Monday, May 26, 2003

Lucifer #38 - A Review

Written by: Mike Carey
Penciled by: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly & Dean Ormston
Inked by: N/A
Colored by: Daniel Vozzo
Lettered by: Comicraft
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

The biggest problem I have with turning people onto the merits of this title is one of complexity. Lucifer is perhaps the most involved comic published today and may even surpass Neil Gaiman’s original “Sandman” series in terms of foreshadowing, building on minor past plot elements and tying together that which is seemingly unrelated.

This attention to detail makes the book a joy to read for all those who have been following it since Issue One and an exercise in frustration for all the newbies who were late in getting into the theater. It is also frustrating for the critic whom has to explain nearly 40 issues worth of continuity and characterization in order to explain to people why the stories are so good and worth their time… but I will try.

Lucifer was the head angel, asked too many questions, was booted out of Heaven and became the ruler of Hell and all the other fallen angels and a number of beings called demons, just like in Milton’s Paradise Lost. He quit his job as ruler of Hell and gave up his powers in order to relax and enjoy himself, which translated into him opening a nightclub where he played Piano. He gave this up after finding a way to create his own universe and prove he could do one better than the Creator. He got nearly got killed by a sentient Tarot Deck that could alter reality but was saved after a girl named Elaine, who was herself an angel bred from Lucifer’s brother Michael, sacrificed herself to save him.

Now, Elaine’s soul is being tortured in some unknown place on the edge of reality and Lucifer has sent a crew of several series regulars to find Elaine as he deals with other matters having to deal with “his plans”. The crew travels upon the mythic Naglfar: the ship of Loki the Trickster, as Lucifer travels with Michael into the very mind of God him/her/it-self.

Of course one may ask WHY Lucifer needs help at all, but this point is addressed in this issue. One character wonders aloud why Lucifer doesn’t just go on this journey himself and it is explained that some realities are too fragile to hold one so powerful, so he has to send lesser beings to do his work for him.

This is one of the breaking points of the series. Very often the reader has no idea what Lucifer is working towards and the action is seen through the eyes of those he manipulates into helping him or those who oppose him and have no idea what they are up against. If you don’t mind the feeling of riding a roller-coaster with your eyes closed – knowing that you are moving somewhere, but cannot see the end - then you’ll enjoy it. If not, then you won’t. It’s that simple.

The artwork is excellent, displaying the gritty details you expect in a Vertigo title. Each character is uniquely defined, so even if you are new to the cast, you can tell the players apart… which is a lot harder than it should be with some artists. Still, Gross, Kelly and Ormstron show why this book did get nominated for several art awards in the past.

Overall, this issue is your typical middle chapter. I enjoyed it, but realize it is very inaccessible to new readers. My advice to all of you is to hie thee to a comic store and pick up the trade paperback collections or back issues of Lucifer. You’ll be glad you did.

KODT: Everknights #6 - A Review

Written by: Tony DiGerolamo
Penciled by: Diego Jourdan
Inked by: Diego Jourdan
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Manny Vega
Editor: Mark Plemmons & Brian Jelke
Publisher: Kenzer And Company

Okay class: quick review.

Two months ago, I told you about “Knights of the Dinner Table”, or KODT. KODT is a comic book that depicts a group of role-players in Munice, Indiana as they sit around the table and the humor that lies therein their lives, personalities and the games themselves. The book has a huge cult following, especially in the role-playing community, and has spawned to spin-offs and an actual Hackmaster RPG based off of the gaming system in the comics, which is in itself a parody of old-school Dungeons and Dragons.

Last month, I told you about “Knights of the Dinner Table: Illustrated” or KILL. KILL shows the adventures depicted in the various role-playing sessions of Muncie’s RPG groups, illustrated as actual events. So instead of seeing a guy named Bob sitting at a table, declaring “I’m gonna waste them with my crossbow!” we get to see a belligerent dwarf exclaim “I’m gonna waste them with my crossbow!” This is all illustrated in an action-filled fantastic style that could easily stand toe-to-toe with the swordplay in many Cross-Gen fantasy titles.

And so that brings us to this month and this book. Knights of the Dinner Table: Everknights. Or for short… Everknights. And what is the story behind Everknights, you ask?

You know that small section of books at the end of every bookstore’s Science Fiction/Fantasy section that is full of various titles based on the many varied worlds of Dungeons and Dragons? Books with titles like “Dragonlance: The Hemorrhoids of Hrothgar” or “Forbidden Realms: Pool of Decadence”?

Simply put, Everknights is a parody of those books. It is a comic based on a series of non-existent novels based on the fictional Hackmaster RPG as shown in the very real Knights of the Dinner Table comic.

The cast of characters will be familiar to anyone who has ever role-played, read “Conan the Barbarian” or had any contact with fantastic literature. The main plot of the book thus far has followed “The Everknights”, fresh from saving the Universe as they destroy an evil warlord and set about converting his castle into their own base of operations. The cast of regulars includes…

Skragg- the fighter. A well-meaning, but not too bright half-orc who struggles with the spirit of his evil half-brother, who has taken up residence in his body and is slowly taking over.

Lefty – the thief. A not-so-well meaning, but way too clever for his own good sneak who bites off more than he can chew and then runs for cover. Still, he is loyal to his friends so long as they can protect him.

Kevlar- the wizard. A powerful yet lazy, corrupt old man who got into magic because he found it easier to learn how to summon and control a succubus than to date a real woman. Currently dating a medusa named Cendra.

Steve- the dwarf. An ex-berserker, who has been recently blessed with magical intelligence… much to the annoyance of Kevlar

Priestess- the cleric. The goody-two shoes trying to hold the destructive habits of everyone else at bay and make them better people, even as she fights the urge to smite them all and let her Gawd sort it all out.

This issue opens with the team inspecting a crypt underneath their new home and finding it not filled with vampires, but with a legendary fighting master named Tung-Ho. After beating the entire team in a scene that will have fans and haters of Manga comics laughing, Tung explains that he was acting as the magical lock to hold a fierce monster in stasis and that he must now train the Everknights so they may help in the battle.

Manny Vega, who was writer and artist on this book when it first started as “Hackmasters of Evernight” several years ago left the book on this issue (except for doing the cover art) and his passing will be missed. Still, it is apparent (as he notes in his farewell on the title page) that the book is in good hands.

Tony DiGerolamo easily equals Vega as a writer. DiGerolamo is also author of the fantasy satire “The Travellers” and is well familiar with the humorous fantasy genre. The aforementioned fight scene is a classic, with Tung-Ho following the habit of many Anime/Manga heroes and shouting out the names of the martial arts technique he is using …even if the name is longer than performing the action itself. And with names like “Dirty Old Man In Your Cleavage Headbutt” and “Smashing Pumpkin, Weezer Godsmack!”, I challenge anyone to not smile at this scene.

This Manga parodying-influence is reflected well in the artwork by fill in artist Diego Jourdan. I’m not a big fan of Manga or Manga-styled artwork but I must admit that the art DOES fit this issue. I still would rather have Vega on the title (the Bruce Lee parody cover of this issue is a kick), but I attribute that to my personal preference and not any fault of Jourdan’s craft. The book is meant to look like a Manga book with lots of action and little plot. It succeeds

Ultimate X-Men #33 - A Review

Written by: Mark Millar
Penciled by: Adam Kubert
Inked by: Danny Miki
Colored by: Dave Stewart
Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I’ve been accused in the past of not liking Mark Millar. I think I’m about half in half. True, I despise “The Ultimates” and think that his attempts to turn The Avengers into The Authority are misguided at best… and idiotic at worst. But I also think that the first part of his “Superman: Red Son” Elseworld’s is one of the best Superman stories in years. And I’ve started reading back issues of Ultimate X-Men to keep up on events that are crossing over into the Ultimate Spider-Man title. And while I did like the first few major story arcs that reintroduced us to the X-Men, I have found Millar’s last story arcs: “Ultimate War” and “Return of the King” to be competent, if uninspired.

Here is the whole story in a nutshell. Professor X goes to visit Magneto in his plastic prison cell. The two debate philosophy as friends, while affirming that there is no way they can ever reach a common ground politically. At the same time, Cyclops and Wolverine confront each other over Logan’s longing for Jean and the steps he took to win her away from Cyclops.

Hmmm… now why does this seem so familiar?

In the case of the former, we saw this scene in both X-Men movies. In the case of the later, we saw it before in countless X-Men stories over the past 20 years. I will give Millar credit in that he does a twist here in how Cyclops handles the situation by actually doing something besides posturing and making threats… but still, the whole thing feels like a summer rerun and the issue of Logan’s betrayal are dismissed far too quickly.

The art team of Kubert and Miki do a competent job, however. Everything is cleanly illustrated and well defined, which is more than I can say of the team that works on Millar’s other Ultimate title, The Ultimates. Or perhaps I should say Millar’s only Ultimate title, since this is his last issue of Ultimate X-Men. Brian Michael Bendis takes over this title next month, and if he can only make this half as good as Ultimate Spider-Man, it will still be an improvement over Millar’s uninspired “Return of the King”.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Thoughts On...

I read a lot of comics. And I love writing about comics. But sometimes the regular course of the weekly review schedule here at 411Comics doesn’t give me the chance to write about everything I’ve read or would like to write about. That’s why this week I’ll be giving you my quick takes on all the books I didn’t write full reviews of in the last month.

Amazing Spider-Man #53

Simply put, this is the best mainstream Spidey we’ve had in years. Romita Jr. does his daddy proud on the title that Papa Romita helped to firmly establish as a classic. And J. Michael Strayczynski’s lives up to all the praise that is delivered upon him by fan and critic alike.

My one complaint is that sometimes things do get pushed past the 11 mark. For instance, Peter may crack bad jokes under stress… but the “thinger with the killer thong” joke is just painful. And as true as the scene with Mary Jane dealing with Peter as overthinks their relationship rings, it seemed a bit much for Peter to do the overdone “You complete me, make me whole, nothing without you…etc” speech. Although I did like his conversation with God (“I know I complain a lot, but thank you for her.”) and even though it is crawling a bit, I love Digger, the new villain.

Daredevil #47

In a previous “Looking To The Stars”, I talked about the return of Typhoid Mary to this title and explained something of the history of the character. We see a lot more of Typhoid in this issue, but I feel half and half about the portrayal. On the one hand, there is a fight scene which brilliantly depicts Typhoid’s skill as a fighter and her disconnection from reality. On the other hand, I’m a little concerned about how easily the Kingpin has won Mary over onto his team. Perhaps Mary’s past therapy has depowered the Typhoid personality to the point where she no longer has the dominatrix control obsession she once did… or perhaps, in a scenario I find more likely and preferable, Typhoid is playing with the Kingpin’s affections to get what she wants.

In either case, I’m loving Bendis’s slow build up of this story where The Kingpin is trying to regain the empire he had stolen from him and the sly humor that punctuates the action of this issue. From the dark comedy of Mary’s singing as she cuts down a gang of thugs to the slapstick appearance of an old character rarely seen since the days of Frank Miller, this book manages a difficult balancing act with ease.

Fantastic Four #68

While I’m not a big fan of Manga-esque artwork, I cannot deny that Mike Wieringo’s is usually a good fit for the Fantastic Four. The key word here is usually. While I think he draws the main characters very well and conveys the humorous scenes well, Wieringo’s style is just too cartoony and “bright” for the scenes depicting Dr. Doom. I can’t explain why, but Doom just looks less menacing than usual. Perhaps because of the new look to his armor, which boasts a more form-fitting mask.

Still, Waid’s writing is nothing unexpected, showing his typical grasp of comic history as he uses the subtle details of a past story line to spin a more intricate tale in the present. And while I may quibble about how Doom looks, the book excels on both fronts when depicting the humorous scenes, such as Johnny’s abusing his power over Ben’s paycheck and Ben’s complicated, but funny, revenge.

Green Arrow #26

It’s no secret that I was no fan of the “Black Circle” crossover between Green Arrow and Green Lantern. And my opinions seem to mirrored those of the majority of the Arrrowheads out there. So it was with a small degree of dread that I picked up this issue, the first of Judd Winick’s run on the book. And how was it?

100 Times Better. The regular art team of Hester and Parks return and oh, were they sorely missed after the dark, overinked mess that was the work of Charlie Adlard. And Winick shows his usual level of quality this time around, with Ollie sounding appropriately confident and smart alecky. I also have to give him credit for this plot, which not only taps into Green Arrow’s history of going after the corrupt people in power but also gives some screen time to the vastly underused Black Lightning. And here’s to someone finally giving us some insight as to why Jefferson would agree to a seat on Lex Luthor’s cabinet, knowing who he is.

Hawkman #15

Geoff Johns did a masterful job of fixing the mess that was the continuity of Hawkman. Still, there was one sticking point; whatever happened to Shayera Thal, the Thangarian Hawkwoman and how does she connect to Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders now? This issue addresses that point, as well as serving as a good jumping on point for new fans of the book

This book has never lacked for gorgeous art, but it is good to have regular penciler Rags Morales and inker Michael Blair back. Their artwork is similar to that of Tony Harris and it complements the book well, as Johns writing is similar to that of James Robinson. Similarities aside, this book is its own animal and boasts a surprising final splash page that make this book a great jumping on point

JSA All-Stars #1

While I find the idea of a demon named Legacy rather improbable, I can’t complain about any story that gives more exposure to the best superhero team published today. I can’t help but wonder why, with the place of this story in series continuity, this wasn’t published as a part of the regular series before… But I guess I shouldn’t complain as I get to read JSA twice a month for the next few months. If you haven’t been reading JSA (and why haven’t you?), this mini-series is a good place to start learning about the characters while we wait for the brilliant but continuity-heavy “Princes of Darkness” story line to conclude.

Superman : Red Son #1

Just as I was about to give up on Mark Millar completely, he writes this. Easily one of and maybe the best Superman Elseworlds written in the last decade, this story is all about what it would be like if Superman landed in Russia in the 1950’s. And while it would be all too easy to turn this into a typical comic war story of that same era, Millar avoids the easy route of “die Commie scum!” conflict. He shows that regardless of what country he lives in and political philosophy he adheres to, Superman is there to help everyone. Throw in some gorgeous artwork by Dave Johnson and Andrew Robinson, and it is easy to see why this issue sold out so quickly.

Ultimate Spider-Man #40-41

Probably my favorite book of all, this one very rarely misses the mark. Bendis is back on his game after the too-slow Venom storyline in these two issues which mostly focus upon Peter and his relationship with Mary Jane. Make no mistake though. This comic does not lack for action, with scenes involving teenagers fleeing a party being raided by the police and a fight scene which also involves the funniest take on loosing a contact lens ever. It is difficult to write a story which is purely action, drama or comedy. And yet Bendis manages to mix all three elements effortlessly in this book every month. Throw in the excellent artwork of Mark Bagley and Art Thibert and it’s easy to see why this book is a favorite of critics and fan alike.

Wolverine #1

I’ve never liked Wolverine that much as a character. I’ve never liked Greg Rucka’s writing. So the odds on me liking this book in any way were about on par with the odds of my spontaneously combusting after getting a date with Kirsten Dunst the day after I won the lottery.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself actually liking this book. Maybe I was surprised to see that James Logan has a taste in literature similar to my own. Maybe I like the Film Noir feel of the story and the boarding house and the woman on the run who turns to Logan for help. Maybe it was just that this story was more thoughtful and not an excuse for mindless hack-and-slash violence as many Wolverine writers indulge in.

Regardless, I have no hesitation in recommending this book as a readable peace of literature, and not just as this month’s hot collectors item.

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

Monday, May 19, 2003

Green Lantern #164 - A Review

Written by: Judd Winick
Penciled by: Charlie Adlard
Inked by: Charlie Adlard
Colored by: Titjana Wood
Lettered by: Jack Morelli
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: DC Comics

Another week of GL/GA badness? Not quite.

First things first, I do need to apologize for an accusation made last week. Last week, in my review of GA #25, I noted that the final page of said issue would have all scholars of Green Lantern ring lore screaming. That is to say, Amon Sur takes Kyle’s ring and slips it onto his hand and it is still glowing. As has been well established, Kyle Rayner’s personal GL ring only works for him. I blamed this on bad writing, but upon review of this issue I think the blame for that falls upon the shoulders of Charlie Adlard and his pour visual storytelling.

That said, the opening of this issue proves that there must have been very little coordination between Winnick and Raab on this story. And what makes me say that? The fact that last issue ended with Amon Sur laughing over the unconscious forms of our heroes and that this issue starts, with no apparent passage of time, with the two heroes standing up and totally awake with no ill effects as Amon Sur laughs at them. This shows one of the biggest problems this crossover has had and I really think this would have been better had the books featured one writer throughout as it had one artist. It may not have helped the story but it could only have helped the continuity.

I did enjoy this issue, though. Much more than any section of this crossover and I think that is due to the loss of the highly forced conflict between Kyle and Ollie. Oh the two still argue, but it is the arguing of two smart alecks bouncing off each other: not the forced generation gap/name-calling that has taken up far too much of the past five issues. And here’s to finally showing Kyle with some of the maturity and head for strategy that he developed during the Winick run on the book as well as the old sense of humor. I laughed unashamedly out-loud at the line “Stop complaining. Lotsa people would pay good money to be beaten to a pulp by eight amazon women.” I can only hope that it all doesn’t disappear completely when Rabb takes over completely next month. And despite a rough and rather obvious start, Amon Sur is shaping up to be a rather interesting villain for Kyle and the new Corps to fight against.

All in all, this mini-series has been the low point of the Winick GL run and the Second Volume of Green Arrow. Still, it did end on a good note and I don’t think I’ll be taking either book off my reading list for a while… yet.

Blood And Water #3 - A Review

Written by: Judd Winick
Penciled by: Tomm Coker
Inked by: Tomm Coker
Colored by: Jason Wright
Lettered by: Kurt Hathaway
Editor: Mariah Huehner & Heidi MacDonald
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

In a week full of good Judd Winick stories (Green Lantern and Titans/Young Justice Graduation Day in addition to Blood and Water), this was the best. I’ve enjoyed the first two chapters in this series, in which we are introduced to Hepatitis-victim Adam, who is told his life can be saved by his friends Nicky and Josh. They can do this because they are vampires.

The vampires in the world spun by Winick bare little resemblance to the ones in horror movies. Sunlight, holy objects and running water do nothing to repel vampires. Oh, they are a lot more sensitive to light than most and human blood has the same effect on vampires as PCP… but for the most part, you can’t die and can’t get sick. And in this issue, after dealing with the problem of his body rejecting all the organs it no longer needs (with a method that requires a mop and bathtub), Adam is introduced to one of the other benefits of being a vampire. Sex.

Yes, the word is written on the cover. And tempting as it is to make a joke about “now that we have your attention, read this comic”, this issue does discuss sex. Yes, vampires can and will have sex in this reality. They also have the ability to make themselves more attractive to other people and Josh proudly notes he has not gone without since the night he became a vampire. And in a hilarious scene that seems to mock the tendency of some genre writers (Ann Rice in particular) to turn any male who becomes a vampire into a stereotypical gay man, Josh pranks Adam.

Now all of this is pretty interesting in of itself and good fun for those of us who enjoy a good vampire story but like seeing the genre made fun of, like with the now infamous dildo crucifix in Issue #1. Sadly, someone decided that there needed to be more to this than humor and character. Hence we are given a “plot” with some monster from Canada waking up and “hunting” our characters. After two references in two issues, we still have no idea what this creature is and why it has just now woken and traveled from Canada to California to kill vampires. Still, my curiosity is piqued and I cannot wait for the next issue.

Looking To The Stars: There's Something About Typhoid Mary

Many is the number of comics fans who were brought into the hobby by Kevin Smith’s now legendary run on Daredevil. Kicking off a new volume beginning at issue number one, Smith would usher in a line of writers better known for working in independent comics or film than big name superhero comics, David Mack and Brian Michael Bendis among them. And with the blockbuster hit Daredevil movie, even more people are picking up the adventures of The Man Without Fear each month.

Small wonder then that, over the last month at my comic shop, many of these people came up to me and said, “Hey Matt? Who’s the chick with the white face and the leather?” Oddly enough, many of these recent fans haven’t tried to catch up with the past issues of Daredevil before the works of Kevin Smith and the first volume of Daredevil.. so none of them have been introduced to one of the most interesting villains to plague Matt Murdock’s life; Typhoid Mary.

Typhoid Mary first appeared in Daredevil #254. It was shortly after the events of Frank Miller’s “Born Again”, and Matt was slowly rebuilding his life with long-time girlfriend, (and direct cause of his life falling apart) Karen Page. Still without a law license, he was acting as an advisor to other lawyers and running a free legal advice clinic with Karen in addition to his life as Daredevil. Of course the Kingpin was looking for revenge and decided that since Matt had grown dependent on the love of a good woman to pull himself up, that he would use the love of a bad girl to kick Matt back down.

Enter Mary Walker; a sad case, a young woman with a multiple-personality disorder that had created Typhoid. Typhoid was, in short, a man-hater with psychotic tendencies. More frighteningly, Typhoid had weak telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers that Mary was unable to duplicate. Indeed, Mary was totally unaware of Typhoid’s existence and was a meek and quiet woman with a talent for acting. When Mary switched personalities, her heartbeat, voice… and even smell would change. This anomaly to her illness made her the perfect weapon for the Kingpin to use on the blind Matt Murdock. This also allows him to hire Typhoid and distract her from her current occupation: smashing up various rackets and becoming a folk hero in the city as a vigilante who cuts down the criminals while secretly taking them over for herself.

Typhoid romances Matt in both his guises, in both her guises. Typhoid subconsciously influences Mary Walker into the life of Matt, masquerading as a volunteer worker for the blind. She goes after Daredevil, taunting him with innuendo as she fights him at night. Her condition masking her as two different people to Matt, he is thrown off balance in his already topsy-turvy world as he falls for both women.

I won’t say too much about this first appearance of Typhoid Mary, as it is detailed in a brand new trade paperback collection: Daredevil Legends 4: Typhoid Mary, which is well worth the time and money of a Daredevil fan or any discriminating comics fan. What I will discuss is the lesser-told tale of what happened to Mary afterwards and her secret origin, which leads into the “Hardcore” story in the current title.

After Mary’s eventual capture, she was committed seemingly to undergo psychiatric treatment and eventually be released back into society. What happened, however, was that Mary was abused both mentally and sexually by the doctors who were supposed to help her. Her psychosis became worse and she developed more personalities in addition to that of Typhoid Mary.

She somehow managed to, as Mary Walker, recruit Deadpool to kill her and end her suffering. Deadpool refused, having made a promise not to kill anymore, but he did agree to help her escape. During the break out of the asylum Typhoid was able to take full control of Mary’s body. She then swore revenge on all the men who took advantage of her, including “The Redman”, whom she remembered after Deadpool accidentally knocked her from a window.

Daredevil and Typhoid would fight again, with Typhoid making a startling revelation: her psychosis started after a young Daredevil knocked her out of a window. It seems that Mary was the young prostitute that Matt knocked through a window by accident while chasing after his father’s killers in Frank Miller’s “The Man Without Fear”. Matt had always feared that he had killed that young woman, but she survived her fall… and the physical and emotional trauma created Typhoid, the poison by which Mary could fight back at all the men who hurt her. The final fight with Daredevil ended as Mary had an emotional breakdown and she was taken away by Deadpool, who told Daredevil that he would take care of her.

As far as I know, Mary made no more appearances in the Deadpool series after the Deadpool 97 Annual where Daredevil and Mary had their confrontation nor has Mary made any appearances since then. The current evidence suggests that Deadpool got Mary the help that she needed and that she was able to function on her own independently until the Kingpin stepped in and forced the Typhoid personality back into dominance.

One thing is for certain: as Matt Murdock said as Deadpool carried Mary out of his life at their last meeting; “This is far from over.”

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

Friday, May 16, 2003

PVP #2 - A Review

Story Title: Lord of the Schwings!

Written by: Scott Kurtz
Penciled by: Scott Kurtz
Inked by: Scott Kurtz
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Scott Kurtz
Editor: Mark Walters
Publisher: Image Comics


Matt: Hulk’s Deli. You order, we SMASH!

Daron: Matt?

Matt: Yeah.

Daron: It’s Daron. I need you to review PVP #2 this week.

Matt: What?! But I had a piece on Hawkman #15 ready to go!

Daron: Sorry, but we’re short on Indie reviews this week and you’re the only person with a free spot.

Matt: Have I not been suffering enough watching Green Arrow and Green Lantern go to heck in a handbasket this past month that I also have to read the least funny gamer comic ever?

Daron: Hey, after the lashing you gave the first issue in your column, I thought it would be funny to have you review the second. Besides, it could have gotten better. And I heard that they were just reprinting strips from the website for the first issue. It could be new material this time.

Matt: Well, I suppose I DO owe it to the fans to see if it got better.

Daron: Exactly. You’re doing the public a service. Heck, in a way you’re a hero! Going places sane men fear to tread and saving us time and money by telling us about what books aren’t worth the trees that died to make them!

Matt: Well, when you put it that way…

Daron: Besides, it could be worse. You could be reviewing Venom #1.

Matt: * winces * A Tsunami title? With a character I hate…

Daron: And Francisco Herrera artwork through the WHOLE thing…

Matt: * thinks * How soon do you need that PVP review?

Daron: Immediately. Now get to writing. I think we’re loosing the readers with this overdone “creators speaking” bit.

Matt: Hey, it worked for Stan Lee!


*sounds of running to car, car starting*


Not too long ago I made a number of complaints about PVP the comic strip and its’ new book form (such as it is) as published by Image. With that in mind, let us go down the bullet list of my complaints and see what, if anything, has changed.

1. Is It A Comic Book?
While not as fragmented as Issue One and sticking to one storyline, I still cannot call PVP a comic book. It is a collection of comic strips adhering to one theme.

2. Is it new Material?
Reprints of comics you can get for free on the web. As I said before: This is a scam. You are being ripped off when you pay money for this book.

3. Is there gaming content?
Miraculously, yes. The entire book centers on Dungeons and Dragons.

4. Is Jade used as a gratuitous sex object?
Aside from the now standard Frank Cho cover with Jade helplessly thrown over the shoulder of barbarian Brent, Kurtz himself takes a stab at cheesecake artwork with a panel showing Jade in a Red Sonja chainmail bikini. This demonstrates two things: Kurtz whore-like ability to cater to the lowest common denominator among his male readers and why he has Frank Cho doing his covers.

5. Toilet Humor
Skull objects to the smelly troll stereotype and then breaks wind. Nuff said.

6. Insulting the Fans Who Support Him
Limited only to a comic where Brent insults the gaming humor comic industry and a jab at gamers who talk and dress in character.

Final Result
At least this issue was about something, but it is still poorly drawn and unfunny. The book title says it all: Lord of the Schwings. A forced in-joke with a reference to a long dead running gag. And much as I dig that early 90’s slang, daddy-o, it ain’t fly or fresh no mo’. Nobody says Schwing anymore.

Go read Nodwick #20 instead.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Green Arrow #25 - A Review

Written by: Ben Raab
Penciled by: Charlie Adlard
Inked by: Charlie Adlard
Colored by: Titjana Wood
Lettered by: Jack Morelli
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: DC Comics

It amazes me how with every part, this series gets worse and makes me think “Well, at least it can’t get worse than this.”

Silly Rabbit. Of course it can get worse.

We’ve talked about the plot and the art in past incarnations… and rest assured, those elements are still sub-part. But this issue… this issue achieved new depths with some bad logic and horrible characterizations and dialogue.

For the bad logic, consider this. Oliver Queen is about to pull his “bad cop” routine on a captured alien gangster when Kyle stops him and who tells him “There are other ways to make people talk than just threatening to bash their face in”. He suggests using psychology and ushers Ollie into the hall. In this, case he then uses the psychology of threatening to do something even worse than bashing his face in with his ring, just talking about how it can do “anything” that he thinks of.

Okay… so Kyle resorts to making threats of violence. Ollie Queen backs down from a confrontation. Yeah. This sounds natural.

As far as the characterization goes, Ollie and Dinah both sound perfectly in character… for a Denny O’Neil book from 30 years ago. I don’t think anyone, even in comics, has used the words “lech”, “broad” or “fracases” seriously since then. And while I enjoy a good retro tale as much as anyone, it is a bit distracting in a story that is supposed to be set in the modern day.

Not to mention the “Saw this coming a mile away” splash page at the end. With no spoilers, I will say that there is a revelation on the final page that will have all scholars of Green Lantern ring function history screaming and moaning about how what we see conflicts with everything we know about how the Kyle’s specific ring works.

Monday, May 5, 2003

Knights Of The Dinner Table Illustrated #21 - A Review

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

Okay. So you’ve heard of Knights of The Dinner Table, the comic about the inherit humor of roleplaying, right? So how does Knights of the Dinner Table Illustrated (also known as K.ILL.) differ from K.O.D.T, you ask? Surely both books are illustrated, being comic books, right?

Yes, they are. The difference is that while K.O.D.T. shows ordinary people sitting around the table acting out their adventures, KILL actually shows the game characters as if they were real crossbow-shooting, fireball tossing adventurers. The artwork by Brendon & Brian Fraim does a good job of depicting the high fantasy adventure in glorious black and white, while still being cartoony enough to express the few humorous moments.

Did I just say few humorous moments? I’m afraid so. For while KODT and KILL usually put the comic in “comic books”, the last few issues (and this one in particular) have been hampered with plot details, exposition and past issue references. Too much time has been spent discussing the machinations of a secret society, the revelation of how they have been using the adventuring party of The Untouchable Trio Plus One for their own means and their killing of the party’s most level headed member Zayre. To say nothing of mystery woman Thornia, held by the same society, and now apparently a pawn of the Society to avenge themselves upon the rest of the Trio.

Confused? I’m not surprised. In all honesty, I can’t recommend this issue as one to check out. I can highly recommend the book, however and would advise any fans of fantasy or fantasy parody to take a look at this. You might want to wait until next month or look for the KILL: Overkill Trade Paperback, but this book is typically one of the highlights of my month.

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #55 - A Review

Written by: Zeb Wells
Penciled by: Khary Randolph
Inked by: Wayne Faucher
Colored by: Studio F
Lettered by: Randy Gentile
Editor: John Miesegaes
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The adage of “don’t judge a book by its’ cover” proves very appropriate with PP. For the last few months the covers have been done by Fransisco Herrera, whose art gives a new meaning to the term “stylized.” Take this month’s cover, for example. It looks as if the Spider-Man’s body was designed by making a “thumbs up” and then tracing it. Use your thumb for the head and try it, kids!

Thankfully, the interior art (done by Khary Randolph in this final chapter) is much better and displays a basic grasp of human anatomy that Herrera lacks. He has a cartoony style similar to that of Mike Wieringo, but with a stronger Manga influence. Aside from a Johnny Storm with a receding hairline, I can’t think of anything in the artwork which really stood out, good or bad.

Sadly, Wells is still writing and still dragging out the same concept that has fueled the last two issues. That is, a group of rich men with way too much money are funding a privately televised “fight club” where they pit their super-villains for hire against Spidey and take bets on the fights. The whole concept has been played for laughs as Spidey has faced off against Grade Z reject Boomerang and much abused B-list regular Scorpion, as well as a robot called the XP 2000.
And now, the Hollywood director in the group has unveiled his fighter. The proverbial secret weapon. And his name is… Rocket Racer?

Yes. Freaking Rocket Racer. In a new costume. With nipples.

Okay, ashamed as I am to admit it I did laugh at this. But only because I despise Batman and Robin with such a passion that I couldn’t help but laugh as this director (mental note: find picture of Joel Schumacher and see how it matches up) explains that he is going for a campy angle in hiring on one of the lamest, most fad-driven villains in all of history.

What didn’t have me laughing though is the portrayal of Peter here. While I like the idea of his disguising himself to go undercover, I can’t believe he would be as incompetent as is shown here. Think about it: it’s been shown he knows how to use make-up to cover-up bruises, so the disguise he has here is not unbelievable. Heck, with all the times he’s nearly had his secret identity discovered he’s proved he’s pretty good at improvising and no mean actor himself, not to mention what he probably picked up from MJ. So couldn’t he think of something better than “I love drugs and all sorts of illegal stuff!” when trying to establish himself? And I’m not even going to touch the fact that he lets himself get beaten up in order to protect his cover. You’re in disguise, Peter! Just don’t stick to the walls and they’ll just think you’re one more tough but fast wiry guy.

All in all, my opinion of this book remains unchanged. It should have stopped at the excellent issue 50 and then gone into the new Spectacular Spider-Man book, rather than subject us to six months of cheesy stories with no point.

Batman #614 - A Review

Written by: Jeph Loeb
Penciled by: Jim Lee
Inked by: Scott Williams
Colored by: Alex Sinclair
Lettered by: Richard Starkings
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: DC Comics

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Batman verses the Joker, mano-a-mano in a good old fashioned “smackdown ‘da clown” fight. Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt. Right? Perhaps. But at no time in recent memory has the classic battle between good and chaos been portrayed with such vivid imagery, nor such skillfully crafted words.

Much has been written about how Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee have revitalized this book and a character who has suffered more poorly-conceived mini-series and gimmick-driven crossovers in the last decade than any other superhero. And they have done this through the remarkably simple means of giving the fans what they want: Beautiful artwork and good writing that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree in Batology to understand what is going on along and exposition that doesn’t read like it came out of a history textbook.

That’s the first thing I noticed in this story. The exposition flows forth in the action, as Batman remembers all the pain The Joker has caused him and his friends during the fight. At these moments, Lee’s art echoes that of scenes from famous Batman stories of the past, capturing the same scenes but in Lee’s distinctive style. This gives those unfamiliar with the exact instances of Bat-history a chance to understand just WHY Batman pushes himself so much harder when he is facing The Joker. The plot thus far is also explained quickly and simply, with Batman looking at the now dead body of the friend who saved his life… and the Joker standing over him with a gun.

Those who have been following the story of Hush thus far may wish to know that the identity of the mysterious “Hush” who has been orchestrating a number of attacks on Batman is revealed in this issue. But I’ll keep quiet as to whom they are here… no pun intended. I will say that Loeb’s tendency for foreshadowing as well as Lee’s gift for visual references and tributes to classic Batman stories should give the sharp-eyed all the evidence they need to play detective, even before the final page is unmasked.

Even without the mystery, Batman is a worthy addition to your collection. And those of you late in joining us might wish to look for the new Batman: Hush Hard Cover Trade Paperback, also released this week. The $25 dollar price tag may leave you screaming at first but the quality of the story inside (along with some new pages of original Jim Lee art) will leave you stunned silent.

Green Lantern #163 - A Review

Written by: Judd Winick
Penciled by: Charlie Adlard
Inked by: Charlie Adlard
Colored by: Titjana Wood
Lettered by: Jack Morelli
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: DC Comics

Reviewing Green Arrow and Green Lantern has become almost tragically comic for me. I find myself struggling to find new criticisms of this mini-series as all the same problems keep coming back. I’m almost tempted to just post links to my reviews of the first three parts of this six-part story and say “Repeat As Needed”.

But you all deserve better than that. So generous bloke I am, I will risk looking repetitive and redundant to explain the specific flaws with this particular issue.

Adlard’s artwork is still over-inked. He still has no sense of visual storytelling. And he still makes more “just plain wrong” mistakes in the art. Case in point: last time I mentioned how Kyle is flying around in space without any energy field around him, yet he made a nice green spacesuit for his new space cop friend Amon Sur. This time, not only is he still flying around space unprotected… he is now making YELLOW energy constructs. Either that or something got screwed up, as Kyle uses a yellow device to track an alien spaceship and Amon Sur comments. “Amazing. The Green Lantern ring is truly one of the greatest assets that a warrior could have in all the galaxy.” Amazing indeed…

Amon himself is a sticking point. Played right, I think the character would be a great addition to the series. As is, I think Ollie’s premonitions of something not being right about him were dead on and that by the end of the series, it will turn out that Amon is working for the Black Circle and may even be someone in a disguise, with a story tailor-made to win Kyle’s sympathy.

The characterization is still way off. The plot has been recycled from better stories. And I have to question if six issues was REALLY necessary, since not much happens in this chapter to advance the plot. The only thing that saves it, oddly enough, is the fight scenes and Ollie Queen’s wisecracks.

The ultimate tragedy of this series is that these two writers are very good individually, but are unable to build off of one another's work in individual chapters. Perhaps if Rabb and Winick had co-written each issue this would have been better. As is, the whole thing is a mess and I can’t wait for them to move on to doing their own individual plots.

Looking To The Stars: X-2 Much?

I’ve never been a big X-Men fan and I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, having considered the first one very x-tremely dull. That said, I think this is easily the most accurate Marvel movie adaptation ever. However, that is a half-handed complement as the movie has all of the flaws that I feel the book often has. The action scenes are first rate and the characterization is memorable but often times, the writers of the X-Men books try to fit too much into a story to the point of excluding certain things or giving other parts short shrift.

With a few exceptions, all the actors do their characters justice. Hugh Jackman in particular puts more soul into Wolverine than most of Logan’s writers have ever given him. Mystique is given more dialogue and characterization than in the first movie, showing Rebecca Romijn as being more than just a pretty face. Alan Cumming does the impossible and brings Nightcrawler to life, which I never would have thought possible except through complete CGI. And Sir Ian manages to covey all the power and menace of Magneto, even when locked in a prison cell reading a book.

The only problem is that there are so many characters to keep track of and many of them are not given much to do. Many do shine with what little time they get (Iceman, Rogue and Pyro, in particular) but others do little to stand out. Cyclops, for example, is taken out early, doesn’t return until nearly the end and even then does little but whine like Luke Skywalker. And I know I’ll be far from the first or last person to say this, but it must be said again…

Halle Berry should NOT be in this movie. I heard her say in an interview years ago that it was an insult to her as an African-American actress that the best role she had been offered was that of a character in a superhero movie. I thought then that she just wasn’t taking the part seriously and it showed. And the “just don’t care” attitude of Mrs. “first African-American woman to win an Oscar, even though I’m really half Caucasian” shows even more here. Storm, as portrayed by Berry, has none of the personality of the comic character. Actually, she has no personality whatsoever and only two expressions; dull surprise and stoic.

The plot is your typical X-Men story: anti-Mutant human in a position of power tries to destroy all Mutants. Prosaic stuff, but as in the books the deep characters and the subplots between them give life to what could otherwise be a very dull story. And just like in the books, there are far too many characters to keep track of. Many X-Men favorites are given nothing more than cameos where they are not even named. (Colossus, Syrin, Kitty Pride for example). And even the ones who are named and camera time are not given much time to truly develop. Lady Deathstrike, for example, suffers the worst conversion. A former love-interest of Logan in the past who willingly became a monster to hunt him, she is turned into an impersonal, mind-controlled assassin here.

Perhaps the biggest problem is one that returned from the first movie: that is there are some things that will be confusing as heck to someone who has never read an X-Men book before. I can’t discuss the major offender in this area because it relates to a point that is leading into what will likely be the center plot of X3. Suffice to say, at the end of the movie I found myself having to explain certain a lot more details to my less-comic literate friends than I did after Spider-Man or even Blade.

Still, the movie does get more right than wrong and all within my group of friends agreed that it was a fun time. Even those who needed an explanation for why Cyclops needed to keep his visor on or why Nightcrawler made blue smoke when he teleported.

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