Thursday, January 31, 2008

Two comments I'm making right now.

1. Superman will be a Blue Lantern. Not just because the guy is pretty much the embodiment of Hope as a force but because of a neat bit of foreshadowing in Green Lantern: Rebirth where Batman says "Hoping is what you do best, Clark."

2. If you needed any further proof that Joe Quesada has gone completely insane, he has apparently officially declared that the only part of J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man that still counts in regular Marvel continuity is Sins Past. Coincidentally, this is the OTHER story during JMS' Spider-Man run where Joey Q. pulled editorial rank in order to get his way and is perhaps the only story in the last ten years more loathed and despised than One More Day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Looking To The Stars: Arrivedercei, Bon Voyage, Goodbye.

Last week, I took a look back at Starman: Sins of the Past and a review that I wrote of it a long time ago. Back then, I put forth the theory that the entire Starman series could be viewed as a metaphor for the comic industry at that time.

Jack Knight was the grown-up fan, too cool for superheroes, learning that it isn't the costume or the powers that make the superhero, but the heart inside them. And that one can indulge in "self-propagating kid stuff" without it coming to dominate one's personality. You can still be an Indie hipster and a superhero. You can read The Moth and Strangers in Paradise. You can even buy Marvel and DC Comics! Any conflict in properness is in your own head.

This theory was apparently relayed to James Robinson, writer of Starman, at a time when the finale of the series was written but not yet published. Robinson said that it was a good comparison, although he was curious how - pushing that analogy to its' logical conclusion - I would analyze the end of the Starman series.

That analysis comes now.


In the issues leading up to Starman #80, Jack Knight went through a lot of changes. He lost his father, the first Starman Ted Knight after Ted gave his life to save his city one last time. Jack became a father, having recovered his son from Nash; the super-villain who raped Jack in order to have his child. He made peace with his father, brother and his brother's murderer thanks to the after-effects of a spell now broken, which prevented anyone who died in Opal City from moving on to the afterlife. And he made the decision, after a talk with Superman, to retire from the superhero business to focus on being a father. But before he could talk over his decision with anyone else, Jack was pulled across time and space to have one final adventure.

Returning from his trip through time, Issue #80 opens with Jack returning home to find that everything is as he left it except that the mail has arrived. With the mail is a letter from Jack's long-time girlfriend Sadie. She says that she is pregnant and that while she loves him, will always love him and that she would give up her everything to be at his side regardless of the dangers, she can't ask the same of their child.

She gives Jack her new contact information in San Fransisco and asks him to give up being a superhero so that they can have a life together. Even ignoring his previous decision regarding his son, it's a no-brainer for Jack to make his choice. And over the course of the rest of the issue, Jack says his goodbyes to the friends he's made throughout the series.

This sequence is oddly bitter some six years later. The first three people Jack goes to talk to and ask if they will protect his city once he is gone are Ralph Dibny, Sue Dibny and Ryan Kendall. Or as they are better known today, The World-Famous Elongated Man, The World-Famous Rape Victim and The Second Black Condor - You Know, That Guy Who Got Killed In Infinite Crisis Who Nobody Cared About - No The OTHER One.

It is painful to read these scenes years later - seeing Ralph and Sue so full of hope after having helped Jack save his hometown. Even Black Condor, who was only brought into this series as a substitute for Hawkman after DC Comics nixed Robinson's plans to use Starman as a springboard to bring Hawkman back from the dead, became a likable character under Robinson's pen and deserved better treatment than he received years later. And I don't think I need to detail what happened to Ralph and Sue several years later in Infinite Crisis except to say that I really wish DC Comics had gone with Robinson's reported proposal for a new Elongated Man series to follow up Starman instead.

There are two other things I notice in this sequence that are worth noting.

First, the reoccurring theme of family. The importance of family and the idea that there are different types of families comes up throughout Starman and this issue in particular.

Jack gives up the life of a superhero to become a father. He adopts the alien Starman Mikhal Tomas as his brother, in spirit if not formally. Jack also adopts metaphorically adopts Courtney Whitmore (aka Stargirl) into the family of star-powered superheroes by giving her his jacket, goggles and Cosmic Rod. He says his goodbyes to the three surviving O'Dare Family cops. Mason O'Dare and Charity the fortune-teller are getting ready to settle down and start a family of their own. Even the one bit of action in the issue - an assassination attempt on Jack by the villainous Spider - is motivated by a son's desire to avenge his father and a family feud spanning two centuries.

Second, the reoccurring theme of change as a positive force. Too often, change is viewed as a bad thing and the stories of nearly every character in Starman can be seen as an affirmation that even the least and worst of us can find redemption.

Jack Knight, of course, starts the series as a selfish prick but grows to become a better person despite his heroism. In one of the best lines of the series, an old girlfriend tells Jack - who claims to have changed a good deal because of his heroic lifestyle - that "You may be a hero... but that still doesn't make you a nice person." At that point she is right, but eventually Jack does change for the better. Indeed, every single action Jack takes in Issue #80 is ultimately selfless.

This issue also brings us to a conclusion of sorts regarding The Shade. Considered by many to be the other main character of Starman, Shade's past was revealed over the course of the series. We learned that despite his playing the super-villain against The Flash, he never committed crimes in his adopted hometown of Opal City and he didn't kill superheroes or innocents. In Sins of the Fathers, The Shade comes to Jack and tells him that Opal City needs a Starman to protect it and that even with his considerable power he is not one to play the hero.

As the series progresses, The Shade does become more of a hero. At first limiting his role to offering knowledge and support to Jack and the police, Shade eventually finds himself storming into Hell itself to save people and stopping mad bombers. Shade also becomes less of an aloof immortal. In his first appearance, we see him eating dinner alone. In his last appearance, he is welcoming Jack into his home and discussing how he plans to go after The Spider.

This scene is an ironic treat for fans who remember Shade and Jack's first meeting. Whereas Shade once said that Opal City will always need a Starman to protect it and Jack was reluctant to take the job, Jack is now somewhat reluctant to leave his role as a hero behind him despite knowing that his city is in good hands and Shade's telling him that Opal City doesn't need Starman anymore. And Jack turns the tables by pointing out how Shade himself has become a hero and remarking how Shade's love of Opal City all but demands he protect it - the same argument Shade used when convincing Jack to become Starman.

There are other changes, of course. Life into Death, as Ted Knight passes on but his legacy lives on. Job into Job as Clarence O'Dare moves from Detective to Special Police Liaison To Superheroes to Police Commissioner. Change as Development as Quiet Mason O'Dare coming out of his shell as his love for Charity changes him. Change Coming Full Circle as Mikhal Tomas going from mentally-damaged mute to peace-loving Bohemian to the alien warrior reborn.


So how does my theory about Starman as a metaphor for comics fandom stand up in the face of this analysis. Pretty well, I think. To extend the metaphor, Jack values his time as a hero but ultimately realizes when it is time to give it up. He can look back on the memories fondly. He notes that he may return some day if needed. But for the most part, he is content to end things and move on. Likewise, a comic fan may look back upon their favorite stories and how they shaped them fondly, but how if they are ultimately unhappy with how things are, they must work to change them or know when to quit.

I think that many comic fans could benefit if this attitude were applied to their own fandom. To realize that there is more to life than just comics and that a change is as good as a rest.
I have some further thoughts on that point but that will have to wait until next week.

Fast Thoughts For 01/23/07

HELLBLAZER #240 - The 20th anniversary of Hellblazer is an amazingly sedate piece. We don't get a big retrospective akin to Paul Jenkins' special 10th Anniversary issue. Instead, we join John on a birthday where he has nothing to celebrate and no one to celebrate with even before he gets the news that a powerful war-mage and eater of souls is coming to England looking for him.

Andy Diggle's run on the series so far has been nothing short of - pardon the pun - magic. And it is fitting that he should be writing this story - which draws off of the mythology behind the very first Hellblazer story - as his stories have been very reminiscent of the works of Jamie Delano; the first writer on Hellblazer two decades ago.

RED SONJA #29 - Finally! After what seems like an eternity of pointless running battles, even more pointless supporting characters and a lot of, to quote Trace Beaulieu, "milling about toward our vague goal" - everything is finally explained as Sonja goes into her final battle against the sorcerer/god Kulan Gath. It's a pretty decent pay-off, but I feel like we had to go through two trade-paperback's worth of padding just to get to this point.

I don't think it spoils anything to note that starting next month, Red Sonja is switching to rotating creative teams and that the first story to spin out of Michael Avon Omeing's saga will be written by Ron Marz (of Green Lantern fame) and is entitled Red Sonja In Hades!

Looks like somebody at Dynamite started listening to me, finally. I like Sonja as a character but she doesn't lend herself well to long-epics or large adventuring parties. She's much more effective as a lone warrior and in two-part adventures.

WONDER WOMAN #16 - What can I say about a comic in which Wonder Woman recreates the invasion of Normandy with a magic shell and an army of talking gorillas?

Nothing, save that it is FRAGGING AWESOME!

If you're not reading this book yet, you should be.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bite me! It's fun!

I just flashed back to when I was a 12 year old kid, watching TV on the other cable set in my parent's bedroom, jerry-rigging a second-hand VCR in order to "Keep Circulating The Tapes".

It is here.

It is available for purchase.

MST3K lives again in all its' glory.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dammit. I might have to watch Smallville now...

... because it looks like they finally got a costume - for the most part - right.

Much as the purist in me wants to complain about the short hair (reminds me too much of the uber-butch ninties comics portrayals), I do recognize that it's a lot more practical... as is a paint mask instead of a spirit-gummed domino mask.

But the boy shorts... the jacket... and a top that in the other photos doesn't offer any chance of slipping out... they finally managed to make something that is sexy AND practical.

Now get Ollie a beard!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Looking To The Stars: Sins of the Fathers

It all happens to us comic enthusiasts. Something happens to make us angry at one comic company or another. The editor is an power-mad imbecile. The artist has the same grasp of human anatomy as your average four-year-old does of advanced physics. The writer is a tired old hack who was doing his best work twenty years ago. And before you know it, it just happens; we get burned out on comics.

Some storm out of the hobby in a blast of fury and vow to leave the funny books behind. Some embark on a crusade - however small - to protest what they perceive as a problem. But most, I find, choose to focus upon those books which they continue to enjoy after several readings. The ones that they can continue to read without having their enjoyment spoiled by whatever is going on in the comics being written today.

In my case, this comic is James Robinson and Tony Harris' Starman. And with the first in a series of Starman Omnibuses on the way in May, this seems as good a time as any for me to look back upon the first major story-arc of that classic series; Sins of the Fathers.


I was introduced to Starman at a critical point in my life as a comic fan. Despite having been a fan of the Superfriends cartoons and having the complete collection of Super Powers action figures, I didn't get a lot of exposure to comics until college. And even though I was quickly hooked by Ron Marz's Green Lantern (if only to find out who this new guy in the weird costume was), it wasn't until Starman that I really stopped being ashamed of the hobby.

Oh, I know better now. I know that there's a host of intellectual, artistic and informative graphic novels that go beyond the "kid stuff" that most people think of when they hear the words "comic book". I sing the praises of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Brian K. Vaughan loudly to any one who asks why the library should be spending money on "Superhero Stuff" like V For Vendetta, The Sandman or Ex Machina. But back then, I hadn't been exposed to all of that fine work. All I knew was that I really enjoyed stories about people with super-powers and that as well written as Grant Morrison's Justice League was, it was all but impossible to convince most of my friends that there was something deeper behind the pictures.

That changed with Starman.

Ironically, I was introduced to Starman by one of my few fellow comic-reading friends. He wasn't a fan of it but he said I'd probably like it because "This Jack guy sounds like you." It was an apt comparison. Jack Knight, the central character of Starman, does have a lot in common with me. He is opinionated. He is sarcastic and witty. He has a tendency to mouth off without thinking. He doesn't suffer fools well. He is creative but has a lot of trouble with the actual act of creating. And he is a collector of many eclectic things. And while this common bond with who Jack is may have brought me into this series, it is who Jack becomes that kept me reading and - in a small way - shaped the man I am today.


The story opens with a view of Opal City. Opal, like Gotham in the Batman books, is a city with a personality all it’s own. It has modern skyscrapers in the background but the older city itself is made up of smaller, elegant Victorian and Art-Deco designs. The whole city seems as if items from different times were thrown together into a child's collage. This is fitting, because the theme of things and people from different times and the unusual conflicting with the expected reoccurs throughout the series. The whole book is truly ironic.

An excellent example of this intrinsic dramatic irony comes shortly after the first view of the city, when we see David Knight. We are told that David is Starman, a title he inherited from his father not more than a week ago and that his father had been the city’s superheroic protector since World War II. And no sooner are we introduced to this young man, posing majestically in his tights and cape as he looks down upon his city - the very epitome of superheroic splendor... he is shot by a sniper's bullet and falls to his death.

We cut to earlier that day as an argument erupts between the just slain David Knight and his younger brother Jack while they are both visiting their father, Ted Knight. The argument erupts over some items that Jack, who runs a collectibles store, wants to buy from his brother. It quickly becomes clear that David is the favored son; Jacob to Jack’s Esau, as Ted tells Jack to stop bothering David because "he serves an important role now" and "has a lot on his mind right now".

Jack mouths off, thoughtlessly insulting both his father and brother before leaving in a huff to go back to work. This is where we first get a look at Jack’s character. We learn through a brief montage that he is a collector of many things, that he has eclectic tastes and that he is very much a rebel. We also learn that he is very much an outsider in his own family and has spend most of his life just watching the life of a superhero from afar while trying to build his own life apart from his father's work and legacy.

Three hours after leaving the observatory, Jack gets a phone call from his dad, who has just learned of David’s death. Ted says he is going to identify the body and warns Jack to be careful, telling Jack that there is a spare Cosmic Rod and a Cosmic Belt (devices that gave him his powers as Starman) among some papers he asked Jack to hold for him. Thinking nothing of it, Jack continues with his work until a man comes to the store. The man shoots Jack, sets the store on fire, drops a bomb with a timer and leaves with the Cosmic Belt. Jack escapes the explosion that claims his shop, thanks to the power of flight granted by the Cosmic Rod.

In a brief interlude, we learn that the man who bombed Jack’s shop was working in concert with a woman who bombed Ted Knight’s observatory. The two criminals, Kyle and Nash respectively, are both children of The Mist: Ted Knight’s arch-enemy as Starman. In another interlude, we see "a shadowy man" eating dinner as he listens to news regarding a crime spree in Opal City. The shadowy man decides to go for a walk and see how badly his city is fairing.

When Jack gets to the hospital, he finds out that his father was injured by debris from his observatory, which was also bombed. Going to visit his father, Jack finds him being guarded by three cops, who identify themselves as the O’Dares. Jack tries to talk to Ted about what happened but Ted turns on Jack, wondering aloud how David could die and his "less-heroic son" could be spared. He accuses Jack of being a coward, afraid of the family heritage and tells Jack that he not needed there.

Jack wanders into the hallway, shocked at what his father has said. He is joined by a woman; another cop it turns out, named Hope O’Dare. Hope explains that the cops guarding his father are her brothers, and that their father, Billy O’Dare, was close friends with Ted when he was Starman. She and Jack don’t have much chance to talk (though Jack still manages to instantly annoy her with his sarcastic humor) before Jack is called back into the room to hear a phone call for Ted. It is the Mist, who tells Ted that he has taken his observatory and his sons before going on to say that he will take everything that Ted values before finally killing him and that his next goal will be the memory of his dead wife.

Apologizing for his rash words, Ted tells Jack to leave town before things get worse. Jack agrees to do so and is waiting at the train station when he hears on the news that a wing of county museum is being ransacked by The Mist’s thugs. Jack realizes the wing in question is one named for his mother, who donated the money that led to the museum being built - her memory.

With that thought, Jack spurs into action and uses his the Cosmic Rod he still has to fly to the museum and fights the thugs trashing the museum while a crowd looks on. Among the crowd is The Shadowy Man from before, who immediately realizes that the young man they see fighting the criminals is Jack Knight, not David. Jack is forced to flee when Kyle, the Mist’s son, arrives armed with the Cosmic Belt. In his escape, Jack crash-lands into the Opal River and loses the rod.

Returning to his apartment, Jack creates a costume of his own. He eventually selects three items. The first is a leather jacket, which has painted on the back a star encircled with astronomy/astrology symbols. The second is a pair of World War II anti-flare goggles, which he takes to protect his eyes from the light of the rod. Finally, he pins a toy Sheriff’s badge (a five pointed star) to the jacket and leaves his apartment by the roof.

As he flees across the rooftops, Jack fights off various thugs who were waiting for him. Among the thugs, he confronts Nash, who says that she is going to kill him because their fathers are enemies. Jack manages to convince her not to kill him, pointing out that she has no personal reason to do so. He escapes and rests for a moment in the shop of a fortune-teller named Charity. The two talk for a while and Charity leaves Jack with a prophecy of the future, telling him among other things that he cannot shake his destiny or his father's mantle, as much as he may want to.

While Jack makes his way back to the hospital, we follow The Shadowy Man for a bit longer, watching as he confronts two thugs who lagged behind at the museum to loot rather than destroy. The Shadowy Man muses aloud as to whether he should join in the looting or stop the thugs so that the masses may enjoy the art they are stealing. After being threatened with a gun by one of the thugs, The Shadowy Man brings the shadows to life and shapes them into the form of a dragon, who eats the thug. He then makes a discovery amongst the rubble that he thinks Jack Knight would want to see.

Later, The Shadowy Mans meets with The Mist and we find out that The Shadowy Man is The Shade - another super villain of DC Comics' Golden Age. The two strike a bargain that in exchange for a share of the loot from the Mist’s crime spree, The Shade will kidnap Ted Knight from his hospital bed.

Meanwhile, Jack finally reaches the hospital where Ted tells him of a warehouse where an older, larger version of his Cosmic Rod is stored. Jack leaves to fetch the rod, leaving Matt O’Dare to guard his father. Shortly after he leaves, The Shade enters and takes Ted with him, telling Matt to make a note that while The Shade could have easily killed him, he didn’t. When Jack returns with the rod (more properly a cosmic staff for its' size), he recieves a phone call from The Mist, who proposes a duel between his son and Jack for the life of Ted Knight. Jack reluctantly agrees and starts preparing for the fight.

As Jack prepares, he is joined by Matt, Hope and Mason O’Dare. Hope says that she thinks Jack is being very brave to agree to do what he’s doing but Jack shrugs off the praise and insists that despite everything he has done so far, he is still not a hero. As he says this, he recalls a forgotten memory of when he was a kid and his looking at a Viewmaster reel of his father and saying that one day, he was going to be just like his father.

Thinking about how he’s now living a life he’d wanted as a child, Jack flies off to the duel. At the same time, Nash and Kyle say farewell to each other. Nash says she’ll be so unsure of what to do if Kyle gets killed but Kyle reassures her that he’ll be okay and even promises that they can go and see a movie together like old times once the duel is done. Here we see more of the irony that permeates Starman as a series. The family of villains (whose surname we never do learn) appear to be a more normal, healthy and traditional nuclear family than the nominally heroic and very dysfunctional Knights.

As the duel in the sky goes on, The Shade appears to the O’Dares. He explains that the only reason he agreed to kidnap Ted Knight was so that he could learn the location of the Mist’s hideout, which it turns out is inside the Knight family mausoleum. The shadowy villain leads the police to the hideout and even assists in the capture of the Mist and Nash. The irony continues as we find that The Shade, in defiance of the paradigm that comic-book super-villains are completely without scruples, has a very complex personal code of honor and that a large part of it is that he does not commit crimes in "his" town nor will he allow overly destructive crimes to occur.

Jack kills Kyle in the skies over Opal, impaling him on the Cosmic Rod and cremating his body instantly. Meeting with the police and his father later, Jack gets a note from The Shade, saying that the two will talk another day and that Jack will receive two gifts. We also see Nash get taken away, swearing revenge on Jack for what he did to Kyle and her father. Her father, we discover, went mad upon the discovery of his son’s death and is now confused and senile.

Returning to Ted’s other observatory in the country, Jack and Ted discuss what they will do now. Despite still seeing superheroics as "an excuse for grown men to put their underwear on the outside of their tights", Jack agrees to act as the city’s protector on the condition that Ted start trying to find ways to use the cosmic energy he discovered for something besides weapons. We then get two brief interludes to two other heroes who called themselves Starman: one an alien imprisoned in an sideshow on Earth and the other an Earthman traped in an alien lab.

A few days later, The Shade does visit Jack, as Jack is in the middle of constructing a new custom Cosmic Rod. After a brief discussion regarding reincarnation and the possibility of Jack’s being reincarnated from a sheriff who once defended Opal 100 years ago, Shade shows Jack the two gifts he spoke of. The first is the memorial plaque from the museum, dedicated to Jack’s mother. The second is a book; a journal belonging to Shade, who is immortal. He says that he thinks that Jack will need to know the history of the city in order to defend it properly and leaves telling Jack that he does believe he is destined for great things. Later that night, in a story tying into one of the books odder subplots, Jack is visited by a man who seeks a Hawaiian shirt that supposedly has a portal to heaven painted on the back.

The final story of the trade paperback has Jack meeting his brother David in a black and white dream world. The two fight and talk, coming to terms with their lives and finally making peace with one another. The story ends with David promising to visit Jack at least once a year in this manner.


By the end of the story, I saw that Jack’s internal struggle with the idea of becoming a hero was similar to my struggle with becoming a comics fan. We were both concerned about being labeled as something clashing with our personal image because of something we were doing that might be considered childish. But by the end of the story, Jack begins to realize that there is a bit more to what he considered a childish dream when he kills a man in his capacity as a hero. Kind of like how I felt when I read my first issue of Preacher.

Jack found, as I did, that one can still be the same person while adopting a new aspect to your overall personality. Jack does refer to superheroics as "Self-propagating kid stuff" and an excuse for grown men to act foolish at first, but he eventually comes to accept and even love his status as a superhero. Likewise, many older readers look upon their hobby with a shame that they are doing something childish but then they decide "Damn, but I do love it."

It’s like a wise person once said, "What’s the point of being an adult if you aren’t allowed to act childish once in a while?"

I made these observations once - what seems like a lifetime ago - back when Starman was still being published on a monthly basis and I was still a writer for the late and much-missed Fanzing. In the same issue I originally reviewed this story, my editor at the time did an interview with James Robinson and asked him about my observation that Jack's acceptance of his role as a hero could be seen as a mirror of a fan's feelings about the comics industry and hobby and how the whole series itself was a plea that superheroes could be done with a sense of maturity behind them while still being fun.

Robinson said that it was a good comparison, although he was curious how - pushing that analogy to its' logical conclusion - I would analyze the end of the Starman series.

We'll get to that next week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fast Thoughts For 01/16/07

BIRDS OF PREY #114- Sean McKeever does what I'm told he does best - gets in the head of a teenage hero (ala Oracle's new unwanted sidekick Misfit) and pushes the humor. While I'm still not too crazy about his portrayal of Superman last issue, I'm willing to forgive it for two reasons. First, he's doing something with Lady Blackhawk besides making her the sassy - but amusing - pilot. Second, because he DID get me to laugh with the gag about Lady Blackhawk's inability to get booze or an AARP discount without using a fake ID.

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #20- This one just made my pull list with this issue, and not just because we get to see Guy Gardner discussing the realities of a distance relationship with a cynical Kyle Rayner.

One can't fault Kyle for being skeptical about a distance relationship working. After all, he tried it with Jade and that ended with her cheating on him. But at the same time, I can't fault Guy ... who may or may not be telling the whole truth about where things stand with him and Ice ... for his feelings that time and distance are just obstacles to be dealt with. Mind you, I do say this as a man who has been in a distance relationship for nearly four years and a million miles... but I just love how it is Guy - the eternal skeptic and thug - who is pleading for romance and Kyle - the sensitive artist - who insists that either you are together or you aren't.

And, oh yeah, there's some stuff about Mongul getting a Sinestro ring and Guy trying to open a bar on the planet Oa that is cool too.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #17- Okay. I realize that this is one of the big DC Flagship books. And I know it probably isn't possible to divorce it completely from crossovers right now.

That being said - do we really need another tie-in issue to the lackluster Salvation Run?

I'm also getting sick of these split-issues with two stories. And Vixen's wonky powers are of interest to me only in so far as I want to see how McDuffie will explain away the reality-shattering errors Meltzer made regarding how her powers worked during his one year on JLA. Still, the writing is not all that bad... for all I wish this book would stand on its' own.

Ordinary Men and Women Across The Globe...

SOURCE:Inspired by comic books, ordinary citizens are putting on masks to fight crime.

So am I alone in suddenly thinking I should hit the gym and contact a charitable organization about getting a sanction?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Looking To The Stars: The Sixth Annual Starry Awards

The Golden Globes. Mr. Blackwell’s Best & Worst Dressed List. And now (once again), it is time for The Starry Awards. Because it’s just not the start of a new year, without us yammering about the best and worst of last year.

In any case, welcome to what has become a yearly staple of the Comics Nexus: The Starry Awards for Excellence and Disgrace in Comics Writing.

Of course, it has been pointed out that the comic industry already has the Eisners, the Harveys, the Eagles and the Wizard Awards. Why on Earth 2 then, these alleged people ask, do we need another damned award?

Well, none of those other awards are decided by me, are they?

The Starry Awards were started so that I, the ever humble author of this column, might dispense awards to those I felt were most worthy of praise or damnation based on their works in the past year.

The Starries name ten stories in total. Stories, for the purpose of this award, can be single or multiple issues of one book or multiple books relating to one plot-line. The Starries are based solely upon the personal opinions of Matt “Starman” Morrison and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else.

Five Staries are awarded to stories which, more than any other stories this year, made me stand up and cheer, burst into tears or just stopped me in the middle of reading to say “This is damn good stuff.” Five Staries are awarded (if you can call it that) to stories that, for some reason, I found disappointing. Stories that left me feeling that a mark had been missed and missed badly. Some of them are stories that, in fact, I think are just plain terrible.

That said: Here are the winners and losers!

The Best of 2007

Best Moment All Year - The Unveiling of The Sinestro Corps Heralds and Guardian (from Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special)

Most crossovers attempt "big reveal" moments like this but few are able to carry them off. Not only did The Sinestro Corps special manage to pull off one hell of a reveal - they managed to do so in a genuinely surprising manner that nobody saw coming. This is no mean feat in these days when what few stories are not spoiled by fans on the message boards are spoiled by their own writers and editors.

Of course we knew quite a bit by the time this issue had come out. We knew that Sinestro was alive and well and hiding out in the Anti-Matter Universe. We knew that yellow rings, similar to the ones used by the Green Lanterns, were flying around the universe seeking out those who were capable of inspiring great fear.

By the time the issue was over, we knew that Sinestro had enslaved the people of the planet Qward in the Anti-Matter Universe and forced them to construct rings that drew off the wearer's ability to terrorize others rather than stealing energy from Green Lanterns and turning it into yellow light, as the former Qwardian rings had. We knew that Sinestro had assembled a team of, to quote the great Harvey Korman, "rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs...ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists," to use said rings. And in a daring surprise raid, this new Sinestro Corps was able to attack the Green Lantern's base of operations, arrange a mass jail-break of the most dangerous beings in the univese and capture Kyle Rayner - at that time believed to be the most powerful of all the Green Lanterns.

It was a good start for an all-out war across the cosmos. But nothing quite prepared readers for the sheer amount of pants-wetting terror that the Sinestro Corps was capable of inspiring quite like the last two pages, in which the power behind the Sinestro Corps was revealed along with their Guardian's choice for their four "heralds".

Now, for those of you who didn't read the story or follow enough DC Comics to know just who all of these figures are and why nearly everyone who read this story said "Well, crap" when they got to the end of it, let me run down this rogues gallery. From top left counterclockwise...

CYBORG SUPERMAN - The brains behind the attack on Coast City (Green Lantern Hal Jordan's hometown) during The Death of Superman saga, Hank Henshaw was a scientist who developed an amazing ability to bond with and control technology following an accident that he blamed Superman for. Left for dead on the edges of space by a revenge-seeking Hal Jordan, he was discovered by The Manhunters - a race of rogue robotic law-enforcement agents with a grudge against the Green Lanterns - and made into their leader. With his own natural powers coupled with his genius for design, he upgraded the Manhunters by giving them the ability to drain the power of a Green Lantern ring at close range. He now commands an army every bit as formidable as The Sinestro Corps itself.

SUPERMAN PRIME - The last survivor of a parallel universe (Universe Prime) where he was the only superhero, this version of Kal-El sacrificed himself and his universe during The Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which one universe was created from the parts of many parallel worlds. It was a sacrifice he came to view as wasted, having been trapped outside of reality but still able to witness the events within that universe. Angered by how the perfect world he gave of himself to create had been corrupted, he went mad and set about trying to fix the universe by killing all of the heroes he saw as being too flawed and imperfect to be truly heroic. A being capable of altering causality by punching the universe, this Superman was defeated only by the combined efforts of two other Supermen and imprisoned by the Green Lantern Corps.

SINESTRO - Once considered the greatest of all Green Lanterns and a frequent mentor to trainee Corps members, Sinestro has long been considered the greatest enemy the Green Lanterns have. Forced into exile in the Anti-Matter Universe following the revelation that he had turned his homeworld into a fascist dictatorship in an effort to maintain order, Sinestro joined forces with the Qwardians (another enemy of the Green Lanterns), who gave him a ring that leeched off the energy of Green Lantern rings and changed it into yellow light - the one color that Green Lantern rings were unable to affect. Sinestro would return again and again, cheating death itself to hound the Green Lanterns. Despite his crimes, Sinestro still considers himself a member of the Corps and believe that all of his actions are justified in that he has caused the Green Lanterns to slowly assume more and more of his own tactics in the interest of keeping him under control. Ultimately, Sinestro just wants it proven that he was right all along in what steps must be made to maintain order.

PARALLAX - A parasitic being born of pure fear, Parallax was imprisoned within the Green Lantern's Central Power Battery by The Guardians of the Universe. Since color and emotion were closely tied together when the universe was young, the Guardians found that Parallax was able - from within his prison, to prevent the rings used by The Guardians from affecting the color of fear; yellow. Hence, the Guardians selected the bravest beings in the universe to form their Green Lantern Corps, in the hopes that Parallax would be unable to influence them. This plan backfired when Parallax began to slowly chip away at the mind of Hal Jordan, who - unused to feeling fear - was unable to recognize the subtlety of Parallax's attacks. Using Jordan's body, Parallax decimated the Green Lantern Corps save for one Earthling; Kyle Rayner. Now, as revenge on the Green Lantern who stopped him from destroying the Corps from within a second time, Parallax has taken possession of Rayner's body, forcing him to watch atrocity after atrocity as Parllax feasts on the fear inspired by The Sinestro Corps.

ANTI-MONITOR - Ruler and protector of the Anti-Matter Universe, this being was responsible for the chain of events that lead to the destruction of multiple parallel universes in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Dead for a number of years, he was apparently resurrected - along with the multiple universes of the DC Comics reality - following the events of Infinite Crisis. Now, returned to his former station, the Anti-Monitor has lent his support to the Sinestro Corps while secretly manipulating them towards hit ultimate goal of destroying all the positive-matter universes so that he may be supreme ruler of all that is.

Any one of these enemies would be a worthy A-Level threat on their own. Pool their powers and resources together and give them a ring, powered by fear, that allows them to do whatever they want and you had a force of evil that put the epic in "space epic" and made this the best comic book all year.

Funniest Read All Year - Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Special

Take Marvel's most infamous 'Merc With A Mouth. Add Marvel Comics' Mightiest Team of Misfit Mutants (Sorry X-Men - these guys have the Angel of Death AND a guy who dies and comes back even more than Jean Grey). Mix them together into a number of short stories in which we find out that Deadpool has a fat fetish, Origami is one of the most deadly Japanese martial arts (and crafts) and that AIM is using a wayward god to make every superhero in the world drunk (Dionysus didn't just fall off the wagon - he fell off Olympus). Throw in better continuity and editing than has been seen at Marvel in a dog's age and some of the most vicious satire Dan Slott has to offer regarding the treatment of Speedball post-Civil War and you have one comic book that is actually comic. Funny funny books? What will they think of next?

Best Team-Up - Harley Quinn & The Riddler (from Detective Comics #837)

While not exactly the most high-profile pairing-off this year, this pairing of two Bat-Villains - both gone legit - was the year's most off-beat and most enjoyable team-up.

A recently reformed Edward Nygma has turned detective for hire. Recruited by Bruce Wayne to find an employee who stole an experimental drug from Wayne Enterprises, Riddler quickly tracks the thief to an Amazon Women's Shelter in Metropolis where it just so happens an equally-reformed Harleen Quinzel is working as Assistant Director.

What follows is a story in which Paul Dini does what he does best - write characters who are sympathetic, if not necessarily heroic. While the focus of the story may be upon a stolen drug and the creation of a new super-villain with ties to the Amazons and Gotham, the interplay between Harley and Eddie is the real treat of the issue. There's just something about the quieter moments where the two reformed-baddies just talk about where they are and how they got there that is so much more compelling than the main plot. Heck, it's even more engaging than the slapstick Dini delights in (Eddie's forceful removal from the Amazon shelter and the untold tale of how Harley left The Secret Six, for instance).

Best Makeover, Revamp or Revival - Sheena, Queen of the Jungle

Originally created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger in the late 1930s and inspiration to a host of soulless, pathetic imitators, the original Queen of the Jungle and first female superheroine to sport her own monthly book returned in style this year.

Neatly updated for modern times in a story by Die Hard scribe Stephen E. De Souza, the only real change is a change in setting from the Congo to the Amazon. Whereas Sheena once fought hostile poachers and smugglers, she must now contend with corrupt business tycoons and loggers despoiling her rainforest. But while the setting may have changed, Sheena hasn't. She is just as fierce and cunning as ever. And unlike her imitators, Sheena manages to look sexy AND formidable, without any of her issues descending into the cheap cheesecake that some artists seem to revel in. Be you an old-timer who still remembers the TV-show with Irish McCalla, a young buck confused as to why that cheesy Gena Lee Nolin show is just now getting a comic or - dare I say - a parent with a pre-teen daughter looking for a suitable superheroic role-model, you'll find a lot to like in Sheena.

Best Retro Tale - Green Arrow: Year One

Regular readers of this feature know that Green Arrow has always held a special place in my heart and that I have been rather outspoken about how horribly he has been portrayed in recent years. But as harsh a critic as I am, my complaints about this series were few and far between. Written by long-time Vertigo Comics scribe Andy Diggle with art by Jock - his partner on the much-beloved The Losers series - this series detailing the origins of DC Comics Battling Bowman showed a depth and maturity that has been sorely lacking in recent treatments of the character.

I shall avoid going into a lengthy description of what Diggle and Jock did right. Doing so would also require me to go into a lengthy discussion where I would compare and contrast what other writers did wrong. So instead of doing that, I will merely advise you all to pre-order the upcoming hardcover collection and assure you that you won't regret it.

The Worst of 2006

Most Likely To Cause Continuity Robots Heads To Explode Award -Every Comic Related To The Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding And Its' Aftermath

I normally limit this award to one single comic or mini-series. But in this case, I'm making an exception because it is unfair for me to single out one single book for an editorial snafu this big.

It doesn't help matters that one of the writers involved in telling this story freely admitted that they didn't intend to explain the hows or whys of how Oliver Queen got kidnapped and replaced with an evil shapeshifter (Confusingly enough, this WAS later explained in Green Arrow/Black Canary #3), who was later killed by Dinah Lance during an attempt on her life.

But what truly makes this continuity clash confusing is that while the end result of The GA/BC Wedding (i.e. Green Arrow's apparent death at Black Canary's hands) had been telegraphed across the Internet for months before the actual comics came out, nobody ever saw fit to tell the writer or editorial team responsible of Justice League about the events of the wedding itself, despite the Wedding being sandwiched by both The JLA Wedding Special and Dwayne McDuffie's opening arc on Justice League of America.

How else can you explain a writer and former editor of McDuffie's caliber letting a detail like this slip except through the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing?

Yes, Dinah. Tell him the long story about how you... KILLED YOUR HUSBAND?!

Seriously, editorial incompetence is the only way to explain such a serious gaff. This, and the many other questions that came up during Justice League of American and Countdown issues that tied into the wedding itself.

The “What The Hell Just Happened?” Award (Most Confusing Story) -Red Sonja: Doom of the Gods

What would have been a one-issue story thirty years ago at Marvel was padded out into a four-issue mini-series by Dynamite Comics.

Honestly, I don't think the artists had any idea what was supposed to be going on. Take this cover from Issue #4. Not only is Sonja uncharacteristically frightened-looking and bound (not a usual state for her in her comics, I'm happy to note)... but this scene does not occur anywhere in the series!

How to sum what does happen in this series? Well...Basically, bad guy Thulsa Doom is doing something to become powerful Some bard needs Sonja's help to stop him, but he has to drive her crazy to do it. And then he decides this is a stupid idea, restores her senses, she kills Thulsa Doom even though he's supposedly a god or just killed a god or something. And the whole thing ends with him being reborn as a flaming skull. I think.

The “I Waited For This?!?!” Award (Most Delayed/Most Disappointing Book) - All-Star Batman and Robin

Honestly, I can't really say I was all that surprised or disappointed in this series this year. But, unlike last year, we actually got a few issues to read what is either Frank Miller achieving the most wicked self-parody in history or the continued degeneration of a one-time master of the genre.

Worst Makeover, Revamp or Revival -Spider-Man

Why Spider-Man? Why do you think?

I'll give you a hint; it's not for the ultimately pointless (though hyped-to death) return of the Black Costume.

Read on for the real reason, True Believers!

Worst Story Of the Year -Spider-Man: One More Day

You'd think J. Michael Straczynski asking to have his name taken off the story would have been a clue.

You'd think an 2/3rds majority "No" vote on the "Should the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson Marriage be ended?" poll on Newsarama would also have been a clue.

You'd think an negative fan-response, so extreme that Marvel had to issue an all-out ban on criticism of editorial decisions on their own message boards might also have been a clue.

But no. Joe Quesada has a teflon brain. No clue will stick! And I truly believe that he won't get the hint that breaking up Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson's marriage - much less doing it through the cheesy, magical deus ex machina he employs - was a bad idea until about two minutes after Marvel's Board of Directors is done kicking him to the curb and stapling a pink-slip to his forehead.

You have to admire his showmanship, though. In an act of hucksterism so blatant as to shame Stan Lee, Joe Q suggested that fans who are upset about the end of the Spider-Marriage might want to, instead of boycotting Marvel Comics, consider reading other titles where the Peter/Mary Jane romance is still going strong in order to show their support.

"Like Spider-Girl. Or uh... Mary Jane Loves Spider-... oh, wait... wait... we canceled that one. But there's still... ah... oh... LOOK BEHIND YOU! A THREE-HEADED MONKEY!"

Many fans are swearing off Marvel Comics in droves. And I'm sad to say that I'm one of them. I'll miss Ed Brubaker's Daredevil and JMS' Thor. And I'm really going to regret not getting a chance to see Dan Slott writing Spider-Man on a regular basis. But in the end, I have to follow my heart. And my heart says that there is no way I am giving Marvel Comics another dime or any free publicity until this mess is straightened out one-way or the other.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fast Thoughts For 01/09/07

This week's fast thoughts brought to you by my girlfriend, Sierra. For without the comics I buy her, this would have been my second week without buying a single new comic.

RED SONJA: DOOM OF THE GODS #4 (OF 4) - Were it not for the T&A nonsense-fest that was Frank Cho's Red Sonja: Queen of the Frozen Wastes, I think this might well rank as the worst story done with Red Sonja since the revival of her monthly comic.

Robert Howard Purists and fans of the original Marvel Conan series are advised to stay well away from this one... for not only does this film do a half-assed job of trying to set itself into Howard's world (i.e. Sonja's companion is a black-skinned Nemedian bard when Nemedia is one of the light-skinned Hyborean races) while referring to the continuity of the Conan movies (i.e. the version of Thulsa Doom we see here is the same one played by James Earl Jones) while blatantly ignoring the continuity of said world (i.e. Thulsa Doom is a villain from the days of King Kull, who came about several thousand years BEFORE the time of Conan and Sonja) and trying to set itself up as being a foreshadowing of the role Doom would eventually play in the Conancomics as a lich (i.e his immortal head becoming a flaming skull).

It's the continuity of three different versions of the Conan Mythos (four if you don't consider any story with Red Sonja to be true Conan as some purists do), mixed and mashed together into a most unhealthy shake. Avoid like the plague.

SHEENA #4 - The prayers of all thinking comic-fans and people of good taste have been answered. Sheena is to become a monthly series and after a brief delays (no doubt caused by the sudden reshuffling of the final issues to allow for a continuation), the world's first monthly-published superheroine is back.

You want proof that it is possible to do a comic about a strong, smart, independent and sexily clad but not scantily clad heroine that can succeed without pandering to the lowest common denominator ala Jungle Girl and Shanna? Look no further than this issue, in which a wounded Sheena - with nothing more than the resources of the jungle and a whole lot of cunning, takes down the small mercenary army that is hunting her.

Do not miss the final two pages and what may well be the funniest moment in comics in forever.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Looking To The Stars: Lieing In The Gutters

It has been brought to my attention that a certain writer at a different comic-book news site and a panel of allegedly fictional judges have decided that I am not worthy of their annual award for Feud of the Year.

Oh sure. I know that Rich Johnston CLAIMS that that his judging panel was fictional and that none of these writers actually said what he says they said. But let's take a look at a list of who was on his panel... John Byrne, Dave Sim, Brian Bendis, Chuck Dixon, Ed Brubaker, Dan Slott, Mark Millar, Mike Miller and Steve Niles.

Without exception, every single one of these writers has a grudge against me. To briefly discuss our respective histories and why every single one of these writers have it out for me...

John Byrne - outspokenly preferred Birthright to Man of Steel.

Dave Sim - refused to acknowledge his claim as the Ubar of Kitchener; also, refused to keep my girlfriend in traditional Gorean fashion.

Brian Michael Bendis - returned his BFF medallion after admitting that I thought Ultimate Spider-Man had become repetitive.

Chuck Dixon - posted his "spec script" for a Nightwing revival where Dick Grayson quits vigilantism to become a Broadway dancer

Ed Brubaker - heaped generous praise on Daredevil while refusing to even read Captain American

Dan Slott - read The Thing in the store and liked it, but never paid for it.

Mark Millar - abandoned my feud with him to devote more time to hating Judd Winick.

Mike Miller - mistook him for Mark Millar at a convention.

Steve Niles - asked him if he had any idea why horror in comics was a dead genre and nobody had written a good vampire story in years.

Honestly, all you need is Scott Kurtz, Ron Zimmerman and every single one of my ex-girlfriends and you'd have the ultimate Matt Morrison Revenge Squad!

Now, I know what some of you are going to say. Starman, IT WAS A FICTIONAL CONTEST FOR A FAKE AWARD. None of those people really said any of that. Well, that's as may as well be... except that as countless people have written in to tell me, I am not a real writer. Ergo, as I am not real, I am just as fictional as these fictional versions of Mark Millar and company. It follows then, since they are just as fictional as I am, then I am justly entitled to their fictional award, since - not being real - their opinions do not count for anything.

Of course I know the real reason this mob has turned against me. The Brotherhood of Creators is stronger than any feud between creators. And if they were to acknowledge the legitimacy and strength of my feud with Judd Winick, the feud with have to be resolved like all great celebrity feuds. And I would wipe the floor with him.

Ignoring the righteousness of my cause and the whole "my strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure" thing, I have - at least - a good 50 pounds of weight on Judd. I'm well-versed in swordplay and the bow. And I'm a trained fighter, who studied stage combat and fighting technique with Clarence Gilyard; best known as Chuck Norris' right-hand man on Walker: Texas Ranger.

Simply put, I am a fightin' Texas liberal and Judd is, by his own admission in Pedro and Me, a weenie Long-Island liberal. It would be slaughter. Athens and Sparta redeux. However, all of this is a moot point as I have no desire to fight Judd Winick in any arena, fictional or not. Violence never solved anything and at the end of the day, he'd still be writing Green Arrow/Black Canary bloody nose or no.

What I do desire, however, is recognition of the legitimacy of the feud. Not for myself, you understand, but for all of the countless brave men and women who have followed my example over the past year. It is they, not me, who have truly made the Judd Winick vs. Matt Morrison feud into the greatest feud of the year. Because wherever men and women have taken Judd Winick to task - be it on the blogs of When Fangirls Attack!or the message boards at DC Comics - I have been there. If Matt Morrison is one who stands up to Judd Winick and says "This is not acceptable", than these people are just as much Matt Morrison as I am and are just as worth of recognition.

So Rich Johnston - as one fictional writer to another - I ask you to consult with your fictional team of judges and reconsider. Not for my sake nor your own. Not to avoid the angry barrage of e-mails with the subject header "I Am Matt Morrison" which are sure to follow this column. Not even to cause Joe Quesada to have yet another heart-attack when he sees my name in print on I ask you to do it for all the men and women out there who have a little bit of Matt Morrison inside of them.

LIEING IN THE GUTTERS is a satire by Matt Morrison, published on Inside Pulse, Comics Nexus and LiveJournal and is not intended maliciously. LIEING IN THE GUTTERS has invented all names and situations in its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental, or used as a fictional depiction or personality parody (permitted under Hustler Magazine v. Fallwell, 485 US 46, 108 S.Ct 876, 99 L.Ed.2d 41 (1988)). ComicBookResources makes no representation as to the truth or accuracy of the preceding information. This whole column was one big joke and we have nothing but the deepest respect for Rich Johnston, his fictional team of writer/judges and we don't want you to write him except in so far as to give him a big laugh over this whole thing. And if any of you repost or link to this column anywhere else as if it were serious, demanding that I be fired, my editors and I will laugh at you like the mouth-breathing rube that you are.

No Fast Thoughts For 01/04/07

Why? Because I didn't get any comics this week. Not a scrap. Bugger all.