One of the perks of writing this column is that I get to write about things that interest me...and I have long had a fascination with British comics. That's why 2000 AD and the Alan Class reprints are part of the TOT opening rotation, now to be joined by the catch-all category of...British comics.
My immediate inspiration for this category was my good friend Paul Fearn sending me a stack of--you guessed it--British comics. The one shown above is the December 19, 1964 issue of Wham!, published every Tuesday for the low price of six pence. I have no idea what that price equaled in the American coinage of 1964, but I'm sure one of my British readers will figure it out for me. They are, by and large, helpful that way.
Actually, as you will learn as I write about Wham! and other British comics, I know little about Brit comics and currency and such. Again, my plan is to rely on the exceeding kindness of British friends and strangers to fill in these enormous gaps in my knowledge. If enough of them e-mail me, I can probably get a whole column out of them every time I write about British comics. At my age, I can use the rest.
Wham! #27 is a 24-page, mostly black-and-white comic that, as with most British weeklies, didn't have slick covers. The cover, centerfold, and back cover are in color. The comic measures 9 inches by 12 inches. I don't know what that is in meters or even metres, but let's say "42"? That this humble comic magazine inspired the musical career of George Michael is probably not true, but, if we keep repeating it, we can probably make a lot of people believe it. Somebody go to Wikipedia quick.
Speaking of Wikipedia, I've succumbed to my insatiable thirst for knowledge and looked up Wham! This is what can be found there:
Wham! was a weekly British comic published by Odhams Press. It ran for 187 issues from 20 June 1964 to 13 January 1968, when it was merged into its sister title Pow!. Although Wham! was superficially a typical British comic in the mould of The Beano, its later issues (under the Power Comics imprint) included short instalments of The Fantastic Four reprinted from American Marvel Comics.
In its early issues the comic presented both clear imitations of Beano strips, such as a clone of the Bash Street Kids, and other strips such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy and Georgie's Germs, which attempted to break the mould of older strips with bizarre humour, outrageous puns, and surreal plots.
Initial success prompted the creation of the sister titles Pow! and Smash! with similar intent, but as sales decreased the inevitable adjustment of content, followed by mergers of titles, made these titles more like the ones they were attempting to replace.
I left the "u" in words like "mould" and "humour" in tribute to the thousands of "u"'s I had to add to Marvel stories when I was the American editor of The Mighty World of Marvel. If I had a pence for every word I changed to its British spelling, I would still have no idea how much that was in real money.
Most of Wham! is devoted to single and double-page humour strips: Biff, General Nitt and his Barmy Army, The Wacks (who have Beatles haircuts), The Tiddlers, Eagle Eye Junior Spy (a comedy adventure serial), The Pest of the West, The Humbugs, Georgie's Germs, and Footsie the Clown with Wuff the Wonder Dog! There are no credits per se, but three of these strips are signed by their artists. "The Wacks" is signed "Gordon"; "The Tiddlers" and "Eagle Eye" are signed "Leo Baxendale."
I found Baxendale on Wikipedia:
Leo Baxendale (born October 27, 1930) is a British cartoonist, who was the creator of the classic Beano strips "Little Plum" (1953), "Minnie the Minx" (1953), "The Bash Street Kids" (1954) and "The Three Bears" (1959).
He left The Beano in 1962, and created the short-lived Wham! comic for Odhams Press, before contributing his brand of cartoon mayhem to Fleetway's line of comics for many years. In the 1980s, he fought a seven-year legal battle with D.C. Thomson for the rights to his Beano creations, which was eventually settled out of court.
Also in this issue of Wham!:
"Kelpie the Boy Wizard," a two-page strip about a young mage in the service of King Arthur;
"Men of Destiny: Robert Nixon," a one-page history of a 15th-century psychic;
"Billy Binns and His Wonderful Specs," which, according to a caption make him "a super-boy";
"Danny Dare," who is sci-fi adventure hero Dan Dare's number one fan and whose strip contains panels lifted or mimicked from the legendary Dan Dare strip;
a single-page photo feature on The Beach Boys;
"The Manthe Dog," a text feature on a ghostly canine;
a joke page; and,
"Frankie Stein," a wonderfully drawn strip about the Monster of Frankenstein.
Truthfully, most of the comic's humour doesn't do much for me - mostly pratfalls of one kind or another - and the serious strips are rather tame. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it. It's that Isabella sense of adventure.
I do love the concept of this comic and the predecessors it imitated. Heck, if someone wanted to do an American comic of this sort, I'd be up for writing a few strips for it.
Watch for more British comics in upcoming TOTs.
Annihilation #5 [Marvel; $2.99] brings us an issue away from the conclusion of this six-issue series by writer Keith Giffen and artist Andrea DiVito. After months of seeing the universe fall before Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave, the tide of what seemed to be a hopeless battle might be changing.
Giffen, DiVito, and editor Andy Schmidt have thrown surprises at us throughout the series and this issue is no different. We get the death of a powerful character whose allegiance was uncertain, the return to the battle of two other characters, and a change in the command of an empire. The repercussions of this series won't end with next issue - an ongoing series, one-shots, limited series, and a sequel are already planned - but, for now, I'm truly looking forward to the finale. On our usual scale, Annihilation #5 earns four out of five Tonys.
Readers seem to dig the never-ending nature of Marvel and DC's big events, the perpetual motion from one earth-shattering epic to the next with nary a breather. My regard for Annihilation notwithstanding, I miss the smaller stories, the done-in-one story that has the staying power of Will Eisner's "Ten Minutes" or Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's "This Man, This Monster." I miss the personal super-hero stories that focus on just Spider-Man or just Superman and aren't told against a universe-spanning crisis.
The Big Two are taking the easy way out. Having achieved some measure of success with the enormous epics - though that success pales next to the average sales of the 1960s and 1970s - they lack confidence in the ability of creators to tell those smaller stories and make them as memorable and profitable as the big ones. I think this does a disservice to creators and readers alike.
What do you think?
COMICS IN THE COMICS
Today's edition of "Comics in the Comics" is the first part of a three-part series. Back in May of 2006, cartoonist Jim Meddick did an extended super-hero sequence in his "Monty" comic strip. As shown above, it started with a Spider-Man reference and then took a decidedly different and very funny turn. Here are the next two strips:
I'll have more of the sequence for you in my next TOT. If you want to read current "Monty" strips, go to:
The January 29 edition of this column reported that Alter Ego #64 [TwoMorrows; $6.95] included a 2007 calendar created by digital designer Alex Wright and featuring 1940s era actresses as Timely/Marvel super-heroines. TOT didn't mention that November's calendar girl was the Asbestos Lady. AE #64 identified the actress portraying the original Human Torch's fetching foe as Ann Sheridan, but, as I learned from editor Roy Thomas, that was an error. Thomas writes:
Harlan Ellison tells me that we (meaning mostly Alex Wright) misidentified Virginia Mayo as Ann Sheridan...which means it was mis-ID'd in the place where Alex picked up the photo. But that just gives us a chance to do a new version of that month in an upcoming issue.
How's that for service? This column is correcting errors we didn't even run! This also allows us to do you the further service of again recommending Alter Ego to you. Of all the comics-related magazines being published today, it's still the best and my personal favorite.
GET MORE TONY
Above is Comics Buyer's Guide #1627 [F&W Publications; $5.99]. My contributions to the issue are a "Tony's Tips" column in which I pay tribute to Jerry Bails and Dave Cockrum, talk about how much fun I had at Mid-Ohio-Con, and review cool stuff I got at the show...as well as the usual "Tony's Back Page" featurette, this time on my first meeting with Jerry Bails. But there's more great reading in the issue...
Newshound George Nelson writes on DC's The Brave and the Bold revival while Andrew "Captain Comics" Smith delves into the history of the nigh-legendary title. Harlan Ellison reviews a set of Frankenstein cards. Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt chronicles the mythic pals and foes of Superman. And there be pirates in Michelle Nolan's piece on Quality's Buccaneers. Look for this issue at better bookstores, comic-book shops, and bookstores throughout the world. How can you tell these establishments are better than the rest? They sell CBG. It's simple logic.
Over at the CBG website, "Tony's Other Online Tips" now runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with exclusive-to-the-CBG-forum content. My recent reviews include:
...enter the forums, scroll down to my "Tony Isabella/Tony's Other Online Tips" folder, enter the folder, and then scroll down to the reviews you want to read.
Want even more Tony? Keep reading this column for the latest news on what else is out there.
Most every Tuesday, I post new "Tony Polls" questions for your balloting entertainment. Way back in December, readers were asked to vote on a number of Captain Marvel-related issues. Here are the results of that voting...
I was tempted to vote for that goofy version of Captain Marvel that could split off his body parts and I think the various Marvel Comics version would give the others a good fight, but, I had to go with the majority and vote for the original Captain.
Our current "Tony Polls" questions, which I'm holding over one more week, ask you to vote on the Golden Raspberry Awards. Better known as the "Razzies," these awards dishonor the worst in movies. You get to choose from the nominees in 11 categories. You can cast your votes by going here:
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: