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Tony's Online Tips
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 #1500 (09/19/02)

"Rest not! Life is sweeping by;
Go and dare before you die.
Something mighty and sublime
Leave behind to conquer time."


--Goethe, German poet and scientist

"And think not you can direct the course of love, for love,
if it finds you worthy, directs your course."


--Khalil Gibran

This is CBG #1500 and to commemorate that amazing milestone, I'm reviewing 1500 different comic books this week, starting with ABBIE AN' SLATS #4 from 1948 and working my way down the alphabet to ZOT. The world was very different in 1948 and...

What's that, Maggie?

Why, no, I haven't done the math.

Yeah, I suppose I could keep the reviews down to 200 words per review. Maybe 300 for THE FLINTSTONES because I have this profound interpretation of their "universe" to include. I can review FURY in one word to keep the column from getting too long.

Okay, I'll do the stupid math already. Let's see now...1500 reviews times 200 words comes out to 300,000 words. Throw in some art here and there and this week's column will run 300 pages or so. I'd better get started, huh?

Fine. Be that way. Like any of our readers really care about those other columns and ads and stuff. Sheesh!


This is CBG #1500 and we're going to commemorate that amazing milestone by doing what this publication has been doing so well for a very long time, and then we're going to do it again next week and the week after that and the week after...

******

Futurama 9 The cover of FUTURAMA COMICS #9 (Bongo; $2.50) had me smiling before I opened the comic. It shows the Statue of Liberty looking dismayed as the cast of the series float through the transport tube she holds in place of her famous torch. Above the logo, the copy proudly states the publication is "Made in the U.S.A.!"...followed by, in parenthesis, "Printed in Canada." The satire is irreverent without being disrespectful. I liked it.

Written by Eric Rogers, "Freaky Fry-Day" sustains for 25 pages its premise of Fry, the displaced 20th Century slacker, being brain-shifted into the body of the Professor, his senile descendent. The resultant gags are funny, the characters true to their television versions, and the ending satisfactory. The artwork by pencilers Tom King and John Delaney (inking by Phyllis Novin) is faithful in its depiction of the Futurama characters with clear and energetic storytelling throughout.

The issue also features a lively three-page letters column and a double-page spread of the Planet Express Building. Thirty pages of entertainment suitable for all but the youngest readers, I'd say FUTURAMA #9 rates four out of five Tonys. Let fly the disembodied heads which denote this distinguished achievement!

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

This is the Golden Age of Comics History. If I decided right this minute that I never wanted to read another new comic book-- not, mind you, that this is at all likely given how many wonderful comic books are being published today--and also decided that I was still interested in the comics of the past, there would be very few months in which I wouldn't be able to buy hundreds of dollars worth of comics magazines and "new" classic comics reprints. Everything from the DC Archives to the Scott Saavedra's wild Comic Book Heaven to AC's various titles to scholarly tomes from Fantagraphics to the TwoMorrows family of magazines (Alter Ego, Comic Book Artist, Jack Kirby Collector) and even into the "Books" section of the monthly Previews catalog as more and more traditional book publishers add comics-related works to their schedules. Don't even get me started on the material available on microfiche from MicroComics. Keeping current with this wealth of wonderment could surely keep any comics historian busy full time.

One mag we don't see often enough is the semiannual HOGAN'S ALLEY. Edited by Tom Heintjes, "the magazine of the cartoon arts" fills the 144 pages of its latest issue with features which are as entertaining as they are informative.

The centerpiece of Hogan's Alley #10 ($6.95)is a 17-page look at "the best comic strips you're NOT reading," dozens of daily and weekly features, of which the oldest was launched in 1991. This is history in the making; some of these strips will be recognized as classics in years to come.

The early cartooning of Billy DeBeck (Barney Google) and Ernie Bushmiller (Nancy) is explored with the latter piece including many examples of Bushmiller's forgotten Mac the Manager. And exploring is definitely the word to describe columnist Allan Holtz "Quest for the First Adventure Strip." Though Holtz arrives at Bobby the Boy Scout, launched in 1911, a year after the founding of the American version of the organization, he cautions that the quest remains an ongoing effort.

Other articles and interviews concerns themselves with Akiko creator Mark Crilley; cartoonist and screenwriter Jack Mendelsohn; Russell Johnson, whose Mister Oswald entertained retailers for over six decades; the Johnston and Cushing studio, known for utilizing top cartoonists in its advertising campaigns; handwriting analysis of legendary cartoonists; the "lost" Superman cartoon of the 1940s; and CBG's own Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt on the creation of The Simpsons comic strip. When a 144-page magazine leaves you reeling with all you've learned and still wanting more, you know it's worth your time and money.

HOGAN'S ALLEY #10 gets the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

IMAGE INTRODUCES is a good idea. Showcasing new series gives comics creators a chance to gauge reaction before committing fully to ideas which may or may not succeed in the current marketplace. However, after laboriously reading Image Introduces...Dog Soldiers ($2.95), I'm compelled to question whatever screening process Image uses to select its test series. Specifically, why did anyone think *this* comic book was worth publishing?

The premise of DOG SOLDIERS falls considerably short of being original: the Pentagon mixes human and canine DNA to create super-soldiers. Played for laughs, the concept could have been funny and perhaps even thoughtful. Instead, it comes off as a tedious action film translated to comics sans wit or style.

The writing is choppy throughout the preview, so choppy that, on occasion, I flipped back to see if I had skipped a page. Worse, there wasn't a single character who captured my interest. I doubt I could have even named one after finishing the story.

I can't even be charitable towards the art. At its best, it's adequate. More often, it fails to tell the admittedly weak story smoothly. The seeming aversion to backgrounds doesn't help in that regard; establishing the "where" of scenes is a vital discipline in creating a comics reality.

IMAGE INTRODUCES...DOG SOLDIERS gets no Tonys from me, though I strongly recommend that the creators recast the idea as a comedy and hire other creators to bring it to life.

******

Jack Kirby Collector 35 THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #35 (TwoMorrows; $9.95) is as big and as bold as any fan could want. Its 84 pages are almost as large as original comic-book art. Over the years, the magazine has covered nigh-countless facets of Kirby's career, clearly establishing why so many fans, myself included, consider Kirby the "king of comics." Unfortunately, with this issue, devoted largely to Mister Miracle, Kirby scholarship crosses the line into obsession.

I love The Jack Kirby Collector, but I felt like I was being hammered into the ground by the endless repetition of the issue's theme: Kirby's imagination was his "escape" from New York's Lower East Side. There were three separate essays on the same issue of Mister Miracle, an interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon in which Chabon was essentially asked over and over again, albeit in a clueless rather than malicious manner, how much of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was lifted from Kirby comics, and, of course, the usual gratuitous insults leveled toward Stan Lee. The lesson of history, which some Jack Kirby Collector writers would do well to bear in mind, is that no single view of an event reveals the entire picture.

That said, there is much of value in this issue. In his "Jack F.A.O.s" column, Mark Evanier covers the creation of Mister Miracle more authoritatively and succinctly than any other contributor to this issue, and then goes on to discuss other Kirby efforts in an equally entertaining and informative manner.

The issue also features the transcript of the Evanier-hosted Jack Kirby Tribute Panel from last year's Comicon International in San Diego. John Buscema, Will Eisner, John Romita, and Mike Royer gave their professional perspective on Kirby's contributions to and impact on comics with Evanier keeping the panel running smoothly. The finale was Evanier's telling of what happened when Kirby's path crossed that of Johnny Carson. It didn't begin well, but, in its resolution, it showed the love and respect Kirby's fans and friends have always had for him.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that this issue also presents an 18-page gallery of darn near full-size Kirby pencilled pages. The artwork is stunning to behold, so much so that I didn't mind too much that it was all from Jack's Mister Miracle. Add this gallery to the Evanier column and panel and the issue is definitely a good buy for the bucks...just not as good a buy as the previous issues have been.

With the recommendation that its future issues be built around broader themes, THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #35 collects four out of a possible five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Liberty Meadows Beautiful. That's the short review of LIBERTY MEADOWS: EDEN BOOK 1 by Frank Cho (Image; $14.95). This 128-page, 12-by-9-inch softcover collects the first nine issues of Cho's Liberty Meadows, which reprinted, alongside some new material, Cho's brilliant comic strip in its uncensored form.

For the new reader, Liberty Meadows is a sanctuary for animals who have lost their natural habitats. The animals are strange and, to a slightly lesser extent, so are the humans caring for them. At the center of the comedy is the agonizing-but-entertaining romance of psychiatrist Brandy and doctor Frank. At the heart of the strip is the impish humor and breathtakingly gorgeous artwork of creator Cho, the rare comics master of both manic slapstick and smouldering sensuality. Cho ended the Liberty Meadows strip to concentrate on the comics and on other projects.

What will you find in Eden Book 1? Off the top of my head, I recall critters with substance abuse problems, the lovely Brandy, Khan the killer catfish, a Halloween party with Brandy as Xena and Frank as Gabrielle, perilous brushes with nature, equally perilous brushes with the ladies in the local tavern, Brandy, lost friends, found friends, Brandy, visiting celebrities, maniac cows, the son of Mighty Shmoe Pong, and, in case I forgot to mention her, Brandy. I think I love this book.

LIBERTY MEADOWS: EDEN BOOK 1 delivers considerable laughs for your lucre. I give it the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

I think I have just enough room this week to squeeze in that "profound interpretation of the Flintstones universe" mentioned at the top of the column. I'm almost certain it didn't originate with me, but here's my take on it:

THE FLINTSTONES takes place in the far future after some event has blasted mankind back to the stone age. Humans share the planet with genetically-recreated dinosaurs, retaining some core memories of our present technology, which they try to duplicate as best they can with creatures and materials available to them.

Flintstones

******

ADDENDUM

The above first appeared in CBG #1500 [August 18, 2002], which shipped on July 29. As a courtesy to CBG, I don't post my columns online until three weeks (and change) after that date. If I hadn't taken some time off, this column would've posted on August 19. But I did, so you didn't.

Since we're currently posting three CBG reprints most weeks, we'll be back on the usual schedule in just a few more weeks. Our enthusiasm for doing this swells whenever our generous readers send us "tips" via the PayPal link below.

******

DENNY O'NEIL

I don't have an update on writer Denny O'Neil's condition at present--he suffered a heart attack last week and will have surgery soon--but his family has asked that cards and other expressions of good wishes NOT be addressed to the hospital where this legendary comics writer and editor is being treated. Instead, they request that you send them to THIS address:

Denny O'Neil
c/o DC Comics
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Here's praying for a successful surgery and a speedy recovery for one of my favorite comics writers. Denny still has many tales to share with us.

******

IN THE NEWS

I get three newspapers a day and things just naturally catch my eye as I go through said papers...

Earlier this month, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission decided that landlords can use their religion to deny housing to unmarried applicants because, as a group, single people are not protected by civil rights law. This is the kind of item which reminds me that I don't have all the answers.

On the one hand, I think people should generally be able to do as they please with their property as long as they don't annoy the rest of us. On the other hand, by earning income from the rental of their property, they have a moral obligation not to discriminate against other folks. In this case, the couple were engaged to be married and were raising the woman's three children. Since filing their complaint, the couple has married...and the landlord has sold his rental property. The couple hasn't decided if they will pursue the issue in court, but I'm guessing not.

How would "Judge Tony" have ruled here? I probably would have ordered the landlord to rent to the couple or, if doing so was too much of a burden on his religious beliefs, to sell the property and get out of the housing business. Although I have sympathy for the landlord, it's a slippery and potentially deadly slope that allows discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs.

******

MAGAZINE WATCH

Looking at the bottom line, how well did the animated, comics, and sci-fi movies of the summer do?

According to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for September 6, SPIDER-MAN and SIGNS were "Smashes."

Hits: SCOOBY-DOO, LILO & STITCH

Good But Should Have Done Better: STAR WARS EPISODE II, MEN IN BLACK II, MINORITY REPORT, ROAD TO PERDITION

Recoupers: UNDERCOVER BROTHER

Disappointments: SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON, HEY ARNOLD! THE MOVIE, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS MOVIE

In the same issue, Ken Tucker reviews and rates a quartet of cartoon series. Here's the report card...

Samurai Jack: A
Mucha Lucha: A
Disney's Fillmore: B-
Tokyo Pig: C+

Finally, our pal Max Allan Collins gets some ink in the mag's "Books" section:
The sins of the father are just the start of the story: ROAD TO PERDITION, the Max Allan Collins graphic novel about a hitman and his son that became the Tom Hanks-Paul Newsman movie, will be followed by two new novels--a prequel and a sequel. "The model is basically THE GODFATHER," says William Morrow exec editor Trish Lande Grader, who acquired ROAD TO PURGATORY, which will focus on the father, and ROAD TO PARADISE, which will follow the son. "There's the same feeling...of a dynasty and seeds being sown," adds Grader. The books will not have illustrations, marking a return for Collins to the atmospheric. Period crime novels of his pre-PERDITION career. PURGATORY will be out in the summer of '04, followed by Paradise a year later.
I just started reading the first in a series of C.S.I.: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATIONS novels by Collins. Look for my review of the book in a near future "Tips."

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

Today's letter is from my pal JON KNUTSON, commenting on DOG SOLDIERS and THE FLINTSTONES:
Someone already did cast the DOG SOLDIERS idea as a comedy, about 15 or so years ago...me! Remember way back when there were a number of different parody comic books out there? MEGATON MAN, NORMALMAN, and so on? Some of them, like those two, were genuinely funny and some weren't.

I had an idea for such a comic myself, although the parody wouldn't always have been of specific comics and characters, and wouldn't be limited to just comics. One of the concepts that was going to appear was...Nick Furry, Agent of H.E.E.L.E.D.

I'm not worried about anyone stealing this idea at this point, so I'll tell a bit more about it. In this comics universe, back in World War II, an amazing experiment in bringing dogs further up the evolutionary path created fighters whose legendary exploits were... well, the stuff of legend!

Sgt. Furry and the Howling Commandogs single-pawedly changed the course of the war, or so their PR said. However, after WWII, they were put in suspended animation...until they were revived to deal with new forces of evil...the terrorist group Hydrant, and the Asian menace known as the Yellow Paw!

Yep, SHIELD as funny animals. Who would have thought that now someone would take the idea and attempt to dish it up as a serious story?

Re: your FLINTSTONES theory.

You're saying that when Elroy Jetson invented a time machine so that the Flintstones could meet the Jetsons, it actually worked backwards, and they traveled forward in time? Then George could be Fred's ancestor! That would explain all the talking dinosaurs, they evolved from Astro who must have evolved from Scooby-Doo, although not too much further.

Hmm...back to evolved dogs again!
That reminds me...I'm way past due for my Scooby-snack. I'll be back on Saturday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/14/2002 | 09/19/2002 | 09/24/2002 >>

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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