"If there is one thing upon this earth that mankind love and admire better than another, it is a brave man - it is the man who dares to look the devil in the face and tell him he is a devil."
- James A. Garfield
Our opening quote is apropos of nothing in particular. It's just been sitting in my files for a couple months and I felt like using it to jump-start this week's column.
The jump-starting of the column is the most important part of writing the column. Like legendary comics artist Mort Meskin, and, brother, do I hope I'm remembering this correctly, who couldn't do his penciling magic on a page unless someone else had first draw a scribble or two on it, I can't get going on the reviews or whatever I'm going to be writing about until I get some words on the screen. It doesn't matter if the first words are good or not - I throw away ten quotes for every one I use - they are the line of demarcation between thinking about writing the column and actually writing the column. God bless them.
Let's hit the reviews...
THE PULSE #1 (Marvel; $2.99) takes heroine Jessica Jones from the Max title ALIAS and relaunches her into the Marvel Universe proper. Writer Brian Michael Bendis continues to chronicle the life of the former super-heroine and private detective, joined by penciler Mark Bagley and inker Scott Hanna. It's been a year or more since I've "visited" with Jones, so I was looking forward to catching up with her and seeing how she was handling the transition from the "mature readers" tone of ALIAS to the "PSR" rating of this new title, not that I'm 100% what "PSR" means.
Snarky aside: you would think Marvel, having gone to all the trouble of creating its own ratings system, would post the ratings and their meanings on its website. My best guess for "PSR" is that it corresponds to "parental guidance strongly recommended," but it could also be "please send roses."
The "snarky aside" was to build suspense. Anyone who has been reading my reviews for any length of time knows that THE PULSE is my kind of comic book.
Cribbed from the Marvel Comics website, here's the premise of THE PULSE:
In the tradition of MARVELS and from the creative team behind ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN! The Daily Bugle has never been a friend of the super heroes of NYC, but with profits down and the newspaper's survival on the line, J. Jonah Jameson turns the heat up a notch! Meet the Bugle''s new team of super hero investigative journalists - Jessica Jones, Kat Farrell & Ben Urich - as they dig up the dirt on the city's most famous heroes...no matter the cost or who gets hurt!
Most of what a reader needs too know about Jessica, Luke Cage, and her co-workers is here in the first issue. I may not learn the specifics of past events, but Bendis provides enough information to get me in the game from the start. Bagley's clear storytelling is an asset in this regard, depicting human activities in a dramatic and even dynamic fashion. Even without super-punch-ups, the art is exciting throughout the issue.
I love the cast of THE PULSE. Jessica was always vulnerable, but, in ALIAS, that came out of her weaknesses. She still projects that vulnerability, but, more so than in ALIAS, she shows a growing inner strength, a willingness to accept great responsibility, and a determination to live up to that responsibility. She has become a better and stronger person.
CBG readers know I had considerable problems with how Cage was depicted in the early issues of ALIAS. I loved his role in PULSE. I believe that he and Jessica are together and that they are both trying to make their relationship and shared responsibilities work. Bendis and Bagley show us the changes Jessica is making in her life to accommodate those responsibilities and I'm confident we'll see the same from Cage before long.
When he is written well, J. Jonah Jameson is one of the best characters in comics. He can be played for comic relief, yes, but he's also a forceful individual with his own views and the courage to express them and accept the fallout. His separate conversations with Jessica and reporter Ben Urich had me grinning. The man knows how to get the best out of his employees.
Ben Urich? Having not read DAREDEVIL in years, I confess I'm at a disadvantage as to the rift between him and Jameson. I should catch up on that title one of these months. What did come through in his final scene this issue is that, while he still does what he thinks is right, he values Jameson as an employer and maybe even as a friend.
From early on in the issue, Bendis and Bagley tease us with a body floating in a Central Park pond. At issue's end, we learn the victim is a woman, dropped into the pond from on high, and someone whose name the detectives on the scene recognize. The closing line is "Aw, man, this is gonna be a nightmare..."
The last page is a full-pager of the detective's hand holding the victim's photo I.D. in the glare of spotlights from an overhead helicopter. It's a tease because, while we get a fairly good shot of the victim's face, we can't make out anything else on the card save for a few letters of her signature. I don't mind the tease - unless she's a major Marvel character, an occasional reader like me wouldn't know her anyway - but, even allowing for the spotlight's glare, the I.D. card looks incomplete. If you're drawing my eye to an object in such an extreme manner, you should show me something. Tease me, but tease me fairly.
As a sub-genre, I like comics about reporters-and-super-heroes almost as much as I like comics about cops-and-super-heroes. THE PULSE #1 didn't have me from "hello," but it did by the end of its premiere issue. On my scale of zero to five, this comic book earns the full five Tonys.
THE LOSERS: ANTE UP (Vertigo: $9.95) is a trade collection of the first six issues of the series by writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock. Only the name as been taken from the World War II group who appeared in OUR FIGHTING FORCES and other DC Comics war titles of the 1970s. The new "Losers" are "black ops foot soldiers" betrayed and left for dead by their C.I.A. handlers; their aim is to regain their lives by exposing the Agency's illegal activities.
What sets Diggle's Losers apart from most protagonists on this well-traveled road is that, whatever they might have done on past missions, they aren't ruthless murderers. They make a distinction between, for example, "innocent security guards" and the mercenary "stone killers" who enter the story about midway through this trade paperback. They might bruise those innocent security guards, but they don't kill them in the name of expediency. This I like, not just because it's a comfortable fit with my own moral parameters, but because it shows the intelligence of the Losers. Slaughtering on sight is a strategy for simpletons.
I give top marks to Diggle's writing. The characters act and speak convincingly. He holds back enough information (exactly what happened in Afghanistan to create their predicament and why Agency spook Aisha is working with them) to keep readers wondering without being obnoxious about it. He includes plenty of action, moments of extreme tension, and surprising twists. This is an adventure comic for adults and mature teens, and it reaches that goal without going overboard with explicit language or violence.
On the visual end, I like Jock's artwork and Lee Loughridge's coloring. However, there are places where actions and characters aren't portrayed clearly, forcing the reader to pause to figure out what happened and who it happened to. This isn't the most major of quibbles, but, when the rest of the material is as good as this is, such little flaws annoy me.
THE LOSERS: ANTE UP is a terrific introduction to the series. It wins Diggle and Jock an impressive four Tonys.
The WB has announced the cancellation of ANGEL, that beloved spinoff from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. After hearing the sad news, I wanted an extra "Buffy-verse" fix, which I found in the form of TALES OF THE VAMPIRES #1-3 (Dark Horse; $2.99 each). With stories by Buffy creator Joss Whedon and other television writers, this new anthology series seemed likely to meet my need.
The title got off to a good start with covers by John Totleben (#1) and Ben Templesmith (#2). I couldn't deny the quality of Eric Powell's painting for the third issue, but its romanticized Dracula didn't move me as did the other covers.
Whedon kicks off each issue with a continuing segment in which young children, future Watchers, are brought to a dank dungeon to converse with a vampire. It took me all three issues to appreciate what I had originally dismissed as merely a somewhat different take on the standard horror comic host. In just four pages per issue, Whedon is developing intriguing characters and situations, building towards something. I like it and have also become fond of the art by penciler Alex Sanchez and inker Derek Fridolfs.
Each issue features two stories and, as is often the case with an anthology, they are of mixed interest. Spike and Drusilla are the featured players of Drew Goddard's "The Trouble With Vampires" in the first ish, but the story holds no surprises and its message, that humans are capable of as much cruelty as the vampires, rates a big old "Well, duh!" on my scale.
Goddard returned in TOTV #3 with the even more disappointing "Antique." Set at least a year after the Buffy series finale, it features Dracula (still not a good fit in the Buffy-verse), Buffy, and Xander. Even if this weren't the first post-series tale in the comics, it would be an unimpressive effort. None of the characters come off well and the Ben Stenbeck artwork forces the weak comedy of the script.
TOTV #1 also had "Stacy" by Whedon and artist Cameron Stewart. It's a well-written story of a young woman's fascination with magic and the visuals are terrific. It's not a spectacular tale, but it is a good one.
Thus far, Jane Espenson is the star of this anthology. Issue #2's "Spot the Vampire" is an amazingly clever tale with amazingly appropriate art by Scott Morse. Issue #3's "Father" truly tugs at the old heartstrings. Credit Jason Alexander for the latter tale's evocative visuals. More Espenson, please.
That leaves "Jack" by writer Brett Matthews and artist Vatche Mavlian. I saw the ending coming on the second page, no huge boast given the title of the comic. Despite this, with good writing and art, I'd still rate the story as solidly entertaining.
How about a WOLFRAM AND HART COMICS SPECIAL? That's the evil law firm currently be run by Angel in the hope of making it a not-quite-so-evil law firm. Such a special could be the HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS of the Buffy-verse. Especially if Whedon writes a few songs for it.
Have your people call my people.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1583 [March 19, 2004], which shipped March 1. Editor Maggie Thompson's cover story reported that Image Comics had named Erik Larsen as its new publisher, replacing fellow Image founder Jim Valentino. For me, this is one of those "mixed blessings" announcements, I have a great deal of respect for both Larsen and Valentino. On a personal level, I like them both. An announcement like this leaves me with little more to say than I wish them both luck and success, and that I wish the same for Image Comics.
"Judges uphold Gaiman" was the headline of the secondary lead. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judges found that Gaiman and SPAWN creator Todd McFarlane co-own the material Gaiman originated: Count Nicholas Cogliostro, Angela, Medieval Spawn, two issues of SPAWN (#9 & #26), ANGELA #1-3, and books reprinting those issues. If you search the web, you can probably find explanations of what this actually means.
BEST LAID PLANS
World Famous Comics webmaster Justin and yours truly are still working towards bringing you a new TOT every day. We were going pretty good until I got zapped with a kidney stone attack. Thanks to my doctors and some sweet medications, I'm up and running again. Please keep good thoughts coming our way - and, of course, those lovely PayPal donations - and we'll keep working towards achieving that daily frequency.
CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK
The question for the March 19 issue was:
What's your favorite comic-book publisher? Why?
Asking me that question is like asking a parent which of his children is his favorite. At the moment, I'm feeling all sorts of good will towards Marvel because of the way the company came to the aid of Dave Cockrum in his hour of need. Kudos to the participants on both sides of the deal for making this happen.
Almost every comics outfit has something special about it. I like a lot of what DC Comics has done in the past and some of what they do currently. Bongo Comics are fun for me and my son Eddie. I get a kick out of AC Comics blend of reprints and classic-style new stories. Viz publishes SHONEN JUMP, my present favorite comic book, so they rate high on my list. Like Viz, ToykoPop delivers a variety of great manga series to readers every month. Dark Horse can be counted on for interesting books, as can Fantagraphics, IDW, Image, NBM, Oni Press, Top Shelf, and others. I dig Archie Comics and the remarkable stuff being produced by self-published creators. See what I mean? I can't pick just one.
How about you? Do you have a favorite comics publisher, past or present? If you do, feel free to sing its praises on the TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD:
The message board is open 24 hours a day for your convenience. Come on by and sit a spell.
If we're talking comics publishers who are no longer with us, one of my favorites was quirky CHARLTON COMICS. They came out with hundreds of titles, paid pretty lousy rates, and still managed to publish some exceptional material. My fondness for this company's comics is why I'm a member of Yahoo's CHARLTON LIST:
Shortly before Christmas, another member of the Charlton list posed this intriguing question:
Santa has you on his nice list and puts a special present under the tree--a new, never-before-seen Charlton comic. If you could get a new Charlton for Christmas, who would the character be or what book would it be? Maybe an anthology title like GHOSTLY TALES? Who would be the writer and artist of that special issue? What story what you like to see in it?
My response was completely typical of the indecision I showed in the previous section of this column:
I can't narrow it down. A new issue of GORGO or KONGA with art by Steve Ditko and story by either Joe Gill or me. A new issue of THE LONELY WAR OF CAPT. WILLY SCHULTZ by Willi Franz and Sam Glanzman. I'm blanking on the actual title, but a new issue of the anthology whose hosts were the creepy head of a university and his daughter. It was written by Nick Cuti and drawn by Wayne Howard. Or maybe just a huge SHONEN JUMP-size comic with all of the above, plus representative tales of romance, western, science-fiction, super-heroes, funny animals, Mad-like spoofery, and even those hot-rod comics by Jack Keller!
You'll be happy to know that several of my fellow list members were quick to give me MIDNIGHT TALES as the name of the Nick Cuti and Wayne Howard title. I liked the book so much that, even though I was on staff at Marvel Comics at the time - the early 1970s - I sent Cuti a fan letter, which he published along with rave notices from other readers. Good times.
LET'S GO SURFING NOW
Since the beginning of the year, I have been pairing down my mailing lists, message boards, Yahoo groups, and frequently-visited websites to a more manageable state. Once I complete this task, I hope to add a LINKS page to the other wonderments to be found here at TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. In the meantime, I'll be throwing out some recommendations here and there. Like, for example...
Every month, TART's "eclectic band of women" gather together dozens of articles, columns, interviews, and reviews into one heck of a webzine. That "dozens" isn't an exaggeration; there are forty features on the "contents page" of TART'S March edition, covering comics, anime, books, games, movies, music, television, and more. This month's interviews include Christopher Golden, J.M. DeMatteis, and Tony Bedard.
My recommendation is to make SEQUENTIAL TART a daily stop on your online journeys, reading three or four articles on each visit. Check it out at:
Marc Mason's weekly SHOULD IT BE A MOVIE? is another review column worth checking out. Though he'll break format every now and then, Mason writes two-step reviews: he reviews a comic book or a graphic novel, and then he discusses whether or not the work should be a movie. There's nothing quite like it anywhere else in online comics fandom. Look for it every Tuesday at:
Once a month or so, I receive an e-mail from readers who have just discovered this site and who also remember my comics writing fondly. These readers frequently express the wish that I was still writing comic books. Sigh.
It was never my choice not to be writing comic books; that was how it worked out. I hope that I will be writing comic books again in the not-too-distant future, but, until that time, you can find me here...and in the pages of COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE...and in a few other places as well.
STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE by Bob Ingersoll and myself is still available at most bookstores. It's the first of what we hope will be a series of "Sam Cogley mysteries" starring the eccentric lawyer who defended James T. Kirk when the Enterprise captain was court-martialed. Fan and professional reaction to this book has been very positive...and Bob and I are pleased with it as well. If you order it through the ACTION IS MY REWARD link you'll find elsewhere on this page, World Famous Comics even makes a few cents on the deal.
I'm also one of the contributors to THE UNCANNY DAVE COCKRUM TRIBUTE BOOK, which is being compiled and published by Cliff Meth's Aardwolf Publishing to assist Dave and his wife Paty as they deal with Dave's recent illnesses. Even though Marvel Comics has come through for Dave in recognition of his creation and co-creation of some of their most popular characters, the settlement won't cover all their needs.
Here's what you can expect from the tribute book, which would be worth buying even if the cause weren't so worthy:
Having spoken with Dave recently, I know he's happy about the Marvel settlement and excited about all the writers and artists who are contributing to this book. The outpouring of love and support for the Cockrums is one of those comics industry stories that just gets better and better. Look for commentary and updates in future installments of this column.
Thanks for spending a part of your busy 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: