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

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for Thursday, January 15, 2009

Alter Ego 79

Superman is the great comic-book character on several levels. His is the classic origin story. His Action Comics #1 debut turned the American comic book from a novelty item into an industry. His popularity is world-wide and has remained strong for over 70 years.

There's also the very human tale of triumph and tragedy that defines his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, to the present, what with DC Comics and its corporate masters still attempting to deny those boys from Cleveland the respect and rewards they earned for themselves and their heirs. We can only hope this will be the year when truth and justice finally prevail.

But I digress.

Alter Ego #79 [TwoMorrows; $6.95] gives prominent coverage on the Man of Steel's 70th anniversary. A powerful cover by Michael Golden opens for a quartet of Superman-related articles. Eddy Zeno salutes seven important artists. Brad Ricca interviews Jean Shuster Peavy, the kid sister of Superman's co-creator. Jack Bender uncovers more unseen art from the 1940 Superman story that would have changed the hero forever. Dwight Decker tracks down the truth of the real-life "Superman versus the Nazis" legend that has been repeated for decades. No Superman fan will want to miss these terrific pieces.

Editor Roy Thomas isn't content to rest on such super-laurels. The issue also features Jim Amash's interview with 1950s artist Lou Cameron, complete with examples of Cameron's amazing work that left me hungry for an entire book of his stories. Bob Rozakis continues his fanciful "Secret History of All-American Comics," chronicling a comics world in which Superman and Batman were not the dominant heroes. There are also pieces by and featuring Michal T. Gilbert, the Spirit, Australian fan and historian John Ryan, Steve Gerber, Golden Age artist Marc Swayze, and Basil Wolverton. The issue is 100 pages of fact and fun and, like every other issue in the mag's long and proud run, it earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Back issues of Alter Ego are readily available from the publisher at:

Femme Noir

Years ago, I was telling anyone who would listen that my pal Christopher Mills was a writer well worth watching. Though he has never worked for the "bigs" - Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse are all asleep on the job - he has consistently produced first-rate stories for a variety of publishers.

Femme Noir: Dark City Diaries #1-2 [Ape Entertainment; $3.95 each] take us to Port Nocturne, a city of mean streets where justice frequently comes in the form of a beautiful and mysterious woman. In the first issue of this four-issue series, Mills probes the origin of the city's phantom protector through an investigator convinced that this "Blonde Justice" must be one of three women. Though there's no definitive answer in these remarkable vignettes, brilliantly, moodily illustrated by Joe Staton with inks by Horacio Ottolini, the nifty noir will delight any reader with an interest in crime fiction. The second issue - "Dead Man's Hand" - features a chilling tale of extortion and revenge, also drawn by Staton and Ottolini. Both issues are exceptional and neither is to be missed. I'm giving them the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


Mills is also writing the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead mini-series for Moonstone [$3.99 per issue]. Reporter Carl Kolchak has been brought into contemporary times (cell phones, etc.), but Mills retained the rumpled demeanor and dark humor of the character. This time around, Kolchak is banished to Georges Corner, Nebraska to interview a pop star during a fair in her home town. That would be scary enough for me, but, before long, our man on the monster beat is dealing with townspeople who have become flesh-eating zombies.

Mills does a great job writing Kolchak and the various locals who cross the reporter's path. Artist Tim Hamilton delivers solid storytelling and visuals. This series is ghoulishly good fun and earns an impressive four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony



Since these reviews ran in Comics Buyer's Guide #1647 [November, 2008], several more issues of Alter Ego have been published. Issue #82 [$6.95] is mostly devoted to MLJ, the comics company that we all know better as Archie Comics. There's a fine history of the MLJ super-heroes by Ron Goulart, an index to those stories by Michelle Nolan, and interviews with Irv Novick and Joe Edwards. Also noteworthy is Michael T. Gilbert's hilarious look at some comics panels that are, shall we say, open to interpretation. It's another great issue.

As is Femme Noir: Dark City Diaries #3 which pits the mysterious Blonde Justice against a "Killer In Steel." Let us heap more well-deserved kudos on Mills and Staton.

And Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead #3 wrapped up that Mills-written thriller with a satisfying, shocking, and thoughtful conclusion. I continue to shake my head in abject bafflement that this writer has been overlooked by the big outfits and by far too many comics readers.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 01/14/2009 | 01/15/2009 | 01/16/2009 >>

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.

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