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

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for Saturday, July 19, 2003


"Our greatest happiness in life does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits."

--Thomas Jefferson

Good news abounds in the opening items of this week's edition of "Tony's Tips!"

Fantagraphics Books, as has doubtless already been reported in this fine newspaper, has survived the cash crisis I wrote about in CBG #1545. Indeed, within one week of announcing its situation to comicdom, the publisher sold enough books to pay off its immediate debt and begin to whittle down its considerable back debt. Much of its back debt is in the form of royalties owned to patient authors and cartoonists, so the profit from books ordered once the pressing need was met is going to the patient and talented folks whose works give Fantagraphics such a rich and diverse catalog.

On a personal note, I was thrilled to be included among those Fantagraphics thanked for their supportive efforts and delighted to see what's coming from the publisher in the near future. There's THE PIRATES AND THE MOUSE, which looks to be the definite account of the 1970s legal battle between the underground comix artists who created the irreverent AIR PIRATES FUNNIES and the source of their inspiration, the Walt Disney Co. There are also books about or by Will Elder, Bernard Krigstein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Chris Ware, and others, volumes which make me feel pretty darn good about whatever small assistance I contributed to the cause.

By my possibly faulty reckoning, this marks the third time in recent years that we in comicdom have been asked to come to the aid of a small-but-vital publishing outfit. Each time, we answered the call and, each time, the publisher has rebounded and been able to continue producing admirable books and comics. While I wish there were no need for such emergency actions, it lifts my spirit to know that "my people," my fellow comics enthusiasts, met the challenge. I'm proud of you.

Independent comics publishers being a courageous, optimistic lot, they don't ask for help until their backs are up against the wall. As a kind of preemptive measure, I'll suggest you take a few moments to consider which indy publishers consistently bring you books and comics which entertain you and which expand the art form, and then purchase an extra book or two from them. They might still end up against a wall, but maybe we can put a comfy pillow between them and those unforgiving bricks.

On to this week's reviews...


Judge Dredd: Trapped on Titan JUDGE DREDD: TRAPPED ON TITAN is but one of ten "audio dramas" based on characters from the UK's 2000 AD comics weekly and created by Big Finish Productions. My son Eddie and I listened to the CD, which runs 70 minutes and costs in the general neighborhood of $17, on our drive home from May's Mighty Mini-Con.

If you've somehow missed my past expressions of fondness for Dredd, here's the basic concept:
Mega-City One, a sprawling metropolis in the 22nd Century with 400 million citizens - every one a potential criminal! Only one force stops the city from descending into anarchy: the Judges. Empowered to dispense instant justice, they are judge, jury, and executioner. Greatest of them all is Judge Dredd!
Some of my favorite Dredd stories have been those which shine a satiric light on an aspect of our own times. In this audio play, Dredd goes undercover to Titan, prison to Earth's worst criminals and now run by a private company with a mysterious, deadly agenda. Writer Jonathan Clements captures both the grittiness and the dark humor of Dredd in his story, an adventure brought to vivid life by director/producer John Ainsworth and his equally talented cast and crew. Dredd-wise, this is the real deal.

Toby and Nicola I don't want to slight Toby Longworth, who gave an outstanding performance as Dredd, but my favorite element of the drama was the verbal sparring between actresses Nicola Bryant as Judge Mordin and Laurence Bouvard as the spin-doctoring warden. Bryant may be known to you from her role as "Peri" on TV's DOCTOR WHO.

I was impressed by how well TRAPPED ON TITAN brought Dredd's world to life, albeit inside my head. I've enjoyed a smattering of old-time radio dramas, notably the Shadow and Superman, and admired their energy and ingenuity, but the Big Finish crew makes great use of the technological advances available to them. The result was an exciting presentation.

There are a few times when the special effects get in the way of the actors and the story, but, on our disembodied floating head scale of zero to five, JUDGE DREDD: TRAPPED ON TITAN still picks up the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

All ten 2000 AD audio dramas are available directly from Big Finish Productions. For the latest news and to order the various CDs internationally (free postage and shipping), head over to the Big Finish website:


Jim Kingman's COMIC EFFECT ($3.50 per issue) has long been one of my favorite comics fanzine. Each 48-page issue usually features over a dozen articles and reviews of old comic books, far more than seems possible given its 8-1/2" by 5-3/8" dimensions. Kingman and his contributors have a real knack for invoking the times in which they first read these comics.

COMIC EFFECT #34 is the latest issue and "best of show" awards should go to Kingman for his fond look at the 1975 DC comics which were part of his "personal Silver Age," and to Steve Chung for his funny, insightful piece on cub reporter Jimmy Olsen's misadventures as "The Human Porcupine." However, my enjoyment of the issue was marred by other contributors.

Mike Hall wrote a downright vicious article on the short-lived Atlas Comics of the mid-1970s in which he heaped misinformed abuse on editor Larry Lieber, one of the nicest guys in comics and among the most conscientious creators I know. Every Atlas "sin" is laid at Lieber's feet, ignoring the roles of the editors and publishers who were there before Lieber joined the outfit. Reader Hall has a right to his opinion of these comics - I never thought much of them myself - but "historian" Hall gets it so wrong that I wondered if he had some personal beef with Lieber. What makes this even more egregious is that everything one could possibly want to know about the history and workings of Atlas was heroically detailed in COMIC BOOK Artist not so long ago.

A Hall review on THE ESSENTIAL THOR: VOLUME ONE is similarly prone to leaps of fanciful conjecture, such as attributing to Thor co-creator Stan Lee a lesser interest in and knowledge of mythology than co-creator/artist Jack Kirby. Ironically, Hall appears not to have noticed that the despised Larry Lieber scripted the first nine Thor stories included in the volume.

I was also less than enamored of Dan Beck's article on a 1961 issue of BATMAN. The piece summarizes what happens in said issue's three stories, but offers no discussion of them beyond that or any insight into the era in which they were published.

Tony Tony

COMIC EFFECT #34 is an atypical issue. It's generally so much better than this issue's score - a puny two Tonys - would indicate. You'd do well to purchase a few earlier editions from the fanzine's spanking new website:


My son Eddie has discovered a passion for MAD magazine, ever since a neighbor gave him a stack of issues left behind by his own son. Always ready to encourage comics reading in my children - my daughter Kelly and I own a complete collection of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER - I gave a Eddie a subscription to MAD on the occasion of his graduation from junior high. I also decided to resume reading the magazine myself, the better to have lofty discussions with him. I'll let you know how that works out because, him being a typical 15-year-old on summer break, he currently sees my role in his life as providing transportation, food, allowance, and nagging reminders that his room won't clean itself. Then again, since he's smarter than me and even won an award in science, maybe he knows something about his room that I don't.

Regardless of this, I read MAD #431 ($3.50), the July issue of the magazine. If Eddie decides he wants to discuss it, I'm ready. Here are my "cheat" notes:

The issue has two Hulk "collector's covers" and neither one of them even tries to be funny. A humor mag should give the potential customer a free joke on the cover; that's the publishing equivalent of a loss-leader.

It's been so long since I've read an issue of MAD that I was taken aback by the paid advertisements which now appear within its pages. But it was kinda cool seeing an weird Altoids ad drawn by Charles Burns.

The magazine itself offered a few hearty laughs, some moderate giggles, and too many gags which fizzled. The "C.S.Oy Miami" spoof by writer Arnie Kogen and artist Mort Drucker earned a few of those hearty laughs, but "Spy Vs. Spy" was a disappointment. The color artwork by Peter Kuper makes the violence more grisly than cartoon. This incarnation of the strip is a poor replacement for the classic mix of dark-and-light comedy provided by the late Antonio Prohias. If this issue's installment is the norm, maybe it's time to retire this feature.

Sergio Aragones can always be counted on to provide some good laughs and does so here. But did anyone notice one of his marginal toons appeared twice in this issue? I can't recall that happening when I was a regular MAD addict.

"Which Big Budget Summer Blockbuster Will Make the Most Money" by Barry Liebmann and artist Sam Sisco was diminished by another duplication, the repetitious use of "ass-trocious" as a derogatory adjective. It wasn't funny the first time I saw it and got less so with each new appearance.

The issue's big finish was a section on the then-forthcoming Hulk movie. Some of the material was good, but the various writers went to the "comics fans are nerds and wimps" well so often that I was ready to call them out and beat them with a rolled-up backing board. MAD was always at its best when it laughed with its readers and not at them. The new crew should learn that.

Maybe I should borrow some of Eddie's old issues. Because the best score I can give MAD #431 is two Tonys and that, given MAD's historical importance, is posterior-tively SAD.

Tony Tony



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1547 [July 11, 2003], which shipped June 23. The cover story reported Mark Waid's being fired from his gig as writer of FANTASTIC FOUR. His last issue will be #508. The secondary cover story reported on David Alexander finding "the first major collection of Golden Age comics to be uncovered in the 21st Century."

I don't have much to say on either story. I'm surprised that Marvel, after promoting Waid's FF so heavily, would give the boot to him so quickly. I'm always happy to see more Golden Age comics, even ones I can't afford, enter the market.

COMICS EFFECT #35 arrived at Casa Isabella just an hour before I sat down to prepare this column. Comics historian Murray Ward is on hand to take issue with Hall's churlish and inaccurate article on Atlas Comics and Larry Lieber. Hall sticks to his guns, citing two anonymous (read: cowardly) sources who allegedly worked at the short-lived company and who apparently tell a different story than, well, EVERYBODY who was interviewed for the Atlas Comics issue of COMIC BOOK ARTIST. I'm afraid I have to dismiss Hall's competence as a comics historian, which is a shame because, elsewhere in the new issue, he praises my JUSTICE MACHINE stories. Sigh.

I cut out a chunk of this column when I reprinted it here, on account of it concerned Comic-Con International in San Diego. If you're reading it the day it's posted, I'm already at the show and you're probably it won't do you any good to know when I'm appearing at panels and where I'll be at other times.

I'll still be traveling next Saturday, but, fingers crossed, I'll have prepared and Justin will post a column on that day. It will be another shorter-than-usual edition of "Tony's Tips," but, at least you'll have something to read.

Thanks for stopping by this weekend. I'll be back soon with more stuff to amuse and inform you.

Or so one fervently hopes.

Tony Isabella

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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.

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