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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1476 (03/16/02)

"I take no more notice of the wind that comes out of the mouths of critics than of the wind expelled from their backsides."
-Da Vinci

The only element that links the items I'm reviewing this week is that I'm reviewing them this week. I'll still be writing "Tips" focusing on comics from an individual publisher, but those columns will more or less alternate with columns of a more general nature. It's the variety/spice/life thing.

This week, I also unveil yet another new ratings system, based on the most exacting standards of them all. The staff here at Tips Central has been testing this system for half-an-hour now and they are confident I can get away with it. I am so honored to introduce what will surely be recognized as THE comics criticism iconography of the new millennium

The Tonys.

From here on, I'll be rating review items on a scale of one to five Tonys.

Here's how the system works

5 Tonys: Broadway Smash
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

4 Tonys: Off-Broadway Hit
Tony Tony Tony Tony

3 Tonys: Touring Company
Tony Tony Tony

2 Tonys: Dinner Theater
Tony Tony

1 Tony: Street Mime
Tony

Any similarities between these ratings and any other awards is so absurd we're shocked you'd even bring it up.

******

ABU AND THE 7 MARVELS (Gauntlet; $21.95) is a juvenile fantasy written by Richard Matheson and illustrated by William Stout. With talent like that, you know from the get-go that this 136-page novel is worth your attention.

Matheson writes of Abu, a lowly woodcutter, who has fallen in love with the beautiful and strong-willed Princess Alicia, and she with him. After turning down hundreds of wealthy suitors, much to the despair of her father the Sultan, Alicia intends to marry Abu. Equally determined to thwart the girl's wishes is Zardak, the evil Grand Vizier. Yeah, I know. Right about now you're thinking "WALT DISNEY'S ALADDIN." I'd be remiss if I didn't admit there are some

superficial similarities, born of Matheson working the same Arabian Nights corner as the animated film. But the author quickly takes his story down a different path.

To prove worthy of this royal marriage, Abu must locate seven marvels and present the Sultan with a token of each. To assist him in his quest, he has his impetuous kid brother and a crotchy genie whose magic is running on fumes. Zardak sets henchmen Horrible and Terrible to dog the lad's trail and make sure Abu doesn't succeed and, even better, doesn't return from the quest.

Matheson's tale is charming, inventive, suitable for all ages, and even comes with a positive message about what's truly important in life. This message is slightly compromised by Abu's *stealing* some of those marvels, but why cast stones when I could be enjoying Stout's wonderful illustrations?

This cloth hardcover rates: four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ASTRA #1-3 (CPM Manga; $2.95 each) is an all-new manga series from Jerry Robinson (concept/story), Sidra Cohn (story), Ken-Ichi Oishi (script/adaptation), and Shojin Tanaka (artist). Robinson is the legendary Golden Age Batman artist and syndicated cartoonist; ASTRA represents his "most extensive international collaboration in the comic-book field."

ASTRA doesn't live up to its impressive pedigree. Its hokey premise works against it: a planet of women who give birth only to females is running out of the sperm supply created before all their men went off to die in an interplanetary war. Since the supply has lasted for centuries, one must assume that the men were simply too exhausted to wage a proper war against their enemies.

Princess Astra has been sent into the universe to find the men her world so desperately needs. Luck is on her side; by midway in the second issue, she's playing kissy-face with space-trucker from Earth. Things take a turn for the worse when the Earth government shows up to help her. Some things never change.

ASTRA doesn't become interesting until its third issue, which is when the bad guys start doing their bad guys stuff. That's also when Tanaka's art, so-so in the first two issues, starts exhibiting some life. The third issue buys ASTRA one more chance to remain on my reading list, but, at this point, I don't recommend the series. It rates: two Tonys.

Tony Tony

******

One of my minor New Year's resolutions was to read BATMAN and the Batman-related titles in 2002. I've been hearing good things about the Bat-books of late and have mostly enjoyed the odd issues I've read recently. I figured BATMAN: THE 10-CENT ADVENTURE would be a good jumping-on point, but, reviewer's prerogative, I started with DETECTIVE COMICS #765 (DC; $2.50) because I wanted to read the "Josie Mac" serial in the back of the comic.

The issue's John McCrea cover was one of those "let's show the world we're not as brilliant as Will Eisner" pieces with the title logo incorporated into the artwork. I liked it, but it still came off as one of those "clever" gimmicks that might have worked for me as a rarity, but loses whatever effect it might have had when the publisher decides to use the gimmick on ALL its related titles that month. Moderation in all things, my friends...

Greg Rucka's "Vacancies" is a done-in-one effort which tells a satisfying story and does a good job of spotlighting who and what Batman is. Penciler Rick Burchett holds up his end, supported ably by inkers Jesse Delperdang and Rodney Ramos. Kudos should likewise go to "Wildstorm FX" for the tale's duo-tone coloring. This story isn't an award-winner, but it is entertaining, worthwhile reading. I liked it.

It's the "Josie Mac" back-up feature by writer Judd Winick and artist Cliff Chiang which deserves an award or, at the very least, an award-nomination. In eight tight pages, the psychic detective, currently investigating the disappearance of the young grandson of a Mafia don, gets attacked by a thug hired to silence her, has an interesting conversation with the Batman, and sees her best lead in the case go bye-bye. Winick's characters are realistic and he has a knack for bringing new readers up to speed painlessly. Chiang's drawing and storytelling are also first-rate. I'd buy an ongoing Josie Mac title in a heartbeat.

DETECTIVE COMICS #765 gets: five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

BATMAN: THE 10-CENT ADVENTURE is simply terrific: a full-size, all-in-color-for-a-dime comic that introduces/reintroduces Batman to new/returning readers while setting up the next major story arc for the Darknight Detective. Now a new generation of comics fans can remember when comics only cost a dime.

Rucka again teams with Burchett for "The Fool's Errand," with inks by Klaus Janson and coloring by Lee Loughridge. Narrated by Sasha Bordeaux, bodyguard to Bruce Wayne and ally to Batman, this tale covers a lot of back story as we follow the pair on a routine patrol of Gotham City. It's a solid story, marred only by a clumsy double-page retelling of Batman's origin, a serious lapse in a tale meant to be inviting to new/returning readers.

The odd naysayer in comicdom will complain that the issue has a cliffhanger ending and that readers will have to buy several more comics to learn the who and why of the crime revealed on the final page of this story. Me, I think it's good marketing on DC's part. It delivered a good comic for a dime and pointed new readers toward other titles they might enjoy. At this price and with this level of quality, I give this comic: five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

DETECTIVE COMICS #766 ($2.50) has the first chapter of "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" arc and another chapter of "Josie Mac." Either one is reason enough to buy this comic.

"Procedure" by Rucka, penciler Scott McDaniel, and Delperdang picks up where BATMAN: THE 10-CENT ADVENTURE left off. Batman and Sasha have returned home to Wayne Manor to discover the body of the murdered Vesper Fairchild, a former-but-recent girlfriend of Batman in his true identity as Bruce Wayne. The Gotham City police aren't far behind and, before long, Bruce and Sasha have been taken into custody as suspects. Fans of police procedurals will enjoy seeing the cops working their investigation/interrogation mojos, as we've seen them do on countless television shows, knowing these cops have the wrong suspects before them. Even knowing Bruce and Sasha are innocent, Rucka makes the "dance" interesting. With this opening, DC has me hooked. Now let's see if Rucka and the Bat-crew can keep me on the line and reel me in.

In the back of DETECTIVE COMICS, the "Josie Mac" serial keeps working its magic. This time around, we have a heart-to-heart with Josie's father, some good old-fashioned interrogation of suspects, and a case development that can't be good. Like the previous ish, this one earns: five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

BATGIRL #24 ($2.50) is the second chapter of the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" story and my first time reading this title. I'm sorry to say it was a disappointment on both counts.

This untitled story doesn't do much more than retell Rucka's "Procedure" from a different angle. It's also about as new reader-unfriendly as I could imagine, revealing little of Barbara Gordon's present circumstances and virtually nothing of who this new Batgirl is and why she has assumed Gordon's costumed identity. A few hints are dropped here and there, but not enough to make me want to check out future issues. Additionally, BATGIRL's wide-eyed "manga" look doesn't work for the title. I don't think every Bat-book needs to have the same art as every other Bat-book, but I do believe a more unified look to the line would be beneficial.

Despite the above, I'll continue to read BATGIRL as part of my Bat-resolution. However, unless my first impression is changed by subsequent issues, I probably won't be reviewing it again in these pages. This comic rates: one Tony.

Tony

******

NIGHTWING #65 ($2.25) has more going for it than BATGIRL, but it comes with problems of its own. This calls for my old good/bad approach, albeit in somewhat abbreviated form.

Good: Artist Lee Bermejo and colorist Jose Villarrubia provide a dramatic cover image completely in keeping with the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" storyline.

Bad: What's the title of this story? It could be Bustout!" or "Bustout I" or even "Bustouti." I hate it when designers and/or letterers sacrifice clarity to some misguided notion of art. Just give me something I can read, okay?

Worst: This is the third recent issue of NIGHTWING I've read in spite of the artwork. The characters don't look human and the story doesn't flow well. It's like reading a comic reflected in a fun-house mirror.

Okay: I get that Nightwing/Dick Grayson has built a life and a purpose for himself outside of Gotham City. I suspect this will interest me a great deal in the issues to come. But, having been hooked on the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" story, that's what I wanted to read about this month.

Very good: When writer Chuck Dixon gets around to THAT story, he does some fine character bits with Dick, Bruce, and Babs. Those all-too-brief scenes left me wanting more, which certainly doesn't hurt DC's chances of getting me to come back for the next several chapters of the story.

Bottom line: NIGHTWING #65 is crippled by poor artwork, but it still ends up with: two Tonys.

Tony Tony

******

In the "credit-where-due" category, the caricature of yours truly was done by my pal Thom Zahler, a remarkably talented artist and designer who is available for birthday parties, weddings, and laptop dances. You should visit his website at

http://www.thomz.com


As for me, I'll be handing out more Tonys next week. Unless I can get Ellen Degeneres to guest-host for me.

******

SURFING THE WEB

I'm cutting this week's deadline kind of close, so there won't be much in the way of new material here. But I did want to point you in the "general" direction of a silly-but-fun website that goes by the name...GENERAL ZOD.NET.

General Zod was the nasty leather boy played by Terence Stamp in the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies. The film version of this character bears no resemblance to the somewhat pudgy Phantom Zone villain who plagued Superboy and Superman during the Silver Age of Comics. Since I'm behind in my Superman reading, I can't say how closely either of those versions resembles the Zod who has turned up in the present-day DC Universe.

I was alerted to the Zod website by a favorable mention in the November 23 issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. In that issue, reviewer Nisha Gopalan wrote

An homage to the humorless and vaguely homosexual commander (played by Terence Stamp) of SUPERMAN II's villainous Kryptonian triad, generalzod.net serves its namesake well. Puny sound-bite and picture collections notwithstanding, the site dutifully doles out deadpan nods to Zod's bid for world domination by way of a cranky news column, militant propaganda pages, and, regrettably, an anticlimactic "industrial" song. But it's the tough-love advice column where the mustachioed master frequently dispenses his sadistic wisdom ("Kneel before Zod!"); that's enough to make a mere human weak at the knees.

Gopalan gives the website a "B+." You can enter the presence of Zod by going to

http://generalzod.net


You would do well to cringe respectfully.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

I just have one short note to share this week. After reading my review of THE GREEN ARROW BY JACK KIRBY, reader ALLEN W. WRIGHT wanted to add this thought

Re: the Green Arrow/Jack Kirby trade you reviewed.

"Green Arrow's First Case" is far more than merely a masterful retelling of Green Arrow's origin. It is the first version of that classic origin story. Back in the Golden Age, GA had a completely different origin (rarely mentioned and completely forgettable--so much that I'm only vaguely aware of the details). In other words, Kirby helped create the GA we know and love.

You know what would be fun? Turning someone like Mark Evanier or Karl Kesel or even me loose on a special Green Arrow mini-series that would show what might have been if Kirby had succeeded in his aim to turn Green Arrow into a headliner. Maybe some of the King's later creations might have made their debuts a decade before we saw them in THE NEW GODS, MISTER MIRACLE, or THE DEMON.

Given the success of the current Green Arrow series, I think such a homage might do quite well in today's direct sales market. Something to think about, eh?

I'll be back on Tuesday with the usual TONY'S POLLS report and again on Saturday with another CBG reprint plus. Have a happy and safe weekend.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/12/2002 | 03/16/2002 | 03/19/2002 >>

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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