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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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Guilty Pleasure: Aquatic Monster Movies

I have a weakness for monster movies.

I’ve always been fascinated by the technical aspect of producing gore effects in horror movies.

This guy knows what I'm talkin' about...

I’ve always been attracted to that lovely, organic “glow” you find in special effects from 70’s and 80’s sci-fi movies.

No, not THAT glow. But still...

But more than anything, I’ve always been fascinated by monsters brought to life by makeup, man-in-a-suit or animatronic effects.

I’ve never watched a monster movie to be scared by it, rather I’ve spent my life watching shitty, feature-length movies solely with the intent of seeing the title monster come to life in a single, carefully choreographed, money shot.

You know that one scene where Pumpkinhead is stalking the kidthrough the cabin, and then he tricks him into thinking he’s leaving, only to charge back into the room and find him in the closet, baring his teeth in the process?

Trust me, it was awesome, even with the retarded subtitles.

Pumpkinhead was more than a dude in a rubber suit in that shot, he was a real monster to me.

Same goes for the T-Rex when his pupil dilated in Jurassic Park, or when Bruce surfaces for the “bigger boat” scene in Jaws.

This in no way reflects my feelings as to which is the superior film. But, it's pretty fuckin' cool.

Don’t even get me started on Godzilla.  He didn’t have money shots, so much as the suit actor playing him simply was Godzilla in every frame of every shot.

... Apparently, this was true whether the cameras were running or not.

Which brings me to the subject of this post, my ridiculous attraction to underwater monster movies.

Ridiculous because most of these movies suck some serious balls.

Even more ridiculous because this attraction led me to excitedly watch and record god-awful TV movies like, The Beast, Creature, and Gargantua.

Unbelievably, EVEN MORE ridiculous because I remember going to see Sphere in theaters solely due to the fact that one or two frames of a Dragonfish attacking the camera were featured in it’s trailer.

I watched the whole fucking movie for THIS. That, and a giant squid that never appeared on screen...

I’m pretty sure that, after seeing Jaws as a kid, my fascination with aquatic monster movies began with Jaws rip-offs.

Orca was kind of flat, but was saved by the fetus scene a leg-bite, and Ennio Morricone.

Piranha was boring as shit, but had one shining moment when it let all those kids get nipped to bits.

Tentacles was an ungodly suck-fest that the Italian people still catch flack over to this day.

And Alligator… well, Alligator was actually a lot of fun and was one of the more self-aware horror movies that I can recall.

FUCK YEAH!

On a side note, I remember sitting through that boring-ass movie The Deep just because it had Robert Shaw and my dad told me there would be a Moray Eel in it.

Well, I remember lots of diving scenes, and the plot having something to do with an opium cache, but I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before the eel showed up.

Silly dad, remembering movies being WAAAAAAAAAY better than they actually were.

I'm lookin' at you Pope of Greenwich Village...

Despite the fact that nearly all of the movies I just mentioned were downright terrible, I remember renting them as a kid solely because they promised to deliver scenes of an aquatic beast tearing the shit out of people.

Or at least scenes of bad actors pretending to get pulled under water while someone opens up a blood pack beneath them.

In some ways, I think it was the inherently “cheap” quality to these movies that made them attractive to me.

Even as a kid, I knew that the reason you never saw the monster too much in a scary movie, was because often times the monster design wasn’t strong enough to be featured onscreen, in full detail.

As I mentioned before, when it comes to monster movies, especially aquatic ones, often times the monster’s presence in the film boils down to nothing more than a few key shots, and an overall “feeling” throughout the movie.

Well, unless you’re Octaman, then you just parade your monster around in full, head-to-toe glory for virtually the entire film.

Yes, I did in fact capture this from Gremlins 2: The New Batch. I'm a dork, I know.

Because of this, I think, as a kid, I felt like maybe I could make an aquatic monster movie.

I mean, come on, all I’d really need is a big monster head for one or two shots, and a bunch of my friends pretending to get eaten by said head, and I’d be set.

Hell, splice in some underwater scenes from an episode of National Geographic and it could be a classic of the genre.

Of course, even as a kid, nothing is ever that simple in life, and so I never made my monster movie.

Unlike this Nazi sack of shit.

Jaws and it’s clones were the catalyst in sparking my interest in aquatic monster movies, but sadly, they have had little to do with keeping my interest alive.

As I grew older, I came to appreciate the, “oh no, I got sucked under and now my death is symbolized by a billowing pool of blood” less and less.

I wanted more.

I said at the beginning of this post that I was in these movies for the monsters, and watching them come to life.

Well, as it turns out, at some point I came to realize that Jaws clones really were that cheap.

Cheap enough that they let me down pretty much every time the monster showed up for the final reel.

Enter: The successor to the Jaws clone, the Alien rip-off.

ASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!

In my youth, Leviathan, and to a lesser extent, Deepstar Six, were a big deal to me.

In case you didn’t notice, what with the nods to Jurassic Park, Pumpkinhead, and now Leviathan, I’m kind of Stan Winston fan.

In fact, even as a kid, Stan Winston’s name on the back of the Leviathan VHS was more than enough reason for me to beg my parent’s to rent it for me.

Same goes for Pumpkinhead.

Anyway, Stan Winston-gasm aside, Leviathan was ultimately a shitty movie, but fortunately it had some superb makeup effects to, well, make up for it.

Well, maybe except for maybe this eel thing... Looked kind of ratty...

I remember being creeped out by some of the earlier scenes in the movie, in particular the one where the woman’s hair started falling out, and the one where Daniel Stern scratched the shit out of Hector Elizondo’s arm.

In fact, I remember having to stop the movie during the former for fear of peeing my 12 year old pants.

The creature designs in Leviathan were both imaginative and versatile in the sense that they held up to the demands of the script, as well as that of the camera.

True, creative angles and quick cuts were commonplace during Leviathan, but for what it’s worth, many of the monsters were allowed to be shown off in full body shots, however briefly.

It’s unfortunate that the most impressive creature, the one that kills Ernie Hudson for no reason other than the fact that he’s black and… no wait, that really is the only reason, is only on-screen for a few brief seconds.

You're gonna' have to take my word for it, but it looked better in the movie...

I watched Leviathan, more than once, just to see those last few seconds.

Well, that and "Say, "Ah!" motherfucker!"

Deepstar Six was also a shitty movie, but one that I did not have the misfortune of seeing in my youth.

Deepstar Six came out in 1989, the same year as Leviathan, but with a cast of made-for-TV caliber actors, and a boring, seldom seen monster, it was released with significantly less fanfare.

The monster in Deepstar Six is onscreen for all of about 2 minutes, all during the final act of the movie.

In some cases, delaying the appearance of the monster until the last possible moment can be quite effective, but in Deepstar Six’s case, we spend most of the movie forgetting that the movie even has a monster.

Needless to say, Deepstar Six’s monster, while somewhat unique in that it’s a crustacean, and impressive in terms of size, is ultimately one hell of a let down.

Note that the eyes look like fuckin' smily faces.

The movie’s saving grace is Miguel Ferrer’s performance, as he chews the scenery like a roided out beaver, and is largely the only character with any sort of personality.

Oh yeah, and Nia Peeples was very nice to look at.

Well played Miss Peeples... Well, played indeed.

Now’s comes the part of this post where we get to the actual “guilty pleasure” aspect of my fascination with aquatic monster movies.

Truth be told, I didn’t really like Leviathan or Deepstar Six, I merely watched them far more than any sane human should.

Same goes for Deep Blue Sea.

Just about the only reason anyone remembers, or wants to remember Deep Blue Sea.

No, there is another movie, a different movie, one that doesn’t involve a monster brought to life through practical effects.

This movie, is called Deep Rising.

Behold: The good poster. Much like the bad poster, only not sucky.

Deep Rising is a big, noisy, big budget monster movie directed by a pre-Mummy series Stephen Sommers.

I watched it on HBO sometime in my teens, and I fell in love with it.

The movie has a fairly respectable reputation as a solid 2 out of 4 stars, with Roger Ebert even going out of his way to give it a thumbs up.

Among my circle of friends however, it’s either bitterly hated, or completely unknown.

And if THIS GUY doesn't like it, you know it's crap...

Monster movies were pretty commonplace around the time it came out.

If you were a snooty hipster, you were into Mimic (NOBODY liked Mimic when it first came out.)

Hmm, this looks somewhat familiar...

If you were a dumb shit that liked you some Ben Affleck-sauce in your coffee, you liked Phantoms.

Can't quite put my finger on it...

Oh yeah, they both shamelessly ripped off Scream from 2 years before.

And, if were an idiot like me, you were all about Anaconda.

Pictured: The exact measures that Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay were forced to employ in order to steal John Voight's soul.

Yeah, I’ll understand if you never read this blog again.

Deep Rising, despite having a pretty lame trailer, (my young mind immediately labeled it “garbage” after first seeing the trailer) stood out to me as one of the few “action horror/sci-fi” movies that actually delivered on the promises it’s absurdly long genre title indicated.

It was funny when it was supposed to be.

It was scary at times, especially early on.

And perhaps most importantly, it fooled me by having a monster that was NOT a giant octopus, and was instead something a helluva’ lot more impressive and unique.

I guess I can thank the legendary creature creator, Rob Bottin for that last part.

The monster is sort of a giant sea slug/octopus hybrid.

With teeth.

HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

Which is curious, seeing as the monster is described one that swallows it’s prey whole, and then “drinks” it, consuming all but the bones before upchucking said solid materials.

I appreciate how the process by which it hunts and eats is established early on, and in graphic fashion, thusly setting the stakes and letting the viewer know exactly why they should be afraid of the monster.

Yeah, death by "drinking" is on my list for top things I'd never want to experience.

Don’t let my sucking of the monster’s cock fool you though, Deep Rising is, at it’s core, a Stephen Sommers film, and ultimately devotes most of it’s running time to being “fun” and “kooky” as opposed to “scary.”

Treat Williams, Wes Studi, and that one weasly guy from the Hannibal Lecter movies and Boston Public turned out great performances throughout.

Oh yeah, and Famke Janssen was, of course, fun to look at.

Well hello there, naughty Dutch madam...

Although that other weasly guy, the one that seems to show up in virtually every Stephen Sommers movie, was his usual annoying self.

That ugliness aside, I genuinely enjoy watching Deep Rising to this day, regardless of the dirty looks I get for it.

Sidenote: Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for Deep Rising is pretty fucking good.  If you get a chance, give it a listen.  His work on Leviathan also did a lot to add an element of class to the film.

Filed under: Movies, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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