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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 #1427 (03/23/01)

"When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of Creation is completed inside us, the doors of our souls fly open and love steps forth to heal everything in sight."

-- Michael Bridge

I've little doubt that most of the people writing and drawing comic books these days have a sincere love for the work. How well they write and draw any given story may belie that at times, but a reviewer is called upon to comment on the works themselves and not the hearts of those whose creations he critiques. There are surely saints and scallywags alike represented in the credits of the items I'm discussing this week, but all that matters to me and mayhap thee is how good or "not good" are said comics.


This issue's John Romita, Jr. cover is a knockout. When this artist is at the top of his game, which is darn near always, he combines the best elements of the work of his father John Romita, Sr., and of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Okay, it's not like either of those gentlemen have noticeably WORST elements of their work, but you catch my drift.

Beneath the outstanding cover, we get "Distractions" by Howard Mackie (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), and Sandu Florea (inker). This kicks off the four-issue story in which Mackie will reportedly be tying up many of the loose ends which have been floating around the Spider-Man books for the past couple years. The tale continues in next month's issue, moves to PETER PARKER #29 (written by Paul Jenkins), and concludes in the 2001 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL. I'm somewhat pessimistic as to whether or not Mackie will achieve this laudable goal, but I'm pulling for him. The scenes that begin and end this ish are most likely the keys to the storyline, but this reviewer isn't going to reveal what's in them or speculate on what they mean.

In between those scenes, we witness roommate Randy Robertson's latest moronic attempt to get the widowed and still-grieving Parker to "get on with his life" and a couple of grim-and-gritty battles with the Enforcers. As he has done with other characters, Mackie turns these less-than-fearful villains, guys who have traditionally

been portrayed as being maybe half-a-notch above the usual henchmen fodder, and made them more menacing than ever. On one hand, I want to applaud their personal growth. On the other, I wonder why EVERY old villain has to be made over in this fashion.

The artwork is as uneven as the story with more heaving female bosoms and proffered posteriors than necessary. Does a Spider-Man comic really have to be so gratuitously salacious?

One more thing. Those letters page jokes at the expense of former Spider-editor Ralph Macchio got tiresome about three issues ago. I'm going to assume they are being included with the best of friendly intentions, but that doesn't make them funny. It's time for some fresh material.

On a bang-for-your-buck scale, this issue fizzles to a quiet pop. If you want to check out the latest Spider-developments, you should borrow a friend's copy and save your $2.25 for a much better comic book.


This issue of AVENGERS would definitely fit my definition of "a much better comic book." It's part of the Marvel "slashback" program, which means a lower cover price ($1.99). It's the first issue by the new creative team of continuing writer Kurt Busiek, new penciler Alan Davis, and new inker Mark Farmer. And it's the launch of the "pro-active" Avengers, a veritable army of vigilant super-heroes with branch offices around the globe and even in outer space. I liked it a lot.

Some quick notes and then I'll tell you to rush to your local comics shop and buy this puppy. The Avengers have a very cool new "status board" to update them on the whereabouts of various super-villains. It's a little on the paranoid side for my tastes, but I enjoy the deliciously creepy feeling I get when I look at it and realize how dangerous the Marvel Universe has become. All that's missing is HILL STREET BLUES Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) entreating the Avengers to "be careful out there" when they leave on their missions.

But I must question the inclusion of the Triune Understanding on the Avengers status board. Their federal security liaison is a member of that seemingly legitimate (to the world) organization, as is the Avenger known as Triathlon. Wouldn't they be a tad upset to see the leader of their faith accorded the same status as Attuma and the Taskmaster?

On the upside, AVENGERS #38 could be used as a textbook on how to write a super-team series. Characters and menaces are clearly and concisely introduced. Room is made for personal developments in the lives of some Avengers. The "wow" factor is high throughout the issue, courtesy of 17 (!) Avengers and a double-page "gotcha" that sets up the next issue. THIS is where I tell you to rush out and buy this comic book already. Thank me later.

BEST OF THE WEST #17 and #18

It's Black History Month as I write this column, so the "kids" pages of the various newspapers I read have related themes. One of them ran an article on African art and customs which included a photo of a toy made by a Hutu boy in Rwanda. It's a covered wagon pulled by a horse and carrying two cowboys. The copy under the photo surmises that the boy "probably saw a covered wagon in a movie western or comic book." Given that American comic books have have abandoned the western genre almost completely, it's probably more likely the lad saw reruns of BONANZA or MAVERICK.

However, AC Comics gloriously and stubbornly refuses to allow the cowboys to ride off into the sunset for the last time. In each issue of its BEST OF THE WEST title, AC reprints several two-fisted and two-gun tales from the western comics of the 1940s and 1950s. Each 6" by 9-1/2" edition has 40 pages of work by some of the best artists ever to ride the comics range. Not every tale is a winner, some are downright laughable, but, at $5.95 per issue, you get an incredible sampler of a forgotten comics genre.

BEST OF THE WEST #17 had Red Mask by Frank Bolle, Durango Kid by Fred Guardineer, Lone Rider by Ken Battlefield, Black Diamond by Myron Fass, Lash LaRue by Pete Morisi, and the Haunted Horseman by Dick Ayers. The "Haunter" is actually a tale of the original Ghost Rider as published by ME Comics in the 1950s; the name was changed to avoid conflict with the Marvel version.

BEST OF THE WEST #18 has another Durango story by Guardineer, as well as the Black Bull by Will Elder and John Severin, Black Diamond by Al Luster, American Eagle by Elder and Severin, Haunted Horseman by Ayers, and Red Mask by Bolle. I got a special kick out of the Black Bull. Not only is this story so bad as to be amusing,

but the hero is a British "sissy" who dons a black mask with horns to fight owlhoots in the Old West. If television were still doing western series, I guarantee you this "high concept" would be on the air next season.

The cover price will scare many readers away from BEST OF THE WEST, but I recommend the title to every reader with an interest in older comic books in general and western comics in particular. You won't find this kind of material easily and, if you do, it'll cost you more than six bucks an issue.

DEFENDERS #1 and #2

Two issues into this relaunched series and I wasn't sure if I should praise or pan it. The decision was made when I asked myself if I wanted to read the next issue.

My answer was in the affirmative.

The good: Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen--Kurt co-writes; Erik co-writes and pencils-are clearly having a ball working on this mag; their enjoyment is infectious. They've put together a team of Defenders that makes sense from a historical perspective. They've put Nighthawk and Hellcat back in their original and frankly much better-looking costumes. They tell an exciting story, albeit one with a somewhat frantic pace. They've even come up with a clever reason for the "Big Four" of Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, and the Sub-Mariner to work together as a team when those heroes would rather not be working together. Busiek, Larsen, and editor Tom Brevoort know how to work the Marvel Universe for all it's worth.

The bad: Two issues into the series and I'm wondering if the book isn't perhaps TOO retro. Yes, the "Big Four" have all had and shown a streak of unpleasantness in the past, but it's overwhelming to see said negative trait taking the center stage on a continuous basis. And, while the gimmick that keeps the Defenders together is clever and even helps explain the petulance of Doc Strange and the other stars, it remains a gimmick and perhaps not clever ENOUGH to hold my interest.

As I said, though, I do want to see what happens next and that is a good thing. DEFENDERS is worth checking out.



I don't have much to add to the above, save to alert you that, sometime next week, I'll be reviewing AVENGERS #39 for my thrice-weekly column at Perpetual Comics. I've been working my way down the "top ten" comics for February and that issue was in the number nine slot. Also on tap for next week's editions of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS are reviews of JLA and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.



In last week's column, which originally appeared in CBG #1426, I reviewed the first two issues of 10TH MUSE and didn't play 100% straight with you. I feigned complete ignorance of Rena Mero, the model for the title character, instead of the partial ignorance of her other work I actually had. I knew she had something to do with professional wrestling, but didn't care enough about that pastime to check out the specifics.

I also wanted to spare my readers what would have surely been an epic tirade about not only how moronic I consider professional wrestling to be but also what scurvy wastrels its viewers must be, not to mention wanting to spare myself the angry e-mails/letters said tirade would have surely generated. But the truth cannot be hidden and now you know.

For those of you who still don't know who Rena Mero is or was, here's a note I received from TODD KOGUT

    Rena Mero is the "actress" formerly known as Sable of the World Wrestling Federation. She posed for PLAYBOY a few years ago, drew the magazine's biggest sale ever, then left the WWF. The WWF said she couldn't use the Sable name, as they owned the copyright on the "character." The 10th Muse concept was conceived soon after she left the WWF, when there was some thought she would also become a TV star.

If the lovely Mero was offended by my comments, I'm more than willing to meet her in a no-holds-barred, no-time-limit, steel-cage match at the comics convention of her choice as long as any monies raised over and above my subsequent hospital bills go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund or some other worthy charity. That's more than I offered Howard Mackie.

If any wrestling fans were offended by my comments, I can only offer my sincere derision. Which is exactly the kind of smart-ass remark that gets me into trouble.

What say I make nice by running the following 10TH MUSE press release?



10th Muse Cover Los Angeles: The summer crossovers continue in 10TH MUSE #6, as the title heroine travels to world of Tellos. The Muse is still in a dimensional flux after meeting the Savage Dragon in 10TH MUSE #5. She is traveling through dimensions and will end up in Tellos before reaching home.

Marv Wolfman's scheduled to write the issue with Mike Wieringo and Todd Dezago story-editing for continuity. Mike S. Miller will be filling in as guest penciler, giving regular artist Ken Lashley a chance to gear up for 10TH MUSE going monthly.

Wieringo said, "When I was a kid some of my favorite comics were of the team-up variety; I couldn't wait for the newest issues of MARVEL TEAM-UP and THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. I couldn't wait to see which hero was going to be meeting Spider-Man and Batman each month. And now I've got the opportunity to see that happen with some of my very own characters.

Wieringo added, "In a major way, this is even more exciting than those wonderful comics of my youth. I'm very excited about some of the characters from TELLOS meeting a cool character like the Muse--and to have our characters interpreted by a legend like Marv Wolfman! Does it get any better than this?"

MUSE Editor-in-Chief Darren G. Davis said, "Doing the SAVAGE DRAGON crossover with Erik Larsen was so much fun, so, since the Muse was already in another dimension, why not send her to Tellos? TELLOS is a strong book for Image Comics and it seems like another perfect fit. Todd and Mike's world is so fascinating I want her to go back there again, this time as a guest-star.

Davis continued, "As for Mike S. Miller doing guest pencils, I'm having Ken Lashley get really ahead since we are gearing up to go monthly with the title. Miller is doing another book for us-- BLACK TIDE--and this is the way we want to introduce him into the TidalWave Universe!"

Miller said, "I can't wait to work on the 10TH MUSE/TELLOS crossover! TELLOS is a fun, exciting, lively comic and not unlike a story idea I had years ago but never had the chance to develop." This will be like getting the chance to meddle around in a world I might've created myself if I'd had the time. I only hope Weiringo likes my take on his characters as much as I like his take on Superman!"

As for Wolfman, he had this to say: "I've spent the last two years working on the script for the upcoming animated ELFQUEST film movie and have really gotten into fantasy in a big way. I've been enjoying TELLOS and can't wait to get a crack at writing some of those characters.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/16/2001 | 03/23/2001 | 03/30/2001 >>

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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.

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