TONY’S TIPS #220

Marvel’s The Defenders will drop on Netflix on Friday, August 18. The series runs a tight eight episodes. Courtesy of Marvel Comics, I viewed the first two episodes at a special screening at the ABC Building in New York City. I was invited because, with my long-time friend Arvell Jones, I created Misty Knight. Along with Arv’s wife Wanda, others in attendance were Tom Brevoort, David Bogart, Brian Overton, Larry Hama, Michael Gaydos and son Kevin, Martha Thomases, Ann (Mrs. Archie) Goodwin and her family and others I did not know. It wasn’t a large gathering, but the screening room was very nice. I had a great time.

Don’t worry. I was just setting the stage. I know what you really want me to write about are the first two episodes. Let’s see if I can do so without too many spoilers…

Defenders 01

I was mightily impressed by the writing of Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, as well as the directing of S.J. Clarkson. I doubt it was an easy task to bring together the leads and supporting casts of four separate series, refer to what has gone before in those four series and move the characters into a new story. Yet Clarkson and company wove together scenes of all the characters, taking care of both back story and new business and keeping the audience engaged in the overall story. Most of the scenes flowed well. I’ll discuss the ones that didn’t in a moment.

The Daredevil segments pick up with Matt Murdock having abandoned his super-hero identity to do satisfying pro bono work. A scene of him laying hard truth on a young accident victim was magnificently played by Charlie Cox, as was his ongoing struggle with the lure of his other identity. Also pleasing were his scenes with Deborah Ann Woll [Karen Page] and Elden Henson [Foggy Nelson]. I’m hoping the three continue to move toward their former camaraderie in the next season of Daredevil.

Jessica Jones [Krysten Ritter] is struggling with her new fame in the wake of her lethal defeat of Killgrave in her own series. Her adoptive sister [Trish Walker, played by Rachael Taylor] is worried for her and with good cause. Her friend Malcolm [Eka Darville] has insinuated himself into her stalled private eye business. All these interactions are wonderful.

Luke Cage [Mike Colter] is out of prison and finally has that cup of coffee with Claire Temple [Rosario Dawson], so brilliant as our doorway into all four of the series. Misty Knight [Simone Messick] is now part of a city-wide task force and steers Luke towards some ways he can help the Harlem community.

Iron Fist [Finn Jones] and Colleen Wing [Jessica Henwick] are still tracking down the Hand without much success. They get their asses handed to them by [redacted], but do find a lead that brings them back to New York. Sadly, the Iron Fist segments are the only weak link in these two episodes. Jones is not on the same level as the other leads and his mediocre performance doesn’t give Henwick much to work with.

Sigourney Weaver plays Alexandra, a character who is first shown as vulnerable and then elegant and then so scary she intimates one of the scarier supporting characters. If I had to name the top three performances in these episodes, I would rank her with the always-incredible Colter and Messick.

Defenders 02

The individual quests of the characters start to overlap in these first two episodes, though the entire quartet has not yet “formed” their team. Matt Murdock meets Jessica Jones in the second episode, “rescuing” her from a Misty Knight interrogation. It turns out that Luke Cage was represented by Foggy Nelson, who works for attorney Jeri Hogarth [Carrie-Anne Moss] who has represented both Jones and Danny “Iron Fist” Rand. Foggy’s outsourced some cases to his friend Matt and one of those includes representing Jessica. Luke tries to help a young man who has already lost a sister and a brother to the streets and that ties in with whatever Alexandra is planning. Which is the case with the missing person job pursued by Jessica. Luke’s “case” leads to his meeting Danny and an entertaining fight between them. None of this feels forced. Though we don’t know exactly what Alexandra’s planning, it’s clearly something major enough to affect the entire city. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

Defenders 03

Here comes the blasphemy part of my review. Although Luke Cage and Danny Rand are besties in the comics and generally work very well together in the comics, I don’t want to see a similar bromance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe unless actor Finn Jones ups his game considerably in the remaining six episodes.

My bottom line on the Defenders is that it’s well worth watching. Only doing eight episodes keeps the tension of the overall story at a high level. The first season of Luke Cage is still my favorite of these Netflix series, but I have an open mind as to where Defenders will fall on my list. It could be a contender.

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Defenders EW

Here’s a non-Defenders reflection based on the conversation I had with Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort at the screening. Because I sort of relish my somewhat outsider status in the comics field, I don’t keep up with editorial comings and goings to the extent I should. On the other hand, to my credit, I also ignore the gossipy “Let’s you and he fight” click bait promoted by Bleeding Cool and other similar websites. But, yes, I should know much more about the editorial workings of the leading comics publishers.

Tom told me Marvel’s editorial staff numbers just a smidgin over a dozen editors and assistants. That boggled my mind given how many comic books they produced every month, how many of them are among my favorite current comics and how few of them are badly written or drawn. That doesn’t mean I like all of their comics. Readers here and elsewhere know that’s not the case. But that Marvel manages to pull this off with such a small editorial staff impresses the heck out of me. Next time you’re enjoying your favorite Marvel (or DC or other publisher) comics, give a thought to the hard-working editors who get those issues across the finish line.

That’s it for this edition of Tony’s Tips! I’ll be back next week with more reviews. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #219

This week’s pick of the week is Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 7 by Stan Sakai [Dark Horse; $24.99]. The 624-page trade paperback collects Usagi Yojimbo Volume Three #117-138 and 2009’s Free Comic Book Day story, “One Dark and Stormy Night.” It’s hard for me to imagine a week when Usagi Yojimbo wouldn’t be my top pick. Since 1984, there is no cartoonist who’s created more consistently exceptional work. If you asked me to name the world’s greatest living cartoonist, my answer, without hesitation, would be Stan Sakai.

Usagi Yojimbo is set at the start of Japan’s Edo period, which ran from 1603 to 1868. Miyamoto Usgai, is a rabbit warrior, masterless since his lord died in battle. Based partly on the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, the ronin travels across the land on a warrior’s pilgrimage. He often interacts with the many friends he has made on his journeys and sometimes works as a bodyguard or bounty hunter. His skill is astounding. His compassion, courage and firm sense of justice are the equal of his fighting prowess.

For a little over a year, I’ve been reading Usagi Yojimbo from the feature’s beginning. I started with the two-volume collection from Fantagraphics and have continued with the Dark Horse books. I tried to read one story each day to make sure that I would read at least one great comics story every day.

In this volume, Usagi has to protect his somewhat larcenous friends Kitsune and Kiyoko and, in doing so, must face an evil wizard and said mage’s zombie warriors. In another story arc, the ronin must examine his feelings about honor and vengeance. In other tales, he becomes embroiled with crime gangs and outlaws. Sakai creates each of the adventures with a sure sense of character and storytelling, backed up by meticulous research in all the elements of the tales. Simply put, I am in awe of this cartoonist.

The next collection, due out this month, is The Usagi Yojimbo Saga: Legends. This unnumbered volume gathers some of the warrior’s most intriguing tales, including Senso, Yokai, and the long out of print Space Usagi. It will weigh in at 557 pages.

Usagi Yojimbo is a masterpiece of the comics art form. It belongs in the home library of every serious comics reader, as well as in every public and school library across the land. If the series is not already being studied as the great literature it is, it should be. It is an ongoing work of art.

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 1 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556099

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 2 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556105

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 3 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556112

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 4 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556129

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 5 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556136

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 6 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556143

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 7 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556150

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Legends [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1506703237

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Marvel Digest

Archie Comics have partnered with Marvel Comics to launch a series of digests reprinting the latter’s super-hero tales. Marvel Comics Digest #1 [July 2017; $6.99] features over 200 pages of Spider-Man stories in Archie’s standard 6.5″ by 5″ format.

This debut issue leads off with 1966’s “Just a Guy Named Joe,” the last Spider-Man story drawn by Steve Ditko, who also plotted this off-beat story of a boxer who gains super-powers. Stan Lee scripted the story.  That’s followed by a four-issue arc by Len Wein and Ross Andru from 1976. After that, we get more recent tales from various Spider-Man titles that retold earlier adventures or were out of the traditional Marvel continuity, including some based on the cartoon shows. One of the latter teams Spidey with Deadpool.

More than any other comics publisher, Archie rules the supermarket. The company pays dearly for check-out counter space, but does well with it.  Adding Marvel to the mix – the second issue of the digest series will feature the Avengers – is a smart move. I’m expecting we will see other Marvel heroes from the movies and maybe even TV appearing in digest form.

It would also be smart for Archie to work with DC in the same way. I think a DC Superhero Girls or Wonder Woman digest would sell very well these days, especially considering it would be seen by female and male shoppers with daughters. Those are potential comics buyers who don’t frequent comic-book shops.

I recommend Marvel Comics Digest for fun summer reading and, come the holidays, for stocking stuffers.

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Youngblood

Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood [Image; $3.99 per issue] has returned with new characters, new creators and a new situation for the heroes old and new.  I’ve read the first two issues of the title and plan to continue reading it.

I’m not very familiar with Youngblood in its various incarnations. The background of this new series is still unfolding in these two issues, but, someone along the past line, Youngblood became known as the world’s most infamous super-team. One of its members is now the president of the United States and another is suffering from a terminal condition. Young heroes are emerging and kind of sort of working together. When one goes missing, others launch the search to find him. Their efforts are met with opposition from yet another member of the original team.

Writer Chad Bowers does a good job here, though more clarity would be welcome. Likewise, more and quicker background information. Jim Towe’s art is pretty good as well. The bottom line is that this is a solid super-hero comic book.

Being pretty much a universe unto itself, Youngblood is the kind of super-hero comic that should appeal to those who find Marvel’s and DC’s super-hero universe too vast. I recommend it as a change-of-pace for those readers.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next week with more reviews and maybe a surprise or two.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #218

I’m just back from G-Fest, the biggest and best Godzilla convention on this side of the world. I had a wonderful time there, but that pleasure comes at a cost: this week’s column is running late. I’m determined to get my crazy schedule under control, so, hopefully, we’ll be back on track by next week.

I’m not sure what the official title of The Complete Sabrina the Teenage Witch: 1962-1972 [Archie Comics; $9.99] is. It’s listed as the above on Amazon and, on the cover of the 5.2 x 1.1 x 7.5 inches book, as Sabrina the Teenage Witch Complete Collection V1. What I’m absolutely sure of is that I love this 500-plus page gathering of ten years of Sabrina goodness.

The early Sabrina is my favorite version of the character. She is not evil, just selfish and thoughtless in the manner of many young people then and now. She was originally drawn with a devilish mien about her, a dangerously sexy look. Alas, her appearance was soften over the years.

Following an introduction by Archie Comics editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick, we get the first Sabrina story from Archie’s Mad House #22 [October 1962] by writer George Gladir, penciler Dan DeCarlo and inker Rudy Lapick. In just five pages, we learn everything we need to know about Sabrina, including her envy of the lives/loves of ordinary teenage girls. It’s a classic introduction.

Della the Head Witch was the next regular character to be added to the Sabrina stories. Aunt Hilda didn’t come along until 1964 and, apart from an earlier one-shot appearance, Aunt Zelda wasn’t added to the ongoing cast until 1971. There’s a one-shot crossover with Mad House’s Ronald the Rubber Boy early on with Sabrina not being placed in the Archie Universe until the success of the Archie songs and TV series made it advantageous to tie the teenage witch to the better-known characters. Even so, there were long-ish periods when Sabrina didn’t appear in solo stories or at all.

Though DeCarlo is the best of the Sabrina artists, there are some interesting and very good interpretations by other artists. There were a handful of stories drawn by Bill Kreese and Gus LeMoine. I’m fond of the LeMoine work and would rank him just below DeCarlo and tied with Stan Goldberg.

The early stories are the most fun for me, but the Archie Universe ones have their moments. When Al Hartley comes in to write and draw Sabrina for some Christmas specials, his religious proselytizing is a tad heavy-handed for my tastes.

The bottom line: I love having all these Sabrina stories collected in one volume. I’ve always liked the character and seeing how she was developed over her first decade of comics life is interesting. This book is a must-have for Sabrina and Archie fans and would be a swell stocking stuffer come the winter holidays.

The Complete Sabrina the Teenage Witch: 1962-1972 is my pick of the week. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-936975-94-5

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ANAD Avengers

The Marvel Comics super-hero universe is a complicated creature and I’m not ashamed to admit it’s too convoluted for me to follow with any confidence. Which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy many Marvel titles within that universe.

I take the position that each individual title is its own universe. It probably connects to other titles, but I don’t worry about that. If I try to figure out why some characters are appearing in several titles simultaneously, my head will explode. Most of us would not want that to happen.

There are approximately 3000 Avengers appearing in 127 comic books that have the word “Avengers” in their titles. That’s just a rough estimate, but I think my numbers are pretty close. Which Avengers appear in which title is determined by a fantasy super-hero draft not unlike fantasy sports drafts. Which may not be true, but is, at least, a pretty convincing alternative fact.

Writer Mark Waid seems to have done pretty well with his draft for All-New, All-Different Avengers. The roster listed on the “what has gone before” page of issues #14 and #15 [$3.99 each and the finales of the title that began a year earlier] listed Captain America (Sam Wilson, the one who’s not a Nazi), Iron Man (who I think is in some kind of coma), Thor (the Jane Foster one), Vision, Spider-Man (the Miles Morales one), Ms. Marvel, Nova and the Wasp (the daughter of Hank Pym). Janey Van Dyne, the first Wasp also appears. The spiffy keen art is by Adam Kubert and Jeremy Whitley is credited as a co-writer of issue #14.

You’re probably think my head is about to explode. It’s not. These two issues are done-in-one character stories centering around Nadia Pym and Jane Foster. In issue #14, Nadia, one of the very smartest people in the Marvel Comics universe, tries to figure out how she can bring the two Civil War II sides to find a peaceful resolution. In issue #15, Jane Foster is trying to decide which side she should be on while dealing with her mortal self’s terminal cancer. Despite the grimness of the subject matter and the impossibility of truly happy endings, both issues are uplifting. Nadia and Jane are true heroes, something still in short supply in most super-hero comics from any publisher.

I liked both issues a lot and will be following the new Mark Waid-written Avengers title. Meanwhile, can anyone tell me which of the Avengers titles drafted It the Living Colossus?

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Destroyer 1

Victor LaVelle’s Destroyer [Boom! Studios; $3.99 per issue] brings the Frankenstein Monster back to civilization in a six-issue series drawn by Dietrich Smith with colors by Joana Lafuente. We meet the Monster sitting on an iceberg and swimming with the whales, up to the moment when whalers slaughter said whales. The Monster exacts a brutal vengeance on the whalers and then hitches a ride with the animal rights activists who witnessed the carnage. Within a handful of pages, LaVelle hits the reader with the Monster’s grim reaction to “catching up” on the world via the Internet and follows that up with a violent surprise I didn’t see coming.

Destroyer had already hooked me. Then we got introduced to the last surviving member of the Frankenstein family and a genius scientist who lost her son and seeks to revive him. I’m two issues into this series and planning to stay right to the end. I expect the eventual meeting between the Monster and the scientist will be nothing short of stunning.

Destroyer is action, horror and social commentary. I recommend it to older readers. It’s well worth reading.

No conventions or travel for a bit, so I’ll be back next week with more reviews. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #217

Hogan’s Alley #21 [Bull Moose Publishing; $6.95] is the most recent issue of “the magazine of the cartoon arts.” Irregularly published by editor Tom Heintjes and design director David Folkman, it’s one of those magazines I have to read from cover to cover, even when a subject may be of little or no interest to me. Even then, I relish the scholarship that goes into those articles and appreciate the inviting quality of their writing.

Hogan’s Alley is named for the tenement home of the Yellow Kid, who many consider the first American comics character. Newspaper comic strips are covered in every issue, but the contents always include material on cartoons, comic books and other areas of comics art as well. I never know what I’m going to find in an issue, just that I will be enlightened and entertained.

The cover touts an article on the best and worst origins of super-heroes, rarities from the archives of legendary comics artist and illustrator Jack Davis, an unpublished interview with Krazy Kat creator George Herriman and an article on the frequent references to Shakespeare in Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. I could quibble with some of my friend Craig Shutt’s selections for the worst super-hero origins – The core origin stories of Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter were pretty good until later writers made them much more complicated than need be – but Shutt does a good job of making the cases for his choices.

The 148-page issue has longer, thoughtful pieces like the Heintjes discussion with four working women cartoonists mixed with shorter pieces like the look at Wally Wood’s commercial advertising art by Jim Korkis. It has sidebars and snippets throughout. Very often, an article, interview or sidebar will lead me to an online search for books and comics by some of the subjects thereof. It’s the variety of comics art that keeps me intensely devoted to the field and my career in it. I see that same variety reflected in each and every issue of Hogan’s Alley.

For more information on how to subscribe to the magazine and to see an archive of features on comics art history and more, visit the Hogan’s Alley website at:

http://cartoonician.com/

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Flintstones

The Flintstones Volume 1 by Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh [DC; $16.99] is one of several titles offering new, sometimes startling takes on the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. Russell is known for God Is Disappointed in You, an irreverent retelling of the Bible. His reimagining of the Flintstones, the beloved cartoon show which started out in prime time in the 1960s, is only slightly less threatening to Russell’s immortal soul. Pugh is a Brit comics artist rock star whose previous works include 2000 AD, Animal Man, Swamp Thing and more.

This new series about the modern Stone Age family whose lifestyle was a gently bizarre mirror of our own lives moves well beyond the TV show’s charming domestic animal substitutes for appliances like vacuum cleaners and garbage disposals and delivers examinations of issues we’re still trying to suss out in 2017. Corporate greed, consumer culture, monogamy, gay marriage, social status, religion, government using fear to pursue military objectives, the treatment of the veterans who have served in such campaigns are all on view in the six issues collected in this volume.

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble may not be as boisterous as their cartoon incarnations. Wilma and Betty are not the housewives of the 1960s. Even so, these thoughtful new takes on these beloved cartoon characters are every bit as likeable as their predecessors and all the more fascinating. For that matter, though Bedrock isn’t quite as comforting as in the 1960s, it now reflects our own cities and lives more closely. I love this series.

How good is The Flintstones? I’ve read it twice now because there was great stuff I missed the first time around. I’m going to order the second volume as soon as I finish this review. I’m also going to order God Is Disappointed in You because Russell has earned some more of my money by his outstanding writing here.

The rest of the creative team is just as wonderful. Pugh’s art and storytelling is first-rate. If DC sold a print of this collection cover without the copy, I’d buy it to hang on my office wall. The color artistry of Chuck Chuckry shows why he’s long been one of my favorite colorists. Letterer Dave Sharpe always delivers the goods. Whatever editor Marie Javins did to shape and facilitate this new series is something she should keep doing because it really is some swell stuff.

The Flintstones Volume 1 is my pick of the week.

The Flintstones Vol. 1:

ISBN 978-1-4012-6837-4

The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam (due in October):

ISBN 978-1-4012-7398-9

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Gods of War

What amazed me most about Marvel’s recent Civil War II disaster, of which the best can be said is that it wasn’t remotely as awful as the Captain America/Hydra/Nazi event, is that some writers managed to find ways to subvert it by showing how immoral and wrongheaded Captain Marvel’s embrace of “predictive justice” was. That was the case with Civil War II: Gods of War [$15.99] by writer Dan Abnett with artist Emilio Laiso.

Reprinting the four-issue mini-series of the same name, Gods of War has Hercules continuing his struggle to overcome his reputation as a shallow drunk and party boy to be again worthy of his position as the first of all heroes. I’ve always liked the fun-loving Hercules of the Marvel Universe, but this version is very relatable. I want him to triumph over his demons and get back to where he can laugh boisterously without stimulants.

Hercules and a rather ragtag team of ancient gods are the only ones aware of the new deities who want to bring the world crashing down for their own twisted pleasure. That’s right. The new deities can not be seen by the Inhuman Ulysses. His ability to predict future events doesn’t register them. So much for Captain Marvel’s fascist commitment to subvert basic human rights in exchange for supposed security.

But Gods of War is more than just a raised middle finger to Civil War II. It’s a story of a hero on a painful quest for redemption in the most difficult of times. It’s a story of friendship, courage and sacrifice. It’s a story of ordinary humans rising to join the struggle. It’s good comics. And, hey, this collection even reprints the goofy punch-out between Hercules and Thor that originally ran in 1965’s Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. You can’t go wrong with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wonderment.

I have certainly been critical of various Marvel titles in recent months. But I’ll never be done with this publisher because it keeps bringing us exceptional super-hero and other comics.

Civil War II? Just an awkward stain on an exciting universe that includes such great titles as Ms. Marvel, The Unstoppable Wasp, Champions and many others.

Civil War II: Gods of War is well worth reading. I recommend that you check it out sooner rather than later.

ISBN 978-1-302-90034-2

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Black Lightning star

One more note for this week’s column. It’s late because I was away for a couple days and came back to the worst jet lag I’ve ever had. My apologies.

Why was I away? Because DC Entertainment and Black Lightning show runners Salim and Mara Brock Akil brought me to Burbank to meet and talk with the Black Lightning writers. Obviously, I can’t tell you what I learned about their plans. What I can tell you is that I’ve never been more excited about a TV show.

Comic books and TV shows are not the same thing. They demand very different approaches. But the Black Lightning of this TV show has the same core values as the Black Lightning I created for the comic books back in 1976…and there’s a (to me) astonishing respect for and use of my own work on the character. It was a honor to spend a few hours in that writers room. Black Lightning is back…and not just on TV. More on that tease later.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #216

Eisner Award-winning author Bill Schelly is known for his stunning biographies of comics greats. He’s written about Otto Binder, Joe Kubert and Harvey Kurtzman. The Kurtzman book won him a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Book.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu [Fantagraphics; $39.99] is Schelly’s latest landmark volume. Stanley was the writer and artist of the classic Little Lulu comics, the classic Nancy comics and so many others. He sometimes did the entire job on a comic book, both the writing and full art. He most often wrote what I call “drawn scripts,” scripts that were detailed or rough layouts with the copy included. Other artists would then do the final drawings.

Stanley came from a generation of comic-book geniuses who were not known to fandom at large. By the time comics fans began to research comics history, Stanley had retired from comics and was working as a silk screener. He attended but one comics convention in his life, though one of the convention’s other guests was the legendary Carl Barks of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge fame. Their joint panel is covered in this biography.

Writing a biography about a subject who has passed and with little source material is a daunting challenge. Schelly, of course, didn’t let that stop him. He did extensive interviews with Stanley’s son and surviving co-workers. He reached out to get every fact that was out there. The result is a book that celebrates Stanley’s work and reveals the artist’s struggles with alcoholism and depression. It shines a bright light on the man and his work. This book is simply a magnificent addition to comic-book history.

Because I was a super-hero kid growing up, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered and quickly learned to appreciate giants like Barks and Stanley. Especially fascinating to me was the manner in which Stanley approached his stories. He basically started on page one without a clear idea of where the tales might go. I’m not quite that loose in my storytelling, but I plot loosely enough to allow for the magical surprises that sometime come to me while I’m doing the finished script.  Such moments are among the most joyful for me. I hope they were also for Stanley.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu is a full-color book whose size – 10.4 x 13.4 inches – qualifies it as a deluxe coffee table book. The layout of the volume is breathtaking. The reprinted art pops off the pages. It is an indispensable addition to the library of any comics reader interested in comics history. The quality of the research, the writing and the production is why this fine book is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-60699-990-5

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Big Moose

I’ve dropped the “new” Archie titles from my buying list, though I may continue to read them via the good graces of a friend who loans me his comic books. It’s not that the titles are necessarily bad – except for Betty and Veronica, which is pretty awful, and Afterlife with Archie, which is an abomination – but they have become more cheap soap opera than the nuanced comedy they were in the hands of writers like Frank Doyle, George Gladir and Craig Boldman.

The recent Big Moose One-Shot [$4.99] shows the good and the bad of “new” Archie. It featured three stories by three different writer-artist teams. I have no beef with the artists. Cory Smith, Thomas Pitilli and Ryan Jampole did terrific work with characters who were recognizable from story to story. But the writers – Sean Ryan, Ryan Cady and Gorf – didn’t seem to be writing the same lead character.

My favorite of the three was Cady’s “Have It All.” Moose struggles, but is determined to meet all his obligations. It’s a nice little tale of friendship, persistence and personal honor. This should be the model for future Moose stories.

Alas, “Moose vs. the Vending Machine” played Moose as being dumb as a pile of bricks, a characterization which should have been laid to rest decades ago. “The Big Difference” had a Moose who was a bully. A bully with redeeming qualities, but a bully nonetheless.

Someday, I’d like to try my hand at a contemporary teen humor comic book. Because I’m convinced you can combine the quality of a Doyle, a Gladir and a Boldman with stories that are funny and meaningful. I keep hoping Archie Comics manages that.

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Worlds of Fear

Good or bad, I never regret shelling out relatively big bucks for the PS Artbooks of Pre-Code Classics. In the case of Worlds of Fear Volume One [$59.99], it allowed me to read five horror comic books published by Fawcett Comics, best known as the Silver Age home of the original Captain Marvel. However, when it comes to recommending some of these hardcover volumes to you, I have to assume most of my readers do not share my mania for reading less-than-classic classic reprints. Which is what you get here.

Horror was not Fawcett’s forte. Though some legendary artists drew some of these stories, the dismal writing is usually more than the talents of Sheldon Moldoff, Bernard Baily, Bob Powell, George Evans and the like could overcome.

This first volume collects Worlds Beyond #1 and Worlds of Fear #2-5 from November 1951 through June 1953. Of the almost two dozen tales in this book, only two of them stood out. In both cases, there was the glimmer of a good story to be had if said tales had been better developed and written.

Worlds of Fear #4’s “The Dead Lover Returns!” tells of a young man who spots the woman he knows is his soul mate from across a great distance. He dies before he can meet her. He pleads his case before the guardians of the afterlife, saying he had never known true love in his life and wants a chance to experience it. They agree to send him back under challenging circumstances. The biggest catch is that if the woman falls in love with him, she will join him in death. This story would be worth a rewrite.

Issue #5 had “The Devil Puppet” with penciled art by Mike Sekowsky. A down-on-his-luck puppeteer carves a new puppet from the wood of a hanging tree. The new puppet brings him fame and fortune, but it quickly gains evil sentience. The plot isn’t remotely original, but the tale is told with considerable mania.

Pre-Code Classics World of Fear Volume One is for the completist. I’ll let you know if the second volume is better.

ISBN 978-1-78636-058-8

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My next convention appearance will be at G-Fest, the big Godzilla convention held from July 14 to July 16 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare. I’ll be doing a panel presentation each day. On Friday, we doing a panel on “Marvel Monsters.” On Saturday, I’ll be discussing Gorgo, Konga and Reptilicus in the movies, in the comics and in the odd novelizations of those 1960s films. On Sunday, the focus will be on “Syfy Monsters and Other Giant Critters.” The cheese will be celebrated at that last one.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews and a few notes on a mysterious trip I’m taking at the end of this week. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #215

British comics have fascinated me since I bought several issues of Pow and Wham from Jerry “Father of Comics Fandom” Bails at a early 1970s Detroit Triple Fan Fair. Ironically, when I went to work for Marvel Comics in late 1972, my main job was putting together Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly and the other British weeklies we produced in the United States, but which were printed and sold in the United Kingdom.

Currently, I buy 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine from my pals at Stormwatch Comics in New Jersey. I also have a subscription to The Beano, the kids humor weekly that has been around forever and a day. The Beano comes to me from Great Britain, usually two issues at a time. Recently, I added another legendary British comics title to my Vast Accumulation of Stuff.

Commando is a 68-page, black-and-white, digest-size comics weekly. Each issue features a complete 63-page, two-panels-per-page “action story.” Focusing mostly on stories from World War I and II, though other wars are sometimes featured, it was launched in 1961 and has continued ever since.

The current cover price of Commando is two pounds, which translates to around $2.50 in U.S. dollars. I receive the comic in packages of four issues. Based on what I’ve read so far, there are two brand-new stories per month and two reprinted stories.

Commando #5011 presented “Flight of Fancy,” a new story by George Low with art by Rezzonico and Vila. Set in World War II, the tale has a pulp adventure vibe to it in the form of a futuristic flying craft being tested by the Germans.

In issue #5012, “Launch the Wildcats” was a World War II air action story reprinted from 1968. The emotional core of the tale was the prejudice faced by a British pilot raised in Germany as a young boy and sent to England by his German relatives when things started to get bad. You know, that Hitler guy.

Issue #5013 has “The Hill,” a new Vietnam War story by Ferg Handley with art by Morahin. Four rookie American soldiers find themselves caught in the Tet Offensive. A palpable sense of doom infuses the tale.

The cover of issue #5014 has a “Special Forces 1939-1945″ blurb in its upper right corner. “Killer Commando” is a reprint from 1992. A skilled commando is profiting from his spy missions and willing to kill anyone who stands between him and that profit. His nemesis is civilian police detective Ernest Hallows.

Every one of these stories is a done-in-one tale. They all feature solid writing and art. If you enjoy straightforward war comics in classic styles, then I think you’ll enjoy Commando. You can check out the title’s subscription packages at:

www.commandocomics.com

Commando is my pick of the week.

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Occupy Avengers #1

In a nation and a world where justice seems to be in increasingly short supply, Occupy Avengers [Marvel; $3.99 per issue] fits nicely in my progressive liberal wheelhouse. That the series is an ongoing redemption story makes me like it even more.

What you need to know is that, during Civil War II, Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner to prevent him from becoming the Hulk and slaughtering a whole bunch of civilians and heroes. Except that was not really justice. It was “predictive justice,” the fascist Captain Marvel’s code phrase for tossing out civil rights. That Banner had already asked Hawkeye to take him out if there was any possibility of his becoming the Hulk again doesn’t change the immorality of what the Captain Marvel faction was doing.

So now Hawkeye is traveling the country trying to find redemption after being cleared of murder in the courts. In the six issues of this title that I’ve read, he’s faced “businessmen” contaminating the water supply of a New Mexico reservation while stealing clean water from the tribe. He’s stumbled across a plot to create life-model decoys. He’s defended the ultimate outsiders: Skrull/human hybrids just trying to live peaceful lives. He’s teamed up with Red Wolf and Tilda Johnson, the first a time-displaced lawman and the second a former super-villain. Okay, maybe the group’s claim to the Avengers name is shaky, but we could use more heroes who speak truth to power while shooting arrows at said power.

Kudos to writer David F. Walker; artists Carlos Pacheco and Gabriel Hernandez Walta; inker Rafeal Fonteriz; colorists Sonia Oback, Wil Quintana and Jordie Bellaire; and editors Tom Brevoort with Darren Shan. They have done a fine job with this title.

Occupy Avengers #1-4 have been collected in Occupy Avengers Vol. 1: Taking Back Justice [$17.99] along with the ‘70s issues of Avengers which introduced the modern-era Red Wolf. Occupy Avengers #5-9 will be collected in Occupy Avengers Vol. 2: In Plain Sight [$15.99] in October. The pair would make great holiday gifts for you or a fan you love.

Occupy Avengers Vol. 1: Taking Back Justice

ISBN 978-1302906382

Occupy Avengers Vol. 2: In Plain Sight

ISBN 978-1302906399

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Savage #1

The Valiant Universe gets larger all the time. Though things like alternate realities, supernatural dimensions and time travel aren’t among my favorite story subjects, Valiant publishes quality comics that, through a combination of “what has gone before” prose and the acumen of its writers, are new reader-friendly and relatively easy to follow. The company roster contains three of my favorite ongoing comics series: Faith, Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong.

Savage [$3.99 per issue] doesn’t seem to connect to the rest of the Valiant Universe, but I might have missed some clues along the way. Here’s the Amazon blurb for the series:

Fifteen years ago, the world’s most famous soccer star, his former supermodel wife and their infant son disappeared without a trace. The world believes they are dead. But, in reality, their private jet crashed on a mysterious, unknown island ruled by prehistoric creatures from another time. This is the story of how they lost their humanity.

The four-issue series follows the fearful journey of that family. The island has dinosaurs that want to eat you and vicious men who want to kill you. Written by B. Clay Moore with art by Clayton Henry and Lewis Larosa and colors by Brian Reber, it’s an exciting and violent tale that has some truly shocking moments and ends on a cliffhanger I saw coming but was no less effective for it. I’m being vague here because I want you to go out and read this series for yourself. I recommend the trade paperback of the series which was released in April. At $9.99, it’s actually less expensive than the original comic books.

ISBN 978-1682151891

I’ll be back next week with more reviews and some information on my next convention appearance. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #214

I’m writing this week’s Tips on a packed-with-fun-and-other-things weekend during which I have…

Celebrated the 33rd anniversary of marrying my Sainted Wife Barb. So far year 34 is looking good, too.

Held my first Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sale of the summer, delighting in seeing old friends and making a few bucks. I should write an entire column on how I am being Draconian in reducing my VAOS to a much more manageable accumulation of stuff.

Explained to a guy that the reason the comics, books and magazines in my garage sale quarter boxes – five for a dollar – have not been arranged in alphabetical order for his convenience is on account of dude, they cost a quarter.

Tried to find new, polite ways to describe just how much I loathe sight unseen – the idea of Black Lightning in some “black ops” team of Batman and the Outsiders on account of I’m so [expletive] tired of seeing my guy take orders from Batman I could [crude reference to bodily waste excretion] lightning myself.

Been writing a comic-book script not unrelated to the above which could be adversely affected by the above.

Exhausted myself trying to convince a click-bait news site that the official – official with DC Comics and DC Entertainment – credit line for Black Lightning is “Created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden.”

Exhausted myself trying to tell fans the name of that other super-hero with electrical powers is “Static” not “Static Shock.”

Started working on the three panel presentations I’ll be doing at this year’s G-Fest, the premiere U.S. Godzilla convention held in Chicago next month.

Making time to celebrate Father’s Day with Barb and our wonderful children, Eddie and Kelly.

As cartoonist Seth so famously said, “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.” Stay strong, Tony. Stay strong.

My top pick of the week is Pre-Code Classics: Lars of Mars/Crusader from Mars/Eerie Adventures Volume One [PS Artbooks; $39.99]. Since this hardcover collects the only two issues of Lars of Mars and the only two issues of Crusader from Mars and the only issue of Eerie Adventures, I suspect it will be the only volume. More the pity on account of I’d love to read more Lars of Mars.

Lars of Mars, quite possibly created by Jerry Siegel and certainly drawn by Murphy Anderson, is one of those wacky concepts I’d love to reboot for modern times. The original Lars comics were cover-dated July/August 1951. The premise:

When Mars becomes alarmed by Earthlings dropping atomic bombs here and there, it sends Lars of Mars, its most daring adventurer, to go to Earth to make sure we don’t do crazy stuff that would force the Martians to destroy us. Lars adopts the identity of a TV hero who plays a Martian super-hero on Earth. His coworkers think he’s just a method actor who stays in character 24/7. They don’t connect him to the mysterious Martian super-hero who has recently come to Earth to fight crime and injustice. In this era of reality TV, the reboot would practically write itself. In addition to the Anderson art on Lars, we also get Gene Colan drawing the “Ken Brady Rocket Pilot” back-up feature.

Crusader from Mars [March-Fall 1952] has a similar albeit grimmer premise. Tarka and Zira have been found guilty of committing the only crime on Mars in fifty years. They murdered Tarka’s rival for Zira. They are banished to Earth to atone for the crime by fighting evil on our world.

Eerie Adventures is a one-shot anthology title which includes two tales drawn by Bob Powell and Howard Nostrand. None of the stories in any of these five issues were first-rate, but almost every one of them is intriguing.

If you’re wondering why this book is my pick of the week, it’s for no other reason that Lars of Mars tickled me. Sometimes, that’s all I need to really love something.

ISBN 978-1-78636-053-3

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Regrettable

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History by Jon Morris [Quirk Books; $24.95] is a sequel to his 2015 League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History. Like the first book, it’s a wild journey through some of the most insane creations ever to grace the pages of comic books.

From the Golden Age of comics to the Modern Age, Morris pokes fun at the likes of the Balloon Maker, Reefer King, Sadly-Sadly, Batroc the Leaper, Egg Fu, the Mod Gorilla Boss, Ghetto-Blaster and Turner D. Century. Sometimes the writer bends the facts a tad and, now and again, he fails to realize some choices – Marvel’s Swarm comes to mind – are actually pretty great villains. Still, overall, this is 256 pages of wonderment. I recommend it for fans with an interest in comics history and a sense of the absurd. I also think it would make an excellent gift for the comics fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1-59474-932-2

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Star Wars strips

Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 1 by Russ Manning and others [Marvel; $39.99] collects adventures from a number of sources. Most of these strips were rearranged to fit a comic-book format. A few are presented in close to their original formats. While I find the comic-book format presentations somewhat lacking – I always feel like something important as been left out as I read them – there’s no denying the quality of the strips and the art that bring them to life.

The creative line-up includes Archie Goodwin, Steve Gerber, Alfredo Alcala, Al Williamson and more. Goodwin was my favorite writer of the Marvel comic-book series that came out at the same time as the original movies and he turned out to be my favorite writer of these newspaper adventures.

Once again, we have a book that should attract all kinds of comics readers. Obviously, Star Wars fans will want it. Fans of Manning and the other creators will be just as eager to add the volume to their collections. If you access the Force, I’m sure it will tell you this 464-page softcover will make a great gift for that special Jedi knight of yours.

ISBN 978-1-302-90464-7

That’s a wrap for this week’s column. I’ll be back next week with more tips. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #213

Summer’s here. I’ll be staying home for most of June and July, save for my annual journey to G-Fest, the wonderful Godzilla convention held in Rosemont, Illinois. Otherwise, I’ll be writing comic books and columns and books and introductions to books. I’ll be putting on my famous Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales in the perhaps hopeless quest to reduce my accumulation to the point where I can call it a collection without sobbing. I’ll be celebrating 33 years of marriage to my Sainted Wife Barb and our son Eddie’s 29 years on this planet. We’ll have our traditional July 3 cookout at our home and watch the fireworks from the nearby high school from our front lawn. And, of course, I will be reading lots of comic books in all their myriad, wondrous forms.

Among the comic books I’m currently loving, Rough Riders Volume 1: Give Them Hell by creator and writer Adam Glass and artist Patrick Olliffe [AfterShock; $19.99] ranks high enough to be my pick of the week. It delivers a solidly entertaining and exciting tale of 19th Century heroes fighting a shadow war unknown to history.

Teddy Roosevelt is the Nick Fury/Tony Stark of these turn-of-the-century avengers. Tortured by things he’s seen, Roosevelt gathers a team of unlikely heroes to battle against the mysterious forces posed to conquer our world. The roster: boxer Jack Johnson, Coney Island magician Harry Houdini, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, inventor Thomas Edison. Glass and Olliffe even include a super-villain in the still-not-dead Rasputin.

Glass doesn’t shy away from the imperfections of his heroes or the prejudice of the times. Johnson and Houdini, as a black man and a Jew, face the racism common to the times. Oakley is an alcoholic. Edison’s alleged penchant for claiming credit for the discoveries of others is shown in this graphic novel. Roosevelt struggles with the necessity of working with privileged and wealthy businessmen he despises. As the story unfolds, he and his team will face down some of their demons and show surprising emotions and strengths.

Olliffe’s solid storytelling and artistic acumen is indispensable. His action scenes flash across the pages. His human scenes bring us closer to the characters. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb does an outstanding job bringing depth to the art. Letterer Sal Cipriano continues to be one of those letterers who is so good the reader doesn’t realize how good he is.

Rough Riders Volume 1 collects the first seven issues of the title. I hope we’ll be seeing more of this series and more of its unlikely heroes. I recommend it for readers of all ages.

ISBN 978-1935002925

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Giant Days

One of the best things about modern comics is how many comic books and graphic novels now have women characters as their leads and, in many cases, created by women. I enjoy a great many of these comics. However, as with my beloved super-hero comics, the mere presence of women leads or creators doesn’t translate to a terrific comic book.

Recently, Marv Wolfman, he of Tomb of Dracula, Teen Titans, and so many other credits there could be a Marv Wolfman Museum, remarked how much he liked the Wonder Woman movie and how much he disliked that so many reviewers said something along the lines of “It’s done better than expected for a film directed by (or starring) a woman.”

Marv continued: “Movies, like books, paintings, comics, music and a thousand other things I can’t think of right now, is an art form. And art is gender neutral. Art isn’t better or worse because it was done by a man or woman.”

Happily, Giant Days by creator/writer John Allison, artists Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin and colorist Whitney Cougar [Boom! Box] is both a series starring three young woman and a terrific comic book. Esther, Susan and Daisy share a hall of residence at an university.

They also share one another’s journeys through a morass of modern life that includes experimentation and growth, chauvinism, illness, academic terrors, romantic relationships, mysteries, old foes and a little weirdness from time to time. There are many comic books and webcomics that attempt to explore much the same ground and with similar characters. Few of them equal Giant Days.

Allison’s dialogue “sounds” real to me, which makes his characters real and relatable. Treiman and Saris draw expressive figures and faces while grounding the characters in reality. Cougar’s colors further enliven the world of Giant Days. Jim Campbell’s lettering is easy to read and never distracting. To me, all of that is what makes great comics. Everything is in service to the characters and to the story. No showboating here.

I’ve read the first two volumes of Giant Days. Two more have been published with a fifth due this month. So, when I’m finished with this review, I’m going to order the ones I don’t own yet. Consider that my way of recommending them to all of you.

Giant Days Vol. 1 [$9.99]

ISBN 978-1608867899

Giant Days Vol. 2 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608868049

Giant Days Vol. 3 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608868513

Giant Days Vol. 4 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608869381

Giant Days Vol. 5 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608869824

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Sugar and Spike

Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations by Keith Giffen, Bilquis Everly and Ivan Plascencia [DC; $14.99] was fun, albeit not quite as much fun as I would have liked. Back in the day, the legendary Sheldon Mayer created a comic book about two babies who had their own language and tried to figure out the grown-up world. Those are some of the best comic books of all time and they really need to be collected in their entirety. But I digress.

Giffen turned the toddlers into 20-something private investigators doing the usual often-sordid private investigator stuff. Until they stumble into a niche market: keeping past indiscretions of super-heroes out of the headlines. Relax. Those past indiscretions don’t have anything to do with Russian prostitutes, making secret deals with Russia, taking money from kids with cancer or the like. They all come from long-ago adventures long since forgotten by today’s comics publishers, editors, writers and readers.

Batman’s more bizarre costumes have gone missing. Superman needs to retrieve the kryptonite he buried on an island he made that looks like him. Wonder Woman almost married a monster who now wants her back. Green Lantern fears the body of his former alien pal Itty is a museum exhibit. The Legion of Super-Heroes wants a dangerous machine, so much that several configurations of Legion time-travel to the same time and place.

What keeps this book from being as much fun as I would like is that Sugar is incredibly unpleasant and Spike allows her to treat with extreme disrespect. Sugar was always the alpha baby in those great old Mayer stories, but this is just unsettling.

If you’re willing to ignore that most of the past adventures that play roles in these stories could not possibly all be part of the same continuity – and I’m quite willing to do that – you’ll get a kick out of this volume. I recommend it for old-time DC fans with a keenly developed sense of the absurd.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6482-6

Enjoy your summer, my friends. I will be back next week with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #212

Recent Marvel Comics “epics” have been taking it on the chin around here of late. While it’s deserved – Civil War II was particularly despicable and wrongheaded – I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m down on Marvel. The company still publishers some great super-hero comics. Like the ones I’m writing about this week.

Ms. Marvel is the super-hero the United States of America needs as Captain Marvel goes fascist and Captain America hails Hydra. Writer G. Willow Wilson has made teenage Kamala Khan incredibly admirable and very real. Kamala has doubts from time to time and makes some mistakes, but her heart is good and her mind is sharp. In this era of failed and even criminal leadership, it’s nice to have a hero we can count on to do the moral thing. It’s no crime to stumble. It is a shame when someone with great power allows that stumble to remain in place.

I have Ms. Marvel #9-17 [$3.99] before me as I write this column. All are written by Wilson with art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona. The first three issues are Civil War II tie-ins. Caution. For me to express my admiration of this title, I will occasionally have to include SPOILERS in my comments.

If you were lucky enough to miss Civil War II entirely, what went down is that a new Inhuman seemingly had the power to predict the future with certainty. Powerful government forces acted on what he predicted as if it were fact, arresting people who hadn’t committed crimes and without any evidence that they were planning to commit crimes. Captain Marvel, who later admitted that she would violate civil rights if there were only a 10% chance of those predictions being accurate, was the poster child for the government. Kamala, an admirer of Captain Marvel, agreed to work with her.

Kamala’s admiration and compliance soon gave way to doubt and then rejection of this super-powered assault on civil rights. She quit and faced the consequences of her initial bad decision. In another fine Marvel super-hero title – Champions – she joined with several other young heroes to find a better, kinder and more productive way to function as super-beings in a troubled world. I wish and hope and believe it will be children like her who lead our nation out of its current darkness.

Obviously, Ms. Marvel pushes my progressive liberal buttons in good ways. I was greatly impressed by a recent storyline that revolved around online bullying. But Ms. Marvel is more than its political and social stands. It is an entertaining and exciting super-hero title in the traditional and well-tested Marvel manner. Kamala has great power, great responsibility and all of the stuff we and our children deal with in the real world.

From where I stand, a truly great super-hero comic is one in which the real world stuff is portrayed with enough reality to make the fantastic stuff believable. It has relatable characters who live in my world, albeit a super-powered version of my world. It has heroes who truly aspire to be heroes.

Ms. Marvel clicks all my boxes. It’s my favorite Marvel super-hero comic and my pick of the week.

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Sam Wilson

I’m not a fan of Nick Spencer’s writing. I’ve been critical, to put it mildly, of his tedious Captain Hydra storyline in which Steve Rogers, a Roosevelt Democrat and the creation of two of comicdom’s greatest Jewish comics creators, is revealed to be a Nazi. There’s a Cosmic Cube involved, so I’m sure it’ll be undone in unsatisfying fashion, but, in the meantime, we’ve seen a year’s worth of Captain America being a murderous Nazi. It’s garbage.

That said, you’ll be surprised to learn I think Spencer’s writing on Captain America: Sam Wilson has been excellent. To catch up the readers who haven’t followed the series…

Steve Rogers got old. He gave his shield and title to Sam Wilson. There were those who objected to this because, well, because they were racists. When Steve got young again, he said Sam should keep the shield and the title. People objected because, well, because they were racists. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have seen the resurgence of white supremacists in our country and, indeed, in the highest circles of our government.

Sidebar. When I say “people,” I mean people in the story, not fans who object to Sam becoming Captain America because it’s not exactly the way Captain America was when they were twelve. While I do tend to dismiss such moaning, I don’t assume that every fan of this type is a racist. They are, as so many fans are, resistant to change in their favorite characters and comics. Fortunately for them, there are decades of Captain America comic books they can enjoy. We live in a comics age of plenty.

What draws me to Captain America: Sam Wilson is that Spencer tells powerful stories about race and that is an important thing to do in our world. Yes, Captain Hydra is behind some of the awful things we see in these comic books, but the stories would work just as well and be just as powerful without the Captain Hydra nonsense. Again, look at what’s happening in our country right now.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #21 [$3.99], the most recent issue I’ve read, has Sam renouncing the Captain America shield and title. He seems to be resuming his identity as the Falcon and this seems to be the final issue of the title. Though I don’t keep up on comics news as I once did – kind of busy trying to make it at the moment – I hope this means we’re getting a new Falcon title and that it’ll continue to address important issues.

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Patsy Walker

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat has a most convoluted history. She was the subject of embarrassing teen humor/romance comics created by her mother.

She married her high-school sweetheart who became an abusive monster. She hung out with Hank “the Beast” McCoy, donned a super-hero suit previously worn by the Cat, became a super-hero, became kind of an Avenger, joined the Defenders, married the Son of Satan, died and went to Hell, came back from the dead and…ow! My brain hurts!

You would think writer Kate Leth might have simplified or ignored some of the above for Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat, the brilliant sixteen-issue series she did with artists Brittney L. Williams and Natasha Allegri. You would be thinking wrong. Leth used all of it. She made it fit together smoothly while adding such great concepts as an employment agency for super-powered people who do not want to become super-heroes or super-villains. They just want to use their powers to earn an honest living doing non-super-hero and non-super-villain things.

Leth combined action, human drama, humor and even a bit of tragedy into her stories. The art didn’t look like anything you’d expect to see in a Marvel super-hero comic, but it was so just right for this Marvel super-hero comic. After borrowing the individual issues from a friend, I went out and bought the trade paperbacks. Because these comic books are keepers. I’m keeping them around so that I can read them again and because I think I might learn a new trick or two from them.

I’m recommending the Patsy Walker trades to everybody. If you like super-hero comics and aren’t mired in just one way of doing them, you’ll love these books. If you’re not a fan of super-hero comics, you’ll still love these books.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90035-9

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 2: Don’t Stop Me-Ow ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90036-6

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 3: Careless Whiskers ($15.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90662-7

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #211

From the heart of Cleveland, Apama The Undiscovered Animal Volume 2 [Hero Tomorrow Comics; $19.99] is a hometown favorite and my pick of the week. The 184-page, full-color softcover collects issues #6-11 of the title by writers Ted Sikora and Milo Miller with artist Benito Gallego. The book is loaded with extras, starting with an introduction by legendary comic-book writer and editor Roy Thomas. As my friend and mentor says, Apama is the kind of comic book that makes you remember you’re a comic-book fan.

Apama grew from a wonderfully quirky independent movie called Hero Tomorrow. In that 2007 film, a struggling comics creator tries to keep his dreams alive by designing and becoming a super-hero with the powers of an animal unknown to the modern world. Consider that the short version recommendation that you see this movie. There is much more to it than I have space to relate to you here.

In this series, ice cream truck driver Ilyia has truly become Apama with mixed results. He’s helped people, but he’s also inadvertently hurt people. He’s brought villains to justice, but he’s failed to protect some of their innocent victims. He is confused about both of his lives. If this sounds like a super-hero of the 1970s, well, it has that special vibe. Sikora and Miller would not have been out of place among the Marvel writers of that decade. Coming from me, that’s high praise.

Artist Gallego has more than a little John Buscema in his work. The Spanish artist is a terrific storyteller whose action scenes move with crackling energy and whose human moments feel real. With the pun fully intended, I marvel at how good he is.

The stories are as delicious strange as their hero. A criminal who does dirty work for corporations becomes a corrosive super-villain. A riot breaks when a failing baseball team holds a “Ten-Cent Beer Night” in a crazy tale based on an actual event in Cleveland sports history. Against their will, stage performers become deadly super-villains. It’s a wild ride from start to finish.

Backing up the comics stories are all those extras I mentioned at the top of this review. There are background comics and histories that trace the secret origins of some of the concepts seen in the new Apama stories. There are guest pinup galleries featuring Apama, his mystical foe Regina and the Tap Dance Killer.

Apama the Undiscovered Animal earns my highest recommendation. It’s a great comics series that should appeal to old-time fans like me, and also to modern readers. Discover Apama today because everyone will be talking about him tomorrow.

ISBN 978-164007987-8

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Shaft Imitation of Life

From Dynamite Entertainment, Shaft: Imitation of Life by David F. Walker with artist Dietrich Smith [$15.99] is the follow-up series to Shaft: A Complicated Man, which was named “Story of the Year” in the 2015 Glyph Comics Award.

Shaft is an African-American private investigator who was created by novelist and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman. Shaft appeared in five novels, four movies and a TV series. Tidyman, just to do a bit more hometown bragging, was born in Cleveland.

In this new comics story, Shaft is doing pretty well following his role in a high profile case. Too well for his liking. He tries to avoid the jobs that will inevitably go off the rails, but his sense of honor and justice, much as he tries to deny him, lead him into very dangerous territory. Before long, Shaft finds himself mixed up with sadistic mobsters, idiot filmmakers, murderous pornographers and more. Such is the life of the cat who won’t cop out.

Walker and Smith present an action-packed story that takes readers into some pretty dark places. Yet from the darkness, Shaft emerges as a fundamentally decent man who’s much more of a hero that he’ll admit to. I’m a big fan of this character.

This collection is rated “M” for mature readers. I’d include older teens in that because their world is more dangerous that we parents like to admit. It’s definitely recommended to fans who like their heroes hard-boiled.

Shaft: A Complicated Man:

ISBN 978-1-6069-0757-3

Shaft: Imitation of Life:

ISBN 978-1-5241-0260-9

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Amazing Spider-Man

Over the weekend, I read The Amazing Spider-Man #15-26 [with cover prices ranging from $3.99 to $9.99]. Judging from the publication information in the indicia, these twelve issues came out within a span of ten months. The writers were Dan Slott and Christos Gage, and I generally enjoy their work. The main artist for these issues seems to have been Giuseppi Camuncoli with penciler Stuart Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger coming on with #25. The art on these issues is constantly good. So why didn’t I enjoy them?

Issue #15 has Mary Jane becoming the new Iron Spider, essentially an Iron Man suit in spider-drag. Then we get a bunch of issues with a “Before Dead No More” topper, followed by more issues labeled “A Clone Conspiracy Tie-In,” and then the Green Goblin returns. Been there, done that, the whole group of issues could have been called “Beating Dead Horses” in my mind.

As with the Green Lanterns over at DC, I think there are too many Spider-heroes at Marvel. I have hated “clone technology” since it first raised its derivative ugly head. The Green Goblin is another one of those super-villains that bores me because he keeps coming back again and again with nary a new twist. Been there, done that. Want something new.

Adding to my dislike of these issues, apparently, you need to have read The Clone Conspiracy series to fully understand what was going on in these Spider-Man issues. Having not read that series, I had the sense that the Spider-Man issues were missing key scenes…and wondering if the murky motivations of the main villain somehow made sense if you read the Clone Conspiracy series. My gut feeling: if a reader pays four bucks and up for a comic book, the reader should not have to buy other comic books to get the full story.

I have found much of Slott’s Spider-Man work interesting. But this run just didn’t do it for me. It happens.

Lest you think I’m down on Marvel, I’ll be back here next week with a column dedicated to Marvel titles I really love or, at the least, find intriguing enough to enjoy them.

© 2017 Tony Isabella