Monday, February 24, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Once In A While...

Okay. Let’s just get it over with… you may want to sit down. Even though the little teaser link leading here may have suggested what I’m about to do, it still may not prepare you for the shock.


I might have been a little harsh on the Daredevil movie last week.

Okay, okay. No need to rub it in.

I got some letters over the last week from various readers who said that they enjoyed the movie. Some of them had no familiarity with Daredevil at all and some knew the basics of the characters. In short, none of them had my geeky level of experience with Daredevil. But all of them said they liked reading the perspective of someone who was a fan who would nitpick over the little details. Well, thank you all for that.

But over the last week, as I talked with people about the movie, I came to a conclusion. I was so shocked and jarred by the idea of Daredevil killing that it colored my opinions of everything that came after that scene. So I thought… what if? What if…

(Insert Pretty Artistic Parody of “What If” Cover Graphic Here)

(What? What do you mean we don’t have an artist who could… *sighs* )

What if Matt had gone to the bathroom and missed that scene?

On reflection, if I ignore that scene, the movie did get most everything right. And reading Ben Morse’s review of the movie, I find that we both agreed on most of the points I made. Good (all the performances are good for what they are given) and bad (weak script, tries to do too much, go read the article for the rest…). And while the man at the beginning is most assuredly not the Daredevil from the comics, he is by the end of the movie.

So all in all, let’s give it a 7 out of 10 stars now that my Fanboy Rage has calmed itself.

Now hold on to your seats a while longer folks, because it’s about to happen again.

You see, I got another letter two weeks ago from a reader who wondered why I thought Judd Winnick was doing a good job on Green Lantern. Well, I explained how I thought he had brought life into the book after what was quickly becoming a stagnant run for Ron Marz. I explained how I felt he had developed Kyle Rayner into a more confident and competent hero, while fixing some of the more complicated subplots that were left unresolved when Ron Marz left the book. I also mentioned how I liked how the book was returning to the more Silver Age/Space action roots and how the Guardians and the concept of a Corps of Green Lanterns was slowly being phased into the book.

Well, this reader responded back with his own list of the problems he (a big fan of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner) had with Winnick’s run on Green Lantern. And you know what? I agreed with every single complaint and every point he had about the book. I still like Winnick’s writing, but I admit that his (the reader’s) complaints were valid.

Well, never one to shy away from admitting mistakes (especially if I can get a column out it) I’ve been thinking about the problems, from the view of a nitpicky fan, with some of the stories Winnick has written for Green Lantern. There are so many nitpicks, in fact, that it would take a whole other column to review all of them.

Good thing I didn’t have any plans for next week’s column yet, eh?

So check in next week for The Nit-Picker’s Guide To Green Lantern..

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the good people at Kenzer and Company ( ), publishers of comics and many fine role-playing games. If you’re into gaming, high fantasy comics or high fantasy comic satire, I highly recommend their entire book line which includes the officially sanctioned Dungeons and Dragons comic book as well as the acclaimed Knights of the Dinner Table books.

And I’m not doing this shameless promotion because you’ll find kindly old Unca Star’s name in the front among the names of other winners of a recent contest the company was holding in the front Knights of the Dinner Table Illustrated #19. I’m doing it because they make good comics… and because I always feel bad getting things for free, even in a contest.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Lucifer #35: A Review

Another week, another Sandman inspired spin-off.

One of the most intriguing characters to come out of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Lucifer has been the star of a solo mini-series which lead to this: a critically acclaimed, award-winning and fan favorite regular series which has been going on strong for nearly three years now.

Lucifer is, like The Sandman, is a mysterious figure that is working toward his own ends. His plans and goals are kept secret to all but his closest associates and are kept secret to the reader, who is brought along on the journey, seeing events transpire through the eyes of those Lucifer encounters in his journeys and quests.

Explaining the entire history of the series up to this point in a brief article would be impossible and pointless. No summary could do justice to Carey’s wonderful plotting and the details of the series do not lend themselves well to summarization. Besides, it would be a crime for me to rob you of the chance to read this most wonderful series, three trade-paperback volumes of which now collect the early issues of the series.

Therein lies the problem of reviewing this issue. Because this issue does suffer a bit in that unless you have read the last major story arc, there are some details that will go over your head. That’s not to say that the basic gist of things cannot be understood: merely that the finer details will not be fully appreciated by new readers.

The story in this issue follows two subplots. The first details Lucifer’s search for a magical boat, promised to him by Loki (yes, the Norse Trickster god, Loki), which Lucifer wants to borrow for a journey of some kind. The second (and more explored plot) details the adventures of a supernatural detective, who a) believes he gets his orders from God himself and b) is currently trying to find the killer of series regular Elaine Belloc, who has a parentage and upbringing that is a whole article unto itself.

About the artwork, I can say little except that it portrays the sheer epic scope of the writing well. All the characters have a distinctive look to them and all the unusual, fantasy creatures (demons, angels, giants, etc.) are portrayed with a surprising level of realism.

Despite the involved and often convoluted storyline, I highly recommend this book to all those who have the patience for a good, long story because Carey is definitely building this title towards something good.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Hellblazer Special: Lady Constantine #3 Review

I don’t read Hellblazer on a regular basis, but I have fond memories of Lady Johanna Constantine from her two-issue stint in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series. In that worthy series, she was contracted to procure a rather interesting and personal item of great magical power for Morpheus, the king of dreams.

In this series, we find Johanna working in similar circumstances, though in less prosperous times than in the Sandman Series. Johanna Constantine is not a Lady (the Constantine family lands and title having been seized years earlier) but she has been contracted by the British government to procure a box of great magical importance in exchange for the return of the land and title. Accompanying Johanna on this quest are Mouse (a young girl disguised as a boy), Rafe (a lovable rogue; old friend and love to Johanna) and Jack-In-The-Green (a plant-elemental and precursor to Swamp Thing)/

Johanna is an independent woman in a time when most women were wives or whores and she is every bit the equal of her eventual ancestor, John Constantine. She has no small amount of magical talent but depends more upon her abilities as a con artist and making people think she is more powerful than she really is. Thankfully, she does have some magic talent as she finds herself tested by the mysterious Lady Blackwood, who also seeks the box and has an army of undead minions to help her get it.

And that sums up where we enter on this issue, with the crew of Rafe’s ship preparing for a battle against the undead hordes and Johanna and Mouse prepare for a more spiritual fight to keep Lady Blackwood from the box.

Most of the issue is bloody, ripping Vertigo action with not much in the way of character or plot development, save for some revelations regarding the contents of the magic box and why Lady Blackwood wants it so badly… but that would be telling.

You’re probably not going to enjoy this book unless you’re a ferocious fan of The Sandman or Hellblazer. Swamp Thing lovers might pick this up for an all too rare appearance of Jack-In-The-Green. Otherwise, this series really doesn’t have much to offer other than another look at a wonderful and underused character.

Looking To The Stars: The Devil Digested

How could this happen? I mean, they had the talent behind it. They had the backing of the company. They even had a public willing to give the movie a chance after they all saw and believed that a man can spin a web. So how on earth could they have screwed it up this badly?

You guessed it. Starman saw Daredevil… and like most of the fans and nearly every respected critic out there, I found it… lacking. Okay, nobody is going to be sweeping the Razzies’ in a years time but this movie could have been so much better… but the bad dragged down the good. And just to show that Unca Stars isn’t all dark and gloomy, we’ll talk about what was done right first…

1. Ben Affleck

In my own little circle of geeks, I know I am one of the few who actually thought Ben Affleck could pull off this role. And I think he did. Granted, Ben has done some stinkers in the past (Reindeer Games, anyone?) but he’s a good actor for the most part. And more than that, he is one of us: a comic fan. And Daredevil was his favorite book as a teen. In fact, Ben wrote the introduction to the trade paperback collection of Kevin Smith’s “Guardian Devil” story and his love for the characters is very evident as he talks about Daredevil. And that love and devotion to the character of Matt Murdock shows in his performance.

2. The Bad Guys.

He’s Bald, He’s a Brit and he kicks a lot of ass. No, Not Grant Morrison!

The one actor’s whose casting DID bother me. Well, I apologize. I was proven wrong. True, the purist in me is a little put off by an Irish Bullseye, he does have the gist of the character down: pure psychotic menace with a dark sense of humor. I was willing to admit I was wrong when he pulled out the paper clips. I was sold during the scene on the airplane. (You’ll have to see the movie to get what I mean. I can’t spoil it.)

Michael Clarke Duncan also does a worthy job as Wilson Fisk. Anyone worried about an African American Kingpin should put all worries aside. He does Daredevil’s archenemy total justice. No bones about it.

3. The Radar Effects

While not nearly as high tech or impressive as one might be lead to believe by the movie’s press, the effects do a good job of conveying what the world must look like through Matt Murdock’s ears.

4. The Visual Look

In terms of style, the movie is gorgeous and looks like it was ripped right out off the pages. Everything is dark, somber, moody and gothic. Even the redesigned Daredevil Suit looks good.

Sadly, that cannot save us from the bad….

1. The Devil Destroyed

Daredevil does not murder. He may beat people senseless, but Matt Murdock has never intentionally killed a soul in the comics, through action or inaction.

In the movie, Matt kills a rapist after he manages to buck the system in court. He then agonizes the rest of the movie, wondering how he can call himself a good guy in light of the fact that he is doing this. In fact, he declares at the end when he has the chance to kill Wilson Fisk and doesn’t take it that he “is not a bad guy”.

There isn’t enough dung in all the stockyards of Fort Worth, to equal the amount of bulltish I need to call on that argument.

Of course someone argued with me this morning that by the end of the movie, Matt has changed into his traditional heroic self and the examination of his changing is more interesting than his original represent the law/fight for just duality conflict.

Well, maybe so. But why show that change in the first place? I heard people in the theater grumbling about how hard it was for them to sympathize with a hero who is, technically, no more different than the bad guy’s he is fighting against.

And the typical heroic nature is sucked out of Matt in another way. The blind man he was pushing out of traffic is cut out of the accident that blinded him in the movie. Aside from being a shocking bit of dramatic irony (Matt gets the condition of the man he was trying to save), it eliminates the tragedy inherit to Matt’s heroic nature. IE: his desire to help people, always seems to come back to hurt him later.

2. Rushed

In general, the movie feels very rushed, as if there was an effort to try and put so much in. As it is, we don’t get much in the way of character development or characters talking to one another. We don’t get any background into Matt and Foggy’s meeting in high school, or any indication that they are law partners and not just friends until a meeting at the office (where we get our one and only look at Karen Page). Ben Urich is in very few scenes and there’s nothing to show the friendship that he and Matt share in the comics being built.

For that matter, there is not anything that would give Urich any reason to destroy his article on Matt being Daredevil other than pure “the city needs a hero” civic-mindness, which Urich never seems to show the movie. Even Wilson Fisk, the bad guy of the piece, is given very little scene time and we are shown little evidence of his being a bad guy, except that he is having one of his disobedient hirelings killed and is willing to employ a sociopath like Bullseye.

The movie also violates the classic rule of “Show, Don’t Tell”. For one thing, how do we know Wilson Fisk is a criminal? Because Matt says so and Fisk admits as much while reading the paper. We never actually SEE him do anything evil directly, though. How do we know Daredevil is called “The Man Without Fear”? Because Fisk tells us so.

This movie could have really used a Daily Bugle headline (or whatever paper Urich works for) or a scene of people in the streets talking abut the latest news about Daredevil with a headline “Man Without Fear”. Cliched? Yes. But then again, some things are cliches because they work.

3. The (Not So) Special Effects

In the words of my friend Gillian, whom I saw the film with “he’s not Spider-Man”. It’s true. Some of Matt’s jumps and flips (the scene where he rebounds upward between two walls in an alley comes to mind) seem to improbably defy physics. Improved agility and dexterity granted… but not THAT improved.

4. The direction

The fight scenes are shot too close in and give very little idea of the scope of their locals. While the city background shots are epic in their sprawling over the urban landscape, it all falls apart when we do extreme close-ups on Ben Affleck as he is punching a guy.

Also, some scenes in the movie (Elektra’s training scene in particular) seem to have been pulled out of a music video as opposed to a film. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bit of background music as much as anyone. But whereas Spider-Man and Superman depended upon deep instrumentals by John Williams and Danny Elfman to convey character emotions, this movie has Bullseye doing stunts on a motorcycle to Rob Zombie and Drowning Pool screaming “You can’t stop me!”

5. Too many in-jokes and asides.

Okay, I know I may take a beating for this one… but this movie had way too many asides and in-jokes for the die-hard Daredevil fans. Case in point: the quick-eared will catch mentions of the most recent Daredevil writers and artists of note (Miller, Mack and Bendis are fighters Jack Murdock beats on his way to a fight with John Romita…). Kevin Smith and Stan Lee both do cameos and there are characters named Jack Kirby and Jose Quesada as well as references to a Lee case.

It feels, at times, if the movie was written as a gigantic scavenger hunt for the fans and that any thought of plot or characterization fell toward going down a checklist of “Things The Fans Want The Movie To Have”. Speaking of which…

6. The script.

The movie seems to have been written by going down a list of the best moments the entire series and trying to find some way to connect the dots. I can just see the writers now…

Bullseye killing Elektra. Check. Daredevil fighting Bullseye in a church? Check. Ben Urich destroying his article on Daredevil? Check.

The dialogue in this movie is just… horrible. As wonderful as the visuals are, the internal monologue and dialogue just grates on the nerves like adamantium claws on organic steel. (What, am I the only one sick of the fingernails on chalkboard analogy?) The romantic talk between Matt and Elektra, for example, is as hokey and groan inducing as anything since Episode Two. Speaking of which…

7. The romance and lack thereof.

I’ll be blunt: the “romance” in this movie sucks. As I said, the romantic scenes are unconvincing. The “first love”, year-long college relationship of Matt and Eletkra in the comics is condensed into a one night stand, brought about through a butt-kicking contest and the amazing love that changes Matt Murdock happens over a course of about (as best I can tell) three days.

8. Jennifer Garner and Elektra in general.

She isn’t really given much to do besides be pretty. I mean, Elektra has never been a very well developed character to begin with. And her fight scenes are a joke. I don’t believe for a second that she could beat up Carol Channing, much less Ben Affleck.

Then again, there’s some difference between training to fight and actually doing it. I’ve never been formally trained in any martial arts, but I’ve never lost any fight I’ve been in.

Speaking of which, if I may make a technical note about Elektra’s training? From what little I know of the Martial Arts, isn’t it a bad thing to train with a different sensei every year? I mean, it takes years to master ONE martial art. I can’t imagine that getting a basic education in several is going to help much against a Master of one. For that matter, it is never said if she trained in more than one... just that she had several different teachers. What if it was a different akido instructor ever year?

Either way, we’re supposed to believe that these rich girl with little practical experience fighting can beat a guy like Matt who has been training himself to become a vigilante and fighting bullies since he was 12. Even allowing for the fact that he is likely holding back a bit while trying to talk reason to her? As the eskimo said to the fridge salesman, I ain’t buying it!

9. The Costume

Bullseye says it best. “I want a bloody costume.” He needs a bloody costume.

Overall, the spirit is there but the flesh is weak. There’s a lot of talent here, but the writing doesn’t give it much to work with. The plot is weak and all over the place, trying to do too much and cover too much of the Daredevil mythos in too little time.

And, oh yeah. Daredevil doesn’t kill. Ever.

Final Ranking (emphasis on the rank) :3-4 Stars out of 10.

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

Monday, February 10, 2003

The Sandman Presents: Bast #2: Review

So far, this series hasn’t really done much to grab my attention… and that’s pretty bad coming from someone who cites Neil Gaiman as one of his biggest philosophical influences.

It isn’t that the ideas and scope are not as grand and gigantic as when Gaiman addressed them years ago. They are. It is not that the story doesn’t involve magic realms, gods and wonders a plenty. All that is here. What is not here are characters we care about.

Fans of The Sandman are familiar with the conceit that gods use belief as nourishment and that gods who are not regularly worshipped begin to lose form and power. Such is the case with Bast, the ancient Egyptian goddess of cats who is too stubborn to fade into nothingness and is looking for a way to restore the good old days when cats were revered by Man and she with them. She is going about this, through means that were unclear in the first issue and are not much clearer at the end of this, through a troubled young woman named Lucy.

Lucy is probably the most sympathetic character in the story, being smart and sensitive and trapped in a small town full of moronic, drunken religious fanatics. (Well, I sympathize with that. I do live in Texas, after all.) Sadly Lucy dies at the end of the first issue and most of the interest in the story died for me as well. While the “troubled teenage girl” is hardly a new character in comics, the idea of a troubled person turning to another religion (much less cat-worship) IS something that is rarely explored in the comics medium.

With Lucy dead, all we are left with is the concerned best friend, the drunken and abusive father, the enigmatic Lady Bast and the ghost of the kitten Lucy’s father killed in a moment of highly uncredible melodrama to act out the action. And nothing of note concerning the plot occurs until the last three pages, the brunt of this middle chapter being devoted to Bast’s telling of how things used to be in the days of Egypt and why she wants it back the way it was.

The artwork is fine but doesn’t leap off the page. At times, it does not seem to fit the story. It is hard to say what the age of Lucy and her friend are, with their looking like they are in their mid-teens but making references to 7th graders being a threat. And at one point the ghost kitten asks Bast what is happening to her face when there is nothing obviously wrong with her face in the artwork.

I’ll probably pick up Bast #3 to keep the set together and see how it ends, but this is a far cry from The Sandman books from which it was inspired. It is even a far cry from more recent The Sandman Presents mini-series like The Thessailiad and Dead Boy Detectives.

Sunday, February 9, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Emerald Adventures Examined

You’d think I’d be excited. My two favorite heroes as a kid, side by side again. Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-ups. Always worth checking out. Done often enough to thrill but always maintaining the high quality of the O’Neil /Adams issues. And Judd Winnick writing half of it to boot! Yeah, you’d think Uncle Stars would be feeling pretty darn good about this.

Well, I was… until I heard it being discussed at Ye Olde Comics Shoppe whilst I was in the vicinity. Until I heard one person say…

“Yeah, this is gonna be cool. Kyle and Ollie never teamed up before and they’re going to be fighting drug dealers from space and getting on each other’s nerves! It’s going to be so cool!”

And that’s when it hit me… put it that way and this sounds like a train wreck even with Winnick’s skilled hands penning the tale.

Why you ask? Well, let the ol’ Starman educate you all.

First of all, let’s quickly address the whole “getting on each other’s nerves” charge. The whole dynamic of the Hal/Ollie relationship was something like “The Odd Couple”. One’s a liberal, the other a conservative. One is passionate, the other is methodical. One’s a thinker, the other is a feeler.

Kyle and Ollie, I tell you this as someone who owns every issue of their solo books since 1987, are both feelers. Granted, Kyle has become more serious and thoughtful under Winnick’s direction but this has been more due to progression as a character and Kyle’s finding peace in his role as a hero and loosing all his doubts about his worth than any “change the writer, change the character” action.

And as far as being liberal: well, Kyle has lived with two of his three girlfriends throughout his entire life as a character and it’s clear he was sexually active with all three. All the things, in other words, that the more conservative Hal would berate Ollie about regarding Dinah. The whole “make an honest woman of her” routine that was routinely served up by Hawkman as well.

But I digress. As far as the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow contention goes, I don’t see much potential between the characters as they are now. I hope that there will be come new cause of friction between the two partners: maybe an emphasis upon generational differences or Ollie being uncomfortable working with Hal’s replacement. There would be a precedent for this, with Ollie having admitted his discomfort around Kyle in GA #19 of the current series. Regardless, any attempt to turn Kyle into Hal or make Ollie the conservative, cautious one of the pairing will fly in the face of all convention and anger many fans.

Secondly, this is far from the first time that Kyle and Ollie have met and worked together. While Ollie and Kyle weren’t on clear working terms, they are far from complete strangers the promotions I have read for the approaching team-up suggests. As mentioned, the two have met since Ollie’s resurrection in the pages of Green Arrow, where the two had a one-on-one, heart-to-heart about Hal.

But the very first time these heroes met wasn’t a one-on-one team-up, though the two did hold key roles. It was in the very last chapter of the best forgotten Zero Hour, where a younger and much more inexperienced Kyle Rayner tackled and held Hal Jordan from behind. At the same time, Oliver Queen made the shot that (coupled with the energy of a dozen or so heroes being focused by Damage) caused Hal to lose all control of the time energies he was using to rebuild the universe… or something.

Another meeting would come a year later, in Green Lantern #63 and #64. Hal came knocking on Kyle Rayner’s door, insisting that Kyle was not worthy of the ring and that he was meant to become Green Lantern again. This didn’t sit too well with Kyle or with Ganthet, who was also there to tell Kyle that he was a lousy Green Lantern and that he wanted the ring back. Not to say that Ganthet was going to hand it back to Hal either. Far from it.

So as Kyle got his butt handed to him by a much more experienced Parallax, Ganthet went about gathering all of Hal’s old friends from the JLA who would have sufficient power to fight him or would have a chance of talking some sense into him. This means that along with J’onn J’onzz, The Flash and Superman he also goes about getting Hawkman, Aquaman… and in his last crossover appearance before his death (and the only time outside of his own book we see him in the Connor Hawke costume!), Star City’s favorite son himself… Oliver Queen.

Sadly, Hal is in little mood to talk… though Ollie tries his best to get Hal to calm down. Ironic considering that through most of their relationship, it was usually Ollie who was blowing his top and the more orderly Hal who pled for cooler heads to prevail. And even though he has been depowered greatly since Zero Hour, Hal still has enough power to easily defeat the make-shift JLA that is thrown at him.

Still, as everyone is knocked out, a ringless Kyle (Hal having taken the ring as part of an effort to become a Green Lantern again) attacks Hal with a lead pipe. Hal asks why Kyle is bothering to fight since he has absolutely no chance of winning. Kyle says that he has to fight Hal because what Hal is doing is wrong and that a real hero would never give up, no matter how much the odds were against him. Having a change or heart or attack of conscience Hal gives the ring up to Kyle and leaves after Ganthet turns himself into pure energy and throws himself into Hal.

Afterwards, Ollie and Superman approach Kyle and ask him what happened. Kyle explains what happened and how he feels Hal is no longer a threat but that he wonders if he is worthy of the ring. Superman tells him that after today, he’s proved his worth and Ollie gives a silent agreement.

Shortly after, Oliver died and his unknown son, Connor Hawke, took up his mantle. Not too long after, Connor and Kyle met in New York (GA #104) and would later team up on a number of other occasions, in their own titles and as members of the JLA during Grant Morrison’s tenure on that title.

It was, in fact, one of these stories that brings us to our third point. That and the reason that dear nutty Unca Star’s Spider Senses are tingling at the idea of a plot involving intergalactic ring of drug-dealers.

“Like A God” has the dubious distinction of being probably the worst Green Arrow story ever written. How bad is it? Well, ignoring the presence of the Electric Red Superman, the Hippolyta Wonder Woman in a non-JSA setting, the scene where Connor Hawke blows up a laser turret with one well placed arrow (!) and the fact that the JLA being given a reason to appear en masse in a cameo rarely yields good results…I think I can sum it up with five words.

Eddie Fyers gets super powers.

Okay… all of you die hard Green Arrow fans out there are probably twitching just reading those words. Take a moment and rest… get some water. Maybe some hard liquor. And pour me one while you’re up! No wait… that won’t work….

(pause as Unca Stars goes to get his own tequila)

Ahh… right. Anyway, aliens abduct Eddie Fyers. They inject him with a drug that gives him super-powers. How? They don’t say. And we find out from the JLA that the aliens Eddie encountered were Intergalactic drug-dealers and that the drug Eddie was given is actually a poison that destroys the body while enhancing it. So unless they find the antidote, Eddie and several druggies that the aliens sold the stuff to already will die in a few hours.

Get all that? Good. Then you are probably wondering, what the heck kind of criminal masterminds are we dealing with here that are traveling across the galaxy trying to break into the drug market with an item that kills users on the first dose? That’s just going to kill the repeat business that all small businesses starting out require to function. An army of super strong, flying behemoths who are slowly growing crazier as well as more and more likely to pull the “Hulk Smash” routine, is a fine way to throw a planet into chaos pending an invasion… but it is just bad business!

Of course that was Chuck Dixon. This new story will be Judd Winnick and Ben Raab (never heard of him). I hope that whatever these two put out will be better than that. And in Winnick’s case, I’m sure it will be. Still, I can’t help but shudder thinking about Green Arrow and “intergalactic drug dealers” in the same sentence without shuddering.

Still, you can bet that I’ll give it a shot and read it. Let it never be said that the Starman does not voice his worries without apologizing for it later when he is wrong.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Rawhide Kid #1: A Review

You’ve all probably heard all the hype about this comic already. This is, how it stars the very first gay title character in comic book history. How it a western that, to quote the BBC News, “breaks the mold of traditional macho comic characters.” And how various religious organizations are now boycotting Marvel because of their attacks on family values and how various gay rights organizations are cheering Marvel for this attempt to add diversity to their comics.

What you may not have heard, and what my job as a critic is to tell you, is how the book actually is. Because let’s face it: this book is a historical footnote if nothing else and will probably make Marvel a ton of money on the first issue alone. But all of the above is totally meaningless to me: all I care about is how good the story and art are.

Now those of you who read the Starry Awards in “Looking To The Stars” a few weeks back probably recall that I’m not too big a fan of Ron Zimmerman. In fact, I closed the awards with a tearful plea to Joe Quesada to please stop publishing anything that the Z-Man had penned. You might imagine then, that Unca Stars went into this book with a certain amount of dread.

Give yourself a no-prize on that guess, buckaroo. Cause the writing on this book stinks like a two-day-old cow pie. In fact, I think the wrong organizations are protesting the release of this book and I can only assume that nobody at GLAAD actually read this before they spoke about how great it was to see more homosexual characters being represented in mainstream comics.

Why? Well, the anachronistic dialogue sticks out like a sore thumb, along with various other minor anachronisms. The Rawhide Kid’s sleeping attire, for example. I don’t think they had bikini briefs for men back in the Wild West days.

Then there’s the just plain creepy-crawliness of some scenes… like the scene with The Kid doing a semi-suggestive “can’t see anything” faux strip act with his robe at a group of young boys that must have Dr. Wertham of “Seduction of the Innocent” fame saying “See! See! I was right”, in his seat next to Joe McCarthy in Censors’ Hell.

No, what really sticks in my craw about this comic is that… well, it’s the same thing that makes me avoid watching Will and Grace. This book doesn’t shatter the stereotypes of the macho male main character. It reinforces all the stereotypes of the gay male character.

Reference is made to The Kid’s fine dress sense and accessorizing skills on three separate occasions. The aforementioned crowd of boys start asking him about how he compares to other famous gunmen and The Kid talks about how much he’d love to meet the Lone Ranger and how much he loves his outfit and can “see why that Indian follows him around.” And the dialogue… I can’t bring myself to quote any more of the “Oh fabulous!” dialogue that makes up most of The Kid’s speech.

The real shame of the book though is that John Severin’s artwork is gorgeous and really does a good job of conveying character and scenery. Would that the story and concept could match it in quality. In fact, the only comparison I can make between the two is to ask you to imagine an episode of Robert Smigel’s “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” as painted by Alex Ross.

Personally, I think the best we can hope is that in thirty years, this comic will be viewed like the old Power Man comics featuring jive-talking bad-ass Luke Cage: Offensively stereotypical today, but a big step forward from what had come before.

Monday, February 3, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Happy Fun Rant Pop Column V 3.6

Okay kiddies. Sit down and buckle your seat belts. Unca Stars has a lot of things to get off his chest so brace yourselves. This week’s “Looking” is going to go all over the place and it is going there fast.

1. “Death in Comics” Or: “To Live & Die & Live & Die in the Marvel Universe”

Since everybody else at 411 Comics has been throwing their hats in the ring on this, I thought I’d give my two cents as well. (Not to mention mix a few metaphors.)

Personally, I think Chuck Austen is right on in his comments, especially how every character is someone’s favorite character. Believe me, I know… having spent the last three years having the most devout Elongated Man fan in the world as an editor. And sometimes, the only way some people will ever pay attention to a character is to kill them.

But there has to be some kind of happy medium between the extremes that some characters cannot die and that it’s okay for somebody to get whacked when the sales are starting to dip. And we need to remember that while some character deaths can revitalize a title and take it in exciting new directions, that killing someone and then bringing them back really cheapens the whole concept of death.

I remember back when Colossus died and no real fuss was made at my local comic store. Not that I cared much, never having had much use for the X-Men… but I do try to keep up on the generalities of what big name characters are alive or dead. And the general consensus of all the fans I talked to was “No big deal… he’ll be back in a few months, a year at the most.” Well, I don’t know exactly how long it’s been since then… but it’s been longer than a year and the Metal Man is still dead.

And let’s not forget that one of, if not the most, ill-conceived story line in comics history spun out of what was originally an attempt to resurrect a character that many people did not want to see dead. Of course, I speak (making several evil-warding gestures as I do) of The Spider-Man Clone Saga.

Okay… stop screaming! Unca Stars has enough of a headache just thinking about… It.

Anyway, The Story That Must Not Be Named got its’ start back in Amazing Spider-Man #149, after Gwen Stacy was “resurrected” as a clone along with Spidey himself! The story ended with both clones dead but somehow… for some reason, the clone survived and years later there were a number of stories done where many many many clones of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy showed up. All this because of the complaints of the fans back then that Gwen couldn’t “really” be dead. And of course, the whole Story That Must Not Be Named was “solved” with… you guessed it, the return of yet another character who was better off dead: Norman Osborn.

But I digress…

2. The Need For Big Name Creators

I have to take exception with some of Daron Kappauff’s comments in his latest “Missing The Boat”. (In case you haven’t read it, Daron declared that DC Comics was failing as a company because it was failing to get a hold of big name creators. He pointed out that most of the really big writers with large fan bases… Mark Waid, Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Jeph Loeb… are working exclusively for Marvel now.

I can’t help but wonder if anybody noticed that all of the writers have worked for DC. Indeed, except for Smith, all of them came to prominence under the DC Banner. Up until he took over JLA, Grant Morrison was virtually unknown except to the Vertigo crowd. Waid became a fan favorite because of his work on “The Flash” and Johns did the same in “JSA”. And Loeb… well, he started out writing “Challengers of the Unknown” and claimed his fame doing some damn fine Superman and Batman mini-series.

I don’t think the problem is that DC cannot get good writers. It is that good writers have a need to stretch and not get hemmed in. Kevin Smith has been quoted as of saying that the reason he left DC to write Spider-Man for Marvel was that he just didn’t have any ideas for the DC Universe anymore. And who can blame him for not wanting to keep writing when he has no interest in the story he is telling.

Besides, most of the writers that I like freelance for both of the big two companies. Judd Winnick is doing good on both Green Lantern and Exiles. Geoff Johns is doing Avengers and will still be writing Hawkman every month, even after he leaves JSA after issue 50. And Brian Michael Bendis, who is probably the biggest gun at Marvel right now, splits his focus and does “Powers” for Image.

The problem isn’t that DC isn’t getting big name writers. The problem is those who think that a big name writer is needed to make a book worth picking up. And I know I’m going to get some angry letters for this, but there are a lot of “big names” whose best works are behind them and who’s latest works wouldn’t have lasted six issues were it not for their name. That and a loyal fanbase who will piss and moan on all the message boards if there is even so much of a hint of criticism aimed towards their favorite creators work.

And just to give five quick names off the top of my head…

* Peter David (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Earth-Angel Supergirl was a stupid idea)

* Chuck Dixon (who managed to take a book starring Daredevil AND Punisher and failed to attract more than flies)

* Warren Ellis (Oh, I can hear myself being called a geezer now)

* John Byrne (I still have nightmares about his run on Wonder Woman)

* And the king of all worn-out hacks : Chris Claremont, who managed to make the new Gen 13 even more insipid than the OLD Gen 13.

3. Web Comics

Finally, in response to those of you who wrote me after my mention of “Queen of Wands” ( in last weeks “Looking to the Stars”, wanting to know more… you’ve got it and more besides!

Being the generous bloke I am, I’m going to clue all of you into some of my favorite web comics: all the things I read on those Wednesday mornings I just can’t drag myself out to the comic book store before Noon to get my fix.

Queen of Wands ( centers around Kestrel, a self-assured, independent young woman and her roommates: married couple Felix and Shannon.

Now, the idea of a comic about a young woman trying to get along in life is hardly new. There’s more than a few in the newspaper comic pages, in fact. But let me assure you: this ain’t Cathy.

Kestrel is unique in several respects compared to most other women depicted in the comics medium. For one thing, she’s a computer geek. She gets heart-broken when her computer is stolen by burglars and breaks heads when a condescending clerk talks down to her as she tries to buy extra memory.

Kestrel has a sharp wit to match her low tolerance for idiots who don’t respect her yet has an child-like innocence to her. Add in the fact that she is an openly practicing Wiccan and you’ve got an interesting character whom actually feels like a real woman. The kind of woman that you’d want to have as a friend, sure wouldn’t want as an enemy and in the case of a lonely comic fan with a thing for redheads… the kind of woman I want to marry.

Lusting after fictional characters again, eh Matthew? * sigh *

Ignoring the realistic characterization, this strip is just flat out funny. Even when the strip deals with more serious emotional situations such as Kestrel forgetting to get the name of the nice guy she meets at a coffee shop, the humor of the characters is always there. I got my friend Michele, who didn’t believe me when I said that comics weren’t kids stuff hooked on this strip and she had a fit last week when the strip was close down for a week due to the illness of writer and artist Aeire.

Now, you all don’t know Michele… but trust me when I say that any comic that can do that is well worth reading. As such, I highly recommend Queen of Wands for everyone who has a woman in their life who needs convincing that our hobby isn’t just kids stuff.

Another comic that is definitely not kids stuff is “Red Meat” ( ). A favorite of Indie newspapers as well as the Internet, Red Meat is a dark and twisted look at the world through such unique and odd characters as Bug Eyed Earl and Milkman Dan. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you find the idea of going “trick-or-treating for UNICEF” naked highly amusing. Otherwise, this could just warp your mind to the breaking point.

While it hardly needs me to plug it, as long as we’re talking about twisted humor comics, I don’t think I could do any talking about Internet comics without mentioning “Sluggy Freelance” ( ) It’s hard not to like any comic where the requisite cute animal is a bunny with a knife… but then again, I still have some the original Sam and Max comics in my collection and may just be feeling nostalgic.

Ah, Steve Purcell… where art thou now?

And while it’s not really a web comic, having been published as a strip in various magazines and in comic book form for several years, I’d like to mention “Knights of the Dinner Table” ( ) which recently began to publish a tri-weekly comic exclusive to the Internet. If you’re a fan of role-playing humor and ever laughed at the infamous “Gazebo” story, you owe it to yourself to check the strip out for free on the Net and then pick up the book, which I will be reviewing in detail at a later date.

Finally, I’d like to close by talking about my favorite web-comic and the very first thing I read when I turn my computer on… Something Positive ( )

Something Positive is broadly about the adventures of a group of artistic twenty-somethings living in Boston. Now as bland as that description may sound, believe me when I say that this is the funniest damn comic out on the Web, if not the best and I have yet to show it to anybody who didn’t love it immediately.

For one thing, it’s easy to find one character you can point at and say “I know that person!” Something Positive has the most diverse group of characters of any comic I’ve ever read. And I mean diverse as in “interesting and varied”. Not diverse as in the average NBC sitcom cast.

From Davan the hapless no-luck Everyman to Pee-Jee, an aspiring writer and Chinese-Canadian immigrant who has a crush on Jhim (the token gay guy who is anything but a token gay guy), the strip has someone that everyone can relate to. It also has Choo-Choo Bear, who can only be described as the product of a marriage twixt Plastic Man and a common tabby.

The plots are twisted, taking ordinary ideas and putting a new angle on them. Perhaps the best arc of the series has involved the creation of a musical so tasteless, as to make “Springtime For Hitler” look like “The Sound of Music”. And for those of you who might not be interested in theatrical melodramas, a lot of the stories also have a basis in comic books and role-playing. In fact, one recent story arc dealt with the some of the cast teaching a lesson to woman-hating roleplayer at a Con.

I should warn you all that a lot of the humor is dark and twisted. Jokes about death and pain and suffering are commonplace. Of course if you’re like me and like Red Meat and Sluggy Freelance then you’ll probably get a kick out of those jokes the best. I have no words to say about this book that aren’t… something positive.

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