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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 #1506 (11/16/02)

"Certainly, the big, red-lipped flamboyant [Anna Nicole] Smith - especially famous because of the battle over the estate of her late husband, J. Howard Marhsall III - could have been imagined by, say, comic books legend Stan Lee."

--R.D. Heldenfels, AKRON BEACON JOURNAL (7-10-02)

I did a eye-roll when I read the above comment, nestled within the opening paragraphs of a local entertainment writer's column on E!'s THE ANNA NICOLE SHOW. However, on reflection, I realized I've seen an increase in such comics references in recent months. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the success of SPIDER-MAN and ROAD TO PERDITION at the movie theaters, but I also believe the comic books themselves are beginning to again work their way into our national consciousness. It's even been a while since anyone has asked me if "they still make them."

Some of these references are more pop culture than art form. Actor Tim Curry's unnerving grin is compared to that of the Joker. "Like Batman and Batgirl" is how another recent article described a morning radio team. Sarge Snorkel of BEETLE BAILEY is used as an example of (bleep) cursing in the office. But there are also more arcane references, such as the odd pairing of Anna Nicole and Stan the Man in our opening quote. Okay, you and I can easily think of a dozen comics creators better known for larger-than-life heroines than Stan who, to the best of my knowledge, didn't design any of the battling beauties who grace the pages of Marvel comics, but I still found it remarkable that comics were being referenced instead of, say, PLAYBOY or PENTHOUSE.

It's terrific when comic books get good press for things like Judd Winick's run on GREEN LANTERN with its positive portrayals of gay men and women, or like the FANTASTIC FOUR tale which "revealed" Ben Grimm is Jewish, but I'm more heartened by the matter-of-fact mentions. Those are the ones which give me hope that our art form and industry have a future beyond the niche market in which they've been stuck for far too long.

Here come the reviews...

******

B.P.R.D. Hollow Earth Mike Mignola's B.P.R.D.: HOLLOW EARTH #1-3 (Dark Horse; $2.99 each) give the center stage to supporting characters from HELLBOY and the organization which employs them, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Hellboy himself only appears in flashbacks; he's gone "walkabout" in the wake of some ethical differences with the Bureau. He's missed, of course, but the remaining cast members are sufficient for a fun time at the comics.

An ancient evil from the bowels of the Earth is staking its claim on the world above and all who dwell there. Writers Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Tom Sniegoski collaborate seamlessly on a pulp adventure tale wherein amphibian Abe, energy siphon Roger, and bodiless medium Johann (a new Bureau arrival) go to the rescue of a former Bureau operative who is the unwilling key to the sinister scheme. Kudos are likewise due artist Ryan Sook and colorist Dave Stewart who maintain the Mignola feel of the Hellboy universe with equal aplomb.

B.P.R.D.: HOLLOW EARTH is good fun and new-reader-friendly to boot. With the hope that Mignola will allow his supporting players to strike out on their own more often, I award this series four out of a possible five Tonys. Who can afford stars on what they pay me around here?

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Mark Evanier is one of my best friends and one of my favorite storytellers. For several years, in this publication, he gifted us with weekly installments of his wit and wisdom and, for me, it was much like chatting with him on the phone or hanging out with him at a convention. If you know Mark, you had the benefit of "hearing" him as you read his "POV" columns. But, even if you had never met Mark, his "voice" was always clear, distinctive, and entertaining, a view confirmed by readers of mine who haven't yet had the great good fortune of meeting the incredible Evanier.

For all us Evanier fans, COMIC BOOKS AND OTHER NECESSITIES OF LIFE (TwoMorrows; $12.95) collects 34 of his best comics columns in a spiffy trade paperback illustrated by Sergio Aragones. Our man Mark writes breezily and knowledgeably about subjects ranging from Broadway plays to politics to wild critters in his backyard, as if there were a discernable difference between the last two examples, but it was the love of comic books that brought him to CBG and it's comics (and their oft-quirky fans) that gets the spotlight in what I greedily hope is the first of many collections to come.

The hardest part about reviewing COMIC BOOKS is the ease with which I could start writing about this favorite column or that and end up writing about every column. There are Mark-tales of the Los Angeles Comic Book Club which had me laughing out loud. A piece on the elderly man who worked the cash register at Pico Drugs in Los Angeles reminded me of a beloved cashier at Meister's Drug Store in Cleveland, Ohio. And, naturally, there are those wonderful Evanier tributes to some of the best people in comics, heck, in the world; the one on Roz Kirby, which I've read several times, still brings happy-sad tears to my eyes whenever I read it.

When he reads this review, Mark will doubtless call me up and strain our friendship with his absurd modesty. I put him on notice here and now that I'm not having any of that malarkey.

If comic books are as magical for you as they are for Mark, this collection affords a dazzling look at the conjurers who make them and the fans who love them. COMIC BOOKS AND OTHER NECESSITIES OF LIFE gets the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Dark Horse Comics has been full of surprises from the moment it launched. There aren't many (if any) publishers who can boast as extraordinary a roster of creator-owned titles: Sergio Aragones' GROO, Mike Mignola's HELLBOY, Frank Miller's SIN CITY, Stan Sakai's USAGI YOJIMBO. Its licensed comics include some of the most popular in fantasy fiction: ALIENS, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, KISS, and, of course, STAR WARS. It publishes English translations of legendary Japanese comics such as ASTRO BOY, GHOST IN THE SHELL and LONE WOLF AND CUB. Beyond the comics, the company also offers an amazing array of just plain cool knickknacks ranging from busts to Zippo lighters.

Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained Two new mini-series continue the Dark Horse penchant for the unexpected. FORT: PROPHET OF THE UNEXPLAINED ($2.99) has for its protagonist a fanciful interpretation of Charles Fort (1874-1932), the legendary student of the paranormal who enjoyed challenging the scientists of his day by finding phenomena they could not explain. Fort generally confined his explorations to newspapers, magazines, and journals available at the New York City public library, but, in this series, writer Peter M. Lenkov has him battling alien critters high (on top of the Statue of Liberty) and low (the sewer system). It's an amusing notion whose execution doesn't quite measure up to its potential.

Lenkov's scripts tend to bounce from scene to scene abruptly, and, in the two issues I've read, he hasn't yet brought his Charles Fort to life. A story bridging the sedentary Fort of reality with his adventurous counterpart might go a long way towards rectifying that failure.

Frazer Irving's artwork puts me in mind of Alden McWilliams and John Prentice, craftsmen in the Alex Raymond tradition but sans the flair of an Al Williamson. For the most part, I liked the art, but the occasional stiff figures and wonky black-and-white lighting effects brought the overall book down a few notches. Some artists need color more than others.

Though its story and art are merely adequate, the audacity and cleverness of its concept elevates FORT, PROPHET OF THE UNEXPLAINED to two Tonys.

Tony Tony

The other Dark Horse surprise was RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT #1 ($2.99) by writer Haden Blackman and penciler Cary Nord. "Into Thin Air" covers the mysterious disappearances of the lost colony of Roanoke, the crew of the Mary Celeste, aviatrix Amelia Earhart, and skyjacker D.B. Cooper.

Blackman's conversational script segues gracefully from event to event. With a considerable assist from inker Mark Lipka, Nord's drawing is solid from start to finish.

I thought RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT was a terrific change-of-pace. I give it three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

Being a Judge Dredd fan can be expensive. In addition to his weekly appearances in Britain's 2000 AD weekly at $3.25 a pop, the man who is the law in Mega-City One also headlines a monthly JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE ($10.99). Newly-installed editor Alan Barnes took the reins of the publication with its April 2 edition, so a look at his first issue seems in order.

2000 AD is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary and, as part of the revelry, the Megazine has been redesigned. However, it retains its basic format: same physical dimensions as the weekly, square-bound, a 100-page mix of new material and classic reprints, a combination credits/"what has gone before" page for every strip, and Judge Dredd holding court in the lead spot.

This time out, Dredd co-creator John Wagner and artist Peter Doharty present "Dead Lost in Mega-City-One." For a new vid-show, three teams of contestants are transported to a secret location in the city and must find their way back to Brit-City. As expected in a Dredd story, the competition soon takes a tragic-yet-humorous turn. That I chuckled audibly several times while reading the tale speaks to my myriad character deficiencies.

The Dredd story is followed by an illustrated text feature on the "secret origins" of 2000 AD. As a comics history buff, I found it fascinating, but I suspect others may begrudge its length, eight pages which would normally have been used for another comics story. I'll be watching the "Dredd Lines" letters columns to see if that turns out to be the case.

The other two new strips are "Missionary Man" by Gordon Rennie and John Ridgway, and "Wardog" by Dan Abnett, Patrick Goddard, and Dylan Teague. The protagonist of the first is a cold-blooded Texas City judge seeking redemption as a marshal in the "radioactive hell known as the Cursed Earth." I've always liked Ridgway's artwork, whether in color or, as in this tale, black-and-white, but Rennie's story is more about slaughter than salvation. I guess I'm a lousy convert.

I liked Abnett's "Wardog" much better. Jack Wardog is a man whose memories have replaced with a bomb that goes boom if he fails to complete his missions in the allotted time. My own memories can be shaky, but I sort of recall a British indy super-hero comic with a similar premise. I think the hero was called Deadline and I know he was played for laughs.

This full-color series is serious business as Jack goes after rogue robots who wear the skins of murdered humans in their insane quest to become a new species. The strip's solid writing and art have made for an exciting serial with good cliff-hanging endings to bring readers back for more.

The reprints are a mixed bag for me. The futuristic warfare portrayed in "Bad Company" is dehumanizing and violent, but writer Peter Milligan and artist Brett Ewins created characters who caught and kept my interest. This issue features the first four episode of the long-running feature with more to follow.

The other reprint is "Strontium Dog" by writer Alan Grant and artist Carlos Ezquerra. Mutants are a "victimized underclass" here and, denied normal work, many of them have become bounty-hunters, derisively referred to as "strontium dogs." One of the best of the breed is Johnny Alpha whose mutant eyes enable him to "see through solid walls, telekinetically manipulate objects, even penetrate the soul." Maybe it's because the stories downplayed Alpha's powers in favor of blasters and other futuristic weaponry, maybe it's because he was saddled with boring sidekicks, but I never warmed up to the feature during its long and long-ago run in the weekly.

JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE is a tough call for this critic. Even at 11 bucks an issue, I love its anthology format and the new/old mix. However, with almost a third of this edition devoted to features I simply didn't enjoy, the best I can give it is three Tonys. Look for me to revisit the Megazine after editor Barnes gets a few more issues under his belt.

Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1506 [September 27], which shipped to subscribers on September 9. As I mentioned in Sunday's Tips, I've quite a few columns to post before I'm back on schedule here.

Ordering 2000 AD through Diamond continues to be a frustrating experience. Whenever Rebellion publishes a special issue, such as the first issue of its current MEGAZINE volume...or the recent 2000 AD #1300...Diamond seems to short its accounts. In the case of the former, a British professional arranged to have the editors send me a copy. In the case of the latter, I'm still waiting for Diamond to make good on my order.

Waiting, but not holding my breath.

(If anyone reading this has a copy of 2000 AD #1300 which they are willing to part with me, I'd be happy to pay you for the issue, the postage, and a little extra for your trouble. Just e-mail me and we'll get things moving.)

On a related note...

Writing for 2000 AD has always been a minor ambition of mine. I've wanted to try my hand at their weekly serial format ever since I first discovered the magazine. Alas, when I inquired about this, I was well and truly blown off. It happens.

I can't entirely blame the editors for their reluctance. Some years back, 2000 AD did run several serials by two American writers best known for their comic-book work on this side of the Atlantic. Neither writer was well received by the Brit audience; their names and serials still show up on the "worst" lists which occasionally run on the 2000 AD website. Fortunately, I have other ambitions to pursue and an healthy enough ego to file this attempt away in the "their loss" drawer.

******

TONY STUFF

This is my seventh online column in as many days. It's good to be back in the saddle.

In addition to the columns here and at PERPETUAL COMICS, I've also written a couple columns for COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE and wrapped up my pre-show work on the MID-OHIO-CON panel program. I like to keep me busy.

One of the coolest things about getting my strength back after my medical problems is that I can again get up in the middle of the night and write. Writing while Sainted Wife Barb and our kids are sleeping soundly is somehow more peaceful than writing while they are at work and school. It's the combination of the stillness of the night and knowing they are nearby and safe.

This week has been about writing columns. Next week I start planning my December schedule. There is a novel to be completed, a trio of short comics or comics-like scripts, a couple of special articles, a tribute piece, and the first of twelve proposals I'll be submitting to comics publishers in the coming year.

Getting back those late-night hours is like adding a full day to my work week...and they are frequently the most productive hours of the week. I love the night life.

I'll be back here tomorrow with another CBG reprint and maybe even the return of my political commentaries. I mean, Iraq ain't the only country needing regime change.

Tony Isabella

<< 11/14/2002 | 11/16/2002 | 11/17/2002 >>

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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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