Remembering OverPower

overpower card backI’ve had OverPower on the brain lately and it’s all my friend Brett White’s fault. He started tweeting about the collectible card game that launched in the mid 90s and I’ve been reminiscing ever since. Back when the game launched in 1996 I was 13 and super into comic books. My aunt did PR work for one of the malls in Toledo and told me about a comic book, card and collectible show that was going on in the aisles of the mall. My parents drove me out and after buying a few random Image books — Shaman’s Tears #1 and a Shadowhawk comic both caught my eye because of their shiny foil covers — I was shocked to find something, something I had never seen or heard of before: a deck of OverPower cards.

At this point in my life I wasn’t into CCGs, but my friends were. They were all in Boy Scouts at the time and the older kids introduced them to Magic. At that time it seems like just about everyone was getting in on the CCG racket, which probably explains OverPower’s existence in the first place. I don’t remember off the top of my head which deck I found, but it was cheap and I might have actually picked up two of them. I took them in to school and showed them to my friend Geof who was one of the guys into Magic. He was the closest thing I had to a friend who liked comics, having a subscription to a Superman comic or two if memory serves (he would go on to accompany me on my nearly weekly trips to the comic store in high school because I gave him a ride home). Soon enough our other friends were getting in the cards and we started trading and whatnot.

Here’s the strange thing, though: OverPower cards actually became pretty popular among the guys in my class for a few months. The more popular kids (I’m sure it’s shocking to learn that I wasn’t necessarily in the cool group) started buying up decks and booster packs. I should note here that I don’t know much any of us actually played the game. Geof and I faced off quite a bit, but I don’t really remember playing with anyone else. There was even something of a racket going on with a few of the more enterprising kids happening upon what were considered really good or valuable cards and selling them to the highest bidder among the more obsessed of us. I remember Wolverine being a good card and some kid getting $10 or $20 for it.

The first few series’ were all focused on Marvel characters, but I got really excited a few years down the line when it was announced that DC was getting in on the action. I bought those cards up like crazy. One of my favorite parts of collecting OverPower cards — along with pretty much all the comic based cards I collected over the years — was checking out all the cool artwork. I’ve been looking around online to see if I can get a good deal on some cheap unopened boxes (no luck so far) and have been riding all kinds of nostalgia waves seeing these cards. It’s wild, I remember even some of the much later cards.

overpower Booster BoxEventually, I realized that buying cards wasn’t the best use of my money, though and the OverPower cards went the way of my sport and non-sport card collections: boxes in my parents’ basement where they sit to this day. I need that money for important stuff. No, not dating, I had more comics to buy!

To bring things back around full circle, Brett White and his co-host Matt Little bought their own unopened box of OverPower cards and did an unboxing for an upcoming episode of their excellent podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics. I’m excited for the episode, it should bring back even more memories.

Here’s a few final, random thoughts. First, I asked my parents to bring out my boxes of OverPower cards when they come to visit this weekend. There are three of them! Second, I realize now that I really should have raided the InQuest library for OverPower cards after the magazine folded and all that stuff went up for grabs. And three, I have no idea how the rights would work for something like this, but I’m all for an OverPower app. I know they have them for other CCGs. Someone make this happen!

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Jack Kirby Trade Post: Silver Star & The Demon

silver star jack kirbySilver Star (Pacific Comics/Image Comics)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
Collects Silver Star #1-6

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me tweet about a stack of books I want to finally finish in this new year. Some I started in the waning months of 2012 while others, like the two reviewed in this post, have been in the works for longer. I actually got my first copy of Image’s reprinting of Jack Kirby’s Pacific Comics miniseries Silver Star while working at Wizard. I had yet to really discover Kirby’s genius at that point and wound up swapping it or passing it along to someone else. After reading the Fourth World stuff, though, I was converted. In a strange bit of timing, I actually finalized a swap for the volume on January 19th, 2011 and finished reading it on that same day in 2013. Weird, right?

Speaking of weird, that word perfectly describes Silver Star. Man, this is one wacky book. The basic plot, as much as there is one directly expressed in the story, is that a doctor introduced his “genetic package” to some pregnant women (this is not a euphemism, by the way) who eventually had babies referred to as Homo-Geneticus, essentially super humans. Silver Star, the lead, discovered his abilities while fighting in Vietnam (called Viet Nam throughout the story). He can basically control atoms and also traverse various dimensions or something. Some of the H-Gs have the same powers while others utilize them to be super strong, grow to immense sizes or become indestructible. Darius Drumm, the bad guy, has the same basic abilities as Star, but, well he’s bad, the product of a crazy abusive father who was a quasi-religious leader.

The reason it took me two years and several attempts to read this book from front to back, though, is because it’s kind of a mess. Not on the art side of things, of course, Kirby still kills it drawing everything from rocks that turn into dragons and scenes from Viet Nam to gigantic carousels and a group of new costumes. (I will say that I prefer the issues inked and lettered by Mike Royer over the latter ones by D. Bruce Berry who just doesn’t match the thick lines or deep blacks I associate with Kirby’s artwork.) The problem is how much the story jumps around. Star and his fellow H-Gs can teleport, which seems like as much of a power as a way to rush the story along. It’s not uncommon to see the focus characters and setting switch from one panel in the middle of the page to the next. At its base, the story is just plain old hard to follow.

At the end of the day, Silver Star just doesn’t feel like a complete story and I’m guessing that’s because it was originally a screenplay. The full treatment and additional materials are actually reprinted in the back of this collection, though I haven’t made time to read more than the intro just yet. Reading Silver Star is kind of like talking to someone whose been having the conversation with you in their head for about 30 longer than its been going on in real life. They’re going on and on like you’ve got some basic knowledge that you don’t while you’re just trying to keep up with everything being thrown at you. I’m all for taking off at a sprint and letting the reader eventually catch up, but there has to be a time at some point in the story for that to actually happen. I didn’t see that with Silver Star.  Still, I’m going to keep this one in my collection this time if for no other reason than to stare at Kirby completely unleashed in all his creative glory.

jack kirby demon omnibusJack Kirby’s The Demon (DC)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
Collects The Demon #1-16

The Demon doesn’t suffer from that same stream of conscious type storytelling that Silver Star does, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easier read. I’ve been starting and stopping this one for most of 2012 if not longer. I hate to say it, but I found the first half of this book to be pretty boring. Much of that feeling comes from my existing biases and experiences, things that I would not have had if I was reading this book when it came out. For instance, I hate the character of Morgan La Fey thanks to John Byrne’s run on Wonder Woman. I don’t really remember why, but every time that character shows up in a DC comic, I let out an audible “Ugh.” I also wasn’t super interested in watching Etrigan face off against random witches and monsters. I think this was partially because they weren’t super interesting (aside from visually) but also because I wasn’t really sure what the Demon could do and not do. I know this was a book created in a more fly by the seat of your pants days, but I could not understand why this supposedly super powerful demon was having trouble fighting a witch.

And then, at around the halfway point, Kirby essnetially decided to just make the book “The Demon versus Universal Monsters.” The Demon faces off against a wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera (in a THREE PARTER), Frankenstein’s monster and the like. At first I was bored by these stories too, especially because I just watched a lot of these movies this year, but then I thought about it and posed the following question to myself: Would you like to read a Kirby adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera? When the answer was a clear “yes” I accepted what I was given and enjoyed it all the more.

What also helped me start liking this book is that it’s not really like any other Demon comic or guest appearance I’ve read. Instead of running around the DCU and popping up wherever something weird is going on, Jason Blood actually lives in Gotham and has a pretty swank apartment filled with all kinds of awesome things for Kirby to draw (I stared at a desk in one panel as much as I did a double page spread of Blood’s armory). But he’s also got a supporting cast in the mystic Randu, regular guy Harry who loves a good one-liner as much as he loves a party and Blood’s love interest Glenda. I actually found myself enjoying the non-Demon moments of this book more than the others because I’ve seen a lot of what goes on on the page in various forms before.

The problem I seem to have every time I open a Jack Kirby book is that reading some of these comics is like watching a beautiful film by Akira Kurosawa, but with the cast of your average Disney live action show doing voiceovers. It looks amazing, but the dialog leaves much to be desired. I think these are the kinds of things that could have been easier overlooked in a monthly format, but reading through issue after issue just makes Kirby’s lack of grace with the written word all the more clear.

And that’s really what it is, a lack of grace. Kirby’s not a terrible dialog writer — there are some great conversations and jokes in these pages — but he lacks subtlety and it often reads like he didn’t give the words as much thought as the beautiful artwork. And, again, like above and every other thing I’ve seen from The King from the 70s and on, Jack can draw. He can draw expressions as well as witches with horrid faces. His style is just so damn cool and intricate that I can’t help by stare deep into some of these pages. And that’s where some of the frustration comes, it looks so good you want the words to match that level of quality.

Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning Is Awesome

universal soldier day of reckoning posterColor me impressed because I keep getting surprised by action movies. First The Raid not only lives up to but surpasses my expectations and now Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning comes out of nowhere and proves to be a masterful piece of next level action film making.

I first started seeing bits and blurbs about this movie because I follow both Dolph Lundgren and Magnet Releasing on Twitter. It seemed like people really enjoyed the film and that it might be doing a few different things with a franchise I’m somewhat familiar with. Still, I figured it would be a capital A awesome movie with lots of cool fight scenes and probably a little romance here and there with references to the other films I might not catch because I’m far from a super fan.

But this movie is really something different and you understand that immediately thanks to the way director and co-writer John Hyams starts the film. Immediately just by the visuals, you can tell you’re not watching some straight to video throwaway because this film looks great (more on that below). In addition, the tone is set to be both unnerving and disturbing by doing a first person POV shot of a dad played by Scott Adkins looking through his house trying to prove to his daughter that there are no monsters lurking about. “No monsters,” he repeats several times until he gets to the kitchen where masked thugs are waiting to attack him. Things get worse from there. A lot of these kinds of movies try to make an emotional impact, but you can tell right off the bat that you’re dealing with an excuse to string fight scenes together and kind of check out on that level, but that does not happen with Day of Reckoning. Yes, there’s some emotional terrorism to get me invested, but I’m a husband and father now, so it worked like it was intended to.

The story itself revolves around Adkins who slowly realizes he’s a Universal Soldier sleeper agent thanks to the events in the aforementioned opening. As he goes into the world it becomes clear that he’s not the only one. We also discover that Jean-Claude Van Damme is still around, finding activated Soldiers and giving them the ability to think for themselves. His pal — and fellow star of the original 1992 film — Dolph Lundgren is kind of the den mother of the wild bunch of “freed” Soldiers, treating the whole thing like a religion. Speaking of JCVD and Lundgren, these guys are fantastic in the movie. Van Damme looks scary as hell both in face and deed. Some of these 80s and 90s action movie guys still do these kinds of movies but look like 20 pounds of sausage in a ten pound leather casing, that’s not the case with Van Damme though, dude’s still got it. He could play a comic book supervillain easy after this role. Meanwhile, Lundgren gets to do his loud, boisterous thing and have fun chewing some of the scenery, but he also looks good in his fight scenes.

Speaking of the fight scenes, they’re rad, realistic depictions of super fighting. The scene in the sporting good store is ridiculously awesome. Fighting with bats is one thing, but throwing bowling balls at each other and hitting the bad guy with a  bench press weight all with this super fast, kinetic filmmaking that doesn’t rely on shaky cam nonsense is incredibly refreshing. You’ll also notice that our hero becomes a better fighter as the fight progresses and his muscle memory takes over. This is where he begins to figure out who he is.

Part of what sets this movie apart is the way its filmed, cast and set. I watched it on Blu-ray so it looked fantastic on that level, but there’s also a lot going on in just about every frame. Places like the strip club and sporting good store look like they would in real life: colorful and filthy and colorful and dull respectively. Then you’ve got the cabin seen a little over halfway through the film. These are places that could have been made to look overly produced and fake, but that’s not the case.

All of that adds to the idea of this film being, essentially, a real world based superhero film. The Universal Soldiers are essentially Captain America-like super soldiers running around doing their thing, so they’re not just peak humans, they can do amazing things like throw bowling balls around like tennis balls and take obscene amounts of punishment. We’ve seen incredibly good super-fighting in movies like Iron Man and The Avengers, but this is a much more down and dirty version that I think would work better for street-level heroes. Don’t be surprised if Hyams gets tapped to do a franchise superhero film in the next few years. Maybe something with Moon Knight or Nightwing?

universal soldier day of reckoning poster 3dI want to talk a little bit about the reveal that comes a little towards the end of the movie, so let’s call this paragraph a SPOILER ZONE. We learn along with Adkins that, not only is he not the only guy who looks exactly like him in this world, but that he’s only a few weeks old, meaning that his memories aren’t really his own. He was grown and given these specific memories in an attempt by the government to make a living weapon designed to specifically hate and kill JCVD’s character. I didn’t mention it above, but JCVD was the guy who kills Adkins’ wife and daughter right in front of his eyes. But, as it turns out, he didn’t really do it. It was all a ruse. I slowly figured this one out as the movie went along — it seemed weird that he was in such a strange hospital with no one else around — but I think I only really put it together because I paused the movie halfway through last night and finished it today. Anyway, this is an interesting idea because our hero discovers that his main motivation for going after JCVD isn’t actually real even though he has dealt with all those motions and memories. Essentially, it feels real even though it wasn’t. How that gets dealt with is a really interesting aspect of this film.

As you can probably tell, I really liked this movie. I’m having trouble accurately comparing it to anything. It’s serious and psychological like a Christopher Nolan film, it’s got grittiness and superhero elements, but also fight scenes that blow plenty of others out of the water. All those things combined into something like this, to me, is next level. It also makes me want to go back and check out the previous Universal Soldier movies. I know I’ve seen the original and maybe 1999’s The Return (which is on Netflix Instant), but not Hyams’ previous entry in this series Regeneration. Time to update my queue!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: McDonald’s Batman Returns Happy Meal Toys

As I said in my review of the movie, Batman Returns was the Batman flick I loved most as a kid, watching it over and over on VHS. I was so into it that I amassed a pretty large collection of Batman figures and toys, including some of these McDonald’s Happy Meal vehicles. I know for sure that I have the spring-loaded Batmobile and the tail-waving Catwoman car and think they’re probably in a box somewhere. I also love in the commercial how excited and not at all terrified the kids are upon seeing the tank-like Batmobile AND how irresponsible the dad is in following it. Stay away, dude, that car ain’t going anywhere you want your kids at.

Dance Movie Review: Step Up Revolution (2012)

Step Up RevolutionI love a good dance movie and as far as I’m concerned Step Up Revolution is a pretty great one. Don’t get me wrong, the story is all kinds of silly, boring and trope-filled, but the dancing in this movie is BONKERS. I actually considered doing a kind of dueling review thing where I wrote positively about the film in one font and negatively in another, but that sounded like a lot of work, so I’m just going to address the points as I go.

The plot of the movie revolves around a Miami dance crew called The Mob who plan elaborate flash mob dance routines which they also record in an attempt to win a contest on YouTube. At least at first. As the story progresses, a Big Mean Businessman wants to buy up their neighborhood and tear it down to build a hotel. As it also happens, the main guy from the dance crew has just fallen for BMB’s daughter WHO CAN ALSO DANCE AND JOINS THEIR CREW!!! If you’ve seen more than a dozen movies in your time, I bet you can pretty much figure out the plot of this movie. Main guy hides girl’s identity, but when his friends find out they get MAD. Basically, people in this movie are incredibly one-sided, flat and don’t do anything that normal, multifaceted people do.

There’s also all kinds of practical problems with the reality of the movie itself. How do they get such awesome costumes in such huge numbers? How do they record dance numbers that take place in several rooms at the same time? How do you get the timing down of an escalator dance number without access to one? Why does no one ever try to interfere with their performances?

But, those are all logic questions and who really cares, right? Dance movies are a lot like action movies in that you’re really just watching for one kind of scene and the rest is padding. In either case, as long as I get a killer dance movie/fight scene every 10 minutes or so, I’m a happy camper. I didn’t count or anything, but I’d say that SUR comes pretty close to that number. And these numbers are insanely awesome. I should mentioned I watched the movie on Blu-ray at home and it was a wonderful experience. The movie’s as ridiculous as it is gorgeous.

It kicks off with an epic one with The Mob stopping traffic on a Miami street and doing an extended number. There’s another where they’re all dressed in suits at a big office building and another smaller one in a fancy restaurant. I’m also pretty partial to the one at the art studio and, of course, the finale is insanity topped on insanity featuring some of the cast members from the previous Step Up installments like the ridiculously talented Adam Sevani from the first one. The only one that didn’t quite work for me was the one towards the end aimed at the BMB that went so over the edge you expected everyone participating to get arrested or shot.

Again, even though that particular scene didn’t make much sense, it was still quite visually pleasing. And that’s what this movie is all about: being a visual treat. I’d go so far as to say this movie is the reason we have Blu-ray, to show off spectacularly shot, colorful scenes with attractive people doing amazing things. But, it’s not like I’d tell everyone to go out and see Step Up Revolution. If you can’t stand these kinds of movies, stay away because it’s as much of “that kind of movie” as you can get. But, if you’re like me and get a kick out of such things, do yourself a favor and watch this one.

Revisiting Crank (2006)

crank posterCrank is one of my favorite action movies of all time, so when I saw the Bluray on sale at Target for a mere $5, I bought it. I’m still new to the whole Bluray thing and do worry a bit about the quality of movies, especially discount ones and whether I’m getting screwed. But, my love of this movie and the cheapness lead to the purchase even though I already own the DVD. I don’t plan on replacing my DVD collection, but there are definitely movies like this one with strong visual styles that I want to see in this better format.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I watched the film, but after catching a few minutes of it on TV the other day, I gave it another watch. Last time I wrote extensively about the movie, I went the “drunken live blog” route which you can check out here. I just gave it a read through and there are some pretty funny moments in there. It’s also funny how the sporadic randomness of my notes kind of perfectly reflect the kinetic awesomeness of this film.

As I somewhat poorly explained in that other post, the film follows Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios, an assassin who has been poisoned with a drug, trying to find his killer. Chev discovers with the help of his doctor friend played by Dwight Yoakam that if he can keep his adrenaline pumping it will keep him alive. Statham uses various methods to keep those levels up trying to find Verona. Along the way we meet his girlfriend (Amy Smart) who has no idea what her boyfriend does for a living as well as an eccentric cast of characters including Efrem Ramirez, Reno Wilson and Glenn Howerton.

It sounds like your typical action movie when you write it out, but what separates Crank from its brethren is the writing, directing and filmmaking chops of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. These guys — who also made Crank: High Voltage, Gamer and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance — have such an amazing vision for the kinds of films they want to make. I have no idea if they have the whole tapestry in mind when they go into making a film or if it comes to them as they go, but the finished product is such a fun visual treat that utilizes the medium of film in ways that many others don’t. This covers anything from the guerrilla style of shooting they utilize to the use of music and on-screen text and graphics to doing little things like showing the person Chev is talking to on the phone while driving in his side mirror. That last one is such a small thing I don’t know if I ever even noticed it before, but there it is.

It’s funny because a lot of the things Neveldine and Taylor do in their films seem designed to remind you that you’re watching a movie, something I usually dislike. But the key to a movie like Crank is to make the audience fully understand that they’re watching a movie. I mean, the story here is basically a video game or cartoon, but the way they handle it makes it surprisingly human, but not too human that you feel REALLY bad for some of the people who have bad things done to them. It’s like what Garth Ennis said in the intro to his Punisher Marvel Knights book: it’s all over-the-top violence and escapism, not something that’s looking to analyze society’s relationship to violence and bloodlust. It’s just fun.

Ad It Up: Terminator, Alien & Predator Games

terminator alien predator magnus 21 1993This two page ad from Magnus Robot Fighter #21 (1993) makes me think of two things. First, has there ever been a quality game featuring these characters in the current generation of consoles? I don’t know if I’ve ever played a Terminator game, but I did recently try to play Alien vs. Predator on the 360 and it was frustratingly crappy. I’d be completely happy with an open world Predator game in the vein of Amazing Spider-Man where you’re just running around a map hunting people down. The map could literally be anything, I’d be in. Just make the controls simple, easy to use and FUN.

The second question is, why do crossovers involving these characters tend to suck? I like the two Alien vs. Predator movies just because they have both Aliens and Predators, but they’re not good movies. I’m basically taking what I can get. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to come up with a good story. How are the Dark Horse crossovers? I think I might have read some, but don’t remember any.