Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Ex Machina #6 - A Review

Written by: Brian K. Vaughn
Penciled by: Tony Harris
Inked by: Tom Feister
Colored by: JD Mettler
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: Wildstorm Comics

Okay. You have no excuse not to read this book now. Yes, I’m talking to you.

I know, I know. I’ve said before that “Ex Machina” is the greatest thing since sliced bread and you should be reading it. So you tried picking up issue 4 or 5 and it didn’t make a lick of sense. And you thought I was being an elitist snob having fun at your expense, recommending some trendy arthouse book that just went over your head.

Well, we all make mistakes. And I can cop to mine. See, I’ve been reading this book since issue one and I’m a big fan of the work of Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man, Ultimate X-Men) and Tony Harris (Starman, JSA: The Liberty File). I’ll admit my jonesing over two of my favorites working together did blind me to the fact that there’s some stuff you miss unless you’ve been reading since issue one. This is a great book but it is somewhat difficult to just pick up and read. Throw in the fact that the first five-issue arc was something of a mystery and that there’s a lot of flashbacks to a past that we know little about… and I can see why you got frustrated with this title.

But it’s different now. This one, Number Six, starts a WHOLE new story arc. Nothing you need to know going in, except perhaps the basic premise of the series. And that, I can give you for free.

Mitchell Hundred was raised by a single mother who was something of a political activist. One of his babysitters was a Russian tinker who he called Kremlin. Mitchell grew up to become an engineer working for the city of New York. He would be called out to investigate a bomb threat under the Brooklyn Bridge, only to be caught in the explosion of a strange device that did not hurt the bridge, but left Mitchell changed forever.

Somehow, Mitchell gained the ability to speak to machines and control them. Any type of machine, clockwork or electronic, is his to command. He can command guns not to fire, answer his phone without the touch of a button and even set off the airbags in a car before impact. He tried to use his powers as a superhero called The Great Machine with only Kremlin (who built several crime-fighting devices as well as a jet-pack for Mitchell) and Bradbury (a Harbor Patrol cop who was on the scene when Mitchell got his powers) aware of his secret. Mitchell accomplishes quite a bit, much to the chagrin of the Police Commissioner, who isn’t crazy about a vigilante working in her city.

Still, Mitchell decides to give up the superhero act, reveals his identity to the world and parlays the instant celebrity into a bid for Mayor of New York City. A bid that becomes a sure thing when he puts his costume on for the last time, in order to save the second World Trade Center Tower on 9/11/2001. It is now March 2002, Bradbury is now his security head, Kremlin is now estranged from them both and Mitchell is slowly learning the ropes of how to run the biggest city in the world. It is a daunting task his superpowers can’t begin to help him with. Rounding out the cast of regulars is Suzzane Padilla, a reporter who makes Lois Lane seem demure; Dave Wylie, Mitchell’s deputy mayor and intern/special advisor Journal Moore.

As far as the artwork goes, it’s about damn time we got Tony Harris on a regular monthly title again. He hasn’t had one since Starman and he’s been sorely missed since he left about halfway through that also long-missed series. He’s had a few projects since then, the JSA books and a lot of covers at Marvel among them, but nothing steady until now. And boy does every panel of this book make me realize how much we’ve been missing out on.

Whether you are, like me, a brazen fanboy of these two great masters or a total newbie to the world of comics and the work of Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris, you should be reading this book. Even if you know their work and, for some reason I can’t begin to conceive, didn’t like it… you should read this book. It is unlike anything that has ever been done before and, I think, anything we will ever see again.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Marvel/City of Heroes Lawsuit

There comes a time in a writer's life when he can no longer look the other way in regards to the inherit corruptness of that which lies before him. A time when he must, at the risk of loosing whatever image he has of himself, say that which needs to be said. A time when he must write the simple truth for Truth's sake. And if his writings sound like Lewis Black on his 32nd cup of coffee after three days without sleep and being forced to listen to the greatest hits of Olivia Newton John over and over and over again, then so be it.

You see, it's no shock to me the suggestion that Marvel has become obsessed with wringing as much money out of the hands of their fans as possible. They're a business first and foremost. It's what they do. Making money is the ultimate goal behind every decision that they make. So if they think printing three different variant covers for a new book, putting Wolverine in every single book and allowing Rob Liefeld to work for them, so be it. That's perfectly acceptable marketing practice in the comics world. What shouldn't be acceptable, however, is turning on the very same fans who pay your bills as Marvel has done recently regarding the on-line role-playing game, City of Heroes.

As originally told on Comicon's website, Marvel filed a suit against the makers of City of Heroes, claiming that the character creation engine used allows players to create virtual copies of characters owned by Marvel. They say that the game can allow a person to play a super-strong green-skinned giant like The Hulk as well as a mutant with claws and a healing factor like Wolverine.
The announcement of the lawsuit has lead to a whole lot of arguments on message boards over the evil corruptness of Marvel, the rights of copyright holders to protect their property under any circumstance and all manner of childish bickering. Well, as somebody who plays City of Heroes, I feel uniquely qualified to comment upon this. So, as a guy who has been a fan of Marvel Comics for a number of years and an active player on City of Heroes for nearly six months now, let me just address both parties here.

To Marvel Comics,

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FREAKING MINDS? Good Lord, folks! I know you're worried that the big MMORPG you've been trying to get started for years is taking forever. I know that X-Men Legends wasn't nearly as big a success as you'd hoped for and that City of Heroes is probably partly responsible for that as it is a true superhero RPG and not the action-game-with-stats that Legends is and Freedom Force was before it. What you're doing isn't protecting your copyright rights at all and it's just making you look like jerks.

The big problem is this: Yes, the City of Heroes engine is VERY flexible. It does allow you to make giant characters of any skin color. It allows you to make martial artists with healing powers and claws on their wrists. It even allows you to make a guy who can fly and make fire just like The Human Torch. The problem is, you can't sue the guys who make City of Heroes over other people creating something based on your characters for two simple reasons.

1. I'll admit to not being an expert on Copyright law, but I believe the main reason behind it is to prevent one's creative property from being used by others to make a profit. None of the people creating these characters - these Incredible Sulks and Wolferines - are making any money off of what they are doing. You wanna sue somebody, sue the fans. Oh wait: the fans don't have money do they? And suing the fans will make you look like greedy, money-grubbing jerks - like record company executives or the guys who ran Enron.

2. The people who are making money while all this is going on: the guys who run City of Heroes? They have been going out of their way to make sure that this kind of thing DOESN'T happen. It's right there in the terms of service when you sign up for your account as well as EVERY TIME you log into the game. Sections 3e and 3f of the user agreement are quite clear about this point: create a character who has the name and appearance of a copyrighted character or create a supergroup with the name, motto, description or battle cry of an established group and it will be deleted. It is, as that great master of Legalese Willy Wonka said, "clear as crystal." And I know for a fact that that rule gets enforced: I lost two good comrades in arms who played as Arthur and The Tick and actually role-played the parts. We fought for only two sessions when I was level 2 as they were level 3, but what sessions they were!

So please, for your own sake if not my blood pressure, drop the suit. You're looking like idiots and no competent judge is going to believe for a moment that the CoH team has been encouraging people to use your characters. Worse, you're annoying the fans who ARE paying your salaries. I had a good customer drop his entire comics subscription this past Wednesday, because he's an avid City of Heroes player and he'd rather play his own heroes now than read about yours now.

And speaking of the players, now I'd like to address the players who have been making characters based on Marvel characters.

To all the City of Heroes players making characters based on Marvel Comic's characters,

WILL YOU PEOPLE SHOW SOME FREAKING INITIATIVE? Honestly! Here you have this whole new world! A world where you can be nearly any type of hero you want, create billions of different costumes, write your own background and make something truly unique. And what do you do? You make a Defender with force-field making, psychic blasting powers and name her Jane Gray.

Look, I'm the last person in the world to decry the idea of hero-worship. For crying out loud, my nickname comes from my favorite superhero of all time! And I'll cop to admitting to having tried to make a carbon copy of some of my favorite characters in the engine, just to see if I could. But I never played any of those characters. Not for any longer than an afternoon. Because it was all the more satisfying for me to run around the city as a shadow-controlling good guy than for me to be one more Colossus-clone. It was more fun to make a heroine based on my girlfriend and have "High Sierra" saving the city than making a picture-perfect Phoenix.

Thing is, you're doing yourself and the rest of the player's a disservice. If I had a dollar for every good idea for a new take on superheroes I've heard while working in a comic shop, I wouldn't have to work in a comic shop. The most interesting people I've met playing City of Heroes were the ones who put some effort into their characters, wrote up a good backstory for them and those rare few who actually try to role-play in what is meant to be a role-playing game.

So just try something new. If people laugh at your costume, so what? At least you're being original. And more importantly, you're safe from being sued if Marvel DOES decide to go after individual players.

The ranting booth is now closed. Thank you all for playing.

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Knights Of The Dinner Table #97 - A Review

Written by: The KODT Development Team
Penciled by: Jolly R. Blackburn
Inked by: N/A
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Jolly R. Blackburn
Editor: Jolly R. Blackburn
Publisher: Kenzer & Company

SCENE: Day. Thursday Morning. 9:00 a.m. A small loft apartment in Texas.

“STARMAN” Matt Morrison sits at a computer, typing away while muttering under his breath.

Starman: … get me wrong. I realize the need to raise the curtain and expand the world at times. But the sad fact is that in this issue, the need eliminates a lot of the usual comedy from the book. While this is necessary, it is not enjoyable and-

Suddenly, an Instant Messenger window opens!

Daron, The Dark Overlord: Minion!

Starman: Gah!

Daron, The Dark Overlord: It has been a long time, minion. Too long.

Starman: What do you mean? We chatted just the other day.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: But not like this, minion. I’ve missed this. The humorous reviews where I threaten you with unreasonable threats, make unreasonable demands. And everyone is amused by your pain and suffering.

Starman: But don’t you think the readers can get enough of that watching our counterparts over at the critically acclaimed 144 Anima?

Daron, The Dark Overlord: As if the readers could ever get enough of me. Now, where is the review of Army of Darkness #3 that I asked, nay DEMANDED of you?!?!

Starman: It didn’t come out this week.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: WHAT?!? You mean it is not done?

Starman: My review? No, it’s not done. The comic didn’t come out!

Daron, The Dark Overlord: But Diamond said…

Starman: Diamond was wrong. The book never made it to the stores. Not MY store, anyway. And I’ve got it on subscription, so I would have gotten it by now if it had come out. But I haven’t. So it hasn’t. Period.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: But… but that’s not fair! That is a great film! A great movie!

Starman: Yes, I know. And the comic is pretty good too. But I’ve got something to run in it’s place. A new Knights of the Dinner Table came out.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: I don’t enjoy that D&D gamer geek stuff.

Starman: Well, I didn’t enjoy this one much either. The usual back-up material and columns are okay. In fact, there’s a really funny rant by this one guy about how Boba Fett doesn’t make any sense as a character…

Daron, The Dark Overlord: Yes. And his helmet is far inferior to mine!

Starman: I guess. But the actual comics this time around were kinda flat. See, the current storyline involves how the group’s gamemaster B.A. bought “The Biggest Damn Dungeon Ever”; a new adventure that parodies something just released for D&D players in real life.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: That sounds topical and amusing.

Starman: Well, once they get into it, it will be. But after a quick strip showing the main characters sitting down to play, the whole rest of the comics section is taken up with a story showing goings-on in Hard 8 Productions, the company that makes all the great fantasy RPGs in the Knight’s reality.

Daron, The Dark Overlord:And that’s bad?

Starman: Well, they even so much as admit that they’re more concerned with throwing out plot points about how the company is going under and setting up for the future than they are about doing the usual comedy material. When you get right down to it, there’s not a lot of humor to be found in a board meeting between four characters trying to figure out how to keep their jobs.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: What? Pain and suffering. Sounds funny to me!

Starman: Yeah, well this doesn’t quite overcome the Mel Brooks Law of Relativity.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: I’m not familiar with that one?

Starman: Tragedy is when you get a papercut. Comedy is when someone else falls down an open manhole.

Daron, The Dark Overlord: Ah yes. Speaking of which, bring me a few small children. I desire to have things fall down into the bottomless pit for my amusement.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Ghostbusters: Legion #3 - A Review

Written by: Andrew Dobb
Penciled by: Steve Kurth
Inked by: Serge LaPointe, Michel Lacombe
Colored by: Blond
Lettered by: Ed Dukeshire
Editor: Sebastien Clavet
Publisher: 88 mph Studios

This book, like many others, would be so much more enjoyable if it weren’t for the multi-month delays. Thankfully, each issue since the first has had a “Previously” page at the start of the comic to fill in late-comers on the story thus far. And speaking of the story thus far…

It is six months after the events of the original Ghostbusters movie, wherein four men became supernatural exterminators. Scientists Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and ex-military man Winston Zeddemore saved the world from invasion by an ancient Sumerian god incarnated as a fifty-foot high Marshmallow Man. Now, a series of increasingly deadly and strange ghost attacks have the team run ragged, with the boys in brown fighting ghosts that are much more intelligent than normal.

Things start to pick up in this issue as we get a look into the Ghostbuster’s past and we see the work that got Peter, Ray and Egon their doctorates, as a colleague, to use the language of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, “failed his sanity check”. We find out that said colleague, Michael Draverhaven, has recently escaped from the mental hospital he was kept in and that in the past he apparently attacked Ray, traumatizing him somewhat.

This book is a class act in all respects. The artwork is excellent, resembling a more heavily inked Mark Bagley or a less-chessecake driven J. Scott Campbell. The writing is dead on, with each character sounding like their counterpart from the movies and the long-missed animated series. The dialogue is spot-on and the whole thing feels like a credible continuation of the original movie. The one sore spot, apart from the chronic lateness, is that the story has been more concerned about the characters than the action and the plot. Of course, the original movies were guilty of this as well, but things moved so quickly that few noticed. The lateness of the book has only exasperated this problem and made us all too aware that only now in the penultimate chapter are things being investigated, much less explained.

Still, these are petty complaints and ultimately have no baring upon the book’s quality. Outside of these problems, it is one of the most enjoyable reads in recent memory. It would be well worth your time to try and pick up the first two issues as well as this one. There’s not a ghost of a chance you won’t enjoy it!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Incredibles - A Review

My first day off in nearly a week and what's the first thing I do? Well, sleep in and then finish off the last of the homework assignment due in two days. And then I go to mail off my mother's birthday card. But thankfully for all good comic reading people everywhere and other regulars of this column, this only took me until about 12:30 and then I did something that you all would actually care about. I want to see "The Incredibles".

Yes, this film has weighed heavily upon my mind for this past week. For as I toiled in the comic shop throughout the weekend I had many customers come into the store, fresh from either the Wizard World convention or from seeing The Incredibles. Both events, I was assured, were without equal in coolness.

And then there were those who had not seen it and asked me, "Matt. You're a knowledgeable guy about these things. How IS the movie?" What else could I do except to say that I had heard it was good, but I hadn't had the time off to see it myself... until now, that is.

The plot is surprisingly heavy stuff for what is primarily assumed to be a kid's movie. Heavy as in complex, not dark. Though it is that too. All the superheroes were forced into hiding after various lawsuits threatened to cripple the federal government that apparently authorized superheroes to do what they do. One of the foremost heroes, the super-strong and nigh-invulnerable Mr. Incredible, settles down with superheroine Elastigirl and the two settle into suburbia, where she becomes a stay-home mom to three children and he gets a job in the insurance industry.

Sadly, not all is well at home. Son Dash is a hyperactive troublemaker who wants to play on the sports teams, but can't for fear of accidentally using his superspeed powers. Daughter Violet is very much a shrinking violet, hiding behind her hair when she isn't hiding with her invisibility powers. And the former Mr. Incredible is increasingly dissatisfied with his work (which requires him to ignore people in need in favor of keeping expenses down) and is sneaking out of the house once a week with his old partner (the ice-controlling Frozone) in order to help people in secret.

All this changes after Mr. Incredible is contacted by a woman named Mirage, who offers him three times what his insurance job offered doing secret jobs for the government tracking down rogue battle droids. He accepts the job and quickly finds himself in the clutches of Syndrome; former member of Mr. Incredible's fan club, aspiring sidekick and now full-fledged super-villain. It falls to Mr. Incredible and his family to save the world from Syndreome's plans even as they struggle to save their family.

This movie is, as the title says, simple incredible. Pixar's animation has never been better and fans of their previous works will love this movie for that reason alone. The characters are paper thin and likely familiar to any avid comic book reader, with the cocky speedster and the shy invisible girl common enough to be cliché now. Still, they are enjoyable for their familiarity and everyone will find someone in the movie they can relate to as a character. Because like all the great comic books, this is less about the superpowers and more about the relationships between people.

There's only one complaint I have about the movie; there's too little of it even with nearly two hours of screen time. There is so much focus on Mr. Incredible and his mid-life crisis, that a lot of the other subplots are given shorter shrift. We don't even get to see much of the rest of the family until about an hour in when the rescue mission begins. And Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone seems woefully underused, as his appearances offer some of the best moments in the movie. In fact, he has the single funniest moment in the movie and it is totally spoiled by Disney's annoying habit of always putting their best moments in their trailers and TV advertisements.

Still, as good as Sir Samuel is, the movie is stolen by Jason Lee as Syndrome in his all but too brief (maybe five minutes total) of the whole movie. The man is a comedy genius and it's rather sad that aside from Kevin Smith and the guys who made Mumford, that nobody has given him more of a chance to showcase his comedic talents.

That's the other problem I have with the movie. Compared to Pixar's past efforts, it's just not as funny. Even allowing for the fact that this is meant to be a more dramatic picture, even the funny bits seem less funny.

Still, this movie is fun if not funny. Taken for what it is, it is amazing. And it's also a great vehicle for introducing the little ones in your life to the cool world of superheroes if you haven't done so already.

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Rising Stars #22 - A Review

Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by: Brent Anderson
Inked by: Brent Anderson
Colored by: Brian Buccellato
Lettered by: Spehar, Dreamer
Editor: Scott Tucker
Publisher: Top Cow Productions

SCENE: Day. Wednesday Morning. 11:00 a.m. A small comic shop in Texas.

“STARMAN” Matt Morrison ENTERS. At the counter is JENNIFER, a co-worker.

Starman: Morning, folks!

Jennifer: Morning, Matt!

Starman: Sorry I’m a little late. Overslept a bit. Was up all night watching the election returns. It’s tight, but I’m sure that John Kerry will wait it out to the last recount.

Jennifer: Oh, Matt. Hadn’t you heard? They just announced on the radio. Kerry conceded.

Starman: WHAT?!?! With all the reports of voter fraud and lost ballots in Ohio? He’s giving up? Just like that?

Jennifer: Yes. But cheer up! There’s some good news!

Starman: I could use it. They’ll probably be sending the wagon for us Red-State liberals any moment now.

Jennifer: Probably. But guess what came out today? Rising Stars #22!

Starman: Ha! Good one. That almost made me feel like smiling.

Jennifer: No, really! See?

JENNIFER hands STARMAN a comic.

Starman: Good Lord… this is real!

Jennifer: Yes! And you’ll never believe it… but Superman/Batman came out today too.

Starman: What? After less than two months?

Jennifer: Yes. See! Things aren’t all that bad…

ENTER, A ZOMBIE. It ambles up to the counter.

Zombie: Ughhhhhhh…

Starman: (still reading his Rising Stars) Jennifer?

Jennifer: Yeah?

Starman: Did Avengers 503 come out today too?

Jennifer: Yeah!

Starman: There you go, sir. Just look at the start of the bookshelves.

Zombie: Ughhhhhhh…

Starman: No, there’s NO limit on how many copies you can buy. Freaking Marvel zombies…

Suddenly, comprehension dawns.

Starman: Wait a second! He smells awfully good for a comic book reader! He must be the walking dead!

Jennifer: No, that didn’t come out. But we do have two other Steve Niles books…

Starman: No! Jennifer, don’t you see? Bush re-elected? Superman/Batman coming out on time? Rising Stars #22 finally hitting the shelves? The dead rising from the grave?!?! Don’t you see what’s happened?

Jennifer: Oh no! You mean…

Starman: Yes! The End-Times are upon us and the zombie legions of the damned have risen to destroy all that is good and decent.

Jennifer: You know, Bush hasn’t even made his victory speech…

Starman: (not hearing her) Yes. The End Times are here. The final battle between good and evil is set to play upon the world stage. And these undead bastards think they can come in here and taint this place with their negative energy, unclean presence and high-volume speculation?

STARMAN reaches under the counter, pulling out a shotgun.

Starman: Not on my shift!


Well, I hope you all enjoyed the above proposal for my upcoming comic: Starman Morrison: Action Comic Geek! Of course those of you expecting a review of Rising Stars #22 are probably wondering what the heck is going on.

Well, the above was written in about 20 minutes. It is sophomoric, preachy and contains very little serious social commentary or political satire. And yet, despite it’s obvious flaws, it is STILL a much more effective political piece than the new issue of Rising Stars.

Two pages quickly recount the events of the first 21 issues and the #0 special. letting everyone know what has happened before. We are then launched into this issue where… not much happens. The artwork falls flat as well. Anderson’s work here looks sloppy and rushed; ironic considering that this book is about.. what, three years late now?

Still, this is probably not the fault of Anderson. Nor is it likely the fault of Straczynski. Or even Top Cow, whose going behind Straczynski’s back on the plans for a “Rising Stars” movie prompted the whole mess that delayed this book for so long. This book, even when it was coming out regularly, always read better in the trade paperback format than it did as a monthly title. And in the wake of the last week, the plot of this issue, centering around political intrigue; it pales in comparison to the real life political intrigue that occurred the week before this comic was released.

The sad fact is that in the post 9-11 environment, this story is no longer as shocking as it was three years ago. A few elitists in government lying to their citizens and conspiring against them to increase their personal power? The idealists we’d hoped would fix everything not allowed to lift a finger to solve the problems because fixed problems aren’t profitable? Not as big a flight of fancy as we’d hope.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Across The Pond Presents #1 - A Review

With Wizard World Texas having taken place in my backyard this past week, you'd think that ol' Unca Stars would have been in attendance. That I would be there… ready to rub elbows with the creators. Lead a lynch-mob after Michael Turner to ask why Superman/Batman #13 still remains unreleased. Pick up the variant of the variant of a Wolverine comic I didn't even want the ordinary cover of.

Well, had it not been for a personnel crisis at work involving three people's resignations (some more sudden then others) which required me to work the entire weekend, I very well might have. Sadly, since working most of the weekend has become a habit for me, I was well prepared for this and had long since accepted that the odds of me attending Wizard World were virtually nil.

Still, Wizard World did have an effect upon my plans for this week. For it was at Wizard World last year that I made the acquaintance of a talented writer by the name of Drew Edwards. A few months ago, Drew contacted me, telling me that after self-publishing his characters to his website, he was about to get his first professional publication gig and would I be interested in getting a preview copy?

Incidentally, if you haven't had the good fortune to see Drew's comic Halloween Man, take a quick break right now to check it out at Anyone who is a fan of old Lee/Ditko Spider-Man to say nothing of funny horror movies like "Evil Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead" will love this. And the rest of you probably will too.

Anyway, I spoke with Drew's editors, got my copy of their latest title… and found myself enjoying the whole thing quite a lot. I asked if they would have any objections to being featured in an article a few days before the release of the book. Needless to say, they were happy for the press and all was well and good after they gave me a release fate for the book of "November 10th.

This worked out doubly well, I realized, after I learned the dates of Wizard World Texas. Sure, I'd miss the con… but I could be certain of getting a good article out that week and being able to give some attention to a small indie title that could use some press…

And that's when I found out that that the release date had been bumped up without anyone telling me. Seems this wonderful new comic, Across The Pond Presents #1… actually came out two weeks ago as I write this.

Mea culpa.

Still, the title is still out there. The review is still written. And the book may be available at Across the Ponds website ( if your local shop doesn't have it and Mile High Comics is out of it. Regardless, this title is well worth hunting down, no matter what.

Metal Locus: Ground Floor Up
Written by: Keith Champagne
Penciled and Inked by: Sergio Cariello
Colored by: Rick Hiltbrunner
Lettered by: Charles Pritchett

Probably best known as the inker on JSA, Keith Champagne has recently turned his talents to a different type of penwork. He recently did a story for Legion of Superheroes as well as this post-apocalyptic yarn that reads like "Of Mice And Men 2099."

The action centers on two cyborg brothers in the future: Charlie the big, well-meaning one and Cliff, the default brains of the operation. The two are mercenaries, down on their luck until the typical gorgeous dame turns up with an offer they can't refuse.

Amusing in an off-beat kind of way, this story would not be out of place in 2000 AD or Heavy Metal. It is well matched with artwork by CrossGen mainstay Sergio Cariello, who manages the neat trick of creating a dirty dystopian city with some of the cleanest artwork ever seen.

The Adventures of Gauche-Man
Written by: Scott Fry & Stephan Nilson
Penciled and Inked by: Scott Fry
Colored by: Michael Wolf
Lettered by: Charles Pritchett

We know from the instant we see the hero… back-lit like a Miller drawing… cape furling like a McFarlene character… and a KICK ME sign blowing majestically in the breeze behind him, that this ain't going to be Batman or Spawn. And that's when most of us sigh with relief and add "Thank God!"

If you're looking for superhero satire as sophisticated as, oh say… The Tick… look elsewhere. This is outright silliness on par with the long lost "Inferior Five" and the best of Monty Python. Right down to the snooty British announcer heaping praise and insults on our hero as he struggles to find and save a screaming woman.

Fry has a real gift for comedy, both as a writer and an illustrator. He manages a bit of stylistic parody of a few different styles. And yet, he manages to blend everything together so that characters like Anime Girl look every bit as natural standing next to the Frank Miller-esque Gauche-Man.

Halloween Man: Working Stiffs
Written by: Drew Edwards
Penciled by: Nicola Scott
Inked by: Mike Furth
Colored by: Jess Farrell
Lettered by: Charles Pritchett

I've heaped enough praise on the brilliance of Edward's writing and concepts in the past. But one more time won't hurt…

What we get here is a typical Halloween Man tale: half-man/half-zombie Solomon Hitch, empowered by the spirits of classic horror movies and armed with a magical spade, teams up with his girlfriend Lucy and best friend (Man-Goat, a superhero who is half man/half goat) to fight various evils. In this case, various evils equals a whole mess of vampires.

The story is a great little intro to what the character does, but not really who he is. We don't get so much as a back-story or secret origin here. While this isn't a problem for an old fan like me, I can see it being it bloody confusing for new reader's first exposure to the character. Still, the artwork is some of the best I've ever seen paired up with Edward's scripts.

Necro City Chronicles: A Shot In The Dark
Created by: Richie Blackmon
Written by: Scott Parker and Mitch Byrd
Art by: Mitch Byrd
Colored by: Rick Hiltbrunner
Lettered by: Charles Pritchett

Somewhat reminiscent of "Rob Zombie's Spookshow" in both tone and art style, this story will be a hit with anyone who is a fan of that aforementioned title as well as the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Dashiell Hammett. Despite some rather obvious tributes, it manages a unique feel, as it centers upon crimes and sins in a Noir landscape in a city full of demons and nightmares.

Pin-up artist Mitch Byrd is uniquely qualified to draw this story. This story isn't for the kiddies and he makes that apparent in every panel, creating a deep aura of sensuality in every demonic dancer, even if the most we actually see is one briefly bared buttock.

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Strange #2 - A Review

Written by: J. Michael Straczynski & Sara Barnes
Penciled by: Brandon Peterson
Inked by: Brandon Peterson
Colored by: Justin Ponsor
Lettered by: Randy Gentile
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics

With all the bru-hah-hah over J. Michael Straczynski’s work on Amazing Spider-Man of late, I’m amazed that the same purists aren’t all a tizzy over his other title with Marvel. The fact is that this new book, which is currently retelling the origins of Doctor Stephen Strange, master magician and sorcerer supreme, has made some changes on par with those regarding the past of Gwen Stacy.

Straczynski has expanded upon the specifics of Strange’s background, which has been vague in some respects. While we’ve always known that he was something of an arrogant jerk and a respected surgeon before a serious accident, we’ve seen very little of his formative years. And while some of the fine details of his history are changed here, the changes either change little or make a good deal of sense. For instance, it matters very little whether Dr. Strange was a neurosurgeon or a plastic surgeon… but given his old money-grubbing ways, being a plastic surgeon makes a good deal more sense. Likewise, the accident (which we see the aftermath of at the start of this issue) is changed from a car-crash to a skiing accident, but the end result is the same: Stephen Strange’s hands are damaged to the point that he will never be able to hold a scalpel again.

Refusing to accept that he will never be able to work in his chosen field again, Strange travels the world seeking second, third and ninth opinions from the greatest experts in the world. Eventually, he makes his way back to Tibet, where he interned for a summer, seeking a young man named Wong. Wong, whose arm he fixed during his internship, has apparently been inspired by Strange’s example during his more idealistic days and gone on to become an alternative medicine man as well as the greatest hand expert in the field…

These changes further ground the idea that a respected surgeon would turn to a magical healer in Tibet for help as well as expanding upon the character of Stephen Wong (yes, he has a first name!), who started out as little more than a poor man’s Kato. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this series reworks Strange’s cluttered past.

About the artwork, I have only the kindest words. Brandon Peterson has an eye for showing great detail without cluttering up a single panel. His style is like that of Ultimate Spider-Man’s Mark Bagley, but with a much darker edge that is perfect for the world of this title. All of the characters, even the nurses and bar patrons in the background, have an individual and distinct look that marks every individual as just that.

Monday, November 1, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Who Dun Et, Part Deux

Last week, I talked about the crimes and evidence we had thus far in "Identity Crisis" and discussed the pros and cons of the various theories that have sprung forth involving "Who Dun Et?" I then asked for all of your opinions and theories.

You people are GOOD.

Admittedly, some of the ideas are a little out there but no more so than some of the other theories being tossed around. In fact, your ideas gave me a few more ideas as well. But first things first: viewer mail.

Our first letter comes from Brandon Downard…

I'm going with Maxwell Lord. In the early issues of JL, he had files on every superhero and knew for certain that Jack Ryder and The Creeper were one and the same. I wouldn't put it pass him to know the IDs of most of the DC heroes considering the research he put in them to make the perfect team to protect him for the alien computer. He has the resources to hire Calculator, Boomerang, Bolt, and any one else that he would need.

I think his motive would be the fact that he wants to bring order to the DC and make up for his screw-up JL. He creates this killer to get the superheroes serious about taking down the world's super villains. The heroes get really serious and in short time they put most of the major and minor villains in jail and in the future they'll be more proactive in their work. He had Calculator get Bolt (who looks really good considering the fact that he was eaten to death by ants in SS V. 2 I. 3) to get the Lex Luthor battle suit so that he could frame an already hated man on the ID killings.

Ummm. Dunno how to explain away Bolt's apparent demise. Any chance that he discovered a latent power to talk to ants and commanded them not to eat him and that everyone just THOUGHT he was dead?

No? Oh. Okay then…

Hmmm… Maxwell Lord: the opportunistic millionaire who personally financed the Justice League throughout most of the Justice League Europe and Justice League International days. Well, he'd certainly be morally loose enough to do this and he's the master of Machiavellian schemes.

Still, I don't know if the idea of him wanting to make up for screwing up the Justice League has any merit. Lord was an egomaniac; a reasonable one to be sure, but definitely not one to easily acknowledge his own mistakes. Besides, as of last year's "Formerly Known As The Justice League" story-line, he was still his incorrigible self and hard at work on creating a new low-rent Justice League.

Ironically enough, said team contained Elongated Man, his wife Sue(who was the one truly sane person on the team) and our next suspect, who was suggested in a letter by Andy DiNunzio…

I have an interesting theory as to who did the murders. Booster Gold is one I came up with. He could have all the knowledge as to the identities of the heroes and still found ways to confuse them by the use of Slipknot's noose. Since he originally stole the items from his future to make him a hero, he has the semi-lax moral code. The why is still a mystery. Could be some unrequited love affair with Sue and hatred of the rest of the heroes for treating him as a joke. I can't come up with a decent reason as to the why, but he could definitely make the motive and opportunity.

Hmmm… Booster Gold. The most opportunist, hero-for-hire ever. Well, he IS a sleaze, but hasn't been a killer. He COULD have stolen the equipment to pull off the murders. Heck, Blue Beetle, who he frequently partnered with, probably has a teleporter and flame-thrower in his lab. But as you say, there's no real motive other than him MAYBE being upset for being treated as a joke. But from what I recall of his time in the Justice League, he tended to dismiss all criticism and thought highly enough of himself to off-set everyone else's low opinion of him.

Besides, aside from the superheroes whom had open identities, I can't see ANYONE letting Booster Gold know their secret identity. You think Batman is going to chance a known superhero who craves the spotlight getting anywhere NEAR the Batcave? Or risk the guy just suddenly showing up at Stately Wayne Manor with a bus full of strippers so he can party with his "close personal friend, Bruce?"

And speaking of Batman, Francisco Gonzalez has a theory about the mastermind being someone very close to the Batman Family.

I have a theory about the master-mind that would explain a lot of things, but, given the character, I do not really think it would be "her".

A brief discussion first. So far the suspects fall in one of two categories: a villain seeking revenge or a hero turned traitor (but none of the second have a real strong, personal motive).

The first suspect was Dr. Light, in revenge for what the JL of A did to him. I think that event could be central to the story and not just circumstantial. What if someone is mad at the heroes, not for doing it, but for not doing it "to someone" else?

There are some situations that could be mirrors here: the obvious one is The Calculator to Oracle.

The second one would explain the "need" for the Sue Dinby's rape, as a mirror action to Barbara Gordon's rape in "The Killing Joke". Some readers see that the torture done to her by the Joker amounted to, if not included rape. And even if that is not the case, how could the JL of A have altered the minds of The Wizard, Felix Faust and Dr. Light and let the Joker get a pass?

That would give a motive for the killings. Her knowledge of the super-hero community would allow for opportunity, and she has access to all the resources that she might need. That would explain the bypass of all the security systems and that surely would explain how Dr. Light knew that the JLA was coming for him in Issue #2. She could have warned him once she saw that the JLA was trying to find him and she would have had that information from the Suicide Squad files (were she first started as Oracle).

Dick Grayson will become the decoy and possibly last victim to this. The killings started the anniversary of his parents deaths... and, according to the DC solicitations, Bludhaven is gonna need another protector.

The scary thing, I can SO see this working. One of the biggest blindsides of the DC Comics Universe is that in a world full of amazing technology, people with magical powers and now… the Justice League using their powers to cover up events such as the rape of one of their members as well as altering the minds of criminals who had learned their secret identities… nobody has ever addressed why nobody has ever thought of trying to heal the broken spine of Barbara Gordon.

I can only remember two times that the question was ever addressed. Once, in Grant Morrison's JLA, when the villain Prometheus told Barbara he could heal her if she quit helping the League. She turned him down. The other time was in "Batman: The Chalice", an alternate universe story where Batman becomes protector of the Holy Grail and offers to use it to heal Barbara. She turns him down because she doesn't believe an item that depends on faith will have any effect on a faithless soul like her.

Still, how much time would it take? Call Zatanna, have her say a few magic words and BOOM… Batgirl walks again. Need something more based in reality? Dr. Midnite is an amazing surgeon who has performed miracles in the past. Ditto Mr. Terrific.

Of course Barbara is very strong-willed and would probably reject help from anyone who suggested that she was in anyway incapable of handling herself in her current form. This has been suggested in the past by other Batman fans who said the only reason Barbara hasn't been cured is because, like in The Chalice, she refused to be helped. Problem is, there's been enough stories where they showed her lamenting the loss of her legs to blow that whole "I'm handi-capable" argument to high-heaven. The truth is that there is no reason, other than editorial power insisting that Barbara Gordon remain confined to a wheel-chair, that she SHOULDN'T have been healed by now.

So think about that. She is cheesed off at the superhero community she busts her butt to help that will watch their own backs but not hers. She got her start as the master hacker Oracle as an associate member of Suicide Squad. She'd definitely have the resources to hire several mercenary villains to act on her behalf as well as the knowledge of how to hack the JLA security systems. She definitely knows the secret identities of Superman and Robin. And she'd definitely be able to send everyone on wild good chases as the plan unfolds…

Still, while Babs COULD do this, as Francisco points out, it would be very out of character for her to do something like this. Besides, as this week's "Batman" and "Birds of Prey" (which actually take place AFTER the end of Identity Crisis chronologically) show, Barbara couldn't have done it by sheer dent of being free to fly around the country.

Unless she really IS the mastermind and plotted the downfall of another patsy as she continues to roam free…

Our last letter comes from James Lawson, who had an idea about how a super power that most of we detectives have ignored might have had a hand in things…

One power set overlooked is time manipulation. As Degaton
showed in a recent issue of JSA, it is possible to find out information
about people then act on it by walking between the seconds of time.

The only problem I see with this theory is I cannot think of any
time-traveling villain that would benefit from this situation. Well,
that is just my theory. Although Snapper Carr is still my top suspect.

Regarding the time-travel option; it certainly is possible, but unlikely as time-travel would be kind of a cheat and go against the grain of the usual detective story. Additionally, it would be kind of cheap to go this far and then find out the whole thing was done by the likes of Waverider or Chronos.

Hey wait… Chronos IS in this story. Crud!

As for Snapper Carr, the "mascot" of the original Justice League and second only to Jimmy Olsen on the list of hapless-sidekicks, I somehow forgot to include him on the list of suspects last week. And speaking of suspects, that's as good a cue as any to discuss the new suspects I've come up with since last week.

Snapper Carr

How He Did It? Snapper actually DID have the ability to teleport for a while and, as mascot to the original incarnation of The Justice League, he would have known something of their secret identities.

Why He Didn't Do It? There's no definite proof he ever knew Superman was Clark Kent or knew anything about Batman and Robin. Also, the last time we saw him he didn't have any super powers and had fallen on hard times. So, he wouldn't have had the resources to contact or hire Captain Boomerang.

Martian Manhunter

How He Did It? A founding member of the Justice League, the alien superhero J'onn J'ozz would have the ability and knowledge to perform most of the crimes. He can walk through walls and read minds, so he could easily track down all the people he would need to act on his behalf when he couldn't act directly. Setting Sue's body on fire would also have thrown suspicion away from him, as all Martians have a fear of fire that is so intense it negates their considerable powers.

Why He Didn't Do It? As loyal as he is to the League, they being the only family he has now in the wake of the holocaust of the Martian people, it makes little sense for him to turn on them. No motive at all.

Dakath, the Burning

How He Did It? The dark side of Martian heritage given physical form, this being was created accidentally by Martian Manhunter during a romantic liaison with a fire-controller who helped him overcome his fear of fire. Possessing all of Martian Manhunter's knowledge and powers, as well as the ability to control fire itself, he nearly destroyed the Earth once and was able to put the entire Justice League into check single-handed.

Why He Didn't Do It? He hasn't been seen since the destruction of his physical form in the JLA comic over a year ago. Plus, as a hands-on kind of villain, he's have little reason to recruit Captain Boomerang as an assistant.

Ben Morse, Comic Nexus Editor

How He Did It? Is actually a character in the DC Universe, albeit a rotting zombie in his one appearance so far. Connections with popular DC Comics writers would enable him to find out everything he needed to know to take on the world's finest heroes and outwit them.

Why He Didn't Do It? Well, I was going to keep it secret… but in the interest of clearing his name, I cannot. The Zombie Ben Morse six-part mini-series, with artwork by Jim Lee and writing by Geoff Johns will be out in Summer 2005!