When an outfit does right by a comics professional, I like to make with the positive affirmation in the hope that doing of right will become a veritable addiction in this industry.
DC is doing right by the memory of Julius Schwartz. As Peter David wrote in these pages a few weeks back, DC has established the Julius Schwartz Visiting Speaker Fund. This fund will work with a college to provide a speaker or speakers to come to the college and talk about the areas of popular culture to which Schwartz devoted his career: comics, fantasy, and science fiction. I have no doubt Schwartz would be delighted by the creation of this fund, his sole complaint likely being that he won't be the one doing the speaking at these events.
(Not that Julie needs to. He still speaks to those of us who knew him, whether personally or through the comic books he edited during his long and legendary career.)
DC is further honoring Julius Schwartz by publishing a series of what might be called STRANGE SCHWARTZ STORIES, eight "tribute" specials dedicated to the sort of cover-driven stories he pioneered as an editor. In fact, each of these comics will feature stories written around covers which appeared on Schwartz-edited issues of BATMAN, MYSTERY IN SPACE, GREEN LANTERN, HAWKMAN, SUPERMAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, FLASH, and THE ATOM. The line-up of artists and especially writers is impressive.
My compliments to DC; it's going to be tough to wait for these comics to ship in July and August.
(Aw, geez, Isabella, does there have to be a "but?")
...I can't help but note the writers who should be included in these specials and aren't. Roy Thomas was one of the comics buffs inspired by Julius Schwartz's helpful relationship with fandom in the 1960s, becoming a professional and creating comics milestones of his own. How can Thomas not be among the contributors to these tribute issues?
Mike W. Barr and Mike Friedrich both made their first comics sales to Schwartz. Bob Rozakis and Paul Kupperberg wrote hundreds of scripts for Julie. If I had a few more minutes and a lot more column, I could add more names to my list of writers who deserve a place in these specials.
The solution seems obvious. DC needs to make STRANGE SCHWARTZ STORIES an ongoing series, not necessarily revisiting the "cover-driven stories" theme of these first specials - "Be original" was a favorite edict of Julie's - but continuing to honor the man who was, arguably, their greatest editor. The profits could goose the Julius Schwartz Visiting Speaker Fund and perhaps expand it beyond the current single college plan.
That's my initial thoughts on what I hope will be an ongoing discussion of how to honor the creators and editors who labored so long and hard for rewards that seem paltry in comparison. I'd love to see more tributes in the months and years to come: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, and...
Let's face it. My list could go on and on. Your lists might be even longer. Think about what I've said while I move on to this week's reviews.
It came to me in a flash. What better way to follow up on my STRANGE SCHWARTZ STORIES comments than by reviewing recent issues of the titles to be included in that tribute series? Alas, there are no recent issues of THE ATOM or MYSTERY IN SPACE sitting in my DC reading pile, though I am midway through the first volume of THE ADAM STRANGE ARCHIVES, but that still leaves us a six-pack of comic books starring some of the world's greatest super-heroes. How do they stack up to the Schwartz-edited classics of olde?
BATMAN #624 ($2.25) compared favorably. Coming into "Broken City" at the fifth part of a six-part arc put me at a disadvantage, but writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso swept me into the issue despite my ignorance of what had gone before. I would've liked some back story - and the lack thereof will cost them in the final reckoning - but the powerful writing and visuals captured my attention from the get-go.
I'm not sure who all the players are in this arc, but Batman is investigating the murder of a young woman and has, apparently, figured the wrong person for the deed. Whatever's been going down in Gotham town has the detective worn to the mental and physical bone, which explains why he has so much difficulty going one-on-two with criminal-types Fatman and Little Boy. I'm not used to seeing Batman so off his game, but this issue certainly makes me want to read the issues showing how he got to this point.
A dripping-with-mood stylized cover by Dave Johnson tops off BATMAN #624 nicely, earning the penultimate chapter of the "Broken City" storyline four out of five Tonys.
THE FLASH #207 ($2.25) is a decent jumping-back-on place for readers. Writer Geoff Johns uses the first several pages of "Rush Hour" to identify the differences between Wally West and his fellow Justice Leaguers and to smoothly recap the previous several issues, then throws a bomb into the Flash's life. It was a very effective opening and it assured my interest.
The middle pages of the issue gave us further insight into our hero, reintroduced situations, supporting characters, and villains, and then kicked off the action. Sadly, despite the dramatic art of Howard Porter (penciller) and Livesay (inker without a first name), that's where the shine came off the issue.
Too many villains attacking the Flash for no reason other than they're the villains and he's the Flash. It's the "just when you think things can't get any worse" bit, but, having written my way around a comic or two myself, I know writers can always make them worse. Making them more meaningful, now that's the trick that gets me off my feet to applaud.
Super-hero stories should be better not bigger. Yes, they can be huge and mind-boggling, but just raising the villain count of an issue isn't enough to blow my mind. Even when the writing and art are as good as they are in this issue.
For a comic with so much going for it, THE FLASH #207 gets a disappointing three Tonys.
GREEN LANTERN #174 is part four of a story arc which concludes in the double-sized #175. It represents much of what's wrong with writing for the arc and not for the single issue. It opens with a disguised Kyle Rayner on the spaceship of some big bad plotting to destroy Oa, which was and may still be the home of the Guardians of the Universe. Without any "what has gone before" information to be seen, I didn't even know it was Kyle until the villain called him by name. Kyle's put on some weight recently.
Other characters popped up as the issue plodded onward with a quick trip to Earth for scenes involving supporting cast members, of which I recognized two out of four. One of these scenes seemed to mostly serve as a heavy-handed plea for parents to love their gay children and, given my proud liberalism, you know it had to be clunky for me to find fault with it. The other had Jade sneaking into a boyfriend's apartment to find him doing the nasty with some other woman. In neither case was the reader given even a scintilla of background information. In short, writer Benjamin Raab gets no points for his part in this issue.
Penciller Jamal Igle and inker John Dell acquit themselves as well as can be expected given the script, but their artwork suffers from overdone computer coloring. Even so, their contributions earn GREEN LANTERN #174 the paltry two Tonys I can, in good conscience, award to the issue.
HAWKMAN #25 ($2.50) is the exciting conclusion to what appears to have been one heck of a crossover story involving this book and JSA. From the striking John Watson cover to the thrilling battle between Black Adam and his former JSA allies to epilogues framing the conflict with some unanswerable questions, writer Geoff Johns and artists Rags Morales (pencils), Michael Bair (inks), and Rodney Ramos (inks) delivered a cracking good comic. That certain scenes stuck me as memorable or poignant even without my having read the earlier issues speaks well to their talents.
Johns is better than most current comics writers re: inserting background information into his scripts without hitting the reader over the head with it. That's why I was able to enjoy this issue despite my lack of knowledge of the players and their relationships with one another. It's also why HAWKMAN and JSA are near the top of the titles I want to read in their entirety for future columns. It's all about me, isn't it?
HAWKMAN #25 gets four Tonys.
This seems to be my week for coming in at the end of stories. JLA #93 ($2.25) is the final chapter of a trilogy.
Denny O'Neil's script for "Soul Survivor" was unusually sparse and yet managed to convey considerable information. An alien, the last of his kind, has come to Earth to help us. The impressions he gets of our world make him believe destroying us is the only way he can help us, his actions apparently motivated by the holy book on which he has based his life. This seeming parable loses focus by its unsatisfying conclusion. I appreciate the experimental nature of this script, but its spartan manner robs the story of any sense of urgency.
Nor is that sense of urgency provided by the Tan Eng Hunt art. He does some wonderful super-speed effects with the Flash, but the Justice Leaguers look, well, constipated in close-ups and stiff in full-figure shots. It's not a good-looking comic book.
JLA #93 gets an extremely disappointing one Tony.
If there is one thing at DC Comics that should be a constant, it should be this:
A reader of any age, be he or she a regular reader or merely an occasional visitor, should be able to pick up the latest issue of SUPERMAN and find therein an entertaining story or a chapter of that story that makes sense. That's the responsibility that comes with being the world's best-known super-hero.
Enter SUPERMAN #202 ($2.25), the antithesis of that constant. The issue's lead is the 16-page third chapter of some bizarre tale involving the bottle city of Kandor. It gives the reader no clue as to what has gone before, who the Kandorian players are, or what their motivations are. It does, however, devote three double-page spreads to summarizing Superman's life. Badly.
The at-times-faux-poetic writing is clumsy. Those characters I did recognize are drawn well enough, but the storytelling falls far short of conveying what's happening in several key scenes. The computer color draws too much attention to itself when it should, instead, serve the story...even though the story is as God-awful as this one is. Who dealt this mess?
The lead is backed up by a six-page preview of a forthcoming story arc by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. It's better written than the lead story and hints at an intriguing look at Lex Luthor, but it's still an unsatisfying tease.
Even in an industry where it's a given that comics companies will publish an excessive number of comic books starring their most popular heroes, there is no excuse for any issue of SUPERMAN to be this bad. It gets no Tonys. Giving it even one would be insulting to the hundreds of creators who have worked on the Man of Steel and the millions of readers who have enjoyed his adventures.
I'll end this week's column with a note of thanks to editors Maggie Thompson and Brent Frankenhoff for coming to my rescue when a frustrating combination of computer malfunctions and illness made it likely I would be absent from last week's issue. Instead, they cobbled together a column from my recent online writings and kept me in the game. Are they the best or what?
I'll be back next week with more reviews.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1589 [April 30, 2004], which shipped April 12. The lead cover story was "More Gothic Than Hellboy?"...wherein creator Mike Mignola told CBG that his next project will be "a straight-on Gothic vampire horror story." I'll bite.
The second lead was "CrossGen adjusts to changes." Maybe that should become an ongoing column.
CBG QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
The question were:
Who created your favorite comics character?
What is it?
The answers are:
If I write about Black Lightning, I'll get very sad...again. Maybe I'll write about him next time this gets asked.
Every Sunday, yours truly posts new questions on my TONY POLLS page, which is located at:
Here are the questions I asked last week and the final tallies for your answers to them...
"Twenty years after it was first announced, the AVENGERS/JLA crossover has finally been published. If you have read all four issues, how would you rate this crossover event?"
VERY GOOD: 40.66%
I went with GOOD, which, given the talent involved, made it something of a disappointment to me. Because it was such a major event, I reviewed each of the four issues in my CBG column. You'll find the first three reviews in my "Back Issues" archives, with the fourth review - which appears in CBG #1592 - due to be posted here no later than Friday, May 28.
"DC Comics has announced BATMAN: WAR GAMES, a 25-issue "event" which will run through the Batman titles for three months starting this August. Rate your level of interest in this event."
EXTREMELY HIGH: 1.89%
MODERATELY HIGH: 5.66%
It appears DC is going to have a hard time selling this to the loyal legions of TOT readers. I went with MODERATELY HIGH on this question because I'm hoping to use it as my method of jumping back into the Batman titles. Reading all those comic books should make for some interesting columns.
"Mike Mignola's HELLBOY has become a hit at the box office. If you've seen the movie how would you rate it?"
VERY GOOD: 46.88%
I went with EXCELLENT on this one, a choice which doubtless puts me at odds with most other comics reviewers. I was somewhat amused by how many of them held HELLBOY up to higher standards than they do the comics they review.
Me, I have disrespect-bordering-on-contempt for the Hollywood stuff. I sometimes think it would be a good idea for all the folks in Tinseltown to be beaten with sticks once a month...just to keep them humble. Then again, I feel that way about a lot of people who work in comics, too.
The bottom line?
I thought the movie acceptably faithful to Mignola's comics. I took my son, my daughter, and my daughter's friend to see it and we all enjoyed it. I don't need more from a movie.
This week's TONY POLLS questions ask you to pick your favorite Steve Englehart series, express your level of interest in CBG's new monthly format, and let me know if you'd like to see more "classic cover galleries" such as I ran last Saturday. The questions will remain active until sometime on Sunday, at which time I'll post new questions. Let's get out the vote and have some fun.
It's a busy time around Casa Isabella. Baseball and softball have started for my kids, even as their school year heads into its very busy final weeks. The warming weather also means it's time to catch up on various household chores.
CBG's switch from a weekly newspaper to a monthly magazine is keeping me busy, too. My final weekly columns are due at the same time as my first contributions to the monthly...and I also need to find some other paying gigs to make up for the financial shortfall which will inevitably come with my going from writing 52 columns a year to 12. I alternate between being excited by the challenge and worrying about the electric bill.
Justin, the wondrous Webmaster of World Famous Comics, will be at the PITTSBURGH COMICON this weekend. That, along with the CBG deadlines mentioned above, will necessitate a short break from TOT for both of us.
Don't panic. We're only talking four days here. If you start to get withdrawal pains, you can always visit the official Isabella message board at:
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: