Sunday, February 6, 2011

Muscle & Faith


Originally published by: Flying Color Comics (online exclusive)
Publication date: May 1, 2000

Story and art: Jeff “J.B.” Bonivert

“Muscle & Faith”

Summary:

Down in the sewer lair, Mike is ready to relax with a good book when suddenly his brothers blindside him. Raph snatches the book from his hands, insisting that they play a new game called “Sewer Commandos” before he settles down to read. Mike refuses, saying that their friend Sister Sue specifically asked him to read a certain chapter in her diary. Raph still won’t fork it over, forcing Splinter to intervene. Mike explains that the chapter details the time Sister Sue and her partner, Sister Sally, approached the Turtles for help, but since they were laid up with the flu, they sent the nuns to Casey Jones. Hearing that it’s a Casey story causes Raph to change heart and the Turtles all sit down to take turns reading the diary…


In a dark alley, a pair of Hell Cats are busy boosting the tires off a fish van. They’re startled by the masked visage of Casey Jones, who lectures them on how stealing those tires will effect Mr. Johnson (the owner), his wife, his eleven kids, the neighborhood and ultimately himself as well. The Hell Cats, unimpressed, make the mistake of calling Casey a “creampuff”. Casey responds by throttling the punks and sending them running in terror.


Three blocks away, Casey is drawn to the sobbing of his homeless friend, Big Willy. Billy Willy explains that his buddy, Little Willy, froze to death in the alley last night right next to him. Casey asks if he can see Little Willy and Big Willy complies, pulling back the blanket and revealing his dead pet dog. Casey pays his respects and leaves.


Five blocks later, Casey returns to his apartment to find two strangers have broken in: Sister Sue (the skinny, bespectacled one) and Sister Sally (the short, fat one). They apologize for breaking into his home but explain that they’re on an urgent mission. Casey asks who sent them and they answer “The Turtles”. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to explain how the nuns know the Turtles as they’re in a tremendous hurry. Casey takes off his mask (causing Sister Sue to become instantly smitten) and asks them for their story. The nuns have come from the Saint Albert’s Orphanage for Boys where three nights ago, two of their boys, Ryan and Dustin, snuck out and disappeared. The boys dropped a map on their way out, however, indicating where they were going: The Badlands, a fenced-off, condemned section of New York run by a ruthless gang called the Badlads. They reveal that other kids have run off to join the gang in the past, too. Casey agrees to help rescue them; he’ll supply the muscle and they can supply the faith.

The next night, near the Badlands, Casey meets up with Sister Sue and Sister Sally. Sister Sue, despite her enthusiasm (having disguised herself as a punk chick), is ordered to stay by their getaway bus while Casey and Sister Sally enter the Badlands. They watch a couple kids get past another kid guarding the gate and eavesdrop on the password. Repeating it, they gain entrance. Around the corner, they find a trio of drunken prepubescents. Sister Sally berates them, causing them to attack her, but one brief threatening encounter with Casey urges the brats to give them directions to the old Rialto, where initiations are taking place.


Inside the abandoned theater, they find a throng of children gathered before a stage. Standing above them is a massive fat woman: Mother Drekk. Mother Drekk silences the crowd, then calls forth the initiates for hazing: Lotsa spankings. Ryan and Dustin are among the kids about to be spanked, so Casey tells Sally to grab them while he creates a diversion. Right before the repentant Ryan and Dustin are to be spanked, Casey takes the stage, dressed as a bearded hillbilly, and begins strumming on a banjo. As Sally makes off with the two boys, Drekk sees through the plot and orders her Badlads to dogpile Casey.


After a few minutes, Casey digs his way out of the pile of children and exits the theater. He’s then besieged by a horde of brats on minibikes, wielding blunt instruments. Casey swipes one of the bikes and drives straight for Mother Drekk. Casey leaps from the speeding bike, intending to tackle Drekk, but she doesn’t budge. Instead, she bodyslams Casey, knocking him out cold.

When he wakes up, he finds himself in an emptied swimming pool next to Sister Sally, Ryan and Dustin (who were jumped while trying to escape). Casey then does battle with Mother Drekk, though her massive physique makes her tough to wear down. One of the Badlads in the crowd throws Drekk a shotgun, but Ryan and Dustin spring into action, knocking the gun from her hands. Before she can hurt them, however, Casey lays her out with a punch to the jaw. As the heroes prepare to leave, Drekk recovers and finds her shotgun. Casey urges her not to pull the trigger, as it’s been fouled with mud. Drekk tries anyway and the gun explodes in her face, killing her.


The Badlads in the audience suddenly explode into cheers, thanking Casey for freeing them. One of the Badlads (“Ratface” Randy) has the epiphany that while being a gangbanger was fun for a while, it was a dead end street. Sister Sally then invites all the Badlads to come live with her at the orphanage. Victorious, they had back to the bus where Sister Sue is waiting.

Later, Sister Sue and Casey pay a visit to Big Willie with a gift: a new puppy! Willie is overjoyed and Sue offers to help him bury Little Willie and provide him with a hot meal.

And so Michelangelo ends the story.


Turtle Tips:

*This original 72-page graphic novel, commissioned by Kevin Eastman, was originally published on Flying Color Comics’s website. To date, it has never been physically published on paper.

*It was initially made available across twelve weekly installments spanning May 1, 2000, to July 17, 2000.

*On page 2, Splinter can be seen reading a “Fun Boys” comic. “Fun Boys” was another Bonivert comic published by Flying Colors Comics.

*The Japanese wall scroll in the last panel of page 6 reads “Akira”.


Review:

J.B. Bonivert… where to start?

In the Turtle World, he previously contributed the TMNT shorts "The Purpose of Fear” and "The Ring of Death", where his… unique style was a bit more palatable in 4 to 8-page chunks. A 72-page graphic novel, on the other hand, was just way too much of an art style I don’t particularly care for.

Not to sound like a complete dick, but he looks like he draws the same way you or I did in elementary school; where we had no concept of geometric structure or mapping-out construction lines. We just drew the outlines of the characters first, filled in the details afterward and paid no attention to the eraser end of our pencil. His characters change model from panel to panel, particularly in their facial features, and their proportions are grotesque (huge puffy balloon muscles and teensy-weensy little hands). I remember him from my childhood, reading “Graphic Classics” in the school library, and I’ll admit that his surrealistic take on human anatomy fits horror and suspense stories far better than standard action adventure fare. But so far as “Muscle & Faith” goes, well, it isn’t a very pretty comic.

On the writing side, it’s sort of all over the place. The book started out very strongly, and I was particularly moved by the plight of Big Willie and his dog (though I’m a sucker for dogs, admittedly). But once the actual plot showed up, a sort of mishmash between “Road Warriors” and “Escape from New York”, I couldn’t help but yawn. It’s a very zany adventure, but the conflict is entirely paint by numbers, even ending in an arena battle that anybody half-awake would have seen coming. The entire page featuring “Ratface” explaining why running away from home to join gangs or cults is wrong just screamed “public service announcement” in all the most insultingly overt ways. Bonivert tends to write very strange almost stream of consciousness-style dialogue, as characters make weird asides and non-sequiturs that don’t really fit the pace of what they’re saying at all. His kids looking like mutant “Li’l Rascals” and speaking in similar “Hey yous mugs!” dialogue doesn’t win him any favors.

On the bright side, this is a solo Casey Jones story with no involvement from the Turtles (outside of the framing device) and those are a rare gem. Casey’s effectiveness as a solo vigilante is difficult to judge, as he almost always has the Turtles alongside him to either pick up his slack or make him look bad with their superior ninja skills. It’s always a welcomed sight to see Casey saving the day as a competent hero without the Turtles reducing him to bumbling comic relief.

So far as availability goes, this thing didn’t hit the web with much fanfare (despite a glowing review from Eastman, who commissioned the thing). I didn’t even know it existed until about 2006 or so. I can’t believe it’s already eleven years old. The fact that it’s never been published on paper might ward off those who dislike reading comics on their computer, too. Flying Color Comics still has it available on their site for viewing, though trying to navigate there isn’t easy. Luckily, I have a direct link: Read it before their servers delete it!
Overall, I enjoy the fact that this is a Casey solo story and I do like certain elements of the adventure, but I’m not among Bonivert’s fanbase (though I know he has his followers and if you’re among them, then you should enjoy this). This isn’t a tale I go back to read often, if ever.

Grade: D (as in, “Damn, those kids are so ugly I don’t blame their parents for abandoning them”.)

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