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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 23, 2004

"Poetry is the impish attempt to paint the color of the wind."

-Maxwell Bodenheim (1892-1954)

When I woke up this morning, I decided today had to be a NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES kind of day. Yesterday, my daughter Kelly stayed home from school with flu symptoms...and she's doesn't like missing school. An annoying medical problem of my own has me taking pain medication...and I don't like taking medication of any kind. Then, it rained heavily, putting a chill on an already miserable evening. So, when I woke up this morning, I decided to face the new day with a plucky smile on my face...just like the energetic young woman on the cover of this vintage paperback.

Naked on Roller Skates

Let the record show I decided to keep my clothes on and stay off the roller skates.

I'm plucky, not insane.

I love this cover. I've seen it a couple of times on various websites devoted to old books and pulp magazines and I knew I'd be using it here sooner or later.

Caught up in the moment, I hit the Internet in search of info on this book and its author. What I found amazed me, but leave us start with what I couldn't find.

I couldn't find an artist's credit for the cover painting of this 1949 paperback. The cover was also used on a later edition, but I'll get to that in a bit.

The woman's face and expression put me in mind of the work of legendary comics artist Bernard Krigstein. She also reminds me of actress Lauren Bacall. However, before you put too much stock in my wild surmises, bear in mind that I am writing today's TOT under the influence of that pain medication.

A search on NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES brought me the revelation that *everybody* loves this cover.

You can buy a NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES postcard for $1.95. You can buy a NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES mousepad for $12.95. You can buy a "pulp art sachet" of the cover for $29, or a T-shirt for $44.95. Indeed, if you have money and frivolous taste in furniture, you can get a Pulp Fiction Retro Table with images of this and other covers for a mere $200. I might be able to afford the table, but not the second house I would need to put it in after Sainted Wife Barb got a look at it. Sigh.

Next I did a search on author Maxwell Bodenheim and was that ever a shocking exploration. Though a popular writer and respected poet, Bodenheim was one seriously messed-up human being, courting controversy and personal destruction his entire life. Some of the "highlights" of that life included:

- going AWOL from the U.S. Army after bashing an Anti-Semitic officer over the head with a musket

- getting hauled into court by the "New York Society for the Suppression of Vice" after the publication (in 1925) of his novel REPLENISHING JESSICA

- using women, including his three wives, shamelessly, while often getting them to support him

- reportedly driving two of his numerous lovers to take their own lives

- posing as a blind begger to make money

- cadging drinks and money with his third wife, as they lived in whatever shelter they could find

- dying, along with his wife, at the hands of a schizophrenic young drifter they had befriended.

All of a sudden, the cover of NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES doesn't seem quite as cheery to me as it had originally. I did additional research and learned the book featured a woman who wanted to live with "A number one, guaranteed bastard [who will] beat my heart and beat my brain...and lug me to...the lowest dives."

Talk about not judging books by their covers.

Bodenheim is not well-remembered today. What I learned of him and his work today both fascinates and horrifies me, enough so that I checked to see if any of his books were still in print. Amazon had a few listed, including a Bodenheim biography, but listed them as either "out of print" or "special order."

NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES wasn't among them.

I found two copies on eBay. The high bid on a 1949 Diversey edition, such as the one shown above, is $11.50.

At $10.50, I'm the high bidder on a 1950 edition with the same cover. It was an impulse bid.

If I win the auction, I'll read the book and let you know what I think of it. If I don't win it, I'll try to resist such impulses in the future...because I'm not sure I want to walk in Bodenheim's world for even a little while.

******

HARD TIME

Steve Gerber's HARD TIME (DC; $2.50) took the number four spot on "The Must List" in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for April 23:

HARD TIME. In this book from DC Comics' "Focus" series, a teen deals with new-found super-powers - while behind bars. It's like OZ meets MY SO-CALLED LIFE.

The DC FOCUS titles explore the intersection of super-powers with real life. Departed editor Andy Helfer gets special-thanked in each of the series, so I'm guessing he had something to do with them. That doesn't surprise me; Helfer often thought outside the traditional DCU box and the result were almost always interesting. HARD TIME is definitely outside the box.

Gerber starts with a scaled-down Columbine incident. A pair of tortured outsiders taking revenge on the jocks and teachers who have persecuted them. One of the outsiders believes it's a prank. The other is deadly serious.

Several people die. One of them is the deadly serious gunman, slain by an unexpected eruption of energy from his clueless friend, 15-year-old Ethan Harrow.

Despite his youth and his ignorance of what his friend really intended, Ethan is found guilty of multiple charges of kidnapping, assault, attempted murder, and murder. He is sentenced "to a term of not less than fifty years" and sent to the state penitentiary to be housed with the adult convicts.

Let's call a time-out here.

It seemed shocking to me that a 15-year-old boy would be sent to an adult penitentiary. So, as I often do when I have questions of a criminal/legal nature, I called on my best friend and frequent collaborator BOB INGERSOLL.

Here's what Public Defender Ingersoll told me:
Many years ago in Ohio, all people under 30 were sent to the reformatory in Mansfield where they were supposed to do "easier" time. When it shut down, that concept ended. Now juveniles who have been tried and convicted as adults are sent to regular, adult prisons. So, yes, it's possible that Ethan would be sent to such a penitentiary.

In Ohio--and I realize this series doesn't take place in Ohio, but it's the only frame of reference I have--prisoners are assigned to a prison by use of a point system classification. Many factors are considered in assigning the points and the more points a person has, the more maximum security he lands in. One of the major point- adders, as it were, is severity of the crime. As I recall, Ethan has been convicted of multiple counts of murderer as an aider and abettor, so he'd have racked up severe points. So, yes, again, it is possible.

I don't say it would happen everywhere. But it could happen in Ohio, and we aren't even the least-enlightened state in the union. I don't remember were HARD TIMES take place, but it could be in one of the even-less enlightened states, where prison reform is little more than a system of warehousing people without any real care about fairness.
Points for Gerber. This could happen in America, which makes this series all the more shocking.

Ethan makes stupid choices, some with malice aforethought, but he is not bad to the bone. When his friend's true intentions are revealed, he tries and succeeds, albeit tragically, in stopping him from hurting anyone else.

When faced with aggression and callousness from his guards and fellow prisoners, he often reacts with an intemperate crack which endears him to no one. Yet he is also capable of returning respect with respect. More importantly, even in prison, a world where the difference between right and wrong is blurred in the name of basic survival, he recognizes that difference and responds accordingly. However, just as in high school, Ethan's choices aren't always the best or best-considered choices. Worse, whatever choices he makes seem to imperil him further. As his cellmate tells him at the end of the third issue:

"It takes some people a lifetime to make that many enemies. You did it in 48 hours."

Gerber is at the top of his game in HARD TIME. He makes the characters come alive. He keeps the story moving in surprising and interesting directions. He writes dialogue that can make you laugh or tear your heart out. If he keeps this up, we should reserve a space for him on next year's Eisner Awards ballot.

HARD TIME's cover artist is Tomer Hanuka. While he certainly brings a distinctive look to the covers, his work doesn't properly express the energy and emotion found in the series. The dominant color is a sickly green which screams "zombie" more than "prison." That wouldn't be an inappropriate metaphor, but it lacks the punch I think the series deserves.

Brian Hurt provides the interior artwork and he impressed the heck out of me. Even when drawing human monsters, he draws humans and not monsters. He can draw the quiet scenes and the "gee, whiz" scenes equally well. His storytelling is solid, aided by the fine coloring of Brian Haberlin and the distinctive lettering of Jared K. Fletcher. This series is looking real good.

HARD TIME #1-3 earns the full five out of five Tonys. It also makes me want to check out the other DC FOCUS books at the earliest possible opportunity.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

Today's letter comes from ANDREW HORN:
As a regular reader of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, I enjoy it whenever it's there. But PLEASE give up this stuff about trying to write it every day, particularly when you clearly don't seem to be able to do it. It's okay - whatever reasons you may have for not doing it daily are not an issue - just set a goal that is do-able and stick to that, whether it's three times a week or twice a week or weekly. I'm sure your readers will all be there whenever you are, it just would be nice to know when that would be.
Okay.

At present, while Justin and I are trying to line up sponsors and advertisers, TOT will be running on a not-quite-daily schedule. I'll be writing 5-7 columns and then taking one or two days off to recharge. Last week, there were new TOTs every day from April 12 through April 18...and that last column announced that there would be no new TOT for April 19.

This week, there are new TOTs every day from April 20 through tomorrow's edition...and I'll be taking another day off after that. The ultimate plan is to write TOT daily, but we're not going to get fanatical about it. What we will do, whenever humanly possible, is to let you know beforehand when we're taking a day off.

******

TONY POLLS

Our current TONY POLLS questions ask for your opinions on the AVENGERS/JLA crossover, the forthcoming BATMAN: WAR ZONE event, and the HELLBOY movie. The questions will remain open for voting until sometime on Sunday, April 25, at which time they will be replaced by new questions. To cast your ballot, go to:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/poll

Got suggestions for TONY POLLS questions? I'm always eager to hear them. Your questions should be comics-related and limited to not more than 20 possible responses.

If I use your question, I'll bestow a modicum of fame upon you and maybe send you something spiffy from my stuffed-to-the-rafters office. How's that for the hard sell?

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

Tony Isabella

<< 04/22/2004 | 04/23/2004 | 04/24/2004 >>

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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