Waited for the Trade: Fear, Fighting, Killing & Birth

by Dan

I don't wait for trades. Trades wait for me. In a big random stack next to my bed. Okay, so the X-O Manowar hardcover is new and I did wait for the trade on BPRD, but I've kept Goon Vol. 0 and the second K Chronicles compendium waiting a good ol' while. The question is, why?

Fear of a Black Marker: Another K Chronicles Compendium - The second collection of Keith Knight's cartoon strip is even more fun than the sheep lovin' good time of Dances with Sheep. Many of the strips are comedic, observational, slice-of-life tales. Nothing is slap-your-knee, laugh-out-loud funny, but every page leaves you smiling. Knight addresses everything from family to race to politics to his hip hop band, Marginal Prophets (check out their album Bohemian Rap CD for some fun stuff). 130 pages of smart, funny, well-drawn, wordy strips that everyone can relate to. A

Check out more Keef-tastic stuff here.

The Goon Vol. 0: Rough Stuff - Eric Powell's first self-published three-issue attempt at telling the story of the Goon. All the basics are here, but as the title suggests, it's all a little rough. The Goon and Franky are drawn in a mostly recognizable fashion, but the Goon's giant overbite in these early appearances is oddly distracting. The intro page to this collection actually makes note of the artistic changes and goofs on oddball creative decisions (even by Goon standards) in an incredibly funny, self-deprecating way. But, dammit, I want more talking chainsaws! B+

BPRD Vol. 8: Killing Ground - I have a hard time getting into the Hellboy series. I blame my inability to comprehend metaphor. But these BPRD books about the supporting cast are just rip-roaring fun. This volume is a bit frustrating as nothing in particular gets resolved. More than anything, it's just some excellent horror comic with a crazy Wendigo, two mystery men infiltrating the BPRD headquarters, a hero showing his true fangs and lots and lots of blood. Killing Ground does move the major plot points forward, but just doesn't give any satisfactory conclusions. B

X-O Manowar: Birth - This is a collection of X-O Manowar #0-6 with a new 10 page story. I actually read these issues about six years ago and I think I enjoyed it more in its original format. I don't know if the idea of a 6th century Visigoth in 20th century New York with the most powerful alien suit of armor ever just didn't work as well the second time around, or if the technical flaws in this hardcover edition ruined the fun.

At first, I thought it was just a case of bad lettering in the original comics. However, a page-to-page comparison shows that for this edition, Valiant Entertainment chose to shrink the panels to the point where the lettering now butts into the panel's border. Additionally, they've noticeably cut off the tops and bottoms of many splash pages. Finally, a big draw of these editions is supposed to be the recoloring by the original colorists. Sadly, the changes are too subtle to make any impact.

But for all those complaints, there is a lot of good too. The art from Joe Quesada and Steve Ditko, #0 and #6, respectively, is outstanding. And there really is something refreshing (or is it just nostalgia kicking in?) about the shared universe that Valiant did so well and Valiant Entertainment is honoring by releasing these hardcovers. The first hardcover was Harbinger, a team of super powered kids fighting the good fight. No one would be lost reading X-O without that, but when the kids show up in the fourth chapter here, it adds a wonderful extra layer. B-
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General Reviews 5/21: "There's a good story in here somewhere."

by the General

That's what I kept thinking to myself while reading last weeks comics. All of them had moments or ideas worth mentioning, but inevitably the execution seemed to be fumbled. Either the art was slightly off, or the writing was stilted or - in the case of Ultimate X-men - it just seemed like the Marvel editorial department was asleep at the wheel. Still, these are the comics I read last week, and there were a lot of them. So, let's take a look at X-Men: Divided We Stand, X-Factor, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Ultimate X-men and Hercules.

X-Men: Divided We Stand #2 (by a whole mess of creators) - Last month, when I reviewed this title, it became a mini-magnum opus as I tried to summarize the five short tales that appeared in it. This month, I'm going to sidestep that unreadable train wreck and just mentioned the two that caught my fancy. The first, by Mike Carey and his X-men Legacy buddy, Scott Eaton, involves the Beast returning to the ruins of the mansion and cleaning up a bit. That's pretty much it. He wanders the grounds, gathers some keepsakes and disposes of some dangerous technology that has been left behind. But despite this basic premise, it is a surprisingly effective because not only does it allow for some nice Beast characterization, but it also help show how important the Mansion is to the X-men's status quo and - finally - it helps successfully shut the door on this chapter of their mythology as they move forward. Presumably to their new digs in San Fransisco.

The other story that I enjoyed was the Havok tale that appeared halfway through the book. The whole Havok vs. Vulcan storyline pretty much tops my "I have no idea why I care about this story, but I do" list. This is a fine chapter. Vulcan reveals to an imprisoned and beaten Havok the events that took place during the Messiah CompleX, in an attempt to further torment him. Surprisingly, Havok finds strength in the story and redoubles his defiance of Vulcan. It's a seemingly straight-forward little number, but it works on a couple of levels. Not only does it get new readers up to speed(with both Havok and the entire X-line in general), but also help further define the dynamic that exists between the two warring brothers. The painterly art usually wouldn't be my thing, but actually sort of works here. I look forward to seeing this storyline move forward someday.

The rest of the stories are pretty forgettable... to the point that I honestly barely remember them a week after reading them. So, while I enjoyed the two tales above, I can't give the entire issue more than a bare-bones B.

X-Factor #31 (David and Raimondi) - This issue should have been dramatic. But, for a number of reasons, it just fell short. First and foremost reason, while I think Raimondi is a fine artist, he failed to convey the drama and inferno of having M-Town (or the Middle Eastside) burn to the ground. Instead of the raging inferno I'm sure Peter David had in mind, we get scene after scene of what looks like the characters dealing with isolated burning buildings. But, to be fair, I think that David's storytelling is a little uneven here too. Few of the events within really carry any dramatic punch, plus we see another example of David's weird malicious streak in a scene where firemen watch a half dozen people burn to death on the other side of the energy dome that surrounds the neighborhood. Overall, I just wasn't feeling this issue, a crabby C.

Fantastic Four #557 (Millar and Hitch) - Here's another title I'm just not feeling. In fact, I'm fairly sure this is my last issue. I can see what Millar and Hitch are going for, but the execution is sort of bungled. The resolution of the CAP menace just struck me as too easy. I mean, it literally plays out like this: "Oh my god! No one can stop this menace! It's destroying everything! ... oh, except we just happen to have this piece of technology lying around, and there happens to be a loop-hole in CAP's programming that allows us to take it down in one punch!" Wait, what? Between this, and my inability to get into the Nu Earth idea, I'm obviously struggling with this title. So, maybe it's just time to let it go.

Which is a shame because there is a great couple of moments with Reed and Sue towards the end that shows that Millar actually gets at least those two characters. I just wish he got the entire title the same way. Still a credibility-straining C.

Captain America #38 (Brubaker and Epting) - Nothing happens. But, I enjoyed it. Still, I'm not going to give it more than a standard Brubaker B.

I'm not overly familiar with the particulars of Captain America's past, but there seems to be a neat little retooling of his history in this issue. Or, at least, the retooling of a character from his past. It's the sort of reworking that I'm sure has certain Captain America fans rubbing their hands together with glee. And, to Brubaker's credit, he managed to get me up to date with the back story in such a way that I felt like I knew what was going on, but didn't feel like it was getting bogged down by history lessons. Still, my holding my ground on that B.

Ultimate X-men #94 (Coleite and Brooks) - Meanwhile, over in Ultimate X-men I honestly felt like I missed an issue. In fact, after reading the first couple of pages, I checked the cover to make sure an issue hadn't been released that I missed. I mean, someone must have really screwed the pooch on this issue. I can literally see Aron Coleite proudly turning in his first script only to have the editor go: "oh... um.. .we forget to tell you but Kirkman wrote Phoenix out of the title at the end of his final arc. That was the big dramatic event that ended that arc."

To which Coleite responded; "Hmmm, let me just get out my pen here and...." then he writes a single panel where Scott asks Jean why she's back, and she says they'll talk about it later. The whole thing comes off as really amateurish, and I think it shows that Marvel has pretty much lost interest in its Ultimate line.

In a way though, it's sort of a shame that the issue has such a rocky start and that the writing is uneven, because I do feel like there is are some interesting ideas driving this title. It's about time that someone explored Colossus' mafia ties a little more. And, the reveal on the final page proves the storyline might be fun overall. Still, this issue gets a drop-the-ball D.

The Incredible Hercules #117 (Pak and Van Lente) - I'm still not in love with this title in the same way that a lot of people are. But, at the same time, the very idea that seems to be under-pinning this next storyline has me interested, and I think it's a great twist on the events of Secret Invasion. In short, since the skrulls are invading Earth, their gods are also effectively invading the Earth gods' turf. To combat this, Athena has called the gods of the world together to assemble a team to make sure their alien gods don't get a foothold. This team is, of course, led by Hercules. Now, I'm not entirely sure why, but I like the idea of Earth's gods wanting to stave off the advances of alien gods fairly interesting. It's a unique take on the typical alien invasion storyline. And, the motley crew they've assembled under Hercules seems to have promise, as does the idea of Hercules being forced into leadership.

Still, while I liked the issue overall, there are actually a number of confusing panels toward the end which left me going "Wait, what?" So, while I was pleased with the issue, I'm just giving it a better than average B.
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Panelology – Why We Read (Part 2)

by Brandon
Here is the second installment of the series that examines the who, what, when, where, why and how of comic book collecting essentials. Last week, I literally took a cerebral look at the reason why we read comic books. This week, I look at a more grounded approach to why we fancy the funny books.

Do you know why you read comic books? You probably don’t think about it too much. You just pick up your books and enjoy them. Nothing more, nothing less. Right? But that’s why the fine people at this blog pay me the big bucks to do your thinking for you! Or is that Fox News? No matter, I hope to offer some more insight into this “why we read” question this week.

Editor's note: We pay Brandon in wookie porn.

Our individual learning styles aside, comic book collecting inspires very a fanatical fan base. I don’t want that to sound like a negative, that comic fans are militant or narrow-minded when it comes to our hobby. Something about comics books attract us to the medium. One of the most often quoted reasons is the escapism. Many say that comic books offer some form escapism for its readers. I don’t necessarily buy that reason hook, line and sinker. While I believe many do like the fantastical distraction comic books can provide from the curmudgeonly world we populate, I just don’t buy it as a viable reason for the success of the medium. If people are looking for an escape, they will find one whether they have an issue of Detective Comics sitting in front of them or not.

Here are five more reasons why I think people read comics beyond their brain:

1) Unique Format
Comic books do what they do best. Does that sound too Wolverine for you? Well, deal with it. No other medium blends the printed word and visuals quite like comic books do. Reading is a very personal activity, and when reading books, newspapers, magazines, or even this blog, a scene has to be acted out in your head. Comic books provide us with a visual that entices us to read a scene on many different levels. We have to pay attention to the attitude and cadence of the dialogue. We have to pay attention to the tone of the art work, inking, and coloring. We have to take in the context of the character interactions. Books don’t offer you information. Film and television can sometimes offer us too much information. With comics, it’s just right. Not to go back to the brain bit too much, but comic books exercise our brains! Fans like being challenged to formulate new ways of thinking about their characters. Up until recently, special effects in Hollywood just weren’t up to snuff for putting brilliant action scenes on the silver screen. Comic books were literally the only gig in town where you could see spectacular and otherworldly effects without having to break a leg fitting it into the budget. The unique format that comic books provide gives us just enough information for our brains to run wild.

2) Diversity
Despite the perception of comic books as being one large superhero sausage party, there is quite a diverse range of titles available for readers out there. It is true that our market is dominated by the superhero genre. Looking at Diamonds top 100 sellers for the month of April 2008, I counted a total of ten titles that I would consider to not be in the superhero genre. Does that mean we all read superhero comics? Well, to a degree, I think the answer is yes. Does that mean all comic books are superhero comics? Absolutely not. If you flip through a copy of Previews, you will see a wide variety of non-superhero titles from all companies, not just the indie publishers. The diversity beyond superheroes is out there, and I think people would find titles they'd like if they would just look for them. Historically speaking, this medium has serviced the superhero quite well. But just because one genre is at the forefront doesn’t mean that there is no diversity in superhero books. Heavens no! There are so many books out there to try that if you can’t find a comic book you like, you are either an unhappy person who should probably leave the medium or you just hate America, Jesus, and Coca-Cola. The challenge for comic companies is to be fresh when presenting content. Many people think comics never change. While there may be some degree of merit to that argument, comic books routinely need to change in order to keep us interested!

3) Continuity
Uh oh. The “C” word. Continuity is second only to the word “Liefeld” in generating heated debate within our community. Love it or hate it, continuity keeps us coming back time and time again to read our favorite titles. The very continuing nature of this medium speaks to its uniqueness. How many fictional TV shows can say they have been plugging along for forty or fifty years? Comic books place us, the ever inquisitive fans, in the position of always asking "what’s next?" For better or worse, we are afforded that opportunity around twelve times a year for as long as people continue to buy the comic. We like making connections to past story lines we have read because it makes our interest and understanding of the character stronger. Hey, remember that time the X-Men teamed up with the Micronauts? That was intense! Okay, so maybe it wasn’t, but we like making those connections and strengthening our bond with the title characters. Continuity allows us to do just that. Now, if only continuity would make Avengers fans love the New Avengers, the world would be a better place.

4) Amenable to Fan Feedback
Comic books have always been about the fans to a large degree. Despite what His Holiness Joe Quesada tells you, I think we fans have an unprecedented impact on the medium in this day and age. Back before Al Gore and Bill Nye the Science Guy created the Internet, letter pages brought fans closer to the creators of the books we read. Raise your hand if you have had a letter published in a book....don’t be shy. I have! Wasn’t that an amazing feeling? You bet your black-bagged Death of Superman it was! Nowadays, the Internet makes an even closer connection possible. It also has the danger of isolating fans even more. The letter pages have made a slow comeback in some books, whereas they have all but disappeared in others. Fans now have to go online to badger their favorite creators. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the impersonal and sometimes nasty nature of the Internet can turn some creators away. At this point, I think the Internet is more positive than negative in the fan feedback column, but I have my doubts on the long-term impact of fan feedback via the Internet as long as every Newsarama poster begins each thread with, “first post.”

5) Comics Inspire Loyalty

All of the things I have talked about last week and this week lead me to my one conclusion as to why we read comic books. The sense of community and worth created by reading comic books inspires us to be hopelessly loyal to the medium. I use the term hopelessly because I think comic books are an addiction similar to alcoholism or voting for Ralph Nader. The very nature of collecting inspires our devotion. As much as many of you hated the Chuck Austen years, how many of you still purchased Uncanny and then adjectiveless X-Men while he wrote the book? Damn right you did. I can remember reading all of this, well, hate speech about his run online and finding it amusing that people just didn’t drop the book. “But I have a complete run!” they would cry. I would look down upon these lesser beings from my ivory tower and laugh. But I’m no better than they are. I believe I officially now have eleven issues of Jack of Fables on my computer desk that I still haven’t read. Just dropping the book sounds like such articulate, fluent logic until you have to apply it towards your own buying habits. In my defense, I love Fables and Willingham promised that Jack of Fables would start tying more into that book. That’s why I buy it even though I loathe reading it. But the loyalty goes beyond our buying patterns. We go online seeking others that feel the same way. We attend conventions where we can literally gorge ourselves on the medium with all of its excesses. We buy secondary merchandise like t-shirts and action figures. Face it, we’re just a loyal bunch.

Whew. Next week, I’ll return for my third article in this series. I plan on exploring the “what we read” question then.
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Patrick's Hat Trick: Samuroids, Sightings, and... Justice League goes CONDITION AMBER?!?

By Patrick

Have you spent your week wondering if The Brave and the Bold #13 was any good? How about that issue of Justice League with that big "SIGHTINGS" banner and the menacing looking villains on the cover? And even though the countdown ended a month ago, we are all wondering if Final Crisis #1 can live up to the hype. Well, wonder no more true believer!

Click the link and the knowledge you seek shall be yours! (This knowledge does contain some spoilers, so consider yourself warned.)

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #13: Last month I complained that Jerry Ordway was no George Perez. But by no means is he a bad artist. Last issue just didn’t play to his strengths. This month, we have no such problem, as Jerry Ordway is one of, if not THE, definitive artist of Golden Age DC characters. And Mark Waid finds a really cool hook for this issue, comparing and contrasting at Batman and Jay Garrick as mentors. Who would have thought that two pages of Bruce Wayne and Jay Garrick in the Batcave talking about protégés would be such good reading? Also, it has bio-electric Ninja Samurai robots (AKA Samuroids) that are powered by a hybrid strain of bacteria. And all good fanboys and fangirls know that ninja robots rock! GRADE: B+ If you are a fan of the characters, you’ll really enjoy the issue, and there is enough meat there for the rest of you as well.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21: We start off with the “trinity” getting together for a little secret meeting to discuss the happenings of the JLA and the DCU. Meanwhile, Hawkgirl and Red Arrow get taken down by Libra while trying to defeat The Human Flame. This book would have been a much better DC Universe #0 than the book they published a few weeks ago. Another thing I didn't quite get about the book: It had this big "Sightings" banner on the book, but I was not all that clear on what I was suppose to see. Grade: C+ If you want to get every beat of the coming crisis, or you are a Carlos Pacheco fan grab this, but otherwise, keep your three bucks in your pocket.

And that leads us to DC's "BIG BOOK" of the week...

FINAL CRISIS #1: Grant Morrision and JG Jones are out to give the DCU the ultimate bad day. And how does the bad day start? The skies are turning red…again. New Gods are being found dead… still. Villains are uniting under a common banner…again! A lot of the beats of this story felt like repeats from other storylines. These events have become so everyday in the DCU, how does the Justice League respond?

JUSTICE LEAGUE CONDITION AMBER! What the hell is that?! Are they going to go around looking for rocks with flies in them? Are they going out looking for missing children? If so, John Walsh will be so pleased. And I'm sure the Question will be happy to have some help, since one of the subplots seems to be her looking for missing super-powered kids.

Final Crisis is a great looking book, but like last week's Justice League, the story is missing some punch. I have faith in Grant Morrison's storytelling that this will end up being a heck of a read, but the first issue left me a little underwhelmed. But I will channel my inner Randy Jackson and say JG JONES could draw the phone book and it would still rock. GRADE: B- For a big event and the extra dollar in price, I want a bit more bang for my buck.

That's all I have today friends. Thanks for reading. Let me know if you like my title for my three pack of reviews, "Patrick's Hat Trick," if you think it sucks, or any other thought you'd like to share in the comments section. Thanks again!
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BG Roundtable: Hear Me Roar

by Liana

With the Sex and the City movie being released this Friday, several Bad Genious writers have been inspired to focus on the various roles of women in comics. Yesterday, Matt focused on characters he felt portrayed the best and worst qualities of a woman and Friday, Cindy will look at why comics have a hard time attracting the female audiences that will flock to Friday’s opening and Kit Kittredge: An American Girl on July 2nd. Today, BG Roundtable talks about female creators. Sadly, there weren’t many submissions this week. Wonder why that is?

Doug - I'm the kind of grumpy old fanboy who doesn't like the new artists I see nowadays. One artist that has really impressed me, though, is Nicola Scott of Birds of Prey. Her work has a classic traditional look to it, while not feeling dated or retro. Working first with Gail Simone and most recently with Sean McKeever, Nicola Scott really elevated Birds of Prey into one of my monthly faves. This is one new artist who has "future star" written all over her work!

Cindy - I'd have to say that my favorite comic creator who happens to also be a woman would be Marjane Satrapi. She has a very clear, direct graphic style that really packs and emotional punch when delivering her stories of life in Iran. Women here in America often complain about our plight as women. Maybe we don't get paid as much as men or we don't garner the same respect in the boardroom, but reading one of Satrapi's stories you realize that there are places in the world where women and most men don't have a voice at all. The stories she's telling prove that graphic storytelling can be important and relevant.

The General - While comic books have had a long history as being a haven for outsider or fringe artists, the reality is that most of those outsiders are still white males from the New York area. So, it comes as a breath of fresh air to read comics by someone who really does represent a different voice and perspective... like, say, an Iranian woman publishing comics in French, such as Marjane Satrapi. Though she's only published a handful of mostly autobiographical comics (she personally loathes the term "graphic novel") she's already become a major player on the independent comics scene. It also helps that the animated version of Persepolis was one of the most faithful and successful translations of a comic book out there. Also, personally, I had the opportunity to hear her speak and have to admit that she's one of the most engaging and entertaining people I've heard in a long while.

Which, when you add all these things together, is it why I have to pick Marjane Satrapi as my favorite female creator, even if it makes me look like I'm copying Cindy.

Matt - One of my favorite woman creators is artist Jan Duursema. I first became aware of her art when she penciled X-Factor. But I didn't pay very much attention until she became the regular artist on Dark Horse's ongoing Star Wars series. She penciled much of that run, including most of the fantastic “Clone Wars” arc. She is also responsible for creating one of my favorite Jedi in Quinlan Vos. Her current work on Star Wars Legacy is what keeps me coming back.

Vocal Minority - As a reader, I generally follow writers. Art takes second place for me most of the time and everything else in a comic's production usually passes me by. This includes Editors. I know who Tom DeFalco is thanks to the pap that is Spider-Girl, and I'm reminded that Axel Alonso exists and thinks that the Hulk kills thanks to JonQ's ongoing Incredible Hulk sanity test found elsewhere on this blog. And that's mostly it. And that's mostly a good thing: editorial interference is basically a four-letter word in modern comics.

Why is this important? Because Karen Berger is the notable exception to that rule.

Berger is an editor responsible for some of the happiest reading times of my life. Neil Gaiman pointed me at her by singling her out for praise whenever he interviews about Sandman. And that just lead into me becoming increasingly aware of how good she is - Moore's Swamp Thing run, the aforementioned Sandman and, oh yeah, creating the Vertigo Imprint. It might be that she just knows how and when to step back and let good creative teams do work and I'm sure that's part of it, but there has to be something more to it. She's been involved with too much that's been too good for it not to. And there's a lot to be said for that behind-the-scenes work. It's one thing to create a book I enjoy, but to found and helm a line of books that has given us Transmetropolitan, Y: the Last Man, Preacher, Lucifer and more?

Getting me to notice and be impressed by an editor. That's an accomplishment.
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Comic Book Friend

by Brandon

A year ago, someone you never knew died. I’m not talking about a comic book writer or artist. Not some unsung inker or letterer. This article isn’t about a beloved staff member of a comic company in New York City. It’s not about a retailer beloved by customers all around the world. No, this article is about my friend Travis.

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down to write this tribute. To be honest, I never could get my story straight on it. It would either turn out too sappy or it would just stall somewhere around the middle. Other times, I would make a mental note to get on it, but the memorandum would get stuffed away like an old issue in the long box of my mind.

I have recently had some serious issues with insomnia, and the medicine I take makes me have vivid, and at times, intense, dreams. Travis has populated those now for a few weeks. It was like he wasn’t letting me go; probably more like I wasn’t willing to let him go. The other night in my dream, I asked him why he did it, why he committed suicide. He just smiled, and the article you are reading now hit me. I didn’t need to eulogize the guy; I just needed to talk about him. Not to tell his story completely, but a story. Something that would encapsulate the Travis I knew and loved. A small glimpse into who he was.

Sappy wouldn’t suit Travis. He would want to make you laugh. He was good at that. I hope this small story of a single moment in our friendship does.

My friends and I in high school were like the fanboy version of the Culture Club, a diverse assembly of geeks who could easily rival the United Nations in pop multiculturalism. We had vampire book enthusiasts, Trekkies, Wookies (my idiomatic term for Star Wars fans), R.O.T.C. CADETS, robotics team members, and music and movie buffs. The one thing that most of us had in common, though, was our love for Marvel Comics. Though we had a diverse pool of obsessions, we could have a powwow over Marvel Comics. It wasn’t like we hated DC, but we kind of saw them as the old guard, the lame comics. Marvel was our HBO to DC’s Disney Channel.

By the summer of 1997, we had split into two semiautonomous groups of friends divided along the lines of D&D players and non-D&D players. Travis was in the former, while I was in the latter, though not too firmly. I went as far as creating a character with Travis before the scrutiny of my twin brother and his friend Pitts shamed me into not playing. The group as a whole would get together, usually on Saturdays, to do something together. Travis and his crew knew they had to be finished getting their D&D on before we got to his house because of the aforementioned anti-D&D duo and their relentless attacks.

School had just let out, so we were free from another year of bondage to the man. I called Travis that Saturday afternoon to give him a heads up that we were on the way and to stow the D&D posthaste. He said it was cool because they'd finished an hour or so beforehand and were just talking about comics.

By the time my crew got there, Travis and our friend Chris were already knee-deep in a geek-tastic argument: what was Marvel’s worst move - the Clone Saga or Onslaught? Travis, being the diehard X-fan of the crowd, of course went with Clone Saga. Chris, being the vampire-loving contrarian that he was (and still is, by the way) of course said it was the Onslaught event. The twelve assembled fanboys gathered around the living room and took in the exchange of comic book knowledge blows. The arguments “for” were fast and intense, the arguments “against” summarily ignored by the other. It was a sight to be seen. No one could interject their own opinion due to the heated nature of the exchange between the two parties involved. Mediation was inevitable.

I believe it was my friend J.P. who offered the solution; why not have a sword fight to settle this? Granted, this sounded like rock-solid logic to my nearly-seventeen year old ears. It seemed like a fair way to deal with nerdy differences in opinion that did not involve them having to break out a d20 in my brother’s presence. I’m not sure I would vote against the option today, but the safety of the whole issue is a concern for me.

Travis was a Trekkie who had a bat’leth handy in his bedroom - a Klingon sword. Chris always had some samurai sword in his car because, you know, he had to protect himself from vampires somehow. Being cheered on by the assembled Security Council of Nerds, the two took their differences outside. About twenty feet separated the two combatants, the length of the distance between my car and the other parked car next to the house. I should stop to add that these guys really weren’t mad at each other. Not yet, at least. That would come soon enough. We were young and did many unintelligent things, sword fighting being one of them.

Travis and Chris made exaggerated wails and sword posturing from their respected corners. Travis raised his bat’leth and was presumably speaking Klingon, though it was a dialect I was unfamiliar with. Chris did some high flying ninja twirls in between puffs on a cigarette. I’m unclear to this day as to who actually gave the signal to go, but I remember that they sort of spontaneously charged each other. The moment plays gradually through my mind every time I think about it, the humorous exaggerations of slow motion toying with the space-time continuum of real events. The warriors raced at one another, our eyes getting bigger as they inched for the first blow. Each fighter raised his respective weapon into the air, and with one dramatic swing, they met perfectly between them.

And both weapons shattered to pieces.

I guess Klingon and Japanese weapon making weren't what they used to be. Travis and Chris looked at each other, stunned, for what seemed like an hour. The rest of us? Naturally, we laughed our asses off at the pitiable display of machismo we had conned these two into. After their frozen moment, the two tackled each other. Now, they were mad. Somehow, we tore the two off of each other, and like any good United Nations peace makers, we had the two laughing about it within a couple of hours.

It is asinine times like those that bring a smile to my face when I think about Travis. Those moments were a dime a dozen with him, and I will never forget them. There was much, much more to him than I could possibly tell you here. He was a unique guy who hid his sadness by spending 95% of his time trying to make other people laugh. He turned me on to so many good books, like Preacher and Sin City. He would always try the things I recommended to him. He was just a good guy and I miss him.

The Klingon-Samurai War of June 1997 will go down in the history books as a minor battle between two geeky foes, but I will always enjoy replaying it in my mind. These are the moments I cherish, and the times I will forever miss every year as summer begins.
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From Top to Bottom: Comic Book Women

by Matt

Welcome to the 5th edition of the weekly "From Top to Bottom" column! Every week I will look at something within the comics industry and give you my opinion on what I think is the best and what I think ranks amongst the bottom-feeders.

Last week I took a look at the Top and Bottom of Comic Book Movie Adaptations. This week's edition will be a bit trickier. With Sex and the City hitting theaters this week and Cindy's fantastic upcoming column about women in comics (look for it Friday!), I thought I would be brave and take a look at my Top 3 modern women/girls in comics. I chose them based on how they are portrayed and if they seem real to me.

I avoided choosing older characters like Wonder Woman and the Invisible Girl; I wanted to select women from more recent comics. My top 3 women all represent women who are NOT perfect. They are NOT portrayed as "Super Women," but they all do strive to be their best which is a quality I really admire. To me these women are excellent role models. Now, of course this is all MY opinion and I may totally be off my mark, but here I present my Top 3 Women in Comics.

3)Tulip O'Hare
I thought Ennis really hit it out of the park with this character! She felt very real to me, like I was reading a true story instead of a comic book. I was drawn to Tulip for many reasons, and the biggest is that she stood for what she believed in. Sure, she made mistakes, but she did her best to overcome them. She was loyal and forgiving and she fought hard for what she wanted.

I absolutely love Stargirl. I used to coach 9th grade girls' basketball and one of the team captains, Lacey, was just like her. Stargirl is incredibly well-written - her speech and attitude all reflect a real teen and, more importantly, she looks like a normal teenaged girl. With determination and hard work, Lacey grew into a confident and fantastic player and team member, one who I depended on for countless things. Stargirl is the same way. Going from her first series on through the JSA, you can see how this character continues to grow and mature.

1)Sundra Peale
Every obstacle that has been put in her place, Sundra has overcome. She has made mistakes but she perseveres. Sundra's taken on a lot of huge responsibilities and has come out on top of all of them. Her relationship with Nexus is a large responsibility in itself: she helps shoulder his load and also has to deal with his other children, which is not easy for her. She also organized the Olympics with thousands of other worlds and races. She is smart, strong, loyal and respectful. She also stands high and fights for what she believes in. This is why Sundra Peale is my Top Woman in Comics.

These next selections are women who, while they do have some great qualities, I don't believe truly represent women. I am not saying that they are terrible characters or that the creators that created them need to be shot. Comics are created mostly by men for a predominantly male audience. Comics show males and females at what society believes their ideal is: incredibly good-looking muscular men and incredibly good-looking women with tiny waists and big boobies. These women certainly cater to this "ideal" and that is why I have them listed as my Bottom 3 Women in Comics.

3)Danger Girl
Ultimate Danger Girl is one of my favorite trades. The plot is a load of fun. And all of the girls in Danger Girl are very smart, strong, heroic and, ultimately, save the day. But this comic was certainly an exercise in T&A. Would a super spy really resort to wearing such a short waitress outfit? Did it really progress the plot? I don't think so. But I admit that the series was a blast to read.

2)Red Monika
I'll give you TWO big reasons why she is ranked here. Now she is smart and strong and yadda, yadda, yadda, but does the character really need boobs that big? Do they really add to her character? I like everything else about her except for the boobage.

I don't think I have to explain that Supergirl is also smart, strong and heroic, do I? But she has been portrayed more as a sex object. I admit that I felt a little wrong, a little dirty and a little bit embarrassed when I was looking through a large gallery looking for a picture that would fit this column. Isn't she supposed to be around 16-17 years old? Now I don't think that there is a problem with finding a 16-17 year old girl cute. But I think there is a problem when you find her alluring. Stargirl is cute, Supergirl is alluring. Are there 16-17 year old girls who act like Supergirl? Sure, but the question in my mind is would I want my 16-17 year old girl to act more like Stargirl or more like Supergirl? Even Hal Jordan had to keep reminding himself that she was too young. I just don't feel that she is handled correctly.

There you have it. My Top and Bottom Women of Comics. Oh man... I think this has been my geekiest column yet!

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At Play In The White House - Test of the Super Toys

by Sarah White

What happens when you set loose two thirty something year olds and a four year old in a toy shop with £50 (just under US$99) to spend on superhero/comic book related items? Will the budget be blown? Will Callum (that's the four-year-old) go toy crazy? Will Daz (he's the thirty-something-year-old) be able to carry everything home? More importantly though will the items purchased be able to keep the three of us entertained for a weekend and stand up to the vigorous testing conditions? Wanna find out?

First of all we had to locate our toy shop of choice, this was easy due to proximity and we chose Smyths. Before setting out we set our first challenge - stock availability. We liked the look of an Indiana Jones Lego set and we checked online to see if the product would be in our store and whether there were any price differences. Smyth's website informed us it was in store and priced £8.99, accordingly we set out to see if this was true or not!

Indiana Jones Motorcycle Chase Lego Set
As mentioned this was our online vs instore check item. We had decided that due to the new Indy film being out it would be interesting to see how the shop had taken into consideration that there'd be more kids wanting toys. Although there wasn't a huge amount to choose from, they did have some cool stuff. We settled on this item because we hadn't really bought any Lego stuff for Callum yet and wanted to see how he liked it. We did wonder if, given the age limit of 6 years, it would be advanced for him, but we thought it a risk worth taking. We were pleased to find the toy easily in the shop and at the price quoted online. Advantages: Good attention to detail, extras for the smaller easily losable items (ie the goggles and guns), grabbed Callum's attention and imagination, and you don't have to necessarily stick to building the Lego up as the book says. As for assembly, it was very easy and the instructions booklet had clear and concise drawings to follow. For £8.99 we considered it good value for money, as most Lego is extremely expensive. They also have a whole range which typical to Lego is interchangeable. Disadvantages Some of the pieces were a little small and did easily come off - Dr Henry Jones' head for example. Total Rating: B

Superhero Squad Action Figures
We already own several of these and were happy to add to our collection with Spider-Man, Sandman and Green Goblin. They were priced at £1.99 each. Advantages: These are awesome fun to play with. So far to date we have had no casualties, and they have had rigorous testing of battles against dinosaurs, the Star Wars Galactic Heroes, tanks... you name it they've stayed strong throughout. Our testing this time round consisted of garden play, including rides down the slide, slide bowling, road rampage and many more tests of strength, durability, and heroism. All passed with flying colours. As well as having unlimited playability, they can also sit nice and pretty/cool looking on your shelf. We had mixed opinions about value for money, I personally thought they were very good value at just £1.99 each but Daz wasn't so sure. Disadvantages: None! Total Rating: A

Hot Wheels The Batman Arkham Asylum Escape
Having a four-year-old son who is car crazy means we have plenty of experience with the Hot Wheels range. Add to that car crazy four-year-old a superhero craziness and this is a good mix of a toy. Advantages: Good value for money, free Batman car included, other Hot Wheels cars are usable on the track, the impossible car jump does work, and with all other Hot Wheels track you can mix and match and come up with your own tracks. Disadvantages: The first time setting up took Daz about 40 minutes, which when you have an eager kid next to you trying to help does not bode well. However, it does get quicker with practice but still hard for a child of the age recommendation they have to set up. Also it's a real pig to get all the pieces back in the box. Total Rating: B

Ben 10 100 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle Ben 10 seems to be the new current toy craze (well here in the UK at least) in Callum's age group. The comic link is that it was created by a group consisting of Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, and Steven T. Seagle called Man of Action. Advantages: Sadly not many, the price (£2.99)isn't too bad considering it's a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle and it did keep the three of us entertained while attempting to build it but sadly that isn't enough. Disadvantages: Where do we start? Firstly (and this is really important!) don't let your child rip open the box without you knowing, then throw away said box without telling you and then when you ask where the box is denies all knowledge of said box. The box is important guys and gals! The picture has a lot of generic colouring which makes it very hard to decide which piece should go where, also the pieces weren't cut out very well, in fact they were so bad that we couldn't actually fully finish the puzzle as the last two pieces just would not fit it. It was very frustrating. A big thumbs down from this household. Total Rating: F

Green Goblin and Sandman Action Figures Originally Callum wanted a Black Cat Action Figure, he's decided (and quite rightly too) that he doesn't have enough female Superheroines. Sadly there was a complete lack of female characters so he opted for his next wish which was Green Goblin. We were foolishly led into thinking that they had a Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) deal on these particular figures hence why we also bought Sandman, sadly like I said we were misled. Each figure cost £7.99. Advantages: Like the Superhero Squad we have various other Action Figures so it's nice to have ones that are similar size to others, they were fun to play with and held up to some of the testing we did in the garden. For once it wasn't a hardship to put Green Goblin on his glider and the body parts of Sandman were easily transferable. Disadvantages:The Goblin may have been good at staying on his glider but his secret ID was blown! His mask fell off at every opportunity and the pumpkin bombs were too big for the figure to hold in his hand (some genious he is!). Sandman lived up to his name, he fell apart upon minor prodding in so much as after an afternoon in the garden his limbs and head had been splatted to all four corners, unlike in the film though he didn’t pull himself back together; that was MY job!Total Rating: C

Dr Who
Doctor Who is a mysterious time traveler who fights through space and time against many menaces, below are two of his most deadly enemies!
Dalek Sec: Advantages: The Dalek was £1.75 so that was a bargain! This dastardly villain was also an awesome slider; he bowled down any other toys in his way, sped down the slide with satisfying speed and exterminated all the way! The Dalek was in the same league as the other action figures in that he was pretty fun to play with.Disadvantages: For a future ruler of the Universe, the Dalek falls apart quite easily! The various attachments (guns, whatever) can all be pulled out and whilst this makes for awesome battle damage, it also means these are easily lost and you can end up having a Dalek who is a bit of a Eunuch.
Cyberman Costume: Advantages: (Pictured above) This is so shiny that it renders most flash photography useless which was sort of funny! Otherwise, it was very cheap and Callum liked running around in it trying to conquer us and enslave us to his will. Disadvantages: Callum ran around and tried to enslave us to his will. Callum got into his role and I think had he been given the opportunity would have shot us into hyperspace - so it turns your children into tyrants (not that they weren’t anyway!) Also, the helmet is pretty lame, it fell apart and the eye holes were badly lined up…this did allow us to escape our doom though so maybe that was a plus!
Total Rating for both: C

Homersapien This looked pretty good fun, it's Homer Simpson after all and we wanted to try something non-superheroey. Advantages: If you had a kitten, this would probably keep it occupied for ten minutes at least beyond that, it's hard to see a bright side. Disadvantages: D'oh!!!! Homersapien's main thing is that he walks, Yep, in the walking department, he is king. In the playing and having fun department? Homersapien is about as much fun as watching the local bully smash up your new PSP that you got for your birthday and then gave you a wedgie. There are no phrases, no other movements, just a lump of plastic that shuffles forwards and then trips over slightly uneven ground. Total Rating: F

So in conclusion to what happens when you let loose two thirty something year olds and a four year old in a toy shop with £50 (just under US$99) to spend on superhero/comic book related items? What happens is that the budget gets blown (along with another item we purchased which we didn't have time to road test the cost of the shopping spree was around about £68), lots of fun is had, a little boy gets toy crazy and hyper-active and the superheroes and villains deservedly get to chill out with a Cider in the sun when the day is done.

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