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for Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Boy Comics 100

Our recurring CENTENNIAL COMICS "cover feature" honors comics that reached their hundredth-issue mark. Today's featured cover is BOY COMICS #100 [April, 1954], though, in all fairness, we must put an asterisk next to its name. BOY COMICS #3 [April, 1942] was the first issue of the title, assuming the numbering from the canceled CAPTAIN BATTLE COMICS.

Here's what the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS has to say about the title:

Product of quality-conscious Lev Gleason Publications and a classic "sleeper" title from the Golden Age, BOY COMICS featured the storytelling skills of Charles Biro and the adventures of Crimebuster, a charismatic and interesting boy hero. For the first several issues of BOY COMICS, Crimebuster was locked in battle with the terrifying Nazi villain Iron Jaw, perhaps the most evil and hateful character of the entire Golden Age. Young Crimebuster and his pet monkey, Squeeks, often suffered horribly at the hands of Iron Jaw before eventually prevailing. (Iron Jaw kept being killed and then recovering.) BOY COMICS eventually lost some of its edge, but CB and Squeeks soldiered on against the minions of the underworld into the 1950s. Backup features included Dilly Duncan, Rocky X, Young Robin Hood, and Bombshell.

Almost all of the Charles Biro/Lev Gleason comics stories I've read were in Bill Black's AC Comics reprints. I don't know if the material is in the public domain, but I'd love to see Essential- Showcase-style books of BOY COMICS, CRIME DOES NOT PAY, DAREDEVIL, and other Gleason titles.

Biro drew the cover of BOY COMICS #100. Here's what appeared inside the covers:

Crimebuster in an untitled story (8 pages) written and drawn by Biro;

Crimebuster in a second untitled adventure (7 pages) written by Biro and drawn by Jay Scott Pike;

Rocky X in an untitled adventure (5 pages), written by Biro and drawn by an as-yet-unidentified artist; and

Sniffer and Iron Jaw in an untitled story (6 pages), written by Biro and drawn by an as-yet-unidentified artist.

BOY COMICS changed with the times. Chuck Chandler, a.k.a. the courageous Crimebuster, originally fought to avenge the murders of his family at the hands of Iron Jaw. His costume was essentially his school hockey uniform. Come the mid-1950s and CB is wearing a letter sweater and slacks, and going by the name "Chuck Chandler" instead of "Crimebuster."

Iron Jaw would remain a villain, but he'd go from being a Nazi to an American thug. By the mid-1950s, he was the almost laughable leader of a gang of not-terribly-bright criminals. He even got a new flesh-and-bone jaw to replace his iron one. Modern medicine had nothing on the Comics Code Authority.

BOY COMICS would end with issue #119 [March, 1956], an issue-length Chuck Chandler adventure by Biro and artist Al Wenzel. The STANDARD suggests later issues of this title will sell for $22 in near-mint condition.

Speaking of the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS [Krause; $34.99], let me again recommend this 1600-page-plus tome of comics prices and information to TOT readers. While it's not something you can carry around a comics convention - unless you were born on Krypton - it's a great reference book and sales guide for the home. I recommend it highly.

Watch for more CENTENNIAL COMICS in future TOTs.



The following reviews first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1618 [July, 2006].

Love and Capes 1

LOVE AND CAPES #1 [Maerkle Press; $3.95] is the new comic book by my multi-talented pal Thom Zahler. It's the story of a couple and their relationship, a relationship complicated by the guy being a super-hero. Zahler is the writer, artist, letterer, colorist, editor, and publisher of this 28-page, full-color comic book. If the printer would have let him run the press, he probably would've done that, too.

Abby and Mark are a pretty cute couple. She owns a book store and, when he's not the Crusader, he's an accountant. "I still have to pay my bills," he explains. "Wearing a cape doesn't generate a paycheck. I just do taxes at super-speed. Except depreciation tables. Man, are those things complicated!"

LOVE AND CAPES is a romantic comedy with occasional panels of super-folks in costume. It starts a short time before Mark shares his secret with Abby and continues through some of the pitfalls the relationship will bring, such as Mark having dated the equivalent of Wonder Woman before he met Abby. And that "risking his life on a regular basis" thing. It's a very funny, very human comic book with a bright-and-bouncy art style that I love more with each and every page. My pal has done real good here.

LOVE AND CAPES #1 was solicited in the May Previews for July release, but you can enjoy free samples and purchase an autographed copies of the issue by going to:

LOVE AND CAPES #1 gets the full five out of five Tonys. Leave a space for it on next year's awards ballots.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Marvel Romances

There aren't any super-heroes in MARVEL ROMANCE [$19.95], but there are stories drawn by some of Marvel's all-time best artists. Among those represented are Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan, John Romita, Don Heck, Dick Giordano, and Jim Steranko. Several of the stories are written by Stan Lee.

Marvel was a prolific publisher of romance comics in the 1950s and early 1960s. Even teen humor titles like PATSY WALKER had much in common with traditional romance comics. From PATSY WALKER #119 [November, 1964], "Patsy's Secret Boyfriend" by Lee and artist Sol Brodsky is a terrific blend of the genres.

The tales reprinted here have the usual heartbreaks, crushes, and misunderstandings found in most romance comics, but the writing and art both have more snap to them. The dynamism found in Kirby's adventure comics is evident in his romance work as well. A pair of stories inked by Al Hartley are especially good.

The Patsy Walker story divides the book between the stories of the 1960s and those of Marvel's short-lived return to the genre in the early 1970s. Though the later tales have more actresses, disco dancers, and waitresses than the earlier ones, they share the same mix of happy endings and tragic mistakes. Standing out among them are "My Heart Broke in Hollywood," with its Peter Max-inspired art by Steranko; "One Day a Week," a tale of truck-stop love drawn by Jim Starlin and Jack Abel; and "As Time Goes By," wherein a young woman's love for Humphrey Bogart movies jeopardizes her real-life romance. That last one was written by Gary Friedrich with art by Colan and Giordano.

Marvel is best and rightfully known for its super-hero comic books, but the company has published great material is many other genres as well. I hope MARVEL ROMANCE is the first in a series of books showcasing that material. Putting my disembodied columnist heads where my keyboard is, I'm giving this spiffy collection four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Ultra Maniac 1

Several months back [CBG #1610], in reviewing the first issue of SHOJO BEAT, I made these less-than-flattering remarks about the bonus ULTRA MANIAC DVD and mini-comic that came with the magazine. I wrote:

Neither did much for me. The series strikes me as a one-note wonder. A witch girl in training goes to a non-magical school. She is befriended by a popular-but-shy young lady and proceeds to use her unskilled magic to help her mortal friend. Whenever she uses her magic, things go wrong and hilarity tries-but-fails to reign. Besides the episode mentioned at the start of this review, the DVD also has some scenes from other episodes.

CBG contributor John Lustig, who does the English adaptation of the manga, sent me the first two ULTRA MANIAC volumes and asked me to give the series another chance. Since my reviews are hardly carved in stone - they used to be, but the cost of mailing them to CBG became prohibitive - I agreed.

It turns out ULTRA MANIAC is something of a slow starter. It gets a lot more interesting as it goes along, and as creator Wataru Yoshizumi develops witch-girl Nina and her friend Ayu. The first book ends with an intriguing cliffhanger: is Tetsushi, the boy Ayu likes, not really the nice guy he appears to be? The answer to the question makes Tetsushi a far more interesting character than the typical manga romantic interest.

The second volume further enlivens the ongoing story with the arrivals of Leo, Nina's otherworldly pet, and Yuta, a mischievous student from Nina's magical realm who is secretly in love with her. This leads to a further revelation: Ayu has a surprising rival for Tetsushi's affections.

Not even Lustig could get me to watch another episode of the ULTRA MANIAC anime - Nina is annoying when you hear her and see her bounce about - but I'm grateful for this second look at the manga. ULTRA MANIAC VOL. 1 earns a respectable three out of five Tonys...

Tony Tony Tony

...and ULTRA MANIAC VOL. 2 gets four.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume One

You say you want a big honking super-hero story that doesn't have the hundreds of characters to be found in INFINITE CRISIS or CIVIL WAR? Allow me to direct your attention to SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY VOLUME ONE [DC; $14.99], the first of four books featuring writer Grant Morrison's decidedly different take on such stories. This one starts off with SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY #0, in which the six members of the reconstituted team fare poorly against the alien Sheeda. It's followed by seven issues of solo mini-series starring the members of the re-reconstituted team, heroes who must somehow save the Earth without ever meeting one another. The solo series are part of the larger whole, which concludes with a final bookend edition. That's thirty issues in all.

Right up front, I have no idea how any of this fits into DCU continuity. Morrison's Shining Knight doesn't seem to be the same guy who has run with the Justice League. He's much younger and his passage to our time comes at the fall of Camelot - at the hands of the Sheeda - and via the alien Castle Revolving. His winged horse can talk. He doesn't speak or understand modern English until the second of the two issues reprinted in this volume. He's depressed and oppressed by an alien-driven guilt monster, but rediscovers his knightly purpose in his strange new world.

The Manhattan Guardian is the super-heroic symbol of a tabloid newspaper by the same name. He's a ex-policeman who left the force after a shooting incident. He wears the costume of the Golden Age character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, but is otherwise unrelated to either the original Guardian or the clone introduced by Kirby in JIMMY OLSEN. His first assignment involves rival gangs of underground subway pirates vying for a secret treasure and runs the length of the two issues reprinted here. It is an adventure as wondrously wild, albeit much grittier, than those Kirby was doing for DC in the late 1960s.

Zatanna is closest to her current DCU incarnation. I confess my favorite Zatanna is the determined, perky, and wholesomely sexy magician who made her debut in a fondly-remembered Hawkman story by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. Despite that, I found Morrison's take on her, a troubled young woman whose confidence in her magic and herself is sorely tested, intriguing. Several other magically-inclined DCU characters appear in the two issues included in this volume, often to surprising effect.

The fourth "soldier" in this volume is Klarion the Witchboy, another Kirby creation. Morrison has re-imagined him as a curious and rebellious lad living in the limbo-city of Croatoan. His kind fled our world in centuries past, fled before the murderous attacks of the Sheeda. They're ruled by the Submissionaries, cruel men who are more concerned with maintaining their power than safeguarding their people. Klarion can be arrogant and obnoxious, but I'd take him over the Submissionaries any day.

Morrison's stories are drawn by J.H. Williams III, Ryan Sook, Simone Bianchi, Cameron Stewart, Frazer Irving, and Mike Gray. All are fine artists who bring unique looks to these stories of unique heroes. With over 200 pages of spiffy comics and special features, SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY VOLUME ONE earns five Tonys. The second volume should be out by the time you read this review, with the third and fourth following in May and July.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

100 Best Graphic Novels

Graphic novels and trade paperbacks are now as big a part of the comics industry as are the periodicals, so it's not surprising two "guides" to such books have been sent to me in recent months. Each has its pluses and minuses.

Stephen Weiner's THE 101 BEST GRAPHIC NOVELS [NBM; $9.95] is the second, updated version of his "concise guide to the 101 best graphic novels currently available." Its 6" by 9" dimensions make it easy to read and handy to carry, but I found myself questioning many of his choices. Where are Howard Cruse's STUCK RUBBER BABY or Joe Kubert's YOSSEL? How can the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS ARCHIVES, charming 1960s super-hero/super-spy comics though they might have been, rate a spot on this list when those graphic novels and LOCAS: THE MAGGIE AND HOPEY STORIES do not? I also find it suspect that NBM's own NANCY DREW: THE DEMON OF RIVER HEIGHTS made it on a list of the 101 best graphic novels. It's an entertaining book, a good book, but is it really that good?

THE 101 BEST GRAPHIC NOVELS is a catchy title. However, while the book could certainly be helpful to a graphic novel novice, its contents don't measure up to that title. As a primer for libraries just starting to include graphic novels in their collections - the suggested reading levels for Weiner's choices are excellent - it's a useful if limited resource, but, again, it falls short of living up to the claim of its title. It gets three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Graphic Novels

From HarperCollins, Paul Gravett's GRAPHIC NOVELS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW [$24.95] is the superior guide. It's a handsome book offering more and larger examples of the GNs being recommended than the Weiner guide with some of those examples being reproduced in color.

The book opens with a two-page Chester Brown strip on graphic novels. Originally published in THE NEW YORKER, the strip informs the novice and amuses the more experienced graphic novel readers. Gravett concisely and wittily discusses the what of comic books and graphic novels, lists 18 "stories to change your life," and then expands upon his list in chapters covering the remarkable variety of works available to GN readers.

Gravett covers fantasies and slice-of-life stories, super-hero and other adventurous tales, alternative works, historical books, European albums, manga, horror, science fiction, mysteries. I'd be hard pressed to name a genre or type of graphic novel he hasn't at least touched upon in this guide. He focuses on his key choices, affording them each several pages of discussion and examples before following up with recommendations of other GNs of a similar nature. You could make this book the cornerstone of a comprehensive course in comics and graphic novels.

If GRAPHIC NOVELS has a drawback, it's that it's too handsome a book. Its 9-1/2" by 11" size and high-quality paper stock make it a little awkward to handle. Reading this book requires serious commitment and a good sturdy table. But it's definitely worth the effort. It earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

That's all for now. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/15/2006 | 05/16/2006 | 05/17/2006 >>

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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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