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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1490 (06/22/02)

"I was looking at 'Harry Potter' thinking that was as big as one can get. How could you get in that neighborhood? But your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man came to the neighborhood and took it over."

--Avi Arad, chief executive of Marvel Studios, on the record $114.8 million debut weekend of SPIDER-MAN.

These are exciting times for comics fans. As of this writing, though it's too early to determine the long-term benefits of Free Comic-Book Day, many retailers have reported the event brought new faces into their stores and that at least some of those faces were attached to opening wallets. There are calls for a repeat of the event to coincide with next year's release of the Incredible Hulk movie. That sounds like a plan to me, especially since it allows the comics industry time to consider what went right and what went wrong with FCBD.

Then there's SPIDER-MAN, a film that makes me remember what it was like to be 12 and sharing life's triumphs and troubles with my new pal Peter Parker. On Saturday of its second weekend, the movie became the fastest movie ever to hit the $200 million mark. With the milder-yet-still-substantial successes of FROM HELL and GHOST WORLD, plus the buzz for the soon-to-be-released ROAD TO PERDITION, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, I'm optimistic that Hollywood will continue to offer comics professionals opportunities to acquaint the general public with the wonder and variety of our art form.

Our happiness demands release. This week's song of joy comes to us courtesy of Mark Dooley. I'm guessing you can figure out the tune on your own:

Spider-Man, Spider-Man,
Got his shot at the movie fans!
Hundred mil first three days
Left the Rock in a dusty haze!
Oh, man! Smacked down by Spider-Man!

Raimi showed it can be done
When the fans and the Boss are one!
We lined up just to see
That upside down tonsillectomy
Oh, yeah! Mackin' on Spider-Man!

And that love was seen
On that big silver screen,
Like a streak of light
We saw Spidey's movie might!

Spider-Man! Spider-Man!
Hollywood hero Spider-Man!
Daredevil, Hulk, and even more
In Two-Thousand Three and Two Thousand-Four!
For us, a new Marvel Age has just started!
It's just like the Red Sea just parted!
Three cheers for Spider-Man!
That was the grooviest, Spider-fans. Let's sing it again as we head to this week's reviews...

******

THREE FINGERS

The documentary comes to animated cartoons in the form of Rich Koslowski's THREE FINGERS (Top Shelf; $14.95). Like Gary Wolfe's WHO CENSORED ROGER RABBIT?, the novel which inspired the animated feature, Koslowski's graphic novel is set in a world where cartoon characters coexist with human beings. However, in THREE FINGERS, Hollywood and movie audiences were hesitant to embrace the cartoons until fledgling filmmaker Dizzy Walters and Rickey Rat formed their legendary partnership. What Koslowski explores in this astonishing pseudo-history is the darker sides of their lives and, in a larger sense, the terrible price people (and cartoons) are willing to pay to attain fame and fortune.

THREE FINGER

Fans of Koslowski's THE 3 GEEKS will be surprised, pleasantly, I hope, by the depth and versatility he reveals in THREE FINGERS. His secret history of the cartoons is told via "interviews" with its key players and cinema historians, combined with "lost footage" and vintage "photographs." And if THE truth eludes him and us, as it so often does in the real world, there are other truths learned along the way.

THREE FINGERS

With its moody black-and-write art and unique storytelling, THREE FINGERS presents a gifted creator discovering a new dimension to his talent. Koslowski's graphic novel ships in August, so look for it in the June ordering catalogs. On a scale of zero to five Tonys, the only comics ratings system to feature my smiling mug, I give THREE FINGERS the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Viz Comics sent me a black-and-white preview of Junko Mizuno's CINDERALLA ($15.95), which will released in July as a full-color graphic novel. The cover letter described it as a "twisted turn on the classic fairy tale" and that's accurate.

Cinderalla's father, stepmother, and stepsisters are zombies. Cindy brought her dad back from the dead to help her run the family yakitori restaurant. Only he knows the secret of the special sauce that keeps the place in business.

Apparently, even zombies have urges. Hence, the addition of a dead stepmom and stepsisters to the family. There's a prince in the mix as well, but he only looks like a zombie.

Although Mizuno's premise struck me as having darkly comedic possibilities, those possibilities were never realized in the 40-plus pages I was sent. His choppy storytelling fails to build any sequences to satisfying conclusions and the characterizations are weak throughout. Cinderalla's motivation seems to change every few pages, which makes it difficult to maintain any interest in whether she achieves her goals or not.

The art is deliberately childish with most of the characters, even Cinderalla's father, drawn as children. That makes for some unsettling moments when Cindy does her chores topless. To put it as delicately as possible, two things stand out as incongruous with the rest of her appearance.

Readers who love bizarre for the sake of bizarre might enjoy this graphic novel, but, based on what I read, roughly a third of its 120 pages, I can only give it an overly generous half-a-Tony, and that's strictly because the basic premise deserved better than it got from the work itself.

Half Tony

******

Lorelei 1 Looking at the preview of LORELEI #1 ($4.95) sent by Starwarp Concepts President/Publisher Steven A. Roman, I felt a sudden wave of 1970s nostalgia. The painted cover for this comic book is by Bob Larkin, who did several outstanding paintings for Marvel Comics back when I was editing several of the company's black-and-white titles. There are also echoes of Jim Warren's CREEPY, EERIE, and VAMPIRELLA in Roman's new venture, making for a comfortable mix of styles from the undisputed champion of this kind of magazine--that would be Warren--and his most interesting challenger. I never have understood why the format has been left untouched for the past two decades. Those were some great comics.

Getting back to LORELEI, the title character is a succubus who feeds on the souls of evildoers. In 1993 and 1994, she appeared in a half-dozen comic books, getting about halfway through her epic-length origin story.

In his new LORELEI, a 64-page, black-and-white, mature readers title, Roman commences a new story, "The Architects of Fear," while reprinting the first two chapters of his heroine's debut, "Building the Perfect Beast." This issue features interior artwork by Ernie Colon, Steve Geiger, David C. Matthews, and Neil Vokes.

Writer Roman does tend to get a little wordy in his captions. I suspect he writes full scripts and sometimes describes elements clearly seen in the artwork. But his enthusiasm for his characters and stories is evident and compensates for his occasional technical shortcomings. The art is likewise uneven in places, although never so much that it interfered with my enjoyment.

Future issues of LORELEI will feature covers by Frank Thorne and Gray Morrow; a frontispiece by Bill Ward; interior art by Greg Scott, Grant Miehm, and Lou Manna; and stories by Roman, novelist Sholly Fisch, and Dwight Jon Zimmerman.

LORELEI has good stories, good bang-for-your-bucks, and a nice dash of nostalgia. I give it three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

If the column above seems to end abruptly, it's because my CBG editors had to cut one review and the ending to make the column fit their available space. Like most periodicals, CBG's page count is determined by how many ads it sells, though the paper never drops below a certain size.

When CBG sells more ads, it also gets more pages for editorial material. That alone doesn't determine how much room the editors have for me, but it's one of the main determining factors.

One of the reasons I adopted a "modular" style of preparing my columns was to give my editors and myself more flexibility. Rather than trim portions of an item or a review to make room for the ads, my editors can cut entire sections, which I can then insert into a subsequent column.

I often kid about "not playing well with others," but, truth be told, when I and my work are treated with respect, I do my best to respond in kind. This goes a long way towards explaining why my relationship with CBG has lasted longer than most marriages. Well, that and their offices are far enough away that they don't wake me up with their snoring.

******

COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE

Speaking of CBG, I'll take the opportunity to remind you the newspaper remains one of the best buys in comics. If you're a US resident, a year's subscription costs $38.95...which averages out to an amazingly low 75 cents per weekly issue.

Each of the issues will feature columns by yours truly, Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt, Andrew "Capt. Comics" Smith, the nigh-unto-legendary Peter David, and Chuck Rozanski, whose Mile High Comics is the world's largest online comics retailer. In addition, you'll see comic strips by Fred Hembeck and John Lustig, pages of current comics reviews, market reports, news, and trivia. Lately, I have particularly enjoyed David's columns on the Middle East crisis, and Rozanski's comments on the pitfalls of the Overstreet Price Guide changing its grading system to more closely conform with the very exacting standards of CGC.

You can subscribe to CBG online at:

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

There were two comics-related items in the June 21 edition of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. "The Scout" reported these fascinating facts about the Spider-Man suit used in the movie.

It took 25 people working 10-hour days for two weeks to make each of the 24 suits created for the movie.

The spandex suits were one piece, "all the way from the built-in boots to the top of the head." One special headpiece was made to flip back for Spidey and MJ's kiss.

The spider-design of the suit was all hand-done, the webbing molded in latex, dyed, hand-glued to the suit, and finally painted with metallic finishes. Columbia won't confirm this, but the suits are said to have cost $100,000 each.

In the "Movies" section, critic Owen Gleibermann gave a "C+" to THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS. He wrote:

"In an innovative twist, the kids' comic-book fantasies come to life in animated sequences (drawn by SPAWN's Todd McFarlane) that are like the Bible gone madly Marvel."

******

NEWSWEEK

There were two items that stuck with me after reading NEWSWEEK for June 24, both in the magazine's "Periscope" section. The first was Michael Isikoff's exclusive on how the Justice Department's own ethical advisors raised serious concerns about whether the rights of John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," were violated after Lindh's capture. I'm leaning towards the position that they were violated and that, furthermore, the case should raise warning flags for all American citizens as to how secure *our* rights will remain if such concerns aren't addressed.

I'm not a believer in an imperial presidency, undeclared wars, or, for that matter, unelected presidents. We can't allow abject fear or blind faith to be our marching orders in the months/years to come. The stakes are too high for us to give carte blanche to a presidency whose motives, tactics, and basic competence have been suspect since the date it wrongfully assumed office.

The other item was of a much lighter nature. Marc Peyser had a brief piece on the premiere of AMERICAN IDOL, a deliciously nasty and tacky show in which contestants vie for superstardom. My son and Eddie and I watched that first show and thought it was pretty funny stuff. Some additional thoughts...

AMERICAN IDOL isn't as goofy as THE GONG SHOW. I sit before you an unabashed fan of that Chuck Barris show. Does anyone know if there are plans for a "Best of the Gong Show" DVD or something? I'd proudly plunk down my money for that.

Judge Simon Cowell is the "nasty" one and he was entertaining at times. But he and the other two judges (Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson) have much lower standards than I would have had watching the same auditions.

Several times during that first episode, we were told that the winner of the British version of the show went on to sell millions of records. If that was true, how come they never ONCE told us his or her name? I smell a big fat lie.

AMERICAN IDOL wasn't entertaining enough for me to come back for a second episode. Maybe a gong would help.

******

TV GUIDE

The June 22-28 issue of TV GUIDE ran a short tribute to Damon Knight, the great science fiction critic and writer, who died back in April. His story, "To Serve Man," became one of the best and most fondly remembered episodes of Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Harlan Ellison was quoted thus:

"Damon wrote this story when getting paid for stories was in pennies. It's one of those deceptively simple fantasy ideas that looks easy, like Fred Astaire's dancing, until you realize that its simplicity is the equivalent of a transistor next to a vacuum tube."

******

I READ THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY!

I get three newspapers a day (two on Sunday). The centrist-but-occasionally-left-leaning AKRON BEACON JOURNAL is my favorite, but I also get the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER (basically a tool of the wealthy elite) and the MEDINA COUNTY GAZETTE.

The Gazette is one strange paper. It revamped its front page a while back and marked the occasion by devoting almost 75% of that front page to...I am *not* making this up...a cow-crapping contest. Each bovine competitor was placed in its own small area of a field with the winner being the first one to drop a regulation-size patty in that area. And people wonder why I love this crazy little city so much.

The Gazette is sort of the Barney Fife of conservative papers. It's filled with self-importance, it's not very smart, and no one with half a brain would trust it with an actual bullet. At least once a week, you can count on it printing a vitriolic letter from a conservative crackpot or a religious right-wingnut, but it will also run letters from conspiracy lunatics who think Dubya remote-controlled the 9-11 planes to their targets. Even better, it also runs a weekly column by entertainment editor Craig Williams, who is the paper's best and funniest writer and, as near as I can figure, the only leftist on the staff. I can only assume his bosses don't understand a word he writes.

The point of the above is this: in answer to numerous requests that I view pictures of your naked wives and girlfriends--oh, wait, those are the *other* requests I get--in answer to your almost-as- numerous requests that I include more real-world commentary in my columns, I will strive mightily to feature one of these "I Read the News Today" segments in all five of my online columns. They might not always be up to the minute on account of I'd really like to be writing these columns days instead of hours before they post, but I can guarantee they'll be composed of words, many of them spelled correctly.

You asked and you shall receive. You poor fools.

I'll have some spiffy new TONY POLLS questions for you on the morrow and a new TONY'S ONLINE TIPS on Monday. If you click on the banner below and "tip the Tipster," I might even be able to afford a compound sentence or two.

Be good to yourselves and have a great weekend.

Tony Isabella

<< 06/18/2002 | 06/22/2002 | 06/25/2002 >>

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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