"Many a man who celebrates the arrival of the new year should celebrate instead the survival of the old"
"New Year's Day is every man's birthday"
Happy birthday, everyone. Let's hit the reviews.
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 is...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.
Alex Ross and Paul Dini's JLA: LIBERTY AND JUSTICE (DC; $9.95) is the longest and reportedly the last of their oversized looks at the major heroic icons of the DC Universe. Previous volumes have showcased Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the original Captain Marvel. I've loved every one of these thoughtful tales, delighting in Dini's writing and the amazing Ross paintings which accompanied it. Thus, it surprises me to love this end-piece measurably less than I loved the earlier volumes.
Since coming to this revelation, I have been trying to figure out why I didn't enjoy LIBERTY AND JUSTICE as much as I enjoyed its predecessors. Dini's writing is as good as ever and includes some wonderful character bits for some of the heroes. Ross' paintings are as ever, a seamless merging of fantasy and reality. His heroes look like you can reach out and touch them, yet he depicts them in this manner without diminishing their heroic aspects. In working out why the book didn't quite work for me, this is the best I could come up with:
What's the point of this story? I give kudos to Dini and Ross for coming up with a menace that actually did require the League to act unilaterally and with an expediency that even the super-heroes realized exceeded their authority to do so. Albeit after the fact, the heroes make a convincing case for their actions. Therein lies my problem, one which I admit may be more in my own head than in Dini's or Ross'.
If this story is even partially a political statement, it does not make itself clear as to what the statement is. Is it a defense of such actions? Is it a condemnation of the failure to disclose pertinent information Americans and the world have a right to know and the inability to work with other nations rather than imposing dictates on them?
It's a fine scene when J'onn J'onzz and the Justice League members appear humbly before the United Nations to explain their actions, marred only by the odd decision to have the shape-changing Martian pose as Superman for the first half of his speech. That wouldn't exactly fill me with confidence that these mighty beings could be trusted.
If the story isn't a political statement, it should have been. Such a global canvas begs for a serious and timely theme, even in addition to the timeless theme of fair-minded people of differing backgrounds coming together for the common good. Recognizing that the super-hero genre has fallen on hard and repetitive times, I'm becoming insistent that they either do the classics brilliantly or actually break the new ground touted in their publishers' desperate plethora of press releases.
My other problem with LIBERTY AND JUSTICE is so strictly fan-based it embarrass even me. Dini and Ross did a wonderful job of presenting the "Big Seven" members of the Justice League: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and good old J'onn J'onzz. They also did a great job incorporating the Atom into the story. Every other hero who appears seems forced into the tale, with the presence of Captain Marvel and Plastic Man even more jarring than most. I got the feeling the second-stringers were in the book mostly because Ross wanted to paint them.
I recognize my bridled enthusiasm for JLA: LIBERTY AND JUSTICE may lie more in my personal idiosyncrasies than in the book itself. I also recognize that, even if this book is as flawed as I believe it to be, it's still worth buying and reading. Ross and Dini have created a remarkable body of work in their five collaborations and that should also be recognized.
My pal Laurie Jacobson has a new book out. DISHING HOLLYWOOD (Cumberland House; $16.95) offers "the real scoop on Tinseltown's most notorious scandals," told with Laurie's usual wit and wisdom. One of the countless things I like about Laurie is that she writes with honest affection about many of her subjects and equally honest disapproval of those what deserve it...and there's never a question about which is which.
DISHING is more than just the scandals. Each subject gets his or her own mini-biography, at least one photo and sometimes several photos, and, as dessert, a recipe for one of the subject's favorite meals, drinks, or confectionaries. It lightens the outrageousness of the scandals, though I fear that it I were ever to be involved in something ignominious enough to attract Laurie's attention, the recipe would be "Hamburger Helper Beef Pasta." To save Laurie some work, I should just send her a box.
Laurie is currently working with her husband Jon Provost, who played "Timmy" on LASSIE, on his biography. When she finishes that book, I have a suggestion for her next one:
HOLLYWOOD'S NICE GUYS
You see, I've come to trust Laurie's judgment in these things and I can think of few people more qualified to tell the stories of those Hollywood shakers and movers, stars and big players, writers and directors, who were, against the odds, thoroughly decent folks who did right by others, walking the walk, and doing unto others in the spirit of compassion and even generosity.
Laugh if you will. Make all the "pamphlet" jokes you'd like. I think it would be a great book!
However, while you're waiting for that book, don't hesitate to pick up DISHING HOLLYWOOD. I recommend it highly, serving up it to you with a side order of four Tonys.
Our final review this week is BATGIRL #45 (DC; $2.50), a more- or-less done-in-one issue by writer Dylan Horrocks, penciler Rick Leonardi, and inker Jesse Delperdang.
I must qualify the "done-in-one" designation because the issue does have a number of confusing references to "Tarakstan" and also kicks off a storyline about a new designer drug that's hitting the streets of Gotham City. I have no clue what the former is about, but the latter is one of the new cliches we get in today's gritty super-hero comic books. This particular new drug turns some of its users into rampaging brutes strong enough to lift automobiles over their heads and throw them at Batgirl. Yawn.
The colorful James Jean cover catches the eye, but don't look at it too long or you realize how little sense it makes. Batgirl is gripping some big lug's shirt and kneeing him in the side with her fist drawn back after hitting him in the face hard enough to shatter his glasses. Find some unsuspecting big slob and attempt to duplicate this scene. Even without the high-heeled boots, I bet you can't do it.
"Soul" reads like a script by a good writer who thinks writing super-hero comics is all about the cliches: start with action, do some character bits and soul searching, more action with a hint of more to come next issue, and profound ending. Okay, yeah, this is a pattern myself and most comics writers have used, some always and some sparingly. But we keep hearing about bold new directions and, save for the occasional foray into shock value, we're not getting them. Maybe it's time to bring back some of the old guard writers with the directive to break the rules that they, at least, mastered during their time in the super-hero trenches.
The only time the script picks up is when the current Batgirl and the original Batgirl discuss how hot the original looked in her costume...and the current Batgirl dresses up in it for a night of crime-fighting. Based on overheard bits of conversation between my 12-year-old daughter and her friends, "hotness" is something which young girls aspire to without really considering the sexual aspects of it. It's an innocence which won't last, but it rings true with the current Batgirl. Less fresh is the current Robin drooling over his retro-garbed ally; I've seen that one before.
It should also be noted that this script is not friendly to a new reader. If you haven't been reading the book, all you'll know about this Batgirl's connection to the Batman family is that there is a connection. Would it have destroyed the artistic value of the comic to stick an introductory caption or two on the first page of the story? I doubt it.
The Leonardi/Delperdang artwork is pretty nice, though I would have liked to see them challenged by the script more. They do take advantage of a few moments: some nice reaction shots of Cassandra when she's not wearing her mask, a good body language shot when she slips on her high heels, and some good super-hero in action panels. Too bad muddy coloring kept the last two from being as effective as they could have been.
BATGIRL #45 gets a disappointing two Tonys. Disappointing on account of I *want* to love super-hero comics in general and Batman titles in particular...and I'm just not feeling it.
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:
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.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1573 [January 8, 2004], which shipped on December 22, 2003. The cover story was "Dead Again?" and reported that, while the ongoing BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER comics series had ended, Dark Horse Comics would continue to produce licensed BUFFY comics.
The above column is also mostly reprint, even more so than my CBG reprints usually are. I "wrote" it at the end of one of those weeks when it seemed like anything that could get between me and my writing did. Just one stupid little distraction after another day after day after day. It was frustrating.
My CBG editors allowed me to cobble together a "Tony's Tips" column which consisted of reviews I had written for TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. If you're a regular TOT reader, you've seen them before at this very website. Mea culpa.
Peter David frequently takes his blog comments and edits them into his "But I Digress" columns, but, on those rare occasions when I've done this, my guilt weighed heavily on me for days afterwards. Hopefully, the above marks my last losing battle with the Dreaded Deadline Doom.
I've a few more notes on the above column and then we can move on to other business.
I edited my JLA: LIBERTY AND DEATH review before sending it to CBG, removing specific references to Faux-President George W. Bush. It would have been churlish of me to repay my CBG editors for their understanding by exposing them to e-mailed and telephoned harangues from the half-dozen conservative chowder heads who routinely demand I be removed from the paper and/or burned at the stake. My attempt at fairness and balance probably didn't work - these folks complain if I write that a manga book is supposed to be read right-to-left - but at least I made the effort.
If you'd like more information on DISHING HOLLYWOOD and other Laurie Jacobson books, check out her website:
One last addendum item. Much to my dismay, no U.K. reader has contacted me vis-a-vis sending me Panini Comics samples in exchange for goods from the colonies. I'm still interested in such a trade, and I'm willing to sweeten the deal with autographed copies of my books and comics. Any takers?
Let's see what else I have for you today.
DAVE COCKRUM HOSPITALIZED
You've probably already read this news release elsewhere, but I want to get the word out to as many fans as possible. Send it on to anyone you think may not have seen it:
DAVE COCKRUM IN SERIOUS CONDITION;
TRIBUTE BOOK & BENEFIT AUCTION PLANNED
January 16, 2004--Dave Cockrum has been hospitalized with a severe case of double pneumonia, as well as a bacterial infection in his lungs and his blood. He is in serious condition and being cared for at the Intensive Care Unit at Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital in New York.
Cockrum, who made his professional debut in 1973 on DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, became one of the last members of Marvel's legendary Bullpen where he revamped the then-canceled Uncanny X-Men. The characters he personally designed include Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm, Mystique, Phoenix, Thunderbird, The Starjammers, and The Futurians.
A tribute book edited by Clifford Meth to benefit Cockrum is in the works. Contributors include Murphy Anderson, Dick Ayers, Mark Bagley, Chris Claremont, Gene Colan, Peter David, Harlan Ellison, Mark Evanier, Neil Gaiman, Ron Garney, Tony Isabella, Stan Lee, John Romita, Marie Severin, Dave Sim, Mark Texeira, Roy Thomas, Lee Weeks, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman. A benefit auction is also being planned.
People who do not know Paty Cockrum personally are asked to not call her home. Cards are welcome and can be sent to:
Dave Cockrum c/o
Bronx VA Medical Center
130 W Kingsbridge Road
Bronx, NY 10468
Dave Cockrum is one of my oldest pals in comicdom. We go back to the Marvel fanzines of the 1960s, long before either of us broke into professional comics.
Paty Cockrum is also a dear friend, dating back to my earliest days as a Marvel staffer. When I moved into my penthouse apartment in Manhattan - and, trust me, that sounds far more impressive than it actually was - she even helped me clean up the place.
Dave and Paty ain't just good people. They are among the very best and most creative people I know.
Contributors to the benefit auction and tribute book are being added on what seems like an hourly basis. Your best bets for the most current information on these worthy causes are Clifford Meth's AARDWOLF PUBLISHING website...and also that seemingly endless font of online wisdom, Mark Evanier's NEWS FROM ME.
As much as it occasionally depresses me to admit this, if you only have time to visit one website a day, then that website should be my pal Mark's:
Please bid as high on the benefit auction...and order as many copies of the tribute book...as your finances permit. I would be hard pressed to name two more worthy recipients of your generosity and support than Dave and Paty. Thank you.
Thanks also for spending a part of your day with me. 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.
Please send material you would like me to review to: