter Hope talk about the “death” of Janet, wife and mother respectively to the two - Lang interrupts that moment with an awkward remark that is just perfect. And there’s Peña who his witticisms. When Yellowjacket and Ant-Man fight in Cassie’s (Lang’s daughter) bedroom, they the destruction is horrific but from macro view, it’s hilarious. When Thomas the Engine is thrown out of the window but tagged with the giant-growing Pym particles, it’s even crazier. 

The soundtrack
One of the cool things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe films are the people behind them are 70s and 80s kids -my generation as we were kids in the 70s and were in school in the 80s. You can see references and the music of the times in the films. In Iron Man, it was AC/DC. For Guardians, it was the 1970s. For Ant-Man, there’s composer Christophe Beck who did Buffy the Vampire Slayer, We Are Marshall, the Hangover among many others. There’s also the music of The Cure. Curiously, the credits cites Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Music” but I don’t recall hearing it,

If Avengers was a super hero film in every sense of the word, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy flick. Guardians was sci-fi. And now, Ant-Man is their heist film. Any one care to wonder if the upcoming Dr. Strange flick is a nod to the macabre?

Ant-Man, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is a heist film that is incidentally a superhero film.

The Easter Eggs I liked:
When Darren Cross says “tales to astonish” that is actually the comic where Ant-Man debuted.
The Milgrom Hotel that is a nod to former Marvel artist and editor Al Milgrom.
When Scott Lang asks Hank Pym why can’t they call the Avengers, the latter responds that “they are busy dropping cities out of the sky” a reference to Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Howard Stark and Peggy Carter appearing in a flashback.
One of the corporate terrorists who travels to Pym Tech and is interested in buying Darren Cross’ version of the Pym Particle has a Mandarin tattoo. So you know these guys are still around. 10 Rings of the Mandarin and Hydra? Wow. The bad guys are in force. Now if those beehive sci-fi terrorists of AIM (Advanced Ideas in Mechanics later switched to Murder) show up then we’ve got a legion of adversaries.
When Peña’s Luis is whistling inside Pym Tech hope you caught it that he’s whistling “It’s A Small World After All” 
The Quantum Realm. In Marvel Comics lore, this is called “the Microverse.” Could the Micronauts, the toyline first developed by Mego and now owned by Hasbro be in the offing? JJ Abrams was reported to have signed up for a possible film adaptation of The Micronauts that at one time was a popular Marvel Comic (with the new adventures published first by Image Comics then by Devil’s Due. With that it mind, it is sort of next to impossible that the Micronauts will be given its Marvel treatment. But there are other heroes who during their comics history have traveled to and fro from the Microverse, there’s these dudes who all appear in that pocket universe of Marvels that is 20th century Fox -- Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four, and Dr. Doom. If Spider-Man will be in the mix in the near future then why not Marvel’s First Family and franchise ever?
The last scene in Ant-Man where an acquaintance of Michael Peña’s Luis is talking telling the Falcon that “we’ve got guys who jumps. We got guys who swing. We got guys who climb up walls.” Spider-Man cometh to the MCU!
The post-match credit scene where The Falcon and Cap talk about finding Bucky but keeping it from Iron Man. We all know that Captain America: Civil War is coming up. A glimpse of the schism that is developing between the two main heroes of the Marvel Universe?

Non-Marvel Easter Eggs
Love the crack about the Titanic as the film “where they killed DiCaprio.” That had me laughing out loud.

And Thomas the Engine! What a sight!

You know the saying don’t judge a book by its cover? We should adjust that to not judging a film for its trailer. But basing it on the number of people who watched the Ant-Man screening when I did which wasn’t packed, maybe Marvel would be better served by coming out with one that kicks some serious butt because there really wasn’t much buzz for this film. 

So maybe now the buzz will be via word-of-mouth.

I have giant-sized concerns about Ant-Man heading into the film. I came away with giant-sized platitudes for director Peyton Reed who pulled off this heist of a film. And as Vincent Van Gogh once said, “great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

Friday, July 17, 2015

The new X-Men film could be Apocalypse Wow or Apocalypse Now

The new X-Men film could be Apocalypse Wow or Apocalypse Now
by rick olivares

In a world where scoops and first looks on social media have become the rage, that staple of Hollywood films and gossip, Entertainment Weekly (EW), once more got the drop on every and the annual San Diego Comic Convention with its latest issue. The July 24 cover date issue features characters from the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse film with Olivia Munn as the sexy ninja warrior Psylocke, Oscar Isaac as the tyrannical Apocalypse, and Michael Fassbender as the tragic anti-hero Magneto. 

Two weeks earlier, EW likewise gave that first look of the eagerly-anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with Ben Affleck donning the cape and cowl of Batman, Israeli actress looking mightily statuesque as Wonder Woman, and Henry Cavill as Superman.

Talk about making a case for print as a viable medium!

However, this is all about the upcoming X-Men film, eighth of the franchise on 20th Century FOX (counting the two Wolverine films). Like the comic book that was for the better part of close to three decades was the best selling comic on this planet, the film franchise has killed it. Each film has averaged a production budget of $147 million but the American market earnings averaged $185 million while the worldwide box office numbers raked in an average of $437 million. 

Good numbers?

Well, technically, yes. But if you look at the numbers list for all superhero films at the box office, the X-Men films are nowhere in the Top 10. Try somewhere between #15-20 where the maligned X-Men: The Last Stand, the third offering of the franchise, is penciled in. And in perfect symmetry, the X-comic books themselves have likewise tumbled out of the Top 10 in sales. 

I have been a fan of the X-Men comic books since I first beheld the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams comics with X-Men #56 and remained a steadfast follower and collector until a few years ago when I became unhappy with its direction and stopped buying it altogether for the first time in over three decades. 

The X-Men film franchise arguably first showed that yes, Hollywood can get superhero films right. None of the campy writing, lousy special effects, and B or C-list actors — is there such a thing — playing comicdom’s beloved characters. 

While moviegoers may not necessarily be comic book fans, hence, their not caring for continuity, for the fanboy, it still makes us cringe to see the filmmakers mostly stray from the X-men canon (yes, I understand that the producers are packing nearly 50 years of mutant history in a two-hour film but I still digress). 

Here’s a litany of problems or at the risk of committing comic sacrilege, “Crisis on Infinite X-Men films."

Bolivar Trask
Bolivar Trask uses Mystique’s mutant genes to power up his Sentinels to counter the X-Men’s abilities? But Mystique is a shape shifter. She is unable to mimic the powers of others so what gives?

Furthermore, is Trask a shape shifter as well? In X-Men: The Last Stand, the creator of Sentinel technology was played by Bill Duke (of Predator fame) who is African American. In Days of Future Past, Trask is now the brilliant but dwarfish Peter Dinklage! Honey, who shrunk the kids? Or is this the first appearance of Ant-Man?

Is Wolverine unique or not? In X2: X-Men United, baddie William Stryker, a military man in the films as opposed to a religious leader in the comics, says that Logan (Wolvie) is unique yet in another film the same power is bestowed upon Lady Deathstrike and Deadpool?

And there’s the matter of his claws that were cut by the Silver Samurai at the end of Wolverine leaving him with only his bone claws. But in Days of Future Past, he’s got his adamantium claws back with no explanation! 

In X-Men, Wolverine cannot remember his past yet in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Logan can recall World War II. 

Will the real Emma Frost stand up?
In X-Men: Wolverine, Emma, is a hapless and helpless mutant while in Days of Future Past, she’s a villainess. How can her younger self be an ultimate baddie then become an ultimate weakling?

Kitty Pryde
Kitty Pryde’s basic power is to change her molecular density that allows her to pass through solid matter. In Days of Future Past, how is she able to shift a person’s consciousness back into the timestream when she never even previously demonstrated that ability in previous X-films let alone the comics?

Charles Xavier
And there’s the matter of Professor Charles Xavier’s age. In X-Men, Xavier says that he first met Magneto when he was 17 however in X-Men: First Class, it is shown that the teacher is in his 20s when he meets the Master of Magnetism. In Days of Future Past, Xavier is in his 30s while X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that takes place a decade later, he is portrayed by a significantly older Patrick Stewart. 

And there’s the matter of who really built the mutant detector Cerebro? In the comics, it’s Xavier. In the first few films, Magneto helped Xavier. But in X-Men: First Class it was built by the Beast! 

In the first X-Men film, Xavier doesn’t know how Magneto is able to shield his mind and thoughts from him. Yet in X-Men: First Class, a story that takes place during their younger days, it is revealed that the now infamous helmet design of Magneto was already present and Charles knew that with the headpiece on, he cannot get to his frenemy. 

In X-Men: The Last Stand, a crazed Jean Grey vaporizes Xavier just like she did to Cyclops earlier. But in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the professor is his usual old bald and crippled self. 

Do Beasts have brains?
Speaking of the Beast, in X-Men: The Last Stand, the Beast learns of a cure for mutants yet in Days of Future Past, featuring a younger version of himself, he discovers a cure for the mutant gene. 

And there’s more! But let’s not get into that yet.

In the first look at X-Men: Apocalypse, the thousand-year old villain who is this massive figure in the comics looks like a stripling! 

And why does Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) look like he’s fresh out of high school while Jean Grey looks older than him?

Of course, we hope that the Bryan Singer-directed film will be great. However, even in filmdom, there is such a thing as continuity because right now, the way they are going about the X-Men canon in both film and comics could hasten the arrival of the apocalypse. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Checking out some Thai comics

Was in Bangkok, Thailand for three days for the Liverpool FC friendly. Also took the time to check out some Thai comics and this is what I picked up.

Picked up Black Boy: Kill 'Em All by The Duang; a hardcover graphic novel that looks like a gangster story. Great black and white art with a "Punisher"-type logo on the jacket of the main character who we see in black below. It's uber violent. I figure Quentin Tarantino is an influence here. 

Here are other Thai comics that I got.

Beansprout & Firehead in the Infinite Sadness by Songsin Somboon is like a cross between The Nightmare Before Christmas and Jay Fosgitt's Bodie Troll. It has a creepy vibe to it. Think of a Gothic Bone or Adventures of Jellaby (by Kean So). Intriguing.  

The quirky sounding Something Sometime Somewhere Everyday by Sasi Weerasethakul looks like a children's book. It seems to be a story about a journey of some friends. Love the artwork that is rendered in water color.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The timelessness of Audrey Hepburn

The timelessness of Audrey Hepburn
by rick olivares

It has been 22 years since British actress Audrey Hepburn passed away yet she is as enduring a presence in death as in life.

Hepburn, at one point in her incredible life as a Nazi resistance fighter in the Netherlands and later as a ballerina and an actress, was known as "the most beautiful woman of all time.” It is an accolade that is entirely possible and probably well deserved. Who cannot melt at the sight of that doe-eyed and svelte beauty who influenced women and fashion for generations?

I would also make a case for the opposite species.

As a youngster, I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, War and Peace, and My Fair Lady among a great many of her classic films on television and videotape and later DVD. The opening sequence to Breakfast at Tiffany’s while wearing that iconic black dress by Givenchy remains one of the most enduring images in celluloid history.

On a recent trip to Europe, I was surprised to see a great many paintings and prints bearing her likeness for sale in stalls around the Notre Dame Cathedral, on news stands along the Champs Elysees, in military-themed shops in Normandy, amidst the Joan of Arc memorabilia in Rouen, in stalls all over Rome and Naples… It was absolutely fascinating. She had more prints (that also included her on that famous Vespa with a young Gregory Peck) than Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, or even Franco Nero some of her European film contemporaries!

When I asked Marguerite, one of the stall keepers in Paris’ Latin Quarter, about the popularity of Hepburn, her eyes lit up. “Audrey Hepburn stood for many things — class, humanity, elegance but was a person who had great concern for the plight of poor people, and was very beautiful. There aren’t many people like her.”

The Hepburn-inspired comic by Giancarlo Berardi

In Italy, there’s a popular comic book titled, “Julia” which is about the adventures of a criminologist who bears an uncanny resemblance to Hepburn. Creator Giancarlo Berardi makes no bones about the inspiration for his heroine. As a five year old boy, he saw Hepburn’s films and they left a lasting impression on the youngster. And since Julia has been published in 1998, it has garnered a huge following including Hepburn’s only two children who currently run her foundation.

The Hepburn revival isn’t limited to the four-colored printed pages but also to modern advertising materials. In 2006, Japanese tea brand Kirin made use of footage of Hepburn for a series of four commercials. Clothing company Gap also used Hepburn footage for its famous “Gap in Black” commercial with the actress dancing to heavy rock band AC/DC’s “Back in Black."

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/T_K-GxEk3K0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gx9eDoS76LM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

More recently, in 2013, the chocolate bar, Galaxy, came out with a commercial titled “Chauffeur” that “resurrected” in CGI form. Explained creative director Mike McGee of Framestore, the award-winning design outfit that provided work on films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy among a few as well as commercials for Kellogs and the recent Wimbledon advert, “Come As You Are” also to name a few: “Audrey represents heritage, classiness, and elegance. So from a strategic and creative point of view, it made sense for Galaxy to communicate its “silk, not cotton” branding through these qualities. What was less clear, however, was just how we were meant to recreate an iconic and globally recognised face when the original footage exists at a resolution incompatible with today’s high standards."

And the result of the CGI-Hepburn commercial? Absolutely incredible. She lives again if only for 30 seconds. 

Just last July 2, her sons put our rare and unseen photos of their famous mother in an exhibit at the London Portrait Gallery. The exhibit has been drawing huge crowds.

The recent trip to Europe rekindled that fascination for a timeless and enigmatic icon, perhaps the last of a kind we will ever see. I have placed an order for those Berardi’s graphic novels of Julia. I’ve downloaded the Galaxy and Gap commercials and placed them in my archives. As for those prints that I saw on stalls along the Seine or those calendars in Rome? 

Ah, it gives me a good excuse (among other things) to go back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Elektra, Electra, and Electra Woman

It has been announced that French actress Elodie Yung who appeared as Jinx in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be opposite Charlie Cox in Netflix' Daredevil Season 2 as his star-crossed lover, Elektra. I think it's a cool casting and as much as I loved Jennifer Garner in that role, she wasn't exotic as Frank Miller intended Elektra to be. Well, the Elektra Natchios is the Daredevil comic is of Greek descent so a French-woman with Asian (Cambodian) roots doesn't seem like a fit. However, so far, they have been spot on with the casting of Daredevil so I am willing to suspend my disbelief.

And there are other women who as a different "Electra" have captured my imagination!

Say no more, folks. Carmen Electra when she was a lifeguard for Baywatch! Honestly, though as vivacious as she was, I was a Nicole Eggert fan.

And lastly, there was Deidre Hall as Electra Woman (right) opposite Judy Sturgis as Dyna Girl in The Krofft Show's segment, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. I know it was cheesy but I loved that segment. Thankfully for Deidre Hall, she went on to even greater fame in the soap drama Days of Our Lives.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The French (comics) are coming!

The French (comics) are coming!
by rick olivares

Last Monday, July 5, the revolutionary comiXology, the cloud-based comic book sharing platform, announced that they have expanded their line to include 150 French comics, it was hailed by the site’s chief executive officer David Steinberger as “game-changing.” One of the initial offerings is “The Curse of the Wendigo” (“Corpus Hermeticum -- Le Souffle Du Wendigo published by Soleil Productions in 2009 as written by French author Missoffe Mathieu and drawn by Charlie Adlard of “The Walking Dead” fame). The story takes place right before the end of the World War I when German and French soldiers declare a temporary truce to investigate some supernatural murders on the Western front. This for sure will grab the attention of local audiences because of Adlard’s involvement. 

New audiences, especially Filipino fans who are so weaned on American comics, will finally be introduced to the delight that are Franco-Belgian comics or Bande-Dessinee (or “BD” for short). Unlike its American or even Filipino counterparts, BDs, most especially since the 1980s are published now in softcover or single-issue format but in hardcover graphic novel form or albums as they call them. They are hugely popular and like their other European cousins, have always been socially acceptable as reading material and literature long before it became mainstream in the United States.

Like many other comic book fans, my introduction to BDs was through “The Adventures of Tintin" and "Asterix the Gaul" as a kid. Quite honestly, I wasn’t enamored by those two titles until I was much older. I read them but in passing and never bothered to care for my copies that I soon gave away much to my eternal regret.

By the late 1980s, as I opened my milieu to the independent comic book scene as whetted by Marvel Comics’ Epic line, I became exposed to artists and comics from other countries. Interestingly, it was Epic’s English reprints of Blueberry - an American Western story featuring the anti-hero of the same title as created by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean “Moebius” Giraud -where I started to become a fan of BDs. Now I loved those Spaghetti Westerns directed by Italians like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci to name a few so a French comic depicting the American Wild West definitely appealed to me.

From “Blueberry” I read another of those Epic BD reprints of "The Incal" by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius. 

"Heavy Metal," the American version of French fantasy magazine "Metal Hurlant," introduced me to Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres’ “Valerian and Laureline” during the 1980s. 

“Valerian and Laureline” in my opinion has got to be one of the more influential comics of all time as many American science fiction films from "Star Wars" to "The Fifth Element" to “Avatar" have been influenced in some way.

Star Wars you say? Are you serious?

Check out the similarities (thanks to the tweets of @theshrillest).

That isn't Han Solo entombed in carbonite! That's Valerian with Laureline trying to free him.

That isn't Princess Leia in a metal bikini but Laureline! And in the clutches of a fat lard of a boss NOT NAMED Jabba the Hutt!

Most recently, I started collecting Jacques Tardi’s "The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec” about a mystery writer who finds herself investigating the weird and fantastic in gaslight-lit Paris in early 20th century France. Shades of Kolchak the Nightstalker except this is in an altogether a different era. And the title fits in neatly to all my books of Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

When I traveled to France recently, I picked up a pair of BD’s one of which is Serge Lehman and Stephan Crety’s “Masque," a story about a former French soldier with mysterious abilities who is tasked to defend a robot-ravaged Paris Metropole. While looking for interesting BDs to buy, the store clerk at Album, one of more prominent Parisian comic book stores sold Masque to me as “sort of a French Batman."

The other BD is Angel Guero & Alberto Varanda’s “La Geste Des Chevaliers Dragons” (or “The Gestures of the Dragon Knights”) where the Dragon Knights, an order of warrior virgin women whose sacred duty is to destroy dragons that plague their world.

For all my love of the superhero genre, you won’t find too many of these in BDs.

While talking to a comic book shopkeeper along Rue Dante in St. Germain, he told me, “There are few French superhero comics.” He showed me a copy of “Titans,” an anthology of Marvel Comics stories published in 1981 that featured Star Wars, Machine Man, Dazzler, and a French superhero team called, Mikros. The adventures of this team of Harvard-educated entomologists and Olympic athletes who were transformed into insect-sized humanoids by an alien race was created by Marcel Navarro and Jean-Yves Mitton who used the pseudonyms of Malcolm Naughton and John Milton respectively to appeal to an English-speaking audience. All their adventures have since been collected by Sang d’Encre in three albums.

Since the success of Mikros there’s been a dearth of superheroes.

"Americans do superhero comics so well,” explained the shopkeeper. “And we French just don’t do it well so we stick to what we do best - adventure, political satire, humor, fantasy, history, and science-fiction.”

French comics are coming! And that might not be such a bad thing at all.