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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 28, 2003


"New York is a city of conversations overheard, of people at the next restaurant table (micrometers away) checking your watch, of people reading the stories in your newspaper on the subway train."

--William E. Geist

Previously in "Tony's Tips":

Our intrepid columnist has journeyed to New York City, for the first time since 1988, to be a guest at Mike Carbonaro's Big Apple Comic Con. Sharing a row of airplane seats with "the Lizard," an arrogant and nasty big-city lawyer, made the getting there part of the trip less than delightful. However, by the time Tony arrived at St. Paul's Church, where the convention was held, he was again flashing the boyish smile which has made him so beloved wherever he roams. Our story continues...


I had been apprehensive about coming to New York. Indeed, on calling Sainted Wife Barb to let her know I had arrived safely, my first words were along the lines of "Now I remember why I haven't been back here in 15 years." That was a rash and manifestly unfair judgment, brought on fatigue and my natural allergy to arrogant and nasty big-city lawyers.

Everywhere I went in New York City, I was treated wonderfully by everyone I met. Natives and visitors alike, they were friendly and helpful. The latter trait was a lifesaver on those occasions when I got turned around by special events and the closed streets those events necessitated.

On Saturday morning, the cab driver couldn't take me all the way to St. Paul's Church because traffic was being rerouted around the 150th anniversary of the construction of the city's beautiful Central Park. My friend Elayne Riggs, hereafter to be referred to as "New York Girl" because she smiled when I called her that, tells me the celebration is a bit premature, moved up because NYC needs the money it will bring to the city coffers.

This was no problem for me. I'd given myself plenty of time to get to the convention, so I was able to stroll through the Park and a nearby street fair and still get to the con's Artists Alley in plenty of time to greet the first fans.

It was Free Comic Book Day, so many of those fans made a trip to their friendly neighborhood comics stores before heading over to the convention. That gave me a chance to say "hi" to old friends like Dick and Lindy Ayers, Jim Krueger, Scott Roberts, Bill Tucci, and Jim Warren. More on most of them in a bit.


Digression for old business. Last week, I mentioned that two comics shops had provided me with the Free Comic Book Day giveaways so I could write an overview of the issues for a future installment of this column. Unfortunately, I misplaced the information on the second shop. Fortunately, I now have that information.

The second "Good Samaritan" store was The Game Room in Toledo, Ohio. They gave the comics to "Tips" reader Alan Coil, who lives in nearby Michigan, and he mailed them to me. Thanks to the Game Room and Alan for their assistance; you can expect my FCBD comics report later this summer.


The Big Apple's own Allan Rosenberg did a terrific job putting together the panel programming for the convention, a line-up which included Jim Warren (the original publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella), Russ Heath, Alex Maleev, and more. I got the coveted lead-off spot for "The Amazing Comics World of Tony Isabella," ably assisted by long-time friend/editor Jim Salicrup and Allan himself.

The Amazing Comics World of Tony Isabella

There were questions about my past work and my farewell tour, but the emphasis of the panel quickly shifted to my Black Lightning character and the appalling lack of "heroes of color" in the comics of today. I couldn't begin to summarize the panel in this column, but, if Allan's tape came out, maybe we can run a transcript in the near future. In the meantime...

My history of writing characters like Lightning and Luke Cage, which has led to at least one researcher misidentifying me as one of the few African-American writers working in comics in the 1970s, has been a mixed one. More than anything else, I think it was my sense of fairness which led me down that path. There were a great many comics readers who weren't white and it didn't seem fair, then or now, that there were so few comic-book heroes who weren't white. I wanted to do something about that.

How well I succeeded creatively varies from reader to reader. I've been praised and reviled for the same work, or for being this white guy writing black heroes. As I told one Big Apple attendee, though, I never felt especially "white" until folks started asking me why a white guy had created Black Lightning. I still don't feel especially "white" most of the time, having been a member of some minority (short, Italian, Roman Catholic, liberal) at various times in my life. I mean, don't the white guys run Enron and Halliburton and the government?

My comics work and my politics often go hand-in-hand. That's why I urged the fans who attended the panel to let the publishers know they want to see more--and more respectful--representations of the vast diversity of humanity in comics. I think DC bringing back the Milestone Comics imprint would be a perfect starting place for that publisher. I'm just saying.


Electrifying digression. Back in CBG #1541, I congratulated STATIC SHOCK for its pair of nominations in the National Television Academy's Daytime Emmy Awards: "Outstanding Special Class Animated Program" and also "Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition." Sad to say, there was no love beyond the nominations for one of my favorite TV series, animated or otherwise. However, there was some other good news around the corner.

Kids WB, of which STATIC SHOCK is a part, finished the 2002-2003 season as the #1 network against all competition, delivering the highest season numbers in its history among Boys 6-11, "Tweens" 9-14, and Male "Tweens" 9-14. It finished as the #1 broadcaster in Kids 2-11, Kids 6-11, Boys 2-11, and Girls 2-11.

Where does STATIC SHOCK fit into this remarkable success? For the season, Kids WB took the top nine broadcast and cable program spots in Boys 6-11 with YU-GI-OH! ranking #1 and STATIC SHOCK tying for #2 with POKEMON. This translates into millions of viewers for the Milestone Comics character.

Maybe Kids WB should share these numbers with DC.


Back to the Big Apple convention...

There were so many fun folks at the con. To my left in Artists Alley was Jamal Igle, whose VENTURE series with writer Jay Faerber is slated for review here next week. Next to him was Robin Riggs and wife Elayne "New York Girl" Riggs. Both Jamal and Robin drew sketches in THE OFFICIAL TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR MEMORY BOOK, which is like my high school yearbook, but with better artwork. I have been asking fans and pros alike to sign this book and, if they so desire, to sketch in it. It's a amazing volume and, if you see me at a show, be sure to take a look through it.

No Patrick Stewart A fun moment: I cracked up "New York Girl" when she asked why Charles Xavier wasn't on the X2: X-MEN UNITED poster hanging on a nearby wall. I told her he was on the poster; he was just making her *think* he wasn't there.

Across Artists Alley from me was Jim Warren, who drew a spiffy cartoon for the book. He also suggested I publish selected pages from the book as a fundraiser for some worthy comics-related cause. Getting permissions from artists and publishers would likely be an enormous undertaking, but I'm open to the idea.

To my right in Artists Alley were Scott Roberts, creator of the fabulous PATTY CAKE AND FRIENDS comic, and Guy Gilchrist, current creator of the NANCY newspaper strip, gave me drawings beyond what they did in my memory book. Scott's piece was of Patty Cake at 20, and Guy's was of an especially delectable Fritzi Ritz. Look for a review of PATTY CAKE next week and, to see what Guy has been up to lately, visit his website at:


The end of this column is creeping up on me, so let's switch to some quick notes:

Former Marvel Comics editor Danny Fingeroth stopped by to say "hi," just as I was telling a fan about a time when he and I didn't see eye-to-eye on one of my scripts. Is that super-timing or what? Danny's latest project is WRITE NOW!, a magazine about writing for comics, animation, and science fiction. Published by TwoMorrows, the mag will be reviewed here next week, but why wait until then to say that it was good to see Danny again?

Stefan Petrucha of X-FILES fame joined Jim Salicrup and myself for lunch. We've exchanged several e-mails over the years, but it was the first time we'd met. Look for his LANCE BARNES: POST NUKE DICK collection coming from Moonstone in September.

I enjoy meeting folks I know from online. Here's a shout-out to Hiram A. Smith, a terrific illustrator I know from the Milestone Comics mailing list. You can see his work at:

I wish I could have spent more time with Jim Steranko, who has his own exhibition room at the convention. Listen to him for even a couple of minutes and you'll come away having learned something you didn't know about the art of storytelling. Jim was there with Vanguard publisher J. David Spurlock in support of, among so many other fine projects, VISUAL STORYTELLING, an instructional book by Tony C. Caputo with a special essay by Steranko and an introduction by Harlan Ellison. Reviews of this and other Vanguard books are on tap for future columns.

Then there was a surprise visit from Stephen R. Vrattos, who I knew from his portraying Spider-Man at comics conventions across the country. That was in the 1990s, and Steve looks like he could still fit into the costume, but he's currently gainfully employed as promotions manager for the New York Post, which publication did some amazing work spreading the word about Free Comic Book Day in the Big Apple.


Perhaps my single most satisfying moment of the convention was meeting Michael Mantlo, brother and legal guardian of Bill Mantlo, for the first time and shaking his hand. Back when I was a Marvel editor, I gave Bill his first writing job and he went on to become a popular and prolific writer for the company.

Over a decade ago, Bill was struck by a car and suffered what is called a "closed-head traumatic brain injury," from which he has never recovered. He currently lives in a nursing room and, sad to say, his condition hasn't improved and, in some ways, has taken a turn for the worse. Aside from visits from family members, he has no contact with the outside world.

Cards and letters of support for Bill are always welcomed by his family. In the past, these were read to him and he did seem to enjoy them. If you're a fan of Bill's or one of his industry pals, you can send cards and letters to:

The Mantlo Family
1995 Miller Place
Merrick, NY 11566

It was a real honor to meet Michael at the Big Apple con. His love for and devotion to his brother is inspiring. He is as much a hero as those Bill used to write about.


Like many good things, the Big Apple show came to an end too soon. I had a nice dinner with Robin and Elayne Riggs, did some souvenir shopping, and then hung out with some other NYC visitors at and around my hotel. I was anxious to get back to my family in Ohio, but also wishing my schedule had allowed me to spend another day or three in New York.

The next morning, my ride to the airport involved more blocked city streets. It was Bike New York, a five-borough bicycling tour of the city and it was wondrous to behold. I wasn't able to find any post-event coverage online, but there had to have been tens of thousands of cyclists involved in the tour. Their bikes stretched for miles, often further than I could see. I couldn't have asked for a nicer send-off.

Lessons learned? Always, one of them being that I would very much like much less than 15 years to pass before I next visit New York City.

Reviews next week and then I'll be back on the road to report on the Mighty Mini-Con, which was held in lovely Herkimer, New York on Saturday, May 10. See you then.



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1544 [June 20, 2003], which shipped June 9. I winced when, on preparing it for posting here, I saw I had include VISUAL STORYTELLING in the same sentence with the words "fine projects." As you will see in next week's reprinted column, I didn't feel there was much of value in the book beyond the Ellison and Steranko contributions...which were the only bits I'd read at the time I wrote the above column. Talk about premature exaltation.

That week's cover story was on Mark Hamill's COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE, a "mockumentary" about a director who has been hired to helm a documentary about his favorite comic-book characters of all time. On the cover is a photo of Hamill's wife Marilou holding a pair of comic-book mock-ups: the "Golden Age" and "Modern" versions of the "Commander Courage" character created for the movie. However, she is only identified as "Hamill's wife" in the cut line accompanying the photo and isn't mentioned at all in the body of this article or the longer one inside the issue. I mention this for two reasons, which I hope will be of an instructive nature.

One. It took one minute to find Marilou Hamill's name on the Internet. Goggle led me to the Hamill's International Fan Club and one more click led me to his biography.

Two. That one minute isn't always available to a newspaper on a deadline. No matter how good our intentions...and, by "our," I mean most everyone who works on CBG or other publications...and how good we are at what we do, mistakes are made, omissions occur, and we screw up.

Most of us don't mind you telling us when that happens. Yeah, we grind our teeth and slap our foreheads and sulk as our personal esteem drops below sea level, but that passes quickly. What stays is the determination to not make the mistake again.

COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE sounds like fun. For the latest news on this movie-in-the-making, head over to:



The June 23 edition of NEWSWEEK had a chilling cover story on "al Qaeda in America", which hit close to home on two counts. The story focused on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a member of the terrorist organization captured in Pakistan in March and who, reportedly, was running operatives in the United States. One of those operatives appears to have been Iyman Faris (also known as Mohammad Rauf), a naturalized U.S. citizen and longtime resident of Columbus, Ohio. I live less than two hours from Columbus, which is the home of Mid-Ohio-Con, my favorite comics and pop culture convention. Faris is in custody, having pled guilty to conspiracy and providing material support to al Qaeda, crimes for which he faces 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Then there was this paragraph in the story:
As the Feds, working with foreign police, captured top-level Qaeda operatives after 9-11, interrogations and electronic eavesdropping revealed some scary plans. Abu Zubaydah, the Palestinian terrorist who ran al Qaeda's training-camp network in Afghanistan, told interrogators that the (Osama) bin Laden network was deeply interested in bringing down "the bridge in the Godzilla movie." That sci-fi fantasy led New York police to scramble to guard the Brooklyn Bridge every time there is a terror alert.
Okay, it's not as bad as if the REAL Godzilla were involved--the movie mentioned is the American film of several years ago--but, gee whiz, it's still painful for me to contemplate that a harmless giant monster flick could be the inspiration for such a malevolent yearning.

I just pray they haven't seen 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS.



Today's letter is from MIKE KUYPERS:
I read about your meeting Michael Mantlo and was saddened to learn Bill's condition hasn't improved. I really do keep Bill in my prayers and often wonder how he's doing.

But this isn't my main reason for writing. I wanted to share an interesting coincidence concerning another Mantlo Family member, Bill's father William.

I don't know if you are familiar with the Game Show Network. The cable network airs a nightly two-hour block called "Black & White Overnight." During this time, they broadcast old game shows from the 1950s and 1960s. Because these programs air from 4 to 6 am (EST), I videotape them and watch them later in the day.

On a recent broadcast of TO TELL THE TRUTH (from 1964), one of the imposters identified himself as "Bill Mantlo, assistant manager for Bankers Trust."

Through corresponding with Bill Mantlo's family, I know his father is named William. Since TTTT was a NY-based game show, it seemed likely this could be the same man. I wrote to Michael asking if his father ever appeared as a TTTT imposter.

It turns out his father appeared on TTTT *three* different times and Michael was in the audience for two of those tapings. I've already promised Michael I'd send him the video. In return, he said he'd send me the graphic novel THE AVENGERS: THE KORVAC SAGA. (Marvel sent author's copies because one of the chapters reprinted was by Bill.) Not that I expected anything in repayment, but I thought this was pretty cool.

What a happy coincidence, don't you think?
Yes, it is, and all I can add is that you've been a very good friend to the Mantlo family, Mike. Heck, if it wasn't for you, I would have never known how to contact them...and I wouldn't have been able to share that information with my readers. You're one of the good guys, sir.

That's it for this column, kids. Thanks for sharing a part of your weekend with me. I'll be back soon.

Tony Isabella

<< 06/21/2003 | 06/28/2003 | 07/05/2003 >>

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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.

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