TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1479 (04/06/02)
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are."
-from the Talmud
In recent weeks, "Tony's Tips" set a new standard for critical comics iconography when I began rating items on a scale of one to five "Tonys." My handsome visage, albeit in caricature, allowed my readers to tell at a glance if a comic or related item was worthy of their time and doubtless hard-earned cash. My elegantly simple system worked thus
5 Tonys: Broadway Smash
4 Tonys: Off-Broadway Hit
3 Tonys: Touring Company
2 Tonys: Dinner Theater
1 Tony: Street Mime
Alas, the grim specter of litigation has reared its ugly head and forced me to retire the "Tonys" temporarily. I have received a cease-and-desist letter from a Max Bialystock asserting my use of "Tonys" infringes on awards given to Broadway theatrical performers and productions. While I'm trying to raise the necessary funds to invest in Bialystock's forthcoming production of "Winter For Toddy Mac," and thus become eligible to use the term again, I must come up with new critical standards for this column.
My "Tonys" iconography is also threatened by an understandable confusion among my readers. I have received several e-mails asking why Pierce Bronsan's floating head has been appearing in my column.
With this issue, I adopt a less sensual depiction of myself, which should end the bewilderment and put a halt to those questions about what happens in the next James Bond movie. Therefore, with entirely too much ado, I am proud to present the new standard in comics criticism, the "Anthonys."
5 Anthonys: BOARDWALK (best on the board)
4 Anthonys: MARVIN GARDENS (upscale neighborhood)
3 Anthonys: ST. JAMES PLACE (nice neighborhood)
2 Anthonys: VERMONT AVENUE (at least it's not Cleveland)
1 Anthony: BALTIC AVENUE (urban blight)
None: Take a ride on the Reading...and keep going.
Go directly to this week's reviews, do not past GO, and do not collect $200. I have a hunch I might need that money for my future legal expenses.
SHADES OF BLUE (Amp Comics; $2.50) is the story of high school student Heidi, who wakes up one day with blue hair and electrical powers. I took an immediate liking to her, not surprising given my past association with electrically-charged super-heroes. Anyone up for a Black Lightning-Heidi crossover?
Writers James S. Harris and Rachel Nacion sent me issues #3-5 of the title, which comprises their "Silence" story arc. In this tale, Heidi and friends contend with a substitute teacher, who also has super-powers and wants to train Heidi in the ways of villainy. This is the most fantastic part of the comic: teachers don't have time to instruct their students in the ways of evil; they are much too busy preparing them for proficiency tests.
Seriously, "Silence" is a light-hearted, thoroughly enjoyable super-hero romp. Heidi is a likeable character, as are her friends and the teacher who assists them. Silence, the substitute teacher, is a "sponge for sound," absorbing vibrations and using the energy in various ways. She would not be out of place in a more "serious" adventure, but still fits the tone of this story perfectly.
Artist Cal Slayton is a definite asset to SHADES OF BLUE. His style is an individual one and he is an above-average storyteller. His use of grey tones to compensate for the lack of color was top-notch, though I wish this comic WAS in color. Where's that stupid Hollywood money when it could be used for good?
Hint: That's my clever way of saying that SHADES OF BLUE would make a spiffy cartoon or movie.
I do have a complaint about "Silence." Harris and Nacion gave away too much at the end of the second issue. By the end of that chapter, we know how Silence can be beaten and all that remains for the final issue is the implementation of her defeat. There would have been more suspense had the second part ended with the "eureka" moment but sans details. Leave the reader on the edge of his seat and he'll likely come back for more.
SHADES OF BLUE is terrific fun for all ages. I give it four Anthonys.
Reader Jeff Michaels, in addition to the Wonder Woman comics he sent me and which I reviewed last week, also sent me a handful of other comics he thought I'd enjoy. Among them was SUPERMAN/GEN 13 (Wildstorm/DC; $2.50), a three-issue mini-series teaming the Man of Steel with Wildstorm's teen heroes. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the story's nigh-total inaccessibility.
Writer Adam Hughes didn't even get around to naming all of the Gen 13 kids by the end of the mini-series, nor did he give much of a hint as to their background. I frown on comics where readers are required to be as familiar with characters as the writers of those characters. I did get that these kids are covert operatives, that they inexplicably go on road trips to jeopardize their covertness, and that Caitlin, actually named in the first issue, is apparently the trustworthy one of the group. Amusingly, Caitlin then becomes the problem the teens must solve. I'll give Hughes points for that clever turn of events.
I'll also give Hughes credit for a nice bit of character play with Superman. The kids disrespect Superman when first they meet and, as a result, the big guy questions his relevancy to the modern world. Naturally, the kids eventually come around because, despite the mewling of those of little faith and the occasional attempts to push Superman in illogical and sometimes ridiculous directions, the character and what he stands for can be as relevant today as he was at the moment of his creation.
Adding to the good, the Lee Bermejo/John Nyberg artwork is way spiffy throughout the series. Bermejo's realistic approach to the material works amazingly well and, if it's a bit of a shock seeing Clark, Lois, and Jimmy looking so, well, real, it doesn't distract the reader for long, not when Bermejo's near-photographic art makes the fantastic stuff appear even more so.
Bermejo lifts SUPERMAN/GEN 13 up a level, earning this series three Anthonys. The original mini-series came out in 2000, but DC has collected it in trade paperback format.
ALAN MOORE: THE POCKET ESSENTIAL by Lance Parkin comes to us by way of the United Kingdom. The Pocket Essential books are thin paperbacks (96 pages) which concisely discuss film, TV, literature, history and ideas. This book runs about four pounds in England; I got mine for $6.95 from Amazon.
ALAN MOORE is essential for Moore fans. Parkin covers Moore's life and his career, exploring how his subject's art and craft have evolved over the years, and the effect Moore has had on his fellow comics creators. The last third of the book is devoted to the most thorough Moore checklist I've ever seen, an indispensable guide for those looking for Moore's rarer efforts.
ALAN MOORE: THE POCKET ESSENTIAL earns five Anthonys without breaking a sweat.
X-MEN UNLIMITED #32 (Marvel; $2.99) is another Michaels gift. Dated September of last year, the double-size comic features three X-Men-related stories.
Of the trio, "Dazzler: Beyond the Music" by Will Pfeifer and Jill Thompson is the best of show. Playing fast and loose with Marvel Universe continuity, whatever that is these days, Pfeifer delivers a very funny overlook of the Dazzler's life. Thompson plays the artwork just seriously enough to be an effective counterpart to the satire. I don't know how regular X-Men readers reacted to this story, but I give it five Anthonys.
Nightcrawler solo-stars in "The Gift," a tale about a prodigal "son" and his neighborhood priest. The James Pruett story is thin, even for its 12-page length, but the artwork by Mike Deodato, Jr., is quite good. However, since the story always carries more weight with me than the art, I give this just two Anthonys.
John Ostrander and Ian Gibson team for "All's Swell That Ends Swell," a humorous adventure of the Starjammers. It was enjoyable, but not outstanding. It earns three Anthonys.
Overall, X-MEN UNLIMITED #32 gets three-and-a-half Anthonys. That Dazzler story is a keeper.
Michaels also sent me SUPERMAN #170 (DC; $2.25). This July, 2001 issue featured the bittersweet "Bad Dog: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog" by writer Jeph Loeb, guest penciler Dale Keown, and inker Cam Smith. It was a story I wanted to love, but couldn't.
Talk about thin. Mongul materializes out of nowhere to attack Superman. Sister Mongal, an incredibly dumb name, does the same a few pages later. We get page after page of enormous panels showing bulbous-muscled super-people beating the snot out of one another. Mongul threatens Lois, and Krypto almost rips the villain's throat out. Realizing how dangerous Krypto can be, Superman confines the pooch to the Fortress of Solitude with only a crude "Super-bot" for companionship. Loeb and Keown take 22 pages to tell a story which could have been told better in eight sans the pin-ups masquerading as storytelling.
Loeb can be a terrific writer; Keown is one heck of an artist. But this collaboration rates no more than one Anthony.
I wrote this in last week's "Tips," but it bears repeating. Although creators, editors, and publishers are always encouraged to send me review items, I ask readers to contact me before mailing me stuff. I already had the various DC comics sent to me by Michaels, and I would have liked to have saved him the expense. Most major publishers and quite a few of the smaller ones send me their books on a regular basis, Marvel being a notable exception. I do welcome your suggestions, but I'd rather you spend your money checking out new comics rather than buying duplicate copies of comic books you already have to send them to me.
I'll have to end this column here. My assistant tells me that I have a call from the Parker Brothers.
I wonder who they are.
The above is a longer version of the column that appeared in CBG #1479. It doesn't happen often these days, but, on occasion, my editors have to cut a column for space.
That's one of the reasons I use a "modular" format for these columns. Any reviews cut from one column can usually be added to the next column. Waste not.
GOOD NEWS FROM TOP SHELF
I've always been proud to be a member of the comics community, but rarely as much as when I received this press release from CHRIS STAROS of Top Shelf Productions
TOP SHELF SAVED BY COMICS COMMUNITY IN RECORD 12 HOURS
Dear Comics Fans,
What a difference a day makes. On Tuesday morning at 8:00 am, April 3, Top Shelf was effectively put out of business, and on Tuesday evening by 8:00 pm, April 3, Top Shelf was remarkably back in business. There are not words suitable to express how honored and thankful we are that within 12 hours this amazing comics community took it upon itself to bring us back to life. And in this case, it might also be said that the power of the Internet was fully realized.
On Tuesday, after we made the announcement of our book trade distributor filing for Chapter 11 (and the subsequent fatal impact that this had on our own operation), we received over 200 phone orders and 850 online and e-mail orders to boot. This staggering 1000 orders has not only made us operational again (and put several thousand copies of our graphic novels into circulation), but has reaffirmed to us that the comics industry is back, revitalized, and ready to take on the world. We're estimating over 100,000 people received the news or were personally involved in the discussion of this online event on that day.
With this overwhelming support, combined with the now- contradictory fact Top Shelf has always prided itself that every order would ship out the very next day, we ask for your patience in letting us get all of these graphic novels, comics, and CDs to you. We hope to have everything shipped out within the next few weeks. In the meantime, if all this activity has made you curious about our books, we would encourage you to ask for them at your local retailer, so everyone along the chain, retailers and distributors alike, can also benefit from this spur of interest. And while this interest in diversity is at the forefront of everyone's mind, we encourage you to continue in the exploration and discussion of comics from all the publishers doing quality work these days: DC Comics, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, CrossGen, Viz, Fantagraphics, Slave Labor, Oni Press, NBM, Drawn & Quarterly, Cartoon Books, Alternative Comics, Highwater Books, the publishers we represent (like Eddie Campbell Comics, etc.), and all the rest (that we apologize for not having the space to mention by name today).
If we've learned anything over these last seven years and witnessed it absolutely this week we're all in this together. And the growth and development of this amazing medium is in the most capable hands possible: the fans of this industry.
We'd also like to take a moment to give a special thank you to a few extraordinary people and organizations
Warren Ellis and the Warren Ellis Forum. We've always known that the Warren Ellis Forum was a formidable entity, dedicated to the discussion and support of quality comics all over the industry, but their mobilization in this instance was unprecedented. We can't absolutely determine what percentage of all the orders were from this distinguished group, but our estimation is that it was significant. We cannot thank Warren or the supporters of his forum enough.
CrossGen. Mark Alessi and the CrossGen staff collectively bought $5,000 worth of graphic novels and will donate them to the public library system. This completely novel and generous gesture not only helped to keep us going (in a big way), but also promises to expose hundreds of people and libraries to what comics can bring to the world of art and literature. This stunned us, and is a testament to CrossGen's contribution to our industry.
Rick Veitch and Matt Brady of Comiccon.com's Splash and Newsarama pages. Their amazing coverage, online discussions, and links for this event spurred on an uncountable array of support from the industry.
Neil Gaiman. Neil took it upon himself to discuss our situation within his daily online journal, which just happens to be the most visited daily journal on the web. And since he's been known to have a fan or two (including us), we've been getting a nice bit of support from there as well.
And no less amazing than that of the above, the collective efforts of the crews at...
...etc., who rallied their subscribers, who in turn proudly stated they had come from one of these very active sites.
Lastly, but never least, the comics retailing and distributing community. They are the front line of our industry, and behind the scenes they've always been the ones that have kept the independent publisher alive. The show of support from this community has not only been amazing on this particular day, but has ALWAYS been there from the first moment we entered the business. They have been the group that has supported us the most.
Again, we want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts we could not have done it without you. Top Shelf will continue to try and put out the best books possible, and we look forward to not only thanking each an every one of you personally at the Cons this summer, but now being able to make some rather cool announcements in the coming weeks that should be fun and beneficial for the entire industry as well.
On behalf of Brett Warnock and myself,
Truly, your friend thru comics,
Look for new TONY POLLS questions on Sunday, TONY'S TIPS: THE AFTER-POLL REPORT on Tuesday, my thrice-weekly TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and then back here again on Saturday for another CBG column.
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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