Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Platypus Reviews: A Legion Lost Retrospective

Today saw the last issue of Legion Lost, another New 52 launch title, hit comic book shops and the cancellation leaves me with conflicted feelings towards the title. On one hand, it was nice to have a second Legion of Super-Heroes title for the first time in twelve years, but the title was scarcely above average at best and mediocre most months. Not that there was anything with the concept: a team of legionnaires chase an anti-human terrorist who wants to change the past by mutating the humans of our era, but everything goes to hell when their arrival ends with two legionnaires dead and their advance technology inert. A concept that shares similarities with James Cameron’s the Terminator and the deaths of the two legionnaires ramped up the stakes. So where did the title go wrong?

I am afraid that the title was doomed from the beginning and I am, quite frankly, surprised that Legion Lost was not a victim of the first and second New 52 cullings. The Legion of Super-Heroes, similar the New Teen Titans, was a niche title since the seventies after the apex of the team’s popular Adventure Comics run in the sixties. Legion fans have an eye for minutia for continuity and obscure characters who made a single appearance like Legion rejects and the like. If you never had picked up a Legion title before the New 52, chances are that you would find the first issue confusing and chaotic. If you had no idea of who Dawnstar, Wildfire, Timber Wolf, or especially Chameleon Girl and Gates were you had no reason to even care that a time travel accident left them stranded in the 21st century. Writer Fabian Nicieza did not give much of an introduction to these characters nor did he establish their personalities to make an uninitiated audience care.

Things did get better over the next five issues when things calmed down enough to show tensions between the time-lost legionnaires. Especially team leader Tyroc who had to deal with the always hotheaded and belligerent Wildfire or Timber Wolf who (appropriates) broke off from the crew to hunt for their target. Likewise with Dawnstar who seemed emotionally distant from her teammates, which led to a rift between her and longtime love interest, Wildfire that I always found forced because Geoff Johns pulled on this plot thread in Legion of Three Worlds. Combine that with the fact that they were persona non grata in the 21st century, survival became a concern, especially when unidentified metahumans tended to attract unwanted attention from the US government and the secretive team of metahuman operatives Stormwatch.  However, two events sent the title sliding into mediocrity: the departure of Fabian Nicieza and “the Culling” crossover with the Teen Titans. Not that to knock on Tom DeFalco’s skills as a writer but “the Culling” was a needless diversion from the main storyline and some of the names he used (like “Psy-Kill” and the “Meta-American”) sounded like a villain from an early 90s Image comic penned by Rob Liefeld. So the conclusion to the first arc ended on a whimper rather than with any meaningful resolution, so the title dithered on to its final issue.

Not that there were not any interesting plot developments. I found the Echo division of the Science Police (the 31st century version of the FBI, or the Mounties if you are Canadian like me), who monitored the timeline and sent denizens of the future to past eras as part of a Witness Relocation Program intriguing. Even the revelation that Chameleon Girl was an SP spy was a clever touch considering that the character infiltrated the Legion back in the eighties during Levitz’s acclaimed run on the title. Even, her superior, Captain Nathaniel Adym (any relation?) had a sinister presence as her superior who ordered her to make sure the stranded legionnaires fulfilled their destiny. And then a space barbarian and his talking dragon show up to threaten Earth for no reason other than he just can.

Seriously, an evil, celestial version of He-Man and Battlecat are the final villains the stranded legionnaires face in their own title. To quote a certain contributor to That Guy With the Glasses, “I could not make this shit up if I tried.”

To sum up the plot that the last issues in as few words at possible: the ersatz He-Man sets up a force field and builds a machine. Captain Atom—I mean, Adym decides to blow up ersatz He-Man with a singularity bomb that will destroy half of North America to “save quintillions.” The Ravagers, Superboy, and even Harvest from “the Culling” join the fray. Then Gates teleports ersatz He-Man, his space dragon, and the bomb into the nearest black hole to eliminate the threat; all the legionnaires are alive at the end and there was much rejoicing!

Except when telepathic goldfish, Tellus, reveals that ersatz He-Man’s intended “to communicate” to an unrevealed presence with his machine and not to destroy the Earth as they first thought. So the stranded legionnaires will be waiting for whoever was at the end of ersatz He-Man’s call and the final issue ends with, “Never the end!”

I know I am glossing over more that a few details, but does it really matter at this point? I cannot help but feel that these sixteen issues were a waste of my time because despite the compelling story elements Nicieza and DeFalco offered me as a reader, the bad far outweighed the good and DC could not bother to give us long-suffering readers any resolution other than the promise that these Legionnaires may make an appearance in a future issue of Teen Titans or The Ravagers? I would rather have had DeFalco take them back to the 31st century where they would receive the attention they deserve than have them sit around and wait for Harvest or whoever to show up. In the end it feels like a waste. A waste of my money, a waste of my time, and a waste of my patience with DC after the New 52 nearly burned up the last of my good will.

But at least The Flash has been a compelling read and a visual treat, but please do not tell any Wally West fans that I said that.

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 cliché 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.