Justice League Dark #1
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Mikel Janin and Ulises Arreola
I’m probably one of the few who didn’t blanch when it was announced that one of the New 52 titles would be a Justice League book featuring John Constantine.It sounds like a joke but the case for why such a move would be necessary was made years ago by the late and lamented Unca Cheeks on his gloriously mad website. So it was ironically, with a good deal of hope and optimism, that I opened up Justice League Dark #1.
Most of the issue is told from the perspective of fortune teller Madame Xanadu., whose visions keep showing her a woman named June Moone – an ordinary woman who is bound to a spirit of wild magic known as The Enchantress.As three members of the Justice League barely escape with their lives after trying to confront The Enchantress, Xanadu has an epiphany and realizes that a diverse group of people with unique magical talents will be needed to stop The Enchantress and save the innocent soul of June Moone. In order of appearance, they are…
Shade The Changing Man – guardian of the M-Vest;. a garment that allows the wearer to change reality, even as they themselves risk being warped by it.
Zatanna – the Justice League’s magic expert, who casts spells through the use of backwards-spoken words.
John Constantine – a con-man whose talent for getting into and out of trouble may be the greatest magic he has.
Deadman – A selfish man in life, trapeze artist Boston Brand was cursed in death to walk the world until he helped enough people to earn his final rest.
Peter Milligan’s script puts us in the thick of it and sets the stakes high early on.It is ironic that our first glimpse of the new Justice League – at least, our first glimpse as they will be – should come in this book where they are so clearly out of their element.He does a good job of introducing us to just how serious a threat The Enchantress is.
Sadly, the our main cast isn’t as well established.We learn quite a bit about Madame Xanadu, Zatanna and Shade The Changing Man but John Constantine’s appearance is limited to one page.Yet even he fairs better than Deadman, who doesn’t get so much as a line of dialogue or an internal monologue to describe himself!While Deadman’s background was extensively covered in last week’s DC Universe Presents #1, it seems a bit of a gamble to presume that readers of this book would have read that book already.
Newcomer artist Mikel Janin does an amazing job on this first issue.Avoiding the heavy inks and shadows that are the bread and butter of most Vertigo-toned series, he has left Justice League Dark looking brightly colored and well-defined, for the most part.This might seem an odd choice given the title but I think it works, giving everything the look of a standard superhero book that is slowly coming apart as the “dark” invades.If forced to make a comparison to another artist, I’d say that Janin’s style is reminiscent of Terry Dodson but without the heavy emphasis on cheesecake.
Despite some of the cast not being as well developed as others, I rather liked this book.Fans of Milligan’s previous Vertigo works (particularly Shade The Changing Man and Hellblazer) will want to check this one out, as will fans of the Shadowpact.I dare say that anybody who enjoys good modern-day urban fantasy will get a kick out of this series as well.I enjoyed it.And I’ll be back for more next month.
In December 2002, I was unemployed, out of college and was without a regular writing gig following the final issue of Fanzing. Within two months time, I had been accepted to Graduate School, found work at my local comic book store and began doing a weekly column for – what was then – the comics page of 411 Wrestling.
Five years later I find myself in a similar state. I now hold two degrees. I stand on the threshold of a new career using those degrees. And I have decided to retire from writing regular commentary for Comics Nexus.
Now before my fans get too upset and my haters become too jubilant, let me explain something: this is going to be a working retirement. I’ll still be posting random thoughts on the industry on my blog at http://looking2dastars.livejournal.com/. I’ll still be providing convention coverage for every Con in my immediate area. And I will, when the mood takes me, still write the occasional piece for Comics Nexus. But the days of my being the regular Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up are over.
Why? Well, there’s more than a few reasons.
For one thing, it’s a bit hard to be a reviewer when you buy more comics for your girlfriend than you do for yourself. And one quickly runs out of ways to describe the glory of Fables to people who are already likely aware of the book and have an opinion about it one way or the other after five years of publication.
I have also lost a lot of the fire I once had for discussing comics.
The problem with being an angry young man is that eventually you became an angry old man or you stop being angry. And for the most part, I’ve stopped being angry. I’m still boycotting Marvel over One More Day. I’m still unhappy that Judd Winick is continuing to write Green Arrow AND Black Canary on a monthly basis. But there is a world of difference between ‘not happy’ and ‘angry’. Angry writers are amusing. Sad writers are not. And I’m more inclined to pity hack writers and editors who don’t listen to their fan bases than to be annoyed by them now.
I had a conversation with an old high school friend – now a professional in the business – about how I was growing tired of being “just a critic” and how I wished I had his talent. He thanked me for the complement but told me not to sell myself short as a critic.
“Good critical writing is rare. You should be proud of that.”
Thank you, Randy. But I think you were wrong in one respect.
When I first started in this business, comic book critics were few and far between. Now, there’s a plethora of bloggers out there doing what I do and with a lot more enthusiasm and passion than I can muster right now. There will always be a need for the voice that stands up and says “This is unacceptable”. That need is being filled ably enough that I can leave my post guilt-free.
And lest anyone out there think that the critic be completely powerless, explain to me how – after years of protest by feminist comic fans – Stephanie Brown was finally acknowledged as a real honest-to-God Robin in Batman’s heart and mind in Batman #673?
Ultimately, the main reason I am retiring is a problem of time. It’s going to be all but impossible for me to manage my new job, my column, my acting and all the other creative opportunities I have on my plate right now. Something has got to give and I need my job for food, shelter, clothes and comics. To that end, I am mostly giving up my regular weekly column in order to start creating my own comics.
I’m tired of being the H.L. Mencken of comics criticism. I want to be Mark Twain.
Naturally, once my first project is published and available I will let you all know about it here. I’m sure my friends at Comics Nexus will want the big exclusive too.
If I can leave you all with one bit of something that seems like wisdom, let it be this. While we may not like what a writer or editor is doing to our favorite character today, whatever damage they do in one story cannot be inflicted on the stories in our heads and in our hearts.
We create our own continuity and are free to ignore the stories we don’t like.
You don’t like the idea of Hercules being a rapist? You can ignore those myths which say that’s what he did to Hippolyta. You don’t like the Robin Hood stories where he’s a lucky coward bolstered by his more competent allies? You don’t have to count those legends. You don’t like what’s happening with Spider-Man right now? Peter Parker and Mary Jane live happily ever after following Amazing Spider-Man #491.
They don’t own the characters. They don’t own the stories. We do. And while reading a story is fun, it’s even more fun to make up your own.
Before I go, I do have a lot of people I need to thank for various things.
Mom and Dad, thank you for bringing me into this world, supporting me when things got rough, for teaching me the value of standing up for what’s right and for encouraging my love of reading – even when I was reading things you didn’t like or understand.
Sierra Thomas, thank you for being the guiding star of this Starman.
Michael Hutchison, thank you for giving me my first big break. I know we’ve never seen eye-to-eye politically and that we had more than our share of shouting matches. But you were always a fair editor and a gentleman. And I really wish that DC Comics would let you write Elongated Man.
Ben Morse, thank you for giving me my second chance. I’ve disagreed with your career choices since you left us but – on reflection – I think those choices were right for you if not for me. And most of my reaction was born out of not wanting to lose such a good editor. And whatever disrespectful things I may have said about your employers, I have had nothing but the highest respect for you. I wish you all the happiness in the world. You deserve it.
Daron Kappauff, thank you for being my editor and my partner in crime. We created one hell of a web comic together, my friend. Shame that the artist hit it big and left us in the lurch. Still, when it came time to fill Ben’s big-shoes you stepped up to the plate and grabbed the brass ring. And as an editor you never gave me a hard time about mixing metaphors.
Manolis Vamvounis, thank you for being so very, very Greek. And for – over the last year – being the nagging voice about special projects I should consider helping out with and deadlines I never actually missed.
The rest of the writing and editorial staff of 411 Wrestling, 411 Mania, Inside Pulse and Comics Nexus, thank you for being my peers, my colleagues and quite frequently my test subjects.
Gail Simone, thank you for being the first professional to write me about something I wrote and for making my work-situation a lot more tolerable.
Kurt Busiek, thank you for one heck of a half-hour chat.
George Perez, thank you for that same heck of a half-hour chat and but also for remembering me three years later.
Scott Kurtz, thank you for proving that the words of critics have power to rival any magician and for being the model of hubris I shall strive to avoid as a creator.
Ron Zimmerman, thank you for taking the time to tell me what a jealous hack I was before sinking into obscurity and for giving me another example on how a professional should not act.
All the other writers, artists and professionals – both fans and haters – thank you acknowledging my work.
And finally, I’d like to thank all of you. Thank you, my fans. Everyone who read this column. Everybody who wrote in to this column. Every single one of you who I spoke with at a Con, wrote back to on a message board or had any form of contact with. Without you, I wouldn’t be a star. Just a Starman
I find it fitting to end this, as I began it, with a certain comic. A comic I wrote about a week ago.
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.
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 ofStarman 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.]]>
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!
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.
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.]]>
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 CBR.com. 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.]]>
The very first comic shop I ever called home is dead.
I found this out last week as I went to visit my parents for the holidays. Gold Mine Comics was it’s name – now vanished even from the Internet, save for a passing mention on a website listing places to buy Transformer toys.
It was, as I recall, a bit of a dump. And before anyone starts to think I’m coming down too hard on the old homestead, let me say that I’ve seen comic shops that are far worse and had far worse employees. That being said, Gold Mine Comics was an ironic name even at the best of times in those heady days back when the Internet was still young and Wizard Magazine the only way to get reliable comics industry news. It was a hole in the wall but it was a homey hole. And because it was the only comic shop in a rough 100 mile radius, it survived and in a fashion, thrived.
The very first regular article I ever wrote (See The Mount in Fanzing #26 – we’d put up a link, but their site is down!) was about the signs that you are in a bad comic book store. And although I didn’t name it then, “Store A” – the source of most of my signs – was Gold Mine Comics.
75 Copies of the latest Danger Girl Special and yet not a single copy of Detective Comics or Wonder Woman? Special Orders that took months to arrive, assuming they ever did? Quarter Bins containing more comics than the Archive Section? The Gold Mine had all of this and more.
Then again, I did wind up getting most of the Mike Grell Green Arrow run from those quarter bins for ten bucks. So it wasn’t all bad. And for all it’s faults, the shop did have a lot to redeem it.
For one thing, you never paid extra for bags and boards when you bought a comic off the shelf. Granted, this was because they had everything bag-and-boarded to stop people from treating the place like a library on new comic day but that’s hardly the point.
The place also did have one crackerjack staff back in the day and while I sometimes got ribbing because I was the only customer who had heard of Birds of Prey much less subscribed to it, I could always count on the guys there to keep me informed on stuff that was coming out that I’d probably be hip to.
It was their staff who – on one of the rare occasions my special order got filled – got me the silver Green Lantern ring that is my lucky charm, constant companion and most frequent ice-breaker at social gatherings. I
It was there that I picked up my first autographed comic – a copy of Clerks: The Comic Book #1 signed by Kevin Smith himself, which the owner had picked-up on one of his frequent trips to a convention in Houston.
It was there that I got my first “geek-grrl” crush on a redhead named Lucy, who changed me from a superhero-reading fanboy into a man of the world after exposing me to the works of Neil Gaiman.
And yes, it was there that I first got the nickname of Starman, as my friend Cody stumbled across an issue a copy in the back-issue bin and said “You should read this. This Jack Knight guy sounds like you”.
Yes, the place was a pit. But for the three years before I moved back home to Dallas, it was my pit. And I stopped by there at least once a year whenever I came to visit, just to see how the place had changed. And changed it did. The owner changed at least twice over the years. The staff somewhat more frequently than that. And the last time I went in the shop had branched out and become equal parts comic shop, skate store and weapons dealer.
Only in America, ladies and gentlemen, could you get a custom skateboard, a pair of nunchucks and the latest issue of Action Comics in one store. Maybe such a thing is only possible in Texas, for that matter.
But that was after my time. And though there is supposedly a new comic book store in Victoria, near the long-abandoned Dunlap’s department store, I didn’t stop in to check it out. My memories – and a little bit of my heart – are further east. They can be found in a strip-mall two blocks from the high-school, near the abandoned dollar theater where I saw Dogma and South Park: The Movie after the big chain theater refused to show them in a building where now stands a used-electronics store.
Rest In Peace, Gold Mine Comics. You will be missed.]]>
The end of 2007 is upon us and it seems fitting that The Sinestro Corps War – for my money the best multi-issue crossover mini-series all year – should end with it. I’ll admit to being biased, though. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan in specific) was my favorite superhero as a boy and still holds a special place in my heart. And in he ten years that I’ve been reading comics, the mythos of the Green Lantern Corps have become just as near and dear to me.
It’s no surprise then that a story like this – in which an all-star team of Green Lantern villains are united under the banner of their greatest foe – the rogue Green Lantern Sinestro – would appeal to me and every-other red-blooded Green Lantern fanboy. Indeed, the only flaw The Sinestro Corps War has as a whole is that much of the subtleties of the story can be lost on someone unfamiliar with the history of the Green Lantern Corps. At the very least, one must be familiar with the events of the last two years of Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and the Ion mini-series.
Despite this, the series has been a critical success for DC Comics as well as a high-selling book. And polls on Newsarama named SCW the best crossover of the year with two out of three correspondents voting for it. So why has SCW succeeded where Countdown and Amazons Attack failed? Well, I think there are several reasons for this.
First, where these other crossovers have been stretched out across multiple titles with numerous tie-ins, SCW has been completely self-contained to the Green Lantern monthly titles and a handful of specials. Apart from one issue of Blue Beetle, the storyline has been completely untouched by the rest of the DC Universe and vice-versa.
Also, despite being a tough slog for some newer readers, the history and back-story inherit to Sinestro Corps War has given the series a sense of urgency that these other crossovers have lacked. One may not understand the full significance of The Prophecy of Blackest Night or have read the original stories regarding the prophecy written decades ago by the legendary Alan Moore in order to enjoy it. Your enjoyment of the depth of the story may be improved by this knowledge but it is not required.
And ultimately, that is why I think that Sinestro Corps War has been successful. At its’ heart, it is a simple and basic story which has everything a good superhero story should. Action. Revenge. Miracles. Hubris. Even True Love Conquering All in the form of a romantic subplot between two of the Guardians.
The double-sized Green Lantern #25 was a fitting conclusion to this epic tale. The artwork is handled by two artists but their work blends together so seamlessly I had to double-check and make sure that my memory was right and that there really were two artists at work. And Geoff John’s writing is a strong as ever. There are many great moments in this issue I could use to illustrate just how great it is. But I chose this one simply because I think it best exemplifies not only the greatness of this story but the superhero genre in general.
A faction of The Sinestro Corps is in-route to Coast City – the hometown of Green Lantern Officer Hal Jordan. Destroyed once by alien invaders and recently rebuilt, the town was nicknamed “Ghost City” due to the difficulty the local government had in convincing anyone to live there. With Sinestro himself leading the charge against his city, Hal Jordan uses his ring to command the airwaves and tells everyone in town to flee the city, just in case he can’t save them. Hal’s own family – led by his brother – refuses to leave despite the danger. And it is then that Hal’s fellow Green Lantern Officer Kyle Rayner enters and tells Hal he needs to come outside and see something.
Mark Twain once said “the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great”. In this moment, Hal Jordan becomes “really great” as he inspires the people of his hometown to the same standard of courage and willfulness that are the hallmark of the Green Lanterns. They refuse to run and choose instead to trust in faith that their hero will save them as he has time and time again. They chose to light a candle – literally in some cases – rather than curse the darkness.
To see the common people – the ones who don’t have super-powers or fancy power rings to protect them – show such bravery in the face of adversity is rare. But it is even rarer these days for them to be seen viewing their super powered protectors as heroes rather than an annoyance or a menace. Even in the relatively brighter universe of DC Comics, this show of respect and confidence is depressingly infrequent and it lightens this old fanboy’s heart to see it here.
This tone continues into the epilogue for the series in Green Lantern Corps #19, which shows how several of the members of the Corps are spending their time in the days following the conclusion of the war. There’s not as much action and the pacing is a little bit slower than in Green Lantern #25 but that suits the issue just fine.
There are a lot of great character moments in this issue and while the critic in me appreciates the skillful writing the historian in me wonders about certain scenes. For instance, we see Green Lantern drill-sergeant Killowog enjoying a dinner with his family and it is a beautiful scene marred only by the fact that Killowog was the last of his alien race the last time I checked. I’m willing to admit I might be wrong but it was still jarring for me to see.
I also wonder how Kyle Rayner – recently appointed to the Honor Guard of Oa – can be looking for a job on Earth when Honor Guard membership requires that Lantern in question be based on Oa to aid in the training of new recruits as well as handling special missions for The Guardians of the Universe who run The GL Corps. Even with a ring that allows one to do the near-impossible, Earth to Oa is a heck of a daily commute.
But as much as I may nit-pick, even I cannot find fault in the scene where Guy Gardner tries to romance his recently resurrected lost-love Ice. I hadn’t been reading GL Corps on a regular basis before SCW but this – and the revelation at the end of the issue of another old villain who will be returning with the power of Sinestro behind him – is enough to keep me reading this despite the end of the crossover.
Even the Ion special is an enjoyable read, despite being somewhat superfluous to the main storyline of The Sinestro Corps War. It is meant to take place between the events of Green Lantern #25 and Green Lantern Corps #19 but there is no indication of this anywhere in the cover and only the fact that the book concludes with Kyle Rayner’s promotion to the Honor Guard allows the time of the story to be set.
This issue was written by Ron Marz; forever famous as the creator of Kyle Rayner and the author of the previous Ion mini-series as well as the Parallax special that was part of SCW. As in Ion seems to have been stuck with the task of explaining away the various inconsistencies that have sprung up regarding The Ion Force as described by Judd Winick, Dave Gibbons and Geoff Johns. In this issue, he does this in an amazingly simple manner, with the short version being that The Guardians weren’t telling the whole truth… Again. He even manages to tie-up some lose ends involving long-time Alex Nero; a mad-artist with a fear-powered yellow ring and long-time Kyle Rayner villain.
This is all incidental to the main thrust of the story but it is a credit to Ron Marz’s skill as a writer that he is able to smoothly fit the explanation for these details into his narrative even while spinning a tale that centers upon Kyle Rayner playing mentor to Sodam Yat; the new possessor of the Ion Power. While the action of the issue is nice and well illustrated by Michael Lacombe, the meat of the issue lies in Kyle – who knows full well what it is to be inexperienced and entrusted with great power regardless – trying to lessen the burdens of the intense Sodam Yat.
The conclusion of The Sinestro War promised that an even greater crisis awaits the Green Lanterns. Far beyond even the upcoming Final Crisis looms an even greater disaster. And a prophecy foretells of an unthinkable yet necessary alliance of the fear-empowered Sinestro Corps and the willpower-enhanced Green Lantern Corps in order for all that lives to be saved. The future may be dark in the DC Comics Universe but if this upcoming storyline maintains the same high level of quality we have seen in this story, I foresee nothing but a bright future for DC Comics in 2008 and 2009.]]>
Parents at a 12:50 showing of “The Golden Compass” in Fort Worth’s Eastchase district were both shocked and appalled to find that the movie was preceded by a trailer for the upcoming big-screen adaptation of the novel “Prince Caspian”, which some parents fear may cause their children to read a series that promotes spiritual belief and “denigrates Atheism.”
“I just can’t believe this,” said Leah Jones, mother of three and proud atheist. “I can’t believe that they would allow children to be exposed to this kind of thing without warning!”
Actors Liam Neeson and famous dwarf actor Warwick Davis are slated to star in the movie adapted from the from the second novel in a fantasy trilogy called “The Chronicles of Narnia” by noted Christian author C.S. Lewis.
The series focuses on several groups of children who stumble across various portals leading into a world of fantasy and make-believe. This land is called Narnia and it is here that the children meet fantastic creatures, have adventures and learn valuable lessons about life.
In the story, the four Pevensie children return to Narnia, only to find that a thousand years have passed since they first visited. In the time since then, most of the magical creatures as well the human supporters of Aslan (a talking lion and spiritual leader of Narnia) have been executed or forced into hiding by The Telmarines; a race who conquer and “civilized” the land of Narnia, forbidding any talk of miracles and other “nonsense” things.. By the end of the seventh Narnia book, Aslan decides to bring Narnia to an end and take all of his true followers to join him in the paradise of True Narnia. The children go with him and live happily and eternally ever after – except for Susan Pevensie (the oldest girl) who was more interested in boys and make-up than joining Aslan’s crusade against evil once more.
“The movie is made for the books,” said Don Billohue, president and CEO of the Dallas Agnostic’s Metroplex Native Enlightenment Delegation “The Lewis estate is hoping his books will fly off the shelves as soon as school lets out and parents are looking for summer-reading material.”
In the movie, which is being marketed as a children’s fantasy film, many of the direct references to Christianity have been relabeled. For instance, “God” is only referred to as “Aslan”
“They’re intentionally watering down the most offensive element,” Billohue said in a CNN News report.
While Billohue said he’s not concerned about the movie, which he described as “fairly innocuous,” he charges movie makers for engaging in a “deceitful, stealth campaign” to promote the book. “This is not about censorship,” insists Billohue. “This is about the values we don’t want our children being taught.”
However, while Atheist groups have unanimously denounced the English writer’s books, some are waiting to see “Prince Caspian” before taking a stance on the movie.
“Honestly, I don’t think a boycott will be effective,” noted Bob Tomas of The Atheist Television and Movie Association. “The Wiccans complained about all of the elements of their religion being ripped out of “The Dark Is Rising” a few months ago, and it didn’t do a bit of good. Anyway, we’d have to see the whole movie before we started telling our membership how offended they should be by it.”
Other Atheists think the book will inspire readers to question the world around them.
“It undoubtedly makes people question in general but it also inspires them to look harder for real answers on their own,” said Daniel Fitzpatrick, co-director of the League of Secular Thinkers. “Lewis took great pains to portray the dangers of theocracy and in blindly doing what authority figures tell you to do in his books and encouraged his readers to believe their own senses and intuition as to what was really going on. In that sense, I think he did the world a great service.”
Other critics of the movie also include fans of “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Many fear that the pro-religious and pro-Church themes of the book were “castrated” from the first movie in the series, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, to make it more marketable to audiences in the United States and United Kingdom.
“It was clear right from the start that the makers of these films intended to take out the pro-religious elements of Lewis’s books. In doing that they are taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it,” said Peri Anderson, president of Mothers For United Church & King Eternal Ruling; a British women’s organization that promotes traditional British values and the reestablishment of a theocracy with a male monarch as head of the British Empire and Church of England.
“It seems that wanton Atheism has now completely conquered America’s cultural life and it is much the poorer for it,” she said in The Guardian newspaper earlier this month. “What a shame that we have to endure such repression here too.”
“Prince Caspian” is scheduled to hit U.S. theaters on May 16, 2008.]]>
In all the hustle and bustle of the Holidays, I somehow neglected to pick up any of the issues containing J. Michael Straczynski’s final story arc for One More Day.
Why bother? I stopped reading Spider-Man comics on a regular basis about the time Peter was recruited into The New Avengers and the book pretty much became a second Avengers title. I flipped through a few of the Back in Black issues simply because I heard Kingpin was in it and I’m a sucker for a good Wilson Fisk story. And the premise of One More Day left me cold.
There’s also the little matter of a promise I made a few months ago to see this thing through to the bloody end.
What can I say? I slow down to look at traffic accidents just to see how bad it is, too.
Now, for those of you wiser than me who have had the good sense not to keep up on the last few years of Amazing Spider-Man, let me give you the quick run-down.
After impressing Tony Stark with some major techno-wizardry under duress, Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May are allowed to move into Stark Towers following the destruction of the Parker Home by a super-villain. At the same time, Peter is recruited to join the New Avengers.
Following an incident that increases public anger at superheroes in general, Tony Stark begins working with the United States Government on a program that sanctions vigilantes. In a misguided effort to help win support for the program among the heroes reluctant to sign on, Peter outs his secret identity at a press conference.
Shortly thereafter, Peter finds out about some of the more extreme measures Tony Stark has taken to deal with the heroes who won’t sign on (i.e. a secret prison in the Negative Zone) and that super-villains are being given amnesty for past misdeeds if they agree to join a government-sponsored super-team. Unable to talk reason into Tony, Peter joins the resistance against Tony Stark and his associates being organized by Captain America.
Still in hiding with his family after Captain America is arrested, Peter’s whereabouts are tracked by an imprisoned Wilson Fisk –a.k.a. The Kingpin. Kingpin orders that the entire Parker family be wiped out, but only Aunt May is wounded.
Peter and MJ grab what savings they can and get May into a hospital. In the course of covering their tracks, Peter commits numerous felonies – breaking in and entering, impersonating an EMT and forging medical documents among them. Peter goes to Tony asking for help to save his aunt; help which Tony initially refuses, but then provides indirectly.
This brings us to the start of One More Day where we find that even the best medical care money can buy is not enough to save May. The doctor’s prognosis is that she is destabilizing steadily and that nothing short of a miracle will save her.
Peter goes off looking for a miracle, first going to Doctor Strange. The good doctor says there is nothing he can do but he does agree to help Peter question others who might help. Traveling through time and space, consulting with both friends and enemies, Peter receives the same answer – there is nothing you can do to save her. Even Peter’s attempts to try and stop the shooting while traveling astrally come to naught.
As Peter leaves, he is confronted by a various people – an older businessman, an overweight geek and a little girl – all of whom tell Peter the story of their lives. It is then that everyone’s favorite devil Mephisto shows up. He tells Peter that the people he just saw were versions of him who might have come to be had it not been for a key event in his life and that he can arrange for reality to be rewritten so that Aunt May will survive.
Peter is naturally reluctant to sell his soul, even for Aunt May but Mephisto scoffs at this offer, saying that Peter will likely wind up in Hell on his current path anyway and that there are few things less amusing to him than a noble soul, trapped in Hell for a higher purpose. But to destroy something noble and pure – that is a deal that interests him.
And so the offer is made – Aunt May will be saved but at the cost of Peter’s love for Mary Jane. Reality will be rewritten so that the two never met, never fell in love and never married. Nobody will remember anything, save for a small part of the soul that remembers all and will weep at what has been lost.
Peter insists on discussing it with Mary Jane first. Mephisto readily agrees and Peter goes to her, only to find that Mephisto has been there the whole time, making Mary Jane the same offer. He warns them that the only have until the end of the day tomorrow to make their decision – and one more day together if they say yes.
In the four months, since I first wrote about this story-line, the fan community has become even more outraged, if the message boards can be believed.
As I noted in that earlier article, a Newsarama poll showed that 2 out of 3 fans were opposed to ending the Spider-Marriage through any means. I suspect the percentage would be higher than 67% if one were to quantify the question; “Are you opposed to ending the Spider-Marriage through magic?” JMS’s run on Amazing Spider-Man has been controversial and the biggest reason for this was his including magic and spiritual concerns in a comic that has always been – for the most part- science based.
From his very first story, Coming Home, JMS was not shy about putting Peter in the unfamiliar territories offered by the magic realms. Coming Home put forth the idea that Peter’s powers, rather than being caused by a radioactive spider-bite, came instead from a totemistic bond to spiders and that a higher power had chosen Peter – one who knew what it was to be prey – to be a predator that would bring down other, more dangerous predators.
While this idea irked many long-time Spider-Fans, it is worth noting that at no time did JMS ever say that the idea was a definitive origin. Indeed, there was just as much evidence introduced to suggest that the theory was hokum (the methods Peter uses to fight totem-vampire Morlun in Coming Home, for instance) and that while totem-empowered characters existed, Peter was not one of them.
Many fans have put the blame for One More Day on JMS, saying this is just more of the same inappropriate magic mucking up the relatively simpler world of Peter Parker. Given the evidence it is not hard to fault their conclusions, save for one reason – JMS hates the idea of One Day More even more than the fans did.
This shouldn’t be any surprise, really. When JMS took over Amazing Spider-Man, Peter and Mary Jane were separated – the result, ironically enough, of the last failed attempt by Marvel Editorial to break-up the Spider-Marriage. JMS spent the first few years of his run trying to reestablish and strengthen the bond between MJ and Peter. For what one man’s opinion is worth, I think he succeeded and the issues leading up to their reunion in Amazing Spider-Man #50 were truly touching and among some of JMS’s best work in any medium. Given all the hard work he put into reinvigorating the character of Mary Jane and her relationship with Peter, I can’t imagine he would willingly scrap all of that now unless he were being forced to.
And sure enough, according to a recent web-posting by JMS, he pretty much was being forced to.
In the current storyline, there’s a lot that I don’t agree with, and I
made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance at Marvel,
especially Joe (Quesada). I’ll be honest: there was a point where I made the
decision, and told Joe (Quesada), that I was going to take my name off the last
two issues of the OMD arc. Eventually Joe(Quesada) talked me out of that
decision because at the end of the day, I don’t want to sabotage Joe
or Marvel, and I have a lot of respect for both of those.
As an executive producer as well as a writer, I’ve sometimes had to insist
that my writers make changes that they did not want to make, often
loudly so. They were sure I was wrong. Mostly I was right.
Sometimes I was wrong. But whoever sits in the editor’s chair, or the
executive producer’s chair, wears the pointy hat of authority, and as
Dave Sim once noted, you can’t argue with a pointy hat.
J. Michael Straczynski has found himself in the ultimate no-win situation. Refusing to write the story apparently wasn’t an option, since Joe Quesada was so insistent on ending JMS’s “legendary” run on Amazing Spider-Man with a big bang. Pulling an Alan Smithe and taking his name off of the book wasn’t an option since the Marvel Hype Machine has been plugging this issue as JMS’s final story for months and, as JMS noted, he respects Marvel Comics and the chain of command too much to risk hurting it over bad feelings. And raising a big stink about the whole thing would do little save hurt his career and give his critics more ammunition against him.
Not that it matters. The trolls will do what they will and not let the facts stand in the way and these people hound with a relentlessness that would make J. Jonah Jameson proud.
Some accused JMS of cowardice for deciding the company is more important than his own opinions. Others have accused him of greed, wanting nothing more than to take the money and run. Still others have taken his comments as signs of insubordination and have demanded he be fired from Marvel Comics.
I don’t think that any of this is likely. Because whatever your opinions of the man and his talent as a writer, J. Michael Straczynski has been a professional writer for nearly three decades. He created, executive-produced and wrote most of the scripts for one of the most ground-breaking science-fiction shows of all time. He has written scripts for numerous animated series and television shows and continued to find work.
As such, I trust that he knows the business and the rules of decorum better than nearly anyone I am likely to meet on a comic book forum. And even though I’m an amateur writer, I know that the first rule of working anywhere is that you don’t bad-mouth your boss no matter how much of an idiot they are. I know that the pay for comic book writing compared to Hollywood writing is chicken-feed, so any idea that JMS is trying to milk the Mighty Marvel Money Machine when he could probably make more money doing more direct-to-video Babylon 5 movies is laughable.
And as for JMS’s comments being disrespectful for Joe Quesada…
Well, personally I didn’t see anything disrespectful in JMS’s comments. He didn’t even bad-mouth Marvel Comics or say anything other than that he has disagreed with many of Joe Quesada’s decisions but that he wants to be a good soldier, whatever his disagreements with The Powers That Be.
That, to my mind, is not disrespectful.
Saying that Joe Quesada is an idiot with a god-complex, so blinded by his own gargantuan ego that he’ll ignore the instincts of one of his best employees and the will o the people is disrespectful. It is also, from where this fanboy sits, a lot more accurate than a tenth-part of what others have said of JMS.
There is only one thing I’m sure of in all of this – I won’t be reading Part Four of this story. Even though I thought the first three books were written well, I don’t think I can bare to see just how well JMS can write something he really didn’t want to. I’ll give him full credit for bravery under fire and honoring his commitments but just because he doesn’t want to see Marvel’s sales hurt by his opinions doesn’t mean I have to further encourage a company that is apparently run exclusively by editorial-mandate.]]>