*Worthwhile Activities Dept: You know what was the bee’s knees, back in 1993? The Punisher arcade game from Capcom (tons of stuff at this page). I just had the opportunity to play that thing again yesterday, and some experiences are just timeless. As the gaming-motivated among you probably know, Capcom has had a fairly extensive gaming association with Marvel, slipping superhero characters into a number of 2D fighting games, but this one is a little different; back in the early ’90s, Marvel went through a number of gaming developers to produce side-scrolling beat-‘em-up arcade games based on superhero characters, perhaps the most famous of those being the enormous X-Men: The Arcade Game (with room for six players!) from Konami (1992). There was also Captain America and The Avengers from Data East (four players, 1991), and this one - for my money, Capcom pulled it off best, and not just because they’d already mastered the superior ass-kicking button-masher style with 1989’s Final Fight.

No, their Punisher game just has a lot more personality than the rest. Clearly the Japanese design team had an absolute ball working with this material, so not only does Frank (or player 2, Nick Fury, who cares not a whit that he doesn’t fit into the plot at all, spending the entire game manfully smoking a cigar no matter how intense the action gets) face off against street punks and gangsters and the like, but also teleporting anime ninja girls, cyborgs with stretchy arms like Inspector Gadget, a pair of giant robots, and much more (aw, for all I know this stuff might have come straight from the comics - there were a lot of Punisher books out at that time with space to fill). The designs are really great, with fun animation, and there’s a ton of great weapons to pick up, ranging from the expected knives and machine guns to swords, battle axes, exploding mechanical skulls, fire extinguishers, and javelins ripped right off of handy suits of armor. And yet - Frank will only pull his gun with there’s enemies on the screen packing their own heat. What a fair-minded psychotic demon of vengeance he is!

Six stages (and I will say that it’s kind of disappointing that one of the bosses appears at the end two stages with differing color schemes and speeds - you need a longer game to get away with that trick) culminate with a throwdown versus an extra-large Kingpin, pretty much everything in his penthouse suite capable of being picked up and thrown so you can enjoy the pleasure of breaking a sofa over the king of crime’s head, or just power-slamming him into a crowd of thugs. But careful - they’ll all stop and laugh at you if the Kingpin swats you with his cane. There’s even one of those great 'Insert Coin to Continue' screens, with Microchip feverishly applying artificial respiration as the timer ticks downward - pop in a quarter, and Frank miraculously rises from the stretcher to pop in a clip and triumphantly unload a few rounds into the ceiling as Micro cheers him on.

It’s pure, fast, unadulterated mayhem, very tongue-in-cheek (Garth Ennis certainly didn’t invent that approach to the character) and attractive in that rounded cartoon 3D Capcom way. Nearly flawless quarter eater.

Gun Fu: Showgirls Are Forever

Say, it’s a super-broad comedy book sporting sunny, attractively angular art and lots of fast action with a splash of absurdity, all featuring the contribution of a seasoned writer-cum-controversial public personality whose formidable body of work is not primarily known for comedy, though it’s featured plenty of it in the past! I am, of course, referring to this latest entry in the Gun Fu mythos, a 32-page color pamphlet from Image (if, by chance, you were thinking of some other release of today, I’d have to tell you that the prop-based humor was very good, the pop culture jokes were no better coming out of Warren Ellis than anyone else, the ‘most corrupt cop ever’ routine was amusing but went on for about two pages too long, the action has not declined measurably in quality, and the best gags overall were the internet piracy crack and the Toto review on the letters page, the latter of which might not have been Ellis’s work, now that I think of it - pleasant cotton candy comics in sum). It’s the brainchild of creator/co-writer/inker Howard M. Shum (who also has an art blog), though the obvious draw in this one is co-writer Dave Sim, in his first new comics work since Cerebus. Those expecting work of searing philosophy or lengthy text-based bible analysis will come away disappointed - this is Sim at his very lightest.

I have to admit, an awful lot of the humor value in Cerebus hinged on Sim’s mastery of character art; his ability with caricature remains outstanding, even when passages from his work are read from over a decade’s time passed, and his use of physical and sound effects humor always supplemented his dialogue. Reading through the more overtly Sim-sounding bits of this book, I particularly came to miss Sim’s rightfully famous lettering - there’s actually nobody credited with lettering in this book, but an attempt is made to evoke the special quality of Sim’s material via adding boldface and underscoring to standard-looking fonts. But lines like “Whatever might the agent hev intended by such rubbish?” only make me envision how they’d have looked via the labor-intensive Sim style. Anyone who’s read enough Cerebus knows what I’m talking about, and it’s a slight distraction. This isn’t to denigrate Shum, or penciler Darryl Young, or colorist Etienne Simon, or Mystery Letterer X, who provide a poppy and fluid cartoon environment for those animation-ready designs to romp in. But Sim is so utterly attached to his (and cover contributor Gerhard’s) own visual style in my mind’s eye, it’s hard not to see things differently.

Anyway, the plot concerns secret agent Cheng Bo Sen, a Hong Kong cop turned British secret agent who inexplicably speaks in a contemporary hip-hop patios (sample: “Damn, girl. Once these shorties put eyes on me, they’ll be fightin’ to see who’ll be first to get busy wit this mack.” - honestly, the vaguely awkward cadence actually makes it all a bit more funny to me). It’s 1941, and he has to stop an evil plot by French showgirls hell-bent on attacking the USA; yes, buckle up for lots of France jokes (“The Prime Minister refers to the French only under duress or when ordering red wine at dinner.”) and plenty of silly chauvinistic laffs, much in the Cerebus mold of ‘guys are really dumb and horny and girls wish they would not be such pigs’ though I readily admit such a posture is hardly unique to Sim (and there is a co-writer here, after all), though it'd be useless to deny that such things get a special charge from this particular writer given his many statements and essays on certain matters. Can Our Hero possibly stop himself from being hypnotized by the pivoting derrieres of fascism and maybe win the heart (or something) of some lovely liberty-loathing lass?

The answer isn’t much of a surprise, nor is anything in here all that adventurous as far as comedic action goes - it's very straightforward in its jokes and confrontations, without even the measure of conceptual play (or self-parody) that Nextwave brings to the table. But it’s funny more often than not, and it looks awful pretty. Proof that there is more than one game in town as far as funny punchings and copious explosions go. Plus, the 24-page feature is supplemented by a batch of storyboards from some sort of animated project Shum is doing with Bobby Rubio (Alpha Monkey), and sparser designs from what looks like a separate animation with ‘Xav’ (Hyperkinetic). A good package for your $3.50, if you like this kind of thing.