Monday, June 21, 2004

Looking To The Stars: One Paragraph Wonders

Since I have a lot of ground to cover this week and since I am trying to cure myself of being one of the wordiest writers this side of Brian Michael Bendis, I’m going to challenge myself. That’s why for this entire column, there will be no more than one paragraph with no more than four sentences each used to review any book or discuss any bit of news.

There. That wasn’t so hard.

Now, on to the news!

1. I’d like to give a shout out and congratulations to my former writing-group member Randy Millholland. Randy writes the hilarious web-comic Something Positive, which I’ve mentioned here before even though he hardly needs my help to promote the site. Last week, he received enough donations from readers to match his salary and quit his job in order to focus on his comics for one year. Congratulations again, Randy, for succeeding where so many artists cannot.

2. On a similar note, another one of my favorite artists is also seeking financial assistance. Aeire of Queen of Wands is asking for donations to buy a new computer, with which she will work on the comic. On the odd chance you’re reading this and still have yet to experience the sublime drama and amazing humor of QoW after all the times I mentioned it before, go check it out now. And if you like what you see, give a little something.

3. Tony DiGerolamo of “Everknights” sent me an e-mail thanking me for my recent review. He wondered if I could start linking to the Kenzer & Company website in my reviews and mention that they have a large number of web comics available on the website in addition to their printed works. Well, I have no control over how the reviews are programmed into the website but I can plug away as I whim here in “Looking to the Stars”. So there you go, Tony.

4. As long as I’m shameless shilling for my fellow comic creators, I may as well do one plug for myself. As of this week, 144 Anima will begin publishing bi-weekly. Updates will take place on Sunday night and Wednesday night, granting you twice as much Overlordy and Monkey goodness.

So far, so good. Now, it is time for some reviews. I bought nearly fifty dollars worth of comics this week. You can bet I’m going to write about them.

Alternation #3 & #4

I picked up the end of this series more to see it out than out of any great fondness for it. Don’t get me wrong: it is a great idea comic, but in the end that’s all this book has besides good artwork. Edgar Allan Poe as a steam-punk Darth Vader, Annie Oakley as a battle-mech pilot and Mark Twain leading a new American Revolution against the armies of Mad King Ludwig and Rasputin while riding a dinosaur are all cool ideas but they aren’t really used much beyond throwing the idea into the story. Still, at no point did I ever groan at any of the ideas thrown out here… even Thomas Edision’s secret laboratory being called Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Score: 5 out of 10.

Amazing Spider-Man #508

A fitting conclusion to “The Book of Ezekiel” and a good ending issue for John Romita Jr., who exits the title as of this issue. The last few pages, in which the “mystic” angle of the entire JMS run is explained away destroyed any reservations I ever had about introducing a little bit of magic into the science-based world of Peter Parker. Issue 509 comes out this week and marks the premier of new artist Mike Deodato Jr. If you can’t wait, the whole thing is available to read at Mile High Comics.

Score: 8 out of 10.

Batman: Gotham Knights #54

A character issue devoted to a character who works best as a force of nature. It’s different, but it kind of works even though it refers to a past story (The Killing Joke) while simultaneously blowing apart the timing of that story, like a bad comedian. Still, we only have The Joker’s word for his own past and as he once said, if he has to have a history it may as well be multiple choice. The art team is top notch, though.

Score: 6 out of 10.

Birds of Prey #68

Still easily one of the best books published today and a personal favorite. Simone takes a whole issue to develop the characters and their relationships and manages the nigh-impossible feat of explaining away the inconsistent portrayal of Huntress as a cheap slut and a cold bitch by other writers by… GASP!, writing Helena Bertinelli as a believable character and not a broad stereotype. My one complaint is that this issue drops a major revelation regarding Green Arrow that Judd Winnick has not seen fit to getting around to discussing in his book yet after half a year of demon-fighting stories. Still, that is hardly Simone’s fault.

Score: 10 out of 10.

Daredevil #61

If nothing else, this issue proves in a brief scene that Avengers will be in good hands with Bendis, when he takes over in a few months. And as the cover suggests, we get reintroduced to a character whom has been sorely missed in this title in the past few years. Hopefully this means that the “new, kewl and blonde!” Black Widow, which Greg Rucka and Devin Grayson tried and failed repeatedly to force onto us, is gone forever into comics limbo. Welcome back, Natasha.

Score: 9 out of 10.

Dr. Blink: Superhero Shrink #1

Spinning out of a back-up feature in Dork Tower, this promises to be a cult classic comic. Reprinting the original back-up comics as well as an origin story for our title character and a character gallery, this book about a psychiatrist for the super-powered is a must-have for all superheroic humor fans. Highlights include the Riddler-esque Quizzler becoming an effective criminal after having his obsessive compulsive need to leave hints to his crime cured and a Wolverine-esque hero screaming in the waiting room about his problems with psychotic episodes and a history of violent behavior. All this, and a character called The Killer Pussy.

Score: 10 out of 10.

Ex Machina #1

Brian Vaughan (Y, The Last Man) wrote it. Tony Harris (Starman, JSA: The Liberty File) did the artwork. That’s all the reason I needed to get this book. It should be all the reason ANYONE needs to read it.

Score: 10 out of 10.

Fables #26

I’m officially hooked on this title now. Easily the best Vertigo series since Lucifer, this penultimate issue in the March of the Wooden Soldiers storyline is a real treat. If you’re a fan of mythology and fairy tales, you’re probably already reading this book. And if you aren’t, you should be.

Score: 9 out of 10.

Green Arrow #39

Sorry Ollie, but much more of this and I may have to drop the book of my favorite DC hero. Winnick ruins another writer’s character AGAIN in yet another month of drawn out, demon-fighting action. Hester and Parks make it all look pretty, but even they can’t save the shattered soul of this book.

Score: 3 out of 10, and that’s purely for the artwork.

Justice League: Another Nail #2

I can sum this book up in one sentence. A lot of stuff, seemingly unrelated, happens and by the end all Hell’s broken loose. That’s all. Davis’s art is good as ever, but his plot is much ado about nothing.

Score: 3 out of 10.

Hawkman #29

I’m still Jonesing for a Johns fix on this book. This issue was better than the first one, but I’m still not buying how quickly the St. Roch police department has turned from working alongside the Hawks to turning on them Spider-Man style, even in the wake of a line of murders with wings planted on the victims. Still, the artwork is good and the character scenes with Carter Hall and his new main squeeze are good. It’s still on the pull list for now.

Score: 6.5 out of 10.

JSA #62

A good solid issue that, like most issues of this series, actually effects some major changes very quietly. If you’re a Green Lantern fan or have any interest in the upcoming “Reborn” series, it would be a good idea to pick up this book along with #60 and #61. Besides that though, we get some very nice character development to Mr. Terrific along with the apparent death of the zombie Ben Morse. Sorry, Ben.

Score: 8 out of 10.

Lucifer #51

God has quit his job and the universe as we know it is about to collapse. The only hope we have is the other universe that Lucifer created to prove that he could do a better job than dear old dad. Too bad he’s closed it off to everyone except mere mortals, so the immortal and magical beings are all S.O.O.L. All this and Destiny of The Endless does a cameo.

Score: 9 out of 10.

Mary Jane #1

I’m not the target audience for this book and probably the last man on the planet who should be writing about what pre-teen girls will like. Still, this book does fit the manga model well, centering around a teenage girl who has problems with her family, a crush on a wonder man with superpowers, a bland but nice guy her friends are trying to set her up with and that quiet guy in the glasses who is watching her from afar. I think it would work better in a digest-sized book form than in a monthly comic, as many of the manga readers I know refuse to read anything that even SMACKS of being a “regular comic”. Based on what I’ve seen so far, this is their loss.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Spider-Man

A must have for any Spider-fan. Nuff said.

Score: 10 out of 10.

Phantom Jack #3

I love this book, though I’m somewhat concerned about the revelation in this issue that Jack is far from alone in his special powers. I’d hate to see Jack absorbed into this mysterious organization of other “spooks” where his uniqueness as a character would likely be diminished. Ironically, I do like the harbinger of this news as a character and wouldn’t mind seeing more of her in the series as it progresses. The artwork is great as well.

Score: 7 out of 10.

She-Hulk #4

I picked this issue up simply for the concept: Spider-Man sues J. Jonah Jameson for libel. It proves to be just as funny as I had hoped and a real treat for the die-hard Spidey fan who can actually name all the criminals Jameson has employed or sponsored since the Stan Lee days, who are brought up when discussing Jolly Jonah’s own criminal misdeeds. This was perhaps the funniest read I’ve had all year and I think this title might just make its’ way into my regular reading list.

Score: 10 out of 10.

Spectacular Spider-Man #15

You’d never know it from the story, but this is allegedly a tie-in to the upcoming “Avengers: Disassembled”. I usually love Jenkins work, but this issue seems a bit flat for some reason, with Captain American and Spidey seeming a little off their usual characters. Still, let’s wait for Part Two before judging it too harshly.

Score: 6 out of 10.

Tales of the Realm #5

This was a fitting closing issue for a series that turned fantasy comics and the actor’s society on its’ ear. Special mention needs to be made of the untypical virgin sacrifice scene as well as the method in which the being of ultimate evil is destroyed. If you missed the first few issues, don’t worry: a trade will be released this August!

Score: 8 out of 10.

Ultimate Spider-Man #61

For a story called “Carnage” that features a character named Ben Reilly, this book doesn’t make my Spider Sense for bad stories isn’t tingling nearly as bad as it should be. Indeed, it isn’t tingling at all. Bendis does a good job developing the relationship between Dr. Connors and Peter, giving them a student/mentor bond as well as a feeling of partnership as they discuss using Peter’s gifts as a boon to Dr. Connor’s research. There’s also a fair bit of action, as Peter is caught in the middle of a fight with The Punisher and Boomerang.

Score: 9 out of 10.

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

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