We commence today's column with another in our ongoing series of CENTENNIAL COMICS. Given the continuing popularity of DC's Sgt. Rock, now appearing in a six-issue series written and drawn by the legendary Joe Kubert, it was a no-brainer for me to choose OUR ARMY AT WAR #100 [November, 1960] for this TOT.
Sgt. Rock wasn't created in a single story. DC's war comics ran a number of stories featuring Rock-like "prototypes" before OUR ARMY AT WAR #81 [April, 1959] formally introduced "The Rock of Easy Co." to readers. Plotted by editor Robert Kanigher and scripted by Bob Haney with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, this tale made Rock the undisputed star of the title. Within a year, Kanigher and Kubert would likewise be established as *the* writer and artist of the Sgt. Rock series. Haney would script a few more stories during these early months. Several artists would draw Rock stories. But, when fans think classic Sgt. Rock, they think Kanigher and Kubert. No other writer-artist teams, not even Kanigher and Kubert working with other writers and artists, could match them.
OUR ARMY AT WAR #100 - the "100th TNT issue" - cover-featured "No Exit For Easy" by Kanigher and Kubert. Here's a summary from MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS [www.dcindexes.com]:
Easy gets a new recruit, Manley West, who is afraid of combat. Sgt. Rock tries to change Manny's attitude, but the soldier still lacks confidence. While leading Easy Company through enemy territory, Sgt. Rock is wounded in both arms while protecting Manny. Rock continues on, but he is unable to protect himself from an enemy tank. Manny protects Rock and takes out the tank, proving to himself that he belongs in Easy Company.
Two other stories appeared in the issue: "Baby-Sitter In the Sky" by writer Hank Chapman and artist Jack Abel," and "Four-Legged Tank" by Haney and artist Mort Drucker.
DC's war comics are avidly sought by collectors and with good reason. Though more "gung-ho" than the Harvey Kurtzman-edited war comics published by EC in the 1950s, the DC books boast solid art and writing by some of the industry's best creators.
I admit reading all the DCU books has become addictive, even though many individual issues are of lesser quality than I'd hoped. Indeed, I'm relieved when I come to the final pre-"One Year Later" issues or final issues of some titles. It's a combination of "they can't possibly do worse" and "one less title to read." I wonder if other DCU readers feel this way.
I also wonder how much of what I've read will prove immaterial to the DCU after INFINITE CRISIS. If the fictional worlds change, what will remain from these issues I've been reading and reviewing these many months? I suppose we'll find out together.
AQUAMAN #39 [$2.50] is the last pre-OYL issue of this title, and one of those titles I'm relieved to see depart and/or change. Aquaman returns to Sub Diego, a few more supporting characters are injured or killed, and the issue gets cute with whether or not the murderous Black Manta survives a face-to-face meeting with some of Aquaman's deadlier fish-friends. Maybe writer John Arcudi wanted readers to decide for themselves if Aquaman took vengeance on the villain, but it comes off more like "someone may want to use Manta in the future, so let's be indecisive about this."
For the most part, AQUAMAN has been a disappointment. Though reports the revamped series will be more of a fantasy than a super-hero comic don't thrill me, it will be written by Kurt Busiek...and his past work earns AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS the benefit of the doubt. In the meantime, AQUAMAN #39 gets one Tony.
BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN #4 [$2.99] continues to be terrific pulpy fun. The early-in-his-career Batman spends most of the issue in what his foe, mad scientist Hugo Strange, certainly figured was a death-trap. There are cut-away scenes with supporting characters from Bruce Wayne's life and a painful post-escape moment with Bruce and girlfriend Julie Madison. Writer/artist Matt Wagner is doing terrific stuff here. I've had concerns that this series was being padded for the trade, but this issue overcame them to earn an easy four out of five Tonys.
BLOOD OF THE DEMON #12 [$2.50] is more good, sometimes gory, sometimes chilling fun from plotter/penciller John Byrne, scripter Will Pfeifer, and inker Doug Hazelwood. The time-displacement that seems to have replaced a dead Jason Blood - human host of Etrigan the demon - with a past-self from the days of the Old West makes me dizzy, but the comic continues to be an enjoyably wild ride. Given the circumstances in which Byrne leaves his cast at the conclusion of this issue, I am mightily intrigued by what next issue - jumping the book one year forward - holds. Regardless of what the swiftly-approaching future brings, this issue of BLOOD OF THE DEMON earns four out of five Tonys.
DETECTIVE COMICS #816 [$2.50] features the concluding chapter of "Victims" by Shane McCarthy and Cliff Chiang. Zsasz failed to kill Alfred in the first chapter because he's only as competent as the story requires. Unfortunately, the story also requires Batman to be incompetent. His plan to capture Zsasz using Alfred as his bait results in at least three deaths. The art is good throughout the issue and we do get a decent scene between Alfred and Bruce in the last pages, but that's not enough to overcome everything that's wrong with this one-Tony disappointment.
GOTHAM CENTRAL #40 [$2.50] ends on an unfinished note as the good cops fail to bring the killer of one of their own to justice. Another good cop leaves the force at issue's end, though what would have been the "next issue" blurb insists the lives of this title's characters will go on. To me, it feels like the loyal readers of this title were short-changed by the demands of the DCU uber-epic. That's why, despite good writing and art, the final issue of GOTHAM CENTRAL is only getting three Tonys from me.
GREEN LANTERN #8 [$2.99] has a Neal Adams cover and that's a treat. There are no such pleasant surprises in the concluding half of "A Perfect Life." The previous issue ended with Green Lantern and Green Arrow succumbing to the alien wish-fulfilling Black Lotus plant. This issue opens with them in their "perfect lives" until it's time for them to break free. They do and then send Mongul II and his sister Mongal packing. Writer Geoff Johns indulges what is starting to look like a keen interest in decapitation, a bit used in his story for INFINITE CRISIS #4.
The predictability of the super-hero story is somewhat offset by Hal Jordan reconnecting with his family, good writing, and fine Carlos Pacheco/Jesus Merino art. But the best I can do for GREEN LANTERN #8 is two out of five Tonys.
The Spear of Destiny, the magical artifact that prevented the Justice Society and other heroes from ending World War II in a day and a half, returns in JSA: CLASSIFIED #8 [2.50]. It makes sense for it to return as the DCU is facing its latest version of the end of days. Following an attention-grabbing opening sequence, writer Peter Tomasi builds the horror of the Spear's power slowly, giving us several good moments with the Flash, other JSA members, and the tormented Wildcat. Neither Tomasi nor artists Don Kramer and Keith Champagne knock this one out of the park, but JSA: CLASSIFIED #8 is a solidly entertaining comic book. It gets three Tonys.
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #18 [$2.25] doesn't take place in the DCU proper, but this is my column and I'll review it if I want to. Writer Adam Beechen reaches into my childhood to team Superman with Space Cabby, a character who appeared in MYSTERY IN SPACE prior to Adam Strange's arrival. The older I got, the more I loved the idea of an outer space working stiff stumbling his way into fantastic adventures. Beechen captures that well, though his story is marred by the issue's downright ugly art. I'd still like to see more meat to the DCU/Cartoon Network titles in general, but the appearance of Space Cabby earns this issue four Tonys.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #14 [$2.99] deals with the aftermath of the team's defeat of Lemnos. There's time for quiet moments with the Legionnaires, some United Planets face-saving, an unexpected attack, a confrontation with the Science Police, and a decision by one of the team's founders that could have serious consequences for the Legion's future. Kudos to writer Mark Waid for getting so much good stuff into one issue...and for the funny comics-style letters column. LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES is neck-and-neck with BIRDS OF PREY for being my favorite DCU super-hero book. This issue earns four out of five Tonys.
OUTSIDERS #33 [$2.50] is a pre-OYL space-filler, but there are things I like about it. I like that guest writer Jen Van Meter had the super-heroes back off from their original plan to kill several of the villains; that should be the bare minimum standard for being a super-hero. I like that this issue had a satisfying ending to the current adventure. I liked the art by penciller Dietrich Smith with inkers Steve Byrd and Art Thibert. I don't know that I'm very interested in what's next - "It's one year later and the Outsiders don't exist unless they're coming for you. - but this issue earns a respectable three Tonys.
RANN-THANAGAR WAR: INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL #1 [$4.99] follows from the RANN-THANAGAR WAR mini-series and, like that series, this special doesn't have a satisfying ending. Writer Dave Gibbons does a good job capturing the flow of the war and the growing menace of the over-all Crisis. There are casualties and they don't come off as gratuitous. Conversely, there is a change in the status of one of the heroes that smacks of milking a successful franchise dry. There are five artists (two pencillers, three inkers), which comes out to a buck an artist and again has me wondering why it's become so difficult for DC to produce comic books with one penciller and one inker. The "too many hands" syndrome seems to have inflicted a number of DCU titles. We seem to be getting more comics dictated to writers by editors...and my thanks to columnist Blair Marnell [http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/rage/index1.htm] for putting a name to the disquieting thought which has been kicking around the back of my brain for several weeks.
This RANN-THANAGAR WAR SPECIAL wasn't a bad book. It had some good stuff in it. But, for five bucks, I think the readers should have received some closure and not simply a "continued in INFINITE CRISIS #5" box on the last page. I'm giving this issue a generous three out of five Tonys.
There are two covers for GREEN LANTERN #8. The Simone Bianchi cover shown directly above is the "real" cover and the Neal Adams one with my review is the "alternate" cover. Apparently, there are also two covers for the next issue as well, one by Bianchi and the rarer alternate by Ethan Van Sciver. The whole "alternate covers" gimmick is like Dracula; no matter how many times you drive a stake through its heart, it keeps coming back.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
These aren't actually "comics in the comics" I'm sharing with you today. What they are...are comics I saved for various reasons, waiting for the right time to use them here. I don't know if this *is* the right time, but, what the heck...
I have spent less than two weeks in New Orleans in my life and the city has more of a hold on my heart than some cities in which I've actually resided. I look forward to visiting the city again and again. So, when I saw Bill Amend's FOX TROT for September 12, 2005, it touched me deeply.
I laughed out loud when I saw Dan Piraro's BIZARRO panel for October 5, 2005, but the best thing about it was...I was the first person to e-mail it to my friends Jon Provost and Laurie Jacobson. Jon, of course, played Timmy on LASSIE, and Laurie, his wife, is a noted author and authority on Hollywood and show business. I love them insanely...but not in a creepy way.
CHAPPATTE draws a twice-weekly cartoon for the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE and contributes to other publications as well. I'm not sure when the above Godzilla reference appeared, but I saved it to my files in mid-October.
Look for more COMICS IN THE COMICS in future TOTs. They might even be real "comics in the comics."
GET MORE TONY
If you can't get enough of me, you'll want to get thee to your local newsstand or supermarket and score a copy of the WEEKLY WORLD NEWS for March 20. I don't want to say more at the moment, but I'm sure we'll be discussing this in the near future.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back Thursday with more stuff.
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: