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

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for Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Was Superman a Spy

Here's the perfect book for flights to summer conventions and sanity breaks from the summer cons: Brian Cronin's Was Superman a Spy? and Other Comic Book Legends Revealed! [Plume; $14]. Cronin is the writer-producer of the very spiffy "Comics Should Be Good" blog at Comic Book Resources []. For the blog, Cronin writes a weekly "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed" column that's one of my favorite online destinations and from which the contents of this book are drawn.

Cronin digs into the rumors that have enlivened comicdom since its earliest days and ferrets out the truth or falsehood of them. The characters, creators, people, and publications who appear in these pages is vast: Batman, Elvis Presley, the official newspaper of Hitler's SS, gorillas of varying intellects and sizes, Superman battling the Ku Klux Klan, the crime comic-book writer who actually murdered someone, Mickey Mouse attempting suicide, Spider-Man, Star Trek's Jonathan Frakes, and so many other wonders to amuse/astonish even the veteran comics fan.

Full disclosure. Your faithful Tipster pops up a couple times in the body of the book and is thanked by the author for supplying information. I consider whatever small assistance I provided to be public service for the good of all mankind. At least that portion of mankind who loves comic books.

Was Superman a Spy? earns the full five out of five Tonys. It's enormous fun for comics fans of all ages.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Avenger 1

Sanctum Books, which has done such a marvelous job reprinting the pulp adventures of Doc Savage and The Shadow, has added a third great title to its lineup. The Avenger #1: "Justice, Inc." and "The Yellow Horde" [$12.95] reprints the first two Dick Benson stories by Paul Ernst writing as Kenneth Robeson and adds a quartet of bonus features to the mix.

The Avenger combines elements of Doc Savage and The Shadow with a personal tragedy that changed Benson's life forever. Ernst brings real emotion to Benson and, in the wake of that, his hero's devotion to justice and his ability to command the loyalty of brave and skilled assistants are utterly believable. The characters are well-crafted, as are the suspenseful stories.

As with all Sanctum publications, these stories are regarded as valued works of art. Though typographical errors are corrected, all the text "is reprinted intact in its original historical form, including occasional out-of-date ethnic and cultural stereotyping." The original Paul Orban illustrations are also included, just as in the original pulp magazines.

The bonus features? There's an Avenger radio script from 1941. While it's not as good as the Ernst tales, it's an interesting look at a bygone era. Also on hand are a trio of essays by the always informative Will Murray and editor/publisher Anthony Tollin. That adds up to sensational bang for your bucks.

The Avenger #1: "Justice, Inc." and "The Yellow Horde" earns the full five Tonys. Tollin will soon add a fourth title to the Sanctum roster with the publication of The Whisperer later this spring.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



At Rick Veitch and Steve Conley's message boards, posters there ask me questions and I try to answer them, just as I do here and on my own message board.

A poster signing himself "Lawson" opined the super-hero genre was worn and tired of late and asked, if I were creating a super-hero series today, what I would try that nobody else had tried, what I'd do to make me new series stand out.

My response:

"Were I creating a new super-hero book, my main interest would be creating something I wanted to write and that addressed issues of concern to me.

"Recently, I spoke with one of my much-more-successful-than-me writer friends. Among other things, we talked about how difficult it is for even good writers to do stories set in these obsessively connected universes. If I were suddenly offered the opportunity to write for the Big Two again and asked what I would like to write, this is what I would tell them...

"Give me one of your characters you're not doing much with and whose creator is no longer living. Give me 12 issues to retool this character into something fresh and exciting. After that, if I've done my job right, you'll have another great character for your universe. Then I can move on to 12 issues of another character you're not doing much with."

Look for more questions and answers in this week's TOTs. And feel free to ask your own questions at:

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

Tony Isabella

<< 07/14/2009 | 07/15/2009 | 07/16/2009 >>

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.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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