TOT is back - Monday through Friday - after a too-long hiatus from the online community. Today's opening image, the photo cover of Crestwood's YOUNG ROMANCE #40 [December, 1951], was selected for two reasons.
The first reason is that I was born on December 22, 1951, and using a comic book with a December, 1951, cover date is one way of celebrating the rebirth of the column. After a rough year, I'm so ready to kick loose and do some work here.
The second reason is that the title of the issue's cover story speaks to me. "Nobody Owns Me!" could be my battle-cry as I launch into a new year of reviewing stuff and commenting on the oft-crazed world around me. By way of explanation, here's a slightly tweaked paragraph from one of my other columns:
I love comic books. I wish comics publishers nothing but the greatest success in all their endeavors. But I don't write reviews for the publishers. I write them for their customers and, while I might understand the limitations under which a creator or publisher might labor, I don't believe their customers consider such things when they make their purchasing decisions. I can sympathize, but I can't ignore flaws on that basis.
What I owe anyone who sends me review items is my best efforts to read what they send me in a timely manner and, if I do choose to review it here or elsewhere, my best efforts to be both informative and fair in my comments. That's it.
Nobody owns me.
Getting back to YOUNG ROMANCE #40, here be the contents of the issue as taken from the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [www.comics.org], the most mind-boggingly useful comics research tool in the whole darned history of comics research:
My eBay search found but one allegedly very good copy of this issue with a starting bid of $29, absolutely no bidders, and a "buy it now" price of $48. I threw in that "allegedly" because the book is being offered by a seller whose grading generally strikes me as overly generous.
INFINITE CRISIS COUNSELING
So what, I asked myself, would the loyal legions of TOT fans most like to see from the relaunch of this column? No sooner had I posed that puzzler than, as if it were an omen, a bat came flying through the window.
By the way, it was a baseball bat. It hit me on the head and gave me a mild concussion. When I came to, I had the answer to my question: my readers want me to review months-old comic books on a twice-weekly basis until I catch up to the current installments of DC's universe-spanning INFINITE CRISIS. And I'm just crazy enough to give them what they want.
I begin with INFINITE CRISIS #1 [$3.99], which arrived in our friendly neighborhood comics shops during the week of October 12th. Then I'll move on to the other DCU issues which arrived that week. I'm jumping into most of these titles without having read previous issues. The role of the somewhat-knowledgeable reader who's heard the INFINITE CRISIS hype and decided to jump back into the DCU is played by me. Sean Penn was busy.
INFINITE CRISIS certainly recalls CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS to me with its huge cast of characters and many dramatic storylines. Writer Geoff Johns was skilled enough to score points for a few of his sequences: the rift between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman; Connor Kent's anguish over his origins, and the fall of Captain Marvel. But, despite the power of the Phil Jimenez/Andy Lanning art and the intensity of these and other events, too many sequences fell flat. Big showy splashes with body counts and brutality used for shock effect, especially since many of the bodies were those of extremely minor characters.
The big surprise ending strengthened my belief that DC's not looking to attract new readers as much as to get as many sales out of their most loyal readers as they can. If you can't sell a comic to ten customers, you try to sell ten comics to one customer. Of course, it helps if that customer is so into your universe that he or she can recognize a surprise ending based on a comic book from two decades ago.
I'm not knocking what seems to be the plan here. It's a valid strategy. Maybe, when this DCU-changing event has run its course, it will be proven to have been a brilliant strategy. That would be great for DC and its most loyal readers. But, at this junction, I remain skeptical.
The good parts are very good and the so-so parts are utterly so-so. INFINITE CRISIS #1 gets three Tonys.
Moving to the week's other DCU books, I reviewed ACTION COMICS #832 [$2.50] in my TOT for November 1. Here's what I wrote in that column:
ACTION COMICS #832 is written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. It's a tie-in to the supernaturally-oriented DAYS OF VENGEANCE and reads like an "Oh, yeah, we forgot about Satanus guy in Metropolis" afterthought. It's an OK story with a neat scene between Lois Lane and her supposedly deceased father, but it didn't get me going the way [writer Gail] Simone's earlier issues did.
ACTION COMICS #832 gets three Tonys.
As BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #196 [$2.50] takes place early in the Batman's career, I suppose I could have skipped over it. After reading the fifth and concluding part of "Snow," I wish I had. Chalk it up to Freeze fatigue, though that is far from the only thing working against this comic book.
Mr. Freeze isn't a villain who lends himself to frequent use. In their animated venues, Bruce Timm and cohorts did interesting, emotionally rich stories with the character, but you can only visit that particular well a few times before it runs dry. What we have been getting in the Batman comics are your basic exercises in death and dismemberment. Lots of frozen bodies and body parts. It's the comics equivalent of food left in the freezer too long. Just toss it in the trash already.
The only new twist I found here was that Batman was apparently working with a team he'd put together and, predictably, that didn't work out well. The Batman's conclusion is that he should work with one partner and save on medical/funeral expenses. Yeah, I'm being snarky. I miss the bygone days when I could look at Robin and not think reckless endangerment.
BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #196 gets one Tony, mostly for Seth Fisher's art.
The OMACs bore me to tears, but, despite one of them showing up in FIRESTORM #18 [$2.50], I enjoyed the issue. There is a not-unwelcome air of Peter Parker around the latest young man to wield the power of Firestorm. Writer Stuart Moore threw a bunch of cool ideas into the story and, if some events clearly required reading previous issues for complete understanding, I never felt so out of the loop that I could follow them. With nice artwork by Patrick Olliffe and Jamal Igle, this good-but-not-great issue earns an easy three out of five Tonys.
GREEN ARROW #55 [$2.50] continues in the vein of okay-but-not-outstanding super-hero comics. GA and Black Lightning - who wears pretty much the original costume I designed for him way back in the day, absent the "seemed like a good idea at the time" Afro-mask - duke it out with Killer Frost and Mirror Master as part of a plot by Doctor Light. All of the combatants acquit themselves well and the Ron Garney/Bill Reinhold art packs a nice punch. This issue-length fight scene earns three Tonys.
Carter Hall fights Charley Parker for the right to the Hawkman moniker. Len Wein [co-plotter] and I did this in a 1970s issue of LUKE CAGE and it was dumb-but-cute. Thirty years later, in HAWKMAN #45 [$2.50], it's merely tiresome as the winged opponents talk and fight and explain and talk and fight and explain and...you get the picture. Hawkman and Hawkgirl have a coy romantic moment once all the talking and fighting and explaining is done and that moment is nice-if-belabored, but it falls light-years-short of rescuing this boring issue. These characters deserve better and that's why this issue is a one-Tony wonder.
In JLA #120 [$2.50], the Justice League disbands once again. Several members meet to...to...well, as near as I can figure, they meet to see who can be the biggest dick among them. I have come to the conclusion that mind-wiping friends and foes for expediency's sake was just a symptom. The League's real problem was that almost all of its members had become unpleasant dicks. They were together because no one else wanted to hang with them. I want to like DC's heroes. I want to again know the excitement of seeing all of them in one comic book. Until that day, issues like this are going to be lucky to get even one Tony from me.
One Tony is still more than NIGHTWING #113 [$2.50] receives. Nightwing is apparently training Deathstroke's daughter. They beat up various criminals while discussing whether the aptly-named Dick is a hero or bad guy. I've no idea what past-life offenses artists Cliff Chiang and Ande Parks committed to be drawing this wretched script in this life, but, as I also have no idea what's going on in the book, that makes for a certain symmetry. What I am certain of is Deathstroke's tired ass should be terminated for the sake of DCU stories yet to come. I've never really forgiven DC for giving this murderous child abuser his own book a decade or so ago. Maybe the company should consider buying some common sense.
I'm running a special this week.
Let's end these reviews on a high note. VILLAINS UNITED #6 [$2.50] and writer Gail Simone prove that brutal violence doesn't have to crowd out character development and emotional content. The "Secret Six" face their final battle - for now, at least - with the legion of doom arrayed against them. While there are some scenes which will be impenetrable to a new reader, there are others that just flat-out shine. These include the final scene between one of the six and the teammate who has made the ultimate sacrifice and a meeting between Green Arrow and two survivors of the final battle. VILLAINS UNITED was far and away the best of the series leading up to INFINITE CRISIS. With kudos to Simone for uplifting formerly second-rate villains to star status, and to artists Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger for solid storytelling, VILLAINS UNITED #6 gets four out of five Tonys.
Keep watching the skies. I'll have another edition or two of INFINITE CRISIS COUNSELING for you next week.
ARCHIE COMING COMICS
Whenever I receive the latest Archie Comics press releases, I look for comics and stories which might be of some interest to TOT readers who don't read the company's titles. There were four such items among the issues shipping in March.
Cartoonist Chuck Clayton is one of my favorite Riverdale High characters. ARCHIE AND FRIENDS #99 [$2.25; ships 3/8] will see him designing new action figures. His improbable inspiration for these toys are his Riverdale pals. "Action Faction" is written by George Gladir and drawn by Stan Goldberg.
Back in the Batman craze of the 1960s, Jughead would don cape-and-tights and fight evil as Captain Hero. In JUGHEAD #172 [$2.25; ships 3/22], the Captain is back as Jughead imagines what his life would be like if he had a "Super Stomach." The story is written by Craig Boldman with art by Rex Lindsey.
Send up a new character alert for TALES FROM RIVERDALE DIGEST #10 [$2.39; ships 3/22]. Here's what the press release had to say about this introduction...
"Double 'W' Vision!": There's a new girl in school with bangs dyed red, eccentric mix and match fashions, buttons galore, an interest in entomology...and a pet tarantula named Tara! Veronica decides to keep a cautious distance while Betty embraces the notion of a quirky yet creative new friend [and] just wait until the new girl reveals her most surprising secret of all! Script and art: Fernando Ruiz.
I love the classic Archie cast, but I also think it could use some new members. Let's hope this new girl makes the cut.
In ARCHIE #565 [$2.25; ships 3/29], our waffle-scarred wonder gets in trouble when Mrs. Grundy catches him reading a manga comic in class. His punishment: write a 500-word essay on the subject. "The Manga Scene" is another Gladir/Goldberg collaboration.
Just 500 words? I could do that in my sleep.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
If you're new to TOT, here's the drill:
I have the crazy mad love for self-referential comic strips or strips with guest stars from comic books or other strips. When I find them - or when TOT readers send them to me - I share them with you. Because I'm a sweetheart of a human being.
In Mark Tatulli's HEART OF THE CITY for August 21, supporting character Dean took a crack at creating his own strip and learned that comedy is hard.
Blondie and Dagwood's wedding anniversary was a huge deal for strips in 2005. In his MOTHER GOOSE AND GRIMM strip for August 23, Mike Peters gave a nod to just under a dozen other strips.
Lynn Johnston saluted the Bumsteads in the August 28 edition of her FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE.
One more for today. I don't think any of the Blondie salutes featured more comics characters than did Jim Scancarelli's GASOLINE ALLEY for August 28.
Look for more COMICS IN THE COMICS in future columns. I have dozens of them in my files.
Comic books or related items were mentioned a dozen times in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's special year-end double issue. Here's the list of notables:
1.19. A judge rules that Stan Lee (the comics guru behind Spider-Man, among others) is entitled to 10 percent of profits from Marvel Enterprises for characters he created. The case is settled out of court in April.
Sigh. Even EW links the judge's ruling with Stan's creation or co-creation of the characters, ignoring that what entitled Stan to the money was his employment contract with Marvel. Did anybody in the mainstream medium get this right?
FANTASTIC FOUR (the movie) was credited with ending a 19-week box office slide with its $56 million July opening.
Actor Cillian Murphy was lauded for his great performances in 2005. He played the Scarecrow in BATMAN BEGINS.
EW noted the passing of comics pioneer Will Eisner on January 3. To illustrate its like mention of Frank Gorshin on May 17, the magazine chose a photo of the beloved actor playing the Riddler on the Batman TV show of the 1960s.
EW's movie reviewers named BATMAN BEGINS a "sequel we totally dug" while condemning SON OF THE MASK to its list of movie "sequels we could've done with out."
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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