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

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for Thursday, June 24, 2004

Challengers of the Unknown 11

Marvel Comics ruled my world in 1964 and 1965. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the rest of the original "Bullpen buddies" were my heroes. I'm not sure I would have devoted my life to the art form (and industry) if they hadn't so thoroughly captured my imagination during those years.

However, even during the height of my Marvel mania, I didn't abandon the other publishers. I bought pretty much as many comics as I could afford to buy - it was my baseball card collecting that took the biggest hit - and tried not to miss an issue of my five favorite DCs: ADVENTURE COMICS (with the Legion of Super-Heroes), DOOM PATROL, GREEN LANTERN, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, and my most favorite, CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN.

It was Jack Kirby who created the Challengers: test pilot Ace Morgan, deep-sea diver Prof Haley, mountain-climbing Red Ryan, and boxer Rocky Davis. After surviving a plane crash that should have killed them, the four strangers banded together to devote what they considered their "borrowed time" to challenge the unknown and help people around the world. It was pure altruistic adventure and it appealed mightily to my young Catholicism.

Ironically, I started reading CHALLENGERS after Kirby had left his creation. I can't remember which issue was my first, but the one that hooked me well and proper was CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN #11 [December-January, 1960] with its incredible wash cover by Bob Brown and Jack Adler.

"The Creatures From the Forbidden World" was 26 pages of pure excitement as the Challengers were transported to another dimension to fight alien invaders who also had Earth on their shopping list. I don't know who wrote the story, but he crafted a page-turner with a climax that thrills me to this day.

The alien weapons are powered by a glowing sphere on top of an enormous tower. To defeat the aliens, the Challengers must blow it up. As the heroes climb the tower, they are picked off one by one. As they fall, each team member tosses the bomb to the next in line. I was on the edge of my seat all the way.

The editor was Jack Schiff and the artist was Bob Brown, two sadly-underrated comics talents. By most accounts, Schiff was a decent man and his comics were clever and entertaining. Brown was a superb storyteller who captured perfectly the tough guy look of the Challengers. Of all the comic books I've sold from my personal collection when times got tough, the ones I regret selling most are the Challengers of the Unknown. I don't even have a copy of this special issue, a fan's tragedy if ever there was one.

What would it cost to get this comic?

THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE figures a near-mint copy would go for around $260. THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS has it at $185. A quick check of eBay found neither recent nor ongoing sales of the issue. Damn.

It's a good bet that I'll continue wallowing in nostalgia for most of this summer. Expect to see more of my favorite Marvels of 1964 and 1965, as well as a selection of comics from DC and other publishers...along with the usual news, views, and reviews on more current comics and world matters.



Liberty Meadows 36

Everything is new at the world's strangest animal sanctuary. With LIBERTY MEADOWS #36 [Image Comics; $2.95], having used up all his existing Liberty Meadows comic strips - previous issues have featured a combination of old and new material - creator Frank Cho leads the love-struck Frank, the beautiful Brandy, and the sentient critters who they care for into uncharted territory.

Cho's exquisite artwork depicts teary soap opera and slapstick gags with equal genius. Is Brandy preparing for her wedding? And to whom? Will Frank really bow out of the picture at the request of Brandy's shrewish mom? What is the deal with Brandy's folks? Can anything good come from a hair care device whose main component is a toilet? What about that King Kong remake? Did Cho really write this issue's letters column while awaiting the birth of his second daughter, Samantha? Was there a sale on question marks at my local Kwik-E-Mart?

Cho has made LIBERTY MEADOWS one of the best-written and best-drawn comics anywhere. 29 pages of strips and features make it a terrific buy for your three bucks.



Ulimate Spider-Man 57

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #57 [Marvel Comics; $2.25] is part four of "Hollywood" by writer Brian Michael Bendis, penciller Mark Bagley, and inker Art Thibert. There are those who look at me in horror on learning I willingly pick up a middle chapter of a six-issue story. I got into comics when most stories were complete in one issue and editors understood that any given issue could be a reader's first. Such regard for new readers is such a smart idea that - continued stories or not - I see absolutely no reason to abandon it even in this era of stories stretched to however many issues it takes to fill a collection.

Bendis and company play fair. Though this is the fourth of a six-issue story, a trio of "Previously" paragraphs brought me up to speed. Hollywood is making a Spidey movie and Doctor Octopus ain't thrilled about it. The wall-crawler shows up on the set and gets his web kicked. Ock takes his masked hostage and seizes a private jet to make his escape.

See? All caught up.

Bendis and Bagley frequently come up with new bits of business in chronicling their alternate life of Peter Parker. Doc Ock pulls a trick both exceedingly clever and vicious. Been a while since a villain made me shudder. This individual issue needed more meat, but, as a quick snack, it was pretty tasty.



Uncanny X-Men 444

UNCANNY X-MEN #444 [Marvel Comics; $2.25] opens with the X-Men playing baseball. How many times has writer Chris Claremont done that bit? I don't know and I don't care. This is a family, albeit a wildly extended family, and that's the kind of thing families do at reunions. Which is exactly what this issue of UNCANNY X-MEN is for Claremont, penciller Davis, and their readers.

Claremont planned a busy day for his mutant charges. I might not know the whole story on every character, but I could learn plenty from their dialogue and the writer's captions, coupled with Davis' expert renditions of the heroes and staging of this play. Extended scenes, quick scene changes, private scenes, I never once felt lost or out of place at the reunion.

The X-Men fight the good fight on many fronts, sanctioned by world governments to apprehend mutant criminals and protect the innocent. Claremont is still juggling multiple stories. The globe-hopping is still fun. The mistrust between human and mutant still exists and adds a dark tension to the proceedings.

If the multiple stories run too long, my interest will wane. Right now...I'm having an absolute ball with this title.



Let's dig into my electronic mailbox once again, starting with this note from LEIGHTON CONNOR:
It's a Bird You asked for reader recommendations on recent Superman comic books. One you should check out is IT'S A BIRD by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen. It's a recent hardcover graphic novel from DC Comics. It's not technically a Superman story, but it is about Superman.

Personally, I'm like you - at least in regards to Superman, as far as I can tell from reading your columns - I have no problem believing in a guy in a red cape who can fly and does only good. But Steven Seagle has a hard time buying it, and that makes for a really interesting read.
Thanks for the tip, Leighton. I know the book is somewhere in the chaos of my office. I'll go hunting for it and slate it for an early reading and reviewing.

BUTCH GUICE, one my favorite artists, sent me this note after reading my Memorial Day column. That edition of TOT consisted of a few words from me and a dozen classic OUR ARMY AT WAR covers by the legendary Joe Kubert.

Guice wrote:
Excellent column, Tony.

Those classic Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert tales still rank (in my personal opinion) as some of the very best comic tales ever told in our medium, military genre focus or not.

I just wanted to say thank you for your words and insights today, and let you know how much I enjoyed sharing that trip down memory lane with you as my tour guide.
One more for the road. After reading of my computer troubles in a recent column, E.J. BARNES wrote:
Your reference to Clarke's Law, especially in the situation regarding your home computer, reminded me of the Peterson-Barnes Corollary to Clarke's Law. Here's what then-computing-colleague Haldane Peterson and I came up with...

B: Magic is when nobody knows why it works.

P: Technology is when nobody knows why it doesn't work.
While I seemed to have solved the worst of my computer woes, with very little idea of how I did this, I still have some annoying glitches in the system. Hopefully, my tech guy will be able to do something about them on his next visit.

That's it for this edition of TOT. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow.

Tony Isabella

<< 06/23/2004 | 06/24/2004 | 06/25/2004 >>

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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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