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

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for Sunday, August 8, 2004

All-Surprise Comics 1

I wanted a cheery cover to kick off today's TOT and I believe ALL-SURPRISE COMICS #1 [Fall, 1943] definitely fits that criterion. Its appearance here also affords me the opportunity to praise yet another great comics history website, but it'll be a moment or two before I get around to those kudos.

What do I know about All-SURPRISE COMICS? It was published by Timely Comics and starred the most popular characters from Timely's other funny animal titles: Super Rabbit, Silly Seal and Ziggy Pig, and Gandy and Sourpuss. During its twelve-issue run - from Fall of 1943 to Winter, 1946 - it also featured Posty Pelican, Sharpy Fox, Toughy Tomcat, Chester Chipmuck, and Widjit Witch. While I don't know how Widjit got into a title filled with comical critters, I do applaud this early attempt at diversity. We could use more of that in today's comics as well.

During the World War II years, with Stan Lee in the service, Vince Fago was Timely's editor-in-chief and the "guiding light" of its funny animal books. Noted comics scholar Dr. Michael Vassallo wrote a terrific article on Fago and these comics, complete with a way spiffy gallery of covers and interior art, and you can read it online by going to:

Additionally, Fago was interviewed by Jim Amash for ALTER EGO #11, one of countless fine comics magazines published by TwoMorrows and available for purchase at:

Fago was a talented cartoonist, a fine editor, and, based on comments from the artists who worked with him and the fans who got to know him later, a genuine sweetheart of a human being. Some of the artists who worked with him included his brother Al (best known for his Atomic Mouse), Chad Grothkopf, Al Jaffee, Jim Mooney, Mike Sekowsky, and Ed Winiarski.

ALL-SURPRISE COMICS became JEANIE COMICS with its thirteenth issue. Funny animals were out and teen humor was in. If you're in the market for the comic book shown above, THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines a near-mint condition of this issue goes for what strikes me as an extremely reasonable $360. The even more reasonable STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS pegs it at $150. A quick search of eBay found no completed sales or ongoing auctions for *any* issues of the title.

Getting to the kudos portion of our opening remarks, I direct you to Greg Gatlin's ATLAS TALES website:

To quote the website's mission statement:

Atlas Tales is an attempt to organize all the information about the comics published by Martin Goodman's Timely/Marvel/Atlas line from 1939 to 1960 (or so).

Gatlin's stats-to-date are impressive:

Titles: 326

Issues: 4481

Stories With Information: 9906

Cover Images: 2529

If you're not strong of will, you can spend literally hours at ATLAS TALES. So many cool covers from the 1950s.

Since we're talking about Timely and Atlas anyway, I might as well offer another recommendation.

THE TIMELY-ATLAS MAILING LIST is one of the best online comics forums anywhere. The list focuses on the period between 1939-1960, and the forerunners of Marvel Comics. At least once a day, as the list members discuss these comics and their creators, my jaw drops and bounces on the floor as I realize how incredibly knowledgeable, almost supernaturally so, they are about this stuff.

Membership is restricted, but not so much so that they didn't let me join. It's a friendly group whose participants are always ready and willing to answer questions and otherwise lend a helping hand. I couldn't count how many times list members have assisted me with my columns. Apply for membership at:

That's my long-winded opening. Let's see what else I can get into today's column.



Alter Ego 37

Reading ALTER EGO is the comics mag equivalent of discovering the Tomb of King Tut each and every month. Pick up any issue and you'll find first-hand interviews with comics creators who, in many cases, have never been interviewed before. You'll be enlightened by articles uncovering new information and/or putting existing data into new perspective. You'll gasp in wonder at original art that hasn't been seen in print for decades, if ever. All this without the downside of a deadly curse.

The signature piece of ALTER EGO #37 [TwoMorrows; $5.95] is an interview with Golden Age and Phantom artist Sy Barry, conducted by Jim Amash. Barry was one of the great artists and storytellers in comics, an illustrator par excellence drawn to the field by virtue of its action and dramatic possibilities. Here, he talks about his comic-strip work and his comics work for major publishers like DC, Lev Gleason, and Timely. It's fascinating stuff.

On the flip side - AE is divided into two sections, totaling over 100 pages of material - Will Murray writes about GLADIATOR, the 1930 Philip Wylie science fiction novel many believe was a key inspiration for the creation of Superman. In a second article, he discusses Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel's unpublished "K-Metal" script from 1940, and how it might have changed the history of the Man of Steel forever.

Editor Roy Thomas packs every issue of AE with wondrous stuff. This one has articles by or about Captain Marvel artists C.C. Beck, Marc Swayze, and Don Newton; a chat with actor Brian Cutler of TV's ISIS; Alex Toth on Noel Sickles; Michael T. Gilbert interviewing Al Feldstein; a brief tribute to the late Rudy LaPick, and the first half of a chat with 1970s fanzine publisher Gary Brown.

ALTER EGO is the best comics history magazine *ever*. This issue earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



Comics Revue 219

COMICS REVUE [Manuscript Press; $6.95] is always difficult to review because it is always so uniformly terrific. In each issue, editor/publisher Rick Norwood presents satisfying chunks of some of the greatest newspaper comic strips of all time. Eleven different strips are represented in the current issue.

Hands down, my favorite strip is MODESTY BLAISE by the amazing Peter O'Donnell. He wrote Modesty Blaise books and comics stories for over thirty years and I've yet to come across an episode that didn't knock me out. Modesty and Willie Garvin, who loves her more than life itself but is not her lover, are retired super-criminals. But they were always fairly decent about it, winning the loyalty of their cohorts in crimes and now, the government officials for whom they occasionally do the odd bit of evil-busting. This issue has the concluding chapter of "Takeover" with splendid artwork by Jim Holdaway.

Also in COMICS REVUE #219:

TARZAN by Russ Manning in full color;

GASOLINE ALLEY by Dick Moores;

FLASH GORDON by Harry Harrison and Dan Barry (with, my guess, Mike Sekowsky pitching in);

STEVE CANYON by Milton Caniff;

KRAZY KAT by George Herriman;

LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE by Harold Gray (one of those great tales wherein just plain folks help each other out and deal a defeat to an avaricious and bone-nasty rich guy);

THE PHANTOM by Lee Falk and Ray Moore;

ALLEY OOP by V.T. Hamlin;

TARZAN by Dan Barry and Rob Thompson;

BUZ SAWYER by Roy Crane; and

CASEY RUGGLES by Warren Tufts.

Seven bucks may seem high for a 68-page magazine, but keep in mind that most pages are the equivalent of two standard comic-book pages...and how few comics boast the line-up of legendary talents featured in COMICS REVUE.

COMICS REVUE #219 picks up the full five Tonys. I recommend it for comics fans of all ages.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



I only worked with MIKE GOLD briefly near the end of his time with DC and the beginning of my developing a second Black Lightning series for the company. Then and now, I think he's one of the true good guys in comics and one of the smartest editors ever to labor in the industry. Naturally, now that I'm barely working in comics, we've become friends. I get to see Mike and his wife Linda about once a year as they pass through Ohio on their way to/from Chicago and it's always an enjoyable time.

Alex Ness, another friend of mine, has posted a long and very informative interview with Mike online. You can find it at Alex's POP THOUGHT website...

...along with many other interesting columns and interviews. Check it out and tell Alex I said "hi."



I've been working on a few political pieces for TOT [as seen in our August 4 edition] and one of them was on the frequent use of Homeland Security and terror alerts for political gain. However, a recent editorial in THE CAPITAL TIMES, "Wisconsin's progressive newspaper," makes the case far more tersely than I could have done on my best day. Here's what the paper wrote:
It turns out the latest terror alert from the Bush White House and its Department of Homeland Security was based on information that is more than three years old. "There is nothing right now that we are hearing that is new," a senior law enforcement official who had been briefed on the alert told the Washington Post. "Why did we go to this alert level?" the official asked.

Here's a possibility:

The Democratic National Convention got Americans looking seriously at President Bush's challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. It is appropriate to ask whether the Bush camp, which has an ugly track record of politicizing the war on terror, is not so much frightened by an external threat as it is by an internal political threat.
I only have two additional comments.

First...while it's certainly true that there are folks who do want to launch terrorist attacks on the United States and are more than likely actively planning same, the Bush mob has been caught in so many lies over the past few years - from cutting programs that it had praised and promised to support to misleading the country as to Iraq's connections to the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and Saddam's still-invisible weapons of mass destruction - that it's difficult, if not impossible, for me to believe them now.

Second...during a recent press conference, Homeland Security director Tom Ridge stated flatly that his department does not play politics. Then he went on to praise President Bush for keeping us safe from the terrorists. Does he think the entire American public suffers from attention deficit disorder?

Please vote for John Kerry in November. I'm not asking this just for myself, but also for my 16-year-old son Eddie, my 13-year-old daughter Kelly, my teenage nephews and nieces, and all of the other young people, in the United States and around the world, who will be in even greater jeopardy should Bush and the radical right retain their control of my nation. Thank you.



Today is your last chance to vote on our current TONY POLLS. We're asking you to pick your choice for the greatest sci-fi legend of TV, as well as asking when you started reading comic books, what decade has/had the comics you enjoy most, and how old you were when you most enjoyed comics. To vote, go to:

These questions will come down sometime after midnight and new questions will be posted sometime on Monday. Look for the results and my comments on them later in the week.

That's all that I have for you today. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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

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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