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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, August 16, 2006

Civil War: Front Line 1

We're into the second full month of Marvel's CIVIL WAR event here at Casa Isabella and I'm even more excited about these comics than I was in my last TOT. Nine issues came out in June; five for today's column and the remaining four for Friday's.

CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #1 [$2.99] has three satisfying stories between its covers, all written by Paul Jenkins. In the first part of "Embedded," drawn by Ramon Bachs and John Lucas, reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd attend a barroom wake for a fellow reporter who died in the Stamford Disaster. Their conversations frames the debate over the Super-Hero Registration Act. Later, we see Spider-Man pay a visit to Sally's apartment - it's a wonderful scene - and Tony Stark reveal his Iron Man identity during a press conference. The lines are being drawn.

"The Accused" features the surprisingly still-alive Speedball in the aftermath of the Disaster. Drawn by Steve Lieber, the first part of this serial has disturbing echoes of the fates of so-called "illegal combatants" in the real world.

In the issue's third untitled story, just three pages long, Jenkins and artist Kei Kobayashi draw a direct parallel between the Japanese internment camps of World War II and what may well await heroes who oppose the Registration Act. It's a powerful statement and, along with the other two stories, earns this issue five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Civil War 2

CIVIL WAR #2 [$2.99] keeps the action and tension moving. We see Captain America and the Falcon leading the resistence with an off-stage assist from Nick Fury. After so many years of Fury being used as a convenient government villain, it's good to see him back on the side of the angels...which comment should tip you off as to whose side I'm on. More on that soon.

What puzzles me in this issue is that, while the Act has not yet become law, it's being enforced before it becomes law. While I suspect the government isn't going to allow the captured heroes to be tried in public, I'm thinking the heroes might have a solid defense based on this.

The actions of Reed Richards make a bit more sense to me now. He's so fascinated by this new idea that he's not considering its human cost or its possible damage to civil rights. It's just one more big experiment to him. It's understandable, but not one bit less chilling for it being understandable.

The issue ends with Spider-Man unmasking. I think Peter has made a bad choice here, but I'm hoping and praying there aren't any take-backs when CIVIL WAR is over. Let other publishers have their meaningless reboots. I want to see Marvel creators play the cards they've been dealt for many years to come.

Kudos to writer Mark Millar, artists Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines, and editor Tom Brevoort and the rest of the editorial crew. CIVIL WAR #2 earns another five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Thunderbolts 103

For most of its impressive run, THUNDERBOLTS has been a solid book. The concept of super-villains pretending or actually trying to reform is a terrific one, allowing, as it does, for all sorts of psychological shadings. In issue #103 [$2.99], Baron Zemo and the Bolts are recruited by the government to hunt down super-villains and recruit those villains to the pro-registration cause. There's lots of stuff to like in this issue:

Two snappy fight scenes. The first has the Bolts going after Quicksand, the second after a trio of college students who stole M.A.C.H. IV's Beetle suits and are using them for crime. Writer Fabian Nicieza reveals much of his characters during the action with especially choice exchanges between Songbird and Mach IV, and between the Smuggler and the Radioactive Man.

The reactions of the Thunderbolts to Spider-Man revealing his identity to the world.

Irony. All of a sudden, I don't see much difference between Baron Zemo and Tony Stark. Each is following his own agenda, each is absolutely convinced of its rightness, each considers all other players as secondary to their agenda.

Surprise endings have been a trademark of THUNDERBOLTS and we get a good one in this issue, even if I did see it coming on page five. Hey, I used to do this for a living.

The writing, the art of Tom Grummett and Gary Erskine, and the editing of Molly Lazar, who could probably use a scorecard to keep all the heroes and villains straight, made this another good issue. THUNDERBOLTS #103 earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Amazing Spider-Man 533

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #533 [$2.99] is just one great moment after another. Jonah Jameson's reaction to Spidey's unmasking is scary; for the first time, his rancor towards the wall-crawler - and now Peter Parker - doesn't seem forced or humorous. Peter has a pair of conversations with Tony Stark and I think they foreshadow change in their relationship as well. Peter's three-way phone call with Aunt May and MJ on one phone, and Reed and Sue Richards on another, is very funny. The surprise waiting for Peter when he disembarks from the plane in New York is just...so...damn...perfect. We get a hint at the price Peter and his family will have to pay for his loyalty to Stark and his attempt to do the right thing in regards to the Registration Act. And the issue's final line of dialogue, delivered by Tony Stark, is scarier than anything Jameson could say or do. It's another great ish from writer J. Michael Straczynski, penciler Ron Garney, inker Bill Reinhold, and editor Tom Brevoort. It earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Civil War: Front Line 2

CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #2 [$2.99] continues the "Embedded" and "The Accused" serials from the first issue. In the first, we see more of Jameson in the wake of Spider-Man's unmasking...and Jonah ain't looking too healthy. We see a super-hero quit because said hero can no longer afford to be a super-hero, making me wonder if the government is offering quitting as an option. We see Iron Man taking down an opponent of the Act. Good stuff.

The second chapter of "The Accused" is downright frightening in its look at how far the government will go to get what it wants, the rule of law be damned. Speedball should be held accountable for his actions, but, as I see it, the government is setting him up to be tortured by something akin to a foreign government, the cons who brutally rule the prison to which he's been sent.

This issue's untitled vignette, drawn by Kano, compares Tony Stark to Julius Caesar. I think it's fair to say these three tales stack the deck against the registration act and those who support it. Whose side are you on?

CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #2 gets the full five out of five Tonys. After the disappointment of DC's INFINITE CRISIS, I never thought another such "event" would ever interest me. I'm delighted to say Marvel has revived my enthusiasm for such big stories. Kudos all around.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

More CIVIL WAR reviews to come.

******

WHOSE SIDE AM I ON?

Whose side am I on?

Super-villains can definitely be weapons of mass destruction. Super-heroes can also be WMDs. The latter define their status as threats by their actions. The heroes defend against those threats. There is a difference between the two that isn't recognized by the Super-Hero Registration Act.

Should super-heroes be held accountable for their actions if those actions result in destruction or worse? In the real world, we have "Good Samaritan" laws that offer some protection to those who do inadvertent wrong while trying to help in an emergency. The protection is not absolute; that's why we have courts.

Speedball and the New Warriors were criminally negligent when they sought to confront super-villains in a residential area when there was no immediate threat. As the only survivor of the heroes, Speedball should face charges in a court of law...sans the torture tactics being used on him by the government.

However, the Super-Hero Registration Act goes too far in its inability to consider the health of the heroes who comply with its provisions and their families. Indeed, it exposes those heroes and their innocent kin to mortal danger. It also goes too far in its draconian punishments for non-compliance. As much as the current administration might find this quaint, our society still frowns on cruel and unusual punishment.

One of my readers brought up gun registration as a parallel to super-hero registration. I've never been against reasonable gun ownership by citizens, but I also never had any problem with those guns being registered. I saw it as akin to registering one's car, which, like a gun, can be a deadly weapon. Gun registration allows for accountability after a gun has been misused, just as reasonable super-hero laws should allow for accountability. But the new law, rushed through Congress as it was, appears to be seriously flawed in this regard...and should not stand.

Whose side am I on? The side that says we must not let fear guide national policy, that we must respect individual liberties, that we must not legislate against a minority, no matter how different that minority might be from our own selves.

Whose side are you on? Please feel free to discuss that and other questions raised by CIVIL WAR on my message board:

www.comicscommunity.com/boards/tony

******

SECOND OPINIONS

The first response to this week's CIVIL WAR reviews came from DWIGHT WILLIAMS, somewhere north of the U.S. border:

On Stephen Strange and Washington:

You've happened, accidentally perhaps, on another possible reason for his fast in that Arctic retreat in CIVIL WAR #4. And I'd be willing to bet that such a retreat is NOT going to be located on United States soil. Nope, it's gonna be halfway between Iqaluit and Tuktoyaktuk for Dr. Strange...

As for Cap's fugitive status, it's my understanding SHIELD has had Cap on their payroll - directly or via "secondment" from the US Defense Department - for some time now. Cap violated a direct order from a superior officer in CW #1; you know what that gets regular US military personnel. I can't imagine it being much different for SHIELD, UN charter-treaty or not, the way they've been structured over the decades. And SHIELD's under contract to Washington to enforce the Act, like the RCMP are to several Canadian provinces for provincial-police-equivalent work, if I understood editor Tom Brevoort a'right in his Q&A thread at comicbookresources.com. How much a bearing that has on things re: Cap...?

Reed? He's been tight with the USAF going way back before that test flight he wasn't supposed to take in FANTASTIC FOUR #1. For all his troubles in recent years, I can't imagine all his federal bridges have been burnt. Plus, there's his capacity for tunnel vision re: what he sees as reasonable goals vs. his relations with other people.

Just some last-minute thoughts...

As I see it, as the Super-Hero Registration Act had not yet taken effect or even passed, Cap was disobeying an illegal order and thus resisting illegal actions taken against him. I think Bob Ingersoll could get Cap cleared of these initial charges if a fair trial were allowed.

I came to much the same conclusion about Reed, as evidenced in my review of CIVIL WAR #2 and my scheduled-for-Friday review of FF #538. Damn, I'm loving these comic books.

******

COMICS IN THE COMICS

By some cosmic comics coincidence, three different newspaper strips had characters reading or talking about reading comic books on Sunday, August 13.

We have BEETLE BAILEY by Greg and Mort Walker:

Beetle Baily

We have a PEANUTS CLASSIC by Charles Schulz:

Peanuts

And we have SALLY FORTH by Francesco Marciuliano and artist Craig Macintosh:

Sally Forth

Tintin and Scrooge McDuck. I'm impressed.

Watch for more COMICS IN THE COMICS in future TOTs.

******

MAGAZINE WATCH

Entertainment Weekly

This is where I pass along comics-related items of interest I find in the mainstream magazines I read. The August 18 edition of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY caught my notice for its multiple James Bond covers, six in all and back-to-back in my subscription copy. But, the issue also had some comics stuff.

BLADE, the live-action series airing on Spike TV, made the EW "Must List" this week:

I'm Spike TV's bad-ass vampire slayer - and I got cool ink, killer gadgets, and lotsa 'tude. Come closer, I won't bite.

The series has been better than I expected, good enough for me to keep watching it. But if its credits include a mention of Blade creators Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, I haven't spotted them yet. Come on, Marvel. Come on, Spike. Do the right thing.

Additionally...

The magazine's "Books" section has mini-reviews of four comic books. Joe Sacco's BUT I LIKE IT, a collection of the cartoonist's early work that focuses on his "hard-rocking past," earned an "A-" from reviewer Whitney Pastorek.

Monthly comics CASANOVA by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA by Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes picked up, respectively, an "A-" from reviewer Hannah Tucker, and an "A" from Jeff Jensen.

Finally, Jason's THE LEFT BANK GANG, which re-imagines Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound as struggling canine cartoonists, received an "A" from Ken Tucker.

******

TONY POLLS

Every week, except when chaos reigns, we post new TONY POLLS questions for your balloting entertainment. We're playing catch-up on the polls conducted before our summer break. Today, we have the results of questions asked - ulp - last May.

Infinite Crisis 7

Now that DC's INFINITE CRISIS has concluded, how would you rate it?

Near-Mint.....6.90%
Fine.....25.86%
Very Good.....21.55%
Good.....12.93%
Fair.....22.41%
Poor.....10.34%

I didn't vote on this question at the time, but, as you could probably figure out from my comments above, I was ultimately very disappointed in this event.

Superman 650

Now that you've read a few issues of DC's ONE YEAR LATER, how would you rate your interest in the current DCU?

Near-Mint.....16.22%
Fine.....28.83%
Very Good.....18.02%
Good.....14.41%
Fair.....12.61%
Poor.....9.91%

I have only read a few weeks of OYL comics at this time, but I plan to start reading and reviewing the lot of them as soon as I get caught up with CIVIL WAR. If anyone TOT readers have requests or suggestions as to which OYL books to read/review first, I would love to hear them. Rather than go week-by-week, I'd like to read and review a few months of a title at a time.

Civil War 1

Now that you've read several issues of Marvel's CIVIL WAR event, how would you rate your interest in it?

Near-Mint.....11.32%
Fine.....16.04%
Very Good.....17.92%
Good.....14.15%
Fair.....11.32%
Poor.....29.25%

As you can tell from my reviews, I'm really loving CIVIL WAR. Let's hope my delight in the storyline continues.

I posted several new TONY POLLS questions yesterday. This go-round, I ask you to rate various TV shows I'm watching this summer. Because it's all about me, right?

You can cast your votes by going to:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/poll

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

Tony Isabella

<< 08/14/2006 | 08/16/2006 | 08/18/2006 >>

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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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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