Friday, April 20, 2018

Deathblow and Wolverine #2

Strange Team-Ups
Deathblow and Wolverine #2

A Wolverine story

Writer – Aron Wiesenfeld
Breakdowns – Aron Wiesenfeld
Finishes – Richard Bennett
Letterer – Mike Heisler
Colorist – Monica Bennett
Computer Colors – Bad @ss
Design – Emilio Medina
Editor – Mike Heisler
February 1997

This is a rather strange one, and not just because the Letterer is the Editor, either.

It’s strange because it is supposed to be a team up between that feisty ball of marketing and claws, Wolverine…ole mister “best he is at what he does, and what he does makes Marvel a bunch of money”…and the Wildstorm/Image character Deathblow, a guy I know absolutely zero about.

And after reading this entire book (twice), I still know absolutely ZERO about.

Because Deathblow doesn’t show up in this issue. Oh, I mean yeah there are some panels where he is drawn in frame, but he doesn’t DO anything to advance the plot or make any difference in its outcome. He has the personality of a generic action hero and he must have recounted his origin story in issue one, if the book even gave him time for one.

Near as I can tell from his bio on Wikipedia, Deathblow has a combo of Wolverine and Punisher’s power sets: he regenerates, and he owns a lot of weapons that he’s proficient in. He was part of Wildstorm’s ill-fated army Special Forces division called Team 7, a happy little troop that was used by our government to test exposure to the Gen Factor enhancement process developed by Miles Carven. Everyone ended up with powers (or dead), but Michael Cray/Deathblow’s didn’t develop until years later. Now he regenerates and he kills lots of bad people.

So basically, Wolverine with guns.

In truth, he’s not NEEDED here, as writer/breakdown guy Aron Wiesenfeld has drummed up a tale that only needs Wolverine. Although the version of Wolverine he is channeling for this tale is the same one Chris Claremont / Frank Miller used in his self-titled mini-series back in 1982. You know, the mostly feral one who only existed to be a loser at love and fight ninjas and shit. That is exactly the one we get here.

Although it doesn’t start out looking that way…

We begin the book with this amazing double-page spread of Wolverine confronting some odd grinning man in an oversized stove-pipe hat while Deathblow does what he does for a majority of this book: stand around looking slightly disinterested. For some story context, this is the apartment of Wolverine’s girlfriend, who is missing of course, and it looks like the weirdo pictured here has trashed the place. Since Wolverine has popped his claws I can only assume things are about to get crunk up in this beotch.

Sorry, that last bit was me trying to keep the Crapbox “hip” and “relevant” to today’s audience. I swear I won’t try it again.

And I don’t have to assume long, as Wolvie turns Asian Abe Lincoln into a Summer Sausage tray in a display that has be check to see if the cover has a “Intended for Mature Audiences” sticker.

Yee-ouch! It’s no biggie as our ghoulish grinning guy turns up floating behind a VERY oddly faced Logan and explains the plot of the book (for those of us who missed issue one of this two-part thing). Logan is looking for his girlfriend who has been stolen by someone. The gravity defying dude delivering this message is an emissary of The Librarian, who wants to help Logan find her. 

For a price, of course.

Deathblow must have missed last issue too and he speaks one of his half dozen lines, asking what’s going on. Thanks for the assist DB.

And Logan explains what his girlfriend has told him about The Librarian, an ultrapowerful being that sounds magical enough to do his own dirty work.

To find out the info they seek on Sung Li's whereabouts, they take a trip to see this Librarian character. A trip where the mode of travel is “time tunnel distortion swirly.”

They arrive in the middle of a massive library where dozens of faceless workers scuttle about cleaning up ancient texts. Logan tries to make small talk…

…but you can’t do that with people who don’t have mouths. Instead they meet the Librarian, a floating spirit who rules this dimensional land of books. He has a job for them, which he tells them in the form of a story.

Seems there was once this race of flying Chinese supermen who were about to rule all the Earth and then something bad happen to them and they all got stuck in a jar before they could dominate all the human race. The supermen sealed their essences inside a jar to escape this horrible bad thing that was going to happen and …yadda, yadda, yadda…evil cult to bring them back…yadda, yadda, yadda…Wolvie’s girlfriend is the key to releasing their souls, whereby they will take over the bodies of everyone in the city of San Fransisco and conquer the world.

So, would you two help a all powerful and morally ambiguous mystical floating brother out by putting this Airwick…er, magical coin thing on the jar holding their souls thereby saving humanity from being enslaved while at the same time rescuing your girlfriend?

Also stop acting like a dog, Logan!

So of course our heroes say “yes, we get that the evil cult must be stopped and it’s plain to see the Librarian’s only power is to take people’s faces away and make them his eternal slaves…and…” wait, that’s actually pretty flipping powerful. Why does he need help again?

Something, something …the physical powers that guard the urn are way too powerful and we need a reason for this comic to exist. Right! Got itl And with that The Librarian tells them Logan’s girlfriend is in for a horrible fate if they don’t succeed aside from the fact that human civilization will be destroyed and that convinces them. So he slips them the green pine scented air wick that destroys jars of Chinese warrior souls and off through the portal they are shoved backward.

They end up back at Logan’s girlfriend’s apartment, where the runt pries open a hidden weapon cache and tells Deathblow that he can blow if he wants to, which earns him the reply of…

…and with that Deathblow gets all gussied up in his “Gun-day” finest.

…and they make off to take down the cult set on bringing back the superpowered spirits of a hundred thousand dead conquerors. They reach the market and decide to split up, because even just one of them is suspicious enough looking.

If you don’t believe me, just watch these guys make the 300 lbs of trained killer that is Deathblow out in about two seconds flat.

Not that it matters, these guys seem to only be able to hit EVERYONE BUT Deathblow. And as for the regenerating merc, he’s got some moves like I’ve never seen before. No, seriously. What school of weapons training says kick your legs up like Jane Fonda off the cover of her aerobics workout VHS cover, then roll over on your nose like you’re breakdancing and end up shooting with your bottom half twisted in the opposite direction? Because that is some training no one should learn.

Deathblow lives up to the first part of his name by death "blowing" these guys away and then spends the rest of the book walking around watching Logan gut, stab and pierce everyone else, mostly with their own weapons.

Cray comes up behind Wolvie and almost earns a face full of claws. Logan says he’s discovered Sung Li’s scent and he takes off for the warehouse floor below. He rounds the corner to find four bearers carrying an elder on their shoulders…and he kills them all…then Deathblow shows up, but he’s a mystic using magic to look like Deathblow, and Logan kills him too. More guys show up. Wolvie kills them. Some of the battle sequences are neat, but ultimately we are just wasting pagecount. There’s no real danger here for either of these guys.

Finally, Logan finds the jar and Deathblow. They battle ninjas for a bit and then Wolvie applies the air freshener…and everyone can breath easy again!

And as the smoke clears, Sung Li appears looking a little bit cockeyed. The trio head back to her apartment after a long day of ninja killing and world saving.

Logan and Cray part ways, back to their respective universes. Before they do though, Logan mentions that Sung is taking her whole “captive by evil ninjas bent on world domination because I’m some kind of mystical high priestess reincarnated” thing pretty much in stride.

Then he goes back up to Sung and catches her with her closet door open. Hanging there is the robe the Librarian wore. Sung quickly covers it up.

But it’s too late! Logan has seen it. He knows she is the Librarian…which implies a BUNCH of other stuff too, but the only thing Logan is upset about is that she lied to him.

Wait, wait, wait! She actually loves him? I mean, if she is the Librarian, then she is an eternal being that has the power to take men’s faces and force them to live as slaves just for seeking her out, yet it is Logan she loves? Uh…

I have a problem with this story development. On many, many levels. And as the all-powerful, cosmic-level mystic crumples to the floor of her San Francisco loft to sob over her lost man, I feel this isn’t what would happen at all. I mean Logan might mean as much as a pet to someone like the Librarian. Even with his long life, he wouldn’t come near her lifespan. Not to mention she would have been setting up his part in this for a long time and basically lying to him at every turn. It would have been better had Logan’s finding out been shown as part of her plan, almost like a way of letting him off easy, but that wouldn’t give these scenes of him driving across the Golden Gate bridge the same sense of smug superiority.

With those panels wrapping this thing up, I have to say that I’m quite disappointed with this one on a story level. The art has some very neat sequences, but this book feels like a Wolverine venture that gives Deathblow nothing to do. Because of that I have to take quite a few points off.

True we get what I believe is a new “heavy” character in the Librarian, which is something cross company team-up books DON’T do. They typically don’t bring out new characters, as it muddies the water as to who owns that character. And why waste an original character or villain on a book that may never get a sequel? That’s like throwing that character away, in a sense. No, these books are usually very "take a villain from hero A and a villain from hero B and have them team up against the heroes."

But even with that bit of bold casting and art that is above the average bar, I found it over too quick and not of lasting impact, with no good “character moments” between our two heroes. Better luck next time, guys.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

GI Joe X Street Fighter #1

Strange Team-Ups
GI Joe X Street Fighter #1

A book that requires a joystick

Writer – Aubrey Sitterson
Art – Emilio Laiso
Letterer – Robbie Robbins
Colorist – David Garcia Cruz
Editor – Carlos Guzman
February 2016

I was wrong to say that DC Versus Marvel had the barest plot possible. It’s clear from this first issue of GI Joe X Street Fighter that we could have gotten something far, far more gossamer in plots had Ron Marz not been behind the wheel.

Because this book has the singular misfortune of having one of the flimsiest plots I’ve ever encountered. One of the properties is based off the GI Joe action figures, and we’ve talked a bunch about how those little bits of plastic have gotten some pretty sophisticated stories written about them.

Street Fighter, on the other hand, is new to the Crapbox.

Street Fighter started out as Capcom video game series from 1987 that has spawned a franchise empire. A two person fighting game that featured one-on-one brawls between avatars representing different countries and fighting styles, there have been six different “official” game sequels to the original arcade game. The second itineration featured an upgraded system of special attacks and an “End Boss” villain, that was named M. Bison in the United States. M. Bison has since been a staple and the universe of Capcom characters have crossed over to fight other franchises in single combat fighting games like Marvel, SNK (King of Fighters), Tatsunoko and Tekken.

And since we are traveling back in time, I picked some great retro podcasts from The Retroist website to set the tone for this little foray, both of which I highly recommend you check out: Street Fighter II review and the Original Street Fighter for theAmstrad CPC. Also all the games are reviewed by the UK site if you want to read detailed reviews, check them out at this link.

Around the time of the third video game, animated series of the Street Fighter universe and characters started popping up in other countries. In 1994, the property came stateside in an ill-fated live action movie that pitted rising star Jean-Claude Van Damme (the “muscles” from Brussels) as Colonel Guile against an ailing Raul Julia (in his last role) as M. Bison. The movie was a critical and box office flop or as one reviewer called it “a dreary, overstuffed hodgepodge of poorly edited martial arts sequences and often unintelligible dialogue.” I watched it when it came out. That reviewers words are accurate.

The movie was the first starring role of singer Kylie Minogue as Cammy. I’ll give it a few points for that, because Kylie Minogue

However bad the live-action fiasco was, it couldn’t kill the franchise. The game spawned mangas, comics, card games, board games, slot machines and even a YouTube TV series.

Myself, I’ve never seen the appeal of the actual game. I mean I get the concept of having strategy elements combined with a two-person fighting game and I understand the coolness of using unique combos against different opponents. I’ve just never been very good at button mashers in the 2-D fighting genre. I tend to end up jumping a bunch and somehow getting behind the guy I’m trying to attack. After that, I can’t figure out how to orient myself to hit or kick and I’m pummeled to pieces. I’m sure these weaknesses are mine and mine alone.

The inside cover to this slim book features a half page of extremely brief character intros to familiarize audiences with who is in the book. For most of them, I’m sure this is unnecessary but for me – the guy that always chose Ryu – this proves a godsend. At the back were character cards, a brief summary of matches in a “qualifying round” we didn’t see, and a World Warrior Tournament Bracket showing the other matches to come.

All of this points to the book being more like the Street Fighter video game than anything in the GI Joe universe of animated or comic book tales and that’s exactly right. You can lay the blame for that on Aubrey Sitterson, writer of this piece of pound cake. Sitterson’s claims to fame by his own admissions are writer at, working on the WWE video games, host of the wrestling talk show Straight Shoot, and podcaster on the combat-heavy Skald podcast. His logic?

What Street Fighter and GI Joe have in common, the thing that both of their fanbases want more that anything else is exactly that which I have always loved about these franchises: Struggle, combat, Fighting.

Well, there you have it folks. Turn off the lights here, we are done.

Whatever the path, the popularity of the game has brought us to this point, where these characters get to mix it up with GI Joe. And mix it up is the right term, as the book begins with NO preamble and easing the two universes together. Just BAM! here we go!

So, in the spirit of that same hubris, I’ll jump right into the book review…

We start with our fighters arrayed around a “D” shaped combat arena. The Joes are there, as are the Street Fighters, and weirdly enough several of the Joes mortal enemies from Cobra. Why the two forces haven’t opened fire on each other or attempted to massacre each other is a mystery we won’t see solved here, just accept that Joes would attend some kind of physical MMA style event presided over in part by one of their most hated enemies, Destro.

While M. Bison calls for this round of finals to begin, we spend the next few panels listening in on Crimson Viper and Baroness who appear to have formed a team. Baroness fronted Viper money to win this competition (for reasons not explained) and she feels the need to tell the red haired combatant to watch out for Snake Eyes.

And then we are watching a video game. No more explanations. No more plot setups. Page two of the comic. Just two characters trying to beat the crap out of each other EXACTLY in the same manner as the video game. 

You can look at this one of two ways: Either this minimalist, stripped to the bones approach where the book transforms into an arcade cabinet with pages is the best interpretation of the Street Fighter experience OR by not adding layers and plotting and depth to the very flat source material, the writer has missed out on the opportunity to use the medium of comic books to create a realistic, engaging universe that the reader can invest in.

Or you could end up where I am, which is undecided in a way these fights can’t be. I’m a tie match. The fight scenes are well presented and fun, but yes, SOME story context as to how and why these matches are happening would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

It’s a book you have to check most of your brain at the door to enjoy. If you can do that, you should be fine. If you can’t, you should probably move on.

And speaking of moving on, our first match moves on to the point that Crimson Viper starts getting really miffed that Snake Eyes is defeating her, and suddenly she is all glowy-hands…

…and flamey feet. This somehow adds an advantage to her attacks and she starts to connect with power enough to make Snake Eyes look to be in trouble. 

Whatever else she might have up her sleeves we don’t find out, as Snake Eyes pulls out a pair of knives (which do nothing but force her to block, apparently) and then kicks her in the head. 

The big flashy words jumping up at you really add to the video game feel of this and add that dash of flavor needed to sell this improbable meet up.

Anyway, Crimson Viper’s defeat brings up the Baroness herself to fight next against the blubbery Street Fighter known as Rufus (no relation to the funk group that spun out Chaka Kahn). She seems a bit…cocky.

But maybe that’s warranted when your opponent appears overly smug himself. And he also appears to walk right into your first punch.

But Rufus is more resilient than he appears. As Baroness complains to Bison and Destro that she expected more from a finalist, Rufus gets back to his feet, no worse for wear.

He then proceeds to kick and chop the suffing out of Baroness…

…ending with some kind of signature move that literally knocks her the heck out. 

At least with this ignoble defeat she gets to take her place on the dais by her lover Destro’s side. Also we get hints that the contest is somehow, through means unknown, powering a super-weapon. Powering it by one-on-one combat matches. Yeah,…no! THAT’S the real Plot of this book. 

Next up is the Joe’s heavy machine gunner and cook Roadblock. He goes up against this weirdo:

Yeah, these Street Fighter characters get stranger and stranger, because in the middle of his fight, Hakan falls on his oil barrel, busting it…

…and then rolls all over it, coating his entire body, which allows him to do this to Roadblock, who someone allowed to carry a giant machine gun out with him…

Not that it matters, as the weird oily red dude shupts our Joe right into a wall-busting K.O. Aren’t any of these matched won by determination of the judges?

Following this Ryu gets knocked out by Snake Eyes’ apprentice after two pages of smack’n each other around. I do like the way they end the match.

But Ryu recovers very quickly and it is almost as if the pair agreed upon the winner before they entered the ring.

All of this leading Destro to ask Bison if the plan is working, to which Bison answers that all is going as plan and the final charging of the weapon will occur when he steps into the ring for the final round.

And aside from three pages of written blurbs about who won the qualifying rounds, that’s the book. It is oddly on point of the Street Fighter video game, having no setup for the story that eases you into these two universes. Opening that first page is like plunking a quarter into the coin slot and grabbing a joystick. It’s rare that I find something that adheres so closely to the soul of its source material and I don’t know if that shouldn’t be commended.

And while it completely disregards the tone of the GI Joe storytelling formula in favor of this “video game” in paper format, at least it is fun to read. Just don’t go in expecting the story to be more realistic than the cut scenes from a fighting arcade game and you should come away satisfied. If you look for anything deeper, you’re going to be disappointed.