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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Thursday, September 3, 2009

Today marks something of a special occasion for this column. From here on in, my original online reviews will only appear here. I'll still be writing my monthly "Tony's Tips" column for Comics Buyer's Guide and I still have a handful of reviews originally posted on the CBG website to run in TOT, but, with rare exception, TOT will be all new from now on. I'm so eager to get back into more frequent reviewing I'm pushing back my "State of the Tony" column until next week.

Here's what I have for you today.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima

The most amazing secret of World War II is revealed in James Morrow's Shambling Towards Hiroshima [Tachyon; $14.95]. At the same time the United States was developing the atomic bomb, its scientists were also working on the Knickerbocker Project, creating giant fire-breathing dinosaurs to lay waste to Japan. To sell the Japanese on surrender before such overwhelming force is unleashed on their island nation, the government is producing a "trial run" of such an attack. They hire horror actor Syms Thorley, renowned for his performances as Corpuscula and the living mummy Kha-Ton-Ra, to don a mechanical suit and play Gorgantis, King of the Lizards, in a live performance directed by James Whale with special effects by Willis O'Brien. If Thorley and company can convince a group of Japanese emissaries that what they are seeing is real, then Japan can be spared the death and destruction that would be visited on it in an actual invasion of the proto-Godzillas.

The above doesn't do justice to Morrow's novel. His satire is equally parts dark and funny with a chewy human heart. There are flawed heroes, dedicated men of science, overbearing military men, and bitchy Hollywood hacks. The moral uncertainties of using the creatures and, for that matter, the atomic bomb is woven throughout the novel's 170 pages. It's a serious, seriously entertaining book with an unforgettable protagonist and wonderful supporting players. It's a must-read for Godzilla fans.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima gets an impressive four out of four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Bang! Tango

Hope springs eternal for your Tipster, but disappointment is a frequent reality in my search for new and different comics. By the time I finished reading the six-issue Bang! Tango by Joe Kelly [Vertigo; $2.99 per issue], I couldn't escape the sad truth that I am not and will likely never be an appreciative audience for this kind of comic book.

My problem with this tale of a brutal ex-gangster who tries to reinvent himself as a tango dancer is that, save for a couple minor supporting players, there are no even remotely likeable characters in this tale. The protagonist's new life is upended when his past comes a'knocking in the shapely form of an old flame with a secret. She's a pre-operative transsexual preparing to marry the son of a powerful, violent gangster. By the end of the story, there wasn't a single character for whom I had any regard.

Kelly's writing here is adequate, but never compelling. The art by Adrian Sibar (pencils), Rodney Ramos (inks), and Tanya and Richard Horie (colors) is lively and their storytelling is usually on the mark. I liked the Howard Chaykin covers as well.

But Bang! Tango left me with a bad taste in my comics reading soul. Though DC and Vertigo comic books have featured some memorable gay characters, they tend to dwell on the sexy lesbians, give minimal roles to gay men, and mistreat any transgender people who find their way into these comics. If the TG is likeable, he or she ends up dead sooner rather than later. Don't worry. In this series, that whole likeable thing isn't a problem.

Bang! Tango picks up a disappointing two of five Tonys. Maybe it's me. No, wait, I'm pretty sure it's them.

Tony Tony

Chamber of Chills 15

Chamber of Chills #15 [March, 1975] falls pretty close to halfway into the 25-issue run of this Marvel reprint title. It is far from the last odd comic that will cross this column's path as I organize my decades-old accumulation of stuff.

The cover was probably pencilled by Larry Lieber with inks by Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia. The cover copy errs in that the issue only features three "more soul-shattering tales" besides the cover feature. All four stories are reprinted from Marvel horror titles of 1952 and 1953. It's a good selection.

"The Eyes" is one of those aliens among us stories with nicely frantic art. Werner Roth is a likely choice for the artist.

Signed by artist Larry Woromay, "The Witch of Landor" tells of an impoverished duke who, seeking a hidden family fortune, compels a witch to summon his ancestors to him. It's a clever tale with an appropriately shocking ending.

There is no supernatural element in Stan Lee and Russ Heath's "Rodeo!" Just a murderous rodeo clown seeking vengeance on the star rider whose girlfriend he covets. It's a little on the goofy side, but scary fun all the same.

But the prize of this issue is "I Was Locked in a...Haunted House" by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely. It's "Comics in the Comics" as the new kid in town scoffs at the reading material of his new pals. They challenge him to spend an hour in the local haunted house. By the end of the story, the doubting teen is sold on the educational benefits of Marvel Tales and other supernatural comic books published by Marvel. I love this story!

Chamber of Chills #15 earns four out of five Tonys and is well worth hunting for.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

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

Tony Isabella

<< 09/02/2009 | 09/03/2009 | 09/04/2009 >>

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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