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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 Saturday, May 29, 2004

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1594:

"Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better."

- King Whitney Jr.

Well, here we are. The last weekly issue of CBG. I came up with a dozen different ideas for my column before settling on this one. It's something of a break in format - not that I'm a stranger to that - and definitely self-indulgent - not that I'm a stranger to that either - but I'm still writing about comics and the buying of comics. It's the circle of life.

eBay didn't exist when I started writing for CBG. It took me a while to warm up to the concept, but selling some comics and art for more than what I expected to get won me over. Though I haven't sold anything on eBay in years, I did become a steady-if-somewhat-random customer.

I enjoy the surprise of finding old comics at bargain prices and the thrill of the hunt. I'm the kind of eBay buyer you likely hate. I look at items "ending soonest" and bid on whatever catches my eye within my limited budget, something snaring these items just as an auction is ending. It's a game to me, a lark, the closest I come to gambling outside of the Ohio Lottery.

Digression. I'll be writing about these eBay buys in the near future, venue to be determined later. I have been fortunate in my purchases. Only once have I left negative feedback on a seller and that for a guy who grossly exaggerated the condition of a comic he sold me, refusing to make reasonable restitution. If he were the rule instead of the exception, I wouldn't enjoy my eBay activity as much as I do. End of digression.

There have been times when I have taken my eBay bidding more seriously, such as when I was completing my collection of COSMO THE MERRY MARTIAN, a wonderful title created by Bob White and published by Archie Comics when I was a youth. One day, funds permitting, I hope to be equally aggressive in winning the issues I'm missing of GORGO, KONGA, and HERBIE.

There were three individual issues of comic books, all of them published by Timely/Atlas/Marvel from 1959-1962, which became akin to the Holy Grail for me. For six months, I haunted eBay, tracking them down, bidding on them, feeling the agony of defeat when I lost a close auction, but, eventually, during a six-week streak, winning all three for less than I had expected to pay.

These are their stories.

******

Patsy Walker #99

PATSY WALKER #99 (February, 1962) cover-featured the "surprise meeting" between the crimson-haired Patsy and Linda Carter, Student Nurse, then starring in her own recently-launched title. However, rare as such crossovers were back then, it wasn't why I wanted this comic book for my collection. I wanted it because of the issue's *other* surprise guest star:

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.

In the issue's lead story, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Al Hartley, "Mr. K" makes an unexpected trip to Centerville, bucolic home town of Patsy and her pals. When a reporter asks the reason for the visit, Khrushchev replies:

"I want to find out how the American TEENAGERS feel about things! Because THEY will be the adults we will be dealing with soon!"

Patsy Walker #99 - Panel

Patsy's posse mistake Khrushchev him for a butcher who works in town's new meat market and greet him warmly. Though confused by his and his interpreter's use of the word "comrade," they happily answer his strange questions.

Patsy Walker #99 - Panel

Would these teenagers rather work than play? Of course. Who wouldn't?

Would they prefer to work in a factory or go to dancers? At this point, the kids start wondering if they're on Candid Camera or something, but, yes, they'd rather go to dances.

The smug Khrushchev thinks he's heard enough and is convinced American youths are weak, soft, and decadent. Then his translator asks one more question:

"You luxury-living teenagers would never be willing to FIGHT to defend your so-called FREEDOMS, would you?"

That's when Patsy Walker sees...ah...red.

Comics fan and historian Tom Lammers, who first told me about this issue on a comics mailing list, calls this a classic "Listen, mister" moment. It was a bit Stan used frequently in many of his comic-book scripts.

Three young men step forward. One of them is a member of the R.O.T.C. and he didn't join it for laughs. Another belongs to the local civil defense. The third has already applied to join the Air National Guard.

Then it's Patsy's turn:

"My MOM worked in a FACTORY in World War Two, and I'D do the same thing in a MINUTE if I HAD to!"

Boyfriend Buzz Baxter chimes in: "We may kid around and enjoy our fun, but, mister...don't ever let anyone try to take our freedoms, or our way of life FROM us!"

Okay, Buzz became a wife-beating monster a decade or two down the line, but, in this story, he's just a typical American teenager and too much for the likes of Nikita.

On the flight home, the worried Khrushchev exclaims:

"No matter HOW many bombs and rockets we build, how can anyone EVER beat those crazy Americans???"

Stan was something of a cold warrior in the 1960s, as witness the many Communist super-villains who battled the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and other Marvel heroes back in the day. However, he was also capable of addressing the conflict with humor; this fun tale is the proof of that.

Archie Andrews and his Riverdale mafia were the reigning stars of teen humor comics in the 1960s, and their books were always of the highest quality. Yet Stan's scripts for PATSY WALKER, MILLIE THE MODEL, and other titles are more sophisticated in their pacing and dialogue. The nearest comparison I could make would be to the contemporaneous DOBIE GILLIS sitcom, one of my favorite television series of the era.

The accepted/revised Marvel history pictures a Stan Lee weary of the comics business prior to the launch of FANTASTIC FOUR. But I think his writing on PATSY - as well as those droll supernatural and sci-fi shorts he did with Steve Ditko - shows that he did enjoy his work on frequent occasion.

There are three other stories in this issue and a plethora of fashion pages. The Linda Carter meeting comes off as a promotional gimmick for the new girl, but it didn't seem to have done her much good. Nine issues turned out to be the life span of LINDA CARTER, STUDENT NURSE.

According to various price guides, a near mint copy of PATSY WALKER #99 sells for up to $35. My own copy is somewhere between very good and good - probably leaning towards the latter as I read it several times for this column - and I was delighted to purchase it for $5.75 (including shipping and handling).

I'm currently hunting another Stan Lee-written humor comic of the era, one which likewise appears to have a mild political theme. Frank Buck ain't got nothing on me.

******

Love Romances #84

It was online that I first saw the cover of LOVE ROMANCES #84 and knew I had to have that comic book. It wasn't the Jack Kirby cover; save for one striking woman, his pencils are largely hidden under Vince Colletta's inks. It was the title of the cover story: "We Both Loved Tony!"

I had never before seen my name in the title of a comic book. I didn't need any more reason than that to go hunting for the book at comics conventions and on eBay. Near mint copies of this issue are listed for up to $75 in the guides. I scored a good/very good copy for $19.87 total. I was thrilled.

Love Romance #84 - Panel

The "Tony" in "We Both Loved Tony" was painter Tony Stanton. Best friends Kathy and Susan both vie for his affections, but rich Susan has the edge over middle-class Kathy...until the evening she realizes Tony is ready to abandon his dreams and talents in order to keep her in the style to which she is accustomed. Rather than have him deny his gift, Susan sends him packing. She knows Kathy will inspire him to become a great painter.

"Goodbye, Tony--my love," she soliloquizes, "Kathy and I...we both love you...and maybe I...maybe I love you even just a little bit more...!"

The story is inked by Vince Colletta and possibly penciled by the legendary Matt Baker. It's terrific art, but what impressed me most was the writing.

I'm far from an expert on romance comics of the 1960s, but, based on those I've read, the Marvel writing was more literary and the stories had more substance than their DC counterparts. Sure, there are the usual clichés - the ugly ducklings, the heroines with skewered values, the too-young lovers wanting to wed - but Marvel's scribes seemed to be writing for an older audience.

Speaking of "ugly ducklings," I have to make special mention of the Don Heck-drawn "I Was an Ugly Duckling." In an issue which had good art by Baker, Jay Scott Pike, and Paul Reinman, Heck's work was outstanding. He made the inevitable transformation from duckling to swan believable; so many artists, when faced with this old chestnut, simply drew two different women.

One more story from this issue has to be noted. The parents of the heroine in the Reinman-drawn "My Wedding Day" are concerned that their daughter's fiancé wants a quick wedding before a justice of the peace, not a big fancy affair. However, he has good reason for wanting a bit of secrecy; he's just been hired for a post with the intelligence division of the state department. Still, I have to ask the obvious question:

Where was he when Khrushchev came waltzing into Centerville with nary a sign of surveillance?

******

Love Romance #86

I spotted LOVE ROMANCES #86 (March, 1960) while searching for the earlier issue on eBay. The cover story was "The Night of June 16th" and that made it another must-have for me...because it was on June 16, 1984, that I wed Sainted Wife Barbara. I figured I could frame the two issues for our bedroom, an odd gift, to be sure, but not terribly unusual considering the giver. Lord knows Barbara's lived through stranger notions of mine during our decades of bliss. What's one more crazed idea?

Artistically, this issue is mostly a cipher. The cover inks are definitely Colletta and the background figure looks like Kirby pencils to me. Colletta's inks are obvious on the cover story and a possibility for one other.

Jay Scott Pike signed the story he drew, but the fourth tale could be the work of multiple hands. I've received guesses of Ann Brewster on a single panel, Gene Colan on one heavily-inked page, and Fred Kida. To my unskilled eye, two figures in different shots might be Frank Frazetta and Alex Toth swipes. Comic art detectives could have a ball with this issue.

I bought LOVE ROMANCES #86 for the cover story and it's a fun one. Working gal Carol saves up for a cruise vacation. She meets playboy Glenn Whitmore and rock-solid Dr. Alan Palmer. Naturally, she sets her cap for the exciting playboy and brushes off the doc. Don't worry. This being a seven-page story, she doesn't wait long before seeing the error of her ways.

There's an explosion in the engine room. Glenn rushes for the lifeboats. Alan rushes for the engine room. Three panels later, Carol is at Alan's side tending to the injured crewmen. Amazingly, this story mirrors the night Barbara and I got engaged to an almost preternatural degree...except for the cruise, the playboy rival for her affections, and my being a heroic doctor. But everything else, I swear it's like the writer could see the future.

Love Romance #86 - Panel

One price guide lists a near-mint copy of LOVE ROMANCES #86 at fifty bucks. I purchased my decent condition copy from a British eBay seller for $15.95. But can anyone truly put a price on a gift with such potential to embarrass one's wife for years to come? I don't think so.

******

And that, my dear friends, is a wrap for the weekly edition of "Tony's Tips." I've had an absolutely splendid time writing these 652 columns for you and I can't thank you enough for the privilege of being allowed to entertain, inform, and occasionally infuriate you for all those many weeks. It has been a most challenging and fulfilling experience.

I'll see you in the monthly.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1594 [June 4, 2004], which shipped May 17. The issue represents the end of an era: the newspaper's final weekly issue. Though the tabloid had shrunk to a mere 52 pages, I'm still gonna miss getting a new issue every week.

The lead story of this final weekly issue heralds the coming of DORK TOWER creator John Kovalic to the new monthly CBG. I like John's work a lot, but that seems a little too promotional for the newspaper's last front page.

The secondary lead reported that Major League Baseball would *not* be advertising SPIDER-MAN 2 on its bases during the weekend of June 11-13, as had been previously announced. One must protect the purity of the game, after all...

...he said sarcastically.

******

CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK

The question was: What would you, a current CBG reader, say to our new readers? Why?

My answer:

Pleased to meet you. Hope you know my name.

Or:

Enter freely and of your own will.

Or maybe even:

COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE is the longest-running publication about comics in our field and/or hobby. We're respectful without being stuffy. We're knowledgeable without being boring. We're where you go to hang out with other friendly comics fans. We're the kind of magazine you can bring home to your family or anyone else, of any age, who shares your interest in comics. I think you're gonna like being part of this magazine.

I think that last answer is the best one.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

One thing I hope will remain constant is that my CBG readers and my online ones won't by shy about commenting on my columns and reviews. After reviewing THE COMPLETE PEANUTS and THE ADAM STRANGE ARCHIVES, I received these thoughts from ANDY HORN:
I think the cover [of the Peanuts volume] looks great and is very much in the spirit of that era of strips. I'm not old enough to have followed PEANUTS from the beginning but I am old enough to have bought, or acquired, most if not all the reprint books up to the mid-sixties.

The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952

Sadly, most people seem to think of Peanuts in terms of Happiness Is A Warm Puppy/The Red Baron/It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and all that sentimental/cutesy cra...uh, stuff and either forget or are unaware of how sharp, satirical, and downright mean the strip once was. Easily a companion to Jules Pfeiffer's SICK. I regret the icky sweetness that crept in but I guess it's hard to be such a curmudgeon when you're making so much dough. (Walt Kelly and Al Capp being perhaps the opposite extreme, though I don't think they approached the marketing bonanza that Schulz experienced.)

The first I was aware of Adam Strange was in a house ad for a story called "The Fadeaway Doom," which is such a powerful title, it made me intensly curious and determined to find this comic, though to this day I don't think I ever read or even saw this issue (another similar experience was a Flash cover with the Trickster running along the telephone wires attacking the Flash with a pea-shooter weapon), though God knows I made it my business to become a regular reader as soon as I was able to track something down.

"Vengeance of the Dust Devil" was the first issue of MYSTERY IN SPACE I actually found and bought. It's kind of scary that such memories would be so strong and specific.

As for your not seeing the early issues, my personal feeling is that your local distribution was not as good as you thought. I remember going to several stationary stores to get everything I needed. I think in those days not everybody would carry the full line. I completely missed the first Atom SHOWCASE, basically because I literally NEVER saw it.

One also has to factor in one's age - those comics to me were more "adult" and I have the feeling that there were things I just never noticed simply because they were too "advanced" for my six or seven-year-old mentality. I know I was an avid reader of all the Superman/Batman titles and aware of, though not actively interested in, the various Harvey or Archie titles.

Then, one day, some friends of my parents and their daughter came for a visit. She was some years older than me and brought over issues of GREEN LANTERN, WONDER WOMAN, and AQUAMAN (in his SHOWCASE tryout). It was both a thrilling and, at the same time, very disturbing experience since I couldn't understand how they could exist and I didn't know about them. It was also kind of a shockeroo that here was a girl who read comics, but that's a whole other issue.

Getting back to Adam Strange...it's a pity that only the Adam Strange stories are reprinted. I remember the back-up stories from that time as also being good, a particular favorite being the Star Rovers series, though I also liked Atomic Knights and Space Museum in STRANGE ADVENTURES. And Star Hawkins too, wherever the heck that was.

Which now makes me think...how about a cover gallery of MY GREATEST ADVENTURE? Those were some fun cover concepts. I still remember the first one I ever bought with a guy who had a comet for a head.
If memory serves, DC could probably fit the entire runs of the Star Rovers, Atomic Knights, Space Museum, Star Hawkins, and, one of my favorites, Space Cabby into individual trade paperbacks...or even, in the case of the shorter runs, 100-page squarebound comics. I'd buy them in a heartbeat.

That's a good suggestion on the MY GREATEST ADVENTURE covers. I'd like to do one of these gallery columns per month, but it has been crazed around Casa Isabella of late...what with the start of baseball/softball for my kids, the end of the school year upon us, and the changes in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. But I'll do my level best to accommodate your request soon.

That's it for this edition of TOT. Thanks for spending part of your day with me.

I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/27/2004 | 05/29/2004 | 05/31/2004 >>

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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