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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Monday, October 25, 2004

Underdog 4

Is this a perfect cover for a Monday morning or what? Artist FRANK JOHNSON is, of course, a long-time assistant and collaborator of Mort Walker's and other comic-strip creators. I've enjoyed and seen his work forever, but my online search for more information on him turned up just this:

Frank Johnson was one of Mort Walker's assistants who ghosted on many comics like "Beetle Bailey" and "Hi and Lois." He became particularly identified with the "Boner's Ark" comic, which started in 1968. Johnson pencilled and inked the comic from 1971 to 1982. He has also drawn the "Bringing Up Father" comic for King Features.

My thirty-year-old copy of WHO'S WHO OF AMERICAN COMIC BOOKS [edited by Jerry Bails and Hames Ware] also mentioned his editorial and sports cartoons, advertising art, additional comic-strip work ("Beany" and "Miss Caroline"), and an impressive line-up of comics work for Charlton: Hi & Lois, Heckle & Jeckle, Underdog, Dudley Do-Right, Tiger, Yogi Bear, Little Genius, Little Rascal Twins, and Huckleberry Hound.

The cover shown above is from UNDERDOG #4 [January, 1971] and was part of Charlton's ten-issue run with the character. That run started with the July, 1970-dated issue and ended with the January, 1972-dated issue.

Why don't you all sing Underdog's cartoon theme song while I put together a quick checklist of the canine crusader's comic-book adventures? Here are the words:

When criminals in this world appear
And break the laws that they should fear
And frighten all who see or hear
The cry goes up both far and near
For Underdog! Underdog! Underdog! Underdog!

Speed of lightning, roar of thunder
Fighting all who rob or plunder
Underdog. Underdog!

When in this world the headlines read
Of those whose hearts are filled with greed
Who rob and steal from those who need
To right this wrong with blinding speed
Goes Underdog! Underdog! Underdog! Underdog!

Speed of lightning, roar of thunder
Fighting all who rob or plunder
Underdog. Underdog!

That was lovely...and quite disturbing.

According to THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS, a tome whose weight is exceeded by its usefulness, Gold Key published 23 issues of UNDERDOG from 1975 through February, 1979. Then came Charlton's ten issues.

Small publisher Spotlight published two issues in 1987 while Harvey Comics managed five issues and a summer special in 1993 and 1994. Somewhere between the Charlton run and the Harvey run, there was a special 3-D issue from Blackthorne. I'm sure I read some of these comics, but I don't have any memories of them.

Pretty anti-climactic, huh? I probably should have stopped at the cover. Let's see what else I have for you today.

******

BETTY

Betty 141

BETTY #141 [Archie Comics; $2.19] didn't get off to a very promising start. I guessed the "punch line" of Barbara Slate's "A Night To Remember" - and, for that matter, the entire story - from its first panel. Even the excellent art of penciller Stan Goldberg and inker John Lowe couldn't save the predicable tale.

Slate's "The Good Sport" was somewhat better. Betty is voted to be Riverdale High's "Swan Queen" and Veronica isn't happy about it. Slate touches on an interesting idea when several girls tell Ronnie they voted for her - I'm assuming they either didn't want to hurt Veronica's feelings or were afraid of her wrath - but doesn't go anywhere with it. Ronnie's eventual stab at being generous in defeat is good for a laugh, though.

George Gladir scores twice in the second half of this issue. His "The Mad Hatter's Ball" touches on the funding issues which are of keen concern to educators, parents, and students by having Betty and the gals hold a wacky hat fashion show to raise money for their school and save some threatened activities. It's an amusing story that breaks the mold and sets up a contest in which Archie readers are invited to submit their own "mad hat" designs.

That's followed by the 2004 edition of "Betty Cooper's Book of Riverdale Records," a series of gags connected by the "records" set by Archie and the gang. I laughed out loud at the final gag of the story. Kudos to Gladir.

BETTY #141 is a terrific issue. On our usual scale of zero to five, it earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******


GRIMJACK

Grimjack

You can go home again.

I'm not sure why you would *want* to go home again if home is the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure - "multi-dimensional" can be translated here as "many interesting and painful ways to die" - but you *can* go back. Which is exactly what John Gaunt, writer John Ostrander, artist Timothy Truman, and editor Mike Gold are doing in GRIMJACK: KILLER INSTINCT #1 from IDW Publishing. The issue will be solicited in November and ship in January.

There are five reasons I'm excited about this.

1. John Gaunt was one of the truly outstanding characters of the 1980s. Gladiator, mercenary, policeman, assassin, just plain toughest guy in town...and that's saying something when Cynosure is the town. Ostrander and Truman created a hero and a locale which would allow them to do just about any kind of story a reader could imagine. For its eighty-something-issue run, GRIMJACK was always worth reading and often exceptional.

2. John Ostrander is one of the best writers in comics. His SUICIDE SQUAD for DC was better than most of their super-hero team books throughout its run.

3. Timothy Truman, himself a talented writer, is one of the best artists in comics. No one draws down-and-dirty better than he does. I'm so psyched that we're going to be seeing his artwork on a regular basis again.

4. Mike Gold is one of the best editors in comics. He was a key element in the early success of First Comics and helmed great comic books at DC. On a personal note, he was a major backer of my second Black Lightning series in the 1990s and is someone I'm very proud to call a friend and not just for his comics work. Gold is also a tireless soldier for creator and progressive causes.

5. The biggest reason that I'm excited about GRIMJACK: KILLER INSTINCT is...because I've already read the first issue. It opens sometime after Gaunt's time as a gladiator, goes full speed ahead into a former rival's mad attempt to conquer Cynosure, leads into the next phase of Gaunt's life, and ends with a edge-of-your-seat action sequence and a thrilling cliffhanger. It's 22 pages of darn near not-stop action that doesn't stint on characterization even as it barrels to that last page.

Comics this good make me go "Wow!"

GRIMJACK: KILLER INSTINCT #1 gets the full five Tonys. Order it in November; I don't think it will stay on the shelves long when it hits the comics stores in January.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******


TV DEATHWATCH

A few weeks back, we ran TONY POLLS questions asking voters to choose the television shows they thought would be the first to get the axe on each day of the week. Some cancellations (and also some likely cancellations) were reported by Mark Berman in his always-informative THE PROGRAMMING INSIDER:

www.mediaweek.com/mediaweek/columns/prog_insider.jsp

Let's see how the TONY POLLS voters did:

THE BENEFACTOR (Monday) has been canceled. It came in third on our poll with 10.42% of the votes. First place went to LAX with 27.08% and that show is being moved to Wednesday. North Shore came in fifth with 8.33% of the votes and that series is being moved to Thursday nights.

HAWAII (Wednesday) is going "on hiatus" and we all know what that really means in TV talk. With 18.48% of your votes, HAWAII came in second to WIFE SWAP (22.83%), which Berman says has a good shot at a full season order. Second-place CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE (17.39%) hasn't premiered while fifth-place METHOD & RED (7.61%) is also "on hiatus."

COMMANDO NANNY (Friday) was canceled before it aired, just as I predicted. Receiving 48.94% of your votes, it was first in the Friday poll. Berman reports the cancellation clock is ticking for COMPLETE SAVAGES (third place; 8.51%) and that the axe is expected to swing on DR. VEGAS (second place; 11.70%) by mid-season.

The cancellation clock is also ticking for FATHER OF THE PRIDE (Tuesday). Our poll picked as the most likely first casualty with 41.94% of the vote. Another good call.

Don't get cocky, though. You also picked DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES as the most likely Sunday failure. It's now considered the biggest hit among the season's new shows.

I'll keep watching for more cancellations.

******


TONY'S MAILBOX

The SMALLVILLE questions which ran on our TONY POLLS page last week brought this note from JOHN PETTY:

I enjoyed the SMALLVILLE poll questions. My wife and I have been watching this show regularly since its debut, so I feel pretty well-versed in Smallville lore.

In answer to your question about what other DC characters I'd like to see on the series, I opted for the write-in option. Your list of choices, admirable as it was, failed to include my favorite character...the World's Greatest Escape Artist...MISTER MIRACLE. Think about it: Scott Free, fresh from the Boom Tube after fleeing from Apokolips and escaping from Darkseid's clutches, ends up in Smallville where he's found by Clark Kent. Between Clark's powers and Scott's knowledge of Apokoliptian gadgets and devices and his escape artistry, it would certainly be an action-packed episode. Maybe Darkseid - or better yet, Granny Goodness - isn't quite ready to let young Scott go, and sends a troop of parademons after him. it would be a change from SMALLVILLE's reliance on the "kryptonite freak of the week." After Scott leaves, he meets Thaddeus Brown and Oberon and takes on the mantle of Mister Miracle...which ties in nicely to Jack Kirby's MISTER MIRACLE #1.

Also, does it bother anyone but me that Lana's new boyfriend is about one step away from being a child molester? I mean, he's the Assistant Coach at Lana's high school, fer cryin' out loud! In any other town, this would be grounds for a very quick firing, if not a firing squad.

Is this really the message the creators of an otherwise fine show want to send to their audience, that's it's "cool" to have an affair with a teacher? Who in their right minds thought this was a good idea?

Lana going to Paris for the summer: fine. Lana meeting a new boyfriend: fine. New boyfriend declaring his undying love for Lana and following her back to Smallville: fine (soap opera trash, but fine). Boyfriend getting job as a teacher in Lana's school, rather than elsewhere in Smallville or in Metropolis: not fine.

This is all beside the fact that I find Jason Teague to be one of the most uninteresting, one-dimensional characters ever to burn up cathode rays. He strikes me as a guy written by a lovesick woman who has read too many Harlequin romances. His whole shtick seems to revolve around being a "sensitive guy," who is just there to stir things up between Lana and Clark. The problem is, he's just insipid and boring. Definitely a one-note character. At least the last time Lana got the hots for another guy (Adam Knight), he was interesting in his own right. Jason is even worse than Whitney was and that's saying a lot.

I really hope this season isn't the one in which SMALLVILLE "jumps the shark." Judy and I have been enjoying the show, but it's starting to push the boundaries, and not in a good way.

I'm looking forward to seeing you at MID-OHIO-CON. That really has become my favorite show of the year, and I'm even bringing my wife to this one. It'll be a fun weekend.

According to TV GUIDE, this week's episode of SMALLVILLE has Clark and Lionel Luthor switching bodies. I'm withholding my final judgment until I actually view the episode, but I think I can hear the sharks smacking their lips already.

Thanks for working today's MID-OHIO-CON plug into your letter. All I have to do now is direct people to...

www.midohiocon.com

...for all the latest news and information of the best little comics convention in the country.

I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 10/24/2004 | 10/25/2004 | 10/26/2004 >>

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THE "TONY" SCALE

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.

Tony
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.

TonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTony
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.

TonyTonyTonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
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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