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

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for Friday, September 10, 2004

Starting Stories

Stupid man. He brought a sword to a ray-gun fight.

I'm having a really bad brain day. I couldn't decide how to start today's column and I have even less clue than usual where I'm going with it. I chose and discarded several opening illustrations before picking the above cover of STARTLING STORIES [Summer, 1946], and even that was just so I could do the sword/ray-gun joke which, in my current state of mind, I think is hilarious. You may see it as a cry for help.

Most of you probably know STARTLING STORIES as the over-title of a series of offbeat comic books starring various Marvel super-heroes. From 1939 through 1955, it was also the title of a pulp magazine. Here's what I was able to learn about STARLING within my current five-minute attention span:


This magazine was the first companion to THRILLING WONDER STORIES; its policy was to publish long novels (as listed later), plus an exceptional older short story in a "Hall of Fame" section. The reprints were quite successful, but many were abridged, even appearing in the abridged form when used in the anthology FROM OFF THIS WORLD (Margulies & Friend, 1949). This success with reprints caused companions FANTASTIC STORY QUARTERLY (later FANTASTIC STORY MAGAZINE) and WONDER STORY ANNUAL to appear, essentially as reprint magazines. The reprints were then dropped from STARTLING from November, 1950. The cover artists were H.V. Brown to May, 1940, then E.K. Bergey for most of the covers to 1952; Emsh(willer) and Popp also painted many covers.

After a good beginning, the magazine became somewhat juvenile in the early 1940's. Editor and writer S. Merwin built up STARTLING and THRILLING WONDER to be the best general-type science fiction magazines in the field. From its first issue until March, 1953, it ran a magazine review department, and was the first professional magazine ever to do so.

STARTLING finished as the last magazine in the Standard chain. The anthology THE BEST FROM STARTLING STORIES (S. Mines, 1953) was selected from both this magazine and THRILLING WONDER.

Bergey was the cover artist of the issue shown above. Looking at a few more of his covers, it appears he had a gift for depicting gorgeous women holding weapons and wearing tattered clothing. If I had even a six-minute attention span, I could share my further keen observations on this with you. But I don't and now I'm on to wondering if I should look for those STARTLING STORIES comics from Marvel and give them a read.

Excuse me, what were we talking about?



Howard Cruse Illustration

I was knowingly remiss in not mentioning HOWARD CRUSE CENTRAL [] while writing about the cartoonist's wedding in yesterday's column. I wanted to focus on the celebration of his 25 years with his partner and now spouse Eddie Sedarbaum and on the equal marriage rights issue. However, tomorrow is another day and, since yesterday's tomorrow is now today, I can tell you all about a fun place to visit online.

HOWARD CRUSE CENTRAL has content by the ton. "Howard's Online Portfolio" has examples of both his humourous illustrations and his flash animation. "Howard Cruse: The Web Site" has more wonderful things, including "The Purchaser's Clearing House," an illustrated song written by Cruse. "The Comics Vault" has oodles of archived Cruse comics strips and stories. The website is like some big old mansion where every turn of a corner brings you into another grand room. You can even buy Cruse books and original art directly from the artist here. You'll love this website.



Spider-Man 2

Exploring my files once again, I find this April e-mail from JOHN O'CONNER:

I don't know about you, but I think Marvel is making too many movies. Every other week, it seems Avi Arad or Kevin Feige is announcing that they want to do *this* Marvel film or *that* Marvel film, but the announcements seem to be more to get the interest of fans who want to see their favorite characters on the big screen. Marvel never actually says how they're going to do these movies and their resources are already pushed to the limit with the X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN movies. This past year saw two of their newest movies, DAREDEVIL and the HULK, meet with very mixed reviews from fans and film critics alike. A certain percentage liked the Hulk a bit more then Daredevil, but it seems to be a sign that Marvel is taking on way too many movies and cannot possibly deliver on all these other movie projects they are announcing.

I'm very skeptical that the movies they want to do this year - ELEKTRA, MAN-THING, PUNISHER or the third BLADE movie - will be anything special. SPIDER-MAN 2 is really the only Marvel movie on the horizon that looks good. I think Marvel will start delivering more box office misses rather then hits.

My response:

Marvel isn't making these movies themselves, John. Someone with more interest in or knowledge of the movie business than yours truly could explain it better, but, essentially, movie studios buy the rights to make these movies. The extent of Marvel's creative involvement in them likely varies from movie to movie. Given the money to be made from successful movies, I suspect Marvel can and will provide as little or as much creative support as a movie maker wants from them. Generally speaking, it's not Marvel's resources being committed to these films. It's the resources of the studios making them.

Are there too many Marvel movies? That depends on the viewer. I loved both Spider-Man and X-Men films and, to a lesser extent, I enjoyed both DAREDEVIL and HULK. My interest in THE PUNISHER isn't great, but I'll likely rent the DVD sooner or later. I might even give the BLADE films a shot, though it still sticks in my craw that Marvel screwed over Blade creator Marv Wolfman rather than give him his fair share of the movie money.

I don't much care for the comics industry's adoration of the film industry. We seem to forget that Hollywood is coming to *us* for ideas and not the other way around. But the movie money does contribute to the financial health of the comics industry and that, to me, is a good thing.

If bad comics movies don't perform well at the box office, the Hollywood money might dry up and the comics industry will have to go back to standing on its own two feet. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing in my estimation.

On the other hand, there have been *lots* of bad comics films made and the movie folks still seem eager to buy rights to comics characters and concepts. So why shouldn't the comics industry take their money and let them have at it?

We're only talking stupid movies here and not anything really important. Like the actual comic books.

That's it for today's somewhat truncated TOT. I'll be taking a few days off to tend to some personal matters, but I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/09/2004 | 09/10/2004 | 09/14/2004 >>

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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.

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