Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"
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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1416 (01/05/01)
"The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light."
--Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Culture movement
This week's opening quote may not apply directly to Mid-Ohio- Con 2000, the subject of this and my two previous columns, but, it has a nice ring to it and seemed a appropriate way for me and mine to extend the greetings of the season to you and yours. After all, there be heroes and saints aplenty within the loyal legions of Tips readers. So, to all of you, from Sainted Wife Barb, Eddie, Kelly, and myself, here's wishing you the merriest of whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year, as well as a happy, productive, and fulfilling new year.
Mid-Ohio-Con 2000 bills itself as "Ohio's best comic book and pop culture party," and, for those of you a tad slow on the uptake, that's an assessment with which I concur wholeheartedly. The show moved to a new venue this year--the Hilton Columbus at Easton Town Center--to host nearly 100 comics and media guests, over two dozen panels, hours of free anime screenings, several gaming tournaments, a large Artists Alley, a even larger retailers room, a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund auction, and thousands of excited and friendly fans of all of the above. Party on, Garth.
A friend of mine who attended the show with his two children made the comment that there was too much to do and see at Mid-Ohio- Con and meant that in the best sense of the term. Speaking as both a con-goer and the guy what puts together this convention's panel program, I like it when I and other fans have to make tough choices about what to do. That means there's a good chance that *everyone* attending the show will find things to do; his daughter spent most of her time watching anime while his son participated in a Pokemon tournament.
Digression. Mid-Ohio-Con's gaming tournaments were sponsored by Comic Town, one of the fine area specialty shops which go over and above the call of duty to support the show. Actually, let's make that TWO of the area shops, since Comic Town has locations in both Columbus proper and nearby Westerville.
Digression the second. Likewise, the anime room was sponsored by S.H.O.C.C. Comix/S.H.O.C.C. Cosmic, which is two Columbus stores in one. They even have an online presence at
As tempting as it would have been to kick back and watch some anime or finally learn how to play the Pokemon card game or blow the family fortune in the exhibitors room, I spent most of my time autographing comics at my own Artists Alley table or visiting other tables therein and there-out. There were so many comics and media guests that some of their booths and tables were set up in the wide corridors outside the main function rooms. Sometimes I felt as if I were at the convention that never ends; it just seemed to go on and on, my friend.
Digression the third. This is a question for the convention retailers in the audience. Science fiction cons used to call your area the hucksters room, "huckster" being a term that no one under the age of forty has ever used. Comic-book cons have been calling the area the dealers room, but the frequency with which "dealer" is preceded by "drug" these days has caused that usage to fall out of favor. Mid-Ohio-Con generally calls this area the exhibitors room, but that says "museum" and not "marketplace" to me. Retailers room is yet another option, but that has a clunky sound to it. Hence my question
Which of the above terms do you prefer? Is there another term you like better? Or, given that I'm even worrying about something like this, do I just have way too much time on my hands? Drop me an e-mail and let me know.
Mid-Ohio-Con always attracts some of the finest independent comics creators and publishers anywhere and this year's show was no exception. Outside the exhibitors room, fans could visit with Jeff (BONE) Smith and the Cartoon Books crew; Jon and Barbara Knutson, representing TwoMorrows, publisher of ALTER EGO, COMIC BOOK ARTIST, and other fine magazines; Rich and Sandy Koslowski of GEEKSVILLE fame; and a particularly impressive grouping of creators from COMIC LIBRARY INTERNATIONAL, including George Broderick and Chris Yambar.
I came away from the show with over a dozen different and exciting books from the CLI folks and others, so don't be surprised to see a bunch of "indy" reviews from me in CBGs to come. With all of the fun and much less than half the gimmicks and retcons of mainstream comics, what's not to love about these books?
What was the comic I was most frequently asked to autograph at this show? It was a three-way tie between BLACK LIGHTING #1 (first series), BLACK LIGHTNING #1 (second series), and the MARVELS COMIC: DAREDEVIL one-shot I did with artist extraordinaire Eddy Newell and editor equally extraordinaire Tom Brevoort.
What was the question I was most frequently asked at the con? It went something like this
"What do you think of Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce being a member of President Lex Luthor's cabinet? Are they nuts?"
Since I'm probably the last guy in the world to comment on the mental health (or lack thereof) of my fellow comics folks, my short answer avoided that portion of the impassioned question entirely. My response went something like this
"It certainly doesn't sound like something either Jeff or Lex would logically do--given that I created Jeff, I do consider myself something of an expert on what goes on in his head--but I'll read the appropriate Superman comics and get back to you. Maybe this is a great story just waiting to be told. Maybe it's the worst story of all time. I'm trying to keep an open mind here."
Yeah. Them what asked the question didn't believe me either, but, as distasteful as it's been and remains for me to contemplate other folks writing Black Lightning--Mike W. Barr being the notable exception--I will rise to the occasion and give these comic books a fair review. Of course, first I have to *read* them. I'm sort of a traditionalist in that regard.
What was the second most fun I had at the con? It was showing people a priceless artifact I discovered while cleaning out an old desk at home: my Marvel Comics identification card from when I was on staff at the company in the early 1970s. To share the terror, it is reproduced in this very column.
When I first showed it to Eddie and Kelly, my darling children literally fell to the floor, holding their stomachs as they rolled around the floor laughing. They made me show it to anyone else who came to our house to similar results. That's when I knew I had to take it to Mid-Ohio-Con.
The card was a source of much amusement at the convention and several con-goes thought I looked like a mini-Moore; Alan, that is. So, Alan, if you're reading, here's my insidious demand
Pay me one...million...dollars or I'll sell my Watchmen sequel to DC. My working title for the sequel is...I SAW WHAT YOU DID TO RORSCHACH LAST SUMMER. I'm going to leave you alone in a room with these incompetent guards until you're ready to pay.
When I showed my ancient i.d. card to Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Oeming, the cocky youngsters tried to top me with their own sordid pasts. Bendis whipped out an old drivers license from when he had hair; it was unsettling in a young Keanu Reeves sort of way. As for Oeming, he looked like the guitarist of a garage band which had played way too many Bon Jovi. Sure, these guys might be young and talented, but, when it came to pure nostalgic terror--"It's some hippy monster!"--I had it all over them.
What was the most fun I had? That would be watching CBG's own Bob Ingersoll showing con-goers his newest toy: the Shape-Shifting Punisher from ToyBiz. I'm not sure I can do this toy justice in a family publication like CBG, but I'll give it a try.
You start with a Punisher action figure, one of the thousands of Marvel Comics action figures which have been produced over the years. Combine it with the transforming technology first used in the classic Transformers toys of a couple decades ago, except that ToyBiz calls it shape-shifting technology because if they actually did call it transforming technology, they'd be sued faster than you could say "Tony Twist." What you end up with is a Punisher action figure that turns into a weird humanoid gun.
"Shape-Shifting Punisher" hit the toy stores in 1999 and was named "toy of the year" by the National Rifle Association. Would I lie to you?
Okay, yes, I would. Although you have to admit the Punisher is probably a member of the NRA and may even have one of those keen "autographed by Charlton Heston" silver bullets you get for joining that organization. But I digress. Again.
The biggest problem with this toy is that no normal American child will get past the first stage of the transformation. There's no way to express this that won't lead to my CBG editors slathering their computer monitors with white-out, so, for the purpose of this column I'm going to replace the scientific term for a certain male bodily organ with the nonsense word GLORPIX, which does not appear in any of the dictionaries to be found in the Isabella household. I even did a web search on GLORPIX and came up empty. So, from now until the end of this column, no matter what you may be thinking in your nasty little minds, a GLORPIX is just a GLORPIX.
The first stage of the shape-shifting involves pulling up the Punisher's torso to expose the barrel of the gun he becomes. At the end of this stage--I am not making this up--the barrel extends, GLORPIX-like, from his crotch.
This is where I have to ask myself: with all of the Marvel and ToyBiz employees who *had* to have seen this action figure when it was being designed, when it was being considered, when it was being approved, when it was being sculpted, and when it was being molded, did it not occur to any of them that the Punisher's GLORPIX was a gosh-darned cannon?
Without casting any aspersions on my good friend Bob or any of the hundreds of people to whom he showed Shape-Shifting Punisher at the con, every last man and woman of us immediately recognized this peculiar attribute of the toy and, in between our fits of laughter, made ribald comments about it. The most genial response was along the lines of "That is just *so* wrong!"
Our curious Bob did eventually complete the Punisher's shape- shifting into a rather bizarre looking humanoid gun, which wasn't much better. The fully-shifted version of the figure isn't a whole lot more appealing, what with the gun barrel now emerging from the Punisher's butt.
It gets worse. If you hold the shape-shifted Punisher as you would an actual gun, the mercifully non-existent trigger of the gun would be between his legs, which certainly gives new meaning to the phrase "squeezing off a shot."
I have predictions for the new year. The first is that Shape- Shifting Punisher is going to become THE hot collectible once this sees print. Trust me; once this toy gets the national attention it deserves no pop culture critic will be giving "Death Row Marv" a second glance.
The second is that Mid-Ohio-Con will adopt a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to Ingersoll and his toys. He's beginning to scare people.
The last is that Mid-Ohio-Con 2001--same time next year--will be just as much or even more fun than this year's event. I hope to see you there. Happy holidays!
Send your comments on or review items for this column to: Tony's Tips, P.O. Box 1502, Medina, OH 44258. You can also e-mail Tony at.
Knowing I would be writing about that Shape-Shifting Punisher toy in the last of my three Mid-Ohio-Con columns, I began lobbying CBG editor Maggie Thompson early on for permission to use the word "penis" in said column. She wouldn't budge and that meant I had to get creative. Enter the GLORPIX.
Maggie loved the column and the concept of the Shape-Shifting Punisher so much that she sent an army of minions in search of the toy and, yes, she did manage to acquire one. She's also predicting the word GLORPIX will end up in the dictionary within my lifetime. She scares me.
There are two other transforming figures from ToyBiz deserving of mention here. Like its Punisher counterpart, the Shape-Shifting Spider-Man toy possesses a cannon-like GLORPIX and, although I was not aware of this when I wrote this CBG column, both of the figures shoot missiles from said extensions. Can I get an "eewwwwwww" from the audience?
Finally, we have Shape-Shifting Iron Man. Although it can't compete with its fellow action figures for grossness, it does have its own nutty charm. You see, when properly manipulated, Marvel's most technological hero, the creation of Tony Stark's mechanical and scientific genius, transforms into...an ax.
That's all. An ax. It doesn't fire laser beams. It doesn't fire missiles. It doesn't even have a GLORPIX. It's just an ax. Let evil firewood everywhere tremble in fear.
Needless to say, my loyal readers--and you know who you are-- should feel free to send me any other equally stupid toys they come across in their own travels to toy stores. I promise to hold you blameless for any injuries--physical or emotional--I suffer while playing with them.
THE "MISSING" SPIDER-CLONE STORY
Our final item today was something I originally posted on the Silver Age/Golden Age mailing list. I don't recall whether I wrote it in response to something another member had posted or if I wrote because I was thinking of Bill Mantlo, a friend and former Marvel colleague. It's not unusual for me to think of Bill, especially at this time of year.
Bill and I first met in the 1970s. He was working in Marvel's production department and I was editing Marvel's British weeklies and several of the company's new black-and-white comics magazines. I gave him his first writing jobs at Marvel and was one of the few comics people at his wedding. On that blessed occasion, which took place in a lovely little park, I saw him jump aboard a runaway bus full of elderly people and bring it to a safe halt. When Bill left comics, he became a lawyer who, naturally, specialized in helping the underprivileged. We're talking a good guy here.
About a decade ago, Bill was struck by a car and seriously injured. He was in a coma for a long time and has never recovered from the brain damage he received in that tragic accident. He has been in a nursing facility pretty much ever since, unable to do any of the things he once did so well.
But, today, I want to share with you a memory of Bill when he was at the top of his game. It's a bit of comics history that has never been widely reported, though, in my opinion, it deserves to be. Here's what I posted to the SAGA list
Pull up your chairs because Uncle Tony has a story to tell you. My memory for comics trivia isn't what it once was, so you'll have to excuse my estimating the issue numbers for...Bill Mantlo's Spider-Clone Story.
Most of the story ran as originally conceived in PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. The issues were in the 20s, maybe the late 20s.
The villain of these issues was Carrion. He knew an awful lot about Spider-Man, including our boy's secret identity.
Carrion not only looked like a decaying corpse, he had the power to make things decay. Scary dude.
In the published version, Carrion was revealed to be the clone of Professor Miles Warren, the mad doctor who became the Jackal to get revenge on Spider-Man for Gwen Stacy's death.
In Gerry Conway's final stories for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN--these would be the issues just before #150--Warren had cloned both Gwen Stacy and Spidey. Conway's story ended with one of the Spider-Men dead and the other wondering whether he was the real Peter Parker or a clone.
Archie Goodwin wrote the issue between Conway's last and Len Wein's first to clear up that little matter. Spider-Man dumped the clone's body in a furnace because he figured, like him, said clone would want to be cremated.
The Gwen Stacy clone walked off into the sunset to find her own life. I think there was some Steve Gerber story in one of the annuals, which explained that she wasn't really a Gwen-clone, but my memory is foggy on that one.
Getting back to Carrion...
In Mantlo's original plans for this story, Carrion would have been revealed as that Peter Parker clone, transformed by his brief time in the furnace and his basically unstable molecular structure. Warren's cloning process wasn't as good as said mad professor had thought. That the real Spidey had also dumped the then-deceased Green Goblin's gear in the same furnace explained the Goblin-esque look of Carrion.
Unfortunately, after agreeing to Bill's plans, Marv Wolfman, then writer of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN--which was considered the "main" Spider-Man title--had some second thoughts about it. He decided he didn't want a second Spidey running around, even one as deformed as our boy Carrion. Bill was ordered to change the planned revelation of his extended story, even though the first chapter had already been published.
That I know about this at all was a matter of chance. I had returned to Cleveland and was running my Cosmic Comics store and also doing a little bit of writing on the side. But I had come to New York to visit with friends and ran into Bill at the Marvel Comics offices.
I asked him about the story, commenting that I'd really liked it, but that I was confused by what struck me as an unsatisfactory ending. It has seemed to me--and my store's customers--that Carrion had to have been the Peter Parker clone. Bill smiled sadly and told me the above.
Many years later, when Marvel did its "Ben Reilly" storyline, I couldn't help but contemplate sadly that, had Bill's story been published as originally conceived, we would have been spared that extended Spider-clone debacle.
According to THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, the first appearance of Carrion was in THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #25 and his final appearance in issue #31 of that title. Although he was never considered an "A" writer, Bill Mantlo did fine work on a number of Marvel titles, MARVEL TEAM-UP, MICRONAUTS, and ROM, among them. That both his comics and legal careers were cut short is no small tragedy, but, on some level, I have to believe he still takes joy from knowing how many people he helped and how many readers he entertained. Happy New Millennium, Bill.
I'll be back next week with more stuff.
Earliest Archive >> 01/05/2001 | 01/12/2001 >>
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THE "TONY" SCALE
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.
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