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

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for Saturday, December 13, 2003


"Justice, like lightning, should ever appear, to some men, hope, and to other men, fear."

--Jefferson Franklin Pierce, adapted from a poem by Thomas Randolph

Several readers complimented the "lightning round" portion of my CBG #1561 column. Since I enjoyed writing those quickie reviews as well, I thought I'd do some late fall cleaning and devote this week's "Tips" to more of the same. If nothing else, it will clear some space on my desk.


100 BULLETS #47 (DC; $2.50) kicks off the "In Stinked" story arc by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso. I couldn't say for sure - this is the first issue of the series I've read in years - but it appears Azzarello and Risso are still telling us tales of people given 100 untraceable bullets and a license to kill with them. This was a strong premise when the title launched and it's still a strong premise. On the minus side, the premise isn't sufficiently explained in this issue. Who would it kill to give a new reader a leg-up in enjoying this comic book?

Azzarello's minimalist writing works well in establishing the characters, not nearly as well in establishing the "why" of their actions. Aided by colorist Patricia Mulvihill's sure storytelling skills, Risso's artwork is effective throughout the issue and rises to downright powerful on several occasions. The issue's last panel is particularly striking.

100 BULLETS #47 gets four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


2000 AD #1355-1360 (Rebellion; $3.75 per issue) are barreling towards the weekly's "Autumn Offensive." Following the conclusion of John Wagner's and Charlie Adlard's multi-part "The Satanist," Judge Dredd starred in a trio of delightful one-off stories written by Gordon Rennie and drawn by Ian Gibson, Simon Frazier, and P.J. Holden. Prog #1359's "Meet the Flooks" is worthy of Eisner/Harvey award consideration in the short story category.

"Leviathan," the saga of a lost-in-time ship as big as a city, reached its conclusion in Prog #1360 and the ending was as shocking as the kick-off. Kudos to writer Ian Edginton and artist D'Israeli for this gem. I'll repeat my earlier recommendation that Rebellion collect this in an album sooner rather than later.

The latest "Strontium Dog" story came to a satisfying close in these issues and a new "Sinister Dexter" tale began.

"From Grace," a new post-apocalyptic series about the life and death of its winged protagonist, launched in Prog #1357. Despite decent writing and art by Simon Spurrier and Frazier Irving, this strip isn't working for me. I'm four chapters into the series and I still don't give a rodent's posterior about said protagonist or anyone else in the strip.

Overall, 2000 AD #1355-1360 have more good than bad. That's why they get four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


ALTER EGO #29 (TwoMorrows; $5.95) focuses on classic comics, faux-classics, non-existent classics, and a classic heroine who was reinvented more often than Madonna. Trina Robbins kicks things off with a career overview of Venus, who starred in her own 1950s comic and who adapted to the marketplace of the moment. At various times in its history, VENUS was a romance comic, a super-hero comic, a horror comic, and a science fiction comic. Festooned with terrific illustrations from all the genres, the article makes me wish Marvel had THE ESSENTIAL VENUS on its publishing schedule.

In addition:

Pete Von Sholly contributes striking renditions of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED adaptations that never were: H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and John W. Campbell, Jr. Michael T. Gilbert writes of imaginary EC comics covers drawn in the early 1970s. Jim Amash talks with legendary writer George Gladir of ARCHIE, SABRINA, and TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS fame. Thomas G. Lammers studies those so-called Marvel Universe prototypes of the 1950s and 1960s. Editor Roy Thomas interviews Frank Brunner, one of the most popular comics artists of the 1970s.

In other words, it's just another outstanding issue of ALTER EGO. It earns five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


In a recent review of ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES ($2.19), I complained that criminal actions seldom had serious or any consequences in the title. Paul Castiglia, co-writer of the title with Barbara Jarvie, took note of my objection and sent me advance copies of issues #32 and #33. Looks like they were way ahead of me.

In #32, Riverdale High's Teen Scene Investigators are called on to investigate a cheating scandal. I was delighted to see such a topical real-life issue being addressed in an Archie title. What better forum for discussing the problem?

Castiglia and Jarvie wrote a terrific script which made good use of most of the cast's forensic specialities. Artists Fernando Ruiz and Rich Koslowski held up their end as well.

In #33, the case is more personal. Hours after Chuck Clayton finishes a sports mural, his work is defaced by graffiti. I didn't think this issue's script was as solid as the previous one, but the comic was still entertaining and the perpetrators, as in issue #32, had to face the consequences of their crimes. That's an important and, I think, necessary element of this series.

ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES #32 earns four-and-a-half Tonys. Issue #33 earns three Tonys. Of all the Archie titles, this one and JUGHEAD are my favorites.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Half Tony


B.A.B.E. FORCE: BACK TO SCHOOL #1 (Forceworks; $2.50) has some cute and some funny going for it. The Miguel Genlot cover shows a cheerful smiling cheerleader in mid-leap, a raygun in one hand and her pompons in the other. The basic premise is likewise amusing, a team of gorgeous secret agents, trained on a secluded island, who have no practical experience in the real world. Sadly, despite an earnest effort by writer/publisher Kurt Kushin, the comic is never as good as the premise.

Don't mistake me. When the book isn't bending over backwards to remind the reader how sexy its heroines are, Kushin and Genlot create some amusing moments. However, I think the cheesecake often disrupts the pacing of the story and the timing of the gags. When I got to the end of this first chapter, I didn't feel connected to the ladies and wasn't particularly eager to see what happens next. Given the potential of the series and creators - as illustrated by a chuckle-out-loud parody ad on the back cover - it's a shame this issue was so disappointing.

For effort and potential, B.A.B.E. FORCE: BACK TO SCHOOL #1 gets two Tonys.

Tony Tony


In the first volume of BOYS OVER FLOWERS (Viz; $9.95), creator Yoko Kamio deftly combines delightful sappy schoolgirl romance with adolescent yet psychologically brutal bullying. Heroine Tsukushi Makino is accepted by a renowned academy and immediately runs afoul of her rich and powerful defending another student from their abuse. For approximately 150 pages, we watch the plucky middle-class heroine deal with being the target of cruel pranks and rumors, fighting for her dignity, and questioning her attraction to a bad boy who might not be so bad after all. It's riveting stuff, so much so that I was seriously annoyed when, sans any explanation I could find, Makino's tale was interrupted for 50 pages of another unrelated and also continued story. Which means that Makino's tale will also get shortchanged in the next book.

Maybe disappointment influenced my mood, but those 50 pages of that second story seemed to drag on and on. It was a real struggle to read them and more of a struggle when, in the name of fairness, I read through them a second time.

BOYS OVER FLOWERS Vol. 1 loses points for its lackluster back-up story. It gets an underachieving three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony


I greet each new issue of THE COMICS JOURNAL (Fantagraphics; $6.95) with dread and delight. The dread component comes from my expectation that when some of the Journal critics and essayists get their academic mojo working they can make my eyes water, whether it be with their dismissive attitudes or their excruciatingly detailed examination of this or that part of the elephant to the extent that they lose sight of the actual elephant. I don't deny that there is a place and maybe even a need for such writing, but it doesn't hold my interest. The delight kicks in when I recall how much terrific stuff can be found in any given issue.

Take THE COMICS JOURNAL #154. No, not my copy, you miserable gonif. That was just a figure of speech.

Buy your own copy so you can enjoy the news section. TCJ may not cover all the comics news, but it does a splendid job covering select stories. (Frequently, it's the only magazine covering those stories in depth.) In the midst of the criticism, you will also find "Comics Made Me Fat" by Tom Spurgeon, a witty personal essay. The news and Spurgeon are appetizers for this issue's main course: Gary Groth's 59-page interview with Will Elder, one of the funniest artists, perhaps the funniest artist, ever to work in comic books. Groth is at his best when exploring a subject he truly loves, and in intelligently and unashamedly expressing the pleasure he derives from it. That's when he and the Journal shine.

THE COMICS JOURNAL #254 earns five Tonys. The good bits make it easy to overlook those not-as-good bits.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


When I saw Mark Wheatley at Comic-Con International, I told him I thought THE FRANKENSTEIN MOBSTER was such a brilliant title I could kick myself for not coming up with it. What I didn't get around to telling him was that, since I didn't come up with it, I was glad he did. So many other creators would've done the obvious with that title, but I knew Mark would come up with something that was both unexpected and exactly right.

THE FRANKENSTEIN MOBSTER #0 (Image; $2.95) didn't disappoint me. This...dare I say...Eisneresque...prelude to the ongoing story of the late Terry Todd and the hard-as-nails daughter who follows in his footsteps is more than a monsters-and-gangsters thriller. It's a relationship story. It's the story of an oppressed people, forced to dwell in the dark corners of humanity's world...AND it's a terrific monsters-and-gangsters thriller.

It's a no-brainer recommending this issue. The only hard part is choosing between its two alternate covers. The first cover (by Wheatley) is a grim-and-moody portrait of the title character. The second (by Adam Hughes) is a whimsical "movie poster" featuring the lovely Terri Todd. As much as I dislike the concept of alternate covers, I had to have both of these.

THE FRANKENSTEIN MOBSTER #0 earns five Tonys. I'm expecting great things from this series.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


Hiroshi Aro's FUTABA-KUN CHANGE: UNIDENTIFIED FOREIGN ORIGIN (I.C. Entertainment; $11.95) is the eighth and final volume in the artist's series about Futaba Shimeru, a gender-bending teenager, his equally changeable family, and Misaki Shima, the human girl who loves him. The similarities between CHANGE and Rumiko Takihashi's classic RANMA 1/2 are glaringly obvious, but CHANGE is more sexually playful than its inspiration.

As the series progressed, Aro always seemed to be trying to match Takihashi beat for beat. He might not have been blindingly original in his stories, but he told them with great energy and an infectious joy. Up until this last book, I was following FUTABA-KUN CHANGE in its pamphlet form and looked forward to reading each new issue. I switched gears because I wanted to read the finale in one sitting.


Aro took his biggest detour from the Takahashi path with the conclusion of his story. He reveals the secret and alien origins of Futaba's people, then sends the teen rocketing off to his home world with Misaki and Kurin Shimeru, head of Futaba's clan and his would-be fiancee. What they learn on the voyage is anti-climatic and, worse, keeps us from seeing the truly interesting developments which occur on Earth in their absence. I was hoping for a far more satisfying finale.

Unrealized possibilities keep FUTABA-KUN CHANGE: UNIDENTIFIED FOREIGN ORIGIN from receiving more than three Tonys. But I'd buy a sequel in a heartbeat.

Tony Tony Tony



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1568 [December 5, 2003], which shipped November 17. That issue's cover story reported that PHANTOM JACK creator Mike Sangiacomo had pulled the property from Marvel/Epic and would be publishing the initial storyline through Image Comics. Given the quagmire this new Epic imprint became almost as soon as it was announced, that's probably the best outcome possible. I'm pleased that Sangiacomo was able to reclaim his creation. Good for you, Mike, and I hope you and Jack achieve a successful launch with your new publisher.



Also from that issue: What comics story would you like to have available in reprinted form? Why?

Off the top of my head...

BLACK LIGHTNING: LESSONS. This would reprint the first eight issues of the second series and the short Kwanza story I did with Eddy Newell for a DC holiday special.

Why? Because I think it's among the best comics work I ever did. Because I think it would give DC Comics something to show to Hollywood types. Because I would be able to give copies as gifts and also sell lots of copies online.

Also off the top of my head...

COSMO THE MERRY MARTIAN. It was a charming, albeit too short-lived, series by writer/artist Bob White. Its six issues would fit nicely into an inexpensive trade paperback.

HERBIE. To his parents and classmates, Herbie Popnecker was just a little fat nothing. To evildoers and those in the know, he was the Earth's greatest hero. Written by Bob Hughes and drawn by Ogden Whitney, these stories deserve to be collected and preserved in trade paperbacks.

BAT LASH. He wore a white hat, but he wasn't always the most noble western hero. Although I own every issue of this terrific DC Comics series, created by Sergio Aragones with contributions from Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, Denny O'Neil, Joe Orlando, and Mike Sekowsky, I'd buy a collection in a heartbeat.

RAWHIDE KID. Start with the issue in which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby reinvented the character and keep them coming until you get to the last of the Larry Lieber issues. I'd buy as many volumes as Marvel would publish.

THE ESSENTIAL SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOES. Not only was it the war comic book for readers who hate war comic books, but it was always well-written and well-drawn. I'd buy the series from start to finish.

GHOST RIDER. I'm talking the short-lived Marvel western title by Dick Ayers, Gary Friedrich, and Roy Thomas. It would be a slim volume, but one well worth owning and rereading.

GHOST RIDER: THE SALVATION RUN. I'm going to be selfish once again. I'd love to see a "writer's cut" edition of my two-year-run on this title WITH my original ending restored. I'd edit the book and rewrite those pages for free.

U.S.S. STEVENS. Sam Glanzman wrote and drew dozens of these short stories based on his own World War II experiences. DC should have collected them years ago.

THE BEST OF JOE MANEELY. He was one of the greatest and most versatile comics artists of the 1950s. You couldn't get more than a representative sample of his genius into any one volume, but it would be a good start.

Those are my instant and mostly random suggestions. How would you answer this question?



Last week, I ran a letter from TIPS reader John Sample asking where he could find reviews of graphic novels. One website which should have occurred to me immediately was Johanna Draper Carlson's COMICS WORTH READING. In addition to her weekly reviews of comics, she maintains an archive of her graphic novel reviews. You'll find over sixty of these reviews at:

If any of you have other recommendations, send them along and I'll share them with your fellow readers.



I am an evil person, but don't hate me.

Through no fault of my own, the following got stuck in my head and I figure the only way to get it out of there is to pass it on to other poor souls. Cue the music...

Love, exciting and new.
Come aboard, we're expecting you.
Love, life's sweetest reward.
Let it flow, it floats back to you.
The Love Boat soon will be making another run.
The Love Boat promises something for everyone.
Set a course for adventure,
Your mind on a new romance.
And love won't hurt anymore.
It's an open smile on a friendly shore.

Try to forgive me.

I'll be back on Tuesday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 12/11/2003 | 12/13/2003 | 12/16/2003 >>

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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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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