Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Wrestling And Comics - Oil and Water or Soup and Salad?

It’s funny. I’ve been writing for 411 Comics for about a month now, and I can still barely believe it. This may have something to do with the reaction I get from everyone I explain it to. Be it my close friends who want to know about “the new writing gig” or total strangers at the comic shop, who hear me talking about my latest review with the clerks and even my family, the reaction has been unanimous.

“You write about comics for a wrestling website?“

"Umm… yes.”

“What do comics have to do with wrestling?”

Well, I thought about it trying to come up with a good answer. And, I’d like to share my conclusions with all of you.

The first common factor is that both comics and wrestling both have large audiences made up of devoted fans who are largely mocked by the mainstream American culture. We both suffer from stereotypes.

- Wrestling fans are often depicted as fat, toothless drunken bumpkins with the collective IQ’s of warm mayonnaise.

- Comic fans are often depicted as fat, anti-social, trivia-obsessed geeks with low intelligence or too much intelligence to relate to “normal people”.

Now obviously there are some people who match these stereotypes. I’m sure there are a few stupid drunks who are a little too into professional wrestling just as there are some fans who are a bit like “The Comic Book Guy” from “The Simpsons”. And I’d like to state for the record I have never gotten a wheelbarrow full of tacos to watch a Dr. Who marathon. A large bucket, yes… but not a wheelbarrow.

Regardless of my sick dieting habits, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of fans are ordinary people. Ordinary people who just happen to own a Triple-H bobble-head or Batman coffee mug. Ordinary people who have an “Austin 3:16” bumper-sticker or Spider-Man floormats on their car. Ordinary people who occasionally get into arguments of “Who would win in a fight: The Rock or Andre the Giant, at his peak?” of “Who would win a fight: The Hulk or Green Lantern?”

(And for those of you who wish to know who’d win in a tag-team match between the four of them, don’t be silly. It would all depend on which Green Lantern we’re talking about here. )

Both hobbies are also all about action and larger-than-life battles between good and evil as played out by dynamic characters in colorful costumes, with spectacular personal gimmicks.

I mean look at your average wrestler and you see someone who could just as easily be a super hero. Big muscles, spandex and leather clothing and lots of attitude.

Snappy dialogue is a common factor too. From the Thing’s “It’s Clobbering Time!” to Randy Savage’s distinctive “Ooooh yeah!” the character’s personal catch-phrase is a staple of both hobbies.

And consider some of the names: The Undertaker; Daredevil; The Rock; The Warrior. Most would be hard pressed to tell you which was a superhero and which was a wrestler. And do you think it’s just a coincidence that both hobbies have major legendary figures, widely recognized by the public, who are both called “Hulk”?

In fact, one of the most famous super heroes of all time got his start as a wrestler: Old Peter Parker himself. In fact, I’ve read serious literary articles by Ph.D. candidates whom talked of the brilliance of Stan Lee in linking Spider-Man to wrestling. Because that link created one of the few logically-justified reason for a hero to create a costume for himself outside of the reasons of needing something to protect his identity. This paradigm has been so steadfast that in none of the retellings of the Spider-Man origin has the detail of Peter turning to wrestling before heroism ever been changed, though other little details have.

So maybe there’s nothing too weird about me writing about comics for a wrestling magazine. Besides, I figure that if I can get Michele, the Wonder Woman in my life, reading “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Queen of Wands" ( http://www.queenofwands.net ) and she can get me to watch Smackdown without cringing too badly at some of the over-acting… well, maybe there’s a hope that the rest of us can find peace between our two hobbies.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Fantastic Four #65: A Review

One of the reasons I love this book is that every issue so far has left me with one image that just reminded me of why I read comics: something either so amazing (or should I say, fantastic?) that it’s hard to picture it being duplicated in another medium.

I didn’t have to go past the first splash page to get that image this month. The Thing, standing in front of a cabinet with a giant roach staring back at him, munching on a bag of chips that it holds in one clawed hand. And poor Ben Grimm, who had just gone to get those chips… is facing off against this monster… with a dress shoe.

This is why I pick up the Fantastic Four. Mark Waid packs every issue with scenes that are completely and totally devoid of the ironic humor that so many super hero comics today are filled with, that mock the genre and the inherit silliness of people in tights running around fighting giant monsters.

Waid doesn’t mock that silliness. He revels in it. Of course it is ludicrous for a giant stone man to pick up a size-9 dress shoe as a weapon to fight a giant roach. But that’s your first natural reaction when you see a bug, right? Grab a shoe and squash it. Never mind that the person seeing the roach is a big stone giant or the roach is five and a half feet tall… it’s just natural, in spite of the sheer absurdity of the situation.

Of course there is more to the story than just the efforts of Ben Grimm to rid his home of extra-dimensional vermin. There’s a continuing plot from the last few issues, explained in what remains the best (and funniest) “Previously On…” page in all of comicdom.

If you’ve avoided the Fantastic Four because of the clichĂ© personalities of the characters (the humorless scientist, the big dumb guy, the cocky young hot-shot, etc), you should check out this issue and see how wrong you’ve been. The perceptions of these characters have never really been totally accurate, but in this issue you’ll see Reed Richards laughing at a silly voice, Ben Grimm figuring out some matter of weird science before Reed and Johnny Storm actually proving he can actually think on his feet.

I can’t say much about the artwork, except that it is exquisite. Mark Buckingham is a perfect match to Waid’s writing, taking the amazing elements of the story and presenting them in a remarkably natural way.

My one complaint about the book is that it never quite manages to top the image of a giant roach munching away contentedly on Cheese Poofs as Ben Grimm raises a shoe in defiance and thus, it can only go down from there. Still, it’s a worthy read.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Amazing Spider-Man #49: A Review

“Okay. I know you don’t want to hear this, but pay attention and deal with it, because this is important ... Who’s telling this story, me or you? I’m trying to explain that one way or another, whether it was intended or you backed into it, you’ve tapped into something old, something important...”

Usually, I get worried when the first thing in a story is the writer addressing the audience and telling us that we need to stop complaining about his work. That is what, in a not-too subtle way, J. Michael Straczynski does at the start of this issue. True, it is Ezekiel addressing Peter Parker about the aftermath of the last few issues… but it could just as easily be JMS addressing all the fans who are worried about that same aftermath.

Without giving too much away, Ezkiel is an 60-year old man who has the same powers as Peter and claims to have gotten them through a magical link to Anansi- an African tribal Spider-God and the very first Spider-Man. He says that Peter got his powers through this same link and that as a result, Peter is becoming a magnet for various magical predatory forces that seek out those with this bond to the Spider Totem. But the science-minded Peter is as reluctant to accept this as his just as science-minded fans. This has been a big controversy throughout the JMS run and I’m somewhat split in my feelings.

One the one hand, I’m a mythology geek who gets most of the references in your average Neil Gaiman story without running to panetheon.org. I can see how Peter is a good parallel to Anansi (a trickster who beat many stronger animals with his wits) and how drawing attention to the link between the common heroes of different cultures can be a fascinating intellectual study.

On the other hand, I’m enough of a classical Spider-Man purist to think that Stan Lee got things right the first time. So you don’t have to go messing around with the origins or the character concept just because you can, okay Babylon 5, boy?

Regardless, Peter soon finds himself heading back home to NYC after a trip to exotic climes. In the airport, he changes the flight and heads to Los Angeles, intent on finding his estranged wife Mary Jane and settling things, once and for all.

Just one problem: Mary Jane had the exact same idea and has just flown to New York City to find Peter and talk to him!

Yes, it’s romantic misunderstandings, the limbo of airplanes and lots of waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to come through the door that isn’t coming. You might think that this could get tedious really fast. It doesn’t. In fact, it is possibly the most romantic comic story I have ever read.

I know I’ve read a good story when I just have music pop into my head while reading it. All throughout this story, I kept having Bono in my ears singing “With Or Without You” as I read and reread this story. I also, for reasons I won’t explain, thought of Steve Martin’s unappreciated classic “L.A. Story”.

I could tell you a lot more about why this story touched me and why I can’t wait for Amazing Spider-Man #50 next month… but then I’d rob you of the experience of reading one of the best stories to come out this year. Perfect 10.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

The First Annual Starry Awards

The Golden Globes. Mr. Blackwell’s Best & Worst Dressed List. And now: The Starries. Because it’s just not the start of the new year without yammering about the best and worst of last year.

Welcome, dear reader, to what I hope will become a yearly staple of 411 Comics: The Starry Awards for Excellence and Disgrace in Comics Writing.

Now Stars, you might well ask… We have the Eisners. We have the Eagles. We even have (though I’m not sure why) the Wizard Awards. Why on Earth 2 does the comic industry need another award? Because those other fine awards aren’t based on my opinions as to what stories are good and which ones are not worth the trees that were killed to see them printed.

The Starries name ten stories in total. Stories, for the purpose of this award, can be single or multiple issues of one book or multiple books relating to one plot-line. The Starries are based solely upon the personal opinions of Matt “Starman” Morrison and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else.

Five Staries are awarded to stories which, more than any other stories this year, made me stand up and cheer, burst into tears or just stopped me in the middle of reading to say “This is damn good stuff.” Five Staries are awarded (if you can call it that) to stories that, for some reason, I found disappointing. Stories that left me feeling that a mark had been missed and missed badly. Some of them are stories that, in fact, I think are just plain terrible!

That said: Here are the winners and losers!

The Best of 2002

Best Moment All Year: The Restoration of Oa and the Guardians.

As told in Green Lantern #150 by Judd Winnick, Dale Eaglesham & Rodney Ramos and Legacy – The Last Will And Testament of Hal Jordan By Joe Kelly, Brent Anderson & Bill Sienkiewicz

Probably the biggest comic news story this year in terms of impact to the DC comics Universe, Winnick and Kelly both had ideas on how to bring back the Green Lantern Corps in some form or another. Working on their stories separately, the two learned of the other’s plans and agreed to write their stories to play off another.

Both stories were as different as brightest day and darkest night. One dealt with a young man given omnipotence trying to find the way to best use his new power. The other dealt with an older man fighting his own sense of powerlessness, seeking redemption for himself and for the greatest man he had ever known. But both these men would come to find something within themselves that let them prove to be the equal of any Green Lantern to come before as they each undid the mistakes of the past.

Funniest Read All Year: Understanding Gamers

As told in Dork Tower #18 by John Kovalic

A success as a straight comedic story, as a semi-serious guide to gamer culture and as a parody of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Dork Tower #18 had me laughing and crying. Laughing at such bits as the Gamer Type Identification Chart and crying as I saw myself in the “How To Date A Non-Gamer” section (I swear.. I only told her about my Morrowind character ONCE!). Don’t worry if you missed this book though. It will be coming out soon in an expanded Trade Paperback edition.

Best Team-Up: Green Arrow, Hawkgirl & Hawkman.

As told in Hawkman #5-6 by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Rags Morales & Michael Bair

They met again for the first time in years in Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow run, these two heroes. Both were recently returned from the dead, both are masters of archaic weapons and both needing only the drop of a feather-bedecked hat to start trying to kill each other.

Still, as good a job as Smith did, Robinson and Johns did him one better with a not-quite so acclaimed team-up story in the pages of Hawkman a few months later. Titled “Slings And Arrows”, the two-part story centered on a reluctant partnership between the Emerald Archer and the Feathered Fighter as they looked for a murderous archer.

But that’s just the plot: the real meat of this issue is watching two of the greatest heroes in the DC Universe grate on each other’s nerves as they try to do the right thing. And a round of applause for the oh-so-ironic scene where Oliver Queen tells off Carter Hall for chasing after a younger woman (Hawkgirl) for the same reasons that he once used to keep him away from a then-as-young Dinah Lance (Black Canary).

And for those of you who are wondering why I put Hawkgirl in this team-up when most of the story involves Carter and Ollie arguing… credit where credit is due. She’s in the background most of the story, but when she does show up she does most of the butt-kicking.

Best New Take On A Book That Needed A Make Over: Fantastic Four

As told in Fantastic Four #60-63 by Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo & Karl Kessel

I’ve never been a big fan of the Fantastic Four. I’d read it from time to time and always found the stories rather formulaic. Ben Grimm moans about his fate. Reed Richards is out of touch with reality as he builds gizmo after gizmo. Johnny Storm… well, you get the idea.

Still, because my comic shop was giving away free copies of Issue #60 to good customers like me and because I’ve always like Mark Waid’s work, I decided to give it a read before donating it to some needy youth.

Smart move on my part, because for some reason the book found it’s way on to my subscription list in just two issues. Maybe it’s because of Waid’s infusion of some much needed humor into the book. For instance, the lack of irony of some truly insane situations…like Reed Richard’s idea of a quiet Sunday Afternoon drive and a washing machine that has settings for Warm Cold, Cold Cold and Unstable Molecules. (“Honey, how do you get rid of Skrull blood stains?”) Maybe the characters seem more alive and less whiny or aloof than before. Maybe it was just the sheer coolness of seeing Reed Richards getting confused trying to play “Magic: The Gathering” with Franklin.

Whatever the reason, this book will be on my pull list for a long time.

Best Retelling of a Classic Tale: Spider-Man: Blue

As told in Spider-Man: Blue #1-5 by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

One of the prizes of my collection is the Essential Spider-Man Trade Paperbacks. Thanks to these five thick volumes, I’ve been able to read the entirety of Stan Lee’s legendary run on his most famous character for far less than the thousands it would take me to track down the original issues. I’ve also gotten to read nearly the entire life span of the girl whose death turned the comics world on its’ ear. I’m talking, of course, about Gwen Stacy.

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale created this story in order to retell the original issues where Peter and Gwen first started to fall in love. Why? Well, they both confessed that it was a labor of love. There was a time when the Gwen Verses Mary Jane debate was as highly contested and active as the eternal battle between Betty and Veronica, and Loeb and Sales both came down in the Gwen camp. And both were bothered that with all the hype over the upcoming Spider-Man movie and Peter’s romantic problems in the core Spider-Man books, that everybody was forgetting about Peter’s first love.

Now me, personally… I’ve always liked Mary Jane better. But me being a theater major and having a fondness for redheads, I’m willing to admit that I may be a bit biased. But I think it says something that reading this story, I’m starting to see the point of everyone I’ve ever heard say “Gwen and Peter were made for each other.”

Reading this story, the tragedy of Gwen’s death really hits you deep. Deeper than it has in the countless flashbacks of previous storylines over the last few years. Not that there’s anything wrong with referring to it: more than anything except than the murder of Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy’s death represents the reason why Peter Parker is Spider-Man. But too many writers fall into the trap of trying to make their own works seem important by drawing parallels between their work and the image of Gwen falling off a bridge. They tell us why the event shook Peter so badly. Here, without ever showing so much as a bridge wire, Loeb and Sale show us why Gwen’s death was so tragic by showing how wonderful her life was.

The Worst of 2002

Most Likely To Cause Continuity Robots Heads To Explode: The Archer’s Quest

As told in Green Arrow #16-20 by Brad Meltzer, Phil Hester, & Ande Parks.

Ollie Queen has always been one of my favorite heroes. And for the most part I’ve been digging the new Green Arrow book since issue #1. And I think that Meltzer has met the high standard of quality set by Kevin Smith and managed to up the ante on getting the book out on time.

That said, the die-hard fan in me is irked by a few small points in Meltzer’s “Archer’s Quest” storyline. Namely, the story centers around Oliver Queen and former sidekick Roy Harper traveling around the country, gathering up various relics from Ollie’s past with the excuse that Ollie is getting things that could reveal his secret identity to the world. Of course the story has been hinting at Ollie having some deeper purpose in mind than this… but even so, there is a tiny detail that should have had Roy Harper asking Ollie “Who are you and what have you done with my absent father figure?”

Now it could be that only Scott McCullar and I are the only ones on the planet who spotted this or indeed, care… but Oliver Queen’s secret identity is a non-issue. Even ignoring the now “out of time” stories from the Mike Grell’s Green Arrow stories that had Oliver Queen’s identity exposed to the world after being accused of treason by the first Bush administration, there’s a problem. It’s a matter of record that Oliver Queen’s identity was printed on the The Daily Planet’s front page after he died saving Metropolis.

So why is this an issue? Lots of old DC plot points are being ignored as part of an effort to make the stories more accessible to new readers. Well, I am well behind that idea. But there’s one little hitch: it’s something of a double standard to ignore such details in a story that is so heavily dependent upon other details of similar obscurity. Consider exhibits A and B: the special arrow and special ring that Oliver tracks down in issue #19.

I can’t even tell you what story the ring comes from, but the arrow is from an early issue of JLA. You can’t have it both ways.

The “What The Hell Just Happened?” Award: The Obsidian Age

As told in JLA #69-75 by Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, Yvel Guichet & Mark Propst.

Well, the title says it all. I tried to read this story. I got lost and put it on hold. I read the last issue to see the ending and was totally confused. I read the whole thing and was still confused. Can someone explain to me what the heck was going on in this thing without a flow chart?

The “I Waited For This?!?!” Award : The Ultimates

As told in The Ultimates #5-7 by Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary

I was a little late in getting into this book. Too bad it’s been just as late getting into my mailbox down at Ye Olde Comic Shoppe. But with a writer as proficient as Millar and an artist with the detail-oriented style of Hitch putting this book out every three months, I’d like to say the wait is always worth it.

I’d LIKE to say that…

Honestly, while I see The Ultimates as being a very technically proficient book, no comic depresses me so much when I read it. And until recently, I haven’t been able to put my finger on why. It’s because in their effort to recreate the success they had on The Authority, Millar and Hitch have turned The Avengers into The Authority. And that just doesn’t work on so many levels.

Sure, it’s funny to hear Hulk screaming about how he’s so horny for Betty and how he wants to kill Freddie Prinze Jr…and who doesn’t after “Scooby Doo”? And yes, Hawkeye does look so much “cooler” now in his new Matrix rip-off costume instead of the old purple H-cowl. But all they’ve done is put a dark black coat on a team that has always been a shining light of hope in the Marvel Universe.

All Millar has done with the stories is taken over 40 years of the angst that made up various Avengers plots and crammed the worst of it into seven issues. Wasp being a battered wife, Cap feeling out of place in modern times, Tony Starks alcholism and Mutants being snubbed from the team because of anti-Mutant feelings in the public: it’s all been done before. And all the references to using Giant Man’s head as a toilet or references to the Wasp’s disgusting personal habits won’t change the fact that this book is a pale imitation of both the A-teams it draws inspiration from.

Worst Retelling of a Classic Tale: Ultimate Daredevil/Elektra

As told in Ultimate Daredevil/Elektra #1-4 by Greg Rucka, Salvador Larroca & Dany Miki

Call me an old-fashioned traditionalist, but I expect certain things of my comics. I expect a monthly comic book to actually come out once a month. I expect a certain allegiance to past continuity, to the point where characters dead for more than three years are brought back with an explanation as to why they aren’t feeding worms somewhere. And I believe that if you put a character on the cover of a book, they should show up somewhere in the story. This is especially true in an origin story.

Explain to me then why Daredevil does not appear at any point in this story?

Okay. Matt Murdock is there. I will grant you that. And he does run around in all black and fight for justice. But if he ain’t in the tights, he ain’t Daredevil. In fact, Matt Murdock himself is barely in the story and we get no insight into Matt’s tragic past or how he was blinded. We don’t learn much about him except that he’s blind but still able to function normally despite it and is pretty good at kicking ass and taking names.

And I know that most of us out there DO know that, but I’m assuming for a moment that a book like this might attract someone who has never read a Daredevil story before. Too bad nobody at Marvel had the same thought…

The story would be more honestly titled Ultimate Elektra, since the action does center on My Big Phat Greek Assassin. Then again, if we didn’t put Daredevil on the cover with the artwork that has Elektra wearing something suspiciously like the Elektra movie costume…and if we didn’t say the name Daredevil (which is nowhere in the story, I might add), what would happen? Well, then we might not be able to pawn this off on the poor rubes that will wander into the comic shops and bookstores after the Daredevil movie comes out.

Ignoring the reek of cheap commercialism, I have a question. Is it just me, or does it seem like the supporting cast of this book was rolled out of a Multi-Cultural Sitcom Cast Generator? It’s almost like Greg Rucka had a check list…

Tough as nails Greek chick from Brooklyn ? Check.

Add One Blind Guy from Hells Kitchen. Check.

Add One Fat, clumsy guy for Comic Relief. Check.

African American musician from Texas? Check.

Sweet country girl, new to the big city? Check.

Rich jerk who thinks he owns the world? Check.

Throw in a Irish punk with poor hygiene and a Cuban fitness model and you have a pretty good cast for “The Real World”. Throw them into this story and it’s just a mess.

The Worst Comic Of the Year Award : Spider-Man: Get Kraven!

As told in Spider-Man:Get Kraven #1-6 by Ron Zimmerman, John McCrea & Garry Leach

I know I’m far from the first person to talk about this story being horrible. I doubt I’ll be the last. There are no words to describe everything that went wrong with this story, from the planning phase up until the final product got put on the shelf.

Still, what makes me say that it’s the worst comic to come out all year?

Is it because I despise Ron Zimmerman, who has not written a single good Spider-Man story to date? A man who’s most distinguished writing endeavor to date is a story that involved Spider-Man and Jay Leno fighting ninjas… and Spidey crying like a baby on the back of a Motorcycle? No.

Is it because the entire plot of this story involved Zimmerman’s retconned-the-heck version of Kraven the 2nd wanting to get into the movie business and teaching us the lesson that “Most people in Hollywood are phonies”? No.

Is it because of the blatant name dropping of celebrities we could care less about? No. And on a side note, I’d honestly be amazed if Scott Baio had enough money to have his own beach house anytime after 1989.

Is it because it violated my rule about a story actually involving a character whose name is in the title? No, that’s not it. But Spidey is only in two issues of this miniseries. And he only shows up in the last one after Kraven calls him to ask for back-up in a fight.

Oh yeah… Kraven apparently knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker now. But that’s a side note. Not a reason why this is the worst story ever.

Is it because it started out as a light comedy with no jokes and turned into a revenge tale of a man going to hurt the men who raped his girlfriend and killed his dog in the penultimate chapter? No.

Is it because of the references to castrating thugs, cutting tounges out and the fact that Peter Parker willingly allies himself with a guy who uses has The Vulture as a flunkie?

Not even that.

No. It’s because of ALL of that and more.

So please, please Joe Quesada… stop Ron Zimmerman before he writes again. Think of the children! And if you won’t think of them, think of me. I don’t think I can take one more story where wanted super villains sit around a bar in costume and nothing happens!

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Ultimate Spider-Man #35: A Review

Let’s get this out of the way first. I don’t like Venom.

I have yet to see any good stories done with the character since Amazing Spider-Man 300. I think that half the problems with the Spider-Man books throughout the 90’s can be pinned on the symbiotes and everyone who ever tried to sell the idea that a psychotic Spider-Man who killed bad guys was cool needs to be beaten about the head with a herring.

I should be worried. I really should. My amazing Spidey-Fan Senses started tingling the minute I heard them say they were going to bring Venom into the Ultimate Universe. Because I LOATHE Venom.

And yet, I liked this issue. And I still love this book.

In case you missed it the first few times I whined about it in this article, yes, this issue does deal with slowly bringing Venom into the Ultimate Spider-Man universe. This may be a bit of a spoiler, but Marvel isn’t bothering to keep it a secret.

In fact, they’ve gone so far as to put Venom on all the covers of the book since the start of the current story arc, so I don’t see any way I can hide that little secret from you all.

Besides, this is a magic show story. We all know that the magician is going to escape from the trap unscathed. We just watch the show to see how he’s going to do it. In the same sense, we know that Venom is going to be created through this story. We’re just reading to find out how. And that much, I can protect you from, as far as spoilers go.

Thankfully, Bendis’ writing is as sharp as ever and there is a lot more reason to read this issue besides watching the creation of a new Spidey villain.

The issue centers around Peter discovering the benefits of his new costume as he takes a spin around New York, doing whatever a spider can. This includes a humorously brief encounter with an old villain, who Peter had no troubles with even without a suit that makes it’s own webbing and a rescue mention involving a pop star who IS DEFINITELY NOT BASED ON ANYONE FAMOUS and please do not sue us, thank you very much!

Mark Bagley’s art matches the writing and is, as always, excellent. There is a sense of motion to all Bagley’s work, so even the most static of situation always seems to have a certain life and energy to it.

My one complaint about the story (aside from my personal dread about the end that we know is coming) is that there almost seems to be TOO much rush to reach the end. The story starts out with Peter reveling in his new powers, and by the end he has more than an inkling that there’s something not quite right about his new suit. It just seems like there’s so much of a push to get to from point A to point B, that the journey isn’t being savored.

If you aren’t reading this book by now, there’s probably not much I can say to convince you otherwise. But you’ll be hard pressed to find better stories about a teenager trying to balance superheroics, a job, school and a love life anywhere else in the industry today.

Green Lantern #158: A Review

Those who haven’t read Green Lantern in a while might pick up this issue and have one question: What the Holy Hannah happened while I was away?

There have been a lot of changes in the status quo lately. There’s the resurrection of the planet Oa, for one. And John Stewart became a Green Lantern again while Kyle Rayner flew off into space to protect alien worlds, with girlfriend Jenny-Lynn Hayden in tow.

Thankfully Judd Winick explains all this and more within the first few pages, making this a good issue for first-time readers or old fans who haven’t picked up Green Lantern in a while. In fact, old time Green Lantern fans will probably enjoy this story more than most, since it addresses many of the complaints some have had with Green Lantern since the death of Hal Jordan.

More than any other DC Series, Green Lantern has always been a space opera. Many, if not most, of the Hal Jordan GL stories involved Hal flying off to exotic worlds to fight horrible monsters or alien despots. This month’s Green Lantern is a story very much in that tradition, with Green Lantern and Jade journeying to another world to fight a vague menace threatening an amazing civilization.

This story may also remind some of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories of the early 70′s. Without giving too much away, a moral conundrum does arise and our heroes find themselves arguing moral logistics, though not quite as heavily as ex-hippie Ollie Queen.

Winick’s dialogue shines, with even the most minor of characters sparkling with distinct personality. If only Eaglesham’s artwork were as proficient. While the art is distinct, and Eaglesham does provide great detail to the aliens, but with backgrounds and (even more importantly) the ring projections, he does lack something as a visual storyteller.

There are some occasions, mostly during the fight scenes, where he does not show the character that is speaking in the panel. This causes some confusion, and while Winnick does usually make each character’s speech distinct, some lines can be confusing to match up. I’m still unclear who delivers the line "Damn, they’re a lot stronger than I thought," on page 11.

Still, despite the flow of the artwork being a bit rocky, I enjoyed this story. As one of the few who seems to enjoy old-school Green Lantern along with the entirety of the Ron Marz run, I’d like to deliver a message to everyone who has been avoiding the title for one reason or another.

Come back. It’s okay. Kyle is fighting aliens and the crab mask is gone. There’s not a bit of angst or coffee drinking at all! Just big alien monsters and butt kicking.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Daredevil #41: A Review

Reading Brian Michael Bendis’ take on Daredevil is a bit like riding a roller coaster while (and please forgive the comparison and potential bad pun) blindfolded. You sense that you are moving towards something but you can’t see where you are going. Still, the ride is a thrill and you enjoy the whole thing though you may find yourself disappointed at the end.

Oddly enough, disappointment came to me at the beginning of this story. Those ofyou who have read my most recent Looking To The Stars (And if you haven’t, why not? Go read it now!), know that the most recent story arc of Daredevil was a big disappointment to me. And my hopes that certain things I found unresolved are not resolved in this issue. Hell, they aren’t even mentioned on the Previously, on Daredevil page!

Still, this story was a remarkable improvement over the last arc, both in the lightening of its’ tone and in the substance of the plot. There is a greater humor to the story with a funny scene between Matt Murdock and long-time enemy and fashion victim Stilt-Man and instead of generic thugs and gangsters, old-time supervillian/mob boss The Owl returns to make things interesting in the underworld of New York.

There was even, almost as if in response to my complaints about a lack of costumed action in the last few issues, a six-page scene of Daredevil saving a blind woman from being hit by a truck. I can’t help but wonder if this is a tribute or perhaps a sign of going back to basics.

Regular artist Alex Maleev returns as of this issue and the book is much the better for it. While I actually prefer the style of Terry and Rachel Dodson, who penciled and inked the last issue, I cannot deny that Maleev’s sketchy and more detail-oriented style fits the character better. The backgrounds in particular are well rendered, with dark alleys looking especially dark and the steel and brick buildings of Hell’s Kitchen looking appropriately dirty and foreboding.

Still, I do have one quibble with the story. Now, I know that strict adherence to past continuity is now pretty much optional at Marvel. And I think for the most part, this has only helped most of the books. Yet I can’t help but wonder what the Owl is doing running a syndicate when the last time I checked he was dead as of the events of Daredevil/Spider-Man mini-series from a year or two ago.

Overall, nothing much really stands out about this issue. It’s the start of the roller coaster. We’re moving toward something, but I have no idea what. Still, I’ll be back next month to find out, and if Bendis and Maleev can do that, then I guess they are doing their jobs. I’d like to recommend that you join me on the ride too. It’s cheap: just a quarter this month!

Monday, January 13, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Devil In The Darkness (Or Why Brian Michael Bendis REALLY Doesn't Get Daredevil)

SPOILERS WARNING! The following article gives many details about the general history of Daredevil and the runs of Frank Miller, Kevin Smith & Brian Michael Bendis in specific. Read no further if, by some chance, you have not read any of these stories, but plan to after you move out of the cave you’ve been living in.

Most of us have had it happen: our favorite writer or artist announced they needed a change of pace and new management was taking over your favorite book. And the new team set about systematically tearing apart everything you loved about the book.

Maybe the art was now too focused upon cheesecake poses. Maybe all the subplots you had been following for years were now being ignored in favor of whole new subplots. Maybe your favorite character was booted off the team for being “useless” (according to the new creative staff, anyway) and would spend the next five years in comics limbo making occasional appearances in the big crossovers before being killed off in a footnote. I don’t need to name names. You know whom I’m talking about!

My point is that a new writer can completely and totally change the general tone and direction of a book. And few characters have suffered so many drastic changes in the general tone as the soon-to-be, big-screen star… Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil: The Man Without Fear!

Now I’m going to let all you kids in on a little secret. See, a lot of you… all you know of Daredevil was written in the last three years or so. And all of those were very adult stories for big boys and girls to read. So you know I’m only telling you this because you’re big enough to handle it… ready? Okay…

Back when he was first created by Stan Lee, Daredevil was a silly book. A REALLY silly book. In fact, it was one of the few super hero books being published by Marvel back then that made it look like being a costumed vigilante was kind of fun!

Yes, back in the days of high angst “I’m so hideous I can only be called a Thing! , I can’t get the money to pay for Aunt May’s new hip” stories, a blind-man put on a silly costume and in the first ten issues of his solo adventures, fought against such dread evils as…

· The Owl: a fat mutant with a bad haircut and “gliding powers”

· The Purple Man: a lavender-skinned telepath, who was instantly likable.

· The Matador: a masked robber who confused his enemies with his cape (not a Hypno-cape mind you… an ordinary cape… a freaking ordinary cape)

· The Stilt-Man: ‘Nuff Said

· The Eel, who had a special suit that kept him from being held (ooh… someone has intimacy issues)

In all fairness, he faced down Electro and The Sub Mariner too, but most of the early Daredevil rogues gallery was definite Z-list material and quite quite silly. And things stayed that way for the most part through a succession of writers for a number of years… until an artist turned writer would come along and change the tone of Daredevil to something darker. The man who was “grim-n-gritty” before the term was ever coined: Frank Miller.

Now, Miller has taken a lot of flack in the past for being partly responsible for the beginning of the Dark Age of comics. And it cannot be denied that his work on Daredevil was an influence upon later writers and unlike anything that had come before or since, despite a host of imitators. But say what you will about Miller’s writing… everything he wrote had something at the core. A special something that most of the writers of the Dark Age forgot.


Hope is the central theme of all true superheroic tales. Without the hope that good will win out, that evil will ultimately be punished and that no matter what bad things happen some greater good will come of it, there is no heroism to the tale. A hero must have the hope of triumph. A hero may taste defeat. In fact, it makes their victories all the sweeter later if they do. But the hope that they can win must be there.

Miller understood this and no matter how much blood, tears and tragedy went into a story there was always a hope that somehow Matt Murdock would persevere and come out on top. Consider how in his two stints on Daredevil…

· Matt lost college-sweetheart turned assassin, Elektra, to the hands of costumed sociopath, Bullseye. Evil ninja clan, The Hand, immediately set about bringing Elektra back as their mindless immortal slave.

· Matt wound up dropping Bullseye off the edge of a roof in revenge.

· Matt’s ex-girlfriend Karen Page was revealed to have become a heroin addict and a porn star and sold out his secret identity for a fix.

· Crime-boss Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin) found out said secret identity and set about ruining Matt’s life by framing him for corruption in his job as a lawyer, costing him his law license, beating him senseless in a one-on-one fight and then arranging a gruesome death and a frame for murder.

Pretty mature stuff, eh? And yet despite all this death, all the bad things that happened…

· Matt somehow managed to bring Elektra back from the dead and purified her tainted soul through pure blind hope and faith.

· Daredevil visited an in-traction Bullseye in the hospital and proved, through a game of Russian Roulette, that he would not kill Bullseye and sink to his level.

· Karen cleaned herself up and patched things up with Matt.

· Matt was able to escape from the Kingpin’s deathtrap and after a few weeks of hiding and running warfare, he was able to expose Wilson Fisk’s illegal activities. Although The Kingpin escaped a prison sentence, Matt did cripple Fisk’s businesses and ruined his false image of a legitimate businessman. Matt also eventually regained everything he had lost.

For the most part, this tone held out through the rest of the First Series of Daredevil. Some writers leaned more towards the more carefree tone of the early books but most opted for darker stories that involved serial killers or drug dealers. Of course Frank Miller had dealt with these subjects before but very few of these stories approached the higher standard he set.

And then in the late 90’s, as Daredevil was started over in a Second Series, someone came closer than ever to stealing the throne. Kevin Smith, an independent film director, cut his teeth on comics for the first with an eight-part story called “Guardian Devil”. And what a story!

Smith built upon the characters and mythology created by Miller and kicked the darkness up a notch. In a scant eight issues, readers were treated to a nursery full of mysteriously killed babies, a church full of dead nuns, the possibility that Matt might have gotten AIDS, babies thrown off roofs (years before Michael Jackson’s attempts), Matt Murdock contemplating suicide and Daredevil savagely turning on Black Widow and breaking her wrist. And we can’t forget the death of Karen Page and the suicide of Mysterio, can we?

And yet despite this story- an even mix of Miller plotting and Dark Age style, Smith got it: a superhero story must have hope at the core. In fact, I have to credit Smith with phrasing my point in this little writing exercise perfectly. In the final issue, a depressed Daredevil pours his heart out to Spider-Man as they two discuss the deaths of everyone close to them because of their lives as heroes… and Daredevil asks for one good thing that had come of the entire mess. And Spider-Man says, quite simply “You SAVED that baby girl’s life, Matt. Think about it.”

Matt does think about it and in the rest of the story he looks for what he has to be thankful for. He loses a girlfriend but regains his independent law practice, thanks to her generous life insurance policy. He finds his long-lost mother and makes peace with her as a result of what has happened. And he finds a peace and new resolve to keep going forward in life despite all the bad things that have happened.

What concerns me, though, is that Brian Michael Bendis does not seem to understand this need. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed Bendis’ work on Daredevil very much. But what he is writing, in my estimation, are “Law and Order” and “The Sopranos” episodes that occasionally feature a superhero. Why not paraphrase the very helpful summary that precedes each Daredevil issue now? (And much thanks to whoever brought back the “Previously Page”)…

Mr. Silke was a new member of the Kingpin’s crew. When his coup attempt against the Kingpin failed, he turned himself into the FBI. His wife, Vanessa Fisk, hunted down and killed his attempted assassins and set about dismantling his criminal empire. When the FBI refuse Silke’s request for protection he gives them the one piece of information the Kingpin had that he thinks will save him: That Matt Murdock is Daredevil.

The FBI decide not to follow up on the lead, but an agent with marital and financial troubles leaks the story in exchange for a hefty fee. On the next day, the cover of tabloid The Globe screams “Blind Attorney is Daredevil!” With his secret out, Matt files a 400 million dollar lawsuit against the Globe. Mr. Rosenthal, the owner of the paper, vows to go the distance because he knows the story to be true.

You could change Daredevil to almost any other nasty secret and this story could still work. (Blind Lawyer is Shoe-Fetishist!) In fact, a quarter of the issues Bendis has written (from 26 to the present 40) do not have Matt Murdock in costume at any point in the story and another quarter only have him in costume briefly (5 pages or less). And while I have to admit this saga has held my interest, it’s just not a superhero story!

But up until recently, the story still had the core of hope in it that things would ultimately work out. No more, I am sad to say, is this true with the conclusion of the untitled three-part story arc that ran from Daredevil 38-40.

In a bit of a side-track from Matt’s legal woes, we find out that long-retired, street-level vigilante The White Tiger was arrested on charges of murder. He was found clutching a TV and standing over the body of a dead officer, who had radioed for back-up as he was trying to stop a pawn shop robbery and was shot with his own gun.

Matt is reluctant to take the case, thinking that his involvement in anything involving superheroes at this point would taint the case and make his own lawsuit against The Globe more difficult. Still, after some heavy prodding from Luke Cage, he agrees.

The case against White Tiger is mostly circumstantial. There is no physical evidence that he fired the murder weapon and nothing that contradicts his own story that he arrived after the officer had been shot by two gang members. But the DA has his eyes on the Mayor’s office and is looking to ride the anti-vigilante feeling in the public there with a win on this case.

So the prosecution’s entire case hinges his painting a portrait of the White Tiger as a failure as a husband and provider, who turned to crime and murder in a desperate attempt to keep his wife from leaving. Matt, in turn, has to focus his efforts on keeping her from leaving him in the middle of the trial (he had promised her that he would give up heroism) and on emphasizing the lack of physical evidence like the lack of powder burns on a pure-white costume.

What we get in issue 39 is a look at how a murder trial might actually work in a world where guns can be fired telekinetically and where an expert on magical artifacts would not only be taken seriously but routinely consulted by the police. And in a treat for cameo fans everywhere, Reed Ricards, Dr. Strange, Luke Cage and Danny Rand and others take the stand as (respectively) an expert on superhero psychology, an expert on magical amulets and character witnesses.

Still things go badly when the White Tiger loses control on the stand under the DA’s brutal questioning and as issue 40 begins, we find Matt listening in on the jury deliberations. He finds that most of the jury is ignoring the evidence. He concludes that some of them are convicting The White Tiger to get at him, who should have been brought down in disgrace because of the scandal with The Globe.

It goes even worse at the sentencing when after being found guilty a panicked White Tiger fights the bailiffs, grabs a gun and flees the scene. He is gunned down on the courthouse steps, just as it appears he was about to drop the gun and give up. But in the commotion, Matt notices a hooded young man sitting in the courtroom who is not running away.

Following him, and appearing as Daredevil, Matt’s hunch proves correct: the young man is one of the two robbers but not the one who fired the gun. The two fled to Chicago, at the bullying instance of the killer, who later died of a drug overdose. The second robber returned, planning to clear White Tiger but turning chicken when he got to the courthouse. The issue ends with the young man turning himself in.

There is no justice here, no silver lining to the cloud. An obviously corrupt district attorney unjustly prosecutes a good man, who’s only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He dies needlessly, his true killer escaping true justice through his own death. And the only person left for justice to be served on is a scared teenager who didn’t kill anyone, didn’t want to kill anyone and who’s only real crime was wanting to steal a copy of Grand Theft Auto 3. (Oh, the irony!)

The only possible bright side to any of this, is that we are informed through a news broadcast that many now doubt Matt Murdock is Daredevil because of his taking this case. The logic here being that if Matt were Daredevil, he wouldn’t be associating with superheroes and risking raising such suspicions.

If that’s the case, and this entire three-issue digression was just to put Matt in a better position for the coming legal battle with The Globe, then all I can say is that this is very sad. To kill off a character for so weak an advantage as this, even a long-forgotten never-was like the White Tiger is just plain wrong. And Brian Michael Bendis should know better. Because while the hope may still be there for Matt Murdock, Hector Ayala has none left… and never really did when this story first started.

But that is where things stand now. I hope, in the next issue, that there is something more that may yet turn the tragedy of The White Tiger into a triumph.