TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1471 (02/09/02)
"The four most dreaded words in journalism: Geraldo's got a gun."
-Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show
If you're reading CBG for the first time, here's all you need to know about me
I'm 50 years old, married, two kids, live in Medina, Ohio. I learned to read from comic books when I was four and was a serious fan by ten. I've been working in the comics industry for nearly 30 years as a writer, editor, retailer, distributor, and several other positions which didn't require manual dexterity. I've been writing this column and others like it long enough to know better.
The quotes which lead off my columns often have zip to do with comics. I just like them. I like quotes in general. I try not to read too much into this.
Although my past columns have discussed many subjects besides comics, I've become a born-again comics reviewer. This is no small thing; for the past several years, I've read enough comic books to allow me to write columns and no more. As a result, I approach my comics reviews from the perspective of a not-quite-virgin reader. I may know some of the characters from my earlier reading, but I'm not up to speed on their current storylines.
This wouldn't be a problem, even with long-running super-hero titles, if their writers and editors would embrace the concept that every issue of every comic they do might be a reader's first issue. There are four "DC Universe" titles among the comics I'm reviewing this week, some of them starring iconic characters like Superman and Wonder Woman, and many of them were largely incomprehensible to me, despite my having written dozens of DCU stories during my years in the industry. That's not a good thing.
Here's what else you need to know
Over the next four weeks, I'm going to review a month's worth of DC issues, and issues from the company's various imprints. The DC package I received had 92 items in it, which is a heck of a lot of stuff. I don't know if I can read and review them all, but I'll give it my best shot.
Because my editors are easily amused, I devise a new and silly ratings system for each company whose comics I review. For these DC reviews, I base my ratings on the most pivotal character in the DCU. Naturally, I speak of Jimmy Olsen, Superman's pal, the feisty and frequently foolish reporter whose cunning disguises and wacky transformations were a mainstay of the DC title in which he starred from the late 1950s through the 1970s.
As I review these comics, I will award them the appropriate "Jimmy" from this chart
GIANT TURTLE MAN (the best of the best)
WOLF-BOY OF METROPOLIS (howling good)
ELASTIC LAD (a heroic effort)
LESLIE LOWE, GIRL REPORTER (kind of a drag)
HUMAN PORCUPINE (a cold prickly)
THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #598 (DC; $2.25) caught my eye with Mike Wieringo's cover drawing of Clark Kent rushing from an open phone booth and loosening his tie/shirt to reveal his Superman suit beneath. It was a wonderfully anachronistic piece, up to date in its execution, but harkening back to when phone booths were ever so much more private than they are today.
The cover put me in the mood for a good Superman story and, in that regard, I was only mildly disappointed in writer Joe Casey's "Cult of Persuasion." My dismay centered on the lack of back story for new readers. Captions and exposition are dying arts in comics, not surprising given the nigh-idolatrous admiration so many comics writers seem to have for movie and television writing. Sadly, and I am not necessarily including Casey in this group, they also write as if comic books were an inherently inferior form of storytelling and, in doing this, deprive themselves of useful storytelling tools in their comics work.
I have an advantage over an actual new reader because I know, through osmosis, I think, that at some point prior to this story, advanced alien technology was incorporated into Superman's hometown of Metropolis and that it didn't work out as well as it might have. We have an intriguing social conflict between Daily Planet editor Perry White, who wants to use the alien tech judiciously, and angry workers who fear any use of it will cost them their jobs. I like the "real world" aspects of the tale.
Casey's writing is pretty good here, though I did wince when Jimmy calls Superman as "the Man of Steel" in a conversation with Perry. It was jarring, much as if I suddenly took to referring to Maggie Thompson as "the editor of CBG" while talking to people who know her as "Maggie." It's a minor quibble, but it struck a false note in an otherwise well-written script.
The classic Joe Shuster, Wayne Boring, and Curt Swan versions of Superman have fallen out of favor of late, replaced by a "manga" influence. I prefer the classic looks, but this issue's interior art by Wieringo with Mauricet (pencils) and Jose Marzan, Jr. (inks) was very well done.
I took a point for the lack of back story, but THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #598 still rates an: ELASTIC LAD.
THE AUTHORITY #27 (Wildstorm; $2.50) is a sadistic exercise in artistic ego. It begins with the current members of the Authority maiming and slaughtering Legion of Super-Heroes knockoffs and from there proceeds to lovingly detailed scenes of the previous members of the Authority being tortured. If this comic book, which carries no advisory as to its brutal and dehumanizing nature, has a reason behind its meanness, its writer lacks the talent to illuminate that reason. It is a comics equivalent of an evil child setting fire to anthills with his magnifying glass.
DC management is taking a great deal of flak from fans crying about the grave "injustice" done to THE AUTHORITY and its writers as the company attempts to moderate the title's excesses. To those benighted fans, I offer a sincere...boo hoo.
What DC should be taking flak for is not putting this mad dog to sleep months ago. I can't even give this issue the lowest score on my "Jimmy" scale because I can't conceive of another comic being this awful. It's in a class by itself.
AZRAEL: AGENT OF THE BAT #84 (DC; $2.50) is a "done-in-one" story about sports rage: a father goes on a killing spree after an altercation with other fathers at a kids baseball game. I like a bit of reality with my super-hero comics and enjoy a "torn from the headlines" approach, but Denny O'Neil took his tale so far over the top that it quickly lost its tenuous connection to the real world. Worse, even the super-hero aspects of the story fell short of what I would expect from a writer of O'Neil's talents.
Although a new reader wouldn't know this, I know that Azrael's story has been one of personal challenge and growth. From textual clues, I gather that he hasn't had an easy time of it lately and is having some problems with his self-esteem. Even so, I thought it unlikely his reaction to the proximity of a man who had killed four times would be to "let the cops handle it." And I found it plain impossible to believe that computer whiz and information specialist Barbara "Oracle" Gordon needed two passes to come up with the news that the killer was a metahuman.
O'Neil's writing is good, as is the artwork by Sergio Cariello (pencils) and James Pascoe (inks), but the story's logic problems lowers its rating to: LESLIE LOWE.
DETECTIVE COMICS #764 (DC; $2.50) was a terrific comic book from Joel McCrea's ominous cover, through the Batman story by Greg Rucka, Shawn Martinbrough, and Jesse Delperdang, and finishing with the "Josie Mac" chapter by Judd Winick and Cliff Chiang. Counting the letters page, that comes to 30 pages of material for two-and-a-half bucks. That strikes me as a good value.
"Hearts" had me asking some questions about previous issues, but Rucka covered enough of the back story for me to get into the story fairly quickly. His judicious use of Batman added a sense of mystery to the tale, a tone echoed by the artwork and the duo-tone coloring. I want to see what happens next and that's always a good thing for an episodic super-hero title.
Winick's "Josie Mac" chapter was as impressive an eight-pager as I've seen.
Josie is a police detective with psychic powers and an incompetent partner. Winick established the characters and the situation without slowing down the action, kept the story moving at a rapid pace, and, as with the Batman story, left me eager to learn what happens next.
DETECTIVE COMICS #764 rates a: WOLF-BOY OF METROPOLIS.
STAR TREK VOYAGER: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE UNKNOWN (Wildstorm/DC; $19.95) collects four previously-published comic-book stories. It may be damning these tales with faint praise, but I liked every one of them better than I liked any episode of the Voyager television series. Going through the contents...
Nathan Archer's "False Colors" has the Voyager crew going up against Borg posers. Artists Jeffrey Moy and W.C. Carini do a fine job nailing the likenesses of the Voyager actors and do so without sacrificing storytelling clarity and dynamics. My only quibble is that Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and Archer all would have ended this crisis on a better and more honorable note than did Janeway. She's the runt of the Starfleet litter.
Janine Ellen Young and Doselle Young's "Avalon Rising" hits an occasional rough spot in the writing, but their story of Voyager's holographic doctor carrying out a mission on a medieval-stage world is downright inspirational. The David Roach art is as good as that by the Moy/Carini team.
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's "Elite Force" is based on a Star Trek video game and shows it with repetitious action scenes. They do manage some decent characterization, though, and the Moy/Carini art is up to the team's usual high standards.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith's "Planet Killer" had a dynamite premise: the Voyager crew encounter the same kind of super-weapon that once almost destroyed Kirk's Enterprise and they have hours to stop the weapon from consigning an inhabited world to oblivion. This was originally a three-issue mini-series with the first two chapters leading to a pair of nifty cliff-hangers. But, for all it had going for it, the serial was crippled by lackluster visuals and weak writing. There were too many head shots and not enough drama in the dialogue. Taking up as many pages as it did, this story brought down the score for the collection.
The best score I can award STAR TREK VOYAGER: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE UNKNOWN is an: ELASTIC LAD.
My pick for the most incomprehensible comic book of this batch is WONDER WOMAN #175 (DC; $3.50). The double-length muddle is part of the Joker: Last Laugh crossover event which ran through all the DCU titles a while back. Apparently, this issue is a late-shipping entry in that event, sort of like a really bad meal that stays with you way too long.
As near as I can figure, the legendary witch Circe has teamed up with every obscure super-villainess in DCU history to take over the world. She is being opposed by Wonder Woman and every obscure super-heroine in DCU history. The characters and their battles are shown in little teeny panels and the reader is given little reason to care who they are or what happens to it. I wouldn't even know who most of these characters were if they weren't identified by the little teeny captions in the little teeny panels.
Phil Jimenez's artwork is sort of cool, though I wish he would develop a style which didn't so slavishly ape that of George Perez. His scripting is a tad melodramatic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in a super-hero book. Where this issue crashes and burns so spectacularly is that no new reader could pick it up and figure out what's happening and he/she certainly wouldn't get a satisfying Wonder Woman experience for his/her three-and-a-half bucks. By the time we get to the final page of a battered Wonder Woman cradling an equally battered Superman, the only emotion I felt was a relief that the issue was over.
It comes down to this: are DC's writers and editors married to producing comic books that are inaccessible to all but the 20,000 or so hardcore fans who can sort their way through the legions of heroes, the armies of villains, the universe-spanning storylines, and so on? Might not iconic characters like Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman be better served by appearing in comics which welcome the new or returning reader?
You can write my name in the latter category, even as I give WONDER WOMAN #175 a sad rating of: HUMAN PORCUPINE.
I'll return to the DC beat next week.
When I switched to an all-reviews format for my CBG columns, I anticipated a drop in comments from readers. Instead, it stayed about the same, changing only in length and tone: shorter letters and fewer predictions of eternal damnation.
Shortly after the above column saw print, I received a letter from JEFF MICHAELS, expressing his disappointment with my review of WONDER WOMAN, one of his favorite titles
Imagine how I felt as my favorite CBG columnist ripped one of my favorite comics to shreds, paragraph after agonizing paragraph. I can see where you might be confused; the issue was a bit chaotic. But to rate WONDER WOMAN just above the rancid AUTHORITY? That was harsh.
I feel the need to come to Diana's and Phil's defense. Phil Jimenez has completely revitalized WONDER WOMAN...and you picked the worst possible issue to come aboard. He had wonderful momentum going; I'm assuming he was blind-sided with that lame "Last Laugh" crossover so soon after having to deal with the "Our Worlds At War" crossover.
Phil handled "War" very well. In fact, he put an update at the beginning of each issue to let readers know what was happening in all the other crossovers.
It was virtually impossible to bring new readers up to speed without rehashing the "War" storyline again. The issue was already oversizedto compensate for the intrusion of the mandatory "Joker" crossover into what was already a delayed storyline from WW #171, and the issue was running late on top of that. The fill-in artist didn't mesh with Phil's pencils and what was supposed to be a fun, simple "girl" issue tumbled out of control.
I wish DC would quit with these multi-title events and just allow their creators to create.
Except for the sub-par fill-in art, I actually enjoyed #175. Phil remembered that both Luthor and Joker had betrayed Circe in Grant Morrison's JLA/"Rock of Ages" storyline. He also remembered that Plastic Man humiliated Circe in that same story. It was nice to see Circe knocked down a peg or two by underestimating Luthor's will to win and the sheer insanity of the Joker. These two mere humans ruined all her plans. Most writers ignore history like this and I found it added depth to the story.
Superman's breakdown was well-timed; he was stressed out from the war, worried about his missing father, and mourning the death of Lois' father. Circe's game was the last straw. He went to see a shrink in the next issue of his own monthly.
Phil even remembered little things like Vixen and Gypsy being concerned for the Martian Manhunter. Those three went through Hell together at the end of JLA-Detroit. Even Black Canary's sarcasm to Oracle about the Bat-Clan's secrecy was appreciated. Most of the heroines were in character, especially the rarely-used Dr. Light. At the end of the story, all the women were still fully clothed. That's quite an accomplishment these days.
I'm not made of money, but I feel so strongly about Phil's interpretation of WONDER WOMAN that I bought the remaining copies for you to read to prove that #175 was a fluke. I respect you as a writer, but I feel you did your readers a disservice by trashing a book that is produced with obvious love and respect. If you like them, please write another column to let your fans know.
Every writer on WONDER WOMAN since George Perez left the book has dropped all the supporting cast members and plot threads from previous creators to avoid the trappings of continuity. The book has never felt connected until now. Imagine if each new Superman writer created a new supporting cast for Clark every dozen issues. WW's readers became discouraged because Diana never seemed to miss characters she loved dearly just issues before.
Most of Phil's plots are threads lazily left behind by other writers. He's trying to tie the past couple of years together. He deserves more than a "cold prickly."
Enjoy the enclosed Wonder Woman comics and a few other goodies I thought you'd enjoy. Take care.
To say I was bowled over by Jeff's loyalty to a creator whose work he cherishes wouldn't begin to cover my feelings as I read his letter and realized he had sent me nearly $40 worth of comic books. No matter what I may think of WONDER WOMAN after I read the issues Jeff sent, it's clear Phil Jimenez's run on the book has earned him some reader acclaim.
I will read the comics Phil sent me and review them in my CBG column. Unfortunately, because of the time between when I write my CBG columns and when they appear, it'll be several weeks before the reviews appear. In the meantime, let's leave it at this
Phil Jimenez is a very lucky comics creator to have a fan like Jeff. He must be doing something right.
Every Sunday, Justin and I post a passel of poll questions on the TONY POLLS page here at World Famous Comics. Here be the final tallies from the week of January 27...
It's TAKE A STAND week, time to make your choices, name your favorites, place your bets. You can't have it both ways; you get just one choice and it starts here...
DC OR MARVEL?
DC.....211 votes (73.52%)
BATMAN or SUPERMAN?
Batman.....151 votes (53.93%)
BETTY or VERONICA?
Betty.....189 votes (76.21%)
LANA LANG or LOIS LANE?
Lois Lane.....130 votes (50.19%)
Lana Lang.....129 (49.81%)
GINGER or MARY ANN?
Mary Ann.....189 votes (75.60%)
BATGIRL (Yvonne Craig) or CATWOMAN (Julie Newmar)?
Batgirl/Yvonne Craig.....145 votes (54.51%)
Catwoman/Julie Newmar.....121 (45.49%)
From TV's Smallville: CHLOE or LANA?
Lana.....118 votes (57%)
NEIL GAIMAN or TODD McFARLANE?
Neil Gaiman.....235 votes (92.52%)
Todd McFarlane.....19 (7.48%)
MARVEL COMICS or ALAN MOORE?
Alan Moore.....178 votes (74.17%)
Marvel Comics.....62 (25.83%)
The big finish! With DC and Marvel taken out of the voting, which of these comics companies is your favorite?
Dark Horse.....67 votes (24.36%)
AC Comics.....46 (16.73%)
Kenzer & Company.....8 (2.91%)
Antarctic Press.....6 (2.18%)
Top Shelf.....5 (1.82%)
If you haven't yet voted on this week's poll questions, you can still do so by going to
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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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