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

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for Monday, September 28, 2009

Alter Ego 88

Alter Ego is arguably the most important comics history magazine in the history of comics history...and Alter Ego #88 [TwoMorrows; $6.95] might just be its most important issue. It focuses on the much-maligned Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson - "the visionary who founded DC Comics" - and, if there's any justice in comicdom, it will go a long way towards restoring the good name of a man who was screwed over by scoundrels who pushed him out of the company, minimized his contributions, and made fortunes from the creativity and hard work of others.

The more things change...

Alter Ego's five-part coverage of Wheeler-Nicholson presents a compelling record of the man's comics career and overall life. Jim Amash gets things started by interviewing Christina Blakeney, daughter of Wheeler-Nicholson. That's followed by his interviews with Douglas Wheeler-Nicholson (the Major's son) and Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown, the granddaughter determined to correct the vast misinformation that had become part of the record.

The story continues with Wheeler-Nicholson Brown interviewing her aunt Antoinette Wheeler-Nicholson Harley about "her legendary father" and Ian Wheeler-Nicholson, another grandchild of the Major, interviewing the late Creig Flessel on the early days of what would become DC Comics. What emerges from all these talks is the picture of the Major as a creative dynamo whose financial mishaps were the result of the Depression, his unfortunate lack of business acumen, and the crooked schemes and outright fraud committed by partners Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. I came away from this amazing issue with a profound appreciation for the Major's integrity and the wish I could correct the opening chapter of 1000 Comic Books You must Read to give him credit for rescuing Jerry Siegel's and Joe Shuster's Superman from oblivion.

Need more reasons to buy this issue? How about a look at Superman as drawn by Russell Keaton, who drew several newspaper strips from Siegel scripts during a period when Shuster had cooled on the Man of Steel? How about Eddy Zeno interviewing Eileen Mortimer on her late husband, Win Mortimer?

Digression. Win drew one of my first stories for Marvel and I wish circumstances had allowed me to work with him beyond that. He was a true gentleman and a terrific artist who encouraged the "new kid" in the Marvel Bullpen to keep at it.

Back to Alter Ego. Michael T. Gilbert brings us an article in defense of comic book from 1941. South African writer and fan John Wright is eulogized by several comics friends and historians. Mark Evanier eulogizes cartoonist Roger Armstrong. Marc Swayze offers a few kind words for a little-remembered Captain Marvel character. The late C.C. Beck rants about comics and TV shows not done the way he would have done them in a never-before-published essay. There's a short piece on Fatman the Human Flying Saucer and the ever-lively Alter Ego letters section. That adds up to an incredible amount of wonderful stuff for a relatively low price.

Alter Ego #88 earns the rare six out of five Tonys. When it comes to anything this good, math is my bitch!

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

DC Vault

It came out last October, but I just now got around to reading The DC Vault by Martin Pasko with a foreword by Paul Levitz [Running Press; $49.95]. Cutting right to the chase, the expensive book is an especially pale imitation of the previous year's The Marvel Vault: A Museum-in-a-Book with Rare Collectibles from the World of Marvel by Roy Thomas and Peter Sanderson, also $49.95. Not only is the writing far less lively than in the Marvel volume, but the inserted faux-collectibles are rather dull in comparison to the fun items in the Marvel book.

However, what really turned me off about this volume was its whitewashing of sleazy partners Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, accompanied by a handful of cheap shots directed against the likes of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Jerry Siegel, and Bill Finger. I never expected a hard-hitting expose from a book sanctioned by DC Comics, but I likewise didn't expect that it would demean the very innovators who built the company's creative base and were rewarded by being screwed over by the company. Nice.

There are some intriguing historical oddities in this volume, but these are so far from being worth the price of the book that I can't, in good conscience, recommended it to my readers even at its discounted Amazon price. If I didn't collect even flawed books on comics history, I wouldn't have bought it myself.

The DC Vault earns but one Tony.




I will be a guest at Mid-Ohio-Con this weekend and here are a few things you should know:

I'll be exhibiting blow-ups of several pages of 1000 Comic Books You Must Read at my booth. Fingers crossed, I may have other sample pages to show you as well.

I'll be appearing on several panels, among them "Tony's Tips Live!" It's the live-action version of my column with news, views, reviews, and trivia questions with prizes. I may even bring candy to the panel. Oh, blessed Snickers.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be selling a selection of discounted trade paperbacks, comics for kids, and original art from my Black Lightning stories. Since I'm still virtually unemployed, your patronage will be appreciated.

If you are a publisher looking to hire me, I'd be delighted to speak with you at the convention.

If you are an artist who would like to work with me on one of my projects or yours, I'd also be delighted to speak with you and explore those possibilities.

If you are a creator or publisher who would like me to review your comic book or other project in this column, don't be shy about stopping by my booth.

Mid-Ohio-Con is my favorite comics convention. I look forward to seeing many of my friends and readers there. For all the latest Mid-Ohio-Con news, visit the show's website at:

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

Tony Isabella

<< 09/25/2009 | 09/28/2009 | 09/29/2009 >>

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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840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

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