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

Current TOT >> TOT Archives | About Tony | Books by Tony | Message Board

TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Saturday, March 8, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1531:

"Someone on the Internet referred to me as 'that horrible little man who replaced Rob Lowe'....which is hurtful, because I think of myself as a delightful little man."

-Joshua Malina, 37, actor, on joining the cast of THE WEST WING as speechwriter Will Bailey.

I generally avoid writing overmuch about...gasp...politics in this venue, but I've got a few things to get off my chest and one of them even has a ethereal connection to comics. I'll keep these opening remarks brief, but, if you prefer to avoid them altogether, skip down to the reviews or turn the page.

One. I propose a special tax on any utterance of the phrase, "If you don't like it here [referring to the good old United States of America], why don't you move to Iraq?" Those are far from the only choices available to American citizens. Heck, we've even been known to try to change things we don't like about our beloved land or its policies. Our forefathers even allowed for such attempts to make changes in a little thing I like to call the Constitution of the United States of America.

Two. It is neither a criminal act nor an act of cowardice to disagree with and even oppose government acts or policies which you feel are ill-conceived or immoral as long as you act within the law in doing so. That holds true for foreign citizens and governments as much as it holds true for American citizens.

Three. Stop dissing France. Our historical ally doesn't have to agree with every position put forth by the USA, and that hardly makes them cowards. Over a million French soldiers died in World War I, which left their land at a numerical disadvantage when World War II rolled around. Another 100,000 French soldiers died in the battle against Hitler, to say nothing of the civilians who risked and gave their lives. Certainly France's positions are, like our own, shaped by what its leaders perceive as being in their nation's best interests. But, to cry cowardice or ingratitude because these disagreements exist is ill-mannered arrogance. Old friends deserve better.

Four. I have a candidate for President, though I'll be amazed if he's actually on the ballot in November of 2004. Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has declared his candidacy for the highest office in the land. I don't agree with all his positions, but, he grew up in the same Cleveland neighborhood as I did; he remembers my mother's name; and, when he was mayor of Cleveland, he used to visit my Cosmic Comics store and buy the occasional comic book. I can't remember what comics he would buy, but, at this stage of the presidential race, I don't know of any other candidate who has ever read comic books. I think this makes Kucinich the clear choice for comics fans across this great land of ours.

All done with the politics. On to the reviews.

******

Mike W. Barr, who is both a pal and one of my favorite comics writers, is in the bookstores with STAR TREK: GEMINI (Pocket Books; $6.99), his first prose novel. I'm on record as saying Barr is one of the two best writers of Trek comics - our own Peter David being the other - so I eagerly anticipated his going boldly where he had never gone before. I wasn't disappointed.

GEMINI is classic Star Trek in all the good ways. After all, the sets and special effects don't look as cheesy in a novel as on my 1966 television set.

Barr writes the characters we love as we fondly remember them. Captain James T. Kirk is, as ever, just a little full of himself. Doctor McCoy and Mister Spock are the loyal friends whose expertise astonishes and whose banter delights. While reading this novel, I literally laughed out loud at their exchanges. Barr will pooh-pooh the notion that getting these characters right is at all difficult, but so many Star Trek writers don't get them right that I think his skill in this area is noteworthy.

The story is equally noteworthy. The Starship Enterprise has come to planet Nador to participate in the world's first election, its citizens voting on whether or not they will join the Federation of Planets.

Nador's young rulers are Siamese twins joined at the spinal cord. Its history is one of conflict between its different tribes. Though Their Serene Highnesses Abon and Delor support membership in the Federation, there are other Nadorians who don't and who will do whatever it takes to prevent that union, even to assassinating the princes. What follows is an exciting novel of political conflicts on land and in space with lots of surprises...including a "monster" which ranks with the very best Trek beasties.

Barr makes good use of the traditional Trek cast; fans of the original show will enjoy seeing Kirk's nephew Peter playing a major role in the novel. But, as was the case in his Trek comics, Barr also excels in creating new characters every bit as interesting as Kirk and company. In this book, we get the remarkable princes of Nador; Lady Pataal, their royal consort; and career diplomat Sylvan Roget, the last on the verge of retiring from a life of good and true service to the Federation. If Barr wrote another novel about any of them, regardless of whether or not the Enterprise crew even made an appearance, I'd buy it without hesitation.

On our scale of zero to five Tonys, as depicted by those darn cute floating heads, STAR TREK: GEMINI earns the full five. I hope it's just the first of many Barr/Trek novels to come.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

The first two issues of A.K.A. ($2 each) have a lot going for them and just as many places where they don't. The painted covers by creator/artist Steve Black are attractive, but don't adequately communicate the nature of the series. Inside the issues, Black's storytelling ranges from good to excellent, but his actual drawing is weak. On a panel-to-panel basis, his human figures are often awkward and sometimes downright ugly.

I like A.K.A.'s lead characters: private investigators Alison Albright and Katie Kristopher. Writer Dana Naraghi does a terrific job introducing them and portraying their different personalities. Each brings certain attitude and skills to their partnership, and their personal friendship seems completely natural. Naraghi also gets good marks for his storytelling; the story held my interest as it moved smoothly forward.

Unfortunately, with two out of the intended three issues done, that story appears to be little more than a familiar "private eye" tale. Albright and Kristopher have been hired by a distraught wife to get the goods on her cheating husband, but there is more to the case than their client has shared with them. To make this initial story memorable, Black and Naraghi need to come up with a big and surprising finale.

I'll give A.K.A. points for the "what has gone before" page at the start of the second ish. I was less pleased with the two-page prose story at the back of the book; it didn't have much going for it beyond the wordplay of its title.

The writing in A.K.A. is better than art; it leaves me wanting to see more of the lead characters, albeit in a story that doesn't feel as if I've read it before. For the characters and the design of the series, A.K.A. picks up three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

THE POGOSTICK #1 (Fantagraphics; $4.95) introduces us to night shift rivet designer Audrey Grinfield, a disturbed individual whose erratic behavior is all the more disturbing because he is utterly oblivious to the bad choices he makes and how they disrupt his life time and time again. Were you to meet Grinfield in real life, you would probably consider chewing off your own leg to escape from his company. However, in the skilled hands of writer Al Columbia and artist Ethan Persoff, his misery makes for a fascinating, humorous, and refreshingly unsettling reading experience.

From the stylish cover through the 30-some pages of black-and-white-and-grey art to the "can't wait for the next one" excitement of this first chapter, THE POGOSTICK #1 was a complete delight. It deserves and receives the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

SHOULDN'T YOU BE WORKING? (Fantagraphics; $5.95) is an 80-page collection of goofing-off drawings doodled by Johnny Ryan while he was "working" as an insurance clerk at a Seattle urological clinic. Except for a few cartoon and comics characters rendered in Ryan's style - and a Three Stooges gag that got a smile out of me - there isn't anything worthwhile here. It's just page after page of crude images reflecting a sophomoric obsession with bodily functions and nudity, the kind of stuff you see from high-school students still fascinated by their own evacuations.

SHOULDN'T YOU BE WORKING? would have been better titled SURELY YOU AREN'T GONNA WASTE SIX BUCKS ON THIS? It doesn't even rate the smallest fraction of a Tony. Save your money.

******

STORYLINES #1 (Fantagraphics; $4.95) is an anthology of comics works by students from the Savannah College of Art and Design. The advance press release compared them to "an All-Star team of Triple-A ballplayers," and, while I think that's an exaggeration, I agree there is potential among the contributors to this comic.

Edited by cartoonist/teacher James Strum (THE GOLEM'S MIGHTY SWING) and co-produced with the National Association of Comics Art Educators, STORYLINES presents just over a dozen comics of varying lengths. It's a mixed bag and not all the contents are likely to appeal to any one reader. From my seat, I was most moved by Robyn Chapman's single-page "No More Tears."

Drew Weing ("Journal Comic") is the contributor most likely to advance to the big leagues; his strips would be a welcome addition to any newspaper's comics pages. I was also impressed by Jonathan T. Russell's stories about his travels abroad and Philip Craven's heart-rending "Can I Keep Him?"

STORYLINES #1 gets a respectable three Tonys, which isn't bad for an anthology featuring such diverse and experimental material. I'd love to see future editions drawn from young artists beyond the Savannah College students.

Tony Tony Tony

******

My son Eddie and I saw DAREDEVIL on its opening weekend, and came away from the theater feeling pretty positive about the film. There are differences between DD's origin in the movie and the one in the original Stan Lee/Bill Everett comic book, but I don't have a huge problem with them. Yes, we lose young Matt Murdock losing his sight as the result of a heroic act, but the movie version, in which virtually the last thing he sees is his father working as a bone-breaker, really tugs at the heartstrings. However, given that the movie Jack Murdock is murdered while Matt is still a youngster, it would've been nice to see scenes of the father redeeming himself by helping others in their neighborhood. In *my* Daredevil movie, that would have been the inspiration for attorney Matt's becoming such a champion of the underdog.

Of course, in *my* Daredevil movie, given my long association with Bob "The Law Is A Ass" Ingersoll, I would have included a line of dialogue establishing that the trial of the rapist was actually a civil suit, as private attorneys do not prosecute crimes. In the interest of logic, I'd have also indicated that Murdock and Nelson had some clients who did pay them with great big gobs of cash, the better to support their pro bono work.

The best performances in DAREDEVIL were those of David Keith (Jack Murdock) and Joe Pantoliano (Ben Urich). Ben Affleck's Matt was good, as was Jennifer Garner's Elektra, but neither impressed me overmuch. I was most disappointed by Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin. He had the look, but his gloating laughter reminded me way too much of Geoffrey Holder's "Baron Samedi" in LIVE AND LET DIE. There was even a hint of a Jamaican accent.

I'll give props to Colin Farrell for an accurate portrayal of Bullseye, and I fully understand why the character had to be in the movie, but, boy howdy, am I tired of insane villains chewing up the scenery in super-hero movies! I blame Jack Nicholson.

The best part of the movie for me was the character act some fans hate. When Daredevil first proclaims he's not the bad guy, he's lying. He may not be the bad guy, but, yeah, he is a bad guy. He realizes he has allowed his rage to lead him to a dark worse than any blindness, and makes the conscious decision to be a better man in the future. That's a welcome switch from all those movies where the hero starts out noble and ends up every bit as brutal as the foes he opposes.

DAREDEVIL isn't a great movie, but it's a very good one. That earns it four Tonys and a certain future DVD sale to the Isabella household.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

Most (but not all) of the above first ran COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1531 [March 21, 2003], which shipped on March 3. My editors cut three-fourths of my opening remarks. You'd have to ask them why. Maybe they once had a bad experience with the Constitution, or with my expressing an opinion protected by that Constitution, or maybe they just had a bad crepe that morning. In any case, the slashing of my column in this manner undoubtedly spared them the blistering e-mails they receive from the same three or four right-wing wackos whenever "Lefty" Isabella gets his liberal on. Though, doddering old fossil that I am, I can remember a time when even conservatives would have had no objection to the statements above.

The more compulsive among you...and don't doubt for a moment that I love you...will have noticed today's CBG reprint is running out of sequence. Normally, I wait about three weeks after an issue ships before reprinting my column here. But, then again, normally my columns aren't editorially eviscerated.

Having never been the kind of comics fan or professional who felt his chosen entertainment or occupation should be removed from the world around him, I felt it important to put my comments before an audience as swiftly as possible. Freedom of expression is vital in both comic books and in real life...though I will stop short of suggesting my editors hang their heads in shame and turn in their Comic Book Legal Defense Fund membership cards.

I love the CBG crew. I really do. But I'm a little miffed at them this week. I'll get over it.

These rare differences of opinion is one of the main reasons why this website exists. It's my own personal online safety valve, a way of making sure that what I write always, eventually, reaches my readers in the manner I intended.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

Our first letter today comes from TERRY (no last name given), who also sent along the photos which are hopefully running in near proximity to his letter. He writes:
I've been reading your Tony's Tips articles the last few weeks on the World Famous Comics Network and have enjoyed them very much. I had been a fan of yours back in the 1980s and I'm delighted to have found you once again. I'll have to find a copy of the CBG and follow the exploits of you and Maggie Thompson and various comics companies there. Does Peter David still write for them?

I had fallen away from comics the last few years, but recently my interest has picked up again. I've mainly started re-collecting the older material from Marvel in the 1960s through the 1980s which I had as a younger man; I still find that spark I enjoyed so much back in those days. The newer comics just don't have the same feel for me as those I read as a kid.

I have attached some pictures which you may find interesting. Back in 1985 or 1986, a friend and I took the long bus ride from Hattiesburg, Mississippi (my hometown) to Columbus, Ohio and then on to Mansfield for the Mid-Ohio-Con. It was my only encounter with many comics creators and we took many pictures of the event. Here are a few I was able to find which have yourself and others in them. I recognize John Byrne in the background of one.

I always got John Totleben and Steve Bissette from Swamp Thing confused, so I'm not sure which one that is sitting between you and Byrne. I believe that's Bob Ingersoll in the picture with you, but I can't remember the names of the other two gentlemen. I hope you enjoy seeing these photos.

Good luck with your Farewell Tour. Have a very pleasant week and take care of yourself.
Tony Isabella

Thanks so much for sending these pictures to me, Terry. After spending a few minutes on the phone with Mid-Ohio-Con head honcho Roger Price, desperately trying to jog our failing memories, we're fairly certain your photos are from the 1985 show. The back of the jacket has one of Byrne's first "published" drawings of Superman, which would date the event to a few months before his MAN OF STEEL mini-series arrived in the comics shops.

Greg Myers, Bob Ingersoll, Thom Zahler and Tony Isabella

That is, indeed, Bob Ingersoll standing next to me in the one photo. Standing behind Bob is Greg Myers, a former contributor to CBG who still attends Mid-Ohio-Con every year, albeit as a dealer selling comics-related and entertainment-related trade paperbacks. Standing behind me is writer/artist Thom Zahler. Back then, he was still in school. Today, Thom is a well-respected commercial artist who also does comic books. You can learn more about him by going to his website:

http://www.thomz.com

The person sitting between me and John Byrne in the remaining photograph is legendary comics writer Roger Stern. Since Byrne is not attending conventions of late, I think it's a dead heat between Stern and yours truly as to most consecutive guest appearances at Mid-Ohio-Con.

Tony Isabella, Roger Stern and John Byrne

And, yes, Peter David does still write for CBG. His "But I Digress" runs every week and he also has an online blog he updates almost daily. You can read it at:

http://peterdavid.malibulist.com

That's a wrap for today's edition of TONY'S TIPS, but I'll be back tomorrow with another one. See you then.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/02/2003 | 03/08/2003 | 03/09/2003 >>

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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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