Is this what I call a cheery comic-book cover to welcome you to a new edition of TOT and the start of the week?
Well, no. But I was looking through dozens of covers to pick one to lead off today's column and I was being real picky about it and this was the cover I kept coming back to. Sometimes you gotta go with your gut.
Published by Fox, CRIMES BY WOMEN #2 [August, 1948] was one of many crime comics raising censorious eyebrows in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Several issues found their way into anti-comics tomes PARADE OF PLEASURE and SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. Looking at this and other covers, most of which emphasize headlights and homicide, that doesn't surprise me in the least.
The GRAND COMICS DATABASE doesn't have many creative credits for this issue - the cover artist is not identified - but it does list these contents:
"Belle Guness: The Monster of Laporte" (10 pages, pencils and inks by "Carter")
"Anna Slayne: Flower of Evil" (9 pages)
"The Midget Murderer" (1 page; art by A.C. Hollingsworth)
"Murder Out of Season" (2 pages; text story)
"Jean Torson: Satan's Daughter" (10 pages)
An online search couldn't find anything on either Anna Slayne or Jean Torson, but turn-of-the-century serial killer Belle Guness was the real deal. She murdered at least 42 people, including two of her own children and several mail-order husbands. She faked her own death in an arson fire - she killed and beheaded a woman, then dressed the victim in her own clothes - and was never seen again, disappearing with her three surviving daughters.
In 1931, in Los Angeles, an "Esther Carlson" was charged with killing her 81-year-old husband in a manner consistent with Belle's usual methods. Carlson died in jail before going to trial. Among her effects...a photo of three daughters.
CRIMES BY WOMEN #3 (as seen in SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT) was the only issue being auctioned. The copy shown was graded 4.5 by Comics Guaranty...and had a high bid of $82.50, about two-thirds of the Overstreet price for an issue in that condition.
Let's see what else I have for you today.
FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE
Veteran TIPS readers know I often stress bang-for-your-bucks when I review comics. Yet for works of exceptional quality, price isn't a consideration and that's certainly the case with P. Craig Russell's superb FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE VOLUME 4: THE DEVOTED FRIEND/THE NIGHTINGALE AND THE ROSE ($15.95).
Russell and NBM Publishing launched this series over a decade ago. The notorious Wilde used to tell these fairy tales to British society and eventually committed them to paper. They are charming tales, literary flowers whose thorns can prick the reader as surely as the thorn which pierces the selfless nightingale in the volume's second story.
Russell's adaptations are every bit as beautifully lyrical and painfully honest as the originals. The storytelling is wonderful; the drawings even more so. With equal skill, the artist brings to life characters you'll want to embrace and characters you'll want to throttle. I imagine Wilde's performance of these tales brought similar reactions from the audiences of his day.
FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE features 31 pages of story and art in a 8-1/2" by 11" full color clothbound hardcover. It's a volume suitable for your home library and for gift-giving. I'm awarding it the full five out of five Tonys.
DRAW MANGA VILLAINS is a children's book, intended for budding artists eight and up. Hart and Watson-Guptill are likely far more knowledgeable than I in this particular arena - neither of my kids are that young or have showed interest in art beyond that required by homework assignments - but it seems to me they've underestimated their audience in several ways.
The 64-page book opens with six pages of the basics. Manga is reduced to its most cliched representations; only the single page on drawing muscles stood out as teaching something actually useful. The remainder of the book consists of double-page sections on how to draw various types of characters: crazed kook, street fighter, locked-up lunkhead, cyber soldier, etc. If the reader follows the instructions, he or she will essentially be copying drawings which themselves mimic the imagined simplistic style of an imagined young artist. I don't see much point in that.
Wouldn't it be better to hand kids a less specific how-to-draw book and a bunch of age-suitable manga, letting them copy drawings as their imagination and interest leads them? That's how many of the comics artists I know got started.
Not to be too snarky here, but Hart's focus on the cliches of manga art brings to mind the Harry Chapin song about educational rigidity and a young boy bullied into conformity:
"Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen."
I wouldn't suggest established manga characters be drawn "off model" merely for variety's sake. However, in a volume like this, I question the imposition of a singularity of style.
I'm surprised I have such a negative reaction to XTREME ART: DRAWN MANGA VILLAINS, but there it is. The best rating I can give it - and even this is a stretch - is two Tonys.
Something has gone awry in the Marvel Universe. Something has been ripped from the near future of the Marvel Universe and hurled four hundred years into the past. As a result, familiar heroes and villains are coming into being centuries before their proper time, putting the universe itself at dire risk.
I waited to read MARVEL 1602 until I had all eight issues of the Neil Gaiman series, wanting to focus on the time-tossed super-heroes to the exclusion of other metahuman distractions. I'm glad I did that; anticipating each new issue would have been risky for a fellow of my advanced years. Of course, having done that, having seen how this little bit of business connects to that little bit of business, I'm reluctant to reveal much of the characters and events beyond that mentioned in my review's first paragraph.
As the series opens, Queen Elizabeth is seeking the counsel of her most trusted advisers: Sir Nicholas Fury, head of Her Majesty's intelligence operations, and Stephen Strange, her court physician. Her enemies are mighty: James VI of Scotland, the Catholic Church's Grand Inquisitor, and Count Otto Von Doom, the ruler of Latveria. The very world seems at odds with itself.
Gaiman brings us heroes and villains who, while echoing their modern analogues in most ways, have their own characters. His Nick Fury is arguably the best-realized version of the Marvel Universe's super-spy, torn between his duty and the oft-questionable rightness of said duty. A major player in this brave old world, Sir Nicholas sets the standard for the other players...allowing me to gloss over those other players and not spoil any of the delectable surprises awaiting you.
The highest compliment I can award the MARVEL 1602 visuals is that they are worthy of Gaiman's remarkable story. Scott McLowen's evocative paintings convey the overall atmosphere. Andy Kubert is able to capture the Marvel heroes, keeping them recognizable even in such bizarre circumstances. His storytelling flows from page to page. His individual drawings, wonderfully enhanced by Richard Isanove's digital painting, are moody, regal, and electrifying as the tale's events demand. Letterer Todd Klein fits nicely into the mix, giving Gaiman's captions a suitable "Old World" feel. These are great-looking comic books.
MARVEL 1602 earns the full five Tonys. I couldn't locate any information about a collection of these eight issues, but, whenever such a collection becomes available, I'll be there. This series is definitely one for the comics library.
MARVEL 1602 ANNOTATIONS
Lest I forget.
Our pal JESS NEVINS and his merry band of meta-knowledgeable comics readers have annotated the first three issues of MARVEL 1602 at this website:
Some of their conjectures have been proven incorrect with the subsequent issues of 1602. Nonetheless, that does not diminish the fun to be had from their learned research and thoughtful theories. I look forward to further comments.
From TERRY TURNER, a movie recommendation:
I don't know if you caught the movie BEST MAN IN GRASS CREEK when it came out on video, but thought you might like to know that the writer, director, and star is John Newcombe, who was a writer for Archie Comics for a time.
The movie was made in Indiana for about $500,000, but got spotty distribution in the theaters when it was released in 2001 or 2002. It really is pretty good; it features a salesman for a cow comic strip pulled into being best man for a comics buyer for the Indianapolis Star. One of the better scenes is when cows break out of a pasture and get into the wedding cake.
A lot of libraries bought copies of the movie, so if you can't get it through the video store, you might be able to get it at a library.
Thanks for the tip, Terry. I hadn't heard of the movie before your e-mail. I'll start looking for it.
I also received this short note from JIM KINGMAN, editor and publisher of the COMIC EFFECT fanzine:
Wanted to say thanks real quick for your review of THE O'NEIL OBSERVER #5 in CBG #1586. I didn't realize this fanzine existed! I'm definitely going to order a copy!
I live for e-mail like this because there are few aspects of writing these columns I enjoy more than alerting a reader to some comic book or other items he or she might enjoy. My review of THE O'NEIL OBSERVER was posted online as part of my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS column for Tuesday, April 13, 2004. If you missed it, you can read it in our RECENT COLUMNS archives...whose links appear just south of today's TOT.
This is the section where, more often or not, you'll find my thoughts on political and social issues. The concept is to keep my comments as brief and to the point as possible...and to label them with a consistent header for the benefit of both those readers who are interested in what I have to say on these matters and those who couldn't care less.
One rule of thumb. If someone has to tell you what the header stands for, you're just not hip enough to be reading this column. You can change that, but you'll probably have to do extra reading in our back issue archives. As Archie's pal Moose Mason once told his waffle-scarred classmate: "I may be dumb, but that doesn't mean I have to stay dumb!"
The political/social commentaries will start in Tuesday's TOT and continue on a nigh-daily basis until your Tipster runs out of issues on which to comment. I think we all know that really means there will be no end in sight.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
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.
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