Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"
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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Thursday, February 24, 2005
Here's how I've been feeling:
Here's how I'm feeling today:
I'm dealing with what I very much hope are the final stages of the Flu From Hell, but I do have a batch of reviews for you today. Let's get right to them.
HULK VISIONARIES: PETER DAVID
When the stories collected in HULK VISIONARIES: PETER DAVID VOL. 1 [Marvel; $19.99] were first published, I didn't pay all that much attention to them. It was 1987. I was running a comic book store/newsstand, working for a comics distributing company, writing comic books, and serving on the board of directors of a non-profit organization formed to honor Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in Cleveland, Ohio, the city where they gave birth to the Man of Steel.
I mostly skimmed comics in those days and INCREDIBLE HULK with its series of mostly undistinguished runs by a variety of writers would not have been a title I made time to read at that too-hectic time of my life. Later circumstances, not always pleasant, would ease my schedule a bit and, in turn, allow me to better appreciate the rest of David's 100-plus-issue run on the series. If memory serves, once Bruce Banner's surly alter ego moved to Las Vegas, I was hooked. The book remained among my favorite super-hero titles throughout David's tenure.
So I find myself actually reading the stories which originally appeared in INCREDIBLE HULK #331-339 for the first time. Doing so, I was struck by the jumbled and uninteresting continuity David had inherited from previous writers and how, as he dutifully wrapped up those story threads, he was still able to inject intriguing ideas of his own into the mix.
We have the insufferable Hulkbusters and the creative vacuum of turning someone else (Rick Jones) into a Hulk, but we also have the clever reintroduction of the Leader into the series, some neat exploration of the physiological/psychological hows and whys of the Hulk, and some ghoulishly fun villains in Half-Life, the Stalker, and Mercy. At this point in the stories, I'm not thrilled with the Bruce/Betty/Ramon triangle - Ramon being the ex-husband Betty never told us about - but "Quality of Life," a story about spousal abuse, makes up for such minor sins. Even an appearance by X-Factor, back when the original X-Men were going by that name and pretending to hunt down mutants - truly one of the most offensive ideas to come from Marvel at the time - is much better than anyone could have had a right to expect.
In addition to the delights of seeing David grow as a writer, this volume gives us a glimpse at Todd McFarlane's formative years. His storytelling is fairly straightforward, though there are places where it's very exciting. The quality of the actual drawing varies from issue to issue and even scene to scene, but, in all fairness, the inking never does McFarlane's work justice. Jim Saunders III is clearly the best match, which doubtless explains why he settled in as the title's regular inker.
Definitely noteworthy is the one issue drawn by John Ridgway, whose work had been appearing in 2000 AD. The story, featuring the afore-mentioned Stalker, is more moody than super-hero flamboyant, but it's also the best-drawn issue in the collection. Writer David would be taking the Hulk in surprising directions during his stay; occasionally, as with this tale, the art would follow suit in most welcome fashion.
There are much better stories to come, but HULK VISIONARIES: PETER DAVID VOL. 1 offers readers stories that are entertaining and which also have historical value, the latter especially true when you consider the impact David and McFarlane would have on comics in the 1990s and beyond. On our scale of zero to five, that earns the book an impressive four Tonys.
What were the good folks at Fantagraphics thinking when they decided to publish Leah Hayes' HOLY MOLY [$4.95], a black-and-white sketchbook of drawings the artist is said to have done during class time? That's the question this item inspires.
I confess to be a sucker for darn near anything which uses the classic composition notebook as a design element. I spent hours in boring classes staring at those swirling black shapes so akin to a Jack Kirby jaunt through the Negative Zone or a Steve Ditko detour through mystical dimensions. That design is imprinted on my inner mind, much as a cub knows its mother. Indeed, that design is why I was initially so eager to check out HOLY MOLY.
My disappointment was great. The art isn't interesting enough to hold my attention past the first several pages. No great themes rise from the collection of images nor, for that matter, any minor ones. If there's substance here, it eludes me. If the images were meant to do no more than delight my eyes, they also failed in that regard. It's a book of doodles. So what?
As I have done often in the past, I applaud Fantagraphics for its willingness to pursue new and exciting work. But simply taking chances doesn't score any points with me.
HOLY MOLY fails to earn even a single Tony.
Mike Bromberg's VOLTON FANZINE #1 [$7] is a bit pricey for the quality of story and reproduction as well as its diminutive format: 28 eight-by-five-and-a-half-inch pages. On the plus side, the four rare stories collected herein are presented in full-color, just as in their early 1940s appearances.
Volton - the Human Generator - was one of many back-up strips in Holyoke's CAT-MAN COMICS. Bromberg cites the Volton tales from issues #8, 10, and 11 as the first published comic book stories by Joe Kubert. The artist says the stories were written and drawn in 1939 or 1940 when he was 13-14 years old, but not published until 1942. They are quite remarkable works for such a young artist, but far from what Kubert would be creating even a few short years in the future.
Volton is a bizarre and gloriously goofy character. He only appeared in a handful of tales, his origin was never revealed - I'm not sure he's as human as his nickname would indicate - and he has no supporting cast. As near as I can figure, Volton lives in the antenna of the Empire State Building. His adventures are so-so at best, but he's the kind of super-hero who might be fun to play with if I had an artist and a market for any such stories I might write. That assumes, of course, that Volton has passed into public domain in the half-century-plus since these stories appeared.
Digression. I often come across oddball super-hero/adventure characters which may or may not be in the public domain. Sometimes these comics spark a notion in my head as to things I could do with the characters. Is this something my readers or, as importantly, some publisher, might be interested in seeing from me? I'm open to encouragement. End of digression.
In addition to the three Kubert stories, Bromberg also gives us an exceedingly odd Volton tale by Sol Brodsky wherein the hero bamboozles a booming western town into retaining an aging sheriff who, courageous though he may be, is clearly not up to the demands of his job.
What happens when the next bad guys show up?
Bromberg's heart is in the right place. His love for the old yarns is obvious from his informative and respectful text material on the zine's inside covers. But that seven-buck price tag is hard for me to get around.
VOLTON FANZINE #1 picks up two Tonys.
If you'd like to order VOLTON or other similar fanzines from Bromberg, you should e-mail him at:
ARCHIE DIGEST #214 [$2.39] offers a hundred pages of fun for two bucks and change. Regular readers of this column know I find the Archie comics and digest a refreshing change of page from their more intense neighbors on the comics racks.
This time out, we get the usual mix of entertaining tales with many of them reflecting mild real-world matters. In "Let's Hear It For Veggies," the Riverdale High staff worries about what the kids are eating. Archie and the gang test the business world in "Intern Concern." In "That's the Meal Ticket," one of two new stories in this issue, we see the very familiar problem of getting the family together for dinner. This new story is by writer Mike Pellowski, penciller Pat Kennedy, and inker Jon D'Agostino.
Other notable stories deal with Veronica's sudden infatuation with Dilton and Reggie's interest in a comely dental hygienist. A less satisfying tale has Betty getting into JANE EYRE, only to toss the book aside to be Archie's second choice for a date. Come on, Betty, you should have more self-esteem than that!
Also worth mentioning are the surprising headlines from a one-page gag strip:
In case you can't make it out, they read:
MAYOR QUIMBY TO RUN AGAIN
RIVERDALE ROCKETS BEAT SPRINGFIELD
Wouldn't the world be a much happier place if Archie and Bongo Comics got together for an ARCHIE/SIMPSONS crossover?
ARCHIE DIGEST #214 gets three Tonys.
That's a wrap for this edition of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back soon with more news, views, and reviews.
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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.
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