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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 30, 2003

This is the last TONY'S ONLINE TIPS for 2003, which means I can now start forgetting to write "2004" on checks I write. Some traditions never die.

Those of you who own calendars will doubtless realize this TOT is posting a few days after its scheduled debut. Those of you who know me will also realize I'm writing it days after its scheduled debut. However, let the record show that no TOT was left behind as a result of my holiday tardiness. I promised you three columns per week and that's what you got in December. That's also what you'll be getting in January.

Father Time We will speak no more of this.

One of my other failed goals for December, 2003, was to review a DC Comics publication in each of that month's columns. This was my basic liberal decency at work. I made my dismay at and distaste for certain DC policies/practices/stories very public over the past few months and so determined I should strive to be fair, nay, more than fair, in reviewing the company's titles.

I came up four short.

That's why today...for this final column of December...I'll be reviewing five DC comics or graphic albums. I just can't let go of the mission.

Let's get started.

******

DOCTOR FATE

The first comics I reviewed this month were DOCTOR FATE #1-4 (of a five issue series) by writer Christopher Golden, penciler Don Kramer, and inker Prentis Rollins. So it seems almost like...I'm sorry...fate that I review the final issue today.

DOCTOR FATE #5 (DC Comics; $2.50) features the finale of the battle between Hector Hall, the new Fate and a hero still finding his own way, and the Curse, one of those cranky forces of evil that returns from time to time to vex mankind and, especially, mankind's champions. In ancient Egypt, the champion was the legendary Nabu. This time, it's Hall.

Golden and crew established a creepy crisis in the first four issue, so this is the big fight to the finish. The action probably won't mean much to someone who hasn't read the earlier chapters of the story, but I think it has great impact for those who have been following the series and those who will read it in the inevitable trade paperback collection. The battle's conclusion is satisfying, and not just in the usual way. It's also notable in that it allows Hall to reveal how he is different from his predecessors and why he is worthy to carry on their work.

There are a lot of things I liked about this series and high among them is the development of the supporting characters, their courage, the consequences of their actions, and the story's taking a few concluding pages to honor their actions. I'm still not wild about the coincidence of the Curse possessing the former boyfriend of a woman in whom Hector is interested, but that remains a pretty small quibble.

Sidebar. After reading my previous review, Golden weighed in on the coincidence issue via e-mail:

"And I still say you can get away with lots of coincidences when you're writing about fate! Heh heh."

I don't know that I'd be up for a monthly DOCTOR FATE series, but I'd love to see Golden do more with the character. An annual special or graphic album would fit the bill, allowing Golden enough pages to work his own magic.

On our scale of zero to five Tonys, DOCTOR FATE gets a solid four of the disembodied darlings.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

PLASTIC MAN

Veteran comics fan that I am, I don't get excited about many new comics prior to their publication. On the fan level, I've been disappointed far too often over the years. On the reviewer level, I face the risk of my disappointment impacting the fairness of my review of an eagerly-anticipated new comic.

The "review fairness" issue is why I stopped writing PREVIEWS overviews. I began to wonder if my before-the-fact enthusiasm was setting up myself and my readers to be disappointed if the comics I wrote about didn't live up to my expectations.

I mention the above as an explanatory preface to my review of PLASTIC MAN #1 (DC; $2.95).

Kyle Baker is one of my favorite comics creators. I've loved almost everything he's done with the possible exception of Marvel's TRUTH: RED, WHITE, and BLACK.

(I say "possible" because, after really not liking the first two issues of TRUTH, I chose not to read further until I could read the whole series at once. I'll be doing that in the early weeks of the new year.)

Still...Kyle Baker writing and drawing Plastic Man?

I didn't think there could be a better match.

I was wrong.

Baker's PLASTIC MAN is an animated cartoon on paper and that is only the first of several reasons it didn't work for me. Comic books aren't storyboards on paper, as much as the Hollywood leeches would like them to be. Comics lack the actual motion of cartoon or live action. They can only simulate that motion and some of them do manage this wonderfully. But good comics demand more substance than is usually found in Hollywood storytelling.

PLASTIC MAN doesn't have enough "meat" for me. It takes Plas ten pages to deal with two stupid thugs and, even then, he needs a bit of assistance from Woozy Winks.

The second half of the issue consists of quick shots of Plas as a celebrity, a page or so of him expressing his loneliness, and an origin flashback. Plastic Man creator Jack Cole did more in his first story...and it was only six pages long.

Woozy Winks. Cole and other 1940s creators did some fun stuff with Plastic Man's sidekick, but Winks hasn't aged well. He's just a sight gag and we can get all the sight gags we need from the hero using his powers in cleverly amusing ways.

This first issue ends with Plas being order to track down and arrest murder suspect Eel O'Brien, which is who Plas was before he became a super-hero. My immediate reaction to this cliffhanger was to recall that Cole had already done that story.

Was there anything I liked about PLASTIC MAN #1?

I liked Baker's art and coloring. I would have liked it a lot better if there was more of it on the pages, many of which only had two or three panels on them.

I give major props to Baker for taking PLASTIC MAN in such an individual direction. However, at the end of the issue, that path didn't take me where I wanted to go.

PLASTIC MAN #1 gets a disappointing two Tonys. I hope I like the second issue better.

Tony Tony

******

TEEN TITANS GO!

Cartoon Network's TEEN TITANS wasn't an automatic hit with me. It took a couple episodes for me to get into its interpretations of Robin and the rest of the team. However, once I got it, I enjoyed the series immensely.

When I heard that DC would be doing a comic book based on the cartoon series, my first reaction was delight and my second reaction was:

"Slow down, Tony. DC will probably mess it up."

Okay, yes, I have issues with DC. The plus side of expecting DC to mess up things is that I get to be even more pleased on those occasions when they don't.

TEEN TITANS GO! #1 (DC; $2.25) is a delight. Writer J. Torres wrote a clever story that felt like the cartoon without forgetting it was actually a comic book. He added "manga bits" without losing the inherent "Americanism" of the Titans. He even threw me a curve I didn't see coming. That's all I can say about the story without ruining it for you.

Penciler Todd Nauck and inker Lary Stucker captured the visual style of the cartoon as well. Their storytelling was first-rate. The issue looked right and read right.

TEEN TITANS GO! #1 offers readers a done-in-story that is very friendly to new readers, especially the new readers who have been enjoying the cartoon. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is its lightness of copy; it goes by too fast for readers to get much bang for the bucks. However, its quality still earns the issue a commendable four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

BATMAN: DETECTIVE NO. 27

BATMAN: DETECTIVE NO. 27 Writer Michael Uslan told me he thought I would enjoy BATMAN: DETECTIVE NO. 27 (DC; $19.95) and he was right on the money. I'll get back to that thought in a moment.

This hardcover album is an ELSEWORLDS story. For those of you who don't follow DC Comics, here's what that means:

In ELSEWORLDS, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places - some that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow.

This time, Uslan and artist Peter Snejbjerg present us with a Bruce Wayne who doesn't take on the mantle of the Bat to bring his parents' killers to justice. A 75-year-old plan to destroy Gotham City and the secret society of equally-persistent detectives formed to foil the plan take Wayne in a different direction.

Set in 1939, with flashbacks from 1865 and other intervening years, DETECTIVE NO. 27 revels in mixing actual historical figures with those of a strictly fictional origin. Sometimes Uslan gets a bit cute with the connections and references, but I wouldn't dream of denying him his good honest fun.

Artist Snejbjerg keeps the story moving, achieving dramatic presentation and clarity of detail. Colorist Lee Loughridge does his usual outstanding job. Kudos should also go to letterer Kurt Hathaway for his contribution.

Two of the traits I prize most dearly in costumed hero comics is continuity of character and a high degree of realism. I seldom recognize Batman in his current comics adventures and I am forever complaining about writers and artists who get the real-world stuff wrong in their stories.

Great characters have established personalities. That doesn't mean a writer can't ever do something unexpected with them, but it does mean that even their inconsistencies should be consistent with their established character. Uslan's Wayne isn't Batman. He never becomes Batman. But his character development in this story isn't beyond belief. It works.

As for realism, costumed hero comics and especially super-hero comics demand a high level of willing suspension of disbelief from their readers. I have an easier time accepting that a man can fly if the writers and artists know how everyday objects work and look, and know something of the real world and its history.

[Sidebar. I loathe the way history is taught in many schools, including, unfortunately, my daughter Kelly's. The lessons don't start with an overview of history and then fill in the details for the kids. Nope, they go by year by year, with the result that, in a recent conversation with some neighborhood kids, I learned they didn't know what World War II was because they hadn't yet gotten to it in their classes. That struck me as crazy.]

The ELSEWORLDS based on historical eras or events delight me because, by their very nature, they have to get the history and the real world stuff right. Former DC editor Andy Helfer had a talent for helming great historical ELSEWORLDS. I hope that Mike Carlin, credited as editor on this new book, is taking up that particular gauntlet. I'd be thrilled to see that happen.

How could I not love a comic that features Abe Lincoln, Allan Pinkerton, Teddy Roosevelt, Bruce Wayne, and more than a few other notables from history and pulp fiction...and which entertains me so mightily?

BATMAN: DETECTIVE NO. 27 gets the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

SGT. ROCK

SGT. ROCK: BETWEEN HELL & A HARD PLACE SGT. ROCK: BETWEEN HELL & A HARD PLACE (DC; $24.95) is another one of those DC projects I approached with caution. Rock is one of the great characters in comics. No one ever drew him better than Joe Kubert, who draws this album. But...

...Brian Azzarello is a writer whose work I have found uneven in the past. He's very good on 100 BULLETS. What little I read of his HELLBLAZER work had some stuff going for it. Everything else I've read of his in the past has been awful. That's where it stood as I sat down to read this 139-page graphic album.

Wow!

Azzarello has written one of the best Rock stories of all time here. He is true to the title character and adds intriguing layers to some of the "Combat-Happy Joes of Easy Company." The overriding question of the tale - Can a soldier still be a cold-blooded killer on the battlefield? - is a thoughtful one that puts Rock through a time of uncharacteristic (but not *out* of character) uncertainty. The scenes of combat and aftermath are ghastly and powerful without reveling in the carnage and death. Azzarello even explains why the Easy Company guys have nicknames instead of names. It almost makes me wonder if he's a deeply closeted fanboy.

Kubert? What a year 2003 was for him!

His YOSSEL was the best graphic novel of the year. This book shows that he can still kick traditional comics butt with the best of them. The man has not only not lost a step in all his decades of drawing great comic books, he's leaving veritable generations of younger artists in his dust.

My sole quibble with this book is that the final confrontation between Rock and the killer he has been chasing is just a bit too "Hollywood" for me. Call it a minor quibble, though, because there is no way SGT. ROCK: BETWEEN HELL & A HARD PLACE doesn't rate the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

TONY STUFF

Here come the usual plugs...

COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE features my "Tony's Tips" column in each weekly issue, along with columns by Peter David, Heidi MacDonald, Peter David, Chuck Rozanski, Craig Shutt and others. Subscribing to the newspaper is one of the best deals in comicdom and you can do that by going to:

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WORLD FAMOUS COMICS hosts these online editions of my columns. If you'd like to help with the financial load of that, as well as support one of the Internet's finest communities, click on the TIP THE TIPSTER link you'll find elsewhere on this page.

The TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD is where the loyal legions of TOT readers - and a few unruly rebels - meet to discuss comic books and other important issues of the day. You can join in the fun by going to:

www.comicscommunity.com/boards/tony

Just one more plug.

THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE On sale now is STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE (A SAM COGLEY MYSTERY) by Bob Ingersoll and Tony Isabella. It's a fun book - think "Perry Mason in space" - and we think you'll enjoy it. If this book sells enough copies, it could be the first in a series of Sam Cogley mysteries...which would certainly keep Bob and me off the streets and out of trouble. If you order it through ACTION IS MY REWARD, World Famous makes a few cents on the deal.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 12/27/2003 | 12/30/2003 | 01/01/2004 >>

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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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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