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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Saturday, March 27, 2004


"I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them."

- Roland Barthes, French critic (1815-1880)

"Middle Age - When you want to see how long your car will last instead of how fast it will go."

- Anonymous

Do you name your cars?

I ask this odd question because Sainted Wife Barb and I have purchased a 2004 Mercury Monterey van, and because she really hates the name I gave it. More on that in a moment.

If we exclude the Batman's Batmobile, Green Arrow's ArrowCar, and other forms of heroic theme transportation, the first motorized moniker I can recall was the one my father gave a big blue station wagon in the 1960s. He named it "the Blue Beetle" after the 1940s comics character he knew from his youth.

The second motorized moniker I recall is Danny Zuko's "Greased Lighting" from the Broadway musical GREASE and, in the movie of the same name, driven by John Travolta. In case you were wondering, my dad is way cooler than Travolta. My dad never produced or starred in BATTLEFIELD EARTH.

My own first car was a Toyota something and I was over 30 when I bought it. It was a Japanese car and much too small to be called "Godzilla," so I named it "Mothra."

I should've called it "Target." A hit-and-run driver hammered it within two months of my getting it and it was hit three other times in the two years I owned it. It finally met its demise under suspicious circumstances: the owner of an auto service garage took umbrage at my taking umbrage at his giving me a loaner car without brakes. He refused to work on my car - it even vanished from his lot for a day - and, though I did get it back from him and have the routine maintenance done elsewhere, "Mothra" was never the same. It died a week later on I-71.

Several other - unnamed - vehicles came and went. I never got attached to any of them until, a decade ago, Barb and I bought the 1993 Ford Aerostar we still own.

I love that van. It ran for years needing nothing more than basic maintenance, not showing its age until struck by a careless driver who ran a red light. It has been a faithful steed, carrying me and mine wherever we had to go, but it's obviously on its last wheels. If it weren't for the local ordinances and a wife who has my psychiatrist on her speed dial, I would have it stuffed and put on honored display in our yard.

The Aerostar taught me how to love a car again. I'm so ready to commit to the new van that I gave it a name:


Get it? Monterey. Monterey Jack cheese. Its color, which is allegedly "gold ash," even sort of looks like the color of cheese which has lost its sheen of youth.

Sainted Wife doesn't like naming cars. She especially doesn't like giving them, as she so delicately put it, stupid names. When she hears me call our new van by name, she goes all Charlize Theron on me...and not in the good way.

In my moment of crisis, I turn to you, my beloved readers, for the answers to these questions:

Do you name your cars? If you DO name your cars, why did you name them whatever you named them? Most importantly, can you come up with a better name for my new van?

I hope so because I got nothing.

Except this week's reviews.


Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 1RUROUNI KENSHIN VOL. 1 (Viz; $7.95) kicks off creator Nobuhiro Watsuki's popular samurai saga, a series set in the time when the American "Black Ships" came to Japan and when the progressive Meiji age was dawning. Don't worry if you dozed off in "Japanese History 101"; Nobuhiro tells you everything you need to know about the era as his tale unfolds.

This is a new era for Japan, one intended to be less brutal, but one still brimming with dangers and villains. The carrying of swords is outlawed, but defiance is common. Some seek to forcibly return their land to the old ways while others corrupt the new ways for power and profit. Imposters abound and their crimes are often laid unfairly at the feet of the innocent.

Himura Kenshin is a rurouni, a swordsman traveling without a destination. A fierce warrior from the era now passed, his weapon is designed to protect the innocent without killing the guilty. In this first volume, he comes to the aid of a young woman struggling to restore the honor and fortunes of her family's dojo.

Kenshin is an intriguing and likeable hero. Whatever he has seen and done in his past, he is determined to live his life in as noble a manner as possible. Yet, for a man walking such a serious path, he has a welcome lightness of spirit. Nothing fazes Kenshin, but that doesn't stop Nobuhiro from telling exciting stories around his creation. The art isn't anything groundbreaking; it's simply good draftsmanship in service of the story. The English language adaptation is by veteran comics writer Gerard Jones.

Manga volumes generally take their lead stories up to either a satisfying conclusion or a gripping cliffhanger. In this volume, it's the latter, leaving room for several bonus features. Notable among them is the 31-page Rurouni story done a year before RUROUNI KENSHIN began and which served as a dry run for the series proper. It's interesting seeing what elements Nobuhiro kept intact from his "pilot" and which he modified.

RUROURI KENSHIN VOL. 1 is rated "T" for "older teens," but I wouldn't have any concerns giving it to a younger reader. On our decapitated columnist scale of zero to five, it earns a respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony


ZACHERLEY'S MIDNITE TERRORS (Chanting Monks Press; $3.95) is a "flip" comic book honoring one of the greatest horror movie hosts in television history. The front cover is a wonderful painting of actor John Zacherle - it is said he added that "Y" to give his real name more of a chilling effect - by Basil Gogos, who did so many memorable covers for the classic FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. The back cover by Ken Mayer, Jr. is a good one, but no Gogos. The flip covers suit the schizophrenic contents of the comic.

Some of the issue's stories, which features Zacherley as their host, are fun and fearful fare. Bryan Baugh's "Wulf & Batsy" is an amusing offering with a dab of gore; I'd like to see more of the title characters. I would also give solid marks to Frank Forte's "The Connection," and "The Old Ways" by Robert Tinnell and Neil D. Vokes. A good trio of tales these.

However, the highlight of the issue is "Frozen Meat" by writer Joe Monks and artist James Helkowski, easily the most chilling item on the menu. I also enjoyed the text tributes to Zacherley which kicked off the issue.

On the minus side, the remaining stories in the issue - "Shock Theater" and "Afterlife Express" - were of painfully low quality, especially when compared to the rest of the book. They lowered the rating of this special a full Tony.

That leaves ZACHERLEY'S MIDNITE TERRORS with a disappointing-but-still-decent three Tonys. Aficionados of the great television horror hosts will want this special, as will those readers who miss the creepy comics of the 1950s.

Tony Tony Tony


BETTY AND VERONICA #198 (Archie Comics; $2.19) could have just as easily and more appropriately been an issue of VERONICA. Each of the four stories in the issue centers around Veronica with Betty playing second or even third banana.

Kathleen Webb's "War of Words" was my favorite story in this issue, with Ronnie and Jughead trading in their usual taunts for an assortment of dictionary-spawned insults. With solid art by Jeff Schultz and Henry Scarpelli, who drew this issue's other stories as well, this made for a clever contest.

Webb scored again, this time with physical comedy, in "Safety First," though I saw the punch line coming from virtually the first page of the tale.

Craig Boldman's "Box Score" had his usual snappy dialogue, but the plot was familiar and the ending obvious. I expect better from my favorite Archie Comics writer.

Completing the book's quartet of stories, George Gladir's "The Trend To Be Trendy" was weak on comedy and long on preachiness. It was the weakest story in the issue.

BETTY AND VERONICA #198 also had several feature pages for a total of 26 pages of material. In terms of the industry's current pricing structures, it's a pretty good deal...and if that material had been better, I would now be awarding the issue more than three serviceable-but-hardly-star-studded Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony


We'll start with the disclaimer. I know Mike San Giacomo in his other identity as Mike Sangiacomo, general assignment reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I've worked with Mike Sangiacomo, if only to the limited extent of being quoted in some of his comics articles over the years. Mike Sangiacomo is no John F. Kennedy, a joke which doubtless sailed high above the heads of CBG's younger readers. However, it should also be noted that Mike San Giacomo is a lifelong comics fan who, his first time up at the comics-writing plate, very nearly hit one out of the park.

PHANTOM JACK #1 (Image Comics; $2.95) is the story of this guy who turns invisible. He's a hero in that he tries to do the right thing, but, like all of us, he has his fears and foibles...and they follow him from New York City to Iraq and back again.

Jack Baxter is a newspaper reporter and columnist. His knack for getting stories no one else can get - the invisibility - earns him props from editors and some fellow reporters, but he's weighed down by a tragic event in his past. He can't see his path, but he does seem to be looking for it.

PHANTOM JACK, born as part of Marvel's doomed "Epic" imprint, was rescued from that oblivion and moved to Image. San Giacomo's scripting suffers a wee bit from the "too many hands" syndrome of its origins, but it's solid work. He earns special props for his cast of characters, all of whom ring true.

Mitchell Breitweiser does the illustrating honors. This may or may not be the first time I've seen his work - I honestly can't recall - but it's the first time it's made a positive impact on me. He's great on faces and expressions, good on motion, and a little too literal on some backgrounds. A panel showing a Saddam Hussein palace looks more like a backdrop painting than a real building, a minor complaint, but a complaint nonetheless. Let the record show, however, that I only get this picky when I think a writer or artist has the potential for greatness.

I have more problems with the Jaime Jones coloring. Like so much of the computer coloring in comics today, it's way too dark. "Moody" is fine for some scenes, but even what should be well-lit scenes look dreary-grey. I'm not being facetious when I say Jones needs to "lighten up."

In addition to the 22-page lead story, San Giacomo gives us a letters page, a page from Baxter's newspaper that hints at future tales (like the presence of another invisible man), and a smidgen of biographical information on PHANTOM JACK's creators. There is also a trashy five-page preview of another Image title, but, after wrestling with this decision, I've decided not to hold the preview against the Jack pack.

PHANTOM JACK #1 earns four out of five Tonys. In the future, as more of San Giacomo's unfiltered voice comes through, I expect it will work its way up to the full five.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


My apologies. I can't let this go.

PHANTOM JACK #1 includes a five-page preview of a badly-drawn, badly-written series called REAPER. Perhaps it's unfair to judge from so few pages - though, when you think about it, that's exactly what readers are being asked to do - but REAPER seems to be little more than a boring exercise in graphic violence. Maybe there are readers for this type of material, but I can't imagine they are the same readers who were attracted to PHANTOM JACK.

This is why I can't let it go. Whoever made the decision to run the REAPER preview in PHANTOM JACK could not have give even a moment's thought to what an incongruous pairing this is.

PHANTOM JACK is a realistic and thoughtful comic, one I would have little problem giving to readers as young as my own 12 and 15-year-old children.

REAPER is amateuristic violent junk. I would be embarrassed to show it to anyone. Yet there it squats in the back of a comic book I would like to share with others.

My suggestion to future Image creators: insist the company get your approval of any preview material it wishes to run in the back of your comic. The company offers enough diverse material that it shouldn't be difficult to find a good match...and that will benefit Image as much as it does creators and readers.



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1584 [March 26, 2004], which shipped March 8. The cover story was "Dan Buckley Speaks," wherein the new Marvel Comics publisher reflected on the changes his assuming the top spot will bring to the company and his outlook on all things Marvel. The secondary lead played up DUCK DODGERS being nominated for three Daytime Emmys while giving the short end of the short article to STATIC SHOCK, which picked up a pair of nominations.

What the *bleep* does STATIC SHOCK have to do to get a modicum of respect from the comics industry? It's been nominated for any number of awards and won some prestigious ones. It gets absolutely wonderful ratings. It's one of the best super-hero cartoons ever, topped by only the very best of the Batman episodes. All that and there's no STATIC SHOCK comic books or toys currently being offered to its eager fans. That's beyond wrong.

But I digress.

My question about naming your cars brought in a whole bunch of e-mails, but I'm holding off posting them online until I can work them into another CBG column. I also got nice "thank you" e-mails from Viz and Mike Sangiacomo...and a note from the guy what stuck REAPER in the back of Sangiacomo's comic. You'll find that letter a few items down in today's online extravaganza.



The question was:

What comics would you share with a 4-year-old?

This was a tough one, mainly because I was very conservative with what my kids read at that age. I didn't want them exposed to depravity, despotism, discrimination, torture, zealotry, and other vices. But enough about THE BIBLE...

Among current comics, Mark Crilley's AKIKO comes to mind and it's the only one which easily leaps to my mind. Four seems pretty darned young to that I'm 107 or so...and perhaps too young for such fine comic books as AMELIA RULES, ARCHIE, ONE PIECE, PATTY CAKE AND FRIENDS, and the various Cartoon Network comics published by DC. I'd be open to suggestions.

Going back to older material, I would have a bigger selection. The DONALD DUCK and UNCLE SCROOGE comics by Carl Barks. The better MICKEY MOUSE comics. LITTLE LULU. Those great DENNIS THE MENACE specials of olden days. Of course, not having read many of these until I was in my late teens, I might not be the best judge of what four-year-olds enjoy. At that age, I was reading RED MASK, CASPER, and SUPERMAN.

Pondering a little further, CASPER and RICHIE RICH might be a lot of fun for a kid that young. I wouldn't be adverse to reading old Dell TARZAN and western comic books to a child, but I fear they might seem dated to him or her.

Wrapping up this chain of thought, if the kid was smarter than the average kid, I could find any number of suitable comics stories starring the Silver Age adventurers published by DC, Gold Key, and Marvel. Even with the passage of time, many of those tales hold up remarkably well.

Those are my thoughts. Feel free to share yours on the TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD:



To recap: Dave Cockrum has been sick. Comics professionals and fans have rallied to his side, figuratively speaking. Marvel Comics has reached a settlement with him which allows the company to own the characters he created for Marvel and which rewards Dave for his creativity and years of service to Marvel. It's very good news and that's why I keep writing about it. It's also why I can't understand why the major comics news sites have either ignored or downplayed the story.

SILVER BULLET COMICS broke the story and did a great job with it. NEWSARAMA ran a very short piece, a link to which can be found alongside their current stories. THE PULSE ran a short piece which has scrolled off their front page. If COMIC BOOK RESOURCES ran a story about this, it's no longer on their front page and it's not in that site's archives.

A comics publisher does right by a comics creator, something not a given in this industry, and the news sites practically ignore it in favor of pages of coverage of every ultimately meaningless revamp/revival of concepts and titles which have been revamped and revived three, four, five times.

Yes, some of these revamps and revivals might be a great deal of fun. But the Marvel/Cockrum story is HUGE NEWS and those sites don't seem to get that. Makes me sad.


My sadness dissipates in the wake of all the good news which comes from Cockrum Central and lands friendly to my talented pal. When he read the news of the settlement, another talented friend of mine, EDDY NEWELL, by name, sent me this:
WOW! Great news, Tony. Unbelievable news.

Dave did with the new X-Men what he'd done just before that. He revitalized the Legion of Superheroes with those neat back-ups in SUPERBOY. The reason I picked up GIANT-SIZE X-MEN was the easily recognizable Dave Cockrum art. His Legion work is what made me a fan. Also, Dave was the first comic artist I talked to at the first comics convention I ever attended. I was a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh at the time. I was completely star-struck, and Dave was an absolute prince. I'm truly happy for Dave.

Nobody deserves this more than Dave. I've been worried about him, and he's been in my prayers. I hope this helps speed up his recovery. I feel great!

Excellent column, too. You, my friend, doth rock.
Thanks for the compliment, Eddy. In return, let me direct my readers to your own wondrous website:

A few days later, I received this e-mail from CHRIS RYALL, who operates Kevin Smith's MOVIE POOP SHOOT:
At the Wizard Con in Los Angeles this weekend, Wizard had an area at their booth where they collected money for Dave Cockrum. They were giving out spiral notebooks to anyone who donated even a dollar. I saw lots of people, even young kids who didn't know who Dave was, but heard "X-Men creator" and wanted to help, donating at least that. Lots of us gave more, too, so hopefully it all helps him out.
Thanks for the report, Chris. I'm delighted and impressed at how WIZARD has stepped up to do their bit. This effort represents the comics community at its finest.

TOT readers can check out the MOVIE POOP SHOOT news, reviews, columns, and comics by going to:

Finally, here's a fun tale from Dave himself, which ran as one of Clifford Meth's PAST MASTERS columns:

That's all the Dave Cockrum stuff I have for you now, but I'll include updates as I receive them.



Here's the e-mail I received from JON MALIN, the production assistant at Image Comics:
I'm that guy at Image who "could not have give even a moment's thought to what an incongruous pairing this is."

When we received the PHANTOM JACK materials, they came in so early, due to a new printer we were going to use, REAPER was the only title that we could put in a 5-page preview at that time for any book coming out for March or later. Due to the time factor of the new printer, PHANTOM JACK #1 had to go almost as fast as we got it in, so it was first come first serve in terms of what we could put in there.

For the record, I normally put in the 5-page previews so our readers don't have a large amount of ads to sift through at the end of the book. A little something extra for them if they care to check it out along with extra promotion for our creators.

I try to match ads to books, but, when it comes down to it, I try to make sure that all the Image titles get an even share of ads throughout all our books. That sometimes means ads that go into a book don't fit it well, but it insures fairness. If a title like POWERS gets five ads in our books for a month, so will the lowest-selling title we have.

Lastly, I don't draw or approve books for Image, so I cannot be responsible for the quality of ads. It's not for me to make the ad decisions on any basis other than trying to promote all of our creators equally and fairly.

I'm hoping for five Tonys some day.
Here's the response I sent Jon after receiving his thoughtful note...

I rarely respond to letters like yours and have a friendly letter I send out instead, a polite explanation of how my reviewing process works. However...

Image is important to me and the industry. It pains me when the company shoots itself in the foot. You don't have as many toes as Marvel or DC.

Not to be argumentative, but REAPER wasn't the only thing you could have put into that issue. Maybe it was the only brand new comic book, but it wasn't the only thing.

Image publishes lots of other titles which would have been a better fit for PHANTOM JACK. Maybe it wouldn't have been a preview per se, but, given that the customer already paid for PJ, do you think he/she would object if, instead of a preview of REAPER, there was a five-page--let's call it a sampler--sampler of another Image title, one that had more in common with JACK? Even if the five pages had already seen print, they would still be five free extra pages.

I live to hand out five Tonys. Other Image titles, LIBERTY MEADOWS is one, have rated that high.

Though my responsibility to my column readers comes first, I'm rooting for Image every time out.

I want to thank Jon for his e-mail. As the loyal legions of TOT readers have suggested, I'll be considering such letters from folks whose work I've reviewed on a case-by-case basis. I may not respond to their comments as I did here, but, whenever I think they add information to the discussion, I'll let them have their say on this website.

Thanks for spending a part of your busy weekend with me. I'll be back on Tuesday, March 30, with another TOT.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/25/2004 | 03/27/2004 | 03/30/2004 >>

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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.

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:

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