TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1498 (09/12/02)
"The one important thing I have learnt over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking oneself seriously. The first is imperative and the second disastrous."
--Dame Margot Fonteyn
We live in a world where way too many people take themselves way too seriously. They think God, however they might perceive Him or Her, actually needs their protection when, by definition, God, however you might perceive Him or Her, can pretty much take care of that Himself or Herself. They mistake their beliefs for the law of the land. They insist we trust them when they clearly do not trust us. There is a sense of self-importance that borders on delusion. Heck, it skips over that line on a regular basis.
In our smaller world of comics, we see the same behavior. How many times have we seen successful comics creators and executives go ballistic over imagined and minor slights, dwelling obsessively on stuff that just ain't no how important in the big picture of all they have going for them? They don't have to rest on their laurels to enjoy them.
Since I started rating the items I review on one silly scale after another, I've received many letters from creators and readers who enjoy my bringing frivolity to the usually staid domain of the review. I also received a note or three from folks who thought the use of my smiling disembodied head instead of stars or grades was some monumental exercise in ego, as well as a couple from comics publicists who didn't know quite what to make of them, i.e., how to use them in their advertising.
If I thought for a second that the ego-detectors would believe me, I'd tell them the floating "Tonys" are used for no other reason than I think they're funny and they fit the generally playful tone of my reviews. If that's not a good enough answer--and, to them, it won't be--well, the last time I surfed the Internet, I found no shortage of humorless comics reviewers.
As for the publicists...Uncle Tony is here for you. You have my express permission to replace "Tonys" with "stars" whenever you want, provided you don't go "Enron" on me and exaggerate the number of "stars" I award to any items. In the meantime, the "Tonys" are here to stay until I come up with something even sillier.
I take the writing of these reviews seriously. I work hard to make them as entertaining and as informative as I can. However, as far as taking myself too seriously, boy howdy, would that ever suck the fun right out of writing these columns!
If I ever do start taking myself too seriously, I fully expect you to call me on it. Just as I would expect you to do the same if I ever fail to take the work seriously enough.
This is an announcement to all comics fans. The superhero as we once knew him or her is about to disappear for all time. Something is about to happen that is going to make superheroes look, at best, rather quaint and old fashioned, and in all seriousness, totally irrelevant.
So begins the first installment of AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE WITH ALVIN SCHWARTZ at the World Famous Comics website. Schwartz wrote Superman and Batman in the 1940s through the 1950s, and is also the author of THE BLOWTOP, frequently hailed as the first "beat" novel; and AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, a metaphysical memoir examining his long association with the Man of Steel. For the past few years, he hasbeen writing Exploring the Golden Age, a series of online columns which were sometimes autobiographical and always thought-inspiring.Reading my friend Alvin's work is commensurate to jump-starting my brain; he always leaves me with much to ponder.
This first in Schwartz's new series of columns discusses the achievements of inventor and innovator Ray Kurzweil, and what they could mean for mankind itself. The questions Schwartz raises will remain with you long after you've read this column. It's only been online for a few days as I write these words and I've already gone back to it again and again.
Schwartz will post new columns on a roughly weekly basis, but his older columns, including A GATHERING OF SELVES, the serialized sequel to An Unlikely Prophet, are archived at World Famous. Look for them at:
Schwartz's online commentaries are electronic manna for your brain and your soul. They rate the full five Tonys.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN by J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita, Jr. is my favorite Marvel Comics title. It's the Spider-Man comic for grown-ups. It doesn't retool the past in an attempt, however noble, to connect with pre-teen readers. It does take Peter Parker and his cast into new situations. The writing is the sharpest of any current super-hero book and the artistic storytelling isn't far behind. When I read it, I don't feel like a kid again; instead, I feel as if I am on common ground with the kid who was just as crazy about the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man comic books of the 1960s. This is the real Spider-Man.
Amazing Spider-Man #41 and #42 (Marvel; $2.25 each) continue and concludes our web-slinging hero's pursuit of the Shade, a tough customer who's been kidnaping homeless kids. Straczynski's Spidey is as nimble of verbal wit as ever--some of the dialogue, external and internal, is laugh-out-loud funny--but he's also a no-nonsense protector of innocents. When he needs information, he goes to the people who have it and then acts on what he learns from them. This Spidey truly lives by the "great power/great responsibility" code, and, as so often happens in real life, also faces the consequences which result from his good deeds.
[Forgive me for dancing around those consequences. I wouldn't want to spoil these stories for any reader.]
A portion of my high regard for Straczynski's writing on this series is because...and I apologize in advance for how egotistical this must sound...he does some of the same things I was doing in my late 1990s Black Lightning stories. Peter Parker is working with inner-city kids. In issue #41, the relationship between Spider-Manand Police Lieutenant William Lamont echoes a like relationship inBLACK LIGHTNING. The responsibility Parker embraces as Spider-Manaffects his "civilian" life, though, of course, that's something we all learned from Stan and his collaborators.
Some additional notes on these issues:
On first glance, the Jason Pearson covers for these issues are striking. However, if you look at them too closely, their artistic flaws become manifest. I like the covers, but I'd like them better if, for example, Spidey had real ankles.
Straczynski writes May Parker better than any other writer who has ever written the character. She has the inner strength to deal with her new-found knowledge of her nephew's secret life, but her ongoing struggle to accept that life and all its inherent dangers is so real it hurts. I love this woman.
Issue #41 has a bonus story: the second chapter of "You Can Call Me Al" by writer Ron Zimmerman and penciler Al Rio. While I didn't consider it in determining my ratings for these comics, it had some good qualities. Look for my review of Zimmerman's entire story in the not-too-distant future.
I'm on a roll this week. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #41 and #42 each pick up five Tonys.
"Understanding Gamers" is the cover feature of DORK TOWER #18 (Dork Storm; $2.99), but I confess/fear it will take far more than a 19-page story for me to come within light-years of comprehending this pastime. I come from the generation in which "role-playing" meant trying to talk your girlfriend into wearing the French maid uniform.
When a later girlfriend attempted to explain DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS to me, it sounded like WRITER HELL to me: trying to tell a story with a half-dozen editors and would-be collaborators sticking their ideas all over my story. Most humiliating of all, when faced with the original Marvel Super-Heroes role-playing game, a game I had been assured was so simple anyone could play it, Tony "I Used To Write Marvel Comics" Isabella couldn't get all the way through the instructions. Some things are not meant to be.
Fortunately, cartoonist John Kovalic doesn't take gaming too seriously. Dork Tower and the other Dork Storm books can entertain even gaming-impaired readers like myself. "Understanding Gamers" parodies Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, takes playful shots at gamers and their passions, maps out the common ground shared by gamers and comics fans, and generally makes sure a good time is had by all. The strip certainly left me with a smile on my disembodied face, always a good thing.
The lead is backed by a variety of supporting features, some of which had too much "gaming" for my aging brain and some of which delighted me. In the latter category, comics by Aaron Williams and Scott Kurtz were great fun, and a three-page "Artesia" sequence by Mark Smylie was extremely impressive.
By the power vested in me as master of my personal dungeon, I award three-and-a-half Tonys to DORK TOWER #18.
NODWICK #14 (Dork Storm; $2.99) cover-features "Landlords of the Realm" by Aaron Williams. It's a fine and funny story, marred by the lack of background information offered to readers who might be reading the comic for the first time. Williams didn't need to give a lot of background--this is a self-contained tale wherein the lead characters try to avoid being evicted and worse--but he should have named the players early on and established their relationships with one another. In spite of that failing, I still got a kick out of this fantasy sitcom.
The issue also features a three-page "PS 238" story, also by Williams. PS 238 is "the school for metaprodigy children" and the possibilities inherent in that premise are immense. Somebody phone Hollywood and have them send Williams a boatload of cash. The two "PS 238" strips I've seen, here and in Dork Tower #18, are amusing spoofs of existing comics characters, but I think the concept could go well beyond that. Remember you read it here first.
NODWICK #14 picks up a solid four Tonys.
Scott Kurtz's THE PVP HAT TRICK (Dork Storm; $2.99) collects the stories from the first three issues of the ongoing title. The inside front cover introduces the cast and makes it possible for a new reader, even a new reader whose gaming I.Q. is best represented by a negative number, to enjoy these episodes.
The PVP comic book is about the people (and demon) who put out the PVP magazine when they aren't goofing off, playing super-hero role-playing games, or watching anime. I'm not quite sure how they actually manage to publish said magazine, but the laughs are in the journey or even the lack thereof.
Kurtz has a good ear for dialogue and draws his characters in a minimal but still effective comic-strip style. However, when his tales call for it, he can also bust some delightful faux-Marvel and faux-manga moves.
Dork Storm Press put more grins on my chins with THE PVP HAT TRICK. This comic also receives four Tonys.
I'll leave you with an item from HOLLYWOOD REPORTER that most assuredly fits into the "why can't I stop myself from checking this out" department:
The Sci-Fi Channel has signed Shannen Doherty to host its new SCARE TACTICS series. Hidden cameras will record "sci-fi inspired" pranks on people. Alien abductions, haunted houses, and maybe even Allen Funt spinning in his grave will be the shenanigans du jour of the program.
Scare Tactics is scheduled to debut in October as a prime-time series. Unless, of course, this is all some elaborate prank being played on Doherty. Heh, heh, heh.
The above column was first published in CBG #1498 [August 2, 2002], which shipped on July 15.
IN THE NEWS
There were some items which caught my eye in the waning days of August. Starting with a particularly troubling Associated Press wire story out of Wilmington, Delaware, where police are building a file of possible suspects - mostly poor minorities - for crimes which haven't been committed yet. And you thought MINORITY REPORT was just a movie.
Wilmington police are using what some have come to call "jump-out squads." Units roll into a neighborhood, admittedly usually a high-crime neighborhood, and jump out of their cars to make arrests for minor or non-existent offenses. The officers will briefly stop people for loitering, take their names and photos, and then release them. But the names and photos are kept on file.
This isn't a completely new tactic. In fact, if you want to know why the Los Angeles police department got such a bad rep among minorities, it's partially because they would routinely roust poor minority teens for spurious offenses to get them "into the system." Frequently, when some of these teens were later charged with actual crimes, the bogus offenses were treated as a "first strike," making it easier to send them to prison, where - surprise surprise - they associated with more experienced and more violent young criminals. The LAPD created bad will with minority communities that continues to this day and - in effect - helped local street gangs recruit new members. As ye reap...
As a holy liberal - it's those other guys who are "godless" - there are few things more disconcerting to me than reading a "B.C." comic strip by religious right wingnut Johnny Hart and nodding in agreement. In Hart's offering for Sunday, August 25, caveman Peter sends a written-in-stone message sailing across the waters:
"Dear friends, we are delighted that you've offered to join our war against terrorism...what are you prepared to contribute to this fight?"
After a three-panel right, the response comes:
In many ways, faux-President Bush could make a stronger case for going to war against Saudi Arabia, which finances and supports the Islamic extremists who have so often been involved in acts of terrorism around the world. But, of course, the Saudis are some of our best friends, right?
How will I get over finding myself agreeing with Hart? I'll remind myself that even a broken watch is right twice a day. Okay, that probably doesn't go for a broken *digital* watch, but I think you get the idea.
Sometimes it's tough to take a position. Several priests who have been accused of sexual abuse have filed slander suits against their accusers. I'm not going to dispute the rights of any person or persons to seek redress for alleged wrongs in the courts. But I'm concerned that the filing of some of these suits is more about intimidation than justice. Some questions for any lawyers who may be reading this...
I realize countersuits are common in civil court, but is it as common for a defendant facing criminal charges to file what appears to be a civil suit against his accuser?
Wouldn't it make more sense for the priests to file such suits *after* being cleared of charges against them? Or are these suits nothing more than intimidation tactics?
Aren't there laws against such intimidation?
Oh, sure, I could call up Bob Ingersoll and ask him all of the above, but this way has a better chance of getting people to write large portions of my column for me.
Yours truly was quoted in the Akron Beacon Journal for Sunday, August 25. As some of you may recall, I am a member of the paper's electronic readers board, conceived and run by Public Editor Mike Needs. Recently, some coarse language found its way into the ABJ, courtesy of quoted individuals. Needs asked us how we felt about the use of such language:
From Tony Isabella of Medina: "Report the whole truth, as best you can figure it out, but keep the language on as polite a level as possible."
The above was considerably abridged from my actual response,
which covered the use of profanity or vulgarities in fiction, non-fiction, and quotes from politicians and other newsmakers, but it does sum up my position nicely. I've become increasingly annoyed by the casual use of such language in everyday communication, which is why I insist that such language be avoided on the official Tony Isabella message board. If a poster takes a few extra seconds tofigure out how to express himself without profanity/vulgarity, I believe he will also express himself better.
TONY'S FINAL THOUGHTS
If you're visiting PERPETUAL COMICS on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you're getting all-new columns. If you're not visiting the website, then set course for:
For the time being, until we catch up with the backlog from my summer hiatus, you'll find "new" columns right here every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Most of those columns will consist of a CBG reprint plus new material.
If you want to see yours truly in person, you should make your plans now to attend MID-OHIO-CON on November 30 and December 1, on account of that will be my sole convention appearance of the year.
For information on the event, its venue, and the great comics and media guests who will be there, head over to:
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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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