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

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for Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Ultimate Spider-Man Collection

The greatest comic book of all time is FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 [1963]. This is a long-established truth of the Tony Isabella Universe. It was that annual - with its 37-page lead story of the Sub-Mariner conquering New York and its wonderful bonus features - that made me want to make comic books for a living. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby instantly became my cultural equivalents of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, changing my world forever.


If I were twelve years old today, it's entirely possible that, four decades from now, I would be calling the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COLLECTION - BARNES & NOBLE EDITION [Marvel; $49.95] the greatest comic book of all time, elevating writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley to the status of cultural icons. This hardcover volume collects the first 38 and a half issues of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN plus dozens of pages of introductions, plot outlines, designs, script samples, and editorial discussions. It weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of five pounds. Heavy reading.

These are great comics. Not perfect comics, but great comics nonetheless. The earliest issues reveal the presence of too many cooks. Bill Jemas - then Marvel publisher - shares "story" credit with Bendis for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1-13. In the discussions that I mentioned above, Jemas' instincts are revealed to be better than I would have thought on occasion, not too bad at other times, and horribly wrong on the tricky handling of Venom. Bendis and editor-in-chief Joe Quesada inspire far more confidence here.

The behind-the-scenes looks are fun and informative, but it's the stories that make this collection so wonderful. Bendis had a tough job, re-imagining Spider-Man for new readers while avoiding alienating loyal readers as happened with the SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE debacle still fresh in their minds. It was difficult for me to watch Peter Parker acting badly, though it was in keeping with this parallel version of the character; the first arc went on too long; and I don't think I'll ever warm up to the Ultimate Green Goblin. Yet, despite that, I have come to like the Ultimate Spidey as much as I like the best of the "real" Spidey comics which have followed the great Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita Sr. issues.

Beyond the growing pains of their origin sequence, Bendis and crew have consistently delighted me with their takes on the Daily Bugle staff, the Kingpin, Gwen Stacy, the Shocker, Doctor Octopus, Kraven the Hunter, Nick Fury, and, most especially, their version of Venom, a character I never liked in the "real" Spider-Man comic books. Heck, even with my lesser admiration for that first arc, I get a huge kick out of the "King Kong" character in the high school sequences and approve of how he pushed the tiresome Flash Thompson into the background of those sequences. Kudos to Bendis for making "Kong" interesting and somewhat loveable without forgetting for a moment that Kong is still a jerk.

Artistically, I couldn't ask for a better team than penciller Mark Bagley and inker Art Thibert. Over in the "real" Spider-Man comics, John Romita Jr. rules, but Bagley is the king of this book. His storytelling - by the page, by the panel, by the individual expression or pose - is superb. He creates and fortifies the world of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN with every issue. I love Romita Jr's work, but I don't think he could draw this title as well as Bagley does. It's the perfect match of artist and material.

That's my reaction the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COLLECTION, but I am, by no means, its target audience. Will younger readers respond to this Spider-Man as I responded to the original when I was their age? I believe they will. Whether you're five or fifty, there is a classic and classically entertaining quality to the life, joys, and woes of Peter Parker. When creators approach Spider-Man with respect for the character, the magic happens. It happens for Sam Raimi, it happens for J. Michael Straczynski, and it most certainly happens for Bendis and Bagley.

Don't let the cover price scare you from buying this gem of a book. The volume is worth the full cover price, but you can get it for $39.96 from the Barnes and Noble website...

...or, if you're a member of their book club, for an even more attractive $35.96.

On a scale of zero to five, the Barnes & Noble Books ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COLLECTION picks up the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



When I mentioned I was reading the Barnes and Noble ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COLLECTION on my message board, a couple of the posters had some Spidey stories to share.

Chris Galdieri wrote:

When I was at B&N yesterday studying, I saw a very, very small boy reading this collection. I'm pretty sure the book was bigger than he was. It was the kind of thing that makes on wish one had a camera phone, until one remembers that taking pictures of other people's children in public places is a good way to get into trouble.

I would've loved to have seen such a picture, but I understand your concern. Fear overwhelms trust in these scary times of ours. I hope that changes in my lifetime.

On a cheerier note, Jonathan Andrew Sheen, known to my board as "Leviathan," posted this:

Shortly after the first Spider-Man movie came out, I was in the action figures aisle of the Super Wal-Mart in Nashua, NH, when I saw an eight or nine-year-old boy, with a serious, studious face, and glasses, pick up the J. Jonah Jameson action figure from a peg. He held it in his hand for a moment, and then, in a *very* credible voice, mock-bellowed "PARKER!" It was all I could do not to high-five the kid on the spot.

There's always good fun and thoughtful conversations to be had on the TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD:

Feel free to stop by anytime.



THWIP! 100

Hearty congratulations to Spider-Fan Supreme IVAN A. MARTIN on the publication of the one-hundredth issue of THWIP!, his digest-sized compendium of all things Spidey. Though Ivan produces this zine for the Marvel Zombie Society Amateur Press Association (MZS-APA, for short), copies are also available at select comics outlets and through the mail. For information on getting a sample issue or this 100-page spectacular, e-mail Ivan at:

THWIP! #100 [$5] kicks off with a George Perez cover and then continues with a selection of mew material and choice reprints from earlier issues. There are interviews with Charles Vess, Frank Cho, and Ron Wagner. There are reviews of new and old Spider-Man comic books. There is a gallery of past THWIP! covers and an overview of past issues. If you love Spider-Man half as much as Ivan does, I think you'll enjoy this fanzine immensely.

THWIP! #100 picks up an impressive four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



The friendly folks at Archie Comics sent me a nice package of their recent comics and digests and I'm going to do my best to read and review all of them.

Archie & Friends 85

Let's start with ARCHIE & FRIENDS #85 [$2.19]. The lead story was originally intended for the suspended ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES, one of the better Archie spin-offs of memory. "The Magic Is Gone" has Archie, Betty, and Veronica trying to track down a perpetrator who has been stealing a magician's props. It's a solidly entertaining script by Paul Castiglia and Barbara Jarvie with equally spiffy art by Fernando Ruiz (pencils) and Rich Koslowski (inks), who draw the other comics stories in the issue as well.

Josie and the Pussycats appear in "Pussycats on the Runway" by Abby Denson. The girl band goes to Paris to be celebrity models, bringing practicality to high fashion. The tale didn't really work for me, but, to put that into perspective, I've never been able to warm up to this feature.

We head back to Riverdale for "Pop's Chock'lit Shoppe Closes Down" by Greg Crosby. This script falls into the "Pop modernizes" sub-genre, which isn't as cliched a sub-genre as you might think. Sometimes the changes work out - even if they are forgotten by the next "Pop Tate" story - and sometimes they don't. Readers should keep an eye out for some bits of business and sight gags within the Ruiz/Koslowski art. They had some additional smiles to the good-but-not-great story.

ARCHIE & FRIENDS #85 receives three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Archie Digest Magazine 210

ARCHIE DIGEST MAGAZINE #210 [$2.39] offers close to a hundred pages of comics fun and feature pages. The topical cover earned a grin from me as did "Pizza Pie Eyed," one of two new stories in the issue. It's yet another "Pop modernizes" tale, this time by writer Mike Pellowski, penciller Dan Parent, and inker Jon D'Agostino, but I liked it quite a bit more than the one which appeared in ARCHIE & FRIENDS #85. The other new story falls into the "Bumbling Archie gets Mr. Lodge angry" sub-genre, which is one of my least favorite Archie themes.

There are some gems among the reprints. "It's Ap-Parent" is a heartwarming look at the relationship between Archie and his mom. "A Class-Y Dresser" is a fun story in the "Veronica goes fashion-mad" vein. "Just a Perfect Friendship" and "The Inflation Problem" are just plain funny. Adding to the smiles are five terrific one-page gags scattered throughout the digest.

ARCHIE DIGEST MAGAZINE #210 picks up another respectable three Tonys for the Riverdale kids.

Tony Tony Tony



This week's TONY POLLS questions were posted yesterday at the usual online ballot box:

We're playing TV DEATHWATCH this week, asking you to pick the television show most likely to be the first to go bye-bye on each of the seven nights of the week.

Since I'm writing today's edition of TOT ridiculously close to deadline, we might as well take a look at the results of the poll questions which ran from August 30 through the early morning hours of September 13.

FREE COMICS BOOK DAY 2005 is in the news as retailers and other comics industry pros discuss when it should be held. If you were voting, which of these dates would you choose?

Saturday, June 18.....64.91%
Saturday, May 7.....35.09%

June 18 is the day after BATMAN BEGINS opens in movie theaters across the country. Though I have long felt FCBD shouldn't be tied to the whims of Hollywood, I voted for this date over May 7, which isn't tied to any movie release.

Why? As with many decisions I make, it was a matter of simple fairness. The past two FCBDs have been tied to Marvel films. We owed the spotlight to DC for a change.


Let's look to 2006 and beyond. When should FREE COMIC BOOK DAY be held in the future?

First Saturday of May.....57.89%
First Saturday after movie opening.....42.11%

I voted the first Saturday of May because I believe the long-term interests of the comics industry are best served by a greater independence from Hollywood.

There are two more sets of TONY POLLS results from last week to go, but I'll be running them later in the week.

As always, thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back Thursday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/10/2004 | 09/14/2004 | 09/16/2004 >>

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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