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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1418 (01/19/01)

"As long as I have any choice in the matter, I will live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance and equality of ALL citizens before the law are the rule."

--Albert Einstein

You don't have to be a person of color required to produce two pieces of identification at a polling place, or a gay man denied a place in the Boy Scouts of America, or a woman earning less for her work than a man in the same position, or a soldier whose paycheck doesn't allow him to support a family, or a senior citizen choosing between buying his medication or paying his rent, or a teacher who starts her day by walking through a metal detector, or a child who goes to sleep hungry in a homeless shelter, to realize the American dream often seems very far removed from the American reality. What appeals to me most about Captain America is that he has grown over the years to become a symbol of, not the American government or the American reality, but that dream which still burns brightly in the hearts and minds of people from all over the world, inspiring them to even greater dreams.

Captain America turns 60 years old in this, the first year of a new millennium. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1940s as a colorful response to the villains trampling on freedom across two oceans, the Captain's adventures continued through six decades in stories told by a veritable army of comicdom's greatest writers and artists: Stan Lee, Al Avison, Reed Crandall, Syd Shores, Otto Binder, Bill Finger, Mike Sekowsky, John Romita, Jim Steranko, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema, Frank Robbins, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Mark Gruenwald, Mark Waid, Ron Garney, and so many others.

Though my path has crossed Captain America's less often than I'd like, I do remember those occasions with considerable fondness. As mentioned in previous columns, Jon Knutson has been conducting the longest and most through Tony Isabella interview in the history of, well, Tony Isabella. The last time I checked, this puppy was up to 27,000 words and we were still talking about my Marvel Comics work. When it finally sees print, it'll make the new Harry Potter novel look like a short story.

Not surprisingly, Knutson asked me about my association with Captain America. With his permission, here's that portion of the interview that would not die

In CAPTAIN AMERICA #168, you introduced the son of Baron Zemo, calling himself the Phoenix--not to be confused with the X-Men character. What inspired this story?

You'll have to ask Roy Thomas about the inspiration for this story. He plotted it and wrote the first six pages before asking me to finish the job. Between Roy's solid plot and Sal Buscema's equally solid pencils, doing so was a breeze.

The story has been reprinted several times...in fact, it was used as one of the Power Records book and record sets in the 1970s. You were never paid anything for these reprints, were you?

Of course not. In fact, it wasn't until years later, sometime in the 1980s, that I even saw a copy of the book/record set.

Did you intend Zemo II to be dead at the end of this issue, or were you hoping to bring him back yourself?

I had no further plans for Zemo II. As I said, it was Roy's story; I just helped him out when he got too busy to script it.

Have you ever talked to Kurt Busiek about Zemo II, and how he might not have been able to create THUNDERBOLTS without your story? Didn't you have your own Thunderbolts-styled idea?

As I said, it was Roy's story. The credit for creating Zemo II is rightfully his.

However, I did once pitch a somewhat wacky book called CIRCUS SQUAD to Marvel. My concept was that, having been beaten by Howard the Duck, some of the members of the Ringmaster's Circus of Crime would decide to go straight. The Ringmaster would have stayed with them, though, always looking for some opportunity to turn them back to the dark side of the force. He would be still part of their "family," but no one would trust him. Think Dr. Smith from LOST IN SPACE.

Almost two years after your fill-in for issue 168, you did two issues, 189 and 190. Were you picking up from a continued story started by someone else? Those issues were drawn by Frank Robbins, whom a number of people didn't feel was appropriate for most super-hero work. I take it you disagree, since you were responsible for Frank working at Marvel?

Sort of. I'd been the regular writer on DAREDEVIL, but one of the editors wanted to write that book, so I was shifted over to CAPTAIN AMERICA. Marvel was already negotiating with Jack Kirby to return, with Cap being one of his assignments, but the editors neglected to tell me that. They knew from the get-go that I would only be doing a handful of issues. Did I mention how much more I liked working at Marvel when Roy was my boss?

Believing I would be on Cap for the long haul, the first order of business--as I saw it--was to resolve Steve Englehart's "the Falcon was created by the Red Skull" storyline, which I didn't care for. I wasn't going to negate his story, just take it to a point where I could make it work for me.

As for Frank Robbins, I thought then--as I think now--that he was one of the best comics artists around, no matter what genre he was working in. I enjoyed working with him. In fact, I would rank him with Richard Howell and Eddy Newell as one of my favorite artistic collaborators.

To give credit where due, Paul Levitz was equally responsible for Frank working at Marvel. When Frank's DC work dried up--and it was mostly because a bigwig up there wanted to get him to accept a rate cut--Paul phoned me to ask if I had any work for Frank. Even without checking with Roy--and TOTALLY overstepping my authority--I told Paul I had plenty of work for Frank. Fortunately, Roy was as big of fan of Frank's work as I was.

Paul Levitz and I go back to the days when he was publishing and I was writing for THE COMIC READER. When I first moved to New York to work for Marvel, I stayed with Paul and his parents on weekends until I found an apartment of my own. They were kind to me on more occasions than I can recount even in this, the world's longest Tony Isabella interview.

The story in #189 has a lot of characters re-appearing, courtesy of Nightshade, from previous issues. Did you do a lot of research before deciding who would "appear?"

No. I really knew my Marvel trivia back then; it was all done from memory. However, I did double-check details when I gathered the research material for Frank.

These two stories finished up the Falcon origin storyline. What were you given to start with on these issues?

I'm guessing I saw as much of the previous issues as had been finished at the time I wrote my plot, plus whatever else was being worked on in the offices. If I had any conversations with Steve Englehart as I came on the title--which doesn't seem likely--they were probably brief ones and I have no memory of them.

Okay, let's have you weigh in on this: At this point, the Falcon's mental link with Redwing is established as having been created by the Red Skull, using the Cosmic Cube. The later Falcon miniseries, which you didn't work on, seems to indicate he's a mutant. What's your take on this?

I think Marvel was and is too mad for mutants. Personally, I would've preferred the Falcon had remained somewhat unique instead of being added to the endless list of Marvel mutants.

The next issue blurb says issue #191 was the "Trial of the Falcon." That was written by Bill Mantlo, and Marv Wolfman wrote #192. Jack Kirby took over the book starting with #193. Was the book taken away from you? When you got the assignment, was it open-ended? Did you know you only had those issues?

I don't know if I'm listed in the credits, but I wrote my usual panel-by-panel plot for CAPTAIN AMERICA #191. The title was never "taken away" from me because it was never actually given to me, though I learned that well after the fact. I wasn't happy at this particular bit of editorial shuffling, though I would never have raised a complaint at the time. I mean, who better than Jack Kirby to do Captain America?

I had actually started doing research for a storyline which would have begun in #192 and ended in #200. It would have featured Captain America and the Red Skull battling across all of American history.

Since those issues in 1975, you didn't write anything with Cap until CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY'S TORCH, the novel you co-wrote with Bob Ingersoll. What brought you back to Cap after all that time and for one of the Marvel book series?

I came up with the basic plot for LIBERTY'S TORCH--Cap captured and put on trial by a militia organization--with the idea that I would see if I could do it as a stand-alone mini-series or special. Then Marvel handed Cap over to Rob Liefeld and I figured there went any chance of my selling the story.

However, Bob "Bless His Heart" Ingersoll pitched the idea to Keith R.A. DeCandido as a Captain America NOVEL. Keith liked the idea, so Bob and I went to work on it.

How would you characterize Captain America, when he's written right? Would you be interested in writing Cap again?

If you want to see *my* Captain America, all you have to do is read the novel. And, yes, I would be very interested in writing Cap again. He's always been one of my favorite Marvel heroes and, these days, he's the hero I would most like to write. I think our country needs him now more than ever.

******

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.

tony@wfcomics.com


******

ADDENDUM

For the second week in a row, I found myself cutting a review I had originally planned to include in a CBG column. Having read CAPTAIN AMERICA #31-38 plus the 2000 annual, I thought I'd write something about them to round out the above piece. Then I had some second thoughts.

I don't much care for the current Dan Jurgens run on CAPTAIN AMERICA. As long-time readers of my columns will recall, I have a high opinion of Dan's work and have written many favorable reviews thereof. But his Captain America doesn't entertain me the way Mark Waid's version did. I get the feeling I've seen it all before and, on reflection, I have seen it all before.

We see the Captain and Nick Fury fighting Nazis just like they did in World War II. We see Cap and the Falcon fighting costumed racists as they've done before. We see Cap and Sharon Carter doing their dance of "maybe romance and maybe not." We see Cap fighting yet another villain who got the Super-Soldier serum, this one with the just-plain-dumb name of Protocide. The only "new" element is that Cap has become something of a rat with women, getting involved with Connie Ferrari while he and Sharon avoid sorting out whatever feelings they have for one another. Add lots of reference to the "Big Band" era to remind the readers how "old" Cap is, garnish with a warm-and-fuzzy flashback story, and shake well. It's not a bad mix, but it just doesn't have any real fizz to it. My apologies to Dan, but I think the comics hero who, more than any other, embodies the American dream deserves to be in a comic book one heck of a lot more exciting than this one.

These second thoughts eventually led me to consider if it were perhaps unseemly of me to write about my own Captain America tales and then knock the hero's current adventures, at least on someone else's dime. I decided to hold my negative comments for the online reprinting of this column, a forum in which I feel more comfortable writing openly about such things.

I'm hardly the only one thinking about Captain America these days. There have been rumors of an "Ultimate Captain America" book with Mark Millar at the helm. I can't even begin to tell how you much I loathe the idea of a Brit writing Cap, especially the Brit who wrote the obscenity that was DC's SILVER AGE: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Suffice to say, I loathe it a lot.

Then, while reading a recent comics column by Mike Sangiacomo of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I came across this quote from Brian Azzarello, the writer of the justly-lauded 100 BULLETS

    I'd like to touch Captain America, Tom Clancy that guy up a bit. He needs to get some blood on his hand.


I shuddered at the thought. Can such a talented writer really not have clue one about who Captain America is?

As my second thoughts drifted wildly into third, fourth, and even fifth thoughts, I came to the not-so-sudden realization that, of all the wonderful characters in the Marvel Universe, the one I most want to write was Captain America. As a much better man than I'll ever be once said, I have a dream...and that dream is to write the most exciting and powerful Captain America stories of all time, to take this amazing creation of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and take him body and soul into the America of the new millennium, to tell tales that will stay with my readers for years and decades to come. The intensity of this dream challenges me and scares me and keeps me up at night.

Will I get the chance to bring this dream to life? All I can do is try. It's what Cap would want me to do.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/12/2001 | 01/19/2001 | 01/26/2001 >>

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THE "TONY" SCALE

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.

Tony
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.

TonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTony
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.

TonyTonyTonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
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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