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

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

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

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

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

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


ISBN 978-0-545-54061-2


ISBN 978-0-545-54062-9



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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-60886-850-6



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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-302-90005-2

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

ISBN 978-1-302-90208-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


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

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

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

In the order they came to me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2016 Tony Isabella


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-60877-183-7



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

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

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

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

Hercules: Still Going Strong:

ISBN 978-1-30290-033-5

Civil War II: Gods of War

ISBN 978-1-30290-034-2



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

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

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

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

© 2016 Tony Isabella


One of my goals for the rest of this year is to catch up on all of the DC Comics movies, TV shows and animated features. My viewing of these will be erratic because I haven’t yet found the chronological listing – if such a list exists – that would allow me to exercise my OCD and watch them in order of release. Some whose own OCD takes a more active form than mine should prepare such a list and send it to me. Believe me, I would herald that individual’s greatness in a future installment of this column.

Batman: Bad Blood [Warner Bros. Animation/DC Comics; approximately $13] came to me through my local library. The 2016 direct-to-video release was directed by Jay Oliva who’s helmed many other animated features and worked as a storyboard artist on various live-action films. He’s got chops. It was written by J.M. DeMatteis, writer of countless comic books as well as many episodes of both animated and live-action. Okay, you probably could count all the comic books he has written, but you’d be counting for two or three days.

The bare bones Internet Movie Database summary of the feature goes exactly like this:

Bruce Wayne is missing. Alfred covers for him while Nightwing and Robin patrol Gotham City in his stead. And a new player, Batwoman, investigates Batman’s disappearance.

That summary is close enough for government work, but leaves out a number of salient points. The feature includes the origins of both Batwoman and Batwing with a teaser shot of another hero at the end of the film. It also has somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen super-villains, including the Electrocutioner, Tusk, Firefly, the Mad Hatter, the Calculator, Killer Moth and more. I’m hoping that a whole bunch of comics writers and artists got some money for the appearances of their creations.

The voice actors include Jason O’Mara as Batman, Yvonne Strahovski as Batwoman, Stuart Allan doing a darn fine job as Damian Wayne, Morena Baccarin, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Ernie Hudson (who I really want to work with some day because he’s my favorite Ghostbuster) and others. There is nary a false note among all these talented performers.

Wanting to avoid spoilers, all I’ll say about Batman: Bad Blood is that I enjoyed it. It threw some surprises at me. It had some real character growth. I’m adding it to my Amazon Wish List because I’d like to watch it again sometime and share it with others. It’s my pick of the week.



Camp Midnight by Steven T. Seagle and artist Jason Adam Katzenstein [Image Comics; $16.99] is the creepy, funny and ultimately moving story of what a young girl named Skye did on her summer vacation. Her parents are divorced, her dad’s new wife doesn’t seem to like her and she just got on the wrong bus for summer camp. Which takes her to a camp where activities don’t start until midnight and where all the other kids are monsters. Chalk up a win for Free Comic Book Day because it was the free excerpt of this graphic novel that got me to seek out the full edition.

Skye’s afraid to let the other campers know she’s an ordinary human being. Mia, the first friend Skye makes at the camp, doesn’t want anyone to know what she really is. So, alongside the creepy stuff and the funny stuff, we also get some not-remotely-preachy lessons about being yourself and standing up for yourself. The targeted age range for this book is 9-12, but it’s smart enough to be enjoyed my older readers. Even dinosaurs like me.

Seagle’s writing is sharp and his characters come alive in dialogue that never “sounds” wrong to me. Katzenstein’s art – his cartoons have appeared in Newsweek and The New Yorker – isn’t typical comics stuff, but it flows nicely and tells the story well. This could be a contender for next year’s awards.

I like Camp Midnight a lot. It should be in every public and school library that wants to build a graphic novel collection for readers of all ages. It would be a terrific gift for younger readers and, for that matter, older ones. Definitely recommended.

ISBN 978-1-63215-555-9



Roy Thomas Presents Captain Science [$69.99] is the latest vintage comics collection from the UK’s PS Artbooks. Originally published by Youthful Magazines, the volume reprints all seven issues of the title from November 1954 to July 1955.

Captain Science is a brilliant scientist who is given the advanced scientific knowledge of a dying race and an electronic brain that can alert him to any threat to our world. He’s joined in this fight by the young, very rich Rip Gary and the lovely Luana, who turned against her evil father to help the good Captain save our planet. It’s a fairly typical group of heroes with the somewhat troubling sidebar that Rip was mentally conditioned by an alien to devote his wealth to the service of Captain Science.

Each issue has two stories of the Captain and two other stories. An interplanetary detective named Brant Craig appears in most issues. Captain Science’s villains are evil alien conquerors and the gooey monsters who love them. Brant mostly brings criminals to justice. As for the non-series stories, they are often the best story in an issue. Some notable examples: “When Time Stood Still,” “The Glower of Death,” “The Hangman’s Son,” and the amazing “World War III with the Ants.” That last one could and should be expanded into a full-length graphic album, a novel or even a movie.

The writers of these comic books have not yet been identified, but the artist roster includes Wally Wood, Walter Johnson, Don Perlin, Gustav Schrotter, Joe Orlando, Myron Fass and Harry Harrison. The book also features a foreword by editor Thomas.

With issue #8, the name of the title changed to Fantastic. The last two Captain Science stories and the last Brant Craig adventure ran in that issue, but are not included in this hardcover. Fantastic ended with issue #9, which had four non-series anthology stories. I’m hoping PS Artbooks reprints those two issues of Fantastic in a near-future collection.

You know the drill on these PS Artbooks volumes. Though all of the reprinted comic books might not be classic, the books are wonderful additions to our comics library. In this case, fans of Wally Wood and Joe Orlando will want the bool for their artwork.

Captain Science was good fun. On that basis, along with the afore-mentioned historical value, I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-84863-956-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Black Lightning. Before we get to this week’s reviews, I should say a few words to the three or four comics fans who somehow have not seen the latest news about the character I created for DC Comics. I’ll try to keep these remarks brief because, even at 65 years of age, I think people should try new things.

DC Entertainment has received a pilot commitment from Fox on Black Lightning. This means – and I hope I have this right – DC will be making a pilot for a Black Lightning TV series. If Fox loves this pilot, Black Lightning will get his show. This commitment is due to the hard work of Greg Berlanti, show runners Mara and Salim Akil, and Geoff Johns, who is a hero to the Isabella family.

I’ve spoken with Mara and Salim. We got along famously. Their take on Black Lightning is well within what I consider the core values of my creation. I’m excited about their plans.

For reasons that should be obvious to those of you have been around this rodeo for a few years, I’m not going to be able to say a lot about the show going forward. Or about other Black Lightning stuff. I’ll tell you what I can when I can. For example:

There will be more Black Lightning announcements coming. I believe you will like them as much as I do.

And now, this week’s reviews…


For several years now, KaBoom!, a division of Boom Entertainment, has been publishing original Garfield comic books based on the Jim Davis comic strip that is a favorite around the world and here at Casa Isabella. Don and Maggie Thompson introduced me to Garfield way back in 1980 when Ballantine Books published the first of over 60 collections of the strip. I loved the format of the book and I loved the strip itself. Garfield has been a daily part of my life ever since.

I prefer my Garfield comic books like Garfield prefers his lasagna: in big delicious chunks. Garfield Volume Four [July 2014; $13.99] was my latest mirthful meal. It collects material from Garfield Pet Force Special #1 and Garfield #13-16. The stories are written by Mark Evanier, who is one of my favorite writers and oldest friends, and Scott Nickel, whose comic strip Eek! is also a favorite of your friendly neighborhood tipster. Art is by Gary Barker with Mark and Stephanie Heike, Andy Hirsch, Courtney Bernard and Genevieve Ft. As I will be saying many nice things about Evanier, let me assure you my reviews aren’t influenced by my friendships for those whose work I write about. Mark has never once paid me to say nice things about him. He has me on a retainer. Drum roll.

“Pet Force” cats Garfield, Odie, Nermal and Arlene as super-heroes. In a story by Nickel, the team is disbanded under the influence of the emotion-controlling Hater. In a second story by Evanier, based somewhat on his experiences with shady contractors, the team faces a cosmic, world-destroying contractor. These tales are a very funny parody of super-hero comics.

But it’s the purer Garfield stories I love best, the stories that, despite starring a sentient cat, deal with real-life things like diets, cranky neighbors, lateness, self-esteem, inflated ego, cut-throat business competition and such. Evanier has a knack for this kind of story and his artists do fine work visualizing them.

Garfield Volume 4 is my pick of the week. Not only was it big fun to kick back and enjoy it from cover to cover, but it featured the kind of comics I read a second time to study how Evanier and crew made the stories work. The entire KaBoom! Garfield series gets my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-60886-392-1



DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis [$9.99] by Shea Fontana with art by Yancey Labat is a 128-page, 6″ by 9″ original graphic novel for readers 8-12 years old. It’s based on the animated series that has been an online sensation since it first launched.

In this corner of the DC Multiverse, Super Hero High is where the teen versions of heroes and villains go to learn how to use their abilities effectively. The principal is Amanda Waller with Gorilla Grodd as her vice-president. The main characters include Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Bumblebee, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Katana and others. It’s an amusing concept that can be enjoyed by younger and older readers alike.


That said, I was disappointed in this particular adventure. While preparing for their finals, the young heroines are kidnapped, one by one, by a mysterious villain whose identity will not fool comic-book readers in the least. The girls defeat this villain by working together, a sweet little moral that ignores the fact that, even at this early stage in their training, every one of these young women should have been able to beat the bad guy by themselves. The moral drove the story and that hurt the story.


DC Super Hero Girls is worth checking out. Even a flawed book like this one, it still entertaining.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6247-1



World of Archie Double Digest #61 [$4.99] is the new issue of the only Archie Comics title I still collect. I read a few of Archie’s standard-size comics like Archie, Jughead and The Black Hood, but the company just doesn’t speak to me as it did for so many years. No pun intended, the vileness that is Afterlife with Archie was the final nail in that particular coffin.

When I say I collect World of Archie Double Digest, that’s exactly what I mean. I have all 61 issues. I started collecting it because it was reprinting classic comics like Cosmo the Merry Martian and the pre-Pussycats Josie. It threw in some oddball stuff like Young Dr. Masters and Seymour, My Son. I kept collecting it even after it ran out of that material because it was still reprinting fun stuff by writers Frank Doyle and George Gladir – my two favorite Archie writers – and great artists like Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg, Harry Lucey and others.

The title has seen better days, but it still has enough of the good stuff to keep me buying.

The high points this time out are the second chapter of a spy spoof by Tom DeFalco, a fun “Reggie gets his comeuppance” story written and drawn by Al Hartley, the usual fun scripts by Doyle and Gladir, and an “Archie 1″ tale – the Riverdale kids in prehistoric times – that ends on a pun that made me groan in delight. In the past, I’ve recommended classic Archie comic books as a terrific change of pace from the grim and grittiness of so many super-hero comics. I still think World of Archie Double Digest works in that regard. Check it out sometime, especially if you can get hold of one of the earlier issues.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


First up today is the frankly disappointing Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 6 [Fantagraphics; $39.99]. The hardcover book collects 38 Ditko-drawn stories that were originally published by Charlton comic books dated 1958 and 1959. My disappointment doesn’t lie with the volume itself, but rather with the substandard stories presented therein.

Blake Bell’s introduction is informative, but his critical praise of Ditko’s work on these stories strikes me as excessive. But his historical insights and his inclusion of pages Ditko drew when he once again started getting work at Marvel helps put these stories in context.

Ditko rarely seems inspired by the stories reprinted here and that shows in his mostly journeyman art on them. It’s also quite likely Charlton’s notoriously low rates played a factor. Sometimes, then and now, the art of the comics art form takes a back seat to more mundane financial considerations.

There are, as you would expect, flashes of Ditko brilliance. “The Time Chamber” has a large final panel “shot” through a window and it’s stunning. Even some of the more minimalist art has a certain cleverness in Ditko’s execution of the drab stories he was given to illustrate.  Given how poorly written and often wildly unfocused the stories are, I’m not about to fault Ditko for not doing more with them. The story comes first and, if that’s not there, even if the art looks great, the story still falls flat. Great comics have both great stories and great art.

Some of the best writing and art in this volume is in the stories starring Black Fury. The mighty steed belongs to Rocky Lane, cowboy star of many movies and TV shows. Apparently, horse and man have a long-distance relationship. Lane himself only appears in one of the Black Fury stories. In any case…

Ditko seems somewhat energized by these western assignments. Though I can’t speak to the accurate of the horse anatomy, there is both beauty and power in Ditko’s depictions of Black Fury. The stories are also better written than most of the sci-fi efforts included in this volume.

The back cover blurb claims the sci-fi stories “tapped into Middle America’s fears and aspirations during the 1950s Cold War era and the beginning of the space race with Soviet Russia.” This is a bit of an exaggeration, but worth discussing. While the volume has some of the knee-jerk jingoism that would become more common at Charlton and other publishers during the 1960s, there are also stories which clearly oppose aggression from both the United States and Russia, or their otherworldly counterparts. That nuance would fade from the Charlton comics in the 1960s.

The bottom line is that Ditko is one of the most important creators to have worked in comic books. My disappointment in these reprinted efforts doesn’t change their historical importance because, at his best or at his most mundane, Ditko remains a key figure in comics. His work, even this work, needs to be available to today’s comics historians and readers.

I recommend Outer Limits to avid Ditko fans and also to those whose interests lie more with comics history in general. Bell is likely limited to reprinting public domain comic books, but wouldn’t it be sell if Marvel and other publishers either granted reprint rights to this dedicated history or published their own volumes showcasing the entirety of Ditko’s work for them? I would happily make room on my bookcases for such volumes.

ISBN 978-1-60699-916-5



Ever since I started writing comic books, I’ve been extraordinarily fond of what Don and Maggie Thompson deemed “done-in-one” stories. As comic books, especially super-hero comic books, shifted to story arcs and serials, the art of telling a satisfying super-hero tale in one standard-length issue became something of a lost art. While done-in-one comics never faded entirely, they became somewhat rare. These days, when I come across issues that tell a satisfying tale that can stand alone, when those issues are as well done as those I’ll be writing about in this column, I rejoice.

A+A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #5 [Valiant; $3.99] is one such done-in-one delight. It is the story of the first date of martial artist Archer and the super-heroine Faith and I suspect it had me grinning from start to finish.

The current ongoing A+A story has the immortal Armstrong searching for the equally immortal wife he forgot he had. While the friends await new leads, with encouragement from Armstrong, Archer decides to ask Faith out on a date. The two young heroes have had a mostly online friendship for some time. Their date is amusing in places, heartwarming in others and mildly action-packed for the few pages in which they’re attacked by criminals who call themselves the Loan

Sharks and who wear shark costumes that aren’t nearly as stylish as those of Left Shark and Right Shark. Yeah, it’s goofy, but, really, isn’t young love always goofy when you do it right?

The story was written by Rafer Roberts who, assisted by the “What Has Gone Before” content on the inside front cover, does a terrific job making the issue accessible to new readers without being real obvious about it. Penciler Mike Norton provides smooth visuals and storytelling. The human stuff is very real, the super-hero stuff is realistically dynamic. Colorist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Dave Sharpe also do fine work here. This is a swell comic book on every level. I loved it and I recommend it.



There’s a lot going on in Marvel’s Scarlet Witch. As seen in Doctor Strange and other Marvel titles, magic and witchcraft are broken. In addition, Wanda Maximoff has met her real mother and is trying to learn more about her. However, in the midst of all this ongoing inner turmoil and multidimensional peril, Scarlet Witch #8 [$3.99] by James Robinson with art by Tula Lotay is a downright wonderful done-in-one story of Wanda telling her therapist what’s weighing on her mind lately. There is magic in the story and there is serious self-reflection and there is a surprise which absolutely delighted me for a reason I can’t say without spoiling said surprise. This is a really great comic book.

In a fictional universe laboring under one ill-considered “event” after another, at a comics publisher who routinely uses the deaths of characters as a marketing tool, at a company engaged in childish pettiness over its movie rights, Scarlet Witch #8 is a sensational done-in-one issue. That’s why I’m naming Scarlett Witch #8 as this week’s pick of the week.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


I spent a day with the Suicide Squad, but I didn’t go to the movie theater to do so. Instead, I read a big fat collection presenting earlier incarnations of the concept. In these earliest versions, there were a lot more dinosaurs.

Suicide Squad: The Silver Age Omnibus Volume 1 by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito and a few other creators [DC; $49.99] is a hardcover collection of the adventures that appeared in The Brave and the Bold and eleven later tales from Star Spangled War Stories. The two runs are as different from each other as they are from the cinematic and modern comics versions of the franchise.

The original Suicide Squad, also known as Task Force X, consisted of pilot/leader Rick Flagg, space medicine nurse Karin, physicist Doc Evans and astronomer Jess. They were trained to handle anything that came their way. What came their way were situations too weird and dangerous for other teams, situations that involved an alarming number of dinosaurs. In the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, kids and, specifically, kids who bought comics, loved dinosaurs.

Brave and Vold 37

Characters created by writer Kanigher almost always have traumatic back stories. Each member of the Squad had been the only survivor – in the case of Doc and Jess, survivors – of missions/experiments that went horribly wrong. Rick and Karin were in love, but, as Doc and Jess also longed for Karin, they didn’t act on their desires to preserve the smooth functioning of the team. The “sole survivors” bit was only mentioned a few times, but the love quadrangle, that was mentioned in every Suicide Squad tale in The Brave and the Bold #25-27 and #37-39.

With the art team of Andru and Esposito, Kanigher filled those six issues with wildly imaginative menaces. There were giant monsters from space, from ancient legends and from mad science experiments. There was an alien spaceship build to look like a giant dinosaur. There were evil Communists bent on conquering America, though they were never specifically said to be Communists. (But we kids of the Cold War, we knew who they were.) There was the sinister Sculptor Sorcerer, a spiffy super-criminal who really deserves to appear in some modern-day DC Comics title.

Andru and Esposito? I loved their work then and now. They drew some of the most beautiful women in comics and Karin is certainly among them. I remember being fascinated by her blonde hair, tight as the Comics Code would allow sweaters and pencil skirts, and those high heels perpetually dangling off one of her feet in moments of peril. She even wore that outfit under her jump suit.

The male members of the Squad were rock-jawed and somewhat stocky. It’s as if they were chiseled from living marble, but with none of the stiffness of unyielding stone.

The dinosaurs and other creatures? The Andru/Esposito touch could be seen as soon as you walked into a drug store and headed for the comic-book displays. They were masters of the medium and very few artists of that era could match their excellence.

Though the name “Suicide Squad,” the lovely Karin and the hard-as-nails Rick Flagg all lived on when Amanda Waller created her 1980s black ops team of troubled heroes and villains seeking pardons for their crimes, the original version of Task Force X was not a sales success. The first three “tryout” issues apparently did well enough to earn the Suicide Squad a second “tryout,” the very human heroes failed to earn their own ongoing book in a DC Universe that already had the Blackhawks, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Sea Devils and time master Rip Hunter’s team of history-traveling adventurers. Not even the dinosaurs could sell enough comic books to keep this first Suicide Squad in action.

But writer/editor Kanigher must have liked the way “Suicide Squad” rolled off his typewriter. When his Star Spangled War Stories went from French Resistence warrior Mademoiselle Marie to G.I.s battling dinosaurs in the improbable “The War That Time Forget” series, he used the name or variations of the name in eleven stories. All but one of these stories were written by Kanigher and all but two were drawn by Andru and Esposito.

Set in the Pacific in World War II, Star Spangled War Stories #110 was the first of two stories that featured the Professor (an island observer) and the Skipper (the captain of a PT boat that was never assigned, up to this point, anything but “milk runs”). I can only assume Gilligan, the millionaire, his wife, the movie star and Mary Ann were either AWOL or MIA. Besides the dinos, they encountered a giant white ape and, in the second tale, his son. Though the name “Suicide Squad” was not used in the story itself, the cover of the comic book and its splash page referred to “The Suicide Squadron’s Mystery Mission.”

Star Spangled War Stories 116

The WWII Suicide Squad made its first actual appearance in #116’s “The Suicide Squad” where its commanding officer described it:

You men of the Suicide Squad have been uniquely trained for special missions from which no regular combat soldier could hope to return!

Indeed, members of this squad were said to be able fire any weapon, drive any vehicle, fly any aircraft, perform any combat task, bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and so on. The last two are just my dumb jokes. They would have fried up that bacon in their “steel pots,” i.e., their helmets.

The first two Squad members we meet are Morgan and Mace, neither of whom is playing with a full deck of cards. Morgan hates Mace with a fanatical passion because Mace was the surviving member of a two-man Olympics toboggan team that had a fatal crash. The athlete who died was Morgan’s brother. So, in scene after scene, even when they are facing death on a mission, Morgan is aiming his weapon at Mace. He threatens to shoot him and occasionally does fire a shot at him. Consumed by guilt, Mace takes this crap when any sane person would feed Morgan to a dinosaur. The duo would appear in four stories. Three of them feature “Baby Dino,” a flying dinosaur who befriends them and who Morgan also wants to shoot, while their last adventure introduces the never-to-be-seen again Caveboy.

The “enemies forced to team up” bit gets used a few more times in this run of Suicide Squad stories. There’s the Sheriff and the Wild One, a lawman and the young criminal he once arrested. There’s the Stoner brothers, one a police officer and the other a fugitive from the law. There are two soldiers who knew each other as teenagers, one from the wrong side of the tracks and the other from the right side of the tracks.

Maybe the most chilling of the Suicide Squad tales is “The Monster that Sank a Navy,” the last Kanigher/Andru/Esposito collaboration. We see the devastating effect facing off against dinosaurs has on the mind of one soldier. Andru and Esposito deliver unforgettable images in their farewell to the series.

One of the other stories is drawn by Joe Kubert. The last story in this collection is written by Howard Liss and drawn by Gene Colan. All in all, this omnibus edition presents 336 pages of great comics from the Silver Age of Comics. If you were around when these tales were first published, you’ll probably get a kick out of them again. If you weren’t around, you have fun reading ahead of you.

I award Suicide Squad: The Silver Age Omnibus Volume 1 my highest recommendation. Why else would I devote an entire column to it?

ISBN 978-1-4012-6343-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Newspaper comic strip creators fascinate me. They always have, even though the first one I met was a jerk. That fascination grew when, a few years back, I started writing for or other assisting several of them. My admiration for what they accomplish, day in and day out every day of the year, has only grown since then.

Robb Armstrong’s Jump Start, which is about a married couple with kids, is one of my favorite strips. Joe Cobb is a police officer. Marcy Cobb is a nurse. The supporting cast is as likeable as they are. Which wouldn’t mean beans if Armstrong’s writing and drawing weren’t as excellent as they are.

Fearless: A Cartoonist’s Guide to Life [Reader’s Digest; $24.99} is a three-in-one book by Armstrong. It’s a third drawing lessons and a third autobiography and a third life lessons.

The drawing lessons are challenging but not complicated on account of Armstrong knows his craft and is able to explain it in a manner even us non-artist types grasp. Each drawing lesson is followed by a portion of his life story. At the end of each chapter, we get a life lesson combining what we have learned from the drawing lesson with what Armstrong learned (or didn’t learn) at each stage of his life. I was amazed at how well it all ties together.

Armstrong is a person of faith, but his Christianity is truer than most in its acceptance of the world around him. His older brother converted to Islam and Armstrong couldn’t be more complimentary in praising his sibling’s commitment to that faith and how it has made him a better and stronger man. God doesn’t divide us; that’s a job for foolish human beings.

The book also includes a section on art supplies and a gallery of some of Armstrong’s favorite Jump Start strips. Oh, dear, I think I will now have to buy as many traditional Jump Start collections as I can find. I do love this strip.

“Inspirational” is an adjective that gets tossed around a lot, but Fearless deserves to wear it proudly. In the middle of my own very busy schedule, reading this book recharged my energy. Which is why it’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-62145-287-4


Lost in Space

Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space: The Lost Adventures #1-3 [American Gothic Press; $3.99 per issue] features a comics adaptation of “The Curious Galactics,” an unproduced script by Carey Wilber. He wrote several episodes of the TV series, the famous “Space Seed” episode of the original Star Trek and lots of other TV shows in the 1950s through the 1970s. The script was adapted by Holly Interlandi with art by Kostas Pantoulas.

This is huge news for avid Lost in Space fans, but I can’t really include myself in their number. I didn’t hate the show. I was a fan of all the cast members with some of them – Guy Williams, Bill Mumy and June Lockhart – being among my favorite TV stars. I watched the show up to the point where the stories just got too silly for me. Also, I have a vague memory that, at one point, it was scheduled against a show I liked better. Maybe even the original Star Trek.

“The Curious Galactics” is more serious than the later episodes of the series. It involves some aliens – Hey! Wouldn’t the Robinsons be considered aliens out there? – testing John Robinson, Don West and Will Robinson to see if they are intelligent beings as defined by their own emotionless standards. It’s not a bad premise, but it simply isn’t three issues worth of premise. The result is a story that drags to its conclusion.

The writing is so-so as the art. The story’s conclusion is flat and the aliens never quite make sense. The human characters are stiff with faces that often look like they were lifted from a press kit’s photos. When the characters do show some emotion, it’s exaggerated.

If you’re an avid must-have-it-all Lost in Space fan, you will want these comic books. If you’re not, give them a pass.


Eerie Volime 1

Pre-Code Classics: Eerie Volume One and Volume Two [PS Artbooks; $59.99 and $64.99] reprint issues #1-14 of the 1950s horror comic series from Avon Periodicals. Avon had published a one-shot comic with the same title in 1947, but didn’t begin the ongoing series until 1951. The title ran for 17 issues, but the last three issues were reprints of the first three issues.

Eerie starts off with the usual horror comic fare: werewolves and vengeance-driven ghosts and other undead creatures. The writing is adequate, but only occasionally rises above that. We know Sol Cohen was the editor of the title, but the names of the writers have yet to be uncovered.

Some of the better stories would include issue #2’s “The Thing from the Sea” (art by Wally Wood); “The Stranger in Studio X” from the same issue; issue #3’s “The Mirror of Isis” (art by Joe Kubert); and “Cremation of Evil” from issue #4 (art by Gene Fawcette). More unusual monsters would appear in issue #8: “The Phantom Python” and “The Curse of the Bulaga.” issue #11 would unleash “The Anatomical Monster” while #12 would feature an issue-length adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The basic plots of Eerie’s stories are all good, but the execution was mostly journeyman.

Eerie Volume 2

The art on these comics is a mixed bag. There are some first-rate jobs from the afore-mentioned Wood, Kubert and Fawcette, as well as Fred Kida, Louis Ravielli, Manny Stallman, Carmine Infantino (hurt by so-so inking), George Roussos, Harry Lazarus, Everett Raymond Kinstler and Alvin C. Hollingsworth. But there are two many stories by Norman Nodel, Vince Alascia and even lesser lights.

These hardcovers aren’t cheap, but they are way less expensive than if you tried to buy the original issues in decent shape. My usual recommendation is that fans of pre-code horror and historians will want them. Less committed readers will probably want to pass them by. As for me, I’m delighted to have them.

Pre-Code Classics: Eerie Volume One:

ISBN 978-1-84863-926-3

Pre-Code Classics: Eerie Volume Two:

ISBN 978-1-84863-950-8

I’ll be back next week with more reviews,

© 2016 Tony Isabella


First up this week is This Magazine is Haunted Volume One [$59.99] from PS Artbooks. This was Fawcett’s first supernatural anthology, which the company that gave us Captain Marvel published from 1951 through 1953. When Fawcett got out of the comic-book business, the title was sold to Charlton which continued the series from 1954 to 1956. This volume reprints the first seven issues [October 1951 to October 1952].

The title was created by legendary comics creator Sheldon Moldoff. He pitched it to Fawcett, who initially passed on the very idea of getting into horror comics. EC Comics was more receptive, but, as Moldoff would later say in interviews, EC reneged on a dale to pay him royalties on their horror titles. By this time, with those EC books doing very well, Fawcett took the plunge.

Edited by Will Leiberson and Al Jetter, Haunted never went in for gore. While the stories certainly inflicted some gruesome fates on many of their protagonists, those fates were always depicted with restraint.

The stories themselves were a mix of the usual ghosts and unearthly creatures. There were some tales inspired by the surprise endings of the renowned O. Henry – You probably read his “The Ransom of Red Chief” in school – and some which were influenced by horror movies. The stories aren’t credited, but we know Paul S. Newman wrote for the magazine and it has been suggested Roy Ald also did.

There are some terrific artists on these stories. Besides Moldoff, these included George Evans, Bernard Baily and Bob Powell. There’s also work by the unknown artist which the Grand Comics Database has dubbed “Jokerface” for his habit of drawing minor characters with cartoony elongated faces.

Most of the stories reprinted in this book are, at the very least, readable. Several are excellent. In “The Green Hands of Terror,” a scientist creates disembodied, seemingly sentient limbs that live on after he’s murdered. “The Slithering Horror of Skontong Swamp” deals with swamp creatures. “The Ghost of Fanciful Hawkins’ is as mad a ghost story as I’ve seen. In “The Grim Reality,” which could be my favorite of this volume’s stories, a con man’s manufactured legend comes to life.

Though not as expensive as the original EC horror comics, the first seven issues of This Magazine is Haunted – in merely good condition – would set you back over three hundred bucks. At less than a fifth of that cost, this reprint volume is far more economical. If you’re a fan of comics history in general or 1950s horror in particular, this hardcover volume is a bargain.

ISBN 978-1-84863-958-4


Is This Tomorrow

Is This Tomorrow [Canton Street Press; $8.95] is a digest reprint of the legendary anti-Communism comic book originally published by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society. It has been digitally colored and restored by Canton Street Press.

There are politicians and political movements who seek to inspire us to greater achievements and unity. Then there are those who just want to bend us to their will by scaring the crap out of us. This comic book falls into the latter group. It puts forth a series of absurd events, seasoned with extreme paranoia, leading to America crushed under the absolute rule of a Communist dictator. Though I suspect some would disagree with me on this conclusion, the answer to the question asked by the title is…

No. It isn’t. But maybe you’ll have better luck with all the other absurd conspiracies scooting across our national conversations like dogs trying to wipe themselves on the carpet.

There are no credits on the comic book itself, but they came later when the story was reprinted in Catholic Digest. The writers were F. Robert Edman and Francis McGrade.

The artists? The identity of one of them will shock you. Here’s the scoop from the Grand Comics Database:

“Script credits not in the comic, but show up when the story was reprinted over three issues of Catholic Digest (information from Ken Quattro via the Comics History Exchange page on Facebook, posted August 11, 2015).

“Charles M. Schulz pencil, inks, and lettering credits come from Schulz himself in an interview with Shel Dorf, in Comics Interview (Comics Interview Group, 1983 series) #47 [1987], page 15 and in Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis (Harper, 2007 series), pages 161 and 167, as reported by Jean Paul on the Comics History Exchange page on Facebook, August 13, 2015.

“The artwork for this issue was done by several artists and Schulz’s work is hard to determine. Michaelis states that Schulz drew the climactic panels for the story.”

Whatever my views of this comic book from 1947, I consider it to be historically important. Canton Street Press did a first-rate job restoring it and the smaller size of the reprint doesn’t hurt the readability of the book. If you could find a merely good condition copy of this comic book, it would likely set you back about thirty dollars. Nine bucks seems like a great deal to me.

ISBN 978-1-934044-17-9


New Super-Man

The “DC Universe Rebirth” continues to entertain and intrigue me. Case in point: New Super-Man #1 [$2.99] by writer Gene Luen Yang with artists Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend. This new series takes place in Shanghai, China.

Kenan is a bully who delights in tormenting pudgy Lixin. Kenan is a working-class kid whose mother died in the crash of a commercial jet. Lixin’s father is the CEO of that airline. Kenan knows he is being a creep and struggles with it. When Blue Condor, a villain who terrorizes the rich and powerful, goes after Lixin, it’s Kenan who comes to the boy’s rescue. Before long, Kenan becomes a minor celebrity, is praised for his courage and recruited by some weird scientists to become a super-hero.

When I read this issue, I felt some of the thrill I felt when, as a kid, I would read the first issue of a new super-hero comic book. I love that it’s set in Shanghai. I love the conflicted characters. I love the conspiracies swirling delicately in the background. This is a well-written comic that looks great and flows well. It could be the Firestorm or Nova of a new generation.

New Super-Man #1 is my pick of the week.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Who has time to read a nearly 900-page graphic novel biography of a comics creator? You do.

Make time to read The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime [Stone Bridge Press; $29.95]. If you love comics, you should make time to read the life story of one of the greatest – and, arguably, THE greatest comics creator of them all. If you make comics, then you must make time to read a biography that will amaze and inspire you. That is the power of this book.

You might have watched Astro Boy or Kimba the White Lion when you were a kid. Those are only two of the almost countless characters created by Tezuka. The list of Tezuka works – manga and anime – is almost countless. He was a pioneer in nearly every genre and type of Japanese comics. He was a pioneer in animation, commercial and experimental. He was Walt Disney and Jack Kirby and Stan Lee rolled into one unbelievable talent, a man who earned and deserved to be remembered as the “God of manga.”

While reading this book, I was frequently overwhelmed by how much Tezuka accomplished in his too-short sixty years of life. He would write and draw over 300 pages of manga in a month and repeat that in more months than seems humanly possible. Yet, despite all that production, Tezuka’s commitment to quality and innovation was not compromised. He brought his “A” game to every game.

An aspect of Tezuka’s body of work that amuses me far more than it would have amused his editors is how they would hunt him down when he owed them pages and how they, editors from rival magazine, would sit patiently outside his studio waiting for him to finish each of his stories one by one. These editors would literally live at the studio for days at a time.

In a recent dream, I imagine myself, whose own multiple commitments would probably strike Tezuka as a good afternoon’s work, listening to multiple editors in my head. I try to make them comfortable in my noggin. I might be more annoyed that they are. Dreams are funny things, aren’t they?

Yet dreams were Tezuka’s stock in trade. Visions of times past and times to come. The world and especially the world of comics is so lucky to have those dreams.

The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime is by Toshio Ban and Tezuka Productions with translation by Frederik L. Schodt. It’s my pick of the week. No comics reader should be without it.

ISBN 978-1-61172-025-9


Fun Family

Benjamin Frisch’s The Fun Family [Top Shelf Productions; $24.99] forced me to ask myself this question: Can I praise the effort that went into and the quality of a graphic novel while finding the work itself revolting? Let’s see.

Frisch’s graphic novel debut is a mean-spirited deconstruction of Bil Keane’s immensely popular newspaper feature The Family Circus. There appears to be something about such popular comic strips that enrages the sensibilities of younger cartoonist. Normally, it takes the form of “If only the newspapers would drop these features that readers have enjoyed for decades, then my comic strip would become successful I would receive the acclaim I deserve simply because I want it. But, in the case of The Fun Family, the intent is to smear and debase dopplegangers of Keane’s beloved characters.

Using a style akin to Keane’s, Frisch drags his characters through an emotional hellscape. Mom leaves the family to have a succession of sordid affairs with her manipulative psychiatrists. Between the death of his mother and the discovery by his eldest son of a room full of porcelain statues representing a more loving family, Dad is a basket case. As Mom moves out with the two kids she likes best, the son has to take over Dad’s comic strip, take care of what is left of their family and, oh, yes, even pay the psychiatrists who are having sex with his mother. His sister becomes a religious nut whose faith revolves around her late grandmother. Before long, the little girl has started a virtual cult.

With the exception of the eldest son, every character in this book is either a horrible human being or a not-so-horrible human being who exists to make the eldest son’s life even more miserable. This is an abusive story about abuse. I loathe it.

So I guess the answer to my question is: I can’t.

ISBN 978-1-60309-344-6


The Beauty

The Beauty Volume 1 by writer/artist Jeremy Haun and writer Jason A. Hurley [Image; $9.99] is a horror/medical/sci-fi thriller with a high concept to die for. Literally.

Our beauty-obsessed modern world is hit with a sexual-transmitted disease that makes its victims beautiful. Which sounds pretty good until those victims spontaneously combust. A corporation has a cure for the disease, but is holding off on releasing it in a quest for obscene profits.

Two detectives battle corrupt politicians, murderous agents of the corporation, arrogant federal agents and the anti-beauty movement to expose the threat and end it. Haun and Hurley give us heroes we can root for, ordinary people caught in the lies and secrets of the rich and the powerful and some downright scary villains. The story and the visual storytelling are first rate…and this book has such a satisfying ending that I have no idea what they are planning for the second volume.

I recommend The Beauty. It’s a keeper.

ISBN 978-1-63215-550-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella