Identity Stunt #4

 

Writer: Joe R. Khachadourian

Artist: J, Briscoe Allison (artwork), Juancho Velez (colors) A. J. Scherkenbach (Lettering)

Publisher: Markosia Enterprises (December 2018)

 

Here comes the final act of the film.

Flip your collars up, push up your sleeves and tighten the straps on your cut-off gloves.

If you’ve got a toothpick or a match-stick in your mouth, bite down hard on it.

Adjust your aviators or your ray bans and check your clips.

It’s GO time!

If you’ve just hit the play button on your VCR after a long pause, the shit has hit the fan.

Sami Nasser is knee deep in crazed acolytes. His lady love, Tracy, has joined the dearly departed, and his daughter Alyssa is in the menacing clutches of Dominus Smith as he stands at the cusp of seeing his plans come to fruition. Sami has back up though, Beatdown and Knuckleball are right in the mix. Making this issue an all-in brawl as well as a race against the clock.

Will Sami save his daughter in time? Will Beatdown stop Dominus for good? Isn’t Sami Beatdown? Did dominus lie to us all? Will Knuckleball get his own spin-off?!?!

If you want answers to the big questions in this review, look elsewhere. Spoilers are evil, and Sami Nasser said to always punch evil in the face.

If you want nitpicking and criticism exit stage left as well. No series is flawless. But if you’re not down with the action-packed fun and insanity by now you need to wake up, go back to the start, and read it again. Hell, grab it in trade form while you’re there. This series is a rare thing. An easy read with depth and punches in equal measure. It wears its tropes and influences on its sleeve and charms you into strapping in for the ride.

Joe Khachadourian shows, from the first page, that he’s a writer who can consistently deliver character and dialogue with honesty and authenticity. He can also deliver on some sharp twists and turns and has maintained mastery of pace throughout this series.

Beatdowns hard-boiled dialogue really would make Frank Miller’s god damned All-Star Batman smile.

Briscoe Allison needs to do a team book next. He needs to be on all the books from now on. Making all the money to boot. I was impressed early by his Maduereira-like style and his detailed eye (honestly there are so many Easter-eggs to watch out for in this book), but this issue also makes a strong case for his gift for panel layouts and sequential story-telling powers.

The movie literacy of this series has been one of my favorite things. There are A-team references and Butch and Sundance lines to spare in this issue. But their use in a story set in Hollywood’s stuntman scene, in a series that is an impressive entry into the buddy/action genre, are deployed with brains and precision.

Yes, there are clichés running rampant in Identity Stunt. But clichés become endearing and stand the test of time for a reason. The creative teams employ of the clichés in this issue show that they understand that.

But there’s also originality born from exploring these clichés. Knuckleball both encapsulates and benefits from this particularly. When they make a movie of Knuckleball, my favorite asshole in a uniform, the tagline must be “oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me…”

The ending is tight enough while still leaving a few loose threads for the sequel.

Everyone knows these types of films are made to have sequels.

Lethal Weapon. 48 hours. Rush Hour. Even Bad Boys. All the best ones should have sequels.

Catch your breath boys.

Cauterize your wounds and hit us with Identity Stunt 2: Stunt Harder, soon!

 

Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories

Authors: Scott Snyder, Sam Weller, Jennifer Weiner, and others

Publisher:  Free Press, 2008

ISBN Number: 1416566449

At a time when superheroes are at the forefront of popular culture, dominating the box office and littering every channel on television. A time when the daily news is a constant stream of growing social awareness, political freak shows, looming terrorist threats, and rising global injustice. Comes Who Can Save Us Now? a book that toys with the pure and idealistic concepts of how heroes are perceived in modern society. Testing each virtue (and vice) to see if they can exist in our complex world.

This enticing premise is where the book succeeds and fails. Each of the 22 short stories are written in a post-war (or post golden age era for comic readers) world, but the broad time setting is a deterrence, creating an uneven reading experience. The other major flaw the book suffers from is the disparate length from story to story. There are some strong ideas that have their potential for greatness dashed by the main villain of the work: space to develop. Of course, there are some stories overcooked by heat vision that would benefit from a shorter page count

Across the board, the uniting strength in these stories are the vivid use of setting and the excellent display of the writer’s super-powered dialogue, most of these writers come from working in comic books or have a deep affinity for the scripted medium and it really shows with realistic exchanges that ring true for any lover of the four-colored literature.

The most endearing stories are the ones that play cleverly with simple comic book lore and archetypes, making for a great story with a cynical, modern take. Stephanie Harrells Lois Lane/Superman deconstruction of ‘Girl Reporter’. The ever-present nods to comic book fan knowledge in Noria Jablonskis ‘The Snipper’. The magazine expose-style take on a Batman-like figure in ‘My Interview with the Avenger’ by Tom Bissell.

Other standouts of the work play closer to real-world scenarios and tone down the fantasy and wonder. Such as ‘The Lives of Ordinary Superheroes’by David Haynes, an almost chamber piece story that reminisces over the erosion of modern values and serves as a fitting final story to the book. Or the Sean Dolittle penned, action-packed, gritty blue-collar ‘Mr. Big Deal’.

The book is written with a lot of love for a genre that has existed long before it became a marketable, blockbuster machine for moviegoers. It speaks to the diversity in theme and subject of comic books. Most of these tales echo the emotional experience the writer has derived from their reading experience. Under the cape and cowl of the stories are somber, deep emotional tales of living with dissatisfaction, without purpose, identity, or hope. Make no mistake, there are plenty of laughs as well. A mix of comedy and tragedy that slightly favors the latter. When it’s at its best, the book will serve to remind the reader of the values of imagination and inherent good. That behind the trials and tribulations life throws, there is potentially a hero in all of us, waiting to save the day.

Preacher: The Story of You-Know-Who

Author: Garth Ennis

Artist: Richard Case (pencil and inks), Matt Hollingsworth (colours)

Publisher: DC/Vertigo (1996)

ISBN Number: 2843990572

 Garth Ennis’ Preacher series is a look at values, morality, love, and meaning in a modern world. The titular character embarks on a literal quest for God and encounters all manner of characters who embody our times. Ennis’ tells the story of one of those characters Arseface, downtrodden Eugene Root, while exploring coming-of-age themes of teenage isolation, domestic abuse, suicide, and pop-culture obsession.

Eugene’s story, appropriately, is an ugly one. He has been psychologically and physically tormented by his small-town sheriff father. His mother lives in bottles of vodka and jars of prescription pills. At school Eugene is despised by his peers and ridiculed by the teachers, a victim of daily bullying. His only ‘friend’ is Pube, a grunge infatuated teenage slacker who constantly puts Eugene down. Every attempt at social interaction is met with either neglect or ignorance by everyone. Every attempt to make a stand and assert some control over his own life falls flat. After a constant cycle of humiliation, abuse, and depression that culminates with the news of Kurt Cobain’s death, Eugene and Pube make a suicide pact, no longer able to endure their torturous existence. Only Eugene survives and re-emerges into the world, disgustingly disfigured but with a new-found optimism on life, as Arseface.

If you can get past the over-the-top use of profanity that is a hallmark of Ennis’ style, this work is both heartfelt and heart-breaking. Ennis writes Eugene’s troubles with such earnestness that you feel every kick in the gut. You can smell, taste, and hear the authenticity in the words and in the art. The art is awkward, nervous, skittish, and dark. It perfectly captures the emotional state of the characters. The colours, even in the few scenes of hope, are bleak and grimy, there’s nothing Hollywood about the world we’re in or the themes that it wallows in. The only time this atmosphere gives way to clarity is when we zoom in on the perfectly placed, emotional expressions and reactions to the events (or non-events) of Eugene’s life.

Pop-Culture permeates every panel of the book. From the musical, generation-spanning chapter headings (a musical tour bus through teen rebellion from the Beatles’ ‘a day in the life’ to Bowie’s ‘rebel, rebel’ to The Moody Blues ‘new horizons’ before finally ending at Nirvana.), to the opening and closing riffs on Forrest Gump. This book places the reader, with all their post-pubescent angst, as close to their own lives as possible. It makes sure things hit home, like a baseball bat to the ribs.

Despite the writer’s penchant for black humor, satire, and the grotesque, teenage depression and suicide and the silent sufferings that lead to it are treated respectfully and lead to some powerful proclamations. Characters rally against expectation and pressures of their miserable lives, constantly getting back up off the floor to keep searching for hope and a better tomorrow. There’s a strong message in here to think about the consequences of your actions.

The real gift of this book though is its inversion of the ugliness that lives inside everyone and that it takes something special to overcome, and sometimes that something special is a fella with a face like you-know-who.

If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the issues mentioned in this review, please speak to someone. There is hope and help available at services like Lifeline (13 11 14) or Kids Helpline (https://kidshelpline.com.au/teens/ or 1800 55 1800) is Australia’s only free, private, and confidential, phone counseling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25

Watchmen

Watchmen was never going to be an easy project for the person who was brave enough to finally adapt it to the screen. For years it had been tackled by director after director, each time ultimately shelved. How would you adapt the bible, in all its entirety, and succeed? It’s impossible. How then would you adapt what is revered as the greatest piece of graphic fiction ever published? The Citizen Kane of comics? Something so glued to its medium that no one would have faulted the notion it could never be done at all.

A story that is essentially a murder mystery while also serving as social commentary. A deconstruction of the super-hero genre. A parable of the human condition. Not just what it is to be a super-human. But what it is to be simply human.

How would you adapt the story of a team of superheroes who were shut down by a government act? Decommissioned by the country and the laws they served. Who shed retirement to reveal the truth behind the death of one of their own and to save a world that doesn’t want to be saved along the way?

Zack Snyder gave it his best shot.

Zack Snyder cast this movie almost perfectly. From the principal cast, it’s too hard to pick a stand out between them. Billy Crudup’s tragically human portrayal of an omnipotent being who has lost his faith in humanity and his actual humanity along with it. Patrick Wilson as the idealist crime-fighter whose life is an empty shell, without a sense of self or purpose. Jackie Earle Haley’s unhinged vigilante who may be the only sane person in a world gone insane. Even Matthew Goode who seems unconvincing as the world’s smartest man, the perennial overachiever, peels back that layer to reveal his removal from a realistic portrayal is necessary for a character who is ten steps ahead of the rest of the film.

Zack Snyder picked the perfect soundtrack to carry this film through time. From the ingenious opening credits that move thematically to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changing” to the hollow echo of “The Sounds of Silence” to “All Along the Watchtower”. This soundtrack is on the cutting edge of relevance. Think of the great compilation soundtracks at the forefront of movies that are identified by them. From Easy Rider to Saturday Night Fever, to Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction to Trainspotting. This soundtrack belongs rightfully among them.

Zack Snyder captured the look and feel of the comic perfectly. He gets the balance right with the costume design. That perfect point in between ridiculous and realistic. Functional and silly. He gets the tones and colours spot on, grim when it needs to be, bright when it has to be. Initially, you’ll think this is a dark film, and you can’t argue, given the subject matter, it is. But the colours, the costumes, the settings of this film are all perfectly placed. Even the black and white in this movie has a visual flair.

So why hasn’t Zack Snyder made a perfect film?

Was it written too “in its time”, that the cultural events that lay the framework for the plot points have been done to death?

Was it not what an audience, that is ever growing attached to its big screen comic book movie adaptations, want from its comic book films?

Is it too smart for its own good? Is the subject matter too dense? Are there too many stories happening at once?

Surely it isn’t the one glaring difference that Zack Snyder made in the story from book to film… That change was a necessary one.

Why didn’t Watchmen succeed when there is so much to enjoy and appreciate in this film?

It all goes back to the question of how do you do it?

How do you adapt watchmen for the screen?

The answer’s simple.

You’re not supposed to.

You don’t.

Daredevil Season 2

In this season Matt, Foggy, and Karen cross paths with Hell’s Kitchen’s newest vigilante, the Punisher. Daredevil is ripped apart at the seams by his double life. An important figure from Matt’s past, Elektra battles against the mysterious ninja cult called The Hand, and Hell’s Kitchen become divided over what a hero is and what kind of hero it needs.

Season two draws its influence from a rich comic book history, taking aspects of ‘The Man without Fear’ series and ‘The Devil in Cell Block D’ storyline, as well as Garth Ennis’ Punisher tale “Kitchen Irish”.

After an incredible season one, Daredevil season two improves on everything that was great about the first thirteen episodes.

If you liked the fleshed-out characters of season one, this season will not let you down. The writing delves even deeper into Matt’s turmoil of doing what’s right without going too far. The disregard for his own self and the sacrifices he makes as Matt Murdock so that he can protect the city he loves as Daredevil is a fascinating downward spiral that will knock the wind out of you and never let you get up.

The introduction of the Punisher, who antagonizes Daredevil as something that will never ultimately fix Hell’s Kitchen, is intriguing enough to make you question your own ethics. But his portrayal by Jon Bernthal as a man over the edge and the remarkable way this character is presented, as one man’s operatic tragedy of violence, is explosive.

The creators of this show have taken a one-dimensional, one-note character from the comic books and added dimension, depth and heartbreak to breathe something new into Frank Castle. He becomes a violent force of nature over the course of the series: you fear him, you despise him, you empathize with him, and you eventually cheer him on before realizing that you still fear him.

Speaking of characters you cheer on, the growth of Foggy Nelson in this season could be its own show. You’d tune in to see his legal exploits and loveable hopeless good guy personality week in week out if this is all the show was.

The same can be said for Karen Page. If you want a show about a strong female character that doesn’t bend to conventions, forget Jessica Jones. You won’t need that. Karen went from damsel in distress to strong female lead in season one. In season two she builds immensely on that and is one of the truest and well-crafted characters on TV today. The writers have given her agency that is rare in any genre.

Unfortunately, the show’s intended ass-kicking female, Elektra, isn’t as well crafted. Her flashback story with Matt provides the viewer with an adrenaline rush of on-screen romance and sexually charged tangoing. But as a vigilante, she is the least fully realized character and doesn’t work as well as the other parts of the show. Even this, though, isn’t a major complaint, just something to develop in the inevitable season three.

The handling of violence in this show has to be mentioned. If the hallway scene in season one was what you’re looking for more of, you will be pleased. There are at least three set pieces like it in this season that exceed the bar set by season one. The fights are innovative, to say the least.

And while this is gruesome and bloody, it’s all in aid of the realism, it’s not gratuitous. It’s well choreographed, well shot and every bit as balanced and entertaining visually as the show is well written and acted. You will watch season two of Daredevil, experience every high and low and feel like you have come out of a great legal drama, Kung-Fu flick, revenge tale, romance, or human drama. You’ll feel like you’ve just stepped out of a great movie that gave you exactly what you asked for and then some.

You’ll forget that it’s television.