TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1522 (01/25/03)
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
Regular readers of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, my thrice-weekly column for those benighted souls who, against all reason, can't get enough of my blatherings here, know I embarked upon my own DC CHALLENGE in December. I took the 82 comics and other books from the month's DC shipment, retentively arranged them in alphabetical order, and made a vow to read and review every last one of them.
Even three online columns per week doesn't give me enough room to cover so many titles--one certainly can't fault DC for providing readers with a plethora of choices--so I'm slipping a few of those reviews into this venue. If you'd like to read the rest of these DC reviews, my Internet columns are archived at:
Several things become apparent when one reads so many comics from this publisher. First, DC offers as great a variety of genres and styles as almost any other comics outfit and more variety than most. Second, though the quality of these titles can be and often is uneven, the over-all average is high. Third, DC editorial, and especially DC Universe editorial, needs to rethink how it presents itself to new or returning readers.
Back in the day, editors and writers understood that any comic book could be someone's first comic book. They took pains to make sure the newest reader received enough information in the opening pages of their comics to be able to understand enough of the back story to enjoy his purchase and, hopefully, come back for the next issue. That skill has been largely lost or abandoned.
Marvel's answer to this deficiency was to add a "What Has Gone Before" page to their ongoing titles. It cost their books a page of story and art, but I consider it a price well paid. DC needs to come up with their own solution to this problem or, failing that, steal Marvel's.
I'm no stranger to the various DC titles, even those I haven't read in years, and I'm struggling to follow many of their stories. I understand the desire to "write for the collection," to write so that your work reads smoothly when an entire story arc is gathered in a volume more permanent than the monthly pamphlet format. But, if DC is going to publish pamphlets, it should take into account the needs of the readers of those pamphlets. To do otherwise is to diminish the chances of gaining new regular readers for their comic books and that's just plain bad for business.
Let's dive into the review pile.
I'm likely not the intended audience for FIGHT FOR TOMORROW, (Vertigo; $2.50). Going for the shorthand, the six-issue series is martial arts cinema in comic-book form and those movies have never held much interest for me. Even so, having bent my own challenge rules and read the first three issues of the series, I can't deny that writer Brian Wood is holding my interest.
Protagonist Cedric was raised, nay, brutalized from childhood to fight in underground combats run by gangsters. He has escaped from that world, but is drawn back into it by his own confusion and by a need to rescue others from the life he has led. He is a most imperfect hero--he robs a store to buy his way into a tournament-- but he's trying to be a better man. To me, that's a struggle more stimulating that the physical conflicts.
Wood's scripts do not shy away from the brutality and danger of Cedric's world, nor the perils his actions brings to those whom he loves. Artists Denys Cowan (pencils) and Kent Williams (inker) give the visuals an appropriately grim-and-gritty look. However, in attempting to mirror that sensibility, colorist Lee Loughridge overdoes the "earth-tones" with the result akin to trying to "read" the artwork through a layer of colored mud. The darkness of this story didn't requite quite so much reenforcement. It was artistic overkill.
FIGHT FOR TOMORROW is suggested for mature readers. It won't appeal to every taste, but, on our scale of zero to five, I give it three-and-a-half Tonys per issue.
I'm most definitely not the intended audience for THE FILTH #6 (Vertigo; $2.95) and don't think I don't thank my maker for that. Judging from this issue, the only one I've read, Grant Morrison is going after those readers who enjoy their adventure stories wrapped in cynicism and sophomoric smut. Maybe there really is a DC comic for every taste.
In "The World of Anders Kilmakks," we're treated to gigantic flying spermatozoon fertilizing women to death. Nothing like a bit of gender-specific brutality to get a story off to a great start. Then throw in various phallic-shaped countermeasures to affirm the connection between sex and violence. Yummy.
I considered giving THE FILTH a sympathy "Tony" for the Chris Weston/Gary Erskine artwork, but their frittering away 22 pages of effort on this bilge doesn't put me under any obligation to waste a perfectly good disembodied head on it. This comic is so going to the recycle bin.
How can you go wrong with a comic book that starts out with a bizarre-yet-enticing cover, a pithy four-sentence introduction to the hero, and a sky-full of gorillas parachuting into a prison for super-villains? Well, I suppose you can, but save for a piddling detail or two, THE FLASH #192 ($2.25) didn't.
I haven't read THE FLASH since before Mark Waid's second run on the title, yet writer Geoff Johns got me into the game and kept me there. I was only thrown once; I couldn't recognize the woman in bed with Wally West and pregnant with their child. Would that Wally had worked her name into their conversation.
Obviously, a lot has happened since I read THE FLASH. There's this prison holding a lot of clearly dangerous felons and being run by a warden who doesn't believe his charges are entitled to much in the way of rights. Most of the villains were new to me, but Johns did name them and give me a taste of their powers. In a story like this, with so many super-combatants, I don't expect to immediately learn everything about every character. Besides, the big bad here was Gorilla Grodd and, through a little smooth exposition from the Flash, any one who didn't already know this classic Flash villain was brought up to speed. Points for Johns.
I enjoyed this issue's tone. The fast-paced tale complimented its very personable hero. Artists Scott Kolins and Doug Hazelwood didn't stint on the exciting images, though the oppressively dark coloring often worked against them. Note to super-hero colorists: lighten up already!
I enjoyed THE FLASH #192, so much so that I definitely want to read the earlier Johns-written issues. Put a delighted grin on the four Tonys I'm awarding this comic book.
If I had to sum up FOREVER MAELSTROM #1 (DC; $2.95) in but a single word, it would be...exuberant. Writers Howard Chaykin and David Tischman have created a big and kind of goofy hero and given him the ability to travel through time as easily as you or I might drive to the comics shop. Oh, wait, better make that MORE easily. Time is plentiful; comics shops, sadly, are not.
Artists John Lucas and Eduardo Barreto follow the lead of the writers. Virtually every character in this first issue--and that enormous cast includes Benjamin Franklin, Rogers and Hammerstein, and the Marquis De Sade--looks like their having a grand time and this joyful mein is matched by the bright hues of colorist Christie Scheele. This is a very inviting comic book.
Where FOREVER MAELSTROM fails to fulfill its promise is that characters and concepts keep coming at the reader without adequate explanation or even a moment to get used to them. It reminds me of animated series which exist to create a new toy every two minutes. No matter how intriguing any new element may be, the comic moves on before the reader can appreciate it. This may be speculation on my part, but FOREVER MAELSTROM felt like a pitch for an animated show that never got off the ground.
I wouldn't want to discourage DC from publishing lighthearted adventure, but I fear the best I can do for FOREVER MAELSTROM is a miserly two Tonys.
Chris Claremont takes a long time to tell a story. You should know that going into GEN13 #1-4 (Wildstorm; $2.95). It takes him four issues to get the new Gen13 team together. I had to check the number just now because, while reading these issues, I was enjoying myself too much to notice. That's something else you should know about these comic books.
Teenagers are being given powers by a mysterious figure...and then these kids disappear when they hit 21. The only holdover from the first GEN13 series is Caitlin Fairchild, now a counselor at the high school some of the kids attend.
The kids themselves? In typical Claremont fashion, they would be interesting even without the powers. Dylan and Ethan York are brothers whose fireman father died at the World Trade Center. Only one of them received powers and--whoops--he wasn't the one who was supposed to get them.
There's Gwen Matsura whose parents own a nightclub coveted by the Triad. And Ja'nelle Moorhead, whose mother is an advisor to the President. And Hamza Rashad, whose Muslim heritage marks him as a suspect to the fearful and small-minded. I want to know more about every one of these kids.
GEN13 #1-3 are drawn by Ale Garza (pencils) and Sandra Hope (inks). There is a definite manga-influence to the artwork, but it doesn't overpower the book's overall look. The manga-influence is less pronounced in Ramon F. Bachs and Raul Fernnandez's art for the fourth issue. Both teams did right by the story.
It does my heart good to see "old-timers" like Claremont write rings around the flavors of the month. But, even if he were one of them, GEN13 would still rate four Tonys for each issue.
HARLEY QUINN ($2.50) is under new management as of issue #26. Writer A.J. Lieberman's new direction consists of removing even the slightest trace of humor, dark or otherwise, from a series starring one of the most colorful villains in the DCU, and transforming the book into a grim "Catwoman Lite."
The only redeeming quality to be found in HARLEY QUINN #26 and #27 is the art by penciler Mike Huddleston and inker Troy Nixey. Their style is all wrong for this book, but they would be terrific on, for instance, BATGIRL.
Since I value writing above artwork, I can only award HARLEY QUINN #26 and #27 one Tony apiece.
What is the single most annoying thing about this month's DC comics? It's the blasted WWE SHOP ZONE catalog inserted into every DC title and stapled into every Wildstorm title. I could heat my house for a week burning these in my fireplace and that's too good for this "pro" wrestling litter.
Please don't tell me comics are the natural place to advertise merchandise connected to a moronic faux-sport-slash-entertainment combining the wit of sleazy tabloids with the panache of barroom-brawling, and the oh-so-attractive esthetic of steroids and silicon implants. I want to believe we're better than that.
Whatever happened to those ads for sea monkeys?
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1522 [January 17], which shipped on December 30. The weekly newspaper also features news, lots of other comics reviews, market reports, a lively letters section, as well as opinion and history columns by some of my favorite columnists: Heidi MacDonald, Chuck Rozanski, Peter David, Craig Shutt, and Andrew Smith. For information on how to subscribe to CBG at a ridiculously low price, you can visit them on line at:
Various real-world demands on my time kept me from getting to this column for a few days, but I did grab a few minutes here and there to read (or try to read) the latest issues of the DC titles reviewed above. Here are some quick comments...
FIGHT FOR TOMORROW #4 ($2.50) was another good issue. It did a fine job of bringing new readers up to date, but, unfortunately, didn't advance the overall story. That makes me wonder if the six-issue series could have been done in five.
I can't believe I actually read THE FILTH #7 ($2.95). It was worse than the previous issue. At least that one had a plot that, despite pandering to the sex-and-violence woman-haters club, made some modicum of sense. I didn't even warm up to the implied scenes of faux-President Bush being tortured. There has very often been a depraved meanness to Grant Morrison's writing, but it is a nigh-criminal waste of time/talent for this crap to be drawn by penciler Chris Weston and inker Gary Erskine. Are publishers, in this case, DC, so desperate that they will publish *anything* by someone they perceive as a superstar?
THE FLASH #193 was another good issue from writer Geoff Johns, penciler Scott Kolins, and inker Doug Hazlewood. Gorilla Grodd is still in the midst of breaking out of Iron Heights Penitentiary and taking the time to inflict some pain and suffering on The Flash and others as he does so. Be warned; this is pretty intense super-hero action. I wouldn't give this comic to a young reader.
I couldn't get past the first eight pages of FOREVER MAELSTROM #2 ($2.95) and didn't even crack the cover of issue #3. There was nothing in those pages to entice me to read further. I did double-back to see that Mike Carlin is the editor of the series and that saddened me. There was a time when I thought Carlin was hands-down the best editor in comics.
Chris Claremont and Ale Garza delivered another entertaining issue with GEN13 #5 ($2.95). This first story arc is taking a long time to unfold, but keep in mind that it did include the origins of its six young heroes. Claremont absolutely grabbed my attention on the third page of this issue with the revelation of how the parents of one character view that character. As a parent myself, that was a punch to the gut. Also worthy of note is the surprise appearance of another new Wildstorm super-hero.
HARLEY QUINN #28 ($2.50) isn't worth its cover price, but I'll give writer A.J. Lieberman credit for some moderately interesting scenes of "Jessica Seaborn" doing her psychiatrist thing. I miss the humor, albeit mostly dark humor, of previous stories. Without that humor, Harley just isn't herself.
I'm finishing up my DC CHALLENGE reviews in the thrice-weekly TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns, but I'm including reviews of the more recent issues there as well. You can read them at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website:
Recent columns here and in CBG have inspired some e-mails from my readers. Here's one from JON KNUTSON:
Re: the WWE catalog in the DCs you've been reviewing, and your obvious distaste for the WWE in general--one I share--I recall a comment I made when I asked a wrestling fan why they enjoyed it. He went on about the different characters and plotlines and so on and so forth, which caused me to respond...
"Oh, you mean that WWE wrestling is comic books for people who can't read?"
Ooh...Jon puts the big smackdown on WWE fans.
RALF HARING wrote with a question:
In TONY'S TIPS for December 21, you mentioned again that you strongly disliked Shooter's run on AVENGERS and that "the comics industry is that much better for Shooter's absence from it." I'd be interested to know if there were any of his comics that you did enjoy?
Shooter's initial body of work in the 1960s--on the Legion of Super-Heroes and other Superman or Superman-related features--was almost always terrific. Editor Mort Weisinger, for all his myriad faults, seemed to bring out the best in the young writer. I also recall that Shooter did a pretty decent job on the first two issues of DC's CAPTAIN ACTION title.
When Shooter came back to DC in the 1970s, the spark of those early works just wasn't there. When he started writing for Marvel, his stories were uninspired. When he became Marvel's top dog, with no substantial editorial checks on his writing, it became even more lifeless and rigid. There was simply no heart to it, no sense that the characters were people the readers would like to know. Heroes and villains alike were cold and unpleasant.
There was some of the 1960s fire in some of Shooter's writing for Valiant and Broadway--the Defiant stuff was crap from day one-- but it was smothered by the rigid approach to comics writing he'd adopted over the years. Shooter needs an editor who will basically slap him silly, break him of his arrogance, and drag his inner teen from him. That might get us some good comics.
I also heard from AVI GREEN:
I'm in agreement with your thoughts on THE ULTIMATES. While it's probably possible for Captain America to give a kick to the Hulk for brawling around, the problem, as I can see it, is that the whole storyline was forced. But that was nothing compared to Hank Pym's treatment of Janet Van Dyne, which was decidedly far worse and uncalled for than the story featured in the regular Avengers. If Millar's trying to make a statement against spousal abuse, that's one thing, but if he's going to go as far as using elements worthy of a horror movie like the ants, then all he's doing is wallowing in what he's supposedly trying to condemn, certainly if he goes and hammers the readers in the face with it.
As for Jim Shooter, I agree that while he may not have been as excessive and awkward as Millar, the industry would be better off without him. His treatment of women during his run on the Avengers was dreadful. Unfortunately, if the news items I've read this past year are correct, Shooter is returning to Marvel to write another Avengers mini-series, and there's no telling if it'll be any better than what he did in the past.
Shooter pulled out of the Avengers mini-series citing creative differences. I can be fairly dismissive of and even hard on comics editors myself, but, given my own experience with and high regard for AVENGERS editor Tom Brevoort, I suspect said differences had a bit more to do with ego than storytelling.
Keep those e-mails coming, my friends. They do a nice job of breaking up all those offers for "body" enhancements and overseas investment opportunities.
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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