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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 Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Action Comics 150

When was the last time you saw a whimsical scene - like this one from ACTION COMICS #150 [November, 1950] - on the cover of a DC or Marvel super-hero comic book?

"The Secret of the Six Superman Statues" is the Superman story that leads off the issue, but it doesn't appear to have anything to do with the cover by Wayne Boring (pencils) and Stan Kaye (inks), who drew the tale. The Grand Comics Database [www.comics.org] has not yet identified the writer of this adventure, but here's a recap from Michael L. Fleisher's THE GREAT SUPERMAN BOOK:
MORKO. A wily opportunist and inventor who ingeniously plants six gigantic plastic statues of SUPERMAN in seemingly inaccessible places - such as far beneath the sea, and in the interior of a mountain peak - as part of an elaborate scheme to fascinate Superman with the apparent enigma of the statues so that, in the process of retrieving them from their locations with the aid of his mighty super powers, he will unwittingly enrich Morko and his henchmen. When Superman bores through the earth like a human drill to retrieve a Superman statue far underground, for example, he inadvertently releases a valuable gusher of oil onto land owned by Morko.

Realizing finally that the giant statues are only ploys designed to trick him into using his super-powers for Morko's own benefit, Superman moves swiftly to ensure that Morko and his henchmen do not profit from their scheme, such as by redirecting the oil gusher onto a barren Indian reservation for the benefit of local Indians. And, when he is reminded that Morko and his men have really committed no crime for which they can properly be arrested ("He didn't break any laws!" muses Superman; "All he did was use my super-powers for his own ends! But a trickster like him shouldn't go free!"). Superman responds by tricking Morko and his henchmen into attacking him in the belief that they are only destroying a lifeless Superman statue and then hauls them off to jail on a trumped-up assault and battery charge.
Great Caesar's Ghost! That story is *wrong* on so many levels that I'm tempted to buy a copy of the issue for Bob "The Law Is A Ass" Ingersoll just so he can tear it a new one. When did the guy who fights for truth and justice become John Ashcroft?

If I did buy a near-mint copy of this issue for my friend Bob, THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC-BOOK PRICE GUIDE says I'd likely pay around $660 for it. THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS has it at $525. I don't doubt the issue, which also features the adventures of Tommy Tomorrow, Congo Bill, and the Vigilante, is worthy of such a princely sum, but not even Reed Richards could stretch my budget that far. Sorry, Bob.

Getting back to my original point, would the occasional bit of whimsey be so out of place in today's super-hero comics? Very few of us live lives of unending drama. There are always those lighter moments and, if we truly want more realism from our super-heroes, those moments should be part of their comics as well.

Let's see what else I have for you today.

******

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH

Sabrina 59

In SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #58 and #59 [Archie Comics; $2.19 each], the high-school sorceress gets a "manga" makeover courtesy of new writer/penciller Tania Del Rio. I have mixed feelings about the changes, but they did get me to read a title I'd given up on years ago. Sabrina is now going to two schools: high school by day and "charm school" by night. She still pines for mortal hunk Harvey, but also has a crush on Shinji, who, like her, attends both magic and mortal school. Salem, the wizard who was turned into a cat as punishment for trying to take over the world, now looks more like a stuffed animal than a real cat.

Del Rio's writing is growing on me. Issue #58's "Spellfreeze" was mostly an introduction to the new look with a moral familiar to anyone who's ever seen an episode of the Sabrina TV shows or, for that matter, Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice. It didn't lack for charm, but it also didn't move me.

Issue #59's "Blue Ribbon Blues" was a major leap forward. It was an engaging tale that brought out the personalities of all the main characters while blending fantasy, humor, and romance. The ending earned a warm smile from me.

Artistically, I'm not crazy about this awkward amalgam of the Archie style and Del Rio's manga style. In for a penny, in for a pound, I'd like to see it move closer to the more realistic manga style found in CHEEKY ANGEL and NEGIMA. However, inker Jim Amash does a fine job pulling the current artwork together.

These issues are a good start for the new Sabrina. I look forward to seeing Del Rio continue to develop as a writer and as an artist. I give her two out of five Tonys for SABRINA #58...

Tony Tony

...and three out of five for SABRINA #59.

Tony Tony Tony

******

MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS

Mickey Mouse 265

Three complete stories are presented in WALT DISNEY'S MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS #265 [Gemstone; $2.95]. When I started buying comics, back when they were painted on cave walls, it was close to a certainty that I'd get three complete stories for my dime. Times have changed, prices have risen, but, lo and behold, I can still - very occasionally - get three complete stories from a new comic book...and that's a good thing.

Don D. Markstein's "Mickey Mouse Meets Captain Thunder" is a humorous look at super-heroes and super-hero comics as our title hero befriends a down-on-his-luck crime fighter whose comic book is on the verge of cancellation. The gags are honestly funny, the art by Rodriques is lively, and the moral of the story - aimed more at writers, editors, and publishers of today's super-hero comics than at the reader - is slipped smoothly into the proceedings. It's one of the best Mickey stories in recent memory.

I'm so used to the supremely capable and upright Huey, Dewey, and Louie of Junior Woodchucks fame that I was surprised "A Day To Play Hooky" focused on their more mischievous attributes. Even so, writer Jan Kruse did a terrific job with this Donald Duck vs. the nephews tale. The art by Comicup Studio is clearly inspired by the work of Carl Barks...and what better inspiration could you seek for a Disney Ducks story?

A clumsy and meandering Goofy story rounds out this issue, but two out of three is a darn good average at a time when getting even one outstanding story from a comic is by no means a given. Add warmly inviting opening remarks by editor John Clark on the inside front cover of this issue and an intelligent letters column on the inside back cover and the result is a comic which, by contemporary standards, delivers solid value for its purchase price.

MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS #265 picks up three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

******

JANE'S WORLD

Jane's World 14

Jane is a thirty-something gay woman trying to find career and personal fulfillment, a shorthand description that utterly fails to convey how much fun Paige Braddock's comic is and how quickly Jane can work her way into the reader's heart. JANE'S WORLD #13 and #14 [Girl Twirl Comics; $5.95 each] reprint Braddock's recent newspaper strips, but the title will transition to all-new material in a more traditional comic-book format in another two issues. That's a wise move, one which should improve the pacing of the stories.

JW #13 starts out with one of the comic strip's best and most exciting sequences: Jane trapped on the roof of a trailer floating out of control down a river, her only companion a protected federal witness being hunted by two hitmen. That leads to the charmingly awkward episode where Jane and a friend explore new-found feelings, and that, unfortunately, leads to a "Jane Bond" dream sequence that drags through a beat-by-beat parody of GOLDFINGER.

JW #14 concentrates on Jane's attempts to improve, well, just about everything in her life, a valiant objective thrown askew as virtually every woman she has ever dated chooses this time to come back into her life. The aggregate confusion is hilarious; I can't wait to see what happens next.

Braddock's artwork is occasionally rough around the edges and sometimes pulls back from scenes that could convey more emotional impact than they do. I like her style, but I also wouldn't object to her adding a bit more drama and realism to it.

JANE'S WORLD is a funny, often heartwarming place. You should visit it soon. On our scale of zero to five Tonys - see the chart elsewhere on this page - these issues earn a perfectly respectable three Tonys apiece.

Tony Tony Tony

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

In one of last week's TOTs [August 12], I expressed my perhaps erroneous impressions of the Libertarian party. I've now received several polite e-mails on the subject and, after due consideration, I decided to go with an edited-by-its-writer version of the first one to hit my e-mailbox.

MICHAEL J. PASTOR writes:
Libertarians are no more or less compassionate about the fate of their fellow men than any other political stripe. What we take issue with is the means to deliver them from their need being the government, which we consider the most inefficient, corrupt, inept organization created by man.

That's a good thing. An efficient government all too quickly turns into a totalitarian one.

Libertarians can and do contribute to 501-3s,volunteer just like everybody else, and otherwise participate in philanthropic endeavors.

Given the choice between giving the government the money and allowing it to decide how to spend it on social services, and the other option of giving it directly to the charities of my choice, I always choose the latter.

Do you know where every fraction of every penny of your taxes is spent? Most likely not...because the government has a vital interest in not letting you know. At least I can force a 501-3 to open its books to me before I give it one penny of my own choosing. Better to give on your own, to an accountable organization that has the mission statement with which you agree.

The problem is the government is ultimately the worst option to deliver social services. It is victim to politics, either pork or anti-pork. It attaches too many "strings" to the services, such as not being able to mention contraception. It is victim to the influence of lobbyists, such as with the health care bill under the Clintons. Or it is most inefficient at delivering those services, re: NASA. If you give up money to your government, you guarantee the corruption, graft, patronage and inefficiency that any absolute power will eventually possess. The goal of the libertarian is to reduce that power and give it back to the people, just like the Constitution says it should.

Most programs created by the government aren't created because they are needed, but because they earn politicians brownie points for their constituency. It's inevitably and ultimately a bread and circuses patronage phenomenon - short-term government policies that seek short-term solutions to public unrest.

Libertarians are essentially socially liberal like Democrats (sans spending) and economically conservative like the Republicans. Americans appear to have a problem with that concept, despite the fact that our country was founded on those principals. I blame the entrenched two-party system.

True, libertarianism depends on an educated populace with the maturity to govern themselves. I don't think America is there yet; and I partially blame it on semi-socialized government. Dependency on your government breeds co-dependency in your populace, much like the way we make dogs and cats dependent on us, essentially keeping them in "puppy" and "kitten" mode.

Puppies and kittens can't survive on their own if they haven't been educated to be dogs and cats.

People can't be participating citizens in a democracy without learning to be adults...and any program that makes you dependent on your government for the basic necessities holds you back from just that.

Just because we don't think that socialism is the answer to helping out your fellow human being, doesn't mean we don't believe in helping out your fellow human being at all. It's the means, not the end, with which Libertarians have issue.
Sadly, Michael, you lose me almost from the beginning of your comments by speaking in absolutes. I don't think government has to be "inefficient, corrupt, inept." I think it does some things very well and even does them for the right reasons. I think it does an equal number of things very badly and for the wrong reasons...with the badly and the wrong being somewhat more prevalent in these past four years of the Great Darkness.

I think there are a great many politicians every bit as bad as you seem to regard all politicians. But I also think the answer to that problem is to elect better public servants.

You seem to be asking me to trust in the kindness of strangers when it comes to societal needs. I can't.

I've seen too many schools go underfunded because the voters will not support them. I've seen families and neighborhoods slide into decay. I've seen people lack for basic shelter, sustenance, and health care.

How much did the 1% who got the biggest breaks from the Bush tax cuts give to charity? How much of that money went, instead, to legal or illegal tax shelters?

(Just for the record, I added up the charitable donations made by Sainted Wife Barb and I over the past year. We gave about twice what we got back from the tax cuts...and we're pretty darn far from that oh-so-elite 1%.)

My half-century-plus on this planet has shown me that we human beings have a long way to go to be as compassionate as we could or should be. Government is far from perfect, but I have no reason to believe the lives of the needy or, for that matter, the populace as a whole, would improve if government weren't there to provide at least some services.

You frame a citizen's relationship with the government as one of dependency. You have it backwards.

Government should be dependent on us. We are the government. Unless we choose to relinquish that privilege and responsibility. Which, at the end of the day, based on your comments here, is what libertarianism seems to stand for.

Less or more government is immaterial to me.

I want *better* government.

Government that recognizes and embraces the diversity that is America. Government that cherishes and protects the rights of all Americans. Government that leaves no one behind.

******

That's all for now. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 08/17/2004 | 08/18/2004 | 08/19/2004 >>

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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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