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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 #1466 (01/10/02)

"To live with guilt strengths character."
Janwillem van de Wetering, Dutch detective novelist

I see comic books. Lots of them.

Each and every month, I receive a couple hundred comic books, review copies, from large publishers, from medium-sized publishers, and from self-publishers. In any given month, I buy another 20-30 of the things. Then, for various good reasons, I don't get around to reading and reviewing more than a relative handful of them, this despite my also writing three online columns a week. Overwhelmed with guilt over this sad state of affairs, I am rededicating myself to the original objectives of this column...getting free stuff and making a quick buck writing about it.

Ho-ho! I am jesting with you. What I want to do is elevate your awareness of the truly fine comic books available to you and caution you against the truly stinky potatoes in the bag. And when I say "stinky," I do not mean the heady scent of old comic wafting around our nostrils like sweet perfume. No, my friends, when I say "stinky," I'm thinking of the aroma of the interior of the Flash's boots after he's run around the world six or seven hundred times, the kind of "stinky" that would make Wolverine weep.

It is true that, of late, CBG has been featuring many pages of comic-book reviews. Turning my attention to this pursuit may seem a trifle redundant to some of you. To them I say:

"Wanna smell the inside of Flash's boots?"

I believe I bring a somewhat different perspective to comics reviewing. I have a more varied range of experience in the comics industry, more hands-on knowledge of what it takes to create comic books, and am clearly more beloved and much cuter than CBG's other reviewers. Destiny has left a message in my voice-mail and I must answer her call.

My decision may dismay those of you who have enjoyed my other writings. Rest assured, in my online columns, and, occasionally, in this space, I'll still give you ample reason to love or hate me based on my belief in outmoded concepts like the Bill of Rights and my positions on a host of other issues. But, if I do this right, I could give you entirely new reasons to love or hate me.

I'm going to start this new series of columns with a look at this month's Archie comics and digests, followed by columns devoted to Oni, Dark Horse, and Image. After that, I'll likely take a one-week break from reviewing comics, though not from this column, and then leap back into the fray with a month-long look at a month's-worth of DC Comics. A man has to have a plan, otherwise it's just cruel, capricious fate when he falls on his ass.

Leave us now set our course for bucolic Riverdale, U.S.A., and see what's up with Archie Andrews and his posse.

My November package from Archie Comics contained eight comics and seven digests. The Archie digests have greater visibility than virtually any other comics published in America. They can be found in drug stores and supermarkets, usually within close proximity of the cashiers. Given the success of the digests, I'm not surprised that Archie publishes almost as many of them as it does its comics. What surprises me is that no other comics publisher has devoted any resources to even trying to duplicate that success.

The Archie comics (each $1.99) for the month were:

ARCHIE #516

ARCHIE & FRIENDS #53

BETTY #106

BETTY AND VERONICA #168

BETTY AND VERONICA SPECTACULAR #51

SABRINA #25

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #103

VERONICA #120

Looking over the titles, it's obvious to me Archie Comics has suffered from the loss of artist Dan DeCarlo. This isn't going to be the start of a slam on Archie for their disagreements with the creator of "Josie and the Pussycats" and co-creator of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." I have great respect for both parties and, though I stand with creators over companies, it's my hope that there will be a sooner-rather-than-later reconciliation between DeCarlo and the company whose look he defined for decades.

DeCarlo is the standard by which all other Archie artists are judged. No one draws these classic characters as well as he does, though both Stan Goldberg and Rex Lindsey do mighty fine jobs in my opinion. Bob Bolling and Dan Parent do nice stuff, and most of the other artists deliver competent work, but, in exile or not, DeCarlo is still the artistic king of Riverdale.

ARCHIE #516 features 27 pages of comics and features with the standout stories being Greg Crosby's "When Do We Eat?" (before or after the movie) and Kathleen Webb's "The Other Side of the Fence" (Archie's mom imagines what it would be like to have a daughter). "It Must Be Magic" is the overly familiar tale of a magic act gone awry winning a prize as a comedy act; in fact, there were variants of the story reprinted in two of this month's digests. As Zatanna might say, "Ajed uv!" Since I calculate my Archie ratings on the way coolness that is Jughead, Archie's best pal, I award this issue a score of three out of five Juggies.

Juggie Juggie Juggie

ARCHIE & FRIENDS #53 is close to being the weakest link among this month's titles with a yawner of a double-length "Josie and the Pussycats" story and a too-cute-for-anyone-but-cat-fanatics "Nancy" tale, both drawn in a lackluster style. The art improves somewhat for Bill Golliher's "Oh, What a Knight!"--Archie and the gang at a medieval fair--but the issue only rates one Juggy.

Juggie

BETTY #106 has four well-written stories with exceptional art by Goldberg and inker John Lowe. In Golliner's "The Dinner Date," Archie comes to the Cooper house for dinner, thereby giving Hiram Lodge a break for the evening. George Gladir's "Sole Power" delves into a fad that has some surprising benefits. He follows that up with "The Problem," a tale which neatly brings readers up to date on Betty's current romances; there's a new guy who's competing with Archie for her affections. Finally, Mike Pellowski's "Santa's Li'l Helpers" is a warm-and-fuzzy holiday scenario. With extra credit for a neat cover and the even neater "Dear Betty" advice column by Sara Algasa, this comic gets five out of five Juggies.

Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie

BETTY AND VERONICA #168 has three readable-but-not-outstanding stories, the best of which is "Sleepshopping" (a totally Veronica sleep disorder) by Hal Smith. However, the issue finishes strong with Crosby's "Thanks For Giving." With extra credit for a fashion page and another Algasa advice column, I awarded BETTY AND VERONICA three out of five Juggies.

Juggie Juggie Juggie

BETTY AND VERONICA SPECTACULAR #61 has three stories written and drawn by Dan Parent. "Make Room For Dilton" explores the title hero's budding romance with songstress Brigitte Reilly while "This Girl's Everywhere" stars Ginger Lopez, a new romantic rival for the affections of the waffle-scarred Archie Andrews. Betty and Ronnie are a little too catty for my tastes in that second story, but it was still entertaining. The fourth story is the second chapter of Gladir's "Romance Throughout History," the first part of which was in issue #46. I'm not a big fan of continued stories in the Archie titles; that's something other comics publishers do. Still, with four fun stories and several fun feature pages, the book definitely rates five out of five Juggies.

Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie

SABRINA #25 is just as definitely the weakest link. Modeled after an animated TV show which stars a younger Sabrina, it fails to entertain in every department: writing, art, and feature pages. It doesn't even rate a fraction of a Juggy. I think it's time for a relaunch. My suggestion:

Make nice with co-creator DeCarlo. Team him with a writer who thinks outside the admittedly cozy Archie Comics box. Charge them with telling satirical teen angst tales of a extraordinary teenager trying to reconcile the two worlds in which she lives.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #103 is the first of two fill-ins done to speed the healing of an ailing artist. I've never been able to get into Sonic, but the comics geek in me got a chuckle out of writer Michael Gallagher and artist Jim Valentino's amusing homage to the Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel title once written and drawn by the latter. However, the too-thick continuity of the ish's second story, something about a team of Australian super-heroes in animal drag, lost me from the first page. With my Sonic-challenged brain so noted, I give this issue but one Juggy.

Juggie

VERONICA #120 gets some points for its modern culture nods to Martha Stewart and "reality" TV shows, but none of its stories rise above merely readable. Moreover, two out of three center on the less attractive aspects of the title heroine's personality. I can only give it one-and-a-half Juggies.

Juggie Juggie half

The Archie digests for this month were:

ARCHIE DIGEST #185

ARCHIE'S DOUBLE DIGEST #129

ARCHIE'S PALS N' GALS DOUBLE DIGEST #62 BETTY AND VERONICA DIGEST #125

BETTY AND VERONICA DOUBLE DIGEST #102

JUGHEAD'S DOUBLE DIGEST #81

JUGHEAD WITH ARCHIE DIGEST #170

The Archie double digests ($3.29) are 192 pages long with the "single" digests ($2.19) offering 96 pages. Each digest has one or two original tales, some old and new feature pages, and a plethora of reprinted stories.

With so many pages to fill, the digests feature quite a bit of variety and many of the classic Archie themes. There are popular culture nods to fads old and new, warm-and-fuzzy episodes in which Archie and company learn important lessons about life, and way too many "Little Archie" reprints for my tastes.

Bob Bolling did some outstanding work on "Little Archie," back when the feature carried its own title. But he is the only writer or artist who has been able to even slightly overcome my dislike of Archie variants like "Archie 1" (teenage cavemen) or "Archie 3000" (the future) or "Little Archie." Archie as anything other than a semi-contemporary teenager doesn't resonate with me.

Space doesn't allow a blow-by-blow examination of the stories in these digests, but I do have a few notes I can share with you as I rate them.

In ARCHIE DIGEST #185 (two Juggies), I was actually put off by "The Last Person Standing," one of the issue's new stories. Archie and company, including Betty and Jughead, were uncharacteristically cruel to another student. It didn't sit right with me and I think editors Nelson Ribeiro and Victor Gorelick dropped the ball, which they don't do often, on this one.

Juggie Juggie

"The Hideout" was my favorite story in ARCHIE'S DOUBLE DIGEST #129, but there were several others I liked almost as well. I give this issue the full five Juggies.

Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie

ARCHIE'S PALS N' GALS DOUBLE DIGEST #62 also rates the full five Juggies. The winners of the ish include a "Judge Judy" spoof, a conservation parable, a honestly chilling horror story, a funny "horror" story, and a delightful tale narrated by the spirit of the first mayor of Riverdale. There are few comics on the market which offer so much bang for your bucks,.

Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie

BETTY AND VERONICA DIGEST #125 was a one-Juggy disappointment. Only two stories were truly outstanding and a one-page gag bothered me immensely. The one-pager had Reggie being rejected by girls he was trying to meet on the Internet. While it's frequently amusing to see Reggie get his just desserts, I am alarmed at the thought of young readers being encouraged, even slightly, to arrange meetings with "friends" they have met online. The dangers of such behavior are well documented and Archie ought not be reprinting any stories which ignore that danger.

Juggie

I have the same concern over "Clueless in Settle" in BETTY AND VERONICA DOUBLE DIGEST #102 (one Juggy). Veronica flies across the country, sans chaperone, to meet Betty's handsome pen pal. True, such a journey is likely beyond the means of most younger readers, but it still sets a dangerous example.

Juggie

JUGHEAD'S DOUBLE DIGEST #81 (three-and-a-half Juggies) kicks off with "The Jughead Way," a tight little examination of the young sir's personality as narrated by Archie. The story was written by George Gladir with art by Fernando Ruiz and Rudy Lapick.

Did you know Jughead was a big fan of anime and manga? That's revealed in "Similar Tastes," one of several above-average stories in JUGHEAD WITH ARCHIE DIGEST #170. This digest also rates three-and-a-half Juggies.

Juggie Juggie Juggie Juggie half

That's my Riverdale round-up. Come back next week and we'll talk about the comics I received from Oni Press.

******

ADDENDUM

With this installment of my CBG column, I switched over to my current all-reviews format. There were many reasons, but the most pivotal one was that I wanted an excuse to read lots of comic books again. One of the minor ones was that I felt CBG needed a reviewer with teeth. Too many reviewers, in print and online, are too easy on lousy comic books...and some online reviewers can be had for the price of a free comic book and a word of recognition from a comics creator/editor/PR flack. I often roll my eyes and shake my head at their obsequious ways.

What I think I bring to the show is some knowledge of what it takes to create a comic book, a higher regard for creators than for companies, and a long enough career in comics that I'm not easily impressed by hype and self-promotion. I've worked with honest-to-gosh legends like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; I'm not terribly likely to be awed by some deconstructionist flavor-of-the-moment relieving himself on the creations of his or her betters.

Having decided to go the all-reviews route, I also decided to launch the new format with a look at Archie Comics. No one covers this important company and, given the prominence of their digests in outlets Marvel and DC can only dream about, I felt that was just plain short-sighted. I saw a need; I responded to it.

I didn't want to assign a "grade" per se to the Archie comics I reviewed, so I came up with my Jughead scale. I confess I wanted to see if I could get the word "juggies" in CBG over and over, my sophomoric protest against the language restrictions CBG's editors impose on me. I love Maggie Thompson and Brent Frankenhoff, but I chafe whenever they change words like "ass" and "crap" on me. It's one of those areas where we've agreed to disagree. They change the words in the paper; I change them back when I reprint these columns online. I can live with that.

There is a bittersweet taste to reprinting this column. When I wrote it for CBG, I was optimistic that, eventually, there would be a reconciliation between Archie Comics and Dan DeCarlo. I have always had a great deal of respect for all the non-lawyers involved in this dispute. DeCarlo was an amazingly talented and sweet guy, a true superstar. I like the folks at Archie and enjoy my all-too-rare contacts with them.

The overwhelming tragedy is the loss of Dan DeCarlo, the man and artist. The smaller tragedy is that he and Archie Comics were at such odds when he died. I hope that, sooner rather than later, things can somehow be made as right as possible, even given the sad realities of these circumstances.

******

Banzai Girl

BANZAI GIRL

In Tuesday's column, I ran a picture of myself and BANZAI GIRL writer/co-artist/model JINKY CORONADO. I asked David Campiti, her representative, for more information on her and her creation and he responded with the following:

Banzai Girl BANZAI GIRL is a girl of three worlds. She just doesn't know it yet. Imagine:

As a teenaged Asian girl named Jinky Coronado, you thought you were typical. You had friends, schoolwork, and your 18th birthday "coming out" party to look forward to.

But you've always had dreams of...something else. You imagined yourself a mighty futuristic cyber-warrior. You imagined yourself a princess. As you got older, your dreams changed and changed you as well...because they had become nightmares.

As a dream-princess, you watched as a scoundrel murdered your father--the King--in front of you. Then you were the wisdom behind the throne as your Mother stepped into power! You loved the costumes and pageantry, but your decisions made you grow up so fast. And there were times when you fought for your life as someone sought to usurp the throne...and you wondered about it when you awakened and discovered those cuts on your arm. Was it your new kitten or...?

In other dreams, you were a cyber-warrior! A teenager brought up and recruited young to battle nasty invading robot monsters in a war, given a blouse of liquid metal that transformed into armor and weaponry. The liquid metal was alive, a symbiot that became your protection and weapon in the cyber-war.

But, in real life, the adventures became no less compelling. Something strange was happening in your town. From out the corner of your eye, you saw shadows of...something sinister.

Banzai Girl Katie Jay, your best friend, had always called you BANZAI GIRL because you were never scared of anything. You loved the fastest roller coasters and highest bungee jumps, just like her, though she drew the line at the skydiving with your Dad on the day after your 18th birthday.

That was also the week everything changed. That was the week your other friend Michelle's parents vanished. That was it; that was when you and your friends banded together to fight...the Shadow Whisperers. The other kids didn't know. Their parents never even suspected.

And through this, you were still troubled by the dreams, those nightmares of two other worlds, and you realized that maybe, just maybe, the dreams were real, and the lessons and decisions you made in those other lives could help you against the Shadow Whisperers! This was a job for BANZAI GIRL!

As for the writer/co-artist/model:

JINKY CORONADO was born and reared in Iloilo, Philippines. A graduate of the University of San Augustine, she earned a degree in Marketing and a minor in Design and Illustration.

She took up modeling in high school after winning a series of beauty competitions, using the money she won for college tuition. She was named SK Supermodel 95; Iloilo City Summer Youth 96; Miss Guimbal 96; Miss Lovely Girl 97; Miss San Nicholas 97; and Ms. League 98. She was runner-up in Ms. Hirinugyan 97 and Ms. Herway 97. For the cold cream manufacturer, she appeared nationally as Miss Ponds 98. She has been selected on three occasions to appear as Miss Atub-Atub Queen, the mistress of ceremonies for Dinagyang, her nation's proud equivalent of Mardi Gras.
Banzai Girl

Scattered about this section of today's column, we have photos of Jinky with artists Will Conrad and Mike Deodato and some other guy who looks vaguely familiar. We also have the cover for BANZAI GIRL #1, which Campiti's Glass House Graphics is currently shopping around to publishers, and a Deodato sketch of Jinky as the heroine she created and portrays. I figure you deserve a treat for putting up with me all these years.

Banzai Girl

I'll be back on Saturday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/08/2002 | 01/10/2002 | 01/12/2002 >>

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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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