Comic Review – Usagi Yojimbo #1

After 165 issues have been published by Dark Horse Comics, the critically acclaimed series “Usagi Yojimbo” is being released by IDW Publishing this month. When it was announced in February of this year, some were surprised, but since IDW also currently publishes the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series, it seems only fitting that they share the same publisher. While Usagi Yojimbo inhabits a different universe as the TMNT, they have appeared together in many comic over the years as well as several times in the TMNT animated series. For those unaware of the rōnin rabbit, the title “Usagi Yojimbo” essentially means rabbit bodyguard (Yōjinbō) in Japanese. Created by Japanese-American cartoonist Masahiko ‘Stan’ Sakai in 1984, the series features the anthropomorphic swordsman, Miyamoto Usagi, who was based on the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Having been published by many companies over the years including Fantagraphics and Mirage Studios, it seems as if the bunny has found a new home.

Beginning with this new three-part story arc “Bunraku”, Usagi continues his wandering of an anthropomorphized Japan during the Edo period on his warrior’s journey, when he comes upon an unusual puppet drama (bunraku) performance, where the puppets (Ningyō) seem strangely lifelike. After Usagi introduces himself to the blind narrator (tayu) and praises the performance while sharing a cup of tea, he later comes across fellow samurai Sasuké (aka the demon queller) where he informs him of evil demons (nukekubi) disguised as townsfolk residing in the town. Later, there is a brief afterword where we see that one of the puppets is not what they appear to be.

The “Usagi Yojimbo” comics have always been a favorite of mine for years, having first discovered his character (and action figure!) in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” animated series in 1989, not to mention my growing love for samurai movies (Akira Kurosawa) and anime (Rurouni Kenshin). The comic are a perfect combination of comic fantasy, Japanese culture, folklore and history, not to mention many stories involving supernatural creatures (yokai) and demons. And this latest story is no exception, with its fun combination of a samurai drama and the “Puppet Master” horror movies.

Written, drawn and lettered by Stan Sakai, with colors by Tom Luth (“Groo the Wanderer”), this begins a new chapter in the 35 year epic of Usagi Yojimbo, while many of the comics over the years have been in black-and-white, like many independent comics, there have been a few color specials over the years. According to IDW, this new monthly comic book will be published in full color and IDW will curate a fully-colored graphic novel library of the complete Usagi Yojimbo saga.

If you are a newcomer to the Usagi story, this is a great starting point for new fans, or older fans like myself as a fresh start. For those who desire to catch up on the story, the last 32 volumes are available to read and Volume 33 will be available next month. This milestone first issue also includes a main cover by Stan Sakai, plus variants by Daniel Warren Johnson, Kevin Eastman and Walt Simonson.

Comic Review: “William Gibson’s Alien 3” #1

“William Gibson’s Alien 3” #1 Review

By Dave Whiteman

On May 22, 1992, fans of 20th Century Fox’s Alien franchise flocked to theaters to witness the fate of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, Newt, Corporal Hicks and Bishop the android after the events of 1986’s “Aliens” (directed by James Cameron) in what would turn out to be one of the most reviled installments of the now “Alien Quadrilogy” that even director David Fincher disowned and stated that “to this day, no one hates it more than me.” Due to the many changes made by the studios, character deaths and reshoots, the director actually walked out of the production.

Along with the original screenwriters, David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson and Vincent Ward, award-winning science fiction author William Gibson, who is credited as one of the founders of the cyberpunk genre with 1984’s “Neuromancer,” wrote a very early version of the script, of which a few elements survived in the final version.

As Dark Horse Comics has been publishing the line of comics in the Alien and Predator universes since 1989, it seemed only fitting that they would release this official adaptation of his original screenplay. Taking place after the events of “Aliens” (1986), the spaceship Sulaco, which is carrying the sleeping bodies of Ripley, Hicks, Newt and Bishop, is intercepted by the Union of Progressive Peoples. But when they board the ship, they encounter a stowaway in the form of an alien face-hugger, which soon starts a chain reaction of events in the midst of a Cold War between two world powers, bent on the creation of a weapon of mass destruction.

With art by Johnnie Christmas, the co-creator of Margaret Atwood’s “Angel Catbird” and creator of Image Comics’ “Firebug,” and colors by Tamra Bonvillain, “William Gibson’s Alien 3” presents a very different version of the story that many fans of the Alien franchise have come to hate, but many consider to be a much superior script. I’m looking forward to seeing how this story plays out and hope to have a whole new outlook on the Alien story.

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Dave “Chernobog” Whiteman was born in Ft. Worth, Texas. He is a life-long comic book collector, metalhead, part-timer writer, Funatic and a die-hard Star Wars fan!

The Hellish History of Hellboy

Image result for hellboy movie poster david harbourIn 1991, comic book writer and artist Mike Mignola created a concept drawing of a demonic creature, that he called Hellboy, for a pamphlet for the Great Salt Lake Comic-Con. Although it bore little resemblance to the current incarnation that many fans now know and love, nevertheless it was the beginning of one of the most unique and distinctive looking comic book superheroes in the last 30 years.

Then his first full-color appearance was on the cover of “Dime Press” #4, an Italian Fanzine, in March 1993. Finally in August of 1993, Mignola published a short black-and-white comic book story for Dark Horse Comics in “San Diego Comic-Con Comics” #2, featuring the character as a paranormal detective, along with his characteristic red skin, in “John Byrne’s Next Men” #21.

Hellboy’s first story arc was the mini-series “Seed of Destruction” in March 1994, which featured his origin story and the first appearance of the B.P.R.D. (the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), along with characters Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, which was conceived of and illustrated by Mike Mignola and scripted by John Byrne. Supposedly Hellboy was primarily based on Mignola’s father, a gruff, working-class man, who always came home with many injuries, but just shrugged them off with his dry humor.

In 1944, the original founders of the bureau began with three members of the British Paranormal Society, a group of highly educated paranormal investigators including Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and a special unit of the United States army, infiltrated a small island off the Scottish coast known as Tarmagant Island, interrupting the Nazis “Project Ragnarok.” As part of that experiment, the evil sorcerer Grigori Rasputin opened a portal and inadvertently summoned a baby demon, later to be found by Prof. Broom, who named him “Hellboy” and officially adopted him in 1946.

Hellboy’s true name is Anung Un Rama, which means “upon his brow is set a crown of flame,” he has cloven hooves and his right hand, known as the “Right Hand of Doom,” is made of stone that was given to him by his father, the demon Azzael. Originally supposed to bring about the end of the world and the Ogdru Jahad.

Featuring Mignola’s simplistic, yet hauntingly surreal-style, Hellboy became a long-running series which lasted until 2011, when Hellboy supposedly died at the end of “Hellboy: The Fury.” With that, the story of Hellboy seemed to have come to an end until in 2016, Mignola released the 10-issue mini-series “Hellboy in Hell,” in which Hellboy wandered through the afterlife, having adventures and fighting demons, but also coming to terms with the end and to let go of his old life.

Hellboy would go on to appear in many mini-series, one-shots and crossovers, as well as returning to the B.P.R.D. comic books in the 1950’s retro-series. Since his appearance the character has appeared in two live-action movies starring Ron Perlman, two animated movies and three video games, as well as a new upcoming reboot in 2019 starring David Harbour from the “Stranger Things” Netflix series.

Comic Review – Stranger Things #1

Image result for stranger things #1 comicFans of the NETFLIX original series “Stranger Things” get a new insight into the experience of the character of Will Byers, who was mysteriously transported into the Upside Down by the demonic creature, which would be known as ‘the Demogorgon.’ The latest 4-issue limited series from Dark Horse Comics is written by award-winning comics veteran Jody Houser (Valiant Comics’ “Faith”), with pencils by Italian artist, Stefano Martino, inks by Keith Champagne (IDW’s “Ghostbusters”) and colors by Lauren Affe ( “Buzz Kill” Image).

The comic series picks up right after the first 10 minutes of the first episode “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers.” Although throughout the first season of the show we merely get glimpses of Will’s time in the alternate-version of his world, which is similar in almost every way, except for the ever-present darkness and the rotten, poisonous atmosphere. As he realizes that he is no longer home, his journey is compared to his adventures with his friends in their Dungeons & Dragons campaign, in which he plays the wizard, Will the Wise, as he wanders the dark forest of “Mirkwood.” But just as in his D&D adventures, the party of adventurers have been separated, and as he knows, splitting the party can have disastrous consequences!

Although the first issue is somewhat shorter than expected, at only 20-pages, it does add much more to the story of Will’s dilemma in the Upside Down, as the show focuses mainly on the powerful, young girl Eleven, with whom he encounters briefly. But the first issue ends on a heart-pounding cliffhanger, as Will tries to seek the safety in the alternate version of his bedroom, while the terrifying ‘Demogorgon’ is stalking him! I’m looking forward to this limited series, which is a must for any “Stranger Things” fan, as well as a good jumping off point for new fans too. The series also comes in a standard cover and three variant covers, including a photo cover that features scenes from the show, as well as some very surreal art covers by various talent. The first issue also includes a two-page preview of the new “Mystery Science Theater 300 the Comic.”