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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Saturday, November 29, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1566:

"I think in thought bubbles, which embarrasses my wife when we go out to dinner."

--Tony Isabella

One of my favorite features in this distinguished publication is the "Question of the Week." I don't always have time to answer these queries. Sometimes, to my amazement, I don't have an answer to them, but I always read them and spend a couple minutes thinking about them, and I enjoy reading your published responses to them. If CBG put together a book of these questions and your answers, I'd definitely buy it.

Okay, to be honest, I'd bug Managing Editor Brent Frankenhoff to send me a review copy, but my being cheap in no way diminishes my regard for this feature.

In CBG #1561, we were asked:

"What comic book led you to collect comics for the first time? Why?"

Hey, wait a minute! That was two questions! Geez, you can't trust anyone these days.

I've often said FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 (1963) was the comic book that truly made me a comics fan. It was the comic which made me aware creating comic books was an actual job and that it was a job I wanted. It changed my life.

However...

It was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #10 (dated March, 1964) that made me a comics collector...and it was because I couldn't buy the issue at my friendly neighborhood drug store.

My first AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was #9, with 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 it, but, at the time, I did not possess such vital collector information as when the new comics arrived at the store.

My next AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was #11. It was the first time I was acutely aware of missing an issue of a comic and I wasn't going to let it happen again. I didn't know enough to ask the clerk if the previous ish had already been returned 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.

These days, I'm more of an accumulator than a collector, but I have this crazy dream that, someday, I will actually organize my vast accumulation. My plan after that is to sell what I don't want and use the proceeds to collect what I do want. It's the circle of life...sans the music.

******

Watching BATMAN: MYSTERY OF THE BATWOMAN (Warner Home Video; $24.90) was a pleasant way to fill a hour or so on a quiet weekend. I sprung for the DVD of this direct-to-video animated feature at my local K Mart, paying just under $20. It won't be difficult to find a better price, but, as I appreciate the store being open round the clock, I give it as much of my business as possible.

BATWOMAN was loads of fun. A mysterious masked crime-fighter has appropriated the Batman's style to stop the plasma gun-running operation of the Penguin, Rupert Thorne, and Carlton Duquesne. The Batman isn't happy about the motif infringement.

Writers Alan Burnett (story) and Michael Reaves came up with an exciting adventure in a somewhat lighter tone than we normally get with Batman. They play fair with the mystery of the Batwoman's identity - which I figured out early on - but never make that the sole thrust of the story. Beyond the mystery and its revelation, there are terrific action sequences and character bits. After the reveal, there is still plenty of story left.

I don't want to resort to spoilers in this review, but I will say that Bruce Wayne, usually the forgotten man of Batman stories, gets plenty of welcome screen time and gets to interact with all of the suspects, as fascinating and lovely collection of co-stars that a leading man could ask for. And, as usual, faithful butler Alfred gets the best line.

Notable vocal performances include Kevin Conroy as THE Batman and THE Bruce Wayne, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Alfred, David Ogden Stiers as the Penguin, Kimberly Brooks and Kelly Ripa as two of the suspects, and singer Cherie, who performs a catching number in the scene set at the Penguin's nightclub.

Directed by Curt Geda, the feature doesn't represent a quantum leap forward in animation from the television Batman cartoons, but the animation is of high quality with great work on the characters and their expressions. Adding to the mood and the motion is a fine musical score. An online critic opined that, if this feature had been a live-action Batman movie, the fans would rank it as one of the best in the series. I agree.

Included on the DVD are the usual entertaining bonus features and "Chase Me," an all-new five-minute cartoon starring Batman and the Catwoman. Written by Paul Dini and Burnett, and told without dialogue, it's nothing short of brilliant. I hope this short plays theatrically because it deserves a shot at the Oscar.

BATMAN: MYSTERY OF THE BATWOMAN would've gotten a good rating all by its lonesome. However, with the addition of "Chase Me," it earns the full five Tonys. Don't miss it!

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

An ambitious young priest conjures up a demon in LIBERTY FROM HELL #1 (Radio Comix; $2.99), a "mature readers" title by Christina Hanson, Baron Engel, and Richard Becker. The credits don't make it clear who does what, but Becker did sign the cover.

The demon is fallen angel Phalloide, who chose not to choose a side when Lucifer split from the Almighty and so was condemned to Hell. Phalloide is all about the pleasures of the flesh, but his good heart may earn him some mercy now that he's been released into our world and a variety of borrowed bodies.

On the plus side, I like the theme (redemption) of this series and the writing. On the minus side, while I don't dislike the art, I think the artist(s) need work differentiating between characters and setting/staging the scenes better. It's not always immediately clear who is who.

Set in the year 575, LIBERTY FROM HELL shows promise and might interest readers who enjoy medieval fantasy. It gets a respectable three Tonys from this reader...who isn't a fan of that particularly genre.

Tony Tony Tony

If you can't find it at a comics shop, go to:

www.radiocomix.com


******

BLACK RUST (NBM; 18.95) wraps a semi-story around the digital fantasy art of Chad Michael Ward. As many images are of nude men and women - mostly women - and many of those men and women have had their bodies disfigured in one manner or another, you would do well to heed the "for mature readers" warning.

On one level, I'm impressed by Ward's obvious talent and the attempt to create stories around his decadent and grotesque images. On another, I'm bored by a vision that screams "I'm edgy, I'm hip, I'm tomorrow" more than it actually achieves any of that. Ward has his fans, Timothy Bradstreet and Warren Ellis among them, but his work didn't strike me as either meaningful or memorable. Mileage eternally varies, which is one of the things that makes art and the quest to achieve art so dangerous and exciting.

BLACK RUST gets two Tonys for taking the risk and not backing down from the challenge.

Tony Tony

www.nbmpublishing.com


******

My taste in art runs more towards the works to be found in the expanded and updated VERTIGO VISIONS from Watson-Guptill ($24.95). Edited by former Vertigo editor and writer Alisa Kwitney, the book collects 199 images. Some are frightening, some are breathtakingly beautiful, and all are thoughtful. This is the kind of collection you leave within easy reach, the better to spend stolen minutes in contemplation of this or that painting.

VERTIGO VISIONS would be a wonderful holiday gift for writers and artists alike. From the secret nook inside my writer's brain, I have been "exercising" my creative chops by concentrating on the paintings and coming up with my own stories around them. Not only is it a fun way to stretch my thoughts, but I may even be able to turn some of these workouts into stories. Any book I can get this much use out of deserves the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

www.watsonguptill.com


******

Dark Horse Comics has been performing a service to comics fans and historians with its English language editions of the legendary works of the equally legendary Osamu Tezuka. This time out, from 1949, we get THE LOST WORLD ($17.95), an often schizophrenic sci-fi and suspense thriller of a rogue planet coming with range of Earth for the first time in centuries...and the perils and treasures it holds for those brave enough to meet it.

The first half of THE LOST WORLD is a struggle between groups of scientists, good and evil, for the power stones which will allow a rocket to travel to the approaching planet. The second half of the book takes us to the planet where the ultimate destinies of its protagonists will be decided.

Despite the animated style of the artwork and a talking animal or three, THE LOST WORLD is not a story for younger readers. The violence featured in the tale borders on the brutal and has serious consequences for those involved in it. I wouldn't give the book to any child under the age of ten.

What's good about THE LOST WORLD is Tezuka's frenzied action, some intriguing characters - including a pair of sentient plants in human form - and the twists and turns of allegiances and fortunes as the book barrels towards its conclusion.

What's not so good about THE LOST WORLD is that a few of the fights and expository scenes run too long, that its large cast is sometimes difficult to keep track of, and that its original editors made some changes to the story - retained for this edition - which took some of the heart out of it. On a purely bang-for-your-bucks basis, I think eighteen bucks is too high for the 240 or so pages of story and text material contained herein.

THE LOST WORLD is far from Tezuka's best, but, if you're one of his many fans, you'll want to at least check it out. I give it three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

www.darkhorse.com


******

We're mere weeks away from Mid-Ohio-Con and the final stop on my official Tony Isabella Farewell Tour. I hope to see you there. You'll find everything you need to know about the show, its panel presentations, and its guests by going to:

www.midohiocon.com


I'll have some Mid-Ohio-Con thoughts for you in my next TONY'S TIPS column, along with the usual reviews.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column was first published in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1566 [November 21, 2003], which shipped on November 3. The cover story was SLOW NEWS WEEK.

Nah, I'm just have fun with you. The cover story was actually EXPLORING BLACK ADAM...wherein CBG reporter Nate (formerly Nathan) Melby interviewed JSA writer Geoff Johns about one of his favorite characters. Maybe not a big story, but it's cool to hear a writer talk about such things. Reminds us that there's nothing wrong with comics being just plain fun.

The secondary cover lead was A MILLION OFFERED FOR ACTION #1. Diamond Comics Distributors President and CEO Steve Geppi offered a cool million for a Near Mint copy of the 1938 comic. While Geppi can easily afford such a purchase, I suspect his aim was not to add a treasured item to his own collection but to get another story in the media about how valuable old comics are. Not a bad ploy for a guy who happens to own a great many old comics already. Of course, I could be misjudging him. I'll reconsider my position once this monkey flies out of my butt.

Oh my, I'm getting snarky today.

Faithful readers of these online edition of my CBG columns may have recognized the opening item of this weekend's offering. Yes, indeed, I lifted it from the new material I added to my column from CBG #1561. I didn't have a better opening that week and I thought this was a pretty good bit, worth sharing with those who only read my column in its print version.

Peter David, my fellow CBG columnist, will sometime construct his CBG columns from his blog entries. I do that trick in reverse. On very rare occasions, I take items from my online columns and use them in my CBG column. Now you know.

As for the Mid-Ohio-Con reference at the end of this reprinted column, yes, it's dated. If you're reading this version of TONY'S TIPS on the weekend of November 29/30, I'm at Mid-Ohio-Con even as we "speak" and doubtless having a wonderful time. I'll likely have a convention report for you sometime next week.

That's the old and current business. Leave us see what else I have for you this weekend.

******

ANOTHER FAVORITE QUOTE

Here's a Tony Isabella quote I've never used in my CBG column for fear of making editorial heads explode:

"Man, some days there just isn't enough time to kick all the ass that really needs to be kicked."

But YOU can feel free to quote me.

******

BLACK LIGHTNING STUFF

The reason I've held off making further extended statements on BLACK LIGHTNING and my dismay at how my creation is currently being handled/promoted by DC Comics is because I was being interviewed by MARKISAN NASO of Silver Bullet Comics. Naso asked just about every question I could have thought to answer in any statement of my own and the result runs around 6000 words.

Despite its length, Naso and Silver Bullet Comics plan to run the interview in one shot. I don't know when the interview will be posted - it might already be up by the time you read this or it may be posting early next week - but I think it does a pretty good job of discussing the issues and my positions on them. I'll alert you to the interview as soon as I see it online, but, if you happen to be the impatient type, I recommend you haunt the Silver Bullet site until it appears. Who knows? You may be the one who tells me that it's up and running. The URL is:

www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com


I have a couple of Black Lightning items in my files covering some of the few things Naso didn't ask me about, so I figure I'll share them with you today.

Before it was made clear that the character Thunder (from the new Outsiders series) was allegedly the daughter of Jeff Pierce and his ex-wife Lynn Stewart, I apparently startled a few fans when I wrote Lynn was the only person with whom Jeff has been intimate. Some couldn't believe it. One fan - forgive me for not including his name, but I can't recall the context or forum in which he made his comment - had this to say:
I can believe a man can fly easier than I can believe a man who was a Gold Medal-winning athlete would have remained a virgin before marriage and celibate afterwards. As Pierce's creator, you can have his background and character set up any way you like, but I just find it highly implausible. Just my honest opinion.
First off, we should applaud my considerable restraint in not responding (even in jest) that Jeff's being intimate with one woman puts him one up on many fans. I'll tell you...those conservatives could learn a thing or two about compassion from me.

Second, to get technical, I never said Jeff was a virgin prior to his marriage and celibate afterwards. What I said was that Lynn is the only person with whom he has ever been intimate. He loves her and always will. Indeed, once I brought Lynn into the second series, I knew I would be getting them back together. My plan was for their wedding to conclude the second year of the series...and set the stage for major developments in the third year.

I was surprised that even a few fans could express disbelief over Jeff's faithfulness to the woman he loves. Is that really so hard a concept to accept?

Somewhere else along the online road, I had occasion to define Jeff's beliefs a little more exactly. I wrote:
Jeff Pierce is what I would call a northern liberal Baptist. He holds himself to very high standards of morality, but isn't nearly as hard on others. With the exception of abortion, which he would be against in most cases, I can't think of too many social issues on which Jeff would fall into the conservative camp. He is registered as an independent, but he most often votes Democratic. Basically, his politics are the same as my politics.

What can I say? He takes after his father.
A few other reporters have requested interviews with me, but, at this stage, they haven't sent me their questions. While I don't plan to devote my entire life to talking about Black Lightning and the other issues I've raised in connection with my creation, I do remain willing to accommodate those who may have further questions on these matters. You know where to find me.

******

TONY STUFF

Starting on Tuesday, December 2, TONY'S ONLINE TIPS returns to Justin's World Famous Comics. Every Tuesday and Thursday, you'll be able to come here and find an all-new TOT waiting for you...with the usual mix of news, views, and reviews. I hope to go heaviest on my reviews, but who the heck knows where my Muse will lead me on any given day?

TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, the official TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD, and my "back issues" archives will continued to be available free of charge. However, if you'd like to contribute to the upkeep of the website and Justin and yours truly, you'll find TIP THE TIPSTER links elsewhere on this page. Thanks to you who have contributed in the past, to you who contribute regularly, and - hint, hint - to those of you about to contribute for the first time. We appreciate the support of our efforts.

You can also support World Famous is by using the ACTION IS MY REWARD link when you order books, graphic novels, toys, and other items. Justin gets a small piece of that action when you do...and it does help maintain this website.

Speaking of books, I might as well throw in another plug for STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE (A SAM COGLEY MYSTERY) by Bob Ingersoll and yours truly. Featuring the galaxy's greatest lawyer, CORPSE should delight Trek and Perry Mason fans alike. If it sells well enough, my buddy Bob and I could easily be persuaded to write more Sam Cogley mysteries. This novel is scheduled for a January release and you can order it at:

www.actionismyreward.com/item-0743464974.shtml

Thanks for spending part of your Thanksgiving weekend with me. I'll be back on Tuesday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 11/22/2003 | 11/29/2003 | 12/02/2003 >>

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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