Lady Death: Chaos Rules / Lady Death: Damnnation Game (2015)

One of my guilty pleasures in the world of comics are “cheesecake comics” an outdated term for a comic with sexy women in it (beefcake is more used today for the opposite). One thing I will never do is get on a soapbox and try to pretend that the only reason I read comics like this are for some metatextual ironic reason, or that I believe books like this are in some way feminist in nature. Honestly, some books like this are pretty trashy, although I try to avoid the stuff that veers into total smut as the storytelling is usually the caliber of a late night Cinemax movie.

What I will say is that I enjoy the art and I like the carefree attitude most of them have, and that’s why I read them. Most of these comics are not really erotic in any way nor do they depict lurid acts for the most part, but everyone in it usually dresses like they live in a Frank Miller movie, so there’s that. If you recall I have posted reviews in the past for Vampirella comics, which despite the silly costuming and gratuitous poses, is actually a good read and a fairly compelling comic for somebody that loves gothic horror. I also enjoy things like Conan and Red Sonja which are both barbarian adventure comics, and cheesecake depending on the story. So why am I rambling about this? Today we’re talking about what I consider to be the “best of both worlds” in terms of gratuitous imagery and a barbarian tone – Brian Pulido’s Lady Death.

Much like Dawn and Vampirella, I remember being introduced to comics like this when I was a teenager in the 90’s and an avid reader of Wizard Magazine. They would usually have posters or articles about these comics, and they looked really cool, but the comics were usually kept in the forbidden “behind the counter” zone that young impressionable teens had no access to at the local comic shop. Had I seen a stray side-boob at that age, you never know what sort of miscreant I would be today!

Coffin Comics, the new company helmed by Lady Death creator Brian Pulido, has an interesting way of making comics in this modern climate of digital distribution and Amazon running everything out of business. Instead of a model where comics are sent out to stores, he funds each issue with a Kickstarter campaign resulting in a landslide victory each time in funding and a ton of swag to the contributors. I have been able to participate in the last few campaigns and have been rewarded with all manner of posters, bumper stickers, cards, guitar picks, and even challenge coins. While some creators use the funding to pad their wallets or to fund other things than what the fans are contributing to, Coffin Comics leaves me happy each time even though I will never be able to use all of the silly swag I get. But where did this business model come from?

Coffin Comics was started in 2007 by Pulido, who is the previously mentioned creator of pretty much all of the properties formerly under the roof of a company called Chaos! Comics. These titles included Lady Death, Evil Ernie, Purgatori, Chastity, Jade, Bad Kitty, and Lady Demon. At one point, Lady Death was big enough to have her own trading card sets and other merch that usually was only reserved for big Marvel and DC properties. When Chaos ceased publishing, the license to Lady Death moved to another company called CrossGen publishing that went out of business about a decade ago.

After a few false starts, everyone’s favorite anti-hero is back home with Pulido in this new company since 2015. When asked about this new strategy utilizing Kickstarter, Pulido has remarked that he’s not really interested in the mass market that much (although he does sell through Diamond like most comics) but has a comic collector in mind with every decision. That’s why all of the comics are marked #1 and there are TONS of alternate covers for each issue – some with print-runs as low as 12 copies! While that seems silly, the fans of his don’t seem to mind, it’s just a quirk of getting comics from them.

To date: the following titles have been released:

  • Lady Death: Chaos Rules
  • Lady Death: Damnation Game
  • Lady Death: Extinction Express
  • Lady Death: Oblivion Kiss
  • Lady Death: Merciless Onslaught
  • Lady Death: Unholy Ruin
  • Lady Death: Apocalyptic Abyss

So getting into the first of our double feature – Chaos Rules #1, the comic assumes you know who Lady Death is right from the get-go and wastes no time in making sure you know anything. Granted, there’s nothing keeping a new reader from understanding the plot, but a vague knowledge of the basic plot could be a plus. I would recommend perhaps watching the 2004 film created by the Now defunct anime studio AD Vision and written by Carl Macek. It’s not completely true to the source material, but it helps sum up the backstory. Here it is conveniently found on YouTube:

If you don’t want to watch that, the gist of her origin is that she was once  a young girl in medieval Sweden named Hope. Her father was a local nobleman named Matthias (Marius in one of the reboots) who was forcibly conscripting peasants into military service as feudal levies. Unknown to his innocent daughter, Matthias had a dark secret.

Although congratulated by the Church for his work against the pagans, he was despised by the common folk as a cruel tyrant. Matthias was outwardly pious, but secretly dabbled in black magic and demonology. He was actually a descendant of the fallen angels who had led the rebellion against God. A couple of the series change what happens next a bit, but Hope’s father summons a demon and Hope is captured in his place to be tried as a witch – she uses the same incantation her father was using and summons another demon that gives her a choice: Die or live as a soldier in Hell. She takes the latter and becomes a bad-ass warlord to face her father or to take over Hell depending on the version.

“In Chaos Rules #1, Lady Death is awakened from a 20-year, spell-induced slumber, she finds herself in the fiery pits of Hell. Two decades of her life, gone –– nothing more than nightmares. Who among her depraved enemies is responsible? How long until she exacts bloody vengeance? Not long!!! This is the first new Lady Death comic I’ve personally published in 12 years. This story –– chock full of sex, violence, and very bad behavior –– is Lady Death, fully realized.”

The above is a quote from Brian Pulido from the Kickstarter page and it sets the tone of the comic. This is definitely a re-introduction the the character that I assume many have not kept up with for a number of years, if not decades. While no Citizen Kane in terms of writing, the story is well conveyed and well-written for this type of comic. Perhaps the only thing holding this back from being “great” was the fact that some of the art is a bit cold or static, making it hard to tell what exactly is going on.

This is a minor gripe though, as fans of the original book and fans of this genre will enjoy it immensely. It was good to see the story scaled back after the almost Dragonball Z styled power boost given to the characters in later incarnations – a trend that seems to ruin most comics like this. It happened in Spawn, Punisher, and even Dragonball Z! It’s nice to see the Lady return to her roots.

Damnation Game #1

“Lady Death rescues an innocent boy dragged to Hell, inciting an ultra-violent quest into the depths of Damnation, a depraved city hosting ‘The Hades Engine,” a contraption that can return the boy to earth. But Lady Death’s actions bring her into direct conflict with the nefarious Hellwitch. Who will live? Who will die? With her return to Hell, Lady Death is public enemy number one, and you know what? She wouldn’t have it any other way. Let the mayhem begin!”

Coffin’s second outing is another solid read, but is held back by the exact opposite issue I had with the first issue. While the art in this is better than in the first, my opinion at least, the writing isn’t as well-done. some bits of dialog are very stilted, perhaps cliché and seem forced. On the flip-side, there are moments of great foreshadowing that Dheeraj Verma and Sabine Rich employed that conveyed a plot twist coming up better with their use of panels than the dialog could do. I loved the artwork.

This book is also the introduction of a new nemesis for Lady Death in a character named Hell Witch. You see Lady Death may have offed her Daddy in the last issue, so Hell Witch is out for vengeance. Since I’m assuming old Chaos! characters like Purgatori are off the table, Hell Witch seems like a fine replacement without being a direct clone or simple stand-in of the other. Although, to be honest, part of me would love to see these older characters eventually make their ways back home as well.

All-in all you really can’t go wrong with either book – stay tuned for more as I have all of the issues so far and will try to do more reviews! I will also do a kickstarter un-boxing whenever my La Muerta: Retribution stuff arrives.

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Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

As we all know by now, Konami sucks and has cemented itself as one of, if not THE most hated game company on the planet. Formerly the home of a myriad of popular gaming franchises, the company now seems hellbent on ruining the careers of it’s once most valued creators and cranking out mobile games and pachinko machines for the Japanese market. This has led a wave of aforementioned creators to bail on the company including the likes of Hideo Kojima and Koji Igarashi (IGA), the man that is the topic of today’s review. IGA left Konami a number of years ago to help found a new company called Artplay and helmed a successful Kickstarter for their first game entitled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – a 2.5D modern “spiritual successor” to his popular Castlevania series.

It’s been a few years since IGA did his Kickstarter, and we’re finally seeing some of the fruits of the labor that he and his team have been putting into the title. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is actually the result of a stretch goal from the main title that was expanded into a full-fledged game. This isn’t really something new for crowdfunded games, and honestly games in general nowadays, as a lot of production companies have been churning out small, usually cellphone related, games as a marketing tool for their releases. The difference between this and a lot of those promotional games is that this is a FULL-ON 8 bit game that was crafted to help build the world around the Bloodstained franchise and set the scene for the main game.

On the night of the full moon, demons called forth by evil alchemists emerge from a land beyond ours and ravage the earth, becoming a threat that spells the end of mankind as we know it. On this night, one man, a warrior from the east, arrives to exterminate the demon threat for the sake of both his friends and the survival of the human race. However, to destroy the demons once and for all, he must find solace and support in unusual allies…

COTM is, in a lot of ways, similar to the NES classic Castlevania 3 (which also has a solid Netflix show based on it) in that it is level-based instead of the sprawling castle that we are used to in more modern “Metroidvania games” and has switchable characters. Each character has strengths and weaknesses and learning how to properly employ them in battle is the key to getting through this game easily. Granted, there is an easy mode if that doesn’t help.

First up we have Zangetsu, a warrior from the East who wields the legendary sword Zangetsuto, in his battle to remove all deminds from the earth. He is eventually aided by Miriam, a character that was introduced to us as the main protagonist of the upcoming Ritual of the Night. Miriam suffers from a curse that is slowly turning her into a stained glass window. Miriam wields a whip in classic ‘Vania fashion and can jump higher than Zangetsu and slide under walls in some cases.

The next character obtained is named Alfred. He is an Alchemist said to be searching for an ancient tome called the Liber Logaeth. Since alchemists have been touted as the chief evil of this world, it will be interesting to see how his story pans out in the larger game. Alfred is very weak but can wield powerful magic including this awesome electricity spell that will lay waste to any boss if you mange to keep it on you to that point.

Finally, Zangetsu meets a man named Gebel who is allegedly the progenitor of the crystallizing curse who harbors deep hatred for both humans and alchemists. he can shoot stuff out of his hands and turn into a bat to help avoid annoying platforming sections. At least that’s what I did! According to all the press stuff, Gebel appears to be the main villain of the follow-up game, so seeing him here as a “hero” is interesting.

Like I stated earlier, this isn’t some quick cash-in cellphone game. This is a full featured game with multiple difficulties and multiple endings that open up after you clear the game forcing you to play again to see the true ending. There are eight full levels, with the final three being pretty long, and a boss for each and every level. I currently have only finished the game once, so I cannot comment on additional modes past that. The graphics and music are also very good and really help this game stand out.

All in all this is a GREAT retro game – it’s not gratuitously hard like the recent Mega Man sequels or super short like I assumed it would be. This is a full fledged game that seems like I could have been playing it on the NES 30 years ago. If this is the quality to expect from this series, I am very excited to see the follow-up and hope there will be a new franchise coming from this.

I got the game for free as I donated to the Kickstarter, but it appears to sell for $9.99 which is a good price for such a quality game. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is available on just about everything, so if your looking for a new Castlevania styled game, look no further.

Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling (2013, BWC Films)

Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) has been dead for well over a decade. People involved such as Paul Heyman, the cultish former owner, have moved on and seemingly distanced themselves from their one time passion, thus leaving multitudes of fans clamoring for something to whet their appetites. In a post-Benoit world, professional wrestling has sort of lost its way, alienating a lot of its former fans that kept it going in the late nineties. People have tried to replicate the magic of the extreme wrestling movement, but a lot of others have tried to merely capitalize on it. Since 2001, there have been many promotional imitations, direct to DVD lamentations, and even historical revisionism released to the masses. It seems that ECW is the “dead horse” that everyone has their clubs ready to beat the hell out of. When I saw that there was yet another ECW documentary in the works via Kickstarter, I was skeptical. I thought “what else can be said?” Boy was I wrong, Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling is exactly the sort of DVD that any wrestling fan should have on their shelf.

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I think my main problem with a lot of posthumously made ECW media, is that people have a tendency to use the whole thing as some sort of political device. WWE’s Rise and Fall of ECW, once thought of as the ultimate tribute of the company, reeks of a Vince McMahon victory lap over the failed venture. Another documentary, Forever Hardcore, was seen as a “counterpoint to WWE’s slightly revisionist offering, but was plagued by bitterness by those interviewed and suffered from a lack of actual ECW video footage. Possibly the most egregious misuse of ECW comes from a company that I am very fond of. TNA, the current number two wrestling federation in the United States, even did a “reunion show” called Hardcore Justice. While it had a solid card, they really had no business doing it as they were founded well after ECW’s demise and had no pony in the proverbial race. The whole thing seemed like a cashgrab.

The reason Barbed Wire City is different is that it comes from a different viewpoint; we’ve had the victorious billionaire, we’ve had the wounded former employees, and we’ve even had the copy-cats, now let’s hear from a fan. John Philapavage, the man behind the documentary, was like so many other rabid ECW fans: he lined up in long lines in the snow, huddled in crowded bingo halls, and got to meet some of his heroes. The thing that really set him apart from other fans is that he had the sense to record interviews of himself talking to the people involved. These interviews are combined with wrestling footage, and the odd Ken Burns-esque still photograph with a nifty 3D effect added in.

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I have to tip my hat to Mr. Philapavage on the quality of his interviews. Mostly taken around the time that ECW was on its last legs, these interviews are both entertaining and heartbreaking. Considering the decade worth of interviews here, there are some insights that many documentaries simply cannot hope to achieve. Sometimes you would see an interview from 2001 followed by a snippet of one made more recently to compare someone’s attitude change. Take, for example, Angel Medina in 2001: as he watched the company crumbling around himself with guys jumping ship left and right, he stayed positive. More recently he talks about why he stayed in there, and the mistakes he made by doing so. Balls Mahoney was another notable interview that really got to me. He goes from very optimistic in 2001, saying that there was no way the company could go under, to a very different man a decade later. He talks about some really dark times such as a bout with depression, an episode that nearly cost him his life.

It isn’t all sadness in modern times, as the film is bookended by clips of an upstart federation out of Philadelphia called Extreme Rising ran by ECW alumni Shane Douglas. From meager beginnings, the story of Extreme Rising seems to both mirror and be haunted by its connections to ECW right from the get go. By the end of the film we are left wondering if Douglas can really recapture the magic from a decade past. I liked seeing this stuff in here because it acts as the anchor to our modern world, and really shows how much the wrestling world has changed. While one is left with a little glimmer of hope that we really could see this style of professional wrestling come back, there is a lot of shadows there as well. What was once cutting edge and trendy almost seems depressing today.

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I commend the documentarians discussing the dark times when ECW was said to be “taking it too far”. They were on the cusp of being so big that the glamorized violence and dangerous stunts were causing problems, but too small to chance upsetting loyal fans by toning it down. Some ECW documentaries have a tendency to not talk about bad things aside from the occasional reference to Paul Heyman’s poor business decisions. By having wrestlers discuss their personal issues, and problems within the company, the documentary seems more “balanced”. Instead of having an agenda, John Philapavage has stayed fairly neutral. He discusses the good things, the bad things, and the downright ugly side of professional wrestling here.

My one real quibble with the film is that there was no footage of the “Mass Transit Incident”. This was a notorious controversy involving an untrained and underage wrestler that got hurt during a match, then tried to sue ECW out of existence. The man in question lied his way into filling a slot in a show and was “cut open like a stuck pig” when he allowed a wrestler named New Jack to cut him. One thing most casual wrestling fans don’t realize is that wrestlers used to have small strips of razor blades hidden either on their person or some other strategic spot to cut themselves open. This was done for dramatic effect, as the “fake” nature of the violence needed to sometimes be “spiced up” to tell a story. “Mass Transit” was not comfortable doing this himself, and asked New Jack to “help him”, which was a bad idea. This controversy was a main talking point towards the end of the film, and there was no footage, or even a stock photo of what happened. I felt that this was a missed opportunity, and could have confused someone that did not already know about it.

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On a technical standpoint, the DVD is a class act; it even has its own composed music. While I would have LOVED to see this in HD on my widescreen TV, the standard definition print is very professional and looks great. There were no stutters or other anomalies, something that can’t be said for other fan productions. There are extended interviews and deleted scenes in the special features tab including a series of clips involving Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. Despite many appearances on many wrestling shows, fans don’t seem to realize how much of a wrestling fan Corgan is, to the point that he owns his own federation. This special feature was cool because you really got to see his passion for ECW, and how it got him into the business. One thing I would love to see is an eventual “Director’s Cut” edition of this film with more outtakes, deleted scenes, and maybe some more interviews. I bet the guys at BWC films are sitting on tons of footage for this, why not get it out there!

All in all, I loved this DVD. For years Beyond the Mat was seen as one of the few great wrestling documentaries out there; now we can add Barbed Wire City to the same level of prestige. The RF video footage, the interviews, and the 3D still images all mesh in such a way that I could really see BWC Films going somewhere in the world of independent filmmaking, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. So if you are even a small fan of ECW, do yourself a favor and watch this DVD, you won’t regret it.


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Kick Heart (2013) Short Film

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As promised, I’m going to review a newer anime today rather than sticking to the decade of my birth like my last few entries. This short film is one that many people have probably not heard of before, as it was created via a “crowd funding” project. About a year ago, I found a film called Kick Heart by Masaki Yuasa and Production I.G. on Kickstarter. Mr. Yuasa is of course the man behind the surreal (and pretty much awesome) short film Cat Soup, so I knew I just HAD to back the project. It doesn’t hurt that I’m also a huge pro wrestling fan either! It eventually made it’s required money, but missed it’s “stretch goals” which would have potentially moved the project into a feature length film, but what we got was pretty awesome none-the-less.

The story follows a man named Romeo Maki as he tries to get by with a fairly surprising dual life. Romeo works as both a masked professional wrestler and the CEO of a rundown orphanage. He funds with orphanage via proceeds from his night job, but things aren’t looking good. Lately the roof has been leaking non-stop, and it appears that a large snake has taken the children’s restroom as his home. In desperation, Romeo enters a $50,000 “winner takes all” contest against another masked wrestler named Lady S, but things get weird real quick. Lady S “gets off” by inflicting pain on her opponents, and Maskman M (Romeo) get’s the same pleasure from receiving pain. I know this sounds like the makings of an adult film, but don’t worry, Kick Heart is pretty much PG-13. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Lady S also works at the orphanage as a quiet young nun named Juliet, but Romeo doesn’t realize this.

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The animation in this film is pretty nice, and resembles those old Bill Plympton cartoons more than any anime I’ve ever seen. Everything is sort of “sketchy” and VERY brightly colored, which really helps this film have an “edgy” or “underground” feeling to it. It’s almost like something that would have aired on MTV’s ancient Liquid Television show really late at night. I enjoyed the fact that you never got to see Romeo’s face completely, this was mostly because he lived most of his life as a masked wrestler, and tradition generally goes that such performers are never to be seen in public without their masks on. Romeo, in businessman mode, always has a black censorship bar over his eyes, a little touch that gives this film something different that really makes it stand out.

The character designs are pretty awesome and some are even borderline grotesque. Lady S’s tag team partner, in particular, is a giant of a woman that is so large that she crushes a portion of the audience when she is defeated in one of their bouts. The cool thing is that because of this, no two characters look the same, and are “larger than life” just like how pro wrestling characters generally are.

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I love what Kickstarter and other crowd funding services could potentially bring to the anime market. Films like this or the recent Bubblegum Crisis Blu-Ray release are products that most likely would not have been produced in the current anime market, so pre-ordering these projects beforehand really lessen the risk of the project being unsuccessful, and guarantees the releases. Eventually I want to see more experimental films like this, and maybe older anime getting put up. It really could change the landscape of the whole industry.

Here is a trailer:

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