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for Friday, August 19, 2005

Batman 135

Let's check in with "The Second Batman and Robin Team" again, even though their second appearance didn't make the cover of BATMAN #135 [October, 1960]. The GRAND COMICS DATABASE [] credits the cover to Sheldon Moldoff (pencils) with a less definite inking attribution of Moldoff, Dick Dillin, or some combination of the two artists.

In the context of the stories themselves, these "second team" tales were written by Alfred Pennyworth, speculating on the futures of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Bill Finger wrote the first one, which ran in Batman #131 [April, 1960], and, though the GCD has no writer's credit for this, it's a fair assumption that Finger wrote this one as well. Check out the August 11 edition of this column for a summary of Alfred's first literary effort.

The art on "The Return of the Second Batman and Robin Team" is credited to Moldoff (pencils/inks) and Batman co-creator Bob Kane (pencils). Here's a brief summary of the story, lifted from MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS []:

Alfred writes another story about the second Batman and Robin team. In his story, Batman has gone with Kathy Kane, the former Batwoman, to the country to enjoy their retirement. Dick Grayson and Bruce's son carry on the Batman tradition as Batman and Robin II. An old foe of Batman's, John Crandall, is released from prison. Vowing revenge against his old enemy, Crandall tries to destroy anything that is a monument to Batman. The new Batman and Robin try to stop him, but they are captured. The original Batman learns about Crandall and arrives to save his son and former partner by capturing Crandall.

BATMAN featured several more "second team" tales before editor Julius Schwartz ushered in the "new look" in 1964. I'll get around to all of them in the next few weeks.

There were two other Batman stories in this issue. "Crimes of the Wheel" was written by Finger with art by Moldoff (pencils) and Charles Paris (inks).

The Wheel is Frank "Wheels" Foster, just one more of the long line of "specialist" villains with whom Batman and Robin contended during the 1960s.

Here's what Michael L. Fleisher had to say about him in his 1976 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMIC BOOK HEROES VOLUME 1: BATMAN:

The proprietor of a restaurant, secretly a front for illegal gambling den, who is sent to prison by Batman and Robin, only to escape soon afterward when a laundry trunk careens wildly out of control in the prison yard as the result of a blowout and smashes down the prison gate. "A wheel was responsible for freeing me," thinks Foster exultantly, "so it must be an omen of my future! I'll organize a gang and use wheels for crimes!" Foster adopts a colorful yellow and orange costume with wheel insignia emblazoned on his chest and cape, recruits a gang of underworld followers, and launches a wave of spectacular "wheel crimes" characterized by the use of wheels to facilitate both the crimes themselves and the subsequent escapes. Despite a series of initial reverses, Batman and Robin finally apprehend Foster and his henchmen.

"The Menace of the Sky Creature" - the cover story - was also drawn by the Moldoff-Paris team, but the GCD has no writer's credit for it at the present time. This is another standard Batman plot: criminals gain control of an unearthly creature and use its powers for crimes. This genii-like monster can be summoned by the holder of an ancient magic lantern. When Robin smashes the lantern with a stone, the creature disappears forever and its criminal masters are apprehended.

I would have been eight-and-a-half years old when I first read and enjoyed this issue of BATMAN. Costumed crooks like the Wheel fascinated me; I even dreamed up a few myself, most notable among them the "Card King." He used trading cards and the gum that came with them to commit his crimes.

Alfred writing stories also resonated with me. I had started writing stories as soon as I could write at all, which, in my case, was between the ages of four and five. I can't recall if I wanted to be a writer at that point - I might have been holding out for a career as a baseball player - but I had learned to impress adults with my literary skills. Came in handy.

We'll be visiting again with the second Batman and Robin team, but, for now, let's consider more recent comics.



Guru Guru

Satomi Ikezawa's GURU GURU PON-CHAN [Del Rey; $10.95] is just a wee bit disturbing. Its heroine is Ponta, a Labrador retriever puppy, is in love with Mirai Iwaki, the most popular boy in school. What makes this disturbing is that, when Ponta nibbles on a special bone, she turns into a human girl and tries to win Mirai's heart. Where's Rick Santorum when you need him?

Okay, scratch that. I can't think of a single case in which a reasoning thinking creature would need Rick Santorum. Unless, of course, there's a special bone out there that could turn Santorum into a human being. But I digress.

GURU GURU is amusing in its disturbing way. Ponta has energy to spare as a puppy and that carries over into her human persona. It's fun watching her owners deal with her antics and her secret. It's kind of sweet "eavesdropping" as her animal friends give her advice on her "romance." As you can imagine, her transformations to her natural form - which happens when the effects of her nibbles wear off - also brought laughs. I smiled frequently as I read this first volume and that's a good thing.

These opening chapters of Ikezawa's story were translated and adapted by Douglas Varenas. Besides the comics, the book contains information on Japanese honorifics and helpful translation notes. On our usual scale of zero to five, GURU GURU PON-CHAN picks up a respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

GURU GURU PON-CHAN #1: 196 pages, black-and-white.



Dr. Blink

If you're not already reading DR. BLINK: SUPERHERO SHRINK by John Kovalic and Christopher Jones, you should be. In this second issue [Dork Storm; $3.49], they focus on the life of a former "boy wonder"...from the start of his career to his scandal-ridden post-hero years to a less-than-stellar appearance at a thinly-disguised Comic-Con International to his current dead-end job and, finally, to a pair of fateful decisions. The humor may be bittersweet, but it's there...especially in a sub-plot involving Blink's feelings of jealousy over another psychiatrist's rise to fame. This story has a lot going for it.

DR. BLINK: SUPERHERO SHRINK #2 also features three single-page "Ultra-Gal" strips by Alex Robinson. These are a great deal of fun and all the more reason for me to award this terrific comic book four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

DR. BLINK: SUPERHERO SHRINK #2: 36 pages, color.



G.I. Spy 1

Writer Andrew Cosby and artist Matt Haley combine action and comedy in G.I. SPY #1 [BOOM; $3.99]. Set prior to the USA's entry into World War II, it introduces us to Jack Shepherd, who is a not-terribly-competent counter intelligence agent charged with finding Nazi super-weapons. "Counter intelligence" takes on a new meaning when their boy Jack's around.

Reviewing this debut issue, I keep coming around to the word "fun" on account of that's what leaps from its pages. The bargain-basement James Bond gimmicks. The 50-50 odds that Jack will screw up his next move. Jack's gorgeous partner. The clunky Nazi super-weapons. It's all good and highly entertaining.

With amusing scripting by Cosby and rock-solid art by Haley, G.I. SPY #1 earns a promising three Tonys. I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Tony Tony Tony

G.I. SPY #1: 28 pages, color.



Snakes Eyes Declassified 1


G.I. Joe has always had a large cast of characters. So, when one of them rises to the forefront of that cast and remains popular for many years, that's a character well worth paying attention to. The enigmatic Snake Eyes is one such character.

G.I. JOE: SNAKE EYES DECLASSIFIED #1 of 6 [Devil's Due; $2.95] is going where I fear it should not. Learning Wolverine's origin didn't improve Marvel's mutant mega-star one whit and the same can be said of this issue and Snake Eyes.

Writer Brandon Jerwa delivered a decent enough script, but it doesn't show us anything we haven't seen before in various movies and comics. Snake Eyes is revealed to have been an exceptional but not awfully unique soldier. He's loyal to and protective of his squad. He gets wounded and sent home, and his family is killed by a drunk driver on their way to the airport. It's almost comically tragic and not an auspicious way to end this issue.

Emiliano Santalucia also did a decent enough job on the art. His storytelling was good, but his figures were occasionally stiff. I did think he did a good job on the facial expressions when he had a chance to move the camera in a bit.

Santalucia's pencils were colored by John Rauch and Rauch - you're expecting this now, aren't you? - did a decent enough job on them. His work was a little muddy, as is so much of the computer coloring we see in modern comics, but that wasn't out of place for the action sequences.

Maybe the second issue will show me something I haven't seen before, or show me something that I have seen in a brilliant new fashion, but, reviewing the issue before me, the best score I can give G.I. JOE: SNAKE EYES: DECLASSIFIED is two Tonys. That's not a recommendation - see our handy chart elsewhere on the page - but it's not a condemnation either.

Tony Tony

SNAKE EYES: DECLASSIFIED #1: 36 pages, color.



Mr. Fantastic and Catwoman were honored during MUTTS creator Patrick McDonnell's week-long salute to some of our favorite super-heroes. Reed Richards got the nod on July 13...


...and Catwoman on July 14:

July 14

Mister Fantastic was also featured prominently in John Allen's NEST HEADS strip for July 24:

Nest Heads

My thanks to TOT reader SEAN KELLY for sending the Allen strip my way. Watch for more COMICS IN THE COMICS in future editions of TOT. Because I like them and they're funny enough and, gosh darn it, people like them!



Let's do e-mail, starting with this announcement from comics artist and good guy GORDON PURCELL:

Some of you know of my attempts to get on a certain game show, and at long last, I'm going to NYC to tape WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE! I'll be taping September 12 (or 13, if need be) for a show scheduled to air the week of Oct. 14-19!

I'm very excited and hope my mind hasn't shrunken too badly with time! If you think you might make a good phone-a-friend, have special knowledge (geography and the space program come up a lot!) and are available by a phone Monday afternoon on the 12th, let me know! Wish me luck and an easy stack of questions!

Gordon, my best advice is that you recruit the supernaturally trivial Bob Ingersoll. Our man Bob has even had prior experience as a phone-buddy for Thom Zahler when that dashing young cartoonist was a contestant on the show.

Next up is J.C. LEBOURDAIS:

Your column is one of my must-reads and your August 17 column prompted me to get your point of view on DC's new twist. This one-year leap may be more of a problem than it seems. If Batman being around for 66 years in real time is the equivalent of eight or nine years in DC time, one year in DC time is roughly the equivalent of seven years' worth of stories for all DC universe titles. Can you imagine how they'll catch up with seven years of flashbacks? Ugh! My head hurts...

My understanding on comic-book time is that it compresses as real years go by. Batman hasn't been around for 66 years in the DC Universe as it currently exists. So I'm guessing when DC says we are skipping ahead a year, the company means we are skipping ahead a year as their characters would live it. If Superman were to get Lois pregnant just before the leap, they'd have a three-month-old child when we once again rejoin them in the comics.

Additionally, DC is planning a 52-week title in which writers and artists will be detailing the missing year. That should keep things from getting too confusing, though I could just be way too optimistic here.

Alpha Flight 2

Finally, we have this from ANDY WALES:

I was never a big fan of Alpha Flight either, but their latest incarnation was very humorous and smart. It was a fun adventure, making mock at the genre of comics, including a little "fourth wall breaking," which I believe you like.

Needless to say, the die-hard Alpha Flight fans hated it, and bashed it daily on the message boards. It was canceled after just 12 issues. I was disappointed.

This run has been collected in trade paperbacks. If you ever get a chance to check it out, I would recommend it!

There's a possibility that latest ALPHA FLIGHT series is among the many comics loaned to me by a local buddy. I'll look for the issues and, if I find 'em, I'll give them a read with an eye toward reviewing them.

That's all for now, my friends. Have a terrific weekend and I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 08/18/2005 | 08/19/2005 | 08/22/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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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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