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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 #1508 (11/19/02)

"That's what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end."

--Lise Hand, British Journalist

******

It is a familiar image to Superman readers of my generation. Holding up a piece of coal like a magician playing to an audience, the Man of Steel squeezes it with such pressure that he transforms the sooty mineral into a gleaming diamond. I don't think even "Mr. Silver Age" could tell you when Superman first performed this feat or how often he's done it since. Mark Waid probably could, but he, like Supes, is not of this Earth.

This super-alchemy is such an iconic image it turned up on an episode of Fox's ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE. My memory of this scene isn't as exact as I would like - that happens a lot when I watch Fox - but, in one of the "daydream" sequences that are the show's stock-in-trade, Richter squeezes coal into a diamond, which he then gives to a lovely co-worker. When she reacts with obvious delight, he performs the same "magic" on an animal and an elderly woman. To somewhat less than delighted reactions. And, yes, silly and maybe even stupid as this scene was, I laughed out loud at it. I am a child of the Silver Age.

This is how my mind works. I immediately thought of Superman and the Richter gag when I spotted this in the August 22 edition of the NEW YORK TIMES:
LifeGem Memorials (Elk Grove Village, Ill.) announced that, using available technology, it can turn a loved one's cremated ashes into a diamond by pressing and heating the ashes to 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit. A chemistry professor cited by The New York Times agreed the plan was sound; carbon from the ashes converts to graphite, which can be pressurized into a diamond. LifeGem prices start at $4,000 for a quarter-carat.
If the comics business ever goes bust, I'm thinking Superman has a ready-made job waiting for him while, for the rest of us, an old phrase now takes on a vivid new meaning.

"Precious memories," indeed.

******

Raider From the Shadow RAIDER FROM THE SHADOWS (Maerkle Press; $14.95) is the first extended comics work by my pal Thom Zahler. Considering I've been kicking around the comics industry for three decades, I obviously know and like many comics pros. I figure you take that for a given when reading these reviews. However, when a creator is a friend, I try to tell you that up front.

I've known Thom since he was a teenage convention volunteer, have worked with him on Mid-Ohio-Con projects, and consider him one of the hardest-working and nicest guys in comics. He even drew the "Tony" caricature which appears in this column.

For the ladies out there, he's handsome, tall, and unattached. To see for yourself, check out his website:

www.thomz.com

With that out of the way, I can tell you RAIDER is the story of a war being fought in the shadows. On one side is a conspiracy of global proportions and utter ruthlessness. On the other side is an equally secretive international agency. The organizations have fought to a silent standoff for years, but two new elements are now in play. The first is a plan to subvert the American presidential election. The second is the mysterious Raider.

Zahler the writer packs a lot of story into the 144 pages of his first Raider book. He establishes his characters and the world in which they live, reveals much of his hero's past without slowing down the action or taking away his mystery, and spins an exciting, done-in-one tale.

"Rai" is a likeable hero without being too corny about it. He does some amazing things in the course of his battles, but he never makes it look so easy that we forget he's human or that his life is at nigh-constant risk.

Zahler the artist is a solid storyteller. His panel-to-panel and page-to-page flow is terrific; the reader never loses track of the action or has to decipher what's on the page. This is a skill not always evident in today's comics.

When it comes to the drawing, Zahler's work is good-with-room- for-improvement. Every now and then, there's an awkward face or a stiff pose that distracted me from the story. Given the length of the story, and Zahler's relative inexperience, this isn't entirely unexpected, nor does it change my overall opinion that RAIDER is an impressive debut from a bright new talent.

More James Bond than film noir, RAIDER FROM THE SHADOWS would have benefitted from color. But, even in black-and-white, it gives very satisfying bang-for-your-bucks. On our scale of zero to five, RAIDER gets three-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

You can order RAIDER directly from Zahler's site or through FM International.

******

Megazine I reviewed the JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE (Rebellion; $10.99) a few columns ago, but, having read issues #4.10 through 4.12, I want to toss some additional comments your way.

MEGAZINE #4.10 came bagged with a free CD, a preview of "a new series of audio adventures based on the worlds of 2000 AD," which is, of course, the legendary weekly comic from whence comes Dredd and most of the other characters featured in the Megazine. I can't say this taste of "Wanted: Dredd of Alive" did much for me, but I'm enjoying the articles about the project. In addition to Dredd, a "Strontium Dog" adventure is also in the works.

Starting with that same issue, Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" joins the Megazine line-up. I've read these full-color reprints before, but they look better-than-ever at the larger size.

I'm absolutely enthralled by the Megazine's continuing history of 2000 AD. The clash of creators and bosses, the rivalries among editors and freelancers, and the ongoing struggle to come up with new characters and stories make fascinating reading. Issue #4.12 brings us up to May of 1981, so these heavily-illustrated articles will be running for some months to come.

Finally, vampire and former bounty-hunter "Durham Red" gets a new and different series commencing with #4.12. These apocryphal tales of her past are written by Dan Abnett with each one drawn by a different artist. John Burns did the first of these "heresies" with Steve Yeowell, Frazer Irving, and Enric Romero scheduled for succeeding issues.

The last time out I gave JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE three Tonys, its 100 pages of content not quite balancing the hefty per issue cost. However, with the addition of the Durham Red series and the Hellboy reprints, I'm upgrading that to four Tonys. Editor Alan Barnes is definitely on the right track.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

It's been a year since I last reviewed ALIAS (Marvel; $2.99) by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, time enough to put some distance between the book and my initial distaste of its portrayal of Luke Cage. I'm working on a overview of the past year's worth of issues, but I couldn't wait another week to review the "done-in-one" ALIAS #10. Yeah, yeah, I realize it came out four months ago. Trust me; it's worth the hunt.

Former super-heroine turned private investigator Jessica Jones is hired by Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson to learn Spider-Man's "civilian" identity. Always one to maximize his potential to make a buck, Jameson's contract calls for Jones to allow a reporter to accompany Jones during her investigation and write a series of articles on her pursuit of Spidey's secret.

Telling you any more about this issue would be an unforgivable disservice to one of the best stories of the year. I will say that Bendis and Gaydos depart from traditional comic-book format to tell their tale and that reading this issue left a huge grin on my face. Who'd have thought ALIAS could make me feel so good?

ALIAS #10 gets the full five Tonys. It definitely deserves to be nominated for best single issue when next comicdom gets down to casting its ballots.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

AMERICAN SPLENDOR: UNSUNG HERO #1 (Dark Horse; $3.99) begins a three-issue biography of Robert McNeill, written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated David Collier. Though Pekar is best known for his vignettes of the trials and wonders of everyday existence, here he looks at "an ordinary man who's lived an extraordinary life" with his focus on McNeill's tour of duty in Vietnam.

I've been looking at the cover of this comic for days now and I'm not sure if it's a brilliantly-retouched photograph of a young McNeill or an amazingly realistic portrait of the soldier. Tempted as I am to phone editor Diana Schutz for the answer, I sort of like not knowing. My uncertainty parallels the uncertainty with which so many Americans still regard the Vietnam war.

Moving past the cover, Pekar and Collier open with a shot of McNeill telling his story to Pekar. The subject and his biographer reappear several times during this first issue, a technique which, while occasionally jarring, reinforces the reality of the then and the now of their tale. Pekar submerges his voice within McNeill's, giving readers a first-hand point of view of the era they discuss. By the time I reached the end of the issue, I had been brought so far into McNeill's world that it took me a moment to realize I was out of pages to read. Even with the next issue due to ship any day now, any wait seems too long.

Collier's drawings also defer to McNeill's voice. They tell the story smoothly and without drawing attention to themselves, but they also add yet another expressive layer of reality to the whole. As a believer in the concept that writing and art must always work in service of the story, I applaud the approach.

From its earliest days, Dark Horse has published and supported individual expressions of the comics art form. It continues that tradition here. Though AMERICAN SPLENDOR: UNSUNG HERO will best be judged in its entirety, I'm still giving this first issue the full five Tonys. It's a terrific comic book.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Mid-Ohio-Con is over two months away as I write this column, but promoter Roger Price has already announced his typically great slate of guests and the convention's Panel Programming Director--that would be me--is already going crazy trying to get as many of them as possible on those panels. There are over 70 guests on the list and I have 22 programming slots. I'm considering scheduling these things alphabetically:

"Attention! Guests whose last names begin with an 'A' or 'B' should now report to Hall C for a panel, the subject of which to be determined by whoever gets there first."

Don't look at me that way, Roger. It's a joke!

Future Comics will be on hand, represented by Bob Layton and Dick Giordano. Ted Raimi of XENA fame will be attending Mid-Ohio for the first time, as will James Leary, the demonic-yet-friendly "Clem" from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and Amy Allen, "Aayla Secure" from STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES.

ANGEL's Andy "The Host" Hallett and Mark "Groosalugg" Lutz are returning, as is BUFFY/ANGEL novelist/Wildstorm Productions editor and writer Jeff Mariotte. The show has been getting great support from Buffy/Angel fandom and I'll be programming a couple of events to show how much we appreciate that support.

First-time guests to the show include STATIC SHOCK producer and writer Alan Burnett, nationally syndicated cartoonist Derf, Al Feldstein, Greg Horn, Mark Millar, Myatt Murphy, Marv Wolfman, and Len Wein. Mid-Ohio's returning guests include Dick Ayers, Sergio Aragones, Jan Duursema, Mark Evanier, Paul Jenkins, David Mack, Tom Mandrake, Jon Provost, Don Rosa, Jeff Smith, Roger Stern, and, as I'm now heavily into babbling-with-joy mode, I'll direct you to the Mid-Ohio-Con website for the rest of the list:

www.midohiocon.com


Mid-Ohio-Con takes place at the Hilton Columbus at Easton Town Center on Saturday, November 30, and Sunday, December 1. As this will be the only convention I'm attending this year, I hope you can join me for all the fun and festivities. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to take this call...

How many times to I have to explain this, Mark? I know he's your best friend, but Aragones starts with an "A" and Evanier with an "E." If I schedule you for the same panel, some poor "B" gets the boot. Trust me, you don't want to see George Broderick when he gets angry!

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1508 [October 11, 2002], which shipped on September 23. After all these years, it still impresses me that CBG's overworked and understaffed crew get a new issue out every week *and* do such a terrific job of it. You can believe that I say this from the heart because, having signed my contract for 2003, I don't HAVE to be nice to them again until next October.

Dark Horse Comics editor DIANA SCHUTZ wrote to thank me for my review of AMERICAN SPLENDOR: UNSUNG HERO and pass along the skinny on the cover:
The cover is not a painting--it is indeed a photo of the young (17 years old!) Robert McNeill when he first signed up. I don't know about the "brilliantly retouched" part--in fact, aside from a couple small glitches that I had designer Dave Nestelle take care of, we let the photo stand pretty much on its own, in an effort to give it a more realistic feel. That'll become especially apparent with the covers to issues 2 and 3, both of which are photo montages of old (primarily) Polaroid shots that are in spots ripped and torn and fading, but which we chose not to fix at all.
Mid-Ohio-Con is drawing ever closer. Although the panels are set and the final schedule is on the website, I'm still receiving and sending out e-mails to insure a smooth program. At last count, I had received or sent well over 400 e-mails and made somewhere in the neighborhood of four dozen phone calls.

If I can get far enough of ahead of schedule by this time next week, I will accompany show promoter Roger Price and security chief Wes Aten on our annual pre-convention trip to Columbus. We load up my van with promotional items and supply, check out the con site, and touch base with the hotel management.

The show starts on Saturday, November 30, but I arrive at the hotel early Friday morning to assist Roger and make sure the guests get from the airport to the hotel in good order. If all goes well, I even get to stop in at the Laughing Ogre's traditional pre-show bash. Good times all around.

******

TONY STUFF

Fans of my BLACK LIGHTNING work should definitely check out my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns at Perpetual Comics this week. For the first time, spread out over the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday TOTs, I'm posting my entire unpublished script to BLACK LIGHTNING #9 (the second series). The columns also include some further thoughts on DC's current plans for my character and where I would have taken BL had I continued to write his adventures. Check it out at:

www.perpetualcomics.com

This makes ten online columns in as many days. If you've been enjoying them, feel free to express your appreciation via the handy PAYPAL link below. It's not mandatory, but your donations do put a little extra spring in my typing fingers...and help Justin and I keep this website operating.

I'll be back on Thursday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 11/17/2002 | 11/19/2002 | 11/21/2002 >>

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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