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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Saturday, August 16, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1551:

"When someone does something good, applaud! You will make two people happy."

--Samuel Goldwyn

Congratulating the STATIC SHOCK crew in this column is getting to be a habit, though it's surely one I don't want to break. Back in CBG #1548, I reported this:
On a related news note, "Jimmy," the second-season episode on gun violence among teens and gun control, has been nominated for the prestigious Humanitas Prize:

"In American culture at the present time, only the human family itself surpasses media's capacity to communicate values, form consciences, supply role models, and motivate human behavior. Humanitas exists to encourage those who create contemporary media to use their immense power in a humanistic way, to enrich as well as entertain their viewers."

"Jimmy" was written by STATIC SHOCK producer Alan Burnett and Static co-creator Dwayne McDuffie. Past winners of the Humanitas Prize include Larry Gelbert, Earl Pommeranz, Aaron Sorkin, David Milch, David Simon, and Burnett, who won the award in 1987 for his work on THE SMURFS. For more on the Humanitas Prize and a list of past winners, go to:

www.humanitasprize.org

The award reception is July 10. Check back with us in about a month and I'll let you know if "Jimmy" won.
Good as my word, this week I get to tell you that "Jimmy" did, indeed, win the $10,000 prize in the Children's Animation Category. The McDuffie teleplay, from a story by Burnett and McDuffie, was hailed for "condemnation of the use of guns and violence to solve violence."

STATIC SHOCK will be returning for a fourth season on the Kids WB's Saturday morning schedule, where, this past season, it ranked below only YU-GI-OH! Earlier episodes will also be running during the week as part of Kids WB's afternoon line-up.

This show gets awards AND ratings, reaching many more viewers than the JUSTICE LEAGUE series on Cartoon Network. Wouldn't it be swell if there were a STATIC SHOCK comic book and some STATIC SHOCK action figures?

Somebody needs a serious wake-up call. And their initials are DC Comics, which currently holds the license for Static and all the other Milestone/Dakota Universe characters.

I'm just saying.

******

I have been going mad for manga of late, enjoying what fellow CBG columnist Heidi MacDonald calls the "satisfying chunk" of story and art to be found in these volumes. Fickle boy that I am, it's likely only a matter of time before I get back into reading the 32-page comics pamphlets again, but, for this week, at least, you're getting more manga reviews.

Shinji Saijyo's IRON WOK JAN #2 (ComicsOne; $9.95) went right to the top of the reading pile as soon as I received it. This is a tale of two young chefs: Jan Akiyama, the grandson of a legendary master of Chinese cuisine, and Kiriko Gobancho, the granddaughter of the owner of the restaurant where they both work.

Jan is arrogant, confident in his skills and certain he will soon be recognized as the greatest chef of them all. Kiriko is far more sociable, but every bit as determined to prove her own skills. She is a prodigy who has trained under a number of the most famous chefs in the world.

When I reviewed the first IRON WOK JAN volume, I gave it high marks. This second volume is even better as we see new dimensions to the lead characters. Jan has mellowed enough that he befriends and instructs trainee Takao, yet he reveals a sinister side when he prepares a soup so delicious that it acts like a narcotic upon the cooking contest judges who sample it.

Kiriko shows her determination in a story where she can't rest until she figures out how another chef prepared a dish. Though the chef would gladly explain his recipe to her, she has to figure it out for herself. Later, during the cooking contest sequences, she becomes enraged by Jan's misuse of his skills. As she sees it, he poisoned the judges.

In my earlier review, I bemoaned the brief appearance of food critic Nichido Otani, who I believed could be a terrific recurring "villain." Brother, was I premature with that gripe. Otani is a major player in the second book, launching two schemes to discredit Jan, one of them being the cooking contest which will continue into the third volume. He's a culinary Kingpin and I hope he's around for many more stories to come.

IRON WOK JAN is recommended for readers 13 and up. I love its delectable mix of characterization, exotic recipes, and good old-fashioned soap opera intrigue. On our scale of zero to five Tonys, this adventure in graphic gastronomy gets the full five.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

www.comicsone.com


******

Great expectations came to naught when I read Monkey Punch's LUPIN III VOLUME 1 (Tokyopop; $9.95). Lupin is a master thief who has appeared in manga and anime to great success. The back cover text touts his adventures as "classic tales" that "combine heart-pounding action with sophisticated flair." If that's the straight scoop, then I fear some sadist slipped an entirely different comic book into my copy of LUPIN III.

Lupin is pretty much an immoral cad. Though some of his cases put him on the side of the angels, I got the idea it didn't matter to him which side he was on. He certainly doesn't seem to have the slightest qualm about killing and...here comes that "sophisticated" part...he beds so many women so cavalierly that he makes James Bond look like the poster child for abstinence.

Despite the harsh tone of the above representation, I wouldn't have minded any of these personality flaws if I found these stories entertaining. I didn't and for reasons apart from the immorality of the volume's title star.

Many of the stories involve elaborate scheming and the twists and turns of fortune familiar to such plots. But the pacing of the stories and the panel-to-panel and page-to-page storytelling is too erratic to sustain them.

These shortcomings are further exasperated by the inability of the artists to provide a wide range of male faces and physiques. So many characters resemble Lupin that I kept having to pause in my reading to make sure they weren't. From a visual standpoint, there was a tad more variety to the female players, but, to a women, they were eager to do the deed with Lupin. What are the odds of any one man meeting only gals who can't say no?

LUPIN III is suggested for older teens, but I don't think they will find the character or stories engaging enough to capture their interest. The only way Lupin is getting even one Tony out of me is if he steals it.

www.tokyopop.com


******

I didn't know what to expect from Matsuri Akino's PET SHOP OF HORRORS VOLUME 1 (Tokyopop; $9.95), but the back cover come-on was compellingly mysterious:
Welcome to Chinatown! During your visit, be sure to stop by Count D's pet shop, where love and dreams are sold in the form of mythical creatures - but not without a catch. The buyer must adhere to a set of rules, which if broken, may result in death...or worse.
"D" is a slender young man with feminine features and a semi-goth look about him. Although the author identifies him as the Count D who owns the shop, he claims he is merely watching over it while the Count travels. Though the pets he sells often bring horrific consequences to their owners, he's sincerely compassionate towards pet and human alike...and that's a line which becomes blurred in several of the stories.

Adding to the tension is a New York City police detective who has linked a half-dozen deaths to the pet shop and who is certain D is running some sort of criminal activity from the establishment. Adding further to the tension is that the two "opponents" may also share a mutual attraction, though the element is downplayed to such an extent that I'm not sure it really exists.

Akino is an accomplished storyteller. The one-shot characters are fully realized; we feel their sorrow and their horror. Each of the tales is superbly paced, the suspense mounting even though we know that, sooner or later, a rule will be broken or an unforeseen tragedy will shatter someone's dreams. Or will it? Just when you think you know what's coming, Akino is fully capable of surprising you. Artistically, PET SHOP also rates high marks for its always clear flow and emotionally rich illustrations.

PET SHOP OF HORRORS is suggested for teens, thirteen and up. I fall into the "up" category by almost four decades, but, even so, I loved this book. The first volume gets the full five Tonys...and I'm eager to read the second one.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Ko Ya-Seong's UNDER THE GLASS MOON VOLUME 1 (Toykopop; $9.95) is billed as a supernatural/gothic fantasy. Luka is the world's greatest "Dark Wizard." Luel, his quiet brother, is a sorcerer as well. They live next door to mother-daughter witches. Both are in love/lust with Luka, while Luel is in love with the young daughter. It's not a bad opening premise for the series, but the book starts to flounder quickly as new characters are introduced before we get to know the existing ones.

The stories have a "jumpy" quality, as if Ya-Seong was losing interest in them and was impatient to get on to the next one. The actual drawing is lovely in places, but the panel-to-panel flow is as jumpy as the plotting. It became a chore to read to the end of this volume.

UNDER THE GLASS MOON is suggested for older teens. This time, I couldn't breech the gap between 16 and mumble mumble. In memory of a decent premise gone awry and some nice drawing, I'm giving the book a paltry one-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Half Tony

******

Judal's VAMPIRE GAME VOLUME 1 (Tokyopop; $9.95) turned out to be much better than the long-winded back cover copy had led me to expect:
Long ago, in an epic battle of might, King Phelios defeated the Vampire King Duzell. And as both lay dying on the field, Duzell swore that his reincarnation would find King Phelios' reincarnation and exact his revenge. A hundred years later, the moment of reincarnation has arrived...the only problem is that Duzell has been reincarnated as a harmless house cat. And to add to his frustration, he can't find the reincarnation of King Phelios. Luckily, he has been adopted by Phelios' granddaughter, the teenage princess Ishtar, through whom Duzell may be able to track down who in the Phelios tribe is host to the great king's reincarnated soul.
Not only is that one of the most "clunky" come-ons I've read in recent months, it's also inaccurate. The reincarnated Duzell is no ordinary house cat; he's a feline shape-shifter whose breed can more than hold its own with humans. The big cat who gives birth to the reincarnated vampire is a fearsome creature, though not given to violence without cause.

Nor does the back cover make any mention of the strengths of this series. Ishtar is a headstrong young woman, who often gives in to her darker impulses. She's a great character and her natural fierceness makes her bonding with Duzell, even when she learns who he is and what he intends, seem just as natural. I also liked that Judal was unafraid to mix humorous sequences with the story's more serious moments.

VAMPIRE GAME is suggested for teens age 13 and up. Combining good writing with solid art and storytelling, it earns a promising three-and-a-half Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1551 [August 8, 2003], which shipped July 21. The cover story announced that Dark Horse Comics was seeking new creators, looking for talent waiting to be discovered, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, just once I'd like to see a story about a comics publishing looking for old creators with fresh ideas and proven ability.

The secondary lead reported that the late Princess Diana would NOT be appearing as a mutant hero in Marvel's X-STATIX, after all. Why couldn't the Rawhide Kid have been a Royal?

******

MAGAZINE WATCH

The August 15 edition of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY was practically a love letter to comics or, more specifically, Harvey Pekar and his AMERICAN SPLENDOR comics. A Gary Dumm drawing of Pekar held court on the contents page. The AMERICAN SPLENDOR movie was featured in an article on the "Six Surprises of Summer." There was even a six-page comics story in the issue: "My Movie Year" by Pekar and Dumm. I'm thrilled Pekar (and Dumm) are getting the popular acclaim they have so long deserved.

A EW survey of movie hits and misses puts FINDING NEMO AND X2: X-MEN UNITED in the "winner" category...while SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS, LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN were all deemed "losers." THE HULK was listed with the "toss-ups."

Other items of comics interest include a short interview with Neil Patrick Harris, who voices Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the new MTV animated series; and critic Ken Tucker's "five reasons to love" cartoonist Chris Ware of JIMMY CORRIGAN and QUIMBY THE MOUSE fame. Spiffy design aside, I've never been able to get into Ware's stuff, but, considering how many people praise it, maybe I should give it another chance in the near future.

I'm also not a fan of comedian Bill Maher, but I did love the line of his which EW quoted: "Between trying to impeach Clinton, Florida 2000, and the recall in California, I'm beginning to think that Republicans will do anything to win an election--except get the most votes."

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

First up this weekend is HOY MURPHY:
Thanks for the manga reviews. I'm finding more of my comics money going that direction these days. My daughter Erin is the one who got me interested. She loves comics, but, once she outgrew Sabrina the Teenage Witch, there wasn't much published in America that interested her...until TokyoPop started publishing stuff aimed directly at young teenage girls.

Of the ones you reviewed in the August 2 column, the only ones I've read are Clamp School Detectives, which I didn't like as much as you, and Love Hina, which I like a lot and am now reading the 8th volume.

We also buy tons of other titles, but the monthly Shonen Jump magazine is the one we look forward to most. My son Patrick, who is more into super-heroes, likes it enough that I got him his own subscription (cheap!) as well as the one I purchase for Erin at my comic shop. Anyway, thanks for trying to broaden your readership's interests.
You're welcome. Since ToykoPop and Viz have been so terrific about sending me their books, you can expect more manga reviews in my upcoming columns.

I also heard from ADAM BEECHEN, one of the writers of STATIC SHOCK's "Blast From the Past":
Friends tell me you were kind enough to write a favorable review of a STATIC SHOCK episode I co-wrote, called "Blast From the Past." I wanted to express my thanks; I was delighted to have the chance to work on the episode when the basic story idea was offered to me, having been a fan of both Black Lightning and the Super Friends' Black Vulcan, both of whom served as role models for Soul Power.

In all honesty, much of the credit for the episode goes to Story Editor John Semper and Producer Alan Burnett, who cooked it up and handed it to me in the first place, then fine-tuned the script after I took my pass. They're great people to work for, and their affection for the characters show up in every episode they work on. I'm just happy to be on the team!

But I can't deny I was thrilled to hear that Black Lightning's creator enjoyed something I worked on.
That I did, Adam...and you can be sure I'll be keeping an eye out for your other work as well.

Finally, in the wake of the recent flooding at Casa Isabella, I received these tips from HELEN SEIBERT of The Amazing Book-Store in Flint, Michigan:
So...you violated the rule against storing paper directly on concrete. And you got bit. Now is the time to buy plywood and 2 X 4's and create durable shelving. (Caution, if you actually measure today's 2 X 4's, you'll go nuts.) Buy pound bags of dry wall screws and wood glue. Hopefully you already own a rechargeable drill with a Phillips bit, a tape measure, and a skill saw. If you would like detailed plans, write us.

Curtis and I have built free standing racks and racks that are braced against the overhead floor joists. The bottom boxes are 7" off the floor, each shelf is 14" above the shelf below. An 8 x 4 sheet of plywood split, makes 2 -8 X 2' shelves. The racks are five shelves high.

If you mark the legs and shelves in a pattern you'll remember, you can pack the boxes in a pick up, dismantle the shelves, with the battery drill in reverse, and load the shelves on top. When you arrive at the new location, you battery drill the dry wall screws back into the shelves and re-stack the boxes. We needed two pick-ups to move the four legs, five shelves and fifty boxes that fill the shelves. (Last year, we moved A LOT of The Amazing Book- Store's inventory to a new warehouse. Transporting comic books is not for sissies.)

What do you plan to do if the power goes out? Will you mount up and ride a Gilligan's Island bicycle, to power your sump pump? Unfortunately...the time to get a nice gas powered generator was February, 2000.

I hope you bought Harbor Bay dehumidifiers. Ours might not always shut off when the bucket is full, but--knock on wood-- haven't iced up like several other brands.

Why are we so SHELF bound? Our first storefront was built on the same level with the parking lot, so rain came in the front door.
Thanks for the suggestions, Helen.

Within a month, there won't be anything in the basement, not even on pallets. I'm moving it all to storage which is well above ground and, even there, it will be on pallets. When all this stuff starts returning to our house, it will all be going into one of our spare bedrooms a level above the basement. Even there, it will be on pallets and shelves.

The plan is to pay for the renovation of the basement and the storage and many other household improvements by selling more than half of my accumulation of stuff. Fingers crossed, I hope to start listing books, comics, records, and other items on eBay next month. As often as possible, I'll try to give readers here advance notice of what's coming up for auction.

This could get very interesting.

******

TONY STUFF

I receive a LOT of comics and other review items every month, so many that I don't think I'll ever be able to read and review all of them. However, my ongoing resolution is to somehow find time to read and review MORE of them.

Towards that end, I am changing my reviewing policy somewhat. Effective immediately, I will ONLY be reviewing comics and other items which have been sent to me by creators, editors, publishers, and so forth. I think it's simple fairness for me to give priority to those people who have made the effort to put their work in front of me. They have earned that consideration.

I still can't guarantee reviews, favorable or otherwise, for everything that comes my way. But this should thin the herd a bit for the immediate future.

Thanks for spending a part of your weekend with me. I'll be back soon with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 08/09/2003 | 08/16/2003 | 08/23/2003 >>

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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