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

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for Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Enemies of the People

I will warn you in advance. Today's column is a review of a book that has nothing to do with comic books or any of the worlds of fantasy that are usually the main course around here. Further, it is not just a review of a book. It is also a partial review of my country, the United States of America.

Some of you should probably stop reading here.

I hope you don't.

Kati Marton's Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America [Simon & Schuster; $26] crossed my radar the way many excellent books have crossed my radar in recent years. The author appeared on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and got me interested in her book. The American Library Association should give Stewart an award for bringing such books to the attention of myself and so many other readers. But I digress.

Marton has authored six books and has been a correspondent for NPR and ABC News. She was not born in America. Her parents, Endre and Ilona Marton, were Hungarian Jews who worked as foreign press correspondents for, respectively, the Associated Press (AP) and the United Press (UP). By all accounts, they were excellent at their jobs and it was their proficiency at journalism and their affinity for European culture that resulted in their being under constant surveillance and their eventual arrest and imprisonment as enemies of the people or, more properly, the Communist masters of Hungary and the Hungarian Secret Police, the dreaded AVO.

Until January 1957, when the Martons were allowed to legally leave Hungary, they were watched. By darn near everyone in their lives. The nanny who watched Kati and her older sister Julia made detailed reports to the AVO. The Secret Police wanted even the most trivial information; they believed even the slightest peccadillo could be used to break the Martons and turn them to their service. That the Martons did their journalistic work openly didn't matter. Any action, any article, any question could be construed as being against the state if the AVO decreed it so. The Communists thought the Martons were spying for the American legation and, in such a climate, it's not surprising some of the couple's American friends felt they must be reporting to the Communists.

Marton's book is riveting. Though her parents were reluctant to speak of their pasts once they had immigrated to America, post-Communist Hungary law allowed Marton access to the AVO's extensive files on her parents. When the Martons are arrested - first Endre, then Ilona - and taken to prison, the files reveal how the intent was to break them and turn them, using any "weakness" imaginable, especially their concern for their children. Such attempts would continue after their release and even after they had emigrated to the United States.

It's impossible to read Enemies of the People without being moved by a family separated from each other by a totalitarian state, and of two young girls living with the kind of uncertainty no child should have to endure, even for a relatively brief time. But, what ultimately emerges from the book and the vast research it required is Marton's renewed devotion and respect for her parents and the admirable way in which they lived their lives. While not precisely a "feel good" book, Enemies of the People is a most hopeful book, honest and compelling. It earns an impressive four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

ISBN 978-1-4165-8612-8

Here's where this column gets tricky. I apologize in advance for any intemperate language.

If I had any doubts Communism was an evil thing - and I never have - considering Hungary in the 1950s, living one's life knowing you were surrounded by informants reporting on the tiniest details of your life, fearing that what seemed acceptable in the past might suddenly become unacceptable to those who literally held your life in their hands, would have dispelled those doubts. Communism is an evil best destroyed, at least within the limits of the rule of law as we're supposed to practice it in the United States.

Yet as I read Marton's book, I could not stop thinking about the whole "without sin" and "first stone" thing. For, surely and sadly, my own government has sometimes failed to uphold the rule of law we hold so dear.

Especially during the Bush administration. With Guantanamo Bay. With holding prisoners without charging them and with little evidence to suggest we should continue holding some of them save we are afraid of what they might do if we release them after years of imprisonment and, in some cases, torture.

The Obama administration hasn't exactly turned this situation around. It hasn't closed Guantanamo Bay. When it explores moving the prisoners to an American prison, the response is fearful cries from Americans. When it decides to try prisoners for whom we have sufficient evidence in New York City, the response is more fearful bleatings.

When did we become a nation of pussies?

Few countries do a better job of locking up prisoners than we do. We're stupid good at keeping people behind bars no matter how trivial their crimes or how expensive their incarceration. And now you're afraid because we might incarcerate these alleged terrorists and enemy combatants on our own soil? Pussies.

Then there's New York City. Come on, people.

I don't much like New York City or New Yorkers. You're loud and rude and half crazy. I think much of what I dislike about the comics published by DC and Marvel is because their editors have to work in that metropolitan madhouse that arrogantly considers itself the greatest city in the world. And now you're telling me you are afraid to try the very bastards who attacked you and murdered your loved ones in your own city? Pussies.

Wait. There's more.

Buried within one of last week's newspapers was the story of a college student who was handcuffed, detained and interrogated for almost five hours because an airport screener found Arabic-English flash cards and a book critical of American foreign policy in his belongings. The student is studying the Arabic language and plans to take a foreign service exam later this year.

Flash cards. Imagine if they'd been in his underwear.

When did we become a nation of not just pussies but farcical, stupid pussies?

Today's newspaper reported that Defense Department officials believe it will take years before gays are allowed to serve openly in the U.S. That's bullshit! Do it now!

Many members of the military didn't like it when the services were integrated and, you know what, they were integrated anyway. The complainers sucked it up and made it work. Because that's what our military does. They do the job!

When did we become such a nation of pussies? From where I sit, anyone who objects to gays serving openly in the military or, for that matter, to equal marriage rights is either a bigot or scared and unsure of their own sexuality. Get the eff over yourselves and do the job. Do what's right.

Democrats have the presidency, the House, and a 59-41 majority in the Senate and they can't deliver the universal health care this country desperately needs because they figure the Republicans will filibuster? You spineless pussies.

Let the Republicans filibuster! Let them show the people they have no interest in serving our needs. Hammer them for obstructing the work of this government. You can't compromise with folks who don't want anything to get accomplished.

Someone at Marvel Comics, looking at blank signs in a Captain America story that was partially set at a Teabagger protest used actual wording from actual Teabagger signs to fill the blank signs. Then the right wingnuts complained and Marvel actually apologized for this. Pussies.

This is the freaking United States of America. We have high ideals that we should constantly strive to attain. We are generous people. We help each other and, when we can, we even help people from other countries. In the dreams of our better angels, we set the standard for a better tomorrow, for a better world.

When did we become a nation of fearful, incontinent, and mean-spirited pussies?

And what can we do about it?

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

Tony Isabella

<< 02/16/2010 | 02/17/2010 | 02/18/2010 >>

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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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