Editors who go the extra mile for freelancers have always been a rarity in the comics industry. I've been blessed with several of them and the only reason I'm not naming them is for fear of leaving someone off the list. However, because I'm writing this column for this magazine, I want to take a moment to thank two such editors, Maggie Thompson and Brent Frankenhoff.
Sainted Wife Barbara's dream project - the renovation of Casa Isabella - had become a full-blown nightmare by the time our kids went back to school in September. As I've written here previously, the work was to have been completed in July. It's still not done as I write this in early October and it's likely it will continue to be "not done" until lawyers and various government agencies get involved at an ever-increasing cost to us.
Brent and Maggie have been absolutely terrific in working with my chaotic schedule, catching bonehead mistakes which creep into columns written under less than ideal circumstances, and generally having my back during this maddening mishigosh. When readers enjoy a piece of writing, be it column or comic book, the writer's name is right out front, a convenient repository for their praise. But let's not forget there are other eyes and hands on the work before it reaches the reader.
I'm a firm believer in the primacy of the writer and whatever vision he brings to the work at hand. Yet, when I'm blessed with the likes of Maggie and Brent as my editors, I'm likewise the happy recipient of their efforts. They make me look good.
Or, at least, as good as humanly possible. They're editors, after all, not miracle workers.
2000 AD EXTREME EDITION continues to delight. Drawing on the vast 2000 AD archives for its material, each issue runs a hundred-plus large - approximately 9" by 12" - pages, sometimes color and sometimes black-and-white, for about six dollars American. That's a great deal of bang for your bucks.
EXTREME EDITION #11 [Rebellion; October 4, 2005] reprints the first 23 chapters of "Meltdown Man" from #178-200 of the legendary British weekly. Written by Alan Hebden, this serial may owe some inspiration to PLANET OF THE APES, but leads the basic concept down a wildly divergent path.
Nick Stone, a one-eyed, rock-jawed anti-terrorist specialist, gets blasted into another world by a tactical nuke. This new world - either future or parallel, not that it matters - is still ruled by humans, but humans who have bio-engineered various animals into intelligent man-like workers whose lives are held exceedingly cheap by their human masters. Freedom-loving Brit that he is, Stone is quick to take offense at this cruel society and begins to unite the animal men (and women) against the humans.
"Meltdown Man" is not the stuff that awards are made of, but it is grand fun. Artist Massimo Belardinelli got to draw scruffy dog-men and a sexy cat-woman and an entire menagerie of animalistic humanoids. The caricatures and characterizations are not subtle in the slightest, but the heroes are appropriately courageous and the villains appropriately dastardly. The serial will continue in the next issue and I'll be there for it.
2000 AD EXTREME EDITION is available via Diamond Distribution, but it's not carried by many American shops. If you're wondering if the magazine is worth the effort of tracking it down, factor in that this issue picks up a very commendable four out of five Tonys. For more information, go to:
"Risen from the grave in the aftermath of a brutal murder, former underworld hitman Tony Grimaldi finds himself transformed. Now, with his ebon trenchcoat, gleaming silver automatics and ivory skull mask, Tony stalked the benighted streets and back alleys of Port Nocturne, bringing justice to the downtrodden, and judgement to the wicked!"
Cribbed from a back cover blurb, that concise introduction is all you need to enjoy any of the six fast-paced adventures of the Undead Avenger collected in BROTHER GRIM by Ron Fortier [Wild Cat Books; $19.95]. Fortier revels in the pulp adventure atmosphere of Grim and the glee is infectious. It's a world where heroes can be born from the rawest materials - to Tony's credit, he had embarked on a path of quiet atonement for his crimes before he was murdered by his twin brother and fellow hitman - and where even villains can be sympathetic.
And what villains they are! Werewolves, zombies, ancient sea-gods, a cult of immortal businessmen, and even a gorilla mob-boss. Small wonder Grim was originally created and developed by Fortier, Christopher Mills, and artist Delfin Barral for a comic strip that appears on the Supernatural Crime website.
Fortier's pulp-ish prose is first-rate fun. The spooky cover painting by Thomas Floyd helps set the mood for the stories, as do the interior illustrations by Rob Davis. It's a terrific looking package all around.
Based on a novel by Fuyumi Ono, GHOST HUNT: VOLUME 1 [Del Rey; $10.95] was a tough manga for me to get a handle on. It's almost clinical in its approach to ghost stories. It doesn't really meet my threshold for horror stories, which is, by no means, meant as a criticism. I like variety within genres as much as I like variety of genres.
Adapted to manga by Shibo Inadu, this first volume introduces us to feisty schoolgirl Mai Taniyama and Kazuya Shibuya, handsome young owner of a psychic research company. Shibuya and some other "ghostbusters" have been called to Mai's school to rid an adjoining building of the spirits which have been delaying demolition of the out-of-use structure. Mai gets involved with the proceedings and forms a difficult-to-define relationship with Shibuya, typical of manga's usual love-from-afar relationships, but less wide-eyed and more realistic than most. I'm mildly intrigued.
The telling of ghost stories relating to schools is a common pastime among Japanese schoolgirls, something I learned from the extras Del Rey kindly includes in this volume. That's how the book opens and it's a nice entry into the main story.
However, that main story is a little quiet for my taste. The investigation, including the ghostbusters discussing what could be causing the strange happenings at the building, is interesting, but not compelling. Those scenes needed characters with the commanding presence and voice of, say, a William Petersen or a Robert David Hall - from C.S.I. - to sell them.
Del Rey puts together a nice package. GHOST HUNT looks great, though I think the story would have flowed better with some chapter breaks. Both the drawing and the panel-to-panel storytelling are good. The extra features add insights into Japanese traditions in an entertaining fashion. Yet for all the care and work that went into GHOST HUNT, it never got me excited. This is probably a case of "your mileage may vary," so, recognizing all that's good here, I'm giving the book a perfectly respectable three Tonys.
Written by Kurt Busiek with art by Ron Garney and Dan Green, JLA: SYNDICATE RULES [DC; $17.99] collects the epic-in-scope story from JLA #107-114 with the teaser tale from JLA SECRET FILES 2004. It's the comic-book equivalent of a big-screen free-for-all between the JLA, their antimatter universe parallels of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, and, from the same antimatter universe, the Weaponeers of Qward. People, planets, and entire solar systems die horribly for our amusement. Oh, joy.
I admit I'm being far more snarky than Busiek's yarn warrants. Drawing heavily from past JLA adventures, it makes no apologies for its cosmic scope. But the too-numerous-to-count deaths lose their impact after a while. Compare and contrast the death of a single world in STAR WARS, a tragedy which remains with viewers throughout the rest of the movie, adding nigh-unbearable tension to the film's climatic battle.
Busiek spends a lot of time taking us into the very ugly heads of the Crime Syndicate members. That was seriously scary going and one of the best parts of the overall story, right alongside J'onn J'onzz and the Flash visiting the electronic consciousness of the Construct and doing some nation-building.
For the most part, Busiek handles the Justice League members well. His Batman gives me pause, but that's true of almost every current take on the character. I also had a difficult time seeing Superman's evil counterpart walk after slaughtering a few hundred innocent people while posing as Supes. I don't buy Clark allowing that to maintain the status quo. Doing the right thing is what a hero does, even when it doesn't come easy.
These concerns aside, Busiek's writing is of the high quality I've come to expect from him. His exciting story is complimented by the equally exciting Garney/Green art. This may not be a great super-hero saga, but it's a darn good one.
It is fitting that Will Eisner, whose life, in so many ways, represented the history of comics in America, gives us as his final extended work, not another of his masterful graphic novels, but, instead, a masterful graphic history. THE PLOT: THE SECRET STORY OF THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION [Norton; $19.95] challenges one of the most pernicious lies in the history of mankind and does so on Eisner's terms, using the medium in whose evolution he played such an important role.
THE PLOT is as compelling as Eisner's fiction. The skills he honed while creating the eight-page Spirit stories, tales of a so-very-human crime-fighter, serve him well here as he brings to life the assortment of conniving extremists and politicos who have used the fabricated PROTOCOLS to further their evil ends. Though there are sections of THE PLOT in which Eisner slows and even stops his narrative flow to drive home the facts of the matter, he presents those facts with passion. Eisner's last work, like all those which preceded it, explores the incredible possibilities of comics while telling a riveting story.
I can't imagine any comics enthusiast not wanting to have THE PLOT in his or her personal library. It earns the full five out of five Tonys, small honor though that is in a career as amazing and accomplished as that of Will Eisner.
Though Will Eisner's accomplishments and career may frame the history of American comics, his life received far less attention. That changes with the coming of WILL EISNER: A SPIRITED LIFE by Bob Andelman [M Press; $14.95]. A back-cover blurb proclaims that this biography tells Eisner's personal and professional life in dramatic detail. Andelman lives up to that claim.
I keep using the phrase "fitting" when I write about Eisner or anything to do with Eisner these days, but there's no escaping how right so many things about his life and work were and are. It is, therefore, altogether fitting that the biography of one of comics' greatest storytellers is, itself, a great story.
Eisner was too big for even this 352-page book, but Andelman nonetheless gives us a sense of the scope of his subject's world. We see the boy, the artist, the surprisingly young businessman and entrepreneur, the husband, the father, the inspiration to so many others, a long life well led that seems tragically brief in light of Eisner's vibrant genius and productivity. Even in death, this man whose great comics always left us wanting more still leaves us wanting more...more of his stories, more of his wisdom, more of his company. Comicdom will not see his like again.
Biographer Andelman does justice to a man who is undisputedly one of comicdom's greatest creators. Reviewing this book from the uncorrected proof, I haven't seen the black-and-white illustrations which will accompany the text in the published work. Even without seeing them, I don't hesitate to proclaim WILL EISNER: A SPIRITED LIFE as a must-have item for any serious devotee of the comics art form. It gets the full five out of five Tonys.
I was surprised and pleased to receive an advance reading copy of Greg Rucka's PRIVATE WARS [Bantam Books; $24], his second novel starring Brit spy Tara Chace from his QUEEN & COUNTRY comic books. The surprise came because I so seldom review prose novels in these pages, the pleasure from how thoroughly I enjoyed the book.
PRIVATE WARS opens with Chace recovering from a Saudi Arabia mission in which her lover, the father of her child, was killed. She has been called back into service for a job in Uzbekistan, a land whose leader is dying and whose treacherous daughter is vying with his son for future control of the nation. The daughter looks to come out on top; Chace's job is to get the brother and his son out of the country. Things go wrong.
Things going wrong is what makes PRIVATE WARS such a thrilling adventure. Rucka takes readers down a path, makes us watch things to wrong there, turns us down another way, and keeps us on the edge of our respective seats the whole way. "Page-turner" is something of a cliche, but that's truly what this book is. I had to see what happened to Tara next.
I haven't read the first Tara Chace novel or more than the occasional QUEEN & COUNTRY. Despite that, I had no trouble getting into this novel. Kudos to Rucka for making things so inviting for a new reader.
PRIVATE WARS picks up four out of five Tonys. It might have earned all five if Will Eisner hadn't raised the bar for everyone this month.
New questions were posted on our TONY POLLS page yesterday and they all concern whether or not you enjoy my writing about certain subjects in TOT. I'm not going to give you the old song-and-dance about how you're the real editors of my column because you ain't. And sometimes I'm going to write about things because I think you need to read about them or just because I enjoy writing about them. If you want to be my editor, you better come for me with a check in your hand. A big check.
All the same, I do listen to what my readers tell me and I do take the poll results into consideration. If you want to be heard on these matters, cast your votes at:
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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