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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1480 (04/13/02)

Aaron McGruder "I don't like the President. I don't like the war."
-Cartoonist Aaron McGruder, NAACP Image Awards 2002

It was a moment in which cartoonists everywhere should have taken pride. On February 25, at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), walked on stage at the 33rd NAACP Image Awards to present the group's Chairman's Award to Aaron McGruder, the creator of "The Boondocks."

The NAACP Image Awards honor excellence in entertainment. In presenting the award, Bond spoke of the proud American tradition of cartoonists using comics to succinctly convey ideas to the public and of McGruder's continuance of the tradition in his comic strips. That was just the start of this wonderful moment.

The stage brightened to reveal an enormous reproduction of one of McGruder's strips, flanked by equally large representations of "Boondocks" stars Huey and Riley Freeman. Looking at the set as I watched the awards on television--the ceremony was taped live and aired on Friday, March 1, on the Fox network--it was comics every bit as big as life. Even as I reveled in it, the presentation got even better.

A group of talented actors, which included J. August Richards of ANGEL, gave voice to McGruder's characters, adding another layer of reality to Huey, Riley, and the rest. Sometimes, when you read a comic book or strip, you can hear the voices of the characters in your head. This time, as I heard the characters, I could see them moving across my head as real as in their comics.

Image Awards

Ironically, McGruder, standing on stage with the award he was accepting, looked smaller than his characters, which is, perhaps, as it should be. He made no secret of his politics and pulled no punches in his acceptance. As in his comic strips, he gave a voice to those whose voices have been silenced, either by circumstance or by fear of being branded "disloyal." For such a relatively young talent, it was a speech both courageous and profound.

My politics doubtless mirror McGruder's more closely than they do some of you in the CBG audience. Yet I would like to think that even those of you who disagree with me and him can appreciate his conviction and talent, and celebrate that a cartoonist, one of our own, received this great honor.

Along with the joy of McGruder's award, there is an adjacent sadness. The NAACP Image Awards have received little coverage in the mainstream media. In doing an online search for news articles on the ceremony, I found almost none...and none which covered the ceremony nor the comments of the presenters and the winners in any significant fashion. In the midst of celebration comes the stark reality that some of our fellow Americans are not being represented in proportion to their numbers or their abilities. In the midst of achievement comes the cold realization that there remains so much more to be achieved.

For now, though, for a minute, I take pride in Aaron McGruder, his conviction, his spirit, his talent. He is an important voice for our times.

******

My search for the perfect comic-book criticism iconography and ratings system continues, usually one step ahead of the restraining orders. Against all rational considerations, I'm giving a second chance to last week's system: the ANTHONYS.

The ANTHONYS are represented by a somewhat more distinguished caricature of yours truly than is normally found in these pages and never you mind that it might, through pure coincidence, be similar to the depiction of another American legend. ANTHONYS are awarded as follows

5 Anthonys: BOARDWALK (best on the board)
Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys

4 Anthonys: MARVIN GARDENS (upscale neighborhood)
Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys



3 Anthonys: ST. JAMES PLACE (nice neighborhood)
Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys



2 Anthonys: VERMONT AVENUE (at least it's not Cleveland)
Anthonys Anthonys

1 Anthony: BALTIC AVENUE (urban blight)
Anthonys

None: Take a ride on the Reading...and keep going.

Let's get to this week's reviews.

******

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.

Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys

******

X-MEN UNLIMITED #32 (Marvel; $2.99) was sent to me by reader Jeff Michaels. Dated September of last year, the double-size comic features three X-Men-related tales. Of the trio, "Dazzler: Beyond the Music" by Will Pfeifer and Jill Thompson is the best of show. Playing somewhat 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.

Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys 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.

Anthonys 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.

Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys

Overall, X-MEN UNLIMITED #32 gets three-and-a-half Anthonys. That Dazzler story is a keeper.

Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys half Anthony

******

Takehiko Inoue's VAGABOND (Viz Comics; $4.95) begins in 1600, hours after the Battle of Sekigahara. The domainal lords of Japan had looked to expand their spheres of control and were constantly at war with one another. The Tokugawa won an overwhelming victory at Sekigahara and, as result, would virtually rule the country for the next 250 years.

VAGABOND's Takezo and Matahachi are survivors of that battle, but they had fought on the losing side. Now they must vie with the victors and with the callous thieves who prey on those outside the protection of any government, even as they try to determine what paths their lives will now take. Their story is one of violence, swift and sure, and the unknown that lies before them.

Viz sent me the first two issues of VAGABOND to review and I was mightily impressed by the comics. Each issue has over 80 pages of story, which, besides making it easy for the reader to be drawn into the world in which the story takes place, represents one heck of a bang for your bucks.

Inoue masterfully portrays the brutality of VAGABOND's setting and the interactions of the characters therein. His young heroes are sometimes overwhelmed by their situation, sometimes heroic, and sometimes prone to making very bad decisions. Inoue can surprise and even shock the reader with the turns his story and their lives take. Combined with often breathtaking artwork, this makes for an extremely satisfying comics experience.

With the warning that VAGABOND contains graphic violence and sexual situations, and thus likely wouldn't be suitable for younger readers, I give it five Anthonys.

Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys Anthonys

******

SECRET FILES & ORIGINS GUIDE TO THE DC UNIVERSE 2001-2002 (DC; $4.95) is way too long of a title for a comic book that is little more than an advertisement for other DC Universe titles. Where I had hoped for a handy summary of what's been going down in the DCU, what I got was "trailers" for AZRAEL, BATGIRL, and THE LEGION, and several pages of pin-ups.

This special's only saving grace was Will Pfeifer's "A Year in the Life," which tracks the long-distance marriage of an ambitious reporter for the online Daily Planet and her husband, who works for Metrocorps, the company that cleans up the damage and rebuilds the cities trashed by the interaction of super-heroes and their foes. It's a clever story which puts a human face on the chaos visited on the DCU whenever the DC powers-that-be decide its time for another company-wide crossover. Life for a civilian in the DCU must be one unending Maalox moment.

Pfeifer's story, nicely drawn by penciler Anthony Williams and inker John Stanisci, touches on, but does not adequately explain, various DCU events. However, it makes up for that with an ending that brought a howl of delight from me what recognized its source. I can't say more without ruining the ending, but it made the story worthwhile. Based solely on Pfeifer's tale, SECRET FILES & ORIGINS GUIDE TO THE DC UNIVERSE 2001-2002 gets two Anthonys.

Anthonys Anthonys

******

ADDENDUM

You may have experienced a little deja vu while reading the above. The ALAN MOORE and X-MEN UNLIMITED reviews were posted last week; they were in my original manuscript. However, my CBG editors had a space problem that week, a problem solved in part by their cutting the reviews. This doesn't happen often, but, when it does, I save the trimmed reviews and use them at the next earliest opportunity. Which was one week later.

A less retentive soul than myself could've dropped the reviews from this representation of the column. But I think we all know me better than that.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

There were two things I was sure of when I wrote about Aaron McGruder. The first was that his winning an NAACP Image award was an important event demanding coverage in the comics press. Sadly, I turned out to be just about the only comics columnist/journalist who recognized this. The second sure thing was that at least one of CBG's conservative readers wouldn't see the award or McGruder's acceptance speech as I did.

Enter CRAIG D. SMITH, who regularly writes to CBG to complain about the newspaper's so-called "liberal bias"

It will probably come as no surprise to you I found Aaron McGruder's comments at the Image Awards neither courageous nor profound. They might have been in a different context. Like if he was giving a cartooning demonstration at a VFW rally and made those comments, that would have shown true grit even the Duke would have to admire. But dissing Bush and his policies at an NAACP function where maybe 95% of the audience supported Gore for President is not brave. You didn't say what kind of reaction McGruder got when he made his comments but I seriously doubt it was very hostile, if not in fact mostly supportive.

As for the mainstream media's ignoring the event, that's because nothing happened that was newsworthy. "Dog bites man" is not a story because it happens all the time as does leftist sloganeering by entertainers at Hollywood Award Shows. McGruder knew there would probably be no negative consequence when he made his comments and, indeed, he was absolutely right.

Tony here

The fallacy of Smith's position is that he can see no further than the immediate audience for McGruder's comments. Actually, as he makes no mention of having seen the program, he didn't even see that far. He made an assumption without any first hand evidence or knowledge. I suppose it could be considered treasonous to ask too many questions at times like these.

In all fairness to Smith, McGruder's acceptance speech was met with a smattering of applause, though certainly not with resounding cheers. A pan of the audience as the show broke for commercial was too quick for me to gauge the overall reaction with any certainty However, even without seeing "Re-Elect Gore President" signs waving around in the audience, I would not be surprised if members of the audience, perhaps even the majority, were less than supportive of Bush in the election. I seem to recall that Bush and his crew have been less than supportive of civil rights, an important issue for many Americans.

If Smith were to take a somewhat larger view of the situation, he might consider the newspapers who have dropped McGruder's strip because of his skewering of Bush...and that's only the first thing that comes to mind. Voices of dissent have never been popular with the powerful and the wealthy, which is, of course, why we need them now and always.

Smith may not think it's courageous to call out the President, even an unelected one, on national television. He may not believe it's important that a cartoonist, one of our own, was honored with this award and chose to speak out in such a manner at such a moment of personal triumph. I do...and I again applaud McGruder for his courage and his voice.

******

TONY STUFF

Somewhere just south of these words is a link which allows you to "TIP THE TIPSTER" via PayPal. All such tips are cheerfully and gratefully accept and will go towards affording Justin and myself the extravagant lifestyles we dream about. Thank you.

I'll be posting a new batch of TONY POLLS questions on Sunday, so keep an eye for them. Tuesday will bring THE AFTER-POLLS REPORT with the results of the current questions and commentary by yours truly. Alert the media.

Then, next Saturday, I'll be back here with another CBG column and the usual additional material. That's in addition to the three all-new TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns which will be posting at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website.

I'm your entertainment machine six days a week.

Talk about your desperate cries for help.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/09/2002 | 04/13/2002 | 04/16/2002 >>

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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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