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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Saturday, March 22, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1529:

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city."

--George Burns

If I'm reading my CBG schedule correctly, and, let's face it, the odds of that are 50-50 tops, this issue goes on sale about the same time MegaCon opens in Orlando, Florida. I'm probably enjoying the balmy weather, the fellowship of my comics fandom and industry friends, and not having to scrape ice and snow from the windows of my van every morning.

Here in my hometown of Medina, Ohio, as I write the words you are reading, the temperature hovers several degrees under freezing with a further drop expected by evening. Though Medina is still verging on broke, the salt trucks have been venturing out into the cold now and again. How long they continue to do so may depend on my fellow citizens. I'll explain.

Medina isn't a particularly large city, but, every time those trucks go out, they spread 400 tons of salt on our roads. At last count, the city had enough salt on hand for four more trips...and enough money in the salt budget to buy salt for maybe another dozen trips. So some of my fellow citizens have started sending money to City Hall to buy more salt. This is where the process becomes both amusing and fascinating to me.

Medina can buy salt for $36.50 per ton. Several citizens are sending checks for that amount. After realizing I spend at least that much each month on oft-frivolous comics purchases, I decided I'd follow suit. I'm just flat-out tickled by the notion of buying an actual ton of something.

Not counting cars and houses and the like, when was the last time, if ever, you bought a ton of anything? Okay, yeah, if you're my pal Chuck Rozanski, you probably buy a ton of comic books every six hours or something, but I'm talking about us lesser folks here. You can't even get a ton of anything at your friendly neighborhood discount store.

So I'm buying a ton of salt for my town. Because those extra packets I've been lifting from McDonald's only go so far.

******

In honor of my trip to Florida, I'm devoting this week's Tips to new arrivals from CrossGeneration Comics. BRIAN PULIDO'S LADY DEATH: A MEDIEVAL TALE #1 ($2.95) is part of the company's "Code 6" line of creator-owned books. This is a re-imagined relaunch of the heroine who was the signature character from Pulido's sadly-defunct Chaos Comics line.

I didn't read the original Lady Death comics; I was turned off by exaggerated anatomy and skimpy costumes. I'm not sure I ever read any Chaos books. They didn't send me review copies and, save for Peter David's HAUNTED, which I should read one of these days, their titles never interested me enough for me to seek them out on my own. I like a lot of different kinds of comics, but there have been companies whose efforts can't get the slightest glance from me and Chaos was one of them.

The "new" Lady Death is a young woman born of the union of her a mortal mother and a lord of the near-immortal Eldritch. Humans and Eldritch are enemies, the latter angered by the encroachment on their land by those they deem their inferiors and yet whose growing numbers they fear. The first issue begins with the momentous night on which the daughter was conceived, then skips forward 18 years to an equally pivotal event. I can't comment on where this series is going--this initial chapter strikes me as mostly set-up for stories to come--but I thought Pulido's writing, thought not spectacular, was solid throughout and that he paced this issue well. If he can flesh out the characters and situations in future chapters, he may win me over.

Artistically, penciler Ivan Reis and inker Marc Campos bring a nice combination of savagery and softness to LADY DEATH. Reis' influences/inspirations are obvious, distractingly so on occasion, but this is still a sweet-looking comic in the old school tradition of characters who actually look like human beings. Kudos are also due colorist Chris Blythe for his contribution.

Beyond its outsider-hero motif, which almost always plays well to the audience inside my head, LADY DEATH: A MEDIEVAL TALE is not my usual cup-of-comics. Still, on my grading scale of zero to five I liked the opening enough to give it three-and-a-half Tonys...and I'll be back to see where the title goes from here.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

If you liked the legendary Robert E. Howard's stories of Bran Mac Morn, I expect you'll also enjoy Chuck Dixon's BRATH ($2.95). It pits the legions of Rome against a barbarian warlord guided by his mystical visions in an exquisitely staged battle. Okay, it's only one legion, at least in this prequel ish, but I swear penciler Andrea Di Vito came close to drawing every combatant on both sides of the fray in some truly amazing battle scenes.

I've been kicking around the pros and cons of this issue since I read it. That Dixon's Brath recalls Bran Mac Morn, not one of my favorite Howard creations, bothers me somewhat, but there are only so many different takes on barbarians and Romans. On the definite plus side, the writing was Dixon at his best. He's got a terrific feel for the manly adventure stuff.

Di Vito is an impressive artist, but his layouts are superior to his actual drawing. Inker Brad Vancata does a decent job on his end of the visuals, but I would have loved to have seen the pencils inked by the likes of an Ernie Chan. The Rob Schwager coloring was up to CrossGen's standards, which, considering the company has the best coloring in American comics, is no small praise.

Special note should also be made of the pages where Dixon and company are introduced to the readers. The section takes a page of the story from script to pencils to inks to color, and does so with good-natured humor. It's a wonderful first issue bonus.

I've never been a huge fan of fantasy, medieval adventure, and sword-and-sorcery. Yet, time and time again, CrossGen titles have overcome my relative disinterest in these genres. That's the case with BRATH and why this prequel issue earns Dixon and crew three-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

WARNING! MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

Robert Rodi's THE CROSSOVERS ($2.95) was the "Code 6" title I was most looking forward to. Not only had I enjoyed many of Rodi's previous efforts, but the basic concept delighted me: a seemingly "normal" suburban family in which, unknown to each other, Dad is a super-hero, Mom is a vampire slayer, Big Sis is a warrior princess, and Little Bro is an alien abductee plotting the conquest of Earth with his invisible-to-all-others kidnappers.

In his first two issues, Rodi appears to be going for laughs mixed with grim business. One of Dad's foes threatens the family. A powerful vampire targets Mom. The army commanded by Sis suffers a terrible defeat. Little Bro? Well, he doesn't seem to have much concern for the continued existence of the human race. There are chuckle-out-loud moments here, as well as appealing characters and a delicious sense of menace.

Rodi's writing is top-notch, but, at this point in his overall story, the secret lives of the Crossovers aren't meshing. That's doubtless intentional, but it's making for some skittish plotting. Played out too long, four secret lives under one roof is a gimmick. The truly interesting episodes will come when those secrets become known and the family must deal with them.

Penciler Mauricet and inker Ernie Colon provide THE CROSSOVERS with a more cartoony look than we have seen from CrossGen prior to this. It suits the book well, though it's sometimes overwhelmed by the admittedly excellent Mark McNabb coloring. I wouldn't call it a problem--CrossGen's production values are arguably the very best in the industry--but I do think the coloring could be taken down a notch and, in doing so, work better with the art.

THE CROSSOVERS is winning me over. I give these first issues a commendable four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

R.A. SALVATOR'S DEMON WARS: TRIAL BY FIRE ($2.95) had a lot to overcome with me. More than any other CrossGen book, it reminds me of the lackluster novels which invaded bookstores when Dungeons and Dragons and similar fantasy-based games took off, novels which were very little more than role-playing game scenarios put into words. The various comic books spawned from the same source material were even worse. After reading the first three issues of DEMON WARS, I had to conclude the series was formed from the same basic stuff as those despised fantasies of yore. And yet...

What works for CrossGen's DEMON WARS is that it has likeable characters in outsider-heroes Andacanavar and Moira, fine writing by Scott Ciencin, gorgeous art by Ron Wagner (which also tells the story well), equally gorgeous coloring by Caesar Rodriguez, and an intriguing political/religious sub-plot that has some parallels to attitudes in our own world. These go a long way toward allowing me to ignore scenes that read like they were included because someone rolled the dice a certain way.

As with the entire CrossGen line, DEMON WARS is exceptionally friendly to new readers. The inside front covers recap what's gone before and there are also bonus features like world-maps (issue #1) and a "traveler's guide" (issue #3) to keep the readers up to speed and, pardon my sarcasm, in the game.

Surprising myself, I give R.A. SALVATORE'S DEMON WARS: TRIAL BY FIRE four-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

My new favorite CrossGen book is ROUTE 666 ($2.95). I came to this realization after reading its first eight issues and not being able to stop reading until I ran out of issues.

College student Cassie Starkweather sees recently-dead people, souls not quite ready to move on to their next destination. When she was younger, this terrified her so much that she tried to take her own life. Now that she's older and her gift has returned, she is even more terrified. Because now she also sees the dark spirits who seize those helpless souls for the dreaded "Adversary" and the savage monsters who, in human form, do the Adversary's bidding in the world of the living. There's a supernatural war going on, and she's the only living human who knows it.

Writer Tony Bedard drives the story with perils and surprises a'plenty, but he doesn't stint on the characterization in doing so. His Cassie is a plucky heroine whose human frailties keep us on the edge of our seat. The Adversary's victims, despite their limited roles, are well-crafted characters in their own right; their deaths are no mere statistics. Bedard even invests most of the villains with individual personalities; they aren't cookie-cutter bad guys. It's a fine cast of characters for a horror-adventure tale; Stephen King and Joss Whedon raised the bar for the genre and Bedard is up to the challenge.

Penciler Karl Moline is more an adventure artist than a horror artist. He does nice work here, but a bit more atmosphere would be welcome. Inker John Dell and colorist Nick Bell also provide good stuff...and their names rhyme. Should Moline need time off, I vote for Mike Grell to guest-pencil an issue.

ROUTE 666 gets the full five Tonys. Don't fret if your local comics retailer doesn't keep these issues in stock; the first ROUTE 666 trade paperback goes on sale in April.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1529 [March 7, 2003], which shipped on February 17. The featured front page story was on the opening of the DAREDEVIL movie and critical reaction to same. A smaller topper story announced Marvel's hiring of new Associate Editor Teresa Focarile to recruit new writers from everywhere but the comics industry.

This issue also contained Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt's fine column on the many female-type loves of the Rawhide Kid. I'm okay with the Kid being gay--though not with Marvel's sleazy promotional campaign--but I knew the company's historical rationale for it was a bunch of hooey. Shutt provides ample documentation of this in an article well worth seeking out and reading.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

Our first letter this weekend is from MARK STRATTON:
I'm glad to see you'll be at the PLANET COMICON in Kansas City this month. I'm passing up seeing family just to get there to meet you in person!

Okay, not really, but I figured it would sound good...

I have seen references to your "Farewell Tour" and can't seem to find anything more than brief references to it on either of your column sites and a search on your Message Board didn't help me much either. Do you have a link to something that would help me in my quest to understand the remarks?

Also, in a recent column, you asked why we read reviews. I generally don't. I don't much care what anyone else thinks of what I read. When I do, I want to know what THEY think and why.

I even tend to gloss over your reviews. Except your review of ASTRO BOY....which I agreed with...and "Holy Grail" type comics. That one for me is pretty difficult to answer. A lot of it depends on what day of the week it is. My attention gets focused on so many different titles, characters, and what not, that it changes frequently.

But, if pushed, I would have to say the GASOLINE ALLEY comic books from the early 1950s. There were only two published and they are rather hard to find. Not really expensive, just hard to find. A close second would be the rest of the G. I. JANE series from the same time period. Off the wall stuff, to be sure, but that's where I am this week. Next week things could be different.
Probably the most concise answer to the question "What's with this TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR?" can be found in the CBG column posted here:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/index.shtml?20021214

The next stop on my tour will, indeed, be at PLANET COMICON in Kansas City on March 28-29. You can get the details on that show by visiting its website:

www.planetcomicon.com

Since the last time I ran the schedule here, I have added two more shows to the farewell tour. I'll be attending the BIG APPLE COMIC CONVENTION on May 2-3...and WIZARDWORLD CHICAGO on August 8-10. The first fulfills my dream of returning to the city where my comics career began--for the first time since 1988--and seeing fans and friends I haven't seen in far too many years. The second marks a return to a city and a convention where I've always had wonderful times. I'm getting misty just thinking about it.

That said, here's the current tour schedule:
May 2-3:
Big Apple Comic Convention
www.bigapplecon.com

May 10:
The Mighty Mini-Con (Herkimer, New York)
www.mightyminicon.com

July 17-20:
Comic-Con International (San Diego)
www.comic-con.org

August 8-10:
Wizardworld Chicago
www.wizarduniverse.com/conventions/chicago.cfm

September 5-7:
Lone Star Comicon (Houston)
www.lonestarshows.com

November 29-30:
Mid-Ohio-Con (Columbus)
www.midohiocon.com
My original intention was to attend a total of 12 conventions this year, but I may be scaling that back to just the eight shows I've already announced.

(Yes, I *can* count. The first show on my tour was MegaCon in Orlando, Florida, at the beginning of the month. My CBG column on that event will be turning up online any week now.)

I'm not completely ruling out adding more conventions to this nutty tour of mine. If I get an invitation to a show in a city I'd like to visit, and the show's promoter is willing to cover my hotel and travel expenses for same, I can pack the suitcase another time or four. But my personal convention budget is pretty much tapped out and likely to remain so.

One show down, seven to go. I'm riding that convention trail, amigos, and I'm riding it hard!

******

MORE MAILBOX

We'll close with a short note from ANDREW PERRON, who, after reading last Saturday's column, wrote:
The reason I like manga so much is, basically, the attitude. Though I wouldn't say all manga, it seems to me most manga has a higher emotional tone, a lighter essence. It lacks the sarcasm and hidden hostility towards life which seems to pervade its Western equivalents.

Also, it has giant robots! Wheeee!
When my columns get a "wheeee" out of a reader, I figure it's time to get off the stage while I'm ahead.

See you next week.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/15/2003 | 03/22/2003 | 03/29/2003 >>

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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