Thursday, March 30, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Looking To The Reviews!

A word of warning: Here Be SPOILERS! Turn back, lest ye learn more than ye ever wanted ta be knowing.

Action Comics #837
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns & Kurt Busiek
Art: Pete Woods

I wasn’t much of a Superman reader before but damn me if Johns and Busiek haven’t succeeded where lesser writers failed in making the mysteries of this book seem more like invitations than a device to keep us reading just to figure out what is going on. How did Superman loses his powers? Who is this new Toyman who looks like The Animated Series version as opposed to a creepy old man? When did Metallo regain a more human body? And what the heck is Lex Luthor up to anyway? These are questions this author will stick around to find out the answers to.

Grade: A

All-Star Superman #3
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Frank Quietly

Grant Morrison once said (and I am paraphrasing here) that he wishes he could be half as crazy as everyone thinks he is because only some of the great minds of the Silver Age could come up with the ideas that they did. With tongue NOT in cheek, Grant borrows one of the more infamously ludicrous classic Superman stories to create this – a story of Lois Lane’s birthday where Samson, Atlas and Superman compete for the pleasure of her company. If that last sentence didn’t make you smile a bit, not even a little inside, then you may as well skip this book; there is nothing for you here. But for those of us who still believe that a man can fly, this is one heck of a good read.

Grade: A

Fantastic Four #536
Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Mike McKone & Andy Lanning

Despite the cover, this is not truly an Illuminati tie-in. And thank goodness for it, because I’d much rather see a good-ol-fashioned Doombot smackdown in this title than another issue of Bendis’ Talking Heads Theater. JMS, rather infamous for his own grasp of flowery dialogue, knows when to let his characters talk and when to let the action and the concept speak for itself. And when you are dealing with a concept such as Dr. Doom making a bid to get the Hammer of Thor and wield it, there is preciously little else to say except “That is cool!” Sadly, we don’t actually get to see the good Doctor wield the hammer this issue… merely his declaration of intent to Reed Richards. Such is the power of Doom that he can monologue BEFORE securing ultimate power – he is that good.

Grade: B

Green Lantern #10
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis and Marc Campos

This title was a little slow to get started but now that the framework is laid, Johns is bringing up the subplots full-tilt. One Year Later, we find that Hal Jordan’s relationship with the Green Lanterns is as strained as ever, he’s in hot water with the global superhero community on Earth and even Ollie Queen is accusing him of being a dangerous maverick. If nothing else, I love this book for the irony and perfect portrayal of the Hal/Ollie dynamic – that the eternal iconoclast is now in a position of authority and the good soldier is now rebelling against authority in the name of a higher cause. All this, and the creation of The Sinestro Corps.

Grade: A

Lucifer #72
Company Name: Vertigo Comics
Writer: Mike Carey
Artists: Peter Gross and Aaron Alexovich

Reviewing this book seems a tad pointless now. With the final issue months away and the current storyline being devoted to summation and tying up loose ends, there is not much for me to say. Except that if you were a fan of the old Sandman series or like mature magical comics, start tracking down the Trades or the old back issues of this series. Lucifer is as worthy a successor and sequel to Sandman as if Neil Gaiman had penned it himself, and this author will sorely miss it once it is gone.

Grade: A

New Avengers – Illuminati #1
Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Alex Maleev

Against my better judgment, I read this book in the store. And I learned nothing except that Tony Stark is a jerk. A real jerk. Everyone says Superman is a jerk but he should take lessons from Tony Stark. You know he’s a jerk because Namor tells him he’s a jerk (not in so many words) and when Namor says someone is being a jerk, then you know it MUST be bad. And I’m not saying this because he spurred the creation of the secret He-Man Girl-Haters Club For Jerks. Not because he is so ready to sell out the vast majority of the superhero population to save his own butt. No – it’s because he gives away the whole plot of Civil War (such as it is) under the guise of “seeing-the-future”. Because only a jerk would give away the plot of a story without warning. That is why Tony Stark, and Brian Michael Bendis by extension, are jerks.

Grade: D

Superman/Batman #24
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Art: Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

Me am enlightened by this comic. Me think it make lots of sense. Me think it confusing now we know Joker am not behind whole thing. Me not wondering at all why Bizzaro am involved. Me think this comic not make more sense in one sitting, in kept hardback. Like comic am on time for three months now. Still, while Darkman am liking unconfused writing, he am hating cartoonish artwork. He am hating it so much on serious, dark book like this one he want to hurt it very much.

Grade: C

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

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Prose And Cons

There is an old saying that if one cannot say something nice, one should not say anything at all. But if I were to follow that advice, I would have nothing to say about the previous weekends' All Con. And as I have a column to write, it is time to break out the poison pen.

Granting that this is a second-year convention and that I was not present for the fiasco that was the New York Comic Con, I can still easily declare this – within the realm of my own personal experience –

*slight pause as he gets ready to do the Comic Book Guy voice from The Simpsons*


In all fairness, I do believe that the organizers did have good intentions that far outweighed their ability to put on a good show. As I said last week, I was there as part of Los Bastardos; an acting troupe I am part of that performs (among other things) The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To say that we had a rough time of it would be an understatement. From the Thursday night press junket (where apparently the professional press came and went before any convention personnel showed up), to our Friday night performance (during which we had power problems due to a rock concert in the room next door) to our after-show party Saturday morning, nothing was as it was promised by the convention staff.

As I said, I choose to believe and hope this was due to unexpected complications rather than outright lying. We had a rather good after-party planned only to have it shut down after 20 minutes. It seems that we were misinformed when we were told that the floor was secured for the convention and that security was advised to ignore any complaints from that floor not involving fire, rape, murder or cattle stampedes.

Apart from that, the staff was nothing but polite to me and mine as were most of the vendors. Even the ones I outright told that I didn't have any cash and was just looking and dreaming of that which I could not have. (Conan #12 – it will be mine some day!)

This is, I might mention, my test for any vendor at a convention. Tell them you don't have money now. If they become rude or are anything but polite when faced with naught but the hope that you might have money later, they aren't worth your trouble.

And I should make mention of Ethan Nahte – a rather cool bloke who was kind enough to give me a free preview copy of his Robert Howard inspired novella Buckeye Morris of Timber Ridge for free. He's got a few articles of his own up at which are well worth reading. And he's currently at work on a documentary about that master author which, from the preview I saw, looks like it will be something special. So thanks to Nate and his compatriot for not being at all insulting when I stuck my foot in my mouth and revealed that everything I knew about Robert Howard's historical novels was wrong.

Anyway, the biggest problem with this convention is that it tries to do too much. As the name suggests, it tries to have something for ALL geeky interests. The problem brings to mind another truism of the same school of "if you can't say something nice" – "You can't please everybody." Indeed, by trying to please everybody you are almost guaranteed to make something that nobody enjoys.

Here then is the problem – I am a collector of comics, a table-top role-player and a very occasional collector of some very specialized action figures; three rather diverse interests, three different camps of geekiness. So what did this convention have to offer me?

Apart from one vendor selling some D&D books, a few comic book and AF dealers and a signing by James O'Barr of The Crow… all of which I went through in one hour, not much.

And I never did find that Starman variant figure I was looking for…

Other bases of fandom will be equally ill-served. Star Wars fans can meet one Jedi actress, get their picture taken with the local Storm Trooper platoon and shop for action figures – but that's it. Star Trek fans can meet an actor who has the honor of having guest stared in nearly every Star Trek TV show there is, get their picture taken with the local Klingon platoon and shop for action figures – and that's it. There is nothing to support any individual branch of fandom for more than an hour at the most.

And even with their efforts to acknowledge all aspects of fandom, some were given the short end of the stick in favor of some rather questionable events. Why was there no open gaming area? No tables where gamers might meet and play Magic or get a pick-up game of D&D together?

The answer to this may lay with the fact that the hotel picked to host the event was far too small to hold so lofty a convention. Everything was contained upon the third floor with some events being held inside hotel rooms. Yes. Actual hotel rooms.

Given this fact, I can't be too upset that there was no place for me to try and get together a group to run the latest Conan RPG module. Not when the DFW Alias Fan Club is having to hold their marathon viewing session inside a hotel room.

Ultimately, the best symbol of All-Con is the one pictured above. When I first got there, I saw the Darth Vader balloon they had set up in the lobby breakfast bar. I knew something was off about it, but could not put my finger on exactly what it was. It was my friend Animal (who takes his nickname from the Muppet, as I take mine from Jack Knight) who figured out why the back flaps of Darth Vader's helmet stuck out so badly.

"They repainted a Bozo the clown balloon! It's Darth Bozo!"

Look at the picture and judge things for yourself.

And speaking of judging things for yourself, I believe that I did promise you all an appraisal of the new V For Vendetta film last week, didn't I?

Let us address one thing right of the bat, which I did mention in passing last week. Namely, that Alan Moore has come out as being not just opposed but DAMNED opposed to this movie. Quite honestly, I cannot blame him given that the producers of said film were more than just a tad disingenuous in mentioning invoking Moore's name in order to garner early public support for the film.

I believe Moore has the right to boycott the movie for this reason. I believe he has every right to ask that his name be removed from his work in future editions of the works that DC Comics owns. After all, if a writer has the right to claim credit for a work, surely the right to refuse credit is logically implied? Directors have been refusing to take credit for movies they had no control over, opting to go as Alan Smithee for years – why not allow writers the same right?

That being said, I cannot help but note the irony that Moore's biggest complaint about the film itself, according to a recent interview, was his concern that the pro-Anarchism message and the idea of encouraging people to think independently had been completely lost in translation, when the most intelligent defense I have heard as to why not to see the movie coming from the mouths of Alan Moore devotes is "Because Alan Said It's Total Bollocks."

You may as well go form an Anarchy Club at your school, if you're going to take that route toward subversive behavior.

And while we're on the subject of subversive behavior, I should probably mention that yes, this film does contain a rather unsubtle indictment of the American War in Iraq. Specific reference is made to things going wrong shortly after the American war. From there, fascism becomes the new ruling order and reference is made to a government orchestrating an attack on its' own people in order to make people scared and more willing to give up their freedoms in the name of security. Secret wire-tapping is conducted in a most decidedly not secretive manner and the whole-sale torture and slaughter of Muslims is encouraged.

And yet, this is all done in the fashion of a parable or a cautionary tale. While it is unsubtle, it is not meant to be subtle in the same way that sledgehammers are not meant to be subtle. The film is meant to pack a punch and to hit hard. And on that front, it succeeds. And while some of the political statements are less subtle than in the book, the movie succeeds in being more subtle in some respects. For instance, the book outright states that all the non-White Anglo-Saxon Straight Protestant were exterminated by the Norsefire Party in their rise to power. In the film, mention is made of efforts to control Muslims, liberals and homosexuals but if there was a single African, Asian, Latino or non-White face in the whole film that wasn't in the death-camp scenes, I didn't see it.

I put it then to my conservative readers, and I know that I do have some, that if you are offended by this film – if you think a parallel can be drawn between your government or your politicians and people you honestly think have your best interests at heart – that the problem likes not in the film. The problem lies with you and the fact that there's some part of you that thinks that what your government is doing CAN be compared the politicians in the world of V For Vendetta.

That being said, you probably want to ask, ignoring all the politics and the fanboy squabbling... how is the film?

If we must have a bastardized Alan Moore epic on screen, then this is by far the best we could have hoped for. It is not nearly as redundant as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen nor as insipid as Constantine. It is as well-acted as From Hell and much better plotted than any of the three. In short, I enjoyed it. I think most of you will enjoy it too.

In closing, I would ask you to take what I have said with a grain of salt. Remember that my thoughts are my own and in no way an indication of what you should think. Experience is the best teacher and I encourage all of you, especially you devotees of Mr. Moore, to go and give this movie a chance in the interest of forming your own individual opinions. For if you are content to sit on your laurels and let the word of any man, even an esteemed author like Alan Moore, dictate your actions... well, then I think you could stand at least one more rereading of the book you profess to honor so much with your protest.

Just an idea.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Looking to the Stars - V For Vendetta: The Novel - A Review

So the other day, I got an instant message from my friend Melissa. She asked me if I had a copy of V for Vendetta. Oddly enough, I didn’t.

Oh, I knew of the book, certainly. I’m a big fan of Alan Moore and had always intended to read the book someday. But it was on that list of classics I intended to get to as soon as I actually had some more spare time to do some serious heavy reading. This is, it might be noted, the same reason I have yet to get around to finishing up the complete works of Poe, Swift and Twain.

This lets you know my regard for Alan Moore; I group him in such distinguished company. Well, distinguished to my mind anyway. I’m not sure how he’d feel about it.

At any rate, Melissa reminded me that the film adaptation of V for Vendetta was coming out fairly soon and expressed a desire to read the book before seeing the movie. I admitted that I would like to do the same. Arrangements were made for me to pick her up a copy (seeing as how I’m all connected in the local comic shops) and I wound up picking up a copy for myself as well.

So, what did I think of this long ignored classic?

Let me put it to you this way: the day I got it, I stayed up until 3 AM taking in every panel, reading and rereading every line and just generally devouring this novel. It is that compelling. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that this piece is better than the more famous Alan Moore dystopian tale: Watchmen.

I will not discuss the plot in great detail. If you have seen the trailers and posters for the movie, you probably have the basic gist anyway. And if you haven’t seen those yet, my telling you the plot would rob you of much of the joy of reading this book. And make no mistake, you SHOULD read this book before you see the movie, or maybe even after.

Briefly, the story takes place in “the future” of 1997. Fascism grips the nation and the only hope for freedom in this Brave New World is the vigilante known only as “V”. We are introduced to V and V’s world through Evey Hammond; a young factory worker saved from a gruesome end at the hands the modern Gestapo.

Through Evey’s eyes, we see V as he fights against a corrupt and oppressive government. A government with total control of the media, which rules through unrestricted spying on the citizens they claim to be protecting, as well as through mass repression of racial minorities, liberals, and homosexuals.

Well, this WAS science fiction back in 1981 when Moore started writing it…

In all seriousness, Moore wrote this as a cautionary tale which unintentionally happened to mirror the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party in England during the mid-1980s. It now unintentionally seems to mirror the rise of Neo-Conservatism and George W. Bush in the United States in more recent times.

Like Orwell and 1984 before him, Moore has become an inadvertent prophet. Such is the magic of Moore’s writing that the story now seems to be relevant though it was never meant to be more than a bit of passing fantasy and a warning – not a reflection of times to come.

Reflections are very much a part of the story, however. Smoke and mirrors are the greatest weapons in V’s rather dramatic arsenal and very rarely is seeing worth believing. The themes of image and illusion are repeated throughout the novel along with a dozen other potential interpretations.

Moore’s plotting is at its most convoluted, but everything makes an odd kind of sense as everything slowly clicks together. I’ve heard it said that you have to be British to truly appreciate this story. I disagree, but do think that one must be very well read and traveled in order to get a lot of the more subtle references and quotes that V makes in his conversation. The Guy Fawkes references are rather obvious but I was shocked to see a rather subtle parallel between Don Quixote and V. I shall say no more than that – I have too much respect for the master magician to take you backstage before the show.

The art by David Lloyd is perfectly moody. I have heard that the intent with the style here was to emulate the film noir style (even the title fits the mold, being not too far removed from Dial M For Murder) and Lloyd succeeds beautifully here. Everything is shadowy, but elegantly so. What little white there is (such as V’s mask) seems to be rare and fleeting… in danger of being swallowed up by the darkness around it and disappearing forever. This closed-in style only serves to further emphasize the environment of oppression that is very much a part of the setting. And yet, the same art makes the shadows around V and his “Shadow Gallery” seem cozy and inviting.

All in all, this is one classic I should have read a lot sooner. It is a must read for all comics fans, whether you plan to see the movie or not. And speaking of the movie, some of you are probably wondering if I plan to review the film, or if I will sit it out in protest of how Alan Moore has, again, been slighted in regards to his creative wishes?

Rest assured – I’ll review the film next week as only a nit-picker like myself can (after I’ve had a chance to see it). What with the convention this week, I won’t have a chance to see it before the next column comes due. So join us next time – for my comments on my first Con performance as well as a review of V for Vendetta: The Movie

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

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Looking To The Stars - A Time For Reviews

Hey everyone. Real Life (and some last minute work on other columns) are taking up most of my spare time for the next two weeks. As such, I don’t have time for a big, in depth rant about anything. But the new faster reviews style (which I’ve been pioneering for quite some time already) makes it super easy for me to collect my thoughts on what I’ve read in the last few weeks.

Aren’t you lucky? Don’t answer that. I’m having a rhetorical conversation.

Ex Machina #18
Company Name: Wildstorm Comics
Writer: Brian Vaughan
Pencils: Tony Harris
Inks: Tom Feister
Colorist: JD Mettler

If the current storyline on this title does not win the Eisner for best mini-series this year, much less get a nomination, I will call the biggest Shenanigans on the proceedings since the 2000 American Presidential Election. Current without being forced, making its point without being preachy and generally an all-around enjoyable read, this is everything a comic book about current events should be. Tony Harris has never been in better from than he is here. If you’re not reading this book yet, it had better be because you’re choosing the welfare of your children over comics.

Grade: A

Fables #47
Company Name: Vertigo Comics
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciler: Jim Fern
Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colorist: Daniel Vozzo

It is a credit to Bill Willingham’s skill as a writer that he can so skillfully weave a sympathetic and romantic story such as this around two of the villains of the on-going story. As hideous and creepy as The Wooden Soldiers (of the march of the story of the same name) were, it is somehow all the more jarring to see them in love. And the guest artists illustrate this tale beautifully… though I never would have guessed the light inks here were the work of Jimmy Palmotti who usually favors a heavier touch. I predict that much like the character on the last page, there will be a lot of people in tears over this issue.

Grade: A

Green Lantern Corps #5
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Dave Gibbons and Geoff Johns
Penciler: Patrick Gleason
Inker: Prentis Rollins
Colorist: Travis Lanham

I wanted to like this series. I really did. But like a lot of cosmic stories, the sheer scope of things obliterated the characterization. And am I the only one who thought Kyle Rayner was horribly out of character in all of this, back to playing eager rookie and straight man to Guy Gardner – the one character who DID seem to be in top form. Between the muddy artwork, poor visual storytelling and all around lackluster show. The one saving grace is that I like the direction of the story if not the execution.

Grade: D

Infinite Crisis #5
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Phil Jimenez, Jerry Ordway & Ivan Reis
Inks: Andy Lanning, Jerry Ordway & Art Thibert
Color: Jeromy Cox, Guy Major & Rod Reis

Perhaps you have to be a brazen DC fanboy to appreciate all the nuances of this series. That is the one flaw with this series – it is a bit inaccessible to someone who hasn’t been keeping tabs on the goings-on and “Who Is Who”. Still, for those of us who can appreciate the subtle things such as a discussion on faith between an affirmed Atheist and a hero who draws his powers from an artifact of faith and the Action Comics #1 cover tribute, this is Heaven in a wrapper.

Grade: B

Red Sonja #7
Company Name: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Noah Salonga
Colorist: Brian Buccellato.

A fill-in team does a job worthy of the regular team, for once. Krul’s plot is standard stuff for the old Marvel Sonja comics, but it is not badly done as Sonja teams with a young pirate to recover his birthright before a group of slightly more amoral pirates and mercenaries beat them to it. I may be wrong but it feels like he put more text in this one issue than Carey and Omening did in the whole of the last six issues. Salonga’s style of art is much more conventional and a good deal more inked than the lighter approach Mel Rubi has taken with the series so far, but it is not jarringly out of place as the art in Red Sonja vs. Thulsa Doom. If you’ve missed out on this series so far, this is an excellent time to jump on the bandwagon.

Grade: A

Teen Titans #33
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Marv Wolfman and Geoff Johns
Penciler: Todd Nauck
Inks: Sean Parsons, Norm Rapmund & Mario Alquiza
Color: Richard & Tanya Horie

It’s the typical cross-over tie-in issue. We get to see a small part of the big picture, some good character moments, and some rushed artwork. Maybe I missed it being mentioned in the past, but I was rather floored by the revelation that Superboy and Wonder Girl have apparently “done the deed” and this does, in my opinion, explain away a lot of his reluctance to return to active duty in past issues. How weird was it for us, after all, going to school with THEM there after our first time? In the end, this is a serviceable story that well demonstrates the divide between two heroes in approach and temperament but is nothing special.

Grade: C

Ultimate Spider-Man #91
Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Mark Bagley
Inker: John Dell
Colorist: Justin Ponsor

Much as I may despise his work in the regular Marvel Universe, I must admit that BMB’s writing on this book is as enjoyable as ever and Bagley still draws the best Spidey in the business. I like Bendis’ take on Kitty Pryde in this issue as he shows, again, his knack for creating realistic adolescent characters and getting inside their heads. Shame that all of this is just background for the apparent introduction of a character who hasn’t been used properly since Gail Simone wrote him.

Grade: C

Finally, regarding the Real-Life thing that has me so busy.

Those of you in the Dallas and Fort Worth area can meet me, at The All-Con Convention this coming weekend. Friday evening, March 17th, I will be MCing a special performance of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at 11 pm. Saturday, I'll be exploring the convention proper. Just look for the goateed bloke with the long curly hair in the wide-brimmed black fedora.

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

Saturday, March 11, 2006

While You Were Reading The Big Two: Knights Of The Dinner Table #113

Knights of the Dinner Table #113
Company Name: Kenzer and Company
Writer: Jolly Blackburn, David Kenzer & Steve Johansson.
Artist: Jolly Blackburn

Let me say something right at the start; this book is not for everyone.

As far as subject matter goes, this book is 100% pure geek material. It caters to a niche, specifically role-playing gamers who read comics.

It doesn’t have any big, complicated storylines. The plots usually center around the characters sitting around the tables playing their games or doing things related to their gaming. There’s no action to speak of except for the occasional fight over a sexist remark or a bad call by the gamemaster. There is romance, but it is usually limited to us knowing two characters are involved with very little depiction of the relationship outside of the context of their mutual hobby. But mostly, there is drama – both on and off the dinner table of Muncie Indiana’s respective gamers.

It doesn’t have any big fancy artwork. In fact, the comic’s artist freely admits to having no talent and most of the comics feature the same clips of various characters, with the mouths changed slightly. If you look at the cover of this book and say that you could do better, Jolly Blackburn would probably be the first to agree with you. Indeed, his opening address to the readers at the start of this issue talks about how he had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into doing a cover for this issue – his first in nine years, because he fully believes he is a bad artist and his work would keep people from buying the book.

So why on earth should you spend your money on this book if I, a huge fan of the series, admit that the art isn’t the best, the writing isn’t that complex and that unless you’ve ever gone to a LARP, played Magic: The Gathering or spent a Friday night rolling d20s you probably won’t like it?

Because it is funny.

Simply put, there is a reason why Knights of the Dinner Table, or KODT as we initiates call it, is the longest running gamer-related comic in the world. It is because in spite of and perhaps maybe because of its’ ”flaws”, it is the most true depiction of its subject. And call me crazy, but isn’t that the most basic point of art?

As I said, this probably isn't a book you’ll enjoy if you’re not already a gamer – much of the humor will be lost on you. But in spite of it being a niche comic, Blackburn and company infuse more real characterization and story than any similar comic.

Take a scene from this issue, for instance, where Bob, Dave and Brian (three friends) are discussing a magical item from D&D called ”The Deck of Many Things”. All you need to know is that it’s a magic deck of tarot-style cards that bring great fortune or great misery upon the drawer of the cards depending on what cards are dealt out. Brian makes the point that if such a thing were real, nobody would use it for fear of what might happen. Bob challenges him on this point and as Brian uses a mock-card deck as a test, the men begin to discuss just WHAT would happen if they actually drew the cards they do.

This, in itself, is not that funny. What IS funny is when the usually unlucky Bob goes off on a winning streak and wins three magical wishes as well as the services of a henchman – a 4th level fighter of unwavering loyalty. And that leads to Dave pointing out, as Bob ponders the implications of having a thug to do his bidding, that nothing says it couldn’t be a female fighter. And THAT leads to the men discussing just which ”chick who can literally kick my ass” would be the best one to have at your beck and call; Buffy, River from Firefly, Xena, Trinity, Gabrielle, the chick from Underworld or Lara Croft.

If you’re any kind of geek, you’ve probably had tangential conversations to similar effect. That is the genius of this book – it reads like something that happened to you and even if you aren’t a gamer, you likely know somebody like Bob or Dave or Brian. The characters are true to life, in spite of some of the zanier aspects of the strips. Among these is Squirley the Chimp, the unfortunate centerpiece of this issue.

I say unfortunate because about half of the comics of this issue are devoted to Squirley, pet and employee of Weird Pete; owner of the local game store. In the last issue, Pete was wrongly jailed and used his one phone call to get Squirley to call for help – a task which Squirley is easily distracted from.

As much as I hate to say it, the number of comics in this issue showing Squirley sitting on the chair watching TV just smacks of a lazy attempt to pad out the drama and the issue. That is why I’m giving this particularly issue a lower rating than usual, even though the comic itself is usually one of my top 5 monthly books.

But there is more to this book than just the comics. As the cover says, this is KODT Magazine despite the comic-size. In addition to the comics, there’s a number of articles on gamer culture, game reviews, sections that allow the readers to contribute their war-stories or character designs. There are even comic reviews if you’re into that kind of thing. But for my money, the best of these features is Noah Antwiler’s A Gamer’s Rant on the Movies – a column which does to bad sci-fi and fantasy movies what I do to the collective works of Ron Zimmerman.

In short, while it does cater to a niche market, KODT is the best at what it does and what it does is funny. Not convinced? There’s plenty of free comic goodness on the Kenzerco website so you can give it a looksee without paying for a single issue. You can also read Noah Antwiler’s movie rants on-line at The Spoony Experiment.

Score: C

Monday, March 6, 2006

While You Were Reading The Big Two - Red Sonja vs. Thulsa Doom #2

Hey everyone. It’s the ever-loving Starman here. No, this isn’t a very special Looking To The Stars. That comes later. No, this is the first of a new series of columns that will rotate between the staff on a weekly basis. I think the name speaks for itself, but the basic gist is that this column will be devoted to reviewing notable titles by companies other than “The Big Two”.

Hopefully we’ll be able to review a wide range of titles in a more in-depth way than previously possible. And having the writers taking turns on this feature will help instill maximum freshness. To the extreme!

Yes. I just mixed two decades worth of slang. For I am Starman and can do such things.

Red Sonja vs. Thulsa Doom #2 (of 4)
Company Name: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Peter David and Luke Lieberman
Artist: Will Conrad

There are three ways in which one can view a series such as Red Sonja vs. Thulsa Doom. The first is the path of the scholar; the die-hard Robert E. Howard fan who views the story not only in terms of aesthetics but also in how it fits into the geography and continuity of Howard’s world. The second is the path of the fanboy; one who cannot tell you the difference between Turan or Hyrkania but who knows what they like in terms of story and art. The third is the path of the speculator; one who sees an alternate cover with a gorgeous redhead bathing herself and thinks of how much he can sell it to those who have never known the touch of a woman for five times the price in a month’s time.

Sadly, all but the later of these will be dissatisfied with this book.

The Howard fans have been grumbling about this book since its announcement and their concern cannot be said to have been unfounded now that the book is here. Their chief concern has been the fact that in the Howard cannon, Thulsa Doom was an enemy of King Kull - another Howard hero whose adventures came several hundred years before the time of Conan and Red Sonja. This did not stop Doom from becoming the villain in the first big-screen Conan movie and the character has been wrongly associated with Conan ever since.

Another cause for worry was that co-author Luke Lieberman described himself in an interview as being “Howard enthusiast more than a purist” The fact that Lieberman also owns the rights to the character’s use at this time and is currently working on making a movie devoted entirely to Thulsa Doom fueled worries that the book would not only violate Howard’s continuity but also reduced Sonja to bit-part status since early interviews seemed to show Lieberman as being more interested in promoting Doom (and, by proxy, the movie) than the newly returned Sonja.

While I’m not quite a Howard purist or a scholar, even I saw some flaws in the dialogue regarding place names and climate. For example, Doom claims to be a native of “the jungles and deserts of Zingara” in Howard’s world, Zingara is a nation like medieval Spain, with no jungles or deserts at all. And in 26 pages, Sonja seen in barely half the comic. Of those 15 pages, she is nude in over half, as well as on the cover. While Sonja has always been a sexual character, this issue is a far cry from the vampish days of Roy Thomas’s Conan and is closer to an issue of Danger Girl than anything.

But ignoring the concerns of die-hards and purists, how does it read? Not well, I’m afraid.

The plot involves Sonja returning to her homeland of Hyrkania to find her people scared and a city destroyed. She attracts the attention of Thulsa Doom, leader of the invading army, who then disguises himself as a slave in hopes of getting closer to Sonja, who just happens to hook up with the resistance right before the caravan holding Doom comes by. This issue shows Doom trying to win his way closer to Sonja even as he gives his men orders to attack the Hyrkanian capital.

The story is muddied as things occur but we are given little reason behind the how and why. I had to reread the first issue and this several times to keep some characters straight. There is also a totally pointless and out-of-left-field subplot about a crooked vizier who is apparently intent on stealing the throne of Hyrkania for himself. For a book written by Peter David and a writer who says he was taught by Stan Lee about the importance of character, this book features a lot of characters who are as flat as the woman on the cover is rounded.

The artwork is similarly confused. When this series started, Thulsa Doom started out looking like James Earl Jones. Now he seems to be nothing less than a muscular Samuel L. Jackson. Sonja, in a similar metamorphosis goes from looking like a muscular female body-builder in her first splash page (no pun intended, as she is indeed splashing a pond surface) to an sunken-bellied supermodel in later scenes. The coloring is nice and the action panels are lively, but there is very little sense of perspective and the inking is far too heavy.

All in all, everyone is better off sticking to the regular Red Sonja series than reading this mini. The Howard fans will be pleased by the adherence to the particulars of the Hyborean world. The casual readers will find the art crisper and the writing more energetic. And the cover to Red Sonja #6 by Billy Tan does a similar shot to much greater effect for you speculators and men-child seeking sexual fulfillment from a comic book.

Score: D

Looking To The Stars - The New Look

My apologies for the late posting. It was a long weekend.

Remember what I said last week about big changes and a big surprise coming soon?

Well, the big surprise is still a little further off.

But the big changes start now!

Doubtlessly most of you have already read The Dark Overlord's missive regarding how the look of the site, the layout of reviews and other things are going to be changing over the next few weeks.

If you haven't, you'd better go read about it quickly, before he has you flayed. There will be new columns, new writers and a lot more graphic elements to the site among other things.

This of course begs the question, how will THIS, the column that has been a staple of this magazine since Day One be changed by these changes?

The answer is, not much.

The column is still here.

Barring my being framed for an assassination attempt on Mark Millar and jailed or being made king of New Marvel, I'm not going anywhere.

And my original contract to write whatever I want, however I want so long as it is turned in before Sunday evening still stands.

There have been no modifications or requirements that I shift everything into a pure graphics format so as to capture that important demographic of illiterate web-surfers who find text and prose-style writing frightening.

You know, the morons, who don't read my column anyway. ;)

So what changes are there? Well, here comes the first one.

And it is a big one.

So big that I've been trying to pad out this introduction so as to better disguise it.

It is, in fact, a logo.

Every feature on the site now has a logo and we will not be exempt from this.

Because of my commitment to being as independent as possible, I designed the logo myself, from scratch, from a photograph of yours truly taken by my friend Donna.

Using the magic that is Paint Shop Pro, I have chopped it, channeled it, fiddled around with and then hit it with a hammer to create something that screams Indy. Something that screams inspiration. Something that didn't take all afternoon. And something that was free so I didn't have to pay Daron's friend to make me one.

With that, I give you this... the new face of Looking To The Stars as we enter this bold new age of graphic-enabled independence!

We've come a long way baby!

Well, that's all! I'll see you all next week!

Okay. You're all still here.

Yes, I do actually have SOME content to the magazine this week, besides the spiffy new logo.

First, a review of the latest work by a writer who I have been missing for a long, long time.

Detective Comics #817
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: James Robinson
Layouts: Leonard Kirk
Finishes: Andy Clarke
Colors: John Kalisz

The minute I saw the previews of this book, I knew I'd have to get it. Not just because I usually get all the Batman books whenever a new direction begins. Not just to learn the fate of Batman and what happened to him after Infinite Crisis. No. I had to get it because my favorite writer of all time is writing comics once again.

James Robinson, the creator of Starman, is back in comics. And with this, the first Batman comic taking place One Year Later, he has brought back…

* Jim Gordon as Police Commissioner
* Harvey Bullock, with a badge!
* Harvey Dent – Vigilante!
* Batman (Apparently he was gone for a year)
* Robin in a new suit!
* Poison Ivy – not dead and more powerful than ever!

There's not much of a plot at this point past setting up the Gotham City of One Year Later. Despite this, the story goes smoothly and this feels a lot more like what Batman should be than anything written on the Bat-Books since Jeph Loeb left the title. And I'm glad to see somebody FINALLY doing something with the reformed, newly-sane (as far as we know) Harvey Dent.

The art is might pur-tee too. Dark but not overly so. Of course it's not Tony Harris (which would make this book 10 kinds of heaven) but it works well.

Grade: A

And if you're wondering about the new 52 comic, I recently stumbled across a preview of the first five pages.

Finally, on a happy note, I got some fan mail from Jason R Svoboda. This made me laugh after a hard day at work. Hopefully it will do the same for you too.

I'm a long time reader. Very VERY occasional feed-backer. Good job with the column, BTW.

Don't laugh! That's not the funny part!

Anyhow, after reading the spoilers and such on Marvel’s “Civil War” which is being written by Brian Michael Bendis, I think I have an idea of how the editorial meetings with him must go…

Marvel Editors: OK Brian, we need some hot new ideas to spark interest away from that Crisis stuff at DC.

BMB: OK, here’s my pitch: Thor, harder edged. Modernized for the modern fan.

Editors: Sounds good so far.

BMB: Alright well we start off with the Iron Fist holding a meeting with some of his allies in regards to starting a new “Heroes for Hire.” We would have Black Knight there, White Tiger, maybe some mutants like Wolfsbane or Marrow or some other b-leaguers.

Editors: Interesting.

BMB: And then right as they’re talking, in walks… get this …. D-Man! With a bomb strapped to his chest, babbling about “the coming Ragnorak!” At which point it explodes and kills every in the building!

Editors: But what does Heroes fo Hire have to do with Thor…?

BMB: Also, Moon Knight hears the commotion and heads over to investigate, and a piano falls on him.

Editors: ……… why would you kill Moon Knight?

BMB: Eh, I don’t plan on writing him. So why not kill him?

Editor: Well we can’t do that because we are planning on a Moon Knight minseries.

BMB: Oh. Well I do have another idea, it’s a series of one shots involving the key members of the Defenders.

Editor: Sounds better…

BMB: We start off with the Controller feeding the kids from Power Pack into a wood chipper…

Editor: Uh no. We are still using Power Pack for our kid friendly comics.

BMB: Huh, comics for kids… don’t think that would work. Well if not that then howabout this…a saga with Captain America where I kill every single Marvel character whose name starts with the letter “R.”

Editor: Uhm, do you have any ideas that don’t involve randomly killing off characters? Maybe a story where the good guys…. uhm win? Or a story where some dying is integral to the story and not just killing off someone you don’t care for?

BMB: …. I don’t get what you’re trying to say.

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