Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Platypus Reviews: Name's The Same...

Every pop culture aficionado should now about the 1984 hit comedy, Ghostbusters. A movie that made almost $300 million at the box office and spawned a successful animated series and line of action figures and, unfortunately, some regrettably horrible games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Fans of the franchise also know that Columbia Pictures was also not the first company to use the name and Filmation produced a live-action television series by the same name in 1975, which prompted Columbia to buy the rights to the name. Meanwhile, Filmation produced an animated Ghostbusters series of their own in 1986 while DiC Animation named the animated spin-off, The Real Ghostbusters as a “take that” to Filmation. The point of my brief history being that it is interesting how the names of multi-million franchises like Ghostbusters inadvertently take their namesakes from obscure series from other mediums.

Fast-forward seven years to 1991 when Street Fighter II swallowed the allowances of teenage boys’ allowance whole in the arcade or bought the fight to the living room with its home release on the Super Nintendo. What most fans of the seminal fighting game do not even know is that the name Street Fighter comes from an extremely obscure comic book from 1986, one year the release of the original arcade Street Fighter. By obscure, I mean that only one mini-series published by Ocean Comics and a one-shot, The Original Street Fighter, published by Alpha Comics in 1995 exist and are hard to come by as independent publications. The only reason I know this comic existed is because I saw a cover image of the second issue in the Overstreet Price Guide almost fifteen years ago.

I came across the first two issues at my local comic shop a few months ago, and fortunately, the owner let me have them for free. Never one to refuse a good deal, I brought the issues home to read and see what the deal with it was and, “Hoo Nelly,” it blew my expectations out of the water, and not exactly in a peasant way either. So to quote Linkara, “Let’s dig into Street Fighter #1 and 2.”

And if any aspiring musician who reads this, feel free to write me a theme song if you do not mind getting paid in cashews and gum wrappers.

So we have the cover of Street Fighter #1, and the main thing that strikes me is the similarity of the comic’s logo to its video game namesake’s and that it where the similarities end, my platy-pals. Instead of Ryu, Ken, or even Dan Hibiki, we have a random stranger in a black body suit with turquoise face paint and holsters slung around his upper leg and shoulder crashing though a skylight onto a trio of stereotypical gangsters. In terms of composition, it is a striking cover where “Street Fighter” takes up a good half of the page so we know who the main character is but I have no idea why he has one hand open while the other is balled into a fist. The perspective of the cover is also a bit wonky as the artist drew it with two perspectives: a frontal close-up of Street Fighter (who I will dub “SF” to avoid confusion) and an overhead perspective of the gangsters and crates below. The latter’s placement and posture is also problematic. It looks like “Shades” is about to swing his chain into the head of “Knives,” who will in turn accidentally thrust his blade into the should of “Fedora,” who looks like he is in excruciating pain because he contorted his spine into an unnatural position. At least, that is what I believe will happen moments after SF lands on the floor. Aside from that and the lack of detail in the background, unless these criminals painted the walls of their warehouse yellow, it is not a bad cover but not really a good one either. It aroused my curiosity enough to open it, but how does it fare under scrutiny?

If I could describe my feelings of the story into six words, they would be, “pretty good, but a little generic.” From what I have read about the writer, Ron Fortier’s, bibliography and noticed that he has written a number of pulp novels and Fortier’s forward in Street Fighter #1 even admits that he based the character on “Batman to the Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes to the Shadow, Bruce Lee to Buck Rogers,” and it shows. SF borrows heavily from Batman and the Punisher in his origin as second issue explains the murder of his family at the hands of the mob. There are also elements of Doc Savage as two police officers train the now-amnesiac Adam Ranger to become a weapon against the criminals of Metro City along with loyal group of specialists. Like I said, generic, but that does not necessarily mean SF is a bad character. Bill Finger took inspiration from several sources like The Mark of Zorro and The Bat Whispers for Batman and the Man Who Laughs For the Joker after all. If you are not a fan of the old pulps like me, SF will seem unremarkable but has enough draw if you are such a fan.

 The prose in the caption may appear overwrought it is also very atmospheric. As clich√© as “In the heart of darkness the spark of hope burns” would sound today in 2013 it calls back to the era of pulps and radios. However, my main gripe with the plot of the first issue is that it reads in a very pedestrian manner because the three act structure that involves SF rescuing an anonymous woman, then one of his police allies betrayed by a corrupt officer, and rescue the daughter of city councilor held hostage by a mob boss who swears revenge. Again, somewhat uninspired but necessary to establish the character and the pace of the story does pick up in the second issue with a raid on a police precinct and the promise of a roaring rampage of revenge next issue, which I do not have.

Street Fighter’s biggest shortcoming is its art. Gary Kato’s style reminds me a little of Steve Ditko in terms of expressions and the panels move fluidly during the action scenes where SF is using his martial arts prowess against his adversaries. However, his style is very simplistic to the point where it appears that he penciled the book as if it were the nineteen-forties. Ocean Comics published this comic in 1986 when superstar artists like John Byrne, George Perez, and a slightly saner Frank Miller were at the top of their game. Harsh for twenty-five year old comic book, I know, but with comics being a visual medium, artwork that looks like something a middle-schooler would hand in takes away from what is an ultimately serviceable story.

So do I recommend Street Fighter the comic book? Personally, I would have only spent money on it to satisfy my curiosity though I suppose it is satisfactory if you are a vigilante devotee. Fans of the video game will definitely find disappointment when they realize that none of their favorite world warriors are featured in it. But for the completists that want all things Street Fighter, it would make an interesting (if not odd) part of their collection.

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