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

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for Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Cute Animal

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I think that's Latin for "forgive me" with some extra remorse thrown in. I've left you TOT-less for two weeks and feel terrible about it. I never stopped loving you.

What happened was...I hit a wall. I wouldn't call it any kind of writer's block because that's not what it was. There were just so many things going on in the world and in my own life that I felt I should unclinch for a spell, do what I had to do, and take stock of where I wanted to go next.

Surprisingly, given TOT is the polar opposite of "profitable" for World Famous Comics and myself, I never considered ending this online journal. When I thought about TOT, it was in terms of what I could do to make it better and more interesting for myself and my readers. I came up with some ideas and I'll introduce them in the fullness of time.

For now and for the immediate future, we're back to business as usual. I'll do what I do. You'll read it and hopefully be both entertained and informed by it.

When you see stuff you like, let me know and I'll do my best to do more of it. When you don't see stuff you like or stuff that I haven't done that you think you'd like, let me know that as well. I actually have taken and fulfilled requests in the past and see no reason to change that in the future. Some of the ideas I mentioned above fall into this area.

That's the apology and the introduction. Let's see what else I have for you today.



Archie 553

It's winter in Riverdale, but comicdom's most famous teenagers bring their heartwarming antics to ARCHIE #553 [$2.19] in a quartet of mostly seasonal stories drawn by Stan Goldberg (pencils) and Bob Smith (inks).

Archie has an epiphany in Barbara Slate's "The Big Problem." Rather than fret over whether to ask Betty or Veronica to a school dance, the lad volunteers to help out at a retirement home. It's a thoughtful tale with a hilarious ending.

Slate scores a second time when our hero represents Riverdale High at "The Average Awards." Archie isn't certain being average, even an average good citizen, is a good thing and is determined to stand out at the ceremonies. The envelope, please.

Stories by Mike Pellowski and Angelo Decesare add to the fun. The first explores memories triggered by a crackling fire while the latter casts an amnesiac Hiram Lodge - Veronica's dad - in the role of a legendary Christmas figure. No other comics publisher keeps the holidays as well as Archie Comics and even a seasonal issue like this one can be enjoyed year-round.

With four complete stories - wonderfully drawn by Goldberg and Smith - and a pair of special fan pages, this comic represents good value for readers of all ages. On our scale of zero to five - see the handy chart to your right - ARCHIE #553 picks up an impressive four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



Bart Simpson 21

SIMPSONS COMICS PRESENTS BART SIMPSON, as comic-book titles go, does not roll trippingly off the tongue. I suspect it was chosen to make sure Bart's series was shelved next to the monthly SIMPSONS COMICS. We are all slaves to the alphabet.

In issue #21 [Bongo Comics; $2.99], Professor Frink coaches a sad-sack Little League baseball team in "Batter-Up Bart," using his scientific brilliance to bolster the limited skills of his players. Comics fans will get a kick out of writer Tony Digerolamo's "in" jokes as the Springfield L'il Topes face a similarly-enhanced team being coached by Frink's college rival, the dreaded Dr. Colossus. Drawn by Jason Ho (pencils) and Mike Rote (inks), this story is the pick of the issue.

Lisa Simpson solos in "The Three Stages of Teaching," but the short tale (just three pages) is utterly predictable. It's written by Tom Peyer with John Delaney penciling and Howard Shum doing the inking.

Things pick back up in "Cuff It Up" as Bart and his classmates go on a field trip to the Capital City Historical Museum. Even one offense by any of the students will put Principal Skinner and his school on "The List." Let the youthful hijinks begin...courtesy of James Bates (writer), Luis Escobar (penciller), and Patrick Owsley (inker).

Three writers, three art teams, and three complete stories add up to a fine issue of this ongoing spin-off from the main Simpsons title. The tales are kid-friendly, or, at least, as kid-friendly as the Simpsons TV series, but older readers will almost certainly get more out of them. I give it three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



Arlo and Janis

This example of self-referential humor in the comics is Jimmy Johnson's ARLO AND JANIS strip from January 14. Here's what United Media's website says about the cartoonist:

Jimmy Johnson, creator of ARLO AND JANIS, believes cartoon art is greatly underappreciated and that art historians generations hence will look upon him and his peers as the Monets and Gauguins of their time. Mr. Johnson obviously is out of his cotton-picking mind. But he has a knack for drawing funny little pictures, so the folks at United Media tolerate him and keep him around. Mr. Johnson lives in a feverish fantasy world where he sees parrots and palm trees as some kind of solution to practical problems. (Did we mention Gauguin?) So, instead of addressing life's issues like a normal adult, he spends a lot of time and money on an old sailboat he thinks is going to - somehow, someday - magically spirit him away from everything. We told you, he's out of his mind. That's about all there is to say, really. He likes to cook Cajun food. He has a cat named Pirogue. He lives in Pass Christian (pronounced Kristy-ANN) on the Gulf of Mexico, the town made famous and flat by Hurricane Camille in 1969. He haunts the docks there, waving at the shrimp boats like a real lubber and thinking about everything except his responsibilities. He, like everyone in Pass Christian, sweats a lot.

You can read ARLO AND JANIS online here:

I also recommend Johnson's own home page, where he expounds on the noble art of cartooning on a nigh-daily basis:



Golden Age of DC Comics

One of the coolest gifts I received this past Christmas - from one of this column's legion of readers - was THE GOLDEN AGE OF DC COMICS: 365 DAYS [Abrams; $29.95].

Now this is a tome to be reckoned with. Hardcover. Over 725 pages thick. A compact 9-1/2 inches wide by 6-1/2 inches tall. You could kill someone with this book, but you'd have to dispose of the "weapon" afterwards because of all its perfect-for-fingerprints interior pages with those black backgrounds.

I'm just being silly.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF DC COMICS presents an image a day from the publisher's early years. Writer Les Daniels and designer Chip Kidd selected the images from hundreds of comic books. Daniels provided informative text to go with each image while Kidd zeroed in on the core of each image. It's artsy without the fartsy.

To quote Daniels: "Covers may be viewed here only in detail, as if they were Ye Olde Art Treasures, while small panels, often only about the proportions of postage stamps, can be blown up to gigantic size and take on an authority all their own. And the full-page or half-page splashes, which introduced so many classic stories, can stand alone as the distinct if deceptive fantasies they so often were."

In his introduction, Kidd enthuses over the variety found in this book: "Of course all the usual suspects are here, in images we hope will be fresh and unfamiliar, but the real fun is discovering the also-rans, the one-off heroes who were lost to the unforgiving jaws of time and public taste. Or, I should say, the lack of it. Roll call: The King. Captain Desmo. Johnny Everyman. Jerry the Jitterbug. The Red Gaucho. Air Wave. Dale Daring. Steve Malone. Zoro the Mysteryman (yes, one 'r'). The Companions Three. And perhaps most chilling of all...Phoozy."

"Oh, Phoozy."

"Their creators had high hopes for them, too, and we briefly retrieved them from obscurity in an effort to present an all-encompassing picture of what gave the Golden Age its name, and at least a hint of what it must have felt like to be a comics fan at that time. When a dime bought you a brave new world."

I hesitated reviewing THE GOLDEN AGE because I'm reading it a day at a time, taking a moment to open a doorway into comic books from (mostly) before I was born and reveling in both the excitement and strangeness to be found there. The black backgrounds bothered me for a day or two - on his worst day, Gil Grissom would be able to prove I read this book - but there's a part of me that rejoices in owning a book that has clearly been read.

If I have any complaint with THE GOLDEN AGE, it's that credits readily accessible at the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [] were omitted from some pages. Some examples:

January 6: The Flash story shown here was written by Gardner Fox, creator of the character.

January 8: Aquaman art by Louis Cazeneuve.

January 13: Ken Fitch wrote this Hourman story.

January 18: The Dr. Mid-Nite adventure whose splash is shown here was written by Joseph Greene.

Even so, I can't work up a good snit over the omissions. I'm having fun going online and looking up each day's offering. Which is somewhat more productive than playing yet another game of Spider Solitaire to avoid doing any real work.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF DC COMICS: 365 DAYS is a treasure. It gets the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



I receive a *lot* of review copies and, realistically, there's no way I can read/view and review all of them. But what I think I *can* do is write a sentence or two about each item that comes in and post the information on my message board:

At the end of each day, starting today, I'll gather whatever has arrived at Casa Isabella or my post office box, and post that information on my message board. These won't be actual reviews of the items, just the notice that I've received them. If any of you see something you'd like me to write about, let me know and I'll do my best to read and review it as soon as possible.

In addition, whenever I receive 20 review items, I'll throw a "Which of these would you most like Tony to review?" question up on my TONY POLLS page...

...and, after said question has been up for a week or so, I'll read and review the winner. I'm not entirely sure what I'm getting myself into, but it could be fun.



Most every Tuesday from here on in, I'll post new questions on the afore-mentioned TONY POLLS page. Besides the review questions, that is. These other new questions will remain active for a week or two and then be replaced with other questions. As soon as I can manage after a poll is concluded - the plan is to write TOT days in advance of when it posts - I'll bring you the final results of and my comments on those completed polls...starting with these results of questions posted in early January.

Both DC and Marvel have signed many creators to exclusive contracts. Who do you think benefits the most from these exclusive arrangements?


This was a tough choice for me. I've seen contracts work both for and against the creators who, when it comes to this issue, is the only group which concerns me. Untrusting wretch that I am, I settled on the PUBLISHERS benefitting the most from these exclusive arrangements. It's probably a character flaw.

Which isn't to say I feel creators shouldn't enter into such contracts if they feel they would be of benefit to them. They should make sure they know what they are signing - hire a lawyer, kids - and be cognizant of any clauses that might allow the publishers to change the rules in the middle of the game.

Do exclusive contracts make for better comics?

Not sure.....30.17%

I went with the majority of you on this. There are numerous factors that contribute to better comics, but exclusivity has never struck me as one of them.

There have been complaints about the reproduction quality in the GOLDEN AGE OF MARVEL COMICS Masterworks. Assuming reprints of such comics are at least readable, how important is the quality of reproduction in your buying decisions?

Deciding factor.....11.48%
Somewhat important.....27.05%
Mildly important.....12.30%
Not important at all.....4.10%

I went with SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT on this one. Comics printing was rarely a thing of beauty back in the 1940s anyway, so I'm happy to have even imperfect copies of that material. On the other hand, with the advances in computer magic - so called to mask my lack of knowledge of same - it seems to me that the reproduction of these comics could be improved. The question then becomes how much it should be improved. Do we want comics stories that look as good as they did when they were first published...or better?

Thanks to all who voted on these questions. You'll find new questions on the poll page today, but, given that I'm writing this column *before* I come up with the new questions, I haven't a clue what they're about. I hope to surprise myself.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 01/17/2005 | 02/01/2005 | 02/02/2005 >>

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
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Medina, OH 44256

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