Comic Review: Otis Stein

Recently, I was sent a review copy of Matthew “Skinny” Vealey’s indie horror comic, Otis Stein.

Otis, a strapping young redneck, is the husband of Mary, a reformed cultist. Their daughter tragically died of cancer, and her medical expenses have left them ruined.

They’re about to be foreclosed on, Otis blows himself up in a moonshining accident, and Mary’s old “associates” come looking for her!

Mary’s attempt to use her occult arts to resurrect her husband is interrupted as the cultists close in. The cultists have their own designs on Otis to use him as a host for dark supernatural powers! Will the evil forces hold sway or will love triumph?

Otis Stein is a book that I appreciated more on subsequent reads. At first, it seems rather rough and simple, but there’s actually some nice depth and nuance that you’ll catch reading it more than once. The art is ugly, but in a way that is suited for the genre and story; “grotesque” may be a more accurate term. It gives the book a throwback vibe to some of the more obscure black & white indies of the 80s. The art does what it needs to for the story, and it does it well enough.

The pacing of the book is a steady launch ramp, starting with a slow burn setup, but never really wasting time getting where it’s going. The turns from mundane to macabre to monstrous in the three acts of the book are nicely done and reminiscent of Swamp Thing’s origin in House of Secrets [though much more grisly]. Much of the last section of the book is pure grisly action-horror, where the art style really has a chance to shine.

To be honest, at first I wasn’t impressed by Otis Stein, but I think I just didn’t know what to expect and failed to appreciate it on its own terms. I think it’s easy to read a single issue comic and not really appreciate it on the first read and then toss it aside and forget about it. But with Otis Stein, the more I come back to it, the more I find that I really do like it and the more it grows in my esteem.

If you enjoy horror comics or gore comics or even romance comics, you might consider picking this one up.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/SkinnysComics

Also, if you haven’t already, there’s still time to back The Cosmic Courtship on Kickstarter!

What Was Missing From DCEU? Dinosaurs!

When it first came out, the Suicide Squad movie was universally critically panned. DC fans, however, lapped it up and supported it, if for no other reason than to ‘own’ the critics. The problem, however, was that Suicide Squad just wasn’t very good.

Suicide Squad, for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on, felt like an inferior sequel to a movie that was never made. It ran an ‘enemy within’ storyline for a cape-team with no buildup, and Task Force X was just a shaggy dog in the DCEU.

Suicide Squad was where Warner Brothers first really tried to open the DC film franchise into a universe with the breadth of the MCU. Despite fan support, it failed miserably to liven up an already stalling cinematic universe, and I think I know why. Never mind that the rest of the DC movies range from mediocre set pieces that borrow the emotional gravitas of the Nolan films via the Zimmerman scores to just plain trash. No, the real reason was there were no dinosaurs!

The first Suicide Squad move should have been about Rick Flag fighting dinosaurs and kaiju during the Cold War.

BRAVE & BOLD 38 VG SUICIDE SQUAD November 1961

The DCEU lacked a Captain America–everybody, even Superman, was super grim and super serious. Captain America: The First Avenger was a lynchpin film for the first wave of Marvel movies–it captured an idealistic soldier bravely fighting against unadulterated and unquestionable evil, and allowed Cap to be sort of a moral core of the Avengers.

In Suicide Squad, Rick Flag is tossed into a group of villains who create more problems than they solve and really is just kind of there while his girlfriend goes crazy and becomes the big bad of the movie.

Instead, imagine, if you will, a movie that starts in America’s heyday, where a War Hero, his beautiful not-girlfriend, and two pointdexters protect the earth from the kaiju menace in an age before supermen [yes, there were supermen back then, but not in the DCEU].

People were still into kaiju cuz they still liked Pacific Rim, the Jurassic Park franchise was making a comeback, and Americans are [or were] always up for some jingoism. So, before everything goes to hell after the death of Superman and gets even worse with Waller in charge, brave normal men stood between America and the deadly dino menace! It could’ve made for a real blockbuster that could have saved the DCEU and given it somewhere to go.

[Nah, it would never work.]

Anyway, I recently picked up the Silver Age Suicide Squad omnibus for a song at Ollie’s. I’d read one of the stories before in one of the 70s Brave and Bold digests that Mike Barr edited, but this is the first time I’ve read all of the original run of Suicide Squad.

I’ll admit, I don’t like the Star Spangled War Stories Suicide Squad as much as Brave and the Bold. In War Stories, Suicide Squad became a catch-all for ‘soldiers fighting dinosaurs.’ B&B SS didn’t JUST fight dinosaurs, and when they did, the stories relied more on classic sci-fi monster movie stuff than just WWII + dinosaurs.

Anyway, I think that Warner Bros. missed a huge opportunity to cash in on a Silver Age Suicide Squad flick–the time was right for it. But instead, we got uwu trashgirl Harley and Will Smith-desperately-trying-to-rebuild-his-action-hero-brand Deadshot in one of the messiest films I’ve seen in years.

Shuriken!

Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer has 17 days to go! In the meantime, enjoy this piece that is probably the longest anyone has written on Reggie Byers’s Shuriken in years…

One of the weird indie comic title I’ve gotten into fairly recently has been Reggie Byer’s Shuriken.

Shuriken #1

The basic concept is that a young Japanese woman is a professional bodyguard for a firm that offers special protection and assassination services–she has moral qualms about killing, only opting for protection gigs, and this ultimately puts her at odds with her organization.

From what I’ve gathered, Shuriken was a pretty successful and well-loved property as far as indies go. The main thing it had going for it was that it was one of the first Amerimanga [it was written and drawn by a weeb who was also working on a licensed Robotech title]–when more Japanese manga and better Amerimanga became more readily available in the late 80s and early 90s, Shuriken was probably easily overshadowed.

It’s hard to say “Shuriken is good” today and really mean it, even though I really enjoy it. Byer’s art is not great [though it’s certainly middle-of-the-pack to above average when it comes to B&W indies if you look at them as a whole], and his writing serviceable at best [though miles above some of today’s superstars… looking at you, Bendis!]

The first two Shuriken series by Byers have a certain charm, though. It may be the sort of cringy charm that comes from it literally just being an OC of an 80s weeb with just enough talent to pull it off, but it has a charm nonetheless.

Blade of Shuriken #1

Really, I think the main appeal of Byers’s Shuriken is that, setting everything else aside, Kyoko is someone that you would like to know and enjoy spending time with: she’s cute, fun, and a good, caring friend–SHE is charming, and that’s kind of enough to carry it.

After Byers sold the rights to Malibu/Eternity, Shuriken gets farmed out–Volume 1 [Victory Comics] peters out [there’s a cover for a Shuriken #9 and an entry at MyComicShop, but they’ve confirmed that in the 15 years they’ve kept track, they’ve never come across a copy], Blade of Shuriken [Eternity] ends after its first real arc with issue 5, and the cliffhanger in Shuriken Team-Up #1 is never resolved.

Shuriken #9
This comic probably doesn’t actually exist!

Shuriken relaunches with the Shuriken: Cold Steel series. While the art is better in most objective senses, it abandons the Amerimanga style and loses much of the charm and emotion that Byers’s rough designs conveyed. The writing [S.A. Bennett], while marginally better, feels like a more generic 80s action comic–it loses its weebness, and at the same time, Shuriken loses her warmth. After the events of Blade of Shuriken, she’s turned into a surly layabout who’s managed to alienate her friends and blow through her wealth. She’s a very different Kyoko from the loving, caring woman who is there for her friends and family to laugh and cry with. Frankly, she’s kind of a bitch.

The third issue has a guest writer, and Shuriken plays a small role in a team story [feels like a backdoor pilot?], and I haven’t read the second half of the series yet, so maybe it gets better?

Shuriken Cold Steel #3

Ironically, one of the first letters in the letters column of Cold Steel complains to Eternity about starting a new Shuriken series with so many of of their other series [including two of their Shuriken series] left unfinished.

Cold Steel cites the last arc of Blade of Shuriken in its continuity, obviously throwing out the never-to-be-finished Shuriken Team-Up series whose first issue ends with Shuriken being thrown out a window by a demon after some other guy staked two succubi with the wooden legs of a chair he’d smashed. [The Team-Up book was actually not bad, and I can see why people were miffed it was canned].

Shuriken Team-Up #1
“Wow, I haven’t seen that book in 30 years!” – Jimmy Palmiotti

After Cold Steel, Eternity offers Shuriken Vol 2, the 4th or 5th series, depending on how you count them.

Shuriken #1

Honestly, this is the first Shuriken book I would call legitimately good. This title goes back to a manga style [Eternity’s internal solicit brags “It’s manga!”], though not Byers’s Amerimanga style. Both the art [Wes Abbott] and the story [S.A. Bennett] are reminiscent of the pre-GitS Masamune Shirow whose work was gaining traction in the west through publication of books like Dominion and Black Magic via Eclipse just a year or two before.

Bennett seems to have a bit better grasp on the character [at least in the first issue] than he did at the start of Cold Steel, but she still doesn’t feel like the same “go to the carnival and win a Cerebus the Ardvark doll” Kyoko. Still, I’m curious to see where he goes with her in the remaining issues of the last Eternity run.

Despite her appeal, both Shuriken and Byers’s stars rose but briefly–in his hands, Shuriken was a charming, if mediocre, IP; out of his hands, she was just another martial arts character in a sea of martial arts characters at a time when the trope was falling out of vogue and better “authentic” manga titles were becoming available to comic readers. The sad saga of Shuriken ultimately ends with Marvel buying Malibu and killing the IP in favor of introducing their own character Shuriken in their Malibu UltraForce series.

Anyway, if this post made you curious to check Shuriken out at any point, you can find most of it available at MyComicShop.com.

Update: Issue #9 DOES exist! https://www.zipcomic.com/shuriken-issue-9

Reading Some 90s Batman and Then Complaining About It

I love 90s Batman. By which I mean late 80s, early 90s post-crisis Batman following the Year One reboot and the Legend of the Dark Knight and Shadow of the Bat titles which explored a much darker Gotham with the gritty realism that was not found in so much in the Tim Burton films but seeped into every nook and cranny of the Nolan trilogy.

There is some really great writing (by comic standards, at least) in a lot of these books, and there’s also some really great art. Sure there is some terrible art, like whatsisname who did the art for Troika where every panel with Robin made Tim Drake look more than twice his age and violently constipated, but overall, it was an era of pretty good artwork with fairly well drawn people.

Which is why I seriously want to know who sent out the memo to always make Catwoman look awful. I just got done reading Prey, a 1991 Legend of the Batman arc featuring Hugo Strange, a psychoanalyst with pathological obssession with the Batman. All the character art in it is great, except for Catwoman.

Without fail, every time I’ve seen Catwoman show up in one of those 90s Batman comics, she looks like she has been drawn butt naked then colored in purple. Scenes show her putting on her catwoman outfit, so it IS supposed to be clothing, but no clothing in universe looks like that, not even undersized skin-suits. I feel like I’d actually be less bothered if the comics showed her spraying purple body paint all over rather than say she’s wearing clothes, because at least then her character design would make some sense!

Worst of all, she looks like that in titles where all of the other art is exceptional, so it’s not that the artist can’t draw. She’s INTENTIONALLY drawn badly.  I can’t just chalk it up to sexism, or at least the simple intrinsic sexism/objectification/whatever that exists within the comic medium.  That’s too easy, because that’s how she’s drawn in ALL of the titles I’ve read from around that time.  There has to have been some official character design policy in place to explain this. There has to be a memo or something from some high-up at DC stating “At all times, draw Selina Kyle while in her costume as though she were completely naked.”

Maybe someday on one of those documentaries on comics where they feature all those big name artists and writers telling stories of the glory days, Doug Moench or someone will be all like “Oh, yeah, ******, that asshole, was always hounding artists, ‘make it nake’it!'”