"There's a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker."
--Charles M. Schulz
"What comics do you buy?"
Several readers asked that question after I wrote of my plans to pretty much review only those comics and related items which are sent to me for that purpose. It's a fair question.
I don't have a convenient comics shop in my neck of the woods, so I pre-order through a small subscription service. Most weeks, Sainted Wife Barb picks up my order on her way home. Occasionally, I venture from my beloved Medina.
I order the comics and magazines I truly enjoy, sometimes even when it's likely I will be receiving review copies. I order comics by pals to support their efforts in this competitive marketplace. I rarely pass on comics history books and magazines and, when I do, it's for budgetary reasons. I sample new comics whose PREVIEWS solicitations spark my interest; most of those titles come from the indy or manga camps.
To give you a clearer notion of the above, and breaking my own new "rule" for this column, here are reviews of the comic books and magazines I bought the third week of September.
2000 AD #1353 and #1354 (Rebellion; $3.75) are several issues into the weekly's "Summer Assault." Judge Dredd is in the United Kingdom - called "Brit-Cit" in his future world - investigating the disappearance and probable kidnaping of his niece Vienna, his only living relative. The chief suspect is a Satanist with a darn good alibi: he was shot dead by Brit-Cit judges a month earlier.
Dredd co-creator John Wagner has been making Dredd more human in recent years, but delving into that aspect of the character with enough infrequency to keep it fresh. This current serial, drawn by Charles Adlard, is a bit too quiet in its atmosphere and unfolding for my taste, but is holding my interest.
The Dredd feature is backed up by "Bec & Kawl" (teenage demon-busters), "Leviathan" (a murder mystery set on a gargantuan ghost ship), "Slaine" (Celtic warrior chopping up the monstrous creatures who would subjugate his people), and "Strontium Dog" (mutant bounty hunter in the future). I had been fairly ambivalent about "Bec & Kawl," but, in the closing chapters of the current serial, writer Simon Spurrier and artist Steve Roberts got me to laugh out loud at a brilliantly understated sight gag and the equally amusing outcome of the battle with the demon du jour.
"Leviathan" is flat-out brilliant. Written by Ian Edginton and drawn by D'Israeli, it takes place on a city-sized ship which has been drifting aimlessly for two decades. The conflicts between the upper-crusts in first class and the working-class detective who is investigating horrific murders among the elite are every bit as compelling as the serial's supernatural elements. If the remaining chapters are as good, Rebellion should fast-track this story for a graphic album reprinting.
Writer Pat Mills and artist Clint Langley bring great passion and skill to "Slaine," but I've never been able to warm up to the series. However, the current "Strontium Dog" serial, which finds bounty hunter Johnny Alpha being hounded by a tax collector while on the trail of a deadly family of thieves and killers, is big fun all around. Kudos to writer Wagner - he is a treasure - and artist Carlos Ezquerra for this one.
On our disembodied columnist scale of zero to five, these two issues of 2000 AD pick up four Tonys apiece.
ALTER EGO #28 (TwoMorrows; $5.95) is an especially fine issue of my favorite comics magazine. This time out, editor Roy Thomas devotes nearly 50 well-deserved pages to Dr. Michael J. Vassallo's year-by-year look at the too-short career of the great Joe Maneely, who was arguably the finest Timely/Marvel artist of the 1950s. Doc V's scholarship is astonishing and his speculation of what might've been had Maneely lived to contribute to the "Marvel Age of comics" is fascinating. The section includes reflections and remembrances by Nancy Maneely, who was only two years old when her father died, and Stan Lee, who calls Maneely "the best!" Reading these pieces and admiring the Maneely art which accompanies them makes me long for a big fat "Best of" collection of the versatile artist's work. Hey, Marvel, wanna make a quick fifty bucks off of me?
I mean no disrespect or disservice to the many other enjoyable and knowledgeable articles in this 104-page issue of ALTER EGO, but it's the Maneely coverage which earns the magazine the exceedingly rare six out of five Tonys!
Six out of five! Don't give me that look. It was Roy Thomas his own wise self who taught me that a foolish consistency was the hobgoblin of small minds.
ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES (Archie; $2.19) is a favorite of mine, but I was disappointed by issue #31's "Author Unknown" by writers Paul Castiglia and Barbara Jarvie. In this tale, when all copies of a popular author's books are stolen from the library, Archie and his fellow teen investigators are on the case. I have three problems with this story:
Castiglia and Jarvie provide the usual fun forensic facts in their script, but the investigation itself is so all over the place and with so many false leads that the story loses focus. When we get to the resolution, it comes off as a rushed "we're on the last page" resolution.
"Guest pest" Reggie Mantle is just that. He plays no role in the investigation, doesn't provide any real comic relief, and isn't even around for the big finish.
Here's the big one. The perpetrator of the crime suffers no consequences of committing the crime. Even allowing that the crime was likely a misdemeanor, what message does that send to the book's young audience? This has become a trend in ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES and it's enough of a problem for me to consider dropping the title from my order list.
ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES #31 only gets two Tonys from me. Moreover, I'm giving Castiglia, Jarvie, and editor Victor Gorelick two hours of detention each for their failure to include the consequences of committing a crime in this issue.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 (Marvel; $2.99) is the first issue of the book I've read since the Peter David-written series was relaunched. Blame that on my "interesting" life and not on any perceived apathy toward CM. I like ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, too, and I haven't read an issue of that in almost two years.
First kudos go to the "previously" page which brought me right up to speed and even earned a chuckle from me. From there, David and artist Michael Ryan wove a done-in-one tale of the insane Genis - Captain Marvel - bringing Rick Jones, himself, and all the folks of our world face-to-face with their past selves.
It's a moral and philosophical challenge. Could you, should you, try to guide your younger self to avoid the mistakes you made and, in doing so, alter your existence and that of the world around you? That's a heavy concept for a single-issue super-hero comic, but David delivers a satisfying answer.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 earns the full five Tonys.
COMICS REVUE reprints some of the best newspaper strips of all time. Though its editorial mix leans heavily towards adventure, the monthly magazine also offers humor and human interest to its readers.
COMICS REVUE #209 (Manuscript Press; $6.95) features a heaping helping of Modesty Blaise, as well as shorter offerings of Gasoline Alley, Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon, Krazy Kat, Little Orphan Annie, the Phantom, Alley Oop, Tarzan, Buz Sawyer, and Casey Ruggles. The line-up of creators is equally impressive, including Dick Moores, Russ Manning, Dan Barry, Harry Harrison, Milton Caniff, Roy Crane, George Herriman, and many others. You get 68 pages of great stuff for seven bucks. Not a bad deal as I see it.
My solitary complaint is that COMICS REVUE could and should be a bit friendlier to new readers. It would be worth losing a daily strip per feature to introduce those readers to the characters and briefly bring them up to speed on the current story. How else will this worthy publication attract new readers to the entertainment it offers issue after issue?
Not every strip will be a winner with every reader, but I like COMICS REVUE enough to give it four Tonys.
Brian K. Vaughan's RUNAWAYS has one of the best high concepts in comics: At some point in their lives, all young people think their parents are evil...but what if they really are?
RUNAWAYS #6 (Marvel; $2.50) is the second issue of the title I've read and, as with CAPTAIN MARVEL, it's not due to any dislike of the series. Life manages to get in the way of my comics reading on an alarmingly regular basis, though, and I can't stress this enough, I definitely prefer it to the alternative.
The "Previously" page didn't do as good a job familiarizing me with the characters and storyline as did the one in CAPTAIN MARVEL, but I never felt lost while reading the issue. Vaughan does a good job bringing the kids and their evil parents to life, though a bit more (subtle) exposition to explain their powers would have helped in that regard. I like very much that not all of the villains are painted as absolutely and completely evil. It makes them that much more believable, as does the title's distance from the oppressively encompassing Marvel Universe...if, indeed, it is even part of the Marvel Universe.
Visually, I mostly like the look of RUNAWAYS. Penciler Adrian Alphona and inker Craig Yeung do an excellent job. Colorist Brian Reber deserves some props as well, but I wish he'd ease up on the pastels a bit. That may be a nod to shojo fans - "shojo" being a Japanese term used to describe comics aimed at female readers - but it doesn't quite fit the dark tone of the series.
My nit pick of the week goes to a panel near the end of this ish. The parents find a note from one of the kids, but don't know which kid because the note isn't signed. However, when we close in on the parent holding it, we see the note is handwritten. Come on. Even EVIL parents would recognize their own child's handwriting. A case can be made that a handwritten note would be more realistic than a typewritten one in this instance, but the lack of motherly recognition goes beyond my willing suspension of disbelief.
I like RUNAWAYS #6 well enough to go back and read the issues I skipped. There's room for improvement, but the issue picks up a very respectable three-and-a-half Tonys.
Here starts the lightning round.
Comics based on licensed properties often come "bundled" with so many restrictions and so much supervision from the owner of such properties they can drive their writers, artists, and editors quite mad. SHREK #1 (Dark Horse; $2.99) shows signs of that around its edges. Even so, writer Mark Evanier and artist Ramon Bachs had me chuckling on more than one occasion. The story doesn't always flow smoothly, but, at the end of the issue, and with a laugh-out-loud final panel, I give SHREK #1 three Tonys.
SIMPSONS COMICS #86 (Bongo; $2.99) seemed to change direction every few pages of its issue-length "Yellow Crush." This sometimes made for a dizzying reading experience. Still...writer Ian Boothby and penciler Phil Ortiz delivered lots of laughs in their 27 pages, earning this issue three-and-a-half Tonys.
ULTIMATE SIX #1 ($2.99) kicks off a crossover between ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and THE ULTIMATES. I'm not a huge fan of the sometimes glacial Hollywood-style pacing of Ultimate titles in general, but I am a huge fan of Brian Michael Bendis' scripting on these books. He nails the characters and the scenes well, aided and abetted by the terrific artwork of Joe Quesada and Trevor Hairsine, and ends this first chapter on a suitably ominous note. I might prefer the "real" Spider-Man and Avengers to the Ultimate incarnations, but I can't/won't dispute the quality of this issue. ULTIMATE SIX #1 is good for four-and-a-half Tonys.
WALT DISNEY'S DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #306 and WALT DISNEY'S MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS #257 ($2.95 each) are Gemstone's premiere standard-size Disney comics. It's good to see Donald, Mickey, and company back in action.
DONALD DUCK has two Donald stories and one each for Mickey and Uncle Scrooge. Donald definitely rules this nest. "The Mysterious Monster Club" by writer Jan Kruse with dialogue by Gary Leach sets up a neat little mystery, resolves it well, and leaves readers with a good twist. Dave Rawson's "Hole in One" is very funny, showing, as it does, the stubborn Donald whose ambitions exceed his talents. The Mickey story is visually interesting in places, but nothing to get excited about. The Scrooge tale goes nowhere from its frankly stupid premise of prison guards dressing up like convicts (and vice versa) for Halloween. Three-and-a-half Tonys.
MICKEY MOUSE presents two Mickey stories, one each for Donald and Goofy, and a one-page gag strip for Daisy Duck's nieces. Both Mickey adventures - and the Mickey tale in DONALD DUCK - feature a crazy scientist named Doc Static who is just too convenient to be interesting, though I love the Noel Van Horn art in the lead Mickey tale. Writer Peter Hardfeldt's "Piece of Tape," which stars Goofy, is the best and funniest story in the issue, but I got a laugh out of the April, May, and June page as well. This is too weak of an issue for the relaunch of MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS. I'm being kind to give it two-and-a-half Tonys.
That's what I bought this week. How about you?
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1561 [October 17, 2003], which shipped on September 29. The cover story announced THE COMPLETE PEANUTS, a 25-volume series to be published by Fantagraphics. This is THE major comics publishing event of the decade, a project which will take 12-1/2 years to complete, and yet another good reason to keep myself alive well into the next decade. The first volume is due in April of 2004.
The secondary lead reported that CrossGen was delaying several titles one month. The CrossGen situation is still in considerable flux, at least as I see it, so all I'll do is continue to hope for an outcome that will benefit, first and foremost, the creators, but also the company itself.
CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Every week, in the newspaper's letters section, CBG asks its readers a question. In issue #1561, it was: What comic book led you to collect comics for the first time? Why
Hey, wait a minute! That's two questions! Geez, you can't trust anyone these days.
I've often said that FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 (1963) was the comic book that truly made me a comics fan. It was the first comic that made me aware that creating comic books was an actual job and that it was a job I wanted. It changed my life.
It was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #10 (dated March, 1964) that made me a comics collector...and it was because I didn't buy the issue at my friendly neighborhood drug store.
My first issue of the title was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #9, which featured the first appearance (and origin) of Electro and all the soap opera elements that made Peter Parker's life as interesting as his super-heroic battles. I loved the issue, but, at the time, I was not familiar with such vital collector information as when the new comics arrived at the drug store.
My next issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was #11. It was the first time I was acutely aware of missing an issue of a comic book and I wasn't going to let it happen again. I didn't know enough to ask the clerk if the store had already returned the previous issue to the distributor, but I did learn from her that new comics arrived almost every Tuesday and Thursday. From then on, with exceedingly rare exception, and until the store closed during my junior year of high school, I was there...every Tuesday and Thursday.
Comics had been part of my life prior to this epiphany. There was always a stack of them in the bedroom I shared with my younger brothers. But I never collected them per se. I'd read them, more than once usually, and then I'd trade them to other kids and even the neighborhood barber for other comic books, for baseball cards, for non-sports cards, for whatever had caught my sometimes flighty interest. They were just another youthful entertainment.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #10 changed that. I never missed another issue. Via card-trading with other kids and mail-order purchases, I got that issue...and all the other issues I needed to complete my runs of the various Marvel super-hero titles.
The comic book that made me a collector was the one that got away...but not for long.
In last weekend's TIPS, in reviewing TESTAMENT, a collection of Old Testament stories in comics form, I wrote:
"[Writer Jim] Krueger uses the device of a bartender to relate THE story and tell a customer about its Author. Early on, the bartender says all he's selling is beer, but that's obviously NOT the case. In fact, it's so obviously not the case that the inherent dishonesty of this claim bothered me. I have no problem with TESTAMENT putting forth its viewpoint and encouraging readers to make it their own, and, in fact, am pleased to see comics work WITH a viewpoint. But this fib was the sort of slight-of-hand we get from politicians and other salesmen. TESTAMENT should have been above that."
JIM KRUEGER responded:
I totally understand this issue and actually believed the guy with the pretzel telling the reader not to let the bartender fool you on page two answered the fact that the bartender is doing more than just telling a "story."
But...thanks for the nice review.
Ulp! I concede the point to my pal Jim. I should have given more weight to what the guy with the pretzel said. I lost track of that dialogue in the vast scope of TESTAMENT, which, as I hope last week's review made clear, is worth checking out.
That's it for this edition of TONY'S TIPS. As always, I thank you for spending part of your weekend with me.
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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