Friday, February 24, 2017

Yeah! #8 (2000)


Yeah! #8 (May, 2000)
"Yeah! Goes to War!"
Writer - Peter Bagge
Artist - Gilbert Hernandez
Letterer - Philip Felix
Colorist - Joanne Bagge
Assistant Editor - Will Dennis
Editor - Shelly Roeberg
Cover Price: $2.95

Yeah?  Yeah.  Yeah!  Today we're going to talk about an intergalactic pop band.  The gals of Yeah!, Krazy, Honey, and Woo-Woo, kinda feel Josie and the Pussycats-ish... which is likely the point.

Seeing Peter Bagge's name on this... and also seeing that it appears to be an All-Ages book, really raised my eyebrows.  This book features many ads (which I'll include below) which were usually reserved for the younger-readers books... cartoon shows, Johnny DC book ads... stuff like that.

Let's get right to it... whatever it might be!

--


We open on the far-off planet Sunburnia, where Princess Patina is proclaiming to her father, the King that she has fallen in love with an Earthling... who just so happens to be the manager for the most popular band in the universe, "Yeah!", Crusty!  The King forbids her from seeing him.


We shift scenes to the Crust-man himself, as he enjoys his E.S.P. Enhancing helmet.  The members of Yeah!, Honey, Krazy and Woo-Woo are annoyed to see him lounging as they prepare for their next intergalactic tour.  Crusty reveals that he... fell in love with an alien... and the gals become quite intrigued, though still annoyed.  Either way, it is here that we learn that Sunburnia is the last stop on their upcoming tour.


Speaking of the tour... let's check out some of Yeah!'s greatest hits.


After their final concert, the crew heads out to enjoy Sunburnia... well, maybe enjoy is the wrong word for it... ya see, you'd never guess it, but Sunburnia is hot.  Krazy globs mounds of sun screen on her to protect her "ghost-like complexion"... I know the feeling.  Crusty then introduces them to his "perfect angel" Patina.


Krazy asks what it's like to be a Princess... and is shocked to learn that it might not be as great as it's cracked up to be.  She can't even choose who she'll marry!  The girls offer to speak to the King on Crusty's behalf... but, for some reason he stops them.  The lovebirds then break away to make out... and our ladies decide to take in some sights.


As the girls grab their umbrellas and head to a roller coaster, Patina informs Crusty that there is the possibility that the planet might be attacked by Imperialoids in the (very) near future.  Patina implores Crusty to gather the gals and get off planet as quick as he can... but to do so without causing a planet-wide panic.  And so, he very calmly bee-lines it to Yeah!.


He lies about having to get home to call his mother for her birthday... which nobody believes.  He doesn't get another opportunity to persuade them, as the Imperialoids have chosen now to strike!


Yeah! fires Crusty as their manager... which I'm getting the feeling is a daily occurrence.  They are all corralled into a bomb shelter, where they are drafted into battle!  Well, all besides the Crust-man... because he's "as old as the hills".  Ouch.


The girls join (the boogie woogie bugle boy of?) Company B onto the front lines of battle.  Before running in, Honey says she misses her "two furverts" back home... which, um... I dunno.  Anyhoo... our ladies hit the battlefield, and take cover behind a rock.


They don't have to hide for long, however... as Crusty and Patina come to their rescue.  They fly up in a saucer (with vanity "PATINA I" plates) and lower a rope ladder.  The girls are just about loaded onto the craft when Honey notices two tiny quivering Sunburnian babies hiding in a crater.


The girls decide to risk life and limb by heading back into the warzone to save the kiddies.  At this point, all bets are off... Krazy and Woo-Woo start blasting their lasers without prejudice, to cover Honey's rescue efforts.


The mission is successful, and our sevensome safely escapes.  Several days later there is a victory ceremony, and the folks from Yeah! are honored for their bravery.


They all receive Golden Double Sun Awards for their efforts... and the old King offers his daughter to Crusty.  Only thing is, they couldn't marry just yet... but Patina could live in... Crusty's filthy shack.  Oddly enough, she's cool with all that.


It's Crusty who isn't.  He feels like she deserves better... and once he (and Yeah!) become successful, he'll be back for her.  The gang gets ready to leave... however, the Sunburnian TSA agent claims they're carrying something highly radioactive.  Whoops... looks like their medals of honor are going to have to stay behind!


We wrap up with the gang heading home... and arguing.  Woo-Woo claims that Crusty is still really and truly fired as their manager... while Krazy is furious she had to leave the only award she'd ever won behind.  Honey is too busy crying to participate in the quarrel... ya see, she was hoping to adopt those little buggers she rescued.  Wonk wonk wonnnnnk...


--

Soooo... that was weird.

I'm kinda struggling for what to say... I enjoyed this, but I haven't the foggiest idea why.  It was fun, and silly... I guess sometimes that's enough!

This is the first issue of Yeah! I'd ever read... and I still didn't feel lost.  It wasn't difficult to follow, and really the only reference to a previous issue was this:


I can't say I'm chomping at the bit to see how this ends... or even how it started, but for a single at-a-whim read, I had a perfectly good time.  It's not deep... it's silly without being overly so.  It's just a fun fifteen minutes of fluff.  My experience with Bagge and Hernandez is, admittedly, a bit limited.  I've got plenty of both in the library... just haven't gotten to them yet.  The last Bagge I actually (re)read (for a semi-recent podcast) was the Megalomaniacal Spider-Man... which I found to be pretty bad.  I have a bunch of Love and Rockets I need to get to, but the last Hernandez I read was a Dark Horse miniseries called Speak of the Devil, which I thought was pretty dang great.  His art here is very nice, though definitely done with a more cartoony flair than his other (perhaps more personal) works.

For the issue itself... not a whole lot to say.  It was an episodic adventure... and the issue that follows it will be the last.  If I try to think too hard... which I'm prone to do, I'd suggest that maybe our main managing man, Crusty isn't ready for a monogamous relationship... and so, he tried (a couple of times) to get out of committing to Patina.  Not sure if this is a character trait, or a running gag in the series... it's just something that kinda stood out for me.

The entire nine-issue series has been collected in glorious black and white... but not by DC Comics!  Instead, the trade paperback came out through Fantographics back in 2011.  I don't really have any problem reading black and white comics, however, I understand if that's a bridge too far for others.  Shouldn't be too terribly difficult to track down either way... I think most folks could get some fun outta this.

--

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Prez #2 (1973)


Prez #2 (October-November, 1973)
"Invasion of the Chessmen"
by Joe Simon & Jerry Grandenetti
Cover Price: $0.20

If there are two things I'm passionate about in this world, it's chess and politics.  Okay, it's neither of those things... but we're going to discuss a book having to do with both anyway!  I guess I can use this as my President's Day Week special!

Prez was one of the first handful of books Reggie and I discussed on the Cosmic Treadmill... however, at that point I'd only ever read the first issue.  As we enter the second issue, our man has already assumed the highest office in the land and assembled his cabinet.

Let's watch as he brushes aside the troubles of the war-zone called Earth to focus his attention on the World Chess Championship!

--


We open with Prez and Eagle Free on "Good Will" tour of the globe.  It is their goal to spread peace worldwide.  Noble endeavor it may be, it doesn't change the fact that every stop on this tour looks like a war-zone.  Prez is completely ignorant to this fact... not noticing planes being blown out of the sky and even suggesting a hail of explosions in their wake is the result of a "twenty gun salute" and not just angry folks.


They return home to the good ole' U.S. of A., to address the United Nations.  The streets of New York City are just as war-torn as the rest of the world.  Whoops.  After delivering his four-word speech, he returns to Washington, D.C.  His speech?  Simply put, "Peace in our time!"  It should be noted that it is here that Prez (and the reader) learns that Prez's security detail includes a whole lotta Prez Rickard lookalikes... that'll be important in a bit.


Prez arrives back at the White House.  His sister... secretary... sistertary informs him that Robbie Fishhead, the odd chess champion... who calls himself Chessking, is currently waiting for him in the... ahem, Groove Room.  Prez enters, and hoo boy it's a psychedelic scene... Chessking is having a game with the Vice President, Prez's own mother, Martha!  It is a bit weird, but Prez addresses her by name... did I say weird?  I meant annoying.


Anyhoo, Chessking easily "checkmates" Ms. Martha... and so she turns her attention to her boy.  Prez is bugged by her doting, and tells her to lay off.  He then congratulates Chessking on his recent victory over the Russian chess champion.  As Fishhead leaves, he is met by a throng of reporters... being the braggadocious git that his is, he trash-talks the "Ruskies" and challenges them to another match, if they front a million bucks.  Oh, he also denies using hypnosis to win the first match.  Hmm... 


Word spreads quickly all the way to the Iron Curtain.  The Russians are none too pleased at Bobby Fischerrrr.... Robbie Fishhead's unkind words... and so, they accept his challenge.  He will face the Russian Queen Errant... which is a ridiculous, but fun name.


The match is set, and Prez Rickard will be in attendance.  This is where this already wacky book becomes even more so... the chess match takes place on a hyooge board... with live "pieces".  Queen Errant's Oberon-ish aide, Krudnik reminds her not to forget the "poison pawn".  More on that later.


The match rolls on... however, Krudnik is somehow getting under Fishhead's skin with the ticking of a pocket watch.  He deduces that the Russian Coach is using "electronic rays" on him... and so, he goes nuts and starts bashing his opponents... this gets him disqualified, and so the Russians win!  An aggravated Prez walks out, promising to conduct a full investigation.


The next morning, the Capitol is invaded by mechanical chess pieces... which blow up several monuments!  This is pretty hardcore, right?  This ain't gonna look good for our teen-age Commander in Chief!


During an emergency session of Congress, the blustery old coot Senator Ebeneezer expresses concern that the "whippersnapper" ain't cuttin' the mustard.  He threatens Prez with impeachment proceedings before storming off.  Prez requests his mother contact Eagle Free... and so she does... sorta.


Prez decides he wants to visit Eagle Free off-site to discuss the threat, however, the Secret Service detail is tight... Prez may as well be a prisoner in his own (White) house.  Remember we mentioned the lookalikes?  Well, Prez remembers too.  He sends a lookalike away in a car... then he strolls out of the White House posing as one of his own body doubles!  It helps not to think about it too hard.


Prez dashes across D.C. to Eagle Free's... um, office.  Make that, teepee... either way, they discuss strategy, among Free's "natural crime detection apparatuses".


That night, the pair head to the roof of the (oddly unguarded) Russian Embassy building.  You'd have to figure there'd be at least one guard here, right?  Anyhoo... they watch, and wait... until three more mechanical chessmen approach.  Two of them head one way, while the third heads toward the Treasury... Prez and Free follow the lone one.


Unfortunately for Prez, and Eagle Free's avian friends, they fell for the ol' poison pawn trick.  Not being a chess expert, I did a bit of reading.  From what I've gleaned, the poison pawn is strategically placing a pawn in a capture-able spot, because if it is captured, the capturing piece is left in a less than advantageous spot.  Probably not as hardcore as Screech Power's Spassky-Bishop block, but whattaya gonna do?


Prez and Eagle Free leap on the remaining, operational chessmen... but they cannot stop them.  Prez comments that they're full of electrical energy... which causes Eagle Free to suggest they check in with the Power Company to see if they can track higher-than-normal power consumption on the grid... and so, they do.


And wouldn'tcha know it... the consumption is coming from the remote Silver Springs... home of Chessking!  The intrepid teens head out... and hoo boy, wouldja just look at Chessking's house...


Prez and Free are surrounded by the chess-sentries before falling through a hole in the "board".  This sends them down a shoot leading into Chessking's... um, dungeon?  I mean, there're shackles on the wall!  Anyhoo... it's here we find our "big bad", not the Chessking but the Queen Errant!


She pulls a gun on the teens... but then, Eagle Free's birds launch an attack... somehow (they are underground, right?)... causing her to drop her piece.  Prez picks it up, and it's academic from there.


Prez returns home, and learns all of the money that was stolen by the electrical chessmen had been returned, minus a single dollar.  Prez forks over the bill... which, has his face on it.  I think I'm missing something here... Prez winks at us... but, I'm not getting what he's on about.  Oh well.


We close with an epilogue... it's all about gun control... and ends with a shot being fired in the White House... uh oh!


--

Good gravy... this is a strange book!

I think I have an unconscious trigger that goes off whenever an issue is broken up into "chapters".  Even if a given chapter runs only a handful of pages... it still makes a book feel so much longer than it is.  I kinda feel like I breezed through this, however, when I think about the opening chess match... I'd swear it's been days since I read that!  Weird seventies pacing.

I feel like the book dropped a bit of the more biting social commentary with this second issue.  The premiere issue was downright dripping with it... here, it's still around, but not as in-your-face... then again, maybe I'm just too dense to realize when I'm being preached to... wouldn't be the first time!  It is crazy to consider that a book about the President of the United States isn't nearly as political as much of the mainstream output these days... but, I'll quit my editorializing there.

The story here was just nutty... and a lot of fun!  Chess as a full-contact, potentially violent, and nationalist endeavor is such a wild premise!  The political intrigue we did get was well done as well, in the form of Prez's opposition seeking to being impeachment proceedings.  There was even a bit of a swervy ending... I would've put money on Chessking being the big-bad!  I dig being surprised, so that all worked for me.

The terroristic element was bizarre in a way that I thought for a moment that I was reading something that I shouldn't be.  I'm not sure if that says more about the industry, or myself... but seeing Washington D.C. monuments destroyed by suicide-chessbots, seemed a bit, I dunno... extreme.  Not bad, certainly... just a bit eye-opening for your humble blogger.

The art was great as well.  So much surreality to behold here.  From everywhere Prez visiting turning into a warzone, to Eagle Free's FBI headquarters, and even Chessking's front yard being a security-laden chessboard.  Such weird imagery, but so well done.

I'd definitely recommend Prez to anyone interested in some weird comics.  It only ran for four issues if you're into bin-hunting... if not, DC recently collected it in trade paperback format, along with a few goodies (and not-so-goodies, hello Vertigo Visions!).  It's not a trade I own just yet... but it's definitely on my watch-list.  The entire all-too-short run is also available digitally, if that's more your thing.

--

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Batman: Death Mask #1 (2008)


Batman: Death Mask #1 (June, 2008)
Story and Art - Yoshinori Natsume
(Cover) Colorist - Jonny Rench
Letterer - Rob Leigh
Cover Price: $2.99

Boy, isn't that a cover that just screams "buy me"?  No?  Are you trying to say that it's an awful cover?  Yeah... it's pretty rotten, nothing about it says "cover".  I'd really expect so much more from DC... especially when it comes to a Batman book.  I feel like this could have been an opportunity to get a few new eyes on the Bat-books.  It also looks horribly dated... definitely not something that would have been produced and put on shelves this century... and yet, it was.

This is our first time venturing into and discussing DC Comics' CMX imprint.  CMX was DC's manga imprint which was in business during the latter half of last decade (2004-2010).  It always seemed to me like a really half-hearted attempt at cashing in on the manga craze... perhaps just a minute or two too late.  Also, I recall there being a bit of a to-do over some censorship... naughty bits being covered up and what not.  Not something that would've bugged me, though probably not the best way for DC to ingratiate themselves to purist manga fans.


For folks new to manga, I'll include the reading instructions here... everything goes from right-to-left, so if I post some panels that don't make any sense... just read'em backwards... and they'll, err... kinda make sense.

--


We open with... masks.  This will undoubtedly be the theme of this miniseries.  Among the masks is one of the Batman... and hey, guess what... is Batman the mask, or is it Bruce Wayne that's the mask?  What a novel idea... that totally hasn't been run into the ground throughout the past few decades of superhero fiction.  Anyhoo... we shift to Batman on the streets of Gotham taking down down some baddies with ease.


From here we get a bit of an origin... complete with Batman: Year One homage.  It's concise, and well done.


We continue with a bit more exposition.  This time in the form of an introduction to the Batman rogues gallery.  It's really pretty neat to see the baddie-menagerie done up in a manga style.  We do get to beat the drum of "does Batman stop the baddies... or cause them?", which we'll just place neatly in the cliche pile with the "mask" bit... which they do drone on a bit more about here.


Suddenly, Bruce Wayne wakes up in a darkened room with bars over the windows.  In the shadow stands a figure that bears a shapely similarity to Batman... it threatens Bruce that it's come... for him!


Luckily... and obviously, this was just a dream... Bruce wakes up (again?).  I'm not sure if the beating up baddies in Gotham bit was part of the dream... or if I just didn't notice the scene change.  That might happen from time to time during this issue.  Anyhoo, Bruce is woken by Alfred who comes bearing a traditional Japanese breakfast.  This causes our man to flashback to some time he'd spent as a younger man in Japan.  He stayed with a family, and would eat this same breakfast daily.  It also should be noted that he hid his "Bruce Wayne" identity while over there... that is to say, his foster family did not know he was really a bajillionaire Gothamite.


On this day, Bruce Wayne has an important meeting with representatives from the Agurama Corporation.  We see a bit of a Gotham skyline... which confused me a bit.  It took me a few reads to realize that this story is (maybe) happening in Gotham and not Japan... Hell, I'm still not completely sure.  Anyhoo... Bruce has his meeting with Jiro Agurama, and is completely bored throughout... that is, until he sees an attractive woman in the room.


At this point, Bruce has tunnel vision... he walks right past Jiro, and tries to pick up the young lady, who introduces herself as Aya Himemiya.  She seems flattered, however suggests maybe they'll run into each other at a party the following night rather than go on an actual date.  The sight of this Aya makes Bruce flashback to his time in Japan once more... he knew a girl who quite resembled Ms. Himemiya... though he doubts it was her.


We shift to a seedy Gotham street, where a seedy Gotham-dude cuts through an alley... only to find that he's wound up in the middle of a bamboo forest!  Eh?


A Batman-shaped shadow descends upon the man... and with a single slice, removes the fella's face.  It's soft-gore... like, we don't see a mass of coagulated under-face or anything... it's more a clean slice... as though his head was a ball of processed cold cut meat.  I'm sorry for that mental image.  Perhaps this picture can fill in the rest of my thousand word explanation.


We return to the dream world... the Bat-shaped shadow asks Bruce Wayne what lies behind his mask.  Suddenly, Bruce's own face detaches, in that same cold-cutty way... and starts to slide off of his head.


Bruce wakes up in the back of his vintage automobile.  He asks Alfred to pull over the car as something has caught his eye.  Hey, lookit that... there just so happens to be a Japanese shop... which looks very un-Gothamy... making me again wonder just where in the hell this story is taking place.  Anyhoo, this shop has a poster print of the "room with the bars" in Bruce's dream.  Here we learn that those bars represent a "cage around one's heart".  Fair enough.


Bruce arrives at his office, and takes a look at the daily newspaper.  He learns of a faceless corpse being found... so, I guess that really happened.  Bruce calls back to his own bad dream where his own face fell off.


He brushes it off as coincidence, and before he can think too hard on it, an assistant enters holding a pamphlet for the pending Agurama party.  The theme of the night will be... get this... masks!  Betcha didn't see that coming.  I know I sure didn't.  Anyhoo, he decides he'll attend so he can see Aya.


Let's move on to the party... Jiro gives a speech before revealing three unique and sacred masks.  The crowd oohs and aahs... and suddenly I get the feeling a moon with a scary face is about to descend upon Gotham.


Bruce is looking on, and doesn't appear to be terribly impressed.  Thankfully his boredom is short-lived as Aya (I think) arrives with some saki.  I'm almost positive this is supposed to be Aya... but facially she looks different.  I suppose she is wearing make-up, and has her hair done up.  Either way... we'll figure that this is Aya and move along.  Here we (and Bruce) learn that this lady is, well... probably not the girl Bruce remembers from Japan... because, this young woman is still a teenager.  Whoops.  He shrugs it off claiming that it's hard to judge the age of an Asian woman... which, probably won't hold up in court, pal.


Now their chat is interrupted by a presentation on the stage.  Jiro asks for a volunteer party-guest to try on one of the masks.  One fella is all too happy to raise his hand.  He jokes that maybe it will imbue him with super powers.  The mask is fastened over his head... and suddenly, he lets out a terrific scream!  He's... just kidding.  The mask didn't give him any powers, that would be silly.


He then tries to remove the mask, only to find out he can't.  The party guests think he's still trying to pull a fast one, but two members of the security detail try and help him anyway... they got socked in the face for their trouble.


The masked man panics and makes a bee-line to the door.  The rest of the guests think this is all part of an elaborate act, and so they are expressing their appreciation by laughing and applauding.  Bruce Wayne isn't so sure this is an act, and so he gives chase.  Outside in the alley, Bruce comes upon a face-down corpse... when he flips it over, guess what... it's got no face!


Bruce looks up and finds himself standing before the Bat-shadow-thing from his dreams!


It swoops down and takes a swipe at Bruce.  Several security officers barge onto the scene guns a'blazing which causes it to flee.  Bruce composes himself and remembers the first time he'd seen this shadow-figure... back in Japan when he was a young man.


--

Underwhelming.

Not only do we go back to the "Which is the 'mask', Batman or Bruce?" well yet again... we find ourselves with a pretty lackluster story overall.

Also, it isn't clear if this story is taking place in Gotham or Japan.  Bruce just stumbles upon a Japanese shop in Gotham... on the very same morning Alfred just so happens to serve him a traditional Japanese breakfast... after waking up from a Japanese nightmare?  It all feels a bit forced, no?

Also, Bruce's "dreams" happen concurrently with things happening in the waking world... and there is no artistic note to tell us which is which, and where one ends and the other begins.  Perhaps this would read better in a complete tankoubon volume, or serialized in a weekly format... that is to say, all at once... or in smaller bite-sized installments to build the story.  Trying to fit this to a more Western(ish) comic book format might just be doing it (and the reader) a disservice.

The art, when not looking at it from a storytelling perspective... is very good.  Bruce looks right in and out of costume... and the two-page spread with the rogues gallery is really quite nice.  Most of the supporting characters look identifiable... Aya ambiguity notwithstanding.  The saki-shiller at the party is almost definitely Aya... however, at first I thought maybe Bruce would meet several young girls during this tale... now I wonder if it's just the one who will be drawn a bit differently every time we see her, who knows?

Back to our story.  Tale as old as time... Which is the mask, the hero or the civilian?  We've seen it so many times before, I can't help that my immediate reaction is to simply sigh.  I know there was a point in time where such a concept was not only novel... but even deep... but that time is, in my opinion, long passed.  It's become a trope, and I really didn't need to see it again.  We get a nebulous baddie at the close... and some light gore... however, I'm still pretty disengaged.

Overall... can't say I'd recommend this one.  It's a quick read... like a lot of manga tends to be.  It's also in black and white... like a lot of manga tends to be.  There's also the reading right to left, which may be a deal-breaker to some.  I kinda dig it... then again, there are times in my life where I'd read so much manga at once it was difficult to go back to "normal" left-to-right storytelling!  I'd say grab this if you really wanna see Batman in manga format... and don't mind a trip down a well-trodden road, story and trope wise.

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