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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1417 (01/12/01)

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."

--Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

DC Comics went for two-for-three with its publication of two oversized (10" by 13-1/2") comic books built around the themes of faith and hope. In these difficult times for the comics industry, we could have used a great story extolling the virtues of charity. Ah, well, we still have Alex Ross once again exhibiting generosity uncommon in any field, but I shall get to that anon.

JLA: HEAVEN'S LADDER ($9.95) is a story about faith. In this epic tale by writer Mark Waid, penciler Bryan Hitch, and inker Paul Neary, a godlike alien race, a race whose origin was contemporary with the Big Bang and which is now facing the end of its existence, desperately seeks an answer to the question of what comes next, of what lies beyond this life.

Though possessed of knowledge and power beyond the ken of man, these aliens are terrified of the unknown. In their quest for the answers they seek, they have ripped dozens of inhabited worlds from their orbits that they might learn from the spiritual beliefs of those worlds. Their latest acquisition is Earth; enter the Justice League of America.

Waid handles both the cosmic and the intimate with equal art. Sure, other writers are also adept at "big" stories, but, in these harsh times, those stories usually involve death and destruction on a scale that makes Godzilla look like Dennis the Menace. There is a dehumanizing element to the victims in those other stories that is blessedly lacking from HEAVEN'S LADDER. The difference between the two philosophies showcases what has made Waid one of the best super-hero writers of our time.

Waid treats the Leaguers as individuals, albeit fair-minded and noble individuals who work together for the common good. It's sort of the anti-Congress. When one member stumbles, no sign of weakness in a situation that taxes their very sanity, another hero is there to do what must be done. These are heroes and, in Waid's capable hands, each is unique and each plays a key role in the epic adventure. Given time, I think Waid would have emerged as the BEST Justice League writer of all. Alas, DC's loss is most certainly CrossGen's gain and we'll have to be content--for now, at least-- with a singular gem like HEAVEN'S LADDER.

On the visual side of things, Hitch, Neary, and colorist Laura Depuy continue to raise the bar for super-hero art. There are no trendy faux-manga or faux-porno grotesqueries here, heroes splashed around dizzying pages of unconnected images with overdone computer coloring obscuring bad drawing and worse storytelling. Nay, Hitch and his artistic allies give us super-heroes who are impressive and no less human for it, and settings that are nothing short of mind- boggling. On turning some pages, I would literally gasp in wonder at the drawings they created.

JLA: HEAVEN'S LADDER gets my highest recommendation. It's an amazing tale told with superlative skill and welcome dignity. It's definitely worth the ten-spot...and then some.

SHAZAM! POWER OF HOPE ($9.95) is a tale about just that, hope. Though storytellers Alex Ross and Paul Dini may not involve Captain Marvel in an adventure as vast as HEAVEN'S LADDER, their work here equals the dignity, passion, and skill of that work. They give us a hero--heroes, if we consider Billy Batson and the Captain as two distinct personalities--as human as our next-door neighbor, the one who figures that, since he's plowing the snow from his sidewalk and driveway, he might as well do yours as well. It's the heroes next door who make a community great.

POWER OF HOPE finds Billy and the Captain at a troubling time in their shared life. They are overwhelmed by the enormity of the world's need for them. Seeking advice from their mentor Shazam, they're told that, at such a time, they must be at their strongest, not just for themselves, but for all those who find inspiration in what Captain Marvel represents. Shazam also tells them that he has seen a day when a very special child will face despair and turn to Captain Marvel for hope, and implores them to be ready to face that challenge.

Billy and the Captain's search for this special child begins with a letter from a children's hospital, one which asks if Marvel could visit with the young patients there. They decide to spend a few days there, delighting the kids and, though they don't realize it at once, learning from them.

I freely admit that the Ross and Dini story is as manipulative as all get out. I saw where they were taking me with it, I knew I would react with a grin here and a tear here, and I didn't, not for one moment, care that they were manipulating me. As incongruous as this seems, it was like a brand-new story I had already read many times before. It was familiar without being *too* familiar, an old comfort on a chilly night.

As with the earlier Dini/Ross collaborations in this series, POWER OF HOPE eschews much of the traditional comics conventions in telling its tale. Dini's carefully-chosen words compliment Ross' magnificent paintings, paintings which make the fantastic real and no less fantastic for that. I've picked up POWER OF HOPE several times since my first reading, sometimes just to admire a particular image and sometimes to reread a cherished scene. It's that kind of comic book, one you don't ever want to file away. I suspect it'll remain on my office shelves for many years to come, standing right next to SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH and BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME, the two earlier Dini/Ross collaborations.

SHAZAM! POWER OF HOPE, as was the case with the Superman and Batman books and is the case with JLA: HEAVEN'S LADDER, also gets my highest recommendations. They are all wonderful comic books for the entire family. Share them with those you love.

If DC didn't complete the trilogy with a comic book focusing on charity, Ross definitely gives us a real world example of that blessed attribute with an announcement that appears at the end of POWER OF HOPE. It reads

    Proceeds from the auction of the original art for this book will be donated by the artist to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America. The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy. It is the largest wish-granting charity in the world, with 81 chapters in the United States and its territories and 20 international affiliates spanning five continents. This is made possible through private donations and through the efforts of more than 18,000 creative wish-granting volunteers.

    On April 29, 1980, a seven-year old boy named Chris Greicius realized his lifelong dream to become a police officer. Chris's experience inspired the creation of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. During the year 2000, the Make-A-Wish Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary and granted its 80,000th wish. Today, children with life-threatening illnesses enjoy a Make-A-Wish experience at the rate of a wish an hour, around the clock and around the world.

To learn more about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, please call 800-722-9474 or visit its website at


Speaking of wishes possibly come true, a couple of items which appeared recently in THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER might prove to be just that for some of you. Let's start with an opportunity for the more cartoon-oriented among you.

Six Flags Ohio will be auditioning people for various roles in the park, as reported in a story by PD reporter Karen Farkas. The available roles include costumed Looney Tunes characters, singers and dancers for a 1950s musical show, and performers with skills in stunts, in-line skating and motorcycles for a "Batman Stunt Show." Auditions will be held on January 6 and 7 at the Six Flags Hotel of Ohio, 800 N. Aurora Rd, Aurora.

The amusement park's website gives information as to specific height and weight requirements for many positions. For example, someone wanting to portray a Looney Tunes character has to be able to fit into the costume. If you're 5'4" and 130 pounds, you could fit into the Tweety Bird costume. Add another 20 points and you'd be better suited for the Tasmanian Devil.

For more specific info, call Six Flags Ohio at (330) 562-7131, Ext. 405, or visit the park's website at

THE PLAIN DEALER SUNDAY MAGAZINE for December 17 carried an item about a Cleveland lady whose one date with Superman co-creator and artist Joe Shuster resulted in a pretty spiffy souvenir of the encounter. The item was written by Christopher Evans.

In 1939, Eileen Ernest was "15, petite, and patient. Shuster was 25, shy, short, skinny, and nearsighted." According to Ernest, Shuster spent the entire evening going on and on about a strange visitor from another planet, the comic-book character he and Jerry Siegel had just sold to DC Comics. During their date, Shuster drew a picture of Superman for her and autographed it. After the date, Ernest swore she'd never again go out on a date with a comic-book illustrator.

She told Evans "it was a nothing date. I can't remember where we went. I can't remember what we did. I can't remember how I met him. But I do remember I never saw him again."

However, she did keep Shuster's drawing, which she described as "hand drawn in pencil on brown manila paper like we used to use in art class." She planned to give it to her children someday, but they didn't want. Now she's planning to sell it and give them the money. That, she figures, they'll want.

Obviously, this would make an incredible addition to someone's Superman collection. Just as obviously, any prospective buyer has to exercise reasonable caution. So-called Superman artifacts turn up every now and then in the Cleveland area and not all of them are legit. If the Ernest drawing is the real thing, its historic and monetary value will be high. If it's not, an unwary buyer could be purchasing the artistic equivalent of coal in his or her stocking. Be careful out there. That said, interested buyers can write to Ernest c/o THE PLAIN DEALER SUNDAY MAGAZINE, 1801 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44114.

Please send your comments on and review items for this column to: Tony's Tips, P.O. Box 1502, Medina, OH 44258. In addition, you can e-mail Tony at.



My original intention was to also review Evan Dorkin's WORLD'S FUNNIEST (DC; $6.95) in the above column, but such a review seemed out of place in such an otherwise warm-and-fuzzy column. Allow me to elaborate, albeit not at length.

WORLD'S FUNNIEST is not only not funny; it's just one crummy joke repeated over and over and over again. Such miserable writing even destroyed the delight I would normally have experienced from seeing so many favorite artists in one comic.

What was equally appalling to me was how many favorable, nay, gushing reviews this mean-spirited tripe collected. What the heck were you thinking?

When I started writing this column, my plan was to complete the faith/hope/charity triangle by "charitably" declining to review WORLD'S FUNNIEST while actually ripping it to nasty little pieces. However, as I reviewed the JLA and SHAZAM books, I decided against changing the mood of the column so abruptly. Instead, I added the paragraphs on the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the contribution Ross would be making to that most worthy cause. I think it made for a better and more consistent column that way.



Imagine my shock when, while reading THE PLAIN DEALER SUNDAY MAGAZINE for January 7, I found a letter from my pal HARLAN ELLISON addressing the disparaging comments made about Superman artist and co-creator Joe Shuster in the item I mentioned in the above column. With Harlan's kind permission, here is his letter

    What a nasty, mean-spirited and cranky piece of business is this! One cannot know if it was the smarmy, smartass attitude of the columnist who put this item together, or the actual attitude of this latter-day Miss Havisham, but it is rife with acrimony from headline to caption, and everything in between.

    "Date from Dullsville," "Shuster spent the evening droning on," "swore never to go out on a date with a comic book illustrator again," "short, skinny, nearsighted," "more Clark Kent than Casanova," "It was a nothing date," "I never saw him again," "give it to my kids/they didn't want it," "Who doesn't want money," "he was showing off, he probably did it for other girls, too." Migawd, could there be any greater number of slights, derisions and calumnies in so short a space?

    And this crone still seems not to have even the faintest awareness, the vaguest scintilla of a glimmering, that for one moment in her (most likely) uneventful existence, she touched Posterity, that she shared a moment with someone Who Really Did Matter and who altered society's awareness of Art and itself.

    Even now, more than six decades later, this poor creature of mean recollections cannot understand that "something happened to her," no matter how dull and eventless it might have seemed to a naive 15-year-old schoolgirl.

    For a moment, when this item was sent to me, I thought I might attempt to purchase the drawing. What a swell treasure it would be!

    But then I had a moment of reflection, and knew that it would be infamous to contribute actual momentary gain to this unpleasant vendor of history. Someone will, I'm sure, or already has, bought it. But she won't batten even a penny's worth from one who continues to revere the souls and achievements of genuine opposed to the groundlings who make a buck off their memories.

When Harlan asked the reason for my call, I told him it was because he'd shamed me and I wanted to thank him for that. I have become so inured to the mean-spirited natures of the Plain Dealer and other newspapers that it never occurred to me to get angry at this shameful treatment of one of the comicdom's most important and revered creators. I'll do better next time.

I don't know if anyone has bought the drawing, but, as I did in my CBG column, I would caution any prospective buyer to verify the authenticity of this item. For one thing, there were other comic-book artists who drew Superman and lived in the vicinity in the 1940s, working with Jerry Siegel and Shuster from their studio on East 105th and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. Ernest's 60-year-old memories might not be completely accurate.

Faulty "Superman" memories arise frequently in Cleveland. It sometimes seems to me that everyone who ever met Siegel and Shuster in their youth is convinced *they* were the model for Clark Kent or Lois Lane or other characters, with the unsurprising exception of Lex Luthor. Go figure.

If the PD reports further on this item, or if Harlan's letter generates any interesting responses, I'll bring you the details in future TOTs. Keep watching the skies.



I recently [December 15, 2000] reviewed the live-action pilot for a KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE television show. Here's a response to my review from STEVE McCREDIE of Australia

    YES! I am in complete agreement about the KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE video. I prayed no other living thing had been subjected to it, but, at the same time, needed to share the experience with some sorry creature that had. And here you are, you sad, sad man! I wrote a review for where mercifully the tape has failed to appear, so perhaps I can share it with you instead


    No doubt made with much love, this video cheapie nevertheless looks like a fan-flick, except that most fans would have shot it on Super-8 film, and employed some GI JOE dolls to get better special effects. The sleeve relies on the Knight Watchman's resemblance to Adam West's Batman to hook your interest...unless you already read BIG BANG COMICS, which I don't. If you enjoy watching spandex-clad performers run endlessly around what looks like a Californian mini- golf course, refreshment stand, and orange grove, go for it! Acting is wooden. Make that lumpen.

    The effects are of the "keep-the-shot-tight-and-no-more-than- two-frames-long-and-no-one-will-notice-don't-we-wish" school. One villain clomps around awkwardly in a foam rubber suit with a giant- sized pretend IC slapped on his head; he would have been perfectly at home in an episode of POWER RANGERS.

    Take a 1970s Filmation live-action look but with one per cent their massive budget, do not adjust for inflation, and there you have KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE.

    At the end, I definitely felt that something was missing. The acting, production standards, storyline, location, music. What was it? SEX, of course!!

    This is a super-hero PORNO with all the care and attention to its mainstream "inspiration" one expects of any porno "lampoon," but with NO SEX WHATSOEVER !!! (I can't rule out one of the heavies groping a super-lady's bosom at one point, but I won't re-run it to check for sure). An appearance by Ron Jeremy would have lifted the production enormously. He would have been an ideal alternative to the swarthy actor playing the chief baddie.

    At the end, the heroes take their rightfully-earned relaxation by gleefully descending on an old table soccer game; you know, the one where the players are lined up on rods that you spin to "kick" the ball. Yeah, that's what I'd do too to unwind after saving the planet. It's the perfect low-tech ending to the low-tech adventure to end them all. Let no-one pooh-pooh decent special effects again. They have their worth.

    The running time of this video was 38 minutes. Boy, do I want them back BAD.

    I think there is an encounter-group potential for KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE survivors, though they are sure to be few. I suspect the brains of most viewers exploded like those of the invaders in MARS ATTACKS.

    Keep up the good work, Tony.

You said the video was only 38 minutes long? That can't be right. Unless, of course, the tape creates some sort of time-space distortion, plucking unwary viewers from real time and holding them in some agonizing limbo for what seems like hours.



Starting next week, the TOT "back issues" archives will start downsizing. This will be your last chance to read these columns for the foreseeable future.

World Famous Comics webmaster Justin will be eliminating the back issue archives on the following schedule

January 20: Back issues of 1997 will be removed.

January 27: Back issues of 1998 will be removed.

February 3: Back issues of 1999 will be removed.

February 10: Most back issues of 2000 will be removed. Only the weekly CBG reprints, including the new material added to same, will remain.

Justin and I are still in discussions as to whether or not these "back issues" will be made available in some other format for a nominal fee. Should we reach any decision, we'll announce it on here and on the TOT message board.

In the meantime, keep reading the message board and the weekly TOT for information on the new thrice-weekly column I'll be writing for another website.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/05/2001 | 01/12/2001 | 01/19/2001 >>

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

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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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