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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Tuesday, January 29, 2007

Marvel Mystery 84

The Blonde Phantom, the fabulous female crime-fighter from the 1940s, is this column's official pin-up queen. She was introduced in All Select Comics #11 [Fall, 1946]. With the next issue, the title became Blonde Phantom and ran eleven more issues, ending in March, 1949. Over the past year, I've run every one of those covers in this column.

It's hard to explain my fascination with the Blonde Phantom, especially since I've only read one of her solo adventures. She was Louise Grant, secretary to private eye Mark Mason. Unbeknownst to Mason, she would don evening gown and mask to assist him on cases. Clearly, Mason needed all the help he could get; he never figured out the glamourous crime-fighter was his secretary.

I thought I'd run out of Blonde Phantom covers to share with you, but then I remembered she also appeared as a feature in other Marvel comics of the era. A quick search of the Grand Comics Database [www.comics.org] located four more covers, ensuring the continuance of our pin-up queen's reign for a bit longer.

The cover of Marvel Mystery Comics #84 [October, 1947] was drawn by Syd Shores. The Blonde Phantom may get the spotlight, but, for sheer "cool," I don't think any of the featured heroes can top the Sub-Mariner strolling jauntily along with that shark tossed over his shoulder. Never saw Aquaman do that.

Here are the contents of the issue:

The Human Torch in - I kid you not - "Terror From Bagdad [sic]" (12 pages). The GCD tentatively identifies Mike Sekowsky as the pencil artist of this story and the villain is - who else? - the Thief of Bagdad [sic].

Sub-Mariner in "City of the Vanishing Venuses" (12 pages) with Bill Everett providing the script and the art.

"Terror In The Woods" (2-page text story).

Blonde Phantom in "The Menace of the Mad Magicians" (7 pages). Syd Shores did the art and the insane prestidigitators were named Abra and Cadabra. This was BP's first appearance after her debut in All Select Comics.

Captain America in "The Phantom of the Planetarium" (7 pages). The GCD tentatively identifies Stan Lee as the writer, Al Avison as the penciler, and Al Bellman as the inker. Bucky appears and the villain is the Oracle.

Closing the issue is Miss America in "Beginning of the End" (7 pages), the ninth chapter of an ongoing serial. Ken Bald provided both the pencils and the inks. Five super-hero strips for one thin dime. Even back then, that was a bargain.

Keep watching TOT for more Blonde Phantom covers.

******

ADDENDUM

Blonde Phantom

Mere minutes after writing today's opener, I received Alter Ego #64 [TwoMorrows; $6.95] in the mail. I haven't had time to read the issue - AE is a delight best savored slowly and completely - but, in flipping through it, I came across one of the way coolest features I've ever seen in a comics magazine.

Digital designer Alex Wright created an AE calendar for 2007 by taking photographs of 1940s era actresses and turning them into a dozen Timely/Marvel super-heroines. For June's page, Lucille Bremer, who made her debut in 1943 in Meet Me in St. Louis, was transformed into the Blonde Phantom. Wright's other calendar girls include Ava Gardner as Venus, Esther Williams as Namora, and Dorothy Malone as Miss America. If there were a full-size version of this calendar, it'd be hanging on my wall right now.

There's a lot more great stuff in this issue of AE, much of it featuring Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., Captain Nazi, and the Monster Society of Evil, so don't wait for my review. Buy it today at better comics shops everywhere.

******

52

The previous two weeks, with their scarcity of TOTs, derailed my plan to catch up on Marvel's Civil War, but I should be able to get current with DC's 52, or, at least, those issues in my possession. With the usual warning of...

SPOILERS AHEAD

...let's see how many weeks I can cover today.

52 29

52 #29 focuses on the Justice Society of America, Lex Luthor's man-made super-heroes, and what I like to call the island of lost villains. These are some of the more interesting stories of this weekly series and writers Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid moved them forward nicely, providing a number of great moments along the way: the JSA's Thanksgiving non-dinner; the grief of Green Lantern and Obsidian over a new heroine taking Jade's name; the betrayal of Will Magnus by a man he had considered a friend; and John (Steel) Henry's discovering a sinister element of the process Luthor uses to give super-powers to ordinary people. The writers need to identify their characters better - there are a lot of them and, yes, I would like a scorecard - but that's my sole complaint about this spiffy issue. With kudos also going to Keith Giffen (breakdowns), Chris Batista (pencils), Jack Jadson (inks), Alex Sinclair (colors), and the rest of the creative crew, I hereby award 52 #29 the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

52 30

J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair have been doing great covers for 52. I blame my own twisted sense of humor for thinking the cover of this issue looks like Bruce Wayne battling a gigantic bat-umbrella. Forgive me, guys.

I like 52 best when it focuses on just a couple of its storylines. This time, the focus is on Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Batwoman, the Question, and Renee Montoya. Batman is pretty much crazy in this issue, which doesn't please me, but I do take comfort knowing he gets sane within the next 22 weeks. I loved the scenes with Dick and Tim...and Dick and the new Batwoman, who meet during a battle with Whisper A'Daire's shape-shifting henchmen. Echoing my frequent complaint about the writers not identifying characters as well as they should, I had to go to Wikipedia to figure out who the shape-shifters were working for.

The Question and Renee are currently living at Kate (Batwoman) Kane's home, but the former is dying of cancer. It's painful to watch; the Vic/Renee relationship is one of the best in comicdom. As much as I hate losing Vic, though, any last-minute save would be a disservice to the story and to readers who face cancer themselves or who have lost loved ones to the disease.

"Nutty Batman" stuff always costs a comic book points with me. This issue gets four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

52 31

52 #31 didn't do much for me. The most attention is given to Lady Styx's gory conquest of space, during which she sort of kills Captain Comet. The space stuff doesn't interest me much, but your mileage may well vary.

We spend some time with Natalie and some other young members of Infinity, Inc. There's a creepy moment with the shape-shifting Everyman I saw coming a mile away, but it was still pretty creepy. There's no doubt that things will end badly for these young heroes. I just hope it ends badly for Luthor as well. I'm tired of seeing comic-book villains escape justice.

Grief-crazed Ralph Dibny chats with grief-crazed Wonder Girl and the mysterious Supernova. Ralph knows who he is and I think I do, too (Booster Gold), but I hope I'm wrong and that four of our best comics writers came up with something better than that.

Mark Waid and Freddie E. Williams do a nice and concise (two pages) origin of Tim (Robin) Drake. I hope these quickie origins continue in other DC books when 52 concludes.

There are no memorable moments in this issue. The best I can do is give it two Tonys.

Tony Tony

52 32

52 works for me when it has great moments and issue #32 had a couple of them. Ralph Dibny's week in Nanda Parbat seems to put him on a somewhat different and hopefully less insane path than the one he's been walking. I liked seeing him meet two members of China's Great Ten.

Back in America, the Teen Titans are recruiting. Osirius, the brother-in-law of Black Adam, tries to join the team. Though he's denied membership because of Adam's murderous old-school justice, Osirius does have one of those great moments with Captain Marvel, Jr. It's the highlight of the issue.

We also get a space-holder scene with Animal Man, Lobo, Adam Strange, and Starfire vowing to hold off Lady Styx. Good luck with that. I fear for Buddy (Animal Man) Baker.

Score for the issue: three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

52 33

52 #33 is a Christmas/Hanukkah issue. More fragmented than other recent issues of the title, it still manages some good moments, among them Nighthawk giving a present to Batwoman; Luthor giving cars to the Infinity, Inc. kids and then ordering the murder of another would-be hero; Renee giving comfort to the dying Vic Sage; Batwoman giving comfort to Renee; and the Black Adam Family trying to connect with a world that fears them. The big finish is Amanda Waller preparing to send her new Suicide Squad to take down Black Adam. Not sure who I'm rooting for in that one.

I'm not sure how I feel about the kiss between Renee and Kate (Batwoman). Are old feelings resurfacing? Is it a momentary lapse into old habits? I'm not at all against rekindling their romantic relationship, but I'd like to see more of a foundation to it than "it's the holidays and we're sad."

This was a pretty good issue. I give it four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

52 34

52 #34 brings us to New Year's Eve and another better-than-average issue. The Black Adam Family is attacked by Waller's Suicide Squad and it really is a suicide mission. Waller figured to force one of the Family to kill one of the Squad members and get it on tape. She does, but, from where I sit, it was clearly self-defense. No doubt Waller will spin it otherwise.

There are lots of other good moments as well. With a little help from the Birds of Prey - nice to see them here - John (Steel) Henry finally gets to speak with his niece and give her a clue as to Luthor's nasty plans. Determined to find out who Supernova is, Luthor kidnaps and interrogates a drugged-up Clark Kent. Nice to see Clark here, too. Finally, we share the Question's last moments with Renee, juxtaposed with New Year's Eve in Metropolis and Lex's latest evil maneuver. I didn't need to see the cover of the next issue to know what's coming.

This issue's quickie origin is the best yet: Zatanna by Waid and Brian Bolland. Be still, my heart!

This issue earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

52 35

There aren't any surprises in 52 #35. Though "Rain of the Supermen" is a clever title and the art by Phil Jimenez and Dan Jurgens is pretty spiffy, there was nothing in this issue a regular reader would not have seen coming. Luthor murders dozens of wanna-be heroes, Steel's niece finally figures out that Luthor is a bad guy, and Supernova and other legitimate super-heroes do what they can to alleviate the suffering and save some lives. It's nice to see Doctor Light, John Stewart, and Geo-Force getting a little bit of play, but the only truly terrific moment is between Plastic Man and his injured son (Offspring).

Meanwhile, out in space, Lobo's attack plan against Lady Styx seems to consist of turning Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire over to the genocidal lady as if he were collecting the bounties on their heads. Which maybe he is. I've never much liked Lobo, so I don't think I'd trust him.

I wish I could end this batch of 52 reviews on a more positive note, but this issue only gets two Tonys.

Tony Tony

More to come.

******

COMICS IN THE COMICS

You know how this works. I love comic strips featuring guest stars or mentions of comic books or self-referential humor. When I find them, I share them with you here.

First up today is Jef Mallett's Frazz strip from April 6 of last year:

Frazz

That's followed by a three-strip sequence - April 11-13, 2006 - of Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis:

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

The Pearls strips were brought to my attention by TOT reader Chris in Germany. Thanks, Chris!

Watch for more "Comics in the Comics" in future TOTs.

******

TONY POLLS

Most every Tuesday, I post new TONY POLLS questions for your voting entertainment. There will be new questions posted sometime after midnight tonight, which makes today your last chance to vote on the current questions. To do so, go to:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/poll

Marvel Treasury Edition 8

It's been a while since I ran and discussed the results of our previous polls, so let's see if we can catch up before the end of the week. Here are the results of the questions from the week of November 21, 2006:

For Christmas and other fine seasonal holidays, how likely are you to receive comics or comics-related items from your family and friends?

Definite.....25.49%
Very likely.....19.61%
Likely.....13.73%
Not likely.....32.35%
No chance.....8.82%

How likely are you to give comics or comics-related items to family and friends?

Definite.....17%
Very likely.....13%
Likely.....20%
Not likely.....32%
No chance.....18%

What kind of comics or comics-related gifts are you most likely to receive?

Hardcovers or trade paperbacks.....45.45%
DVDs.....35.23%
Action figures.....4.55%
Calendars.....3.41%
Statues.....2.27%
Toys.....2.27%
Apparel.....1.14%
Comic books (back issues).....1.14%
Comic books (new issues).....1.14%
Original art.....1.14%
Subscriptions.....1.14%
Supplies (boxes, bags).....1.14%
Models.....0%
Posters.....0%
Trading cards.....0%

What kind of comics or comics-related gifts are you most likely to give?

Hardcovers or trade paperbacks.....51.85%
DVDs.....22.22%
Toys.....7.41%
Action figures.....6.17%
Comic books (new issues).....3.70%
Original art.....3.70%
Comic books (back issues).....2.47%
Calendars.....1.23%
Trading cards.....1.23%
Apparel.....0%
Models.....0%
Posters.....0%
Statues.....0%
Subscriptions.....0%
Supplies (boxes, bags).....0%

My answers are pretty much what you'd expect from a guy who's made comics his career for almost 35 years. I definitely give and receive comics or comics-related gifts.

In years past, I've given friends and certain family members hardcovers or trade paperbacks, DVDs, and even back issues of comic books. I've received all the above plus action figures, apparel, and calendars. Though I'm not sure what category they fall into, at least one new comics or comics-related Christmas ornament gets added to the tree every year.

Watch for more TONY POLLS results later this week.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 01/22/2007 | 01/29/2007 | 02/05/2007 >>

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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