Oct 23, 2014

The Huntress is Awesome

The Huntress is Awesome
Travis Hedge Coke

There are two women called Huntress in DC comics, both with the birth name, Helena, the earliest Huntress being the legal aid Helena Wayne, daughter of Bruce Wayne, the heroic Batman, and a retired-from-crime Catwoman, Selina Kyle, the other Helena Bertinelli, heir to a mob family and traditionally a schoolteacher (except now, in the current standard continuity, she’s a spy). I encountered them both at roughly the same time, approximately twenty-five years ago, and I’ve been seriously on their side ever since.

It’s a funny thing to say, “Well, I’m on the side of the superhero,” but what you have to understand is that, with either Huntress, their side wasn’t necessarily the side of any other superhero, other do-gooders, of any other character in the stories. Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli walked their own paths, and those paths were just, and righteous, but they were also often loaded with condescending allies, manipulative criminals who talk a good game, and people who just figured they knew better the Huntress. Huntress has, traditionally, provided an example of the superhero glass ceiling, particularly in the DC Universe.

“Ralph Nader would be very comfortable working here,” wrote Paul Levitz of the public interest research group with whom Huntress was employed, “but the same isn’t necessarily true of Helena Wayne.” Why? Well, her colleagues are condescending, from Roger Demarest’s blatant horribleness (“We both know what she contributes to the firm… her curvaceous form, her father’s money, and no legal talent whatsoever!”) to the elderly Cranston’s patronizing, fatherly toleration (“Clearly,” he says in response to Roger’s statement, “anyone who was valedictorian and editor of the Law Review and graduated Harvard Law at 21 should be an important part of our firm. Your beauty and your father’s benevolence aside.”). What makes circa 1978 Helena Wayne a target where, apparently, Ralph Nader is not, or the various men she works with? It’s not the “father’s money,” because the men she frequently locks horns with or suffers under clearly have money and mostly come from it. It’s not that she’s pretty or overly sexualized; the men are all fairly good-looking and Roger tends to more sexualized poses than anyone. Cranston and District Attorney Harry Sims are more overly emotional than Helena “woman being all ‘womany’” Wayne. But even a cop who shows up after Huntress and Supergirl save police in the middle of a firefight can’t say thank you so much as “I ain’t sure if I should be letting you help.”

It’s simply and clearly not a woman’s place, in the estimation of these men, even those who will “let” them help.

And, the early talent on Huntress’ stories were obviously aware that this was a real-world imbalance that they were tackling. It’s not an imbalance lost to time, either, as the absurd and vigorously violent rhetoric of Gamergate/Quinnspiracy or “fake geek girls” opposition today will demonstrate. Paul Levitz structures his plots and dialogue to deliberately put us on Huntress’ side, and Joe Staton - and underrated talent if ever there was one - draws his women with human body language and reasonable clothes, while his superheroines stand tall, upright, strong, unlike the slinking and back-arching, butt-projecting body language many even exceptional comics pencilers can fall into. Huntress may have teamed up with Robin or Power Girl back then, but she never took a backseat to another superhero or became the girlfriend in distress, something that era’s superhero women, from Wonder Woman to Lois Lane, were usually cursed with.

In Levitz and Staton’s … Last Laugh, Batman makes an appearance while she pursues the Joker, but he’s just there to see Huntress kick ass. It’s Huntress who lays out the macabre clown-faced gangster.

The later, second Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, doesn’t do much better in terms of those dynamics, in-story, and, unfortunately fares worse in terms of how the talent handle her. Bertinelli tended to be drawn with more prominent swayback, and for some time sported a belly-window on her costume, something that, along with her frequent (extending back to the original, Helena Wayne Huntress) bare legs just seems progressively idiotic on a non-superpowered vigilante who frequently runs through fire getting shot at.

The great thing with Helena Bertinelli, though, is that the more she’s handled poorly by a writer, penciler, or editor, the better she comes off to her (even casual) fans. That stupid belly-window galvanized her fandom. Her abrupt removal from “continuity” roused up a wave of love for her that her actively existing in that continuity didn’t seem to equal. (Bringing her back, recently, seems to have done nicely for DC, however.) Grant Morrison bringing Huntress into the Justice League was massive and beautiful, and him writing her out (at an editor’s request after the incoming writer didn’t want her on the team) annoyed, rightly, pretty much everyone who read that comic. For those who don’t have it encyclopedically stashed in their memory, it’s towards the end of World War 3, where she’s facing a villain who once brought down nearly the entire Justice League, who has been partly responsible for a global war, untold (and mostly off-panel) murder and decimation. Huntress is prepared to put an arrow in his face, or at least is considering it, and Batman shows up and fires her. Right there and then.

And, nicely, a lot of her fans seem to have hit those panels and immediately gone “Hey! That’s uncalled for!”

Fandom is funny. Huntress’ actual fandom is fairly small, so when an article or discussion board talks about “fan” reaction to a Huntress comic, what they usually gauge is general comics fandom not people who really love the Huntress or comics she’s actually in. But, I think, too, I’m the rarity in being a fan of both Huntresses, to a strong degree. Ivory Madison tried to merge the two, a bit, the best of both worlds according to her tastes, in her Year One miniseries, but two small, tenuously connected fandoms and a market of, essentially non-fans or casual readers were not all that pleased. Madison, a law school graduate, and herself once the Editor in Chief of a Law Review a la the Huntress, expressed her own dissatisfaction with her Huntress comic, and even though I like it more than most fans, trying to combine the Helenas, is like trying to find a Jim Croce song that is simultaneously punchy as his punchiest and sappy as his sappiest. Sometimes you got to pick a horse and let it finish the race. Year One tried to call every horse in the race at different points, from the Levitz/Staton stories to Devin Grayson’s Cosa Nostra, Greg Rucka’s Cry for Blood, and half a dozen other takes, and by the finish line, the bet was completely confuzzalated. In a much more awkward fashion the recent Huntress mini that launched a new World’s Finest by giving a bait and switch seemingly out of nowhere, starting clearly with Helena Bertinelli as Huntress and in its final pages revealing her to be a facade adopted by Helena Wayne. The real money is on someone from on high deciding it was Wayne shortly before that final issue was put to bed, otherwise it’s just incredibly sloppy from talent I don’t want to think can get that sloppy.

But, in any case, Huntress fans persevered - or just disregarded what they didn’t want. If anyone can teach you how to do that, it’s Huntress. The four or five different origin stories she had, even those ostensibly set in the same continuity, don’t jibe, but do fans particularly care? By and large, the fans select the important truths, enjoy the visceral and heroic thrills, and move forward, instead of worrying how to make all details of all versions run smoothly together. The diehard Tim Drake fans will be tying themselves in knots trying to gel all his continuity snaggles into an entirely agreeable backstory, but Huntress fans just pick their horse and cheer it on in the race. Year One does not have to step on Cry for Blood and that didn’t invalidate Huntress who used to jump across realities to team up with Batgirl, or the Huntress on television, who wore no mask and eschewed the traditional jobs of white women and black men in superhero comics of schoolteacher or community-based law to tend bar. Helena Wayne or Helena Bertinelli, or Helena Kyle (as the TV version was styled) aren’t about getting hung up on orderliness and expectation, but about seeing injustice clearly and working directly to put that injustice to an end.

In Cosa Nostra, aka Nightwing/Huntress, the grown-up Robin, Nightwing, says to Huntress, “I understand… I can’t let a man go down for a crime he didn’t commit. It compromises the whole system everything we…” and she cuts him off. “No,” she says, “People like [that career gangster] compromise everything we believe in. And I don’t care what it takes to bring them down.”

In Identity (John Francis Moore and Stefano Guadiano), Batman insists Huntress stop breaking up an active criminal organization because there is an ATF agent undercover with them, to which she responds, “I don’t care. I don’t work for the ATF or you. As far as I’m concerned, [they] need to be shut down now. The Feds can make their case later.”

She isn’t policing on the streets or upholding the structure of law enforcement, she isn’t preaching or teaching killers or racketeers to be better human beings. To clear the field for those who are learning and/or teaching, for her work as a legal aid, teacher, bartender, or whatever to better the lives of folks who aren’t stealing, killing, raping or just plain using a system that’s set up in their favor to cheat those whom the system has stacked itself against, she is not fighting crime, she is not pursuing abstract justice, she’s hunting down crime.



Huntress, second-wave feminist and superheroine, either the child of a superhero and supervillain or born the last living soul in a prominent crime family, is never about the kind of “peacemaking” that really means appeasing the empowered while giving a little more to the victimized. Batman and Superman, Green Lantern and Spider-Man are generally about suspending criminal activity. They arrest criminals and let the cops pick them up to hold them a bit, then they’re out and doing it again, they’re the kind of superheroes who let a multiple murderer, death-ray user, and serial rapist like Lex Luthor be President of the United States, while the Punisher or Thorn are just out killing or mutilating criminals regardless of the scale or nature of their crimes in an attempt to permanently shut down human beings and thereby curtail injustice. Huntress is not tolerating crime or cruelty, she’s not interested in avoiding the consequences of hard and serious corrections, of socially permissible cruelty or theft. A District Attorney like Harry Sims, a superhero like the Flash can afford, sometimes, to ignore an assault because it is domestic or graft because it is couched in religion, Batman more and more regularly permits Penguin to act as a fence, dealer, and racketeer because he keeps a balance amongst worse criminals, but no version of the Huntress is going to play that. Huntress’ pursuit of justice is in a true balancing of the scales, not in appeasement but in vindication.

Oct 22, 2014

Time for Judgement: Review of Yoshiki Tonogai’s Judge

Time for Judgement: Review of Yoshiki Tonogai’s Judge
by Tanya Lindquist

Imagine being kidnapped, drugged, and waking up wearing an animal mask over your head. You have been taken to a dilapidated courthouse and made to stand trial for one of the seven deadly sins. That is the opening of Yoshiki Tonogai’s Judge Volume 1, and the fast pace doesn’t stop there. Every 12 hours they must decide who should die, because as an ominous video tells them only four will survive. According to their captor, there must be a majority vote for an execution to take place. Not voting means everyone will die.


Hiro, the main character of the story, is one of the captives. He is the one character that believes everyone can survive if each time they vote it ends in a tie. Things go awry when one person receives the majority vote leading to the first execution. This leads to rampant speculation about who voted for who. Mistrust abounds and thoughts of kill or be killed come to the surface.

Throughout the manga you get a sense of claustrophobia. Tonogai’s drawings close in and make you feel each character’s feelings of being trapped. The courthouse is sparse with very little furniture or anything distinguishing one room for another. In dimly lit rooms he shades the corners, creating dark spaces making you wonder what might be lurking there.

Those familiar with Tonogai’s previous work, Doubt, may notice the eerie resemblance to that manga’s cover. These are two separate stories, but the masks are used for different purposes. In Doubt, the story is a select group of people are made to play a real life version of a popular online game. The players are rabbits in search of who amongst them is a wolf. A wolf that is picking them off one by one. The rabbits have to decide who is the wolf and kill that person first. It is interesting to see how Tonogai uses different settings and themes to explore what will people do to survive. With Doubt, what would you do to survive a game? What if you kill an innocent person? With Judge, what would you do to survive a judgement? Who has committed the greater sin and should die for it?


As of this writing, Volumes 1 through 5 were published and available in the U.S. The final volume of the series, number 6, will be released in February 2015. This particular manga is best read all at once or one right after the other in rapid succession. The first volume is highly addictive and just leaves you hanging. The stakes rise in each subsequent volume and new discoveries are to made in character motivations and secrets.

Oct 20, 2014

Battle for the 80s, Part the Final: The Finaling

Battle for the 80s
Part the Final – The Finaling

Over the preceding weeks, I made the decision to determine once and for all the top franchise of the 1980s, because no blogger has possibly ever done this before. Oh well, nobody ever has accused me of originality, or intelligence, but at least I am well versed in the useless knowledge. Self-trolling aside, the candidates began with He-Man, The Smurfs, Voltron, Thundercats, Ducktales, and GI Joe, but they all fell like the Japanese fleeing from the twin Godzillas that are Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who will win, I don't know. As long as its not Robotech, its all fine by me. (Cranky Editor Man: I thought Robotech was my favorite 80s cartoon. Then I watched Macross, the anime it was based on. I can't watch Robotech anymore.)

ROUND THE FINAL

Primary Heroic Character

Optimus Prime rocks your mom's face off.



Winner: Transformers

Primary Villain

As of the time of writing this, the NFL season is about to begin, and the star wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, Calvin Johnson, his nickname is Megatron. That's about the coolest sports nickname I've ever heard, so I'm going to change my mind from last week and pick Megatron over the guy named after a cheese slicing utensil.

Winner: Transformers

Primary Female Hero

Transformers did have Elita-1 and the other female Transformers from the classic season 2 episode, and Arcee from the misbegotten later seasons, but the real winner here is teenage boys due to April's yellow jumpsuit.


Winner: TMNT

Supporting Heroic Cast

Would you rather hang out with a mutant rat, or Jazz? I thought so.

Winner: Transformers

Supporting Villainous Cast

Chris Latta was the actor behind the classic voices of Cobra Commander and Starscream. Every role he had in a 80s cartoon, he basically used that same voice, making me wonder if that was just his regular voice. Which then made me wonder what it would be like to have a conversation with him, which would be pretty cool, mostly because he died and that would mean you were sailing the good ship impossible. Also, I think he was a stand-up comedian, and I can't even process that in my mind right now.

Winner: Transformers

Animated Series

The Transformers episode War Dawn may be the greatest single cartoon installment of the '80s.

Winner: Transformers

Theme Song

I'll always take the season 3 remix of Transformers, but I would be alone.



Winner: TMNT

Comic Book Series

In the never-ending debate between the value of corporate comics versus independent comics, I pick Buster Witwicky.

Winner: Transformers

Toys

I've said it before, and it will never stop being true, the Transformers toys were the best our species can hope to accomplish.

Winner: Transformers

Best Single Issue Comic

Optimus Prime and Megatron fight to the death in a virtual reality video game, in which Optimus wins, but he declares himself the loser because he sacrificed the life of an innocent, even though the innocent in question was not a real being, but a simulated video game being. Regardless, Optimus allowed himself to be destroyed in real life due to the arrangement made over the winner of the game. But the Turtles also went to space and fought alien space rhinos. Hmm . . .

Winner: Transformers

Best Cartoon Reboot

The '80s Ninja Turtles cartoon is by far the worst thing ever made with the Turtles. It has only gotten better.

Winner: TMNT

Most Enduring Legacy

The biggest movie of summer 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy, had a Ninja Turtles joke in it.

Winner: TMNT

Best Comic Book Reboot

A lot of people quite enjoy the currently running TMNT series from IDW. Good enough for me.

Winner: TMNT

Best Live-Action Movie

The Turtles win this even if you're just putting the Michael Bay versions against each other.

Winner: TMNT

Best Behind the Scenes Origin

Creating your own parody comic using elements of Frank Miller and the X-Men and turning it into a worldwide sensation is one of the greatest success stories period, not just in comics.

Winner: TMNT

Best In-Story Origin



I love that in the original comic, the mutagen that creates the turtles is the same mutagen that blinded Daredevil, all in the same incident.

Winner: TMNT

Franchise My Wife Likes the Most

Unquestionably . . .

Kimberly Smith, Back Issue Ben's boss and the
illustrious writer of
Fallen Ash, drawn by Benj Bartolome
and colored by Sam Gungon
, which you really should be reading.
Here's a link. Here's another.
Winner: TMNT

Who Would Win in a Fight

Squish.

Winner: Transformers

Most Significant Contribution from Jim Shooter



Winner: Transformers

Best Use of Detached Brain

Optimus Prime comes close thanks to the comic, but Krang.



Winner: TMNT

Best Halloween Costume

And by best, I mean easiest to dress a 6 year old in.

Parker Smith, Back Issue Ben's oldest son
Winner: TMNT

Best Cosplay Costume

Have you ever seen the Transformers costumes that actually transform?



Winner: Transformers

Best Underlying Ecological Message

Transformers is ultimately about the destructiveness that comes from the struggle for fossil fuels, while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a warning about properly disposing of toxic waste.

Winner: Transformers

Best Use of Shell-Related Puns



Winner: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Best Drawing by Jack "The King" Kirby

There's also this. -Cranky Editor Man

Winner: TMNT

Best Circumventing of Extreme Cartoon Violence

Robot Foot soldiers.

Winner: TMNT

Best Inspiration for Tattoos

DJ Starscream (wins for that name alone) has Autobot and Decepticon tattoos on the back of his hands.



Winner: Transformers

Best Unintentionally Lewd Title


Winner: Transformers

Franchise My Wife Wants to Win

Because she gets two votes

Winner: TMNT

Transformers: 14
TMNT: 15

There you have it, a champion is crowned. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proved to be the most durable and overall enjoyable creation of the 1980s. Having said all that, I'm immediately disqualifying them since most of their success came after the decade. Enjoy your disqualification victory, Transformers lovers.
 
The Smith Family: Kimberly, Palmer, Parker, and Back Issue Ben

Next time, something equally pointless.

Oct 16, 2014

Review: Desperadoes Omnibus

I started 2014 out by watching, and getting addicted, to Tombstone, the 1993 film in which Kurt Russell starred as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer stole the show as Doc Holliday. In terms of comics, I also started 2014 out by reading Planetary, that wondrous arrangement of worlds and archetypes by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday.

So, of course, eventually, I was going to read Desperadoes, a supernatural Western that debuted in 1997, written by Jeff Mariotte and initially drawn by Cassaday. The Omnibus was a birthday gift to myself, costing the local equivalent of approximately 25 dollars, and has five storylines, which were published over the course of 10 years:

  • "A Moment's Sunlight," drawn by Cassaday
  • "Epidemic!", laid out by Cassaday and finished by John Lucas
  • "Quiet of the Grave," drawn by John Severin
  • "Banners of Gold," drawn by Jeremy Haun
  • "Buffalo Dreams," drawn by Alberto Dose

Because of the different artistic teams, the Omnibus is a visual mixed bag. Dose is good on his own, but he's got a cartoony style that didn't really fit in well with the best of the series. Haun's work, in general, looks pretty sloppy and rushed (and he does what may be my most hated technique in all of comics — blatantly being obvious about using a celebrity as a model; that always takes me out of a story almost immediately). "Epidemic!" looks only slightly less rushed than Haun's work, and sandwiched in between Cassaday and Severin, it's tough to read without wanting to skip through.

So, basically, I'm just gonna talk about "A Moment's Sunlight" and "Quiet of the Grave." They're both as long as "Banners of Gold," so if you get the book, it's like getting two full arcs for 12 dollars each, plus three extra stories. That makes sense, yes? Yes? Okay.

The thing with Desperadoes is that I'd been meaning to read it since its debut. Its reviews back in Wizard (ahhh, Wizard) were intriguing, and Cassaday seemed like an artist I'd really take a shine to. I just never got around to it, so reading Desperadoes now, after I've read Cassaday at his peak in Planetary, is a bit weird, since I have to take his evolution into account. But Cassaday was always good at what he did. His grimy, dynamic style is built, if it had to be built for any specific genre, for a Western. Here's the first splash page we get of the core of the gang. Gideon Brood, the leader, stands confident in the gunfight despite knowing he's a target. Jerome Alexander Betts holds two weapons, ready to fight hand to hand if he runs out of bullets. Abby DeGrazia shows enough leg to show that her looks are what prompted the fight in the first place, but is confident enough with her firearm that you know not to mess with her.


One thing I noticed about Cassaday is that he can block group shots really well. Here's an establishing shot from the first issue, seen from the point of view of Race Kennedy, investigative journalist from the big city who's out of his element in the Old West.


Every single character in that shot is accounted for in the eventual riot that follows. Everyone's sitting exactly where they need to be sitting, walking to exactly where they need to be walking. That's a level of detail most artists would just neglect, trusting on the exposition to carry them and for the readers to fill in the blanks. I found out later on that Cassaday has a background in filmmaking, which made sense.

There's a lot of detail involved in Desperadoes, including little tidbits like what to do during a gunfight. I'm not sure if this is actually a legitimate tip, but it does make sense.


Here's another one, just visually shown. I assume it's to prevent the horses from galloping away while the riders sleep.


That above panel is by John Severin, who drew the "Quiet of the Grave" storyline. Severin was a legend, especially when it came to Western comics, and his detailed, grainy style is even more fit for the genre than Cassaday's. In "Quiet of the Grave," the core gang is split up while both criminal and supernatural events threaten the safety of the gang and the town they're in. By this point, the characters are engaging enough that you worry about them and root for them — and people actually die, so your worries are not unfounded.


The one thing all the Desperadoes stories have in common is that they all seem really rushed towards the end, as if Mariotte writes a build-up for four issues then realizes he doesn't have enough space in the fifth to wrap it up. At first, knowing it's still early in both his and Cassaday's careers, it's understandable. But years later, with Severin, that's still the case, and it's a shame.

Still, Desperadoes is full of atmosphere, of grit and blood, of unrequited love and of honorable men and women who do the best they can in a dirty world. For 25 bucks, that's a good deal. And a good read.

(And seriously, the Severin art is pretty. Buy it just for that, if you must.)

Oct 15, 2014

Review: Supreme: Blue Rose #4

I give up. I just give up. Here are my reviews of of issue 1, issue 2, and issue 3.

Read the book. It's great. If you don't read it, we're no longer friends. At least for today. We can be friends again tomorrow.

I'll have an actual review for issue 5, but just read this book already.

Oct 13, 2014

Battle for the 80s, Part 3: The Impossible Choice

Battle for the 80s
Part 3 – The Impossible Choice

If you’ve been paying attention over the past two weeks (and I know that you haven’t) I’ve been pitting the top franchises of the greatest decade civilization has ever known, the 1980s, against each other to determine an overall champion. He-Man, The Smurfs, Voltron, and Thundercats proved themselves mere pretenders to the throne, and were summarily dismissed with relative ease by the true juggernauts of the time.

Now it’s left for me to make the impossible choice between Transformers, Ducktales, GI Joe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Each is perfectly capable of being the top choice, but I dug myself this hole, and unless I want to bury myself, I’m going to have to find a way out of it.

Instead of doing two head-to-head matchups, I decided on a different format for this round two. I’ve come up with as many possible categories as I could muster (with the help of the Tano) and only one of the four contenders will be determined a winner per category. The top two franchises with the most “wins” will meet in a one final bloody matchup for dominance, and a crown will be hoisted.

May the argument begin.

ROUND THREE

Primary Heroic Character

The Turtles function best as a collective, so they’re not really in contention here. I love Uncle Scrooge, but this really comes down to Optimus Prime against Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes was largely irrelevant in the GI Joe cartoon, yet Optimus had a penchant for dying in both the cartoon and comic. Yet, by his absence, you truly learned the value of him as a character, and therefore I have to go . . .

Winner: Transformers

Primary Villain

Ducktales unfortunately is out, based on the inability to quantify poverty, or even the inability to say the Beagle Boys were Scrooge’s top nemesis. I love Cobra Commander so much, but mostly for the voice and the comedy factor. Megatron is a singular force of evil, but in most versions, you knew Optimus was more than capable of beating him down. Shredder is just as iconic as Megatron, and in most of the best versions of Ninja Turtles, is more than the Turtles can handle on their own. For that reason alone, I have to consider him the top villain.


Winner: TMNT

Primary Female Hero

Scarlett is the clear choice here.



Winner: GI Joe

Primary Female Villain

GI Joe wins here easily again, thanks to the Baroness. She is easily one of the most interesting aspects of the cartoon and comic, and basically a main character in her own right. Her and Destro together are a lot of fun.

Winner: GI Joe

Supporting Heroic Cast

GI Joe is disqualified based on Flint and Shipwreck alone. I love Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Launchpad McQuack, but not as much as the other casts (Duy and I were remarking how kinda amazing it is that Disney approved an all duck cartoon without their most famous duck, Donald). It’s too hard to consider any of the turtles as a primary character or any of them as supporting characters, so Splinter alone can’t possibly match up with the deep bench that is the Autobots.



Winner: Transformers

Supporting Villainous Cast

This may be the toughest call yet. While Starscream, Soundwave, or Krang might all individually rank among my favorites, they can’t really compete against Storm Shadow, Destro, Firefly, and Zartan.

This is an awesome cover. -Cranky Editor Man
Winner: GI Joe

Best Anti-Hero

Snake Eyes may be a ninja, but he’s pretty heroic, and Storm Shadow is more iconic as a villain, even though he eventually became a Joe. There’s no other Joes I can really think of as anti-heroes, unless you want to consider Sgt Slaughter, and if so, then they get negative points. Classic batshit crazy Casey Jones is hard to beat, and insanely popular, but Grimlock was pretty damn popular too, and extremely ruthless in the comic series. He was pretty great in his early cartoon appearances also, before he was turned into an idiot and a joke. Still, nothing beats giant robot dinosaur with an attitude to me, not even a psycho vigilante in a hockey mask.



Winner: Transformers

Animated Series

GI Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were largely mediocre ‘80s cartoons in retrospect. At their peak, they were some of the best, but for my money, this comes down to Transformers vs Ducktales. Both are really strong and consistent in their first halves, but I think Transformers is much more watchable after their respective “jump the shark” moments (more on this later).

Winner: Transformers

Theme Song

As much as the Transformers theme holds a special place in my heart, it’s literally impossible to get either the Ducktales or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme out of your head after hearing them. This is truly the impossible choice, but I’m going with Ducktales because it’s just a tiny bit easier to remember the lyrics.



Winner: Ducktales

Comic Book Series


I have a hard time including the Carl Barks Duck comics here, since they came out thirty years before the ‘80s. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was birthed into existence off the strength of those gritty independent comics, so it’s tough to discount them, but I also know the majority of turtles fans didn’t become so based on the comic. As hard as it is for me to put aside my personal attachment to the Transformers comics, I have to say that GI Joe did a much better job of consistently telling entertaining comic stories, thanks to Larry Hama. The origins and back stories he created were on full display in the comics in ways that never would have been possible in the cartoon.



Winner: GI Joe


Toys

Why would Disney, of all companies, never make Ducktales toys? Perplexing. I love the action figures and playsets for GI Joe and TMNT, but the Transformers are the pinnacle of human toy achievement.



Winner: Transformers

Best Animated Movie

My irrational love for Cobra-La aside, there’s no way anything measures up to Transformers the Animated Movie. The deaths of Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Starscream. The epic conversation between Megatron and Unicron that I can still recite word for word to this very day. The CGI TMNT movie is pretty good, but nothing beyond the Raphael and Leonardo fight can even come close.



Winner: Transformers

Best Single Issue Comic

GI Joe #21, the silent issue that introduced Storm Shadow, is a recognized classic across the entire medium, not just for licensed comics, but as a landmark comic book moment.

Recently reissued and remastered.

Winner: GI Joe

Best Cartoon Reboot

As much as I love the largely forgotten GI Joe Resolute (written by Warren Ellis) there’s really no competition for the Ninja Turtles in this category. Turtles Forever alone, the capper to the 2002 version of the turtles, would win it, but when you include the superb Nickelodeon cartoon that is currently running, it’s a landslide.



Winner: TMNT

Most Enduring Legacy

Transformers and GI Joe have remained relevant, Transformers more so, but none of them have managed to reach the same fevered heights they reached in the ‘80s. Also, I think they largely remain popular due to nostalgic adult fans (such as myself). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a full-on phenomenon in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and is the only franchise to truly achieve that status again, with the current animated series. Not to mention the series that ran in the ‘00s, or the TMNT movies.

Winner: TMNT

Best Comic Book Reboot


Transformers, GI Joe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had numerous iterations published at numerous different comic companies since their original series ended. TMNT have probably been consistently the best, but the only one that was a legit comics phenomenon (and incidentally got me back into comics) was the Transformers series published by Dreamwave in the early ‘00s. Pat Lee quickly became a comics superstar for a few years, before the company imploded in debt, and everyone decided they only wanted to see him draw giant robots.


Winner: Transformers

Best Live-Action Movie


As much as I quickly soured on the Michael Bay Transformers movie, I absolutely loved the first one when I was watching it in the theater. It was a crowd pleaser, but upon subsequent viewings its really hard not to pick apart all the things you start to hate about it. The brand new 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is polarizing at best, but my family really enjoyed it, but may suffer from the same nitpicking that dooms the Transformers. GI Joe was garbage both times out. That really only leaves the original 1990 TMNT movie, by default.

Winner: TMNT


Best Behind the Scenes Origin

As cool as it is that GI Joe evolved originally from a SHIELD vs Hydra pitch by Larry Hama, it cannot compare to two guys creating a worldwide phenomenon from their garage, largely as an inside joke. Let me say that again. Two guys, with really no comic book experience, created a franchise based off of silly pictures they drew for each other of turtles dressed as ninjas, and it became a franchise that has spawned at least three different toy lines, 5 major motion pictures in theaters, three successful cartoon series, and a never-ending stream of licensed products. That will never be replicated anywhere in the course of human history.

Winner: TMNT

Best In-Story Origin

The stories of Uncle Scrooge obtaining his riches is a masterpiece (The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa) but its tough to consider that entire series as a traditional comic origin. Even so, it can’t really beat four turtles mutated by alien slime, and trained by their mutant rat master to be ninjas.

Winner: TMNT

Least Offensive “Jump the Shark” Moment

For those that don’t know, “jump the shark” is a term used to single out the moment a franchise goes from good to bad, as popularized by the time Fonzie jumped a shark on water skis in Happy Days. You could argue that Serpentor was that moment for GI Joe, but I actually really liked the 5-part episode that served as his origin story, and there were some enjoyable episodes that followed that. The true franchise killer would probably be the animated movie, and Cobra-La, but that’s also a movie I unabashedly love. Rodimus Prime is probably the most egregious offender, but I can still watch a lot of those post movie episodes, and the cartoon closed out really well with the Return of Optimus Prime, and the Headmasters. I loved Bubba Duck and Gizmoduck as a kid, but they are unbearably stupid now, and they also marked a noticeable downturn in the quality of the animation, which had been a strength of the series. That leaves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the only thing I can come up with for their original cartoon is when they changed voice actors for Leonardo. It’s tough to reward a cartoon that was largely mediocre for successfully maintaining that mediocrity, but there you go.

Winner: TMNT

Most Epic 5 Episode Storyline

TMNT started out really strong with their original 5 episode arc, but the “Teenagers of Dimension Z” drag it down, and it’s a little disjointed to be considered one long storyline. Similarly, Ducktales' opening series, detailing Scrooge taking in the boys and embarking on a quest to find Aztec Gold, would win if it weren’t for the abominable episode where Webby makes friends with some penguins that highly value “colors” in their drab winter world. Five Faces of Darkness would constitute an epic Transformers story, if it didn’t suffer from the absolute worst animation this side of Thundercats. GI Joe, however, has the (personal favorite) aforementioned creation of Serpentor, the original 5 episode mini-series with radioactive Snake Eyes and the MASS device, and the follow-up with the weather dominator. All three perfected the GI Joe staple of smaller teams of Joes and Cobras fighting in exotic locations around the world, for one piece of a larger goal. Something I replicated endlessly with all of my action figures, regardless of franchise.



Winner: GI Joe

Best Catchphrase


I love “Transform and roll out!” but it’s not exactly pervasive. More than meets the eye was a great tagline, but it doesn’t count as a catchphrase. “Blathering blatherskites,” should automatically remove Ducktales from consideration for the top spot. “Cowabunga” is cute and all, but really kinda dumb. I really wanted to discount “Yo Joe” or “Cobraaaa” for extreme overuse, but if you consider “knowing is half the battle” also, it’s really hard to not give this category to the real American heroes.



Winner: GI Joe

Best Logo


The Cobra snake is pretty damn cool. The Ninja Turtles and the Foot Clan have had some decent logos over the years, respectively. But none of them can really match the Autobot or Decepticon symbols in sheer awesomeness.



Winner: Transformers

Best Video Game

While the old Nintendo Ducktales game might have a legitimate claim for this category, the old arcade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game sucked up a lot of my quarters back in the day. The Transformers game that came out at the time of the first Bay movie gets a mention for how much fun it was just to drive around, transform, and break stuff.

Winner: TMNT

Best Rap Song


TMNT should get points deducted for Vanilla Ice alone, but they come back up to even thanks to the extremely catchy recent release, Shell-Shocked by Juicy J. Wordburglar have a pretty entertaining GI Joe theme album, and the Transformers have gotten numerous references in rap songs, most noteably by the Wu-Tang Clan. But the winner is Ducktales, for never having a rap song.

Winner: Ducktales


That’s all I could come up with. That makes the final tally:

Transformers: 8
TMNT: 8
GI Joe: 7
Ducktales: 2


That’s a surprising result for me, because Transformers and GI Joe tend to dominate my memories of the ‘80s, basically as a tandem, which is why you see so many comics where they team up or fight. (They’re also pretty different from the other contenders in that they both dominated at about the same time, and were both able to thrive as cartoons and toy properties together despite having basically the same target audience.) However, the heroes in a half shell could not be denied.

That sets up the epic final round, between The Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who will be crowned the champion of the ‘80s? I really have absolutely no idea. My head is already starting to hurt just thinking about it.

Next week, witness a brain explode via the written word for the first time in the history of human existence.

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