"Christmas renews our youth by stirring our wonder. The capacity for wonder has been called our most pregnant human faculty, for in it are born our art, our science, our religion."
- Ralph W. Stockman
In my previous CBG column, I touched ever so briefly on the joys of giving gifts "whose recipients didn't even know the gifts existed or that they wanted them" and also of receiving such gifts. Hold that thought.
On previous occasions, I've proclaimed that I don't write this column for creators or publishers. I write for the comics buyers, which, given the title of this magazine, is a no-brainer. It's a very welcome bonus if my reviews help creators or publishers, but that's never been job one. Hold those thoughts as well.
Around the time I was writing my previous column, I received and, apparently, gave gifts whose recipients didn't even know they were coming. My share of the booty came in the form of this e-mail from my friend Ron Fortier:
I hope this finds you well and happy. I had to share a little story with you that you'll appreciated.
I attended a small one-day comic show up in Portland, ME last week. Very small turnout, but I had the opportunity to catch up with some old friends and I did manage to sell a few of my new pulp titles.
Among the books I'd brought was BROTHER GRIM and towards the end of the day this woman came over to my table and picked up a copy of it. When I started to politely comment on the book and character, she looked at me and smiled, "Oh, I know. I read Tony Isabella's review of it in CBG and was and have been looking for it ever since."
Nice story for you. Ha. Sad one for me. Still can't crack Diamond. Oh well, she did find me and to get an autographed copy. From little steps come big victories.
I reviewed Ron's book a year ago. As unexpected gifts go, the tenacity of that Tips reader in looking for the book, based on my review, is pretty darn spiffy. I hope she enjoys Ron's stories as much as I did and I'm delighted to have helped my buddy sell a copy of his book.
I'm not so delighted the book wasn't readily available at her friendly neighborhood comics shop or bookstore. I don't blame the comic shop or bookstore or even Diamond - well, maybe just a little in Diamond's case - because I do recognize the limitations of space and resources in the operation of stores and their distributors. But that means reviewers have an obligation to go a little further than just recommending (or not recommending) the items they review. That's why CBG tries to include online directions to the things its columnists and reviewers write about.
The esteemed Fortier is currently writing and producing pulp novels and anthologies for Wild Cat Books. You can find listings for the publisher's books and order them at:
But, just as a favor to me, visit all those sites *after* you read the following reviews.
These aren't comics per se, but Komikwerks' new Actionopolis line of illustrated novels for young adults utilizes the talents of some of comicdom's best writers and artists. The company sent me galley editions of their first books, every one of them featuring intriguing premises, solid storytelling, and interesting heroes and villains. Each book contains a dozen or so full-page drawings and many additional spot illustrations. A few of the books get off to slow starts, but they finish strong.
The hardcover editions of these books are priced at $12.95; the softcovers at $9.95.
Let's look at the individual titles.
What I Did On My Hypergalactic Interstellar Summer Vacation is written by Adam Beechen (Robin, Justice League Unlimited) with art by Dan Hipp (Amazing Joy Buzzards). A clever, but unmotivated middle-school student switches places with an alien world's bored young prince, who rarely ventures from his father's castle. Teddy Harper is thrilled to be freed from the tedium of summer school, but his adventure turns deadly serious when a coup is launched against the planet's royal family. Beechen includes lots of humor with the action and, though the book is complete unto itself, I'd love to see a sequel. Maybe something like What We Did During Our Hypergalactic Student Exchange Program. In any case, Beechen and Hipp earn four out of five Tonys.
I think Zombie Monkey Monster Jamboree is the funniest of these books because how can a book in which farting plays a pivotal role not be the funniest? Written by J.J. Hart (aka Jeff Mariotte) with art by Will Meugniot (DNAgents), this is "the true chronicle of the Basilisk Patrol's greatest camp-out ever!" With new patrol leader Skitter in command, this group of Wild West Scouts are brushing up on their outdoor skills. Besides the usual challenges found in the woods, the boys have to deal with missing adult supervisors - they got lost with all the food - and their accidental release of a pack of zombie monkey monsters. That there are laughs a'plenty does not detract from the scariness also to be found in the novel. It earns four Tonys.
I had a tough time picking a favorite from among these seven books, but Blackfoot Braves Society Book One: Spirit Totems was a contender. Christopher E. Long gives us three friends who, in time of great peril, learn to unlock the powers of their animal spirits. His tale is very respectful of Native Americans and their culture, not surprising given that Long used to write for a PR firm that represented several tribes. Illustrator Michael Geiger does a great job bringing the young heroes to visual life in a book that is deliciously spooky and wonderfully uplifting. It earns four out of five Tonys. I'm sensing a pattern here.
Few folks do spooky better than Dan Mishkin and Tom Mandrake, co-creators of the sadly-missed Creeps comic and they bring their "A" game - as in "Aiyeeeeeeeeeee!" - to The Forest King: Woodlark's Shadow. A legendary creature of evil stirs in the forest outside a small New England town. Only one young man, the unwitting heir to his family's forgotten destiny, has even the most remote chance of standing against this creature...but only if he can overcome the fear that chills his very soul. With extra kudos to Mishkin for ramping up the dread just when the reader thinks the menace is ending, I'm also giving this book four Tonys.
The next two books share a greater sense of tragedy than the other Actionopolis titles. Spirit of the Samurai: Of Swords and Rings, written by Gary Reed and illustrated by Rick Hoberg, has a 13-year-old girl discovering the ancient secrets of her family as her brother is possessed by an evil ancestor. She must become the last guardian against the returning darkness and the sworn enemy of her transformed brother. The thought that her brother may be lost to her forever is heart-rending, as is the sudden reappearance of the stranger who claims to be her father. Spirit is a notch above the other excellent Actionopolis offering and this initial book in the series will leave you eager for the next. That earns Reed and Hoberg the full five Tonys.
The hero of Bruce Zick's The Anubis Tapestry Book One: Between Twilights also suffers a familial loss as resurrected evil mummy Sehti possesses the body of Dr. George Henry and condemns the man's spirit to the Egyptian underworld. Teaming with the resurrected good mummy Osirius, Chance must himself become a mummy to save his dad, though the process may destroy Osirius and rob Chance of his humanity. As with Spirit of the Samurai, the stakes are extremely high for mankind and extremely personal for the book's young hero. Zick picks up four Tonys.
That brings us to my pick for the best of Actionopolis books: Heir to Fire by Rob Worley with art by Mike Dubisch. This feels and reads like a really good Marvel comic of the 1970s or so. Ryan Morales has a secret power he is only beginning to understand. He's learning he's not who he always thought he was. His parents and the populace of the small Arizona town of Gila Flats have been taken over by mind-controlling spiders. His enemies come from some otherworldly realm and, besides his girlfriend, his allies are an army of salamanders. It's big fun that would work well on the big screen. It earns the full five out of five Tonys plus the special "Best of Show" ribbon.
If you're not done with your holiday shopping yet, any one of the Actionopolis novels would make a fine gift for the young adult readers on your list. You can find them at better comics shops and chain bookstores everywhere, but if you can't, you can order them directly from Actionopolis at:
Komikwerks also sent me The World of Quest [$14.95], the first volume of a graphic album series by Jason Kruse. Quest is a former hero with a bad attitude and no desire to again take up that role. He's forced by circumstance into searching for a magic dagger in the company of Prince Nestor, a pre-teen hellion who resembles Bill Watterson's Calvin.
Modern sword-and-sorcery fiction is a very tough sell to me. I generally think of it as "that Dungeons and Dragons crap," still shuddering at the thought of awful books which seemed no more than boring novelizations of the authors' D&D campaigns. That said, you should also know a little slapstick violence and some decent gross jokes will often draw me into an S&S comic book.
Anyway, Quest has its moments. There are enough funny jokes told in Kruse's pleasingly amusing art style that I read the whole book. But, what this first volume lacked was enough meat to fill its 127 pages in a satisfying manner. Its large panels and overly-long gags felt like padding.
I'm not terribly enthusiastic about The World of Quest, but I recognize its good intentions and sincere efforts. It may not be my thing, but I suspect many readers will like it far more than I did. Let's grade it on the curve and award it a respectable three out of five Tonys.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. Oh, heck, why don't we make that a good year?
I hear 2007 is available.
Sad to say, 2007 hasn't started out as well as we could have wanted. Michelle Newell, wife of Eddy Newell and mother of their two children, E.J. and Tasha, died less than two weeks ago. Feel free to feel to send condolences to Eddy and his kids at:
428 Jackson Street
Sandusky, OH 44870
That was followed by the death of comics activist, artist, and fan Leah Adezio from liver and kidney failure. Leah was one of my first online friends, a sweet and saucy woman who brightened every room she walked into.
Locally, Barb and I just learned of the death of a neighbor's sister from cancer. She had just entered hospice and died during her first night there.
That there has been a dearth of TOTs in this new year is due to many factors, including my sorrow at the loss of these ladies. I got wrapped up in a comics industry matter from which I have now extracted myself, though I will be writing a few essays that have some connection to it. I had to conclude some 2006 business that I thought I had concluded. I've also been dealing with some family stuff that's been incredibly annoying.
Oh, yeah, and I managed to slip in my own driveway, messing up my leg and foot. I had run a half-dozen errands around town, all of them to businesses and establishments with deep pockets, and I have to injure myself on my own property. I'd sue myself if I had any money, but I don't, so I won't.
On the more pleasant side of things...
Due to semester exams and holidays and such, my kids were off two days last week and home early the other three days. They had places they had to be, so I was driving them here and there, trying hard not to put too much strain on my leg and foot.
Daughter Kelly is playing basketball on a recreational league team. If you want to know how that's going, check out the sports reports on my message board:
I've been working away on a comics script and several comics-related projects. As these are finished, I'll announce them here. Because this is my house and you are my people.
My professional dance card is filling up, though many of those dances are for new projects of my own devising. They are important to me, but I would still make room on my schedule for any cool gigs that come with a decent paycheck...or a chance to do something that I've always wanted to do. Maybe I should run my professional "wish list" in a future edition of this column.
My goal for the end of the month is to get current on 52, Annihilation, and Civil War without ignoring everything else on my read/review pile. I also want to catch up on the final results of previous "Tony Polls" balloting.
Poor Justin. When I write long columns, he's the guy who has to get them up on the website. Whenever possible, you should thank him for all he does here at World Famous Comics.
A new batch of "Tony Polls" questions will be posted sometime after midnight. If you haven't yet voted on the current questions, you can do so by going to:
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: