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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1524 (02/08/03)

"It's just plain bad planning on nature's part, having the days shortest when there is the most to do."

--Bill Vaughan

Winter has well and truly staked its claim on my beloved town of Medina, Ohio. The first day of school after the holiday break found us digging out from what seemed like a foot of snow. In this neck of the woods, snow always seems to arrive simultaneously with the arrival of Automotive Moronicous, a species of barely-sentient bipeds who have, apparently, never seen snow.

These migratory creatures can generally be spotted by the cell phones they hold to their ears as they slide through stop signs and traffic signals. As near as I can figure, their natural prey seems to be the plentiful mailboxes which line our Medina streets.

For its part, my environmentally-conscious home town maintains the migratory paths within its territory in as pristine a manner as possible. Not only does Medina plow or salt its streets sparingly, but its trucks seem to add snow/slush to these paths, the better to keep the mailbox population under control.

After sending Eddie and Kelly off to school with enough lunch money to last them until the spring thaw, I settled down to write this week's column with the melodic crunching of mailboxes serving as background and muse to my thoughts. Ah, nature!


David Yurkovich is one of the most original voices in comics. His forte is adult-oriented "super-hero" comics created from equal parts thoughtful inquiry and impish wit. He eschews the excessive profanity and labored sexual content of so many other comics which have traveled this road in recent years. In short, we need him now more than ever.

ALTERCATIONS #1 (Sleeping Giant Comics; $8.95) is the first of two 64-page, full-color issues in which Yurkovich explores "super-hero activity in 20th century North America" in concisely-plotted, fully-realized short stories. Each tale is prefaced by commentary by Yurkovich and "noted essayist Alfred Pinchley," giving a further historical context to these works.

There are five stories in this initial volume, with settings ranging from San Francisco in 1906 to New York City in the midst of World War II. Other stories touch on the coal shortage of 1917-18, prohibition, and the New Deal. Yurkovich blends the fantastic and the real to great effect, the coal shortage tale being especially effective in drawing the reader into an earlier time. I'm eager to see what he does with stories set during my own life.

Digression. In one of these five stories, Yurkovich touches on a serious topic also seen in Marvel's THE ULTIMATES. Yurkovich is far more subtle; his story is all the more poignant for its lack of sensationalism. There's a lesson to be learned here.

Each year since I discovered Yurkovich's work, I have hoped in vain that his works would be recognized, if only with a nomination or two, by the various awards given out in the comics field. Maybe this year will bring an end to my disappointment.

I urge you to read this amazing comic as soon as possible. If you can't get it from your local retailer, you can buy it directly from Yurkovich at:

On our scale of zero to five floating heads, ALTERCATIONS #1 earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


Boston Blackie, as originally conceived by Jack Boyle, was a hardened criminal serving time in a brutal prison. When he moved from pulp fiction to movies, radio, and television, he received a make-over and became a private detective. With the publication of MOONSTONE NOIR: BOSTON BLACKIE ($5.95), writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Kirk Van Wormer bring Blackie back "to his opium-addicted, morally ambiguous roots." Their Blackie is an ex-con haunted by a murder he may have committed...and determined to learn the truth of a night he can neither remember nor forget.

When we meet Blackie, he's served several years for the theft of a black diamond at an extravagant costume party. The five-year-old son of a wealthy family disappeared that night and the diamond was never found. There was only Blackie, unconscious at the scene of the crime, his last memories of the night being the wall safe he never opened and the child asking for a drink of water.

Water is a key image in Petrucha's moody script. He gives us a protagonist drowning in his past, ancillary characters swept up in the tragic flood of circumstances, and, less metaphorically, an underwater crime scene. The script and the black-and-white art do a fine job of connecting the reader to the dark deeds and emotions enveloping Blackie. There were places during the story when I felt the urge to take a deep breath.

Moonstone's presentation of BOSTON BLACKIE was good, but there was room for improvement. The 48-page squarebound book has a nice cover, design, and heft to it, but some interior art and copy came close to being swallowed up by the binding.

Additionally, given the growth of comics sales in traditional bookstores, I think Moonstone missed a bet by running a house ad on the back cover of this book. Something along the lines of the back cover "sales pitch" found on most mass market and trade paperback, a bit of background on Blackie and this story, could have perhaps enticed a casual reader into buying the comic. The comics industry has to make selling comics to readers outside our faithful audience its top priority...because "preaching to the choir" clearly hasn't increased the overall unit sales of comics in general.

If you enjoy hard-boiled detective fiction with some weight to it, I believe MOONSTONE NOIR: BOSTON BLACKIE will be right up your doubtless dark alley. It gets four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION is one of my favorite TV shows. Max Allan Collins is one of my favorite writers. These facts added up to high expectations for the advance copy of CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION #1 ($3.99) sent to me by IDW Publishing. Happily, my expectations were largely justified.

Ashley Wood did a spot-on job of capturing the likenesses of the CSI cast members for the evocative cover of this debut issue. The seriousness of their characters and of the work the characters do comes through in this striking image. Within the comic itself, Wood handles the flashback and forensic scenes. It's an ingenious way to translate the TV show's signature scenes to the comic sans the original's incredible cinematography.

Collins goes "high concept" with his story for this five-issue miniseries. Amidst the glittering decadence of Las Vegas, a serial killer is reacting the murders committed by Jack the Ripper. And, as will be seen in the second issue, Gil Grissom and his team will not lack for suspects...

There's a Jack the Ripper convention in town.

Collins, with forensic research and plot assistance by Matthew V. Clemens, delivers a comics story that is faithful to the source material without being less a comics story for it. That's a nice change-of-pace from comics writers who, in their futile attempts to imitate their favorite movies du jour, forswear the use of captions and other useful comics technique.

The issue's sole weakness lies in the "live action" sequences penciled and inked by Gabriel Rodriguez. The pages are competent, but the series and this story deserve better. Rodriguez also fails to nail the likeness of William L. Petersen (Gil Grissom); he makes the actor look younger than the character he plays on the series. We need to see the experience on Grissom's face.

This first issue features an interview with Petersen, which offered some interesting background on the series. Interviews with other cast members would be welcomed by this reader.

CSI #1 has an on-sale date of January 29, about the same time this CBG will find its way into your hot little hands. The debut will be supported by a 3-page preview in TV GUIDE, so my advice to retailers is to make sure they have sufficient shelf copies for the non-regulars who may come into their shops looking for this comic book. You may only get one shot at these potential new customers, so don't blow it.

CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION #1 pushed a lot of my pleasure buttons. I'm delighted to give it four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


Want to sell me a comic book? Hire Roger Stern to write it. However, since comics companies haven't seemed to grasp this simple means of separating me from my money, it was Warner Books who got my cash for SMALLVILLE: STRANGE VISITORS ($5.99), an original prose novel based on the show. If the other novels in this new paperback series are as good as this one, they will be getting more of my money on a fairly regular basis.

Spiritual con man Donald Jacobi has been touting Smallville's glowing meteorite rocks as the key to health, well-being, and the future evolution of the human race. He has the website, he has the impassioned disciples, and he's come to Clark Kent's home town for what he thinks will be the biggest score yet. Given the paralyzing and perhaps even deadly effect the meteorites have on the Superman-to-be, you can imagine how much Jacobi's arrival thrills Clark and his parents.

I read STRANGE VISITORS under some of the worst conditions I could imagine. It was a chapter here and a chapter there while I juggled kids and deadlines--kids bounce better when you drop them-- and even days between chapters. It was the holiday season and the demands on my time were endless. Yet, for all that, there wasn't a single time when I wasn't able to pick up this book and get right back into it. That says a lot for Stern's prowess as a novelist. His characters and situations were far more memorable than those to be found in most of the comics titles he used to write. Excuse me while I take a second to mutter under my breath.

Stern gets every SMALLVILLE character absolutely right. There is nary a scene or a line of dialogue which misses a beat from the show. However, where the writer truly shines is in the characters which he created for this novel.

Smallville High student Stuart Harrison is dying. Nothing can be done for him, even if his family hadn't exhausted their medical insurance and savings trying. Stern portrays the pain of Stuart's family and friends with painful reality, then brings equal veracity to the range of emotions they experience when Jacobi's meteorites actually cure the young man.

Jacobi himself is a fascinating villain. He is more than the "snake oil salesman" he seems to be at the start of the novel, and his reactions to events therein put a new twist on the transforming power of the Smallville meteorites.

SMALLVILLE: STRANGE VISITORS is as good as the best episodes of the TV series. Without breaking a sweat, it gets the full five Tonys. I eagerly await Stern's next story.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


The TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR begins with MEGACON, February 28 through March 2 at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida. From there it continues to PLANET COMICON on March 29 and 30 in Kansas City. If all goes as hoped/planned, I'll be attending twelve comics conventions this year, meeting friends old and new, autographing the things I've written, and spreading my message of comics, love, peace, and more comics to a world desperately in need of, well, me. It's like a cosmic crusade.

I'll be putting up a website dedicated to the tour and to show off my spiffy Tony Isabella Farewell Tour t-shirts, but, until that site is ready, e-mail me with your questions about these and future tour stops. I'd like to meet as many of you as possible before I get put out to pasture.

Can I get a "moo" from the gathered faithful?



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1524 [January 31, 2003], which shipped on January 13. The cover story was about comics/comics-related works which have won the Pulitzer Prize. But, hey, if that was such a big deal, how come we didn't read about it in WIZARD?



The Republican Party hierarchy have a well-deserved reputation for meanness of spirit, but Democrats can sink to the occasion just as easily. Here's a quick news item from the January 30 edition of THE AKRON BEACON-JOURNAL:
James Traficant is gone from Congress - banished last year after his conviction on bribery and racketeering charges. Now the new tenant claims he has rid his Capitol Hill office of Traficant's taint.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, held a "cleansing ritual" in an effort to erase any legacy left behind by the Ohio Democrat. In Traficant-inspired clothes - a blue-denim leisure suit and a black Elvis wig - Blumenauer joined Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in burning dried herbs to "exorcise" Traficant's spirit.
Yes, Traficant was a crook, though I think his also being as crazy as a loon was a mitigating circumstance, but he is currently sitting in jail and his disgrace is one for the history books. Why continue to kick him when he's down? And for what purpose? To get a few inches of ink here and there?

It's not a "take them out to the woodshed" offense, but, were it up to me, I'd certainly give these ill-mannered politicos a rap across their knuckles with a sturdy wooden ruler.



February 1: LeBron James, "widely acknowledged as the greatest high school basketball player in the nation," loses his eligibility after accepting two vintage sports jerseys valued at over $800 from a Cleveland clothing store. He can't play the rest of the season, while his team forfeits a victory won the day after James got the jerseys. I'll give James a "Bad on you" for being an idiot, and a "Tough break, guys" to the teammates who were probably counting on him not being an idiot. However, even conceding this story does have news value beyond the sports page, I must roll my eyes at the AKRON BEACON-JOURNAL devoting 70% of its available front page space (minus logo and other standing features) to it.

Excuse me, Akron Beacon-Journal, but, if you hadn't noticed, our nation is about to start an unprovoked war; our state is broke; our leaders are morally bankrupt; the economy is taking a beating; people in this land and around the world are living in ignorance, illness, poverty, and worse; and so on.

But THIS was the most important story of the day?

I swear to God...there are times when I think we ourselves are the best argument against intelligent design.



On Wednesday, Summit County Judge James R. Williams issued a temporary restraining order that will allow LeBron James to resume his high school career after serving a two-game suspension. James has already missed one game, which will count towards the penalty. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

James has a 3.5-grade average, smart enough to have known not better than to accept the jerseys. His claim that the jerseys were a gift from the store owner, a supposed friend of the James family, because of the athlete's good grades is just shy of being insulting to our intelligence. Especially after we were asked to swallow his mother buying him a Hummer for his birthday.

On the other hand, Lebron's school is making money from their games being televised and receiving less tangible benefit from his fame. And magazines and newspapers are selling a great many copies by writing about James. Maybe a couple of jerseys shouldn't have been such a big deal in the first place.

We create these sports creatures by playing along with the big hype and the big money. Maybe we should take the plank out of our own eyes before we starting acting morally superior.



My comments about wrestling a couple weeks ago brought me two e-mails. This one was signed MADISON CARTER:
I can't begin to describe how disappointed I am after reading the following:

What is the single most annoying thing about this month's DC comics? It's the blasted WWE SHOP ZONE catalog inserted into every DC title and stapled into every Wildstorm title. I could heat my house for a week burning these in my fireplace and that's too good for this "pro" wrestling litter.

Please don't tell me comics are the natural place to advertise merchandise connected to a moronic faux-sport-slash-entertainment combining the wit of sleazy tabloids with the panache of barroom-brawling, and the oh-so-attractive aesthetic of steroids and silicon implants. I want to believe we're better than that.

Whatever happened to those ads for sea monkeys?

Okay, I'll be the FIRST to agree the catalogs are annoying. But to those of us who consider ourselves fans of both forms of entertainment, your remarks, while your own opinion, hurt just a bit.

I'm not going to try to defend wrestling. I know how most of the world views it, and I don't really bother to try to change peoples opinions of it. But just as there's a massive difference between comics by Neil Gaiman and comics by, say, Rob Liefeld, there's a world of difference between a good amount of the history of the "sport" and the junk Vince McMahon is currently shilling. Very akin to someone referring to comics as "kiddies' stuff" I think.

Again, it's your opinion, you're totally entitled to it. But when you insult some of the crossover fanbase, you lose fans.

You lost me.
Carter lost me, too. Because I can't see where in my remarks I insulted anyone other than fans who like, to quote Carter, "the junk Vince McMahon is currently shrilling."

But, hey, you win a fan, you lose a fan. And, given that this e-mail wasn't sent until I'd posted that particular column online where Carter could...and likely it for free, I suspect CBG didn't even lose a subscriber over his ire. Not that I worry about that either.

I also heard from RICK HODGE:
I am both a professional wrestling fan as well as a comic book fan and have enjoyed much of your work. I noticed your comments about pro wrestling in the most recent COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. You might be interested in knowing that many old-style wrestling fans don't like what is going on with the WWE these days.

Your column was brought up in the Wrestling Classics Message Board and I thought you might be interested in reading the comments (whether you agree with them or not).

Here is the web page link:;f=1;t=033605

I will concede that some of the comments are a bit silly, but I thought you would be interested in some feedback. Thank you for your time.
Back in the very early 1970s, I covered a pro wrestling show or two. They were fake, but they were harmless fun that never got as sordid as what's on television these days. Though, admittedly, my opinion of today's version is based strictly on the few minutes at a time I can stomach of them while channel-surfing. I wonder if they still use the tiny faux-blood bladders the old-time wrestling performers would use. A wrestler once gave me a fist-full of them and I had hours of fun with them.

That's all for this weekend. Use the PayPal link below if you want extra columns from me. I'll write a column for every $100 we receive. You're ninety bucks away as of this writing. I'm glad I still have my other job:

Laundering money for Nigerian politicians.

Tony Isabella

<< 02/01/2003 | 02/08/2003 | 03/01/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined.

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Zero Tonys
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:

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