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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1497 (09/10/02)

"It's a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do."

--Walter Winchell (1897-1972)

Here in bucolic Medina, Ohio, world headquarters of the vast Isabella entertainment empire, June is drawing to a close. It has been a typically busy month for Clan Isabella, with the end of the school year leading into Eddie's baseball games and viola lessons, Kelly's basketball camp, dance recital, and softball games, and, of course, Sainted Wife Barbara's enchanting "Dance of the Automotive Insanity."

The Sainted One will deny this, but, every summer begins with her talking about trading in our trusty 1993 Ford Aerostar van for a new vehicle, this despite its having served us better and longer than any other vehicle we've ever owned. Fortunately, this mania of hers usually passes after a day or two of my chaining myself to the van. Not caring if our neighbors think I'm crazy is the most powerful tool in my matrimonial arsenal.

I didn't have to pull the chains out this year. Barb's car, a recent model Mercury "Mistake," kept her way too busy to threaten my beloved Aerostar.

Barb's car problems started when she took it to the dealer for a bit of recall work. Shortly thereafter, her car would simply not start once or twice a week. She took it back to the dealer. They couldn't find anything wrong with it. She got it back. It ran for a day or so, then it wouldn't start, and then the dealer would have it for a day, and then it would start, and then it wouldn't start, and then I would make an amusing quip about which Isabella vehicle was running and which wasn't, and then I'd sleep in the Aerostar for a night or two.

At this point, I should mention that Barb's car keys have this anti-theft computer chip thing to protect her vehicle from thieves with bad taste and no sense whatsoever of what respecting receivers of stolen goods are interested in acquiring.

Having eliminated all possible problems which they could check out in sixty seconds or less, the folks at the dealership decided Barb's car woes must have something to do with said computer chips. They kept the car for another few days while waiting for new chips to arrive from the Centauri Republic. The chips arrived, the car was repaired, and Barb went to pick it up.

The dealership couldn't find the keys.

They...couldn't...find...the...keys.

Barb borrowed her mom's van to drive home. She came back the next day. The dealership had found the keys.

They were locked inside Barb's car.

They...were...locked...inside...Barb's...car.

Because of the anti-theft device, the folks at the dealership couldn't get into Barb's car. The local police were called to try to get into Barb's car, but couldn't do so on account of Barb quite rightfully wasn't about to sign the waiver accepting responsibility for any damage. After all, it was the dealership which had locked the keys inside the car. She drove home in the personal vehicle of the dealership's manager. I'm guessing he couldn't drive after she broke his arms and legs.

In the fullness of time, the dealership did find someone who could unlock Barb's car without resorting to the jaws of life, but the adventure was not yet over. When they then tried to start the car, they got naught but the silence of the damned.

You see, the problem was never in the computer chips. It was a short in the ignition system, which, since it was merely the most obvious thing it could have been, was, of course, never considered. As Sherlock Holmes said, "when you eliminate all the really far out ideas, it's the simplest solution that smacks you upside the head and says, 'Who's your daddy?'"

I just remembered I'm writing this for Comics Buyer's Guide, so maybe I better do a review or two before we get back to "Summer Fun with the Isabella Family."

******

Charlton Group

CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT #2 (Argo Press; $5.95) states its mission on its cover: "exploring the history of the Charlton Comics Group." It's been well over a decade since Charlton last published a comic book, but there was a time from the 1950s through the early 1980s when their mags were a constant presence on newsstands. Spotlight editor and publisher Michael Ambrose is determined to preserve and honor that legacy.

Charlton was generally the odd man out of the comics industry. It printed and distributed its comics and magazines from the same buildings where its editorial functions were located. It did the same jumping-on-hot-trends as other outfits, but it also published hot rod comics (something no one else did) and romance comics (long after its larger rivals had abandoned that genre). Its rates were always low, but it still managed to acquire the services of leading creators, either because those artists were between better-paying assignments or because they liked Charlton's low-key approach. It was also the first publisher for some of the amazing new talents who entered the field in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ambrose packs his mag's 44 pages with some fascinating looks at various corners of the Charlton universe. AC Comics publisher Bill Black talks about his brief involvement with Charlton's action heroes and his current reprinting of some of the company's classic western stories. Ron Frantz writes on his memorable 1987 visit to the Charlton plant in Derby, Connecticut. Marty Baumann remembers the late, great Pat Boyette. Ron Fortier discusses the creation of Mr. Jigsaw, the finest super-hero character you've never heard of.

Dan Stevenson has an installment of his continuing Charlton Comics checklist. Ambrose also reprints a Strange Suspense Stories comics tale drawn by Joe Shuster (with inks, I'm thinking, by Ray Osrin, who worked with Shuster before getting into newspapers and becoming an award-winning editorial cartoonist) and presents an informative column of letters from Charlton fans and professionals.

If you're not into comics history, if you're not into learning about the smaller publishers who are part of that history, Charlton Spotlight likely won't float your boat. However, if you do share my curiosity in what has gone before, both for its own merits and for what today's comics folks can learn from it, you'll love this zine. On a scale of one to five Tonys, I give Ambrose and company four of them cute little floating heads.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

For information on ordering Charlton Spotlight, go to:

www.ramonschenk.nl/charltoncomics/charltonspotlight

******

Fade to Blue According to the inside front cover, this is all you need to know to read FADE FROM BLUE #1 (Second 2 Some Studios; $1):
Meet Iya, Marit, Elisa, and Christa, four half-sisters that share more than just one missing polygamist father. Drawn together by the sudden, unexpected deaths of their mothers, the four form their own family in order to survive. Years later, the truth of what really happened in the past threatens to unravel the existence they've created for themselves in the present. And expose the lies they've been keeping from each other since that fateful date.
That's actually more a reader needs to enjoy this first issue, but it's a good hook which convinced me that reading future issues would be worthwhile. Using a conversation between magazine writer Christa and an editor as a backdrop, writer Myatt Murphy introduced the four sisters and brought them to life. Though the main story was understated throughout the issue, I still felt as if I now knew the women and that I wanted to see what happens to them next. It's not typical comics pacing, but it worked.

Scott Dalrymple did a nice job on the art end of things: good drawing featuring expressive faces, fairly realistic body-shapes, and good storytelling. The work needed stronger inking or, better yet, color, but, considering Fade From Blue's one-dollar price, I'm not gonna be picky about that. He did a nice job this time out and I fully expect he'll do an even nicer job next issue. His talent is obvious.

Fade From Blue #1 is a quality comic book at an incredibly low price. That bumps it up to four-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

For online information on Fade to Blue and other comic books from the same publisher, go to:

www.secondtosomestudios.com

******

League of Super Groovy Crimefighters

LEAGUE OF SUPER GROOVY CRIMEFIGHTERS (Ancient Studios; $2.95) starts with an absolutely brilliant premise and then does so little with that absolutely brilliant premise that it hurts. Here's the concept in one line:

All the junk they used to sell in comic books really works and a group of comics readers have used these powerful knickknacks to become super-heroes.

There is no denying the sheer enthusiasm which creator/writer Jan-Ives Campbell brings to this title. He sent me the five issues published to date, follow by e-mails nudging me to read and review them. It's an approach that doesn't often work with me, but, like I said, he was so enthusiastic. I moved the books to the top of my reading pile and I really wanted to like them.

I couldn't. Campbell made unfortunate creative choices which undermined the ingenuity of his premise. He could have armed his heroes with some of the truly bizarre mail-order items offered in comic books of the past, but, instead, selected mundane items that were too easily recast as weapons. He set the book in the "groovy" 1970s, which added a new and conflicting premise to the original. His heroes are adults; kids would have been more clever in the use of the oddball items and more fun to watch. It was akin to being trapped in a car whose lost driver just won't stop for directions. Such a wasted opportunity.

Campbell's writing was serviceable throughout the five issues. Likewise the vaguely-reminiscent-of-John-Byrne's-earlier-work art. But neither was strong enough to overcome an overall story with an uncertain focus and voice. That's a shame.

Recognizing the possibility, however slim, that I've slipped into "that's not how I would have done it" territory, I'll mention that you can check out League for yourself at the Ancient Studios website:

www.ancientstudios.com

As for me, based on Campbell's enthusiasm and premise, I give League of Super Groovy Crimefighters a solitary Tony. I truly wish I could have given it a higher rating.

Tony

******

Back to summer fun. Eddie's baseball team has been struggling all season. They've won two games, tied two, and lost most of the others by a run or two. On Eddie's birthday, they came from behind to beat a much larger team of farm-bred mutants who regularly come into Medina to humiliate our city teams and bark at any squirrels within five hundred feet of their dugout. Flushed with victory, Eddie and his teammates agreed to an extra early-morning practice. In between the time I started writing this week's column and now, I assisted at that practice.

Much to Eddie's surprise, not to mention my own, I didn't too badly. I hadn't donned a baseball glove in years, but my minimal skills of old were still intact, or so I believed up until the very moment I threw a ball in from the outfield and my arm went with it. I would've chased after it, but, simultaneously, my legs decided to rebel against the abusive master who would force them to carry his aging body where it had no business going. Dragging one leg after the other, I lurched over to my arm, tucked it under my other arm, and headed for the dugout.

Minutes later, having negotiated a fair and just peace with my legs, I was back out on the field. It's summer, it's baseball, and I can't think of two better reasons to succumb to madness and act like a kid again. Put me in, coach!

I'll be back next week with more summer fun, more reviews, and more floating heads. Look for me in center field.

******

ADDENDUM

The above first saw print in CBG #1497 [July 28, 2002], which shipped on July 8. After it appeared, I got "thank you" notes from Michael Ambrose, Myatt Murphy, and Jan-Ives Campbell. I thought it was very classy of Jan-Ives to respond to my review in that manner. Three cheers and a tiger for him.

I only received two other letters on my League of Super Groovy Crimefighters review. The first was from PHIL BLEDSOE:
I found your review of Ancient Studios' League of Super Groovy CrimeFighters strangely vague. What exactly is it that you didn't like? I have to wonder how the creator of Black Lightning could not "get" the League.
You can judge for yourselves if my review was vague; I don't think it was, but, hey, what the heck do I know? I'm still trying to figure out if Bledsoe's reference to Black Lightning was meant as some sort of slam.

The second letter was a "warning" about some sort of campaign being launched to protest my League review. If there was any such protest, and I don't believe there was, then

a) it never made itself known to me; and,

b) it wouldn't have changed my review.

Comics-wise, few things would give me more pleasure than for every comic book I read to delight me. But that's not the case, and, though I don't enjoy writing less than positive reviews of any comic book, I would be worthless as a critic if I wrote nothing but positive reviews. If I did that, my column's readers would have no frame of reference from whence they could determine if, based on my reviews, this or that comic book was something they might want to purchase. It's all part of the job.

******

IN THE NEWS

The Akron Beacon-Journal [September 2] had an item that caught my eye. South Carolina's ten active federal trial judges voted, unanimously, to ban secret legal settlements. The judges say such agreements have made the courts complicit in hiding the truth about hazardous products, inept doctors and sexually abusive priests. If the U.S. District Court for the state adopts this ruling, it will give the South Carolina the strictest ban on settlement secrecy in the federal court system. I've never much liked these agreements because they allowed wealthy defendants to hide a multitude of sins from a public which surely has the right to know about them. Let's hope the ruling stands and becomes a model for the entire federal court system.

Bob Thaves' FRANK AND ERNEST strip for September 2 got a sad smile from me. One of them - it could be Frank, it could be Ernie, I can only tell them apart when they're both in the strip - stands unhappily before a judge. The judge says: "The Constitution!...we don't have time for nostalgia today."

Imagine...John Ashcroft moonlighting in a comic strip.

Of course, a truly balanced comics page should be able to make you think and laugh. That latter task was performed by DENNIS THE MENACE. While watching TV, the curious lad asks:

"How come they're called 'super-models' if they can't leap tall buildings an' stuff?"

I don't always/often agree with Chris Matthews, whose HARDBALL runs on MSNBC Mondays through Fridays and who has been, until now, a nationally syndicated columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, but his "farewell for now" piece for the Chronicle had me nodding in agreement. He wrote:
I hate this war that's coming in Iraq. I don't think we'll be proud of it. We Americans are reluctant warriors. We fight when attacked. We didn't even invade Cuba when he learned the Russians had missiles there. We didn't want to do to them what the Japanese had done to us.

I'm afraid this crowd around President Bush would have. They also would have gone to an all-out war a generation later when those Iranian students grabbed our diplomats.

I oppose this war because it will create a millennium of hatred and the suicidal terrorism that comes with it. You talk about Bush trying to avenge his father. What about the tens of millions of Arab sobs who will want to finish a fight we start next spring in Baghdad?

Maybe it's the Peace Corps still in me, but I don't think we win friends or - and this is more important - avoid making dangerous enemies in the Third World by making war against it.
Some of you are probably getting tired of hearing this mantra from me, but here it is again:

Anyone who thinks Bush and his bunch are good for this nation or the world simply isn't paying attention.

******

TONY'S FINAL THOUGHT

I'm thinking that Comic-Con International should give FREDDIE PRINZE JR. an Inkpot Award at next year's event. The young actor is an inspiration to comics fans everywhere. I mean, he collects old comic books, has a complete collection of SCOOBY-DOO cartoons, starred in the SCOOBY-DOO movie, and just married Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Verily, he is like unto a comicdom god.

Be sure to check out my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS site. You'll find new installments every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I'll be back here on Thursday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/07/2002 | 09/10/2002 | 09/12/2002 >>

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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