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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1478 (04/04/02)

"I've been booed by 40,000 at Shea Stadium and by 60,000 in L.A. That's part of the game. I deserved it. You get booed, it kind of jolts you a bit. They pay good money to come in and have the right to do that."

Chicago Cubs catcher Todd Hundley, who hit .187 last season. For the baseball-impaired among you, that wasn't good.

"It comes with the territory." That phrase should be printed on every check paid to comics creators, editors, and publishers. Readers pay good money for the comic books they read and that does give them the right to boo.

Nor should comics columnists and reviewers be exempt from this "territory" clause in their unwritten contracts with their readers. Whether the critic is paid or unpaid, the reader has "paid" for the columns and reviews with his time.

During the course of any given year, my mail breaks down into very familiar categories. The majority of readers write to express agreement with my columns, just as most readers who write to comic-book letters columns have favorable reactions to the latest issue. Most readers prefer to be the bearers of good tidings.

A minority will write to disagree with my comments, sometimes vehemently. Many readers don't wish to spend more time on a column they didn't like and it's the same with the comic books they didn't like. If you displease a reader to the point where he has to write you or he'll bust, it's natural for his passions to run higher than usual. It comes with the territory.

About once every six months, I'll get a note complaining about my being referred to as "America's most beloved comic-book writer and columnist." When I get one of these, I either ignore them or, if I'm feeling impish, suggest the writer unclench his sphincter. My "title" is a dumb joke people have fun with, even to sending me letters and packages addressed to "Most Beloved."

Occasionally, I receive phone calls from an astonished Harlan Ellison, who can't believe I gave a favorable review to "that piece of..." well, use your imagination and a Thesaurus because Harlan's vocabulary is a thing of cosmic wonder. The last time we chatted, I told him that the publishers send him the "bad" versions of their comics and send me the "good" ones. He will make me pay for that someday.

About once a year, someone who works in the industry confronts me with the accusation that it isn't "professional" of me to review comic books because I sometimes write comic books. This would come as quite a shock to all the mystery writers who review mysteries,

mainstream writers who review mainstream books, non-fiction authors who review other non-fiction works in their fields, etc. It takes a Herculean effort for me to resist giving the "someone" a quarter and directions to the nearest "clue" store.

Sometimes--thank you, God for Your infinite universe--I get a letter from a reader that surprises me in a most delightful manner. Most recently, it was a package from Jeff Michaels who, dismayed by my unfavorable review of Phil Jimenez's WONDER WOMAN #175-that was the double-length issue tying in with DC's misbegotten "Joker: Last Laugh" event-was sending me the past year's worth of WONDER WOMAN with the request that I give the book another chance.

Whatever I think of WONDER WOMAN, Jimenez's run on the series has obviously touched readers. He should be, as I'm certain he is, both thankful for their support and proud of his accomplishment in earning it. In the face of that, how could I not take that second look at WONDER WOMAN?

For this column, I read WONDER WOMAN: GODS OF GOTHAM (which reprints issues 164-167 of the Amazon's monthly mag), WONDER WOMAN #168-177, and WONDER WOMAN: OUR WORLDS AT WAR #1. Let us consider the good and bad of these comics.

The good: Jimenez certainly gives readers their money's worth. His style is one of dense storytelling with no fear of either small panels or large word balloons. This isn't a comic you read in five minutes; it's a sit-down-and-take-your-time reading experience. I applaud the emphasis of story over art, especially given how good the art is.

The unfortunate: Jimenez has yet to break away from his George Perez style. The comics look terrific, but I think this artist has the capacity to go beyond what is obviously an important influence on his work and develop a more personal style.

The bad: A slavish sense of continuity rules all but the most recent issue of WONDER WOMAN. In his letter, Michaels informed me that every new writer has come on to this book, dumped the existing plot threads and supporting cast, and added new ones.

Jimenez has been addressing this from the start of his run, which, while it might delight long-time readers, makes the book too complicated for newer ones. There aren't enough pages in the books to reestablish an emotional connection between the characters, who are legion, and the readers. These issues read more like summaries of events than actual stories about the events. That's a shame; I think there could have been some good stories in there.

The bad: As if Jimenez wasn't already attempting a gargantuan task, his efforts were made all the more difficult by the intrusion of DC Universe "events" into his storylines. I'll grant that "Our Worlds at War" was a big enough story to demand WW's participation. It would have been a slight to the character if she hadn't played a major role in that event. But, Hera help us, wasn't there any DC editor with the courage and the critical acumen to point out that "The Joker: Last Laugh" was a monumentally bad idea that ought not to have cluttered up the Bat-books, much less the rest of the DCU? What with Marvel's even worse "Nuff Said" event, DC had the chance to claim high ground here and they blew it.

The good: "She's a Wonder" (WONDER WOMAN #170), though stuffed with enough continuity to make me wobbly, was fun. With co-writer Joe Kelly, Jimenez presented an entertaining and even profound non-physical battle between Lois Lane and Wonder Woman. By the end of the issue, I felt more comfortable in Wonder Woman's world and that the conflict between the gals had been resolved in a believable and satisfying manner.

The good: Jimenez is an earnest writer. I can "see" him sweat as I read his stories and appreciate the obvious work he puts into them. Sometimes, the realization breaks the fourth wall for me and takes me out of a story, which isn't a good thing, but, I have to give him points for the effort.

The bad: WONDER WOMAN #176 wrapped up the oft-delayed "Circe" storyline which had been running, in its current incarnation, since #171. As a more-or-less new reader, I had no idea why Circe hates our hero, only that she does.

In reading this issue, I felt as if Jimenez just wanted this story done with and, if that was, indeed the case, I can sympathize with him. There were a few nice touches, such as Circe trying to achieve some sick victory by goading Wonder Woman into killing her, and the I-never-get-tired-of-this bit where the hero overcomes the urge to kill the villain, but it was an unsatisfying conclusion to the tale. Circe escapes justice without repenting of her crimes in any meaningful way, nor are the effects of her schemes on various innocents addressed.

The good: WONDER WOMAN #177's "Paradise Found" is stuffed with continuity, but, in this case, I saw the story as offering a viable new beginning for the series. Several major plotlines appear to be resolved. The cast of characters is trimmed. It's an opportunity to focus the mag more solidly on Wonder Woman herself, which befits her place as a comics icon known to the non-comics-reading public. My advice to Jimenez would be to forego any other dangling plots unless he can address them in a manner accessible to new readers, and to do as many "done-in-one" tales as his muse allows. It makes good sense to take advantage of the recognition Wonder Woman enjoys outside of our industry by making her monthly title as new reader-friendly as possible.

The bottom line: Reader Michaels convinced me to give WONDER WOMAN another shot. Giving WONDER WOMAN that second chance allowed me to recognize the possibilities of the book and to appreciate the over-all quality of Jimenez's work. I still see flaws in the work, and I still think WONDER WOMAN #175 was an awful mess, but I also believe there is more good than bad in the title. I'll be sticking around to see where it goes from here.

A closing note: Although creators, editors, and publishers are always encouraged to send me review items, I would ask readers to contact me before mailing me stuff. I already had the Wonder Woman comics Michaels sent me and, though I will certainly pass along the copies to others, I feel bad he went to such unnecessary expense to make his point. On the other hand, he definitely got my attention with the gesture. Three cheers and a tiger for him.



The above is the column originally scheduled to be reprinted on March 30...before various computer and life issues got between me and my schedule. We're presenting it today with thanks for your patience. Look for another CBG column on Saturday.



Ken Tucker gave GRIP: THE STRANGE WORLD OF MEN (DC/Vertigo) an "A-" grade in the March 29 edition of EW. He wrote:

The final issue of the year's most confounding mainstream-comic-book miniseries pays off on its loco-like-a-fox story lines. True to its subtitle, artist-writer Gilbert Hernandez (LOVE AND ROCKETS) has created a man who can shed his skin and inhabit the bodies of others, and sustained the weirdest Michael Jackson parody in any medium. But the comic also contains vivid female creations like Daisy, a shrewd stripper, and a girl whose eye patch covers a death-ray orb. Hernandez spins a conspiracy yarn filled with non sequiturs and gunplay (imagine Tarantino crossed with Lynch) and his boldly exaggerated comic-art style suits his sexy hallucinatory tale.

I gave a favorable review to the early issues of GRIP a while back and the above review sent me digging through my unread comics boxes for the remaining issues. Look for my follow-up review in a near-future column.

One cautionary note about the EW review. It includes a panel of art from GRIP and I have this uneasy feeling it's the last panel of the final issue. I'll let you know.


TOP SHELF NEEDS YOUR HELP's SPLASH and NEWSARAMA report that the LPC Group, largest distributor of graphic novels to mass market bookstores, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company is a distributor and, in some cases, the exclusive distributor of trade paperback and graphic novels to bookstores of Image Comics, Dark Horse, CrossGen, Oni, Humanoids Publishing, Top Shelf, AiT-Planet Lar, Alternative Comics, Tokyo Pop, Drawn and Quarterly and more. Most of these publishers have already expressed their confidence in LPC, but one small-yet-vital publisher is facing some serious cash flow problems as a result of a bounced LPC check.

Chris Staros of TOP SHELF writes

Dear Comics fans,

We have just been informed that our book trade distributor has filed for bankruptcy (Chapter 11). They will continue to operate and hopefully recover--and we will support this all we can (as our industry needs them, and they are good people--but, unfortunately, this has happened at a time when they owed us an enormous sum of money (over $80,000.00 minus returns). And to make matters worse, the most recent check they cut us, for almost $20,000.00, bounced this week, in turn causing the last 30 checks we wrote to printers, conventions, cartoonists--practically every aspect of the business --to bounce (or be held) in turn.

To put it bluntly, even with all the hard work we've put in over the years, if we don't raise $20,000 this month, it could realistically force us to suspend publishing operations for the foreseeable future. It's hard to believe but a big domino has fallen right on top of us at the worst time possible. So, that leaves us no choice but to be honest and ask for your help.

If 400-500 of you can find it in your hearts to each spend around fifty bucks on our core list of books below, this would literally pull us through. We mean that. We've got such a strong future schedule, so many cool things to announce soon (including two more Alan Moore projects and two Film & TV projects), that I'd hate to think that we'd have to pull the plug right before we just were about to arrive.

In any event, if you can find it in your hearts to help us out, we will be eternally grateful. We'll be manning the phones personally on this "drive," and we'll also be sure to keep you informedhopefully letting all of you know in three-to-four weeks that everything's okay (with your help, that is).

On behalf of Brett Warnock and myself.

Truly, your friend thru comics,

Chris Staros

Top Shelf has been publishing entertaining and important works of comics art...and it will be a true loss to our community if they can't continue doing that. My next stop after sending this column off to Justin will be to the TOP SHELF website, there to order at least $50 worth of their books to donate to my library and give out as presents. The URL for the website is:

Here are some other things you should know:

If you order over $100 worth of Top Shelf books, you'll get an extra $25 worth of books free.

U.S. orders get free shipping. International surface shipping runs $10 with air mail a tad more depending on weight.

You can phone in credit card orders to

Chris Staros (770) 4250551

You can e-mail credit card orders to

You can mail checks to

Top Shelf Productions, Inc.
PO Box 1282
Marietta, GA 300611282

And, as previously noted, you can order online at:

For more information on this ongoing story, I recommend that you visit NEWSARAMA at

Finally, a tip of the Tipster's hat to Image Comics president Jim Valentino. While expressing his confidence and support in the LPC Group, Valentino also urged fans and pros to come to the aid of Top Shelf. That was a classy thing to do, not that I'd expect any less from a classy guy like Jim.

I'll be back on Saturday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/02/2002 | 04/04/2002 | 04/06/2002 >>

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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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840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

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