marvel comics

#678: Robots

GETTING MORE TALE #678: Robots

Long-time readers know that mikeladano.com started as a site about music, but has grown beyond that.  Mike Ladano (that’s me) is passionate about music, but that’s not all.  You may have noticed that in addition to collecting rare Japanese import CDs with bonus tracks, I also like to collect tape decks and cars and trucks and planes that transform into robots.

The music/Transformers connection is pretty solid.  First there was a Bruce Springsteen-like character who debuted in the Marvel comic series.  Then, Stan Bush and Weird Al Yankovic contributed tunes to 1986’s Transformers: The Movie.  (Weird Al’s song was “Dare to Be Stupid”, and you should certainly know Stan Bush’s songs “The Touch” and “Dare”.)  Two decades later, Linkin Park had the lead single from 2007’s Transformers.  In fact, Linkin Park have songs in all five Transformers “Bayverse” films.  Some members are so deep into the ‘bots that they even have their own Transformers action figure.  In 2013, Hasbro released a limited edition golden Linkin Park Soundwave figure designed by Joseph Hahn!

I should state for the record, because this really cheeses off a lot of Transformers fans:  I hated the old cartoon.  It was too kiddie, with nonsensical plots and characterisations.  The Marvel Transformers comic series, originally written by Bob Budiansky and later Simon Furman, was grittier and geared to older kids.  It ran 80 issues, from 1986 to 1991.  It was better than the Sunbow cartoon, and the Michael Bay movies too for that matter.

I “stopped playing with toys” around 1987, but still collected the comics for another year.  The Transformers toyline and comic were officially cancelled in the early 90s, but even that was short-lived.  Much like Optimus Prime himself, the toys wouldn’t stay dead for long.

1993 saw the debut of Transformers: Generation 2.  This consisted of a rebooted toyline with old and new toys, and a new Marvel comic continuing the storyline of the original.  While in Frankenmuth, Michigan I picked up issue #1 of the comic, in a special fold-out cover.  Unfortunately, the new G2 comic was adapted to the 90s: Big guns, and grittier action.  Meanwhile the toys were increasingly designed with kids in mind.  They sported bright colours and gimmicky play features, like squirting water.  Around the same time, while checking garage sales with buddy Peter, I ran across a massive stash of original mint condition Transformers comics that I was missing.  50 cents a piece!  I was back collecting the comics once again.

I regret that I didn’t buy any Generation 2 toys.  Some of them, including “Laser Rod” Optimus Prime, were really quite excellent.  I thought I “shouldn’t” be buying toys at my age.

When did that all go out the window?  In 2006 I quit the Record Store and started at Aecon Industrial.  I was teamed up with a fantastic lady named Julie in their Quality Assurance department, and she showed me the ropes.  She was also responsible for getting me back into transforming toys.

We had a little office to work out of, and on the shelf was a small black Beast Wars toy.  Beast Wars was a 90s incarnation of Transformers, a complete reboot after the commercial failure of Generation 2.  This time, a new cast of characters featured robots that turned into life-like animals, on a flashy new computer animated TV show.  Julie brought in a small Beast Wars toy that belonged to a nephew.  It was a bull of some kind, and when we needed a break we’d fiddle with it.  That’s what started it up again.  I remembered how fun those little toys were.  Like 3D puzzles that you solved by twisting and turning parts around into new formations.

I made a trip over to Toys R Us to see what they had:  Star Wars Transformers!  These were famous vehicles from the Star Wars movies that transformed into robot likenesses of their drivers.  There was a Vader/TIE, a Luke/X-Wing and many more to collect. Unfortunately they were not very good toys.  The whole concept was dicey from the start.  Darth Vader flies a TIE Fighter that transforms into a giant robotic Darth?  That never made a lot of sense, but the toys were just not good.  They were flimsy and the robot modes were not very good.

A couple years later, things changed again.  Hasbro realized there was a massive market out there for old men buying nostalgia toys.  They began issuing new versions of old classic characters from the 80s, and that was all I needed to jump back in with both feet.  You could even buy “Encore” reissues for some of the original figures from 1984, ’85 and ’86!  Therefore, for just a few bucks you could get a brand new replica of the original Optimus Prime, with only a few minor changes (smaller smokestacks so kids won’t poke an eye out).

I buy both Encore reissues, and brand new iterations of old characters.  The new toys satisfy a lot of the wants of collectors today.  Unlike the old ones from the 80s, they have better articulation.  Elbows, knees and ankles all move so you can put your toys in the most action-packed poses.  But they’re not perfect.  They come with fewer accessories and sometimes lack the gimmicks of their 80s counterparts.  Materials are cheaper today, and toys are sometimes misassembled or defective right out of the package.  Design flaws and bad QA are a constant issue.  Toys are made so hastily that some can’t even transform properly like they’re shown on the packaging.

Sounds like Hasbro needs a full-time play-tester.  I’m available.

 

 

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#468: The Lies of Ian

We will return to the Deep Purple Project after this instalment of Getting More Tale.

GETTING MORE TALE #468: The Lies of Ian

I feel blessed to have grown up in the 1980’s.  What an era!  It was the age of Star Wars, Van Halen, Dio, GI Joe, and Transformers.  We had the A-Team and Magnum PI fighting on the side of good.  By the end of the decade, hard rock had hit another major peak again (before being dethroned by grunge in 1991).  It was a good time to be in school.  In fact I would argue it was the best time to be in school.

I spent nine years, from Kindergarten to grade eight, in the same place:  St. Anthony Daniel Catholic school.  Or, as my sister used to call it, the “Hell Hole”.  I lived in a great time to be in school; too bad I went to a shite school!  The bullies were mean and the teachers did not give one shit — not even one.  In fact the teachers often exacerbated the situation by embarrassing the shy and fragile in obvious loud ways, giving the bullies more ammunition come recess time.

It was in this environment that I befriended Ian Johnson, a kid with a pretty wild imagination.  He was a good guy, we had birthday parties together and sleepovers and went to movies.  We played a lot of Star Wars.  His dad made Star Wars “tables”:  giant playsets of Dagobah and the Death Star, built out of actual tables with bits cut out.  Ian was definitely the only kid around who had one of those!  He was also the only kid in class who claimed to have ninjas training in his basement.

Ian Johnson lived in a townhouse.  He did not have a basement.

We would walk home from school together, usually in a small group with one or two other kids.  Ian was well known for his tall tales.  He would swear up and down that every word was true.  If that is the case, I have some startling news to share with the world!

1. It was not Walt Disney that came up with the ideas for Bambi.  It was in fact Ian Johnson who gave Disney the idea to make it.  Please don’t scrutinize the timeline of events too closely.  Ian said it; it had to be true.

2. Ian was a mathematician.  He was one of the world’s leading mathematicians.  When I asked him why he failed the math quiz in class, it was because he was “not an expert in math that hasn’t been invented yet.”  (That would be long division.)

3. He had a squad of ninjas training in his basement.  Below his townhouse, he had a training facility several storeys deep.  The exact depth changed from tale to tale.  The main takeaway from this is that Ian had a huge concrete ninja bunker full of the deadliest weaponry hiding under his townhouse in suburban Kitchener, Ontario.  This one, nobody bought.  We’d fallen for some of his lies before but this one was just too big and fat to swallow.  We nodded and smiled because to question Johnson’s stories would lead to endless arguing.

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4. Ian knew George Lucas.  He had read Star Wars episodes I, II and III.  He knew what happened in them and described it in great detail.  There was an encounter between Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo, setting up the bounty on Solo’s head.  The level of detail made this one hard to disbelieve.  Solo took a shot at Jabba with his blaster, who jumped out of the way, dodging the bolt.  Indeed early versions of Jabba the Hutt before 1983 did have legs.  He also described a sequence including creatures called “stonemites”.  Solo was hiding in a cave full of these things which could eat through stone like termites through wood.  It wasn’t until 2002 that I learned Ian had lifted these elements wholesale from Marvel Comics’ Star Wars issue #28, from 1979.  That’s why his descriptions were so clear and believable.  It was things like this that made it hard to tell when Johnson was lying or telling the truth.

5. Mixing half-truths with fiction, Ian told us all how he knew Brian Vollmer of Helix.  I later confirmed this part of the story to be true.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 2: Gimme an R! we talked in great detail about a time when Helix were local legends in these parts.  I confirmed with Vollmer myself that he did live on Breckenridge Drive in Kitchener, three doors down from Johnson, exactly as Ian described it.  He would often point to the Vollmers’ townhouse as we rode by on our bikes, but there was rarely anyone home.  Ian also described a Christmas card that Brian Vollmer received from Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.  This also turned out to be a true story.  I recognized the card when Brian added a picture of it to the official Helix website.  Again, it was exactly as Johnson told us.  What was not true is that Ian took credit for the “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” music video.  “That music video was my idea,” claimed Ian.  “I was talking to Brian Vollmer and I told him, ‘what you really need is a video with lots and lots of girls in it.'”

I will give Ian Johnson credit for one thing, which is while I was still listening to Iron Maiden and Kiss, he had discovered a newer heavier band called Metallica.  They only had two albums out, Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning.  “Have you ever heard Metallica?” he asked me.  “You will.”  He brought the tapes to school and played a track or two.  Giving credit when it’s due, Ian was the first kid I knew to have heard of Metallica.  He was on top of his heavy metal.

That is, until 1986.  That is when Ian Johnson dropped the metal and went full-bore new wave.  “Girls don’t like heavy metal,” he explained to me during a heated argument.  Girls.  PAH!

This one is for Ian Johnson wherever you are.  I’m sure he’s still out there, consulting Disney on the new Star Wars movie backed by a squad of fully trained ninjas.

REVIEW: AC/DC – Iron Man 2 (2010 deluxe CD/DVD)

AC/DC – Iron Man 2 (2010 Columbia deluxe CD/DVD set)

For the second time, AC/DC have supplied the soundtrack to a movie (see: Who Made Who, the soundtrack to Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive). This release basically amounts to a cool “best of” CD. While Who Made Who had some new material, Iron Man 2 is the straight oldies, with a few unexpected surprises thrown in. Since AC/DC have never released a proper “best of” CD, this is about as close as you’re likely to get. And it’s just fine.

I’m guessing Jon Favreau had a lot to do with the picking and choosing and sequencing of songs, and he’s obviously an AC/DC fan. I mean, “Evil Walks”? There is even a song (“Cold Hearted Man”) from the Backtracks box set and one from the more recent AC/DC opus, Black Ice. As such, Iron Man 2 is a pretty damn good single disc overview of the whole AC/DC shebang. It flows well, it has an excellent mix of Bon and Brian, and the sound is as good as any of the AC/DC remasters available. Lyrically, it even (very) loosely relates to Iron Man 2 (“Shoot to Thrill”, “War Machine”, “Evil Walks”, “Back In Black”; use your imagination). In short, it rocks. Buy this with Who Made Who, and you will essentially have all the AC/DC that a newbie needs to get kickstarted, with a fair chunk of deep cuts as well.

The deluxe edition packaging is awesome to behold, with (very fragile) shiny cover art, a generous booklet (loads of Iron Man and band photos in here) and a DVD. The DVD is nothing to write home about: the new video of “Shoot To Thrill” and a making-of featurette being the main draw. The live stuff is great, but a fair bit has been previously released on official AC/DC DVDs before (including the aforementioned Backtracks box set). Still, I have no complaints.  It’s just a bonus DVD from a soundtrack representing a Hollywood action movie; it’s not meant to cater specifically to me.  It’s good viewing and you may as well consider it a freebie at this price.

Die hard fans who already own the whole AC/DC back catalogue won’t need this, but I bought it anyway. As a car disc it’s fun due to the inclusion of obscure tracks. But it works. The album flows and rocks, and those obscure tracks deserve a second look-see. I’d forgotten how cool the song “The Razors Edge” is, and it totally fits the Iron Man vibe.

If you need some more AC/DC in your life, some more iron in your blood, go for it. You won’t be let down. Personal highlights for me include:

  • “The Razors Edge”
  • “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”
  • “Cold Hearted Man”
  • “Rock n’ Roll Damnation”

But the whole thing is great, not a weak track in the bunch!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation (1994 CD, comic books)

Warning:  image heavy review!

LAST TEMPTATION_0001ALICE COOPER – The Last Temptation (1994)

When this album first came out, the local music geeks and I spent a lot of time discussing it. The foremost argument was, “What influence did grunge have on The Last Temptation?” While this is by no means a grunge album, I think there is a subtle grunge influence, and The Last Temptation is all the better for it.

The Last Temptation was heavier…more serious…more raw in production. These are all trends that grunge helped usher in. Alice had taken a bit of a slip, quality-wise, in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Last Temptation was the album he needed to release in 1994.  While it was not a commercial success, it excited the long time fans.  It was the kind of thing we’d really missed from Alice, since the 1970’s.

The most obvious grunge influence is that Chris Cornell of Soundgarden wrote two songs and co-sings one. “Stolen Prayer”, the best song on the album, is Cornell’s, and his pipes have never sounded so good. Grunge forced a lot of hard rockers to drop the glossy production sheen of the 80’s, get serious a little bit on the lyrics, and write harder songs. This is evident in the world of Alice. This album spends a lot of time on the temptation of drugs, and while many rock fans might cringe at the idea of Alice delivering a “message” to us, this really is nothing new for our favourite masked rock star. He’s been serious before, on some of his finest moments in fact, but he always makes his messages fun to listen to and sing along with. West Side Story has always been a huge influence on Alice as fans know, and The Last Temptation is another album that shows this Broadway influence. “Bad Place Alone”, for example, has a chorus that sounds influenced by musicals.

LAST TEMPTATION_0007Alice is nothing if not ambitious. The Last Temptation was Alice’s first “true” concept album since DaDa in 1983. In fact there was a even three-part Neil Gaiman comic book available at the time to help flesh out the story. One edition of the CD came with issue #1.  Here you can find images from all three issues.

Marvel went all out on these comics.  The covers are hard stock, and the artwork inside by Michael Zulli is detailed and, at times, horrifying.  The colour palette evokes autumn (the story is set in October).  Even Alice himself appears as the Showman character, but the protagonist is (of course) Steven.  These comics were later reissued in a trade paperback, but all are affordable today, running at about $4 each.  The most desireable edition is probably the rare one that came backed with the CD:  issue #1, with a white border.

Musically, Alice is at the very top of his game here. Gone is the gloss. In fact, the opening track “Sideshow” sounds so much like the 70’s that you could swear it’s from the original Welcome To My Nightmare record. Awesome horn sections, great riff, killer lyrics; you’ll be singing this one for days after hearing it. “Nothing’s Free” rips off “Billion Dollar Babies” somewhat with the opening drum hook, but you won’t be complaining when you hear it. Most likely you’ll be pumping your fists to it. The first single “Lost In America” is a fast, tight rock song with insanely catchy lyrics, very different from a lot of stuff Alice had done in the 80’s.

The rest of the album is strong, with “It’s Me” being the sole ballad. “Stolen Prayer” is an absolute diamond.  Chris Cornell sings on the choruses with that classic, incredible 90’s Soundgarden voice.  Although the song is largely acoustic and mellow, the best word I can use for it is “epic”.  It’s a classic, and I believe that to be the reason that Alice used it to close his comprehensive box set, The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper.  (Cornell also wrote the track “Unholy War”, solely — even the lyrics, which Alice used without modification.)

Overall the direction of the album is dark and catchy, with great playing from the entire cast and Alice spitting out the words as only he can. The fact that most of these songs were played live on tour is a testament to the strength of the material and Alice’s confidence that he had made yet another classic album.

The Last Temptation is a record that is sadly unknown to many casual rock fans. However, anybody who loved Welcome To My Nightmare would be well advised to pick this up. They might find that Alice has built a musical time machine, an album that sounds timeless despite its 1994 release date. It may not be a grunge album, but I think we owe a thanks to the grunge movement for helping Alice make the strongest record he’d done since 1975.

What happens to Steven? You’ll just have to listen and find out.

5/5 stars

 

MOVIE REVIEW: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Extended Action Cut) 2013

“We’re the Four fuckin’ Horsemen / Back for a second time.”

G.I. JOE: Retaliation (2013)

Directed by Jon M. Chu

I’m sorry if you saw the first movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009). That lowly turd of a film is one that I own, but can only sit through by splitting it into two or more sittings. Never in one. I saw it this way recently, and I managed to make it through. The movie was crap, and so was the toyline that went with it. All garbage. I don’t care to review the movie again, so to quote from my own old Amazon 2/5 star writeup:

The acting here is bad bordering on terrible. This Channing Tatum guy can’t act at all. Dennis Quaid pours the cheeze-wiz on every line of dialogue that General Hawk delivers. Marlon Wayons (Rip Cord), Rachel Nichols (Scarlet), and Sienna Miller (Baroness) are passable. The heavies tend to get the best roles and the best actors: Arnold Vosloo (Zartan) steals every scene he is in, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is surprisingly serpentine as Cobra Commander. Christopher Eccleston is good as the Scottish arms dealer Destro, just menacing enough while also dignified and cool. Also, it’s nice to see Jonathan Pryce in anything…The direction by that hack Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) is gawd-awful.

Pryce was in the first movie far too briefly to be of any consequence to the finished product. That and many of the other weaknesses with the first film were dealt with here in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Most of the cast was jettisoned. Wisely, Ray Park and Lee Byung-hun were retained as the iconic ninjas Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. Cobra Commander was re-cast (Gordon-Levitt being unnecessary and expensive behind a silver mask). Otherwise only Pryce, Arnold Vosloo and Channing Tatum survive to the second film. Even though Dennis Quaid was contracted to do three movies, leadership has fallen to Tatum’s Duke. Newcomers include Duke’s buddy Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and new recruits Jady Jaye, Flint, and Jinx.

Another issue that I had with the first film was that I felt the tech was too sci-fi and outlandish. This is tamed down a tad in this movie, although everything is still futuristic enough. The bad guys don’t all have ray guns and anti-gravity jets and shit this time. They usually fire bullets and fly helicopters and jets and stuff. The characters and vehicles look more like the original toys did. There are things such as the HISS (High Speed Sentry) tanks that look like the toys you had. Roadblock looks like the figure you had, or wanted (in my case the latter). So does Cobra Commander, finally.

JOE 46Anyway that’s all window dressing if there’s no story. The story is this: Master of disguise Zartan is still impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce, who is the real star of the movie). Cobra Commander and Destro are still imprisoned, but the Commander is freed by his ninja Storm Shadow. With the explosives expert Firefly (another toy you wanted), they engineer the betrayal and destruction of the entire G.I. Joe team. Only a handful survive. Then the President replaces them with the services of a new security contractor called Cobra.

There’s also a new Ultimate Weapon called Zeus which is pretty silly physics-wise, because in real life it wouldn’t work. (If a satellite merely “dropped”, ie: let go of, a rod of tungsten, the tungsten would simply settle into the same orbit as the satellite.) We’ll overlook this because BOOM! DADOOOM! KABLAAAMM! SLASH! SWISH! SWING! There’s action. There’s a frickin’ battle with ninjas hanging off the side of a mountain, people. It makes no sense in any sort of real physical way but it looks nifty and must have looked great in 3D in theaters. I found it odd that the G.I Joe team is the only military force in the world today operating without any sort of helmet or hat or head gear of any kind.

Pic from yojoe.com

Joe Colton pic from yojoe.com

Back to the story, G.I. Joe has been wiped out.  The Rock and his friends need help, so they go to the only man they know they can trust: Bruce Willis. In the original Marvel comics and Hasbro toyline (fuck Sunbow), Joe Colton was the original, retired G.I. Joe. In fact his code name was “G.I. Joe”. Willis is the perfect choice to play this hard-ass and I have to admit it’s big fun to see him and the Rock kicking ass in the same scenes.

As a self-proclaimed Marvel Comics Joe nerd, the original gospel of Larry Hama is all. I enjoyed that this movie tended to go back to the original source material for ideas more so than the original film did. I won’t get into specifics too much, except to say that certain things especially in relation to Snakes and Stormy reflect events that happened in the comics. Staying truer to the strong source material (Hama was no slouch) only helps the movie which otherwise is just a collage of BOOM!

As for the Blu-ray, I was pleased to hear a balanced 7.1 surround mix.  I was a bit baffled to hear The Four Horsemen’s “Back In Business Again” in the movie soundtrack, but more power to ’em.  I didn’t watch too many of the special features.   I did watch both versions of the film (the “Extended Action Cut” is on the Blu and the theatrical on the DVD) but I don’t have any impressions of which is better.  Most recently I watched the extended version and it was plenty cool.

3/5 stars

RETALIATION_0002

COMIC REVIEW: Transformers #14 w/ Bruce Springsteen / “Brick Springstern”

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I’d like to dedicate this unusual review to Aaron who is the biggest Boss fan I know.

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THE TRANSFORMERS – “Rock and Roll-Out!”  (Marvel comics, issue #14, March 1986)

Written by Bob Budianski

Remember that one outdoor Bruce Springsteen concert back in March of ’86, when the Autobots saved the day?…No?

Well, clearly you weren’t reading Marvel’s original Transformers comic series back then.  Issue #14, March 1986, featured just such a mash-up, only with a slightly different twist.  While some real-life people, most notably Richard Branson, had appeared on the pages as themselves, Bruce appeared as the similar-monikered Brick Springstern (also spelled “Springhorn” on one page!), with his Tenth Avenue Band.  The band came complete with an afro-sporting Max Weinberg, and Clarence Clemons himself, going by his nickname the Big Man.

Brick’s songs included the smash hits:

  • “Dancing in the Night”
  • “Born in America”
  • Something referencing Margarita

…and presumably many more familiar sounding tunes!

In this issue’s tale, the Autobots are replenishing their ranks after the devastating events of issue #12.  Optimus Prime has revived “memory engrams” of five Autobots:  Hoist, Tracks, Skids, Smokescreen, and Grapple, and puts them in new bodies.  Optimus sends four of the five (holding Grapple behind, in order to build Omega Supreme, who appears in issue #19) out with Bumblebee on a training mission.

It is while getting gas on this mission that Skids discovers that he loves the music of Brick Springstern/Bruce Springsteen!  “This Springstern produces a most intriguing sound,” says Skids, as he sets his radio to the correct “coordinates”.  Soon, however, the Autobots discover that Decepticon commander Shockwave plans on harvesting the sound energy from that night’s Springsteen…err, Springstern concert for his own evil uses!  This unlikely plot serves to bring the Autobots closer to Springstern, by attending the concert themselves, in the parking lot!

Shockwave’s “energy siphon” actually removes the sound from the concert, converting it into “energon cubes”!  The audience isn’t happy!  Hoist disconnects the siphon, triggering a Decepticon attack!

The autobots transform into robot mode to protect the audience from Decepticons Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker.  Luckily the audience (improbably) thinks it’s all part of the show.  Hoist instructs Bruce…err, Brick, to keep playing music to keep the audience from panicking!  Brick and the Big Man launch into the next song, and the ploy works to keep the crowd enthralled and distracted from the missiles exploding over their heads.  Even the arrival of Shockwave, in the form of a friggin’ 40 foot long laser gun, doesn’t seem to alarm the crowd.  The Autobots defeat the bad ‘bots, and leave Brick to finish the concert.  The show must go on…

The plot is loaded with massive holes.  Earlier in the story, Autobot medic Ratchet is complaining that he doesn’t have enough spare parts, even gaskets, to keep the wounded ‘Bots from leaking to death.  Then, a page or two later, there’s five brand new bodies built for the new Autobots, aka new toys that Hasbro had to sell.  Then there’s the siphoning of the music from the concert to create energon, when the Decepticons could have just stolen the electricity itself.

Not a great issue, but since it introduced five new toys, as a kid I was happy with it.

2.5/5 stars

The comic has been reissued several times, notably by IDW As Transformers Generations #3, and again in the collection Transformers Classics #2.