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

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for Monday, October 11, 2004

Challengers of the Unknown 60

I'm back. How have you been? I've missed you.

I hadn't originally planned for this column to be on hold for what turned out to be three weeks. I had some family and personal matters - and some non-comics work - which demanded my immediate attention. What I thought would be a few days off turned out to be an extended hiatus. My apologies for that and also for devoting my first new column in a while to catching you up on the ever-exciting world of Tony Isabella.

This is where a sarcastic font would come in handy.

However, before we commence the catching-up, let me tell you about today's symbolic-of-my-return cover. It's from CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN #60 [February-March, 1968], pencilled and inked by Bob Brown, one of my all-time favorite comics artists. Jack Kirby was, of course, the co-creator and original artist of the "living on borrowed time" Challengers, but, heresy though it may be to say this, Brown was *my* Challengers artist. I only saw one issue of Kirby's Challengers before he left the title, so it was the Brown version I grew up with.

"The Thing That Couldn't Die" was the allegedly dead Red Ryan, one of the original four Challengers. He had perished heroically some issues earlier. His kid brother had sworn revenge on the rest of the team and then ended up joining them. I don't remember the details of Red's return, save that it involved a group of villains who called themselves the Challenger Haters. Nothing like staying on message from the get-go.

The story was written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Brown. The back-up was a reprint from Challengers #41: "Two Hours to Die" by Brown and writer Ed Herron. The editor was Murray Boltinoff, one of my favorite editors...for the individual style he brought to the books he edited, for their high quality, and for the kindnesses he showed me as a fan and as a professional. He was one of the good guys and I miss him to this day.

THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines that a near-mint copy of this issue would go for $40. The second edition of THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS pegs it at $20. A check of recent eBay sales shows several copies, including one selling for as low as a buck plus shipping. The most interesting sales were a pair of lots: 29 issues of Challengers (including two copes of #60) going for $29.01; and issues #59-61 (with #60 being listed as near-mint) for #17.25. Broke as I am, I think I would have bid on both of those lots had I seen them.

The rest of today's column will be stuff about me and mine, including what I hope will be my last political commentary until after the election. As someone who lives in a swing state, I know how it feels to be constantly bombarded with politicians and their ads. I think you could use a break from all that and I know that I could. If this move doesn't qualify me for a humanitarian award, I don't know what could.

Let's see what I have for you today.



Comics Buyer's Guide 1598

My longest-running professional association - and one of my most satisfying efforts - has been writing my "Tony's Tips" columns for COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. For decades, CBG was a weekly newspaper. It made the necessary switch to a monthly magazine recently and I came along for the ride.

CBG #1598 [$5.99] weighed in at 244 pages. I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow review, but I did want to mention how much I've been enjoying John Jackson Miller's "Longbox Manifesto" essays and Craig Shutt's "Ask Mr. Silver Age" voyages into comics history. Miller makes good sense issue after issue while Shutt can always be counted on to bring a nostalgic smile to my face. There are many good writers in the pages of CBG - Peter David, Heidi MacDonald, Andrew Smith, and others - but Miller and Shutt are the ones I look forward to the most. Suffice to say, you can get an awful lot of good reading into so many pages.

In addition to my column, which "hosts" the review section of the magazine, I also write reviews and sidebars which run in other sections. I had a dozen-plus such pieces scattered throughout CBG this time around and you can expect a similar presence from me in most future issues.

To tip you off to what's coming:

My "Tony's Tips" column for CBG #1599 reviews all the Julius Schwartz tribute comics published by DC this summer. At the end of the magazine's price guide section, my "Tony's Back Pages" feature will focus on one of the two rarest comics items I own.

In CBG #1600, my column covers the entire first act of Batman: War Games, the three-month-long event running through most of the Batman titles. I'll also be reviewing the second and third act in the months to come, though not in my column.

That issue's "Tony's Back Pages" focuses on the other of the two rarest comics items I own. In addition to my usual reviews and sidebars, I also participated in what I think will be an enjoyable special feature the CBG editors came up with to mark the occasion of CBG's 1600th issue.

I wouldn't recommend CBG if I didn't think it was a terrific publication. However, in the interest of fair disclosure, I must also mention that it's my most dependable freelance account. When you buy CBG, you're putting some money into my pocket as well. You get a fine magazine and I can pay my electric and gas bills. It's a win-win situation.

Check it out already. I'm asking nice.



Essential Iron Fist

Perhaps the most frequently asked question I get is "When will we see some new Tony Isabella-written comic books?" I wish I had a reassuring answer for you.

I can't afford to write comics for back-end money which might never materialize. The relatively few comics publishers offering reasonable payment don't appear to be interested in having me write for them. So, while I would like to write comic books again - and have several concepts for new stories and titles in various stages of production - I don't know when or if any of these will ever see daylight. I'm not thrilled with the reality of this situation, but there it is.

However, some of my 1970s Marvel Comics writing has come back into print in recent months. ESSENTIAL IRON FIST VOL. 1 ($16.99) reprints the three issues of Marvel Premiere I did with penciller Arvell Jones. ESSENTIAL SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP VOL. 1 ($16.99) has the two issues of Super-Villain Team-Up I did with Sal Buscema and other artists. Both should be readily available at better comics shops and bookstores everywhere.

Essential Super Villains

Do I make any money off these reprints? I really don't know, what with having been out of the Marvel freelancer loop for a great many years. Someone from Marvel sent me copies of these enormous collections - for which I thank them - so I expect that, if Marvel does pay reprint money on such volumes, I'll be getting the checks sooner or later.

Don't get me wrong. I think Marvel and all publishers should pay reprint money on such volumes, but it's not a topic I'm going to discuss now or in the near future. At present, it's just kind of cool to see these stories back in print.

Not, mind you, that I've actually reread them.

I'm sort of nervous about that.

If you really want me to talk about those stories, e-mail me and I'll try to accommodate you.



Our last completed TONY POLLS questions asked voters to choose which TV shows would be the first canceled in a little game I like to call TV DEATHWATCH. I'm going to spread out reporting the final tallies over several days, which will afford me the opportunity to comment on the shows I'm watching.

Which of these MONDAY series do you think will be the first canceled?

CSI: Miami LAX.....27.08%
Renovate My Family.....22.92%
Listen Up.....10.42%
The Benefactor.....10.42%
North Shore.....8.33%
Half & Half....4.17%
Second Time Around.....4.17%
Two and a Half Men.....4.17%
Las Vegas.....2.08%
Everybody Loves Raymond.....1.04%
Fear Factor.....1.04%
One on One.....1.04%
Still Standing.....1.04%
7th Heaven.....0%
CSI Miami.....0%
Monday Night Football....0%

The only show I watch regularly on Monday night is CSI: MIAMI. Though lead actor David Caruso's mannerisms can be distracting and even annoying at times, his Lt. Horatio Caine is a decent man and a tireless fighter for justice. He's the kind of hero who does the right thing even when it's not the best thing for him.

Emily Procter, who plays Calleigh Duquesne, might well be my favorite character on the show. I loved her on THE WEST WING, but that series never found good stories for her. I don't want to see a lot of soap opera on CSI: MIAMI - Caine's derailed romance with his brother's widow supplies that in sufficient measure - but more personal time with Calleigh might be fun.

Rory Cochrane left the show in its season premiere when his character - Tim Speedle - was shot to death. There were complaints about his exit in fan circles, mostly centered around his sloth in cleaning his gun leading to his demise. This bad habit had played a role in a previous episode and the fans didn't believe that the character would make the same mistake twice.

I have to disagree. Many - not all - people do repeat their mistakes. Old habits die hard. We think it will be different this time. The excuses we give ourselves and others are numerous. The death of Speedle rang true and that sealed the deal for me. Now, if you want to moan about how he wasn't mentioned in the very next episode, I've got your back.

CSI: MIAMI lives or dies on its cases. I have found enough of them interesting to keep watching. Three shows into the season and counting.

Getting back to our poll question, I picked LISTEN UP as the show most likely to be the first canceled. I almost went with LAX because I don't believe people in general much like airports these days, but I had to go with the Seinfeld curse. I also factored in how much I have hated star Jason Alexander since he beat and tried to rape Julia Roberts in PRETTY WOMAN and how much I always hated every single character on SEINFELD. I know Alexander was playing roles and doing them well enough to elicit these dark emotions from me, but my teeth grind whenever I see him.

Maybe he can turn this around in his next series - after all, who's counting? - by playing a more sympathetic character. Maybe a stay-at-home gay dad who dons a costume and brings down the Bush Family Evil Empire at night. That would work for me.

I didn't vote for any of the "reality" shows because, well, if I want reality, I'll just, I don't know, live my life or something. And if anyone tries to renovate *my* family, I'm gonna go all Jason Alexander on them.

This week's TONY POLLS questions ask you to rate the current DC Comics cartoons - Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and The Batman - and choose your favorite. We're also asking you to pick the hero you would most like to see more of in future episodes of JLU. You can cast your votes at:

I'll have more poll stuff for you tomorrow.



No Bush!

My children and my family are what I care about most in this world. I want them to have a better tomorrow or, at the least, a tomorrow no worse than today. Nothing I've seen in the last four years convinces me that four more years of the Bush administration will result in anything other than a worse tomorrow.

I wish I could focus my remarks here on why I think John Kerry will be a better president than George Bush. I believe he will be, but I already know he won't be as good a president as I would like him to be. He won't be able to pull us out of Iraq without further loss of life or put that country on a proper path of independence as swiftly as I would like. He won't be able to create sufficient new (and good) jobs as quickly as they are needed. He won't have the cash - thanks to Bush's Brobdingnagian deficit - to finance the necessary programs for all those Bush knowingly and willfully left behind. He won't be able to turn the hearts of corporate criminals from their greed to an acceptance of their responsibility to their fellow citizens. He won't be able to turn the hearts of the bigots from their opposition to equal rights for all; he's already failed to fully stand against such opposition. But I believe Kerry is a better man than Bush, a more compassionate, a more decent, a more honest, a more intelligent man than Bush. That's the best we can hope for in this election.

There has been a stink on the Bush administration from before it officially took office. Before the end of this century, history will record that theft of the 2000 election as one of the darkest deeds in American politics. It will condemn Bush for ignoring that his "victory" was tainted. It will denounce him for ignoring the extraordinary circumstances of his ascension to the presidency and proceeding as if he had some mandate for dragging the United States so absurdly and terribly to the extreme right. It will revile him for using the murderous attacks of 9-11 as a club against political opponents and as a heartless means of pursuing his arrogant agenda. History may even wonder why the American people, given proof of his incompetence and lies, did not drive him from the White House long before this election. It has long been my belief that, if half the money and time expended to investigate and prosecute President Bill Clinton were spent on investigating and prosecuting Bush, then Bush and many of his fellows would end up behind bars.

If you have already made up your mind, nothing I say here will convince you how to vote. If you are undecided, as incredible as that seems to me, there are far better and less emotional places to go for all the information you need on why you should vote for John Kerry this November.

Today I speak from my heart.

My children and my family are what's most important to me in this election. I don't want my children to pay, perhaps with their very lives, for Bush's wars. I don't want their freedoms and their futures co-opted for the benefit of the wealthy and the powerful and the ideologically pure. I don't want my parents and my siblings, none of us getting any younger, to be unable to afford health care. I don't want public schools to be underfunded and their curriculums shackled to the narrow viewpoints of the right. I don't want the world of hopelessness and want which is the inevitable consequence of Bush's policies. I want something better.

Maybe it won't be a lot better with John Kerry as President. Maybe it will only be a little better.

It's a start.



Any political commentary you see in TOT from here until after the election will be strictly incidental to reviews of politically- themed comics and related items. There are a few such items in my read/review box. When I review these items, I'll do my level best to concentrate on their artistic and entertainment value instead of their political orientation.

What can you expect in future TOTs? I have more "me, me, me" sharing to do with you, mostly stuff I want to get off my chest and which may or may not be of interest to you.

I have many interesting comics, old and new, to write about, including a huge stack of FREE COMIC BOOK DAY giveaways. I have a couple guest columns in the pipeline. I hope to resume and maybe even complete the MY FIRST MARVELS columns which ran intermittently throughout the summer. Even with a daily column - and I hope I can maintain that insane-but-satisfying schedule - I'm still not sure I can get to all the wondrous things I would like to discuss from this online podium of mine.

So many comic books, so little time.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 09/22/2004 | 10/11/2004 | 10/12/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined.

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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:

Tony's Online Tips
840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

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