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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 #1448 (08/17/01)

"The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future too."
Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey Into Night

Every few months, sandwiched between the e-mails asking me to allow Nigeria to use my bank account to hold millions of dollars of its money and the e-mails offering to show me how to learn anything about anyone, there will come a note from CBG Projects Editor Brent Frankenhoff selling nude pictures of Britney Spires.

I'm just kidding. All Brent's done is paste her head on Peter David's body. He is a troubled lad. But, along with this demented sales pitch, Brent also includes a list of CBG cover themes, which is something I do find useful.

As for Nigeria and the school for detectives, I must decline. My own government already uses my bank account for the first six or seven months of the year and I already know more about most people than I need or want to know about them. I've been forwarding the notes from Nigeria to the detective school and vice versa because I think they can probably help each other out here. I also ordered some new scissors and paste for Brent, but I made sure the scissors weren't *too* sharp.

This week's official cover theme is..."Mr. Silver Age's August Celebration." Guess who's crashing the party?

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD ANNUAL #1 (DC; $5.95) didn't come out in 1969, no matter what its indicia claims. If this comic had come out then, it would have only cost a quarter and Batman would be the biggest thing on the cover. What it is, really, is a facsimile of what The Brave and the Bold Annual #1 might have been if DC Comics had ever published such an annual. What follows, however, is a for real review of the book, done in that "good/bad" format which I've been playing around with of late.

The good: I always liked the original B&B logo, even if it was better suited to the medieval heroes (Robin Hood, Silent Knight, Viking Prince) it featured before B&B became first a "tryout" book, then a "team-up" title, and, around the time Adam West donned those tights, "Batman's personal team-up love-fest." It's a simple and elegant logo, an esthetic rarely seen in today's comics.

The bad: The joke, and, by "joke," I mean the notion this is a "lost" comic from the Silver Age of Comics is now, by the power given me as "America's most beloved comics writer and columnist," officially declared old. Readers my age are tired of the gag and the younger ones shouldn't be given a billboard telling them these are old stories. Instead of chasing the kids away by telling them these stories are ancient, let's allow them to experience them on their own terms. Who knows? They might like them enough to want more of the same.

The bad: No original publication information is given for the four stories reprinted in this annual.

The good: Bob Haney, who wrote the Green Arrow/Manhunter From Mars and Batman/Flash tales reprinted in this annual, is a Silver Age gem if ever there was one. On his good days, he penned stories unique even for the era. On his "off" days, his stories were still told with enthusiasm and style.

The not that bad: These two stories aren't among Haney's best, but they still have their moments. In the first, Green Arrow, his sidekick Speedy, and the Manhunter are battling Martian criminals seeking a Martian super-weapon. In the second, Batman calls upon the Flash to help him stop the super-speedy crime wave of the Speed Boys, not knowing Flash's use of his own super-speed is killing the scarlet-clad hero.

The bad: The Martian criminals are first discovered escaping from prison. They wore "human" masks to disguise their identities. I figure Haney didn't do enough research to realize that Martians have shape-shifting abilities. Later in the story, Green Arrow is captured, brainwashed to attack the Manhunter, and then released. The Martians could have impersonated him and held onto a valuable hostage. Also later, the Manhunter disguises himself as the Arrow, but no mention is made of a mask. However, what truly bugs me, as it did when I read this story in its original publication, is that we never learn how the prison authorities managed to overlook that the convicts wore masks or why the aliens remained in prison when they could have escaped at anytime. Haney was usually much better at tying up loose ends.

The good: The Martian Manhunter gets clobbered by the Martian goons because he overlooked the fact that they were as strong as he was. He had gotten used to duking it out with the weaker criminals of Earth. This is a very clever bit.

The odd: While the Manhunter impersonates Green Arrow, Green Arrow wears a Manhunter mask and body suit. He does this while he pilots his Arrow-plane and while he can't be seen by anyone other than Speedy. I find this disturbing.

The good: George Roussoswas a better artist than he's usually given credit for being. He brought a lot to the early Batman comic books and his "Air Wave" feature had some very impressive pages and panels. This B&B tale isn't a masterpiece, but it is an example of how expertly Roussos could tell a story.

The good: "The Death of the Flash" is written with such verve that I can almost overlook such silliness as the Speed Boys making their headquarters in the "Accelerated Gentlemen's Club." I think someone far less accomplished than the "World's Greatest Detective" could have cracked that one in a Gotham City minute.

The good: The Carmine Infantino/Charles Paris art has a kind of energetic sketchiness to it that really drives home the "speed" element of this story.

The good: These were the days when heroes were heroes. Those Speed Boys may not be killing orphans or threatening to destroy the world, but they are still criminals. That stopping them might kill him is not as important to the Flash as his personal vow to fight crime no matter what.

The good: Midgets. The Speed Boys have them and they use them with great effectiveness. They may be villains, but they're equal opportunity villains.

The good: The last panel of this story. It wouldn't be out of place in a Will Eisner "Spirit" story and that's pretty high praise for any comic-book writer.

The good: This annual also reprints "The Invasion of America," a Boy Commandoes story which guest-stars the Newsboy Legion, the Guardian, the Golden Age Sandman, his sidekick Sandy, and New York City's Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. In a dozen action-packed pages, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby do the home front proud.

The good: It takes one page for Simon and Kirby to establish the main characters and why they've left the battlefields of Europe for the streets of New York City.

The good: Spunky kids battling evil Nazis. There's this one third-of-a-page panel that features 19 characters brawling in the not-so-secret-anymore spy headquarters.

The good: A quick trip to Washington, D.C., so FDR can shake the hands of the Commandoes and tell them how proud he is of them. It's one of those classic comics moments you can only find in World War II comics...or in Roy Thomas' wonderful re-imaginings of same. I still miss THE INVADERS.

The so-so: DC dug into the Charlton archives for this annual's fourth and final tale. Captain Atom teams with Nightshade to face the "Strings of Punch and Jewelee." Nostalgic buzz aside, this simply isn't a very good story.

Dave Kaler's script is full of convenient coincidences. The villains stumble on to alien weapons that fit their personalities and skills. Their target is a friend of the heroes. Atom's powers are temporarily reduced, giving his much weaker foes the upper hand in their battle. Nightshade has a mysterious power which is risky to use and which, of course, she uses to save the day. In fairness to Kaler, since he's only credited with the script, the story may have been plotted by someone else, maybe even penciler Steve Ditko.

If it was Ditko, it's doubly disappointing.

The wistful comment: Having seen how good Ditko's work could look on decent paper, such as was used to print the black-and-white tales he drew for Jim Warren's CREEPY and EERIE, and also recalling the impressive jobs Rocco Mastroserio did for the same magazines, I'm sorry we never got to see how good the Ditko/Mastroserio team could have been. This Captain Atom reprint looks terribly faded to me, but then, so did its initial publication. Sigh.

The good: That friend of Captain Atom's is himself a dastardly super-villain. Sure, it was a..."classic"...bit even then, but it could still be fun when it wasn't overused.

The bad: The last panel of the story features a member of the supporting cast who didn't appear anywhere else in the story. She waves around a newspaper and rants

"That Captain Atom! I'll fix that glory hog if it's the last thing I do or my name is Abby Ladd."

If I were her, I'd have gotten a court order for a paternity test and gone after J. Jonah Jameson's fortune. It's obvious that her comics career wasn't going anywhere.

The bottom line: Six bucks is a little pricey, but THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD ANNUAL is worth it. It has four "done-in-one" stories which can be enjoyed by readers of all ages in an 80-page package with no ads and a square binding. You've spent more on comics that didn't give you half as much entertainment.

One more thing. I may be tired of the "lost" annual gimmick, but that doesn't mean I believe DC should stop reprinting stories fromtheir legendary archives. Far from it, I think these annuals could be used to showcase unusual material of artistic and historic significance, as well as test the waters for possible revivals of some characters.

Metamorpho the Element Man, as noted a few weeks back, is one of my favorite DC characters. His solo Brave and Bold appearances have only been reprinted once and that was a good many years ago. The debut of Element Girl, who starred in a memorable issue of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, has never been reprinted. DC could collect those three stories in an 80-page annual and have pages left over for the original covers, bios of the Metamorpho creators, and other appropriate features.

DC could package equally entertaining annuals with strips like Cave Carson (better than you remember with at least one issue drawn by Joe Kubert), Challengers of the Unknown (the Kirby stories will be reprinted, but the issues drawn by Bob Brown had a lot going for them as well), Doom Patrol (still one of the best super-team books of them all), Eclipso (art by Lee Elias and Alex Toth), Rip Hunter Time Master (Kubert and Toth), and so many others I could name if I weren't getting the shakes. You think about it while I go sniff some fine 40-year-old comic books. I'm sure we'll be talking about this again.

Please be advised that no actual CBG editor, CBG columnist, or Pepsi-swilling rock star was harmed during the production of this column. We'll keep trying.

ADDENDUM

After this column appeared in CBG, reader ED COYOTE e-mailed me to point out that some original publication information for the four stories does appear in the annual, buried within the indicia. If you missed it as well, please note that the stories appeared in, respectively, B&B #50, B&B #67, DETECTIVE COMICS #76, and CAPTAIN ATOM #85.

I apologize for the error.

It's crunch-time here at Casa Isabella as I try to complete a bunch of work before traveling to Chicago for the Wizard World 2001 convention. However, while you won't be getting any more Isabella material in this week's Tips, I do have a couple press releases to share with you. I hope you get as big a kick out of them as I did when I received them.

******


HARVEY KURTZMAN CLASSIC

A lost classic by the legendary Harvey Kurtzman will be back in print for the first time in 40 years

    The Denis Kitchen Publishing Company is releasing its first book, a hardcover edition of THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT, a lost classic by comics genius Harvey Kurtzman. In 1960, Kurtzman created a delightful beatnik take on the ancient Aesop fable. The comic story, in many ways, reflected his own attraction to the beat movement and his internal ant vs. grasshopper struggle. The only previous appearance of this poignant comic was over forty years ago in ESQUIRE magazine where the panels were reproduced small and blurry. The story has remained forgotten and unknown, even to many Kurtzman fans.

    Grasshopper and the Ant

    Created at what was arguably the peak of his brilliant career, THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT is remarkable in several respects. Kurtzman's best known work (MAD, "Little Annie Fanny," "Goodman Beaver") was collaborative. These often magnificent collaborations were with other first rank geniuses such as Will Elder, Jack Davis and Wally Wood. But Kurtzman fans nonetheless yearned for more of his madcap solo work, like HEY LOOK! and JUNGLE BOOK. When working alone, there was seldom color in his creations. The powerful E.C. war stories that Kurtzman wrote and illustrated himself in the early '50s were in color, but it was a flat mechanical color on newsprint. Kurtzman's infrequent solo work almost always, of economic necessity, appeared in black and white. Thus the revelation.

    "Imagine the acerbic satire and the bold, fluid lines of Kurtzman's seminal 1959 JUNGLE BOOK, but painted in vivid watercolor, and you have the exceptional THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT," said publisher Denis Kitchen.

    Roger Price, Kurtzman's friend, fellow cartoonist (Droodles), and a publisher (Price-Stern) praised the original appearance of THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT in a letter to Kurtzman in 1960: "The use of color with seasonal change [is] very original and effective. Also your drawing is just great. But," Price complained, "I still am bothered... by plain old simple legibility. I have to concentrate pretty carefully to get everything... I don't mean the legibility of ideas but actual legibility of printing. Would like to see it clearer, as what you are saying is too good to be missed because the words sometimes run too close together. This, of course, is... a problem of space which you cannot help."

    Price's plea for a proper printing and format would go unanswered for more than four decades.

    Denis Kitchen Publishing, with the cooperation of Kurtzman's widow Adele, is releasing the rediscovered gem in an 8.25" square, 80-page hardcover format with smythesewn binding and dust jacket. Individual panels appear the full size of the original art, printed on matte stock with spot varnishes throughout. The introduction by Denis Kitchen places the story in Kurtzman's life and career perspective. The book, which retails for $25, was designed by former Kitchen Sink Press art director Evan Metcalf, who is now with DC Comics.

    THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT is the first book from Kitchen since the demise of his longtime publishing company, Kitchen Sink Press (1969-1999), which previously published several other book collections by Harvey Kurtzman. It does not, however, signal his return to publishing on a significant scale.

    "I am absolutely not jumping back into the business with both feet," cautioned the gun-shy Kitchen, who said he still has nightmares about investors, lawyers and deadlines, in that order. "I have my hands full with other projects," he said, "But I do want to publish two or three nice books a year, like this, on my own terms."

    "I just hope to God I don't have one foot in a tar baby," he added ruefully.


As I have said many times in the past, Kitchen is one of the genuine class acts in this business. I applaud even this limited return to publishing. For more on this and perhaps other projects, check out his website at.

http://www.deniskitchen.com


One more note. The Roger Price quoted above is not the same fine gentleman who puts on MID-OHIO-CON each Thanksgiving weekend. He's a different fine gentleman.

******


SANTO RETURNS!

I thought it was pretty cool when Airwave Comics licensed the rights to do I DREAM OF JEANNIE comic books. I was never a fan of the television series; I just like the idea of modern-day comics publishers reviving what used to be an important genre within our industry. However, Airwave's other new project is way way cooler than even the belly-baring Jeannie

    SANTO COMICS COME TO AMERICA

    In November, 2001, comic fans will witness history in the making as Airwave Comics brings the legend of Lucha Libre wrestling to America: el Santo - The Man in the Silver Mask.

    Each bimonthly issue of Santo will feature all-new adventures pitting the famous masked wrestler against atomic madmen, monsters, robots, aliens, and venomous exotic beauties.

    After officially locking down the details with Santo's estate, Airwave publisher Rich Maurizio signed writer Chris Yambar, penciler George Broderick, Jr., and inker Ken Wheaton as the creative team for the ongoing series and announced the line-up at San Diego's Comic-Con International to a "more than enthusiastic response".

    "It's amazing how many people love Santo," Maurizio stated. "The loyalty level is very high and has very deep roots. There's a lot of history there! I think his fans will be very pleased with the direction and look of the new Santo comic book!"

    When asked about the direction he plans to take the new comic, Yambar replied, "I plan to honor the traditional Santo mythos at every turn and tip my hat to the legacy put forth by the Santo movies. The book will focus primarily on the son and his adventures outside the ring. He'll be going up against everything from smugglers, terrorists, and Nazis to vampire women, mummies, and dinosaurs. Readers can look for Santo to battle underwater, in space, back in time and into the bowels of Hell itself. I think fans are going to enjoy seeing George and Ken's rendering of Santo in the popular animated style, too. Our goal is to take this book over the top."

    El Santo first put on his famous mask in 1942 and wore it until his death in 1984. He quickly became one of the most popular wrestlers in Mexican history. In 1951, Santo became the subject of a weekly comic book which sold in the hundreds of thousands. He then became the leader of the cult Lucha Libre horror film movement and, by 1982, had starred in 54 features.

    When Santo died in 1984, his funeral became the largest ever attended in Mexican history. Thousands filled the streets as masked wrestlers and fans came to pay their respects. He was buried in his silver mask. His son took over the mask and, as El Hijo del Santo (Son of the Saint), continues in his father's footsteps making feature films, ruling the ring, and now returning to the world of adventure comics.

    "This isn't a mere wrestling comic," added Yambar. "Unlike most American comics, which portray the wrestler as an anti-hero, Santo will remain the hero of heroes that he was and is in real life. Santo is the rock and roll of wrestling."


For more information on the Santo comic, visit the SANTO USA website at

http://santo-usa.home.netcom.com


What can I say? This comic book sounds like great fun, it's being produced by some of my favorite people, and its appeal will be international. I am so there.

Who knows? Perhaps it is time for I, too, to once again don the mask and face evil as...el Tigre Tony!

I'll be back next week with more stuff!

Tony Isabella

<< 08/10/2001 | 08/17/2001 | 08/24/2001 >>

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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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