"Some people will always pull the football away just as you're about to kick it. When you find someone who holds the ball steady without flinching, keep that person in your life."
--Tony Isabella, inspired by Charles Schulz
I'm writing this from a hotel room in Overland Park, Kansas, the evening before the start of Planet Comicon, the second stop on the official Tony Isabella Farewell Tour. I won't be writing about the show itself this week, but this opening and most of the reviews therein are being composed in hotel rooms and airports.
Remember those halcyon days when you didn't have to camp out at an airport hours before your flight and then spend another hour or three waiting for a connecting flight? When you could fly those friendly skies from one city to another without stopping at a hub? When you didn't experience that moment of "Are their holes in my socks?" panic before removing your shoes at the security station? Good times.
Having watched many Japanese cartoons and every Godzilla film ever made, I always have this urge to make a little ceremonial bow to the nice security folks as I place my shoes on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed. I think that would add a little welcome dignity to the proceedings. But I digress.
This silly farewell tour of mine would not be possible without the support and encouragement of my Sainted Wife Barbara. When I take off on one of these trips, she takes over my household jobs in addition to her own, while not missing a beat fulfilling the duties of her position managing the home infusion department for the area Kaiser Permanente. Thanks, honey.
The intended goal of the farewell tour was to give me a chance to hang out with my friends and readers in a number of cities, sign a few comic books, answer some questions, and generally work my way out of the comics business. Much to my surprise, even before the tour got underway, I was offered some interesting opportunities in and around the field. At this time, I don't know what will come of these opportunities, but I've decided to raise the threat level of the tour to "what th-?" status. I keep trying to get out and they keep pulling me back in.
Don't look for any quick updates on those possible gigs. I'll only talk about them when contracts and signed and the work is well underway. In the meantime, you'll find the schedule for the rest of my tour at the end of this week's column. It'd be grand to see you - yes, you - somewhere along the way.
From the kindly folks at Dark Horse Comics comes a six-pack of comics previews, starting with JUDGE DREDD VS. ALIENS: INCUBUS #1 ($2.99), the first of a four-issue series. Another "Aliens" story, even one starring a classic comics character, doesn't generate much excitement for me. But Dredd, the man who is the law in the insane sprawl that is the futuristic Mega-City One, struck me as a natural opponent for the acidic Aliens. I had to read this one.
Writers John Wagner and Andy Diggle put a decidedly 2000 A.D. twist on the match-up. The Aliens have been brought to the city by criminals planning to use them in pit fighting. Things go swiftly wrong with that plan and the infestation is on...at a hospital and at the warehouse where the creatures are incubated. Artist Flint Henry does a good gritty job depicting the chaos and horror of the Judges throwing down against the Aliens.
If you come into this first issue expecting something wildly original, you won't get it. What you will get solid storytelling in a fast-paced "B" thriller. It's not the stuff of awards, but it was entertaining. On our scale of zero to five, I give JUDGE DREDD VS. ALIENS: INCUBUS #1 three Tonys.
The horror continues with BLACKBURNE COVENANT #1 ($2.99), the start of a four-issue series by writer Fabian Nicieza and Italian artist Stefano Raffaele. Novelist Richard Kaine's first novel is a huge bestseller. But it's not fiction. Unknowingly, incredibly, Kaine has written about secrets no human could know, secrets which could change our world forever...and those who have guarded those secrets for centuries will go to any lengths to keep the unwitting Kaine quiet.
Kaine himself is the strongest element of this first issue. He isn't handling his fame well, is haunted by apocalyptic visions, and terrified by the violence erupting around him. "Hero" or not, I'd vote him "most likely to die before the last page." Points to Nicieza for a fine script.
Artist Raffaele also impresses. His storytelling is first-rate. He can draw the reader's eye to the small-but-vital details while giving the art a delicious moody/scary atmosphere. What else has he done and can we get him to do more?
BLACKBURNE COVENANT is a comic that gets better the more you think about it...at a time in comicdom when the reverse is far more likely. I give it four Tonys.
ROCKET COMICS: IGNITE is the "Free Comic Book Day" edition. It features new, self-contained tales from three upcoming Rocket Comics titles: "Syn" by Keith Giffen and Greg Titus; "Lone" by Stuart Moore and Jerome Opena; and "GoBoy 7" by Tom Peyer and Jon Sommariva. The price is certainly right and the stories are all readable, but none of the concepts fired my interest.
Syn is a robot in a world devoid of humans who is beginning to think of itself as human. Lone is a western set in a radioactive wasteland. GoBoy 7, the best written of the three, is kind of sort of a new take on Astro Boy with one honestly funny moment. I'm not sure Rocket Comics has the right stuff to be a contender, but I do urge you to take advantage of the free comic to judge for yourself. On the Tony scale, however, it gets an unforgiving and perhaps even cruel one Tony.
Private investigator and Carl Kolchak wannabe Cal McDonald is on the case, a case involving werewolves, vampires, and the elite of Los Angeles. CRIMINAL MACABRE #1 ($2.99) kicks off a five-issue series by writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith. Faithful readers of this column might recall that I thought their HELLSPAWN was possibly the worst comic I'd read all year.
CRIMINAL MACABRE is better than HELLSPAWN on every level. The story is more cohesive, the storytelling is clearer, the writing is less leaden, and, of course, it doesn't have a disputed "Look, I'm thumbing my nose at Neil Gaiman" character on its cover. But what it also doesn't have is a protagonist I like even a little, or any "hook" that made me want to read the next issue.
CRIMINAL MACABRE #1 may appeal to some readers, but, since I'm the guy giving out the floating heads, all it gets from me is one down-and-dirty Tony.
I'd never even flipped through an issue of CANNON GOD EXAXXION prior to reading this preview of issue #14 ($3.50). So I couldn't say if the title regularly runs any sort of "what has gone before" information on its inside front cover. I can only say that I hope so...because even the 40-page chunk of story you get in this issue wasn't enough to give me a firm grasp of what was happening, save that some kid was being held prisoner and her mom, wearing a suit of sci-fi armor, was trying to rescue her. I liked creator Kenichi Sonoda's artwork, but the story left me cold.
At one point in this 40-page issue, the alleged good guys fire a cannon at a building in a large city to assist the escape effort. The first shot takes out five floors and the second collapses the building. These "heroes" seem indifferent to what had to have been a staggering loss of life.
Ironically, shortly after I read this comic book, I watched a new Godzilla movie, one in which the Big G has been returned to his "bad monster" roots. There was far more destruction in this film, but, in a number of scenes, it made the viewer acutely aware of the human loss that accompanied the destruction.
If CANNON GOD EXAXXION #14 has a "what has gone before" page, I might cut it some slack. However, based on the preview in front of me, the best I can give it is one Tony.
The prize of this Dark Horse preview package is Stan Sakai's USAGI YOJIMBO #67 ($2.99), the second part of a three-issue homage to the giant monsters of Japanese movies. A fiendish artist uses the blood of children to make the paint that brings his drawings to life. Usagi must fight his through a gauntlet of such monsters to rescue captive children. It's a fast-paced thriller which proves Sakai needs only his own incredible talent to bring creatures--and great comics--to life. A winner of both the Parents' Choice Award and an American Library Association award, USAGI YOJIMBO is one of the best comics series of all time.
USAGI YOJIMBO #67 is suitable for and strongly recommended to readers of all ages. It gets the full five Tonys...and my further contention that your personal comics library could not possibly be complete without this series.
For information on USAGI YOJIMBO and other Dark Horse comics and items, go to: www.darkhorse.com
One more for the road.
Paige Braddock's JANE'S WORLD is a absolutely delightful comic strip about a gay woman's search for love and success. The tone is always lighthearted, but that hasn't prevented Braddock from mixing adventure with humor and soap opera. A recent sequence featuring cliff-hanging danger in the woods, trigger-happy criminals, and a surprising revelation about a supporting character kept me on the edge of my seat for weeks. Unfortunately, the comic strip hasn't translated well to the comic-book format.
JANE'S WORLD #1 and 2 (Girl Twirl; $2.95 each) take a pair of strip sequences and re-cuts them into comic books stories. Though Braddock's characters and expressive art make the transition well, the pacing is awkward. So many panels are crowded into some pages that my eyes got tired reading them.
(At one point in the first ish, Jane cuts away from the story to mention, but not actually depict, her head-injury-inspired dream about a parallel universe populated solely by female super-heroes. That sequence would have been a natural vis-a-vis attracting comics readers to check out the title and, since I hadn't been following the comic strip when it originally ran, its absence was a serious disappointment for me.)
Another problem with JANE'S WORLD is that the book is poorly designed. It has lots of wasted space, both in the comics stories and the text features. Here's Braddock, an exciting talent whose work deserves the best presentation, and her comic book looks like it was slapped together.
Braddock's talent overcomes the sloppiness of the presentation enough to earn JANE'S WORLD #1 and #2 a fairly respectable three Tonys apiece. But, rather than alter her comic strip to fit the comic-book format, she needs to play with the comic book format to better showcase her terrific comic strip.
The next stop on the Tony Isabella Farewell Tour brings me to where I started my comics career. I'll be a guest at the Big Apple Comic Convention on Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3, at the St. Paul's Church Auditorium, 410 Columbus (9th) Avenue and 60th Street in New York City.
I'm excited about this event. This will be the first time I have appeared at an NYC show since the 1970s and my first trip back to the Big Apple since 1988. I'm looking forward to seeing friends and readers I haven't seen in decades, as well as meeting friends and readers I've never met. So, dig out those old Isabella-written comics and visit me at the convention. I'll keep signing until my hand falls off.
Here's hoping I see you on the convention trail. That's what will make the journey complete.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1536 [April 25, 2003], which shipped April 7. The lead story reported on author and artist Will Eisner's April 1 speech to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Another front-page story announced the coming of WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPER-HERO?, a new series from reality TV producer Bruce Nash and Stan "the Man" Lee. I believe strongly that those who produce, appear on, broadcast, watch or, in any way, further the continuance of reality TV shows are doomed to spend all eternity as contestants on WHO WANTS TO BE PARBOILED IN THE FLAMES OF PERDITION? However, that said, I confess to a certain fascination with this particular show. Here's what CBG reported:
Contestants will pitch their ideas to a group of celebrity judges who have played on-screen super-heroes. No judges have been announced. Semi-finalists will undergo a super-hero makeover by a professional artist overseen by Lee, plus compete in various stunts and challenges. The winner of the contest will be eligible to have his idea expanded into a comic book, and Lee's team will look into doing a comic-book movie or TV spinoff.
Most reality "game" shows promote greed, lust, and a pathetic desire for fifteen minutes of fame. I hate them all.
Imagine, though, if Stan's show actually promoted the idea of selfless heroism. I'm not talking "leaping over tall buildings and bopping Galactus in the nose" heroism. I'm talking men, women, and even kids helping someone in a meaningful way...and for absolutely no reward whatsoever. Sure, go with the goofy costumes and stunts. Entertain the audience. But make the core message this:
"Do good and every man can be a Superman."
That would be a show worth watching.
PARDON MY FREEDOM
Let me put this as delicately as possible:
If you're even paying lip service to the so-called "French boycott," you're a jingoistic idiot.
I could rattle off a whole list of reasons why it's okay for a sovereign nation and people to disagree with the policies of our faux-President and the militaristic mutts in his Cabinet, but you either already know them or you're so mired in right-wing rhetoric that you don't care. Instead, I'm going to direct you to my friend John Long, who writes the "Restaurant Row" column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In his April 30 column, Long wrote of BISTRO DU BEAUJOLAIS, an authentic French bistro in nearby Westlake, Ohio. Business is down 85% since Bush started his war against terror/for oil/to liberate Iraq...and the owners of the place have been receiving "denigrating and foul" phone calls. Many of the calls would easily qualify as hate crimes.
John points out that this is America. Free speech is allowed for everyone, even fools and racists, as long as that free speech is expressed in a lawful manner. He also points out that ignorant people even boycott in an ignorant manner.
The family who owns this restaurant is part of the community. Their chef was called into service in Bush's war and, if there is still a bistro for him to return to, his job is waiting for him on the completion of his service. That's not looking so good at the moment; business is so slow that most of the wait staff has left. The staff had accepted reduced hours so that no one would have to be laid off, but slow business equals fewer tips. No one...owners or staff...is making any money.
What is so foolish is that this small business, which for nearly five years has been employing area folks and paying local, state and federal taxes, is being boycotted for something with which it has nothing to do. Boycotting Bistro du Beaujolais doesn't hurt the French, their government or economy; it hurts Northeast Ohioans.
If you are intent on boycotting the French, at least do it against French corporations and their products, rather than Americans. I'd bet a mountain of cash that many people who think they're boycotting the French are driving on French tires, drinking French bourbon and watching movies made by a French studio. If you are boycotting Bistro du Beaujolais, but using any of the products below, you should feel a bit foolish and ignorant.
These are a fraction of items owned by French corporations: RCA; Uniroyal and Michelin tires; Wild Turkey bourbon, Chivas Regal and Glenlivet Scotch; reruns of the "Jerry Springer Show" and "Law and Order"; Dannon yogurt; any movie made by Universal Studios, and the amusement parks that bear the name. For good measure, dozens of artists record for French-owned labels, including Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Womack, Vince Gill, Placido Domingo, Sting, Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Master P, Ja Rule and those on the Motown Records label.
What's that? You're mad that I called you a jingoistic idiot? Then, by all means, send me angry e-mails. Just have someone help you with them. Because it's a bitch to get those crayon marks off your computer screen.
Assuming all has gone has planned, I'm in New York City when this column posts. I arrive back home by early Sunday evening and, shortly thereafter, be sitting in a movie theater watching the new X-MEN movie with my son Eddie.
Starting yesterday and continuing on Monday and Wednesday of next week, TONY'S ONLINE TIPS is presenting the "pilot" script for a super-hero created by yours truly and Bob Ingersoll. This was a character we created for the now-defunct Ultraverse and whose only previous appearance was as an excerpt in an ashcan we distributed at a few comics conventions several years ago. This time around, you get the entire story.
There won't be any new TONY POLLS questions until sometime in the coming week. The current questions will remain open until that time. If you haven't yet voted, I urge you do to so at:
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: