Monday, August 30, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Sedation of the Innocuous

It is funny how ideas spread through the common hive-mind between writers sometimes. Case in point; last week I got a letter from a researcher wondering where they could find a copy of “Seduction of the Innocent”. I had mentioned the infamous book in “The Young Punk’s Proposal" and they were seeking my advice on how to get a copy for a paper they were working on. They knew of the book only by reputation and wondered why the only copies they could find were rare copies being heavily bid on by collectors on ebay.

In doing the research to answer that question in e-mail, I decided to further answer it for everyone in a column. I planned to continue the theme of recent weeks and discuss the many arguments over appropriate content for children and censorship that were once again being raised by a number of recent comics (Particularly one that is reaching “crisis” levels). And so I wrote an entire column on Thursday about the content and effect of “Seduction of the Innocent”.

The problem is, come Friday I found out that fellow writer John Babos wrote in a recent column about the exact same issues and covered the effects of “Seduction of the Innocent”. While this wasn’t a huge problem, it did make a lot of the information at the end of my article redundant. At least, all the bits about how the book indirectly inspired the creation of The Comics Code Authority and how it caused the collapse of publishing houses, the end of careers and debatably, the rise of the superhero as the dominant theme in the comic books after 1955. Thankfully, I was more concerned with discussing the actual content of the book than documenting its’ historical effects. What follows is the salvaged remains of the article and a full explanation of “Seduction of the Innocent” as a book.

SEDATION OF THE INNOCUOUS

”Seduction of the Innocent”. A title familiar to most comics readers and yet read by very few of them. Famous for its’ effects upon the American comic industry and infamous for its actual content. Hard to believe that such a controversial book has been long out of print and that copies of it go for hefty sums at auctions and in rare book stores. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to read the book is thanks to the wonders of the Internet and an easily located .PDF which helpfully has the complete text and image scans of the original book.

So why is such an important book so hard to come by? Well, chalk it up to two things; a lack of interest and critical disapproval. As controversial and hard-hitting as it was in its’ day, most of the crusaders of righteousness rarely come after the comic book industry now. While there are many who believe in Wertham’s general thesis that violent media creates violent children, they are more concerned about the corrupting Satanic influence of Harry Potter, Doom 3 and the complete filmography of Adam Sandler than they are about Bruce Wayne being President of the Gotham City chapter of NAMBLA.

As for the latter problem, while Wertham did raise a number of excellent points and was one of the first psychologists to recognize the correlation between violent nature and a violent upbringing, most psychologists today consider his methods sloppy and his conclusions questionable. Having read the book and having taken more than a few psychology classes, I have to agree. For all his good intentions, Werthaam was a poor social scientist by today’s terms.


For one thing, Wertham’s evidence is based more on philosophical proofs than on psychological study. In fact, the entire basis of his writing against comic books comes down to a simple Aristotelian Syllogism. Or in more simple terms, an “If A = B” statement. For instance…

If A = B

And B = C

Then A = C

Wertham’s proof comes down to this syllogism…

All criminal children read comic books.

Comic books show criminal acts.

Comic books teach children criminal acts.

The problem is that such proofs are of limited usefulness as actual “proof”. To give another example…

All dogs have four legs.

All cats have four legs.

All dogs are cats.

Wertham also neglected to use a control group. That is, there was no testing done against groups besides that of his focus (i.e. juvenile delinquents). There was never any effort to see how many honors students, Eagle Scouts or other “good” kids were also avid comic book readers nor if exposure to comics might cause a good kid to go bad. Wertham also gave very few documented references in his works, preferring to fill his writings with anecdotes about the various patients he had treated and first-hand accounts of comics that mirrored the crimes his patients had committed. This makes “Seduction For The Innocent” a trial for the reader, as it is some pretty dull stuff, even for someone with a background in comics and psychology.

The one thing that redeems “Seduction” (or at the least, makes it somewhat tolerable) is the amusement value of some of Wertham’s wilder claims. Again, this is not to say that the Doctor didn’t have some good points. He writes at length, for instance, about the negative stereotypes of African Americans and how they are most often depicted as savages or criminals. Similarly, he has some harsh words about the treatment of female characters and notes the disproportionate amount of vile acts that occur to women. These points would not be out of place in a Spike Lee film or “Women in Refrigerators.”

But for every good point he makes, Wertham does make some equally ludicrous claims. While Superman’s treatment of Lois Lane and Lana Lang during the 50’s was a bit harsh considering the enlightened feminist attitude of the average male today, Wertham is a little harsh in, when discussing Kal-El, quoting Nietzsche's line from Man and Superman; “When you go to women, don't forget the whip." He goes to discuss the fascist implications of Superman…

Superman needs an endless stream of ever new submen, criminals and "foreign- looking" people not only to justify his existence but even to make it possible. It is this feature that engenders in children either one or the other of two attitudes: either they fantasy themselves as supermen, with the attendant prejudices against the submen, or it makes them submissive and receptive to the blandishments of strong men who will solve all their social problems for them - by force.

Batman fares little better, being accused of encouraging children into dangerous imaginings by giving them an outlet into his world in the form of Robin, The Boy Wonder. More, Batman is accused of being a homosexual and in encouraging pedophilia.

“It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend's arm.”

This was, it might be noted, several decades before Joel Schumacher’s Batman films. Wertham goes on to say…

“In these stories there are practically no decent, attractive, successful women. A typical female character is the Catwoman, who is vicious and uses a whip. The atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine. If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess. If she is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick.”

Remeber, boys and girls. No villainess has a chance against Dick!

(I know, I know. I’m not helping the case that comics WON’T dirty your mind, am I?)

Despite his obvious concern for women, Wertham falls into sexism in calling Wonder Woman “the exact opposite of what girls are supposed to want to be.” Still, while his concern over the presentation of strong female figures frightening young boys does seem unfounded, he did raise some good points regarding the disturbingly heavy emphasis on bondage in the Wonder Woman books of the time. (This brings to mind several interesting facts upon the life of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston that are a historical column unto themselves).

Still, despite the eventual outcome of his work, we cannot doubt that Dr. Wertham had anything but the best of intentions. His career record before “Seduction” is that of a skilled man clearly concerned with social justice and the welfare of his fellow man. He held such distinguished posts as director of the famous Bellevue Hospital as well as Queens General Hospital and served as the senior psychiatrist for the New York City Department of Hospitals. Later, he became director of the Lafaruge Clinic in Harlem; one of the few clinics treating mental disorders that could be found in a mostly African section of the city. It was his work here that lead the publication of an article, "Psychological Effects of School Segregation," which was later submitted as evidence to the United States Supreme Court before they ruled racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional in 1954. He also achieves some recognition as an expert witness for the court system. And although no documented records can prove it, many suspect that his clinic for the courts was the first in the United States in which all convicted felons received a psychiatric examination before trial. Despite this, it is still his crusade against comic books which made Wertham famous and for which he is still most remembered. Today, the comic industry is just now recovering from the blows that Wertham’s book dealt.

When the publishers feared a loss of revenue or possible censorship from an outside body, they created The Comics Code Authority in an effort to censor themselves. Violence was severely curtailed and the amount of suggestive artwork decreased significantly. This led to the collapse of many a publisher and comics written for adults became rare indeed. The censorship caused certain genres began to die down. After all, romance comics couldn’t flourish without pretty (and often scantily clad) girls with buxom curves. It was hard to do war comics, Westerns or private eye stories without gunplay. In the end, only one genre managed to survive intact and indeed flourish in this new environment: the superhero.

Today, comics are once again becoming a multi-genre industry. While superheroes are the dominant form, a wider variety of genres are being published and more works written for adults only are being published than at anytime before “Seduction” was released. As the old saying says, “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.” And in these terms of variety, the comic industry right now is very strong indeed.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Lucifer #53 - A Review

Written by: Mike Carey
Penciled by: Peter Gross & Ryan Kelly
Inked by: Peter Gross & Ryan Kelly
Colored by: Daniel Vozzo
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mariah Huehner
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

Is it possible for something to be so consistently excellent that it destroys all sense of anticipation upon its' consumption? Can you be so certain that something will be everything you hoped for and more that the actual thing arrival is an anti-climax? Can even the highest heights seem like the plainest plains? If so, then Lucifer is soaring steadily at those heights.

The Universe is in dire peril. God himself has quit his job, following the example of His son, Lucifer - who quit his position as Ruler of Hell in order to wander around, enjoy himself for the first time in eons and then set about building his own universe in the void of creation. As God's presence is written across every molecule of the original universe, All That Is (save Lucifer's universe) is in danger of collapsing into nothingness. Lucifer has already begun making arrangements to bring all the regular mortals into his universe, intent on creating a paradise free of the religion, gods and immortals (himself excluded) whom just tend to make a greater mess of things.

That brings us to this issue, where the ArchAngel Michael attempts to use his own powers to replace God and hold the universe together a while longer. This is, as it turns out, a temporary measure at best. Fenris, the wolf of Norse mythology whose arrival will herald the end of the world, is even now on his way to the base of the Yggdrasil; the world tree that holds together all realities. This would mean the destruction of even Lucifer's realm, forcing the former Prince of Hell to align with his brother Michael one more time to stop Fenris and his associates from destroying the tree.

The art is equally magnificent. Gross and Kelly manage the rather neat trick of using a simple style to reveal complex characters. Every panel of their work looks somewhat like an engraved woodcut, as if the story before us were from another time. Vozzo's colors are perfectly chosen, with the Silver City of the Angels looking as pale and washed out as the angels that inhabit it. Michael Klauta's cover this time around is divine, if a bit posed for my taste. And Fletcher's letters are legible even when using the fanciest of fonts.

As much as I love the book, I am aesthetically torn by the paradoxes that it inspires. I have no idea what wonders await me as I open each issue and yet I can be certain that it will be enjoyable, come what may. I can be sure of a great story that will engage my interest with beautiful illustrations to match. And yet it saddens me a great deal at the same time that I am floored by the wonder of it all. Because the book is so consistently excellent that it is hard to believe that the level of quality can endure for much longer, nor that it can improve. This is the problem with flying, you see. At some point, we have to go down or so logic dictates.

Until then, I plan to sit back, enjoy the ride and hope that logic never catches up with me.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Justice League Unbeatable!

This past week, I finally managed to snare a copy of the Justice League: Starcrossed DVD as well as actually sit down and watch all the episodes of Justice League Unlimited that I had been taping since day one. Sounds like it’s time for some reviews.


Starcrossed

The movie that ended the second season of Justice League, this was broken down into three episodes for later broadcast. The DVD is hard to find at the moment, due to the limited number of airings on Cartoon Network. Still, it is well worth the tracking down.

Everyone who has read the “Invasion” mini-series will be familiar with the basic story here: Thanagar invades Earth. The twist here is that Hawkgirl has apparently been a spy for the last few years, but has been totally unaware as to why she has been sent to observe the Earthlings. In a reference that will make Douglas Adams fans scream with delight, we find out that Thanagar is destroying Earth to make a hyperspace bypass, so they can sneak behind the lines of their sworn enemies and destroy their homeworld. This leaves Hawkgirl torn between her adopted homeworld and new boyfriend John Stewart and her actual homeworld and fiancé.

Aside from finally getting an animated equivalent of Hawkman (his name isn’t Katar Hol, but the spirit is still there), this movie is great for hundreds of little touches. We finally get to see Wally West unmasked as well as Alfred reacting to the rest of the Justice League and muttering about Master Bruce leaving trash in the yard as he regards a trussed up Thangarian Wingman.

Sue me. I’m a fan of snooty Brit humor.

Final Score: 10.0 out of 10.


Initiation

The opening episode of Unlimited and a homer hit on its first at bat! I’ll copy to being perhaps a little biased, seeing as how this issue does center around one of my favorite heroes. Yes, Green Arrow gets his first animated treatment since that one episode of Superfriends NOBODY wants to talk about. And it is good.

After being shanghaied onto the newly rebuilt Watchtower, Green Arrow tags along on a mission with Supergirl, Captain Atom and Green Lantern (John Stewart) to stop a rampaging radioactive monster.

The voice casting is, as has been the norm for all the WB series, flawless. Green Arrow in particular is a real delight and word has it that the actor who voiced him, Kin Shriner, reportedly showed up for the recording sessions in a homemade Green Arrow costume. You can tell he’s enthusiastic about the part even without that little bit of trivia, as he plays Ollie with just the right amount of charming smartass. They brought back Nicholle Tom to do Supergirl and I didn’t realize how much I missed her on Superman until this episode. Though she seems a little closer to Power Girl attitude-wise (I can’t picture the pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El telling Captain Atom to “pull the stick out”), she’s a perfect foil to the more serious heroes on the team.

One complaint: big a fan of Ollie as I am, even I don’t think he could shut down a giant radiation spewing robot with just ONE perfect shot with a carbon rod into the reactor. I’d think it would take quite a few more than that, but what do I know of nuclear physics?

Final Score: 9.0 out of 10.


For The Man Who Has Everything

Based on the legendary story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons with a script by long time JLA writer J. M. DeMatteis, this episode manages the neat trick of taking a well known story, making it seem new and even tying it into the continuity of the show.

Former Warworld despot Mongul has attacked Superman with a birthday present. In this case, a parasitic plant called The Black Mercy, which causes its’ host to hallucinate their perfect dream world even as it leaves their body immobile and slowly wasting away. Wonder Woman exhausts most of the Fortress of Solitude armory fighting Mongul even as Batman tries to free Superman from a prison that he doesn’t want to leave.

The script perfectly captures the key story as well as a few infamous lines from the original. While Superman telling Mongul to “BURN!” as he uses his heat vision at close range is very fitting under the circumstances, there seems to be something a bit off about Wonder Woman telling Mongul to “Go… To… Hell…”, with the last word being blocked out by the blast of a gun (It was printed in the original comics). Still, it is the subtle touches that make this story really sing. Things like Superman’s dream wife, Loanna, looking like Lana Lang, sounding like Lois Lane (Dana Delany does the voice again) and working as a reporter covering fashion expos on Krypton just add to the humor for us long time fans of the series and indeed Superman in general. One other nice subtle touch: as Clark begins to suspect his dream world IS a dream, little details start to change. His father Jor-El, alive and well, speaks for a while… and then suddenly, for one line, his voice is that of Pa Kent.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10.


Kid Stuff

The concept here is an oldie and a goodie. Mordred, the immortal and eternally young son of Morgan LeFay uses a magical artifact to exile all adults to Limbo. Morgan uses a spell to deage Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern leaving the World’s Finest preteens to save the world.

Based on equal parts “Sins of Youth” and “World Without Grown Ups”, this is the first episode to suffer from the new “one episode” stories. While the episode is quite amusing with John Stewart needing glasses and creating a Kyle Rayner style mask to fix his eyes and the exclamation that a baby Demon Etrigan with a dirty diaper “is REALLY a job for Superman!”, there are more than a few plot holes. How did Etrigan get changed into a Baby when he wasn’t there for Morgan LeFay’s spell to effect him? More, when Morgan LeFay shows up later to undo her spell, why does he just idly let her go when the whole “Knight of Shadows” episode of Justice League showed that he would stop at nothing to bring her to justice? Also, am I the only one who wonders where the heck the Teen Titans or Captain Marvel were when this happened?

Final Score: 6.0 out of 10.


Hawk and Dove

The weakest of the new episodes thus far, it centers around Wonder Woman recruiting a pair of superheroes, Hawk and Dove, to help her stop a war. Hawk and Dove are brothers; one a conservative hothead and the other a liberal pacifist. Hawk wants to beat the snot out of people while Dove wants to try and get the leaders to talk to each other, even as an Olympian-forged robot wreaks havoc in the name of Ares.

The voice acting is dead on here, with Jason Harvey and Fred Savage (who played the ever-fighting brothers on “The Wonder Years”) perfectly playing the mis-matched superheroic brothers. But the script has some problems, with Ares (playing the part of a mortal arms dealer) loosing his cool with the farmer leading a band of revolutionaries, using the phrase “stupid mortals”, delivering his dogma about how humanity’s purpose is to die for his amusement… and the only response is a muted (not in so many words) “Get out of my house.” Mythological fans as well as Wonder Woman readers may also wonder why Hephaestus, who hardly had a loving relationship with his brother Ares in ANY medium, would ever take part in such a mad scheme as selling god-forged weapons to mortals, much less take joy in it.

Final Score: 4.0 out of 10.


Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Knights Of The Dinner Table #94 - A Review

This is one of my favorite comics and usually the first one I read out of all the ones on my pull list on the weeks it comes out. Sadly, it is not a book I can recommend highly to everyone. Some are put off by the black and white artwork, done by a man who freely admits to his own artistic ineptitude. Some want a book that is chock full of action and adventure on every page; not five people sitting around a table talking about action and adventure. And some people, for reasons beyond my understanding, don’t like comics that are… well, comic. For the rest of us, Knights of the Dinner Table is a wonderful treasure.

Centering about the role-playing gamers of Muncie, Indiana, KODT (as it is called for short) is one of the funniest things out there. Once dependent upon purely gamer driven humor, the comic has expanded in recent years to the humor of people being people. This has only made the comic all the better. For while some of us can find great amusement in everyone going berserk at the mention of a gazebo on the nearby hill (a reference to a now infamous legend about a gamer, who didn’t know what a gazebo was and thought it was some type of monster), this isn’t easily accessible to some audiences.

Consider the current issue, which while still firmly based in its gamer roots, is much more accessible to someone who has never played Dungeons and Dragons or some such game in their life.

After a short comic where we see gamestore employee Bob realizing that maybe, just maybe, he IS dating gamer grrrrl Shelia, this issue continues an on-going plot that has spanned the last few issues. Dave (the party fighter) has fallen under the thrall of Tremble; a magical, intelligent and very evil sword. The part of the sword is being played by Nitro Furgeson, another local Game Master who has decided to sabotage the campaign of fellow Game Master B.A. Felton, just for laughs. With the world itself in danger and the campaign about to be ruined, the rest of the party has called their friend Johnny (a semi-retired gamer) out for the weekend to play the part of “Carvin Marvin”; another intelligent evil magic sword, which may well be the only thing capable of stopping Dave’s possessed character.

While there is quite a bit of plot to work through here, Blackburn makes it easy to get into even without text boxes referring to previous issues when needed (Remember when ALL comics had those?) and the comic better serves as a “how to” guide to gaming than the horrific Dungeons and Dragons comic that was handed out on Free Comic Book Day. Indeed, the only downside to the whole issue is that after being promised a conclusion to the saga this issue, we end with yet another cliffhanger. At least we get an apology for it. And more, the laughs delivered make me want more of this story. So I can live with the broken promises. For now, at least.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Young Punk's Proposal

Best before 2525 or when Brian Michael Bendis is writing every book put out by Marvel, whichever comes first.

Management is not responsible for your inability to understand satire or take a joke.

Management is interested in your responses, provided they are correctly spelled and of greater length than three words, with no interesting remarks about the management’s parentage, its’ mother’s virtue (or lack thereof) or its’ preferred methods of sexual congress.

ITEM ONE

The time is now. Our beloved industry has not only let the barbarians in the gates; it has given them the keys to the liquor cabinet and directions to your sons’ and daughters’ bedrooms. The need for action is obvious. The Young Punk says sharpen your wits, unfurl your tongues and get your typing fingers at the ready. For the time has come for us, the fans, to save our hobby from ourselves.

ITEM TWO

Despite the ravings of various prophets, The Comics Industry has yet to collapse like The House of Usher. Things are looking up and this is due in part to a Restoration of the core ideals of heroism in recent years. With that in mind, I put it to you that only an optimistic approach and a positive outlook can benefit us now. Doom and gloom serve no one but those who build stories on nothing but doom and gloom.

Anyone who wishes to drag themselves out of the shadows is welcome to join us. The rest of you can continue to hide in the basement along with your long box full of double-bagged copies of Spawn #1 and wait for the day that they are worth the money you spent on them. You won’t be missed.

It is time for us to remember what it is to be a child. For as a wise person once said, "There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes."

ITEM THREE

While it is true that the graphic novel, album (or whatever pseudo-intellectual term you wish to use for the lowly comic book in order to make yourself feel important and mature) has become a popular format with the masses, it is far from optimal or indeed infallible. The sad truth is that not every series of six issues collected in a glossy cover and then retailed for $12.99 has been a success. For every Batman: Hush, there have been five Hawkeye’s.

Given that all media should tell a complete story, does this mean that ALL comic books must be six-part maxi-series being prepared for the inevitable trade paperback? I say thee nay and suggest that many more comics could be sold if there were more one story issues. It would be a lot easier to justify the expense of $2.25 to perspective buyers if they were investing in only one story; not “Part Three of Six”, requiring a $15 investment for the whole story.

A balance between the monthly periodical and the trade paperback collection can be achieved and maintained. After all, Carl Barks did just fine for hundreds of issues of Scrooge McDuck without telling more than a few two-part stories in his entire career. And single-issue comic stories in a collection seemed to sell quite well in volumes III, VI and VIII of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”.

ITEM FOUR

While we’re on the subject of Maestros Gaiman and Barks, does anyone really think that your average kid gives two swift kicks to the rump who writes Spider-Man?

No. They just want a book with Spider-Man. Possibly one where he fights Doc Ock. Because the characters are what attract us to comic books. The writers and artists are what keep the characters going and what keep us hooked on a title. And for the first time in the history of the industry, the writers and artists are beginning to get the star power of other professional performers. This is, despite the few who let fame go to their heads, a good thing. That said, which of the following do you think is a more frequent question among newbies to a comic shop?

A: “Hello. I just read that Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer had written a comic book. Do you have it?”

B.” Hello. I just saw the Spider-Man movie. Do you have any good books with him in them?”

To paraphrase a popular saying among moralists, characters count. Anyone who says otherwise is probably hard at work on a lecture upon the virtues of J. Michael Straczynski’s references to the African myths that inspired the spider-trickster god figure versus the psychological drama inherent to the works of Paul Jenkins.

ITEM FIVE

Horray for superheroes! Honestly, it is costumed heroics that got the medium started. It’s what kept it going through the dark days after our “Seduction of the Innocent” and the establishment of The Comics Code. And for better or worse, it is what makes up the majority of the market today.

The enemy is not wearing a cape. Nor is the enemy wearing a black trenchcoat. The enemy is all those who would, through short-sightedness, pettiness or the simple need to belong to a tribe, limit the whole of their exposure to the wonders of the medium. Be they the zombie who says “Make Mine Marvel” and gleefully plop down 300 pennies for anything with an “X” in the title or the wanker who only purchases alternative texts, printed in black and white at a Kinko’s, these people are the same beast in different skins.

Variety makes us evolve. And your mother was right; it won’t kill you to try new things once in a while. So give the new books a chance. Try things by the new publishers on the block and by the tried-and-true Big Two. And if you don’t find anything you like, try writing your own comics and your own stories. Heck, dress up in a costume and make a movie in the backyard for the amusement of your friends and neighbors. You can hardly do worse than some of the shlock Hollywood puts out.

ITEM SIX

There are some who will tell you that what you say on the message boards and the letter pages doesn’t matter. They say that the people who make the big decisions do not care what you have to say about how they are screwing up your favorite book and that your opinion and words have as much value as sand in the desert. If that is so, then please explain…

…how Mark Waid is still writing Fantastic Four, if not because of public outcry over his firing?

…why Chuck Austen is no longer working for Marvel, if not because of the wailing and gnashing of teeth of many an X-Fan?

…why some analysts credit bad buzz from comic fans as a major cause for why the Halle Berry Catwoman movie tanked?

…why I have gotten threats of violence from three “professionals” regarding my negative critiques of their work?

And even if our words do not have power, there is one power we have that even Superman cannot fight against. The power of the purse strings. Put your money where your heart is and the publishers will listen. It is democracy and capitalism, working together to build a better tomorrow for you.

ITEM SEVEN

Much has been said about how the hope of the industry, like many things, lies with our children. Some say that this is proof that we have no future. Today’s youth is more interested in video games and television than reading. The humble comic book is passé and marketing towards the children is a waste of energy and resources.

Try telling that to the dozens of youths, both genders, I saw lining up to see Spider-Man 2 on Free Comic Book Day, who begged me for more than one book each to take home and read. No, the problem lies not in the children, but in us. All of us in the hobby, from the lowliest fan boy to the highest of the publishers. If the kids aren’t coming into the comic book shops, then it is our responsibility to find ways to get them in there. And failing that, to take the Mountain to Mohammed.

Publishers, do you really make an effort to print books that kids would be interested in? And I mean exciting books. Not sanitized work like Archie, which I’ve only seen bought by thirty-something women and well-meaning dad’s looking for something for their daughters. Not modernized reprints of Stan Lee stories that were fine the first time. Not dumbed-down versions of the very smart, very popular shows you run on your cartoon network. Actual, honest to goodness, books written for kids?

Retailers, do you have an area set aside for the young ones? If not a whole section of the store, than at least a few shelves or a spinner rack? Are your employees well-versed on what is written for kids, not just what is “safe” for them?

Parents, have you tried reading your old comics to your kids? Instead of reading “Good Night Moon”, why not pull out one of your old Batman stories? Do the funny voices, while you’re at it, even if you can’t manage a passable Adam West impression. And if they show an interest in books, don’t wait until they’re old enough for school; start teaching them how to read yourself. Comics are a great tool for this. If you’re worried about content, start with the newspaper comic strips.

While we’re on the subject, do you let your kids have access to your comics? Can they look at them with you there to watch over their shoulder or do you just yell at them to stay away from your collection? Are you one of the far too many parents I see on the weekend growling “Don’t touch anything” as you walk through the store while picking up your favorite titles?

The audience is there, folks. We just need to give them something that will interest them without making mom and dad scream bloody murder about the bloody murders. Thankfully, there is a lot that you, the common fan can do.

Donate some of your books to the local hospital, library or youth center. Take it from a guy who has done a lot of outreach work in this area: they all LOVE donations of reading material, because so few people think of donating books for sick children. And if you’re able, why not give your time and try reading to the kids yourself?

These are just a few suggestions, though. Be creative. Just do something to solve the problem instead of sitting around complaining about what is wrong and telling others what to do about it or waiting for someone to tell you what to do.

ITEM EIGHT

Yes, that DOES include me too. It’s like George Carlin ranting about the evils of advertising while still doing commercials for 1-800-COLLECT. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, then my yelling at you isn’t going to do anyone any good.

ITEM NINE

The success of Spider-Man 2 has proven that the general public can accept comic book stories and that it is possible to bridge the differences between ages, races and genders. The time is right for us to start promoting our hobby and ourselves. Out of the basements and into the streets!

ITEM TEN

It ends. Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Birds of Prey #71 - A Review

Written by: Gail Simone
Penciled by: Ron Adrian
Inked by: Rob Lea
Colored by: Hi-Fi Design
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Joan Hilty
Publisher: DC Comics

Long time readers know that Birds of Prey is one of my favorite titles. I’ve been a fan of Gail Simone’s work since back in the day on Comic Book Resources and I have yet to see her do an unexciting issue of this comic.

Even the “We’re doing it just for the sake of doing it” one page cameo of Superman (who airlifted a catatonic Barbara Gordon to the hospital) does nothing to draw away from the engaging mystery that lies at the heart of Simone’s plot. A number of teenagers associated with a mysterious spiritual organization have been found dead, wearing the costumes of dead teenage superheroes. Huntress, who was sent to infiltrate the cult, is now finding herself at odds with the heroine Vixen, who was also investigating and is now drawn into the religion’s belief of Celebrate Peace And Love With Us… or we’ll kill you. (Hmmm… isn’t that MOST religions, come to think of it?)

Meanwhile, Black Canary is worried about Barbara Gordon’s mental state in the wake of some form of attack as she was trying to hack the computers of said religious organization. Now Barbara claims to be having visions on her screen… even when it is not turned on.

And just because we can’t have a Gail Simone book without one good comedic moment, we also get to check in on Savant; a super-genius super-villain Oracle is trying to turn to the side of the angels, as he attempts to learn the arts of subterfuge while fighting drug dealers. He later admits that he has much to learn about undercover work, as his method of breaking up a crackhouse involves walking to the front door, asking very loudly if he can purchases some illegal drugs and then asking the man at the door with a shotgun if he can speak to the local crime boss.

All of this is beautifully rendered by the temporary art team of Ron Adrian and Rob Lea, whose work is similar enough to that of the usual artists so as not to jar the readers but still dissimilar enough to draw interest. I don’t recognize their names, but if they aren’t sticking around on this title, I hope they will be put on another monthly book.

Monday, August 9, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Welcome Back, My Friends...

Page 1 panel 1

WE ARE LOOKING AT WHAT APPEARS TO BE A STAGE SET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. TOOLS ARE SCATTERED ABOUT THE FLOOR, AND A LARGE NUMBER OF CARDBOARD BOXES ARE IN THE FOREGROUND. ONE, LABELED “JESSE BAKER” SHAKES ALARMINGLY.

ON ONE OF THESE BOXES SITS “STARMAN” MATT MORRISON. HE IS A BROAD-SHOULDERED MAN IN HIS MID-TWENTIES, WITH WILD, LONG CURLY HAIR TIED BACK IN A PONYTAIL AND ROUNDED JOHN-LENNON STYLE GLASSES WHICH HIDE HIS DARK EYES. HE IS DRESSED CASUALLY IN A DARK BLUE T-SHIRT AND JEANS AND IS READING A CLIPBOARD WHILE MUTTERING TO HIMSELF.

Starman: Let’s see… desk, check. Computer, check. Attitude, check…

Page 1 panel 2

STARMAN PAUSES IN THOUGHT, HIS HEAD TURNING OUT TO US, THE READERS.

Page 1 panel 3

STARMAN SMILES, THROWING THE CLIPBOARD ASIDE TO STAGE LEFT.

Voice (off-panel) : OUCH!

Starman: Well, hi! Glad to see you made it! Have any trouble finding the place? I hope you’ll pardon the mess but you know how it is after a move. We’re still tidying up, getting things ready…

Page 1 panel 4

STARMAN STANDS UP, WALKING A BIT AWAY FROM THE BOX.

Starman: Don’t worry, though. Nothing’s changed except our address. It’s the same magazine it’s always been. Same people. Same columns. New Look. Like Madaonna every time she reinvents herself.

Page 2 panel 1

STARMAN LOOKS MILDLY SURPRISED AS HE LOOKS OUT AT THE READERS.

Starman: Hey, wait a sec! YOU’RE new, aren’t you?

Page 2 panel 2

STARMAN GOES BACK TO SMILING, REASSURINGLY.

Starman: Yeah, well don’t sweat it. We were hoping to get a few new people in at the house warming.

Page 2 panel 3

STARMAN LOOKS AROUND, SURVEYING THE CROWD BEFORE HIM

Starman: Of course, you’re probably curious as to what exactly we are doing here. Well, I’ll try and explain it a little bit. But first… let me take care of the rest of the guests.

Page 2 panel 4

STARMAN LEANS OVER A BIT, AS IF WHISPERING, FACING THE READER

Starman: Sorry. I have to show the new people around. I’ll have something nice and special for you all next week, I promise. But right now… well, somebody has to get the new guys oriented. You all go have a look around the new site and I’ll talk to you later.

Page 3 panel 1

STARMAN IS STANDING UPRIGHT AGAIN, SMILING OUT AT THE READERS AGAIN.

Starman: Anyway, hi. I’m “Starman” Matt Morrison. I’ve been writing about comics for a little over five years now and have had a regularly published column for one magazine or the other for four of those years.

Page 3 panel 2

STARMAN WALKS OVER TO THE BOX WE FIRST SAW HIM SITTING ON.

Starman: This space here is my regular column right now. It’s called “Looking To The Stars”. I don’t really have a set theme to my column like most of the other writers here do.

Page 3 panel 3


STARMAN IS NOW SITTING ON THE BOX.

Starman: That is, I don’t exclusively give my take on the latest comic news or answer questions like “Why does Kyle Rayner’s eye color keep changing? Does this relate to prolonged use of a Green Lantern ring?”

Page 3 panel 4

STARMAN LEANS BACK ON THE BOX, RELAXING.

Starman: This is partly because I like to exercise my versatility as a writer and challenge myself but mostly so I don’t go stir-crazy having to play continuity cop or newsman every week.

Page 4 panel 1

STARMAN REACHES BEHIND THE BOX, PULLING OUT A RATHER BEATEN BLACK FEDORA.

Starman: Of course I often wear the hat of a continuity cop or a newsman. And a lot of other hats besides.

Page 4 panel 2

STARMAN PUTS THE FEDORA ON HIS HEAD, ADJUSTING IT.

Starman: I write parodies once in a while and occasionally something that is worthy of being labeled satire.

Page 4 panel 3


STARMAN LOWERS HIS HAND, THE FEDORA NOW COMFORTABLY BENT OVER HIS FACE AT A GOOD ANGEL.

Starman: I also review movies and games if they are based on a comic or somehow relate to the spirit of comic books or if they involve a comic writer or artist in some way, shape or form.

Page 4 panel 4

STARMAN LEANS FORWARD, WINKING TO THE READERS.

Starman: That way I can go see every movie Kevin Smith ever makes from now on and write it off as a business expense.

Voice (off-panel) : You are not paid for this enterprise, so you cannot claim expenses !

Page 5 panel 1

STARMAN LOOKS SURPRISED AS DARON, THE DARK OVERLORD (AND EDITOR OF THE MAGAZINE) APPEARS FROM STAGE LEFT, GLOWERING EVILY. HE IS WEARING A STYLISH, BUT EVIL, HELMET WITH THE LETTERS “DOL” CARVED INTO A SILVER SHAKO AT THE PEAK OF THE HELMET.

Starman: Overlord!

Overlord: Minion, why are you not yet in your monkey costume! You know that must film the newest episode of 144 Anima this night!

Page 5 panel 2

STARMAN SMILES SHEEPISHLY AS THE OVERLORD LOOKS EXPECTANT.

Starman: You mean our wonderful spin-off comic series, starring slightly different versions of ourselves, which can be located at http://www.144anima.com ?

Overlord: As if you did not know what it was! Now where is the costume!

Page 5 panel 3

A SLY LOOK COMES TO STARMAN’S FACE.

Starman: It’s in the box over here… the one that is moving. I couldn’t find a knife to cut it with…

Page 5 panel 4

THE OVERLORD DRAWS AN IMPRESSIVE SWORD FROM HIS BACK, MOVING PAST STARMAN.

Overlord: One side, minion! I shall deal with this!

Page 5 panel 5

THE OVERLORD HAS MOVED OFF PANEL. STARMAN SMILES CONTENTEDLY AND LOOKS OUT TO THE AUDIENCE, SMILING LIKE BUGS BUNNY AS A TRAP IS ABOUT TO COME CLOSING DOWN.

(in cartoon action balloon) HACK!

Overlord (off-camera) : There. That wasn’t so…

VOICE: GRRRRRRRR!!!!

Page 5 panel 6

A SMALL VORTEX SPINS BY, WITH THE OVERLORD TRAPPED IN IT. IT IS JESSE BAKER, ON THE LOOSE ONCE AGAIN.

Jesse Baker: Blargh! Baker HATE Chuck Austen! Baker SMASH!

Overlord: Curse you, STARMAN!

Starman: What a maroon!

Page 6 panel 1

STARMAN SITS BACK ON THE BOX.

Starman: That’s Daron and Jesse. They work here too. You’ll see more of them later in the week.

Page 6 panel 2

STARMAN PULLS ON THE BRIM OF HIS FEDORA, SETTLING BACK IN.

Starman: Well, that’s about it for me. I hope you enjoyed the quick little tour of what I’m all about.

Page 6 panel 3

CLOSE UP ON STARMAN.

Starman: Go take a look around the place and see what else The Nexus has in store for you.

Page 6 panel 4

STARMAN SLOWLY SMILES AGAIN

Starman: But be sure to tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt website.