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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 #1501 (09/24/02)

"We're here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark."

--Whoopi Goldberg, actress and comedian

Some of the great comic-book rivalries have mellowed in their old age. The Superman-Luthor dynamic remains intriguing, what with Lex being the president of the United States and all, but it also lost something when it went national.

Batman-Joker? Overexposure killed that one. When the Joker performed his act in every DC Universe title, the murderous comics equivalent of the annoying Carrottop, his relationship with Batman dwindled to insignificance.

Uncle Scrooge versus the Beagle Boys was always entertaining in the hands of an imaginative storyteller like Carl Barks, but, if Barks disciples carry on that classic competition, it's in stories we never see here in the US. What have we come to when Winnie the Pooh's tree is a more prevalent image than the gargantuan money bin that towered so proudly over Duckburg?

Excuse me. I must pause here to sigh sadly.

There is, however, one comic-book rivalry which continues to burn fiercely: DC versus Marvel.

If you look at the latest direct market share percentages, you might incorrectly conclude that Marvel has a lock on this contest. For June, Diamond Comic Distributors is showing Marvel with 38.53% of the market with DC at 24.20%. With rare exception, Marvel also dominates each month's Top 20 listings. And yet, in the long haul, the case can be made that DC readers are much more likely to remain DC readers. Their loyalty is legendary.

My readers skewer towards the older end of the comics fandom spectrum. From time to time, at my website, I poll them on various comics-related matters. When I asked them to choose their favorite comic-book publishers, DC got 58.78% of the vote to second-place Marvel's 14.86%. A few weeks later, when the choice was narrowed to just those two publishers, the gap widened slightly: DC's 73.52% to Marvel's 26.48%.

When asked which of five comics executives, one from each of comicdom's top five, they would feel most comfortable working for, 53.46% of my readers picked DC's Paul Levitz. Marvel's Bill Jemas received a meager 3.77% of the vote, trailing Image's Jim Valentino (16.98%), CrossGen's Mark Alessi (13.84%), and Dark Horse's Mark Richardson (11.95%). When asked if, given means and opportunity, whether they would buy DC or Marvel, 63.95% of my voters were ready to put their money on the house of Superman.

Finally, when I recently asked them which of several choices would be the top comic-book outfit in five years, my readers picked DC over Marvel by 57.85% to 38.64%.

Even acknowledging that my polls are somewhat less scientific than Gallup's or even USA Today's, it's obvious that my readers are more interested in DC comics than those of its fiercest competitor. In recognition of that interest, I hereby embark on a multi-column look at some recent DC offerings.

What I did was go through the latest shipment of DC Comics to arrive at Casa Isabella and pulled out trade paperback collections, done-in-one issues, first issues, and, in one case, an issue of an ongoing continuity whose cover tickled my fancy. As usual, I'll be reviewing/rating these comics and trades on a scale of zero to five Tonys. The more Tonys, the merrier the reading.

******

The Authority: Earth Inferno and Other Stories We begin with THE AUTHORITY: EARTH INFERNO AND OTHER STORIES (DC/Wildstorm; $14.95), which collects The Authority #17-20 by Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, and Chris Weston, as well as a selection of stories by other creators. In the past, I've criticized Authority for its over-the-top brutality, seeming indifference to the loss of human life, and general mean-spiritedness. Certainly, all of those traits were in full force when I last reviewed the title. However, much to my delight, this trade paperback was as close to warm-and-fuzzy as The Authority is ever likely to get.

In Millar's "Earth Inferno," the planet itself rebels against the Authority's arrogance in effectively claiming moral sovereignty over said planet. The Earth strikes back, many thousands of lives are lost, the heroes put themselves in a bad place to save mankind, and, thankfully, we are actually allowed to see that various team members do give a rat's posterior about the people they were unable to save. Their usual callousness is downplayed and it makes for a better and more entertaining story. The writing gives humanity to the big-screen spectacle of the artwork.

Joe Casey's "The Breaks" originally appeared in The Authority Annual 2000 as part of Wildstorm's "Devil's Night" event. Sadly, the story, which apparently involves dead super-beings coming back as some sort of zombies, doesn't stand on its own. Worse, neither the writing nor the Cully Hamner artwork is at all compelling. Not every story--of even the hottest titles--necessarily deserves to be preserved beyond its original publication.

Two shorter stories round out this volume and they are both gems. In the first, Paul Jenkins and Georges Jeanty explore a very different aspect of the Engineer. Though a woman of living metal with nigh-omnipotent technological abilities, she has not abandoned her humanity. Though there's some harsh humor in this bittersweet vignette, the heart outweighs the heartache.

For the second short, and the collection's finale, Authority creator Warren Ellis delivers a practically inspirational character study of Jack Hawksmoor. Altered by his alien abductors into a new breed of human designed specifically to live in cities, Hawksmoor is my favorite member of the Authority. Here, working with a Cully Hamner clearly inspired by the material, Ellis sheds the contempt for the genre which had marred his brilliant-despite-that Authority epics and shows us a compassionate and thoughtful super-hero. It's the best story in the collection.

Although the "Devil's Night" story hurt the overall quality of this volume, THE AUTHORITY: EARTH INFERNO AND OTHER STORIES still picks up a respectable four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Batgirl: Secret Files and Origins #1 BATGIRL: SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS #1 (DC; $4.95) would be an excellent "jumping-on" issue for readers intrigued by this newest addition to the Batman family. In their 23-page lead story, writer Scott Peterson and penciler Phil Noto bring together the elements of Cassandra Cain's past in a expressive retelling of the heroine's origin and declaration of her purpose. I've been on the fence re: the new Batgirl. This tale won me over.

Peterson also wrote the effective "Batgirl Vs. Batgirl" short story, as tight a four-pager as I've seen, and several profiles of Batgirl cast members. He definitely earned his paycheck for this special.

On the downside, there's a yawner of a "Chase" story in which the government operative tries to gather intelligence on Batgirl. My dismay does not lie with the words or art per se, but with the lack of background and the overwhelming "seen this before" nature of the story. Especially these days, some interesting tales could be written about intrusive government agencies, but I don't think six-page fillers shoe-horned into specials like this is enough to do justice to the theme.

Despite the government incursion, BATGIRL: SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS #1 still earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Batman: Bruce Wayne - Murderer? I read and largely enjoyed the opening chapters of the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" arc running through DC's Batman titles. Then, as so often happens when one is a work-at-home dad with two incredibly active children, I became sidetracked and fell behind in the story. When I saw the BATMAN: BRUCE WAYNE - MURDERER? trade ($19.95) in my box of DC goodies, I eagerly pulled it from that box, found a quiet corner of my house, and read it.

The basic spoiler-free summary is this:

Bruce Wayne has been charged in the murder of a former lover. Sasha Bordeaux, his bodyguard, has been charged as an accomplice. Their alibi is one which can never be revealed; at the time of the murder, they were patrolling Gotham City as Batman and the sidekick without a name. Bruce's friends want to prove his innocence, which doesn't seem to be of paramount importance to Bruce.

This is a riveting story. For the most part, the writing and art are superb throughout, though some writers and artists do not compare favorably to other contributors. On the basis of the story alone, I would recommend this collection. However, as a book that will hopefully be picked up by readers who do not frequent comics shops, I have several reservations.

With rare exception, comics trades simply reprint the stories as they originally appeared in the comic books. In the case of an "event" like this one, where the stories are spread out over many titles, titles which have their own ongoing stories, scenes which are extraneous to the main story are omitted. That makes a great deal of sense, but I think such volumes demand more. I think those working on them need to be more cognizant they will be seen--and hopefully purchased and enjoyed--by readers not intimately familiar with comics or the current Batman mythos.

First, more attention should be paid to introducing characters to the new reader. In the best of all possible worlds, this would have already been done in the original stories. In reality, this is a skill not stressed by today's editors. If the stories can't be rewritten and re-lettered to accommodate these character intros, then it falls upon the book editor to do the job the writers failed to do. I'm reminded of how Bantam's Doc Savage paperbacks included a page naming and briefly describing Doc and his allies within the first pages of each book.

Clarity of storytelling is paramount. When I reviewed Batman: The 10-Cent Adventure several months back, I found its double-page spread difficult to read, the layouts not clearly leading from one caption/image to the next. Here was a perfect opportunity to have that troublesome spread redrawn.

I found the clarity of the Nightwing chapters troublesome as well, albeit for different reasons. The artwork in these scenes is not on a par with the rest of the book. Dick Grayson looks like a woman in several panels. In one such shot, the awkward positioning of figures makes it look like as if he's copping a feel off Barbara Gordon. Okay, she's not complaining, but, y'know, there's a time and a place for everything.

Generally, editor (collected version) Nick J. Napolitano does a fine job trimming the extraneous pages. These's a conversation between Nightwing and Orpheus, a recent addition to the Gotham City legion of vigilantes, which doesn't seem to have any import to the overall story, but everything else fits. Still, there were places where additional revisions would have been warranted.

There are flashback panels presented sans any explanation of their meaning. I kind of know what they represent, but, even not having read the comics from which the scenes hail, I have absorbed some of what's been going on in the Bat-books. A new reader would not have that osmosis advantage.

When Batgirl reappears late in the collection, the bruises on her face are never explained or mentioned. If they're important to this story, explanatory material was in order. If not, the images should have been retouched to remove them.

From a commercial standpoint, I have a major problem with the lack of any pointer to the next volume in this series. Not even a casual reader is going to believe this story truly ends on the last page of this volume. By ignoring the obvious follow-up, DC missed a chance to make another sale to that reader.

I don't wish to appear too nit-picky here. Even with what I perceive as serious flaws, BATMAN: BRUCE WAYNE - MURDERER? presents an exciting and suspenseful story. The "Bruce in prison" chapters by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka are particularly choice. (The Steve Lieber/Mick Gray art on the Rucka chapter is the best of the book, each page working to tell the story and worthy of being hung on the wall of some lucky collector.) The Brubaker-written confrontation concluding the volume is as emotionally-charged as any in Batman's history; it left me positively eager for the continuation of this gripping adventure. With a reaction like that, I have to give the collection a solid four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

I'll be back next time with more DC reviews.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column was first published in CBG #1501 (August 23, 2002), which shipped on August 5. I never got around to reviewing the "issue of an ongoing continuity whose cover tickled my fancy." It was an issue of THE LEGION with a baby on the cover. Or maybe it was an issue of GREEN LANTERN featuring Kyle at his high-school reunion. I forget which.

What happened was...another month's worth of DC comics showed up at my door before I'd read all the titles I had pulled from the previous shipment. I added some of the new arrivals to my towering reviewing pile and, as a result, some of the earlier books didn't get read/reviewed. Some of the new books didn't get read/reviewed either on account of no one at either CBG or Casa Isabella thought I should devote the rest of the year to writing about comics from just one publisher.

One of my impossible dreams is to devote an entire month of my online columns to the entire month's output of either DC or Marvel. Of course, that would still mean writing very long columns or very short reviews. Them folks are prolific!

******

DENNY O'NEIL

Comics legend DENNY O'NEIL suffered a heart attack less than two weeks ago, had surgery, and is recovering. Last Wednesday, his wife MARIFRAN posted this note on the message board at THE O'NEIL OBSERVER website:
I wish I could respond to each note and apologize for writing this to everyone at once. Denny is still in intensive care but very alert. He made it through the night just fine and I'm sure will begin showing improvement each day. Since I must return to teaching first grade tomorrow, I'll probably not be able to write a daily report. It will be such fun for him to read your well wishes when he is home. Thank you again for all of your support.
Denny's many fans and well-wishers can express those wishes by sending cards and letters to:

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

If you're so inclined, you can also post those get-well wishes on the O'Neil Observer message board at:

http://www.oneilobserver.com

Meanwhile, here at Casa Isabella, I'm thinking good thoughts and keeping Denny in my prayers. Heal well, sir.

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker reviewed THE COMICS JOURNAL LIBRARY VOLUME ONE: JACK KIRBY (Fantagraphics; $18.95) in the mag's September 20 edition:
An oversize paperback that does justice to the brawny, sprawling work of "King" Kirby, the godfather of superhero-comic-book drawing...In collected interviews, though, it's a crabby Kirby who inveighs against then editor of Marvel Comics Stan Lee for taking credit for the creation of comics like Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four; Kirby maintains he was the primary author, a dubious claim. Undeniable, however, is the crackling kineticism of Kirby's art, which set the standard for heavily muscles heroes moving through comic-strip panels paced like action movies.
I haven't read the above yet, mostly because it'll be hard for me to reread interviews given by Kirby at a particularly stressful time in his life and which, goaded on by the interviewers, he spoke with uncharacteristic bile. Still, as a believer in the "warts and all" teaching of history, I won't fault Fantagraphics for including those conversations herein.

Tucker gives the volume an "A".

******

IN THE NEWS

The New York Times now accepts and publishes announcements of gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies. One of my local newspapers is thinking of doing the same and asked a select group of readers, myself included, the following questions:

Should the Beacon Journal accept and publish announcements of gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies? How would you react to them? How do you think the general public would react to them? Should there be any special criteria, requirements or handling involved?

I'm sure my response won't surprise you:
Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. The continued discrimination against gays and lesbians is a disgrace. These men and women are citizens who pay taxes and obey the law. They should have the same rights as all other citizens.

Yes, you'll get the usual complains from bigots and religious wingnuts. So what? It's the right thing to do...and there should be no special criteria, requirements, or handling, unless those are already in place for straight couples.
Meanwhile, Chuck Shepherd's NEWS OF THE WEIRD had this item from London's Daily Telegraph for August 31:
The 60,000 delegates (from 182 countries) to the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, luxuriated not only in four-star and five-star accommodations but enjoyed an elegant food and drink layout which including tons of lobster, oysters, filet mignon, salmon, caviar, pate de foie gras, champagne, fine wines and mineral water. An estimated 60 African children a day die from contaminated water.

The conference center, which cleared out hundreds of nearby trees to accommodate delegate limousines, is only a few miles from the squalid neighborhood of Alexandra, one of the poorest in all of Africa. Since the last such summit in 1992, poverty in Africa is up 35 percent.
I received an e-mail castigating me for including "politics" in my columns and I'll publish it here once I figure out how best to respond to it. Not surprisingly, it comes from a reader who has never "tipped the Tipster" via the handy PayPal link below.

Okay, no matter how much anyone contributes to this site, I'm still gonna write about whatever I feel like writing about. But I think it takes a special kind of cheekiness to bitch and moan about something you're reading for free. I mean...you could at least TRY to bribe me.

I'll be back on Thursday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/19/2002 | 09/24/2002 | 09/26/2002 >>

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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