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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1510 (11/23/02)

"They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind."

--G.K. Chesterton

"At my age, travel broadens the behind."

--Stephen Fry

Mid-Ohio-Con 2002 is two months away as I write this column, but I'm knee-deep in planning the show's panel programming. This is a task made all the more difficult by promoter Roger "Con Daddy" Price adding new guests every time I turn around. If he keeps this up, there won't be room for the fans! Sheesh!

All year long, readers have been e-mailing me asking me if I'm appearing at any conventions in their necks of the woods. At first I thought they merely wanted to make sure their restraining orders were good, but, against all reason, it appears they like me, really like me, and were hoping to meet me.

The demands/obligations/stuff of my fascinating life made it impossible for me to attend other conventions this year, but I hope to make it up to you next year with the...let the clarions ring out across the land...

TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR 2003

With the downright eager consent of Sainted Wife Barb, I hope to attend a dozen comics conventions next year. My slogan will be something along the lines of...

"12 conventions! 12 cities! 1 cranky columnist!"

This madcap mission of meandering is in the earliest and most tentative planning stages. Which conventions I attend depends on which ones invite me, which ones help with the expenses, and which ones my readers most want me to attend. If you're a show promoter, you can reach me at the e-mail address given below. If you're one of my beloved readers, let me know what events you plan to attend. If you're a stalker, please be much cuter than the ones who usually target me...and would it kill you to send me a nice gift every now and then? That's what really terrifies me. Honest.

Meanwhile...

As soon as I write this column, I'll put the finishing touches on the Mid-Ohio-Con 2002 programming schedule. For all the latest Mid-Ohio-Con news, I direct you to the show website:

www.midohiocon.com

I hope to see you at this year's show and/or the ones I'll be attending in 2003.

******

Buffy the Vampire Slayer "They got the mustard out!"

One of the most remarkable hours of television last season was "Once More, With Feeling," the musical episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Creator/writer Joss Whedon conceived the notion of a town plunged into helpless singing-and-dancing by a demon and the long-hidden secrets revealed in the music. It was, to be sure, madness, but between one of the most talented casts on the small screen and Whedon's tuneful word-smithing, what emerged was a memorable work of episodic TV.

Now available on CD is the "original cast album" of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: "ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING" (Mutant Enemy/$18.98) and it's been playing in my office since I bought it a couple days ago. Well, except for when my daughter Kelly absconded with it to play it for her neighborhood pals. I can't complain; watching BTVS with Kelly is a definite parenting perk. As I sow...

There are songs and performances that make me laugh and make me sad. There are some that make me wince a bit and some that stir my soul; every time I listen to "Walk Through the Fire," I want to go out and stake something evil. Most poignantly, there are songs and performances that, in retrospect, astonish me with how cleverly they telegraphed the rest of the season.

What? You want a comics connection? Okay, even skipping over that BTVS is far and away the best comic book on TV, the cover and interior illustrations of the lyrics booklet that comes with the CD are by Adam Hughes. Satisfied?

On our disembodied head-based ratings scale of zero to five, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: "ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING" gets the full five Tonys. And keep an eye out for the "Once More, With Feeling' scriptbook, coming in November from Simon & Schuster.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Catching up on my Marvel Comics reading, I sat down with all four issues of DEADLINE, the Bill Rosemann/Guy David series about the Daily Bugle reporter who, to her chagrin, covers the super-hero beat for the paper. Since I like super-hero comics best when they connect to the real world, I was really hoping to like this series. And I did.

Greg Horn's computer-generated covers for the series were top of the line. They weren't just pretty pin-up shots; they conveyed the mood of the issues and hinted at the events within. Horn could give Alex Ross a run for the awards in 2003.

Reporter Kat Farrell is NYC-tough with enough vulnerability to keep her from being a cliche. She has good journalistic instincts and a good heart, which explains why her supporters include Betty Brant and some other Bugle notables. In this series, she is kinda playing hooky from her regular beat to track a mysterious killer of super-villains. In the process, she and we encounter some familiar and not-so-familiar Marvel Universe characters...and some brand-new creations. Since a good deal of the fun here is getting the story, I will say no more about the plot per se.

Rosemann's writing is excellent throughout. His own creations are well-made and he nails those existing characters who appear in his story. Artist Davis keeps it real by drawing an NYC closer to ours than to the Marvel Universe version, but it remains a city in which the fantastic does not seem out of place.

DEADLINE is or has already been collected in a trade paperback edition; it was solicited in the July PREVIEWS catalog.) At $9.99, the trade is three bucks cheaper than the original comics. That's a bargain for this terrific story and, as such, earns DEADLINE five Tonys. Is it too soon to ask for a DEADLINE II?

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Bouncing into the realm of late-night creature features, let's chat about EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, a "remake-in-name-only" of one of the goofy matinee classics of the 1950s. With special effects by Stan Winston, this flick owes as much to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko as it does to its cinematic forebears.

It stars Dan Aykroyd as a beaten-down-by-life police detective with a faithless wife and a string of unsolved murders on his desk, and Devon Gummersall as a comics fan who works as a security guard for a biotech research facility. From Aykroyd's first appearance, you can tell he was clearly having a great time making this movie. It must have taken tremendous will power for him not to smile his way through it.

Gummersall does a pretty fair acting job himself, portraying the shy and obsessive comics fan so well it's painful to watch him. I've known fans like his Quentin Kemmer. Shudder.

The plot? Quentin's favorite super-hero is the multi-limbed Arachnid Avenger. He works at a lab doing studies on the strength and regenerative abilities of really big spiders. When a robbery at the lab results in the death of his partner and his dismissal, he injects himself with some sort of spider-fluid. He gets super-powers, but the side effects are monstrous.

I watched EARTH VS. THE SPIDER with my 14-year-old son Eddie. (It's rated "R" for language and violence, neither of which is too extreme.) He didn't much care for it, but, for me, it touched my nostalgic memories of the many Saturday evenings with "Ghoulardi," watching monster movies of varying quality with the lights off and the TV set sound down low. Good times.

The DVD edition of EARTH VS. THE SPIDER lists for $24.95; the VHS tape for $14.95. It won't be hard to find the movie for less. At my local Blockbuster, I saw a "previously-viewed" tape priced at ten bucks. The tape had been sold by my next visit to Blockbuster, but a nearby Best Buy had the DVD for $19.95. It was twenty bucks well spent.

EARTH VS. THE SPIDER earns a respectable three Tonys, as much for the memories of Saturday nights past as for the movie itself. Now if only Peter Parker doesn't sue...

Tony Tony Tony

******

Having ventured this far into "guilty pleasures" territory, I might as well stake my claim to WILLIAM SHATNER'S FULL MOON FRIGHT NIGHT, airing Saturday evenings at 11 pm EST on the Sci-Fi Channel. That's right. We're talking Captain Kirk turned late-night horror-movie host with all the flicks coming from the less-than-legendary archives of Full Moon Pictures. Bring on the cheese!

Shatner throws himself fearlessly into his hosting duties. If there's a bit too corny, a joke too stupid, for him to try to sell it, I haven't seen it yet. The groans comes so fast and furiously that I continually find myself laughing out loud before I can stop myself. It's not good, but it's entertaining.

The same could be said for the movies. My "favorite" so far is THE CREEPS (1997) wherein a mad scientists invents a machine to bring iconic fictional characters to life. The process needs two things to work: the original manuscripts of the books and a virgin sacrifice, though, these days, the scientists admits, he realizes he has to fudge on the second.

A feisty young librarian hires a fledgling private detective to track down the scientist after he sneaks the original manuscript to FRANKENSTEIN out from under her nose. The scientist gets to her first and hooks her up to his machine. However, the detective gets her free halfway through the process...

[We interrupt this column for a big honking spoiler warning! Those of you with weak hearts might want to avoid reading this next bit as well. You really could die laughing.]

Despite the interruption, the scientist does manage to bring Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man to life. However...wait for it...each of these monsters is only three feet tall. I am not making this up!

Midget monsters. Does it get any better than that?

THE CREEPS was written by Benjamin Carr, whose credits include the equally-low-budget ZARKORR THE INVADER (1966), a giant monster flick worth noting because it so expertly mimics the giant monster yarns which appeared in 1960s Marvel comics like STRANGE TALES and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave birth to their new age of super-heroes.

The screenwriter of another Full Moon production included in the FRIGHT NIGHT package also has some tenuous connection to comic books. The sci-fi western OBLIVION (1994) was scripted by our very own Peter David and it's a hoot-and-a-half, filled with outrageous characters and gags, portrayed and performed by some really spiffy actors. The cast includes Meg Foster, Isaac Hayes, Julie Newmar, Carel Struycken, and George Takei. The scenery gets well-chewed in this movie, but it's a absolute blast to watch...especially if you make a game of counting all the "in" jokes.

WILLIAM SHATNER'S FULL MOON FRIGHT NIGHT is "must-tape" TV at Casa Isabella--Old Man Me can't usually stay up late enough to view it live--and I so recommend you check it out. The "quality" of the movies varies from week to week, but, on general principle, I give Shatner and company three-and-a-half Tonys. They make me laugh and that's definitely worth a floating head or three.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1510 [October 25, 2002], which was shipped on October 7. We're catching up on these back columns at an alarming rate. Once we do, we will resume our usual "every Saturday" schedule.

Yes, to answer the frequently-asked question, my TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR is for real. My column for CBG #1516 will explain it in greater detail. Of course, you online cheapskates who read this for free have to wait until December 14 to find out what's up with that crazy Tony.

I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 11/21/2002 | 11/23/2002 | 11/24/2002 >>

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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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