Tuesday, March 30, 2010

April is Pulp Month!

Starting Thursday we begin a month long celebration of pulp fiction in honor of the newest site in the Metahuman Press family: Pulp Empire!

So stay tuned as we bring you reviews of everyone from the Avenger to Tarzan and beyond!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: X-Men Misfits

A couple years ago, Marvel teamed up with Del Rey Manga to bring its X-Men franchise to manga. The results were the abysmal Wolverine: Prodigal Son, a dismal attempt to tell a Wolverine story without all the concepts and ideas that make him Wolverine. I don’t care how much you like Wolverine, do not read it. It is an act of utter terribleness.

On the other hand, X-Men: Misfits is a much cleaner, more focused product. The concept is simple, young student Kitty Pryde learns she is a mutant. It causes her life to become miserable in her ordinary school, until the staff of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters invites her to come to their special academy. The kicker, though, is she doesn’t realize until she arrives that she is the school’s only female student.

She quickly ends up as an object of desire for both the super cool Hellfire Club and the more stable forces of the X-Men, but she faces the terrors of pre-pressure in the process.

What makes Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman’s story work so much better than Wolverine: Prodigal Son is that they understand that they need to alter the X-men story without losing the themes of the book. Much like the animated series X-Men: Evolution, their focus on a high school setting helps fit the idea perfectly, even as we redesign the characters in a shojo-style.

That’s the Beast. And yes, I am pretty sure he is supposed to bear an uncanny resemblance to Totoro. But he is still Hank McCoy with all the personality traits of the character we know. It makes it easy for us to continue in to the story while chuckling at the redesign of the character.

It’s fun and it carries some of the silliness of true manga, but it never loses sight of its story and the X-Men. It does pull a regular manga move and ends on a cliffhanger, but the plot is just thick enough to carry the reader through. It is by no means perfect. Artist Raizu sometimes makes the art just too damn busy. But it still features just enough fun to keep things interesting.

Need more?

Storm has a mohawk again.

I rest my case. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: Avengers the Initiative: Secret Invasion

I have meant for a couple of years to share my opinions about the Marvel crossover Secret Invasion. It is the only one of the big two comic publishers’ crossovers I have bought in the last decade. I never got around to it for a variety of reasons, though it is still floating around my stacks of comics I want to review.

But my local library did have the trade of the Avengers: The Initiative issues that tied in to Secret Invasion. So after reading it, I decided it was worth a review. Maybe it will get me off my butt to review the actual core limited. That being said, I think this work may actually be much better done.

One of Marvel crossovers events’ weaknesses are their need to try to cover the over-arcing storyline only. Character pieces are left by the wayside as they become plot driven pieces of boredom. Avengers: The Initiative: Secret Invasion provves to be the exact opposite. It tells the complete tale of the invasion, while putting its focus on three leads, all regulars in the series.

The 3-D Man (the former Triathlon) is the true star of these six issues as he gets the goggles of the original 3-D man. With them, he learns about the skrull forces just before the invasion begins. The skruls have infiltrated the teams of the Fifty States Initiative, a project designed by Iron Man and Yellowjacket (secretly a Skrull himself) to put super-teams in every state. 3-D Man sets out to stop them all.

Meanwhile at the Initiative’s home, Camp Hammond, two Robert Kirkman creations, the Crusader and the “Irredeemable” Ant-Man, both become embroiled in the invasion as well. Crusader is a Skrull himself, but with no link to the invasion and a love of Earth. When he realizes that Yellowjacket is a Skrull, he is left to question what action to take. He loses his choice when the invasion begins. He travels to New York with the base’s other heroes to join in the massive battle between Earth’s heroes and the Skrulls.

Ant-Man cowardly avoids going in to battle, only to be at Camp Hammond when the Skrull armada arrives to take control of the base. He helps his allies in the Shadow Initiative fight the base’s invaders. They fail, but Ant-Man escapes to give 3-D Man’s forces information on a Skrull secret weapon based in the Fifty States Initiative’s bases. My only real gripe comes with the writer’s scripting of Ant-Man’s personality. While his actions mirror his behavior in his own series, his dialogue often proves way more crass. But Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester created a unique character with their Ant-Man. His voice is almost certainly hard to nail.

The story spans dozens of characters (even reintroducing the Skrull Kill Krew), but never loses focuses of a narrative driven by its main three heroes. It works wonderfully at continuing the story’s forward momentum.

What doesn’t work as well is the art. Marvel has become much like the later years of the otherwise solid Ultraverse of late, with each issue seemingly by a different art team. “Regular series artist” Stefano Caselli provides art only for the first and third issue in the trade. Harvey Tolibao (whose art does resemble Secret Invasion artist Leinil Yu’s work) does the second and fourth. The fifth is by Steve Kurth and the sixth is by both Tolibao and Bong Dazo. So no two issues look the same. It is truly a credit to writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage that the art doesn’t completely derail the rest of the project.

Despite its flaws, Avengers: The Initiative: Secret Invasion shines past what a usual crossover tie-in would give us. It is truly a story in its own right while still dovetailing perfectly with the book it spins off from. Even without reading Secret Invasion, I think readers could find a lot to love with this book. Recommended.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ninja Week the Conclusion: Comic book ninja!

Ninja Week is here!

This site being mostly about super-heroes, I think it would be best to close out Ninja Week with a look at ninjas in one of our most popular topics, comic books. Ninjas have been a major part of comic culture since the ninja craze of the eighties.

The first major character to get related to ninjutsu was none other than the X-Men’s Wolverine. His connections to a ninja clan in the Marvel Universe came in to play in the mid-eighties. It would only be a few more years before Kitty Pryde would become involved, and his evil master Ogun would appear. The Hand would become major villains around the same time in Daredevil, as we also learn that DD went through ninja training. Several other ninja would appear over the years including the revamped Psylocke, Hawkeye as Ronin, Elektra, the Shadowmasters, etc. They would also give the world an alternate reality featuring World War III

Meanwhile, Marvel’s G.I.Joe title would quickly start overflowing with ninja. Snake-Eyes started the ball running, but he would be followed by Storm Shadow, Jinx, Firefly, Slice, Dice and an entire team of ninja known as Ninja Force. Newer comics would give Snake-Eyes an apprentice in Kamakura as well. Often the military action of the series would fall completely to the wayside as the ninja took complete control of the book.

DC on the other hand would remain relatively ninja free. With the exception of the ninja-like Shadowdragon, DC has avoided ninja in just about all forms. Certain characters, like Lady Shiva and Cassandra Cain (Batgirl III) seem quite ninja like without ever being mentioned as such. And of course, Batman Begins gives us Bruce as a ninja.

Independent comics in the eighties and nineties gave us dozens of ninjas, such as C. J. Henderson’s Ninja, the fantasy comic Adventurers tie-in Ninja Elite, Valiant’s secret agent Ninjak, independent magazine Tales of the Ninja Warriors, and Zen the Intergalactic Ninja. Later we would get the ninja of Kabuki and the often quite ninja-like Sohei of Shi. Ben Dunn would rise to success with his parody of manga in all its forms, including ninja, with Ninja High School, a book currently on hiatus (with a planned come back some time this year) but with 175 issues under its belt. And of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

TMNT actually started out as a parody of the aformenetioned Uncanny X-Men and Daredevil with the turtles and the evil ninja Foot Clan (a clear play on the Hand). But over the next twenty years of being a multi-media empire, they would become ninja royalty. The Archie published spin-off Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Adventures would even introduce a fifth ninja for the team in the form of the fox-woman Ninjara. I highly doubt more famous ninja exist in the world today.

In recent times, ninja have often become more of a joke, popularized by the internet meme pirates vs. ninja. Antarctic Press, publishers of Ninja High School even created a series about that fight, called... Pirates vs. Ninjas. Adam Warren’s Ninjette is slightly (ok, very slightly) more serious than most, but otherwise funny ninja are often all you can find. Humor web comics like White Ninja, No Need For Bushido, and the ninja doctor named Dr. McNinja. While all fun, this reviewer would appreciate some more serious ninja fare outside of new issues of G.I. Joe.

So, I will leave it open to the audience. Any more ninja I should mention here?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Now Available: The Collected Metahuman Press Volume One

Collected Metahuman Press Volume One cover
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

It's been long in the works, but now it is finally here! The Collected Metahuman Press Volume One is now available through Lulu! This beautiful trade paperback is nearly 250 pages for the low, low price of only $13.95!

I want to encourage all our blog readers, all our site’s supporters, and all lovers of good fiction to pick up a copy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ninja Week Movie: Ninja Assassin

Ninja Week is here!

It depresses me quite a bit when I read reviews for films like Ninja Assassin. It of course comes out with some overly terrible reviews (26% on Rotten Tomatoes and 34% on Metacritic). Mostly because critics don’t get flicks like Ninja Assassin. No one going in to making this movie wanted to make the next Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Speed. They wanted to make the next American Ninja.

And they did a pretty good job.

I was unsure going in if a film starring Korean pop star Rain (Speed Racer) could be that good. But he does a superb job of playing Raizo, the super-cool good guy with the dark past. Naomie Harris (28 Days Later, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3) plays the agent that stumbles upon the true nature of ninjas in the modern world. This draws the attention of a secret society of killing machines. Ninja come to eliminate her, but a former member of their clan comes to her rescue.

Raizo must do his best to protect her while continuing his one man war against the clan that gave him the abilities he uses to destroy them. These include shadow-walking, super-speed movement, mystic healing, and of course, some real B.A. fighting moves.

The plot isn’t overly substantial, but it does a good job of setting up the movement from one fight scene to another. The flashbacks that fill much of the film’s first act also tend towards tedium, but once the film moves past them the action heats up.

And the action is amazing. Though they often scar it with an obsessive need to throw in CGI blood everywhere, the film still gives you some of the best weapon-based fighting I’ve seen in awhile. And the heavy use of the manriki-gusari brings back fond memories of my days playing TMNT & Other Strangeness as a youngster. It is just an awesome weapon and used to perfection in this film.

So here’s my final take on Ninja Assassin.If you like action, you will like this film. If you like ninjas, you will love this film. If you like either, give it a chance. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ninja Week Video Games: Shinobi & Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Week is here!

I don’t normally review video games on this site, but when it comes to ninjas I think that they are a little hard to ignore.

When in comes to video games, ninja are about as old as the games themselves. I have no clue where they first made their appearance (although Moby Games tells me it’s Ninja Warrior for the TRS-80), but it was in the late eighties that the two longest standing ninja franchises were born.

SEGA got to the arcades first with the release of Shinobi in 1987. Joe Musashi uses his shuriken throwing, sword swinging, and ninja magic-wielding as he tries to fight the criminal syndicate Neo Zeed. The game is a classic of the side-scrolling arcade genre and was regularly known for its more intelligent enemy motions. The game would quickly be ported to every system available at the time, even SEGA rivals Nintendo.
The very next year, Shinobi met its greatest competitor in the form of Ninja Gaiden. The original arcade Ninja Gaiden was a side-scrolling beat-’em-up in the tradition of Double Dragon with only a hanging kick and an occassional ninja sword to differentiate it from the rest of the genre. It was also well known for its product placement, as Coca-Cola signs appeared everywhere. But it was probably best known for its continue screen, where your character faces a descending saw blade that slices the character in half should you not continue. It would have been utterly forgettable, if not for an NES port a year later.

The NES version of Ninja Gaiden revolutionized action games in a way still being built on after two decades.
It may not quite have been the first game to do it, but Ninja Gaiden brought cut scenes to the masses as it unfolds the growing plot of Ryu Hayabusa’s quest level after level. It also borrowed very heavily from Shinobi as it moves to a 2D side-scrolling perspective and ninja magic becomes an integral part of the franchise.
Both games would spawn sequels over the next several years. Ninja Gaiden gained two more games to complete the franchise as a trilogy with Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos and Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom. Each game got increasingly hard. (While I beat the much maligned difficulty of the first Ninja Gaiden, I could only get to the second to last level in Ninja Gaiden II and not even to the halfway point of the third game.) A prequel game, Ninja Gaiden Shadow, came out for the Game Boy, but was ignored by most players. In a strange turn, several parts of the world got adaptations of the first game made for various SEGA systems as well, by SEGA themselves.

Meanwhile, Shinobi became the hallmark of the Genesis with the sequels Revenge of Shinobi and Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi. Each game brought the graphics level up another notch. Shinobi became one of the prettiest side-scrollers available in its era. Three more (mostly original) games appeared for the Game Gear. The franchise moved forward on to Sega Saturn with the release of the final original side scroller in the franchise, the absolutely gorgeous Shinobi Legions. I still have fond memories of playing this one in a store Japan months before the Saturn’s US release. It wasn’t as mind-blowing an experience as the PlayStation floor at Sony headquarters, but I digress. With this game, Joe was gone, replaced by Sho, and many of the franchises fans went with it.
Both games remained mostly dormant for two generations of video game systems until Shinobi returned much transformed for the PlayStation 2. Ninja Gaiden would follow, becoming one of the first major Japanese-developed releases for the XBox, in 2004. Call me old fashioned, but I didn’t think either franchise captured the spirit of the originals, but that didn’t stop anyone from buying either franchise. Two more Ninja Gaiden games followed with Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword for Nintendo DS and Ninja Gaiden II for XBox 360. Less fortunate was Shinobi. The female-centric follow-up proved less than satisfying for fans. 2004’s Nightshade would be the last game in the franchise.

Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden have now shaped two generations of gamers experience with ninjas. Perhaps more so than any other stories I review this week, they have had a major influence on the modern view of the ninja. While I cannot recommend the newer games to anyone other than very experienced gamers, the classic side-scrollers for both franchises come Recommended.

Both Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi are available at Amazon by clicking their names here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ninja Week Movie: American Ninja

Ninja Week is here!

In much the same way Lustbader innovated The Ninja as an American icon, the 1985 action film American Ninja made the ninja every kid’s personal favorite. I still remember the ninja costumes I wore every Halloween through so many of those years.

The story revolves around action movie tough guy Michael Dudikoff as Private Joe Armstrong. His first mission on base goes terribly wrong when the Black Star Ninja Army (yes, that is seriously their name) attacks his convoy. His four fellow soldiers die, but Armstrong uses his own skills to save the colonel’s daughter (who was allowed to tag along for no particular reason) and escape back to the base.

He gets stuck on cleaning duties in the aftermath, but befriends a karate buff named Curtis Jackson after he easily beats Jackson in a sparring match. We learn that Joe is an amnesiac. His only memories are his utter mastery of the martial arts.

Joe uses his martial arts skills not only to uncover the secrets of the Black Star Ninja Army, but also his own origins. With only the aid of Jackson, he eventually takes on the entire Black Star Ninja Army (yes, I am going to try and type that name every time I can) and their leader, a traitorous local merchant.

I’ll be honest the story is nothing to write home about and the acting is flimsy at best. But that isn’t really the point. The point was to make a B-grade chop socky flick with a distictively American protagonist. The movie accomplishes this goal perfectly. It ain’t find art, but it is a fun film that gets increasingly cheesy as time goes on. Mildly Recommended.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ninja Week Prose: The Ninja by Eric Van Lustbader

Ninja Week is here!

One of the first major pieces of ninja fiction I am aware of is a novel by suspense novelist Eric Van Lustbader, simply titled The Ninja. Published in 1980 it combines martial arts intrigue with a ton of international intrigue.

Nicholas Linnear is born in Japan during the days after World War II to an American general and his Chinese wife. He grows up in Japanese schools and quickly becomes adept in a variety of martial skills: aikido, kenjutsu, and eventually “white” ninjutsu. He comes in to conflict with a cousin, Saigo, who despises him in every way. He also falls in love with a young woman named Yukio (very possibly the inspiration for the later X-Men character of the same name). Saigo will do anything for vengeance on his cousin and begins the study of black ninjutsu.

But things end terribly in the past for Linnear. He eventually flees Japan, alone, soiled and virtually destroyed by Saigo.

In the modern day, he is living comfortably and living a peaceful life in America. That life ends as a businessman dies, apparently at the hands of a ninja. A detective named Lew Croaker latches on to Nicholas Linnear as an aide in the investigation. It doesn’t take long for Linnear to realize the culprit is his old foe. He must overcome his own memories of the horrors Saigo put him and Yukio through before he can hope to stop the merciless killer.

A vein of international intrigue runs through The Ninja. That vein would burst in to the plots for five more books in the series, all sadly drifting farther away from Linnear’s ninja roots. A warning to readers: The Ninja graphically depicts its sex scenes, including a brutal rape, although later books in the franchise go much, much farther. Still this novel represents its genre well, digging deep in to Buddhism and Shintoism to present as realistic a portrayal of Japan and the ninja as could ever be possible upon its release. Recommended.

It's Ninja Week at Take the Helm!

Ninja Week is here!

To celebrate the upcoming release of Ninja Assassin on DVD this Tuesday, I am officially declaring the next week NINJA WEEK! We will have reviews of some of the finest ninjas in cinema, television, and comics come through this site as we count down the days to the release of the latest greatest ninja movie on the market today!

So stay tuned and enjoy as Take the Helm goes to the ninjas!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Super-Powered Prose: Iron Man Femmes Fatales

When Iron Man heated up the box office two years ago, I expected a flood of mass market tie-ins over the next year or so. I got... a little. Lots of t-shirts, a few strange collectibles, and all the collections Marvel could figure out to produce.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that we finally got the first original Iron Man novel in over a decade. The author, Robert Greenberger, is probably familiar to long time comic fans as an editor at DC, most notably on their line of Star Trek comics. Since those days he has wrote several Star Trek novels, and that apparently made Del Rey and Marvel pick him as the best bet to write Iron Man: Femmes Fatales.

The first thing I want to say is I don’t really no the plural to femme fatale, but even if it is femmes fatales, that seems rather awkward. I would choose Femme Fatales and let those who know better nitpick while the rest of us don’t have to look at what seems like a very strange title.

That aside, Iron Man: Femmes Fatales, takes an interesting ploy to its production. It is cleary an attempt to tell an “untold tale” of the Marvel Comics Iron Man from very early in his career. He is helping SHIELD through its formation and armament which includes meeting the likes of Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and Gabe Jones for the first time. This fits in to silver age continuity, albeit a bit awkwardly, as when SHIELD first appeared, Tony Stark was their weapons provider. But if feels very strange to establish Iron Man and the Avengers in a world where SHIELD hasn’t yet formed. Perhaps it’s the movie or Ultimates continuity twisting things around, but it seems like SHIELD should come first, but I digress.

Tony’s involvement with SHIELD brings Stark Industries under attack by two separate threats, both lead by a beautiful young woman in disguise. One is the woman known as Madame Hydra, a.k.a. the future Viper. She has taken control of a faction of Hydra in Strucker’s absence and is bent on bringing it as much power as she can muster. Meanwhile, Madame Masque uses her mastery of disguise to sneak in to Stark Industries and steal technological secrets for her father Count Nefaria and his Maggia.

These two incidents cause repeated problems for both Tony Stark and his alter ego of Iron Man, but one of this novel’s biggest flaws is that the threats never seem big enough. Iron Man has been established as immensely powerful, but he rarely fights anything past skilled soldiers and terrorists in this book, A more powerful or technological threat would have done wonders.

The other flaw is the huge continuity hole Greenberger acknowledges in his afterword. Despite being a clear attempt at insertion in to regular Marvel Comic, Greenberger decided to drop Tony’s secret identity, much like the film did at its completion. In the comics, Tony would not reveal his identity for several more years (or decades in real world time). It comes off as very disconcerting for any long time comic reader.

Iron Man: Femmes Fatales is a mixed bag. The storytelling is good and Greenberger can write spy intrigue quite well. But the meat of the plot and character progression feels hollow at best. The story’s tendency to wander between characters at random occasionally causes problems as well.

All in all, Femmes Fatales isn’t a bad novel, but it never really strives to achieve any level of greatness. If you’re a true blue, dyed red and gold, Iron Man fan I would say go get this one. Otherwise go pick up one of the new Wild Cards novels instead. Not Recommended (unless you’re an Iron Man fan).

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Metahuman Press family update

So the last couple weeks have been rough for Metahuman Press and its sister sites. From a terrible, unresponsive host company we moved to a new host. That took nearly a week, but things were up and running well. Then the ol’ internet vanished from existence for a few days. And a few other family issues and computer problems have made content additions a little hard to come by.

That will change next week as we introduce a new schedule that will see publications Monday through Friday on we bring new contact from across the MHP family of sites. Check out our new schedule below:
  • Monday: Tales of the Living Legends (new page)
  • Tuesday: Arc (new page, starting with exclusive content that bridges issue 1 & 2)
  • Wednesday: Metahuman Press (at least one new story every week!)
  • Thursday: Pulp Empire (new updates including preview content & classic pulp stories until the site goes fully live on April 1, 2010!)
  • Friday: Tales of the Living Legends (new page)
Plus we will continue to update here with semi-regular reviews, opinion pieces, and the like, some of which will be cross-posted to the other sites. So stay tuned for March 15, as things explode for MHP and its family!