TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1494 (09/03/02)
"Any business arrangement that is not profitable to the other person will in the end prove unprofitable for you. The bargain that yields mutual satisfaction is the only one that is apt to be repeated."
--Bertie Charles Forbes, Publisher
I like CrossGen Comics. I like that publisher Mark Alessi and his staff have created a publishing company whose organization is unlike any of its fellows in comics; the industry needs new ideas. I like that they are constantly trying to expand their market in a variety of very smart ways.
I like that CrossGen isn't publishing traditional super-hero books, even though I am extremely fond of the genre and even though I think the company is splitting pretty fine hairs when it claims it doesn't publish super-hero books. Come on, you have heroes with super-powers battling villains with super-powers, often in one-on-one situations. Close enough.
I like that CrossGen has established a working environment for its writers and artists and other creators that is truly different from everything else in the industry. It's not for every creator; though I'd love to give it a try for a month or so, I like working at home in my pajamas too much to give it up. But anything which allows another choice for creators is swell by me, especially since Alessi and company are smart enough to know when to bend their own rules.
I like many of the comics published by CrossGen, some of them a great deal. I like the high production values of their titles. I like Alessi and crew getting angry when, though no fault of their own, their books ship late...not that it's happened more than a few times that I can recall. I like the obvious respect with which the company treats its readers.
The above strike me as pretty good reasons to devote a column or two to reviewing their recent releases. But, if I were at all on the fence, my decision was made when, in response to my request for CBG readers to tell me what they'd like to see in my columns, I received this brief note from CrossGen's Ian Feller:
"Chalk up one vote for all columns concentrating on CrossGen.
Hope that helps."
I have no idea what Alessi pays Feller as CrossGen's Director of Corporate Communications, but it's not enough. At the least, he should give the guy a chutzpah bonus.
Ian, these reviews are for you.
CROSSGEN CHRONICLES tells stories from all around the CrossGen Universe with the intent of adding intriguing layers to the ongoing titles featuring the Sigil-Bearers and the powerful beings who came before them. In a sense, it's not dissimilar to Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Legends of the DC Universe, albeit with better production values and without costumed super-heroes. We draw too fine a line if we accept that CrossGen doesn't publish some super-hero titles; they're just more subtle about it and set their tales in a wider range of locales.
CrossGen Chronicles #7 ($3.95) is the origin story of Obregon Kaine, protagonist of Negation. Though I've never read an issue of that title, Tony Bedard's done-in-one tale of Kaine's life before he crossed paths with the Negation (an intergalactic empire big on slavery) succeeds on its own merits. The "soldier betrayed by the leaders he serves" premise may not be the newest idea on the block, but Bedard added enough refreshing elements to the concept to hold my interest. It was a solid script from start to finish, supported by the beautifully gritty and realistic art of Ruby Nebres, whose appearance here was a pleasant surprise. I hope this means we'll be seeing more comics by Nebres in the future. Colorist Jeromy Cox does a generally fine job on the story, though his palette does get a little too dark in places. Letterer Dave Lanphear deserves some kudos as well; his work is always easy to read and stylish without drawing attention to itself.
With 32 pages of story, a new-reader-friendly introduction on the inside front cover, and a preview of the next issue, CrossGen Chronicles #7 earns four Tonys.
The inside front cover of CRUX #12 ($2.95) gives a new reader the following information:
They were the Atlanteans, a peaceful civilization of artists and philosophers who used their phenomenal mental and physical skills to build an island utopia. They had but one responsibility: to guide and shepherd Earth's newborn race of homo sapiens towards a grand and glorious destiny. But when a mysterious cataclysm plunged Atlantis and its people beneath the waves, six--and only six--were awakened by a nameless stranger one thousand centuries later to find their utopia forgotten and in ruins, their brothers and sisters caught in an unshakeable slumber...and the human race gone, having vanished centuries ago in the Transition, a passage to a higher plane of existence.
That info remained the same in Crux #13 and #14, followed by a more timely recap that changed every issue, a line to the effect that all Atlanteans have the same mental and physical abilities, but use them in different ways, and a silhouette of the six heroes with their names and powers above them.
It figures. A CrossGen title set on Earth, my personal planet of choice, and it takes place 100,000 after my time. I enjoy the CrossGen Universe and its myriad worlds, but I've always felt more connected to comics that take place on Earth in the here and now, give or take a century or two.
Mark Waid was the writer of Crux #12 and, even though I had a bit of trouble figuring out who was who--those silhouettes weren't all that helpful--his script provided some dramatic, even shocking moments. I might not have been able to grasp all the intricacies of what had gone before, but the issue left me wanting to read the earlier issues. All in all, it was a commendable effort.
Waid handed off to Chuck Dixon with Crux #13. Dixon doesn't have Waid's skill with portraying emotional moments between these characters, but I liked his pairing of the blinded Tug and Verityn, youngest of the Atlanteans. Less effective was Dixon's handling of the confusion and hesitation of other team members when faced with the arrival of a big "uh-oh" at the end of the issue.
Crux #14 pushed a few plot threads along, but not fast enough for my tastes. The element that stood out for me was the arrogance of Danik, "keeper of the secrets," who, apparently, knows all that has happened and what will happen. If Danik was meant to come off as such an obnoxious jerk--the character's demand that people trust him without sufficient information or reason for them do so struck an eerily-familiar note for me--Dixon definitely succeeded there, but he also left me eager to return to Tug and Verityn.
Penciler Steve Epting is doing the best work of his career on Crux. You'll recognize his style from his work on such super-hero titles as The Avengers, but he's taken that aspect of his art to a new level and added range to his repertoire. The sprawling battle scenes which open issue #13 are grim and powerful.
Inker Rick Magyar--as skilled an embellisher as the industry has--colorist Frank D'Armata, and letterer Lanphear are also due kudos for their efforts here. Writers and pencilers are lucky to be backed up by talent this accomplished.
Personal preferences, or lack thereof, generally factors into my reviews. Though I recognize Crux's strengths, the three issues didn't click with me as well as other CrossGen books. I give each issue a score of three Tonys.
After reading THE FIRST #17-19 ($2.95 each), I have no doubts that writer Barbara Kesel is accomplishing what she has set out to accomplish with this series. Here's the intro copy:
The First were the creators of the universe before their descent into a constant state of war. Their leader Altwall ended the war with the creation of the Eidolon rift, a tear in reality which separated their home, Elysia, into two Houses connected by a single gate. Peace and boredom followed. Now the First have been catalyzed into action with the appearance of the Sigil-Bearers, beings of great power that rival theirs. A Sigil-Bearer has even dared to kill one of their kind. If these Sigil-Bearers can destroy the First, are the First truly gods?
If I had to reduce The First to a few words, I would describe it as "Dynasty with demi-gods." It may have super-powered people feuding and fighting, but, at its core, it's a soap-opera about a bunch of elite protagonists hatching schemes, switching sides, and looking fashionably fabulous. All it lacks is some young character who gets sent away to "junior god camp" and returns old enough to take part in the highfalutin hijinks with the grown-ups. I really dislike that stuff.
That's why, despite the considerable talents of Kesel, I have never been able to warm up to The First. I don't care about these so-called gods. Their concerns are not mine and, unless and until the masses rise up and overthrow them, with much pain to the gods, thank you very much, that's an opinion not likely to change. What can I say? Beautiful people bore me.
I could say that I prefer the Andrea Di Vito art to the over-rendered Bart Sears work which launched The First, but that's faint praise. Di Vito is a much better storyteller than Sears, but his style is too "generic super-hero" for my taste. It does the basic job, but it never excites me.
The First has a lot of characters and I don't care about a one of them. It has merely adequate artwork. That adds up to a dismal score of but two Tonys.
If I were asked to name my favorite CrossGen title, my choice would probably depend on which of several I had read most recently. Right this moment, it would be MERIDIAN.
I read Meridian #22 and #23 ($2.95 each) for this week's column, marveling at how much even a 50-year-old male can identify with Sephie, the teenage Sigil-Bearer who, as star of this series, battles to free her world of floating islands from her evil uncle Ilahn, who also wields the Sigil-power. The responsibility of her great power is not so very different than the responsibility I as an adult, a citizen, and a parent must carry every day. How often do we in the real world push away what we love to fulfill our duty to those very people and things?
It takes the entirety of the inside front cover to bring one up to date on what's been happening in Meridian, but, even though I didn't know many of the characters very well, I never felt lost while reading these two issues. Credit that to writer Kesel, who's at the top of her form in this series.
The main focus of Meridian #22 is a battle between Sephie and one of the First. From what I gathered, I missed a guest shot by Sigil's Samandahl Rey, and the horrific destruction of one of those floating islands. That's two good reasons to make time to read the issues I've missed.
The big battle definitely falls squarely into super-hero-land, but Sephie and her fantastic world of Demetria keep it from being too familiar. Besides, Kesel wisely interrupts the action for an absolutely wonderful four-page sequence wherein Sephie's young man interacts with two other supporting characters. The combination of wisdom and heartbreak makes for a memorable moment.
Meridian #23 finds Sephie returning to her home to reclaim it from her uncle. It's a very good jumping-on issue for new readers, as it lets us see a little of Sephie's life before it was changed forever and brings the conflict back to its roots. The flashbacks are moving, new plot elements are hinted at, and the issue's final page has Sephie and Ilahn throwing down. I can't wait to see what happens next.
Andy Smith and Mark Farmer are the art team for Meridian #22, with Steve McNiven and Tom Simmons filling the role in issue #23. Both deliver outstanding work with clear storytelling and excellent character portrayals. Combined with Kesel's writing, they leave me no choice but to give each issue a score of five Tonys.
The above Tips was written for CBG #1494 [July 5, 2002], but, due to space limitations in that issue, the CRUX review was bumped to the following week's column.
IN THE NEWS
Long-time readers of my online columns know I'm not a writer who separates his real-world interests from his comics interests, especially since the former can and often does have consequences for comics art and industry. Expect to see "In the News" sections in most of my online columns. If it helps, think of it as my way of getting out of the house every now and then.
People don't like to think about bigotry and racism in their own backyards, but they don't have to think *very* hard to realize those things are there. Whether it's neo-Nazi scum bags who parade their hatred openly, or the so-called Christians who faux-piously discriminate against gay men and women, the bigots are out there. Maybe as close as your local department store.
Last week, Target recalled baseball caps and other articles of clothing from its stores when it discovered the symbols printed on the items were white supremacist codes. The numbers "8" and "8" - or the words "eight" and "eight" - stand for "Heil Hitler" because "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Every mainstream newspaper article I read on this recall drew from the same Associated Press story. Most gave the not-wholly-accurate impression Target pulled the items as soon as they learned their nature, not surprising considering the amount of advertising Target places in these papers each week. A couple indicated that it took a few days to institute the recall.
AP didn't mention that, when Joseph Rodriguez, the 51-year-old video producer/director who recognized the symbols, brought them to Target's attention, the initial responses were "We just carry what headquarters sends us" and "We recognize not all of our guests will agree with our decision to sell certain kinds of merchandise." I'm guessing it took a few calls from the media, after the story turned up online, to get Target moving.
Corporations are slow, ponderous critters. Target management, once they became aware of the problem, moved about as swiftly as we could ask. What galls me here are the questions which, apparently, weren't asked or answered by the press:
Who manufactures and distributes these items?
Who bought them for resale in Target stores?
Does the buyer in question have ties to the white supremacists groups who foster the use of these symbols?
If I'm Target management, I *really* want the answers to those last two questions. If I'm your basic holy liberal - Jesus told me it's the Bush bunch who are Godless - I want to know everything I can about the racist creeps who make this stuff.
That's right. I'm intolerant of intolerance. Maybe I should start making my own caps and t-shirts.
For more on the fight against hate, and depictions of various "symbols of hate," visit TOLERANCE.ORG. A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, it can be viewed at:
Tom Batiuk is the brains and heart behind CRANKSHAFT and FUNKY WINKERBEAN, two of my favorite comic strips. He's also a friend of mine, and a fellow Medina resident. Which means that, even when we don't get together as often as we'd like, I can still keep up on my modest pal via our local newspapers, all of who quite rightly adore him. Here's a recent item written by "Sam" Boyer, a charming woman who writes for THE MEDINA SUN:
"Crankshaft" may not be your idea of the friendliest sort of guy, but his creator, Tom Batiuk, definitely fits the bill. The Medina resident was honored with the Ohio Education Association Friend of Education award this year. The award recognizes a person or organization whose acts and support have contributed to the improvement of public education on a state or national level. In addition to "Crankshaft," Batiuk's "Funky Winkerbean" runs in about 400 daily newspapers across the country. In 1999, he chaired the Read Across America celebration in Ohio, helping to plan events throughout the state. A story in the Ohio Education Association OHIO SCHOOLS MAGAZINE noted Batiuk's cartoons have offered readers a closer look at the lives of students, support staff and teachers while maintaining a sense of humor and lightness while, at the same time, he has dealt with serious subjects related to school. Well deserved congratulations are definitely in order.
In addition to the above, Tom was one of a few dozens artists who designed/drew giant guitars as part of an exhibit by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I'll have more on that for you when next we meet here at World Famous Comics.
I hope you've missed me as much as I've missed you. If it's okay with you, I'll forego writing about all the factors which put this edition of TONY'S TIPS on hiatus for most of the summer and, instead, point out webmaster Justin's spiffy redesign of this site. The man certainly knows his stuff.
For most of this month, you'll be getting Tony columns Monday through Saturday. I'll be bringing you all-new TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. You can read them at:
At this website, you'll be getting TONY'S TIPS (reprints of my CBG columns plus new material) Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. That will last until I catch up with the columns which would have run during our hiatus.
If that's still not enough for you, feel free to drop by the official TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD at:
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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