TONY’S TIPS #186

I am the comics guy in my home city of Medina, Ohio. I’ve been the comics guy in a great many other places and situations as well. I suspect many of you have been the comics guy or gal in your city, neighborhood, office, school, what have you. I’m the comics guy in Medina because I have worked in comics for over four decades, but also because the local newspaper has written about me and my comics garage sales on several occasions.

When you’re the comics guy, people expect that you have seen every comics-related movie and that you saw them on the day they opened. They want to know what you thought of them before they take out the second mortgage that will allow them to go to the theater and watch the movie for themselves. I have Medina friends and neighbors who still feel betrayed because I never saw either Man of Steel (2013) or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I may or may not see them in the near future, but that’s another discussion.

I saw Doctor Strange (2016) nine days after it opened. I thought it was pretty darn sweet on several levels and wrote about it briefly in my “Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing.” In the interest of conserving my critical resources, here’s what I wrote there:

“[Though] part of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, it gave a self-contained story of a hero’s journey from self-centered egotist to selfless hero. Even when he’s playing a jerk, it’s easy to like actor Benedict Cumberbatch, but, by the end of this movie, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. Again.

“Rachel McAdams deserves credit for her understated but wonderful performance as Christine Palmer. She holds her own with such movie heavyweights as Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo).

“The special effects are spectacular and fill so much of the screen and running time that I was exhausted when I walked out of the theatre. The filmmakers did a great job bringing Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s imaginative drawings to cinematic life. But, without the flawed and yet glorious humanity that comes from co-creator Stan Lee’s contributions to the original comic, the movie would’ve been little more than a big light show. An awesome light show, to be sure, but just a light show. As always, it’s the human elements that make for a great super-hero comic book, movie or TV show.”

Doctor Strange isn’t available for purchase as a holiday gift, but the movie is still running in theaters. Take a “Marvel Magic” break from all the hustle and bustle of the season by taking someone you love to the film. Oh, yeah, and sit through all the end credits to see the extra scenes.

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doctor-strange-omnibus

If you’re an old-timer like me and feeling nostalgic for the early years of the Master of the Mystic Arts, or if you’ve come to Doctor Strange via the movie and want to learn more about him, there’s no better starting place than Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 [Marvel; $75]. This glorious 456-page hardcover book collects the original Doctor Strange stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Those classic adventures appeared in Strange Tales #110-111, Strange Tales #114-146, and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2.

As Dean Mullaney writes in his introduction, Doc Strange was unlike the other Marvel super-heroes. His stories started out as five-page episodes not unlike the anthology supernatural chillers that ran in titles like Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish before the coming of the super-heroes. Doc’s origin was a tight eight pages and, for most of his Strange Tales run, his adventures got ten pages and no more. But even the shorter stories introduced readers to amazing characters like the Ancient One, Baron Mordo, Nightmare, and, most especially the dreaded Dormammu. Lee gave a literary weight to the stories while Ditko used his art to created the weirdest worlds of all. With the coming of Dormammu, almost god-like in his power and wrath, Doctor Strange moved beyond his fellow Marvel super-heroes. His concerns were not with saving a city or a nation or even Earth itself. He had become the champion of everything, both the seen and the unseen.

True confession. Once I started being able to buy Strange Tales on a regular basis – it was harder to find every issue of my favorite comic books in the 1960s – I read the Doctor Strange stories before I read the cover-featured Human Torch stories.

In addition to all that Lee/Ditko excitement, this omnibus volume is packed with special features. Every cover, even if Doc Strange wasn’t prominent on them. Every letters page. Every reprint cover. A gallery of Doctor Strange pin-ups by some of the most astonishing artists to ever draw the Sorcerer Supreme. It doesn’t take a master magician to figure out Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 is this week’s pick of the week.

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 would also make a great gift for any old and new fan of the character. Don’t let the price scare you on account of InStock Trades, which sponsors this very column, always offers great prices on books like this. May the Vishanti watch over you and your loved ones at this happiest and most mystical time of the year.

ISBN 978-0-7851-9924-3

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scarlet-witch

In keeping with the “magic” theme of this week’s column, I want to share a few quick thoughts about Marvel’s Scarlet Witch #9 [$3.99]. As you can tell by the Civil War II logo David Aja has brilliantly tied into his cover art, this is a tie-in to the crossover event. That the crossover event bores the snot out of me is irrelevant to this mini-review because writer James Robinson actually uses this mandatory involvement to good effect.

Robinson is at his best here. He delivers a satisfying done-in-one story that ties in with what’s been going on in the series from the start, with the “magic crisis” shown in Doctor Strange and several other Marvel titles and with this new civil war between the Marvel heroes. Yet none of that overshadows the real story of this issue: a turning point in the relationship of siblings Wanda Maximoff and speedster brother Pietro aka Quicksilver.

Wanda’s position on the “civil war” between Captain Marvel and Tony Stark is well thought out, even though it’s a position I disagree with. Her position puts her into conflict with Pietro, which allows Robinson to examine the life-long conflicts between the siblings. Portrayed by artist Joelle Jones and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, that simmering pot explodes in emotionally-charged images that are nothing short of stunning.

Scarlet Witch #9 is a magnificent issue. It’s a fine example of how even “corporate” comic books can rank with the best of our medium. It should be recognized and praised as such.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #185

Maybe it’s the approaching holiday season, but I’m in such a great mood this week that I’m writing about not one, not two, but three picks of the week. Do you hear that, Santa? Is that worth another check in the “nice” column?

Mark Crilley’s Brody’s Ghost Collected Edition [Dark Horse Books; $24.99] gathers all six volumes of the supernatural thriller by the creator of Akiko and Miki Falls. The former is one of my all-time favorite comic-book series, one I used to read to my children when they were young enough to let me do that sort of thing. The latter is a love story with the heroine being a high school senior and the hero a young man with a secret. Crilley has also written books on drawing comics and manga. Simply put, he is one of the most skilled creators of our time.

Brody’s Ghost is a 600-page epic combining the search for a serial killer with a love story and supernatural action. Brody is having a bad life, losing his girlfriend, his job and even his home. But his world gets turned even more upside down when he sees a ghostly girl, gets recruited into her quest to bring the serial killer to justice and discovers he has hidden powers. The girl isn’t telling him everything, the killer is as mysterious and scary as any you’ve seen on shows like Criminal Minds and the powers, well, they might be pushing his former life even further away.

Manga is a big influence on Crilley’s work; he’s taught English in Fukushima, Japan, and Taiwan. But his mastery of the comic art form is evident in his instructional books and videos. Just as this epic adventure combines elements of several genres, Crilley brings all his diverse influences and skills to bear in this story. He creates characters that remain with you and puts them into situations that keep you on the edge of your seat.

As the holidays draw ever closer, I’m always considering whether or not the items I review here would make good gifts and for whom they would make good gifts. Brody’s Ghost strikes me as something that would appeal to manga fans and mystery fans alike. It’s not unlike a C.S.I. procedural if you switch the science for the supernatural. There are clues and they must be followed. Stick with this story. I assure you it will satisfy you and then some.

ISBN 978-1-61655-901-4

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tarzan

Tarzan is a classic character whose long existence has become more than a little problematic in today’s world. The “white jungle god” notion is often offensive. That Thomas Yates’ Tarzan: the Beckoning [Dark Horse Books; $19.99] avoids that pitfall is a credit to the writer/artist’s talents and sensibilities.

This is a Tarzan who is not the white jungle god of all Africa. He is a confident, powerful man who is more at home in Africa than he is anywhere else in the world. He is a man who moves through Africa with obvious respect for its people, its creatures and its wonders. He does not project himself as any kind of ruler, but as a man who follows the dictates of his conscience and would be a friend to all those of good character.

Yeates is no stranger to classic heroes, having worked on Zorro and Prince Valiant. In this collection of his seven-issue Tarzan series from 1992-93, the immortal hero and his equally immortal wife have been living in America and battling the illegal trade in ivory. Tarzan and the elephants of his African home have long shared an astonishing bond of friendship and, when he discovers the harvested tusks of his brothers, his rage is scarcely controllable. Thus we get an adventure with one foot planted firmly in the modern world of corporate greed and individual malice.

There’s more to the story. We learn how Tarzan and Jane came to be immortal. We see the machinations of a trickster god facing death. We enter a lost civilization. Yeates delivers action, romance and suspense. It’s a thrilling tale.

Tarzan: the Beckoning should be a pleasing gift to fans of Tarzan and his creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. It should also be a terrific gift for fans of Yeates, of which I am definitely one. That’s why it’s the second of this week’s three picks of the week.

ISBN 978-1-61655-981-6

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misty

Misty by Pat Mills and others [Rebellion; $19.99] gives us a look at the influential girls horror comic published in the U.K. shortly after the launch of 2000 AD. As Mills relates in his foreword, the girls comics always sold better than the boys comics. As for me, I have always been intrigued by and enjoyed the weekly format of such titles and still hope that, one day, I will get the opportunity to write for one of them.

The Shirley Bellwood cover is a alluring portrait of Misty herself, the host of the weekly. To be the best of my limited knowledge, Misty didn’t star in her own feature but introduced features within the title. The weekly ran for 101 issues from February 4, 1978 to January 12, 1980 before being incorporated into the longer-running Tammy. This sort of merger was common in British weeklies.

This trade paperback collects two serials. “Moonchild” by Mills and John Armstrong tells of Rosemary Black, a girl with strange powers and being raised by a mother driven by her own more earthly demons. Mills says it was inspired by Stephen King’s Carrie, but, compared to that classic work, it’s fairly tame. Still, Mills always comes through with a riveting story and this is no exception.

The book’s second and even better serial is “The Four Faces of Eve” by Malcolm Shaw with art by Brian Delaney. Eve Marshall is a girl with no memory of her past, a past deliberately hidden from her by her parents…and that’s all you’re getting from me because I don’t want to spoil even the slightest of the great twists and turns that await you in this story.

Who would be a good recipient of the gift of Misty? Besides me, who already has his copy? Comics historians curious about the British weeklies leap to mind as do devotees of romance comics, even though neither of these two serials includes a romantic element. It just seems to me like something romance fans would enjoy.

Here’s hoping Rebellion continues to mine the comics libraries they have acquired for more books like this one.

ISBN 978-1-78108-452-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #184

My pick of the week will come as no surprise to readers aware of my manic love for the seriously weird. Craig Yoe’s Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real! [IDW; $39.99] collects over two-dozen comics tales of the 1940s and 1950s starring some of the strangest super-heroes of all time. Where do I begin?

There’s the Hand, who is just that and nothing more, a disembodied hand that can increase its size in its wart against crime. There’s Captain Hadacol, the spokeshero for a muscle-building drink which was at least 12% alcohol. No wonder kids loved it!

Religious heroes are well represented by Kismet, the Man of Fate, who was likely the first Muslim super-hero in comic books, and the Deacon, who wore a priest’s outfit and had a young male sidekick. The famous Madam Fatal was a guy who dressed up like an old lady to beat the bejabbers out of bad guys. Rainbow Boy left a rainbow in his wake as he flew across the sky and could also mold his rainbows into objects. Jerry Siegel’s Nature Boy could request (not really command) the forces of nature to assist him against criminals and usually man-made menaces.

Yoe, who designed and edited this 328-page treasure, kicks things off with a fun, informative introduction. He also write intros for each of his super-hero assemblage. Captain Truth, who looked like a half-naked musketeer. Fantomah, the super-powered goddess whose head turned into a scary skull when he was really ticked off at the evil men she confronted. Kangaroo Man with his kangaroo sidekick. Yellowjacket, who fought crime with bees because he didn’t realize yellowjackets were wasps. Miss Liberty, who never appeared inside a comic book, just as a floating head shot in the logo of Miss Liberty Comics #1 and only.

Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real is enormous fun and would make a suitable gift for anyone who loves comics history, super-heroes or weird stuff in general. I recommend you read two or three stories a day, savoring the insanity without plunging full on into madness.

More goodness. Super Weird Heroes: Preposterous But True! [$39.99], a sequel to this wonderful tome, has already been scheduled for a March 2017 release. I am deliriously happy.

Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real:

ISBN 978-1631407451

Super Weird Heroes: Preposterous But True:

ISBN 978-1631408588

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love-addict

My “skip” of the week is Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater by Koren Shadmi [Top Shelf Productions; $24.99]. I don’t have any major complaints with the art or the dialogue. In service of a much better story, I would be fine with them. It’s the story itself that manages to bore and repulse me simultaneously. I think we need to throw up a warning here… 

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

Whiney animator “K” breaks up with his girlfriend. He turns into a sad sack until his man-slut friend turns him on to hookup service “Lovebug.” The animator starts going on many dates and sleeps with many women. This behavior makes him feel good about himself, except not really. He quickly becomes the sort of person I would avoid at all costs. Because he’s a jerk who thinks with his penis.

“K” sleeps around. He actually meets a terrific woman and dates her exclusively for a couple of months before he breaks up with her on account of he’s not through having random and indiscriminate sex. So indiscriminate that, after a drunken night of unprotected sex, he fears he may have contracted a STD. I would say it would serve him right, but he would have probably spread it with the same lack of maturity he shows throughout this graphic novel.

How bad does “K” become? Bad enough that he comes damn close to forcing himself on an unwilling and vulnerable date. I would have said he crossed the line into criminal behavior, but he suffers no consequences as a result of his behavior. I guess the author’s bar for criminal behavior is set higher than mine.

The final insult? Remember that terrific woman? Though pretty much sheer dumb luck he doesn’t deserve, “K” gets back together with her and the author wants us to believe they live happily ever after or some such. Although with this jerk, I figure his commitment-deficit syndrome will kick in within six months.

SPOILERS OVER
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The protagonist of Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater is an unlikeable toad. His closest friend is even worse. The women who he dates are a mixed bag, but lose points for using “Lovebug” to hook up with unlikeable toads like the protagonist. Realistic or not – and I suspect there’s more realism to this story than I would want to believe – this is the kind of graphic novel that makes me feel unclean after reading it. In short…not recommended.

Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater:

ISBN 978-1-60309-393-4

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legend-of-wonder-woman-1

Writer/artist Renae De Liz’s The Legend of Wonder Woman [DC; $3.99 per issue] is an impressive nine-issue re-telling of the Amazon’s origin, restored to its original World War II setting. It’s filled with human drama and otherworldly mythology with enough action to satisfy super-hero fans. But where De Liz shines is with the most human parts of the story.

When Amazon Princess Diana encounters downed pilot Steve Trevor, it is a life-changing moment. Her world suddenly becomes much bigger than the island of Themyscira and her sister warriors. Her entrance into the far more complicated outside world and her somewhat shaky attempts to find her place and meaning in that world are riveting. When Etta Candy comes on the stage, the drama is enlivened with a touch of humor and good old-fashion moxie.

I have no idea if this series fits into the old DC or the New 52 or Rebirth on any other existing take on DC’s super-heroes and I don’t particularly care if it does or not. These nine issues are a most satisfying story on their own. I’ll leave the continuity concerns to others.

De Liz’s writing and art are first-rate. Ray Dillon does everything else – inks, colors, lettering – and does it well. This is a great series that looks great, too. Check it out.

If you prefer to read comics in collected editions, you will have but a short wait for this one. The Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Origins [$29.99] will be released in hardcover any day now. I think it would be a swell holiday gift for the Wonder Woman in your life.

The Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Origins:

ISBN 978-1401267285

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #183

The MLJ Companion [TwoMorrows; $34.95] is a magnificently hefty softcover book by Rik Offenberger, Paul Castiglia and Jon B. Cooke, a 288-page tome which cover-promises “The Complete History of the Archie Comics Super-Heroes!” Given that history commenced with the 1940s and continues to this day, that’s quite the goal the writers set for themselves. That they achieves so much of that goal is why I’m making their volume my pick of the week.

Let’s start with sixty pages of classic Golden Age adventures that will be brand new to most readers, including myself. These stories present a pivotal adventures of the Black Hood, the origin tales of Steel Sterling and the Hangman, and thrillers starring the Shield and the Web. From that great start, The MLJ Companion reports on every incarnation of the company’s super-heroes, including a bunch that never saw the light of day.

From the 1930s and 1940s, we get a history of the heroes by noted comics expert Ron Goulart, the Black Hood’s adventures on radio and his own pulp magazine, an interview with key MLJ artist Irv Novick, the mercurial Super-Duck, and a wild photo article on MLJ’s super-heroes that ran in a racy magazine by the name of Close-Up. The  magazine was published by MLJ prior to the company’s transition to Archie Comics.

The 1950s and the 1960s kick off with the rather staid Adventures of the Fly and Adventures of the Jaguar before moving into the wild “high camp” exploits of Fly-Man, the Mighty Crusaders, and Mighty Comics Presents. There’s a quick look at the original Fly Man, who appeared in two 1941 issues of another publisher’s Spitfire Comics; a discussion of Archie’s absurd adaptation of The Shadow, and some thoughtful commentary on whether Jerry Siegel’s “high camp” writing was satirical or just plain awful. The section also covers Archie Andrews becoming Pureheart the Powerful, an honestly entertaining merger of super-heroes with teen humor; and the surprising amount of Mighty Crusaders merchandising of the era.

The chapters concerning the 1970s through today deal mostly with a number of ultimately false starts to reviving the Archie heroes by Archie and (twice) by DC Comics. Even those false starts make for intriguing reading. There are interviews with Kelley Jones, Brian Augustyn and others. There are six pages of the Fly script written by Steve Englehart in 1989. There’s an article on the Fly movie that was being pitched in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So much of this was new to me that I’m sure even more of it will be new to most readers…and that they will find it utterly fascinating. I might quibble about whether it’s a “complete” history, but it is, without question, an astonishing history of characters and concepts that intrigue readers to this day.

I recommend The MLJ Companion to all super-hero fans and students of that genre. If you’re looking for a holiday gift for that super-hero fan in your life, this book would be a good choice.

ISBN 978-1-60549-067-0

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troll-bridge

Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge with art by Colleen Doran [Dark Horse; $14.99] is a comics adaptation of a short story by one of our best writers. The back cover blurb describes Gaiman’s tale as a “tragic coming-of-age fantasy masterpiece” and while “masterpiece” might be a wee bit excessive, there is no doubt in my mind that this is one of those cracking good stories that sticks to that place in one’s heart where sighs originate.

Jack, the protagonist of the story, is neither a terribly good man nor a terribly bad man. In a childhood filled with imaginary beasts and ghosts, Jack, as a young man, means an actual troll who lives under a bridge in an area that will soon succumb to the “progress” of changing times. He strikes a bargain with the troll and, in some ways, that shapes the rest of his life.

Doran’s art is emotional and expressive as it tells the story with nary a misstep. Almost any of the pages would look magnificent on one’s wall. Todd Klein’s lettering enhances both the story and the art. This hardcover book would make a wonderful gift for those who love fantasy and great comics. I find it suitable for all ages, but your mileage might vary on that score.

ISBN 978-1-50670-008-3

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cage-1

I was excited by the prospect of a Luke Cage comic book written and drawn by Genndy Tartakovsky, whose work on TV shows and movies like Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Hotel Transylvania have given me great enjoyment. His notion of doing Cage in a short of animated black action movie of the 1970s sounded like fun. For me, however, something went wrong between the talented creator’s amusing concept and the actual comic book.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

Cage! #1 [$3.99] is a too-thin super-hero plot wrapped around some frantic-looking art. Cage runs around walking into scenes that make him look kinda sorta dumb. He finds out all the super-heroes have disappeared, except for the X-Men who show up looking for a missing Jean Grey. By the end of the issue, he’s found several old enemies have teamed up to take him down. Then he gets punched by a mystery man or monster.

SPOILERS OVER
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Cage! #1 fails because there’s no real substance to the issue. We get some delightful artwork and a few moderately funny gags. That’s all. It took me less than five minutes to read the issue. Which is lousy bang for your four bucks.

I’m not giving up on this limited series, but I’m not recommending it either. Try to borrow a friend’s copy and see if the comic book is too your liking. You may enjoy it more than I did.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #182

Len, A Lawyer in History: A Graphic Biography of Radical Attorney Leonard Weinglass [AK Press; $19] is exactly what its exceedingly long title says it is. It’s a riveting account of the life of one of the most selfless lawyers of them all, a lawyer who tirelessly devoted himself to the defense of liberal and radical clients, men and women who rarely had the means to pay him the kind of fees he could have gotten working for establishment law firms. Simply put, Weinglass was a hero.

This graphic biography is written and illustrated by Seth Tobocman, who has often devoted his talents to the same kinds of causes that Weinglass championed. Among his other accomplishments, Tobocman is a founder and regular contributor to World War 3 Illustrated. The magazine regularly address vital social issues in comics art form. It’s a favorite magazine of mine, one which demands my concentrated attention and thoughtful reflection.

Getting back to Weinglass, he was a constitutional law advocate who served as a captain judge advocate in the Air Force. Successfully defending a black soldier in a court martial trial did not win him accolades from his superior officers. I’m sure they were even more horrified by the clients he served when he return to civilian life and private practice. They included the Chicago 7, Pentagon Papers whistler blower Daniel Ellsberg, Angela Davis, Kathy Boudin, Abbie Hoffman, Mumia Abu-Jamal and, at the time of his death, the Cuban Five. I’m guessing few of my younger readers recognize any of those names…and that only a few more of my older readers recognize most of them. Their stories are worth studying.

Tobocman makes Weinglass come alive in this graphic biography. The book is divided into easy-to-digest chapters that allow the reader to consider and perhaps do their own research into these matters. “Their Second Chance,” Weinglass’ defense of and interactions with native American convict Jimi Simmons and activist Karen Rudolph, is the kind of story that should be on the big screen. It’s moving and unforgettable.

Len, A Lawyer in History is my pick of the week. It’s not going to be of interest to all comics readers, but I think it’s a terrific example of how our art form can bring a clarity and power to real events. I recommend it to readers who like to be challenged and, of course, to public and school libraries.

ISBN 978-1849352406

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avengers-fan-fiction

It may be too in-joke-oriented for comics readers who don’t explore every corner of online comics fandom, but I got a kick out of All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1 [$4.99] featuring “The Fan-Fiction World of Ms. Marvel.” That’s right. Ms. Marvel reads and even writes fan fiction about the heroes she works with on a nigh-daily basis. Ulp!

Many years ago, I loved the fan fiction stories of my dear friend Dwight Decker. His fiction featured fans of his creation. I loved it so much I wrote a prose tale set in his universe and with myself in a lead role. It is one of the very few things I’ve written that embarrasses me. I’ve written things that weren’t very good – it’s part of the learning process – but that story, unlike the others, still makes me cringe.

Ms. Marvel’s fan fiction is about the Marvel Universe in which she lives and battles for good. This annual reveals that fan fiction in a framing sequence by G. Willow Wilson and Mahmud Asrar and five short stories by Mark Waid and Chip Zdarsky, Natasha Allegri, Zac Gorman and Jay Fosgitt, Faith Erin Hicks and Scott Kurtz. It’s an interesting collection of tales.

Because I don’t read fan fiction for a variety of reasons, I can’t speak to the accuracy of these stories. However, I was especially taken aback by Waid and Zdarsky’s “The Once and Future Marvel,” an anti-feminist adventure which sadly reflects the often-misogynist attitudes of those who rail against creators and stories supporting social equality and justice. Darkly humorous, the story must have been a difficult one for Waid and Zdarsky to do.

The annual also has a cartoony She-Hulk tale, an anthropomorphic take on Marvel heroes, a wild “Squirrel Girl Vs. Ms, Marvel” match and a kind of sappy romance. I like this stuff because it stretches the super-hero envelope in a way that does not impact the ongoing universe. The clever conclusion of Wilson’s framing sequence made me laugh out loud. Points for that.

This All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual is an intriguing change of pace. It’s worth checking out if you’re a Marvel hero devotee or a creator/reader of fan fiction about those heroes.

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betty-boop

I know I saw Betty Boop as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. The morning and afternoon kid shows with hosts like the friendly, wise Captain Penny and the otherworldly Barnaby bought and showed cartoons by the bucket. I didn’t realized the squeaky-voiced Betty was supposed to be a Jazz Age flapper, but, in those days of black-and-white television and but three channels to choose from, a kid could be entertained by anything that moved across the screen in a lively gait. It was my introduction to animation, viewing cartoons created ten and even twenty years before my birth.

Dynamite’s Betty Boop #1 [$3.99] captures the spirit of those old cartoons and improves them. Roger Langridge’s “Enter the Lizard” is a sprightly and mildly subversive take on the Max Fleischer Studios toons wherein the devil himself seeks the soul of innocent Betty. The script includes spiffy musical numbers that make me wish the comic came with a soundtrack. They look like so much fun.

The images and storytelling of artist Gisele Lagace are wonderful. Her drawings are animated. Her panel-to-panel flow is spot on and lively. Without distracting from the story, her work is so good it lingers in my mind from page to page.

Betty Boop #1 is a great start to this new series. I don’t plan on missing an issue. It could just be the little kid in me, but I may be falling in love.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #181

Sam Glanzman’s U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories, published by Dover Graphic Novels [Dover; $39.95] is a landmark gathering of one of the greatest comics series of all time. These shorts, sometimes as little as four pages, rank among the very best war comics that the comics industry has ever seen. I’d put them right up there with Harvey Kurtzman’s Frontline Combat, Archie Goodwin’s Blazing Combat and the best of the DC war titles by Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath and others.

Some background: Artist and writer Glanzman, who served on the USS Stevens during World War II, created these autobiographical slices of history. Though some of the details were changed for dramatic effect and some of the episodes are Glanzman telling of events we experienced second-hand, they are among the most true to life war stories ever seen in comic books.

The USS Stevens stories appeared in DC war titles Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat and Star Spangled War Stories. The legendary artist and editor Joe Kubert thought so highly of them, and of Glanzman’s genius, that he gave the artist great freedom to tell the stories Glanzman wanted to tell. Glanzman gave us tales of war’s horror and tedium. He gave us looks at the Japanese enemy of his war. He gave us stories of heroes and of fighting men damaged by their wartime experiences. In the justly-praised “Toro,” though the times demanded Glanzman be circumspect, he related the story of a gay sailor. This was perhaps a first for mainstream comic books.

This Dover collection is a dream come true for Glanzman fans like me. Whenever I compiled lists of collections I’d like to see, the USS Stevens stories were high on my list. There are over 60 short stories in this hardcover volume, as well as stories from Marvel’s Savage Tales and DC’s Joe Kubert Presents. I read them at a rate of two or three a day so that I could savor and study them. This was time well spent.

In addition to these groundbreaking stories, the volume includes a foreword by writer Ivan Brandon, an introduction by Jon B. Cooke, letters to Glanzman from Presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush, an informative afterword by former DC Comics assistant editor Allan Asherman, Glanzman’s War Diary spreads, extensive footnotes and story annotations by Cooke and a new four-page story of the USS Stevens. It took over 400 pages to present all this great material.

U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories is my pick of the week. The book would make a great gift for comics fans and non-comics readers interested in the history of the Pacific War. It belongs in every public and school library in the country and should hold a place of honor in your home library.

ISBN 978-0-486-80158-6

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journey-into-fear

Avid “Tony’s Tips” readers know I’ve an interest in pre-code horror comic books, even when the stories and art aren’t exactly classic. But no pre-code horror comics has fascinated me in quite the same way that Superior’s Journey into Fear fascinates me.

PS Artbooks out of the U.K. has collected the first seven issues of this odd title in Pre-Code Classic: Journey into Fear Volume One [$59.99]. These comic books were originally published from May 1951 to May 1952. Here’s what I can tell you about the title.

Superior Publishers Limited was a Canadian publisher who published mostly American reprints, but which also published original comic books that were distributed in the United States. From maybe 1946 to 1954, Superior published just over 200 different titles and just under a thousand issues.

Journey into Fear ran 21 issues from May 1951 to September 1954. We have virtually no credits for any of these issues, save that they were written and drawn by the Jerry Iger Shop. Some of the earliest stories might have art by Matt Baker, but, since he was the best of the Iger bunch, he was also the most copied. The art has an uniform house style look to it.

The writing is where my fascination lies. It’s not really very good writing, but you can see where the unknown authors are striving for good writing. The stories are in a league of their own with quirky plots that often reveal non-supernatural causes for the seemingly supernatural events of the tales.

My favorite story to date – I’m currently reading the second volume in the series – is “A Debt to the Devil” where the title character pushes a down-on-her-luck young woman to take a job with a handsome man whose wife is both evil and insanely jealous. The devil wants to claim the wife’s soul and eventually does so. In the process, he actually brings the young woman and her boss together romantically. He’s like a 1950s horror comic version of that creepy white-haired eHarmony spokesman. That’s just one of very strange stories in this volume. Small wonder I want them all.

ISBN 978-1-84863-955-2

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x-o-manowar

Congratulations to Valiant Entertainment on the publication of X-O Manowar #50 [$4.99], a milestone celebration. The wrap-around cover is a 50-artist jam featuring X-O figures by such legendary artists as Neal Adams, Butch Guice, Phil Jimenez, Bob Layton and 46 other creators. The extra-length “Long Live the King” by Robert Venditti with penciler Joe Bennett and several others is a most satisfying conclusion to this chapter in the life of Aric of Dacia. The issue also presents short comics stories written by Fred Van Lente, Jody Houser and Matt Kindt. It’s a heck of a celebration.

Valiant has constructed an entertaining, intrigue and viable comics universe. If the DC and Marvel universe have gotten too large for you but you still love the idea of a shared universe, I think the Valiant comics titles might be a good fit for you. The writers and editors do a good job recapping enough of what has gone before to allow easy entry into their world. Most of their earlier issues are also available in trade paperbacks. I recommend starting with Faith and Bloodshot – my favorite Valiant titles – and going from there. I think you’ll enjoy the journey.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #180

Our first item is something I never thought I’d see as a Batman fan in the 1960s. Indeed, it’s something I never even knew existed in that magical decade. Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 3 [DC Comics; $14.99] completes the reprinting of Batman comics stories created and published in Japan in 1966. The three volumes mark the first time all 18 of these stories have been presented in English. My sense of wonder was tingling from the moment I learned of these collections.

The started point for Kuwata’s interpretations of Batman, a global television sensation in the 1960s, were comics stories originally published in the United States. These stories were written by such renowned American writers as Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher with art by Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Giella. Kuwata then re-imagined and retold them in manga style for magazines like Shonen King and Shonen Gabo. Some tales are instantly recognizable to me and others not so much.

Readers will find a Batman and Robin who appear willing to kill in self-defense or who are, at least, indifferent to the deaths of the villains. Batman even uses a gun in one story. With one exception – “Ghost Batman” based on a story by Fox, Moldoff and Giella – the seven stories in this final volume predate the editorial reign of the legendary Julius Schwartz. One – “Robot Robbers” by Bill Finger and Charles Paris – dates back to 1947. Japanese takes on villains Planet Master, Clayface and Catman are among the foes faced by the Caped Crusaders.

If one can be nostalgic for stories one has never read before, that is what these Kuwata Bat-interpretations do for me. I am fascinated by their other-ness while remembering fondly the simpler and less complex Batman of my youth. I have no problem with a more grim and gritty Batman when today’s writers keep him firmly sane, but those old stories have a charm and a quality of their own. It’s nice to know they traveled overseas so successfully.

I recommended the Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga volumes for all kinds of readers. Avid Batman and manga fans will enjoy them. Those readers just dipping their toes into manga will find them a decent enough stepping stones to the entirely Japanese manga. Students of comics history will likely be as fascinated by them as I am. And with the holidays coming, these books would be great and relatively inexpensive gifts for the Batman or comics fan in your life. I know I had a terrific time with them.

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 1:

ISBN 978-1-4012-5277-9

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 2:

ISBN 978-1-4012-5552-7

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 3:

ISBN 978-1-4012-5756-9

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alena

Kim W. Anderson’s Alena [Dark Horse Comics; $17.99] is your basic slasher movie in comics form. It’s the English language edition of an award-winning Swedish graphic novel that has also been made into a movie. Lifted from the back cover blurb:

“Alena’s life is a living hell. Since starting at the snobbish boarding school Alena’s been harassed every day by Philippa and the girls on the lacrosse team. But Alena’s best friend Josephine is not going to accept that anymore-not from the counselor or principal, not from Philippa, and not from anyone at that horrid school. If Alena does not fight back then Josephine will take matters into her own hands. There’s just one problem: Josephine has been dead for a year.”

I came to my appreciation of (some) slasher movies later in life as I watched the multiple additions to such franchises as Halloween, Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp. This graphic novel embraces the genre and, though, such things aren’t always part and parcel of the genre, is well written with truthful characters, mounting suspense and a satisfying (if somewhat predictable) ending. I don’t know if I’d considered it award-worthy, but it was pleasant entertainment, not unlike the often cheesy horror and monster movies I enjoy. In a world of many disappointments in many areas, sometimes “good” is enough to make a book or movie worthwhile. Not everything has to be great to be entertaining.

This edition of Alena also features information and photos from the movie. It’s a book that would make a good gift for a fan of either European graphic novels or slasher movies.

ISBN 978-1-50670-215-5

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huck

My pick of the week is Huck Book One: All-American by Mark Millar with artist/co-creator Rafael Albuquerque and colorist Dave McCaig [Image; $14.99]. If I had to describe it in a sound byte, I’d call it “the feel-good super-hero book of 2016.”

Huck is a gas station attendant in a small town. He has incredible powers and uses them too secretly perform a good deed every day of his life. It’s his way of honoring his mother and the townspeople who have taken him in and shown him nothing but love and kindness. Oh, and about that “secretly perform” thing, let’s just say small-town people aren’t stupid. They know what Huck can do and does, and they respect his privacy. This 160-page book really gets going when Huck’s secret is exposed to the world and he faces the consequences of that revelation.

If you’ve got an ounce of super-hero love in you, you’re going to love Huck. He’s a great character and, despite his similarity to an iconic comics character or two, he has a freshness about him that made me smile. With outstanding writing and art, Huck would be one of the best gifts you could give a friend or family member in this coming holiday season. They don’t even have to be a comics reader. They will enjoy this book.

ISBN 978-1-63215-729-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #179

I pity the next batch of Eisner Awards judges. Lately, it seems as if a new award-deserving comic book or comics collection or graphic novel is crossing my path on a weekly basis. If i weren’t so busy, I could happily retire to a life of reading one great comics work after another.

Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts [GRAPHIX; $24.99 in hardcover, $10.99 in softcover] is a sure contender for the next round of comics awards. Teenager Catrina and her family move to Bahia de la Luna, a small town on the Northern California coast. They make the move because the climate with be better for Maya, Catrina’s little sister, who has cystic fibrosis. It is a friendly town that cherishes its past and its past relationships. Because Bahia de la Luna is also home to ghosts. Lots of ghosts.

There are so many terrific elements in this 256-page graphic novel. Sisters Catrina and Maya are very real, both in their love for one another and Catrina’s desire to have a life of her. The town itself is a character with its often spooky atmosphere moving the story to its hopeful and satisfying conclusion. The ghost tour and the Day of the Dead are both magical and scary. The supporting characters are supportive in the lives of the sisters. Midway through Ghosts, I was thinking how wonderful it would be to spend a few weeks or a retirement in Bahia de la Luna.

Telgemeier is a masterful storyteller. Her storytelling and story flow are impeccable, carrying the reader through the real world and the fantastic world with equal skill. Her characters are animated and the dialogue that comes from them always rings true. Colorist Braden Lamb adds vibrancy to an already vibrant story.

Ghosts is a graphic novel you can fall in love with. It’s a graphic novel you’ll return to many times. I got it through my library and, on finishing it, bought a copy for myself. I think I’ll be buying more copies to give out as gifts.

Kudos to Telgemeier. Ghosts is my pick of the week.

Hardcover:

ISBN 978-0-545-54061-2

Softcover:

ISBN 978-0-545-54062-9

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big-con-job

The Big Con Job by writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Matt Brady with art by Dominike “Domo” Stanton and colors by Paul Little (Boom Studios; ($19.99] is a fun concept that loses points in its execution. The setting is the convention circuit and the protagonists are “flabby action heroes, sex symbols and sci-fi bit players” eking out their increasingly smaller living at those conventions. Though all of the characters in this graphic novel are original creations, we’ve all seen them at various conventions.

The C-lost celebrities are recruited into a scheme to rob the Sam Diego Comic-Con. Yep, this is a caper story and the stakes are the millions in dollars the convention holds for dealers and autograph agents. I suspect more than a few dealers and autograph agents are not going to see the humor in this story. Me, I’m of the mind that entertaining stories can be told starring very good people and very bad people and all the people in between those extremes.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know and even work with some of the celebrities channeled for The Big Con Job, and even more comic-book artists and writers in much the same circumstances. I’m sympathetic to these characters, even recognizing how many things can go wrong with a scheme like this. Indeed, that’s one of the attractions of a good heist story.

In The Big Con Job, the writing and the art are good. There are a few places where I think more character or plot development would have made the graphic novel better. Overall, though, I had a good time with this story and I think you will, too.

ISBN 978-1-60886-850-6

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moon-girl

One of the reasons I read as many comics collections and graphic novels as I do is because I can get them through my library system. Another is because I have a generous friend who loans me his comic books after he reads them. This friend reads a lot of comic, but he doesn’t get everything. So Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur flew under my radar for a long spell. Until the first trade paperback of the series became available through my library.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF by writers Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare with art by Natacha Bustos and colors by Tamra Bonvillain [Marvel; $17.99] collects the first six issues of this very cool, very fun series. Moon Girl is Lunella Lafayette. She’s a preteen genius who is one of the smartest people – and maybe even the smartest person – in the Marvel Universe. As someone who does not really fit into the normal world, she’s terrified the Inhuman gene inside her will change her into something that’s even more at odds with that normal world. That fear is an amazing notion I have not seen articulated as well in any other Marvel title.

Devil Dinosaur is, of course, the clever saurian created by Jack Kirby in the 1970s. Devil has stuck around the Marvel Universe for decades and, when last seen, was having adventures with Moon Boy in the Savage Land. These names will mean nothing to readers who are not familiar with their Marvel Comics mythos, but, trust me, every one of those names from Devil to Savage Land says “Marvel magic” to us long-time Marvel afficinados.

Devil ends up in Mew York City, pursed by the caveman-like Killer Folk and taking a liking to Lunella. They have adventures, meet the odd Marvel hero, and protect one another. A girl and her dinosaur. How could I not love this well-written, beautifully-drawn series?

Though this volume ends on a cliffhanger, it delivers a satisfying chunk of excellent reading that has me eager for the next volume in the series. Suitable for all ages, I recommend this spiffy series to readers of all ages.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF (available now):

ISBN 978-1-302-90005-2

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties (available in January):

ISBN 978-1-302-90208-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #178

You would think I would be satisfied. I mean, we live in a comics world where classic and not-so-classic comic books of the past are collected into nice hardcover and softcover volumes. It’s a world where reprints of classic newspaper comic strips are also readily available. Don’t even get me started on the collections of current comic-book stories, the original graphic novels from all over the world and in every genre imaginable, the amazing manga that comes to us from Japan. This, as I have said so often, is the true Golden Age of Comics. And yet…I want more!

About once a year, I throw together a list of comics collections I would dearly love to read and own. These books represent money in the bank – my money – to whoever publishes them.

This year’s list came to me during a restless night. I wasn’t able to sleep. I keep thinking of collections I wanted. I grabbed a pen and a notepad and started writing them down. Most of them are new to this list. Some have appeared before, but, since they came to me during those small hours between sleep and full awakening, I figure the universe wants me to include them again.

In the order they came to me…

DC’S DANGEROUS CREATURES. See what I did there? With the title that has the same initials as DC Comics? This would be a collection of the creature stories that appeared in just about every DC title of the 1950s and 1960s, save for maybe Young Romance. Batman and Robin versus the Rainbow Creature. The Faceless Creature who appeared in a couple of Strange Adventures stories. Superman tangling with Titano the Super-Ape. The Challengers of the Unknown being put on the hot seat by the Volcano Men.

MARVELOUS MONSTERS OMNIBUS. I want every pre-Fantastic Four giant monster thriller collected in hardcover. Fin Fang Foom. Groot. The Colossus. Grottu. Goom and Googam. All of them because I was and I remain a monster-loving kid.

COSMO THE MERRY MARTIAN. This short-lived Archie Comics title only lasted six issues, but it left an indelible imprint on the brain of a young Tony Isabella. Created by Bob White, it featured a planet-hopping Martian and his pals from all around our solar system. It was clever and imaginative. Though I own all the original issues, I feel this series should be preserved for the ages. I also feel I should be hired to write new Cosmo stories, but who listens to me?

THE BARKER. Created by writer Joe Millard and artist Jack Cole, and continued by the great Klaus Nordling, this feature starred Carnie Callahan, the barker for Colonel Lane’s Mammoth Circus. Carnie and his supporting cast of colorful carnival folks made their debut in Quality’s National Comics #42 [May 1944}. Their amusing adventures appeared in that title for years and also in the fifteen-issue run of The Barker. I love these stories and, even though almost all of them are public domain and available online, I would still love to have actual books of them.

CANDY was Quality’s star performer in the teen humor genre. Created by Harry Sahle, Candy was an all-American small town girl who had a regular feature in Police Comics, her own long-running title and her even longer running newspaper strip. I think she held her own with Archie and Patsy Walker.

KATHY by Stan Lee and Stan Goldberg. The “teen-age tornado” ran for 27 issues between October 1959 and February 1964. It was Goldberg’s first major assignment and he did amazing work on it. Lee’s scripts were a little corny, but still very funny. I collect Kathy, though good condition copies are tough to come by at prices I can afford. I’d miss a few meals to have all these Lee/Goldberg gems gathered into two or three trade paperbacks.

THE BEST OF MILLIE THE MODEL and THE BEST OF PATSY WALKER. We will likely never see Marvel Masterworks volumes of these classic comics heroines. Maybe if I ask Marvel real nice, the company will publish anthologies that present the best of these characters from all over their long and successful careers.

THE BEST OF LARRY LIEBER’S RAWHIDE KID. I love the Lee/Kirby/Lieber version of this classic western hero. The Lee and Kirby issues have all been reprinted, but almost none of Larry’s decade-long run on the character. A “best of” volume is long overdue.

Looking at DC Comics again, THE BEST OF THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE and THE BEST OF THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS have long been on my wish list of reprint collections I’d love to see. Both featured an amazing array of great artists and writers. Jerry’s title even had several crossovers with DC super-heroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I suspect the rights situation might be complicated. However, knowing that both Lewis and the Hope estate are involved in all sorts of charities, I bet something could be worked out that would benefit the charities and introduce a new generation of fans to some terrific comics stories.

blonde-phantom-22

THE BLONDE PHANTOM. My favorite evening gown-wearing super-heroine. My standing joke is that the Blonde Phantom did everything the male heroes did, but backwards and in heels. I can’t explain why she had such appeal for me, but she does. If Marvel reprints her comic, they have a guaranteed buyer in me.

treasure-chest

THE BEST OF TREASURE CHEST. This was a Catholic-oriented comic book distributed in Catholic schools from 1946 to 1972. It was created by publisher George A. Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio. I had a subscription to Treasure Chest during my years at Sts. Philip and James School on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio.

My parents and the nuns who taught me loved Treasure Chest because it always ran comics stories about saints and such. But, for me and most kids, the attractions were the adventure and historical and even speculative history serials. These were often drawn by great artists like Frank Borth, Reed Crandall, Dick Giordano, Joe Sinnott and others. My all-time favorite was “Pettigrew for President,” a serial about the race to become the Presidential candidate for that high office. In addition to the saints and serials, Treasure Chest also had gag strips, puzzle pages, craft pages and more. It was a fine comic book and remains a favorite of mine.

Almost all of Treasure Chest is available online for free. Greedy old Tony would like a series of “best of” collections as well. We should draw much attention to the really excellent comics than ran in Treasure Chest and give them much-deserved praise.

ARCHIE HEROES OF THE SWINGING SIXTIES. They were corny and a pale imitation of what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others were doing over at Marvel Comics. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the goofy adventures of Fly-Man, the Mighty Crusaders, Steel Serling, the Web and the rest of the crazy super-heroes published by Archie Comics at the height of the Batman on TV craze.

Modesty forbids me from mentioning that I would also like to see at least two more volumes of BLACK LIGHTNING, the Isabella and Richard Howell THE SHADOW WAR OF HAWKMAN, and THE COMPLETE IT! THE LIVING COLOSSUS. Modesty becomes me, don’t you think?

I’ll be back next week with the usual reviews of comic books, books and anything else that tickles my fancy. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #177

The Black Bat #1: Brand of the Black Bat and Murder Calls the Black Bat [Sanctum Books; $14.95] kicks off a new series of pulp magazine reprints staring a hero who was very nearly Batman before Batman. As explained in a historical essay by Will Murray, the Black Bat debuted in Black Book Detective less than thirty days after Batman appeared in Detective Comics #27. Coincidental though they were, the similarities between the two characters almost led to a lawsuit between DC Comics and Thrilling. Instead, the two publishers worked out a truce. Batman wouldn’t appear in pulp magazines and the Black Bat wouldn’t appear in comic books.

Created by prolific pulp writer Norman Daniels (writing as G. Wyman Jones) and with considerable input from Thrilling’s editor-in-chief Leo Margulies, the Black Bat is the darkly-costumed persona of Tony Quinn, a former district attorney blinded in a courtroom attack. If you’re thinking Two-Face, well, there’s a good chance that Batman villain was inspired by Quinn. Unlike Harvey Dent, the terribly- scarred Quinn doesn’t go insane and turn to crime.

Carol, a beautiful stranger, takes Quinn to a mysterious surgeon. Quinn’s sight is more than restored. He can now see in the dark as easily as in light. Before long, he becomes the Black Bat and, with Carol, a reformed con man named Silk, and a brawler named Butch, he declares war on criminals like those who blinded him. Indeed, his first case is to bring those very criminals to justice.

This book reprints the first two Black Bat novels with the original illustrations by Harry Parkhurst. They are exciting adventures in the general style of The Shadow and The Whisperer, also published by Sanctum Books. Quinn is an admirable hero who inspires loyalty from his team. In public, to protect his other identity, he keeps up the pretense that he is sightless. Even so, Police Commissioner Warner suspects his friend Quinn is the Black Bat (but chooses not to pursue his suspicions). Detective McGarth, a bulldog of a cop, also suspects the truth, though he keeps failing to prove Quinn is the Black Bat. The ongoing duel between McGarth and Quinn adds some welcome humor to these sometimes grim thrillers.

By the way, Thrilling didn’t entirely keep up its part of the deal. As “The Mask,” the Black Bat began appearing in Exciting Comics. The first of these comics stories, adapted by Raymond Thayer from Brand of the Black Bat, is also included in this book.

Sanctum Books always delivers great bang for your bucks. I’m a big fan of their books and recommend them to all readers interested in pulp adventure heroes.

The Black Bat #1: Brand of the Black Bat and Murder Calls the Black Bat is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-60877-183-7

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hercules

I’ve always liked Marvel’s Hercules. It’s why I chose him to be the “strong man” of the Champions in the 1970s. He was bold and brash and a whole lot of fun. However, in Hercules #1-6 [$3.99 each], we see a different Hercules.

Writer Dan Abnett gives us a hero weary with being the super-hero frat boy of the Marvel Universe, bone-tired of being laughed at for his many peccadilloes. He’s on the wagon as part of his desire to clean up his act and restore his reputation. It’s moving to see a hero who is at once so powerful and yet also so vulnerable. I like this more sober Hercules.

Unfortunately, this Hercules also has to contend with the Uprising Storm: new gods for today’s world who want to sweep away the myths of the path. To oppose them. Hercules gathers together an unlikely alliance of friends and former foes. Yet even their combined might may not insure victory. The new gods are both mighty and ruthless. Even with his knowledge of modern times and technology, Hercules is in for the battle of his life.

All six issues of this mini-series have been collected in softcover as Hercules: Still Going Strong [$17.99]. I caution you that this collection ends on something of a cliffhanger. The story continues in Civil War II: Gods of War [$15.99], which will be released this November. I recommend the first book and I’m looking forward to the second.

Hercules: Still Going Strong:

ISBN 978-1-30290-033-5

Civil War II: Gods of War

ISBN 978-1-30290-034-2

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mickey-mouse-shorts

Mickey Mouse Shorts: Season One #1 and #2 [IDW; $3.99] surprised me in a good way. I hadn’t seen any episodes of the Disney animated television series, so I didn’t do what to expect. Disney Mickey Mouse executive producer Paul Rudish is as much a fan of Disney comics as anyone. The show tries to bring us the sillier side of the courageous, feisty, resourceful Mickey while maintaining his adventurous side. The result is some of the wildest Mickey cartoons since his black-and-white days and these comics adaptations of the cartoons are just as wild.

In just the first issue of the comics series, we see Mickey trying to win a dog show, commuting in Japan, dealing with Donald Duck’s comical foot injury, attending a soccer match and striving to have a romantic evening with Minnie. In the second issue, in addition to stories involving pandas, a fish and a double date with Donald and Daisy, we get “Potatoland,” a hilarious road trip tale that speaks to how much Mickey’s (and Donald’s) friends mean to them. It’s my favorite of these “shorts” stories to date and one I think worthy of, at least, a nomination in next year’s awards.

Pulp adventure, god-like heroes and villains, the most famous mouse of all. The variety available to today’s readers is nothing short of staggering. What a great time to be a fan.

That’s all for this column. I’ll be back next week with something a little different. I think you’ll enjoy it.

© 2016 Tony Isabella