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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 Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Menace 11

ATLAS COMICS were the Marvel Comics of the 1950s, publishing dozens of titles in darn near every genre imaginable. I get a kick out of them, which is why those books have a spot in TOT's regular cover rotation.

Today's entry is MENACE #11 [May, 1954] with its very spiffy Harry Anderson cover. I had a special reason for using this cover today, but, before we get to the reveal, here's what lucky readers of 1954 found inside this issue:

"I, the Robot" (5 pages, drawn by John Romita);

"Gambler's Haunt" (2-page text story);

"A Fate Worse Than Death" (4 pages, Seymour Moskowitz);

"Only a Beast" (4 pages, Al Eadeh);

"My Other Body" (5 pages, Jack Katz); and,

"Locked In!" (5 pages, Bob Powell).

The Romita-drawn story is why I picked this issue to spotlight today. It introduced "the Human Robot," a one-shot creation who, against all odds, resurfaced 33 years later in a story called "What If the Avengers Had Been Formed In the 1950s?"

What if 9

In WHAT IF? #9 [June, 1978], Roy Thomas and Don Glut played a bit fast and loose with the title's concept, strongly hinting that a 1950s team of Avengers had actually been recruited in the "real" Marvel Universe and not the usual parallel world, only to have the government disband them after one case and cover up all evidence of their existence. The team's roster consisted of:

Marvel Boy, a lad from Earth who was raised on Uranus where he acquired and mastered super-scientific devices;

Venus, the goddess of love;

3-D Man, a Thomas retro-creation who appeared in a handful of Marvel comics in the 1970s and 1980s;

Gorilla-Man, a hunter transformed into a half-human beast by an ancient curse; and, of course,

the mis-named "Human Robot," who could be programmed for good or for evil. This one and only adventure of the 1950s Avengers was pencilled by Alan Kupperberg and inked by Bill Black.

Why am bringing this up? The answer can be found in the blog of my buddy Leonard Kirk, a terrific artist who has recently signed an exclusive contract with Marvel:

I will be working with Marvel for the next couple of years. The official press release will be coming out sometime next week. However, since the news has already been leaked...I don't see any reason why I shouldn't talk about it here. I'm already lined up for a couple of projects. I've finished my first issue on one and have started my first issue on the other. I'm not sure if I have "clearance" to mention the first project so I will only bring up the second...AGENTS OF ATLAS!

Way back in the bygone age of the dinosaur (the 1950s), Marvel used to go by the name, Atlas. They had a whole slew of characters and a handful of them were revived in the 1970s...in an issue of WHAT IF? They were assembled together as the 1950s Avengers. This group included characters like the Gorilla Man, the Human Robot and Venus.

AGENTS OF ATLAS picks up from there and reassembles the team in the present day. This ain't a retcon. The series literally picks up almost fifty years after their last adventure. Some of the gang are older and wiser. A couple of them are just older and one of them is kind of nutty. I won't say who the nutty one is but, if you picked up the Wizard summer special this past week, you'll find a two-page preview that includes some of my character sketches. I'll also pop some Atlas stuff here as a preview when I have a chance.

I'm excited by this news and you can bet I'll be checking out Leonard's blog on a regular basis. It can be found at:

http://leonardkirk.comicbloc.com

Congratulations on the Marvel exclusive, Leonard, and also on landing such a spiffy assignment. I'm looking forward to reading AGENTS OF ATLAS.

Watch for more Atlas excitement in future TOTs.

******

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY

Free Comic Book Day 2006

This Saturday is FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2006. Though family and work obligations will keep me from visiting a participating comics shop that day, I tried to do my part for the event by agreeing to speak with the PARKERSBURG (West Virginia) NEWS AND SENTINEL. The interview was conducted via e-mail. Since it doesn't appear likely the interview will appear online, here's my slightly edited end of the e-mail conversation:

I have worked in the comics industry for over three decades as an editor, writer, retailer, distributor, consultant, columnist, and prose novelist (CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY'S TORCH, written with Bob Ingersoll). I've worked on titles ranging from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to YOUNG LOVE. I've lectured on comics at libraries, museums, and schools. But my single proudest comics accomplishment would be my creation of Black Lightning, the first African-American super-hero to star in his own DC Comics title.

Currently, I'm a contributing editor at COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, for which I write my monthly "Tony's Tips" and "Tony's Back Page" columns. I write the daily "Tony's Online Tips" column for World Famous Comics, and rewrite foreign Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Uncle Scrooge stories for the American market. I'm also developing new characters and titles for comic books and other entertainment venues.

I think FREE COMIC BOOK DAY is a good program that only rises to the level of a great program when retailers work for new readers all year long. They need to do follow-ups with their first-time visitors and develop relationships with local media outlets with an eye towards feeding said outlets comics-related stories. They need to reach out to the community (libraries, schools, etc.) and make their shops a vital part of the community.

Comic-book shops with knowledgeable employees are in a great position to interact with customers. Find out what interests those first-time visitors; odds are they can be directed to comics that would be of interest to them. Variety is the key to comics growth and the industry is currently publishing books of great diversity which can appeal to readers of every age group.

FCBD is a useful marketing tool. It can also be a celebration of the wonder that is the comics art form.

Daredevil: Born Again

As far as suggesting titles to a shop's first-time visitors, I'd recommend trade paperbacks, especially if the smart retailer has them on sale. A new reader can get a very satisfying chunk of story for a relatively low price. In the super-hero genre, I would recommend DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, maybe the best street-level super-hero saga of them all. For just plain fun, I'd go with almost any of Marvel's ESSENTIAL volumes or DC's new SHOWCASE PRESENTS books. As far as the newer super-hero titles, returning readers should be prepared for old favorites to be very different than they remember them from when they were kids.

Birth of a Nation

Getting away from super-heroes, the variety is endless. Some of my favorites include the ROAD TO PERDITION graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, OUR CANCER YEAR by Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar, Frank Miller's SIN CITY collections, Jeff Smith's BONE, Howard Cruse's STUCK RUBBER BABY, Joe Kubert's YOSSEL and FAX FROM SARAJEVO, Bob Fingerman's BEG THE QUESTION, BIRTH OF A NATION by Aaron McGruder, Reginald Hudlin, and Kyle Baker, and, for that matter, anything and everything by Baker. You also can't go wrong with the works of Will Eisner, Peter Kuper, or Los Bros Hernandez. Keep in mind that not every comic book, manga volume, or graphic novel is suitable for readers of all ages...just as not every prose book, TV show, or movie is suitable for readers/viewers of all ages.

Cheeky Angel

Manga (Japanese comics) offers as much, if not more variety. Some of my manga picks would include MAISON IKKOKU, BATTLE ROYALE, IRON WOK JAN, GTO: GREAT TEACHER ONIZUKA, and CHEEKY ANGEL. With 200 pages of story and art for ten bucks, manga volumes are a good deal for readers.

New readers should also check out their friendly neighborhood shop's bargain bins. Savvy comics retailers turn over their stock by offering low prices on some surprisingly good material. You can walk away with a nice pile for very little money.

I love comic books reaching out to a wider audience via TV and movies. I hate that these spin-offs are accorded more respect than their source material. I'm an elitist. I'd rather sit down and read a comic book than watch it on a screen.

Sadly and even tragically, comics films don't seem to generate a great deal of interest in the comics from which they derive. You might get a modest sales bump, but most of those new readers won't keep buying the comics for long.

American Splendor

My favorite comics movie is AMERICAN SPLENDOR. I'm also fond of ROAD TO PERDITION and the SPIDER-MAN movies.

Comics are not just for kids. That said, it's disappointing publishers haven't been able to compete with TV and video games for the younger audience. That's a pretty large reason in itself as to why comic books are skewing to an older audience, but it's far from the only reason.

Comics are a vital and constantly evolving art form. I don't think comics creators and publishers will ever again be limited to producing only material suitable for the youngest readers. Today's creators explore the entire range of human experiences.

Batman 9

I do believe comic books featuring classic characters, such as Batman and Spider-Man, should be suitable for all ages. The really good writers and artists can still tell compelling stories within that range. However, with the publishers not being able to attract and hold on to the interest of younger readers, they have taken to writing for an older audience.

Then, too, you have editors and writers and artists who grew up on these classic characters and want the characters to "grow up" with them. I can understand this creative impulse, but I think it does a disservice to the characters and causes confusion in the overall marketplace. My quick rule of thumb is that if a character appears on children's clothing then that character's comic books should be suitable for readers wearing that clothing.

Mankind has been telling stories since men first learned how to communicate with one another. Comics are an exciting, personal way to tell our stories, real or imagined.

Despite the contributions of multiple hands (writer, artist, editor) on so many of the stories we tell, comic books and graphic novels do allow more direct communication between storyteller and audience than TV, movies, and even video games. You don't need a film crew or huge budget to tell comics stories. You only need the most basic tools of the trade: a story to tell and something with which to write and draw that story. Everything else is publishing; the storytelling itself is as pure as its creators can make it.

Dismissing comics as exclusively kids' stuff willfully denies the astonishing works readily available in bookstores, libraries, and your friendly neighborhood comic-book shops. I believe there's comics for every reader out there. The more FCBD puts those comics and readers together, the more of a success it will be.

Two quick notes before I call it a column.

Comics retailers and reporters should feel free to quote part or all of the above in support of FREE COMIC BOOK DAY. Consider it my bit for the cause.

Since I won't be visiting any comic shops on Saturday, comics retailers are encouraged to send me FCBD comics. When I review the books, I'll include a grateful shout-out to the retailer/retailers who provided them.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 05/02/2006 | 05/03/2006 | 05/04/2006 >>

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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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