TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1519 (01/04/02)
"If it does get picked up as a regular series, will they go several months between episodes, then a year or two before the season finale--just to give it the feel of the comics?"
--Comics reader Scott Edwards on the Danger Girl pilot script ordered by UPN.
This week's opening quote is submitted as evidence that comics fans have long memories when it comes to comics creators who don't deliver the goods on a timely basis. Edwards, currently serving in the Navy and stationed in Japan, is a regular poster on my official Tony Isabella Message Board:
Generously sponsored by Kevin Smith's View Askew Productions and operated by World Famous Comics, Comics Community is also home to the official message boards of Mike Allred, Dan Brereton, Frank Cho, Jan Duursema, James Hudnall, Insight Studios, David Mack, Tom Mandrake, John Ostrander, Alvin Schwartz, and Jeff Smith. I may be a tad biased, but I think this community is a great place for fans of the above to gather and discuss comics, movies, or whatever else catches their interest. On my floating head scale of zero to five, I give it the full five Tonys.
BATMAN #608 (DC Comics; $2.25), which debuts the new creative team of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, has sold out a second printing as I write this review and I just don't get it. It's not that Jeph Loeb isn't a good writer. He is, as proven by some fine word-smithing, including a telling internal monologue in which Batman compares his approach to a rescue with how Superman would have handled it. And it's not that Jim Lee isn't a good artist. He is, as proven by any number of exceptionally well-drawn pages, though I personally feel his storytelling is more flash than substance.
What is it? It's that this comic book has nothing we haven't seen before...with the possible exception of the artist's almost fetishistic obsession with drawing Batman's boots. Here come the SPOILERS. You have been warned.
Batman is on the trail of a kidnaped kid. He deals with the kidnapers with a combination of brute force and hi-tech gimmicks. He rescues the kid, a surprising someone makes off with the ransom money, Bats fails to apprehend the someone, and the someone hands over the cash to another "surprise" villain. There's not a single "wow" in the issue. As the opening chapter in a long story arc, it leaves me bored and disinterested.
I hope the story picks up as this arc progresses, but I can't award points on that basis. The best I can do for BATMAN #608 is a disappointing two Tonys.
There were 16 Batman or Batman "Family" comics in the latest issue of PREVIEWS, not counting trade paperbacks. That's only too many if they aren't good. I fully understand DC's decision to do so many Bat-books; it's in the implementing of that decision that I sometimes take exception. For an especially tedious example of Batman comics that aren't good, you need look no further than the three-issue BATMAN/DEATHBLOW: AFTER THE FIRE (Wildstorm/DC; $5.95 per issue).
Government assassin Deathblow is about as minor a Batman co-star as you could find. Brian Azzarello's story just goes on and on, alternating between boring stretches of dialogue/exposition and silent action scenes. In a tale about shades of grey, i.e., lack of morality, the only characters who show any personality, barely, are Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon.
The silent action sequences fail because they are every bit as stiff as the writing and because penciler Lee Bermejo's work lacks movement. Worse, his pages are colored in shades of mostly muddy brown. These are not good-looking comic books.
Publishing BATMAN/DEATHBLOW in the expensive "Prestige" format only adds financial injury to the creative insult. The mini-series gets no Tonys. Avoid it.
I wish I'd read BEG THE QUESTION (Fantagraphics Books; $24.95) a few weeks ago. Had I done so, I would have recommended it as one of the best holiday presents you could give an adult comics reader or someone just ready to become a comics reader. But, hey, people still have birthdays and, if the recipient is your special gal or guy, there's always Valentine's Day.
Before I even get into how terrific this Bob Fingerman graphic novel is, I must compliment the Fantagraphics crew for one of the best looking books out there. From the stylish slip cover with an evocative cover that doesn't scream "funny books" to as handsome a hardcover binding as I've seen to the equal care given to clarity of presentation within those hard covers, this book is a class act that feels downright sensuous in one's hands.
Pretty packaging doesn't make a compelling story. Fingerman handles that end of the deal as he brings us into the lives of Rob Hoffman and Sylvia Fanucci, two twenty-somethings in New York City who have found in each other the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Rob is a cartoonist who often yearns for the world of fine art. Sylvia is a beauty parlor manager/hairdresser who finds creative comfort in her music and her writing. They have their insecurities and foibles, but, if Rob and Sylvia were real--and Fingerman does such an amazing job bringing them to life that they are--I wouldn't be surprised to bump into them on the streets of Manhattan. Reading BEG THE QUESTION is like being a member of a sometimes dysfunctional family.
Getting close to Rob and Sylvia is an intense experience. The love they share, the intimacy with which Fingerman portrays it, is the driving force of BEG THE QUESTION. The intimacy isn't confined to their sexual moments; it's present in their insecurities, their relationships with their family and friends, and every other facet of their life together. If I had to reduce this graphic novel to a paragraph, I'd do like this:
"BEG THE QUESTION is a coming-of-age graphic novel for twenty-somethings and anyone who remembers being that age. It is a funny, heartwarming, and poignant work. It helps make the case for comics being THE great American art form."
While you're mulling that over, here's some publishing history for those of you who recall Rob and Sylvia from Fingerman's MINIMUM WAGE comics books:
BEG THE QUESTION was originally published as a shorter graphic novel and ten subsequent MINIMUM WAGE comic books. This hardcover book collects nine of the ten comics, a new opening chapter which condenses and revises the first graphic novel, and some additional sequences. Fingerman reworked all the pages for this publication, many of them substantially.
I rate the things I review on a scale of zero to five Tonys, but, sometimes, I read a book or a comic that surpasses my greatest expectations. That's why I'm giving BEG THE QUESTION six Tonys. It should be in every "mature readers" comics collection, personal and public, and held up as an example of how good and wondrous the comics art form can be.
Here's what the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is...and why it deserves your support:
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization protecting the First Amendment rights of the comics community. Founded in 1986, the CBLDF's guiding principle is that comics deserve the same freedom of expression accorded film, literature, and other media. Thanks to generous support from comics fans and professionals alike, the CBLDF has coordinated and funded the legal defense of more than a dozen First Amendment cases.
It's the nature of the CBLDF that it often fights its battles on many fronts. BUSTED!, official newsletter of the organization, does an outstanding job reporting on these battles in its October, 2002 issue. Its 24 pages detail ongoing and resolved cases, offer sage advice for dealing with both the media and would-be censors, and updates members on current fund-raising efforts. TIPS commends editor Charles Brownstein and contributing writers Alex Goldman and Milton Griepp for this informative call to arms.
In a time when First Amendment rights are being threatened in so many different areas of our national and personal lives, I fear the need for the CBLDF's resources and support will grow far beyond its current caseload. Membership in the CBLDF is open to everyone and the $25 annual fee goes a long way towards giving the Fund the financial means to fight the fight for all of us. In addition, comics professionals have created a wide range of very cool items (shirts, posters, and more), the sale of which adds vital dollars to the CBLDF's war chest.
For information on joining the CBLDF and scoring those afore-mentioned cool items, go to the Fund website at:
Oh, yeah, BUSTED! picks up five Tonys for spreading the word and keeping us informed. It's as vital a publication as any in the comics field.
If you like stories about Big Robots as much as writer Steve Niles does, you'll like FUSED (Image; $2.95). If you like stories about Big Robots that have more than Big Robots going for them--and, though you can't see it, I've raised my hand here--you'll like FUSED even more.
Written and created by Niles, FUSED doesn't exactly break new ground in its tale of a scientist who is not what he seems, equally mysterious government types, and the young scientist (and husband) who is tragically caught in the conflict between the scientist and the feds. What makes FUSED worth reading is the exuberance of the tale's telling and our liking/sympathy for its protagonist, a good man fused into a powerful suit of armor that might as well have a target painted on its torso. Though Niles could and should pick up the title's pace a bit--surely, he's got some new ideas waiting in the wings once the preliminaries have been dealt with--the initial three issues captured and held my interest.
FUSED also earns points for its visuals. Paul Lee kicked some artistic butt in the first two issues and Brad Rader did a good job following that tough act in the third. The coloring and lettering are top-notch, supporting the story without overpowering it.
Positive note should also be made of the "Mixed Messages and Amalgamated Mail" text feature which appears in every issue. At a time when DC has dropped its letters columns and Marvel appears to include them as an afterthought, I support any such communication between creators and their readers.
FUSED gets off to an entertaining start and is worth a look at your neighborhood comics shop. It earns three Tonys.
Warren Ellis has been busy of late and a tasty fruit of this labor is GLOBAL FREQUENCY #1 (Wildstorm; #2.95). Ellis summed up the concept nicely in a promotional piece:
There are a thousand and one people on the Global Frequency. A worldwide rescue organization with a thousand and one agents, all over the world. Anyone you know might be with them. Think about that. It's the world's little open secret. You could be sitting there watching Celebrity Temptation Big Idol Island and suddenly hear a weird cell-phone tone from the next apartment, and within moments you might see your neighbor leaving the house in a hurry, wearing a jacket or a shirt with the distinctive Global Frequency symbol...or, hell, your girlfriend might answer the phone, and then put on her Global Frequency badge and promise to explain later. For all you know, they have your file, and Miranda Zero will turn up at your doorstep in the dead of night with a strange smile and a big gun.
Think about this, too: If you see someone in a GF jacket, then you know everything's gone to hell and it's time to run away very fast. Because they only get the call when the world is ending.
There's much to recommend GLOBAL FREQUENCY #1, even beyond its intriguing concept. The story is done-in-one, and the breakneck pace at which Ellis tells it enforces the sense of impending doom and urgency. Garry Leach's artwork moves the story along smoothly and doesn't stint on the realism or visual characterization. The threat-of-the-month is clever and the resolution doesn't disappoint in the slightest.
My sole complaint with this premiere issue is the appearance of the GF member in the bondage mask. His sexual pleasures are not of any import to the story--if they were, I wouldn't be complaining about his role--and, as such, their inclusion comes off as a cheap bit of pandering. "Edgy" for the sake of "edgy" doesn't do it for me; Ellis already had me from page one.
GLOBAL FREQUENCY #1 racks up four-and-a-half Tonys. I sliced off half-a-head for the bondage mask. Ellis doesn't need to pander to sell me on this title.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1519 [December 27, 2002], which shipped on December 9. For information on subscribing to CBG, go to:
We get letters and we share some of them with you. First up is this one from LEE "BUDGIE" BARNETT:
Concerning your complaint about the GF member in the bondage mask, I think the idea was to show that anyone at any time could be a member of GF. It didn't bother me showing him being interrupted during a bondage sequence. What bothered me, and I've no idea why, was him not removing the mask while he was "working." That just seemed off.
I think he kept the mask on while working for the same reason he was shown wearing it in the first place. It was there for the shock value. However, I very much like the idea that anyone can be a member of GF and hereby submit my application.
This next e-mail came in as a response to my ULTIMATES review, but was only signed "D":
I read your review and agree with many of your points. Except one, of course: your caricature of George Bush and his War on Terrorism.
Whether you are correct or not, he is the president. It was simply tweaked due to the fact that we have an electoral college, as set up by the Founders. THEY didn't trust the masses, and were suspicious of a pure democratic electorate. The Republicans were able to "beat the clock" in the election because the Governor of Florida is a Republican, the Florida Legislature were Republicans, the Secretary of State was a Republican and the U.S. Supreme Court is held by Republicans. That doesn't mean there was a conspiracy in all this. My guess is that they played the game better than the Democrats. Par for the course.
And as for Dubya's "War," I seriously doubt Gore would have done anything differently. Hell, he would have been hailed as this generation's FDR. Oh well.
However, I would definitely buy an ULTIMATE THOR comic written by you.
First. Please, please, please, sign your e-mails to me with a real name. I can't remember everyone's e-mail address and match it to a name. If, for some reason, you don't want to use your real name, I can reluctantly live with that, but, at least, tell me that is what you're doing.
Second. I can't imagine Al Gore launching a war on Iraq under these circumstances. I'd like to think that President Gore would have stuck to the original aims of the war against terrorism until those aims were achieved. With Osama Bin Laden still alive, with his organization still active, with the possibly (or possibly not) related anthrax murderer still at large, Bush has not successfully completed his original stated goals.
Third. Given that THOR co-creator Stan Lee is current suing Marvel, I would have to get his blessing before I would be able to write an ULTIMATE THOR comic. But, if Stan were okay with it, and if Marvel were interested in having me do it, I think I could give the readers a pretty cool comic book. However, since I doubt very much Marvel would be interested, I'll just have to see what I can come up with on my own. Heh, heh, heh.
One more e-mail for today. This comes from comics/television writer PETE VENTRELLA:
Don't know if you remember me but I sent you a couple issues of the comic book I write with Mike Vosburg called LORI LOVECRAFT and which you were kind enough to review in your column. I just wanted to let you know I was touched by your heartfelt column in CBG of a few weeks ago about your desire to break back into writing comics full time. I loved your work...especially the Living Mummy feature in SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS...and would like to see more from you soon. So, best of luck with all your endeavors!
That's awfully kind of you, Pete. This kind of encouragement, from those who have enjoyed my comics writing, is more fuel for my inner fires. Thank you.
My TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR commences with MEGACON, Friday, February 28, thru Sunday, March 2, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. You can learn more about this event by aiming your computer at:
I can now announce the second stop on my tour. It's PLANET COMICON, Saturday, March 29, and Sunday, March 30, at the Overland Park International Trade Center, in Kansas City, Kansas. I wasn't able to get into the show's website while writing this column, but, as of last month, the guest roster included: George Perez, Virginia Hey (from FARSCAPE), Dick Ayers, Rick Burchett, John Cassaday, Rudy Garcia, Ale Garza, Phil Hester, Bruce Jones, Doug Mahnke, Ande Parks, Greg Rucka, Mark Schultz, Rick Stasi, William Stout, Mike Worley, and Apollo 12 astronaut Richard Gordon...with many more to be announced. I'm thrilled to be part of this group and this show. Visit PLANET COMICON on the web at:
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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