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Shadowland Review

Maximum Carnage.

That oft derided blood soaked comic book story arc of the early 90’s was what ultimately came to mind as I was reading through Marvel’s Shadowland.

Fortunately, I happen to be of the rare breed that, despite it’s flawed storytelling and absurd length; actually kind of liked Maximum Carnage.

Make no mistake though, Shadowland is by no means a well-liked crossover by most comic fan standards.

At least it's not universally hated like Onslaught... Onslaught sucked balls.

Written by Daredevil author Andy Diggle, and pencilled by former X-23 artist Billy Tan; Shadowland takes us into the dark territory it’s title suggest in the form of casting prolific crime-fighter and man without fear, Daredevil; as it’s central villain.

While this controversial storytelling decision has perturbed many a Daredevil fan since it’s publication, thankfully there is indeed a logical, though somewhat hokey explanation as to why Matt Murdock would suddenly turn heel overnight.

 

I don't know about you, but bad chili always puts me in a foul mood...

Leading up to the events of Shadowland, one of the Daredevil’s arch-nemeses, Bullseye; blew up a city block in Hell’s Kitchen, effectively creating a gigantic smoldering symbol of the hero’s personal failings smack dab in the middle of his backyard.

Having recently been offered the position as head of The Hand, a Japanese cult of ninjas and longtime opponent of Daredevil and Elektra; Daredevil ends up accepting the offer, in hopes of wielding the forces of The Hand to better protect the citizens of New York.

This leads to the purchase of the plot of land that was destroyed by Bullseye, and the erection of a huge Japanese fortress in it’s place; a territory that Daredevil dubs “Shadowland.”

Unfortunately, poor Matt Murdock didn’t count on being possessed by The Beast, a demon under the control of a splinter group within The Hand known as Snakeroot.

Said possession causes Daredevil to lose control of himself and his army, resulting in The Beast using him as a vessel to infect the citizens of New York with feelings of hatred and violence.

While many of the heroes of the Marvel universe tolerate Murdock’s actions, grudgingly; it isn’t until he does the unthinkable, and kills Bullseye; that his close friends begin to suspect that the devil of Hell’s Kitchen might be losing his marbles.

Thus sets the stage for a series of pitched battles between Daredevil and those that care most about him.

I assure it doesn't turn out like this, however it would be kinda' cool if it did...

A “mini-event” staged in the wake of Marvel’s most recent event comic proper, Siege; Shadowland represents the rather rare crossover event wherein the core players consist almost exclusively of  “street level” superheroes.

That is to say, despite a suitably epic storyline involving demonic possession and a mass riot across the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan, the majority of the superheroes involved consist of low-powered, or in many cases; unpowered, individuals such as Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and The Punisher.

Unlike many event comics, that raise the stakes to cosmic levels and beyond, a strong part of the appeal of Shadowland; at least for me anyway, is the fact that the story remains grounded in Daredevil’s niche in the Marvel universe, that of New York city.

While many of the heroes, such as Cage and Iron Fist; are personal friends of Daredevil, ultimately the one thing tying everyone together in the story is that they all share New York as their field of operations.

Early on in Shadowland we’re shown an overhead splash of the city, with several embedded panels serving to show us many of the New York-based Marvel superheroes as they all glare at Daredevil’s newly erected eyesore of a fortress and ponder on what to do of it.

Pictured: The splash in question.

It’s moments like this that serve to unify the cast of Shadowland in a much more satisfying manner than many other event comics.

With the exception of Ghost Rider and Moon Knight, (and a truly random Wolverine) both of whom have close to nothing to do within the context of the 5 core Shadowland issues, the vast majority of the cast feel appropriately cast.

That being said, what of the actual story?

Well, to be perfectly honest, Shadowland is one of those crossovers that seems to demand an unreasonable level of commitment from it’s readers, such that it feels like many important story beats are found only in tie-in issues.

That being said, questions arise every now and again when one is reading Shadowland, usually pertaining to where certain characters went, or how they knew some of the things they did.

 

...Or in the case of Elektra: "How are you still alive?"

In that sense, the storytelling and plot progression of Shadowland can feel fractured and abbreviated, however in my opinion this does not hurt it’s overall enjoyability.

Put it this way:

Shadowland is not a suspenseful story.

From it’s first pages, the “mystery” of Daredevil’s bloodthirsty nature are laid out for us crystal clear.

While the (surprisingly good) ending serves to shake things up a bit, there’s close to zero character development in Shadowland.

From the moment Bullseye gets shanked, we know exactly who our villains are, making for a story that does most what little “telling” it needs to as fists are flying and blood is spilt.

The real meat of Shadowland is in establishing Daredevil as a character poised to take a fall, and then watching as his closest friends band together to set him straight, not through superpowered might, or even magical exorcism; but through heart… and a shit ton of kung fu.

Martial arts have a way of making any story just that much better.

While it sounds corny, Shadowland is essentially the comic book equivalent of an intervention.

Hal Jordan fell prey to Parallax, Jean Grey turned into Dark Phoenix, every now and again one our most beloved superheroes finds themselves under the control of some malevolent force, ultimately resulting in their friends banding together (unsuccessfully) to stop them, only for them to choose redemption through the only means most superheroes seem to know:

Altruisticly Superpowered Suicide, better known as A.S.S.

Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Despite the frequently used storytelling formula listed above, one should note that I never said that’s how Shadowland ends.

I’m not a fan of spoilers, so I’ll let you read the story yourself to find out just what happens.

*Spoiler Alert!* The Death Star blows up at the end!

Anyway, it’s a safe bet to say that Shadowland represents a story that has been recycled in the world of comics more than a few times already, however the new coat of paint it throws into the mix, in the form of it’s cast and setting, make for a fun experience for those who, like myself; are somewhat invested in things from the get go.

In other words, Shadowland is hardly a jumping on point for those who don’t read any of the characters involved in the core storyline, but for those that frequently read tales from the streets of Marvel New York; it’s hard not to have fun with Shadowland.

...I mentioned there was fighting, right?

Coming into Shadowland, I honestly didn’t know what to expect from artist Billy Tan.

Normally, I am keen on looking up the work of artists for comics I’m about purchase, largely because I put a great deal of stock in an artist’s abilities when it comes to gauging my overall enjoyment of a book.

Most reviews I read of Shadowland prior to purchasing it were mostly negative, however nearly all of them made mention of the art being “typically outstanding” in reference to Tan’s body of work.

Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I came into Shadowland wanting to be surprised by something, given that most of the story can be spoiled by reading even the most vague of reviews.

Anyway, I was indeed surprised by Billy Tan’s art in Shadowland, but more importantly; I was impressed.

Impressive... Most impressive...

Like many of my favorite comic artists, Tan excels at drawing his characters with somewhat more realistically proportioned bodies.

Many of his figures appear lithe and flexible, which is a very important factor to consider when dealing with a cast of characters consisting largely of martial artists and acrobats.

Speaking of which, while his face work can seem a little off at times, Tan displays a penchant for illustrating figures in motion.

There are moments in Shadowland, particularly in the battle with Bullseye; where the action of the panels felt more like viewing an animation than reading a comic.

For your viewing pleasure, a full page of awesome.

Needless to say, Billy Tan’s artwork and easily deciphered layouts in Shadowland meet my approval, and quite handily at that.

I won’t be reading X-23 anytime soon, out of my general disdain for the character; but nevertheless, I look forward to more Tan projects in the near future.

Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got to say about Shadowland.

As mentioned earlier, it seems like Marvel expects us to read a lot of the tie-ins in order to get the whole story, but I myself can’t justify such an investment.

I will however be picking up the Moon Knight tie-in, as it genuinely looked pretty good to me, and besides; Moon Knight’s my boy.

Other than that though, I’m mostly happy with what I got from Shadowland on it’s own.

Hope this was helpful to some of you, thanks for reading!

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Best Boss Music #12: Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage

Maximum Carnage was a decent beat ’em up in an age when beat ’em ups were a dime a dozen.

Produced by LJN for the Super NES and Genesis, the game followed the storyline of the massive Spider-Man crossover of the same name, with the player taking on the role Spider-Man (duh), or in some cases; his nastier (and cooler) counterpart, Venom.

Aside from a rather harsh difficulty level, the only really glaring deficiency of the game, was it’s lack of 2-player simultaneous support.

Honestly, LJN product or not; nobody in their right mind should ever think it’s okay to release a beat ’em up without a 2 player function.

Behold, the rainbow of ass.

Despite this (huge) flaw, the game did offer some interesting innovations to the genre in the form of special items that bestow the player with aid from other superheroes, and Spider-Man and Venom’s decidedly spidery movesets.

The “superhero summon” system was a decent idea on paper, however the item pickups that activated the function were extremely rare, and often were only useful to the player in very specific circumstances.

I remember hating to use the “summons” sometimes, ’cause every time you did, it would trigger an annoying second or 2 long clip of the summoned character’s “theme music.”

That might not sound too bad to you, but try summoning Black Cat 5 times in a row, see what happens.

Yeah, pretty fuckin’ annoying, right?

*Ahem!* Moving on, the movesets for the 2 protagonists were pretty well thought out for their time.

In addition to the classic one button punch combos, throws, and 2 button screen clearing attacks; both Spider-Man and Venom had the ability to run, jump, backflip, (useful for finding items, hidden areas, and nothing else) climb walls in the background, block attacks with their webbing, swing from web lines, grab enemies with their webbing/symbiote, and even slam 2 enemies’ heads together ala Batman in the Batman Returns game on the Super NES.

While most of these features were elementary for the most part, the addition of the web based moves added a lot to the experience.

In addition to giving the player added flexibility to their approach to various fights, an important factor given how absurdly overpowered some of the bosses could be; the web attacks also served to make good use of the Spider-Man license.

On a side note, while some of the character art… and animations… and backgrounds; are kind of shitty, I’ve always felt that LJN did a pretty decent job with the Spider-Man, and in particular; the Venom sprites.

I said "decent," not "great"....

Not that they managed to do anything else right in the entirety of their game developing existence, but that’s besides the point…

Both are animated fluidly, though Spider-Man looks kind of weird given his oddly dick-shaped head and lack of web pattern on his suit.

I always thought it was cool how both had their own unique animations, with Spider-Man’s being more graceful and Venom’s being more brutish.

One thing that kind of sucked, was the fact that Venom was definitely the more difficult character to use than Spider-Man.

As a kid, I always picked him every chance I got, though his slightly slower attack speed and harder levels made for an experience I rarely made it to the end of.

Pictured: THE reason I rarely beat Maximum Carnage.

While Maximum Carnage was indeed only an average (at best) game, my memories of it run very deep.

I remember reading the comic arc around the same time I played the game, and to this day I feel the harsh atmosphere and violent content of the game do well to live up to the original story.

Nevermind that the comic itself was actually kind of shitty, but bear in mind; I was a young and mostly stupid Azn Badger when I read it, so Venom and a healthy dose of violence were pretty much all I needed to be impressed.

Besides my personal attachment to the source material, another silly little bit of nostalgia worth noting, was the fact that the game cartridge WAS FUCKING RED.

FUCKING. RED.

Remember the stupid fuckin’ gimmick of the golden Legend of Zelda carts?

Remember how many fuckin’ copies that game sold?

Well, my guess is LJN was hoping to cash in on the “colored cart” gimmick; and for all intents and purposes, it worked.

Just ask Killer Instinct

Biter...

I’m not saying the game sold all that well, (my guess is: it didn’t) but for me and my friends, the promise of a BLOOD/CARNAGE RED cart to shove into our Super NES’ was one that was awful tempting.

Anyway, another little gimmick, and one that I never really found any reason to get excited about, even as a kid; was the fact that LJN recruited the rock band Green Jelly to do some of the music for the game.

Now, I don’t know about you; but the only thing I really remember about Green Jelly, was the fact that they did that retardedly awesome rock version of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” they used in Dumb and Dumber:

While that was indeed really fuckin’ awesome, please bear in mind that I hadn’t even seen Dumb and Dumber by the time I was playing Maximum Carnage.

Oh yeah, and I was a fuckin’ 7 year old kid that was still listening to a GREEN audio cassette of the Ninja fuckin’ Turtles in place of music.

Anyway, Green Marmalade did the soundtrack for the game, and I’ve gotta’ say; while I don’t really know what their songs are/were like, they did a pretty good job with the score for Maximum Carnage.

The score has an appropriately hard rock sound to it, in that the comic arc itself had a mosh pit sort of vibe to it, with Carnage’s mistress, Shriek; acting as the psychic ringmaster to an ongoing street riot in New York for much of the story.

As such, the soundtrack for Maximum Carnage has a very aggressive and sometimes dark sound to it that lends a sense of legitimacy to some of the more serious moments in the narrative.

Just listen the track they use during the cutscenes, it’s simple, but pretty fuckin’ sinister if you ask me:

Standing out as a highlight in the soundtrack though, is the boss music from Maximum Carnage.

Bearing a highly energetic tempo, the boss theme sounds very much the product of a hard rock band:

Truth be told, I really only like the first half of the track, when the primary (digitized) guitar riffs are front and center; however that isn’t to say the track isn’t great from a technical perspective.

My issue with the second half of the track, is that it comes across as being “too fun” for my tastes.

The first half sounds like the background to a fuckin’ supervillain beat down, while the second half sounds a little bit too colorful for it’s own good.

That’s just me though.

Anyway, this has been another (long overdue) installment of the Best Boss Music, tune in tomorrow!

Filed under: Best Boss Music, Comics, Games, Movies, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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