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

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for Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Welcome to my thrice-weekly column of news, views, reviews, and whatever else happens to be rattling around my mind whenever I sit down to write it. For instance, right this minute, as I peck away on my laptop from a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, I'm thinking about MID-OHIO-CON 2003, which will be kicking off in five hours. It's the 24th edition of the show, my 23rd appearance in a row, the final stop on the official TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR, and, most importantly, my favorite convention bar none.

Promoter Roger Price always puts on a great event. In years past, I have worked on the show in various areas, most notably the panel programing and the program book, but, this time around, I'm taking it relatively easy as Mid-Ohio-Con's "goodwill ambassador" and as one of Roger's hundred-plus guests. This will allow me the freedom to spend a lot more time chatting with the fans and other guests, not always the easiest thing to do when one is making sure all the panels are taking place as planned.

Sidebar. Here's a Tony's tip-of-my-hat to my Laughing Ogre pals - the Ogre is a world-class comics shop here in Columbus - who cheerfully and valiantly assumed the Mid-Ohio-Con panel programming gig from me and to all the other hardworking heroes who create and manage the panels at other conventions. Thirteen years doing the job has given me a keen appreciation of the enormous effort which goes into doing it right. Kudos to all of you!

Bob Ingersoll, my best friend and frequent writing partner, drove us to the Hilton Columbus on Friday afternoon through some seasonally (but uncommon for Mid-Ohio-Con) bad weather. But, just as soon as we entered the Hilton Columbus, we never gave the cold, rain, and snow another thought. We were among friends.

Riding the elevator up to my hotel room, I waved at Stephen Benjamin, who used to work for me in the 1980s when I was owner and operator of Cosmic Comics in downtown Cleveland. The lad e-mailed me to say he wanted me to meet his girlfriend. If she was willing to come to a Thanksgiving weekend con in this weather, I like her already.

On my way to pick up my con badge from the amazing Jane Price, I exchanged brief greetings with several guests and retailers: Bob Beerbohm, George and Denise Broderick, Joe Corroney, Nelson Dodds, Justin and Suzi from World Famous Comics, David Kapelka, Tom Mandrake, Dan Mishkin, Beau Smith, Roger Stern, Mark Wheatley, and Chris Yambar. More than at any other convention, I feel surrounded by friends and good people at Mid-Ohio-Con.

Don Hilliard, the moderator of my TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD, flew in from California for the convention. Along with Ingersoll, we grabbed a quick meal at Johnny Rockets, one of more than a dozen restaurants located at the incredible Easton Town Center, directly across the street from the hotel.

Following that, we hung out at the hotel's lobby bar to chat with more friends: Mike W. Barr, Pat Brady (the most gorgeous agent I know), Mark Dooley, Andy Hallett, Paul Jenkins, Mark Lutz, Paul Storrie, and Thom Zahler. I sheepishly admit you will be reading a lot of this kind of name-dropping as I write about the convention this week...and that I will be extremely embarrassed when I realize how many other people I forgot to mention. I'll just save time by apologizing right now for any such omissions.

I'll have more on MID-OHIO-CON later, but I'm feeling an urge to toss some reviews into the TOT pot.



My reading of JSA and various JSA-related titles has been far more sporadic than I would like. One of my 2004 resolutions - Why wait until the last minute to start making and breaking them? - is to catch up with these comics.

I started with DOCTOR FATE #1-4 (DC; $2.50) by Christopher Golden (writer), Don Kramer (penciler) and Prentis Rollins (inker), one issue shy of the entire mini-series. Right off the bat, I'll say that you don't need to be current on JSA to read this series. Golden smoothly provides what little background info you'll need to enjoy this story.

The series set-up is basic and familiar. Hector Hall, the current Fate, lives in Salem, Massachusetts, secretly protecting his unknowing neighbors from the various supernatural menaces who come to town to challenge him. That works fine until the arrival of a big bad that even Doc can't keep under wraps.

There are lots of good things about these issues. Hall trying to fill a legendary cape. His obvious joy at even the slight human contact he experiences. The local wanna-be witches who attempt to befriend him by offering their assistance in times of mystic-type emergencies. The understated sense of super-heroic history in the series. All this plus the spooky stylings of Golden, Kramer, and Rollins. This is as much a horror tale as it is a super-hero tale and the creative crew handle the mix well.

The only thing I haven't liked about the series to date is the human host of the big bad. He just "happens" to be the ex-squeeze of a woman attracted to Hall and vice versa. He just "happens" to be a master thief hired to steal an ancient artifact that unleashes the big bad, this despite his clearly being a major loser when he first slithers onto the Salem scene. Too many coincidences for my taste. Not every character in a story has to be connected to other characters in said story. Sometimes people just cross paths for no other reason than they just happen to cross paths. That's life and life is something I like to see reflected in comics.

Overall, though, I think DOCTOR FATE is a fine and fearful bit of comics entertainment. If you're into supernatural super-heroes, I think you'll enjoy the series. It's good stuff.




CASE FILES: SAM AND TWITCH #5 (Image; $2.50) is the kind of comic book I hate to review. I like the characters. I like Marc Andreyko's writing. I like Scott Morse's artwork. What I don't like about this "hard-edged crime fiction" comic book is that you don't get enough content for the cover price. The lean style gets in the way of the bang-for-your-bucks. This 22-page chapter of a multi-issue story would have fit more than comfortably into eight pages. Please, please, please...can we kick this minimalist habit in comics and get back to the business of giving comics readers something closer to value for their money?



I'm taking my lunch break at the keyboard and, just a hour or three into MID-OHIO-CON, I can tell you the show is bigger/better than ever before. Advance ticket sales were up 12% over last year. Both Artists Alley and the retailers room were booked solid months ago. Before the convention opened, the line of eager attendees, some of whom had been there since 8 am, stretched all the way to the bar at the other head of the hotel.

If I looked at the hotel from outside right now, I wouldn't be surprised to see the walls bulging outward. That's how many fans and guests are inside the place having a great time.

I'm having so much fun I can barely read my hastily-scrawled notes. Just before the show started, I got to chat with two of my all-time favorite Mid-Ohio-Con guests, the lovely Yvonne Craig and her equally lovely sister Meridel. Yvonne tells me Mid-Ohio-Con is her last convention. I hope that's not the case, but, if it is, I know she picked the right show for it.

I'm sharing a table with Mike Barr and his line is one of the longest at the show. Editors and publishers may have a tough time remembering who wrote and sold a lot of great comics for them, but the fans remember. Mike, whose STAR TREK: GEMINI novel is as good as his best comics writing, is currently working on his second Trek novel. I'm looking forward to it.

I've signed a few dozen Isabella-written comic books so far, and am having a spiffy time chatting with my friends and readers. My pal Hoy Murphy brought me an old DC romance comic with a cover and title that lends itself to a rather lascivious interpretation; I'll doubtless be writing about it as soon as I can get my scanner up and running.

I talked a little art with collectors Ethan Roberts and John Petty. You might know John's name from his work with the Heritage Comics auction house. Ethan showed one of his recent acquisitions: a Lou Fine page from the 1940s. Sweet.

All this plus more fans and pros than I can possibly list and still get back to the show in time for the ALAN DAVIS AND FRIENDS panel I'm hosting. A few more bites of my turkey sandwich and off to the convention.

I'll have another con report for you soon. Maybe even before the end of today's TOT.



If you read the pre-publication reports about EL CAZADOR, you had to be struck by writer Chuck Dixon's enthusiasm for this pirate comic. Pirate comics have been a rarity in comics history. I can recall but two short-lived titles: PIRACY (an anthology series from the legendary EC Comics) and BUCCANEERS (which I *think* came from Fiction House; having never seen an issue, I can't be sure of that or what kind of comic it was).

So here comes EL CAZADOR #1-3 (CrossGen; $2.95). Dixon gets his pirate comic and we readers get something very different from the rest of the CrossGen line and from any other comic book we've seen of late. That's a win-win situation.

When the ship on which a courageous young Spanish noblewoman is traveling is seized by the villainous pirate Blackjack Tom and her family taken away as hostages, "Lady Sin" kills Tom's second-in-command and assumes command of the ship. Her mission over all else is to rescue her family. To secure the loyalty of her pirate crew, she vows to lead them to a great treasure once they help her save her family. Her cunning and her deadly skill with a sword are the major factors in (most of) the crew accepting her as their new captain. It's a dramatic premise.

Dixon writes the heck out of it. All three of the issues are exciting chapters in the ongoing storyline. "Lady Sin" and various pirates are infused with intriguing personalities. The scripting is solid throughout the issues, moving the story forward at a good pace with only one real bump in the road.

That bump is the third issue, which is devoted almost entirely to the roguish Redhand Harry Newcombe, who will apparently playing a major role in future chapters. It's not that this chapter isn't entertaining, but, reading all three issues at once, it comes as an abrupt interruption to Lady Sin's story...and, if I had read this issue separately, without having read the previous issues, I would not have gotten a true feel for the series. I would have preferred to have seen Harry's adventures integrated more smoothly into the main story or held off for another issue or two while we learned a bit more about Lady Sin and her crew. It's a minor quibble, based as much on my really liking Lady Sin and the intrigues between her and her crew as any critical judgment.

Illustrator Steve Epting draws the heck out of the first two issues. As with many CrossGen contributors, his already top-notch work has taken an impressive leap forward at this company. It's a beautiful-looking comic book, made all the more so by the coloring of Frank D'Armata.

(I read EL CAZADOR #1 and #2 in published form and the third only as a black-and-white advance, so I'm confining my artistic comments to the published issues. There's a new colorist with the third issue and, obviously, I can't judge his contribution based on the version I've seen.)

CrossGen's future is uncertain. The company is going through serious financial difficulties. Creators haven't been paid. Many freelancers and staffers have been let go, hit with page rate and salary cuts, or quit the company outright over various combinations of the above. My hope is that, somehow, these problems are made right, especially for the creators and freelancers.

That's from my standpoint as someone who worked in the comics industry. As a reader who enjoyed EL CAZADOR and has enjoyed other CrossGen mags, I hope the company can get back on track for another reason. I'd like to see more enjoyable comics rom the company, EL CAZADOR most definitely among them.



After being a PLAYBOY reader since I was 20, I didn't renew my subscription this time around. I was never fascinated by the "Hef" (as in publisher Hugh Hefner) lifestyle, but I liked the articles, cartoons, and interviews. I didn't hate the photos of the pretty women in various stages of undress, but the ones I liked best were the pictorials of "girls next door" and even those models have been airbrushed and augmented into unreality. Realizing that I didn't even glance at most issues, just set them aside for that mythical time when I can read all the books/comics/magazines accumulating in the corners of my house, I didn't renew my sub.

However, before making this decision, I did glance through the most recent issue [December, 2003] and, in a "Playboy After Hours" feature on 24-year-old actress Nichole Hiltz, I came across a bit that cracked me up:
She [Hiltz] once had a job dressed as a giant cup o' joe with legs. "Guys actually hit on me when I was in costume. Why would you ever ask out a frigging coffee cup?"
Certainly one of the great questions of our time.



The remainder of my Saturday at the con was as much fun as the first half. I hosted the ALAN DAVIS AND HIS MAGICAL FRIENDS panel, which featured Alan, Mike Barr, and Robin Riggs. There were only a few empty seats in the room and the audience keep the questions coming through the hour. I thought it went well.

After the panel, I chatted with more fans and guests, signed some more Isabella comics, and talked with Christopher Golden about the DOCTOR FATE mini-series I reviewed above. This might have been the first time I talked to a creator within hours of reviewing one of his works. That was neat.

After the show closed for the night, I grabbed a quick dinner with Bob Ingersoll...and then headed to THE HILTON JAZZ CLUB where Andy Hallett was hosting a karaoke party benefitting the American Diabetes Association. I resisted the urging of Roger Price to sing for the audience, but I did spend a great hour catching up with my old pal (and former Cosmic Comics employee) Steve Benjamin.

NOTE TO STEVE: I like her. I really like her.

Then it was up to the room of Elayne and Robin Riggs for a celebration of upcoming birthdays and an anniversary.

Elayne's birthday is today...December 2.

December 4 is Elayne's and Robin's fifth anniversary.

December 6 is Robin's birthday and also the birthday of our pal Leonard Kirk, noted for his work on JSA and SUPERGIRL.

The invitation also listed my birthday, which will be coming around on December 22.

We had too good a time at the room party because, after giving us a couple of warnings, the hotel insisted we bring the party to a swift conclusion. Even though I was, of course, blameless, given my shy and retiring nature, I want to apologize to the hotel guests we disturbed with our animated conversation. Our bad.

Happy birthdays to Elayne, Leonard, and Robin.

Happy anniversary to Elayne and Robin.

Happy birthday to me, too.

The second and final day of the convention is a few hours away as I write this item, so you'll have to wait for Thursday's TOT to read how it went. I'm trying to wrap up today's edition before I go down to the lobby for breakfast.



I'm for it. There is no constitutional reason why gays should not have all of the same civil rights as straights. It's a simple matter of fairness. If you've been visiting my message board, you have doubtless seen the links I've posted to columns on the topic. No one on the other side of the issue has come within a light-year of making a case for their opposition to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

When clear-cut issues like this arise - and we're not talking a religious issue here, but a secular one - I'm constantly amazed by how often wrong wingers say the most incredible things seemingly without realizing how easily their words can be turned to make the case for the liberal position.

Matt Daniels, whose Alliance For Marriage seeks an amendment to the Constitution which would violate the rights of gays in this matter, says the group's members "don't believe gays and lesbians have the right to define marriage for everyone else."

Excuse me? So Daniels is claiming only conservative straights have the right to define marriage for everyone else?

Where is the logic to that one?

As I've always said on this issue, it's a matter of fairness that all American citizens should have the same rights. Including the right to marry who they choose as long as that person is of age and able to make the commitment to marriage.

It's a matter of fairness...and I hope the candidates and the voters are as courageous in their acceptance of the Massachusetts court's ruling as the court was in making it.



The TONY POLLS are returning on a limited basis. I'm going to avoid the political questions, which will hopefully keep the wrong wingers from stuffing the ballot box as they have done in the past. Let's see if that works.

Our first and only question this time out concerns the ratings I use in my "Tony's Tips" columns for COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. When I review comics and other things there, I rate them on a scale of zero to five TONYS. Recently, a reviewer friend of mine raised the question in my mind as to whether I should continue rating what I review and if the "shortcut" wasn't leaving my readers enough room to make their own decisions.

It's only been in recent years that I've adopted any ratings system at all...and I use the TONYS only in my CBG columns and in the reprints of those columns which run here at World Famous Comics every Saturday. Having gotten along fine without them for as long as I did, and having no strong opinion either way, I'm leaving the question up to my readers.

You can cast your vote at:

This question will remain active through the end of the year. If you vote in favor of the ratings, I'll start using them in these new online columns as well.

The choice is yours, my friends.

That's it for this edition of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. Thanks for spending a part of your day with me.

I'll be back on Thursday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella
<< 11/29/2003 | 12/02/2003 | 12/04/2003 >>

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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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