Comic Review: G.I. Joe: Target Snake Eyes

Target Snake Eyes is the culmination of several stories. It is a conclusion to all the stuff that happens after the big Cobra Command event, which followed the massive Cobra Civil War crossover.

This is the final chapter of the larger arc that is spread over G.I. Joe: Deep Terror, G.I. Joe: Cobra, Vol. 2: Son of the SnakeG.I. Joe: Cobra, Vol. 3: Oktober Guard and G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow, Vol. 1.

Additionally, this sets up the new comic book series G.I. Joe: Special Missions, which happens alongside the events of two other new titles, G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files and G.I. Joe (the third main series for the franchise at IDW). This list here will help you make sense out of the timeline and the multiple titles since IDW is pretty confusing on how they release G.I. Joe stuff.

This kicks off with G.I. Joe and Cobra hunting for Snake Eyes and his Arashikage ninja brother Storm Shadow. Snake Eyes is believed to be working against the Joes and Storm Shadow has taken his clan and left Cobra. Snake Eyes has his own agenda, as that’s sort of his modus operandi. This eventually leads to Storm Shadow feeling betrayed and a rift forming between the two, once again.

Target Snake Eyes also deals with Joe and Cobra teams that aren’t in great shape. The Baroness comes up with a massive scheme to give Cobra a lot more power but the scheme fails and she finds herself in the crosshairs of Cobra Commander.

There is a lot of Serpentor, Coil politics, Arashikage politics, Cobra politics, Joe politics and a big crescendo that finishes the story and gives you a sense of narrative completion other than a few open ended bits that will carry over into future story arcs.

Overall, this is a really good book if you are a fan of the ninja side of the G.I. Joe universe.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The two stories that lead into it: G.I. Joe: Deep Terror and G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow, Vol. 1.

Video Game Review: Castlevania (NES)

Every kid in the ‘8os played Castlevania. Well, if they didn’t, they missed out on one of the greatest experiences of their generation. Sure, it wasn’t as massive as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda but it is just as much a classic and has had a similar level of staying power, as sequels are still made and it even has an anime show on Netflix that is currently running.

The game sort of takes the Universal Monsters and throws them into a 2D side scrolling adventure of badass proportions. The big boss is Dracula but you also face Frankenstein’s monster, a hunchback, a mummy, several gillmen, as well as other classic monsters that weren’t in the Universal Monsters canon like the Grim Reaper and Medusa. There are also zombies, giant wolves, giant bats and dismembered Medusa heads that fly at you. There are deadly traps, pits and water that is instant death. The game throws a lot at you and pulls no punches.

Seriously, this really pulls no punches. The game is hard as hell. And maybe the difficulty level is it’s only real negative. It isn’t an unbeatable game, as I have conquered it. But man, it is an incredible challenge that takes hours upon hours of mastery before one can actually beat it. But that was what the best old school NES games were about: mastery.

Another slight negative is the mechanics. Sometimes the jumping is wonky and it’s easy to get overzealous and screw up. Also, the stairs can be a total pain in the ass but eventually you’ll get it.

Castlevania is one of the best games of its era. It had to be to create a franchise as strong as it did. It is a true product of the ’80s and a real blast for old school horror fans.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.

Comic Review: The Infinity Gauntlet

Since the new Avengers movie is coming out very shortly and it is about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, I wanted to revisit those stories in their original comic book format. This is the first of The Infinity Trilogy, which also features The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.

This was the biggest Marvel mega crossover event of my most formative years. I had read Secret Wars I and II, as well as some of the major X-Men centered mega events before this but this one, at least when I was a preteen, seemed like it was legitimately for all the marbles like nothing else that came before it. Therefore, when it was revealed several years ago that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was building towards Thanos and his acquisition of the Infinity Stones, I knew that the third Avengers movie was going to be the biggest cinematic event in the history of comic book movies.

But how does the original body of work stack up now, two and a half decades later?

Well, it’s still really damn good and was a heck of a read.

The story is comprised of six beefy oversized issues. The first three serve to set up the final three, which cover the massive space battle between Thanos and everything the Marvel Universe could throw at him. The first half is a bit slow but it is necessary to understand what is happening. The fourth issue throws Earth’s heroes at Thanos, the fifth issue throws Marvel’s cosmic entities and gods at Thanos and the sixth and final issue sees Nebula acquire the Infinity Gauntlet, causing Thanos to have to reassess his place in the order of the universe.

I think that the biggest difference between this classic version and the upcoming film adaptation is that the build will be much different and it should be.

Here, Thanos is motivated by the petty idea that he can use the Gauntlet to win over the heart of Death. While it does work for the comics, it isn’t something that could really work on film, at least not with a lot more narrative work than the Marvel screenwriters will have time for if they also need to focus on wedging every cinematic hero into the film. By modern standards, Thanos’ motivation seems cheesy but I’ll buy into it because it isn’t something that I couldn’t see the character doing. He’s flawed and egomaniacal, and he would be driven to win over what he feels he cannot have.

I liked where this story went, how it challenged the heroes, how the writers worked it so that Thanos wasn’t “omnipotent” and how it all panned out in the end.

The Infinity Gauntelt is still a great Marvel mega crossover event that deserves the recognition and legendary status it has.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Its sequels The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe: Cobra, Vol. 3: Oktober Guard

G.I. Joe: Cobra, Vol. 3: Oktober Guard is a direct pickup of the plot thread that started in G.I. Joe: Cobra, Vol. 2: Son of the Snake.

This follows Flint’s team of Joes, operating out of a casino in Las Vegas with the assistance of Tomax, a former major player in Cobra. This also follows Major Bludd’s story and the aftermath of his part in the Cobra Command crossover event. Additionally, this also happens at the same time as the events in G.I. Joe: Deep Terror and G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow, Vol. 1.

This is written by Chuck Dixon, the greatest G.I. Joe writer that isn’t the legendary Larry Hama. This is also one of my favorite smaller scale Dixon stories. It’s about a small group of characters and isn’t forced to wedge in every Joe and Cobra character like the mega events Cobra Civil War and Cobra Command.

The primary thing of importance here is that this story arc introduces the IDW G.I. Joe universe to the Oktober Guard, who were pretty prevalent during the Cold War G.I. Joe stories of the 1980s. In the old days, they were the Soviet Union’s version of G.I. Joe. In the IDW universe, they are a Russian group that exists in secret and are more like mercenaries than a government agency.

This book also serves to further develop Flint, Lady Jaye, Chameleon, Ronin and Major Bludd. Ultimately, this leads to Major Bludd becoming the leader of Oktober Guard. While that’s a bit of a spoiler, the way in which it happens is pretty cool.

I really liked this story, it continues a great track record of Chuck Dixon’s G.I. Joe tenure and IDW’s handling of the property during this era. Sadly, IDW would lose touch later on but at this point, G.I. Joe is still solid.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: G.I. Joe: Cobra, Vol. 2: Son of the Snake (the story before it) and G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files, Vol. 1 and 2 (which follows it).

Film Review: Rampage (2018)

Release Date: April 4th, 2018 (Microsoft Theater premiere)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Based on: Rampage by Midway Games
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton

New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company, Rickard Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Like my grandpappy always said, ‘Us assholes gotta stick together.'” – Harvey Russell

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. I am a massive fan of kaiju movies and I was a big fan of the Rampage video game when I was dropping quarters into it on the reg back in the ’80s. However, the game didn’t have a plot, really. It was just about playing as one of three monsters: a gorilla, a werewolf or a lizard. The only real purpose was to cause as much destruction as you possibly could: punching buildings into rubble and eating people hanging out of windows.

The film’s story actually did a decent job of explaining the creation of these giant creatures and their physics defying abilities.

For the most part, I really liked this movie. It was ridiculous in the best way possible and a ton of friggin’ fun. This is what a blockbuster should be. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate or attempt to be overly serious, it can be a balls to the wall smash’em up festival. And while that formula has worn thin and I’ve been critical of it in the past (*cough, cough Man of Steel), when done right and with an organic purpose, it can still work. It works here.

From a storyline standpoint, this is more engaging than the first Pacific Rim movie. I liked the plot of the second Pacific Rim much better, by the way. Rampage just does a good job with its human characters and also really makes you feel for George, the Rock’s large albino gorilla friend who turns into a menace, only to be cured of his aggression and turn into a hero that teams up with the Rock in taking down the other two monsters: the giant wolf and the giant alligator.

I also love the cast. The Rock, who prefers to just be Dwayne Johnson now but is and will always be The Rock to me, leads the charge but is backed up by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Marley Shelton, the last two being in small roles, unfortunately.

But with The Rock, Morgan and Manganiello together in the same film, there is a testosterone overload that matches the beastly intensity of the three actual beasts in the film. I also loved Malin Akerman as a villainous corporate bitch in this. She was perfect, cold and still looking damn fine. In fact, having her and Morgan in this makes the film a mini Watchmen reunion.

I also really liked the Easter egg of having the old Rampage arcade game in Akerman’s office.

There are some goofy things about the movie. Okay, “some” is an understatement. However, it works for a movie with giant monsters tearing up Chicago and literally toppling the Sears Tower. I’m not going to get nitpicky and bitch too hard but sometimes the dialogue was forced and felt unnatural but this was usually in the moments where The Rock was yelling at green screen. There just seemed to be a disconnect at times, which isn’t the actor’s fault but for some reason certain bits felt off.

The creatures and their physical embellishments all worked for me and the special effects used to bring them to life was well done. I also like that they didn’t make the monsters too big like the Pacific Rim kaiju or the modern versions of Godzilla. The monsters don’t have to tower over the largest buildings, they just need to tower over the humans running away and the military might that confronts them.

Rampage isn’t a great motion picture in the terms of being cinematic art or something that the Academy would see as worthy of their consideration outside of special effects. However, it is a solid popcorn movie. Especially for those of us who can’t get enough modern kaiju films.

And if you are wondering if there is a scene where a monster eats a lady like in the video game, well… you won’t be disappointed. And frankly, it’s an awesome f’n moment.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 2014 Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island and the Pacific Rim movies.

Comic Review: Avengers vs. X-Men – Collected Edition

Being less than a month away from Avengers: Infinity War, the biggest cinematic event to date for Marvel, I wanted to read something in the comics that was also a massive tale. I haven’t read this before but I had heard some positive feedback about it and figured I’d check it out.

I mean, who doesn’t want to see what would happen if the Avengers and the X-Men came to blows?

So there is this Hope Summers character that’s some modern Marvel creation and I don’t know much abut her other than she was raised by Cable and the Phoenix Force is rushing back to Earth to attach itself to her.

Cyclops of the X-Men wants to protect her on his terms, Captain America wants to take her into custody to protect her and the planet as well. Cyclops acts like a big fascist dick and a fight breaks out between the X-Men and the Avengers. All of which could have been prevented if Cyclops wasn’t an egotistical fascist dick.

The Phoenix Force tries to latch onto Hope but she rejects it. The Phoenix is then split into five parts and possess Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik and Colossus. So now the Avengers have to fight five fascist Phoenixes with a mutant army.

Ultimately, Cyclops becomes the Dark Phoenix.

The story just wasn’t good and most of the characters were just irrational. In fact, I wouldn’t be comfortable living in a world where most of these heroes had powers. We live in a time and age where comics don’t have to be written for children with stupid situations that don’t make a lot of sense to an adult who can apply reason and empathy to life’s problems and conflicts.

But I guess the writers needed a reason to pit the Avengers against the X-Men so they went with a real lazy route and made Cyclops into a prickish moron because no one likes him anyway.

Civil War was a much better mega event. It was well thought out, asked real questions, gave good arguments for both sides of the equation and it just worked. Avengers vs. X-Men just seemed forced and aimless.

The art was good though.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Both of the Marvel Civil War events, as it is very similar. Also, the old school X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga.