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.

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