Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"
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for Saturday, August 2, 2003
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1549:
"The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker."
I'm writing this column a few weeks before I leave for Comic-Con International, but it should "hit the streets" the same week as the show. I'm looking forward to meeting my readers face-to-face, catching up on the lives of old friends, signing as many Isabella-written comics as you'd like me to sign, and attempting to answer your questions as completely, honestly, and succinctly as possible. "Succinctly" is important because I have this mad dream of getting my voice to last through the entire convention.
San Diego will be the fifth (of eight) stops on the 2003 Tony Isabella Farewell Tour and, yes, that's really what I intended for this year's conventions to be. On a creative level, it's a process wherein I've been rethinking much of what I've done in comics these past three decades and determining what, if anything, I want to do in years to come. On a physical level, it's the last time I want to spend so much time away from my Sainted Wife Barb and our kids. On a professional level, it's the embracing of a personal credo of how I want to conduct my business. It's as much a beginning as it is an ending...and I'm finding the experience to be both liberating and exciting.
One thing is certain. The comics art form excites me as no other medium does. Even as I grow increasingly weary of publishers who seemingly define creativity as rearranging the casts of their super-hero comics like action figures on the shelf - they may look cool, but they are naught but lifeless toys - I am thrilled by the influx of comics from distant shores and the vitality of home-grown creators who either go their own way or, amazingly, transcend the institutionalized banality of the corporations which publish their stories.
It comes down to this:
I love comics, and, as long as there are great comics crafted by honest creators, the romance continues!
This past weekend, I went to a tiny and not-particularly-well-run Walden Books store located in a medium-sized mall. The Sainted One was looking for an author's two exercise books. We found them, albeit with some difficulty because they weren't being displayed in the same sections of the store.
Two displays in the store were designated "graphic novels" and that clearly meant "manga" to the store manager. There were other non-manga GNs and albums, but they'd been placed helter-skelter in the "entertainment arts," "humor," and "science-fiction" sections. During the fifteen minutes we were in the store, I was the only one I saw looking at any of them.
I'm reading a lot of manga these days because I love so many things about it, especially the variety of genre to be found there. Getting a 200-page chunk of story for ten bucks or less is also a powerful attraction for me, though I occasional wince at the slow pace of some of the series.
The fine folks at Tokyopop sent me a box of first volumes of various series and I've been merrily making my way through them in between chauffeuring Eddie and Kelly to their summer activities and writing columns. All of the books are "authentic manga," reading right-to-left, measuring a comfortable 7-1/2" by 5", and possessing decent production values. In short, they are well-made books which deliver considerable bang-for-your-bucks. Of course, the rest test is how good they are.
Cue the reviews.
CLAMP SCHOOL DETECTIVES was my favorite of the five volumes I read this week. Produced by Clamp studio, of which Nanese Ohkawa (stories/scripts) is the de facto head, DETECTIVES is filled with amusingly exaggerated concepts, likeable heroes, and exciting, non-violent challenges for those heroes. Toykopop rates the book "A" for all ages and that's right on the money.
The Clamp School is the most delightful outrageous element of the stories. It's a nation unto itself, educating the finest minds from pre-school through graduate work. Exemplary students at the school acquire a celebrity status, as is the case with the officers of the elementary school division.
Sixth-grader Nokuru Imonoyama (class chairman) is the world's smartest kid. Fifth-grader Suoh Takamura (class secretary) is a martial arts master. Fourth-grader Akira Ijyuin (class treasurer) is an accomplished detective and thief...and even has his own solo series. The trio forms their detective agency with the stated goal of helping women in distress. Their weapons are good hearts, keen minds, and personal wealth just a notch or two below the fortunes of Scrooge McDuck and Richie Rich.
The four stories in this initial volume find the lads helping an elderly woman being cheated out of her family home, recovering an important school file, finding a beloved lost pet, and accepting a challenge from a cold-hearted fellow student. The formality and politeness of the boys threw me at first, but they proved to be as entertaining as the most raucous of manga heroes.
The art also took a bit of getting used to. It's very "soft" in design, the detectives looking somewhat feminine in their short pants and with their immaculate hair. From the cover illustration, I mistook the heroes for girls, but that misconception faded once I started reading the stories.
Besides the actual stories, this first volume also contains a small fold-out color poster, a short behind-the-scenes look at the book's creators (in comics form), and an interesting explanation of some of the terms and traditions seen in the book. These made the volume an even better value.
Regular readers of this column know I rate the items I review on a scale of zero to five "Tonys." I've been miserly with these disembodied darlings in recent months, but CLAMP SCHOOL DETECTIVES earns a full five Tonys. It's fun stuff.
Based on the very successful anime series, COWBOY BEBOP takes us to a future where Earth has been reduced to a hovel, mankind has expanded throughout the Solar System, and the vast gap between the legitimate police and the territory within their jurisdiction is filled by bounty hunters who themselves are often on the wrong side of the law. The spaceship Bebop is home to three bounty hunters, who don't always work together, and a teenage hacker.
The BEBOP anime has been recommended to me often, and I still plan to give it a go, but the manga struck me as little more than just another sci-fi hybrid. It's "bounty hunters in space," kin to SPACE WESTERN and other odd comics pairings of the 1950s and 1960s. I could get past that quickly if the characters were interesting or likeable, but I found them to be neither.
Despite my lack of interest in the basic COWBOY BEBOP concept, I thought two of the volume's stories rose above it. "We Will Rock You" had bounty hunter Spike Spiegel scamming his way into a prison to spring an inmate...and the inmate turned out to be an intriguing character with an equally intriguing back story. That was followed by "Cheap Trick," which took a few satirical shots at the "reality" shows which have infected our airwaves. Neither was a great story, but both had their moments and were worth reading.
Rated "T" for "Teen Age 13+", COWBOY BEBOP earns three Tonys. Some readers will like it far better than I did.
Of the books I received from Toykopop, Sanami Matoh's FAKE was the one I was most looking forward to reading. Police procedurals are among my favorite fiction whether in books like Ed McBain's 87TH PRECINCT novels or television shows like HILL STREET BLUES and NYPD BLUE. The back cover copy had my attention:
Meet Ryo and Dee, two New York City cops with an attraction for action--and each other. When Ryo, a soft-spoken officer, joins the NYPD's 27th precinct, he's soon partnered up with Dee--a cocky, confident cop with attitude to spare.
Combining the "maverick cops" bit with a budding gay romance has great potential...though, to be accurate, Dee is bisexual and, at this point in the series, Ryo doesn't seem certain of his sexual orientation. However, the execution to date hasn't live up to the intriguing concept.
Matoh's NYPD doesn't feel right to me. For one thing, Dee's advances are so blatant he'd be facing sexual harassment charges on a daily basis, not to mention that actual gay (or bisexual) police officers, whether they are out or not, tend to be more circumspect in their on-the-job behavior. These scenarios remind me of those hilarious misuses of the English language seen in Japanese ads, where English words are used as a design element and don't quite make sense. You can see examples of what I mean at:
There are elements I like in FAKE. Ryo becomes the guardian of a "street punk" named Bikky and a friend to a young pickpocket named Carol. The kids are interesting and give the series a hint of comic-book "families" like the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, the Golden Age Daredevil and the Little Wise Guys, and, of course, the kid cowboys of BOYS' RANCH. Hmm...I wonder how much trouble I could get into pitching a modern version of the Guardian/Newsboys to DC/Vertigo.
FAKE is "OT" for "Older Teen Age 16+". It held my interest, but it has to get more real and more involving to keep it. I give this first volume a hopeful three Tonys.
My son Eddie is into cars in a big way these days, so I gave him first dibs on INITIAL D, Shuichi Shigeno's popular series about street racing. His reaction after reading the first book was that it was "okay," but that the story was moving way too slowly for his taste. It takes ten chapters to get the series hero to the start of his first actual race.
INITIAL D is rated "OT" for "Older Teen Age 16+", which seems too cautious to me. Perhaps the later volumes in the series will contain more mature content, but I didn't see any evidence of that in this first one.
Tak Fujiwara is a teenager working a couple of jobs so he can buy his own car. He's an undistinguished student, barely ranking on the school social chart, but he's attracted the attention of one of the prettiest girls he knows. His best friend is insane about cars and street racing, which activity, in their neck of the woods, is represented by the treacherous roads of Mount Akina.
Tak's tofu delivery job necessitates his traveling those roads on a nightly basis. Without trying or realizing it, the teen has learned skills which it takes other drivers years and even decades to master. The local Akina Speed Stars want Tak on their team and the legendary Red Suns of Akagi want to test their skills against him. At the end of the first book, it looks like both teams will get what they want.
I liked INITIAL D more than my son did. I'm used to the oft-glacial pacing of manga series and, though my interest in racing is limited, I appreciate that the series features yet another genre we no longer see in American comics. With solid storytelling, decent art, and promising characters, INITIAL D picks up four out of the possible five Tonys.
Many of the elements of Ken Akamatsu's LOVE HINA, rated "OT" for "Older Teen Age 16+", were familiar to me. Keitaro Urashima is struggling to get into Tokyo University, having failed the entrance exam on two occasions. He moves into a fabulous hotel owned by his grandmother, figuring it'll be a quiet place to study for his next assault on the exam. What he doesn't know is that the hotel is now a girls dorm and, before we get very far into the book, he ends up as the dorm's new caretaker. The girls alternately loathe and love him, depending on what turns his life takes. Misunderstandings and mishaps are par for the course, though they offer end up with one or more of the girls unfairly calling Keitaro a pervert. None of this is groundbreaking stuff.
However, Akamatsu tells his stories so earnestly that I kept giving him the benefit of doubt and, by the end of this first book, I found that I liked Keitaro and the girls very much. They do make mistakes--after all, they are young people (ages 13-19) living on their own--but there isn't a one of them who wouldn't be welcome in my own home. So why not spend a couple of pleasant hours reading their comics adventures?
LOVE HINA gets four Tonys. Of the five books reviewed above, it and CLAMP SCHOOL DETECTIVES are the series mostly likely to get me back for their second volumes.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1549 [July 25, 2003], which shipped on July 7. The cover story reported the return of Tony Caputo (of Now Comics) to publishing; the second lead that CBG columnist/Mile High Comics head honcho Chuck Rozanski had been named the recipient of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's 2003 Defender of Liberty Award.
I half-sighed/half-yawned at the Caputo news. The handful of worthy titles which came out of Now didn't have legs, often due to what seemed to me to be spectacularly bad publishing decisions on Caputo's part. His most recent effort was a mediocre volume on the art and mechanics of storytelling, which was rescued from complete uselessness only by the guest contributions of Harlan Ellison, Jim Steranko, and the late Wally Wood. His own comics writing and art never did much for me. Activate sigh and yawn.
Even so, I do not ridicule Caputo's desire to return to comics creation and publishing. He may have learned from his mistakes and surprise me. If not, he can hardly produce comics worse than what we get from the institutions. Since he is presumably expending his own time and money, I wish him the best of luck in a market which remains perilously short of that commodity.
I have found Chuck to be one of the best people in the comics industry. He's hard-working, intelligent, and thoughtful...and he has come through for the CBLDF time and time again. He definitely deserves to be honored by the organization and I couldn't be more pleased for him. Way to go, Chuck.
San Diego's Comic-Con International turned out to be the fifth of six stops on the official Tony Isabella Farewell Tour. Due to circumstances I'll relate in a bit, I had to cancel my appearance at next weekend's WizardWorld Chicago. And, due to promoter Lance Moore of Houston's Lone Star conventions being injured and needing surgery, that September show has been canceled. That leaves but a single convention: Mid-Ohio-Con.
Comic-Con International was all I could have hoped for and far more. Even though I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to see at the event, I saw literally hundreds of friends and readers, some of whom I hadn't seen in decades, some I had *never* met face-to-face before. I'll be writing about my convention (and subsequent family vacation) adventures in my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns at Perpetual Comics. Look for the first report on Monday.
I did manage to keep my voice throughout the convention, even though it seemed like I spent hours answering questions about the tour and my future plans. But I was answering those questions as much for myself as for those who asked them and, as with the entire tour to date, it's been educational for me.
Monday, July 21, the day after the convention, found me in Los Angeles and reunited with my wife Barb and our children, Eddie and Kelly. They'd been vacationing in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah while I was doing my San Diego thing. The plan was for us to spend the next few days in Los Angeles, then drive to Las Vegas for the last two days of our trip.
Back in our hometown of Medina, Ohio--and surrounding areas--the "storm of the century" was devastating families less fortunate than us. Two people in nearby Hudson died when their underground garages flooded and, while those were the worst losses, damage was widespread throughout the region.
Amazingly, we lucked out. Some improvements a neighbor and I had made to a problem spot in my house didn't keep my laundry room from taking on water, but minimized the damage to the point where it wasn't even a concern. More importantly, our basement sump pump worked magnificently. We didn't get a drop of water down there and that's where I keep the bulk of my accumulation of comics, books, magazines, and so forth.
We missed one bullet, but the second one got us on our return home. On Sunday, July 27, less than 24 hours after we entered our home for the first time in nearly two weeks, another fierce storm hit the area. It wasn't as bad as the first ones, and it was only a few hours in duration, but, this time, things didn't go nearly as well for us.
Our basement sump pump shorted out and, in minutes, we had two inches of water all over the basement. Most of my stuff was up on pallets and survived, but several thousand dollars worth of books and magazines were flooded.
I'm not going to get into a blow-by-blow of what happened that evening, mostly because I've already written a CBG column about it. It will appear in CBG #1553...and be posted here a few weeks after that publication. All you need to know now is this:
We were very lucky. We could have suffered far more loss and probably would have without the efforts of our friends, neighbors, and relatives. We're doing just fine.
I made the decision...regretfully...to cancel my appearance at WizardWorld Chicago and allocate that money/time to doing what has to be done to set things at home as right as possible. I'll miss seeing my friends and readers there, but, among the things I keep trying to impart in these columns, is the notion that a person must know and set his or her priorities. What I want to do isn't always (or even often) what I need to do.
Sadly, I couldn't get the news of this cancellation into CBG in time for it to see print before WizardWorld. To somewhat temper the disappointment of those who come to the CBG booth looking for me, I have sent editor Maggie Thompson fifty or so Isabella-written issues of the 1980s HAWKMAN...which I have additionally defaced by affixing my name to the covers. If you visit the CBG booth, one of these comics is yours for the asking while the supply lasts. It's not much, but it's the best I could do on short notice.
Start making your MID-OHIO-CON plans now. You won't want to miss out on the final stop of the Farewell Tour.
MORON OF THE MONTH
My diplomatic skills are, to put it mildly, sometimes absent without leave. Over a decade ago, I devoted a CBG column to those I'd deemed the "morons of the month" and one of them, a delusional, functional illiterate tries to annoy me to this day...and I didn't even name names in the column. The postal authorities even opened a file on him in his pre-online days and I occasionally keep them posted as to his whereabouts. A good rule for stalkers is to *not* put your address (or that of your parents) on the threatening notes you send to people.
While this character has never been more than the most minor of irritants, I figured regularly naming "morons of the month" was not necessarily a brilliant move on my part. But, you know, there are times when a man's gotta do what he's got to do...and this is one of those times.
Keep in mind the tragic deaths from the flooding suffered in Hudson, Ohio, mentioned several paragraphs up. The following ran in the AKRON BEACON JOURNAL's "Voice of the People" letters column on Wednesday, July 30, written by a ABJ reader living in Cuyahoga Falls:
The next time Hudson wants to host a Harry Potter festival, it should think again. On June 20, the city had thousands of Potter fanatics parading their enthusiasm for sorcery downtown. Parents were leading the way in this witchcraft. I was there with a team to oppose that way of life and belief system. I held a sign that said: "Those who practice magic arts (sorcery) - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur."
It should be noted that the ABJ didn't post this letter on its website as it did with the others published on that day. I usually get the paper's first edition delivered to my home; I suspect this exercise in heartless imbecility was cut from any latter editions of the publication...probably once someone with an ounce of brains read the letter.
Many people mocked me.
Thirty days later, they are engulfed in a flood. This should serve as an example to other communities not to lead the way in evil. If you need another signature from God, perhaps a zigzag, lightning-bolt shape burned into Hudson's landscape would be appropriate, just like the one burned onto Harry's forehead.
Now repent and turn to Jesus.
Or you'll need many fire extinguishers, not just an ark, to escape the floodwaters.
I'm not surprised at a human being's ability to embrace such delusions. The Bush mob and the religious right count on folks not using the brains God gave them. What does surprise me is that any editor at the ABJ would think this was a letter worthy of further dissemination. It's wacky theology at best and absolutely cruel at its worth. In a truly fair and balanced world, all decent people would look the other way while I dragged this moron from his home in Cuyahoga Falls and beat him with a large stick.
The obscenities that are the extreme and religious rights in this country have led me to rethink my moratorium on naming morons of the month. Send me your candidates for consideration for this "award"...while I go out and cut me some really large and serious sticks. A man has to do what a man has to do.
Thank you for spending part of your weekend with me. I'll be back soon with more stuff.
<< 07/26/2003 | 08/02/2003 | 08/09/2003 >>
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THE "TONY" SCALE
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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