Thursday, August 23, 2007

I would like to recall my previous Shenanigans!

It takes a big man to admit that he made a mistake.

Today, Tony Bedard has proven himself a big man.

From Tony Bedard's personal forum at: Comic Book Resources:

Yeah, folks, this is just a good old fashioned f*ck-up on my part. Sorry.

To be honest, I probably took on too much work over the last year and rushed, uninformed stuff like this crept in. I have no idea where I got the notion that Shado was Connor's mom, but I did think that. I appreciate the mistake being pointed out, and I hope it didn't ruin the rest of the issue.

I recently made another mistake in SUPERGIRL 20, where I said a veteran of the Battle of Mogadishu was a former Marine, when the people who fought that fight were Army Rangers and Delta Force.

These may seem like small errors, but they show a basic ignorance and lack or respect for the facts on my part.


Well, let it never be said that I'm not a fair man.

Therefore, let it be known to all those upon this Internet that I take back my taking back every nice thing I ever said about Tony Bedard from yesterday.

I still hold Mike Carlin or whichever assistant editors dropped the ball on this one responsible but I can highly recommend the Black Canary mini-series and Supergirl again, without any reservation whatsoever.

Now let us never speak of this again until the inevitable corrections which are sure to follow the trade-paperback collection of this storyline.

The Final Thought On Birds of Prey #109 Really!

Looking around at scans_daily and The Comics Nexus boards this morning, I have found something quite heartening.

There is outrage over Birds of Prey #109, but it has nothing to do with the fact that it has been made painfully obvious that when it comes to continuity that DC Editorial, in the words of Joel and The Bots (in Episode #419 Attack of the Eye Creatures)... They Just Don't Care!

No, the outrage is over the death of Knockout; long-time Superboy love-interest/villain, turned Secret Six member... and member of a long-term committed lesbian relationship with fellow Secret Six member Scandal Savage.

Now here is what I find inspiring. All of this outrage is, thus far, universal.

It's not just the lesbian comic fans complaining about how the most prominent committed lesbian relationship between two characters in comics has just been broken up.

It's not all the female comic fans complaining about one more woman being killed off for the sake of a plot-point in Countdown.

It is EVERYONE complaining about one more pointless death that is little more than a footnote in the body count for the build-up to The Next Big Crossover.

The tide is turning...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Looking To The Stars - The Week In Reviews for 08/23/07

Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writer: J. Michael Straczynksi
Artist: Ron Garney

Continuity seems to be a big sticking point with me this week.

Case in point: the main conceit of this issue - and indeed all of Amazing Spider-Man since Aunt May got shot - is that somehow, Mary Jane Watson was able to check Aunt May into a hospital with a gunshot wound and able to go several days without arousing suspicion as to why no police reports have been filed in connection to the mysterious "May Reilly".

Now, granting that this is a very exciting issue with amazing visuals and that the lengths which Peter goes through to save the life of the woman who raised him - to the point of committing nine felonies - make this one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories ever... part of me can't help but wonder certain things.

1. Wouldn't someone have recognized famous actress/supermodel Mary Jane Watson in the hospital?

2. Wouldn't someone have recognized the recently outed to the world Peter Parker: Amazing Spider-Man walking around in paramedic scrubs?

3. Couldn't Peter have avoided all of this by going to the Night Nurse? Admittedly, my Marvel reading of late has been somewhat limited - but the last I checked (in Brian K. Vaughn's Dr. Strange mini) she was still offering free medical coverage to any superhero who needed it...

And yet, part of me wants to like this issue for how effective it is in its' own logic and action, independent of any past works. It is an effective thriller on those terms but like most good thrillers, it falls apart when basic logic is applied.


Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Tony Bedard
Artist: Nicola Scott

I'm somewhat torn about this issue.

On the one hand, it is a continuity train wreck which neglects a fairly simple point of DC Comic Book history which any Green Arrow fan worth their salt should know. I go into greater detail on this point on my blog, but in brief the issue is this; Shado is NOT Connor Hawke's mother.

This is not some minute bit of trivia, such as "In what issue did Connor Hawke possibly lose his virginity to a ghost?” This is something that is fairly important to the history of the character, especially when you consider that we have over three years worth of comics showing his mother to be a flighty, free-spirited ex-hippie named Moonday Hawke.

On the other hand, the grasp of continuity elsewhere in the issue is excellent - with Dinah pointing out, rightly, that apart from Ollie's sleeping with Black Lightning's niece, he never once actually cheated on her. The point/counterpoint discussion could have easily come from any one of my debates on the subject with any number of prominent Ollie-haters.

Throw in some cuteness with Big Barda being taught that Pokemon is truly a warrior's game by Black Canary's young ward, some nice action that actually seems to be advancing the deadest plot in Countdown and Dinah Lance slapping Barbara Gordon with the ultimate burn regarding why she wants to take a chance on Ollie even if it does turn out to be a mistake ("I can't let fear keep me from a chance at happiness. I don't want to spend the rest of my life wondering what might've been, like you and Nightwing.") and there is a lot to admire in the dialog and characterization in this issue. And the artwork by Nicola Scott is as stunning as always.

Looks like we're going to have to grade this one on an average, kids.

ART: A - Nicola Scott does not disappoint.
WRITING: B - Ignoring the continuity issues, there's not much to complain about.
EDITING: F - What were you thinking?!

Company Name: Comic Foundry
Writers: Various
Artists: Various

Being in the digital comic magazine business, there's probably some sort of conflict of interest in me recommending a print comic book magazine to anyone. Still, if the power suddenly goes out or your Internet connection goes down, I can think of no better low-tech magazine about comic books to read than Comic Foundry. ;)

As Editor-In-Chief and Art Director Tim Leong notes in his introduction to the magazine, most comics magazines "assume readers are only the hard core superheroes or the indie elite." The aspiring historians will read The Comics Journal. The aspiring artists will study every new issue of Draw! The aspiring to one day see a bare naked girl without paying for the privilege will read Wizard and content themselves with yet another spread of Jessica Alba photographs.

Leong feels that most comic readers are somewhere in the middle and that few comic magazines cater to the middle-ground of fandom; the people who are not die-hard fans of any one particular part of the medium but are willing to give any and all sub-genres a fair shake. If this issue is any indication, Leong and company have been successful in creating a product that has something for everyone.

You like mainstream superheroes? There's an interview with Brad Meltzer about his love of the Justice League and an article about what inspired the classic Teen Titans story The Judas Contract.

You like more darker, more twisted work? Garth Ennis talks about his new series The Boys and Mark Millar talks about which of his artists he would eat first for food if trapped on an island.

You're curious about Manga but unfamiliar with the terms? There's a helpful one-page guide explaining the sub-genres of Manga, from Shonen to Seinen.

You like serious analysis of comic book culture? There's an article about what comic books say about common sexual fantasies as well as what your comic collection says about your kinks and hang-ups.

You like comedy? There are bits that seem to subtly parody the "humor" of Wizard while being hysterical on their own. For example, the infamous Wizard "Identify The Butt of The Superheroine" game is turned on its ear with "Sex Scene or Comic Cover" - a quiz in which you must determine whether the perverse image comes from a comic book sex scene or just a cheesecake heavy cover.

There are even some random fun bits such as how to decorate your home in geeky style, an article on comic creators who are also in a band of some kind and an interview with Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell.

Consider this then less of a review and more of an outright recommendation. Because with only one issue thus far, Comics Foundry is easily the freshest take on the industry in quote some time and poised to quickly become the most important magazine devoted to comic books on the stands.

Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Tony Bedard
Artist: J. Calafiore

So in a moment of misguided hopefulness, I decided that maybe I'd be okay if I limited my reading of Countdown to the scenes in which Trickster and Piper appeared.

That worked okay until this issue, in which the most overexposed villain in comics put in an appearance. And somehow, I lost all interest in this book yet again.

Because if there is one thing I don't need more of in my comics, it is Slade "Judd Winick's Man-Crush" Wilson aka Deathstroke playing the evil badass mastermind who still gets hordes of other, more powerful baddies to do his bidding - despite his routinely getting trounced by a bunch of kids.


Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Jock

Can you make a continuity rant about something that is setting up an event that takes place BEFORE an event that is supposed to happen?

Either way, I have a major issue with this book.

Last issue, Ollie broke his arm fighting former best-buddy Hackett and passed out in the woods from the pain. This issue, we find that Ollie is being cared for by pregnant native woman Taiana - who just happens to be a doctor, who returned to her home village just in time to be captured as slave labor for the world's biggest opium farm.

With no other medical supplies, Taiana uses opium to keep Ollie doped out of his gourd for the unspecified amount of time that it takes him to recover. A shaken Ollie eventually manages to - just barely - fight off the minions of the local drug lord, who are hunting for the man who shot down one of their planes with an arrow. Ollie escapes, spends several days and nights going through nightmarish withdrawal symptoms only to emerge hungry and weakened but alive and spoiling for a fight.

A great tale of epic heroism? Yes. A story that shows the Oliver Queen I've always admired? Yes. A realistic, believable story? Not exactly.

First, Ollie seems to recover from his injuries way too quickly - even though the amount of time Ollie spends resting is deliberately vague, as he describes how time lost all meaning while he was lost in an opium haze. Second, I know from all accounts that opiate addictions are the most difficult and dangerous form of drug addiction to overcome and that doing so cold turkey is virtually impossible. Still, I'm willing to give Ollie the benefit of the doubt, say that he is that tough and save that he actually spent weeks, not days, resting his arm under Taiana's care.

What I can't believe is that the Oliver Queen who experienced the side-effects of opium addiction first hand would grow into the Oliver Queen who kicked his adopted son out into the street after becoming a heroin addict.

I've seen some arguments that Ollie might, with such an experience in his past, becoming angry at a son who willingly chose an addiction to a substance that Ollie himself had fought and overcome an addiction with. And if we see a future retelling of "They Say It'll Kill Me, But They Won't Say When" in which we find that Ollie had told Roy of his own past encounters with drug addiction in the hopes of scaring the boy straight and that Roy turned to heroin to spite a neglectful Ollie, I might just be able to forgive that idea.

But personally - I can't believe that an encounter with addiction would cause Oliver Queen to become anything but sympathetic to those who suffered at the hands of drug abuse - even if that suffering was self-inflicted. He has too much heart not to be.

And yet, despite this concern, there is too much in this issue to admire not to give it a top grade. Jock's art is amazing as always. And this issue also gives us the best in-character explanation ever for the Green Arrow codename.


Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Dave Gibbons
Artists: Pat Gleason and Prentis Rollins

I'm not a big fan of Gleason's art, but I will say one thing - you have no trouble picking apart his characters, even ignoring the fact that all of them are freaky aliens, all part of a unique civilization.

As for this issue - well, what can I say about a comic in which a sentient city, who wants revenge against Guy Gardner for reasons that are vaguely defined, attacks a sentient planet as the whole of the Green Lantern Corps remaining make a desperate stand against the main force of the fear-empowered Sinestro Corps?

Not since The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny has a story concept lived up so well to its' promise. If you're a fan of the old Alan Moore Green Lantern stories (which this series has, to be fair, borrowed heavily from) then you will love Green Lantern Corps.


One more thought on Birds of Prey #109

(EDIT: Read Part One of my Birds of Prey #109 thoughts here.)

Something about the dialogue that hit me, but which I almost forgot as I hunted and scanned images...

Barbara Gordon: "It's my business to know that stuff, Dinah. He fathered Connor with that ninja woman, for starters."

Dinah Lance: "Shado shot him and drugged him. Ever wonder how he felt about being raped?"

Am I the only one who sees a certain level of irony in Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance - two women who were both, in the late 80s, physically assaulted in a manner which suggested rape - speculating on how a rape victim feels?

I take back every good thing I ever said about Tony Bedard... (EDITED)

... or, at the very least, every thing I said about DC Comics editorial having a better grasp on their own continuity and history than Marvel Comics.

Why? Birds of Prey #109. Out today. Check the third panel from the top.

For those of you who don't like big images, let me quote the offending text.

Barbara Gordon: "It's my business to know that stuff, Dinah. He fathered Connor with that ninja woman, for starters."

Dinah Lance: "Shado shot him and drugged him. Ever wonder how he felt about being raped?"


I shouldn't have to explain this to anyone at DC Comics besides Judd Winick, but here it goes...


This isn't hard, people. Even Wikipedia managed to get this one right!

I mean, even ignoring that we saw Connor and Shado's son together during the recent Dragon's Blood mini-series that just came out a scant few months ago...

DUDE! That's your mom! Apparently...


And to think... I was going to write a full, in-depth defense of Black Canary #4 before I picked up my comics tonight...


See this entry for the latest news and Tony Bedard's redemption.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Once Upon A Time...

Written in response to a fable by one bar1scorpio


Once upon a time, there was a very good restaurant which had hired a new waiter. The waiter was not a very good waiter. In fact, he was a very bad waiter. He was rude to the customers. He trash-talked his co-workers. He even spat in the food on occasion. The only person the waiter showed any respect for was the owner, who paid his paychecks and made the schedule and thought the waiter was a good, hard-working employee.

For many years, this waiter kept his job. He drove many customers away. Several other waiters quit because of the bad waiter. But for all this time, the bad waiter kept his job.

Some thought "It wouldn't do any good to complain." They thought that if the waiter were really that bad, they would have been fired a long time ago. Others thought "There are other restaurants out there." They thought that they might find what they had lost elsewhere. And while they did find other meals, they still thought of the old restaurant and how it used to be before the bad waiter.

But with all of these thoughts, not one of them thought "I should say something to the owner." Not one of them thought "I should make a complaint. Not one of them thought "I should say that this is unacceptable and this must change."

And they didn't change. Because nobody thought to say that a waiter was bad.


The moral of the story? Well, I think Dr. Seuss put it best in The Lorax.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Looking To The Stars - Will Eisner's New York, A Review

Confession time. Despite all my years as a comic reader and a critic of graphic literature, I had not – until recently – ever read a single story written or drawn by Will Eisner.

I’ve seen samples of his art in the history books, of course. And I’ve seen many more works inspired by him. The artist who says that Will Eisner hasn’t influenced his work is either a hack or a poor student of comic history. Because in some form or fashion, Will Eisner has been an influence on the genre to a point where separating Will Eisner from American Comics is like trying to chisel the animal remains out of a fossil.

This is one of the reasons why the highest honor in graphic literature was named in his honor while he was still alive. But another reason Eisner may have been honored thus was because in addition to being one of the undisputed masters of his craft, he was also reportedly one of the nicest men one could ever hope to meet.

There is a story that several decades back, a magazine editor attempted to find someone in the comic industry to write a hatchet-piece about Will Eisner only to find that none of his fellow writers had a bad thing to say about the man or his work. This editor was reportedly forced to write the piece himself and even he was apparently unable to find Eisner guilty of any crime other than that his work was too sentimental.

This story is recounted by Neil Gaiman in his introduction to Will Eisner’s New York - a recent hardcover edition collecting four of Will Eisner’s graphic novels that are set-in or about New York City and the first bit of Will Eisner’s work I have ever seen intact. And if being too sentimental is a crime, Will Eisner was exceedingly, happily and above all else incredibly guilty. The four stories bound in this edition are many things but above all else they are a love letter to a city that may no longer exist anymore.

In his introduction to the first novel, New York: The Big City, Eisner notes that while the scenes he shows are taken from his home town of New York, that “I also know many other big cities, and what I show is meant to be common to them all.” Indeed, some scenes are universal to big-city life everywhere, such as Walls Have Ears in which a neighbor overhears the sexual acrobatics of his next-door neighbor and then has to maintain a straight face the next morning in the elevator. This is a problem that plagues every city dweller who ever lived in a small apartment, college dormitory or other form of prison cell.

But other scenes seem to be unique to New York, such as Subways - which depicts the fleeting daydreams of a male and female passenger on a subway train. She dreams that the handsome man is a lawyer who will give her the perfect marriage. He dreams that she is a rich heiress and kinky nymphomaniac who dreams of sharing her father’s money with a common mechanic. Of course other cities have subway trains and fantasies like this occur are common enough when looking at strangers in public. And yet, something about this particular fantasy seems to scream New York.

Eisner depicts all these scenes with an odd combination of both realism and sentiment. They are realistic in that we have all know or have met people like the ones Eisner depicts and that no matter how outlandish his brief plots are, they still read true. They are sentimental in that even in the scenes which show the darker side of human nature, such as when a woman is jeered by her neighbors while pleading for help fighting a purse snatcher, there is still a sort of nostalgic longing for the days when losing a purse was the worst a woman could expect on the streets of New York.

This realism and sentimentality in the face of outlandishness lies at the core of the second story in this collection: The Building. The story of four lost souls tied to the site of a recently demolished building, this is perhaps the most traditional story of comic heroism and villainy in the collection. There are no costumed crime-fighters or cackling masterminds here but there are the quiet sorts of good and evil that are, under Eisner’s pen, every bit as epic as any battle between Superman and Lex Luthor.

Monroe Mensh is hardly a Superman. In fact, he’s not even in good enough shape to be a passable Clark Kent. And yet there is little doubt by the end of his story that he is a hero, who knows full well the truth in Edmund Burke’s statement that, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

Inspired by the sudden death of a young boy in a drive-by shooting – a crime he is sure he could have stopped had he not frozen up when the shooting started – Monroe quit his job to do something where he could make a living saving children. Monroe tries to become a social services case worker, despite the repeated urgings of his boss to stick to fund-raising after the mousy Monroe proves able to do little against abusive fathers and children turned to crime. And yet, Monroe does not give up trying to do good until the day he dies.

Monroe’s quiet, desperate heroism is matched by the subtle villainy of P.J. Hammond – a second-generation real-estate tycoon who resorts to dirty tricks to buy the titular Building – the very first that his father started his empire with. Ironically, in trying to create a legacy for his father by reclaiming his first conquest, he loses the empire his father gave everything to build. In the end, Hammond’s only legacy is a building named after him - built on the ruins of the building he gave all to possess.

Another figure who destroys all they value in search of something bigger is Gilda Green, a backstreets girl who loved a neighborhood poet but abandoned her love for the security in marriage to an Uptown dentist. She still maintains her friendship with Benny – a friendship that turns into an affair which shames Gilda until she finds her husband is cheating on her as well. Even then she cannot bring herself to abandon security for the freedom of Benny’s love and she finds herself, in death, haunting the street corner where she and Benny met weekly.

The ghostly quartet is rounded off by Antonio Tonatti – an street musician with the face of Edgar Allan Poe. An aspiring prodigy, Antonio’s dreams of artistry were shot down at an early age. Still, he found a joy in playing his violin that transcended the rest of his life and when an accident at his union job left him with a pension for life and all the time in the world, he began to do just that on the street outside his home. A true bard, Antonio refused all payment and played only to inspire the downtrodden (such as a depressed Monore) and enhance the moods of young lovers like Benny and Gilda.

Despite this being a ghost story in the tradition of Dickens, this is a fundamentally realistic tale as Eisner tells not only of the passing of four souls but of the passing of a building and an era. It is a story that is spiritually close to Wilder’s Our Town, but The Building is a far more hopeful work.

Not as hopeful but just as heartwarming is City People Notebook; the third of Eisner’s works collected in this edition. Similar to New York: The Big City in format, being a collection of several short sketches rather than a continuous tale, this is a much more humorous collection of stories.

Humorous, it should be noted, does not always equal lighthearted. Some of Eisner’s stories here are dark comedies, such as Space Rights. One can’t help but feel guilty for laughing at this piece - partly because of the unseen victim of one man’s activism and partly because thanks to Eisner’s magic pencils, one doesn’t see the old punch line coming until it is too late.

But even this dark comedy pales to the guilt produced by laughing at Sanctum and Mortal Combat - the opening and closing chapters of Eisner’s Invisible People. The former depicts the tragically hilarious and hilariously tragic events that befall one Pincus Pleatnik after his obituary is wrongly published and he finds that the rest of the world is at best indifferent to the news of his death. The later depicts the increasingly deadly struggle between a middle-aged librarian and the mother of the man she hopes to rope into marriage.

No such humor exists, save humor of the most bitter and ironic kind, in The Power -the middle chapter of Invisible People and for my money, the best story in the entire collection. The story of a man who finds he has an amazing gift for healing and yet absolutely no capacity for finding a place in the world where he can use it to help people as he wishes, it is one of the most stunning stories ever written for the graphic literature medium.

Having read through all of this, I am kicking myself for not trying to track down the works of Will Eisner much sooner. I’m glad that my own library picked up this work recently – otherwise I might never have had the chance to enjoy it. At any price, this collection is a priceless bargain and well worth $30 American for a stylish and durable hardcover if your library is not fortunate enough to have a copy of Will Eisner’s New York.

Fast Thoughts - The Week of 8/15/07

AMAZONS ATTACK #5 (OF 6) - Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know. It's like a kind of torture, to have to watch this show! Or read this book.

I dunno. Is it really worth noting that Batman winds up saving the day... AGAIN, albeit it with a second-hand assist from Zatanna? Is it really worth noting that no sooner do they come up with a good background for the dull and trite character of Grace that we find out that it is all a load of bollocks and that she really is just some super-strong man-hating lesbian stereotype instead of a rogue Amazon among the rogue Amazons? Is it really worth noting that most of us are waiting for the day Gail Simone takes over Wonder Woman?

I think not.


BLACK CANARY #4 (OF 4) - Mr. Bedard.

I know I haven't been a big fan of your works and I've slaughtered a lot of your work in the press before. I know my commentary on this series has been guarded at best and that the news that you were taking over Supergirl and Birds of Prey made me more nervous than hopeful. Still, I have been enjoying most of what you've been doing with this series so far. That changed with this issue.

This issue... I loved it.

You have, in four simple issues, not only managed to capture the essence of Black Canary but you also managed to explain - in terms that only the most stone-hearted of Ollie-haters could ignore - exactly what it is that Dinah Lance sees in Green Arrow. You wrote a story in which Green Arrow and Black Canary were equals even if they were not technically partners. And yes, you blew away that stupid scene with Deathstroke and the sword in Green Arrow #75 and showed that holding Black Canary hostage with a weapon near her throat is a BAD IDEA.

Enjoy this grade, Mr. Bedard. You've earned it.


BRAVE AND THE BOLD #6 - What can I say about a comic where there is a scene where Supergirl uses her X-Ray vision, suped up by the three yellow suns of Rann, to read the contents of a book that can tell the future from 80 miles away, in order to tell Adam Strange where to find a time-stranded Batman, so they can hit him with a Zeta Teleportion Beam that is being boosted to travel through time by a Green Lantern wishing as hard as he can to send a beam of energy through 1000 years of time and an untold distance of space?

It is awesome.

It is also, amazingly, not the most awesome scene in the whole book. If you like comics, you should read this book. Period. End of discussion.


HELLBLAZER #235 - If Andy Diggle does not get at least one Eisner nomination this year, I will be surprised.

This issue is slowed down a bit by the scenes in the middle involving the family of a hit-and-run victim and the actual hit-and-run punks. I'm sure Diggle is building to something but he writes such a good John Constantine that it's a joy to read his John in action even when what John is doing is only tangentally related to the "plot".

Of course maybe I'm alone in thinking that watching John pull rank on a group of police detectives and take command of a crime scene without ever flashing a fake police badge is more interesting than the mysterious noble who appears to be building a paradise for the victims of violent crime... but I doubt it. Still, this is a grand old read.


JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #12 - Many argue that Brad Meltzer is a terrible writer. I say it depends on what kind of story you are looking for.

If you're looking for a good old-fashioned superhero dust-up with fists-flying and end-of-the-world epics every issue, then yes... Meltzer is crap on a stick. But if you don't mind a story where nothing much happens but you get a lot of nice character moments, well... he's tolerable.

Seriously, I think Meltzer is great when it comes to characters. The best scenes in Identity Crisis were the ones which featured the characters just talking in between the disasters. Green Arrow and Flash talking about the importance of masks. Starfire stopping to be with Nightwing on the day of his parent's murder. Firehawk and Elongated Man talking about how he met his wife. Great character moments all. And yet, the few action scenes in Identity Crisis were - to be fair - very contrived and overly slow.

That is much the same problem here. Meltzer gives us a lot of fine details about the characters but very little how or why behind the details we get. For example, we find out in one scene that Roy Harper and his daughter Lian both go to visit the assassin Cheshire (Lian's mom - the result of a one-night-stand with Roy) in prison.

Given that there have been entire storylines devoted to Cheshire trying to kidnap her daughter, I have to wonder why Roy would ever allow his daughter to ever get anywhere near her mass-murder mother. Did Cheshire somehow score visitation rights? Or did Roy just go to torment Cheshire with the knowledge that their daughter was growing up knowing how bad her mommy was and wanting to have nothing to do with her? The fact that Lian shows up at the JLA base wearing a miniature Speedy costume seems to suggest this and Roy certainly isn't above such childish taunting. But for all we know it could be Halloween. Or perhaps Lian just enjoys dressing like daddy? We never do get an answer.

We do, however, learn that Black Canary plays the harmonica to improve her lung capacity and breath control. We learn that Hawkgirl and Roy Harper have indeed shacked-up. We learned that GeoForce is being used as a deep-cover agent to bring in Deathstroke. And we learned that Red Tornado, somehow, seems to be losing his grip on humanity.

Which is all fine and dandy, save that this issue only serves to make one long all the more for the upcoming Dwayne McDuffie run where, no doubt, we will finally see the super-villains we have seen plotting and planning for the last year finally do something.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fast Thoughts - The Week of 8/08/07

DAREDEVIL #99 - There is quite a bit of confusion, it seems, about just who the skull-masked baddie at the end of this book - the apparent cause of all Matt Murdock's recent troubles - really is.

Well, I try to use this space to educate if nothing else, so let me explain.

He hasn't been seen in a while... and they don't outright name him... but the costume and the name Cranston are a dead give away. It's long-neglected Daredevil baddie Mister Fear. And this does actually explain most of the last few issues.

Ignoring some complicated business involving double-crosses and temporary assumption of another criminal's identity, Mister Fear is Larry Cranston - a former Law School rival of Matt Murdock - who used his identity as Mister Fear to try and discredit Murdock as an attorney and ruin his life.

Mister Fear uses a variety of pheromone-based chemicals to trigger emotional responses in his enemies. While he favors fear (as his name implies) he has also used his powers to inspire uncontrollable lust and anger. He can also trigger the "flight or fight" response in humans, which is what seems to freeze Matt up as he enters the bad guys’ base of operations in this issue.

In the past, Mister Fear has also hired and/or controlled through his powers The Enforcers (Fancy Dan, Ox and Montana) - who are the three guys Matt is fighting with at the end of the last issue.

Mister Fear being involved in the events of the last few issues explains a lot. Gladiator's unexplained aggression, Milla's overly-hostile to the point of trying to kill response to Lily, the drug-dealers peddling a substance that makes a person fearless - even Lily's own lust-inspiring pheromone perfume which was provided by Vanessa Fisk, who we found out this issue had been paying Cranston a handsome sum.

Brubaker deserves high praise for this revitalization of a character who, even in his best days, seemed a poor man's Scarecrow.


FABLES #64 - Normally, I don't bother reviewing this book because it is usually a picture-perfect trip. Not so this month.

I really, really, REALLY dislike guest artist Aaron Alexovich's style - which is far too cartoony, even for a story centering on Snow White and Bigby's children. The whole thing just looks like a bad parody of Jill Thompson's work on Little Endless and, for me at least, it does not work.

This doesn't distract from the writing at all, thankfully. And even a bad-looking issue of Fables is still better than most other comics today.


GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE #3 - Is there a petition somewhere I can sign to demand that we keep Andy Diggle and Jock writing Green Arrow stories forever?

If not, I'll have to start one.

Seriously, this is the best Green Arrow story in 20 years and it has neatly reestablished the core of the character while updating Green Arrow for the modern DC Comics Universe.

The big surprise in this issue is that we seem to be setting the stage for Ollie to truly become a Robin Hood figure, as he discovers that the Pacific Island he is trapped on is home to a hidden poppy farm and that an entire village has been enslaved and forced into farming the crop for processing into heroin. Naturally this doesn't sit too well with Ollie even before he finds out that his disloyal right-hand Hackett is working with the druglord behind the farm.

Two weeks never seemed so long.


GREEN LANTERN #22 - Filler.

That's this book in one word. Filler.

That is not to say that this book is bad. Far from it. But it does seem to be one running fight that serves little purpose but to set up larger battles and gives very little insight into the characters and introduces nothing new, save the image of a Green Lantern being literally eaten from the inside by his own fears.

As far as middle chapters go, I've read a lot worse. But if you're on a tight comics budget, you can skip this one without worrying about missing much.


JACK OF FABLES #13 - I would just like to note one thing.

Jack apparently does not share my taste for hot librarian chicks.

And up until now, I thought Jack really was smarter than everyone gave him credit for.

GRADE: A for the book. F for Jack's taste in women.

RED SONJA #25 - It finally dawned on me what my problem with this book in the past has been.

I've been looking at this book as a Conan spin-off rather than its' own beast and been thinking too much in the terms of the Sonja stories of old, which basically were about a female Conan. And Sonja... Sonja is much more than that and should be written as such.

And yet somehow, despite being a continuation of everything that came before, I liked this issue better than anything we've seen in recent memory. I don't know if it is because Sonja seems to be leading her way towards a goal instead of randomly being tossed around Hyboria and the etheral realms.

I don't know if it is because she tries to teach people to save themselves, rather than agreeing to save them as Conan frequently does.

I'm not even certain if it's because the annoying and difficult to distinguish members of Sonja's adventuring party have all been killed and she now has a new band of disgruntled but distinct peasants to lead into battle.

All I know is that this is the best story that's been done with Sonja in her own title in the last year. And I reccomend it highly to anyone who is not yet reading this series.


SUPERGIRL #20 - A shaky step in the right direction.

Regarding the art, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I agree that Kara does look a lot better. She is not, despite what many an idiot on many a message board says "fat" nor is she "dumpy" nor does she have "cankles". She looks like a real teenage girl.

However, I think that while Kara looks a lot better, her costume looks about a size too large and almost frumpy. She looks somewhat like a younger sister who hasn't hit her full growth spurt yet trying to wear the school uniform of her fully-grown older sister.

Still, I find this artistic vison of Kara to be a step in the right direction and a lot more acceptable than having nipple impressions on either side of the S. That being said, I find the artwork somewhat inconsitent in quality. While certain panels look fantastic, others look... odd, for some reason.

As for the story, I'm giving Bedard the benefit of the doubt simply because he's coming in on the middle of a horrible cross-over. That said, he seems to have regressed Kara from being the rebel at heart we've seen in past issues to the Patty Duke sycophant she was back in the 50s.

I'm hoping that's just because Kara is too focused on trying to stop more of her Amazon friends and innocent people from dying that we see so little of her past personality here. Time will tell, I suppose.

GRADE: A very cautious B-.

Looking To The Stars - Spider-Married-Man, No More?

We’ve known for quite some time now that Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Joe Quesada is not a big fan of the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson marriage. How? Well, the man is nothing else if not outspoken.

From a statement at the San Diego ComicCon 2006: “I've got nothing against marriage in comics, with the exception of the Spider-Man marriage - which I have been very public about.”

From a Wizard Magazine Interview: When asked about his hatred of the marriage of Mary Jane and Peter Parker, Quesada said 90 percent of writers and editors at Marvel think the marriage was a mistake; it’s a ball and chain around the character. The problem is figuring out how to undo it without retconning the character. Quesada will not divorce Peter Parker.

It is this outspokenness that had Spider-Fans everywhere worried earlier this year, after it was announced that one of Peter’s loved ones would pay the price for his outing himself as a superhero during Civil War. Of course we know now that it was Aunt May, not Mary Jane, who would be shot by a sniper as part of The Kingpin’s revenge against Spider-Man. But at the time, fans were so overjoyed at the fact that Mary Jane wasn’t dead that few were shocked by Aunt May’s near-death.

And now, to add further gas to the fire, this preview image of the cover of what will be the final issue of J. Michael Straczynski‘s Amazing Spider-Man run. It is labeled simply, “The End of An Era”

Naturally, speculation has run wild over the past week with the smart money being on some form of cosmic reboot. The reasoning behind this train of thought is that this issue will follow One More Day - a three-part storyline that promises to take Peter to his darkest hour yet and will feature, among others, Doctor Strange. Since Peter is owed a favor by the good doctor as a result of Peter’s stepping in where Strange could not and reliving all the worst moments of his life up until that point to save the universe, the speculation is that Peter will ask for Mary Jane to be given a nice, safe life without him.

The supposed end result will be a Peter Parker free of marital bondage and (depending on which blogs you read) a more fun, happy book with lots of sexy love triangles, the resurrection of Gwen Stacy, another raise of the minimum wage, the banishment of the organic web-shooters, free beer, Eddie Brock as Venom again, all our soldiers home from overseas, Peter having a secret identity again and one free model dressed as the superheroine of your choice for every fanboy with the Marvel logo tattooed on their pale pimply behind.

See, I’d like to believe that this is all a scam. I’d like to believe that despite his own opinions, Joe Quesada recognizes that the wishes of the majority of fans outweigh his own opinions as an editor and that the problems caused by magically nullifying Peter Parker’s marriage will far outweigh the benefits. I’d like to believe that all this worry and all this hype is just an attempt to get people to buy the comic regardless of what actually happens by playing off his image as the heartless editor.

I’d LIKE to believe that.

Regardless, here’s my five reasons why attempting to end the Spider-Marriage by ANY means (cosmic reboot, divorce, sudden death, Mary Jane suddenly being revealed as a clone after all these years) would be the biggest possible mistake Marvel Comics could make.

1. It Didn’t Work The First Time.

The Spider-Clone Saga originally came about because way back in the 90’s, The Powers That Be at Marvel felt that sagging Spider-Man sales had to be because of the Spider-Marriage. As opposed to, oh say… the fact that artwork had become more important than story and that they basically retold the same Venom story once a year. The problem is that even then, they knew that divorcing Peter or killing Mary Jane were right out. If marriage made Peter “old” to their readers, than making him a divorcee or a widower would do nothing to solve the problem. The fact that Mary Jane had a fanbase of her own wasn’t even a consideration in those days.

Instead, they spun the idea that the Peter Parker we’d been reading about since the early 70’s was actually a clone of the original, who had been in hiding all this time. The clone and MJ were shunted off-stage to begin a life of their own elsewhere as Peter – “the real Peter” - came back, assumed the name of Ben Reilly, and took his place as the one-true swinging-single Spider-Man.

Well, that was the plan, anyway. The sales proved that the fans – that is, the people who were actually reading the books as opposed to double-bagging them before sealing them in a vault somewhere - HATED the “real” Spider-Man and even more of them missed Mary Jane. A contrived solution was hatched, revealing the “clone” Peter to be the “real” Peter and the whole thing to have been the first of many machinations plotted by a resurrected Norman Osborn.

2. It Didn’t Work The Second Time.

Less well remembered, but no less important is the occasion when Marvel Editorial actually DID try killing Mary Jane. It was the Winter of 1999. Marvel Comics had just rebooted what few series they hadn’t restarted with new #1 issues. This included both Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. And yet, despite this - with Howard Mackie (one of the brains behind The Spider-Clone Saga) writing both of Spider-Man’s regular monthly books and a new origin series by John Byrne - the sales on Marvel’s flagship hero refused to rise.

Clearly this was all the fault of Mary Jane and her forcing Peter into marriage!

To make a long story short, over 18 months it was revealed that Mary Jane had not, in fact, died in a plane bombing on the way to a model shoot. She had, in fact, been kidnapped by a nameless telepath who, unable to control his powers, became locked in on Peter’s mind. Said telepath, who was never given a name, concluded that Peter was wasting his life helping an ungrateful populace and then contrived to try and take Peter’s life and powers by mentally absorbing him.

The plan backfired when the telepath absorbed enough of Peter’s personality to realize that Peter would not ever kill someone to prolong his own life. He committed suicide, exploding (somehow) and once Mary Jane thought of a plausible excuse to explain away where she had been for the last few months of comic time, she told Peter that she needed some time apart.

Why? Because she felt like she had gone from being a real person with her own interests and life and been stuck being “Mrs. Parker” – a major complaint that many fans had about Mary Jane’s characterization throughout most of the 90s. Peter agreed they needed some time apart and this set the stage for the beginning of J. Michael Straczynski‘s run one issue later.

3. If I Could Turn Back Time…

Presuming that Peter would be given a chance, by Doctor Strange, to magically alter his past… would breaking up his marriage really be the first thing Peter would do?

You don’t think that maybe he might want to save a currently critically wounded Aunt May’s life?

Save Gwen Stacy?

Save Uncle Ben?

Wish he’d never been Spider-Man in the first place, so they could all be saved?

I doubt Peter would ever wish for that last one – he knows he’s done too much good as Spider-Man to risk having it all undone for a selfish wish of his own. I’m just saying that there are a lot of options Peter would consider before taking a course of action he couldn’t guarantee would work.

4. Hypocrisy

Joe Quesada has been nearly as vocal about how DC Comics solves many of their story problems with magic and mind-wipes as he is not a fan of the Spider-Marriage. Numerous Marvel fans on the web are equally outspoken, saying that when DC has problems with their history, they just reboot the universe and create a new set of problems.

Regardless of the validity of this point of view, Joe Quesada would be a hypocrite to push a storyline in which, somehow, history is changed to something more agreeable to the editorial demands of the time. And I doubt the Marvel Fanboys would be very forgiving – I know several who stopped collecting after House of M.

5. Marriage Is A Partnership

The very idea that Peter would, behind Mary Jane’s back, make a decision to get her out of his life forever flies in the face of too much characterization. This is not to say that Peter is not that selfless or noble – he is. But his marriage means too much for him to make that kind of decision without consulting Mary Jane first with everything that she knows now.

To cross media for a moment, consider the second Spider-Man movie. At the end of that film, Mary Jane knew everything about Peter’s secret identity. He told her that was the only reason he’d been so standoffish to her before – because he already had the blood of one loved one on his hands and that he loved her too much to risk her dying because she was Spider-Man’s girlfriend.

Thankfully, she didn’t let him get away with it.

I’m pretty sure the comics Mary Jane would have told Peter off a lot sooner and wouldn’t have been quite so nice after she abandons her wedding to go tell Peter her decision is that she isn’t letting go of him. But the end result is the same and the spirit and speech are true to any incarnation of the character of Mary Jane Watson.

“I know you think we can't be together, but can't you respect me enough to let me make my own decision? I know there'll be risks but I want to face them with you. It's wrong that we should be only half alive... half of ourselves. I love you. So here I am - standing in your doorway. I have always been standing in your doorway. Isn't it about time somebody saved your life?”

Mary Jane is wise enough to know what Peter needs better than Peter himself. She knows that the last thing he needs is to sequester himself alone, living a monk’s existence and living only for a greater good until what Peter sees as an inevitable violent end. And in a symbolic way, in that scene, she is marrying Peter.

There are many different marriage vows, but most do include some variant of the phrase “for better or worse” and speak of a joining of two lives as one. Mary Jane’s speech is very much in keeping with this spirit as well as a declaration that she knows the risks a relationship with Peter entails and why she is willing to brave anything for him just as much as he is for her.


Thankfully, it seems that the fans’ memories are much longer than that of the Marvel Comics editorial team. As of this writing (Thursday morning, August 9th), a poll at Newsarama shows that the fans overwhelmingly support the marriage over Peter becoming single again, by a near 5:1 margin. 67% vs.14%

Well, rest easy, gentle readers and refuse to give in to the hype. Don’t waste your money – let me waste mine for you!

Yes, you heard me. I will, this once, end my ban on reading any Marvel Comics not by Dwayne McDuffie, Dan Slott or Ed Brubaker so that I can make sure – one way or another – that the sanctity of marriage is upheld!

And if it is not, we shall cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war! We will fight them on the message boards! We will fight them on the blogs! We will flood their mailboxes with letters of protest and likely cause many messages to be bounced!

That’s my promise. See you all next time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Looking To The Stars - Matt's Mini-Series Monday!

Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Tony Bedard
Artists: Paulo Sequeira and Amilton Santos

THE STORY THUS FAR: Full-time superheroine Dinah Lance aka The Black Canary is trying to decide whether or not to accept the proposal of her long-time boyfriend Oliver Queen aka The Green Arrow, while trying to find a place for herself and Sin (her adopted Asian daughter who, like all Asian girls in comic books, is a deadly assassin in training) in this crazy, mixed-up world.

League of Assassins member, evil archer and all-around coward, bully, cad and thief Merlyn, in an effort to unite the various broken factions of the League of Assassins, has kidnapped Sin with the intent on turning her into their next Wunderkind.


* Dinah gets some very good bad-ass moments here and a lot of "Bruce Willis" lines. My favorite?

MERLYN: (shooting two arrows at Dinah) Y'know, I beat your boyfriend single-handedly!
DINAH: (snatching one arrow in mid-air and holding it as the other arrow cuts into it and stops dead) So did I.

* Dinah is far from the helpless victim she was in the last Green Arrow arc. Indeed, she handly beats Merlyn and he escapes the fury of the Canary only because Dinah let's him go. Literally.

* The artwork is well-layed out and paced very well.

* The colorist rememebered that the arrow symbol on Speedy's chest is yellow, not flesh-tone, this time.

* Ollie is portayed as being a basically decent guy and a competent crime-fighter. I know I shouldn't have to make a big deal about this, but it's rare enough I think I have to... especially given that it looks like he perfectly executes a cunning plan in this issue.


* Dinah and Sin both making the porn-face on the cover.

* Mia's constantly calling Ollie "Boss". It makes her sound like Tatu from Fantasy Island.

* While the action is laid out well, some of the expressions are very strained. To give one example, Dinah looks WAY too panicky in the early scenes while talking to the police. It makes sense for her to be worried but her expressions make her look more hysterical than anything and it doesn't mesh well when she's angry and beating up Ollie a page later.

* One small logic problem: The League of Assassins planned to kill Dinah's ex. They know clearly, from Merlyn's security camera, that something went wrong with the plan when said ex shows up alive at Merlyn's office. So why do they allow Merlyn to go off on his own to investigate, especially when they know there's at least three, maybe more, superheroes in town trying to track them down? I'm just saying there's little point in being a master assassin if you don't send mooks out whenever you can.

* If it turns out Ollie DIDN'T plan out what happens in the last two pages... I will be very annoyed with DC Comics.

THE FINAL WORD: While I'm not Bedard's biggest fan, I must admit that he does seem to have a better handle on Black Canary and Green Arrow than anybody else at DC right now with the exception of Gail Simone. It's not perfect but it's pretty damn good.

Grade: B

Company Name: Parody Press
Writer: Bill Maus
Artist: Bill Maus

THE STORY THUS FAR: Do you remember the good ol' days when you used to pick up the new MAD Magazine from the grocery store magazine stand and read all the parodies of popular TV series and movies? The ones with the names changed around so that Sam Spade became Sham Spayed? The ones with cute little site-gags in the background like Beetlejuice standing in the background of the Batcave back in the Michael Keaton days?

Imagine one of those written with all of the jokes removed in favor of racism, pop-culture references for the sake of pop-culture references and puns too painful even for CRACKED! and you have a pretty good idea about what HEWOES is like.


* Will make every MAD Magazine and CRACKED! your mom swore would rot your mind look like Mark Twain in comparison.

* Parody Press probably didn't spend much on this book, since one man did the writing, artwork and lettering.

* Rage inspired by the blatant racism of every scene with Hiro and Mohinder takes away from the pain of the unfunny jokes and sight-gags.


* Despite a wealth of material to mock, it spends most of its' time mocking the first episode.

* Most of the references are included for the sake of making a reference and have no relevance to anything. For instance, the scene where Claire drops her ring into a running garbage disposal is recreated - with Gollum on hand to shout about "The Precious" as we see that the ring, for some reason, is engraved with the wit and wisdom of Mr. T.

* Some gags, such as "Shave the Cheerleader, Shave The World" in order to stop the hair-cutting villain Stylar, are painful to read. And did I mention the racism with Hiro's Engrish chop-saki dialogue and Mohinder being featured as a 7-11 clerk on the cover?

THE FINAL WORD: Publisher Don Chin says it all on his website - "It's been about 8 years since the gang at Parody Press did anything new in comics and we have been just itching to get back in. If this book is anything like their previous work, I can see why it's been eight years since Parody Press printed anything. Don't quit your day-jobs.

Grade: F

Company Name: Marvel Comics & Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Artist: Mel Rubi

THE STORY THUS FAR: Once upon a time, way back in Marvel Team Up #79, Chris Claremont and John Byrne thought it would be funny to team up Red Sonja and Spider-Man for a story. Many years passed and Tony Bedard used the villain of that piece, the evil wizard Kulan Gath, in an Exiles story where modern New York was changed into a Hyborian kingdom and all the heroes of that world along with it. Today, both stories are joined together in a union that may yet prove to be something more than a cheesy marketing gimmick for the nostalgia buffs.


* The set-up is handeled smoothly and we're guaranteed at leat four issues of actual action from here on out.

* An nod to the original story, in how Kulan Gath describes his earlier defeat by Spider-Man

* What is more, Kulan Gath - defying every expectation of evil masterminds everywhere - actually admits to his past mistakes and enacts a plan to correct said mistake (i.e. keeping Spider-Man distracted by turning his ally in the last battle against him.)

* It takes place before Civil War. Depending on your feelings on Civil War, this may be a Bad Part.

* Peter is actually funny, heroic and... well, actually acting like Peter Parker for the first time in recent memory.


* Horrible Michael Turner cover... even for a Michael Turner cover.

* Despite appearing on the cover, Venom is not in this issue. This may be a Good Part given your feelings on Venom.

* Mel Rubi's no-ink art style just doesn't feel "right" for Spider-Man, somehow.

* I could be wrong and this is the Shakespeare fan in me talking, but somewhow... I don't remember any part of MacBeth where Lady MacBeth (who I assume MJ is playing) handles a sword.

* Am I alone in feeling disturbed by Peter talking about how much he liked when MJ came home in her costume dressed as a cat? Not because I find the idea of Peter having a furry fetish disturbing but... who was his last girlfriend before he and Mary Jane got married? Yeah... not something you want to go reminding your wife of Pete.

THE FINAL WORD: A solid opening. A bit light on the action, but given this is the exact same team that brought Sonja back to life in style, I expect we'll be seeing it soon enough.

Grade: C

Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Khari Evans

THE STORY THUS FAR: Shanna was an independently-minded red-haired doctor, who gave up life in the modern world to protect the environment. Eventually, she met a guy named Kevin Plunder who also liked living in the jungle, got married, had a kid and they all lived happily ever after except for the occasional disturbance whenever the X-Men came to visit.

And then came Frank Cho, who decided that feminist/environmentalist thing was boring, and proposed a series staring a bleached-blond, Nazi-engineered, super-strong and NAKED bimbo who never spoke, using the name of Shanna. Marvel wisely forced Cho to draw clothes on her and give her dialogue resulting in a seven-issue mini-series that was almost, but not quite, as pointless and offensive as the Roger Corman classic Dinosaur Island.

Now, presumably because two other companies are doing Jungle Girl books, Marvel has brought back Frank Cho's Shanna in a book that does not feature Frank Cho as a writer, artist, plotter, inker or anything. This might have been a good thing had they not decided to recycle the exact same plot from Frank Cho's mini-series, only with pirates being substituted for army grunts.


* 100% Frank Cho free!

* Khari Evans' Shanna artwork not as offensive as her Daughters of the Dragon work.

* Highlights the infinite superiority of the Sheena mini-series by Devil's Due Press in every department.


* Is based off of Frank Cho's Shanna and not the true red-haired jungle-goddess of yore.

* Will probably sell better than the DDP Sheena series, despite it's inherit lack of quality.

* Series provides DC Fanboys little reason to go to the Marvel Comics section of the rack, when there are plenty of terrible Palmiotti & Gray comics they can read back home.

THE FINAL WORD: Cho fans will likely be disappointed that he has nothing to do with this series, based on his character. The rest of us will be disappointed that despite this, the writing is still sub-par and the artwork is nothing special.

Grade: D