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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Monday, January 8, 2007

Archie Pals 'n' Gals 38

Archie and the rest of the Riverdale gang join our 2007 TOT opening rotation with four covers from the late spring/early summer of 1966. The Batman TV series had hit huge earlier that year and Archie Comics was quick to jump onto that bat-bandwagon. Besides reviving a bunch of their super-heroes in titles like The Mighty Crusaders, the company also added super-hero gags to their teen humor books and even gave Archie and Reggie costumed identities as, respectively, Pureheart and Evilheart.

Archie's Pals 'N' Gals #38 [Fall, 1966] is the only one of the issues with an actual "super-hero" story, "Chaos In a Common Cane!" The 13-page story pits Evilheart against Pureheart and the villainous Dude. Look for my review of this four decades-old issue in today's "Tony's Other Online Tips" mini-column at the Comics Buyer's Guide forums:

Betty and Veronica 127

Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #127 [July, 1966] may not have had any super-heroes beyond Stretchman's cover appearance, but one story was built around the negative reaction to Veronica's coming to Riverdale High wearing a then-fashionable "granny dress." Another story, in which Archie and Betty visited the clubhouse of "the number one rock 'n' roll fan club in the country," referenced such popular bands as the Beatles, the Rolling Stone, the Animals, and the Dave Clark Five. These days, Archie's writers avoid using real names of public figures and, instead, use "spoof" names like, for example, the Falling Pebbles. Me, I prefer the real names for such incidental mentions because I think they bring Archie's world closer to ours.

Jughead 134

The cover of Jughead #134 [July, 1966] has a "painting" of a "real" super-hero: the Shield. There have been at least three different heroes with that name at Archie Comics alone, but this is most likely the Mighty Crusaders version, the son of the original 1940s Shield. Inside the issue, all the stories put Jughead in an adversarial position: vs. Big Ethel on the Riverdale equivalent of Sadie Hawkins Day, vs. Reggie in a battle of pranks, vs. his pals in a photography contest, and vs. the United Girls Against Jughead, who fear he sets a bad example for the other boys. These are all fun tales; the 1960s were an exceptional era for Archie, his pals, and his gals.

Pep 195

The cover of Pep #195 [July, 1966] makes me smile every time I look at it: "My favorite super-hero is Super-Doctor! He personally mends every bone he breaks!" Inside the issue, it's Archie vs. Reggie, Jughead vs. Reggie, students vs. teachers over their dance moves, and "L'il Jinx."

Thanks to TOT reader William Ashley Vaughan for sending these comics my way. Every couple of days, William also posts the Turner Classic Movies channel schedule on my message board and offers his insightful comments on those films. You can check out his cinema savvy by visiting my board at:

Watch for more vintage Archie in future TOTs.



Betty and Veronica Double Digest 151

April is going to be an interesting month as Archie debuts a new look and story style for its classic characters. Here's what their solicitation material says about Betty & Veronica Double Digest #151 [$3.69]:

THE BEGINNING OF A SPECIAL FOUR-ISSUE SAGA FEATURING RIVERDALE'S FAVORITE TEENS IN A WHOLE NEW LOOK! "Bad Boy Trouble": When Nick St. Clair rides into Riverdale on his motorcycle, Veronica is smitten. She likes Nick's air of assurance and his knack for getting noticed. The only problem is Nick gets noticed for all the wrong things! Nick quickly alienates all of Ronnie's friends, especially Betty. Is this handsome rebel the boy of Veronica's dreams, or just plain trouble? Will Betty and Veronica's friendship come to an end over the new boy in town? Don't miss the first part of this epic four-part tale, drawn in an all-new style, to be continued the following issue! SCRIPT: Melanie J. Morgan. PENCILS: Steven Butler. INKS: Al Milgrom. PLUS: Other new and classic tales! SCRIPT AND ART: Various talents. BONUS: Puzzles, games and your chance to "Find Your Name in Print!"

Shipping April 25, 2006 On sale DCD May 9, 2007 On sale Newsstand May 15, 2007 Full color digest format

As you might expect, online comics fandom and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the mass media was abuzz about this dramatic new look. Pretty much lost in the initial hubbub was that the new look is only going to be seen in the lead stories of four issues of this one digest title. It's an experiment. If it succeeds, maybe we'll see more stories in the style. But this new look isn't intended to replace the classic models which have served the characters, their publisher, and their readers so well for more decades than most of us have been alive.

Here's my take on this intriguing experiment, courtesy of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

All half-dozen of him.

I'm currently enjoying Spider-Man stories that take place in at least six different continuities. There's the official Marvel Universe Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man, Civil War, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man, and probably a few others that slip my mind at the moment.

There's the teenage Spider-Man of Ultimate Spider-Man. There's the middle-aged Spider-Man of Spider-Girl. There's the suitable-for-young-readers Spider-Man of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man. There's the Spider-Man of those cool movies by Sam Raimi. There's the Spider-Man who appears in the newspaper comic strip by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber.

In fact, now that I think about it, I've also enjoyed Spider-Man in four or five different animated series and in a whole bunch of prose novels. And Spidey is far from the only comics character I've enjoyed in multiple continuities and formats.

So why not Archie and the gang?

To Riverdale and Back Again

Could anything have been a more extreme revision than a grown-up Betty shacking up with her boyfriend in the 1990 made-for-TV Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again? It was a departure and a not very good departure, but it didn't do any real damage to the characters we've loved all these years.

I like the idea of Archie Comics trying new things while still maintaining the core integrity of the Riverdale gang. I'd jump at the chance to write a more modern, more realistic, more real-world-issues-oriented Archie series...but I wouldn't want to write it at the expense of the classic version. If there's room for all those different Spider-Men, then I think the comics fans and the general public can handle a few different takes on Archie.



Betty 161

Might as well follow through on my Archie state of mind with a pair of reviews. The cover of Betty #161 [$2.25] has her exchanging MP3 players with Archie. It's not a fall-down-laughing gag, but it's certainly topical. Stan Goldberg pencilled the cover and Bob Smith inked it. Goldberg also pencilled all four of the issue's stories...with inks by John Lowe. I prefer Smith's inks on Goldberg, but have no complaints with Lowe's fine work.

Two Christmas tales bookend this issue. Mike Pellowski's "The Perfect Gift" has Betty and her friends bringing some holiday joy to a seniors home. Barbara Slate's "Pink Ballet Slippers" focuses on a small and more personal part of Betty's Christmas. Both tales are heartwarming, but Slate's is the more moving of the two.

Pellowski's "Sick Joke" has Betty trying to remain healthy for a special date with Archie. I saw the "punch panel" coming a mile away, but it was still a fun story.

In Kathleen Webb's fanciful "Only Dreaming," rivals Betty and Veronica imagine Archie in several different personas. Archie as "a mysterious, handsome vampire" is jarring, but the story does make it clear the girls see more in Archie than most. Rounding out the issue is the "Dear Betty" advice column and two pages of fan art. That's good bang for your two bucks and change.

Betty #161 earns three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony



Veronica 176


Though I hate to end today's Archie-fest on such a sour note, Veronica #176 [$2.25] just didn't work for me. Writer and penciller Dan Parent lost me from the first page of "Shopping 101." Veronica and Betty discover a "Burger Time" fast-food restaurant has opened in the Riverdale High cafeteria. Principal Weatherbee explains: "The Burger Time chain has agreed to subsidize our school budget. In return, we offer their food to our students."

I can believe a man can fly a lot sooner than I can believe a school board and parents would allow such a thing. As the parent of two teenagers in my local school system, I know it's a big issue to allow soda machines in a school cafeteria, even if the machines are turned off during lunch hours. No way a McDonald's or a Burger King would get their foot in the door.

Before the story ends, Riverdale High is as much shopping mall as high school. Yes, it all turns out to be a dream of Veronica's, but that revelation doesn't come until page 10 of the 11-page story and my willing suspension of disbelief was long gone.


The two Christmas-theme stories that round out the issue are better, but not outstanding.

There was a time when this title was first-rate with Veronica having adventures all over the world. Back then, the issues put me in mind of those great Dennis the Menace travel comics of my youth. Maybe it's time to revisit that concept. In the meantime, the best score I can give this current issue is a sad single Tony. Sorry, Ronnie!




DC Direct Figures

On page 128 of Diamond's January Previews is the full-page solicitation for DC Direct's "Justice League of America Series 1 Action Figures." The set consists of Superman, Black Lightning, Black Canary, Vixen, and Red Arrow. Seemingly within mere minutes of this being announced, I started getting e-mails asking me all of the usual questions. Here are the usual answers:

No, I did not know this figure was coming. Though I created Black Lightning under a partnership agreement with DC, only *once* has the company or a company representative let me know in advance that they or a licensee was doing something with BL. On occasion, someone will tip me off unofficially, but, for the most part, you know about this stuff before I do.

Yes, I am entitled to a cut of the profits from this DC Direct figure. But DC sometimes takes a different view of the agreements between us. For example, I never saw dime one from the BL HeroClix figure from a while back, nor did DC send me any of those figures, though someone from HeroClix did.

[However, in the interest of accuracy and fairness, let me get it on the record that DC did much better by me when Kenner Toys did a Black Lightning figure many moons ago. They came through with my contracted share of the profits and generously sent me two dozen of the figures, which I gave out as gifts to family members, friends, and the younger brothers of students I had tutored during the year I spend doing research for my second BL series.]

What do I think of the figure? Honestly, I don't think it's very well-designed. Regular TOT readers know I'm not fond of Black Lightning's "shaved head" look in Justice League of America. It looks worse here. In fact, BL's head looks downright skeletal to me and definitely a mismatch to his torso.

On a side note, not that anybody asked me, but what smut-puppy designed the Vixen figure? Her breasts seem likely to explode from her shirt at any moment. Has any male at DC Comics matured beyond the psychological age of 13?

I'm just asking.

This was an advance solicitation. The action figures are due to go on sale on August 8, 2007. There's no price listed for them; you'll have to ask your friendly neighborhood retailer what they'll set you back. If they ain't too high, I'll probably order a couple for the Isabella collection.

Keep watching TOT for more Black Lightning news. Most of the time I won't be first with the news, but where else are you gonna get commentary from the creator of the character?

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

Tony Isabella

<< 01/05/2007 | 01/08/2007 | 01/15/2007 >>

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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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