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Tony's Online Tips
Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1486 (05/25/02)

"You need to get into trouble to find out who you are."

--Garrison Keillor

For some time now, your devoted columnist has been trying to devise the perfect comics ratings system and iconography for this weekly exercise in milking a joke for all it's worth and then some. Most recently, I tried reviewing comics and other items on a scale of none to five "Anthonys" and using this charming gentleman as the icon du jour

Rich Guy

Amazingly, I didn't get sued. Not so amazingly, it turns out some other folks are already awarding "Anthonys," as pointed out in this letter from reader John L. French

I hate to be the one to break this news to you, but every year a world mystery convention is held. This convention is called The Bouchercon, after Anthony Boucher, noted writer and critic. The awards given at this convention are called, you guessed it, the "Anthonys." Now mystery writers are as a rule not inclined to civil litigation. On the other hand, they have been plotting foul deeds for well over a century and know more than most people how to plot a crime, dispose of a body and get away with. You might actually be better off tangling with those Broadway people. Maybe you should call your next awards...the Izzys.

Fortunately, a Mr. Leo Bloom has stepped forward to mediate an agreement between myself and "those Broadway people." Since "Tony Isabella" has been my professional name for going on three decades, I will again be allowed to award the appropriate number of "Tonys" to the materials I review here. However, I must avoid theatrical references in any ratings system I used.

For the next several weeks--see "milking" reference above-- I'll be trying out a number of Tonys-based ratings system until I find one that suits me. This week's system is based on my standing as "America's most beloved comics writer and columnist." Since, when it comes to comics, I'm all about the love, I thought this new ratings system should reflect that. Hence...

5 Tonys = "I love you madly."
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

4 Tonys = "I think I love you."
Tony Tony Tony Tony

3 Tonys = "I like you."
Tony Tony Tony

2 Tonys = "You're just not my type."
Tony Tony

1 Tony = "Please stop calling me."
Tony

0 Tonys = "I'm getting a restraining order!"

Let's head for the reviews, baby!

******

CATWOMAN #1-4 (DC; $2.50 each) features "Anodyne," the first story arc of Selina Kyle's relaunched title by writer Ed Brubaker and artists Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred. I probably shouldn't tip my hand this early in the review, but CATWOMAN is a mind-boggingly-good comic book.

Brubaker scored early points with this reader-who-hasn't-read-an-issue-of-Catwoman-in-years in the first pages of the first issue by the deceptively simple expedient of telling me everything that I needed to know to enjoy the story. By page six, I know someone or something is killing prostitutes, that the world believes Selina is dead, that she's a patient of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, and that she is trying to sort out her place in the world.

As the story unfolds, Selina's relationship with her past and with the Batman comes into play...and with none of the histrionics usually associated with such matters. Her and Bats even have some conversations along the way.

"Anodyne" flows naturally and surely to its conclusion. Our heroine never does stupid things to advance the plot. Her actions and reactions always ring true. If I have any quibbles with this story at all--ACTIVATE SPOILER WARNINGS--it's that calling on Bats to more-or-less "handle the paperwork" at the end of the tale could get old fast. I'm also thinking Selina's natural curiosity demands that she do a little bit more digging into the "how" of her foe and what happens to him from here.

The Cooke/Allred artwork is gorgeous and their storytelling is as sure as Brubaker's. There are a lot of neat influences at work in these issues. I'm seeing some European influences playing with Milton Caniff, Frank Robbins, and Bruce Timm. Matt Hollingsworth's coloring is equally superb.

CATWOMAN is a great comic book with a great look. It may even be the best of the Batman titles. I'm not a cat-person, but I have to give this kitty the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

NIGHTSIDE (Marvel; $2.99), a four-issue mini-series by Robert Weinberg (writer) and Tom Derenick (artist), was also friendly to its readers, no matter if they came in from the start or somewhere along the run. It takes place in a world where the "others," the vampires and werewolves of our legend, live secretly among mankind in our own cities

Our world, the world of sunshine and endeavor and hope, they call "Dayside." Their world, the time of shadows and darkness and terror unseen, they call the "Nightside."

Sydney Taine is a mysterious woman at ease in both worlds and with her own secrets. In this mini-series, someone is killing the "bosses" of Nightside. To keep the always uneasy peace that exists between the factions, Sydney must uncover the who and why of these killings, and stop them.

What Weinberg and Derenick have done in NIGHTSIDE is taken a fairly standard detective story and dressed it up in monster drag for a fun outing. The story moves smoothly with writer and artist contributing solid work throughout. Sydney's friends and foes are an interesting bunch.

Unfortunately, what could've been "love" is reduced to "like" by a climatic battle which, despite its length (most of Nightside's final issue), fails to generate either dread or suspense. I never felt the battle's outcome was in doubt. My reaction was along the lines of..."THIS is what Sydney was worried about?"

With a better finale, NIGHTSIDE could've been my type. So I'm giving it three Tonys with the hope that any sequel maintains its heat from start to finish.

Tony Tony Tony

******

SUPERGIRL #66 (DC; $2.25) came out a few months back, but I'm running those few months behind in my quest to get current on all of this year's Superman and Batman-related titles by summer's end. "The Vegas Run" has Linda "Supergirl" Danvers following something called the Chaos Stream in the company of ex-demon Buzz. It's been years since I've read an issue of SUPERGIRL, so I'm uncertain what they are seeking. It probably has something to do with Supergirl not having the same powers she used to have, but that's guesswork on my part. See where I'm heading with this?

Peter David's writing is always enjoyable; the lad has a gift for dialogue. The Diego Barreto/Robin Riggs artwork is lovely with the splash page of showgirls being an eye-catcher. More important, the visual storytelling is first-rate; no staring at the panels to figure out what one is seeing or how one gets from one panel to the next. The ish is also blessed with terrific lettering and coloring by Bill Oakley and Gene D'Angelo. What's not to love about a comic book with so much going for it?

What's not to love is that, as much as I enjoyed this issue, I didn't know what was going on as I enjoyed it. The back story, and I gather it's a rich one, wasn't sufficiently covered to give me proper entrance into the current story. As I read, I felt lost, and you know how guys are about asking for directions.

I want to read those previous issues of SUPERGIRL and, since I have them all, it's "just" a matter of finding the time. But the typical new reader wouldn't have that option, so, despite the mag's many virtues, this issue only rates three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

SUPERMAN ADVENTURES (DC; $1.99) finished its 66-issue run with the two-part "Power Play." Written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, it featured the return of bad girl Live Wire and a perilous trip to Apokolips to stop Darkseid from blowing the Earth to free-floating atoms. Throw in a treacherous Lex Luthor--who isn't president of the U.S. in this cartoon spin-off series--and a passel of villains created by Jack Kirby, and you have a too-crowded story that, while it had its moments, wasn't as good a send-off as I could have hoped for. Too much slugfest and not enough heart.

Penciler Aluir Amancio did a pretty good job of visualizing a character-heavy and complicated story, ably abetted by inker Terry Austin and colorist Marie Severin. He didn't nail the Kirby look, but he's hardly alone in that. His work did seem to have a bit of a Don Heck feel, which, while not right for this story, was not at all unpleasant for a Heck fan like myself.

SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #65 and #66 do have some wonderful scenes between Superman and Live Wire. It's on the strength of those that I give the issues two Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

MAGAZINE WATCH

Far more often than not, we supplement our CBG reprints with new material, something extra for those of you who subscribe to the newspaper and thus have already read my columns there. This week, I'm going to try to get through the mainstream magazines which have been sitting on my desk awaiting such an opportunity.

Not unexpectedly, Spider-Man and super-heroes got quite a bit of play in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for May 10. There was a Tom Russo article on upcoming comics-inspired movies; a review of SPIDER-MAN by Owen Gleiberman, who gave the film a "B"; a sidebar on various "mysteries" associated with the flick; and a sidebar by Kevin Smith handicapping "the Marvel vs. DC battle royal." Smith seems to be betting on Marvel, but his quickie commentary struck me as fair to both companies.

The new Star Wars movie had the cover of EW's May 17 edition, but there were a couple of comics items in the mag's "Video & DVD" section. Reviewer Wook Kim gave an "A" to Rhino's TRANSFORMERS: SEASON ONE-almost nine hours of metal mayhem on four discs--as did Tom Sinclair to STAN LEE'S MUTANTS, MONSTERS, & MARVEL. Sinclair says this of the Columbia Tri-Star release

...it's neat to see that, at a spry 79, Smilin' Star is just as wisecrackingly cool a raconteur as you'd always hoped. Here he raps with movie director Kevin Smith (Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back)--a comic-book writer himself--about creating Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, and so many other immortal heroes. The bonus goodies--home movie footage, an interview with Lee's wife, Joan--are simply delightful. Like the man said: make mine Marvel!"

There's also a bunch of comics and Spider-stuff in EW for May 24, starting with an item about the availability of SPIDER-MAN: THE BOOTLEG on the streets of New York. Of course, in his latest Mile High Comics newsletter, Chuck Rozanski reports bootlegs were being sold openly at the recent Motor City Con. How long do you figure it will be before we read of one of these pirates going down hard when the copyright police come around?

"The Scout" reports that Cingular's special edition Spider-Man phone...with webbed face plate...has nearly sold out of its initial 5,000-unit production run and will be going back to the factory for more. On the movie set, Tobey Maguire beat co-star Kirsten Dunst to a prototype model, but Cingular made sure the actress got one of the phones as well.

In "Reel World," EW reports that James Marsden, Scott Summers in X-MEN, wants to play the lead in THE PREACHER, the $20 million adaptation of the Garth Ennis title. The scheduling might be a bit of a problem; X-MEN 2 begins filming in June.

In its "Movies" section, EW named SPIDER-MAN the "loser of the week" because of the many continuity errors fans have spotted while watching the film. If we give them no-prizes, do you think they'll stop bothering us with this trivia?

In the "Books" section, reviewer Marc Bernardin gives an "A-" to EXCELSIOR: THE AMAZING LIFE OF STAN LEE by Lee and George Mair.

Bernardin writes

In his "bioautography," as Lee calls it, celeb chronicler Mair offers all the hard facts in small, italicized passages, while Lee provides the flavorful meat in his own gregarious manner. The book is a little light on those aforementioned facts, but like the master storyteller he is, the former Stanley Lieber traces his life from Manhattan tenements to World War II to top of the four-color world with the same punch, wit, and style that made his comics such fun to read.

Finally, from EW's "Sound Bites" sidebar, a line by Tina Fey of SNL that's too good not to share

"NBC announced this week that they will be producing a three-hour TV movie based on the life of Rudolph Giuliani. To keep the movie true to life, the Giuliani character is really unlikeable until the last 15 minutes, when everyone loves him."

More MAGAZINE WATCH next week.

******

CULINARY CORNER

This comes from NEWS OF THE WEIRD

"Quorn," an edible, nutritious fungus that its manufacturer says looks and tastes "like chicken," made its U.S. debut in January from the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical house AstraZeneca. Quorn (also known as mycoprotein) is sold as chicken-like nuggets or in lasagna or as a ground beef-like substance and is high in protein and fiber and low in calories. Said a sports nutritionist quoted by the Associated Press: "I think it's got a lot of potential. We just have to make sure 'fungus' is not going to appear on the label." [Miami Herald-AP, 3-3-02]

If so many other foodstuffs taste like chicken, what would you say chicken tastes like?

******

SPORTS STUFF

Here's a letter from WILLIE BERKOVITZ

I thought a comment you made about being a baseball fan was curious. You say you could plop down in front of the TV and watch a game. To me, baseball is not a TV sport. Football is. Hockey is. Auto racing is. Baseball is not.

Baseball is always a lot better listening to it on the radio. One of the things I love about the spring and summer (for the past eight years anyway) is listening to Lanny Frateri, Bob Walk, Greg Brown, and Steve Blass call the Pirates games on KDKA. There's just something more authentic and romantic listening to a game on the radio as opposed to watching it on TV.

Speaking of which, you mentioned how you won't go to the Jake to see the Indians. That's too bad. I was there during the 1999 season and it's one of the best trips I've ever taken. It was also one of the best games I ever saw. That's neither here nor there. If you and the family want to catch a major league game, you might want to consider a trip to the Steel City. I imagine it can't be more than three hours away. PNC Park is as a good a ballpark as the Jake and its view is gorgeous. Not only that, but the Buccos are fielding a pretty good team so far so if you and the family ever get the chance, you could take a day trip or an overnighter to catch a Pirates game. I myself plan a couple of trips down there this year. I'm also psyched to catch our new minor league team, the Washington Wild Things. Play ball!

Once the school year ends in a couple weeks, my kids and I are going to Canal Park to see the Akron Aeros, Cleveland's AA team and currently the team with the best record in their league. Besides not having to drive to Cleveland--a plus in itself--going to Canal Park allows one to see baseball in a smaller and much more friendly venue where every seat is, indeed, a great one. I recommend it to anyone who loves baseball.

******

SPIDER-MAN NOVELS

Doing double duty this week as Tips literary correspondent, here's another note from WILLIE BERKOVITZ

I'm glad someone else is reading the Spider-Man/Sinister Six novels. I thought I was the only one.

If you enjoyed REVENGE OF THE SINISTER SIX, you'll love SECRET OF THE SINISTER SIX. It's as good as Revenge. All the characters are true to themselves. It has a smack-down drag out battle on top of the Empire State Building during the blizzard of the century. Castro even fits it into continuity. One of the things I loved about it was the Gentleman's ultimate plan. I won't say anything else because I don't want to spoil it.

It only had two problems. I'm not sure if you noticed, but Castro has a habit of sticking in pop-culture references, Mr. Glass from Revenge being one of them. Usually, they're pretty cool, but the one at the end of Secret is kind of silly and intrusive. You'll see what I mean.

Secondly, one of Marvel's iconic characters is referred to as "The Old Soldier." Castro does this to keep his identity confused or hidden, and it works. The only problem is that I don't see this character as an "Old Soldier." Once again, you'll see what I mean and I can't wait to see your thoughts on it.

GATHERING OF THE SINISTER SIX has to be one of the best uses of Mysterio I've ever seen. Bubble-Head is a favorite of mine. I think he looks cool, and Castro makes Mysty as dangerous and deadly as Doc Ock, the Green Goblin, and Venom ever were. The "guy named Joe" also puts in an appearance.

All three books are as good as your Captain America book, good company all around. You're lucky, though. I read Gathering when it came out in early 1999 and had to wait until last year to read the second one because of Marvel's legal problems with the publisher. Readers now don't have to wait as long as I did.

That's a wrap for this week. We'll have a new batch of TONY POLLS for you tomorrow; new installments of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; the After-Polls Report on Tuesday, and another CBG reprint plus next Saturday. If you feel you'd like to help support all this online entertainment, click on that handy PAYPAL link below.

Checks and cash are also gratefully received. You can send them to: Tony's Tips, P.O. Box 1502, Medina, OH 44258.

Have a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/21/2002 | 05/25/2002 | 05/28/2002 >>

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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