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

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for Saturday, November 15, 2003


"That only which we have within, can we see without. If we meet no Gods, it is because we harbor none. If there is a grandeur in you, you will find grandeur in porters and sweeps."

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let us begin this week's column with an examination of one of the rules of conduct which have served ye humble tipster moderately well over the years:

If you're a comics creator, don't respond to a negative review of your work.

There is a corollary to this rule:

If you're the reviewer in the above scenario, don't respond to an angry creator responding to your negative review.

Having thus stated these eminently logical and sensible rules, I'll now break the second of them, albeit for educational purposes and, save for myself, sans any identification of the participants. If I can help even one of you out there, I gladly accept the karmic cost of my foolishness.

I'm just that kind of guy.

A dear friend of mine, who writes reviews and also interviews comics creators, happened to interview a creator whose past efforts have received mixed reviews from me. "Mixed" translates to three reviews: one positive, one negative, and one extremely negative. I believe the reviews were fair, but then, I wouldn't run them if I thought otherwise or if I thought I had reviewed them on anything other than their own merits or lack thereof.

My friend made the mistake of asking his subject about reviews of his recent works and the gentlemen responded by mentioning me. He opined, and, for reasons of CBG's trademark propriety, this will not be an exact quote, that I was "messed" up and bitter. Since my friend had assured the creator in advance that his comments would run verbatim, it's probably only a matter of time before you learn the "who" of this example. Unless, of course, the creator takes to heart the good sense I plan to impart here.

If I were going to respond to his comments, the very obvious follow-up question would be, "Was I messed up when I gave his work the positive review or only when I gave his work less than positive reviews?"

(In case you're wondering, the positive review came smack dab in the middle of the other ones.)

I might also point out that, by calling me "bitter," he went beyond anything I did. I commented on his work and only his work. His comments were of a more personal nature.

I don't comment on criticisms of my reviews, unless I believe I made an error of fact which demands correcting. I don't comment because it's a no-win situation. If someone didn't like one of my reviews, no response of mine will change that.

It's the same for the creator. If someone didn't like one of his comics, no response of his will change that. Readers who liked the comic will still like it. Readers who disliked it will still dislike it. Any reader who is on the fence may come away from the response thinking the creator is a jerk for making it so personal. Again, it's a no-win situation.

Truth be told, I think my friend made a couple of "tactical" errors in conducting this interview.

ONE. Time permitting, it's a courtesy to allow the interview subject to go over his remarks before they see print. It's comics, after all, and not national policy. But I doubt I'd have given him or any other interview subject the guarantee that his every remark would run verbatim.

Not that this was remotely the case, but what if this creator had crossed the line into libel/slander? What if he had advocated the commission of specific criminal acts? What if he had revealed that I'm an undercover operative of...never mind.

TWO. Asking the guy about past negative reviews was foolish. What purpose did it serve? At best, my friend reminded him that his work had not met with universal acclaim. At worst, he opened the door for the creator's insulting comments and allowed the guy to make himself look bad. Since I know that was the furthest thing from my pal's mind, the question worked against both his interests and those of his interview subject.

Am I a bitter critic? I have a policy against reviewing items which I might have non-critical reasons for disliking. Ultimately, whether or not I'm bitter isn't my call to make. That's something for my editors and my readers to decide for themselves.

Just don't expect me to debate the issue with you.


VISIONS (NBM; $19.95) is the publisher's seventh collection of paintings and sketches by the nigh-legendary Luis Royo. You have almost certainly seen his work on the covers of HEAVY METAL or the countless paperback books to which his paintings have been the door to the fantastic stories within. Cumulatively, around the world, this Spanish artist's books and covers have sold in the millions of copies in dozens of countries.

Kevin Eastman, publisher of HEAVY METAL and co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, wrote a brief introduction for this volume and then wisely let Royo's work speak for itself. Which it does in a way that transcends any language barriers.

Here there be a dragon confronting a warrior maiden. There a warrior wields a mystic spear against a mounted foe. The Queen of Wands gazes at us knowingly. A breathtakingly beautiful blonde can not conceal her inner wolf. A dragon takes a meeting in some high-rise office building. Men stare at the waiting heavens. Strange creatures roam a deserted metropolis. Dozens of images, mind-mails from artist to viewer. Twice, as I looked Royo's paintings, entire stories burst into my thoughts.

Only thrice did I look at a figure and think it more pose than reality. That's quite a compliment, really. Most of the time, as I look at such collections, half the figures are standing, sitting, lying in positions humans would never naturally take. By avoiding such poses, Royo brings a reality to the fantasy and that's always a plus with me.

On our scale of zero to five disembodied columnists, VISIONS picks up an impressive four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


The best thing Rikdo Koshi's EXCEL SAGA (Viz; $9.95) has going for it is a very funny premise:
Earnest young girls Excel and Hyatt (both codenames) hold down minimum-wage jobs to support their true advocation: trying to conquer the city of Fukuoka for the secret organization ACROSS and its dreamy dictator, Il Palazzo - a man whose dignity is such that he could never acknowledge that ACROSS consists of himself, a leaky basement, two unpaid teenager interns, and a stray dog.
What it doesn't have going for it is a sure handle on how to best exploit the comedic possibilities of that premise. That there are clever concepts here is undeniable. I love the way Il Palazzo realizes (on a dim, subconscious level) that conquering the world is way out of his league, thus his plan to start with one city and work his way up. Even conquering one city is out of his league, of course, but his downsized ambition is what keeps him from being a total cartoon villain.

There are some funny running gags, some of which, such as Il Palazzo constantly opening up trapdoors under Excel, are overused. Others, such as Excel's obvious affection for stray dog Mince, even as she considers him to be emergency rations, appear with far less regularity and are thus more unexpected. But the premise and these running gags are all the stories have going for them.

These agents of ACROSS and their leader never seem to pursue any actual plans, so the reader is denied the fun of watching the plans put into operation and waiting for the inevitable moment when something goes wrong. Sure, that could also get repetitive, but it still works for Team Rocket over at POKEMON.

Such sinister schemes would give structure to the EXCEL SAGA. Instead, I got so bored that I quit on this initial volume in the series after reading six of its seven stories. One more story to go and I couldn't force myself to start reading it.

EXCEL SAGA picks up two Tonys for its premise and the running gags. However, its lackluster plots, poor story construction, and generic manga visuals keep me from recommending it. It's a shame because I can think of several American comics writers and artists who could have made the premise sing.

Tony Tony


KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER was an inspiration and predecessor to THE X-FILES. With a bigger budget and the technology available to Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, and Chris Carter, reporter Carl Kolchak and his too-few adventures might have risen above the cult favorite status with which they are held by horror and sci-fi fans. As one of those fans, I'm grateful to Moonstone Books for bringing us new Kolchak adventures.

Writer Stefan Petrucha wrote over a dozen terrific issues of THE X-FILES for Topps Comics in the 1990s. So it's not the least bit surprising that he has a similar knack for creating new Kolchak stories that absolutely have the feel of those treasured episodes from the past. His latest is DEVIL IN THE DETAILS ($6.95) and it's a horrific honey of a tale.

A TV GUIDE summary might go something like this:
All that's left of a missing millionaire are the clothes that he was wearing when he disappeared.
From that start, Petrucha gives us a story which captures the Kolchak panache beat for scary beat. His Kolchak and Vincenzo are absolutely dead-on. He makes us care about his supporting players, killer and victims alike. At the end of the 48-page tale, we feel the quiet discomfort we felt at the end of the best of Kolchak's original television adventures.

The visual half of the book is less accomplished. The Trevor Von Eeden artwork is hit-or-miss - admittedly, more hit than miss - with some key pages and panels failing to live up to the script. The same can be said for the book's coloring.

(Forgive me for not going into more detail. To do so, I would have to use a spoiler warning and that seems wrong for a review of such a suspenseful horror comic.)

KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER: DEVIL IN THE DETAILS still picks up four-and-a-half Tonys. Kolchak may not be as edgy as some modern-day adventurers into the unknown, but he still delivers the stuff that screams are made of.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Half Tony


I'm always torn when I review AC Comics. I like the company. I like that it has its own style. I like that it is respectful of its core readers. I like the reprints, classic and otherwise, it restores and presents from the increasingly rare comic books of the 1940s and 1950s. What I'm not so crazy about is that, at $6.95 for a 40-page comic book, the AC titles are not competitively priced. Regardless of the legitimate reasons for AC's pricing, reasons that involve the extensive retouching they do on the reprints and their unfortunately low sales on even their original material, that costs them points with me.

TIPS reader Paul Monsky wrote the lead story in FEMFORCE #119, and kindly sent me a copy. Set in 1952, "The Case of the Missing Masque" teams the Blue Bulleteer, Miss Masque, and Rio Rita against a "white slaver." It's a competent script which shows promise, but it also has major problems, one of which is, admittedly, personal to my unholy liberalism.

The story appears designed to place the heroines in bondage as much as possible, even to the point where one must question their competence as crime-fighters. Less of this would have made for a shorter and more effective story; at 20 pages, it was dragging by the time the ladies started hitting the bad guys.

My personal beef? That would be the phrase "white slavery," as if that made the crime so much worse than slavery whose victims are not white. I recognize that it was a common term in the era in which this story takes place, but it still offends me.

The art by Ed Counts was uneven throughout with many awkward figures and some troublesome layouts, but it also showed promise. I'd like to see more stories by this team.

The issue also featured a fun 1945 reprint of a Miss Victory story drawn by Charles Quinlan; a Bill Black editorial which plays straight with the AC readers; the second chapter of an intriguing prose serial involving alternate versions of AC super-heroes; and a new Yankee Girl adventure by Mark Heike (writer) and Gianluca Cerrutelli (penciler).

Heike plays Yankee Girl for laughs. She's not the brightest star among the heavenly heroines of AC Comics, but she does manage to get the job done. At only seven pages, the story doesn't do its heroine, its plot, or its broad satire justice, but I did enjoy it. Yankee Girl will be getting her own solo book soon and I'm hoping to see longer stories in that title.

FEMFORCE #119 picks up three Tonys. You can learn more about it and other AC titles at:

Tony Tony Tony



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1564 [November 7, 2003], which shipped October 20. The lead story that issue was Marvel's hiring of Dan Buckley to replace Bill Jemas as the company's publisher.

The second lead reported that THE WAR, a CrossGen mini-series, would culminate with the ending of several titles: CRUX, THE FIRST, MERIDIAN, MYSTIC, THE PATH, RUSE, SCION, SIGIL, and SOLUS. Sadly, CrossGen's continuing financial woes are such that SIGIL will cease publication one issue shy of its planned conclusion. Chuck Dixon's script for that final issue will be posted online, but it's hardly the same as getting the actual comic book.



Let's start with this one from ROBERT LOY:
I read and enjoy your CBG column every week. Your reviews have alerted me to some great books I probably would have otherwise missed and I really appreciate that. But your review of FEMFORCE #119 really grated on my own "unholy liberalism." You objected to the term "white slavery" and I agree with you for exactly the reason you mentioned. In a modern context, it is offensive. But, as you said, it was a "common term during the era in which the story takes place" and, in that historical context, I have no problem with it. In fact, your objecting to something like that reminds me of those who want to ban HUCKLEBERRY FINN because it uses a word that is very offensive today, but which wasn't when Huck was growing up. I think you ought reexamine your objection to the "white slavery" term in that context. Thank you for your time. Keep up the good work.
On the same subject, HARVEY FLAMHOLTZ wrote:
Speaking one liberal to another, I wanted to inform you that the term "white slavery" probably should offend you. but not for the reason you gave. Back in the first half of the 20th century, and earlier, the term was a euphemism for forced prostitution. As opposed to the generic "slavery" with which everyone is familiar. Each is despicable in its own right, but they are different.

I enjoy your column. You've led me to a good number of comics I might not have otherwise tried. I also enjoy your occasional political, ethical and moral rants. It's nice to know not everyone in this country is part of the caustic conservative movement. You know...the folks who call those who differ with them all kinds of nasty names and then turn around and accuse them of slander and a lack of patriotism. Anyway, I'll look forward to your continued reviews and musings, that is if the farewell tour doesn't actually lead to a farewell.

Thanks for your perseverence.
I have signed with CBG to continue writing my weekly column in 2004, which means that those columns will continue to be reprinted online with the usual new material added. And keep watching this space for news of other Tony stuff in the new year.



My "inflation" column of CBG #1562, which was posted online on November 1, has turned out to be one of the most popular columns I've written all year. JOHN JAKALA, whose "Grotesque Anatomy" blog is one of my regular stops on the Internet, was thinking along the same lines and took some photos which he said I should consider as a bar graph to my comments.

Here's how 24 issues of American comic books (at $2.50 a pop) compare to 12 issues of SHONEN JUMP ($4.95 each):

Manga compared to America comic books

Here's how two Marvel hardcover collections ($30 each) to the same stack of SHONEN JUMP:

Manga Compared to Marvel Hardcovers

Here's how four Marvel Essentials books ($15 each) compare to the year's worth of SHONEN JUMP:

Manga compared to Marvel Essentials

Finally, Jakala shows us an area in which an American product is superior to the Japanese product. Twelve issues of SHONEN JUMP against a bowl of TOTAL, which contains 100% of the daily minimum requirement of vitamins and minerals:

Manga compared to TOTAL cereal

Jakala had me laughing out loud at these shots and I thank him for giving me permission to share them with you. Be sure to repay the kindness by checking out his blog at:



DUKE HARRINGTON commented on another aspect of my "inflation" column. He writes:
I wanted to raise a point about your recent column, in which you take a look at comics cover prices through the eyes of the Inflation Calculator. I question a portion of your recent column, in the hope you might be able to use this as a springboard for a future column on creator rights.

You are quite correct that the Archie Digests are indeed the best buy in American comics and the only ones to "beat the spread" on the Inflation Calculator. But I think I know why.

You will note that most, if not all, of the contents of these digests are reprints. Thumbing through one at the supermarket checkout line...and wouldn't it be nice if DC & Marvel would pony up for this of placement?...I noticed distinct art styles ranging from the 1960s and 1970s. If you dug into the matter, I suspect you would uncover little or no payment being made to the original creators for these reprints. I believe Archie Comics can sell the digests for so little because they are paying virtually nothing for the contents.

I hope you can prove me wrong, and inform me that Archie is, indeed, making some payment to the original creators for reprinting their work. It's the right thing to do even if it was originally done as work for hire. To not pay reprint royalties would be, to my mind, offensive.
I didn't get into the cost of production on either the Archie digests or SHONEN JUMP because I was looking at these publications strictly from a value-to-the-reader standpoint. But your comments are worth discussing.

I don't know if Archie Comics pays reprint royalties to their writers and artists. Although DC Comics is generally pretty good about that, and Marvel is sometimes pretty good about that, this is not exactly an industry standard. For example, I didn't get a dime when Dark Horse Comics reprinted a Star Wars story of mine in one of their trade paperbacks nor when they reprinted it a second time in another venue. I've also never been paid for any of the foreign publications of my work from any publisher.

Should comics companies pay reprint royalties? I believe so. Whether or not they are required to do so depends on the contracts they had with the freelancers. But you'll get no argument from me when you say they should pay them regardless of however the comics were originally produced.

It should also be noted that the creators of the SHONEN JUMP features own their creations. They benefit from reprints of this material as well as any anime, games, or merchandise produced from their creations. American publishers have a lot of catching up to do in this area.

As always, thanks for spending part of your weekend with me. I'll be back soon with more stuff.

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.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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