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for Wednesday, April 19, 2006

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1617 [June, 2006]:

"I'm not normally a religious man, but if you're up there, save me, Superman."

- Homer Simpson

I didn't want to begin this month's column writing about some foreign editorial cartoons that were reprinted, months after their initial publication and arguably with the intent of offending folks who hadn't seen or reacted to them the first time around. Yes, the cartoons and the worldwide reaction to them are legitimate topics for CBG, especially given the comics industry's ongoing support of freedom of expression. I still didn't want to get into it in this forum for many reasons, including that so many others have already gotten into it here and elsewhere in comicdom. But it's that darn elephant in the room, the thing I have to write about before I can write the reviews I'd rather be writing.

It's no secret that my politics are to the left of center and my Christianity isn't conservative. I believe folks should be free to do or say pretty much whatever they want to do or say as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else...and that too many people define the "hurt" in that sentiment too broadly. I believe we're all in this together, we all need to be respectful of one another, and we need to work together for the good of all. I believe Jesus got it right when He told us to love our neighbors. I believe all men are our neighbors and that, when we try to fine-tune the whole "loving our neighbors" bit to exclude some people, we're mucking up a perfectly good philosophy. More directly apropos to this discussion, I don't believe anyone should harbor the expectation of going through their life without being offended by something.

On a really good day, I get offended a half-dozen times before breakfast. I take offense when government sticks it to the average citizen to benefit the elite. I take offense when preachers of any creed embrace bigotry. I take offense when people care more about Hollywood romances or football than they do about what's going on in the real world. I take offense when networks start their shows a few minutes early or late and screw up my taping of the programs I like. Big offenses and small offenses, they assail me every day of my life. You wanna piece of me, world? Do you?

Big offenses and small offenses. We all suffer them and, when we're being honest with ourselves, we admit we commit them as well. We are flawed, which doesn't for a moment negate our responsibility to get along with one another.

Are there legitimate responses to being offended by something someone else says or does? Of course there are and they apply no matter who you are, what faith or non-faith you profess, where you stand politically, or whatever other distinctions you care to make between yourself and the next guy.

A cartoon, no matter how odious you find it, isn't remotely a physical attack. Your response must be appropriately non-physical. Write a letter expressing your objection. Don't buy the magazine or newspaper that published it. Express your outrage in your own cartoon, realizing that others might find your expression offensive as well. It comes with the territory.

Expression, even when we disagree with what's being expressed, remains our best and sanest method of understanding one another and perhaps even bringing others around to our viewpoint. Responding to such expression with violence ultimately does little more than confirm, however unfairly, the other person's worst perception of you and yours. You gain nothing and you lose much.

Thanks for your kind indulgence in allowing me to express my thoughts on this topic. Now let's see if I can squeeze a review or seven past that big old elephant.

Essential Avengers Vol. 5

ESSENTIAL AVENGERS VOL. 5 [Marvel; $16.99] is as significant a comics collection as you'll find. Reprinting AVENGERS #98-119, DAREDEVIL #99, and DEFENDERS #8-11, the volume includes the final issues of the legendary Roy Thomas run on the book; a story plotted by Harlan Ellison; the start of the run that would establish Steve Englehart as one of comicdom's best writers; and the epic Avengers-Defenders conflict from 1973.

THE AVENGERS was my favorite Marvel title during Thomas' run. This volume begins after the epic Kree-Skrull War, but leads with a terrific three-parter featuring the war-god Ares and his allies versus every Avenger up to that point, with all three issues drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. Then we get Harlan's plot, a rewrite of a story he originally intended for Hawkman, and a rematch with the Sentinels. Steve Englehart comes in to kick up the Scarlet Witch-Vision love story into high gear while making the Black Panther, the Swordsman, and Mantis integral parts of the team. The artists for these tales include Rich Buckler, John Buscema, Jim Starlin, George Tuska, Don Heck, and Bob Brown.

But it's the "Avengers-Defenders War" that truly had comicdom on the edge of its collective seat. Bouncing back between AVENGERS and DEFENDERS, this early crossover event saw Dormammu plotting to bring our world into his dimension with the assistance of a blind Loki. The key to the flame-headed god's plan is to reunite all the pieces of a mystical device called the Evil Eye by tricking Doctor Strange and the Defenders into gathering them. Not trusting his partner, Loki alerts the Avengers to the scheme, twisting the truth just enough to make the Assemblers believe their opposite numbers were acting from evil intentions.

Was it exciting? I was working at Marvel while these issues were being produced and I couldn't wait to see each new chapter as it came into the offices. No matter how mismatched any individual battle might initially appear, Englehart could still surprise the readers. With Brown drawing THE AVENGERS and Sal Buscema drawing THE DEFENDERS, the 1970s epic kept getting more and more thrilling, even after the two teams joined forces. It's no wonder this story earned classic status from the get-go.

ESSENTIAL AVENGERS VOL. 5 offers readers hundreds of pages of 1970s Marvel at its finest and does so at an incredibly affordable price. It earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Teen Titans: Future Now

TEEN TITANS: THE FUTURE IS NOW [DC; $9.99] is the fourth trade paperback collection of the current Titans series and one heck of a buy. For ten bucks, you get nine issues (#15-23] of the regular series and the TEEN TITANS/LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES special. That's over 200 full-color pages.

Two hundred pages of some comics might not be a great deal at any price, but these comics are written by Geoff Johns and Mark Waid with art by Mike McKone, Ivan Reis, and Tom Grummett. The volume kicks off with the Titans traveling to the 30th Century for a battle with the Fatal Five Hundred. Talk about being the underdog.

Their return to the present takes a detour that lands them ten years into their own future, a future gone horribly wrong and where the deadliest threats facing them are their adult selves. The tale is a prologue/epilogue of sorts to INFINITE CRISIS.

That's followed by Doctor Light trying to settle scores with the Justice League by killing the Titans. Restored to his "right" mind in this spin-off from the unfortunate IDENTITY CRISIS, Light was deadlier than I'd ever seen him before. This made for a story high on both action and intensity.

My frequent complaint about DCU titles is that they often read as if new or even less-than-regular readers aren't welcome. Johns and Waid managed to avoid that pitfall with a little help from this book's "Who's Who" introduction. Let's hope that whoever replaces Bob Greenberger as DC's Senior Editor/Collected Editions - and his departure is a definite loss for DC - remembers that not all of us have the time or inclination to read every issue of every DCU book. Greenberger was a master at keeping us in the loop.


Tony Tony Tony Tony

Sin City Vol. 6

One of my holiday presents to myself was making time to read all seven volumes of FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY, available from Dark Horse in uniform trade editions ranging in price from $12 to $28. Granted, these may not be your traditional Christmas entertainment, but, nevertheless, they called to me.

FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY VOL. 6: BOOZE, BROADS, & BULLETS [$15] collects 11 short stories from various comics published in the tail end of the 1990s. Some of these feature characters from other SIN CITY volumes and some introduce new characters. A dark humor runs through some of them and others are shocking in their violence and in the depths of human cruelty they depict. Just the thing to get my sleigh bells tingling.

I've flipped through BOOZE, BROADS, & BULLETS several times in search of my favorite story and, each time, my choice is different. Marv shines in the largely dialogue-free "Silent Night." A trio of connected tales - "Blue Eyes," "Wrong Turn," "Wrong Track" - took my breath away. "Daddy's Little Girl" is a chiller par excellence. "The Babe Wore Red" is perhaps the most solidly told story in the volume. The other five tales aren't up to these six, but they have their moments as well.

Reminding you that SIN CITY is not for little boys or girls, I give BOOZE, BROADS, & BULLETS five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Sin City Vol. 7

I'm not nearly as keen on FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY VOL. 7: HELL AND BACK [$28]. The longest SIN CITY story to date, running just under 300 pages, it's the one that reads most like some Hollywood movie. The actual SIN CITY movie deferred to the source material at every turn. HELL AND BACK goes the other way, including scenes and characters one would expect to find in some summer action film. Miller is usually better than that.

I don't deny HELL AND BACK its considerable merits. Its war veteran hero is over-the-top, but remains a protagonist readers can root for. The hero's landlady and some of his friends may not be blindingly original, but they are also quite likeable. A crooked cop turns out to be an outstanding character, while the damsel-in-distress never quite comes to life. The book's villains chew more than their fair share of scenery, but their boss ultimately proves to be smarter than most movie villains. Overall, I found the book entertaining and exciting, but suffering in comparison with other SIN CITY material. Miller is his own strongest rival.

HELL AND BACK picks up four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Easy Way

EASY WAY [IDW; $17.99] isn't as elegantly told as SIN CITY and it also lacks the humor of Miller's stories. According to the back cover blurb, it was conceived during writer Christopher E. Long's stint in a drug rehab center. Duncan, the story's protagonist, is likewise in rehab. Desperate to get back with and support his wife and child, Duncan enlists in an insane scheme to use a stolen drug-sniffing dog to find a brutal dealer's storage unit. The plan goes spectacularly awry and, before long, Duncan, his pals, and his wife and child are all in mortal peril.

Long and artist Andy Kuhn keep the story moving and the twists and turns coming. Most of their characters aren't very likeable, but they manage to keep us concerned about their fates. Those that are more likeable, well, you've seen their kind in many movies and TV shows. They exist to be imperiled and sometimes forgiving, but lack any true depth. Without giving away the exact nature of the ending, it didn't ring true to me. It reminded me of the endings we get when a Hollywood test audience doesn't like what happened in the original ending.

Don't read this as an entirely negative review. I think Long is a pretty good writer, while Kuhn's duo-toned art set the mood of the story very well. I give EASY WAY a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge

The indicia reads WALT DISNEY'S DONALD DUCK AND UNCLE SCROOGE [Gemstone; $6.95], but the cover kind of sort of reads WALT DISNEY PRESENTS DONALD DUCK IN SOMEWHERE IN NOWHERE AND UNCLE SCROOGE IN NORTH OF THE YUKON if you move some words around so the logos don't make you think you've suddenly become dyslexic. Don't dwell on my being snarky; concentrate on the swell drawing by Carl Barks, Pat Block, and Sue Kolberg of Donald and his sled dogs merrily making their way across the frozen North.

"Somewhere In Nowhere" is written by John "Last Kiss" Lustig from a concept by Barks. It's a gem of a story in which Don takes a job as a mail carrier in Bearflanks, Alaska, the one town where his Uncle Scrooge doesn't own any businesses. His aim is to prove he can succeed without working for his relative. Watching Donald overcome adversity and a scheming businessman through determination and luck is wonderful fun for all ages as Lustig and artist Block capture that old-time Barks magic.

"North of the Yukon" is classic Barks all the way, reprinted from its initial appearance in UNCLE SCROOGE #59 [September, 1965]. It's a typical scenario - an unscrupulous rascal trying to relieve Scrooge of his money - but Barks fills it with exciting and funny action sequences and great character bits.

In between the two tales, Block and Lustig discuss the origins and details of their collaboration with the legendary Barks. These text pieces are must-reading for the Barks fan.

WALT DISNEY'S DONALD DUCK AND UNCLE SCROOGE earns five out of five Tonys. If your friendly neighborhood retailer doesn't have it in stock, you can order it directly from Gemstone:

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Vivid Girls 1

VIVID GIRLS VOLUME ONE [Avatar; $14.99] has gorgeous art and absolutely nothing else to recommend it. The Vivid Girls are porn actresses, "cast" in the three comics serials. Each of the first chapters of these serials (a crime caper, a power struggle between Heaven and Hell, and a medieval fantasy) offers the barest bones of a plot before getting down to the explicit sex. That adds up to 36 pages of comics and around six pages of actual story. I would be interested in well-told erotic comics, but this overpriced volume is neither seductive nor well-written.

Adding potential legal problems for comics retailers to its insultingly horrid stories, VIVID GIRLS also features several pages of extremely explicit photographs of its "stars" engaging in sex acts. When I ran a combination comics shop and newsstand back in the 1970s and 1980s, I used to carry a full line of men's magazines like PLAYBOY, PENTHOUSE, and HUSTLER as well as the best selection of underground comics in Cleveland...and I would not have carried this comic album. I can respect a publisher's right to create and sell whatever magazines he likes, but I wouldn't put myself on the line for a largely meritless production like this.

The one Tony I would have given VIVID GIRLS for its art gets swallowed up by the awfulness of the rest of the album. It gets no Tonys whatsoever.

No Tonys



Before we wrap up today's edition, let me take a moment to wish my good friend STEVE PYSKOTY-OLLE the happiest of birthdays today and many more happy days and decades to come...and to give my pal long overdue credit as TOT's peerless proofreader.

Steve Pyskoty-Olle

For a few months now, on a volunteer basis, Steve has been looking over TOT before "publication." If you think I've been making fewer grammar and spelling errors, think again. I'm as inept as I ever was. Maybe more so. Steve just makes me look better.

I was going to say Steve makes me look "good," but, whiz of a proofreader that the guy is, he's only human.

Steve doesn't proofread *every* column, but he works on most of them. You can blame me for any mistakes that make it onto your screen in his absence.

Happy birthday, Steve, and thanks for everything.

I'll be back Friday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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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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