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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Monday, June 14, 2005

Summer is here!

I hadn't planned to take a two-week "vacation," but the final weeks of the school year got busier than I'd anticipated, my kids played a bunch of baseball and softball, and my wife and I applied for and received a home improvement loan. Things are still crazy around Casa Isabella, and likely to remain so through the summer, but I think I'm getting a handle on it.

When you're a kid, summer is the end of the rainbow. You have three months of gold before going back to school. When you're me, an adult, a parent, and self-employed, summer is a time of joy and dread. I love having Eddie and Kelly home. I worry about making sure they have a great summer and I worry about fulfilling my other responsibilities as well.

Summer wouldn't be as much fun if it was easy.

Walt Disney's Vacation Parade 3

We open today's TOT with the cover of WALT DISNEY'S VACATION PARADE #3 [Dell; July, 1952]. Penciled by Bob Grant, this drawing cracks - or should I say "quacks" - me up as I gaze upon the angry Donald Duck and all his good pals waiting to help him when he does himself serious bodily injury. One of Don's nephews is missing on the cover; in those days before the coming of cell phones, I figure he's heading for a pay phone to alert the ER.

Judging from the page count of the stories listed on the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [www.comics.org], this comic was packed with nearly 100 pages of comics. The listed features were: Donald Duck, L'il Bad Wolf, Mickey Mouse, Chip 'n' Dale, Pluto, Grandma Duck, Bucky Bug, Goofy, Gus and Jaq, The Seven Dwarfs, Brer Rabbit, and Minnie Mouse. Artists include: Bob Moore, Gil Turner, Stan Walsh, Frank McSavage, Tony Strobl, Jack Bradbury, Al Hubbard, and Dick Moores. They weren't kidding when they called it a parade.

THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines a near-mint condition copy of the issue would sell for $250. THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS puts it at $90.

A fair condition copy sold for $10.50 on eBay at the end of May...while a copy advertised as very fine/fine sold for ten bucks while I was writing today's column. I couldn't resist the "buy it now" option at that price.

While I revel in my good fortune, let's see what else awaits you in today's column...

******

24 HOUR COMICS

24 Hour Comics Edited by Scott McCloud, 24 HOUR COMICS (About Comics; $11.95) collects nine 24-page comics which were completed in a single day. In his introduction, McCloud does his best to explain the how, why, and what the heck for of setting aside "the planning, stalling, and reworking of the normal creation process" and just working "on pure creativity and caffeine."

McCloud's comments on comics art are always of interest to me. I don't always agree with his notions and positions. For my taste, they lean more towards "academic" than "art" on occasion. But I do understand the challenge of creating a 24-hour comic, even if said challenge isn't one which entices me personally.

My first impulse was to review the stories on the curve, so to speak, to make special allowance for the speed with which they were produced. But comics shouldn't be judged on anything but what they are, no matter how they got to be what they are.

Steve Bissette's "A Life in Black and White" is wonderfully twisted. He makes the unending abuses he visits on his protagonist funny, albeit only to a point. Challenge or not, I think the tale could have been better in fewer pages.

Alex Grecian's "Little Remains" builds on an obvious structure for a 24-hour stories, that of a protagonist's life passing before his eyes. It's churlish of me to express this - given the awesome endurance and labor that goes into 24-hour comics - but it struck me as just too easy a way to go.

Paul Winkler's "Cat" is a 24-page wordless story about a cat. That's 16 more pages than I'm good for. Cat people are fascinated by cats and I suppose that's okay. It's when they assume I'm also fascinated by cats that I get cranky with them.

With Jacob Klemencic's untitled story about a tourist, I found I was also getting cranky with McCloud's intros for each of these stories. Too much hard sell, too much trying to reach conclusions for the readers before they read the stories. I started skipping them at this point, going back to read them only after I'd read all of the stories. I never did warm to Klemencic's tale.

Matt Madden's "First Warning" is another obvious structure for a 24-hour story. It's essentially a 24-page conversation that gets darker as secrets are revealed. Not an inherently bad idea for a story, but one which could have benefitted from fewer pages and a tighter execution of those pages.

I had to give 24-HOUR COMICS a rest at this point because the stories were becoming tedious. I came back to it a few days later, hoping for the best.

Neil Gaiman couldn't complete the full 24 pages for his "Being an Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabolus," but he did manage an ambitious and satisfying tale in the 13 pages he did complete. Amusingly, an online search of "Heliogabolus" will bring you mostly links to comments on this story. As near as I can figure, the correct spelling of the ancient emperor's name - this assumes Gaiman meant to use the real McEmperor - is "Heliogabalus." Whether it was the tighter focus or that I find dead rulers so much more interesting than cats, but I'd rank Gaiman's 24-hour comic as the third best in the anthology.

Second best would be David Lasky's "Minutiae", a spectacular look at a boss-employee tryst that really gets into the head of the employee. Lasky made the guy come alive and I was hanging on the character's every stray thought.

K. Thor Jensen's untitled attempt is, to quote McCloud, "the young artist's tale of Zen and self discovery." I find Zen nearly as boring as I find cats. A story about a Zen cat could probably put me into a coma.

McCloud and I do agree on this: Al Davison's "The Invisible Library" is the best story in the anthology. The art is beautiful and moving and would still be so if the same exact pages had taken 24 *days* to create. I think the tale has more meaning if you have read THE SPIRAL CAGE, which tells of the artist's experience with and overcoming Spina Bifida - besides creating comics, he teaches and holds a Black Belt in Karate - but "Invisible Library" has the power to draw even an unknowing reader into its world. It was the one story in this anthology that made me go "Wow" after I finished reading it. Wow.

I'm not going to give any rating or score to 24 HOUR COMICS. It's not an anthology that should be judged on that level. It's a collection of chances taken and challenges met. No matter what I might have thought of this story or that, the concept of the book is exciting. I'd buy a second volume in a heartbeat.

Speaking of which...

In April, at over 58 locations in 26 states, three Canadian provinces, and South Korea, amateur and professional comics artists participated in 24 HOUR COMIC DAY, a day devoted to the creation of 24-hour comics. Hundreds of comics were completed on that day and About Comics will be collecting the best of them in 24 HOUR COMIC DAY 2004 HIGHLIGHTS.

For more information on 24 HOUR COMIC DAY - another is being planned for next year - and the 500-page anthology celebrating the successful launch of this annual event, go to:

www.24hourcomics.com

******

AL'S BIG WEEKEND

I belong to several comics professionals mailing lists and AL DAVISON is a member of one of them. In late April, he posted a note about a martial arts tournament in which he had participated and, knowing I'd be reviewing his story in 24 HOUR COMICS, I asked and received permission to share his post:
I had quite a weekend.

I recently started training in a Tibetan martial arts system called "Tetsudo." The national championships were this weekend. I have never competed before, as the other arts I have studied were non-competitive.

I was encouraged to take part in the Senior Freestyle event. Freestyle involves training with a partner to develop coordination, speed and timing, with freestyle sparring. In the competition, you and your partner have one-and-a-half minutes to demonstrate all the above qualities, you can't choreograph anything, both partners have to support the other in expressing themselves while showing a full ranges of techniques during the sparring session.

There were 85 pairs of partners competing in the event. I was the only ungraded competitor. All other competitors were senior grades, just below black belt.

I was also the only disabled competitor.

Al Davison and Justin - TetsudoAl Davison and Justin - Tetsudo

I was pleased enough that my partner (Justin) and myself, made it through the preliminaries, but was completely gob-smacked when we won the national championship!

Even more when I was presented with the Erick Hayreh award, for the most inspirational practitioner!

Al Davison and Justin with Trophy

I don't know of any other system in the UK, that would allow a disabled person to compete on an equal basis with able-bodied competitors, no age, weight, or gender discrimination either in terms of competition categories.

As I said, quite a weekend indeed!
Being the clever lads and lasses that you are, you've already figured out that the photos included in this section of the column are from the tournament of which Davison writes.

I thank him for the photos, for permission to share his post with you, and, most of all, for adding the word "gob-smacked" to my vocabulary. I feel more erudite than ever!

Active Images released a new edition of Davison's THE SPIRAL CAGE last year and, if you order it through our friendly ACTION IS YOUR REWARD link, World Famous Comics even makes a few cents on the deal. You get a great book. We get some pennies.

The Spiral Cage

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

I reviewed THE ADAM STRANGE ARCHIVES VOLUME 1 in my column for May 7. PAUL A. ZUCKERMAN e-mailed me to correct my misconceptions about the coloring of the stories reprinted in that wondrous tome. He wrote:
Adam Strange Archives Volume 1 Your objections about Adam Strange's hair led me to review the original comic books, most of which I have buried in my collection. What you thought was "wrong" coloring was, in fact, the original coloring from 1958-1960!

That's right--Adam's hair color was NOT originally blonde, but that red-orange color in the Archives. Well, when I say it was not originally blonde, that is not wholly accurate. In the first story in SHOWCASE #17 - "Secret of the Eternal City" - Adam's hair color alternates from page to page as blonde and red-orange. There was no consistency at all; the re-colored version actually corrects the errors of the original appearance...except in the very last panel, where the blonde slips through--and it was blonde in that panel in the original appearance as well.

Thereafter, Adam's hair was red-orange for quite a while, although some blonde snuck in here and there. In MYSTERY IN SPACE #60, they forgot to color his hair on page 2, so it was white...and this was also corrected in the Archives reprint.

It doesn't appear the red-orange vanished for good and Adam was able to prove blondes have more fun until MIS #72. Starting with that issue, Adam was always blonde, at least in the stories I checked.

About the same time, Adam's origin was reprinted in the first and greatest SECRET ORIGINS. In that, he was officially blonde. Since that was probably my first exposure to Adam, the blonde is what I recalled also, but he wasn't always such!

The brother of a friend of mine had a treasure trove of "old" comics when I was a kid and SHOWCASE #17 was one of them. So I got to read "The Planet and the Pendulum," which did not see light of day again for many years until Adam's stories were reprinted in STRANGE ADVENTURES after Deadman vacated the book. I also got to read some early Silver Age Flash and other Schwartz-edited books. What a treat!

Of course, "old" is relative. The comics were only a year or two old. But, to me, at the ripe young age of nine or ten, they were ancient.

As for other inconsistencies in the coloring you mentioned, I can tell you that's how it was! Alanna's hair was colored brown at least twice, just as it appears on the reprint of the cover to SHOWCASE #19.

As for the multiple colors to Alanna's clothes, well, she is a woman! She can't wear the same things all the time! Here, too, the coloring is accurate to the original. The familiar blue and yellow outfit does not appear at all in the Showcase issues, except on the cover of and within the second story of SHOWCASE #19, and only for those handful of panels in the story, just as it appears in the Archives.

As far as I could tell, other than correcting Adam's hair, the color scheme in the Archives is identical to the original, just more vivid and eye-popping, but the same shades and tones that the original unknown colorists came up with.

I do have to agree with you on the sloppy credits. No fewer than seven covers are misidentified as to penciler. MIS #53 and 54 are credited to Carmine Infantino, though Gil Kane penciled them. MIS #61-65 are credited to Kane, even though Infantino penciled those. How could they be so wrong?

The only thing missing from your review was noting Murphy Anderson's contribution to the strip. Although the other inkers did a good job, it was when Anderson inked Infantino that the strip became extraordinary. They were an incredible team throughout the 1960s, but it only on Adam Strange did they do significant interior work together. Anderson beautifully complimented Infantino despite their disparate styles.

While the stories in the first ADAM STRANGE ARCHIVES are good, writer Gardner Fox was clearly cramped for space in the short eight or nine pages he had to work with. Once the strip expanded to the "double-length" size of 15 pages - Take that, you current writers who can't tell a complete story in under a trillion pages - Fox was able to gave his stories room to breathe. He never developed a large cast of supporting characters - except for repeat villains, the only recurring characters were Adam, Alanna, and Alanna's dad, Sardath - but he was always innovative and could put new twists on the standard Zeta Beam formula.

The next volume of ADAM STRANGE ARCHIVES, which will hopefully be published soon, shows Adam at his finest...including the Justice League of America's first guest-star role.
Thanks for the information, Paul. While there doesn't seem to be a second ADAM STRANGE ARCHIVES scheduled for this year, I would not be surprised to see the volume next year.

In the meantime, this September will see the launch of an Adam Strange mini-series (eight issues) by writer Andy Diggle and artist Pascal Ferry. Diggle says the series will spearhead new directions for Strange and other DC science-fiction characters. I generally start to shudder when someone uses "DC" and "new direction" in the same sentence, but Diggle has been writing some really good comics in recent years. I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on this series.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 05/31/2004 | 06/14/2004 | 06/15/2004 >>

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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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