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for Monday, February 6, 2006

Betty and Veronica 41

Welcome to Riverdale, home of some of comicdom's most beloved characters. Archie and his pals and gals join our cover rotation with ARCHIE'S GIRLS BETTY AND VERONICA #41 [March, 1959]. I just hope no readers are offended by those "short skirts" the girls are wearing on this cover. How shocking!

I can't tell you much about this issue and I fear that will be the case for almost all the vintage Archie covers I run in future TOTs. The OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE notes Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot are mentioned in the issue, and opines that a near-mint condition copy of the comic would sell for about $165. The COMIC BUYER'S GUIDE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS pegs the issue at $85. My quick check of eBay showed no recent ongoing or completed auctions.

Our TOT cover rotation is almost complete. Just one of my ten planned slots remain open. Swing around tomorrow to see what I've chosen to fill that slot.



It's time to look at more DCU comic books. There were ten DCU issues released the week of November 23. Two were SEVEN SOLDIERS issues; I'll be reviewing that series as it's collected in trades. The I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S NOT THE JUSTICE LEAGUE trade also came out that week, but I'm going to review that book and its predecessor in a future column. That leaves seven.

Batgirl 70

BATGIRL #70 [$2.50] makes me wonder if I went too easy on the previous issue. Mr. Freeze, Batgirl's ally of the moment, revives his wife. The missus has some sort of fire power, renames herself Lazara, starts slaughtering henchmen, and, apparently, reanimating corpses. The writing is choppy, exposition is weak, and the battle sequence is padded. At story's end - and this was supposed to be the conclusion of a five-issue story - the story doesn't end. Oh, the Freeze part of the tale ends, but the last page has Batgirl and other survivors about to be attacked. Can't we ever get an honest ending to a story anymore?

BATGIRL #70 gets but one out of five Tonys.


Batman Gotham Knights 71

The only sympathetic characters in BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #71 [$2.50] are Alfred, who spends most of the issue "dying" off-panel, and the newest Clayface, who loves his family and, in death, helps Batman clear Alfred of a murder. As for the "hero" of this title, he assaults Arkham Asylum guards, frees a dangerous criminal from the Asylum, and acts only in his own selfish interests from start to finish. Holy hospice, Batman! Your comics are on life support and fading fast!

BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #71 gets no Tonys.

No Tonys

Catwoman 49

CATWOMAN #49 [$2.50] concludes the "super-villains in the East End" story arc that's been running for six issues. Will Pfeifer's writing is still good, but the resolution to last issue's "Selina's dead" cliffhanger is undermined by a lack of information about the man responsible for her not being dead. He wasn't in the previous issue and, though I *think* I know who he is, I can't be certain. Is subtle exposition a dying art? I could even live with blatant exposition if it would help me figure out what the heck is going on in some of the DCU titles.

As is typical with so many super-hero titles, the next story arc starts on the last page of this story arc with the appearance of Zatanna bearing some mysterious bad news. Oh, yeah, and Black Mask appears for an ominous few panels, presumably to set the stage for even more bad news.

CATWOMAN #49 wasn't as good as the previous issue. Its rating drops to a still respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Flash 228

FLASH #228 [$2.50] adds to my disappointment with this week's issues. It's the middle chapter of a three-part story and it would be about a dozen pages long if you took out the daydream sequences and guest appearances of Nightwing and Cyborg. It ends with Flash handing over a super-weapon to one of his most dangerous villains, a villain currently channeling Ra's Al Ghul's "mankind is messing up the planet and it's time to thin the herd dramatically" mantra. This issue gets no Tonys from me.

No Tonys

JSA Classified 5

JSA CLASSIFIED #5 [$2.50] presents the first chapter of "Honor Among Thieves" by writer Jen Van Meter, penciller Patrick Olliffe, and inker Ruy Jose. It stars the Injustice Society and it's just the ticket to rescue this disappointing week. Van Meter brings the group together, shows the bonds between the villains, and allows us to watch them make their plans. Every character is introduced by name without disrupting the flow of the story. Every character is given a moment to show what he or she can do. Far as I could tell, there wasn't a misstep in this issue and it left me eager to read the next chapter. Breathe deeply, my loyal legions of TOT readers. That unfamiliar scent is fresh air.

JSA CLASSIFIED #5 earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Robin 144

ROBIN #144 [$2.50] was an improvement over the previous issue. This issue, writer Bill Willingham named the prominent characters and showed us what they could do. I chuckled out loud over Robin's not knowing who two villains here and was delighted that, later in the story, those villains were named.

The basic plot? Bludhaven - as creepy as Gotham City but sans any of the nice parts - is in the aftermath of the OMAC invasion. Seems the OMACs had rounded up hundreds of metahumans, heroes and villains, and had started slaughtering them before they were shut down. The surviving villains are on the loose. Backing up Robin are the super-soldier Veteran, his squad, and a few members of the magically inclined Shadowpact. I'm still not wild about the art, but, with me, the story always comes first.

ROBIN #144 earns three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Vigilante 3

VIGILANTE #3 [$2.99] brings us to the midway point of the six-issue series. The title character is still on the loose, but now he's talking to psychiatrist Simon Powell. Two sessions appear to reveal something of the Vigilante's origins, but raise additional questions. Powell is torn between revealing his connection to the Vigilante to the police and protecting his lover from his patient. The suspense is heightened when a police detective with issues of his own ponders using a just-paroled child-murderer as bait to draw the Vigilante out. Then there's the last page shocker which could put Powell and his lover in even greater danger.

Kudos to writer Bruce Jones for maintaining the intensity of the previous issues and to new artist Dustin Nguyen for bringing an eerie darkness to the series.

VIGILANTE #3 earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

That's it for this session. If all goes well, I'll have you back on the INFINITE CRISIS couch come Wednesday.



Comics Buyers Guide

Just a reminder...


The Comics Buyer's Guide's annual Fan Awards, where you, the fans, pick your favorites of the past year, are still open. For the 24th annual presentation (and after numerous requests), CBG has initiated a nominating round and ballot with the nominations coming exclusively from visitors to CBGXTRA.COM!

Between now and Feb. 28, follow this link...

...and vote on your 2005 favorites in 12 categories:

Favorite Editor

Favorite Writer

Favorite Penciller

Favorite Inker

Favorite Colorist

Favorite Letterer

Favorite Artist

Favorite Comic-Book Story (arc or individual issue)

Favorite Comic Book

Favorite Original Graphic Novel or Album (no TPB collections)

Favorite Character

Favorite Publishing Company

Only material with a 2005 publication date is eligible for consideration. The floor is open; click the link above and place your nominations! Feel free to post to the CBG forum and discuss the works and creators you're supporting. A little campaigning never hurts!



Black Lightning HeroClix Figure

Every Monday, we post new TONY POLLS questions for your voting entertainment. Last month, with the announcement Black Lightning, the character I created in the 1970s and revived in the 1990s would be joining the ranks of HeroClix Heroes.

Here's how you voted on the questions we asked:

Black Lightning will be added to the ranks of hero-figures used for WhizKids' popular HEROCLIX game. The costume my creation will be wearing isn't one commonly associated with him. Which of these BL costumes is your favorite?

BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS variation.....33.33%
Eddy Newell-designed costume from 1995.....31.67%
Isabella-designed costume from 1977.....30.83%
Costume currently seen in GREEN ARROW...4.17%

The Eddy Newell costumes is far and away my favorite, but Jim Aparo's variation of my original costume, as seen in BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS, still looks good to me as well.

Have you ever played HEROCLIX?


Have I played HEROCLIX? Not yet.

Do you collect HEROCLIX figures?


Do I collect HEROCLIX figures? No. However, thanks to SETH JOHNSON, the lead designer for HEROCLIX at WhizKids, I now have a handful of Black Lightning and other figures...and instructions on how to play the game. Thanks, Seth!

How would you rate Tony's chances of learning how to play HEROCLIX?

MINT: even Tony could master it.....10.89%
FINE: so simple a child could master it.....11.88%
VERY GOOD: maybe a child could teach it to Tony.....18.81%
GOOD: maybe a patient child could teach it to Tony.....31.68%
FAIR: let's face it, it's a long shot.....14.85%
POOR: when monkeys fly out of Tony's butt.....11.88%

You good folks have so much misplaced confidence in me it that makes me weep. When the original Marvel Super-Heroes role-playing game was released, the one everyone said was insultingly simple to master, I tried to play it with my pal Bob Ingersoll. There I was, someone who had *written* Marvel comic books, and I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I think CANDY LAND is more my speed.

Moving right along...

The Academy Awards nominations for excellence in cinema have been announced. For the next two or three weeks, we're asking you to vote on the various categories. However, just for fun, we will be asking you to pick both the nominee you WANT to win and the one who think WILL win.

Cast your votes on this week's questions here:

Make me proud, kids.



Amazing Spider-Man 38

Our first letter is from DENNIS McCARTHY, who, after reading my "When Steve Ditko Left Marvel" sidebar in CBG, corrected a typo that had gotten past me and my editors. Thanks to Dennis I fixed the mistake when I ran the item here:

Here's what Dennis wrote:

I enjoyed your sidebar about Ditko's departure from Marvel. I, too, took it hard, though probably not as hard as your explosive buddy. But it was a chilly spring day in 1966, not 1965.

So big was the impression Marvel made on me, I still remember the specific months in which certain issues hit the newsstands. God, "newsstands"! Daredevil #4 was the first Marvel comic - with a cover, that is - I ever bought, and I remember it was July 1964. DD was still bi-monthly at the time.

My first Spider-Man - again, the first with a cover - was #21, on the racks in November 1964. Those two touchstones have enabled me to guess more or less accurately when some Silver Age titles hit the streets. For example, the greatest Spider-Man story ever told and perhaps the greatest comic book story ever told - the story arc comprised of issues 31, 32, and 33 - came out in September, October and November 1965, the autumn I was in 8th grade.

Ditko's last Spider-Man was #38, "Just A Guy Named Joe." This would be April 1966. If memory serves, the announcement of Ditko's departure came in that issue and not one second before, which made it a terrific shock. Communication in those days seems like smoke signals compared to 2006; if the Ditko incident were happening now, we'd have lengthy articles, fan commentary, and probably photos, documenting every moment of Ditko's scuffle with Marvel, weeks or months in advance of his actual leaving, which thus would have been no surprise by the time it actually happened.

So enamored was I of the Ditko Spidey that to this day I think of John Romita as the new guy on the strip. I continued collecting Spider-Man for two years, but it was more out of loyalty to the character than enjoyment. There's no questioning Romita's talent, of course, but as far as I was concerned he had a fatal flaw...he wasn't Steve Ditko. Only Ditko, and no one since Ditko, had that art-deco/noir style that so perfectly suited Spider-Man and, for that matter, Dr. Strange.

For me, Ditko left at what was Marvel's Silver Age peak. The Marvel Universe didn't really take off until JFK was assassinated, when a kid like me entering the 7th grade needed heroes. In the many retellings of Marvel's rise to power, no one ever seems to factor that in. The month after I bought DD #4, we had a dust-up in the Gulf of Tonkin which led to the Vietnam War. Those were sure not the days.

But by 1968, when I gave Marvel up, Ditko was long gone and DD had jumped its tracks into that awful twin-brother storyline; awful and embarrassing. In the middle of the swinging '60s, Mike Murdock was a state-of-the-1950s-art hipster.

The Marvel titles were already building a mythology that was hard to track, and has since become off-the-chart insane. Complex mythologies are the norm for today's readers, but I wonder whether any of them will be so impressed by a sole issue of anything that, 40 years from now, they'll remember the month they bought it.

While I think more kindly of Marvel 1968 and even beyond than you do, I enjoyed your perspective on the era.

For what it's worth, I can still remember the comic I read on the evening of November 22, 1963. Sent home from school early and without homework, my family sat in our living room sadly watching the news coverage on our black-and-white TV set. It was all that was on all three networks and, of course, back then, three networks were all we had.

My parents had taken the news very hard. Kennedy was one of "our own," a Roman Catholic who had actually become the President of the United States. Thinking back, when the announcement of the assassination was made at Sts. Philip and James Elementary School, it was the first time I'd ever seen a nun cry.

Times do change. These days, I cringe whenever politicians of any stripe wrap themselves in religion. These days, such wrapping serves little purpose than to disguise bigotry or some other forms of repression.

Adventure Comics 314

The comic book I read that night?

It was ADVENTURE COMICS #314 [November, 1963], a recent issue I had acquired in a trade earlier that week. The Legion of Super-Heroes starred in "The Super-Villains of All Ages," wherein a 30th-century villain had stolen a Legion time bubble, gone to the past, and come back with Nero, John Dillinger, and Hitler, transferring their minds/personalities into the bodies of Mon-El, Ultra Boy, and Superboy. Saturn Girl used her mental powers to turn the villains against one another and, eventually, the evil minds/personalities were transferred back to their original owners.

The above cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein. The story was written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by John Forte. Oddly enough, though I remember the Legion story very well, I needed MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS [] to jog my recollection of the issue's second tale, "My Son, the Boy of Steel," a nine-page Superboy solo.

Here's what Mike Voiles wrote:

Fred Carter, a resident of Smallville, becomes convinced that his son Amos is secretly Superboy. Fred witnesses several events which make him believe that Amos gets his powers by drinking a special serum. When Amos is sick with a stomachache, which Fred thinks is caused by Kryptonite, Fred drinks the serum himself and tries to prevent a robbery. The real Superboy is on hand to prevent Fred from being harmed and fake his super powers. When Fred gets home, Superboy and Amos prove to him that Amos is not the Boy of Steel.

According to the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [], this story was drawn by George Papp and written by Mort Weisinger, who was the editor of the entire "Superman Family" line of comic books back in the day. Shortly thereafter, the new Superboy stories were replaced by reprints...with the reprints eventually giving way to book-length Legion adventures.

Bringing this back to the original topic, Ditko's taking his leave from Marvel had something of a positive effect on my wanting to work in comics. Drawing Spider-Man was a job. He quit that job and someone else was hired to do it. That told me that drawing or writing a comic-book series wasn't necessarily a job for life and that, slim as the possibility might be, I might someday be able to fill some future job opening. I'd claim the rest is history, but, leave us face the shocking truth, to our trivia-saturated brains, *everything* that happens in comics is history.

Thanks to all who took the time to drop by the website today. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 02/02/2006 | 02/06/2006 | 02/07/2006 >>

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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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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