Sunday, December 1, 2002

The Mount - Looking Back

As I write this, I stand a few days away from receiving my Bachelors degree. I have finals this week, was in danger of failing a few classes, still have to take a test for Graduate school... and I am looking for a job so I have some spare money, assuming I get into Grad school. As such, I haven't had comics on the mind that much this past month.

Looking back though, it's funny how comics are tied into my college life. I got back into reading comics my freshman year... nigh unto five years ago. I was working in a bookstore and saw an issue of Green Lantern on the magazine rack. Surprised by the unfamiliar youth in the robotic mask, I read it... and went on-line that night to find out what had happened to Hal Jordan, who I remembered from the Superfriends cartoons of my youth.

A year later. Sophomore. I was addicted. I bought all the Batman books, everything relating to a JLA member and was slowly getting into Vertigo. I was reading fan fiction and got into some weird little fan magazine for DC books... you might take a guess which one.

Year Two. 2nd Sophomore year. Started reading an odd DC title called Starman. Also submitted a piece to this fan magazine I loved so much, not expecting anything to come of it.

Year Three: Junior year. After a year of submitting random pieces, I get my own column in this magazine which will remain nameless. Going against all my DC prejudices, I pick up a book called Daredevil, because some movie maker I'm a fan of wrote it. Don't expect much. Put it on my subscription list the next week.

Year Four: Senior year. Said movie maker is now the patron saint of my two favorite art forms. I rename myself, in reference to my favorite comic. Everyone now swears I am Jack Knight incarnate. Reading more Marvel books and some independent works. The Batman books dip in quality and I drop them.

And now here it is... Year Five. And what has changed in the comic industry since I got into? Well, Kevin Smith... the unknown filmmaker who wanted to write a few comics is a big dog who can do pretty much whatever he wants. My favorite comic book ever ended its run. I joined a Rocky Horror cast in my hometown and became known to my fellow actors, technicians and fans as "Starman Matt", after my Yahoo ID. My pull list now numbers an even mix of DC, Marvel and Indie titles, since I decided to read books based on writers and characters not just which universe I liked better. (On that note, if you aren't reading Mark Waid's take on the Fantastic Four, just because it's a Marvel book... kick yourself). I've written "The Mount" for longer than I ever thought possible. I even got a job at my comic book store over the summer and found a new look at the industry and how things are done.

But most astonishing of all, this year, I rediscovered an old hero. Thanks to a new movie, a new book, a new batch of writers and a new editorial direction, I found myself thrilling again to the exploits of a character I had long thought past FUBARed. This hero, who got me into super heroes in the first place, with a little help from his amazing friends. The hero who taught me that you didn't have to be the best or the strongest in the world. That it was enough for you to try your best and hope things would work out. Even when everything in life told you that was about as likely as the pretty red-haired girl accepting your invitation to go out. The guy who gave me hope for my own lack-luster love life when he DID get the girl. The guy who was, like me, a geeky wise-cracker with brown curly hair, glasses and a desire to do the right thing all the time even if it made him miserable. The guy that I dressed up as for Halloween, inspired by my sudden weight loss over the summer and a childhood dream.

Sorry Jack. And sorry to everyone who can't believe a writer at the biggest and best DC fanzine there is, is saying this... Peter Parker is back at the top of my list of heroes.

Things change. That's the way of life. But wherever I go, I'll always remember these things... Knowledge is Power. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

And With Great Knowledge, Comes Great Big Student Loan Bills.

One more to go before we close up shop, kiddies. Come back next month for the final shoot-out before I mount my horse and ride into the sunset.

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

The Mount - So It Has Come To This...

Come back Peter David! All is forgiven... except for the Earth Angel Supergirl! But I take back every other nasty thing I ever said about you and your writing. I apologize for laughing at every crack Gail Simone or Kevin Smith ever made about you. I'll even write a formal apology for turning people away from your Star Trek novels while I was working at the bookstore! Just please, please... PLEASE come back and write Aquaman again before it is too late!

Now long time readers may be wondering what on Earth could make ol Starman Matt be screaming piously like Pat Robertson when he needs a new house. "Don't you really not like Peter David's writing?" they might ask.

The answer is a resounding yes. I can't stand Peter David. I can't stand his prose style in general. I think most of his plots are lackluster. But most of all, I can't forgive his apparent need to reinvent every character he writes. The creation of the hook-handed Aquaman and Earth-Angel Supergirl in particular.

"Then what ( and I hope he gets to the point soon, you think) could make you scream these apologies, Unca Stars?"

I quote now from the most recent issue of Previews...

"Banished from Atlantis? Branded a traitor? Every deizen of the deep programed to deliver him a death sentence... It's Aquaman as you've never seen him before.

The Aftermath of the epic JLA storyline "The Obsidian Age" has left Aquaman hated by his former subjects and exile from the life giving ocean he once called home. The king they called Orin is judged guilty of high treason for crimes committed during The Obsidian Age. His sentence: death.

Left to perish on an exposed reef, Aquaman discovers- to his horror- that all the creatures of the sea are instructed to attack him without mercy and that he must now turn to other bodies of water for sanctuary. In a mysterious freshwater lake, he finds refuge and much more, as he is granted amazing new powers and a new mission in life.

The oceans may be off limits, but the Lady of the Lake has presented him with his true destiny...."

Am I the only one who reads these words with dread of what is coming? I mean, I'm all for giving a new book or a new take on a character a chance... but there is only so much bending you can do before things break. And I thought Arthur Curry/Orin or whatever he calls himself now had already hit the breaking point after the hook incident.

Mark my words: this will be the Electric Superman all over again. The book will sell a lot at first and a few people will cheer the new change and an end to the old clichés... but then, things will shift back.

The die-hard Aquaman fans (and let's be honest... what other kind are there?) will protest and keep protesting... and things will go back to the way they were. So it has happened before. So it shall be again. And I think I can say this safely, as the only exception to this rule I can think of is Kyle Rayner still being Green Lantern, despite the protests of many Hal Jordan fans.

Until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent.

Sunday, September 1, 2002

The Mount - Lucifer: The Best DC Book You Aren't Reading

This month, I look at a Vertigo title that is indescribable in so many ways. Its' stories.. its' plots... and the sheer goodness of it can not be described to one who has not read it. Put it simply? Impossible. The tale cannot be told without telling it. Summarize it? Now that is slightly closer to possible, but would prove nearly as long as telling the story in the first place.

I speak of "Lucifer", a comic that started off as a spin-off of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series and has, over the last three years, evolved into a worthy replacement of that legendary series. In time, it may prove to be an equal. Not too bad for a nearly three-year-old comic that boasts the King of All Evil as its' hero.

Well, not quite the King of All Evil. True, good (?) ol' Lucifer was once the most highly placed angel in all of Heaven and got the boot during an attempted management reorganization. He found himself, and those who stood with him, in the most not-nice place imaginable. They took it over, putting his legions and various other beings (not all "demons" are fallen angels) who joined them to work torturing the souls of those who felt they deserved to be punished for their deeds in life.

But in time, Lucifer got bored with running what had become known as Hell and realized that in a way he was still serving God by running his realm of punishment: without Hell, Heaven has no meaning. He also realized that there was nothing that said he could not quit being the Ultimate Adversary of all Good. So he quit, had Morpheus (Sandman and Lord of Dreams) cut off his wings, thus robbing him of much of his power and then returned to Earth, where he moved to Los Angeles (the City of Angels, ha-ha) and opened a nightclub.

This all happened during the run of "Sandman", but it is all helpfully explained in the first issue of Lucifer. So while the book is geared towards those who have explored this wonderful world before (in Sandman and The Dreaming and the countless mini-series) a newbie to the world of Vertigo can easily jump into this series with very little confusion.

The series is very quick to start off. We find that Lucifer has just been given a 'letter of passage' by God in exchange for a favor. The events of this battle are detailed in a three part Lucifer mini-series, now available along with the first four issues of the current monthly series in the ("Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway" ) Trade-Paperback. Coming up with a plan which only he knows the full details of, Lucifer embarks upon a quest (mirroring that of Morpheus in the first arch of Sandman) to find his wings and regain his old powers. This too, is all quickly and easily explained in the first issue.

Keeping track of what is going on once the series gets started, however, can be confusing at times. "The Sandman" got flack from some readers for being too involved and having several subplots that took years to play out, usually connecting together at one major point. Now while some people, Uncle Stars included, just love this kind of spider-web writing, it is not everyone's cup of tea. It is a necessity to have started reading the book since the very beginning, because of these same plot threads. Characters who appeared once briefly will reappear again in large roles as late as two years later. Consider for example The Basanos: a magical living tarot deck which has the power to reshape reality. Appearing in the first story arch as a tool Lucifer uses to divine his potential futures, it appears again after two years as an independent villain out to rule the universe.

Despite being a bit slow to take off and potentially confusing to newbies to the Vertigo Universe, Lucifer does succeed in holding the same tone as its' source material. The epic feel remains throughout the series as Lucifer travels through many unique realms- from the Japanese afterlife realms to the suburbs of Hell, where dead souls are farmed to create drugs for demons and the demons act like characters from a Jane Austen novel. Mythology buffs will also be glad to know that aside from the usual groupings of angels and demons, the story is chalk full of allusions and references to Japanese, Indian and Romany mythology.

More than this, I cannot say. But the first few issues of the series are now available in two trades. The aforementioned "Devil In The Gateway" and ( "Children And Monsters" ) I highly recommend that all of you who didn't start this journey with me grab these horses, that you may catch up.

Until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent.

Thursday, August 1, 2002

The Mount - Green Arrow: The Wonder Year Review

Sorry kiddies. Unca Stars is going to keep things short again this time. Between the new play (which opens this week!) and the 9-6 grind at the comic book store, he hasn't had a moment to himself for a week and a half. But I still have time enough to recant my favorite Year One story for this Year One edition of Fanzing... a little tale called "Green Arrow: The Wonder Year". Written by Mike Grell (of Longbow Hunters fame) with layouts by the same and finished art by Gray Morrow.

Part One "It's a mess. The Vietnam War. Watergate. Kent State. Drugs. Sex. Rock and Roll. The scary thing is it will be 20 years before people look back and realize THESE are the good old days."

Erie words to start the first book considering our current climate of corporate irresponsibility and federal government graft and the realization of how good we had it even a few years ago. But I digress.

We open on a yacht where idle (and drunken) playboy Oliver Queen talks with his boyhood idol, actor and master archer Howard Hill. Hill, for the record, is a real person and did many of the stunt shots for the Erroyl Flynn "Robin Hood" movie. We find out that Oliver studied archery as a child but hasn't held a bow in years. He is also a workaholic and this trip on the yacht is the first real vacation he has had in years. He is trying to walk off some of his drink (and failing that, throwing it up) when a sudden wave forces him overboard and out of the sight and minds of the other idle rich on the party boat.

Flash forward a few months. We see Oliver Queen waking up in a luxirous bedroom. A television news broadcast informs us that the war in Vietnam is still going on and that Richard Nixon is still president. A butler named "Wilson" enters and expresses his shock that Oliver seems ready to do some work that morning, saying that Oliver has barely done anything since his return from his "hiatus". Oliver says he is just having trouble getting back into the swing of things and that after you spend nearly three months eating lizards, it is hard to get excited over money. Oliver tries to put it into perspective how meaningless monetary wealth is in the big picture and tries to knock down the master/servant relationship by getting Wilson to start calling him Ollie and asking him his first name. Wilson responds, (you could call me)... Stan, but then I'd have to kill you." Ollie agrees to the point.

Later, we see Ollie bored in a meeting, using a rubber band to shoot paper-clips across the room. His personal assistant reminds him of a dinner that night for a fund-raiser for Congressman James Renyolds. Ollie says that while he generally agrees with the man's politics and admires his rebellious attitude, he is more interested in a woman who is a great supporter of the politician.

Quick flashbacks show Ollie hunting lizard on a deserted island as we see him drifting off at the dinner. We also see how he escaped from his exile, discovering marijuana farmers who were hiding their crop on the same island and forcing them to give him a ride at arrow-point. As a bored Ollie wanders off onto a balcony and looks up, thinking about the island, he sees a sniper on the rooftops above. Running to his car, he grabs his bow and arrows from the trunk along with a Robin Hood costume with a glue on beard.

He foils the assassination attempt and is hailed by the press as "that Green Arrow guy". He shrugs off the name and tries to suggest another, but is cut off by Jim Renyolds approach. He introduces himself, thanks the heroic archer and also introduces his date for the evening- his personal advisor Kelli Harris. The press then turn on the politician and advisor, asking if this changes his decision about not running for reelection. The Congressman says that if someone wants him dead, he must be doing something right. Kelli one-ups him, suggesting that some are afraid of what Renyolds, a strong reformer, might do as a Democratic presidential candidate

Later, we see Kelli talking with the assassin on the phone as we see Renyolds announce his intent to run for President on the evening news. She yells at him for missing, but he blames the Green Arrow for making him miss the shot. This is all overheard by Oliver, who is waiting on the balcony. Kelli goes for a gun but neither she nor Oliver tries to get off a shot. Instead, the two kiss and Oliver calls "Kelli" by the name Brianna.

Part Two

The issue begins with a quick recap of the events of last issue, with Reynolds announcing his candidacy on the news. We quickly launch into another flashback, with Oliver telling "Kelli" about how he became Green Arrow, after an incident where he stopped a robbery at a high society costume party while dressed as Robin Hood. Missing the adventure of his life on the island, Oliver decide to continue the hero act because "I've got the money, I've got the time... and God knows I've got nothing better to do."

Another flashback shows Oliver and Brianna meeting in college. The two were friends and lovers, despite their many differences: Oliver was a business major and confirmed capitalist while Brianna was majoring in Political Science and a Neo-Marxist. Still, they were both social liberals and got involved in a lot of anti-segregation protests.

The two start out remembering old times but quickly break into an argument about their differing methods in fighting evil. Brianna fell in with a radical group while Oliver went about trying to change the system from within. The two leave on bad terms, with Oliver berating Brianna for her stunt with the assassin to try and bring attention to Congressman Reynolds and to fuel his campaign for President. He reminds her that about half the people in the radical groups were FBI agents looking for evidence of dangerous anti-government activities. He also reminds her of the reason why she had to adopt an alias and in an ominous hint, saying that "there is no statute of limitations on murder".

Part Three

We open on a funny scene with Oliver having his costume returned by his assistant and having to procure another new one at the last minute. The new costume he receives is the Late Silver Age/Neal Adams design.

Reynolds expresses his concerns to Brianna about how everybody is paying attention to him only because they want to be there if he is killed and that his message is getting lost in the hype. Oliver calls Brianna, telling her that he is still unsure what to do about her.

Congressman Reynolds is killed in a car bomb attack. Brianna disappears, but Oliver manages to track her down. Oliver realizes that she wasn't responsible for the bomb- she's afraid for her life and realizes that whoever set the bomb wanted her dead too. Another flashback reveals the reason for her alias- the radical group she was a part of was responsible for blowing up a campus research lab that was developing biological warfare weapons. An innocent janitor was caught in the blast and killed.

Brianna pleads innocence, saying the bomb was configured wrong and was only supposed to rattle some windows and nobody was supposed to be in the building when it went off. She also tells Oliver who the sniper was- Del Zoukas, a poet from their old gang. He also helped her with building the bomb. Oliver is about to leave to search for Del when a LAW rocket flies through the window.

Part Four

Oliver manages to detonate the rocket from a distance with an arrow. The explosion sets the building on fire, but he and Brianna are able to escape. After giving a warning phone call to Del, Brianna and Oliver confesses his love for Brianna and looks at his arrows with a thoughtful expression.

The two later go to a forest cabin to meet Del, only to find several men waiting for them. Using some new trick arrows that he built during their wait, Oliver manages to subdue all the men without having to kill anyone. Searching the bodies, Oliver finds out how much trouble they are in- the men are all FBI Agents. So is, it turns out, Del... who was a special agent who had infiltrated Brianna's group.

Del doctored the bomb back then to make it cause more damage than break a few windows, but the janitor dying was not a part of his plan either. In order to protect his career and the lives of his superiors, Del tried to make up for things by helping Brianna stay in hiding as Kelli Harris. But he knew he had to stop her after she told him of her plan to fake an assassination attempt on a prominent liberal congressman and push him into the White House- if she succeeded, she would have wound up in the spotlight and it would have been a matter of days before someone figured out who she was and who had been helping her.

Del plans to kill them both, using explosives hidden inside the cabin... but Ollie has one surprise left up his archer glove- an army of reporters and policemen hiding in the darkness who get all of Del's confession. Oliver disarms Del as he tries to kill himself and says that he will pay for what he did. He notes to Brianna that she will have to do the same thing, but that with the attention the reporters are giving her now, she finally has the perfect chance to spread her message. She says she has nothing to say and goes into the cabin. One of the police asks Ollie if saw a detonator for the explosives. Before Ollie can respond, the cabin behind him explodes... with Brianna having killed herself.

Final Thoughts:

This story is something of an Elseworlds today, but it still fit the timeline when it was first published ten years ago. But having Ollie as a college student in the 60's and a young businessmen in the days of Nixon is a bit of a stretch today. Not to mention that Howard Hill's presence would be near impossible in a more modern story.

Despite some rather clichéd story elements (Oliver's revealing the army of reporters in particular - what are the odds a trained FBI agent wouldn't have noticed SOME sign of being approached) and some rather questionable time issues (Oliver designed and built his first group of trick arrows in just two hours?) and some just plain conflicting story elements. (Ollie's first costume here is show as being the Silver Age Adams design), this is still a good story.

This story has the honor of having the first detailed description of Oliver Queen's origin Post-Crisis and building upon the rather brief version that we get in Mike Grell's "Longbow Hunters". On that level it succeeds quite well. It is also just a plain good story which shows off Oliver's personality as a hero quite well.

Aside from some rather lucky coincidences in the plot, the story has no major flaws that aren't caused by nit-picky fanboyism, this is a fine mini-series well worth the expense and trouble of any devote Green Arrow fan or collector of Year One origin stories. 7 our of 10 Stars.

Join us next week for more stuff. Until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent!

Monday, July 1, 2002

The Mount - The Delayed Column

I'm going to keep things short this month, folks. You see, I don't have much time to write my usual long-winded rants about what books are good or bad this month.

I've had a lot of things going on in my life that have made putting aside time for writing difficult as well as reading as many comics as I usually do. This is ironic considering the main reason for my time being limited: I got a full-time job working in my local comic book store!

I have also been cast in a play, for the first time in a long while. And more impressively, it is paid acting work! This means that I have quite a bit more money than I've had in recent memory. This also means that there are five days a week where I spend 14 hours working on stage and rebagging comics in a climate-controlled warehouse.

Regardless, I have had a few thoughts upon many things comics and fandom related these past few months that I haven't managed to share with you. With that in mind, please enjoy my (rather short) collection of delayed thoughts upon our world, that did not quite merit a full column.

1) The New Hawkman Book

I had planned to review the new Hawkman book by Geoff Johns for the Hawkman issue- but with the first story arc being 4 issues long and issue 2 having barely been out a week when the Hawkman issue went to press... I thought it best to wait things out to get a better feel for things.

If you're a regular fan of JSA, you know the plot by now as this book is spinning out of a subplot of that book. An Egyptian prince cursed to live throughout time has returned to Earth in the form of a man named Carter Hall. Reclaiming the power of flight from his mix of Egyptian and Thangarian technology and is currently trying to rebuild his life and win the heart of his reincarnated bride, who now lives in the body of her grandniece, Kendra Sanders. This is easier said than done as Kendra doesn't believe in the prophecies that say Carter and she are soulmates destined to be together for all time.

Sadly, I don't have a much better feel after four issues than I did after two. The opening plot doesn't really introduce us to the characters that much and assumes that we've all been reading JSA. The plot is engaging but doesn't really do anything. Then again, with a Johns/Robinson plot, it could take years for things to fully boil to a head, as in Starman.

The writing is superb but I admit a bias in that I am a big fan of Johns' work on JSA and Flash. And of course Unca Stars is a sucker for anything James Robinson helped plot. But the artwork, while good, doesn't really stand out as anything special.

I'll give it a few more issues, if only for the new plot that has Oliver Queen murdering the idle rich in the streets of Hawkman's new hometown (Think Opal City meets New Orleans.) But for right now, don't bother flying with this one unless you're a die-hard fan of Hawkman, Hawkgirl or the writers involved.

2.) GL 150, Last Month and GL Secret Files #3

For the record, GL Secret Files #3 did not answer any questions about Kyle's dad raised in last month's Mount. But it did have a very good Jade story and the first glimpse of Radu in years, so go ahead and read it.

3.) Summer Movies

This is quickly becoming the summer of geek cinema and Unca Stars has managed to drag his tired carcass into the theater a few times and not fallen asleep (though Episode 2 did try me).

SPIDER-MAN: Why haven't you seen this movie yet?!?! Sam Raimi did it right, for once. The actors are all perfectly cast. The special effects are amazing. And the only flaw to the movie (aside from the Goblin costume covering up Willem Dafoe's expressive face) is that it isn't long enough! Holds a place in my personal Top 5 Best Movies Ever.

Best part of the movie is the key themes and scenes that it shares with the other "greatest superhero movie ever made": Superman. Think about it...

  • Both heroes lose their adopted fathers (both played by Oscar winning actors, no less) after receiving a message about using their abilities to help others. They use their powers as a means of impressing others but then find their own abilities useless in saving their adopted father.
  • Both heroes are guided in life by their father's words after death (in Kal-El's case, quite literally)
  • Both heroes save their love interest from death by falling.
  • Both heroes are asked to join their archenemy and threatened with death when they refuse.
  • Both heroes are forced to choose between saving the woman they love and innocent lives, but manage to do both.

EPISODE 2: Not as bad as Episode 1, but that's not saying much. It pleases me though, that Jar Jar Binks will go down in the history of "a galaxy far far away" as being the Neville Chamberland of the early Republic.

The movie looks cool. No doubt! But it's just like eating cheesecake: satisfying, but empty calories. Style without substance.

Honestly, this movie would have been a lot better if we'd cut the romance down a half-hour or so. All of Anakin Skywalker's romantic talk sounds either really creepy (the lines about loving her at first sight) or really fake (the line about hating beaches because they aren't smooth... "like you".)

On the bright side, we finally know where Luke got his whinny streak from. Maybe he'll grow out of it and can do it without the benefit of animatronic body armor.

SCOOBY DOO: The dog looks fake, the dog looks fake, the dog looks fake, the dog looks fake!

They didn't even try to make the dog look real. It looks fake. Fake!

Okay, now that this has been said- the movie is actually pretty good. With one exception, all the actors do their characters perfectly. Buffy is a good Daphne. The woman playing Velma does well. And Matthew Lillard is scary in how well he brings Shaggy to life.

But Freddie Prinze Jr. does the impossible. A dumb, shallow jock in real life, he proves unable to play a blond, dumb shallow jock, even with the excellent writing of James Gunn (who wrote another favorite of mine, The Specials) behind him. And lest you think I confuse the character and the actor, check out his recent comments in an interview about the Spider-Man movie...

"Tobey did an okay job, but I would have played Spider-man different. You know, not made him such a geek."

Freddie, for totally missing the point, you win the first ever "The Mount Lifetime Achievement Award For Gross Stupidity Unbecoming A Human Being". Congratulations.

If you can manage to ignore the fake, fake, fake computer graphics and the even faker acting, then you might enjoy this movie. It achieves a nice mix of cartoon jokes, sight gags, in-jokes, fart jokes for the kids (gods help us) and yes, even subtle stoner humor for those who worship Shaggy as a burnout icon.

That's all for now kids. But Unca Stars promises he'll have more comics for you to dig through next time.

But until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent. And give some thanks to those clerks the next time you're in the store. They deserve it. And I'm not just saying that cause I am one now.

Saturday, June 1, 2002

The Mount - Green Lantern #150 - Continuity Nightmare?

Green Lantern #150 has finally proven Kyle Rayner's fitness to be a Green Lantern.

Why, you might ask? Was it because he committed some great acts of heroism? Well he did, but that's not why. Could it be because Kyle was responsible (you HEAT members in the back can stop laughing) for bringing back the Guardians and partly bringing about what will one day lead to the rebuilding of the Green Lantern Corps? Well, that was cool, but not what I was referring to either.

No, Kyle is officially a Green Lantern because now he has a confusing and contradictory background which has negated the meaning of some very fine stories.

Okay, maybe I am poking fun at it a little bit, but it seems to me that all the Green Lanterns of Earth seem to suffer from retroactive continuity gaffes more than any other group of heroes.

Consider the mini-series Emerald Dawn and (if we must) Emerald Dawn II. Ignoring the unnecessary darkening of Hal Jordan's character by making him a drunk driver, the story completely changed Hal Jordan's original history, which had him becoming an established hero before he was contacted by the Guardians. Emerald Dawn had a very green (no pun intended) Hal Jordan being taken in for training days after Abin Sur passed on the ring.

Guy Gardner also had his past changed by this story, somehow changing from a high school PE teacher in his native Michigan to a prison social worker in California.

Alan Scott, while having little of his own personal history changed, had had the exact nature of his power battery's creation change several times, going from being a magical device separate from the Guardian's creations to being a Guardian Lantern altered by the spirit of a dead GL.

Even John Stewart, who had his past before becoming a Green Lantern more clearly defined recently in GL 147 has had conflicts arise in his history. Once called an only child in some early stories, this latest retelling of John's origins gave him a younger brother (Damon) and a sister (Rose). A well-researched story, it refers back to John's abusive father and his living with his Aunt Loretta (and yet it doesn't mention his marriage to fellow Green Lantern Katma Tui).

Ironic then that after having written that story, Judd Winnick could falter on the history of the main character of his book, particularly considering the availability of most of the relevant stories in TP form.

The Strange History of Aaron Rayner according to Ron Marz

According to Green Lantern #58 and #76 (vol 3), Kyle was born somewhere on the East Coast of the United States. The family moved to Los Angeles soon after. Kyle's father, Aaron, was a military man and worked for an unspecified covert government agency.

Aaron abandoned Kyle and his mother when Kyle was almost three years old. Indeed, Kyle has some fragmented memories of playing with his father, though he can barely remember what he looked like. Aaron Rayner disappeared on a mission to Southeast Asia but was never listed as dead or MIA, suggesting that he was still alive but had never returned home for some reason.

He would remain unseen in chronological history until a story in Green Lantern Secret Files #2. Titled Keeping Secrets, the story was a retelling of Hal Jordan's origin that contradicted most of the events and timeline of Emerald Dawn I. Moreover, it wound up creating a link between two generations of Green Lanterns.

About 12 years later, Abin Sur crashed to Earth and gave his ring to Hal Jordan. Days afterward, before he revealed his secret to Tom "Pieface" Kalmaku, a man calling himself Ray White shows up at Ferris Aircraft with FBI credentials. He's shown up to investigate a UFO crash reported by the local farmers and would like the help of a local to make help him scout the area, even though he expects to find nothing. As the two drive around in the desert, they talk. "Ray" reveals that he has a military background like Hal, but he was in the Marines instead of the Air Force. He also refers to a wife and son that he abandoned because of his job and says his son must be almost 15.

The two find a debris trail which leads to Abin Sur's ship. Hal tries to pretend to be astonished but as Ray notes "honest men aren't usually convincing liars". Ray pulls a gun on Hal, admits that he is with the government but not the FBI and demands that Hal tell him everything he knows. The standoff is broken up by a Russian spy in high-tech armor (early Rocket Red technology?) who starts firing on both men. Ray is critically wounded but Hal uses his ring to protect himself and fight the robotic armor, cracking it open easily after knocking the pilot. He wonders about how to handle this situation, with Ray and "Ivan" both knowing his secret.

Ray solves half the problem by shooting the Russian spy and tells Hal that he will be dead shortly from his wound. Hal refuses to let Ray die, even if it would make his life easier and uses the ring to heal the agent. Ray asks for Hal's story and Hal tells him the minute details he knows about the ship, the ring and everything else. Ray says he'll keep Hal's secret if Hal lets him walk away and leaves the ship there for the government branch he works for to scavenge later. Hal destroys the ship, but Ray seems to shrug this off laughing at how Hal considers him a murderer but how he does live by a code and how he always pays his debts. He then says that in his business, the most valuable currency a man has is his real name. And in exchange for everything, he tells Hal his real name: Aaron Rayner.

Ten years later, Kyle Rayner would wear a Green Lantern ring, and having just returned from a journey in space, he would seek out the new Green Arrow (Connor Hawke) and ask him to come along with him on a search for his father Aaron. This story would be detailed in the very first next generation GL/GA team up, through GL 76-77 and GA 110-111. (It is also collected in the Green Lantern Emerald Allies TP).

Following a lead from Eddie Fyers, who remembered a guy named Rayner passing through his unit during the Vietnam war, the two young heroes journey to a small town in Nebraska. The trail from there leads to Desolation, a town once visited by Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen on their journeys searching for America. After a fight with the local law enforcement, the two are met by a man who Kyle thinks "looks like me plus 25 years and a cheesy mustache".

This man says he is Aaron Rayner and he is all but in charge of the town of Desolation. He tells Kyle about his joining the army and working his way into the "3 letter government organizations".

He then talks about how after Kyle was born and how he was offered a job that meant he could never come back and nobody could know what happened, not even his wife. He said that his sense of duty won out over love, and he hoped that by performing this job he could keep his wife and son safe. He recruits Kyle to help him put a communications satellite in orbit that will help them spark the second American Revolution by retaking the airwaves from "the liberal media".

It turns out the satellite is an "orbiting particle beam", Kyle's dad is working for a right-wing splinter group and the first target for the satellite is Washington DC. Kyle defuses the satellite after telling off his father and returns to find Aaron Rayner with a crushed chest, an injury sustained while trying to escape from his collapsing base. As he dies, the man Kyle thinks is his father says that he is actually Kyle's uncle Zachary, that he hasn't see Aaron in years and that he is probably dead.

The story ends, somewhere in Colorado, on a military base. A man just getting onto a chopper is stopped by a uniformed man and is handed a telegram which reads "Regret to inform you of the death of your brother. Condolences." This was confirmed as the first appearance of Aaron Rayner in Green Lantern Secret Files #2, under the profile for "Kyle's Parents"

When Kyle's mom first appeared in the comic (GL 88), Kyle told her of her efforts to find his father and the two argued about why Kyle would feel the need to find the man who walked out on them. It becomes very obvious that Kyle's mom has some definite issues about Kyle's father.

The last footnote of Aaron Rayner's life also came in Green Lantern Secret Files #2. At the end of Keeping Secrets, there is a flash forward to "a decade later". Sometime after Jenny-Lynn "Jade" Hayden moved into Kyle's apartment (GL #86), Kyle received an ominous letter reading "I know your secret" in green marker.

Very few solid facts are available about Aaron Rayner, but this much can be determined by the previous entries.

  1. Abanonded Kyle when he was a toddler. Kyle has definite memories of his father as a child.
  2. Remained active in some military capacity to this day.
  3. Had a brother named Zachary.
  4. He truly did leave his wife with little explanation.
  5. He knows his son's secret identity.
  6. Served in the Army or the Marines. In my opinion, more than likely it was the Army. Eddie Fyers was also an Army man in the Vietnam War and it's likely that "ex-Marine" was part of his false credentials as FBI Agent "Ray White".

The Strange History of Aaron Rayner according to Judd Winnick

In this month's GL 150, Kyle used his increased powers to track down his father. Winding up in Austin, Texas, Kyle found a man named Raymond Hauser who he said used to be called "Aaron Rayner". Hauser invites Kyle in and the two talk.

The first significant fact exchanged is that Aaron Rayner is also an alias and the man who fathered Kyle is really name is Gabriel Vasquez, whose parents immigrated into Texas from Mexico when he was a baby. Gabriel was an only child and his mother died when he was 14. Never having had much use for his father, he joined the Army fresh out of high school and was recruited in the CIA a year and a half later. He went into Deep Cover, posing as a weapons dealer in the IRA. It was while stationed in Ireland that he fell in lover with Kyle's mother. His cover was blown and he hurriedly left the country, bringing the woman he loved with him. They married and settled down in Washington DC, where he took a desk job. He goes on to talk about how Kyle was born and how he left a year later, being unable to settle down.

In most details, this story does match most of what we know of Aaron's Rayner past; a military background moving into a covert government organization; he met Kyle's mom in Ireland and brought her back and we even get a specific East Coast location for Kyle's birth. The only sore points, in fact, are the age Kyle was when he left (12 months as opposed to 3 years old) and the fact that Gabe was an only child.

How do we explain brother Zachary, then? More on that in a bit...

Would that it had stopped there, but Kyle recently gained telepathic abilities and he tests them for the first time on his father. It is there that he finds a stunning new development. It seems that Aaron/Gabe had little choice to go on the run and that he was not really working for the government when he abandoned his wife and child.

In truth, Gabe was quite happy to settle down with a wife and child, but his bosses wanted him to go back into Deep Cover. Gabe refused, and when the encouragement to assume his old position became more threatening, he packed up wife and child and went into hiding. Moving every 3 months over the next year (probably ending up in Los Angeles), the moving was tough on Kyle's mother. It was then that someone in the CIA, deciding that if they could not have him they would see him dead, leaked Aaron Rayner's identity and location to a past contact who had reason to see him dead.

Kyle senses that Gabe is lying to him for fear that Kyle would grow to resent his mother for having forced him to make the choice he made. Knowing that he could never save himself but that he could give his wife and son a normal life, Gabe came up with a plan. He beat up his wife and she went to the police, saying that she was leaving him and that he had become drunk and abusive and that she wanted him dead. This story would hopefully convince "the company" and all the other people gunning for him that she was of no value as a bargaining chip to him and they would hopefully leave him alone. He never saw her again and had been in hiding ever since.

Kyle and Gabe make peace and agree to keep in touch. As Kyle leaves, Gabe goes back into his house and flips through an old picture album with pictures of him and his wife in better days. He flips to the back and we see that the album is filled with articles about Green Lantern and Kyle's success as an artist.

Here is where we run into problems. Throughout the Marz run, Kyle's mother became quite violent whenever her husband was mentioned and she slandered him quite badly. However, this might be explained away by saying that she had become so used to having to keep up the façade of the outraged battered wife that she just did it out of habit. Or perhaps she really did resent him for leaving, even if it was to save her life?

In either case, this pales to the rather considerable gaffes caused by the revelation that Gabe has been in hiding from the government for 25 years. If this is true, then he couldn't well have been an FBI agent named Ray White who was investigating UFO crashes in Coast City 12 years after he disappeared into the night, could he? Nor would he be likely to be getting into a helicopter on a military base in Colorado and getting telegrams about a brother who was never born dying.

So how do we explain it? Well, we might consider the words of the narrator in GL 150, who notes, as Gabe looks at his photo album with tears in his eyes...

"Gabriel Vasquez is a man of many secrets. Even more than his son has found out today. Kyle Rayner's ability to read a person's thoughts is very new to him. Very raw. He could only see the images that were on top. The memories that were stirred. Or maybe Kyle just found what he was looking for and dug no deeper. If he had, he might have found out so much more. Gabriel Vasquez is a man of many secrets. He knows his son has a few as well."

Could it be possible that Kyle overlooked things with his newfound telepathic scan? Could it be that Gabriel is not quite as removed from the government as he claims? Could it be that this story he gave Kyle is all an elaborate ruse towards some darker scheme involving covert government organizations?

For now, it cannot be said. Perhaps this is the start of a plot where some shadowy organization will once again seek the last Power Ring for it's own uses, like in the early stories involving Kyle (GL 50-55). Perhaps Kyle will go visit his mother and get Gabe's story confirmed.

Or perhaps, it will be ignored and only die hard fans like me with too much free time on our hands will bother to worry about it and completely ignore the fact that we just got the beginnings of a new GL Corps back?

Only time, and perhaps the new GL Secret Files #3 due out next week (as of my writing this) will tell.

Until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent.

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

The Mount - Freedom Force Game Review

Freedom ForceThe city trembles in fear. A gang of bank robbers have held the city in their grip for weeks and the latest robbery has just taken place. The police are pinned down by gunfire at the front of the bank as the back of the building explodes! The crooks are escaping out the newly opened exit running through the dark alleys behind the bank.

Minutes later they emerge, thick moneybags slung over their shoulders. They laugh at the helpless police, dreaming of the island paradises and hedonistic lives that await them as soon as they get to the airport.

Suddenly there is a great SWOOMP noise and one of their number is struggling to take off his jacket, which has mysteriously burst into flame. As one they look up and see a grinning masked man standing on midair, his feet on fire as he blows smoke off his hand.

"Hot stuff, coming through" he laughs, easily flying away from the hail of bullets which the robbers release into the sky he once occupied. So focused are they on this man that some of them don't see the other man: the man who wears a flag.

With a mighty tug and barely a wince, the flag man rips a lamp-post from the ground. The thieves who see him run. Those who don't are informed of his arrival as he bellows "For Justice!" and swings the lamp-post like a bat. Holding back his colossal strength, the flag-wearing man knocks three of the thugs unconscious with his blow.

Stopping his swing, he looks after the three fleeing thugs, ready to give chase. His chase doesn't last long as two of the crooks get odd expressions on their faces, angry expressions, as if they had become consumed by anger. Before he can get to them, one lies on the ground, knocked out by his own partner in crime.

It is a simple matter for the flag wearer to stop and deliver a knock-out punch of his own as he looks to the alleys and sees his companion; a telepath from another world who gives him a nod in return.

This leaves one thug who is still running, a sack of his ill-gotten loot over his shoulder. The flag-wearing man looks up and sees the flying man moving after him. But the final blow of the fight is to go to the last of their number, who is always slow in showing up- but more than makes up for his lack of speed with a power unmatched by any. The thug is so scared of the men behind them he runs right into the armored man before him. Knocked to the ground by one punch of his gauntleted hand, the thug is knocked to the ground. The armored man sighs stoically. "Sorry, I had to do that."

Now where did this come from, you might wonder. What new comic is this? Or is this an old one, a rehash of some classic Jack Kirby or Gardner Fox book? Not quite, though in spirit it is very much like that.

The above scene was played out by me during a fruitful hour of playing "Freedom Force," a new PC game which has wowed critics and fans alike. At the time of this writing, Freedom Force is the best selling computer game in the country... that isn't set in the Star Wars universe.

The plot of the game is classic Silver Age material and fans who hate the Dark Age of comics will be glad to know that the game perfectly fits the tone of the Silver Age. The darkest moment in the entire game is in the origin of the armored Man-Bot, who turns to heroism after his powers kill a loved one.

It is 1962. An evil alien warlord has conquered most of the galaxy but spared the planet Earth as being too primitive to be worth the effort.... Until one day.

In a fit of boredom, he decides to destroy the Earth for the pure sake of it. But rather than send his armies to do it, he proposes to find beings on Earth whose capacity for committing acts of evil is greater than average (he gleefully notes that Earthlings are much more predisposed to causing trouble than not).

These "evil" people will then be exposed to Energy X; a deus ex machina chemical, which causes any sentient life form near it to undergo genetic mutation based on what was on their mind at the time of infection, their predominant personality trait, or some object that was near them at the time.

In other words, you get blasted with the stuff, you get powers.

The plan is to find these evil people, give them these powers and watch and laugh as the dregs of humanity kill themselves, and the planet, off. But the plans are changed quickly, thanks to a telepathic alien and member of the slim resistance fighting the warlord. Stealing some Energy X, he sets out to Earth to find good people and create a group capable of fighting this soon to be approaching army of evil. Shot down by the warlord's troops, this freedom fighter (who later adopts the name of Mentor) scatters his Energy X at random across a metropolis with the unlikely name of Patriot City.

You begin the game as Frank Stiles, a 73 year old nuclear scientist and former researcher for The Manhattan Project, which he was forced out of after he accused a coworker of being a communist spy. As he sits in the park feeling depressed, Frank sees that same coworker moving under a shady tree with a man who "looks suspicious". (Probably the fact that he's wearing a fur coat and fur hat with a red star on it in the middle of summer).

Hiding in the bushes, he hears enough to confirm his suspicions and prove himself right about his coworker. But Frank slips, his cane breaking and his presence revealed. The two spies shoot him in the chest and run off, leaving Frank for dead.

On the verge of blacking out, Frank manages to pull himself up and staggers for help. Through increasing darkness, he sees a glow- the statue of a minuteman standing at attention that rests in the center of a park is glowing. Grabbing at the statue in desperation, Frank feels energy flowing into his body. His body heals and he feels himself become younger, stronger, and faster. Inspired by the image before him, he vows to fight the Red Menace that nearly killed him with his newfound strength, saying "They may have killed Frank Stiles, but they will find their defeat at the hands of... The Minuteman!" Donning a costume, he chases after the spies... and the adventure begins.

Spread across ten "issues" and dozens of levels, you will control a team of slightly over a dozen heroes by the games end and face one classic comic book crisis after another. From alien invasions to Communist spies, from building smashing monsters to dinosaur stampedes, and yes, even a battle against a rogue Greek God, you get everything from the Silver Age but a battle against super-intelligent gorillas.

The plot and characterization of the game is right on. The voice acting is perfect, with a booming-voiced narrator announcing everything ala Superfriends or Stan Lee from the old "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" cartoons.

The characters are varied in powers and in personality. Some are not too subtle tributes to more famous heroes. The Ant, for example, is pure Peter Parker - acrobatic, super-strong with an acidic home-brewed weapon to offset his natural powers (acid bombs instead of web fluid) that matches his naturally acid tongue. (My favorite line in the whole game is his "I'd really like a girlfriend, but I'd really prefer she not be a psychotic maniac.")

Thankfully, the characters do feel like tributes made out of love and not rip-offs or parodies. Minuteman can easily stand along side Superman, Captain America and Fighting American and would be a perfect fit in the All Star Squadron. Some characters even manage to surpass their inspiration, with Minuteman's sidekick Liberty Lad being much more useful (and fun to play) than Bucky.

Graphics wise, the game is amazing. Everything looks as animated and fresh from the page as the Kirbyesque artwork on the game box. Big animated CRASH and POW balloons appear as you fight, with appropriate sounds that match the graphics in their skillful application. The games voice acting is also top-notch, with gleeful overacting as heroes shout fighting catch phrases heroically and villains cackle madly.

The game's interface takes a while to get used to, but is not difficult. Up to four team members can be controlled at one time, with the 1-4 keys used to switch between team members (a double tap sends your view to wherever they stand on the game grid) and 5 to move the team as one. The rest of the action is controlled with the mouse- with left clicks moving a character and right clicks setting up the various attacks and defensive maneuvers. Thankfully, the game can be paused in the heat of the battle so you can check up on each team member, see where they are, see what enemies are closest and then set up the next attack without fear of one hero getting teamed up on as you work elsewhere.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the game is the character creation. It is possible for you to create your own custom designed superhero. "Recipes" are traded about on the Internet, with some people having created Freedom Force equivalents for many popular comic characters. These custom characters can be recruited for play in the single player game or taken into the arena multiplayer mode.

With the right graphics program and a special "viewer" program available for download, you can even design your own custom "skins" (graphic files that determine character appearance). A large number of skins based upon the more popular superheroes of all gaming companies are available on many websites at this time, with nearly 50 new ones being created every day by one estimate. Expansion packs are planned for the current game, adding missions and new powers for the game.

This brings up one of the few problems with the game: for everything that it gets right and includes, there is much that it forgets. Now, obviously not every superpower cannot replicated in the game (Can you imagine the lag caused by Aquaman being able to summon a large school of fish?) But some powers, like shape shifting and stretching could easily be worked into the game engine. It wouldn't take much to create a new animation that stretches the arms of your character instead of just launching a continuous laser beam.

Another problem is that even with the ability to pause the action, it is easy to lose track of the team sometimes. This is a problem even when they are in a group and not split up into smaller teams. There are also some areas of the game where it is very hard to fight a villain unless you have one certain team member in your party. Thankfully this is usually prevented by you being required to put that person in your party, but not always. In fact, there is one boss who is near impossible to beat without one of the optional recruits that you might not have at that point.

Finally, the multiplayer mode seems to be included just for the sake of having it. There is no variety to the multiplayer levels- just simple brawling between your team of heroes verses another team of heroes. I'd like to see something more like the game itself, where you control just one hero, team up with other solo heroes and have to work together to fight against another team. It just seems to defeat the point of the game for heroes to fight one another.

Regardless, aside from some minor details, the game is perfect. Freedom Force is a fitting tribute to the Silver Age and certainly worthy of a place on your game shelf. In fact, the credits give a special thank you "to all the great minds of the Silver Age of comics".

That's all for now. Until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent.

Monday, April 1, 2002

The Mount - It's (Dennis) Miller Time

(EDITORS NOTE: This month's "The Mount" is being written by Dennis Miller; former A-list comedian, former anchor for Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update", former talk-show host and now former Monday Night Football color commentary man. Matt "Stars" Morrison generously agreed to give up his regular space this month, in order that he might give something back to an idol of his, whom has seen better days.)

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but what's up with the state of comics these days? Back when I was a whisper-thin lad of ten summers, there wasn't a short-pant bedecked one who didn't thrill to take a trip down to the drugstore to see the latest adventures stacked on the bottom shelf of the newsstand... no, wait... That wasn't my childhood. I grew up in the Pittsburgh ghetto. Must have gotten possessed by Andy Rooney again.

The point is that once upon a time comics could once be justifiably called kiddie books. And now look at them; ultra-violence to make Alex and all of his droogs nauseous; weaker characterization than your average Michael Bay flick and female anatomy so grossly out of proportion to make Jenna Jameson look like Peppermint Patty.

Of course comics is not alone in this growing up. Video games, for example, have progressed from two paddles beating a ball back and forth to the point where one can actually count the number of blood droplets splattered across the tree as you unleash a torrent of gunfire into the back of a doe's head. And that's just in the new Bambi game out from DisneySoft!

Thankfully, the once great national institution of comicdom has managed to hover under the "What's Wrong With Today's Youth" radar. Why do we need Lady Death when we can blame all our sociopathic youth plagues on Quake and Marilyn Manson? Who, it might be noted, is slowly starting to look more and more like Lady Death as the years go on

As far as menaces to society go, Comics are on the dung heap along with Dungeons and Dragons, The Russians and Tiffany. They've all become yesterday's news, the passé Great Tool of Satan- deader than Al Gore trying to slow dance to a Morrisey song as interpreted by Robert Glass, played by a slow jazz trio made up of Cecil the Turtle, Leonardo and Fastback.

Hah! See? Got an actual comics' reference in there, cha-cha.

Of course many efforts have been made to pull comics out of the realms of Tarturus. Marvel alone is making some impressive strides in cross-promoting their stuff to the masses and making some quick cash off of Hollywood. It was easy enough once they found writers, who captured the essence of a book, directors with the artistic vision to bring about that essence, actors who fit the uniqueness of each of their beloved characters and quit hiring Roger Corman to produce their movies.

Now, far be it for me to pronounce myself qualified to judge anyone's performance in Hollywood. After all, I am the guy who distinguished himself as being more unhuggable than Boomer Esiason and who's most distinguished thespiatic effort to date was playing Sandra Bullock's gay best friend in "The Net". But I think everyone here will agree with me when I say that whoever is in charge of developing DC Comics properties needs to be locked in a small room with Richard Simmons for a few hours. Then we need to let them out and force them to watch the complete works of Kenneth Brannagh, until they beg to be locked in the room with Richard again.

Cruel and unusual punishment, my ass. Can we allow unusual punishment? I have a whole list of ideas for that.

In all seriousness though, I've heard there's an executive at Warner Bros., who had the bright idea to turn Adam Strange into "the next Harry Potter". This is a screw-up on par with the day Casca said to Brutus, "You know, I think people will be much happier without a tyrant. "

For those of you who somehow wound up reading this here without knowing thing one about comics, Adam Strange is a Man of Earth from the days of pulp comics. Yeah, the days when you could say "Man of Earth" and not get laughs like I used to during my first season on HBO. Adam gets zapped by this ray that causes him to flit back and forth between Earth and the planet Rann. Oddly enough, this ray was not designed by the Defense Department, but by Sardath; a scientist looking for specimens to breed with the sterile population of his planet. Adam winds up falling in love with Sardath's daughter, becoming a hero who saves the world a few thousand times and keeps running about on an endless quest, hoping that his next leap will be the leap home. Wait, that's Samuel Beckett. Oh, but why quibble when we're nearing the endgame?

That's okay... groan. Groan all three of you English majors who got that.

Sounds like a good story, doesn't it? For the women, you have romance; a guy who literally crosses the galaxy to find true love. Now there's a unique and epic love story to sink that little Leonardo DeCaprio/Kate Winslet vehicle. For the men, you have all the two-fisted manly action, explosions and cool space crap that you could get from a week of watching Lorne Greene and Maren Jensen. You've even got some gratuitous violence and sexual elements that can push it up to a PG-13 so the kids will want to see it.

And now we have this idiot ne savant who thinks the best way to bring this 40-year-old epic of romance, action and creepy fathers who want to set their daughters up with aliens to big screen is by deaging the hero. What's the point? I mean, how on earth is a scientist supposed to explain to a kid that he was zapped across space by a government plot right out of the wonderful Tommy Kirk opus, "Mars Needs Women"?

Or would they bother to change that? A 13 year old boy suddenly being asked to mate with a twenty-something space princess? Heck, why not? God knows every American 13 year old boy has dreamt that ever since Summer of 83 when Carrie Fisher became forever immortalized as "that chick in the metal bra".

And if they do change that element, why the heck would they be blasting these teleport rays into space in the first place? I mean, I'm no Harlan Ellison, but it occurs to me that any race that can master the sciences of teleportation is hopefully going to have a government that has advanced beyond the needs for subsidies to keep a senator in power. "Here ye, here ye, the honorable gentleman from Gropnar-17 would like to bring to the table this bill, calling for the construction of a large teleportation ray to blast beams randomly into space."

There's also this new Birds of Prey show that's coming up. Originally it was called "Chicks Who Kick Ass", but that wasn't quite PC enough. BoP is a nice action comic about a neo-superheroic Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin pairing who just happen to be women. Nothing quite so drastic here, except that Black Canary has been deaged from late 20's to her teens to give the show a "Buffy" vibe.

Yeah... cause you know that a show about tough women outside of their teens would never work in this Xena-phobic business of ours.

Bad puns... so this is what it has come to huh? Okay... go for the kill.

Anyway, my advice to Warner Brothers is to just step back, let the writers and editors do their work and trust that they can do for the movies and TV shows what they do for your lesser holdings. And for God's sake, get Jon Peters off the payroll before he decides Superman needs a funny edge and that Adam Sandler would be the perfect one to play him.

Of course that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

NOTE: This column really was written by Matt Morrison, and not Dennis Miller. We have nothing but the highest respect for Dennis Miller and this parody was done out of love, so please don't sue us.

Friday, March 1, 2002

The Mount - The Shadow Of Greatness

One of my favorite writers, in or out of comics, is Neil Gaiman. It is hard to find any comic fan who hasn't read something by him, much less heard of the name. Neil is also one of a rare few who began writing in the comics medium and then found critical success in another field. Aside from having a solo novel on the New York Times Top Ten Bestsellers list, he found acclaim among fans and critics alike with "Good Omens", a novel he co-wrote with British humorist Terry Pratchett. "Good Omens" is due to be made into a movie by Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame within a year, as is "Neverwhere", another story by Gaiman which was created as a miniseries for the BBC and then was later adapted into a novel. Of course Gaiman is most famous for the comic series which first put him into the limelight and made him an icon among the seemingly incompatible groups of Goths and mainstream comic fans. Of course I'm talking about the revolutionary Sandman series.

Gaiman's work on The Sandman had an immeasurable effect upon the comics medium. His work helped bring about the creation of DC's Vertigo line for adults and helped to bring many new fans, who had previously considered comics a children's medium, into the hobby. It is also likely that such later creator-controlled series with fixed endings such as Preacher, Starman and Hitman would have ever been published.

Even after Gaiman left DC to work on a variety of other projects, his influence remained. The minor characters of the Sandman series were popular enough to be allowed their own series: The Dreaming. Even now, Gaiman's legacy continues in Lucifer, a solo series book about the life of Gaiman's Paradise Lost inspired Lord of Hell, who quits his job as the legions of the damned. And many other writers were allowed to do solo stories centering around minor characters of Gaiman's work.

There has been a glut of these later solo stories within the last month: some living up to Gaiman's standards of storytelling, some falling short... and some even building on what he started.

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Dreams But Were Afraid To Ask

Divided into eight chapters of varying length, this one shot gives us a closer look at the world of the Dreaming outside of Dream's Castle. It shows us the grunt work that employs so many of the various beings in the Dreaming. Rather than Dream individually handling the dreams of every single creature in the multiverse, there are a series of dream writers, directors, technicians and actors who populate each individual dream. This presumably gives Dream more time to focus on the creation of new dreams or worlds. Or perhaps he enjoys having the company even though he could easily do everything himself.

At any rate, we get a look at this wonderful world of dream making through the eyes of several old favorites: Merv Pumpkinhead, Lucian the Librarian, Cain and Abel, Gregory and Goldie Gargoyle and Nuala the Elf, who gets her first big break as a dream director. Nuala's story is the closest thing we get to a connection between the stories, with some of the stories connecting to her first directing job. The stories do stand alone for the most part however, but all are equally amusing in one way or another, as they answer several questions about dreaming. Such as what causes nightmares, if there really is an inherent symbolism to dreams and what causes recurring dreams.

The answers to these questions are unexpected, unusually simple and in some cases rather frightening, but always funny, even if it is in a rather dark way. Consider the first story, where we discover that the cause of nightmares is dream directors who wanted to create something interesting for someone whose life is too dull. An innocent man is sent to the loony bin in a matter of weeks when one director who specializes in horror dreams in for the man's regular director. There is also the tale that explains why some people dream in color and others in black and white. Quite simply, the people who dream in black and white have dream directors who favor the Bergmanesque or Film Noir look.

It's not nearly as deep or symbolic as any of Gaiman's work, but it is a worthy edition onto the mythology of the series. It is also, a rather funny read.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

The Dead Boy Detectives: Parts 1-4

Fan favorites despite having only one appearance in the original Sandman books, Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland are two boys eternal. Killed by school bullies in a Satanic ritual, Edwin was trapped in Hell until the Events of The Sandman: Season of Mists, which released all of those in Hell onto the earth. He met and befrinded Charles; a young boy who was later killed by the ghosts of the same bullies who killed Edwin. The two eventually left the boys private school where their bodies were, and with Charles refusing to be taken by Death, the two left off to find adventure.

Well, it's taken nearly ten years but the boys finally found their adventure. And what an adventure! This story is the stuff of Saturday morning serials and boys adventure stories, despite the rather dark origin of the heroes. In fact, this may well be the most light-hearted of the Sandman spin-offs and I wouldn't mind seeing a series based on the boys exploits.

The boys set up a detective agency in a tree-house built outside a haunted mansion. After hanging up their Detective License (from the Apex Novelty College, signed by College President Raymond Hamett), the boys sit down to wait for a client. It doesn't take them long, as their house is found by Marcia, a blond, attractive, slightly-older teenage runaway who both boys instantly get a crush on. She tells them a tale of how friends of her's have been disappearing and found dead later, looking withered and rotten, like they had aged hundreds of years in a day. She is rather reluctant to hire two pre-teen boys to investigate the murders and leaves very quickly.

Regardless, Charles drags Edwin into investigating the case with him, arguing that the cases are obviously magically related and that they are better equipped to handle such things than the police. While being dead and young are serious flaws for two detectives, being a ghostly boy does have advantages- such as being mostly ignored by adults under usual circumstances and being able to go anywhere without being seen. The boys discover the even greater powers they posses as ghosts, thanks to the aid of the Marquis de Marquez: a mysterious man they meet who recognizes the boys as what they are, and tells them that they may be after the same quarry. Marquez is the ancestor of a Spanish Royal Inquirer who swore to track down and destroy Gilles de Rais: a knight turned necromancer who drained the life force of children to prolong his own life. From father to son, the charge was passed down to hunt the black magician, and Marquez believes that it is de Rais who is responsible for the current series of murders in London.

Red-herrings, setbacks and mystery abound as Edwin and Charles struggle with the idea of growing up while being dead, how a dead boy can love a living girl and the surly Margaret Dumont-ish lady who haunts the mansion that they have built their treehouse hideaway in and insists they act like proper ghosts and not stay hidden when she has the Lady's Association over. Throw in a few cameos by Sandman favorites like Mad Hettie and you have as fine a four-part miniseries as you'd hope to find anywhere.

The characterization is top notch, with Charles and Edwin expanded into full characters. And despite the rather dark subject of necromancy and child murders, this story maintains a light-hearted, Hardy Boys/Boxcar Children vibe as we see two boys being boys even as they go about the serious business of trying to fight crime. And make no mistake about it: Charles and Edwin are very much boys, unlike most of the youngsters in comics, who are written like tiny adults with smart aleck wit. Sure, they may go about the serious business of fighting evil, but that doesn't stop them from playing pirates and fencing with wooden swords in the middle of the a case. It also doesn't stop them from dressing up for adventure (Charles as a musketeer, Edwin as Sherlock Holmes) when the time comes for them to start hunting the killer... even though nobody can see their clothes.

My Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

The Corinthian: A Death in Venice

Created by Dream, The Corinthian was meant to be a reflection of humanity's dark side. In The Sandman: The Doll's House, we found out that The Corinthian had escaped into the Waking World and become the inspiration for and leading member of a society of serial killers. Uncreated by a furious Dream (who was more furious at The Corinthian's lack of ambition or vision than any deaths he committed), he was later remade in "The Kindly Ones" as part of an effort to locate a kidnapped boy.

This flashback series shows The Corinthian shortly after his escape, which was facilitated by another character from the series: a minor one who appeared once and only once in Sandman #1. After serving a bit in WWI, The Conrinthian travels to Venice, seeking a fellow soldier: A man named Charles Constantine who he hopes can teach him how to kill: an act which fascinates him completely, but which he is unable to understand the hows and whys of without instruction.

Trippy as all get out, this story requires a fair bit of knowledge of the series mythology of Hellblazer and the Constantine family to fully appreciate. Everything in the story is explained but very rarely is it understood. The muddy, over-inked artwork makes things difficult to follow at times and some characters tend to blend in and be hard to tell apart, such as Charles' name-changing female companion and a local woman of Venice who holds a minor part in the story.

Unusual for a Sandman tale, this story is so simple that to summarize the whole thing would be to tell the whole story. Sadly, this simplicity means that the usual multiple layers one expects of a Sandman spinoff are not there. Not that this story is truly bad, but it is really only of interest to those who like The Corinthian best of all the minor cast of The Sandman and Hellblazer fans who would like to read up on one of John Constantine's ancestors.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 Stars

The Thessaliad

Very close in tone to Gaiman's own American Gods novel, this book centers around the many-named Greek witch who was Dream's lover for a short time: Call her Thessaly. It suits her as well as any. Whatever her real name, she has long been a fan favorite, this mousy-looking young woman whose deceptively innocent face hides a heart of stone and an ancient mind.

We start out with a nameless narrator telling us about the many monsters and gods who hide out among humanity. This was a common theme of Gaiman's early works, with gods of travel and trade overseeing travel agencies and small companies and goddesses of lust and fertility, forced into stripping for a living. After watching a butcher whom our narrator assures us is the Great Earth Serpent in mortal guise, we focus in on Thessaly, who has once again assumed her favored disguise as a simple college student.

She's out on an unwanted date with a rather shy and goofy nerd who thinks she too, is a rather shy and goofy nerd. But she's willing to indulge him and things go quite well, at least until the demon dogs (shades of Ghostbusters here) jump through the walls and rip the poor love, struck idiot to shreds. Of course they are little match for Thessaily, a magician so powerful that "even the gods fear her", so says our narrator. We finally get to see our narrator at this point: a rather shabby looking fellow in a trenchcoat, khakis and dress-shirt with long sideburns and a pompadour haircut. He shrugs off all of Thessaly's attacks against him and introduces himself as "Fetch". Thess figures it out at this point and realizes that the man before her is a ghost. Fetch introduces himself further, says that Thess killed him at some point in her past, but he gives no hints as to where or when. He then lets tells her how he has been hired to track her down and capture her soul for various parties who want to see her suffer for past crimes. With Fetch tagging along, Thessaly goes on a quest to find his employers and teach them a very important lesson. The important lesson, as fans of Thessaly will likely remember from "A Game of You" is, "Don't mess with me if you want to live long."

Only two parts of the story have come out as of this writing, but so far the series is very enjoyable. It is unexpectedly funny, with Fetch being the perfect foil to the nearly humorless Thessaly. There's also some quick cameos by various other Sandman regulars, including the Deadboy Detectives and some other characters from "A Game of You" in a metaphorical subway station Thessaly must use to take her quest. Try and track down the first two issues if you can. This one is a keeper, so far.

That's all for now. Until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent.

Tuesday, January 1, 2002

The Mount - Beginnings And Endings

Another year has come upon us and the times... they is a'changing.

The start of a new year is a good time to reflect upon beginnings and endings and changes. Changes like those which Fanzing is about to undergo. We'll be showing off more of these changes in the coming months. There will be a lot of new things... and I think most of them will be good. But don't worry, Mount-ies... "The Mount" isn't going to change... much. It'll still be the place you can be guaranteed to get some of my unique perspective on life, the universe and various comic stories.

The most notable change will be how I'm going to go about writing The Mount. One of the biggest problems I have had is that I would often set out to review something but then forget about the story in the rush to work on something else. Or worse yet, have the review drag out over the course of months in the case of multi-part stories that were delayed for weeks... sometimes months.

To that end, I have decided to do this: In the case of all miniseries and multiseries, I will state my opinion of the first issue when it comes out and ramble about where I think the story is going, how it will end and so on. When the series is over, I will review the story as a whole and compare my feelings at the end to my projected feelings at the beginning.

With that in mind, let's start off with a little series close to my heart that recently came to the end of its' first major story arc. You know what I'm talking about... I'm talking about Kevin Smith's Quiver (Green Arrow #1-10). There's some potential vague story spoilers, so skip down to the big line of capital letters to avoid it. If you can't find the issues, the whole story will be released in a hardcover TPB in a few months which will probably cost less than trying to track down the first 3-4 individual issues.


I have to admit, no spoilers given, that I was a little disappointed in the ending of the story. Granted, we've got back the good ol' Ollie Queen we've always known and loved but I question how well the ends justified the means. Bringing Ollie back was undoubtedly going to require some kind of mystical link and I think that the story turned out about as well as any story involving Oliver Queen and mystic stuff could. Still, the story seemed needless dark at points, even for a Green Arrow story. And while I appreciate a good obscure comic reference like anyone else, I really have to wonder about tying "Stanley and His Monsters" into the Green Arrow mythos.

I did enjoy the story though. Smith has a great grasp of character, dialogue and humor and he's able to write story that is funny and thrilling at the same time. Still, I can't help but feel that it could have been better... especially since there are some plot ends that are left unfinished. Perhaps these will be addressed in the later issues of Smith's run, but I have the feeling that with the crunching of the Quiver storyline into 10 issues from the full dozen planned may have forced Smith to change some parts of the story's pacing that would have been covered better. Still... it's well worth picking up the forthcoming trade paperback if you haven't had the fortune to read it yet.


That was the best story of the last year I had read. Lots of the old coming back and appearing in a new form. Lots of old things are coming back... like the story, which is (so far) the best story I have read this year.

Perhaps the most anticipated story of the last year, Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Strikes Back" has proven to be worthy of interest, if not acclaim. With the story only 1/3 told, I don't think I can review the whole thing here... but so far, I think it will be a worthy successor to Miller's Legacy.

And speaking of Batman and ongoing stories, the Batbooks will be doing a multi-part crossover for the next few months called "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?"

When I first heard of this story, I anticipated the typical Batman crossover: a story stretched over too-many books as an attempt to get people to buy some of the lesser-selling titles in the Bat-Family.

I think said books are going to be made up mostly of tangents into the main plot of the individual book, with little emphasis upon the connecting crossover story. There will however be just enough happening in each book that I'll have to buy the entire series to have some idea of what is going on.

There's not going to be any long last change and likely there will be some big Deus Ex Machina that solves everything at the last minute. Also, I'm betting that Ra's Al Ghul is involved somehow.

I wrote the above words some two days before I got the first four issues of the story the other day (after a month-long absence from my regular comic store). Here now, with some minor spoilers, are my thoughts upon the story so far...

Prologue: Batman: The Ten Cent Adventure.

This issue was created with two purposes in mind; introduce the modern Batman to new readers and set up the "Bruce Wayne: Murdered" storyline.

It succeeds on both counts. And despite the fears of many a fanboy explains who Sasha is, what she does (bodyguard and new vigilantee) and the significance of the person who is killed. That's about all it does though, so there's really no reason to bother if you've been a regular reader of Detective Comics for the past few months. Then again, the price is right... and ten cents is a pretty good deal to tell you something you already know.

Part One: Detective Comics #766

Bruce and Sasha are arrested and detectives start combing over Wayne Manor, discussing theories and interrogating the suspects. It's all about the police here and, like as per usual, it's good to see the cops of Gotham being pushed to the forefront here. It's like NYPD Blue: The Comics.

My one complaint is that after the easy-expository feeling of the Ten Cent adventure, there's way too much assumption in this issue. It is just assumed that the reader will know who Detective Montoya is and why she wouldn't want to see Bruce Wayne arrested after some vaguely described incident involving flowers. Still, the story is building interest.

Part Two: Batgirl #24

Two words: This Stinks. After such a good intro, things go downhill fast in this issue. I have to admit a little bit of bias here. I've never liked the new Batgirl. I suspect I never will and that Barbara Gordon will always be the one true Batgirl in my heart.

This issue gives us a lot of Barbara and we see her reaction as she hears the call that summons the police to Wayne Manor. This is a great moment that is totally dashed as she starts to think about whom in the vigilante community she can send to investigate a Wayne Manner disturbance. She is about to send Robin, but she recoils, thinking it unwise to send a 15 year old boy into a situation with an armed intruder. Instead, she sends a 17 year old girl with less training as a vigilante than the 15 year old boy.

I'm still scratching my head about that too... especially since Tim has handled most of the Major members of the Rogues Gallery unaided. Perhaps Babs remembered whose book she was in?

There's also some unintentional humor in Batgirl's sneaking into Wayne Manor as half the GCPD is wandering around the place. I know this is meant to make Cassandra look extremely stealthy and professional... but all it really does is make the detectives look like total idiots. And since they are going to be a major focus of the story (and were, in fact, the main focus one part back), this is a bad thing.

Aside from one very minor point, this issue doesn't really touch directly upon the murder and is more about some personal issues Cassandra has with Batman. This one can easily be skipped.

Part Three: Nightwing #65

They literally have to contrive a reason to get Dick involved in the crossover, with Dick bribing a police dispatcher to change his schedule so he can go Gotham and talk to Bruce for a few panels. Aside from this and he and Babs agreeing to investigate the murders on their own, not much happens crossoverwise... although it does give Dick an excuse to be out of town when something Wingnuts everywhere have been waiting for a year to happen happens.

Like Batgirl, the writer ignores the crossover as much as possible while continuing to develop the past plotlines. On the one hand, this is a plus for the regular fan who doesn't want to see their favorite book sidelined for a crossover. On the other hand, this makes things confusing as all get out for the people who are new to the book and aren't familiar with the many cops and criminals of Bludhaven. This totally defeats the point of having a crossover in the first place.

All in all, this is shaping up about how I thought it would. So far, there hasn't been much in the way of evidence to allow the readers to figure out who really dun' it, but it is just week one of the crossover. Hopefully things will pick up.

And hopefully you'll be here to pick up where we left off next month, when I review the latest series of "The Sandman Presents" miniseries. Until then... may your clerks be helpful and your new comics unbent.