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

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for Saturday, June 21, 2003


Top Ten Signs Something Is Wrong at THE NEW YORK TIMES: 10. When anything bad happens, front page asks, "Where are you, Spider-Man?"


I am loving the increasing frequency with which our beloved comics or comics characters are making their way into the general consciousness. Letterman used Spider-Man or the X-Men in three of his Top Ten lists in a week-and-a-half.

A NEW YORK TIMES story about a Hindu bride who put a halt to her wedding in Noida, India, over the illegal dowry demands of her intended and his family made the young woman a hero in her country, and rightfully so. What made me even more delighted was what was reported five paragraphs into the story:
After fielding a call from a comic book artist who wanted to bring her act of defiance to a mass market, she said: "I'm feeling proud of myself."
Imagine a world where being in a comic book was every bit as cool as appearing on the cover of ROLLING STONE or having your own talk show, a world where comics enjoyed the same casual acceptance as other forms of entertainment or information dissemination. It's easy if you try.

I take considerable pleasure from these small steps forward. They are what the longest journeys begin with.


"Longest journey" is a pretty good description of what I took to get to Mike Carbonaro's Big Apple Comic Convention, Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3, at St. Paul's Church in--where else--New York City. The trip there was one mini-disaster after another, starting with Casa Isabella's flooding laundry room the night before I left for the convention.

The short version: our home, lovely as it is, was built by a builder, for himself, and who, probably figuring he'd fix problems later, made some wacky choices. One of those was to put an outside door in the laundry room, right where our back yard slopes downward to form a small lake whenever we get heavy rains. Our solution to this problem was to caulk the back door shut. Our mistake was to remove the caulking so we could easily bring in our new washer and to put off re-caulking the door. So, the evening before my trip to New York, I was laying down newspapers and using a Shop-Vac to stem the encroaching waters. The battle raged until two in the morning, less than four hours before my early-morning flight. Harvey Pekar could get a graphic novel out of this; me, I just got wet and cold and cranky.

I slept for a couple hours before leaving for the Akron-Canton airport, a small regional facility I use because of the good rates and swift security procedures. The latter proved crucial; I missed my exit to the airport in the pre-dawn fog and ended up going the wrong way. I corrected my course after calling Sainted Wife Barb on my cell phone and having her confirm that, yes, I did know what time it was, and, yes, I was an idiot.

Fortunately, I made it to the airport in time. Unfortunately, my flight didn't take off on time. We were waiting for passengers from a late-arriving flight. It only takes 20 or 30 minutes to fly from Akron-Canton to Pittsburgh, where I would catch my connection to NYC, but I had to run from one end of the Pittsburgh terminal to the other to catch that flight.

To review: I'm tired. I'm stressed out by the mini-disasters. I'm out of breath. But I have arrived on board my flight to the glorious Big Apple.

Weeks-old ticketing problems now haunt me. I don't have the aisle seat I prefer. I'm in the middle of a row. Already seated is a reptilian New York City lawyer. When he has to get up to let me into the row, he looks at me as if I were something that crawled from a sewer, his face a mask of arrogant disgust.

The window seat is empty. I ask if he would like to take it, but, after looking down his nose at me, he declines. I move over to give us more elbow room. Once the plane is in the air, he takes over the vacant middle seat and its tray-table, building a barrier of briefcase, electronic doohickeys, and papers between him and me. When I rise to use the restroom prior to landing, he mutters an under-his-breath curse in my direction.

Why must they allow peasants to fly on his plane?

Think I'm exaggerating? Read on, doubting ones.

When I leave the restroom, a flight attendant asks me if I'd like to take a vacant seat in the last row. She says she wouldn't wish sitting next to the "Lizard" on her worst enemy. It seems he is a regular on the flight. That she has a nickname for him speaks volumes, even without her spirited conjecture as to the size of the bug living up his posterior.

The plane is nearly empty when I disembark. The maintenance crew is already cleaning up the Lizard's slime-trail. I grab a cab and, within minutes, I'm enjoying the thrill of weaving in and out of traffic as if all Manhattan were the world's largest bumper cars arena. God, I love New York cabbies.

I'm not kidding.

They do their jobs with a skill that astounds me. They pump me up for my time in the Big Apple. They make me drive like a nut when I get back to Ohio, but I can usually shake their influence in a few hours. They answer my questions, even to calling dispatchers when they don't know the answers. They're Arabic, Indian, Russian, the American melting pot on wheels. What's not to love about these magnificent men in their almost-flying machines?

I get to the Hotel Stanford where I'll be staying on this, my first trip to New York since 1988. My room isn't ready, but, since the hotel staff knows I'd like to freshen up before I head over to the convention, they get it ready quickly. It's a small room, but comfortable and clean. Throughout my stay, the hotel folks treated me wonderfully.

So there I was at St. Paul's Church, heading into the church basement for the opening of the Big Apple con. As I understand it, Carbonaro first found this place out of desperation. A few years back, another promoter's mega-event was canceled so unexpectedly that the dealers were already arriving in town for it. Carbonaro and some friends literally cut a deal with the church to use its basement and pulled together a con overnight. Their emergency show was a hit and he's been doing them ever since. These are the kind of blessed madmen the comics industry needs and needs in increasing numbers.

The basement was packed with dealers. The guests were sitting at tables up on the auditorium's stage. There were side rooms for panels and even more dealers. And, to my surprise, there was also a sushi snack bar outside the church kitchen. I don't partake of uncooked fish myself, especially not when there were hot-dog and sausage-sandwich carts on the street, but the "sushi snack" concept was just kooky enough to delight me. I like conventions that throw surprises my way.

Carbonaro and the multi-tasking Allan Rosenberg, a major asset to this or any other convention, had told me Friday afternoon would be slow with Saturday being the busier of the two days. As I saw it, they were erring on the side of caution. The fans I spoke with on Friday were very enthusiastic and, as we got to the end of the workday, their numbers increased. Between the two days, I signed a great many copies of BLACK LIGHTNING, GHOST RIDER, HAWKMAN, and, of course, ASTONISHING TALES featuring "It, the Living Colossus!" Having calculated that I have signed more copies of that last one than Marvel ever sold back in the 1970s, I must ask:

"If someone can duplicate old comic books from the 1970s with such uncanny accuracy, why these comic books?"

I'd be printing GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 by the thousands!

Nothing makes a convention more fun for me than spending time with old friends and this one definitely had them. Jim Salicrup, one of the best comics editors of all time, and a pal since my very first days in the business, was sitting next to me the whole day, turning out amazing cartoons and caricatures at a blinding speed. I never realized what a terrific artist he was! By the end of the show, he had become the "stylist to the stars," or, at least, the amiable professional wrestlers who were guests of the convention. He did a take-off of a Charlton GORGO cover featuring yours truly that had my kids rolling on the floor when they saw it.

Among the comics greats in attendance that afternoon were Russ Heath, Irwin Hasen, and Jim Warren. There were also old pals like Ken Gale, Jamal Igle, and Robin and Elayne Riggs. Elayne took many photos during the convention and, hopefully, some of them will be showing up in this column and the next.

Tony and Jamal

Tony and Robin


Capping off the day was dinner with two old buddies I'd known before any of us had cashed our first comics paycheck: DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz and DC Editor Paul Kupperberg. I could go on at length about how cool it was catching up with the boy buddies, but I'll forego that pleasure to answer the questions darn near everyone asks when I mention "The Dinner," capitalized only because that's how it sounds when the "everyone" asks me about it. Let's see if I can pull this off...

Yes, I have profound differences with DC Comics on a number of matters, many of them involving Black Lightning, whom I created for DC back in 1976. Yes, in one capacity or another, Paul Levitz has been on what I like to call the "wrong" side of these differences. Yes, those differences are likely to continue far into the future. These are all occasions for sadness.

You know what would be sadder? Either Paul or myself turning our backs on our decades of friendship because of said differences. Put the gloves on in matters involving Lightning and I'll come out swinging. But I'm not gonna define a relationship solely in terms of my differences with DC and, acting in his role as an executive of the place, with Paul. All those years as pals mean too much to me, whether or not there are happier resolutions to the differences ahead or not. I swear the next time someone looks at me goggle-eyed because I had a meal with an old friend, they'll see lightning bolts flashing out of MY eyes. Get over it already!

The funniest part of the evening, not that you asked, was how quickly Kupperberg and I fell into our old routine of tossing snaps at one another...and the clearly more mature Paul rolling his eyes as we did so. We covered a lot of good times over that dinner and, farewell tour or not, it made me realize that I need to get to the Big Apple more often than once every 15 years.

My Big Apple Comic Convention report will continue next week with the requisite reviews of neat stuff I picked up at the show. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Big Apple's other shows, visit their website at:

One more New York note before I make my exit. I'd forgotten how heartwarming it is to see people of so many different nations and backgrounds everywhere I went. At the hotel, I rode elevators and chatted with students from Australia, Spain, and South Korea. I had breakfast with tourists from Greece and Japan. I had a drink with a couple from Guyana who overheard my talking to the students about comics and who were Spider-Man fans. It would have made this story perfect if they had also turned out to be big Black Lightning fans, but, sad to relate, they'd never heard of my character. They were, however, quite pleased, to learn that Trevor Von Eeden, the first BL artist, was born in Guyana.

That's me, bringing sunshine wherever I roam.



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1543 [June 13, 2003], which shipped on May 27. The lead story that week was on CrossGen testing a school reading program:
CrossGeneration Comics school program "Bridges," intended to help children improve their reading comprehension by introducing them to the visual medium of comic books, has begun with nine pilot programs in seven different states. According to CrossGen Bridges Editor Beth Widera, "Reaction from teachers has been positive."
There have been such reading programs in the past, but, off-hand, I can't recall any matching the scope of this one. Kudos to CrossGen for their efforts.

The secondary lead reported DC Editor Emeritus Julius Schwartz was recovering from back problems severe enough to require a stay in the hospital. Here's hoping for a swift and full recovery for my friend Julie, arguably one of the two or three most influential editors in the history of American comic books.

The CBG question of the week was:

"What's your favorite science-fiction comic book?"

I don't know if I have a favorite comic book per se, but I can narrow it down to two series: "The Atomic Knights" by John Broome and Murphy Anderson, which appeared in DC's STRANGE ADVENTURES in the 1960s...and "Judge Dredd," mainstay of Britain's 2000 AD weekly for well over 1300 issues.

How about you?



I was going through some old files recently and came across an online discussion of how letters written to various comics had been so severely edited...and even rewritten...before publication that the reader's opinions had been transformed into the polar opposite of what he had originally expressed. Here's what I had to add to the discourse:
Having put together my fair share of letters pages, I thought I'd give a perspective from the other side. I can't begin to tell you how many times I had to "translate" the letters into English or rewrite them to keep the letter writer from looking like an idiot. Even so, I always believed it was bad customer relations to rewrite negative feedback into positive.

Fans won't remember you correcting their grammar; they always remember if you misrepresent their opinions.

My last letters columns were for THE X-FILES and XENA comics published by Topps. The Xena people were a breeze to work with; my biggest problem there was they we didn't get enough letters to fill the pages. Sometimes I could pad the pages with news items, often I wrote letters myself under various aliases.

The X-Files people were flat out insane. They insisted on approving each and every page of the comics, including the letters pages. Near the end of the run, I was writing letter columns twice as long as what was needed. That way, after the cuts, Topps would still have enough stuff to fill the column.

The Topps editors were so whipped by dealing with these people that they banned unfavorable letters from the columns. They were afraid the Files people would use the letters to demand even more changes in the books.

Two examples.

Topps published a gorgeous, fully-painted adaptation of the X-Files pilot, the first in an ongoing series of adaptations. The subsequent adaptations were never contracted to be fully painted or planned to be fully painted. After the fact, the X-Files people decided all of the adaptations should at least LOOK fully painted, causing incredible production delays as coloring was redone to sort of mimic the look.

Of lesser import...

A reader asked if series creator Chris Carter and the X-Files writers were inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Since I had no contact with the writers, I couldn't say for sure. So, fudging my response so as to not actually answer the question, I wrote that Lovecraft was an influence on virtually all modern horror writers. Boy, did the X-Files folks go nuts over that!

How dare I credit their genius to Lovecraft? Never mind that I hadn't actually done that.

Letters columns are a combination of fan forum and publisher promotion. I like them a lot when they are done well. But, until you actually see what kind of stuff gets sent into these pages, you have no concept of how much work it is to do good letters columns. Kudos to those who pull it off issue after issue.
I wrote the above about a year ago. Sadly, the discussion on letters columns has moved on to mourning DC's decision to dispense with them altogether...and the infrequency with which they appear in Marvel titles. Though there are still lively letters columns to be enjoyed, mostly in the back pages of self-published comics, the torch has been passed to the Internet and the instant gratification it offers comics fans.



The e-mail has been falling off a bit since we hit the summer running, but here's a note from ADI TANTIMEDH, writer of the JLA: AGE OF WONDER books I reviewed last week:
I'd been meaning to drop you a line thanking you for the kind words you wrote in your review of JLA: AGE OF WONDER. It's ironic that I finished writing the book back in May 2001 and thought it might at best be a fun yarn and a mild literary homage/curiosity, but events since then have made the book more relevant than anyone could've expected.

It's also interesting that when I was researching the fiction and literature of the early 20th Century, I found a whole subgenre of Science Fiction that featured Total War and Global War featuring air battles and massive war machines, nearly a decade before the First World War broke out. This meant that 100 years ago, the general culture was preoccupied with the same issues we're dealing with now. Glad you enjoyed the book.
That I did, Adi. Do you have any other comics work coming out in the future? I'd like to keep an eye out for it.



If you were wondering where else you can find me, online or in the real world, here's a quick summation...

You can e-mail me at:

My mailing address, which is where you can send me any comics you'd like signed (include a self-addressed and stamped envelope) and any items you'd like reviewed, is:

Tony Isabella
P.O. Box 1502
Medina, OH 44258

TONY'S ONLINE TIPS is the all-new column I write every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The June 20 installment has information on the panels I'll be doing at Comic-Con International in San Diego in mid-July. You can read these columns at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website:

TONY POLLS is where we ask you to vote on various comics and entertainment and just plain silly issues of the day. You'll find new questions every Tuesday at:

TONY'S ONLINE STORE is where you can purchase the official and oh-so-spiffy Tony Isabella Farewell Tour t-shirt:

TONY ISABELLA'S MESSAGE BOARD is where you can get some of the instant gratification I mentioned above. It is a moderated board, which usually keeps things nice and friendly:

HEROES AND VILLAINS: REAL AND IMAGINED is where you'll find my most requested CBG columns:

If you'd like to meet and chat with me in person, you can find me at these conventions...
July 17-20:
Comic-Con International (San Diego)

August 8-10:
Wizardworld Chicago

September 5-7:
Lone Star Comicon (Houston)

November 29-30:
Mid-Ohio-Con (Columbus)
And, of course, I'll be right here every Saturday with one of my recent CBG columns, fortified with brand-new material on account of I've always got *something* else to say.

Have a happy and safe weekend, my friends.

Tony Isabella

<< 06/14/2003 | 06/21/2003 | 06/28/2003 >>

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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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.

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:

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840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

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