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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, May 24, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1539:

"Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let man label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country--hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of."

--Mark Twain

I'm moderately pleased and somewhat conflicted that Marvel's GHOST RIDER looks to be heading to the big screen after a series of delays. I wrote the comic book for a couple of years back in the 1970s, a well-received run I remember fondly. On that level, then, I'm happy to see an old "friend" doing well.

DAREDEVIL director Mark Steven Johnson is the latest director attached to this project, good news for those of us who enjoyed his take on Matt Murdock's dual life. Johnston appears to have respect for the character and an understanding of the concept. From what I've read, the movie will feature the original Johnny Blaze version of the character, a motorcycle stuntman who sells his soul to the Devil to save a loved one's life and ends up sharing his own life with a demon. In a recent interview with EMPIRE ONLINE, Johnson said "The Ghost Rider is one of the great icons in comics. It's that classic Devil and Daniel Webster story. A Faustian bargain that changes Johnny's life."

Comics fan Nicholas Cage will be playing Blaze and, given how many comics-related roles Cage has pursued or been pursued for over the years, I'm looking forward to seeing him in this one. It seems like an excellent casting fit to me.

My conflicts?

This Ghost Rider, as opposed to the masked western hero first published by Magazine Enterprises in the 1950s, was created by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog. There was certainly some editorial input from others, but it was Friedrich and Ploog who brought the heart and soul, dramatically and visually, to the character. They will likely receive dollar none from the film or any merchandise spawned by the film; they will be lucky to receive even the most meager on-screen credit. That bothers me.

It also bothers me that, at the time I assumed the Ghost Rider assignment, it never occurred to me that Friedrich was getting the short end of the deal. A freelance writer, he had co-created this terrific character and now, for whatever reasons, he had been taken off the book. It was standard operating procedure for the industry then and now, but it pains me that I was a party to it in any way. I don't expect to be working that side of the street in the future, but, if I do, I hope to do so in a manner which recognizes in every way the contributions of those I follow.

My remaining conflict stems from my strong desire that Johnson sees what I have always seen in the story of Johnny Blaze, that it is, at its core, a story of love and redemption. I don't know that was what Friedrich and Ploog had in mind when they brought Johnny into this world...and I recognize it's selfish of me to want to see my take on their creation on the screen...but there it is, my sin of pride. Mea culpa.

Marvel has a veritable boatload of characters and concepts in various stages of movie and television development. It's going to be tough to keep up with them, a challenge I relish. But, in all the excitement of each new release, there will be the synchronous sadness that, more often than not, the creators of these characters will be virtually ignored and, to a man, they will receive no share in the financial success of their creations.

Faustian bargains generally work out that way.

******

Marvel Comics publisher Bill Jemas has become our industry's favorite whipping boy. Yet for every time I want to give him the lash, there's another time when I want to give the cheeky monkey a hug. Marvel's 411 #1 ($3.50) is of the latter persuasion. In this most "gung-ho" of times, it takes courage to publish and market a comic promoting non-violence. That the resultant effort has such artistic and social merit fills me with pride for those who created and those who support this title.

Yes, I have quibbles with some of the content. I was giving out with the "Amen, brother" responses to Jemas' introduction until I hit this line:

"In wartime, looking for the humanity in your enemy can't help but be seen--by patriots--as unpatriotic."

I would have had to add the qualifier "so-called" to the line because, in my view, those who refuse to look for the humanity in the enemy, or who would condemn those who do look, do not remotely meet my standard for patriotism. If we turn our eyes from the human beings on the opposing side of the field, we may win battles, but we will ultimately and surely lose the larger war.

Following the intro is "Understand the Culture of Nonviolence" by Dr. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi. I found it a thoughtful piece, but, while I can accept the principles of nonviolence in theory and in some applications, I see too many situations where nonviolence isn't the answer, indeed, situations where its application gives free rein to brutality, discrimination, and intolerance. I'm a lousy pacifist.

What struck a chord with me in reading 411's trio of stories was that none of them proffered nonviolence as THE solution, but as a step towards the solution. But, to discuss this further, I will have to activate the...

...SPOILER WARNINGS!

In "Blow Up," an Israeli pilot responds to the murder of his daughter by a Palestinian suicide bomber by feigning a bombing run and, instead, dropping leaflets on both Palestinians and Israelis alike. One side features a headline reading YOU KILLED MY DAUGHTER and a photo of the girl; the other features a dozen photos of other children, Arab and Jew alike, with this message:

I could have killed yours. We must stop now before you know my pain.

"Blow Up" was written by Jemas (story) and Chuck Austen (story and script). Artist Phil Winslade and colorist Chris Chuckry did a magnificent job combining realism with a traditional heroic style which would have done the legendary combination of John Buscema and Tom Palmer proud.

"Tit-For-Tat" is set in Northern Ireland. Writer Mark Millar tells of his grandfather Peter O'Hare's life, his pivotal encounter with the Belfast constabulary, and his reaction to said encounter. It would not be unfair to call it a humorous tale, albeit one which never forgets the darkness surrounding it. The Frank Quitely art is excellent, as is Dan Brown's coloring, but the "digital" inking by Avalon Studios looked muddy to me.

"Seeds" by David Rees is perhaps the most moving in the issue. Afghani soldier Sayed returns home from the battlefield to see his family and honor his mother's memory. He sees men on their knees, locating and defusing line mines. He hears of a neighbor's child killed by a mine. And he plays with his son, who dreams of being a farmer, but who can not create a pretend farm in the dirt without including land mines. Sayed turns his back on soldering to defend his family in a new line of work, to do battle with the millions of mines which weigh so heavily on their country. Artist Tony Salmons and colorist Rick J. Bryant bring as much emotional impact to the visuals as Rees does in his script.

Jemas and company should be proud of 411 #1. On our scale of zero to five Tonys, it picks up the full five. I'm looking forward to the remaining two issues of the series.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Viz Comics sent me a nice box of their recent graphic novels and I'm happily making my way through it. THE ALL-NEW TENCHI MUYO: ALIEN NATION ($8.95) offers a satisfying 176 pages of comics in its 7-1/2" by 5" format and, picking up where NO TIME FOR TENCHI ended, smooths the way for new readers with a chapter that introduces all the characters in the context of a complete and very amusing story. I couldn't have asked for a better welcome.

Tenchi is one-quarter alien, but it's his humanity that makes him kin to the readers...and a wonderful foil for his housemates. Picture FRIENDS with a Chandler/Joey mix for the lead and a sextet of otherworldly suitors: a space pirate, two princesses, a genius, a galactic police officer, and a bioorganic and sentient spaceship. They have their shortcomings and their little quirks, but they are all very likeable characters.

With story and art by Hitoshi Okuda, ALIEN NATION offers seven complete stories. These science-fictional elements are wondrously wild and wacky, but the tales are mostly about very human concerns: getting along with others, making ends meet, standing by friends. I like the blend of such contradictory elements and would recommend the volume to readers of all ages.

THE ALL-NEW TENCHI MUYO: ALIEN NATION is a good-looking book that delivers outstanding bang for the bucks and, its smaller size not withstanding, is designed to be easy on the eyes. I give it a well-deserved four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Also in this Viz package was the first volume of DRAGON BALL ($7.95) by Akira Toriyama. This is a series which, though it might be the most popular manga of all, never struck me as something I'd enjoy. I can't speak to the remaining 41 volumes in this series, but I was laughing out loud at the comedic adventures to be found in the initial volume. This is funny stuff.

The "Dragon Balls" are mystical thingamabobs which can, when seven of them are gathered, summon a powerful dragon who will grant the gatherer one wish. Bulma is a pushy young lady determined to track down seven of the balls. She enlists Goku, a naive monkey-tailed boy who possesses incredible strength, speed, and stamina, to join her on this quest. Goku comes on board quickly; he's eager for new adventures and has never seen a girl before. That last one alone is reason enough to sign up.

DRAGON BALL is rated "T" for "teen" audiences and that's more a safe call than a good one. There are occasional cartoon images of private parts. There is some crude and even lascivious humor, the kind of stuff kids will find irresistible in a forbidden fruit way. If my children were younger, I'd want to talk with them about it, but I honestly wouldn't have a problem letting them read DRAGON BALL. It's good-hearted entertainment.

DRAGON BALL reads from right to left, which doesn't take a lot of getting used to and makes for a more authentic manga experience. For your eight bucks, you get 172 pages of story...and a cool cover gallery. Combining great value with action-packed fun, this first volume earns Toriyama and Viz the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

One more quick review. From the "been there/seen" that school of super-hero comics comes PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE (Image; $5.95) by Michael Avon Oeming (story) and Neil D. Vokes (art). It's another "Batman and Robin" deconstruction tale set in a Victorian era world of privilege. The writing is good, though predictable. The art is terrific, bringing this "elseworld" to depressing, remarkable life. The comic itself is well-packaged and not a bad buy for the bucks. However, I came away from the 46-page story feeling that Oeming had simply retraced old steps.

There is a place for such dark super-hero fare alongside the more traditional "white hat" champions. Yet the bright heroes are such compelling icons that exploring the shadows of their environs demands fresh ideas and presentations. The night becomes stale so much more quickly than the day.

Oeming and Vokes are top talents. I can't imagine passing on their work, either singularly or together. Unfortunately, the best score I can give PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE is a disappointing two-and-a-half Tonys. I expect more from the great ones.

Tony Tony Half Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1539 [May 16, 2003], which shipped April 28. Steve Fritz's cover story was on X2: X-MEN UNITED; he had a longer piece on the movie inside the issue. I enjoyed X2, reviewing it in my "Tony's Tips!" column for CBG #1542. Come back in three weeks and you'll be able to read that review right here.

******

PARDON MY FREEDOM: TAKE TWO

In my May 3 column here, quoting extensively from a CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER column by my friend JOHN LONG, I wrote about a French restaurant in the Cleveland area that was falling on hard times due to the anti-French sentiment being promoted by the usual right-wing rascals. I was a model of diplomacy when I wrote:

If you're even paying lip service to the so-called "French boycott," you're a jingoistic idiot.

Naturally, this brought a response from my pal--no, really, I love the guy--RUSS MAHERAS. He wrote:
There are a couple of things that need to be said to put this statement, and your excerpt regarding the French bistro in Ohio that is losing business (apparently because of the France's war stance), into perspective.

First, the whole issue of war-related boycotting was started by peace activists in Europe, including in France. Those boycotts had an identical adverse economic impact on the hapless European business owners who were selling overtly American products-- including McDonald's franchise owners. The boycotts against "French" products in the U.S. occurred as a reactionary response many weeks later--after the French Government openly undermined the U.S.-led war effort. This doesn't make the counter-boycott right, but those are the facts.

What I'm getting at is that I think it would be more accurate to have said that any boycott in this instance probably hurt the boycotter's countrymen far more than it did any of the governments involved.
On the one hand, we Americans are supposed to aspire to higher standards. This gets trotted out whenever Bush and his bunch want us to go along with actions which are distinctly un-American. So, even if the French boycotted us first, shouldn't we be well above retaliating against them?

Indeed, even if the French boycotted McDonald's first, I think McDonald's is a lot closer to being an American icon than a single French restaurant in Westlake is to being a shining symbol of those nasty Frenchmen. Keep in mind that McDonald's USA does make money off these foreign franchises. A boycott against McDonald's strikes me as closer to political speech than a boycott against a single restaurant.

[Look at the column again. Note those other French companies who have continued doing business with nary a hint of disapproval. The right-wingnuts, as opposed to legitimate conservatives, almost always go for the easy targets. They also don't do their homework before they get all pseudo-patriotic on us, but that'd be a whole 'nother column.]

The good news is that Long's column lit a fire under folks in the area. BISTRO DU BEAUJOLAIS was packed-with-a-waiting-list the night after his column ran and has continued to do healthy business ever since.

In addition, John received more e-mails and phone calls on the column than any other he has written for the Plain Dealer...and the response was overwhelmingly favorable. With the mass media largely controlled by right-wing interests, it's heartening to see that the American people may not be the ditto-heads the Dubya Mob want them to be. It gives me hope for 2004.

One more thing. You characterize the French opposition to the U.S.-led war effort in Iraq as "openly undermining" those efforts. Excuse me...and this is the question you keep dodging...but do you believe France and other nations have an obligation to rubber-stamp whatever Bush wants?

France is a sovereign land, not our vassal. Its leaders have the right--and an obligation to their people--to vigorously oppose, hopefully, in a peaceful manner, actions other nations take which they believe are not in their country's best interests or the best interests of the world.

Dubya has claimed this right for his administration, heedless of international law or prior agreements. Would you then deny this right to nations who attempted to conduct themselves in accordance with international law and prior agreements?

We may not like it when others disagree with us. But, if we deny that right of disagreement to them, how can we justly claim it for ourselves when we disagree with them?

******

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Here's a letter from AVI GREEN, which, having gotten so long-winded in response to Russ, I'm going to present without the usual Tony comments. He writes:
Your TONY POLLS [May 10] about possible conflicts of interest when a critic simultaneously writes for a major publisher reminded me of a situation involving some of Marvel's own flagship titles as well, in which personal biases were apparently written in, but were not made identified as such by the writers.

For example:

In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36, which dealt with 9-11, I recall a panel in which J. Michael Straczynski seemed to suggest that the US was to blame for the attacks. He asked a "what should we tell our children" question and responded that "perhaps we tell them that we are sorry. Sorry that we could not deliver unto them the world we wished them to have. That our eagerness to shout is not the equal of our willingness to listen. That the burdens of the distant people are the responsibility of all men and women of conscience, or their burdens will one day become our tragedy."

I was astonished when I came upon this, since, at one point, I think he seemed to be giving a critique against people who made similar statements, such as Pat Robertson, and then, Straczynski went along and made a similar suggestion himself which was just as damaging. Just when he had the chance to at least impress the readers on a moral level, he goes and cancels it out by talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Then there's the Marvel Knights rendition of CAPTAIN AMERICA, which you wrote about last February in your TONY'S ONLINE TIPS at Perpetual Comics. The writer, John Ney Reiber, implied that the US was the aggressor against the enemy regimes that had attacked it, and that the terrorists were simply seeking revenge for the United States' supposed hostility, rather than targeting and murdering innocent civilians out of racism. Not only did Cap not condemn the actions of the terrorist leader Al-Tariq, but he also revealed his secret ID, supposedly because it would keep any other terrorists from targeting innocent US citizens and make them want to come after him alone.

To say the least, it's simply devastating that Marvel would allow its writers to inject some loathsome biases into the pages of its most beloved mainstream characters, all without even making their standings clear to the reader in the first place. It's one thing for a writer to have a bias in favor of the comics company, but it's another to have one that's against the better interests of democratic countries.

In a case like this, one could argue that it's a conflict of interest between the writers and the readers.
I lied. I have to say something here. But, swear to God, I will be brief.

A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist. I have never and will never excuse their actions against innocent people. But, for those of us who truly believe this, it is impossible for us to make a distinction between "their" terrorists and "ours," something the United States has done too often and to its regret.

The United States is not an island. Though we're not to blame for the terrorist attacks against us, that does not, by any means, absolve us of our obligation to attempt to understand the emotions and history behind those attacks. As proud as our national history often is, it is not without blemish.

Where is the conflict of interest in a writer expressing his opinions in a story? Are we supposed to take a vote before writing our stories?

Writers have been expressing their philosophical and political views in their fiction since, I would imagine, the very creation of fiction. If you prefer not to read stories in which opinions are expressed more overtly than you'd like, or in opposition to your own deeply-held views, that is your right.

Me...I think fiction which attempts to communicate without the presence of the writer's world-view is uninteresting. It lacks the essential reality which pulls me into the story and keeps me there until a hopefully satisfying conclusion has been reached.

I invite other TONY'S TIPS readers to comment on Avi's e-mail (and my response to it) on the TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD. Just look around and you'll find the link on this page.

If you're looking to kill even more time today, check out the current batch of TONY POLLS questions. I'm asking you to pick your favorite comics characters and to answer a handful of questions on comic-book price guides. These questions will remain active until Tuesday...when new questions will be posted.

Have a happy and safe weekend, my friends. I'll see you again on Monday at PERPETUAL COMICS.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/17/2003 | 05/24/2003 | 05/31/2003 >>

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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