Category Archives: Comics

Verotika (2019)

verotika

Verotika (2019)

Say what you will about the various art Glenn Danzig has released to the public, but the man should be admired for doing what he wants with said art. At a young age, Danzig decided he wanted to be a musician and for over 40 years he’s been committed to that industry. Along the way he’s taken risks, both creatively and commercially, and some have worked out well financially and some have not. Always though, he’s stayed true to his own vision and rarely does it feel like he’s ever compromised that vision.

In the mid-90s, Danzig decided he had other pursuits he wanted to undertake. He launched his own comic book publishing company and named it Verotik. Verotik specialized in horror and hyper sexualized stories that the main publishers in the world of comics would never touch. Around the same time, he also started poking around the world of Hollywood eventually taking a small role in the film The Prophecy II in which he was almost comically dispatched of in a few seconds of screen time. It was also around this time he was boasting about being sought for the role of Wolverine in a future X-Men film, though how serious such overtures were at the time are unknown.

For who knows how long, Danzig has wanted to climb into the director’s chair and oversee the creation of his own film. In 2019, that dream came true. And true to Danzig’s musical legacy, his film is undoubtedly uncompromised and the film Glenn Danzig wanted to make. Verotika is a horror anthology film based on properties launched by Danzig’s comic line. Some of the stories are more or less taken right from the page and adapted for the big screen. In creating the film, Danzig formed a partnership with Cleopatra Entertainment in what looks to be a multi-film deal. The movie was released in June of 2019 in very limited amounts, basically just special screenings attended by Danzig himself in high profile markets like LA and New York.

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Glenn Danzig steps off the stage and into the director’s chair and appears to be pretty happy with the end result.

Verotika was never screened in a city near me so I never had to make the perhaps difficult decision of whether or not to attend. The film has been nearly universally panned by critics with the often repeated comparison being that this is The Room of horror films. That doesn’t mean all of the reviews have been necessarily negative. Some expressed that film is not good, but it’s charmingly bad in ways that some of the most awesomely bad movies are. The film is low budget and full of the sex and violence that appeals to Danzig. The cast is populated by trained actors and actresses as well as veterans of the adult film industry, so I think anyone familiar with Danzig’s work likely has a good idea of what kind of experience they’re in for.

As a longtime fan of Glenn Danzig’s music, I felt like I basically owed it to myself to watch this film. I love the music of Danzig, but my fandom has largely ended there. What little of Verotik I thumbed through rarely appealed to me. Danzig’s directorial efforts with his music videos are mostly bad, and I basically assumed that I am going to dislike this film. Maybe I’ll be able to laugh at it, but I don’t know. I’m not the type of person that enjoys watching bad movies typically. At least with Verotika I’m signing up for an anthology that totals just 90 minutes, so it’s not a huge investment of time and there is a built in mechanism to reset my attention span. And even though I have in some ways dreaded viewing this film, I know my curiosity is too much to ignore so when the film went up for pre-order on Amazon I placed my order and waited.

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Fans of the Verotik comics will likely get a thrill out of seeing these characters come to life on the big screen. Here we have Morella played by Kayden Kross.

Verotika arrived and alongside it came an unexpected surprise. The physical release for the film is the standard Blu Ray and DVD combo, but it also includes a CD soundtrack as well which is pretty cool. It’s not a particularly great soundtrack, and the only Danzig track is the previously released “Eyes Ripping Fire,” but it’s still a nice gesture. The soundtrack is also available separately on vinyl, for interested parties. I settled into watch this one, and since it is an anthology film, it presents nice opportunities for breaks during the feature. There are three segments and they are:  The Albino Spider of Dajette, Change of Face, and Drukija:  Contessa of Blood. There’s a framing device in-between them all hosted by Morella (Kayden Kross) in a Vampira-like role as she introduces the macabre to come while some hapless girl (Noelle Ann Mabry, with possibly the best performance of the entire film) is tortured.

Women being victimized by other women seems to be the name of the game in this film. All three stories feature that in some capacity, though in the first segment the woman, Dajette (Ashley Wisdom), is inadvertently harming women. I was prepared for a lot of things when I sat down to watch this. I knew there would be gore, I expected plenty of nude women, and I also anticipated some unintentional comedy on account of the fact that this is a relatively low budget film. What I did not anticipate was boredom. Yes, Verotika is a bad movie, but as far as awesomely bad is concerned I’m not sure I’d classify this as such. There’s a lot of bad acting, and what’s not helping the actors out is the need to utilize accents in two of the three segments. The script is poor and at times laughable, but not gratuitously so. It’s a just a lot of wooden scenes surrounded by poor lighting, hollow audio, and irrational editing. There’s even a shot where a corpse blinks and it’s confusing how something like that makes it into the final cut of any film.

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Dajette and the spider that haunts her.

The three stories ask very little of the audience. Only the first felt the least bit ambitious as it concerns a woman, who when sleeps unleashes some sort of spider-demon on the populace. The spider wants to mate and kill in that order, and our protagonist needs to come up with a way to stop it. The segment relies way too much on actress Ashley Wisdom who is not up to task. The spider (Scotch Hopkins) does better, but the script gives him little to work with. He’s also burdened by some ambitious prosthetics that really aren’t all that bad, but could have been helped out with better lighting choices.

That segment might actually be the most narratively sound as the other two leave a lot to be desired. “Change of Face” follows the not very mysterious Mystery Girl (Rachel Alig) as she goes around cutting the faces off of young women and then masquerading as a stripper during the night. A detective pursues her, but is laughably played by Sean Kanan and hard to take serious. This segment features the most padding as on three occasions it resorts to extended segments of strippers performing their routine in a rather mundane fashion. Verotika would actually disappoint in the titillation department if stumbled upon at two AM on Cinemax.

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Verotika is not particularly gory, but it does bring the blood by the tub-full.

The third segment is even more droll as it casts Alice Tate (who performs quite well under the circumstances) as Drukija, an Elizabeth Bathory type who poaches young girls from a village to bathe in their blood. She one-ups the countess by also feasting on the heart of a young girl. The story has no pay-off and is more of a fetish as we watch Drukija murder several young women. It takes place in a medieval setting so the costumes are a bit interesting and her ceremonial bathing apparatus is certainly a sight to see, but it offers little else.

Verotika is neither sexy, nor particularly gory. There is a lot of blood in some scenes, but the most gratuitous probably occurs during the film’s opening minutes. The film is not thought-provoking and it isn’t interested in exploring much of anything. And at 90 minutes it overstays its welcome by a lot. It’s hard to even pick which segment is the superior one. The concept of the spider is the most complex, while the “Change of Face” segment is the most procedurally ambitious as it attempts to present a murder-mystery thriller, but it really just exposes the weakness of the talent on hand. I guess the third is the best by default since it’s at least visually interesting and presents a decent premise. It just doesn’t move beyond its premise and could easily have been half as long. Or better yet, it could have just been a music video.

Glenn Danzig not only wrote and directed this picture, but he also provided the score. If you’re familiar with his Black Aria albums then it should sound mostly familiar. There are a few moments where I liked what I was hearing, but for the most part it’s forgettable. The licensed tracks are largely reserved for the stripper scenes, and in that respect they work fine. They’re not particularly sexy, but it’s not like Danzig was going to pay Rick Rubin to utilize “She Rides.”

Obviously I did not enjoy my time with Verotika. That doesn’t change what I started off with though. This is a film made by Glenn Danzig for Glenn Danzig. He’s gone around the country and personally shown this film to audiences and he appears to be quite proud of it. I can only assume that this is the film he wanted to make. And that is great. I wish I could put myself in position to pursue my own art in such a fashion, so even though I didn’t enjoy it I still applaud the man for the film he created. There’s just no way I’m going to seek out his next film.


NECA TMNT Loot Crate Wild Speculation Post!

mirage_shredder_crateIt was announced earlier this week that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles branded Loot Crate was incoming later this year. NECA, or NECA’s parent company to be more exact, rescued Loot Crate from bankruptcy last year and has been aiming to revamp the subscription service by incorporating NECA product into the boxes. If you’re not familiar with the scheme (some would argue scam), Loot Crate is basically a blind box service. Each box usually retails for about $50 and the only thing the buyer knows is what the general theme of the box will be. They’re almost always advertised as being a greater value than what they’re charging, which is a ludicrous statement, and instead they’re full of junk that would be a hard sell on its own. That’s likely why the service went bankrupt, but NECA appears at least committed to making this thing worthwhile.

There was a series of essentially trial Loot Crates with the NECA branding. One such crate was the Spirit of Splinter set. It came with a variant of the Splinter action figure from NECA’s TMNT movie line that was colored blue to resemble the character from the scene in the woods where he appeared as a ghost, or spirit, to encourage his adoptive children. The crate was $50, so if you’re in it for the figure it’s not the greatest value since NECA figures retail for around half that amount. It also had a shirt, patch, pin, and a Foot bandana based on the same from the film. It’s not an awful set, but I wasn’t really into the figure so I passed. Since the property is hot though, the resale value appears relatively high on eBay so anyone who did purchase it could probably turn it into a small profit, if they so desired.

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If you wanted a blue Splinter you missed your opportunity.

That Splinter set apparently was successful enough to warrant a new round of crates. Announced Wednesday, a trio of TMNT crates are set to arrive this year with the first one arriving sometime in June. The featured action figure for that set is a first appearance Mirage Shredder. This is only the second time this figure is being released as the first time was as part of a four-pack with some Foot Soldiers for San Diego Comic Con. That Shredder was also colored based on the color version of the debut issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This version is basically all blue and black and looks pretty neat. He’ll have some accessories as well and the crate will come with additional items that likely tie into the original comic line in some way.

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I can’t believe how much I want this.

What we don’t know, at this time, is what the featured figures will be in the next two crates. For those, NECA has provided only the theme and a few hints. Crate #2 is an arcade themed crate and the placeholder image is the Turtles battling the Foot in the first stage of the original arcade game with April in the background. NECA confirmed via its Twitter account that the figure will NOT be an arcade deco April, and since the Turtles have been released already, it won’t be them. The third crate is based on the 1987 cartoon and the placeholder image is Rocksteady. The only other info we have is that it will not be a variant of Casey Jones (some had guessed at a version of Casey in a suit). Patrons who are all-in on this trio of crates and pay for all three upfront receive a bonus figure of Bebop in a bunny suit from the cartoon. No images have been shown yet so we don’t know how much re-tooling is needed for the existing Bebop figure to conform to this. He could just have new hands and a cloth suit.

That silly Bebop was actually the thing that pulled me in. I love goofy variants, and while I’m less enthusiastic about the First Appearance Shredder I decided to take the plunge with the safety net being if I don’t really want one of the other figures, I can probably at least sell them for cost online. Even though the Bunny Bebop is the figure I covet most, it hasn’t stopped me from speculating on what the other two figures will be. The guessing game is so fun for me that I decided to put my thoughts down here, so let’s see if I can get these thoughts organized.

For the arcade wave, NECA has released or shown the following for retail:

  • All four Turtles
  • Multi-colored Foot Soldiers
  • Shredder (Turtles in Time Arcade)
  • Shredder (Arcade)
  • Slash (Turtles in Time SNES)
  • Leatherhead (Turtles in Time)
  • Granitor (Arcade)
  • Traag (Arcade)
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The lone hint provided by NECA for crate #2.

And as mentioned, we can rule out April. The image NECA provided as a clue is the Arcade version of the first game. It’s also the first level which featured a boss fight against Rocksteady. Also of note, NECA showed off Granitor and Traag a long time ago and has never come back and confirmed them for release. The current figures at retail are based on Turtles in Time, and Krang’s loyal rock soldiers did not feature in that game. In other words, I think they’re in play. Cartoon versions are on the way as part of wave 4 too, so we’re just talking a simple repaint here. With all that said, let’s speculate! I’m ranking based on the likelihood of who gets released:

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NECA showed off this trio almost three years ago and we just now received Slash. Granitor and Traag have mostly been ignored since save for the cartoon reveal.

  1. Granitor/Traag – This seems like a good spot for one of these two guys. There’s nothing separating the two, hence why I rank them together. It’s also a smart marketing idea as one could be included this round, and the other figure could follow in the next wave. Anyone who has Traag will want Granitor and vice versa.
  2. tmnt_arcade_level1

    Rocksteady is the boss for the pictured level, though if he’s the subject of crate #3 it seems less likely he’d be featured in crate #2 as well.

    Rocksteady – we kind of half to assume he’s high on the list because the image provided features the rhino as the boss character. And Rocksteady would just be a simple repaint of the current figure, perhaps with the added benefit of including his helmet. And like the scenario I outlined with Granitor and Traag, it opens up the possibility of featuring Bebop further down the road. And both characters were unique to the first Arcade game as far as their attire is concerned. For the SNES version of Turtles in Time, the two appeared in pirate attire which would necessitate all new sculpts. I think it’s safe to say, whatever is included in these Loot Crates will be repaints of existing figures with only minor re-tooling. I’d actually list Rocksteady as the most likely figure if he wasn’t the placeholder image for crate #3.

  3.  NES Rocksteady – Not to be confused with the figure above. The image provided is clearly from the arcade version of the game, so I think it’s more likely the figure comes from there than from the NES, but the NES version of the game does present some additional opportunities. Considering NECA already did Slash who was unique to the home console version of Turtles in Time, it suggests the NES version of the arcade game isn’t off-limits. When that game was ported, some concessions had to be made as the NES was not capable of outputting the same amount of colors as the arcade game. And for that version, Rocksteady appeared in basically a black, white, and gray attire. It actually makes him look a little more like the Playmates figure than the cartoon, and it’s not an ugly look for the character. It’s also an easy thing to accomplish as NECA could just re-color the existing figure. Though again, he’d need a helmet.
  4. tora

    a Tora figure would be pretty damn fun.

    Tora – If that name isn’t familiar then that’s okay, as we’re not talking about a very popular character. Tora is the white dog/wolf boss from the snowy level of the NES game. He’s never appeared anywhere else, as far as I know, nor was he ever done as an action figure. Because of his obscurity, it makes sense for him to be featured in a subscription service like Loot Crate. He could probably utilize some of the parts made for Bebop and/or Rocksteady with the only challenge being he’d require a unique headsculpt and he had a leather jacket. If given the choice, I think I’d most like to see this happen as it feels fun, though all signs point to the figure being from the arcade version of the game and not the home console port.

  5.  Roadkill Rodney (s) – We know Roadkill Rodney is on the way as part of the cartoon line, so a pixel deco version would also make sense at some point. The character appears in both arcade games, so it’s possible it could show up in the Turtles in Time retail wave. This would probably be the cheapest option as the figures aren’t particularly large, though if they feature rubber tires or something then I could be mistaken. This strikes me as the least exciting option though and I don’t know that it would be met with much enthusiasm.

That’s my top 5 most likely for the arcade crate. I kept my guesses to just the original arcade game and the NES release, but if it also could include Turtles in Time figures then that expands things considerably. That game features Tokka, Rahzar, and Super Shredder which are all getting released as part of the movie line. Would NECA do a pixel deco on any of them and release them? I think so, but I also think they would rather release them as single-packs to retail and not in a Loot Crate. Baxter the Fly also features in the home NES arcade port and both versions of Turtles in Time. He has a figure on the way in the cartoon line, though he’s considerably larger in the games and I’m not sure if that figure is really appropriate for a game version. Maybe NECA isn’t too concerned though. Metalhead is also in that game, so he would be possible. Krang is featured in both, but I ruled him out as his android body is probably too big for this kind of release, but I’d love to be wrong!

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The lone hint for crate #3. Seems like Rocksteady is a given, no?

Let’s turn our attention now to crate #3. We have even less to go off of here as the image is just Rocksteady and it’s the same licensing artwork featured in NECA’s action figure release, so we don’t even have an episode or season to go off of. It wouldn’t exactly be much of a hint if the figure wasn’t Rocksteady, but for completion’s sake, here’s what NECA has done or is prepping for release at Target:

  • All four Turtles
  • Shredder
  • Krang (Bubble Walker and Android Body)
  • Foot Soldiers (regular and damaged)
  • Bebop
  • Rocksteady
  • Casey Jones
  • April O’Neil
  • Baxter the Fly
  • Splinter
  • Granitor
  • Traag
  • Leatherhead
  • Metalhead
  • Foot Alpha
  • Triceratons (Various colors)
  • Bunny Bebop
  • Roadkill Rodney
  • Slash
bunny_minions

Could figure #3 simply be a Bunny Rocksteady to complete the pair for those who are all-in? Maybe, though it seems like NECA would reserve him for a future release.

That’s a lot of figures, and I may even be forgetting some. NECA has also strongly hinted that Ace Duck and Mukman and Joe Eyeball are forthcoming, and the assumption is that neither would be featured here. Again, we’re mostly assuming this figure will be a variant of an already released or soon-to-be released character. And since this crate may be arriving in the fall, virtually all figures to be released are in play. Though since the image is Rocksteady, I have to go with him first:

human_rocksteady

Might a human version of Rocksteady be on the way?

  1. First-Appearance Rocksteady – Rocksteady didn’t show up as an existing mutant, he had to first be some regular dude who wasn’t very nice. He basically featured the same outfit as his rhino form, only with a vest and no helmet. NECA could simply retool the existing figure and give him a new head to accomplish the job. It would then setup for a future crate figure of human Bebop.
  2.  Bunny Rocksteady – if the bonus fourth figure is Bebop in a bunny costume, then fans are going to wonder when they can complete the pair. As a result, a Bunny Rocksteady makes sense as once again it’s an existing figure with a few new additions. And as a bonus, since the two-pack continues to be hard to find at retail, it gives collectors another opportunity to get these figures. Especially if the bunny outfit is just a cloth addition leaving the regular figure underneath largely intact. The only reason why I think it won’t be a rabbit version of Rocksteady is that it probably makes more sense for that to be the featured bonus figure of another round of Loot Crates. Such a maneuver is borderline mean, but that’s capitalism for ya!
  3.  Ultimate Rocksteady – Basically, just the regular figure with more accessories including a helmet, something fans have been requesting ever since the original two-pack was released last November. It wouldn’t be very sexy, but considering how hard those figures have been to find it might give NECA some reason to assume fans would still be onboard with such a move. It’s not what I would want, but I also wouldn’t hate it.
  4. mightyhognrhinomanRhino-Man – I talked about wanting this figure in my list of most wanted NECA figures, so naturally I’d put him here. This was Rocksteady in a super hero costume. He could easily be repainted to accomplish the look well enough, and once again it would setup for a future release of Bebop in his super hero attire. Since fans would expect such a move, that version of Bebop could once again occupy the bonus figure slot or something.
  5. Mighty Rocksteady – I’m sticking with the Rocksteady theme! It just seems to me that if NECA wanted to give fans a hint (and they confirmed that was the goal), then making the figure something other than Rocksteady seems pointless. It would just mean the hint was actually no hint at all and reinforce that we shouldn’t trust these going forward, which wouldn’t be much fun. Mighty Rocksteady is the robot replacement from the episode “Super Bebop and Mighty Rocksteady.” He still looks like Rocksteady, but he’s metallic. Potentially, any figure would be a mash-up of parts made for Rocksteady and Metalhead. Though admittedly, to really get this figure right and do him justice it would be preferable to create an all new mold which is why I think he’s the least likely version of Rocksteady to be featured in this crate.
mighty_rockteady

A Mighty Rocksteady would be considerably harder to pull off, but that Bunny Bebop looks like it might feature a lot of new sculpting so who knows?

That’s it, my picks for most likely figures. I hope this doesn’t come off like an advertisement for NECA and Loot Crate, but it felt like a fun exercise to undertake. I’d prefer to not have to deal with the Loot Crate nonsense to get these exciting figures, but given how hard they’ve been to find at retail it’s not the worst thing to actually know I’m guaranteed to get four new figures this year. Expect a review for each one when it arrives and I’ll definitely refer back to this post to grade how well I did.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Ultimate Collection Vol. 5

tmnt vol5It’s been a long break in between posts about this subject. So long that I’d rather not point it out any further! At long last though I have finally finished reading fifth volume of The Ultimate Collection, a line of hardbound, oversized, compendiums of comic books spanning the Eastman and Laird era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Mirage Comics. The volumes are published by current TMNT comic publisher IDW and are presented in their original black and white appearance with new artwork by Kevin Eastman used for the back and front cover. Both Eastman and TMNT co-creator Peter Laird provide thoughts and reactions following each issue as they provide insight into their thought process and elaborate on where an idea may have come from.

This fifth volume is essentially the finale to this series, though two additional volumes follow. This one wraps up the City at War arc (issues #56-62) which was basically the grand finale for Eastman and Laird. At this point, they already had stopped drawing and inking the books and had moved onto managing the brand more than anything. These seven issues were originally published in 1993 when TMNT was past its peak, but still very much a money-maker. Artist Jim Lawson had basically taken over all of the pencil duties and was even contributing to the story at this point. Keith Aiken and Jason Temujin Minor handled the inking while Eric Talbot did the tones and Mary Kelleher the lettering.

karai

Karai has arrived and is ready to make her move.

In case you haven’t read my write-up on Volume 4, City at War tells the tale of the Turtles returning to New York to find that the Foot Clan has split into various competing factions with the loss of Shredder. Karai, leader of the Foot Clan in Japan, has arrived to clean things up and she’s targeting the heroes in a half shell who are currently holed up in an abandoned water tower. Splinter is injured and trapped by the Rat King, making his mainline debut. Meanwhile, April is off living in LA with her sister Robyn while Casey is engaged to a pregnant woman named Gabe and trying to start a new life himself after giving up on chasing April.

I found many of the issues in Volume 4 of this collection to be long and slow. It didn’t help that I wasn’t enamored with Jim Lawson’s take on the Turtles and I was badly missing the art of Eastman and Laird. Even though their art was often rough and had an amateurish quality at times, it was a good fit for the property and it was also improving. It was rewarding to see that maturation take place right before my eyes.

For this round of issues, my enthusiasm is much higher. It gets right to the point with the revelation of who is holding Splinter captive and also has Karai spring her Foot ninja on the Turtles early. This sets up the main conflict which is Karai’s wish to take out Shredder’s remaining Foot Elite, and she wants the Turtles to help. There’s a good scene of the brothers debating the merits of jumping back into the fray. They acknowledge, for the first time, that a lot of the violence is the result of their lost master’s quest for revenge. They were born to avenge Splinter, and they were successful, but their actions have not lead to a better New York for anyone. It’s a really introspective look at the Turtles and not something I was expecting. My only disappointment is that it didn’t eventually lead to a conversation on the subject with Splinter himself.

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Splinter goes through some real shit in these books.

For April, these issues also bring her back to New York. Her father passes away suddenly forcing her and her sister to come to New York for the services. Once there, she decides to stay, and it’s only a matter of time until her path crosses with her old friends. For Casey, tragedy brings him back as well in a rather bold way. The writing for him isn’t as strong as it is for the Turtles, but it still covers subject matter I wasn’t really expecting. For Splinter, he spends much of his time in a delirium and his sequences are pretty visceral. I am not sure what the overall message is supposed to be with Splinter, I guess they wanted him to embrace his primal side at the expense of his learned humanity. It was interesting though and it was nice to finally care about Splinter.

As would be expected from a title with the word “war” in it, there’s a lot of action across these pages. This is where Lawson gets to shine as an artist. His style seems to improve throughout and by the time I made it to the end I was onboard with his Turtles. He is able to convey movement so well and some of the detail work is gorgeous. This is easily a much nicer book to look at than the previous one, and Lawson is the main force behind that.

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I was way more into the artwork this time around and a lot had to do with the brilliant sequencing by Jim Lawson.

The story is a pretty satisfying one, though the ending is a bit unexpected. This is possibly the best arc Mirage ever tackled and much of the good stuff is contained in these issues. I am definitely glad I finally got around to going through it, even if I’ve had it since it was released. Eastman and Laird don’t provide too much in their comments. Eastman is at least good at setting the mood and placing the reader back in 1993. After that, he mostly just gushes about the talent involved in this project. Laird is a bit more critical and willing to point out things that didn’t work, though ultimately he just plain has very little to say.

A sixth volume in this set was released following this one, but it’s just one-shots and short stories not done by Eastman and Laird. A seventh volume is supposedly on the way as well which is basically going to be an art book. If you’re like me and just wanted to experience the original creators’ interpretation of these characters, then the five volumes are the only ones you need to concern yourself with. I’m not sure if any are still in print, but they have yet to become expensive to acquire. This is a good gift for any Turtle-loving person in your life. Though I feel obligated to point out that these stories are intended for mature audiences as these aren’t the pizza-loving dudes from the cartoons, but chances are if you’re even interested in these works you’re well aware of that fact.


Bucky O’Hare Wave 3.5 Aniverse Storm Toad Trooper

img_0978It’s been a long time between releases by Bucky O’Hare license holder Boss Fight Studio. The last figure released by the company was 2018’s Storm Toad Trooper, a figure that arrived at my doorstep on Boxing Day 2018. Since that time, Boss Fight Studio has had sculpts and specs to show off, most notablyBruiser, but no releases. Somewhat quietly though, this variant of the Storm Toad arrived at my door this week. I had not and still have not seen any mention of his release by Boss Fight’s social media accounts and he’s actually still listed as a pre-order item on their webstore. I know the company had some delays it had to deal with in 2018 relating to the offshore factory it utilizes to make the figures (which is why the previously set for release in the Fall of 2018 Bruiser is now slated for a Spring 2020 release) and I assume those delays impacted this figure as well.

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Some source material for this one.

Needless to say, it’s good to have some new Bucky product to talk about, even if it is a repaint of a previously released figure. If you’re going to re-release a figure though, it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the best figures the company has put out. The Storm Toad Trooper is a marvel to look at. He looks like he was pulled right out of the comic from which he originated and there’s a ton of personality baked into this sculpt. Boss Fight smartly made sure he came with two heads and two pieces of headgear:  a hat and the traditional trooper helmet, which encouraged fans to buy two as it offered two distinct display pieces. And of course, there’s always the temptation to buy even more and “army build” the ranks of the Toads. At $35 a piece, slightly less if you opt for a two-pack, it’s a bit tough to justify building out a huge army of Troopers, but the temptation is certainly there.

In order to help maximize the value Boss Fight gets from each figure, the company has produced at least one variant of each sculpt it has released so far. For the Trooper, that means an Aniverse version. The Aniverse is the setting for the cartoon Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars and it simply means “Animated Universe.” Though considering all of the denizens of Bucky’s world are anthropomorphic animals from our world, it also works as an “Animal Universe” as well. The first run of all of Boss Fight’s action figures thus far have been based on the licensing art supplied by Continuity Comics. In order to make the show easier to animate, some characters were changed when moving to animation, though for the most part the changes were minimal. Boss Fight even showed off an Aniverse Bucky variant that seems to have been quietly cancelled, possibly because he underwent very minimal changes when changing mediums.

The Aniverse variant of the Storm Toad is the first such variant that has been produced. It makes sense considering the Storm Toad did change a bit. His jumpsuit was altered from black to blue, probably to help him stand out against the many black, space, backdrops in the show. All of the gold on his uniform was also changed to yellow, probably because yellow is cheaper, and in some episodes his gun switched from hot pink to light blue. The green of his helmet and trim are also darkened a touch and there’s less detail on his skin. For the figure, this means no green patches on his hands and head. Lastly, the lens covers on his helmet also went from hot pink to red.

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Two guns are better than one.

All of these little details have been captured by Boss Fight Studio with this version of the character. Beyond the change to the color scheme, the figure is essentially the same as released in 2018. For a brief rundown, this means he has a pair of trigger finger hands, two open palm hands, one pointing finger hand, a grinning head, a head with a sort-of side grin, helmet, hat, pistol, rifle, and hooked bayonet. A small piece of the rifle can be removed and swapped with the bayonet if you so desire. All of the weapons can be stored on the little peg holes on the figure’s belt or held. The figure itself is pretty loaded with articulation, though the details of the outfit hinder him a bit in ways the other characters in this series were not. It’s mainly those shoulder, elbow and knee pads which limit things a touch. He also has a very wide stance which doesn’t really lend itself well to dynamic posing, but it gets the job done.

Since this is basically a repaint, the figure has all of the pluses the previous one had. It also possesses the same negatives as well, of which there are few, but still worth a mention. His helmet is a real challenge to get onto the alternate head. You can try heating it up to make it more pliable, but that still might not get the job done. I could never get it to sit flush like it does on the stock head (which it snaps onto with satisfying ease) when it came to the original release, but this time I actually got it on! The second head doesn’t move as well though on the ball joint, but maybe I just pushed it in too far. The lens effect on the helmet is also achieved with a translucent plastic that runs throughout the entire inner part of the helmet and does leave red smudges on the head, something I never noticed with the first version. The alternate hat also doesn’t really snap in place, but it also doesn’t really need to as it looks fine even if it’s basically just floating on the head. The heads are a touch challenging to swap so be careful, but the hands are fairly simple. The included rifle looks great, but it is hard to get him into an appropriate rifle pose. If you can get him to hold it properly with his finger on the trigger you may be tempted to just leave it there as I did with the 2018 figure. I failed to do so this time around and a little stress crack was forming on the rifle handle so I backed off.

The Aniverse Storm Toad Trooper comes in Boss Fight’s collector friendly blister packaging. It’s a card-back with a plastic bubble that can be removed and reinserted with ease. Boss Fight even updated the artwork to reflect the new Toad with a some-what janky looking individual that’s reminiscent of the toon itself. It would have been neat if the little comic strip could have been updated to include scenes from the cartoon, but that probably would have meant cutting a check to Hasbro (who holds the rights to the cartoon) and I understand the decision to not do so there. Interestingly, the blister has changed slightly from past figures as the actual bubble is lower than before which necessitated moving the name plate up above the bubble and below the logo as opposed to on the bottom. If you’re curious, this figure is considered number 11 in the series. The bio card on the back is unchanged from the first release.

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It’s hardly what I would call an army, but it’s a start.

Because I’ve just always liked the look of the character, the Storm Toad Trooper is still one of my favorites from this toy-line, a line in which it’s really hard to pick a true favorite as all have been exceptional. I also really like this color scheme and I think I prefer it to the original, though I’m glad I didn’t have to choose between the two. For the first release, I did opt for the two-pack, but this time around I only pre-ordered the one. Interestingly, when I ordered it I had elected the option to pick it up at Boss Fight’s brick and mortar location in Norwood, MA, but the company shipped it to me instead, so a sincere thanks to Boss Fight for the free shipping! I don’t know if it was shipped in error or if they have stopped taking orders for pickup. A quick look at their website seems to suggest that option is still available, so maybe it was simply a “Thanks for being patient with this line,” gift of sorts.

I can safely say though that this is my favorite variant so far produced by this line. Holiday Bucky was pretty clever, but I really like the idea of doing cartoon versions of the characters. I don’t think Bucky and Dead-Eye necessarily need Aniverse versions, but it would be neat to see Jenny get one if they decide to do another variant of her. The upcoming Bruiser and Mimi LaFloo could also easily be adapted for Aniverse paint applications as well. I would also love to see this particular sculpt re-used for a Frix and Frax. My dream would have been for Boss Fight to include a Frix and or Frax head with this release, but I understand the desire to not add more cost. They probably would also prefer to do a more proper release with the characters getting their own card art and so forth.

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I hope to add several more figures to this display (pay no mind to the Christmas décor in the background, it has to go somewhere after the holidays).

Hopefully, the wait for the next figure in this line won’t be quite as long as it was for this figure. Bruiser is tentatively scheduled for the spring, and Boss Fight even sent a sample to Pixel Dan last year for him to review so he can’t be that far off. The company is also accepting pre-orders for Mimi and her approval process by Continuity went quickly so hopefully she’s on track for a 2020 release. And of course, Toy Fair is right around the corner now and we’ll have to see if Boss Fight and Bucky O’Hare will have a presence. Boss Fight showed off artwork for a line of mini figures last year and I would guess we’ll get more info about those soon. 2020 is already shaping up to be a good year for the funky fresh rabbit courtesy of Boss Fight Studio.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 5

batman_bewareWelcome back for the fifth and final installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 19 through 1. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS.

These remaining episodes represent the cream of the crop. When I applied an arbitrary numerical rating to each episode in the series these all came away scoring a 9 or better so they’re all episodes I love and treasure. These are the best works produced by the best animated show based on a comic to grace a television set. It should go without saying that if you haven’t seen all of these and consider yourself a fan of Batman or animation in general then you owe it to yourself to seek these out.

hqdefault-3119 – Joker’s Favor

When adapting a murderous psychopath for a kid’s show, some changes have to be taken. In the case of The Joker, it means finding a way to make him seem dangerous without actually allowing him to murder some of the citizens of Gotham. He could easily have just been reinterpreted as a prankster, a villain who can get a laugh and little more, but this show wasn’t content with that approach. “Joker’s Favor” sees Joker in a very uncomfortable setting as he forces a regular chum named Charlie (who reminds me of Tim Conway) to partake in a crime for him or else he’ll do some horrible things to Charlie’s family. The threats aren’t spelled out explicitly, but they don’t need to be. Also, this episode features the debut of a popular henchwoman named Harley, which is certainly a part of its legacy.

18 – House & Garden

Poison Ivy was one of the several villains to receive a redemption story in season two of the show. This is the one where a seemingly happy Pamela Isley is married and step-mother to two boys. When Batman finds out that Pam’s husband previously had daughters, not sons, he realizes something is up. He soon discovers that Poison Ivy has discovered a way to make plant-based clones of humans, though they can only be male, and she’s literally made a new life for herself. There’s some tense moments, but also some heartbreak, which is basically the mix that often makes an episode of Batman great.

17 – Second Chance

Ever since Harvey Dent was horribly disfigured leading to the rise of Two-Face, Batman and viewers of the show wanted to see him overcome his demons and return to being just plain old Harvey. In “Second Chance,” the wheels are in motion for that to finally happen, but Dent is kidnapped before the operation can begin and Batman has to find him and whoever is responsible. Like the prior episode, it has a bit of a sad ending and it’s one that reinforces who Two-Face is, for better or worse.

batgirl unmasked16 – Shadow of the Bat: Part II

The proper debut of Gotham’s newest vigilante:  Batgirl. Barbara Gordon has been pushed to take matters into her own hands, and since she happens to have a Batman costume on hand, she decides to borrow his gimmick. She’s rather green, but also crafty, and we see her determination shine as she looks to clear her dad’s name and expose a traitor within Gotham’s police force. It’s a spirited debut and one that leaves viewers wanting to see more of Batgirl.

15 – Shadow of the Bat: Part I

Before Barbara could become Batgirl though, she had to be properly motivated. The first part of the two-parter that leads to her transformation is a good little crime noir story. Commissioner Gordon has been wrongfully accused of misdeeds, and Barbara has to sort out who her allies or and who might be her foe. A rally is organized in support of Gordon and Barbara thinks Batman needs to be there, but he’s obviously busy investigating the culprits responsible for Gordon’s arrest. Feeling she has no one to turn to, Barbara decides to take matters into her own hands which sets her on the path we always knew she was destined to tread. Because of Batgirl’s presence in the title card at the episode’s start, viewers knew what this story was leading to, but it’s still thrilling to see Batgirl emerge at the end accompanied with a fun theme all her own.

14 – Mudslide

Clayface was one of the first B-tier villains to be elevated to the big time by this show. His debut was perfect as it was one born of tragedy, though some of which Matt Hagen brought on by himself. His “death” at the end was obviously staged, and his return was inevitable. When he does resurface, it’s as a mud monster who can barely hold his body together adding a new layer of tragedy to his character. He turns to thievery in an attempt to repair his body, and that no-good Batman screws it all up. It’s even frustrating when Batman shuts down the machine feeding some serum into Clayface during the episode’s climax as by then we’re actually rooting for Clayface! He proves self-destructive though, and the battle he chooses to force with Batman in a rain storm is hard to watch because we know how it will end. And while I like Clayface’s return in “Growing Pains,” it does almost ruin his apparent death at the end of this one, but not enough for me to rank it any lower than this.

tumblr_nrrp4yKE3S1ub7n3do1_128013 – The Laughing Fish

Joker’s classic scheme in which the fish in the waters around Gotham have been tainted by Joker poison giving them hideous smiles. It’s all a long con by Joker to make some money by securing a patent on the fish. His reasoning is since they look like him then surely he should profit from every sale of the seemingly harmless Joker fish. His reasoning turns out to be unsound (as usual), so Joker decides to inflict pain and misery on those who wouldn’t go along with the scheme by giving him what he wants. It features probably the best cat and mouse game the show will feature between Batman and Joker and the scene in which Batman appears to get a dose of Joker poison is pretty damn terrifying, especially when you’re 8. The only thing I dislike about the episode is that it tries to make us think Joker is dead in the end and they go for it so hard they don’t even include a plausible way for him to survive, he just will return as if nothing happened in a later episode. It’s cheap, but the episode still rules.

12 – Feat of Clay: Part II

This episode animated by the folks at TMS features easily the most impressive visual moment of the series. It happens at the end, when the newly created Clayface loses control of his shape-shifting powers when surrounded by a bunch of monitors baring his former likeness. And that’s not the only part of the episode that dazzles. Throughout, Clayface takes on some amazing forms with his body as he masters his pliable physique. My personal favorite is when his hand sprouts metal claws which he launches at Batman. Not that it necessarily needed all of these amazing pieces of animation to be a great episode as the story of Clayface was just wonderfully executed leading to the formation of a terrible, yet tragic, monster.

getaway11 – Harley and Ivy

The best pairing of any characters in this show is not Batman and Robin, it’s Harley and Ivy. The two females were paired up in this episode and a legend was seemingly born as their popularity has endured to this day with DC even taking things further by making them lovers. Back when this episode aired, that wasn’t even suggested, but that didn’t mean some horny artists couldn’t have some fun by putting the two in their underwear for parts of the episode. Anyways, Harley and Ivy have natural chemistry as a bit of an odd couple pairing. They’re also shown to be incredibly capable as criminals, undermining the more famous Joker. Speaking of whom, he’s along for the ride as well as Ivy has basically put herself in between he and Harley. His inclusion is not a bad thing, but it says a lot about the ladies that his part wasn’t exactly needed. It’s actually a shame we didn’t see more of these two together in later episodes.

10 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part II

After learning Robin’s origin in the first part of this two-part story, we get to see Robin go on a quest for revenge with flashbacks to his first attempt at such. It’s not as compelling as the first part, but it’s still an engrossing story and it has something to say about the relationship between Batman and Robin. There’s a sweetness there that is actually unexpected. It also is the first time we see the makings of a rift forming between Batman and his ward. And mostly, these rifts seem to form when Batman chooses to keep his motives to himself and shut Robin out. We see his heart is in the right place in the end, but it underscores how maybe a life largely spent chasing bad guys has withered Batman’s social skills.

9 – Feat of Clay: Part I

The creation of Clayface was one of my earliest introductions to this show, if not the first. As a result, it’s possible it’s getting a bit of a nostalgia boost as a result, but I prefer to think this is really one of the finest episodes the show produced. It is confidently slow to bring along Matt Hagen which makes the payoff at the end all the more impactful. It also has the subplot of Bruce Wayne being framed for attempted murder which injects a little extra spice. Roland Daggett is the main villain introduced here and he works very well as a white collar criminal. He’s quite detestable proving you don’t need a flashy gimmick to be a good Batman foil.

harleys back8 – Harley’s Holiday

I love this episode as it features my favorite portrayal of Harley Quinn. In this one, Harley tries to go straight, but a calamity of errors and confusion leads to her reverting back into her alter ego. It’s quite funny, but there’s a touch of sadness added which makes the viewer feel a bit guilty at laughing at her misfortunes. She ends up going on a Smokey and the Bandit styled romp with Veronica Vreeland as her hostage. Throughout it all, Harley actually has Veronica’s best interests in mind even though she’s using her, but obviously she’s not getting away from Batman. Which would make it a bit of a disappointing ending for Harley, but there’s a fun touch added onto the end and a humanizing moment from Batman. We see Batman in the role of bringing the criminally insane to Arkham, and rarely do we get a glimpse of him actually encouraging any of these inmates to properly reform.

7 – Almost Got ‘Im

Another classic. This is the episode where Batman’s most famous rogues are gathered for a game of poker and start telling tales about the time they came closest to putting Batman down. Unbeknownst to them, Batman is among them disguised as Killer Croc, whom he plays as a dim-witted fool. Some of that performance seemed to seep into Croc’s portrayal in later episodes, though he’s never this dumb. The construction of the episode is damn near genius as there are numerous bread crumbs sprinkled throughout. It’s extremely rewarding to watch it multiple times as once you know about the Batman performance you can notice how Batman steers the conversation where he needs it to go in order to find Catwoman, whom Joker has kidnapped. It’s maybe the funniest episode of the show, but it doesn’t sell itself out for a joke. And “I threw a rock at him,” is quite possibly the most memorable line the series ever produced.

6 – Beware the Gray Ghost

This episode is just a real delight as it’s basically a send-up to Adam West whom a generation of kids had grown up with as Batman. Adam really wanted to continue in the role, but he was obviously never going to land the part in Tim Burton’s take on the character. I don’t think he auditioned for this show, but he probably would have welcomed the chance to. This episode though was essentially made for him and it tells a wonderful story about an aging actor who once played a hero on television struggling to find work as a result of being forever linked to that character. And in-universe, that character happened to be a huge influence on Bruce Wayne and his creation of Batman. There’s some twists and turns and some excellent editing and animation along the way. And keep your eyes open for the Bruce Timm and Paul Dini cameo, though they’re hard to miss.

twoface5 – Two-Face: Part I

This show really did tragic villains so well, but I think the best of them all might be Two-Face. Like another rogue still to come on this list, Two-Face’s origin was so well crafted that it made it hard to bring the villain back because it could never be topped. Two-Face would end up fairing pretty well though, but it’s true his genesis was still his best moment. Watching Harvey be pushed to the edge by the mobster Rupert Thorne was truly compelling. The whole time there’s a sense that Batman will arrive and make everything better, and since Harvey had been put in danger before and saved, it seemed possible that his villainous turn would be delayed. At least it would have seemed plausible if not for the episode’s title, but I digress. This one is very dramatic and it deftly handles the drama better than anyone would have expected a cartoon would in 1992. Of course now, it’s practically the norm for the show.

4 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part I

Speaking of drama, it doesn’t get much more dramatic than seeing a kid lose his parents to murder. Robin’s origin story is told and it’s become the story most often associated with Dick Grayson, the former Boy Wonder. A small-time crook looking to run a protection racket sabotages some trapeze equipment causing Dick’s parents to perish in a circus performance. Bruce is there to witness it, and I love how the show chose to show the murder without actually showing it. We just see the silhouette of the performers and then a lone swinging cable as the audience gasps. It cuts to Bruce’s reaction before fading to black. It’s not all sad though, as it’s sweet to see Bruce take Dick in as the two share an unfortunate link in being a witness to the murder of their parents.

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Harley is full-blown crazy during these events as she’ll stop at nothing to win Joker’s affection.

3 – Mad Love

The New Batman Adventures was not as good or as successful as the first two seasons from the Fox years. Despite that though, two of the top 3 episodes are from that final season and I don’t think it’s particularly controversial either that they’re placed this prominently on my ranking. Coming in as the third best episode is “Mad Love,” a look at Harley and Joker’s complicated relationship. This one is both funny and tragic, a trait that has come to define the character of Harley Quinn. Her unhealthy relationship with Joker is detailed from the start and it becomes clear she’s dependent on him, but he is not with her. She’s just another target for his violence and abuse and it can be hard to watch. One of the saddest scenes in the entire show is Harley laying broken in a heap of trash after Joker shoved her out a window blaming herself for making him mad.

2 – Over the Edge

One of the most talked-about episodes of Batman is “Over the Edge.” The violence the network allowed to be shown on air is shocking the first time it’s witnessed and it remains shocking even on repeated viewings. Batgirl, shoved off the roof of a tall building by Scarecrow, crashes onto the hood of a police car occupied by her father, Commissioner Gordon. From there, Gordon makes the discovery that it’s been his daughter under the mask this whole time and he immediately turns his anger on Batman. With the whole city after him, Batman is forced to flee. Nightwing gets embroiled in the controversy and Robin is forced to distance himself from Batman and seek refuge somewhere else as their identities have all been revealed to the public. It’s surreal watching the whole thing unfold and the ride is so captivating that we forgive it for being basically a dream sequence the whole time. Actually, we’re glad to see that it was just a dream as the ending was fixing to be so horrible in resetting the status quo that we’re practically begging for someone to wake up. And after the reveal, it’s able to deliver one more heartfelt scene that was a long time coming.

Heart-of-Ice-Batman1 – Heart of Ice

As if it cold be any other episode. “Heart of Ice” is widely regarded as the show’s best episode, and I’ve felt that way ever since I first saw it back in 92 and I see no reason to change my mind now. It introduced to us a new take on Mr. Freeze, a villain few cared about before this show’s premiere. He was just another gimmick, but in the hands of Paul Dini he became a tragic figure moved to a mission of vengeance after witnessing the death of his wife at the hands of some rich prick by the name of Ferris Boyle. With his body forever altered and now requiring a sub-zero environment to thrive, Mr. Freeze sees no reason to live outside of revenge. Nothing can ever possibly move him to feel happy again and I’m genuinely curious what would have become of the villain had he simply succeeded. Of course, Batman is there to save the jerk responsible for the death of Nora Fries, but Boyle at least gets his comeuppance as well, just not in the manner Freeze would have chosen. Would Mr. Freeze have simply slunk off to the arctic like he eventually does with his mission accomplished, or maybe he would have just removed his suit and let nature take its course? As curious as I am about that, it’s hard for me to think it would have made for a better ending than what we got: a downtrodden Freeze looking longingly at an effigy of his wife in his jail cell surrounded by snow longing to touch her warm hand one more time.


The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior #8

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The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior #8 July 1984

There’s been a hole in my Danzig collection for quite some time. It was a hole that was easy to fill and actually quite cheap considering most Danzig records fetch well over $100 these days, but an important piece was missing. And that piece is not what one would necessarily expect, but I would assume most Danzig fans have this item in their collection, and that item is a copy of Marvel’s Crystar Crystal Warrior.

The eighth issue is the lone issue any Danzig fan likely cares about. No, Glenn Danzig did not write this particular comic like he would many under his own Verotik banner, nor did he illustrate it. He actually had no involvement with it what-so-ever. It seems unlikely this particular comic would hold much appeal for what Glenn Danzig seems to enjoy in a comic, though there are some demons present. There was one piece of artwork associated with this issue though that he seemed to like, and it’s staring anyone who picks this issue up right in the face.

danzig logoYes, that green demonic skull at the base of the cover should look familiar to anyone who is a fan of either Danzig or Samhain. Put that image in white and it’s what most recognize as the logo for those respective bands. That particular skull was present on the cover of Samhain’s debut LP Initium, which debuted a mere month or two after this issue, and it really came to life on the third LP, November-Coming-Fire. It was split in half in 1988 when the first Danzig record debuted so that half of it could occupy the record’s cover and the other half the back. Since then, it’s been featured on numerous t-shirts, posters, and promotional fliers. Interestingly, the image never again appeared so brazenly on the cover of another Danzig record. A waxy, red, version does appear on the cover of Danzig 7 and it was on the more recent covers record as well, albeit as a sticker on the cellophane.

Perhaps this isn’t particularly surprising since much of The Misfits was lifted from another source. The Misfits Fiend is simply The Crimson Ghost, a mostly forgotten film serial. The font the band often used was lifted from Famous Monsters of Filmland and many of the songs are basically ripped from horror comics or films. Lifting this image from a current Marvel publication was a bit more bold on the part of Danzig. It was from a failing comic and toyline, but it was current. And with how much financial problems Marvel would run into not long after, it’s actually pretty amazing there was never a lawsuit (that we know of). The creator of the image, artist Michael Golden, has never received recognition (or money) from the band or any of Danzig’s labels over the years for his contribution. Since the image was made for Marvel, it’s likely Marvel retained sole ownership of it and Golden may have had little to fallback on in terms of legal options. He has somewhat needled the band at conventions by selling t-shirts of the skull with the name Golden replacing Danzig. Numerous fans who have met him have had him sign their copy of the first Danzig LP so if he’s angry about the whole thing he doesn’t seem interested in directing it at fans of the band.

golden skull

Turn-about is fair play.

As for Marvel, it’s surprising the publisher has never gone after Danzig for some of that t-shirt money. By now more than 35 years later, the publisher probably forfeited any claim it could make at this point. Crystar is a long forgotten brand no longer associated with Marvel. I suppose they could republish the works in a trade as a way to strengthen a case, but is it really worth the trouble? It might be hard to even prove how much money the logo has made for Danzig making it hard to settle on a number. And it would be hard to prove damages at this late stage too. Back in 89 when Danzig was selling a shirt featuring the famed skull strangling Jesus would have been the right moment to claim such damages were being felt by the association of the two brands, but again, such claims don’t hold much weight over 30 years later.

Perhaps you are wondering at this point just what is Crystar Crystal Warrior? It seems important to note that the cover features that as a title, but the series is more commonly known as The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior. The comic was apparently created by Marvel in response to Masters of the Universe. Marvel partnered with Remco, mostly known in the 80s for its WWF figures, to create a toyline with a companion comic, much like Mattel had done with He-Man. He-Man though was a success and scored an animated series while Crystar floundered for 11 issues and did not receive more than one line of action figures.

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Not all that hard to see why this thing failed.

The Saga of Crystar tells the story of Crystar, The Crystal Warrior, who is the leader of the Forces of Order. They are opposed by The Forces of Chaos (it practically writes itself) who are led by Moltar, the leader of the lava men that comprise The Forces of Chaos and brother to Crystar himself. Not many credits seem to have retained regarding the creation of the series, perhaps because few actually wanted to be associated with such a cynical cash grab. This particular issue, titled Anniversary, was written b Jo Duffy with pencils by Ricardo Villamonte. Dave Simons handled the inking, Janice Chiang lettering, Andy Yanchus coloring, with Ralph Macchio as editor alongside editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. And of course, Michael Golden handled the cover.

Issue 8 basically occurs right in the thick of everything. It’s almost entirely a flashback to events that preceded the start of the series. Crystar and his people apparently were flesh and blood at one point, though he was peculiarly always named Crystar. They apparently became crystal to defeat the Forces of Chaos, who were able to enlist Crystar’s brother and turn him into a lava man. My guess is Moltar had affection for Crystar’s fiancé or something to help cause the rift.

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I was expecting something pretty terrible, but this is actually fine. Artwork is good, story is more developed than expected, though also not terribly interesting.

The issue begins with Crystar and his people seeking to forge an alliance with another faction. He’s a bit solemn though and his people wonder what’s up, prompting Crystar to tell a story about why today is so special. Apparently long ago, he and his brother were taking a break from war to visit their uncle who was hosting a party of sorts. When a sea monster threatens the coastal lands, the brothers head out to stop it. Finding it too difficult, they return to the village and regroup. A woman by the name of Ranilla has studied some scroll with a solution for their problem. She was recently wed to one of Crystar’s current (and future) allies, Koth, and they have a little chat that foreshadows Koth’s death.

It’s a fake-out! The men return to battle the sea monster armed with the knowledge that dislodging a crystal in its chest should kill it. A creepy wizard guy has been spying on them though, and he commands the demons of chaos to attack. It’s a chaotic scene, but during it Ranilla is killed instead of Koth. One of Crystar and his brother’s allies, Hyeth, comes to their rescue and takes out the monster when Crystar fails. He too dies when a straggler spears him from behind, and the issue ends with Moltar in the current day explaining to some of his minions that on this day he refuses to take up arms against his brother in memory of Hyeth’s heroic sacrifice.

It’s all very maudlin and actually quite slow. I was not prepared to read a story about hunky men wearing little more than bathing suits waxing poetic about unrequited love. The artwork is fine and the characters bare more than a striking resemblance to that of the more famous Atlanteans from Marvel. Crystar is definitely designed to resemble He-Man as the two basically have the same haircut and it’s even more apparent when he’s depicted as a human. If I were to compare the two, this property was definitely not as shallow as Masters of the Universe, but it also lacks the fun personalities found there. Apparently the series did cross-over into the broader Marvel Universe with Dr. Strange and even Nightcrawler making appearances, but it’s pretty crazy to imagine this occupying the same space as Marvel’s more famous titles. I suppose if you’re one of the few fans of Crystar still around, start petitioning Disney to include him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

michael golden

Michael Golden

As for the character’s legacy, it’s basically just as the origin of the Danzig skull. Some toy and hobby enthusiasts likely remember the toys, but they were fairly unremarkable, though they did feature dragons which is always cool in my book. For me, this is a long-sought piece for my Danzig collection that I kept putting off for no particular reason. I think I always wanted to just run into it in a comic shop for ten cents or something, but nothing can really hide in this day and age. Virtually every eBay auction mentions Danzig in the title so it’s no longer a well kept secret. It is a cool-looking skull though, so for whatever it’s worth, thanks Michael Golden!

 


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 4

stonechairWelcome back for the fourth installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 39 through 20. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS. The episodes are already quite hard to separate from one another at this point, with only a true handful of episodes clearly establishing themselves as worthy of being in the top 10. These episodes are all pretty great, and hopefully it’s merely a matter of preference for what type of story viewers prefer or favorite villains that causes these to move up and down. Now, for entry number 39:

catwomans affection39 – You Scratch My Back

This was a logical plot to explore when the dynamics between Batman and the crime fighter formerly known as Robin, now known as Nightwing, changed. Catwoman, always the opportunist, uses her unique charms to basically seduce Nightwing causing friction between he and Batman as well as Batgirl. The soapish plot ends up having a nice payoff allowing it to overcome its otherwise lackluster villain of the day. Catwoman, post redesign looks rather lame, but her personality is a perfect fit. If only we could have had more of this character in the first two seasons.

38 – Sins of the Father

Dick Grayson got an origin story, so I suppose his successor deserved one as well. Tim Drake enters Batman’s life in what is essentially real-time in relation to the rest of the series as opposed to a flashback. This makes him a true Boy Wonder as opposed to an adult one, and while his tale isn’t as gut-wrenching as Dick’s, it’s still appropriately tragic. It also incorporates Two-Face which feels like a nod to the film Batman Forever.

hex vs duvall37 – Showdown

I didn’t care for this episode as a kid because of its lack of Batman, but as an adult I find it to be a great deal of fun and a nice change of pace. It’s somewhat quietly the best Ra’s al Ghul episode as it’s partially an origin tale for him, but mostly it feels like a backdoor pilot for Jonah Hex. Hex is a stereotypical gruff old cowboy, but the portrayal works. And I like that he’s one and done, and his tale also has a nice payoff in the present timeline leading to a very interesting conclusion.

36 – The Demon’s Quest: Part I

“Showdown” is arguably the best Ra’s al Ghul episode, but I just barely place this one above it. “The Demon’s Quest” is Ra’s al Ghul at his best:  mysterious, manipulative, conceited, obtuse, uncompromising, and pretty much insane. This is the episode we learn how Ra’s views himself and the world. He has all of the answers and deals in absolutes. Sometimes, to build a better world you need to start over. Batman, of course, does not share this world view, but he’s forced to go along for the ride as both Robin and Talia have been kidnapped. Adding a nice through-line to the episode is the little game between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard, Ubu, which has a satisfying conclusion.

not good35 – Blind as a Bat

Can Batman perform blind as a bat, as the saying goes? It’s a simple premise, but an effective one. Bruce Wayne is injured when Penguin swipes a fancy helicopter being put on display by Wayne Tech leaving him temporarily blind. Not one to sit on the sidelines while a villain is on the prowl, Batman enlists the help of Leslie Thompkins to create a new helmet that allows him to see, and also has the added benefit of giving him glowing red eyes. The helmet doesn’t last very long, forcing Batman to go it alone without the aid of arguably his most important sense as a crime fighter. I’m not sure if the fact that he comes out alive says more about the prowess of Batman or the ineptitude of Penguin.

34 – I Am the Night

This one feels like a bookend to “Appointment in Crime Alley.” Batman deals with something he rarely has to:  failure. This time, his fatigue, both mental and physical, causes him to be late to a bust. His late arrival seems to have little impact, but it only further weighs him down later when Commissioner Jim Gordon is shot by the Jazzman. Batman mostly receives support from Leslie, Barbara, and Alfred, but Bullock lays into him when he goes by the hospital to see Gordon. Batman basically enters into a depression. He’ll bounce back, but it’s quite an emotional ride getting there as Batman ponders his worth and important questions like “Am I even making a difference?” It’s the most human the character will ever be portrayed.

HeartofSteel133 – Heart of Steel: Part I

The Blade Runner inspired “Heart of Steel” introduces the super computer H.A.R.D.A.C. which was created to construct robots with sophisticated artificial intelligence, but it soon goes rogue. The A.I. in the robots is too good making them able to blend in seamlessly with humanity. This causes problems when they start committing crimes, and both Bruce Wayne and Batman get pulled into it. It’s very compelling and for some reason the robots were really chilling to me as a kid, so I suppose it’s stuck with me partly for that reason.

32 – The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

Hugo Strange has invented a machine capable of extracting sensitive information from his patients under the guise of being beneficial for mental health. He ends up biting off more than he can chew when his machine is used on Bruce Wayne revealing his big secret. Strange immediately goes to Gotham’s most famous rogues:  Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face seeking to profit from the information. It doesn’t go well for him, and Bruce’s solution to his problem is pretty clever, even if it takes advantage of the medium perhaps too well.

new scarecrow31 – Never Fear

Scarecrow’s redesign in The New Batman Adventures was the most memorable. He went from pretty creepy looking to downright scary. This new persona really helps drive this episode as he’s created a new toxin that actually takes away fear, leaving his victims completely reckless. Batman gets a taste of it once again and basically loses his mind, putting him at odds with Robin. He’s a full on maniac in this one, and it’s kind of uncomfortable to watch. All turns out well in the end, but it’s hard to shake that side of Batman that was revealed here.

30 – Riddler’s Reform

Riddler has returned once again, only this time he’s reformed. Batman is skeptical, though he has no reason to be aside from a gut feeling. He’s a bit of a jerk as a result, but as usual he’s proven right when it turns out the Riddler is up to his old tricks once again. Before that is revealed though it’s actually pretty amusing seeing Riddler have fun at Batman’s expense when he has the support of the people of Gotham. It also has one of Riddler’s best traps, and Batman’s ability to escape it is what ends up driving him mad in the end.

dead eyed stare29 – His Silicon Soul

This episode is just plain cool. H.A.R.D.A.C. is gone, but before it was destroyed by Barbara and Batman it created one final robot:  a Batman robot. Armed with the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is Batman, it was able to create a perfect copy, but this isn’t revealed right away. We first see the robot burst into action in stopping a robbery, and then we get to feel the same sense of shock as the machine does when it sustains damage revealing the circuitry within. The robot thinks it’s human, making for a really compelling case study. Can Batman destroy that which is sentient? It’s just a wonderfully composed episode.

28 – If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

Riddler’s debut took awhile to arrive, but it was worth the wait. This episode is really interesting because Riddler is the bad guy, but the guy he’s menacing is worse. And that guy is his old boss, a real piece of work who loves to work people to death and steal their ideas for his financial gain. It’s actually really topical in this day and age. And I like that in the end, Batman and Robin save him, but he doesn’t have a happy ending. And Riddler even gets away! I guess it actually is a happy ending, after all.

old chums

27 – Legends of the Dark Knight

This show did not do anthology episodes too often, but when it did they were quite good. This one has a group of kids basically telling tall tales about Batman. The fun aspect of the episode is that we get to see the show tackle a take on the 1960s Batman and Robin as well as an adaptation of the seminal The Dark Knight Returns. Maybe it’s a bit more style over substance, but I was a sucker for the nostalgia inherent and even the way it brought the real Batman into their orbit was pretty satisfying.

26 – Perchance to Dream

This is a bit of a gimmick episode, but it’s done extremely well. Batman is caught in a trap by The Mad Hatter, but it’s not blatant at the episode’s onset. Bruce appears to wake from a nightmare, but he awakens in a world in which he is not Batman. He remembers being Batman, but no one else does. He’s engaged to Selena Kyle and his parents are still alive. And perhaps weirdest of all, Batman is real, he’s just not Bruce. He doesn’t know if he’s delusional, insane, or if something else is going on here. It’s obviously the latter, but the episode does a good job of planting the seed in your head that maybe this is the way things are meant to be. A real fun one.

goodbye annie25 – Growing Pains

Clayface might have the best average episode score of any villain in this show. He manages to return in The New Batman Adventures without really missing a beat (I don’t count that weird appearance in “Holiday Knights”). He’s somehow gained the ability to create sentient clay people from his own body, and one such creation takes the form of a little girl who comes in contact with Robin. She doesn’t know much about her existence, only that she needs to get away from Clayface. For us, that reveal doesn’t come until the final act and much of the episode is just Robin trying to lead this girl away from apparent danger. It’s thrilling, and the revelation ends up being heart-breaking in the end. One of the best endings to any episode in the final season.

24 – Pretty Poison

Poison Ivy makes a splashy debut alongside Harvey Dent, who she’s dating in this one. She’s an eco-terrorist, and she uses her charm to get close to Harvey and poison him with her deadly kiss. When Dent lands in the hospital, Batman has to solve the mystery of what happened to his friend and he winds up at Ivy’s doorstep. This is Poison Ivy in her best role as a femme fatale. I think she has at least one better stand-alone episode to herself, but I wouldn’t blame you if you felt this was her finest moment.

mask off

23 – Old Wounds

When The New Batman Adventures arrived and it was revealed that Dick Grayson had gone off on his own as Nightwing, viewers instantly wanted to know, “Why?” “Old Wounds” is the answer to that question as it’s largely a flashback told by Dick to Tim while out on the town. It’s a rather well-constructed story and we really saw the genesis for this break-up in past episodes when Batman’s stubborn approach to certain issues rubbed Dick the wrong way. It was a split that needed to happen, and I’m glad the show dedicated an entire episode to it.

22 – Harlequinade

When Joker gets his hands on an atomic bomb, Batman is forced to resort to desperate measures to find the clown and disarm him. As a result, he’s forced to turn to Harley Quinn for assistance as she travels alongside Batman and Robin as they track down Joker. It makes for a wonderful blend of action and comedy as Harley is just a true screen magnet. She is so charismatic, which is why she receives a lot of attention in season two of the show. This ended up being a sign of things to come as Harley would have an even better solo outing not long after.

21 – Trial

Batman finds himself once again imprisoned in Arkham, only this time the inmates are literally running the asylum. His only ally is the new Gotham District Attorney, Janet Van Dorn, who had previously sworn an oath to Gotham that she would be the one to bring Batman to justice blaming him for the creation of these so-called super villains. A bunch of rogues are brought together for a kangaroo court style trial that Batman and Van Dorn improbably win, but Joker, the presiding judge, still decides to kill him anyway! It’s a wacky episode, but it doesn’t sell-out its villains by having them all lumped together with Batman emerging triumphant.

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne20 – The Man Who Killed Batman

What an interesting title. Very few cartoons are allowed to use a form of the word “Kill,” let alone in an episode title prominently splashed on a title card. This one tells the story of Sid the Squid, a nobody looking to become a big shot in crime. Through a comedic series of events during an encounter with Batman, Sid ends up “killing” Batman. He’s obviously not dead, but the episode tries to convince you he is as Sid ends up attracting all kinds of attention thanks to being known as the one who finally defeated Batman. Some thugs challenge him, while Joker actually seeks to murder him because by killing Batman he’s ruined Joker’s fun. The funeral Joker holds for Batman is probably the funniest scene in the entire show’s run and one of its most memorable.


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