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

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for Thursday, January 26, 2006

Secret Story Romances 14

In the beginning, there was MARVEL COMICS and the dawning of Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch, followed by CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS and then a slew of other titles in every imaginable genre. When we get to the 1950s, publisher Martin Goodman's company is kinda sorta known as Atlas Comics.

I'm fascinated by the Goodman comic books that came betwixt the end of the "Golden Age" and the arrival of FANTASTIC FOUR #1. Were money no object, I'd bankroll major research into those comics and do my best to get their best stories back into print. Alas, I have to be content with enjoying the discoveries made by others and with the all-too-infrequent original or reprint that comes into my eager reach.

My fascination stems from the amazing number of major talents who worked on those comics, with the many fine stories published in those comics, and the mysteries of who wrote those stories. Stan Lee signed many of the stories he wrote, as did a few other scribes of the day, but most remain uncredited.

My fascination grows with each new visit to Greg Gatlin's way-cool ATLAS TALES [] website and each day's posts from the TIMELY-ATLAS group []. As is so often the case, my fascinations become part and parcel of these columns.

Thus, ATLAS COMICS joins the TOT cover rotation. Every couple of weeks, I'll commence the day's column with an Atlas cover what caught my fancy. Today, it's the Vince Colletta cover from SECRET STORY ROMANCES #14 [August, 1955]. How can I resist such a torrid kiss with the city so big and bright in the background?

All I can tell you about SECRET STORY ROMANCES is that there were 21 issues published between November, 1953, and March, 1956, and that its numbering continued into TRUE TALES OF LOVE. Beyond the cover, the only other credit I've seen for issue #14 is for an interior story (no title or page count) drawn by John Tartaglione, who continued penciling and inking for Marvel Comics well into the 1980s. He even worked on some of my stories.

Got a yearning to own SECRET STORY ROMANCES #14? If you could find a copy in near-mint condition, THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines it would cost you $55. Surprisingly, the generally more reasonable COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS pegs it at $60. When I checked eBay, I didn't find any auctions, current or completed, for this issue. It seems our love is destined to go unrequited.

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



Batman: Gotham County Line 3

The good thing about the overabundance of Batman comics being published by DC Comics is that, as badly written as the character is in most of them, the law of averages demands that some of these comics will be better and a few will be exceptional. Steve Niles' BATMAN: GOTHAM COUNTY LINE (three issues; $5.99 each) fits solidly into the exceptional category.

Drawn by Scott Hampton with color by Jose Villarrubia, GOTHAM COUNTY LINE takes Batman from his "comfortable" Gotham City in more ways than one. Former Commissioner Gordon asks his cowled buddy to help the county sheriff's department solve a series of particularly gruesome serial murders. What Batman finds is a horrific "world" which challenges his perceptions of what's real, even to his life and how he's chosen to live it.

I don't want to tell you much more about GOTHAM COUNTY LINE. I'd rather you enjoy it without too much forewarning. I will tell you Niles caught me totally by surprise with one element and that GCL brings some welcome light into Batman's life in an unexpected fashion. A glimmer of hope in the Batman's world? That's crazy. Maybe just crazy enough to work.

A gratuitous appearance by the Joker in the opening pages of the first issue prevents me from giving BATMAN: GOTHAM COUNTY LINE my top score. I fear my dislike for the overused Joker exceeds all rationality. Even so, the three-issue series gets a solid four out of five Tonys. Don't pass this one by.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



Archie Digest 222

ARCHIE DIGEST MAGAZINE #222 [Archie Comics, $2.39] is your typically pleasant 100-page collection of comics and features. Three of the stories struck me as noteworthy:

"Principal Matters" has Mr. Weatherbee receiving a visit from an incredibly successful classmate and having his own career choice affirmed. Living in a state where Republicans have done their best to destroy our public schools, it's nice to see that someone "gets" why these schools are so important.

Betty goes shopping for transportation in "Car Trouble" and, in the process, offers young readers some really good advice about buying a car. Using the Archie teens to educate new drivers about this and other automotive issues is a terrific idea. Anybody out there have some grant money lying around?

Finally, "Two Tense," a new story by writer Mike Pellowski and artists Tim Kennedy and Ken Selig, has Archie and his dad searching for a relaxing hobby they can enjoy together. That's a warm-and-fuzzy idea that made me feel, well, warm and fuzzy.

ARCHIE DIGEST MAGAZINE #222 earns a very respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



Call of the Wild

Puffin Graphics has been adapting beloved works of literature into manga-sized graphic novels. The latest such book to cross my path is Jack London's THE CALL OF THE WILD [$10.99], as adapted by Neil Kleid and Alex Nino.

Buck is the hero of this tale, a dog living in luxury until he is cruelly sold as a sled dog and sent to the Yukon. In that harsh world, he discovers the strength and will that make him respected and even feared by dogs and men alike. It's an exciting story set in a time and place where danger can arise swiftly and with deadly consequences.

Having never read London's classic novel, I can't speak to how faithfully Kleid and Nino adapted it. I can say this graphic novel captured the brutality and the beauty of its setting while keeping me wholly engaged with its courageous protagonist and exhilarating story. This version of THE CALL OF THE WILD is terrific comics and that earns it four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



Donald Duck Adventures

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #15 [Gemstone; $7.95] is one heck of a bargain with its 132 pages of full-color fun and adventure. Donald Duck leads off the digest issue with "Mission: Sasabonsam," one in a series of, oh, let's call them "alternate reality" tales in which he and cousin Fethry are agents of a "paranormalist organization" that hunts strange creatures. Written by Lars Jensen and drawn by Flemming Andersen, the tale has Donald and Fethry angrily splitting up to work with new partners and, in the process, discovering their own strengths and weaknesses.

Mickey Mouse and Goofy star in Stefan Petrucha's "Invasion of the Turtle People," a spiffy little thriller in which Goofy is all that stands between Earth and alien conquerors. Joaquin Canizares Sanchez is the artist.

In "Old Number One," Uncle Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews go in search of a legendary coin of great power, perhaps an equal to Scrooge's own beloved dime. Sorceress Magica De Spell also seeks the coin in this sea-faring story by writers Pat and Carol McGreal and artist Flemming Andersen.

Magica concludes the issue with "Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt," a tale of the sorceress as a young girl by writer Stefano Ambrosio and artist Giorgio Di Vita. Like the other stories here, this one is entertaining and suitable for all ages.

Offering quality and value to readers, DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #15 earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



Scott Stantis' PRICKLY CITY is one of the more odious strips stinking up the comics pages. Though Stantis isn't without talent, his humor is, more often than not, based on facts not in evidence, insulting rhetoric, and right-wing talking points. It's a shame he can't use his powers for good.

Since even a broken clock is correct twice a day, Stantis does occasionally produce a strip that amuses me. Our first example is from November 6, 2005:

Prickley City

When manga is referenced in one of the most conservative comic strips around, you can't deny that it's becoming part of American culture.

More recently, Stantis did his own take on Frank Miller's SIN CITY. This strip is from January 22 of this year:

Prickly City

Watch for more COMICS IN THE COMICS in future TOTs.



Holy Shiitake Mushrooms! I never got around to giving you the results from TONY POLLS questions we posted way back in November. Better late than never, here they are...

As a reader, are you in favor of "age-advisory" labels on comic books, graphic novels, and other formats?


As a reader, are you in favor of "content-advisory" labels on comic books, graphic novels, and other formats?


If you were (are) a comics creator, would you be in favor of "age-advisory" labels on comics you work on?


If you were (are) a comics creator, would you be in favor of "content-advisory" labels on comics you work on?


If you were (are) a comics retailer, would you be in favor of "age-advisory" labels on comics you sell?


If you were (are) a comics retailer, would you be in favor of "content-advisory" labels on the comics you sell?


Generally speaking, do you feel the "age-advisory" labels on comics you buy, sell, or work on are accurate?


Generally speaking, do you feel "content-advisory" labels on comics you buy, sell, or work on are accurate?


This is a first for me. On every question, I chose the answer that got the most votes.

Some additional comments:

As a reader, I'm in favor of age-advisory and content-advisory labels. Labels wouldn't affect my purchases unless I was buying comics as gifts, but, even so, they do no harm to me and might help others make informed decisions.

As a creator, I have publicly stated that I will put age-advisory and content-advisory labels on comics I work on, assuming I have a choice in the matter. To be honest, I prefer these labels on the back covers, as they appear on most manga books, but I'll work with the designer to include them on front covers if that's what is called for.

If I were still a retailer, I would, to the best of my power, insist on these advisory labels on comics I sell. The labels won't stop the determined censorious fanatic, but they represent, at the very least, a good faith effort to keep age-inappropriate material out of the hands of minors and bluenoses.

Do I believe such advisories, as they currently are used, are accurate? Generally speaking, which is how the question was put to you, I would have to say "no" for any number of reasons.

In comics where the "T&A" is prominent, I would probably mark the comics for older readers than is now the case. Excessive gore would get the same treatment from me, but I'd probably be looser on "strong language" than many.

The one thing that wouldn't figure in my determinations would be the ideas expressed in comics. With rare exception, I believe any idea can be expressed in a manner appropriate to nearly all of a comic's readers. Creators control what goes on the page and we should be able to express ourselves without using salacious art, excessive gore, or "naughty" words.

I'm not saying creators have to express themselves sans these things and I wouldn't necessarily rule out their use in some future work of mine. We make creative choices. However, after the act of creation is finished, I think accurate labeling is important and even vital in the marketplace.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to respond to my poll questions. New poll questions are posted every Monday and you can vote on them here:

That's all for today's TOT. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff to - hopefully - amuse and inform you.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/25/2006 | 01/26/2006 | 01/27/2006 >>

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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.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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