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

 

TONY’S TIPS #226

My favorite Marvel Comics titles are the titles I can read without worrying overmuch about what’s going on in the soul-crushing events that overwhelm that fictional universe with a regularity I wish my aging body possessed. Captain America might be Captain Nazi in all the other titles. Captain Marvel might be the enemy of basic civil rights. Some other hero might be decapitating Sub-Mariner, who, if I’m correct, has gotten better since losing his head. None of that matters in my favorite titles. They entertain me with but passing references to that other nonsense.

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man by writer Chip Zdarsky with artist Adam Kubert [$4.99 for the premiere issue; $3.99 after that] is well on its way to being one of my favorite titles. It’s got a sense of humor to it without minimizing the dire perils our heroes face in the three issues I’ve read. I said “heroes” because the Human Torch has been hanging with Spidey here and because the issues also feature Teresa Parker, Peter’s maybe/maybe not sister. I like them all.

Zdarsky doesn’t ignore the “Peter Parker is like this technological billionaire” stuff that’s going on in other Spider-Man titles, but he doesn’t focus on it. He brings in some crazy continuity from a few Spider-Man adventures I’d forgotten about, but his scripts have enough information, often charmingly presented, that I can follow the stories without resorting to Wikipedia. Most importantly, he’s bringing a honest sense of humor to Spidey. With too many writers, that humor comes off as forced. They’re trying too hard. Zdarsky? It seems to come naturally to him.

Kubert’s art is the kind of art I like to see in super-hero comics. It’s big and bold for the action sequences and comes down to Earth for the human scenes. Color artist Jordie Bellaire does an amazing job complementing Kubert’s drawings without overwhelming them. This is a nice-looking comic book.

What? You need more hooks to get you interested? Okay…

The Terrible Tinkerer has a kid brother. He’s a good guy and he’s very cool. Teresa is being hunted by rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who want information she’s injected into her own body. Spider-Man has met and might be dating a gorgeous stand-up comedian. The Kingpin is in there, too. He’s become an even more fascinating character as he seeks to project a new image as a wealthy benefactor/protector to the city he claims to love. New York, New York.

This December, Marvel will collect the first six issues of this new title in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1: Into the Twilight [$17.99]. If may or may not be out in time for Christmas and other seasonal holiday gift-giving, but, if it is, it could be a swell gift for the Spider-Fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1302907563

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Old Guard 1

From earlier this year, The Old Guard #1-5 by Greg Rucka with art by Leandro Fernandez [Image; $3.99 per issue] is the first of what is planned to be a five-volume series about immortals living among us. It’s not that these men and women can’t die. They can die, but they never know which “death” will be the one they don’t come back from. But that’s close enough to immortality that the rich and the powerful will do anything to be like them.

Andy, Nicky, Joe and Book have lived for hundreds and thousands of years. They work as mercenaries, but guard their immortality from even their most trusted customers. Nile is a new immortal. Whenever a new immortal is activated, the others know about it and reach out to that person.

In this initial series, they are betrayed by someone they trusted.  It is not pretty. Some of them have been captured. Others will do whatever it takes to rescue their friends. It’s a violent tale of loyalty and consequences.

Rucka is a writer I can usually count on to deliver a good story, and this series is no exception to that. It’s not an award-winner, but it’s a solid adventure yarn. Fernandez’s art does a good job of supporting the story, the action, the characters and those afore-mentioned consequences. I’ll keep reading this one.

These first five issues have been reprinted in The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire [$16.99]. If your tastes run more for adventure without costumed characters, or if your tastes are as all over the creative map as mine, you’ll enjoy this series.

ISBN 978-1534302402

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Popular Comics

My pick of the week is probably the most unusual pick of the week I’ve done in this column. It’s an anthology comic book produced by mostly comics fans and meant to be “a tribute to the classic Dell Comics Group.” At $11.99 for 64 pages of stories, All-New Popular Comics doesn’t deliver a lot of bang for your bucks. What it does deliver is the obvious delight that the fans had working either on characters they love or characters somewhat similar to those they love. What’s in and not in the public domain is a tricky puzzle to solve these days.

The lead feature is “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” based on the popular media hero from the 1950s. Having just read the actual Dell comic books starring Corbett, I have to say this story failed to capture the essence of the title or characters. There was one character bit that worked for me, but it was one of the most repetitive cliches of the Dell comic books. That’s the case with most of the stories. They just don’t get it right.

There were elements of this comic book I liked. Ken McFarlane took writer Jim Ludwig’s creaky joke and drew a good looking example of a teen girl humor strip. However, Ludwig redeemed himself with an interesting (but too short) meeting of the Fab Four and a group of Dell’s monster heroes. Ludwig also wrote and drew a funny parody of various Dell medical characters.

Sandy Carruthers did a dynamite full-page drawing of Kona facing a giant sea monster. Dave Noe wrote an amusing take-off of “Casey at the Bat” featuring a plethora of Dell heroes. Noe and artist Robert Schaupp did a tolerable Lobo story, but failed to really convey the landmark western character, arguably the full African-American hero to headline his own comics title.

Ultimately, though I got a kick out of this issue, Popular Comics tried to do too much and include too many features. It also lacked the editorial discernment to realize that some of the features and some of the writing and some of the art was simply not up to even the rawest of professional standards. It is an ambitious fanzine, but it’s not a terrific comic book.

Going forward, if All-New Popular Comics continues, it needs to be more selective. Fewer stories, longer stories and higher standards. For example, while I assume the various horror and sci-fi shorts were meant to recall Dell’s anthology titles of the 1960s, there’s nothing in them that screams “Dell” or “John Stanley.” Much better, I think, to devote that space to the character strips.

Despite my criticism, I recommend All-New Popular Comics for older readers who remember the days of the Dell comics it honors and the old fanzines wherein myself and other future professionals learned the rudiments of our craft. “Fun” is a good place to start, but it is still just a start.

ISBN 9781945667541

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #225

Comics history is on my mind this week with a book on the imitators of MAD magazine, the autobiography of a Will Eisner Comics Industry Hall of Fame member and a cool collection of street-level super-hero stories from the 1970s. You’ve heard me say this before, but  now is the true Golden Age of Comics with all manner of wonderful comics from around the world and from the past and present, coming out right alongside books that expand our knowledge of the medium we love and those who created it.

First up is Behaving Madly by Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe [IDW and Yoe Books; $34.99]. Apeldoorn, who writes for television, stage and screen in his native Netherlands, is also one of our best and most dogged comics historians. If there’s a fact out there waiting to be uncovered, my pal Ger will find it. Yoe has won two Eisner Awards and been nominated for other awards on account of he puts together collections of comics that would otherwise be lost to the ages. He has published more than 50 such books.

What we have in Behaving Madly is perhaps the first history of the many magazines that tried to ride the coattails of MAD, still the best and most successful of all such humor publications. As much as I know of comics history, more than half of the titles discussed in the introduction were revelations to me. I had never heard of Bunk, Cockeyed or Cuckoo and those are but three of over a dozen titles.

Past the introduction, Behaving Madly presents comics and features from many of these mostly short-lived magazines. The jokes might be a bit dated and the parody subjects unknown to fans of generations that came well after my own, but these amusing artifacts are more intriguing that I ever imagined they could be.

The artists? We’re talking a who’s who of the best comics artists of the 1950s, legendary talents looking for work at a time when the comics industry was being battered and bruised by the usual censors trying to find scapegoats for complex societal problems. The roster  in this book includes Basil Wolverton, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, Jack Kirby, Will Elder, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Joe Maneely, Angelo Torres, Bob Powell and many more.

I know it’s September, but it’s never too early to start searching for great gifts for the folks you love. Among the people who would get a kick out of Behaving Madly would be fans of MAD Magazine, pop culture or nostalgia buffs and students of comics history. Imagine the fun a teacher could have giving his students an assignment to read these articles and stories and compare them to those real-life people and situations being parodied.

Yoe Books are both entertaining and informative. Comics history is not the sole providence of the perpetually arrogant. Learning can be fun and Yoe always brings that to his books.

ISBN 978-1631408564

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Last Girl Standing

Wanna talk comics legends? How about Trina Robbins? The Eisner Hall of Fame member is a writer, artist and comics historian. She was a pioneer in the underground comix movement. She published the first such comic produced entirely by women. She has edited collections of women cartoonists and, as a comics historian, done some of the best work in that field. She’s a wonder.

Last Girl Standing [Fantagraphics Books; $19.99] goes beyond comic books as Robbins shares her memories of a life that saw her side-by-side with dozens and maybe hundreds of counter culture and music icons. This is a Trina Robbins I never knew and her journeys from WWII-era New York to San Francisco and beyond flat-out dazzle me. She was present at and active in so many important movements. I’m not sure she doesn’t have some Amazon DNA in her make-up.

This is a memoir to savor. You read of Trina’s adventures, you see the photographs, you take a deep breath. Then you’re ready for the next adventure. This book is a literary high. It should be in every high school and public library.

Last Girl Standing would be…yeah, here it comes again…a spiffy gift for all sorts of people. Comics history buffs, but especially female comics history buffs and modern-day creators. Dull lads like me who were never involved in the counter culture to any momentous extent. Heck, the only time I got high on drugs was when a woman I dated in the early 1970s would take a hit off a joint made from the pot I’d given one of our friends for a birthday and then kiss me. I’m still not sure it was the pot that got me high. But, enough of writing stuff that will embarrass my children. 

Last Girl Standing is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68396-014-0 

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Luke Cage Volume 2

Recently released is Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2 [$75]. This handsome hardcover edition has a new introduction by yours truly and reprints the stories from Power Man #17-31 by me, Len Wein, Don McGregor, George Tuska, Ron Wilson and other Marvel stalwarts of the 1970s.

I don’t want to give away too much from my introduction, but I was a Cage fan from day one. Working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time Luke made his debut, I pitched the newspaper on my doing an article on the character. The editors gave it a pass on account of the paper had just published a big article on comics a year or so before. Surely comic books weren’t worth two such articles. I’ll pause to let you roll your eyes here.

I am incredibly biased, but I think there’s a lot of good comics in this volume. Len Wein and George Tuska created Cornell Cottonmouth, who was a key character in the Luke Cage series on Netflix. I did a mostly satiric story taking on “planned communities” – code for no blacks allowed – and turned supporting character scientist Bill Foster into Black Goliath. McGregor wrote the angriest Luke Cage seen to that point and injected a street beat into his issues. The art throughout this collection has the same feel.

So, yes, I’m definitely biased, but I think this Marvel Masterworks will please readers young and old alike. It’s from beginnings like this that we get Luke Cage and the other impressive programs from the Marvel Netflix Universe. Check it out.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #224

Stronger together. Even in these divisive times, that notion should be a no-brainer. The caveat, of course, is that the people who come together must have good hearts and minds. Sorry, Nazis and white supremacists, by your very natures, you’re not invited to this kind of party. Yeah, I know, I’m so intolerant.

For this edition of Tony’s Tips, I’m looking at three super-teams from Marvel Comics. All of them have strong ties to Marvel’s vast history, but all of them are new as well.

I wasn’t bowled over by the preview of the new Defenders comic book when I read it in one of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings. I didn’t think the transition from the Netflix versions of the heroes to their comic-book counterparts was a smooth one. I wasn’t at all convinced Diamondback was a powerful enough “big bad” to lead off the new series. But I liked the Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and David Marquez (artist) preview enough to order the series from my friendly online comics supplier. That turns out to have been one of my better calls.

Having read The Defenders #1-4 ($4.99 for the first ish, $3.99 per issue for the others), I like the way this series is progressing. Bendis and Marquez have mastered the tightrope walk between comic-book and live-action storytelling. If a reader is new to the comic books, he’ll recognize the heroes from the Netflix series. That new reader might be thrown by some divergent elements – such as Jessica and Luke being married and having had a child – but the characters are pretty faithful to both of their incarnations.

Diamondback has proven himself to be formidable, but there’s also a hint that he’s not the actual “big bad” of this initial Defenders storyline. There is a real sense of menace to the ongoing serial. I’m eager to see what comes next.

I’m recommending The Defenders. Avid super-team readers will find much to enjoy in the title, even more so if, like me, they tend to prefer street-level heroes. Newcomers to comic books will be able to follow this series easily and without worrying about the rest of the vast Marvel Comics Universe.

Defenders Vol. 1: Diamonds Are Forever [$15.99] will be released in late December. It will contain the Free Comic Book Day preview and the first six issues of this ongoing title. The timing is a little off for a Christmas present, but somebody you love must have their birthday early in 2018.

ISBN 978-1302907464

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Avengers 1.1

My pick of the week is the oddly-numbered, five-issue Avengers by writer Mark Waid with art mostly by Barry Kitson (pencils) and Mark Farmer (inks). The “mostly” is because we start getting additional inkers by #3.1 and additional pencilers for the final issue of the series [$3.99 per issue].

The five issues take place between Avengers #16 [May 1965) and #17 of the original series. The founding members of the super-team have handed it off to Captain America and given him three replacements  – Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch – who are clearly less mighty than the heroes they are replacing – and who the public has known as villains in the recent past. That’s an awful lot to ask of pre-Nazi Cap, though it was great seeing the real deal in new stories again. Even if those stories were set in the past.

Things do not go smoothly for the new team. They are outmatched by their opponents. They have personal disagreements more extreme than those we saw in 1965. And…no, that’s all you’re going to get from me. No further spoilers. I want you to read the series free of any preconceptions. You’ll thank me for that.

The series has been collected in Avengers: Four [$15.99]. Waid’s at the top of his game. The art is amazing. The characters and their dire circumstances are engrossing. This would make a great gift for that super-team fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1302902612

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X-Men Blue

Most current X-Men books leave me unimpressed and uninterested, but I have been enjoying X-Men Blue [$3.99 per issue] by writer Cullen Bunn with various artists. This title stars the original teenaged X-Men who were brought to the present because grown-up Hank McCoy was kind of an idiot. They miss their old lives. This is why they are blue. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The old/young X-Men are trapped in a world their adult selves made. Most of them are struggling not to be as messed up as those adult counterparts. Teenage Hank is looking for a brand-new way to be an idiot by mastering magic. Maybe that’ll work out.

Actually, the young X-Men are a pretty interesting group. They are working (secretly) with Magneto, but they don’t trust him. Already, they are smarter than the grown-ups. Jean Grey carries the heaviest burden because she doesn’t want to go all Phoenix-crazy on her new world. Cyclops, Angel and Iceman are all very sane. They have been joined by a son of Wolverine from a different universe, which makes me sigh but alternative realities are like crack to X-Men writers. They just can’t say “no” to them.

I know it sounds like I’m damning this book with faint praise, but I’m being kind of a jerk. It’s well-written, well-drawn and I want to see what happens next. On my scorecard, that adds up to a pretty good comic book.

X-Men Blue Vol. 1: Strangest [$15.99] collects the first six issues of the series. It’s available right now. X-Men Blue Vol. 2: Toil and Trouble [$15.99] comes out in late November. I recommend them both.

X-Men Blue Vol. 1: Strangest

ISBN 978-1302907280

X-Men Blue Vol. 2: Toil and Trouble

ISBN 978-1302907297

One last note. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 [$3.99] by yours truly and artist Clayton Henry is now available for pre-order. I’m pretty proud of this new series, so I hope you’ll consider buying it. Thanks.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #223

The smarter half of my brain has been telling me I need to relax a bit more. With no tropical beach in sight, I decided to watch DVDs and TV shows. The upside of this is…no chance of getting sunburn. The downside…no refreshing fruity drinks delivered by scantily-clad waitresses, or, for those so inclined, waiters. I’m totally cool with equal-opportunity fantasies. However, even without those tall refreshing drinks and, you know, the other thing, I still had a pretty good time in front of my TV set.

Batman and Harley Quinn [DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Animation] is my pick of the week. Directed by Sam Liu from a story by Bruce Timm and a teleplay by Timm and James Krieg, this is a hilarious dark comedy which is able to feature both big laughs and touching emotional moments without ever taking the viewer out of the movie. Here’s the Wikipedia summary:

Batman and Nightwing form an uneasy but needed alliance with Harley Quinn to stop Poison Ivy and [the] Floronic Man from transforming people into plants.

Batman is voiced by the great Kevin Conroy. Melissa Rauch is pitch-perfect as Harley. Other actors include the excellent Loren Lester as Nightwing, the always delectable Paget Brewster as Poison Ivy and the ever-commanding Kevin Michael Richardson as Jason Woodrue. Also in the cast: John DiMaggio, Eric Bauza, Robin Atkin Downes, Trevor Devall, Rob Paulsen, Mindy Sterling, and, in a funny scene, Bruce Timm as an unseen Booster Gold. Every performance was solid. Kudos to casting director Wes Gleason.

If you’ll excuse some MILD SPOILERS…

Released from prison, Harley is working as a waitress in a sleazy club called Superbabes. Check out the walls of said establishment for some classic DC Comics artwork.

Batman and Nightwing are, indeed, reluctant to recruit Harley for this mission. Harley is torn between the necessity of saving the world and her friendship with Ivy. These conflicts ring very true and add to the depth of the feature.

Plus: Harley and Nightwing have a moment. Exactly what that means is open to interpretation – I know what I think happened – and it does not please Batman. Nightwing’s under-the-breath muttering is one of the best lines in the movie.

If I have any complaint about this movie, it’s that DC and Warner neglected to include credits for several comics creators who should have been there: Gardner Fox and Gil Kane for Jason Woodrue, Robert  Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff for Poison Ivy, and Pat Misulli, Joe Gill and Dick Giordano for Sarge Steel. DC has gotten much better at this, but there’s room for improvement.

I bought the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital version of the movie, originally priced at $24.98. The special features include “The Harley Effect,” “Loren Lester: In His Own Voice,” two Harley cartoons from Batman: The Animated Series, and a peak at the animated Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. I’m going to pre-order Gotham by Gaslight as soon as it becomes available for pre-order.

If you loved Batman: The Animated Series, you’ll enjoy this movie. I’d love to see more like it.

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Defenders TV

A couple weeks back, I wrote about seeing the first two episodes of Marvel’s Defenders at a special screening in New York. After the series started streaming on Netflix, my son Eddie and I watched the remaining six episodes. Here are my thoughts on the entire series with some SPOILERS.

Most of the leads and supporting players were terrific throughout. I was critical of Finn Jones’ performance as Danny Rand/Iron Fist in the first two episodes, but he upped his game when he had scenes with Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock) Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) and Mike Colter (Luke Cage) in the remaining episodes. As did Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing).

The villains were all over the map. Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra started out real scary and became less so as the series progressed.  Elodie Yung’s Elektra Natchios was never convincing. Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao was sometimes subservient, which I later realized came from her remarkable guile, and sometimes scary. Ramon Rodriguez’s Bakuto was a scenery-chewing joke from the moment he showed up in this series and his performance torpedoed a pivotal scene with the always wonderful Simone Messick as Misty Knight.

As much as I loved the leading players and supporting cast members from the previous Netflix series, The Defenders took a nose dive in the final two episodes. That’s when smart people, both heroes and villains, started doing monumentally stupid things. I loathe when that happens because it takes me right out of whatever movie or TV series I’m watching. Because of that flaw, the best grade I’m able to give The Defenders is a B-.

My disappointment in The Defenders doesn’t keep from me being very excited for the next seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, or the debut of the Punisher. I’m hoping the writers of those series don’t fall back on the “smart people, stupid moves” device. These characters deserve better.

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Midnight Texas

Based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, Midnight, Texas is sort of like a supernatural super-hero team comic book. The title city is a sanctuary for supernatural beings. It sits on a weakening barrier between Hell and Earth and this draws other not-so-benign  supernatural beings to the town. The ten-episode season debuted on July 24, on NBC.

The “team” is an interesting mix. The lead protagonist is a psychic on the run from an old enemy, accompanied by his granny’s ghost, who only he can see. There’s a vampire whose lover is an assassin, albeit a human assassin. There’s a were-tiger preacher. There’s a witch. And there’s a pair of gay angels who hide their true selves because other heavenly agents would come looking for them and not to bring them wedding gifts. To be clear, the angels hide that they are angels and not that they are gay.

The humans in the town include the psychic’s girlfriend, her really dysfunctional family, and a man trying to make amends for his past as the son of a white supremacist leader. Other human residents may suspect or even know some of their neighbors are different, but do not seem to care. Outsiders are fearful of the town, but still stop by every now and then to carry out some mischief. As I said, this is an interesting mix with a monster-of-the-week sensibility that reminds me of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Night Stalker and the non-mythology episodes of X-Files.

Midnight, Texas isn’t as amazing as any of those series, but it is a solidly entertaining show. The acting is good to excellent, as is the writing. In the six episodes I’ve seen, three major storylines have been brought to satisfying conclusions. I’m already hoping it gets picked up for a second season.

That’s all for now. I will be back next week with reviews of three, honest-to-Odin actual Marvel Comics super-team comics books. Which three? Ah, that would be telling. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #222

Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics by Roger Hill [TwoMorrows Publishing; $49.95] is the definitive biography and examination of one of the great artists in the history of comics. It’s a book you might not realize is vital to the study of comics history until you see it and, having seen it, you won’t be able to imagine not having it in your comics library.

Crandall was a masterful illustrator in an era when readers didn’t often see artists as good as he was. If that wasn’t enough, he was also a masterful storyteller. His amazing detailed drawings always served the scripts he worked on. Small wonder he was quickly seen as one of the best in the field and usually commanded the top rate at whatever publisher was lucky enough to have him.

Hill gives us a true biography of Crandall that includes the story of the artist’s family, his schooling, his promise and triumphs as a student, his family/friend/romantic relationships, his fledging entry into the comics field and his swift conquering of that field. On page after page, we see the artistry and genius of Crandall and, with each image, we gain a greater appreciation of just how good he was and how fortunate we comics readers are to have had him doing this work.

I was not around to witness Crandall’s legendary work on Blackhawk, Dollman and other 1940s feature, at least not first hand. I have seen some of those comics since and they have never failed to awe me. Good gosh, the man could draw beautiful woman and sleek planes and exotic locations and ordinary objects made large because they were placed in perspective with a doll-sized super-hero.

As a kid going to a Catholic school in Cleveland, I saw Crandall’s work in Treasure Chest. The first chapter of an serialized history of communism – “This Godless Communism” – gave me nightmares as he depicted an America in the grip of Soviet dictatorship. Literally. Though Crandall’s art was as circumspect as you would expect in a comic book made specifically for Catholic schools, I had terrifying dreams of priests, nuns, parents and other Catholics crucified on Bosworth Avenue, where my school was located. Though none of his other Treasure Chest work hit me that hard, his realistic drawings on other historical or biographical stories brought other times and places to life.

In my teens, I found his work in the Creepy and Eerie magazines I would sneak into my house. MAD Magazine was banned by my parents for many years – they put too much stock in the repressive Catholic newspapers of the era – so I figured Creepy and Eerie would also be unwelcome. But I read and cherished all three magazines.

A high school teacher from a school I didn’t attend, but who I knew through comics-reading friends in his classes, introduced me to the  EC comics and more Crandall genius. I looked at his work in those and other comics and pictured a man laboring over each assignment, never stopping to sleep or eat more than necessary. Hill portrays a much different artist than in my imaginings, but an artist just as impressive.

Crandall loved to draw. It was his core nature and he embraced it. He could and did draw fast, but the quality of his work would never reveal the speed and ease with which he created his masterpieces. He was a modest man, loyal to his friends, dedicated to his craft, and, like so many greats of the 1940s and 1950s, never knowing how much his work was cherished by his readers. But he did know he had the respect of his fellow artists and, later in his life, how much his fans loved him.

Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics would be worth owning for this story of this great artist. When you likewise consider all of the wonderful Crandall covers and pages and drawings it includes, it becomes an indispensable volume. It’s my pick of the week and I urge all of you to buy, read and cherish it.

ISBN 978-1-60549-077-9

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Lost Films 02

When it comes to entertainment, comic books are my first love. But, as my friends and readers know, I also love giant monsters movies.  Especially Japanese giant monster movies. The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films by John LeMay [CreateSpace; $16.99] is the author’s third book in a trilogy of titanic terror and the most fascinating of the three volumes.

In The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 1: 1954-1980 and The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol 2: 1984-2014 [$12.95 each], you’ll find coverage of the movies made and released in those years. However, in this third book, LeMay uncovers dozens of movies that were almost made and even some “fan” films that were made. As big a kaiju fan as I am, I still didn’t know about most of these blockbusters that never were. Nor did I know everything about movies that were made.  For example, Gamera [1965] was made to make use of miniature sets built for a disaster/disastrous movie about giant rats called Giant Horde Beast Nezura. The giant rat movie was partially shot in 1963, but cancelled due to the logistical horror of filming actual rats. LeMay’s book is filled with such incredible revelations about film ideas that evolved into very different films when they were actually made. There are stories and monsters that never saw the light of a motion picture screen.

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films will astound you. If you have any interest in these movies, and, if so, I embrace you as family, you’ll want this book and the two volumes that preceded it. I recommend them all.

Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 1: 1954-1980:

ISBN 978-1536827880

Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol 2: 1984-2014:

ISBN 978-1541144316

Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films:

ISBN 978-1548145255

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Mysterious Girlfriend

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 6 by Riichi Ueshiba [Vertical; $15.95] is the conclusion of the weird wonderful manga that follows the relationship of Akira Tsubaki and Mikoto Urabe. I’m going to turn to Wikipedia to try to sum up this series:

“Urabe is a transfer student who recently came to Tsubaki’s school.  After a series of strange events, Tsubaki finds himself addicted to Urabe’s drool. Once she claims the addiction as love sickness, the relationship slowly progresses, focusing on the odd bond that comes out of the drool attachment.”

Despite its freaky elements, this is an honest-to-gosh love story. No matter how odd the stories got – such as Urabe being the exact twin of a pop idol or their classmates making a movie that echoes their relationship – it was impossible for me not to root for these two kids.  The power of their love is inspiring.

Manga – and especially this manga – isn’t for every comics reader. But, if you want to try something out of your usual reading, check out this series. Yes, it will make you feel a little creepy every now and then, but, mostly, I think it will make you happy.

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 1

ISBN 978-1942993452

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 2

ISBN 978-1942993469

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 3

ISBN 978-1942993704

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 4

ISBN 978-1942993711

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 5

ISBN 978-1942993728

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 6

ISBN 978-1942993735

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #221

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was a major media star in the 1950s. With fellow students Astro and Roger Manning, Corbett was in training at the Space Academy. They were working toward becoming members of the Solar Guard, which protected human beings in the solar system and beyond. Their thrilling adventures appeared in television, radio, books, comic books, comic strips and more. There were Tom Corbett coloring books, costumes, a pocket watch, a Space Academy playset with plastic figures, a lunch box and a View-Master packet. Corbett was even spoofed on several episodes of the popular radio program Bob and Ray. From 1952 through 1954, Dell published eleven issues of Tom Corbett comic books. Prize Comics published three additional issues in 1955.

Pre-Code Classics: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Volumes One and Two [PS Artbooks; $59.99 each] collects all fourteen Tom Corbett comics in two hardcover editions. In merely good condition, the issues would cost you over $175, assuming you could find them. The convenience of having entire runs in one or two volumes is what draws me back to PS’s offerings again and again.

The Dell issues are superior to the Prize issues, largely because the stories run over 30 pages. Even an average story benefits from that kind of breathing space and original comics writer Paul Newman wrote above-average stories. Joe Greene, who followed Newman on the Dell series, did a fine job as well. While the art on these issues isn’t breathtaking, John Lehti, Alden McWilliams and Frank Thorne were all terrific storytellers who knew how to keep a story moving in an interesting way.

The Prize issues don’t measure up to the Dell ones. Instead of one long story, each issue has three Tom Corbett adventures of seven to eight pages each, a two-page “Captain Quick and the Space Scouts” tale and assorted filler pages. Of the latter, I got a kick out of the “Space News” text pages, which featured several short items on space science and related subjects.

By the Prize series, Roger Manning, who was a boastful, impulsive, yet still fairly competent and occasionally heroic cadet, was gone from the series and replaced by the simply bumbling T.J. Thistle. Even though Greene wrote a couple of stories for the Prize issues, the stories didn’t have the range of the Dell adventures. Indeed, the new comics often came off as little more than police in space tales. Even artist Mort Meskin couldn’t elevate them above merely adequate.

Though the above may seem like I’m condemning these hardcovers with faint praise, I have no regrets about purchasing them. I wouldn’t have read these comics if PS hadn’t collected them. With a discount from InStock Trades, who sponsor this weekly column, I got both of them for under a hundred bucks combined. That’s a reasonable price to pay to scratch my itch to learn more about the comics published in the 1950s. If you’re also interested in the comics of the 1950s or in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, I think you’ll enjoy these volumes as much as I did.

Pre-Code Classics: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Volume One

ISBN 978-1-78636-056-4

Pre-Code Classics: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Volume Two

ISBN 978-1-78636-062-5

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Gumby

While I was visiting New York recently, Papercutz editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup gave me a copy of Gumby Vol. 4 #1 [$3.99], the latest comics series based on the beloved character created by Art Clokey. The issue features three comics stories totaling 25 pages and three additional pages of text-and-photo features. Oh, yeah, and it has a cover by the great Rick Geary.

I have never been a huge Gumby fan, but I recall watching many of the cartoons as a kid and always enjoying them. The three stories in this issue remind me of those simpler times.

Jeff Whitman’s “An Alien Abundance” is actually a sequel of sorts to the very first Gumby cartoon. Drawn by Joylon Yates, an artist whose work I’ve praised in the past, the tale goes to the moon and back. It’s a fun adventure, suitable for all ages, including older readers like myself.

Kyle Baker’s “Model-y Crew” introduces fashion doll Maddie. It’s an odd sort of Cinderella story with Gumby and Pokey attempting to get their new friend ready for an event while a dastardly “Blockhead” works against them.

Finally, Ray Fawkes with artist Yates relates the chilling thriller of “Gumby and Pokey in the Land of Ice Cream.” More good-natured giggles for one and all.

If you’re a Gumby fan, a reader with varied tastes or a parent in search of good comics for young readers, Papercutz delivers on all three counts with this premiere issue. Give it a look.

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Buffy Season 11 #1

My top pick of the week is Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 11 #1-7 [Dark Horse; $3.99 per issue] by Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs. Warning. There will be SPOILERS AHEAD, the better to tell you why I love this new season so much.

This new season picks up where the previous season left off. Buffy and her cast seem to be happy and living in San Francisco. That’s when a dragon pretty much destroys the city.

Government forces use this attack as an excuse to crack down on all supernatural beings. Before long, supernatural creatures are being relocated to camps. This is put forth as a “temporary” measure to give the government time to find a better solution to the problem, a solution that will work for all concerned. Oh, yeah, I completely believe they want what’s best for everyone.

That’s the END OF THE SPOILERS. Now come the reasons I choose this series as my pick of the week.

This story terrifies me. Being published at a time when we have a president who refuses to stand against neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white nationalists…at a time when civil rights violations are on the rise…at a time when the ruling party works to disenfranchise voters who don’t support them…this story terrifies me in a “Good Lord! This actually could happen here!” way.

Add that to watching beloved characters and even new characters go through indignities and injury at the hands of arrogant government thugs. My heart sinks at least once an issue as I follow this soul-crushing, albeit brilliant, story line.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has always been at its best when speaking to real-world issues, even metaphorically. We’ve followed Buffy and the Scooby Gang through the horror of high school, relationships, the passing of loved ones and more. With this story, Buffy becomes again one of the most relevant of heroic sagas.

Currently available in trade paperback is Buffy Season 11 Volume 1: The Spread of Their Evil [$19.99], which collects the first six issues. Coming next February is Buffy Season 11 Volume 2: One Girl in All the World [$19.99], which features the remaining issues in this season.

If you love Buffy, you’ll love this new series. If you like heroic fiction with a real-world edge, this story will hook you but good. If you’ve been reading my reviews long enough to trust me whenever I recommend something, you’ll seek out this series. It ranks among the best Buffy comics that have ever been done.

Buffy Season 11 Volume 1: The Spread of Their Evil

ISBN 978-1506702742

Buffy Season 11 Volume 2: One Girl in All the World

ISBN 978-1506702926

Thanks for spending some time with me. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

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