"Every New Year is the direct descendant, isn't it, of a long line of proven criminals?"
- Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
Welcome to my first CBG column of the new year. It seems to be something of a tradition for columnists to write about their new year resolutions. Mine was to not do that. The generous of spirit among you will avoid commenting that, by telling you this, I have, technically, broken my resolution.
TRANSFORMERS #0 [IDW; $0.99] was a pleasant surprise. Never a big fan of comics based on toys - it was writer Bill Mantlo who kept me interested in MICRONAUTS and ROM back in the day - I didn't expect much from the latest series starring Hasbro's shape-shifting robots. At this stage, I won't be claiming IDW has made a believer of me, but, as an opening act, this has much to recommend it.
Simon Furman, who has, apparently, written several skadillion Transformers comics in the past, made the wise decision to downplay the giant robots in favor of two moderately likeable human beings. Verity Carlo is a "footloose girl" who steals a palm-computer from a fellow bus passenger, unaware the device is more than it appears. Escaping from the scene of her crime, she grabs a ride with Hunter O'Nion, a young man searching for proof our planet has been invaded by "extraterrestrial mechanoids."
Furman didn't explicitly ignore earlier Transformers comics or continuity, but he has started the new series from a "you're seeing this for the first time" point of view. I don't know if hardcore Transformers fans will object, but it made this opening issue more friendly and inviting for new reader me.
The issue looked good, too. E.J. Su's art has a manga feel to it, but that struck me as appropriate. His work was complemented by that of colorist John Rauch. Editor Chris Ryall added further value to this bargain-priced introductory issue via interviews with Furman and Su.
TRANSFORMERS #0 is a good start and so earns three out of five Tonys. If that score needs clarification beyond the handy chart we provide elsewhere in this column, let me state that, if money were no object, I would enthusiastically buy any comic or comics-related item which achieved that rating. If money were, indeed, no object, I could increase the profits of the industry by a percentage point or two all by myself.
Speaking of Bill Mantlo, I'm breaking one of my personal rules to review CAPTAIN UNIVERSE: POWER UNIMAGINABLE [Marvel; $19.99], an anthology of tales featuring my favorite Mantlo creation, including one written by me. I can't let my seven-page stake in this volume keep me from expressing my fondness for it.
First seen in MICRONAUTS, the Captain was "the hero who could be you." The universe is filled with an unimaginable power and, in a time of crisis, that power selects one of us to be its champion. This trade paperback collects the three full-length "tryout" issues by Mantlo and artist Steve Ditko from in the early 1980s; the Hulk annual in which Bruce Banner received the power and, for the moment of crisis, split off from his savage alter ego; and a selection of shorter tales.
The "tryout" stories set up the basic premise as the uni-power comes to the son of an astronaut, twin sisters, and an avaricious cat burglar. I'd rank these solidly entertaining adventures among the best comics of the 1980s. I was sorely disappointed when they didn't sell well enough to warrant an ongoing series.
The second half of the collection isn't as good as the first. The Hulk annual - drawn by penciller Rick Leonardi and a gaggle of inkers - doesn't have the same vibe as the Ditko tales. The short stories vary in quality with the most recent (from 1996) taking a serious wrong turn from the graceful and poignant simplicity of the better Mantlo scripts.
My story? I'll simply say that it's a personal favorite with the uni-power being wielded by a child based on my own son when he was a toddler, that it was drawn by Ditko, and that it guest-stars thinly disguised versions of Gorgo and Konga. Nothing like getting paid for writing one's fanboy fantasies.
CAPTAIN UNIVERSE: POWER UNIMAGINABLE gets three Tonys, which isn't very fair to the Mantlo/Ditko stories. A cheaper collection of just those three tales would have been a shoo-in for four Tonys and a possibility for five.
I reviewed the Steve Niles/Nat Jones GIANT MONSTER #1 [Boom!; $6.99] last month, but, since I've already broken one of my rules this month, I might as well compound my offense by reviewing the second and concluding issue of the story. I must be going through some kind of mid-life crisis.
When last we saw astronaut Don Maggert, he had become one with some alien blob-stuff and transformed into a gargantuan and really hungry creature. This ish picks up with him eating his way cross-country towards his cheating wife. There's a country song in there somewhere, but when I work on the lyrics, I keep getting distracted by the giant Nazi robot the feds send to combat Maggert. Not a lot of great country songs feature Nazis.
I don't mock GIANT MONSTER #2 here. Niles and Jones bring the fun to their gory giggle-fest and I like to think I'm laughing with and not at them. Indeed, my only quibbles are that seven bucks is a smidgen on the high side for 46 pages of story and art...and that this concluding chapter seemed crowded. There was enough story to this story for three issues.
GIANT MONSTER #2 receives four Tonys.
From Korea by way of NBM comes BUJA'S DIARY [$19.95], a thick collection of 13 emotional and precisely crafted stories by Seyeong O, one of that divided nation's greatest artists. O has a gift for effortlessly bringing the reader into his world, though the passage is often heartbreaking.
My shorthand reference for O's tales would be that they put me in mind of EC's SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES, Harvey Kurtzman's war comics for that same outfit, and perhaps even Will Eisner's slice-of-life recollections. I wouldn't put O's efforts with the best of those, but they are memorable stories in their own right.
"The Little Alley Watcher" evokes sadness and loss as a child waits in a lonely alley for parents nowhere in evidence. "Fire" is a head-on collision between a son's sense of honor and the reality which his mother must accept.
Yearnings and disappointments are central to "Tear Gas," "The Snake-Catcher Brothers' Dream," and "The Real Estate Agency," with the middle story perhaps the best in the book. Its main rival for that honor is "Buja's Picture Diary," which focuses on the struggle of a working mother to provide for her children.
Then there's the maddening "Observe," which consists of a man loudly chewing and smacking gum as he goes about his daily travels. It'll make you want to reach into the art and strangle the rude son of a bitch. Now that's some fine storytelling.
BUJA'S DIARY will expand your comics world. It picks up the full five out of five Tonys.
Tom Pomplun's Eureka Productions continues its string of fun "graphic anthologies" with a second edition of GRAPHIC CLASSICS: ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE [$11.95]. This revised volume - over a hundred pages of new material - offers a pair of Sherlock Holmes mysteries and six other short-story adaptations.
The highlight of the anthology is Rick Geary's vibrant version of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," wherein Holmes and Watson come to the assistance of a troubled (and rightly so) young woman. High marks must also go to the more stylized "The Adventure of The Engineer's Thumb" as adapted by Ron Lott and illustrated by Simon Gane. Each story is a delight.
Publisher Pomplun adapted two Doyle stories for this volume. Drawn by John W. Pierard, "Captain Skarkey" is a gripping thriller despite the obviousness of its shock ending. Illustrated by Peter Guellerud, "The Ghosts of Goresthrope Grange" is a darkly humorous tale of a man's desire to have his very own ghost.
Milton Knight seemed like an odd choice to adapt and drawn the Poe-esque "Two Great Brown-Pericord Motor," but he definitely made the story his own. Antonella Caputo and artist Nick Miller adapted "How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom," an amusing bit of swashbuckling which seemed too long at its 22-page length. Despite this, I still enjoyed it.
"It's All About the Don" proclaims the cover of THE INCREDIBLE MR. KNOTTS #1 [LordShazam; $3], a digest-size fanzine devoted - and I don't use the term lightly - to the star of THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET, THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST, to name two of his suitable-for-all-ages movies, and a beloved cast member of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and THREE'S COMPANY. Co-editors Sam Gafford and Steve Keeter have crafted an inaugural issue that's entertaining and informative enough to please even those readers who aren't as fanatic about the esteemed Knotts as they are.
This 44-page debut leads off with a comprehensive biography of Knotts, following that piece with an article on THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, an "Adventures of Don Knotts" comics story by Gafford, book and DVD reviews, Knotts trivia, and a gallery. I got a kick out of the issue, though I wish it had contained contact/ordering information beyond this postal address:
P.O. Box 806
Bristol, RI 02809
THE INCREDIBLE MR. KNOTTS may just be a good old fanzine, but it earns a respectable three Tonys from me.
What *were* they thinking?
Excuse me. I'm getting ahead of my review of ROBOTIKA #1 from Archaia Studios Press [$3.95]. Written and drawn by the talented Alex Sheikman with way spiffy coloring by Joel Chua, the four-issue mature readers series bills itself as "the world's first science-fiction-steampunk-sushi-samurai western." That's a catchy slogan which will fit well on a t-shirt if you use really small type or a really large model.
Set in the far future, ROBOTIKA presents a society controlled by corrupt corporations - must show restraint - and co-inhabited by humans and cyborgs. Fearing that a stolen invention could plunge this fragile society into civil war, the human queen sends Niko, a silent super-samurai, to recover it. It's a good start to this series...up to a point.
That point comes when Niko encounters deadly warriors who all talk like this:
This self-indulgence bit of storytelling darn near killed my interest in the issue. If any warrior said anything important more than two pages into her arrival, I missed it. By that time, I was skipping over their dialogue balloons.
ROBOTIKA has promise, but I'm not inclined to strain my eyes or waste my time decipher silly lettering affectations. Call me a grouchy old fart, but that conceit cost the issue a full Tony for a disappointing score of two out of five.
I didn't buy underground comix while I was still living at my parents' house on Cleveland's west side. They were already miffed about the issues of National Lampoon occasionally seen in my little basement office.
However, my first "bachelor pad" was a block away from a "head shop" with a great selection of titles by Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, and others. There was a definite excitement to those comix, but, as much as I enjoyed the good ones, I quickly concluded there were as many stinkers among them, percentage-wise, as there were among the traditional mainstream comics.
ROCKY VOLUME 1: THE BIG PAYBACK [Fantagraphics; $12.95] puts me in mind of those better comix. Though Scandinavian cartoonist Martin Kellerman's early work isn't yet the stuff awards are made of - this is the first of nine books published in his native Sweden - his anthropomorphic, autobiographical strip has the rambunctious veracity and verve that drew me to Crumb and his contemporaries all those decades ago. It's not the innocent nostalgia for the super-hero comics of the 1960s; it's the memories of the times in my life when I faced decisions involving sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, the passages pivotal to my generation. My answers were: "Yes," "No," and "Get down and get funky."
Kellerman's Rocky isn't a lovable loser. He can be repulsive. I kept hoping for him to make that one step forward into adulthood, even while smiling at the misery he brings on himself and wondering what that says about me. Maybe that comedy is someone else walking into a door.
Kellerman and his Fantagraphics editors have labored to make ROCKY accessible to its new American readers while maintaining the contrasts between Sweden and the United States. I found Stockholm - as shown in the strip - so intriguing I wished Kellerman had done more with it and its day-to-day realities, but, of course, the city wouldn't have the tantalizing allure of the foreign for the strip's original readers as it does for us.
The comic-strip format doesn't work as well for ROCKY as the comic-book format worked for Crumb and company. We get panels of storytelling when pages would have allowed more depth. Some ROCKY episodes seem choppy, as if we've missed vital parts of the story. Despite that, there's no denying Kellerman's talent and the appeal of his strip.
SIMPSONS COMICS #111 [Bongo; $2.99] offers a story not unlike the episodes of the TV series that sort of drift away from whatever the main thrust of the story had been. This is not to say that Ian Boothby's "Know It All In the Family," in which Marge goes back to school following an esteem-lowering gathering with the ultra-brainy Simpson women, isn't spiffy fun. (For those of you who don't know it all, it's only the Simpson men who are dumb as bricks; the women of the family are nigh-geniuses.) It just goes off into a tangent several pages into the comic, pretty much forgetting Marge as Lisa and Bart home-pre-school their infant sister Maggie.
The highlight of the issue is Bart's four-page explanation of how the dinosaurs died, a sequence brilliantly written by Boothby and even more brilliantly drawn by penciller Phil Ortiz and inker Phyllis Novin. Those four pages alone make this comic book worth buying and, though the ending of the story is only so-so, there are enough other laughs throughout the issue for me to give it four out of five Tonys.
WALT DISNEY'S MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES #6 [Gemstone; $7.95] is a nice chunk of digest-size full-color comics with a trio of tales. Action and laughs mix well as Mickey and Goofy travel through time in search of "The Dragon That Swallowed Its Tale" with pirates at their heels the whole time. The story is by Dave Rawson with art by Joaquin. In a second tale - "The Mystery of the Old Mansion" by Carlo Panaro with art by Carlo Limido and translation and dialogue by Dwight Decker - what was meant to be a relaxing visit with dear friends becomes a desperate search when those friends go missing. That's our Mickey, an adventurer through and through.
Donald Duck, his nephews, Uncle Scrooge, and super-scientist Gyro Gearloose star in the middle story, Michael T. Gilbert's "The 4-D Duck." Our man Don stumbles into an alien plan to turn Earth into a musical event with a killer finish. Panic and heroics are natural byproducts of this frightening discovery with Gilbert and artist Manrique keeping the action and gags coming at a lightning pace. Sorry, Mickey, but Don upstages you in your own digest with this terrific adventure.
I sent the above CBG reprint to Justin on Friday and then saw the sad news that DON KNOTTS had died of pulmonary and respiratory complications in Los Angeles. That story and every one I've seen since then includes "Barney Fife" in the headline, not surprising considering the popularity of that character and the comedic genius with which Knotts portrayed him. Still, I can't recall ever seeing Knotts in anything, playing any character, where he didn't make me at least smile and sometimes laugh out loud. Even when the shows or movies were awful, Knotts was good in them. He leaves us at the age of 81.
This weekend also brought news of the death of DARREN McGAVIN, another of my favorite actors, at the age of 83. Genre fans know him best as Carl Kolchak, the rumpled reporter whose speciality was tracking down the oft-monstrous things that go bump in the night in THE NIGHT STALKER made-for-TV movies and series. He was also MIKE HAMMER in the late 1950s series. His movie career included great performances in SUMMERTIME, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, THE DELICATE DELINQUENT, A CHRISTMAS STORY, and THE NATURAL. In 1976, he teamed with Don Knotts for the family comedy NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN. McGavin died of natural causes in a Los Angeles-area hospital, surrounded by his family.
The world of entertainment is that much smaller for the loss of Knotts and McGavin. They will be missed.
Here's yet another new TOT segment! From here in, I'll try to get corrections into the column as soon as possible.
In our TOT for February 21, I described Matt Wagner's BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN as a retelling and expansion of the Bat's first encounter with Professor Hugo Strange. It's actually a retelling and expansion of Strange's second appearance, which was published in BATMAN #1 [Spring, 1940].
Strange's comics debut was in DETECTIVE COMICS #36 [February, 1940]. He'd appear a third time in DETECTIVE #46 [December, 1940] and not again until Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers uses him in their sensational mid-1970s run on the title.
In our TOT for February 23, I listed three comics magazines, as it magazine-size comics, which had survived to their hundredth issues: MAD, CRACKED, CREEPY, EERIE, VAMPIRELLA, and SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN. There were at least two and possibly three more titles I should have listed.
Joe Simon's SICK hit the newsstands and ran for twenty years, ending with issue #134 [Fall, 1980]. I don't think I've ever read an issue of this humor magazine, a hole in my comics education I'll try to correct e'er long.
HEAVY METAL, the U.S. incarnation of France's METAL HURLANT, ran for at least 194 issues. It began with an issue dated August, 1977, and seemingly ended with one dated May, 2001. I'm not sure if it's been revived since.
The one I'm not sure of is CARTOONS, a magazine of automotive humor that ran for 101 issues from 1959 to 1991, and for which Alex Toth drew short stories. My uncertainty stems from not knowing how much of each issue consisted of actual comics stories and how much of gag cartoons and text pieces. The same publisher also put out CYCLETOONS, SURFTOONS, and HOT ROD CARTOONS, none of which lasted as long as CARTOONS.
If there are CARTOONS fans reading this column, please let me know if the title does qualify for inclusion in the select group of comics magazines that made it to their hundredth issue.
Look for more CORRECTIONS as I make more mistakes. We may be talking daily feature here.
It's Monday and that usually means new TONY POLLS questions. However, after three weeks of Academy Award questions that seem to have bored the snot out of you, I'm going to try something just a little bit - okay, a lot - silly.
The questions will go up sometime today. You'll have to go to the TONY POLLS page to find out what they are:
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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