In Memoriam: Stan Lee (1922-2018 )

There are few occasions when I’ve been at a loss for words. This is not one of those occasions. Indeed, my problem now lies in deciding what words to use without forming an incoherent mass of babble. For how does one sum up the life of a man such as Stan Lee?

I could write about the history of comics and Stan Lee’s place in it. Because to write about American comics without discussing Stan Lee is like talking about American history without mentioning Thomas Jefferson. For all the controversy Lee has inspired over his treatment of his artist collaborators and the debate over just how much of his public persona as a shameless self-promoter was an act, Lee had an undeniable influence on the American landscape beyond even the world of comic books.

On that note, I could write about Lee’s status as a pitchman who could put P.T. Barnum to shame and how he made himself into the face of Marvel Comics. How many children of the 1980s still remember Lee’s bombastic voice-over introduction to every episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends or The Incredible Hulk? And who could forget his many cameos in the Marvel Comics movies?

I could write about Lee’s status as a writer from a writer’s perspective and his influence on the industry. How it was Lee (along with Jack Kirby) who hit upon the idea of writing superhero stories from a more realistic perspective, with characters who were not always perfect and superpowers that could be as much of a blessing as a curse. This led to the creation of The Fantastic Four, which would pave the way for other flawed heroes such as Iron Man, Daredevil and, of course, Spider-Man. I could also write about Stan Lee’s First Rule Of Comic Writing – write every story as if it were someone’s first comic, because it probably will be.

For the sake of human interest, I could write about the man himself and his life outside of comics. How he was a Veteran who served during World War II, first in the Signal Corps where he repaired communications equipment, before being transferred into the Training Film Division, where he worked at writing training manuals, scripts for instructional short films and, yes, a few comics. (While he did this, he had the official military classification of playwright, despite not writing a single play.) I could also write about his romance with a model named Joan Boocock, and how they shared 70 wonderful years as husband and wife.

Getting personal, I could tell stories of the many times I was lucky enough to see Stan Lee speak. I could talk about how I was there when Stan Lee was roasted at a New Years Eve convention in Dallas. I could also write about that brief span of seconds being rushed through an autograph line, where I simply said “Thank you for everything.” as he quickly scribbled his signature on a reprint of Amazing Fantasy #15.

Perhaps all that is all that any of us who have ever read a comic book and dreamed can say?

Thank you, Stan Lee. For everything.

Comic Review – The Green Lantern #1

The Green Lantern #1 Cover

When you think about it, Green Lantern is one of the more awkward superhero ideas in existence. It makes a little more sense if you consider it in the context of the first Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who was originally going to be Alan Ladd as a modern take on Aladdin. (His name became Alan Scott after it was decided they couldn’t risk a lawsuit from a screen actor with that name.) From there we get the idea of magic rings and magic lamps and suddenly the idea of a ring and lantern that allow you to wish whatever you want into being makes perfect sense.

It became somewhat stranger in 1959, when the concept of Green Lantern was revamped with a science-fiction twist, to capitalize on the increasing popularity of science-themed comic books. In the wake of The Space Race and the increasing emphasis on science in the schools at the time, the comic publishers flipped the arguments of censors who said that comic books encouraged juvenile delinquency and started marketing comics as educational material.

While one could make a case for the “Flash Facts” in The Flash teaching some basic scientific principals, Green Lantern was not quite so scientifically minded. Though his ring was now powered by alien science instead of magic, the basic principal of a ring and a lantern that enable its wielder to create whatever they willed into existence remained the same. Hal Jordan’s greatest contribution to the efforts to teach science were largely limited to inspiring kids to look to the stars and acting as a role-model to those kids who wanted to fly as a test pilot rather than a superhero. Of course the idea of a group of alien space cops was pretty awesome, even if it wasn’t all that educational.

I mention all this history because I found myself pondering the origins of Green Lantern as I read The Green Lantern #1 and how writer Grant Morrison said that he was going back to basics. No more of Geoff Johns’ mythology regarding a whole spectrum of Lanterns who drew power from emotions! Say goodbye to Peter Tomasi’s sprawling military epics! The Green Lantern would be a police procedural in space, with a thin green line separating law from chaos as Hal Jordan found himself trying to be a lawman in a cold, indifferent universe, while Morrison explored just how a simple Earthman could enforce local laws that he couldn’t even understand because of his inherently limited viewpoint.

Such ideas are bread and butter for Grant Morrison, who has a reputation as a brilliant writer when he can carry his ideas off. It remains to be seen if he will be pulling this one off in the end, but this much can be said after a single issue – I want more!

Morrison is well-matched in this endeavor by Liam Sharp, whose work was most recently seen in the DC Rebirth Wonder Woman series. Sharp’s artwork is simply amazing, managing to be smoothly streamlined yet heavily detailed without feeling at all cluttered. Steve Oliff’s colors provide the perfect vivid finishes to Sharp’s pencils and inks, making this one of the most beautiful books in recent memory.

The only real weakness to The Green Lantern #1 is that it doesn’t quite live up to the reputation of its writer or the pre-release hype. We were promised Grant Morrison doing things with the concept of the Green Lantern Corps that would be wholly inconceivable. Not only was most of The Green Lantern #1 conceivable but I can tell you precisely where some of the wilder ideas in this book (such as X-Ray Lanterns and Microwave Lanterns and other Lanterns for wave-lengths of light that do not have a color) originally came from.

It is entirely possible, however, that Morrison is merely establishing a world for the sake of the newcomers before he starts to rebuild it. And even if his talk about redefining Green Lantern was just that, Morrison still spins a perfectly serviceable story here. Couple that with Liam Sharp’s art and there’s plenty of reason to give this series a shot for a few months to see how it develops. Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of the Green Lantern Corps or an old hat when it comes to the ring-slingers, this book is guaranteed to light up your life.

8/10

The Green Lantern #1 releases on November 7, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #1

Doctor Who The Thirteenth Doctor #1 Cover

There is a long history of comic-book tie-ins being poor-quality products. For every amazing series like Tom Taylor’s Injustice: Gods Among Us that perfectly captures and expands upon the world of the television series, movie or video game it is based upon, there are a dozen like Malibu Comics’ Street Fighter or the Family Guy comic from Devil’s Due Publishing that fail to exist as anything other than a cheap cash grab.

Thankfully, Titan Comics has avoided this since taking over the license for Doctor Who in 2014. The publisher created a number of series and mini-series set at different points in the story of Doctor Who, crafting a complex mythology that easily grafted onto that of the show. Now, one month after the start of the newest season, Titan has released the first issue of a new series based around the 13th incarnation of The Doctor.

At this point, a quick explanation may be needed, for those who don’t know the show.

Doctor Who centers around the adventures of The Doctor – an alien time-traveler who wanders the universe in an intelligent machine called a TARDIS – Time And Relative Dimension In Space. A natural hero at heart, who dislikes bullies and tyrants, The Doctor frequently engages in battles to help people in need, from lost children to oppressed societies. The Doctor also frequently adopts companions, who travel along with The Doctor and enjoy exploring the wonders of reality.

While The Doctor appears to be human, The Doctor possesses an amazing alien power to regenerate the body after moments of great stress or injury. When this happens, The Doctor’s physical form and personality will change, literally creating a whole new person with all The Doctor’s memories and knowledge. Currently on Incarnation Number 13, this is the first time (that we know of) that The Doctor has regenerated in a woman’s body.

The title page of the book explains all this and more, as well as introducing us to The Doctor’s current companions – aspiring mechanic Ryan, rookie cop Yasmin and retired bus-driver Graham. The action of this first issue is largely concerned with setting up a larger adventure, as The Doctor and friends encounter a mysterious portal and a figure seemingly stuck inside of it.

Thirteenth Doctor Issue 1 Preview 1 Thirteenth Doctor Issue 1 Preview 2 Thirteenth Doctor Issue 1 Preview 3 Thirteenth Doctor Issue 1 Preview 4

(Click To View The Full Image In Another Window.)

Writer Jody Houser, best known for her work on Faith for Valiant Comics, Mother Panic for DC Comics and various Star Wars books for Marvel Comics, proves a perfect fit for telling a new series of tales for The Doctor. Houser knows how to spin a strange sci-fi yarn like few others and the story she starts here is an intriguing set-up that evokes the spirit of many a classic Doctor Who episode, in which we were introduced to a whole new world and new characters before The Doctor arrived to start stirring things up. The only point in which the script falters is that we don’t get much of a sense of personality from the companions, with the high-action quotient of the issue not allowing for the moments of introspection the show often takes.

The artwork, however, is simply astonishing. Rachel Stott was rightly acclaimed for her previous work on Titans’ other Doctor Who comics but has also worked on DC Bombshells and IDW’s Star Trek comics. Beyond capturing the likenesses of the actors from the show perfectly, Stott is a tremendous choreographer and the many moments of action in this book are well-blocked. The colors by Enrica Eren Angiolini are simply brilliant, perfectly chosen and guiding the eye easily as the story progresses.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan who has never read the comics, this is the perfect time to start. If you’re a comic book fan who never got into Doctor Who, this book will smoothly guide you into one of the greatest fictional universes in existence. Either way, this is one book newcomers and old fans alike are sure to enjoy.

9/10

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #1 releases on November 7, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Hex Wives #1

Hex Wives #1 Cover

For generations, a war has been waged for the soul of America. On one side are The Architects – men of good faith (and only men), who have shaped the nation to establish a design they call The Natural Order. The other side has no name, being made up of a coven of witches, continually reborn across the ages of man, who use their blood magic to thwart the designs of The Architects, primarily by empowering other women to stand against their designs.

With their shadow war slowly being lost and their numbers dwindling, The Architects need a solution – one that will not result in the bloodshed that only serves to deplete their numbers and empower the witches. Thankfully, one Architect has a plan. One which will turn the witches’ own magic against them, and bind them and their power according to The Natural Order.

Much like how Vertigo Comics’ new series Border Town might be compared to Stranger Things, so too can Hex Wives be broadly compared to The Stepford Wives. Both stories share a common theme of women being forced into the role of a “domestic goddess” but in this case the impetus is magic rather than science. Ben Blacker’s script runs wild with this idea, where the wildest stereotypes about church-going conservative men and feminist lesbians are cranked up to 11 and every conspiracy theory about “what they really want” is true. In this, the story manages to balance the political aspects so that neither side is “the right one.”

Ignoring the social commentary, Hex Wives also works as a straight-forward horror story, from multiple angles. It is notable for putting a spin on series such as Charmed, presenting a less heroic group of witches who are, from their perspective, trying to save the world from The Patriarchy. The hell of it (pun intended) is they have a point in that The Architects are just as harmful in their manipulations of society as the witches are in their destruction of societal norms.

The artwork is, in a word, gorgeous. The pencils and inks of Mirka Andolfo (most recently seen on DC’s Bombshells, Ms. Marvel and Harley Quinn) prove a perfect complement to Blacker’s script. Andolfo draws beautiful, active women better than most and is skilled enough an artist to accurately depict the different scenes and costumes as we move through time from the first battle between The Architects and The Witches at Salem (of course) to their apparent final battle at the height of the Katrina flooding in 2005. The action sequences are all well-blocked and the colors of Marissa Louise leave a glow upon the page that makes it seem like actual light is pouring from the book during the many scenes that are lit by fire.

While it may not appeal to those who prefer their comics free of heavy subtext, those who enjoy a good supernatural ripping yarn and a bit of dark comedy will find Hex Wives #1 to be the perfect treat this Halloween. Once again, Vertigo Comics knocks it out of the park with one of their new revival series. Here’s hoping the rest of the new line continues along in this vein.

9/10

Hex Wives #1 releases on October 31, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider #1

Spider-Gwen Ghost-Spider #1 Cover

Across the multiverse, a story is played out continually. An intelligent teenager is bitten by a mutated spider. The bite gives them the proportionate strength and speed of a spider as well as an adhesive touch and a precognitive awareness of danger. They go on to use their new powers to try and help others.

In this time and this place, the teenager is a young woman named Gwen Stacy.

Gwen has done a lot and seen a lot more in her short life. As Spider-Woman, she contended with super-spies, mad-scientists and ninjas. She’s fought the government and even traveled to other dimensions. She’s also a recently released criminal, who did time as penance for when she failed to use her powers responsibly and felt she needed to pay the price for it.

Now, Gwen is trying to figure out what to do with her life. With the whole world aware of her once-secret identity (and, annoyingly, calling her Spider-Gwen instead of Spider-Woman), she’s not sure if she can go back to being the hero she once was. Unfortunately fate (and a pushy little pig-man from another reality) aren’t giving Gwen any choice in the matter. The world-spanning evils she fought once before have returned and Gwen will be ready to face them. She just wish she had a better code name to take into battle.

Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider #1 is that rarest of all gems – a comic-book event tie-in that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of the character or the events of at least three other comics. That is doubly impressive given that this is also the start of a new Spider-Gwen series and the first not to be handled by Spider-Gwen’s original creative team.

You would never know it, however, as Seanan McGuire and Rosi Kampe pick up right where the last Spider-Gwen volume left-off. So if all you know about the character comes from her appearance in the trailers for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, rest easy. This one volume will give you everything you need to know about Gwen Stacy and Spider-Geddon in one handy book. They even explain Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham, who somehow manages to not be the strangest thing in the book by a long-shot.

Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider #1 does everything a first issue should. It introduces us to Gwen, revealing her as a funny, brilliant and self-depreciating hero. It gives us the broad particulars of her life since the last series but doesn’t bog us down with continuity. And like all great the great Spider-Man comics of yore, it gives us a bit of action and a little drama amidst the punchlines while setting up one heck of a cliff-hanger. The artwork matches the story beat for beat, flowing smoothly from panel to panel. The colors are suitably eye-catching and there’s one heck of an awesome new villain who should prove quite the interesting foil for Gwen in the coming issues.

Bottom-Line: Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider #1 is a fun, easily accessible superhero book that is as friendly to kids as it is to new readers. It’s well-written, well-drawn and you’ll want to beat the rush to get it now. Face front, True Believers! This is the real deal.

10/10

Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider #1 releases on October 24, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.