Monday, March 15, 2004

Looking To The Stars: What I've Been Reading Lately

As I’m sure you’re all aware, I do quite a bit more for this little rag then merely bang out the occasional rant regarding which writer is screwing up which book and which overrated and over-hyped project I’m most dreading the release of. I also write more serious and focused reviews of some of the things I read every week.

This begs the question; Starman, what happens when you want to review something but fate (and the Dark Overlord) don’t let you write something about it that week?

What indeed? What happens is that I turn this little space to other purposes for a week or two and give my quick thoughts on everything I read in the past week instead of churning out one more chapter from my upcoming book: Dr. Strange Fate Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Characterization And Love Mark Millar. (Available At All Fine Comic Shops the day after Hell freezes over.)

Green Arrow #36

Is it impossible for Judd Winick to write a story in the DC Universe without demons these days? After the last Outsiders and this issue of Green Arrow, it seems so. We started out with a nice story about Riddler doing what he does best, driving heroes up the wall while laughing it up in a big pile of money, in the last issue. This issue degrades the storyline into Riddler acting as a distraction as his rich employer, who is summoning demons on some mystic site in a public park on the other side of town.

Ignoring all the problems I have with this portrayal of Riddler after the excellent “Hush” and the current storyline in “Gotham Knights” and the question of just how many millionaires there are in Star City who perform Satanic rituals (remember Kevin Smith’s “Quiver”?), I do not believe that Riddler would call in his threats to the police from the same room as the bomb. What are you going to do if they refuse your demands? Blow up the city with you in it? That logic works for religious fundamentalists but not for someone as intelligent, greedy and interested in self-preservation as The Riddler. Even if the bomb is a fake (and we never DO get an answer to that), surely someone with half an ounce of common sense would say “Hang on… “

All in all, I can’t wait for the new writer to take over on this title. Yes, I know there isn’t a new writer scheduled to take over this book yet. But a fan can dream, can’t he?

Score: 3.0 out of 10.0 and that’s purely for the artwork.

Hawkeye #5

It started out interesting but the opening arc of this book, The High Hard Shaft, now feels like a cloth-yard shaft in a short compound bow: too long and unwieldy. I fear this series is suffering from Tradeitis and, like many books today, is being unnaturally stretched into six issues to make way for the inevitable trade paperback. The only problem with this approach is that at the rate this is going, all the fans will leave this book by issue #7.

Not much of interest happens in this issue except for a whole lot of flashbacks of Vietnamese peasants getting killed, some trekking through the jungle and the final big payoff we’ve been waiting for after three issues of watching Clint Barton fumble around playing detective.

Don’t get me wrong: this is a good book and I like the artwork. It just… drags a little bit. If you’re a fan of smart-aleck archers, you’ll love it. The rest of you can give it a pass.

Score: 6.0 out of 10.0

JSA #59

And once again, I am reminded why Geoff Johns is simply the man when it comes to team books. Using one forgotten villain of the Golden Age, we get a collection of quick stories, taken out of joint in time as we follow the Nazi time-traveler Degaton on his latest mission.

But this villain has not come to cause trouble, no. He has come to revel in the fact that while he does not defeat the individual JSA members, he has still been able to see their deaths. The idea of time travel as a psychological weapon is an unusual one and Johns runs with the ball as Degaton informs Hawkgirl that he spent an afternoon watching all her deaths and how the one in this life will be the worst ever. Likewise, he revels in the pain of Stargirl and Captain Marvel’s relationship collapsing as Billy Baston finds himself unable to tell the team his secret identity because of the Wisdom of Solomon and that there really is nothing wrong with his seemingly mid-twenties self seeing a 16 year old girl.

The real treat to this issue, and one I fear that will go neglected by most who will appreciate the significance of it, is the Dream of the Endless cameo. In the last issue, Lyta Hall was found alive and well, imprisoned inside the amulet of Nabu. She is free now and Hector Hall (Dr. Fate) has taken a hiatus from the team in order to spend time with his long missing wife. Lyta, fans of “The Sandman” will remember, was directly responsible for what brought about the death of Morpheus and that a new “Dream” was reborn from Lyta and Hector’s son, Daniel. Degaton arrives in the Tower of Fate and a presence from a mirror stops him from approaching, saying…

“No, Degaton. You wish to terrorize the Justice Society of America. Continue to do so. But my parents deserve some peace. And they shall have it.”

A quick tangent here: I can’t think of anyone else but Dream who would have cause to call Fury and Dr. Fate his parents. My friend Tanner, however, insists that it can’t be “Dream”, because in “The Wake’, “Dream” denied the name “Daniel” when Lyta talked to him before putting a mark on her to ensure her protection. I do not think this is necessarily contradictory; he may still recognize the fact that they were responsible for his mortal creation, even if they have no connection to what he is now. While that may not be enough to force his intervention, his promise to protect Lyta would be.

Regardless; this is still a great read and one of the few books that leaves me aching for more at the end of each issue.

Score: 10.0 out of 10.0

Ultimate Spider-Man #54

I was dreading this storyline when I first heard the idea for it. Granted, some of the Marvel ventures into mixing their characters into “the real world” have been worth reading. I fondly recall the book where the Avengers went on Letterman and enjoyed the Spidey meets the Original Cast of Saturday Night Live comic. These have been the exceptions though, and most every other attempt to put a real word celebrity into a Marvel book have been.... well, Jay Leno saving Spider-Man from ninjas. ‘Nuff said.

Imagine my shock then that Bendis not only keeps this from achieving total cheesiness but also manages a neat little tribute to one of Stan Lee’s original script ideas: Spider-Man trying to cash in on someone else making a Spider-Man movie. Yes, we do get celebrities in this issue... though only a brief shot of Tobey Macguire with quite a bit of Sam Raimi and Avi Arad. We also get quite a bit of the now infamous teenage rage at the corruptness of the world around him, as Peter informs everyone on the set that they all suck. Except Sam Raimi, of whom he admits, “All right. Evil Dead 2 was cool, but the rest of you suck!”

Still one of the top ten books on the market. My one complaint is that we finally see Gwen in this issue for the first time in what seems like forever AND the subject of her still thinking Spider-Man killed her father is raised AND is quickly dropped. I thought the guy robbing the banks dressed as Spider-Man was caught. Even if he hadn’t confessed after the fright of his life that he got from Peter, wouldn’t the police have had enough evidence to charge him with Capt. Stacy’s murder? It’s not a big point, but I really would like to see Gwen’s issues with Spider-Man given a little more time for discussion. Just a thought…

Score: 8.5 out of 10.0.

Penny Arcade

One of the more acclaimed web comics out there, I was recently introduced to this one from someone asked me if I was a “fan” since I promote nearly every other major gaming comic out there. I’d never read Penny Arcade before this past week though I had heard quite a bit about it and most of it mixed. Having read all of them in the past week, I am also somewhat mixed on the comic.

One complaint I’ve heard about the comic is that it is too dependent on in-jokes. I must admit that there is some justice to this claim. Some of the strips are dependant on things such as knowing who John Romero is or knowing of the feud between EA and Microsoft regarding X-Box Live. However, the vast majority of the strips are easily accessible even to a guy like me who until recently, hadn’t touched a counsel game system in years. For instance, I’ve never played Final Fantasy XI and have no intentions of doing so but I can still laugh at a comic showing how a starting fighter in said game starting is so weak that they can get their butt kicked by a rabbit. People getting attacked by cute little animals is funny; something all true masters of comedy understand.

Another complaint is that there is way too much use of “frat boy” and/or “geek” humor. Overuse of the word “wang” and the F-word, bloody and cartoonish stabbings & mutilations and even a little bit of sexual innuendo do abound throughout. Of course considering that most of the people who play video games and read web comics are frat boys and geeks, this is not a serious complaint. Knowing your customers and pandering to their demands is not bad. In fact, I believe this concept is the basic cornerstone of most of the world’s economic system.

Of course, all of this makes for interesting social discussion, but how does it read a comic? Honestly, I think it’s pretty good but not great. I smiled at some, but laughed very rarely. The art is cute but I’ve seen better. But when all is said and done, this comic does exactly what its’ title suggests; provide us with some cheap laughs about games and gamers; a proud accomplishment which most web comics cannot match.

Score: 6.5 out of 10.

For more web comics, that DO fit the bill, here’s Unca Starman’s regular reading list:

Something Positive - One of the most famous and certainly one of the funniest comics out there for all fans of twisted humor. Centering upon a wide cast of various colorful weirdos in Boston and Dallas, this one has had me laughing uproariously since the very first comic.

Queen of Wands – Second on this list, but second to none, this strip does an excellent job of balancing its’ own unique style of humor with a sense of drama more touching and genuine than anything you’re likely to see in the wasteland of prime-time television. Plus, anything with a redhead pagan grrrrl in the lead is cool by me.

8 Bit Theater - The sprite comic to end all sprite comics! If you’re a fan of gamer humor, twisted humor, Final Fantasy or just plain weirdness, you need to be reading this if you aren’t already.

Halloween Man – If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, this isn’t for you. If you like Sam Raimi, zombies and the kind of horror movies you find in local-owned video stores horror sections, this is so up your alley it is already parked outside your house.

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

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