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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 #1495 (09/05/02)

"The gift of happiness belongs to those who unwrap it."

--Andrew Dunbar

One of the best things about this gig is getting comics from creators and publishers. It's like unwrapping presents every day. Recently, however, one of those presents arrived with a new-to-me ribbon wrapped around it.

Several comics companies have their books printed at Quebecor World in Montreal, Canada, and sent directly to me from that fine establishment. My latest box from one such company had been opened and presumably inspected by U.S. Customs agents, who then resealed it with bright green tape bearing their official seal. In all the years I've been receiving packages from Quebecor, this is the first time this has happened, at least that I know about. I have no boffo ending for this story, just several questions that will likely never be answered.

Was there something about the package that gave Customs cause for alarm?

Was it a random check?

Did someone mistake the heady aroma of freshly-printed comic books for some illegal substance?

In light of any actual information, I've decided to assume the custom agent who inspected the package was a comics fan who wanted something to read on his lunch break. He didn't bend the spines of the comics and he put them back in the box neatly. If this inspection held up delivery of my package for a day or two, that's a fair price for giving a few moments relaxation to one of the dedicated people who safeguard our borders from the hulking menace to our north.

Canadians. Haven't they always been just a little too nice to be for real?

With a wink and a smile, let us move on from national security issues to another batch of CrossGen reviews.

******

Mystic

Ciress is a world where magic is more common than electricity, and also the setting for MYSTIC. Seven Guilds of magicians preside over Ciress with each Guild's master connected to the sorcery and wisdom of their particular group's incorporeal founder. Genevieve Villard, a serious-minded young woman, was to become the Master of the Nouveau Guild when things suddenly changed.

A mysterious stranger gave Giselle, Gen's party-girl sister, one of the power-bestowing Sigils which have radically altered the status quo of the CrossGen Universe. At the moment when Gen was to receive her new rank, the Sigil drew the power of all seven Eternal Spirits into her sibling, making Giselle the most powerful mystic their world has ever known.

Since the last time I read Mystic, it's gotten a lot darker. Giselle, the unwilling heroine, has faced deadly foes and emerged victorious. Her attempts to reconnect with her old friends instead led to her putting an end to their criminal doings. She's hanging around in sleazy bars, drinking too much and leaving a great many patrons sprawled unconscious on tavern floors.

That's where Mystic #23 ($2.95) opens, but writer Tony Bedard doesn't take long to get Giselle into more serious trouble, as she gets drawn into the ongoing battles and intrigues of the First, the so-called "gods" of the CrossGen Universe. In this issue and #24, Giselle goes womano-a-womano with one of the First.

Bedard does a solid job with these issues. Giselle is scary, her opponent more so. Her plight when the Spirits abandon her in mid-battle is an eye-opener. When she realized the mistakes she's made and accepts them, vowing to master her powers, she gets dealt a blow of a more personal nature. It's a nice blend of soap opera and super-heroics.

Penciler Fabrizio Fiorentino does almost as well with his end of things. His storytelling and character portrayals are as solid as Bedard's writing. However, his frequent close-ups of impossibly high-heeled boots throughout these two issues border on fetishism, distracting the reader from the story. He needs to take down that aspect of his work a notch or two.

Mystic seems to be in a transitional phase, but, if it hasn't yet hit the heights of its earliest issues, it's still an enjoyable title and well worth sticking with. On our scale of zero to five, these issues earn three-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

Negation

NEGATION is kind of sort of like the Legion of Super-Escaped Prisoners. According to the inside front cover recap, Charon, who fancies himself a God-Emperor conquered his universe and forged an intergalactic empire. An over-achiever, Charon wants to extend his reign to our neck of reality. Towards that, his people abducted a hundred beings from all over our universe. Some of these prisoners carry the Sigil, some were born superhuman, and some of them, like the human Obregon Kaine, are just too tough to roll over for some wannabe god.

Prior to Negation #5 and #6 ($2.95 each), the first issues of the book I've read, Kaine led an invasion against a Negation prison warden and escaped with his fellows to an ice-planet. Getting off the ice-planet is job one for the escapees.

Writer Tony Bedard does a fairly good job moving a large cast of characters here and there as the story unfolds. He is somewhat less successful at introducing them properly. I'm still not sure who some of them are or how they fit into the mix.

I do know I like one of them, the Lizard Lady, a lot. She is not your typical heroine in appearance or demeanor. In fact, since she takes on some characteristics of the creatures she eats--yes, I said "eats"--her appearance can change from meal to meal. That's a deliciously creepy notion and I hope she dines well in the months to come.

Bedard also deserves praise for his portrayal of the Negation bureaucrat in charge of the ice-planet. It's funny stuff that does not diminish the danger he and his kind pose to the heroes.

The artistic teams of Paul Pelletier/Dave Meikis (#5) and Andy Smith/Brad Vancata (#6) were both very good. They had the action dynamics down pat and their settings, especially in issue #6, were occasionally breathtaking. If I had to choose between them, I'd go with Pelletier/Meikis.

Negation has a decent premise with solid writing and art. I'm giving each of these issues three-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

The Path

What a difference one key scene can make. In the case of THE PATH #1 and #2 ($2.95 each), or, more specifically, an unexpected development in the latter, it raised my interest in the title from so-so to gotta-see-what-happens-next.

The Path is set on a world "which recalls feudal Japan." It's a setting familiar to me from Lone Wolf and Cub and Usagi Yojimbo, so, right off the bat, this series was at a disadvantage. It was competing against undeniable classics and two of my favorite comic-book series of all time.

I hadn't read The Path Prequel, but, outside of my annoyance that The Path #1 wasn't really the first issue, that wasn't really a problem. Everything I needed to know about what had gone before was on the inside front cover:
The warlord Todosi of the island nation of Nayado is dead at the hands of the gods to whom he prayed for deliverance. Now his brother, the monk Obo-san, has sword vengeance against those gods, and intends to use their own weapon of Heaven against them.
Writer Ron Marz has blossomed at CrossGen. His work on Mystic and Scion was so much better than what he produced at Marvel and DC it changed my opinion of his abilities--for the better--overnight. His writing on The Path #1 wasn't quite as good as on those books, but it had the same sureness of characterization and pacing which had previously won me over.

I was also impressed by the Bart Sears/Mark Pennington artwork in The Path #1. Readers of my previous CrossGen reviews may recall I'm not a big Sears fan, but what he did here captured my interest and carried me into the title. Although I still found his incessant use of double-page layouts tiresome, his detailed drawing, enhanced by the Pennington inks and Michael Atiyeh colors, knocked me back on my pins. It's amazing work.

In the first issue, Obo-san's lost faith leads him to direct defiance of his emperor and once-friend. It was entertaining fare, but not spectacular. Then, midway through the second issue, Marz and Sears threw me a curve I never saw coming. It was one of those "whoa" moments which hooks the reader completely, so much so that he mixes baseball and fishing metaphors within the span of a single paragraph. The Path quickly became a far more interesting journey than I had imagined.

You won't get anything about that key scene from me, but you will get my recommendation to check out The Path. I give its first issue a perfectly respectable three Tonys...

Tony Tony Tony

...and the second a well-earned four-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

Ruse

RUSE deviates from the usual CrossGen format to present a more stylized inside front cover than its fellows, a vintage newspaper approach to "what has gone before." It doesn't offer quite as much information as I might like, such as what brought Simon Archard and Emma Bishop together, but writer Mark Waid is dealing with such a noted icon in his Sherlock Holmes-inspired protagonist that the new reader doesn't need much in the way of introduction.

For all the truly exceptional comic books Waid has written, and I've happily reviewed many of them in these pages, Ruse may be his best writing ever. Reading issues #6 and #7, I found they had the same mastery of character and plot I've enjoyed in Waid's other works, but with a greater command of language and tone. Searching for a comparison, I'm put in mind of Len Wein's lyrical work on The Phantom Stranger and Swamp Thing in the 1980s.

Ruse #6 ($2.95) is a done-in-one story that sets up what seems to be an extended storyline involving someone from Archard's past. From the striking cover to a bizarre murder to the revelation that a greater mystery awaits, Waid and guest artists Jeff Johnson and Paul Neary entertained me mightily. I can't wait to sit back and enjoy the earlier issues.

Ruse #7 ($2.95) finds Archard and Bishop crossing a continent in search of that greater mystery. The regular art team of Butch Guice and Mike Perkins, not to mention colorist Laura DePuy, are on board for the duo's steam-powered jaunt to a village so unsettling their train won't stop there. The master detective's reaction to this inconvenience makes for an amusing scene, typical of the edgy relationship between him and Emma.

With such chemistry between its lead characters, with the high quality of its writing and art, with the unique flavor it brings to the CrossGen line-up, Ruse deserves the five Tonys I'm giving it. It's an outstanding comics series.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

I note with mock concern that my enthusiasm for the CrossGen books has taken over this column. On Saturday, I'll conclude this look at the publisher's offerings with my reviews of Scion, Sigil, Sojourn, and Way of the Rat. See you then.

******

ADDENDUM

The above was written for CBG #1495 [July 12, 2002], which was shipped on June 24. Once I'm back on schedule here, the reprinted columns will appear roughly three weeks after their print versions have shipped.

Response to my CrossGen columns was good, though it should be noted that some respondents are hesitant to start reading CrossGen books because they're already buying so many DC and Marvel Universe titles. To them, I say, with the possible exception of THE FIRST, I've yet to come across a CrossGen title which couldn't be enjoyed completely independent of the others. My recommendation is to pick one which appeals to them, then read either the current issue or a trade paperback collection of same.

If they want to sample several titles at once, these cautious souls should try CrossGen's EDGE or FORGE. Each monthly edition of the titles ($11.95, 192 pages) collects seven recent CrossGen comic books at slightly over half the price of the individual issues of those comics. That strikes me as a pretty good deal.

******

IN THE NEWS

Here's what caught my eye recently:

The Masters golf tournament, hosted by Augusta National, has dropped its corporate sponsors to avoid challenges to the club's de facto exclusionary policies. The 69-year-old club has never had a female member and didn't sign up its first black member until 1990.

The chain of events started when The National Council of Women's Organizations sent Hootie Johnson - yes, that's his name - a letter urging the club to allow women members. Johnson reacted like some cartoon kid whose rickety clubhouse is festooned with signs reading "No Girls Allowed!"

The least commercialized tournament in golf, the Masters' deal with CBS Sports called for a mere four minutes of advertising per hour. Only three companies - IBM, Citigroup, and Coca-Cola - were allowed to run ads during the broadcast; they've been notified that the Masters "will not request their participation in 2003."

This is why we need women's organizations.

In the "unmitigated gall" department, Akron Beacon-Journal business columnist Robert Bruss received a letter complaining about Countrywide, a nationwide lender. The reader wrote:

"Some eager-beaver mortgage refinance company made an unauthorized inquiry on my mortgage, violating my privacy, to ascertain my loan balance. On my monthly mortgage bill, I was charged $30 by Countrywide for this inquiry."

When the reader protested the charge, Countrywide refused to cancel the fee. This despite the fact there was no authorization in the man's loan documents allowing the lender to charge for this unauthorized inquiry. Bruss was shocked at the company's actions and added:
How ironic it is that on the copy of your Countrywide monthly loan payment statement you sent me, Countrywide is trying to sell you an "Identity Theft Protection Plan" when it appears they are taking money out of your pocketbook.

If I were you, since you've tried being nice and have received no apology or assurance this will never happen again, I would contact an attorney specializing in class action lawsuits.
This kind of behavior comes as no surprise to me. Even before the "Felonious Five" of the Supreme Court put a pair of corporate crooks in the White House, corporations were routinely trampling on the rights of the average joe. Until Bush and Cheney are removed, preferably in a manner involving tar, feathers, and jail sentences, I expect the banditry will continue and likely worsen.

******

TOM BATIUK

Funky Guitar In concert with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, area artists and rock stars designed and decorated large fibreglass guitars, which were subsequently placed around what the locals call "downtown Cleveland." Cartoonist Tom Batiuk, whose CRANKSHAFT and FUNKY WINKERBEAN are two of the best comic strips currently running in newspapers, was called upon to contribute his artistic skills to this endeavor. The result celebrates the "air guitarist" in all of us. If you'd like to check out the other guitars, not to mention a couple more shots of Batiuk's creation, go to:

http://www.pbase.com/tremont/clevelandguitars&page=all

If you're visiting Cleveland and want to see Batiuk's guitar up close, you'll find it at the corner of East 36 Street and Euclid Avenue. Rock on, my friends!

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

I love hearing from my CBG or online readers, especially those who remember when I used to write comic books. This note is from

SIMON R. GREEN:
I was reading your column in CBG, as I've done for some time now, and something reminded me of when you used to write JUSTICE MACHINE for Comico. I always remembered the book as a lot of fun, so I got the issues out and read them again.

They're still fun! Wonderful, sharply written comics which haven't aged a bit. So I just thought I'd let you know how much I enjoyed them.

In a perfect world, someone would get the rights to the JM and get you to write them again. Unlikely perhaps, but, in a world where the Thunder Agents can make yet another comeback, who knows what else could happen?
I'm delighted you enjoyed my work on JUSTICE MACHINE, Simon. I thought I did some good work on the series. Heck, immodest snot that I am, I thought I wrote the characters better than any writer who preceded or followed me...even if I danced around the illogic that was part of the series from day one.

I don't know who has the rights to JUSTICE MACHINE these days. It could be creator Mike Gustovich or it could be one of the many companies who published the title over the years. Under the right creative and financial circumstances, I'd strongly consider signing up for another hitch with those heroes. They were fun characters whose fans and this writer remember them warmly.

And I'm all about the fun, dontcha know?

I'll be back on Saturday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/03/2002 | 09/05/2002 | 09/07/2002 >>

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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