Monday, 30 June 2008

Diary of the Dead

George Romero bounces back after the over-ripe Land of the Dead with some cheapy immediacy. Diary of the Dead presents itself as a viral artifact from within the post-apocalyptic universe. Dead 5 is the rejigged findings of a film school student quite unable to stop chronicling the slaughter, despite everyone constantly shouting at him. What a dick folks!

Beginning with unedited on-the-scene footage of the outbreak's immigrant class origin (which later turns up neutered on network TV), Dead 5 flips to a night shoot of a graduation horror piece - Shuffling Mummy vs a chesty girl. News of the shuffling undead hits the wireless and the student crew go their separate ways - an entitled louse pops off to his fortress, roping in an opportunist lady-friend. The remainder (including God-eye director) shack up in a Winnebago and go road-tripping. Horror ensues.

Dead 5 takes its found document aesthetic tremendously seriously - edits are annotated not just by leaping / jarring micro movement in stationary shots, but also by blue-outs and end-of-filming beeps. Dead 5, thankfully, never strays too far away from this remit, Music is almost entirely absent and Romero's panoramic shuffle shots are elsewhere. The film remains a plausible string of recovered footage throughout.

It does help that all of the installations visited are well served by CCTV set-ups though. Dead 5 demonstrates an arch, jokey structure, aping micro-hilarity youtube attention grabbers. Even the gore-gags themselves are more like outlandish punchlines than the sickening, meaty body horror of the previous entries. One sequence involving a deaf Amish gentleman is particularly bizarre / daft.

Other than that there's some rather heavy handed sermonising on camcorder culture and journalistic impartiality. Ever watched a nature documentary and bristled that the camera crew didn't step in to save some cute animal from the jaws of some salivating predator? Compound that by human! Subtext is spelt out, over and over again unfortunately. This film's issue works best in a short sequence were the Mummy attack is inadvertently restaged for real - the handheld director chomps at the bit as his cast finally give him something real. He gets the shot.

Come the final act Romero even gets to work out the fanboyish scenario of him helming an adaptation of the Resident Evil / Biohazard game series. A dwindling crew of survivors wander around a plush mansion house full of secret passages and on-sight curiosities. My what-if? gland twitched into hysteria. Fuck you Paul Anderson.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Pat Lee

In my previous post I failed to mention that the sculpt of Convoy / Magnus by Katsuhisa Yamaguchi is based on Pat Lee's rendering of the character(s) in the short lived Dreamwave comic series.

Bad me!

Dull surprise all round.

Here's a how to draw Prime's head by Mr Lee to compensate.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Revoltech Ultra Magnus

Took delivery of this 6-inch plastic crack beauty this morning. Anti-woe is me!

For those not versed in Transformers nerd: Ultra Magnus is the interim Autobot leader chap in the 1986 animated MASTERPIECE Transformers The Movie. Given a brief crack at leadership, Magnus makes a decent fist of it, but is undone by crippling self-doubt and having to fight against a reborn space P.38 bot who is drawing power from a giant Satan planet. Ouch unt ouch!

The Ultra Magnus toy was yet another play-set originating in the Japanese Diaclone line (early Transformers toys are almost entirely culled from two disparate Japanese toylines by Takara: Diaclone and Micro Man /Change). Magnus was originally a variation on the toy that would later become Optimus Prime: Battle Convoy. Magnus is derived from a ultra combat centric deviation called Powered Convoy. The trailer set reassembles into an armour that houses the cab figure in its chest. Exciting!

Powered Convoy - original Diaclone colours

To pad out the Movie toyline, the above set was recoloured. White for the cab; and red, white and blue for the trailer. Hasbro also saw fit to gift it a new name /identity: Ultra Magnus.

Although an integral part of the figure, the white standalone 'Prime' cab was entirely ignored in the variety of then-current Transformers spin-offs. Only the Powered armoured version ever appeared in the animated movie / series / comics, giving rise to a sneaky whiff of nepotism on this child's nose: "Prime just handed his Robo-crown over to some chap who has the same basic body as him! The fallible cad!"

This pretend-it-ain't-there party line continued until the early 2000s Transformers comics renaissance at Dreamwave Productions. White cab Magnus popped up to give his de-facto bro Prime a helping hand trashing cycloptic tyrant Shockwave. White Magnus was out the cupboard. Fanboy imagination captured - "it's directly referencing MY TOY!" - a slew of Prime palette swap cash-in variants followed. Got a Prime figure? Paint him White and release an 'Ultra Magnus'! People will lap this up!

White Ultra Magnus variant of Masterpiece Convoy / Optimus Prime alongside the original 1986 Ultra Magnus Movie toy. I dearly wish I had both.

Masterpiece figure aside though, this is the only one that counts: Revoltech's ultra poseable dropkick fun-stick. But what is Revoltech you might be pondering? Well! Revoltech is a super articulated posedown line of toys from Japanese independent-shop-gone-manufacturer Kaiyodo. Mainly sculpted by Katsuhisa Yamaguchi, the figures feature the (possibly) patented revolver joint, allowing you to twist and squash your figure into any number of speed-line dynamic poses. The vast majority of the line are robots.

I am in love with Revoltech.

Now for God's sake, make me a Galvatron!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Check out The Superman Action Comics Archives Volume 1. Please. It's quite simply the most amazing thing I've ever read, ever. Superman is depicted as a maverick social equaliser rather than a heaven sent do-gooder. If you haven't had the pleasure, in only the first strip Superman indulges himself in the following:

1. Bulldozes his way into a sleeping governor's house! His agenda? To have pardoned a seconds-away-from-electrical-execution innocent woman. Superman pummels the governor's obstinate trigger-happy butler, and leaves the tussled up dame who actually committed the crime for the governor to deal with - presumably to be exterminated herself. TAKE THAT GUILTY DAME!

2. A nightclub hoodlum hassles Lois Lane, currently Clark's squeeze. Lois throws a strop when Clark does not bash his face in. Sneaky Clark exits and gets his Supes on, meanwhile Lois is kidnapped by the very same pushy sleaze. Zoot alores! Superman tracks the fleeing car down, picks it up, shakes Lois and the creep out, then twats it against rocks till it's scrap! TAKE THAT HENRY FORD!

3. Superman kidnaps a corrupt, slimy senate lobbyist. Superman decides to torture him by running along telephone wires, dangling the politico scumbag dangerously close to the offending electric talk strings: "Stop! Stop! We'll be electrocuted!" screams the terrified prisoner. Superman just laughs the pleas off and continues: "Oops! Almost touched that pole!" SUPERMAN’S HAVING A JOLLY GOOD TIME!

4. Working from a phoned-in tip-off at his workplace: The Daily Star (seriously), Clark tracks down a wife beater. Busting in as The Man of Steel to find the nasty chap taking his belt to the missus, Superman picks the rotter up and starts repeatedly smashing him into a wall screaming: "YOU'RE NOT FIGHTING A WOMAN NOW!"

Ninja Turtle + Guns = Beards

Continuing this mini-series of lurid pin-ups, here's Simon Bisley's take on Ninja Turtle Raphael! The above cover was for a hyper-violent standalone series called Bodycount. Best as I can tell, Bodycount details Raphael and Casey Jones' adventures killing everything that moves. Hooray! Head on over to amazon marketplace to baulk at the out-of-print pricing. £50+? Ouch.

Bisley got his start at UK sci-fi serial 2000AD drawing the ABC Warriors tale The Black Hole. Other works include the Batman / Judge Dredd crossover Judgment on Gotham, Slaine: The Horned God, Lobo and Shit the Dog. Recently, you may have seen his work in the Halo graphic novel.

Bisley's work has a long draft of hyper-muscled idiocy coupled with ridiculous pile-it-on detailing that appeals directly to my inner ten year old. POW!

UPDATE! Looks like those generous chaps and chapettes at Heavy Metal are publishing a paperback collection of Bodycount at the end of July. We live in an age of muscle magic.

Frank Frazetta's The Gauntlet

By way of context for yesterday's post, I present Frank Frazetta's painted one-sheet for the 1977 Clint flick: The Gauntlet. Frazetta's probably most noted for overtly fantasy / mythical work, so it's always interesting seeing his art with a contemporary twist, especially in this render of bean-pole shitkicker Clint Eastwood. Less gleaming muscles, more sun-stare glare!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Doesn't Rob Zombie's New Film Look Exciting?

Vaguely recalls 70s Frazetta-ish fantasy art, with a grub pulp twist. Yum.

A quick browse of Zombie's IMDB page revealed this darling little nugget of info: Zombie's discarded priest-apocalyptic Crow threequel script Crow 2037 is getting its own undead resurrection. Look out for Legend of the 13 Graves!

Monday, 23 June 2008


Fighting fantasied up re-telling of the Battle of Thermopylae. 300 laconic Spartans and a chunk of allies hold a narrow rock slit against constant invading Persian re-spawn.

300 opens screaming and wailing with a clipped visual rundown of Spartan society and the fascist factory agoge training system, easily the best of Snyder's additions to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's panoramic history thump. Other detours from Miller's utterly romanticised source are either less successful or dogshit-on-carpet unwelcome.

Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo is expanded from an Elektra shaped rock-at-home to Herodotus' noted canny political thinker, fending off sleaze lunges from Dominic West's corrupt Theron. It's a real stinker that her rallying speech drips with an attempted war on terror allegory utterly at odds with Historical understanding of Sparta, and even Miller's (sometimes less than accurate) take on the warrior tribe. A key excised line from the fifth issue of the Miller / Varley series notes the inherent irony of the Spartan few battling to preserve social equality: "I didn't ask (for your allegiance). Leave democracy to the Athenians, boy." The fanatical suicide programmed Spartans have more in common with the current Axis of Evil foot soldiers than any US citizen serving abroad.

Snyder's take on the Persian empire is particularly dodgy, facing the Spartan 300 is a mish-mash of trolls, inbred teeth filers, goat headed shaitan musicians, and techno-magik hand grenade wizards; as if the promise of an army drawn from countries spanning Asia, Africa and Europe was not quite interesting enough. The Achaemenid Empire is headed up by the ten foot tall Xerxes, who appears less like Miller's Maasai pierce God, and more like the bore voiced androgynous Ra child from Stargate. There's rarely a Persian glimpsed that isn't deformed, caricatured or monstrous in some way. It's akin to video game rogues gallery spice ups.

Still, 300 has the same dementedly macho appeal as John Millius' Conan The Barbarian; huge, psychotic men drifting machine-like through endless streams of foes. History and Miller's doggedly laconic dialogue survives medium transition completely intact. Much of the film rests of Gerard Butler's shoulders, convincing as the soldier king leading his men screaming and shouting to their doom. Battle scenes are almost nasty enough, excelling during the slow, deliberate phalanx pushes rather than the distractingly digital speed-manipulated one man army motions; the artificial haste shifts detract from what looks like solid, calculated choreography. The eventual dispatch of the 300 is far too brief and neat too - lacking Miller's constant, piercing, screaming avalanche of black and white arrow knives.

300's key appeal is that of a handful of men not only facing absurdly overwhelming odds and believing they can win, but also expecting to absolutely piss it and be home for tea.

Rambo III

Messianic marine mumbler ditches existential monk masonry to rescue his vaguely camp superior from a Hind piloting Russian general, currently Rommeling his way across Afghanistan.

Rambo III raises a vague subtext about Americans making right on proxy wars (most obviously John's de-facto birthplace: Vietnam) by involving themselves with the underdogs resisting techno-might invasion - it's only really flirted with at best though. John allies himself to the local Mujahideen with a charming Pakistani guide and a capering child-soldier in tow. After an apocalyptically disastrous first rescue attempt, Rambo mutilates and scorches his skinny body back to health, locking his mind into a histrionic kill mode. Ally abandoning one-man army thuds follow including some pornographic objectification of a gadget-strewn stab-knife that coloured the BBFC worried.

Despite the bizarrely earnest (and now ironic) set-up, for most of its running time, Rambo III only really collapses when Stallone attempts Schwarzenegger style levity. Stallone's less cartoonish, brutalised frame and darker internalised demeanor are much better suited to the silent pitiless killing machine seen in Rambo - the fourth entry in the series. Increasingly absurd but unsatisfying third act confrontations finally hit peak with a speeding chicken duel between a flying annihilation wasp and a zippy Rambo piloted tank. Naturally Rambo shrugs off the mega-ton wreckage.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Terrifying Developments In The Japanese Transformers War.

For your consideration: a nightmarish ending to an 80s Japanese scale-city Kaiju Transformers movie that never was. 30 seconds of mecha martyr misery. The Japanese gentleman is saying: Convoy (Optimus Prime) is dead.

Michael Bay, eat that heart out!


Friday, 20 June 2008


I had to do it.

Next month Viz Media are publishing Cowa!, a madcap adventure yarn by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. Cowa! concerns the adventures of Paifu the vampire / were-koala, and his pal Jose the ghost. Typical adventures involve not buying watermelons, and attempting to cure monster-flu. It's charm itself. Dating from 1997, this was Toriyama's first work after finishing mega-manga Dragon Ball (42 volumes!). Cowa! is a much lighter, breezier affair - low on combat and high on jinks. Keen Toriyama fans will also note his art style has gotten much more angular and simplistic. Lots of bold, clean linework. Me likes! With any luck Viz may even deign to reprint the first chapter in its original colour format. I'm not holding my breath though.

Hopefully posedown parody Neko Majin is next.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Stan Winston

Stan Winston passed away at the weekend. Winston was a pioneer in make-up, puppet and all manner of practical movie special effects. His work includes: the Terminator series, Jurassic Park 1-3, Edward Scissorhands, Aliens, A.I, Small Soldiers and Batman Returns. He won four Academy Awards during his career.

Winston's work is especially notable for seamlessly marrying physical effects work and computer generated imagery, most notably in films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park. Winston's most recent work was Iron Man.

He will be missed.

The Inadequate Hulk

Seemingly everyone hates Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk. Except me. I love it. Lee's Hulk died way off at the box office; according to wiki the now-showing sequel only came to be because of Hulk 2003's impressive merchandise taking. A lesson: divorced from head heavy abandonment issues, a muscular green man toy is still a muscular green man toy.


When viewing Louis Leterrier and Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk it is initially quite hard to get an angle on how much it is intended to follow Lee's film. In this pre-Avenger's overarching Marvel film continuity are we recognising Lee's film as canon or jettisoning it entirely? There's a conspicuous absence of a '2' in the title, and no cast returns. Events both tally and diverge with the first film offering. It's all a bit either, or. Especially telling though, is the lack of a bells and whistles 'Gamma Bomb!' DVD reissue of the 2003 Hulk flick.

The Incredible Hulk lacks anything but the most fleeting nod to a specific tale of origins; not necessarily a poor move, "here's why!" machinations foul up many a superhero flick. Norton's Banner is south of the border (as per Lee's ending) and struggling to keep a tight leash on his prowling id monster. In terms of screen progenitor, larger still looms the shadow of the Bill Bixby TV series - we get refrains of the miserable 70s piano tinkle theme, visual references to budget transformations, and past cast cameos. 80s children rejoice! We're jabbing at your nostalgia gland! I'd much rather they didn't bother. There's little to distinguish this sort of jabbing "remember this!" hostility from the sub-thought likes of Family Guy, itself an endless parade of wouldn't-it-be-funny-if noodling on 80s pop-screen. I could also do without having (Hulk co-creator) Stan Lee crowbarred into every Marvel imprint movie. Iron Man admittedly traded humorously on Lee's shysty bullshitter image by positioning him as a Hugh Heffner Lothario. Here, he drinks a soda-pop then drops it. Wow.

Anyway! The Incredible Hulk eventually starts to dribble the whiffy air of a reboot, Hollywood's new euphemism for raking over economic failures and pretending nothing happened. Bad Dad General Ross and the military are made parents to Banner's condition, Hulk is now the botched result of secret super soldier experiments. Come the conclusion the fraught psychological misery of Lee's film is abandoned in favour of controlling the beast as a super-identity. This then is the new starting point. Hulk not as rampaging beast, but as fractured alter ego. Cue heroic sequels, or operating as a team player on the team-up Avengers movie. Imagine Matthew McConaughey's Captain America ordering a lucid mid-transformation Norton's Banner into action!

Lee's Hulk is chronically unloved by many for only dolling out a meagre serving of action. There are about three sequences of conflict, two of which take place in near pitch black. The Incredible Hulk seeks to redress this by serving up sub-Bourne urban sprawl foot chases almost immediately. Norton resolutely lacks any kind physicality other than uncomfortable nerd and the slum sprints around a Brazilian favela follow accordingly.

There's some teases of lethality on Hulk's part early on (Hulk seemingly kills a trio of would-be bully rapists), but it's quickly forgotten. Norton aboard (no doubt hectoring and bullying the direction his way) The Incredible Hulk had a promise of being an extremely literal extrapolation of a core Fight Club idea: a created subconscious personality runs riot, whilst the original identity furiously mops up. Call it typecasting. Instead we get Hulk antagonised by a sports metal variant Hulk, played by Tim Roth. Shity threat renders aside, Roth, as it turns out, is the film's one true shining light.

Roth plays Emil Blonsky, a Russian born Royal Marine on loan to shady US special forces. Blonsky's pushing forty, but still loves a good scrap. After a woeful first encounter with Hulk, he volunteers to have Gamma McGuffins injected directly into his spine, eventually creating the exo-skeleton anti-Hulk: Abomination. Roth's best moments as Blonsky arrive just prior to this transformation, having had a World War II era super vaccination he's swift of foot and able to leap around like Spider-Man. Confronting Hulk, there's a brief exchange between the two - Blonsky ducking and weaving like a black-ops Jackie Chan. There's a convincing interplay between physical stunt effects and looming CG puppets. You also get a little fizz of a psychological monster battling a physical one. For a punchline Hulk kicks the outmaneuvered Blonsky into a tree, pulping his bones.

Other than that there's a scene vaguely reminiscent of one in Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale's Hulk: Grey. A childlike Hulk, with Banner love interest Betty Ross in tow, sets up shop in a cave during a thunderstorm. Enraged by the obnoxious weather Hulk picks up a boulder and hurls it at the sky, screaming long and hard at the heavens to meet his challenge.

None comes.

Monday, 16 June 2008

You're Fucked! Thirsty Basset Hound Takes It!

Strolling along to work the other day, I reflected on how awesome the final four candidates must be to all make it into the Apprentice Final. This thought immediately gave pause; exactly how had any of them definitively proven they were fantastic? They hadn't! Good God. King Alan put them all through because he had nothing to judge on. They're all shite! A good chunk of them had just coasted at the back, just doing enough to see them through, then waved the stand-outs off as they departed. The swines!

King Alan's final task was to invent a new smell. He divided his four super candidates by two and came up two super teams (that's super maths that is): Alex and Helene; Lee and Claire. As a Claire fan I thought this pairing had sunk her chances. How's that for business acumen? That is why I own no businesses, and make no money. This smell was to be for men and cost £29.99. This is key. I'd jot that one down. Next on the business agenda came a wholly humiliating team picking scene. Returning firees were huddled together and each team did a pick. If I was 'best salesperson in the whole world ever' Icy Jenny, I'd have cried. Picked after Kevin. Sniff, sniff.

Anyway, on with the task. Helene and Alex argued over the name of their smell. A typical argument, as depicted, would have Alex making loads of suggestions and Helene dropping negative on the lot. Any suggestions her end? Not a chance. Does this constitute an argument? It's more like a negativity machine gun.

A quick aside on Helene: I feel quite bad for constantly referring to her as a cave dwelling troll face. When she smiles, her face actually lights up! It's an amazing thing. All the downward slopes of her face even out. Why doesn't she smile constantly? From Gulag body shoveller to catalogue vacant in one deft move.

Shrink faced liability Kevin is quite the albatross. Following Alex round, secretly hoping if he does enough he may still be in with a chance at the top job. Meeting with design experts, he filled the air with guff about Rubik's Cubes and stress balls. Alex cowered and tried to remain neutral lest they like his mouth fart. Sensing they're dealing with two vegetables, the design team wrestle the think away from them and invent a completely impractical, but aesthetically impressive, bottle. It's one big shampoo dispenser looking bottle with a snug fitting dispenser pull-out, you know, for your man bag. Thanks design team! This avant garde bottle seemed like the death knell for gobby Claire. Seemed. I'm stressing SEEMED. Helene managed to pick a fragrance that smells exactly like her favourite perfume, and chocolate. Judging by her reaction in the boardroom grilling, she did this unconsciously. "Oh God! I've never had an original thought or notion in my whole life!" she probably briefly considered.

Over at Team Claire /Lee, Lee remembers Casino Royale came out last year and that he thought he liked it. Roulette The Smell is born! Whether or not it stinks of stale-ale'd felt is undisclosed. Cue a 70s Hai Karate alike advert set-up in which two models grope against a bleeding orange background. Ugly! Lee talks up some porn direction and the models fumble. Claire does something else offscreen.

The lack of any real meat for the Lee / Claire coalition seems to confirm my worst fears: grotty no face Alex has pissed it.

Presentation time! Lee is terrified. So terrified he has a nosebleed. Despite a chronically sing-song opening line, he does okay. Claire fields some probing questions on whether or not her smell will promote gambling and cause debt / misery. Alex and Helene garner gushing praise from some chap with sunglasses on. Sir King Alan doesn't look particularly impressed.

Boardroom! King Alan swoops on Helene and Alex. Sitting at his table was a gentleman from Givenchy. Mr Givenchy reckons the fancy bottle will cost three or four times the usual amount to manufacture! Good lord! You done fucked with profit margin now. King Alan waves them off. Shock of shocks! It's just Claire and Lee.

After a couple of gushes from the firees. It's down to King Alan business: shout at me and bully me into liking you! Claire picks up a shout pace and drones a few empty business speak plaudits at him. No dice! Lee offers a lucid, fact based account of why he's the superior candidate. He's never been in the firing line don't you know?

Lee takes it.

I am genuinely shocked. I had him placed third after Alex and Claire. Again, I would like to stress this is why I own nothing.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Batman: Clenched Teeth.

According to DVD Times, Yoshiaki Kawajiri is directing the Deadshot portion of the upcoming straight-to-dvd anime tie-in Batman: Gotham Knight. This is cause for much celebration! What's Gotham Knight? It's basically the Animatrix for Batman, released mid-July to boost marketing presence for The Dark Knight. The anthology is made up of six animated shorts, and are written by comic luminaries such as Brian Azzarello and Greg Rucka; as well as Blade Trinity director (and Dark Knight jettisoned scriptwriter) David Goyer. We'll gloss over that last one.

Director credits were remarkable by their absence in pre-release shilling - every segment (despite widely divergent art styles) got lumped with a Bruce Timm credit. Do Warners think these people have no currency? They do in my house! Lets hope AOL are a little kinder with final cut than Anchor Bay were with Kawajiri's animated Highlander movie.

Anyway, who's Kawajiri? Why not check out the short that made his name? Tense vegetable-men racing hyper-Formula Zero space cars; from the Neo Tokyo / Manie Manie anthology: The Running Man.

Mr Kawajiri forged a career delivering occult hyper-violence classics, usually featuring a laconic forever man. Highlights include: Ninja Scroll, Wicked City, and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Expect cold blues, stinging pinks and fraught, bubbling meta-men.

Deadshot apparently sees Batman up against the firearms dripping titular assassin. Expect teeth shattering machismo and navel gazing on the application of guns.

Extra love for the technologically aspirational: the blu-ray release of Batman: Gotham Knight features four best-eps from the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series: Heart of Ice - the debut of the Mike Mignola redesign of Mr Freeze, and a sympathetic backstory by Paul Dini, this episode won an Emmy. Legends of the Dark Knight includes a portion adapted from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and swipes at Joel Schumacher's 'efforts'. I Am The Night sees Bruce Wayne struggle with the Batman persona, and the positively apocalyptic Over The Edge sees the Gordon / Batman relationship dissolve into violence. Treats one and all.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Shinobi: Kill Them All Sneaky Joe!

A rather short review of the first game I ever owned: Shinobi on the Master System.

Multi-plain spam attack, obstacle course, platform genius. Sega's bite-back response to Namco's Rolling Thunder arcade series sees one-man-army Joe Musashi going up against kidnapping mobsters Zeed. They done a steal on a load of kids. Rascals! As well as being able to hurl infinite shurikens Zeed's way, Joe can crouch into a little crafty crawling crab-ninja form and lash out with a swift shin-kick. POW!

Levels are broken up with slightly astounding first-person bonus stages where our Joe hurls ninja death stars at advancing, conveyor-belt surfing enemies. Let one slip through and it's curtains; annihilate the lot and you're rewarded with Ninja Magic.

This Master System conversion lowers the arcade's difficulty by gifting the player an energy bar rather than a one-hit death. There's also a wider variety of ranged and melee attacks too - including hand grenades, pistols, nunchaku and the mighty manrikigusari - a giant weighted chain. Scaled back detail wise from its Arcade forebear, Master System Shinobi makes up this deficit by pumping the gaudy colour factor up as high as tech permits. Block colours never age. Gorgeous. Followed by an avalanche of sequels over nearly every format ever.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

This, On The Other Hand, Is Definitely Not How It Ends: Big Boss Part 3

The Kojima-less NES port of Metal Gear sold extremely well outside of Japan. It shifted over a million copies in North America alone. Konami sought to generate extra coin by putting together a more action orientated sequel specifically for the Western market: Snake's Revenge! Never officially regarded as part of the 'official' series, Snake's Revenge is the red-haired step child of the Metal Gear family. It's widely hated, although not widely played. Again, it's the story of Solid Snake (now known as the double ranked Lieutenant Solid Snake) infiltrating a wonkily aggressive nation that purport to have a disaster weapon.

Snake gets two allies this time, John Turner and Nick Myer.

Both trot off and promptly get themselves dead. No help what-so-ever. Lt. Snake battles on. In an red jumpsuit. With jaundiced skin. Sneaky! There's even side-scrolling spam sections. Upset the faithful!

Big Boss pops up at the end. The Cobra Commander look alike spouts some perfunctory revenge speak, then gets his run and spam on. Shoot him enough and he does an explode and mutates into a twenty foot tall death-bot. Oh my giddy aunt!

"Ha, ha, ha! I have no weak point you can penetrate."

Quite. At this point you're absolutely sunk unless you immediately hightail, and are packing landmines. See the whole sorry / awesome episode here. Me likes!

After all that Snake storms off to shoot rockets through a tunnel system at a stationary Metal Gear Mark 2. Glowing weak spot!

Despite everyone hating Snake's Revenge, Kojima seems fairly pleased with it. He's quoted as saying it's a faithful sequel. He's still down on the NES version of the original though. Ah man. Don't get him started. He hates them damn life-draining dogs in the tacked-on Jungle entry point. Who can blame him? They suck!

Credits! See our hero smile!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

This Is How It Ends: Big Boss Part 2

1990 saw the MSX2 exclusive release of Hideo Kojima's follow-up to his sneak classic Metal Gear: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Solid Snake is plucked out of his Canadian wilderness retirement to infiltrate the fictional Central Asian country of Zanzibar Land, again, controlled by Freudian nasty pop: Big Boss.

How did Big Boss survive Outer Heaven's destruction? We're never told. He's just wily like that. Accept it! Rescued hostages recount to Snake that Boss may no longer be entirely human either; sly allusions to Kojima's synthetic human point and clicker game: Snatcher, and his RoboCop-esque fate in unofficial Western market only sequel: Snake's Revenge abound during in-game Codec calls.

Seizing control of the fictional country, Big Boss recruits war orphans from all over the world to be molded and raised in his image; the foundation for a great military empire that will venerate and honour their warriors. In order to create this techno-Sparta, Big Boss has captured several tinker-king scientists, and commissioned another Cold War tipping nuclear tank: Metal Gear D. It's Snake's job to blow everything up and rescue the hostages.

Sounds simple eh? It isn't. Clear cut good and evil? Nope. The first boss Snake encounters on his sneak mission is disguise master ninja: Black Color. Black Color is the last remaining member of a NASA special forces unit created to fight in extraterrestrial environments (fight them Chinese on the Moon!), cybernetically enhanced and doped up to the eyeballs; Black Color teleports and hurls shurikans in a psychotic froth. Upon defeating this cyborg menace it is revealed that your enemy is none other than Kyle Schneider, an ally from the previous game.

Schneider was snatched up against his will surely? He fought alongside you against Big Boss in the previous game! He hated Outer Heaven! Schneider reveals that after Snake successfully completed the first game's mission, NATO carpet bombed the entire area to nothing. Their goal was to wipe out everything to do with Outer Heaven - including Schneider's resistance army. Schneider was captured and subjected to torture ascension implants for a short-lived experimental space combat unit. NASA disbanded the unit for being too cool, and Schneider managed to escape the purge. He was offered sanctuary in Zanzibar Land and took it, growing to admire his former enemy, primarily for taking in all survivors of the Outer Heaven incident - including resistance members. These are the actions of the 'bad-guy'.

Tune in about 5:45 - This is how it ends for Kyle Schneider.

This is a common theme throughout the Metal Gear series: Big Boss as a champion of the downtrodden. In Metal Gear Solid, Kurdish guerrilla Sniper Wolf considers Big Boss to be a hero. She recounts her life as a child soldier and her eventual rescue and molding by Big Boss. She calls him Saladin, after the 12th century Muslim political and military leader.

Is Snake's mission just? Or just a loyalty bending wetwork clean-up? Wouldn't it be better to let Big Boss live and really stick it to the corrupt Western powers? Following the character's gross disillusion with the US at Metal Gear Solid 3's conclusion, it looked like this was precisely the line of thought going to be expressed in the PSP spin-off Portable Ops, especially considering the announced recruitment mechanic. Sadly that didn't quite happen - instead you formed the FOXHOUND unit from the ground up to combat your gone rogue predecessors. Ah well.

Schneider aside, another former comrade sympathetic to Big Boss' agenda is Frank Jaeger / Gray Fox / Null. Phew!

Jaeger was the FOXHOUND agent originally assigned to infiltrate Outer Heaven, his failure ensured the re-assigning of new recruit: Solid Snake. Following the destruction of the Metal Gear tank and the fortress nation, Jaeger absconded with Big Boss, deserting his former unit. Jaeger became Boss' right hand man, leading the specialist Dogs of War unit, and piloting Metal Gear D during the second game's conclusion.

This is (sort of) how it ends for Frank Jaeger: A one on one fist fight in a minefield.

Jaeger'd be back as a cyborg ninja too. A recurrent fate for Snake's soldier friends.

Anyway, I'm getting way off the point. This is all dressing. This a Big Boss article after all. It's hard not to get sidetracked by Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The more I see and read of the game, the richer it seems. See? It's happened again. More than being a template for the subsequent Metal Gear Solid series, it neatly comments on, and upturns our assumptions on who these characters are / were their loyalties lie. In that sense it has much in common with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, MGS2's relationship with Metal Gear Solid is almost post-modernist deconstruction. Snake is largely abscent, and your left with blonde doll Raiden as he muddles through a samey adventure, that eventually turns this (minute) shortcoming into central text: a despotic AI system specifically engineered the situation to be an exact replica of the previous game to create another, more pliant, super soldier. Literal cloning had failed, so now psychological conditioning was the order of the day. In Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake friends are enemies, and enemies are philanthropists.

So how does Big Boss finally get it once and for all?

During your fight with Grey Fox your backpack is set aflame forcing you to ditch all your weapons / supplies. You muddle down a dark corridor, tech-naked, to tackle your ex-commander / retcon clone father. Big Boss chases you (using doors!) around a maze of rooms as you desperately try to find something, anything to take him on with. Tense, haphazard and overwhelmingly unfair - it's a fitting end to the original series.

This is how it ends: Solid Snake's final battle with Big Boss.

Come the Solid series, Big Boss would be recast several more times. His phantom spectre looms over the first installment, the Liquid son attempts to fulfil his dream of a soldier paradise - even invoking the mantra name: Outer Heaven. The Liquid son also demands the return of the retrieved and cryo-frozen father's body - he wants to harvest it for soldier genes and mutate his faceless guinea pig army.

Sons of Liberty visually introduces a third 'perfect' clone son: Solidus (the state between a liquid and a solid), the image of the father. Codenamed King and a former President of the United States, Solidus is still just a puppet outmaneuvered and manipulated by the Solid series' unseen esoteric antagonists: The Patriots. Both these sons are unable to pass beyond legacy aspirations, and are undone by legacy oversights: discarded family. Respectively: the Solid son and Raiden - Solidus' literal adopted son, and the product of Solidus' small boy unit - assigned to the Liberian civil war. It'll be interesting to see if Metal Gear Solid 4 recons Patriot involvement / aggression onto either the Outer Heaven or Zanzibar Land incidents, perhaps the garrison countries were built to stand against their meme plutocracy?

Big Boss features in the third Solid game, this time as the hero. Cast into the midst of a Cold War favour plot a young Big Boss, codenamed: Naked Snake must rescue a scientist, destroy a bastard nuclear tank, and murder his mentor / lover - who has defected to the USSR.

Starting out as a patriotic taciturn green beret, by game's close Naked Snake is deeply dissatisfied with his soldier's lot. Even going as far as snubbing the director general of the CIA during his 'crowning' ceremony. As it turns out the mission has very little to do with heroism and everything to do with a secret unclaimed slush fund belonging to a group of self-proclaimed Philosophers, the renegade American branch of which would become the AI overlord entity: The Patriots.

All the little Snake toys dance to their merry jig.