"We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular."
- Edward R. Murrow
Picture your beloved columnist drawn by Jules Feiffer and then cue the music.
I dance for the Postal Service...
...especially my friends in the Medina, Ohio division thereof. When stuff can't be sent electronically, they are the Pony Express riders of 2004, the hard-riding cowboys who deliver said stuff to my hands or mailbox, and for fees so nominal they virtually define "cost-effectiveness."
I dance for them...
...my mailman and his fellows who work in the branch office alike, because they smile whenever they see me. They lovingly care for the packages of review stuff I receive daily, delighting in the often odd names of the senders.
...because they actually maintain a sense of humor in spite of the morons who, knuckles dragging on the floor as they walk to the counter, vex them so unfairly.
I dance around the middle-aged woman who screams defamation at the kindly clerk because a stamp machine is out of order. She has had to walk perhaps five yards to the counter to purchase stamps, so this is a short dance, filled with mocking gestures.
When the kindly clerk explains she will gladly sell stamps to the woman if only the hateful harridan will cease her yelling, the clerk is told...
...I pause my dance in expectation...
"If you can't handle being yelled at, you shouldn't have a job dealing with the public!"
I dance for the postal service...
...because I know, if I were that clerk, I would have stuffed the harpy into the smallest box possible and priority-mailed her to the bowels of Hell.
This is my dance of thanks for the hard-working men and women who bring me the wondrous things I review in these pages. If you enjoy what I do here, thank me by extending a smile and a kind word to the postal workers in your town.
I dance off stage and into the wings, grimacing because these damn tights are riding up on me.
Art is pain.
TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS (Oni Press; $11.95) collects a tale as unique today as it was in 1991, its original publication year. Psychiatrist and writer Malcolm Bourne and artist Mike Allred - who called himself "M. Dalton" then - invite us to visit the halls and treatment rooms of Newtown Hospital and share for a time the world of its staff and the patients they seek to help.
Psychiatry hasn't been a popular theme in comic books. In the 1950s, bereft of their classic horror and sci-fi titles, EC Comics published PSYCHOANALYSIS, a series so dull as to be the equivalent of a sedative. In the 1970s, psychiatrist Doc Samson entered the Marvel Universe in the pages of INCREDIBLE HULK, though he had to go all green-haired and gamma-rayed to stick around long enough to uncover the abuse Bruce Banner suffered as a child.
TALES shows us life-fragments, pivotal moments in the lives of the Newtown patients and the doctor who tries to guide them to, if not happiness, then, at least, a place, mental or physical, wherein they pose less threat to themselves and others. A sign cautions that the hospital has no emergency department. There are no quick victories to be found here.
Bourne's characters are diverse. The successful businesswoman with a paralyzing fear of dogs. The abused housewife looking for an escape. The man who feels "those eyes" on him wherever he goes. The manipulative drug addict seeking a temporary-comfortable break from his addiction. And the good doctor himself, struggling with limited hospital resources and the tragedies he must deal with each day. Their tales are gripping; if I have a complaint with Bourne's writing it's that I would have liked to know these people better, and, unrealistically, seen what the future might hold for more of them. Hope need not be foreign to tragedy.
Allred's art successfully conveys the madness, but is somewhat less successful portraying the ordinary. It's fascinating to see how much better he's gotten in the past decade, though his story-telling skills were sharp even in 1991.
TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS retains its edge a dozen years after its initial publication. That makes me want to see Bourne return to comics writing soon and earns this trade paperback four out of five Tonys. But, please, don't dwell on how my eyes seem to follow you wherever you go.
THE O'NEIL OBSERVER #5 (Childhood Summer Productions; $5) is an old-school fanzine dedicated to the storytelling of Denny O'Neil and the craft of comics writing in general. Editor and publisher Bob Brodsky channels that 1970s spirit with an issue built around the unlikely team of Green Arrow and Green Lantern, though darned if that abrasive archer doesn't steal the show from his power-ring-wielding buddy.
Brodsky breaks up the theme material with comics reviews, an interview with Steve Englehart on the MASTER OF KUNG FU series he created with Jim Starlin, and one of the legendary DC editor Mort Weisinger's caustic letter columns. When asked by a reader to run more interesting letters, Weisinger responded: "A great idea! To start us off, you might try writing one!"
THE O'NEIL OBSERVER's 44 pages for a five-spot doesn't equate to tremendous bang-for-your-bucks, but that was always the way of the fanzines. You pay more for the sense of fellowship you don't get from the more mainstream magazines. I take that into account and award this issue three-and-a-half Tonys.
For ordering information on this fanzine, and to ask Brodsky about the summer release of his new publication - THE YANCY STREET GAZETTE - e-mail him at:
I'm an on-and-off reader of DC's super-hero titles, admittedly more off than on, but I was eager to read JLA #94 ($2.25), first of six issues by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Jerry Ordway. Not only do these three guys know super-heroes, they have collectively and individually worked on several of my favorite super-hero comics of all time. Back when I was an editor, I even had the good sense to hire two of them.
My enjoyment of "Suffer the Little Children" suffered from my lack of familiarity with recent JLA lore. Byrne and Claremont did a good job bringing me up to speed on Manitou Raven, an out-of-his-time shaman, and not as good a job on a young heroine named Faith. What's her story?
I also wondered why the Atom's costume was visible when he was at his normal height, but, let's be honest, that's just Silver Age continuity shock at work. It was probably explained so many issues ago that it wouldn't faze a more frequent reader.
The issue had lots of good bits: nice turns for Batman and the Flash, a surprise encounter for Superman, a vampire-villain who is delightfully corny and menacing simultaneously, and what is pretty likely the introduction of retconned versions of fondly-remembered super-heroes from the 1960s.
What pleased me the most was the classically heroic nature of the storytelling. Byrne and Ordway give us the real deal in their portrayals of Superman and company and not that trendy distortions found in too many other DC comics. The panels and pages and story move smoothly, easing the reader's path into the fantastic world of these heroes. Claremont's writing is equally straightforward as it adds descriptive texture and sure-handed dialogue to the unfolding adventure. This is a solid comic book on all fronts.
JLA #94 earns four Tonys. I'd read the title every issue if they were all as good as this issue.
ARCHIE #546 (Archie Comics; $2.19) was an outstanding issue of the long-running title. The best story was Craig Boldman's "Store Chore," an almost Zen-like comedy featuring most of the Riverdale gang and a star turn for Moose. The other three stories were all good fun as well:
"The Trade-Off," also written by Boldman, was a clever take on the Archie-Reggie-Veronica triangle.
In "A Knight to Remember," George Gladir sent Archie and crew to *knight* school. I'm a tough sell when it comes to tales which place the characters in the past or future, but this one tickled me with its quips, pratfalls, and timing.
Mike Pellowski's "Hair Scare" is a two-character play starring Archie and his barber. It's a cute idea that couldn't have worked as well without penciler Stan Goldberg and inker Bob Smith. They drew all four of these stories, cementing their well-earned roles as *the* Archie artists of the new millennium.
Throw in a pair of single-page gag strips by Gladir, Goldberg, and Smith, as well as a pair of fan pages, and ARCHIE #546 delivers 26 pages of entertainment for younger readers and older readers who enjoy a change of pace from the grimmer fare dominating the modern comics industry. That's value worthy of four Tonys.
Four people are given powers by God to fight an arch-demon in the modern world. That's the premise of TESHUVAH, PROPHETS OF JAH from Jericho Projects. Adrian Asia, the creator, writer, penciler, letterer, photographer, and cover artist of the series sent issues #0-2 for review. They were interesting enough for me to read them from cover to cover, but, sadly, not interesting enough to overcome a multitude of deficiencies.
The core idea is engaging. If you read my GHOST RIDER stories in the 1970s or my SATAN'S SIX stories two decades later, you know I have a fondness for what I call spiritual fiction. Rather than protesting artistic works of others, creators of faith better serve their faith by doing in their way in their own comics, books, and even movies. In these comics, we see human courage and temptation, smaller pieces of a larger struggle.
Asia's writing has power to it. There were pages throughout these issues where he got a good rhythm going and where I thought he'd finally seized control of his story, only to lose that control to erratic pacing and frankly horrible artwork. His scripts never truly come together.
TESHUVAH is a series that needs so many things. It needs an editor who can bronco-bust the potential talent that is Asia's and bring order to the chaotic story. It needs an artist who can draw; at the risk of being cruelly honest, Asia doesn't remotely possess the chops he needs to draw comic books. It needs a real letterer or a good computer lettering program. It needs a title that won't baffle most readers and a logo design that doesn't look like mud on a comics rack. It needs a professional fluency which isn't evident in these initial issues.
TESHUVAH, PROPHETS OF JAH #0-2 get one Tony apiece for their core ideas and the well-intentioned efforts of Asia. If you would like to check out the comics, they have limited distribution in the northeastern U.S. through FM International and are also available through the Jericho Projects website:
Tony Isabella, "America's most-beloved comic-book writer and dancing columnist," will not be making any public appearances this year. For that, you may thank the God of your choice, or, should you be of atheistic disposition, the random impulse of a universe finally giving you and the world a break.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1586 [April 8, 2004], which shipped March 22. The lead story was Nate Melby's "A Unified Universe" and reported on the changes coming to pivotal Marvel titles: THE AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, and THOR. For the past several years, ever since co-writing the novel CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY'S TORCH with Bob Ingersoll, I have had an urge to write the Captain America comic book. My first story could probably be summed up like this:
Captain America invades the White House to arrest President Bush for high crimes and treason.
Marvel is scared of me. That must be the reason they've never asked me to write CAPTAIN AMERICA.
The secondary lead was "Free Comic Book Day 3 sponsors named." Last year, I reviewed all the FCBD publications. Would you like to see me do it again this year? Let me know.
CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK
The CBG question of the week was:
How many comic magazines do you buy each week?
I can't break it down per week because I order comic books by the month from a subscription service. My May order consisted of 75 different items. Of those...
50 were what I would call your traditional comic books, though some were more than the standard 32 pages. I ordered more Marvel Comics titles than usual, feeling very positive about the publisher in the wake of its settlement with Dave Cockrum.
13 were comics in different formats. These included TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN MAGAZINE, COMICS REVUE, DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES, RAIJIN COMICS, 2000 AD, JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE, AKIKO POCKET SIZE, SHONEN JUMP...with the remaining titles being comics collections or manga volumes.
Manga accounted for 5 of the above 64 orders, which is lower than usual for me.
9 of the 75 were books or magazines about comics.
The remaining two items on my order were COMICS PROSE, short stories by comics professionals, and G-FAN, a bi-monthly magazine devoted to Godzilla.
That's my advance order. In any given month, I'll also buy a few old comics on eBay and a manga volume or two at a bookstore or from Amazon. In any given month, I'll also receive between 100 and 200 comic books, magazines, and trade paperbacks as review copies. I need a bigger house.
How do I make my buying decisions?
A substantial number of the comics I buy are written or drawn by friends of mine. In some cases, I'm buying them even though I will likely receive review copies.
Like all of you, I buy some comics I know I won't get around to reading for months or even years. In the mythical future time when I have an extra day or two each week for reading, I will want to read those comics.
Like most of you, I need to tighten my comics-buying belt in the months to come. Following a period of several months wherein I was stiffed by several clients and also didn't pick up any new assignments, my finances are rocky. I cut my June order by 10% and will likely cut my July order by another 10% or more.
The comics industry would be that much more healthy if I were more gainfully employed. Call me.
How would you answer this week's question? You can respond to on my message board:
CrossGen had its fair share of detractors, but I've noted with sadness the company's ongoing problems. Naturally, my main concern has been for the CrossGen creators and staffers, those who've left the company and those who have remained. In a better world, such decent and talented people wouldn't have to travel roads so replete with bumps and potholes.
Ian Feller, who served as Director of Ancillary Publishing and Managing Editor for CrossGen, this following notable tours of duty at WIZARD and COMBO, has launched his own company, one which will provide a wide range of services to creators and publishers alike. Here's his announcement:
Hello everyone. I wanted to drop you all a line to let you know what I'm now doing. For the past couple of months I have been working to launch 813 Services & Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in editorial, writing, public and media relations, marketing, creator representation, custom comics packaging and more, aimed towards assisting new and existing publishers.
Since I first started in this business, I have worked in many areas. I've done everything from editing, writing, public and media relations, marketing, advertising and promotions for both comics and magazines to running a comic book store. I now plan to use all the knowledge and contacts I've developed over the years to assist others. Publishing comics is not easy. Now there is someone available to help. And with rates that anyone can afford.
So I ask you all to check out my web site [www.813sands.com] and pass along the word. If you are interested, I'm available for interviews to discuss my new venture. Just inquire. If anyone is interested in using my services, please don't hesitate to let me know. And expect to hear from me again soon as I begin to send around press releases and contact you to pitch articles for my new clients. Thanks!
I don't publish many press releases in TOT, but Ian is a good guy who has been a friend to me and this column on many occasions. If you're a creator or fledgling publisher, check out his website and see if he might be able to advise and assist you with your next project. You'd do well to have him in your corner.
GOT COMICS TO SPARE?
If you were a reader of comic-book letters pages, back in the day when such pages appeared in virtually every DC and Marvel comic book, you will recognize the name MELISSA PAGE. Recently, another letters-page veteran, Malcolm Bourne, writer of TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS, alerted me to some misfortune which has befallen Melissa. He wrote:
If anyone has stuff to get rid of and doesn't mind footing a mailing bill, a friend of mine from comics fandom, Melissa Page, has just lost everything she owns, including all her comics, in a house fire. Her whole house burned right to the ground.
Melissa lives in Kentucky; I can supply her mailing address. She hasn't even asked me to get hold of any comics or anything for her, she just asked me to pass the news along to a couple of other old letter-hacking pals, but, as the subject came up, I thought I'd would ask around.
I e-mailed Melissa to ask if she would mind my spreading the word in this column. She wrote back:
Malcolm told me that he had passed along the information about my house burning down to the foundation. It, unfortunately, is all true. I'm using a computer at work to check e-mail.
My house burning down didn't make our local newspaper. I live right outside of the city limits of a 1,400-population town. Our county newspaper is mostly Associated Press stuff with very little information outside of Madisonville.
The house area hasn't been bulldozed yet. The good news is my mom got out fine. I was at work, had been there for only an hour. I nearly wrecked the car driving home after Mom called. The roads were wet. I spun and made a complete 360 degree spin, but made it. Then, I got to see big billowy black smoke and watched the satellite dish crashing to the ground when I got home.
I'm still picking up mail at my mailbox. It's across the road from our former home. We go there everyday to take care of outdoor animals. The indoor ones are all gone.
Currently, we're staying at a neighbor's cabin. Any mail that isn't credit card offers, organizations wishing donations, bills, etc. is greatly welcomed!
Call me Scarlett O'Hara:
"I shall rise again from the ashes."
I'm sending Melissa a box of comics and stuff from my office. If you'd like to send things as well, her address is:
Melissa Dawn Page
236 New Salem Loop
Nortonville, KY 42442
Comics fandom should really have a rallying cry for times like this...because comics fans have always been generous when it comes to helping out fellow fans. I hope you can come up with something because the best I've got right now is:
TOT extends its best wishes to Melissa and her mother in these most difficult circumstances.
Two quick reminders...
Our TIP THE TIPSTER links are working. Your donations support my columns and the upkeep of this website.
The current TONY POLLS questions remain active until midnight, Saturday, March 17. You can cast your ballots at:
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: