Tuesday, May 20, 2014

#DoubleFeature - Die Hard: Year One Vol. 1 & 2

Yippee ki yay, comic nerds!

In 2009, in-between no new Die Hard film release, and instead of getting yet another new batch of Die Hard video games, what we got was... a comic book! The very first Die Hard comic adaptation!

Die Hard Another Day in these classic Eyz reviews!

Around 2009, BOOM! Studios decided to give Dark Horse Comics a run for their money, and started acquiring several movie license to develop new comic book series based around these well established franchises.

Chief amongst those was the highly unexpected Die Hard series. Which despite a few video games in the early 90s, never really offered any proper alternative to the Bruce Willis-starring films.

To try something unusual with the action franchise and proper to the comic book medium at the same time, Boom! want for a very comic book origin story, or "Year One" as per DC Comics tradition.

Hence was born "Die Hard: Year One".  A limited series. It ran for 8 issues between September 2009 and April 2010, expanding upon John McClane's past, only lightly alluded to in a couple of the Die Hard films.

This prequel was written by none other than comic book legend Howard Chaykin! Exploring the character in a different medium, a decade prior to the original Die Hard movie when McClane had just received his badge.

Despite its title, Die Hard: Year One doesn't offer a single first year in McClane's career as a police officer, but rather a single night during two moments in his first two years.

As such, the first four issues #1-4 which compose volume 1 see McClane as a rookie, during the 1976's Bicentennial celebration.

While the later #5-8, or volume 2, follow our hero in his first year as a police detective, during this time the 1977 New York City blackout

It might feel forced, putting our famous hero during those well known historic dates (Forrest Gumping, much?). And how can the same thing happen to the same guy so many times?!

But the formula is here, and it works. One man, all by himself, against several villains on remote locations. An everyman who shit just keeps happening all the time...

Both volume are as far from one another as night and day. If the first one turned out to be a pretty decent surprise "Year One"-style origin story, the second one "Year Two" tale was when I started to think this was getting a bit too much...

So I'm reviewing these two separately here...

Comic title: Die Hard: Year One Vol. 1 
Art by Stephen Thompson
Written by Howard Chaykin

Published by BOOM! Studios
From 2009
Lineup Die Hard series
Format: Trade Paperback collecting Die Hard: Year One #1-4.

The year is 1976. During the Bicentennial in NYC.

Back then Jojn McClane was only a rookie cop at the time, just back from Vietnam. Our East Coast protagonist was merely a rookie trying to earn his badge. 

The first few chapters in the beginning jump from one key player to another, to place the scene. Actually that element is straight from the original Die Hard trilogy of films.

At first the reader is not entirely sure what form the whole plot and settings will take form. And it makes for a pretty interesting and captivating read actually.

The plot kinda reminiscent of the 2006 Richard Donner film 16 Blocks, where Bruce Willis had to protect a witness from crooked cops.

Long story short, a victim's trying to escape bad guys and ends up almost right in their hands... had it not been for Police Officer John McClane! That same day, our hero ends up assigned as security aboard a luxury boat for wealthy businessman for the celebration. When Eco-terrorists tied to that corruption plot show up and take over the ship! They try to take hostages. And all would have worked out pretty fine... hadn't it been for McClane!

And that's the essence of these films if you ask me (what the later modern sequels seem to have forgotten over the years).

Who will have to save the day for the first time in his career? John McClane of course!

Let it be said right away, Die Hard: Year One Vol. 1 doesn't add that much to the character of John McClane.

The bad guys seem to have a perfectly simple and well executed plan that would have worked pretty nicely with no hiccups whatsoever, if McClane hadn't been an interference in their evil shemes.

The stunning art provided by Stephen Thompson really seems to capture the feel of the original films, the 1970s era and even Bruce Willis himself! Great colors that really capture an old 70s nostalgia-vibe. The New York of "old". 

A McClane in his early cop days, busting criminals in the street. 

The story is maybe more of a straightforward noir story.

We get to see where his entire career started. McClane on the first year of his job on the force. Back when he used to have a full head of hair. Caught in the middle of a plot of crooked cops.

All this taking place in the span of ~12 hours.

Great ending as well, culminating over the plot and ending with a bang!

Grat narration if a bit heavy at times (specially considering McClane barely talked in straight sentences in the first film, and mostly shouted insults and one liners).

Back when he was a bit more naive. You can almost easily recognize a younger Bruce Willis in this young-ysh McClane.

I also love the great interpretation of the seventies.

The only real "questionable" addition is perhaps the 24-hour time stamps all over the pages. It feels a bit too much and wasn't that necessary. It has never been a stable of the series either actually!  

When it's all said and done, Die Hard: Year One Vol. 1 is simply "Die Hard on a ship... in the 1970s!"

And that turned out a lot better than it sounds!  

No family, no Gruber. Hippie villains interesting enough as a threat. Plenty of McClane's typicial sense of humor in the worst situations. Great stuff! 

Finally let's mention the gorgeous covers illustrated by the fantastic Dave Johnson and the very talented Jock. Simply stunning and defining the tone of this entire story!

Overall: John McClane's very first adventure in comic book form!   

I got to admit, my expectations were close to none on this. I wasn't expecting anything from this, really. Nothing much, despite veteran comic author Howard Chaykin. I was simply imagining this would be another forgettable comic book adaptation to be exact.

And it turned out to be a great surprise! 

They kept comparing this to Batman Begins and Casino Royale in the PR releases, but really this was more like another solid Die Hard entry only taking place in another year. Think Temple of Doom for this. The darker almost more mature noir tone also helps.

It was kinda cheesy at times, particularly regarding to the story narration. But really, it was actually a pretty good solid story, full of suspense and twists.

Way too many monologues, we never got a glimpse at John McClane's thoughts before....

The story was more of a crime drama than pure action like the later Die Hard films turned into.

At the end of the day, this was very much a Die Hard story, capturing the tone of that first film while being completely original and new material.

Giving a solid backstory to our hero and not too intrusive or detracting for the series.

A great recommend Die Hard story, decent enough and a nice addition for any Die Hard fan out there. Don't miss it!

I give it:
2 / 3 Films!

Comic title: Die Hard: Year One Vol. 2 
Art by Gabriel Andrade
Written by Howard Chaykin

Published by BOOM! Studios
From 2010
Lineup Die Hard series
Format: Trade Paperback collecting Die Hard: Year One #5-8.

It is now 1977. John McClane is now a real cop. Newly appointed Detective. Which means a new rank and a new partner for him.

When suddenly crime finds itself on the path of the unluckiest cop ever.

A criminal is locked by our heroes and traps himself in a "massage parlor". McClane and his partner circle the building and call in some help. But that is when the infamous NYC Blackout of '77 happens...

Amidst the looting and rioting, McClane finds himself this time in the middle of so many distraction on one very long night based around real life incidents.... directly linked into the building next door! 

It the "Summer of Sam".

And it turns out one of New York City's most glamorous is the one responsible behind all this trouble. In this version of those historic events a plot for money caused all of it (or part of it?). For the sake of her status, she paid money for a bunch of local crooks to steal some compromising pictures in a bank vault... which then causes all this trouble - the city-wide blackout! 

Die Hard: Year One Vol. 2 contains a whole lot more callbacks to the series. 

John McClane finds himself in the same situation again and again... really? And this stretches back to his days a kid, passing through his time in Vietnam!! 

To be honest I was kinda disappointed by this second episode. There were way too many allusions from McClane crawling through the airduct vents to Holly's presence through the tale despite not bringing anything to the plot. She seems to just be "here" for no reason. 

If the timestamps and the internal monologues were kinda distracting in the first volume, this second volume contained as well very intrusive flashback sequences in most John McClane-centric pages, drawing parallels to the situation to his days as a child and 'nam. Which got annoying by mid-point of the book... specifically after McClane said himself in a panel he shouldn't resass memories and focus on the now and here in the present... only to continue doing these flashbacks anyways!?

Maybe as a high note, I kinda liked how this story was the lowest body count in the entire franchise. It really helps making a break from all his usual over-the-top adventures.

The best aspect was how this almost was more of a slice of life in his career. One helluva day for sure... as usual.

This time it was Dave Johnson, Joe Jusko and John Paul Leon who did the covers.

Overall: My main with this second trade was how much it tried to be on a Die Hard with a Vengeance-type of scale. From the whole story taking place in the heat of summer time to the breaking into a bank vault while everyone was looking away.

The story can basically be summed by a guy taking hostages to draw the attention of the cops and John McClane while the criminals in the vacant building nearby used the blackout to break into a bank during this entire diversion.

There were way too many references and forced allusions.

And I also wasn't a fan of John McClane's entire "destiny" being spelled out here. Going through airducts in both flashbacks of his childhood and his time in Vietnam... Sigh.. Really? And every couple of pages! Then jokingly dismissing those flashback to focus on the present at hand... then more flashbacks nonetheless!! Argh...

Holly forced into the storyline didn't need to be here. How did this made the cut!? Since she only was there by an even more random occurrence than John McClane facing thieves passing themselves at terrorists several times in the films! She just happens to be the real estate agent in charge of the building being used by the villains. So of course she has to go there personally right IN THE MIDDLE of the blackout and gets threaten by the bad guys only to meet McClane at the end of story...

Also the title wasn't that honest. Come on, guys! In the end, it was really more of a Die Hard Year Two by this book rather than a second part of  the first tale. It's not even related to it, or as related as one Die Hard film to another.

I really feel they should have stopped at the first volume. This additional story arc didn't bring anything new, and rather destroyed this whole "Year One" origins concept in my eyes...

The art on another hand was still great. Gorgeous really. Gabriel Andrade did a great job on these impressive facial details. Still great attention to the details. Maybe a bit cartoonier than the previous book, but it works great.

Only the story was such a mess... A simple enough narrative overly convulsed and complicated for such a simple pitch...Kinda lackluster this time around. And doesn't feel like Die Hard that much.

I wasn't expecting a retelling of the films really. But at least I was expecting it to capture some of it, not wanting to see McClane shooting tons of guns at dozen or so enemies. But it simply was kinda tame as far as Die Hard plots go.

My opinion on this whole second volume was really mixed. It attempts to match the style and tone of Die Hard 3, with unnecessary throwbacks and references. Like I said, a McClane destined to crawl through vents and save the days for bad guys. Stupid flashbacks... So many main characters for what appears to be just a heist plot during a blackout (a famous one at that!). Holly crammed into the story for no reason...

And all this just to end on a silly How I Met Your Mother reference, really!?? 

I'm not sure if that was supposed to be the end of BOOM! Studios Die Hard comics or if they had planned more or for this to continue as an on-going series. Like if they would finally be adding some of his co-worker NYC cops from DH3 in a volume 3? Who knows! But that was it for BOOM! and the Die Hard franchise anyways. They ended this "series" on this second volume.
I give it:
1.5 / 3 Films!

And that is it for this double review!

One of the most useless comics I've ever read... I should just as well have stopped at the surprising food first part.

Was it necessary? Did we knew to find out about John McClane's "Year One"? Absolutelyn ot.

But the first part offered us a decent enough story with nice art even though it sort of feels so empty and meaningless. What next? A Rocky: Year One while they're at it? Why not even a Commando: Year One and a Rambo: Year One as well!? There's no point in these kind of stories where the only really important element is the main protagonist and not its entire fictional universe...

Honestly I can only really recommend both if you're a huge Die Hard fan. And even then I wouldn't recommend both trade paperbacks.

MAybe just check out the very first volume if you're interested in this. And then and only then give a look at the second book if you truly adore the experience and are asking for more.

And that's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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