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NOW! Comics Astro Boy - Issue Fourteen

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It's issue fourteen already, and at this rate, the last NOW! Comics review may be done by the end of this year. Well, where do we have to go from here? Astro has fallen out with his father several times, been sold to and escaped the robot circus, became the figurehead of a robot rebellion, saved his classmate, and got the crap beaten out of him for no reason. And at this point in time, Ken Steacy just can't hold back the fact that he doesn't care anymore. I feel bad for him, but at the same time, he infuriates me. His style does not mix with Tezuka's style. It's like trying to play a Miki Matsubara song with a vuvuzela...something incredible and beautiful becomes awkward and clunky.

What's this issue about? As we learned last time, it's called "Dinomania", and it's about dinosaurs. If you tell a small child that a boy robot is going to fight dinosaurs, it sends happy chills up their spine. If you manage to corrupt this concept somehow, you may need to see a doctor, because your organs may be coated with pure evil.

Before we begin, here's a quote from my uncle - a master in english cartoons - whom recently looked through my past reviews:

I must say, I admire your patience to wade through all of that: I would've thrown up my hands in disgust and gave up on the whole schlermozzle.

So, as long as people keep thinking of me as some sort of bionic superhuman that runs off bad comics, I'll keep writing these reviews.

SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF?! SNIFF! SNURF!
 
We open with Kristal Kleer and her giant dog Poochie walking up the street. Now, the dog is so big that Ken Steacy can only fit it in one panel...other times, the dog is in some sort of contorted running position. Suddently, a T-Rex appears on the street, and the dog gets the hell out of dodge.
 
Astro was glad he'd decided to stalk Kris that particular night.
 
Astro appears out of nowhere and punches the dinosaur unconscious. While sort-of tearing open the joint on his right shoulder, Astro is pleased to see Kris is all right. She sure is, if you don't count the vaguely-sexist radio frequency coming out of her mouth. On the matter of the dinosaur, Kris suggests that someone cloned it from "some fossilized remains!", so Astro decides to show it to Elmer, whom as it turns out suddenly, is a genetic engineer. So, like, he actually did work somewhere. Astro insists he walk Kris home to protect her, so then she takes his hand.
 
Is anyone else bothered by the vague sexism in this comic? All the "good" females are doe-eyed, say smart things and need their male love interest to stand up for them. Then, the most powerful and independant woman is ugly and brutish. Come on, Steacy. It's 1988, for God's sake. You can't put this in a comic anymore.
 
Caputo's budget couldn't afford the rest of the bubble.
 
Back at the Institute, Elmer, Elefun and Tas Tamil are examining the still-unconscious dinosaur, which got into the lab somehow. Everybody hums and haws over where it could have come from, but Elmer suggests someone "synthetically fabricated it (...) on an atomic level". Tas craps his pants over this, thinking this magical science person could make an army of dinosaurs, so Elefun calls for Lance Lumiere to come down to study the dinosaur. Upon hearing Lance answer, Astro snaps to attention, but so does the dinosaur, and Elmer pumps it up with a boatload of sedatives.
 
Is Steacy aware that kids don't use the word "chum", especially not in 1988?
 
Upon coming down, Astro calls out Lance for being Cloakmaster in issue 12. While he could have a chance at defending himself and calmly pretending Astro's wrong, he doesn't, and reaches towards a circuit breaker and it somehow explodes. After the lights go out, everything turns red because it's in Astro's infra-red vision. I'm glad Steacy clarified this, or I would have assumed he just didn't care enough to use more than three paints.
 
 
Now, as Lance runs away, can you see the various errors in these particular panels? One, he's talking loud enough for anyone chasing after him to hear and follow his voice. Two, he's putting on his once-secret disguise as his assailant is tailing him. Three, he's somehow leaving bright yellow footprints that only Astro can see. Four, a man is calling himself a bimbo. In the meantime for Astro, he sees the footprints lead into the wall, and as Astro touches the wall, it explodes.
 
"Just call me the Phantom of YOUR ASS!"
 
As Lance runs down the hall, a mysterious figure trips him. This figure is actually Dr. Boynton in a hat with eyeholes, and he looks like he's going to rape Lance up the butt. Bimbo indeed, and as soon as I reached this panel, the war documentary playing in the room to my right declared, "The massive German ramming campaign continues over Central Germany." That's gonna hurt.
 
That isn't "tons" of debris. That's a bucket, some drywall and a few bricks.
 
Astro comes to a moment later, and Elefun declares they'd might as well not give a crap that Lance got away. Tas Tamil rushes in and demonstrates how useless he really is, by squealing about dinosaurs are now running through town. Elefun tells Astro to grab the dinosaurs and put them in cages at the city's new zoo, so Astro goes out and mostly stares at the dinosaurs, smashes two of them together, and then carries them off to cages that they could probably just crush in seconds.
 
McGrew was beaten with the entire Ugly Forest.
 
The zookeeper passes a stone about this, but Elefun tells him to relax, because the city will pay for the millions of dollars it takes to feed and maintain twenty dinosaurs. And..."Zookeeper McGrew"? Steacy, I'm gonna Google that and if it turns up in any result related to a children's book, you are in trouble...
 
 
 
 
Astro goes home, but is surprised to discover that he suddenly has an eight-year-old sister. She is Astro Girl, and her powers include saying "Oh, Astro!" a lot, making Astro read her books, and having a dangerously short skirt. Why must she be called Astro Girl? That's from the 1963 series, but the 80's series had Uran/Urane, and Sarah in Canada. She always had a distinct first name, rather than having to make everyone say Astro Girl all the time to keep from confusing her with Astro.
 
And I know Steacy kept to the original character designs painfully dead-on, but it's 1988. Everybody in the comic gets a nice, modern outfit, except not with Astro Girl. Hell, none of the women get good outfits...Kristal wears some weird green and yellow legless bodysuit, General Hawkins has a fairly short skirt, and in all of Rebecca's outfits, Ken Steacy goes "HEY LOOK I'M DRAWING TIIIIIITS!" Look at the above picture; he's added a thin line to make Rebecca's right breast look rounder.
 
 
Try to tear yourself away from Rebecca's mammories for a second...this next waste of ten pages is a sequence where Astro reads Astro Girl a bedtime story, but it's just a reprint of one of Steacy's original standalone stories. This is really done to fill space, which is especially irritating when you consider issue fifteen could have fit into this book, if we take the "bedtime story" out of either one.
 
To summarize it, a toddler goes to the beach with a bucket of dinosaurs and his parents. The kid wanders off and sees a grazing Triceratops. Suddenly, it gets into a fight with a T-Rex, and the kid runs away. His parents reach him some metres away from the crash site of a bulldozer and an excavator.
 
I didn't get it the first time I saw it, but the kid mistook the bulldozer for a Triceratops, got on it, and grabbed its "horns". These were actually the controls, leading to a crash that may have left the excavator operator dead. Hey Steacy, I remember being five-years-old. I wouldn't have made this mistake, since CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT = CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT even in a small child's mind, unless the boy in this story is Autistic, Schizophrenic and colourblind. One minute, the kid is telling us he named one of his toys Harryhausen, the next minute he thinks a green excavator is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. You are as bad at writing children as Bill Keane.
 
Astro Girl declares the story to be "swell".
 
 
 
Soon after, Rebecca bursts into the room and declares that Elefun has concludes his test on the dinosaurs, and they're of "extraterrestrial origin". While your mind reels over the thought of space dinosaurs, we get one big panel of little girl panty. What the hell? Is she wearing one of those 1990's frilly-hemmed shirts to bed? And why is Rebecca's left boob now the front of a missile? But hey, there's the Robot Carnival poster in the background! It's not enough to increase any respect for Ken Steacy, but the reference is a nice thought.
 
 
 
This issue leaves me feeling empty and sad, now that I've learned a little about the comic from Brian Thomas, artist of issue #17 and artist-writer of issues #18-20. This, in his own words, is what transpired...
 
"My preview back-up story that appeared in SPEED RACER was kind of a warm-up when Now acquired the rights. Then Ken started doing covers for them and made an offer to do full painted artwork, and at Canadian rates they thought they couldn't pass up the opportunity.
 
Then when the book's sales fell off they came back to me. I'd been an Astro Boy fan since I was a toddler and had managed to get a lot of material on the original series, though the manga was years away from appearing in English. [...] Unfortunately, by the time they offered the series to me it was already about six weeks behind schedule. 
 
Sales actually went up with each of my issues, but at the same time Now struck a deal with a distributor for newsstand sales of all their comics. This was good for high-recognition titles like MARRIED WITH CHILDREN but not so hot for cult faves like Astro."
 
So, breaking it down, Brian Thomas is supposed to be the artist and writer for issues #8 and on, potentially without Michael Dimpsey's origin story. Ken Steacy came up with some cover art, and offered to do coloured artwork and be paid in Canadian dollars - after 1987-era currency conversion, that was painfully cheap, so you know what Tony Caputo did.
 
When the comics were mass-produced for newsstands, the good sales for Brian's edition of Astro Boy weren't so good anymore, so it was cancelled. Brian Thomas has always been a fan of Astro Boy, as I've found out, and had the series not been cancelled, we could have had this...
 
"I planned on taking advantage of the fact that the character was such a favorite with so many artists and get guest star covers lined up from guys like Mike Mignola and John Byrne. I was developing story arcs that would take Astro to an island taken over by hostile robots, and another that would take him to Africa for a "meeting" with a legendary white lion. I was also coordinating with writer Steve Sullivan to come up with stories to plug in between these arcs and help us get back on schedule. Plus, I kept pushing for Now to acquire rights to the original manga for translation. We did manage to get an Italian story we were prepping for a fill-in and were looking into stories done in other countries we could have used, but time ran out."
 
So, an artist collaboration, a Kimba The White Lion crossover, and international stories. We could have even gotten the manga translated over a decade earlier. Maybe I.Q. Plenty or General Hawkins wouldn't have ever existed if Brian got control in the first place! If the cancellation hadn't occurred, the formula for Brian's version could have made Astro more mainstream in the American comic world!
 
But Ken Steacy cost less.
 
 
OBLIGATORY REACTION SHOT!
 
 
Why yes, Mr. Steacy, I am enjoying my space dinosaurs. But you know what I'd enjoy more? If the lead writer were someone who actually gave a crap about the source material, and didn't think wasting ten pages on their own story was a good idea. I bet you don't even know what a Kimba is.
 
 

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