Monday, September 29, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Emerald Explanation

Ever since Benjamin Raab took over this title, he has faced great hostility from the critical and fan communities alike. I can think of two writers alone at 411 who made statements regarding last month’s issue that I’d like to address as a Green Lantern history buff and one of the apparent minority who is enjoying Raab’s run on the book.

From Kevin Mahoney’s review of GL #168… “When a story has not one, nor two, but three separate and unrelated interludes, that's a rather large red flag.”

Not really. Actually, I take that as a sign of quality writing or at the very least a sign that the writer respects my intelligence enough to think I can keep track of more than one ongoing plotline. Stan Lee sure never went wrong with having several ongoing plots in his work. And I do believe many of the more popular writers today- Geoff Johns, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore come to mind immediately – made some very popular and award winning series based upon the idea of having a book center around several characters and shifting focus on an issue by issue basis. Consider pretty much any issue of JSA, Sandman, Swamp Thing or the five-part “Jack/Ted/O’Dares/Mikhal’s Day” story arc in which we see the reaction of eight different characters to the events of the same day.

From Kevin Mahoney’s review of GL #168… “If the dialogue of the main character closely resembles a previous incarnation of the character (Hal Jordan) that's an even larger red flag.”

Funny how I don’t hear many HEAT members rejoicing that Kyle now sounds exactly like Hal. Honestly, I haven’t noticed any change in Kyle’s dialogue other than the fact that he’s now being written as an hero with some experience instead of the idiotic novice that he was shown as under Winick and still is portrayed as outside his own title. Then again, maybe Kyle is subconsciously trying to sound more like Hal as he now finds himself trying to become a space-cop in Hal’s old sector.

From Kevin Mahoney’s review of GL #168… When the writer rehashes an ancient sub-plot for new material (Terry's beat down), a reader should resign him or her self to sub-par work.

I’d hardly call a sub-plot, continued on a near-monthly basis, that began barely a year ago “ancient”, but that’s just me. What must that make Issue #169, which refers to the nearly 18-month old “Legacy: The Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan” as well as the Green Lantern 80-Page Giant #3, published August 2000? Mesozoic? Prehistoric?

In all seriousness, it is called CONTINUITY. Making historical links? Used to be quite a serious thing for comic writers to keep up with, but many modern writers (Winick in particular) seem to have problems with it. And I don’t mean obscure things like “what issue did Kyle declare he doesn’t like Mexican food?” but simple matters of fact like the identity of Jade’s brother (Obsidian, not Effigy. See GL #142)

From George Gebhardt’s review of GL #168… “Let's start with Terry Berg. Raab, and Winick before him, never seem to deliver when writing Berg's character. First, it looks like he has aged quite a bit--that he's not a high schooler anymore. Maybe DC realized that some problems could arise dealing with his relationship with David and any age difference between them.”

Surely that’s the fault of the artist, not the writer, if the character LOOKS younger? And while the passage of time is rather spotty in the DCU, I seem to remember it being about two years since Terry got hired by Kyle. Since most businesses I know of require interns to be at least 16, that would put Terry well within legal adult range now or close enough to it that the law probably wouldn’t be concerned about the statutory laws. Besides, if David is young enough to get into the teens-only clubs (or maybe it was teens-only night?) then there shouldn’t be any issues with his age.

From George Gebhardt’s review of GL #168… “Next, I still say he should be walking with a cane, to add some dramatic effect to his injuries. If not that, I think seeing him in a panel before going live with "Barry" should have shown his nervousness. Are we to expect that he's this great spokesperson all of a sudden?”

Adversity can do a bit to change people and I’ve seen a lot of people be able to speak with amazing eloquence after a tragedy inspired their passion. And while I agree that some emoting beforehand would be appropriate, a cane would be more melodramatic than dramatic and smack of some of the more pointless “crippling” of a character for dramatic effect that has been all too long a part of comics… particularly in a title where such a thing has happened once too often already, ala John Stewart.

From George Gebhardt’s review of GL #168… Now with Kyle. He wants to prove to the ex-Corpsmen that there's a need for them. Yeah, we get it. Enough is enough with that rhetoric. And why is Kyle being "snookered" all of the time? Gee, no wonder the others don't join.

Hey, Hal got suckered into a lot of “distress” situations where he was called in by the bad guys to do some dirty work, found out who the real good guys were and then turned the tide when he realized he screwed up. Happened to Kyle a few times in the past too... in fact, the whole major driving story arc since Raab took over (busting the Black Circle) has been built around Kyle’s trying to correct some past oversight of being too quick to trust.

As for them repeating Kyle’s goals to rebuild the Corps at the start of each issue, I quote the man who once said “Every comic is somebody’s first comic.”. Certain allowances must be made for the people who just pick a book at random based on the cover and want to be able to read the story without twenty pages of footnotes. And so far, I think Raab has done an admirable job of balancing the accessibility needs of the newbie against the old timer’s need for history.

From George Gebhardt’s review of GL #168… Merayn. She's no longer an item with John Stewart, so why is she referring to him as her boyfriend?

Moving out does not necessarily equal a break up. Based on what she says in GL #167, she isn’t breaking it off with him. Just wanting to move out and find some space in the relationship to find something in her life besides making him happy. God forbid a woman should want to have something for herself besides being a trophy girlfriend, right?

And finally, to confront a complaint I read on a message board, the rebirth of the Guardians in the form of male AND female bodies is not far-fetched nor a violation of the much vaunted continuity of the GL Corps. While is true that the Guardian race (blue midgets) that founded the Green Lantern Corps was made up entire of males and the females evolved along different lines to become beings not unlike the Amazons of Earth (aka the Zamorans), both races descended from the ancient mortal race of the planet Maltus, where the natives were basic humanoids with blue skin- exactly like the toddler grown to maturity Lianna; a one-shot villain at the end of the Winick run, who Raab obviously has bigger plans for.

All this said, I don’t think the Raab run has been completely flawless. As I said, I would like to have seen a little more emotion in the scenes handling Terry. And there has been a little too much faith taken that the readers have read certain key back issues. Consider how Kilowog was presented with it just being taken that the reader has read the story detailing his resurrection. And even then, I would like to have seen the story of how Kyle and Kilowog met and became friends.

Thankfully, I thought Raab was building towards something with the rather slow development over the last five issues and I believe the most recent issue (reviewed by yours truly here) has shown the fruits of those labors as Raab tries to weave a tapestry from the tangled and torn threads of the Winick and Marz runs.

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

Green Lantern #169 - A Review

Written by: Benjamin Raab
Penciled by: Jamal Igle
Inked by: John Dell
Colored by: Moose Baumann
Lettered by: Kurt Hathaway
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: DC Comics

This book is filled with something of a sense of futility. After one more issue, Ben Raab will end his run on this title and Ron Marz, who created Kyle Rayner, will return to do a brief run on the book which will bring Kyle back from Deep Space and return him to Earth to find how things have changed in his absence. This news has been greeted with much joy by Marz’s fans who have argued that the book has suffered in his absence and by Marz detractors (including the inafamous HEAT) who will be glad to have him to kick around once more.

This all distracts from the fact that as everyone waits for the return of the Marz, Raab has done quite a lot to restore that which HEAT complained of the absence of. There is now a Corps, of sorts, though they lack rings at the moment. Kilowog, a fan favorite GL, who gave his life trying to stop Hal Jordan during his time of madness, has been restored to life. And in these last few issues, he has restored the epic “space-opera” storylines for which Green Lantern was famous, which were for the most part neglected during the Marz run on the book. More, he has restored a classic Green Lantern enemy, bringing The Qwardians race back into active duty alongside his own creation: The criminal syndicate known as The Black Circle.

Raab develops all these plots of his own even as he expands and even closes off those plots that were left for him to solve in the wake of Judd Winick’s departure from the title.

It hit me this month about how much Benjamin Raab must write from personal experience.

Think about it; Kyle Rayner was given the most powerful weapon in the Universe despite his inexperience and is trying to rebuild a defunct institution, re the Green Lantern Corps. With only one omnipotent being and a few friends to help him, he must face hostility and nay saying from former members of said institution as well as a harsh and lawless universe in a lonely battle to resurrect the Green Lantern Corps.

Now compare that to Raab, who was given a popular comic title despite his inexperience, and is trying to rebuild a defunct institution, re the Green Lantern franchise. With only one editor and a few plot-threads left by pervious writers, he must face hostility and nay saying from former fans of said institution as well as the critics and HEAT in a lonely battle to make Green Lantern readable again.

Personal connection to his main protagonist or not, one thing cannot be denied. Green Lantern hasn’t been handled this well in quite a long time! Raab handles the neat feat of balancing the complex and complicated history and continuity of the Green Lantern Corps while making each issue accessible and easily readable to newbies. Pair this up with some wonderful artwork, and you have one of the best… indeed, probably the most underrated book in the business.

In this issue, we open on Kyle preparing for battle as he readies himself to journey into another dimension to rescue his friend Kilowog. Kilowog was a Green Lantern who gave his life trying to save the Corps from Hal Jordan and was brought back from the dead (in a story which is summarized quite well in this issue) as a being of vengeance known as The Dark Lantern. Now, Kilowog has been forcibly dragged back into the afterlife he was just as forcibly removed from, just as he was beginning to get a handle on the all-consuming rage that controlled him.

At the same time, Jade engages in some girl talk with Merayn that fills us in on her job hunting and vents about her problems with having a boyfriend who never writes or calls. The fact that he is literally a million miles away doesn’t hurt the authenticity of the scene, nor Jade’s reaction when a stranger asks for her phone number. And in a scene that will send even the most hardened of DC Historians scrambling for their Who’s Who Guides (I’ll save you all the trouble- see GL 80 Page Giant #3, August 2000), the former Green Lanterns from a few issues ago are visited by another figure who has been shown the light by Kyle Rayner.

About the art, I can say little except that it is perfectly suited to this title. I’m not familiar with Burchett’s previous work, but he fills this book with a beauty that was sorely missing throughout the “Urban Knights” crossover. Each character manages a distinct look and personality… and not just because many of them are aliens, have with unusual bodies, strange eyes or have unusual skin colors. Unlike many artists who draw the same face for each female characters, you can tell Jade and Merayn apart based on face alone- not hairstyle, skin color or ears. These unique pencils are well served by the light inking of Rodney Ramos (who knows just when to put in shadows for contrast) and the colors by Moose Baumann.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

PS238 #3 - A Review

Written by: Aaron Williams
Penciled by: Aaron Williams
Inked by: Aaron Williams
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Aaron Williams
Editor: Aaron Williams
Publisher: Dorkstorm Press

It’s not easy being the new kid in school. Feeling that you are totally different from everyone around you is the second-worst feeling in the world. Of course, the worst feeling is KNOWING for a certainty that you are different from everybody else around you. Throw in a pair of exceptional parents who are unwilling to accept you for what you are and are trying to force you into a role you are totally unprepared to take, and you have a pretty bleak existence.

It’s a situation that many of us have found ourselves in, one way or the other. We are totally out of our depths, unable to get any help or support and we begin to count our days in terms of survival and not enjoyment. Funny how this perfect portrait of the doldrums of depression should come from a funny book.

Tyler Marlocke is the newest student at PS238- the government’s secret school for super-powered children. His parents are two of the most powerful super-beings on the planet and have just made a gift of a new teleportation beacon for the school. The only problem is that Tyler doesn’t have any superpowers. Not a one. Of course his parents are certain that “the universe is biding it’s time, awaiting a crucial moment” for his powers to manifest, but Tyler’s teachers are not too sure.

The book is filled with slapstick comedy as Tyler tries desperately to survive gym class (quite a feat when your classmates can throw a dodge-ball faster than a speeding bullet) and then visiting the school nurse, where he tells him “I should let you know, I’m going to be here a lot.” He also has run ins with two would-be world conquerors (who are taking applications for evil minions the way most students would conduct an election for class president) and a nosy normal student who has clued into the fact that there is something “not right” about some of the students around him.

Aaron Williams is a greatly unappreciated double threat, who handles the writing and the art chores on this book with ease. He has a clean, cartoony style that manages the neat trick of showing characters simply, but still making each individual distinct and easily identifiable. He even manages to pull off drawing a certain distinct guest hero from another universe (who I won’t name as to maintain some surprise) and make him look like he belongs in this universe while still maintaining his unique look. And I would be remiss in not mentioning that this comic also comes with an official minion application form for aspiring Lords of Darkness everywhere. (Hope you got that, Daron!)

Monday, September 22, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Superheroes And The Silver Screen - Part Two - Superheroes And The People Who Play Them

I’d like to thank everyone who sent me thoughtful replies in response to last week’s column. Both of you.

I’d also like to thank everyone who sent a flame-filled letter accusing me of gross stupidity (144 times worse than the regular kind) in the fact that I didn’t mention either of the X-Men movies. I should not however that most of those people later apologized when I explained that I did in fact enjoy both movies and that some of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie were in X2. That said, those good performances couldn’t make up for some piss poor performances from the rest of the cast that couldn’t be explained away by a script that gave them not-much to do.

Still, that realization and a few thoughtful remarks from others made me think; there are a lot of superhero movies and TV shows that had good performances but the overall product itself wasn’t quite up to speed.

For those fine actors who did an amazing job under trying circumstances as well as the ones who literally made a movie single-handed, this new Top Nine list (with one Honorable Mention added in) has been made.

Honorable Mention: Mark Hamill, for too much to list, but mostly The Joker.

In all honesty, he’d probably get more than one spot on this list if I didn’t just give him one spot for everything. Most famous for playing Luke Bloody Skywalker, Mark Hamill has become one of the most active and popular voice-over artists in the business, lending his voice to hundreds of animated series and video games. A quick glance at his page on The Internet Movie Database is very revealing, showing that he voiced Wolverine in the most recent X-Men video game, Gargoyle in The 1990’s Hobgoblin in the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon, The Trickster in The Flash TV series… and of course, has given voice to The Joker through a wide series of Batman related series and video games. In fact, he has become so synonymous with the role that the live action Birds of Prey dubbed his voice in over a different actor who played the live Joker. Truly a great actor and a fan favorite on the con circuit, nobody had to “use the Force” on me to put him on this list.

9. Lori Petty, for Tank Girl

A silly movie adapted from a strange comic with some admittedly low-level production values. That said, Lori Petty plays the title role perfectly in this film about a girl, her vehicle and the post-apocalyptic world she lives in. One of the most unappreciated comic adaptions of all time, it recently became available on DVD. I recommend it highly.

8. Patrick Stewart, for Professor Charles Xavier (X-Men 2)

Arguably born to play the part and a fan favorite for the role long before the first movie was ever released, Mr. Stewart was one of the few actors who made every moment count in X2. Well matched by the equally talented (but I fear not quite as close to the mark in this showing) Ian McKellen, Patrick captured the loving heart, powerful presence and even the dry wit of everyone’s favorite Professor. And nowhere is this better shown in a scene, which I will describe later in number 5.

7. Lynda Carter, for Wonder Woman

One of my favorite shows in reruns when I was a boy (and yes, I was just discovering girls), it’s a wonder this classic show isn’t in reruns somewhere. While the show lacked a lot of the more traditional superhero show heroics like costumed villains, there’s no denying that Lynda Carter made a mark with her performance. A fan favorite even today, she still garners votes whenever polls are taken as to who should be cast in another Wonder Woman movie proving that even twenty five years later she is still a Wonder Woman.

6. Michael Gough, for Alfred Pennyworth (Batman 1-4)

One of the two actors who maintained the same role throughout the last four Batman movies, Michael Gough maintained a strong stability throughout the series that was matched only by the same stability Alfred provides Bruce Wayne in the comics. For a more twisted take on the same character, I recommend the 1999 film version of Anton Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard, in which Gough plays an equally loyal but much more senile and comical butler.

5. Hugh Jackman, for Wolverine (X-Men 2)

Jackman brought a depth of character and soul to a creation whom has too-often been portrayed with little of either. Cast in the role after the injury of the original actor from a career chiefly in Australian musical theater, Hugh Jackman faced some initial hostility from fans who were concerned about a “music” man playing the biggest badass on the X-Men. Of course such worried proved unfounded and Jackman found a well-deserved stardom thanks to his role in the first X-Men movie. But good as he was there, he absolutely shined in X2 and was able to play the tough guy in the action scenes and the “cool uncle/older brother” that Logan often is during his time off.

My favorite scene in the whole movie and the one where I knew the movie was going to be good was when Logan walks in on Professor X using Cerebro while smoking a cigar. Professor X calmly asks him to stop or “you’ll spend the rest of your life believing you are a six year old girl. Without blinking, Logan asks if he could really do it. Xavier smiles and says “I’d have Jean braid your hair.” Without a word, Logan puts the cigar out on his own hand, wincing a bit even as the burn heals within a few seconds.

4. Adam West, for Batman (1960’s Batman)

I got a lot of flack for naming the 1960’s Batman movie as my favorite last week. I don’t care. For that time and place, Adam West was the perfect Batman. And you cannot deny that silly as he may have been, Adam West was a great actor.

I realized this when I was a young boy; old enough to appreciate good acting but young enough to still find a silly action show dramatic. I remembered an episode where Batman has to go into a nightclub alone to get information. He walks in and the headwaiter approaches and asks if he would like a table or to just take a seat at the bar.

With a straight face, Batman nods politely and says “I’ll sit at the bar. I don’t want to attract any attention.”

Now how can you tell me that any man who can say a line like that… in a costume like that… and not burst out laughing ISN’T a great actor?

3. Dina Meyer, for Oracle (Birds of Prey)

Birds of Prey was a horrible TV series that managed the neat feat of taking a very simple concept (buddy comedy about two female vigilantes) and complicated it with some convoluted and unnecessary science regarding superpowers. Shift the focus to an alternate version of a character not a regular part of the comic series, change one of the characters personality, powers and age completely and base the whole thing around the concept that Batman would ever “just quit” his war on crime, and you have a series that kept away newbies confused by the overly complex concept and drove away fans of the comics.

And yet, in this rough mess there was one diamond; an actress who managed to make much more out of the role she was given than what she ever got from the writers on the series. An actress who read the comics involving her character to get a feel for things. An actress who reportedly took martial arts classes and began training so she could, like the character in the comics, be able to do fight scenes in a wheelchair. An actress, who after being told that most of the scripts involved her just sitting behind a computer and emoting and not doing any actual fighting, bucked up and did the best she could with that limited material. That actress is Dina Meyer, who was a better Barbara Gordon than Birds of Prey ever deserved.

2. Julie Newmar, for Catwoman (1960’s Batman)

Defining the character for years, to the point of becoming a major sex symbol of the 60’s, Julie Newmar was the first actress to play Catwoman and the most influential. From her shape-hugging costume to her purr-fect cat puns, there is no doubt that the actresses to handle the part after her and indeed all future actresses to handle the part (NOT Halle Berry, please?) had to struggle to fill her catsuit.

1. Christopher Reeve, for Superman

The man who was picked from obscurity as the perfect man to bring The Man of Steel to the screen, Christopher Reeve has been forever marked by his most famous role. Now an activist for the handicapped as well as numerous other charities and noble causes, he has proven to be every bit the Superman in real life as on the screen.

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

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Green Arrow #30 - A Review

Written by: Judd Winick
Penciled by: Phil Hester
Inked by: Ande Parks
Colored by: Guy Major
Lettered by: Sean Konot
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: DC Comics

Regular readers of my writings may recall that I’ve had… words about Judd Winick’s handling of the character of Oliver Queen in the past few issues. (See this past Looking to the Stars for the original comments!) Specifically, how Oliver has been handled in regards to his fidelity to Dinah Lance or lack thereof.

As I pointed out, they never have said exactly where the two stand right now… until this issue, where it is confirmed that Ollie and Dinah were “together”. At least, together enough for Connor and Mia to give Oliver the sharp tongue and cold shoulder respectively.

Now this is a major sticking point with me as well as a lot of other Green Arrow fans, who will tell you that while Oliver Queen is a flirt and has Italian eyes (they’re always roman!), he will never actual act on any suggestive remark he makes. (Again, read THIS Looking to the Stars for the complete history of why Oliver Queen ISN’T a cheating scum bag.)

The sad thing is that aside from that one point, the writing on the book has been good. The action scenes are good, as Oliver has to fight an entire army of the odd troll creatures besieging his city. The wise-cracking dialogue and sarcastic internal monologue are spot-on (“Being first doesn’t exactly count… not when you’re out-numbered twenty-to-one and your adversaries can throw cars one-handed”). And yet… there it sits. Oliver Queen is perfect when Winick is writing the heroic man of action… but totally misses the mark when written as a father, lover and person.

Sadly, judging by the end of this issue it looks as if Winick is going to take the easy way out in dealing with the issues that Ollie’s affair has raised and that all the consequences of it will be ignored or… God willing, retroactively removed from continuity when the next writer comes onto this title like when Winick took over from Meltzer.

Still, Hester and Parks continue to do an excellent job on the art. The shadows project outward, giving the whole book a film-noir feel without being heavily inked or overly dark. Indeed, Parks inks barely cover Hester’s pencils at all… except to bring out the shadows.
In closing, I think it best to end with two quotes that best sum up my feelings about why I’ve not been enjoying Green Arrow lately. One is from a fictional character; the other from the reviews section at The Green Arrow Fansite ( )

“That pisses me off! I can’t help it! I wish I could shrug it off, but I can’t! …Why do you pull crap like this?” – Connor Hawke

“I like the way Judd Winick writes. I just don't like what he writes.” – Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Monday, September 15, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Superheroes And The Silver Screen - Part One

Back at the start of the summer, a fan (who must remain nameless due to his anonymous e-mail) asked me why nobody at 411 Comics (ie Me) had done a special regarding the Summer of the Superhero where we picked the Top Fifty greatest superheroes movies of all time. After all, he pointed out, “Wizard Magazine did it!” I responded by saying two things.

First, that as far as I (and I think the magazine as a whole) felt, we wanted to avoid commenting upon all the movies until was had actually seen them. After all, a lot of the early commentary on The Hulk was little more advanced then “The computer animation sucks! This movie is going to suck.” I can’t prove it, but I suspect this fanboyish nit-picking did more to hurt the movie than any negative reviews by Ebert and Roper and the rest of our nationally published corps of film critics.

Secondly, speaking for myself and the magazine again, I said that we were not in the habit of aping other publications’ article ideas, simply because “everyone else is doing it.” You see, I like to pride myself on not following the pack. And bad as my jokes may be and as overly intellectual as my commentary becomes at times, I like to think that I offer a unique vision that nobody else in the Internet comic book criticism market can match.

But since this topic came up several times over the summer at work (where everyone wanted my opinions as to the quality of several movies) and just this last week at a friendly gathering where we gave “The Punisher” the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Treatment, I thought that enough time had passed that I could give my appraisal as to what the Top Nine comic book themed movies of all time were.

Why Top Nine? Well, it’s one lower, you see. Also, Alan Moore copyrighted the phrase Optay Entay and we don’t want to be sued or hexed.

9. Daredevil

I slammed this movie quite a bit when it first came out. And despite comments from the writer/director that he decided to turn Daredevil into a killer to make him “not Batman”, I’ve actually grown to like this movie despite its faults. Though as a Daredevil fan, I want to nitpick them to death.

Still, having reread all the classic Frank Miller stories that inspired the comics, I realize that it isn’t too far gone for Daredevil to remain impassive when a criminal is endangered. He did, after all, let Bullseye fall to his apparent death but later decided not to kill when given a full-blown opportunity to do so. Of course that was over a personal matter (the death of Elektra) and not just for the sake of “justice”, but why quibble?

The fact is that this movie does perfectly capture the feel of Miller’s Hell’s Kitchen, Ben Affleck and Colin Farrell perfectly portray their respective costumed (or uncostumed) identities and Jennifer Garner and Michael Clarke Duncan do the best with the limited material they are given.

8. The Specials

Delayed due to the release of the similarly-subject Mystery Men, this independent movie was denied a full screen release by its distributor because “nobody wants superhero movies” and after a short run in New York and Los Angeles, was released straight to video. Had they managed a release before Mystery Men (when it was made) or after Spider-Man (which killed any negative attitude towards superhero movies financially) this movie probably would be better known. Then again, it probably wouldn’t have the cult status or the same quirky underdog charm that it has now.

The Specials is the story of a day in the life of a superhero team called “The Specials”; the world’s sixth or seventh greatest superhero team, or so we are told in the opening credits. Filmed in a documentary style and intercut with interviews with the team members, this movie is the comedy masterpiece Mystery Men SHOULD have been.

An even mix of personality humor (Mr. Smart, the team brainiac, forgets to put pants on because he was too busy thinking of other things) and “fanboy humor” (anti-matter energy manipulator Amok discusses the problems with losing control of your powers during sex), this movie is a joy for fanboys and normals alike. You can have some fun watching for cameos, like Sabrina herself…Melissa Joan Hart… making a quick appearance as “Sunlight Grrrrrl” or tracing each character on The Specials back to the comic characters that inspired them. Minute Man for example, is a clear parody of The Atom and Aquaman, with his shrinking powers, inferiority complex over useless powers and orange shirt. Yes, there is quite a bit of discussion about “the orange shirt”. Incidentally, that’s My-newt, as in small. Not Minute Man as in an American patriot. And yes, he gets THAT a lot too. All in all, this is probably the funniest superhero movie that was actually meant to be funny and it’s hard not to like a movie where you get to see Jamie Kennedy dressed as Nightcrawler.

7. Blade

The film that broke the Marvel movie curse, this movie was actually an improvement upon every comic story that had ever been done with the character- particularly the atrocious attempts Marvel made at giving Blade a solo series after Blade and Blade 2 were released.

Give you a hint Marvel. Get David Goyer, who wrote both movies, to write it next time. The man did wonders on JSA working with Geoff Johns, so he’s proven able to meet a monthly deadline and tell some good stories on a regular basis.

6. The Mask

The movie that made Cameron Diaz and Jim Carrey stars, it is a far cry from the anti-hero comic that inspired it. It is also, in my opinion, much better than the anti-hero comic that inspired it. But despite not being totally true to its source material, it is still one of my favorite movies of all time, comic-based or no.

5. Ghostbusters

Okay, I KNOW Ghostbusters was never a comic book. But I think that it has the spirit of a superhero story; three scientists create outlandish equipment, put on costumes and fight the forces of darkness despite being generally disrespected by the community. Sounds like a superhero team to me.

One of the greatest comedies of all time, it also manages the neat feat of being a good action film... with a bunch of geeks as the heroes. Smart dialogue, smart plots- all the things that us geeks look for in a movie.

4. The Crow

This movie, about a man who comes back from the dead to avenge the death of the woman he loves, is probably more famous for the irony in that its’ star died and was “brought back to life” through some early digital special effects than for the wonderful story and amazing performances it has. This movie has gotten a bit of a knock by the traditional hero movie crowd as it was wholeheartedly embraced by the gothic comic fans (ie All us who read Sandman and Vertigo and Indie comics). Truly a shame, as the first movie was a true classic that was debased by all of its sequels and the TV series spinoff. Just like Highlander…

3. Batman (1966)

The only Batman movie on this list, I think this is the only one that ever truly managed to capture the essence of the comic was based on. Tim Burton’s movies violated the set rule that Batman doesn’t ever kill and Joel Schumacher’s movies were… well, just plain BAD!

It may seem a bit hokey to us today in these days of the dark, gothic “I walk the night alone” Batman stories, but considering the comics of the time this movie was casually typical. And I can’t make a list like this in good conscience, without giving credit to the film that introduced the line “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” into our national lexicon of classic film lines. So keep your S&M nipple costumes and Ah-nold Freeze; give me Burgess Meredith and Caesar Romero any day!

And here’s a freebie. Get the DVD release if only for the commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward, where the two mock themselves, the cheesiness of it all and DVD commentaries themselves as they “remember” things as they watch the movie.

2. Spider-Man

A close second, and only by virtue of some horrid costuming and a script that leaves some characters with too little to do, Spider-Man is probably my favorite superhero movie of all time, though I will begrudgingly admit to it not being the best. Tobey Maguire brings Peter Parker to life in both his incarnations, Willem Dafoe makes a devilishly good Goblin, Kirsten Dunst makes a spitfire of Mary Jane when she the script lets her show some fight and my hat goes off to the gentleman who played J. Jonah Jameson to the hilt and up the sleeve.

My one comment for the next movie; lots of wisecracking. The first movie lacked it, and rightly so. Spider-Fans will recall that Peter didn’t really start making jokes in the early Stan Lee books until after he’d been in the costume a while. This time, I think Spidey should throw a lot more of his rapier wit into the ring, especially against the very easily insulted Doc Ock. Besides, I want to hear more scenes like the one in the Spider-Man video game… which I recommend to everyone, especially the naysayers who think Tobey Maguire can’t do comedy…

Goblin: Why do you fight me? We are like brothers!

Spider-Man: Brothers, huh? Well, I’m telling Mom!

1. Superman and Superman II.

Originally written as one movie and filmed at the same time, this film is the one that set and continues to hold the standard. We’ll probably never see the likes of it again, as it was made by an independent film company and funded by some very rich fans who were more concerned about making a movie that was the equal of the comic than making the next summer blockbuster or “selling a bunch of toys and t-shirts”, to quote Jon Peters.

Still, there is no denying that 25 years later this movie can still do what it set out to accomplish; to make us believe that a man can fly.

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

1602 #2 - A Review

Written by: Neil Gaiman
Penciled by: Andy Kubert
Inked by: Andy Kubert
Colored by: Richard Isanove (Digital Painting)
Lettered by: Todd Klein
Editor: Joe Quesda
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Neil Gaiman has come to Marvel Comics. 1602, for those of you who somehow missed out on Issue #1 last month, is a story set 500 years in the past of the Marvel Universe. Yes, that’s right. No alternate time-lines. Not a “What If?” tale. This is, according to Gaiman, official in-cannon history.

And what a history! This isn’t the first time Gaiman has tackled the period, of course. Several of his Sandman stories were based around this time period and the story is full of vivid detail and true historical figures. Mistress Virginia Dare, for example, is a real person- the first child born of the English colonies and, so it is hinted here, a mutant and probably cause for the disappearance of the infamous lost Roanoke colony. Gaiman also seamlessly plants classic Marvel characters into real, probable roles based on real history. Doctor Stephen Strange, for example, has replaced the famous Dr. John Dee as Queen Elizabeth’s court magician and physician.

Of course the treat of this book for us comic fans is spotting the way our favorite Marvel heroes are changed. Some like Sir Nicholas Fury (the head of State Security) and his apprentice, aspiring “maker of things” and spider-lover Peter Parquaugh are rather easy to spot. Others, such as Virgina Dare’s bodyguard, the Native American Rojhaz are not quite so easily identified… at least until the final few pages of this issue.

And, as usual, there are a ton of subplots and plots within plots to follow. But would you expect any less of a Neil Gaiman story? But for those who want to keep score…

• Queen Elizabeth is near death, strange storms wrack the land and Dr. Strange is doing what he can to solve both problems.
• Sir Nicholas is investigating various plots against the queen, assigning his apprentice Peter to watch over the newly arrived Virginia Dare, who is to be presented to the Queen.
• Sir Nick’s agent, a blind Irish bard by the name of Matthew is enroute with an Admrial Nelson to meet with another agent named Natasha, in order to intercept an old man guarding a treasure belonging to the Templars.
• They are being chased after by Count Otto Von Doom, often called “The Handsome”.
• The Spanish Inquisiton continues, with the head inquisitor hunting down a new breed of witch (ie mutants), with the aid of two “blessed” assistants (one “holy” witch and one young man named Peter who can run very fast). They are chasing after…
• Carlos Javier, who runs a sanctuary for the witchborn and is training his students...
• Who just rescued a young man with wings, called “The Angel”

Of course the writing is the biggest draw on this book, but the art is equal to the task of matching Gaiman’s words. Kubert’s pencils are as clear yet detail-filled as ever and are served well by the digital painting techniques used by Richard Isanove. The covers by Scott McKowan so far have been wonderful, and the hedge-maze on the cover of this issue seems a fitting metaphor for the connections between the characters that I partially described above. And it’s not often that I notice the lettering in a book, but Todd Klein shows, in scenes like the one where Sir Nick is writing a letter, how very difficult and unappreciated the art of writing out the words is.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Hawkman #19 - A Review

Written by: Geoff Johns
Penciled by: Scot Eaton
Inked by: Ray Kryssing
Colored by: John Kalisz
Lettered by: Bill Oakley
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Publisher: DC Comics

Geoff Johns has become something of a wunderkind at DC Comics. He is writing Teen Titans, which has sold out three printings of issue #1 and just sold out it’s second printing of issue #2 as of this writing. He writes The Flash, which has garnered tremendous critical support in the wake of the “new start” made with the title in #201. He co-wrote JSA which is agreed by many fans and critics… even the Marvel-friendly guys running Wizard Magazine… to be the best team book published by ANY company today. And he also writes Hawkman, which for some reason doesn’t seem to get nearly as much press or acclaim as any of the titles I just mentioned.

I can think of no logical reason for this as Hawkman remains one of the most consistently enjoyable books published today. The only explanation I can think of, however, is that after years of confused continuity and the “we’re going to pretend he’s not there” stance taken by DC Editorial, fans are either ignorant of the character’s rich history or wary of embracing what may be a potentially confusing train wreck of a story.

Thankfully, each issue so far begins with the quick summary of the conceit created by Johns in the pages of JSA, that dealt with all the conflicting versions of Hawkman and has neatly stabilized some very troubled continuity. In short, Hawkman is Carter Hall; an archeologist who has been reincarnated throughout time, along with the spirit of his true love. They were once the King and Queen of Egypt, and empowered my a mysterious metal from another planet. Slain by a treacherous priest with a knife of this “Nth” metal, the two are destined to be reborn again and again, meet each other and fight on the side of justice before being slain again by the reincarnated priest.

This book is rich in history and Johns has fun explaining away certain snafus in the DCU continuity. He manages this and the very neat trick of making this history accessible to the new readers. Case in point; in this issue Carter and his team examine a ruin in Egypt. After some rather interesting discussion of how the natives view archeologists and the tools used by modern day explorers of the past, things take an interesting turn when Captain Marvel baddie turned militant good-guy Black Adam shows up. For those who don’t read JSA 51, there is quite a bit of tension between Hawkman and BA… tension that only increases when Adam introduces his new friend and teammate; someone very familiar to Carter from the days of Infinity Inc…

This someone, his history and the reasons for his current appearance (aka Kindgdom Come Home) are neatly explained away in a few panels. And while you really have to have been reading JSA and know something of Black Adam’s past to fully appreciate all the facets of this issue, it is still accessible to the new reader.

While I miss Rags Morales, and the rest of the usual art team on the title, Eaton does a fair job guesting on this issue. The early scenes, for some reason beyond the subject matter, remind me of the old “Further Adventures of Indiana Jones” comics from the 80s and the later scenes depicting great, winged superhero battles are as action-packed as Kirk’s work on JSA.

Monday, September 8, 2003

Looking To The Stars: The Global Picture Book

First of all, I am very disappointed that not one of you even bothered to submit a joke, tear-filled e-mail begging me please not to destroy your eyes and mind with naked pictures of Bea Arthur. I can only assume one of three things; nobody is reading my column, nobody cares enough to write me or all of you are some sort of perverts with a Golden Girls fetish that you were hoping I’d satisfy.

Fine. NOBODY gets the naked pictures of Bea Arthur!

Now, last time before we were so rudely interrupted by the empty, lame ass gimmick that is our second season-


Now, last time before we were so rudely interrupted by the empty, lame ass gimmick that is our second season, I was going to talk a little bit about the subject of comics and editorial commentary on current political situations being placed in them.

This all spun out of a conversation with 411 writer (and now assistant editor of the Reviews Section) John Babos regarding JLA #83, and its’ creation of a situation not unlike the current situation with the USA and Iraq. While we disagreed upon the appropriateness of the message, we both agreed that the discussion of such issues is important and should not be stopped.

Still, I feel it worth mentioning that Joe Kelly is not the first one to take pot shots at the current US administration in his work. Rising Stars, for example, had a remarkably George W. Bush-like figure addressing the public as President while lying about a covert program to kill off Earth’s superhumans being arranged as a preemptive strike against people who were moments away from killing normal Americans. This as the unspoiled hero Matthew Bright enters carrying a dying Patriot and screams "This man is a liar, and I can prove it!"

Bush hasn’t fared too well in the Marvel Universe, either. After being humiliated in the pages of Ultimate X-Men, forced to kneel naked before Magneto on the White House lawn, he and his staff were portrayed as wanting mutant-kind taken care of a similar fashion as to how the Nazis took care of the Jews. He was also portrayed as a dim-witted coward in Marvel Universe: The End when all the world leaders are kidnapped.

Still, this begs the question of appropriateness and one wonders if this kind of portrayal has always been commonplace in comics or if the current man in the White House is receiving some unusually harsh treatment. Of course, the comic has always been used as a political tool. Turn to the editorial section of today’s paper and you’re bound to see a few political comics.

Political cartoons were also used throughout Western history, from the invention of the printing press onward. Martin Luther, in an effort to communicate to the great masses that had not yet learned how to read, created political cartoons showing Jesus chastising the money-lenders in the temple and showing the Pope of the time as one of the money-lenders. Crude, but effective, it is speculated that Luther’s use of comics may have been of invaluable help in his Protestant Reformation.

America also has a long tradition of making political statements through comics. Ben Franklin’s newspaper started the tradition with a now infamous cartoon of a multi-part snake, each part baring the initials of a colony, which read "Join or Die". The snake became a symbol in of itself, inspiring the "Don’t Tread On Me" rebellion flag and represents one of the earliest examples of American political comics. Political cartoons mocking King George were also displayed and the hanging of such cartoons in a public place was specifically named as a treasonous act.

100 years later, the battle between artist and target would become personal; indeed the stuff of legends. Tom Nast, an artist famed and beloved for his work during the Civil War, turned his pencil and pad towards mocking William “Boss" Tweed ; the infamous head of the Tammany Hall Machine, which rigged elections throughout New York through the later half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century.

This tradition continued from the newspaper pages and into the comic books. The early Siegel and Shuster Superman stories often dealt with social issues like the workers’ right to form unions to wife beating. While we take such issues for granted today, this was very weighty stuff for the time- particularly for a kiddie book.

Things mellowed and yet became more extreme during WWII. Social issues were ignored, the closest thing being stories involving costumed heroes stopping robberies of scrap metal and other supplies needed for the war effort. Politicizing became all too commonplace, with caricatures of Hitler, Mussolini and stereotypical German, Italian and Japanese soldiers being mowed down by the thousands in war comics or beaten into submission by the newest Patriotic heroes. Perhaps the most infamous of these instances is a Captain America comic in which the man with the shield is seen pushing Nazis into an oven! A far cry from the peaceful patriot of later years.

There was little political commentary in the comics in the immediate post-war era. A lack of scandals and a general sense of prosperity left very little audience for satirical jibes at the way things were. This wasn’t helped by the now infamous efforts of Dr. Fredric Wertham to clean up the comic book industry; an effort which, like the McCarthy Hearings at about the same time, put thousands out of work. With the reputation of comics being dragged through the mud, it would be quite some time before anyone would dare risk doing anything that might tarnish what little image comics might have as a wholesome, All-American item.

That time came in the late 60′s and early 70′s. Along with the Sexual Revolution and British invasion, comic books underwent a revolution of their own as serious, topical discussion of current events and politicians came back into comics. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Denny O’Neil’s run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

The first issue, #76, opened with a bang. Green Lantern stumbled upon a man in a suit surrounded by a group of younger men, threatening violence. GL stepped in, sent the fighters flying and then informed the crowd of on-lookers that there was no need to thank him. They don’t. In fact, they start throwing garbage at a stunned GL. Luckily, Green Arrow shows up to explain that the young men were angry because the man in the suit is a slum lord and he just elected to sell all the people in the neighborhood out of their homes with no notice or warning. And then an elderly black man walks up to Green Lantern and says some of the most famous words ever printed in a comic book...

"I’ve been reading about you. How you work for the blue skins, and how on a planet somewhere you helped out the orange skins. And you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there’s some skins you never bothered with- the black skins!"

Combating the orders of the "blue-skin" Guardians of the Universe, which are more concerned with the letter of the law than the spirit of goodness, GL would travel across the country with GA- the two heroes dealing with big problems on a small scale. Think globally act locally. Almost any story from this run can be taken before a social studies class to make a point. Pollution, overpopulation and even the plight of the Indian in modern society were addressed in these stories. But the most infamous of these stories, well-recounted elsewhere, involved Green Arrow’s discovery that his own sidekick had become a heroine addict. More, that he had turned to drugs because of Green Arrow’s only negligence as a father!

This was a stunning development and helped to balance the character of Green Arrow after some of the more one-sided stories where the worldly and wiser Green Arrow wound up explaining away the "error of your ways" to the honest but naive Green Lantern. This story showed that the hero could screw up in unimaginable ways and things could be forever changed for it.

While not as often praised as Denny O’Neil, Stan Lee would tackle the same issues in his work on The Amazing Spider-Man but with not nearly as much depth. Whereas O’Neil went into detail describing the street culture of dealers and users and used specific drug examples, Stan limited his anti-drug commentary to stories where Peter Parker had to save a stoned Harry Osborne from jumping off a building after taking some unnamed pills and thinking about how very stupid and uncool he was for taking drugs. Stan also started working more minority characters and issues into his writings, revealing that #2 man at The Daily Bugle was black. He also discussed minority unrest, with Gwen Stacy urging Peter to attend an Equal Rights march with her and Spider-Man having to step in and save the day when trouble broke out between a racist cop and a protestor.

Of course specific political commentary was limited to certain characters. Green Arrow, for example, was the only person who could get away with referring to Nixon-style dirty tricks or calling uptight officials Nazis. It would be some years before Superman would be voicing his opinions against capital punishment or Batman would be fighting landmines. But the works of Lee and O’Neil undoubtedly set comics upon the path to where they stand today. Where Joe Kelly’s JLA can not-so subtly slam the bloody and pointless war in Iraq as Chuck Dixon’s Birds of Prey can not-so-subtly slam Bill Clinton for being a weak-willed fool who has to call Hillary to get advice on how to deal with a crisis.

Bottom line? Everyone has the freedom to write what they want. We also have the freedom to not read what they write. However, I hope that all of you out there will not exercise that freedom in the future in so far as it regards to my column.

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


Sunday, September 7, 2003

Shades Of Blue #3 - A Review

Written by: James S. Harris
Penciled by: Cal Slayton
Inked by: Cal Slayton
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Ed Dukeshire
Editor: Ed Dukeshire
Publisher: Digital Webbing

The subject of how to get more young women interested in comics seems to be a common point of discussion among those in the business of late. Some have noted the popularity of manga comics among young women and have started trying to play off of that. Some publishers began employing manga-styled artists to pull the artistic chores on their books while some comic shops began stocking more and more Japanese manga and anime.

Others, more canny than this first group, realized that the attraction lay not with the artwork but with the stories and characters that were more relatable to a teenage girl than, say… the latest exploits of Elektra or Wonder Woman. Not that they are unsuitable role models for the independently minded woman of today but supermodel ninjas and Amazon princesses are not relatable figures to the average teenager.

This is odd when you think about it. How many recent comic book figures have found success because of the fact that young men could relate to them? Static comes to mind. So does that kid from Invincible. And then there’s the mother-loving wall-crawling menace known as Peter Parker; the patron saint of all nice geeky guys who can’t get a break. Why does nobody do a nice, simple comic about a girl getting super-powers she doesn’t really want but tries to use them responsibly in the face of a hostile world while still trying to live a normal life?

That book exists, dear reader. And it is called “Shades of Blue.”

The book centers around Heidi Paige. Heidi is a typical teenage girl who got electrical powers and permanently blue hair after being mysteriously attacked at the mall. She is trying to unravel how she got these powers and why, with the help of her new friend K.T., her next-door neighbor
Marcus (who has a very obvious crush on Heidi) and Jack, a jock named Jack who just as mysteriously developed the power to change his body into diamond.

These four kids, along with the other regulars and the story thus far, are detailed in an extensive, picture-filled gallery on the title page of the book that does a better job of catching up introducing new readers to the title than the majority of mainstream titles. And unlike some other books allegedly written for young women (Marvel’s Emma Frost, with its Greg Horn covers comes to mind), the artwork by has neither gratuitous cleavage nor provocative cheesecake shots. Indeed, Slayton draws the most realistic teenage girls I have ever seen in a comic.

In a week that witnessed the release of the latest issues of many of my favorites; this is the book that held my attention the longest. But worry not, readers. Though it is an independent title, it is far from inaccessible to you, though your comic shop may be small and its clerks unable to order small titles. The entire run of the series so far, the original series (in single issues AND trade paperback form) as well as a spattering of t-shirts and other merchandise can be found at .

Crimson Dynamo #1 - A Review

Written by: John Jackson Miller
Penciled by: Steve Ellis
Inked by: Steve Ellis
Colored by: Thomas Mason and Mental Studios
Lettered by: Thom Zahler
Editor: Stephanie Moore
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Back in the day, all the patriotic heroes had an opposite number; a villain representing the interests of whatever countries America was fighting in the real world at that time. Captain American had The Red Skull and Baron Zemo; super-patriots of their respective countries. Iron Man, a symbol of American ingenuity and upright businessman behavior, also had a number of opposing villains. The most famous was The Mandarin; a symbol of old China and magic. The imperialist to Iron Man’s capitalist. Less famous, but no less important, was the Russian Iron Man; The Crimson Dynamo.

Of course in the dozen or so years since the end of The Cold War, the communist hero/villain has fallen into disuse. As far as I know, nobody has discussed what has happened to all of these characters in detail. For example, what happened to the Rocket Red program in the DCU when the Soviet Union collapsed? What did Omega Red do in the wake of the system he was created to protect collapsing? And what ever DID happen to the Crimson Dynamo?

Sadly, all those waiting for such an in-depth study of how the fall of Communism affected the Marvel Universe will have to wait a while longer. Aside from a few attempts at humor, you won’t find any such understanding or investigation here. What you will get, however, is a lot of stock characters, bad dialogue and not much else.

The story centers around Gennady Gavrilov (aka Ferris Bullier-ski); a smart, but unfocused young man with a habit of taking everything that isn’t nailed down, finding a hammer, and then taking everything that IS nailed down from his school. An aspiring technician, his life is an unending Hell thanks to a principal who is out to have him expelled, a perpetually absent mother and a step-dad who is perpetually glued to the television, complaining about how the Americans have 250 channels and swearing at the commercials trying to sell him products he doesn’t want.

This all changes (well, not really) when said principal assigns Gennaday to a job with the government, gofering packages between a computer scanning station and a series of warehouses. It is a lousy job, even though it does give him access to a computer and the ability to instant message hottie American girls. That and a package containing a strange helmet that offers him maps, access to many television channels and eventually “video games”. In this case, the video games are control of an armored body suit which was woken up and is currently engaged in a battle with a small group of Russian soldiers.

There are several problems with the story. First, none of the portrayals of post-Cold War Russia ring true and it seems as if writer John Jackson Miller’s Russia is based on a series of Yakov Smirnoff jokes, with computers and robots added in to make it modern. I find it hard to believe, for example, that the Russian government is just NOW giving an office in charge of converting files from paper to digital media a CD burner.

I also find it hard to believe that Gennaday, bright as we are lead to believe he is at the start, is unable to figure out that what he has is not “a home entertainment system” and as amusing as it is to think of him cheering Ozzy Osborne in his bedroom, the attempt at humor falls flat.

And while we’re on the subject of flat, let’s talk about the dialogue. It isn’t constant, but often times some of the characters will slip into the stereotypical “Boris and Natasha” way of Speaking English. To quote stepfather dearest…

“Dancing chocolates now! They must think me a fool!”

Only because we are waiting for you to say that it is time to “keel Moose and Squirrel!”

This is a shame, because the art is much better than that the writing deserves. All the characters have an easily-identified individual look, and Ellis has an amazing grasp on expression and action, easily conveying Gennaday’s panic as he finds himself unable to see as he drives while wearing his new helmet as well as the velocity and path he moves along.

All in all, I don’t think I’ll be coming back for issue two. I’m not quite seeing red over having spent $2.50 on this book, but I don’t think its worth its weight in rubles either

Monday, September 1, 2003

Fantastic Four #503 - A Review

Written by: Mark Waid
Penciled by: Howard Porter
Inked by: Norm Rapmund
Colored by: Matt Milla
Lettered by: Russ Wooton
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The first time I encountered both Mark Waid and Howard Porter was a few years ago when I picked up the TP collection of “Underworld Unleashed”. Considered by many to be one of the few DC summer crossovers to live up to the reputation of the summer blockbusters, the book was an instant classic thanks to Waid’s original plotting and dialogue and Porter’s disjointed, but gorgeous, style of artwork. The two have reunited in this, the first issue of a new storyline in Fantastic Four and the two masters have never looked better.

Waid treats us to his typical blend humor and action that makes all things (for lack of better word) fantastic seem commonplace and the commonplace fantastic. The opening pages, for example, detail a common New York City sight; the theme store. The twist here is that this is a theme-store for a superhero group and that it is in the bottom floor of their base. Likewise, the main plot of the book details the Fantasic Four’s efforts to protect the country of Latveria from invaders in the absence of Doctor Doom and destroy Dr. Doom’s more dangerous technologies before anyone else gets a chance to use them. This leads towards Reed having to make an important decision which will have dire consequences for the team…

Well, I hope it will, anyway. Be a pretty dull six-issue series if it doesn’t!

Porter’s illustrations seem much less stretched out and wild than usual. Indeed, it looks as if he is trying to mimic the style of former artist Mike Wieringo at times, with characters being more rounded than angular. Still, the style is undeniably Porter’s, with an emphasis on deep shadows and sharp lines. I only have two quibbles; at times, the shape of Ben Grimm’s head keeps changing from round to square-shaped and the artwork is very “posed” at times. Consider Reed’s sudden shift into the standard Superman pose in page 18. Still, Porter’s darker style does seem to suit the tone Waid’s writing has taken the book during the course of his run and the two complement each other quite well.

Looking To The Stars - Version 2.0

*fade in upon Sir Matthius Mauriceson sitting in a leather chair by a fireplace in a library, holding a brandy glass*

Sir Matt: Good morning. Or evening. Or afternoon as the case may be as you read this. Welcome to Looking To The Stars; a sophisticated journal dedicated to serious discussion of the whole of comicdom, current events and the synchronic harmonies between the two. Last week, we discussed the political ramifications of JLA #83. Of course the issue of political commentary and its’ place within the comic book is a wide and far-reaching subject with a long history; a history that must be examined in great detail in order to consider the context of a single book. That is why this week, on Looking To The Stars, I think it only fitting that we examine this history of the comic book as a political tool in the history of Western Civilization. It began in the days of the Protestant Reformation where Martin Luther used comic books to mock the corrupt officials of the Catholic Church. Consider his classic text, Der Gruin Kase-

*Suddenly, the wall behind Sir Matt collapses as a small bulldozer starts to plow away the small, dignified set. Behind it, comes Daron the Dark Overlord in black overalls*

Sir Matt: What is the meaning of this?!?!

Daron, The Dark Over Lord: *looking up from blueprints* Oh, hey Matt!

Sir Matt: Yes- Mr. Editor. What can I do for you?

Daron: Didn’t you get the memo? Today is the first day of The New Season!

Sir Matt: Yes. Well, I was told that wouldn’t pertain to me. I mean, I’m still coming on the same day…

Daron: Oh, you’re still in the same place on the schedule, sweetie baby! We wouldn’t dream of changing that. Why over 63% of our key demographics say that you lighten up their Monday mornings!

Sir Matt: What?! Really?

Daron: Yeah… but we’re going to still have to make a few changes to justify calling this a new season if we’re going to keep you around.

Sir Matt: What? But you just said I was popular!

Daron: Yes, but you’re not quite popular enough. And we need you to take a pay cut.

Sir Matt: But I’m not paid now!

Daron: Ah. Well, they you’ll have to start paying to write for us.

Sir Matt: What?!

Daron: Yes. Some of the other writers, who don’t have as big an audience as you do, are threatening to leave unless we start paying all of them more per week. Pulling the same act as that guy on “Everybody Loves Raymond”… why I let them have TV Guide in the writers lounge, I’ll never-

Sir Matt: But what about my set?!

Daron: *looks behind him* Oh! We’re destroying it.

Sir Matt: Why?

Daron: Look, I’d love to tell you but I’ve got a million things to do. Got to have the new hot tub installed in the editor’s lounge before noon. So I’ll leave it to Jodi in marketing to explain all the changes.

Sir Matt: Jodi…

*in bounces perky woman in a business suit. She looks not unlike Reese Witherspoon*

Jodi: You called?

Sir Matt: Uh-not really..

Jodi: Sir Matt…Starman… Stars, if I may? The reason we’re demolishing your library set is because we’re… concerned about the intellectual content of your writing.

Sir Matt: Indeed?

Jodi: Riiiiiiight. See, our research shows that while most of our audience likes it when you do crazy ramblings and satire, many of them are… let me read a few lines here… “confused and frightened”, “feel stupid” or “bored” when you write about comic book history.

Sir Matt: But I provide a vital service to the community! I inform people about stories they might have missed out on! Why, the Typhoid Mary article alone garnered responses from many people who had never HEARD of-

Jodi: Yes, and I applaud you for that. But it just doesn’t read well. So we’re just going to make a few changes. The set for example. When you talk comic history, this is how you picture yourself. Suave, David-Nivenish and sitting in some kind of study like you’re hosting Masterpiece Theater.

Sir Matt: Well… yes?

Jodi: We’ve got something new in mind. With a new wardrobe…

*Through the magic of editing, we are suddenly standing on the deck of a beach house. Sir Matt is now wearing khaki shorts and a loud Hawaiian shirt*

Sir Matt: Good lord!

Jodi: Welcome to the 411 Comics Beachhouse! Here, you can cut loose and chill and party while at the same time telling our key demographic about the way kewl comics that are coming out, as they watch all the hot studs and honeys shake their bodies to the hottest new industrial music. How does that sound?

Sir Matt: I feel like Peter Parker in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #42.

Jodi: Which brings up our next point. Issue quoting. Stop it.

Sir Matt: Stop quoting issues?

Jodi: Right. It makes people uncomfortable to hear references to things they don’t understand.

Sir Matt: But Jodi… I was hired for this magazine to share my vast knowledge of comic history and the thematic and dramatic elements of it-

Jodi: And you still can! Just tell them things they already know, but make it sound like they don’t know it!

Sir Matt: (confused) But if they don’t like to feel like they don’t-

Jodi: Skip it. Now we need you to read this. *hands him a sheet*

Sir Matt: “Next Up on 411: Daredevil- Briefs or Boxers?” And what’s this before that about a Mrs. Edna Fogerty celebrating her 100th birthday by bungee jumping?

Jodi: Oh! Our latest study shows that people like to read about local events.

Sir Matt: But we are a world-wide publication!

Jodi: So? There’s bound to be a few old women named Edna Fogerty turning 100 today? Statistics show that.

Sir Matt: *long pause* You’re insane, aren’t you?

Jodi: Not according to the latest studies. Now be quite- we have to show the trailer!

Sir Matt: Trailer? What trai-

"Every generation has a legend."

"Every journey has a first step."

"Every magazine has a smart ass writer.”

Narrator: In the year 2003, producer/director Ben Morse created 411 Comics

and changed the way we looked at hastily-assembled Internet fanzines.

Now, eight months later, using new spellchecking technology, Morse and his

creative teams at Morsefilms, DHX, Streetwalker Sound and Agricultural

Might and Logic have complete restored, enhanced and added onto this classic

Website to bring you 411 Comics: Version 2.0".

For the first series, Morse redid his classic column, Sir Matthius Mauriceson’s “Looking To The Stars” with new computer graphics and new scenes cut from the original release. Action-packed scenes like this…

*Daron the Dark Overlord, in his classic black armor appears, moving in on a wounded Sir Matt*

Daron: Old Ben Morse never told you the truth about your editor…

Sir Matt: He told me enough! He told me that you killed him!

Daron: No… I AM your editor!

Sir Matt: No! No, that’s not true! That’s impossible!

Daron: Search your e-mail! You know it to be true!


Jodi: So what do you think?

Sir Matt: Was that Ben Stiller playing me?

Jodi: Is that a problem?

Sir Matt: I always thought I was more of a Jason Lee role.

Jodi: Well, Stiller was cheaper. Oh and one more change… the “whiny loser like you” thing wins over the comic readers, but it’s a turn off to the teenage girl market we’re trying to attract.

Sir Matt: I am NOT whiny. And I must protest-

Jodi: Anyway, in order to improve your image, you and Jessica Simpson are going to start dating.

Sir Matt: Absolutely no- Jessica Simpson? Not Lisa or Marge?

Jodi: No. The singer. Not a cartoon.

Sir Matt: On the other hand, perhaps we can give this a shot…

Jodi: Super! Now all we need is to announce the contest.

Sir Matt: Contest?

That’s right kids! Want to win a really keen prize? Well, we don’t have one. But we can help you escape from a gruesome punishment! Yes, that’s right it’s the “Name That Obscure Reference” Contest. To win, e-mail Sir Matt with the meaning of the reference in this week’s Teaser Title. The first lucky winner will be the only person on Earth NOT to receive the dreaded nude pictures of Bea Arthur that are part of the computer virus that Daron The Dark Overlord will be releasing on Sunday, September 7th as part of the closing festivities of the first week of 411 Comics 2nd Season!

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

With a real column next time! Promise!