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for Friday, March 3, 2006

Superman 123

It's SUPERMAN DAY at TOT Central and we're taking a quick look at SUPERMAN #123 [August, 1958]. Thanks to DC's SHOWCASE PRESENTS SUPERMAN VOL. ONE [$9.99], I recently reread the issue-length "The Three Magic Wishes," 26 pages of Silver Age goodness and goofiness. The above cover was pencilled by the legendary Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. Whitney Ellsworth was credited as "editor" of this issue, but Mort Weisinger was the actual editor. This was my first time reading "The Three Magic Wishes" as one piece...and the first time I'd ever read its middle chapter.

"The Girl of Steel" is widely considered the trial run for the Supergirl series what would debut in ACTION COMICS within a year. I read it in SUPERMAN ANNUAL #6 [1963]. The Super-Girl conjured up by Jimmy Olsen, a magic totem, and artists Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye is quite a babe. In fact, she's much cuter and sexier inside the comic than on the cover. Unfortunately, the super-relationship doesn't work out.

Super-Girl, created to be Superman's perfect woman, is a bit too much like him. She interferes with his super-rescues and the like by reacting as fast as he does and, as a result, duplicating his efforts to oft-disastrous effect. Even when they try to split up, they respond to the same emergencies. In the end, Super-Girl sacrifices her life to save Superman from a kryptonite ambush. As she lies dying, she asks Jimmy to undo his wish and return her to the nothingness from which she came. Even as a kid, I thought this was a truly sad moment.

I can see why DC didn't reprint "The Lost Super-Powers" until recently. Even by the oft-generous standards of its era, it is a remarkably dopey story, relying entirely on characters doing really stupid things and on tricks that either wouldn't work in real life or be immediately spotted as tricks.

Jimmy Olsen, the Robert Novak of his day, writes a front-page story about the magic totem and its remaining two wishes. Then he leaves it lying around his apartment where it can easily be stolen by criminals...who use it to wish away Superman's powers. Superman and Jimmy proceed to fake Big Blue's powers and, even as a kid, I would have saw through these stunts. The crooks don't, and meekly surrender when the kryptonite they recovered from the first chapter doesn't work on the powerless Superman. Jimmy cancels the second wish and vows to make his last remaining wish - the totem works but once a century - a really good one.

We pause here to say a few words about the great Otto Binder, the prolific author of this and thousands of other comics scripts. Binder was as imaginative as they come. He could write clever and he could write funny and he could write heartwarming. When I used Jimmy Olsen in a couple of 1970s Black Lightning stories, I based my interpretation of the cub reporter on both Binder's stories and those of Jack Kirby. If DC were to start publishing writer-based "Best of..." collections, I'd push for a Binder book over any other DC writers save Jerry Siegel and Bill Finger. So, the occasional clunker like the above notwithstanding, I remain a huge fan of the remarkable Binder's writings.

In "Superman's Return To Krypton," Jimmy types out his final wish as "I wish for Superman to mate his parents on Krypton," thus sending his pal back to the planet before Jor-El and Lara actually married. Today, the meet/mate typo sort of creeps me out, but, as a kid, I would have found it clever.

Superman is a phantom when he arrives on Krypton because "[he] can't really exist here before [he] was born." His future parents are convicted as traitors - they were working agents - and, with the evil revolutionary Kil-Lor, sentenced to 100 years in a prison satellite. Somehow, Superman regains his physical form and super-powers in space, then pushes the satellite to an asteroid to free his parents. Superman's parents and their "cellmate" gain super-powers. To prevent Kil-Lor from bombarding Krypton rock from afar, Big Blue tricks him into creating kryptonite and leaves the villain to die there. Jor-El and Kara proclaim their love and kiss. Supes is whisked back home and thereby spared the super-trauma of seeing Mommy and Daddy getting busy.

Yes, I would consider Superman's tricking Kil-Lor into offing himself to be a violation of Big Blue's vow against killing. But, since this happened before Superman was born and before he was old enough to take that vow, I guess we have to let him off the hook on a technicality. That scream you hear is Bob Ingersoll's.

I won't always get so long-winded discussing Superman stories on our regularly scheduled SUPERMAN DAYS, but this one was kind of special. After all, I read each of its three chapters two decades apart. I can't recall another story, comics or prose, that I read over such an extended period. I hope you enjoyed the commentary as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.



Here we are once again, gathered together to consider the DCU or DCU-related titles that came to our friendly neighborhood comics shops the week of January 4. There were 13 of them, not counting JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #17 (based on the Cartoon Network version of the team) or SEVEN SOLDIERS: FRANKENSTEIN #2.

Aquaman 38

AQUAMAN #38 [$2.50] takes place shortly after the destruction of Atlantis by the host-less Spectre and the attack on San Diego by various villains. My reactions to recent issues of this title have been negative, but this one had its moments. Tragic circumstances give writers lots of opportunities to score emotional points with readers. The issue made the most of Aquaman's memories as he faces the death of another child - maybe two, since we're not shown the fate of Aqualad/Tempest - while including JLA/JSA rescue scenes and a good scene for the currently land-locked Mera. With DC already promoting a new Aquaman, the best we can probably hope for is that Arthur Curry makes his exit with some dignity and inspired heroism. In the meantime, kudos to writer John Arcudi for the best scripting I've seen from him on this title, to layout artist Leonard Kirk for the voodoo that he do so well, and to finishing artist Andy Clarke for holding up his end of the visuals well.

AQUAMAN #38 earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Batman and the Monster Men 3

In BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN #3 [$2.99], Matt Wagner's tale of our cowled hero's first meeting with Professor Hugo Strange is showing its length. It's taken a long time for Batman to actually come face-to-face with Strange. I'm still enjoying the story - I especially liked the scene between Bruce and Julie Madison wherein he fails to recognize his crime-fighting activities are creating a problem with their relationship - but it's starting to feel padded for the trade.

A quick clarification. Though Wagner is "retelling" the first meeting between Batman and Strange, the professor's "monster men" are from the villain's second Golden Age appearance. In his first Golden Age appearance, Strange used a "lightning machine" to cover Gotham in a thick fog. That could be such a great visual that I'm hoping it shows up in this retelling.

BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN #3 earns the four out of five Tonys of its predecessors, but it was a closer call this time.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Blood of Demon 11

BLOOD OF THE DEMON #11 [$2.50] is another issue of good grim fun by John Byrne (plot/pencils), Will Pfeiffer (script), and Dan Green (inks). We get the Etrigan from the Old West running loose in our time. We get a brief but cool appearance by Batman. We get Joshua - I think this is the Charles Manson mimic from the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW of the early 1970s - preaching against Jason Blood, who still appears very dead to me. We get a surprise involving Ruth, one of Joshua's followers, and a spiffy cliffhanger ending. This title seems to be just off to one side from the INFINITE CRISIS stuff, but it's been a consistently entertaining and exciting read.

BLOOD OF THE DEMON #11 earns four Tonys.

Day of Vengeance Special 1

DAY OF VENGEANCE: INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL #1 [$3.99] delivers a more satisfying ending than did the original mini-series. Writer Bill Willingham sets darn near every supernatural player in the DCU on the trail of the recently freed Seven Deadly Sins. While this is going on, what's left of Doctor Fate is duking it out with the Spectre, Nightshade faces peril from her past, and a legendary hero prepares to give his all for the universe. Not every plot thread is resolved in this special - Willingham has to leave something for the ongoing SHADOWPACT title - but there were enough resolutions to please even me. With kudos to penciller Justiniano, inkers Walden Wong and Wayne Faucher, and colorist Chris Chuckry, this special is good for the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Detective Comics 815

DETECTIVE COMICS #815 [$2.50] was more interesting to me for questions it raised in my mind than for Shane McCarthy's "Victims." In this first half of a two-issue tale, serial killer Victor Zsasz escapes from Arkham Asylum and starts killing people. Marring Mr. Zsasz's perfect score for his current spree is that Alfred survives -just barely - being stabbed to death by him. The police want to keep this quiet to protect Alf's life. Batman, on the other hand, wants to draw Zsasz out. As Bruce Wayne, on live TV, he reveals that Alfred's alive and recovering at Gotham City General Hospital. That is so wrong on so many levels.

My questions:

Is there no death penalty in whatever state Gotham City is in? I oppose the death penalty in our world, but, in the DCU, I would enthusiastically back it in the case of savage killers who *always* escape and kill again.

Why hasn't Arkham been sued out of existence for letting these killers escape? DCU attorneys would win enormous real and punitive damages for clients whose loved ones have been killed by the likes of Zsasz and the Joker.

Don't Gotham City policemen know how to use their guns? It's inconceivable that neither a patrolman or a detective can fire and hit Zsasz before he stabs or guts them.

Is Batman really so soulless he would put the lives of Alfred and other hospital patients and staffers at certain risk with this trap he's setting for Zsasz? Especially since the plan and story would work even better if:

(a) Alfred comes up with the plan, and

(b) Wayne says his butler is recovering at Wayne Manor. Yeah, the cops will insist on being there, but that gives us the chance to see Batman having to stop Zsasz while avoiding arrest or worse from Gotham's finest.

I have too much respect for comics to excuse characters acting stupid just to move the story forward. Despite fine art by Cliff Chiang, that's why DETECTIVE #815 gets but one Tony.


Gotham Central 39

GOTHAM CENTRAL #39 [$2.50] finds the good cops investigating the murder of a detective while the bad cops - one of whom is the killer - do their nasty best to derail that investigation. Kudos all around to writer Greg Rucka, artists Kano and Stefano Gaudiano, colorist Lee Loughridge, and editor Matt Idelson for their work on the best Batman spinoff title. This issue earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Jonah Hex 3

Bat Lash guest stars in JONAH HEX #3 [$2.99] and the result is an issue as good as the very best Hex comics of the past. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have absolutely nailed Jonah Hex. Even more impressive, their take on Bat Lash, while not as ground-breaking as the original Sergio Aragones/Joe Orlando/Denny O'Neil stories, also works well. We've seen the elements of this story in many a western comic, movie, or TV shows - white men killing in the guise of Native Americans, crooked lawmen, etc. - but that didn't stop me from enjoying this tale mightily. Familiar or not, a well-told tale is a joy unto itself. With kudos to artist Luke Ross and colorist Jason Keith, JONAH HEX #3 earns five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

JSA 81

JSA #81 [$2.50] features "My Heroes," a done-in-one tale about the teenage Stargirl and her two fathers. Being a parent or child is not always easy. Despite my unfamiliarity with the characters, I was moved by this emotional, very believable story. It makes me want to read those STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. comic books that I never got around to reading when they were published.

Writer Geoff Johns makes good use of various JSA and related characters in this ish. He and we get solid visuals from penciller Dale Eaglesham, inker Art Thibert, and colorist John Kalisz. All of which adds up to four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Outsiders 32

OUTSIDERS #32 [$2.50] is written by Jen Van Meter, but I can't say the improvement is more than minimal. The "Blackfire with the powers of a god" part of the story still feels like killing pages before anything truly important happens...and we still aren't told how she got those powers. Back on Earth, two Outsiders do hatch a clever plan against the villains society that has been plaguing the DCU heroes for many months now and that's worth a few points. As for the art, it continues to fail to impress.

OUTSIDERS #32 picks up two out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony

Superman 225

I liked many things about SUPERMAN #225 [$2.50]. Like Supes and writer Mark Verheiden recognizing the Man of Steel is the role model for DCU heroes. Like Steel and a couple of ordinary citizens being inspired by Superman's example. Like villain Scorch - she is a villain, right? - being smart enough to know that other villains lie and that you don't tug on Superman's cape. As for the issue's closing line - "What would Superman do?" - well, that was a little bit over the top.

I disliked a few things about SUPERMAN #225. Like Superman's looking like he ate something he's allergic to and it made his head swell up like a balloon. Like intern/reporter Kelly dressing like a hooker in the Daily Planet offices.

I liked more about SUPERMAN #225 than I disliked. Which earns the book a respectable three Tonys. It might have been four Tonys if not for the hooker.

Tony Tony Tony

Superman/Shazam: First Thunder 3

Right off the bat, I'll say SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: FIRST THUNDER #1-3 [$3.50 each] are entertaining fare. In this flashback adventure, I'm enjoying seeing Captain Marvel and Billy Batson so soon after the youngster made his way to the throne room of the wizard Shazam. I like the easy camaraderie between the Big Red Cheese and the Man of Steel. I like the hostile interactions between Lex Luthor and Doc Sivana. I like the magical menaces, especially that big goof Sabbac. I like the Joshua Middleton art and I mostly like the Judd Winick writing.

Where Winick loses points, though, is by writing Billy and the Captain as if they were the same. Okay, they are and they aren't the same person, but, in this series, they have the same attitudes and speech patterns. There's no reason for Captain Marvel to be an adult. Powers and all, he's still Billy Batson. That just doesn't seem right to me. How about you?

SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: FIRST THUNDER #1-3 earn a respectable three Tonys. If Winick grasped the classic elements of Captain Marvel, that score would have been higher.

Tony Tony Tony

Superman: Sacrifice

I reviewed most of the comics collected in SUPERMAN: SACRIFICE [$14.99] in my column for August 15. Between them the issues got a whopping total of one Tony and that was for a decent recapping of the storyline in an issue of WONDER WOMAN. I'm not inclined to be as generous this time around.

I should have mentioned back then how much I liked Lois Lane's one-sentence description of Superman - "He saves the world and then he comes home and does the dishes." - so I'll mention it now with belated kudos to writer Gail Simone. However, that's not enough to change my opinion from my original "Remarkable talents churning out brutal and frankly dumb comic books that represent the modern-day super-hero genre at its absolute worst."

Storytelling by committee rarely earns praise from me. This time it doesn't even earn any Tonys.

No Tonys

Teen Titans 31

My reaction to TEEN TITANS #31 [$2.50] was a sad little sigh, almost a moan. Geoff Johns and (surprisingly) Scott Shaw! suck the last bit of fun out of Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew for no good reason I can discern. Raven and Beast Boy free Kid Eternity from captivity so he can dust the dead Titans who the living Titans have been fighting since what feels like the dawn of time. If you count Shaw!, it took five - five! - artists to draw this wearisome comic book and, judging from their work, they weren't any more interested in it than I was.

TEEN TITANS #31 gets absolutely no Tonys.

No Tonys

More INFINITE CRISIS reviews to come, maybe as early as in my next column.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 02/28/2006 | 03/03/2006 | 03/06/2006 >>

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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.

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