Monday, October 31, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Trail-Blazing to Hell

On this All Hallows Eve, as I rest from one of the busiest weeks in memory for my acting troupe (We've been doing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local haunted house all week), I can't help but notice how well the comic book publishers have timed some of their releases.

You see, there's a good number of horror-themed comic-tie ins that came out this week. Land of the Dead. Haunted Mansion. Trailer Park of Terror. And several others as well. But I won't be talking about any of them tonight for the good and simple reason that as busy as I was with my acting troupe this week, work was even busier and didn't allow for any of the usual perusing of the new weird titles.

Besides, as interesting as these new books may be... I know that they can't hold a candle to the best one there is. A title that manages to be horrifying, amusing and everything that makes Halloween my favorite holiday all year round. I speak of Hellblazer; Vertigo's longest running title and one of the longer running comic-titles anywhere.

So in honor of this, my favorite time of year, I have a gift for all of you who have yet to be exposed to the world of John Constantine. A list of ten stories, multi-part and not, that I recommend to anyone and everyone interested in a fine book or learning about the real JC and not that cinematic abortion with the guy from The Matrix.

1. "Dream A Little Dream of Me" - Sandman #3
Available in The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes TP

The first story I read with John as a main character and as good an introduction to the character as anything else. His appearance here was meant to get Vertigo readers to try the new Sandman series, but I think more readers were introduced to John Constantine through the Sandman trade-paperbacks. It's a good read, either way.

2. "Newcastle: A Taste Of Things To Come" - Hellblazer #11
Available in Hellblazer: Rare Cuts TP

A good straight horror read and a historically important story as well. We learn of John's first major battle with the forces of Hell and of what started his chronic nightmares.

3. "Hold Me" - Hellblazer #27
Available in Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days TP

Another one-shot by Gaiman and the only thing with JC he ever wrote as part of the regular book run. This is one of the few one-part stories that ever managed a true balance between the humor and the horror that make up the quintessential Hellblazer story.

4. "Dangerous Habits" - Hellblazer #41-46
Available in Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits TP

The first story Garth Ennis wrote for Hellblazer, many would argue that it was his best and probably the greatest Hellblazer story of all time. It's indisputably one of the best, as John finds himself trying to trick a way past the one thing he can't magic away; cancer.

5. "Lord of the Dance" - Hellblazer #49

Forget some shirtless Irishman dancing! This story is probably the closest thing we'll ever get to a John Constantine Christmas special. And thank whatever gods are listening for that, because I don't want to see anyone trying and failing to top this tale about John actually doing a good deed for once and curing the depression of the Spirit of Revelry.

6. "Critical Mass" - Hellblazer #92-96

The greatest crime Vertigo's Powers That Be ever committed was green-
lighting the "trading" of whole of Brian Azarello's run on this book while leaving the far superior Paul Jenkins run unbound. This tale, Jenkins first big multi-part storyline, details John's no-win situation trying to save the son of an old friend at the price of his own soul.

7. "Last Man Standing" - Hellblazer #120

Most of those readers vaguely familiar with the whole of Hellblazer history know of John's long-running conflict with The Devil Himself. This lesser known story chronicles John's battle with an equally legendary mythological character. Manipulator faces manipulator as JC fights for the soul of England itself against Merlin.

8. "Desperately Seeking Something" - Hellblazer #110-114

The 10th Anniversary special that actually proves to be just what the world "special" suggests. Worth a look just for the writer/artist cameos in the background as well as one of the few times we ever see someone get the best of John Constantine with a simple prank.

9. "Telling Tales" - Hellblazer #143
Available in Hellblazer: Setting Sun TP

While most of his dialogue for JC sounded more like Spider Jerusalem, Warren Ellis did manage to get it right with this one-shot where John tells the secret "true" history of London to a reporter eager for dirt on the Royal Family.

10. "The Gift" - Hellblazer #213

Figure I may as well do one comic that your store probably still has in stock. But seriously; this month's issue is one of the better self-introspection one-shots the title has ever had.

Of course if you're low on funds to go back-issue or trade-hunting right now, there's quite a bit of freebies for anyone wanting to learn more about John Constantine, I would be remiss if I did not mention the invaluable Straight To Hell website; easily the best Hellblazer site on the web.

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

Monday, October 24, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Flu Season

Due to the author having contracted the flu, there will be no Looking to the Stars column this week.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Crisis of Infinite Confusion!

We have much to discuss and so little time, so let's get right to it.

Infinite Crisis #1 came out this week. And it was good. But it occurs to me that some of us are still a wee bit confused regarding some of the particulars of how we got to where we are now.

Understandable. There's six months worth of mini-series, tie-ins that directly built upon the title to say nothing of twenty years worth of backstory and maybe more for some characters.

Now, I can't cover everything you need to know in one column. Thankfully, I've written enough in the past to clarify some of the background to the major players...

The Possible Ending...

It's short, but six months ago I did consider what the major theme of Infinite Crisis would be given what we were seeing in the books then. I offer this merely as an opportunity to see how close or far I was to calling the shot.

No, really... Who IS Donna Troy?

This old column of mine covers everything about Donna Troy up until the recent Return of Donna Troy series. All you need to know past that is that Donna is apparently a nexus between several multiple realities and is now playing a role similar to the one Harbringer did in the original "Crisis".

Powerful Headaches: The Origins of Power Girl

More about Power Girl than anyone could ever hope to comprehend. Read JSA Classified #1-4 to catch up on what has come past this.

Anything past that... well, there's a lot more to cover and I don't know quite where to start. Why don't you all tell me? Drop me an e-mail (the link is below) and tell me what things about Infinite Crisis and the tie-ins you'd like to see explained in greater detail. Anything. From Nightwing's romantic life to how Killer Frost's powers work. Sky is the limit.

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

Monday, October 10, 2005

Looking To The Stars: The Ten Terriffic?

Am I the only one who finds it mildly ironic that Marvel Comics announced the end of last years "Marvel Next" line the same week they make a big deal about "The Ten Terrific"?

See, it's this kind of inane marketing hackwork that led establishing my "Thou Shalt Not Purchase Any Marvel book not currently being written by JMS" rule. I'm sickened by how Marvel Editorial is unable to simply put new books out and let them find an audience. Unless something is part of some big gimmick movement, it might as well not exist. That's why well-written, original series like New Thunderbolts and Runaways wither and die on the vine while crap like Young Avengers is hyped into oblivion.

So, really... how terrific IS "The Ten Terrific"? Let's take a look at "TTT" in order and see, shall we?

1. Allan Heinberg

Who? Hold on... let me check Wikipedia.

Huh? Oh. THIS is the guy who writes Young Avengers.

See the above comments. NEXT!

2. David Hine

Haven't read District X, but I did read Mutopia. And in the whole pointless, drawn-out mess that is House of M, that book was the most pointless mess of them all. NEXT!

3. Reggie Hudlin

If the CN message boards are any indication, I may stand alone on this. But I've actually enjoyed what works of his I have read. I've heard several people savage his command of Black Panther's history so I'll take their word for it. But his arc on "MK: Spider-Man", while a bit heavy on the Superman parallels managed to actually surprise me with its' twist ending. More, it was actually fun, which few comics manage to be these days.

4. Robert Kirkman

He's good, but he's a bit of a cheat. As I understand it, the whole point of this movement is to promote hot new writers and... Kirkman has been at this a while. Still, his Marvel Team Up has been one of the few decent books Marvel has published in the last year, so good on him getting some press.

5.Sean McKeever

It took an Eisner Award for him to finally get some attention, but he's the only "New" talent who deserves to be on this list.

6.Greg Pak

If you need a book that is a shameless B-list sequel to a much better work, here is the man to write it. Most famous for "That Phoenix Mini-Series that spun out of Morrison's X-Men" and an unnecessary sequel to Gaiman's 1602, his best original work thus far has been the comic book adaptation of the Marvel Nemesis video game. And I say this only because his writing managed to capture the dull monotony of the game perfectly.

7.Roberto Sacasa

Why hasn't this guy been sent back to Off-Off-Broadway yet? His MK: 4 book was abysmal, trying to force realism and real-world concerns onto a book that has always thrived on... the FANTASTIC! I stopped reading after he put forth the idea that Reed Richards couldn't find work. Right. Like there's NO American company unscrupulous enough to hire an alleged world-conquering despot if he can improve profits. His Nightcrawler series, while better, is merely readable.

8.Dan Slott

In a fair and just world, HE would be writing "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" or SOME Spider-Man title. Sadly, this is not a fair and just world, so we must content ourselves with the occasional GLX, She-Hulk and Thing series. Oh well...

9.Daniel Way

He was responsible for the Tsunmai Venom title. 'Nuff said!

10.Joss Whedon

Again, a cheat. He's been at this comic-writing gig a while now. And quite honestly, he needs the hype like a bird needs an airplane. He managed to create a readable X-Men title, so he deserves praise for that. Still, here's hoping that someone decides to bring back "Firefly" and he goes to devote his energies to that instead of trying to run a flag up the Marvel mast.

In short, "The Ten Terrific" is anything but. Unlike last years "Young Guns", there's a little bit of talent here... but sadly, this is your typical Marvel announcement with JoeyQ at the helm. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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

Monday, October 3, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Whole Bunches Of Reviews!

This past week was, according to many sources, the biggest week for new comic releases in the past two years. Now, I know a lot of us didn’t have the time or the money to pick up everything and not everyone is as fortunate as I am to work in a comic shop where I get a chance to browse through almost everything on a weekly basis. So in order to keep you all in the know, here’s some quick thoughts on what comics were worth getting and what comics should be avoided at all cost.

Action Philosophers #3
One book everyone should be reading that has, thankfully, been renewed past its’ initial four-issue engagement. This is the “Self Help for Stupid Ugly Losers” issue, detailing the lives of psychological philosophers such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. You can read some free previews at
Score: 8 out of 10.

Adventures of Superman #644
Superman and Zatanna team up to take on Toyman, whom it turns out was also altered by Zatanna’s magic when the League was “fixing” villains. Not essential to the on-going plot of Infinite Crisis, but a good story nonetheless.
Score: 6 out of 10.

Amazing Spider-Man #524
A Spider-Man comic with very little Spider-Man, we take a break from the action to set-up the next big storyline and resolve the plot with Mary Jane making the tabloids. JMS continues to be the only writer on a regular monthly title who seems to have ANY idea of how to write Peter Parker in the wake of his joining The Avengers.
Score: 8 out of 10.

Batman #645
Okay. So Leslie Thompkins is a murderer. Alfred has apparently been killing people for years to protect his young master’s secret. Dick Grayson has gone to the dark side in a rather vague timeline that continues to defy easy classification. Hush was teamed with a brand new Clayface. And Jason Todd is back from the dead. Is there any way the Bat books could become any more convoluted? I’ll save you the money on this one: Jason Todd was never apparently buried in the first place. Drawn out, pointless and more confusing than Chinese algebra.
Score: 4 out of 10, and that’s only for the art.

Daredevil #77
Ever read Stan Lee’s Spider-Man? How about Frank Miller’s Daredevil, particularly “Born Again”? Apparently, Brian Michael Bendis hasn’t. Spare you the fine details but the plot in the book right now handily ignores a good deal of back story involving The Kingpin and his criminal record and is pushing the idea that despite countless people who could easily send Wilson Fisk up the river, the Feds have NOTHING on him and are ready to set him free so they can put away Matt Murdock for vigilantism.
Score: 3 out of 10, again only for the art.

Defenders #3
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Hulk am… exhausted! Starman am… amused!
Score: 8 out of 10.

Fantastic Four #531
Scratch my earlier statement. JMS is the only writer on a monthly title at Marvel who seems to have any idea of how to characterize ANYONE.
Score: 8 out of 10.

Flash #226
I miss Geoff Johns already. Blah on all fronts.
Score: 3 out of 10.

JLA #119
Leave it to Geoff Johns to be the one writer to come up with a truly credible reason why Batman would fly totally off the handle regarding the JLA dabbling with mind-alteration outside of the generic “I am the dark and moody knight” spiel that keeps getting hammered and hammered and hammered into us. The secret ingredient is love, kids!
Score: 9 out of 10.

JLA Classified #12
Worst book all week. The art’s crap and Warren Ellis either has no clue how to write the Justice League or has no interest in doing so properly. The whole thing reads like a rejected Authority script with all the personality and humor sucked out, which, given that Ellis reportedly had more than a few of his scripts rejected during his run, is not too far out a suggestion.
Score: 0 out of 10.

Legion of Superheroes #10
The plot thickens. A generation unites. And a Legionnaire dies! The best Legion in years.
Score: 8 out of 10.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere #4
With Mirrormask out in theaters this Friday and the new book Anansi Boys also out, it would be easy for this Mike Carey adaptation of the famous Neil Gaiman TV series to get missed. That would be a crime, because even if the master didn’t pen this one himself, it is a worthy tribute to the original.
Score: 7 out of 10.

New Avengers #11
Aside from one page of artwork suggesting that somebody with a MAJOR father complex (wink wink) is the mystery ninja, there is nothing to suggest that the mystery ninja is anyone BUT the person that we all knew the mystery ninja was supposed to be. Either way, I can’t be bothered to care. Go reread the first few issues of The Tick instead of this “Ronin” storyline. At least that one was MEANT to be cheesy and funny.
Score: 2 out of 10.

OMAC Project #6
A rushed, clichéd sci-fi cop-out ending. So we’re supposed to believe that when they were designing the OMACs, it never occurred to anyone to make the Nanites EMP proof? Given the number of heroes who could generate an EMP that seems a little unlikely. Then again, so has most of this series. Still, we get to see Hal Jordan verbally pimp-slap Batman again, so it’s not totally worthless.
Score: 4 out of 10.

Plastic Man #18
The greatest book in the world that nobody is reading. Shame really, as this issue boasts one of the best bits of superhero satire in months. Pick it up before it disappears.
Score: 8 out of 10.

Red Sonja #2
The only book to come out this week that was over a month late and worth the wait, if only for the expanded page-count. I’d gladly sacrifice the alternate covers (a gimmick this book does not need) in order to get this out on a more regular basis. Incidentally, for the intellectual sorts out there who refuse to buy any book with multiple-covers of pin-up art? Don’t judge a book by its’ cover; this book is a fitting companion to Dark Horse’s Conan book.
Score: 9 out of 10.

Sentry #1
While Romita Jr.’s art continues to degenerate into a dark sloppy parody of Frank Miller, at least we can depend on Paul Jenkins to write a decent script. I wasn’t a big fan of the original Sentry series well written though it was, but at least this book stays true to the form of the original.
Score: 6 out of 10.

Spider-Man:House of M #4
I’m still not sure what the heck happened to Peter in this book, but I still think this is one of the better things to come out of House of M. And I love the irony that Peter’s alternate life is being saved by the three people whose lives he failed to save.
Score: 6 out of 10.

Superman/Batman #22
Me am so not confused by Bizzaro and Batzarro dialogue. Me am not loving shameless mockery of team who is NOT The Ultimates.
Score: 7 out of 10.

Ultimate Iron Man #4
You know, as charming as Orson Scott Card’s soap opera villains were when I was a kid reading Ender’s Game, they just don’t do anything in a book that is aimed at older readers.
Score: 4 out of 10.

Ultimate Secret #3
What if they threw an alien invasion and nobody cared? Saved from being the most pointless book of the week by two things; the decent art and the fact that as boring as this book is, at least everyone sounds somewhat in character as they sit around talking and not doing anything. Well, everyone except Thor who is now buying beer for minors and talking about the true warrior spirit despite being a peace-loving hippie in the Ultimate universe.
Score: 3 out of 10.

Finally, if you haven’t seen Serenity yet, go forth and do so! I was just introduced to the amazing universe of Firefly this weekend by some friends and this sci-fi movie is (for once) actually accessible to someone who knows NOTHING about the TV series. So you have no excuses, apart from not being able to afford the ticket, to not give this movie a shot.