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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Sunday, November 21. 2004

Mad 448

When I spotted THE INCREDIBLES on the cover of MAD #448 [EC; $3.50] - my son Eddie's subscription copy - I borrowed the issue to read while waiting to pick up my daughter Kelly from her basketball practice. I share these details with you because my kids love to see their names in my column.

MAD is its usual mixed bag self. I enjoy the expanded readers and miscellaneous section at the front of the magazine, but I don't think I'll ever get used to the advertisements. I keep looking for the jokes in them.

"A Mad Peek Behind the Scenes at the Incredibles Studio" runs three pages and was likely written before writer Matthew A. Cohen saw the movie. Cohen's gags and Jack Syracuse's art are moderately amusing, but not as good as I would have hoped.

Ever since DC took more of an active interest in the magazine, MAD has included material aimed at comics fans. This time out, we get the very funny "Infinite Secret Crisis on All Earthly Worlds" in the miscellaneous section (drawn by Jerry Ordway) and the longer "When Spider-Man Goes Completely International." Using the just-released SPIDER-MAN INDIA as a launching point, the spoof shows us Spider-Man comics from Ireland, France, Bermuda, Netherlands, and China. There are a few laughs here and there, but it's a real long way to go for the jokes.

My picks for the best of the issue:

"15 Minutes of Fame" (witty short poems by Frank Jacobs with art by Sam Sisco);

"Michael Eisner's Powerpoint Presentation For Saving Disney" by writer Desmond Devlin and artist Al Jaffee;

"Monroe and the Reunion" (the first episode of this continuing series by writer Anthony Barbieri and artist Bill Wray I have ever enjoyed);

"The Mad World of School" by writer Stan Sinberg and artist Marc Hempel; and, Lord forgive me,

the it's-funny-but-so-wrong "Socially Redeeming Features Added to Grand Theft Auto San Andreas" by writer Butch D'Ambrosio and a small army of artists.

MAD #448 picks up a respectable three out of five Tonys...and Eddie is guaranteed a renewal of his subscription.

Tony Tony Tony

Let's see what else I have for you today.




I have been working my way through that stack of really thick books I mentioned last week. I'm 900 pages into Jeff Smith's BONE: ONE VOLUME EDITION and the epic adventure is even more amazing the second time around.

I'm several stories into Fantagraphics' B. KRIGSTEIN COMICS. Krigstein's storytelling is so good that I have to read these tales twice. They flow too well for me to appreciate the storytelling on the first reading.

The tome I have finished is AMERICA: THE BOOK [Warner Books; $24.95] by Jon Stewart, Ben Karlin, David Javerbaum, and 16 other writers. My admiration for THE DAILY SHOW is such that I ordered AMERICA as soon as I learned of it, even though I doubted any book could capture the expertly-delivered comedy/satire of the TV show. My doubts vanished before I finished reading the foreword by Thomas Jefferson. Cold print or not, AMERICA has the same voice, the same keen mix of imp and wit, for which Stewart and his "correspondents" have been so rightfully praised.

Disguised as a civics textbook, AMERICA excels at putting the spotlight on the contradictions between our national ideals and the way we have actually behaved through our relatively young history. Yet the raucous humor which powers that spotlight also illuminates a core truth: if we just cut through the ideological crap, we have everything we need to be a country that truly lives up to its most generous and noble aspirations.

No one is safe from AMERICA's comedic marksmanship. From the three branches of government to the media to the citizenry and even to the rest of the world, we all receive our well-deserved pies in the face. The parody wouldn't be nearly so delicious if it didn't sting a little.

The design of AMERICA is superb. The book looks as good as it reads with colorful charts and graphs and pictures. Who knew that political madness could be so pleasing to the eye?

One of America's best national traits is our ability to laugh ourselves no matter how tough the going gets. I think AMERICA: THE BOOK is a terrific holiday gift for our loved ones of all political persuasions. Except maybe the Whigs.

AMERICA receives the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



It's been a slow week for arrivals items at Casa Isabella, so I may actually have a chance of reading and reviewing everything that has shown up. Archie, the Riverdale kids, and some of their distant friends are in the house today.

Betty and Veronica Spectacular 68

BETTY AND VERONICA SPECTACULAR #68 [Archie Comics; $2.19] is written and pencilled by Dan Parent with inking by Joe D'Agostino. "What A Doll!" - the cover story - starts out with a good premise, that of the girls giving each other remote-controlled Archie dolls. It's amusing to watch the waffle-scarred redhead getting jealous of his diminutive doubles and a pleasure to see a quick cameo by the sorely-missed Cheryl Blossom. But Parent's tale runs out of steam and switches gears entirely in its last two pages. It's a shame to see a good premise undone by faulty execution.

Not that he needs to redeem himself - the ending of the lead might have come out of left field, but it was funny - but Parent's other two stories are fun. Rounding out the issue: a fashion page, a fan art page, a good advice column, and "Cheryl Blossom's Redhead Page." Suitable for all ages, BETTY AND VERONICA SPECTACULAR #68 earns a respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Jughead 161

Will Jughead be "Drummed Out" of the Archies in the lead story of JUGHEAD #161 [$2.19]? That's the concern in a character-driven tale by writer Craig Boldman, penciller Rex Lindsey, and inker Rich Koslowski. The amusing episode also features a pivotal appearance by Jughead nemesis Trula Twyst.

Two other Boldman/Lindsey/Koslowski efforts focus on Jughead's relationships with his Riverdale friends, his pet Hot Dog, and Pop Tate. It's a solidly entertaining issue and that earns it four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Sabrina 62

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #62 [$2.19] is the weakest issue to date of writer/penciller Tania Del Rio's manga-inspired run on the title. The slumber party sequence near the front of the issue is promising - Sabrina carelessly reveals too much of her magical life to a non-witch friend and there could/should be some consequences to that down the road - but the story then degenerates into a mass of cliches. Who will ask Sabrina to the dance? How can she choose between two suitors? What happens when she learns her best friend is also interested in one of the two boys? Yawn.

The best I can do for SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #62 is a very disappointing two Tonys.

Tony Tony

Sonic The Hedgehog 142

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #142 [$2.19] is the last issue of the title I'm going to try to read. I have never "gotten" SONIC and I doubt that will change. There are three stories in this issue and each of them reads more like a summary of a story than an actual story. I know SONIC is popular - it's well past the 100-issue mark - but it doesn't engage me on any level. Maybe it's me or maybe it's the comic, but I'll be awarding no Tonys to this issue.

No Tonys

Veronica 156

VERONICA #156 [$2.19] leads off with the too-fanciful tale of Ms. Lodge's fleeting romance with the son of the next president of the United States. That's followed by an average outing in which Archie takes extreme measures to apologize to Ronnie following some spat between them.

However, the gem of the issue is Greg Crosby's "Just a Lonely Little Girl" (art by Dan Parent and Jim Amash). This is a clever, topical tale whose punch line - punch panel? - brought a smile to my face. Thanks to this story, VERONICA #156 receives three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

That's it for the standard comic books in the latest batch of goodies from Archie. Coming up in the next few columns will be my reviews of the four Archie digests also included therein.



Going through files, I found this April e-mail from Dark Horse Comics editor SCOTT ALLIE:

I wrote this e-mail to a friend. It's a question I know I'll be asked a bunch of times this year, and I probably won't say it this succinctly again, so if in any of your various media outlets, you have the need to tell people what the "trick" is to approaching editors at conventions, here's my answer. Keep in mind I wrote this to a fiend, so this is as sympathetic as it gets...

I hate giving out advice about getting work, because I just don't know. There are two things that work on me. Get work published which I notice and which I really like that makes me predisposed to talk to you about your work. Or just meet me in the course of a party through mutual friends or casual circumstances and be cool, don't push the work thing, just mention it. Editors all assume everyone we meet is an aspiring writer or artist, so never think we haven't heard you the first time.

Neither of these are things just anyone can do. You either need great talent in your work or in your social skills. You can't fake either.

It is absolutely impossible for me to read ANYTHING at a show, either in my room or on the floor. I'll peek at artwork, and really that's all it takes for an artist. If you're amazing, even an editor can tell at a glance. If you're not amazing, the competition is pretty fierce.

I know this advice comes too late to help any of you at this year's convention, but feel free to practice your social skills on me at Mid-Ohio-Con. I'll pretend to be an editor for long you sign an agreement absolving me of any physical or psychological damage I do to you in the course of your training.



The Superhero Book

Put another one on the pile of big thick books I hope to read and review before year's end. It's THE SUPERHERO BOOK [Visible Ink Press; $$29.95], edited by Gina Misiroglu with David A. Roach. To crib from the back cover copy:

The first encyclopedic reference work that profiles superheroes from all companies and in all media, THE SUPERHERO BOOK is the ultimate A-Z compendium. Its 300 full entries provide information on more than 1,000 mythic overachievers, covering the best-loved and historically significant heroes in comics, film, television, and works of fiction. THE SUPERHERO BOOK provides more than 150 full-color illustrations, including dozens of classic comic covers. The encyclopedia comprehensively profiles its heroes, detailing their mythology, sidekicks, proteges, villains, love interests, superpowers, weapons, costumes, vulnerabilities, nicknames, and modus operandi - as well as the many twists and turns they've taken in their careers and their changing status in the popular culture. You'll find tons of trivia, never-before-revealed facts and finds, and loads of insider information, written with enthusiasm and insight by a devoted team of comic-book, film, and pop culture experts.

In the interest of accuracy, I must mention Jeff Rovin wrote two noteworthy books about a decade ago: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUPER-HEROES and THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUPER-VILLAINS. These covered some of the same ground that seems to be covered in THE SUPERHERO BOOK, including heroes and villains from fiction, film, and television. If you ever spot the Rovin volumes on eBay or elsewhere, they are definitely worth getting.

That said, THE SUPERHERO BOOK does look like fun. Look for my review of the book before the new year.



We've been playing INTERNET DEATH MATCH at the TONY POLLS page this week, but today is your last chance to weigh in on the issues of the week...

Who has a better website, DC or Marvel Comics? Which is your favorite comics news site, Newsarama or the Pulse? Which is your favorite gossip/news column, All the Rage or Lying in the Gutters? You can cast your votes at:

Sometime after midnight, I'll be posting brand-new questions for your electoral delight. Watch for them!

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with my MID-OHIO-CON "pre-game" report.

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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