Monday, January 19, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Second Annual Starry Awards

The Golden Globes. Mr. Blackwell’s Best & Worst Dressed List. And now (once again), it is time for The Starry Awards. Because it’s just not the start of the new year without yammering about the best and worst of last year.

Welcome back, dear reader, for those of you who caught it the first time. For those dear readers who didn’t, that’s what the scroll bar at the bottom of the page is for.

In any case, welcome to what has become a yearly staple of 411 Comics: The Starry Awards for Excellence and Disgrace in Comics Writing.

(NOTE FROM DARON: It isn’t a yearly staple! He did this crap last year and he’s doing it again cause he didn’t have anything else to write this month!)

Of course it has been pointed out that the comic industry already has the Eisners, the Harveys, the Eagles and… gods above help us… the Wizard Awards. Why on Earth 2 then, these alleged people ask, do we need another damned award?

(NOTE FROM DARON: Because he’s an egotistical madman who likes to feel important.)

The Starry Awards were started so that I, the ever humble author of this column, might dispense awards to those I felt were most worthy of praise or damnation based on their works in the past year.

(NOTE FROM DARON: Ha! Told you! Humble my sweet bippy!)

The Starries name ten stories in total. Stories, for the purpose of this award, can be single or multiple issues of one book or multiple books relating to one plot-line. The Starries are based solely upon the personal opinions of Matt “Starman” Morrison and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else.

(NOTE FROM DARON: They REALLY don’t reflect the opinions of anybody else. Really. You want to complain, e-mail him. I’m still sorting through all the hate-mail from his last review…)

Five Staries are awarded to stories which, more than any other stories this year, made me stand up and cheer, burst into tears or just stopped me in the middle of reading to say “This is damn good stuff.” Five Staries are awarded (if you can call it that) to stories that, for some reason, I found disappointing. Stories that left me feeling that a mark had been missed and missed badly. Some of them are stories that, in fact, I think are just plain terrible!

That said: Here are the winners and losers!

The Best of 2003

Best Moment All Year: Mary Jane and Peter; Together Again.

As told in Amazing Spider-Man #49-50

Marvel to break up the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson marriage. For the most part, the reasoning was that it killed Peter’s history as a loveable loser and Marvel used this excuse to justify some rather lackluster sales during the nineties. Thankfully, saner minds prevailed… eventually. And after someone pointed out that the reason nobody liked Mary Jane any more was because she was being written with little of the characterization that had made her so likeable since the good ol’ days and had been turned into a trophy wife who did little more than “comfort” Peter after a long day of saving the world, most of the talk of killing her off or arranging for a divorce ended.

Still, this left the Spider-Man books in an awful mess of nuclear waste. Thankfully, thanks to the efforts of several writers over a score of books, our favorite Wall-Crawler came back to the respected level he so surely deserved. And once Peter was fixed-up, the task of bringing back Mary Jane and deciding where to go with her fell upon the shoulders of Amazing Spider-Man scribe J. Michael Stracynski.

This harrowing task was slowly done over the course of JMS’s run, culminating in issue 49 where, after what can only be described as some very rocky waters involving near death, Peter’s fidelity and the question of “Can I really count on you to put me above the rest of the world?” that all women want answered, we get to see just how much these two characters love each other.

The two each decide to fly to see each other and declare that they are sick of being separated and want the other one back because they are so truly madly deeply in love that it hurts. The thing is, they do so without calling the other and wind up at each other’s apartments on the same day, with no inkling as to where the other is. To add insult to injury, Peter tries to call home to see if maybe “the special guy” he was told by her doorman she was leaving to see was him, only to find that in typical Parker-luck fashion, his phone has been disconnected.

What follows is the two looking around each others living space, noting all the funny little details you memorize when you love someone as they wait and hope that the other will walk through the door any moment. After a night, they decided the other person is off somewhere with someone else and that things are truly over. The only thing that saves the relationship is a chance accident and twist of fate that puts the two in the same airport at the same time, where a much needed talk is had… even as the world and the walls are collapsing around them.

Never in recent memory, has any comic so strongly portrayed the depths of two popular characters’ love. And that is why this story wins Best Moment of the Year.

Funniest Read All Year: Lord of the Hirelings: Return of the Bling-BlingAs told in Nodwick #23

The author and artist of the best comedic fantasy webcomic around gives us his comedic take on “The Lord of the Rings”. While this be very lame with name parodies and recreations of epic battles with pie-fights or some such (ala the over-hyped National Lampoon’s “Bored of the Rings”), Williams manages to fit the definitive fantasy epic around his own unique characters and keep things just twisted enough to be amusing even for those of us who have memorized the books and movies completely.

For instance, the town of Nazgul are now Nazgoths… beings who dress all in black and seek “This One Ring” as a fashion accessory, for such a cursed and evil thing would surely make them all the envy of all who hang out at that club which is only open one night a week. Williams even gets a tribute in to Igor of “Dork Tower” with his “Smeagor” character, who seeks “This One Ring” as the ultimate rare collectible. Funny stuff all around.

Best Team-Up: Superman/Batman

As told in Every Bloody Thing Jeph Loeb Wrote This Year

Whether it be for a brief scene in the middle of the epic that was “Hush”, or in the pages of their new team-up book together, Jeph Loeb has shown us for nearly half a year why these two heroes are still called “The World’s Finest” some 70 years after their individual creation. Though it did not take much time, relatively speaking, for the two heroes to be teamed-up, it was only recently (within fifteen years) that the divide between the two would be deepened to mark the contrasts in their style and approach to heroism. Light and Dark. Power and Finesse. Training and Natural Ability. They are both the Yin and Yang that complete each other, forming the perfect-two man team.

Best Make Over : Birds of Prey

As told in Birds of Prey 56-62

Much has already been written about how writer Gail Simone and the former Supergirl art team of Ed Benes and Alex Lei took this book, which had fallen on hard times in the wake of longtime writer Chuck Dixon leaving it and a long series of substitute artists and writers. Throw in its tie in title only to an action show that it had nothing to do with, and you had one title that looked like it was slated for the bargain bin.

Such was not to be. For artwork that showed beautiful women in tight costumes without being exploitative coupled with stories that balanced action, drama, plot, characterization and comedy to create one of the best books on the market.

Best Retro Tale: Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure

With Doc Ock starring as the main badguy in the upcoming Spider-Man 2, Marvel has been heavily featuring him in several recent mini-series and will keep the good doctor busy until July 4th. It would have been all too easy for them to have a couple of stories hacked out and stretched out to last from now until next summer. Thankfully, it appears that most of the stories featuring the bad guy I always thought of as Spidey’s most dangerous enemy are of exceptional quality. This is especially true of “Negative Exposure”.

Distinguishable as a retro tale only because of its reference to Peter’s dating a cute blond, being in college and still working at The Daily Bugle to pay the bills, this mini-series by Y: The Last Man scribe Brian Vaughn has proven to be quite the surprising treat. Each issue has used many levels of humor, from the traditional Spidey insults (the “Scooby Doo” comment to Mysterio in particular, was a classic) to a bit of dark humor from Doc Ock himself. Throw in some good action scenes, an old-fashioned super-villain smackdown and a central focus who views Peter Parker as a big winner while HE is a the unlucky loser make this story something special and unique.

The Worst of 2003

Most Likely To Cause Continuity Robots Heads To Explode: Judd Winick’s Writing

As told in Green Arrow & Outsiders

I detailed the specifics of this case in Of Cons and Continuity, so I shall recall them briefly here.

In short, Judd Winick displeased Black Lightning creator Tony Isbella with how the character, always a fiercely conservative and family-oriented man, was going to have a child out of wedlock. Throw in problems with a niece (Jefferson Piece was an only child), his severely out-of-character casual murder of a corporate executive and the fact that Winick apparently spoke to Isabella about how to properly handle the character before-hand and you had the makings for a big creator slap fight. Add in a spattering of characterization that, according to many fans and creators, didn’t jibe with what had happened in the past (particularly among fans of Nightwing and Green Arrow) and you have one big mess that says this; Judd Winick is a good writer when he is working with his own characters, but he just plain stinks when he has to share his toys.

The “What The Hell Just Happened?” Award: JLA: Scary Monsters

The award name says it all. Did anyone like or understand this series?

The “I Waited For This?!?!” Award : Ultimate Adventures

One of the three books in late 2002’s “U-Decide” contest, this was to have been run monthly for half a year alongside Peter David’s “Captain Marvel” (rebooted into its fifth volume) and Bill Jemas’ “Marville”. The best selling of the three books would continue on as an on-going series. The other two would get the chop.

Today, Captain Marvel just had its 18th issue come out. Marville, the U-Decide contest and Bill Jemas himself have gone the way of the buggywhip. And issue six of Ron Zimmerman’s Ultimate Adventures JUST NOW came out. Exactly one year late.

This would have been anti-climactic, even if the book itself were worth reading. Sadly, had this contest taken place without delays on the part of two of the books, I doubt that Marville and UA could have overcome a writer like Peter David, who has a good deal of experience and a fanatically devoted fan base.

Incidentally, Mister David? While I have criticized most of your recent comic book work, I loved your book “Knight Life” and recommend it highly to all fans of Arthurian legend.

Worst Makeover: Aquaman

Speaking of Arthurian Legend, what fresh hell was this book?

I’ll give them credit for an inspired idea; tying Arthur Curry in with King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake was neat. But the magical water hand that cannot be used to harm others added a mystic element that has never really suited Aquaman. Mix with some rather lackluster artwork and is it any wonder this book is being retooled again?

The Worst Comic Of the Year Award : X-Men: Phoenix

No X-Men. No Jean Grey. No mutants at all.

So what DOES this book have?

Lots of mangaesque artwork of buxom redheads with armor made of equal parts heavy plate and dental floss, bending into improbable positions as they duel sit in saunas and battle nasty shadow tentacle monsters.

And to think… some men wonder why women have a negative view of us comic reading males.

A total rip off for the X-fans. An insult to all things good and decent in humanity. Gratuitously sexual, even for a hentai comic. The worst thing released all year, without a doubt.

And considering the competition, that is REALLY saying something.

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

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