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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Tuesday, April 20, 2004

What finer way to "celebrate" the upcoming political campaigns than with the Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers cover from GUNSMOKE WESTERN #65 [July, 1961]? For those of you who aren't up on the issues of the day, Big Ben Brawn is the candidate representing the wealthy and the powerful, and John Spade is the *other* candidate representing the wealthy and the powerful. Ralph Nader is also running, but his campaign stops to date have consisted mostly of cowboys shooting at his feet and making him dance.

Gunsmoke Western 65

Forgive my cynicism. The 2004 presidential race does offer an obvious choice: do whatever it takes to get Faux-President Bush and his criminal cohorts out of power. No much how apathetic I might feel about John Kerry, there is too much at stake for us to risk a Bush election. His selection by the activist judges on the Supreme Court has already cost us dollars, in quality of life, in security for the future, and, most importantly, in the precious lives Bush and his mob have squandered.

This is going to be as down-and-dirty an election as any I've seen...with the clear indication that most of the mud will be slung by the GOP hierarchy attack machine. As much as possible, I plan to limit the political discussion in TOT; you'll be bombarded with that on so many fronts and to such an extent that I believe I can play a valid role as a place you can visit for a smidgen of relief from the rancor of the race.

On the other hand, there is no denying my progressive leanings or that many of you are entertained and occasionally informed by my comments on the issues of the day.

Starting in a day or three, I'll devote as short a section of each column as I can manage to my thoughts on those issues. My aim is to keep the section down to a few hundred words and concentrate on the issues you tell me are most important to you.

The section will be clearly designated with a clever header I haven't come up with yet, so that, if you so desire, you can easily skip over it. My Republican pals will already be condemning their immortal souls to Hell if they vote for Bush; I wouldn't want them deprived of the pleasure of reading my columns in the time before the flames of Perdition consume them. Am I a sweetheart of a human being or what?

The issues of the day are serious, but I hope to discuss them with as much good will and humor as I can muster. That said, my e-mailbox awaits your requests.

Getting back to GUNSMOKE WESTERN #65 - Is it just me or does Kid Colt look like a young Dick Cheney? - all the stories in this issue were written by editor Stan Lee.

(My pal and former partner-in-comics Dick Ayers tells me Stan used to write full scripts for these short western tales. I should ask Dick if he kept any of them; it would be a kick to reprint one somewhere.)

The issue's line-up:

KID COLT/"Guns Talk in Tombstone" (art by Jack Keller)

"The Vengeance of Sam Turner" (Kirby and Ayers)

"Gunfighter's Return" (Paul Reinman)

The Standard Catalog of Comic Books (2nd Edition) "The Hawkers Ride Again" (Don Heck)

The 2002 edition of THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines that a near mint copy of the issue would sell for $55. THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS (2nd edition) pegs it at a more affordable $36. There were no copies of this issue listed on eBay, but there were a couple of other low-grade issues currently selling at under five bucks each.

Let's see what else I have for you today.



Here's what I know about Chuck Austen, writer of ACTION COMICS #814 (DC; $2.50):

He drew some issues of MIRACLEMAN, which paled in comparison to the work of other artists on the legendary title. But, come on, how many artists could have competed in that field? I gave Austen credit for having the guts to get into that game.

He drew some soft-porn comics, one of them involving baseball. I remember being impressed by his work at the time and even a bit sad when the title got swallowed up by the black-and-white crash of the 1980s.

He wrote and drew U.S. WAR MACHINE. I never finished reading the first series of that title, but what I saw I liked well enough that I do hope to finish it soon.

Mostly what I know about Austen is that he seems to be *hated* by a great many online fans for his more recent writing. However, since I haven't read that writing, I came to this issue of ACTION COMICS with precious few preconceived notions. I read the issue, made a few notes on it, and then read some of the reviews posted by people who read their new comics much more quickly than I could or would want to do. The comic didn't bother me. The reviews left me flat-out stunned.

My thoughts on the comic book first.

I wasn't impressed by the Arthur Adams cover. Superman looks flabby under his armpits, Kalibak resembles some steroid-enhanced troll-doll, and Kanto looks smitten by the ease with which Supes is dispatching the hordes of Apokolips. It's a too-crowded cover that didn't pique my interest in the slightest.

"Another Day at the Office" reads like a space-filler story, designed to introduce characters and set up what looks to be a bit of a rough patch for reporter Clark Kent. Since I didn't read the previous issues, I don't know why Clark is taking this major hit, something which could have been handled in a mere couple of lines. If you're cover-claiming that "a new era begins here," why not plan on at least some of your readers being new to the book?

None of the action sequences ring true. I don't see how the monorail robber could have had the strength to shove Clark through a window. Such things are tested and inspected precisely so cities can avoid expensive malfeasance lawsuits.

A friend of mine suggested Clark threw himself back against the window so he could change to Superman. If that's the case, our hero's action earned the robber a charge of attempted murder which he didn't deserve. Is that really truth or justice or the American way? Not in my doubtless outdated book.

Austen's Superman is cocky. He reminds me of a person who, lacking an actual functioning sense of humor, thinks he's hilarious when he insults people. Supers comes off as so arrogantly full of himself that I was kind of hoping someone might slap him around for a few pages as a much-needed lesson in humility.

We also get a woman driving a van in bumper-to-bumper traffic who somehow manages to pick up enough speed to go through a bridge barrier that couldn't possibly have passed the building codes or an inspection. Thank God for Superman. me halfway. I know how the real world works. Don't insult my willing suspension of belief by distorting reality and I'll be delighted to believe a man can fly.

Oh, yeah, and after Kalibak makes a two-page entrance, Supes takes six pages to dispatch him, the armies of Apokolips, and even Darkseid.

Six pages. What does he do for an encore?

Here's where the online reviews made me crazy. Over and over, I read comments like "The issue wasn't as bad as I thought it would be" or "I didn't hate it" or the like. Geez, talk about embracing your low expectations!

I do Austen the courtesy - as I think all reviewers should - of expecting more from him. I didn't think this was a good issue, but I didn't see anything in it that made me believe he's incapable of writing a good issue. His story flowed smoothly from scene to scene. Though some of the set-ups were flawed, some of the payoffs were well done. My prescription for Austen's future efforts would be better editing and plotting. The former to improve the actual writing - which was, at least, of professional quality - and the latter to ensure stories worth telling and reading.

On the visual side of things, though penciler Ivan Reis seemed to use overly familiar shots of Superman, I thought he and inker Marc Campos did a decent enough job. Guy Major's colors were a bit darker than made sense to me, but they weren't as oppressive as has become the norm in this era of computer coloring. I'll like their work better when their skills are applied to better-written comics. It's that simple.

ACTION COMICS #814 picks up two-and-a-half out of the possible five Tonys. It's a start.

Tony Tony Half Tony



Our previous batch of TONY POLLS questions, which were active April 1-17, asked what you would most like to see me write about in future editions of TOT. You could vote for your first, second, and third most desired subjects.

In tallying the scores, I awarded three points for the first choice, two for the second, and one for the third. After several voters expressed confusion, I decided to combine the "politics" and "social issues" points into one category.

Here are the results:

Current comics books: 160 points

Old comic books: 116

Politics/social issues: 62

Graphic novels: 52

Trade paperbacks: 35

Manga: 28

TV shows: 28

DVDs: 17

Movies: 10

Magazines: 8

Blogs: 7

Websites: 4

The only major surprise for me was how low WEBSITES rated in this survey, though I expected a better showing for MANGA as well. BLOGS, MAGAZINES, and TRADE PAPERBACKS did about what I expected, the former because I think blogs are most interesting to those who write blogs and the latter two because I didn't define them as well as I should have.

There were a smattering of OTHER ballots, but only one voter sent me follow-up comments.

What I'd most like for you to write about is life, comic-book-related life, but life nonetheless.

I want to read about how comics creators like Dave Cockrum and Herb Trimpe have fared since the large companies passed them by. We know how they are doing, but what about all the others? What has happened to Scott Edelman, Roger Slifer, Allyn Brodsky, and all the other 1970's Marvel folks?

I'd like to read anecdotes from your own years in the comics industry as a writer, editor, and retailer.

I want to read about why you wrote a story the way you did, and what it meant to you. I want to read about the people you've worked with over the years and how they are doing.

I want to read about your family, and how they're doing. Does anyone in your family read the comic books you did? In Stan Lee's autobiography, I was surprised to learn his family really didn't pay much attention to the great stories he was creating with the likes of Kirby, Heck, Ayers, and Steve Ditko.

I'd like to read in-depth articles on works that strike you as worthy of five Tonys...both current works and older ones.

Years ago in AMAZING HEROES, Mike W. Barr did an interview with Denny O'Neil, where he pretty much went story by story through much of O'Neil's Batman work. I'd love to read an ongoing series of anecdotes of what you remember when you look at your work from the start to the most recent.

Thanks for taking this into account, and thanks for bringing me so much entertainment over the years, generously leavened with life lessons.
Those are terrific suggestions, Scott, and I'll do my best to deliver on them. Keep watching this space.

In the meantime, check out our newest TONY POLLS questions on AVENGERS/JLA, the BATMAN: WAR GAMES event, and the HELLBOY movie. You'll find them at:



COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, the weekly newspaper for which I first wrote "Tony's Tips," will be undergoing a major renovation in the very near future. A press release was due to go out on Monday and, if it did, I'll post it on my message board and also include it in tomorrow's edition of TOT.

What I can tell you now is that I'll still be writing a column for CBG, continuing the long and happy association I have enjoyed with the publication for closing in on two decades. I'll have more details for you once I see the press release.

Thanks for spending a part of your day 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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Medina, OH 44256

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