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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1487 (06/01/02)

"I just wanted to see what it looked like in the spotlight."

--Jim Morrison

"It seemed like a good idea at the time" has served mankind well as the catch-all explanation for so many of the stupid things we did in the previous millennium. However, though I am a bit late in suggesting this, I think our opening quote, especially given the self-centeredness which has continued into this, a new millennium, should be pressed into service as mankind's new all-purpose raison d'etat. It certainly explains all the silly ratings systems I've been using in these pages.

Speaking of which, he segued, let's review our current "Tips" ratings system. I've had a lifelong love affair with comics and I wanted this system to 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!"

If we can just bring up the lights a bit, we can get right to this week's reviews.

******

1971 was a pretty good year for me. I was out of school and still living with my folks. I was working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer earning a steady (if less than stately) paycheck. This gave me the means and time to indulge my love of books and comic books in a then-thriving downtown Cleveland.

One of my favorite haunts was a newsstand right on Cleveland's public square. It was small, but stuffed to the walls with books, magazines, and newspapers. I used to buy the New York Sunday News there for the comics section, as well as comic-strip compilations which were published weekly by NEA to copyright all of their comics features at once. I bought Playboy there because the cashier never looked disgusted when I did. I bought every mystery and science-fiction digest because I was going to be a writer and the digests seemed like a place to start my brilliant career, not that I ever actually submitted any stories to them. And I bought anything that had anything to do with comics, including an odd-looking paperback book by comics artist Gil Kane.

BLACKMARK was this ungainly amalgam of comics and prose about a far-future slave, the spiritual heir of a science-minded king in a world where science is feared, who overthrows a sadistic tyrant. The format didn't enhance Kane's drawings and the writing was often leaden. Worst of all, the book ended just as Kane's story began to get interesting.

Had I known the behind-the-scenes story of Blackmark's birth, consider that foreshadowing, I might've been more forgiving of the book's flaws. As it was, I considered it little more than a comics oddity for my collection. When it was later serialized in Savage Sword of Conan, the only mind I paid it was when I did some second-string proofreading on one of the segments.

Enter Fantagraphics Books whose "30th anniversary edition" of BLACKMARK ($16.95) at long last allows Kane's epic adventure to be enjoyed to its fullest. The 6"-by-9" size brings out the power and emotion of the art, which was cramped by the original paperback's dimensions and likewise ill-served by the Marvel attempt to make it look more like a traditional comic book. And while the writing is still jaw-droppingly bad here and there...someone got a good price on hyphens and was unfortunately lavish in their use...the larger art, easier-to-read format, and more complete story overcome these far less than mortal sins.

This edition of BLACKMARK feature the first two books of what was originally planned as a eight-book series. In his afterword, co-publisher Gary Groth reports Kane was paid $3500 for each book-- "written, drawn, typeset, camera-ready"--piddling wages even by the standards of the 1970s.

While working on BLACKMARK, Kane draw comics for DC and Marvel to pay his bills. As fast an artist as he was, that still made for a grueling schedule. When other collaborators failed to deliver to Kane's satisfaction, he made an 11th-hour call to Archie Goodwin to write the books from his outline. Few creative works are produced under perfect conditions, but BLACKMARK is remarkable for how it ultimately overcame the travails of its creation. This new edition reveals it for the brooding and thrilling adventure story Kane envisioned. Its complex hero grows into his role amidst blood and horror, but, even in the aftermath of carnage, there is hope for this new Earth. Reading it was good, albeit grim, fun.

Kudos to Fantagraphics for restoring this material for a new audience, and to Groth for his enlightening afterword. BLACKMARK gets four Tonys and a honored place on my bookshelf.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

I read a handful of Archie Comics titles this week and each of them has something to recommend them. ARCHIE #521 ($1.99) led off with Craig Boldman's funny "Color Commentary" wherein the Riverdale males fail to comprehend the subtlety of a "new" shade of lipstick.

A George Gladir script focuses on Principal Weatherbee's assistant; It's a decent attempt to add diversity to the Archie cast, but new faculty and staff members never seem to get enough "screen-time" to develop into recurring characters.

John Albano and Greg Crosby are represented by familiar tales of Archie's absent-mindedness and an unfortunate birthday gift. I thought they were well-done and, even if I've seen these same basic stories many times before, I'm sure they were far less familiar to Archie's young readers. Penciler Stan Goldberg and inker Bob Smith brought the usual flair to all four stories; you can always count on this team for terrific art and storytelling.

I have to give a special mention to Victor Gorelick for this issue's "Editor's Notebook." He leads up to a plug for an upcoming issue by writing about learning to drive in his boyhood Brooklyn and buying his first car. The Archie creators rarely come out from behind their comics; this charming bit of biography makes me wish they did so more often. ARCHIE #521 gets three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

ARCHIE'S DOUBLE DIGEST #133 ($3.29) continues to be a good buy for your bucks with just under 200 pages of stories and features. The 21-page "The Sinking Fund" is the best of the reprints, but I also got a kick out of the new "Anniversary Angst" by writer Bill Golliner, penciler Ted Kennedy, and inker Ken Selig. This digest also gets three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Betty has to deal with soccer parents in BETTY #111 ($1.99). Gladir's "A Family Affair" is a fun story with fine art by Goldberg and inker John Lowe. However, our Miss Cooper isn't quite herself in this issue's other three stories--she's too quick-tempered in one, too devious in a second, and uncharacteristically slothful in the third--and that costs her. The best I can give BETTY #111 is two Tonys.

Tony Tony

BETTY AND VERONICA #173 ($1.99) does a better job of keeping the characters in character, but none of its four stories sparked my interest. I recommend giving the writers a stack of scripts by the late great Frank Doyle to inspire them, though more stories by Boldman and Gladir would also be a good way to go. It pains me to do so, but this comic only gets two Tonys.

Tony Tony

******

With Moonstone Books now up and running, art director and co-publisher Dave Ulanski has collected his earlier MR. NIGHTMARE'S WONDERFUL WORLD comics in a $18.95 trade paperback. I hadn't read (or even heard of) this title previously, so I came to it sans any preconceptions.

Mr. Nightmare is the keeper of dreams. He captures nightmares and stores them in his mystical realm, occasionally releasing them into his world to make it more interesting. He is one of several equally-powerful "Elders" who strive to protect reality as we know it. Ulanski's stories are mostly whimsical, occasionally serious, and, unfortunately, will invite comparison to Neil Gaiman's classic Sandman series. It's not an unfair comparison, but MR. NIGHTMARE does come off as "Sandman Lite."

Even with the comparison hanging over my head, I did enjoy the collection. The title hero is a good soul and his delight in the creations of dreaming humans is infectious. He seems more akin to us than his fellow Elders, which makes it easier for the readers to relate to him. I like the first half of the book better than the second--the story is more focused--but there are funny characters, gags, and situations throughout...and a most satisfying conclusion. I'd like to see more from Ulanski.

MR. NIGHTMARE'S WONDERFUL WORLD gets three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #122 (DC; $2.25) came out a while back. I clearly need to work harder at getting current with 2002's Superman-related comics. Sadly, "Superman V Steel" doesn't exactly fill me with the enthusiasm to dive into subsequent issues of this particular title.

This issue has excellent artwork by penciler Darryl Banks and inker Kevin Conrad, but it suffers from the too-busy and too-dark "Wildstorm FX" coloring. But neither art nor coloring could have rescued a fundamentally boring story in which a villain returns for no reason other than to fight Steel and allow the energies powering Steel to affect John Henry's mind and set up the main event battle between Superman and his armored ally.

We also get a subplot lifted from the Lois & Clark television series--Lois' mom thinks her daughter is having an affair with the Man of Steel--and the set-up of the next story. Depending on how it plays out, the former could be somewhat interesting. As for the latter, well, since I don't know who the ominously looming villains are, it didn't excite me in the slightest.

I'll give writer Mark Schultz credit for his handling of John Henry's niece, who narrates this issue, but that's only good enough to earn SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #122 a pretty dismal one-and-a-half Tonys. I need more from this relationship.

Tony Half Tony

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

There were some items worth mentioning in the May 31 issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. In the mag's "Video & DVD" section, Ty Burr reviewed the three-volume ASTRO BOY collection, giving it a solid "B." Despite the brevity of his comments, Burr managed to mention the Dark Horse reprints of "Osamu Tezuka's ground-breaking original manga"...the big screen version coming in 2004...and the uncanny Astro-echoes found in Stanley Kubrick's and Steven Spielberg's A.I. Burr describes the episodes, made in color for the second animated series, as being "not as weird or influential as the '60s version, but way more compelling than Pokemon."

Bruce Fretts makes some snap judgments about new fall shows in the "Television" section. He didn't think FIREFLY looked too hot, but added "it's penned by BUFFY's Joss Whedon, so who am I kidding? I'm probably gonna love it."

Fretts was less kind to BIRDS OF PREY, which he put into the "Least Promising" category. He opined that the show's premise made his head hurt.

Moving over to EW's "Books" section, Ken Tucker gave an "A" to Peter Bagge's THE MEGALOMANIACAL SPIDER-MAN in which Peter Parker follows co-creator Steve Ditko into Ayn Rand lunacy and becomes the greedy CEO of Spider-Man, Inc. "Of all the Spider-Man movie tie-ins," writes Tucker, "this one's the most subversive."

******

NEWSWEEK

Comic books got some decent coverage in John Horn's "Franchise Fever!" piece in the April 22 edition of NEWSWEEK. The article's header montage included a shot of THE SCORPION KING comic published by Dark Horse Comics and the upcoming DAREDEVIL movie was discussed at some length:

...next year the promising writer-director Mark Steven Johnson will unveil DAREDEVIL. The movie, which is designed to launch a long series, is based on the comic books about a blind lawyer by day (Ben Affleck) who turns crimefighter at night and battles a villain (Colin Farrell) with deadly aim. One recent day on the set, Johnson and producer Gary Foster peer into a bank of monitors as Farrell, with the help of some invisible wires, zips darts at a dartboard without even looking at his target. "There are five movies in this," Foster says, as Farrell's darts hit the bull's-eye one after another. All any franchise could ask for is that kind of aim.

FREE COMIC-BOOK DAY rated a sidebar in NEWSWEEK's May 6 issue. Characterizing the day as retailers hoping to convince readers that the art form has matured since its Golden Age, Marvel's editor-in-chief Joe Quesada is quoted:

"It's the equivalent of watching Ozzie and Harriet back in the '60s. You remember those stories fondly, but you can't write like that today."

Ozzie and Harriet? Now there's a reference which will almost certainly be lost on all but older comics readers.

******

PLAYBOY

Two items worth noting from the May issue:

Leonard Maltin devotes a nice chunk of his "Movies" column to based-on-comics/cartoons films like SPIDER-MAN and SCOOBY-DOO, and also gives special and welcome attention to ROAD TO PERDITION. The Sam Mendes-directed ROAD, which has all but been ignored by comics journalists, stars Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, and is adapted from the Capone-era graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. Look for it later this year.

The issue also had a quick quote from Liz Vassey, who played Captain Liberty on the short-lived TICK series:

"With 'Tick,' I had to lift men's chins up so they looked me in the eye. I looked like Super Whore."

******

TARZAN AND THE TIGER

I was given a spiffy hardcover appointments calendar by one of my buddies last Christmas and it's filled with stuff about writers. Here's a neat little bit about Edgar Rice Burroughs:

When Edgar Rice Burroughs made Africa the setting of TARZAN OF THE APES, he had never set foot there. Recalling his work as a business magazine writer at the time, Burroughs said, "My daily life was full of business system, and I wanted to get as far from that as possible...I find I can write better about places I've never seen than those I have." However, writing without sufficient research had its drawbacks. When the novel debuted in magazine form in 1912, alert readers castigated him for a scene in which Tarzan battles Sabor the tiger despite the fact that there are no tigers in Africa. In the book version, Burroughs quietly made Sabor a lioness.

******

WHAT'S NEXT

I'll be posting new TONY POLLS questions tomorrow, but, as I'm writing this column early, I have no idea what those questions will be. Ah, delicious suspense!

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday will see new installments of my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS at the Perpetual Comics website. Tuesday may or may not see a new edition of TONY'S TIPS: THE AFTER-POLLS REPORT; a logistics problem may delay that one by a day or two. Then, next Saturday, we'll be back here with a new TONY'S TIPS!

Have a great weekend and do consider clicking on the "Tip the Tipster" banner below. Your generous contributions help Justin and I keep this online content coming your way.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/28/2002 | 06/01/2002 | 06/04/2002 >>

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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