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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, June 7, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1541:

"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."

--Agatha Christie

Some odds and ends for you this week:

Congratulations to STATIC SHOCK on its two nominations in the National Television Academy's Daytime Emmy Awards. The show, which airs Saturday mornings on Kids WB, was nominated in the category of "Outstanding Special Class Animated Program" and also "Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction & Composition" (Richard Wolf, music director/composer). Both nominations are well deserved.

I've been a fan of STATIC SHOCK since the show made its debut three years ago. This third season has been the strongest to date with guest appearances by Batman, Superman, and the Justice League, and an incredible episode set in Africa.

Finally, in the "Wha-?" department, how is it possible that a top-rated series like STATIC SHOCK isn't at all represented in the action figure arena? Especially when DC, which holds the licenses to Static and other Milestone characters, has its own "DC Direct" line of action figures?

Inquiring minds want to know.

******

There is a burden and/or thrill which comes with being related to me. Namely, you just never know when I'm going to stick you in one of my columns.

Let's start with this press release from the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation:
Christopher Reeve Receives New Implantable Breathing Device; Cleveland Researchers Develop Device to Replace Ventilator

Nearly eight years after the accident that left Christopher Reeve paralyzed and dependent on a ventilator, the 50-year old actor and activist has hopes of breathing more normally, with the aid of a surgically implanted investigational device. On Friday, February 28, 2003, Reeve underwent minimally invasive surgery at University Hospitals of Cleveland, where a team led by surgeon Raymond Onders, MD, and program director Anthony DiMarco, MD, implanted the device, developed in partnership with biomedical engineers at Case Western Reserve University.

Working through a small laparoscope in what is essentially an outpatient procedure, surgeons placed electrodes in Reeve's diaphragm muscle. The electrodes are attached through wires under the skin to a small external battery pack that electrically stimulates the muscle and the phrenic nerves, causing the muscle to contract and air to enter the lungs. Diaphragm contraction accounts for most of the ventilation required for normal breathing. For more information, go to:

www.ChristopherReeve.org
A couple years back, when my mom, Florence Isabella, needed a bit of surgery, her doctor was Raymond Onders. How cool it that? My mom and Superman have the same doctor!

Mom doesn't think this is such a big deal, but I think she's just trying to keep me finding out about her Justice League signal device. She could so kick evil's ass.

I try to contribute to the CRPF whenever I can. It's a worthy effort that needs all the friends it can get, especially when the current political climate is putting so many obstacles in the path of legitimate research. I urge you to visit the Foundation website and, if at all possible, make a donation.

******

Confidentiality prohibits me from saying more than this: this weekend, I read something so bloody awful, so cynical, so juvenile in its use of profanity and sexuality, and so mean-spirited, that it left me desperately in need of some old-fashioned, super-heroic fun. I headed for the latest AC Comics. Only in comparison to the foulness I had read earlier could these issues be considered great. But they were entertaining, occasionally clever and, most important of all, unlike that other thing, I didn't feel like I had to remove a layer of my skin after reading them.

Men of Mystery 39 MEN OF MYSTERY #39 ($6.95) is 48 pages of super-hero reprints from the 1940s and 1950s. The "Hack & Black" cover pays homage to Kirby and has somewhat the feel of a late 1950s issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, back when Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman were virtually the only super-heroes still on the newsstand.

"Fighting Yank Vanishes" is the cover feature. Drawn by Joe Certa and John Belfi, the 10-pager reduces the Yank to a supporting role in his own strip by way of a criminal who wishes the hero out of existence. It's not what you'd expect from such a vintage tale, but it manages to convey actual dread as its events unfold. There is no writer's credit, but the unknown scribe certainly delivered an exceptional story.

There are five other stories in this issue, the best of them being an Airboy adventure in which he and an innocent bystander are blasted into the future by the aftermath of an atomic bomb test. Drawn by Ernie Schroder, the tale has a moody intensity which must have been even greater for its original readers.

The rest? Pyroman gets sent back to the past in an okay story drawn by George Roussos and Ken Battefield. Spy Smasher smashes a spy ring in a mediocre story with cartoon-ish artwork that doesn't suit the hero. Bulletman battles "the Highwaymen of the Skies" in a so-so yarn that benefits from good Bill Ward art. The issue ends with an eyes-rollingly-bad Marvelman story drawn by Don Lawrence. Alan Moore certainly had his work cut out for him when he revived the character a few decades back.

Whether or not MEN OF MYSTERY is worth seven bucks has to be your call. You won't find stories like these unless you haunt the high-end auctions and spend a lot more money. Plus...they offer a look at the corners of comics history that have yet to be examined in any great detail. Your call...but I will say I'm glad publisher Bill Black is making this material available.

On our scale of zero to five Tonys, MEN OF MYSTERY #39 is good for four of the disembodied darlings.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Miss Masque 1 The all-new MISS MASQUE #1 ($5.95) tries to appeal to the fans of old-time "good girl art," but doesn't quite pull it off. Cover artists Mark and Steph Heike come closest, but the issue's interior art, even the story they drew, isn't near as good. Inside, Masque and the other ladies almost appear self-conscious about their high heels and skimpy outfits. The drawings lack the sweet innocence of the real stuff.

There are three stories in this issue. "South Florida Set-Up" is written and drawn by Mark Heike with inking by Steph. It takes place in the 1940s and it's kind of cute, but the pacing and panel layouts suffer from the necessity of cramming an awful lot into its eight pages. Heike and Heike deserve props for the attempt, which did have its moments.

"Mudslinging," the issue's second story, is a train wreck on several levels. An over-done Geraldo doppelganger is trashing the heroines of FemForce on his television show. Miss Masque tries to stick up for her friends by going on the show. She ends having a bit of mud-wrestling with a villainess and hitting "Hildalgo" with a chair. Two people are credited with the plot and breakdowns, a third with the pencils, and Mark Heike with the script and inking. Heike can't save this silly story. I mean, how bored do I have to be to notice that the scantily-clad villainess wears more sensible footwear than the buxom heroine?

The "Hildalgo" stuff continues with "Sister Hoods," in which criminal siblings are hired to impersonate and frame Miss Masque. The title of the story is great; the story itself is better paced and more readable than the middle tale. Credit Nick Northey (story and art) and Mark Heike (finishes and dialogue) for the noticeable improvement.

Counting a pin-up page, MISS MASQUE #1 gives you 28 pages of comics for six bucks. Again, you have to determine if this comic book is worth the price...while I point out that only AC Comics is currently producing this kind of material. I give this comic two-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Half Tony

******

Sentinels of America 1 The Nedor heroes of the 1940s have apparently fallen into the public domain and AC Comics has put them all together in SENTINELS OF AMERICA #1 ($5.95). It's an embarrassment of riches as over a dozen heroes and a handful of villains clash in a 26-page "Battle for a World." It's good and goofy fun, but the story is so packed with flying figures, plot twists, and battle repartee that it feels hopelessly cramped from start to finish. It could have easily run thrice as long and still be crowded.

I admire the writers Heike (Mark and Stephanie) for attempting this big of a tale in a single issue. Likewise, the artists do a decent job with the impossibly dense material. All hands try their darnedest to give readers their money's worth. It just pains me that a story with such potential had to be squeeze into a comic many sizes too small for what the premise had to offer.

There is no getting around that AC Comics are more expensive than other black-and-white comics. But neither can I ignore their uniqueness in the current marketplace. It's up to you to decide if they deliver sufficient bang for your bucks. Me, I liked this one well enough to award it three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

AC Comics publisher Bill Black and I have had several e-mail exchanges on the prices his small company must charge to make their comics profitable. It can't be emphasized enough that the cost of producing these classic reprints is considerable, involving as it does the removal of color from the original printed pages and the subsequent retouching of the resultant black-and-white art to make it suitable for reproduction, both tasks being accomplished on AC's shoestring budgets.

However, there is a way for the interested comics fan to cut his price on selected AC titles. If you go to the AC website, you can buy any two back issues of MEN OF MYSTERY and get a third issue free. There is no limit on how many issues you can order...and the same sweet deal is available for AC's AMERICA'S GREATEST COMICS and BEST OF THE WEST titles, although only five issues of ACG have been published at this writing. That brings the per-comic price down to around four bucks. At that price, you can add half a "Tony" to any review I've ever written of the books.

Black says I can consider this a "Tony's Tips special," but, truth be told, the savings are likewise available to readers of the other exceptional columns which appear in CBG and even to the they-know-not-what-they're-missing masses who don't...shudder...read the newspaper at all. For AC Comics news and ordering information, get thee to the company's official website at:

www.accomics.com

******

As a courtesy, I often send out advance copies of this column to the creators whose works are reviewed herein. This also allows them to correct me on any errors of fact that may creep into these columns. Whenever possible, I try to get such corrections into my columns before they see print. When it's not possible, I try to get the correction into the next available column. Hence this note from JE Smith, creator of COMPLEX CITY: ALL IN A DAY'S WORK, which was reviewed here last week:
One small nitpick; the Complex City trade DOES include 22 new, previously-unpublished pages to complement the reprints. Thanks again for a great review!
My apologies to Smith for the error.

******

One more for the road.

The current continuity DC Universe doesn't particularly float my boat of late, but, amazingly enough, I'm getting major jollies from various ELSEWORLDS series featuring alternate world versions of the DCU heroes. I especially enjoy those stories which are tied to actual historical events, which then take unexpected turns due to the presence of the super-heroes. The latest example of this is JLA: AGE OF WONDER ($5.95), a two-book series putting doppelgangers smack dab in the middle of the Industrial Revolution.

Writer Adisakdi Tantimedh has gathered a fascinating cast of characters for this story--Superman, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Starman, the Flash, a young Bruce Wayne, and a fiery Green Arrow--and placed them in a tale about good and bad intentions...and the inability of even heroes to always tell them apart. From masterful layouts by P. Craig Russell, artist Galen Showman provides stunning art evocative of the time period and the wonders which have been visited upon it. Letterer Bob Lappan and colorist/separator Dave McCaic also deserve praise; their efforts complete one of the nicest-looking comics of the year.

I recommend this to those super-hero fans who have a love for real-world history and classical heroic tradition. This first half of the tale picks up a full five Tonys...and I am very much looking forward to the conclusion.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1541 [May 30, 2003], which shipped May 12. My CBG editors changed "ass" to "butt" in the line "She could so kick evil's ass." That came as no surprise to me.

CBG generally runs a decade behind the times in what language is in current and common use. The editorial staff also uses their library and school subscribers as justification for their avoidance of certain words which some find objectionable. Besides "ass," I also can't use the word "crap" in my column. We wouldn't want Tony to corrupt the kiddies now, would we?

Just to be snotty...

Was the word "ass" more objectionable than the cover art for SPYBOY VOL. 5, which specifically drew attention to a young woman's breasts underneath her halter-top? The cover was on page 18 of CBG #1541, illustrating a review of the trade paperback.

Was the word "ass" more objectionable than the almost entirely exposed boobs (yet another prohibited word) on page 19? The art ran within a review of HAWKMAN #13.

I'm just asking is all. I think it's good for CBG, for me, and even for you to consider such things.

The issue's cover story was "X2, FREE COMICS PUT NEW FANS IN SEATS," which is certainly a good thing. The secondary lead told how a plot point from the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series was seen in FRAY a year before it showed up on TV. Note to self: add FRAY to the box of BUFFY comics I want to read this summer.

******

FUTURE COMICS

My comics reading has been erratic for years, but I'm trying to get and remain current on titles I enjoy...and even some I don't enjoy. If I reviewed a title recently, I won't write a full-blown review of the latest issue in CBG or in my online columns. However, I will sometimes toss a few quick comments your way.

Deathmask 2 DEATHMASK #2 ($2.99): We get more pieces of the puzzle which is Deathmask in "The Eternity Cage" by David Michelinie (co-plotter and writer), Dick Giordano (penciler), and Bob Layton (co-plotter and inker). Future's "mystic marauder" moves further into Spectre territory--that's Spectre ala Mike Fleischer--dealing out horrific punishments to malefactors. Deathmask does have enough of a sense of right-and-wrong to question his own cruelty, but it'll take more than a moment's reflection to get me on his side. Still, this was a fine issue, definitely worth my time, with a last page that took me by surprise.

(P.S. Future Comics has redesigned its inside front covers. The new design is much more pleasing of the eye and includes roll-call shots of series regulars. I'd still like to see a little bit more "what has gone before" early in each issue, but this change is a huge step in the right direction.)

FREEMIND #6 ($3.50): My first reaction to this issue was that MacKinsey Flint seemed to have recovered quickly from last issue's tragedy. My second reaction was, I think, more on the mark. A man who has spent his life unable to move and overcome that obstacle through sheer will, might be uncomfortable with expressing himself. Yet there is evidence, subtle evidence, in what he *does* say that leads me to conclude that the tragedy is not far from his thoughts. It's not all about him anymore. Kudos to writer Michelinie and co-plotter Layton for making Flint one of the most fascinating super- heroes in comics.

METALLIX #0 ($3.50): This "zero" issue reprints "The Origin of Metallix" serial which appeared as a back-up feature in the ongoing title and adds an all-new "epilogue" to the tale. By making the nasty Max Krome the focus of the story, writer Michelinie and co-plotter Layton avoid the dreaded "origin-itis" ailment that plagues so many introductory stories. This is a fairly good starting point for new readers.

Metallix 5 METALLIX #5: Okay, when you see a cover showing the members of the team and a cover blurb reading "Four Minus One," you know some sort of change is coming. Maybe it's a real change, maybe it's one of those pseudo-changes the bigger companies love so much, but it's coming. Even knowing that, the resolution of this issue caught me by surprise. I seem to say this every month about one Future comic or another, but this might be the company's best all-around issue to date. At least until next month.

******

JLA: AGE OF WONDER

The pivotal question of JLA: AGE OF WONDER #2 (DC; $5.95) is: "You stand for science and wonder, but who will stand for justice?" The answer provided by writer Adisakdi Tantimedh through the voice of Clark Kent...the Superman...is immensely satisfying. I wouldn't presume to speculate on Tantimedh's politics, but I can't help but see lessons for our own society in the story he tells. Ironic that a story set in the nineteenth century is so real that it could be happening today.

In this concluding book, the wonder gives way to the grimmest realities of war and ambition. Decisions are made, consequences of said decisions are faced, and a desperate planet sorely in need of hope teeters on the brink of annihilation. In short, it's one heck of a story and well worth the purchase price.

******

TONY STUFF

Things happen. That's the only excuse I can offer for why you only got one new column from me this week at the Perpetual Comics website and no new TONY POLLS questions. Pick a category--family, health, household, professional commitments--and something from it got between me and my online stuff.

I wish I could tell you for certain that I now have everything under control and you will get a steady stream of "Tony fun" in the coming week. What I can tell you is that I will try my hardest to make that happen. For the latest updates on how well I'm doing in that regard, check out my message board at:

www.comicscommunity.com/boards/tony

Thanks for your patience. I hope you'll be "seeing" a lot of me in the days and weeks to come.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/31/2003 | 06/07/2003 | 06/14/2003 >>

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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