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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1517 (12/21/02)

"The comic-book medium never gets anything right--it actually eats its old."

--Mike Gold

Mike Gold, whose editorial accomplishments during his days at DC and First Comics are, if not legendary, then at the very least, fondly remembered by readers, was recently asked about the "Marvel situation." The person asking the question couldn't understand why Stan Lee and Joe Simon had to file lawsuits to get their fair share from Marvel.

"These guys made that company," he said, "they must deserve *some* respect."

Mike's brilliant response serves as the opening to this week's column and my own thoughts on these and related matters. I'll keep them as brief as possible.

Marvel should pay Stan Lee what they owe him as called for in the contract the company signed. There is no evidence the company signed the contract under duress, or that Stan has failed to honor his end of the contract. Given this and Marvel's failure to honor its own terms of sales to retailers, the publisher is getting a rep for violating its agreements. Whatever benefits Marvel may accrue in the short term from such practices cannot outweigh the long-term damage the company is doing to itself.

In the case of Joe Simon, now that the case is moving forward, Marvel may claim Joe isn't, as he says, the sole creator of Captain America. Certainly the conventional wisdom has always been that it was a co-creation with Jack Kirby. In addition, at various times, publisher Martin Goodman claimed creation.

The reality is that, of the three people who knew for certain who created Captain America, Joe is the only one still living. Me, I'm inclined to take him at his word, but I freely admit to bias in this regard. I'll almost always side with creators over companies because the history of the comics industry is that it does eat its old, its young, its brightest, its most loyal, its most original, its business partners, and anyone else it doesn't perceive it needs at the moment.

I can't and won't deny that, in some regards, creators have it better than they did in years past. Nor will I deny that there are comics executives who have gone several extra miles to address past injustices, though accuracy demands I note this has generally been done on a selective basis...and sometimes because these executives feared action of the sort initiated by Stan and Joe.

Do other entertainment fields treat creators with disregard? I'd be astonished if they didn't. That doesn't mean we can't hope for the comics industry to do better.

******

GREEN LANTERN: EVIL'S MIGHT #1-3 (DC; $5.95 each) places Kyle Rayner and other Green Lantern characters in 19th-century New York City, "a dangerous world of greed and corruption" where Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall rule and where recently-arrived Irish immigrants yearn for freedom. Yep, it's an ELSEWORLDS series..."where heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places." God help me, but as silly as some of these things can be, sometimes they just plain delight me.

I'm not enough of a historian to know how accurately writers Howard Chaykin and David Tischman captured this moment of American history, or how well penciler Marshall Rogers depicted it. What I can tell you is they pulled me into their story and made me believe that, yes, this is how it was, or, at the very least, how it could have been. They pass the "willing suspension of disbelief" portion of the exam with flying colors.

Rayner is an Irish gangster with a heart of gold. Sickened by his affiliation with the thugs of the Bowery Greens, he moonlights as an anonymous political cartoonist and tries to distance himself from the Greens and their brutal leader, Alan Scott. When a reward for an act of kindness grants Rayner the power of Green Lantern, he uses his new-found might to atone for his past crimes and to fight for his people.

Kyle Rayner recreated as a political cartoonist works for me, as does Carol Ferris as a suffragette. It makes sense that a woman who ran an aircraft company in "our" world would fight for equality in this elseworld. The budding romance between nouveau riche Carol and poor boy from the slums Kyle is clever, heartwarming, and sexy. Points to Chaykin and Tischman.

Hal Jordan is cast as a class-conscious police inspector whose engagement to Carol is threatened by Rayner, and whose ambition and jealousy lead him astray. Though there are definite similarities between this Jordan and the version in the post-Crisis DC Universe, I found them forced.

There are no such similarities between the "real" Alan Scott and the EVIL'S MIGHT incarnation. I understand the temptation to use as many DCU characters in these ELSEWORLDS comics as possible, but some temptations should be resisted. It was distracting to see an "Alan Scott" so at odds with the character I knew.

When I wasn't distracted by Alan, I thoroughly enjoyed EVIL'S MIGHT. The characters and story held my interest. The historical setting was fascinating. The scenes of violence were essential to the story and presented without pandering to the baser instincts of the audience. You don't have to stoop to shock value when you have honestly shocking moments.

Penciler Rogers (with inker John Cebollero and colorist Chris Chuckry) held up their end of things well. The art was in service of the story and, while there was a certain sameness to some of the male faces, this weakness was balanced by the sure command and wide range of facial expressions portrayed.

GREEN LANTERN: EVIL'S MIGHT may seem a little pricey at $17.85 for its three issues, but I think those 144 pages represent solid value for your bucks. I'd love to see a collected edition with an historical overview of the era it portrays and annotations of the real-life people and places who appear in these pages, but, even in its present format, EVIL'S MIGHT earns four out of a possible five Tonys. It's one heck of a story.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

THE AUTHORITY: TRANSFER OF POWER (Wildstorm/DC; $17.95) is an easy book to review. The controversial super-hero series is such a known quantity with its extreme violence and irreverent attitude that reviewing it can be as simple as saying if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this collection and, if you don't, you won't. It has its avid fans and its equally avid detractors. I probably lean more towards the latter.

TRANSFER OF POWER reprints AUTHORITY #22-29, the final issues of the book's initial run. The stories contain some truly amazing concepts by writers Mark Millar and Tom Peyer. But, especially in Millar's work, those intriguing ideas are overwhelmed by a meanness that permeates nearly every scene.

THE AUTHORITY had its share of behind-the-scenes difficulties during the production of these issues, which explains why there are four pencilers and nine inkers involved. For all those many hands, the art is never less than good and occasionally breathtakingly so. All of them get points for effort and performance.

There are readers who consider THE AUTHORITY to be the finest super-hero series of all time. Certainly the viewpoint it presents is intriguing. But the viewpoint is almost always secondary to the brutality, sometimes sexual in nature, that is trotted out at every opportunity. It's shock over substance, a common complaint I have with Millar's writing.

Two more quick thoughts about this collection:

First, the wedding of Apollo and the Midnighter delighted me. This was one of the few times their relationship wasn't presented as sordid or exploitative. Good for Millar.

Second, I could probably write an entire column discussing the final story page of the collection. It largely consists of Millar (speaking as Jack Hawksmoor) patting himself on the back and taking credit for "completely" changing the face of super-hero comics. A healthy ego isn't a bad thing, but I think Millar's assessment is premature and possibly delusional. The Spider-Man of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and John Romita is still the reigning super-hero in the world outside the tiny comics community and more than holding his own within our little pond.

However, Hawksmoor's self-congratulatory speech did have one line that had me nodding in agreement:

"Guys who can hear atoms whizzing around just can't get away with ignoring screams for help from third world concentration camps anymore."

Now that, sans the trademark AUTHORITY brutality and meanness, is a super-hero comic I'd very much like to read.

Recognizing the talent seen in these comics without loving the use to which the talent was put, I give THE AUTHORITY: TRANSFER OF POWER three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

WILDCATS: STREET SMART (Wildstorm/DC; $14.95) collects issues #1-6 of the title's second volume. The team members had gone their separate ways, but are kinda reunited for some mission or another. I'd be more specific, but I lost interest midway through the book. Where was that "gripping tale of action and intrigue, loyalty and betrayal, and ultimately, of what it means to be a hero" touted on the collection's back cover?

The scripts by Scott Lobdell with Joe Casey do contain the odd good scene or amusing bit of dialogue. The art by Travis Charest and the other seven artists who worked on the issues is often quite tasty. But the occasional interesting moments aren't nearly enough to carry the stories.

By the last page of the sixth issue--for you, I forced myself to keep reading--I not only didn't know what has happened, but I no longer cared. I was so bored I didn't even glance at the gallery of artwork which followed. There was a lot of talent involved in this collection, but it was talent desperately in need of editorial direction which was nowhere in evidence.

WILDCATS: STREET SMART doesn't get any Tonys. Not when there are so many better comics you can buy for fifteen bucks.

******

If you haven't already selected a 2003 calendar for your wall, you should consider STAN SAKAI'S USAGI YOJIMBO 2003 CALENDAR (Tide-Mark; $12.95). From the artistic standpoint, the twelve images of Sakai's samurai bunny, including a new painting done especially for this calendar, are stunning works. You won't tire of seeing them even in the months with 31 days.

From the practical standpoint, the actual calendar part of the calendar is large enough to be read at a glance with lots of space for daily reminders. Beauty and utility is a winning combination from January through December.

In case you hadn't noticed, I've raised my personal reviewing bar. These days, it's harder for review items to get the full five Tonys. I reserve that score for the really great stuff...like STAN SAKAI'S USAGI YOJIMBO 2003 CALENDAR.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

I close with a portent of the coming apocalypse:

The word "bootylicious" has been added to the 2003 Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

The end times are upon us.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1517 [December 13, 2002], which shipped on November 25. If you have a subscription to CBG, which is something I strongly recommend, you have already read this column and columns by Captain Comics, Peter David, Heidi MacDonald, Chuck Rozanski, and Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt. All for under a buck. What a deal!

A one-year (52 issues) CBG subscription is currently available for only $38.95. With your subscription, you also get a free 2003 CBG CALENDAR. To subscribe, go to:

http://www.collect.com/interest/periodical.asp?affiliate=69&Pub=BG

Most weeks, I add new material to these CBG reprints. This is one of those weeks. Keep reading.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

Let's start with this e-mail from HOY MURPHY, written after he read my review of THE ULTIMATES #1-7:
Once again, I find myself in complete agreement with you on a title. I like the art on THE ULTIMATES, and although I can accept many of the changes in the group's modern incarnation, I find the basic concept to be cynical and the writing to be mean-spirited. That's not the type of "entertainment" I like to pay for. Being a big Hank and Jan fan, I decided to drop the title after the issue where Hank sent the ants after Jan. From now on, I'll stick with the real AVENGERS title...where the stories and characters are more uplifting.

The only other thing I'll add is that DC made the right choice in keeping Mark Millar away from Superman.
The e-mail has been running about 60/40 in agreement with the review, which is about what I expected. Millar definitely has his fans, but, without denying his obvious talent, I'm not one of them. On the other hand, I'd love to see an editor or publisher challenge him to write a super-hero comic that was entertaining, interesting, AND uplifting.

Could he do it? Inquiring readers want to know.

J.C. VAUGHN, executive editor of Gemstone Publishing, had this to say about the same review:
Really enjoyed your take on Marvel's ULTIMATES. While I don't agree with all your observations, I think many of them are well founded. On other hand, I couldn't disagree more with your comments about non-Ultimate Hank Pym. Jim Shooter didn't do anything that wasn't a reasonable extrapolation of that character and what he had done/been through to that date. In fact, I think his rehabilitation has been enjoyable precisely because he was a fallen hero and not because he was a hero who should never have fallen.

I think there's a huge difference between Ultimate Captain America kicking Banner when he was down--I don't see that any more than you do--and saying Ant-Man/Giant Man/Yellowjacket/Ultron's Dad/Hank Pym didn't stick with anything very long and there must be something inside this character that was causing that.

Even going back to the first time he was Yellowjacket, the guy had been oh, HIGHLY unstable. It wasn't like Jim just made that up. He merely took what was there and went in a reasonable direction with it.

As always, it's fun reading your columns. Be well.
Don't get me started on the Shooter AVENGERS, which I contend is one of the most overrated runs in comics history. Because if I did start, I'd have to go into my rant about the arrogance Shooter bestowed on various characters during his run, the infidelity which abounded in his issues, and, of course, his most unforgivable sin: turning Tigra into not just a slut, but a cowardly slut. In fact, if you look at his AVENGERS as a whole, the most glaring aspect is how badly women are treated throughout the run.

A man embarking on a farewell tour shouldn't pull punches, so I'll repeat what I've written before: the comics industry is that much better for Shooter's absence from it.

******

MORE MAILBOX

My TONY'S TIPS for November 24 reprinted my CBG column on CGC grading and "slabbing" of comics. To this, we added an e-mail from a comics reader who disagreed with what I'd written and my response to his comments. The column is archived at World Famous Comics, so feel free to reread it before checking out this response from JOHN JACKSON MILLER, editorial director of Krause Publications' Comics and Games Division:
I thought it was possible your reader had taken my statement out of context. Here is what I said, in the course of a longer response to a reader: "If you primarily consider your high-grade comics as investments, my best INVESTMENT advice is to get them slabbed. If you primarily consider your comics to be reading material, keepsakes, or anything else, these considerations won't come into play."

I suppose that's an endorsement of sorts, but one clearly directed only at people who view their comics as investments--and for those people, it's hard to ignore the auction reports. In today's market, the unslabbed investment-grade comic book is simply not treated as equally desirable by buyers. It may not be fair-- and it may not be that way forever. But we have to judge based on what's actually going on.

I should note, too, that when we ever speak of anything "worth slabbing" here, we're almost always referring to a class of comics that will be desirable by collectors regardless of changing supply or market whims. We go out of our way any more NOT to talk about values for last week's comics. The reader is certainly right to expect the market for those to sour, and indeed it often has. By contrast, I do not think the values of slabbed Golden Age and key Silver Age comics are going to be as vulnerable to collapse. I don't think we CAN max out the supply of slabbed Action #1s; there just aren't enough out there to begin with. Demand will always exceed supply.

Personally, out of thousands, I have only three comic books I view as investments more than as literature or reference material; too fragile or dear to damage. They are, not coincidentally, my only three slabbed copies. Everything else is in a nice bag but otherwise out where it can be read. It was from that experience my advice was given--and as with any advice, it can be taken or left.
The "slabbing" argument will likely continue for many years to come. For now, I don't have anything else to add to the ongoing discussion, a minor miracle, to be sure.

Here's wishing all my readers a joyful and safe holiday week. I'll see you Monday/Wednesday/Friday at TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, hosted by Perpetual Comics [www.perpetualcomics.com] and then right back here on Saturday. God bless you all.

Tony Isabella

<< 12/14/2002 | 12/21/2002 | 12/28/2002 >>

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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