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for Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Charley's War

Sorting through my accumulation of stuff is turning up all sorts of wonderful things. My latest discovery was Charley's War: 2 June 1 August 1916 by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun [Titan Books; $19.95].

I've written of "Charley's War" before. The strip first appeared in England's Battle Picture Weekly in 1975, but a good chunk of the long-running feature was reprinted a few years back in Judge Dredd Megazine. I'd already read the episodes included in this hardcover collection, but I jumped at the chance to have them all together in such a nice package.

Why? Because "Charley's War" is arguably the greatest war comic of all. Mills combined convincing characters, raw emotion, and meticulous research into his stories of Charlie Bourne, a young man who lied about his age so he could join the British army and fight the Hun in the trenches of Europe. Colquhoun matched Mills' scripts with drawings that reveal his commitment to the material in each and every panel. For three or four pages a week, the readers saw the world, not in vibrant color, but in gritty black-and-white. The courage and despair of the soldiers, the horror and occasional laughter of the battlefield, all these are brought to extraordinary life by two creators at the heights of their abilities.

The book commences with Charley's arrival on the Western Front and finishes shortly after the disastrous Battle of the Somne, a bloody clash in which over 20,000 British soldiers were killed and another 40,000 injured. And - fair warning - this first volume ends on an extremely perilous cliffhanger. I almost ordered the next book immediately, even though I've already read the resolution of said cliffhanger. Now that's great comics!

In addition to this great comic, the volume also features an introduction by Mills, a "Charley's War" chronology, commentary on the episodes by Mills, and an article on the Battle of the Somne. It's a simply terrific package on all counts.

Charley's War: 2 June 1 August 1916 was published in March, 2005, but is still available through Amazon. This book is so excellent it transcends my usual rating system and garners an incredible six out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

E-Man: The Idol

E-Man: The Idol [Digital Webbing; #3.99] is the latest E-Man one-shot by creators Nick Cuti and Joe Station, though, this time out, editor Randy Buccini also picks up a "story" credit. A new E-Man comic is always welcome around Casa Isabella and this one was no exception to that rule.

It's hard to accept E-Man's been around for 35 years now and he's not better known. It's not hard to see that his creators are as good or better as they were they launched the character back in ancient 1973. To commemorate the anniversary, Back Issue editor Michael Eury provides a brief history on the inside front cover of this issue.

"Curse of the Idol" is a swell adventure. Private eye Mike Mauser is hired to track down a professor who has allegedly stolen an idol he found on an archaeological dig. E-Man joins him on this quest. Meanwhile, Nova Kane, who was a student of the professor at Xanadu University, is contacted by the professor. He gives her the idol for safekeeping. He believes it harbors an ancient evil and needs time to figure out to keep that evil from emerging.

This Cuti/Staton/Buccini story is packed with enough plot for twice its 25 pages, but never feels the least bit crowded. Though the peril is dire, indeed, especially when Nova falls under the sway of the ancient evil, the adventure has the lightheartedness which has always been part of the E-Man series. Visually, Staton's drawing and storytelling is first-rate, ably enhanced by colorist Michelle Watkins and John Anderson, and letterer Kel Nuttall.

The issue's bonus features include a 2008 newspaper article written on the occasion of an exhibit of Staton's work, and three pages of letters from readers who received advance copies of "Curse of the Idol." Counting the cover, that adds up to 34 pages of E-Man stuff for your four bucks...and that's a pretty good deal.

E-Man: The Idol earns a full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

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

Tony Isabella

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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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