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.


  1. Yep. One of the few ideas to come out of Countdown that I liked.
    The short version is that Harley blew a mission after briefly joining The Secret Six (she joined the team in Birds of Prey and the blown mission was detailed in Detective Comics) and found herself wanting to go straight. So she started looking for medical listings of places that didn't do extensive background checks and stumbled across a listing for the Amazon Women's Shelter in Metropolis.
    Harley's ability to choose the wrong friends has won out, though - it turns out that "Athena", who appears at all the shelters to "guide her daughters" is actually a disguised Granny Goodness, who is teaching a corrupted version of the Amazon philosophy in order to create a new team of Female Furies. So Harley is basically good - but has no clue she's working for the bad guys.

  2. Huh... I'm mainly surprised that not a single Winick issue made it to your list. :P

  3. Well, I kinda did for the "Most Likely To Cause Continuity Robot's Heads To Explode" award. But that one couldn't be blamed on Winick, though several issues he wrote were involved.
    As I said, the problems with trying to fit the Justice League Wedding Special and Dwayne McDuffie's first few issues of JLA into a cohesive time-line with the Green Arrow/Black Canary wedding special is difficult. Trying to reconcile it with the Countdown issues is all but impossible.
    But until I hear Dwayne McDuffie come out and say "Yeah, I kept asking Judd what he was actually doing in the wedding issue so we could coordinate and he never called me or my editor back," I have to assume that this was an editorial problem. Not a writing problem.

  4. Before that, in Detective Comics, there was an issue that showed Harley getting th a-okay from Arkham, before she joined the Six.

  5. Does that make the Death of Captain America this decade's Death of Superman? Because even though we know Steve'll be back eventually, it's an enjoyable hellavu ride.