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

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for Thursday, August 19, 2004

Summer vacation is winding down as I write today's TOT. The neighborhood has been relatively quiet as families take those last trips here and there. My son Eddie is finishing his summer reading project and - like father, like son - is coming dangerously close to the deadline. My daughter Kelly tried out and made her school's seventh grade volleyball team.

Eddie has two more items to complete on his assignment, which is due at noon. A misreading of the instructions - more of a "not reading of instructions" - caused a minor panic over the weekend, but he rose to the challenge. He had to replace the biography of Ted Williams he'd intended to read with a shorter biography. His substitute choices were based on whatever biographies Dad had lying in easy reach: Larry Fine, Marilyn Monroe, or Eliot Ness. He went with Ness.

Last week, Kelly went through both the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory in the space of ten minutes. When I went to pick her up at the volleyball team tryouts, I noticed some of the girls exiting the school with paperwork in their hands. Using my Holmes-like logic, I deduced they had made the team. My heart sunk when Kelly exited sans paperwork.

She held it together on the short drive home, but was clearly crushed. She went straight to her bedroom and closed the door, not even allowing me to try to comfort her.

Then, a minute later, the phone rang. It was her volleyball coach. Her name had been put on the wrong list. She had made the team, after all. Kelly was bouncing off the walls while the coach apologized for the mistake over and over again.

We had a volleyball parents meeting last night. All the teams from seventh grade through the high school varsity team were there. The players dressed up for the occasion. Where had all these young women come from? Oh, sure, there were hints of the girls they had been and still were, but they mostly looked so grown up that I felt every one of my fifty-plus years. Especially when I met the high school coaches, who were, I think, no more than eighteen years old themselves.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. Us old folks do that.

When Eddie wakes up this morning, he'll finish his assignments and ask me to proofread them. Kelly will start getting ready for her team's first practice scrimmage. In between these activities, the last days of summer will slip quietly away.

Slip away, but held in memory forever.



Comics Buyer's Guide

The crane pulled up to my house earlier this week and lifted COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1597 [October; $5.99] into my office. I've gotten about a hundred pages into the 244-page issue and wanted to share a few thoughts with you.

I don't review CBG per se on account of I am a contributing editor to the magazine and the "host" of its review section. These are purely ceremonial titles, but I help out where I can. However, I draw the line at being professionally graded and slabbed. That damn case makes my ass look enormous!

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is the cover feature, but the cover design and copy obscures the main visual. Methinks a little moderation is in order for future covers.

Editor Maggie Thompson starts off the issue with helpful tips on approaching your favorite comics celebrities at big conventions. There's a wide-angle photo of what I think is last year's Comic-Con International. One of the most recognizable displays is the photo is the CrossGen booth. Was the company even in official attendance at this year's event?

James Mishler's article on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is a good one. He *almost* got me interested in seeing the movie, which is more of a compliment that it may read like. Conversely, his piece on the unfolding AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED comics only enforced my initial low opinion of said "event." I see both the Alien/Predator movie and the Avengers books in the same light: manipulative marketing ploys that lack the fire and heart of true creativity.

The results of CBG's fan awards are here. The closest thing to a surprise, given the DC-centric and super-hero-centric nature of the magazine's audience, is that Craig Thompson's BLANKETS had a strong second-place finish in the favorite graphic novel or album category. The biggest disappointment for me: that CBG readers did not recognize Joe Kubert's brilliant YOSSEL in this category. That book deserved to win *all* the awards.

Blankets    Yossel

Editorial director John Jackson Miller has become a valuable essayist with his "Longbox Manifesto" pieces. This time around, he makes an excellent case for the return of letters columns to comic books. Nicely done, JJM.

I stopped reading about 100 pages into the issue to reinforce the table on which it sits, which should probably be the last joke I crack about CBG's many pages of comics fun. If anything else in this issue spurs additional thoughts, I'll include those doubtless sage comments in an future edition of TOT.



Jughead 158

Jughead has always been my favorite member of the Riverdale crowd. He's an individual, but loyal to his friends. He's crafty, but not so crafty that he doesn't get fooled on occasion. While Archie and the rest of the gang can all be funny, one never knows how Jughead will amuse the reader from story to story. The lad is as full of surprises as he is Pop Tate's burgers.

Both JUGHEAD #158 and #159 [Archie Comics; $2.19 each] feature a stand-out story apiece. In #158, "Dress for Success" presents a wonderful switch on the classic theme of a forgetful Archie making dates with Betty AND Veronica for the same night. In this twisted version, Jughead dons mascot costumes to advertise the tasty fare at BOTH Pop's Chok'lit Shoppe and the rival Pizza City. Incredible as it may sound, has Jug bitten off more than he can chew? It's to writer Craig Boldman's credit that he never stoops to such a corny joke. I, of course, utterly lack such moral fortitude.

In JUGHEAD #159, we get another round in the battle between Jughead and Trula Twist, the Machiavellian maiden who alternately enrages and fascinates our hero. I haven't been keeping score, but I'm pretty sure the young lady has a commanding lead. I think it's time for Jughead to start bringing his "A" game to these contests. As always, penciller Rex Lindsey and inker Rich Koslowski do that voodoo that they do so well in bringing visual life to Boldman's witty scripts.

JUGHEAD has much to offer: clever writing, expressive artwork, at least three and often four complete stories per issue, a spiffy assortment of fan and gag pages, and the certainty that every issue will be suitable for readers of all ages. That's a pretty good deal for two bucks and change.

On our scale of zero to five, JUGHEAD #158 and #159 earn three Tonys each.

Tony Tony Tony



Every Monday, I post new questions on our TONY POLLS page and, as soon as possible thereafter, bring you the results of the past week's voting.

Our first question last week was:

Copyright law allows comics creators to regain their creations after a period of time. This pleases readers who put the rights of creators first...and angers those who fear the effect reclamations might have on the DC/Marvel universes. Which is more important to you?

Rights of real-life comics creators.....78.08%
Status quo of fictional universes.....21.92%

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I voted with the majority. But the question raised more interesting issues than where I stood on the matter.

A few readers complained bitterly that I was basically asking voters if they were scum or not. Yet, for all their bitching that I'd stacked the deck, a fifth of their fellows still voted against comics creators.

One reader privately condemned me for not caring about all the hard work that goes into maintaining a fictional universe like the ones at DC or Marvel. However, given how often and how frivolously the caretakers of those universes change and distort the characters and the histories of those universes, I refuse to worry about my real or imagined contributions to the chaos.

However, the truth of the matter is that I really don't care about the "integrity" of such universes at the present time because the current editors/publishers/writers also don't care about them. They prove it on a nigh-monthly basis.

If anyone's going to muck with comics characters and concepts, it should be their original creators or the heirs of their original creators. The damage has already been done in most cases, so why not break the universes into thousands of pieces and restore those pieces to them what conceived them?

There are many extremely talented writers and artists in the comics field, some fine editors, and even a perceptive executive or three. I'd like to see what they could do without the crutches of capricious continuity and manipulative events.

Wouldn't you?

I've thus far addressed these matters from the purely creative viewpoint, but I think I can make my case from a business viewpoint as well. The more creators benefit from their creations, the more they control the purity of the creations, the more likely they are to continue creating new and wondrous things. I think that would prove to be of greater financial benefit to the publishers than the current practice of holding their universes together with spit and duct tape and transitory flavors of the month.


There was no middle ground on the other TONY POLLS questions asked last week. The voters were limited to either "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" in casting their ballots.


Thumbs up.....38.26%
Thumbs down.....61.74%

Based on the badly-expressed hype and the actual material I have seen, I voted THUMBS DOWN. I reserve the right to change my mind if, at the end of the show, Brian Michael Bendis and company actually do manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat they blew up and then blew up again and then blew up again and...


Thumbs up.....10.48%
Thumbs down.....89.52%

There, there, Halle, don't let the mean voters bother you. Come and let Tony give you a big hug. Your movie? Well, ah, I'm afraid I didn't see it. So I didn't vote on this question. Wait! Where are you going? You're not going to let that get in the way of a perfectly good fantasy, are you?


Thumbs up.....69.51%
Thumbs down.....30.49%

I didn't go this year and I still voted THUMBS UP. I know the comics are likely in the event's back seat forever, but where else in the country can I go to see thousands of my best friends in comicdom? A man's got have a dream.


Thumbs up.....70.65%
Thumbs down.....29.35%

The cover and interior designs need some work, but I love the new format. If my THUMBS were any more UP, they would detach from my hands.


Thumbs up.....50.41%
Thumbs down.....49.59%

This was decided by one vote and it wasn't the THUMBS DOWN I gave this incredibly mean-spirited series.

Those are the results from last week. This week, I'm asking about your comics buying habits. How many traditional comic books do you buy in an average week? How many manga volumes do you buy in a month? How many comics-related trades and hardcovers...and DC Archives editions...and Marvel Essentials...and Marvel Masterworks do you buy in a year?

You can vote on these questions at:

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm taking a short vacation, but I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 08/18/2004 | 08/19/2004 | 08/23/2004 >>

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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Medina, OH 44256

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