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

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for Wednesday, April 14, 2004

One of my online pleasures is coming across classic, not-so-classic, and outright goofy comic-book covers and sharing them with you. Today's cover ranks with the goofiest.

Air Ace

AIR ACE started out as BILL BARNES COMICS and expanded to BILL BARNES, AMERICA'S AIR ACE COMICS with its second issue. The first issue came out sometime in the fall of 1940 and the title's first volume ran twelve issues. It became AIR ACE with its second volume (another twelve issues) and kept that name through the eight issues of its third and final volume. The publisher was Street and Smith, publishers of comic books and pulp magazines.

Dated December 1945/January 1946, the cover shown here is AIR ACE Volume 3, Number 1. I saw it at Ben Samuels' spiffy GOLDEN AGE COMIC COVER GALLERY and all I know about the issue is what Samuels wrote about it:
This cover is a bit confusing for me, but I still like it. It's cool looking, but what the heck is going on? There's a mysterious disembodied eye floating in the top corner, there are Japanese soldiers fleeing from some kind of "lightning" at the bottom corner and smack-dab in the center we've got 2 kids playing with scientific equipment. Put them all together and you've got one really weird comic book cover!
This is the kind of cover that makes me go "Wha-?" and start thinking about writing a coherent story combining all its strange elements, the most disturbing of which are those two kids playing scientist. They look pretty scary to me.

Coincidentally, and I didn't find this out until after I had decided to run this cover, today is also an "air ace" anniversary. On April 14, 1918, Lieutenant Douglas Campbell shot down the first of the six German airplanes he would shoot down during his time in the skies of World War I, becoming the first American pilot to earn the title of "ace" in that war. He got his fifth confirmed victory on May 31, and scored his sixth on June 5, along with a wound that would retire him from further combat flying.

The 2002 edition of the OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines that a near mint copy of this issue of AIR ACE would sell for approximately $105. THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS for 2003 pegs it at $50. When I checked for this issue on eBay, I found a very good plus to fine copy with a high bid of $11.59, and a higher grade copy with an opening bid of $59.99, but no bidders. I'm the guy with the high bid on the cheaper copy and, if I win it, I'll write about the issue in a future TOT.

One last bit of business before I move on to today's reviews. You can visit and view Ben Samuels' gallery of over 160 cool comic-book covers at:

It's definitely worth checking out.



I picked up IRON FIST #1 (Marvel; $2.99) for no special reason other than it was a first issue. Though I wrote the character once or thrice in the 1970s - the Fist had four different writers within his first six issues - I never formed any particular attachment to him. My biggest contributions to his career were introducing Misty Knight (who became his girlfriend), having him remove his mask for the first time, and writing quite possibly the worst dialogue for Batroc the Leaper...ever!

Chris Claremont and John Byrne did a heck of a lot more with Iron Fist and even made him interesting. The Fist teaming up with Luke Cage for dozens of issues made for an unlikely and frequently uneven comic-book series, but it was also fun more often than not. "Fun" is sometimes enough for me.

I wasn't expecting "fun" from the new Iron Fist series, which I would guess has as much to do with a planned Iron Fist movie as anything else. I wasn't *not* expecting "fun" from it. I was open to whatever the creators had to offer. I didn't even know who the creators were before reading the book and I'm moderately sure I've never read anything by them prior to this.

My first impression of the cover was that a snake was eating Iron Fist's hand. My second was that the artist didn't draw Iron Fist's feet. Maybe I'm too old-school, but I sort of think that a comic book about a super-martial artist, especially one named Iron *Fist* should not obscure those portions of the hero's anatomy most crucial to the martial arts.

Writer James Mullaney's opening impressed me. His first page created intrigue, followed by good "victim-to-be" characterization and tragedy. The only jarring element was the size-changing mini-van drawn by artist Kevin Lau.

My next jarring moment came when the scenes introducing Iron Fist repeated the above-the-logo description of our guy almost word for word. I'd characterize that repetition as an editorial goof. It's understandable in a time when many comics writers don't even try to make things clear for a new reader, but it's surprising in a book edited by Tom Brevoort, easily one of the two or three best editors still working in the comics industry.

Am I being too picky? Maybe, but consider that a testament to my interest in the book. Mullaney hooked me early on and kept me hooked with a sequence showing the consequences of senseless street violence. He kept me hooked with the scenes of Iron Fist dealing with those consequences and his own doubts.

If I have any concern with the writing of this first issue in this new series, it's that I'm not sure I buy the decision made by Iron Fist and I'm certain I don't buy the timing of his making that decision. That weakened the issue for me.

Due mostly to Mullaney's writing - since I didn't find the art exceptional - IRON FIST #1 earns the series another chance with me. On our scale of zero to five disembodied columnist heads, it also earns a decent three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



PVP [Player Vs. Player] comes in the same horizontal format as its fellow Image Comics titles DESPERATE TIMES and LIBERTY MEADOWS. I've loved this format for newspaper strip reprints as far back as the first GARFIELD reprints. Indeed, I had never read the Garfield strip until those first reprint volumes.

In PVP #6 ($2.95), Scott Kurtz serves up a devastating satire of the alternative comics world. As someone who has something of a love-hate relationship with that world, I found myself laughing in agreement on several occasions. This is where I would normally launch into a digression on that love-hate relationship, but, as I already get more than enough hate mail, I'm going to resist. Just this once. I'm not always this strong.

Kurtz is funny. He writes funny stuff. He captures the humor of his writing in his drawings. He sprinkles some wisdom in with the jokes. What more could I ask for?

I shouldn't have asked that question. Now I have to mention that a cast of characters page or even half-page would have been a very useful thing for new readers.

PVP #6 offers 28 pages of comics and text material. The text material adds further dimension to the comics and gives us insight into Kurtz's creative process. Though its origins are in computer and role-playing gaming, PVP's completely accessible to non-gamers. I give it four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



The 32-page comic book has picked up some nicknames recently: "floppy" and "pamphlet." I'm not wild about either of them. The term "floppy" has already entered into the lexicon of the computer, though "floppies" themselves will likely be obsolete in a decade or less. The term "pamphlet" denotes a publication even thinner than the traditional comic book. If we're going to use these terms in the comics field, we need to redefine them.

Here are my suggestions...

floppy: a comic book whose advance orders were so low it was never actually published.

pamphlet: rubber undergarment worn by bloggers and columnists with which you disagree.

Feel free to send me your suggestions for definitions of these and other comicdom terms.



I'm on record as opposing tying FREE COMIC BOOK DAY to a movie release year in and year out. My feeling is that, ultimately, the comics industry will be better served by establishing one constant date for our own special holiday.

Reader DAVID NOLL disagrees:
I'm writing to ask you reconsider your stance that Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) be on a set date, rather than tied to the release of a comics-related movie.

Consider, for example, the RAZZIES []. These "awards," for poor acting and filmmaking, are handed out the day before the Oscars....because that's when they'll be noticed and get covered. At any other point in the year, their organizers would simply be movie critics with their own opinion and looking for a vehicle for their opinions. I feel confident in saying the Razzies would follow the Oscars to the far ends of the make sure they continue to get press by being associated with a point in time at which people are thinking about movies.

In similar fashion, I feel FCBD should continue to swim along in the slipstream of whatever comics-related blockbuster is coming out in any given year. The "summer blockbuster" is a tradition dating back to JAWS; the process is now so predictable that we have plenty of notice of which comics-related film we should be hitching our wagons to.

I don't mean to belittle the medium of comics, or suggest that we can't be strong enough to set our own day and stick with it. Instead, I gently remind you that, since the goal of FCBD is to get new readers, our best opportunity to do this is at the point when people who aren't presently comics fans are thinking about comics. For now, that opportunity arises each summer with the release of a comic-book blockbuster movie.
Your argument has merit, David. However, I'm sticking to my guns. Sooner or later, we're going to hit a summer without one of those blockbuster movies...and then we'll either be scrambling to promote FCBD all by its lonesome anyway or deciding to skip a year. Since I believe we'd lose valuable momentum by following the latter course, I remain in favor of an independent FCBD.



Our latest TONY POLLS questions will remain active until the end of the week, but it's pretty clear to me that what the readers would most like to see from my columns are more new comics reviews. I'm going to do my best to bring those to you. If you haven't yet cast your votes, you can do so at:

CLIFFORD METH's "Past Masters" column has all the latest Dave Cockrum news and Meth's commentary on the historic settlement which was entered into by our pal Dave and Marvel Comics. This is still the biggest story in comics, no matter how much it's downplayed and even ignored by the comics press. To read Meth's column, head over to Silver Bullet Comics at:

DAVID YURKOVICH wrote a far-too-kind column on WAR IS HELL, a series I created for Marvel Comics way back in the 1970s. You can find it at:

Two related comments.


Though I created the WAR IS HELL concept and its protagonist, and plotted the first story in the series, it was Chris Claremont who took my contribution to the next level and beyond with his fine scripts for that and subsequent issues. Then and now, he deserves the lion's share credit for what turned out to be one of the most remarkable, albeit tragically short-lived series of the 1970s. I'd love to see Marvel reprint those stories.


Yurkovich is himself an exciting, exceptional comics creator. He's currently completing the second volume 2 of ALTERCATIONS: A HISTORY OF SUPER-HERO ACTIVITY IN 20TH CENTURY NORTH AMERICA, one of my favorite super-hero graphic novels of recent years. Also, in June, Top Shelf will be publishing a trade paperback collection of his THRESHOLD comic books under the title, LESS THAN HEROES. Visit David online at:

That's all for today. Thanks for spending some time with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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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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