Tuesday, September 8, 2015

BODYCOUNT #1 – March 1996

Credits:  Kevin Eastman (story & layouts), Simon Bisley (pencils & inks), Steve Lavigne (letters & colors), Altered Earth Arts (computer colors)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Casey Jones is kicked out of a bar during a fight.  He lands on top of Midnight, who happens to be passing by.  She unexpectedly spots a car belonging to Johnny Woo Woo, her former partner in crime.  Midnight evades Johnny’s henchmen while flashing back to her last disastrous mission in Hong Kong.  She runs inside the bar, where Casey greets her again and offers help.  They’re cornered by Johnny Woo Woo and his men in the back of the bar, when Raphael suddenly enters from above.  With Raphael's help, Casey and Midnight escape.

Production Notes:  
  • Bodycount #1 originally saw life as Mirage Publishing’s Casey Jones and Raphael #1.  (“Bodycount” was the name of the storyline, but not the official title of Mirage’s miniseries.)  The initial cover date was October 1994.  Mirage stopped publishing comics after the first issue was released, leaving the miniseries unfinished until Erik Larsen agreed to publish TMNT material through Image.  Re-released as Bodycount,the series ran as four issues (one of them the reprinted first issue), rather than the originally announced five.  Jim Lawson has a back-up story “Guzzi LeMans” in the original Mirage issue that isn’t finished in the Image series.
  • Kevin Eastman was incorrectly listed as the penciler in the original Mirage printing of this comic; the Image version lists Bisley as the penciler and Eastman as the layout artist.
  • Casey Jones and Raphael #1 had twenty pages, while Bodycount #1 includes six additional story pages.
  • The cover date lists February 1996, while March 1996 is listed in the indicia.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  This was apparently the first TMNT comic consciously published for an adult audience.  It features numerous bloody battle scenes and several uncensored uses of the word “shit” (which was still incredibly rare in an Image comic of this era).

Review in a Half-Shell:  It’s not a secret that while Peter Laird leans towards Jack Kirby, Kevin Eastman’s tastes are much closer to Heavy Metal.  (You might even say Eastman is Heavy Metal’s biggest fan.)  That blend of influences brought a lot of life to the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stories, which jumped from sci-fi to martial arts to Silver Age Marvel to grindhouse street brawls.  It’s not that much of a shock that Eastman would want to do a grittier TMNT series with Simon Bisley, but I was surprised by how far they took the concept.  It’s one thing to declare that TMNT was never intended for small kids; it’s another to produce a comic that actively alienates the audience that made the concept a billion dollar franchise.

To be clear, Bodycount is trashy and dumb.  That doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad; I can enjoy trashy and dumb entertainment, you just have to know what you’re getting into.  The goal of the story is to churn out fast-paced action and violence while providing readers with the cheap thrill of seeing bloody gore and potty talk in a Turtles comic.  The influence is John Woo (you might have noticed a cleverly hidden homage to his name), which hints at an early problem with the plot.  Comics are static images, while film is constant movement.  A three-minute John Woo action scene properly translated into a comic would run around sixty pages, and would most likely test the patience of the average reader.  The violence in Bodycount is already tiresome before the first issue is up, so I’m not sure where the rest of the series has to go from here.  There’s also a basic storytelling problem that makes the debut issue a little too frustrating -- it’s hard to tell when the Hong Kong flashback begins and ends.  Upon a rereading, this was a little easier to discern, but the awkward transition is a barrier to understanding Midnight’s connection to Johnny Woo Woo.  

This clearly isn’t a story designed to make you think, just as it isn’t intended as all-ages fun, so it wouldn’t be entirely fair to judge it by that standard.  The action maintained my interest during the opening pages (which features that unique leathery texture of Bisley’s inks and nice digitally painted colors during Casey’s bloody bar brawl), but my mind wandered during the Hong Kong flashback, and by the end of the story I didn’t have a real interest in what happens next.  The combination Eastman/Bisley Raphael splash page, however, is one strong image.  I get the appeal of a street-level TMNT story focusing on Casey and Raphael, but I also feel that the excessive “adult” content comes across as trying too hard.  As a kid, the graphic nature of the project would’ve appealed to me, if only because of its forbidden nature.  As a teen, I would wonder why I should bother with the book when there’s more extreme material on HBO.  As an adult, I just shrug my shoulders.

1 comment:

Erik said...

I got the "Casey Jones and Raphael" version of this through the Mirage website. It's, um, not good. But I felt like I needed to experience it as a Turtles fan and defender of the Image series.

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