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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1520 (01/11/03)

"I keep the subject of my inquiry constantly before me, and wait till the first dawning opens gradually, by little and little, into a full and clear light."

--Sir Isaac Newton

I have to tell you a story, even though it doesn't have thing one to do with comic books. It's just too good not to share with you and when I say "too good," what I really mean is I wish there were a Olympic medal for just plain dumb government because my home town would definitely be a contender.

Once upon a time there were some local politicians who wanted a recreation center for the city. As wonderful as that might be, recreation centers don't come cheap and the politicians knew they could never get the voters to approve one. So, when the plans were made for a new high school in the city, the politicians kinda sorta added a rec center to them. No vote, no fuss.

The rec center was supposed to open in August. It opened in December with some work uncompleted.

The rec center was going to supported by selling memberships and naming rights. So far, memberships are at around half of what is necessary to maintain the center...and no one has wanted to pay a million bucks to have the place named after them. I sympathize with our hapless politicians, even though they thought I was just being mean when I asked how much I would have to pay to have a nice broom closet named after me.

Here's where this story gets better, and, when I say "better," I, of course, mean much worse. There are multiple pools at the rec center, one of them Olympic-size. The weekly backwashing from each pool dumps 15,000 gallons of water into the sewer system installed for the high school and rec center complex. Draining these pools, which must be done from time to time, will send 130,000 gallons of water into the system. In scientific terms, this is an awful lot of water.

The new sewers were designed to handle 650 gallons of water per minute, but actually need to handle at least 1,500. The sewers which they empty into are capable of handling 289 gallons a minute. Since the water from the pools cannot move through the system fast enough, the only place it can go is up into the basements of nearby homes. Bow howdy, I bet the prices of those houses will skyrocket as realtors advertise their indoor pools. Surf's up!

The local school district gets stuck with the bill for fixing this problem, which means the new high school we did vote for will now have that much less money to spend on the things we wanted it to spend our money on. However, before money is spent on repairs, I think we should run the figures past the school's math students. Even the "C" students can probably figure out that 1,500 is a much larger number than 650 or 289.

Thank God I have comic books to keep me sane.


Following the terrorist attacks of 9-11, nine Silicon Valley high-schoolers are given an unusual history assignment: interview complete strangers, who are at least twice their age and who come from backgrounds different from their own, and ask them for their opinions on the attacks. The goal of the teacher in Oliver Chin's NINE OF ONE #1 (Immedium; $2.95) is to expose his students to these diverse lives/viewpoints as a means of teaching them to interpret rather than simply memorize history, of teaching them to challenge their own views, and generally to give them the analytical tools to sort out a world growing smaller each day.

Chin doesn't have the creative chops of a Larry Gonick or Jay Hosler, but, like the creators of CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE and CLAN APIS, he's using comics to educate readers and examine the world around us. Chin isn't a master of the comics art form, but his writing has a conversational tone that smoothly carries readers from page to page. His drawings, simple though they may be, convey emotion and reality well.

NINE OF ONE, which will be a three-issue series, is intended to open readers to a spectrum of opinions from the rainbow that is America at its best. Midway through this first issue, the narrator observes, "Everyone found a person. It's funny. Once they agreed to talk, they couldn't be strangers anymore. That's just the way it is." It's an observation worth embracing.

NINE OF ONE #1 is notable for its lofty societal aspirations and for going where few American comics have gone. On our scale of zero to five floating heads--just think of them as stars if you're a traditionalist--it earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


Reading the Lorenzo Mattotti/Jerry Kramsky adaptation of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE (NBM/ComicsLit; $15.95) is a near-psychedelic experience. Mattotti is the Italian comics artist whose FIRES and MURMURS were two of the more interesting NBM albums of the 1980s. In this album, he and frequent collaborator Kramsky have retained as much of Robert Louis Stevenson's prose as possible in a 64-page presentation. But what sells the classic story in this version is the dizzying depiction of the darkness which draws Henry Jekyll and which ultimately destroys him.

You know the story, you've seen it dozens of times in books, comics, movies, and every other medium known to man. That Mattotti can make this oft-told tale so new and exciting is reason enough to add this album to your comics library.

Is this DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE worth sixteen bucks? That's a tough call. We've all spent as much on those bad old company-wide crossovers that didn't amount to anything more than writers telling the same story a dozen times in a single month. Measure the worth of this handsome hardcover album against those comics and Mattotti and Kramsky are the clear winners.

The high price be damned, I'm giving DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


Coming in February from Monkeysuit Press is Prentis Rollins' SURVIVAL MACHINE ($7.95), a 80-page trade paperback collection of stories by one of Monkeysuit's founding members. Three of the four tales have previously appeared in the MONKEYSUIT anthologies, all of them are worth reading.

These are stories of survivors, some of them quite mad. Dying tycoon Aaron Boxhall thinks he can preserve his life via a fully-armored, self-sufficient robot whose survival programming might be too good. A concentration camp survivor faces an old evil hiding in plain sight. An alienated physicist delves into the problem of where lost socks go. A million years from now, a sole survivor is the only link to a civilization entombed in the ash of millennia. By way of unfair comparison, Al Feldstein and his EC Comics artists could have done these tales in eight pages each. Even so, not one of these stories would've been out of place in those classic comics of the 1950s. Points for Rollins.

Rollins penciled 17 issues of Milestone's HARDWARE back in the day, and he's done some impressive inking on various DC and Marvel comics since then. However, there is something very cool about him telling his own stories and, despite the occasional misstep in the writing, I think he should be encouraged to continue to pursue this path. He's definitely got something to say.

SURVIVAL MACHINE gets three-and-a-half Tonys. I think Rollins is a creator worth watching.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony


One of these days, when the Force becomes strong within me, I will catch up on the many wonderful STAR WARS comic books published by Dark Horse Comics. Maybe even the not-so-wonderful ones. For me, the difference between the former and latter is whether or not I can enjoy a given issue when I've left my encyclopedic knowledge of STAR WARS in my other suit.

True confession. I love STAR WARS and STAR TREK, but my brain is too tiny to hold both Wars/Trek trivia and such vital real-world information as what street I live on. The one time I wrote a STAR WARS story, I kept it as simple as possible. Whenever I write STAR TREK tales, I make sure I'm working with either a collaborator or editor who does remember all that stuff. That's why I place such value on Wars/Trek comic books which I can read without getting a memory upgrade and also explains why we took the long way to this review of STAR WARS: REPUBLIC #46 ($2.99).

If you saw STAR WARS EPISODE I and II, you know all you need to know to enjoy STAR WARS: REPUBLIC #46, which takes place between those movies. In "Honor and Duty," the three-issue story beginning in this issue, a senator of the Republic has been murdered on the eve of an important vote. His replacement is being guarded by Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and his padawan, Anakin Skywalker. This situation does not please the actual Senate Guards, which makes for some keen inter-agency rivalry.

Writer John Ostrander keeps the action and political intrigue moving nicely, but what makes this more than just another STAR WARS story for me is the character and dysfunctional family of guardsman Sagoro Autem.

Autem has turned down desk jobs to stay on the "streets," such as they are, of Coruscant, the governmental center of the Republic. He has a strong sense of duty, an unflattering trace of prejudice, a rebellious son, and a brother who disgraced the family name. You can imagine how thrilled he is to have a political assassination added to the bowl of cherries which is his life.

Unfortunately, the art by penciler C.P. Smith and inker Jason Rodriguez isn't as strong as the writing. Throughout this issue, I saw stiff figures, people craning and twisting their necks for no apparent reason, and thick lines which made some characters look as if they'd been pasted into scenes. There was a discernable and not unwelcome Carmine Infantino influence to the Smith/Rodriguez art--Infantino drew the best issues of Marvel's STAR WARS series--but it didn't capture the fluidity of Infantino's style.

The less-than-wonderful artwork hurt STAR WARS: REPUBLIC #46. The best I can give it is three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony


AMERICAN CENTURY #20 (Vertigo/DC; $2.75) is the issue before the conclusion of a story arc in which protagonist Harry Kraft has returned to Chicago. I only know this from the caption on the last page of the issue and that, increasingly, is a problem DC needs to address in virtually all its titles under all its myriad imprints. If you're going to sell comics in serialized form, you need to give a new reader some kind of leg-up in every issue.

There was a lot for me to like in this issue. The swell Jim Silke cover combined sex with subtle danger and a look reminiscent of the gloriously sleazy paperbacks of old.

Writers Howard Chaykin and David Tischman spun words and plot nicely; I may not have known exactly who these characters were and what mischief they were involved in--beyond some crooked cops doing bad things--but I wanted to. Maybe even enough to go searching for back issues of the title.

Artistically, I really dug the work of penciler Marc Laming, colorist Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, and inker/letterer/separator Digital Chameleon, though I think any parents who would name their kid "Digital" were just asking for trouble and years of psychiatric bills. Thankfully, their offspring seems to have grown up to be a productive member of society.

AMERICAN CENTURY is suggested for mature readers and that's a good thing, considering the sex/violence/language found within its pages. However, unlike many a "mature readers" title, all of the above are part of Harry Kraft's universe and not clumsily inserted for shock value.

My first instinct on reading AMERICAN CENTURY #20 was to give it an "Incomplete" instead of an actual score. But I really liked the comic book and don't want to penalize it too much for a problem which needs to be addressed company-wide. So I'm awarding it four Tonys. I am the very soul of generosity.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



About a third of the above column--namely the reviews of NINE OF ONE, DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE, and AMERICAN CENTURY--first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1520 [January 3, 2003], which shipped on December 16, 2002. The rest was held over for the following issue, due to CBG's expanded coverage of the then-breaking story of Marvel outing the Rawhide Kid. Sadly, I didn't get a week off with pay or anything; I had to write additional reviews to fill out my column for that following week's issue.

When I received my subscription copy of CBG #1520, I agreed my editors had made the right call in trimming me back for an issue. That gave them room for a Rawhide Kid opinion piece by Paul Curtis, who is a fine writer...and who is also editor Maggie Thompson's kid brother...and who, most importantly, worked at Marvel Comics in the mid-1990s on various reprint projects.

Apparently, even back then, comments about the Rawhide Kid's sexuality, based on the almost sensual drawings of original cover artist Joe Maneely, were bandied about the Bullpen. True, that was an entirely different Rawhide Kid than the younger version which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced in issue #17 of the long-running title, but gossip has never relied on strict accuracy. The sniggers directed toward the first Rawhide Kid were inherited by the second western hero to bear the moniker.

Curtis makes the absolutely dead-on observation that Marvel's new take on the Kid adds an unfortunate subtext to those innocent adventures in which he appeared in over the years. That's a shame; not because I have even the slightest objection to a gay hero in a western or any other comic book, but because this was clearly not the intent of Lee and Kirby, or of Larry Lieber, the man who wrote and drew more Rawhide Kid stories than anyone else.

Marvel has already received considerable publicity from their new Rawhide Kid. In typical fashion, various company spokespersons couldn't have been more sophomoric in their comments. Even worse, the previewed covers couldn't have been more "gay" in "let's tie this stereotype to the back of a horse and drag it all the way down Main Street."

There is so little racial and sexual diversity in comics that I'm going to give even this Rawhide Kid the benefit of the doubt. Maybe once the juvenile powers-that-be have moved on to their next impish campaign, the actual comic book will prove to be more than a cheap joke on the readers. If it's a good story with a character I can care about, I'll be one of the first to praise it. If it's as bad as so many fear it will be, I'll take a piece of that action as well.

Marvel's offensive publicity campaign is the equivalent of the punk with a gun calling out the seasoned gunfighter. If they end up in Boot Hill, they have only themselves to blame.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/04/2003 | 01/11/2003 | 01/18/2003 >>

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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.

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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