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for Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tales to Astonish 1

Marvel will be shipping MARVEL MASTERWORKS: TALES TO ASTONISH VOLUME 1 later this month, the first in the series to feature non-super-hero stories. In honor of this auspicious occasion, today's TOT kicks off with the ALPHA/OMEGA covers of the title.

TALES TO ASTONISH #1 [January, 1959] was a sci-fi/supernatural anthology, following in the footsteps of early Atlas/Marvel titles like STRANGE TALES and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. Jack Kirby pencilled the surprisingly tame cover, but there are different opinions as to whether this cover was inked by George Klein or Christopher Rule. Greg Gatlin's ATLAS TALES site names Klein, while the GRAND COMICS DATABASE names Rule. Both agree Rule was the primary inker of the Kirby-pencilled "We Found the Ninth Wonder of the World!", but AT sees a lot of Klein in the inking and suggests he might have worked with Rule on the story.

As for the issue's other stories, both sites agree that Steve Ditko pencilled and inked "I Know the Secret of the Poltergeist!", and that Jack Davis did the same for "I Foiled an Enemy Invasion!" However, when it comes to "I Was the First Man to Set Foot on...The Mystery Planet!", ATLAS TALES tentatively credits the art to Human Torch creator Carl Burgos, while the GCD tentatively credits it to Paul Reinman.

Side note. Nearly every story title in TALES TO ASTONISH #1-8 starts with "I", but the anthology pretty much drops the mannerism with its ninth issue.

TALES TO ASTONISH remains an anthology title until issue #35, when Ant-Man became an ongoing series. Scientist Henry Pym first appeared in issue #27 in a story - "The Man In the Ant Hill" - that gave no indication of being anything other than a typical done-in-one story. Good sales on the earlier issue combined with Marvel's growing interest in super-heroes to make Pym a star, albeit a very modest star. He got a partner - the Wasp - after less than a dozen solo adventures and was upgraded to Giant-Man less than six months after that. About a year later, the Incredible Hulk took over half the title and, less than a year after that, the underachieving Pym lost his half of TTA to the Sub-Mariner.

Tales to Astonish 101

About two-and-a-half years after the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner became title-mates, Marvel canceled TALES TO ASTONISH to give each of them his own title. In its listing for TALES TO ASTONISH #101 [March, 1968], the GCD credits the cover pencils to Jack Kirby and Marie Severin and the inks to Frank Giacoia.

The Hulk stars in "Where Walk the Immortals," where he goes to Asgard and mixes it up with Loki, Odin, Heimdall, and several other Norse gods and warriors. Stan Lee scripted the story, which would continue in INCREDIBLE HULK #102. Severin and Giacoia penciled and inked the 11-page tale.

The Sub-Mariner tale - "And Evil Shall Beckon!" - was scripted by Archie Goodwin, penciled by Gene Colan, and inked by Dan Adkins. The story gave the first hint of Destiny who, as the man who robbed Namor of his memories years early, would emerge as the main villain of the first year of Subby's own title. However, this story would continue in the one-shot IRON MAN AND SUB-MARINER #1 before moving over to SUB-MARINER #1.

Whew! This stuff never sounded so complicated in 1968. Then again, I had more functioning brain cells when I was a lad not yet out of my teens.

Look for ALPHA/OMEGA covers every other week or thereabouts. My master plan is to rotate ten opening themes with the occasional non-theme cover to shake things up.

Let's see what else I have for you today.



The week of November 2 saw the release of 11 DCU titles, but that's counting THE OMAC PROJECT trade paperback. Of those titles, I'm holding off on reviewing BATMAN: GOTHAM COUNTY LINE #2 until I get to the third and final issue and SEVEN SOLDIERS: THE BULLETEER #1 because, though they are apparently part of the DCU, the SEVEN SOLDIERS books are sorta off in their own little corner of the DCU. However, odds are I'll review the SEVEN SOLDIERS trades as they're released. Fair enough?

Blood of the Demon 9

BLOOD OF THE DEMON #9 [$2.50] doesn't reflect what's going on in the rest of the DCU, but I'm all for the variety. I don't know precisely what's going on in this issue - I'm coming to the story in what seems to be the final round of the Demon's battle with the wonderfully creepy Dreamcatcher - but the lack of a helping hand to new readers notwithstanding, I liked what I saw. Plotter/penciller John Byrne and scripter Will Pfeifer kept me turning the pages and scored additional kudos with an ending that made me go "Whoa!" The issue would have scored higher if it were more friendly to the new reader, but, as it is, it gets a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Detective Comics 813

DETECTIVE COMICS #813 [$2.50] is part 11 of a 12-part story by David Lapham. It doesn't appear to be a contemporary Batman tale, but it did have some interesting moments as the Darknight Detective contends with an unsettling organization known as the Body. There wasn't enough here for me to get a good sense of the overall story, so I'm giving this issue an "incomplete" rating until I can locate and read the entire serial.

Firestorm 19

Donna Troy has been busy recruiting since returning from the dead; she shows up in FIRESTORM #19 [$2.50] to ask Jason Rusch to join her and other heroes on an off-world mission. But, before we get to that point in the story, writer Stuart Moore provides some spiffy heroic action that serves to explain how Firestorm works and what he can do, followed by an excellent reunion between Jason and his estranged best friend. Jason hesitates briefly when Donna asks him to sign up for her team, but his hesitation is based on concern for his friends. I'm liking this young man more and more with each issue I read. Blessed with first-rate art by penciller Jamal Igle and inkers Rob Stull and Keith Champagne, FIRESTORM #19 is a solid issue across the board. It earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Jonah Hex 1

I could have skipped JONAH HEX #1 [$2.99] since it takes place about a hundred years before INFINITE CRISIS, but that first-issue ambience seduced me. My weakness was rewarded; this is one of the best Jonah Hex comics I've read in years, better than the Vertigo revivals and as good as the better Michael Fleisher issues from the 1970s. Kudos to writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti for doing right by DC's most intriguing western character and to artist Luke Ross for giving this grim tale - which has Hex tracking a kidnapped child - its appropriately gritty look. This is my pick of the DCU week and it earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

JSA 79

JSA #79 [$2.50] is the middle chapter of the three-part "Lost and Found," and you can put me in the "lost" category. There seem to be two battles unfolding simultaneously, with one group fighting Mordru, who I know from his Legion of Super-Heroes appearances in the 1960s, and the other group tracking down a powerful young man named Jakeem, who has some connection to the sentient Thunderbolt once commanded by Johnny Thunder.

Keith Champagne's writing is good enough and the JSA members interesting enough that I wish I had followed through on my years-old plan to read JSA from start to current issue. But there's not much here to make a new reader feel at home. So, even though I do like the writing, the JSA characters, and the art by Don Kramer and inker Champagne, the best I can do for JSA #79 is to give it a very disappointing two Tonys.

Tony Tony

OMAC Project TPB

THE OMAC PROJECT [$14.99] trade paperback collects COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS, THE OMAC PROJECT #1-6, and WONDER WOMAN #219. Veteran TOT readers will recall I wasn't at all fond of this mini-series, and re-reading it in one sitting affirmed my low opinion of it. It's unrelentingly and often unnecessarily brutal, with deaths used mostly for cheap shock value. It fails to adequately address Batman's culpability in the carnage; his spy satellite system does not put him on appreciably higher moral ground than the heroes who tampered with the minds of foes and friends, while his gross failure to secure it against outside usurpation diminishes his standing as the master detective and planner. That this collection makes sense while reprinting but one of the four "Sacrifice" crossover issues shows how padded those issues were.

One issue at a time or all at once, THE OMAC PROJECT doesn't tally up to more than the generous two Tonys I'm awarding it. The deciding factors in my largess: the "Crisis Counseling" page at the front of the book, which painlessly presented vital information for new readers, and the nine pages of alternate covers and production drawings in the back of the book.

Tony Tony

Outsiders 30

OUTSIDERS #30 [$2.50] concludes with another "Donna Troy wants you" sequence, though it leaves the revelation of which Outsiders will be joining her for the next issue. Prior to that, what we get is a mediocre super-hero comic with art that makes the characters look as if they're suffering from some sort of "bloating disease." Did they all get stung by mystic bees or something?

The opening scene with Katana trying to find out what's wrong with her mystic sword is a good one and a nice tie-in to the DAY OF VENGEANCE mini-series. From there we get sophomoric pandering as the demon Sabbac uses the power of "lust" to compel everyone at a prison to get busy with one another, some panels with the current Outsiders that don't amount to much, a cool arrival of Katana on a dragon, a decent Katana/Sabbac battle which ends too quickly, and Donna Troy rendering the other heroes unnecessary by saving the day before going into her recruitment pitch. Katana is the best thing about the issue, which is more to the credit of Katana creator Mike W. Barr than anyone who worked on this issue. OUTSIDERS #30 gets just one out of a possible five Tonys.


Superman 223

Having agreed to join Donna Troy's mission, the new Supergirl flies by SUPERMAN #223 [$2.50] to say "see you later" and take part in the first half of her cousin's battle with the newest Blackrock. "Stones" is a decent story, albeit one that suffers from a surfeit of artists. Two pencillers and five inkers? That speaks to some serious scheduling problems.

What's good about the issue? Mark Verheiden's writing carries the story through the chaos of the art. The new Blackrock is real scary, even before she gets her powers. This was my first look at Superman's new Fortress of Solitude and its Amazon Jungle location; I liked what I saw. The scenes between Superman and Supergirl rang true in a loving-but-not-sappy family way. Luthor and Talia chew a little too much scenery for my taste, but it makes sense for them to want to keep Superman occupied while they move their evil plans forward. All in all, SUPERMAN #223 was a perfectly fine issue and it receives a perfectly respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Vigilante 2

I cheated. I read VIGILANTE #1 and #2 [$2.99 each] for this review. My fondness for this kind of "outside the law" protagonist dates back to my discovery of the late Don Pendleton's EXECUTIONER paperbacks, even though, oddly enough, I don't consider most of the breed to be heroes. Just interesting characters going after other violent characters. But not heroes.

That's the reason I never like this kind of character to get close to the super-heroes. This six-issue VIGILANTE series is set in Metropolis and, busy as he is with the INFINITE CRISIS and all, Superman still should be able to round this guy up easily enough. Set the same story in another city, one without a Superman or even a Batman, and I'm okay with it.

Long-winded prologue aside, I thought VIGILANTE #1 and #2 were pretty good comics. Writer Bruce Jones has crafted an intriguing tale with intriguing characters, including a trio of psychiatrists and some working stiff police detectives. About the only possible misstep with the cast was the detective who drinks too much and has a thing for the female psychiatrist. That one played badly, but, at this stage, I'm suspicious enough to wonder if that scene wasn't exactly what it appears to be.

Jones doesn't go for the cheap gore-and-violence. His subtle approach carries over into the art. Ben Oliver and colorist Carrie Strachan give the issues solid and atmospheric storytelling. This doesn't look or feel like a super-hero book, and that's a good thing from where I sit.

I'll make my final judgment when I've read the entire series, but, for now, VIGILANTE #1 and #2 earn four Tonys each. The series is a nice break from all the IC stuff.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Our time is up for this counseling session. Tomorrow's column will take a break from IC to discuss other things, but we'll return to the DCU come Friday.

Thanks for stopping by. See you tomorrow.

Tony Isabella

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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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