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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 Monday, April 28, 2008

Action Comics 7

Several years back, I told anyone in the comics community who would listen that the biggest comics story of the decade, if not the biggest story of my 35-plus years in the comics industry, was the actions taken by the heirs of Jerry Siegel to reclaim Superboy and their fair share of Superman. The former is on hold, but only because a federal judge ruled in favor of the heirs on the latter. Ever since the ruling, creators, fans, and industry observers have been debating - as loudly and as rancorously as the Internet allows - what this means and the rightness of it.

That's the very short version of what's going on, sufficient only to preface the results of the Tony Polls questions in which we asked you to weigh in on the issue. Here are the results of the voting on those questions...

Do you think the latest Superman copyright ruling will make things better or worse for comics creators?

Better.....69.23%
Worse.....7.69%
No change.....23.08%

Do you think the latest Superman copyright ruling will make things better or worse for comics publishers?

Better.....16.35%
Worse.....36.54%
No Change.....47.12%

Do you think the latest Superman copyright ruling will make things better or worse for the comics industry in general?

Better.....54.81%
Worse.....11.54%
No Change.....33.65%

I voted better across the board. There are those who believe publishers will respond to this ruling by tightening future agreements with creators to make them even more egregious than they have been in the past. In such cases, "better" might be a relative thing. Creators will have to decide if they really want to allow their original creations to be under the nigh-perpetual, nigh-total control of publishers, perhaps sacrificing any input into decisions on collections, film rights, merchandising and more for what might be inadequate compensation.

I declined to sign a contract because it offered absolutely no additional compensation for use of my wholly original material in other formats. Given that the party who would have thus owned all rights to my work had, in the past, successfully repackaged stories like mine as prose fiction, movies, television, and even cartoons, I felt I deserved a piece of any such action stemming from my work. For the buyer, my insistence on inclusion was a deal-breaker, just as their unwillingness to share in potential ancillary profits was a deal-breaker for me.

So when I say this Superman copyright ruling will make things better for comics creators, I suppose I actually mean that it will hopefully make them more aware of what they are selling and whether they're fairly compensated for what they are selling, the necessity of getting their agreements in writing, and the necessity of making sure those agreements protect their rights in any disputes with the publisher. I urge creators to accept this sad acquired wisdom from a creator who relied on the "word" and "handshake" of a publisher, only to be sorely disappointed when the publisher violated both the letter and spirit of their agreement in virtually every meaningful way. You don't have to repeat my mistakes.

Why do I think the Superman copyright ruling and what happens in its aftermath will also make things better for the publishers? It's simple math. In the short term, part-ownership of Superman is still worth a great deal. In the long term, publishers who rethink how they do business with creators and decided to do business with them more fairly will benefit. Because they'll have opportunities to go into business with creators who bring them new and exciting properties.

If you're a creator, who would you prefer to do business with? Speaking for myself, a publisher who sought a true partnership with me and who had the resources to maximize my profits from whatever I create while remaining true to my creations would be irresistible to me. Instead of a creator giving up a disproportionate share of his or her creative control and financial interest, the publisher would accept a more equal relationship and, in the long term, that would mean greater success for both partners.

If you're the creator of the next Superman, that's the kind of publisher you want to do business with. And part-ownership of the next Superman would still be a pretty sweet deal for any publisher. As opposed to full ownership of nothing.

Call me a foolish optimist. But I believe honest partnerships such as I have described will not only improve things for creators and publishers, but for all the other elements of the industry that would ultimately share in their success.

******

CORRECTIONS

I'm going to forego reviews today so I can catch up on other business. I should start by admitting I am an gi-normous idiot who didn't look at the copyright on Bones: Buried Deep before I reviewed it last Friday. Max Allan Collins, the author of the book, sent me enlightenment in the form of an e-mail:
My "Bones" novel came out two years ago and was, obviously, written before that. The show hadn't aired yet and all I had to work with was the pilot script. Just FYI.

Much more important to me is Strip For Murder, which is about to come out. It's the second Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, this one about the Al Capp/Ham Fisher feud. The books aren't getting much attention, and I think that's too bad. The combo of prose and graphic novel elements, plus the comics world themes, is pretty much unique.

I'll make sure you get a copy. Thanks!
My apology to Al and my readers for my mistake.

My thanks to Al for the correction and the eagerly-anticipated new Jack and Maggie book, which will move to the top of my reading list as soon as I receive it.

My highest recommendation for A Killing In Comics, the first Jack and Maggie novel.

Here's my review from last summer...

A Killing in Comics

It was comics publisher Donny Harrison's birthday party and, for the occasion, he had squeezed his plump form into a Wonder Guy costume. Then he keeled over and onto a knife, dying in front of his wife, his friends, his business associates, his mistress, and the creators of Wonder Guy. That's the "Oh, wow!" opening of A Killing In Comics by Max Allan Collins with illustrations by Terry Beatty [Berkley; $14.00].

If you were as knocked out by Men of Tomorrow, Gerard Jones' landmark work on the geeks and gangsters who created the comic-book biz, as I was, you'll absolutely cherish A Killing In Comics. The thinly-disguised comics legends walk the same mean streets as Collins' original creations: Maggie Starr, the lovely ex-ecdysiast who runs her late husband's newspaper syndicate; Jack Starr, her stepson and troubleshooter, charged by her to find out who murdered Harrison; and "Honey" Daily, Harrison's mistress.

All the reasons Collins is one of my favorite writers are seen in this book. His characters are intriguing and likeable; even the bad guys and gals have a certain charm. His plots are intriguing, his writing straightforward. He brings the eras of which he writes to life. Sometimes his books seem too real to be fiction. He's a writer who knows the value of getting the details right and, most of all, he's a writer who knows how to entertain us.

On the matter of A Killing In Comics, that's all you're gonna get out of me. It's a great book and I don't want to spoil any of it for you. It earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

COMICS IN THE COMICS

This week's Comics in the Comics will feature Superman. Yes, I have that many Man of Steel "guest appearances" in my CITC files. We begin...

Triple Take

Triple Take was a crazy-cool comic strip that featured three punch lines per day. It was produced by Todd Clark and Scott Nickel, and ran from April 4, 2005 to August 26, 2007. This one is from February 14, 2007.

Rhymes with Orange

First syndicated in 1995, Rhymes With Orange is written and drawn by Hilary B. Price. The above strip, sent to me by TOT reader Dewey Cassell, ran on February 11, 2007.

Mother Goose and Grimm

Mother Goose and Grimm by Mike Peters has been running since 1984. The above is from February 24, 2007.

Housebroken

Housebroken is by Steve Watkins, who should be pleased by the addition of Black Lightning, John Stewart, and Vixen to the ranks of the Justice League. The above strip is from February 25 of last year.

More Comics in the Comics to come.

******

MAGAZINE WATCH

Mammoth Book Comics

Editor Peter Normanton's The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics [Running Press; $17.95] was listed in third place on the Entertainment Weekly "The Must List" for the weeks of April 25 and May 2. Of the 554-page book, EW wrote:

"Get your undead the old-fashioned way with this compilation of classic horror spanning over 60 years. So awesome, it's scary."

The book is sitting near the top of my reading pile, so look for my review in the near future.

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

I've written extensively of the Superman copyright ruling and fan reaction to same, most notably in my Tony's Online Tips column of April 1. From Doc Lehman, here's one of the first responses to that column that I received:
Regarding your column on the Siegels' victory...

BRAVO!

I have been surfing the net all weekend reading the responses to the ruling and about choked when I got to the Newsarama forum! My Lord! I have noticed a couple other posters taking them to task, but your column nailed it and them!

"...heartless bastards..."

Amen! You said it all right there.

Keep up the good fight!
My good friend Barry Pearl wrote:
I hope you'll forgive a long email that SO AGREES with you on the entire Superman/DC/Siegel and Shuster situation. The problem you mention, sadly, is endemic in America. Not just what DC did to their creators but those nutty people who wrote criticizing them. But I have a personal story or two.

My father, in the late 1950s, was in charge of home delivery for the Daily News. They had to deliver a million papers every day before 7 am. The papers were printed at about 4 am. They had four hours to get out all those papers.

My father came up with the idea of a "Bulldog" edition that would be printed at 9 PM the night before. This gave them 10 hours. But the edition turned out to be so popular that it was offered on the newsstands and called the "Night Owl." It was popular because it had the numbers for the numbers game, the horse betting for the next day, and the stock market closings. It also published the syndicated comics and columns before any other morning paper. The News made a fortune on it for 30 years and fired my father. He would only work 10 hours a day and they wanted someone to work 12. At age 50, 10 hours (plus 2 hours traveling) was all he could do.

This helped when I started my educational consulting business. I realized people would collect my ideas and fire me when they were successful. I learned you had to control the product as well as supply the ideas.

I have heard from too many people saying, "Oh, they got paid enough" or "what more did they want"...when the companies continued to make millions, no, billions on these ideas.

I am no copyright lawyer, but technically, Siegel and Shuster sold Superman to DC for the alleged value of the product for the 35 years DC would be allowed to retain copyright. But DC will retain copyright for 100 years, not 34 with all the changes in the law. It would be like signing a three year lease for a house, paying for three years and getting to keep it for 20.

Working in education, you see a lot of people produce studies and papers that give the schools credibility (which translates into higher registration and money) and grants. The people are treated like crap and often discarded but their work is exploited forever. When budget cuts come, colleges like to get rid of the professors with the longest tenure and most degrees because they make the most money. So they treat their MOST productive staffers like garbage. Sound familiar?

This is the American way. And it breaks my heart to see people making less than 50,000 dollars a year backing the companies that are raping these guys. They also vote for the people who won't raise the minimum wage or get them health insurance.

You would think that Time Warner would have wanted to reach agreement a few decades ago and just get this over with. To them, this is a small amount of money.

The column, as always, was well written and made great points. But it just won't penetrate some people's heads.
Star Trek Year Four 1

I reviewed the first issue of IDW's latest Star Trek: Year Four series in my TOT for April 7. After reading said review, artist Gordon Purcell sent this note:
The scripts have been fun to work with; we get a whole lot of Klingons in issues #3-5 for your reading pleasure. And you'll see more detailed backgrounds in issue 2. They'll tire your eyes out!
I'm looking forward to the rest of the series, Gordon. And I must add how happy I am to see you drawing Star Trek again. You've always done nice work in that universe.

Shadow 13

My good friend Anthony Tollin, the editor of those great Shadow and Doc Savage double novels published by Nostalgia Ventures, responded to my April 11 request for reader comments on the political leanings of characters:
What is The Shadow? I'd say independent.

Despite those twin '45 automatics, The Shadow seldom shoots to kill. He doesn't see himself as an executioner. He'll shoot in self defense or to prevent an innocent from being killed, or fire peppering shots to keep crooks off balance when the bad guys are in a gunfight with police officers.

And he believes crooks can be rehabilitated (and not via Clark Savage's illegal brain surgery). He cooperates with criminologist Slade Farrow in the rehabilitation of felons, and employs several reformed felons in key positions (Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Tapper). Yes, The Shadow is definitely for law and order, but as a world traveler also has a world view (and is even the leader of a tribe of Xinca Indians).

Then there's the power to cloud men's minds, due to extensive training in ancient spiritual arts. While he may not have achieved initiation as a full-fledged lama (like his counterpart Jethro Dumont), his mastery of Tibetan mind-clouding arts requires years of intensive spiritual training.

See Alexandra David-Neel's MAGIC AND MYSTERY IN TIBET, written by the first Westerner to be ordained as a lama, for the lowdown on Buddhist invisibility.

The Shadow's background in the occult and Buddhist and Hindu spiritual arts would certainly suggest he's not a fundamentalist Christian. The incredible focus of The Shadow's mind indicates that he has achieved a high level of inner consciousness (which is not a prerequisite for membership in the modern Republican Party nor, unfortunately, the Democratic Party either).

While wealthy, The Shadow isn't consumed with the mindless pursuit of wealth. Money is merely something to be used in the pursuit of a cause: justice and making the world a better place to live. The biblical statement that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven really has more to do with the pursuit of wealth and valuing of material possessions at the cost of spiritual values. It's impossible to progress spiritually if one values the acquisition of wealth above all else. I've read hundreds of Shadow novels and listened to hundreds of radio episodes, and don't recall Mr. Allard aka Cranston ever demonstrating any real concern about the acquisition and preservation of his personal fortune.

As a World War I veteran, The Shadow certainly isn't fond of war, but recognizes there's a time when one must fight for what one believes in. And, looking back on the 1930s and 1940s, it was a Democratic president who recognized the necessity of aiding our European allies against Hitler's evil, and led our nation to success, not by promoting fear but by telling us we had "nothing to fear but fear itself."

Most of all, The Shadow gets things done and actually accomplishes his missions through patience and careful planning, which certainly doesn't suggest any connections with the current Republican leadership. The Shadow is a pragmatist, not a fanatic. He doesn't just blunder into hopeless situations, because he studies a situation first and doesn't fully enter the fray until he has some real understanding about what's actually going on and what's needed for success.

The Shadow's desire to actually finish what he starts also indicates he does not have much in common with either political party or our Washington leadership.

Therefore I have to say he's an independent.
Thanks for that thoughtful argument, old friend.

As always, TOT readers, you can order the Tollin-edited Shadow and Doc Savage books directly from my pal by going to:

www.shadowsanctum.com

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

Tony Isabella

<< 04/25/2008 | 04/28/2008 | 04/29/2008 >>

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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