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

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for Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Superboy 117

School's in for Eddie and Kelly. Eddie will be a sophomore at Medina High School while Kelly will be starting the seventh grade at Claggett Middle School. God willing, neither will have to deal with evil Legionnaires from a parallel universe, just our homegrown evil teenagers.

I write in jest. My kids hang around with a pretty good bunch of kids at school and in our neighborhood. Medina has its share of problems, of course, but we've been lucky.

My major concern as I write this column is that Kelly twisted her ankle at volleyball practice on Monday. It may keep her out of today's scrimmage and add an additional strain on the universally stressful first day of school. Let's hope not.

Our opening cover is from SUPERBOY #117 [December, 1964]. It was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Sheldon Moldoff. Swan also pencilled Jerry Siegel's "Superboy and the Five Legion Traitors," which was inked by George Klein.

Mort Weisinger was the editor.

It's a pretty thin story, even for eight pages. Superboy goes nova-watching and, without realizing it, gets blown into a parallel universe. The bad Legionnaires come to the 20th century Smallville of that universe to mess with the Boy of Steel. The Superboy who lives in this universe makes things right and sends his ex-buddies back to the future for punishment. Our Superboy gets back to his own universe.

Also in the issue:

Leo Dorfman's "Secret of Camp Storm King" starts with Clark's uncle sending him to camp to toughen the lad up. The secret of the camp is that every camper and counselor there is an alien invader. Clark goes all Superboy on their asses.

In Otto Binder's "Krypto's Superdog Pal," we are introduced to Spot, a robot dog created by Jor-El to replace Krypto as Kal-El's pet after Jor shot the mutt into the space. Dear old dad certainly had his wacky mad scientist side.

Spot got sent into the Phantom Zone when Kryptonian criminals tried to banish that wacky Jor-El there. Years later, Krypto asks Superboy to release Spot from the Zone so that he can have a friend to romp with. After checking the well in the erroneous belief that Timmy has fallen into it again, Superboy figures out what Krypto is actually saying and releases the robot pooch.

Krypto and Spot have great times until Spot gets robot rabies and dies. No, wait, that was OLD YELLER or maybe CUJO. Spot saves Krypto from a falling Kryptonite meteor and gets smashed to pieces in the process. There is much sadness. Perhaps, someday, when the Dog of Steel is ready to love again, Superboy will built him a new playmate. In the meantime, Kal gets back to work on that Lana Lang robot that Ma and Pa Kent don't know about.

Hey, that's how *I* remember it!

George Papp drew both of the non-Legion stories in this issue. He wasn't the most exciting artist around, but his work always had this comforting quality to it.

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



Grim Ghost 3

My comments on the short-lived Atlas Comics line of the 1970s brought many excited e-mails asking me to discuss my "role in the company" at greater length. I find this incredible because I never thought of myself as *having* a role there. I wrote one full comic book for the company, plotted a story for a second title, pitched a few ideas, and helped editor Larry Lieber on a couple of things here and there...all of which didn't amount to more than a week of effort combined.

However, since THE ATLAS ARCHIVES site [] makes it easy for me to locate some memory-jogging bits of Isabella business, I'll see if I can accommodate those misguided requests. Who loves you, baby?

The website reprints "Atlas Reconsidered," an article by Ken Jones which appeared in AMAZING HEROES #81. Here's what Jones says about THE GRIM GHOST:
"From out of the moonlit night he rides mounted a top a jet black steed, laughing like a demon from the darkest pits of Hell. For he is the Earth-bound specter of Matthew Dunsinane, alias the Grim Ghost, a colonial highwayman who was hanged for his crimes and who now battles evil in our time as part of a gruesome pact with Satan."

This book was Michael Fleisher's finest moment, in my opinion. Better known for JONAH HEX, the Spectre series in ADVENTURE COMICS, and GHOST RIDER, Fleisher shone here. This is a book cut from the same moody cloth as the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, and Zorro.

Matthew Dunsiname's 1970s identity as an eccentric antiquarian living in his baronial New England mansion was intriguing and original. Even old Mr. Scratch himself is more three-dimensional here than usual in his various four-color incarnations.

Tony Isabella, who scripted issue #3, made Grim Ghost more mellow and palatable.

"Though I serve Satan, my morals are my own, and I deliver unto him only those I deem evil," said his Grim Ghost.

As much as Fleisher and Isabella contributed to the series, enough cannot be said about Ernie Colon's unique cartooning on this book.
I can't argue with Jones. I liked Fleisher's work on THE GRIM GHOST and, in retrospect, wished I had made sure he wasn't getting screwed before taking the assignment. Enlightenment of that sort didn't come to me until the much-later 1970s.

I don't know if I made the Ghost "more mellow and palatable," but I did want to bring out his independent/rebellious nature and that was the reason for the line quoted above. Had the series not been canceled and had I remained on it, I was considering putting Dunsinane in a pivotal role in a war between Heaven and Hell...with the trick being that Satan would be the good guy in that conflict. It was a spiritual "what if" sort of thing which would have likely gotten me burned at the stake.

Getting the chance to work with Ernie Colon, who I thought was a terrific artist, was one of the reasons I took the assignment, so Jones and I are on the same page there as well. The experience was slightly marred by Colon's subsequent cutting of some dialogue from the full script I'd written for him. It bothered me at the time, barely rates a shrug of the shoulders now. If we had continued as a team, I'm sure we would have found each other's rhythms and done some wonderful comics together.

In fairness to Colon, I was doubtless spoiled by working with Frank Robbins over at Marvel. He and I clicked from day one...and he was my favorite collaborator of the 1970s.

In his lengthy and quite good article, Jones also wrote about the Man-Monster character I created at Atlas and for whom I plotted the critter's one and only story.

Jones wrote:
The Man-Monster, despite lackluster scripting, featured an interesting Rich Buckler art job that for some reason reminds me of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/Jack Kirby monsters in TALES TO ASTONISH and STRANGE TALES. Man-Monster, who looked like a red-hued version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, was supposed to graduate into his own book, but Atlas Comics suspended publication before that could happen. There is no telling how this concept would have developed.
Buckler did a terrific job on the story, which was surprising given the lesser quality of some of his contemporaneous Marvel art. He was an immensely talented artist, but he didn't always bring his best stuff to the game.

I have no idea how Man-Monster would have developed from this first story. I'd had something of a plan for my original concept, but little interest in this retooled version. Before I turned in the plot, I told Lieber I wouldn't be able to stay with the series or even script that first story.

Gary Friedrich scripted the story and I have a higher opinion of his work on it than does Jones. Friedrich is largely overlooked these days, but he wrote many outstanding issues of SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOES in the 1960s and did some excellent work on the earliest issues of GHOST RIDER in the 1970s. It's a shame he didn't have a longer career in comics.

Look for more ATLAS AND ME in future columns. Not a lot more, mind you, but more.



Fox Trot

Bill Amend's FOX TROT strip [Sunday, August 21] zeroed in on two of my buttons, one personal, the other national. The personal one is, of course, that my 16-year-old son Eddie is also an older brother. Like the young men who served and died in Vietnam, he is at risk due to the military activism of the Bush administration, an administration which does not hesitate to send its young people to die to benefit the financial interests of its backers.

The national one is the ongoing disgrace and sheer audacity of the Bush administration attacking the heroism of Vietnam war vets in its campaign ads...and, please, don't insult my intelligence by giving Bush and his thugs a pass on the vicious lies being promoted by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Bush is in on this disgrace up to his vacuous smirk and squinty eyes.

I don't even know what to make of Republicans who don't speak out against this unconscionable tactic. Their president can't even prove that he completed his cushy National Guard service, a posting he got through his family's business and political connections, and they dare to question the courage, patriotism, and sacrifice of men who actually served their country in a time of war?

Max Cleland. John Kerry. John McCain.

I'll say this for Bush supporters. They must have stomachs of iron. Their tactics make me sick.



Just some reminders...

I can't review what I don't see. My comics budget is limited and - sadly - likely to remain so for the immediate future. If you are a creator, editor, or publisher hoping to get some electronic ink from me, your chance of getting a review from me are infinitely greater if you send your comics, magazines, books, DVDs, whatever, to me at this address:

Tony Isabella
P.O. Box 1502
Medina, OH 44258

If, for some reason, you can only ship by UPS, e-mail me and I'll send you a street address.

This website *does* accept advertising and donations. For the former, you have to contact our web-wizard Justin:

For the latter, check out the TIP THE TIPSTER link elsewhere on this page. Thanks for your support.

Comments, requests, and suggestions are always appreciated in my corner of the Internet. You can post them on the official TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD...

...or you can e-mail me at:

Finally, every Monday, I post new TONY POLLS questions for you to vote on. You'll find them here:

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

Tony Isabella

<< 08/24/2004 | 08/25/2004 | 08/26/2004 >>

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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