Journalists

October 11, 2009

The Wacky Month of Zen Part III

The Wacky Month of Zen Part III
Alien Hero: Novellas and Short Stories featuring Zen Intergalactic Ninja Review

Welcome to our third chapter of The Wacky Month of Zen! Today we take an in-depth look at one of the few pieces of Zen lore that is not a comic book. Published by Zen Comics Inc. in 1999, Alien Hero is 60 pages of various short stories written by Zen co-creator Steve Stern, with co-creator Dan Cote providing striking illustrations preceding each story. Complete with 5 stories, the book opens with a froward by Stern where he makes a simple, yet profound observation, “Zen may be an alien in our eyes… but to everyone else in the universe- WE’RE aliens.” It’s something to keep in mind while reading the collection.

Before I delve into the stories themselves, there were some key terms and factoids about Zen and his universe that were revealed in this book that I feel provide for a better understanding of the character:

  • Zen is 300 years young.
  • He is a test-tube baby.
  • Zen has no mouth so he communicates telepathically and breathes through his pores.
  • He eats by telekinetic metabolation, where food dissolves and psychically enters into his system.
  • OM is where Zen was trained in his ninja ways.
  • His weapon of choice is called a photon-stick, which is essentially a spear that cuts loose with powerful bursts of energy and needs to constantly be recharged.
  • Zen’s space vehicle is the Hydroship and it’s shaped like a dragonfly.The blue bauble that Zen travels through via meditation is called a T-Pod, and it’s stored in the tail of the Hydroship. The ‘T’ stands for ‘Transport’ and he utilizes the pod for it’s stealth qualities as it makes no sound and isn’t as easily detected as a large space craft.
  • The Federated Planets Consortium is, for all intents and purposes, the evil Empire of the Zen universe.

With these terms and concepts being understood, lets take a look at the content of Alien Hero.

71FPY0MDZ5L._SL500_AA240_.gifJewel of Forgetfulness

The first short story of this collection is Jewel of Forgetfulness which is a written interpretation of the original Zen tale, which was covered in Part II of our event. Something that is revealed here that was absent in the comic is why the Jewel has its name…

Zen Rising

This story begins with Zen buried alive by the fierce group of carnivorous warriors  known as the Mendakis. So why are these meat eaters burying a still breathing Zen as opposed to devouring him? Well, according to their religious code they are forbidden to eat beings with ears, nor can they eat blue colored meat. To quote Zen, “You’d be surprised how many races across the universe won’t eat blue food.” Obviously he has never been to my apartment where I’m chock full of Boo-Berry cereal and blue colored freezie pops. Mmmmm.

Anyway, in order to not die of suffocation, Zen goes into his meditative state where he requires little oxygen (at least I think that’s what he breathes) to survive. When Zen breaks his concentration he realizes he’s in deeper than he initially thought, so he utilizes his photon stick to puncture an explosive substance beneath him. This maneuver propels him free from his dirt grave. And that’s the entirety of this chapter, short and sweet!

Zen Rising is the only other story in Alien Hero to be adapted into comic form, but it has yet to be published. It will premiere during the Zen Intergalactic Ninja Rising art show at the Modern Art Gallery in Los Angeles.

Mistress of Chaos

Mistress of Chaos is broken up into 4 chapters and is a tale where Zen is hired to hunt down the killer Razorhead; a leathery and furry creature who has murdered 46 victims for no other reason than he likes to eat their raw entrails. Yummy.  So he travels to Tralmador, an Arrakis/Tatooine-esque planet, where while hunting his quarry, he rescues a beautiful girl named Shenara from two fierce rat faced attackers. Despite defeating the assailants, the battle takes a lot out of Zen as he’s dehydrated and passes out.

Shenara takes Zen to her father, Alvan, who is the planet’s head scientist. He heals our favorite blue alien and inquires as to why he is on Tralmador. When Zen tells him of Razorhead, Alvan reveals a greater danger on the planet; the evil witch Magril. Magril was once a scientist like Alvan, until she realized that Chaos is the Ultimate Truth of the universe. She has decided to form her own army to spread this message throughout all of space, and has begun recruiting the best mass murders the universe has to offer.

Still focused on his original target, Zen leaves the father/daughter duo to go on the hunt. He is attacked by Ja’en, a ferocious feline creature, and when Zen subdues him he learns that Ja’en is hunting the Butcher; a murderer who killed the feline alien’s sister. True to team up stories of the superhero genre, the good guys battled each other, realized it was all a misunderstanding and that they’re on the same side, then decide to combine their forces to combat a common foe.

Zen utilizes his wrist tracker that has a lock on Razorhead, and the duo find themselves in the heart of the Army of Chaos’ camp, led by Magril the evil witch! While the army undergoes a cult ritual, the heroic duo is ambushed by the rat men of the same tribe Zen defeated earlier and are taken prisoner. Zen taunts Magril in comedic fashion, and when Ja’en is given a brain washing liquid that would force him to join her Army, Zen breaks free and an intense battle ensues.

I won’t reveal the ending of the story, but I will say that Ja’en is my new favorite Zen character. Happily, I have it on pretty good authority that we’ll be seeing more of him soon…

A Matter of Life and Death

This was another short one; Zen is on Tarax IV having been hired by a gem collector to bring back a chunk of Taraxan. The stuff is common on the planet so it isn’t difficult to find, but what makes it so rare is that the planet is nearly impossible to locate as it resides in one of the more uncharted areas of space. Luckily, Zen found it, but what he finds on the surface is a horrendous scene; a crashed space ship with a wounded child trapped inside amongst an array of corpses. Zen forgets about his mission and tries to free the child, but he is attacked by a furious survivor who thinks he is out to kill the kid. Once Zen realizes that the attacker is pregnant, he thinks he may have bitten off more than he can chew…

Phaedra

This 8 chapter story is the final segment of Alien Hero. Saxan Dar of the Pan-Galactic Diplomatic core has hired Zen to find his missing daughter, the aspiring actress Phaedra. She was last seen on Strega-2 which is the Hollywood of Zen’s universe.

According to a sleazy desk clerk who knew of Phaedra’s last known appearance, the young girl couldn’t make it in the biz, so she resorted to using the galaxy’s version of CraigsList.com to get gigs. As we all know, those ads come with a ‘reader beware’ warning, and one that many naive people ignore or overlook, Phaedra being no exception. Zen finds out where she went and upon finding the joint, he isn’t surprised that it’s located in Strega-2’s Red Light District. He confronts the john of the place and learns that Phaedra was sold to a man named Hawkblade; one of the most notorious drug dealers in the galaxy!

So Zen heads to the drug lord’s planet, Molodar; a desert world populated with nomadic tribesman. He bribes a group of these tribesman to be his guide in finding Hawkblade, and takes up an orange furred, long necked, tiny headed creature called a Zorbee that hops it’s way across the dunes as his steed. Eventually Zen makes it to Hawkblade’s palace of operations and under the cover of nightfall, infiltrates the place.

The Intergalactic Ninja easily takes out a guard and eventually finds himself in a room filled with beautiful women who are bathing, drinking, eating fruit, and just having a gay ol’time! He spots Phaedra, snatches her up, and when he’s about to make a break for it, Hawkblade stops him. The drug lord, dressed louder and more flamboyantly than a bunch of teens at a Yaoi convention, proposes that Zen can take the failed actress and be on his merry way if he is able to defeat his sumo-esque bodyguard, Xumo, in mortal combat!

Again, I’m not going to reveal the ending, but lets just say it makes Gladiator look like a giant rip-off. Speaking of which, there is a city on Strega-2 called New New York IV; Futurama anyone?

Stephen Stern writes some great stuff in Alien Hero as the entire collection is taken from Zen’s point of view. The stories are fast paced, action packed, and highly entertaining. I especially like the sci-fi gizmos Stern creates for Zen; medi-patches that restore ones energy, and healing patches that fall off once the correct dosage is given, to name a few. However, I’m not sure why he chose to have an object called a ‘lightsabre’ exist in Zen’s universe. Sure it may be spelled differently, but that term is so closely branded to the Star Wars mythos it feels weird reading it elsewhere. Zen co-creator Dan Cote provides for full page illustrations that appear before each chapter. They’re in black and white, are brilliantly detailed and look very bad ass. It’s apparent how much his style has grown since Zen Intergalactic Ninja #1 in 1987; his lines are much more refined, and the character looks way more mature and intense.

Now for some quotes:

“Or maybe I’d just died and gone to heaven. Me and a beautiful babe- and her old man hovering somewhere nearby. This definitely wasn’t heaven.” – Zen

“We’re from the pan-galactic beautification patrol. You’re uner arrest for Class A violation of the ugly laws.” – Zen

“Strega-2 was one of the few planets you could spot visually, before your sensors picked up on her. The place was lit up like a garish celestial ornament that’d been hung there by a color-blind maniac on hard drugs.” – Zen

“Go with the cosmic flow. Become one with your environment. Do not fight your situation- but join it!” – The Masters of OM

Check back in Monday for more Zen adventures!

Andy Liegl
andy@comicattack.net

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