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

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for Wednesday, May 2, 2007

From Comics Buyer's Guide #1529:

"Remain calm and share your bananas."

- quoted by writer Anne Lamott, who saw it taped to a computer over a photograph of Koko the Gorilla.

This is the third time I've started this month's column. The first time around, I wrote about a thousand words before realizing my brilliant concept would make more than the usual demands on my brilliant editors and their equally brilliant production crew. So you'll be seeing that column at some future date.

The second time around, I got about 500 words into a piece on online piracy of copyrighted comic books. That one would certainly have put my self-inflicted title as "America's most beloved comic-book writer and columnist" to the test. You'd be astonished at the thin skins of folks who post and/or download such material, not at all concerned that, in doing so, they're stealing from creators and publishers. Oh, my, the nasty e-mails I've received for suggesting that such theft shouldn't be condoned and should be reported to the copyright holders. However, in recalling their anger, and my own, I found what I really wanted to talk about this month.

We live in an angry world, a statement so obvious it needs no further clarification. For many, even those of us who ostensibly make their living in the comics industry, comics and comics fandom are blissful respites from that angry world. Yet, of late, I spend the proverbial "way too much time" reading angry columns, e-mails, and postings. Simply put, the cumulative effect of this online ire leaves me exhausted, grouchy, and, most of all, sad.

Even when lines of demarcation between good and not good are clearly drawn, such battles wear me out. Even when I know better, they can pick-pick at my nerves until they explode in irritation or outright fury. Even when I am far from the storm, they can depress me. I want us all to be better than this and I figure on starting the renovation with me.

Comics fandom is supposed to be fun. When I run into a part of it that isn't fun, I'm going to run in the other direction. Oh, sure, if I can help in a situation, I will. I'm donated original art to an auction to benefit the freelancers who hadn't been paid by a vile pseudo-publisher. If I can do a little peacemaking, give a little sage advice, I am thrilled to do so. But I'm not inclined to dive into any quagmires when I can easily circle them and continue on my own happy journey.

I'll stay calm and share my bananas.

Life being what it is, I'll probably slip on more than my fair share of banana peels. But I figure any pratfall you can walk away from is a good one. Help yourself to a Chiquita while I make with this month's reviews.

Andru and Esposito

Andru and Esposito: Partners For Life by Mike Esposito and Dan Best [Hermes Press; $29.99, trade, $49.99, hardcover] is a mite pricey, but absolutely worth buying because it honors two legendary artists, because it explores a little explored area of our comics history, and because co-author Esposito is one of the sweetest, most fun guys I've ever known. Full disclosure demands I admit to considerable bias here: the book leads with "10 Things I Never Told My "Uncle Mike" Esposito," a foreword written by "nephew" Tony Isabella. I just plain love the guy.

Australian fan Dan Best spent years and thousands of dollars compiling and writing this book. Indeed, his efforts proved to be too much for one book. What reminds is a fine book, a very focused recounting of Esposito's career and long association with the late Ross Andru, one of the best and most underrated artists of comics. What will be new to many fans is the story of Andru and Esposito's self-publishing ventures, the earliest predating the foundation of Image Comics by almost half a century.

Hermes Press did an excellent job packaging the material they included, though the differing visions of publisher and writer is apparent in the choppiness of some of the writing and a number of annoying errors, such as Dan DeCarlo being credited as the inker of a cover actually inked by Mike DeCarlo. As I told Best, I wish I could've taken a quick pass through the manuscript to clean up such annoying and correctable flaws. On the plus side, Partners has an impressive amount of art between its covers and the images filled me with nostalgic warmth.

Best is posting the unused material on his "20th Century Danny Boy" blog. You can enjoy interviews with Andru/Esposito associates (John Romita, Sal Buscema, and others) by going to:

The only difference between the trade paperback and hardcover edition of Andru and Esposito: Partners For Life is that the latter has a previously unpublished Spider-Man illustration by the team. I think the trade paperback is a better deal. It earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Invincible Iron Man DVD

The Invincible Iron Man [$19.98] is the third direct-to-DVD animated release from Lions Gate and Marvel in two years, following the successful Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2. Due in the fall is a fourth feature: Doctor Strange.

Written by Greg Johnson and directed by Frank Paur, the movie makes some interesting choices in bringing Iron Man's origin to the small screen. We are introduced to Tony Stark as a rather arrogant genius and self-involved playboy, a characterization harsher but still consistent with his early comic-book appearance. Best buddy Jim Rhodes is there at the start, which he wasn't in the original comics origin, but which he was in a later addition to continuity. The setting for the birth of Iron Man is now China, a very logical updating of the origin. Johnson also gets points for providing an explanation of how Stark was able to build the clunky gray Iron Man suit in a matter of days. In other changes, Howard Stark - Tony's father - is alive and chairman of the board of Stark Enterprises, executive assistant Pepper Potts is recast as a British-accented "Miss Moneypenny," and the Mandarin's rings do not come from dead extraterrestrial dragons. With the exception of the Pepper Potts character, all of these changes are to the good.

The film opens in China with Rhodes working to raise the long-buried city of the Mandarin. The Jade Dragons, led by the brutal Wong Chu, oppose this operation. On the home front, Tony Stark has just been fired by the Stark board of directors. When he goes to China in search of the kidnapped Rhodes, he's injured when the Jade Dragons ambush his convoy. He builds and dons the Iron Man armor and, with the help of reluctant Dragon Li Mei, escapes with Rhodes. On returning to America, he's charged with weapons-smuggling. Back in China, five elementals, the Mandarin's servants, seek five rings that will restore their master to life. Hunted by SHIELD and short on allies, it's up to Iron Man to prevent the resurrection of the Mandarin and his subjugation of the world.

The movie runs a tight 83 minutes, but that's sufficient for Tony Stark to grow into his new responsibilities. Stark's conflict with his father contrasts wonderfully with Li Mei's conflicts with her dead father and with father surrogate Wong Chu. The Iron Man scenes are big and bold, ranging from deep below the ocean to the heart of a raging volcano to the Mandarin's raised city. Several suits of armor figure in the action and the surprises, including a climatic battle with the Mandarin, continue to the last moments of the film. It's a spiffy piece of work.

Bonus features include an alternate opening sequence (one that was wisely dumped), an informative "Origin of Iron Man" short, the way cool "Hall of Iron Man," a terrific selection of concept art, and the opening sequence of the forthcoming Doctor Strange. Of the last, let's say I have my doubts.

The Invincible Iron Man is also part of the Marvel Animated Features Gift Set [$59.97], which includes both Ultimate Avengers movies and an Iron Man bust. As with any DVDs, a little shopping will save you at least five bucks off the list prices.

Watching The Invincible Iron Man and its extras makes for an entertaining couple of hours. It earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Too Soon to Say Goodbye

It may not be a comic book, but it is a very funny book. Too Soon to Say Goodbye by Art Buchwald [Random House; $17.95] is the late columnist's farewell and, with the laughs, comes an uplifting testimony to a life exceedingly well lived and the raucous dignity of meet life's end on one's own terms. Kidneys failing, Buchwald chose to forego dialysis and enter a hospice. The punch line was that he didn't die, at least not right away. He spent three months entertaining friends, eating whatever he wanted, and planning his own funeral before returning to his home on Martha's Vineyard where he completed this book. Buchwald passed away in mid-January, just over six months after leaving the hospice.

If you know Buchwald's writing, you're likely already a fan. This book is Buchwald to the max, perhaps his best ever. Eulogies written for him by his family and his closest friends are included, along with a song written for him by Carly Simon. When I finished Too Soon, I wanted to go back and reread his other books. It might not be a comic book, but Too Soon to Say Goodbye earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Marvel Adventures Vol. 5

I love Marvel's "all ages" line. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 5: Monsters on the Prowl [$6.99] collects four Peter David-written issues of the title in a handy "manga" format. The theme of the volume is in Werewolf By Night, the Man-Thing, Fin Fang Foom, and the Frankenstein Monster.

These Marvel Adventures tales are part of a different continuity than the "main" Marvel titles, but they still make use of the vast Marvel Universe. Doctor Strange guest-stars in the Werewolf yarn while Hawkeye almost steals the show from Spidey in their Halloween battle with Frankenstein's creation. Peter Parker is a high-school student in this series, so we also get appearances by Liz Allen and Flash Thompson. Each story is a "done-in-one" told with clarity and humor by David, penciller Mike Norton, and inker Norman Lee. My favorite line in the volume is the book is Doctor Strange's reply to being asked if he can cure the werewolf-bitten Flash:

"Of course. I'm the Sorcerer Supreme, not the Sorcerer Merely Adequate."

These stories aren't award-winners, but they are solid yarns. They are definitely suitable for all ages, but they can be enjoyed by older readers. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 5: Monsters on the Prowl picks up a respectable three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

DCU Infinite Holiday Special

Holiday-theme comics are swell all year around. It might have taken me until now to read DCU Infinite Holiday Special #1 [$4.99], but it still worked its magic on me. Why else would I be so forgiving of a cover painting that made most of the heroes look like they were high on drugs...or that Superman/Batman tale with the dumb ending...or Dan DiDio's awkward end-of-the-book attempt to channel Stan Lee? Oh, Danny, boy, I love your enthusiasm, I love your smiling face, but I know Stan Lee, I've worked with Stan Lee, and you're no Stan Lee.

What's good-to-great about this special are the six tales that precede the one with the dumb ending. I had a little problem with Green Lantern kicking around a physically-challenged super-villain in a story by Keith Champagne and John Byrne, but I'd probably have done the same to Hector Hammond.

Also in the issue:

The Shadowpact "saves Christmas" in a gloriously goofy story by Bill Willingham and Cory Walker.

Joe Kelly and Ale Garza's Supergirl story recognizes the not-so-happy side of Christmas, but still come through with an ending that's happy without being sappy. This was my favorite tale in the special.

Tony Bedard's "Gift of the Magi" is spun off from The Trials of Shazam. I'm not fond of TOS, but this story, focusing on how an assortment of entities are dealing with the recent changes to how magic works in the DCU, is excellent. Penciller Marcos Marz, inker Luciana Del Negro, and colorist Rod Reis do an outstanding job on the visuals.

The Flash stars in "Father Christmas" by writer Ian Boothby, penciller Giuseppe Camuncoil, and inker Lorenzo Ruggiero. As with the Supergirl story, this one touches on the dark side of holidays, but stays true to the season of hope.

Batwoman celebrates Hanukiah in "Lights" in a story by writer Greg Rucka and artist Christian Almay and, likewise, celebrates the diversity of the DCU in a non-sensationalistic way. I enjoyed the story and this low-key approach.

DC changed the name of this comic from DCU Infinite Christmas Special to DCU Infinite Holiday Special because of the inclusion of the Batwoman story. I have no problem with the change, but some readers did. My Christmas gift to those readers is this bit of sage advice:

Get over yourselves already.

My loving God wouldn't give a rat's ass how His people express good will during this time of year. He'd just be delighted that they were doing so. All that matters is the sincerity of the good wishes. Say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" or whatever you like. They're all good, all appreciated, and every bit as nice as sharing your bananas.

DCU Infinite Holiday Special picks up four out of five Tonys. Kudos to Dan "the Man" DiDio - hey, it was Christmas when this book came out, so I'm playing nice - and his editorial crew for a fine comic book.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



A reader asked if there was any difference between my columns as they appear in CBG and as they appear when I post those columns here. The short answer: a column here should be considered the "director's cut" of said column.

Sometimes my editors at CBG make changes without my approval or knowledge. Sometimes I disagree with those. Sometimes I don't. I'm never happy learning about changes after the fact, but, hey, there are times when I forget to tell my Sainted Wife Barb of 23 years that her mother called. If a relationship, either marital or professional, is gonna stand the test of time, you can't get too upset about this stuff.

Today's column is a good example. My editors cut paragraphs from my opening because they tend to be overly cautious when words like "legal action" appear in my columns. I figured on restoring the paragraphs for this "director's cut" of the column, but, when I read them, I decided they were too dated to include. After all, I had written the column in February. So I tweaked a few sentences to make them flow better and posted a column not terribly different from the one that ran in CBG.

Keep those questions coming, my friends. I'll do my best to answer them for you.



Most every Tuesday, at least when the chaos of my life isn't kicking my sorry behind all around town, I post new poll questions for your balloting entertainment. This week, you're being asked to vote on which of the top comics awards best represent the comics art form and industry, and which best reflects your own favorites. Also, from a list of this year's CBG Fan Awards nominees, you'll be asked to vote for your favorite editor, writer, penciller, inker, and colorist. The questions will remain open until sometime after midnight on Monday, May 7, and you can cast your ballots by heading over to:

That's all for now. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. God willing, I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/01/2007 | 05/02/2007 | 05/03/2007 >>

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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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.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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