Monday, May 30, 2005

Looking To The Stars: One Ring To Confuse Them All: 2005.5 Edition

With Green Lantern: Rebirth concluded, a new Green Lantern series begun and with a lot of changes to the Green Lantern Mythos made, it seems that it is time for me to once again update one of the most popular features I’ve ever written: a guide to the little differences in the various Green Lantern rings. Particularly since it now seems the rings are not as different as we thought.

For the purposes of simplicity, the “different” rings shall be discussed using these four qualifying terms: Alpha Ring, Beta Ring and Omega Ring. A new section, describing the state of the ring now, Delta Ring, has been added to explain how the rings function in the wake of Green Lantern: Rebirth. Definitions follow.

Alpha Ring – Standard GL Corps. Ring

Description: The ring created by the Guardians of the Universe to serve as a weapon and tool for their Green Lantern Corps.

Power Source: The Central Power Battery on the Guardian’s home planet of Oa.

Weaknesses: The ring must be recharged every 24 hours. Also, the ring is unable to affect any object that is yellow or beings with yellow skin pigmentation. This weakness was reportedly programmed into the Central Power Battery itself, but the Guardians were not completely honest about the nature of the impurity. For more details upon this, see the Q&A following the ring definitions.

Powers of the Ring: The ring nominally allows the bearer to do anything, given sufficient willpower to accomplish it. The ring has a number or programmed safeguards that keep it from being used for certain tasks (such as killing) but these can be overridden by a Green Lantern with exceptional willpower or a mind that does not function in a normal way. Classified examples of standard ring uses are…

* Energy Object Creation and Manipulation
* Flight
* Limited Healing
* Protective Shields
* Space Travel (Produces whatever gases and temperature the bearer needs to breathe and live)
* Universal Translator
* Invisibility
* Astral Projection (through an energy double of the bearer)
* Mind Tampering
* Communication Device (with standard transmission devices or other Green Lantern rings)
* Remote Control of Ring
* Ring Duplication
* Ring AI/Database – Ring allows bearer to access information from the Central Power Battery on Oa, similar to a series of networked computers and a file server.
* Protection from Mortal Harm/ Life Support – An energy reserve in the ring allows it to protect its’ bearer from surprise attacks. Additionally, this charge can be used to sustain a Green Lantern if knocked unconscious in the void of space until help can be summoned. This charge has proven strong enough in the past as to prevent a Green Lantern from dying for many years.

Beta Ring – Alan Scott’s Ring

Description: Fashioned from the lantern of deceased Green Lantern Yalan Gur and bonded to the chaotic magical energy of the colossal gem known as The Starheart, train engineer Alan Scott survived a fatal wreck thanks to the magic of the lantern, Carving a ring from it, Alan used its’ magic to fight evil as The Green Lantern during WWII and into the present day.

While its’ powers and origin have changed slightly over the years, Alan Scott’s ring has always been treated as a magical artifact while the other GL rings have been products of science and advanced alien technology. A link to the original Green Lanterns was forged in Green Lantern #19 (2nd series), when it was revealed that rather than being forged from a piece of the magical Starheart itself, Alan Scott’s lantern was an old GL Lantern, lain dormant after the death of its’ owner, Yalan Gur.

Yalan Gur was the subject of an experiment by the Guardians to see if their best and brightest could handle the strain of omnipotence. It was revealed in this story that the yellow weakness of the Green Lantern rings was a programmed flaw, which was meant to push the Corps to greater versatility as well as insuring the Guardians had a way to deal with those who rebelled.

Gur, however, fell to the temptation of limitless power and became a despot in Ancient China. He was defeated after the Guardians programmed a new weakness into his battery, which made him vulnerable to the wooden weapons of the peasants he was ruling.

This dead battery was later charged and taken over by the Starheart; a gigantic gem made up of all the wild chaotic magic from the beginning of the universe, which the Guardians gathered up as part of their efforts to make the universe more organized.

Of course this story may be out of continuity now. It did occur before Zero Hour (which could have effectively removed this story from continuity) and recent events suggest that the idea of the yellow weakness being programmed by the Guardians is totally inaccurate.

Power Source: The Starheart; a gem made of pure chaos magic, created by The Guardians.

Weaknesses: The ring must be recharged every 24 hours. Also, the ring is unable to affect any object that is made of wood.

Powers of the Ring: Like the Alpha Ring, Alan Scott could use his ring to do anything he willed. However, since his ring was not “programmed” by the Guardians, it lacked some of the powers and the limits of the Alpha Ring. There was nothing, for example, to stop Alan Scott from killing aside from his own moral code. Alan Scott lamented this fact and spoke in one story about how he had the power to wish for every person in the world to become a decent human being, but how denying people the choice for good and evil would be more evil than the crimes he sought to stop. Regardless, aside from his time as The Sentinel when Alan Scott seemed to be a magician on par with Dr. Fate, Scott had shown the following abilities as a Green Lantern:

* Energy Object Creation and Manipulation
* Flight
* Healing
* Protective Shields
* Space Travel
* Universal Translator
* Invisibility
* Astral Projection
* Mind Tampering – Alan has never said how he knows the ring can do this, but he has referred to avoiding using said power.

Omega Ring -Kyle Rayner’s Ring, Pre-Rebirth

Description: Forged from the broken remains of the ring of rogue Green Lantern Hal Jordan, all but one of the Guardians gave their life force to create a new Green Lantern ring. The last Guardian, Ganthet, went to Earth to try and convince the former Green Lantern Guy Gardner to use this ring and to stand against Hal, who was now wielding all the energy of the Central Power Battery. Gardner refused, saying he did not want to bail out the Guardians now that they realized he was the better man. With not much time left, Ganthet was forced to give the ring to an untested youth and unlikely hero- an artist named Kyle Rayner, in the hopes that his strong imagination would prove able to weave around Jordan’s strong will.

Power Source: Lacking a connection to The Central Power Battery, Kyle’s battery originally drew power directly from “The Source”; a cosmic energy field responsible for creating The New Gods and empowering certain other energy fields throughout he universe.

With the Central Power Battery reforged and repowered as of Green Lantern #150 and the “Legacy: The Last Will And Testament of Hal Jordan” graphic novel, it appeared from that time afterward that Kyle’s battery as well as that of John Stewart, were drawing their power from the new Central Power Battery.

Weaknesses: Unlike the Alpha Rings, the Omega Ring was not originally connected to the Central Power Battery of Oa. As such, it lacked access to the information databases the Alpha Ring drew upon and was unable to communicate with the other, now dormant, Green Lantern rings across the universe. Still, the Omega Ring made up for these flaws in two important respects.

First, it lacked the yellow weakness of the Alpha Rings. The exact reasons for this would be explained in Green Lantern: Rebirth but for years it was assumed that without the Central Power Battery, there was nothing to impose limits on the direct source of the Green Lantern power.

Second, unlike the Alpha Ring, the Omega Ring did not need to be recharged on a daily basis. The Omega Ring functioned as a normal power tool; being able to lie unused for days, slowly draining its’ supply until recharged.

Powers of the Ring: At first appearance, the Omega Ring lacked many of the powers of the Alpha Ring. While Kyle Rayner would later gain some of the powers as he became more experienced in using the ring, he started out very limited in terms of ability, though unhindered by the yellow weakness and 24 hour time time-limit of previous Lanterns. Indeed, Kyle only displayed three powers in his first outing as Green Lantern…

* Energy Object Creation and Manipulation
* Flight
* Protective Shields

Despite this shaky start, Kyle did wind up developing nearly ALL of the powers of the Alpha Ring. This suggests that Kyle’s low power levels were more the result of ignorance and a lack of training than any limit within the ring itself. Consider the list of Alpha Ring powers and how many of them Kyle later used…

Limited Healing – In JLA #17, Kyle says he can use his ring to heal a bullet wound after being shot. In Green Lantern: Rebirth #2, his internal dialogue explains how he could use the ring to make stitches to sew together a cut. Also, having this power would explain his quick recovery from other various injuries he picked up in the line of fire that would have required explanation to those not aware of his secret identity.

Space Travel/ Life Support – Too many examples to count them all, but the first time was in the wake of the destruction of the Planet Oa in GL #0

Universal Translator – Very likely the first time he did this was in Green Lantern #56, when Kyle makes his first contact with an alien world. There have been countless examples since then, unless Kyle has been very lucky about finding aliens who either knew English or had their own translation devices.

Invisibility – Kyle used the ring to mask his presence in GL #154, as he confronted the man responsible for beating his friend Terry Berg in prison.

Astral Projection – JLA #15, where an energy projection of Kyle’s face was able to deliver a warning to Superman from some distance away. Also, in last GL #174, Kyle communicated with the rest of his Corps with an energy projection of his thoughts.

Mind Tampering – Used by Hal sparingly to erase memories in Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II, Kyle has never used this ability despite experimenting with telepathic abilities during his time as Ion.

Communication Device – See countless JLA issues where Kyle stays in touch with the team without an apparent separate communicator.

Remote Control of Ring – GL #124. Kyle summons his ring to his hand as he is being chased by the Controllers’ Effigy squad. He has since then programmed his ring so that it will always return to his hand if it is forcibly taken from him.

Ring Duplication – This power has never been demonstrated and, apparently, is impossible with an Omega Ring. Kyle used the Alpha Ring given to him by a young Hal Jordan after the events of “Emerald Knights” (Green Lantern 100-106) to create rings for the new GL Corps that he was creating in The New Corps (2-part special miniseries) and had to take one spare Alpha Ring Copy as a master in edition to his own Omega Ring. Ring Duplication is apparently impossible, as we can assume that Kyle would have at least tried to make a copy of his own ring just for the sake of trying after the events of Emerald Knights. Or can we? Kyle may have just assumed his ring was too different to have ever tried it.

Ring AI/Database – Never demonstrated, but with the lack of the Central Battery “Hub”, this makes sense.

Protection from Mortal Harm/ Life Support – This emergency power supply is apparently missing from the Omega Ring, as great play was made of this in GL #100, where Kyle and a young Hal Jordan switch rings when fighting Sinestro, so as to catch the villain off-guard. Considering how many times Kyle has been fatally wounded and nearly killed (his being sniped by an assassin in GL #120, to give one example), it would seem likely he doesn’t have this power.

Going through this list, we see only two powers that Kyle has not demonstrated directly in some capacity before Green Lantern: Rebirth; a ring AI and an Emergency Power supply. Kyle created an Emergency Power Supply of sorts for the ring in GL #150. As of Green Lantern Secret Files 2005, Kyle’s ring has developed an AI.

This suggests that Kyle’s ring has been changed to become a Standard Alpha Ring, further suggesting that the only true difference between Kyle’s Omega Ring and the Alpha Rings was the lack of two features, caused by the lack of the Central Power Battery. This means that only three things now separate the Omega Ring from the Alpha Ring, assuming these features have not been removed following the Guardians reprogramming of Kyle’s ring.

1. DNA Lock – The Omega ring only works for Kyle Rayner, a member of his family (one of Kyle’s descendants used the ring in the future) and, because it was his ring for many years and it still holds a “memory” of him, Hal Jordan. Reportedly, Kyle can will the ring to function for other people as well.

2. Emergency Energy Supply – In GL #150, Kyle programmed his ring so that it would always have a small reserve of energy. The ring would still need to be recharged to be at full power, but the ring could never really run out of energy. This could be tied into the reconstruction of the Central Power Battery and be considered a substitute for the Protection From Mortal Harm energy reserve.

3. Boomerang Effect – Kyle programmed his ring in GL #150 so that it can never be taken from him by force. While a bit redundant when he can just pull the ring back to his hand at will, this makes the process automatic and would protect Kyle from having his ring stolen by a mind-controlling enemy.

Delta Ring – All Green Lantern Rings, Post-Rebirth

Description: As of Green Lantern #1, it seems that all GL Rings have reverted back to their original Alpha Ring state in most respects. It has yet to be seen if some of the features of the Omega Ring (DNA lock, etc) have been added into all of the rings or if they have been removed outright.

Power Source: All Green Lantern rings now draw energy from the new Central Power Battery on the planet Oa. It has been revealed that rather than drawing off “The Source” itself, the Guardians actually harvest the collected willpower of every being in the universe as a power source. The Central Power Battery collects and harnesses this power and turns it into a tangible energy that manifests itself on the emotional prism as green light.

Weaknesses: It was revealed in Rebirth that the reason for the Green Lantern’s famed weakness against yellow was due to another purpose for the Central Power Battery. In addition to collecting the willpower of all intelligent life in the universe, it also acted as a prison for a being called Parallax. Parallax was a monster made up of pure fear, who fed off the fears of other beings. The Guardians imprisoned Parallax during their early efforts at organizing the universe and found that their battery made an effective prison. Nearly perfect in fact, save that Parallax was still able to influence the energy holding him, making it ineffective against the color of fear- yellow.

With Parallax imprisoned again in the new power battery, it appears that the Green Lanterns once again have a weakness to yellow. However, it also seems that this weakness can be overcome by Green Lanterns of sufficient experience and willpower. In Green Lantern #1, Hal Jordan and John Stewart are able to slice through a spaceship of yellow-metal by allowing themselves to feel fear and then overcoming it.

The Delta rings also appear to function as per the Omega ring in regards to recharging. The new rings are able to give an estimated amount of how much charge remains inside them (as of Green Lantern #1), suggesting that they now act like a standard power tool rather than as a limitless abyss of power for a limited time.

Powers of the Ring: Thus far, the Delta Rings appear to have all the same powers as the Alpha Ring.

Questions and Answers

Q: How many Green Lanterns are there now and where did their rings come from?

A: Ignoring Alan Scott (who is not officially part of the Green Lantern Corps) there are five active Green Lanterns with active rings. The rings came from the following sources…

Hal Jordan: Delta Ring; copy of his original ring, given to best friend Oliver Queen.

John Stewart: Delta Ring; given to Kyle Rayner by Batman. Presumed by some scholars to be retrieved from Anarky, who stole the ring from Jade, who got it from Kyle Rayner, who got it from a time-displaced Hal Jordan.

Guy Garder: Delta Ring; copied from Hal Jordan’s current ring.

Kyle Rayner: Delta Ring; his original Omega ring modified to function as a standard Alpha Ring, possibly with some added features.

Kilowog: Delta Ring, forged new by The Guardians.

Q: How exactly did the Yellow Impurity work and what does it have to do with Parallax?

A: As mentioned earlier, Parallax was a being made up of pure fear who lived off the fears of others. The Guardians imprisoned Parallax inside The Central Power Battery on Oa, hoping that the Battery, which collected the willpower of every being in the universe would be strong enough to contain Parallax.

While the prison was strong enough to hold Parallax’s physical form in check, Parallax was still able to make his presence felt through the energy released from the battery. The Rings the Guardians had fashioned to channel this energy proved inefficient against yellow- the color on the emotional spectrum that Parallax drew energy from. In order to counteract the risk that Parallax might influence their agents, The Guardians required all members of their Green Lantern Corps to be completely fearless.

This would nearly prove to the the Corps downfall, as Parallax was eventually able to find a way to influence the Lanterns through their rings without praying on their fears. Their total fearlessness left them unable to feel Parallax’s subtle influence and gave him free reign over their minds and bodies. Only Kyle Rayner, who had become a Green Lantern without being tested for fearlessness, felt another presence trying to influence his mind. It was he who discovered Parallax’s long-forgotten origins and determined that Parallax could be overcome by recognizing the feeling of fear and then working past them.

All of Hal Jordan’s acts as “Parallax” during Zero Hour and up until Final Night, are colored by Parallax’s influence, having fully taken over Hal’s mind during the moment of great stress brought about by the destruction of his hometown.

Q: Does this mean Hal has been totally absolved of his actions?

A: Far from it. Hal still blames himself for falling prey to Parallax, though the rest of the Corps. seems to have been quick to forgive him as have most of his old friends in the superhero community. Some, like Batman, are still unconvinced that Hal was being influenced and are watching him carefully.

Q: How well does the “Hal as Parallax” possessed story stand up to past stories?

A: Pretty well, actually.

In Zero Hour, Hal/Parallax was working toward a goal of using the Guardians’ power to reboot time and rebuild the universe. While Hal stated he wanted to make a universe free of pain, Parallax could have used the opportunity to create a universe where fear ruled supreme.

Most of the stories between Zero Hour and Final Night showed that Hal was regaining some small measure of his sanity back and was more concerned with righting wrongs than in continuing his big master plan. Even his actions in Final Night, sacrificing himself to save the world, suggest that Hal was resisting Parallax’s influence except when under great stress, such as in the heat of battle.

Q: What’s all this about Kyle’s role in Rebirth being pre-ordained?

A: In JLA #23, Kyle was told by Dream of the Endless that he would one day surpass Hal Jordan because of the one thing he knew that Hal did not: fear. This came to pass in Rebirth, as Kyle was the only Green Lantern to feel Parallax’s influence through the ring, by the simple fact that Kyle knew what it was to be afraid and resist fear.

Q: What is the status of Hal’s secret identity?

A: In Green Lantern #1, it is suggested that Hal has been presumed dead for the few years since Coast City. Ditto the Green Lantern who used to watch over Coast City. As such, it seems that Hal’s secret identity is still a secret.

Q: I thought Hal had been outed to the world at large as a killer and a murderer?

A: This point is a bit unclear and might be glossed over were all the references to this point not a part of some key Green Lantern stories.

In the Parallax special during The Final Night, Hal spoke with his old mechanic and sidekick Tom Kalmaku, who was working on a book about Hal’s life and that it would remind everyone of the hero he really was. Tom made reference to not believing a word that was said about what he had done.

Later, in Legacy: The Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan it was suggested that he couldn’t find a buyer for the book because everyone he showed it to wanted a trashy tell-all about a fallen hero and not a story of true heroism Tom had written.

One way around this might be to suggest that Tom, who was drunk during the time of his ranting about the book, had not actually submitted the book to any publishers but was more upset about how one of his closest friends and a man he had admired had turned out to be everything that everyone said he is and he was worried more about what would be asked of him in telling his story. As for “what he heard”, it is more than likely some of the superhero community would have contacted Tom after “Zero Hour”, warning him to contact them should Hal ever come back to talk to him.

Q: Is this kind of thing par for the course for DC Comics resurrections?

A: Well, Carter Hall came back from the dead without ever having really died. Superman is a big question mark. And Oliver Queen is quite nicely managing a secret identity now despite having been a federally hunted fugitive, operating several years in Seattle without a real secret identity and having his name and picture splashed across the cover of the Daily Planet as a hero for giving his life to save Metropolis. So… yes.

Any more questions? You know how to e-mail me. And I’m sure there’s a few questions about Green Lantern I have yet to answer…

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

Monday, May 23, 2005

Looking To The Stars: My Beginning and Probable End.

The world seems to have gone topsy-turvy this week. George Lucas is making good movies again and Geoff Johns made a whopping-big continuity error. And while this was going on, I was briefly on the verge of resigning my position with this magazine.

Let’s tackle those positions in reverse order, shall we?

I first signed on with Comics Nexus back before it was 411 Mania, back when it was still a branch of 411wrestling. It was January of 2003. Also in January 2003, I began graduate school, working towards a Masters Degree in Information Sciences and Technologies. Over the next two years, my focus switched from webpage design to general studies and professional storytelling. And now, this summer, I am but one class, one thesis and 120 hours of field experience away from getting my degree.

Since I already work five days, full time, all of this work is going to take up a lot of what little spare time I have. Things have been hectic enough these past few weeks just getting all of this prepared. Indeed, you may have noticed my last few columns have been a bit shorter than usual. This will be the status quo for quite some time in the next few weeks. I say this as a warning, so that if I have to take a sudden leave of absence, it will be less of a shock.

I will try to get a new column out every week. It may be a bit shorter than usual, but it will be there. If I cannot get one out every week, there will be one every two weeks. And rest assured, if I get nothing else done before August 13 (my eventual graduation day, if all goes well), I will at least cover every single superhero, comic-book or sci-fi/fantasy related movie that comes out between now and then.

I thank you all for your letters of support and your continued fandom. Your letters and discussions over these past few years mean more than you know.

Now that this has been said, let’s get on to the fun business!


First of all, if you have not seen Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith yet, do so with all speed. Yes, I know the last two were less than enjoyable in comparison to the Holy Trilogy. But this one not only redeems those two films- it equals the original three. And for those of you worried about it, Jar Jar DOES appear in the movie, but he does not speak.

The forced comedic moments are few and far between, limited to some slap-stick with R2-D2. The order of the day with this film is drama. Serious, dark, mature drama. The PG-13 rating is seriously justified, so leave the kids at home for this one.


Finally, this business about Geoff Johns- the master of DC Comics history – making a continuity mistake. It pains me to be the one to point this out. I have been a fan of Johns’ work since the original Star-Spangled-Kid series. But since this involves Green Lantern, which is nearer and dearer to my heart than even Johns writing, I must say this now.

I was going to address this in the latest revision of my now famous and much acclaimed Nit-Pickers Guide To Green Lantern, as I bring it up to date with the new information brought up in Green Lantern: Rebirth. But since I already had people asking about this, both in e-mail AND at my place of business… well, let’s just see the question as put by one of my comic shop regulars.

In the latest Green Lantern: Secret Files, there’s a short story showing Kyle Rayner being totally unable to understand an alien language and then being shocked when his ring speaks and starts translating the languages. Hasn’t Kyle been able to use his ring to translate alien languages before?

If he hasn’t, Kyle has been very lucky about always running into aliens who could speak English or had some other translation device of their own handy.

The best explanation I can give for this is Kyle’s exact dialogue in the scene.

“You can translate? And speak? I thought only John’s ring could…”

The fact that he lists both in this order suggests that he is more astonished by his ring talking (which it has never done before) and that when he says only John’s ring can do this, he is referring to the ring speaking. Not the translation function. It has been well established by this point that Kyle’s ring never had the connection to the Central Power Battery that the older rings did. With the Guardians back in power and the Central Power Battery rebuilt, it would seem that the old AI spreading information through the rings using the Central Power Battery as a network hub is back up and running.

As to how to explain Kyle being amazed by why his ring can translate alien languages being spoken to him, I can think of three explanations. None of which are very satisfying.

1. Every time Kyle met an alien before, they either spoke English or had a translation device of their own that allowed them to be understood as well as understand other languages.
2. The power worked automatically before. Kyle was just too dense to wonder why everyone seemed to understand him.
3. Geoff Johns made his very first mistake.

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

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Make Mine NOT Marvel

It’s been a long time in coming, but this week I finally did it. I removed all the Marvel Comics from my subscription. This decision was not made lightly, nor was it made completely without pain. But the sad fact is that my expenses are going to be very tight this summer as I enter my final semester of Graduate school and SOMETHING had to go. And that something was, I decided, the company that made up a mere four books on the list of twenty titles I read every month.

Why Marvel? Why now? Well, to be honest most of the books I have been reading either no longer thrill me as much as they used to or have become outright unreadable. Also, I came to a realization regarding the current tide at Marvel that also made this decision a lot easier. But first things first- let us discuss each title in detail.

Amazing Spider-Man

JMS. You’re the one who got me reading Spider-Man again but even you can’t keep me reading him. So far, you’re the only writer who seems to have done anything worthwhile with the idea of Peter Parker being a member of The Avengers and I commend you for that. But sadly, the new environment is not working for me.

I think of Spider-Man and I think crummy apartments, Aunt May unable to make the house payment and Mary Jane being out of work because nobody takes her seriously as an actress because of her modeling. Moving them all into Stark Tower just takes out a lot of the natural drama that has always been a part of the book.

In short, I leave Amazing Spider-Man behind me, not that I hate New Avengers less but that I love your take on Amazing Spider-Man unspoiled. If you were allowed to write the book without having to include The Avengers, I might stay. But since Marvel doesn’t have the greatest track record about not shoving “new and wonderful” things down our throat, I must, as Groucho Marx said, be going. “I came to say I cannot stay; I must be going.”


The one title I can gleefully remove from my list with no complaints whatsoever. Now lest I start getting complaints about being a Bendis-basher who is still bitter over Avengers, let me set a few things straight. I’ve been reading the book consistently since Kevin Smith rebooted the title. I read through the Mack, Gale & Bendis runs and I enjoyed them all. But lately, it seems to me that Bendis is not writing Daredevil. He is writing a book full of interesting dialogue and situations… but he isn’t writing Daredevil.

This is the biggest complaint I get from people who accuse me of being an uncultured philistine who does not get the wonderful artfulness of your average Bendis story. That because I actually expect to see a guy in a red costume kicking-butt and to see Matt Murdock in court doing the lawyer thing in a Daredevil comic, that I am stuck in the past and unable to see the beauty of true art.

Let me tell you folks something: it doesn’t take a master of “art” to take six months to tell a story where three of the books are issue-long fight scenes. It isn’t art to retell the same story twice from different character’s viewpoints in two different issues over a year-long span. (Besides, James Robinson did that better in Starman.)

How sad is it that the only story featuring Daredevil that has felt like a Daredevil story that I’ve read in recent memory is the overly melodramatic Daredevil: Redemption? On every level, I find it to be inferior to Bendis’ plots, dialogue and character (outside of Matt himself, of course). And yet, I found the book much more enjoyable because while it was overdone it felt truer to the spirit of what Stan Lee and Frank Miller did with the character than anything Bendis has ever written.

Fantastic Four

Another book that I had no complaints about but I just cannot stick around to read. Mark Waid all but drug this title back to greatness from mediocrity and proved popular enough to make a comeback after being removed from action by an editor who very quickly learned why Mark Waid is as popular as he is skillful. But with Waid on the book and even with JMS coming on… I feel it is best for me to move on for now.

Ultimate Spider-Man

Everything I said above about Daredevil? Repeat that. Twice.

Of course I haven’t sworn Marvel off completely. Though I have no interested whatsoever in the upcoming House of M storyline, there are still a few specials that are well worth-reading. Dan Slott’s GLA and Spider-Man/Human Torch have been two rare treasures that Marvel has released this year and I will check out any future projects he releases. And I suspect that once JMS’s Fantastic Four begins, I will somehow find my way back into reading that once a month.

Until then, the next person who asks me to “Make Mine Marvel” will get a very polite “No, thank you.”

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

Sunday, May 8, 2005

Looking To The Stars: The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy Movie

I had the opportunity to see The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy this past week and it was, in a word, disappointing. I found it to be neither a bad film nor a good one. It was just… there.

It is worth mentioning, at this point, that I have been a fan of Douglas Adams’s works since the age of 12. I picked up his first book, out of all the ones in the science-fiction section, for two very good reasons. First, it was the first book at the start of the section alphabetically and that seemed as good a place as any for me to start my education into all things science-fiction past Star Wars. The second reason was that it had some blurb about Monty-Pythonesque humor on the back cover and I was at an age where anything relating to Monty Python was new, brilliant and very hard to get a hold of.

I actually should hesitate to mention this, however, as the minute you say you’re a Douglas Adams fan with anything negative to say about the movie, you get one of four basic responses from people who, for some reason, cannot grasp the idea of the movie being anything less than perfect.

  1. You know, Douglas Adams DID work on the script.
  2. The romantic subplot was all HIS idea.
  3. They have to change SOME things for the movies, you know.
  4. It’s not like science-fiction comedies are ever good, anyway.

To which I respond thusly.

  1. He started it, but he didn’t finish it. And it seems like they wrote around his new ideas rather than blend them into the narrative.
  2. You’re assuming I had a problem with the romance. You’re also assuming that just because Adams was a good writer, he was incapable of bad ideas.
  3. Yes, but there’s little point in changing some things only to leave related things un-touched in a way that doesn’t make sense.
  4. So Ghostbusters and Spaceballs never existed in your universe?

In all honesty, my opinion of the movie was best summed up in a recent Dork Tower. This strip brings up the odd paradox of the film. That is to say, the film is chock full of sight-gags for the fans of the original series, but so much has been removed in crafting the film that these sight gags make little sense with the context provided within the book removed.

To give one example, there is a full 30 second bit on the Vogon ship where we get to see a small tank filled with crabs with sparkly shells. One of the crabs is pulled out, and we see a Vogon trying to smash it with a hammer.

What is the point of this scene? There isn’t one. Unless you read the books and remember the odd bit of trivia that the only other creature who evolved on the Vogon’s home planet was a breed of beautiful crab that lived only to sing and be happy and how the Vogons take great delight in smashing the things for no reason.

What was originally meant to be both an ecology message (Adams, an avid environmentalist, was quite vocal in saying that the Vogons symbolized the worst aspects of humanity) as well as a demonstration of the vileness of a race is reduced to a sight-gag that does nothing but amuse the die-hard fans. Which might have been alright had the movie bothered to put any of the jokes into context.

Another case in point; early on in the film, we see a frantic Ford Prefect running around with a shopping-cart full of beer and peanuts. This proves useful in distracting a group of workman, but no reason is ever given in the movie as to why he would be pushing such a thing around. Why? The movie skips over the conversation from the radio show and book where Ford explains that teleportation through a matter transference beam and travel through hyper-space rob the body of salt, but that eating some peanuts and being drunk at the time do help fight the symptoms. Ford also searches the ruins of Arthur’s house for a towel and he is seen repeatedly wielding a towel as a weapon. While any Adams fan worth his salt knows of the importance of towels in the mythology of the series, they never bother to explain this in the movie nor to repeat the infamous Guide entry about why it is vitally important a hitch-hiker always know where his towel is.

That is why so many of the die-hard fans like me are upset. We weep not for the changes that were made, but for what was left in that no-longer makes sense. And what, the more we try to explain, makes us sound like know-it all geeks who spend half our lives in a fantasy world. Which is very much true, but we don’t like to be reminded of that fact.

Call the film a solid 5 out of 10. Not bad. But not good either.

At least one bit of good may come out of the film though. As I left the theater, I overheard a young boy, about 11 or 12, asking mom if they could stop by the mall bookstore and try and find the book the movie was based on. I helpfully told them where to look. Start of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Can’t miss it.

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

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Crisis of Infinite Reviews!

The quick-read among you may have noticed that it has been quite a few weeks since I have written a review for the regular reviews section of This Ol’ Nexus. The reason for this has been a combination of weeks when I wasn’t picking up that many books or the result of me asking for a break due to a vast workload in class.

I won’t bore you all with details or excuses. Suffice it to say that I will be well and pleased when I finally get my Masters Degree and I never have to do a group project where I am one man doing the work of four again.

But since I spent over $40 on comics this past week, the result of most of my pull list coming out the third week now… I think it long past time I let loose with some opinions.

Amazing Spider-Man #519

Would that this issue had come out a week or two earlier. Then I could have been spared the rantings of a thousand Mark Millar fanboys about the new writer of Marvel Knights Spider-Man had no idea how to write Peter and why was he biting Wolverine’s head off and wasn’t it sudden how Peter moved into Tony Stark’s tower? Here, all is explained. How Peter, MJ and Aunt May moved on up to the East Side. How Peter started getting really possessive of MJ around the hairy midget with the thing for redheads. And how Hydra is coming back in force. I’m not digging the Peter as an Avenger idea so far, but with JMS writing like this, it may grow on me yet.

Score: 7.5 out of 10.

Birds of Prey #81

Oddly enough, they repeated the JL Unlimited titled “The Cat and the Canary” this past weekend and this issue has that title on the cover. Black Canary and Wildcat team-up to take down drug-dealers in Singapore. Meanwhile Huntress, who walked out on the team last issue, reemerges in Gotham with two other Oracle agents gone rogue, apparently intent on taking over the Mafia in Gotham… as Helena Bertinelli. I was liking the way Helena was really starting to play of Barbara and Dinah as a team player, but I’m sure Simone is going somewhere good with this. And any story with Helena sneaking into the Mafia that updates her status in the wake of Greg Rucka’s atrocious “Cry of the Huntress” mini-series is okay by me.

Score: 8 out of 10.

Conan #15

Cary Nord takes a break and Greg Ruth takes his place this issue. And Ruth does a good job in this story showing the early days of Conan as an eight-year-old warrior in training. This is another title that everyone should read.

Score: 9 out of 10.

Conan and the Jewels of Gwahlur #1

The writing and art style is different than that of the regular monthly title, but this three-part special by the legendary P. Craig Russell is no-less enjoyable. Russell proves himself as skilled as any writer who has ever adapted Howard before and his art is fine as ever. All fans of heroic fantasy, as well as Russell’s work at Vertigo will want to pick this up.

Score: 8 out of 10.

Ex Machina #10

This book got nominated for an Eisner in writing for every category it was eligible for. That says a lot more for it than I ever can except that it is bloody good and everyone should be reading it.

Score: 10 out of 10.

Fables #36

I don’t know why, but this introductory issue to the saga of Boy Blue trying to infiltrate the lands of the forces of darkness just seemed a little flat to me. Not bad by any means, but not nearly as entertaining as I usually find Fables. Perhaps it is because we are looking at general monsters and not the specific reimaginings of classic storybook characters that the book usually centers on. Regardless, this is merely a good issue of a great book.

Score: 7 out of 10.

JLA Classified #6

Every issue of this comic seems like a black comedy now. The more the Countdown to Infinite Crisis continues, the more it seems that characters in this book disappear. The real shame is that this title interests and me more than the “excitement” over in OMAC Project. But then again, I’m a sucker for any story with Etrigan. The REAL Etrigan who is, I just realized, also on the way out thanks to John Byrne. I’d be laughing a lot more if this book weren’t so sad thanks to other people’s work. As it is, I’m still laughing a lot.

Score: 9.5 out of 10.

JSA #72

Geoff Johns is still writing it. It is still one of the best books out there. If you’re not reading it, you should be… whether you’re a DC fan looking for more info on Infinite Crisis or just a fan of good writing in general.

Score: 9 out of 10.

Knights of the Dinner Table #102

With all the big “event” stories going on, it is to the credit of KenzerCo that this issue did not promise a big surprise on the cover. For we did get a big surprise of major importance to the Knights history in this issue with little fanfare. And yet, that makes it all the bigger news. I won’t say what because I’m hoping that maybe some of you non-gamer types might give this book a shot.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Lucifer #61

With a little over a year before this title comes to its’ appointed end, things are starting to wind down to a big war between the Angels of Heaven and the children of Lilth (both by demons and by a rogue Angel named Sandalphon). And somewhere in the middle is the retired adversary himself, his half-angel niece Elaine and Jill Presto- a stage magician impregnated by a living Tarot Deck. This is one of the strangest and certainly one of the best books put forth by Vertigo and I will miss it when it is gone. This is a very difficult book to jump into, so new readers would be advised to start with the Trades and work their way up.

Score: 8 out 10.

OMAC Project #1

It’s a good thing I had recently read the revised Batman: The Ultimate Guide by Scott Beatty. Otherwise, I might have been totally lost as to who the heck this Sasha Bordeaux woman is. I read most of the Bruce Wayne: Murderer storyline and I still had to struggle to remember her. Odds are I’m not alone and Greg Rucka really would have done well to have explained her background a little more and not assuming the readers are all brazen fanboys; Particularly on a series which, according to editorial, is meant to bring in new readers. As it is, I am still deeply worried about the darkening tone of the DC Universe but I’ll probably still read this for another issue if only to see where this is going. As it is, this is a rather poor introduction that explains little and keeps the reader wanting more only because so little is given to us.

Score: 4 out of 10.

PS238 #11

You know, maybe it’s because the market is becoming saturated with several books along this theme (most of them coming out from Image in the near future), but this humor book about an elementary school devoted to super-powered children has just been a little bit stale for me lately. I think perhaps the problem may be that I am not the target audience, since Williams’ stories of late have centered more upon the magic of childhood than on superheroic satire, which is more my speed. Also, the book just hasn’t has seemed as funny since it adopted the non-powered Tyler as a main-character. There’s only so much that can be done with a non-powered kid screaming in terror or diving for cover as things happen around him. The stories here could take a page from the recent Death Jr. book and take a good look at the lives of each kid without using Tyler as an everyman. Because sadly, Lil’ Spawn’s vague descriptions of the realm he was born of and the brief speeches by Lil’ Dream (aka Murphy) are so much more amusing than the idea of a 4-Square tournament of Doom!

Score: 5 out of 10.

Spectacular Spider-Man #27

Spidey swings into the sunset on the cover as Paul Jenkins swings into a long rest and this title swings into antiquity. Thanks be to Marvel, who had the good graces to let Jenkins close out the title he started after a long and often ignored run on this book as well as on Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Aside from giving us one of the best “character” issues of all time, we also get a cute little tribute to the long lost Calvin and Hobbes comics of my youth. Take a bow, Mr. Jenkins. You deserve it. Rest well and get better. I’ll want to see you writing Spider-Man again someday.

Score: 10 out of 10.

Ultimate Spider-Man #76

Sadly, I got more entertainment value out of the comic at Spider-Fan then I did this issue or indeed the entire Hobgoblin storyline. There’s no sense nor motivation to Harry’s transformation other than foreshadowing what might happen in Spider-Man 3 and adding more unnecessary drama to the Peter/MJ relationship. It seems that all claims that Bendis is getting stretched too thin with his current workload and getting lazy are justified. At least Bagley’s artwork is still good.

Score: 4 out of 10.

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

Red Sonja #0 - A Review

Written by: Michael Avon Oeming & Mike Carey
Penciled by: Mel Rubi
Inked by: Mel Rubi
Cover by: Greg Land, Matt Ryan & Jason Keith
Colored by: Caesar Rodriguez & Richard Isanove
Lettered by: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Editor: Luke Lieberman
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

Something I discovered this week as I worked the comic shop; it is deceptively hard to sell something that is only a quarter. Even to the regulars who usually take my word on books that are good. And make no mistake about it True Believer; Red Sonja is good.

I can see why some fans would be turned away by the cover, featuring a beautiful woman in a skimpy outfit as rendered by Greg Land. Greg Land, who can draw a beautiful woman like no other but whose name seems to suggest “We’ve got nothing else to sell this book, so we’re going to give you cheesecake and hope you’ll buy this book anyway!” And the fact that some of the premier pin-up artists of the genre are doing alternate covers for upcoming issues of this title can’t be doing much to dissuade this attitude.

The art by Mel Rubi doesn’t do much to help the case that Red Sonja is meant to be taken as serious fantasy. The opening shot, focusing upon Sonja’s shapely backside as she saunters into town like Clint Eastwood, seems to be entirely detrimental to the idea that she is a true warrior. After all, she wears armor that fails to protect her vital spots and serves merely to titillate those who look at her. She is just a piece of eye-candy playing at being an amazon. And that, my friends, is the brilliant part of the artwork here.

Similar to Conan #0 (which also opened with a 25 cent special), this story serves not to show our hero through their own eyes and words but through the eyes of others. So in Conan #0, we see Conan as a king and warrior whose deeds were recorded and remembered by the world at large. In Red Sonja #0, we see a woman who is regarded as alternatively as an oddity, a threat and a sociopath.

The opening pages capture this point without words. Sonja is spotted by many assailants who see her as one more victim to rob, one more shapely woman to throw on a sacrificial altar… and without words, Sonja senses the danger and reacts, causing her would-be murderers and rapists to have second thoughts, as do all predators faced with prey they think is a predator.

This is handled in a very subtle manner by writers Carey and Oeming, whom I think will surprise their regular fans with this issue. Carey in particular is famous for his flowing dialogue and yet there is barely any text at all in this issue. I’ve already heard complaints from several Carey fans about how disappointed they were in this book because it lacked so much dialogue. Conversely, I heard complaints from several of those who usually favor books like “Lady Death” or “Vampirella” that this book was too hard to read and that there needed to be more splash-pages and less dialogue.

So what does this prove? Perhaps nothing, save that we all had loaded expectations coming into this book. Some wanted nothing but an art-book full of bimbos with broadswords. Others wanted a finely-written epic ala Lucifer. What we have, instead, is what I expected- the return of one of the comic industry’s first feminist figures in a story that all too briefly establishes the brutal world she lives in; one where women are nothing but chattel to strong men. I expected a story about a woman who strives to make something better for herself, cutting down all those who would tell her otherwise. Read past the violent fight scenes. Look past the skimpy costume. And you will find a story as good and as interesting as anything involving a certain muscle-bound barbarian.