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

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for Wednesday, May 19, 2004


(Turn and face the stranger)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the stranger)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

- David Bowie (words and music)

CBG is changing - you already knew that - but this is my first opportunity to talk about it with my readers here since the change was announced. My reactions fall into various categories: what I think, what I know, and what I feel.

I think the change to a monthly magazine will be good for CBG and is probably somewhat overdue. CBG has generally been up front and center when it came to meeting the general public - recall how many times Maggie Thompson and others associated with the newspaper have been quoted in the mainstream media - and the magazine format should facilitate that as we share rack space with Time, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, and the rest.

I know I'm intrigued by the challenge of converting this oft-personal platform into a column that maintains its character while appealing to a more general audience. It wouldn't be "Tony's Tips" if you didn't see the "Tony."

I feel, well, that's the tricky one. I feel excited, nervous, and even a little weepy. Hosting CBG's expanded reviews section is a terrific honor and great responsibility, albeit mostly a symbolic responsibility. As I understand it, if reviewers misbehave, Brent Frankenhoff will send them to my office where "Mister Ruler" will descend upon their knuckles forthwith. I learned my technique from Sister Mary Seven Sorrows in parochial school.

Just kidding.

However, I am excited by the "host" gig and have been writing my first monthly column for two solid weeks now. I even got three pages into it on one attempt. I'll keep at it.

As for the "weepy"...I confess there is a good possibility I could get a little sentimental in my final weekly column. We have been meeting here like this for over a dozen years now and, while I hope we'll always be friends, that column will mark the end of an era I am proud to have been a part of.

Before I get all misty ahead of schedule, let's dive into this week's reviews...


Avengers/JLA #4 AVENGERS/JLA #4 (DC/Marvel; $5.95) brings the eagerly-awaited crossover to an epic finish. Writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez let loose with 40-plus pages of colossal super-hero battles, angst, and cosmic wonderment.

I was impressed by Busiek's deft handling of the dialogue for such an assemblage. If he failed to nail any of these characters, I didn't notice the lapse.

I'm bowled over by Perez's wonderful "Where's Waldo?" artwork. No one does the scope of a battle like this better while retaining the human element to the carnage.

And yet...


While my spirits soared at the courage of the heroes and their willingness to sacrifice all for the common good, the conclusion of the story left me numb. I saw it coming - it's not at all out of character for those who appear in the story's final pages - but I kept hoping Busiek and Perez wouldn't go with the obvious ending. Although I'll give them props for providing the murderously curious Krona with a nice twist ending, what the epic all came down to made me roll my eyes in disappointment with the realization that all of our brave heroes had been well and truly played by the originators of the crisis, master manipulators who faced no justice for their role in the misery. That strikes me as a shameful way to treat the greatest heroes of two universes.


AVENGERS/JLA #4 is a heck of a fine comic book, but, in good conscience, the best score I can give it is three out of a possible five Tonys. That hardly seems worth the wait.

Tony Tony Tony


Back Issue #3 BACK ISSUE #3 (TwoMorrows; $5.95) was the first issue of the magazine I've read. Editor Michael Eury is focusing on the 1970s and 1980s, which compliments - and overlaps slightly - Roy Thomas' ALTER EGO from the same publisher. AE is the superior publication, but BI has a lot going for it as well.

The first thing I noticed is that BACK ISSUE has a more open design than COMIC BOOK ARTIST, its predecessor at TwoMorrows. It's a lighter read than either AE or CBA, which isn't a terrible thing. There are times when I want a magazine that I can read in a couple of hours. AE and CBA are committed relationships; BI is the casual friend you can have fun with now and then.

The theme of the issue is "Laughing Matters;" its cover sports a cool Brian Bolland drawing of the Joker. Inside, Peter Sanderson fills 18 pages with an entertaining and scholarly overview of the Joker's creation and career. I was a little put off by the easy acceptance of Jerry Robinson's claim that he created the Joker - I would put my money on Bill Finger - but Sanderson's treatise is a mighty impressive one nonetheless.

I was not a fan of the situation comedy version of the Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, and editor Andy Helfer, but I recognize its popularity with other readers of that time and admit that, against my will, I did chuckle at a few of the issues. My opinion of the run went up a notch after reading BI's 33 pages of interviews with those creators. It might not have been my cuppa, but Helfer and crew were clearly not phoning it in. They worked hard at that puppy.

Other notable features in this issue include Eury's musings on Plastic Man movies that never were; cool pencil drawings by various artists; Andy Mangels writing on a series of stage shows starring Bugs Bunny and Batman; and a "funny books" guest editorial by Mark Evanier. That's good reading and enough of it that I'll soon read the earlier issues of the magazine.

BACK ISSUE #3 picks up a solid four Tonys. For readers with the same love for the 1970s/1980s that Eury has, it would doubtless rate even higher.

Tony Tony Tony Tony


Demo #1 Take X-MEN and strip it down to the bare bones, maybe even to the marrow. No costumes, no team, no universe filled with super-heroes and super-villains. Young people with extraordinary powers, usually alone, trying to make some lives for themselves in spite of those powers. Then add a writer who tells their stories from his gut and an artist who can pull a different style out of her bag of tricks for each story.

What you get is DEMO, a 12-issue monthly series by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. Published by AiT/Planet Lar, each issue of the black-and-white title delivers a complete story (plus bonus pages) for a cover price of $2.95. That's a decent deal in today's comics marketplace.

Reading DEMO #1-5, I was stunned at how easily each character pulled me into his or her story. Wood involves the readers in his characters and these tales. He'll let the artwork tell the story when appropriate. He'll leave wee gaps for the readers to fill in. He takes each issue to a satisfying conclusion, but makes you want to linger with the characters a while longer and maybe wonder how their ultimate stories ended.

I'm consciously avoiding talking about specific characters and their powers because the nature of those powers is often key to the mysteries of who these characters are. I will say that the effects of these powers is much what I would expect them to be in the real world. You've been reading my columns long enough to know that I dig the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality in super-hero comics. DEMO pushes some of my favorite buttons.

The art? I'm not sure I have the language to properly praise Cloonan's artwork. Her basic style is this kind of "grunge manga," but she doesn't take short cuts on the expressions or backgrounds. She varies elements of her style to fit the individual stories and characters, like a baseball pitcher who can vary his throws without ever missing the strike zone. You don't always know where the next pitch is coming from, but it always end up where it's supposed to. If Cloonan has that level of control right now, when she's not yet 25 years of age, it staggers me to consider how good she's going to be in the decades to come.

When I started this review, I figured DEMO #1-5 would easily pick up four Tonys each. When I reread them while reviewing them, I found I liked them even better the second time around.

DEMO #1-5 each get five out of five Tonys. If you're looking for edgy super-hero comics that don't involve trashing and twisting existing super-heroes, this is the comic for you.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


G-Fan #67 One of my numerous bad habits is letting comics and magazines, even comics and magazines I have enjoyed in the past, go unread for years at a time. Sometimes, when I finally get around to reading an issue, I remember why I liked them so much in the first place. Other times, I wonder why I still buy them. G-FAN falls somewhere in between.

G-FAN, "the fanzine of the Godzilla Society of North America," has been a constant on my order sheet since the moment I discovered it. Even when I haven't read the new issues, my son Eddie usually gives them more than a passing glance. Issue #67 (Spring; $4.95) is the first issue I've read in years.

There was a lot I liked about this issue. Trace Floyd's cover was pretty cool. The news section was informative. I enjoyed the articles on the latest Godzilla movie, Godzilla's science-fiction predecessors, Godzilla at Marvel Comics, and YONGARY: MONSTER FROM THE DEEP, a Godzilla wannabe made in South Korea and released circa 1967. That covers around half the issue.

The other half was material clearly intended for Godzilla fans even more hardcore than yours truly. There was Godzilla-esque fan fiction, both comics and prose, often part of longer serials with no back story provided for new readers.

There were also articles, interviews, and reviews which seemed to be speaking to readers as "in the know" as their writers. When writing such pieces, it's a fine line between making it accessible to new readers and boring those readers who have been around for a while. That's something I've been thinking about quite a bit as I prepare for CBG's new format.

What works in G-FAN's favor is that it offers so much Godzilla stuff that even half a magazine is worth the five bucks admission fee. I still like it enough to stick with it for at least a couple more issues.

G-FAN #67 earns a respectable three Tonys. If you're a bigger Godzilla buff than me, you'll rate it higher.

Tony Tony Tony


Winsor McCay: Eary Works II WINSOR McCAY: EARLY WORKS II (Checker; $19.95) is a laudable book which falls short of being an indispensable part of my comics library through no real fault of its own. Checker is committed to tracking down and publishing as much of the work of the legendary cartoonist as humanly possible and getting into print. Considering McCay works like LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND and the landmark GERTIE THE DINOSAUR animated shorts, this is clearly an important and even noble venture.

Where EARLY WORKS II fails is that the newspaper cartoons and strips being collected were never preserved beyond their printing in now-faded newspapers of the early 1900s. What the readers see on each page are sad echoes of how grand these drawings must have been in their original venues. The work remains remarkable for its historical value, as well as the hints it offers of McCay's genius, but it is too far removed from its time.

WINSOR McCAY: EARLY WORKS II receives three Tonys. Its value to you will depend on your level of interest in one of the founding fathers of comic art in this country.

Tony Tony Tony



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1592 [May 21, 2004], which shipped May 3. I'm posting it a couple days earlier than I normally would because I'm recovering from a hectic weekend full of family fun and household chores.

The cover story was DC GETS DREDD - AND MORE! It reported on DC acquiring North American publishing rights to Judge Dredd and a host of other 2000 AD, Rebellion, and ICP/Fleetway material. DC's initial plans are for a series of graphic novel and trade paperback reprints of the material. This is a good move for DC; they'll have access to Dredd and other great characters, early works by popular British creators, and some oddball stuff that, cleverly packaged, could be just as interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do...and hoping they don't go for just the obvious choices in planning their publishing schedule.

The secondary lead was HAL JORDAN GETS GREEN LIT, announcing that Hal Jordan will return to his role as Green Lantern in a five-issue mini-series by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver. I'm torn on this announcement:

I generally like comics written by Johns.

I like Hal Jordan, at least the Hal Jordan we saw in the comic books prior to his being as thoroughly trashed as any DC super-hero I can recall. Heck, even my own Black Lightning has only murdered *one* person so far.

I'm not wild about DC backtracking once again. It makes their editorial policies seem even more manipulative than usual. As much as I liked Hal, I would have been in favor of the company having to live with what they did to him...and getting the best stories that they could out of the situation. In the fantasy situation where DC comes to me to write Black Lightning again, I would take the crap they pulled with him and do my best to turn it into comics-reading gold. But, hey, that's me.

In any case, I'm looking forward to the spin on this from all sides of the equation. DC will claim they are listening to their fans...over a decade after they did Hal wrong. The fans will boast they brought DC to its knees...over a decade after they began their crusade. It will be fun to watch for those of us with no personal stake in these matters.



"What's your favorite comic strip? Why?"

My problem answering their question is that I don't have one favorite comic strip. My immediate reaction when I read the query was to think of *four* comic strips: DOONESBURY, BOONDOCKS, FUNKY WINKERBEAN, and CRANKSHAFT. After my immediate reaction, I thought of a dozen other comic strips I love almost as much and, on some days, as much as those four.

I hate unanswered questions. Stick around and, throughout the summer, I'll be bringing you reviews of my favorite comic strips. Some I enjoy in the three daily newspapers I read and some I enjoy online. Also, I'm reserving the right to stretch the definition of "favorite" to include strips I find "strangely compelling" and/or "downright ghastly."

It should be fun.



Every Sunday, I post new questions at our TONY POLLS website. Last week, I asked if you bought several comic books and books I'd reviewed recently. These were "yes" or "no" questions. Here are the affirmative results in descending order:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #505.....43.37%

THE COMPLETE PEANUTS: 1950-1952.....43.18%


SIMPSONS COMICS #93.....23.46%

DONALD DUCK & FRIENDS #315.....17.50%


ARCHIE #547.....1.25%

Does this mean I'm going to review AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and its companion comic books more often and stop reviewing ARCHIE and its companion titles? Of course not.

I can't imagine that anybody reads my reviews just to see what I thought of the comics they read. There are hundreds of different titles on sale at your friendly neighborhood comics shop and even the nicest owners probably won't let you flip through all of them. That's where reviewers come in.

On a related note, I wrote a half-dozen or so short "Reading Room" reviews for the first monthly issue of CBG. I haven't quite decided if I'm also going to run those online...or if I'm going to expand some of them into the more detailed reviews you're used to seeing here. If you have any thoughts on this, please feel free to share them with me via e-mail.

Last week, I also posted a non-comics question:

As per Tony's Online Tips for 5/11, the Isabella Family has a new gold ash-colored Mercury Monterey van. Which of these names for it do you like the best?

The Big Cheese.....26%

The Full Monty.....22%



The Cheese.....8%


My family and I haven't settled on any one name yet. It seems to me that "The Cheese" is the one being used most often. I'll let you know if that changes.

This week's poll questions ask you to choose your favorite of the classic movie monsters from Universal Pictures...and to give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to the current ongoing Superman comic books. You can cast your votes at:

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

Tony Isabella

<< 05/17/2004 | 05/19/2004 | 05/25/2004 >>

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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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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