Sunday, January 9, 2005

Looking To The Stars: The Third Annual Starry Awards

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

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

Hey everyone. Tim here. Just wanted to note that this ISN'T annual. Okay, he DID do this before at 411 Mania but this is the first time he's ever done it here and we really wish he'd left this lame thing behind. But we didn't have anything else to run except Jesse Baker's review of New Avengers #2 and we thought this was less likely to get us sued. So, we apologize in advance for… everything.

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

Because this is easier than doing real work?

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

Oh, and we are sooo grateful for you to do that. Like we need your divine wisdom to tell us that John Byrne has been phoning it in since 1989?

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

No, they really don't. Not a one of us. You wanna complain or sue someone, e-mail him!

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

That said: Here are the winners and losers!

The Best of 2004

Best Moment All Year: Colossus Lives!
(As taken from Astonishing X-Men #4-5)

Understand this. I am not, by training, or inclination an X-Fan. I do not subscribe to any X-Men books. I try to avoid reading most of the titles in the series and my hand starts to smoke whenever it is placed on anything written by Chris Claremont. Had you told me a year ago that the best moment in the coming year would come from an X-Men book that I would actually enjoy, I would probably laugh and say "I thought Grant Morrison was quitting X-Men?"

Joss Whedon needs to apply for sainthood, because he has performed a miracle and gotten me to enjoy an X-Men book. And the moment I realized that it was actually good was the moment in Issue 5 of Astonishing X-Men when I read the conversation between Kitty Pryde and Peter Rasputin. Even more impressive, is the fact that he handled the resurrection in a very tasteful manner without totally destroying the memory of his death story; one of the few stories most agree was a good one in the last ten years. The series continues to promise good things through 2005 and… as hard as it is for me to say this… I can't wait to read the next Astonishing X-Men.

Funniest Read All Year:Conan #9

Usually this award goes to a book that is meant to be funny, but Conan has a humor all his own that Kurt Busiek has captured beautifully in the first year of the new Conan title. And nowhere was this humor better captured than in the issue "Two Nemedians Walk Into A Bar".

In this frame story, Conan is in a bar, enjoying a drink when he sees two thugs picking on a helpless merchant. He laughs and the would-be thieves ask if he has issues with their robbery. Conan's insulting response, that he enjoys seeing two puppies pretending to be wolves as they scare a chicken, provokes an easily won fight and then inspires Conan to play the bard as he tells everyone present his own humorous tale of true bravery. Where the story goes, I will not say here. Suffice to say, all ends happily for once with Conan having free drinks for the night, a wench on each arm and a whole night to tell more tales.

Best Team-Up:Spider-Man and Wolverine

Is there anything more dreadful than the editorially mandated team-up? What of the unwritten law that Wolverine and Spider-Man must have a cameo in every Marvel title at least once a year? And what happens when the two big-cash cows of Marvel Comics get together?

Usually, something awful. And yet, this year, two stories showed how the odd-couple of superheroism can actually work well in a non-contrived way. Robert Kirkman got the new Marvel Team Up off to a flying start with his team-up story involving Spidey and Wolvie dealing with the same problem (an X-gene positive student turned serial killer) for different angles and managed to make it suitable creepy and funny at the same time. Perfectly conveying the horror as Peter discovers the dead bodies in the house of the student he was trying to help and the humor as Spidey asks Wolverine for Nick Fury's phone number.

Funnier than this, but of no lesser quality was the story "Even We Don't Believe This" in Ultimate Spider-Man. In it, the Marvel Universe went 'Freaky Friday' as Wolverine and Spider-Man had their bodies swapped by an angry but later apologetic (to Spidey at least) Jean Grey. They may not be the world's finest team, but this year they were the most entertaining.

Best Make Over: Conan

Not really a make-over, but more of a rediscovery of a lost friend. Busiek's writing has resurrected Robert E. Howard's greatest character for the comic world and Cary Nord's art has captured the world's most famous barbarian in a way that will long stand aside masters like Frank Frazetta and Barry Windsor Smith.

Best Retro Tale:JSA: Strange Tales

A classic trip back to the Golden Age of comics, this is the best vintage JSA story since James Robinson's "The Golden Age". Centering around a supposedly benevolent man known as Lord Dynamo, the world's first superhero team must choose between the loss of their two heaviest hitters (Starman and Green Lantern) and the gaining of amazing new technologies to better mankind. All this, and a humorous yet oddly touching subplot where Johnny Thunder tries to become a pulp writer, and you have one fine bit of pulp writing.

The Worst of 2004

Most Likely To Cause Continuity Robots Heads To Explode:Marvel Knights: Spider-Man

I've written enough about this book in the past, so I'll just say "'Nuff Said"

The “What The Hell Just Happened?” Award: What If Charles Xavier & Magneto Had Created The X-Men Together

What if Magneto had a goatee? What if Kitty Pryde had blue hair? What if this story had any real difference than the regular X-Men universe? What if I had some idea of what was going on at any point in this book?

The “I Waited For This?!?!” Award: The Ultimates, Volume 2

They delayed it for a year so that Bryan Hitch would be sure to be on-time with the artwork and it was still late. And like Volume One, it still wasn't worth reading.

Worst Makeover of the Year: Ultimate Fantastic Four

There's a lot to be said for the philosophy that less is more. And Warren Ellis, the master of decompressed writing, proved that saying true as it took him six issues to do what Stan Lee did in a few pages: introduce Dr. Doom and establish him as a major threat. Woese, Doom is no longer the armor-clad master of science and magic but a teenager who got morphed into a metal-bodied, poison-breathing whinny little puss. Bah, says I to that.

The Worst Comic Of the Year Award: Green Arrow #44

Let me say something right at the start. I believe that controversial topics should be addressed in comics. I believe that comic books can be a great informational tool when used properly. That said, I cannot support what Judd Winick has done with Green Arrow. And it is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I have dropped Green Arrow from my subscription until such time as he is no longer writing the book, though I am one of the most devout Oliver Queen fans out there.

Why? Why do I think that this story was the worst one all year? For the simple reason that I do not think that it was written to educate. I do not think it was written to make a point. I think it was written only for the purpose of increasing the sales on a failing title and stirring up attention because there was no way the writer could think of to improve the quality of the title. So they went right for the easy way out.

I'll credit them with noble intentions, at least. But this is about the fourth time that Winick has milked the circumstances of his friend's life for details for a story. Pedro and Me was a very fine book. And Winick's "why gay-bashing is bad" stories in Green Lantern, while a bit preachy at times, had the decency not to hit the reader over the head with statistics.

That is what happens in the opening of this book, as Oliver Queen professes total ignorance as to what AIDS is. We then get into after-school special territory, as we are given a laundry list reading of everything you need to know to combat HIV. Ignoring the idea that Ollie "In Like Flynn" Queen could have gone through the past he did and the times he did without learning something about why sailors buy those special balloons, the rest of the issue seemed seriously stilted as well. And the ideas to come forth in future issues... including Mia becoming the new Speedy. Well, they just reek of an effort to create gimmicks to reel in the suckers rather than an effort to tell truly engaging stories.

The sad thing is that Mia was a great character and that she really came alive during the Kevin Smith run on the book. She was all but ignored by every writer afterwards. Including Winick, who kept her strictly in the background until this recent crisis. It seems that nobody really knew what to do with the girl who was there merely because underneath the heroism and bluster, what Oliver Queen wanted most was to be a father. A father with an unusual day job, sure. But still the dad who could come home and find the loving family waiting for him.

Of course all that has been shot to hell in the wake of the Winick run, but maybe we can get Gail Simone or someone to finally get Ollie to propose to Dinah as he was ready to do at the end of the Phil Hester run. Heck, bring Mike Grell back to do a Wedding Special and have Count Vertigo crash the thing. Anything to spare me another "very special issue" of Judd Winick's Green Arrow.

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

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