Saturday, November 22, 2008

Out of the Vault - Samuree

Yeah, it's been a while since I've delved into the vault, but now the scanner's warmed up, so let's start again. I had a hard time deciding which to do first among Plop and The Realm and Samuree, but Samuree eventually took top spot due to the squick factor that starts in the very first scene.

But let's back up for a second. I've said before that I was a DC reader in the early 70's. And one reason, besides the self-contained stories in most issues, was that DC had at least as many great artists working for them as Marvel did, guys like Nick Cardy and Jim Aparo and Murphy Anderson and Dick Giordano and most importantly, Neal Adams. Neal Adams was a legendary figure in 70's comics, known for drawing one of the most iconic Joker stories of all time, "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge," in Batman #251, and his work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, as well as reviving the X-Men and illustrating the Avengers during the Kree-Skrull War over at Marvel.

But in the late 70's, Adams became disillusioned with the big 2 and started speaking out against work-for-hire and for creators' rights. And in the early 80's, he began producing his own creator-owned properties, first at Pacific Comics and then with his own publishing imprint, Continuity Comics.

Adams appears to have created and designed the properties for Continuity, then handed them off to other creators who emulated Adams's look as a house style. But as talented as Adams is with a pen, his character concepts were pretty sucky. During the 80's, Adams's prolific mind brought us such classics as Crazyman, ToyBoy, and Skateman.

Which brings us back to Samuree. Samuree was a generic hot female martial artist who had a brief run from 1987 to 1991 or thereabouts and then was revived in 1993 even more briefly before the great mid-90's market implosion killed her for good.

I bought the first three issues, because it was Adams, man, and even if the storytelling was crap, at least the books looked good. The first issue was typical of the series: gorgeous Adams cover, interior art by Mark Beachum with inks by Akin and Garvey and muddy colors by Liz Berube. Adams is credited with the story, and right off the bat, things feel icky.

The first page is a workout montage reminiscent of the opening of this episode of Miami Vice (featuring my high school classmate Suzy Amis), followed by this scene where a 16-year-old Samuree blatantly throws herself at an older man (as always, you can click the images for a larger version). The dialogue is not only crap ("Can you hear myself?"), but it manages to be suggestive without being the slightest bit erotic ("My body is...used" - Adams loves him some ellipses, BTW). It seems as if this guy is going to be a significant member of the supporting cast, but he barely appears in the first three issues.

Spotting a newspaper article about a hostage situation in New York, Samuree rushes to the Museum of Natural History, where she disables a few SWAT team members before running into the Revengers (Armor, Silver Streak, and Megalith) who are also trying to free the hostages. After several pages of fighting and discussion (during which we're told over and over that the slightest noise could cost all the hostages their lives), the four heroes band together and kick the terrorists' butts. However, before they can talk to any of the hostages, mysterious figures appear at a skylight, throwing smoke bombs and abducting three of the hostages--Silver Streak's father, a scientist hunted by Samuree, and Tom Savini.

Yes, that Tom Savini.

Subsequent issues don't get any better. Elliot Maggin (70's comics fixture who in his DC days not only rocked the pretentious middle initial but added the even more pretentious exclamation point--Elliot S! Maggin) took over the writing, but the dialogue stayed dumb and the characterizations wooden. The layouts tried too hard to be dynamic and were often confusing, the action sometimes hard to decipher under muddy overcoloring. The story moved in fits and starts, with backstory thrown in so randomly that it's not apparent whether the pages in issue #2 are printed in order or not.

On the plus side, I guess, Samuree did feature about 80% more cameltoe than your average comic. So there is that.


Anonymous said...

This is a not too well known classic that had a much bigger influence than many may know... it started the explosion of thonged martial-arts name it - Cammy, Shi, Witchblade, Glory, Elektra, Zealot etc... it's been argued Psylocke was the first with the thonged swimsuit heroine suit, but she was just an older character who had her suit updated skimpier to match the trend.

Nobody does it like Mark Beachum!

And Shi is a shameless rip-off of Saumuree, Billy Tucci should thank his luck stars Neal Adams didn't decide to sue is ass off, Adams was probably more preoccupied with not going bankrupt at that point to bother...

Anonymous said...

Actually, Elektra was the first. Neal Adams and Mark Beachum just did it with more style and took it to another level with Samuree. You can argue they "ripped off" Elektra, but I think it was more of "being influenced". In a similar vein you can say Shi did the same with Samuree - took it to another level with more style (but less substance). Although I will say, that being an artist myself, I'm disappointed a good artist like Bill Tucci could have done a better job in not so directly swiping Shi's costume from Samuree. All artists steal, but Tucci almost made no attempts in even taking an ounce of effort to change the costume's shape language he so blatantly aped from Adams/Beachum's Samuree.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Samuree (Darryl Sheppard) was raised on an island in Asia. Clumsy as it may be, the writer was trying to convey that through her "crap dialogue" and sub par command of the English language.