Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Every now and then, I receive an e-mail so bizarre that, after I read it and delete it, I wish I had saved it because it deserved to be shown to the world. In the future, I'll try to less quick on the delete key.
I received an e-mail last week, originating from a "Hotmail" account and signed with a pseudonym, which I probably couldn't have run even if I had saved it. It was long and filled with inexpertly wielded profanity. Its core messages were:
1. Tony Isabella hates America and the one true God.
2. This is why Tony likes manga and 2000 AD.
3. Tony is probably a "homo" to boot.
4. We need laws to lock people like Tony away.
I know it's very early in March, but I seriously doubt anyone will be able to challenge this guy for the coveted title of "Moron of the Month."
However, from the electronic transmissions of the witless, one thought did occur to me. I have written extensively on why I like manga and why I think American comics creators and publishers can learn from manga. But, beyond mentioning I like 2000 AD's weekly format, I don't think I've ever explained why I devote considerable bandwidth to reviewing the comic and the magazines which have spun off from it. Until now.
1. 2000 AD has published the earliest efforts of some of the best writers and artists in modern comics, among them Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Alan Davis, Dave Gibbons, Alan Grant, John Wagner, all the way to such relative newcomers as writers Andy Diggle and Ian Edginton. If you want a more complete list, and I'll warn you now that it will be a long one, visit the official 2000 AD website and glom the credits for the weekly's nearly 1400 issues plus its annuals and specials:
2. More often than not, 2000 AD offers bang-for-reader-bucks equal to or greater than that found in a typical American comic at much the same price.
3. I do love the weekly format.
4. I enjoy anthology titles.
5. Almost no one on this side of the Atlantic reads/reviews the weekly and I think that's a disservice to the excellent stories and artwork which frequently appear in its pages.
I think those are pretty good reasons. If you agree, that's dandy. If you disagree, you might want to skip past the next item on today's agenda.
Rebellion celebrated the end of the old year and the coming of the new with the very spiffy 2000 AD PROG 2004 ($10.99), a 100-page special setting the tone for the immediate future of the legendary comics weekly. This edition lived up to the "thrill-power" claim of its Duncan Fegredo/Graham Rolfe cover.
Judge Dredd kicked off the celebration by going to the Cursed Earth, the radioactive consequence of nuclear conflict, in search of "The Good Man." The solid done-in-one tale was written by Dredd co-creator John Wagner and drawn by Jim Murray.
The special featured the first chapters of new storylines for "The Red Seas" (a pirates-and-sorcery series by writer Ian Edginton and artist Steve Yeowell), "Slaine" (Celtic swords-and-sorcery by Pat Mills and artist Clint Langley), "Caballistics, Inc." (a dreary Hellboy/Hellraiser amalgam by Gordon Rennie and Dom Reardon), "The V.C.s" (space war by Dan Abnett and Anthony Williams), and "Nikolai Dante" (the saga of a Russian adventurer who was on the losing side of a civil war by Robbie Morrison and John Burns). "Caballistics" and "Dante" will be continuing later in 2004...and I'll discuss the others in a bit.
"Robo-Hunter," a generally fondly-remembered and light-hearted series from the earlier days of the weekly, made its return in the special, courtesy of Alan Grant and Ian Gibson. The key difference in the story is that it stars Samantha Slade, granddaughter of the original Robo-Hunter. I liked the concept and the various twists seen in this first serial, which concluded in 2000 AD #1373, but the overall execution wasn't as strong or as funny as I would have hoped. Definitely a good start, though.
Other PROG 2004 features included:
"Tharg's Alien Invasions" by Henry Flint...Tharg is the alien host of the magazine - he's the guy on the cover - but he wasn't a character in these darkly amusing one-pagers. I hope we see more of Flint's humor in the weeks to come.
"Shako" and "Chopper"...pin-up/fact features spotlighting two of 2000 AD's classic characters. Fun stuff.
Let the word go out...given the chance and the permission of original Shako writers Mills and Wagner, I'd love to write a Shako serial. A killer bear with a top secret CIA capsule in his gut? By the time my second chapter ran, John Ashcroft would be hunkered down in a surveillance van outside my house.
"Monsters of Rock"...Gordon Rennie and Frazer Irving brought the funny to this done-in-one satire.
"Sinister Dexter"...the Downlode hitman in a prose tale by Dan Abnett with illustrations by Simon Davis. Not awful, but it's one joke couldn't sustain it all the way to the end.
On our floating columnist head scale of zero to five, 2000 AD PROG 2004 gets a well-earned four-and-a-half Tonys.
News bit. The special contains an advertisement for "Faces," an upcoming serial by John Higgins and Mindy Newell. If this Mindy Newell is the same one who used to work at DC Comics, "Faces" is a welcome comeback for a writer who showed quite a bit of promise in her previous work. I'm looking forward to this.
Back to the reviews...
Cat Sullivan's "Droid Life" ran on the editorial pages of 2000 AD #1371-1375 ($3.75 each). The comic strip featured the "droids" who write/draw/etc the weekly and it certainly brightened up those formerly dull - if useful - pages. I was disappointed to see it go missing in issue #1376 (replaced by a contest) and I hereby request that the mighty Tharg return it to the comic as soon as inhumanly possible. I miss it already.
Judge Dredd got off to a weak start in 2004. "Cincinnati," a three-issue tale by John Wagner and Carl Critchlow, was pretty much an exercise in judicial excess. That can be enormous fun at times, but, this time out, Dredd and crew just seemed petty.
Wagner redeemed himself in Prog 1374 with "S.A.M.," a classic bit of comedy about a sentient bomb with equally amusing art by Val Semeiks and Cliff Robinson.
Beginning in Prog 1375, Dredd must contend with the return of the Scarecrow...ah...I mean, the Master of Fear. Written by Wagner with art by John Burns, it's an entertaining hero/villain battle, but, unless the concluding chapters have some surprises, not a very memorable one.
"The Red Seas" continues to be an enjoyable series. Nothing groundbreaking, but solid adventure fare. The same can be said for "The V.C.s." I'm fond of both series.
Veteran TOT readers know "Slaine" has always been a tough sell to me, but I found myself getting into this serial, which concluded (for now) in Prog 1376. From now on, I'm going to read "Slaine" in larger chunks. It reads better that way.
That leaves the filler stories, done-in-one tales which appear in lieu of the serials. Progs 1374 and 1375 ran a pair of "Terror Tales" by, respectively, Steve Moore and Phil Winslade, and Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson. The Moore story was nice and creepy, better than usual for these filler, with good art by Winslade. The Kitching/Elson offering went for gore and a confusing shock ending, neither of which did anything for me.
Prog 1376 ran a "Past Imperfect" story showing the alternate universe fate of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the Earth. Written by Arthur Wyatt with artwork by Laurence Campbell and Kris Justice, its concept and its execution were top-notch. Wyatt has a novel or perhaps a continuing series here, and I hope he explores those possibilities.
Here's the 2000 AD scorecard...
2000 AD #1371: Three-and-a-half Tonys.
2000 AD #1372: Three-and-a-half Tonys.
2000 AD #1373: Three-and-a-half Tonys.
2000 AD #1374: Four-and-a-half Tonys.
2000 AD #1375: Four Tonys.
2000 AD #1376: Four-and-a-half Tonys.
I'll be getting around to the JUDGE DREDD EXTREME EDITION and the JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE later this week.
My pal RUSS MAHERAS sent this e-mail after reading yesterday's column. Here's Russ...
You wrote "Manga is often misunderstood by those who haven't sampled its range. Later in his letter, Michaels refers to it as a 'genre' and that's just plain wrong."
Absolutely! I've corrected several people in recent months who have referred to manga as a genre. Generally, it was in the context of "Well, look how well the manga genre is selling compared to the super-hero genre."
They were talking about SHONEN JUMP. What they don't seem to realize is A) manga is generally a style and format, not a genre, and B) many Shonen Jump characters, if they appeared in American comic books, would most likely be lumped into the super-hero genre. They have super-powers, magical powers or enhanced martial arts-type powers.
Keep on keeping 'em honest, Tony.
It's like my dear Uncle Ben once told me: "With daily columns, there must also come daily responsibility."
Thanks for spending a part of your busy day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
<< 03/16/2004 | 03/17/2004 | 03/18/2004 >>
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THE "TONY" SCALE
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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