Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jack Kirby: the Greatest There Ever Was

When it comes to the medium of comic books, one man is the King. It isn’t Stan Lee, it isn’t Frank Miller, it isn’t Alan Moore, and it even isn’t Will Eisner. The man I’m talking about is Jack Kirby; a creative mind that contributed more to the medium than probably anyone else ever had in the years before and since his passing. Today is August 28, 2011; which would have been King Kirby’s 94th birthday, but alas, the King isn’t here to celebrate it himself, so out of respect to the legendary artist/writer, let’s have a chat about just what all the man contributed to the comic book realm.

What Kirby is most notarized for is helping shape the Marvel universe as we know it today. He created Captain America with Joe Simon, and later with Stan Lee helped create other Marvel icons like Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, Uatu the Watcher, the Inhumans, Nick Fury, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Magneto, and the original X-Men lineup just to name a few. He also made numerous contributions to other characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil among others, before leaving Marvel after feeling he had been treated unfairly and poorly compensated.

In 1970, Kirby joined rival comics publisher DC Comics in a much publicized event, and immediately began churning out characters and stories that, like he did with Marvel, made a profound impact that still resonates to this very day. He created the “Fourth World” saga, which introduced The New Gods, including classic characters like Darkseid, Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Metron, and plenty, plenty more. He took Superman in new and different directions, while also creating a new take on the Sandman character, as well as other titles including “The Forever People”, “OMAC”, “Kobra”, “Kamandi”, and my own personal favorite, the character of Etrigan the Demon in “The Demon”. Most of these titles were fairly short-lived, as Kirby still didn’t get the degree of creative control he had yearned for, which led to a return to Marvel after only a few years with DC.

While back at Marvel, Kirby returned to writing and drawing “Captain America” and “Black Panther” while also creating the classic “The Eternals”, as well as the short-lived series’ “Devil Dinosaur” and “Machine Man”, before once again giving Marvel the finger due to the fact they didn’t want to provide him with a little something called health insurance. From that point forward Kirby dabbled in TV animation, book covers, and more besides while occasionally returning to DC for a “Fourth World” revival in the 80s, and created his own characters for Topps Comics in the early 90s, before passing away at 76 in 1994.

While big comic industry figures like Neil Gaiman, Alex Ross, Kurt Busiek, Grant Morrison, and plenty more openly acknowledge and pay homage to Kirby’s works, mainstream audiences sadly don’t know all that much about him. Stan Lee gets all the credit in the world for the Marvel icons we all know and love, but were it not for Jack Kirby, half of those characters would have never existed and the industry as a whole would not be what it is today. The sad part is that Kirby’s name doesn’t resonate with people like Lee’s does and sadly never has, making it all the more heartbreaking to know that Kirby died practically penniless. While Kirby’s family and estate have taken Marvel and various film companies that own the film rights to Marvel properties to court in an effort to regain control of various characters, Marvel as an entity pulled through victorious like they always do, and continue to make money off of Kirby’s name anytime they release a collection of his work (not a penny of which is seen by his family or estate mind you).

With all this in mind however, today is a day to celebrate the life of a legendary comics author. Jack “King” Kirby, you were undoubtedly the best in the business by far, and those of us who love and respect your work appreciate you all the more with each passing day. So happy birthday Jack, and it’s a shame you’re not here with us today, and if you were, you’d still be the greatest talent the medium would ever have…and you still are the greatest and most missed talent the medium has ever had as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Uncensored "Nightmare Circus" review for Sega-16!


Published by Sega/Tec Toy (Brazil)
Developed by Funcom

I remember way back during the waning days of the Sega Genesis’ lifespan that I was still managing to somehow get the most out of my ever-aging console. Thanks to the awesomeness that was Sega Channel (something that was way ahead of its time) I got to play a huge library of varying Genesis games month after month. Most were of the well-known variety to Genesis owners, including games like everything from the Sonic and Ecco the Dolphin franchises to other Genesis stalwarts like Eternal Champions and Altered Beast just to name a few. Now and then though, Sega Channel subscribers would get a little something extra in terms of content, mostly rare import games that we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else at the time. I remember games like Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Garfield: The Lost Levels, Battle Frenzy, and Golden Axe III among others, but there was one game that I remember more so than any of the previously mentioned…a game called Nightmare Circus, and I remembered it based on the fact that it was an abominably bad piece of horseshit in the disguise of a Genesis cartridge.

First and foremost, Nightmare Circus has a bit of an interesting history behind it. Developed by Funcom (who were responsible for games ranging from console ports of NBA Hangtime to the more recent MMORPG Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures) and originally set to be published by Sega in the final releasing run of titles on the Genesis, Nightmare Circus was advertised on Sega Channel as to soon be seen in stores and such…and such a day never ever occurred, at least here in America that is. It was completed, but as far as I know was only released in Brazil by a company called Tec Toy, who were responsible for the distribution of many (and perhaps all) of Sega’s consoles in Brazil and a good chunk of South America as a whole. If there was ever an American Genesis version of the game to exist here in North America, I’ve never been able to find or hear about it (thankfully), so without further ado, let’s get to actually talking about the much maligned Nightmare Circus.

The game is a beat ‘em up/side scroller, putting you in the shoes of a generic-looking Native American-ish type hero named Raven, who looks like a cross between Apache Chief from “Superfriends” and the Indian dude from the “G.I. Joe” cartoon. Raven finds himself traversing the most evil circus on the planet apparently (yes, more evil than Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey could ever hope to be) as you take on various undead circus folk. That’s pretty much the whole gist of the game, and offers nothing more and nothing less either. You can pick which level (out of a whopping FOUR) you want to start at, ranging from a rollercoaster to a maze to a big wheel to a “big top”; with the sole goal remaining the same: beat up everyone in sight. This wouldn’t be all that bad were it not for the fact that the action is incredibly monotonous and more flaccid than my dick gets after a round of whiskey shots.

The game’s stale action elements are only hampered by the fact that Nightmare Circus possesses perhaps the most sensitive controls I think I’ve ever gotten my hands on in my whole life. Want to turn around to go the other direction? Too fucking bad, because instead you mysteriously end up ducking instead. Want to punch an opponent? Once again too fucking bad, because the ultra-shoddy hit detection pretty much negates any and all ability to actually hit someone. Yeah, Nightmare Circus is as frustrating as it gets, and guess what folks? There’s even more fucking frustration to be found!

Beyond the shoddy controls and sloppy hit detection, let’s talk about the game’s previously mentioned FOUR levels of gameplay. The rollercoaster stage features constantly respawning zombie enemies that come at you packing, and the level seems to apparently have no end to it either. I’m serious, you can find switches to flip but I don’t think they do anything, because THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENING HERE ANYWHERE IN THE FUCKING STAGE!!! Yes, I think we have a bit of a problem here. Then we get to the maze stage, which also seems like it’s never ending and is so ungodly confusing that you’ll lose interest in it within the first five or ten minutes. The big wheel stage is practically a carbon copy of the rollercoaster stage, while the “Big Top” stage is pretty much a big room with a never-ending amount of enemies coming at you from all sides like a drunken frat-house gangbang gone wrong, although I think that would be more fun than playing this goddamn thing.

So with all of what I’ve already said in mind, you may be asking yourself if there are any saving graces to Nightmare Circus. The answer to that is pretty much one big no to say it lightly. The game’s graphics aren’t bad, despite the generic and never-ending supply of look-alike enemies that you take on throughout, and some of the circus backgrounds and environmental features are actually kind of creepy, plus the music score isn’t bad either. However, none of that can save this wretch of a game thanks to the just plain broken gameplay and beyond shitty programming. With that in mind, we should all take the time to thank Sega for wisely not releasing Nightmare Circus here in the states. I know that it’s a very rare game to track down and is highly collectable but please, for your own good, no matter how hardcore a collector you may be, do not soil your Genesis/Mega Drive with this game, it just isn’t worth it. Save yourself, and you can thank me later…probably with cigarettes, considering I think I went through a whole carton while playing this in one sitting. No menthols please.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Death of the Comic Book

Remember when you were a kid and stuck with your parents at the grocery store or the drug store or the whatever the fuck store that you didn’t want to really be at, but you made the most of it because you always managed to find the section where they had comic books? Those were the days, and that was pretty much partly my introduction to comic books too come to think of it, since there wasn’t an actual comic book shop around where I grew up. Still, I made the most of it regardless (in case you haven’t been able to tell for whatever reason).

Those days are long and gone now though…and even more dreadfully, the days of the comic book as we know it may not be far behind. Digital reading hasn’t just taken off for the typical print and prose crowd, but now it appears that the realm of digital comics may have some life to it as well. It’s something that hasn’t always worked so well in the past couple years, but more recently, digital comics seem like they’re slowly taking off…which may in fact spell doom for the traditional print comics we all know and love.

Let’s face facts here, comic book sales are in the toilet. Despite the frequent superhero movies and comic adaptations that seem to now forever be part of Hollywood movie-making, the amount of people that actually lay down the 3 or 4 bucks for a comic book or more for a collected edition or trade (or “graphic novel” as they’re more frequently called, fucking hipster cocksuckers) are the lowest they’ve been in the long time. Generating big sales now is what the big two comic publishers, Marvel and DC, are scrambling to do…and fanboys are having a shit-fit at the methods of which they’re doing.

Marvel, frequently known for killing off major and minor characters at the drop of a hat to generate sales and then resurrecting them months down the line, is now doing just that at a record rate. Captain America, the Human Torch, the Ultimate version of Spider-Man, Bucky, and now it appears Thor as well, have all either been killed and/or resurrected as a means to draw in readers and sales. No superhero comic experiences better sales when a character is either killed or brought back from the dead, and Marvel is taking that notion to an unbelievable degree these days, so much so that they’ve managed to alienate the shit out of their audience.

DC is taking things to an even more extreme, by cancelling just about all of their titles and re-launching them all with new issue numberings and rebooting practically all of their characters. Flagship characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman (yes Aquaman), Swamp Thing, and even John Constantine are all getting rebooted (to a degree) origins, backstories, and histories in a real last ditch effort to draw in new readers. Marvel leads them in sales (even though DC features finer writing and artistic talent with its various books), and has for a while now, making DC’s attempt to draw in new readership all the more desperate. It worked in 1985 when they used “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to effectively reboot their whole universe, but what they’re doing now is way more beyond that.

Other comic book publishers, namely Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Avatar, and more besides continue to soldier on and weather the storm (granted Hellboy did just get killed off, but that’s another story for another time) and are doing just that…but if Marvel and/or DC fell apart, there’s little chance that any other comic company would be around to pick up the pieces. The aforementioned comic publishers also have little, if any, digital publishing domain as well, which is pretty much the nail in the coffin for them if the printed comic book would ever go the way of a dinosaur. Keep in mind that Marvel and DC are also owned by mega-conglomerate corporations (Marvel by Disney and DC by Warner Bros.) so the likelihood of them legitimately tanking is fairly unlikely, but hey, you never know.

Legendary writer Alan Moore, who penned such celebrated works like “Watchmen”, “V For Vendetta”, “Batman: The Killing Joke”, and “Saga of the Swamp Thing” among others, had stated in an interview that he personally hopes the comic book medium does swallow itself into oblivion (he’s plenty bitter, but who could really blame him?) as he predicted it would some years ago, and that the digital reader realm wouldn’t be of any help to it at all either. I can see his point, because quite frankly, if someone doesn’t want to lay down the cash for a comic they have to hold in their hands to read, then why would they want to download it to their hard drive to keep dragging and clicking to magnify and turn pages?

While there’s been plenty of doom-saying about the future of comic books, one thing I can say is that there is still a ways to go before things get as bad as they did in the mid-90s. Marvel was this close to bankruptcy and permanently closing their doors due to some ungodly bad marketing decisions and ultra-oversaturation of product and their characters (namely anything featuring the X-Men). They managed to pull through (barely) as did DC who didn’t have quite as big a financial crisis, before flourishing in the late 90s and the turn of the century when we experienced a comic book renaissance in terms of product and sales.

Even if print is truly dead and digital reading becomes the norm, I think that that may be pretty much it for me. I don’t own a Kindle or whatever other reading devices are out there, nor do I ever desire to, because to me a book isn’t a book unless I’m actually fucking holding it. The same goes for comic books for me, so in essence, digital reading can suck my balls. As for the death of the comic book as we know it…well, I’ve already been alienated enough from Marvel and DC as it is and primarily stick to indie comics and stuff from DC’s mature-themed Vertigo imprint, so maybe seeing them falter would be a bit enjoyable…but at the end of the day, anything that hurts my beloved medium is just plain bad for business for everyone involved, myself included.

See y’all in the funnybooks folks…somehow maybe…

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bert & Ernie: My Big Fat Gay Puppet Wedding (Maybe)

Just recently it was announced that there is a petition going around to have legendary Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie get married on an episode of the show.

Yes, you read that right.

The long running PBS program, responsible for generations of young children getting their first true taste of education via the idiot box known as television, is being petitioned to have the seemingly longtime lifemates stop living in sin and make it official by having a big fat puppet wedding. Naturally, there’s ruckus from both sides of pro and anti-gay marriage having hissy fits over the whole damn thing…which if you really try to think about it is pretty fucking stupid to begin with. Even though I doubt that PBS would actually go through with such a thing happening (they did have a shitfit about Katy Perry’s cleavage after all) the idea in itself is a wholeheartedly interesting one.

First off, let me say one thing about the idea of gay marriage itself before my head explodes talking in detail about the possibility of male puppets getting hitched. I am a big supporter of gay marriage for a lot of different reasons, but I can’t really outline them in nearly as much great detail as already done by comedian Chris Rock in one of his HBO stand-up acts. To paraphrase Rock in a nutshell, gays should have every right that straight people do in terms of getting married and being miserable for the rest of their lives. Not to mention the fact that the supposed “sacred institution” of marriage is complete bullshit, at least here in America that is. What is so goddamn sacred about marriage if the idea of it is frequently exploited on bullshit reality TV shows like “The Bachelor”, “The Bachelorette”, “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” or one of the countless other clones of the like. What’s so sacred about marriage in America when it’s used to draw in mindless viewers, ratings, and money? Bringing God and religion into the equation only causes my head to yearn to explode more, mostly due to the fact if two people, regardless of if they are the same sex or not, love each other enough to want to take that kind of plunge, they absolutely should regardless of who deems it right or wrong. If two people generally love each other and are of the same sex, then rightfully no one should give a shit. God-heads and uber-religious douche bags will cry about this, but that’s a story for another day…

Anyway, back to Bert and fucking Ernie. When I was very young, I watched a lot of Sesame Street, and learned a lot to boot, which is what the fucking show is about after all. I understand the concept of having Bert and Ernie tie the knot, in an effort to teach children from a young age tolerance and understanding of same-sex relationships, to teach them that there really is nothing wrong with such relationships, as well as to teach them that everyone is wired different in some way, shape, or form; and that above all else, to never be afraid to admit who they are or want to hide who they are. Personally, growing up I always thought Bert and Ernie were brothers, but you learn something new every day it seems.

The flipside to this whole idea however is the fact remains: these are fucking puppets we’re talking about here. Do puppets even have a sexual orientation to begin with? Should they even have a sexual orientation? Granted that Miss Piggy has been yearning to suck in Kermit’s green frog balls since the dawn of time, but how many other instances of puppet on puppet action can you think of? (And don’t you dare say “Team America” either). Remember that Sesame Street is an educational children’s program, and perhaps introducing these ideals of sexual orientation is a bit too early in the lives of the age-bracket of the kids that watch the show. No matter the case this is a slippery road of debate to traverse upon, but there is one thing that we can all agree on here…

…they’re fucking puppets.

But hey, they’re happy puppets, and maybe that’s the lesson we should all learn from this: no matter whom you are, no matter your sexual orientation, no matter your race, or creed, or whatever the hell else you may be; the most important thing is that to truly be happy in life, you need to truly be yourself.

See? Even after all these years, Sesame Street is still taking us to school and teaching us shit. You’ve gotta love it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Uncensored "WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game" Review for Sega-16

That's right folks, Sega-16 is back and better than ever...which makes me quite happy for a lot of reasons. In celebration, I finally got to play a good game for once (fuck you "Wrestle War") with "WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game", and I damn sure enjoyed it too. Check out the original review here:

With all that being said, here's the complete uncut and uncensored review for the game, so enjoy bitches, we're back!

WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (1995)

Published by Acclaim Developed by Midway/Sculptured Software

When one thinks of the Genesis and wrestling video games, the first thought that pops up is the Acclaim WWF trilogy. Super Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble, and Raw; all of which have their share of flaws, but remain fun regardless. In the mid-90s, Midway decided to release a badass WWF-based arcade game, using the same sort of digitized character model graphics engine which they managed to find massive success with using in the Mortal Kombat games. The end result is WWF Wrestlemania, which wound up being a hit and spawning numerous console ports. Even though the days of the Genesis were coming to an end, Sega’s 16-bit system got their own version (as did the abominably shitty abortion of hardware known as the 32X attachment, which isn’t all that different from this version), and amazingly enough, it wound up being the best cartridge-based port of the game.

WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game features a handful of the wrestling organization’s top wrestlers at the time: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Lex Luger, Bam Bam Bigelow, Yokozuna, and Doink the Clown; all of whom are nicely rendered and animated here on the Genesis. Unlike the Acclaim trilogy mentioned before however, instead of focusing on typical wrestling grapples and such, Wrestlemania instead opts for a super-over-the-top/Mortal Kombat style of fighting action. What’s even more surprising here is that somehow, it manages to work out very well. Between the Undertaker firing spirits and demons like fucking creepy-ass fireballs to Bam Bam Bigelow’s flaming head butts, the game is a welcome change of pace instead of following the same archetype of wrestling games in the past. The action that Wrestlemania offers is fast and frantic, and the totally over-the-top nature of it just makes it that much more enjoyable.

Voice clips from announcers Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler are included as well, and while they are relatively sparse compared to the arcade counterpart, their funny quips and dialogue are a nice touch. The game’s sound and music clips as a whole are pretty nicely done as a matter of fact, and combined with the graphics engine, round out a very nice presentation package. The character models themselves aren’t as large or detailed as the arcade game, which is to be expected of course, but for what it’s worth, the end result here is pretty admirable.

One thing I often noticed growing up and being a Genesis owner is that if a game was released on both the Genesis and Super NES, nine times out of ten the Super NES version was the better one in terms of presentation and overall quality, just because of the fact that the Super NES had better internal hardware to work with (“blast processing” my ass Sega). With Wrestlemania, not so much. The Super NES version notoriously left Bam Bam Bigelow and Yokozuna off the character roster, and also only allowed up to three characters on the screen at once. With this Genesis port, not only do we get all the characters, but it also allows four of them on screen at once. This may all sound trivial now (and it kind of is but I don’t really give a shit, I’m 27 years old and playing a Genesis so what dignity I had left is long fucking gone here, let’s be honest), but back then for me, this was a huge deal. Not since the first Mortal Kombat game (which featured a code to unlock all the blood and fatalities of the arcade game, unlike the Super NES which didn’t) could I say that my Genesis got the better port, so this being the way it was then with Wrestlemania warmed my little pre-teen Genesis-loving gamer heart so much that it may have caused my first ever erection (maybe).

As much as I love Wrestlemania though, the game isn’t without its flaws. Even though the Genesis version allows four wrestlers on the screen at once, there is a noticeable degree of slowdown that occurs. It’s not much of a surprise that this is the case, considering these were the waning days of the Genesis’ lifecycle, and developers were really pushing what the aging console could do at this point. Also, considering that this was a game originally created by Midway, the same crew behind the secrets and Easter egg-laden Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam franchises, there aren’t really any extras to be found here. There were long rumors that Adam Bomb was a hidden character within the game, but I’ve never been able to find him, nor have I ever heard of anyone finding him in either the arcade version or any of the home console ports. It’s really a personal minor complaint from me however, so it doesn’t take away any of the game’s overall fun factor.

All in all, WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game was a blast to play back in the mid-90s, and it’s still a blast to play even today. If you’re a 16-bit wrestling game purist and have trouble getting over anything that isn’t quite like the Acclaim trilogy of WWF games, you may have some trouble getting the most enjoyment out of Wrestlemania. That being said though, it’s kind of hard to say no to what basically amounts to being a nigh-Mortal Kombat game starring the best pro wrestlers the WWF had to offer of the 90s era. It’s easy to track down and won’t cost you an arm and a leg on eBay, so do yourself a favor and check it out.