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

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for Saturday, September 20, 2003


"Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though t'were his own."

--Johann von Goethe

Welcome, gentle reader, to the final chapter of my "Comic-Con International Trilogy" least until the prequels. Last week's column ended with my escaping from the San Diego Convention Center and heading for Los Angeles. Sadly, I was unable to prevent CBG's Nathan Melby being professionally graded and encased in heavy-duty plastic. However, I do plan to rescue him as soon as he comes up for auction on eBay.

The convention was a working vacation for me, but it was still a vacation. I did a little writing in my hotel room in the morning hours before the show opened, but I also tried to relax as much as possible...and that regimen included kicking back with a stack of comic books and comics-related goodies.

Cue the reviews.


I began reading ALTER EGO #26 (TwoMorrows; $5.95) on my flight to San Diego and continued dipping into it during the convention. My respect for editor Roy Thomas has always been great--after all, he was smart enough to hire me way back when--and that respect is renewed with each 100-page-plus monthly issues of this best of all comics fanzines. The highlights this time included the transcript of a 2001 interview of Golden/Silver Age DC Comics publisher Irwin Donenfeld by Mark Evanier and Robert Beerbohm; Mark Waid's article on a "lost" Jerry Siegel Superman story which, had it seen print, might have changed the Superman mythos for all time; an interview with Joe Sinnott by Jim Amash; a feature wherein quizmaster Michael T. Gilbert challenged readers to identify the legendary artists who contributed to the late 1950s HARWYN PICTURE ENCYCLOPEDIA; and the start of a new series on unknown Golden Age artists.

Even when I'm not on vacation, A/E is a constant companion as I chauffeur my children to their various activities, appointments, and lessons. It seems I barely finish an issue before the next one arrives, but I read each from cover to cover and am always thrilled to get that next one. Any magazine that can fuel my enthusiasm so consistently deserves top marks from me. So, on our scale of zero to five, A/E gets the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


The only comics publisher to acknowledge Comic-Con in one of its stories was Archie Comics, which is why I brought ARCHIE #538, as well as the latest issues of my favorite Archie titles, JUGHEAD and ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES, on vacation. For enjoyable light reading, you can't beat those Riverdale kids.

ARCHIE #538 ($2.19) featured "A Con to Remember" on its cover. Written by George Gladir with art by Stan Goldberg and Bob Smith, the tale saw Mr. Lodge bringing Archie and friends to Comic-Con to help him pick up the buzz on a comics-based movie his studio would be previewing at the show. Gladir and Goldberg really captured the feel of the con and in-the-know readers will get a kick out of the cameo appearances of real-life comics professionals.

"The Big Shake-Up," also by Gladir, is the latest entry in the "Save Pop's Chocklit Shoppe" genre. Sure, it's been done dozens of times before, which can be said of many Archie tales, but I enjoy clever variations on a theme. This time, the key to the Shoppe's rescue is a Latin American drink called "Lucuado," which fruity, creamy product, coincidentally enough, shared a booth with Archie at Comic-Con. That's right. It was a product placement story, but done so skillfully that wasn't obvious until well after the fact. I gotta give Gladir props for pulling that off.

Writers Kathleen Webb and Craig Boldman also contributed fine scripts to this issue. In "What the Market Will Bear," Archie is introduced to the concept of "market price" of certain menu items at restaurants and, naturally, doesn't grasp all the ramifications of his newly-acquired knowledge.

In Boldman's "No Place Like Gnome," Archie and Mr. Lodge work at cross purposes re: a hideous statue given to Lodge by one of his most important clients. It's a madcap comedy and a good example of why I rank Boldman with Gladir as the best of the current Archie Comics writers.

ARCHIE #538 picks up four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


When the word "weird" was dropped from its title and the book shifted to a forensics-for-kids approach, ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES got a new lease on life. Writers Paul Castiglia and Barbara Jarvie have been bringing their young readers amusing "whodunits" in which the science is accurate and relatively simple. Penciler Fernando Ruiz, whose earliest depictions of the Archie cast didn't quite measure up, is now nailing the likenesses, aided and abetted by the inking of Rich Koslowski. The book is looking good these days.

Issue #29 ($2.19) finds our "Teen Scene Investigators" working as summer camp counselors when Camp Riverdale is hit by a rash of mysterious candy disappearances. The forensics take a back seat to deduction and luck in the tale, which is sometimes the case in real investigations as well. The clues lead to a perfectly respectable three Tonys for this issue.

Tony Tony Tony


JUGHEAD #152 ($2.19) was something of an off-issue for writer Craig Boldman. He is at his best when he goes beyond the typical "Jughead loves to eat" tales, explores different facets of our boy Forsythe's personality, and plays with the interesting supporting characters he's created for the title. Sadly, there was little of that this issue. However, you'll hear no complaints from me on the terrific art of penciler Rex W. Lindsey and inker Rich Koslowski, easily the most dynamic of Archie artists.

Just to further illustrate how contrary I can be, let me add that I thought the funniest story this issue was "The Ice Cream Man Cometh," which was nothing if not a typical "Jughead loves to eat" outing. This is the kind of mixed signal that drives writers and editors absolutely crazy.

JUGHEAD #152 gets a disappointing two Tonys from me. I expect better from my pal Craig.

Tony Tony


I bought the first volume of BATTLE ROYALE (ToykoPop; $9.99) at a Barnes and Noble next to the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. I'd read good reviews of the series by online friends, so, while it didn't appear to be my cup of manga, I figured I'd give it a chance on their say-so. I have smart friends.

Creators Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi present a world that feeds on its young for...entertainment. "The Program" takes reality TV to a monstrous new level as 42 high-school students are kidnaped and taken to an island where they must kill one another or be killed. Only one survivor is allowed and, if the students don't play the "game," the explosive collars around their necks will be detonated. I'm only one volume into the series and I'm thinking it may be the scariest comic I've ever read.

Keith Giffen is writing the English adaptation of the scripts. I don't know what those original scripts were like, but his version does an excellent job of keeping the story moving, keeping readers in the loop, and defining the characters. Though casualties come quickly, Takami, Taguchi, and Giffen don't allow them to be seen as mere statistics. That's impressive.

BATTLE ROYALE is rated "M" for "Mature Ages 18+" and that's a rating you should take to heart. The artwork is exciting, but it's also shocking in its realistic violence. This is not a manga for the faint of heart, but, of all the manga series which made their American debut this year, it may be the best. I give it the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


Prior to Comic-Con, Jess Nevins, hereafter to be known as the man who knows everything, sent me a copy of HEROES AND MONSTERS: THE UNOFFICIAL COMPANION TO THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (MonkeyBrain Books; $18.95). He wrote a touching note on the title page of the book, something about the pleasure and enjoyment which my work has brought him, but, you know me, I'm much too modest to mention that in this review.

HEROES AND MONSTERS is built around the exhaustive annotations Nevins did on the first LXG storyline. There is lots more to the book--articles on heroic/villainous archetypes, on crossovers, on the "yellow peril" in popular fiction, plus an interview with and an introduction by LXG co-creator Alan Moore--but it's those simply amazing annotations that knocked me for a loop. There seems to be more background to a single Moore panel, especially as drawn by the great Kevin O'Neill, than you'll find in many complete stories by lesser talents. That Nevins either knew it all or knew how to find it is equally astonishing. In light of his scholarship, I am more impressed by LXG than when I first read it.

Receiving HEROES AND MONSTERS gave me an excuse to reread the first LXG series, referring to the annotations as I finished each chapter. For this rereading, I went to THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: VOL. 1 (America's Best Comics; $24.95), the handsome and reasonably priced hardcover collection published a few years ago. Together, the two books provided hours of good pulpy fun over the course of several vacation days.

LXG: VOL. 1 certainly does the incredible Moore/O'Neill story justice. The story itself is defined by superb melodrama, dazzling characters, and a persuasive sense of history, real and imagined. I confess I remain as ambivalent towards the Allan Quatermain prose story now as I did when I read it in the original comic books, but, on a technical level, I do appreciate Moore's spot-on imitation of a deservedly extinct style of writing.

I do have one minor complaint about the book: its lack of page numbers. How difficult and/or expensive could it have been for the publisher to have included what is standard in nearly all books and magazines? It's a small quibble, perhaps hardly worth mentioning, but I can't shake the notion that page numbers help make a comics collection look that much more like a real book.

Both HEROES AND VILLAINS and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOLUME 1 pick up the full five Tonys. I recommend that bookstores and comics shops display the books side by side. Anyone who loved LXG is just as likely to love HEROES AND VILLAINS.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


One of the best parts of my post-con vacation was spending an afternoon with Mark Evanier, who has been a great friend since we were teens. We visited his mom, a grand lady who has inherited her son's wonderful sense of humor. We had lunch at a terrific Italian restaurant. We ran a few errands, including picking up boxes of WERTHAM WAS RIGHT! (TwoMorrows; $12.95), the second collection of Mark's POV columns. Like Jess Nevins, Mark inscribed a copy of his book to me, though he somehow forgot to add the part about how much pleasure he's received from my writing.

Hey, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Like the first collection, COMIC BOOKS AND OTHER NECESSITIES OF LIFE, this one features columns which have been reprinted from CBG, but which Mark often revised and expanded. It also features cartoons by his frequent collaborator Sergio Aragones, as well as bits from his NEWS FROM ME blog, which is a veritable cornucopia of fascinating facts and thoughts on TV, movies, comic books, theater, politics, and "other forms of fantasy."

In the absence of any columns which mention me, surely another oversight, "My First Pro" is my favorite of the pieces. It's like a detective story, layers of self-deluding rationalization pulled away to eventually reveal the true nature of its subject. Though Mark never names the artist of which he writes, I recognize in him aspects of other pros I have known. Universal truths in one man's story, a tribute to the poignancy of Mark's writings.

WERTHAM WAS RIGHT! presents nearly two dozen other columns on topics from filing comic books to the simple genius of THE FOX AND THE CROW to the title column on the "villain" who unleashed chaos on the comics industry in the 1950s. It earns the full five Tonys. Do I know how to pick my vacation reading or what?

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Quick plug. Mark updates his weblog frequently, often several times a day. You should visit it frequently at:

One of my Los Angeles errands was boxing up all the cool stuff I got during Comic-Con and mailing it to myself in Ohio. Come back next week and we'll open that box together.



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1556 [September 12, 2003], which shipped August 25. The cover story by Nathan Melby reported on Comics Guaranty's first on-site grading at a comics convention. That was at Wizard World Chicago.

The topper item to the main story was an announcement of the Michael Uslan one-shot, DETECTIVE NO. 27, an "Elseworlds" thriller which weaves elements of comics, history, and pulp fiction into the origin of the Batman.

Returning to my column for this issue, don't hold your breath waiting for the column promised in the final paragraph. My Muses led me in a different direction for the following week's offering and I haven't yet returned to my San Diego haul. But, as the TIPS that did appear was heavily edited, you should definitely check out the "director's cut" when I post it next weekend.



I had an item about IW COMICS in last week's extended "Tips" and ROB ALLEN posted a correction to my message board:
Re: I.W./Super Comics. It was *Israel* Waldman and not Irving Waldman. I never saw any of his 50s-60s reprint comics either, and I missed Skywald's color comics because I was such a Marvel zombie that I literally didn't see them.

I woke up in time to catch the last two years of Skywald's B&W horror magazines. Brodsky was gone by that point, and Israel was running the company with his son Herschel and editor Alan Hewetson. I liked their magazines; they were like Warren junior.
Thanks for the correction. Just thinking about those Skywald comics and magazines makes me want to go hunting for back issues on eBay. They were interesting books.



My pal CHRIS GALDIERI has been customizing action figures and posting the results on his ADVENTURE CUSTOMS website. He's added five new figures in recent weeks: Green Lantern, Greyshirt, Green Guardsman, Ice, and Robin. I heartily recommend you check out his spiffy creations at:

With all this obvious talent, how is it that Chris has NEVER created the most sought-after action figure of them all? How come he's never made a TONY ISABELLA action figure?

Here's a challenge to Chris and all fandom's other customizing geniuses: make me a Tony Isabella action figure!

Not only will I award a cash prize to the best Tony Isabella action figure (as voted on by me and my family), but I'll showcase all the non-pornographic figures on a special section of this site created to immortalize your handiwork.

Since I'm making this up as I go along, let me throw this idea into the mix as well. If any of these craftsmen would be willing to donate the Tony figures, I'll auction them off with the proceeds going to ACTOR.

My gauntlet has been flung at your feet, o cosmic customizers! Show me what I'm made of!



It is with some embarrassment that I admit I cannot recall if I have run this note from CRAIG POWELL or not. If I did, here it is again:
I just wanted to send a quick thank you for your recent review and recommendation of IRON WOK JAN! Comics and Cooking - two of my favorite things. Generally speaking, I hate manga - not interested, don't understand the popularity, etc. - but I decided to check out this book based on your review. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is now a must have - THANK YOU!
I sent Craig a note in response, reminding him that one of my reasons for loving manga is its variety, and, I think, asking him about his other interests. He wrote back:
I'll certainly be a bit more open to manga. Another interest I have is soccer, and I see that there is a title by ComicsOne (those same Iron Wok Jan folks) called SHAOLIN SOCCER. Have you read it? Any idea if it's any good?

As far as other interests in the comics world, to give you an idea where I'm coming from, I'm a big fan of the independent stuff: from AKIKO to XENOZOIC TALES. Have you seen Jason (POE) Asala's NANTUCKET BROWN ROASTERS? I find this latest effort of his quite entertaining.

On an unrelated subject, I don't know how much comment you get on the quotes you start your CBG column with, but I quite enjoy them. I was wondering where you find them all. Some collection of quotes? On the Internet? Or just collecting them over the years? I was particularly interested in the quote by David O. McKay in CBG #1555; where did you find that one?

Thanks again for your reviews. Keep 'em coming.
I don't much about soccer or SHAOLIN SOCCER, but I'll see if I can score a copy and review it in the near future. Until then, I'll ask my readers for their comments and suggestions of any other soccer comics that might be out there.

Jason Asala gave me copies of his new book while I was at the San Diego convention. I loved his POE, so I'm opening to read and review those soon.

Finally, my quotes come from multiple sources. I have a dozen or more books of quotations. I also jot them down when I see them in print or online. In the case of the McKay quote, I got that one from my Excite homepage, which, among its many other fine features, offers a daily quote.

Thanks for reading the reviews. I'll do my best to keep them coming your way.



Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...for the lateness of this column. During the previous week, I had both of my kids home sick on separate days...I had to proofread STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE by Bob Ingersoll and some other guy...I had to deal with automotive problems to the tune of over seven hundred bucks...and I had to do it all while catching the cold/flu/ghastly gloppiness from my kids. It's a full life.

In short, it's not webmaster Justin's fault that this column is posting so late, but, as always, it's to his credit that it gets online at all. Don't be shy about showing your appreciation with a PayPal donation.

The other online Tony news this week is that I'm closing down the TONY POLLS for the foreseeable future. Following several days of electronic and phone harassment, a Bush supporter...or maybe a small group of Bush supporters...tried to stuff the ballot box on our political questions. When a great number of votes come in all in a matter of an hour or so, you know someone is trying to fix the fight. I had little choice but to take all but the comics question off the ballot.

I'll have more to say about this harassment in next weekend's TIPS. For now, I'll just say Justin and I can't afford to make the TONY POLLS creep-proof. The fun has gone out of it for me and, as this site is an unintentionally non-profit site, I'm not willing to devote any further time and effort to creating and monitoring the polls. Look for the results of the final questions in next week's TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns at:

My further apologize for ending this weekend's column on such a down note. I do appreciate your spending a part of your weekend with me. I'll be back soon with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/13/2003 | 09/20/2003 | 09/27/2003 >>

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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.

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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