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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 Saturday, April 17, 2004

It's like deja vu all over again...

146148
149150

That's four different books with the same cover, save that the background color was changed from dull white to bright yellow after what I assume was the first of this series. Or maybe it was some sort of a round-robin "multi-novel" about a phantom hitman who was paid in diamonds for his work. The hero of the series, a sheriff, wasted some time tracking the wrong killer, but was finally put on the right track when an associate of the phantom hitman ratted out the actual culprit.

Or not.

What I am sure of is that I dig the funky old paperback covers and that I've found a wonderful source for them in Bruce Brenner's VINTAGE PAPERBACKS website:

http://www.vintagepbks.com/index.html

To quote Brenner:
If you love vintage paperbacks, you have come to the right place. There are over 600 images of paperback books on this website.

Authors featured are Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, Raymond Chandler, David Goodis, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Evan Hunter, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford and Cornell Woolrich.

Cover artists featured are Rudolph Belarski, Earle Bergey, Reginald Heade, Robert Bonfils, Frank Frazetta, George Gross, Jeff Jones, Robert Maguire and Robert McGinnis.

Publishers featured are Ace, Avon, Banner, Graphic, Popular Library, Lion and Monarch Books. Other authors, artists and publishers will be added as time allows.

Several pages are listed by theme. Other categories include Science Fiction, Sleaze, Lesbiana, Dustjacketed paperbacks, Vintage and Drug theme paperbacks and digests.

There's a separate site devoted to Golden Guides, the books everyone had as a kid. Enjoy the site.
The above covers are featured in the "Dustjacketed Paperbacks" section of the website. I'm in the habit of viewing a new section every other day or so and I literally squealed with delight when I saw the repetitions.

You'll find lots of good stuff on the VINTAGE PAPERBACKS site and I strongly recommend you pay it a visit...after you've checked out the rest of what I have for you today.

******

RAIJIN COMICS

One of my spring reading projects is to catch up on all those issues of RAIJIN COMICS (Gutsoon; $4.95) which have been piling up in my office since the weekly/monthly/on hiatus anthology made its debut in late 2002. Better late than never?

Whereas rival SHONEN JUMP has the advantage of heroes who are known to American audiences, especially the younger male readers, from Cartoon Network, Fox Kids, and Kids WB, RAIJIN COMICS offered more genre variety and fewer crossover stars. Don't read that as a dig at SHONEN JUMP, which is still the best buy in comics and one of my own favorites; it's just a statement of the major difference between the two.

There were other differences. RAIJIN came in at 250 pages per issue, about a hundred pages shy of JUMP's count. From the design standpoint, RAIJIN never looked as good as JUMP. Despite all that, in just five issues, I've developed quite a fondness for RAIJIN and for most of its ongoing features and expect to continue enjoying it until I run out of issues.

Let's discuss those features...

Slam Dunk Inoue Takehiko's SLAM DUNK is the sports-and-romance tale of high school freshman Sakuragi Hanamichi. He's a not-entirely-bad juvenile delinquent who was dumped by 50 different girls during his three years in junior high. He hates sports until he learns that pretty Akagi Haruko loves basketball above all else. That sets the infatuated Hanamichi on a collusion course with Haruko's brother, the captain of the school basketball team, and with fellow freshman and rival Rukawa Kaede. Not-so-bad boys are a recurrent theme in Japanese comics and, for that matter, an awful lot of young adults entertainment. Creator Inoue does a terrific job making Hanamichi equal parts jerk and sympathetic protagonist...and he's not afraid to show heroine Haruko in a less-than-flattering light from time to time. This is one of my favorite RAIJIN series.

Score: four out of five Tonys

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Fist of the Blue Sky FIST OF THE BLUE SKY is Hara Tetsuo's prequel to his renowned FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, a post-apocalyptic action-thriller. This earlier tale starts in Shanghai in the 1930s. Here are some "cheat notes," courtesy of RAIJIN COMICS #1:
It is a turbulent time in China; the nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek fight with Mao's Communists. Various foreign governments maneuver for power, aiming for control of China's political and commercial center. The Japanese install a puppet government in Manchuria under the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Puyi.
Kasumi Kenshiro is heir to the deadly fighting style known as the "God Fist of the North Star," but he's come to Shanghai in his other identity as a literature teacher studying Chinese classics. His past, which included siding with one criminal gang over another because he felt they protected the people better, intrudes on his new life in the first chapter of this serial.

FIST is extremely violent, but its core values are friendship, character, and taking a stand against evil. If I have a complaint about this story, it's that Kenshiro has yet to face an enemy who posed even an illusionary threat against him. A sense of jeopardy is important to adventure fiction. I've been enjoying FIST, but my interest won't last if Ken's battles don't become more challenging in future installments.

Score: three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

City Hunter CITY HUNTER is Saeba Ryo, a professional "sweeper" who deals out fatal justice to those the law can't touch. While I certainly don't condone such philosophy, I am quite capable of enjoying such stories when they are well told.

I like CITY HUNTER. Creator Hojo Tsukasa does a good job of keeping the stories and the villains interesting, though I wish he would also include in his tales some recognition that Ryo's actions are every bit as criminal as the crimes he avenges. I'm also less than thrilled at Ryo's lechery, though such loutish behavior seems to be common in manga. On the plus side, Hojo leaves no doubt as to his hero's courage and quick wits.

At this point in the stories, Ryo's supporting cast is going through a major change. I look forward to seeing how the remaining relationships develop.

Score: four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Bomber Girl Niwano Makoto's BOMBER GIRL is my least favorite of the RAIJIN COMICS serials. It pushes its sophomoric titillation and violence in equal measure as it tells of a near-future Japan where crime and terrorists have increased to such a level that bounty hunters are given free rein to take out the bad guys with as heavy firepower as they can muster.

The title heroine is a psychotically violent young woman named Rashomon Emi, who is constantly upstaging the more decent Kurosaki Guy, her neighbor and a member of S.T.A.D., a bounty hunter team. Don't ask me what S.T.A.D. stands for; if it was mentioned anywhere in these first five issues, I missed it. Emi often gets so caught up in beating on bad guys she kills them before she can collect the bounties on them; sometimes she doesn't even leave enough of their bodies for them to be identified. How charming. I'm not going to claim that ultra-violence, sexy young women, and silly villains can't ever be humorous and even intriguing, but Niwano doesn't pull it off in this serial.

Score: zero Tonys.

No Tonys

Baki the Grappler Itagaki Keisuke's BAKI THE GRAPPLER is turning out to be more fun than I could have imagined, this despite the first hundred or so pages being mostly devoted to a karate match between the title hero and the fierce Suwedo Atsushi, the winner of four consecutive full-contact tournaments. Hanma Baki is a likeable hero whose wide and ever-present grin is as disconcerting to the reader as it is to his opponents. Only 17, everything about him - his background, his fighting style, his school, his tournament record - is a complete mystery to those around him.

The other characters are equally interesting. Surprisingly, for all his fierceness, Atsushi adheres to a rough code of honor in the ring. Intriguingly, there seem to be several behind-the-scenes factions at work in this scenario and they all seem to lean toward the sinister. I'm digging this.

Score: five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

There are a few other items I want to include in today's TOT, so I'll stop here and continue this discussion of RAIJIN COMICS in tomorrow's column. Come back then and we'll talk about politics, terrorism, mountain-climbing, and a cute magical girl come to Earth to be a guardian for a lonely teenager.

One more thing. Most features in RAIJIN are also available in bargain-priced and conveniently-sized paperback collections. Order them through our ACTION IS MY REWARD link and this website makes a few cents on the deal which, in turn, helps us to bring you TOT on a daily basis. Every little bit helps.

******

TONY POLLS

You have until approximately midnight tonight [Saturday, April 17] to cast your votes on what subjects you'd most like to see me write about in future TOTs. After that, I take down the questions, tally up the votes, and let you know the results. I'll also put up a new question or two...though, at this time, I haven't yet decided what those questions will be. The suspense is killing me.

If you'd like to cast your votes, head here:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/poll

Another thing. If, at any time in the future, you think of a good TONY POLLS question, don't be shy about it sending it my way. I'd like to post new questions every Sunday and I can use all the help I can get.

"I can use all the help I can get."

I should put that on a t-shirt.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

I reviewed my friend and fellow Comics Buyer's Guide columnist Craig Shutt's BABY BOOMER COMICS in TONY'S ONLINE TIPS for March 4. I liked the volume quite a bit and give it four out of five Tonys. Here is Craig's response to my review:
Baby Boomer Comics Thanks for the advance look at your review! I'm quite happy with my four Tonys, and I understand your reasoning for holding one back. At least it was due to a conscious decision on my part rather than something I wish I could fix now.

I didn't realize the lack of resolutions were so frustrating, but I deliberately steered away from revealing unless necessary for several reasons.

First, the book's purpose, more than anything, is to convey the excitement of reading those comics and make people want to read them now rather than keep them bagged and boarded. I realize it's not quite the same as giving away the ending to CITIZEN KANE, but explaining endings can spoil the fun. That's why I give so many reprint sources.

Second, as the owner of ESSENTIAL ANT-MAN and BLACK CANARY ARCHIVES, I don't know that I'd guarantee that any of these comics will "never be reprinted." Okay, maybe JERRY LEWIS, but the rest could be coming in the next PREVIEWS...and it wouldn't surprise me any more. And a lot are readily available.

Third, CBG ran into a problem this past summer with its Hulk and X-Men guides, which Marvel thought spent too much time summing up storylines rather than reviewing, and gave away too many endings to stories. So they definitely didn't encourage me to expand on what I'd originally written to say more than I needed to.

Fourth, I hate seeing big, bold "Spoiler Warning" warnings inserted into my copy unless there's no getting around revealing all to make a point. It's distracting and annoying for the reader, so I try to avoid 'em.

Fifth, most of the time, the endings get so convoluted the book would have had to have been twice as long to try to explain these situations. And the way GL avoided marrying Star Sapphire is nowhere near as much fun (or as logical) as explaining how he got into that fix in the first place.

So I see your point, but it's a fault I'll have to live with. Thanks again!
For what it's worth, whether I perceive it as flawed or not, I still think BABY BOOMER COMICS is one heck of a fun book. As I did in my review, I recommend it to everyone with a love for or an interest in the glory that was the Silver Age of Comics.

Thanks to all of you for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/16/2004 | 04/17/2004 | 04/18/2004 >>

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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