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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Monday, January 23, 2006

CBG 1614

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1614 [March, 2006]

"Any business arrangement that is not profitable to the other person will in the end prove unprofitable for you. The bargain that yields mutual satisfaction is the only one that is apt to be repeated."

- Bertie Charles Forbes, founder of FORBES magazine

One of the fun things I do on my Tony's Online Tips website is create and post weekly questions for the balloting entertainment of my readers. Everyone loves to vote unless it's on something boring like, oh, I dunno, candidates and issues that determine the future of our communities and our country and our world and...

Coming up with new questions every week is often challenging. There have been weeks when, unable to come up with questions which were remotely interesting, I just go for laughs. One such question went something like this:

Comic books?! Do they still make those things?! Choose one of these possible responses.

The choices were:

Betty's way hotter than Veronica.

I had a crush on Lynda Carter.

I had the first Superman comic book.

I had the first Spider-Man comic book.

I had the first Spawn comic book.

I hear chicks dig the Sandman.

"I'm Batman!"

I outgrew them when I discovered Star Wars.

I sold mine to buy this fabulous yacht.

I thought they banned them to end juvenile delinquency. How's that working out?

I thought they killed Superman.

Lynda Carter has a restraining order against me.

My mom threw mine away.

Only in Japan.

Remember when they cost a nickel?

Remember when they cost a dime?

Remember when they cost twelve cents?

Three dollars for this?!

Wanna see my collection, baby?

Yes, but only for sale on eBay.

Truthfully, I don't often run into people who don't know that they still make comic books. The movies, the cartoons, the graphic novel and manga sections in bookstores, they have, at very least, increased the average person's recognition that comics still exist, even if they're not as the person remembers them.

The question got the laughs it intended. I declined to pick any of the choices myself, but I did express my dismay that I had to sit 500 feet away from the screen when I went to see SKY HIGH at the movie theater.

The choice that got the most votes (22.58%) was "Three dollars for this?!" I wasn't surprised.

Some time back, I started considering "bang for your bucks" as one of my reviewing measures. Over the years, I've received some complaints about this from an odd creator or publisher, but readers appreciate that admittedly subjective information. I'll hold a DC or a Marvel to a more strict "bang" determination that I do smaller publishers, but I think the principle holds up pretty well most of the time. You seem to agree.

Some price points don't concern me at all. I see very little difference between $2.50, $2.75, $2.99, or $3 for the traditional comics format, though I never bought into the whole "$2.99 is more attractive to the customer than $3" thing. Does anyone out there know anyone who doesn't think a $2.99 comic book costs three bucks? If an extra penny or fifty cents helps keeps a comic I enjoy more profitable for its creators and publisher, I'm completely down with that. However, my mail confirms my belief that "bang for bucks" is very important to my readers.

Let's start the reviews with a creator and a title going the extra mile to provide good "bang for the bucks" to readers.

Fell 1

Warren Ellis likes to test the market. Teamed with artist Ben Templesmith and Image Comics, he is currently doing this with FELL [$1.95], a kick-ass title about a detective transferred from the city's major crimes unit to the woefully understaffed homicide unit of Snowtown. When Richard Fell reports for duty, his lieutenant describes the precinct as being "miles from anywhere, colder than Eskimo nipples, and if you breathe in, you die."

Ellis and Templesmith enforce the claustrophobic atmosphere of Snowtown from the get-go, utilizing a nine-panel grid to present a complete story in 16 pages. As for characters and crimes, conjure up the weirdest storylines from HILL STREET BLUES and NYPD BLUE and you won't be far off the mark. That Fell works solo adds to each tale's intensity; there are no loyal partners or supportive bosses to back his moves.

Each issue of FELL is 24 pages, counting covers. In addition to the cover and story, Ellis delivers five pages of text - "Back Matter" - which will eventually become the title's letters column. That adds up to 21 pages of solid entertainment, about what you get in comics costing a buck more.

The writing is suburb and the art equally so. These first two issues are must-have comics in my book and that's why they earn the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Complete Dennis

With its publication of HANK KETCHAM'S COMPLETE DENNIS THE MENACE: 1951-1952 [$24.95], Fantagraphics Books further establishes itself as the gold standard for comic-strip collections and proves its COMPLETE PEANUTS series is no fluke. Ketcham is no Charles M. Schulz, but neither is Schulz Ketcham. Though their features made their debuts during the same era and starred young children, these creators each brought something new and wonderful to the newspaper comics pages.

The kids in PEANUTS are kids with adult sensibilities, not yet fully formed adult sensibilities, but there nonetheless. Dennis is all-kid and more likely to be the instigator of the chaos erupting around him. Schulz wove his deceptively simple lines through his multi-panel strips; Ketcham brought to his single-panel feature all the craft and refinements of his magazine cartoons. Despite these obvious differences in approach, Dennis and the Peanuts kids belong side-by-side. Growing up, I had all of them in my neighborhood and I'd wager my experience was far from unique.

COMPLETE DENNIS is as beautifully made as the Peanuts books. Its nearly square approximately 6-by-6 dimensions make it a joy to hold and read, despite the weight of its hardcover cover and some 600 interior pages. Jacob Cover did an outstanding job designing this initial volume, which is every bit as stunning as the award-winning Peanuts volumes.

Patrick McDonnell, whose MUTTS is a contemporary comic-strip classic, gets the book started with a brief foreword, followed by an informative and perceptive introduction by Brian Walker, who has worked on BEETLE BAILEY, HI AND LOIS, and other strips and written several books on cartoon art. As opening acts, these text pieces are swell, but it's the page after page of Ketcham's Dennis panels that make this book another must-have.

Dennis is at his untamed best in these first two years of his comics life. If he lived next door to me, I'd make Mr. Wilson look like Mr. Rogers. But, since he doesn't live next door to me, I'm able to smile and frequently laugh out loud at Ketcham's exactly-tuned comedy.

HANK KETCHAM'S COMPLETE DENNIS THE MENACE: 1951-1952 (VOLUME 1) earns six out of five Tonys. Yeah, that will annoy my editors - "Quick, Brent, we need another grinning idiot head!" - but, every now and then, I review a book so good that I have to break my own rules for it. This is one of those times.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Giant Monster 1

I probably should wait until the second and concluding issue of GIANT MONSTER [Boom! Studios; $6.99] finds its way into my hot little hands, but I had so much fun reading this first issue that I couldn't wait to recommend it. Writer Steve Niles and artist Nat Jones took me back to the days when my reluctant parents would let me stay up late on Friday evenings to watch the sometimes classic and sometimes cheesy films hosted by the incomparable "Ghoulardi," also known as the legendary Ernie Anderson.

Space is the place where an astronaut meets up with some sort of alien fungus-thing and returns to Earth a vastly different man, if you can even call him a man. The new creature is hungry and the world is its all-you-can-eat buffet. Niles and Jones go more into gore than the creature features of my youth, but they never cross the line into excessive. The most graphic bit appears to be a lift from a recent favorite of mine, but it's a reasonable sampling from LAKE PLACID, which, by the way, is a film you should never see save in its uncensored form and for which Betty White should have gotten an Oscar nomination.

Niles and Jones deliver terrific work here. My only quibble with this full-color fear fest is that seven bucks is a mite on the high side for 46 pages of story.

GIANT MONSTER #1 earns four Tonys, which is pretty impressive given the other books I've reviewed this month.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

First & Fifteenth

FIRST & FIFTEENTH: POP ART SHORT STORIES [Villard; $17.95] by Steve Powers offers a different take on graphic storytelling. The artist combines advertising iconography with a graffiti attitude to tell eight stories. He describes the tales as "one-act plays where the actors meet and play their parts and a punch line drops like a curtain to close the scene."

These stories reflect the New York streets where Powers earned a six-count felony indictment for his graffiti. He pled out, did five days of community service, and was later hired to legitimately paint his works of art on various places. The artist's methodology restricts his stories and characters. Not surprisingly, the best story in the book is the longest, a 50-page battle between a bully and his handicapped victim.

In addition to the above protagonists, Powers gives us cheap con men, an assortment of everyday folks, and an ineffective super-hero who will save the day after he gets his meds. His tales are fascinating, but more for his unusual storytelling style than for the stories themselves. He's going to have to develop this style much further for FIRST & FIFTEENTH to be other than a moderately entertaining experiment.

FIRST & FIFTEENTH: POP ART SHORT STORIES gets a generous three out of five Tonys. I read it on a good day.

Tony Tony Tony

Death Note 1

Viz sent me preview copies of two intriguing new manga titles: DEATH NOTE [$7.99] and MONSTER [$9.99]. One is spiffy supernatural spookiness and the other is down-to-earth scary, but they share the theme of power and its abuses.

DEATH NOTE starts when the notebook of the title is dropped by a demonic visitor to our world and ends up in the hands of a genius teenager. If your name is written in the notebook, you die. If no details are written down, you die of a heart attack. But whoever holds the notebook can specify time and means of death and that's when and how the person will die.

Written by Tsugumi Ohba with art by Takeshi Obata, the first volume introduces the characters, premise, and rules. The genius teenager is Light Yagami, bored out of his mind from his simple (to him) schoolwork. Seizing the challenges and opportunities provided by the notebook, the lad brings death to vile criminals, but soon crosses even that dubious moral line as he engages in a battle of wits with a mysterious detective known only as "L." Since the teen doesn't know who "L" is or what he really looks like, he can't use the book against him. Additionally, though the notebook comes with rules by which the equally bored demon who "dropped" it must abide, the more Light uses it, the greater the chance he will forfeit what remains of his humanity.

DEATH NOTE is part of Viz's Shonen Jump Advanced imprint and rated for teen and older readers. A compelling merger of the crime and supernatural genres, it earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Monster 1

The first volume of NOAKI URASAWA'S MONSTER combines medical drama, soap opera, and murder most deadly. Doctor Kenzo Tenma is a supremely skilled young surgeon who has come to Germany from his native Japan. He's the fair-haired lad of the legendary hospital at which he works until the fateful day when he must choose between his ethics as a doctor and what will increase the power and wealth of the hospital. Previously faced with this choice, he operated on a person of importance instead of the common family man who was first in line. The family man died and the choice haunted Tenma. This time, the young doctor chooses to operate on a badly injured boy over the town mayor. The mayor dies on the operating table and it appears Tenma's career dreams are dead as well.

Or perhaps not. Tenma's ethics, noble though they were, may have set something evil loose on the world. No supernatural threat this. Just a clever individual as skilled at assassination as the doctor is at surgery and whose murders have sometimes moved Tenma's career forward.

The first volume of MONSTER actually ends on a satisfying if tragic note. However, what little I've learned of what comes next has me eager for the second and subsequent volumes. This could end up being one of my favorite manga series.

NOAKI URASAWA'S MONSTER is from Viz's Editor's Choice imprint and rated for teens and older readers. It earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Theodor Seuss Geisel

Our last choice item this go-round is THEODOR SEUSS GEISEL: THE EARLY WORKS OF DR. SEUSS, VOLUME 1 [Checker Books; $22.95], a 170-page trade hardback. I'm reviewing this from a galley copy so I can't speak as to the handsomeness (or lack thereof) of the final printed version, but I will readily proclaim the neatness of what's inside those hard covers.

The volume kicks off with a concise Seuss biography and a very cool timeline of Geisel's early career. The first section of art reprints one of the rarest Seuss collectibles of all, THIS IS ANN, an instructional pamphlet created to show American soldiers how to avoid malaria.

That's followed by Geisel' wonderful advertisements for Atlas Motor Products, other clever ad art, illustrations for JUDGE and LIBERTY magazines, World War II editorial cartoons, and much more. I don't recall reading Dr. Seuss books at a child or of having them read to me, but I've loved Geisel's work ever since I began reading his books to my own kids. To see the same craft, whimsy and wonder applied to such a wide variety of communication also reenforces my belief the man is an authentic American treasure.

THEODORE SEUSS GEISEL: THE EARLY WORKS OF DR. SEUSS, VOLUME 1 is an easy five out of five Tonys. The second volume is scheduled for February of 2006 with a third volume set for Spring. I can't imagine not having these books on my bookshelves.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

When I reviewed NOAKI URASAWA'S MONSTER from an advance review copy, it was scheduled to be released in October as part of Viz's "Editor's Choice" imprint. It's currently scheduled for February. You can learn more about the 18-volume series here:

www.viz.com/news/newsroom/2006/01_monster.php

******

TONY POLLS

Most every Monday, I post new poll questions on our TONY POLLS page. This week, I have three questions, two of them being "do-overs" because I felt I didn't express myself as clearly as I would have liked the first time around.

The "do-over" questions concern manga and holiday greetings. The new question concerns job satisfaction. You can vote on all of them by heading over to:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/

I hope to get current on TONY POLLS results by the end of this week. Look for the first batch tomorrow.

******

TONY STUFF

I hadn't planned on running so many CBG reprints this early in the new year. Alas, computer woes, end-of-the-year business, and some medical bumps in the road for Justin (our wondrous web-wizard) and myself changed those plans. I think we're in fairly good shape at the moment, but, life being what it is, that could change in the very next moment.

I'm getting amazing response to my DCU reviews, this despite my review comic books which came out in October. I'm hoping to get current on those as quickly as possible, maybe even by running DCU reviews three times a week until I do.

And, yes, I plan on doing the same thing with Marvel titles in the near future, probably starting with the Marvel Universe titles most affected by HOUSE OF M and DECIMATION. There are some great comics among those titles - the Paul Jenkins GENERATION M leaps to mind - and some clunkers. I'll cover as many of each as time and availability allow.

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment on my columns and also to all of you who drop by for a visit every Monday through Friday. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/18/2006 | 01/23/2006 | 01/24/2006 >>

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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THE "TONY" SCALE

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.

Tony
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.

TonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTony
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.

TonyTonyTonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
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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