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

Current TOT >> TOT Archives | About Tony | Books by Tony | Message Board

TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Monday, April 12, 2004

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1585:

"It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations."

- Winston Churchill

This week's opening topic comes to us courtesy of CBG reader Steve Barton. He e-mailed this to me:
First, thanks for your weekly column. From reading "Tony's Tips" over the years, it appears we have a few things in common. We're both married with families, turning 50 doesn't seem so old anymore, and we both discovered comics in the 1960s. In fact, I'm looking at my first comic right now: 80-PAGE GIANT #6, featuring Superman. Something about Curt Swan covers stop me in my tracks. More recently, my reading habits lean more toward DC's Archives, Marvel's Masterworks, and the TwoMorrows stuff.

Second, I have a question. I really enjoy the quotes you use in your column. If you're willing to share your source for those, I'd really appreciate it.
I love quotations. There's something about summing up a great thought in a few words that appeals mightily to a guy who has spent so much time figuring how to say the most in the relatively small space afforded him by a comic-book caption or word balloon. It's even better when the summation is also humorous.

FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS by John Barlett was the first book I used extensively when I began this column over a decade ago. I bought the book's tenth edition while working in an antiques shop during my college year. It never occurred to me to check until just now, but my copy was published in 1919. They certainly knew how to make books well back then.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations

My favorite quotation books are the Robert Byrne series which began with THE 637 BEST THINGS ANYBODY EVER SAID. Most individual volumes of the series are out of print, but you should be able to find THE 2,548 BEST THINGS ANYBODY EVER SAID, a collection of the first four quotation books he compiled.

   

Another favorite is Evan Esar's 20,000 QUIPS & QUOTES, which, sadly, seems to be out of print. I also like THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF HUMOROUS QUOTATIONS. I use others as well - I think I own close to two dozen quotation books and I add a new one to the collection every year or so - but the above are the volumes I seem to revisit on a regular basis.

Magazines and newspapers are also good sources for quotations. When I come across a quote I like, I add it to my files for future use. I think of them as my personal weapons of mass instruction, hidden away in the spiderhole I call my office.

Finally, as it is with so many things, the Internet is a fine place to find quotations for almost any occasion, on any topic, and by authors and celebrities alike. Type "quotation" into any search engine and you'll be directed to many useful websites.

For example, in between paragraphs, I went to one quotations site and typed "procrastination" into its search engine. It gave me this bon mot from John Dos Pasos:

"Procrastination is the thief of time."

I take this as a clear sign that I should wrap up this intro and get to the reviews already.

******

COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #109 (Gemstone; $6.95) is a special "Bring on the Bad Guys" issue of the long-running magazine. It's also the first issue I've read in several years, so I'm coming to it with fairly fresh eyes.

MARKETPLACE ventures into much the same territory as the Roy Thomas/TwoMorrows ALTER EGO. Its historical articles are aimed at a more general audience, so there are fewer surprises for the old-time comics fan. Other differences include a higher price, slick interiors, fewer pages (80 to A/E's 104), and several pages devoted to market reports. The reports don't interest me - and I suspect retailers can get better, quicker information online or from CBG's own market reports - but I'm not gonna quibble over less than 10% of the magazine, especially not when there was so much I did enjoy in this issue.

The highlight of the issue is the second part of a Neal Adams interview. Adams and interviewer Michael Kronenberg delve deeply into the thinking behind some of the artist's most memorable comics stories in an entertaining and educational chat.

Also noteworthy: Michelle Nolan's look at a pair of one-shot villains who faced off against Nyoka the Jungle Girl and Radar the International Policeman in memorable and rare Fawcett Comics books; Pat Calhoun writing about Frankenstein and the Heap; Mark Squirek's blow-by-blow account of the Doom Patrol and the Challengers of the Unknown squaring off against the League of Challenger-Haters in a 1965 crossover; and Will Murray's riveting chronicle of the enmity between the Black Hood and the Skull. That adds up to a satisfying chunk of comics history.

On my standard scale of zero to five columnist craniums, COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #109 earns a solid four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN #1 (Marvel; $2.25) takes fun stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and makes them boring, which would be sort of impressive...on the Bizarro World. On this world, it's akin to watching the world's worst impressionist.

Lee's dialogue was occasionally corny even by 1963 standards - this counterfeit comic book mangles the two tales which appeared in the original AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2 - but it was clever and smooth nonetheless. The truncated scripting in this version lacks style and wit, including such idiocies as the Vulture making fun of the adjectives which have preceded Spider-Man's name on various comic-book titles over the years. It drains the life out of the original Lee-Ditko plots.

The art is every bit as awful as the writing. It's faux-manga without even a scintilla of the gritty realism Ditko brought to the world of Peter Parker. Characters look like big-eyed mannequins. If action has a "mute" button, this artist has his finger pressed tightly on the remote control.

The cover proclaims that this comic is "great for new readers" and I loudly scoff at that conceit. The new readers are enjoying Harry Potter books; they should be insulted by Marvel selling them this mediocre mimicry.

MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN #1 gets a miserable one Tony...and it only gets that because it convinced me to avoid future retellings of classic Marvel stories. With rare exception, they always end in tears.

Tony

******

2 TO THE CHEST #1 and ROGUES #1 (Dark Planet; $2.99 each) are slim for three bucks, but that's the sad fact of most comic books published in the United States these days. While I do give points for better-than-average bang-for-your-bucks, I almost never lower a rating for the lack thereof.

2 TO THE CHEST marks the return of veteran comics writer James Hudnall to the form. He introduces us to LAPD officer Tony Geist, kills him off, does some supernatural stuff with him, and brings him back to life in a completely earthly manner. Then he entangles his recovering protagonist in a case where surprises come as fast as bullets. It's a solid first chapter that grabbed my attention and will bring me back for the next.

Hudnall is working with Sulaco Studios of Spain on this comic and other Dark Planet titles. His artistic collaborators on this premiere are Mazi (pencils), Miguel Lacal (inks), and Fran Gamboa (colors). The visuals are competent, but not outstanding, but it looks like this will improve in the second issue with the arrival of artist Jose Aviles.

ROGUES is sword-and-sorcery by writer Juan Torres and artist Juan Jose Ryp. Its leads are thieves: Bram, as brawny and unkempt barbarian as you've seen, and the delectable Weasel, who sets up a mark by going all Janet Jackson on him. The pacing of the story is erratic - several scenes needed more panels - but Torres delivers an amusing script with several neat twists. Ryp's art is exciting, but uneven; he could use some help in the storytelling department. I'm a tough sell when it comes to sword-and-sorcery, but I did get a kick out of this first issue.

2 TO THE CHEST #1 and ROGUES #1 pick up a satisfactory three Tonys each. Not a bad start for a new publisher.

Tony Tony Tony

******

There's no super-hero comic quite like HEROES ANONYMOUS from Bongo Comics ($2.99). Creators Bill Morrison and Scott Gimple tell their tales via a super-hero support group, allowing them to focus on a different character every issue. In this fourth issue, that focus is on A-list movie star Asher Hutchson, who is secretly the B-list costumed crusader known as the Gadfly.

Gimble gets sole writing credit on "The Green-Eyed Gestalt of the Gadfly," a 32-page thriller that's equally packed with action and character play. It's fascinating to watch the shallow Hutchson move through the events of this tale and emerge very different at its end. Gimble and collaborators Morrison (editor), Adam Van Wyck (penciler), and Andrew Pepoy (inks) delivered a dense story which felt like it was even bigger than its 32 pages. Now that's bang-for-your-bucks.

Two small quibbles.

One. There are captions throughout the story giving the title and artist of various songs, apparently an attempt to give the book the equivalent of a soundtrack. Instead, the captions annoyed the heck out of me.

Two. A sub-plot with the Blitz, the retired World War II hero who runs the group, may well be important for an upcoming episode, but didn't help this issue at all. It didn't hurt it, but, again, it was a distraction from the real story.

This comic is black-and-white-and-green, the emerald mirroring the envy felt by Hutchson when he compares himself to an older, more experienced, more popular hero. It's a nice little touch, one of many such touches found in this issue and in the overall series. The little things add up; HEROES ANONYMOUS #4 earns four-and-a-half Tonys. Getting closer to five with each issue.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

******

SEVEN OF SEVEN by Yasuhiro Imagawa and Azusa Kunihiro (ADV Manga; $9.99) is a delightfully wacky sitcom in comics form. It's the tale of high school freshman Nana, who splits into seven girls with seven personalities.

A mysterious crystal, given to Nana by her unsuspecting dad, is the cause of this population explosion. In the anime version of SEVEN OF SEVEN, Nana keeps her other selves a secret. However, for the manga version, writer Imagawa decided to play up the comedy by making Nana's situation public early on. So Original Nana goes to school with Dynamic Nana, Crybaby Nana, Smart Nana, Sexy Nana, Mean Nana, and Easygoing Nana. Adding to the fun is that they all have a crush on Yuichi, a teenage heart throb whose a diligent student and an honestly nice guy. The Nanas also share best friend Hitomi and, as arch-enemies, a trio of devious and rich girls who are also smitten with Yuichi.

Imagawa does a swell job combining the fantastic and the more down-to-earth situations the Nanas face. They struggle with tests, striving to get into the same high-ranked school as Yuichi. They contend with the Trio for the lad's attentions. Most charmingly, they try to get along with each other, not always the easiest thing to do, even though they are all aspects of the same girl.

Kunihiro's artwork is cute and lively. She admits that making each Nana look distinct from the others is an ongoing challenge and one which she doesn't always conquer. Her storytelling gets a tad shaky in places. However, overall, she brings a bouncy spirit to the visuals and that adds to the fun.

As I write this review, I'm two volumes into the series. Each book is roughly 200 pages with the filler material being behind-the-scenes cartoons and texts on the manga and its creators. Most of the stories are complete-in-themselves, making for an extremely satisfying package.

ADV rates the books for ages 13 and up. Usually, I think the manga publishers err on the side of caution, but, with this series, a further cautionary note is warranted.

Manga set in high schools often includes exposure of panties, breasts, and behinds, with students and teachers alike leering at same. It's absolutely no big deal in Japan, but we kid ourselves if we ignore the possible problems for sellers in some communities here. In North Carolina, for example, a county sheriff has taken offense to TokyoPop's LOVE HINA, and that series is rated for ages 16 and up. I'm watching this situation closely.

I do recognize the cultural differences between Japan and the USA. For me, that's one of the attractions of manga and I wouldn't have a problem with my own children reading SEVEN OF SEVEN. But, as the father of a daughter a couple years younger than the Nanas, it gave me the creeps watching Sexy Nana tease the school principal or other teachers gaping at her and at other student bodies. This is something sellers need to consider.

The best guideline I can give here is to know exactly what you are selling and who you are selling it to. Especially in what has already shaped up to be a highly contentious election year, always a breeding ground for headline-hungry politicos.

Any political and social ramifications aside, SEVEN OF SEVEN was splendid fun. Some of the stories struck me as distant cousins to the classic JIMMY OLSEN comics of the 1960s with their romantic mishaps and weird transformations, while retaining their essential Japanese character. I liked them a lot and that's why these books earn a prestigious five Tonys apiece.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

And you can quote me on that.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1585 [April 2, 2004], which shipped March 15. The lead story was "Slave Labor Slammed" and told of an auto accident which left the vehicle well *within* the San Jose, Calif. office of the comics publisher. Fortunately, this incident happened at one in the morning; no one, not even the car's drunken driver, was injured. Slave Labor was up and running so quickly that its production schedule wasn't affected at all. Which is also good news.

The secondary lead reported that Harvey Pekar has signed with Ballantine Books to write three original graphic novels. Included in the deal is a fourth book: an anthology of previously-published stories from Pekar's AMERICAN SPLENDOR comics. This is great news, what with Pekar being one of the best and most original comic-book writers of our time.

******

TONY POLLS

Once a week or so, I'll be posting a new question or three to our TONY POLLS page, which is located at:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/poll

In March, I asked you a heap of questions about the current and planned X-Men titles. Here's how you voted...

WHICH X-MEN TITLE ARE YOU MOST INTERESTED IN?

Astonishing X-Men (Whedon/Cassaday).....44.55%
Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Davis).....26.36%
X-Statix (Milligan/Allred).....10%
Excalibur (Claremont/Lopresti).....4.55%
Exiles (Bedard/Sakakisara).....4.55%
Ultimate X-Men (Vaughan/Peterson).....3.64%
Wolverine (Rucka/Robertson).....1.82%
Academy X (Defilippis/Weir/Green).....0.91%
Cable/Deadpool (Nicieza/Brooks).....0.91%
District X (Hine/Yardin).....0.91%
Weapon X (Tieri/Mandrake).....0.91%
X-Men (Austin/Larroca).....0.91%
Alpha Flight.....0%
Emma Frost.....0%
Mystique.....0%
Wolverine/Punisher.....0%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY ACADEMY X?

Yes.....22.83%
No.....77.17%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY ALPHA FLIGHT?

Yes.....14.61%
No.....85.39%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY ASTONISHING X-MEN?

Yes.....76.92%
No.....23.08%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY CABLE/DEADPOOL?

Yes.....10.84%
No.....89.16%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY DISTRICT X?

Yes.....14.63%
No.....85.37%
******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY EMMA FROST?

Yes.....19.75%

No.....80.25%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY EXCALIBUR?

Yes.....40.24%
No.....59.76%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY EXILES?

Yes.....27.50%
No.....72.50%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY MYSTIQUE?

Yes.....25%
No.....75%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY ULTIMATE X-MEN?

Yes.....37.04%
No.....62.96%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY UNCANNY X-MEN?

Yes.....54.88%
No.....45.12%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY WEAPON X?

Yes.....7.69%
No.....92.31%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY WOLVERINE?

Yes.....29.11%
No.....70.89%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY WOLVERINE/PUNISHER?

Yes.....16.46%
No.....83.54%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY X-MEN?

Yes.....24.05%
No.....75.95%

******

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY X-STATIX?

Yes.....30.38%
No.....69.62%

We did ask a lot of questions, didn't we? Our thanks to those who voted on them.

How did I vote on them?

ASTONISHING X-MEN was the title in which I was most interested and that was because I wanted to see how BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER creator Joss Whedon handles some of the best-known super-heroes in comics today. I make my buying/reading decisions based on writing over artwork every time.

Other X-titles caught my interest as well. When I heard Chris Claremont would be reuniting with Alan Davis on UNCANNY X-MEN, that clinched the sale for me.

The "nation-building" concept of EXCALIBUR sold me on the book as much as Claremont's writing it.

The "cops and mutants" theme of DISTRICT X is enough to get me to check out that series, even though I'm not familiar with either its writer or artist.

Looking over the results, I wasn't surprised at the relative lack of interest in these titles. Your average TOT reader is older than the average X-Men reader. Veteran creators like Claremont and Davis got your votes, as did the medium-crossing Whedon. If I were a betting man, I'd wager their books (ASTONISHING X-MEN, EXCALIBUR, UNCANNY X-MEN) will prove to be the most successful.

Moving right along...

I posted six new TONY POLLS questions at the beginning of the month, all of them seeking your guidance in shaping the future of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. These questions will remain active until midnight, Saturday, April 17, so you still have a few days to look them over and cast your votes.

As always, thanks for your interest.

******

TONY STUFF

April got off to a rocky start here at the world headquarters of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. Severe computer woes shut me down for close to a week, knocking my writing schedule for a loop. TOT ended up taking the hit for other commitments and projects, but, keep these fingers crossed tightly, we're back.

The overall plan is still to bring you TOT on a daily basis, though not every column will be as long as today's. The emphasis will be on a new comics reviews, but I expect I'll be writing about other subjects as well.

My philosophy: Comic books should never be created, discussed, or read in a vacumn.

While you mull that over, I'll thank you for spending part of your day with me.

I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/30/2004 | 04/12/2004 | 04/13/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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THE "TONY" SCALE

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.

Tony
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.

TonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTony
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.

TonyTonyTonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
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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