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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 Thursday, December 4, 2003

Fantastic Adventures - Flying Head! When you look at this cover from FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, you may see a robot's head flying off into space. I see my own head going into orbit. It's just been that kind of week.

Here's the shorthand: post-convention exhaustion, frustrating ISP problems, interview feedback, Internet piracy feedback, power failure, late payments from clients, and the ritual passing of the kidney stones.

That's why this column is posting late and why I'll be playing "catch-up" for a while. I'm not skipping any of my scheduled three TOTs per week, but they will be delayed initially, and then posted as I finish them. Don't worry if you miss any; you'll find them in our back-issue archives.

I'll cover my life's little travails in more detail - but not MUCH more - as we make our way through the next few editions of the online party that never ends.

******

COVER STORY

The above cover appeared on the July, 1949 issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. It was posted on Yahoo's COVER UPS mailing list, which is a constant source of delight.

Poster Arthur Lortie identified the cover artist as James B. Settles, who seemed to have done maybe six or seven sci-fi covers in the late 1940s. I found a few 1960s credits, but those might be reprints of the earlier ones. AMAZING and FANTASTIC were very low-budget operations in the 1960s/1970s.

One would think the cover represents "The Robot Men of Bubble City" story heralded below the artwork. The cover credits the tale to "Peter Worth," but I couldn't find it on a list of his shorter works. I did find the story on a list of shorter works by a writer named Reg Phillips. I don't know if it's the same writer or if the cover credit was an editorial mistake.

The editor of this issue was Ray Palmer, the short-of-stature friend of DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz. Indeed, the Silver Age version of the Atom was named for editor Palmer.

Pay attention to all this trivia I throw at you. There may be a test at the end of the semester.

******

ACTION COMICS

I am a sporadic reader of DC Universe titles, but I'm trying to maintain some familiarity with them. So I grabbed ACTION COMICS #809 ($2.25) out of my newest DC shipment, choosing it because it was clearly a done-in-one story.

"The Creeping Death" finds Clark Kent and Lois Lane enjoying a Carribean cruise...until the second page. The cruise is filled with journalists and one of the news hawks is the annoying - to put it very mildly - Jack Ryder. Besides being annoying, Ryder becomes the first victim of a mysterious someone/something stalking various passengers. Besides being Superman, Clark becomes the lead suspect for the dirty deeds.

Writer Joe Kelly did a fine job with this one. The characters rang true...and he managed to mix some comedy in with the suspense. There aren't too many super-hero writers who can get me to chuckle out loud - in a good way - while I read their work. I'd rate this as a solid story on all counts, including some first-rate penciling and storytelling from Pascual Ferry.

I recommend ACTION COMICS #809 to all Superman fans, though I suspect the older fans will enjoy it a tad more than their younger counterparts. Kudos to Kelly and Ferry.

******

MID-OHIO-CON

Tuesday's TOT gave you the lowdown on the first half of MID-OHIO-CON, my favorite comics event. Sunday, the second and final day of the show, was less crowded - us Ohio folks tend to spend the day going to church and doing stuff with our families - but just as much fun. Those fans returning for a second day or who couldn't make the first day were greeted by somewhat shorter autograph lines and somewhat lower dealers room prices.

The Sunday panel program started with an amusing/informative STAR TREK panel. Host Thom Zahler fielded questions for actor and writer Walter Koenig, and a trio of Star Trek comic book and novel writers: Mike W. Barr, Bob Ingersoll, and me. There weren't more than a few empty seats in the panel room and our allotted hour went by quickly.

The rest of the day? I answered questions from fans, signed Isabella-written stuff, and visited with as many of the comics pros as I could manage in the few remaining hours of the show. I also got a few more sketches for my official Tony Isabella Farewell Tour Memory Book. One of these days I hope to post a few of the pages from this volume online, but that will probably have to wait until sometime next year.

At previous Mid-Ohio-Cons, I usually stayed on the floor for most of the breaking down and departing. This time, I didn't want to do that. While I would never say "never," this was the last con of the farewell tour and possibly the last con I'll be attending as a guest. I needed some "alone" time.

But not much. There was no way I would miss the after-the-con gathering at Fado's, the Irish pub across the street from the show hotel. I will tell no tales of the madness that went on there, but I had a great time *and* I didn't get arrested.

Next year is MID-OHIO-CON 25...and promoter Roger Price plans to pull out all the stops. I won't be there as a guest - no panels or signings - but I will be there to help him out when and where I can. Could I do less for such a great friend?

One quick hint. If you're thinking of attending next year's Mid-Ohio-Con, make your plans as early as possible. The hotel and the retailers room sold out early this year...and Artists Alley was filled to bursting just as swiftly. We're expecting even more fans and more guests in 2004. Do the math.

Kudos to Roger Price, his hard-working con crew, and all the wonderful fans, guests, and retailers. You made MID-OHIO-CON 2003 one of my best conventions ever. Thank you.

******

LIES

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right I loved Al Franken's LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM (Dutton; $24.95). I ordered it before Fox News embarrassed itself by filing its wholly-without-merit lawsuit against Franken and his publisher...because my pal Don Simpson drew a comics story and some other illustrations for the book. I probably would have bought it anyway - Franken is a funny guy and our politics are similar - but 'twas Simpson who closed the deal prior to publication.

LIES manages to be both hilarious and thoughtful. There were one or two places where even I winced at the bashing Franken gave right-wingers, but those were rare.

Thoughtful? Franken does a great job dismantling the lies of the right and backing up his statements with facts. The SPINSANITY website caught a few errors and, as is usual for the site, put more weight on these errors than was warranted, but liberals are usually held (and hold themselves) to higher standards than the opposition. That comes with being the good guys.

Overall, though, I think LIES is a fair and honest book. If the likes of Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly come off poorly in its pages, it's because their standard practice is to distort the facts and lie about them to support untenable positions on the issues of the day. Franken calls them on their deceitful ways and proves his point again and again.

As for the Franken/Simpson collaborations:

"Operation Chickenhawk: Episode One" is fiction, a prose story that puts Al Gore, John Kelly, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others in Vietnam. Though Simpson's illustrations are terrific, the story itself is weak when compared to the commentaries which make up the bulb of the book.

However, "The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus" is an actual comics story...and it's absolutely brilliant. It deserves to be nominated in whatever comics awards categories in which it's eligible. Come on, it wasn't that long ago that you nominated and voted for a DC story that hadn't even been published!

LIES is highly recommended for holy liberals and non-liberals who have an open mind and a sense of humor. It's an entertaining book which uses wit and research to expose the deceits of the most powerful politicians and pundits of our time.

******

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO "ARRGH!"

Most of you e-mail me at tony@wfcomics.com, an address which automatically relays messages to my "home" e-mail address at Internet Ohio. I have been with Internet Ohio since fairly close to the dawn of my going online and have, more or less, been fairly satisfied with the service.

Imagine my chagrin to learn that Internet Ohio had been sold or absorbed by some other outfit located who-knows-where. Imagine my delight at not learning this until my Internet Ohio connections suddenly stopped working in mid-afternoon. It took two days to get everything up and running again.

My new mystery ISP doesn't have 24-hour technical support, so, when there are problems, those problems had better not arise before 9 in the morning or after 11 in the evening. And I can't just call the tech support to get help even during those ideas. It's voice-mail only with calls being returned somewhere between half an hour and three hours. The topper on this particular cybernetic sundae is that this new ISP does its online connections at approximately 25% slower than had Internet Ohio. Arrgh!

The good thing to come out of this is that it forced me to do what I should've done months ago: sign up for the Internet service offered by my local cable company and, at the same time, upgrade to its digital cable package.

For $35-40 per month more than I was paying for combined cable and Internet services, I'll be doing my online stuff at speeds 100 times greater than the old dial-up connection allowed. I'll also be freeing up our phone line; picking up 30-40 new cable channels, some of them premium channels; getting a bunch of music channels; and hooking up a third TV set to the cable. Oh, yeah, and as the introductory bonus for the first two months of service, my bill is actually $15 less than I had been paying.

I'll be retaining Internet Ohio (or whatever it's now called) for two more months, the better to make sure everyone switches over to my new e-mail address. However, my beloved friends and readers should continue to use tony@wfcomics.com because any message sent there will always be forwarded to my current e-mail address. Technology...at least in the form of World Famous Comics webmaster Justin...is our friend.

******

TOMB RAIDER

Font of comics taste and knowledge that I may (or may not) be, there are still things about comics I...just...don't...get...and, among them would be the artistic appeal of Tony Daniel's penciling in TOMB RAIDER: THE SERIES #35 (Image; $2.99). His characters are elongated and unattractive. His storytelling is awkward and often focuses the reader's eye on the least interesting thing on a page. His women wear clothing at least two sizes too small; in one shot, heroine Lara Croft's panties are disappearing into her butt crack. There are fans and editors who clearly see a great deal of merit in this kind of artwork, but I'm not one of them.

So let's focus on writer James Bonney's script for "The Black Legion" [Part I of III]. It's not terrible, but it is filled with adventure comic/movie cliches: the barroom brawl to show how tough the heroes are and the villain who kills a hapless henchman to show how really evil he/she is, to name two. However, Bonney does throw in some neat bits with the Lost Dutchman Mine and some mysterious Native Americans (or spirits thereof) who guard the secrets of the mine. I'll give him points for that.

How much you'll like this comic book probably depends at least partially on how much you like the character of Lara Croft from her movies and video games. I've never seen the former or played the latter, so the comic book had to win me over on its own merits. It didn't, which is not to see I won't give it another chance at some point in the future.

******

BLACK LIGHTNING

Markisan Naso of SILVER BULLET COMICS has conducted the most comprehensive interview with yours truly on the subjects of Black Lightning, the portrayal of African-American heroes in comic books, and several other related topics. It runs over 6000 words and asks some excellent - and tough - questions:

http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com

The positive response to this interview has been heartening. The negative responses have been pretty much as expected: a certain amount of bashing from the usual trolls as well as more considered, albeit deceptive, comments from bloggers and posters.

When I say deceptive, it's because the commentators restrict themselves to discussing those portions of the interview which they erroneously believe support their positions and ignore those which do not. I haven't responded to their remarks because virtually any refutation I could post is already contained in the interview...IF you read the entire interview.

It'll take a better seer than me to predict what effects (if any) the interview will have on anything. For my part, I was happy to answer questions which needed to be asked and to raise issues I consider important. My job in this regard here isn't exactly done, but, barring someone coming up with a good and pertinent question Naso may have overlooked, I don't have anything else to add at the present time. Read the interview.

******

ALTER EGO

If ALTER EGO gets a lot of coverage from me, it's because the magazine edited by Roy Thomas continues to be my favorite "comics fanzine" of them all, despite the considerable competition from the many other fine comics fanzines/magazines. For what it's worth, I do try to keep my A/E reviews short, concentrating on the articles which best float my boat.

For ALTER EGO #30 (TwoMorrows Publishing; $5.95), that would be the following:

"Remembering Dick Dillin" (with the remembering being done by the family of the BLACKHAWK and JUSTICE LEAGUE artist);

"How Green Was My Martian" (Michelle Nolan writing about the earliest adventures of the Martian Manhunter);

an excerpt from Bill Schelly's WORDS OF WONDER: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF OTTO BINDER; and,

Jim Amash's amazing interviews with hitherto unknown comics writers Kim Aamodt and Walter Geier, who scripted tales for comics legend Jack Kirby in the 1950s.

Every monthly issue of A/E features over 100 pages of articles and interviews examining comicdom's Golden and Silver Ages, jazzing them up with rare or previously unpublished art. If you have any interest in these eras, you'll love this zine.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

I can't run all of the e-mails I receive on my CBG or online columns, but I do read them all and respond to as many of them as I can. Sometimes, the e-mails don't concern a specific column, but an issue of general interest. Here's one such e-mail from reader JOHN SAMPLE:
I'm not a collector of comics although I enjoy comic strips. However, I am fascinated with the phenomenon of collecting and have academically studied it for the last decade or so. Thus, while poking around in the world of comic collecting and deciding that some comics are interesting, e.g., Crumb's works and Liberty Meadows, I've come to the conclusion that graphic novels are the most interesting and fascinating sub category of the comic world. The problem is finding a review of these works. I've subscribed to CBG for several years and found many of the reviews limited, although your Tonys are a pretty good guide.

Several months ago, Andrew Sullivan talked in CBG about what made for a good comic. There were some interesting reader answers and some of them might serve as a general outline for reviewing comics.

Also, R.C. Harvey has addressed the problem of how to review graphic novels and, as thoughtful as his rantings occasionally are, the volume of his comments simply drowns the casual reader. And yes, I subscribe to his monthly rants.

I wrote to the book editor of the Post Gazette about reviewing graphic novels and, tellingly, received no answer. My guess is the people who are interested in hearing/reading about graphic novels are not your usual book readers.

What all this leads to is some guidance as to where one can read about these novels. Novels, incidently, which come out and disappear just as quickly.

As an aside, I periodically stop in our local comic shop and find that everyone from the customers to the owner is reading comic books but graphic novels are simply show pieces sitting on his racks. When I indicated I thought the novels had some intellectual and artistic value, the owner suggested I try suspending my adult status and read books as if I were 11 years old again!

What I would like to see is a column or section of CBG which runs these reviews and lists the ratings or comments over more than just one week. And reviews which do not have to be of the level of the New York Review of Books but would examine the intellectual level of the work, the artistic rendering of the effort, character development and story line. A running display of what is out there and worth buying or seeking to buy would be a service to that small segment of the comic population interested in something more than Archie or Hulk reviews.
As I've said - to the amusement of those around me - I'm from the "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants" school of reviewing. I'm easily bored by the academic discussion of comics. However, I recognize that there are those readers who favor that approach and, hey, there should be room for all of us in the world of comics.

Let me toss the question to my readers. Where can Sample find reviews of this nature, either in print or online? I'll share the results with him and you.

That's it for this edition of TOT. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back soon with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 12/02/2003 | 12/04/2003 | 12/06/2003 >>

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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