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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 #1428 (03/30/01)

"Never forget that life can only be nobly inspired and rightly lived if you take it bravely and gallantly, as a splendid adventure in which you are setting out into an unknown country, to meet many a joy, to find many a comrade, to win and lose many a battle."

--Annie Besant (1847-1933)

I love quotes. I love the concept of reducing big ideas to a handful of well-chosen words, not to disguise the nature of those ideas, as is routinely done in the cynical universes of advertising and politics, but to bring them gloriously forward for all to see. I love quotes and that is why you'll find one at the start of each week's "Tips."

Sometimes I come across a quote I like without any knowledge of the person who spoke or wrote it. Fortunately, the Internet is a wonderful tool for enlightening me in that regard. I didn't know anything about Annie Besant when I decided to use the above quote.

Now I know a little.

Besant was an English social reformer and theosophist. Her husband was a clergyman, she drifted away from Christianity, became an atheist, had her children taken from her when a court deemed her support of atheism and birth control made her an unfit mother, and eventually embraced theosophy, a philosophy which begins with the assumption of the absolute reality of the essence of God. That's quite a journey and I think I'll try to learn more about Annie once I finish this week's reviews.

2000 AD.

It's been several years since I've read or even seen an issue of Britain's 2000 AD weekly. I was a big fan of the magazine in the 1980s, but lost interest at some point. I vaguely remember that my apathy was the result of diminished quality and increased difficulty in getting each week's edition. Even so, I retained my fondness for 2000 AD's weekly format and its blend of adventure and dark humor. I mentioned that fondness on my online message board and one of my readers, the good and generous Don Hilliard, sent me issues #1213 and #1214 of the weekly. Thanks, Don.

The physical package of 2000 AD is impressive: 32 pages, five stories, all but one of them in full color, with dimensions of 11-7/8" by 7-1/2". The larger page size allows for more story on each page and this, combined with a U.S. price of $3.25, compares very favorably in the bang-for-your-bucks competition. Examining these issues was a little like going to a high school reunion and seeing an old flame who looks, not exactly the same as she did back then, but better. Still, looks aren't everything; I'm more interested in a comic book's stories.

The inside front covers of 2000 AD include brief, yet helpful introductions to those stories. In a shameful and shameless breach of international etiquette, I'm going to "borrow" those intros for my reviews.

    Judge Dredd. On the crime-ravaged streets of 22nd Century Mega-City One, the judges are empowered to dispense instant justice. Most feared and respected of them all is Judge Dredd. He is the law!


Dredd is one of the great comics creations, equally at home in darkly humorous vignettes or extended serials. The stories in these issues were of the former kind, both written by John Wagner, and very funny. Wagner took seemingly mundane concepts--a public nuisance of the olfactory variety and the judges helping a citizen cross the street-and twisted them delightfully. Judging from an ad for #1215, these tales were followed by a "major new series" by Wagner and Dredd's original artist, Carlos Ezquerra. Clearly, the character's versatility remains one of its strengths.

    Deadlock. The once-mighty Termight Empire in the far future. With Torquemada dead, the planet Terra has opened its borders to aliens. But a vigilante is on the prowl-the A.B.C. Warrior and servant of Khaos...Deadlock!


"Deadlock" by writer Pat Mills and artist Flint Henry is the only black-and-white strip in the magazine, a creative choice which with I take no exception. There's a rough continuity linking some of the major 2000 AD series and this one spins off from the classic "Nemesis the Warlock" by Mills and artist Kevin O'Neill.

Nemesis, one of the nastier heroes around, battled to protect and avenge the countless aliens who were persecuted and slaughtered by Torquemada and his futuristic Inquisition. It was never one of my favorites, but O'Neill's artwork was breathtakingly original and brilliantly horrific, so much so that, the Comics Code Authority briefly decreed it would not approve any stories drawn by him for publication by DC Comics.

Unfortunately, "Deadlock" doesn't have the benefit of O'Neill artwork and its "now the tables are turned on the humans" premise doesn't have the impact of its predecessor. Fortunately, it's the shortest series currently running in 2000 AD.

    Vanguard. The Armada Alliance, 2525 AD, and the Earth-Amarna Dominion war rages on. Caught up in the conflict is Lieutenant Beth Vanguard, a woman with a name to live up to and a taste for danger...


Written by Robbie Morrison and drawn by Colin MacNeil, the "Vanguard" serial is getting off to a good start. Lt. Vanguard and her commanding officer, Captain Tiberius Quill, caught my interest from the get-go. Morrison's writing is crisp and revealing, while MacNeil's artwork is equally assured. A grand military adventure in space is what "Vanguard" seems posed to deliver to its readers and I don't think it will disappoint them.

    Rain Dogs. The Big Rain has turned New York City into a nightmare archipelago of ruined skyscraper islands and river canyons. In this savage world, scavenger tribes battle for survival across the decaying rooftops of Uptown...


"Rain Dogs" made its debut in 2000 AD #1213; it's written by Gordon Rennie and drawn by Colin Wilson. The serial gets off to a quick and exciting start. By the end of the first two chapters, we have been introduced to the main characters: Holly, an independent "Highflyer" who makes a dangerous living dealing in information and salvage, and Eve, a member of a high-tech survival enclave in the Rocky Mountains whose expedition to New York gets off to a very bad start when her ship crashes. Profit and self-preservation are what unite Holly and Eve, but they may grow beyond those motives as the story progresses. Rennie's writing is good, but Wilson's artwork is outstanding. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see DC/Vertigo recruit Wilson before long.

    Nikolai Dante. The Russian Empire of 2669 has been torn apart by total war between the Tsar and the Romanov dynasty. War-weary and heartbroken, former thief Nikolai Dante has finally thrown in his lot with his fellow Romanovs.


Although 2000 AD #1213 began a new "Nikolai Dante" series, I had a difficult time following the action. There is so much back story in the Robbie Morrison/Simon Frasier strip that I had to keep turning back to earlier pages to try to work out what was going on and with whom, and I'm not at all confident I succeeded. Intending no disrespect to writer or artist, I just couldn't warm up to this confusing conglomeration of battle, political intrigues, and royal entanglements.

Adding up all of the above, I definitely recommend you check out an issue of 2000 AD. Its anthology format offers some variety, and its weekly serial format is fascinating. Reading an issue or two should let you know if the magazine is right for you. Come on, we've all spent six bucks and more on mediocre company crossovers and soulless spin-offs cobbled together to pad a publisher's bottom line. Why not spend the money on something a little bit different this time around?

ARCHIE'S DOUBLE DIGEST

Howard Bender, who writes and draws the delightful "Billy and Pop" strip for CBG, also drew a story in ARCHIE'S DOUBLE DIGEST #122 (March; $3.19). "Muscle Snow Bound" by writer Mike Pellowski is one of the two new tales in the digest and it's a good one. The issue also reprints relatively recent stories about Archie's preoccupation with "Morose Place" (Melrose Place), Chuck Clayton's aspirations of becoming a comic-strip artist, and Mr. Lodge's collection of baseball memorabilia.

BONEYARD

Here's a very pleasant surprise that arrived in my mailbox this week, BONEYARD #1 (NBM; $2.95). Written, and drawn by Richard Moore, it's a suitable-for-all-ages tale wherein a decent young man named Michael Paris comes to the odd town of Raven Hollow to sell some recently inherited land to the town's torch-wielding citizens. The land turns out to be a cemetery, which the villagers want to buy and level, much to the dismay of the friendly un-dead creatures who live there.

The characters and the humor in BONEYARD have a lot of heart. Moore's pleasant style--both his writing and his artpulled me into his story very quickly. The issue is a page-turner and, when I got to the last of those pages, I wanted to read more.

This comic book is too good to pass up, my friends. Call it my pick hit of the week and get thee to the nearest comics emporium savvy enough to have it in stock.

Comments on and review items for my columns should be sent to: Tony's Tips, P.O. Box 1502, Medina, OH 44258. You can also e-mail me at.

tony@wfcomics.com


******

ARCHIE DIGEST NOTES

My daughter Kelly is getting impatient for this next batch of Archie digests. I figure I have maybe ten minutes to jot down some notes before she storms my office.

ARCHIE'S PALS N' GALS DOUBLE DIGEST #55: This pocket-sized anthology contains just under 200 pages of comics and features, but the only page I can remember is the "How To Draw Betty" page drawn and signed by Dan DeCarlo. Ironic that. Even after this publisher fired DeCarlo rather than acknowledge his creation of Josie and the Pussycats and co-creation of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and give him a fair share of the profits those properties are making for Archie Comics, we have this inescapable affirmation that, for decades now, it has been DeCarlo's work which has set the look for the company's other top characters as well. I cannot fathom why Archie has not settled this matter and resumed their relationship with the artist who has contributed so mightily to their success.

BETTY AND VERONICA DOUBLE DIGEST #96: Three stories caught my attention. "A Day In Shining Armor" has Archie and Betty attending a medieval festival in armor and gown. The short tale bears only a slight resemblance to the classic Donald Duck/"Knight in Shining

Armor" story by Carl Barks, but it did bring a smile to my ragged old face.

"Speed Deed" finds Betty watching the "Mr. Jiffy" television show (a thinly disguised parody of the Flash series of some years back) and fantasizing about what it would be like to possess super-speed. Trust me on this, girlfriend, it's all fun and games until someone turns you into a puppet.

(Look! Up in the sky! It's that last joke sailing over the heads of those Tips readers who weren't around for the Silver Age of Comics!)

Last but not least, "Commercial Break" has Betty being hired for a part in a toy commercial. When the toy proves unsafe for her young co-stars, Betty must call on both her First Aid training and her well-developed moral code.

The story isn't big on laughs, but it makes its point in five well-crafted pages.

JUGHEAD'S DOUBLE DIGEST #74: Jughead Jones is my favorite of the Archie characters because you never know what he's going to do next, whether he's going to be the hero or the goat, the victor or the victim, the friend or the foe. There are five notable stories in this digest: "The Catalyst" (a classic Jughead/Reggie battle), "The Corpulent Crusader" (wherein Principal Weatherbee gets to be the unexpected hero), "Man of Action" (a fun little yarn about the importance of making decisions), "Bird-Watcher" (featuring Archie, Reggie, and the new girl in town), and "Just For Kicks" (starring Moose and Midge). That last one had a somewhat different look than most Archie stories, so I asked editor Victor Gorelick to identify the artist for me. He wrote

    That story was pencilled by Chris Allen and inked by Jon D'agostino. Chris worked on staff for awhile and free-lanced. He also worked on TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, where I think he did some of his best work.


Okay, now I can give Kelly these digests and move along to our next item of interest. I can't be certain, mind you, but I *think* she was building a battering ram in her bedroom.

******

EL DIABLO

"Foul" and "repugnant" are the words that leap to mind when I consider the first half of DC/Vertigo's four-issue EL DIABLO mini-series by Brian Azzarello (writer) and Danijel Zezelj. If there is a discernable point to this wretched mess, I lack boots high enough to wade through all its dripping viscera, incessant profanity, and unlikeable characters to find it.

Moreover, I take serious issue with the Vertigo imprint being allowed to corrupt yet another DC Universe concept in the name of copyright renewal. Yes, it's true that the character, created and originally written by the legendary Robert Kanigher, was never more than a minor footnote in DC Universe history. And, yes, he bore an unfortunate resemblance to Zorro. But this malodorous retooling of the concept is a particularly cruel insult to the fans who enjoyed the original El Diablo stories and to the writer who created him.

Any fool could have found a better way to renew the copyrights on this character and, in doing so, made more money for DC than this trash ever will. Allow me to don my multicolored garb and regale you with my editorial dance.

El Diablo made his debut in ALL-STAR WESTERN circa 1970. The book would eventually introduce Jonah Hex to the comics world and then changed its title to WEIRD WESTERN TALES. There were a dozen or so El Diablo tales in the first couple years of the comic's run, the longest of them running 16 pages. The combined page count of the first ten stories is 92 pages.

Kanigher wrote the first six stories, Sergio Aragones and Len Wein wrote the next, and Cary Bates wrote the eighth through tenth tales. The artists on these stories were Gray Morrow, Alan Weiss, Dick Giordano, Neal Adams, and Bernie Wrightson. This is where you should be saying, "Wow, that's quite a roster."

You're absolutely correct in that assessment.

Let's go over this information. We have enough pages of prime El Diablo material to fill, oh, I dunno, maybe one of DC's spiffy 100-page Super-Spectacular things. We're talking comics by some of the best artists in the business, then and now. Now I gotta figure that reprinting this material in that format has got to be cheaper than the cost of producing four issues of the landfill that is the Vertigo EL DIABLO series.

So, not only have we just protected the copyright on EL DIABLO without spitting on the character's creator, fans, and history, but we've made DC a few bucks doing so. In fact, we most likely made DC more than it will make from the paltry 11,800 copies they sold of the third issue of the current series.

Additionally, while I don't doubt that there are enough sick bastards in Hollywood that one of them would take out an option on the Vertigo perversion of El Diablo, I think the original version has considerable potential as a vehicle for movies and television. The spooky aspect of El Diablo make the concept cool enough for the kids while remaining wholesome enough for parents seeking suitable entertainment for the whole family.

Have your people set up a meeting with my people.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/23/2001 | 03/30/2001 | 04/06/2001 >>

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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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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