Monday, March 28, 2005

Looking To The Stars: The Week In Review

Since I actually got a considerable number of comics this week and since, due to a really heavy homework load, I’m off the reviews rotation for a while (gad, but I love Grad School around mid-terms) here’s some of my thoughts on a few of the books that came out this week. Little treat for those of you who can’t live without my reviews. (Don’t laugh. I got letters.)

Amazing Spider-Man #518

“Skin Deep” concludes as a mixed bag. While this book did offer the first positive thing I have seen come out of the idea of Spidey as an Avenger (I laughed-out-lout at the scene where Spidey asks Tony Stark if he can borrow some equipment and trash it…) it still reeks of a story built by editorial order right to the bitter, last-minute “surprise” ending. Still, the vibranium-covered villain was the most interesting of the baddies created by JMS and I hope he’ll get used again some day.

Final Score: 6 out of 10.

Conan #14

In recent memory, no writer and artist have come together to revive a defunct classic so well as this. Busiek and Nord have created a masterpiece worthy of the legacy set down by RE Howard. If you aren’t reading this book, there is something wrong with you.

Final Score: 10 out of 10.

Daredevil #71

Brian Michael Bendis continues to phone it in as, yet again, we get to see the same story repeated from a different viewpoint. While this was a novel idea the first time, it has been so long since anything has actually HAPPENED in this title that I’m totally lost as to how things stand NOW. The only thing that keeps me reading is the knowledge that Ed Brubacker will be taking it over soon enough. And yet, that’s not soon enough.

Final Score: 2 out of 10.

Hellblazer #206

A one-off issue from the current storyline that comes at the worst possible moment. After all the revelations of the last issue (John’s sister dead, his spectral ally being a demon he has a bad history with, etc…), the last thing we needed is an issue centering upon John’s sidekick Chas going on a wave of badness after enduring the corrupting influence of a demon for too long. Not that this story isn’t enjoyable on its’ own merits, but the timing is annoying as piss. Still, this is Carey writing so I’m sure this will all tie into the bigger story at the end.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

JLA Classified #5

BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA! That’s all I have to say.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Knights of the Dinner Table #101

We’re back to the on-going storylines with this issue and not a moment too soon. Joss Whedon fans may want to pick this one up as the Knights gaming group get into the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” role-playing game. It reminded me of my own group, with the one lone female player trying to talk everyone into it and then everyone slowly admitting that they not only watch Buffy, but enjoy it. Aside from that, the magazine delivers as always with a very amusing rant about the Starship Troopers movie and the works of Heinlein in relation to it and the other usual amusing columns for gamers and gaming-related matters. There’s a reason why this comic/magazine has lasted 100 issues. It will easily last 100 more.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Lullaby #1

Fan of Fables that I am, I just had to give this one a shot. Though initially turned-off by the Manga-esque artwork, it grew on me as I kept reading. The plot is a bit scattered at the moment, centering upon two people- a girl who is obviously Alice of Alice in Wonderland and a young man who seems to be Jack Hawkins of Treasure Island. Beyond that, it’s hard to say where this story is going but you can be sure I’ll be here to read the next chapter.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #3

Why is Dan Slott not writing a Spider-Man book on a regular basis?!?!

Expect to see that statement shouted by me, and a number of other critics, over the next year. For Slott has created the only Spider-Man title I can recommend to anyone without any reservations. In this issue, he not only shows his famed ability to write a fun story like no other (and what is more fun than the concept of a Spider-Mobile?) but he tackles some serious emotional moments, showing Spidey and the Ol’ Matchstick bonding through some talk about their lost loves. All this and some fruit-pies. Best book of the week.

Final Score: 10 out of 10.

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

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich

It’s my Spring Break this week, but I’ve hardly gotten a chance to “break”. Every class I’m taking requires a group project with other students and every leader of said projects had deadlines set for this week. Thankfully, I was able to get most everything finished early and freed up some time to do some writing for myself. At least, that was the plan before I got a package in the mail from Irrational Games.

Irrational Games? When did I order anything from them? And then I remembered that a few months ago I pre-ordered a copy of Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich on-line. Sure enough, that’s what was in the package. Good bye free time. Hello nostalgia!

The original Freedom Force game was an instant classic. It was the first successful superhero game made for the Personal Computer that wasn’t an adaptation of a console game based on a comic-book character. With a plot taken straight from the Silver Age of comic books and Kirby-esque artwork, the game drew upon the fine tapestry that is the American comic book and created a game that would go on to win numerous “Game of the Year” awards.

As such, Freedom Force vs The Third Reich has a high standard to live up to. Thankfully, the game appears to have met all expectations. More, it has created the rarest of all things; a sequel that can be enjoyed independent of the original work. Indeed, the game does open up with a movie retelling the origin the original game, for those who did not play the original Freedom Force.

The plot is worthy of Simon, Lee and Kirby. An alien overlord, intent on ruling Earth but bored with just sending in an invading army, comes up with an evil plan. Having observed humanity’s ability to devour itself, he decides to infect the most base and evil of them with Energy X – a potent force that enhances and bonds the natural properties of living beings to other substances. Another alien, who goes by the unlikely name of Mentor, learns of the plan and decides to counter it by introducing Energy X to the good and the virtuous. Though his ship is shot down and the Energy X scattered randomly (though most seems to land in Patriot City), a few of the beams do hit good people who are forever transformed into gaudy-costumed avengers of justice! And for those who missed the first game, the origin movies for all the original heroes can be viewed in the character profiles you can view between missions.

As the game opens, everyone is still mourning the loss of a teammate who sacrificed himself to save the universe. Much of the team has gone into semi-active duty, with only four members on permanent duty. They are quickly called into action by the CIA, as the super-powered Russian spy Nuclear Winter escapes from prison and steals the comatose body of The Timemaster; the time-traveling villain who was the major villain of the first game. After an active alert is put out to the rest of the team, Freedom Force heads to Cuba where Nuclear Winter plans to start WWIII with some stolen missiles. From there, we spin off into an adventure of epic proportions as Timemaster’s body is stolen again, by Nazis who send the power of Energy X into the past, where a trio of unsung mystery men fight against the newly super-powered ubermensch of the Third Reich.

Everyone from the original game is here and intact. The super-patriot Minute Man! The sea-dog superhero Man-O-War! The somehow-not-yet-inspiring-protests-by-the League of United Latin American Citizens El Diablo! But what about new characters? Oh, they are here. And every bit as gloriously stereotyped as before.

On the modern side, we have Green Genie, whose origin involving a young girl nearly forced into marriage by her father the Sheik, will likely inspire a letter writing campaign by the same people who found Aladdin offensive. Tombstone, who gained a variety of death-themed powers after being wrongly executed for the murder of his wife. Quetzalcotal, who manages the feat of being the first Mexican-American hero to make El Dorado from the Superfriends seem like a snappy dresser. And then there is The Bard; a scholar turned street-fighter empowered by the spirit of Shakespeare.

For the villains, the old-school axis of evil is represented by the telepathic Blitzkrieg; the fire-elemental controlling Japanese swordsmen known as The Red Sons; and the biggest villain ever… the opera-singing, pasta-pounding flying fatman known as Fortissimo!

On the side of the heroes in the past, we have Black Jack, a trick-card-carrying Brit; Tricolour, a rapier-wielding French woman; and Sky King, an American screen action-hero turned real-life Rocketeer.

Yes, this is all rather silly. But then again, anyone who complains about this game being silly is missing the point. The new characters don’t offer much in the way of serious attack-power and those who play to win will likely find themselves falling back on the old powerhouses from before But for those of us who can just have fun playing a girl whizzing around on a flying carpet, turning Nazis into vases of flowers, there’s a lot to be offered by the new characters.

The gameplay is largely unchanged from the first game, so old-pros will be able to jump right into the action again. For the newbies, prompting during the first few levels will get them up to speed quickly. The graphics are improved somewhat, but more in smoothness than in terms of quality. The game looks exactly the same as it did three years ago but doesn’t feel the least bit dated.

This is not to say that the game is not without its flaws. One downside is that the game does seem to have been rushed in some respects. Some of the characters (the “specials” from the original game and, for some reason, new hero “The Bard”) do not have origin movies, leaving us without the connection to our characters that a role-playing game such as this requires. There is also a lot of level-copying, with three instances where you control the same team replaying the same level under different circumstances due to a time warp.

Also, the game does suffer a bit from being a little flighty and ill-focused. Plot-threads are dropped involving the future marriage of two of the characters, a romance between Tricolour and the speedster Bullet and the trio of Golden Age heroes come forward in time, only to be ignored totally unless the player chooses to use them in the final battle. (Which, having just beaten the game this morning, I will tell you is a bad idea.)

Still, taken as a tribute to the days when such plot-threads were put forth and then quickly forgotten by writers rushing to meet a deadline and when one could put forth a character who drew power from the works of Shakespeare without being ironic, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich succeeds spectacularly.

I rate it an 8 out of 10 stars.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Fables #35 - A Review

Written by: Bill Willingham
Penciled by: David Hahn
Inked by: David Hahn
Colored by: Daniel Vozzo
Lettered by: Todd Klein
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

I love trickster tales. When I was a kid, I collected every book I could get on the tales of Coyote. Even now, as an adult working on a graduate degree in information science and technology, I still thrill to the tales of Anansi, Raven and Wolf. I even managed to justify writing a term paper upon Spider-Man as the greatest heroic trickster figure in modern literature. As such, I was looking forward to this arc in Fables which centers upon the granddaddy of all tricksters; Jack.

You ever hear of a Jack in a nursery rhyme or a story? This was him. Jack, who in the reality of Fables is a real, living person created by the general public’s belief in stories, has fled from Fabletown – the community in New York where most of the Fable-folk live. He headed for Hollywood with a small fortune, artfully stolen from the coffers of his former city. Once there, Jack began building a movie studio intent on creating the greatest epic of all time; his life story, as told by him, projected on the big screen in full Technicolor.

This is beyond pure egoism for Jack, though he is happy to see himself on screen. It is even beyond money and power, though he is quite happy to get that as well. Fame is an impossibility, as the rules of the fable-folk prohibit any of their number from doing anything that might inform the public of their existence. So Jack cannot play himself on screen or even act as head of the studio, employing an elaborate series of front-men and power-players to keep his own involvement hidden, though everyone in town knows the name of his alias: John Trick. Nonetheless, why does he play such a dangerous game when exposure is so close and death so certain, even for money and power and ego? The answers do come in the conclusion of this issue and while it looks like we won’t be seeing Jack for a while the door has been left wide open for more adventures down the road.

Would that the art this time were the equal of Bill Willingham’s story. David Hahn has been substituting for regular Artist Mark Buckingham for two issues and has proven to be as enjoyable a substitute as Miller Lite for a Guinness-drinker in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day. This is not to say that he is a bad artist. He is not, by any means. But the artwork here looks too clean and bright with not nearly enough shadows or shading. Daniel Vozzo’s colors don’t help, making the whole affair look like a more pastel-driven Mike Allred book, which really doesn’t work for Fables.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Strange Daze

Yet another slow comic week in Starmanland. I was actually worried about having something to write about this week. And then Johnny Babos had to go shoot his mouth off about a character very near and dear to my heart…

I’m surprisingly leaning towards getting this. While I am a huge Star Trek fan, I’ve never been a comic sci-fi fan. The possibility of learning more about Thanagar and Rann appeals to me.

Seeing Hawkman in this foreign sci-fi environment (I say foreign b/c in his revamp he really is all human not Thanagarian as I understand) also is appealing. I wonder how/if he’ll be accepted by Thanagar. I’d love to see Darkwing show up too.

I’m also intrigued about Kyle Rayner’s new role in the DCU – and hopefully a costume change is in the works for Kyle.

Adam Strange? The weak link of the bunch IMHO. What’s the appeal of this character? None.

Adam Strange? Weak link? No appeal? Blasphemer!

So who, I hear some of you ask… who is this Adam Strange guy? Doctor Strange’s cousin? Hugo Strange’s nephew? Hardly…

Adam Strange was an ordinary Earth archeologist who had discovered the legendary Inca city of Caramanga, where the Indians had hidden their vast treasure of gold during the Spanish conquest of Peru. The Incas, not quite as dead a tribe as was believed, did not appreciate Adam’s discovery of their secret. Adam ran from the restless natives until he came to a large chasm.

Having no other choice, Adam ran and threw himself across the pit. Midway through his leap, he was struck by a ray of light. The next thing he knew, he was facing a strange predatory animal in an even stranger world. He was rescued by a beautiful brunette in a large flying machine and taken to her city, Ranagar. It was there he was taught the language of this world by the use of a “menticizer” and found that his 25-foot leap had become a leap of 25 trillion miles to the planet Rann of the star system Alpha Centauri.

The girl was named Alanna and her father was Ranagar’s head scientist, Sardath. It was Sardath who was responsible for Adam’s teleportation, having hit him with a “Zeta Beam”. Originally built as a means of communication with Earth, the beam had been warped by cosmic radiation and had become a teleportation beam. It turned out later that Sardath was lying and that he was hoping to use the beam to find a mate for his daughter, one of the few Rannians who had not been made sterile by the radioactive wars.

Rann, once populated by a society obsessed with science, was a world destroyed by atomic war. Most of the planet’s population turned to barbarism, forming vast city-states that were in a constant state of war with each other. At the time of Adam’s arrival, some of the city-states (like Ranagar) were regaining the scientific progress of their ancestors and were learning to get along with each other. The Zeta beam’s effects would prove to be temporary and Adam would be teleported back to Earth. But Sardath would send out subsequent beams to return Adam to Rann. Equipped with a fire-proof uniform, a rocket-pack and a ray-gun, Adam would go on to be Ranagar and Rann’s greatest defender.

Adam Strange first appeared in 1958. It was shortly after the creation of the Comics Code and just two years after the creation of Barry Allen, The Silver Age Flash. He made his debut appearance in Showcase 17, written by Gardner Fox. Adam’s creation owed itself to a sudden need for more science-fiction stories in comics. With Sputnik launched and stories involving space travel showing increased sale. But like many characters created because of market forces, Adam would evolve into something more.
Adam got a regular feature following his appearances in Showcase. He took over Mysteries in Space as his personal title with No 52 in the August of 1959. Adam’s early stories were admittedly formulized, following the same standard pattern. Adam would rush to the spot where the Zeta beam would hit Earth, travel to Rann, deal with some kind of menace, and return to Earth when the Zeta beam wore off. In his defense, Fox was only allowed 10 pages per story and variations on the same basic concept was all he really had space to work with. It is a credit to Fox’s brilliance as a writer that despite this handicap he was able to make Adam Strange a success, gradually moving up to 15 and 25-page stories within a few years.

One such example of how he varied what might have become a quickly tired premise can be seen in how he would devote a whole page to showing Adam deal with the difficulties in getting to the exact spot of a beam hitting. He once bought ice cream for two boys who were sitting on the park bench he needed to sit on. One issue even showed Adam dealing with the problem of getting inside a mountain sitting on the contact point. It was little touches like this, added into the larger 15 and 25 page stories, which made Adam Strange DC’s premiere science fiction character and one of the most popular characters of the Silver Age revival. At that time, Adam was as widely recognized among comic fans as the Barry Allen Flash and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern.

Admittedly, Adam Strange has suffered from being “out-dated” according to many modern comics readers. They see some guy in a jet pack with a ray gun and dismiss him as dull and boring. And on that level, yes. Yes, the science and idea behind the character is silly. Yes, the whole tragedy of his being separated by the love of his life could easily be solved by Green Lantern giving him a ride to Rann. Yes, it is rather questionable that he would be able to breed with a Rannian woman in the first place. Yes, pretty much anyone could strap on his flight-suit and fire a ray gun and it’s a mystery why no Rannian man, sterile or no couldn’t protect the city of Ranagar. Yes, Adam Strange is just one more bit of nostalgia to be tossed on the trash heap with Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

Except for one thing. The thing that separates Adam Strange from all the other space-heroes. The thing which endeared him to me as a character. The one trait that, when written properly, makes him a character the equal of any other in the DC Universe. His mind.

Despite having a handy arsenal of sci-fi weaponry and equipment, Adam truly did believe that his brain was his best weapon and that he could use his smarts to defeat any enemy. Of course there is a chance that there is no place in the DC Universe for a hero who wins his fights not through power, but through smarts. Someone who, with careful planning, could take on any threat and survive. Maybe even fight the gods themselves…

Batman? Who is that?

John Constantine? Never hoid of him.

Many stories showed Adam doing the same things Batman does on a regular basis. But none captured the spirit of the character quite so well as what is considered to be the best Adam Strange story of all time; “The Planet that Came to a Standstill” (Mystery in Space No. 75).

In this story, a Justice League villain named Kanjar Ro comes to Rann, believing that the planet’s triple sun will give him powers akin to Superman. He is right and begins single-handedly defeating the Justice League members who had followed him to Rann. Even while they are having their butts handed to them, the League members comment about feeling sorry for “poor Adam Strange” who must stand by helplessly because he has no super powers.

We soon find, however, that Adam was not standing idle, but thinking. He reasons that if Superman can be weakened by pieces of his native Krypton, Kanjar Ro might be similarly weakened by metal from his home planet of Dhor. Adam threw a rod of Dhorite at him, and Kanjar Ro fell down, weakened by the presence of the metal. Where the pure power of the JLA had failed, Adam Strange’s quick thinking had saved the day. Admittedly, this is a rather Silver-Aged bit of logic. But by the logic of his world, it works.

Adam had many more adventures in the pages of Mysteries in Space, until Hawkman’s solo book was canceled and Mysteries in Space began to hold the adventures of both heroes. Gradually, Adam’s space began to shrink as more and more pages were allotted to the more popular Hawkman. Eventually, Hawkman was given his own book again and Fox as well as the artists and editor of Mysteries in Space left the title to do the new Hawk book. Adam was left in the hands of writer Lee Ellis and editor Jack Schiff, neither of whom cared for the hero of Rann as Gardner Fox did. After 10 more issues, Adam Strange was dropped from the title. Not wanting to see his creation die off, Fox put Adam Strange in a guest spot in Hawkman, thus tying up the loose ends left in the storyline by Schiff and Elli’s abrupt dropping of Adam from their book.

Many attempts were made to revive Adam Strange. The first attempt came after Strange Adventures, recently canceled after a disastrous Deadman run, was reformatted to feature science fiction stories. The lead feature of the revived Strange Tales, was appropriately enough given the title, reprinted Adam Strange stories. The reprints proved successful and the famed team of Denny O’Neil, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson was given permission to start a new series. Sadly, while O’Neil, Kane and Anderson had breathed new life into Batman and received critical acclaim for their Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, they did not have the same love for Adam Strange. O’Neil wrote Adam out of character and Kane’s pencils were said to be too loose and sloppy. A later attempt was made in a “picture book” style. It too did poorly.

Some measure of closure was finally brought to Adam Strange’s story in 1975 when, in a two part JLA story, he finally married Alanna. But the character was ignored for the most-part during the 1980s, save for a few cameos during major events and an appearance in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing where it was revealed that Alanna was pregnant. The 1990 mini-series, recently collected in trade-paperback format for reasons nobody understands, is best ignored. Not only because of its poor quality but because everything in it (the death of Alanna, the madness of Sardath, Ranagar being launched into space, Adam being hated by the people he protects) has been undone by other, better writers since then. And oddly enough, all the stories that show the value of Adam Strange in a character in a modern DC Universe have all been collected in one trade-paperback or another.

Green Lantern #74-75 – Reprinted in Green Lantern: Baptism By Fire

Adam is one of several heroes on-hand for a last-stand effort by the Darkstars to stop the rampage of Grayven. While the highlight of the issue is Kyle Rayner single-handedly stopping the destruction of the city of Ranagar, this issue serves as an excellent primer to the character and world of Adam Strange.

JLA #21 – Reprinted in JLA: Strength in Numbers

In two issues, Mark Waid managed to turn-around most of the problems with Adam Strange and restore it to what it was before. It turned out that Alanna was not dead, but in a deep coma-like state that Rannian medicine was unfamiliar with. Sardath took Alanna to the En’Tarans; a telepathic race of conquerors well known for being skilled physicians. They were able to cure Alanna but tricked Adam into teleporting an invasion party of the aliens onto Rann on Sardath’s orders. With his wife and father-in-law held hostage, Adam quickly promised to deliver the En’Taran’s more than just Rann. Setting the people of the city to work “rebuilding its’ former glory” (a legitimate concern following the battle with Grayven), Adam used the Zeta Beam to kidnap the JLA and set them to work aiding in the construction. Held in check by the En’Taran’s telepathic might, the JLA was powerless to fight back.

Thankfully, it turned their old ally had not crossed over completely to the side of darkness. He had instead embarked upon a bold plan, using the landmarks of Ranagar to create the largest Zeta Beam ever; large enough to send the En’Tarans entire fleet far away. But his salvation of his homeworld came at a high price; for the ray to work, it needed a source of Zeta radiation… and the only ready source available was Adam Strange’s own body. When the ray fired, his body was cleansed of the Zeta energy and he teleported immediately back to Earth, once again dependent on running to catch the next beam. One of the best moments during Waid’s tenure on JLA came at the end of this issue, with a saddened Adam Strange looking up to the stars with tears in his eyes. And then being joined by a silent Martian Manhunter; another hero who well knows what it is to lose a daughter and a wife and how it feels to be apart from his own world.

Starman #52-53- Reprinted in Starman: A Starry Knight

The first Adam Strange story since Waid’s retcon of the past 20 years, James Robinson laid the groundwork for the portrayal of Adam Strange currently used by Andy Diggle in the current Adam Strange mini-series. Adam was now written as a man of action in the Indian Jones vein of adventurer; an intelligent man who could turn to violence if needed, but who always preferred battles of wits to battles of fists.

As you can see, Adam has a lot of potential as a character and can inspired some great stories when properly written. With the upcoming Rann/Thanagar mini-series, we can only hope that Adam will finally get some much deserved respect from the fandom community that has ignored or insulted him for so long.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Old And Peculiar

It's funny how on the slowest comic week in some time, I wind up spending $50 dollars at the comic shop. Of course there was a logical reason for it.

I finally got a special order I made. And just in time for St. Patrick's Day too. It was a green-and-white Family Guy t-shirt that reads "I'm not drunk. I'm just wicked tired from staying up all night drinking." There's $17 right there.

And then in addition to the $8 for my regular comics (most of which you can read reviews for today), another $13 went for a very special item. A comic adaptation of my favorite Neil Gaiman short story of all time. A little story called Shoggoth's Old Peculiar.

Shoggoth's is a simple story, about a young man from Texas on vacation. For reasons which were a lot more apparent before he got there, he decided to go on a hiking tour of the English seaside. He happens into a small town called Innsmouth and... well, at this point those of you who are fans of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft are laughing knowingly.

Innsmouth is the name of the town where many of Lovecraft's infamous Cthulhu stories took place. This is, we find out from two of the locals our hero meets in the local pub, the Innsmouth for which THAT Innsmouth was named. They then proceed to complain about Lovecraft's writing, his use of adjectives and how he got everything wrong. After that... well, that would be telling. Suffice to say it is quite amusing for all fans of British humor and Lovecraft.

Everyone has the stories they love even if they aren't the best thing every written, simply because something in that story appeals to us. That's how I feel about the original Shoggoth's. It's not the best thing Neil Gaiman ever wrote by a long shot, but it is by no means a bad story. And I've mentioned the story to other Gaiman aficionados as my favorite, much to their disdain. It isn't serious enough. The whole thing reads like a bad attempt at a Monty Python skit written by gamer fanboys. And there's no cute goth chicks!

I don't care. Even if this edition cost me more than the original Smoke and Mirrors book I first read the story in, I don't care. Even if it is a novella with illustrations instead of the comic I expected, I don't care. Even though the wood-cut like illustrations are not the best I've ever seen and the best illustration is the one on the cover that looks like the eyes of Cthulhu or two pints of bitter viewed from above. I still don't care. It was worth every one of my $13 of $50 dollars.

Another eight of the fifty dollars were due to a double-size Knights of the Dinner Table #100 which was worth every penny. The issue is a milestone, in all senses of the word. Not only is the issue special in that it is the hundredth issue of the longest-running gamer comic in the world, it is the first to be printed on magazine-quality paper. It also has some of its' features printed in color for the first time.

Best of all, new readers can pick this one up with no worries of having to keep up with a storyline. All the on-going stories, with the exception of one, have been put on hold. And even the one on-going story...role-player Bob and his girlfriend Shelia trying to teach Bob's niece and nephew about gaming... is easily accessible to new readers.

Finally, a shout out for a comic that didn't cost me anything but was still one of the best reads all week. Though the comic has come to an end, author Aeire of Queen of Wands is now publishing the comic seven days a week, doing a director's commentary on the stories behind each individual strip from beginning to end. If you missed out on this comic the first time, do yourself a favor and check it out now.

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

Hellblazer Special: Papa Midnite #2 - A Review

Written by: Mat Johnson
Pencils by: Tony Akins
Inks by: Dan Green
Colored by: Brian Miller
Lettering by: Phil Balsman
Editor: Jonathan Vankin
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

There are two ways to view this comic. Neither of them are very good.

As a Hellblazer fan, I had to wonder “why him?” when I first heard about this series. Papa Midnite, while an interesting character, is a relatively minor one in Hellblazer mythology. He showed up in the first story arc when the book started and then disappeared until some years later during the Garth Ennis run on the book. There, he played the villain for one brief story and then died a rather messy death.

Then I saw the Constantine movie, where there was a character named Papa Midnite totally unrelated to the one from the comics except for his name and the fact that were both Voodoo priests they both ran nightclubs. The film Midnite was highly concerned about remaining neutral and appeared on friendly terms with Constantine. In the comics, Midnite was very definitely a bad guy who kept zombies, trafficked in illegal activities and only helped John Constantine in one situation because his own life was in danger.

The performance by Djimon Hounsou was one of the few highpoints of the Constantine film. And it would not surprise me to learn that the impetus behind this comic was that some suit at Warner Brothers saw the movie and said “Hey! Let’s have the boys in comics do something about this guy!”
That’s the main problem we have with this series. It is devoted to a minor character that has been dead for over ten years in the comics and has not gotten so much as a mention or a second glance since. The entire reason for it to exist seems to be due to orders from on high. Perhaps this explains why the Midnite we see here has little relation to the one from the comics.

While favoring the white tux and top hat that was a favorite of the original Midnite, the Midnite in this book is much thinner than the Michael Clarke Duncan figure that dominated the early Hellblazer stories. And the plot of the story, wherein Midnite has visions of his past while being lead by a specter seeking revenge, shows the death of Midnite’s only sister. Which would be fine, had the death of Midnite’s sister not already been covered in solid detail in his past story.

That is one way of viewing this story: as a fan of the old Hellblazer books. But what if we ignore what has come before and take this story as its’ own animal? As a new creation, free from the confines of continuity?

Sadly, it fairs little better viewed in this light. The story itself is rather dull, with most of the story told in flashback to Midnite’s apparent days as a slave on a Caribbean island in revolt. There is something with two modern thugs trailing Midnite as he “dreamwalks” but it’s all rather standard. The art is similarly lackluster, with swords being thrust through bodies bloodlessly and proportions changing with every panel.

Rising Stars #24 - A Review

On this, the final issue, all I can think is “it’s finally over”. I can quit wondering. The bad kind of wondering. Not “What will happen in the next issue?” but “When will the next issue come out?”

The delay has killed what was once one of my favorite titles. And it ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. Actually, the series DOES end with a literal bang and I will give JMS credit for a surprising ending that does conclude the series well. But it is too little, too late. The damage is done. And I don’t know yet if I will ever be able to read this whole series and take in all the good parts of it again without thinking about the lateness.

I support JMS 100% in the problems that caused this book to be so late. I understand them, but I am still saddened by them. Maybe in time I can review the series as a whole objectively. Maybe.

As it is, the comic stirs no strong emotions in me. Joy. Despair. All I can feel right now is relief that it is over and that it ended with all of its story concluded. There are no plotlines left unexplored. No loose ends left untied. The story ends well. The art is competent. But… that is it.

Take what I say with that grain of salt in mind. If you’re a fan of the series, go and read everything from the first issue and read up to this. This series has always read better as a trade or in its novel format than as a monthly title, even before it started having problems coming out on time. If you aren’t a fan of the series, go pick up Vol. 1 of the trades and see if you want to read on to this point.