TONY’S TIPS #162

The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000 by Charles M. Schulz [Fantagraphics; $29.99] is my pick of the week. This 25th and final volume in the series collects the final thirteen-and-a-half months of the strip that redefined comic strips with its 1950 debut and continued to be a joy to its devoted readers and an inspiration to cartoonists all over the world for half a century. Indeed, since Peanuts reprints still run in many newspapers, the strip has continued to bring joy and inspiration in the 15 years since its creator’s death.

President Barack Obama, our first president to reference the comic books he read as a young man, wrote the foreword to this farewell volume. Calling Peanuts “an American treasure,” he wrote how this comic strip could bring one’s childhood rushing back: “That’s what made Charles Schulz so brilliant — he treated childhood with all the poignant and tender complexity it deserves.”

To me, Peanuts is always of the now. Even though I knew these were the concluding strips, I was still caught by surprise when I came to the last ones. Probably because Peanuts isn’t really gone and it will never be really gone. We can all still recall that one special strip or sequence that spoke to us so truly. We can close our eyes and see Charlie Brown and Snoopy and all our friends. Adults that we have become – and how the heck did that happen? – if we tried to speak to them, they would hear nothing more than bleating trumpets. Yet, magically, wonderfully, we can still hear them.

Also included in the book is the complete Li’l Folks feature Schulz did before he did Peanuts. This was a weekly feature consisting of three or four gag cartoons featuring a continuing cast of children (and a dog) not unlike Charlie Brown and his gang. Indeed, one of the kids is even named Charlie Brown. There were 138 installments of this feature, the building blocks of the international sensation that Peanuts would become.

Founded in 1976, Fantagraphics has published a stunning library of comics and books of all kinds and for all sensibilities. I couldn’t even begin to estimate how many of their books I have enjoyed and own. If I ever organized my Vast Accumulation of Stuff and go from boxes to bookshelves, it would not surprise to find a bookcase or two or three filled with Fantagraphics volumes. But, of all those amazing books, none of them have filled me with more sheer delight than their Peanuts collections. And, when I reach that far off day when I locate all of my Peanuts volumes and have them in one place, I’m going to read them again from start to finish.

Schulz is an American treasure. Fantagraphics deserves considerable praise for preserving his great achievement. Every public library, every school library, even comics reader’s library should include these books. They are golden dreams.

ISBN 978-1-60699-913-4

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Divinity

The Valiant Universe again reaches into the Unknown for Divinity II [$3.99 per issue] by writer Matt Kindt with artists Trevor Hairsine (pencils), Ryan Winn (inks) and David Baron (colors). In the first series, we learned how Russian cosmonaut Abram Adams and two of his fellow cosmonauts were sent deeper into space than anyone before. They met something Unknown. That contact changed Adams and gave him unimaginable powers. He became Divinity.

There was the expected clash with the forces of the West. It was a violent clash. Divinity won. Then he retreated into a reality that he created for himself. Those few humans who knew of his incredible power breathed a fleeting sigh of relief.

In this new series, Myshka, one of the other Cold War cosmonauts on that distant mission, has returned to Earth. With the same powers as Adams and no reluctance about using them in the service of her vision of Mother Russia and in her quest for vengeance towards the man who abandoned her in space. It’s on.

I’ve read the first two issues of this second series and there are seriously frightening moments in them. Myshka herself is as scary a villain as I’ve seen in the Valiant Universe and that is saying something. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What you can expect from this series is fine writing that is also friendly to new readers. Even if you didn’t read the first series, Kindt and a concise “what has gone before” page will bring you into the ongoing adventure. Hairsine’s drawing and visual storytelling are first-rate, full of dynamic action and gripping emotion. Winn and Baron tie it all together with excellent inking and color work. This is a darn good comic-book series.

Divinity collects the first four-issue series in a 112-page, full-color trade paperback. Divinity II will be published in September. I recommend both.

Divinity [$9.99]:

ISBN 978-1939346766

Divinity II [$14.99]:

ISBN 978-1682151518

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Hyperion

I wasn’t expecting much from Hyperion #1-2 [Marvel; $3.99 each) by Chuck Wendig with artist Nik Virella. It’s a spinoff from the new Squadron Supreme series and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of that one. While SS has interesting concepts, it started out with the kind of cheap shock tactic on which too many super-hero titles have come to rely. The shock was accompanied by a Marvel executive’s apparent glee over the decapitation of a Marvel Universe icon, which further pushed me from any regard for Squadron Supreme. Some people should not to get to play with other people’s toys. Strike three came from this Hyperion incarnation being created by Jonathan Hickman, who has worked his way onto my no buy/no read list.

That said, I’m intrigued by the notion of a super-hero taking some time off to contemplate the violence, including committing murder, of his life while questioning what kind of hero he wants to be and even if he wants to be a hero. This Hyperion is still an arrogant and callous jerk, but I give him points for considering a different and perhaps better way.

Two issues haven’t been enough for me to decide if I like this new series. I know I like some things in it, first and foremost among them a young runaway named Doll who has the power to nag Hyperion into occasionally doing the right thing. I like enough about this comic book to keep reading it for now.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #161

Politics is the theme of this week’s column. Trigger words will be kept to a minimum.

I thoroughly enjoyed All-New Inhumans #1-6 [Marvel; $4.99 for the first issue, $3.99 for the rest] by James Asmus and Charles Soule with artists Stefano Caselli and Andre Lima Araujo and colorist Andres Mossa. The new series is as much an international political thriller as it is super-hero adventure.

The Inhumans now have a more prominent role in the Marvel Universe, which pleases me more than I thought anything Inhumans ever would. I stopped liking the Inhumans when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revealed said people had created their own slave race, the Alpha Primitives. “Slavers” equal “not good guys” in my world view. Here’s some back story re: Marvel’s current take on the Inhumans…

Black Bolt blew up the Inhuman home city of Attilan, releasing big whomping clouds of mutagenic Terrigan Mist into Earth’s atmosphere. The Mist triggers changes in humans who have Inhuman DNA in their makeup. Black Bolt did to this to save the planet, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Medusa now rules the Inhumans and, with sister Crystal, is trying to help these new Inhumans adjust to their powers and find a place in the world. This title focuses on Crystal, an ambassador flying all over the globe in the humongous Royal Inhuman Vessel. The sight of this giant ship doesn’t always inspire confidence on account of it’s pretty darn frightening.

I love the international politics angle of this series and how the Inhumans act as a sovereign nation trying to work with their fellow nations for the common good and, especially, for the good of those new Inhumans. Crystal is quite the diplomat, but her priorities are with her own people. By turns, she can be compassionate, heroic, duplicitous and manipulative. With the Alpha Primitives seemingly absent from the mix, I’m finding myself interested in the Inhumans for the first time in a long time, though some credit must also go to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD television show.

Crystal is the star of All-New Inhumans, but I also love Gorgon’s new role. Crippled in some adventure I never read, he is Crystal’s good right hand, a teacher of the young and a warrior not bound by his physical limitations. I’ve always thought of him as just sort of there in the background, but he’s really coming into his own in the book. Add a number of other intriguing and likeable supporting cast members to the mix and you have a great series.

It hurts my brain to try to suss out the continuity of the Marvel (or the DC) Universe. I prefer titles which can be enjoyed without overt ties to a dozen other titles. All-New Inhumans is that kind of series. What readers need to know about the larger universe in which it takes place is so smoothly included in dialogue that it’s hardly noticeable. Well done, Asmus and Soule.

The first four issues and an introductory story have been collected in All-New Inhumans Vol. 1: Global Outreach [$15.99]. I recommend it and the ongoing title.

ISBN 978-0785196389

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Dear President Johnson

My friend Nat Gertler is well-known as a Peanuts expert. However, as the owner and publisher of About Comics, he’s also known for his eclectic, interesting and handsomely made books. Recently, he has delved into “political entertainment,” restoring and republishing material that has been out of print for decades.

Dear President Johnson: Kids’ Letters to LBJ [$9.99} is a compact mix of Peanuts and politics of the most innocent kind. Originally published in 1964, the book gathers unbearable cute and devilishly funny notes sent to then-president Lyndon Johnson by children with illustrations by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz.

Adler was an author, editor and compiler. In his obituary, the New York Times said he “pursued his goal of being the P. T. Barnum of books by conceptualizing, writing, editing, compiling and hustling hundreds of them — prompting one magazine to anoint him “the most fevered mind” in publishing.” He died in 2014.

The obit also stated “Adler achieved early success by collecting and publishing letters children had written to President John F. Kennedy. He followed up with children’s letters to Smokey Bear, Santa Claus, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Obama, among many others.”

With the cooperation of LBJ’s White House staff, Adler selected 64 letters to be included in this book. There are requests for badges and other items. There are invitations to Boy Scout meetings and a lunch at one young writer’s school. The child says his mother will make extra tuna fish sandwiches for the President and his wife Lady Bird. There are compliments and heartfelt suggestions.

Because I sometimes have the mind of a 12-year-old, my favorite of these missives is the one in which fourth-graders from Chicago want to know the size of the President’s hand. They are creating units of measure and want to measure the circumferences of their desktops in “Johnsons.” Yes, I am ashamed of myself for loving this letter as much as I do.

Dear President Johnson is a fun look back at history seen through humor. It would be a great gift for folks who collected political artifacts and for Peanuts fans. It came within a hair of being this week’s pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1936404568

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Cold War Coloring

My pick of the week is another About Comics publication. Cold War Coloring: Political Adult Coloring Books of the Kennedy Era [$9.99] collects and reprints five such books. The foreword and individual introductions to each books place them in the context of the era, providing a leg-up to readers who may not have been born when these coloring books were first published.

The first adult coloring book seems to be the Executive Coloring Book, published in 1961. The second one was the JFK Coloring Book, which leads off this collection. The book, conceived by Alexander A. Roman purports to be written by the young Caroline Kennedy. The copy is actually written by the prolific Paul Laikin, who I think wrote for every humor magazine of the 1950s through the 1980s. The illustrations are by MAD superstar Mort Drucker. It’s an amusing, charming book and more concerned with the nation’s fascination with than the politics of the moment. It’s wonderful.

The New Frontier Coloring Book is from 1962. Published by the son of a Republican senator, its snide tone will be familiar to those who follow current right-wing political cartoons. It’s anti-Kennedy with little to no regard for facts or reason. The art is as week as the writing with mediocre caricatures repeated over and over again. Still, I applaud About Comics for balancing this book between the two American parties.

The Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev Coloring Book (1962) was written by Amram Ducovny, the father of X-Files star David Duchovny. Don’t ask me to explain the spelling discrepancy of the last names. This coloring book is kind of funny, though it takes its cues from cold war propaganda. The Ken Nunes and Adrien Prober drawings are lively but not quite polished.

Khrushchev’s Top Secret Coloring Book (1962) is much more fun. It was conceived and written by Gene Shalit and drawn by the legendary Jack Davis. Of the coloring books included in this book, this one is the best drawn and the wittiest.

The John Birch [Society] Coloring Book (1962) is a fair but biting poke at the paranoia which characterized that group. The John Birch Society saw Communists and a One World Government everywhere that it looked. Mocking them was too easy then and it’s too easy today. This one was created by Martin Cohen and Dennis Altman, two of the creators of the Executive Coloring Book, and Robert Natkin.

Overall, Cold War Coloring is a remarkable volume. It reminds me of an era I barely understood as a child and clarify those times for me. It’s a perfect gift for coloring book buffs, nostalgia fans and political memorabilia collectors.

ISBN 978-1936404-62-9

About Comics will be publishing additional “Presidential Bookshelf” volumes. I await them eagerly.

My next convention appearance will be at Indy Pop Con, June 17- 19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. But I’ll be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #160

Cartoonist Lucy Knisley is a national treasure. If you need proof of that, you need only read her newest work. Something New [First Second; $19.99] is a nearly 300-page graphic autobiography charting Knisley’s journey to marriage.

Three years after Knisley broke with her boyfriend, John came back into her life and proposed. That which had divided them had ceased to be issues. To me, Lucy and John had clearly been “the one” for each other and, if that was all this book was about, it would still have been an entertaining romance tale. But, instead, Knisley has written a delightful hilarious, honest and sometimes frightening exploration of two outside-of-the-box lovers facing one of the most cherished institutions in our culture and finding a way to make it (mostly) their own.

Something New takes readers along each step of the way in easy-to-digest chapters. The sheer amount of human interactions and useful information in each chapter is staggering, especially considering the amazing addendums/epilogues to each chapter. Just forget about saying yes to the dress. Lucy and Jon should be the stars of a TV show looking at their wedding and then getting involved with other weddings. I’d watch that show in a heartbeat.

True confession. I cry at weddings. I’m not obvious about it or, at least, I don’t think I’m obvious about it. But I tear up at these things because the union of two people is either a beautiful thing or a horror waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting bride and groom. I’m 32 years into my wonderful marriage so I’m always hoping for the best at these things.

So, yes, I got a little teary at various times while reading this book. Sometimes Lucy or John would do something so wondrous that I shed a tear of joy. Sometimes I felt the sting of frustration when things didn’t do quite so well. Overall, I smile and laughed a lot more than I got all misty-eyed. This is a funny and life-affirming graphic autobiography. It’s my pick of the week and – say it with me – should be in every public and school library and in the home library of every true devotee of the comics art form. I’m ordering some extra copies to give out as gifts.

ISBN 978-1-62672-249-1

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Arrow Volume 1

The CW’s Arrow is one of my favorite TV series, something it shares with both DC’s and Marvel’s comics-inspired shows. However, it was just recently that I first read any of the short Arrow comic-book-style stories posted online and in various print editions. I liked what I read.

Arrow Volume One [DC Comics; $16.99] features nineteen short comics stories by a variety of writers and artists, among them the show’s executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, and Mike Grell, the legendary creator whose Green Arrow work is the standard by which other interpretations are weighed. This first volume was published in 2013 and has had additional printings since then.

These stories take place around the televised episodes. They add to those episodes and reveal background and other secrets only hinted at in those episodes. Each story is ten pages long and manages to tell a complete and satisfying tale in those ten pages. There have been times when I have felt such compact storytelling was a skill lost to the comics ages. I’m pleased to see it is still practiced.

I don’t know if I’d classified any of the stories as great per se, but they are all entertaining and well done. The stories were done by many writers and artists, but every character is in character, and the visuals retain the action, drama and realism of the show. That’s impressive for stories of this length.

There have been three volumes of these Arrow comics stories. I plan to read the other two as soon as possible.

Arrow Vol. 1

ISBN 978-1-4012-4299-2

Arrow Vol. 2 [$16.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-4603-7

Arrow Season 2.5 [$19.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-5748-4

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Scooby-Doo Team-Up 2

While Scooby-Do! Team-Up isn’t the weirdest take on the classic and beloved cartoon – I’m thinking DC’s forthcoming Scooby Apocalypse wins that “honor: hands down – it’s still pretty far out there. But I read Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 2 by Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela [DC; $12.99] last week and it just plain tickled me.

Scooby and his meddling kids go back into the past for a hilarious visit with the Flintstones, then go into the future to team up with the Jetsons. There are also adventures with Superman, Jonny Quest and Secret Squirrel and a spooky crime caper with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Fisch’s stories are clever and very funny with enough meta jokes to please my inner fan. The art by Brizuela and Scott Jeralds is lively in design and sure-handed in the storytelling. The original cartoons should only have looked and moved this well.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up is good fun for all ages. There have been two volumes to date and I hope more are coming.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 1 [$12.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-4946-5

Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 2

ISBN 978-1-4012-5859-7

My next convention appearance will be at Indy Pop Con, June 17- 19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. But I’ll be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #159

If you’re one of those Superman fans who don’t enjoy the Ayn Rand-infused cinematic tragedies of director Zack Snyder, you may well find Totally Unofficial 100 Things Superman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Joseph McCabe [Triumph Books; $14.95] a welcome relief from Snyder’s inability to grasp the most basic concepts of the super-hero genre. This 300-page-plus softcover takes the reader from Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Covering over 75 years of super-adventures and behind-the-scenes events would be a challenge even for a man of steel.

McCabe does an excellent job covering that territory. There are a few places where he states his opinions as facts, which is always annoying to a grumpy old fan like me, and one case where he seems to be completely ignorant of an individual’s criminality, but he’s able to leap years and decades of Superman history with a hundred breezy chapters, over two dozen interviews with actors, comic-book creators and movie makers, and countless illustrations and photos. Okay, yes, someone could count them, but that someone wouldn’t be me because I would lose count and have to start over and just would never finish this review.

There’s also one terrific foreword by my pal Mark Waid, one of my favorite comics writer and one of the four or five writers I would hire to write Superman if I was in charge of the character. A fan can dream.

I read 100 Things Superman – What? You expect me to type the entire title again? – over a few weeks. It sat on top of a pile of books I keep on my bedroom night stand. I’d read a dozen pages before I went to sleep and before I would take a nap and sometimes because reading a book I knew I’d review is something I can delude myself into considering not goofing off. Because it wasn’t. I was working. No, really. Stop snickering. I hate you.

100 Things Superman is a swell book. It would make a great gift for the comics reader in your life. It would make a great gift for the new Superman fan who, despite those Zack Snyder movies, loves the character and wants to know more about him. It would make a great gift for you to give yourself. Because you deserve it and because you weren’t snickering a paragraph ago.

ISBN 978-1-62937-186-3

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Classic Popeye

IDW’s Classic Popeye [$4.99 per issue] is one of the true delights of this true Golden Age of Comics. Readers can enjoy wonderful new comics from all over the world as well as classic and not-quite-so-classic comic books from the past. This title earns its adjective issue after issue.

Classic Popeye #44 reprints Popeye #44 [Dell; April-June 1958} with stories and art by Bud Sagendorf. Save for the back cover house ad and two small, bottom-of-the-page house ads, the issue is cover-to-cover entertainment. Two Popeye stories, a short O. G. Wotasnozzle tale, two one-page Popeye gags and a single-page text story. Given that a near-mint condition copy of the original comic could easily sell for a hundred dollars, five bucks seems like a real bargain to Thrifty Tony.

The stories are funny and imaginative. Swee’pea opens a mysterious box and out pops a strange creature called Orbert, which grants the lad’s every wish. Modern readers will laugh and then be ashamed of themselves at a panel in which Popeye grabs Bluto by the collar and demands to know “What’s in the box?”

In the middle story, Wotasnozzle accompanies his annoyed landlord on a fishing trip. As usual, O.G.’s scientific devices are not yet ready for the marketplace.

The second Popeye story has Swee’pea kidnapped by criminals wanting to know where Popeye has buried the vast quantities of pirate gold the one-eyed sailor has found over the years. The so obvious answer had me laughing out loud.

IDW has been reprinting these reprints as Popeye Classics. They’ve published seven hardcover volumes to date with an eighth volume on the schedule for September. These volumes may be difficult to find and even a little pricey, but it’s worth looking for them and also looking for bargains.

Arf…these am some swell comical books.

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Johnny Red

Garth Ennis writes war comics that are the equal of all but a few of our history’s very best war comics – Harvey Kurtzman’s EC Comics titles and Archie Goodwin’s Blazing Combat – and superior to most titles in the genre. Currently, he almost has the genre to himself between War Stories (Avatar) and Johnny Red (Titan), my pick of the week for this week.

Johnny Red first appeared in Battle, the renowned British weekly of the 1970s. Created by writer Tom Tully and artist Joe Colquhoun, the ongoing serial told of a Royal Air Force cadet who received a dishonorable discharge after hitting a superior officer. He ended up joining and becoming the leader of a Russian fighter squadron. That’s not the entire Johnny Red story, but it’s enough for the purposes of this review.

Johnny Red #1 [$3.99] starts with a wealthy collector of warplanes bankrolling the restoration of a Hurricane, a single-seat British fighter plane that could be catapulted from the deck of a ship for what would, unless a pilot could manage to reach a friendly land, almost certainly be its last flight. The restoration craftsmen have done research into the history of this aircraft, which conversation leads us into the dangerous life of our title hero.

In the six issues published to date, Ennis gives us grim-but-real characters fighting and sometimes surviving in the perilous setting of the Second World War. There are brave men and women facing doom on a daily basis. There is courage and an odd fellowship. There are dastardly Germans and corrupt Russians. It’s a hopeless situation, but the sharp writing and the explosive art draw the reader into it and make you feel like you’re facing the same perils.

I can’t say enough good things about the art of Keith Burns. He is a keen storyteller and, when the pages erupt in battle, it’s as if bullets and flaming metal are all around you. I think it’s the most exciting war art since Joe Kubert, Russ Heath and Sam Glanzman were at their best. Were I able to afford original art, I’d bust open my budget to get one of Burns’ magnificent art combat spreads. Wow, this is great stuff.

Johnny Red is one of the best comics being published today. Besides all of the above, each issue also features a historical text piece or two. If you’re more inclined to write for a collection, Johnny Red: Collection 1 [$16.99] is due to be released in October of this year. It’d make a great gift for war buffs and war comic book fans alike. It gets my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1782761853

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #158

This week is my first-ever “First Issue Special” review column in which I’ll be taking a look at the first issues of three new comic-book titles. Which one will be my pick of the week? I’ll save that for this week’s big finish.

Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates makes his comic-book writing debut in Black Panther #1 [$4.99] and it is a breathtaking journey into the soul of Wakanda. I have expressed my dissatisfaction and even disgust with how the Black Panther and Wakanda have been seen in Marvel comic books. Unconquerable Wakanda has been conquered at least three times in recent years. T’Challa’s innate nobility has been tarnished as inferior comics writers – those who would bring darkness to the most optimistic of comics genres – brought him down to their level. Had I been relaunching the Black Panther, I would have ignored all of that and claimed it all went away when reality was remade in the wake of Secret Wars III. Coates does not do this.

Coates jumps into the rodeo and rides all of these untidy elements. He presents a Wakanda divided, but the divisions come as a likely result of the multiple tragedies. While this initial issues is more than a mite short of the Panther action so brilliantly portrayed in the 1970s stories written by Don McGregor, there are political and spiritual conflicts that intrigue me. I do still want to see of the “people punching other people” that Coates himself lists as one of the key elements of a good super-hero comic book, but this issue is a good start.

The issue’s visuals are as wonderful as the writing. Artist Brian Stelfreeze brings a thoughtful design sense to every aspect of the Wakandan backdrops and costuming, drawing heavily on the “African mentality” of the script and settings. His storytelling is likewise excellent. Color artist Laura Martin enhances the art. This issue is a class act all the way: a terrific story and bonus pages on the development and aspirations of the series. Editorial earns points with a “what has gone before” opening page that sets the stage for this and future issues.

I only buy a handful of Marvel Comics titles. Black Panther is and will remain among them as long as subsequent issues are as terrific as this premiere effort.

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Grizzly Shark

I’m not sure comics creator Ryan Ottley knows who I am or anything about me. However, if he did know anything about me, he would have known it’s not in me to resist buying a comic book called Grizzly Shark [Image; $3.50]. Outside of my wife and kids and a few of my friends, comics are my first love. My second love is cheesy monster movies. I am the guy who will watch Dinoshark and Mega-Shark Versus Giant Porcupine and every other darn movie of that sort. The cheese is strong within me.

Grizzly Shark is about a shark who has somehow ended up in a forest and is now chowing down on anyone who crosses his path. Though we rarely see the entire shark – I suppose Ottley’s budget for special effects was limited – we do see the critter munch on a whole bunch of folks in gory and hilarious ways. Colorist Ivan Plascencia uses a lot of red in this comic book.

This is a goofy comic book. I love it. I will be back for the next issue and as many more issues as Ottley wants to make. It’s like he can see into my very soul.

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Power Lines

Jimmie Robinson’s Power Lines [Image; $3.99] likewise speaks to me, albeit in a far more serious manner. It’s a tale of ancient power returning to our divisive world and one that doesn’t shy away from the barriers preventing our unity.

When we meet Derrick – his street name is D-Trick – he and his pals are heading to an affluent, mostly white California suburb to tag the buildings there. Their graffiti is their art and they believe creating it in this place will insure their fame. However, Tight, the leader of the crew, is there to smash and grab whatever he can. He shatters a car window and steals the purse inside the vehicle.

Derrick is spotted by the local police before he can tag anything. He runs from them when. They corner him…and that’s when strange things happen. Derrick feels the power around him and he flies away from the cops. He has no idea what just happened.

When we meet Sarah Bellingham, the 48-year-old widow whose car was broken into, she appears to be a stone racist. Yet she’s also been touched by the power, something Derrick recognizes when Saran and her ex-solider son come looking for her stolen phone. Later events bring Derrick and Sarah into contact again and we get to see her in a different light.

This comic has heroes and villains sans costumes. It has mystery. It has great characters. It has surprises and, at the end of issue #2, a truly “gotta see what happens next” cliffhanger. I’m hooked.

Power Lines is a one-man show. Robinson created the series, writes it, draws it, colors it and letters it. I envy his multiple talents and I recommend this series to anyone who likes super-heroes with a different attitude.

My pick of the week was a tough call, but the honor goes to Power Lines. I hope T’Challa and Grizzly Shark will be good sports about my choice.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #157

My pick of the week is Al Plastino: Last Superman Standing by Eddy Zeno [TwoMorrows; $17.95]. It’s an “illustrated biography” of the artist who, along with Wayne Boring and Curt Swan, defined the Man of Steel for readers of the 1950s and 1960s.

Something I hear frequently from comics fans, and I do not except myself here, is that they didn’t appreciate this or that artist as a kid. Plastino was one of those for me. Boring’s work on Superman was dark in its depictions of the mundane and hauntingly wondrous in its depictions of the character’s sci-fi elements. Swan drew a Superman that was our smiling friend and utterly graceful when he uses his powers. Plastino was the middle artist. Yet, when I look at Plastino’s work these days, I see an uncanny mastery of emotion and storytelling that equals the work of the other classic Superman artists of the era.

Zeno is a treasure among comics historians. He loves his subjects and, in the case of Plastino, counted him as a friend. Many of his conversations with the artist, conversations which form the heart and soul of this book, happened within a short time of Plastino’s 2015 death. There is a remarkable immediacy to this book, a sense for the reader that they have also gotten a chance to know the man behind the art.

Zeno covers Plastino’s life and career in fascinating detail that, despite said detail, made me yearn for more. More examples of the man’s art, more insights from the solid professional that Plastino was, more lessons on the craft and work ethic his subject brought to his comics and other work. Without hesitation, I will tell you the smartest lesson Plastino has to impart to all who follow him, is to have multiple clients. It’s a practice I have adopted in the past decade of my life and it has served me well.

From the formative years of the artist to his fight to see his art for “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” placed in its proper and intended home, Al Plastino: Last Superman Standing is clearly the definitive work on this great comics creator. All I could ask for beyond this is a collection of Plastino’s best Superman tales. It would be a fitting companion volume to Zeno’s award-deserving book and an equally deserved honor for Plastino.

ISBN 978-1-60549-066-3

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Lois Lane

Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond [Switch Press; $16.95 hardcover, $9.95 softcover] was published last May, but I just got around to reading it this May. The only downside to living in this, the true Golden Age of Comics, is that I’ll never have time to read and watch all the comics stuff I’d like to read and watch. Here’s this young adult novel’s back cover come-on:

From acclaimed author Gwenda Bond comes a contemporary reimagining of teenage Lois Lane. She’s an Army brat who’s moved more times than she can count with her father General Sam Lane. But now they’re in Metropolis for good, and Lois is determined to fly straight. Stay quiet. Fit it. Maybe make a friend. As soon as she walks into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive video game they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her snazzy new job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But even she needs help sometimes. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a-friend, a guy she knows only his screen name: SmallvilleGuy.

Young adult readers will relate to the bullying, the loneliness and the people in positions who do nothing about either. As a parent, I can relate to all of that, though the biggest bullies with whom I had to deal during my own children’s time in school were abusive teachers and an unconcerned principal. What Lois and her new pals go through really hit home for me.

There are many great elements in this book. There’s an X-Files vibe that is just barely science fiction. There’s a great take on Perry White, editor of The Daily Planet. There are intriguing scenes with General Lane that make you wonder what kind of father and what kind of man he really is. Me, I don’t like him.

Also wonderful are the online interactions between young Lois and her unseen SmallvilleGuy. His name is   never mentioned, but readers will really get the sense of who this young man is and who he is destined to become.

Is there an Eisner Awards category for novels based on comic books? There should be. Because this book deserved to be nominated in that category.

Bond’s Lois Lane: Double Down [also $16.95] is the second book in this series and was published this month. I plan on ordering it as soon as I finish writing this column.

Lois Lane: Fallout

ISBN 978-1-630790-005-9

Lois Lane: Double Down

ISBN 978-1-630790-038-7

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i am a hero

Zombie outbreaks are not usually my thing, but when the good people at Dark Horse Comics sent me I am a Hero Omnibus Volume 1 by Kendo Hanazawa [$19.95], I figured I’d read a chapter or three to see if it had something more than the typical zombie outbreak comic book or movie. It did.

The lead character of I am a Hero is an unsuccessful manga artist working as one of a small army of assistants to a very successful creator. Hideo Suzuki’s one series crashed and burned after a short run. Now he’s 35 years old with no self-esteem to speak of. “I am a hero” is the mantra he chants to himself. His job is exhausting. His life is one of unrealized dreams, unfulfilling relationships and unending frustration.

The build to the “zombie outbreak” is brilliantly quiet and slow. The horror lurks in the background: news stories and shadows in the streets. When it explodes into Suzuki’s life, the fearful action is swift and unrelenting. A “hero” woefully unequipped for survival is forced into a fight and a flight for survival. Fans of zombie tales will find the requisite gore and gotcha moments in this manga, but it’s the character of Suzuki that has me hooked and eager for the next volume in the series.

ISBN 978-1-61655-920-5

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #156

Here I am playing the “woman card” again. All three of this week’s reviewed books are by and/or feature female lead characters. This is the face of comics in 2016. As a reader, I’m enjoying this turn of events. As a writer, I relish the challenge of competing in this suddenly wider field.

My pick of the week is the utterly haunting Irmina by Barbara Yelin [SelfMadeHero; $24.95]. Taking place from 1936 to 1983, the graphic novel was inspired by diaries and letters found among Yelin’s late grandmother’s things. The resultant book is every bit as gripping and remarkable as it is haunting.

Irmina is an ambitious young German woman who comes to London when she is denied the educational opportunities afforded her brothers back home. She attends a commercial school for woman and hopes to make her own way in the world. The freedom and lights of England appeal to her. Invited to a party, she meets Howard, one of the first black students at Oxford, and the two become close friends. Perhaps more, though Yelin is circumspect in that regard. What is clearer is the bond between these young people and it seems enough like love for me to look at it that way.

As the winds of war build in Europe, Irmina is forced to leave her London lodgings to return to Germany. She tries to remain distant from the Nazi regime, ever longing to return to England, but that becomes impossible. She deals with depravation and resents having to make sacrifices for situations she believes have nothing to do with her. But, as one door after another closes, she ends up wed to an SS officer. It becomes hard to remember the woman who loved and tried to stay in touch with a man of different race. The resultant examination of her life in wartime Germany is unsettling, even as if avoids graphic depictions of violence. The horror and the terror of Nazi Germany may be background notes, but they have a profound effect on Irmina.

Set in 1983, so distant from World War II, the final chapter of the graphic novel comes as an amazing surprise, leading to a relatively quiet yet satisfying ending. The story lingers with the reader. In my case, it hasn’t been far from my thoughts since I finished it. At a time in my country’s history when a presidential candidate is openly campaigning on a platform of bigotry and racism – and doing quite well with that platform – Irmina haunts me.

This hardcover graphic novel weighs in at around 300 pages. Yelin’s full-color art is as evocative as the story she tells. A concluding essay by Dr. Alexander Korb offers further information and insights on life in Nazi Germany.

Irmina is a must-read and must-have book for libraries, public and school and personal. It will surely be a contender for next year’s Eisner and other comics awards, and for awards outside our comics industry. It deserves such consideration.

ISBN 978-1-910593-10-3

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Miss

Miss: Better Living Through Crime by Philippe Thirault with art by Marc Riou and Mark Vigouroux [Humanoids; $29.95] is also about an interracial relationship that starts as a partnership of necessity and turns into an astonishing loyalty. The back cover copy offers the basics of the stories:

“Nola is a poor white girl who has learned to survive by hook or by crook since being expelled from an orphanage. Slim is a black pimp with an uncertain past, always trying to keep one foot out of the grave. When their paths cross and their options run out, Nola and Slim forge a partnership as hired killers. This is their story, about what it takes to survive when all you have is a gun, and each other.”

The setting of these stories is New York City during the “Roaring Twenties.” Nola gets a job as secretary to a private detective who gets himself killed almost immediately. She stays in his office and ends up taking murder for hire jobs. In his foreword to the book, noted comic-book and crime fiction writer Ed Brubaker says “I can’t recall any work that has such lovingly rendered and sympathetic characters, who also happen to do completely despicable things to survive.”

There are several complete-unto-themselves stories collected in the 196-page, full-color graphic album. Each is a satisfying tale with background threads that carry over from story to story. There is a hardness to each tale that reveals the dangers of the era and the world within which Nola and Slim must walk. There are many moments of dark humor and shocking violence. It’s not a book for the faint of heart, but it’s wonderful all the same. I liked it a lot and I think you will, too.

ISBN 978-1-59465-120-5

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Super Hero High

Let’s lighten things up for the finale of this week’s adventures in comics. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee [Random House; $13.99] is a prose novel for middle school readers that takes place just before the DC Super Hero Girls special which I wrote about a few weeks back. Yee’s a prolific writer with over two million books in print and “the second-largest collection of Winnie-the-Pooh memorabilia in the U.S.” She is worth checking out online because she’s almost as fascinating at the super hero girls she’s writing about in this book.

This is Wonder Woman’s introduction to and first year at Super Hero High. She’s innocent and naive, which does get a wee bit grating at times. But, every time my eyes starting rolling from what it really the only even minor flaw in this novel, Wonder Woman or one of the other characters would do something amazing or delightful.

This is a world in which future heroes and villains are classmates or other school rivals. The different takes on the characters are intriguing. This is the kind of book that makes one realizes just how malleable classic characters can be and why, as long as writers retain a character’s core values, continuity has long since ceased to be an issue for me. Characters created several decades ago need not be set in unyielding stone. They need to be kept fresh for all the generations of fans yet to come.

The novel is a breezy read. The design of the book is terrific and welcoming. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think it’d make a wonderful gift for young and old fans of these characters. The young readers will relate to Wonder Woman, her friends, her foes, her teachers. Older readers, especially the parents among us, will find the new young takes on the characters entertaining and realistic. It’s not what they’re used to, but that only adds to the fun.

ISBN 978-1-101-94059-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #155

When I select my “pick of the week” each week, it’s generally the comic book, graphic novel, collection or other publication that I enjoyed the most. It’s a little more complicated this time around. I can’t say I enjoyed my choice more than the other things I’ll be writing about in this column, but I do believe this week’s winner is one of the most significant comics collections ever published, and that it’s coming at the right time in comics history.

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix [Fantagraphics; $100] is a two-volume reprinting of the underground/alternative comics anthology that was both part of a movement that changed the way many of us looked at the comics art form and a precursor of the current comics era that may be most notable for its greater inclusion of female writers and artists. When I see how many of my favorite modern comic books and graphic novels are by women, it makes this collection all the more indispensable to comics historians and readers.

I started buying underground comix when I moved out of my parents’ house in the early 1970s. I was working for a local newspaper and lived a short walk from a “head shop” that sold drug paraphernalia, counter culture magazines and underground comix. That I only bought the comix – and I bought them by the fistful – made the shopkeeper nervous at first, but, once he realized I was a comics afficionado, he relaxed. What he never understood was how I could read all kinds of comics from Archie and The Avengers to The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Wimmen’s Comix.

Complete Wimmen's

As with the alternative comics works of today, I found underground comics to be a mixed bag. Then as now, I found artsy-fartsy comics pretentious and uninteresting. I still struggle with and despise lettering that makes reading this works more difficult. While I did not and do not mind a bit of naval-gazing from the comics creators who work this side of the comics street – the personal comics are often the best – sometimes it’s as self-indulgent as any “reality” show featuring the Kardashians.

Wimmen’s Comix was and is no different. Born in a era when, season of love and tolerance or not, women cartoonists were not usually respected by their male counterparts, the stories in these volumes are sometimes more anger then craft and more political statements than insights. But, as with the other comics and graphic novels I love, there are so many diamonds in the rough.

These volumes reprint the pivotal It Ain’t Me Babe Comix and all 17 issues of Wimmen’s Comics, over 700 pages of art and story plus an informative introduction by Trina Robbins, long a favorite comics creator of mine and also one of our most groundbreaking historians. Over 100 cartoonists contributed to these comix/comics and it’s as stellar a line-up as there ever was: Alison Bechdel, Joyce Farmer, Shary Flenniken, Phoebe Gloeckner, Roberta Gregory, Joan Hilty, Carol Lay, Lee Marrs, Cynthia Martin, Barb Rausch, Dori Seda, Mark Skrenes, Carol Tyler and so many more.

If I had to pick a favorite issue, it might be Wimmen’s Comix #6, which was a “bicentennial” issue with entertaining looks at history and herstory. But that favorite pick would probably change the next time I flipped through these volumes. Though the reading gets tough at times, the great stuff in these books makes the effort totally worthwhile. If you want to know how we got here, you have to look back at where we were. That’s why I believe The Complete Wimmen’s Comix is an indispensable part of your comics library.

ISBN 978-1-60699-898-4

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alamo all-stars

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars [Abrams; $12.95] is the sixth book in the wonderful series of graphic novel histories from the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author. Hale is a master of presenting the facts, grim as they often are, in an entertaining and even humorous fashion. The books are suitable for readers as young as eight, but can be enjoyed by adults as well, be they comics fans or history buffs. 

The starting point of the books in this series is Nathan Hale, the hero of the American Revolution, facing his death by hanging. But, taking his cue from Scheherazade, the legendary storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, Hale delays his demise by telling tales of American history to his executioners, including events taking place long after his death. After the initial jolt, this seems perfectly reasonable. Then again, I believe a man can fly.

In this book’s 120 meticulously-researched pages, Hale covers the events leading up to the battle of the Alamo and the key players in those events. It’s the story of Texas, the story of bad things done by men whose history we cleansed to fit modern myths – for example, Jim Bowie was a smuggler dealing in illegal slaves – and the story of how much we lose when we take shortcuts with history. Forgotten is the Goliad Massacre in which 350 men were slaughtered by Santa Ana’s army.

Alamo All-Stars is dense in facts and observations, presenting them in a downright breezy manner. The entire Hazardous Tales series is, to my mind, a must-have for school and public libraries. Nor would these books be out of place in the personal library of comics fans who embrace true variety in their collections.

ISBN 978-1-4197-1902-8

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Heroes in the Night

It came out in 2013, but I only recently discovered and read Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement by Tea Krulos [Chicago Review Press; $16.95]. From time to time, you’ve probably seen TV news reports on the seemingly random citizens who don their homemade, sometimes very sophisticate costumes to fight crime and help their fellow citizens. As Krulos reveals, while the former is not always successful or wise, the latter can have benefits to the communities in which these heroes operated.

Krulos takes his costumed subjects seriously. He doesn’t hold back when examining when heroes are out of their depth of acting in the name of personal glory. But he also applauds their good deeds and their overwhelmingly good hearts. If you don’t tear up a little on reading the segment of the book on Power Boy, a nine-year-old kid facing an incurable disease and the story of his virtual adoption by real-life super-heroes from across the country, then you don’t get super-heroes and super-hero fiction at all. On the flip side, if you’re at all sane, you must be at least a bit concerned about the number of these real-life costumed heroes who cite Rorschach as their inspiration. Shudder.

Heroes in the Night is a fascinating book. I wouldn’t recommend you use it as a super-hero handbook, but it may inspire you to question what you can do to be a hero in your everyday life.

ISBN 978-1-61374-775-9

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #154

April saw me at two comics conventions. My plan for the rest of the year is too make at least two such appearances a month as I barrel my way towards my December birthday and reaching the ripe old age of 65. Time flies when you’re having life.

I want to thank Jesse Noble and Joe Nieporte for inviting me to Gem City Comic Con in Dayton, Ohio, and FantastiCon in Toledo, Ohio. I had a wonderful time at both of their events and hope to return to them in 2017. At the end of this week’s column, I’ll fill you in on my May appearances.

Onward to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Postal [Top Cow/Image; $3.99 per issue]. The ongoing series was created by Matt Hawkins, written by Bryan Hill and Hawkins until Hill went solo around issue #10, drawn by Isaac Goodhart and colored and edited by Betsy Gonia. There are echos of Fargo and Twin Peaks in the series, but it definitely stands on its own as among the most unique titles in the modern age.

The setting of the title is one of its most fascinating characters. Eden, Wyoming is as off the grid as humanly possible. From Postal Dossier #1 [$3.99]:

“You won’t find it on a map, and you won’t find it on satellite imaging. There’s no cellphone towers, no open internet usage, no cable TV, no state infrastructure – not even the road that runs through it…doesn’t have a zip code of designation…not a single trace of record of the town anywhere.”

It’s a town for final chances. A place to disappear to have a life unconnected to your past crimes. Some of its residents have served their time. Others are fugitives. All are under the rule of Mayor Laura Shiffron, whose murderous husband founded the town and ran it until Shiffron and others hung him from a tree. Which didn’t kill him. In a town of criminals, he was the most vicious and he’s not down with Eden yet.

Mark Shiffton is the mayor’s son and its postman. He is said to be “a textbook case of Asperger’s Syndrome.” His difference makes him an amazing detective and, in the series to date, he’s used his gift to help people and uncover Eden”s secrets. If they gave out Eisner Awards for best new character, he would have gotten my vote. Then again, Hawkins and Hill should be lauded for their handling of the character. The writing on this series has been first-rate since the first issue, with each issue making me all the more eager for the next issue.

Goodhart and Gonia deliver visuals worthy of the writing. Just one example of their amazing skill is how they depict the many faces of Maggie Prendowski. The town’s friendly waitress was a drug dealer and perhaps worse. She’s the informant and plaything of a crooked F.B.I. agent. She’s a romantic interest for Mark and, even in this town of false faces and secrets, I think she honestly cares for the postman.

Two trade paperback collections of Postal have been published with a third due out in June. I recommend them highly.

Postal Volume 1 [$9.99]

ISBN 978-1-63215-342-5

Postal Volume 2 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1-63215-592-4

Postal Volume 3 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1-63215-710-2

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Ghost

Pre-Code Classics: Ghost Comics Volume 1 [PS Artbooks; roughly $45-50] is one of the more disappointing books in this ongoing series collecting horror comics of the 1950s. It reprints the first seven issues of the Fiction House title from 1951-1953.

The quality of Fiction House titles is generally inconsistent. It took years for Planet Comics to become a worthwhile title. With its material coming from the Jerry Iger Studio, Fiction House’s writing and art was dependent on who was working for Iger at the time. Some of the writers and artists were very good, others were at the other end of the spectrum. This factors into Ghost Comics because most of the stories in these first issues are reprints from earlier Fiction House titles like Jumbo Comics, Wings Comics and others. Adding to the unsatisfying experience is that the reprints were often cut by two to four pages for the reprinting.

The high points of this collection are the Maurice Whitman covers. There are several stories drawn by Lily Renée, whose work I like, Jack Kamen, Rafael Astarita, and the interesting team of penciler Bill Benulis and Jack Abel. The Benulis/Abel stories may not have been reprints since the Grand Comics Database doesn’t identify them as such. Though some of the “Werewolf Hunter” stories are creepy in a good sense, most of the writing is so-so. Also amusing are a few reprinted stories in which Nazis have become Commies. One must keep up with the villains of the day.

Even when I don’t particularly enjoy a Pre-Code Classics volume, I know there will be comics fans and historians thrilled to have them available. Though I sometimes sell the volumes I don’t like, I do not regret buying them. I love the thought of reading comic books I would never otherwise get to read, even if they are far from the best of the era’s offerings. If you share that with me, then you’ll also be glad for this and other volumes.

ISBN 978-1-84863-759-7

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Horimaya

I read quite a bit of manga, though it’s only a drop in the bucket of what’s available. Of late, I’m drawn more to relationship tales than the action stuff, which I often find repetitive. Interesting characters are what I like in manga and what I strive for in my own comics writing.

Horimiya Volume 1 by HERO and Daisuke Hagiwara [Yen Press; $13] is a relationship comedy. Kyouko Hori is one of the most popular girls at her school, but almost never joins her classmates for abt after-school activities. With her parents constantly traveling for their respective jobs, Hori heads straight home to take care of her kid brother and their house. In a sense, she had dual identities. She is an admired star at school and a plain Jane housekeeper and nanny the rest of the time.

Izumi Miyamura is the opposite. At school, he appears awkward and gloomy and shy. Underneath his plain exterior, he’s a hot guy with piercings and tattoos. One of his daily challenges is to keep his other self hidden from his fellow students, which is not easy when it comes to activities like swimming.

The paths of the two students, opposites in their dual identities, cross. They learn that there are many sides to every person and to every story. They connect and becomes friends. For lack of a better word, it’s a pleasant story with some tense moments and surprises. The writing is solid and the art is lovely. If subsequent volumes are as enjoyable as this one, I’ll keep reading them.

ISBN 978-0-316-34203-2

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If you’d like to meet me, get an Isabella-written comic book signed or just talk comics, I’ll be making two public appearances in May. On Saturday, May 7, aka Free Comic Book Day, I will be at Toys Time Forgot in Canal Fulton, Ohio. Two weeks later, Saturday, May 21, I am a special guest of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia. I would be very pleased to see some of my “Tony’s Tips” readers at these events.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #153

I have no one “pick of the week” for you this week. Instead, I have a three-way tie for that honor. It’s a good week.

Operation Ajax: The Story of the CIA Coup that Remade the Middle East [Verso; $25.95] was published last August. It’s a history in comics form with credits like those in a movie. A Cognito Comics & Verso Books production. Written by Mike de Seve. Edited by Stephen Kinzer. Created by Daniel Burwen. Adapted for comics b Mike de Seve and Jason McNamera. It’s a comics work that will not set well with many readers, introducing them as it were to history which has been routinely ignored by the media and political presentations of the factors and forces that created the turbulent region as we know it today. It is not an easy read.

The story opens in 1953. We get a “cast of characters” at the front of the book, but all are brought to unflinching life as the history unfolds. It starts with the oil, of course, and the fading British empire’s need for it or, more precisely, the power and influence it holds as a result of its control of that commodity. The rightfully revered Winston Churchill is a key player in what was certainly not his finest hour.

Greed for power and wealth. A mistreated and underpaid Iranian work force. Rulers and soldiers and politicians vying for dominance in a region becoming increasingly hostile for foreigners and nationals alike. A real chance for an Iranian democracy dashed nations like England and the United States promoting their interests above all others, often using tactics that most reasonable people would call criminal acts of war. By the time you reaching the final chapter of this history, you will be struck by what could have been the Iran of our time. If only…

As I said, Operation Ajax is a hard book to read. It will not sit well with those who try to reduce the Middle East conflict to such inane statements as “They hate our freedoms” or “Islamic terror.” Certainly they are those who hate our freedoms. Certainly there are those who use “religion” as a front for their own lust for power. But the creation and evolution of the ongoing crisis is not easily or accurately reduced to those talking points.

De Seve is an Emmy-nominated writer and director who has worked for major studios on major animation projects. The book has a cinematic feel to it that serves the telling of this history well. We get the story in chapters, each with its own brief introduction. This makes the complicated history easier to grasp. There’s a foreword at the front of the book and historical materials at the back of the book that add to the understanding of uncomfortable truths. However, it is the sure writing and expressive art that brings the reader into the times in which this history happened.

I admire the craft and the honesty and the intensity of Operation Ajax. I recommend to comics readers as an example of what our art form can accomplish, to those of us who struggle with the complex realities of our times and to libraries committed to serving their patrons well.

ISBN 978-1-78168-923-3

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lois lane

Tim Hanley’s Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter [Chicago Review Press; $18.95] is more than just the facts, m’am. While it is a meticulously-researched, almost obsessively-sourced biography of one of fiction’s best-known journalists, the book’s insights into the presentation of Lois by almost exclusively male editors, writers and artists offer insights valuable to anyone making comic books at a time when female readers are the fastest-growing part of our audience and as female creators are becoming more and more prominent in our field.

Hanley shows us all the many aspects of Lois Lane. In this history, we see her as the “sub sister” wanting to fight for scoops with the boys. We see the feisty reporter who will risk life and limb for story. We see the petulant diva who can’t see what hides behind the glasses of a fellow reporter. We see the subdued woman conforming to the times. We see the unruly child who must be taught lessons, often painfully, by the men in her life. We see the feminist icon fighting for social justice. We see the strong partner in both love and work. So many different versions of Lois Lane.

Hanley makes his most useful contributions to the conversation when he points how often – and to the detriment of the character – Lois is simply there to advance Superman’s story. It makes me consider how often that is done with both female and male supporting players and how I might address that in my future comics writing. Anything that forces me to rethink my art and craft is going to rate pretty high with me.

Investigating Lois Lane is a must-read for comics fans, historians and creators. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1-61373-332-5

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mystery girl

Paul Tobin, co-creator and writer of the glorious Bandette graphic albums, presents another strong female lead in Mystery Girl [Dark Horse; $3.99 per issue]. Trine Hampstead is a street detective and that should be taken literally as her office consists of a chair, a rug and a few plants in front of an apartment building in London. Her sign advertises:

All Mysteries Revealed!!

Everything Solved (Already)

No Questions Asked

Once a mystery is put before her or a question asked, Trine knows the solution to the mystery and the answer to the question. Though she doesn’t know how this ability came to her, Trine utilizes it to help people and to make a living. She doesn’t know what hasn’t been put before yet, but, everything else, yeah. She knows.

Trine is a likeable, relatable hero. Artist Alberto J. Alburquerque makes her real and is equally swell at creating a London that feels right to me. Colorist Marissa Louise uses her hues to work with the story and support it. This comic book, of which I have now read the first three issues, is the complete package.

The more-or-less street level mysteries give way to a case that has more global consequences. This feels like a natural progression and it’s further evidence of Tobin’s skill. He’s become a writer whose work I will always check out.

Mystery Girl Volume 1 [$12.99] will collect the first issues of the title. It’s scheduled to hit stores in July. Even though I bought the single issues, I’ll still be buying the trade. Mystery Girl is not just a keeper. It’s a keeper to be shared.

ISBN 978-1-61655-959-5

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella