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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Monday, March 15, 2010

Strange Adventures 34

Our tiger-themed cover of the day is Strange Adventures #34 [July, 1953]. On a planet controlled by a dictator with mental powers, Captain Comet must choose "The Lady or the Tiger-Man." The cover and interior art are by Murphy Anderson while the story was written by John Broome. Editor Julius Schwartz rounded out the issue with a trio of non-series stories by Sid Gerson. These tales were drawn by Carmine Infantino with Sy Barry inks, Henry Sharp, and Frank Giacoia.

This month, I am embracing the "Year of the Tiger" and again claiming my 1970s Marvel moniker of Tony "The Tiger" Isabella. I'm also embracing the year's motto:

"I win!"

Such optimism was hard to come by last week as my family and I had to deal with some unpleasant stuff and, in fact, are dealing with it this week as well. If whatever doesn't kill you actually does make you stronger, then me and my family are now strong enough to kick all your asses. Truth.

None of the above unpleasant stuff is anything I want to write about at this time, but I mention it here in case anyone is waiting for a response from me or feels I'm too abrupt when I finally get around to responding to them.

Let's see what else I have for you today.

Doc Savage Phantom City

From Comics Buyer's Guide #1664:

"Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man."

- Doc Savage's oath

I have been introduced to some of my favorite characters and writers by friends. During our lunch hours in the Marvel Bullpen circa 1973, Don McGregor used to do readings from Ed McBain's 87th Precinct and hooked me on the series. Stephen King was recommended to me by Don and Maggie Thompson. In the case of Doc Savage, I first discovered the books while attending St. Edward High School, courtesy of fellow Marvel fan Gary Lunder who, sadly, was taken by cancer last year. With the past few years, Anthony Tollin, friend of four decades, has introduced me to The Shadow, The Avenger, and The Whisperer. I associate many of my favorite books with some of my favorite people. In their honor, I hope I'm accomplishing the same thing with my columns here.

The pulp fiction magazines in which Doc Savage and The Shadow first appeared had a profound influence on the American comic book in its formative years. Bill Finger lifted the very first Batman story from a Shadow novel; it's far from the only example of comic books "borrowing" from the pulps. The influence continued as pulp writers, including Gibson, added comics scripts to their prolific outputs. Mort Weisinger was a pulp magazine editor before he moved over to DC Comics and became the driving force behind the Superman comics of the 1960s. The pulps and the comics may not be siblings, but they're extremely close cousins.

I readily admit my own pulp influences. When I was beginning my professional career, my first almost-sale was to Jack Kirby for his planned Superworld magazine. It was the opening chapter of my never-completed "Judge Duffy" novel; the title character was pretty much a futuristic version of Doc Savage.

I learned a great deal about pacing stories from Lester Dent's Doc Savage tales. That influence can readily be seen in Captain America: Liberty's Torch, a novel co-written with best friend Bob Ingersoll.

This issue of CBG headlines the new series of Doc Savage comic books being published by DC Comics. Other pulp heroes will also be part of this line. It remains to be seen how well the new writers will handle these classic characters, but, for now, I'm excited to see them return to the comic books. Then and now, pulps and comics are natural allies.

Batman Doc Savage

I approached Batman/Doc Savage Special #1 [DC Comics; $4.99] with no small amount of trepidation. I don't much care for Brian Azzarello's writing, especially when he's writing supposedly heroic characters. It's not his safe zone. Despite that, I had to read this comic. Come on, it's Doc Savage.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. This "First Wave" intro is set in one of the 52 universes of the DC Multiverse. Which, in itself, does not thrill me. Because, sooner or later, someone at DC will want to cross this universe over with their main universe and, given the shape of their main universe, it probably won't be pretty. But I digress.

Azzarello gets points for several things in this special. The special is set in a futuristic "retro" world of "tommy guns and jet planes." If he and the other First Wave writers watch what they're doing and avoid obvious contradictions, that could be a lot of fun for all of us.

His Batman is a Bruce Wayne at the beginning of his vigilante career and not the domineering figure of the mainstream DCU. His lawless activities bring Doc Savage to a Gotham City every bit as corrupt as in the darkest Batman comics. Supporting players Alfred and James Gordon aren't as well developed as Batman, but that could and should come in future issues.

Azzarello's Doc Savage is close enough to the original version to work. He's more sociable than in the pulps, but, in a world in which a number of new heroes are making their presences felt, his more public face is meant to inspire them to fight evil in a more open manner. He clearly feels a certain kinship for the Batman and believes him to be a force for good, albeit a somewhat misguided, unnecessarily secretive force for good.

The 38-page "Bronze Night" doesn't have the high adventure of Doc's pulp magazine exploits and is somewhat slim on plot, but it's an okay introduction to this new universe. The art by Phil Noto is cool and stylish, but there's an annoying similarity with the male haircuts that make character identification less than instant in a few places. Still, not a bad start.

The story is followed by eight pages of character/world notes by Azzarello and sketches of the heroes we'll be seeing in future "First Wave" comics. I'm pleasantly intrigued by the concepts for this universe's Black Canary, Blackhawks, and Rima, but the notes for Richard "the Avenger" Benson and Doc Savage's aides, especially Monk Mayfair, miss the mark. Let's hope for fine tuning on those characters before the new comics hit.

Let's award Batman/Doc Savage Special #1 a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys. It got enough things right that I'm looking forward to the comics to come.

Tony Tony Tony

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

Tony Isabella

<< 03/12/2010 | 03/15/2010 | 03/16/2010 >>

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THE "TONY" SCALE

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.

Tony
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.

TonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTony
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.

TonyTonyTonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
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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