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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
COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1503 (11/10/02)

Red Skies Li: I like Bugs Bunny very much. He was my favorite cartoon character.

Nicole: You have a favorite cartoon character?

Li: We've nothing of Western culture, but we knew Bugs Bunny. He always triumphs over his capitalist oppressors in his cartoons. At least that's how they translated for us.

Nicole: No...that's pretty dead-on.

--from RED SKIES, a TV pilot about a Chinese military police officer working with F.B.I. agents

******

I was channel-surfing, killing a few moments while running a virus scan on my computer. I hit the above-quoted movie on the USA network. Actress Vivian Wu had me when her hard-as-nails character squealed with delight at the sight of a Bugs Bunny phone in a store window. With the second showing of RED SKIES immediately following the first, I decided an extended break was called for.

The Bugs Bunny scene is the best thing in RED SKIES, which USA will doubtless show several more times over the next several weeks. Wu is lots of fun to watch throughout the movie, but she can't make it more than the ersatz Hong Kong action film it was created to be. Nor can she act her way out of a sometimes dumb script which gives us an F.B.I. agent who won't carry a gun and a slaver who keeps her gun safely locked away in a desk at the waterfront warehouse where illegal and imprisoned immigrants package drugs for distribution. Still, it had its moments.

When you see RED SKIES on the schedule, I recommend taping it for the Bugs Bunny bit, which is worth watching even if someone has already quoted its dialogue to you. The scene holds up to repeated viewings, thanks to Wu and co-star Racheal Crawford.

So what does RED SKIES have to do with this week's DC reviews? Nada. I just took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

******

AUTOMATIC KAFKA #1 (Wildstorm/DC; $2.99) is an intriguing tale

whose execution is too "artsy" to be effective. The lead character is a man-made super-hero, a sentient robot who's been fighting the good fight for decades and faking the human emotions for which he would sell his soul. His desire to be more human leads him to the electronic equivalent of a mind-expanding drug, administered by an old foe seeking revenge.

Writer Joe Casey and artist Ashley Wood are clearly trying to find a new way to tell a super-hero story, but the techniques they use complicate a tale which would be just as powerful--and likely more so--presented in a straightforward manner. This initial issue isn't as impenetrable as some comics reviewers have claimed, but it tried so hard to be "strange" it forgot the basics:

It's the story, stupid. If it's a good one, the readers will come. Just get on with it already.

AUTOMATIC KAFKA #1 only does half the job, so it only receives two-and-a-half out of a possible five Tonys.

Tony Tony Half Tony

******

BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #156-158 (DC; $2.25 for the first two issues and $2.50 for the third) features "Blink," one of the best Bat-yarns in years. Writer Dwayne McDuffie brings us the competent and sane Dark Knight, eschewing the psychological basket case who came into vogue when DC began to over-think the character. Yes, Bruce Wayne was traumatized as a child and it led him to dress up like a bat. But, hey, pay attention, he rose above that...and that's why he's so good at what he does.

McDuffie's Batman can't be everywhere at once and doesn't have all the answers. He never surrenders to despair or madness. He is patient, right up to the moment when he strikes back against those who prey on innocents. This Batman inspires awe in equal measure to the usual "terror into their hearts."

"Blink" is as much a story about grifter Lee Hyland as it is about Batman. Hyland is blind, but, with a touch, he sees through the eyes of others, even hours after the fleeting contact. He uses his gift to steal from his unknowing marks, until the day he sees a woman butchered before his very "eyes."

What follows is the strange pairing of crime-buster and crook as Batman and Hyland hunt a serial killer who doesn't seem to fit any specific pattern. McDuffie and penciler Val Semeiks keep the tension high as their story barrels from surprise to surprise, and they even give the reader a chance to figure out a key clue before Batman reveals it. I have read some good Batman stories this year,but, even taking into account the serial killer scenario, I don't think any of them have been this much fun.

BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #156-158 pick up the full five Tonys...and a request from this comics reader that DC find out how many other great Batman stories McDuffie has in him.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Leafing through BIG DADDY DANGER #1 (DC; $2.95), I could see why DC went for Adam Pollina's series about this masked wrestler who doubles as a super-hero. Oh, sure, that Walt Disney Studios is already developing a movie with the character was probably a small enticement, but I bet the DC powers-that-be were equally tickled by the frenzied "Looney Tunes" sensibility of Pollina's story and art. I know I couldn't put the issue down.

What's really good about BIG DADDY DANGER is that sensibility, tied as it is to a human interest story involving Big Daddy's son which should touch the hearts of readers young and old. What's not so good are the grotesque woman wrestlers who battle Daddy in this first issue, the flat, largely humorless dialogue, and the second-oldest "villain" gimmick in literature.

Since the good slightly outweighs the not-so-good in BIG DADDY DANGER #1, I'm giving the issue three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

CATWOMAN: SELINA'S BIG SCORE (DC; $24.95) is worth every penny of that hefty price tag. Writer-artist Darwyn Cooke chronicles the defining moment in the life of the larcenous Ms. Kyle, the moment in which who she was leads inevitably and tragically to who she is. Many writers and artists have tried to bring a "crime-noir" feel to their comics in recent years, but only a few of them have succeeded as well as Cooke has in this book.

You ask: "What's it about, Tony?"

I'm not going to tell you. For twenty-five bucks, you deserve to be amazed and astonished at every turn of the page. I will tell you that Cooke, with a handful of comics to his name, is already one of the most accomplished storytellers in the field. I'll also tell you that, in keeping with DC's high production standards, this is one sweet-looking hardcover graphic novel. I'll even tell you there's a bonus section of Catwoman pin-ups by Mike Allred, Shane Glines, Jaime Hernandez, Adam Hughes, Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan, Steranko, and Daniel Torres. But that's all you're getting out of me, no matter how many times you whack me with that rolled-up comic book. I ain't talking, see?

CATWOMAN: SELINA'S BIG SCORE gets the nigh-impossible six out of a possible five Tonys. I'm thinking it'll also pick up a lot of award nominations in the coming years.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

It's Frank Miller, the guy who has written and drawn some of my favorite comic books of all time. It's Frank Miller returning to the alternate future of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, which, despite what it inspired from other creators, is still one of my all-time favorite Batman stories. I wanted Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK (DC; $7.95 for each of three issues) to be every bit as good as the best stuff Miller ever did. And now I'm telling myself that no one hits it out of the park every time.

It took a long time for DK2 #3, the concluding chapter of the story, to get from Miller to my waiting hands. Comicdom was a'buzz with theories as to why it was taking so long. I ignored them all, even the one with the second inker behind the grassy knoll. Miller was worth waiting for and, despite having been sorely disappointed by key elements of DK2 #3, I still feel that way.

To be sure, there is some brilliant stuff to be found in this final chapter. The fall of a legendary warrior. A most disturbing conversation between Superman and his daughter. The appearance of "Saturn Girl." Wonderful takes on the Atom and Green Lantern. The masterfully-conceived defeats of the major villains. Raucous digs at political figures. A howlingly funny debate between Green Arrow and the Question. An indication that Superman, who has spent three issues being mentally and physically manhandled by Batman and the bad guys, might be coming back into his own. This stuff was prime Miller all the way.

What didn't strike me as prime Miller was the emasculation of Superman which continued from the first two issues of this sequel; the constant interruptions from the "media," which lost their charm about midway through the first issue of the sequel; the callousness that has darkened the Dark Knight's soul over the course of these issues; and, most especially, the last-minute, thoroughly out-of-character and out-of-left-field revelation of the true identity of the new Joker. Whereas THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS ended with hope for the future, THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK leaves me with a feeling of dread for both the soul of Bruce Wayne and the soul of this new world he has made.

Stray thought. Maybe the sequel to DK2 will see a reversal of roles. Maybe Superman will be the hero of that one. It would be a neat trick if Miller could pull it off and, despite my problems with this story, I'd bet on him to do so.

I wanted to love THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK #3, but the best score I can give it is three Tonys. It's Frank Miller. The bar is always set higher for him.

Tony Tony Tony

******


FABLES #1-4 (Vertigo/DC; $2.50) introduces us to the secret society of fable-folk. With the lands of fairy tales conquered by the unstoppable "Adversary," its denizens have fled to our mundane world. They have forgiven each other for past wrongs because their survival depends on their mutual cooperation. They have their own customs, government, and laws, which they hold to even as they live and work among we humans.

Creator/writer Bill Willingham has kicked off this new series with a detective thriller that is simultaneously fanciful and hard-boiled, complete with a tough-guy hero in search of redemption and a cold beauty who hasn't quite forgiven past wrongs done to her by those she loved and trusted. What makes this so delightful is that the tough guy is the Big Bad Wolf and the lady is Snow White. He's in charge of Fabletown security. As deputy mayor, she's in charge of everything else. They make an interesting team.

FABLES reminds me of Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN in that it, too, is "built" on mythologies of days past. But, where Gaiman's work was likely to reference even the most arcane legends, Willingham sticks to the classic tales we all grew up on. Because of this, FABLES is more accessible to the mainstream reader, so much so that I wish it wasn't a "mature readers" title. To me, the loss of some profanity and some toning down of a sexual encounter would be fair trade-offs for a wider audience.

Getting back to this initial story, the tale revolves around the apparent disappearance and murder of Rose Red, Snow's sister. There are suspects a'plenty, including Snow herself, whose marriage ended when she caught Prince Charming sharing his charms with Rose. Other suspects include Bluebeard, who was to marry Rose, and Jack, he of the beanstalk-climbing and the giant-killing.

Willingham's scripts are page-turners; when he isn't dazzling the readers with his magical characters, he's surprising them with the twists and turns of Wolf's investigation. I also enjoyed his subtle political commentary, which wasn't at all forced given the government-in-miniature that provides the backdrop for the series. On every level, this is smart writing.

Kudos are also due the artistic side of FABLES. The covers by James Jean are striking, working well with the equally exceptional cover design. Penciler Lan Medina does a great job with the faces, figures, and flow of the stories, ably embellished by inker Steve Leialoha. Sherilyn van Valkenburgh's color work is top-notch while letterer Todd Klein is simply the best in the business. This comic looks as good as it reads.

Once the word starts getting around, FABLES could be the next big Vertigo book. I give it five Tonys, which, at current exchange rates, is worth way more than seven dwarves.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in CBG #1503 [September 6] and was shipped to the subscribers of that dandy publication on August 19. Yes, it has been a long time since we've posted a column here at World Famous Comics and, while there were many reasons for that, I've boiled them down to this:

I had some health problems this year, but am past the worst of them. Thanks for all the prayers and kind thoughts you would have sent my way had you known, but everything is getting good and none of us needs dwell on the bad.

Under the preferredcircumstances, I post my CBG columns here roughly three weeks after the ship date of the issue in which they run. Since you're not reading this on September 14, I have clearly fallen a tad behind schedule. Until I do get back on my preferred schedule, you can either dread or look forward to my columns being posted every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday throughout the month of November. As per usual, I'll do my best to add some new material to these reprints...even if it's only a chatty little note like this one.

Meanwhile, over at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website, I will resume my all-new and thrice-weekly TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. Those columns will appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, starting tomorrow. Look for them at:

www.perpetualcomics.com

There are some other "Tony" things I'll be writing about over my next several columns, but they'll keep for another day or three. For the nonce, let's see what else might be floating around my desk and/or my mind.

******

STINKY COMICS

I'm not sure where this item comes from. I found it during a recent search-and-delete cleaning of my files. Did I copy it from somewhere? Did someone send it to me? Your guess is as good and maybe even better than mine, but here it is...
QUESTION: I recently purchased some comics, graphic novels and trade paperbacks from a garage sale and they have a musty odor to them. Most were unbagged and were stored in a regular cardboard box in a basement. Other than that, they are in very good condition and don't have any discernable water damage. Most date back to the mid-1980s and are printed on standard newsprint. Is there any way to kill this odor without harming the comic? I want to bag what I can, which will keep them from stinking up my other comics, but I don't want to trap the smell in the bag.

ANSWER: Bicarbonate of soda. I don't suggest sprinkling it on the comic book, but put some in a paper sachet with the comics in a tight, closed box or tub. It should absorb the smells within a few days or so.
I have been buying some random comics of the 1950s via eBay in recent months and some them do have a musty odor. However, before trying the above advice, I wanted to run it by the smartest people I know: my adoring fans.

Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

******


TONY'S MAILBOX

I get the best mail. Okay, yeah, I have to wade through spam concerning breast enlargement, penis enlargement, exciting business opportunities in the Third World, and the like, but, often enough to make checking my e-mail a delight, I get a note like this from a pal like ATHANACIA HENOIS:

I just wanted to put a thought in your head. Maybe you could even toss it out to some of your readers.

Remember Underoos? Underoos were my reason for living some days! I would spend countless hours bargaining with God in my Wonder Woman Underoos for the ability to fly. One Christmas, I told Santa that's all I wanted, the ability to fly. So naturally, Wonder Woman was my hero. I also owned a pair of Batgirl Underoos (they were the oh so daring bra and panty set!) and a set of Spider-Woman Underoos. During a discussion with some friends a few years ago, we decided the general decline in today's youth was due to the obvious lack of Underoos.

I miss my Underoos.

I want them back.

I never get tired of dress up!

So think of this: me in Wonder Woman Underoos? Or Batgirl? Or Catwoman? ME-OUCH!

Why, any fanboy's girlfriend could easily slip into a pair of Underoos for a night of super-heroic cavorting.

I wrote Fruit of the Loom because I heard a rumor they might bring Underoos back...for adults! The official response is they are actually considering this! But nothing has been finalized.

Tell your readers if they want such a thing to exist, to visit the Fruit of the Loom website at...

www.fruit.com

...and send the company an e-mail! Hee hee!
I love this idea more than I can possibly express, so, while I untie my tongue, here's a recent photo of Athanacia:

Anastasia Heonis

The always effervescent and often unpredictable Heonis will be at MID-OHIO-CON on Friday, November 30, and Saturday, December 1, because she knows where the fun is. I'll be there, too, because I also know where the fun is and, though I am getting on in years, I kind of sort of remember that I like fun.

That's all for now. Check out tomorrow's TONY'S ONLINE TIPS at Perpetual Comics and then head back here on Tuesday for another one of my CBG reprints plus.

Daily doses of me? You must have all been terrible people in your past lives!

Tony Isabella
<< 09/26/2002 | 11/10/2002 | 11/12/2002 >>

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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