Comics on the can
Writer – Dwayne McDuffie
Pencils – Tom Raney
Inks/colors – Brad Vancata
It’s great writing for Gamer’s guide in 1991! It has been a great year for video games we got the Terminator 2 arcade game where you spend roughly about seventy five dollars in quarters to beat the dreaded skynet supercomputer and a near lifelike representation of that creepy T-1000. Console gaming has hit a high with the first Spider-Man game since the Atari 2600, Something called “Sonic the Hedgehog” (I think it’s a lame rip off of Super Mario Brothers don’t bet on this one kids) and the hotly anticipated video game adaptation of the surefire Bruce Willis blockbuster “Hudson Hawk”!
I also heard from some close personal friends over at Marvel Comics (home of Punisher, X-Men and my personal favorite Sleepwalker) about a special Easter egg you can get; a comic adaptation of the hit video game from five years ago DOUBLE DRAGON! You may recall your older brother talking about playing this crazy 16bit video game in a thing called an Arcade (or your local pizza parlor) where you walk to your right and beat up enemies that take their fashion cues from both Warriors… “The..” and “The Road…”. Well now you can enjoy the adventures of Jimmy and Billy Lee in a timeless eternal medium that will always hold the hearts and wallets of our nation’s children… Comic Books!
It’s simple to find the Easter egg; you just sit on the toilet to poop or if you’re a wuss or one of those fictional gamer girls to pee. Next you take your Nintendo or Sega Genesis and hold it on top of your head for thirty seconds. Next you insert the Double Dragon game cartridge, enter the code Up, up, down, down left, right, left, right, B, A into your game shark, throw a bar of soap across the room, pet the family dog firm but lovingly behind its left ear, have a VHS recording of ALF playing backwards and say Shamalama Ding Dong three times and the brilliant comic adaption of this ageless game will automatically appear on your TV.
Couldn’t be easier.
You can then read the comic and write your thoughts about it on a thing that some dude name Al Gore invented called The Internet (as if) which is something like a compuserve message board but not for dorks. Granted this “internet” won’t be widespread for another six years so take good notes.
I often wonder what the process is for works of art. I enjoy hearing comic artists talk about how they design and draw the pages. They toss out funny words like “gouache” and “Wacom”, “anatomy” and “perspective” and I’ll nod my head and pretend (quite convincingly I might add) to know what they are talking about. Don’t matter; it’s the end result that matters and seeing as how my nine year old is a better illustrator than I am who am I to judge?
Here’s an example:
Writing is a different animal, though. Whereas an illustrator should get excited about Kung Fu fights with cybernetic monsters a writer has to make sense of a Kung Fu fight AND the cybernetic monster.
Or maybe not, especially in the case of Double Dragon the Marvel comic adaptation of the popular video game in a time when licensing for such things were still cheap and/or a promotional write off. Nothing really makes sense in this book starting with the “story”. Having the name of the video game and two guys that Kung fu is about as far as the similarities go between the game and the comic. For example, the video game has two… brothers, I guess, looking like pallet swapped Patrick Swayzes via “Steel Dawn”. They walk across the dicey side of a city, some public park grounds and eventually some evil Kung Fu master’s lair all while beating bad guy ass. The opening comic has some elaborate (for comics, I guess) set up of a utopian city ruined by some generic crime lord named (get this) Nightfall and his super powered lieutenants. Some of whom are named Exoskeleton, Superluminal and Legerdemain. I’m not one to harp on names (eyes roll) but my biggest takeaway from this comic is that some writers are better off not naming stuff.
Of course when I say I’m not one to harp on names I lied.
I get it, I really do; you’re not going to strike fear into the hearts of ANYbody if you use your given name of Marvin or go by the moniker “Dude that wears black socks with sandals”. C’mon, though… “Nightfall” sounds like a worse than average romantic drama starring Katherine Heigl and Cher or a bad Vampire soaper on the CW! I guess Destructor, Sir Vicious De Bastard and Kill-o-Tron were already taken. So, following his (I assume it’s a he) mission statement of bringing darkness through crime and terror to the city Nightfall was chosen over “The Terror”, “The Darkness” or “Big Lou Scare-a-Lotti”.
While we’re on stupid names the city all this “action” takes place is called, awkwardly, Oligopolis. I don’t mean to imply McDuffie smokes weed laced with PCPs or accuse him of not trying but even the founders of Butte Montana didn’t consider Oligopolis first. You can tell that Oligi… you know what; I can’t bring myself to write that again it’s just “The city” from here on out. You can tell that the city is futuristic because there are flying cars! Even the kids have flying cycles of some sort. Which implies that flying vehicles are cheap and common enough for kids to have them. Which, if you apply Moore’s law, means it’s pretty far into the future. This is how I know the City is futuristic. Now if there were zeppelin airships it would be the alternate universe version of Oli… damnit… The City! Anyway through corruption, violence and graft Nightfall rules the futuristic city with an iron fist. Which tells us that city officials were corrupt to begin with. Which tells us that this utopia wasn’t that utopian to begin with. So eat it The City!
Why McDuffie placed this story in a futuristic context is unclear since the game has no futuristic trappings at all. I guess the future looked brighter to a writer in 1991; “Just wait till 2017! The world will be totally united, peace will reign, kids will have flying motorcycles and our bad guys will have lame code names! Corrupt politicians will be a thing of fiction. Oh I yearn for such a time as 2017!”
Marion Steele (a 90’s heroine name if I ever heard one… and I’ve heard a lot of em), a tough as nails undercover cop that wears spandex and becomes a hostage inside of four pages, has discovered a “ledger” containing the names of all the city officials on Nightfall’s payroll. Why a cyber powered super criminal keeps his list of corrupt lackeys in a traditional analog format smacks of paranoia, painfully mismanaged technological advancement or narrative necessity. Without exploring the question of “if there are enough political officials on the take to let some weenis utterly ruin the system for everyone with blatant disregard for the rule of law are there any honest people left in power to do anything about it?” (A question I ask myself on a daily basis in a decidedly non-utopian 2017). Marion steals the ledger with the expectation of “breaking this thing wide open”. This gets her kidnapped by one of “Nightfall’s” goons; a speedster with the name “Superluminal”. Damn, maybe I missed some subtle artistic statement by McDuffie with all these shitty names. Though I’m leaning more towards the PCP laced weed theory. A group of precocious kids (also a painful narrative trope see Jurassic force 5) on a flying motorcycle no less (futuristic, see) witness Marion’s kidnapping and rush off to tell the Double Dragons. Which is all part of Nightfall’s evil plan Muhuhahahahah!
You might have noticed that I’m deep inside this rambling tirade about a book called Double Dragon before I get around to even talking about the Double Dragons themselves. This is because Billy and Jimmy personalities are defined by “Wearing blue”, “Wearing red” and “being dumb”. Everyone from their sensi (continuing the motif of bad names by just going with the unimaginative name “Sensi”. Though I’m surprised his name isn’t Theodore Winston Whahullyplunk-Smith) to a mystical dragon which is, I guess, a source of their unbeatable power, tells the boys that their strength lies in working together. So naturally after about two minutes they bicker and split up. The topic of their disagreement is not over what the best strategy in handling Nightfall’s goons is or how to get to the secret lair in one piece. No, it’s over which one Marion wants to date more. So at the the most dangerous part of their mission, when to succeed all the DOUBLE dragons have to do is stick together they bicker over who’s gonna get sloppy seconds! This would count as an anemic addition of lazy character conflict except for two things: 1 – At this point characterization for Billy and Jimmy is still “wearing red” and “wearing blue”. 2 – They realize their mistake after a page and a half, table their “who gets to bone the anima” argument for a later, less stabby ninja time and get to beating more bad guy ass.
They reach Marion and free her from the giant hourglass she’s trapped in (don’t… just…don’t) and then pick up on the “Who gets dibs on the grateful hostage” argument. In what is the only example in this book of someone acting moderately realistically Marion points out that she’s not a prize to be won. She shoots a ninja too (another action movie cliche originating in the 90’s) saving the one dressed in red (I honestly couldn’t tell or care which is which). Which is a step above the game where at the end the rescued girl chose the one in red. So… progress?
I said at the beginning that the artist at least would enjoy drawing Kung fu and skull faced dudes wearing exoskeletons but Tom Raney appears to be doing the bare minimum here. The layouts are tepid, the action is confusing and poorly staged, an unforgivable shortfall for a Kung Fu book, and the whole thing just reeks of half-assed Liefeld house style. Action lines everywhere! Still, better than I can do but I never claimed to be an illustrator (see above picture). So with McDuffie smoking a full blunt and mailing it in and Raney collecting a check it’s no surprise that Double Dragon never got to do that career making crossover with the Punisher that all Marvel titles in the 90’s got to do.
Somehow the book emulated all the bad annoying bits from a 80/90’s arcade game; pointless battles leading to pointless battles against slightly stronger foes, a story that falls back on cliche at best, and looks cheap… while completely avoiding the stronger narrative potential that Kung Fu brothers fighting an evil underworld could have. Ugg; Game over!
Random musings tangential to the main body of the column but I couldn’t work in organically
Here is my favorite pic from my daughter, she was 3 and it’s titled “dad as policeman”
Still on my daughter; her little clique of friends call themselves “the agency” which puts her leagues ahead of Nightfall for sinister names.
Side scrolling fighters were a staple of late 80s/early 90s arcades including X-Men, TMNT, Captain America and the Avengers and, naturally, the Simpsons.
Video games started getting compelling storytelling chops a few years after with games like “Metal Gear Solid” and “Silent Hill”. Now we got whole movies via cut scenes, sure with mixed results, but things have come a long way.
It’s not like Double Dragon was screaming “interesting story” but now, in near dystopian 2017, we got a pretty decent comic adaptation of “Centipede”, years of “Sonic the Hedgehog” comic continuity and a shared HASBRO universe which doesn’t suck (mostly) so a decent story COULD’VE been told of Double Dragon.
As always I dig looking at the ads from long ago. This book includes an ad for “Battletoads”, shades of fantasy football with Score trading cards and LJN’s video game adaptation of “Beetlejuice” for Nintendo entertainment system.
To Dwayne McDuffie and his fans – I kiiiid! I’m sure you never smoked PCP laced weed. Everyone knows the poison of choice for writers is hard liquor and your own tears.
Still; smoking weed laced with PCP is eerily specific.
I remember playing the video game adaptation of “Die Hard” for Nintendo. It was crazy hard and offered surprisingly deep gameplay and strategy (or I had been smoking PCP laced weed). So even then the quality depended on how much effort was put into the license.
My greatest disappointment with this comic adaption is probably the giant bald guy that would toss you in the air while growling wasn’t included. I loved that guy! I thought he was a blast. So that and all the other things I listed above.
Only once did I ever smoke PCP laced weed (accidentally at that). It was during an Aerosmith concert. I literally saw Steven Tyler’s skin melt off his face exposing his singing skull on the Jumbotron during “Dude looks like a lady”.
I quit weed for a while after that.
Still can’t listen to that song btw.
I always played the guy in blue because that was my favorite color. Fuck that chick and her red preference!
NEXT: X-Club or whatever is in the box next.
LATER: Maybe I’ll pick up a month long multi column editor unaware theme again. Any suggestions?