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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Friday, April 16, 2004

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1587:

"It is good news, worthy of all acceptation, and yet not too good to be true."

- Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Congratulations to Dave Cockrum.

Kudos to Marvel Comics.

Essential X-Men Vol. 1 Marvel and Dave Cockrum, creator and artist of many popular Marvel characters, have reached an agreement which allows Marvel to fully own those characters while compensating Dave for his years of service and his seminal role in bringing those characters to comic-book life. The terms of the agreement are confidential, but, along with other industry events, this deal will help Dave and wife Paty get back on their feet and on with their lives in the wake of the financial burdens of Dave's long hospitalization.

There is no doubt in my mind that CBG has reported this story elsewhere and in greater detail than is the purvey of this column. Still, Dave being a friend and all, and my being a vocal critic of how comics publishers often treat creators, I figure it's okay for me to throw my few cents into the mix.

That there are heroes in this story is no secret. Neal Adams and Clifford Meth were tireless in their support of the Cockrums. Comics fans and pros alike contributed, in one way or another, to the cause of making things better for the Cockrums. You can learn about the afore-mentioned "industry events" by visiting the TRIBUTE SITE FOR DAVE COCKRUM at:

www.davecockrum.net

I think it should also be noted that there are no villains in this story. Marvel found a way to help Dave and his family without jeopardizing its own interests. Imagine that:

A comics publisher found a way to do right by a comics creator and the world didn't come to an end.

It's important to recognize that. I would never suggest that other comics publishers haven't, on occasion, also stepped up to do the right thing. Most of them don't make a practice out of it, but they do it. They do the right thing...and the world still doesn't come to an end.

There just might be a lesson there, something for all of us to ponder after we take some time to celebrate Dave's good fortune and Marvel's welcome role in that good fortune. Because every time a comics publisher does do the right thing, we get that much closer to an industry where such actions are a given.

I think it will be a better industry...and that the fans will get better comics for it.

Here come the reviews...

******

Among recent welcome additions to the DC Comics line-up have been digest-size (roughly 5" by 7-3/4") comics starring characters from Cartoon Network programs and the Cartoon Network versions of classic DC heroes. Offering 112 pages of stories for $6.95, these "digests" are a pretty good buy by today's standards.

DC's Cartoon Network comics aren't always an easy sell for me. I don't watch any of the non-DC shows regularly, don't like some of the ones I have seen, and generally get annoyed when I read "kids' comics" that talk down to their readers. Fortunately, the latter situation is rarer and rarer; DC editors have correctly figured out that, given a fighting chance, today's kids are as smart as we ever were. It's the adults that should concern us.

"Dexter's Laboratory" - a show I do enjoy from time to time - shares the covers of CARTOON CARTOONS VOL. 1: NAME THAT TOON and VOL. 2: THE GANG'S ALL HERE. His cover co-stars are "Johnny Bravo" and "Cow & Chicken."

Cartoon Cartoons: Name That Toon

There are five Dexter stories in these issues and each one was a winner. Creator Genndy Tartakovsky co-wrote and penciled one story and co-penciled another. We got to see Dexter playing with comic-book reality - Who does he think he is...an editor? - in two tales and time in a third. He tried to cure his chicken pox in one of the remaining stories, and his arch-enemy impersonated his mom in another. Every one of these adventures felt like a real Dexter cartoon, for which I tip my hat to writers Craig McCracken, Dan Slott, Chuck Kim, Dave Roman, and John Rozum, as well as artists Jeff Albrecht, John Delaney, Bill Alger, Bill Wray, and Mike Stern. For me, these yarns were the highlights of the digests.

Cartoon Cartoons: The Gang's All Here!

I've never been able to watch more than a few minutes of the other cartoons featured in these digests, but that didn't stop some writers and artists from entertaining me in spite of my dislike for the source material. In this regard, I'd mention Paul Kupperberg's "See No Johnny" (starring Johnny Bravo; art by Neal Sternecky and Jeff Albrecht); Joe Edkin's "Mama's Boy" (Johnny Bravo; art by Gary Terry and Scott McRea; and Dan Slott's "Udder Perfection" (Cow and Chicken, art by Tim Harkins).

Veteran "Tips" readers know I rate comics on a scale of zero to five floating columnist heads. After counting pages and doing the math - Where was Dexter when I needed him? - CARTOON CARTOONS: NAME THAT TUNE earns three-and-a-half Tonys...

Tony Tony Tony Half Tony

...and CARTOON CARTOONS: THE GANG'S ALL HERE earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

It's been a while since I've visited with either the Avengers or the Thunderbolts. The villains-trying-to-go-straight angle of the T-Bolts interests me greatly, as does the natural inclination of the Avengers to mistrust them. When you add writers Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza to the mix, the writers who did such a terrific job on the original THUNDERBOLTS before someone decided to make the title stupid, AVENGERS/THUNDERBOLTS #1 (Marvel; $2.99) becomes an easy purchase decision for me to make.

Things have changed for both groups and, though I'm not up on those changes, I had little trouble picking up on them. Indeed, as I read this issue, they afforded me many "oh, that's intriguing" moments from a few pages with the heroic first Zemo to the obvious friction between Captain America and Hawkeye - rooted in far more serious issues than ever before - to the goofy old Plantman remade as a literal plant-man. Okay, Alan Moore did that last one better than anyone, but it was still intriguing.

Based on this first issue, I'm not sure I trust either Cap or Zemo to necessarily be on the side of the angels. Okay, maybe I'll give Cap some doubt-benefit because he's, well, Cap, but he seems way too cozy with the "national security" thing for me to trust him completely. I am sure that I really do want all of these heroes to be heroes and, given that the two teams are likely to be duking it out before too long, that's going to make it difficult to root for just one side. That's a more challenging experience than you get from most super-hero comics these days.

Editor Tom Brevoort is to be commended for putting together a first-rate team for the series. In addition to Busiek and Nicieza, we have the amazing Barry Kitson on the pencils and Gary Erskine on inks. The book looks as good as it reads.

AVENGERS/THUNDERBOLTS #1 gets the full five Tonys. I eagerly await the next issue.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

It was the double-page spread of the semi falling on the kid that hooked me. As comics go, that was a pretty good "Holy spit!" image, earning CHOSEN #1 (Dark Horse; $2.99) my undivided attention for its remaining pages.

CHOSEN appears to be a second coming of Christ tale by writer Mark Millar and artist Peter Gross. It starts badly and banally, three kids cutting school and speaking dialogue rift with clumsily-inserted pop culture reference. It's an old Millar trick and one that rarely works. Then the truck goes over the bridge and lands smack dab on 12-year-old Jodie Christianson, who survives with nary a broken bone. Cue the spooky music.

The mysteries only deepen as the story continues. There are parallels with the life of Jesus - including a 12-year-old "fallen woman" named Maggie Kane - and an understated, unnerving "sense" that some of the people around Jodie may not be on the side of the angels. The story is told in the past tense, but briefly shifts to the future near the end of this first issue. I hope Millar isn't yet done with the younger Jodie; what happens to him between these scenes has got to be interesting.

Visually, CHOSEN #1 is as terrific as one could hope. Gross is a great artist and a great storyteller; there's never a miscue in the panel-to-panel flow and never a drawing that looks like he just knocked it off. Jeanne McGee's coloring is superb from start to finish, while the lettering by Virtual Calligraphy's Cory Petit never distracts from the story.

CHOSEN may raise controversy - now that I've read it, I look forward to reading other reviews of it - but I find it a compelling comic book. It gets the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Here's my review of TOMB RAIDER: THE SERIES #35 (Image; $2.99) from one of my online columns:
Font of comics taste and knowledge that I may (or may not) be, there are still things about comics I...just...don't...get...and, among them would be the artistic appeal of Tony Daniel's penciling in TOMB RAIDER: THE SERIES #35. His characters are elongated and unattractive. His storytelling is awkward and often focuses the reader's eye on the least interesting thing on a page. His women wear clothing at least two sizes too small; in one shot, heroine Lara Croft's panties are disappearing into her butt crack. There are fans and editors who clearly see a great deal of merit in his kind of artwork, but I'm not one of them.

So let's focus on writer James Bonney's script for "The Black Legion" [Part I of III]. It's not terrible, but it is filled with adventure comic/movie cliches: the barroom brawl to show how tough the heroes are and the villain who kills a hapless henchman to show how really evil he/she is, to name two. However, Bonney does throw in some neat bits with the Lost Dutchman Mine and some mysterious Native Americans (or spirits thereof) who guard the secrets of the mine. I'll give him points for that.

How much you'll like this comic book probably depends at least partially on how much you like the character of Lara Croft from her movies and video games. I've never seen the former or played the latter, so the comic book had to win me over on its own merits. It didn't, which is not to say I won't give it another chance at some point in the future.
I did give TOMB RAIDER another chance and, if there's such a thing as "reader remorse," I have it. Issue #36 ($2.99) magnified the faults of the previous issue and added new ones, starting with Lara Croft missing a foot on the Tony Daniel/Tyson Wengler cover. First, the back pain from her too-big-for-her-frame breasts, then the skin irritation from the butt-flossing panties, and now this. The poor woman must be in constant pain.

The inside front cover does give a concise and helpful recap of who Lara is and what she did last issue. The cliffhanger from that issue is resolved fairly. There are more neat faux-historical bits and another decent cliffhanger. Points to writer Bonney for these, though they aren't enough to overcome the lousy storytelling and overwhelming emphasis on titillation.

Think I'm kidding?

Page 2: Half-page panel of Lara's cleavage.

Page 9: Full-page shot of Lara's butt.

Pages 15-17: Lara goes swimming in a tiny bikini.

Page 18: Full-page shot of Lara's breasts.

Page 19: Full-page shot of whip-wielding villainess in fetish outfit standing over bikini-wearing and bound Lara.

Page 20: Close-up of villainess and Lara, each panel zooming in closer until their lipsticked mouths are an inch apart.

Those are just the extreme examples. In the meantime, Daniel doesn't show us the Black Legion spirits transforming into winged creatures - which could've been an interesting scene - and obscures other actions, such as when a small, timely avalanche gives Lara an opening to escape attackers. I believe I know what caused it, but the artwork was no help whatsoever. (On a positive note, I thought Wengler's coloring was excellent throughout the issue, though he'll have to restock on the flesh tones.)

TOMB RAIDER: THE SERIES #36 doesn't earn this title any more chances with me, not without a greater emphasis on the stories and much better art. It gets one Tony, and that's mostly out of pity for the missed opportunities.

Tony

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1587 [April 16, 2004], which shipped March 29. The main cover story for the issue was: MELTZER PICKED THE SUCKY VILLAINS. It was basically for DC's forthcoming IDENTITY CRISIS event. I hear the words "DC" and "event" in the same sentence and I tend to get a tad nauseous. That trick almost never works.

The secondary lead was the one that should have been the main one: MARVEL AGREES TO COCKRUM COMPENSATION. Maggie Thompson wrote a longer story for the interior of the issue, though, and CBG has still given this more coverage than most of the online comics news sites. Sigh.

******

CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK

This week's question was:

How do you store your collection?

Oh, man, does this make me feel like the school kid who hasn't done the reading and *knows* the teacher will be calling on him any moment now. I am the worst comics collector in the world.

I don't bag or board my comic books. I haven't sorted them in something like five years or more. I try telling myself that I'm an accumulator and not a collector, but that's just blowing smoke up my own ass. I'm a disgrace to comicdom.

Every year I tell myself that *this* is the year I will sort all those comics and start on the path to becoming a power seller on eBay. My alternate plan is to win the lottery and hire someone to sort them for me.

I'll take that dunce cap now.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

Friday seems like a good day to catch up on the e-mail. First up is NELSON JIMENEZ:
I've enjoyed your columns especially the ones on writer Brian Michael Bendis and editor Julius Schwartz. I would like to see you discuss the histories of LUKE CAGE and BLACK LIGHTNING. Both were the only black characters headlining titles when you were a writer. Bendis has totally changed Luke in the pages of ALIAS, PULSE and the Marvel/Max CAGE series. DC has fumbled with Jefferson Pierce over the years, such as having him join the cabinet of President Lex Luthor. Ugh!

And here is one of my favorite quotes that you can use in your column someday:

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King Jr
I've discussed BLACK LIGHTNING and my displeasure - putting it mildly - with DC's treatment of my creation frequently. One of the best and longest interviews with me on this subject was conducted by Markisan Naso for SILVER BULLET COMICS. It covers my thoughts in far greater detail than I would have room for here. To read the interview, go to...

www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/features

...and click on INTERVIEWS ARCHIVES. You'll find many other interesting interviews there as well.

Re: Luke Cage. Bendis didn't write the CAGE mini-series; that was Brian Azzarello. While I certainly had some problems with how Cage was portrayed in the earliest issues of ALIAS, I think Bendis did a better job with him in later issues and in the pages of THE PULSE, his new Marvel Universe title.

******

MORE MAILBOX

If you're a TONY'S ONLINE TIPS reader who hasn't yet taken the plunge and purchased STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE by Bob Ingersoll and myself, then perhaps this note from satisfied customer GEB BUXTON will convince you:
How many times have you read: "I have never written an author before but..."? Well, today, that's me!

The Case of the Colonist's Corpse: A Sam Cogley Mystery I just finished reading THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE and it is the best Star Trek book I have read in 20 years - and maybe ever. It's incredibly refreshing to see this book published after so many "so-so" Star Trek titles. The concept is so inventive I am surprised Pocket and Paramount even allowed it! I hope you and Bob will consider writing more adventures of Sam Cogley.

I'm a huge fan of Perry Mason and Erle Stanley Gardner - Did you know Erle was spelled wrong in the dedication? - as well and I want you to know the structure and the pacing of your novel wasn't lost on me! I also loved the little details of the book itself: the 60's-style cover art, the phaser on the cover, the red border on the pages. What fun!

I'm watching my DVD of "Court-Martial" as I write this. I just wanted you to know just how great this book was. Looking forward to more adventures with Sam. If you ever do a book signing or con in Atlanta please let me know, I would love to get a signed copy! Thanks for a great read!
Giving credit where it's due:

Pocket Books editor John Ordover came up with the idea of Sam Cogley getting the star treatment...and what a brilliant idea that was! Once Bob and I delivered the plot, he, Pocket Books, and even Paramount couldn't have been more supportive. Indeed, in my thirty-plus years as a professional writer, I've rarely received such wonderful support from editors and publishers.

Ordover deserves even more props for coming up with all those little touches, like the tinted pages, you liked so much. The only thing none of us thought of - in time - was to include a "cast of characters" page like those which can be found in the front of many of the old Perry Mason paperbacks.

Bob and I would *love* to write more Sam Cogley mysteries and Pocket Books would love to publish them. Whether or not we get to do that depends on how well this first book sells. If the numbers are there, we'll certainly write more.

Finally, we know that "Erle" was misspelled in the dedication. That will be corrected if and when the paperback goes into a second printing. Fingers crossed.

That's it for today's TOT. Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/15/2004 | 04/16/2004 | 04/17/2004 >>

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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