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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 #1459 (11/02/01)

"We can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
-Plato

I can't recall whether I've used the above quote previously. But it speaks to what's going on in my country and the world, and it also speaks to the child within me who's hoping for the nice man writing this column to bring him a flashlight. Meanwhile, though I know better, I keep catching myself wondering how Mickey Mouse's dog got so darned smart...and who other than Mark Evanier will get that reference.

The world is vast with possibilities and teeming with lives of great diversity and unquestionable value. It awes, inspires, and even intimidates me. However, sometimes, it gets so small that it terrifies me, which happened yesterday roughly a half-an-hour after I'd taken my daughter Kelly and her friend Molly to school. Relax; I'll try to keep the "me" stuff to a minimum this week.

I had been up since two a.m. writing my online column and was laying in bed watching a bit of news on the telly. The newscaster was reporting on the anthrax bacteria that killed a photo editor at THE SUN, one of those supermarket tabloids, and infected a mailroom worker at the same Florida-based publishing company. Then, all of a sudden, a thought flashed into my brain and made me bolt upright in my bed.

"Chris works there!"

"Chris" is CHRISTOPHER MILLS. He's an old friend of mine from the days when we were in various comics apas together. He's been an editor and writer for a comics publisher or two over the years, is the art director of THE SUN, and the world is now officially too small for comfort.

Taking advantage of the momentum from my panic, I rushed into my office and turned on the computer. I had to e-mail Chris to see if he was okay. Fortunately, in one of those happy coincidences I will gladly accept more of, my incoming mail included an "I'm okay" note which Chris had sent out to his friends.

The world got smaller as I read the e-mail. Bob Stevens, the man who died from the anthrax bacteria, was a colleague and friend of Chris:

Sunday night the [Center For Disease Control] found anthrax bacteria in my office, specifically at Bob's workstation, which is only about ten feet from mine. Yesterday, I spent several hours at the local Health Department waiting to be tested for exposure to Anthrax and receive a two-week supply of the antibiotic I'll have to take for the next eight weeks.

Chances are, I was exposed to the spores. Chances are just as good that I'll be okay. Anthrax is vulnerable to antibiotics, and I've not exhibited any symptoms. The incubation period is usually very short.

As of right now, I'm fine, and I expect to remain that way. I don't know anything more about the situation than anyone who's been watching CNN. In fact, if you're watching CNN, you can catch a glimpse of my chubby self in the stock shot they have of the crowd waiting to be tested yesterday.

So, if you happened to wonder how I was doing, I hope this answers your concerns.

The world is too damn small for comfort. And, if you wouldn't mind, I'm going to spend the rest of this column digging through my files for stuff that has nothing to with my friends and other good people being put in harm's way by human monsters who are afraid of the light.

Oh, yeah, for chills of a more comforting variety, check out Chris' SUPERNATURAL CRIME website at

http://www.supernaturalcrime.com


The site is filled with original comic strips, pulp fiction, illustrations, and more. I visit every week just to read the new installment of the way cool "Femme Noir" strip by Chris and artist Joe Staton, but you could spend hours exploring its creepy corners and suspenseful shadows. I recommend you do just that.

******

Comics-oriented mailing lists can be wonderful fun for those fans eager to politely share information and opinions, and not get too bent out of shape when the conversation strays off the list's main areas of interest. Earlier this year, MIKE CLUNE posted some fascinating stuff about the super-hero figures made by Mego Toys in the 1970s. He wrote:

There is a video tape compilation floating around at cons and on eBay of old Mego television commercials, which is pretty cool. There is an unintentional giggle on a commercial for their super-heroes when the announcer intones, "...and then there's the Falcon, that great BLACK super-hero!" That's the announcer's emphasis, not my own.

It's interesting to note also that the Falcon doll's body was a reused ape body from Mego's PLANET OF THE APES line; the Falcon actually had furry ape hands! Simple cost-cost-cutting measure or not, that was a shockingly un-PC move even for 1974.

Intrigued, I asked Mike for more information and he responded with the following

To clarify, the Falcon wasn't technically a "repaint" of the POTA figures, just an ape body with a new head and cloth costume. The ape body was the same as a regular male (Caucasian) Mego body, except that it was cast in dark brown plastic instead of flesh- tone, and also sported furry hands. Since Falc was the first male African-American character to be immortalized by Mego, they simply reused the Ape body already in production, instead of spending the money to cast a new body with "human" hands and the appropriate skin-tone.

Mego was notorious for corner-cutting and penny- pinching, reusing parts whenever possible. This is probably the main reason they remained profitable for a number of years even after their dominance of the action figure market was ended by the advent of STAR WARS. It should be noted, though, that Mego did later have a non-ape African-American body for characters like Huggy Bear and Commissioner Doby from STARSKY AND HUTCH.

Were you planning on mentioning this little factoid in your column just as an aside, or did you maybe have a longer piece on Mego in mind? There are any number of quirky little anecdotes about Mego to be told, and the Falcon/Ape thing is just the tip of the iceberg. With the current wave of Mego nostalgia among comics fanboys, it might go over well, and I can't remember ever reading a piece in CBG on the subject. If that's something you'd like to pursue, let me know, and I can put you in touch with some gurus of Mego knowledge.

Let's leave it up to the loyal legions of "Tips" readers. If they want more toy talk in this column, I'll be delighted to oblige them. I'd be especially curious about any complaints Mego may have received over this particular bit of penny-pinching. Or did it go unnoticed in the midst of Disco Fever?

******

Here's a warm-and-fuzzy e-mail I received from reader DAVID KOBE last spring:

I am a long time subscriber to CBG (since issue #18, published when I was in ninth grade), and this is the first time I've been motivated enough to write in response to anything I've read in the newspaper. Your column in issue #1429 [April 6] prompts this note to you.

I have always enjoyed your column, no matter what the subject happens to be. Whether you're talking about comics, censorship, or your personal life, the essential truth and goodness of your being shines through in the printed word. I know that your opinions are heartfelt, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Through the years, even though we've never met, I feel as if I have come to know you and your family.

That's why this particular column, when you revealed that you suffer from depression, had such an impact on me. After I read the column during lunch today, I decided to forward the latest issue of the HEROIC STORIES newsletter to you. I don't know if you know of this newsletter or not, but it celebrates the good that people do (in both big and little ways), and serves as a reminder that there are heroes among us, even outside those four-color wonders we call comic books.

If you've never seen HEROIC STORIES before, I hope you enjoy the sample below and perhaps subscribe to it yourself. If you're already familiar with it, then I hope you will smile knowing that you are loved and appreciated, and are a hero to me and I'm sure to many whom you have never met.

When I first mentioned my depression in my column, one of the first responses was from a comics industry friend who told me I was crazy for giving shortsighted editors and publishers "yet another reason" not to employ my services. But, at the risk of seeming to toot my own horn, I have long realized that writing a column such as this carries with it...comics reference warning...the very great responsibility to put forth truth even when it might well reflect adversely on me.

The truth is that depression can kill, but that it can also be managed and overcome. By going public with my condition even as I continue to write a half-dozen columns a week for CBG and various websites, I'm hoping my work might encourage others who suffer from depression to seek treatment and that might it also inspire people to learn more about a disease that may very well affect themselves or those they love.

If I want the big bucks I get for writing columns--and please understand that when I say "big bucks," I'm looking at my check and thinking that, a hundred years ago, I could have bought a ranch, a cow, a horse, and a mail-order bride for such munificence, whereas today it means I can order the "biggie" fries-I have to take some risks now and then. Anything worth doing involves risks, whether it's writing a mostly trivial column or reaching out to each other.

It's not the stuff of heroes; it's the stuff of the humanity we all share. Or maybe it's all the same thing.

Thanks for the note, David, and for the HEROIC STORIES sample. I did subscribe to the service-it's free, so it didn't even cut into my "biggie fries budget"--and have found it a welcome reminder of the basic human decency we both cherish.

To receive HEROIC STORIES, interested readers need only send a blank e-mail to

join-heroicstories@lyris.net


For additional information, you can visit the HEROIC STORIES website at:

http://www.HeroicStories.com


******

Well, wasn't that just way too serious? This calls for a big goofy finish and nothing says big goofy finish better than a cover from the Silver Age of comics

Action Comics 302


******

ADDENDUM

I have some additional thoughts on the anthrax attacks. I'll try to be brief, but please feel free to continue the discussion on my message board.

Some interesting things have already been posted there by myself and your fellow Tips readers.

If and when the bumbling authorities uncover whoever is behind these attacks, I'm guessing it will turn out to be the work of our homegrown wackos. What do Bin Laden and his pseudo-pious poltroons care about the NATIONAL ENQUIRER or, for that matter, the American news media in general? There is no truly free press in the Middle East and what little there is isn't penetrating through the thick skulls of the terrorist sympathizers there.

But our homegrown haters...our Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, racist militia groups, religious fanatics...they loathe the idea of a free press. To be frank, I believe it's our free press that keeps the above from becoming our homegrown Bin Ladens. Even so, I wouldn't put the anthrax attacks past any of them.

Ironically, some of these groups hate their own country and countrymen so much that they have shown begrudging support for the "mud sand people," as they call them, and the 9-11 attacks. There are now reports coming to light of contacts between our homegrown haters and representatives of the same countries who have financed and protected Bin Laden and his ilk. Maybe John Ashcroft should've taken those calls from Planned Parenthood and other groups who have been targeted by our local monsters.

Let's talk about Ashcroft for just a bit. Right now, were I granted three wishes, I might well ask for a big stick, a woodshed, and fifteen minutes with Ashcroft bent over my knees.

Ashcroft is taking his act to a whole new level of creepiness. He keeps jumping on the airwaves with calls for increased security, and warnings of possible attacks for which he can't offer us any details whatsoever. He's doing this because he wants us scared, so scared we'll look the other way as he receives the power to bypass civil rights at his whim. I don't trust him and, unless someone in Congress finds the courage to challenge him, he's going to become a bigger threat to our way of life than a dozen Bin Ladens. If I should disappear suddenly, tell the cops to start searching for me under Ashcroft's back yard.

******

ACTION FIGURE STUFF

Since the above column appeared, I have received some e-mails and letters asking for more fascinating facts about action figures. One of my sillier/stranger dreams is to have each and every Batman figure since the 1989 movie and then arrange them in a huge display I would call "The Strange Costumes of Batman" after the comic-book story I loved as a kid. Since that isn't going to happen any time soon, I invite one and all to send me your cool collecting stories and fascinating action-figure facts. If I get enough of these, I can devote an entire column to them.

******

DAYS AND NIGHTS OF VERTIGO

I have talked about this on my message board, but here's the short version of the universe's latest attempt to remind me I'll be hitting 50 on my next birthday. Following several "dizzy spells," I've been diagnosed with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or, for short, BPPV. I'll be writing more about this in my PERPETUAL COMICS column at...

http://www.perpetualcomics.com


...but, for now, all you need to know is that, while BPPV is incredibly annoying, it's not life-threatening and it is treatable. Unfortunately, the treatment involves triggering stomach-churning vertigo attacks every morning and evening. If I can't get a bunch of jokes out of this, I'm losing my touch.

In honor of my new friend, I'm devoting next week's Perpetual Comics columns to reviewing some DC/Vertigo titles. Depending on how long-winded I get writing about those comics, I'll also review ALIAS, FURY, and U.S. WAR MACHINE from Marvel's MAX imprint. This should be interesting.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

This letter comes from JOEL BERGER, responding to a question I posed in one of my CBG columns. I asked where Superman and other super-heroes might stand on various issues. This is what occurred to Joel:

A thought occurred to me, though I hope nobody ever does this as a story. An abortion clinic is bombed. Superman flies in to rescue the workers and patients. A reporter asks Superman where he stands on abortion. Now, comics writers tend to be a liberal bunch but, if we are to be true to the character, can anybody credibly believe Superman would be anything other than pro-life? He tries to be diplomatic by saying something vague:

"I will always protect life...any life."

But his meaning is pretty clear and is broadcast all over the world on CNN.

Lois, an accomplished journalist and self-actualized woman, believes in a woman's right to control her own body. Things are pretty chilly in the cave of steel that night. Supes takes up temporary residence in the Fortress of Solitude.

Meanwhile, up at the Justice League watchtower, the members, especially Batman, aren't too happy with Superman either. It's not their role to make public policy or tell others what to believe except perhaps by example. They're just there to defend humanity against threats that they could not reasonably protect themselves on their own. This just makes their job more difficult.

Pat Buchanan and the rest of the lunatic fringe adopt Supes as their poster child. Extreme left-wing feminist groups attack him in public with over-ripe produce. That is, until a gang of right- wing nut cases attack the Metropolis gay pride parade. Supes fends them off and comments to reporters that he believes in the right of *all* individuals to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of age, sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation. The moral majority descends on the Daily Planet and asks that Superman be declared an illegal alien.

Furthermore, Jerry Falwell declares Superman an abomination. As an alien being, Kal-El's existence threatens the whole idea of biblical creationism. Supes ends up packing his bags and retiring to the Phantom Zone.

Actually, I think this kind of story could make for absolutely riveting reading. But I'm not sure if DC and its corporate masters would be comfortable with its top characters choosing sides on some of the most divisive issues of our time. Of course, that wouldn't be a problem for a creator-owned super-hero title and, in dealing with these issues, the title could offer super-hero fans something they weren't already getting from DC/Marvel.

The challenge for the creator would be to portray advocates of both sides of the issues without resorting to either caricature or trivialization. It wouldn't be easy, but facing such challenges is how truly memorable comics are created. If it were easy, someone would have already done it.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 10/26/2001 | 11/02/2001 | 11/09/2001 >>

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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