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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 Thursday, February 16, 2006

Phantom 1

It's ALPHA/OMEGA DAY here at TOT Central, but we're looking at a comics series which debuted before the above issue and continued, albeit overseas, long after this particular incarnation of the book reached the end of its run.

Lee Falk launched THE PHANTOM newspaper strip on February 17, 1936, and it's still running today. In the late 1930s and through the 1950s, reprints of the strip were featured in comic books from several publishers. I read the Phantom sporadically in Cleveland newspapers, but it was the Gold Key comics title with its complete-in-one-issue stories and Phantom fact pages that made me a Phantom fan for life.

The prolific George Wilson painted the cover of THE PHANTOM #1 [November, 1962]. There were no ads in the issue and the cover was reproduced on the back cover without the Phantom logo, cover copy, or anything else that wasn't Wilson's painting. Writer Bill Harris and artist Bill Lignante recapped the Phantom origin on the inside front cover of the issue.

"The Game" by Harris and Lignante filled all 32 interior pages of the issue. My memory fails me here, but the story may well have been based on a Lee Falk adventure from the strip. The cover copy mentions "seven deadly obstacles" the Phantom must overcome to win this jungle game. The inside back cover of the issue is a feature page on the good mark of the Phantom, the symbol which lets others know that the wearer is under the hero's protection.

Gold Key published 17 issues of THE PHANTOM. King Features, which syndicated the newspaper strip, pulled the license to launch its own line of comic books.

Phantom 18

THE PHANTOM #18 [September, 1966] was edited by Bill Harris. The cover was by Lignante. Inside the issue:

"The Treasure of Skull Cave," a 24-page Phantom story written by Dick Wood and drawn by Lignante;

"Phan-Mail," a letters page; and,

"Flash Gordon and the Space Pirates," a four-page story drawn by Wally Wood. All the King adventure titles (PHANTOM, MANDRAKE, FLASH GORDON) would feature such short stories of adventure heroes other than their title character.

The new King Comics line was a disaster. Initial distribution was poor, the company switched to selling the books via department stores (in three-packs) and subscriptions, and this continuation of THE PHANTOM ended with #29. Driving American fans and collectors mad for decades to come, that last King issue was only published overseas. I don't believe I've ever seen a copy.

Phantom 30

Charlton leased the King properties and began publishing THE PHANTOM with issue #30. Frank McLaughlin was the cover artist for that issue and Sal Gentile was the editor. I have no recollection of this issue, but the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [www.comics.org] lists the following contents:

"Secret of the Golden Random," a 9-page story featuring "the girl Phantom" with inks by Sal Trapani and pencils possibly by Don Perlin;

"Vengeance of the Great Clock," a 7-page anthology-type story drawn by Ray Bailey;

"The Siren's Secret," a 4-page anthology-type story drawn by Jack Sparling;

"The Mighty Elephant," a single-page "Phantom's Journal" text feature; and,

"The Living Legend," a 7-page Phantom adventure drawn by Frank McLaughlin.

THE PHANTOM had a long and healthy run at Charlton, though the quality would vary. There were fine issues drawn by Jim Aparo, Pat Boyette, Frank Bolle, and Don Newton, interspersed with tales drawn by lesser lights and reprinted from foreign publishers. American writers included Joe Gill, Nick Cuti, and John Clark.

Phantom 74

THE PHANTOM #74 was the last Charlton issue and the end of the title that had begun with Gold Key in 1962. The painted cover was by Don Newton, who also wrote and drew "The Phantom of 1776," a 22-page story that recapped the origin of the Phantom line. Newton, a terrific artist who died too young, would go from the Phantom to Batman and other DC heroes. For more about Newton, take a look at Berry Keller's Don Newton site:

www.donnewton.com

Though the Phantom isn't as popular in the United States as he once was, his newspaper strip is still thriving with art by Graham Nolan and Paul Ryan. I read it online here:

seattlepi.nwsource.com/fun/phantom.asp

COMICS REVUE, the newspaper reprint strip magazine published by Rick Norwood, has featured the Phantom since the mid-1980s. The magazine is distributed by Diamond. For an online taste of COMICS REVUE and other Norwood publications, go here:

www.io.com/~norwoodr

Moonstone Books has been publishing new Phantom comics for a couple of years now. I've enjoyed the issues I've read and you can find out more about their Phantom books here:

www.moonstonebooks.com

Phantom 1436

As veteran TOT readers know, I get my additional Phantom fixes from Frew Publications. This Australian outfit has been publishing the Phantom since 1948 and offering its readers a mix of newspaper stories and original adventures produced by Egmont.

THE PHANTOM #1436 [which cost me $11] is the most recent issue I've received. It's the 2006 annual special featuring 284 pages of the Phantom plus a replica of 1949 issue. Look for reviews of the Frew Phantom to return to TOT in the near future.

ALPHA/OMEGA covers are part of our regular rotation. Expect to see them every other week or so.

******

HEROIC EFFORTS

Anthem 1

The Axis powers won World War II. They control all the world save for the central portion of the United States. And perhaps the last hope for freedom are the super-heroes "created" by desperate scientists in occupied Manhattan. That's the brilliant, powerful premise of ROY THOMAS' ANTHEM [Heroic Publishing; $3.25], the first issue of which hit the comic shops this week.

Creator/writer Roy Thomas had a lot of ground to cover in the 20 story pages of ANTHEM #1: introducing seven super-heroes, showing us what they could do, giving us a glimpse of their personalities, and revealing the horrifying Axis-controlled reality in which they exist. It was a trip I was delighted to take with him. I've been a Thomas fan since his first super-hero stories - BLUE BEETLE and SON OF VULCAN - at Charlton. Not to take anything away from other favorite writers of that era, but Roy's work always seemed a little smarter than the rest of what was on the newsstands in those pre-Direct Market years. When I got to work with Thomas at Marvel, my high regard for the man and his writing rose. There may have been the occasional off-issue or series since then, but I can't conceive of ever bypassing a Thomas-written comic book.

My only real "complaint" with ANTHEM's inaugural issue is that there wasn't more of it. I want to know more about these heroes and their scary alternate reality. I'm thinking 20 pages every other month won't be nearly enough to satisfy me.

Getting back to this issue, Daniel Acuna's art wasn't typical super-heroic visuals, but retained the power and emotion of Roy's premise and script. Cover artist Jorge Santamaria Gaccia will be drawing the next three issues.

Backing up the story are nine pages of special features: Roy's informative personal history of ANTHEM, a Jesus Merino pin-up, and a history of the Star-Spangled Banner, the tune from which all the members of the team were inspired. That adds up to good value for your three bucks and change.

ANTHEM #1 earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Flare 32

FLARE #32 [$3.25] is the new issue of Heroic's flagship title and, while it's not as much to my taste as ANTHEM, it offers three entertaining stories.

Flare is an intriguing character. She was raised by evil men who intended to use her powers to further their aims. Instead, she embraced the light and, somewhere along the line, even merged with a goddess of light. She still has her dark moments, though, and we see one of them in "Showdown With the A.L.F." Written by Wilson Hill with art by J. Adam Walters, the 12-page tale has Flare going after her evil aunt, Helga, who, for some reason, is trapped in the body of a comely teenager.

Sidebar. A.L.F. stands for Amazon Liberation Front, but I had to go to the Heroic website [www.heroicpub.com] to uncover that bit of knowledge. An editor's note on the splash page would have been useful here, but, what the heck, the oversight lets me mention the company website which is full of good stuff.

SPOILER WARNING

Flare defeats her aunt and then, shockingly, turns her over to a slaver who intends to sell her to some Middle East potentate for a bride. Flare has her reasons for doing this and I kind of sort of get them, but it's still a pretty dark move for a super-heroine whose stock in trade is bright and shining light.

END OF SPOILER

Next up is Sparkplug, Flare's sister, in "Jimmy Dooley, Man of Wonder" by writer Steve Perrin and artist Terry Pallot. Jimmy just plain tickles me. A reporter who has been covering super-heroes for years, he has recently gained strange powers of his own. Think a slightly smarter Johnny Thunder and his magic thunderbolt; you won't be too far off the mark. This nine-pager is great fun and continues next issue. It's followed by a text article on "The Sunken Foundations of San Francisco," historical landmarks featured in the preceding adventure.

The issue finishes with "Cookie Saves a Day," a charming short story (4 pages) about a stick-figure boy Flare and her sister used to make up stories about when they were children. It's written by publisher Dennis Mallonee and drawn by Howard Bender.

FLARE #32 also earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Flare Adventures 16

FLARE ADVENTURES #16 [$3.25] reprints stories from FLARE #11 [April, 1993], stories which "set the stage for events upcoming in the pages of FLARE." Unfortunately, that might not be the greatest recommendation for me.

This issue goes a little overboard on the T&A for me. Frank Brunner's cover immediately draws the viewer's attention to Flare's ass through her transparent nightgown.

"Glitter" is eight pages of Lady Arcana putting the moves on Flare while the latter strikes pose after pose. It's more fashion spread than story, despite being written by Mallonee and drawn by Mark Propst.

In "The Return of Nyx" by Mallonee, Dell Barnes, and Propst, we get some background to "Flare is part-goddess," but not before the god Pan cops a feel or two. If the titillations advanced the story or characters significantly, that would be one thing. They don't and, combined with the first story, it leaves us with a comic book in which nothing happens beyond setting the stage for the next issue. I didn't get no satisfaction from this issue, though I was appreciative of the pin-up and mini-bios of the Olympian gods who have played or will be playing a part in future tales.

FLARE ADVENTURES #16 gets a disappointing one Tony.

Tony

Today's column isn't done with Heroic yet, but the next item requires its own section.

******

FULL DISCLOSURE

I walk in two worlds. Okay, maybe not so much over the past several years, but I am both a comics writer and a comics reviewer. That duet carries with it a responsibility to let you know what's going on between myself and the publishers whose comics I review.

So, just as I've tried to keep you informed of the work I've done for Gemstone Comics and mostly refrained from doing actual reviews of any Gemstone issues that contain my work, I'm letting you know where I stand with Heroic Publishing.

A while back, Heroic publisher Dennis Mallonee contacted me to see if I would be interested in writing for his comics. We talked and I liked what I heard and I accepted his offer. Since then, the saintly Mallonee has been preternaturally patient while I've worked my way through a host of medical and other matters. I have rarely dealt with a publisher so supportive of a creator.

With the light at the end of a maddeningly long tunnel finally in view, I'll be writing some scripts for Heroic in the very near future. I hope Dennis will think they were worth the wait because he's a gent I'd like to do a lot of work with. On his characters. On some new characters of my own. He's a class act and I'm honored he wants to work with me.

My writing for Heroic Publishing doesn't affect my reviews of their comics. While I'll certainly keep you informed when my work is published, I won't be reviewing any Heroic comics which contain my work. I'll likely also avoid commenting on stories others might write with the same characters I'm writing.

But what I will urge you to do is buy some Heroic comics and see if they are to your liking. This is a tough marketplace for a small publisher, especially a small publisher whose super-hero mags have to compete with the dozens upon dozens of super-hero mags that come from the DC and Marvel juggernauts.

Your support of Heroic titles will make it possible for Dennis to publish more of them and for me to write more stories for him. Let's face facts; I'm not a writer either DC or Marvel is likely to have much (or even any) interest in signing. I think that's their loss and shortsightedness, but, hey, it's their checkbooks and they know what they want to buy.

If you want to see super-hero comics written by me, odds are you're going to find them at Heroic Publishing and other small-ish outfits. Right now, as impressed as I am by the quality of Dennis' comics - writing, art, production values - I aim to concentrate my super-hero efforts there. That doesn't mean I'm exclusive to his company, but it does mean that I want to be part of that team and help him sell as many comics as possible.

To recap...

It looks like I'll be writing for Heroic. It won't give their books any advantage when I review them. You should check out their comics at your earliest opportunity.

My further pledge to you:

If I ever shoot a friend in the face, I'll tell you about as soon as I can get to a computer or a reporter.

It doesn't have anything to do with comics. I just think it's what a decent person would do.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 02/15/2006 | 02/16/2006 | 02/17/2006 >>

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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