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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, December 6, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1567:

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

-- Groucho Marx

Mid-Ohio-Con is coming! As usual, the show will be held the weekend after Thanksgiving, Saturday and Sunday, November 29-30, at the magnificent Hilton Columbus at Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. Also as usual, I'm here to tell you that Mid-Ohio-Con is my favorite comics (and pop culture) convention of them all, an event which just keeps getting better year after year.

This is Mid-Ohio-Con 24. I didn't make the first one, which I think was held in promoter Roger Price's basement, but I haven't missed one since.

I came to the second one to say "hi" to old friend John Byrne. I came to the third one as a guest and that turned into an unbroken streak of Mid-Ohio-Cons. In addition to being a guest, I've worked on the show with Roger for two decades, helping him put together the volunteer staff which has become an extended family, hosting a party or three for his guests, and, from 1990-2002, serving as the con's panel programming director. Throw in the dozen other shows Roger produced over the years and my involvement adds up to stacks of comics/magazines/books signed for fans, a lot of hard work, and, most important, a great deal of satisfaction.

I must confess with some embarrassment that, during my comics career, I've attended so many conventions that the names and places tend to blur. The great ones stand out, but none of them more than the Mid-Ohio-Cons.

There has always been something special about Roger's events: the feeling of family, the coming together of the legendary and the new, the excitement of possibilities waiting to be transformed into reality. I've seen lifelong friendships begin at a Mid-Ohio-Con. I've seen veteran comics creators pass on valuable tips to talented rookies at the show. I've seen careers launched there. Wonderful things happen with glorious regularity at Mid-Ohio-Con.

My esteemed fellow CBG columnist Chuck Rozanski has told me he sees Mid-Ohio-Con as a gauge for the coming year, an important show which helps him get a bead on where the comics industry is heading. I'll add my own feeling that Mid-Ohio-Con is not the last big show of the year, but the first big show of next year.

Mid-Ohio-Con 24 has a guest list featuring over 100 creators and performers from the worlds of comics and pop culture. It's the only U.S. convention appearance for Alan Davis, the cherry on top of a comics super-sundae which includes Adam Hughes, Mike W. Barr, Brian Michael Bendis, Jan Duursema, Kevin Eastman, and so many fine artists and writers. From the "pop culture" menu - and I have no idea why tasty treats are on my mind today - Walter Koenig of STAR TREK and BABYLON 5 fame will be making his first appearance at Mid-Ohio-Con, joined by such dear friends of the show as Andy Hallett, David Carradine, June Lockhart, Lou Ferrigno, Yvonne Craig, and Amy Allen. It's chicken soup for my inner fan.

Getting even more personal, Mid-Ohio-Con 24 marks the end of the official 2003 Tony Isabella Farewell Tour. I honestly do not expect to make any guest appearances at any conventions after this one, but that makes my anticipation of this show all the more keen.

I'll be there with pens and markers a'plenty with which to sign as many Isabella comics as you'd like. I'll answer your questions on any subject as best I can. I'll hang out with my old friends, make some new ones, and have precisely as much fun as I can have without violating the law of the land or shattering the very foundations of the physical universe. I'm bringing my party face.

Where can you go for one-step information on Mid-Ohio-Con and its many joys? All you need do is web-surf to:

www.midohiocon.com


I hope to see you at my favorite convention. Because it'll be even more fun if you're there.

******

Although Thanksgiving is nearly a month away as I write this column, I'm basking in the glow of another favorite holiday. This year, I got my Halloween on by going for the spooky: a new horror novel, two magazines, and a very special comic book.

First up: THE SLAB (IDW Publishing; $16.99) by Jeff Mariotte, author of several BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL novels and the Stoker and International Horror Guild Award-nominated DESPERADOES comics series. In this non-series novel, he pushes a number of my buttons in a good way.

The protagonists are ordinary people sharing an extraordinary power. Ken Butler is a county sheriff grieving for his late wife. Retiree Harold Shipp has Alzheimer's Disease. Penny Rice is a Gulf War veteran and environmental activist. But each of them is a more complex human being than can be described in a single sentence and all the more realistic for it. Some of the supporting characters are a little over the top, though their behavior makes sense within the context of the story.

The book takes place shortly after the attacks of 9-11 and it reflects that reality. The desert settings which inspired Mariotte to write this book exist in reality as well.

The horror builds slowly in THE SLAB, but it builds steadily. You know something is wrong and you keep turning those pages until the big reveal. You even get some clues as to the nature of that very wrong something. I put most of it together before the reveal, but Mariotte still had a few surprises, an exciting climax, and a satisfying ending for me.

THE SLAB is a solidly entertaining novel. On my scale of zero to five disembodied columnists, it picks up four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

www.idwpublishing.com


******

Let me confess up front that I have Vampirella issues and not of the back-issue variety. Though she has achieved iconic stature of a sort in the comics pantheon, and though I think Archie Goodwin wrote great stories with her back in the day, and though occasional artistic and even photographic renditions of the heroine have been eye-pleasing, Vampirella has also been - pardon the expression - pimped out more often than not.

Harris Publications produced two editions of VAMPIRELLA COMICS MAGAZINE #1. The regular edition featured a painted cover by Mark Texeira and sold for $3.95, not too bad for 48 pages of comics and text articles. The alternate edition featured a photo cover of new Vampirella model Kitana Baker and sold for $9.95, which struck me as more than a little outrageous. Even allowing the possibility of sour grapes festering in my stomach - not being a fan of Texeira's art, I ordered the photo cover without checking the price - I don't see Baker's image being worth the extra six bucks.

One of my issues with Vampirella is that Vampirella's costume, except in the hands of an exceptional artist, always looks trashy to me. It looks more so in most photographs and downright hideous in the, ah, flesh. More than most comics heroines, Vampirella does not translate well to silicone-enhanced reality. This cover photo worked much better than most, but the pose was laughably trite. If I didn't have a life, I could easily find hundreds of identical poses online and in old issues of PLAYBOY.

Vampirella and her costume work better for me in illustrated adventures. Writer-artist Steve Lieber's "The Killing Floor" is a dark - but not too dark - amusement in which Vampirella attempts to foil a cult's plan to restore its dead leader to life. Nowhere in his story does Lieber resort to a "money shot" of Vampirella in her costume. Nowhere does he pander to the cheap seats or increase the lady's bust size to cartoonish proportions. Indeed, throughout the story, the costume hangs naturally on Vampirella. It doesn't look painted on. It looks like clothing.

Lieber's black-and-white story is the high point of the issue. It's followed by a slim-on-substance Baker photo feature, the first chapter of a serialized comics tale, an interview with Alan Moore, and a variety of review columns.

"Vampirella Must Die" is atrociously bad on numerous levels. It has the garish coloring and bad drawing which characterized the "Image-style" art of the 1990s. The writing panders as much as the story's visuals, relying on big stupid action, sexual titillation, and such "shocking" scenes as Vampirella and her friend unknowingly squishing the Micronauts and Peter Parker tossing J. Jonah Jameson out a window. It might have been great fun for the writers, but I kept waiting for a point to it all, a line of dialogue with a bit of spark to it, or for someone to call Vampirella's friend by name so I could find out who the heck she was.

The issue jumped the shark with that story. Alan Moore is one of comicdom's most fascinating creators, but there was nothing new in his interview. I like the idea of columns reviewing comics and other entertainments that might appeal to Vampirella readers, but, by the time I got to the reviews, the magazine had already lost me. I wanted to read something else.

VAMPIRELLA COMICS MAGAZINE #1 was a disappointment. I'd hoped for something more in the tradition of the best issues published by Jim Warren in the 1960s and 1970s, and Harris didn't come close to delivering. The "regular" edition of this issue gets two Tonys on the basis of the Lieber story. The overpriced "alternate" edition gets no Tonys whatsoever. And I get a special commendation for not using either "bites" or "sucks" in this review.

Tony Tony

www.vampirella.com


******

I didn't do well with magazines this week. Pete Von Sholly's CRAZY HIP GROOVY GO-GO WAY OUT MONSTERS (TwoMorrows Publishing; $5.95) is a well-intentioned send-up of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND in its glory days. Von Sholly's visual comedy is impressive in its range as he parodies classic Basil Gogos covers, cheap sci-fi and horror films, cheaper cinematic special effects, and the design of those old monster mags so treasured by the lads of my generation. One quick flip through MONSTERS had me positively awash in cheerful nostalgia.

Unfortunately, Von Sholly's attempt to mimic FM editor Forest J. Ackerman's writing style, enthusiasm and expertise scattered on a sea of childishly ghastly puns, isn't nearly as successful. Within a dozen pages, the copy becomes excruciatingly annoying. I ended up ignoring the text and just looking at the pictures, wishing the former was as witty as the latter.

CRAZY HIP GROOVY GO-GO WAY OUT MONSTERS gets a measly two-and-a-half Tonys. Even so, if Von Sholly were to take another stab at this sort of spoof, and I truly hope he does, I wouldn't hesitate to check it out. He's earned my interest.

Tony Tony Half Tony

www.twomorrows.com


******

From Comic Library International, EDISON'S FRANKENSTEIN 1910 ($7.95) is a powerful comics adaptation of the silent horror movie feared lost for decades. Writer Chris Yambar teams with artist Rob Bihun to retell this most unusual version of the Mary Shelley novel in striking black-and-white. Backing up this 40-page adaptation is a 22-page section telling the history of the Edison film, exploring the careers of those who made it and starred in it, and examining its influence on the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN directed by James Whale and produced by Universal. I think you'll be surprised by the ways in which Edison's FRANKENSTEIN varied from more traditional versions of Shelley's story...and at how much Whale borrowed from it for his far more famous movie.

What's great about EDISON'S FRANKENSTEIN 1910 is Bihun's moody artwork and Yambar's equally moody writing. What's not so great is the all-caps lettering that mimics typesetting; it would have been much easier on the eyes with the variety offered by upper and lower case letters.

What's good about the back-up features is the expertise Wiebel shares with the reader. What's not so good is that the writing in them is often leaden and repetitive.

EDISON'S FRANKENSTEIN 1910 gets a solid four Tonys. The great and the good outweigh the not-so-great and not-so-good in a comic I consider a must-have for fans of classic horror.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Now excuse me while I bump my way through the night and raid my daughter Kelly's trick-or-treat stash.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1567 [November 28, 2003], which shipped on November 10. The cover story reported on a comics-oriented featurette being shot for the Travel Channel. Maggie Thompson described the High-Definition TV taping: "Imagine seeing New York City, not the way an ordinary resident or tourist sees it - but the way you'd see it swinging between skyscrapers on Spider-Man's webbing." The featurette's tentative airdate is July.

******

BATGIRL

I promised a DC Comics review in every December column...one of those bending-over-backwards-to-be-fair things I do from time to time...and that goes for my reprint-plus columns as well as my all-new Tuesday and Thursday columns. Today's subject is BATGIRL #45 ($2.50), a more or less done-in-one issue by writer Dylan Horrocks, penciler Rick Leonardi, and inker Jesse Delperdang.

I must qualify the "done-in-one" designation because the issue does have a number of confusing references to "Tarakstan" and also kicks off a storyline about a new designer drug that's hitting the streets of Gotham City. I have no clue what the former is about, but the latter is one of the new cliches we get in today's gritty super-hero comic books. This particular new drug turns some of its users into rampaging brutes strong enough to lift automobiles over their heads and throw them at Batgirl. Yawn.

The colorful James Jean cover catches the eye, but don't look at it too long or you realize how little sense it makes. Batgirl is gripping some big lug's shirt and kneeing him in the side with her fist drawn back after hitting him in the face hard enough to shatter his glasses. Find some unsuspecting big slob and attempt to duplicate this scene. Even without the high-heeled boots, I bet you can't do it.

"Soul" reads like a script by a good writer who thinks writing super-hero comics is all about the cliches: start with action, do some character bits and soul searching, more action with a hint of more to come next issue, and profound ending. Okay, yeah, this is a pattern myself and most comics writers have used, some always and some sparingly. But we keep hearing about bold new directions and, save for the occasional foray into shock value, we're not getting them. Maybe it's time to bring back some of the old guard writers with the directive to break the rules that they, at least, mastered during their time in the super-hero trenches.

The only time the script picks up is when the current Batgirl and the original Batgirl discuss how hot the original looked in her costume...and the current Batgirl dresses up in it for a night of crime-fighting. Based on overheard bits of conversation between my 12-year-old daughter and her friends, "hotness" is something which young girls aspire to without really considering the sexual aspects of it. It's an innocence which won't last, but it rings true with the current Batgirl. Less fresh is the current Robin drooling over his retro-garbed ally; I've seen that one before.

It should also be noted that this script is not friendly to a new reader. If you haven't been reading the book, all you'll know about this Batgirl's connection to the Batman family is that there is a connection. Would it have destroyed the artistic value of the comic to stick an introductory caption or two on the first page of the story? I doubt it.

The Leonardi/Delperdang artwork is pretty nice, though I would have liked to see them challenged by the script more. They do take advantage of a few moments: some nice reaction shots of Cassandra when she's not wearing her mask, a good body language shot when she slips on her high heels, and some good super-hero in action panels. Too bad muddy coloring kept the last two from being as effective as they could have been.

BATGIRL #45 gets a disappointing two Tonys. Disappointing on account of I *want* to love super-hero comics in general and Batman titles in particular...and I'm just not feeling it.

Tony Tony

******

TONY STUFF

It's been an interesting week since I got back from Mid-Ohio-Con, which is the reason I've been running behind on my three TOTs a week. I talked about some of the reasons in Thursday's column. Let's see if I can get through the rest quickly.

Kidney stones. They hurt like heck, but I have gotten so used to them that I don't even go to the hospital anymore. I just take a pain pill, curl into a fetal ball, and get back to work when the pill kicks in. For me, this is a John Wayne moment.

Power failures. It's winter. They happen. All I can really do about them is to try to stay ahead of my deadlines and minimize the inconvenience they cause.

Late payments. Why do payments from my clients come in later and later as we get closer and closer to Christmas? I swear this happens every year. I deal with it by juggling bills and appealing to my online readers to use the TIP THE TIPSTER link which appears on this page. Between the two, I can usually make things work out until the checks come in...though it should also be noted that the checks don't always come in. Sadly, that is also a constant of the freelancer's existence. Sigh.

Internet piracy. This is the one that I should not let get to me and the one that always does. This time, someone on a mailing list boasted about being able to download Marvel comics, burn them onto a CD, and then sell off his originals. Oh, man, did that rub me the wrong way.

Comics publishers are good about looking the other way when it comes to this sort of thing. They know fans post and trade scans of old stuff that will likely never be reprinted. They never say boo about old covers and representative panels (even entire pages) being reprinted for educational/historical/informational purposes. They've been very generous with online fandom.

But, geez, almost all of Marvel's super-hero comics from the 1960s are readily available from the company as Marvel Masterworks, Essential editions, and trade paperbacks. Quite a bit of the 1970s stuff is also available and I received reprint checks to prove it. I know those checks came in very handy when my work was brought out for a second or third showing...and I imagine the other writers and artists appreciated their checks as well.

I pointed out what I thought was obvious. That this kind of Internet piracy is wrong, that it hurts the comics publishers, that it hurts the writers and artists who worked on those comics and get money when their stories are legitimately reprinted.

Only a couple posters took issue with my admittedly sharply-worded condemnation of this practice and my stated intent to report the source of the piracy to the injured parties. But, judging from their responses, you would have thought I went up to their mothers and asked who beat them with the ugly stick. And, as is typical in such cases, these angered posters expended more energy criticizing statements I NEVER MADE than addressing the actions which prompted my postings. Sheesh!

I tried to make it as simple as possible for them, a kindness prevented by the list owner's decision to let the loudest "fan" get his licks in while bouncing my responses. I don't fault the owner to any great extent. Just as my message board is my message board and I make the rules, the mailing list is his to operate as he sees fit. I'm disappointed in his actions, but that disappointment will have no effect on my high regard for him. Still, I feel I need to make something perfectly clear here.

Whenever I see online piracy of comic books which I believe is damaging to the creators and publishers of those comic books, I am going to report said piracy to the publishers. Morally, I have no choice in the matter. I'll rat them out every time.

Can I make that any clearer?

I hate ending the column on such a downer note, but that's all I got. However, if you're ticked at me for taking this position, why not scroll back up to the kidney stones segment and imagine me writhing in pain?

It might make you feel better.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 12/04/2003 | 12/06/2003 | 12/09/2003 >>

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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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