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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 #1481 (04/20/02)

"To accomplish something important, two things are necessary: a definite idea, and not quite enough time."


This week's CBG marks Maggie Thompson's 1000th issue as editor of comicdom's newspaper. I'm sure there are articles elsewhere in this issue telling of how she and her late husband Don began their association with the publication, then called THE BUYER'S GUIDE FOR COMICS FANDOM. They were writing their "Beautiful Balloons" column years before Krause purchased the paper, added it to the company's roster of hobby publications, and had the great good sense to hire them as editors. I've known Maggie even longer.

I was a mere teenager when I formed Cleveland's "Graphic Arts Society" and invited Don and Maggie to join. They would land their flying car on the roof of the Cudell Recreation Center, rappel down the side of the building, and regale the members with the secrets behind the comics.

As our friendship grew, the Thompsons would allow me to visit stately Thompson Manor in Mentor. On one such trip, I ended up on the grounds of a nuclear power plant in the dead of night, the end result of a series of seriously wrong turns. My companions and I were never challenged by the plant's seemingly non-existent guards, which will give you an idea how long ago it happened. For the next several years, I was my own nightlight.

Don and Maggie have been my friends and mentors for over three decades. When I was a Marvel editor, they wrote for me. When they became Krause editors, I wrote for them. That Don was reassigned to more heavenly editorial duties has not changed how his work and knowledge informed my own. That Maggie still illuminates my way is a continued blessing.

I love them both and madly and forever.

In honor of Maggie's astonishing achievement, the comic books I review this week are rated on a scale of one to five "Maggies," represented by classic images of cartoon magpies. If you look up "magpie" in the dictionary, you will be astounded at the aptness of this analogy. The scale works as follows

5 "Maggies" like an eagle

Maggies Maggies Maggies Maggies Maggies

4 "Maggies".....the wind beneath my wings

Maggies Maggies Maggies Maggies

3 "Maggies"....."Look, up in the sky!"

Maggies Maggies Maggies

2 "Maggies"....."It's a bird!"

Maggies Maggies

1 "Maggie"....."It's a windshield!"


0 "Maggies"....."That parrot is deceased!"

The reviews await.


One of my 2002 goals is to read all the Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman comics published this year, this despite my not having read them for several years. While I also hope to read their older issues as well, for now, I like being able to approach these books as a "new" reader. It's my strongly-held conviction that episodic comics, especially those featuring characters known to the general public, should be accessible to that potential audience.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #600 (DC; $3.95) meets that test better than many comics. A reader new to the DC Universe might be shocked to learn Lex Luthor is the president of the United States therein, but AOS writer Joe Casey, by showing us Luthor through the eyes of Vice-President Pete Ross, makes this scenario work. After all, if you asked Americans to reflect on our presidents of the past half-century, many would be comfortable naming one or more of our chief executives as villains in their own right.

In Casey's "A Lex," Luthor is missing. Even though Superman isn't one of Lex's supporters, he undertakes a covert mission to find the president. The story's 40 pages gives Casey opportunity to contrast the respective ideologies of Superman and Luthor; to introduce supporting characters while simultaneously establishing where they stand in the conflict; and to tell an exciting tale with a satisfying ending. I especially enjoyed Casey's handling of the long-distance relationship of Clark Kent and Lois Lane--it made for some great scenes--and his portrayal of Jimmy Olsen as an angry and feisty young reporter.

I'm not enamored of the manga influence dominating the art in the Superman titles, but penciler Mike Wieringo does it better than any of the other Superman artists. Too bad this is his last issue; he's moving over to Marvel's FANTASTIC FOUR.

This "super-sized anniversary issue" has two "bonus" features. A two-page spread finds the Superman writers doing their takes on a Superman newspaper comic strip, but the comedy falls flat. More successful are the "Superman's Life" pin-ups by artists Leinil Yu, Eduardo Risso, John Cassaday, and others.

Even at four bucks, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #600 is a terrific comic book. I give it: five Maggies.

Maggies Maggies Maggies Maggies Maggies


I'm not enjoying AZRAEL, AGENT OF THE BAT. Jean-Paul Valley, the man who was once Batman, has been on a quest of self-discovery since he was first introduced. Twisted by his father and the monks who raised him, wrestling with demons programmed into his core, he has emerged as a sympathetic character. Unfortunately, his comics title has become this morally ambivalent morass which is downright stunning in its lack of direction, purpose, or values.

Writer Dennis O'Neil can tell a story, but, in AZRAEL #85 and #86 ($2.50 each), he fails again and again to introduce the ongoing characters and situations adequately. Worse, two issues into his current tale, I am appalled by what seems to be the point of this story: that conviction and courage excuse a multitude of sins, up to and including murder.

Azrael battles and then befriends the Spartan, a former Navy S.E.A.L. turned present-day nutcase who kills policemen and thinks Timothy McVeigh was murdered. Hey, I'm against capital punishment myself, but it's never once occurred to me to protest it by taking shots at cops. If this psycho didn't already stretch my willing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point, any one of the following scenarios would have

A cop with a stolen rocket launcher in the truck of his patrol car. He fires the rocket at the Spartan, misses, kills an innocent rock climber, and faces not a single consequence as a result of his breaking about three dozen different laws.

The same cop murders two other cops as part of a plan to make it appear the Spartan was killed trying to escape from their local, Mayberry-like hoosegow. Azrael rescues the Spartan.

Azrael lets the killer cop go free and takes the Spartan into "safekeeping" until he can decide what to do with him and get some answers. I have some answers for him and one question of my own. Feel free to take notes.

Azrael should hand over the Spartan and the killer cop to the authorities to stand trial for the murders they committed. Then he should turn himself in for obstruction of justice beyond even what I can accept in a super-hero comic book and also for being thicker than the average brick.

In the meantime, can anyone give me a reason to read even one more issue of a comic book so illogically constructed that it earns no Maggies at all? A parrot has perished for naught.


Much fun is to be had reading Billy Tucci's SOME TROUBLE OF A SERRIOUS NATURE (Crusade; $3.50). This one-shot about a World War II fighter plane gone astray in the backwoods of Arkansas has its genesis in a letter sent by a decorated Navy pilot to an associate who worked for Chance Vought Aircraft, the manufacturers of the F4U Corsair portrayed in this work of fiction.

The letter was intended as a harmless joke, but took on a life of its own because Chance Vought didn't realize it was a joke. The company spent ten years looking for the lost plane, even contacting the letter's author asking for his help. Eventually, the pilot did fess up to his prank and the manufacturer took the revelation with uncommon good humor, circulating copies of the letter to aviation fans. Tucci became aware of it while researching another project and hopes to make a short film of the tall tale.

What I have in front of me is the "Greg Hilderbrandt Edition" of TROUBLE, so designated because it sports a absolutely gorgeous cover painting by the artist, done in the classic pin-up art style of the 1940s. If Tucci ever publishes a poster of this painting, it will have a place of honor on my office wall. All the profits from this special edition go to the American Red Cross to aid the victims of the September 11 attacks.

Inside the book, we have a chatty introduction by Tucci on the story's background, photos of the cast for his planned film, John Vilardi's CGI drawings of the F4U Corsair, some of the storyboards for the film, a 17-page comics adaptation of the film, and a copy of the letter that started it all. I had a ball reading this comic book and that earns it: four Maggies.

Maggies Maggies Maggies Maggies


I have just enough time left this week to congratulate my pals Rich and Sandy Koslowski on the March 6 birth of their first child, Stella Rose Koslowski. Rich and Sandy are perhaps best known for comicdom's THE 3 GEEKS.

Stella weighed in at a healthy 7 pounds, 15 ounces, and 21-1/2 inches long. Mother and daughter are doing fine, as is the doting father and husband. Here's sending them lots of love from myself and the rest of the CBG crew.



Editors Maggie Thompson and Brent Frankenhoff trimmed my SOME TROUBLE OF A SERRIOUS NATURE review when the above was published in CBG. Some issues have more space than others; this was one of the others. It happens.



Ever have one of those months where dozens of little problems combined forces into one massive assault on your sanity? Welcome to my April. That's why TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, which usually posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays over at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website has been in short supply this month and why you're not getting any new material with this week's reprint from COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. Push came to shove; yours truly ended up sprawled on the floor looking foolish.

On the bright side, he said, tempting fate, it looks like the rest of the month will go much smoother. I'm about halfway through the new TONY POLLS questions which will be posting on Sunday, and about halfway through Monday's TOT. In addition, your donations to the "Tip the Tipster" fund...see the PAYPAL link elsewhere on this page...have started to arrive.

(For those of you who have asked, the "tips" are split evenly between Justin and myself. We don't expect to become rich beyond our wildest dreams of avarice here, but, if these tips pay a couple of our smaller bills each month, we'll be delighted. You do like to see us happy, don't you?)

I'm still planning to add some Thursday content sometime this year, but I'm also still trying to decide what I want to do on that day. The possibilities include: movie and/or television reviews; original comics or prose stories; political commentary; and short interviews with fans and pros. By next week, I'm sure I will have thought of more possibilities...and, as always, I invite your own suggestions, as well.

Have a happy and safe weekend, my friends. I'll be back here on Tuesday with THE AFTER-POLLS REPORT.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/16/2002 | 04/20/2002 | 04/23/2002 >>

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.

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