"Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort."
--Franklin D. Roosevelt
I have no defining theme for this week's column, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that...
The U.K.'s 2000 AD is preparing its summer assault. Over the past few years, the popular comics weekly has been re-embracing its classic characters while continuing to launch new series. Some of these revivals and debuts have been more creatively successful than others, but almost all of them have shown me something, whether it be a passion for what made the older characters great or that spark of originality I look for in a new series.
2000 AD #1350--the Summer Assault launch--hits the newsstands of Great Britain on Wednesday, July 23. On this side of the ocean, the issues arrive two or three at a time, weeks after their initial U.K. release, and, sad to say, every year, you can expect a couple of issues to be lost at sea or something. It's the most annoying thing about being a colonial fan of the title.
Judge Dredd is generally the best strip in most issues of 2000 AD. The Summer Assault will see the start of a new Dredd serial, "The Satanist," written by creator John Wagner and drawn by Charlie Adlard, whose work on THE X-FILES is fondly remembered by readers of that Topps Comics title. The launch issue also features longer-than-usual episodes of "Slaine," the Celtic barbarian hero created and written by Pat Mills; and "Strontium Dog" by Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra. The last stars mutant bounty hunters Johnny Alpha and Wulf Sternhammer, two of the weekly's most popular and enduring characters. "Enduring" is the right word; they died years ago, but readers like them so much that they now appear in adventures which take place years before they shuffled off this mortal coil.
Most issues of 2000 AD feature five strips. In issue #1351, Slaine and Strontium Dog return to their usual length and two other stories begin. "Leviathan" is a brand-new serial by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli, while "Pest Control" is a new adventure of student paranormal investigators Bec and Kawl.
My 2000 AD reading pattern is thus: I wait until I have a few months' worth of issues saved up, which gives me time to attempt to fill in any gaps, and then I read an issue a day until I run out of issues. The last batch I read started at issue #1314 (October 23, 2002) and ended at #1326 (February 3, 2003). Near the end of that run was a 100-page special.
The "Judge Dredd" stories were a mix of adventure, humor, and social satire. Wagner has humanized Dredd somewhat over the years, not enough to take away the edge of a judge/jury/executioner who is often all that stands between absolute chaos and the lives of the millions of citizens in his charge, but enough to make him quite a bit more interesting. Other writers contribute stories, and some of them are quite good, but Wagner remains the best.
New strips appearing during these issues were "The Red Seas" (pirates and sorcery), "Asylum" (a sanctuary for aliens turns out to be nothing of the kind), and "Caballistics, Inc." (a government agency created to deal with supernatural menaces is privatized and recruits new agents). Of the three, "Asylum" was the best-written and drawn. "The Red Seas" was moderately entertaining, but not, in my opinion, a keeper. "Caballistics" was derivative of, but not as much fun as, Mike Mignola's B.P.R.D., though its notion of a Nazi hell-bomb that, on detonating, opens a portal to an extremely nasty netherworld was a nice touch.
Returning series included "Past Imperfect" (odd little "What If" tales; John Kennedy assassinates Richard Nixon in one of them); "Sinister Dexter" (hitmen of the future); "Future Shocks" (usually mediocre one-off tales with shock endings); "The V.C.s" (soldiers of the future); "Rogue Trooper" (a cloned soldier of the future who fights on a distant planet); the afore-mentioned "Slaine"; "Nikolai Dante" (a Russian adventurer trying to survive in the aftermath of a civil war his side lost), and "Banzai Battalion" (tiny robots who control garden pests and the occasional human vermin). The short stories are hit and miss, "Sinister Dexter" has lost its way in a mish-mash of stories involving interplanetary and inter-dimensional adventures, and "Slaine" simply doesn't appeal to me. I remain a tough sell when it comes to barbarian heroes.
"Rogue Trooper" is another returned-to-its-roots series and it's first-rate stuff, as is "The V.C.s." I go back-and-forth on "Nikolai Dante," but the current story is a good one. As for the "Banzai Battalion," it's the closest thing I've seen to the wacky fun that was the Robert Kanigher/Ross Andru/Mike Esposito METAL MEN and I get a major kick out of it.
Few comic-book shops in the USA stock shelf copies of 2000 AD, so you'll probably have to order it in advance from your friendly neighborhood retailer. The weekly issues will run you $3.75 each. That buys you a 32-page comic on slick paper and with most stories in full color or fully-painted, and published at a larger size than American comics, the better to show off the spiffy artwork. On our scale of zero to five Tonys, count on any given issue earning at least three...
...and most of them getting four or better.
2000 AD isn't going to be to everyone's liking, but I think it adds further variety to the amazing array of choices available to today's comics readers. The comics industry could be stronger, but these are good times to be a comics fan.
It's the 1970s and student Shun Ukiya has more to concern him that his first day at a new school. Let's see...the Earth is under frequent attacks by powerful alien invaders...then he discovers his ability to open and use a gate of power against the invaders...and then he learns he has been chosen to be the leader of an otherwise all-girl team of global defenders with similar powers. That's the start of GATE KEEPERS (Toykopop; $9.99), created by Keiji Goto and with an original story by Hiroshi Yamaguchi.
Like all of Toykopop's books, the first GATE KEEPERS volume is a satisfying hunk of entertainment. The characters are likeable, the stories move forward at a brisk pace, and the sense of menace comes across as very real. Shun has doubts about his leadership, but rises to the challenge, usually with help from his teammates. The series is rated "Y" for "Youth Age 7+". However, parents might find a few scenes too graphically violent for the youngest readers within that range. Whenever you're going to give a comic book to a child, I recommend you read it yourself first to determine if it is appropriate for that child.
I have but two niggling complaints about this initial volume. I would've liked to have seen the members of the team get a little more play before new members were added. I like the new members, but I was enjoying getting to know those already in place.
Also, two of the girls apparently know they are characters in a manga. This self-referential conceit seemed pointless to me, and got annoying with repetition.
Overall, the fun outweighs my complaints. I give GATE KEEPERS three-and-a-half Tonys.
KAMEELMAN (A-1 Oregon Publishing; $2.99) is a well-intentioned attempt at a different kind of super-hero, but, where it has heart to spare, it lacks fire. Zack Zeigler, the hero of the title, is a clone with the ability to morph into other humans and, in doing so, assume their feelings and emotions. I applaud the mission he and his friends take on, bringing social justice to the world one person at a time, but positive vibes do not an entertaining comic book make, at least not on their own.
There were a number of elements in the first two issues which simply didn't work for me. The writing is too pleased with itself, often droning on in first-person reverence. In the first issue, we see violent criminal acts go apparently unpunished, save for their perpetrators being expelled from school. In both issues, and this sadly comes off as a "notice us" gimmick, you can go to the comic's website to read an alternate ending to the story. Though penciler Ron Randall does a fine job, humdrum inking and the lack of color flatten the impact of his work.
What does KAMEELMAN need? Better writing or better editing of the writing. Better stories that reflect the reality of the world in which they are taking place. And, if the book can't have color, inking that adds tone and weight to the pencils.
I think this title has a terrific premise and real potential, but that and Randall's pencils are all these first two issues had going for them. The best I can do for KAMEELMAN is a disappointing two-and-a-half Tonys.
NEPOTISM (Spleenland; $3.50) is Geoffrey Hawley's first self-published comic. His "The Labyrinth: a Tale of Jorge Luis Borges" appeared in last year's SPX anthology and was one of the best tales in that volume. If you missed it there, you get another chance to read it in this comic book.
The "nepotism" part of the issue consists of three stories by Hawley with friends and relatives doing the art from his layouts. "The Question" is somewhat experimental in its approach, but we get an amusing payoff in the final panel. "Fought Over" is much more straightforward and a solid little parable. "The Birthday Boy" has horror overtones, but didn't click with me as well as the rest of the issue's offerings.
Hawley is a promising talent who should be encouraged. I'll do my part by awarding NEPOTISM four Tonys.
ONEGAI TEACHER (Comics One; $9.95) is a two-volume manga about a high school student who marries his homeroom teacher. Although he looks too young to be of legal age, he suffers from a medical condition that frequently puts him into a coma-like state and, during this, he doesn't age. His teacher isn't ordinary, either; she's an alien come to Earth to study mankind. Drawn by Shizuru Hayashiya and written by an author identified as "Please!", ONEGAI TEACHER's relatively short length makes it something of an oddity for a manga series. They usually run much longer.
What's good about the series are the main characters, the way their love grows, their genuine concern and respect for the other characters, and its emotionally expressive art. What's not as good is writing which sometimes drifts away from the purpose, confusing caption/word arrangement that require some deciphering, a number of scenes which serve little purpose than to throw some doubt into the relationships, and a feeling that there were entire chapters of the story which should have been included in the volumes and weren't. At the end of the story, I was disappointed.
ONEGAI TEACHER is suggested for readers 13 and up. The best I can give it is three Tonys.
If you were at Comic-Con International in San Diego and took any photos of me, I'd love copies of them. If you send them to me via e-mail, I may be able to use them here or in my online columns. Your name will be put up in lights, or, at least, in keen type and with every effort made to spell it correctly, and you, yes, you, my friend, will have earned my gratitude.
Doesn't that thought just warm your inners?
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1550 [August 1, 2003], which shipped July 14. The lead story reported on the upcoming publication of EL CAZADOR, a new CrossGen series by Chuck Dixon and Steve Epting. The new book is a pirate series and, unlike other CrossGen titles, will take place on our Earth and not another world or Earth doppelganger. Given the success of Disney's PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, this has the potential to be a major hit for the Florida-based publisher.
The secondary lead reported on Marvel's plans to resurrect the late Princess Diana as a mutant super-heroine. The controversial story arc was to have begun in X-STATIX #13, on sale in September. CBG #1551 would carry the news that Marvel has changed its plans, bowing to the public outcry against the story.
CBG's question-of-the-week was:
What was the most important thing you've forgotten to take to a comics convention? How did you manage to get along without it?"
My answer to that question is: pants.
Allow me to explain.
Back in May, my son Eddie and I drove to the Mighty Mini-Con in Herkimer, New York. We arrived on Friday night for the Saturday event. It was on Saturday morning that I discovered I had somehow not packed either of the two pairs of pants I had set aside for the weekend. So I had to wear the comfortable-but-aged pants I'd worn on the drive up.
I couldn't do anything about it for the convention, but I did buy a pair of khaki shorts to wear on Sunday. Actually, Wal-Mart was having a sale, so I bought two pairs and they came in handy as the summer progressed.
MORON OF THE MONTH REVISITED
Last Saturday's online edition of TONY'S TIPS named an Akron Beacon-Journal reader as the "Moron of the Month" for a letter in which said benighted individual claimed the previous week's tragic deaths and flooding in Hudson, Ohio, were God's punishment on the city for sponsoring a Harry Potter celebration. The letter ran in the Beacon-Journal on July 30.
The Beacon-Journal's other readers responded with letter after letter challenging the man's delusional ravings. Four such letters appeared in the Sunday [August 3] edition with single letters also running on Monday and Tuesday.
An Alliance reader wrote:
It is one thing to express an opinion, but I believe this ranting served no further purpose than to torment the victims of this tragic act of nature. The people of Hudson need help from other communities and people, not the scorn of a religious zealot with an agenda to fulfill and an ax to grind.
A Methodist minister from Peninsula apologized "on behalf of the followers of Jesus Christ," writing:
Please forgive this misreading of the Bible. The message, instead, is about transformation through God's love from hatred, fear and elaborate attention to foolish rules that keep us separated to lives of openness, cooperation, and peace.
A Cuyahoga Falls reader pointed out that other cities which had not held Harry Potter festivals also suffered great damage and loss, while a Hudson resident wrote:
The malevolent chortling came through loud and clear in [this] letter celebrating what he views as God's vengeance on Hudson with the recent disastrous floods. I'm appalled someone who purports to be Christian would rejoice over the misfortune of others.
At this time, no response from the original letter-writer has been published in the Beacon-Journal. I would like to think he is reconsidering his comments and seeking the transformation mentioned by the minister who wrote to the paper. If and when any response is published, I'll share it with you here.
We get letters, like this one from JEFF ALAN POLIER:
There's a Little League-related news story in Portland which I thought might interest you. It concerns a kid's eligibility to play on a team. I don't follow Little League (not yet, anyway; my son Alex is waaaay too young), so my information comes from what I heard on news radio. It's playoff time. A parent from one team reported to the League that a player on an opposing team for an upcoming game was not eligible to play because he didn't live in the appropriate area. The boy, who, by all accounts, is just a fair player, nothing outstanding, lives with his grandparents and has a notarized letter from his mother to that effect. However, Little League regulations apparently require such documents to be court-approved. If I understood what was being said correctly, the boy would actually need to be adopted by his grandparents to be eligible for the team he was playing on. Five (or so) days after the report was sent to the League, the teams met and the team with the ineligible player won. Again, it wasn't because he was an outstanding player. His team was just better than the other team. The winning team shows up Monday for their next game and are told that they can't play. A decision has been reached and the team is out of the playoffs because of the ineligible player--a 9 or 10- year-old kid who just wanted to play baseball. The losing team now advances in their place. On one hand, this is a bummer for the kid and his entire team. They, as kids, didn't really do anything wrong and they're being punished for it.
On the other hand, rules are rules. Apparently, the adults involved did know he shouldn't have been on that team. In a bit of irony, he would have been playing on the other team based on where his mom does live. There was a big uproar at first because it seemed like the other team had complained about the player only because they lost. That's turned out to not be the case, though, since their protest was made days before the game. It seems to me that this is an accurate ruling but also that it would be a good time for Little League to re-examine their eligibility requirements. It certainly seems to me that the rules should allow for this kind of situation. I believe that the notarized note from the kids mom (regarding where the boy lives) should have been fine. Any thoughts?
I can't fault the League here, though I think it should take another look at this particular rule before the next season begins. I've seen far worse decisions in the Medina leagues, decisions that unfairly gave one team an advantage in the playoffs. Sometimes the rules are just badly written and sometimes they are applied in an unfair manner. What concerned parents *can* do is become involved in their leagues, strive to be as fair as possible in any rulings they hand down, and, most importantly, make the game more about fun and sportsmanship than winning or losing.
Getting back to comics, I also heard from ARLENE GARCIA after she read last weekend's review of FAKE:
I just read your review of FAKE on your web page. As FAKE is my current obsession, I thought I'd drop you a line.
I agree with you wholeheartedly about the flaws in this story. Yes, the author is clueless about many things, police procedure and NYC the least of it. Wait till you see the nonsense that goes on in the precinct when the chief is replaced with another gay guy who has the hots for Ryo.
However, that this type of manga--shounen-ai--even has a story is remarkable. This was written for women to drool over, nothing more. Oh, and before you think I'm totally brainless, I do read other manga/graphic novels that have nothing to do with cute men. Just ask David Serchay, who says hi, by the way.
I can't even begin to analyze why I'm so addicted to FAKE--I recently purchased all seven volumes in Japanese--other than, well, base instinct.
There are some interesting things that start happening in the fourth volume. And the OAV that was made of volume 2 is great! The story is really fleshed out; and whoever did the anime had actually been to the place it was set.
But, all in all, it's a series designed simply to make female hearts flutter. If volume seven is actually published in America, it'll have to be some kind of landmark. Let's just say the climax of the series...is...well...a climax.
Thanks for listening!
Thanks for writing. I enjoy reading what my readers think of the items I review. You're not alone in enjoying FAKE. A comics writer of my acquaintance tells me that he and his teen daughter are both fans of the series.
And tell David I said "hi" right back at him.
That's all for this weekend. Thanks for spending part of it with me. I'll be back soon with more stuff.
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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