"In certain savage tribes in New Guinea, they put the old people up in the trees and shake them once a year in the spring: if they don't fall out they let them live another year."
--John Dos Passos
Aside from not falling out of trees, most of my resolutions for the New Year are of the usual family/health/work variety. My kids are still young enough to tolerate my presence, so I want to continue spending lots of time with them. My health is better than it has been in years, but I figure I can drop some weight and thus overstay my welcome by decades. As for work...hey, I can't start planning that comeback tour until I have some reasons to come back, though 2004 will likely remain convention-free for me.
For readers of this column, my more pertinent resolutions call for me to read a lot more comic books. I want to catch up on all of my old favorites, some of which I haven't read in years. I want to check out some new comics and creators which my fan and industry pals have recommended to me. I have reviewer-envy; I'm jealous of how so many of my fellow reviewers seem to be able to read so many more comics than I do. Maybe I should stop acting out the stories as I read them. It scares my kids.
A while back, I decided I would phase out reviewing any comics not sent to me by creators, editors, publishers, etc. Since then, I've chatted with creators and fans who have expressed dismay over this decision and, as a result, I'm rethinking it. For now, let's leave it at this:
If you'd like me to review something and aren't in a position to send that something to me, e-mail or postal mail your request to me. Whenever I get a half-dozen or so requests for a review of any title, I'll review that title. The only catch is that you have to include your real name and contact info with your requests. I don't want punisheriskool2913 or jedigrrl999 stuffing the ballot box. To ease the pain of this invasion of privacy, I'll send cool stuff to a few of you every month.
My own contact information runs at the end of this and every installment of "Tony's Tips!" Don't be a stranger.
I've been looking forward to reading BATMAN: CHILD OF DREAMS (DC; $19.95) since before I knew I would ever be able to read it. One of my readers sent me the Japanese version of the Kia Asamiya graphic novel prior to DC's announcement of its English-language adaptation of the tale and, even without knowing exactly what was happening in the work, I was excited by the dramatic and emotional images found within it. My anticipation only grew when I learned editor Andy Helfer had signed Max Allan Collins to adapt the text for the English edition. An amazing artist and storyteller teamed with one of my favorite comics and prose editors under the guidance of an editor who, during his too-short time at DC, proved to be one of the company's most daring and imaginative editors. They had me from "Hello."
A new designer drug is on the streets of Gotham, but it seems to be turning some users into duplicates of Batman's greatest foes. In another venue, I recently dubbed the "new designer drugs turning users into super-powered menaces" bit as the new super-hero-comic cliche, but, in this case, the designer drug is merely the entrance to real story:
"If you could be anyone, who would you be?"
Asamiya asks that question of virtually every main character in this graphic novel: Bruce Wayne, the doppelgangers Bruce battles as the Batman, spunky reporter Yuko Yagi, and her brilliant uncle and benefactor Kenji Tomioka. The answers, whether freely given or uncovered through Wayne's investigative skills, are satisfying and often surprising.
The first half of the book takes place in Gotham City and the finale in Japan. Asamiya brings both locales to life, weaving his thrilling action scenes around revealing and thoughtful scenes of human interaction.
As in the best Batman tales, Asamiya's Wayne isn't simply the mask the Batman wears when he walks by day, but a good man making a sacrifice to protect others. It's the sacrifice that makes Wayne a hero, not the cape and cowl and Bat-toys.
Asamiya's art is as captivating as his story. Batman, Wayne, and the "villains" aren't always on model, but they are completely recognizable in the context of the story.
The panel-to-panel flow is exceptional. Even in the Japanese, I was able to follow the story...though the Collins adaptation does kick it up several notches.
BATMAN: CHILD OF DREAMS delivers terrific bang-for-your bucks. The 334-story is backed up by a behind-the-scenes look at how the book was adapted for this presentation, and a brief interview with Asamiya. It should appeal to hardcore Batman fans, to those Bat-fans who get their kicks from the movies and cartoons, and to super-hero fans who also enjoy manga. For all those reasons, above and beyond how much I enjoyed the story, this graphic novel gets the full five Tonys.
My comics reading is taking me (figuratively) around the world this week. From ibooks comes THE BLOODY STREETS OF PARIS ($17.95) by Jacques Tardi and Leo Malet, the first in a graphic novel series starring private detective Nestor Burma.
Published in 1942 during the German occupation of France, 120, RUE DE LA GARE, was Malet's first Nestor Burma story and his first detective story. Burma is the author's most acclaimed creation and has appeared in many short stories, over 35 novels, three movies, a made-for-television movie, and a hit TV series. In 1982, Tardi, widely considered one of the world's best comics artists, adapted Malet's first Burma story into this graphic novel.
Right from the start, BLOODY STREETS takes us into situations unfamiliar to American detective fiction buffs. When we first meet Burma, he's in a prisoner-of-war camp, awaiting release/relocation. The mystery commences in the camp, growing more sinister and deadly the closer Burma gets to Paris and the truth. Adding to the danger is that he must investigate this case in the shadows of Nazi-held France. Adding to the stakes is that the mystery hinges on Burma's past cases and associates.
As detective fiction, BLOODY STREETS kept me turning pages as Burma's persistence led him down surprising avenues. As a graphic novel, Tardi's adaptation brought Malet's characters to life while imbuing the overall work with a foreboding atmosphere. The reader feels the same chill in the air that Burma experiences. It's easy to see why comics afficionados worldwide regard Tardi as highly as they do. He's an incredible storyteller.
THE BLOODY STREETS OF PARIS is a most satisfying read at its 184 oversized pages. Recommended for older teens and up, it earns the full five Tonys. Don't miss this one.
It's the decades-in-the-making teaming of the Justice League of America and the Avengers. It's written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by George Perez. It may not be fair, but those facts automatically set the bar higher for JLA/AVENGERS #3 (Marvel/DC; $5.95) and, as much as I want to love every issue of this series with all my heart and soul, I can't. It keeps coming up short.
Cover artist Perez is blessedly insane. As near as I can see, his wrap-around cover depicts every super-hero who could remotely be considered to have been a member of either team at any time in their histories. It's "Where's Waldo" for the spandex set, but, if you're not up to playing that game, the only striking image is this mass of colorful figures rushing willy-nilly towards the borders of the cover. It made me think of the Clive Barker horror story where the populations of two villages chain themselves together to create two giant gladiators. I have no doubt there are readers who will consider this the best cover of the year and no one should question Perez's dedication and talent in devising it. However, for me, it was "been there, seen that, show me something new." More doesn't translated to more interesting.
"Strange Adventures" does successfully convey the epic scope of the universes-shattering problem laid before the army of super-heroes. The obsessed Krona, in seeking to learn the whole truth of creation, is forcing the worlds of the JLA and Avengers into one. The resultant annihilation will create a new "big bang" and allow him to witness it. He's scary, his plan is scarier still, and I'm thinking getting inside Krona's head would be the scariest of all. Alas, that doesn't happen here.
Busiek and Perez move the story along well, but almost every scene goes on too long. We see the distortions to the histories of the heroes for a dozen pages. Then we see the heroes slugging it out with villains and trying to save citizens caught in the growing devastation. Then we see the heroes starting to learn the truth of their dire situation, a truth the core readership of this story had to have figured out two dozen pages earlier. It's all well-written and well-drawn, but it's all too familiar.
This penultimate chapter of the crossover doesn't live up to its potential until its final pages. The Grandmaster, that cosmic game-player, gets a moving star turn and sets the stage for a scene of quiet horror, acceptance, and heroism from the gathered teams. This last-minute save has me wanting to return for the finale, and hoping the finale offers more derivations from the expected than we have seen from JLA/AVENGERS to date.
On the strength of those final pages, JLA/AVENGERS works its way up to three-and-a-half Tonys. It would be my pleasure to give the big finish a much higher score.
Quiet heroism, along with thoughtful contemporary humor, are the hallmarks of HEROES ANONYMOUS #2 (Bongo; $2.99). The stories in this six-issue mini-series revolve around group therapy sessions for super-heroes.
This session spotlights "The Inglorious Grievance of the Gay Avenger." His grievance is...he's not gay.
Butch Baxter is a naive country boy who assumes the mantle of the Gay Avenger from his elderly grandfather. But his grandfather wore mask, cape, and tights in a different time, when "gay" denoted his light-hearted attitude towards fighting crime, his bright smile giving hope and assurance to those he defended. But things change, including words and language, as Butch discovers when he leaves the family farm for the big city. Butch's ignorance of what "gay" has come to mean may appear a bit far-fetched, but his struggle to deal with this revelation and to weigh the consequences of his choice is heroic and human drama. Super-hero comics, even satirical ones, don't have to be about the blasting and the hitting and the shock value; HEROES ANONYMOUS offers a different take.
The series also offers a different visual take: it's black and white and blue. I don't know if I've seen this since the days when Renegade was publishing the riveting MS. TREE comics by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty. I like the change of pace.
Well-deserved kudos must be extended to creators Bill Morrison (story, edits) and Scott M. Gimple (script), penciler Pia Guerra, inker Andrew Pepoy, letterer Chris Ungar, and Serban Cristescu, who is credited with "graphic embellishment and design." In addition to their 28-page story, HEROES ANONYMOUS #2 also features a three-page letters column and a Morrison afterword. That's pretty good bang-for-your-bucks, well worth four Tonys.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1572 [January 2, 2004], which shipped December 15. The cover story was "From Legend to Comics" and announced the coming of THE MONOLITH, a new ongoing DC Comics series about a golem in New York City by writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. The title will be drawn by Phil Winslade.
The secondary lead was "Arturion acquires Lee's Pow!." Stan Lee's Pow! Entertainment, which produced STRIPERELLA and is also producing the new HEF'S SUPERBUNNIES cartoon, is being acquired by Arturion Entertainment Inc. Hollywood business hurts my head, so I'll just add that I hope this is good for Stan.
CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK
The question posed in CBG #1572 was:
What's your favorite film taken from a comic book?
After rolling the question around in my head for a number of hours, I came up with four possibilities. However, before I get to them, let me tell you why no BATMAN or SUPERMAN movies made it on my short list.
A BATMAN movie should be about Batman, the trauma he suffered as a child, the good he's forged from that pain, and the sacrifices he makes so no other innocent will know his anguish. The first of the Batman movies came close to achieving that, but it made Batman a bit too brutal and vengeful and had the Hollywood "boy gets girl" ending. The subsequent "Super-Villain Team-Up" films were plagued by too many characters and a loss of focus.
I enjoyed the first SUPERMAN movie up to the ridiculous finale in which he turned back time, and thought the second one was worth seeing. But I've yet to see the SUPERMAN film I truly want to see, the one in which he proves he can be a hero even without his powers and further shows us that, by doing good unto others, any one of us can be a superman.
Which brings us to our four finalists:
ROAD TO PERDITION. This great film only comes in fourth on my list because its story isn't a comic-book story per se. It's not that the comic book was anything less than terrific. It's that the story itself would have been equally terrific as a novel or, as we have seen, a movie.
X2: X-MEN UNITED gets third place. At their best, the X-Men are about saving us from ourselves. We created the world in which those who are different are persecuted. We created the atmosphere of fear that continually puts us in jeopardy. The X-Men are heroes because they haven't given up on us and they will risk their lives and their freedom to help us become better people tomorrow than we are today.
SPIDER-MAN is the runner-up. It earns this by being faithful to the comics where it counts...and for embracing the oft-repeated message of great power bringing great responsibility. Peter Parker doesn't even get the girl at the end of the film.
Michael O'Sullivan loses the girl early in ROAD TO PERDITION. Neither Logan or Scott Summers get the girl in X2. Parker doesn't get the girl in SPIDER-MAN. Amusingly, after applauding this trio of films, my pick for my favorite film taken from a comic book is one in which the hero DOES get the girl.
My favorite comic-book film is AMERICAN SPLENDOR. The comics of Harvey Pekar reveal the truths of his life and his world better than they could be revealed in prose or on film. What makes this such a great comics movie is how completely it embraced its comic-book origins and drew from the strengths of that source material. We watch "our hero" live and grow, his journey presented with such heart and such unity of vision that we are "in" the film from start to finish. AMERICAN SPLENDOR is a cinema classic, a movie viewers will enjoy for decades to come.
Those are my choices. What are yours?
Some online pals and I were recently discussing the Batman and how we would handle the character if we were entrusted with such a comics icon. I resisted for a bit, but then decided to join in on the fun. Cleaned up a bit - because we all know how sloppy we get when we're just "talking" online - here's what I wrote:
My Batman is Bruce Wayne. A man who brought the killers of his parents to justice and, at that moment, rededicated his life to doing whatever he could to keep others from suffering the loss and pain he suffered. That's the moment when Batman becomes a hero and not just a vigilante.
Sidekick-wise, I'd lose everyone but Nightwing (who would only appear on rare occasion), Robin (who'd appear more frequently, but not routinely), Alfred, and Oracle. I *might* keep the Huntress. She kind of sort of interests me.
Cops and politicians would turn over with alarming regularity. How could anyone stand or survive Gotham City for long? Ditto the people in Wayne's life...and I would definitely give the man a life outside of the cape and cowl. He's not insane.
By giving intentionally transitory players a somewhat larger presence in stories, I could alter some aspects of Batman's world and, hopefully, keep it fresh.
I suggest none of us - especially me - hold our breath waiting for the Batman ala Tony Isabella, but, to engage in some additional speculation...
My reading of Batman titles has been extremely spotty since *before* Gotham City was hit with that earthquake back in 1998 or thereabouts and has gotten even more spotty since then. Here's my Bat-challenge to you...
If you were Batman's editor and had just hired Tony Isabella to write the hero - and had somehow managed not to be committed to Arkham Asylum as a result of this foolhardy decision - what ten or so Batman comics or trades would you instruct that Isabella fellow to read before writing his first story for you?
If you play this game well enough for me to run your list and your reasoning for the items on the list in a future TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, I'll send you a box of spiffy things from the landfill that is my office. Employees of the Wayne Foundation and members of the Justice League are not eligible to participate in this competition. Void where prohibited by Hypertime.
I want to thank all of you for being so patient with me as my new year and this column got off to rocky starts. With just a bit of luck, I should be back on schedule by the end of the month and be able to maintain that schedule.
No TOT will be skipped in January. I'll be moving up some of my CBG reprints to get me back on schedule sooner, but, if all goes even moderately well, we'll be back to all-new TOTs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the reprint-plus columns on Saturdays within another couple of weeks.
Thanks again for your patience and for your continuing support of my efforts. I'll be back soon with more stuff.
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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