Insight Editions

C-Cubed Comic Book Review: “A Million Ways To Die Hard”

Hello, my friends.  With the summer heat completely on, we’re all doing what we can to beat the simmering weather.  While that can include watching the many memorable moments of cinema, it’s actually going to provide a familiar detective with the biggest and deadliest peril of his life.  Seeing how it also lines up with a particular anniversary, it’s time for me to revisit a certain franchise as I delve into our featured story called…

Published on October 16, 2018, this oversized hardcover story from the San Rafael, California-based studio known as Insight Editions was written by Frank Tieri, illustrated by Mark Texeira and colored by Adrian Crossa.  After everything that our longtime protagonist has gone up against over the years, what will serve as the greatest challenge of his life?  Let’s lock & load, saddle up and head on in to find out.

After opening upon an L.A.-based Uber smashing its way across town while the driver worriedly tells the actual guy behind the steering wheel that he’ll lose his job for this, to which it’s then revealed to be John McClane at the helm, we then truly begin sometime earlier where a special ceremony is about to be held in front of Nakatomi Plaza.  Because it’s the 30th Anniversary of Hans Gruber’s hostile takeover of the building, a monument bearing the names of all who lost their lives from said incident will be presented.  Not only that, but a few notable figures are in attendance.   First up, there’s Hideki Takagi who’s the CEO of the Nakatomi Corporation and the son of the previously slayed Joseph.  Next, there’s Elsa Gruber, the sister of Hans (as well as Simon, even though he’s never mentioned here) who aims to provide some proper amends for her eldest brother’s actions.  Finally, John’s ex-wife Holly Gennero is also present.  However, John was also meant to be in attendance as well but isn’t.  As all three figures and some TV crew members watch the broadcast from the dressing room, Holly tells an executive that her ex-husband won’t be available to receive his honorary pin.  Elsa then tells her that she would’ve personally apologized to him, especially due to the overwhelming shame that’s been placed upon her family.  Holly assures her that she wasn’t responsible for her older brother’s actions before mentioning that she’ll pass her message on to John.  Hideki then gives Holly a specially made watch that he was originally going to present her ex-husband with before asking her if there’s any chance that he’ll still show up, to which she says that he’ll most likely watch the ceremony from a bar-based TV while excessively drinking.

As if on cue, we shift over to John doing exactly that while asking for a Moscow Mule.  He mentions that the drink has a lot of taste, to which the bartender tells him that he exclusively presents them within shiny copper mugs that his boss doesn’t want him to use due to their customers stealing them.  However, he can tell that McClane is trustworthy before John presents his NYPD badge to confirm his notion, even though the bartender notices that it’s expired.  Back in the Green Room, a guy walks in and offers to give the three main figures a final touch-up before the ceremony begins.  Shortly after Holly, Elsa and Hideki head out, a TV crew man asks him if McClane still intends to show up, to which the guy tells him that “he threatened to shoot” should he call again before he ultimately says that it’s most likely “No” as he finally heads out.  Shortly afterwards, a woman enters and asks for the whereabouts of the three special figures since she’s going to apply make-up on them.  Just then, they notice that she’s actually the only true make-up artist while the faux figure has just kidnapped Holly, Elsa and Hideki.

Back at the bar, John continues to watch the upcoming ceremony on TV.  Suddenly, the telecast gets interrupted before a mysterious figure appears on the screen.  It turns out that McClane is very familiar with him before the fiend tells him to come alone to Nakatomi Plaza within one hour or else, he’ll kill the hostages, starting with Hideki, as well as blow up the entire plaza.  As such, McClane hurries out and tries to find a taxicab.  Just then, he notices a guy who’s about to enter an Uber before he proceeds to shove the man aside, jumps into the driver’s seat and speeds off.

We then catch up to the present as John arrives at Nakatomi Plaza, but an LAPD cop won’t let him in due to his expired badge.  Fortunately, another officer comes in to give him access.  From there, he introduces himself as Officer Cam Powell, who turns out to be the son of Al Powell.  After he informs McClane that his dad is now spending his retirement over in Florida, Cam says that the whole building was evacuated.  As John proceeds to make his way inside, he suddenly gets stung by a bee.  Just then, a massive colony flies in before the masked figure contacts him about how they’ll be paying homage to various disaster movies.  While the foe talks about the 1978 film called “The Swarm”, McClane manages to discover the canister that the bees were coming out of.  As such, he uses an office swivel chair to slam the container shut.  Afterwards, John manages to spray the remaining bees with a fire extinguisher before he demands to know where the hostages are.  However, the masked figure decides to reference the 1974 movie “Earthquake” and mention how its plot relates to the current situation.  Meanwhile, he uses a similar simulated tremor to bury McClane within some debris.

Fortunately, John manages to pull himself out of the rubble before he notices a giant Christmas tree and that Hideki is tied to it.  McClane tries to cut him free, but he’s unable to do so in time as an incendiary bomb erupts in order to reference another 1974 film called “The Towering Inferno”, resulting in Hideki’s demise.

Moving into Chapter 2, John wakes up and realizes that he’s recovering within an ambulance.  Against the medic’s wishes, he tries to make his way back inside Nakatomi Plaza.  However, Cam stops and informs him that the whole building has burned down, taking Hideki with it.  He then says that this was masterfully planned out before asking McClane about the perp, to which John says that the fiend calls himself “Moviefone” and that he initially came across the guy back when he was a first-year detective.  From there, we flashback to his younger days when he roughed up a potential fast-food mugger, despite sending some unintended terror onto some nearby kids.  Afterwards, his plump superior named Munchie comes in with a pair of cops in order to take the perp away.  While McClane chastises him for his poor eating choices, Munchie essentially reminds him that his youthfulness doesn’t come with experience before ordering a large amount of chicken nuggets.  As he heads out, he tells John that a murder has just occurred over in Central Park.

Later, they arrive at the murder scene as they discover a woman tied to a chair with an arrow lodged into her heart.  Munchie then says that the arrow was shot from a crossbow placed within a tree and that its trigger was tied by a rope on one end while a boom box was tied onto the other end.  It turns out that Moviefone had captured a young couple and placed them in a devious twist of the famous scene from 1989’s “Say Anything”.  The young man tearfully explains that he tried to hold the boom box up for as long as he could, but he was stuck for several hours as Moviefone continuously taunted him with constant conversations about movies, particularly romance films.  Ultimately, the guy couldn’t keep holding the boom box up.  Afterwards, Munchie shows John a picture of Moviefone’s artistic rendering.  Not only that, but Munchie mentions that their suspect has struck before.

Specifically, there was a past victim that got sawed in half by a high-powered laser similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s demise in 1977’s “Star Wars”.  Munchie goes on to say that their perp is obsessed with perfection and is the kind of sick person who would potentially appear at a crime scene to admire their own work.  Just then, McClane spots “a Hasidic man operating a camera on the Sabbath after sundown” amongst the crowd as he realizes that it’s Moviefone in disguise and proceeds to chase after him.  The pursuit ultimately leads into a subway station as John struggles to get through a packed crowd.  He soon spots his suspect jumping down onto the tracks as he proceeds to follow suit in order to continue his chase, only for a train to bear down on them.  While McClane managed to duck and avoid getting hit, Moviefone had discarded his disguise and got away.

We then shift to sometime later at the McClane household where baby Lucy is crying.  Because Holly is busy in the kitchen, she tells John to deal with their little girl, especially since she needs to have her diaper changed.  He looks over Lucy, yet doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary.  Suddenly, his baby girl pees on him before Holly tells him that he has a phone call.  To his horror, he discovered that Moviefone has learned his house number before telling the perp to never even mention his family or else he’ll hunt him down.  However, Moviefone says that he’s not interested in stalking his immediate family.  Instead, he went after and murdered Munchie by viciously stuffing him with his food supply (inspired by 1980’s “Fatso”) before his stomach viciously burst, all the while holding his family hostage.  As we shift back to the present, McClane tells Cam that he swore to catch the perp.  However, Moviefone had disappeared and hadn’t popped up again until now.  Powell says that a criminal like that doesn’t just stop what they’re doing before they’re met upon by a woman who overheard their conversation and says that he actually moved his evil operations elsewhere.  From there, Chapter 2 concludes with her mentioning that she knows where the perp went before introducing herself as Interpol agent Eleanor Sharpe.

Chapter 3 opens with Eleanor listing off various murders that Moviefone committed while he was overseas.  From “A Tale Of Two Cities” (1938), “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” (1981) & “From Hell” (2001) to “Seven Samurai”(1954) and “Spartacus” (1960), he’s been unleashing his cinematic terror abroad for three decades, especially under different names and with “the same motif”.  Cam then wonders why their perp has now decided to return, to which John says that he’s unsure since he only sees the guy as “the one who got away”.  Sharpe then asks him if Moviefone sees him in the same way before McClane simply says that he intends to put a bullet into the fiend’s head.  After Cam goes to get another round of Moscow Mules, John then asks Eleanor why she came to him without any FBI backup.  She says that aside from his prior history, she thinks that working with someone who won’t “play by the rules” for this situation will help.  While McClane agrees that he’s similar to a cowboy, he says that his badge has expired.  Not only that, but he’s noticed that she’s also sporting her own obsolete badge.  She explains that she’s been busy chasing the perp all over the globe, even when she was ordered not to do so.  Not only that, but she’s also lost someone due to said fiend.  John agrees to keep her current situation a secret and agrees to help her catch their suspect.  Just then, Cam informs them that Moviefone has contacted them again, specifically by informing them that they’ll find their next hostage over in the Hollywood Hills.

Later, McClane and Sharpe arrive within the fake fog-filled area before they come across the Bates House from the Psycho series.  Once they head inside, they’re met with absolute silence as Eleanor realizes that their foe is trying to build up some creepy tension.  Suddenly, Moviefone pops up and slashes John’s arm before he gets gunned down.  As McClane tends to his wound, Sharpe examines the body and discovers that it was actually a disguised dummy armed with a knife attached to an electronic arm.  Just then, Moviefone appears at the end of a hallway to taunt them before they chase after him.

During the pursuit, John spots Elsa tied up within a nearby room as he heads over to free her.  Suddenly, a trap door opens, causing them to fall into a subterranean water tank.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, it contains a live reference to 1975’s “Jaws” as a live shark is swimming amongst them.  With their lives on the line, Elsa proceeds to apologize for what Hans did to him all those years ago.  McClane tries to fend the shark off as he manages to hit the creature’s nose, though he ends up losing his gun in the process.  As such, they start screaming for help.

Meanwhile, Eleanor manages to tackle Moviefone, only to discover that it’s not the true perp.  The guy says that he’s just an actor and that he got paid to take part in what he thought was a regular gig.  From there, Sharpe knocks him out with a fierce pistol whip.  Back within the underground tank, the actual Moviefone comes over the loudspeaker and taunts John by singing the song “Spanish Ladies” (the tune that Quint sang in “Jaws”).  During this, Elsa meets her grim fate as the shark eats her.  Afterwards, Eleanor arrives with some rope and helps McClane climb out.  Despite getting saved, he chastises her for not being close by and believes that this is the kind of reckless action that got her released from Interpol.  She interjects by mentioning that she still intends to get their perp, while also criticizing John for never catching their suspect over the last three decades.  However, he just shakes her complaints off by saying that Elsa’s death is on her and that their partnership is done, ending Chapter 3.

Chapter 4 begins with Holly waking up chained within her cell as Moviefone attempts to feed her.  However, she smacks the food away before she says that she doesn’t understand why he’s wearing a mask or why he’s determined with getting back at her former husband.  He explains that McClane has brought a profound change to his life, in that he was forced to operate his evil intentions overseas.  She then tells Moviefone that he could’ve just stopped his murderous spree, but he says that he can’t change what he’s “intended to be” since it’s been set up a long time ago.  We then flashback to a movie theater as Moviefone explains how ever since he was a young boy, his father took him to see lots of films spanning various genres.  During this explanation, a couple leaves a theater with their young boy before they make their way down an alley.  In a twist to this familiar take on Batman’s famous origin, they’re all gunned down by a singular man who steals the woman’s pearl necklace while his son calmly watches.  As they head out to watch a Zorro movie within the same theater that his old man actually worked at, the perp says that he admired his dad and that he got his love for films from him.  As we shift back to the present, Moviefone says that his father was ultimately gunned down by the cops during a movie outing.  Suddenly, he starts coughing before he takes off his mask and mentions that he’s dying.  He also says that it’s the reason why he ultimately came back to America, since he wants to finally end his feud with John before he proceeds to call him up.

From there, McClane gets informed that his suspect will be with Holly at a particular theater.  Once he shows up, he soon notices that every audience seat is filled with dummies that’re dressed up as the main felon.  As the main curtain goes up and with Holly tied up to a statue, Moviefone appears fully & formally dressed before he discards his mask in order for them to present their “true selves”.  John holds his gun up to him while freeing his ex-wife and learns that she’s been held prisoner for a whole week.  Just as Moviefone says that he’s above the “mundane and cliche” act of strapping some bombs onto her, McClane responds by simply shooting him in the chest.  However, Moviefone says that he does have some explosives in mind, but he strapped them to himself.  He then chastises John from being too headstrong and not considering that he would carry an explosives trigger, especially since it’s for both the bombs he’s wearing and the plastic explosives underneath the seats.  As such, he wants to go out in a blaze of glory alongside McClane.  He then draws attention to his oxygen monitor and says that once he dies and lets go of the detonator, it’ll cause the bombs to blow up.  Just then, Eleanor shows up and clasps her hands around the perp’s grasp upon the detonator.  She then tells John that she’s been trailing him ever since their partnership ended and that she has a legitimate reason for why there’s nothing she wouldn’t do to stop this perp.

As we delve into her flashback, she says that Moviefone’s first victims were her own parents.  She lost her mother to the fiend, which began her father’s unrecoverable mental spiral.  After he moved to London with his daughter, he tragically took his own life in less than a year.  As a result, she kept bouncing around various orphanages and foster homes.  As she grew up, she slowly planned her attempt to get some vengeance against Moviefone.  Now that everything in her life has led her to this moment, she tells McClane to take Holly and get out, especially since she intends to stay.  Just as he frees his ex-wife, John says that there has to be another way, but Sharpe says that there isn’t.  Not only that, but she also mentions that she’s perfectly fine with holding the trigger and even seeing Moviefone die at her feet.  After giving him her Interpol badge, she tells him to leave.  As such, John & Holly manage to escape from the building before Moviefone dies and Eleanor lets go of the trigger, causing the whole theater to blow up.

And so, the story ends one week later at a New York City-based cemetery where Eleanor was buried next to her parents.  After placing her badge upon her grave, McClane complements her for finally taking the fiend down.  As he takes his leave alongside Holly and Cam, she mentions that she has some time to spend before her eventual flight back to Los Angeles comes around.  As such, John offers to take her out for a drink, particularly for a Moscow Mule.

The featured story sees John ultimately coming full circle, due to his last perilous journey taking place within the bustling West Coast city that his first cinematic outing took place in.  For McClane, Moviefone is initially just a crafty felon with a twisted fondness for films.  From there, things start to get personal when John gets called up by the fiend at home before his superior Munchie gets murdered by him.  Because Moviefone initially popped up when McClane was originally a first-year detective (which would make sense most likely due to him climbing the ranks of said position over the course of about 12 years following the events of “Die Hard: Year One”) and then ultimately laid low overseas for a few decades before popping back up again, this guy ultimately became an antagonist who had existed in the background for all of John’s cinematic pentalogy and was the White Whale that forever eluded him until circumstances forces them back together for one last confrontation.  For McClane, his history with this featured foe serves as his main development for this tale and it works well enough for the singular story.  After all, if we lined his age up with his real-life actor Bruce Willis, then this outing sees John going through the events of this narrative at 63 years old (and looking pretty good for that age).  By that point in anyone’s life, that person would be set in their ways.  As such, the story does a good job of capturing his hard-nosed attitude that’s become his signature trait.  He’s determined to finally close the book on this part of his life, especially when his ex-wife and two figures connected to his past are in grave danger.  His faults continue to shine as he struggles to keep pace with Moviefone’s movie-themed revenge scheme, losing Hideki and Elsa to the terror-themed traps of certain 1970s films.  His own frustration even boils over with Eleanor after Gruber gets eaten by a shark and he dissolves their partnership.  By the end though, he learns that no matter how grave the ultimate peril is, he needs someone’s help in order to get the job done.  Even going back to his earlier days, his Year One comic saw him requiring assistance from Det. Olga Cruces.  In that same mini-series, the only time that he solved a dire situation by himself came in the first half where he defeated a money-grubbing group of goons during the American Bicentennial.  Since then, his major adventures (both on the page and on screen) see him needing some form of aid or even pick-me-up of any kind in order to make it through in one piece.  Even the first Die Hard movie did this with Sgt. Al Powell’s communicative comradery.  As such, he gets reminded that even he needs some crucial teamwork in order for the featured felon to finally fall.  Aside from all of that though, there’s not a whole lot else in terms of personal development that leads to something final for him.  Sure, at the time that this was made, there was still some talk about a sixth Die Hard movie and Bruce Willis’ career hadn’t been brought to a permanent end yet with the discovery of him getting diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia.  Even though he gets to share one last drink with his ex-wife, I sort of wish that he was left within a place where he’s done all that he could physically do and could finally step away from his job in a respectfully satisfying way.  Not only that, but Holly could’ve been given something interesting to do, even while she was kidnapped for a third time.  As for our two original characters for this piece, there’s some decent development for them.  With Eleanor, she’s given a similar parallel to John in that they’ve both had a major run-in with our featured fiend and they even lost someone they’ve known via murder before the perp eluded them for a long stretch of time.  Once their adversary reemerges, they’re both no longer associated with their law-abiding organization, thus allowing them to join forces in order to put a permanent stop to his schemes.  As for them briefly parting ways, it felt like there should’ve been a more major reason for that aside from Elsa losing her life due to Sharpe pursuing whom she thought was Moviefone.  Sure, McClane has gone through many extreme wringers in the past, but I can’t seem to recall when things got so intense that he decides that he has to go it alone (not counting the first Die Hard movie since he was physically already by himself).  As such, the brief split feels like it’s somewhat out of necessity before Eleanor shows up to be the sacrificial savior after John fires the killing shot.  On that note, the climax could’ve been a lot better.  After all, McClane simply shows up, frees Holly, confronts Moviefone, shoots him and then flees with his ex-wife while Sharpe prevents the plastic explosives from detonating long enough for them to escape.  Maybe if he was forced to traverse around the massive movie theater and Eleanor returned in a subtle capacity to help him, then it could’ve given a grand final punch to this story.  Despite my grips, there’s still a fair number of neat things to enjoy about this over-sized story.  The pacing felt fairly solid, allowing the various moments within the numerous scenes to breathe within a consistent rate.  The three main action set pieces felt harrowing for different reasons, allowing the movie references to loom large over John.  Also, the backstories are very strong, providing some necessary information for our two new characters while also adding some background details to McClane’s past.  The only minor blunder from that category came in the form of some wonky continuity.  If the Die Hard Wiki is to be believed, then the events of the first movie take place on Christmas Eve 1988.  By that point, both Lucy and Jack were young kids (six and four, respectively).  However, the Cental Park murder was referencing “Say Anything”, which came out in April 1989.  Following the failed pursuit, Lucy is then shown as a baby.  As such, that timeline of events makes no sense.  Finally, I’ll close this section by mentioning the artwork.  There are some sketchy moments in terms of people’s faces, but it’s ultimately mainly solid.  Backgrounds are present for the most part, there’s enough diverse use of colors to make the events of the tale stand out, nothing looks too undescriptive or is too hard to make out and it presents its story in a gruesome, yet pleasantly coherent manner.  All-in-all, enough elements came together to make this entry in our familiar detective’s life a thrilling joyride from beginning to end.

Overall, this was an entertaining chapter, even if it’s a semi-underwhelming, unintended finale for the longtime character.  The characters were well-handled, the action was tense, the artwork was very coherent, and the story had its bumps, yet never felt too egregious.  It was a noteworthy end to an era before its main movie studio forever lost its longtime standalone status and its main star was forced to step down due to an unforeseen health issue.  Either way, this can serve as a decent final hurrah for John McClane as it grips its adult audiences with the bloody twists and turns expected from the franchise, while allowing this urban cowboy to ride off in style.  Yippee-ki-yay, indeed.

Die Hard (created by Roderick Thorp) is owned by 20th Century Studios.

By coolcomix0221

Love Comics, Video Games, and Sports. Aim To Become a Sports Writer.

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