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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1521 (01/18/03)

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

--Heraclitus

Dropping the "Weird" from its title and the fantasy elements from its stories, ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES #25 (Archie Comics; $2.19) is the debut of a new direction for the series. Following a visit by forensic investigators Matt Clark and Mary Fine, a familiar group of Riverdale High students decide to become forensic detectives, each with his or her own specialty.

Archie Andrews is the chief investigator of the T.S.I./Teen Scene Investigators. Chuck uses his cartooning talents as the team forensic artist. Dilton is the chemist, Veronica is the financial investigator, and Betty is the expect on special techniques like handwriting, linguistics, and so on.

Jughead? He's the "foodologist." It's not an actual forensic specialty, but, as an editorial note astutely notes, who would be better at it if it were?

Via advance preview copies, I've read the first three issues of this retooled ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES series. Writers Paul Castiglia and Barbara Jarvie have done a terrific job concocting clever tales that play fair with the readers, impart some educational tidbits, and, most importantly, don't distort the Archie characters to make them fit this somewhat more serious treatment. Indeed, while not as prevalent as in traditional Archie titles, humor remains part of ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES.

The T.S.I. cases range from the mysterious theft of a certain video game from movie theaters to a kidnaped skier to missing movie memorabilia. If I have complaints about any of these stories, it's that some perpetrators of crimes escape the serious consequences of their actions. I'm not sure that's the best message to be putting out there for younger readers. Creating comics that are suitable for all ages, as these are, doesn't necessitate sugarcoating this aspect of crime detection.

I wasn't overly enamored of penciler Fernando Ruiz's art when Archie's mysteries were still of the "weird" variety, but, teamed with inker Rich Koslowski, he's now doing excellent work. All the Archie characters are on model, but there's a bit more reality in the world around them. I like the look.

Ranking ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES #25-27 on our "floating head" scale of zero to five, each issue picks up four Tonys. The comics offer lighter fare than is usually found in mainstream adventure comics, but don't lack substance. I definitely recommend them for readers of all ages.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Two weeks back, I reviewed BATMAN #608, the first issue of the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee run. From that review, here's the main reason I only gave that issue two Tonys:
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.
Guess what? I liked BATMAN #609 (DC; $2.25) better. A whole lot better...and not just because there were fewer boot-y shots per square inch.

Activate the Bat-spoilers!

The previous issue of BATMAN ended with him tumbling from the rooftops of Gotham City. This issue opens with the fallen Bat in a crumpled heap about to be cut into pieces by a gang of lowlifes. Unable to move a muscle, he still manages to defend himself until help in the form of the Huntress arrives. This was something I'd not seen before. Points for Loeb and Lee.

With Bats down, members of his "family" (Oracle, the Huntress, and Alfred) come to his defense. After too many years of "Daddy" treating the "kids" in a cold, arguably abusive manner, it's good to see them working together. Okay, Batman and the Huntress have some issues to resolve, but isn't that often the case with large families? The "loner" Batman can be entertaining, but I also enjoy the variety that comes with his supporting cast.

Loeb and Lee score additional points with how they get medical help for Wayne without exposing his costumed identity. That Alfred and crew were clearly prepared for such extreme circumstances gave me a nice little shudder. How scary does your world have to be for you to be ready, at a moment's notice, to fake a bone-busting auto accident to cover for your boss?

Something else, or more accurately, someone else I hadn't seen before, was Doctor Thomas Elliot. A childhood pal of Bruce Wayne, the renown surgeon flies in to operate on his old friend and, one hopes, will be sticking around for a while. I don't know what the good doctor's story is, but I'm eager to learn it and to see how he fits into the world of the Batman.

Teaching new tricks to an old bat is the key to the success of the Loeb/Lee BATMAN. The deluge of Bat-comics in the comics shops led to some of the classic characters overstaying their welcomes. Bringing in new faces and foes gives the Bat-writers an opportunity for telling exciting stories...and the luxury of taking their time figuring out how to make the old standbys fresh again. I like both halves of that concept.

What a difference one issue can make! BATMAN #609 gets four-and-a-half Tonys and I'll be back for BATMAN #610.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1521 [January 10], which was shipped on December 23. The reason it's so short was covered last week. Basically, to make space for a great Rawhide Kid commentary by Paul Curtis in CBG #1520, my editors cut my column to one printed page. For the following week, I added the above quote and reviews to the material which had been cut. Waste not, want not.

******

BATMAN

DC has got to be pleased with how the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee BATMAN appears to be firmly ensconced among the best-selling comics on the Diamond list. I'm not 100% wild about the title, but I am enjoying it quite a bit. Here are my quick comments on BATMAN #610 ($2.25), the third chapter of "Hush"...

The bad: Killer Croc has become "Venom Lite." In general, I don't like the trend of making villains more physically monstrous. I especially don't like it here because Batman's villains are often monsters in the psychological sense.

Croc has a good name and his circus-freak background could've been used to better effect in the past. By all rights, he should be a Nightwing villain; they share that circus background. But now Croc is just another in a long line of slobbering comics monsters. He's probably cool to draw, but he's not interesting.

The good: Loeb and Lee conveyed the real (and understandable) rancor between Bats and Amanda Waller. Given that Waller works for George Bush--oh, wait, I mean, Lex Luthor; I sometimes get my evil presidents mixed up--I'm on Batman's side. Kudos to Loeb for their clear discomfort while simultaneously working together and pursuing their own agendas.

Digression: I think it's time for Waller to fall. She knows she's working for an evil man and, no matter how she justifies this in her own mind, her compliance should have consequences. Besides, such a tale would be a good object lesson for the folks who support Luthor's real-world counterpart.

The good: I like Doc Tom Elliot more with each appearance and I loved the additional background we got on him this time out. I'm thinking he's the mystery man with the puzzling quotes who seems to be stalking Batman and, while that could prove interesting, I also like the idea of Bruce Wayne having a friend who's not connected to Batman. Either way, I'm intrigued.

The good: Jim Lee draws a great Batmobile. Hey, since it got wrecked this time out, maybe Bats could put the Dick Sprang version from the 1950s back into service. Now there was a car which could make criminals wet themselves.

The good: I like Batman and Catwoman doing the lip-lock. Now is the perfect time for this romance to blossom. They are both on the side of the angels...and neither one of them is a stickler when it comes to obeying the law. Besides, anything that gives us a new angle on Bats will keep this book fresh...and fresh is how it will stay among the best-selling comics.

The bottom line: I'm still recommending BATMAN.

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

My enthusiasm for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY isn't boundless, but I usually find a couple of tasty tidbits in each week's issues. One of my favorite features is "Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet" and, from that feature, here are some recent chuckles:
Gollum. "Should THE LORD OF THE RINGS' human-but-digitized character be eligible for action awards?" asks the Botox, collagen, plastic-surgery crowd.

J.K. Rowling. The HARRY POTTER author made six times more than Queen Elizabeth last year. But then, unlike the Queen, Rowling actually did something.

Julianne Moore. She says it's nicer to kiss women on screen than men because women smell better. Of course we stink--you make us take out all the garbage.

Feelin' lucky? Clint Eastwood is suing an unauthorized biographer for libel. He wants $10 million and permission to beat the crap out of the guy.

AmIAnnoying.com. In this twist on AmIHot.com, you can vote for your least favorite celebrity. Can you vote "All of the above"?
Bob Fingerman's BEG THE QUESTION (Fantagraphics; $24.95) was received in the January 10 and picked up an "A-" from Ken Tucker, who wrote: "Fingerman's visual style is a witty combo of old-school underground-comics grunginess & new-school precision; his dialogue is worthy of the stage--it's terrific screwball-comedy byplay that rings true."

After reading this item in the January 17 EW, I'm sure all of us are filled with expectation:
Pamela Anderson has completed work on the first six episodes of Stan Lee's STRIPPERELLA, the TNN action cartoon debuting this summer, in which the former VIP and BAYWATCH star will play "an exotic dancer at night and a super-hero later at night." One of four adult animated shows planned for Friday nights (others include the new REN & STIMPY and GARY THE RAT with Kelsey Grammar), STRIPPERELLA will also feature voiceovers from Anderson's fiance, Kid Rock and, says the actress, the Farrelly brothers, "who come on as evil henchmen."
One more EW item. The January 24/31 edition listed the third-season premiere of STATIC SHOCK among its "What to Watch" entries. They wrote:

"The cartoon is back for a third season with hero Static debuting a "new hip costume." We watch in our new, hip pj's."

******

SPEAKING OF STATIC SHOCK

One of my favorite mailing lists is the MILESTONE COMICS list begun by Dwayne McDuffie, co-creator of Static and the rest of the Dakota Universe heroes. The STATIC SHOCK news reported below all comes from that list, which interested readers can join by sending a request to:

MilestoneComics-subscribe@egroups.com

On to the news...

STATIC SHOCK kicks off its third-season next Saturday, January 25, on Kids WB at 10:30 am EST. Static will have a new costume and his friend Richie will be fighting at his side as "Gear." Richie's new costumed identity and powers will first be seen in the February 1 episode of the show.

You can expect lots of guest stars this season. From a press release:
Hip-hop musician Lil' Romeo heats up the airwaves by performing the new series main title song. Co-written with his father Master P, Lil' Romeo raps Static's theme song, adding energy and excitement to the third season. In addition, this super rapper will guest-star as himself in an episode of STATIC SHOCK later this season, entitled "Lil' Romeo." Also slated to appear this season: The Justice League and Superman, along with new meta-human villains Brainiac and She-Bang.

The new season debuts with the heroic episode entitled "Hard as Nails." Allie Langford (a.k.a. Nails), a teenager at Virgil's school, goes to Gotham City in search of veteran villains Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy to eliminate her problem...she is starting to turn into metal. Teaming up again with Batman, Static must expose Harley and Poison Ivy's nefarious plans so that Allie may get the real guidance she needs.
"Hard as Nails" was written by Paul Dini, best known for his work on the recent Batman animated series. It's his first script for STATIC SHOCK.

There are a few unaired-to-date episodes of STATIC SHOCK from the second series, but those aren't scheduled to run at the present time. However, McDuffie did provide list members with an episode guide for the coming season. Besides "Hard as Nails" and "Gear," here's what we have to look forward to...
STATIC IN AFRICA: When the Hawkins family goes on a vacation to Ghana, Static teams up with a legendary African super-hero Anansi, who is trying to stop Osebo The Leopard from stealing an ancient treasure. Anansi is voiced by Carl Lumbly (Alias) and Osebo by Michael Jai White (Spawn).

THE USUAL SUSPECT: Virgil inadvertently makes an enemy out of a school tough guy when he mistakenly believes him to be Dakota's latest meta-human monster, Marcus (voiced by Sean Patrick Thomas of Barbershop and The District).

SHEBANG: Static encounters a sassy female teenage super hero, Shebang, who shows him up every time they meet.

FLASHBACK: Static discovers that changing the past is not as easy as he thinks when he goes back in time to save his mother from her untimely death.

SHOWTIME: Static discovers that fame is not all it's cracked up to be when he becomes the star of a "Cops"-like reality show called "Heroes." David Faustino guest stars.

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, PART ONE: While on a mission in space with the Justice League, Static and Gear find themselves alone and under the attack by Brainiac.

BLAST FROM THE PART: Static teams up with a retired super hero, Soul Power, when the old hero's nemesis comes back to threaten Dakota.

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, PART TWO: When Brainiac takes over Backpack and uses it to control Gear, Static re-teams with the Justice League to save his friend.

THE PARENT TRAP: Shebang returns to Dakota to enlist Static and Gear's help when her parents are discovered missing and believed kidnaped.

LIL' ROMEO: Hip hop superstar Lil' Romeo joins forces with Static to defeat The Leech, a meta-human who steals other meta- humans' powers.

TOYS IN THE HOOD: Static teams up with Superman when the Man of Steel's old nemesis, Toyman, arrives in Dakota on a kidnaping scheme.

Let the wild speculation begin!
The first thing I want to say is that "Toys in the Hood" is an absolutely brilliant title. I wish I'd come up with it.

The second thing I want to say is "Boo on DC Comics" for not permitting the use of the DC hero who was originally intended to be in the "Blast From the Past" episode. I'm sure the episode will be as good or better than what was originally planned, but it would've been nice to see Black Lightning ala McDuffie, one of the very few writers I believe could do right by my creation. And, in case you were wondering, while I still prefer that no one other than myself write Black Lightning in the comics, I've never felt that way about his appearing in movies or on television. Not that DC gives a damn about my preferences in the matter.

Moving right along, Dwayne posted this item about one of the STATIC SHOCK team picking up a cool nomination:
Congratulations to Dave Chlystek, who has been nominated for an Annie award for his direction of last year's Static Shock/Batman episode, "The Big Leagues."

The Annies honor animated feature films, TV, commercials, home video, electronic media and shorts. The awards will be presented at a black-tie awards ceremony on February 1 at the Alex Theater in Glendale, Ca.
COMICS CONTINUUM interviewed Static Shock supervising producer Alan Burnett on the new season and here are some tidbits from that interview:
He's grown some," Burnett said. "He's less a 14-15 year-old and more a 15-16 year-old and that made a difference for us this season. The villains have gotten more imposing and there are more adult villains than before.

"The palette of the show has gotten darker, especially after the success of the Static/Batman team-up last season. That was a show that went darker than we usually went, with more night scenes. After that show, everybody went, 'Let's go in that direction.' So we're getting Static out from under the sun."
COMICS CONTINUUM is one of the coolest comics and media news websites around. Check them out at:

http://www.comicscontinuum.com

One more bit of STATIC SHOCK news. To promote the new season of the show, Kids WB will be airing STATIC SHOCK repeats on Monday through Friday, January 27-31, at 3:30 pm. The scheduled episodes are as follows:

Monday: "Shock to the System" (the first episode)

Tuesday: "Power Play"

Wednesday: "Brother-Sister Act"

Thursday: "Static Shaq" (w/Shaquille O'Neal)

Friday: "The Big Leagues" (w/Batman and Robin)

McDuffie wrote "Power Play" and also "Gear," the new episode to debut on Saturday, February 1.

That's all for this week's semi-reprint. Join me on Monday at PERPETUAL COMICS for the first of three new columns for the coming week...and then back here on Saturday for another one of my COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE reprints-plus.

Pray for peace.

Tony Isabella
<< 01/11/2003 | 01/18/2003 | 01/25/2003 >>

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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