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for Monday, August 14, 2006

Civil War 1

Online comics fandom strikes me as being very much DC-biased, which is often frustrating to me who believes Marvel's super-hero comics are more innovative and interesting. I see INFINITE CRISIS as being little more than a re-fry of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTH and its aftermath as much the same as the aftermaths of the other times we've been told the DC Universe will never be the same again.

Marvel's CIVIL WAR event, grounded as it is in questions being asked in the real world, is a whole new beast. I haven't been this excited about a comics event in years and it's taken amazing will power for me to resist reading the published issues until I could review them here. I want these comic books to be as fresh to me as I wrote about them as they were to readers who enjoyed them when they were published.

It's going to take me a few columns to catch up with the most recent issues. Today, I'm looking at July-dated issues.

CIVIL WAR #1 [$3.99] is a gut-churner from page 1 to page 33. It starts with Speedball and the New Warriors, reality-show super-heroes, going after super-villains in the heart of a residential community. Inexperience and miscalculations result in a horrific tragedy: the deaths of hundreds of civilians, many of them school children. In the wake of that horror, an American public already shell-shocked by the real-world events of September 11, and Marvel Universe events that caused death and destruction in Philadelphia and Las Vegas, demands accountability from those they once thought of as their protectors.

Writer Mark Millar and penciler Steve McNiven really put the heroes and the readers through the ringer here. The actions of the New Warriors are, indeed, inexcusable, but the authorities seem to ignore that it was the villain Nitro who set off the explosion that killed so many innocents. At ground zero in Stamford, Connecticut, the heroes who come to help in rescue and recovery efforts know a turning point in their lives has been reached.

This opening issue never lets up. At a funeral for one of the victims, Tony Stark is verbally assaulted by the child's grieving mother. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, ends up hospitalized after a mob attacks him outside a fashionable nightclub. A couple dozen heroes gather to discuss impending hero registration legislation, arguing amongst themselves.

A somewhat amusing note is struck when Reed Richards tells Dr. Strange that the sorcerer is "one of the few post-humans [with whom the government] is hoping to seek a compromise with." I read it as the feds not knowing quite what to make of the whole magic powers thing, but I also didn't buy it for a second.

Can you imagine the Bush administration, with its ties to the religious right, suffering a witch to live? I can't. I'm thinking there has to be a government sniper out there waiting for the right instant to put a bullet through Strange's brain.

Captain America becomes the first victim of the government's Registration Act before Congress has even voted on it. Discussing the situation with the acting head of SHIELD and indicating he will not join SHIELD in hunting down super-heroes who don't comply, Cap is attacked and forced to defend himself. This is where the first issue doesn't work for me.

"My" Captain America wouldn't be on the government's side in this matter and I'm delighted to see Millar's isn't either. What gets me is that the heroes who agree with the government don't seem to have a problem with SHIELD's grossly illegal, pre-emptive strike against Cap. How can they condemn their former ally for "breaking" a law that didn't yet exist?

While the Bush administration is comfortable with breaking the law whenever it's convenient to its agenda, I wouldn't think Reed Richards would be. Tony Stark, maybe, because he's embraced this extreme agenda as his own and is too arrogant to recognize another view as being legitimate. Hank Pym, maybe, because he's gone nuts a time or two in the past. But I did expect better from Richards. Maybe he'll come around as the story unfolds.

What makes CIVIL WAR as fun as it is intense is that not every one on the "wrong" side is acting out of malice. I can understand where they're coming from and sympathize with their position. If I lived in the MU, I might agree with the need for some oversight of some heroes. Of course, I'd probably also point out that other governments would not be bound by this legislation and might take advantage of it by offering asylum to super-heroes and bolstering their own strategic positions.

Besides the "political fun" of this event, there are the many character debates we could have. Would this hero really defy the government? Would that hero really agree to hunt down heroes with whom he's fought side-by-side? This is so much cooler than "Who's stronger, the Thing or the Hulk?"

Millar's script and McNiven's art (with inks by Dexter Vines and colors by Morry Hollowell) on this first issue are sensational. Kudos to Tom Brevoort and the rest of the editorial crew for what had to have been a massive coordination effort. That effort paid off in this month's related titles as well.

CIVIL WAR #1 is an incredible achievement in shared super-hero universe storytelling. It earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

She-Hulk 8

My favorite She-Hulk comics have always been those where humor was the key element. Clearly, that would not have been appropriate for a Civil War tie-in like SHE-HULK #8 [$2.99]. Writer Dan Slott tried to balance the needs of the title's own continuity with that of the big event and succeeded to a large degree - a resolution of Jen's on-off transformations, her being pro-registration as a hero and against the egregious new laws as an attorney, a turning point in her relationship with John Jameson - but this issue came off as being more about New Warriors loose ends and trivia than about Jen or Civil War. Indeed, the tale's resolution would have gotten no more than a "Who cares?" from me, if not for something that struck me as a betray of Jen's ethics as an attorney.

I can accept the swiftness in which the surviving New Warriors lawsuit against a website outing them made it to a courtroom. Such a "reality shortcut" is common in fiction. What I couldn't accept was that Jen, on learning the identity of the owner of the website, allowed her clients to deal with their betrayer personally and even accompanied them on the "mission," a mission that took them to the same kind of residential neighborhood that got blown up by Nitro, a mission the worst psychic in the world could've predicted would further inflame an untrusting public.

What was she thinking?

Despite decent writing by Slott, spiffy art by Paul Smith and Avalon's Dave Kemp, this was the deal-breaker for me. I just don't like my super-heroes doing stupid things to advance the storyline. That's why SHE-HULK #8 gets but two Tonys.

Tony Tony

Wolverine 42

WOLVERINE #42 [$2.99] has two moments that just make my heart sing. Marc Guggenheim's story starts with a typical action scene wherein Logan thwarts a plot by religious zealot Crusader to crash planes into the headquarters of super-hero teams. It gets points for reminding us that murderous zealots are the sole providence of any one religion, but that's not one of the scenes.

No, what sells the tale for me are Wolverine's insistence that Nitro must be brought to justice - "S'funny. I been an Avenger for a couple'a months now. And I finally got something to avenge." - and a two-page conversation between Logan and fellow Avenger Luke Cage. That conversation is one of the most insightful dialogues I have ever read in comics.

When Cage disputes the comparison of mutants and super-heroes to World War II-era Jews and parrots the government line that the Sentinels are protecting mutants, Logan responds: "And what if that Sentinel on the front lawn was a burning cross?"

It's one of the great moments in comics. It makes clear what all of us should know, that bigotry is bigotry, whether its targets are Jews, blacks, gays, or mutants and super-heroes. There can be no such thing as an acceptable kind of bigotry.

Visually...I can't say I'm a fan of the Humberto Ramos style. None of the familiar Marvel characters look right to me. But I'll give Ramos that they all look wrong in a consistent manner and that his storytelling is spot-on. He carries his part of the load well, so he gets to share in the five Tonys this issue earns.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Amazing Spider-Man 532

The only battle in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #532 [$2.99] is fought inside Spidey's head and heart as he struggles with the question of whether or not to reveal his identity as required by the impending super-hero registration act. It makes for one of the most dramatic Spider-Man tales ever. Since this issue came out months ago, most of you know what he decided.

J. Michael Straczynski most impressed me with Peter Parker's relationship with his parental surrogates. There's Tony Stark, the man who took the Parkers in when they had nowhere else to go, the man who has protected them, the man who has encouraged Peter to be more of a positive force than he already is. Stark sees himself as a futurist and a realist; he believes he knows where the country is going and is, I think, honestly trying to safeguard his super-hero pals by championing the registration act. But he is also and maybe tragically blind to the risk that act poses to personal liberties and rights. Peter's admiration for Stark rings true, as does his loyalty to the man. But one of the hard lessons of growing up is that those we love are not always right.

No one writes May Parker better than Straczynski. As enormous an error as I think Peter is making, I nearly squealed with delight at her love for and pride in the man she raised. I don't mean to slight Mary Jane here, but, man, May takes my breath away whenever she gets one of her special moments.

Terrific work by penciler Ron Garney, inker Bill Reinhold, and colorist Matt Milla compliment the fine script as this issue picks up the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

More CIVIL WAR reviews coming on Wednesday.



Uncle Scrooge 356

Donald Duck has a new obsession! Uncle Scrooge craves a stash of rubies, hidden for centuries in Mysorebakh. His rival Flintheart Glomgold wants them, too!

"Everything's Coming Up Rubies" is another of the stories I've "script-doctored" for Gemstone. It's written by Paul Halas and drawn by Jose Marie Millet Lopez with colors by Egmont and Marie Javins and lettering by Jon Babcock.

The front cover art of UNCLE SCROOGE #356 is by Daniel Branca with coloring by Susan Daigle-Leach.

Also in the issue:

Uncle Scrooge in "Hall of the Mermaid Queen" by Carl Barks, originally published in US #68 (March, 1967);

Beagle Boys in "It Must Be Magic" by Terry Laban (writer) and Miguel Fernandez Martinez;

Uncle Scrooge in "Gift Lion" by Carl Barks (US #35, September, 1961); and,

Gyro Gearloose in "Space Food Folly" by writer Don Christensen and artists Tony Strobl and Steve Steere.

Back Issue 17

BACK ISSUE #17 [TwoMorrows; $6.95] has "a sizzling spotlight on '70s and '80s super girls!" The cover is by Bruce Timm. Dewey Cassell interviewed me on Tigra, along with Marie Severin, Linda Fite, and Ramona Fradon. The issue's other featured characters and creators include Supergirl, Mike Sekowsky, Leonard Kirk, Adam Hughes, Wonder Woman, Denny O'Neil, Dick Giordano, Alex Toth, Bruce Timm, Spider-Woman, Carmine Infantino, Marv Wolfman, Donna Troy, Phil Jimenez, Flare, Batwoman, and many others.



Eisner Awards icon

Every year, six comics industry legends are inducted into the Eisner Awards HALL OF FAME. Two inductees are "Judges' Choices," and this year, the two were FLOYD GOTTFREDSON, whose Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip set a standard for anthropomorphic adventure, and WILLIAM MOULTON MARSTON, the creator of Wonder Woman.

The other four inductees were chosen by Eisner Awards voters. Back in April, we asked the TONY POLLS voters which of 14 nominees they would most like to see inducted into the Hall of Fame. Here's how they voted:

Jim Steranko.....32.22%
Marty Nodell.....12.22%
Ramona Fradon.....8.89%
Robert Kanigher.....7.78%
Matt Baker.....6.67%
Wayne Boring.....6.67%
Russ Manning.....6.67%
Vaughn Bode.....5.56%
Reed Crandall.....4.44%
Graham Ingels.....4.44%
Gilbert Shelton.....2.22%
Harold Gray.....1.11%
Mort Meskin.....1.11%
Creig Flessel.....0%

JIM STERANKO was one of this year's HALL OF FAME inductees, so that makes the Tony Pollers 21-for-28.

Since Eisner voters choose four inductees, we ran the question three more times, asking the Tony Pollers to vote for a different individual each time. Here are the combined results of those three additional ballots.

Wayne Boring.....16.90%
Russ Manning.....13.70%
Marty Nodell.....13.70%
Robert Kanigher.....13.41%
Ramona Fradon.....13.11%
Matt Baker.....7.06%
Reed Crandall.....5.53%
Gilbert Shelton.....4.37%
Graham Ingels.....3.49%
Mort Meskin.....3.21%
Vaughn Bode.....2.91%
Creig Flessel.....1.45%
Harold Gray.....1.16%

Besides Steranko, the other three actual inductees were VAUGHN BODE, RAMONA FRADON, and RUSS MANNING. You only picked Manning, so your final Eisner score is 22-for-31, or 71%. You passed, and you did much better than I did, but I think you need to read a lot more comics to prepare for next year's awards.

Several other awards were also presented at San Diego's Comic-Con International. Here's the list...

Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award: CALVIN REID

Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award: R. KIKUO JOHNSON (Night Fisher)

Bill Finger Excellence in Comic Writing Award: HARVEY KURTZMAN and ALVIN SCHWARTZ

Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailing Award: ZEUS COMICS of Dallas, TX


Congratulations to all the winners and nominees.

Today is your last day to vote on last week's four TONY POLLS questions. I'm asking if you see comics making the transition to movies, TV, and direct-to-DVD as a positive trend and also asking you to rate three recent examples of this:


The questions will remain active until sometime after midnight today, and then be replaced with new questions. As always, you can cast your votes by going to:

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

Tony Isabella

<< 08/11/2006 | 08/14/2006 | 08/16/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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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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