Having successfully (at least by the rather loose definition of that term we subscribe to around here) ripped off Escape From New York with his legendary (again, by our standards) 1983 offering 2019 : After The Fall Of New York, veteran Italian exploitation director Sergio Martino next turned his attention to milking the premise of James Cameron’s The Terminator for all it was worth and, in 1986, unleashed on an unsuspecting public the remarkably bizarre Hands Of Steel (or, as it was titled in its country of origin Vendetta Dal Futruro — you may also have seen it on VHS as either Atomic Cyborg  or Fists Of Steel) , a “starring” vehicle for supposedly-up-and-coming action hero-wannabe Daniel Greene that sees him taking on the perfect role for a man of his near-to-non-existent acting talent — a cyborg. And a cyborg named Paco, at that.

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The creation of evil industrialist Francis Turner  (the legendary by anyone’s standards John Saxon), Paco is sent out to kill a kind-hearted ecologist/rival political faction leader out to blow the lid off Turner’s mass-pollutin’ ways but finds he can’t do the job because he’s still part-human — and apparently part good-guy human, to boot.  So, he does what any confused half-robot in his position would do and tries to drop out of sight, fleeing to Arizona where he sets up shop in a local watering hole and takes on all comers (mostly truck drivers) in arm-wrestling matches that he always wins thanks to, of course, his titular hands of steel.

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As we’ve all come to learn by now, though, it’s not so easy to fall completely off the map in future (the “future” in this case being 1997) dystopian societies ruled by scheming corporate overlords, so it’s only a matter of time before Paco’s proficiency at slamming his opponent’s arm through a table gets him noticed, both by a fetching young lady (Janet Agren) who takes a shine to his stoic nature, and by the minions of the evil creator he’s supposedly trying to avoid. A battle for the fate of the word itself is bound to ensue at some point, of course, but the action-packed first and third acts of Martino’s little opus are sandwiched around a second act that is a pretty slow-burn affair more notable for its bizarre dialogue translations and oscillating over-and under-acting than anything else. It’s all good fun, of course, especially with spaghetti-flick stalwarts like George Eastman and Claudio Cassinelli  (more on him in a moment) on board, and it featuring a terrifically rhythmic musical score by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame, but if you zone out at various points here and there in the middle, I can’t really say that I’m prepared to hold that against you.

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A couple of points worth noting here : Paco’s character is actually a weird amalgamation of both Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese and Ah-nuld’s Terminator characters in Cameron’s flick, in that he’s a cybernetic killer who’s also a would-be worlds-saver, and therefore accurately presages the more “heroic” Terminator of the second and third films; and John Saxon wins our “real hero of the picture” award for steadfastly refusing to perform in any of the scenes Martino (here working under the pseudonym of Martin Dolman) shot in the US because he was a loyal SAG member and this was a non-union production, so he’d only go in front of the cameras in Italy. What did Saxon get for his steadfast union loyalty? How about his life! A helicopter crash during filming in Arizona killed co-star Cassinelli, and Saxon would have been on board with him if he’d agreed to participate in the scab-labor scenes done here in the States. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, union-busters!

All told, then, it’s fair to say that Hands Of Steel is a movie with an interesting — and frankly tragic — back-story, that certainly never achieves the soaring heights of absurdity that 2019 does, but is nevertheless pretty fun, especially when Martino goes for a note-for-note copy of one of The Terminator‘s most famous scenes and misses the mark by a mile. If you’re into cheesy Italian sci-fi knock-offs you’ll probably find this flick to be right up your alley, and given that it’s available for streaming on The Movies And Music Network (as well as on DVD from an outfit called Future Films that I know nothing about — I’ve heard the disc looks pretty good, but that it’s full-frame and has no extras to speak of), our friends there have, as is their custom, generously made it available for all TFG readers to watch for free by following the link at the top of this review. I humbly suggest you do so, as you have literally nothing to lose.

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And speaking of The Movie And Music Network, I would be remiss in not mentioning their latest venture, The 99 Cent Network, which launches tomorrow. You can buy — either for yourself, or as a gift — any three films in their ever-expanding lineup (the site launches with their “Terror Channel” library)  for (just) under a buck, or any ten for just $1.99! This is, needless to say, a great deal and requires no further obligation whatsoever on the part of the buyer, so it’s as close to a “can’t miss” proposition as you’re likely to find in this frightening new digital age of ours. Give it a look and tell ‘em Trash Film Guru sent you!

 

trashfilmguru (Ryan C.):

I take a look at issue number four of George Romero’s “Empire Of The Dead : Act Two” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Originally posted on Through the Shattered Lens:

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Is it just me, or has the second act of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead positively flown right by? I mean, here we are with only one issue left to go, and it feels like it was just the other day that the series started up again after the conclusion of the hiatus that followed its first arc. I have no doubt the book lost a fair amount of readers during the break — in fact, like most comics it probably lost a good half of its initial readership right after the first issue — but for those of us who’ve stuck with this thing, the payoff in the form of a big “fireworks” finale does seem to be approaching, albeit slowly. Remember, if all goes according to plan we’ve still got two more five-part acts to go following next month’s wrap-up of the current one, but there seems…

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trashfilmguru (Ryan C.):

I take a look at the first issue of Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade’s “Crossed + One Hundred” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Originally posted on Through the Shattered Lens:

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Who are we kidding? Of course I was gonna pick this book up — despite having no previous experience with, or knowledge of, the Crossed  “universe” — because, hey, it’s a new six-part Alan Moore series, and while there are very few creators who can “sell me” on a new title based on their involvement alone, Moore is (and frankly always will be) one of them. Still, for those (like myself) who need a brief history of the basic premise here before diving in, here goes —

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Crossed is veteran comics writer Garth Ennis’ take on the zombie apocalypse. No one knows what caused it. The zombies are called “the crossed.” To date there have been several mini series set in this world, each featuring a different cast of characters. They’ve all been published by Avatar Press. That’s it.

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A threadbare setup? Sure. But that has its advantages —…

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trashfilmguru (Ryan C.):

I take a look at the first issue of Dynamite’s new “Shaft” comic series for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Originally posted on Through the Shattered Lens:

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Right off the bat, I should probably apologize for the misleading headline here — Dynamite Entertainment’s Shaft #1 (the first of a six-part series) isn’t “bringing blaxploitation bad-ass to the printed page” so much as it’s bringing it back to the printed page, given that “the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks” actually started out life not on the silver screen, but in a series of pulp novels by the legendary Ernest Tidyman. And it’s probably down to the fact that Tidyman’s widow owns the copyright to the character of John Shaft that we even have this new spin-off comic at all, seeing as how negotiating a licensing rights deal with her is probably a lot easier than dealing with, say, MGM. Even so — am I the only one who’s surprised that this comic even exists?

I mean, when I think of licensed…

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trashfilmguru (Ryan C.):

I take a look at “The Multiversity : Pax Americana” #1 for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Originally posted on Through the Shattered Lens:

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Understand — it’s not like me to make grandiose pronouncements like “such-and-such is the movie of the year,” “such-and-such is the comic of the year,” etc. It’s pretty damn hard to pinpoint something as being the best offering in any given medium when one person, obviously, can’t see or read everything that’s out there — and it’s probably doubly stupid to engage in such hyperbole before the year is even over.

And yet — that’s exactly what I’m doing right here, and with full confidence. That’s because the latest issue of Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity has no chance of being topped, barring a miracle of some sort. It’s just. That. Fucking. Good.

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For those not familiar with the basic premise of what’s going on with The Multiversity, it’s an eight-issue mini-series from DC written by Morrison and illustrated by a bevy of the industry’s top talents — in this…

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Oh yeahhhhh — here we go, of the trio of new Bat-centric comics DC has unleashed in the wake of the debut of the Gotham TV series, this was the one I was looking forward to most, and for one simple reason : Ben Templesmith.

No offense intended to writer Ray Fawkes, mind you, but it’s the art that’s had me jazzed for this one since the time it was announced, and why not? Anyone who’s followed Templesmith’s singular style for any amount of time ( and I  sincerely hope you’ve read his just-completed IDW four-part series The Squidder — it seemed to fly under the radar a bit, publicity-wise, which is a bummer since it’s an absolutely magnificent comic) knows that this guy can flat-out bring it, and frankly, I can’t think of anyone better to illustrate the shadowy recesses of Gotham City that go bump in the night.

As is his custom, our guy Ben is turning in his pages in full color here, layering on his rich and atmospheric hues over the stylish, well-controlled chaos of his highly individualistic line art, and, as you’d expect, the results are gorgeous. If I had time to take a break from “ooh”ing and “aah”ing over his panels I’d probably take a moment to stop and be surprised by the fact  that DC, a publisher best known in recent years for the uniformity (and, let’s be honest, dullness) of the overall look of all its books even took this guy on board at all, but, as we’ve already established, they seem to have come around to the idea that their little “Bat-universe” is a large enough place to allow for a handful of unique-looking books to wedge their way into its far corners. Like Gotham Academy and Arkham Manor, one gets the sense right from the jump that Gotham By Midnight is arriving in our laps with a very definite sell-by date in the back of its editors’ and probably even creators’ minds — and Templesmith has never stuck with any given project for all that long — but here’s to hoping that we can count on a solid run of a couple of years or so here, at least, with only occasional “fill-in” issues along the way. My fingers are certainly crossed.

Again, though, DC is guilty of putting the cart before the horse a bit here by setting events in this series after those that are currently taking place in Batman Eternal (as is also the case with Arkham Manor and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame” storyline currently playing out in the pages of Batman itself), but in this particular case it’s really not such a big deal since the fact that somewhere along the way Commissioner Gordon (who we all know is destined to get his job back anyway),  for reasons as yet unknown,  decides to put together a special police task force to deal with supernatural threats to the city ins’t exactly a development that “spoils” any as-yet-unseen story revelations.

The lineup for Gordon’s pet project made flesh,  Precinct 13 ( also known as the GCPD’s “Midnight Shift”),  is composed primarily of new characters, with one notable exception : a lieutenant named Weaver runs the show, assisted by detective Lisa Drake, forensic doctor Szandor Tarr, demon-hunting nun Sister Justine, and, casting a long shadow over all, as he tends to do, is the only “established” DCU character (besides Batman, who puts in an appearance, of course) of the bunch, detective Jim Corrigan, a.k.a. The Spectre.

Fawkes has been the primary writer on the sporadic Batman Eternal issues where Corrigan features prominently, and while it’s probably fair to say that the long, drawn-out reveal of his ghostly alter-ego in that series is down to choices made by James Tynion IV and the previously-mentioned Snyder, given that they’re co-plotting the entire weekly enterprise,  the same approach seems to be unfolding here given that The Spectre is mentioned, but never shown, in the first issue of Gotham By Midnight, as well.

Maybe that’s for the best — he’s certainly one of the most powerful characters in the entire DCU, so when he makes an appearance it probably should be a big deal, but I must confess that I’m already chomping at the bit to see how Templesmith draws him. I have a feeling that’s gonna be some epic shit right there.

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Look, who are we fooling? It’s probably no secret by now that I’d be all over this comic even if the writing absolutely sucked, but fortunately for us that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. Fawkes — whose work on the ongoing Constantine monthly has been bog-standard stuff at best, downright wretchedly mundane at worst — cooks up a pacy little yarn here that manages to hit all the notes it needs to in terms of character introductions by sticking a ball-busting IA sergeant named Rooks,  who explicitly states that his goal with Precinct 13 is to shutter their operation completely,  into the proceedings right off the bat, thus allowing him and us to meet everyone at the same time, before plunging down into a real rabbit hole of an investigation that centers on two young girls who went missing for a short time before coming home covered in mud and speaking a language no one can understand. Gee, do ya think something weird might have happened to them?

Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s strongly hinted that the first issue’s cliffhanger has landed our protagonists right at the doorstep of hell itself, so I think we’re probably in for a fairly exciting ride, and you can rest assured that, in Templesmith’s uber-capable hands, hell is gonna look like hell oughtta look.

I could have picked up Andrea Sorrentino’s admittedly good-looking variant cover (shown above) at the shop today, but Templesmith’s who I’m buying this series for, so I opted for his main one, as I’m sure I’ll continue to do month in and month out. As long as he sticks with this title, I will, too, even if the story goes to — oh, wait, it’s already there, But damn, so far I really like it anyway.

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So here’s the set-up — in the pages of the ongoing weekly series Batman Eternal, Arkham Asylum was blown sky high in some kind of supernatural explosion, and the city fathers of Gotham have consequently found themselves at loose ends in terms of where they’re going to warehouse their rogues’ gallery of “criminally insane” patients/inmates. After much discussion ,debate, and deliberation, the answer they come up with is — Wayne Manor?

I guess if you can swallow the notion that one of the richest guys in the world actually cares about other people, and expresses his warped notion of “concern”  by dressing up as a goddamn bat and fighting crime at all hours of the night, then the aforementioned- premise of the new monthly  series  Arkham Manor shouldn’t prove to be a bridge too far. I just find it very curious — to put it mildly — that DC would choose to put this out before the events that lead up to it had even happened yet (the destruction of Arkham and Bruce Wayne losing his home, and his company, are only now unfolding in Batman Eternal, yet Arkham Manor  is already on its second its second issue), but whatever. In this day and age of several-months-in-advance Diamond previews and solicits, I guess there are no such thing as “spoilers” in comics anymore.

To make things even more convoluted, though , the first story arc of this series involves Bruce Wayne, sans Batman garb, going undercover as a patient in his former home in order to track down a murderer who’s offing the other inmates. You know you’ve got it rough, I guess, when you have to pretend to be someone else in order to get back into your old house, which is now both a psychiatric prison and an active crime scene.

Obviously, at some point, Brucie boy is gonna get his family estate back — but  the question you have to ask is, after all this shit, why would he even want it?

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Okay,  it’s called “suspension of disbelief,” and it’s a notion we already discussed pretty thoroughly right at the outset here, so I’ll just leave that little query to play itself out at some inevitable point in the future. And I’m sure that point will come right around the time  at which Arhham Manor is scheduled to be concluded/cancelled, since, like its two other new Bat-brethren, this is a title that’s clearly designed for the short (or at best semi-long) haul. The thing that it needs to prove to us now is — will it be worth seeing through to the end?

As of this moment, I’d have to say that my honest answer is “I’m not sure.” Writer Gerry Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal (both of whom cut their teeth on Marvel’s Deadpool, among other projects) definitely give the proceedings here a unique flavor, and it’s wise that for a book this outlandish they don’t appear to be taking themselves too seriously, but this is no out-and-out comedy a la the just-finished (and already sorely missed) Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. Earlier today I  finished up reading the second issue, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit (just as I did the first), I’m still not completely clear on what it is they’re “going for” here. One moment we’re in a group therapy session that’s clearly being played for laughs, the next we’re hunting for stone-cold killer Victor Zsasz in the bowels of a creepy old mansion full of evil crazy people. I’m tempted to say something about the whole thing feeling as schizophrenic as one of the manor/asylum’s inmates, but that would probably be both in poor taste and a bit too obvious.

Whoops.

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All misgivings aside, though, this book at least shows both some potential and, crucially, individuality. Crystal’s style (which can be seen on the main covers reproduced with this review, with the variants, also shown, coming our way courtesy of Eric Canete and Rico Renzi, respectively) is a lot more free-flowing and naturalistic than most of the bog-standard product DC is clogging the racks with, and lends itself to both “lighter” and “darker” scenes with equal ease, so that’s a big plus, as is Duggan’s solid grasp of dialogue and characterization. In short, plain language, then, it’s fair to say I like both the art and the writing here. I just don’t know if I like the comic — yet.

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How’s this for a conundrum, though? I don’t have any solid reason to drop it from my pull list, either. So far it’s been intriguing, even if it’s been hard to pin down. In fact, we might even be in the early stages of a very solid, long-form Batman story. The potential is there, and these guys (along with colorist Dave McCaig, here employing a decidedly more traditional and subdued palette than he’s using in the pages of Gotham Academy) seem talented enough to pull it off.  There are so many borderline- tantalizing glimpses of what might be on our way that I’m willing to take a “wait-and-see” approach for the time being. Unfortunately, the book’s initial struggles to find its “voice” also ensure that I can’t say anything more for it than “wait-and-see,” either.

Lock me up in Arkham Manor for now, then, I guess — but please,  don’t go throwing away the key just yet. I may yet decide that my stay here is better off being a short one.