Retro Review: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for a good Schwarzenegger film. I’ve seen the gamut of his notable works, from the barely-able-to-speak-English Conan the Barbarian, to three-tittied-woman vehicle Total Recall, to his oft overlooked, underappreciated comedy career: Kindergarten Cop, Junior, and Twins (the latter two also starring my favorite, Danny Devito). That being said, I’m one of the very few people who had never seen Terminator 2. Hell, I’ve never even seen Terminator, let alone its better received sequel, and my shame has gone on too long! So when Hulu began streaming the cyborg thriller, you bet your last strudel that I hopped on that movie as soon as I could and boy oh boy, let me tell you, that movie was the definition of action packed! Two hours and thirteen minutes of shooting, explosions, car chases, and one-liners! Whole warehouse blew up! A cyborg was stabbing people! A Guns and Roses soundtrack! It was by far one of the most fun and kind of ridiculous movies I’ve seen in a long time and, if you haven’t checked it out, you definitely should.

Though I hadn’t seen the first Terminator, I was assured that the only thing necessary to understand the sequel is that there is a woman named Sarah Connor who was locked up in a mental institution for killing a time-travelling cyborg who was going to kill her son John to prevent a human resistance movement sometime in the future. That son has now grown up to be Eddie Furlong and the movie opens up to him living with a foster family and being a motorcycling, badass pre-teen. Unbeknownst to him, he’s still a target for the cyborgs who, instead of re-sending the same Terminator model (the T-800) as before, has now sent the new and improved T-1000 to hunt him down. A second cyborg, Schwarzenegger playing a standard T-800, is also sent back but this time, to protect John and Sarah from getting their faces blasted off. Cue a couple hours of blowing shit up until (spoiler alert) he succeeds in killing the T-1000.

Critics have been hailing this as one of the best action films on the market since its release in 1991, and it’s easy to see why. There’s never really a point where the movie slows down, and even when it does, it’s still tense with anticipated action, and tough-as-nails characters ready to fight. When the action does come, it’s done on an immense scale, which is expected of James Cameron, who had directed Aliens and went on to do Titanic and Avatar. We frequently see characters going full speed down highways and empty water tunnels or blasting through an entire warehouse just to kill the T-1000. The movie allows Schwarzenegger to flex his action muscles by smartly choosing to play a character known for its size and efficiency. I mean, he’s not exactly Van Damme-ing around the set, but he plays to his strengths as a big man.

Another great thing about the movie, which is a common association with Cameron films, is his choice for a female lead in Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. While it’s not as uncommon now to have a woman in a central role in a high-budget action movie, it’s thanks to film makers like Cameron that beat that path for modern films. Perhaps it helps that Schwarzenegger was there to help balance out the gender aspect (and also the no-bra/t-shirt combo), but Cameron took a chance knowing that it could isolate some of his audience and he rolled with it anyway. That’s pretty damn cool. It also should be noted that the Sarah Connor character is treated realistically; she’s deeply flawed as well as being a bad-ass, kind of like a modern day Punisher. Cameron recognized the emotional toll that having to protect a child from getting killed by cyborgs would have on a person, another move that helped set the mood for the movie. The script treats her like a person and allowed her to feel the full gamut of a desperate and trapped parent. She does what any parent would in her situation and does her best for John, even if it means having him taken from her. It’s that kind of attention to detail that helped move the movie along when things weren’t getting set on fire.

Technically, there are a lot of notable achievements that are still pretty impressive today, despite the movie having come out before grunge killed hair metal. T2 broke new ground for CGI: it was the first movie to use natural human motion for a CGI character (essentially, motion capture), and the first to use a partial CGI main character in the T-1000’s liquid-alloy mode. Even now, it’s still pretty good and easily blends into the movie without breaking immersion. For a new technology, the actors manage to interact with the effects really well, and I like that when it could the movie chose to go the practical effects route, rather than doing everything CGI. That being said, I do wish I’d got to see this movie in its heyday, or at least before overuse of CGI was the norm in action movies, so that my mind could’ve been blown away like the original audiences was.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie. It makes the most of the technological possibilities that were available at the time, and helped set the tone for the modern action film. It has a strong lead, a fun story, and just the right amount of humor to help ground the work. Sure, T2 is a little cheesy now looking back on it, but it’s one of the movies where, at the time, there was nothing like it. It did what The Matrix did for sci-fi or Texas Chainsaw Massacre did for horror: it changed the game, and it only seems cheesy because of the tropes it itself created (also known as the Seinfeld is Unfunny trope). Still, as a first time watch, it’s awesome! It’s a great starter movie for those just getting into action or sci-fi or for those who simply want a no-frills movie with a great nostalgia perk. Plus, shit gets blown up! How do you not want to watch that?

If you haven’t seen it yet, there are plenty of ways to check it out, the easiest being on Hulu. Otherwise, I’m sure you can get a basic DVD on the cheap somewhere or simply borrow the Blu-Ray from your movie-obsessed friend. You know they got a copy. Either way, definitely watch or re-watch it, you won’t regret it. Hasta La Vista, BABY!

Star vs. the Forces of Evil (2017)

You know what I miss most about being a kid? Saturday morning cartoons. Sitting down with a bowl of cereal at eight in the morning and turning on ABC’s Kids or Fox Kids or any other combination of a television channel and the word Kids and watching cartoons until the sun reached its peak at noon. With Netflix and Hulu at the touch of a button, I have tried to recreate that experience with a line-up of kids cartoons; granted, much more modern than DuckTales and Tale Spin. One of the shows I’ve come across is Star vs. the Forces of Evil! A modern Disney cartoon well on its way to a fourth season, the show focuses on a 14 year old princess from another dimension named Star who comes to Earth to complete her education on how to be proper royalty. Properly animated (none of that flash animation crap) and hyper-active, this little cartoon is perfect for those of us who want to be both a magical princess and a road warrior!

Like most of today’s kids cartoons, e.g. Adventure Time or Gravity Falls, Star isn’t just a series of one-shots, but also contains an overarching arc that plays through the undercurrent of the show. As stated, the show focuses on Star, a Sailor Moon inspired princess who lives on Earth with her new family, the Diaz’s, and causes mischief wherever she goes. She and her friend Marco Diaz spend their days getting in and out of trouble, exploring both the magical and non-magical worlds, and generally goofing off. She also has her own consistent bad guy a la Ice King, this one in the form of a bald, bird beaked, little man named Ludo who is constantly attempting to steal Star’s wand. Devious! With Ludo in and out her life and the pressure of being the new Queen of her home world looming, it seems like Star’s troubles are just starting!

I’ve watched a lot of cartoons in my day and I hafta say, Star vs the Forces of Evil is by far one of my favorites. Star is the best weird girl that’s ever been animated onto the small screen. From her goofy headwear and colorful dresses to her constantly changing themed bags, her design is fun and quirky without making her too obnoxious. Her creator, Daron Nefcy, was heavily inspired by magical girl manga, with many manga elements going into her creation such as her over-the-top personality and offbeat voice. Her friend Marco, who changes from a safety conscious side-kick to martial arts enthusiast, was also inspired by fan boys of Dragonball Z. Together, they learn lessons about life and each other and solve their problems within an 11 minute window without repeating the same story twice.

The side characters are also fully fleshed out and help contribute to the overall feel of the show, with some even getting their own episodes. In season 2, we get to what happened to Ludo after the first season finale and Stars on-and-off enemy Buff Frog gets his own episodes as he struggles to provide for his children. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper magical girl show without a couple of romances involved and both Star and Marco deal with their feelings for other characters (and eventually, for each other). Essentially, it’s what you would expect from a current kids cartoon and I love that today’s creators are just old cartoon nerds like the rest of us. The show doesn’t underestimate its viewers, both children and adults, and understands that shows can be both complex and fun. Throw in some puppies that shoot lasers and have hearts on their buttholes and you got yourself a show!

Production wise, Star vs. didn’t skimp on any details, but then again, it is owned by Disney. The animation is fluid and punchy with just the perfect amount of noodle arms. It lacks the stretch and squash animation of traditional Disney animation which, frankly, would’ve looked goofy with this type of storytelling. The character designs are largely unique from one another and they all look age appropriate, so no 16 year old Gwen Stacy’s in a barely-there bikini. Perhaps the only real complaint is the first several episodes of Season 2 seem to suffer musical composition problems where long strings of scenes that should have musical accompaniment end up being mostly silent, making the episodes awkward to watch. I never realized how important music is to a cartoon until you don’t hear any, it was super weird. Luckily, the problem gets fixed by the fourth or fifth episode and the rest is smooth sailing.

If you’re looking for an all-ages cartoon for your weirdo kids, look no further than Star VS the Forces of Evil! The first three seasons are now on Hulu.

Judas #1

There are three things that are never supposed to be discussed in polite company: money, politics, and religion. But, when those three things make up the majority of a person’s life, when they shape the very soul and beliefs of a human being, how do you go about ignoring them entirely, especially when you have a whole different side of the story to tell? BOOM! Studios’ newest comic preaches that story from the last person you would imagine: Judas Iscariot. Told from the perspective of the greatest enemy of Christianity (short of the Devil in a bowler hat), we learn that not everyone blindly believed the words of the Prophet and how those words can easily change from self-sacrificing to self-serving. A unique look at a time of Roman conquerors and prophetic madmen, Judas doesn’t shy away from asking the hard questions about faith and miracles while pondering that age old question, if the Son of God can perform miracles, why does he allow people to suffer?

The comic opens up on a lost and wandering Judas as he hangs himself off a tree in the middle of the desert. Waking up in a place stripped of warmth and growth, Judas begins to recall the events that led up to his fall. You see, Judas wasn’t always a bitter man. At one time, he was in love with a woman who ended up dying of an illness. One day, as he bleakly makes his way through his town, a man named Jesus approaches him and invites him to join his flock. Though Judas agrees, he can’t help but see and hear flaws in Jesus’s teachings, eventually fearing that he was chosen only for his ability to question his beliefs and make the ultimate sacrifice, to help martyr Jesus while he takes all the blame. Forced to pay for his sins in the afterlife, he wonders if what he did was right and how much of his destiny was pre-ordained.

 The comic attempts to re-tell the story of Jesus’s final days. Everyone knows the story of Judas and Jesus; Judas, one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, betrays Jesus to the Romans and gets Jesus crucified. While most people would simply deem Judas as an evil man, Judas #1 refuses to believe that the same man who saw the miracles of Jesus Christ would simply turn his back on him. In fact, that’s one of the great things about this comic. Jesus is never played as a fraud or a cult leader, as is fashionable with most comics questioning Christianity, but is still truly seen as the Son of God. Judas’s betrayal doesn’t come from him ‘seeing the seams’ of Jesus, it comes from him questioning the intentions of man who literally had the power to save the world but didn’t. Instead, he walks on water, feeds a village, and has Judas rat him out and martyr him. It’s kind of shady when you think about it.

In fact, the whole work asks questions that have never really be asked before. Why did Jesus pick Judas to martyr him? Did he know that Judas did not have the same level of belief as the rest of his disciples? Was Jesus trying to change Judas faith in him or was he banking on the fact that he couldn’t? All these thoughts flit not only in Judas’s brain, but force their way into the readers as well. You really can’t help but sympathize with Judas, especially when he’s clawing through the mountains of Hell not really knowing why he’s there. He honestly thinks he did what Jesus wanted him to do. Then again, there is a wonderful ‘unreliable narrator’ angle in the story as well, where, despite what he says, one can’t help remember that he freaking killed Jesus! Even he is forced to realize that he did something pretty horrendous, hence the suicide in the beginning. Maybe he really was just an evil man? How do you justify killing God?

Now that all the theological ponderings are out of the way, let me say, this comic is actually pretty gruesome, especially the art. Artist Jakub Rebelka takes inspiration from the Good Book itself and draws angels as described in Revelations, that is, covered in eyes, having four arms and four faces, and their wings touching each other as they walked. While most would struggle to even conceive what that would look like, Rebelka actually manages to draw it out, making the creature’s kind of look like fleshy bugs with bunch of eyeballs. He also does a wonderful job with small details, such as giving Judas a black halo once he enters Hell and Jesus having, like, the NICEST hair ever. He also does all the coloring and skillfully uses the shadows of Hell and the contrasting light of life to help establish mood. Though he does seem to have a bit of a problem with perspective, his eye for layout and character creations helps smooth out any bumps.

Highly recommended for those who want something deep to chew on, Judas #1 is out in stores now!

Rocko’s Modern Life #1

There’s nothing cheesier than starting a conversation with the words “hey, do you remember the 90s?” But really, do you, 90s kids? Remember Rugrats, Gakk, getting slimed, or that spinning thing that twirled around your leg and counted how many times you jumped over it? What was the point of that thing? Anyway, as the wave of nostalgia keeps washing over us like cans of Crystal Pepsi, so are the creators at BOOM! Studios working hard to remind us of a time when our only worries were catching the latest episode of Power Rangers and dying from a sugar rush. With the recent “comicizations” of our favorite childhood shows, it’s only a matter of time before Rocko’s Modern Life sees a revival itself (and not just in the upcoming one hour cartoon set to hit in 2018). As I sat down with the first issue of what is sure to be one of many upcoming stories, I’m surprised to report that it was actually pretty damn good. Have I finally fallen into the nostalgia trap that has kept Transformers alive WAY longer than it should have, or was this actually a good comic? Honestly, I think it’s a little bit of both but I’m happy to say that I don’t regret reading it.

If you’re new to the bizarre cartoon that is Rocko’s Modern Life, the show is about a wallaby named Rocko who does his best to be a proper adult in the face of a world filled with emotionally volatile creatures, and the high price of modern living. While trying to learn to fend for himself, he becomes friends with a dumb cow raised by wolves and a very anxious turtle, both of whom only continue to get him in and out of trouble. Despite everything, Rocko maintains a cheery disposition and keeps believing that happiness is just around the next corner. Also, he has a cute little dog named Spunky. The comic follows this exact premise, opening up on our hero being fired from his telemarketer job at Conglom-O. Forced to face his mounting debt, he reluctantly gets a room-mate who quickly proves more trouble than he’s worth. After costing Rocko a job interview following an all-night party, Rocko unsuccessfully attempts to kick him out, only to be offered a solution he can’t refuse. The story is followed up by a mini-comic about Mr. Bighead going to the dentist, with less than favorable results.

 If you’ve watched the show before than this comic is for you! It has all your favorite characters! Filbert the Turtle, Heffer the Cow, Mr. and Mrs. Bighead, that lady with the hooks for hands, along with some new ones like the obnoxious Chalmers, Rocko’s new sloth roommate, and Mr. Bighead’s dentist, Dr. O’Doherty (who I think is a dog?) Though there are plenty of guest appearances, the comic still primarily focuses on Rocko and his new roomie, which keeps it from overwhelming new fans with too many inside jokes and references. In fact, it seems like the whole franchise got a bit of a modernization by not shying away from jokes about geek culture, and dressing the party attendees in swooping hair and ironic t-shirts. Don’t worry, all the main characters still maintain their original looks, but are now rocking out in the fresh end of 2017! There’s also plenty of dark jokes inserted as well, which are easier to spot now that we’re adults. Nothing creepier than seeing a talking chicken cooking chicken in a deep fryer.

One of the biggest draws of the comic, which was also one of the biggest draws of the show, is the physical comedy. Rocko got famous for really pushing the limits of animated exaggeration, something that can still be seen in today’s cartoons like Uncle Grandpa. The creative team did a great job of bringing that same comedic style to the static medium of comics, with exaggerated noodle arms and expressive body language. Even the buildings and backgrounds come more from the imagination of a cartoonist than a comic artist, which only adds to the already surreal landscape of work. It’s about as close to the actual cartoon as you can get without renting a VHS deck.

All in all, Rocko #1 was a fun read and a good prep for the cartoon revival next year. This was one nostalgia trip I didn’t mind taking! Out now at your local comic shop!

Silly Symphonies #3

Most of us are too young to remember Silly Symphonies in its prime. Hell, most of our parents are too young remember it; but, much like Universal Monsters and WW2, we still seem to be talking about it. Silly Symphonies was a series of 75 Disney cartoons released between 1929 and 1939 focusing on combining fun and whimsical animation with musical accompaniment. It’s most famous cartoon is the Skeleton Dance about a group of skeletons that rise up from the dead and play their ribs like xylophones. The cartoons proved to be so famous that they led to what the war-era considered entertainment: kids books and newspaper comic strips. Silly Symphonies Vol. 3 is a collection of the latter. Featuring the newspaper run from 1939-1942, the book is a full color blast from the past of cartoon jokes and noodle-armed craziness and, being relatively silent, is fun for even the slowest of readers.

The book features various leads ranging from established characters such as Pluto the Pup and Pinocchio to the never-fulfilled-movie character, Little Hiawatha, the small Indian with a big heart. If you’ve read any newspaper funnies, you can pretty much figure out the how jokes go. You got Pluto switching kittens on a mama cat, or chasing after a meat truck only to find out it’s coming to his house. Hiawatha, another silent cartoon, spends his time trying to hunt various animals who end up being much more clever than him or trying  prove himself to his tribe despite numerous and hilarious setbacks. The Pinocchio stories, on the other hand, are a retelling of the original cartoon and are practically a play-by-play of the feature, so while it doesn’t add much original to the series, it’s still a wonderful reprint of the work.

There’s a lot to love about the Silly Symphonies comics, even if you haven’t seen any of the original cartoons (though seriously, check out the Skeleton Dance, it’s pretty rad). The most interesting part is seeing the adaption of a non-speaking cartoon. Though obviously they can’t add a musical score to a comic, the work still carried the physical comedy cleanly over to the more static comic medium. Pluto and Hiawatha retain that same comedic timing and recognizable animated features as their cartoon counterparts, especially Pluto, whose silent action on screen proved to be a wonderful experiment in animated personality, some of the first of its kind. The comic quality can actually be credited to Walt Disney himself who insisted that all comic work be done in house and require the same high quality as the cartoons themselves, with a majority drawn by the greatly talented Al Taliaferro, the resident comic artist.

Another great feature is that the comics and jokes never age. Unlike most of the comics from the “Golden Age of Funnies,” it’s not limited to the era it came out in. There are no references to current events or news, not even any slang, allowing for the comics to be essentially timeless. This is most likely another distinct choice by Walt Disney who knew not to isolate future audiences from enjoying Disney movies and works. With classic Disney films still going strong with kids and adults today, he was right to do so. While the Silly Symphonies comic is clearly set in the late 20’s to early 30’s, the jokes are classic, animated comedies that are, well, pretty damn funny. I love the little twists and turns that mark a good gag and the non-reliance on era specific jokes make it feel like the comics could’ve been written yesterday.

Silly Symphonies Vol. 3 is obviously the third one in the series but it’s definitely not required to read the other books. The works are all stand-alone and, as stated, are simply newspaper reprints, like a Calvin and Hobbes collection. The third volume, much like the other two, comes with plenty of awesome extras including a short history of Pluto and Hiawatha and some practice sketches of un-finished comics. There’s also a few extra comics outside of the main three such as a quick retelling of the Ugly Duckling, the original Hiawatha comics, and even a few guest appearances by your favorite Disney characters! All this and it’s wrapped in a collectable hardcover? You’d be a dummy not to buy it!             

Grab your copy now from everywhere comics are sold! Released by IDW Comics.

Dark Fang #1

I gotta admit, when I first saw the title for Image’s newest vampire comic Dark Fang, I pictured a half-dressed, big-tittied vamp babe swinging a hatchet around and lamenting on being deathless or some garbage. Either that, or a comic about a fifteen year old going through some very rough puberty and bad fashion. Luckily, I was only partially right! There’s plenty of blood and some tits in it, but the work moves past the typical vampire tropes and explores a world fraught with social issues, proving that sexy monsters are the least of society’s worries. While perhaps not the first comic to explore worldly issues through the “who’s-the-real-monster” trope a la Swamp Thing, Dark Fang has a little fun with the genre by mixing humor and fast paced illustration while allowing for the reader to self-reflect without feeling too guilty. Unfortunately, releasing the work in today’s climate, in which every time you turn around there’s another natural disaster or social media firestorm, it’s kind of hard to care about what the comic is trying to sell.

The work focuses on the lead, Vanna, a vampire who’s been living in the ocean for over 100 years like some undead mermaid. After spending her time fighting octopuses and getting dressed by jellyfish, she is forced to leave the sea in revenge when an oil spill kills her best friend, a shark. Suddenly, she finds herself in a world very unknown to her. People around her focus more on their phones than each other, and over-indulgence and violence stalk the corners of the cities. Luckily for her, her vampire powers also allowed her to roll natural 20 on charisma and she’s soon making money off the poor saps via cam-work, allowing her to fulfil a long-time dream of owning Dracula’s castle. But little does she know how much the oil spill had affected her body and how little time she really has left. Looks like sunlight isn’t a vampire’s only enemy.

So, while there are definitely a good few laughs, mostly focusing on Vanna as she learns the ins and outs of modern society, Dark Fang is pretty heavy handed with the social issues. Every side character is buried in their phones, men (and some women) roam the internet looking for sex, and everyone is, well, kind of shitty. Money seemingly buys you everything you want; but of course, the lesson that Vanna needs to learn is that it can’t. The comic is billed as an “action-horror middle finger to the politicians and propagandists who choose to deny the reality of climate change,” although to be fair, the first issue doesn’t really cover much climate change (aside from the oil spill which is more of an environmental disaster), but you get it. That’s where it’s going with it. I GET it and that’s the problem. This comic is aimed at people who are in an echo chamber. Of course we think climate change is real, of course oil spills and money cause a lot of problems, we hear it from the same news sources that the writers do. It’s the same thing that we deal with every day and having a comic tell me AGAIN, even with a sexy vampire mermaid, I just don’t care about its message. That’s not to say that these issues aren’t important, they are incredibly important and very much need to be addressed, but with this comic, it’s just the same old ground over and over. Dark Fang assumes that we haven’t addressed the issues, but we have, for decades, and we’re past awareness and now want to move on to action.

 Now, with that out of my system, I would still recommend this comic for a variety of reasons. One, if you like social issue awareness in your comic (and there’s nothing wrong if you do), this is a good read. As stated, it does attempt to mix some humor and action while recognizing there are real world problems that affect both the reader and vampire mermaids. If you have a younger reader, maybe a high school age kid who likes sexy horror comics and is out of the loop, definitely give them this work. It’s an easy way to introduce them to environmental issues while giving them a fun read. Two, I love the art. Kelsey Shannon has this amazingly fluid artwork that makes the pages simply fly out of your hands and invokes a fun cartoon feel, while dousing everything in blood! No two characters are alike, and each one is perfectly expressive when needed. Visually, this a very professional work done by a well-versed hand. Three, I kind of like Vanna. I dig her tenacity, the fact that she never compromises who she is in the face of adversity; instead, she’s smart enough to use situations to her advantage, like a proper vampire mermaid. She’s a good catalyst for, I dunno, action on global warming or something. Either way, she’s a good lead and keeps the work from tilting into tropey absurdism.

If Dark Fang is tickling you something weird, the first issue is out now!

Usagi Yojimbo #163

There are very few independent comics that have survived to their 30 year mark like Usagi Yojimbo. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of anything outside of Love and Rockets and Judge Dredd, which makes the samurai-laden, anthropomorphic action epic that is Usagi that much more special. That being said, I have the distinct honor of never having read an issue. Not for any particular reason, I just have never picked up an issue despite having many, many opportunities (of course, it seems like Usagi does just fine without my business) so when I heard that issue 163 was the perfect jumping on point, I decided to finally see what I was missing out on. As it turns out, quite a lot! Usagi Yojimbo is a great, low flying comic about a samurai bunny named Miyamoto Usagi that travels Japan and helps out wherever he can. In the latest issue, we find our hero helping out in a town plagued with a Robin Hood type thief who’s framed for something that he didn’t do.

While the Usagi world is full of ghosts, monsters, and dinosaurs (!), #163 goes the easier-to-digest route and starts off with a thief. Nezumi, a gentleman criminal that steals from the rich and gives to the poor, is seen flying over rooftops as a crowd of onlookers cheer him on. Chased by the police and a conflicted Usagi, he finally gets away from his pursuers only to witness an even bigger crime! A local merchant is murdered for not paying protection fees to a gang, who not only are looking to harden their stance on payment, but also hatch a plot to take down their leader. Nezumi quickly makes a getaway but not before leaving behind a distinctive stolen treasure that can easily be traced back to him, quickly framing him for the murder. While Nezumi is forced to plead his innocence to Usagi, there are much deeper waters stirring in the gangs that threatens to encompass the town whole.

They weren’t wrong when they said this is the issue to start with. Granted, a bunch of Usagi Yojimbo tends to be self-contained with a longer story running underneath it, so it’s pretty safe to start with any of the graphic novels, but if you want to simply sample the story without committing, this is a good way to go. Usagi is a serious character with a strong sense of justice and, based on his interaction with Nezumi, follows his gut when needed, like a lawful good character in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The official Usagi Yojimbo website describes him as oftentimes stumbling into delicate affairs of national and political importance, which is exactly what happens in the newest issue. The great thing is that it’s not an over convoluted story line about the powers-that-be, but instead, is broached with careful explanation through action instead of the less appealing talking-head standard. It’s not a group of people (er, animals) simply talking about betrayal; the reader actually gets to see it happen and get more invested in the story line. Sure, Usagi and his world have been around for a while and the author could’ve simply crammed in a story, but he took the time setting up the situation which allows for fresh readers to feel part of the series.

Speaking of the author, Stan Sakai also has the double duty of illustrating the epic as well which allows for him to have complete control over his work. Each character is completely unique, ranging from the tough faces of the gangs to the flirty figures of the geishas, with each one contributing to the 17th century Japanese period setting. While there is a definitely a back-catalogue of supporting characters that Sakai could’ve also packed in there, the only well-known faces are Usagi and the police captain on adorably high geta sandals. Sakai keeps it pretty mellow. Of course, if you do want to see more of the police captain and other characters, there are literally decades of material just waiting to be checked out. It’s a fun read, honestly; I enjoyed it. I might finally pick up some of the graphic novels.

If you love stories about politics in the Edo Period or simply enjoy samurai epics (or furries, I’m not judging), Usagi Yojimbo is for you. I suggest starting out really anywhere, but if you got a lineup of things to read and want to wait, #163 is out today, the 1st November!

The Tea Dragon Society

Alright everyone, buckle up, because I’m pretty sure I just read the cutest thing ever. Here at Warped Perspective, we are very open to all kinds of entertainment as long as it’s unique and a little weird, so this is, by FAR, the least scary thing to have ever been made, but GEEZ, is it cute. It’s fantasy cute! It’s a make toys out of it and cross-stitch the flowers cute! It’s vomiting rainbows cute AND it has dragons in it! And they are adorable! The Tea Dragon Society, IDW’s recent masterpiece of fantasy and cute girls, invites the reader into a world not torn by war or evil wizards, but instead, where tea is always served and a friend is never too far away. There’s almost no action and instead focuses on the beauty of a magical world that is enjoying a time of peace and prosperity and how one might grow up in it. With, dare I say, perfect illustrations, this all-ages comic is the perfect mellow down book for sweet dreams and tough days.

The comic is broken up into four chapters with each chapter representing a season. In the first chapter, Spring, our lead heroine Greta is introduced. She’s a young, naturally talented iron worker that lives in a small village with her parents. One day, as she’s shopping for groceries, she rescues a small dragon from a couple starving dogs (don’t worry, she feeds them) and brings him back to his owner. Here we meet Hesekial, the dragon’s owner, who explains to Greta that the dragon is actually a tea dragon whose leaves get harvested for tea. As a thank you, Hesekial offers to teach her about the art of tea dragons, but can this young black smith learn about such a delicate art? And who is this silent girl that hides out in the fields? Perhaps it’s time for her to grow just like the dragon leaves.

Perhaps the best way to see this book is like a grown up picture book. The story is insulated in a world where adventure and magic exists but, in this story, it doesn’t really come into play. It focuses more on the everyday beauty of living in a world where the shopkeepers are cats and you get your own magical creature depending on your line of work. It’s not about huge change and sudden dilemma, it’s just a fun story and that really sets it apart from other popular fantasy work. It also makes it much more relatable. The reader can absolutely picture themselves as the tea shop owner or the iron worker because odds are, that’s what the average person in a fantasy was going to be. We can’t all toss rings into volcanoes; somebody has to be an NPC. Also, the lead is a super spunky go-getter so if they do need to someone to throw down with some wizards, she’d be damn ready.

The characters themselves are creamy sweet and each have different but lovable personalities that just make you die a little inside. There’s even a little bit of queer love in there via Hesekial and his partner Erik that the work handles very gracefully. Writer and creator Katie O’Neill also handles the illustration duties and it’s spectacular! It’s perfect, no way around it. It’s cleverly tailored to the story with a contemporary animation style simplified down to graphic medium. The comic has a simple but effective color work that focuses more on basic colors than shadows or light, giving the whole work a mellow feeling. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

If you’re looking for something to wind down with at the end of the day or simply take a peek at some of the prettiest artwork on the market, pick up the Tea Dragon Society. Out on Halloween!

Bob’s Burgers, Season 8 Episode 1: Brunchsquach

Bob’s Burgers is the quintessential struggling family show. You got a mom, a dad, and 2.5 kids working together to keep their struggling burger joint afloat amidst money woes and wacky happenings. Each character is a caricature of various family member archetypes almost anyone might have in their household, from the boy-crazy teeny bopper to the crazy cat lady aunt. It’s this kind of dedication to keeping the characters grounded and relatable (despite the number of times they have avoided certain death) that has made the show as popular as it is. In the premier of Season 8, the creators of the show, eager to show their love to their millions of fans, let their devotees take rein of the episode. Each segment, ranging from a simple front shot of the restaurant to a full two minutes of animation, was created and drawn by a fan team. An impressive 62 distinct animation styles were used overall, leading to a unique and inclusive start to the newest season.

Intent on focusing on the various animation styles, the plot of the episode, entitled Brunchsquach, was very simple, with the action restricted either to the house or the restaurant. In the episode, Bob and family decide to give brunch a try in the hopes of hauling in more customers on Sundays, but become overwhelmed when customers only show up to get drunk on mimosas. Meanwhile, the kids are angling for a dog but when they are told ‘no,’ they begin hiding their landlord’s brother, Felix Fischoeder, at their restaurant for spare cash in a mad game of hide and seek.

As stated, the premier was rather simple and maintained the entire episode within the walls of the restaurant and the house, making it easier on the animators to focus on only on two locations. The fun part was that the creators weren’t looking for outstanding or professional works by people who have been in the animation industry for two decades, but actual fans; as a result, there’s all manner of weird and goofy-looking animation on top of some pretty stellar, even cute work. There was even a bit of Claymation and felt creations added to the mix. The line work and coloring ranged from flash animation to crayon and marker, as if some kid scribbled out a piece. Mostly, it was just fun to see the different takes on the same characters, especially when the drawings are realistic and you get to see the family as actual people.

As the styles change, the voice actors keep steady through the changes and the jokes keep on rolling, making Brunchsquach a classic episode in a long line of classic episodes. It’s the perfect episode for fans to draw all over and proves just how cool the creators of show are. It’s like a giant coloring book and everyone gets a page!

If you haven’t checked out the episode, it’s streaming now on Hulu or, you know, wherever you watch your cartoons.

Only Yesterday (1991)

When most people think of Studio Ghibli, they think either magical fantasy, high flying machines, or both. Almost all of the studio’s work (excluding one or two films) has some sort of larger-than-life element to it, be it flying witches or the newest airplane signalling the beginning of the Great War. Only Yesterday, Ghibli’s 1991 release, steers clear of the easily recognized tropes and instead forces the viewer down to earth with a slice-of-life tale about a woman searching for the meaning of her life. Mixed with flashbacks of the woman’s youth, the story moves between her reminiscences about her younger days, and the stormy road ahead. While the movie may step back from the tried-and-true Ghibli fare, it more than makes up for it with breathtaking visuals and a story that we can all relate to.

Unlike most Ghibli films, this movie is not set in an alternative timeline between the 1890s and 1950s, but instead in 1980’s Japan. Taeko, an unmarried career woman, takes a ten day vacation off her big city job to go join her sister’s family in picking safflowers in the country. While her co-workers and even her sister mock her for going to a farm on a vacation, Taeko can’t help feeling excited at the expanse of wild land and hard work; so much so, that she starts to remember her younger days as a fourth grader. Soon, memories begin flooding back, from her first crush to her tasting a fresh, albeit unripe, pineapple for the first time. As she works through her vacation, she begins to doubt her own happiness with life in the big city, and asks if perhaps she’s doing a young Taeko wrong in her life choices.

As stated, Only Yesterday is a movie that falls in line with the more slower-paced Ghibli works such as My Neighbors the Yamadas and Whisper of the Heart. It forgoes using outside elements such as war or illness as a driving force, and instead focuses inward in an attempt to make a movie that is very relatable to the viewer. It’s a simple story about a woman who has reached a turning point in her life. She is attempting to align what she had hoped for as a young girl with what she now has the opportunity to do, while trying to figure out where her true obligations lie. She tells stories of her younger self when the proper opportunity arises, each one ranging from cute and funny to kind of sad, and manages to bring it back to where she is now. It’s an interesting, multi-layered work, like Eat Pray Love but as an anime. Much like Eat Pray Love, there is a ton of dialogue which, at times, seems to go nowhere. There’ll be five to ten minute intervals of just conversation between Taeko and whoever is around, so do make sure to have some patience.

The animation is also markedly different from previous Ghibli works as well. While the basic style is still the same (round faces with doll like eyes), there is a lot more detail put into the facial expressions than earlier films, which will change as Taeko’s emotions flutter to the service. The characters also move more consistently as they speak so as to keep the watcher engaged through reams of dialogue. An interesting note is the difference in background detail as the movie cuts between Taeko’s memories and her current experiences. Younger Taeko focuses much more on her immediate surroundings and the people around her rather than smaller details, so objects such as buildings and doorways ended up getting painted with a softer touch, much like a child’s memory. When we rejoin Taeko in the present, her world is much more detailed and that sweeping landscape that so often marks a Ghibli work is front and centre. It’s a wonderful way to break apart the two time-lines and help the viewer understand Taeko’s world.

If Only Yesterday sounds up your alley, it is currently on DVD and most likely streaming somewhere. While it was initially released in 1991 in Japan, it just hit the English speaking shores last year and is voiced by Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel, who do a brilliant job. The Blu-ray version comes with several goodies including the full storyboard, a making of section, and interview with the English dub team.

Even if you’re not into slice-of-life anime, I recommend Only Yesterday simply for the wonderful animation and voice acting. Also, it’ll make you feel things and sometimes, you just gotta feel things. Grab your copy today!

Kill Them All

If there was one constant theme in today’s (or at least this quarter’s) comic market, it’s vengeance comics. Works such as Sisters of Sorrow and Made Men have been blazing the comic shelves, each one adding its own twist on the well-worn idea. Oni Press’s newest graphic novel, Kill Them All, though, seems intent to powerhouse all of them into a headlock and take the throne for itself. While, unfortunately, it’s not a rendition of Metallica’s debut album through the illustrated medium (though how badass would that be?), it is a fantastically bloody, quick-witted, and kung-furied piece of art that hearkens back to old 90s action flicks and Old Boy-esque digs. While it doesn’t muse on the art of violence such as Sisters of Sorrow or have cool monsters like Made Men, it does bring back something that revenge titles have long left behind: it’s pretty damn funny.

Kill Them All starts off like any good action comic, with a disgraced cop just looking to drink his sorrows away. Detective Iruka has been kicked off the force after blowing up half a city block and shooting the dick off a pedophile and now spends his days fighting in an underground punch dome; you know, punching people out. When his ex-partner tells him of a way to get his job back, he eagerly jumps at the opportunity, especially when it involves bringing down the biggest crime bosses in town. Little does he know that another person had the very same thought, only she’s in it for revenge. Known only as Tiger’s Daughter, this trained assassin is betrayed by both her boyfriend and her master, and she will not go down easy. When TD and Iruka meet at the steps of the criminals’ high rise building, they fight their way to the top through floors of hitmen, booby traps, drug lords, and accountants, only stopping after they KILL THEM ALL!

Kill Them All is basically every awesome action movie rolled into one. It’s like Kill Bill, Old Boy, Die Hard, and Dredd had a baby with Big Trouble in Little China and Kung Fury. It’s a wonderful homage to all those different classic films that helped define the image of what action movies (and action comedy movies) are. Kill Them All is not going to break any stereotypes, but that wasn’t the intention. It’s a bit like Cabin in the Woods, where it’ll satirize the concept of its origin movies but still respects the genre, while avoiding the Scary Movie 4 territory of just plain dumb. It’s very clever and the jokes work with the plot, allowing them to come naturally out of a situation where the characters very suddenly realize how crazy things have gotten. Iruka’s partner is a perfect straight man and their back-and-forth is absolutely hilarious.

The one-man powerhouse behind the project, Kyle Starks, is no stranger when it comes action homages. His previous work, Sexcastle, garnered him an Eisner nomination and Kill Them All continues to carry on his legacy of making non-stop thrillers. His illustration style is actually kind of cute and delves heavily into animation and small-press styles. The fighting sequences are highly stylized and don’t shy away from changing up angles and fighting styles. His color work also changes, depending on what floor our heroes have arrived on and the color of the particular punch, giving each one its own distinct feel. This is a very well thought out comic.

Kill Them All will be hitting, kicking, and blowing up your local comic book shelves this October!

Retcon #1

Being a soldier is no joke, and every war brings its own share of consequences. Whether it’s on a global scale or taking only one life, there’s no such thing as a victimless conflict. But hey, it’s not like there aren’t support groups out there, people who have fought the same fight and seen the same horrors; at least, when you’re not a supernatural creature who hunts weaponized paranormal monsters for your shadow government. If you are, than maybe Retcon is for you. Image Comics’ newest supernatural work mixes post-war issues with shape-shifting monsters and just a smidge of espionage and smoking-men to keep you on your toes. A heavy-handed work that pulls no punches, Retcon is a clever twist on the soldier that came home too soon.

The story starts with Chris. Chris is an alcoholic. It had been ten years since he drank but a visit from an old friend tossed him right back off the wagon. Before the rest of the AA attendees can get a word in, he starts spilling his guts. Chris isn’t like everyone else: he was part of a squad of soldiers whose mission was to fight beings whose existence is doubted by most – creatures like genies and ghosts and such. What he doesn’t know is that while he’s chatting up a storm, two of the people in the room have been specifically contracted to keep an eye on him, and it seems his time has finally run out. As a battle breaks out between the three agents, loyalties are suddenly tested and monsters long buried begin to dig their way out.

Retcon #1 is a pretty interesting read, mostly highlighted by the artwork of Toby Cypress. It’s hard to not be immediately attracted to the cover with its thin line work, soft neutral background and sharp contrasting red devil artwork. It’s very reminiscent of James Jean and clearly shows an illustrator with a solid understanding of design and illustration. The interior artwork is just as unusual, following the same ink-over-paint technique that gives the whole comic a wonderful small press vibe. It’s like an art magazine vomited all over the comic but instead of looking like a pretentious mess, it actually adds to the overall work.

Retcon is billed as ‘re-boot of a comic mini-series that never existed’ but, to be honest, I don’t know what that means. Maybe we will be seeing multiple alternative storylines in the future? Maybe this isn’t the real story, but a version of events that have yet to be revealed? Either way, the first issue starts off with a bang and mostly focuses on the three protagonists fighting it out while orders are given from a man behind the scenes. It gets pretty technical when it comes to describing weapons and devious plans, which gives it a sense of realism in an otherwise imaginative world.

While the supernatural angle is the draw, the comic is more of a conspiracy action work than a straight horror. There’s a bit of a Hellboy vibe, but it avoids the dark folklore angle that made the former so popular, instead focusing on a Jason Bourne type of deal. It’s a solid change of pace from your typical conspiracy comics.

With monsters on his tail and a headful of demons, will Chris ever manage to get away from the government? Find out with maybe issue 3 or something, but start with Recon #1 on shelves now!