Monday, December 29, 2003

The Phantom #1 - A Review

Written by: Ben Raab
Penciled by: Pat Quinn
Inked by: Pat Quinn
Colored by: Ken Wolak & Dawn Groszewski
Lettered by: Jeff Eckleberry
Editor: Joe Gentile & Garrett Anderson
Publisher: Moonstone Comics

Nearly two months ago, I was given a rare chance as a critic to preview some of the unfinished proofs of a new book. That book was The Phantom #1, and I wrote about the history of the character as well as my initial impression of the proofs in Looking to the Stars. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the world’s first true superhero, follow the link above for an in-depth discussion of the character and his history.

The proofs just gave me a look at the first twenty pages or so; lettered and inked, but not yet colored it. This gave the art a somewhat appropriate film noir feel, making me feel like I was watching an old Republic serial or reading some reprints of the old black-and-white daily Phantom strips. The story was classic Phantom material; a masked man of action fighting those who would seek to oppress the innocent. All that was missing was the final pages and the color...

And with these elements added, you have one of the best books to come out in recent memory. The colors by Wolak & Groszewski do not diminish the nostalgic feelings inspired by Pat Quinn’s inks and pencils. If anything, it takes what looked like a classic comic strip and transforms it into an epic worthy of the big screen.

Raab’s story has brought the potentially archaic Phantom concept into the 21st century with ease. Rather than try to upgrade The Phantom with a new angsty personality, a darker costume or a load of new weapons, he has simply changed the name of the enemy. The Phantom has always fought against all those who would rule through terror, strong-arm the weak or force people into anything. So instead of fighting pirates and poachers in the jungles of Africa, why not have him turn his attentions to terrorists and diamond-mine slavers; both very real issues in Africa today? This allows the book to feel topical yet timeless, as groups like Al Quaeda are mentioned, but not specifically blamed for the events of the book.

Worry not about politics, fans of escapism! The conclusion is high-action heroism, with the Phantom chasing after assassins on horseback and somehow keeping pace with a speeding van… with an explosive cliffhanger that I guarantee with leave you desperately waiting for Issue 2, just like me.

Looking To The Stars: Want To Know It All?

I often get asked, “Starman, how do you know so much about comics?” More often I get asked “Sir, are you going to leave quietly or do we have to call the police?” But that’s not important right now. What is important is that a lot of you out there often turn to me as a source of enlightenment. I answer every question that I can, but even I get stumped once in a while. And a few of you even ask if I can help make you as well-read as me and expand your knowledgebase.

The answer to that is no, I can’t. Nothing can make you well-read except reading and only you can make yourself do that. Well, maybe the more financially well off of you could employ somebody… maybe a woman in a nun costume… to stand over your shoulder and smack you with a ruler every time your eye wanders off the page… but I doubt it.

Still, while there is no substitute for reading the comics, there are a number of websites that offer a lot of good information regarding various books. So if you seek illumination, or maybe a few hours amusement and distraction, peruse this list of links from the library of your favorite media smart alec; good ol’ Starman.

The Starman Compendium

This is the best website about the comic that inspired my nickname, despite having been irregularly updated over the years since the end of the series. The site contains original summaries of the main books as well as rare specials such as the hard-to-find “The Shade” mini-series and the Batman/Hellboy/Starman crossover.


The same blokes who run this site had a hand in writing the recent Spider-Man Encyclopedia. And Encyclopedia just about sums up this site! Profiles of all the major characters and most of the minor ones, regular reviews of the core Spider-books and anything where Spidey makes a cameo along with reviews and summaries of the older issues going all the way back to the days of Lee and Ditko, you could easily lose yourself for weeks reading through this entire site.

Man Without Fear

Without a doubt the best website about Daredevil ever, this one even boasts a schedule of what Daredevil related projects are coming out along with release dates, notes of delays (although noting the delays on a Kevin Smith book expected a year ago seems a tad redundant) . There’s also a message board, along with the standard profiles and issue summaries- all in a database that is searchable by creator, artist, inker and even editor!

The Unofficial Green Lantern Corps Webpage

Another great website not updated in far too long, this labor of love still remains the greatest depository of old-school Green Lantern knowledge, with indexed and footnoted profiles of a good portion of all the extra-terrestrial Green Lanterns as well as detailed explanations of the science of the GL rings and the technology used by the Guardians.

The Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite

Maintained by the two biggest Green Arrow fans anywhere, formed from the parts of their two respective websites, this website is a treat for anyone… even those who aren’t Green Arrow fans. Filled to the brim with issue summaries and reviews, as well as a time-line built to fit the current GA continuity. The real cool part about this website is a detailed account of darn-near every trick arrow ever used!

The Periodic Table of Comic Books

Fun and educational, this site details the times that different elements have appeared in the comics. So for all of you who ever wondered if Krypton gas was as lethal as Kryptonite, read on.

Jess Nevins' Comic Book Annotations

Ever wonder about all the in-jokes hidden in the background of “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”? Wonder what the Bible passages quoted in “Kingdom Come” were? Jess Nevins’ explains it all (or at least a good deal) in this website. Nevins, it might be noted, recently had his annotations for “LXG” published in the book “Heroes and Monsters”.

Unca Cheeks Silver Age Comics Site

One of the greatest treasures of the web, this treasure was nearly lost following an unaffordable server-user pay-hike. Most of the graphics are gone, but the text to the funniest nostalgia web site ever remains. Unca Cheeks looks back at the classic comics of his youth with a somewhat sadder, definitely wiser and all-around funny eye. The love for the old-school style of comics is evident even as he ridicules such ridiculous concepts such as the Bee-Man.

Comics of the 1980’s

An interesting companion piece to Uncle Cheeks is Mister Meesh, who runs this website devoted to the comics of the 1980’s. Inspired by Cheeks in both site design and humorous content, this website isn’t quite as large, but deserves points for detailing what may well be the silliest bad comic of all time; The A-Team!

Tune in next week! Same Matt Time! Same Matt Web-Site!

Monday, December 22, 2003

Lucifer #45 - A Review

Written by: Mike Carey
Penciled by: Ted Naifeh
Inked by: Ted Naifeh
Cover by: Tara McPherson
Colored by: Daniel Vozzo
Lettered by: Ken Lopez
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

If Lucifer has a flaw as a monthly book, it is that the sheer volume of information covered throughout the series is not easily conveyed from issue to issue. To miss a major story arc is to risk loosing track of all that follows. Thankfully, Carey has stories such as this one that take place between the major story arcs, giving us a short story centering upon a new character that does not directly relate to the epic events of each arc.

See John. John is a law-school drop out, trapped in a lousy job. His only outlet for escape is a punk rock band he sings in and his semi-squeeze; Puce, the guitar player. Both are on the skids though, after one gig that goes bad due to John’s poor booking skills (they wind up playing a Goth bar instead of a punk bar, where the fans prefer The Smiths to The Ramones) and things are looking pretty bad for Johnny boy. In fact, he is so far beneath notice as a person that certain members of the forces of darkness are using John’s soul as a meeting place; a neutral ground to plot how they should react to the recent news that The Creator (aka God Almighty) has followed Lucifer’s example and quit his job.

This is the only reference we get to the past story arc, and only in a book such as this could God quitting his job be reduced to a brief mention, when most titles would make use of a [See Lucifer #43] footnote or a full fledged flash-back panel. This far-sighted tone and assumption that the reader is already familiar with what has come before is the book’s greatest weakness and yet its most absorbing strength.

Sadly, while the book is as well written as ever, the art does leave a little bit to be desired. The cover, by guest cover artist Tara McPherson, seems to be depicting three pre-teens in gothic ware instead of the twenty-something characters introduced in this story. Naifeh’s work is good for the most part, depicting amazingly evil demons, drunken club patrons and even the occasional naked woman without making it seem exploitive or posed.

Our focus character of John seems oddly angular and out of place amongst the more rounded characters in the story – I assume this is an intentional effect and it works quite well in showing how out of place John is due to the “party” he his hosting. Still, the brief appearance of Lucifer leaves a lot to be desired, as the ex-Angel looks a lot more like Annie Lennox than his usual sleek self.

Fantasic Four #508

Written by: Mark Waid
Penciled by: Howard Porter
Inked by: Norm Rapmund
Cover by: Tony Harris & Tom Feister
Colored by: Avakib Styduis
Lettered by: Russ Wooton
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics


That is all I can say about this comic. At the very least, that is all I can say about the details of it.

That leaves me only the circumstances leading up to this book to discuss. Thankfully, this is as full and fantastic a topic as the story itself.

This was meant to be the last issue of Fantastic Four that Mark Waid would write, before an eleventh hour renouncement of the editorial decision that would have removed him from the book. Whether it was the result of fan outrage, media criticism or someone actually looking at the sales numbers since Waid took over the book and realizing that the book was doing a lot better than before Issue 60, cannot be said. What can be said, however, is that we are all damn lucky and there should be much rejoicing in comic shops around the world.

The seeds for this having been a last issue are all there, despite the story ending on a cliffhanger that holds the fate of the entire team and two lives in particular in the balance. Everything is changed in an instant, with things in a state of stability, if not calmness. And again, I must give thanks that despite all the complications that it will be Mark Waid who will be writing the solutions to the problems raises in this issue rather than anyone else. I am on the edge of my seat wondering how this will be resolved and find myself uncharacteristically dumbfounded as to ideas as to just HOW this corner will be written out of.

The art is equally wow-derful. Porter does some of his best work ever here, with all the exaggerated distortions common to his JLA work gone. Still, when exaggerations are necessary such as in depicting The Thing or in the scarred half-face of Mr. Fantastic, Porter is able to stretch (no pun intended) the boundaries of realistic artwork. Tony Harris does an excellent job on the cover and I have to wonder why, with all the covers he has been doing for Marvel of late (He also recently did the covers for Amazing Spider-Man and Kingpin), that nobody has assigned him to a title? I can only assume that he wishes to remain a free agent or that Marvel is showing the same judgment that made them think of dropping Waid from this title.
And that will, I promise, be the last word from me on the subject of Waid and Marvel’s firing. Promise.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Ultimate X-Men #40 - A Review

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciled by: David Finch
Inked by: Art Thibert
Colored by: Frank D'Armata & Morry Hollowell
Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

SCENE: The Worthington Mansion

Xavier: So what you’re telling me is that the boy lives here alone because his parents find him… distasteful?

Butler: Indeed, the boy wants for nothing financially as my masters are your atypical WASP scumbags who cannot cope with anything outside their own viewpoints of normalcy but neither can they bring themselves to disown the boy outright.

Xavier: So you want me to take him out of their bigoted hands in exchange for a huge sum of money?

Butler: That is the offer, yes.

Xavier: You insult me, sir. I take all young people with mutations into my school based on need, not on financial reward.

Butler: So you won’t be needing the check for several million dollars?

Xavier: (grabbing the check) Not NEEDING as such… but advanced holographic technology doesn’t pay for itself… YOINK!

SCENE: The Xavier School For Mutants : The Pool

Xavier: I’m sorry to interrupt the 1 pm sunbathing and lounging around class, but I wanted to introduce our newest student. This is Warren. He never wears shirts.

Kitty: Oooh! I wanna sink my teeth into that! I don’t care if he’s Kosher or not…

Storm: Kitty, you’re 13 or something. Granted, we’d never know if from that swimsuit or the way your body is drawn in the long shots…

Rogue: Hold on… isn’t that kinda weird? I mean, he looks like an angel… and then we have demons walking around with us…

Nightcrawler: Ummmm….

Rogue: I mean, its all Biblical, right? Sign of the end times? The forces of good and evil standing among us, working in plain sight?!?

Nightcrawler: Uh.. hello? Standing right here?

Xavier: Now, Rogue…. Kurt is not a demon. Apologize to him.

Rogue: I’m sorry I called you a demon, Kurt.

Nightcrawler: That’s okay. I’m just happy to see someone else is getting the dialogue with the heavy-handed religious commentary

Rogue: Well, I’m just glad to be able to say “I” instead of “Ah” and “sugar” instead of “sugah”.

Xavier: I do understand your concerns and we will be discussing the religious implications of mutation later. Not now.

Rogue: When will we be discussing it, Professor?

Xavier: Off-camera. There’s no way I’m going to piss off the Christian Coalition by touching this subject with a 10 foot poll in any story that will see print.

SCENE: The Xavier School For Mutants : The Next Day

Pro-Mutant Protestors: God is a mutant!

Anti-Mutant Protestors: God hates mutants!

Xavier: Before I ask which one of you is responsible for the crowds of zealots outside the campus, I would like to point out that I a) am not stupid b) am a telepath c) already know the answer and d) know that one of you has a history of saying things he shouldn’t to people about the inner-workings of our semi-secret school of superheroic celebrities… HANK?!

Beast: What? I just posted it on a few websites… along with those naked pictures of Storm.

Storm: You son of a-

Xavier: You can electrolyze the hair off of him later. Right now, I want you to go find Warren.
Storm: Why me?

Xavier: Because he likes you.

Storm: You read his mind to find that out?

Xavier: No, I found the pictures bookmarked on the computer in his room.

SCENE: A Cliff.

Storm: Hey.

Warren: Wow, I finally get some dialogue of more than like three words in a book that’s all about me.

Storm: We want you back.

Warren: So you can laugh at me some more?

Storm: We weren’t laughing. Well, Bobby was but we try to ignore him. All the girls think you’re gorgeous and want you to take them to heaven and back.

Warren: Okay. So I am going to have a lot of gorgeous and in the most case legal-age girls fighting over me…but people think I’m this thing I’m not.

Storm: So go show them what you are. Look, I write and nobody knows I write and nobody thinks of me as a writer, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a writer.

Warren: … what?

Storm: I don’t know. It’s news to me too, but it’s a lot more characterization than I got when Mark Millar was writing this book.

Warren: Well….I guess I can get all those nuts off the lawn, at least.

SCENE: The Xavier School For Mutants

Warren: I’m not an angel. I’m a mutant. I don’t have any message from any God, but I think that fighting over the whole thing is pretty silly and that we should all be good to each other despite our differences.

*crickets chirp*

SCENE: A Diner

Hank: (reading from newspaper) Angel Sightings are Mutant Hoax on Page One…. Dick Cheney’s Oil Company overcharging customers on page 20.

Shadowy Figure: Rather a mess, isn’t it?

Hank: Who are you?

Shadowy Figure: Darned if I know. Allow me to say something cryptic to lead into the next part of the story.

Wolverine: Hey! I didn’t show up once in this book! Call my agent!

Monday, December 15, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Holiday Hilarity!

We get a lot of thematically appropriate stories about the holidays this time of year. And I can remember quite a few good ones.

Take for instance the most recent JSA, where an old team member in a Santa suit kicks butt in a department store as some Grinches try to make off with a lot more than trees and tinsel. A sweet Christmas story on its own, it also brought back an oft forgotten and more often ignored hero of the Golden Age and assured them a permanent place in the book. It was a nice continuation of last month’s JLA/JSA Thanksgiving team-up story, which was one of the best bits of comedy written in recent memory.

Then there’s one of my favorite Green Lantern stories of all time. Printed in one of the DC Universe Holiday Specials, Kyle Rayner steps in to recover a gold Menorah stolen by neo-Nazis from a friend’s Synagogue. The story behind Chanukah is told, and how the festival memorializes the Miracle of the Oil in the Temple and how despite having only enough oil to last a day, the oil needed for the burning of candles as part of the Temple rededication ceremonies lasted for eight days. A similar miracle blesses Kyle, whose ring runs out of energy in the middle of the fight only to miraculous come up with a final burst of energy as defeat seems eminent.

And I shouldn’t have to mention Sandman #50 and the glorious story “Ramadan”. The single best-selling issue of the series and a fan-favorite, the story only briefly touches upon the significance and history of the month-long religious festival. It does detail the ceremonies and the traditional fasting from dawn to dusk quite well and makes for eerie reading some ten years hence as it details the squalor of modern Bagdad.

Yes, these are all good stories, representing the respective faiths well. And yet, the best Christmas comic story I have ever seen wasn’t in a comic; it was in a superheroic role-playing game that was run some years ago over a MUSH I played on.

The exact details escape my memory but one thing is clear; the whole thing was, in part, a rip-off of the infamous Lobo Paramilitary Special. Several of the city’s heroes (“The City” being a New York-esque big city where Marvel, DC and indeed nearly any comics universe heroes could be applied for and played.) were contacted by an elf, and told that the North Pole was currently under siege by the heavily armed forces of The Easter Bunny, who was out to bump off the more popular Herr Klaus.

What followed was a battle unlike any other, with my original character “Cavalier” fighting alongside some of the Gen-13 kids and Batman (yes, Batman) against a platoon of rabbits with rocket launchers; indeed, the most lethal bunch of bunnies this side of Sluggy Freelance or Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail”.

Indeed, the Knights of Ni made a quick appearance after The Easter Bunny began to use his powers to alter reality (Well, how ELSE could he get all those eggs around the world in one day?) and manifested a pair of knights to deal with Cavalier and Batman. As everyone became paralyzed by the shrieking of the word “Ni”, it was Batman who struggled to stand and slowly began to whisper and shout “Stop IT… Stop IT!” and set the Knights of Ni (who cannot stand the word “it”) to screaming in pain.

As everyone recovered, Cavalier was overheard to say “I never figured you for a Python fan.” Batman looked embarrassed for about one second before saying “Robin made me watch ‘The Holy Grail’ once,” and returning to his usual stone-faced self.

But it all ended happily, with the Easter Bunny caged and Santa granting one present to all the heroes who saved Christmas. Cavalier got an acceptance letter to the local Med School (his secret identity was an undergrad working towards a Doctorate)… and Batman got a small picture which nobody else saw, of a certain six-year old boy with his parents at Christmas.

I admit, this all sounds a bit silly and sappy. And it was. In fact, the story above is quite possibly the silliest story ever written and would certainly get black-stamped by the Batman editorial staff today, even ignoring all issues of copyright violation.

It is also, in spite of itself, one of the most fun times I have ever had playing an RPG and one of the most enjoyable Christmas memories I have. Indeed, it reminds me of a lesson that many comic creators today could stand to learn; that first and foremost, these stories are supposed to be fun.

Comics, like the holidays, are about enjoying the amazing in all aspects of life, be it plausible or fantastic… whether it is in mundane bits of amazement such as the smile of a kid or the spectacle of reindeer flying and an immortal old man bringing toys to all good children. And it is easy in these days of grim-and-gritty, gun-totting, vinyl-bodysuit wearing heroes to forget that wonder as some strive to make books more realistic and less fun. Much like many of us have forgotten the simple child-like joy that comes from seeing the miraculous in everything around us, like the first snow falling to the ground each winter or the sense of joy in running down the steps and seeing what the jolly fat man left for you in the middle of the night.

Here’s hoping that we all get a little more of that wonder in the next year, be it on the comics page or in our own lives.

Happy Holidays from everyone at 411 Comics!

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Wanted #1 - A Review

Written by: Mark Millar
Penciled by: J.G. Jones
Inked by: J. G. Jones
Colored by: Paul Mounts
Lettered by: Robin Sephar, Dennis Heisler and Mark Roslan
Editor: Jim McLauchlin
Publisher: Top Cow Comics


“Starman” Matt Morrison: Yeah?

Daron the Dark Overlord: Greetings minion!

Starman: Can this wait? I’m in the middle of fixing dinner…

Overlord: Nay, it cannot wait! Matters of great import await thee!

Starman: Will you can the “Thor” speak? You’re going to make my stromboli fall.

Overlord: Ah, but even the finest Italian good shall taste ill compared to the treat that is ready for you to sink your teeth into it…

Starman: Okay, this had better be about a comic review because otherwise, I’m going to have to ask for a credit card number…

Overlord: No! I want you to review the new Wanted book.

Starman: *long pause* I already reviewed it.

Overlord: What?

Starman: I got a preview copy at Wizard World. I reviews it in “Looking to the Stars” two weeks ago.

Overlord: Yes, but I want a proper review.

Starman: Proper review? Fine, it was REALLY mediocre.

Overlord: Look, I know you're still bitter about the Ultimates review last week and that Millar’s writing puts you on edge....

Starman: That wasn't me... that was Jesse Baker.

Overlord: Are you sure? It sounded like you.... blah blah blah... Millar sucks... blah blah blah.... who the hell is this man they call Hawkeye… blah blah blah… can’t stick to his own continuity…

Starman: I don’t care. I already wrote the review... I'm just going to link to the old one, okay?

Overlord: You can't do that!

Starman: Why not?

Overlord: Because it's lazy! It's hackish. You don't want people calling you a no talent hack who craps out reviews on a quota, do you?

Starman: People already say that.

Overlord: No they don't!

Starman: YOU say that!

Overlord: Yes, but its funny when I say it.

Starman: *long pause* Okay. I won’t link to it, but I will just reprint the text of the original review. Okay?

Overlord: Fine. And you will also review Ultimate X-Men #40 this week.

Starman: Fine! Long as I don’t have to do a retro review of that Youngblood book he just wrote. *shudders*

“Sex. Money. Super-Powers. Costume.”

(Now that we have your attention, please buy our book!)

The above quoted text does come directly from the cover of Wanted #1. Perhaps one of the most anticipated #1 titles of recent memories, this book boasts a dream team of Ultimates writer Mark Millar and Wonder Woman: The Hikketeia artist J. G. Jones.

The action centers on Wesley Gibson; a twenty-something Eminem look-alike, trapped in a dead-end job with a horrible “African-American” boss. (This fact is mentioned no less than three times and yet has no real barring on the story.) His girlfriend cheats on him constantly, his best friend is one of the cheatees and he has developed a case of hypochondria so severe his free time is entirely devoted towards researching whatever diseases he might be getting. All this changes after Wes is kidnapped by a gun-toting maniac, informed that the father who abandoned him is a super-villain and that he is now expected to fill the void that his recently assassinated daddy dearest has left.

There is much to admire in this book. Unfortunately, upon closer examination I find that everything admirable has been borrowed from something else. The general tone of the book, like much everything else Millar has written in the last year, is a faint attempt to recapture the magic of the final issues of The Authority with more curse-words and violence thrown in to replace the missing ingenuity and creative ideas. Wesley is, as a character, totally unsympathetic and in serious need of a kick in the ass to take some direction in his life instead of sitting around and moaning about it; a bit like Clerks, but without the humor. The appearance and modus operandi of Wes’s father “The Killer”, seems to have been lifted almost entirely from Alan Moore’s “Comedian”. And the whole idea of an organized super-villain syndicate working under the collective nose of society has been done to death and done better in Ed Brubaker’s “Sleeper” and Geoff Johns’ “The Flash”.

Thankfully, what this book lacks in originality and interest in the story department is almost made up for by the artist. Jones has a highly-detailed style, reminiscent of Bryan Hitch but much cleaner and less cluttered. I enjoyed his work on Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy and his work here is easily the equal of all his past works I;ve seen.

Sadly, the best thing about this book besides some pretty pictures is the preview of a new superhero comedy book on the last few pages called “Common Grounds”, about the donut shop where some of the heroes and villains break between gigs. While this kind of thing is quickly becoming overdone (Formerly Known as the Justice League, Capes, Heroes Anonymous and PS238 come to mind off the top of my head), this book looks promisingly amusing and the art by Dan Jurgens is suitably cartoonish.

Monday, December 8, 2003

Knights Of The Dinner Table Illustrated #29 - A Review

Written by: Mark Plemmons
Penciled and Plotted by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Inked by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Editors: Brian Jelke & Eric Engelhard
Publisher: Kenzer And Company

Scene: Exterior, Day. A high cliff, before a vast cave in the mountains. A party of adventurers find a caged-man outside the cave, screaming about the monsters inside the cave who will eat him if he is not let free. The party leader, a warrior of high virtue, asks the party rogue to silence the caged-man before their advantage of surprise is given away. The rogue smugly replies “Your wish is my consideration,” before breaking the lock of the cage with a skillfully thrown dagger. The man jumps from the cage, cheering at his new found freedom before sadly loosing his balance and rolling off the cliff-side with an “AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH!” The rogue, hands in his pockets, turns to the warrior and asks “Was that my fault?”

The scene above is taken from Where Shadows Fall #3; an officially endorsed Dungeons and Dragons comic released this week from Kenzer And Company, who in addition to making a number or role-playing modules and humorous games (they were responsible for the Monty Python card game “Taunt You A Second Time” a few years ago) publish the entire line of Knights of the Dinner Table comics. I make mention of this fact, because another comic they published this week was Knights of the Dinner Table Illustrated #29 and “Shadows”, despite being a serious story about adventurers trying to rescue a kidnapped woman who is not quite so unwitting a captive as her father thinks, has a lot more laughs than the comedic “Illustrated.”

The plot here is pretty dull stuff. The new Untouchable Trio Plus One (The Plus One in this case being the female warrior Thornia) has been separated, with Knuckles the Thief, Teflon Billy the Mage and Thornia going off into the mountains on a quest to recover the King’s stolen crown. El Ravager, the party muscle and heart, if not the brains (“Dude, where’s my sword?”) stays behind to act as personal bodyguard to the Princess Willow, after saving her from a gnoll attack; a task he must repeat as the issue opens. But things are, as always, not what they seem… and when the rest of the “Trio” find themselves trapped in a cave with trolls on one side, a poisonous fog on the other and lava very quickly surrounding them all, they can only conclude that they were sent into a trap.

I commented some months back about how this book had been taking a more serious turn and how a lot of the comedy was slowly disappearing from the book. I thought this had been corrected in recent months when, for the two issues following the show-stopping Issue #25, the book followed the exploits of The Black Hands.

The Black Hands are a slightly less-honorable group of adventurers than the usual heroes of the book; The Untouchable Trio Plus One. The Trio (Knuckles the Thief, Teflon Billy the Mage and El Ravager the Fighter) may be a group of uncouth morons who kill first and don’t bother to ask questions later but they do have a severe sense of loyalty to each other. The Black Hands, by contrast, hold loyalty only to their individual selves and see the rest of their party as one more sucker to fleece. Indeed, Issue #27 was purely about how Rasputin the Assassin kept finding reasons to kill the newest additions to the party and then loot the bodies for fun and profit.

Darn amusing stuff and all the more missed after reading this dull issue where the funniest scene involves El Ravager’s reasons for not drawing his sword while fighting the gnolls- he used his sword as a knife when preparing a jelly sandwich and didn’t clean it before sheathing the blade.

The art, by Brandon & Brian Fraim (who also plotted this issue in addition to doing the cover) is still up to the usual high standard. They have a sense of visual storytelling that is among the best in the business and a definite sense of motion to every panel. It only becomes dull when you read the dialogue.

Here Come The Big People #1 - A Review

Written by: Trace Beaulieu
Penciled by: Amanda Conner
Inked by: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colored by: Atomic Paintbrush
Lettered by: Richard Starkings & Koja Fuchs
Editors: Laurie Bradach
Publisher: Event Comics

Now and forever, my favorite TV show of all time is Mystery Science Theater 3000. I first got hooked on the show at the ripe young age of 12 and it was about this same time that I was discovering my own burgeoning ability to get people to laugh and found that my biggest laughs came from making fun of stupidity. And though the show was totally free of subtext, which was the big lesson of the show. Yes, there are stupid, evil and just plain wrong things in this world but the best way to fight the darkness is with a smile on your face, a laugh in your throat and a quick wit. “The devil cannot abide being mocked,” after all.

Still, much as I did love the show… it never did seem the same after Trace Beaulieu left. Bealieu did double duty on the show, portraying both the brilliant, if severely limited by vision and competence, evil mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and the wise-cracking, sarcastic aspiring-playwright Crow T. Robot. When Bealieu left after the end of show’s seventh season, it looked as if show was gone for good in the wake of impending cancellation by Comedy Central. The show was picked up at the last moment by the Sci-Fi channel, but Bealieu opted out of the show. A new actor was left to take on the voice of Crow and the evil-moving hosting duties were moved on to Dr. Forrester’s mother. It was in this time following his leaving the show, in the late-90’s just after the big Collectors Crash that sent the comics industry into an economic tailspin that we are still recovering from that Beaulieu wrote his first comic book.

“Here Come The Big People” has a sci-fi plot as outrageous as many of the clunkers that Bealieu’s alter-ego Crow merciless made fun of. The action centers on Austin Milcsop, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Steve Ditko’s Peter Parker. Milcsop has made gazillions off his greatest invention; an electronic personal assistant called “I’m Home” or “M.O.M.” for short. MOM is capable of cleaning a house, cooking dinner and running your bath after a long day at work… but it is somewhat lacking in personality. Hilarity ensues after Austin orders Patty, a programmer with a crush and a mad-on after being ignored for years, to give “MOM” a personality. As she works on a program, Austin’s “MOM” unit picks up on his desires and the two combine with a literal alien abduction to create a large-scale, living being capable of pampering a full-sized adult male. In short, “A Big Person.”

This is, in short, a silly story. Oh, we can try and be serious and talk about the Freudian subtext, Oedipal/Elektra complexes, arrested adolescence, the search for innocence and the desire to find child-like wonder in a harsh and cynical world where children grow-up far too fast and too many grown-ups are immature. But where is the fun in that when we can laugh at the image of businessmen being pushed around in strollers as they discuss a deal?

This image, along with a hundred other hilarious moments, is gloriously illustrated by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, who some of you just might have heard of. (I am, of course, joking and if you haven’t seen anything done by either of these artists, please click here and then e-mail me the address of the Internet-capable cave that you are living in; I’m in the market for a new apartment.) Conner’s cartoony style is perfect for displaying the sure unbridled ludicrousness of this situation and yet, makes it seem perfectly natural. Palimotti’s inks are subtler here than in many of his other works with Connor, particularly their gloriously dark Vampirella issues. Still, this fits the book perfectly as this is not a dark story by any means.

Sadly, this book is rather difficult to track down now, having a very small original print run and most of the few copies being snatched up either by dedicated MSTies or Conner/Palmiotti completeists. But fear not, gentles. Kindly old Uncle Stars has discovered that Mr. Beaulieu himself still has quite a few copies of the book and will gladly send you autographed copies of both covers for a nominal fee of $9.00. Just send a check made out to “Trace Beaulieu” to…

Trace Beaulieu
PO Box 931357
Los Angeles, CA 90093

Looking To The Stars: Gaming For Comic Geeks

With the holidays fast approaching, I’m sure that some of you out there are looking for gift ideas. Since I’m in a generous mood and there’s no major crises in the comic industry demanding sarcastic commentary this week, I’d like to take some time to tell you all about a game that has quickly become one of my favorites; HeroClix.

HeroClix is a miniatures-based combat game based upon our favorite comic book heroes. At present there are three versions of the game; Marvel, DC and Indy. Marvel and DC feature the heroes of their respective companies with Indy collecting a spattering of heroes from CrossGen, Top Cow, 2000 AD, Dark Horse and other companies outside of the big Two.

The game is played on a flat map, laid out on a square grid. There are a variety of locations; inside an office-building, inside a museum, a city park, a martial arts dojo. Indeed, a recent set introduced location maps based on specific locations such as the lawn of the X-Mansion, the JLA Watchtower, The Avenger’s mansion and the streets of Metropolis.

The game pieces are plastic, painted miniature figures, modeled off the many comic characters. Players form a team out of their own collection of game pieces, building to a specified point limit. 300 is the maximum amount of points in sanctioned tournaments, but it is not unheard of for larger teams to be used for the fun of it. Players get a number of actions per turn equal to 1 turn for every 100 points on their team.

Each character is worth a certain amount of points, based upon their level of experience and power. There are three levels of experience; Rookie, Experienced and Veteran, denoted by a yellow, blue or red circle on the base of the figure. The more experienced or powerful a character is, the more points they are worth. A veteran Superman, for example, is worth a considerable amount more than a rookie Metropolis Special Crimes Unit officer.

There are two other levels of experience; Unique and Limited Edition. Uniques are rare, hard to find figures that either depict an exceptionally powerful character (Martian Manhunter and Adam Warlock are uniques) or a regular character that is in a different costume than usual. There is a unique Spider-Man, for example, where he is in the black costume. Likewise, while the regular Professor X figure is depicted in an ordinary wheelchair, the Unique Professor X is shown in his hover-chair from the 90’s comics. These are marked with a silver circle around the base. Limited Edition figures, by contrast, have a gold circle around the base and can only be found by winning a sanctioned tournament. They look much the same as a regular figure, but have better statistics than even their Veteran counterparts and are marked with the secret identy of the character. The Limited Edition Green Arrow, for example, is named Oliver Queen.

This brings us to the question of statistics. All of a characters “stats” are written on the base of the figure. There are five statistics; speed, attack, defense, range and damage. Speed shows how many squares a character may move on one term. Range shows how far away a character may make an attack. Attack and Defense denote how well a character may, respectively, attack and defend themselves. Damage shows how much damage the character does upon making a successful attack.

A color code around each number is used to denote the various superpowers and abilities that each character has. Spider-Man, for example, has light blue on his Attack value. This represents the Incapacitate ability, in which a character makes an attack that does no damage to his opponent but does make them unable to move for one turn. Incapacitate is a general blanket for a variety of powers that can stop an opponent in their tracks, such as Spider-Man’s webbing or Black Canary’s sonic scream.

Some figures also have a team symbol, which gives them special abilities. JLA members, for instance, can move without it taking up one of the player’s action points on that turn. 2000 AD team members have the ability to chose another team as their “enemy” and get an attack bonus against any member of that team.

One thing that impresses me the most about HeroClix is how it was obviously created by fans of the comics and very well researched. The rookie and veteran Mangeto figures, for example, are members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But the experienced Magneto has the X-Men symbol, noting the time when Magneto took up the role of a teacher at Xavier’s school. Similarly, the rookie version of Rogue is a member of the Brotherhood but her experienced and veteran versions have the X-Men team ability.

All this is a bit dry, of course. To give you all an idea of the game play, here follows a quick textual description of a battle between two characters; a rookie Spider-Man and rookie Dr. Octopus. All the dice rolls of the game are made with a pair of six-sided dice.

The first step is to roll for initiation, to see who goes first. In this case, Spider-Man rolled a 7 while Doc Ock rolled a 5. Spider-Man gets to make the first move.

After checking to make sure that Doc is with his range of 4, Spidey rolls to make an Incapacitate attack. In comic book terms, Spidey is about to try and web down the Doctor, hoping to keep him pinned down long enough to get in a better attack.

Attacks are made by rolling the dice and adding the number rolled to the Attack stat of the attacker. This number is then compared to the Defense stat of the defender. If the attack total is equal to or higher than the Defense stat, it counts as a hit and the damage number of the attacker is consulted. The defending figure is then “clicked” to denote the damage done. Each figure has a dial on the bottom, which spins around, automatically lowering the statistics of the character as it takes damage.

In this case, Spidey rolled a 6, which is added to his Attack value of 10. This equals 16, which is higher than Doc Ock’s defense of 15. Instead of taking damage, Doctor Ock gets a note that he has one move action upon him.

In other words, the webbing connected and Doc is all tangled up and having trouble moving. Some of the webbing may even have hit his sunglasses, making it hard for him to see.

This might stop a lesser opponent… one who does not possess Doc Ock’s immense willpower. Indeed, Doc has an ability called Willpower (Purple on Defense). Willpower allows any character with it to “push” themselves without taking damage. Usually a character whom has just taken an action or has been incapacitated cannot move until their player’s next turn, without taking a “click” of damage for exerting themselves. A character with Willpower can take action in two consecutive turns, but cannot move for one turn immediately after.

In our comic scenario, Doc Ock strains his tentacles, trying not only to break the webbing’s hold on him, but to lash out at Spider-Man, who is within HIS attack range of 4 as well.

Doc Ock rolls double ones, or what is known as a Critical Failure. When a character rolls a Critical Failure, they take a click of damage; in effect, they hit themselves trying to make an attack.

So in our scenario, Doc is fighting blind and somehow knocks himself for a loop. This has stunned him for just long enough for Spider-Man to try and launch another attack, again from a safe distance.

Spidey rolls a 9, which added to his 10 Attack value gives him a total of 19. Spidey is on a roll and easily manages to get a blow in against the dazed Doctor and his decreased defense of 15. Checking Spidey’s damage rating (2 points) we click the Doctor’s base and find that he has lost his Willpower ability, having been angered by Spider-Man’s attack. He has, however, actually gained the Deflection power. Deflection gives a 2 point bonus to the defense of a character when they are attacked with a ranged attack. In effect, the Doctor has a collective defense of 15 against ranged attacks and a mere 13 defense against up-close fighting.

Imagine the tentacles breaking free, now whipping around the Doctor creating a buffer zone that no projectile can get through. Truly angered now, the Doctor launches another tentacle assault on Spider-Man.

Doc rolls an 8 which adds to his Attack Bonus of 7. Too bad for him that 15 isn’t quite enough to defeat Spider-Man’s defense of 16.

The good ol’ Spider-Agility is just enough to get Puny Parker out of the way of hurting. Knowing that he can’t keep wasting his webbing keeping Octavius pinned down, Spider-Man moves in to finish it.

Spider-Man moves the four squares between him and Octavius, ready to go toe-to-toe with one of his greatest enemies. Unless they have a power that allows it, such as Running Shot or Charge, a character cannot move and attack on the same turn. This gives Doc Ock a change to get a free shot at Spider-Man.

Doc Ock rolls a 5, which added to his Attack of 7 equals 12. Woefully inadequate to stop Spidey, who so far hasn’t taken one hit.

Dodging all way, Spidey manages to get right next to Doc Ock and readies a one-two punch to the glass jaw. He rolls a 7, which added to his Attack of 10 gives him a 17. Even if his Deflection power were active at close range, that still wouldn’t be enough to save Otto Octavius. The punch proves to be the last straw, as the second click of damage knocks him unconscious.

For more information on HeroClix, visit their website at

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.

Monday, December 1, 2003

Looking To The Stars: The Best Books In Life Are Free

What a difference it can make being a member of the free press! Or at the very least, a member of the staff of a highly respected (?) on-line periodical like 411 Mania. I was somewhat amazed at Wizard World when a number of the people I met and mentioned 411 to said that they had read the magazine. More impressively, nobody spat on me or called for security when I mentioned that I wrote for it.

Indeed, it was almost embarrassing how friendly some people became when I did mention that I wrote a regular column. Indeed, the amount of free swag I got threatened to overfill a backpack already packed to the brim with autographed books, action figures and various other sundries for the friends who couldn’t spare the cash to attend themselves.

Now, I am under no disillusions that all of these people were being nice to me purely for the sake of it. True, we do get quite a few of the “aww shucks”, Southern hospitality types down Texas way but you can also spot a phony a mile away. And it was pretty clear that a lot of the people throwing free comics my way were hoping for a quick, positive mention in my writing. Of course there is no such thing as bad publicity and even a negative review from a critic of note can attract attention. Last I checked, I had a number of people of people who were basing their reading lists entirely off “what that hack likes.” With that in mind, I present my quick thoughts on the three books that stuck most with me, good or ill.

Wanted #1

“Sex. Money. Super-Powers. Costume.”

(Now that we have your attention, please buy our book!)

The above quoted text does come directly from the cover of Wanted #1. Perhaps one of the most anticipated #1 titles of recent memories, this book boasts a dream team of Ultimates writer Mark Millar and Wonder Woman: The Hikketeia artist J. G. Jones.

The action centers on Wesley Gibson; a twenty-something Eminem look-alike, trapped in a dead-end job with a horrible “African-American” boss. (This fact is mentioned no less than three times and yet has no real barring on the story.) His girlfriend cheats on him constantly, his best friend is one of the cheatees and he has developed a case of hypochondria so severe his free time is entirely devoted towards researching whatever diseases he might be getting. All this changes after Wes is kidnapped by a gun-toting maniac, informed that the father who abandoned him is a super-villain and that he is now expected to fill the void that his recently assassinated daddy dearest has left.

There is much to admire in this book. Unfortunately, upon closer examination I find that everything admirable has been borrowed from something else. The general tone of the book, like much everything else Millar has written in the last year, is a faint attempt to recapture the magic of the final issues of The Authority with more curse-words and violence thrown in to replace the missing ingenuity and creative ideas. Wesley is, as a character, totally unsympathetic and in serious need of a kick in the ass to take some direction in his life instead of sitting around and moaning about it; a bit like Clerks, but without the humor. The appearance and modus operandi of Wes’s father “The Killer”, seems to have been lifted almost entirely from Alan Moore’s “Comedian”. And the whole idea of an organized super-villain syndicate working under the collective nose of society has been done to death and done better in Ed Brubaker’s “Sleeper” and Geoff Johns’ “The Flash”.

Thankfully, what this book lacks in originality and interest in the story department is almost made up for by the artist. Jones has a highly-detailed style, reminiscent of Bryan Hitch but much cleaner and less cluttered. I enjoyed his work on Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy and his work here is easily the equal of all his past works I;ve seen.

Sadly, the best thing about this book besides some pretty pictures is the preview of a new superhero comedy book on the last few pages called “Common Grounds”, about the donut shop where some of the heroes and villains break between gigs. While this kind of thing is quickly becoming overdone (Formerly Known as the Justice League, Capes, Heroes Anonymous and PS238 come to mind off the top of my head), this book looks promisingly amusing and the art by Dan Jurgens is suitably cartoonish.

Call this one 4.5 out of 10.0, and that’s mostly for the artwork.

Between The Cracks #1: The Bride

This book reads like a graduate film student’s final project movie and I mean that in a good way. Written and sketched by Harris O’Malley, the book’s art has a deep film noir feel to it without being overly shadowed or gothic. Indeed, the art is a perfect complement to the story which is a modern take on some of the more ghastly ideas of Shelly and Poe.

The plot is pretty simple stuff, but gripping nonetheless. We walk in on a lab as a scientist is just bringing a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster to life. No sooner does he get the chance to scream “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”, the cops are beating down the door and this unnamed undead woman is out on the streets left to fend for herself.

There is more to it than that, but I cannot say more without giving away the whole plot. I was delighted to find that this is in fact the first book of a four part series and I encourage all of you to join me in purchasing the rest of the series from Studio Underhill ( )

Call this one an 8.0 out of 10.0, for being too short by half.


This is quite possibly the damn silliest comic I’ve ever read. And bear in mind this is coming from a guy that owns every single Ambush Bug solo-title ever. Also bear in mind that the words “Damn silly” are high praise coming from yours truly.

Written and created by Drew Edwards, with a rotating roster of equally talented though visually different artists, this book is a treat on so many levels. If you are a fan of cheesy horror movies, Sam Raimi flicks, the old Ghostbusters cartoons or have not yet reached the point where you say “I don’t read comic books… I read graphic novels” whenever anyone asks about your reading habits, then you will love this book.

It’s a timeless story. Boy meets vampire. Boy is drained by vampire. Vampire is slain by good wizard. Good wizard invokes the powers of various horror filmmakers to bring Boy back to life. Boy awakens as intelligent, well-mannered (if still brain hungry) half-man/half-zombie. Boy keeps Girl, who sees his undead status as just one more thing to work through. Boy takes oath to protect his city from the dark forces that plague it as Halloween-Man. Same old stuff.

Edwards is obviously a fan of the Silver/Bronze Ages of comics when no gimmick was too silly and nothing too improbable. His comics utilize all types of humor from reference-heavy in-jokes (The President of the United States is modeled on Vincent Price) to simple sight gags (the Vampire wearing a “Give Blood” button), running all the way to clichĂ©-breaking (the discovery that said Slavic-accented vampire is actually a Texan by the name of Ronny MacGwire who had some identity issues), gamer-humor (Plus 2 Shovel of Butt-Whoopin’) and straight one-liners. (“Good bye, cruel world. My only regret is that I never got to have ugly monkey sex with Cindy Crawford.”) This is balanced by a heavy dose of action that allows this title to stand proudly stand alongside Keith Giffen’s JLA or Joe Kelly’s Deadpool.

As I said earlier, a variety of artists with differing styles worked on the compilation book I received, but all of them bring some good work to the project. Though is unfair to compare them to other artists, I must say that each artist did remind me of another favorite artist of mine. Jeff Wood has a spooky, sketchy style eerily like Steve Ditko’s early works on Amazing Spider-Man. Terry Parr’s work resembles John Romita Sr, having a similar clean and cartoony style but with a darker sensibility that bears just a hint of the old EC comics. Joe Singleton’s work maintains this gothic-edge, but looks closer to Mike Allred’s work on X-Statix than anything else I can put a name to. And the final story, illustrated by Kevin Atkinson is uniquely exaggerated in a way that I think only Kyle Baker could equal.

More information, as well as the latest strips, are at, along with plenty more “lame jokes, bloody death, and zombie romance”.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10.0, and that’s just because I can’t read the whole series for free on the website. Stupid starving artists and their instance that I pay for their work… *grumble grumble grumble*

I’m just kidding. It’s well worth it. Remember folks; the starving artist you help today will not be the guy spitting in your food at McDonald’s tomorrow.

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Birds of Prey - #61 - A Review

Written by: Gail Simone
Penciled by: Ed Benes
Inked by: Alex Lei
Colored by: Hi-Fi
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Lysa Hawkins
Publisher: DC Comics

The last time I reviewed Birds of Prey after the new team of Simone, Benes and Lei took over, I said “it is a bit early to say that this team can equal the book during its’ “salad days” when Dixon and Land were handling the writing and art. But based on what I’ve see here, I think Simone, Benes and Lai could surpass the golden boys by the end of this first arc.”

The first arc is over. The old team is surpassed. The Monarch is dead! Long Live The Monarch!

This is, in my estimation, the best book being published by anyone right now. It is, at the very least, the best book I am reading on a regular basis. (There! Are you “truth and accuracy” in the media people happy now?!?!)

The Writing

In the wake of the attack that has temporarily sidelined Black Canary, Oracle has “fired” her best friend, not wanting to risk losing her best friend in the battle against crime. Canary is rather justifiably upset by what she sees as a very hypocritical move by the wheelchair-bound Oracle
The two take a break to cool off the conversation and Canary is thrust into the wheelchair of command when Huntress needs help escaping from a car full of hired goons.

Simone is probably best known for her work as a humorist. Indeed, her “You’ll All Be Sorry” columns for Comic Book Resources are some of the finest bits of parody ever done in the genre. She’s also renowned for being able to write a damn good action scene. Her work on Agent X showed that she had an ability to balance both and indeed combine the elements of humor and action together.

Simone surpasses all her previous works, as this issue introduces more serious drama than any of her previous works or any past issue of Birds of Prey. Moreover, Simone is able to build on past stories and what is happening in other titles in a way that makes the story all the more involving. For example, her take on Nightwing reads better in three panels than the last five issues of Outsiders or indeed Nightwing’s own title.
Simone also has the characters down-pat. Black Canary, in particular, is getting some of the best treatment ever after years of mischaracterization or being regulated to a den-mother role. Consider her reaction in this issue to her firing. Rather than whine or complain, she decides “Okay. So Oracle thinks I need to be better? I’ll become better.” She immediately proceeds to call up other heroes and make appointments for some pointers.

This is the essence of Dinah Lance’s character and a trait that she and Barbara Gordon have in common. They are survivors. They do not give up. Heck, they both got into the heroism business partly to spite an authority figure who told them to quit.

And I don’t know if it was intentional or not but there is a scene here that contains echoes of “The Longbow Hunters” where Canary trains with Batgirl and is told that she does not have the eyes of a killer.

The Art

Benes and Lai were the perfect team to take over this book in the wake of their own firing from Supergirl. Lai in particular is a master of knowing when to shadow and when to leave the lines a bit lighter. The shadows move seamlessly across scenes ranging from the dark bowels of Arkham Asylum to the sunny balcony atop Oracle’s watchtower.

As for Benes, he draws what are easily the most realistic beautiful women in all of comicdom. The proportions are realistic; no overly huge chests on master acrobats or oversized Anime eyes. The tendency towards cheesecake I noted in the past issues (which I don’t think can be helped given the new Jim Lee designed Huntress Houchie-Momma costume) has all-but disappeared. And unlike some artists, he draws an attractive Oracle.

Now this is a small point, but I have noticed many past artists tended to “dress” Barbara Gordon like a librarian or make her look small and dumpy or hide her face behind a huge pair of glasses that dominated her face. Benes realizes that just because she has to use a wheelchair to get around does not mean that the former Batgirl is any less attractive physically. And he also manages to give different shapes to his character’s faces, so you could tell them apart even without the blond/brunette/redhead triumvirate formed by the team.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Daredevil #54 - A Review

Written by: David Mack
Penciled by: David Mack
Inked by: David Mack
Colored by: David Mack
Lettered by: Cory Petit
Editor: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Starman: Hey everyone! Welcome to our review of Daredevil #54. I’m excited to announce that this is the very first review I have ever done with a guest reviewer. And what a guest! We are proud to present everyone’s favorite X-Man… “Logan” aka The Wolverine.

Logan: Make this quick, bub. I gotta go pose for an Iron Man cover in a hour.

Starman: Of course. Now… is Logan okay?

Logan: Suits me.

Starman: Great. I understand you are actually in Daredevil #54?

Logan: Yep. I’m the best at what I do-

Starman: And what is that exactly?

Logan: Cameos.

Starman: Cameos?

Logan: Yep. Hardly a title Marvel published in the last year I haven’t been in.

Starman: Yes. I notice you haven’t been in “Trouble”.

Logan: Yeah, well they tried booking me for that, but I’m having creative differences with Mark Millar right now.

Starman: Anything you’d like to talk about?

Logan: (growls slightly)

Starman: Moving on, then. So, Logan… what exactly happens in this issue?

Logan: Not much to tell. I stumble across this Native-American woman in the forest. She tries to fight me. We stop. We start talking about vision quests and it ends as I’m getting ready to tell her a story about two dogs fighting.

Starman: A story about two dogs fighting?

Logan: I think there’s an Echo in here.

Starman: And there’s a joke in that line we aren’t going to touch. This story isn’t going to be the joke about the man named “One Man Bucket” is it?

Logan: What joke is that?

Starman: Well, I can’t repeat the whole thing here but it involves Native American twins, the older one being ashamed of his name and the younger one telling a visitor to the tribe “Two Dogs Fighting? No, he’d give ANYTHING to be called Two Dogs Fighting”

Logan: Oh. Yeah, that’s a good one.

Starman: Is that the story though?

Logan: No.

Starman: Oh, thank goodness. Getting back to this issue, now the action in the last few arcs has centered on Echo.

Logan: Nice girl. Good fighter. Dunno why she keeps getting called an Elektra rip-off.

Starman: So I expect there’s a lot of good action in this issue since we do have the two of you.

Logan: Oh, there’s some action… but you really can’t see it.

Starman: How do you mean?

Logan: Well, I’m a straight-forward man. Cut right to the point, some might say. But Mack’s artwork… it’s too fancy!

Starman: Well, it does look nice.

Logan: Won’t deny ya that but it’s a little confusing when it comes to the fight scenes. Everything’s all laid out like a board game or a kid’s drawing. Looks cool, but gives me a headache to follow. But the pencil sketches of me are good.

Starman: What do you think about the story? Now, I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I mean, we haven’t seen Echo in the title for a few years and this issue is giving us a chance to adjust her to the many changes in the book since then.

Logan: Yeah. Kingpin got his eyes back and is in jail. Murdock’s identity is kinda out there… but why is this in Daredevil?

Starman: Well, she got her start in Daredevil-

Logan: Has Daredevil been in this story yet? Has Kingpin?

Starman: Uh… yes. For a little bit in the first two parts.

Logan: And what’s happened since then? Last I heard Fisk was in the slammer and Murdock declared himself Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen.

Starman: Back in #50, yes.

Logan: Well, that’s a damn sight more interesting to me than reading about one of Matty’s ex’s trying to find a new purpose in life now that Hornhead’s got a new squeeze and Kingpin’s already been punished.

Starman: So you didn’t like this issue?

Logan: I like it for what it is. It’s a good story and the girl’s got bite to her, but… I dunno, couldn’t they give her a mini-series of her own? They give me one a month and I could use a break.

Starman: Half and half, huh?

Logan: Yep. Not bad. Not great.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Looking To The Stars: A Very Hurried Wizard World Report!

Wizard World has come to Texas. And what with the convention being in my backyard, not a scant dozen blocks or so from my place of employment, I’m sure you’d expect good ol’ Unca Stars to have been on hand for the whole thing, right?

Well, not quite. What with the convention being in our backyard we were expecting a whole lot of traffic over the weekend so we were informed months ago that nobody was getting any time off that weekend that they wouldn’t normally get. Luckily, what with me usually getting Sundays off, that left me with one day to try and squeeze in the entire convention experience.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of going to a convention, here are a few quick survival tips.

  1. Arrive early.

Often times, there are special events which require separate tickets than the ones you purchase to get in the door. In this case, there were a limited number of tickets for a special signing by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes that were quickly snatched up within minute of opening the gates to the teeming masses. Not only can arriving early help ensure that you get to see everything you want to see that day, but you also get to meet interesting people as you wait.

  1. Bring cash and a budget.

There’s going to be a lot of things you’re going to want to buy but only so much you can afford. My advice is to bring a set amount of cash that you are going to be set to spend for the whole trip. Not only does this allow you to better keep track of what you have left but it does help when you meet the dealers who don’t have credit card machines (yes, there actually are some left!) or have a fairly high minimum charge on dealing with credit transactions. In addition, there are some things you will have to pay up the nose for here… particularly food. Four dollars for a cheeseburger may be only slightly cheaper than the costs in leaving the Con and coming back if they do not allow in-and-out parking.

  1. Plan ahead.

The schedule for the Con is usually available on their website or at the door. If you have certain people you want to meet, it’s always a good idea to plot out where they will be and plan to be there accordingly in order to avoid the longer lines.

The morning had a shakey start. Yours truly was dressed in his Starman costume; in this case, the Jack Knight Starman with the custom painted leather jacket, tin badge and a pair of googles that I found after spending countless hours of searching military surplus stores to find the right model. Well, the strap on the goggles broke as I was waiting in line to get in. Luckily, I was able to improvise a fix using the strings on my backpack to make a new tie.

I spent a little under two hours waiting before the gates opened, fully ready to make the dash to the Wizard booth where the Kevin Smith signing tickets were being handed out. Thankfully, it turned out to be a less of a frenzy than I feared and I got one of the few tickets easily. With that first stressful challenge out of the way, I had some time to explore the floor before going to my first planned signing.

Since I was there anyway, I decided to take the challenge at the Wizard Booth. They were having a contest where you picked a category, answered a question relating to that category and then spun a wheel to win a prize if you got it right. If you got it wrong, you had to undergo a physical challenge (just like Double Dare!) in order to get a prize.

I won a free Rising Stars “Unmasked Patriot” action figure after answering a trivia question about Spider-Man. (Name three members of the original Sinister Six… a piece of cake for a Spider-Fan such as myself.)

The next two hours were devoted to autograph hunting. In no particular order, I secured the signatures of…

  • Kurt Busiek, whom signed my copy of JLA/Avengers #1 as I thanked him for bringing back Conan to comics.
  • Mart Nodell, who I thanked for creating one of my favorite superheroes of all time (That’s the Green Lantern for those of you unfamiliar with the creators of the Golden Age) and bought a painted mousepad from.
  • Aaron Williams, the writer and artist of the excellent PS238 and Nodwick comics, who signed my PS238 #1.
  • Paul Dini, who signed my precious first edition of “Batman: Mad Love” and said precious little though one of the Top Cow marketing people next to him seemed very eager to talk to me once he found out I wrote for a review magazine. He gave me a preview of the new Wanted book by Mark Millar, JG Jones and Paul Mounts (which will be reviewed as soon as I have time to sit down and read all the freebie promo books I got this weekend.)
  • Harris O’Malley, who gave me a copy of his book “Between The Cracks: The Bridge.” (Again, look for a review next week.)
  • Cal Slayton, artist on “Shades of Blue” who autographed two books for me, signed a book for my friend Tanner (who got me reading Shades of Blue in the first place and couldn’t make the con because of work) and even did a quick sketch of Unca Stars in his Starman costume.
  • Drew Edwards, creator and writer of Halloween-Man - the creepy, kooky, ooky on-line comic. (Again.. an in-depth review is forth-coming). Dave also gets points for being the first person to recognize my costume to my face.
  • Local horror-show hostess and vintage pin-up model, Jami Deadly
  • Spectactular Spider-Man Scribe, Paul Jenkins, who signed my #1 issue of that worthy comic as he ran his way up the line of people waiting for autographs at the Wizard Booth. It seems Mr. Jenkins flight got bumped up, so instead of having a leisurely two hours to sign autographs by his lonesome at the end of the Con, he was instead sharing an hour with Darick Robertson (artist on Wolverine) and the line was moving slower than a snail. The manic Mr. Jenkins began to move up the aisle, ask who was there to see him (a surprisingly small number, given that the Con’s free promo comic was one of his- an alternative cover to Wolverine: The End #1) and quickly polished off signatures for all his fans.

And then I went to The Event. The moment that a good deal many were there for and a moment that had a deep spiritual meaning for me; the Kevin Smith autograph session. I speak with no small sense of melodrama here, for I honestly do hold Kevin Smith as responsible for saving my life.

You see, once upon a time I toiled in a lousy job in a video store in a small town, taking abuse from small-minded, low-intellect locals who I knew I was smarter than. Still, I accepted this as something to be dealt with. And then I saw a little film called “Clerks” and I was inspired. I took to heart Randall’s words that you can’t let a job define your behavior or your life and that if you aren’t satisfied with your situation in life, you are under no obligation to tolerate things as they are.

Now, I have escaped from that small town. I am, for the most part, content with my life. I have good friends and a supportive family. I have a great job that could pay more but is not stressful and allows me time to continue my education. I don’t have a girlfriend but that owes more to my not having time to go looking around more than any inability to meet people. And Kevin Smith’s writing was no small part of that.

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to tell him that. I was too busy trying to remember if there was one “n” or two in the middle of the name of my friend Shannon, whom I was getting a book signed for as she was unable to make the convention on Sunday. But I have a book autographed by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, a photo of myself with the Cheech and Chong of my generation and a good story to tell every other Kevin Smith fanboy I the area.

So Kevin… on the odd chance you wind up reading this, thank you for showing me the truth of that saying “Sometimes we are the architects of our own jails,” and helping me to escape mine.

After that, there was precious little to do but wander around and shop. And that is when I made perhaps my greatest celebrity meeting that day, in terms of the person who has had the greatest impact upon the Comics-Reading world. As I was searching fruitlessly for a variant Starman figure (the one with the different color pants and a goatee), I heard the announcer’s call…

“George Perez and Kurt Busiek are now signing autographs in Room 9!”

My eyes widened. Zuzu’s pedals, I had forgotten that George Perez was still here for the Con today! I rushed to the room to find a very small crowd… barely a line. I hoped that everyone had gotten their signatures earlier in the week or that I had somehow beaten the rush because seeing so small a crowd for one of the most influential modern artists in the genre… the man who co-created the Teen Titans and drew JLA and Avengers for years upon years… well, it was a disturbing thing to think of.

Mr. Perez is widely said to be among the kindest of creators you can meet at a Con. It is a reputation that I found to be very well deserved. He was very gracious to every person coming through the line, answering questions and always smiling. He made me feel like I was the only person in the room as I told him about how I reviewed comics and gave him one of my business cards. And it just about made my day when he said “Oh, 411Mania? Yeah, I’ve seen it a few times.”

All in all, it was a most enjoyable afternoon. And as I write this now, I speculate that this may well have been the best twenty-four hours of my life. And this is even ignoring the fact that I met Kevin Bloody Smith!

You see, in addition to my writing for this magazine I am also part of a small independent acting troupe in Fort Worth. The Saturday evening before I went to Wizard World, my fellow actors surprised me by throwing an impromptu party in my honor at what I had been told was an emergency cast meeting. Instead, I found many of my dearest friends waiting with cards and gifts… all for a man they said did a lot of hard work for the group for very little acclaim.

To all of you, I say thank you. I would not be able to carry on without the support of all of you, my friends. And that is worth even more to me than any number of autographed comics. I love you all. Viva Los Bastardos!

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.