For me, the most satisfying thing about this year's event was the presence of Dick Ayers, Gary Friedrich, and Herb Trimpe at the show. It was like a mini-Marvel Bullpen reunion, though none of them were working on staff at the same time I was.
Dick is one of my Marvel Comics "Big Five"...with the others being Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck. These were the guys who work defined Marvel for me when I was just starting to read Fantastic Four and the rest. He was also the artist on one of my favorite childhood characters, the magician cowboy known as the Presto Kid. And he was my first "partner," the first artist with whom I worked on a regular basis via "It, The Living Colossus," War Is Hell, assorted non-series stories, and even a handful of covers for the Marvel British weeklies I edited. Dick and his wife Lindy have attended several Mid-Ohio-Cons and, what with their being two of the nicest people in the world and all, I love them madly and always will.
I didn't know Gary during my time in New York; he was moving on while I was coming in. But he created the modern Ghost Rider, the character on which I "made my bones" after I inherited the book from him. He contacted me via e-mail a few years back and, while I don't remember why, I do remember that it got me to thinking that he'd be a great Mid-Ohio-Con guest, especially since, to the best of my knowledge, he hadn't been a guest at any comics convention in decades. I knew his writing on both Marvel versions of Ghost Rider (western and modern), Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos, and other Silver Age comics was held in high regard. I figured the fans would enjoy meeting him and I *knew* that I would get a kick out of having him at the show. Thanks to Mid-Ohio-Con daddy Roger Price, that's exactly what happened.
One of the neatest things about this year's event was seeing Gary and his wife, Jean, with those big smiles on their faces every time I saw them. Gary hasn't been part of the comics scene in some time and, after the show, he told me Mid-Ohio-Con lit a fire under him. We're hoping to have him back soon, and he's definitely up for doing other conventions as well.
Then there's Herb, who didn't think any of the fans would be that interested in seeing him. I think he was thinking otherwise after signing hundreds of comic books for them. For many readers, Herb's Hulk is the definitive Hulk and, no disrespect to co-creator Jack Kirby and other Hulk artists, but I'm one of them. I only got to work with Herb a couple of times - fill-in scripting on really late issues of Incredible Hulk - but, those tight deadlines notwithstanding, it was a joy to dialogue his pages.
Mark Evanier, the best panel host/moderator in the universe, interviewed Dick, Gary, and Herb in one of the best-received panels on the schedule. I was on the panel as well, but that was just so I could listen to those three guys. If I hadn't been scheduled to be there, someone would've called me away to do something else that wouldn't have been nearly as much fun.
During the panel, Mark asked Herb about his experiences as a Ground Zero chaplain. A few days after the con, I read Herb's book on those experiences.
Herb's The Power of Angels: Reflections From A Ground Zero Chaplain [Big Apple Vision; $24.95] is an amazing book on every level. It's a record of faith and doubt and miracles and humanity at its best. I got teary several times while reading the book and was never sure if they were tears of sorrow or of joy for the good work Herb and others like him were doing at the site of the worst terrorist attack on American soil. I won't "rate" this thoughtful book, but I will strongly recommend it to one and all.
Game shows have always been a fun part of our panel programs. Most years, that slot is filled by Joe Edkin's Comic-Book Squares. This year, Joe wasn't sure he could attend Mid-Ohio-Con, so I was left to my own devices.
"Superhero Trivia Challenge" was inspired by Sci-Fi Channel's Who Wants To Be a Superhero?. It seemed like a natural way to go, given that Feedback, the winner of the TV competition, and artist Matt Haley were among our guests. They agreed to host the game show...with Matt bringing along some prizes and agreeing to do a sketch of our winning contestant.
"Challenge" was a hoot-and-a-half. The contestants competed in their own personal super-hero identities, wearing colorful masks that I made them wear. The questions were written by Bob Ingersoll and Joe "Made It To The Show After All" Edkin, who also served as our official judges and quizmasters. Joe doubled as our announcer while Feedback and Matt did the actual asking of the not-for-the-faint-of-heart questions.
Okay, maybe the questions were a little *too* tough, but that only added to the overall hilarity as hosts and contestants alike reacted to them with equal parts fear and loathing. It was my bad; I hadn't expected so many young contestants. When we repeat this challenge - and we will - Bob and Joe and a non-senior-citizen-to-be-named-later will have more questions on super-hero comics from *this* decade.
Something we added to this year's programming was a block of movie screenings than ran into the late evening. It started with Howard Brown, special effects supervisor for the web-based Star Trek: New Voyages, who showed an episode of that show and other movies and trailers.
Next on the program was Brian M. Kane, the author of James Bama: American Realist, who discussed his book and showed Paul Jilbert's one-hour Bama documentary, which is only available on DVD as part of the book's limited deluxe edition.
That was followed by Hero Tomorrow, Cleveland director Ted Sikora's first feature-length film, a darkly comic misadventure of a wannabe super-hero artist becoming his creation and the girl who loves him. I'm an unabashed fan of this movie and reviewed it for my "Tony's Tips" column in Comics Buyer's Guide #1627, scheduled to arrive in bookstores and comic shops in mid-January. I also reviewed Brian's book in that column.
I couldn't watch the Star Trek: New Voyages episode at the show, but you can see it here:
The anticipated Batman/The Spirit #1 [DC; $4.99] by the superstar team of Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke arrived the week after Thanksgiving, a 40-page thriller pitting the heroes of Gotham and Central City against their greatest foes...all of their greatest foes. For some strange reason, Donald Rumsfeld's on my mind today. He might review this comic thus:
Is this as good as the best Batman stories? Goodness gracious, no. The grimness of some events don't mesh well with the lighter touches that dominate the story.
Is it as good as the best Spirit stories by the legendary Will Eisner? Heavens to Betsy, no. Indeed, it's quite a departure from those beloved 8-pagers of the 1940s and 1950s.
Is it something of a cliche, and a dangerous one at that, for the two heroes to best a gaggle of villains, each of whom gave them a tough time when facing them one-on-one? Gosh, yes. This always makes me wonder why the villains gave the heroes such a tough time in their earlier encounters.
Is it worth buying? Look, sometimes you sit down in the chair with the comic book you have, not the comic book you might want or have at sometime in the future. And, on that basis, this comic is as much fun as a barrel of monkeys!
Cutting loose of Rummy now, I got a kick out of what Loeb and Cooke and inker J. Bone did here. It's a fun story and, while some characters - notably Catwoman and P'Gell - seemed out of character, that didn't significantly diminish my enjoyment. And I must give major props to the storytellers for how they handled the small army of villains at the end of the story. I started laughing inwardly two pages before the big reveal and out loud on the last page when I saw that they were, indeed, going there.
Batman/The Spirit is not a classic, but it delighted me greatly and it bodes well for the new Spirit series coming from DC and Cooke. I give it four out of five Tonys.
After reading yesterday's column, EdCoyote sent me this brief note:
Words cannot express just how disappointed I am in your five-Tonys review of the steaming pile otherwise known as Civil War.
Thank God for that!
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
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.
Please send material you would like me to review to: