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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 #1444 (07/20/01)

"There are souls in this world which have the gift of finding joy everywhere and of leaving it behind them when they go."

-Devotional writer Frederick Faber, who, believe it or not, penned the above despite having died almost 90 years before I was born. Move over, Nostradamus!

******

The Isabella family is back from our Florida vacation, having found and left joy at both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World. I have many wonderful memories and not-so-wonderful photographs of this trip, some of which I'll be sharing with you over the course of the next several columns.

Since the Fantastic Four turn 40 this year, I want to extend the warmest of birthday greetings to Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue Richards, and Johnny Storm, easily four of the finest collaborative creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Marvel Super Hero Island area of Universal Studios' Islands of Adventures honors them with its Cafe 4, a dining establishment featuring pizza by the slice, pasta, lasagna, Italian sandwiches, and salads. If I hadn't felt it was our patriotic duty to eat at the Captain America Diner, Cafe 4 would have been our next choice.

Outside Cafe 4 sits a non-functional and slightly smaller than life-size replica of the Fantasti-Car, the flying bathtub invented by Reed Richards to carry the FF into battle against the likes of Doctor Doom and the Infant Terrible. Visitors can sit or stand in the open-topped vehicle for photographs, which proved irresistible to me and mine. However, when my just-turned-13 son Eddie stepped into the craft, his immediate reaction was

"What?! No drink-holders!"

Now I understand why Mister Fantastic went into the super-hero business instead of designing mini-vans. Well, that and the fact that "Mister Fantastic" would have looked just plain silly on his employee ID card.

My original intent was to devote this week's column to telling you about our vacation, especially those parts of it which had some bearing on the world of comics and toons. However, I have another matter which needs take precedence, so those tidbits and tips must be pushed back a column or two. On the bright side, it'll give me a chance to rethink the wisdom of running any more photographs of my cherubic self in this publication.

******

When I returned from my vacation, I was greeted with a large box of mail from the friendly folks at the local post office, a wee mountain of packages from UPS, several hundred e-mail messages, and a "warning" that Brian Michael Bendis, star of stage, screen, and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, was "calling me out" for something I'd written in my column for CBG #1440 [June 22].

Apparently, Bendis had sent this message to my CBG editors and also posted it on his online message board. He never sent it to me directly-Why do people assume everyone frequents their websites? I can barely keep up with my own.--so I had to prevail on others to track it down for me. They did and, as per Bendis' request, I am running it here. Please keep in mind, however, that, though Bendis is clearly unhappy with what I had written, his post was reportedly festooned with the online equivalent of "smiley faces." So, while I take his comments seriously, I don't believe they reflect on the amiable relationship he and I have enjoyed. He wrote

    TONY ISABELLA! I AM CALLING YOU OUT...

    I read your CBG comments about ALIAS and, although I certainly appreciate the nice things you said about me as a writer, I couldn't believe you were reviewing a comic-book series "in theory" without having read one bit of script or seen one panel of art. I couldn't believe it. First of all, isn't that what Warren Ellis' board is for? I joke, but my point is so sincere. Bare minimum, if you do hold me in such favorable regard, why on Earth wouldn't you give me the benefit of the doubt and waited to read Alias before you commented on it.

    The comments about race are really what got me. Are you telling me that you couldn't even conceive of a situation where a white and a black person engage in a personal relationship without race being an issue? Well, if you can't that really is sad. There is a reason for their relationship, but I'm not going to ruin my book by announcing it. But, after you read Alias, I expect a full apology from you--in print--for the accusation of racism I read today. In fact, I hope you do print this in your column--after you spell check it of course--because I really thought what you did today was unfair and irresponsible.


Bendis objects to my writing about ALIAS without first having read it, which, of course, is something I took great pains to make clear to my readers. The Marvel promotions machine often strikes me as akin to a perpetual motion machine; it's a rare week in which we don't receive pronouncements of the next great thing Marvel is doing or publishing. I admire that kind of dedication, even if I sometimes roll my eyes at the excesses or tone of these pronouncements. Marvel has, as I'm sure was intended, made itself the most interesting of the comics publishers, albeit not always in a positive sense.

Bendis is also not shy about promoting his work, nor should he be given its quality and variety. But, as with Marvel's publicity, that makes his promotional activities fair game for any columnist writing about the comics industry.

If I may digress, there is a considerable difference between a journalist (one who reports the news) and a columnist (one whose function is to comment on the news). Columnists certainly have an obligation to be as accurate as possible, but they deal in opinion and not fact. I found Bendis' published comments about Luke Cage's role in ALIAS troubling and so wrote about those comments as they appeared in a newspaper and online column by Mike Sangiacomo, who is also a close friend of Bendis. Here's what ran in Sangiacomo's column

    "In the first issue she meets Luke Cage (Power Man) at a bar and takes him home," Bendis said. "I don't want to say much, but the sex scenes that follow are pretty dramatic and nothing that has ever been seen in a mainstream comic. It's important to show how Jessica sees herself and how she uses sex to further punish herself. I didn't write this for sheer shock value, but to make the character more human."


Adding another reminder that I was commenting on a comic that I haven't yet read, I expressed my dismay at the use of Cage as "an easy pick-up" (my choice of words) for the heroine. I allowed that Bendis may well have written this sequence in a way that renders my objections null and void, but again expressed my problem with the scene as described in his own statement. I wrote

    There aren't a whole lot of black super-heroes in the Marvel Universe.

    The Black Panther and the Falcon came before Cage, but he was the first and one of the few to headline his own book. From his first appearance, the character has been consistently portrayed as a intelligent man of integrity. He's definitely one of the good guys, compassionate, courageous, loyal to his friends and his loved ones. In regards to romantic relationships, he has likewise been consistently portrayed as a monogamist. I can't think of a single previous appearance which showed him as involved with more than one woman at any given time. In fact, it seemed clear to me than Cage is not a man who seeks casual relationships. He is, as they say, a one-woman man.

    From the brief mention above, it would seem that Bendis has a much different view of Cage and it's not one which I can accept or excuse. Beyond the violation of character, it plays to the ancient stereotype of the immoral black super-stud. If the sequence plays out as described, I might well find it offensive.

    As I've mentioned--I did warn you about the qualifiers-Bendis is a fine writer. It could be that he's figured out a way to make the above work without diminishing Cage or violating the character we've come to know and admire. Hey, I figured out how to do it and I'm practically a nun. But, if he's treating Cage's involvement as casual, if he's treating this intimate contact as just some sort of one-night stand for a Spandex stud, I'm going to be disappointed and quite possible royally ticked off...and will doubtless be very vocal about that in these pages.


I apologize for the extensive quoting. It seemed the best way to put the cards on the table without forcing you to dive into the vault where you store your back issues of CBG.

If Bendis was upset by his interpretation of the above as an accusation of racism, I was moderately upset by his questioning of my capacity to "conceive of a situation where a white and a black person engage in a personal relationship without race being an issue," as if that question had any bearing on what I had written.

To be honest, the interracial aspects of the relationship had not even occurred to me because I didn't know until I read the comments Bendis made above that there WAS an interracial relationship here. Sangiacomo's column never mentioned the race of Bendis' heroine, nor had the comic book been solicited in Diamond's PREVIEWS catalog at the time I wrote the column. As I pointed out again and again, I have not read/seen ALIAS, and, as I've also tried to impress upon one and all, I don't do a great deal of web-surfing. Hey, working writer here with two kids on summer vacation; sorry if I offend any egos, but, unless someone sends me a press package or a preview of something, the odds are I haven't seen it.

Should I mention I have friends in interracial relationships? Or that I have been in interracial relationships myself? In fact, since COMIC BOOK NATION, reviewed here last week, identified me as "one of the few black writers working in the field [in the 1970s]," I guess I'm in an interracial marriage right now. But, no, none of this has any bearing on what I wrote.

If Bendis or anyone else read my comments as calling him any kind of racist, such was not my intent and I regret anyone coming away from the column with that impression. But, based on what was reported, I remain apprehensive about how Cage will be portrayed in ALIAS for the reasons I stated and only for the reasons I stated. I also remain hopeful that the actual comic will allay those fears completely.

I suspect this column falls well short of the "full apology" Bendis wants.

"Full apology" is one of those phrases which differs with every individual. Nor do I believe I acted in a manner that was either unfair or irresponsible, given my role as a commentator on the comics industry in all its wondrous forms.

What I can assure Bendis of is that I will read ALIAS as soon as I buy or receive a copy thereof, and that I will review it right here as soon as humanly possible after that. If it's a magnificent comic book that reduces my apprehensions to nothingness, I will be delighted to say so. If it doesn't, it will be my sad obligation to say that as well.

If that's not enough for Bendis, then I will be happy to meet him on the field of honor at November's Mid-Ohio-Con, facing him in whatever absurd and embarrassing contest we can dream up to raise a bit of cash for various and sundry worthy charities as we settle our differences mano a mano. It should be quite a match, young and talented against old and crotchety. The "pay-for-view" alone will undoubtedly bring in several dollars.

******

ADDENDUM

I still haven't gotten around to running any more photographs or reports from the Isabella family summer vacation, mostly because Comic-Con International in San Diego, going on even as this column is posted, forced me to rearrange things to accommodate the various clients and editors of mine who are attending the event. At this rate, summer will be over before CBG can run the vacation columns I'd planned. Instead, when our own Justin gets back from his trip to the West Coast, he and I will get together to work out a series of special online reports.

ALIAS isn't scheduled to ship for a few months yet and no one has sent me an advance copy of the comic, so my review of same will also not be appearing in CBG in the immediate future. However, as promised above, I will be reviewing this comic in CBG as soon as it falls into my hot little hands.

******

ARCHIE DIGEST WATCH

I've been catching up on the Archie comics digests in recent months because they go anywhere. I've read them on planes. I've read them while my kids had their baseball and softball practices. I've read them in the "necessary" room while I tended to necessary business. The format is so convenient that I often wonder why the other comics companies haven't made more than half-hearted efforts to duplicate Archie's considerable success in this area.

You might have some trouble tracking down the digests I'll be talking about here. Few comics shops stock them and the mainstream outlets which do (mostly supermarkets) take the old issues off sale when they receive the new issues. However, I still thought you'd be interested in the following items

ARCHIE'S DOUBLE DIGEST #124 (May; $3.29) has "Comic Relief," a Mike Pellowski story sure to resonate with comics fans. Looking for something in the Andrews family attic, Archie and his dad find an issue of ULTRA POWERFUL MAN. The super-hero had been the elder Andrews' favorite as a pre-teen; he used to read his comic books in a clubhouse he shared with Hal Cooper and Ricky Mantle.

Quick digression. While it seems to be part of the Riverdale canon that the parents and teachers of Archie and his friends were friends when they were younger, it's rare when a story states that so explicitly. According to some stories, Veronica and her family were later arrivals, not moving to the peaceful little city until the raven-haired heiress was already in her teens and, in any case, a young Hiram Lodge would likely not have hung with the town kids. But I'm somewhat surprised that Jughead's father does not appear in "Comic Relief."

Were the Joneses also later arrivals to Riverdale? Alas, my Archie scholarship isn't sufficient for me to answer that question. Are there any experts in the audience?

Getting back to "Comic Relief," Archie does some checking in a price guide and determines the old comic is worth three thousand dollars. Fred points out that his son is reading the value in near mint condition and suggests they get a professional appraisal. He also seems reluctant to sell the book.

At the comic shop, we get the following exchange between the retailer and the Andrews family

RETAILER: THIS is NOT near mint!

ARCHIE: Huh? Whaddaya mean? It looks perfect to me? What's wrong with it.

RETAILER: Oh, lots! There's a crease here...and a stain there. Page 28 is dog-eared, page 40 has an ink mark...

FRED: I probably spilled something on it and made those marks when I read it years ago!

RETAILER: You're NOT supposed to read an investment! Rare comics should be untouched to preserve their value!

FRED: Gee, I never thought of that when I was a kid, I just wanted to enjoy the book!

RETAILER: Well, by ENJOYING it, you decreased its grade and value.

(During the preceding conversation, we see an attractive young woman paging through an issue of ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES. Thus do the lines between fantasy and reality blur.)

The shop owner estimates the value of the comic book at three hundred dollars. Archie whispers to his dad that they should put the book up for bid on the Internet. His father declines the shop owner's offer. However, when Archie gets ready to put the book up for bid, Fred is having second thoughts. He says he feels like he is selling out an old pal.

ARCHIE: You know, Pop, I think you should just keep it. After all, you didn't buy it as an investment. You bought it to read. So read it over and over and enjoy it, Pop!

And the story ends with Fred Andrews doing just that, reading his old comic book and losing himself in the fantastic adventures of Ultra Powerful Man. Pretty cool, huh?

BETTY AND VERONICA DIGEST #120 (June; $2.19) doesn't have as strong a comics connection, but the lead story, Pellowski's "Cosmic Caper, does feature the girls and friend Midge appearing at a mall toy store as the "Galactic Gals," characters obviously inspired by Sailor Moon and her Sailor Scouts.

No comics-themed stories are to be found in BETTY AND VERONICA DOUBLE DIGEST #97 (June; $3.29), but there are a pair of brand-new (well, to me, at least) public service announcements starring MLJ super-heroes. Captain Flag instructs the readers on bicycle safety while the Comet does the same for eye safety. Both of the spots were written by Paul Castiglia.

My usual recommendation to you...and why break with tradition at this late date...is that the Archie digests are suitable for all ages *and* represent a good buy for the price. They're a good way to get kids into the comics-reading swing of things.

******

MORE HISTORY FROM RICH MORRISSEY

Our late friend RICH MORRISSEY was constantly posting comics history information and learned insights to mailing lists of which we were both members. I frequently copied his posts to my files, requesting his permission to share them with my readers. Rich was unfailingly generous in allowing me to do so.

I copied so many of Rich's posts that I'm still finding them months after his untimely death. In the comments that follows, he is responding to another list member's remarks about the difference in Adam Strange and Alanna when the editorship of MYSTERY IN SPACE passed from Julius Schwartz to Jack Schiff. Writer Gardner Fox and penciler Carmine Infantino went with Schwartz to the Batman comics; *their* replacements were writers Jerry Siegel and Dave Wood, and artist Lee Elias. Rich wrote

    Alanna went back to her original costume? I don't think so. She's still wearing the miniskirt/leggings Infantino gave her late in his run in this and most of the other Lee Elias stories, not the blue shirt and yellow stretch pants she had in the earlier stories.

    You're right about Adam's outfit, though. Indeed, Gardner Fox's entire career was marked by his creating heroes with unusual headgear (Sandman's gas mask, Flash's Mercury helmet, Dr. Fate's full mask, Hawkman's feathered mask, and Adam's helmet), which, almost without exception, were replaced by subsequent writers with more conventional cowls and the like.

    And, yes, this story is by Jerry Siegel. The revelation of Rann's advanced past civilization wasn't new, though; it had been mentioned very early in the run by Gardner Fox (in either the first or the second story, when Mike Sekowsky was the artist), so Siegel didn't exactly pull it out of nowhere.

    It's interesting that the last time Elias replaced Infantino as the artist of an ongoing series ("Black Canary" in the 1940s), their styles were so similar, both showing the heavy influence of Milton Caniff, that even DC's reprint editors didn't notice. Two decades later, the two had gone in such different directions that the changes were noticeable even to fans who weren't quite aware of the different writers and artists involved.

    It was also ironic that Siegel was writing a character Fox had created (Adam Strange) at the same time Fox was writing a character Siegel had created (The Spectre). Editorial offices and their own staffs were sacrosanct back then, so apparently simply swapping writers wasn't an option.


Comic-Con International's yearly fan/pro trivia match has been renamed to honor Rich's memory. I know that would please him, and I also know how much we all would rather he was taking part in the match instead of been remembered by it.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/13/2001 | 07/20/2001 | 07/27/2001 >>

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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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