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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Judomaster 94

Normally, even in celebration of this new "Year of the Tiger," I wouldn't run two covers of the same title back-to-back. However, I received so many delighted responses to last Thursday's TOT that, for today, here's Judomaster #94 [Charlton; April 1967] with another fine cover by Frank McLaughlin, the creator of Judomaster and his sidekick Tiger.

The lead story is "Tiger Hunt," 16 pages of our heroes taking on the enormous Mountain Story. Script, art, inks, it's all done by master of martial arts McLaughlin, who also wrote and pencilled a fact feature titled "Karate Man Vs The Bulls!" Legendary editor and artist Dick Giordano inked this two-page feature.

Rounding out the issue is the second part of the Sarge Steel tale, "Case of the 'Devil's Wife." Joe Gill wrote it, Bill Montes pencilled it, and Giordano inked it. Current Judomaster owner DC Comics can't collect this series fast enough to suit me.

What else do I have for you today? How about a pair of books without pictures?

Citizens of London

My two favorite subjects in high school were "English," which I hopefully got some use out of, and "History," which helped shaped my view of the world. With the exception of one arrogant, bullying teacher who seemed to believe literature went into free fall after Chaucer - a tale for another time - St. Edward High School provided me with excellent instruction in both subjects.

Forty years later, my non-comics, non-fiction reading includes quite a bit of history, with World War II being a frequent topic. Lynne Olson's Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour [Random House; $28] is my most recent journey into that conflict. It centers on three Americans - Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman, and John Gilbert Winant - who were pivotal in the British/American alliance that saved the world from Hitler and his Nazis.

Murrow was, of course, arguably the finest newscaster who ever informed the American public. His finest hour was also Britain's; he reported from London throughout the war, bringing the suffering and courage of the British people to his American audience.

Harriman was a playboy businessman turned diplomat/politician. He enters Olson's chronicle as President Roosevelt's Special Envoy to Europe. Though largely driven by his ego, he worked tirelessly to win American support for Britain's peril.

Winant is the most interesting of the trio. He was a teacher, a Republican politician, and a supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal. In 1941, he was named U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, replacing the pro-appeasement Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. Winant was beloved by the British people and with good cause.

Olson brings these and other fascinating people to life here. If Hollywood was, well, not the childish buffoon Hollywood is, this book would make for an epic movie, chock-full with wonderful roles for actors. Murrow and Winant are downright heroic, though, like Harriman, not without their personal peccadilloes. The politicians with which they interact are much the same.

I find it as shocking today as I did in high school that many Americans were vehemently opposed to our helping Great Britain in the pre-Pearl Harbor years. More focused than the history texts of my youth, Olson's book covers the political pressures facing both Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. And, once America does enter the war, Olson reveals tragic mistakes made by the alliance, mistakes which would cost lives and allow the monstrous evil of Joseph Stalin's Russia free reign in the immediate post-war Europe. There are moments in this book that will make your heart sink deep into the pit of your stomach.

Olson never allows the vast events of the world around Murrow, Harriman, and Winant to detract from their very human stories. In that focus, we see incredible bravery and unseemly ambition, great victories and bitter failures, life-affirming triumphs and heart-rending tragedies.

Remarkable history that it is, Citizens of London earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

ISBN 978-1-4000-6758-9

Heat Wave

Castle, an entertaining show which airs Monday nights on ABC, is about a famous writer (Richard Castle; played by Nathan Fillion) whose friends in high places have arranged for him to tag along with Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) to do research for his Nikki Heat novels. Like her inspiration, Heat is a detective with the NYPD saddled with a tag-along writer.

Heat Wave by "Richard Castle" [Hyperion; $19.99] is a novel that has considerable fun with its references to the TV show while delivering a solid mystery/thriller of crooked businessmen, trophy wives, vicious mobsters, and, of course, murder most foul. Just as in the TV series, there is sexual tension between detective Heat and magazine writer Jameson Rook. Unlike the TV series, the characters don't take long to do something about that. An author who puts his literary doppelganger in the sack with the parallel to his real-world colleague is mildly creepy, but Fillion's character does have that cocky side to him.

Here's where the novel disturbs me:

Kate Beckett's mother was brutally murdered and, for most of the first season, the murderer was unknown. Even after the killer was caught, his subsequent death prevented her from finding out who ordered her mother killed. Castle's initial explorations into what was a very personal unsolved crime caused a temporary rift between him and Beckett. It was her mother's murder that steered Beckett towards her law-enforcement career and it's not something anybody who cares about her would trivialize.

Which is what "Richard Castle" does in this book. It's not a major plot point, but Nikki Heat's mother was also murdered and her killer remains unknown and at large. I can't see the TV character making that tragic event part of his novel character's history. Though the novel was enjoyable, I could never shake my distaste over that element of the story. It felt wrong.

The actual author of Heat Wave remains unknown and at large; some speculate he's Stephen J. Cannell, who has appeared on Castle as one of Castle's poker pals. Whoever the author, this first in what will hopefully be a series of Nikki Heat books earns a respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

ISBN 978-1-4013-2382-0

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

Tony Isabella

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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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