TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1504 (11/12/02)
"If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good."
--Thomas J. Watson
Turner Classic Movies is one of the greatest cable networks of all time. It broadcasts movies you haven't seen in years, if ever. While I seldom have time to watch any of these movies, I just love knowing the network is there. In fact, I love knowing it's there so much that, each and every day, I post the next day's schedule on the official Tony Isabella message board.
Sometimes, when I've been sitting at the keyboard for too many hours at a stretch, I get a little zany and slip a phony movie into the schedule. Like this one:
13:00 pm: Andy Hardy's Paris Follies (1943).
Andy Hardy and his sister sneak into France on a secret mission for their father. Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Ann Sheridan. Director: Charles Chaplin. Black-and-white; 79 minutes
My good friend DON HILLIARD, who is the moderator of my board, has also been known to get a bit zany at times. Spotting my meager attempt at humor, Don took it upon himself to expand on my flight of film folderol:
Seeing this forgotten gem listed, I had to pull out my notes from my Miskatonic University Film 100 correspondence course and share them with my fellow movie aficionados...
Andy Hardy's Paris Follies made with wartime austerity, brought welcome guffaws to theaters in late 1943. Director Charles Chaplin was selected to helm the picture purely by chance, having been on the MGM lot to deliver sandwiches originally ordered by Irving Thalberg sometime in 1937. An associate producer, mistaking the pastrami-laden fellow for another Charles Chaplin, snapped him up on the spot, impressed by Chaplin's low salary requirement of $3 a week.
The plot is a more adventurous than most of the Hardy films, with Andy (Mickey Rooney) and sister Marian (Cecilia Parker) flying to occupied Paris on a desperate mission. Their Pop, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone), has become despondent over the import ban on Vichy water (his favorite mixer) and those devil-may-care kids will do darn near anything to make him a happy man again.
By train, plane and Liberty ship, the plucky pair make their way to the Continent with multiple hilarious escapes from befuddled MP sergeant Lionel Stander. Things take a dangerous turn, though, when a sinister passenger on their trans-Atlantic flight (Peter Lorre) overhears their comments on "Vichy Water" and assumes they are spies sent to sabotage Nazi atomic research being carried on in an abandoned spa (actually Louis Mayer's cabana with a borrowed Van de Graff generator).
This intelligence quickly reaches the ears of the evil Colonel von Bockwurst (Conrad Veidt), who launches a manhunt for the Hardys upon their arrival in France. Andy and Marian are cornered in a dark alley by giant Nazi thug Liebfraumilch (Rondo Hatton), but are rescued by Resistance fighters. Andy is shocked to discover that the leader of the band is none other than his erstwhile girlfriend Betsy Booth (Judy Garland)!
(Chaplin explained the twist in later years, saying "Well, she was only in three movies and then disappeared. Continuity demanded we know what had happened to her!')
The siblings are smuggled out of Paris, along with beautiful torch singer Wendy Sunshines (Ann Sheridan), secretly the Allied master spy code-named "L'Eclaire." They go into hiding on the farm of an elderly French farm couple (Marjorie Main, Percy Kilbride). But the Gestapo aren't far behind.
When they arrive in the local village, Andy and his friends realize their only chance of survival is a ruse, and pretend to be traveling entertainers. The trick works so well that the Germans decide the chums should provide a command performance for visiting Reichsmarschall Goering (Margaret DuMont).
By staging "Ring of the Nibelung" in the farmer's barn, Andy, Marian and Wendy not only get a standing ovation from the Nazis, but provide cover for Betsy to blow up the secret atomic project in the abandoned spa, which just happens to be nearby. This, alas, was why Chaplin never directed another film; his enthusiasm for realism resulted in the destruction of Louis Mayer's cabana and subsequent blackballing from the industry.
Their blow for democracy struck--and a case of mineral water, the gift of a grateful General deGaulle (Basil Rathbone), in hand-- Andy and Marian return home to a surprised and grateful Judge Hardy (Lionel Barrymore reprising the role he originated, as a fill-in for Lewis Stone who called in sick that morning).
The final shot is the good Judge toasting his offspring with a bourbon-and-water to their half-size chocolate sodas. After all, as he reminds the kids at the fade-out:
"There's a war on!"
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH COMICS, TONY?
Hey, does everything have to be about comic books? Maybe I'm just helping you become better-rounded people.
You never pick on Peter David this way.
AGENT X #1 (Marvel; $2.99) made it on to my very short list of Marvel purchases solely on the strength of Gail Simone writing it. I've been a Simone fan since her first online "You'll All Be Sorry" spoofs and, with rare exception, have enjoyed her comics writing as much as her columns. Okay, I liked her columns what mentioned me better, but that's because I'm such an ego-head.
AGENT X is the relaunch of DEADPOOL, a series so historically boring I even managed to put off reading its last Simone-written issues. There's some question as to whether or not the protagonist of this title is actually Wade "Deadpool" Wilson, but, frankly, it doesn't matter to me one way or another.
This issue opens with "merc agent" Sandi Brandenberg finding a beat-to-heck mutant on her doorstep and taking him in. Figuring out that he's a incredibly fast-healer and tough guy, she names him "Alex Hayden" and arranges to have him trained, or maybe retrained, by the Taskmaster. During the training sessions, it becomes clear Hayden has a smartalec sense of humor identical to that of the late Wilson. That's fine with me, but I hope that's the only holdover. This book needs to find its own voice.
When Simone writes Alex, Sandi, or the Taskmaster, that's when AGENT X shines. When she cuts away to scenes of yet another Asian crime-lord and his gang--welcome to a modern comics cliche--AGENT X gets tedious. Comics writers in general need to work much harder coming up with villains.
The art by Udon Studios is serviceable, but not outstanding, relying too heavily on stock poses. The coloring is dark and even muddy, which makes for an unattractive first impression. I think the success of AGENT X rests on Simone maintaining our interest in Alex and Sandi, and her breaking from the same-old-same-old super-merc stories of the past.
There was more good than not-so-good in AGENT X #1. It picks up a perfectly respectable three Tonys.
GOTHAM GIRLS #1 (DC; $2.25) has one of the most eye-catching covers I've seen in quite some time. The dark figure of Catwoman poses menacingly on a white background with a purplish silhouette of the city in the lower background. The disembodied heads of the book's five stars float above the bright red logo. It's so close to perfect it hurts, marred only by Catwoman's head obscuring part of the logo. On the first issue of the comic. This makes me nuts. Even more so than usual.
Writer Paul D. Storrie does an excellent job introducing each of the gals and connecting them to the story, wherein one character is conned into stealing something for another and other characters line up on respective sides of the conflict. Where the conflict is going isn't evident--the final scene doesn't fill me with that old "gotta see what happens next" excitement--but this first issue is enjoyable enough to bring me back next month.
Okay, full disclosure, I'd be coming back anyway on account of Storrie is a pal, but, even if I didn't know the lovable lug, I'd be back. He's a good writer at the start of what I'm thinking will be a long and successful career.
Penciler Jennifer Graves and inker J. Bone do a terrific job capturing the look of the Batman cartoons and visualizing Storrie's script. Kudos are also due letterer Tim Harkins, colorist Patricia Mulvihill, and editor Joan Hilty.
Suitable for all ages, GOTHAM GIRLS #1 earns three-and-a-half Tonys and my expectations that subsequent issues of the five-issue series will be even better.
LURID #1 ($2.99) is from IDW Publishing, a small independent outfit that recently did two incredibly smart things. It acquired the license to publish CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION comic books and it hired Max Allan Collins to write them. These moves earned enough of my respect that I moved LURID to the top of my read-and-review pile.
Created by writer Paul Lee and artist Adam Huntley, LURID is named for "one of southern California's finest gentlemen's clubs," and seeks to present an unflinching look at the good, bad, and ugly of life in a strip club. However, in this issue, there is precious little good to be found.
That's not a slam. As someone who used to frequent such clubs in my younger days, I recognize Lee and Huntley's Club Lurid as a middle-of-the-road ecdysiast establishment. The dancers are either on their way up to better clubs or down to lesser ones and, in most cases, the whole of the journey will be brief. The smart ones will have a goal--an education or a house--and move on and out once they attain it. Sadly, they aren't all smart.
Once I got past Lee's over-reliance on the "F" word, I started to get interested in Christine, his spotlight character. My guess is that Christine doesn't know if she is on her way up or down, and that uncertainty is part of the reason her present life is such a mess. She needs a break or a revelation before her course is set, and she's just barely a sympathetic enough character for me to hope she gets one or the other and soon.
According to IDW's website, Huntley is a "hot new artist" and, while that's stretching things, he does show some pretty good moves in this first ish. I see some Johnny Craig and Alex Toth influence an European sensibility in his work. His storytelling is smooth as silk and, for the most part, his people, both male and female, look real. His figures get stuff now and again, but he is definitely an artist worth watching.
LURID has possibilities; there are a lot of stories which Lee and Huntley could tell in this mature readers title. In this first issue, they showed some of the bad of strip clubs. That leaves the good, which exists, and the ugly, which exists in greater portion. I'm looking forward to reading those stories.
LURID #1 gets an encouraging three Tonys. For further info on other IDW titles, check out the IDW website at:
SUPERNATURAL LAW (Exhibit A Press; $2.50) continues to deliver solid entertainment. This issue will be of particular delight for Silver Age buffs as counselors of the macabre Alanna Wolff and Jeff Byrd provide the defense in "The Trail of the 800lb. Gorilla." Following a SA-style cover inked by the legendary Murphy Anderson, creator/writer/artist Batton Lash plays with a host of SA themes in his lead story. Besides the sentient gorilla--there were seemingly hundreds of them in the DC comics of the 1960s--Lash's tale "apes" the silhouette captions of Carmine Infantino's STRANGE SPORTS STORIES art. It's a remarkably effective device.
The story itself concerns one Nicky Gorillo, a shady character of slight build until an experimental transplant procedure turned him into an actual gorilla. On trial in federal court, Gorillo is far from the most cooperative client Wolff and Byrd have defended. Lash's command of dialogue and visuals keeps the courtroom scenes interesting; his skill in this area becomes all the more impressive when one recalls the dull and woefully inaccurate courtroom scenes found in too many other comics.
If I have any complaint about the story, it's that Lash missed the chance to engage the reader's sympathy for Gorillo's plight. From the few hints included in the script, the gorilla crime-boss was more complex than portrayed herein. Or maybe Batton is saving that for a follow-up tale. After all, if one gorilla cover sells, why not do two? It worked in the 1960s.
Lash must have been in an experimental mood this time around. "Words Don't Do Justice," the issue's second story, is told almost entirely sans dialogue. His inventive iconography is every bit as delightful as the Silver Age homages of the cover tale, and maybe even worthy of Eisner/Harvey award consideration.
SUPERNATURAL LAW #35 almost took a strike for not doing more with its simian defendant, but it manages to walk away from this review with five out of five Tonys. Wolff and Byrd are definitely batton a thousand.
The above column first appeared in CBG #1504 (September 13), which was shipped to subscribers on August 26. Unfortunately, the version that ran there had a major gaff.
My aging eyes read the cover price of SUPERNATURAL LAW #35 as $3.50 and I commented on this in my review. Fortunately, when she read the advance copy of the column I sent to her and Batton Lash, publisher Jackie Estrada informed me of my mistake. In my defense, the price was printed very small and I immediately rewrote the review to correct my mistake. The rewritten review was sent to CBG and appears in today's online reprint.
Unfortunately, this rewritten review didn't make it into CBG #1504. The editors received it in time to make the change, but it went missing shortly thereafter. I don't blame them. Editing an issue of CBG is a big job; I'm amazed more things like this don't fall through the cracks.
The rewritten review did eventually make it into CBG. It ran in issue #1507, much to Batton's delight. Two positive reviews for the price of one. What a deal!
I apologize in advance for any deja vu you experience when the #1507 column is posted here on Sunday.
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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