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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 #1473 (02/23/02)

"Don't they logically recognize your benevolence, and accept you as a guide to truth and understanding?"
-Queen Hippolyta to her daughter Diana in WONDER WOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH. You thought she was talking about me, didn't you? It's a common mistake.

I tried. I really tried to read an entire month's worth of DC (and related) comic books and review them here. But, there I was, maybe half way through the towering stack, when the NEXT box of DC goodies materialized on my porch.

DC may not be the squeakiest wheel on the comics industry rig, but, month after month, they publish more comics and more different kinds of comics than anyone else. Yes, much of that volume comes from their super-hero comics, but they also publish comics in just about every other comics genre, aimed at readers from the youngest to the most mature, and in a variety of formats. Heck, even among their super-hero mags, the range is incredible, from BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES to JSA to PROMETHEA to THE AUTHORITY.

I can't even fault DC on the quality of its comics. While the company does publish the occasional clunkers, the overall average remains high. I've been enjoying rediscovering DC's characters and creators and, one of these days, after a training regime designed to increase my strength and endurance, I'm going to have another go at tackling a month's worth of their comics.

What I have for you this week is a lightning round of reviews. As always, as befits our favorite reporter's pivotal role in the DC Universe, I'm rating these books on my "Jimmy Olsen" scale. Here's how that works

GIANT TURTLE MAN (the best of the best)
Giant Turtle Man

WOLF-BOY OF METROPOLIS (howling good)
Wolf-Boy of Metropolis

ELASTIC LAD (a heroic effort)
Elastic Lad

LESLIE LOWE, GIRL REPORTER (kind of a drag)
Leslie Lowe

HUMAN PORCUPINE (a cold prickly)
Human Porcupine

With thanks to my editors for putting up with such nuttiness, I invite you to follow me to the reviews.

******

GRIP: THE STRANGE WORLD OF MEN (Vertigo/DC; $2.50) introduces us to Mike Chang. He has amnesia, he's wearing a dead man's suit, people are trying to kill him, and, at the end of the first issue, his skin goes for a walk without him. Writer and artist Gilbert Hernandez doesn't stint on the weird in this five-issue series, but his storytelling is smooth as silk, making it easy for a reader to follow the tale's twists and turns and its many characters. With this kind of weirdness, Grip's final rating will depend on how well the story is resolved. However, based on the two issues I've read, I give it a: WOLF-BOY OF METROPOLIS!

Wolf-Boy of Metropolis

******

I've been reluctant to sample HARLEY QUINN (DC; $2.25) despite my considerable affection for the title character. Her hilariously murderous "joie de vivre" was wonderfully played in her appearances on BATMAN, but the nature of those cartoons assured that her crimes would be less lethal than her comic-book counterparts. Of course, now that Harley's been brought into the DCU proper, such barriers are no longer operative.

I'm delighted to report that, in HARLEY QUINN #14 and #15, at least, the violence is kept to a non-lethal minimum. Okay, yeah, Harley and Poison Ivy do stand by while a woman commits suicide and a security guard gets chomped on a lion-plant-thing, but the former fits the darkly satirical tone of the series and the latter wasn't necessarily a fatality.

On the plus side, we get Harley adopting a secret identity as a romance columnist for the Daily Planet, lots of on-panel time for Jimmy Olsen, terrific writing by Karl Kesel, and just-as-terrific artwork by Terry and Rachel Dodson. I'm deducting a point for the suicide scene, but HARLEY QUINN still rates a healthy: WOLF-BOY OF METROPOLIS!

Wolf-Boy of Metropolis

******

IMPULSE #80 and #81 (DC; $2.50) were comics I wanted to like more than I did. Writer Todd Dezago does a fine job bringing new readers up to date on what has gone before. In issue #80, he wrote a human interest story about a teen coming to grips with his mom's death and his dad's need to move forward from the tragedy. In #81, there were a few honestly funny moments as Impulse played sidekick to a not-quite-right super-hero. But the former story was cramped for space, the latter didn't have a satisfying punch line, and both were crippled by butt-ugly faux-manga artwork. I have to split the ratings for these books. I give the writing an ELASTIC LAD and I give the artwork a HUMAN PORCUPINE.

Writing:
Elastic Lad

Artwork:
Human Porcupine

******

JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #1 and #2 (DC; $1.99) continue the DC tradition of producing comics based on cartoons featuring their legendary characters that are far more accessible to a new reader than the "real" comics featuring those characters. For the debut issue, writer Ty Templeton crafts an alien menace tale with a twist worthy of Gardner Fox and Julius Schwartz, the writer-editor team who launched the Justice League of America in the 1960s. For the second issue, Paul Storrie delivers a touching human interest story wrapped in a decent "super-heroes versus super-villainess" outing. The artwork isn't up to the stories, and the dialogue could use a bit more snap to it, but JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #1 and #2 most definitely earn their ratings of: ELASTIC LAD!

Elastic Lad

******

While Dick Grayson obsesses about having killed the Joker, who then got better, Blue Beetle and Robin take over his crime-bashing gig in NIGHTWING #63 (DC; $2.25). The ish comes up short at every turn of the page. The Beetle and Robin scenes are neither exciting nor amusing. Dick's crisis never truly engages our emotions. The story is further damaged by shaky storytelling and art which looks like it was taken from fun-house mirrors. It is a comic-book train wreck and barely rates even a: HUMAN PORCUPINE!

Human Porcupine

NIGHTWING #64 (also $2.25) redeems writer Chuck Dixon by way of a done-in-one Christmas story, but the art is almost as bad as in the previous issue. Dixon rates an: ELASTIC LAD! The art gets another: HUMAN PORCUPINE!

Dixon:
Elastic Lad

Artwork:
Human Porcupine

******

PLASTIC MAN ARCHIVES Volume 3 (DC; $49.95) reprints a baker's dozen of classic Plastic Man stories by Jack Cole. The tales come from PLASTIC MAN #2 (August, 1944) and POLICE COMICS #31-39 (June, 1944 to February, 1945). Even the least of these adventures is an entertaining gem, but the best of them are among the best in comics history.

The stories in PLASTIC MAN #2 are as hilarious and as wildly inventive as Cole ever spun. A town left off the maps decides, in a fit of pique, to withdraw from the United States and remain mired in the 1890s. A mousy little man discovers that he can live in the bodies of others. A vicious criminal becomes a creature of living lava. Another town succumbs to city-wide lunacy.

If you could locate a "good" copy of PLASTIC MAN #2, it'd set you back close to two hundred dollars. The issues of POLICE from this period run fifty bucks apiece in "good" condition. In short, this PLASTIC MAN ARCHIVES is a bargain at the price AND packed with wonderful stories. It rates a: GIANT TURTLE MAN!

Giant Turtle Man

******

SCOOBY-DOO #54 and #55 (DC/Cartoon Network; $1.99) are solid entry level comic books. Each issue has two stories and, although the tales are aimed at young readers, they can be fun for the older readers as well. The best of this bunch was "Scooby Dooby Voodoo," a Mardi Gras mystery by writer Dan Abnett, penciler Joe Staton, and inker Horacio Ottolini.

If there's a common failing to most of the Scooby-Doo comics, it's that their abbreviated length doesn't often allow the writers to play fair with their readers. Clues often materialize from thin air to neatly wrap up the cases. I realize the old cartoon shows weren't always big on playing fair with the audience, but, you know me, I expect more from comic books. Even so, I'll give SCOOBY-DOO #54 and #55 ratings of: ELASTIC LAD!

Elastic Lad

******

THE SPECTRE #11 and #12 (DC; $2.50) were pleasant surprises. I've not liked much of writer J.M. Dematteis' work in recent years and I've tried not to think about the concept of Hal Jordan as the Spectre. The loss was mine because these two issues were downright warm-and-fuzzy experiences with sympathetic characters, intriguing ideas, artwork which complemented the writing magnificently, and an overall aura of hope which hit me where I live. Dematteis avoided the "bizarro new-age" tone of his other works with the result being this: I want to read the previous issues of THE SPECTRE and those yet to come. In fact, I so prefer the "Spirit of Redemption" motif to previous incarnations of the Spectre that I'm giving these two issues my highest rating: GIANT TURTLE MAN!

Giant Turtle Man

******

If I had clue one what STEAMPUNK #10 (Cliffhanger!; $2.50) was about, I might not be looking around for a lower rating than HUMAN PORCUPINE. I hope the creators are enjoying themselves because it is evident they don't want to let the rest of us in on their "fun." STEAMPUNK is impenetrable, the writing is overblown claptrap, and the art looks like mud. Did our boy Jimmy ever transform into the HUMAN STINKY CHEESE?

******

SUICIDE SQUAD #1-5 (DC; $2.50) were more welcome surprises. I think the last time I enjoyed a Keith Giffen comic was back when he was doing AMBUSH BUG, but his take on the old "bad guys fighting for good" chestnut is keeping my interest. Yes, sometimes the gags fall flat. Yes, I dislike the cliche of the hard-nosed government guy knowingly sending men to their deaths without losing a moment's sleep. Yes, there could be more "back story" for the new readers, But, despite my caveats, the bottom line is that this is a readable series. It deserves better art and storytelling, but SUICIDE SQUAD rates an: ELASTIC LAD!

Elastic Lad

******

TOM STRONG'S TERRIFIC TALES #1 (America's Best Comics; $3.50) presents four stories and the least of them is still worth reading. Tom Strong stars in "The Dark Inside," a World War II-era thriller by Alan Moore and Paul Rivoche. Eschewing words, Jaime Hernandez follows Tesla Strong, Tom's daughter, on an illicit night out; it's a fun story, but not appropriate for younger readers. Steve Moore and Alan Weiss team on a pulp-style adventure featuring "Young Tom Strong." Steve Moore then pairs with Arthur Adams for the initial chapter of a "Jonni Future" serial. I give high marks to the first three and a "want to see what happens next" to the fourth and note that, despite the lack of back story, a new reader could easily get into all four strips. I give TERRIFIC TALES #1 a rating of: WOLF-BOY OF METROPOLIS!

Wolf-Boy of Metropolis

******

There is virtually no helpful "back story" provided to readers just discovering TRANSMETROPOLITAN #51 and #52 (Vertigo/DC; $2.50), but Warren Ellis writes this series so well, and Darick Robertson and Rodney Ramos draw it so well, that you just get carried along for the ride. Issue #51's "Two-Fisted Editor" is an inspirational tale of an editor who, doing the right thing for the right reasons, proves stronger than corporate shackles and rewards himself with an evening of debauchery. Haven't we all been there?

Then, in issue #52, Spider Jerusalem, the "hero" of this book, walks back on stage and resumes his efforts to bring down a corrupt and evil president. Now here's a man after my own heart, though he would probably wring it dry.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN is "suggested for mature readers" and you'd best take the suggestion seriously. The series features drug use, foul language, sex, and violence. It won't speak to every reader, but I give it a: GIANT TURTLE MAN!

Giant Turtle Man

******

WONDER WOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH (DC; $9.95) is this year's entry in the "really big comic books" by Paul Dini and Alex Ross" series. Collect them all.

Like the previous books featuring Batman, Captain Marvel, and Superman, SPIRIT OF TRUTH is a fully-painted comic-with-text that takes a realistic approach to iconic super-heroes. Oh, the heroes are still fantastic and still possess their incredible powers, but the issues they deal with are on a more human scale.

SPIRIT OF TRUTH is a character story and a rite of passage for Wonder Woman. She has doubts about her mission as an ambassador to the world outside Paradise Island. She is concerned that she isn't performing that mission as well as she could. Her struggles touch our hearts because they are so very human, especially when she goes to a good friend seeking advice and is humble enough to accept his wisdom and apply it. Would that what begins in this special story could continue in Wonder Woman's monthly comic.

I don't have enough space left this week to heap superlatives on Dini and Ross. Dini is one of the best writers in comics. Ross is one of the best artists in comics AND the best painter. Their yearly collaborations have been extraordinary. Each year, I wonder what they can possibly do to equal them next year. I never doubted for a moment that WONDER WOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH would rate a: GIANT TURTLE MAN!

Giant Turtle Man

******

If you're wondering why not a single comic book this week got a rating of "LESLIE LOWE," it was because the poor dear called me up and sobbed she had nothing to wear. Maybe she can hit the mall before our next batch of reviews. See you then.

******

ADDENDUM

The above is a more complete version of the column published in CBG, something which I just noticed in preparing the column for its appearance here. Missing from the CBG version is my review of STEAMPUNK #10, which has, of course, been restored for this online reprinting of the column.

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Here's a few odds and ends from recent issues of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY...

The January 25/February 1 issue briefly discusses this year's Oscar poster, which was designed by Alex Ross. The item quoted an approving STAN LEE as saying

"Just imagine if Oscar could use his fame and influence to bring celebrities all over the world together into some super-team of do-gooders."

The double-sized issue featured EW's overview of entertainment coming this year. Some notable dates include

March 23: Cartoon Network will spoof the Oscars with its 13TH ANNUAL CARTOON NETWORK FANCY ANVILS AWARDS SHOW PROGRAM SPECIAL. Johnny Bravo is the host.

May 3: SPIDER-MAN opens.

May 16: STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES opens.

June 14: SCOOBY-DOO opens.

July 3: MEN IN BLACK 2 and POWERPUFF GIRLS: THE MOVIE open. This certainly looks to be a banner year for movies based on comic books and/or cartoons.

Sometime in September: Joss Whedon's FIREFLY debuts on the Fox network; this will be his third concurrent series. Internet rumors (which I hope to start right here) claim Whedon is actually a hive-mind composed of many incredibly talented writers.

November 15: HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS opens. Pseudo-religious crackpots welcome this new opportunity to act like a bunch of damned idiots again.

Moving on to the February 8 issue of EW, we have this bon mot from "Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet"

GARFIELD. There are plans to make a movie starring the famous lazy cat. But he wants his cut in lasagna-gross, not net.

Internet sources...or maybe just the voices in my head...claim Gene Simmons is in negotiations to play Odie.

The same issue features a review of THE COMICS JOURNAL SPECIAL EDITION by Ken Tucker. He writes

This oversize edition of the only regularly published magazine of serious comics criticism features, among numerous highlights, a lengthy interview with cartoonist-journalist Joe Sacco (PALESTINE, SAFE AREA GORAZDE) that provides more insight into the Bosnian war than most "serious" magazines.

Tucker gives the Journal special an "A." I'm slowing reading the special myself and, while I sort of resent Tucker's notion that no one other than the Journal contributors are serious about comics criticism, this special is, indeed, one beautiful and thoughtful publication, well worth its $19.95 price.

One last item, this from EW for February 22

The real winner of the Super Bowl is...SPIDER-MAN. Of all the movie trailers that aired on February 3, on Fox, the web-slinger snared the most visits to his official site.

******

TONY POLLS

Beginning on Tuesday, February 26, I'll be posting a special TONY POLLS edition of this column every week. It will feature the results of the previous week's polls, my comments on the questions, and letters from your fellow voters. You'll find this new column in this very space.

If you haven't yet voted on the current questions-I post new questions every Sunday-head over to

http://www.famousdesigns.com/wfcomics/tony/tonypoll.cgi?start

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

This week's letter comes from KARL KESEL, who I understand is a close, personal friend of Harley Quinn

I wanted to drop you a quick line to thank you for the great review of HARLEY 14/15--a Wolf-Boy of Metropolis! I'm a-howlin' with delight!

Harley is quite a challenge for me to write--she's an INSANE MURDERER, for God's sake!-- but I think that's what keeps the book fresh for me. I think the Metropolis storyline plays out pretty well (Who can NOT like Harley and Bizarro together?), and I think we follow it up with a great three-parter that takes Harley to a place she's never been before.

Then we set the stage for issue #25, which will feature both Batman and Joker very prominently--the perfect issue to introduce the new regular penciller after Terry (sadly, but understandably) leaves the book. After that, things are still a little hazy, but I have my fingers crossed for an extended storyline featuring Plastic Man.

Of the various projects I've set for myself in 2002, my plan to get current with the DC Universe is one of the ones to which I'm most looking forward, due in no small part to the quality found in books like HARLEY QUINN. And, while I'm getting current with the 2002 issues, I'm hoping to also find time to catch up on unread DC books from the past few years. Hey, I think my wife and kids were getting tired of seeing so much of me anyway.

I'll be back on Tuesday with the special TONY POLLS edition of this column...and back next Saturday with another enhanced-for-the-web re-presentation of my CBG column. But it won't be any fun if you're not there, too.

Tony Isabella

<< 02/16/2002 | 02/23/2002 | 02/26/2002 >>

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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