Archive for category Comics
Okay, this needs a lengthy introduction.
I mentioned this briefly on my write-up of the Super Mario Bros. movie, but I was, and still am, an unabashed Super Mario fan. I’ve been behind on the games as of late, although I did play Super Mario Bros. Wii and I am currently on-and-off with Super Mario Galaxy. But the premise, background, and history of the Super Mario Brothers universe is almost like a second world to me. I love its whimsical freedom along with its dark undercurrents; it’s really a lighter form of the Harry Potter universe without the genocide.
While my fanship waned (somewhat) over the years, I have amassed a small collection of the available Super Mario Bros. (SMB) comics that were published in the early 90s. There was two overall anthologies: The SMB comics under the Nintendo Comics System, published by Valiant Comics in 1990 and 1991 (which also produced a run of Legend of Zelda and Captain N series), and the Super Mario Adventure volume, which was the compilation of the Nintendo Power series published when that magazine was the best thing out there, back in 1992.
The SMB Valiant series was released in a hardcover edition in 1990, which contains the “Best of” of the lot, not so much all of them. Owning that, and Edition #1, I think I only failed to read 2 others that may exist out there in the void, and these comics are not easy to find. Still, the fact I still have them gives me a sense of… shameful pride? Prideful shame? Something.
I happened upon this blog here, a fellow blogger who reviews and analyzes various Ducktales/Scrooge McDuck Disney comics, and I truly enjoy the write ups, so much so that I decided to do something similar with the collection of SMB comics I have, in addition to the CHILDHOOD REVISITED series, the various updates to the webtoon, and what ever entertainment issue I want to write about. Truth is, I wanted to do this for a while, and mister Geo X just gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start.
I will try to impart as much info as I can about the writers and artists for each of the comics that I can find; truth is, it’s a bit tricky since it was so long ago and it’s difficult to find and confirm that some of these current comic book creators indeed worked on this series. In all honesty, some of these comics are of various quality, and save for one or two, you… wouldn’t really want them in your portfolio. But I’ll try my best to blend together a general recap of the story, a light review, a bit of analysis and information, and some good ol’ fashioned nerd-love for the SMB world.
I’ll go in the order of the hardcover anthology, starting with the first offered comic: “Just Deserts”.
“Just Desserts” is actually a great comic to begin with, as it’s both a good mix of what could be great about this series, as well as what could be flat-out abysmal. Here, the art is fairly decent all around, and the story starts off cute and intriguing, but ends with a “What the fuck” (I don’t do WTF, as W is not a great letter to use as an initial) type of twist that would make Shyamalan look at it incredulously.
We start of with what looks to be the precursor to Super Mario Kart as well as the introduction of who will be a recurring character:
I’ll talk more about The King, King Toadstool, the father to Princess Toadstool, at length in a future comic where he’s much more prominent, but the basic gist is that he’s a bold, lazy, slightly-arrogant and simple-minded fool. You get the sense that Princess Toadstool does all the real royal duties, but it’s surprisingly clear that 1) she’s her father’s daughter and 2) isn’t as smart as another future recurring character. I’ll talk about him, as well as Princess Toadstool, later as well. I’ll tell you right now, though: I LOVE how the comics portray her.
I digress. Our sibling heroes and king are on their way somewhere – and they get stuck when they run over a cactus and get a flat tire. It’s important to note that here, SMB takes a very cartoony approach to its storylines, unlike something like Sonic the Hedgehog, which is more mystically serious.
The king lazily forces the brothers to fix the flat. Meanwhile, Bowser is watching their struggle in a hidden, underground pyramid/hideout:
(That is the old design of Bowser, AKA King Koopa, in the days when games were still 8-bit. He’s even called King Koopa in this comic run as well. I’ll get into the revamped villain design later as well.)
Our king sudden spots a pool nearby, and dives right in. The brothers are skeptical that it might be a mirage, but after watching the king have fun, Mario and Luigi join in —
— only to be duped by the entire scenario being a mirage. The king’s been taken while the brothers been busy, which sets up something pretty creepy: Mario and Luigi have to find him in the HUGE expanse of a barren desert. In theory, this could be a pretty tight adventure. Expect not:
Okay, while the convenience of the ransom note vending machine is pretty lame, it doesn’t kill the plot completely. But where is this tiny pyramid?
I included this panel because it’s a really awesome canted perspective shot. And Luigi’s right: the pyramid’s big now, so they still don’t know where this “small pyramid” is!
Only one thing to do now: just book it!
This is pretty amusing – the progress cut short by gravity. I really dig how the first panel portrayed that. Also, very convenient, as they find the king AND a nice pool to cool off in. The escape, however is where the problem arises. I mean, the emergency button near the pool is ridiculous but plausible in a far-fetched kind of way, but:
— the idea that the entire thing, pyramid, plan, and all, was a mirage is just too far out there. If it all was a mirage, then how was it originally created? I get that the device didn’t create mirages so much as create realistic holograms, but there’s no way to play the “hologram created the hologram” card without going cross-eyed. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.
Still, I will say for the most part this is a fun little comic and the art is fairly great all around (although, the settings tend to be better and more consistent than the character designs), with little bits of visual flair here and there to make this issue stand out. Vibrant colors is key to any SMB outing, and here, the artists do a decent job. The writers miss the boat (or should I say limo?) at the end there, but for a primer entry into this series, it’s a decent one.
I should also mention that most of these and the future screenshots and crops are from this site: http://trsrockin.com/ncs_smb.html. I thank them for the scans so I don’t have to scan my edition, which is almost falling apart at the seams anyway. You can read most of the comics there.
DICK TRACY – (1990)
Director: Warren Beatty
Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Madonna
Screenplay by: Jim Cash, Jack Epp Jr.
It takes a real badass to wear bright colors in public and get away with it. Steve Harvey can do it. Pimps can do it. But the original ass-kicking, gangsta-punching detective, Dick Tracy, rocked the yellow trenchcoat way before it was (ironically) cool. Chester Gould debuted this comic back in 1931, and it’s still referenced to this day. Dick was a symbol of good in a world of corruption and grotesque criminals whose crimes matched, albeit metaphorically, the deformities of their physical appearance.
Dick Tracy also introduced a high level of violence in his comics, among other unique features, such as actual investigations, forensic discoveries, serious dramatic relationships, and a rich backstory of character developments. Still running till this day in certain newspapers, the franchise reached a pinnacle of sorts with the release of this film during the first wave of comic book movies in the earlier 90s—back when campy was considered the only way to produce them (see Batman, Phantasm, The Shadow, The Rocketeer, etc.)
NOSTALGIC LENS: I’m kinda excited. I’m entering the list of films that I hardly remember, so I’m pretty much watching this for the first time. All I remember is Flattop and Itchy (Itchy was my favorite, although I distinctly remember being disappointed that Itchy hardly scratched himself in the film), bright colors, and a sweet shootout in the end, where everyone is killed. Oh, yeah, this movie was pretty hardcore back then.
DOES IT HOLD UP: Somewhere in this movie is a good movie. It wants to be good. It needs to be good. I liked a lot of it truth be told. But there are some parts that are just god-awful and flat-out stupid. Imagine hanging out with some friends, and you’re having a great time, laughing and socializing, and one of them says the most fucked-up thing you’ll ever hear. Everyone stops laughing and the mood is completely killed. But at least you can start up the awesome again.
You can tell the kind of movie this will be in the first ten minutes (apologies to the horrid French over-dubbing—it’s the only version I could find):
After a vicious massacre by Flattop and Itchy, the mood is killed by a bizarre moment when Dick is called into the scene from an opera, glances at the damage, then returns to the opera. What!? And the line readings during Tess (Dick’s girlfriend) and Dick’s walk down the street are ridiculously campy. I mean, the movie is campy overall, but that scene is just way in outer space (which is ironic, since Dick Tracy did have an outer space story arc in the comics.)
Luckily (or strangely), things start to calm down as the movie progresses, and becomes at the very least a normal-campfest. Dick is caught between catching the bad guy (a hilarious Big Boy played by Al Pacino) at all costs, staying within the confines of the law, and his dual attraction between Tess and Breathless (and taking care of The Kid, AKA, Dick Tracy Jr.). The movie is much easier to swallow at this point, but there are still a lot of missteps.
I blame Beatty, clearly an inferior director trying to tackle something so monumental. He’s inconsistent in stylistic choices, and isn’t particularly keen on fixing the mistakes in the screenplay. He lets everything just play out whether it makes sense or not. The back-and-forth edits between Breathless’s singing and Dick’s action scenes aren’t good at all, although the montages with Breathless’s songs overdubbed are much better (the songs themselves are also very good, so that helps). Sound cues are just terribly done, as if they screwed up during shooting, and had to be dubbed in later by an incompetent sound studio (why is Dick and Tess so distinctly heard when the camera is 500 feet away from them? How much does it cost for an echo effect?)
The worse scene for me had to be when Dick saves someone from “the bath” (being covered in cement within a box.) He opens the box to save him. Cut to the bad guys coming after them. Cut back to Tracy—who for some reason put himself in the box. Tracy is now covered in cement and his gun doesn’t work! Well, fuck, you should have thought about that before you jumped to the wet cement. A creepy character called No-Face saves him, though.
So, the movie fails there, but succeeds in others. Big Boy tries to choreograph a Breathless dance number, which is hysterical, since he only slaps her, bumbles around and just gets in the way. Dick and The Kid have some rather poignant scenes together, and after that street scene, Dick and Tess have their moments too. The criminals are sufficiently monstrous, with Flattop stealing the show just by being a sadistic murderer.
Heck, when the plot gets going, it gets going pretty well, with a delightful number of setups and double-crosses, bribes and backstabbing, and even a sweet ass, well-done fame job of Tracy. But for all those great moments, as mentioned, some stuff just makes you cringe. I rolled my eyes pretty hard when Big Boy’s bugged room is exposed by—get this—a spilled cup of coffee. There’s also an odd scene where Dick has to climb down from a building, even though it’s rather unclear how the hell he got up there in the first place. And I don’t even want to discuss the inanity of the see-saw scene.
Hey. Hey. Hey, hey, hey. You know who was surprisingly good though? Madonna. I knooooooooooow. Actually, sarcasm aside, Madonna kind of showed a bit of decent acting chops in this film and A League of Their Own, and here, she’s the only one (aside from the other side characters) to understand the right tone of campiness needed, especially to play a femme fatale such as herself. Warren Beatty, on the other hand, never seems to quite get a grip on Dick. When he’s not just kicking ass and taking names, Dick kind of flounders, stutters around Tess, and pointlessly stares at pictures of cars and No-Face sketches. Although, to be fair, I think it’s mainly done to reflect how terrible Tracy is at desk jobs. I just didn’t think he’d be THAT terrible.
But he kicks crazy ass in the climax:
Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler.
IN A NUTSHELL: This movie is a roller coaster of awesome and fail, a back and forth inconsistent film filled with as many great moments as there are terrible ones. I didn’t like this more, nor did I hate it… I just strung along for the ride. Please, if there is any Dick Tracy fans out there, drop some knowledge on me and the rest of the comment board.
July 27th: FernGully: The Last Rainforest
August 3rd: An American Tail
BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM – (1993)
Director: Eric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Mark Hamill
Screenplay by: Alan Burnett
Tell all the modern Batman Begins and Dark Knight fans to go jump off a cliff, since us “real” fans knew how awesome Batman already was via “Batman: The Animated Series”. Christian Bale and (RIP) Heath Ledger are nothing compared to the Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voices that showcased the airwaves for three seasons (1992-1995). And, truth be told, Conroy’s Batman voice is a hell of a lot better than that raspy, sandpaper noise that emerged from Bale’s mouth when he donned the black mask.
Of course, I’m exaggerating. I certainly enjoyed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight a whole heck of a lot. But the rich, deep, dark Batman everyone knows and loves now was fighting crime back in 1992 every afternoon. In retrospect, it certainly was an excellent show, but other than a few awards and a die-hard fan base, I don’t think anyone watched it. The series debuted Mask of the Phantasm to theaters in 1993, and pretty much broke even at the box office. Gee, I sure wonder how the show/movie would perform now…
NOSTALGIC LENS: I remember little about this movie. I vaguely remember the flashbacks and I do remember (SPOILERS) that the Joker was the one who managed to solve the identity of the Phantasm before Batman did. I was pretty young, so to be honest, I don’t remember much about the animated series other than being enamored by it, and Batman whipping some series ass. Also, I do remember hearing that the show was animated on black backgrounds to really bring out the dark aesthetic. The specifics, however, are gone from my memory.
DOES IT HOLD UP: This movie is fantastic.
Now, granted, I fully understand why the movie failed at the box office. First, there was little to no marketing of the movie prior to its release. Secondly, the story engages in a lot of tropes and ideas that stem directly from the TV show. In other words, if you didn’t watch the series, you were a few steps behind. It’s not that the plot is too complicated; it’s more that the overall style doesn’t quite cater itself to the movie-going audience, especially those hard-bent on Tim Burton’s vision or delighted more in campier versions of the masked vigilante. To say nothing of those misguided souls that automatically peg animation as “kids fair”.
That final point is more significant than you may think, since the movie is rated PG. A number of Netflix and IMDB reviews seem to be disappointed by this “kiddie” rating, expecting, perhaps, a PG-13. Well let’s just say in this day and age, it would have certainly received that rating—but the real wonder of the film is how it delves into such strength, drama, action, and danger without dropping curse words or ramping up the blood.
As a new masked vigilante starts killing mob bosses, Batman is wrongly implicated for their murders, which has the police on his tail. Meanwhile, former lover Andrea Beaumont returns to town, which causes Bruce Wayne to relive some painful memories of his past. It seems Wayne and Beaumont were lovers, which left Bruce stuck between giving in to the love of his life or the vow to his parents. (By the way, the exact nature of this vow—to fight for vengeance in terms of righteousness—is never quite explained. I can’t even say for sure it’s implied, either. So it’s bit tricky to expect audiences to know what exactly is troubling Wayne, unless, again, you’re keen on to the TV show.)
But even if you’re not aware of the details, the movie really drives in some serious emotions:
The story is intriguing enough that it works perfectly for the elements that the film tries to convey, even though it’s really just a prolonged episode of the TV show. But the conflicts are full blown (Batman’s escape from the police is a tour-de-force in animated action) and all the ideas we know now about the Batman oeuvre are present here. An early scene of pre-Batman-Wayne fighting criminals near a warehouse perfectly compliments a similar moment in Batman Begins. Regarding The Dark Knight’s theme of people going over the edge of sanity? Why, the Joker (Mark Hamill is on top of his GAME) here delights in the idea that Batman may have finally snapped, too!
Again, the story isn’t too complex, which involves some vague, past mob threats and a unique (if not too original) plot-twist. But for PG movie with a short running time (76 minutes), there’s a lot of subtle drama with dark edges and overtones, making this a great and satisfying way to kill an hour with absolutely no regrets. Also, the animation is gorgeous. Who ever said it doesn’t date well is severely mistaken.
IN A NUTSHELL: Excellent movie, despite a few minor flaws here and there (some specific voice readings are kinda awkward, and there seems to be a misstep, plot-wise or timing-wise, in a few early scenes). Otherwise, though, it works in so many ways, and the animation is quite good—Batman was doing hardcore art-deco before Bioshock made it COOL. Check out this dramatically powerful yet understated ending sequence:
I want a full, HD poster of the shot at 0:41.
June 15th: The Rescuers
June 22nd: The Rescuers Down Under