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for Thursday, December 11, 2003

I'm still playing catch-up here at TOT Central, but my sainted wife and I are making good progress on getting the Isabella family and household ready for Christmas. Barb is also trying to get some things ready for my December 22 birthday, even though I'm trying to talk her out of that. It's not that I *don't* like celebrating the day; it's just that I know how much we *both* have to do before the actual holidays.

Fortunately, I'm not one of those poor souls who freaks out on his or her birthday. I'll be hitting the big 5-2 and I have earned every one of those years. As a combination birthday "mission" and reward, I've set myself the perhaps-unattainable goal of collecting comic books dated December, 1951.

Compiling the list of these issues will be a daunting task in itself and acquiring the actual comics even more so. But, I wanted a "hobby within the hobby," so to speak, and this one fits the bill as well as any. The search should be its own fun.

Batman 68 Shown here is BATMAN #68 [December, 1951] and I used to own an actual copy of this issue. In fact, I had a complete collection of BATMAN until I sold the first hundred issues and replaced them with microfiche copies. It's been years since I've read the issue, but, thanks to the GRAND COMICS DATEBASE, I can jog my memory as to its contents.

The cover artist is Win Mortimer, a talented cartoonist and an all-around good guy who, to my regret, I only got to work with once or twice. The editor of record was Whitney Ellsworth.

Bill Finger wrote all three of the Batman stories which ran in this issue:

"The Atom Cave Raiders" is definitely a Cold War-era adventure as a gang of criminals tunnel into subterranean caves used by the Gotham City elite to safeguard their valuables in the events of the Commies dropping "The Bomb" on the USA. The gang tunnels into the Batcave, but quick thinking by Batman, Robin, and the ever-faithful Alfred trick the crooks into believing they have actually tunneled into an elaborate set being used for a Batman movie. The story was penciled by Dick Sprang and inked by Charles Paris.

In "The Secret Life of Batman's Butler," Alfred is fired from his job, visits old friend Slippery Willie Wills, and gets strapped into a lie detector. Willis wants to prove Bruce Wayne is Batman. However, since he has been dismissed from his position, Alfred can answer the question with a resounding "no." It turns out Bats knew what Willis was up to all along...and fired Alfred because "no one can beat a lie detector." You don't have to roll your eyes at that one. I do it every time I think of this story. Batman co-creator Bob Kane penciled the figures on this story, Lew Schwartz did the overall pencils, and Paris inked both of them...and the team would repeat for the issue's final Batman story.

"The New Crimes of Two-Face" is a goofy favorite of mine. An actor (Paul Sloane) is playing Harvey Dent in a re-enactment of the former Two-Face's story. A jealous prop man replaces the fake acid with real acid. Sloane's handsome features are destroyed and his mind goes along for the ride. Guided by the toss of a coin, Sloane becomes the new Two-Face and goes on a crime-spree.

Batman allows Sloane to capture him. Sloane is about to flip the coin to see if Bats lives or dies when the caped captive adds a side bet to the game. If the coin lands on its edge, Sloane will have plastic surgery and, presumably, some psychiatric counseling. It seems like the longest of long shots...except that Bats slipped Sloane a counterfeit coin during their struggle and it does land on its edge. Cheater, cheater.

The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide opines a near-mint copy of this issue would go for approximately $700. The first edition of The Standard Catalog of Comic Books pegs it at a more reasonable $465. I'm glad I have it on microfiche.

Expect more of these nostalgic visits to 1951 as I learn about or acquire other December-dated comics from that year.

Let's see what else I have for you today.



My son Eddie is patiently waiting for me to finish this review of ON THE ROAD TO PERDITION: SANCTUARY [DC/Paradox Press; $7.95) so he can read the book. He has been a fan since reading Max Allan Collins' original ROAD TO PERDITION graphic novel and then seeing the movie based on that work. The kid's got good taste.

Collins teams with artist Steve Lieber for the second book in a three-volume series set in the months after Michael O'Sullivan's wife and youngest son were killed, but before he reached the end of the deadly road he traveled with his namesake oldest son. Hunting the man who killed their kin, the O'Sullivans are in turn sought by bounty hunters eager for the price Al Capone has put on the heads of father and son alike.

As always, Collins brings the 1930s era to poignant life and, proving himself equal to the implied challenge, Lieber matches him beat for beat. SANCTUARY has the feel of a great old movie, one of those films so compelling that, after a few minutes, you don't even think about the lack of color. The only negative thing I can write about it's not as good as either the original graphic novel or the first book in the trilogy.

Okay, if you're gonna twist my arm, I'll confess I also had a bit of trouble swallowing Collins' linking of gangster John Looney, played by Paul Newman in the movie, with a historical figure played by the actor in another movie. It's a cute in-joke and all, but it made my head hurt.

Collins is one of my favorite comics and prose writers. I'll state right now that, if you see his name on a book or a comic, you can purchase that book or comic with confidence. I have a similar regard for Lieber's art. With apologies to the late Robert Palmer, their working together is simply irresistible.



There's bad news and good news about JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE #212 (Rebellion; $10.99). The bad news: the slump the 2000 AD weekly is currently suffering through has partially affected the Megazine as well. The good news: when you have a 100-page comics magazine, you can weather a few lame features.

This ish saw the conclusion of a two-part tale in which mutant Nazis set out to conquer the Cursed Earth, opposed solely by Judge Dredd, disgraced Judge-Marshal Koburn, and a small squad of judges-in-training. Written by Gordon Rennie with art by Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, it's a fun adventure enlivened by the personality conflicts between the injured Dredd and the cocky Koburn.

Three of the other four new stories in the issue aren't really any fun at all. The Judge Death serial has turned into a mindless farce set in a Cursed Earth version of Las Vegas. The interminable Devlin Waugh serial has moved beyond mere tedium and into torture. Then there's a silly thing called "Xtnct" about sentient dinosaurs exterminating mankind. It will take many flagons of strong ale to wash from my mouth the taste of these stinkers.

Thank Grud for the page count. Even with the above, there is still room for reprints of "Harry Twenty on the High Rock" (sci-fi prison thriller drawn by Alan Davis) and "Charley's War (realistic World War I action), the final article in an informative series on BATTLE (a classic British weekly), and the opening of yet another new serial. I read "Harry Twenty" when it first appeared in 2000 AD and the chapters here include a twist that knocked me on my butt at the time; "Charley's War" is arguably the finest work of writer Pat Mills. Both have stood the test of time.

The new serial is "Armitage" by writer Dave Stone and artist John Ridgway. The title character is an aging Detective-Judge, the best plainclothes operative in the Brit-City Justice Department of 2125. He's not a pleasant man, but he's unpleasant in an entirely different manner than Judge Dredd. This first chapter ends with a pretty good cliffhanger, so I'm inclined to be optimistic for the rest of the story.

Since you asked...and you know who "you" are...the reasons I give so much "ink" to 2000 AD and JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE is because I love their formats, because I like many of the comics featured in their pages, and because almost no one covers them on this side of the Atlantic. Thanks for asking.



I was pretty hard on 2000 AD in Tuesday's TOT and, while I do stand behind what I wrote, my sense of fair play demands I let you know things started looking up a bit with 2000 AD #1365 and #1366 ($3.75 each). "Meatmonger," a new Judge Dredd story by writer John Smith and artist Siku, has gotten off to a good start in its first two chapters. Dredd battling alone against overwhelming odds does not give me quite the same kick as seeing Captain America play that tune, but it's still a rush.

Likewise, there are now signs of life in both the "Synnamon" and "Durham Red" serials. Each took too many issues to get going, but they finally appear to have some directions. They haven't yet won me over, but I am taking their calls.

No hope for either "Dead Men Walking" or "Caballistics, Inc." If this were ER, I'd be logging their times of death.



Might World of Marvel Isabella scholars...and you know who you are...know my first comics industry gig was editing THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL weekly (published in Great Britain) under the guidance and tutelage of Sol Brodsky, Stan Lee, and Roy Thomas. This mostly black-and-white and sometimes duo-toned magazine reprinted the earliest tales of Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. My duties included designing and writing the covers, splitting stories into chapters, writing new splash pages, and putting together feature pages and letters columns. It was a terrific way to get paid for reading old comics while learning editorial skills.

Reader SEAN CARMODY informed me recently that a new title by the same name has launched in Britain. He writes:
It features reprints of Daredevil, the Hulk, the main titles that never change, and another alternative character, who could be Storm, Iron Man, etc. It varies. If you would like to check it out, here's a link for more information:
THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL is published "four-weekly" and the latest issue has DAREDEVIL #173 by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS II #4 by Chris Claremont and Michael Ryan, and INCREDIBLE HULK #122 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe.

My visit to the website revealed Panini Comics also publishes comics featuring other Marvel heroes, DC heroes, and an assortment of characters from elsewhere. The comics look interesting enough for me to want to read/review an issue of each, so, if any UK fans or retailers are reading this column, e-mail me and we can work out some kind of trade.

Thanks to Sean for the heads-up.



You can still read Markisan Naso's interview with me on Black Lightning and the treatment of minority super-heroes in comics by visiting the Silver Bullet Comics website:

Naso did a terrific job asking about every pertinent question there was and I think I did a pretty good job responding to them. One question he asked in a follow-up exchange was whether I'd given any thought to creating another minority super-hero. He printed my response in his ALL THE RAGE column, but I figure I'll run it here as well. Just because.

My response to Naso's question:

I almost added a question like this to the interview, but I didn't want to add to the expected "me, me, me" backlash. Eddy Newell and I have done some preliminary work on a new character and even had a publisher interested in the project. But that publisher went under after screwing around with us for almost a year.

For me, the problem with a creator-owned series do I make sure Eddy or another artist gets paid? I can afford to write a few scripts before the money kicks in, but a working artist can't. The companies who can afford to pay an artist a decent wage usually want to retain too many rights to the material. Look how long DC has managed to tie up the Dakota Universe (Milestone) characters.

As for doing another African-American character, which I would like to do, you know the usual pundits and trolls will either castigate me for ripping myself off or for not doing something exactly like Black Lightning. That challenge doesn't scare me off, but it is something I have to think about as I proceed.

I can't recall if we covered this in the interview or not, but, as much as I love comic, I don't really expect to write them in the future. Let me amend that. I don't expect to *sell* them in the future.

I will be going back to fulltime writing in 2004. I plan to create/write comics. However, I don't expect to sell these comics and will then turn them into novels or screenplays. It's my three-strikes plan. I would love to get back into writing comics. But, even if I never write another comic book the rest of my life, I still have a great life with a great family and lots of ways to use my skills.

Let me throw some more "me" stuff at you.

None of the freelance checks I was expected have arrived since the last time I mentioned them here...and I'm thinking most of them will never arrive. If you'd like to make my Christmas a bit more merry, and, for that matter, make webmaster Justin's Christmas more merry as well, you can click on the TIP THE TIPSTER links found on this page and make a donation via PayPal.

Another way you can help me get the New Year off to a terrific start is by buying STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE, a Sam Cogley mystery by my pal Bob Ingersoll and moi. This paperback novel should be hitting the bookstores just after the holidays and, if it sells well, it could be the first in a series of Sam Cogley mysteries. You can order it from:

If you do order it from the above link, Justin picks up a few cents on the transaction.

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

Tony Isabella

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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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