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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 #1507 (11/17/02)

"If error is corrected whenever it is recognized as such, the path of error is the path of truth."

--Hans Reichenbach

"To err is human, but when the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you're overdoing it."

--J. Jenkins

Unlike a certain wandering barbarian, I didn't have to ask if I had erred in CBG #1504 (September 13). In fact, I knew it weeks before the issue reached my mailbox. The thing is...I thought I'd corrected the error.

I speak of my review of Batton Lash's SUPERNATURAL LAW #35 in that issue. My vision being less than perfect, I misread the $2.50 price on the cover of that issue as "$3.50" and made reference to it the review. Fortunately, when Lash saw the advance copy of the column I had e-mailed him, he informed me of the mistake in plenty of time for me to rewrite the review for the issue. Unfortunately, the rewritten review was waylaid by a person or persons unknown and never made into that issue.

Here's the correct version of the review:
Wolff and Byrd 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 60s--Lash's tale deftly 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 still manages to walk away from this review with five out of five Tonys. Wolff and Byrd are still batton a thousand.
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

To correct your copy of CBG #1504, all you have to do is buy two copies of THIS issue, cut out this review, and paste over the flawed version. But, before you run out to get that second copy, here are some lessons to be learned from this mistake:

When reviewing a comic, always double-check the price of said comic before sending the review to your editors. Especially when the publisher of the comic insists on using the smallest type size known to man for that information.

When publishing a comic, keep in mind that many reviewers are visually-impaired. Especially me.

When sending a comic to a reviewer, be sure to include your e-mail address with the book. Some reviewers will send you advance copies of their reviews and you can catch away boneheaded mistakes (of fact) they may have made.

That's the old business. Let's move on to the new.

******

I've no nostalgia connection with BATTLE OF THE PLANETS #1 and #2 (Top Cow/Image; $2.95 each), just some vague memories of seeing bits of the original cartoon series in the late 1970s and not being impressed. I kind of recall that it had an annoyingly loud and/or whiny kid in it, a constant in the few Japanese cartoons shown on American TV back then. So I came to these new comics with none of the pre-existing enthusiasm that resulted in their successful debut on the current comics scene.

There were four covers for BOTP #1 and, my bad luck, I got the one by J. Scott Campbell, an artist whose work has never excited me. This cover was no exception, seemingly designed around a shot of one mannequin-like character's panties. The Alex Ross cover for issue #2 was much better, conveying a sense of menace despite the bright colors of the uniforms worn by the villains.

Writer Munier Sharrieff held up his end of things pretty well. I would have liked a little more information on the characters, the situation they were facing, and the world in which they exist, but Sharrieff kept me in the story. This is clearly a darker BOTP than what aired on television back in the day and, in truth, I thought some of the characterization and dialogue were inappropriate for a comic book based on a cartoon series.

The art? Now that was impressive. Penciler Wilson Tortora's pages were exciting, expressive, and told the story well. Colorist Shane Law of Udon Studios--there's no inker credit--took the pages and did simply amazing things with them. The final page of BOTP #1 is particularly notable, a moment that made me sit back in my chair and go "Whoa!" I like when that happens.

On our scale of zero to five Tonys, BATTLE OF THE PLANETS #1 and #2 each pick up four of the disembodied darlings.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

HELLSPAWN #13 (Image; $2.50) is one of the worst comic books I've read all year. The one positive thing I can say about is that the Ben Templesmith painting on the cover is striking. Even there, I had problems. The cover depicts Miracleman, the character whose ownership is one of the elements of the lawsuit filed against Spawn creator Todd McFarlane by Neil Gaiman.

I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit one of my problems is that, based on everything I've seen to date, McFarlane has acted wrongly vis-a-vis his agreements with Gaiman. But that's an issue which has been discussed at length elsewhere and will, ultimately, be decided by the courts.

My other problem is that Miracleman doesn't appear anywhere in the issue. So we have a comic whose main selling point--What else explains this cover?--is a character whose ownership is contested and who doesn't show up for the story. Were I a paying customer, I'd be demanding my money back.

HELLSPAWN #13 makes no attempt to be reader-friendly. Despite sufficient room on the inside front cover, there isn't even a brief "what has gone before" summary to ease one into the issue. Wading through the ponderous and pretentious scripting doesn't offer much in the way of enlightenment. As near as I can figure, Spawn--maybe the same Spawn as in the main Spawn title, maybe not--is ruling a portion of Hell and some demon-chick is trying to seduce him into taking over either Hell or a Hell-like Earth. They spend the whole issue flirting/talking and looking at frightening images on Earth. At least, I think they were supposed to be frightening images. The muddy painted art and the virtually non-existent storytelling added to the guessing game.

As a non-paying customer, I wish I could demand back the time I wasted reading this awful thing. As a reviewer, I'm tempted to award it negative Tonys, but I'm not quite ready to start down that road. Suffice to say, HELLSPAWN #13 doesn't get even the smallest scintilla of a Tony.

******

The cover of LIBERTY MEADOWS #27 (Image; $2.95) boasts a "new look, new publisher, new beginning," but inside it's the same great comic strips by Frank Cho. From the sexy/cute "image" of Brandy on the cover to the sideways format which allows the individual strips to be displayed to best advantage to the "Liberty Meadows trading cards" which tell new readers everything they need know about Cho's cast of characters, this is a honey of a comic book.

Liberty Meadows is an animal sanctuary. The main characters (human) are the lovely Brandy, an animal psychologist, and Frank, a shy veterinarian secretly in love with her. The main characters (non-human) are midget circus bear Ralph, hypochondriac bullfrog Leslie, baby duckling Truman, wiener dog Oscar, and male chauvinist pig--no, really--Dean. The strips originally appeared on the comic pages of various newspapers and were often censored by the editors of those papers and by the syndicate which distributed them. Here, Cho presents them as they were created.

Two more things. First, this issue includes a great sequence where Brandy and the gang attend a comic convention; it's hilarious and not to be missed. Second, Cho is one of the finest artists in comics today; he can create images of breathtaking beauty then turn around and do slapstick comedy with the best of them.

"Beautiful" and "raucous" are not adjectives I generally use in the same review, but LIBERTY MEADOWS #27 earns them both...and also earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Savage Dragon 100 Erik Larsen is a madman and I mean that in the nicest and most respectful sense of the word. He is the sole Image Comics founder who has remained in the comics-creating trenches month after month, and he has just produced the spectacular 100th issue of his SAVAGE DRAGON series. Making his achievement even more incredible is that this landmark issue (Image; $8.95) is 100 pages long...with all but a handful of those pages written and penciled by Larsen. Outside of maybe John Byrne in his younger days, I can't think of another contemporary artist who could have pulled this off while keeping to a mostly monthly schedule.

SAVAGE DRAGON is one of the those books I never quite find the time to read on a regular basis, usually enjoy when I do read it, and, afterwards, kick myself for not reading it on a regular basis. It's a vicious circle I'm trying to break. I should just grab all the issues I haven't read, lock myself in a room, and not come out until I've read them all.

The Dragon is a big strong good guy; he's been a policeman and a government agent. His book is like an entire super-hero universe unto itself, filled with dozens of super-heroes and super-villains and supporting cast members. A scorecard would come in handy while reading the series, but, even if a reader doesn't understand all of the background, Larsen's full-speed-ahead attitude makes the comic so much fun that you can just hang on and enjoy the ride.

SAVAGE DRAGON #100 shows the rippling effects of a choice made by the hero on the world in which he was originally born. It's an ambitious story told in multiple chapters, with each chapter inked by a different artist. That impressive line-up of inkers includes Larsen himself, Chris Eliopoulos, Jerry Ordway, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bruce Timm, Tim Townsend, Mike Royer, John Beatty, Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek, and Walter Simonson.

Reading this comic was an exciting experience, not unlike my reaction to the first Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics I read as a youth. The experience left me dizzy--so many characters and concepts--but also satisfied. Today's super-hero comics are rarely as delightful as SAVAGE DRAGON #100. In addition to the story, there are pin-ups by Timm, Cho, Frank Miller, Carlos Pachelo, Marc Silvestri, and Art Adams; one-page gag strips by Chris Giarrusso, Brian Blake and Nick Derington, and Eliopoulos; and a letters column. That's an awful lot of bang for your bucks.

That--and my healthy respect for madmen--is why SAVAGE DRAGON #100 earns a full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1507 [October 4,2002], which was shipped to subscribers on September 16. Time flies when you're having fun.

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

I renewed my subscription to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, so I figure I should quote stuff from the magazine every now and then so I can deduct it on my taxes. It isn't that I'm afraid of being audited, it's...no, wait, it IS because I'm afraid of being audited. I knew I shouldn't have checked the "liberal commie pinko" box on my 2001 taxes. Tell my children I love them.

The "Reel World" column in the November 8 EW had some comics-related news, starting with:
Producer Lauren Shuler Donner (X-MEN 2) has a new super-hero in her sights: Keanu Reeves is attached to replace Nicholas Cage in Warner Bros; CONSTANTINE, based on DC imprint Vertigo's HELLBLAZER comic series.
I never thought of John Constantine as a super-hero, but then, I would have cast James Marsters instead of Reeves. Heck, I would cast Marsters as Daredevil, the Incredible Hulk, and maybe Wonder Woman. He's the best actor on television.

The column also reports Selma Blair has been cast opposite Ron Perlman in the HELLBOY movie.

Moving on to the November 15 issue, we have a couple of nifty quips from "Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet":
SOLARIS. Twentieth Century Fox says George Clooney's new film got an R rating because it contains two shots of his bare behind. Making his butt No. 23 on EW's next Power List.

PRINCE HARRY. One magazine called the 18-year-old the most eligible bachelor in Britain. It's not like they have a lot of choices--No. 5 was Elton John.
Mullen continued to amuse in the November 22 issue, this time with a comics-related joke:
STAN LEE. Marvel says it doesn't owe Spider-Man's creator any movie royalties, because the $404 million-grossing hit never made a profit. That takes an accountant with super-powers.
Marvel did get some favorable ink. The issue's "First Look" column was devoted to TRUTH, the Robert Morales/Kyle Baker six-part series which reveals that the serum which turned Steve Rogers into Captain America was first tested on a black man. The piece quotes Morales, editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, editor Axel Alonso, and Stan Lee his own self.

In the same issue, EW declared SPIDER-MAN its "DVD Winner of the Week":
According to Sony, the box office bulldozer sold more than 11 million copies in its first three days. Not only does that make it the quickest-selling DVD ever, but SPIDER-MAN also netted around $190 million--more than it made in its opening theatrical weekend.
At this rate, Marvel might actually make a few bucks off the movie and be able to pay Stan what they owe him.

Yes, I'm being sarcastic.

Finally, in the "Books" section, reviewer Marc Bernardin gives GLOBAL FREQUENCY, the new Warren Ellis title from DC/Wildstorm, a healthy "A-". Of Ellis and the book, Bernardin writes:
With GLOBAL FREQUENCY, {Ellis] posits a worldwide network of operatives - ex-SEALS, pilots, hackers, and S&M-loving MIT math geeks, to name a few - ready to intercede on humanity's behalf when our freaky mistakes come back to haunt us. Part Buckaroo Banzai, part X-Files, GLOBAL FREQUENCY starts in the middle of a mind-bending nuclear crisis and hauls ass straight through to the close. I'd say it would make a great TV show but for the sad truth that Hollywood would surely screw it up.
I'm pretty sure GLOBAL FREQUENCY was in the latest box of DC review stuff, so look for my review in the near future.

******

THIS JUST IN

There was an update on SOLARIS in yesterday's edition of THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER:
George Clooney's bare-bottom shots in the science-fiction romance SOLARIS won't cost the movie its PG-13 rating, the film's studio said Thursday. The Motion Picture Association of America backed off its original R rating for the film without forcing director Steven Soderbergh to eliminate the nudity.

"We just thought the material was handled in a very mature and tasteful manner and that any normal 13-year-old could more than wrap their mind around it," Soderbergh said.

George Clooney's Butt
It seems to me that Clooney's butt is even more powerful than we realized. Be afraid.

Look for a new TONY'S ONLINE TIPS tomorrow at Norman Barth's Perpetual Comics site...and then I'll be back here on Tuesday with even more stuff.

Tony Isabella
<< 11/16/2002 | 11/17/2002 | 11/19/2002 >>

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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