January 6, 2012

From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays: Prince Valiant, KOF and Twilight of the Cockroaches

From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays Column No. 79 ” Back In 2012…With Vengeance!”

And 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Thunderbirds go! And all-age comics goodness is back for this new year! Welcome back with vengeance, readers! Why the vengeance? Who knows, who cares, it’s just there, mad as hell and ain’t taking it no more! Hopefully you all had a good holiday filled with crap you comic collectors and otakus love out there. After a few weeks off we are back, and I will make an oath to avoid end-of-the-world jokes for the rest of the year. Now off we go to this week’s stuff!


Prince Valiant, Vol.4: 1943-1944
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Writer/Artist: Hal Foster

There are few collections of comics that you can truly describe as “beautiful art,” however, Fantagraphics’ series of Prince Valiant trades is absolutely stunning to look at and is easy to write flattering things about, because it is so flattering for a reader’s eyes to behold Foster’s artwork crisp, clear, and huge in all its splendor. The fourth volume of Prince Valiant, which collects all the Sunday pages in full color from 1943 to 1944, is just wonderful, whether you are 4 or 94, it is a totally engrossing experience to dive into the world of the adventurous prince on these pages.

The series from ’43 to ’44 tells the adventures of our favorite prince as he heads homeward bound, in the process having an encounter with good old Merlin and a rough voyage on the sea. He makes it home just in time to thwart a plot of a neighboring kingdom’s secret invasion, only to later be captured by those goons wanting revenge for their defeat, where Val receives a little bit of torture. He escapes and the enemies are taken care of again, and then his father convinces him to go off on a quest to take care of the “spell he’s under” from Aleta, in hopes he will settle down and be married once and for all. Val comes in, brimming for the revenge of his servant Beric at the hands of her guards, throws Aleta over his shoulder and carries her off in a daze. Page after page is a rip roaring adventure in the epic Foster fashion we love about this comic, and whether it’s sword play or wrestling an elk with his bare hands, Foster has given Prince Valiant an incredible amount of detail and imagination in his art, which most importantly is exactly that: art.

A little bit into the book, we get the addition of a second strip that would run with Prince Valiant for a few years called The Medieval Castle, also by Foster. During World War II when this strip was published, many newspaper sections were cut down due to paper rations, and so Prince Valiant like anything else got the order to be cut down, too. Foster, wanting to keep his full page, made the deal that it could get cut down if he could add a new single strip story and keep both on the same full page. The deal worked and The Medieval Castle for a chunk of time would run with Valiant starting here. This new addition stuck out to me for two reasons; the first is it is knights and castles, but it is in a different time period than Valiant and follows the adventures of two young boys, Arn and Guy, as their castle is at war over land. The other thing that stuck out is the detailed battle tactics of this time period which Foster handles with detailed explanations of how war and politics worked in those days. Unlike Prince Valiant which was a fantasy adventure, The Medieval Castle would paint a crueler and grittier picture of ancient war and battles. When you pair the two up on the same page, you see the good and the bad of the olden days of these periods, only feeling like they are connected simply because Foster’s art looks the same for both.

To sum it up, the fourth volume of Prince Valiant, from its battles to the addition of The Medieval Castle, has a lot going for it that makes it a fantastic volume for both long-time fans of the series and for those who are new to the wonderful world created by Foster.


Just Play It: The King of Fighters-i
Publisher: SNK

I rarely write up about gaming in the column; we have a really awesome column, The Comics Console, you can check here at for video game stuff. HOWEVER, this was just magical for me. You may know The King of Fighters, or KOF for short, from comic books or perhaps some of its characters from the widely seen Fatal Fury the Motion Picture anime broadcast here a ton in the late-90s, but KOF at heart is known best as a video game first. Here in the States The King of Fighters series never was as popular as other SNK fighting games, like Fatal Fury or Samurai Showdown, that you could find on Neo-Geo machines in the 1990s, but they keep cranking one out every 10-18 months or so, and SNK-fans or folks nostalgic for the magic of  The King of Fighters ’95 keep buying them. The series has more fans of course in Japan, fueling a new one every year and a variety of related goods, from shirts to comic books and so forth, and American fans get to reap these benefits, too. So getting an iPad this year for Christmas, I wanted to explore it a little more than the endless comic books I would be reading on it, and I discovered SNK had released not too long ago a little gem called The King of the Fighters-i!

The King of the Fighters-i is a brand new entry into the KOF series and looks great. It is the traditional flat fighting arena, but the characters look more cell-shaded, adding dimension to it. All your SNK faves are here; Mai still looks like she has terrible back problems for her impossibly big breasts, and SNK has even brought back fan favorites like Billy Kane to round out a roster of 14 characters. The controls take a few minutes to figure out. You have a joy stick and your four punch buttons, but they kind of are translucent and are placed right on the battle screen itself, so it can be a little annoying (unlike other games which make your iPad look like a game boy device with controls clearly separated from the gaming screen). This complaint aside (and the fear that in my gaming-energy I’m going to tap the screen of my iPad too hard and break the damn thing in the excitement of the fight), it is the best fighting game on the i-devices, and even cooler it is all original. SNK pulled out the bells and whistles to create an original fighter and not just a port (take note Capcom), and for that alone they get all the credit and love from me!


Whatever Happened To Twilight of the Cockroaches?

In 1987, the then newly budding Mad House Studios in Japan created a film called Gokiburi-tachi no Tasogare, which during the early 1990s was brought to the United States by Streamline Pictures and dubbed as Twilight of the Cockroaches. The unique film combined more cartoonish animation with live action and told the tale of a society of cockroaches living in the apartment of a bachelor named Seito. Seito has seen better days, and dealing with depression lets the roaches run free, however, this is about to change as he meets a woman from across the way and the two begin to shack up and live together. Obviously she hates cockroaches, and this causes Seito to get his crap together and the pair begin trying to exterminate the bugs. The bugs themselves have their own side story with a love triangle and more, and everything falls apart as the worlds collide. All of this strange plot aside, the film also doubled as an allegory in 1987 for the fate of an affluent Japan if it did not meet international responsibilities. Man, this film is full of layers!

Directed by Hiroaki Yoshida, the film, which had character designs by the famed Yoshitaka Amano (who worked with Gaiman on the Sandman comics, designed Vampire Hunter-D, a few Final Fantasy games, etc.), was broadcast here on TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, and a few other networks, and also was a staple videotape at many Blockbusters’ anime sections during the 1990s. So for such a widely seen anime in the 1990s with an unusual concept/style that makes it stand out, Twilight of the Cockroaches oddly simply disappeared.

I loved this anime when I discovered it on video in middle school, and it blew my mind why it wasn’t re-released along with a few other Streamline titles. I reached out to Jerry Beck who created Streamline along with Carl Macek, and he simply said that after Streamlines titles were picked up by places like Orion for DVD, it just wasn’t grabbed and the rights reverted back to Japan. OK, maybe I can get a Japanese copy. Nope. Oddly enough, the film has never been released on DVD in Japan either (although you can find it on video).

So like Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it seems Twilight of the Cockroaches is just lost in time and space. Sure you can pick it up on videotape if you still have a VCR, or maybe hunt it down from some fan-subber online, but those are really your only options. It’s more PG-13 fair, but it’s epic, it’s hysterical, it’s bizarre, it has claymation talking poop (seriously); there is no reason it shouldn’t be something you should hunt down and watch.


That’s it for this week, see you next! Until then, get your kaiju-game on!

Drew McCabe



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