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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 Friday, July 9, 2004

Strange Tales 114

My first Marvels.

I bought STRANGE TALES #114 [November, 1963] because, at the time, the Human Torch was my favorite member of the Fantastic Four. I had no idea who Captain America was.

It's been ages since I read FANTASTIC FOUR on a regular basis, so I don't have a favorite team member at present. Even back then, though, the Torch didn't stay my favorite for long. The Thing took the top spot away from him with his courageous battle against the much stronger Hulk in FANTASTIC FOUR #25, another pivotal issue in my personal Marvel history.

On the other hand, Captain America, at least as Bob Ingersoll and I wrote him in our CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY'S TORCH novel of a few years back, might be my all-time favorite Marvel character. It would be a toss-up between him and Spider-Man. Probably depending on how good or awful the current writers are.

Getting back to STRANGE TALES #114...

The cover of the issue was pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers...and they also teamed on the artwork for the 13-page battle between the Torch and the villain masquerading as "Captain America."

Editor Stan Lee wrote the story. The two coolest things about it were the scenes of the Human Torch reading old comic books like my father and uncles used to read...and the way Kirby drew "Captain America" in action. I didn't get a sense of the real hero from the story, but I definitely liked his style.

One more comment on the cover of this issue. It didn't bother me at the time, but, looking back, readers of the day, especially those who actually knew about Captain America from his appearances in the 1940s, would have had every right to be royally ticked off by the outright lie in the cover copy: "From out of the Golden Age of Comics into the Marvel Age, Captain America returns to challenge the Human Torch!"

It wasn't Captain America. It was a third-rate villain called the Acrobat. Not even close to being the same thing.

Had the copy read something like this...

"From out of the Golden Age of Comics into the Marvel Age, has Captain America returned to challenge the Human Torch?!"

...some fans might still have been peeved, but, at least, they wouldn't have been lied to by their Bullpen buddies. I think Stan owes each of those original readers twelve cents.

Backing up the cover story was "The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo" starring Doctor Strange. Written by Stan and drawn by Steve Ditko, this odd little series both confused and excited me. It was uneasy going for a youngster of my conservative upbringing, what with the weird way Ditko drew hands and magic. But, though I didn't quite "get" it at first, the strip fascinated me. And, in later issues, once the dread Dormammu made the scene, I was hooked but good. Both on the good doctor and Ditko himself.

However, I never did really warm up to Mordo. Omnipotent, my astral self. Talk about padding one's resume.

More nostalgic musings coming your way tomorrow.

You can't say I didn't warn you.

******

UNCLE SCROOGE

Uncle Scrooge 330

Catching up on a title I've reviewed recently...

UNCLE SCROOGE #330 [Gemstone Comics; $6.95] continues to offer a satisfying variety of Scrooge stories in one of the best-looking packages available to readers today. Seven bucks is still a lot to pay for a comic book, but I feel better about paying it for UNCLE SCROOGE than I do paying half that price for most of the standard DC and Marvel publications.

John Clark heaps praise on William Van Horn's "Flying High" in his inside front cover editorial, but I found the story weak from the start. Donald, feeling lucky, makes an absurd bet with Scrooge and wins five million dollars from him. Every movement in the tale relies on equally absurd coincidences, a painfully labored exercise in storytelling. Van Horn's art is first-rate, but this story was unworthy of it.

One of the reasons I love anthologies is that my enjoyment of them doesn't depend on any one story. The rest of the tales in the issue ranged from good to great.

Dave Rawson's "Like Well-Oiled Clockwork" (drawn by Torres) had me chuckling from start to finish, showing a side of Scrooge we don't often see, but which didn't violate his essential character. In Per Hedman's "The Guinea Pig" (art by Manrique), Gyro Gearloose and Donald Duck get into a mini-rivalry concerning the creation of inventions. Another amusing story.

"Nuts After Nuts" is another rivalry story, this time between Scrooge and a breakfast cereal tycoon. Scrooge isn't too pleasant at the tale's start, but writer Gorm Transgaard makes that initial scene pay off by the end of the story. The art on this two-chapter story is by Gattino.

Rounding out the contents, we have "The Titanic Ants" by Carl Barks (from 1958) and a pleasant Huey, Dewey, and Louie vignette by Pat and Shelly Block with art by Marsal. I'll pay seven bucks for a comic book this good anytime.

******

COLONIA

Colonia 9

Jeff Nicholson's COLONIA is a comics series best read in large chunks. Jack, its young hero, and his two uncles find themselves in a strange world that is clearly not their own. It has wondrous creatures - like a fish who wears a man suit - who seem to be drawn to Jack. Or maybe he's drawn to them. Additionally, Jack may have powers of which even he is not aware.

COLONIA #9 [Colonia Press; $2.95] is the latest issue, first of a three-issue storyline. Nicholson has a long recap of previous issues on the inside front cover, but so much has happened in those issues that, not having read all of them, I felt lost. The story and series intrigue me, but I don't think I'll truly enjoy them until I gather them and read them all together.

Nicholson has definite comics art chops. He's been nominated for six Eisner Awards over the years. So, while I'm not going to give COLONIA a blanket recommendation at this time, I urge you to check it out at your earliest opportunity. There's a good chance it will appeal to you.

******

CSI: MIAMI

CSI: Miami - Thou Shalt Not

The first thing that struck me about CSI: MIAMI - THOU SHALT NOT [IDW Publishing; $6.99] was that the splash page hanging victim doesn't look like he was ever alive. However, the problems with this book went beyond its...forgive me...stiff artwork.

A businessman is found hanging, but he's not a suicide. The entire crime lab is there, which seems like overkill. Medical Examiner Alexx Woods, who should be with the victim, is wandering aimlessly on the splash. That's just the first of many CSI: MIAMI details that writer Kris Oprisko gets wrong.

Detective Yelina Salas identifies herself as being with the crime lab, which she's not, and collects DNA from suspects, which is plain wrong. She dresses inappropriately and, more importantly, out of character. Crime lab boss Horatio Caine calls her by her first name while they are working, something that he never does on the show.

The plot is decent enough, but the characters don't "sound" or act like their TV counterparts. The art only comes alive when Ashley Wood steps in for the flashback sequences.

Thou shalt not...ask a fan of a show to pay seven bucks for a comic that so completely fails to capture that show.

******

TONY POLLS

Let's catch-up with previous TONY POLLS, starting with these from late May. I asked you to grade eight TV series on their just-completed seasons. Here's how you graded them, followed by my own comments.

ANGEL
A.....45.31%
B.....31.25%
C.....12.50%
D.....1.56%
F.....9.38%

ANGEL was one of only two series in this batch which got an "A" from me. The show had several outstanding episodes throughout the season...wonderful acting, characterization, and writing...and maybe the best conclusion of a TV series I've ever seen. Now that I've had a few months to think about it, I realize I never want to see any ANGEL movies, big screen or small. I never want to learn what happens to Angel, Spike, Gunn, or Illyria. Our farewell image of them in that alley and prepared to fight against evil as long as they are able is absolutely perfect.

CSI
A.....16.33%
B.....44.90%
C.....30.61%
D.....0%
F.....8.16%

I gave this one a "B" because it didn't have the stones to work the Catherine Willows/Sam Braun relationship storyline harder. They all know Braun is a murderer; that they let him get away with it should be a scab they must pick. On the other hand, I love how we're getting more personal looks at the regular characters...and the expanded roles for actors Eric Szmanda and Robert David Wall. Next season should be even more interesting.

ER
A.....8.89%
B.....17.78%
C.....33.33%
D.....24.44%
F.....15.56

I give this one a "D" and it only got that because of the helicopter being dropped on Doc Romano. I don't like any of this show's regular characters. I don't even feel sorry for them when things go wrong because the characters are usually the architects of their own misery. I only watch the show with Sainted Wife Barb because she likes my company and I love her.

JOAN OF ARCADIA
A.....36.46%
B.....15.38%
C.....25.64%
D.....10.26%
F.....10.26%

This was the other show I gave an "A" to. It had some of the best acting and writing on television, characters I truly grew to love, and episodes that asked hard questions. I look forward to its next season.

NYPD BLUE
A.....27.08%
B.....27.08%
C.....27.08%
D.....12.50%
F.....6.25%

This just barely got a "B" from me. There were some really fine episodes, but there were also too many quick exits of regular or recurring characters...too many lost court cases which should've been a slam dunk for the prosecutors...and the continuing misuse of Detective Medavoy. The character has done good and even great work on a steady basis; he shouldn't be constantly reduced to the sick joke of the week. Here's hoping the last episode of what will be the show's last season sees Sipowicz running the squad in title as well as in fact...and Medavoy getting his props.

SMALLVILLE
A.....29.69%
B.....42.19%
C.....23.44%
D.....1.56%
F.....3.12%

I can believe a man can fly. I can't believe that the feds aren't all over this town and locking it down tight. People keep looking the other way at the outlandish stuff that goes on in and around the town. The melodrama gets dumped on each script with a shovel. Even Michael Rosenbaum can't carry this show anymore. It got a "C" from me and that was mostly charity. It's now become a "duty" show for me; I watch it only because it has connections to the comics industry.

TRU CALLING
A.....12.50%
B.....20%
C.....27.50%
D.....17.50%
F.....22.50%

It was a good concept, but it got boring for me. The show could have gone in either of two directions: better writing or the revelation of the secrets behind Tru's gift. It chose the second path and I got off the road. Forgive me, Eliza; your show only got a "D" from me. It would have gotten a "F" without you.

WEST WING
A.....11.32%
B.....24.53%
C.....32.08%
D.....11.32%
F.....20.75%

I bailed on this show after a half-dozen episodes. I had problems with the character development, but I mostly had problems with the cowardly attempts to add so-called balance to the series. I like to see arrogant or evil or just plain stupid Republicans get their butts kicked week after week. I live in an occupied country and that was a welcome release from the dominance of the Bush mob. Maybe I'll forgive THE WEST WING after Kerry takes the White House in the November elections, but, for now, I feel betrayed. Even my unrequited passion for Allison Janney wasn't enough to get the show anything more than a miserable "D".

I'll run more TONY POLLS results for you over the weekend. In the meantime, head over to...

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/poll

...to cast your votes on our current questions. They're fun for the whole family!

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

Tony Isabella

<< 07/08/2004 | 07/09/2004 | 07/10/2004 >>

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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