TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1509 (11/21/02)
"The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse."
Christopher Reeve can make you believe that a man, even a man who suffered a spinal-cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down, can fight, can achieve, and can give hope to others who face similar challenges. It's taken years of intense and cutting-edge therapy, but Reeve can now move his right wrist, his hips, and the fingers of his left hand, and, blessedly, he can feel sensation on his skin.
"It's tremendous," he told Barbara Walters in a recent 20/20 interview. "Touch is so important--particularly with children, your loved ones."
Maybe Reeve isn't Superman, the comics icon he played in four movies, and with whom the "looking for a sound bite" media--myself included, I fear--will always identify him, but he is undeniably a man of character and courage. He can't walk, a goal he'd hope to achieve by his just-celebrated 50th birthday, and he can't breathe consistently without a ventilator. He may never recover enough to do either. But he continues to make appearances and work on behalf of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and has published his second book, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE: REFLECTIONS ON A NEW LIFE. If the mark of a hero is the inspiration he provides to others, then maybe "super" *is* the perfect adjective for Reeve.
If you'd like to learn more about Reeve's Hope Network, which gives its members "the tools and information to voice your support for medical research, disability rights, and other critical issues as they are debated in Congress," or sign-up for the Network's free e-mail newsletter, head over to:
Superman or not, Reeve's connection with the comics industry does us proud. As his website suggests, I urge CBG readers to take a stand for those who can't.
ALIAS (Max/Marvel; $2.99) is a title which often surprises me and not always in a good way. Veteran readers of this column will recall that I had a major problem with the portrayal of Luke Cage in the earliest issues, a problem magnified by his being the only African-American character to play a semi-major role in the series to date. But we'll get to Luke in a moment.
Jessica Jones, the star of ALIAS, is a former super-heroine, who, after a brief and unsuccessful career in that arena, opened a small private investigations firm. She has her demons--she drinks and "loves" unwisely--but she's a decent person struggling with low self-esteem and, I think, a longing for the world she once knew, the world of the Marvels.
Despite frequently-excellent work by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the first ALIAS storyline, in which Jessica was set up to discredit Captain America and, by association, the President, shambled to an unsatisfactory conclusion. That Jessica was played by virtually everyone else in the book and still managed to do the right thing, more by confusion and inaction than anything else, was perhaps necessary character-building. That the villains of the day were defeated by the not-quite-good guys sans any meaningful role by the troubled detective was in keeping with the cynicism of the story. That Captain America--Captain America!--came off as docile and ineffectual was just plain wrong, though Bendis scored a very few last-minute points with the "pep talk" Cap gives Jessica at the close of ALIAS #5.
On our scale of zero to five Tonys, ALIAS #1-5 average out at an admittedly stingy three.
ALIAS #6-9 has Jessica working two cases. The "A" plot is her search for Rick Jones, reported missing by his wife and hiding out from intergalactic assassins, though none of the above is what it initially appears to be. The "B" plot is a more routine "straying husband" case. And there's a sub-plot of Jessica reconnecting with her costumed past via coffee with Carol Danvers.
This story arc fulfilled the promise the initial arc failed to deliver. Jessica's compassion and vulnerability enhanced, rather than diminished, her character...with the successful conclusions of her unconnected cases coming from solid, albeit routine, detective work. Additionally, Jessica's lunch with Carol, save for one tiny quibble, is funny and genuine, containing some of the best dialogue Bendis has written to date. If I were trying to hook a new reader on ALIAS, I'd give them this arc over the first one.
That tiny quibble is best expressed in a question: what does Bendis have against Luke Cage? In ALIAS to date, we've seen Cage take carnal advantage of a drunken and spiritually wounded Jessica, then kick her to the curb an issue later. When she's held by the police, he pays her bail and hires Matt Murdock to represent her. However, since Cage does this off-panel, it has the feel of leaving cash on the dresser while sneaking out the door. Finally, in ALIAS #6, Carol tells Jessica that Luke is a "total cape-chaser," adding another layer of sordidness to his one-nighter with Jessica. This is a clear pattern of disrespect towards Cage. Am I the only one offended by this?
The Cage slam is only a few pages out of the four-issue story, but 'twas enough to keep ALIAS #6-9 from going all the way. I give this second arc four Tonys.
I jumped the gun and reviewed ALIAS #10 last week. Its tale of J. Jonah Jameson hiring Jessica to uncover Spider-Man's civilian identity is one of the best stories of the year and deserved every one of the five Tonys it received.
That issue was the turning point for ALIAS and me. Bendis and Gaydos did a great story that put Jessica smack-dab in the middle of the Marvel Universe and did it in such a way that it didn't seem out of place therein.
ALIAS #11-14's "Rebecca, Please Come Home" takes Jessica out of the big city to a small town to investigate the disappearance of a rebellious teenager. Though there were touchstones to the Marvel Universe--the missing girl was a fan of Daredevil and the Punisher, and also rumored to be a mutant--it's a straightforward detective story with the added complication that a local newspaper reporter has alerted the entire community to Jessica's presence, making her investigation more public than she would like. Bendis does a nice job balancing Jessica's strengths and weaknesses here. I give him extra props for a sub-plot wherein Carol Danvers is trying to play matchmaker between Jessica and Scott "Ant-Man" Lang. I don't think Jessica is ready for a "nice guy" in her life, but I'm still going to be rooting for her.
ALIAS #11-14 also get the full five Tonys. It's a shame folks aren't talking up this book lately; it's a much better book than it was a year ago and deserves more attention.
SPIDER-MAN: SECRET OF THE SINISTER SIX (BP Books; $24.95) is the final book in Adam-Troy Castro's "S6" trilogy. Right up front, let me assure you that, even if you haven't read the earlier books, the first several chapters tell you everything you need to know to enjoy this novel.
The "big bad" is the Gentleman, a ruthless killer who profits from the chaos and misery he spreads. He has been involved in some of the worst crimes against humanity in the past half-century, and, on a smaller scale, was responsible for the murders and subsequent framing of Peter Parker's parents. As part of his horrific plans for New York City and the world, the Gentleman has brought together the Chameleon, the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, and one other. That other is Pity: deadly, powerful, silent, tortured, and quite possibly Parker's sister.
Set during the period when May Parker was believed dead, this trilogy finds Peter and wife Mary Jane still married and living in May's house. While MJ pursues acting and teaching opportunities, Spidey is working with the government organization S.A.F.E. to stop the Gentleman from carrying out his plans.
Castro gets all of the Marvel Universe characters right, and, by right, I mean, as good or better as they are currently written in the actual Marvel comics. However, be warned that the villains are decidedly bloodthirsty in this book. It's not out of character for any of them, but it can be jarring.
The agents of S.A.F.E. (Strategic Action For Emergencies) are a good and interesting bunch as well. By taking the time to make them come alive as individuals, Castro heightens the suspense when he puts them in life-or-death situations which not of all them will survive. He owes me for a couple lumps in my throat.
In the midst of the action and horror, there are also lighter moments. Spider-Man's epic battle with the dreaded Disc Jockey had me chuckling out loud, and his defeat of one member of the Sinister Six bolstered my theory that Spidey owes a bit of his style to Bugs Bunny. It's one thing to be quick enough to outwit a more powerful foe; it's even better to humiliate that foe.
If I have a problem with this book, it would be with Castro's frequent mentions of characters from other genre fiction. They can be fun if the reader "gets" them right away, less so if he had to stop and think about them, and not at all when he recognizes that there's a joke but doesn't know what it is. Having said that, and against all reason, I found the final scene cameo appearance of a well-known band of detectives hilarious. In an odd way, it added to the novel's essentially optimistic nature.
I have-but-haven't-yet-read THE GATHERING OF THE SINISTER SIX, the first book of the trilogy. It was a mass market paperback and is currently out of print.
THE REVENGE OF THE SINISTER SIX, the middle book, was reviewed here a while back. Like the concluding novel, it has that winning combination of super-hero action and heart. The hardcover edition is currently available from Amazon Books, but a paperback edition is also available.
I think Spider-Man fans will enjoy THE SECRET OF THE SINISTER SIX. Think of it as a prose version of a really good Marvel comic. I give it the full five Tonys.
Long-time CBG readers will recall a series of classified ads wherein a subscriber proclaimed his ardor for one Holly Simpson, a by-all-accounts, charming and lovely young lady. That subscriber is Bill Beechler, her husband, and he just sent me this update on their ongoing romance:
I'm telling everyone I know, and I feel like I know you now. Holly Simpson, my lovely wife and the subject of the long-running CBG ad, and I are having TRIPLETS! Yikes! We're still in a bit of shock, but getting more used to the idea. These will be our first and probably last kids and they will be, so far, the only grandkids on either side of the family...so lots of help is coming our way and boy-howdy will we need it. I was joking today that I was going through the Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages and then I found out that Kubler-Ross was a triplet herself...eerie. Anyway, I thought it might brighten your day to hear the big news.
Hey Holly, what are you drinking? Chemical X!?
So, if they're girls, you'll name them Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles? That makes perfect sense to me. Of course, if they are boys, you should go with Huey, Dewey, and Louie. That would also make perfect sense to me, but then, I wanted to name my kids Jerome Joseph and Tigra Isabella.
Congratulations to Holly and Bill. Be sure to send us photos of the new arrivals so we can share them with the rest of the CBG family. But don't hurry that arrival on our account. After all, you need time to childproof your comic books.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1509 [October 18, 2002], which shipped on September 30. The four-times-a-week reprints will continue to come your way through this month, but, in December, we'll be back to one per week--on Saturday--and I'll be able to take a breath every now and then.
My praise for Christopher Reeve brought the following e-mail of comment from STEVE OGDEN. He writes:
Your comments about Christopher Reeve kind of frustrate me and I'll tell you why. I hope I don't sound like an ogre. Your column and Reeve's book are why I'm frustrated. I wonder how he'd be living his life if he were not famous. My frustration is on many levels here. My dad was stricken with polio back in 1952. At that time, there was no therapy to speak of. The doctors would put you in a wheelchair and send you on your way. They didn't think Dad would make it past his 18th birthday. Back then, there were no "handicap accessible" mentality or buildings; you were on your own. And that is what my dad did...he did things on his own. Today, he is 57, but very sick My dad could have "lived off the system," so to speak, but he worked everyday of his life. He married my mother and adopted my brother Mike and I in 1971. He, along with my mother, have always provided for us. As I said, my dad is now very sick. He never complains about his condition, he never has, never. My parents have never been well off. My dad's medical expenses are outrageous; my parents have to jump through hoop after hoop to get the smallest thing because he needs these medical supplies to live. I wonder...if he wrote a book, would anyone buy it? If he called Barbara Walters, would she interview him about his courage and dedication to family and society? Has Reeve has gone through his life wondering if he will be evicted for his apartment because rent money had to go to medical expenses? I don't belittle what happened to Reeve, but what about the common man who faces trial and adversity everyday with debilitating conditions. They are heroes, too, and their courage and dedication are greater to me, because the hoops and hurdles they must surmount are higher and much bigger.
I've surrounded myself with comic-book heroes all of my life, but my dad will always be my number-one hero.
I occasionally receive letters I answer a dozen different ways in my head before I ever sit down to the keyboard. This is one of those letters.
Steve...your dad's accomplishments and courage are in no way lessened because Christopher Reeve gets more publicity. Certainly, Reeve's celebrity gives him advantages which were not available to your father. But, looking at it another way, isn't Reeve using his celebrity standing to educate people on disability issues, to work for the rights of the disabled, and to support research, of benefit to us all? Whether this is in his self-interest or not--and Reeve was no stranger to charitable causes before his accident--his goals are worthy ones. Some heroes get more publicity than others, but, famous or not, we need all the heroes we can find.
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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