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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 #1492 (07/12/02)

"Every heart that has beat strongly and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind."

--Robert Louis Stevenson

Several months ago, on short notice and a whim, I attended a small anime convention not far from my home. I wasn't sure what to expect, but, noting the overwhelming presence of Japanese animation on American television, not to mention the steady sales of Japanese manga in our comics shops and elsewhere, I thought this would be a productive way to goof off for a few hours. The event was held in a hotel which regularly hosts Star Trek conventions.

The hotel has one enormous ballroom whose moveable walls can configure its space as needed. As with the Trek events, and unlike most comics cons, the dealers room was shunted off to the smallest area possible and was a fire marshal's nightmare: wall-to-wall fans and merchandise with less elbow room than your average sardine tin. I managed one complete circuit of the room, bought a pair of manga collection, and exited gasping for air.

The largest section of the ballroom was used for showing anime on a large screen. Despite its size, the area was nearly standing room only every time I looked in on it.

In between the screening room and the dealers room, there was a panel room where animation voice-actors talked about their jobs and answered questions. This room didn't seem to be in continual use and, when there were panels going on, it didn't seem to be more than half-filled.

On the other side of the hotel, there were just under a dozen smaller meeting rooms. These were used for anime presentations on television sets, panel discussions, computer and video games, an art gallery, and a costume preparation room. The most popular of these rooms were those with the games, but all of them drew steady traffic during my time at the convention.

What struck me most about this convention was its nigh-total separation from the comics community. There were no comics dealers at the show, nor were there any fliers advertising the local shops. The crowd was younger than the usual comics convention crowd--most of the attendees were in their teens to early 20s--and they smiled more than their comics counterparts. Outside of a small contingent of folks from Studio Ironcat, the only comics element at the show was incognito me. Contrast that to comics conventions where anime and manga are almost always in evidence.

I left the event wondering if there was a way to attract this audience and its energy to our comics community. One thing we can do is make our conventions and publications more anime and manga-friendly. CBG has been doing this from some time now and, thanks to a request from Brent Frankenhoff, who, as a young martial artist training in China, fell into the Spring of the Drowned Editor, I'm getting in on the act as well.

Viz Comics is the leading publisher of manga in this country and have been great about sending me stuff to review. I'm looking at a quartet of their comics collections and rating them on a scale of zero to five Tonys. Let's see how they do.

******

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING EPISODE ZERO ($16.95) is a impressive introduction to the popular anime series and the comic books based on it. I've never seen an episode of the former or read an issue of the latter, but, after reading this collection of stories, I'm hoping to do both and soon.

GUNDAM WING is the story of five boys who become embroiled in a war for freedom and change the course of history. The stories in this volume take place before the events shown in the anime series. Revealing defining moments in the lives of the Gundam characters, the tales combine with additional text material to provide a solid background for the new reader.

Writer Katsuyuki Sumisawa has a flair of characterization that entices the reader into the lives of these young people. He shows us their strengths and weaknesses, and their victories and defeats. We learn where they come from and what's in their hearts. There's no better way to get a reader coming back to find out what happens to them next.

Especially outstanding are stories introducing Relena Darlian and Quartre Raberba Winner. Each is a child of privilege: Relena attends a private school, Quartre the only son of a wealthy family. As the winds of war swirl about them, they learn and accept their connection with all of humanity. The TV series starts with Relena telling us her name and asking for ours, her way of saying that, no matter where we come from, we are all human beings and we can all be friends.

The stories are drawn by Akira Kanbe, who has a real knack for drawing compelling facial expressions. His "mecha" scenes, those featuring the oft-manned combat suits, are less effective, but, for me, that wasn't much of a drawback. I guess I'm a people person; I think big robots can get in the way of the far more interesting human stories waiting to be told.

Each story is followed by a page of text clarifying what has gone before and then hinting at what will come. The volume also features an informative timeline which covers 200 years of future history, postscripts from the writer and artist, and a spiffy page of character designs.

Weighing in at over 250 pages, presenting as it does such an inviting entrance into this future world, MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING EPISODE ZERO is a great buy for the bucks. I give it four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Taiya Matsumoto's NO. 5: PART 1 ($15.95) blends the creator's interest in American, European, and Japanese comics into one heck of a futuristic thriller. His super-powered protagonist is an ex-member of a global security force, now being hunted by his former friends and teammates in a harsh world of desert and multi-cultural conflicts. There are diabolic dealings within the security force, whose leader is clearly looking to change the balance of power in their world.

Matsumoto's artistic style owes a lot to the bizarre works of Moebius, but the grimness of his story's manhunt reminds me of DC's earliest Jonah Hex stories. It took some getting used to, but, by mid-volume, Matsumoto had me hooked. The mystery of why No. 5 has broken from his team, not to mention No. 1's ultimate plans for the team, makes for tantalizing reading.

Making me want to learn what happens next, along with his cool style and clarity of storytelling, earns Matsumoto three-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony half Tony

******

Rumiko Takahashi's RANMA 1&2 was the series that got me reading manga on a regular basis, not to mention spending a fortune on tapes of the Ranma anime series. I've been enjoying Ranma for nearly a decade and still consider it one of the funniest comics and TV series of all time.

RANMA 1&2: VOLUME 19 ($15.95), the latest manga collection, is an excellent starting point for a new reader. In two introductory pages, that reader will learn everything he needs to know about the characters and their situations. For the purposes of this review, all you need to know is that Ranma, his father Genma, and several other young martial arts have all had the bad luck to plunge into mystical springs that, whenever they are splashed with cold water, turn them into, respectively, a busty young woman, a giant panda, a small pig, and so forth. They are currently living at the Tendo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts with Soun Tendo and his three daughters. Akane, the youngest daughter, is theoretically engaged to Ranma. He has other would-be fiancees, she has other suitors. This makes for a tumultuous relationship, lots of comical battles, and a downright charming love story.

There are just shy of three complete stories in this volume. In the first of these, Genma is distressed by the realization that Ranma may have become a better martial artist than he and starts training for a match to decide the matter. Genma's secret "attack" had me literally laughing out loud as I read it; it was as real as it was hilarious. In one of life's little ironies, I read the tale on the very day I realized my own son Eddie was now a hair taller than me. Can I ever relate to what Genma was feeling!

In the second story, Akane attempts to use a cherry-blossom- flavored snack to determine if Ranma or his rival Ryoga, another of the stream-cursed characters, is the man with whom she is destined to spend her life. It's a romantic comedy of errors which includes a terrific little mystery with a brilliant solution.

Strange martial-arts competitions comprise a sub-genre within the Ranma series. The third story, which will conclude in the next collection, finds Ranma entering a martial arts cheerleading match as his girl-self. However, the key to a victory in such a contest may depend on how much the cheerleader loves the athlete for whom she cheers. That causes some confusion and consternation for our hero/heroine. As with any good joke, the success of this story is going to depend on the punch line, but I'm confident Takahashi will deliver a satisfying conclusion.

Takahashi is one of comicdom's all-time greats. Despite the unfinished cheerleading story, RANMA 1&2: VOLUME 19 still deserves every one of the five Tonys I'm giving it.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Hajime Yatate's THE BIG O combines an intriguing sociological concept with giant robots. It takes place in Paradigm City, "the city of amnesia," where, some 40 years earlier, some cataclysmic, and mysterious event erased the memories of its citizens. Family members don't know one another. Lovers don't know each other. No one really knows who they once were. Moreover, whatever this event was, it has left Paradigm City as perhaps the only civilization on the planet.

Originally created as an anime series for Japanese television, it ran thirteen episodes and ended in mid-story. Hitoshi Ariga has continued the series in manga format and that work is now available in English in a monthly title from Viz Comics.

THE BIG O #1 and #2 ($3.50) introduced readers to Roger Smith, a James Bond-like "negotiator" who controls the enormous "MegaDeus" robot which gives the comic its title. His job is to protect the people of Paradigm and the stored memories which are more precious than gold to them.

Although Ariga does touch upon the most compelling aspect of this series, the desperate longing for one's past which obsesses so many in Paradigm, that element is subservient to the action and the robots. As it is, THE BIG O is a good comic book. With a shifting of its storytelling priorities, it could have been a great one. I give these issues three Tonys apiece.

Tony Tony Tony

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Every summer, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY devotes a double issue to the 100 most creative people in entertainment in a feature it calls "The IT List." I flipped through this year's issue [June 28/July 5] to see how comics professionals or other folks with some small connection to comics rated. Here's what I found:

THE MATRIX: RELOADED, which is loaded with comics sensibility, was named the IT movie sequel. Carrie-Anne Moss, who will appear in the movie, was the IT tough babe.

Actor Eric Bana was named the IT hulk. He plays Bruce Banner in the upcoming HULK movie. Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons, who wowed us as Jonah Jameson in SPIDER-MAN and who also appears as a forensic shrink on LAW AND ORDER, got the nod for IT tough guy. Lara Flynn Boyle is the IT villain for her MEN IN BLACK II role as an alien shape-changer who wears Victoria Secret's lingerie. I knew Earth women couldn't look that good.

The IT movie script is Michael Chabon's adaptation of his own THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY. The magazine included a too brief portion of the script.

Cameraman extraordinaire Conrad L. Hall and his son Conrad W. were picked as the IT father-son shooters. Dad's latest movie is ROAD TO PERDITION, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner.

Finally, EW dubbed Peter Milligan the IT comic-book writer for his work on DC's HUMAN TARGET and Marvel's X-FORCE. It would have been nice to see EW also pick an IT comic-book artist and maybe an IT comic-book editor...and impossible to narrow it down to just one IT comic-book jackass.

******

MY BACK PAGES

The question was raised on the Don McGregor mailing list as to whether or not 1970s-era comic books with black leads, such as LUKE CAGE/HERO FOR HIRE, and JUNGLE ACTION (starring the Black Panther), were discriminated against on the retail level. As per a poster's requested, I responded thus:

While I have no personal knowledge comics with black heroes were often not distributed in certain parts of the country, I was told this during my stints on mags like Marvel's LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN and my BLACK LIGHTNING series for DC...and told this by people I trust to this day.

Many of the independent distributors (as opposed to the direct market distributors who supplied the comics shops) were on "honor" return systems. They merely had to tell the publishers how many unsold copies they had and then destroy them. As you can imagine, a great many unsold copies weren't destroyed. They were sold to jobbers for pennies on the dollar and the jobbers would package them (2 or 3 to a bag) and sell them to various outlets. I'm sure some of the IDs never distributed all of the comics they received and just sold them directly to the jobbers.

If you see comics with the logos removed, that's pretty much the same kind of thing. The logos were returned to the publishers for credit, then the logoless comics were sold to jobbers.

When I owned and operated a comics shop, I had an account with the George R. Klein News Company. They were straight-shooters all the way and even helped me gather info on bootleg comics. I bought a lot of comic books from them. I'd buy what I knew I could sell from my direct market distributors, then buy additional returnable copies from Klein. That's why I was able to sell comics like Walt Simonson's Thor at cover price long after all of my competitors had started charging premium prices for it. I earned a lot of good will doing that.

Even when I would inform DC and Marvel of bootleg comics being sold in my area, they never did a thing about it. They didn't want to rock the boat with the crooked IDs, even though those companies were stealing from them.

So...yes, more copies of JUNGLE ACTION and other books were likely sold than are reflected in the official sales figures. But the publishers of those comics never saw any of that money.

******

TONY'S NEWS NOTES

I haven't weighed in on the Pledge of Allegiance "under God" controversy...if one can truly call it a controversy when the whole of the Senate practically trample one another in their rush to be holier than thou...because it's an absurd controversy. Of course, the phrase is unconstitutional. It was unconstitutional when added to the Pledge in the 1950s as some sort of verbal barricade against "godless Communism" and it's still unconstitutional. But, wake up, people, our elected and unelected officials haven't been all that concerned about the law since the Supreme Court coup of 2001...and even less so since the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

Boston Globe columnist DERRICK JACKSON wrote a fine column on this subject, which you can find at:

http://www.boston.com/globe/columns/jackson/

That the law is "flexible" for those in power becomes obvious when one considers the case of humanitarian Bert Sacks. Quoting a column by John Young, opinion editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald:

The Seattle man faces a $10,000 fine or 10 years in jail for violating the Iraq Sanctions Act of 1990. His crime: bringing medicine for Iraqi children.

Sacks' problem is that he's representing a humanitarian group. If instead he represented, say, Halliburton, not only would he face no fine, he'd be in line for a Bush appointment.

With [Vice-President Dick] Cheney as its CEO, energy giant Halliburton made millions through its deals with Iraq. Well, it didn't deal directly with the fortress of evil, with a madman and his machine. That would have been illegal. What it did was have foreign subsidiaries do it.

You can read Young's column at:

http://www.coxnews.com/newsservice/columnists/j_young/

Every now and then, I indulge myself with the pleasant mental image of Bush and Cheney behind bars. I know it will likely never happen, the fix being in at the Supreme Court level and all, but a man has to have hope.

Of course, if the media would take off the kid gloves and go after the Oval Office Mob with half the passion they devoted to a former President's consensual-however-inappropriate sexual flings, my daydream could and would come true. Pity the media doesn't have the skill or the stones to go after this real story of corruption at the highest levels of government.

I'll be back here on Saturday with another World Famous Comics edition of TONY'S TIPS. See you then.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/11/2002 | 07/12/2002 | 07/13/2002 >>

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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