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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 #1502 (09/26/02)

"The test of a firstrate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."

--F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm in a DC state of mind--the comics publisher, that is, not my nation's seat of government--reading and reviewing choice items from the company's summer selection. However, before we go there, you must first allow me a moment of expectant joy:

Jeff Smith is writing and drawing Captain Marvel!

Shazam: Monster Society of Evil Of all the news coming out of Comic Con International in San Diego, this was the announcement which put the biggest smile on my face. I've been a fan of Smith's BONE from the start and, knowing the series would be ending with issue #55, I was wondering what he would be doing next. Now I know.

Though it has doubtless been covered elsewhere in this paper, the news is so delicious it beats repeating. After he completes work on Bone, Smith will write and draw SHAZAM: MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL, a four-issue, prestige-format series featuring many classic elements from Captain Marvel's original 1940s adventures: action, humor, a hint of darkness, Dr. Sivana, Mr. Mind, and all the main characters from the rich mythos created by Bill Parker, C.C. Beck, Otto Binder, and other legendary comics creators. My reaction on hearing the news: this is just so right!

Smith's SHAZAM series is tentatively scheduled for late 2003 to early 2004. Waiting that long will be difficult. I may have to come up with a whole bunch of excuses to visit him at his studio in the coming year. After all, it's only a hundred miles from my own Ohio home. Just a good stretch of the legs.

******

Batman: Gotham Adventures 51 The Bob Smith/Terry Beatty cover of BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES #51 ($1.99) is one of the most striking covers I've seen recently. A pale purple background frames a grim Batman contemplating a snow globe in which a smiling Mr. Freeze dances with his beloved ex-wife Nora. In this era of meaningless--albeit well-rendered-"pin-up" covers, how wonderful to see a work which so evocatively expresses the nature of the story within.

About that story...indy creator Jason Hall absolutely nailed the heart and darkness informing the best episodes of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Eschewing the almost mime-like writing style of previous issues, but, by no means writing more copy than necessary in telling his story, Hall gives us sympathetic characters from the trinity of super-hero adventures: heroes, villains, and those mere mortals caught in the middle of the struggle. It's an outstanding effort, aided and abetted by artists Brad Rader and Terry Austin. Among the tale's other highs, fans of BATMAN BEYOND will appreciate the nod to that show's back story.

BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES #51 is suitable for all ages, with enough substance to please even ancient readers like myself. On my scale of one to five Tonys-those floating heads which have become the benchmark for comics reviewing through the known universe-this terrific comic book gets the full five.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

I remember three things about the first teaming of the Justice League and the Justice Society, which appeared in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21 and #22 in the summer of 1963. The first is that both issues sold out before I could buy them off the stands. The second is that I swept out an entire barber shop to get the first half of the story. The third is that I traded off something like a hundred baseball cards, including a Rocky Colavito, to get the second half of the story from an older kid who probably thought he was getting the better of the deal.

If you were a comics-reading kid in 1963, which was just about the time Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others began coming into their own at Marvel Comics, you couldn't ask for bigger super-hero thrills than the Justice League, the greatest of DC's heroes, meeting their legendary forefathers of the Justice Society. Here were earlier versions of favorites like the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman, side by side with "new" characters like Black Canary, Doctor Fate, and Hourman, battling super-villains from two Earths, two eras. It was decidedly cool.

Crisis on Multiple Earths CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS ($14.95) collects the first four of those annual JLA/JSA meetings and, though over three decades have passed since the most recent of those epic tales, it's easy to see why they so captured the imagination of the readers. Gardner Fox's scripts proceed at a breakneck pace with new menace and revelation at almost every turn of the page. Mike Sekowsky's kinetic artwork kept up with the scripts, flawlessly carrying readers through scene after scene of wild and wondrous action. These were big stories, and Fox and Sekowsky were up to telling them.

My nostalgic feelings for these comics classics don't blind me to their faults. Even as a kid, I noticed that the Crime Syndicate of America (dark doppelgangers of the JLA) used basically the same trick to escape capture as had the villains of the previous year's team-up. No honor among thieves, I guess.

The 1965 "Earth Without a Justice League" had the best premise of any of the JLA/JSA team-ups. The impulsive Johnny Thunder loses control of a sentient thunderbolt to his criminal counterpart from Earth-1. Bad John proceeds to have his newly-gained "genie" change history so that there never was a Justice League. Though Batman's lack of gumption in this altered reality was off-putting, the first half of this two-issue tale had me making daily trips to the drug store, impossibly impatient for the second half. Okay, even by the standards of the day, and even given the Thunderbolt's supernatural powers, the logic of that second half is tenuous at best, but it's still a story I remember fondly.

For 1966, Fox and Sekowsky brought us a "Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two." I would have loved to sit in on the plot conference between Fox and editor Julius Schwartz, whose vital role in the comic-book resurgence of the 1960s cannot be overemphasized, on this one. We get one mind-boggling concept after another, each of them weighty enough to carry their own stories, with the heroes facing them with cool confidence. Some of the events therein lean towards the corny, but the genuine fun of the overall story easily carries the day.

Fifteen bucks buys you a beautiful Alex Ross cover, a snappy intro by Mark Waid, over two hundred pages of entertaining comics, and dozens of heroes and villains. My inner child would rightfully give me a purple nurple if I didn't give CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Dexter's Laboratory 30 The spirits of Harvey Kurtzman and Bernard Krigstein are alive and well in DEXTER'S LABORATORY #30 ($1.99). Bill Wray's cover for "Dexter's Ark" harkens back to the days when comics-for-kids were a dominant force on the comics racks. The best writers and artists of that era never wrote down to their young readers, which is why those now-somewhat-older readers cherish those comic books today. Quality endures.

Robbie Busch's book-length tale plays to budding mad scientist Dexter's greatest character strengths. Though Dexter is arrogant and overconfident, we know that he's a decent kid. When one of his projects goes awry, he never considers the possibility of an error, but, instead, assumes impending global disaster and, because he's Dexter, he puts together an ambitious plan to rebuild the world in the aftermath of said catastrophe. It's a clever, cute story that amuses from start to finish.

However, the star of this issue is artist Stephen DeStefano. His energetic storytelling is deceptively simple, panels expanding and contracting as needed. Some of those panels exhibit an almost Krigstein-like compositional sense, others the frenzied movement of Kurtzman's "Hey Look" strips. This is the most remarkable art I've seen in any of the Cartoon Network comics, and definitely worthy of consideration for next year's awards.

DC is on a roll this week. DEXTER'S LABORATORY #30 gets five Tonys. I'm going to run out of them at this rate.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Eight Legged Freaks Monster-movie fans will get a kick out of EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (Wildstorm/DC; $6.95), the comics adaptation of the spider-centric horror film which opened this summer. Because the trailers for the film put me in mind of the giant-insect thrillers I relished when Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson showed them on late-night Cleveland TV in the 1960s, I had been planning to wait for the video release and pathetically trying to duplicate that youthful pleasure in my home. But, after reading this Marv Wolfman-written adaptation, I'm hoping EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS is still playing at the local multiplex. Boy, does it ever look like fun.

Wildstorm has put together a nice package here. Co-producer Dean Devlin contributes an introduction while unit publicist Terry D. Erdmann pens an informative afterword. The story itself is good sticky fluff and Wolfman does a fine job translating it to comics. Even at 60 pages, I'm sure the script couldn't include everything that was in the film, but I never once got the sense that anything vital was missing. The only area in which this comic faltered was in the rather generic art. It was serviceable, but it never lived up to the story.

In my dreams, I imagine this comic drawn by Bernie Wrightson, Steve Bissette, or Rick Veitch. Maybe it's not fair for the mean old critic to judge something on "what might have been," but I take my giant bug movies and comics very seriously. EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS gets three Tonys, a bag of popcorn, extra butter, and keeping the sound down real low so my parents won't wake up.

Tony Tony Tony

******

Gen 13 0 GEN 13 #0 costs thirteen cents, nineteen cents if you live in Canada, so it was already scoring high on the bang-for-your bucks, or, more accurately, pow-for-your-pennies scale before I even got past the spiffy Jim Lee cover.

The first act is "Try to Remember," a 13-page story by writer Chris Claremont and artist Ale Garza that leads into their coming GEN 13 series. As we are introduced to a speedy young heroine on the run from scary men in suits, I am struck by how well Claremont writes young characters, eschewing the "cool rudeness" which passes for characterization in too many such books, and how manga-inspired artwork has become the new comics cliche. Time, I think, for the artists to learn some new tricks. Claremont's writing is what will bring me back for the ongoing series.

A four-page intro to Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's 21 DOWN follows the Claremont tale. I didn't see enough in this slice of a story to hook me, but the Joe Jusko cover painting for the first issue, if displayed full cover, has an excellent chance of catching my eye when that first issue comes out.

This issue also features a four-page preview of the Palmiotti and Gray THE RESISTENCE. Again, there wasn't enough here to make me a believer. But I'm also not going to write off the book until I see a little more of it.

How does GEN 13 #0 rate on the Tony scale? Come on, it costs thirteen cents. Thirteen cents. I'd be monumentally ungrateful to give it anything less than four Tonys and Mama Isabella just didn't raise me that way.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above was first published in CBG #1502 [August 30, 2002], which shipped on August 12. By the time I had a free afternoon or evening, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS had departed from our local theaters. However, the DVD will be available around Halloween and I have one on order. Watching it in my home, late at night with no light save that coming from the screen, will nicely recreate the many Saturday evenings I spent with Ghoulardi back in the day.

Here's something I didn't know when I reviewed the comic-book version of EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS. Adaptor Marv Wolfman tells me that the movie folks asked him "to change the focus from the kid to the Sheriff and to invent all new scenes as well as using some of their own. They wanted a darker approach [for the comic] since the movie is lighter in tone."

If I remember--always an "iffy" concept with me-I'll let you know what I thought of the movie after I've watched it.

******

IN THE NEWS

If you read yesterday's edition of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS over at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website...

http://www.perpetualcomics.com

...you may have read all you want to read of my political and social views. For what it's worth, this IN THE NEWS section will be positively terse by comparison.

Our first item comes from Mickey Porter's column in the Akron Beacon Journal for September 24:
A seventh-grader at Morton Middle School in Omaha, Nebraska, who turned in marijuana that he found on his desk, was suspended for five days because, in the act of turning in the marijuana, he was guilty of possession of marijuana.
Maybe there's more to this story than that, but, based on the above, it appears "zero tolerance/maximum stupidity" is still alive and thriving in some schools. Sheesh!

President Al Gore gave a speech harshly criticizing the Faux-President's campaign to wage war on Iraq and I didn't even get the lousy t-shirt. Gore's speech got very little play on the airwaves and very few paragraphs in my local newspapers, all of whom buried the reports deep within their "A" sections and, in most cases, well below the fold to boot. Tell me again about the "liberal media" on account of I love to laugh and cry at the same time.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd did a pretty good piece on why the Bush mob wants to go to war:
The administration isn't targeting Iraq because of 9/11. It's exploiting 9/11 to target Iraq. This new fight isn't logical; it's cultural...the latest chapter in the culture wars, the conservative dream of restoring America's sense of Manifest Destiny.
I think Dowd gives them far too much credit. The Dubya gang cares more about oil profits and personal power than this country's Manifest Anything. However, if you would like to read the column and judge for yourself, something we always recommend, you can find it at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/22/opinion/22DOWD.html

I told you this would be a short section.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

In Tuesday's World Famous Comics column, I mentioned an e-mail complaining about my political writings, saying I would run it just as soon as I determined how best to respond to it. Well, I pretty much responded to it in Wednesday's Perpetual Comics column, but I still want to give the e-mail's writer his time on the electronic soapbox. I give you KEVIN ROBINSON:
I've been perusing your columns at World Famous and Perpetual. You like Democrats. You really, really, really, like Democrats. George W. Bush and his cronies are Bad Men. they are Very Bad Men. The result of the election was UNFAIR! We get it already.

I haven't voted for a Republican since 1976, so, if that means anything, a word of advice. Pull up your socks and stop whining. Elections in the U.S. are unfair.

I'm a Libertarian. Would you like to read a ten-page rant on corrupt ballot access laws, taxsubsidization of "official parties" to the detriment of the opinions of independents and "third"party members, unconstitutional limitations on freedom of speech under the false flag of "campaign finance reform," indoctrination of the young to have certain political opinions AKA public schools' social studies curricula, wah, wah, wah.

Did the Reps steal a Presidential election? If they did, they are still trailing the Dems in the electionfraud league standings by quite a bit.

In 2000, New York Dem activists were trying to bribe residents of Milwaukee's Rescue Mission with evil, tobacco laden cigarettes, to make sure they voted. Our local District Attorney, a Democrat, declined to prosecute.

Who do you think are the masters of "walking around money" in our cities? Both gangs in the political office cartel are crooked. That the fix may have been in for baby Bush, rather than Hymie the Environmentally Friendly Robot, makes no difference.

If you must write political screeds, why not just post a link to whatever page you'd like to blog from, and leave it out of the comics mix? It isn't like any argument you have made about the issues has been unique or original.

By the way, I've always liked your comics writing.
Well, at least we agree on my comics writing.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/24/2002 | 09/26/2002 | 11/10/2002 >>

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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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