Spoofs, homages, loving tributes…there’s big money to be made in nostalgia, and there’s no shortage of culture vultures hoping to pick off a piece for themselves. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have effectively made scraping the nostalgia barrel their thing, with varying success (for my money Tarantino does it better), but they’re not alone. When done right, you’ve got greatness like Michael Jai White’s Black Dynamite; when not, there’s Undercover Brother.
But what about comic books? With their limited budgets and staff, artists have always made the world of ink and paper the domain for, well, pretty much anything you can imagine. Hence, the current revival of dead shows, sequels that never were, or just countless rip-offs and clones that could never survive in any other medium (save reality television). And you can thank Kickstarter for a lot of this, as the crowdfunding scene has enable virtually anyone with a dream to beg for the funds deemed necessary to
Sexcastle is such a project, forged from the fiery flames of a successful Kickstarter campaign that netted cartoonist Kyle Starks nearly 4X what he was hoping for. This eventually lead to the book being published by Image Comics, though you’d never know the original was crowdfunded as there’s no mention of the campaign in this printed edition. Billed as a homage to 80s action it’s funny enough, at least to those wanting this sort of thing, and does its job without issue. But those going in expecting some type of satirical brilliance will be disappointed. Hey, some people think things like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the savior of geekdom, I tend to think they cheapen and commodify the product.
Back to our story…Meet Shane Sexcastle, professional assassin, recently released from prison for having killed the Vice President (who himself was attempting to kill the President because his family was being held hostage). Sexcastle, a cross between Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken, John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, and gaming’s Duke Nukem, just wants to forget his past of killing and settle down into a normal life. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
He spouts one-liners, naturally, because that’s what action heroes do. Unfortunately, his sound second-rate next to the real deal: “I’m going to pop off your head and use your neck for a toilet” doesn’t have quite the zing of the original “I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!” (from the great R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket)
But whatever. Sexcastle settles into a small town, landing a job at a lonely flower shop, owned by an even lonelier (and horny) widow and her son, content to lead a life arranging and selling flowers.
Too bad! Because the town is run by a homicidal maniac who commands a troupe of thugs, and is making life hell for the lonely (and horny) widow. Sexcastle intervenes, violently, sending him a message that his dastardly days are done for. Unfazed, the maniac enlists help from The Top Nine aka The Assassin’s Union, all of whom have been jonesing for a piece of Sexcastle’s butt – and the secret box full of ancient secrets. I’d tell you what it is, but that’s a secret.
OK, this part was pretty funny, if only because these nine idiotic ‘assassins’ have funny assassin names and even funnier caricatures of favorite action heroes from the 80s/90s: Dutch Matrix, Spartan Cobretti (Stallone), Joe Kersey (Bronson), Clubber Samson (Mr. T), Rico Ryback (Seagal), The Damn Twins…Just don’t tell me they’re Peter and David Paul…I can’t handle that much Trouble.
Chaos, of course, ensues and things quickly become extra bloody. But it’s cool because it’s all in good fun, and like a good 80s action movie reading Sexcastle won’t turn you into a homicidal maniac (though you may get Presidential ambitions, after being Governor, of course). We learn a bit more about Sexcastle’s background, his motives, etc, and even glimpse how psychologically damaged all that killing has made him.
The action scenes, which are pretty much the whole book, are well laid out and drawn in Starks’ hyper-chunky style, with legible text and knowing winks to the audience. It’s entirely predictable, of course, and you can see everything coming miles away. This isn’t a problem; we’re not here to think about stuff like plot and…uh, what were we talking about again?
One recurring gag, where Sexcastle dispatches assassins with his dead girlfriend’s panties, was a hoot. Hyper-machismo is always a good time when done right and Sexcastle, generally, gets it right. Just don’t expect a shred of originality and you’ll have a good time reading it, too.
In actuality, Sexcastle reads more like a redux of Starks’ own Legend of Ricky Thunder comic, another successfully Kickstarted project with a theme not entirely dissimilar (i.e. machismo on the hoof). Which actually proves my point, cynical as some of you might think it be, that having comic creators suckle at the financial teat for funds to create projects leads to product like this – comics served up like fast food hamburgers.
There’s a scene in Hard To Kill, one of Segal’s better films, where his character, Mason Storm, watches the villainous Senator Vernon Trent spout his famous catchphrase “You can take that to the bank.” Mason replies, as action heroes are wont to do, “I’ll take you to the bank…the blood bank.” It totally works, because who in their right mind, apart from action heroes, would ever say nonsense unless they really meant it?
Sexcastle is a decent, if predictable, nod to action flicks and action heroes from the 80s and 90s, at least the parts cartoonist Kyle Starks thinks are funny enough to poke at. It’s funny, at least the kind of funny comic book zealots seem to like because they can spot the references and recognize the cues when to laugh and nod along. Moreover, this is the type of product we should expect as more and more artists turn to Kickstarter for funding, giving fans exactly what they want (or think they want), all while letting established publishers take fewer and fewer risks while still nabbing most of the profits. Yippee.
If you want to see a master-class in retrograde action fun that hits all the right buttons without apologies, check out the insanity that is Kung Fury. Yeah, it’s also a Kickstarter project, but it’s got David Hasselhoff, so it’s cool.