Sunday, November 30, 2003

Birds of Prey - #61 - A Review

Written by: Gail Simone
Penciled by: Ed Benes
Inked by: Alex Lei
Colored by: Hi-Fi
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Lysa Hawkins
Publisher: DC Comics

The last time I reviewed Birds of Prey after the new team of Simone, Benes and Lei took over, I said “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.”

The first arc is over. The old team is surpassed. The Monarch is dead! Long Live The Monarch!

This is, in my estimation, the best book being published by anyone right now. It is, at the very least, the best book I am reading on a regular basis. (There! Are you “truth and accuracy” in the media people happy now?!?!)

The Writing

In the wake of the attack that has temporarily sidelined Black Canary, Oracle has “fired” her best friend, not wanting to risk losing her best friend in the battle against crime. Canary is rather justifiably upset by what she sees as a very hypocritical move by the wheelchair-bound Oracle
The two take a break to cool off the conversation and Canary is thrust into the wheelchair of command when Huntress needs help escaping from a car full of hired goons.

Simone is probably best known for her work as a humorist. Indeed, her “You’ll All Be Sorry” columns for Comic Book Resources are some of the finest bits of parody ever done in the genre. She’s also renowned for being able to write a damn good action scene. Her work on Agent X showed that she had an ability to balance both and indeed combine the elements of humor and action together.

Simone surpasses all her previous works, as this issue introduces more serious drama than any of her previous works or any past issue of Birds of Prey. Moreover, Simone is able to build on past stories and what is happening in other titles in a way that makes the story all the more involving. For example, her take on Nightwing reads better in three panels than the last five issues of Outsiders or indeed Nightwing’s own title.
Simone also has the characters down-pat. Black Canary, in particular, is getting some of the best treatment ever after years of mischaracterization or being regulated to a den-mother role. Consider her reaction in this issue to her firing. Rather than whine or complain, she decides “Okay. So Oracle thinks I need to be better? I’ll become better.” She immediately proceeds to call up other heroes and make appointments for some pointers.

This is the essence of Dinah Lance’s character and a trait that she and Barbara Gordon have in common. They are survivors. They do not give up. Heck, they both got into the heroism business partly to spite an authority figure who told them to quit.

And I don’t know if it was intentional or not but there is a scene here that contains echoes of “The Longbow Hunters” where Canary trains with Batgirl and is told that she does not have the eyes of a killer.

The Art

Benes and Lai were the perfect team to take over this book in the wake of their own firing from Supergirl. Lai in particular is a master of knowing when to shadow and when to leave the lines a bit lighter. The shadows move seamlessly across scenes ranging from the dark bowels of Arkham Asylum to the sunny balcony atop Oracle’s watchtower.

As for Benes, he draws what are easily the most realistic beautiful women in all of comicdom. The proportions are realistic; no overly huge chests on master acrobats or oversized Anime eyes. The tendency towards cheesecake I noted in the past issues (which I don’t think can be helped given the new Jim Lee designed Huntress Houchie-Momma costume) has all-but disappeared. And unlike some artists, he draws an attractive Oracle.

Now this is a small point, but I have noticed many past artists tended to “dress” Barbara Gordon like a librarian or make her look small and dumpy or hide her face behind a huge pair of glasses that dominated her face. Benes realizes that just because she has to use a wheelchair to get around does not mean that the former Batgirl is any less attractive physically. And he also manages to give different shapes to his character’s faces, so you could tell them apart even without the blond/brunette/redhead triumvirate formed by the team.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Daredevil #54 - A Review

Written by: David Mack
Penciled by: David Mack
Inked by: David Mack
Colored by: David Mack
Lettered by: Cory Petit
Editor: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Starman: Hey everyone! Welcome to our review of Daredevil #54. I’m excited to announce that this is the very first review I have ever done with a guest reviewer. And what a guest! We are proud to present everyone’s favorite X-Man… “Logan” aka The Wolverine.

Logan: Make this quick, bub. I gotta go pose for an Iron Man cover in a hour.

Starman: Of course. Now… is Logan okay?

Logan: Suits me.

Starman: Great. I understand you are actually in Daredevil #54?

Logan: Yep. I’m the best at what I do-

Starman: And what is that exactly?

Logan: Cameos.

Starman: Cameos?

Logan: Yep. Hardly a title Marvel published in the last year I haven’t been in.

Starman: Yes. I notice you haven’t been in “Trouble”.

Logan: Yeah, well they tried booking me for that, but I’m having creative differences with Mark Millar right now.

Starman: Anything you’d like to talk about?

Logan: (growls slightly)

Starman: Moving on, then. So, Logan… what exactly happens in this issue?

Logan: Not much to tell. I stumble across this Native-American woman in the forest. She tries to fight me. We stop. We start talking about vision quests and it ends as I’m getting ready to tell her a story about two dogs fighting.

Starman: A story about two dogs fighting?

Logan: I think there’s an Echo in here.

Starman: And there’s a joke in that line we aren’t going to touch. This story isn’t going to be the joke about the man named “One Man Bucket” is it?

Logan: What joke is that?

Starman: Well, I can’t repeat the whole thing here but it involves Native American twins, the older one being ashamed of his name and the younger one telling a visitor to the tribe “Two Dogs Fighting? No, he’d give ANYTHING to be called Two Dogs Fighting”

Logan: Oh. Yeah, that’s a good one.

Starman: Is that the story though?

Logan: No.

Starman: Oh, thank goodness. Getting back to this issue, now the action in the last few arcs has centered on Echo.

Logan: Nice girl. Good fighter. Dunno why she keeps getting called an Elektra rip-off.

Starman: So I expect there’s a lot of good action in this issue since we do have the two of you.

Logan: Oh, there’s some action… but you really can’t see it.

Starman: How do you mean?

Logan: Well, I’m a straight-forward man. Cut right to the point, some might say. But Mack’s artwork… it’s too fancy!

Starman: Well, it does look nice.

Logan: Won’t deny ya that but it’s a little confusing when it comes to the fight scenes. Everything’s all laid out like a board game or a kid’s drawing. Looks cool, but gives me a headache to follow. But the pencil sketches of me are good.

Starman: What do you think about the story? Now, I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I mean, we haven’t seen Echo in the title for a few years and this issue is giving us a chance to adjust her to the many changes in the book since then.

Logan: Yeah. Kingpin got his eyes back and is in jail. Murdock’s identity is kinda out there… but why is this in Daredevil?

Starman: Well, she got her start in Daredevil-

Logan: Has Daredevil been in this story yet? Has Kingpin?

Starman: Uh… yes. For a little bit in the first two parts.

Logan: And what’s happened since then? Last I heard Fisk was in the slammer and Murdock declared himself Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen.

Starman: Back in #50, yes.

Logan: Well, that’s a damn sight more interesting to me than reading about one of Matty’s ex’s trying to find a new purpose in life now that Hornhead’s got a new squeeze and Kingpin’s already been punished.

Starman: So you didn’t like this issue?

Logan: I like it for what it is. It’s a good story and the girl’s got bite to her, but… I dunno, couldn’t they give her a mini-series of her own? They give me one a month and I could use a break.

Starman: Half and half, huh?

Logan: Yep. Not bad. Not great.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Looking To The Stars: A Very Hurried Wizard World Report!

Wizard World has come to Texas. And what with the convention being in my backyard, not a scant dozen blocks or so from my place of employment, I’m sure you’d expect good ol’ Unca Stars to have been on hand for the whole thing, right?

Well, not quite. What with the convention being in our backyard we were expecting a whole lot of traffic over the weekend so we were informed months ago that nobody was getting any time off that weekend that they wouldn’t normally get. Luckily, what with me usually getting Sundays off, that left me with one day to try and squeeze in the entire convention experience.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of going to a convention, here are a few quick survival tips.

  1. Arrive early.

Often times, there are special events which require separate tickets than the ones you purchase to get in the door. In this case, there were a limited number of tickets for a special signing by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes that were quickly snatched up within minute of opening the gates to the teeming masses. Not only can arriving early help ensure that you get to see everything you want to see that day, but you also get to meet interesting people as you wait.

  1. Bring cash and a budget.

There’s going to be a lot of things you’re going to want to buy but only so much you can afford. My advice is to bring a set amount of cash that you are going to be set to spend for the whole trip. Not only does this allow you to better keep track of what you have left but it does help when you meet the dealers who don’t have credit card machines (yes, there actually are some left!) or have a fairly high minimum charge on dealing with credit transactions. In addition, there are some things you will have to pay up the nose for here… particularly food. Four dollars for a cheeseburger may be only slightly cheaper than the costs in leaving the Con and coming back if they do not allow in-and-out parking.

  1. Plan ahead.

The schedule for the Con is usually available on their website or at the door. If you have certain people you want to meet, it’s always a good idea to plot out where they will be and plan to be there accordingly in order to avoid the longer lines.

The morning had a shakey start. Yours truly was dressed in his Starman costume; in this case, the Jack Knight Starman with the custom painted leather jacket, tin badge and a pair of googles that I found after spending countless hours of searching military surplus stores to find the right model. Well, the strap on the goggles broke as I was waiting in line to get in. Luckily, I was able to improvise a fix using the strings on my backpack to make a new tie.

I spent a little under two hours waiting before the gates opened, fully ready to make the dash to the Wizard booth where the Kevin Smith signing tickets were being handed out. Thankfully, it turned out to be a less of a frenzy than I feared and I got one of the few tickets easily. With that first stressful challenge out of the way, I had some time to explore the floor before going to my first planned signing.

Since I was there anyway, I decided to take the challenge at the Wizard Booth. They were having a contest where you picked a category, answered a question relating to that category and then spun a wheel to win a prize if you got it right. If you got it wrong, you had to undergo a physical challenge (just like Double Dare!) in order to get a prize.

I won a free Rising Stars “Unmasked Patriot” action figure after answering a trivia question about Spider-Man. (Name three members of the original Sinister Six… a piece of cake for a Spider-Fan such as myself.)

The next two hours were devoted to autograph hunting. In no particular order, I secured the signatures of…

  • Kurt Busiek, whom signed my copy of JLA/Avengers #1 as I thanked him for bringing back Conan to comics.
  • Mart Nodell, who I thanked for creating one of my favorite superheroes of all time (That’s the Green Lantern for those of you unfamiliar with the creators of the Golden Age) and bought a painted mousepad from.
  • Aaron Williams, the writer and artist of the excellent PS238 and Nodwick comics, who signed my PS238 #1.
  • Paul Dini, who signed my precious first edition of “Batman: Mad Love” and said precious little though one of the Top Cow marketing people next to him seemed very eager to talk to me once he found out I wrote for a review magazine. He gave me a preview of the new Wanted book by Mark Millar, JG Jones and Paul Mounts (which will be reviewed as soon as I have time to sit down and read all the freebie promo books I got this weekend.)
  • Harris O’Malley, who gave me a copy of his book “Between The Cracks: The Bridge.” (Again, look for a review next week.)
  • Cal Slayton, artist on “Shades of Blue” who autographed two books for me, signed a book for my friend Tanner (who got me reading Shades of Blue in the first place and couldn’t make the con because of work) and even did a quick sketch of Unca Stars in his Starman costume.
  • Drew Edwards, creator and writer of Halloween-Man - the creepy, kooky, ooky on-line comic. (Again.. an in-depth review is forth-coming). Dave also gets points for being the first person to recognize my costume to my face.
  • Local horror-show hostess and vintage pin-up model, Jami Deadly
  • Spectactular Spider-Man Scribe, Paul Jenkins, who signed my #1 issue of that worthy comic as he ran his way up the line of people waiting for autographs at the Wizard Booth. It seems Mr. Jenkins flight got bumped up, so instead of having a leisurely two hours to sign autographs by his lonesome at the end of the Con, he was instead sharing an hour with Darick Robertson (artist on Wolverine) and the line was moving slower than a snail. The manic Mr. Jenkins began to move up the aisle, ask who was there to see him (a surprisingly small number, given that the Con’s free promo comic was one of his- an alternative cover to Wolverine: The End #1) and quickly polished off signatures for all his fans.

And then I went to The Event. The moment that a good deal many were there for and a moment that had a deep spiritual meaning for me; the Kevin Smith autograph session. I speak with no small sense of melodrama here, for I honestly do hold Kevin Smith as responsible for saving my life.

You see, once upon a time I toiled in a lousy job in a video store in a small town, taking abuse from small-minded, low-intellect locals who I knew I was smarter than. Still, I accepted this as something to be dealt with. And then I saw a little film called “Clerks” and I was inspired. I took to heart Randall’s words that you can’t let a job define your behavior or your life and that if you aren’t satisfied with your situation in life, you are under no obligation to tolerate things as they are.

Now, I have escaped from that small town. I am, for the most part, content with my life. I have good friends and a supportive family. I have a great job that could pay more but is not stressful and allows me time to continue my education. I don’t have a girlfriend but that owes more to my not having time to go looking around more than any inability to meet people. And Kevin Smith’s writing was no small part of that.

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to tell him that. I was too busy trying to remember if there was one “n” or two in the middle of the name of my friend Shannon, whom I was getting a book signed for as she was unable to make the convention on Sunday. But I have a book autographed by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, a photo of myself with the Cheech and Chong of my generation and a good story to tell every other Kevin Smith fanboy I the area.

So Kevin… on the odd chance you wind up reading this, thank you for showing me the truth of that saying “Sometimes we are the architects of our own jails,” and helping me to escape mine.

After that, there was precious little to do but wander around and shop. And that is when I made perhaps my greatest celebrity meeting that day, in terms of the person who has had the greatest impact upon the Comics-Reading world. As I was searching fruitlessly for a variant Starman figure (the one with the different color pants and a goatee), I heard the announcer’s call…

“George Perez and Kurt Busiek are now signing autographs in Room 9!”

My eyes widened. Zuzu’s pedals, I had forgotten that George Perez was still here for the Con today! I rushed to the room to find a very small crowd… barely a line. I hoped that everyone had gotten their signatures earlier in the week or that I had somehow beaten the rush because seeing so small a crowd for one of the most influential modern artists in the genre… the man who co-created the Teen Titans and drew JLA and Avengers for years upon years… well, it was a disturbing thing to think of.

Mr. Perez is widely said to be among the kindest of creators you can meet at a Con. It is a reputation that I found to be very well deserved. He was very gracious to every person coming through the line, answering questions and always smiling. He made me feel like I was the only person in the room as I told him about how I reviewed comics and gave him one of my business cards. And it just about made my day when he said “Oh, 411Mania? Yeah, I’ve seen it a few times.”

All in all, it was a most enjoyable afternoon. And as I write this now, I speculate that this may well have been the best twenty-four hours of my life. And this is even ignoring the fact that I met Kevin Bloody Smith!

You see, in addition to my writing for this magazine I am also part of a small independent acting troupe in Fort Worth. The Saturday evening before I went to Wizard World, my fellow actors surprised me by throwing an impromptu party in my honor at what I had been told was an emergency cast meeting. Instead, I found many of my dearest friends waiting with cards and gifts… all for a man they said did a lot of hard work for the group for very little acclaim.

To all of you, I say thank you. I would not be able to carry on without the support of all of you, my friends. And that is worth even more to me than any number of autographed comics. I love you all. Viva Los Bastardos!

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

Monday, November 17, 2003

Looking To The Stars: A Day In The Life...

Honestly, some of you people have no sense of humor.

Being a critic, I expect a little bit of negative feedback once in a while. But some of the things that have been said… its like some of you think I actively sit around thinking of people to piss off.

This is in fact, far from the case. Anytime I do speak ill of someone, it is only after a) after reading the work of an individual which I found unenjoyable or b) public statements of that individual offend some sensibility of mine. While “sitting around on your big fat ass” and “bringing down those more talented than you” would undoubtedly be a lot easier than my reading a lot of comics and keeping up on the news, I don’t play the game that way. Even though we know that a large number of critics achieved national prominence and in fact, got a lot of their own works published after they went around trash-talking all of the big-name writers of their day. Like… um… uh…..

Well, anyway… if I were to take the route of flaming my way to fame, you can bet I’d try to acquire attention by attacking a surprising target. I could say that all Neil Gaiman did for the industry was get more Goths into reading comics I could say Jim Lee isn’t really all that good of an artist. Heck, I could say that Jack Kirby wasn’t the single most influential artist in the history of comics and that Stan Lee is highly overrated and single-handedly tick-off the greater population of the fandom community in one bold stroke.

I could, at the very least, find better targets than most of the people writing for Image Comics and the guy responsible for the Jay Leno/Spider-Man team-up. ;)

Still, reading some of the accusations leveled at me, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be life if some of these statements were true. With that in mind, I present this little piece of fiction entitled: A Day In The Life Of “Starman” Matt Morrison.

6:00 am – Wake up.

6:01 am – Pull myself off the floor and get in bed.

10:33 am – Wake up again.

10:35 am to 11:12 am – Shower. Treat myself to hardy breakfast of partially thawed waffles, Ramen noodles and the leftover lager from the night before.

11:13 am – Stick a pin in the groin of the Voodoo doll of Judd Winick I keep next to my computer monitor.

11:14 am – Kneel, bow to New Jersey, and chant mantras in praise of Kevin Smith.

11:15 am – Sit down at the computer.

11:16 am to 12:34 pm – Spend time perusing free pornographic web sites while self-pleasuring myself.

12:35 pm – Quit self-indulgence as I discover that the last picture was of my sister.

12:36 pm to 1:27 pm – Read everything on the 411 Mania Website.

1:28 pm to 1:40 pm – Write a negative review of whatever book Jesse Baker liked the most this week.

1:41 pm to 2:01 pm – Write a positive review of whatever book George Gebhardt said was “Worst of the Week”.

2:02 pm – Begin trying to think of idea for the next “Looking To The Stars”.

2:23 pm to 2:28 pm –Take a five minute break to sulk about how untalented and funny I am compared to Peter David. Reflect on how I am a sad little man who will never know the touch of a woman.

3:02 pm – Grow tired of staring at blank screen. Decide to go out for a bit and look for inspiration.

3:24 pm – Arrive at “Big Willie’s Wine and Spirits”.

3:54 pm – Arrive at Denny’s parking lot.

3:57 pm – Leave Denny’s parking lot after discovering Rush Limbaugh already cleaned out my dealer.

4:14 pm – Return home. Make hardy drink combining Jack Daniels, Jim Bean, Peach Snapple and Cherry Nyquil.

4:15 pm - Prank call Wizard Magazine. Ask the answering machine if anyone there has seen Todd McFarlene’s balls lately.

4:16 pm – Begin composition of a seventeen-part epic poem about Spider-Man and how his troubled life paralleled that of America in the late 1900s.

4:33 pm – Give up.

4:34 pm – Begin composition of a thirty-four-part epic poem devoted to my old girlfriend from high school, who I haven’t talked to in five years.

5:16 pm – Make tearful phone call to ex-girlfriend, begging her to take me back.

5:17 pm – She refuses.

5:18 pm – Drive to rural part of town in search of an out of the way farm, where I can vent my frustrations.

7:23 pm – Bail is posted. Farmer agrees to drop charges so long as I pay $300 as a dowry for his prize sheep.

7:44 pm – Return home.

7:45 pm – Finish the rest of my new drink. Decide to call it the “Texas Muleshoe”. Write note to self to look into patenting it tomorrow.

7:46 pm to 9:09 pm – Read through severally poorly drawn and unfunny webcomics written by hacks who can’t get published by professionals.

9:10 pm to 9:36 pm– Write “Looking to the Stars” column about how these are the greatest writers and artists of the new generation. Decry professional publishers that let these people go ignored while certain unnamed hacks are allowed to make thousands of dollars.

9:37 pm – Go back and name all the unnamed hacks. Add numerological proof that Rob Liefield is the antichrist.

9:38 pm to 10 pm – Shower and change to go and dance the night away in some wild hotspot on the streets of Dallas.

10:32 pm – Arrive in the West End of Dallas.

10:47 pm – Am approached by a gorgeous blond in a tight dress.

10:48 pm – Notice that the dress is unusually tight in someplace where it should not be tight as well as her apparently suffering from a form of mumps that causes swelling in the neck.

10:49 pm – Promise to call my new friend after she can afford the surgery.

12:23 am – Find that my credit card has been denied by the bartender.

12:24 am – Using the Ford Prefect gambit, I offer a positive mention of the club in my writing in exchange for the waving of my bar tab.

12:25 am – Ponder how Douglas Adams has a lot to answer for as I pick two of my teeth off of the concrete.

1:04 am – Drive to emergency room.

2:07 am - Finally get some Oxycotin.

2:39 am – Return home.

2:40 am – Make myself another Texas Muleshoe

2:41 am – Fix another later dinner of partially thawed waffles and canned tomato soup.

2:53 am – Call Jim Lee and complain about how horrible the “Hulk” movie was before hanging up.

2:54 am – Realize that it was Ang Lee who directed the “Hulk” movie. Also remember I never actually SAW the “Hulk” movie.

2:55 am - Decide to make-up for it tomorrow by calling Ang Lee to complain about how he needs to do more monthly books.

2:56 am – Try calling ex-girlfriend back again.

2:57 am – Am threatened with bodily violence by her husband, who sounds half-asleep and groggy. Challenge him to a Jamacian stick fight. Consider myself the victor after he hangs up.

3:00 am – Turn on TV.

3:07 am – Call a phone number I see belonging to several young ladies who are looking for a hot guy to talk to.

3:09 am – Fall asleep as I am explaining the contents of the Texas Muleshoe to one of the young ladies, who keeps asking me to “press one for English”.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Spectacular Spider-Man #6 - A Review

Written by: Paul Jenkins
Penciled by: Humberto Ramos
Inked by: Wayne Faucher
Colored by: Studio F
Lettered by: Randy Gentle
Editor: John Miesegaes
Publisher: Marvel Comics

So much greatness and so little space to discuss it all. Still, we shall take it by the numbers and try.

1. Doctor Octopus is back!

Okay, so he never left and he did just get his own miniseries starting last month. But let’s not quibble. This is when we were meant to see the new “look” for Doctor Octupus and it is good. It’s funny, however, that despite the fact that Humberto Ramos is the one who created the look, I think I like it better as drawn by Staz Johnson in “Negative Exposure”. The look here, with the coat collar totally covering the good Doctor’s mouth, seems a bit odd and just “wrong”. Doc Ock has always been one for good maniacal expressions and it just seems so wrong to have his evil grin covered. Also, between the black coat, the mangaesque tentacles, the sunglasses glued to the eyes and the “I’ve missed you” introduction line, I can’t help but have Matrix flashbacks. Still, the writing of the character is dead on and Jenkins finds the perfect balance of subdued menace and detached, intellectual madness.

2. Mary Jane is back!

Not very important to the plot, but Mary Jane does make her first appearance in the Title and her first in Jenkins writing in years. I rejoice in this however, not only because Mary Jane being in the story and acting as a foil for Peter always improves the quality ten-fold, but because I will no longer have to explain why Peter is living on his own in one book and has MJ sleeping over every other night in another.

NOTE TO CONTINITY FANS: This story takes place after Amazing Spider-Man #50 of the current volume but before the most recent stories where it appears that Peter and Mary Jane are living together again. There. You have your precious timeline. Neener. Neener. Neener.

3. Jolly J. Jonah Jameson is back!

In what seems to be a throw-away scene (particularly considering Peter hasn’t worked for the Bugle in a while) we get a nice story about the man who could honestly be said to be Spider-Man’s worst enemy; J. Jonah Jameson. Still, considering the plans Doc Ock hints at in this issue, I don’t believe the quick cameo is a coincidence… though I could scarcely complain even if it were thrown in for a quick joke. The gag about “Alien Hitler Clone sighted in Manhattan sewer” is a classic and I will eat this comic if this joke gets developed into a scene involving Jolly Jonah painting himself green and calling Parker to come take his picture for the front page.

4. General greatness.

The on-going plot involving Flash Thompson’s injuries is expanded as we get another look at Peter’s neighbors. The usual amount of Spider-wisecracks is there along with some web-slinging, wall-crawling action. And Dock Ock is still there. With the tentacles and the menace and the evil and all that makes him the greatest villain in Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery.

PS238 #4 - 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

Ah, the class field trip. An essential part of the American school experience as youths are taken into the real world to learn more about it. And it is no different at PS238, the exclusive school for the super-powered children of super-powered adults. Of course at this school, the typical field trip leads to some decidedly untypical places; in this case, the moon.

This is the brilliant conceit behind Aaron Williams’ PS238. On the one hand, it is a comic about kids trying to cope at school and it is all about the typical problems we all met when we were in school. But the typical concerns are turned on their head, as the equipment check for the trip includes radios, respirators, helmets and an in-flight demonstration on how to use the anti-gravity toilets.

On the other hand, this book is also a rather hilarious parody of some of our favorite superhero titles. The “team” for this book includes Captain Clarinet (son of this world’s Man of a very strong metal indeed.), the son of Emerald Gauntlet, Suzi Fusion (“Doctor Positron says my internal body temperature can melt lead!”), would-be world-conqueror Zodon and… Tyler, the non-powered black sheep of his parent’s family, currently apprenticing under the watchful eye of the Batman-esque Revenant.

Williams, who draws each issue as well as writing it, manages the neat trick of building serious drama even as he delivers some high quality laughs. This is in spite of Williams’ cartoonish drawing style which lends itself better to exaggerated expressions than depicting the darkness of space of the menace of an ice-breathing man-monster. (And I must say I love Zodon’s face as he finds out the school’s head technician snuck a tracking device onto his hover-chair.)

Excellent marks overall. A+, Mr. Williams. We expect your mother will put this work on the fridge door!

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Thanos #2 - A Review

Written by: Jim Starlin
Penciled by: Jim Starlin
Inked by: Al Milgrom
Colored by: Christine Scheele & Heroic Age
Lettered by: Dave Sharpe
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Thanos: Behold, reader… for I am Thanos! Once, I was a vile despot, despoiler of worlds and a subtle-as-a-starship-crash rip-off of Darkseid. Once, I did possess the Infinity Gauntlet and slaughter half the Universe. Once, I did possess infinite power and give it up to save this universe, the adventures of who’s inhabitants you are so pleased to read in your primitive, tree-shaved, four-colored, monthly-published periodicals. Once, I was…

Readers: Get on with it!

Thanos: Right. Indeed, once Thanos was quite the badass. But since saving the universe, I have realized the folly of my ways and intend to make restitution for my past misdeeds. Where I once destroyed, I shall build. Where I once took, I shall give. Where I once gave ponderous philosophical speeches that went nowhere, I shall now give more ponderous, philosophical speeches and hope that a point becomes apparent.

Warlock: And I for one plan to be there every step of the way.

Thanos: Adam Warlock? Do you not trust my reformation? Do you not believe that this Alpha Centurion Gransnat Beast can change his stripes?

Warlock: Not really. Though I will admit it would make you the first villain turned hero to get his own series who actually remained heroic throughout.

Thanos: Indeed! But I shall not object to your presence, in order to show my new agreeable disposition. Also, because this will allow us to get into many humorous situations, not unlike Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rainman, but without the mental handicaps.

(In the blinking of a page, the two are on some random planet)

Thanos: And so you see Random Alien Leader, I had mended my ways and fully intend to use my awesome, though vaguely defined powers to aid you and your civilization when I once would have crushed it, slaughtered half of you and dedicated your lives to the spirit of ending itself.

Random Alien Leader: Well, why not?

Random Evil Alien General: No! I say that you are weak and insane to deal with the Mad Titan! We shall kill him and you and the one with the unnatural golden skin!

Warlock: Joan Rivers?

Random Evil Alien General: No! Kill them!

(Thanos, naturally, turns the tables.)

Thanos: Mr. Random Alien Leader… as a gesture of good will and proof of my intentions, I shall… in one stroke…. Improve the quality of your gene pool as well as regain you the loyalty of your armies.

Random Alien Leader: Amazing! And how do you plan to accomplish this with one stroke?

Thanos: By doing this!

(Thanos blasts the Random Evil Alien General into kibble)

Warlock: Have you yet to confront a problem that couldn’t be solved by blowing people up?

Thanos: Only a few, but I was able to blow up everyone who complained.

CUT TO: Starman’s Office:

Starman: Uh, hey folks. Just thought I’d note that the above conversation is only SLIGHTLY exaggerated for humorous effect. Now, back to the parody!

CUT TO: Random Alien World.

Warlock: Perhaps, if you are serious about turning over a new leaf, you might want to consider not racking up so high a body count.

Thanos: What bodies are there to count? He is now a pile of melting protoplasm and ashes! There’s not enough to fill an envelope!

Warlock: That is not my point! You cannot just kill everyone who you have a disagreement with.

Thanos: At the very least, I cannot kill you…. Yet. But come… with have problems to solve.

CUT TO: A Different Random Alien World.

Random Alien: This weird ship thingy seems to be hurting the planet.

Thanos: Indeed. I recognize it as a scout ship of Galactus, Devourer of Worlds and Maker of Fine Cheesecake.

Random Alien: Cheesecake?

Thanos: Indeed, though that title is rarely used and his is known more for devouring worlds than making his fine cheesecake.

Warlock: Is there anything we can do?

Thanos: Yes. Indeed, I swear now that by my oath as a reformed villain, which is currently worth about 1/20th of an Intergalactic Credit at this time, that Galactus shall die at my hands!

Warlock: Okay… remember what I said an hour ago about the sanctity of life?

Thanos: Yes. I thought I could talk more about it as I am blowing people up. Become a compassionate conservative, as the people of Earth call it.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Looking To The Stars: The Matrix - Revolting

First things first. If you haven’t seen The Matrix Revolutions and/or if you have not yet read any of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” series and you plan to at any point in the near future, please do not read this column. SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN!

There. Now. Where shall I begin?

I saw Matrix: Revolutions this weekend and the only comparison I can make is that I feel the same way about the original it as I do “Return of the Jedi”. Indeed, the Star Wars Trilogy and the Matrix Trilogy stack up almost perfect.

The first part of the trilogy? Stands up quite well on its’ own. A true classic.

The second part. Technically superior to the first in most regards. Expands the universe but ultimate a bit slower and more involving than the first part.

The third chapter? A lot of cheesy action with a bunch of plot twists that surprise no one but an ending that brings things full circle and ends things on a satisfactory, if bittersweet note. It’s the weakest of the three parts but is hardly bad. Just not as good.

And the comparisons between Matrix: Revolutions and Return of the Jedi don’t end there…

Plot Progression – Both movies open with a scene where the team must rescue one of their own (Neo vs. Han) who is in the hands of a character who is hostile, but not the main enemy. (Jabba the Hut vs. The Merovingian). They all go off, with the savior hero (Luke vs. Neo) going off to win the spiritual battle alone even as everyone else engages in the much larger epic battle between the masses of good vs. evil.

Thematic Progession – Man vs. Machine. Nature vs. Technology. Romance vs. Reason. Logic vs. Intuition. Ultimately, it is the same old themes.

Ultimately a War Movie- Throw out the scenes of Luke and the Emperor and throw out the scenes of Neo fighting Agent Smith. What do we have? Just your basic war movie. A very high tech, well-shot War Movie…with all the same stock characters. You have the excitable newbie, the grizzled-old soldier, the soldier with a sweetheart at home, the sweetheart herself…

Actually, to be honest the whole thing is a blatant rip-off of The Holy Trilogy. I’m amazed George Lucas hasn’t sued.

“Now wait a minute, Starman!” I hear you shout. Well, not you. Actually, I mean Ben Morse, who is standing behind me and reading over my shoulder as I write this. Anyway, Ben just said “Having the same clichés doesn’t mean that you can go accusing something of being a rip-off”.

Well, you know what? He’s right. The previous half-assed argument is not my own. This was the argument made by two random passersby of ye old shoppe of random fanboy bitching. They contend that The Matrix is irredeemable trash because of the way it shamelessly ripped off Star Wars. So what? The Matrix ripped off the works of Phillip K. Dick. And Greek mythology. And The Bible. And the teachings of Buddha. And a whole lot of other things besides.

As Albert Einstein once said, “creativity is learning how to hide your sources.” A bit cynical of the creative process but accurate in some cases. Let’s take Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite writers. Where would Neil be today if it weren’t for the vast mythologies and fairy tales of a thousand cultures fueling his own creative endeavors?

Perhaps he would be at his old job as a freelance writer, typing out reviews and interviews for some hack rag on the Internet, while getting frenzied e-mails from angry fans, asking for his qualifications to say that Chris Claremont is a tired old hack who should have retired with grace five years ago…No, wait. That’s where I am today!

(Just joking. I’ve never said Chris Claremont is a tired old hack. At least, I don’t think he is tired… and even is he is, he’s still more fun than Chuck Austen.)

My point is that our culture has a wide variety of sources that all writers draw upon. And if a character or a story seems familiar, it is because that character or story has been around a while and lasted because they are true to us. Take the scene in the Matrix, where Trinity, Morpheus and Seraph must journey into the realm of The Merovingian in order to rescue Neo. The whole scenario is rife with comparison to the Greek legend of Orpheus, who went into the underworld for the woman he loved. Of course the Matrix scenario has several differences- the sexes of captive and rescuer are switched and Trinity uses violent methods rather than persuasive ones to win her lover’s freedom, but it is very much the same ultimate story. If that is so, then the writers and directors of The Matrix deserve credit for having found a new way to tell some old stories in a new way. That, and for having advanced the effects technology enough that someday, God willing and hopefully with someone other than that guy from “Dude, Where’s My Car?”, we will have a Superman movie worthy of the name.

Nevertheless, having now seen the entirety of the Matrix Trilogy, I feel that I can weigh in with some authority on one of the more persistent rumors in the fan community, regarding the original Matrix. That is, that the movie was almost a wholesale rip-off of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles”.

As I said before, there is a common pool that all writers draw out of. But there does come a point where coincidence stops being coincidence. And I do believe that The Matrix crossed that line in the first film. And I don’t mean with the elements that are common place to superhero comics as a genre, like the names and renaming.

The adoption of a new name as you are born into a new life is a part of tribal culture as well as superheroism. So as Mr. Anderson becomes Neo and Dane becomes Jack Frost so did Bruce Wayne become Batman and certain Native American tribes have their young men go through a vision quest to earn an adult male name. Incidentally, one can have a fun afternoon tracking down the names of the characters to their symbolic function in the film. To spell out one of the easier connections, Morpheus is named for the god of dreams who watched over and protected sleepers in the dream world. (But you Sandman fans knew that already, eh?)

But certain other elements are too similar to not suspect an uncommon link between them. To parphrase Morpheus in the second Matrix film, “I do not see coincidence, I see plagiarism.”

  1. The World and the Plot

The Invisibles – advanced beings from a different reality who use human beings as an source of psychic nourishment, ruling the world from the shadows. Our heroes are a rag-tag group of rebels using guerilla warfare and magical altering of reality in order to fight the system.

The Matrix- An alternate-reality generated by advanced machines who are using humanity as a power source. Our heroes are a rag-tag group of rebels using guerilla warfare and hacking the computer world in order to fight the system.

  1. The Heroes

The Invisibles – A potential Messiah is rescued by a charismatic bald guy who wears sunglasses a lot, who slowly sets about teach said Messiah about how to use his untapped powers before letting him onto his team as a full partner. Said Messiah falls for the short-haired babe on the team and then constantly argues with the sassy Brazilian drag queen sorceress.

The Matrix – A potential Messiah is rescued by a charismatic bald guy who wears sunglasses a lot, who slowly sets about teaching said Messiah about how to use his untapped powers, before letting him into his team as a full partner. Said Messiah falls for the short-haired babe on the team and argues constantly with the sassy Brazilian drag queen sorceress.

(Okay, I’m just kidding about the Brazilian drag queen in The Matrix. Just making sure you’re still paying attention. Puckish sense of humor that I have…)

  1. The Villains

The Invisibles- Major enemies are the Myrmidons (hostile, hive-minded agents who wear a variety of guises, some of them human others not) and the Lovecraftian Archons of the Outer Church.

The Matrix – Major enemies are The Agents (hostile hive-mind programs who can possess any body within The Matrix) and the squid-like, Lovecraftian Sentinel robots.

  1. The Jump Scene

The Invisibles- Jack Frost is made to jump off a building so he can experience death as part of his training.

The Matrix – Neo is forced to fall off a building as part of his training.

And this is just what I can remember off the top of my head, folks. I highly recommend that you go and pick up some of The Invisibles trades. Even if you have little interest in conspiracy theories of films plagiarizing comics, I think you will find them well worth reading. And reading beats movies any day of the week. Ask anyone who read the Princess Bride book after seeing the movie and see which one they liked better.

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

Sunday, November 9, 2003

Wolverine: The End #1 - A Review

Written by: Paul Jenkins
Penciled by: Claudio Castellini
Inked by: Claudio Castellini
Colored by: Paul Mounts
Lettered by: ?
Editor: ?
Publisher: Marvel Comics

OPEN ON: Paul Jenkins’ Studio.

(Paul Jenkins sits before his computer, trying to think of an idea.)

Paul Jenkins:
Okay. The Last Wolverine story ever… what can I do that hasn’t been done yet?

(He ponders this. Suddenly, he snaps his fingers.)

Paul Jenkins:
I know! I’ll have Wolverine fight a bunch of ninjas and… no, no that’s been done….

(He ponders further. Again, he snaps his fingers.)

Paul Jenkins: Everyone will be expecting a great, high action epic so I’ll do the exact opposite of what everyone expects! Everyone will expect a battle with Sabertooth, so I’ll kill him off in the first chapter! And I’ll do something to completely change Sabertooth’s personality before he dies so I can REALLY mess with everyone’s heads… make him a “born-again” Christian or something!

(He laughs at this, scratching his chin thoughtfully.)

Paul Jenkins:
But that won’t be enough…No… I’ll have to change Wolverine himself. Everybody has always respected him as this great warrior and being tough as nails, if a bit of a hothead and really insensitive. So I’ll give him Alzheimers, make him a little confused and have him start talking to himself non-stop…

(There is a knock at the door.)

Paul Jenkins: Oooh! I’ll bet that’s my hot wings! Can’t do my writing without my hot wings!

(He moves to the door. Upon opening it, he sees an angry mob on his doorstep.)

Angry Mob: (chanting) Hey-Hey, Ho-Ho, Crappy Writing, It Should Go!

Paul Jenkins: What? Oh for the love of Pete…

(The leader of the Mob pushes his way to the front.)

Leader: Yes, my brothers and sisters! Let your voices be heard! Let this foul despoiler of our greatest icon know that we will not tolerate his blasphemous writings!

Angry Mob: Yeah!

Paul Jenkins: I haven’t even started writing the story yet!

Leader: It matters not! Knowing that we have stopped the writing, even though the filming may be complete… that is enough!

Paul Jenkins: Wait a second! Filming? I’m writing a comic book!

Leader: (looking befuddled) Comic book? Aren’t you the guy who wrote the script for the movie where Ronald Reagan is portrayed as a decrepit, insensitive, blood-thirsty old man driven made by disease?

Paul Jenkins: No…. I’m the guy writing the script for a comic book where Wolverine is a decrepit, insensitive, blood-thirsty old man drive mad by disease.

Leader: Oh. (uncomfortable pause). Look, we’ve come all this way… so would you mind terribly if we just stood around on your lawn and chanted for a few hours? Just for the practice, you understand….

Paul Jenkins: Let the delivery boy and his precious platter of wings through unmolested and you have a deal.

(He closes the door and heads back to his studio.)

Paul Jenkins: Man, what a weird day. Oh well…. Back to work. Now, to think of a few references to “Origin” I can sneak in, partly as a “full-circle” closing of the beginning and end of Logan’s life but mostly so the readers who spot them will feel all clever…

CUT TO: The Office of “Starman” Matt Morrison



Daron, The Dark Overlord: Minion! What matter of madness is this review you work on? It doesn’t make any sense.

Starman: I dunno. I though the Reagan protestors thing was rather clever and topical. And since it looks like Logan is having some memory and reality perception problems in the book…

Daron: Yes, but even for you this review is dangerously random.

Starman: Well, I’ve been experimenting with the Grant Morrison style of writing.

Daron: Ah, so you are focusing upon absurdism mixed with non-linear time?

Starman: No, I’ve been focusing on Red Bull mixed with non-sleeping!

Daron: Are you sure you’re all-right?

Starman: Oh yeah. Just need to stop these gazebos from thudding in the dew pond!

Monday, November 3, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Dead Man Walking

Pop quiz, kids. Who was the very first superhero ever?

Batman? No, but you’re close. The hero I’m thinking of is just as popular, after a slightly longer history.

Since I’m feeling generous, I’ll give you a hint - His marriage to his leading lady after decades of adventures attracted world-wide attention. In fact, it even inspired the Parliament of New Zealand to hold a mock debate about whether or not said leading lady should quit her job and devote herself toward living in the hero’s secret hideaway and raising their children as she did in several “imaginary” stories.

Superman? Closer still, but not quite early enough. Besides, who honestly thinks the post-Crisis Lois Lane would ever settle down to raise the Super-spawn?

The year was 1936. Not quite 25 years old, a young writer by the name of Lee Falk was about to unveil a new character. Despite his inexperience and lack of training as an artist (Indeed, he had always fancied himself more a writer than an artist), Falk had tremendous success writing and drawing a regular daily strip centering upon the adventurer “Mandrake The Magician” and had been given a chance to try his hand at something else.

Inspired by equal parts literature and history with just a dash of the theatric for flare, Falk spun a tale of the Walker Family.

Christopher Walker had been the cabin boy on Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the New World. Now a captain himself, he sails himself with his son Kit. Kit is the soul survivor after the vessel is attacked by pirates, shipwrecked somewhere off the coast of Africa. Taken in by the Bandar; a peaceful tribe of pygmies, Kit was nursed back to health and vowed vengeance on his father’s murder. Later, he found the body of the pirate who killed his father and made an oath on his skull that he and his descendants would fight for "the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice."

Adopting a costume based on the garments of an idol in the Bandar village and operating out of The Skull Cave, Kit Walker would sail the seas and travel throughout the jungle, fighting evil wherever he finds it. He always leaves his calling card of a skull symbol in one fashion or another. He has used engravings of a skull, though most often he “brands” his foes with a punch, the skull emblem from his twin rings grinding into their faces. He becomes known as “The Ghost That Walks!” He is… The Phantom.

Nearly 500 years later, The Phantom still lives, thanks to the strict carrying-on of the tradition along the Walker family line, from father to son. Each son is also named Kit Walker and over the years, the comic detailed the exploits of The Phantom throughout the history. The Kit Walker of today is still active, devoting himself equally to continuing the battle against evil and his family. He married Diana Palmer (now Diana Palmer-Walker), an adventurer in her own right and now an official with the U.N. They have twins; a son and daughter. Kit and Heloise have both begun training to follow in their father’s footsteps… this being an enlightened age, women are hardly unqualified to assume The Phantom’s mantle. Indeed, several of the past Phantoms were women.

Now some of you nit-pickers out there are probably saying that there is nothing unique or unusual about the idea of a masked man fighting evil and that The Phantom is not the first to do this. And you would be right, the idea of masked heroes being older than even the pulp novels which featured masked detectives like “The Shadow” and “The Masked Detective” years before Batman was gunning down thugs in Gotham. The Scarlet Pimpernel predates them all. And a certain Mr. Borroughs was doing tales about a hero who fought various evils in the jungle a scant few decades earlier. So what is it that makes The Phantom the first superhero, or indeed unique?

It is because The Phantom was a blending of several elements that had never been combined before. Like a chef who can make a banquet out of the random odds and ends, Falk created something unique out of several seemingly incompatible elements. While masked men were not unusual, most of them tended to be detectives operating in urban settings. Jungle adventurers, while not as popular in the pulps as detectives at the time, were common enough to be an established genre, though they tended to follow the model of either Alan Quartermain or Tarzan.

The Phantom has also provided several of comics’ other famous firsts. Kit Walker married Diana Palmer in 1977, years before Spider-Man or Superman would tie the knot. And while not the first adventuring couple to have children (I believe Reed and Sue Richards hold that honor), Kit and Diana would be the first to actively bring their children into their adventures, as compared to the many heroes who try and keep their family (and especially their children) out of their other lives.

Astonishingly, Lee Falk kept writing the daily Phantom strip, in addition to a number of novels and other specials for over 60 years, up until his death in 1999. He is one of the few writers who can boast being continuously published in any medium for so long; a feat all the more astonishing when you consider that Falk was also an active playwright, as well as a producer and owner of six theaters.

Today, The Phantom’s popularity is as undying as the character’s legend in the books. The Phantom is the only superhero to have an entire theme-park devoted to him (It lies near Stockholm, Sweden) and an adaptation of the very first Phantom story "The Singh Pirates” was filmed in 1996. Even today, licensed stories featuring The Phantom are published worldwide in over a dozen countries and just as many languages. The Phantom is still the most popular daily comic strip in Australia and New Zealand.

And now, later this month, “The Ghost That Walks” shall run again in a monthly periodical published by Moonstone Books. Written by Ben Raab with art by Pat Quinn (and I don’t think it’s the same one who played Magenta- sorry Rocky Horror fans), I was fortunate enough to get a sneak-peak at the first issue and all I can say is that I think Lee Falk would be proud.

Raab does a splendid job of taking the Phantom concept and upgrading it for the 21st century. He does this in the way that all good updates SHOULD be done, not by changing the trappings of the character but just the setting. After all, with a world-wide following and over sixty years of continuous publishing it is quite clear that there is nothing “broke” about the concept of The Phantom himself. Tackling a current, but rarely discussed in the American media, event, The Phantom finds himself wanting to confront the enslavement of the Bandar tribe in a diamond mind even as Diana’s duties as director of the UN Human Rights Afro-Asian Division require him to be elsewhere. It seems that both missions coincide, however, as one of the terrorist leaders Diana’s department is hunting is responsible for the enslavement…

While this could get very preachy and very dull pretty quickly, Raab keeps the action going and makes his statement without hitting us over the head. Indeed, he holds himself very strictly to the standard set by Falk himself, who once said that his only politics were ”..up with democracy and down with dictatorships, down with human rights violations and down with torture.” Al-Qa’ida are mentioned but once, among a few other real terrorist organizations and the blood diamonds of Sierra Leone that partly inspired this story are also barely mentioned to give context, not to preach.

Quinn’s art is just as wonderful It is everything you would want in a story of this nature, with the heroes larger than life, the women beautiful as any old pulp pin-up and the same theatrical quality that Falk and the legions of artists who followed after him put into every panel of the original daily comic. It is hard to put a name to Quinn’s style. The strength and size of his male characters reminds me of the late and great Gil Kane but it also has the simplicity and cleanliness of the works of Alex Toth.

Regardless of the influence, the work is enjoyable and I can’t wait to see the full-color version later this month. I highly recommend that all of you join me in picking up a copy of Phantom #1 when it hits the street. Whether or not you’ve ever enjoyed a Phantom story before, it will be like welcoming home an old friend and I predict a lot of copies running, not walking, off the shelves.