Monday, June 30, 2003
Penciled by: Igor Kordey
Inked by: Scott Hanna
Colored by: Liquid!
Lettered by: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Mike Raicht
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Somewhere in Texas, in a loft apartment several days after a series of drunken parties…
Starman: (tiredly) Hello?
Daron: Greetings, Minion!
Starman: Huh? Oh yeah… it’s you.
Daron: It’s you? Fool, dare you speak to your Dark Overlord in such a-
Starman: Can it, Daron. It’s too early in the day and I am too hungover to deal with your Doctor Doom act today. God, those con parties are amazing. Two days later and I still feel like the inside of a porta-potty at Ozzfest.
Daron: (mock concern) Aww.. is da pwecious Starman not fee-wing well? Well, tough beefsteak, pal! You know, I WAS going to let you review the new Birds of Prey Secret Files… but since your spirit hasn’t been completely crushed yet, I see that I will have to be much harsher…
Starman: (sobriety suddenly coming along with panicked comprehension) Oh, gods! You don’t mean-
Daron: Yes! You.. YOU will review the new X-Treme X-Men issue!
Starman: B-B-B-.. but I don’t read X-Treme!
Daron: You told me you were trying to read more X-Men.
Starman: Yes, but I meant the GOOD X-Men books. The ones where things are actually happening! Not the one where Chris Claremont is rehashing the same old ideas and characters he’s been using for the last 20 years, but with less coherence!
Daron: Do you wish to review the new X-Men Unlimited next week as well Or perhaps Ultimate Adventures #4?
Starman: * sighs * No. No, I don’t Lord.
Daron: Good to see you remembered the title this time. Do not fail me, Admiral Morrison.
(Several hours, one trip to the comic store and a sturdying drink of Jack Daniels later)
Right. X-Treme X-Men. Part Three of God Love, Man Kills II. Yes, I think the numbering system is a bit confusing myself. Apparently this is Chris Claremont writing a sequel to the story that allegedly was the basis for X2: X-Men United.
A lot of stuff happens in this issue, but damned if half of it means anything to me or makes much sense. Apparently Kitty Pryde has been kidnapped by Stryker, who is messing around with her head for some reason and making her hallucinate. Why? I haven’t a clue.
The rest of the team (in this case Wolverine, Cannonball, Sage and Bishop) have to fight a crazed Storm, whose powers went crazy after some incident involving Kitty’s phasing powers causing massive upheaval on the balance of nature when she phases herself and adamantium. Why this never happened before any of the times she had to save Wolverine by phasing them through something, I have no idea.
Maybe you have to have read “God Loves, Man Kills” to get this one but coming into part three of this story, I was lost. And unlike many Marvel comics today, this one has no helpful “previously on” page to explain what has happened so far.
The artwork by Igor Kordey is, for the most part, competently done. Aside from a few points towards the end, where it appears uncertain if Kitty is wearing white tights or fishnets, there is nothing that stands out as glaringly out of place. There is also, however, nothing that stands out as particularly excellent.
All in all, this book is the perfect example of why I don’t make a habit of reading X-Men; confusing plots mixed with nonsensical pseudoscience that flies in the face of what I do know of the book and an apparently required knowledge of over twenty years of backstory.
Penciled by: Mike Wieringo
Inked by: Lary Stucker
Colored by: Paul Mounts
Lettered by: Rus Wooton
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Mark Waid made headlines on all the comic news sites earlier last week when he announced that he had been fired from writing Fantastic Four, in favor of a new direction to be written by Marvel President Bill Jemas himself. Marvel Editorial immediately sent out their own announcement, claiming that Jemas was not going to be writing Fantastic Four and that the “wacky inventor with super-villain” concept Waid said they wanted was actually going to be used for another title.
Now, I’m not going to take sides on this argument one way or the other. It’s impossible for me, the common shlub on the street, to know who said what or what was planned and what may have been changed at the last minute to make whoever look good. But there is one thing I do know after having ready this, the penultimate chapter of Mark Waid’s “Unthinkable” story arc. And that one thing is this; we must do whatever we can to keep Mr. Waid on this title!
Honestly, the only reason I ever picked up this book in the first place was because of Mark Waid. I’ve been a fan of his work since his original run on “The Flash”. I followed him through “JLA”, read every mini-series he ever penned (including the classics “JLA: Year One” and “Kingdom Come”) and stopped reading Ruse when the title wound up in the less-capable hands of Scott Beatty.
I know that I am far from alone in this, being one of many Mark Waid fans in my circle of comic-reading friends. I know that the sales on this book have gone up at my personal shop since Waid took over the title. And as I recall correctly, the Title’s spot on the Diamond Top 300 list has been going up steadily the past few months as word of mouth over “Unthinkable” has spread.
Do I credit Mark Waid’s writing for this rise in the book’s popularity? Well, he does have a huge fan following and has brought back a sense of surprise the title lacked before. But Waid hasn’t done it alone. The title is served just as well by its’ art team. Mike Wieringo’s pencils have never looked better, even when he and Waid did “The Flash” back in the day.
You may have noticed, readers, that I haven’t said much about the story of the book itself. This is an intentional act on my part, as I am so confident that you… yes, YOU… will like this book, I can trust the book to sell itself when you hold it in your hot little hands in the store. That, and all those who miss this issue and the exciting conclusion in Fantastic Four #500 next month shall suffer the wrath of Doom! And you wouldn’t want that now, would you?
I’ve gotten more letters in the last two weeks regarding “A Modest Proposal” than I have to any one column I have written before. I suspect, though I can’t prove it that I have gotten more mail about it than all my other columns combined.
I feel it worth noting that every single one of those dozens of e-mails agreed with the basic message of my proposal. That nobody should be treated like an outsider or a sheep when in a comic store, that the publishers are not doing enough at this time to meet the needs of the majority of their potential fans and that things are not yet hopeless. Indeed, much is being done to try and win more children and women into the hobby and for the first time in decades, things are starting to look better.
But I’ve had my time to preach. Now it is your turn. Already I have collected some of the best letters of the ones I have received. Letters that posed questions to me I hadn’t thought of and raised points I did not address.
I would like to answer all these questions and more. But I would like to hear from even more of you. I suspect there are quite a few of you out there who have a story worth telling of your experiences. Surely there are a few women out there with horror stories of being hit on by unwashed clerks. A few parents saddened by the lack of Richie Rich and Unca Scrooge on the shelves. There may even be someone who disagrees with my proposal and thinks that things are just fine as is.
At any rate, whoever you are, whatever your stories and your opinions… I want to hear from you all. Tell me what you thought of the article and if you thought that I missed anything. Tell me where I went wrong or astray and tell me what can be done to fix what I got wrong in my ramblings. Tell me that I’m a brilliant genius, that what I wrote was perfect and that I should be running my own comic company.
Don’t laugh, folks. Someone DID send that already. No marriage proposals yet, but hope springs eternal.
Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.
Thursday, June 26, 2003
Penciled by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Inked by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Brendon & Brian Fraim
Editors: Brian Jelke & Eric Engelhard
Publisher: Kenzer And Company
Two months ago in a previous review, I complained that this title was becoming too hampered with an on-going plot and that the humor was starting to fall to the wayside as an effort was made to tie together the various random unconnected events of the first few issues. After this issue, I have to wonder if any but the most marginal attempts are being made to include humor in this title at all.
The basic conceit of “KILL” is that most of the “Knight: Illustrated” comics are “live” depictions of the events of the role-playing games played in “Knights of the Dinner Table”. This was quite enjoyable in the early issues when new details were added into the KILL issues through the art and dialogue. For example, consider the now famous story where the “Knights RPG group destroy a gazebo, thinking it to be some kind of monster based on the game-master’s description. This is changed to a group of adventurers destroying a gazebo after seeing a sign that says “this way to the gazebo”, noting the statues surrounding it, concluding the gazebo must be some kind of monster and “wasting it”. But lately, it seems like the past stories are being converted into new issues of KILL, but with all of the funny bits being pushed aside to make room for exposition.
After the first few issues where the greatest moments of KODT were recreated with a few new twists, things changed. We were introduced to a secret society made up of various people who had been wronged by our heroes, The Untouchable Trio, and were dedicating themselves to destroying the adventurers after using them to accomplish their own dastardly ends. We have seen this group operating for several issues now, seen the dissension within their ranks… but they just aren’t as interesting or as funny as the general mayhem caused by the Trio on their own. And the revelation that they have been secretly manipulated by this society kills a lot of the humor from the idea that these “heroes” randomly stumble into things and cause trouble.
This wouldn’t be too bad if the drama caused by this society were as engaging as the humor. Sadly, this book is very inaccessible. Sure, the four main characters are briefly introduced on the main page… but nothing is made to introduce Lord Gilead, his motivations for wanting to destroy the Untouchable Trio and what the secret society has that could buy his cooperation in letting the Trio loose from his dungeons. There’s not even so much as a footnote to explain things… like writer Mark Plemmons has just assumed that this book has no new readers or that anybody who is reading this book has already read the original KODT books upon which this story is based.
Thankfully the art is still up to snuff, but it’s not enough to save this book. When the plot is dull the exposition nonexistent and the humor absent, not even the widest of wild-eyed humorously panicked faces can help to move things along. Still, it is obvious that the book is building towards something big… but a book like this is not read for the action and plot. It is read for the laughs. And right now, I don’t see anything worth laughing at.
Monday, June 23, 2003
Penciled by: Ed Benes
Inked by: Alex Lei
Colored by: Hi-Fi
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Lysa Hawkins
Publisher: DC Comics
Birds of Prey has been in something of a funk for the last few years. The title has been bounced from writer to writer ever since the departure of Chuck Dixon and been unable to sustain a regular art team or a consistent “look” since Greg Land left the title. And let’s not even go into the TV Series, which had nothing to do with the comic it was “based” on. Although Dina Meyer was a damn good Oracle and the one good thing in the entire show… but I digress.
My point is that a lot of people are looking towards the new creative team with a good deal of hope and dread. There has been a lot of questioning among some of the fan base as to whether or not Gail Simone (most recently of Gus Beezer and Agent X) can turn the writing on the title around. Likewise, may have wondered whether the team of Benes and Lai (most recently of Supergirl) can make this book worth looking at again. Well, let me tell you folks: It is MORE than worth looking at.
The story is a treat for old and new readers alike. We are introduced to Oracle and Black Canary and how they operate through their dealing with an Enron/Halliburton style executive, whom is planning to steal the retirement funds of his employees and flee to Europe. This allows the new readers to get an introduction to “the Birds” but Simone also explores some subjects left untouched by past writers; like how Oracle justifies the more ethically questionable elements about her work. And in a 180 from how most writers of the last 10 years have treated her, Dinah Lance is portrayed as a woman of intelligence and humor; not an impulsive, empty-headed bimbo who needs someone else to give her direction.
With a writer as skilled as Simone, there is a danger that the writing will overshadow the artwork. But that warning is unneeded here as Benes and Lai do an excellent job, whether it is illustrating a tense fight scene or a simple meal between two friends. And they also manage the difficult task of drawing attractive, distinct female characters without resorting to exaggerated curves or “pin-up” style art panels.
Worry no more, Bird-Lovers! The “bold new direction”, as it says on the cover, is just that and not only is this issue the best Birds of Prey issue I have read in years- this is the best book I have read all week! It is a bit early to say that this team can equal the book during its’ “salad days” when Dixon and Land were handling the writing and art. But based on what I’ve see here, I think Simone, Benes and Lai could surpass the golden boys by the end of this first arc
There is another group, as equally important and ignored yet more often insulted by the comic-reading community than children. They make up the majority of our world population and yet are only 10 to 25-percent of the comic fandom market, depending on which survey you adhere to. I speak, of course, of women.
The subject of women as comic fans has been coming up a lot in my life in the last month. A grandmother and her ferocious reader of a six-year old grand daughter were in my store the other day, and the grandmother lamented the fact that there were so few comics written for young girls these days.
And then there was a meeting, which prompted a discussion of why we, the small independent comic dealers, seem to be loosing a lot of business regarding one product and one key demographic to the larger book stores like Barnes and Noble & Borders. The product is Manga graphic novels and the demographic is teenage girls.
And finally, a coworker of mine pointed out that he rarely saw any female customers at his store. All the women he saw at work were usually the girlfriend, sister, mother or wife of a male customer and were totally disinterested in what he was selling.
I have thought about these problems and I have, if not a solution, an identification of the major sticking points and a modest proposal of how we can make comics safe for the fairer sex.
1. What Women Want
This may come as a shock to some of you, but women want the exact same thing men want when then come into a comic book store; a little thing called Respect. As mentioned last week, nobody likes being talked down to or made to feel stupid. And as sad as it is, I’ve seen more of my colleagues (and oh, how it hurts me to call them that) in the hobby talk down to female fans than to children.
Case in point; among many other items, my store carries a number of fantasy statue lines. There’s a number of wizards, quite a few dragons… and a large number of fairies, angels and horses. Another salesman suggested that we start steering all female customers entering the store towards these statue displays as soon as they came in. My store also recently started carrying “Hello Kitty” merchandise, in a move to “carry more products that might appeal to female customers”.
Now why is this an issue with me? Call me a PC thug, but isn’t it just a little presumptuous to assume that a woman entering a comic book store is going to want to look at fairy statues and stuffed toys? Could it not be possible that maybe… just maybe… she might actually want to look at the comics? Not that I have any objections to carrying fairy statues or stuffed animals. Far from it, as the Hello Kitty merchandise has been a big hit with some of the Goth grrls who frequent by store and a huge seller. But I find it a bit rude (and possibly suicidal) to walk up to a woman and say “Ooooh… you don’t want to read that Wolverine book. Here… let me show you a nice statue of a unicorn!”
So as utterly simple as this may sound, those of us who work in the comic shops need to talk to the female customers and get to know them and their interests. Then you can show them things that might interest them as individuals instead of making a broad generalization of what women should want. This is just as offensive as telling an African-American patron that he should be reading “Black Panther”. (Actually, everyone should be reading “Black Panther”. And “The Crew”. But I digress.)
2. Manga – Why Does It Attract Women So Well?
Manga-style comics are becoming more and more popular, particularly with younger women. Many publishers, noting this trend, are now adopting the Manga style of artwork for their books… and yet are ignoring the types of stories many Manga books tell. Perhaps the best example of this is Marvel Comics, whose new Tsunami line boats artwork by artists with a heavy Manga influence and yet many of the stories are the same old, same old. I’m sure, for example, that there are LOTS of women who were looking forward to the Namor series.
In all seriousness, I’ve noticed that women, more often then men, tend to choose their comics based upon the quality of the writing than the artwork. Indeed, many of the more popular Manga books are those which do not feature big robots, magic or super powers. Many are simple, soap-opera style stories, akin to the romance comics of the 50’s and 60’s. And even the ones that do feature robotic or super heroines tend to be more thoughtful and emotion-driven than many of the action-driven stories of American graphic literature. This is, in my opinion, why Manga does so well. It is not the artwork; it is the subject matter of the writing and the stronger female characters that are easier to relate to.
The sad fact is that male characters have always dominated comics. Try and name a female superheroine who isn’t the successor/sidekick of a male hero. Hard, isn’t it? Most of you probably said Wonder Woman or Catwoman and froze up. The X-Men fans among you probably got a few more names. But aside from them, who is there that is really famous? Batgirl and Supergirl are good, but stuck in the shadows of the men who came before them. Marvel, with the exception of Spider-Girl and Mystique, no female character has a solo title all to herself. Ditto Batgirl and Wonder Woman at DC and Witchblade and Tomb Raider at Top Cow.
Which brings me to a quick side note to all those who operate a comic store: take down the pin-up posters from your walls and windows, please! I respect the artistic talents of Michael Turner and J. Scott Campbell as much as anyone else. But even I, liberal as I am, get disturbed when I go into a strange comic shop and the walls look like an exhibit on “The Wonders of The Female Anatomy” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lady Death and Purgatori have their place and that is place is not in your window. It is stores like this which promote the stereotype that most comic-book reading men are perverts.
3. Why Don’t The Ladies Like Us?
This begs us to the question of why larger bookstores do such a better job of selling Manga than the smaller independent stores. There is no one major factor here. The larger bookstores have name recognition, better advertising, the ability to take a loss on some products more easily so they can offer a better sales price than the smaller stores. BN.com and Borders.com also allow books to be mail-ordered; something which many comic shops cannot do.
But if I were to venture a guess, I’d say there is one major reason why women prefer larger bookstores; comfort. Your average large bookstore has a café and coffee bar and a place to sit down. Your average comic book store, does not. Your average large bookstore allows people to wander around, take their time and read through things. Your average comic book store, if it does not have everything on the shelves sealed up in a protective bag, is likely to have a large number of “Do Not Read The Comics” signs around. Not exactly the greatest thing for creating a hospitable atmosphere.
So what can we do about this? Well, maybe you could have one copy available as a reading or browsing copy? Maybe you can set up some chairs so that all your patrons can sit down for a minute. And while the idea of putting a Starbucks inside a comic shop may be a bit TOO revolutionary (to say nothing of the damage that spilt frappuccino could do to the reading copy), it couldn’t hurt to try and make the store interior a bit more friendly
Which brings up another point: the people in your store. Most large bookstores employ an even mix of men and women, of all ages and races. Your average comic bookstore employee on the other hand, is likely single, white and male. And not to promote the stereotype again, but a number of them are likely to view any young woman who enters the store as a potential girlfriend. Some of them are a little socially inept and have no idea how to talk to any woman besides their mother in any context. And some of them are just plain scary or have bad hygiene.
So to all of you walking Simpsons characters out there? Little advice… It’s called showering, deodorant, shaving, brushing your hair, brushing your teeth and just plain grooming yourself. Who knows? You might someday get lucky enough to find that woman who finds your knowledge of The Hulk’s physiology OH so sexy at work, but it ain’t going to happen if she passes out everytime she moves downwind of you. For those of you in a position of authority, institute a dress code. Nothing major: just a nice shirt and slacks should be enough.
4. Interesting Women in Comics
Many of the same general principals I discussed last week regarding how to get children interested in comics apply just as well towards women.
Fun Fact; For most of the summer of 2002, the most popular movie among women 13-25 was Spider-Man. This caused quite a to-do in the media and many “experts” quibbled over how and why a movie like this could be so popular with women. The answer was obvious to me; Spider-Man has always been, since the early Stan Lee issues, just as much a romance as it was an action thriller. And the writing/directing team did a first rate job of translating that to the screen. It wasn’t your typical mindless Bruce Willis explosions movie; it was a perfect blend of action, drama and comedy that is very rarely done in movies today, much less done well. Quite a shock, I’m sure to those experts that think comic books are a “boys only” medium.
Boys only? Explain to me then how some of the more action-filled comics today are being penned by women. Gail Simone balanced action and comedy better than the majority of her male counterparts ever did during her runs on Deadpool and Agent X and is currently doing the same stellar work on Birds of Prey. Devin Grayson has made her name doing action-packed yet emotionally stunning stories across many Batman titles and is currently pulling monthly duties on Nightwing. Barbara Kessel has done a lot of good work at CrossGen. Witchblade, which has taken some flack for having perhaps the most uncomfortable costume in all of comicdom, was created by a woman; Christina Z. And in the early issues of that series, the cheesecake artwork was balanced by humorous notes about how much Sara Pezzini hated her clothes getting damaged by the Witchblade as it formed armor around her.
And I can’t even name all of the female artists, inkers, letterers, colorists and self-published Internet cartoonists working today. And with organizations like the Friends of Lulu, the idea of comics being a boys club is laughable, at best.
And even now, publishers are finding more ways to bring young girls into the hobby. Marvel, for example, recently recruited a romance novelist to write a series of books about the teenage Mary Jane Watson. The book, simply called “Mary Jane”, shows how a young MJ deals with being the new kid in town, trying to fit in, her crush on her next door neighbor and, oh yes, helping him as he copes with his new superpowers.
Personally, I would like to see a return of DC’s old Amethyst series. Forget Outsiders and Titans! The last thing DC needs right now is another set of team books. What it really could use is a simple comic about a girl who is really a lost princess, living a double life as an ordinary girl and the ruler of an entire planet. I’ve shown some of the old issues of the series to the young ladies in my store and they all loved it, but were sad to find out the book wasn’t being written anymore.
The audience is there, folks. Just needs a team to step up to the plate.
While this may help with bringing in younger female readers, I don’t think such drastic pinpoint measures need to be made for mature female readers. You see, we already have a model for what we can use to bring women into comic books. Something that is equal parts science fiction and fantasy with a lot of action and romance. Something that shows you can have strong female characters who don’t fall into the “bitch from hell” stereotype.
That model, my readers, is Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Yes, I know it was just canceled. And you know what? I’ll bet the week after it was canceled, we had more female customers in my store looking through the Buffy Comic books than I had ever seen before in all the months I’d been working there. Buffy is the proof of what I have been saying this whole time: create something that has characters women can relate to and admire that balances action with romance and a little bit of comedy, and they will come after it like gangbusters. In fact, our Dark Overlord Daron confessed to me that his ex-girlfriend introduced him to the show.
So to all of you out there who know a woman going through Buffy withdrawal, get her a copy of the comic. It couldn’t hurt.
Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt Website.
Monday, June 16, 2003
Penciled by: Sean Phillips
Inked by: Klaus Janson
Colored by: Lee Loughridge
Lettered by: Cory Petit
Editor: Alex Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Wazup, peeps? Starman, chillin’ like a villain here. Ready to represent the 411 boyz and give you the beat from the street on a whole new story. It’s a super-fly tale of a brother from the old school of gangsta. Its all about his struggle to….
* RING RING *
Starman : (answering phone) Wazzzzup?
Daron: Uh, Matt? This is Daron.
Starman: “Yo-yo! Wazup my Dark Overlord brother?”
Daron: I’m not your brother. I’m sure my mother would have told me. Why the hell are you talking like that? Did one of those Scott Kurtz fans hit you in the head with a brick again?
Starman: Nah, G-dog. I’m talking streetspeak ‘cause of this new book. It’s all about life on the mean streets of the city and a badass white boy trying to make his way in the world in a tough black neighborhood. It’s about how he fights past all these obstacles and rivals and how he rises to power and wealth.
Daron: Matt, if you wanted to review “8-Mile”, you should have submitted that to the Movies editor….
Starman: Don’t talk crazy, fool! Like I’d waste my words on that jive-sucka honky Eminem! Only “M N M” going anywhere near me melts in my mouth and not in my hand.
Daron: Matt. I am going to tell you this once. You cannot speak Urban slang. You started out okay, but now you’re mixing Luke Cage with Mr. T and… it’s just not funny anymore. So knock it off or I’ll cut your pay in half.
Starman: I don’t get paid anything.
Daron: Allright, then. I’ll assign you to be the sole writer of a new “Image Comics” review column… just think of it, Matt. Every Spawn spin-off…. Every Top Cow title that ignores story in favor of bootylicious artwork…. Waiting in anticipation for the all too rare Rising Stars issues that are actually worth reading…
Starman: * sighs * Thy will be done, Dark One.
* CLICK *
Right. Anyway, Kingpin is about “The Kingpin”. Wilson Fisk. The Kingpin of Crime. Long time pain in the butt of Daredevil and Spider-Man. Of course this title is geared towards those of us who know and love “Big Willie” (as he is called in this issue) from his time as a villain in those titles. Rest assured though that previous experience with the character or the heroes he has fought is not essential… though we are treated to a quick cameo of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler.
This is, first and foremost, an origin story; a look into the past with Wilson Fisk starting as a minor gang-leader who is working his way up to become the head of all the organized crime in the city. We see “Willie” as he manipulates various other players into an organized team under his command, like the pieces on a chessboard. Indeed, we see him playing chess while planning with is lieutenants. While this kind of story is nothing new (and indeed, is reminiscent of such movies as “The Usual Suspects” and “The Godfather”), Bruce Jones makes it seem like new with sparkling dialogue and the dark sense of humor that Wilson Fisk is famous for.
The art by Phillips and Janson is, in a word, perfect. Phillips has gained fame recently for doing another quirky “true crime” comic: Sleeper. And his disjointed, but not completely disproportionate style, is a good fit for the larger-than-life but still very real character of the Kingpin. It reminds me a bit of Sam Keith without the surrealism or Phil Hester with more detail. Janson is perhaps best known as the preferred inker of Frank Miller on most of his Daredevil projects and he adds a depth of shadow to things that is a perfect match for the partly-hidden yet still open and unavoidable nature of the title character.
When this book was originally solicited, it was to be a limited series. Since then, Marvel Editorial has been impressed enough with what they have seen that Kingpin has been made into a regular monthly book. Time will judge the wisdom of this decision, but one thing is certain: I’ll be around for a few more months to see if what follows is as good as this first issue.
Penciled by: Tomm Coker
Inked by: Tomm Coker
Colored by: Jason Wright
Lettered by: Kurt Hathaway
Editor: Mariah Huehner
Publisher: Vertigo Comics
It has been said before, by myself and other critics, that Judd Winick’s strength as a writer lies in his characters, his sense of humor and his knack for inspired situations to base stories around. It has also been said that he is somewhat lacking in the ability to write good action scenes or natural exposition. And now I must say that nothing better illustrates this than this penultimate chapter of “Blood And Water”.
Until now, I had greatly enjoyed this series. I loved the concept, which gave us a look at vampirism as a blessing untapped by many genre writers. I loved the characters, who were active and enjoyed themselves as opposed to the more depressive and angst-filled vampire characters that permeate modern literature. And you couldn’t find many better gags these last few months than series hero Adam trying to fight off his friends with a sex-toy crucifix.
And then last issue, the plot kicked in. And instead of being a funny, cute story about a group of friend who just happened to be vampires and one man’s learning to cope with his new lifestyle choice, the book transformed into just another horror comic with an unseen monster awakening to start killing those nearest the hero. This issue, we find out just who and what the monster is, why it was awoken by Adam’s transformation to vampirism and why Adam is now doomed to become an outcast among his new “kind”. The sad fact is that this is nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as Adam’s hitting the town and using his newfound powers and the series suffers for it.
Thankfully, the artwork is still up to snuff, but it can’t help the “been there, done that, saw it rerun on ‘Buffy’ last week” plot. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this issue. Far from it. But after the last three issues of something new and unusual on every page, the amount of repetition from older works in this issue is both shocking and depressing. Perhaps it will end with a bang. But right now, this book is like a part-time vampire. It kinda sucks.
Much has also been written about the hows and whys of how the majority of “kiddie books” are no longer fit for the kiddies. But we must ignore all the theories of video games/TV stealing the audience or how the Dark Age of the 80’s and 90’s made things too bloody and sexual for children. Setting the blame for the responsibility of what got us here is pointless. We’ve already hit the iceberg; it doesn’t matter who was steering the ship.
It does nothing to change the fact that the ship of our hobby is slowly sinking into oblivion. And unless we bring in some new blood, the comic book may go the way of the buggy whip, the washboard and the cup of coffee that costs less than three dollars.
What I have is a modest proposal, in two parts, of how we can bring more people into our hobby. Specifically, the two groups that it seems we are lacking the largest numbers of and are going to need in order to keep the hobby going: women and children.
And for those of you who are but a simple fan, keep reading. This is not just written for the writers, artists, publishers or those lucky few like myself who have found a job in a comic store. There is a lot that even you, the lone fan, can do to help save the comic industry.
1. What The Kids Want
Regardless of age, nobody wants to feel stupid or be talked down to. And yet, I have seen many situations where kids in a comic book store are spoken to like they are idiots. This is not much better than the other frequent thing I see happen to children; everyone ignores them and only the parents are talked to.
My first bit of advice is simple; treat the children like equals. When you’re talking to a fan or a customer with kids and they have children, don’t ask mom and dad what their son or daughter enjoys. Ask the young ones themselves.
Once you know a child and what interests them, you can help them to find a book that interests them. To give one example, lets say you have an eight-year-old boy who likes robots. Try showing them Sentinel or some of the older Transformers books. Don’t just point them to the spinner rack full of “safe” comics or your collection of Archie books.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with Archie Comics. But as clean and wholesome as they are, not everyone finds them funny or likes the romantic drama… particular an eight-year-old boy who likes robots.
This leads to my second point: don’t treat the kids like they are passing along on an assembly line and give them all the same thing.
2. Working With the Parents
While it is important you treat the kids getting into comics as individuals worthy of the same respect as an adult, you should also make sure that parental control is maintained. Simply put, different parents are going to have different opinions on what is appropriate for their children and it is your responsibility to help them out.
Case in point: recently at work, a young man of 11 approached me about finding a particular Hulk comic. He said that he wasn’t sure of the issue, but he remembered Hulk threatening to kill Freddie Prinze Jr. and falling out of a plane. I realized that he was talking about The Ultimates, which is not the kind of thing I’d be comfortable with any son of mine reading. We found his father and I showed him the issue in question and asked if his son had been reading the book.
Thankfully he hadn’t; it turned out that they had just gotten Tom DeFalco’s book on The Hulk, and that the Ultimates version of the Hulk was discussed… or at least the part about Freddy Prinze Jr. and the plane was. He agreed with me that Ultimates was not something that he’d be comfortable with his son reading. He said the same about the current Avengers title, owing to some rather graphic artwork detailing the victims of a viral weapon attack. This lead to us discussing what comics he read as a kid and liked and my finding some things that he and his son could enjoy.
Later that same day, a group of kids about the same age came in and immediately began sorting through the old Fantastic Four and X-Men issues. They were a bit more mature, obviously intelligent and asked if I knew what John Byrne and Chris Claremont were doing now. I showed them (and the father they had in tow) Claremont’s current work on “X-Treme X-Men” and “Mekanix” and told them that Byrne and Claremont would soon be teaming up to work on JLA soon.
The lesson here is obvious. It is important for all of us to show the friendliness of comic books to children and their parents This is doubly important for those of us employed by the stores. We must create a safe environment and let parents feel that we are actively working to help them and their children to find quality reading material and not just trying to make a quick buck by selling them “the next big thing”.
3. Got To Keep Them Seperated?
I made mention earlier of the spinner rack full of “safe” comics. Many stores now have special areas set aside for children or a family area, with board games and action figures as well as the comics deemed appropriate for younger readers. While the idea behind such an area is noble, the execution does have some drawbacks.
For one thing, kids don’t like being corralled. Indeed, they like to roam around anyplace new and interesting. Try and steer them towards something and some of them will push the other way. Also, introducing anything as “kids stuff” is a virtual guarantee of their ignoring it. When I was a kid, I hated hearing anything I liked called “kid stuff” and I doubt things have changed that much.
I recommend what we do at my store; split the difference and have a rack full of kid friendly stuff close to the front but also put those same books on the main shelves. This way you have books at the front for the parents looking for something for they can get quickly and those who come in browsing for themselves with their kids. You can let the children roam around and feel like adults and still be able to control what they might get their hands on.
By that token, stores should probably avoid having a separate section for more “mature” titles as well. This is not to suggest that you should put the latest offerings from Avatar Press on the shelf next to Justice League Adventures, but there are alternatives. Higher shelves that the young ones can’t reach or “black bagging” mature titles are just two of the possible solutions to this problem. In any case, I personally advise against keeping comics separated into different store areas. Kids love to get into anything forbidden and they’ll try to sneak past the curtain to the back room just on the principal that adults always try to hide the “cool stuff”. And some parents may wonder about the suitability of the entire hobby if a large section is labeled “off-limits” to children.
4. Interesting Children in Comics
Of course all of this discussion of where to put the books is pointless if the children aren’t interested in reading the books to begin with. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to get kids interested. I’ve already talked about finding an interest and relating that to a specific book, but there are other methods as well.
The mass media is our friend and adaptations of comics into other media only helps to bring in more fans. I can’t tell you how many kids started reading Ultimate Spider-Man after the Spider-Man movie came out, but I can guarantee you that movies and cartoons don’t hurt. And in these days when Trade Paperback collections of the hottest selling books are so commonplace, it is much easier on the allowance of these new fans to get into a book.
And I am glad to note that many companies, publishers and writers are now making an effort to produce more books that are written towards a younger audience. It has been said before, but I think the best example of what we as writers should shoot for is Harry Potter, which has a huge following with adults despite being written on a younger reading level. Kids relate to Harry and his friends and wish that they could study magic instead of math while adults like Harry Potter because it is a good adventure story with a lot of funny moments. In fact, the first time I saw the Harry Potter movie in the theater, I saw more adults in an early morning showing than I did wide-eyed kids. (Incidentally, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix goes on sale this Saturday)
This is what many are shooting for. Rather than write bland or inoffensive stories like many of the Archie comics, they are making an effort to write stories that adults and children can both enjoy on an equal level. To give an example of some of what is coming for those of us who want to bring our own children or other kids into the hobby…
• After an absent of many years, Gladstone returns this month with a new series of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics with more Disney-based titles due out by the end of the year.
• Peter David just started a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book based on the new cartoon series, while a “mature” title based on the original comics still continues to be published for the fans who disliked the “dumbing down” of the Turtles to create the original cartoon series.
• DC launched a new Batman title based on the animated series the week of Free Comic Book Day. They also publish Justice League Adventures and will no doubt have a title for the new Teen Titans series on Cartoon Network
• While I’ve praised it before, I must once again mention the wonderful Gus Beezer series by Gail Simone is a hilarious treat for kids of all ages.
In conclusion, there are four things we must do to bring children into our hobby. First, we must treat the kids as equals and not talk down to them or ignore them. We must find out what they want as individuals and not give them a standard cookie-cutter answer. We must find ways to let them feel like adults as we integrate them into the hobby while letting their parents control what they read. Finally, we must have a steady stream of books that they can read and enjoy.
Tune in next week, when we’ll take a look at that most rare and wonderful of creatures: the female comic reader. Same Matt time. Same Matt Website.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
Penciled by: Galen Showman
Inked by: Galen Showman
Colored by: Dave McCaig
Lettered by: Bob Lappan
Editor: Andy Helfer
Publisher: DC Comics
As I noted last month, there are two types of Elseworlds; the ones that change a character completely within the bounds of another world and those that leave the characters we know and love untouched, but in another place in time and space.
Age of Wonder is one of the later and generally that means a story that is nothing different or special. And in regards to the characterization, everyone is just as you’d expect them to be; the characters who get developed at any rate. Starman, The Flash and newcomers The Atom and Plastic Man are given relatively minor roles in the final chapter and fall to the wayside as we are introduced to this world’s versions of Wonder Woman and Batman. Still, while some characters are given little to do besides being there in a fight scene, this book shines in other areas which more than make up for some spotty characterization.
Fans of alternate history stories will enjoy this crossover just for the concept and the well-researched references. References are made to the final days of Nicola Telsa, his rather flighty ideas regarding energy weapons and in one mildly humorous scene, his suffering from an obsessive/compulsive disorder.
The action starts some ten years after the apparent death of Superman at the end of last issue. American is entering the sunset of the Age of Invention. Hal Jordan is now a general in the US Army, Lex Luthor is Secretary of Defense, Nicola Telsa has almost perfected his death ray and the US is on the verge of joining World War I. The Germans have access to high technology thought to be possessed by only the USA and Luthor is actively working to prolong and escalate a conflict that is making him rich. Diana is helping Luthor by giving him access to superior Amazon technology and acting as his muscle.
Galen Showman proves himself quite the showman with his pencils and inks on this book. I commented before that his takes on steampunk technology are gorgeous to look at and that his redesigns of the JLA costumes to fit a turn of the century setting are among the best I’ve ever scene. I stand by that comment, even though I do wonder why The Atom looks like he is wearing Orion’s Astroglider and why they couldn’t be bothered to redesign the Batman costume? It is a bit jarring to the sense of historical accuracy to see Batman in his scenes in a story 100 years past, looking exactly as he does on the cover of Batman #615.
Despite it being nothing different in terms of character portrayal, I did enjoy this story. The setting is well-set and the mood well established. And while some characters are given the short end of the stick when the lines are being handed out, the ones who are focused upon do very well. Still, this story is a wonderful tale about a wonderful time…even without the airships and death rays.
Penciled by: Mark Bagley
Inked by: Art Thibert
Colored by: Transparency Digital
Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Peter Parker really cannot catch a break, can he? No sooner does he finally get back together with his girlfriend, something comes up and keeps him from the wonderful afternoon of face-sucking they had planned. He has to drop everything to deal with a superpowered delinquent blowing up cars on the other side of town and finds his patience sorely tested as he tries to explain why “with great power comes great responsibility”.
That’s the core of this issue and the best part about it. Rather than jump into the situation and start throwing punches, Peter tries to reason with Geldoff; an exchange student in denial about his mutation, who starts using his powers as a road to acceptance with the in crowd. After all, nothing impresses the cheerleaders like making things explode. Believe me, I know that from personal experience… but I can’t talk about that until after the trial.
It’s a situation that Peter tries to be sympathetic towards. After all, he did become a basketball star for a while before Uncle Ben’s death. And the majority of the issue deals with the two just talking and trying to understand one another. But before I scare you off completely, let me assure you this isn’t an ABC After-School Special. This is not a tear-eyed intervention, complete with hugs and melodramatic “I love you, man” moments and Brian Austin Green appearing at the end telling us that blowing cars up with our mind is just plain wrong.
There are no revelations. Geldoff is unable or unwilling to grasp Peter’s explanation for why it is important to help people. This is well conveyed, as is Peter’s barely repressed annoyance at having to give up time with Mary Jane and his lack of a proper costume and his very real annoyance at Geldoff’s obliviousness to Peter’s message. And despite having little room to talk about early reactions to getting superpowers, it’s hard to argue with Peter’s assessment that Geldoff is an idiot.
Still, this isn’t a superhero/supervillain smackdown story. This is about two teenage guys who are trying to find someone who can relate to what they are going through. Sure, they both have super powers but that is incidental to the story. And it is putting this kind of real characterization into a story that has made Brian Michael Bendis a favorite of critics and fans alike… not to mention yours truly.
But good as it is, the writing doesn’t steal the show. The powerful pencils of Mark Bagley and the incredible inks of Art Thibert equal it. (Alliterative Adjectives Absconded from the Stupendous Stan Lee!) The characters are all uniquely illustrated and both the comic and dramatic moments are conveyed with equal skill. And it should be noted that Bagely draws some of the best explosions to be seen anywhere and gets ample opportunity to show this throughout the issue.
All in all, I can’t think of any reason why anyone shouldn’t be reading this book. The writing succeeds as a traditional superhero story, despite being anything but traditional in execution. The artwork is gorgeous for those who prefer art over writing. And if you have a preference for superhero teams over single-acts, you should pick this issue up for the extremely surprising guests on the final page.
Monday, June 9, 2003
Green Lantern is also the character who got me back into comics. I was working in a bookstore my Freshman year, unpacking materials for the magazine rack when I saw an issue of Green Lantern. At least, it SAID “Green Lantern” on the cover. I didn’t recognize the guy with the weird costume, weirder mask and… black hair? Das is nicht ein Hal Jordan!
Long story short, I became a fan as I tried to find out what happened to “my Green Lantern”. Yet unlike many who grew up with Hal Jordan as a hero, I came to appreciate Kyle Rayner as a character. And it is with a great deal of interest that I read Green Lantern #165 a few weeks ago to see how Ben Rabb was going to handle the title. And while the jury is still out on where he is going with things, I’m content to give him a chance… which is a lot more than I was willing to do during the universally loathed “Black Circle” storyline.
Still, some fans, including Mathan Erhardt, George Gebhart and even the Dark Overlord Daron himself were confused by certain elements of this reintroduction into the Green Lantern mythology. Looking at their questions, I can understand why. Rabb’s previous work has made great use of that extensive mythology, but editorial has been a little lax with referrals to back issues. In fact, the only back reference in the whole issue is to the Black Circle story-line, which I don’t think anyone has forgotten… no matter how hard we try.
With that in mind, I present this quick FAQ in regards to their questions and others I have heard around the shop.
Q: Why are there any former Green Lanterns left at all to answer Kyle’s call for recruits? Didn’t Hal kill all of them off?
A: Not quite. Hal fought all the ones that stood against him and killed a number of them, but a few survived. He wasn’t facing the entire Corps, however. There were members who were unable to respond to the call of the Guardians or were otherwise occupied. This was shown in GL #56, when Kyle met a Green Lantern whose ring became worthless after the destruction of the Central Battery on Oa.
Q: Kyle refers to his last attempt to rebuild the ranks of the Corps being a total bust. When did that happen?
A: See the two-part “Green Lantern: The New Corps” miniseries by Chuck Dixon, if you must. The story honestly wasn’t very good and was just an excuse to get Kyle out of the way while Ron Marz did some solo stories around Jade in the main title. Basically, Kyle went into space, handed rings out to some aliens, and then took them all back after one of them turned out to be evil.
Q: What happened to all the aliens Kyle gave the rings to in that story?
A: There was an entry about them in “Green Lantern Secret Files #2”, forming a peace-keeping body called “The Corps” to replace the Green Lanterns, but they never appeared in an actual story.
Q: Why not?
A: Either Chuck Dixon and Ron Marz both left for CrossGen before the idea could be developed, or (more likely) the story and characters really weren’t popular enough to warrant further development.
Q: So can’t Kyle track them down and ask them to join again?
A: Don’t talk to me. Talk to Ben Rabb or Bob Schreck.
Q: (To quote Daron Kappauff) When the hell did Kilowog even come back from the dead?
A: Legacy: The Last Will And Testament of Hal Jordan HC.
A: Well, it’s complicated. Short answer is that some of the other surviving Lanterns made a deal with some magicians, who brought Kilowog back to life as “The Dark Lantern”.
Q: The Dark Lantern?
A: To quote the entry in GL Secret Files #3…
The enigmatic being known as Dark Lantern seemed strangely familiar – at least to those closely acquainted with the legacy of the Green Lantern Corps – when he first made his presence known on Earth.
Some speculation suggested he was a creation of the diabolic Qwardians, denizens of the anti-matter universe opposite to our own and worshipers of evil who remain bitter enemies of any Green Lantern.
Other observers, noting the mystic runes etched on his gargantuan body, suggest he was an arcane agent of the Empire of Tears; black magicians thought imprisoned by the Guardians of the Universe long ago. Given his raging enmity for Hal Jordan, the Dark Lantern could also be a former foe of the Green Lantern of Sector 2814.
Regardless of his origins, this twisted creature possessed an ebon scythe with which to finally exact revenge upon Jordan’s friends and family… as well as the scattered remnants of the once great Green Lantern Corps. His ultimate role in the future of the Green Lantern legacy has yet to be fully revealed.
Q: So that’s why Kilowog looks so funky now?
A: Yes. He was brought back to life to become a wrathful agent of vengeance and remove all traces of Hal Jordan and his legacy from the universe.
Q: So why is he so buddy buddy with Kyle?
A: Got me. Until this issue, the two have never really met. Although Kyle did befriend a construct of Kilowog in GL 3-D Special and he likely heard a lot of stories about him from John Stewart and Guy Gardner, the two never met in the flesh before this issue. However, there’s no reason why the two shouldn’t get along, save that Kilowog’s goals might include destroying the Corps. Best guess is that something must have happened off camera that let the two become friends.
Q: Why in the name of all that is holy is Kilowog doing Tai Chi?
A: My best guess is that he’s fighting to control the angry impulses that brought him back to life.
Q: By doing Tai Chi?
A: It is very soothing and peace-inducing.
Q: How would you know?
A: I took a class in it as part of my undergraduate studies. Want to make something of it?
Q: Uh… no.
A: All right, then.
Q: Would it have killed them to explained all that to this of us who didn’t shell out $25 for the “Legacy” hardcover or those who missed the Secret Files?
A: I don’t think so, but that’s me.
Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt Website.
Monday, June 2, 2003
The Fox Network may have canceled Futurama, after a prolonged and painful stay caused by football-prompted preemption, but the quirky spirit of the show lives on, both in this comic and as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line. Recent ratings reports show that the series is helping CN win the nightly ratings war against both Leno and Letterman in the 12-25 year-old male market. Hopefully, this comic can find a similar audience because it is a worthy translation of the show.
The plot of this issue builds on several elements taken from the TV Show. Several running gags are referred to, but the plot centers upon two ideas: Bender the Robot’s desire to be a chef despite a lack of taste buds and the physical Robot Hell, built by the Church of Robotology to house the immortal brethren who violate the laws of the Church. When Bender loses his job as the Planet Express Chef and takes on a new position as the head chef for Robot Hell, he finds himself made the new Ruler Of Hell after accidentally poisoning the Robot Devil. And as if the idea of the casually evil Bender ruling all of Hell with a 30% iron fist isn’t amusing enough, we are treated to many amusing non-sequesters. I must admit I laughed out loud at a joke involving the crimes of an electronic day planner and the scene with robot who tells a preacher that it can’t listen to a sermon about love because of everything he learned from watching Star Trek (i.e. They blow up.)
Artistically, James Llyod perfectly mimics the style of Matt Groening in each and every panel. The characters and backgrounds are displayed perfectly. Everything and everyone looks as they should be in the cartoon. Things are never static and are always (forgive the bad pun) animated.
All in all, this book puts the funny in "funny book". My one quibble, and it is a small one, is that you do have to have some experience with the show to get the most out of it. It isn’t fully explained, for example, WHY Bender is such a bad chef. You have to have seen the episode where it is revealed that he has no sense of taste to get the joke. Thankfully, jokes like this are few and far between and as long as it stays that way, I predict a good Future for this book.
Well, the simple answer is that I was sick that weekend, overworked and overtired after a hectic week at work. As such, I was unable to drag myself out of bed to form a coherent sentence or two about anything, much less the complex diatribes about comics history I usually arrange for you kiddies.
I’d like to publish all of your letters, but space limitations on the web pages don’t permit that. So to everyone who inquired into my health and employment status, thank you all very much for caring.
Secondly, I’d like to thank everyone who wrote me regarding the Typhoid Mary origin column. It turns out that I was right and there were a lot of readers out there who weren’t familiar with Mary’s character and “There’s Something About Typhoid Mary” gave them a quick Cliff-Notes guide to Mary’s powers and origins, without giving away the ending of all her best stories.
I want to give on extra special thanks to one reader, who wrote in to correct me on a point of Deadpool history. Whoever they were, they did not give me a name and I am loathe to print their e-mail here. Suffice to say, I appreciate the update and I’m sure the other readers would like to know this as well…
I'm sure a bunch of people already told you but Deadpool wasn't able to
help Mary as much as she needed. He left her tied to a chair in a warehouse overnight with a weapon that would kill her if she moved. He came back the next morning and started a brief conversation with her about how he wanted to help her like Siryn helped him.
Mary gets untied and goes on this speech about how she wants to help Deadpool find his true self like he helped her. She then tells him that every 15 or 30 minutes (I can't remember which and I can't find the issue) that she will kill someone if he can't stop her. She breaks his wrist and runs off.
Deadpool thinks she's just acting tough until he finds the first body. He stops her from killing a Priest that she was hitting on and they have a fight in a bar. Mary is taunting him the entire time about how a real hero acts. She throws her sword at one bystander and Deadpool blocks it by letting it go through his hand and letting the friction stop it.
He looks over at Mary to see that she's already snapped another man's neck. She mocks him by saying a true hero would have saved the first victim like he did but not make jokes while she killed someone else. Deadpool then proceeds to beat her until she's unconscious while she keeps calling him hero.
Issue ends with Deadpool walking off and going to the crowd of on-lookers who have started calling him a monster," What's the matter, doesn't anyone want to be a hero?"
Mary screwed up Wade's mind very bad and sent the merc with a mouth
onto a very self-destructive path. I think she was taken to the mental ward after this and then got help and reverted back to Mary Walker. Not to sure though. Later on during the disaster known as Priest's tenure, he visits her while she's acting and sees that Mary has control again.
Finally, I would like to give a shout out to Don Thomas and thank him for his thoughtful note regarding my recent review of Knights of the Dinner Table. Don is the artist on the “Heroes of Hackleague” comic strip, which is just one of the many fine strips published in Knights of the Dinner Table magazine and one of the funniest superhero parodies in recent memory.
Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.