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

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for Monday, September 17, 2007

From Comics Buyer's Guide #1634:

"I don't have pet peeves, I have whole kennels of irritation."

- Whoopi Goldberg

One of my pet peeves is receiving e-mails warning me of dire impending catastrophe, heinous miscarriages of justice, and looming danger to me and mine and/or humanity in general. It's not that I don't appreciate these clearly heartfelt heads up. It's that these well-intentioned panic-peddlers haven't done me or the hundreds of other people on their "send" lists the simple country of checking the facts before raising their online alarms. As I watch the world around me become dumber than dirt, it pains me to think that anyone who cares about me enough to send me these warnings must have an IQ that's the functional equivalent of potting soil.

Almost without fail, these boys and girls who unintentionally cry wolf could have prevent their looking like idiots by going to the amazingly useful Urban Legends Reference Page at:

Since 1995, Barbara and David P. Mikkelson have been checking out stories ranging from the bogus report that a university medical school will pay thousands of dollars for the donation of a testicle to the sad-but-true story of a bride and groom who came to blows at their reception over the custom of shoving cake into the face of a new spouse, and said newlyweds subsequently getting arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to the hoosegow.

Whenever I receive one of these e-mail warnings, I can usually refute its accuracy in a minute or two by going to the Mikklesons' site and using their site search engine. Being the ornery cuss I am, I then e-mail the link I find to the sender - and their entire mailing list - with the suggestion they use the site in the future and thus spare me their hysterical warnings. You'd be amazed how many people take offense at my charitable attempt to keep them from looking like idiots. No good deed goes unpunished.

The Urban Legends site is also useful to any writer who gives a rat's posterior about accuracy. I've written many stories of costumed heroes who operate in the realm of pseudo-science or even outright fantasy, but, when I write about real-world things, be it police work or military hardware, I try to get it as correct as I can. I may be willing to suspend my disbelief when it comes to Spider-Man doing his amazing spider-things, but not when one of his foes makes off with Manhattan and the writer ignores what would happen to the bridges and tunnels connected to the island. The big lies are fun, the little inaccuracies are annoying.

What started this chain of thought was my watching an episode of C.S.I. NY wherein the motive for the murder of a college student was a school policy giving an automatic 4.0 grade point average to any student whose roommate is murdered. I groaned out loud at that, not just because it struck me as patently absurd, but also because I'd seen the same motive on at least one of the Law and Order shows and maybe even another C.S.I. show.

I gave the writers the benefit of the doubt, but only as long as it took me to go Urban Legends and find this:

Besides refuting this apocryphal legend, the Mikklesons also included info on two 1988 films based on this notion, the C.S.I. NY episode that originally set off my spider-sense, an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent that used the idea, and, talk about detail, an episode of The Simpsons where the seeming death of Lisa results in Bart getting straight A's. I'm willing to give a pass to The Simpsons because it never claimed to take place in the real world and because it routinely indulges in such hilarious flights of unreality. But the cop shows? No way.

Disclaimer. I love my C.S.I. and related shows, but I freely admit they depend on "what if" type science fiction. What if the police really had all those marvelous science toys, the ability to process evidence as quickly as they do on TV, and the extraordinary luck to always find the precise evidence they need to solve crimes and make their cases?

The truth is most cities can't afford that equipment nor the experts who could use it with such accuracy and swiftness. But I'm willing to suspend my disbelief that far. When they start playing fast and loose with the real stuff, then they annoy me and lose me as a viewer. The same holds true with comic books.

It's not difficult to get the real world stuff right.

When you do, you make it that much easier for your readers to believe that a man can fly.

52 52

DC's 52 [$2.50 per issue] finished and, more pertinent to this column, I recently read weeks 36 through 52 and the four-issue 52: WW III mini-series. This won't be an issue-by-issue review of those comics, but I'd be remiss in my duties here if I didn't weigh in on such an important series.

According to an online interview, it apparently took a flash of inspiration for DC's editors and writers to figure out the best way to tell the story of this year without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman was through characters. I realize knowledge often gets lost with the passage of time, but, way back in the Stone Age, that was one of the first things I learned about telling stories. I can't wait until these folks figure out the whole beginning, middle, and end thing. It could signal a rebirth of comics.

I'll stop being snotty now.

Truth be told, or, at least, the truth as I see it, DC did a fine job with this title. I didn't care for every story, but some of them grabbed my interest and kept it.

I was skeptical of Ralph Dibny seemingly trying to bring his wife back to life, but the conclusion of that story was just about as satisfying as it gets in today's comics events.

The Black Adam story of redemption sought and then lost was a heartbreaker. Its fatal flaw was that it should have ended and it didn't. Chester Gould had the right idea when he killed off many of Dick Tracy's foes; he forced himself to keep coming up with new and equally exciting villains. Would that DC and, for that matter, Marvel would follow his lead.

The Island of Mad Scientists was a hoot-and-a-half, though I was sad to see Sivana darkened to such a degree that he can never again be a comical foil in the lighthearted world of the original Captain Marvel, even though that world only exists in reprints and the Jeff Smith limited series. Some characters, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man among them, simply should not be thus leveled and shoe-horned into the DCU.

The death of the Question storyline often brought tears to my eyes as we watched the obvious love Renee Montoya had for the man who'd become her friend and mentor. But I, ah, question discarding Vic Sage and forcing Renee into his identity. In addition, the new Batwoman, Renee's past and current romantic interest, never lived up to her hype. Okay, Katherine Kane is the new Batwoman and she's a lesbian. When does she become interesting?

The lost in space super-heroes segments never did anything for me. Buddy Baker was the only member of the cast I cared about and the end result of his year seems to be a dramatic increase in his morphogenetic powers. Bigger (more powerful) isn't always better, another lesson DC needs to relearn.

Booster Gold was an unusual lynchpin to the title, but my jury of one is still out on that story. Mister Mind was about as nasty a villain as the original Captain Marvel ever fought, but remaking him as a destroyer of universes, well, that will take getting used to. Let's see where Booster's new series takes him.

Lex Luthor is tiresome, but the Everyman Project story was a good one. I liked the prominent role played by John Henry Irons. I found the story's conclusion satisfying and, much to my surprise, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next with Steel and the Luthor-created heroes of Infinity, Inc.

The four-issue 52: WW III [$2.50 per issue] came out the same week as 52 Week 50, offering extended coverage of the war against Black Adam. I found it to be a padded exercise in brutality. What was usually and effectively suggested in 52 was shown in greater detail in this spin-off, but the additional information wasn't worth the extra ten bucks.

For all my less-than-positive reactions to 52, I stand by my statement that DC did a fine job with this most challenging project. The writers and artists meshed well. The story read very smoothly from issue to issue. Some great characters got a chance to shine. Some not-as-great characters were given a chance to show some promise. The scope of the series was vast, but not so vast as to make the characters inconsequential. I like it well enough to award it an impressive four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

52: WW III didn't fare as well. The best score I can give the series is a disappointing two Tonys.

Tony Tony

Johnny Hiro 1

JOHNNY HIRO #1 [AdHouse Books; $2.95] was an impulse buy for me when I spotted it in the Previews catalog. I ordered it because it featured a Godzilla homage/parody, but, when I read this issue, it just plain tickled me.

Fred Chao's title protagonist is "half Asian, all hero." The young man might be protected by the Japanese goddess of mercy, but only to the extent that he doesn't break too many bones too badly when he engages in dangerous activities. In this first adventure, his girlfriend is kidnapped by "Godazilla" and Hiro must pursue the illegally immigrated giant lizard through the streets of Brooklyn. As the 34-page, black-and-white tale unfolds, Hiro meets surprising allies, learns the amazing background of his girlfriend, and has a revealing conversation with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It's a comic book that brings the fun in a big way.

I'm keeping an eye out for Fred Chao's future work. He's a talented cartoonist with a handle on both character and comedy.

Johnny Hiro #1 picks up four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Rob Hanes Adventures 10

A new issue of Randy Reynaldo's ROB HANES ADVENTURES is always a must-read treat for me and issue #10 [WCG Comics; $2.95] even more so. Minor-league baseball is a fascination of mine and this new story finds the Justice International security operative going undercover to investigate the steroid scandals destroying the Brisbane Chickenhawks.

This change-of-pace ish is heavy on the comedy, both romantic and screwball. In crisp black-and-white, Reynaldo delivers a tight 18-page tale plus liner notes, a letters column, and a tribute to the legendary Milton Caniff.

Reynaldo's work is classically inspired, distinctive, and just a terrific example of how solid storytelling can trump comic books published by bigger outfits. Part of me is amazed that the "bigs" haven't recruited him, more of me is pleased that he's free to tell his stories his way.

Suitable for all ages, Rob Hanes Adventures #10 earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Civil War 7

I liked CIVIL WAR better than 52 because Marvel's event spoke more to my real-world concerns. I live in a country where some are willing to trade freedom for security, where fear-mongering can and has been a successful political stratagem, and where bigotry tries to pass itself off as family values or national security. I could see my America in Civil War and it terrified me.

Overall, I thought writer Mark Miller, artist Steve McNiven, and editor Tom Brevoort did outstanding work on Civil War [seven issues, $2.99 each], but I was disappointed by the "conclusion" of the series. I should clarify this.

My side surrendered. It wasn't a wholly unexpected surrender, but I was still dismayed that Captain America caved to the tyranny of the frightened. He should know his history better.

Fighting for what's right has never been easy. It wasn't that long ago that blacks were considered less than whole human beings and, impressive gains notwithstanding, there are still those who'd joyously reduce them to second-class citizenship at best. Gays are denied equal rights and savaged for political gain. Immigrants are the latest monsters lurking on Maple Street. Fear of the different is a political platform.

I want to believe the struggle for what's right has not ended in the Marvel Universe. Civil War hasn't concluded per se; it has moved into a new and perhaps even more frightening phase. I'm not yet done catching up on all the Civil War tie-ins, but I'm looking forward to seeing where the MU goes from here.

Civil War earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Civil War: Battle Damage Report

CIVIL WAR: BATTLE DAMAGE REPORT [$3.99] is Tony Stark's cold, calculated dossier of the war's impact and the future dangers the once hero believes the United States will face in the aftermath of his Machiavellian victory. It's a chilling addendum to the war and a portent of scary things to come.

Head writer/coordinator Anthony Flamini and writer Ronald Byrd impressed me with their handling of this difficult material. The special isn't an easy read - it's best read over several days - but it's interesting in short doses. I'm enough of a political geek to relish this kind of minute examination, which is why I'm giving the book a respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Punisher War Journal 1

THE PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #1-3 [$2.99 each] offered a different view on Civil War. Frank Castle kills criminals, but he's not very consistent about it. He sticks an awl into the back of the aged Tinkerer, but spares Rampage because Rampage hates Tony Stark and can be of use to him. Castle has a mad-on for Stark because Stark has released vicious super-killers and recruited them to do Stark's dirty work. This leads Castle to an uneasy alliance with Captain America. It doesn't go well.

Written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Ariel Olivetti, "How I Won the War Trilogy" isn't completely lacking in intriguing scenes, but it meanders all over the place in philosophy and story content. The Stilt-Man makes a sincere-if-dumb effort to reform and Castle blows his legs off. When the Punisher and Captain America come to the inevitable fisticuffs, the scene goes back and forth between the current fight and a contrived flashback meeting between Cap and the pre-Punisher. The issues never hold together for more than a few pages at a time. Olivetti's art is pretty darn cool, but it's not enough to earn these issues more than two Tonys.

Two Tonys is still more than The Punisher War Journal #4 gets. Fraction's "Small Wake For a Tall Man" is a nonsensical account of the Stilt Man's wake, filled with characters acting out of character. I'd catagorize it as a mean-spirited attempt at dark humor that demeans and shows contempt for virtually every character appearing in the done-in-one story. It's a waste of Mike Deodato's artistic talents and earns no Tonys whatsoever.

No Tonys


TONY'S BACK PAGES "When Tony Met Ed"

Cop Hater

Halloween, 1972. I was sitting in the Marvel Comics reception area waiting to be summoned into the offices and begin my first day as a Marvel employee. The first person I met was Don McGregor, who had heard I was there and came out to greet me and wish me well. It was far from the last kindness Don would do me during our time together at Marvel.

A huge debt I owe Don is that he introduced me to the 87th Precinct police procedural novels of Ed McBain. We were on a break, sitting around a tiny office Marvel provided for non-staff freelancers. It was Don, me, and Rich Buckler. If anyone else was there, we must have been sitting on them. It was a really, really tiny room.

Don was reading out loud from one of the McBain books. Don is one of the all-time great readers and speakers. He's animated and passionate about countless subjects. But he was low key that day, reading passages from the book while I marveled at how McBain could bring characters and settings to life with such skill. I started reading 87th Precinct books that day and I've been reading them ever since. In fact, I just recently reread Cop Hater, the first book, and plan to reread all the others as well.

Comics fans will enjoy watching McBain's characters change and grow from novel to novel. The series doesn't have costumed heroes and only one super-villain - the Deaf Man - but I think super-hero fans will enjoy these novels.

As for my pal Don, consider this a blanket recommendation to track down and read all of his previous work and anything new he publishes. He might not be to every reader's taste, but he is one of the very few truly original voices in comics. In this era of cookie-cutter comics writers whose scripts lack any sense of self, McGregor is a writer to cherish.



Don't panic until you read this entire section.

TONY'S ONLINE TIPS is a two-man operation. It's yours truly, who writes the columns, and it's World Famous Comics wizard Justin, who prepares and then posts them online. In years past, when TOT has gone on hiatus, it's usually been because one or both of us had personal or professional catastrophes with which to deal. That is definitely not the case this time around. Nope, this time around, things are just going too well for us.

September is mostly things going too well for me. I moved my son Eddie to The Ohio State University to start his freshman year of college. I celebrate my daughter Kelly's 16th birthday. I have several assignments on my "day job," my usual columns for Comics Buyer's Guide, and some other comics writing gigs.

I have a busy social calendar in the remaining weeks of this month. On Friday, September 21, my dear friends Harlan and Susan Ellison will be in Cleveland for A Tribute to Harlan Ellison at the main library of the Cleveland Public Library:

Join us in the Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m. followed with a Midwestern debut screening of Dreams With Sharp Teeth, a documentary on the writer and native Clevelander, Harlan Ellison. Screening will be followed by special guests with a special appearance by Harlan Ellison.

I'm one of the special guests. The library asked me to speak for three/four minutes on the esteemed Ellison while the esteemed Ellison asked me to speak longer so he won't have to talk so much. I'd much rather listen to Harlan than me.

While Harlan and Susan are in town, I hope to spend time with them. But my Sainted Wife Barbara and I will also be attending a 35th anniversary party for...Funky Winkerbean. That's how long my friend and neighbor Tom Batiuk's terrific newspaper strip has been running and I wouldn't miss the bash for the world.

Throw in the usual school and sporting events for Kelly...and an end-of-the-month trip to Columbus to visit Eddie and some of my Columbus friends...and there goes my September.


October is his killer month. Besides various assignments and projects, he's a special guest at two conventions and, around the end of the month, he's moving across the country. That won't leave him much time for TOT. However, neither he nor I want to leave you wholly TOT-less for six weeks.

Here's the best solution we could come up with.

Starting October 1, I'm going to write "bare bones" TOTs and post them directly to my message board:

These TOTs will be much shorter than usual, the equivalent of a review or one of my regular departments. They won't include any illustrations. But it's my hope and intention to post these mini-TOTs at least five times a week through October. At the same time, I'll be sending them to Justin (with illustrations) for him to add to the TOT Archives... he finds time.

I'm also toying with the idea of allowing another comics site to post these TOTs as a sort of test to see if Justin and I might want to move TOT over to that site in the future. That's something we'll decide sometime between now and October 1.

To sum up...

This is the last TOT of any size you'll see until October 1. The full-size TOTs will resume on November 1.

The Tony Polls are on hiatus until November 1. I'll be leaving the current poll questions active for the next couple days, but they could go away any time after that. If you haven't voted on them, head over to:

Hopefully, I'll catch up on the results of previous polls in the "bare bones" TOTs of October.

In the meantime, I'm hope to post lots of new Tony's Other Online Tips reviews at the Comics Buyer's Guide online forums. You can read those at:

TOT is kind of sort of going on hiatus, but, as you can see, it's very much a working hiatus.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 09/04/2007 | 09/17/2007 | 10/01/2007 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined.

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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:

Tony's Online Tips
840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

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