"Count me in with the worried, unprotected masses. A world that's sufficiently scarred and scoured to require [bomb shelters] will need to soldier on without me. In this eerily still and lifeless room, listening to my heartbeat, it occurs to me that each person is allotted a finite store of time, energy, and money. Every hour, calorie, or dollar expended to build a shelter like this is an hour, calorie, or dollar that can't be devoted to crafting the kind of world that doesn't need them. I wonder if these places might ever constitute self-fulfilling prophecies. What if, even in a small way, they have the same effect on peacemaking that a pre-nup has on a marriage, silently sabotaging the requisite optimism?"
--Brad Lemley, writing in DISCOVER [October, 2003]
Reader Earl Carl sent me the above quote, fearing it would be too long for me to use. However, this being the holiday season and all, I trusted you and my editors here would indulge me in this and in the comments which follow.
Optimism appears to be in precious short supply this Christmas and it doesn't take more than a flip through your local newspapers or a few minutes in front of CNN to understand why. And yet, those same conduits of current information can also be used to transmit tales of hope for the future.
Let me tell you about Brandon Biggs.
Biggs, 20, is the son of the late Gregory Biggs. His father was the homeless bricklayer who was hit by a car driven by Chante Mallard in October of 2001.
Mallard drove away with Gregory Biggs stuck in her windshield, drove away even as he moaned for help, drove to her garage and left him pinned, his torso inside the car and his broken legs lodged in the glass. He bled to death there. Mallard dumped his body in a park and went on with her life...until she was caught, convicted of murder, and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
At Mallard's trial, Brandon Biggs spoke of his father, a good-hearted and hard-working man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mild schizophrenia. Gregory's own generosity had led to the loss of his truck, his job as a self-employed bricklayer, and his home; he was living in a shelter at the time of his death, but tried to keep in touch with his son.
After speaking of his dad, Brandon did something remarkable. He told the court he forgave Mallard, and would keep her and her family in his prayers. He knew her family was losing a daughter as he had lost his father.
The story becomes more remarkable. Fred Moor, a parishioner at St. Rose Catholic Church in Perrysburg, Ohio, was moved by the young man's forgiveness of his father's murderer. Moor's church helped start and supports COMPASSION, a newsletter written by and for death row inmates. The newsletter, a project of the Catholic Church's peace and justice committee, attempts to put a human face to death row, giving inmates a place for contemplation and a forum from which to encourage reconciliation.
The inmates have founded a scholarship fund for the children of murder victims. The scholarships are not meant to atone for the loss the families of the victims have suffered; they are meant as a gift of compassion for those families.
Moor encouraged Brandon, a sophomore at Southwestern Assembly of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, to apply for the COMPASSION scholarship. Biggs was presented with a $10,000 scholarship, the third awarded by the newsletter.
In an essay published in COMPASSION, Brandon gave his answer to the question of how he could forgive Mallard:
"I have had many feelings towards the individual who murdered my father, but every time the press would ask me how I felt about the individual, I told them that more than anything, what I felt was forgiveness and compassion. I have come to understand that it is really not about me anymore, but that God has a bigger picture in mind. The loss of my father has affected me in many ways, both positively and negatively. But I can't afford to live in anger and unforgiveness."
If you chose to deem Brandon's actions and statements heroic, I wouldn't disagree with you. However, I trust you'll excuse me if I think of them as...human.
It's the kind of humanity to which we all can aspire, whether we are lords of the state, prisoners of the state, or citizens of the state. It's the kind of humanity, especially in one so young, that gives us blessed optimism for the future.
Hope. The prefect gift for this holiday season.
Let's start this week's reviews with 2000 AD EXTREME EDITION #1 (Rebellion; $10.99). This is the first in a quarterly series of specials dedicated to particular 2000 AD characters or themes. For this debut, and to coincide with the release of the JUDGE DREDD VS. JUDGE DEATH computer game, we get a trio of never-before-reprinted stories showcasing the creature to whom life itself is the greatest crime of all; heavily-illustrated text articles on the creation of the new computer game and the history of Judge Death; and a fourth "story" which is actually a game in comics format.
The highlight of this extreme edition is "Dead Reckoning," a 42-page thriller by writer John Wagner and artist Greg Staples. In pursuit of an escaped Death, Dredd ends up in the past and in the terrifying home dimension of his quarry. Wagner's shorter stories, drawn by Ron Smith and Ian Gibson, are entertaining, but it's "Dead Reckoning" that will stay with you.
Also worth noting: the "You Are Judge Dredd" game/story, first published in the short-lived DICE MAN magazine, is a collaboration between Wagner and Alan Grant (story), Pat Mills (game), and Bryan Talbot (art). I played the game myself and kind of sort of died. Thank Grud it was only a comic book!
2000 AD EXTREME EDITION #1 was good for hours of fearful fun. On our scale of zero to five, it gets four Tonys.
ARCHIE & FRIENDS #77 (Archie; $2.19) is an amusing diversion. Writer Mike Pellowski explores Archie's latent ESP in "Mind Games," and pokes fun at super-hero movies in a second story. Both of the tales were penciled by cover artist Rex Lindsey and inked by Rich Koslowski. Lindsey and Koslowski also provided visuals for a Josie and the Pussycats tale by writer Angelo Decasare. Add a couple of single-page gag strips and text features and you have a pleasant comic...which lacked even one story that could truly have been said to stand out. The best I can do here is two Tonys.
CARTOON CARTOONS #23 (DC; $2.25) plays to a slightly younger, slightly hipper crowd than the Archie books. I love the Bill Wray cover, but I fear the figure of Dexter (from "Dexter's Laboratory") doesn't catch the eye as well as it might.
There are three interior stories. "Sunken Leisure" by Robbie Busch is a Dexter tale wherein the boy genius retrieves a package from the deep blue. It's loads of silly fun with terrific layouts by Stephen DeStefano and finishes by Wray.
An alien device threatens Courage the Cowardly Dog, his home, and his owners in "Tin Machine" by writer Jim Alexander, penciler Enis Temizel, and inker Tim Chilly. I thought it was another fun story, which is saying something coming from a guy who doesn't care for the Courage cartoons.
Two of three ain't bad. The "I Am Weasel" tale which finishes off the issue is as tedious as the "I Am Weasel" cartoons. I guess that could be a plus if you like them.
CARTOON CARTOONS #23 picks up three Tonys. The Dexter cover and story make up for the "Weasel" yawner.
GENE POOL (IDW Publishing; $6.99) is basically an introduction to the characters who will appear in the Gene Pool movie. Written by creators Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, the comic book is a solid, occasionally surprising super-team premiere. However, for the most part, it's nothing we haven't seen before, though I can readily see why it was snapped up by Hollywood. Think a scaled-down X-MEN and you're in the right ballpark.
There are things I love about the book. Its young heroes have this in common: as infants they were doomed to early death because of their genetic defects. Their survival and powers stem from the work of a visionary scientist. I'm a big fan of movie scientists actually doing good.
I like four of the five characters we've met so far. My pals Marv and Len did a great job making them individuals and basically likeable. I'm also a big fan of heroes I can like without excusing their brutality or skewed morality. Okay, yeah, one of the teens is a crook, but there are mitigating circumstances.
One of the characters has multiple personalities and each of the personalities has a different power. That could be fun should an ongoing series follow this intro issue.
Now for the things I don't love so much.
Penciler Steven Cummings shows promise. However, some of his figures are awkward and stiff. Some of his transitions are even more so, but those might be the fault of the script, which itself gets a little choppy in places.
Samantha Chase, the daughter of the scientist mentioned above, appears briefly, too briefly, in this book. She doesn't come alive as do the other characters. If she's going to play a larger part in subsequent issues, she needs some personality work.
Mysterious masked mercenaries are hunting the super-teens for some unknown organization. If I made a drinking game out of super-hero cliches, that one would have me blotto on my behind within an hour. Make it go away. Please.
GENE POOL has more good than not-so-good, so I'm awarding it four Tonys. I want to see Wolfman and Wein do more issues. I also want to see them get stinking rich off the movie because the guys who created Blade, the New Teen Titans, Swamp Thing, Wolverine, Storm, and Nightcrawler should make as much money for themselves as they made for DC and Marvel.
Catching up on the JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE (Rebellion; $10.99), here's a quick look at issues #209-211.
Dredd does a bit of traveling in the lead stories. The first two issues find him teaming with a former foe in Hong Kong, while the third kicks off a tale of a Nazi-like army in the Cursed Earth. Writer Gordon Rennie does a fine job, as do artists Patrick Goddard and Dylan Teague (on the Hong Kong adventure) and Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra on the current serial.
Judge Death is wandering through the Cursed Earth in a serial by John Wagner and artist Frazer Irving. It's not top-of-the-line stuff, but it has its moments.
Every time I think writer John Smith and artist Colin MacNeil can't possibly drag out the dismal Devlin Waugh serial any longer, they do. The high concept of a gay vampire working for the Vatican can't carry this serial. Stake it already.
The classic reprints are usually my favorite features. These issues see the conclusion of the controversial "Darkie's Mob" tales of renegade soldiers fighting the Japanese behind enemy lines and the beginnings of "Charley's War," the gripping saga of a young man in the First World War. Then there's "Harry 20 on the High Rock" by writer Gerry Finley-Day and artist Alan Davis; it's about a man sentenced to hard time on a floating space prison for the crime of feeding the hungry. It's as intense as the war stories.
These issues also saw the return of "The Bendatti Vendetta," a grim-but-intriguing series about assassins targeting killers whom the law can't touch, and the debut of "Xtinct," an uneven, not very interesting series set in the far future where the last remaining humans are killing one another with the gory aid of the intelligent dinosaurs they've created.
You can also count on the Megazine for informative articles on British comics. Currently, we're getting the story of BATTLE, the weekly which launched "Charley's War" and "Darkie's Mob." Each new chapter makes me wish I could read a stack of the original issues. Maybe it's time to hit eBay.
JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE ain't cheap, but it delivers good value for its cost. It definitely rates four Tonys.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1571 [December 26, 2003], which shipped on December 8. The cover story was "RELOADING THE X-MEN" wherein CBG correspondent George Nelson reported Alan Davis' Mid-Ohio-Con announcement that he and writer Chris Claremont would be the new creative team for Marvel's UNCANNY X-MEN. The Claremont/Davis reunion is the first of many creative changes coming to the X-titles.
The secondary lead announced the publication of CBG columnist Craig Shutt's BABY BOOMER COMICS, a collection of Shutt's popular "Ask Mr. Silver Age" columns. I'll be reviewing this online in the very near future.
CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK
What will be the big comics news story of 2004?
My answer is:
I don't know. Manga's domination of the comics scene outside of the comics shops was the big story in 2003...and I expect that domination will continue in 2004. Is it still news if it happens two years in a row?
Instead of answering the question as posed, I'm going to take a different tack. I'm going to list nine stories which, were they to happen, would be comics news.
Maybe even THE big comics news story of the year.
I'll let you be the judge of that.
Dave Sim retires to a monastery. Sticks his head out of the place on Groundhog's Day, sees his shadow, and announces 300-issue SON OF CEREBUS epic.
Legendary comics trivia master Mark Waid defeats fan team by an amazing score of one million to zero. He answers every question correctly, transforms into a higher being, and disappears from this plane of existence.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: