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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 #1467 (01/12/02)

"Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these."
--Susan B. Anthony, American reformer

"I think when the full horror of being fifty hits you, you should stay home and have a good cry."
--Alan Bleasdale, British writer

The simultaneously most heartwarming and horrifying moments of Mid-Ohio-Con 2001 came when my Sainted Wife Barb and show promoter Roger Price surprised this aging columnist with a birthday cake and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." The where of the amiable ambush was the convention's special karaoke night, hosted by Andy Hallett of TV's ANGEL, while the impetus was my rapidly-approaching fiftieth birthday. So much for my hope of letting the day, which isn't until later this month, pass without notice.

The horrifying part was when Hallett cajoled Roger and I into performing "Mack the Knife." A friend claims to have captured our duet on tape and has threatened to put it online. Aren't you glad CBG doesn't come with a sound chip?

My thanks to everyone who wished me well that evening. I want to especially acknowledge those who singed their fingers lighting my fifty birthday candles...and the paramedics who revived me after I tried to blow out those fifty birthday candles. Let's not talk about this again.

******

ONI PRESS is the focus of my reviews this week. There were nine comics and a trade paperback in the latest package sent to me by this lively young publishing company. In just about every case, these issues mark the first time I've read the various titles and, as a result, I found myself reading middle or even last issues of some titles. Keep that in mind as we go forward.

BLUE MONDAY: ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS #4 ($2.95) is the fourth and final issue of this Chynna Clugston-Major mini-series. I haven't a clue what happened prior to this issue, but the delightful cover (with its wonderful color by Guy Major) got me interested and the characters, writing, and artwork kept me interested throughout what was clearly the last act of the play. Next time, I'll make sure I get there before the curtain rises.

Bleu, the blue-haired star of the series, spends this issue fretting over and going on a date with Alan. He has a embarrassing video tape of her; the date is the price for Bleu getting it back. Along the way, two of Bleu's pals do their best to make Alan suffer for this act of extortion.

Clugston-Major did a terrific job with these characters. Bleu may protest dearly, but there is clearly some Alan-interest on her part. In some respects, Alan is a charming date, but his essential dog-ness surfaces during and after the date. In both cases, I want to see where they've been and where they're going. I suspect I've missed some good comics here.

THE GUNWITCH: OUTSKIRTS OF DOOM #3 ($2.95) is also the finale of a mini-series, three issues long in this case. The inside front cover summary filled me on in the current story, but left me in the dark about the title character.

Written and created by Dan Brereton, the Gunwitch seems to be some sort of supernatural sheriff. The Ted Naifeh art is good and spooky, but, like the summary, it didn't give me enough information to be confident I knew what was happening and who it was happening to. I wanted to like this comic a lot more than I did, but, as a new reader, I needed more background than was provided.

Here comes a spoiler warning:

The threat facing the Gunwitch seems to be the restoration to "un-life" of Nitocris, sleeping queen of the vampires. Some foe cursed the queen's hands to make her do his bidding. Her followers cut them off to set her free. In this issue, Gunny loses his hands as well. You can see what's coming. It's a creepy concept, but, on a ghoulish level, a fun one as well.

Thus ends the spoiler warning.

I can't recommend THE GUNWITCH on the basis of this issue, but I suspect it would be more enjoyable if more attention was paid to those readers who might be sampling the series for the first time. Approaching the creation of any issue as if it were going to be a reader's first issue is always a good plan.

I'm about as far removed from the contemporary music scene as you can get-I'm still nursing my crush on Petula Clark-but, after reading HOPELESS SAVAGES #2 and #3 ($2.95 each), I definitely want to get up to speed on this series. Here's what I figured out from these two issues:

Someone has kidnaped the parents of a interesting group of brothers, sisters, and maybe some other relations. To rescue them, the family must "un-program" a guy who has been "cured" of his more violent nature. There are clearly other family matters to be dealt with, but this kidnaping thing is the predominant one. The fourth and final issue will doubtless resolve that one.

Even without knowing as much of the background of this series as I would like, HOPELESS SAVAGES has me hooked. Jen Van Meter's writing works well with the artwork of Christine Norrie and Chynna Clugston-Major (who draws the flashback sequences). The characters are fun; I want to spend more time with them. Even with the lack of background information, the storytelling is excellent, flowing nicely from panel to panel. And I love the use of character-held placards to set the scenes.

HOPELESS SAVAGES is good stuff. It doubtless resonates more with readers younger and more musically-inclined than myself, but even a grumpy old guy like me can enjoy it. Check it out.

I like almost everything about KISSING CHAOS #1 ($1.95) and #2 ($2.25). I like Arthur Dela Cruz's writing and art. I like Kalah Allen's book design.

I like the format.

What I don't like is KC's "young criminals on the lam" story. I don't give a fig about any of the characters and that leads to my not caring about the twists and turns their fortunes take. Maybe that will change as the series progresses-these are the first of eight issues-but that's where I am with this title right now. I can't recommend KISSING CHAOS, but I do look forward to Dela Cruz's next project with the hope it will be more to my liking.

Scott Morse's MAGIC PICKLE #2 ($2.95) is big goofy fun with a super-heroic pickle and super-villainous vegetables. How could I not like such a comic!

How cruel the economic fates which decreed that this book lacks the color that would make it even more fun to behold! I'm usually cool with black-and-white, but, this time, I think the lack of color will prevent a fine comic from reaching the mainstream audience it deserves. Kudos to Morse for the laughs and for the utterly believable kid sidekick.



The heavy hitter of this month's Oni releases was THE MARQUIS: DANSE MACABRE by Guy Davis ($18.95), a trade paperback collecting the five issues of the comics series and some additional goodies. Set aside a couple of hours to enjoy this book; it's chilling and thought-provoking.

In an 18th-century France that is not our own, in an universe where escaped souls of Hell conceal themselves within living men, a faith-challenged man is charged with freeing innocent souls from the invading damned. But this man does not know the true source of his calling and only dimly suspects the dire price its performance will require from him.

The artwork is breathtaking throughout. The backgrounds bring this strange and perverse world to life magnificently. The designs of the demons are beautifully fearful. My solitary quibble would be that it's sometimes difficult to tell characters apart, though, at the same time, I can't say that anything which gives the reader an excuse to linger on a page or panel is a bad thing.

The story begins on a chaotic beat, but it's worth riding out any initial confusion. Ironically, the opening pages of an earlier version of THE MARQUIS, though not as well-drawn as the Oni debut, introduce the basic premise of the story far more clearly than does the remake. (You can compare them for yourself; one of the bonus features of this collection is the original 1997 prelude to DANSE MACABRE.) However, by the second and third chapters, you'll be in tune with this challenging story, eagerly awaiting each new horror and revelation.

In addition to the stories, this collection of DANSE MACABRE includes an introduction by frequent Davis collaborator, Steven T. Seagle, an afterword by Davis, a sketchbook tracing the development of key characters and images, and a look at some of the discarded works-in-progress from the first MACABRE. In both the quality and quantity departments, this book offers readers huge bang for their bucks. I recommend it highly.

The Tim Sale cover is the best thing about QUEEN & COUNTRY #4 ($2.95), which features the conclusion of the ongoing title's first story. Of all the books I read for this column, this was the one I was most expecting to enjoy, but, though I appreciated a moment or two, the overall issue never truly grabbed or kept my interest beyond those all-too-rare scenes.

I'll credit all hands with making a good-faith effort to make the comic accessible to new readers. There is a cast of characters on the inside back cover and a "previously" caption on the inside front cover. However, reading the copy which accompanies the cast pictures requires a magnifying glass and the display mostly reveals the artist's difficulty in drawing distinctly different characters. I swear most of these people are related.

Here's the info given on the inside front group:

The Russian Mafia has been none too happy with Tara Chase since she assassinated one of their generals, and they have been making sure everyone knows it. After a daring attack on the SIS building, Paul Crocker feared that the Russians would get even bolder and go after Tara directly. He is forced to set up a decoy maneuver to draw the killers out, leaving Tara a sitting duck at her home. To further complicate matters, Crocker has been ordered to apprehend them without guns. His worst fears are realized as Russian agents descend on Tara and her fellow Minders, and they are forced to defend themselves with toy replicas.

Okay, I get that this takes place in England where guns aren't as much in evidence as they are in this country. What I don't get is why any leader would give such a "no guns" order with regard to armed criminals trying to kill his agents, or why the agents would obey that order. I'm not big on guns, but even I'd be packing heat under such circumstances. I couldn't accept this and it continued to nag at me throughout the issue.

That's the bottom line. The characters and the story didn't grab me. The interior artwork was barely adequate. The comic book just didn't work for me.

The marvelously eerie artwork of Troy Nixey would've attracted me to TROUT #1 ($2.95) all on its own. The spookiness of the story will bring me back for the second and concluding issue. Attempting to describe this dark comedy briefly would be a disservice to both it and you, so I'll content myself with recommending you check it out for yourself.

TROUT won't be to every comics reader's taste, but that's the risk a creator runs when he does something so refreshingly unique. I'm looking forward to TROUT #2 and I'll also be keeping an eye out for anything else Nixey does.

Next week: Dark Horse Comics.

******

ADDENDUM

I don't have anything to add to the above...save that writing and posting daily columns (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS; Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday here at WORLD FAMOUS COMICS) has been an exhausting and satisfying gig for me. My thrice-weekly columns will continue at Perpetual, but, with this special "back to work" week concluded, we'll be cutting back to one per week...every Saturday...here at WFC.

However, our week of wonder isn't over yet. Justin and I have one more surprise for you and I'll be announcing it Sunday morning on the official Tony Isabella message board. You can get there by clicking on the link provided elsewhere on this page.

******

TOBIAS WHALE

From time to time, as the creator of DC's Black Lightning and Tobias Whale, I am asked about the similarities between the latter character and the Kingpin, long-time foe of Marvel's Spider-Man and Daredevil. Most of the time, the question is asked without malice, and, when it is, here's the answer I give



Tobias Whale was inspired by the Kingpin in that I needed a physically powerful crime-lord for the first Black Lightning story arc. I tried to give him a different personality than the Kingpin, only to see Frank Miller and other Marvel writers take the Kingpin in the same direction I had gone.

At the time I created Tobias Whale, which was in mid-1976, the Kingpin had shown himself to be a man capable of love, if only for his wife and son, and also a man with a modicum of honor. In his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN appearances, written by Stan Lee and generally drawn by John Romita, the Kingpin wasn't as utterly ruthless as he would later become. In addition, at the time I was creating Black Lightning, it had been several years since the Kingpin had appeared in any Marvel Comics title.

Tobias Whale was (and remains) incapable of love on any level. He has no sense of honor. He's a monster incapable of considering anything except his own insatiable desires...and some of those were far darker than anything I could have shown in the pages of BLACK LIGHTNING. I'm saving them for the novel.

I brought him back in the second Black Lightning series, the one DC published in 1995, with the intention of differentiating him from the current version of the Kingpin in the only way which made any logical sense to me. Unfortunately, my run on the series ended before I could accomplish that objective. Maybe I'll get another chance to get it right in the future.

To answer the three other Black Lightning questions I'm most frequently asked:

1) I would love to write more Black Lightning stories. Heck, I'd be happy to spend the rest of my career writing Black Lightning stories. The character is part of me.

2) Write DC and tells them you want to see new Black Lightning stories written by me.

3) I thought Sinbad was brilliant!

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

I lost the letters I had been saving for use in these columns when my hard drive crashed in mid-December. However, I can always count on my readers to let me know what's on their minds. Here's what BRAD MARSHALL had to say:

I must thank you for including accessibility as an important ingredient in your comics reviews. It's great that you place such importance in being able to pick up any issue of a series and get some idea of what's going on. Many of today's writers--including many of the "hot" talents--assume readers have as vast a knowledge of the characters and storyline as they do. I'm tired of picking up an issue from an ongoing series which has been recommended to me or which has a "buzz" and find the only way to enjoy it is to buy and read every back issue.

In a similar vein, it sometimes seems that one must have an intimate knowledge of all comics history to read some comics. A writer introduces some obscure Golden or Silver Age hero or villain and assumes the reader knows his entire back story.

In the good old days, the editor or writer would add a caption explaining what had happened previously and included a reference to the comic and issue in which it had occurred. How can the comics industry hope to entice new readers if it continues to become more and more esoteric?

I'll leave your fellow readers to ponder that question, Brad. As for yours truly...

I'll be back next Saturday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/10/2002 | 01/12/2002 | 01/19/2002 >>

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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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