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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1475 (03/09/02)

"On behalf of the legion of comic-book fans who follow your every pronouncement in the CBG with bated breath and unwavering wonderment, and by dint of a rhapsodic recommendation by Merry Michael Carlin, I, in my responsibility-laden capacity as Chairman Emeritus of mighty Marvel Comics, am pleased to award you an increasingly rare yet magnificently meaningful No-Prize in recognition of the carefully considered and undoubtedly unbiased review you have given to DC's new series of "Just Imagine" comic books. Do but vow that this unsolicited yet wondrous honor shall not change thee nor cause thee to abandon thy noble pursuits nor lose thy legendary link with the common man."

-Stan Lee

Now you know another of my secrets. Whenever possible, which translates to "when I have their e-mail address," I send an advance copy of my column to creators and editors whose works are reviewed therein. It's a simple courtesy thing, nothing more. I received the above e-mail after sending last week's column to Mike Carlin, who forwarded it to Stan.

This honor which has been bestowed upon me needs to be placed in its historical context. Before I went to work for Marvel in the fall of 1972, some fifty of my fan letters were published in their various letter columns and not ONCE was I ever awarded the coveted "no-prize." When I went to work for Marvel, I worked closely with Stan on a number of projects and not ONCE did he ever award me the coveted "no-prize," although it's possible he figured my minuscule paycheck was the moral equivalent of same. Since I started writing columns for CBG and various websites, columns in which I have often extolled Stan's prodigious virtues, not ONCE has he ever awarded me the coveted "no-prize." But NOW, now after more than three decades of unfulfilled longing, NOW he awards me the "no-prize"...and it's for reviewing a bunch of DC comic-books.

Is this a nutty world or what?


The Green Lantern in JUST IMAGINE STAN LEE WITH DAVE GIBBONS CREATING GREEN LANTERN (DC; $5.95) is Leonard Lewis, archeologist and college professor. He travels to Africa in search of the "most important archaeological find of all-the one thing that unites all other legends-the fabled Tree of Life," and, in finding it, Lewis himself becomes part of the legend.

The good: The design of Green Lantern is simple yet elegant. There's a bit of the Silver Surfer in his look and that's a welcome nod to both Stan and the late Jack Kirby.

The great: Stan's writing is witty and playful. He sets up a joke in the first captions of the issue, builds on it for several pages, and delivers the punch line on page ten. By the same token, he knows when to play it straight.

The great: Gibbons is one of the best artists in comics. He knows how to tell a fantastic story realistically--a skill I'd like to see in more of today's super-hero comics--and he does it without sacrificing any of the inherent excitement.

The interesting: Archaeology links two of the "Just Imagine" heroes--Green Lantern and Wonder Woman-with Hawkman and Hawkwoman possibly waiting in the wings.

The bad: Leonard Lewis makes two inappropriate remarks to one of his female students in the early pages of the issue. I winced on reading each of them, and a third time when the sentient Tree of Life finds him "pure of spirit." One way to reconcile this would be if Leonard were gay and in the closet, making these comments to cover his discomfort at being pursued by the student. I'd be cool with that approach, adding, as it would, some further diversity to Stan's fledgling universe.

The great: I love the idea of Green Lantern as the champion of life and nature. It's a modern, original slant on the character, one I'd love to see explored in the future.

The good: Green Lantern's "weakness" isn't contrived. If he expends power, it needs to be recharged.

The fun: Gibbons gives a Jack Kirby feel to the giant monster who battles GL near the end of the story. I loved those creatures who stomped around JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY and STRANGE TALES in days of yore.

The good: The "On the Street" back-up by co-writer Michael Uslan, penciler Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez, inker Josef Rubinstein, and Stan was a nice look at the role of human courage in a world where super-heroes have emerged. Though the ending is a tad too warm and fuzzy, it did leave me with a smile.

The bottom line: JUST IMAGINE...GREEN LANTERN gives the Stan Lee-Joe Kubert BATMAN competition for my favorite of the six books published to date. I've been recommending the entire series, but, if a reader wanted to try just one of the books first, I think this one would be my issue-of-choice.


JUST IMAGINE STAN LEE WITH KEVIN MAGUIRE CREATING THE FLASH ($5.95) is another contender for "best of the bunch." How could I not love a story about a courageous comics fan who becomes a super-hero? This issue is almost like a fan letter from Stan to all of HIS fans.

Mary Maxwell is the daughter of a scientist whose DNA research has them on the run from an evil espionage group experimenting with time travel. The baddies want Dad to alter the DNA of their agents so that those agents can survive the rigors of time travel and thus enable the organization to use the time travel technology for their doubtless nefarious purposes.

The great: Stan's writing was a little unsure at the start of these JUST IMAGINE books, but he is definitely in the zone by these later issues. The various Hollywood screenwriter wannabes cranking out comics these days prefer a shorthand approach to dialogue and eschew captions, thought balloons, and other tricks of the comics trade, but Stan uses them all and the result is comics-reading fun. There's still room for "old school" in comics.

The great: The Kevin Maguire and Karl Story artwork is as much fun as Stan's writing. The storytelling is sharp, the faces convey a wide range of emotions, and the characters move well during the action sequences. We need more Maguire in comics.

The great: Mary has spunk. I like spunk.

The tragic-but-believable: Dad is no match for his pursuers. It's amazing they didn't get him on page one.

The unintentionally-amusing: Stan has never quite gotten the hang of the traditional femme fatale. The pre-heroine Black Widow worked better than most because she was drawn by Don Heck, who drew some of the most gorgeous women in comic books. Andrea Zakara, the bad lady of this story, is more caricature than character and-sorry, Stan-when she seduces one of her men while wearing lingerie and proclaiming "You are man and I am woman," I laughed out loud.

Had she been played entirely for laughs, I could have accepted her. As is, she was a jarring element in the tale.

Nuff said: STEALTH is the name of the evil organization. It stands for "Special Team of Espionage Agents Licensed to Target and Hit." Do I have to wait for a background check or can I get one of those licenses today?

Intriguing: Mary is exposed to a green fog similar to the mist surrounding the Tree of Life in GREEN LANTERN, but its effects are, at first, debilitating. A connection is hinted at in the JLA book which concludes the first wave of JUST IMAGINE releases, but we're just being teased with it at this point.

The free one: Dad injects Mary with hummingbird DNA to restore her energy. She receives too much DNA and end up with super-speed. I'm giving you this one, Stan, because, if I was willing to accept that a radioactive spider-bite could turn Peter Parker into Spider-Man, then it would be churlish of me to rag you on this.

The great: I love the visual on the Flash. Mary's costume is colorful and practical.

The great: I love the Flash's moves. She clearly learned from her beloved comic books.

The greatest: Publisher Joe of Fly-By-Night Comics. Last seen in SUPERMAN, has relocated to California in a hilarious back-up by Stan, Uslan, and Sergio Aragones. This time, Joe has a legitimate claim to the name "Flash Comics," having copyrighted it for a title in his "mature readers" line. Is the Flash Joe's ticket to sales parity with Marvel and DC...or will he once again face the wrath of a super-hero's lawyer?

The bottom line: On several levels, BATMAN and GREEN LANTERN are better books. But THE FLASH is the most fun of the six initial JUST IMAGINE titles.


JUST IMAGINE STAN LEE WITH JERRY ORDWAY CREATING JLA ($5.95) brings Stan's five super-heroes together for a battle with Dominic Darrk and the evil Reverend's newly-created team of super-villains. I prefer solo heroes to super-teams, but there was a freshness to these characters that won me over.

The great: Stan's writing. The Spider-Man comic strip is just too small for him. He needs room to shine and, when he gets it, he can dazzle us with the best of them.

The great: Ordway's art. Like Gibbons and Maguire, he knows how to tell a story and he can really draw. The downside to seeing this level of artistry and craft is that it reminds me of the many contemporary super-hero comics lacking those qualities.

The great: Stan and Ordway smoothly introduce each character in both word and image. Even if I hadn't read the earlier issues, I would have no trouble enjoying this issue. That's another skill absent from too many current comics.

The good: The three super-villains call themselves the "Doom Patrol" and, yeah, that is a terrific name for a band of murderous metahumans. The villains (Blockbuster, Deathstroke, and Parasite) are appropriately lethal, adding a delicious touch of mortal peril to the proceedings.

The bad: Naming another character "Adam Strange," especially when the name didn't mean anything per se, was a poor repeat of a good joke.

The excellent: Green Lantern summons the other heroes to join him in the coming battle. They are hesitant and, in each case, the hesitation is completely true to their characters. The heroes are more real for this.

The excellent: Superman and the Tree of Life have a tete-a-tete which reminds Supes of the responsibilities he embraced on his home planet.

The excellent: The reactions of the heroes as they get to know each other are wonderful. The Flash's enthusiasm for the new team is just annoying enough to be genuine.

The good: The climatic battle between the heroes and villains is well-staged. The fact-paced action shifts from hero to hero and makes for an exciting sequence without ever reducing the characters to mere combatants..

The so-so: I'm still not warming up to Darrk. Maybe it's that he doesn't have the personality of a Doctor Doom or a Lex Luthor. Maybe it's because I can never remember where it's two "R"s or two "K"s in his name.

The so-so: The fate of the Parasite didn't ring true...because the supposed mitigating circumstances of her previous actions are introduced one panel before she makes her exit. There might have been a story there, but it wasn't a story that could fit into this story without coming off as an afterthought.

The okay: We've seen the "forming of the team" sequence many times. This time out, it's rushed. It still does the job, but it could have used another page.

The bottom line: In case you have figured it out, I'm loving the JUST IMAGINE series big-time. Even the least of these comics, which I thought was WONDER WOMAN, was still great fun and still had a lot going for it. I wouldn't hesitate to fork over six bucks for any of them and I recommend them to one and all.

It's been too long since comicdom has enjoyed a regular dose of Stan Lee magic. I can't even wait for my review copies of these JUST IMAGINE comics. I buy them hot off the presses and, as long as Stan keeps making them, I'll keep buying them.

Say it with me, o faithful ones: Excelsior!

Got a real ring to it, doesn't it?



Readers of COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE have already seen the columns posted here weekly. However, if you're one of those readers and you're visiting us for the first time, here's what you need to know about these reprints.

1. These are the "director's cut" versions of my columns. On those occasions when my CBG editors have made editorial changes not to my liking, and this doesn't happen often, I restore the material to its original form for its appearance here.

2. I add new material to the columns when I post them here. The line of demarcation between old and new is this "Addendum" bit you're reading right now.

3. If you e-mail or snail mail a letter of comment directly to me, and I want to share it with your fellow readers, you'll see it here and not in CBG. If you want your comments printed in CBG itself, send them to:

However, be aware that CBG does not usually send such letters to me. I won't see your letters unless the editors run them in the CBG letters column or unless you copy me on them.

4. My good friend Mark Evanier, who is also a writer I admire greatly, ended his popular CBG column recently. Fortunately, Mark continues to write new material for his POINT OF VIEW website. If you want to be entertained and informed, go to

I visit there almost every day and it's not just because Mark has those risque pictures of me with Jennifer Connelly. At least Mark told me the woman was Jennifer Connelly. That was the year I was hanging out with George W. Bush and, to be honest, most of it is an alcoholic haze.

5. My personal "axis of evil" is Bush, Dick Cheney, and John Ashcroft. Deal with it.



Though I recognize its flaws, which mostly center around its allegiance to the flavor of the month, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY remains one of my favorite magazines. One of my favorite parts of the mag is "Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet," a weekly collection of hilarious snide remarks. These are my favorites from the March 1 issue


Actually all the judges thought they voted for the Canadians. But the French judge voted for Pat Buchanan by mistake.


Couldn't they save a step and just clone shredded upholstery instead?

In EW's "Biz" section, SAMURAI JACK, the futuristic samurai series created by Genndy Tartakov and running with great success on Cartoon Network, gets written up nicely. That's cool by me because I like JACK a lot. It has an unusual design and storytelling style that caught my attention from the start. Tartakov and associates have *kept* my attention with stories that are emotional, exciting, and occasionally humorous. I recommend JACK highly.

This issue also lists the 150 top-grossing movies of 2001. I have got to get out more. I've only seen nine of them:

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 3. Shrek

5. Rush Hour 2

6. The Mummy Returns

9. Jurassic Park III

10. Planet of the Apes

20. Legally Blonde

24. Cats and Dogs

61. Evolution

With some of the other 141 films now available on DVD or VHS, I'm hoping to add to this list. In the meantime, I'm working on my script for "Intelligent Design," a sort of sequel to "Evolution" in which we learn God was kidding around when He created the religious right and we've just been too dumb to get the joke.



I seem to have stirred up a few readers with my reviews of the JUST IMAGINE comics and also with last week's comment that, while I consider both Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to be the co-creators of Spider-Man, I feel Stan was the primary creator behind the initial Spider-Man story. I won't repeat what I wrote because this column is going to run plenty long already, but you can read last week's "Tony's Tips" by going to:

Our first of two letters comes from L. LEVY:

I read your CBG column in issue #1474 this morning, reviewing several of DC's JUST IMAGINE STAN LEE books. I truly wish I could share your joy in these works, for I found it to be one of the most dispiriting projects of the year.

As a fellow former Marvel Maniac and fan of Stan "The Man" Lee, I expected to be dazzled, or at least, greatly entertained. I looked forward to seeing Stan's "super-heroes with problems" approach applied to great DC characters. Instead, I found these books a chore to read through. The stories are stale, the plots were old in the 1970's, the art doesn't always mesh well with the story. Even Stan's lighthearted banter is silly and weak, having none of the cleverness or spontaneity of his famous older work. It's nothing I haven't read about a thousand times before, except it's not as well done as the most memorable efforts. Overall, they remind me of some of the weaker efforts of Atlas comics during the 1970's. I have stopped purchasing them, have no desire to read any more of them, and wish I hadn't wasted the money on the ones I purchased.

You have no idea how painful it is for me to write the above. I have considered submitting a letter along these lines to CBG, hoping to find that I'm not alone in my disappointment, but I can't bring myself to do so.

It seems disrespectful toward the great man. Maybe some folks, like great athletes, just shouldn't come out of retirement.

We should agree to disagree on this one...because I'm enjoying the heck out of these new Stan Lee treasures. I know my regard for them isn't shared by everyone, but, for me, it has been money well spent. If Stan keeps writing them, I'll keep buying them.

On the subject of Lee and Ditko's relative importance to the creation of Spider-Man, we have this from RUSS MAHERAS:

While I don't want to get into the he said/she said aspect of the "Who created Spider-Man" debate, I must throw in my two cents about the subject.

For the longest time, Stan was quoted over and over saying he created practically everyone in the Marvel Universe during the early days of Marvel. As much as I love Stan's brilliant writing, enthusiasm and his role as the glue that held the Marvel continuity together in the 1960s, I have never been able to buy that.

Stan was in the comics business more than 20 years before he teamed with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and began using the Marvel Method of writing. During that time, Stan never created even one major character that I know of. Even he has never claimed to have done so during that period. And after Kirby and Ditko left Marvel in the late 1960s, the new character spigot quickly began to run dry for any books Stan was writing. Even more to the point, I can't think of one new character Stan has created in more than 25 years!

Conversely, no matter where he worked, Kirby was creating or helping create major characters for more than 50 years--literally up until the day he died! Ditko has had a similar track record. And almost every Ditko and Kirby comic, regardless of which company published it, was distinctively Ditko or Kirby.

No, I believe that like a championship team manager, Stan put together the talent and orchestrated the efforts to make the Marvel Universe work. But it was a TEAM effort--a symbiotic relationship --that NEVER would have happened if Lee had not enlisted the unique and deep creative wells that were Kirby and Ditko.

I'm firmly convinced that had any other artist from the 1962 Marvel staff been on Spider-Man besides Ditko (yes, even Kirby), it wouldn't have lasted six issues.

Nothing in what I wrote denies the contributions that Ditko, Kirby, and others brought to the classic Marvel characters. But, when it comes to the *origin* of Spider-Man, when it comes to that historic story in AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #15, I believe that every element that is *core* to Peter Parker and his world has more of a "Stan" feel to it than a "Steve" feel. And, unless Ditko or some historian can produce the actual synopsis that first Kirby and then Ditko worked from, I see no logical reason to doubt Stan's primary role in this creation. Ditko contributed mightily, especially in the visuals, but those things that attract me to the character are in the personalities and not in the pictures.

I don't deny Ditko was *the* best choice for Spider-Man, even though the title's sales did rise when John Romita came on as artist. I don't deny Ditko helped steer Spider-Man's course after that initial story, but my remarks last week were directed towards the initial creations and, as such, I stand by them.

I won't be revisiting this debate here, but, as always, those who *do* wish to revisit it are welcome to avail themselves of the TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD.

I'll be back on Tuesday with our weekly TONY POLLS report and back again on Saturday with another "Tony's Tips." Have a fun and safe weekend. Peace to all the people of the world.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/05/2002 | 03/09/2002 | 03/12/2002 >>

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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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.

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.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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