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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 Tuesday, December 9, 2003

I know I'm not fooling anyone here. You're not reading this installment of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS on Tuesday, December 9. I know this because I'm writing it on Thursday, December 11. I'm doing a bit of artificial time-travel here to keep my records straight and to make sure I bring you my promised three TOTs per week. I'll be playing catch-up for a week or two, but the end result average will be those three TOTs per week all month long.

Why am I running late? Because when the choice came down to spending time with my Sainted Wife Barb or writing these columns, I choose the love of my life over you.

Barb runs the Home Infusion department for Kaiser Permanente in our area. It's a great responsibility in an area of health care that makes such incredibly good sense that its very existence is a constant source of amazement to me.

In layman's terms, Barb's department provides IV (intravenous) medication for patients who would otherwise be stuck in hospitals at a far greater expense to everybody. All these patients really need at this point in their care is their medication. Some of them are on the road to recovery and some of them, sadly, are not going to recover. In either case, this program allows them to be at home with their loved ones, providing the medication and regular visits from nurses. My wife's work managing this department and providing this care is as demanding as it is satisfying.

So...when the Sainted One takes a few days off, not always the easiest thing to obtain in this era of bare-bones staffing, to get Casa Isabella and the Isabella family ready for the holidays, I'm going to be by her side, pitching in and putting my columns on the back burner. I figure you can handle the truth.

Barb is back at work for the next few days and so am I. There is an excellent chance Thursday's TOT will post within 24 hours of this one and Saturday's within 24 hours of that one. All my recent columns are available at this website, so, even if you don't catch them on the day they post, you'll be able to go back and read them at your convenience.

Thanks for your patience. I hope you enjoy this TOT, belated or not, and the hopefully many TOTs to come.

******

COVER STORY

I like to jazz up my columns with classic (and not so classic) comic-book and pulp magazine covers, the latter most often coming from Yahoo's COVER_UPS mailing list. Today's offerings were chosen because they appear to feature the same heroine/model and because that heroine reminds me of Sainted Wife Barb. The first is from an issue of ARGOSY [date unknown, at least to me] and the second from the July, 1936 edition of MYSTERY ADVENTURE. Our adventurous young lady certainly gets around, doesn't she?

Argosy 12Mystery Adventure

******

JLA: LIBERTY AND JUSTICE

Alex Ross and Paul Dini's JLA: LIBERTY AND JUSTICE (DC; $9.95) is the longest and reportedly the last of their oversized looks at the major heroic icons of the DC Universe. Previous volumes have showcased Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the original Captain Marvel. I've loved every one of these thoughtful tales, delighting in Dini's writing and the amazing Ross paintings which accompanied it. Thus, it surprises me to love this end-piece measurably less than I loved the earlier volumes.

Since coming to this revelation, I have been trying to figure out why I didn't enjoy LIBERTY AND JUSTICE as much as I enjoyed its predecessors. Dini's writing is as good as ever and includes some wonderful character bits for some of the heroes. Ross' paintings are as ever, a seamless merging of fantasy and reality. His heroes look like you can reach out and touch them, yet he depicts them in this manner without diminishing their heroic aspects. In working out why the book didn't quite work for me, this is the best I could come up with:

What's the point of this story? I give kudos to Dini and Ross for coming up with a menace that actually did require the League to act unilaterally and with an expediency that even the super-heroes realized exceeded their authority to do so. Albeit after the fact, the heroes make a convincing case for their actions, a contrast to the Bush administration's inability to make a convincing case for its unilateral invasion and conquest of Iraq in arguable violation of international law. Therein lies my problem, one which I admit may be more in my own head than in Dini's or Ross'.

If this story is even partially a political statement, it does not make itself clear as to what the statement is. Is it a defense of Bush's actions? Or is it a condemnation of his administration's continued failure to disclose pertinent information that Americans and the world have a right to know...and to work with other nations rather than imposing its dictates on them? It's a fine scene when J'onn J'onzz and the heroes appear humbly before the United Nations to explain their actions, marred only by the odd decision to have the shape-changing Martian Manhunter pose as Superman for the first half of his speech. That wouldn't exactly fill me with confidence that these mighty beings could be trusted.

If the story isn't a political statement, it should have been. Such a global canvas begs for a serious and timely theme, even in addition to the timeless theme of fair-minded people of differing backgrounds coming together for the common good. Recognizing that the super-hero genre has fallen on hard and repetitive times, I'm becoming insistent that they either do the classics brilliantly or actually break the new ground touted in their publishers' desperate plethora of press releases.

My other problem with LIBERTY AND JUSTICE is so strictly fan-based it embarrass even me. Dini and Ross did a wonderful job of presenting the "Big Seven" members of the Justice League: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and good old J'onn J'onzz. They also did a great job incorporating the Atom into the story. Every other hero who appears seems forced into the story with the presence of Captain Marvel and Plastic Man even more jarring than most. I got the feeling the second-stringers were in the book mostly because Ross wanted to paint them.

I recognize my bridled enthusiasm for JLA: LIBERTY AND JUSTICE may lie more in my personal idiosyncrasies than in the book itself. I also recognize that, even if this book is as flawed as I believe it to be, it's still worth buying and reading. Ross and Dini have created a remarkable body of work in their five collaborations and that should also be recognized.

******

2000 AD

Who dealt this mess?

2000 AD #1362 (Rebellion; $3.75) was the launch of the British comics weekly's 2003 "Autumn Offensive." Each quarter the magazine juggles its regular features, bringing back some old favorites and trying out some new series. Though the quality of these features can vary, readers can usually count on the Judge Dredd lead story delivering the goods. Unfortunately, that's not the case with this launch issue and the two issues following it.

In #1362, Dredd co-creator John Wagner's "The In Club" is as pointless a one-off story as I've ever seen and gets no help from an uncommonly poor art-and-paint job by Dean Ormston. This tale is followed by Ian Edginton and Steve Pugh's "Inside Job," a two-issue excrement joke. My mind boggles at the sight of Dredd stories this bad from writers this good.

Dredd's back-ups aren't any better. "Dead Man Walking" brings us a nasty criminal on a prison-world that's even nastier. Lots of overplayed gore doesn't alleviate the boredom of a series in which there's no reason to care about any protagonist with the possible exception of the pacifist murdered by the warden and then restored to life as a zombie eternally suffering the pain of the shot that killed her. Yummy.

"Synnamon" stars a "sexy and seductive" sci-fi security agent with an artificial intelligence for a partner. The artwork isn't bad, but neither the lead character or the story held my interest. It was a struggle to read the first three chapters.

Vampire "Durham Red" returns in a new adventure set after she unwittingly allowed a super-mutant to release a pathogen with will destroy mankind completely. It takes three chapters just to gather the cast of characters amidst the leaden pacing and muddy painted artwork. Such a popular character deserves better.

A new "Caballistics, Inc" series kicked off in 2000 AD #1363. This strip is basically Mike Mignola's HELLBOY without the fun and DC's HELLBLAZER without the richly-drawn characters and atmosphere that mark the latter title at its best. Each chapter of the serial focuses on a different member of the group, which does allow more time for you to not care about any of them.

I hate to be so harsh with 2000 AD - I consider it one of the great comics titles of all time - but this "Autumn Offensive" has gotten off to such a lousy start that it's sucking the life out of the weekly. I can't wait for winter to get here.

******

DISHING HOLLYWOOD

My pal Laurie Jacobson has a new book out. DISHING HOLLYWOOD (Cumberland House; $16.95) offers "the real scoop on Tinseltown's most notorious scandals," told with Laurie's usual wit and wisdom. One of the countless things I like about Laurie is that she writes with honest affection about many of her subjects and equally honest disapproval of those what deserve it...and there's never a question about which is which.

DISHING is more than just the scandals. Each subject gets his or her own mini-biography, at least one photo and sometimes several photos, and, as dessert, a recipe for one of the subject's favorite meals, drinks, or confectionaries. It lightens the outrageousness of the scandals, though I fear that it I were ever to be involved in something ignominious enough to attract Laurie's attention, the recipe would be "Hamburger Helper Beef Pasta." To save Laurie some work, I should just send her a box.

Laurie is currently working with her husband Jon Provost, who played "Timmy" on LASSIE, on his biography. When she finishes that book, I have a suggestion for her next one:

HOLLYWOOD'S NICE GUYS

You see, I've come to trust Laurie's judgment in these things and I can think of few people more qualified to tell the stories of those Hollywood shakers and movers, stars and big players, writers and directors, who were, against the odds, thoroughly decent folks who did right by others, walking the walk, and doing unto others in the spirit of compassion and even generosity.

Laugh if you will. Make all the "pamphlet" jokes you'd like. I think it would be a great book!

However, while you're waiting for that book, don't hesitate to pick up DISHING HOLLYWOOD. I recommend it highly.

******

SUPER-HERO COVERS

I belong to several comics-oriented mailing lists, more than I probably should, and even participate in some of them from time to time. Occasionally, I even contribute something that, on later inspection, actually seems to have made sense. In this case, the topic of discussion was how the current crop of super-hero comics increasingly seem to have weak covers. Here's how I responded to that observation:
There was a time when the super-hero publishers, editors, and artists *labored* over the covers. I got in on the tail end of that discipline while on staff at Marvel.

These days, they are so sure of their super-hero addicts and online word-of-mouth that they just stopped trying. Time to fire the artsy-fartsy designers and hire good old-fashioned pitchmen. Super-hero comics ain't subtle. They can be great fun. They can be done incredibly well. But they are loud and garish and most (not all) of their covers should reflect that.

I'm not talking big punch-ups every cover. That's just as boring as the endless pin-up shots.

No, I'm talking "give me an interesting scene. Something that makes me want to open the book and find out what happens."

Don't be afraid to stick copy on the covers. A title blurb. Dialogue. A come-on. Work it, baby. Work it.
Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back on Thursday...whenever that might actually be...with more news, views, and reviews.

Tony Isabella

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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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