Comic Review: The Savage Dragon, Vol. 1: Baptism of Fire

I recently watched a documentary about the formation of Image Comics in the early 1990s. It was a company that I immediately aligned myself with as a fan, as every artist that I loved at Marvel left and went independent in an effort to buck the system and make more money, all while having the creative freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.

Erik Larsen left his cushy job at Marvel, working hard on the top Spider-Man titles, and brought his creation The Savage Dragon to Image. In fact, this series was so huge and successful upon its debut that it has had a long lasting effect, being only one of two of Image’s launch titles that continued to be published from its 1992 debut all the way into the 2010s. The other title was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn.

I actually haven’t read The Savage Dragon since the ’90s but I stuck with it for several years until later high school social responsibilities monopolized my schedule. Plus, I got burnt out on comics for awhile, even though I was once an aspiring comic book artist. I think I just picked up on how bad a lot of the ’90s comic book tropes were and when I did read comics, I was more driven to check out all the older classics that were readily available in my comic shop or in trade paperbacks in bookstores.

While The Savage Dragon is still cool, it does fall victim to some of these unavoidable tropes, just as the other Image Comics titles did. It has clunky, uninspiring writing, bad dialogue and some pretty awful character designs, especially where the villains are concerned. I think a lot of artists, whether they realized it or not, were taking creative cues from comic book wunderkind Rob Liefeld in how he loved big odd-looking guns, cyber body parts, metal masked villains with huge capes and well… just about everything that became synonymous with ’90s comics. In this first chapter of The Savage Dragon saga, I don’t know if Larsen even knew where he was going or if this was just more about experimentation.

Dragon is a cool hero and I’m happy that Larsen didn’t try to answer the mysteries of his past too soon. This collection covers his original four issue miniseries before he would go on to have an ongoing series. Enough is established here to get you interested in the characters and situations but there really isn’t much of a traditional story arc in this limited series’ narrative structure. It serves as a four-part origin story with just enough origin to get things rolling but certainly not the whole backstory of how Dragon came to be Dragon.

While I did like my experience in revisiting the earliest Dragon story arc, I’ll have to get back into the longer running series in order to get a real feel for the character and Larsen’s larger vision.

Film Review: Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell (1988)

Also known as: Deathstalker III: Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (full title), Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (alternate)
Release Date: 1988 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona
Written by: Howard R. Cohen
Music by: Israel Torres, Alejandro Rulfo
Cast: John Allen Nelson, Carla Herd, Thom Christopher, Terri Treas

Concorde-New Horizons, New Classics, Triana Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Potatoes are what we eat!” – Khorsa

I have never seen a Deathstalker movie that I have liked, so finding one that was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is no surprise. And really, this is probably the worst film out of the four.

The movie starts with an evil barbarian horde pillaging a village because that’s how all these kinds of movies start. People die, a hero rises from the ashes and has to crush the evil. However, the evil is some short, scrawny, bald guy that wears giant furs and looks like the host of some swingers party that no one wants to be at. He’s like the guy that tried to bang his secretary to get revenge on his wife who is “disinterested in sex”, except the secretary wouldn’t touch him and quit her job and the dude just planted evidence to look like he had an affair because no one wants him: his wife, his secretary, the bears at the gay biker bar, no one.

The hero is no better. He spends the duration of the film’s 86 minutes trying out different accents, none of which work. He’s also just some pretty boy soap actor from Santa Barbara. All I remember from that show was the opening credits sequence, which made my Auntie Belle smile everyday like a fat kid with a coupon book to Chet’s Burger City.

Deathstalker III is just a long, awful, meaningless, mundane build up to a final showdown between a fur covered mid-life crisis having Saturn car salesman and a pretty boy trying out accents to woo ladies that would be more at home in a Chubbies advertisement than wielding a sword.

I remember actually renting this as a kid because I thought the video box art was incredibly f’n badass! That poster represents the movie in no way whatsoever. The only thing accurate about it is the swords. Yes, they exist in this movie but the hero certainly isn’t some Fabio-esque barbarian book cover model. In fact, the filmmakers should be sued by anyone that ever saw the video box on a shelf and wasted 99 cents on a lie. It’s like buying a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with Heidi Klum on the cover, only to open it and see that all the other sexy bikini shots are of Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey.

This is an appalling movie that must have been a cruel joke by the filmmakers involved. Even though Roger Corman is a producer, albeit uncredited, this is a blight on his name and he’s the King of B-movies.

This is a Z-movie, that’s how bad it is.

Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell can’t escape the clutches of the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Also known as: Det sjunde inseglet (original Swedish title)
Release Date: February 16th, 1957 (Sweden)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Based on:  Trämålning by Ingmar Bergman
Music by: Erik Nordgren
Cast: Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Inga Landgré, Åke Fridell

AB Svensk Filmindustri, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing escapes you!” – Antonius Block, “Nothing escapes me. No one escapes me.” – Death

Ingmar Bergman is considered one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived. The Seventh Seal is considered his magnum opus by many. It has been referenced, parodied and ripped off by hundreds of films after it. The movies it has influenced have gone on to influence others. It’s reach is so deep and so broad that it will probably always have some sort of imprint on the film industry forever. It is an iconic body of work, regardless at how one views it. It is also an extremely high point, if not the highest, in the long history of Swedish filmmaking. The fact that I haven’t seen it in its entirety until now, could actually be criminal.

My entire life, I have been a huge film aficionado. So I’ve sort of always known about this picture and I’ve seen it’s effect on other bodies of work. I’ve seen this movie featured in documentaries and I’ve seen clips of it for so long that I felt like I had already seen it in a roundabout way. Even though I’m very familiar with the key elements of this puzzle, I’ve never had all the pieces put together in the proper way.

The Seventh Seal is about a soldier who is confronted by Death. He convinces Death to play him in a chess match. The soldier figures that as long as he’s locked in the match, he has more time on Earth. He is disenchanted and depressed over the fact that he’s wasted his life even though he realizes that he’s not that different from most men. He tries to bide his time all while searching for meaning and something greater. Eventually, time runs out and he has to face his mortality.

The film takes place during Medieval times but it’s not necessarily an accurate portrayal of that era. It’s more of a reflection of what was behind the inspiration of the story for Bergman, as he had stated that the idea of Death playing a game of chess came from a church painting from the 1480s. Additionally, the feeling of “doom and gloom” from the era was instrumental in helping set the tone of this film’s narrative. The film showcases the effects of plague and the witch hunts: things that were really very dark blights on human existence in that era. Really, what better time and place is there to set this film?

While I don’t consider this to be the masterpiece than many others do, it’s a very compelling film and it is easy to reflect on your own life, even in modern times, and compare it to the concerns that the knight has about his own existence and place in the universe.

Bergman certainly had an eye for composition and was a true artist in the medium of motion pictures. This really is art at its core. It is also a very human story as we will all one day be in the soldier’s shoes in one way or another.

The Seventh Seal is a very good motion picture that went beyond just influencing a generation, it influenced an entire art form well beyond what anyone could have imagined at the time. Films like this are extremely rare.

Film Review: They Call Him Holy Ghost (1972)

Also known as: Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo (original Italian title), …Y le llamaban El Halcón (Spain), El halcón de Sierra Madre, Blazing Guns, Forewarned… Half-Killed… the Word of the Holy Ghost, His Name Was Holy Ghost
Release Date: March 30th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Written by: Tito Capri, Federico De Urrutia
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Gianni Garko, Pilar Velazquez

Astro C.C., Lea Film, 94 Minutes

Review:

They Call Him Holy Ghost is a film that sounded much cooler from its synopsis than what the final product actually was. IMDb describes the film as “Gianni Garko returns as the Holy Ghost, a supernatural gunfighter dressed in white and with a dove sitting on his shoulder.” Man, that sounds friggin’ badass.

Gianni Garko is a legendary spaghetti cowboy, a supernatural gunfighter sounds intriguing and a sidekick played by a white dove… well, why the hell not? Plus, one of the pictures I saw online had Garko’s Holy Ghost blasting off one of those giant machine guns that were synonymous with Django and other roles Franco Nero played.

Then the film started and the opening sequence was just purely f’n awesome! Evil men, people treated like garbage to the evil men’s amusement, then the just and righteous Holy Ghost shows up with his dove and a machine gun, drops some quirky dialogue and turns the bad guys into Swiss f’n cheese! Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, though.

For 94 minutes, the film is slower than it should be. I had hoped that this would be as energetic and nuts as the original 1966 Django but it was pretty talkie and actually quite goofy. Sure, it had some action but this picture evolved into more of a comedy as it progressed. In fact, the longer the film ran, the sillier it got to where the big finale was sort of like a spaghetti western reinterpreted by slapstick performers. This would have been a cool film to have seen in a realistic and gritty spaghetti style.

This movie was mostly enjoyable even if it went off the rails after it’s great opening. Gianni Garko is always fun to watch and he committed to this role very well but the schizophrenic tone pulled me out of the movie and turned potential into disappointment.

Comic Review: Godzilla In Hell

I’ve only read one other Godzilla comic book series and that was Rulers of Earth. This was put out by IDW Publishing, just as Rulers was and frankly, seeing the “King of Monsters” take on whatever Hell has in store for him, was worth checking out.

Sadly, I was pretty underwhelmed by this.

As you can imagine, with a story that just features Godzilla rampaging through Hell, there really isn’t any dialogue. Well, there’s some narrative bits and a Moth angel thing talks, as does a demon for a second, but for the most part, this is just Godzilla rampaging through Hell and that’s about it.

You’d think that the premise would create an awesome and epic story and while Godzilla does encounter some of his toughest foes, he actually fights King Ghidorah and Destoroyah at the same time, the narrative plays out like a disjointed, surreal dream sequence. It jumps around from bit to bit and all the battles end up being interrupted by Godzilla falling into a deeper layer of Hell or getting whisked away to some other place, geographically.

Also, the art is a mixture of good and bad. It is mostly pretty decent but there are some panels that look pretty hokey and outdated by decades.

This was an interesting and quick read, which flew by even quicker with barely any dialogue in the story. It’s certainly not a must read but if you are a massive Godzilla fan, it’s worth checking out if you can find a free copy or borrow it from someone. I read it for free because I have ComiXology Unlimited.

Film Review: Demon Knight (1995)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (complete title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1995
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, C. C. H. Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, John Larroquette (cameo), John Kassir

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck this cowboy shit! You fucking ho-dunk, po-dunk, well then there motherfuckers! All you had to do was give me the goddamn key! Then we could get on with our lives. [cuts his hand to make new creatures] Alright… this house is hereby… condemned…” – The Collector

As a horror loving kid in the ’80s, I used to watch the shit out of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. So when the show ended but they turned to producing movies, I was saddened but also kind of stoked.

I saw Demon Knight when it first came out in my local theater and I even got a copy of it on VHS when it was released later that year. It has been a really long time since I’ve seen it, however. Actually, the last time I saw it was when I still had a working VCR. Seeing it now, I forgot how absolutely insane and fun this movie was.

The film is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who started his career doing the cinematography in Spike Lee’s earliest films. Before directing this, he was in the director’s chair for Juice and Surviving the Game, two films I really liked as a teen and still enjoy today. Dickerson was a young, up and coming filmmaker when he got this gig. I feel like his work on Demon Knight enriched his oeuvre.

It didn’t hurt that Dickerson had an all-star cast in this thing. The two top roles went to William Sadler and Billy Zane. To be frank, this is still my favorite role that Zane has ever played. The film is rounded out by Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Dick Miller, Brenda Bakke and Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer. As a huge Dick Miller fanboy, I love him in this and he got his just desserts, at this point in his long career, as he gets to star opposite of a horde of big breasted naked ladies in his final scene.

This is a film that pulls no punches and just goes for it and that’s why it works so well, has held up nicely and is infinitely more fun and entertaining than 99 percent of modern horror. The demons are cool, Zane is cool, Sadler is cool, Dick Miller is Dick f’n Miller and this is just a bonkers movie in the greatest regard. In a lot of ways, Dickerson out Joe Dante’d Joe Dante.

I’m glad that I revisited this, which also has got me enthused about revisiting that other Tales From the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood.

Film Review: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

Release Date: January 12th, 2018 (Newseum premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Jim Krieg
Based on: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola
Music by: Frederik Wiedmann
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Anthony Head, Tara Strong, Bruce Timm, Kari Wuhrer

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 78 Minutes

Review:

“[faces the Ripper] Well, I won’t beg. And I won’t get hysterical. I won’t give you the satisfaction. Know this: I forgive you.” – Sister Leslie

I was a big fan of the old Gotham by Gaslight story, which came out when I was just really getting into Batman circa 1989. It was also the first Elseworlds Tale, which has become a big imprint under the DC Comics banner. Strangely, although this shares the title, the time frame and the villain, it is it’s own story and not an animated adaptation of the famous comic.

At first, I was caught off guard by the alterations and didn’t think I’d like the film but by the time it got to the end, I was digging it.

Reinventions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes they work quite well and with this film version of Gotham by Gaslight, it was cool going into familiar but really under explored territory in the DC mythos and seeing someone else give their own take on it. Had that take been bad, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel the same but the end result and the story were really good.

The one things that really stuck out for me was the animation. I wasn’t super keen on the character designs but when we got to those high octane action parts, this film really came alive. The big finale, which features a vacant World’s Fair setting and a massive burning Ferris wheel was spectacular. Also, the scenes where Batman was riding through the streets of Gotham on a steam powered motorcycle, looked fantastic.

Ultimately, this film didn’t blow my socks off but it was worth a watch. The animated DC stuff has been really good the last few years, especially the Batman movies. This one is a bit better than their recent average and it was a welcome change to just having another straight up, modern Batman adaptation.