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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 #1461 (11/23/01)

"You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?"
--Khalil Gibran


Soapbox alert. However, as God is my witness, I'll be brief. Go ahead. Take out your stopwatches. Watch me.

In CBG #1459, after going on a bit about the alleged "liberal" slant of this columnist, and, yes, I was yawning as I wrote that, DOUG MURRAY wrote:

I'm talking now about a remark in Tony's column in which he tells us that the gentleman who was "renovating our bathrooms" called and spoke about deciding whether to drive his 21-year-old son to Canada. Tony tells us that he was taken aback by this, then, remembering the Vietnam days and those who were drafted, went, and never came back, gives it a sort of tacit approval. Now, Tony often talks, at length, about the freedoms of this country, but even Tony must know that Freedom is not a gift-it must be fought for and, in some cases, died for.

Though it is apparently too fine a line for Murray to notice, there's a difference between my understanding our builder's concern and what Murray deems my "tacit approval" of the considered action. My response likely won't satisfy Murray, but here it is

My son Eddie has wanted to fly an F-14 Tomcat since he saw TOP GUN at the tender age of four. He is now 13, and, if he chooses to pursue military service, what with Federal Express not having any F-14s in their fleet and all, I will support that choice. I have a number of friends who were or are now in the military; I know it can be a fulfilling career for many.

I would be a liar if I failed to express my fear that, should the present war against terrorism continue as long as many reasoned people believe it will, and if my son does choose to serve in the military, he may find himself in harm's way. Knowing that fear, it is not in me to condemn anyone for their concern and for how they expressed it within hours of the September 11 attacks.

As for Vietnam, there are many good and levelheaded people who have questioned if our solders were, in fact, fighting for freedom in that war. I'm not going to dismiss either side of this debate, no more than I'm going to condemn anyone for the choices they made after the war in the name of healing the rift created by a conflict in which we, as Americans, were not nearly as united as we are in the present situation.

I have no problem being characterized as a "liberal," though I believe a thorough examination of my online columns and postings to my message board, where this discussion is far more appropriate, would reveal that to be a simplistic description. I share common ground with a great many of my "conservative" friends. I guess it comes down to something stated recently on NBC's THE WEST WING, in its out-of-continuity play about terrorism:

Hold on to more than one idea. It drives them crazy.

Okay, I wasn't as brief as I'd hoped. How about I donate this week's check to the Red Cross and we call it square?

******

Several books, comics, and magazines have been accumulating on my desk and this seems like a pretty good time to write about them. Consider this the "Tips" equivalent of a lightning round. I know you've heard this before--he grins sheepishly--but I will try to be brief. You gotta have hope.

ALTER EGO #10 (TwoMorrows; $5.95) is 100 pages of comic-book history presented in a stylish package with the editorial mastery of Roy Thomas guiding the presentation. As from its reincarnation, this is A/E's third volume, the magazine is two magazines in one. This time out, there's a section on legendary artist and publisher Carmine Infantino and company, those creators who set the standards for DC Comics from the mid-1940s to the 70s, and a second section on creators published by Fawcett and Magazine Enterprises in the 40s and 50s.

The Infantino side features a profusely-illustrated interview with the artist, a thoughtful look at the life and career of writer John Broome, and a tribute to COMIC ART, Don and Maggie Thompson's legendary fanzine from the dawn of time, topped off by fascinating articles debating who created the Silver Age Flash, and discussing DC's "written-off" stories of the 40s. The Fawcett/ME side offers commentary about and by such comics-industry titans as ME founding father Vin Sullivan, Fred Guardineer, Dick Ayers, Bob Powell, Wayne Boring, Marc Swayze, and C.C. Beck. Even if you just look at all the rare and previously-unpublished illustrations which accompany the words, you'll come away from A/E knowing more about comics than you did when you first cracked its covers.

******

CITIES OF THE FANTASTIC: BRUSEL (NBM; $19.95) is the latest in the sort of science-fictional satire series by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters. In this volume's story, the graphic novels are linked by theme and not continuing characters, we bear witness to a radical and sure-to-be-disastrous remaking of a major metropolis, as well as the attempts of various citizens to survive the idiotic changes going on around them. I found myself laughing out loud at the comedy and then going ooh-ah at the detailed and often-stunning drawings. It was a delightful experience from start to finish, and I recommend it highly to older readers looking for a graphic novel which isn't like anything else on the racks.

******

COMIC EFFECT #27 (Paloma St. Publications; $3.50) is a 52-page fanzine packed with remembrances of great comic books from the 40s to now. In this ish, editor Jim Kingman and frequent contributors Tony Seybert and Michal Jacot write about their favorite comics of all time. I think you'll find their choices and their explanations for those choices pretty interesting. Howard Leroy Davis and Chris Khalaf are also on hand with pieces on MEN OF MYSTERY and DC COMICS PRESENTS.

COMIC EFFECT is only available by mail. You can get a four-issue sub by sending $13 (check or money order) to

Jim Kingman
P.O. Box 2188
Pasadena, CA 91102-2188


******

Luis Royo's EVOLUTION (NBM; $19.95) is a collection of works by the noted fantasy and science fiction illustrator and painter, with behind-the-scene comments on those works by Royo and some of his collaborators. There are some breathtakingly beautiful works included herein, but they are sadly outnumbered by the more mundane commissions. Beware also of the sincere-but-leaden introspections in the closing pages of EVOLUTION.

******

THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES #43 (Fun Times Publications; $4) is editor and publisher Mark Arnold's 32-page love letter to comics and animation. His magazine has grown beyond its original emphasis on Harvey Comics and its characters, but Casper and Richie Rich are well-represented in the current issue, side-by-side with the Road Runner, Charlie Brown, Huey, Dewey, Louie, and many other cartoon and comic-book stars. Arnold and fellow contributors Joe Torcivia, Pete Fernbaugh, and Chris Barat are entertaining and informative.

For ordering information, whether you are a comics fan or retailer, check out the THFT website at

http://thft.home.att.net


******

Marlaine Maddux's THE LOCH: PART II, THE KNOWLEDGE JOURNEY (Penny Farthing Press; $17.95) is an interesting attempt to cross comic books with a more traditional form of illustrated children's fiction. It follows a group of young undersea dwellers on a quest to learn about the "Drywalkers" (human beings) and the threat these beings may pose to their watery world. Where the attempt fails is in a stylistic and thematic similarity to such films as THE LITTLE MERMAID and THE LAND BEFORE TIME, a rather heavy-handed emphasis on "learning important lessons about life," and lackluster characters with all the personality of plush-toy knock-offs.

I realize I'm not the intended audience for THE LOCH, but I am a parent with kids who, when younger, would have been the intended audience for this series. I don't believe they would have enjoyed such a lengthy quest-tale-there are more volumes to come-and, as the guy who would have been buying it for them, I would have balked at shelling out 18 bucks for each book. If THE LOCH is to succeed, Maddux and artist Courtney Huddleston must bring some originality to their story and its young heroes, and Penny Farthing must figure out a way to bring the price of the books way down.



******

Jon "Bean" Hastings, whose SMITH BROWN JONES: ALIEN ACCOUNTANT was such a favorite with myself and others of the CBG crew, is back with a new comic-book series. MAD SCIENCE #1 (Amaze Ink; $2.95) is tough to describe in just a few sentences and that's something of a problem. The "origin" of high-school student Frank and the disembodied brain which sits on top of his head is as labyrinthine as they come. Following a zany but confusing first issue, Hastings takes almost all of the second issue, which I've read in preview form, to cover the back story of the various characters and their conflicts. The density of plot is getting in the way of the laughs.

MAD SCIENCE is a six-issue series and I've little doubt that, when completed, it'll make for enjoyable reading. Just be prepared to feel like you're crawling through those second-issue flashbacks.

******

MAD SCIENTIST, not to be confused with the above comic book, is a terrific little zine published every so often by Martin Arlt. The third and most recent issue runs 36 pages, has a cover-price of three bucks, and features comics, science facts, a retrospective of Marvel's Godzilla comic books of the 1970s, an article on HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and Arlt's list of his ten favorite dinosaur movies. It's a gore-free, suitable-for-all-ages zine and it gives me warm fuzzies when I read it. For ordering information, check out Arlt's

Mad Scientist website at

http://www.geocities.com/madscie/madscientist.html


******

One more for the road. The back cover of WINGS OF TWILIGHT: THE ART OF MICHAEL KALUTA (NBM; $24.95) describes the hardcover as "a beautiful full color gorgeous compendium of the best of one of comic art's most beloved and revered artists!" Of course, they had me at "Kaluta" because the revered Michael has long been one of my own favorites.

There is marvelous stuff in WINGS OF TWILIGHT and lots of it. Dozens upon dozens of Kaluta's drawings, paintings, and preliminary sketches, with the artist adding a bit of commentary and history here and there, enough to enhance, not distract from one's viewing of the artwork.

Two suggestions. First, WINGS OF TWILIGHT would make one heck of a present for anyone interested in comics and fantasy art. It's an incredible book.

Second, when you buy your own copy, and you should, make sure you keep it near a nice chair. You'll want to spend hours with the wondrous images contained in this book and there's no reason not to be comfortable while you do so.

******

ADDENDUM

As of its November 23 edition, COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE has had an overhaul of sorts. The newspaper is now featuring a news story on its front page, adding new features, and rearranging others. I'll still be writing a weekly "Tony's Tips" column for the paper, but, for a while, and by my own choice, I'll be concentrating on comics reviews. Chalk it up to guilt over how many review items I receive from publishers; I know I can't write about all of them, but I can certainly write about more of them.

By the way, when I say this is *my* decision, I'm not kidding around. My CBG editors won't even know what I'm doing until they receive my column for issue #1466 later today. Save for the rare exception, the Krause crew has allowed me to write about whatever I've wanted to write in my column, which probably explains why I've continued to write for their publications for more years than I can remember.

At the risk of jinxing myself, my master plan is to devote my next four columns to the monthly packages of comics I receive from Archie, Oni, Dark Horse, and Image. After that, I intend to spend the next four columns reviewing a month's worth of DC publications. In the meantime, I'll be reviewing stuff from other publishers in my thrice-weekly TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, which appears every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website. A man has to have a plan, you know, and let's see how long I can go before I screw this one up.

CBG Editorial Director John Jackson Miller hopes to increase the newspaper's visibility in comic-book shops and other outlets. Towards that worthy goal, he's asked if I would push back my online reprinting of my CBG columns a smidgen. What this means is that, sometime between now and the end of the year, I'll be writing a new and exclusive-to-World-Famous-Comics "Tony's Tips!" column for the "skip" week created by the new reprint schedule.

Do I know what will be in that new column? Let's just say I have several intriguing ideas kicking around my frenzied brain and, when it comes time for me to write it, one of them will undoubtedly emerge triumphant.

One more note. Starting on January 5, 2002, you'll be getting the CBG reprints (with new material) on Saturday instead of Friday. Although this does ease my weekday schedule minimally, it is also the first step in my *other* master plan, the one where I resume my daily column presence on the Internet. Of this, we will certainly speak more in the future.

Four days covered, three to go. Be afraid.

******

MID-OHIO-CON

Depending on what time of the day you are reading this, I am either getting ready to leave for Mid-Ohio-Con, on my way to Mid-Ohio-Con, or settling nicely into my room at the Hilton Columbus at Easton Town Center. The convention itself takes place on Saturday and Sunday, November 24 and 25.

If you're attending Mid-Ohio-Con, I hope you'll find me during the show and introduce yourself. Meeting my readers is one of the perks of going to a convention.

If you're not attending the show, I'll try not to gloat about what a terrific time I'm having there. I'll doubtless fail in that attempt, but I will try.

And, if you're the impulsive sort who is just *now* deciding to come to Mid-Ohio-Con, you can learn everything you need to know about my favorite convention at

http://www.midohiocon.con


******

ATTACK OF THE ACTION FIGURES

A few weeks back, I wrote about action figures. That prompted this e-mail from WILLIE BERKOVITZ

I read the column where you asked for action figure collecting stories and fun facts. I'm not sure this is a collecting story, but I think it's pretty funny. It's a story of how a STAR WARS: POWER OF THE FORCE Sand Person tried to commit suicide and almost killed me in the process.

I'm an avid STAR WARS fan. By extension, I also collect all of the 3.75" Hasbro/Kenner action figures. In my junior year of college, I got the then-new Tusken Raider figure. I had a hard time getting it to stand up by itself, but after using the Force, I finally got it displayed. It was on the top shelf of a book shelf that hung over my bed in my dorm room in college.

One evening, I was jolted out of my sleep in the middle of the night. Something cold and hard had hit me. After trying not to have a heart attack, I turned on my light and found that my Tusken Raider had taken a header off of my shelf and hit me as I slept. It scared me so bad it almost did give me a heart attack. After that, I moved the figure further back on the shelf where, though it would be harder to see, it would also be harder for it to try to kill me.

I'll counter with my TALKING VENOM story. This was a tallish action figure which spoke whenever you pressed a button. It had a very limited repertoire. As I recall, it made a hissing sound and said something like "I want to eat your brain!"

I stuck Venom on a closet shelf in my then-basement office and pretty much forgot about the toy. One day, as I hung my jacket on the hanging rod under the shelf, Venom hissed at me and expressed its dietary desire.

The unexpected utterance shocked the heck out of me. I hadn't pressed Venom's button. He had spoken on his own.

I figured I must have imagined it. I was thinking about the script I was working on and, at such times, it's not unusual for me to withdraw into my mind. No big deal; I'd just accessed a random memory during the creative process.

Then it happened again. Now I was concerned.

The third time proved to be the charm. The closet shelf, the hanging rod underneath it, and the coat hanger on which I had hung my jacket were all made of metal. I was picking up a static charge from my office rug and that charge was transferred from the hanger to the rod to the shelf to Venom. The charge is what triggered the figure's voice chip. The mystery was solved, though I felt like a idiot for not having figured it out from the start.

The conditions for making Venom speak in this manner had to be just so. On two occasions, I was able to duplicate them. However, for the most part, it happened when it happened. The action figure was as uncooperative as the comic-book villain.

Somewhere along the line, Venom was moved to another area of Casa Isabella.

I haven't seen him in years. Maybe he's perished from a lack of nutritious brains, always a possibility considering who owns him. Or maybe he's moved on...

...to a closet somewhere in *your* home.

I'll be back next Friday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 11/16/2001 | 11/23/2001 | 11/30/2001 >>

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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