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

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for Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Christopher Reeve

We have lost an American hero.

Christopher Reeve became part of our world, the world of comic books, by starring in four Superman movies in the 1970s and 1980s. He returned to our world in reason years as the enigmatic Dr. Swann in two memorable episodes of SMALLVILLE.

He became a hero when he turned personal tragedy - the riding accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down - into public service. He became, as the Associated Press put it, "the nation's most recognizable spokesman for spinal cord research."

With his wife, Reeve formed the CHRISTOPHER REEVE PARALYSIS FOUNDATION, advocated for the stem cell research which holds such great promise for the treatment of paralysis, Alzheimer's Disease, and other ills. As reported by the AP, Reeve also lobbied Congress for better insurance protection against catastrophic injury and moved an Academy Award audience to tears with a call for more films about social issues.

Still Me

After his accident, Reeve returned to acting and directing in television, proof positive of the amazing things the human spirit can accomplish even in the most limiting circumstances. He wrote two books: STILL ME (1998) and NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE: REFLECTIONS ON A NEW LIFE (2002).

Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life

Reeve's courage and his love for his family are the things I remember most about him. His deadline to walk by his 50th birthday passed without his meeting that goal, but he continued to reach for that victory and others. One such goal was to be able to hug his 11-year-old son Will. I'd like to believe that, given more time, he would have achieved those goals and far more.

Reeve went into cardiac arrest on Saturday at his home in New York, then fell into a coma. He died on Sunday, surrounded by his family. He was 52 years old.

In honor of Christopher Reeve, an American hero and a part of our world, I urge you to continue his work through donations to the CHRISTOPHER REEVE PARALYSIS FOUNDATION:

Every man can be a Superman. That's the lesson Reeve leaves behind for all of us.



Batman: War Drums

If you prefer to read your Batman comics in collected form, be sure to pick up BATMAN: WAR DRUMS [DC Comics; $17.95] prior to the 2005 bookstore releases of BATMAN: WAR GAMES ACTS 1-3. The stories featured in this trade paperback will lead you nicely into BATMAN: THE 12-CENT ADVENTURE prequel to WAR GAMES and the three-month-long event itself.

The book opens with a "what has gone before" introduction and a cast of characters. "Scarification" by writer Andersen Gabrych picks up after BATMAN: HUSH, a storyline which evidently took quite a physical and psychological toll on Bruce Wayne. That may be slim justification for some of Batman's actions in these stories, but it is, at least, an attempt. Gabrych needed a stronger editorial hand in his stories (from DETECTIVE COMICS #790-796), but, for the most part, I enjoyed his writing. I appreciated this first tale for its rare look at the Batman exhibiting non-psychotic emotions, namely the grief he still carries from the murder of Jason Todd.

"The Surrogate" is a dark and powerful tale which finds Batman and Leslie Tompkins trying to protect a pregnant teenager and her unborn child. This is noir without the cliches other recent Batman writers have utilized in their failed attempts.

Leaping into the horror and monster genres, "Monsters of Rot" is not nearly as successful...though it does use the story to move along some plot elements which are pivotal to the WAR GAMES event. In "Polished Stone," those elements are further developed. Both of the serial are readable, but not remarkable.

That brings us to the Bill Willingham-written ROBIN #126-128 where Batman replaces Tim Drake as Robin with Stephanie Brown, also known as Spoiler. Tim's resignation came as a result of a promise he made to his father. Batman didn't take it well. Poor Stephanie gets caught in the middle. It's a fresh take on super-hero family dysfunction which crossed over into DETECTIVE #796. It also goes a long way towards making better sense of the actions and emotions which triggered WAR GAMES.

The art ranges from good to exceptional in some of the tales, though the contrast between penciller Pete Woods (whose DETECTIVE COMICS stories show a Neal Adams influence) and Daimon Scott (who brings a manga-inspired look to ROBIN) is a bit shocking to behold. I favor the Woods treatment, but I can't really find fault in what Scott or "Polished Stones" penciller Brad Walker did.

On our usual scale of zero to five, I give BATMAN: WAR DRUMS a respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



I read and reviewed the first act of BATMAN: WAR GAMES for the "Tony's Tips" column which will run in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1600. I'll be reviewing the remaining two acts here and in the back pages of CBG. Alert the media.

What I did with those CBG reviews - which you will eventually be able to read online - was to read and review each issue of WAR GAMES before moving on to the next. That's going to be the battle plan for the succeeding issues as well, commencing with DETECTIVE COMICS #798 [$2.95] by writer Gabrych, penciller Woods, and inker Cam Smith.

"Undertow" kicks off the second act of WAR GAMES. A gathering of Gotham gangsters has ended in a shootout and started a city-wide turf war. No rules apply; even the families of the gangsters have been targeted and a schoolmate of Tim (Robin) Drake's is one of the earliest fatalities.

Gabrych does a good job recapping the story to date, touching on the chaos and fear which grips the city plus the exhaustion and frustration which is taking its toll on Batman and his allies. By the end of this chapter, one such ally must make a tough decision, a decision which may lead to dire consequences.

Backing up the lead is "Low: Part Two" in which Poison Ivy and the Riddler have a not-so-friendly conversation. Written by Shane McCarthy, the story evidently spins out of BATMAN: HUSH, but offers precious little info as to what happened in the earlier tale. The Tommy Castillo/Rodney Ramos art, combined with Tony Avina's superb coloring, is absolutely gorgeous, but, beyond the visuals, there's not much going on here.

DETECTIVE COMICS #798 earns three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 183

BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #183 [$2.50] is written by A.J. Lieberman with art by Brad Walker and Troy Nixey. You should always be aware that reviews may contain SPOILERS, but, in the case of this review, I think an additional WARNING is in order. You've been warned.

After starting well, WAR GAMES slows down with this issue. In Lieberman's "Philosophical Differences," the talking doesn't leave room for much action. A disguised Batman knocks around and chats up a few hoods for precious little intel. Catwoman takes Spoiler out of the game as painlessly as possible to keep the distraught teen - she thinks she started this gang war - from doing anything dumb. Former police commissioner Gordon offers his help to his successor and lectures Batman. Robin rejoins the team, but it's not a Kodak moment for anyone. Batman swings off in search of one of Gotham's remaining bosses, but the mystery man we've glimpsed in previous chapters gets there first. Maybe Spoiler isn't to blame, after all.

Things do happen in this WAR GAMES chapter, but they happen so quietly the sense of urgency which marked the event's more exciting issues is lost. When comic-book readers must buy 25 comic books to read a story, they deserve much more bang for their bucks in each and every issue of the event.

This disappointing comic only rates one Tony.




A while back, I asked TONY POLLS voters to play TV DEATHWATCH and pick the shows they thought would be the first canceled in this new season. Here are the TUESDAY results:

Trading Spouses.....13.98%
The Next Great Champ.....6.45%
Veronica Mars.....4.30%
The Billionaire.....3.23%
The Contender.....2.15%
All of Us.....1.08%
George Lopez.....1.08%
Judging Amy.....1.08%
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.....1.08%
According to Jim.....0%
Gilmore Girls.....0%
My Wife and Kids.....0%
One Tree Hill.....0%

Since the set-up of our poll pages limits us to no more than 20 choices, I didn't include NYPD BLUE on the list. I figured that there was no way the show would be canceled before airing its final 20 episodes.

My choice for the first canceled was FATHER OF THE PRIDE. My reason was: I saw it. The pilot episode was the first or close to the first new show to air this season. I thought that I'd seen the worst sophomoric sexual humor TV had to offer; I was proven wrong in darn near record time. Points to John Goodman for giving a good voice performance, but, as much as I like Goodman and respect his talent, I never watched a second episode of this bomb.

What am I watching on Tuesday this season?

NYPD BLUE is must-see TV. The new season got off to a great start with Andy Sipowitz (Dennis Franz) butting craniums with the squad's new boss and John Clark (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) heading down a pretty dark path. The new boss is a micro-managing incompetent and, while I first thought he might have some good points, I'm now thinking he's there for less-than-kosher reasons. Adding to Andy's posterior pains, someone is harassing him with threats, dead rats, slashed tires, and worse. Adding to the tension in the squad, new detective Laura Martin (Bonnie Somerville) has a style that doesn't mesh well with that of Rita Ortiz (Jacqueline Obradors). I liked the first two episodes a lot. If the season offers meaty stories for PAA John Irwin and detectives Baldwin Jones and Greg Medavoy, and allows Sipowicz to go out on a happy note and on his own terms, I'll be a satisfied viewer.

New series VERONICA MARS is a hit with me as well. She's the teenage daughter of the city's former sheriff, driven from office for investigating the town's most prominent citizen in the murder of that citizen's daughter. Veronica was the dead girl's friend, and the dead girl's brother's girlfriend. In the aftermath of the case - and the suspicious arrest of a vagrant in the crime - she's gone from being one of the cool kids to being an outcast. Now she helps her private detective dad in his work and also comes through for some of the town's other outcasts. There have been comparisons to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and, while they're not entirely unfair, I think VERONICA MARS is more original than not. The key here will be if the series can wrap up the murder story without dragging it out...and then find equally interesting tales to tell once that has been accomplished.

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT is an occasional show for me. I watch it when I have nothing more pressing to do or when I don't have the energy to do anything else. It's a decent show, one I enjoy, but it's not a must-watch for me.

Look for more TV DEATHWATCH tomorrow. In the meantime, why not vote on this week's TONY POLLS questions at the usual online ballot box:

These new questions all concern the DC-inspired cartoons which are currently airing on Cartoon Network and Kids WB: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, TEEN TITANS, and THE BATMAN. The questions will remain open for voting until sometime after midnight on Monday.

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

Tony Isabella

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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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