"Look, I don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive you've got to flap your arms and legs, you've got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisy and colorfully, or you're not alive."
Previously in "Tony's Tips":
I went to MegaCon in Orlando, Florida. I got to hang out with old and new friends. I had a blast.
I also came away from the show with a handful of comic books given to me for review purposes. This happens at just about every convention I attend and I thoroughly approve of folks seizing the moment in this manner. I still can't review every item I receive, but, for what it's worth, I do feel that much more guilty about not reviewing something when it was handed to me by an actual human being. Or even an editor.
Digression. I've considered constructing an "office" around my table in Artists Alley, ala Lucy Van Pelt in PEANUTS, complete with a sign saying "Reviews--five cents," but I don't want to price myself out of CBG's budget. No, no, I'm kidding. I kid because I love these Wisconsin people, especially since they stopped sending me cheese in lieu of a paycheck.
It was, however, damn fine cheese.
Steve Conley was also having a great time at MegaCon, handing out free copies of ASTOUNDING SPACE THRILLS: THE CONVENTION COMIC #1 (Day One Comics; free at the show, $5 online). To celebrate the fifth anniversary of his very cool comic book, Conley is creating and publishing a seven-issue series. Each new issue will be given away free at the shows on Conley's schedule, and then offered for sale on his website. This mass giveaway has been made possible by the various sponsors who have taken out ads in the issues. It's a terrific idea--Conley distributed over 5,000 copies at MegaCon--and I wish I had thought of it first.
The comic? ASTOUNDING SPACE THRILLS: THE CONVENTION COMIC #1 is every bit as delightful as Conley's previous work in his sci-fi universe. Adventurer-scientist Argosy Smith and pals get caught up in the theft of the mysterious and powerful "Stone of Xebrob." As with Conley's previous AST work, this first chapter has appealing characters, crisp artwork and storytelling, fast-paced action, and foreboding intrigue. The lightness of Conley's approach makes the comic book suitable for readers of all ages.
In addition to the 20-page lead story, this first issue also features an inside-front-cover cast of characters--just the thing to bring new readers up to speed--and a slightly-reworked reprint (four pages) of the original AST introduction. As a free giveaway, ASTOUNDING SPACE THRILLS: THE CONVENTION COMIC #1 earns five out of five possible Tonys.
At $5 an issue, it drops to one notch to four Tonys. That's still a pretty good score.
Issues of ASTOUNDING SPACE THRILLS: THE CONVENTION COMIC will be given away at the Pittsburgh Comicon (April 25-27), WizardWorld Philadelphia (May 30-June 1), Comic-Con International in San Diego (July 17-20), WizardWorld Chicago (August 8-10), Baltimore Comic-Con (September 20-21), and Mid-Ohio-Con (November 29-30). You can order issues online at:
The comic-book pickings are slim for fans of western comics. The only ongoing title of which I am aware comes from Bill Black's AC Comics, whose BEST OF THE WEST series has now reached its 33rd issue. Given the $6.95 cover price, one could wish for more than 44 pages of story and art from this comic. But the tales included in those pages are all fine examples of the craft, or historically interesting, or just plain fun, or some combination of the above. That helps soothe the pain-in-the-wallet a mite.
Zorro is featured on the moody painting which graces the cover of the issue. The legendary masked hero also appears on the inside front cover in a complete-in-six-panels story drawn by the equally legendary Alex Toth...and in a longer story drawn by Warren Tufts. I thoroughly enjoyed these tales.
Two of my favorite artists are also represented in the issue. There's a Haunted Horseman (originally published as the Ghost Rider before another publisher did some claim-jumping back in the 1960s) thriller drawn by my buddy Dick Ayers...and a Red Mask adventure by the underrated Frank Bolle.
Rounding out the ish are so-so stories of Tom Mix, the Masked Rider, and the Durango Kid. The last is drawn by Fred Guardineer, and he was definitely on top of his game for this job. On the back and inside back covers are photos of Roy Rogers.
BEST OF THE WEST #33 gets a respectable three Tonys.
For info on this and other AC Comics titles, visit their website:
Brandon Peterson jokingly remarked that I was the only person who liked CHIMERA (CrossGen; $2.95) for its engrossing plot and not "other" factors. This reviewer will cheerfully stipulate that Sara Jennings, the heroine of the four-issue series, is quite fetchingly drawn by Peterson. Okay, she's gorgeous, but not in an exaggerated fashion that defies the reader's sense of reality. Having agreed to the obvious, leave us move forward to the other positives in the first two issues of CHIMERA.
Sara has special powers, doubtless attributable to the "sigil" which lies fetchingly at the base of her spine. What a shame that Peterson will have to draw an establishing shot of this "sigil" at least once an issue. Please.
On a distant ice world, part of the vast domain dominated by a bone-nasty intergalactic empire, Sara hides from her past. But the ruler of that empire, a cruel man who has lived for nearly 900 years, covets her power--though he does not yet know that it is her power--and will destroy any man, any planet, who stands between his acquisition of it. Against the might of this empire, Sara's only ally is "Rover," a robotic remnant of a civilization which existed at least 120,000 years ago. As elements for a sci-fi adventure, I think the above make for a pretty good mix.
Writer Ron Marz continues to do the best work of his career at CrossGen. On every level--characterization, dialogue, pacing--Marz is hitting his marks and then some. Besides providing beautiful, digitally-painting art for CHIMERA, Peterson shares credit for the story. The lettering is by Dave Lanphear, another of my favorites. Finally, for the "tech" fans among you, each issue features "info" pages on the ships, weapons, science, and other facets of the world in which this story takes place. I'm about as non-tech as you can get and I still found them interesting.
CrossGen is one of the most vital publishers in the comic-book business and the quality of these product doesn't seem to diminish one bit as they add new books. CHIMERA is another winner for them; its first two issues earn five Tonys apiece.
Writer Jim Krueger can almost always be counted on for doing something a little (or a lot) different with traditional comic-book genres. The pattern was established with his FOOT SOLDIERS series and continues to this day.
Krueger's latest effort is CLOCKMAKER #1 (Image; $2.95), which weds an intriguing story to an unusual format. Hidden in a Swiss mountain are the gigantic clockworks which control the rotation of our world. Men who never age maintain these works while the burden of overseeing the cosmic mechanism falls to the Bonn family. When the Clock Maker and his son are murdered, that supernatural legacy is assumed by Astrid Bonn.
The format? CLOCKMAKER folds out from a traditionally-sized comic into a breathtaking 13" high by 20" wide spectacle. Though the story itself is only 12 pages long, it packs a lot of action, emotion, and wonder into those pages...and the size of the artwork adds to the sense of enormous dread and mystery into which Krueger draws his readers. Kudos to artists Matt Smith, Zach Howard, and Michael Halblieb. In addition to the story, CLOCKMAKER #1 features several pages of clockworks designs by Guy Davis. (The character designs are by Krueger and Phil Hester.)
The format of CLOCKMAKER #1 defies my usual bang-for-the-buck standards, though I'm pleased to note the price drops to $2.50 with the second of this twelve-issue series. I'll likely revisit this book after I read a few more chapters, but, for now, I'm giving the premiere issue four out of five Tonys.
FEMFORCE #118 ($6.95) marks the 20th anniversary of AC Comics. The only still-active independent publishers who have reached that mark would be Wendy and Richard Pini, whose ELFQUEST will be moving to DC Comics soon, and Dave Sim, whose CEREBUS draws ever closer to its 300th and final issue. Publisher Bill Black and company can be justifiably proud of this achievement.
From my reviewer's seat, FEMFORCE has a checkered history. I get a genuine enjoyment from reading about these super-heroines and their super-friends and super-foes, but I wince at the occasional and obvious pandering to the drool-crowd. Some of the costumes and situations border on and sometimes cross over into the kinky. I'm sure that's an attraction for some readers--even myself every now and then--but it cheapens FEMFORCE when it's too blatant. Consider this paragraph a bonus overview.
I read FEMFORCE #116-118 prior to writing this column. Issue #116 has a cover photo of actress Maria Savarese as the villainous Alizarin Crimson and, sad to say, she looks like a not particularly well-made action figure. Some interior photos are more attractive, but Savarese's costume works against her in every shot. I hate it when clothes do such disservice to a pretty lady.
There are three comics stories in this issue: Tara, Nightveil, and Femforce. The last one is the first chapter of a three-issue adventure. All are readable, but none of the writing or art rises above the journeyman. Rounding out the 40-page issue is a heavily-illustrated (with photos) article on the Nightveil movie. It's an interesting look at low-budget film-making, but, again, the cheesy and sleazy costumes are the undoing of the actresses. I can't give this issue more than two-and-a-half Tonys.
FEMFORCE #117 is a much better comic book. The second chapter of the "Kraken" serial kicks up the action and menace quite nicely. That's followed by an amusing Yankee Girl/Cave Girl team-up written by Mark Heike and drawn by the best-known-as-an-inker-but-he's-got-sweet-penciling-moves-too Andrew Pepoy. There's a reprint of pre-EC "Rio Rita" tale drawn by Jack Kamen, the first chapter of what looks to be a fine alternate world prose story by Jason Greenfield, and a very funny two-pager starring Synn, one of publisher Black's earlier creations. This issue rates four Tonys.
FEMFORCE #118 has the best cover of the three, a collaboration between "Kraken" penciler Scott Nemmers and inker Heike. Inside, we get the satisfying conclusion of that serial, a good-but-flawed Synn adventure by Black and Heike, and a neat little Cave Girl tale by Eric Coile.
The flaws in the "Synn" story are that its length (nine pages) and pacing don't do the plot justice. Some actions which would've been better seen are, instead, described in bulky speech balloons. The characters of the guest-starring Starmasters weren't developed enough to gain my interest. Some panels were so cramped they felt claustrophobic to me. My disappointment stems from my belief that the story published here didn't achieve the potential of the story that could have been. As a result, I can only award FEMFORCE #118 three out of a possible five Tonys.
I'm only halfway through my MegaCon haul, so look for another batch of reviews next week. See you then.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1534 [April 11, 2003], which was shipped March 24. The cover story was on third-party grading/slabbing in comics and other collectible-type hobbies. The piece was but four short paragraphs and it still put me to sleep.
Geez, does this whole CGC/slabbing debate bore me! People can do whatever they want with their comic books. People can (and do) open up slabbed comics to read them. Yes, the prices on old comic books are going up and more so on slabbed books. So what? Most of you (and definitely me) wouldn't be able to afford those Golden and Silver Age comic books anyway.
There are dozens of great new comic books being published each and every month. Buy them.
There are reprint comics and collections published each month. Buy them and write the publishers asking for more.
Besides, within a decade, I bet we're seeing CD-ROMs--probably on demand--reprinting just every old comic book you could possibly want to read. Don't sweat the slabbing.
IN THE NEWS
It being a stressful week for me...one of those "sometimes the bear gets you" kind of weeks...I decided against including much in the way of political and social commentary in today's installment of this column. In Columbus, Ohio, a Republican state congressman who ran an incredibly expensive campaign centered around his pledge to vote against any new taxes has been booted...by his own party's leader...from his important committee assignments for keeping that pledge. In Medina, Ohio, the local Democratic Party is holding a fundraiser with Jerry Springer as the guest speaker. What could I possibly add to these stories?
So, instead, I'll give you a quote that just tickled the heck out of me when I read it: "The little brat's caused a big stir in this county. As soon as she's capable, we're planning one heck of a big shindig."
That's GREGORY LYNCH SR., the father of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, speaking after her rescue from Iraqi captivity.
Lynch's story is inspiring on so many levels. Her courage in enduring her captivity and injuries. The compassion and courage of the Iraqi people who were absolutely essential in her rescue. And the courage and skill of her American rescues. Yeah, I know I just wrote "courage" three times.
Whatever one thinks of the War in Iraqi, or those who sent our troops into battle, I think this incident speaks volumes about the innate decency of human beings. It's a decency that transcends the political conflicts of the moment...and the perhaps not-so-vast-as- we-imagined differences between "them" and "us".
OUR VANISHING COMICS SHOPS
The subject of defunct comics stores and gaming/comics hybrid stories came up on a mailing list of which I'm a member. One of my fellow members wrote:
"Forty-year-old guys who play the card games with eight-year-old kids. I'm sorry, but that's just not right."
To which I responded:
That creeps me out, too. We had a small comics/gaming shop in Medina and I swear one of the partners was only in it for just that reason.
True story: at the shop's first location--it had two before it closed--a huge indoor antiques mall opened in what used to be the supermarket that anchored the strip mall. It did mammoth business on weekends.
The comic shop was open, but the afore-mentioned partner used to keep the closed sign in the window so he wouldn't be bothered by the people coming to the antiques mall. When I asked him why he didn't welcome these potential new customers, his response was that they probably wouldn't buy anything he were selling.
I thought of suggesting he a) find out if that were true, and b) perhaps start carrying things that would be of interest to them. Then I realized I was keeping him from his Magic game.
Don't ask me how many times I walked into that store, looked around, never got asked if I needed help, and then stood waiting at the counter with my purchases. Once I left a hefty stack of comic books on the counter and walked out rather than wait for a lull in the game. Eventually, I would only go there when the other partner was on the premises. He usually had his infant son with him...and he was STILL more attentive to their customers.
Most of the comic-book shops which survived the lean years of the recent past are well-run. Some are nothing short of fantastic. But, even today, I get the occasional e-mails or letters telling me about the ones that aren't. Sigh.
Good or bad, keep those e-mails and letters coming. I don't mind spreading the word about wonderful establishments and, though I won't mention the other kind by name, I can discuss where they're going wrong...and maybe even offer some tips about how they can fix things before it's too late.
TONY POLLS ARE BACK!
By popular demand, Justin and I are bringing back our beloved TONY POLLS on a trial basis. However, we'll only be posting one or two new questions each week, which will give us a better chance to keep them on the straight-and-narrow.
This week's questions...there are two of them...concern two of my favorite television series of all time, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL. This is a one-week-only poll, so, if you want to get in on the fun, you have do so with alacrity. To step up to the voting booth, head over to:
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.
Please send material you would like me to review to: