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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Friday, September 1, 2006

2000 AD 1

2000 AD, the weekly magazine that has been a constant of the British comics industry since 1977, recently published its 1500th issue. To honor that milestone, let's take a look at the weekly's debut, which was dated 26th February, 1977.

No character is more identified with 2000 AD than Judge Dredd, the stony-faced lawman of the future. Yet Dredd didn't appear in that first issue. "Prog 1" featured four new series and a revival of the classic Dan Dare character that never came within a galaxy of being as good as the original strip.

The four new series were:

"Invasion," in which the barely-disguised Soviet Union invaded and conquered England;

"Harlem Heroes," a basketball-of-the-future strip notable for its black stars and an initial 24-chapter run drawn by a young-but-already-impressive Dave Gibbons;

"M.A.C.H. 1," pretty much the Six-Million-Dollar Man from the TV show, albeit with a bad attitude and no reluctance to dispatch enemy agents with extreme prejudice; and,

"Flesh," in which future entrepreneurs traveled back in time to harvest dinosaur meat for the dinner tables of their protein-starved customers. It was gloriously violent and easily the stand-out feature of that first issue.

Space Spinner

As was the custom with the launch of British comics magazines, "Prog 1" came with a free gift: a "space spinner" which seems to be some kind of frisbee.

When I was the American editor of Marvel's British weeklies - this would have been 1973 - we launched SPIDER-MAN COMICS WEEKLY. The free gift horrified me; it was a Spider-Man paper mask I feared would suffocate any child who attempted to wear it. Fortunately, the eyeless/mouthless mask was so poorly made that any attempt to don it would inevitably result in its tearing, thus affording its saddened owner a steady flow of oxygen.

2000 AD 1485

2000 AD is not as vital as it once was. I'm a couple months behind in my reading, but the weekly is going through a rough patch in which Judge Dredd is the only consistently readable series. The most recent issues I read were Progs #1481-1486 (28 March through 8 May). Besides boring rookie strips like Harry Kipling, Bec and Kawl, Lobster Random, and the 86ers, we have veterans like the ABC Warriors feature which dragged for chapter after chapter as it made its way to some sort of ending. Written by Pat Mills and drawn by Henry Flint, both favorites of mine, there's no good reason for the strip to be as merely adequate as it is.

Some signs of hope are the relatively new "Low Life" series by writer Rob Williams and artist Simon Colby, and the return of "The V.C.s" by Dan Abnett and Anthony Williams. The former features an undercover judge in Mega-City-One while the latter is one of those classic "war in space" strips that 2000 AD has done so well on many occasions. But, even with Dredd and these strips, 2000 AD simply isn't the must-buy comic it once was for me.

Judge Dredd Megazine 243

JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE is also on the bubble for me, though it may be moving in the right direction by cutting its page count and price. Each issue delivers a good chunk of Dredd, including decent spin-offs like "Cursed Earth Koburn" (his "beat" is the irradiated badlands beyond Mega-City-One), "Shimura" (a renegade former judge in the Tokyo-like Hondo City), and "Tales From the Black Museum" (a dark version of DC's old "Space Museum" stories).

Issues #243 and #244 also featured "Young Middenface" and the classic "Charley's War" from the old BATTLE weekly. Middenface was a recurring character in the "Strontium Dog" series; these are his adventures as a teen. Charley Bourne is a teenage British soldier in World War I; his grim-and-gritty stories are among the best war comics ever published.

The anchor around the MEGAZINE's figurative neck is its leaden text features. There are minutely-detailed history of this or that aspect of 2000 AD history and a selection of snide opinion columns. However, I do enjoy the interviews with 2000 AD creators, though I would enjoy them more if they were shorter.

There will be more 2000 AD "blasts from the past" and current coverage in upcoming TOTs.

******

AFTERLIFE

Afterlife

AFTERLIFE [TokyoPop; $9.99] is a three-book series by writer Stormcrow Hayes and artist Rob Steen. Here's what the back-cover blurb of the first book has to say about it:

The Afterlife is disintegrating and nobody knows how long it will be before its population - everyone who has ever died on Earth - is forever lost in the great ether. Thaddeus, a guardian in the Afterlife, becomes obsessed with discovering an answer to the meaning of life and death. His best friend Mercutio is distracted by his search for his beloved Arrabella. And as the decay around them intensifies, an encounter with a mysterious girl will lead to a search for what it truly means to be dead...

I read AFTERLIFE - pardon the expression - dead cold. Hayes is a guest at this year's Mid-Ohio-Con and, since I wasn't familiar with his work, I requested a review copy. The first book grabbed me with its engaging characters, solid storytelling, and as unique a depiction of what lies beyond this life as I've ever seen...and which Steen depicts brilliantly.

Weighed down by his responsibilities, Thaddeus is a far more complex man than he would like to be. His journal entries appear throughout this first book and the revelation of their true nature is one of the best "Whoa!" moments in it. Mercutio is a painfully sympathetic character; his love for his missing Annabella truly got to me. Young Nyoko pushes a weary Thaddeus to continue his search for the ultimate answers. And, though "fun" might not be the right word to use in describing this horror manga, it is great fun to try to spot the historical figures who appear in AFTERLIFE. Don't fret if some of them stump you; there's a "Afterlife Cameos" feature at the back of the book.

AFTERLIFE VOL. 1 is rated "OT" (older teens 16 and up), but I wouldn't have a problem giving it to any middle-school-age child of mine. On our usual scale of zero to five, this first volume earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

BEYOND!

Beyond 1

Who would have thought anything good could have emerged from the train wreck that was MARVEL SUPER-HEROES SECRET WARS? And who could have hoped that good something would mark Dwayne McDuffie's first new series since his legendary runs on Milestone's ICON and other titles? Okay, yeah, it's only a six-issue series, but a fan can dream, can't he?

Where as the original SECRET WARS chokes armies of heroes and villains, BEYOND! #1 [$2.99] brings a much small group of warriors to an otherworldly battlefield created by an alien being who may or not be the Beyonder from the original SECRET WARS. The kidnapped characters are: Spider-Man, Firebird, Gravity, Medusa, The Hood, Kraven the Hunter, Venom III, Henry Pym and the Wasp. The deal is the same one the Beyonder offered previously: "Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours!"

Only one of the combatants takes the Beyonder up on this deal, claiming a kill before the end of the first issue. Who the victim is...is one of many surprises to be found in the first two issues of the series. Among those surprises: the appearance of two more of my favorite Marvel Comics characters.

McDuffie's writing is as excellent as we expect from him. He gets the characters I'm familiar with right and makes me interested in those I'm seeing for the first time. Though the emphasis is on set-up and action in these issues, he has me wondering what secrets lie behind them.

Artist Scott Kolins does a fine job as well. His pages/panels are models of clear and dynamic storytelling and the characters all look right. Props are also due to colorist Paul Mounts, letterer Dave Lanphear, and, of course, editor Tom Brevoort and his amazing assistants.

These first two issues of BEYOND! earn four Tonys each. I'm betting that goes up before the series is finished.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY

Block Party 21

DC's CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY is usually more miss than hit for me, probably because I never warmed to most of the cartoons it showcases. But Scott Roberts, whose PATTY CAKE AND FRIENDS is one of the best all-ages comics around, has contributed work to recent issues and that made them must-read items for me.

CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY #21 [$2.25] leads with a Powerpuff Girls tale written by Roberts, pencilled by Cindy Morrow, and inked by Mike DeCarlo. The girls get sued by Mojo Jojo and he moves in with them. Oh, that wacky American justice system with its wacky activist judges! But the story is fun and, much to my delight, so were the tales featuring Johnny Bravo (by writer Jim Alexander and artist Mike DeCarlo) and Billy, Mandy, and Grim (by writer Sholly Fisch, penciller Robert Pope, and inker Phil Moy). That earns the issue a respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Block Party 22

Unfortunately, CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY #22 didn't measure up to the previous issue. A "Courage the Cowardly Dog" adventure with a decent Robbie Busch script is elevated by Roberts' energetic art, but the "Hi Hi Puffy Amiumi" and "Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy" stories did nothing for me. That wasn't surprising, given I've never been able to sit through an entire cartoon of either. The best score I can give this issue is one Tony.

Tony

******

COMICS IN THE COMICS

Cartoonists, comic books, and super-heroes are referenced in two strips and a panel from late 2005. Leave us begin with Scott Adams' DILBERT from November 22:

Dilbert

Then we have Pat Brady's ROSE IS ROSE by Don Wimmer. This one is from November 24:

Rose is Rose

One more. It's the REAL LIFE ADVENTURES panel from December 3, brought to us by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich:

Real Life Adventures

More COMICS IN THE COMICS to come!

******

TONY POLLS

We have more TONY POLLS results for you today. These are from early August...

Eisner Spirit

What do you think was the biggest news to come out of San Diego's Comic-Con International?

FRANK MILLER TO WRITE/DIRECT "THE SPIRIT"...26.12%
DC direct-to-DVD animated videos...19.40%
Fantastic Four "lost" issue by Lee and Kirby...14.93%
Comic-Con International's record attendance...8.21%
Babylon 5 Lost Tales series...5.22%
Milestone Media/BET hook-up...4.48%
Oni to publish "My Name Is Earl" comic...4.48%
DC Deadman and Doom Patrol movies announced...3.73%
IDW reprinting DICK TRACY in hardcover...3.73%
Adam Hughes to write/draw All-Star Wonder Woman...2.99%
Marvel live-action movies, directors announced...2.24%
New reprints of Shadow and Doc Savage novels...1.49%
Ellis to launch new "New Universe" line...0.75%
Matt Wagner's new Grendel graphic novel...0.75%
Peter Cullen to voice new Transformers movie...0.75%
WildStorm Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw comics...0.75%
Fangoria announces comics line...0%
Guardian line to launch in September...0%
Marvel direct-to-DVD videos...0%
Nic Cage and son to write Virgin Comics series...0%

I voted for FRANK MILLER WRITING/DIRECTING THE SPIRIT, but it wasn't the sole contender. I also thought long and hard about the Deadman and Doom Patrol movies, important because DC is looking at something other than their big properties. Another news items that I thought were cool were Fangoria's new comics line, the Fantastic Four "lost" issue by Stan and Jack, the Milestone Media/BET hook-up, the new reprints of Doc Savage and the Shadow, and Oni doing a MY NAME IS EARL comic book.

Justice League

What Comic-Con International news was the most personally exciting for you?

DC DIRECT-TO-DVD ANIMATED VIDEOS...23.13%
Fantastic Four "lost" issue by Lee and Kirby...14.93%
Babylon 5 Lost Tales series...11.19%
Adam Hughes to write/draw All-Star Wonder Woman...8.96%
New reprints of Shadow and Doc Savage novels...7.46%
DC Deadman and Doom Patrol movies announced...6.72%
IDW reprinting DICK TRACY in hardcover...5.97%
Frank Miller to write/direct "The Spirit"...5.22%
Peter Cullen to voice new Transformers movie...4.48%
Oni to publish "My Name Is Earl" comic...3.73%
Comic-Con International's record attendance...1.49%
Ellis to launch new "New Universe" line...1.49%
Matt Wagner's new Grendel graphic novel...1.49%
Milestone Media/BET hook-up...1.49%
Marvel live-action movies, directors announced...0.75%
Marvel direct-to-DVD videos...0.75%
Fangoria announces comics line...0%
Guardian line to launch in September...0%
Nic Cage and son to write Virgin Comics series...0%
WildStorm Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw comics...0.75%

This was another tough call. I considered the "Babylon 5 Lost Tales" series, the Deadman and Doom Patrol movies, that Lee/Kirby FF issue, Miller's Spirit movie, the Milestone Media/BET hook-up, and the MY NAME IS EARL comic. But it came down to my abiding love for two of the greatest adventure heroes of them all. I voted for the NEW REPRINTS OF SHADOW AND DOC SAVAGE NOVELS.

This week's TONY POLLS questions are on the newly-reclassified dwarf planet Pluto, DC's new Blue Beetle series, the One Year Later Teen Titans, and SNAKES ON A PLANE. They will remain active until sometime after midnight next Monday.

You can cast your votes by going to:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/poll

******

TV ALERT

Flipping through the September 4-10 edition of TV GUIDE, I came across this programming note for Monday, September 4:

HISTORY DETECTIVES. Season finale. PBS, 9/8c. Time may vary in your area. Comic-book buffs might want to check out the fourth- season closer to see an ultra-rare Superman sketch autographed by the Man of Steel's creators: writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster.

Set your TIVO or VCR, kids.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 08/30/2006 | 09/01/2006 | 09/04/2006 >>

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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