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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Christmas is but a few days away as I write this column, so my mind is going in a dozen directions at once. Can I buy the last of Sainted Wife Barb's presents and get them wrapped and in the house before she comes home from work? Do I need to take Eddie and Kelly out to do their shopping? Have I forgotten anyone else on my list? What can I do to help Barb out? It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also the most maddening.

I think we can all agree, though, that no one has more to do this holiday week than the busy fellow pictured in this great cover from GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION for January, 1956. The painting is by the legendary Ed Emshwiller, who did dozens upon dozens of covers for the science-fiction magazines of the 1950s through the 1970s. A quick visit to the free online encyclopedia WIKIPEDIA brought me to this mini-bio:
    Galaxy Science Fiction Edmund Alexander Emshwiller ("Emsh") (1925-1990) was a visual artist notable for illustrations of many science fiction magazine covers. His wife was the award-winning writer Carol Emshwiller (née Fries). Born in Lansing, Michigan, he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1947, then studied at École des Beaux Arts in Paris with his wife. As "Emsh", "Ed Emsh" and sometimes "Emsler", between 1951 and 1979 Emshwiller created covers and interior illustrations for dozens of science fiction paperbacks and magazines, notably for GALAXY and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION. In 1964, a Ford Foundation grant allowed Emshwiller to pursue his interest in film. From 1979 to 1990, he served as dean of the School of Film/Video at the California Institute of Arts. There seems to have been no "typical" Emsh cover. His painter-ly treatment for the August 1951 GALAXY recalls later work by Leo and Diane Dillon.
You can read this entry and click on various connecting links by going to:

Meanwhile, back at Casa Isabella, besides the holiday stuff, I'm still working to bring you three columns per week. Though TOT isn't quite posting on my usual schedules of Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I'm not skipping any installments. Just check our handy "back issue" archives; you'll find every TOT for December and then some. Who loves ya, baby?

I have had to alter my original plan of reviewing at least one DC Comics (or DC-related) item in each of these December columns; it was my "bend over backwards to be fair" plan in light of my very public criticism of what the company has done to Black Lightning. Circumstances have dictated that a few TOTs have gone out without DC reviews, but I'm keeping track of them and I'll do the catching- up thing in one of next week's columns.

Enough introduction. Let's hit the reviews.



SHONEN JUMP #13 (Viz; $4.95) kicks off the second year for the wildly-successful monthly by introducing a new series, including an exclusive YU-GI-OH! card, and ticking me off big. Sometime between here and the end of this review, I'll decide how many review points that last item will cost the magazine.

HIKARU NO GO, the new series, kicks off with a 51-page chapter by writer Yumi Hotta and artist Takeshi Obata. The title hero is a youngster whose consciousness has a roommate: the mind and spirit of a go champion who committed suicide after being accused of cheating a thousand years ago. The champion's zest for the game compels him to play, but he needs a human host for that. Hikaru's chance encounter with an antique go board binds the boy and the spirit, much to the former's dismay.

Hikaru figures it can't hurt to indulge his new roommate with an occasional game, but, in this premiere chapter, he appears to be developing a personal interest in the game. The kid has a sense of fair play he expresses via a prank against a particularly annoying player. I liked that and it's enough to bring me back for more, despite the absolutely IDIOTIC advertising/marketing decision that had me THIS close to throwing the issue across the room in disgust. More on that in a bit.

Yes, I'm a tease. It's because I know I'm pretty and I know you expect that from us pretty ones.

The rest of the JUMP line-up remains the same. NARUTO and his fellow ninjas-in-training and their teacher continue to protect the bridge-builder Tazuna from powerful and ruthless assassins, while the alien and android DRAGONBALL Z combatants continues to pummel each other with fists and energy-blasts. The former is quite good and the latter bores me.

In YU YU HAKUSHO, Yusuke Urameshi, the "underworld detective," is competing for the secrets of aged demon-fighter Genkai. One of his opponents is a demon-in-disguise; Yusuke must unmask the demon and prevent it from gaining those secrets. This series is always first-rate entertainment.

ONE PIECE continues the adventures of Luffy, an ambitious lad with a rubber body and the dream of becoming the king of pirates. His search for a crew and treasure has him smack dab in the middle of a legendary pirate's plot to murder a young heiress and inherit her fortune. This series has action, cliffhangers, and heroes you can root for. More often that not, it's my favorite series in the magazine.

SHAMAN KING is another supernatural adventure. Yoh, the heir to a long line of Japanese shamans, has come to the city to develop his talents. He finds friends, including a samurai who died over 500 years ago, and foes, including vengeful rivals and spirits who want to destroy either the lad or his samurai ally. This time out, we get a surprising look at a teen gangster, currently possessed by a vengeful ghost. Great stuff.

YU-GI-OH wraps up the issue as Yugi and his friends make their way through a theme park of death, which each door leading to a new and deadlier contest. At this stage of the series, the focus has not yet shifted strictly to the card games best known to viewers of the YU-GI-OH anime. I'm more than a little trepidatious about how interesting the series will be after that shift, but, for now, I'm still enjoying it immensely.

Each SHONEN JUMP series is preceded by a handy "what has gone before" page. In addition to the comics, the magazine presents a variety of special features. There are fan art pages, instructions on playing go, letters pages, informative short articles on aspects of Japanese culture and history, and columns on the latest in anime, manga, and video games. That's over 350 pages of reading for five bucks.

What's not to like about a deal like that?

Running along side the fifth page of HIKARU NO GO, we have an ad for the Shonen Jump graphic novels. These GNs collect ten or so chapters of the Jump series. I suspect the GNs are where Viz makes serious money, so I can understand wanting to promote them within the magazine. To a point.

Where was that point? Take your pick. The annoying side-of-the-page ads also appear on 29 other pages of the story. They even take on an almost-mocking tone as they pitch the GNs.

The aggravating ads appear on 41 additional pages throughout the issue. Only DRAGONBALL Z and YU-GI-OH are spared. Not only do the ads interrupt the story flow, pulling the eye away from those pages on which they appear, but they look like they were slapped on the pages as an afterthought.

Attention SHONEN JUMP! These ads are a MONUMENTALLY bad idea. Though the magazine is undoubtedly the best buy in American comics today, you don't want to annoy readers in this manner. Think about how pissed off I had to have been to go through the entire issue to COUNT these ads. It scares even me.

I still believe SHONEN JUMP delivers superior bang-for-your-bucks, but these ads can't be excused. On a scale of zero to five, I can only give this issue three Tonys. That's the first time JUMP has received less than five of the disembodied darlings. It makes me feel like Scrooge on the day *before* Christmas.

Tony Tony Tony



Femme Fetales "Revealing the sexy sirens of the screen" would appear to be the mission statement of FEMME FATALES ($9.99). I received recently a review copy of the January, 2004 issue and was moved to read it by...with apologies to cover woman Gwen Stefani...a blurb touting a list of the "50 sexiest women of the year."

I'm a sucker for lists, even more so than I am for sexy women. I already married a sexy women and, while one is sufficient in that regard, a guy can never have too many lists.

Getting back to FEMME FATALES...points to the editorial/design staff for an attractive looking magazine with good balance between the cheesecake and the copy. I can't say I've overwhelmed by all of the magazine's content, but the package makes for easy reading. I appreciate that.

Other pluses:

"Fatale Attractions" is an informative news section. I'm not interested in all the actresses and models featured in these pages, but there were a number of items that did catch my interest, such as items on the DVD triple-feature release of 1950s thrillers, and a DVD of LEGALLY EXPOSED, based on Italian artist Milo Manara's THE CLICK. Some of the sidebars broke up the news section in a jarring fashion, but it was still a good section.

An article/interview about/with William Shatner was good fun, avoiding the obvious STAR TREK questions.

"The 50 Sexiest Women of the Year" proved to be well worth the time I spent reading this magazine...even though I would have rated several ladies higher than winner Stefani. That's what makes lists like this so much fun.

Actress Paget Brewster writes "The Paget Page," a salacious-but-amusing column. I liked her a lot in the too-short-lived ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE and was delighted to find out she's also a good writer. The "gag" of not using capital letters due to her depression over a recent relationship break-up wasn't amusing. It got old by the fifth paragraph. Still, I would have put her on the "50 Sexiest" list just for her writing.

On the minus side...

An article on actress Katie Sackhoff (of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) fails to mention her excellent work on the excellent EDUCATION OF MAX BICKFORD. Damn, that was a good series.

A number of the "sexy 50" were seemingly on the list for scant reason beyond their ability to arouse sophomoric lust of one kind or another. Boys, boys, boys...when you get older, you'll discover how much more there is to "sexy" and how much more fulfilling life is once you do.

Then again, why did the mag have to run such an unattractive photo of ANGEL hottie Stephanie Romanov? On the series, she could look naked in a power suit!

I didn't keep count, but more than one article/profile of an actress made note of the fact that the writer wouldn't get to sleep with her. As if there were any suspense on that score. I wouldn't have believed it if you had try to claim your scored, so you might as well keep it in your pants and not embarrass yourself.

FEMME FATALES isn't a mag on which I'd spend ten bucks, but, if you're interested in the "sexy sirens" it covers, you'll get your money's worth. It picks up four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



The end of the year is almost upon us. Naturally, this means every comics reader with a blog or a column is doing's the surprise...big end-of-the-year overview. I recommend you read them all...if you're suffering from insomnia.

On the other hand, if you're not suffering from insomnia, and if your online surfing time is limited by your having a life, I can recommend one end-of-the-year review that is both entertaining and insightful.

Over at MOVIE POOP SHOOT...and you know I must like what I'm about to recommend if I'm actually typing the imbecilic, sophomoric name of the site where the column can read the first half of Chris Allen's BREAKDOWNS year-end review. It's not heavy, like the "critical" bullspit which passes for thoughtful commentary in some corners of the Internet, and it's not light, like the gosh-wow "let's suck up to pros" blatherings we get from the Stage Door Johnnys of comicdom. It's just right.

I don't agree with all Allen's year-end calls, but I thought enough of this edition of BREAKDOWNS to print out all ten pages of it for future reference. That's respect.

You can read BREAKDOWNS at:

Please do this for me. Don't make me have to type MOVIE POOP SHOOT even one more time.

That's all for this edition of TOT. I'll be back soon with my special CHRISTMAS column. In the spirit of the season, try not to mention it is appearing days AFTER the holiday. I'm already riding that particular guilt trip.

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.

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