TONY’S TIPS #236

Old heroes don’t die and, if they are comics heroes, they usually don’t even fade away for long. In this week’s column, we’re looking at some classic heroes who have been with us since the 1930s, the 1940s and the 1950s.

Lee Falk’s Mandrake the Magician, whose newspaper strip launched on June 11, 1934, was a character I always kind of sort of liked even as I found it wanting. Mostly because I never bought that his sole actual “supernatural” ability was super-hypnotism. Some of what he did with that power defied the contention it was all in the minds of those around him. Also, though in later years, Falk attempted to set this right, Lothar disturbed me from the first time I saw him. Allegedly royalty, the amazingly strong Lothar wore stereotypical animal skins, spoke broken English, was easily confused and seemed more servant that friend or partner.

I read Mandrake sporadically in the newspapers. My first sustained exposure to him was in the mid-1960s when King Comics published ten issues of a Mandrake comic book. The stories were mostly based on newspaper strip stories with, initially, art by moonlighting Marvel artists Don Heck and Werner Roth. The stories in the later issues included some that were originally produced by Italian writers and artists. Back then, I found these comic books enjoyable but not especially outstanding.

In 2016, Hermes Press collected all of these comic-book stories in Mandrake the Magician the Complete King Years: Volume One and Two [$49.99 each]. Those hardcover books recently made the way to the top of my reading pile. The presentation of the comics was first-rate. It was fun revisiting the stories for the first time in four decades. I appreciated the informative introduction in the initial volume and the dual interviews with Fred Fredericks, who drew (and later wrote and drew) the newspaper strip from 1964 to 2013. As a bonus, the second Hermes volume also reprinted Dell’s Four Color #752 featuring original Mandrake stories written by Paul S. Newman  and drawn by Stan Campbell.

Coming back to these comics stories gave me warm gooey feelings of nostalgia. It was a time when new comics publishers like King and Tower were trying to gain a foothold on the newsstands, when some older publishers like Archie and Charlton were trying new things, when the American Comics Group (ACG) was still around doing comics  like no others and when publisher Jim Warren was engaging me with Creepy, Eerie and Blazing Combat. It was an exciting time to be a teenage comics reader with enough part-time jobs to be able to buy a lot of comic books. Then and now, I thought these Mandrake comic books were fun.

If you lack my nostalgic impulses, Mandrake the Magician Volumes One and Two are too expensive for your casual reading. You can get them at a nice discount from InStockTrades, which sponsors these weekly “Tony’s Tips” columns, but they still aren’t for every fan. Just for those of us who still get a kick out of Mandrake gesturing hypnotically and maybe making some magic happen. To those willing to abandon their disbelief, which includes yours truly, I recommend both volumes.

Mandrake the Magician the Complete King Years: Volume One

ISBN 978-1-61345-098-7

Mandrake the Magician the Complete King Years: Volume Two ISBN 978-1-61345-102-1

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Fighting American

I read and mostly enjoyed Fighting American #1-2 by Gordon Rennie with artist Duke Mighten [Titan Comics; $3.99]. The title hero was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1950s. At first, it was pretty much a Cold War reboot of their Captain America. Then they ran with the excesses of the Joseph McCarthy Era and turned into a  brilliant parody of patriotic heroes. Fighting America is one of my favorite Simon/Kirby creations.

Rennie and Mighten have created a half-continuation and half-reboot of the original comics. In their version, Fighting American and his sidekick Speedboy have been propelled into the future to battle an old enemy. They end up stuck in our time with Speedboy getting all wide-eyed at the more open displays of sexuality he sees while his adult partner scorns these modern mores with speeches that wouldn’t have been out of place on the 1960s Batman TV shows. Not all of the humor works. Sometimes it’s overplayed. But, regardless of the few bumps in the road, these were fun comic books. I’m in for the long haul and recommend you give the title a chance.

Fighting American Volume 1 [$16.99], a trade paperback collection of what I’m guessing is the first five issues, is scheduled to be released in May of next year.

ISBN 978-1785862106

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Green Hornet Spirit

This week’s top pick of the week is The Green Hornet ‘66 Meets the Spirit #1-5 by Fred Van Lente and artist Bob Q [Dynamite; $3.99 per issue]. There are mysteries galore in this adventure, all of which are resolved entertainingly. There are wonderful character scenes with the heroes. There’s an Will Eisner-esque vignette about a man name of Hypnos Schnooze that fits magnificently into the all-around story. This series was a delight on every level.

The Green Hornet ’66 Meets The Spirit will be collected in a trade paperback [$19.99] in May of next year. If you’re a fan of either the Green Hornet TV series or Will Eisner’s landmark Spirit comic, you’ll love this book. If it were already available, I’d buy a few copies for Christmas/holiday gifts.

ISBN 978-1524105907

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One last note. I’m putting together my 2018 appearance schedule as we speak. If you’re a promoter who would like be as a guest at an event or convention, now’s the time to contact me to discuss terms of such an appearance. I’ll respond as quickly as possible to all such inquires.

Another one last note. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #2 should be in the comics shops this week. That I urge you to buy this six-issue series is a clear conflict of interest. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me…and again when I do exactly the same thing for issues #3-6.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #235

I’m writing this edition of “Tony’s Tips” on Black Friday because, with the exception of going to our local Home Depot with my wife at 6 am in the morning, I spend the day safe inside Casa Isabella. The Home Depot trip is, for me, the equivalent of renewing our marriage vows. “How so?,” you foolishly ask?

I accompany my wife to Home Depot at that ungodly hour so she can purchase as many ninety-nine-cent poinsettias as can fit into our shopping cart. That generally works out to anywhere from one to two dozen. In truth, it’s not the crowd or hour I find daunting. It’s those plants.

Poinsettias. The Devil’s Flowers. The only actual plants that look like fake plants. I have hated this mostly crimson blot on nature for decades. And yet, because I love my wife, I go with her to Home Depot every morning after Thanksgiving. Hey, it’s cheaper than my going to Jared’s.

There are better expressions of love, especially if one happens to be shopping for a devotee of comic books and strips. Case in point: The Complete Peanuts Family Album: The Ultimate Guide to Charles M. Schulz’s Classic Characters by Andrew Farago [Weldon Owen; $40] with a foreword by Berkeley Breathed and a preface by Bob Peterson.

Weighing in at 3.4 pounds, this nine by eleven-inch hardcover is an amazing examination of Peanuts and its wondrous cast. Farago shines a light on the main characters and their world, but he also looks at more obscure characters. As I made my way through the book’s 256 pages, I would pause to squeal with delight as I spotted some long-forgotten bit player. Just as enjoyable was Farago’s explaining – through interviews with and quotes from Schulz – why those players faded from the strip quickly.

Beautifully designed and filled with over 700 images, many of them rarely seen, The Complete Peanuts Family Album manages to be both an attractive coffee table book and an informative history of the legendary comic strip. You won’t learn everything you need to know about Peanuts and Schulz, but you will learn stuff that never made it into other Peanuts histories.

The Complete Peanuts Family Album is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68188-292-5

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Disney Comics

For the truly dedicated student of comics history, there’s Disney Comics: The Whole Story by Alberto Becattini [Theme Park Press; $39.95]. A high school teacher of English in Florence, Italy, the obsessive Becattini has been writing about comics, illustration and animation for over four decades. In this 466-page book, he delivers what the back-cover blurb promises: An Encyclopedic Reference of Disney Comics.

Becattini’s detailed reporting on Disney comics from the very start of Disney comics to their growth in the United States of America and across the oceans is impressive. There so much information that I will be reading a portion here and a portion there. It’s the only way I’ll have a prayer of retaining so much Disney knowledge.

If there’s a flaw in the book, it’s that its encyclopedic nature is not conducive to breezy prose. It’s more of a fact book/text book that a wild ride through the world of anthropomorphic ducks, mice and other critters. Don’t fret. This astonishing volume also covers Disney’s human characters and comics as well.

My interest in overseas Disney comics and creators has been growing since I did a short stint rewriting various foreign Disney stories for the American market. Even now, when I peruse the huge database of Lambiek Comiclopedia, I keep a close eye out for Disney writers and artists. Especially the Italian writers and artists. Before I come to the end of my comics-writing life, I’d really love to work directly with some of my talented landsmen.

This is not a gift suitable for the casual comics fan or historian. However, if the subject is one in which a fan or historian already has an interest, you won’t find a better reference book for them. It earns my recommendation.

ISBN 978-1683900177

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Champions 11

To wrap up this week’s column, let’s talk in general terms about a favorite comic book of mine: Champions [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. Decades ago, I conceived of a comics series by that title that, by the time the editors had their way, went from a super-hero buddies road trip book starring Iceman and the Angel to an unwieldy team of “super-heroes for the common man” based in Los Angeles. Fans tell me they loved it. I can see why. But I’ve always been disappointed that I never really brought home that lofty concept in the manner I would have liked. Imagine my delight that Mark Waid, one of the best writers in comics, is doing such terrific comic books with a concept not unlike the one I conceived.

Former Avengers Ms. Marvel, Nova and the Miles Morales Spider-Man walked away from the senior team because they became disillusioned with how the adults were running things. As with so many super-hero titles, the heroes spent more time fighting their old enemies than helping people. Joined by the Hulk (ala Amadeus Cho), a time-tossed young Cyclops and Viv Vision, the teen teammates are determined to focus on helping people. There have already been a dozen issues of great Champions comic books with no end in sight.

One of the adverse side effects of the Marvel Universe is that its titles get swept up into whatever massive (and usually awful) epic that promises to change the Marvel Universe forever. Such epics are  a drug-free substitute for sleeping pills. I dislike them and wish Marvel would stop doing them.

Champions #11 [October 2017] was a tie-in to the recent repugnant Secret Empire event which saw Captain America transformed into a murderous Nazi. How murderous? He destroyed Las Vegas to show what a total boss he was. In that issue of Champions, Waid with penciler Humberto Ramos, inker Victor Olazaba and colorist Edgar Delgado showed us the horrific aftermath of the obliteration of Las Vegas. It was as brilliant as it was horrific and, to be honest, left me wondering if the Marvel Universe could ever be set to rights again. Couldn’t we have an issue where the real Captain America steps out of a shower and Sharon Carter tells him she just had the most awful nightmare? I’d suspend my disbelief for that.

Champions #12 [November 2017] was a breath of fresh air after the previous issue. It’s a solid done-in-one issue with the teen heroes battling Psycho-Man, not because he’s some old foe of theirs, but because he’s putting people in jeopardy and they need to stop that. I loved it.

Currently, Champions is crossing over with Avengers in a six-issue series alternating between the two titles. While it’s interesting to see the senior team proving the younger team was absolutely spot on to go its own way, it’s not as pleasing as the Champions doing their own thing. It’s not a bad story. It definitely has some cool moments. I’m just tired of crossovers large and small.

The first six issues of Champions have been reprinted in Champions Vol. 1: Change the World [$15.99]. The next several issues will be reprinted in Champions Vol. 2: The Freelancer Lifestyle [$19.99], which is due out before the end of the year. And, if you’d like to see the original Champions comic books, they have been collected in Marvel Masterworks: The Champions Vol. 1 [$100] with an fun-filled introduction by me. Each and every one of these fine volumes would make an excellent Christmas or holiday gift for the comics fan you love or for yourself.

Champions Vol. 1: Change the World

ISBN 978-1302906184

Champions Vol. 2: The Freelancer Lifestyle

ISBN 978-1302906191

Marvel Masterworks: The Champions Vol. 1

ISBN 978-0785196921

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #234

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m thankful that, as I lumber toward my 66th birthday, I still have fans and friends reading what I write and, one hopes, enjoying what I write. Of course, there are other things for which I’m profoundly thankful. My family. That I’m again writing Black Lightning comic books. That the Black Lightning live-action TV series will be debuting on the CW on Tuesday, January 16, 2018. Blessings abound.

I’m also grateful that, some 62 years from when I learned to read from comic books, I am still an avid fan of the medium. I read way more comics and collections and graphic novels than I can fit into this column or my nigh-daily blog. But, when I come across comics that are great or comics that, though not necessarily good, spark a review, I’m so pleased to have forums like this one wherein I can share my comments with you. Let us have at it.

I’ve got it bad for the PS Artbooks hardcover collections of public domain comic books. Even when I suspect the material won’t be very good, I am drawn to the opportunities to read comics I would likely never not been able to read any other way.

Pre-Code Classics: Jet Powers/Space Age Volume One ($44.00) brings us five science-fiction comics. Originally published by Magazine Enterprises, Jet Powers #1-4 were published in 1951. That numbering was continued with the one-shot Space Ace #5, originally published in 1952.

Drawn by Bob Powell, Jet Powers is a “captain of science, master of the atoms and molecules that make up the world we live in!” He’s a bonafide super genius and his sci-fi adventures involve the usual mad scientists and would-be alien conquerors. Each issue has three Jet Powers stories. Each of the four issues also presents a short comics story of Space Ace, a star adventurer and pirate. Lawrence Woromay drew the first Space Ace tale, the artist of the second has yet to be identified and the stories in #3 and #4 are penciled by Al Williamson with, on the last story, some inking assistance from Wally Wood.

The most interesting of the Jet Powers tales are those in which the humans of Earth are almost completely wiped out by “The Dust Doom.” This story continues in a later issue, next to Jet Powers stories that don’t seem to be part of that continuity. It’s jarring, but I like the audacity of the storyline.

Space Ace #5 isn’t nearly as interesting. Gone is the adventurer and pirate, replaced by a generic super-hero sort with a teenaged sidekick. There are five short Space Ace tales, all drawn by Fred Guardineer in a dull, flat style.

Jet Powers/Space Age Volume One is mostly pretty fun. If you love 1950s sci-fi comics, you’ll enjoy this book.

ISBN 978-1-78636-081-6

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Bloodstone Legion Monsters

I can’t recommend Marvel’s Bloodstone and the Legion of Monsters [$34.99]. The book collects the four-issue Legion of Monsters from 2011, some short Elsa Bloodstone stories from various specials and the original Ulysses Bloodstone series from Marvel Presents and the back pages of The Rampaging Hulk.

The Legion of Monsters mini-series by Dennis Hopeless with artist Juan Doe is terrific. Elsa is an edgy and fun heroine and I loved her interactions with her monstrous uneasy allies. While the 2012 trade paperback is out of print, you can easily find copies on the secondary markets. Get that trade paperback and you have the best part of the larger collection.

What really brings the book down are those original adventures of Ulysses Bloodstone. While some of the art is interesting and even well done – I like the teaming of American pencilers with finishers from the Philippines – the writing on these stories is pretty bad. The stories meander all over the place. The captions and dialogue are leaden. The only interesting one in the bunch is the finale of the series.

That finale was written by Steve Gerber, possibly recruited to put this suffering animal out of its misery. Gerber’s script takes no prisoners and is not kind to Ulysses. It’s nowhere near one of my sorely missed friend Steve’s comics masterpieces, but I confess I enjoyed his approach to wrapping up the series.

If the Legion of Monsters limited series was only available in this just-released larger collection, I would probably suggest you get it and stop reading before the 1970s Bloodstone stuff. But you’ll save yourself time and money by going for the 2012 trade paperback mentioned above.

Bloodstone and the Legion of Monsters:

ISBN 978-1302908027

Legion of Monsters:

ISBN 978-0785140573

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Fresh Romance

This week’s pick of the week is Fresh Romance Volume 2, edited by EMET Comics publisher Maytal Gilboa [$24.99]. The 192-page volume presents four fine stories of LGBTQ and interracial romances: “The Only One” by Cecil Castellucci, Sarah Winifred Searle; “Under the Oak Trees” by Sally Jane Thompson; “Walk It Off” by Suzana Harcum and Own White; and “One Lucky Bride” by Julie Hutchinson.

“One Lucky Bride” is a madcap comedy of errors about a lesbian who must get married by a certain deadline in order to inherit wealth. “Under the Oak Trees” deals with a long-distance romance. “Walk It Off” is an adventure/travel romance that will be continued – soon, I hope – in a future Fresh Romance volume. All of them are charming and entertaining stories told without cynicism and with an eye on the happy ending prize.

“The Only One” is the shortest tale in this anthology, but it’s my favorite. It’s the story of a romance that is literally a lifetime in the making. Romance is not just for the young. That is a theme that resonates with someone of my advanced years.

Fresh Romance Volume 2 will be of interest to the readers who love romance comics, who love human tales and who love to see diversity in comics. It would make a great gift for a romantic partner who shares your love of comics or one you want to introduce to the joy of comics. I’ll be looking for more EMET publications in the near future.

ISBN 978-0998179926

I’ll be back next week with more comics tips.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #233

This is the kind of week I like best. Three reviews and every one of them is a pick of the week.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, like almost all of the movies in this series, it was hugely entertaining. The film stars Chris Hemsworth (as Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Cate Blanchett (Hela) with key performances by Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Karl Urban (Skurge), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange). It was written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, and directed by Taika Waititi, who also motion-acted and voiced Korg. Here’s the Internet Movie Database synopsis:

Thor finds himself in lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

The movie kicks off with Thor venturing into the fiery depths on a mission to subdue the fire demon Surtur and so stave off the coming of Ragnarok. But the return of Thor’s forgotten sister Hela brings that prophesied destruction of Asgard ever closer. Odin is dying. Thor and Loki end up on a distant planet. Hela conquers Asgard and, by the time the Odin sons and their allies reach Asgard, Hela has already slaughtered most of Asgard’s defenders and appointed Skurge as her executioner.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER

Thor: Ragnarok is a dark film. Despite that, it has considerable humor, terrific performances, thrilling action, great character play and a heroism that offers the viewer hope no matter how dire the circumstances might appear. There are life-changing moments for several characters and not one of those moments feels forced. It’s what we have come to expect from Marvel Studios: an epic adventure true to its comic-book roots.

On a personal note, I was pleased to see Larry Lieber’s name next to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, recognizing his role as the writer of the first Thor comic-book story. I couldn’t catch every one of the other acknowledgments and special thanks given to comics creators in the end credits – there were many of them – but I applaud Marvel Studios including these in its movies.

If you have enjoyed previous Marvel Studios films, I think you’ll enjoy Thor: Apocalypse. Every time I see a new entry in the series, I want to sit down and watch all of them again. That would make one heck of a fun vacation week.

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Flintstones 2

The Flintstones Volume 2 by Mark Russell with artists Steve Pugh, Rick Leonardi and Scott Hanna [DC Comics; $16.99] is every bit as good as the first volume, which I lavished praise upon just a few months back. The witty Russell brings the modern stone age family face-to-face with today’s national and global concerns. Corporate greed and the lack of empathy for workers. Bogus religion used to promote base agendas.  Demonizing the other to feed the war machine as a matter of political policy. Exploitation of minorities, which, in this series, are mostly animals pressed into service as bowling balls and appliances. Insane consumerism. This is hilarious comedy with a thoughtfully chewy core.

This trade paperback reprints issues #7-12 of the limited series. A dozen issues of this fresh new take on the classic Flintstones cartoon aren’t enough. If Russell gets a second wind and wants to write more, I’ll buy them.

The Flintstones Volume One and Two are recommended to the grown-up kids of my generation who can accept a different vision for these beloved characters. They are also recommended to somewhat younger readers who have enjoyed the cartoons in their constant reruns on various cable networks. Consider them as holiday gifts for members of either group.  They are yabba-dabba-awesome!

The Flintstones Volume 1 ($16.99)

ISBN 978-1-4012-6837-4

The Flintstones Volume 2 ($16.99)

ISBN 978-1-4012-7398-9

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Usagi Legends

The Usagi Yojimbo Saga: Legends by Stan Sakai [Dark Horse; $24.99] breaks from the issue-by-issue reprinting of the great comic-book series to collect stories that took place outside Usagi’s ongoing timeline. It starts with the entire run of Space Usagi, a science-fiction series that took our samurai hero to a galaxy far far away. Sakai brought a “Star Wars” vibe to his classic characters with the result being a stunning thriller. Also include in this volume is the full-color graphic novel Yokai, a wild monster mash featuring Usagi in battle with a legion of demons and monsters; and a bevy of cool bonus features.

However, for me, the best story in this collection is the six-issue Senso. Imagine if the Martians from War of the Worlds had landed on Earth centuries earlier. Not in London, but in Japan’s Edo period and in the midst of a climatic battle between the warring factions of that time. It’s one of my favorite Usagi Yojimbo adventures of all time.

I recommend all of the Usagi Yojimbo collections from Fantagraphics and Dark Horse. As I’ve said, I consider Sakai our greatest living cartoonist. A gift of any of these volumes to those special comics readers in your life will introduce your loved ones to some of the finest comics work ever created. They’ll thank you for that.

ISBN 978-1-50670-323-7

That’s all for this installment of Tony’s Tips! I’ll be back here next week with another trio of reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #232

Normandy Gold [Titan Comics; $3.99] is a hard-as-nails crime comic book with a heroine who is even harder. Written by Megan Abbott, an Edgar-winning author of seven crime novels and writer/journalist Alison Gaylin, this comics series is drawn by the remarkable Steve Scott. By way of full disclosure, Scott is a good friend of mine. But I’m also an admirer of his work and it was his name that led me to Normandy Gold.

Sheriff Normandy Gold comes from a broken family, but was raised by a lawman. She followed him into the profession. This series opens with her receiving a phone call from her half-sister Lila, living in our nation’s capital. The initially happy conversation takes a dark turn when Lila is murdered as Normandy listens. The sheriff is in Washington D.C. a few pages later.

Set in the 1970s, this is a thriller of politics and prostitution. The D.C. police don’t have much interest in investigating the death of a call girl – there are so many of them in the city – but Gold will go to extreme lengths to find her sister’s killer and deal out some justice to him. The situation turns out to be a heck of a lot more complicated than Normandy imagined and with tendrils reaching upward to the highest levels of power.

I have the first four issues of Normandy Gold. The characterization of the sheriff is powerful and scary. There are scenes that shake her and the reader. Adding to these moments and the overall story is Scott’s sure storytelling and excellent depictions of the era in which the story is set. I’m hooked.

Normandy Gold is my pick of the week. A trade paperback collecting the series [$19.99] will be published in March. Even though I have (or will have) all of the individual issues, I plan to buy a copy of that book.

ISBN 978-1785858642

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Falcon

Though diminished by the Captain Hydra Steve Rogers nonsense – and nothing in that ridiculous event has changed my microscopically low opinion of it – the Captain America Sam Wilson title told a number of interesting stories that touched on the political issues of the real world. While all of those stories could have been told without the Captain Hydra stuff, I applaud them nonetheless. Knowing that Sam Wilson would almost certainly resume his role as the Falcon, I was eager to see what Marvel would do with him.

Falcon #1 [$3.99] has Sam trying to figure out what kind of a hero he wants to be. Screenwriter and producer Rodney Barnes has credits ranging from The Boondocks to Marvel’s Runaways. He’s also earned a number of top honors for his work. In this initial issue, Falcon is trying to broker peace between warring Chicago street gangs. It’s good premise, torn from reality, as it were, but it’s weakened by a couple clunky speeches and the last page introduction of a surprise fantasy element. Additionally, I’m not completely on board with the Joshua Cassara art. It’s kinda stiff in some scenes and way too shadowy in others.

I’m not giving up on Falcon. I like Sam Wilson too much for that. I also want to see where Barnes goes from here. My hope is that he doesn’t pin the folly of man on the supernatural.

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Ruff and Reddy

The Ruff & Reddy Show #1 [DC; $3.99] was a definite contender for this week’s pick of the week. Writer Howard Chaykin weaves a cool almost biographical tale about a world where humans coexist with and, naturally, discriminate against the very cartoon characters who entertain them. Ranging across a couple decades, we meet the team of Ruff and Reddy, a clever cat and somewhat less clever dog, who, despite the success they achieved together, hate each other. The enmity is the push that leads to the downfall of their careers.

Chaykin has a knack for writing the 1950s and 1960s. He knows his history and, in this first issue, there are echoes of those real-life entertainers who fell from grace. Artist Mac Rey illustrates the issue in a style that reminds me of the more “hip” cartoons of the 1960s. It’s a classy look for an intriguing story.

I was skeptical of DC placing beloved animated characters in this more realistic and serious world. Especially when it came to Ruff and Reddy, two of my own childhood favorites. However, with a rare exception, I’m getting a kick out of these titles. They may not be the characters as I remember them, but, as long as they challenge and entertain me, I’m on board with them.

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One more note for this week. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 is now on sale and has debuted to almost universally terrific reviews. Artist Clayton Henry is doing an amazing job on the series, as is colorist Pete Pantazis. Editor Jim Chadwick gives me better notes than almost any editor I’ve ever worked with in my 45 years in the comics biz. Everyone at DC, including management and publicity, is giving this series tremendous support. I’m as proud of this series as anything I’ve written. Which is my long-winded way of saying I hope you’ll give the series a look.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #231

My interest in British comics predates my starting work at Marvel Comics in 1972 to work on The Mighty World of Marvel and the other produced-in-the-United-States weeklies. Jerry Bails, the father of comics fandom, sold me a bunch of weeklies at a Detroit Triple Fan Fare.
I was immediately intrigued by the format.

Today, I subscribe to two British comics. Commando is a digest-size black-and-white weekly that publishes done-in-one war stories that might take place in World War I one week and Vietnam the next. At two panels per page and 63 pages per issue, these tales remind me of extended versions of the short stories that used to run in DC’s Our Army at War, G.I. Combat and others.

Beano is a more traditional British weekly. It’s slightly larger in size than American magazines. It features stories and such centered around the Bash Street Kids, elementary school students whose mad antics often drive their parents and teachers mad. Though intended for much younger readers, I get a kick out of Beano.

I was getting 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine as well, but, sad to say, those titles are a faint shadow of their former selves. Judge Dredd continues to be fun, but virtually every other strip in these titles is mediocre at best. I dropped the titles and have invested the money I’d been spending on them in copies of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, a six-issue series from DC Comics. You might want to check that one out.

Something British comics do every year is publish hardcover volumes of their weekly titles. These make great gifts for young readers. For about
$10.50 in U.S. dollars, I ordered Beano Annual 2018 from D.C. Thompson & Company Limited. It’s 112 pages of full-color comic strips starring all the Beano regulars: Dennis and his dog Gnasher, The Bash Street Kids, Billy Whizz (the fastest boy in the world), football-crazy Ball Boy, Bananaman (when little Eric eats a banana, he becomes a super-hero), Roger the Dodger, and, the tougher-than-all-the-boys Minnie the Minx.
There’s even a story running through the annual that teams up most of the kids as they battle to defeat evil forces who want to suck all the fun out of their town.

Chalk it up to my eternal immaturity or youthfulness – either one works
– but I get a kick out of the kids and their raucous adventures. Buying this annual will give you a feel for the weekly and, if you like what you see, subscriptions are available even right here in the Colonies. Check out the D.C. Thompson website:

https://www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk/

Beano Annual 2018 is my pick of the week.

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Malika

When I reviewed the Free Comic Book Day edition of Malika Warrior Queen [YouNeek Studios] in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing, I gave it nine out of a possible ten points. Though the 20-page excerpt could have used a little more background, it told an exciting story with likeable characters and vibrant actions. I liked it a lot and, on seeing Malika Warrior Queen Part One [$14.99] was available, I was quick to order the 144-page trade paperback.

Created and written by Roye Okupe with art by Chima Kalu, Malika did not disappoint. Set in fifteenth century West Africa, the book tells of a fierce and wise queen and military leader struggling to defend her expanding kingdom from enemies without and within. This first book gives readers much more information on the land and the people who appear in it. We get to see many sides of Malika as the adventure progresses, including more than a few surprising elements to her life. Though set in a fictional universe, Malika draws much of its energy from the real-life history of Africa and its people. The continent and its many countries can inspire many more stories than we have generally seen in modern pop culture entertainment. A series like Malika draws on its deeper roots and expands beyond the traditional views of the continent.

Kalu’s art is rich with detail and humanity. The artist is a solid storyteller who handles the human scenes and the vast battle scenes with equal skill. Color artist Raphael Kazeem adds plush and moody hues as the story demands. It’s a great-looking book.

Malika Warrior Queen would make a great gift for comics readers who crave something different in their adventure reading. Between its strong female protagonist and its sense of history and scope, I can see why it was nominated for a 2017 Glyph Comic Award. It didn’t win, but I suspect subsequent volumes will be strong contenders in every applicable category. I will be looking forward to those subsequent volumes.

ISBN 978-0-9966070-5-6

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Secret Weapons #1

Valiant continues to impress me. Even though its shared universe is growing in both time and space, almost all of their comic books are very accessible to newcomers. Most issues have some sort of “what has gone before” material and the scripts themselves usually give the new reader all the information they need to follow the stories. If you asked me to give you a summary of the Valiant Universe, I’d fail miserably. So many characters and settings. But the vastness of the universe doesn’t block me from enjoying the individual issues and series.

Secret Weapons #1-4 [$3.99 per issue] draws on the machinations of Toyo Harada, the world’s most powerful telepath. He activated many “psiots” like himself. Some emerged with great powers. Some didn’t survive their activation. And some, the heroes of this series, were considered useless and discarded.

Government technopath Livewire is tracking down these “failures.” She sees potential in them that Harada didn’t. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one interested in them…and her opposition does not have her benign intentions. What results is an exciting chase with deadly consequences if the “secret weapons” fall into the hands of their enemy.

Lovers of B-list and C-list super-heroes will get a kick out of the characters in Secret Weapons. Though new to comics writing, Eric Heisserer, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of Arrival and Valiant’s upcoming Harbinger and Bloodshot feature films, does the concept proud. Artist Raul Allen and color artist Patricia Martin help pull it together. The result is an enjoyable super-hero team book that I hope gets another series soon.

Secret Weapons will be collected in trade paperback in December for the low price of $9.99. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1682152294

That’s all for this time. I’ll be back next week with more reviews and the usual gift suggestions.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #230

Take a deep breath before you try to speak the name of our premiere offering for this week: Roy Thomas Presents Planet Comics Collected Works Volume Nine [PS Artbooks; $59.99]. This volume was published in 2015 and is readily available, often at considerable discounts. I recommend our own InStock Trades. They sponsor this column, but they also get a good chunk of my own money on account of they offer great prices and service.

Published by Fiction House from 1940 to 1953, Planet Comics was the leading comic-book science fiction anthology during its long life. During the peak of that run, Planet could be counted on for covers with very attractive women at great risk of alien peril and colds. Inside each issue, there would be regular features, some of those also featuring those clothing-challenged women, though these women were often strong heroines in their own rights.

Volume Nine reprints Planet Comics #36-41 [May 1945 to March 1946] with a wonderful foreword by groundbreaking comics creator, comics historian and Eisner Hall of Fame member Trina Robbins. I reviewed  Last Girl Standing, her autobiography, a couple weeks back. Robbins writes of her first exposure to Planet Comics and her appreciation of the powerful women found therein. It’s wrong to dismiss Fiction House’s titles as mere cheesecake and male fantasies. They held a strong appeal for women as well.

I’m a big fan of “The Lost World” strip. Hunt Bowman and his lady friend Lyssa wander an Earth conquered by the vile Voltamen, who have hunted humans into nigh-extinction. In a world of dangerous mutated creatures and moss-covered ruins, Hunt and Lyssa battle for survival and to kill Voltamen.

Drawn by the legendary Lily Renee, the chapters in these issues are like unto forerunners to Don McGregor’s great Killraven stories of the 1970s. Especially when the couple acquires three new supporting characters, siblings who were put into suspended animation by their scientist father when the Voltamen first attacked. Brother Bruce’s physical body is destroyed, but his brain is transplanted into an alien body. The siblings come and go, but they were a fine addition to the series.

“Mysta of the Moon” and “Gale Allen and the Girl Squadron” featured a confident super-powered woman and an equally confident government agent. They protect helpless men and women while dishing out dire fates to villains. All while dressed in the height of futuristic, albeit skimpy, fashion.

“Star Pirate” and “Star Rangers” are less interesting, though the former is enlivened by the hero’s shady first mate and the art of a young Murphy Anderson.

“Auro, Lord of Jupiter” rejoins the title in issue #41. However, in this revamp, the mind and soul of a Earth scientist is transplanted into the body of the late king. I’m looking forward to reading the next volume to see where this goes.

Frank Belknap Long and the prolific Walter Gibson are known to have written for Planet Comics, but these stories are credited to house names like Thorncliffe Herrick and Ross Gallun. Some stories have clever ideas. Some have sexism and xenophobia. All are straight and to the point adventures. Most are fun to read.

I get a kick out of reading these blasts from the past, even those that make a modern-day reader wince. Largely free of the continuity of modern comics, any Planet Comics volume can be enjoyed without regard to past stories. That makes them an ideal gift for readers just looking for some comics history and fun.

ISBN 978-1-84863-871-6

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Black Comics

I’m recommending Sheena C. Howard’s Encyclopedia of Black Comics [Fulcrum; $23.95] with an asterix. The history of black creators in our art form and industry is an important field of study, even when the published results are as flawed as this particular volume. My problems with this book are several.

A book that purports to be an encyclopedia of black comics should be, you know, encyclopedic. Howard’s book is not. E.C. Stoner, who was possibly the first African-American comic book artist with work in Action Comics #1, does not have an entry. Trevor von Eeden, who has inspired many young black comics artist, what with him having entered the field while still a teen…and continuing to develop his talent in interesting ways…and standing up for his rights and those of others…does not have an entry. Dwayne McDuffie, one of the best writers and editors in comics, one of the most influential writers and editors in comics, a founder of Milestone Comics and a animation legend for shows like Justice League Unlimited and Static Shock, does not have an entry. When this book was discussed on my Facebook page, my friends came up with many other creators who were omitted from the book.

Howard has a clear bias towards academia and, as a result, the book gives considerable emphasis to fellow scholars. Some are worthy of inclusion, but not to the exclusion of Stoner, von Eeden, McDuffie and others.

There is an inconsistent use of the terms “creator” and “creation” that often makes assumptions as to who actually created the comics and characters discussed. Current industry standard is to note the writer and penciller of the first story to feature a character. An inker is not considered a primary creator. Someone who came along later is not considered a primary creator. This volume misuses the terms frequently.

So why am I recommending this seriously flawed work? Because even a flawed book about black comics and creators, even a flawed book that makes assumptions unsubstantiated by facts and tries to codify false narratives, expands our knowledge of comics creators of whom we might not have heard. I discovered at least a dozen such comics creators in reading this book and will be seeking out their work in the months to come.

We need a true encyclopedia of black comics. This book isn’t that encyclopedia. Maybe future editions will grow into that claim…or maybe the flaws of this book will inspire others to produce a more complete and inclusive study of these creators.

ISBN 9781682751015

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Superman Bad

Finally, we have Superman and the Miserable, Rotten, No Fun, Really Bad Day by Dave Croatto with illustrations by Tom Richmond [MAD Books; $14.99]. Per the front cover: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a 100% unauthorized parody!

Back in March, I reviewed the similarly intended Goodnight Batcave by the same creative team. I praised that earlier parody as one of the funniest books I had read all year. Alas, this book didn’t so much as make me crack a smile. Maybe it was because the first book took much of its humor from deft mentions of Batman tropes. Maybe it’s because this book casts Superman as a whiner. Maybe it comes down to the source materials. Goodnight Moon is a better realized kids book than Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. For whatever reason or reasons, this parody didn’t tickle my funny bone.  Hence, it receives no recommendation from me.

With a reminder Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 by yours truly and Clayton Henry will be in the comics shops early next month, I leave you with the promise/warning that I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #229

One of the best things about living in a time when comic books from the past are readily available is that it’s never too late to enjoy a great work you missed the first time around. Incredible as it now seems to me, I somehow never read 2009’s Vixen: Return of the Lion by G. Willow Wilson and Spanish artist/illustrator Cafu (Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano). Until now.

Vixen has always struck me as a great character waiting to become great. Though I’ve enjoyed her appearances in comic books, cartoons and the Legends of Tomorrow TV series, I never felt like I’d found “my” Vixen until this trade paperback collection of the five-issue mini-series. As Wilson writes and develops her, Mari McCabe is on the verge of discovering who she is and coming into her abilities to mimic any animal on Earth. Though she has been a super-hero and traveled to the stars as a member of the Justice League, McCabe is not truly Vixen until she returns to her native Zambesi in search of answers to her long-dead mother’s murder.

This is a painful journey for Mari, but she’s never less than the inspirational hero she’s meant to be. Even when she doubts herself. Beyond the character development, Wilson manages to do some really clever things with the story’s villain and include members of the Justice League without those heroes overpowering Mari’s role in the adventure.

Sidebar. I particularly liked Wilson’s use of Jefferson Pierce in this story. Too many writers have made Black Lightning subservient to Batman or Superman. In his appearance here, he is the equal of his teammates and reacts quickly and decisively to changing events on the ground.  Maybe I should add a collaboration with Willow on a Black Lightning/Vixen adventure to my lengthy bucket list of stuff I’d like to write before I kick the bucket.

Cafu’s art added considerably to my enjoyment of this story. He’s got a knack for drawing realistic and still dynamic super-heroes. His skill in drawing the human drama scenes was clear in every such scene. His African backgrounds were breathtaking. Add Cafu to the long list of artists I’d love to work with.

Vixen: Return of the Lion [DC; $17.99] is my pick of the week. It is readily available and is recommended for readers who love super-hero comics that go beyond the usual.

ISBN 978-1-4012-2512-4

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Super Gorillas

Super Gorillas Vs. The All-American Victory Legion by the late Alan Kupperberg [Charlton Neo; $7.99] is one of the most unusual comic books I’ve read recently. This is going to take some explanation. The two super-team stories in these issue – running 17 and 20 pages respectively – were written and drawn by Kupperberg as commissions in 2011 and 2013.  The team is mostly comprised of characters from the 1940s Centaur Comics, characters now in the public domain. The stories were found in Alan’s files by brother Paul Kupperberg, who realized these fun retro-style adventures would entertain not just Alan’s fans, but also fans of Golden and Silver Age storytelling.

As for Charlton Neo, it’s this wonderfully weird and goofy outfit that publishes all manner of fun comics featuring comics characters and comics genres only seen rarely in our industry. Are the comic books the stuff of Eisner Awards? No, they are not. But I’m buying, reading and getting a kick out of them, which is usually all I ask from my comics.

The hero line-up consists of Amazing Man, Blue Lady, Mystic Arrow, Dark Spider, Lightning and others. The simian super-villains in the cover story are the Green Gorilla, Kingorilla, Mighty Monkey and Kongster. In the second story, captured by the main foe of one of their number, the heroes are transported into the past and with no memories of their true selves. The concepts for the two tales are  credited to Stan Brown.

As with the Justice League stories of the early 1960s, the heroes are generally split off into teams of two and three. Kupperberg’s writing is straightforward and captures the spirit of these comics classics. His art is equally straightforward. It’s solid stuff on all fronts.

Alan was a pal of mine. We worked together on a number of stories for Marvel Comics editor Jim Salicrup. I enjoyed that a great deal, especially our Rocket Racer shorts, even though they were hidden in the back of Spider-Man annuals and, of all things, the Spider-Man reprints in Marvel Tales. I loved seeing new work from my friend. I think you’ll have fun with this comic book as well.

ISBN 9781543037371

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Newsboy Legion

DC’s limited special events have been fun. The teaming of DC heroes with Warner Bros. cartoon characters had me cackling with delight from start to finish. Recently, to honor the legendary Jack Kirby on what would have been his hundredth birthday, the publisher did a series of 48-page specials featuring Kirby creations in brand-new stories by some of our best and most interesting comics creators. The special that went to the top of my reading pile was The Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos Special #1 by Howard Chaykin [$4.99].

The Newsboy Legion are my favorite of Joe Simon’s and Jack Kirby’s 1940s creations for DC Comics. The duo had a knack for kid gangs. Teaming them with my second favorite of their 1940s DC creations – the Boy Commandos – made this special issue a must-have for me and it did not disappoint.

Chaykin’s writing and art are more realistic than the Simon/Kirby original stories, but they definitely manage to emulate that crazy 1940s vibe. The 27-page “A Separate Peace in Pieces” finds most of the super-heroes fighting the Axis powers overseas. That leaves the kids to deal with Nazi fifth columnists in New York. Chaykin knows his history and, telling this story seven decades after World War II, his knowledge informs the action and adventure. Kudos are also due colorist Wil Quintana and letterer Ken Bruzenak. This special looks great!

Adding to the fun is a reprint of “Cabbages and Comics” from Star Spangled Comics #29 [February 1944]. The Newsboys try to make money by publishing their own comic book – Suicide Slum Comics – based on themselves and their neighbors. Since some of those neighbors are criminals, well, let’s just say comic-book criticism was every bit as crude and rough as it is online today.

Some readers won’t care for Chaykin’s version of these characters. But, from where I sit, we get the best of two worlds. A modern take on the World War II heroes and a classic reprint. This comic book was five bucks well-spent.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #228

I still remember my first viewing of Jaws. It was 1975. I lived in the “penthouse” apartment of a less-than-stellar New York hotel so close to Times Square I could see pretty much everything there from my roof.  Someday I will tell you all the stories of my years at the Hotel Consulate.

It was summer. I had visitors from my native Cleveland: my friend from childhood Terry Fairbanks, his wife Nora Joyce and their niece Barbara Kepke, who I would marry after a courtship so long it could have gotten its own driver’s license. The ladies had gone shopping. Terry and I went to see Jaws.

Jaws was and remains a powerful film. The night after I saw it, I had a nightmare about a shark circling my living room couch. I knew it would inspire countless imitations. I predicted one of the first ones would be “Jaws on land” and, lo and behold, less than a year later and accompanied by a spiffy Neal Adams poster, Grizzly was in the same theater where I saw Jaws.

Comic books did not jump on the Jaws bandwagon with enthusiasm. We got a couple one-off super-hero stories with sharks. Marvel adapted Jaws 2. But it was comics men from across the Atlantic who created the definitive shark comics.

The Hookjaw Classic Collection [Titan Comics; $34.99] reprints the complete series about the baddest great white shark of them all in a handsome oversized hardcover volume. Created by Pat Mills, this scary serial was the highlight of the newly-released Action, a boys weekly that mostly imitated American thrillers, infusing its pages with glorious bloodshed and violence.

Writers Mills and Ken Armstrong, working with artists who’d likely never had to draw such carnage previously, had a mandate that each three-to-five-page installment of Hookjaw had to have at least one gory and interesting death. Alas, there were those who took great offense to such entertaining mayhem in a “children’s” comic weekly. Action was first diminished and then cancelled.

I had seen the odd Hookjaw chapter here and there. I loved it from the moment. The shark was something of a eco-hero, driven to dining on humans when they did terrible things like drill for oil in his neighborhood. Okay, I’ll admit that element of the series is kind of so subtle you could miss it. As far as I was concerned, Hookjaw needed no socially redeeming elements. It was an exciting series, filled with unexpected surprises and the knowledge no character was safe from being on the great white’s lunch menu.

Hookjaw Classics Collection fulfills my decades-long desire to have all of the Hookjaw material in one volume. It’s got the original stories. It’s got special stories from annuals. It’s got the lost pages from the final serial that was sanitized and terminated too soon as Action was circling the drain.

Since I like to point out such things, I’ll mention that this book would make a terrific gift for fans of British comics, students of British comics history, fans of Pat Mills (one of the best comics writers of our time), fans of shark movies and, in general, fans of “nature bites back” fiction. Indeed, since Action was banned from British newsstands, supporters of the First Amendment should also consider buying it. Okay, that’s a stretch maybe, but I just love this book. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 9781782768043

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Heroes of the Comics

Drew Friedman’s Heroes Of The Comics: Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends Of Comic Books [Fantagraphics Books; $34.99] has received considerable praise. I won’t say that praise is unfounded. Still, my reaction to the 2014 book was…disappointment.

Friedman’s portraits are outstanding works of arts. Yet, with rare exception, they are portraits of these comics creators as elderly men and women. I would have loved to have seen his drawings of such great creators when they were in their prime. After a while, I felt like I was looking through a senior citizens home yearbook.

My biggest disappointment came from the texts that accompanied each of the portraits. These texts have a great deal of misinformation in them. Some of the misinformation are errors of fact. Others are errors of bias as Friedman apparently subscribes to the established  Fantagraphics bias against certain creators.

I had wanted Heroes of the Comics for years. I figured it would be a nice addition to my comics history library. Instead, it will end up in one of my Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales.

Heroes of the Comics isn’t without merit, but I can’t recommended it.  That also disappoints me.

ISBN 978-1-60699-731-4

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Walt Disney Christmas Classics

Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics [Boom! Kids; $24.99] came out in 2009, but there are copies to be had in the secondary markets and often at very low prices. The full-color hardcover book is over a hundred pages of comic-book delights by Cark Barks, Walt Kelly, Jack Hannan, Romano Scarpa and others.

I love this book. “Christmas on Bear Mountain” by Barks is clearly one of his best with its delightful use of Uncle Scrooge and sheer dumb luck on Donald’s part. Mickey Mouse stars in Scarpa’s “It’s a Wonderful Christmas Story” and it’s a great take on the legendary It’s a Wonderful Life. “Best Christmas” by Barks is a gem that does not get the recognition it deserves. Likewise his “Santa’s Stormy Visit!” There are a lot of smiles in this thin volume.

By its very nature, Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics would make a fantastic holiday gift. Older readers can read the stories to the younger readers. When Disney comics stories are at their best, as are the ones collected herein, there are timeless tales every bit as enjoyable now as they were when they were first published. This book is worth the search.

ISBN 978-1-60886-548-2

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #227

Every book I’m reviewing this week ties for my “Pick of the Week.” It’s been a darn good week.

I’m not sure when I first saw the work of cartoonist Mimi Pond. It might have been in, of all things, the pages of Seventeen Magazine when I was doing “I Cover the Newsstand,” my Comics Buyer’s Guide column reporting on comics material running in mainstream magazines and the like. It could have been in National Lampoon or the other magazines that published her. I do remember that, from the moment I saw her work, I knew she was a cartoonist worth following.

The Customer is Always Wrong [Drawn and Quarterly; $29.95] might be her magnum opus. Weighing in at 448 pages and over two-and-a-half pounds, this graphic novel is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a post-college cartoonist working in a restaurant with sketchy co-workers and customers. Set in Oakland in the late 1970s, I can’t testify as to how well it captures that city. But I can say Pond’s depiction of the era matches my memories of those long-ago years. I knew people who could’ve posed for some of her supporting characters, though, thankfully, those dealing drugs knew enough to keep that nonsense away from me.

Customer is a brilliant and challenging work. It was hard for me to watch scene after scene of characters doing self-destructive things to themselves and others. Even “Madge” – Pond’s doppleganger in the book – makes her share of unfortunate choices. What kept me reading was Pond’s mastery of comics storytelling and my rooting for Madge as she navigated a world of drunks, junkies, con artists and just plain creepy people.  That Pond delivers a very satisfying ending to this graphic memoir is why I recommend it to you.

Much to my excitement, in researching this review, I learned of a number of other Mimi Pond works I hadn’t known of. I’ll be looking for them as soon as I finish this week’s “Tony’s Tips!” column. It is a hunt that excites me.

The Customer is Always Wrong is recommend for older teens and up. It should be in every college and public library and probably most high school libraries. Needless to say, it would also make a great gift for the graphic novel devotee in your life.

ISBN 978-1-77046-282-3

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Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel has been one of my favorite current comics since Marvel introduced the title heroine in 2013. Muslim teenager and Inhuman Kamala Kahn is an inspirational and realistic character. Created by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, Kamala has managed to appear in the various Marvel “events” without losing the core quality of her stories and character development.

Wilson reached new heights with Ms. Marvel #19-22 [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. In “Mecca,” an old enemy of the heroine has now joined forces with a Hydra-connected politician who brings his own police force to Kamala’s New Jersey home. It is a frightening story that echoes the anti-immigrant and white supremacist words and deeds of our current presidential administration. I’ve always liked super-hero comics with at least one foot in the real world and this tale fits the bill.

Wilson’s writing is as good as the best in our industry. She had me on the edge of my seat throughout the four issues and feeling more than a little sick to my stomach at the realization that Kamala’s super-heroic world isn’t all that different from mine. Artist Marco  Failla brought home the emotion of this story in the art with color artist Ian Herring pulling it all together. When the artsy-fartsy crowd turn up their noses at super-hero comic books in general, I’m able to point to Ms. Marvel as being as relevant and well-crafted as the best of their indy or alternative darlings.

 Coming in December, Ms. Marvel Vol. 8: Mecca [$17.99] will reprint Ms.  Marvel #19-24 in trade paperback. I hope this book comes out in time for holiday gift-giving because it would be a perfect present for any number of people on my list…and probably on your lists as well. Not to mention being suitable for all ages and a series that should be in every public and school library.

ISBN 978-1302906085

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Marvel Collectibles

I had a ball reading and reveling in The Full-Color Guide to Marvel Silver Age Collectibles: From MMMS to Marvelmania by J. Ballmann [Total Mojo Productions; $29.95]. Published in 2014, this second edition catalogues Marvel comic-related goodies from the 1960s. It has toys, posters, t-shirts, gumball items, games, model kits, fan club items and pretty much anything else you can think of. The 172-page book has over 1,400 pictures of this stuff. My reactions on seeing these treasures ranged from “I had that!” to “I never even heard of that!” to “Man, I hope some of this stuff turns up in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff.”

 This book is fun and informative. It was delight to see the items contained in the book and, at the same time, I learned a bunch of facts about them that I never knew. The back cover says this book was twelve years in the making. After reading a few pages of this obsessively complete volume, I don’t doubt this for even the merest moment. It’s a wonderful book on every level.

 Yes, I’m doing my “this would make a great holiday gift” shout-outs early this year, but, by Odin’s beard, this book would make a fine gift for all sorts of people. Know someone who was an avid Marvel readers as a youngster? They’ll get a kick out of this. Or someone who never stopped reading Marvel comic books from the 1960s to the present. Or someone who loves Marvel collectibles. Or someone who just wants to learn more about the formative years of one of the most popular phenomena in comics history.

 Ballmann’s terrific tome is suitable for all ages and deserves to be in every public, school and Marvelites library. You might have to pay more than the original cover price, but it’ll be worth it.

 ISBN 978-0-9815349-0-9

That’s all for now. I will be back next week with more reviews and holiday gift suggestions.

© 2017 Tony Isabella