Looking To The Stars 1.20.03: The 2002 Starry Awards

The Golden Globes. Mr. Blackwell’s Best & Worst Dressed List. And now: The Starries. Because it’s just not the start of the new year without yammering about the best and worst of last year.

Welcome, dear reader, to what I hope will become a yearly staple of 411 Comics: The Starry Awards for Excellence and Disgrace in Comics Writing.

Now Stars, you might well ask… We have the Eisners. We have the Eagles. We even have (though I’m not sure why) the Wizard Awards. Why on Earth 2 does the comic industry need another award? Because those other fine awards aren’t based on my opinions as to what stories are good and which ones are not worth the trees that were killed to see them printed.

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 2002

Best Moment All Year: The Restoration of Oa and the Guardians.

As told in Green Lantern #150 by Judd Winnick, Dale Eaglesham & Rodney Ramos and

Legacy – The Last Will And Testament of Hal Jordan By Joe Kelly, Brent Anderson & Bill Sienkiewicz

Probably the biggest comic news story this year in terms of impact to the DC comics Universe, Winnick and Kelly both had ideas on how to bring back the Green Lantern Corps in some form or another. Working on their stories separately, the two learned of the other’s plans and agreed to write their stories to play off another.

Both stories were as different as brightest day and darkest night. One dealt with a young man given omnipotence trying to find the way to best use his new power. The other dealt with an older man fighting his own sense of powerlessness, seeking redemption for himself and for the greatest man he had ever known. But both these men would come to find something within themselves that let them prove to be the equal of any Green Lantern to come before as they each undid the mistakes of the past.

Funniest Read All Year: Understanding Gamers

As told in Dork Tower #18 by John Kovalic

A success as a straight comedic story, as a semi-serious guide to gamer culture and as a parody of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Dork Tower #18 had me laughing and crying. Laughing at such bits as the Gamer Type Identification Chart and crying as I saw myself in the “How To Date A Non-Gamer” section (I swear.. I only told her about my Morrowind character ONCE!). Don’t worry if you missed this book though. It will be coming out soon in an expanded Trade Paperback edition.

Best Team-Up: Green Arrow, Hawkgirl & Hawkman.

As told in Hawkman #5-6 by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Rags Morales & Michael Bair

They met again for the first time in years in Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow run, these two heroes. Both were recently returned from the dead, both are masters of archaic weapons and both needing only the drop of a feather-bedecked hat to start trying to kill each other.

Still, as good a job as Smith did, Robinson and Johns did him one better with a not-quite so acclaimed team-up story in the pages of Hawkman a few months later. Titled “Slings And Arrows”, the two-part story centered on a reluctant partnership between the Emerald Archer and the Feathered Fighter as they looked for a murderous archer.

But that’s just the plot: the real meat of this issue is watching two of the greatest heroes in the DC Universe grate on each other’s nerves as they try to do the right thing. And a round of applause for the oh-so-ironic scene where Oliver Queen tells off Carter Hall for chasing after a younger woman (Hawkgirl) for the same reasons that he once used to keep him away from a then-as-young Dinah Lance (Black Canary).

And for those of you who are wondering why I put Hawkgirl in this team-up when most of the story involves Carter and Ollie arguing… credit where credit is due. She’s in the background most of the story, but when she does show up she does most of the butt-kicking.

Best New Take On A Book That Needed A Make Over: Fantastic Four

As told in Fantastic Four #60-63 by Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo & Karl Kessel

I’ve never been a big fan of the Fantastic Four. I’d read it from time to time and always found the stories rather formulaic. Ben Grimm moans about his fate. Reed Richards is out of touch with reality as he builds gizmo after gizmo. Johnny Storm… well, you get the idea.

Still, because my comic shop was giving away free copies of Issue #60 to good customers like me and because I’ve always like Mark Waid’s work, I decided to give it a read before donating it to some needy youth.

Smart move on my part, because for some reason the book found it’s way on to my subscription list in just two issues. Maybe it’s because of Waid’s infusion of some much needed humor into the book. For instance, the lack of irony of some truly insane situations…like Reed Richard’s idea of a quiet Sunday Afternoon drive and a washing machine that has settings for Warm Cold, Cold Cold and Unstable Molecules. (“Honey, how do you get rid of Skrull blood stains?”) Maybe the characters seem more alive and less whiny or aloof than before. Maybe it was just the sheer coolness of seeing Reed Richards getting confused trying to play “Magic: The Gathering” with Franklin.

Whatever the reason, this book will be on my pull list for a long time.

Best Retelling of a Classic Tale: Spider-Man: Blue

As told in Spider-Man: Blue #1-5 by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

One of the prizes of my collection is the Essential Spider-Man Trade Paperbacks. Thanks to these five thick volumes, I’ve been able to read the entirety of Stan Lee’s legendary run on his most famous character for far less than the thousands it would take me to track down the original issues. I’ve also gotten to read nearly the entire life span of the girl whose death turned the comics world on its’ ear. I’m talking, of course, about Gwen Stacy.

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale created this story in order to retell the original issues where Peter and Gwen first started to fall in love. Why? Well, they both confessed that it was a labor of love. There was a time when the Gwen Verses Mary Jane debate was as highly contested and active as the eternal battle between Betty and Veronica, and Loeb and Sales both came down in the Gwen camp. And both were bothered that with all the hype over the upcoming Spider-Man movie and Peter’s romantic problems in the core Spider-Man books, that everybody was forgetting about Peter’s first love.

Now me, personally… I’ve always liked Mary Jane better. But me being a theater major and having a fondness for redheads, I’m willing to admit that I may be a bit biased. But I think it says something that reading this story, I’m starting to see the point of everyone I’ve ever heard say “Gwen and Peter were made for each other.”

Reading this story, the tragedy of Gwen’s death really hits you deep. Deeper than it has in the countless flashbacks of previous storylines over the last few years. Not that there’s anything wrong with referring to it: more than anything except than the murder of Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy’s death represents the reason why Peter Parker is Spider-Man. But too many writers fall into the trap of trying to make their own works seem important by drawing parallels between their work and the image of Gwen falling off a bridge. They tell us why the event shook Peter so badly. Here, without ever showing so much as a bridge wire, Loeb and Sale show us why Gwen’s death was so tragic by showing how wonderful her life was.

The Worst of 2002

Most Likely To Cause Continuity Robots Heads To Explode: The Archer’s Quest

As told in Green Arrow #16-20 by Brad Meltzer, Phil Hester, & Ande Parks.

Ollie Queen has always been one of my favorite heroes. And for the most part I’ve been digging the new Green Arrow book since issue #1. And I think that Meltzer has met the high standard of quality set by Kevin Smith and managed to up the ante on getting the book out on time.

That said, the die-hard fan in me is irked by a few small points in Meltzer’s “Archer’s Quest” storyline. Namely, the story centers around Oliver Queen and former sidekick Roy Harper traveling around the country, gathering up various relics from Ollie’s past with the excuse that Ollie is getting things that could reveal his secret identity to the world. Of course the story has been hinting at Ollie having some deeper purpose in mind than this… but even so, there is a tiny detail that should have had Roy Harper asking Ollie “Who are you and what have you done with my absent father figure?”

Now it could be that only Scott McCullar and I are the only ones on the planet who spotted this or indeed, care… but Oliver Queen’s secret identity is a non-issue. Even ignoring the now “out of time” stories from the Mike Grell’s Green Arrow stories that had Oliver Queen’s identity exposed to the world after being accused of treason by the first Bush administration, there’s a problem. It’s a matter of record that Oliver Queen’s identity was printed on the The Daily Planet’s front page after he died saving Metropolis.

So why is this an issue? Lots of old DC plot points are being ignored as part of an effort to make the stories more accessible to new readers. Well, I am well behind that idea. But there’s one little hitch: it’s something of a double standard to ignore such details in a story that is so heavily dependent upon other details of similar obscurity. Consider exhibits A and B: the special arrow and special ring that Oliver tracks down in issue #19.

I can’t even tell you what story the ring comes from, but the arrow is from an early issue of JLA. You can’t have it both ways.

The “What The Hell Just Happened?” Award: The Obsidian Age

As told in JLA #69-75 by Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, Yvel Guichet & Mark Propst.

Well, the title says it all. I tried to read this story. I got lost and put it on hold. I read the last issue to see the ending and was totally confused. I read the whole thing and was still confused. Can someone explain to me what the heck was going on in this thing without a flow chart?

The “I Waited For This?!?!” Award: The Ultimates

As told in The Ultimates #5-7 by Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary

I was a little late in getting into this book. Too bad it’s been just as late getting into my mailbox down at Ye Olde Comic Shoppe. But with a writer as proficient as Millar and an artist with the detail-oriented style of Hitch putting this book out every three months, I’d like to say the wait is always worth it.

I’d LIKE to say that…

Honestly, while I see The Ultimates as being a very technically proficient book, no comic depresses me so much when I read it. And until recently, I haven’t been able to put my finger on why. It’s because in their effort to recreate the success they had on The Authority, Millar and Hitch have turned The Avengers into The Authority. And that just doesn’t work on so many levels.

Sure, it’s funny to hear Hulk screaming about how he’s so horny for Betty and how he wants to kill Freddie Prinze Jr…and who doesn’t after “Scooby Doo”? And yes, Hawkeye does look so much “cooler” now in his new Matrix rip-off costume instead of the old purple H-cowl. But all they’ve done is put a dark black coat on a team that has always been a shining light of hope in the Marvel Universe.

All Millar has done with the stories is taken over 40 years of the angst that made up various Avengers plots and crammed the worst of it into seven issues. Wasp being a battered wife, Cap feeling out of place in modern times, Tony Stark’s alcholism and Mutants being snubbed from the team because of anti-Mutant feelings in the public: it’s all been done before. And all the references to using Giant Man’s head as a toilet or references to the Wasp’s disgusting personal habits won’t change the fact that this book is a pale imitation of both the A-teams it draws inspiration from.

Worst Retelling of a Classic Tale: Ultimate Daredevil/Elektra

As told in Ultimate Daredevil/Elektra #1-4 by Greg Rucka, Salvador Larroca & Dany Miki

Call me an old-fashioned traditionalist, but I expect certain things of my comics. I expect a monthly comic book to actually come out once a month. I expect a certain allegiance to past continuity, to the point where characters dead for more than three years are brought back with an explanation as to why they aren’t feeding worms somewhere. And I believe that if you put a character on the cover of a book, they should show up somewhere in the story. This is especially true in an origin story.

Explain to me then why Daredevil does not appear at any point in this story?

Okay. Matt Murdock is there. I will grant you that. And he does run around in all black and fight for justice. But if he ain’t in the tights, he ain’t Daredevil. In fact, Matt Murdock himself is barely in the story and we get no insight into Matt’s tragic past or how he was blinded. We don’t learn much about him except that he’s blind but still able to function normally despite it and is pretty good at kicking ass and taking names.

And I know that most of us out there DO know that, but I’m assuming for a moment that a book like this might attract someone who has never read a Daredevil story before. Too bad nobody at Marvel had the same thought…

The story would be more honestly titled Ultimate Elektra, since the action does center on My Big Phat Greek Assassin. Then again, if we didn’t put Daredevil on the cover with the artwork that has Elektra wearing something suspiciously like the Elektra movie costume…and if we didn’t say the name Daredevil (which is nowhere in the story, I might add), what would happen? Well, then we might not be able to pawn this off on the poor rubes that will wander into the comic shops and bookstores after the Daredevil movie comes out.

Ignoring the reek of cheap commercialism, I have a question. Is it just me, or does it seem like the supporting cast of this book was rolled out of a Multi-Cultural Sitcom Cast Generator? It’s almost like Greg Rucka had a check list…

Tough as nails Greek chick from Brooklyn ? Check.

Add One Blind Guy from Hells Kitchen. Check.

Add One Fat, clumsy guy for Comic Relief. Check.

African American musician from Texas? Check.

Sweet country girl, new to the big city? Check.

Rich jerk who thinks he owns the world? Check.

Throw in a Irish punk with poor hygiene and a Cuban fitness model and you have a pretty good cast for “The Real World”. Throw them into this story and it’s just a mess.

The Worst Comic Of the Year Award: Spider-Man: Get Kraven!

As told in Spider-Man: Get Kraven #1-6 by Ron Zimmerman, John McCrea & Garry Leach

I know I’m far from the first person to talk about this story being horrible. I doubt I’ll be the last. There are no words to describe everything that went wrong with this story, from the planning phase up until the final product got put on the shelf.

Still, what makes me say that it’s the worst comic to come out all year?

Is it because I despise Ron Zimmerman, who has not written a single good Spider-Man story to date? A man who’s most distinguished writing endeavor to date is a story that involved Spider-Man and Jay Leno fighting ninjas… and Spidey crying like a baby on the back of a Motorcycle? No.

Is it because the entire plot of this story involved Zimmerman’s retconned-the-heck version of Kraven the 2nd wanting to get into the movie business and teaching us the lesson that “Most people in Hollywood are phonies”? No.

Is it because of the blatant name dropping of celebrities we could care less about? No. And on a side note, I’d honestly be amazed if Scott Baio had enough money to have own beach house since 1989.

Is it because it violated my rule about a story actually involving a character whose name is in the title? No, that’s not it. But Spidey is only in two issues of this miniseries. And he only shows up in the last one after Kraven calls him to ask for back-up in a fight.

Oh yeah… Kraven apparently knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker now. But that’s a side note. Not a reason why this is the worst story ever.

Is it because it started out as a light comedy with no jokes and turned into a revenge tale of a man going to hurt the men who raped his girlfriend and killed his dog in the penultimate chapter? No.

Is it because of the references to castrating thugs, cutting tounges out and the fact that Peter Parker willingly allies himself with a guy who uses The Vulture as a flunkie?

Not even that.

No. It’s because of ALL of that and more.

So please, please Joe Quesada… stop Ron Zimmerman before he writes again. Think of the children! And if you won’t think of them, think of me. I don’t think I can take one more story where wanted super villains sit around a bar in costume and nothing happens!

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