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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Thursday, October 28, 2004

Wilbur 37

It was laugh at first sight when TOM STEWART sent me the above cover. In his explanatory e-mail, he wrote:

I purchased a huge collection of about a thousand old humor comics from the 40's-60's, including a bunch of weird Timely humor comics. Krazy Krow, anybody? two solid days of sorting is not what I'm writing you about. In the pile was this issue of WILBUR from the early 50's. Wilbur was kind of sort of the standby for Archie. In case the boy from Riverdale couldn't fulfill his duties, Wilbur was waiting in the wings with his look-alike cast and art. But I just had to send you this cover.

I'm sure there was nothing untoward meant by this gag, but you have to wonder how Wertham missed this?

WILBUR #37 was dated June, 1951. As Tom points out, the kid was an Archie imitator. Archie's success spawned dozens of similar teen heroes. Even his own publisher (MLJ) tried to duplicate their winning formula in books like WILBUR and, two decades later, THAT WILKIN BOY. My knowledge of WILBUR is virtually non-existent, but I was able to turn to THE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS for more information:

This title bears more than a striking resemblance to Archie, another teen-age comics sensation from Archie Comics. The title character is a perpetual teen, good-natured and slightly girl-crazy. Laurie Lake is the popular blonde who can wrap him around her little finger with a single kiss. Even so, Wilbur wouldn't mind so much, if he wasn't always sparring for her affections with Slats, his worst enemy. The two often play pranks on each other, but, whenever anything truly mean is planned, it inevitably backfires. Probably the high point of the series is [issue] #3's introduction of comics favorite Katy Keene, who went on to appear frequently in the following issues.

The humor comic book kicked off in 1944 and proved remarkably popular, running 15 years before its conclusion. Even then, it was revived for an encore briefly in 1963.

THE STANDARD CATALOG is a mind-staggeringly useful tome, over 1400 pages of issue and pricing information. Its third edition is coming out any day now. I got the above material from the second edition, which opines that a near-mint condition copy of WILBUR #37 would likely cost its purchaser a very reasonable $24.

The 34th edition of the OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE pegs it at $65, which, to my mind, is still not an outrageous price for a comic book that's over half a century old. A check of eBay found a recently completed sale of a very good condition copy of the issue for $12.38 on three bids.

WILBUR is no stranger to eBay. I spotted over a dozen issues in lesser grades, many of them selling for under ten bucks and some of them not getting any bids whatsoever. I'm currently bidding on this one:

Wilbur 44

Ah, the insensitivity of youth. While Wilbur's bespectacled buddy shares a profound personal revelation, all "America's Son of Fun" can think of his own libido.

"America's Son of Fun."

Is that not one of the *best* comic-book slogans in the entire history of comic books?

Enough WILBUR. Let's see what else I have for you in today's exciting voyage to the bottom of my desk.



Walking Tall

I pay a monthly fee for my membership in a Blockbuster Video "club" that allows me to rent two movies at a time and keep them as long as I like. This plan is only cost-effective if my family and I rent lots of movies. Usually my family more than holds up their end of this equation, but, occasionally, it falls upon yours truly to rent something - anything! - and this has lead to some extremely unfortunate cinema choices.

WALKING TALL [2004] is the remake of the 1973 film of the same name and, like it, it is allegedly based on the real-life exploits of the late Sheriff Buford Pusser. It stars a rock, excuse me, it stars *the* Rock as Chris Vaughn, a soldier who returns to his home town in rural Washington State to find the town's prosperous lumber mill has been shut down by his high-school rival, who is currently running a gambling casino and pretty much all criminal enterprise in the area. It's exactly like Pusser's life except that the hero has a different name, lives in a different state, and gets to do it with the Huntress. Other than that, and, by the way, *everything* else, this movie could have been torn from the newspaper headlines in Pusser's native Tennessee.

I mean no disrespect to the memory of the real Buford Pusser. By all accounts, he was a good man. He was a soldier, a wrestler, and then a sheriff for six years. He went up against vicious criminals and acquitted himself well. His wife was killed and he himself was seriously wounded in an ambush. After that, though he retired from law enforcement, he continued to serve the public in a variety of ways. His daughter maintains the "official" Buford Pusser website [] and you can learn more about the gentleman there.

WALKING TALL - the new version - runs just under an hour-and-a-half and defies the laws of time and space by seeming to run at least twice as long. It owes far more to Hollywood's typical and cliched "action-revenge" genre than it does to Pusser's life story and it lacks even the semblance of logic.

Example: Why shut down the lumber mill? Its workers were all making good money, some of which would have certainly found its way into the pockets of the casino owner through means both legitimate and illegitimate.

Example: The Rock is beaten to a pulp by casino goons, which doesn't seem to bother him overmuch. But when he learns his nephew has gotten crystal meth from those goons, he takes apart the goons and the casino with a two-by-four. This is after he decides to run for sheriff against the casino owner's man.

At his trial, the Rock admits his guilt and then, in lieu of a closing argument, gives a campaign speech. He asks the jury to ignore the law, ignore his admitted criminal actions, acquit him, and elect him sheriff. Bob Ingersoll (of "The Law Is A Ass" fame) tells me this is called "jury nullification" and adds that no judge would have allowed the Rock to continue in that vein once the tenor of the closing argument became clear.

One scene later, Sheriff The Rock takes office and fires all of the old sheriff's deputies. He then hires Johnny Knoxville as a deputy, this despite Knoxville's character having served time in prison for a drug felony. In fairness to the movie's writers, I'm not certain Washington state law prohibits the hiring of felons for such a job - and the writers do include a line indicating the Rock has pulled some strings to make this happen - but it stretches my willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

Don't even get me started on the ex-sheriff and his deputies firing about a million bullets into the sheriff's headquarters and managing only to kill a drug dealer and then get themselves killed real good. The Rock can't act, but he's ten feet tall and as broad as a tank. How could they miss him?

WALKING TALL screams "small potatoes" at every juncture. The casino never seems large enough to be the moneymaker we're supposed to believe that it is. Except for some key scenes, there are never enough extras to make the town real. Maybe the movie's producers lost the budget at the casino or something.

Acting? Johnny Knoxville is fun to watch and gives the only good performance. Ashley Scott is nice to look at, but she gets nothing from the script or from her leading man. The hero's family members give passable performances, but the villains overact as if their only sustenance was the scenery. Maybe the producers gambled away the food services budget as well.

To sum up: WALKING TALL is not a good movie. The Rock is not a good actor. Johnny Knoxville amuses me. Ashley Scott is pretty. Guns do kill people, but a good two-by-four can put them in a world of pain. Lumber good. Drugs bad.

This movie gets no Tonys from me.

No Tonys



The Wicked West

The high concept of THE WICKED WEST [Image; $9.95] is summed up in a single paragraph on the website of its creators:

Imagine the Outlaw Josey Wales riding into Salem's Lot. That'll get you to the core of THE WICKED WEST. 1870: the Texas frontier town of Javer's Tanks. Cotton Coleridge is a man running from his past. And being new in town, he's the one locals blame when folks start dyin' mysteriously. By the time the truth gets out, half the town has died - and come back. Cotton's quick with a gun, but guns don''t work on vampires!

What that paragraph doesn't do is convey the skill with which writers Todd Livingston and Robert Tinnell, and artist Neil Vokes, turn that high concept into an exciting and poignant graphic album. Haunted hero Cotton Coleridge immediately captures my interest when he comes to Javer's Tanks seeking a job as...a school teacher. Did not see that one coming at all.

The events of 1870 are interrupted from time to time to show us a man and his grandson viewing the movie version of those events in 1932. The connection between the "reality" and the movie also has a bit of a surprise to it.

Like the creative team's earlier album, THE BLACK FOREST, this old west chiller would make a wonderful Saturday afternoon movie. It has the heady scent of real buttered popcorn, sticky candy, and Lord-knows-what crunching under your feet. It's not as "wholesome" (innocuous) as the horror movies of my youth, but neither does it use gore or sex frivolously. I'd have no problem characterizing it as fun for the entire family, although, in the case of my family, Sainted Wife Barb would be a big chicken about it.

Digression. My review of THE BLACK FOREST ran in the August 28 installment of this column, which you can read at:

THE WICKED WEST is even better than the earlier book. It gets the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Postscript. There's a "1" on the spine of this graphic album and a "Vol. 1" in the indicia. I hope that means we'll be seeing the further adventures of Cotton Coleridge.



Two more cancellations to announce.

The WB has officially axed GROUNDED FOR LIFE, which has been airing on Fridays. There will only be 13 new episodes this season. In our TONY POLLS of September, none of the voters picked GROUNDED as the most likely Friday series to be the first cut. The "winner" for that night was COMMANDO NANNY (48.94% of the vote), which was canceled before it debuted.

As for the other new Friday shows, Mark Berman of PROGRAMMING INSIDER says the cancellation clock is ticking for COMPLETE SAVAGES (third place; 8.51%) and the axe is expected to swing on DR. VEGAS (second place; 11.70%) by mid-season.

MEDICAL INVESTIGATION (2.13% of your votes) got good news. It has been picked up for the full season.

Tru Calling We turn to Thursday for the second cancellation. The stars of TRU CALLING, which was to have started its second season later in the fall, have announced that the show has been given the boot with only six new episodes in the can. In our poll, you picked the show as the fifth most likely to be the first canceled with 6.67% of your votes. There is no word yet as to when or even if the completed new episodes of TRU CALLING will be aired.

Berman reported on the new Thursday shows also. BLUE COLLAR TV [fourth-place; 10% of your votes] received a full season order. DREW CAREY'S GREEN SCREEN SHOW [first-place; 40%] has a 50/50 shot of getting the green light for more episodes. LIFE AS WE KNOW IT [second-place; 18.89%] is unlikely to survive past the mid-season. Vulture-like, I'll keep watching Berman's column and other sources for further fatalities.

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.

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