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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Thursday, May 13, 2004

I'm in a Superman state of mind.

It came on me suddenly, spurred by the realization that there were new creative teams on the three main Superman titles and some discussion on my message board. I ended up reading the debuts of the teams and the entire run of the relatively new SUPERMAN/BATMAN titles. I suspect I'll be checking out some other Superman limited series and trades as well.

I learned to read from comic books. When I began buying them myself, an issue of SUPERMAN was one of my first comics purchases. What's bugging me lately is that I've never been able to remember exactly which issue of the title was the first one I bought and/or read. A trip to THE GRAND COMICS DATABASE [] didn't lift the scales from my poor benighted memory, but it did yield a few possible suspects.

Superman 107

My best guess at the moment is SUPERMAN #107 [August, 1956], which cover-featured "Rip Van Superman" by writer Bill Finger and artists Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye. I have a fairly strong memory of that story, described thus in THE GREAT SUPERMAN BOOK by Michael L. Fleisher:
DRAGO. A renegade scientist of the thirtieth century A.D. who escapes from prison on the Moon and, with a gang of other convicts, attempts to devastate and conquer the world, only to be defeated and apprehended by Superman, whose presence in this future era is the result of his exposure in August 1956 to the terrible radiation of a defective atomic pile, which caused him to lapse into a sleeplike coma from which he only awakens a thousand years later, in the year 2956 A.D. With Drago and his henchmen in custody, Superman returns to his own era via time machine.
However, as I barely recall the issue's other two stories, I have to consider the possibility I'm remembering "Rip Van Superman" from SUPERMAN ANNUAL #4 (1961). This is one of those mysteries I may never solve.

Getting to the stats:

Boring and Kaye drew the cover. Whitney Ellsworth was listed as editor, but the actual editor was more than likely either Jack Schiff or Mort Weisinger. The GCD doesn't know who wrote "The Make-Believe Superman" or "The Impossible Haircut," but both tales were pencilled and inked by Al Plastino.

Were I to go shopping for a near-mint condition copy of this comic book, THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines I'd have to shell out $440 for it. THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS pegs it at $260.

I found three recent completed sales for the issue on eBay. A good condition copy went for $9.99 on a single bid. A second good condition copy sold for $11.60 with five bids. A very good copy brought $23.73 on six bids. From where I'm sitting, those bidders did well for themselves.

Let's move on to more recent Superman comics.



Adventures of Superman #627 The new creative team of writer Greg Rucka, penciller Matthew Clark, and inker Nelson were introduced in ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #627 ($2.50). My mixed feelings on this issue will be made clear as we go through the book together.

Gene Ha did a nice-looking cover, but, at the end of the day, it's just another "hero and villain punching it out" poster with a little better design than most. Above the logo, we get this blurb: "The Never-Ending Battle Redefined!" That's a mighty big claim and the new team doesn't come within miles of living up to it.

I loved the "little girl lost" opening scene. Rucka made me believe in his Superman right then and there, and continued to do a good job with the hero in both his identities. The only bit of dialogue that gave me pause was when Superman expressed frustration that the villain didn't surrender to him on sight, but, the more I thought about it, the more it grew on me.

Clark Kent is now on the crime beat. I'm having a real tough time with his demotion - none of the writers have yet to make the convincing case for it - but, that said, I've always been fond of cops and super-heroes interacting. Clark's fellow crime reporters show some promise. I hope future stories leave room for Rucka to develop them more fully.

Lois Lane is going to what I assume is the DC Universe analog of Iraq. That could be interesting if Rucka doesn't pull punches. I'm not sure if this is the right book for such stories, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The cops? They didn't blow me away in this first new issue. Thus far, they don't stand out.

For the second Superman comic book in a row - see my column of April 20 - Clark falls out of something so that he can change into Superman. It was handled better here than in ACTION COMICS #814, but it was still repetitive.

Replikon? How deep did Rucka and crew have to dig to come up with this Amazo wannabe? I kind of remember the character, mostly because his original appearances (late 1970s?) were so awful they stuck in my head. Has he/she/it appeared since then? And, if so, why? Did Amazo want too much money?

Replikon is being controlled by some unseen mastermind...and isn't that one of the most overused bits in the entire history of super-hero comics? Rucka has a good handle on Superman, but needs to put him into more interesting stories.

On the visual end of things, I really liked the Clark/Nelson team. Their Superman is approachable while also being commanding and heroic. That's how I like the Man of Steel.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #627 rates three out of a possible five Tonys. Mixed feelings, remember?

Tony Tony Tony



Superman 204 "Mixed feelings" also describes my reactions to SUPERMAN #204 ($2.50), the first issue by the title's new creative team of writer Brian Azzarello, penciller Jim Lee, and inker Scott Williams. The opening scenario is this:

Superman flies off into space on a rescue mission. While he's gone, one million people, including Lois Lane, vanish into nobody knows where. How does a hero who has an almost Pavlovian response to the words "Save me" deal with his loss and with what he sees as his failure? It's a good starting point.

Azzarello's writing is excellent throughout, though it's more sparse than the weighty subject matter requires. Lee's artwork is stunning, though his emphasis on the money shots, such as Superman hovering before a startled priest or shooting through space on his rescue mission, contributes to what I see as this initial chapter's main problem:

It's too thin to be a satisfying comic book.

As good as Azzarello and Lee were here, they didn't give us enough of any of their key elements: action, emotion, the political and social ramifications of the "vanishing" that took one million human beings in the blink of an eye. The issue read like a summary and not a complete story. I expect more from Azzarello, from Lee, and from Superman.

SUPERMAN #204 gets a disappointing three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



Action Comics 815 What I liked about ACTION COMICS #815 ($2.50) was Superman's interactions with the guest-starring Teen Titans and the realistic banter/bond/friendship between the young heroes. Sadly, that's the last time I can use any derivation of the word "real" in reviewing this issue. We'll get to that in a moment.

The Art Adams cover is well-drawn, but we've seen the super-villain butt shot dozens of times in the past. It's a super-hero comic cliche that should be retired.

Writer Chuck Austen also goes for the overly familiar in his pacing of this issue. First page is there to allow for the double-page spread on pages two and three. Then we get a few pages of the soap opera sub-plot (Clark's demotion). Then we get lots of action in lots of big panels across many pages until we get to the final-page surprise where the villainous Gog turns the tables on Superman and - so help me God - the cliche next-issue promise that "Things get worse!" This issue is virtually a parody of witless super-hero comics.

Austen gets dumped on frequently and, to be honest, I've not read enough of his writing to know if that's justified or not. But what I can see here is a writer who has some obvious ability - per my comment about Superman and the Teen Titans - but doesn't seem to have any original ideas. Where's the editorial guidance in all of this? Why isn't this guy getting any back-up?

Clark's demotion. I don't believe it.

He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who was right about ex-President Luthor when everyone else was fooled and he gets demoted because he no longer appeals to a younger demographic. Go ahead; pull the other one.

His replacement is obnoxious TV pundit Jack Ryder. Thank God I've run out of legs for Austen to pull.

There are ways one could convincingly orchestrate Clark's fall from grace. However, in these comics, it feels like a contrivance, an expediency conceived because the editors/writers wanted the fall from grace without working for it. On the plot chain, it's only a few links above Bobby Ewing stepping from the shower.

Penciller Ivan Reis continues to channel Neal Adams, but it's a look that works for him and the book. Inker Mark Campos deserves props for his contributions and colorist Guy Major deserves, well, major props for his outstanding work.

ACTION COMICS #815 gets a puny two Tonys.

Tony Tony



Strange Tales 26 We celebrated the birthday of comics artist STAN GOLDBERG in the May 5th edition of this column. However, in honoring one of my favorite cartoonists, I mis-credited him as cover artist of STRANGE TALES #26 [March, 1954]. Goldberg informed me of the error in this e-mail thanking me for the column:
Thank you very much for all the nice words. It's certainly nice to hear them when you're still around and can enjoy them. I'm happy my pictures are lookin' good because I'm certainly having a lot of fun drawing them.

You had me down for drawing some horror covers in the 1950s. I did illustrate some horror stories, but I never did any covers. Archie and his gang are a great bunch of characters to draw and, with all the great scripts that I get, I hope to keep drawing them for a long time. Again, many thanks.
My source for crediting Goldberg with the cover was THE GRAND COMICS DATABASE, an incredibly useful research tool I've used many times before. It's not infallible, but the knowledgeable fans who created it and maintain it are always ready to correct any errors which have inadvertently crept into the database.

If I had to hazard a guess of my own, I would credit the cover to Sol Brodsky, Carl Burgos, or a combination thereof...and even that identification is based on the artwork detection skills comics historians Frank Motler and Dr. Michael J. Vassallo brought to bear on later STRANGE TALES covers. As ever, I stand in awe of them and the GRAND COMICS DATABASE.

TOT regrets the error.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back on Saturday with another all-new column. See you then.

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.

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