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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Friday, January 27, 2006

Batman 154

Did you know Alfred Pennyworth (a.k.a. Batman's butler) was an author? Of course you did. Because you were reading this column last August when I wrote about Alfred's thrilling stories about the second Batman and Robin team.

Those columns appeared on August 11, 19, and 31. All of them are still online in our TOT archives, so if you haven't yet read them, or if you feel the need to refresh your memory, go ahead and check them out now. I'll still be here when you return.

Alfred wrote his stories for his own enjoyment; after all, he couldn't publish tales that revealed the secret identities of the first Batman and Robin team. As a not-quite-teenager who wanted to be a writer, I loved Alfred's imaginary tales of a time when Bruce Wayne had retired, passing the mantle of the Bat to Dick Grayson. Bruce had married Kathy "Batwoman" Kane and their son was Robin to Dick's Batman.

I don't think I realized this back in the day, but these tales were Alfred's wish-fulfilment fantasies. He wanted Bruce Wayne to have a happy and completely fulfilling life, including marriage and fatherhood. It should also be noted that Alfred could envision no more joyful future for himself than to continue his service to the Wayne family well into his senior years. You have to be impressed by that kind of devotion.

BATMAN #154 [March, 1963] led off with "Danger Strikes Four," the fourth "Second Batman and Robin Team" stories and a divergence from the earlier tales. In this one, Dick Grayson reads a story in progress, a story Alfred is having difficulty finishing and that somewhat parallels the current case in which Grayson, as Robin, is involved. Here's a snappy summary lifted from MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS []:

Dick Grayson reads Alfred's story, which as yet has no ending as the fictional heroes must defeat a robot bomb. Dick is soon called away by Batman to help against the gang of Big Al. In a striking coincidence, the heroes are threatened by a situation similar to the one from Alfred's story. Robin comes up with a solution to throw off the bomb's tracking with a magnet. He uses the solution in stopping the real bomb, then gives it to Alfred to complete his story.

We don't know who wrote "Danger Strikes Four," but I would put my money on Batman co-creator Bill Finger for the credit, based on his having written the previous tale in the series. The story was pencilled by Sheldon Moldoff and inked by Charles Paris. It wasn't the cover story, but it did get a blurb on the cover.

Bob Kane signed the cover of BATMAN #154, so it's possible he actually did pencil it. Paris inked it.

Moldoff and Paris teamed for BATMAN #154's two other stories: "The Amazing Odyssey of Batman and Robin," in which the Dynamic Duo stop a circus magician turned criminal from heisting the $100,000 prize being offered by a TV station, and "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Dorn," research that transforms the scientist into a powerful creature until Batman and Robin find a cure for his condition. We have no definite writer credits for either of these tales, but the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [] opines Arnold Drake may be the author of the Dr. Dorn adventure.

None of these stories have been reprinted, so if you want to read them, you either have to come to my house and sort through my massive accumulation of stuff - I haven't a clue where my Batmans are at present - or look for a copy on the back-issue market. THE OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE pegs a near-mint copy of the issue at $150 while the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS has it at $85.

Searching eBay, I found recently completed sales of the issue (in lesser condition) ranging from $9.83 to $25, and ongoing sales from $2.25 to $45. A page of original art from the "Odyssey" story recently sold for $1469.

Alfred "wrote" two more stories of the second Batman and Robin team. I'll be writing about them in future TOTs.



Manhunter Street Justice

I'd hoped to have another round of INFINITE CRISIS COUNSELING for you, but I wasn't able to read all the DCU titles from the week of November 9 in time for today's column. In its place, let's chat about MANHUNTER: STREET JUSTICE [$12.99] by writer Marc Andreyko, penciller Jesus Saiz, and inker Jimmy Palmiotti. The book reprints the first five issues of the ongoing MANHUNTER series.

Federal prosecutor Kate Spencer isn't a hero in my book. She is a cold-hearted murderer who violates the judicial code of ethics on a nigh-daily basis. She is a terrible mother and, a guess here, she was an even worse wife. Her vaunted concern for her fellow man has extremely narrow parameters; she's not above putting others at considerable risk to achieve her ends. I don't like her one little bit...but I really enjoyed reading about her.

When Kate fails to convict the cannibalistic Copperhead, she steals a super-suit and weapons from an evidence room, poaches the "Manhunter" moniker, hunts down the villain, and kills him. It's not simple self-defense; she goes after the escaped Copperhead with the intention of killing him. Over the course of the five issues, her negligence leads to her son being seriously and almost fatally injured. She makes a list of other villains she plans to hunt down and kill. If an informant who she herself placed in witness protection doesn't help her, she threatens to reveal his whereabouts to super-villains he testified against. She's an evil bitch...and I really enjoy reading about her.

In the real world, I am against the death penalty for a number of moral and practical reasons. I don't know those reasons hold up in the increasingly brutal DCU. There is no doubt of Copperhead's guilt; they have him tearing his victims apart on camera and then chowing down on them. There is little doubt that he will kill more innocents if he escapes custody and, indeed, that he will escape at some point. Genetic anomaly or not, Copperhead is a danger to the rest of society and, quite frankly, almost any other certain method of protecting society from him (severing his spinal cord so that he can't move, lobotomizing him so he can't even think to move, and so forth) would be more cruel than executing him.

Some DCU villains demand the death penalty. But that sentence shouldn't be imposed by vigilantes operating outside the law. It's even more egregious when a federal prosecutor decides to take the law into her own hands and stolen weapons. By the way, I really do enjoying reading about that prosecutor.

MANHUNTER: STREET JUSTICE has its flaws. By the third issue, Kate is the target of a villain seeking revenge for her murder of Copperhead. By the fifth issue, the super-hero guest stars start appearing and, because the story demands it, aren't skilled enough to find Kate and bring her to justice. Even so, this is a terrific start to the series. If a second collection doesn't come out soon, I may have to start digging through my vast accumulation of comics for the subsequent issues.

I'm cautiously hooked on MANHUNTER. Andreyko will need to be clever to avoid the usual super-vigilante cliches and make Kate's continued activity/freedom believable, but he's earned some benefit of the doubt with these initial stories.

MANHUNTER: STREET JUSTICE gets four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



Best of the West 53

Hankering for some old-school western comics? You don't have to look any further than BEST OF THE WEST #53 and #54 [AC Comics; $6.95 each]. Each 44-page issue reprints several stories from the 1950s, drawn by such classic comics artists as Dick Ayers, Frank Bolle, Bob Powell, and others. Publisher Bill Black and his crew painstakingly retouch the black-and-white art from these stories to make them look as good as new or darn close to it.

The Durango Kid is the cover feature of both issues with BEST OF THE WEST #54 sporting a spiffy cover of the Kid by the late Gil Kane. Other heroes appearing in these issues include Rocky Lane (Republic Pictures star), Kitty Carson ("rough ridin' gal sheriff," drawn by Powell), The Haunted Horseman (the original Ghost Rider, drawn by Ayers), Red Mask (drawn by Bolle), Golden Arrow (drawn by Ruben Moreira), The Lazo Kid (drawn by Mort Meskin), Black Diamond, and American Eagle (drawn by Red Galindo and John Severin). Though the stories themselves are sometimes less than engaging, the art is always good to great.

Among the notable stories in BOTW #53:

I got a kick out of the Kitty Carson story, even though it was only three pages. She's a sexy and tough lady, capable of knocking an owlhoot on his ass with one punch, doing aerobatics on horseback to defuse dynamite, and shooting the gun out of a foe's hand. I'd love to see more of her adventures.

The Haunted Horseman is always fun, though I don't always buy his faux-supernatural stunts. He's in both issues.

Red Mask is on the trail of a man who wears "The Death Hat." The story is genuinely unsettling in places.

Best of the West 54

Stories worth noting in BOTW #54:

Disguised as a traveling musician, fighting crime on the side, the Lazo Kid is a bit of a "Latin lover" stereotype. In this tale, he travels into Mexico to capture an outlaw and deliver him to the U.S. authorities. I'm not sold on the character, who appeared in PRIZE WESTERN, but I'd like to see more.

Also from PRIZE WESTERN, American Eagle is accused of being a traitor to his people, part of a plot concocted by a medicine man and a gold-seeking outlaw. A key element of the story is the bond between Eagle and his "brother" Dolan.

BEST OF THE WEST #53 and #54 are suitable for all ages. The writing is fair to good and occasionally better than good. The art ranges from good to great. Seven bucks for 40 pages of rare comics is a decent deal. I'm giving these issues a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



Jughead and His Friends 11

Two issues stood out from the rest as I looked over the Archie comics shipping in May. The first was JUGHEAD AND HIS FRIENDS DIGEST #11 [$2.49]. In addition to the usual reprints, the issue features the all-new "Quirk For Hire" by writer/artist Fernando Ruiz. After Jughead gives his mom a library book for her birthday, his father insists he get a job. With Archie's help, Jughead is hired by a local movie theater...only to learn his boss is Trula Twist, the one girl he can never quite figure out. What interest me most about the tale is that I believe it marks the first time Trula will be written by someone other than Craig Boldman, who created her in the ongoing JUGHEAD title. Trula is a terrific character, the best addition to the Riverdale High cast since Cheryl Blossom. I hope Ruiz does right by her.


Archie and Friends 101

Also shipping in May:

A beloved comics character returns in ARCHIE & FRIENDS #101 [$2.25]. In a story written and drawn by Andrew Pepoy, Katy Keene is back to ask, "Where in the World are the Veronicas?" To quote from the Archie Comics solicitation:

Ever since her smash hit reintroduction in the 2005 Free Comic Book Day giveaway comic, fans have been asking for Katy's return. Now she's back in a brand-new story that's sure to be "in fashion" in this or any other year! An appearance at the "VTV Movie Awards" affords Katy the opportunity to fill reporters in on the exciting turns her career has taken. In the process, comic-book readers will be reintroduced to some of Katy's old friends, as well as some new people in this glamour girl's life. Don't miss all the fashionable fun.

Watch for more Archie news and reviews in upcoming editions of this column. Unless Moose finds out about me and Midge.

That's all for now. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

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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