TONY’S TIPS #315

A friend recently asked me if I actually enjoyed any of the recent DC and Marvel super-hero books. Such questions are difficult for me to answer because I don’t read comic books in the same way I assume a majority of readers read them. I generally read them in batches of issues or in collections, but that isn’t the biggest difference between myself and those presumed most readers.

When I read super-hero titles, I read them as if each title was its own universe. Years ago, I recognized I can make neither heads nor tails of the convoluted continuities of the Big Two. Popular heroes generally appear in multiple titles at once. Company-wide epics are common and usually universe and even multiverse extinction events. Indeed, it often seems to me that every DC and Marvel series puts existence as we know it in grave peril. Everyone who lives in the DCU or the MU must suffer from perpetual traumatic stress disorder. How could they not, given reality as they know it is threatened in every DC or Marvel super-hero comic book?

Rather than attempt to make logical sense out of these storylines, I choose to believe that what happens in a title stays in a title. Tony Stark Iron Man offers an interesting take on equal rights for artificial intelligences. I’m not sure if it’s mentioned in other Marvel titles, but that doesn’t concern me. I’m enjoying what’s on display in this title.

When my friend asked me this question, I mentioned Tony Stark Iron Man and the recent Super Sons title by Peter Tomasi. I had read the latter in one of the DC/Walmart titles. My friend responded that he couldn’t stand Damien Wayne.

In Super Sons, I saw Damien as a young man striving to be a better person than he was when he was, you know, an assassin. I’m almost always a sucker for a redemption story plus I liked the friendship between Damien and Jon Kent. My friend said Damien was different in the Batman books and not in a good way.

That didn’t surprise me. Given the excesses of the various Batman books, I would not have been surprised to see Damien throwing his foes into a wood chipper. In those Batman books. Damien was fine in Super Sons, which is the only book that mattered to me at the time I was reading it. And thus I maintain a semblance of sanity while I read DC and Marvel super-hero comics.

Moving to this week’s reviews…

Superman Year One #1 [DC Comics; $7.99] came up during the afore-mentioned conversation. With story and art by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr., it’s yet another retelling of Superman’s early years. This time around, it’s part of the “DC Black Label” imprint, which means it’s an oversized comic book intended to appeal to the mature readers. You know, like those who get the giggles when DC shows us Batman’s Batawang.

This premiere issue was okay. I was pleased Miller didn’t include the xenophobic bile that has marked some of his work. My friend was put off by the attempted rape of Lana Lang. It was an ugly scene, to be sure, but the preponderance of unreported rapes that we have since learned about makes that scene more about justice, albeit a somewhat brutal justice, than titillation. I was a bit disturbed by the physical injury Clark Kent visited upon the would-be rapists, but, since the young man was just learning about his powers and the extent of them, I decided that was acceptable. As I said, I found the story okay. Which ain’t bad when you take into account how very weary I have become of origin retellings. Much better than okay was the Romita art, inked by Danny Miki, the Alex Sinclair color art and the John Workman lettering.

Miller is far from a “sure thing” for me these days, but I enjoyed Superman Year One #1 enough to keeping reading the series. Maybe there is hope for a DC imprint named after a lousy beer, after all.

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MAD 9

MAD died for me with the first issue not edited by Bill Morrison. The drop in quality when DC made one of its pound-foolish decisions to cut him from the payroll was immediate and obvious. A few more issues later, things haven’t improved.

MAD #9 [$5.99] is billed as a “Special Tarantino Time Warp Issue.” The first several pages are in black-and-white and designed to look like the MAD magazine of the 1960s. It has a spoof of a fictional TV western mentioned in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as well as retro versions of “Spy Vs. Spy” and “The Lighter Side.” Then comes a return to color and a mixed bag of other features. A few made me laugh. Batman fans will enjoy Kerry Cullen’s one-page “Batman Funnies” and the longer “What If Batman Were Actually 80 Years Old” by writer Arie Kaplan and artist Pete Woods. The latter made me moderately nostalgic for those old DC Comics covers which showed their super-heroes as decrepit senior citizens. I got over that nostalgic feeling rather quickly.

Sidebar. Writing the above paragraph, I typed “The Lightning Side” by mistake. Now I’m trying to figure out what such a feature would look like. Making Black Lightning a comedian wouldn’t be the worst thing DC’s done to him lately.

MAD as we have known it will be going bye-bye. From what I’ve seen in the media, it will likely have new covers and interior reprints. There may be some occasional new material and maybe even some all-new specials. However, given how badly DC misjudged the brand value of MAD, I think it’s a decent bet to return to something similar to its old self. I just hope that happens sooner rather than later and that the magazine signs an editor as savvy as Morrison.

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Tammy Jinty

British comics weeklies have been an interest of mine since before I started my professional comics career as the editor of The Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly and Avengers Comics Weekly. When funds permitted, I was an avid reader of 2000 AD, the still-going-strong weekly starring Judge Dredd.

Back in the day, girls weeklies were big in the United Kingdom. One of the most popular was Tammy. Whenever sales on other girls titles took a dive, they would be merge with Tammy. There have been a few – too few – collections of these comics in recent years.

Earlier this year, Rebellion published the Tammy & Jinty Special 2019 [roughly $5 in US dollars]. The 52-page, full-color magazine featured nine all-new stories. The least of them was entertaining. The best of them made me want more. If someone published a weekly comics magazine like this at an affordable price – because postage can be a killer – I’d subscribe today.

There are supernatural strips like “Justine: Messenger of Justice” and “In the Cold Dark.” There are sports-themed strips like “Rocky of the Rovers” (kid sister of Roy of the Rovers), “Speed Demons” and “Bella at the Bar.” The magazine is a mix of multiple genres. This was five bucks well spent.

The Tammy & Jinty Special 2019 has me wanting to work in a weekly format in the near future. While I figure out how to achieve that goal, I recommend this magazine and the other Rebellion magazines featuring girls comics old and new.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #314

Summer 2019 is drawing to a close. Students have returned to their classrooms. The high school one block away from my house continues its tradition of hiring the shrillest marching band conductors that it can find and making sure they can be heard for miles. The local library has switched to its “winter” hours. Grocery stores are less crowded and pizza delivery times have improved.

Comics-wise, company-wide crossovers have diminished little. This now seems to be an eternal marketing strategy. Conventions continue to be held every weekend across the United States, but the smaller shows now have a chance to compete with larger ones. I enjoy both.
I’ll be doing a panel and a signing at the Flaming River Con, the Midwest’s first LGBTQ comics convention, on Saturday, September 21, at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library. In October, I’ll be a guest at the three-day Fanboy Expo Comics Convention in Knoxville, Tennessee. The dates: Friday through Sunday, October 18-20 at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Right now, I’m preparing my last Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sale of the year, writing a couple prose books showcasing my love of cheesy monster movies and starting a new gig that I can’t tell you about yet. I’m also taking naps with the windows open and the gentle breezes swirling around me. Odd as it may seems, I am both well-rested and incredibly productive.

I also read some exceptionally spiffy stuff last week. Let me tell you about it.

Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop with art by Gustavo Duarte [DC Zoom; $9.99] is part of the new DC Comics imprint for readers seven and up. Wrapped around a story involving invading Insectoids, each chapter has a member of the League answering a letter from one of their young fans. Does Superman ever make mistakes? Does Aquaman smell like fish? The charming and sometimes funny answers tie into the heroes’ past adventures. Northrop’s writing is first-rate and so is Duarte’s art.

A while back, I read a Free Comic Book Day offering that presented two chapters from this book. I was on the fence after reading that issue. However, now that I’ve read the entire book, I’m on the side of the fence that says “This was entertaining” and “This would make a terrific gift for a young reader.” This book also features excerpts from two forthcoming books: Dear Super-Villains by Northrop and Duarte, and Superman of Smallville by Art Baltazar and Franco. I plan to read both of those as soon as they become available.

ISBN 978-1-4012-8413-8

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American Dream

A secret to no one is that I’m a big fan and proponent of diversity in comics. We live in a big world filled with many different kinds of people. If we’re going to survive to join the United Federation of Planets, we need to know about one another and, hopefully, get along with one another. Comics from diverse creators can smooth our way in that regard.

Malaka Gharib’s graphic autobiography I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir [Clarkson Potter; $16.99] tells how the Egyptian-Filipino cartoonist grew up in three cultures: her father’s and her mother’s and our own American culture. It’s wondrous to see all of this through her words and drawings. The awkward moments she lives through are relatable because we’ve all lived through awkwardness in our own lives.

The Washington Post has named this one of the best graphic memoirs of 2019. It’s “a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children.” Again, it will come as no surprise to my readers that I believe such immigration is my country’s greatest strength and best chance to reach our Federation of Planets future. This is a funny and honest look at Gharib’s journey.

I recommend I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir for young teens and older. It should be in every public, middle school, high school and college library. Indeed, I’d love to see such places, as well as comic-book shops and traditional bookstores start putting together displays of such graphic novels. The only way to fight the hate born of ignorance is by sharing knowledge.

ISBN 978-0-525-57511-5

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Alter Ego 159

Alter Ego #159 [TwoMorrows; $9.95] is another outstanding issue of my favorite comics magazine. Editor Roy Thomas consistently brings us amazing comics history showcasing some of the finest writers and artists our art form and history has known.

In this issue, AE devotes over forty pages of material to the man known for years as “P.A.M.” in such classic comic books as Peter Cannon…Thunderbolt, Kid Montana and Johnny Dynamite. Because his comics work was created while moonlighting from his regular job as a policeman, Pete Morisi didn’t use his real name for most of his comics. But, early on, I became a huge fan of his work. He was a great storyteller, a fine writer and a artist whose images were deceptively simple. If I saw his work, even when money was tight in my teen years, I bought it.

In addition to the Morisi material, this issue of Alter Ego gives us Thomas’ first-hand account (with photos) of his day on the set of Daredevil. He played a prisoner, complete with orange jumpsuit. When I saw the photos, I e-mailed Roy: “We should have realized that working in comics would lead to such a thing.”

Alter Ego is an absolutely indispensable publication for serious students of comics history. If you buy only one magazine of comics history, it should be this one.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #313

This summer has made me profoundly grateful that there are so many wonderful comics and graphic novels not published by DC or Marvel Comics. Oh, I still read and enjoy a whole bunch of spiffy titles from those companies, but summer is when they roll out their huge
“universe-changing” events and such comics by committee frequently annoy and bore me. I know these creators can tell terrific stories outside such events; I wish their publishers had faith that those terrific stories are ultimately more valuable than various crisis, wars and so forth.

Over at DC, they have so many major events going on that I have no idea if they are all taking place simultaneously. Doomsday Clock is running slow. There’s some other title about zombies or some such. This is, apparently, the year of the villain and it’s not even the one in the White House. And there’s the one I just read the first issue of: Event Leviathan.

Event Leviathan begins with several DC organizations, some of them government, some of them villainous, some of them both, wiped out in the first couple pages. Yes, some of those groups were dumb, but some of them weren’t…and it appears they were destroyed just to prop up some new clandestine organization. Yawn.

If it seems like I’m picking on DC, it’s because I seem to stumble into reading more DC titles at present. Marvel has several of its own events going on, but I haven’t gotten around to reading any of those yet. I do plan on reading them, but I think I’ll do so when they are collected in trade paperbacks where, theoretically, I’ll be able to read a big enough chunk of story that the overall event will make sense.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Red Sonja: The Falcon Throne by Marguerite Bennett with artists Aneke and Diego Galindo [Dynamite; $19.99]. Collecting Red Sonja Volume Three #1-6, the compilation finds Sonja dealing with the death of Hyrkania’s king, a good man who had done his best by his country. On his death bed, he regrets that he was unable to unite all the people of Hyrkania and offers his throne to Sonja. Alas, Sonja feels that, as queen, she would bring naught but doom to Hyrkania. What follows is unexpected.

A man with no discernable ability to lead becomes king. He unites the people at the cost of their freedoms and rules via fanaticism and xenophobia. Sounds familiar, right?

Bennett’s story is compelling as Red Sonja must become the hope of those demonized by the king, even as the new king is consumed with the thought of making her his queen. This is an exciting tale that connects with our own modern world and the mania that brings us to doom with each passing day. It’s a clever commentary on our times that never overpowers the action and suspense of Sonja’s sometimes desperate quest. The art is first-rate as is the coloring of Jorge Sutil and Morgan Hickman. Lettering is by Erica Schultz, a multi-talented writer and artist who will be teaching “story adaptation” and “writing and imaginative drawing” at the Kubert School.

Red Sonja: The Falcon Throne is rated “T+” for teens and up. I’ve been enjoying Dynamite’s various takes on this classic sword-and-sorcery heroine. This is one of their best.

ISBN 978-1-5241-0115-2

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Black Widow

Another excellent comics collection is Black Widow: No Restraints Play by Jen and Sylvia Soska with art by Flaviano and color art by Veronica Gandini [Marvel; $15.99]. The Black Widow has been one of my favorite Marvel characters since before I wrote her in Daredevil and Champions. She’s adaptable to all manner of adventures from the super-heroic to the darkest of crime or espionage tales.

In this trade paperback reprinting of the five-issue Black Widow series published in 2018, Natasha is kind of sort of back from the dead, having been murdered by the Hydra version of Captain America. She’s a clone with implanted memories of her past, struggling with her demons and living in the shadows.

Some shadows are brighter than ever. Natasha is out to destroy No Restraints Play, a website streaming live torture to its depraved customers. She’s in Madripoor, closing in on the online torturers, working with local peacekeeper Tyger Tiger. But the revelation of deadly secrets and the presence of old enemies makes this mission even darker and more dangerous.

The Soska Sisters are film directors, producers and screen writers known for their violent, visceral movies. Thus, this is one of the bleakest Black Widow stories of them all. It’s not always an easy read – take the “T+” rating to heart – but it’s gripping and very satisfying. Recommended for fans of the darker sides of the super-hero genre.

ISBN 978-1302916732

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Geek Girls Don't Cry

Since this seems to have become a “sisterhood is powerful” edition of Tips, let’s close with Geek Girls Don’t Cry: Real-Life Lessons From Fictional Female Characters by Andrea Towers [Sterling; $17.95]. Towers is a writer who has worked for both Entertainment Weekly and Marvel. In this non-fiction book, she discusses some of the most popular and strongest women characters in comic books, TV series and movies.

Towers zooms in on female protagonists ranging from Black Widow, FBI Agent Dana Scully and Hunger Games victor Katniss Everdeen to Wonder Woman, Storm and Cersei Lannister. She looks at their back stories, their strengths, their weaknesses and how they cope with those weaknesses. She shows the relevance of these fictional women to the real world, what we can learn from them and how we can then apply that knowledge to our own situations. She even rings him some actual psychologists to share their insights into these characters. It’s a fascinating study.

Normally, books like this would leave me cold. Too many “serious” books on comics and pop culture are little more than a collection of boring, convoluted term papers. However, Towers write about the matters at hand in a manner that’s inviting and still geeky enough for avid fans. I enjoyed Geek Girls Don’t Cry and recommend it to anyone looking to go beyond the typical conversations about these great women characters.

ISBN 978-1454933397

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #312

Conventions seem to take a lot more out of me than in years past. I was exhausted after doing G-Fest and the San Diego Comic-Con back to back. But I expected to be exhausted.

On Sunday, I was the guest of honor at the NEO ComicCon. It was a one-day show half an hour from my home in Medina, Ohio. It was held at an indoor soccer complex carpeted with artificial turf. It’s the one convention I attend where my feet don’t hurt during and after the convention. I was looking forward to the event.

NEO did not disappoint. I got to hang with a bunch of old friends, make some new ones, see some amazing cosplay and contribute to the Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana Organization. It should have been a relaxing convention and it was. I still came home exhausted.
Maybe I should start taking naps during conventions.

One of the high points of NEO for me was giving my Black Lightning Beat presentation. I told the audience what had been happening with me and Black Lightning this year – my visit to the set and several other things – and then answered questions. Here’s my takeaway from my presentation:

The fans love the TV show and my writing. They don’t like the new Batman and the Outsiders book. They love BL crossing over into the Arrowverse. They really want more BL merchandise, especially toys for children, especially Thunder and Lightning action figures and dolls. I got a good laugh when I said I would buy Thunder’s Dream House and a even bigger one when I described an inappropriate- -for-kids Freeland playset, complete with drug dealers and other vices. I don’t think that playset should be made, but if it was, I would buy it. For my Black Lightning archives, of course.

In this column, I’m reviewing my usual three items. There won’t be a pick of the week because I thought them all worthy of the honor. We begin with a graphic novel that is getting lots of press and is already a bestseller.

George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy [Top Shelf; $19.99] is a moving and often shocking graphic memoir revisiting the actor, author and activist’s childhood in a succession of U.S. concentration camps for Japanese-Americans. With exceptions so rare, they are virtually non-existent, these people had committed no crimes against the U.S. Over 60% of them were American citizens, a good number of them born in our country. And, if you want to quibble about my characterizing the camps as concentration camps, let’s glance at The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 9 of the document says “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

Written by Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott with art by the wonderful Harmony Becker, They Called Us Enemy details a dark time in our ethical history. Stirred by politicians campaigning on fear and hate of the other – Sound familiar? – the American people went from standing by these victimized Japanese-Americans to supporting this manifestly immoral policy. Over 130,000 people, many of them children, suffered mightily as a result of the forced relocations.

Takei and his collaborators show how much internees lost when they were ripped from their homes and businesses. They depict the often squalid conditions in which those taken lived. But it also reveals the resiliency of the people and how they came together to create communities within their confinement. It also reveals the attempts to disrupt those communities and the continued hate-speech directed at them. It is not lost on me that such hate-speech still infects our country from the White House on down.

Lest I be accused of presenting a political screed, let me make my case that the most compelling part of this graphic memoir is how inspirational it is. Look at the love and unity of the people who were unfairly incarcerated. Look at the Takei family living their lives with grace and kindness and righteousness. Look at Takei himself, successful in his chosen field, happy in his personal life and always ready to stand by others in need. He’s an American hero.

I love They Called Us Enemy, difficult as reading it could be. I’m proud of a comics industry that can produce a work of art and heart as fine as this one. It’s a book I recommend to every comics fan, library and school. I’ll be buying additional copies for giving out as gifts.

ISBN 978-1-60309-450-4

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Kaiju Girl Caramelise

If a comics creator were thinking “What off-beat manga would Tony Isabella totally fall in love with?”, they couldn’t do better than Kaiju Girl Caramelise by Spica Aoki [Yen Press; $13]. Shy teenager Kuroe Akaishi turns into a kaiju whenever romance enters her life. Sometimes it’s her hands, other times it’s her awkwardly emerging tail and, when things really get out of control, she turns into a full-blown giant creature named Harugon.

This is a delightful series. Kuroe is likeable and relatable. Arata Minami, class idol and the object of her romantic yearnings, is a very decent guy. However, my favorite character might the girl who Kuroe mistakes for Arata’s girlfriend but who is actually in love with…Harugon? This wondrously demented young lady dresses up in a Mothra larva and yearns for Harugon to smash her flat. It doesn’t get more wacky than that!

Kaiju Girl Caramelise is rated for teens, but I think it’s suitable for all ages. It’s big fun and I recommend it to all.

ISBN 978-1-9753-5705-4

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Batman Giant 12

Even though DC Comics’ formerly Walmart-exclusive titles will soon be  available from comic shops, albeit on a two-week delay, I still plan to buy them from my neighborhood Walmart. This is nostalgia, pure and simple. I haven’t “haunted” a convenience store or a drug store for the new comics since before there were comic-book shops. I get a little anticipatory thrill wondering if the new DC giants will be on sale and a sense of victory when they have. As demented behavior goes, it could be worse.

Batman Giant is my favorite of the titles. Brian Michael Bendis and artist Nick Derington do the original lead story which has Batman traveling through time and space. It reminds me of the Jack Schiff-era Batman with its emphasis on sci-fi stuff, yet with modern-era writing and art.

The reprint features are Batman, Nightwing and Batgirl. All of them are from excellent runs of the characters, especially Gail Simone’s Batgirl. Add it up and you get roughly three-and-a-half comics for just five bucks. The title is one of the most entertaining bargains in comics. Welcome to Walmart!

Don’t mind me. I’m practicing for my inevitable job as a Walmart greeter. The new comics are by the first self-checkout aisle, just past the initial cluster of self-checkout machines.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #311

I remain in awe of the San Diego Comic-Con. I’m writing this week’s  column after returning from the 50th anniversary of the convention  and the requisite-at-my-age several days of recovery from that most stellar of events.

Comic-Con has its detractors but there is truly nothing like it in the United States. It has more comics and comics-related panels and personalities than any other comics convention in the country, but it boasts considerable programming featuring animation, movies, TV shows, gaming, collectible toys and more. One morning, my Saintly Wife Barb attended a panel presentation on creating cakes that was standing room only. Not to mention all the events held outside the convention center, which I’m mostly not mentioning because I never got the chance to see any of them on account of I was always busy with comics stuff inside the convention center.

I got to hang out with friends who either worked in comics or were avid comics readers or were cast members of Black Lightning. I got to meet new friends. I felt the Black Lightning love from fans and pros and convention center employees and even one of the convention shuttle drivers. I ate at great restaurants, scored great stuff in the exhibitors area and watched some excellent panels. I never for a moment felt like this was not America’s best comics convention. If you thought there wasn’t enough comics at Comic-Con, you weren’t looking very hard.

I came home exhausted and wondering if this was my last Comic-Con. I hope not. While I’m trying to figure out how to make it to next year’s most sensational of all comics events, let’s move on to this week’s reviews…

Regular “Tony’s Tips” readers know I am fascinated by PS Artbooks’ hardcover collections of 1950s horror comics. Though the material is often substandard, I love delving into the history of the books.

Mysterious Stories Volume One [$44.99] reprints issues #2-7 of the title, issues cover-dated December 1954 through January 1956. The original publisher was Premier Magazines, a short-lived company whose entire output amounted to 41 issues of six titles in as many genres. They had a funny animal title, a MAD imitation, a western title, a crime title, a romance title, and this “horror” title. At eleven issues, the romance title was the most successful.

Horror from the Tomb was Premier’s first horror book, hitting the newsstands in 1954, just before the start of the Comics Code. There was just the one issue. Premier’s comics were distributed by Kable News. After seeing the comic, Kable president George B. Davis axed the title. In that same year, Davis gave testimony in the Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency.

Mysterious Stories took over the numbering with issue #2. The now Code-approved issues would have three six-page stories and a five-page horror-themed take on some classic fairy tale. Early on, some of the stories were introduced by the Keeper of the Graveyard, the Gravedigger and, for the fairy tales, Granny Gruesome. The art is by the usual 1950s comics workhorses with some pleasant surprises: Al Hollingsworth, George Woodbridge, Angelo Torres, Cal Massey and a gem of a job by Kurt Schaffenberger.

The stories are readable, but a few of them rise to a much higher level. “Fate Plays the Violin” is an insane tale of a violin that must have fresh strings made from living creatures to remain at its peak performance. “Dark Valley” is a haunting supernatural romance story drawn by Schaffenberger.  “A Dog’s Best Friend” is about the bond between a blind woman and her guide dog. “The Pipes of Pan” has a young girl befriended by the mythological creature.

Mysterious Stories has me eager to check out other Premier titles. I suspect you have to be into the 1950s horror comics to enjoy this book as much as I did. However, if you are into those comics, let me direct you to InStock Trades, which sponsors this weekly review column. They offer the volume at a 20% discount.

ISBN 978-1-78636-488-3

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Bad Company

Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips [Image; $16.99] is my pick of the week, despite it triggering all sorts of bad memories of creators being screwed over by industry publishers, editors and even fellow creators. In many ways, that is the overriding history of the comics business, even if conditions have gotten better over the decades. There is still a long way to go.

Brubaker and Phillips state, in a matter of fact way, that comics won’t just break your heart. Comics will kill you. That sentiment is the driving force in this hardcover collection of two issues of the team’s bestselling title Criminal.

Hal Crane is a reluctant guest at a comics convention, but his dark side, born of years of frustration, takes hold of him. He goes on a dangerous quest to recover something precious to him. Though his story is not without humor – I enjoyed trying to recognize actual comics creators in their Bad Weekend counterparts – this is not a happy story. What makes it my pick of the week is brilliant writing and art. Great work often comes from pain.

Bad Weekend is rated “M” for “Mature” and that’s a fair assessment. I recommend this graphic novel to older readers, especially those interested in the often unsavory history of comics.

ISBN 978-1-5343-1440-5

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I Married My Best Friend

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a “Girls’ Love” – aka “Yuri” – manga by Kodama Naoko [Seven Seas Entertainment; $12.99]. The lengthy title pretty much explains what this manga is all about.

Morimoto is a young professional. Her parents constantly badger her to marry a man, have children and settle down. Enter Hana, her best friend from high school, who suggest the two of them marry to get Morimoto’s folks off her back. Though this was supposed to be a sham marriage, Hana has actual romantic feelings for her friend and strives to be a good wife for her. This marriage is more real than either of them expected.

There’s a lot of good in this manga, which appears to be a single volume. Naoko’s art is lovely and her writing conveys character and situations well. Because of Hana, Morimoto becomes more ambitious in her job and achieves successes. Because of Morimoto, Hana does well in her freelance career. It’s a supportive marriage, which is always nice to see in comics of any kind.

I have one problem with this manga. Hana’s physical advances toward Morimoto are a bit aggressive in a couple places. Nothing violent. More in the realm of invading personal space. This isn’t unusual in Japanese comics, but I’m more sensitive to such things than I was when I first started reading such romantic comedies.

Naoko’s I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is suitable for older teens and adults. I liked it well enough to hope there’s more volumes coming.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #310

I’m writing this week’s column two days before I leave for the San Diego Comic-Con, the crown jewel of American comics conventions. On Friday, July 19, from 10 am to 11:30 in Room 8, I’ll be appearing on “That ’70s Panel” with Mike Friedrich, Trina Robbins, Arvell Jones, Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson and moderator Mark Evanier. In typical Comic-Con fashion, there are at least two other panels I would attend if I weren’t on this panel. If you think there isn’t enough comics at Comic-Com, you’re not looking very hard.

On Saturday, I’ll be in the audience for a “Black Lightning Special Presentation and Q&A” from 5-5:45 pm in Ballroom 20. I’m sure there are other fine panels going on at the same time, but, once I saw the announcement for this, I didn’t look further in the schedule. The Black Lightning TV series cast and crew are like family to me. I love them all madly.

Other than those two presentations and at least one signing at the Marvel Comics booth, I’ll be wandering around Comic-Con hanging out with old friends, making new friends, attending panels, talking a bit of business and such. If you catch me on the fly and I’m not heading somewhere specific, I’ll be happy to answer questions and chat with you for a spell.

The only way to reach me at Comic-Con will be via text message to my cell phone. I don’t bring a computer with me when I travel and, being an unfrozen caveman comic-book writer, I don’t know how to access my e-mail, Facebook or Twitter on my cell phone. If you have my cell phone number, you’ll be able to contact me. If you don’t, try to track down a friend of mine and have them text me your name and number.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Bob Ingersoll’s The Law Is a Ass Volume One: All Rise [Pulp Hero Press; $14.95]. This is a collection of Bob’s first twenty columns of his long-running column for the grand old Comics Buyer’s Guide. In the interest of full disclosure, Bob is my bestie. In the interest of fuller disclosure, I was the guy who suggested he write an article on the law as it is seen in comics. In the interest of even fuller disclosure, when Bob ignored all my doubtless annoying attempts to push him into writing the article, I pitched the basic idea to editors Don and Maggie Thompson at CBG and then told Bob they were waiting on his writing those columns. Am I terrific friend or what? Decades later, Bob is still writing The Law Is a Ass for ComicMix, a fine entertainment website. And,  now, we have the first of hopefully many volumes reprinting Bob’s legal criticisms and explanations. Life is good.

Bob has a sometimes quirky and sometimes snarky style of writing. His puns are only barely legal. On the other hand, he is so solid on comics and the law that I consider this series of books to be required reading for current and aspiring comics writers. We deal with so much of the fantastic in our stories that we should get the real world stuff right and thus make those stories more believable for our readers.

Bob doesn’t just point out errors in these columns. He also gives examples of how to fix those errors. One of these reprinted pieces covers Superman and it’s nothing less than brilliant in explaining how Superman could make the world a better place working with us. If someone wrote these Superman stories, I would buy them.

The Law Is a Ass Volume One: All Rise is a fine book. I recommend it to comics fans and professional alike.

ISBN 978-1-68390-191-4

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Tokyo Tarareba Girls

A while back, I reviewed Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume One by Akiko Higashimura [Kodansha; $12.99], the creator of Princess Jellyfish. The girls are three women in their 30s who spend many evenings in each other’s company, drinking and complaining about their chances of finding a great husband. One of them is involved with a married man. Another is the side woman for an ex-boyfriend. However, it is screenwriter Rinko that has captured my interest.

In Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume Three and Four [$12.99 each], Rinko is the focus. Her screenwriting career is going badly. She seems to have made an enemy of the popular young actor with whom she had a one-night stand. On the other hand, though he is an abrasive man, he actually does her some good turns.

In these two volumes, Rinko is still having trouble getting work. When she gets a job to fill in for a younger writer, her emotional flare-ups cause her to miss her deadlines. Her protégé, who has a spec script ready, gets the job. Her determination to focus on her writing, even if she must put thoughts of romance aside, works to her advantage when she is hired to write a project for a small town trying to draw attention to itself. She is treated with respect by the townspeople and her colleagues. She goes the distance and wins a small victory.

I can relate to Rinko in many ways. Even at her young (to me) age, she faces agism. She has to kill some of her darlings, the kinds of scenes that used to be her go-to scenes. She must regain her self-worth. I’ve been there more than once myself.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls has heart and humor. It has wonderful art and storytelling. If you’re searching for something different in your comics reading, this series could be what you’re looking for. It’s terrific and I recommend it.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume Three

ISBN 978-1-63236-687-0

Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume Four

ISBN 978-1-63236-688-7

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Lazarus Risen

Last up is not exactly a review of Lazarus Risen #1 by Greg Rucka with Michael Lark [Image; #7.99]. The 68-page saddle-stitched issue is a pretty good jumping on point for the extremely dense saga that is Lazarus.

Lazarus is set in a future world where the world is not divided by countries, but by corporations. This world has a three-tiered caste system in which wealthy ruling families are at the top of the existence chain. The second level are “Serfs,” those who provide a service to the ruling families. All others are considered “Waste.” Each family has a champion. These champions are known as Lazarus.

I’ve been reading Lazarus sporadically, which isn’t a good way to read this complicated but intriguing comics series. After reading this issue, I decided I’ll read the Lazarus series from the start and give it the concentration it deserves. In the meantime, if you like thoughtful science fiction action, I’m certain you will enjoy Lazarus. Image rates it “M” for “Mature.”

I’m off to Comic-Con. Whether you’re attending the event or staying home, I wish you a fun week/weekend.

I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #309

This week’s column will appear sometime between when I return from G-Fest in Chicago and when I leave for the San Diego Comic-Con. The former is the biggest and best convention devoted to Godzilla and all things kaiju. The latter is, well, what the latter is depends on who you ask. I think of Comic-Con as a huge and terrific comics convention bundled with a half-dozen other pop culture conventions. As my ancient and wise friend Mark Evanier has often said, whatever your interests, be it comics or other media, you can definitely find your convention within the sprawling wonder that is Comic-Con. I’m looking forward to returning to San Diego for the first time in six years.

In honor of G-Fest, I’m starting this week’s “Tony’s Tips” with my review of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. My son Ed and I watched  it the night it was released. He called it “the most expensive fan service movie ever made.” I’ll explain that reference a little bit further down in this review.

Keeping this as spoiler-free as possible, this movie features just about everything a Godzilla fan could ask for in a Godzilla flick. Godzilla is awesome throughout. There are equally awesome takes on Mothra, Rodan and, of course, Ghidorah. There are human stories in the midst of the monster battles and, for me, such stories are what separates the great Godzilla movies from the okay Godzilla movies.

Besides the monsters, we have two opposing forces deeply involved in this movie. We have the monster-hunting Monarch, which is kind of like Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. with kaiju instead of Hydra and with more part-of-the-action scientists. Then we have bat-guano-insane “environmentalists” who look on humanity as just another oil spill to be cleaned up. Or stomped into the ground. Or flame-broiled by Ghidorah. Or, if a monster isn’t handy, shot to death by the army  following the chief mad tree hugger. I’m as much for repairing our damaged environment as anyone, but I’d like to do it in a way that doesn’t require humanity’s mass extinction.

Question: Who follows a villainous lunatic like Jonah Alan [played by Charles Dance]? Talk about self-loathing.

The acting is terrific throughout the film. Kyle Chandler is great as a scientist father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter [the wondrous Millie Bobby Brown] and save us all. Vera Farmiga is less terrific as his estranged wife and enemy; her character acts sans any semblance of logic and with a callousness that, while not close to Alan’s evil, is still not the stuff that makes me want to root for her. Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford and some of the other good scientists are well played.

Of course, the big stars are the monsters. They look great in the film. They are sometimes shot darker than I would have liked, but they will make your eyes open wide with delight.

Then there’s the fan service my son mentioned. If you’re a Godzilla fan tried and true, you will see so many nods to previous Godzilla movies. We may not see Mothra’s “Little Beauties” in the film, but Ziya Zhang plays the duel role of twin sister scientists who are stationed at different Monarch bases. I really hope we get to see the ladies together in a subsequent film. Maybe they could sing a bit of karaoke for us.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is my pick of the week. As soon as it’s available on Blu-ray, I’m buying it.

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Peter Cannon

Pete Morisi’s original Peter Cannon Thunderbolt has always been a favorite of mine. The storytelling was direct, the art was elegant in its own way. Others have tried to carry on the character in one form or another. For Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons turned him into the arrogant Ozymandias. Now come writer Kieron Gillen and artist Casper Wungaard to have their own go at this quietly classic super-hero.

Peter Cannon Thunderbolt #1-5 [Dynamite; $3.99 per issue] comes off like an alternate universe version of Watchmen. Or maybe I should say alternate multiverse since the story involves an evil version of Peter Cannon trying to escape his reality by whatever murderous means necessary. “Our” Peter Cannon is the hero.

The Watchmen overtones were off-putting at first. I read Watchmen decades ago and a few times since then. But this mini-series was able to find its own voice by the midway point. It was exciting to see the good Peter pitted against his more powerful and decidedly evil parallel self. The ending was satisfying with a hint of more to come. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

SPOILER AHEAD
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One more quick comment. Tabu, ever-faithful aide to Peter Cannon, is gay and in love with his friend. Peter doesn’t reciprocate those feelings until the end of the series. I was reading Peter as being asexual, a type of character we rarely see in super-hero comics of any kind. The “I love you, too, Tabu” struck me as an unsuccessful  attempt to simplify the relationship. Because Gillen had done such a great job with the characterizations, I was disappointed that he took the easy way out at the end.

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A hardcover collection of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt [$29.99] will be published in September. I recommend it.

ISBN: 978-1524112790

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Swamp Monsters

One more for the road, especially if that road goes through a murky swamp. Edited by Steve Barnes and Craig Yoe with an introduction by comics creator and historian Stephen R. Bissette, Swamp Monsters [IDW; $24.99] collects fourteen tales of marshland horror and some
equally unnerving covers from pre-Code horror comics.

Bissette’s introduction runs fifteen pages. It’s exhaustive, but I got the feeling Stephen could write an entire book about all those comic-book swamp creatures. If he does, I’ll buy it.

The stories are goofy and scary and often both. You’ll see a pair of women who turn into hungry gators. You’ll see science gone mad. And don’t even get me started on the butterfly story, which may be unique in the annals of swamp monsters.

Swamp Monsters is good goopy fun. If you’re into pre-Code monster and horror comics, you’ll love this collection.

ISBN 978-1-68405-453-4

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That’s all for now. I’m heading off to the San Diego Comic-Con, but I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #308

Saintly Wife Barb and my wedding anniversary hit on the same day as Father’s Day this year. I took Barb to dinner on the night before. Our kids Eddie and Kelly came over to our house on the actual day. The day could have gone better.

We ate at a pretty nice restaurant in our home town of Medina. The food was good and the service was slow. I was going to describe it as “glacially slow,” but, in these sad days of climate change, that isn’t as slow as it once was. Because of the slow service, we were unable to hit a primo donut and pastry shop just a few doors down from the restaurant before said shop closed.

We decided to go for ice cream at a once-beloved ice cream stand in the area. Another fail as the stand has gone downhill since we were last there. Fortunately, our evening’s entertainment turned out to be fun if somewhat disturbing. We watched Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019). It’s “Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence” and you need to take that rating seriously if you’re planning to watch it with younger children.

Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary:

Batman, Batgirl and Robin forge an alliance with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to fight against the Turtles’ sworn enemy, Shredder, who has teamed up with Ra’s Al Ghul and The League Of Assassins.

I want to reiterate this is a very violent feature. Decapitation, dismemberment and a very graphic scene in which one of the Turtles gets his arm broken. I don’t like giving you a spoiler like that, but I need to stress this film is not for younger viewers.

The movie is written by Marly Halpern-Graser, based on the comic by James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II. The story is a solid one with a number of gripping moments. The “versus” part of the title is well-played. Stubborn heroes with little knowledge of each other and their own ways of dealing with situations. I enjoyed how both sides learned to work with one another and to respect one another. That was one of the most satisfying parts of the film.

Directed by Jake Castorena, the movie has terrific voice work and animation. Troy Baker is excellent as both Batman and the Joker. I’m not as familiar with the actors who voiced the Turtles, but I felt their performances worked well. It was a treat to hear Rachel Bloom as Batgirl, John DiMaggio as Mr. Freeze, Brian George as the ever-faithful and sarcastic Alfred, Tom Kenny as the Penguin and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

After getting over my shock at the violence level in the movie, I did enjoy it. However, I was disappointed that neither April O’Neil or Splinter appeared in the film.

Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was worth the $4.99 rental fee (Amazon Prime) and the 87 minutes I spent watching it. I don’t expect I’ll watch it again, but I do recommend it to fans of Batman and the Turtles.

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Nurses, Monsters, Hotrodders

Some of my creative contemporaries made their professional debuts in the Charlton comic books of the 1960s and 1970s. Others, myself included, simply enjoyed those quirky efforts with lousy printing and the lowest rates in the industry. Of late, some of those pros have launched Charlton Neo Media.

Neo Media’s initial offerings were original anthologies created in the spirit of Charlton and sometimes featuring Charlton characters considered to be in the public domain. Those comics might not have been classics, but they were fun. I’m okay with fun.

Of late, Neo Media has been publishing a series of “Charlton Comics  Silver Age Classic Cover Gallery” books. Courtesy of Rob Jones, an assistant to the legendary editor and artist Dick Giordano, these gallery editions feature vintage covers shot from the actual stats used to print those covers. Printed in black-and-white, the covers look better than in their original publication. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see them re-colored.

I ordered Nurses Monsters and Hotrodders [$7.99] on a whim. In its 64 pages (counting covers and the inexplicably blank pages at the end of the book), the square-bound comic book had an introduction, information on the various titles, 31 covers and a list of how to read these comics and more online for free. The covers shown are from such titles as Blue Beetle, Cynthia Doyle Nurse in Love, Drag-Strip Hotrodders, Doctor Tom Brent Young Intern, Gorgo, Hot Rods and Racing Cars, Konga, Konga’s Revenge, Nurse Betsy Crane, Three Nurses and The Young Doctors. Besides Giordano, the cover artists are Bill Fraccio, Vince Colletta, Pat Masulli, Jack Keller, Steve Ditko and Charles Nicholas.

I got a kick out of this cover gallery collection. Indeed, I have bought three more since: Teen-Age Love Confessions, Outlaws of the West and Strange Space Mysteries. I’m planning to buy any others I come across as well. These books won’t be for every one, but they will delight Charlton fans and comics historians. I recommend them to anyone who fits into either of those groups.

ISBN 9781545367865

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Six Days

DC Comics made its bones in the general book markets with Vertigo volumes. To ditch that strong brand for DC Black Label, a moniker better suited to lousy beer, is one of those nonsensical decisions corporations make from time to time. I didn’t love everything that was published under the Vertigo brand, but so much great material was published that comics fans and historians will be talking about Vertigo for as long as there are comics and graphic novels. If they remember Black Label at all, it will probably be that the brand’s signature move was to show Batman’s privates in an execrable mini-series.

The recently-released Six Days: The Incredible Story of D-Day’s Lost Chapter [$24.99] proves there was still creative life in the Vertigo brand. Written by Robert Venditti and Kevin Maurer with art by Andrea Mutti, this hardcover graphic novel tells the remarkable story of American soldiers dropped too far into enemy territory on D-Day and how they were joined by the people of a French village in holding back the advance of the German army.

Six Days is history, grim and heroic. The cast of characters is a large one, but we get to know many of them. When one of them falls, it’s a pain we readers can share with the characters. I was moved by this gripping story. It’s my pick of the week and I recommend it to comics readers in general and war comics readers in particular.

ISBN 978-1-54012-9071-9

I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #307

Here’s wishing my “Tony’s Tips” readers a summer filled with fun, adventure and relaxation. For me, the next few weeks are all about getting ready for my July conventions and holding garage sales to give myself some extra spending cash for those events.

First up is G-Fest XXVI, Friday through Sunday, July 12-14, at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare. This is the largest annual gathering of Godzilla fans in the world. This year’s special guests include actor Akira Takarada; director Shusuke Kaneko; actress Peggy Neal; director Yoshikazu Ishii; modeler Takuji Yamada; Sonoe Nakajima, the daughter of Haruo Nakajima; animator Philo Barnhart and little old me. I’ll be doing a presentation titled “Cheesy Monsters Raid Again!” Expect cheesy monsters and corny jokes with a few surprises along the way.

Two days after I get home from G-Fest, I’ll be boarding a flight to San Diego for Comic-Con International (July 17-21). I’m attending because my wife and daughter want to return to the event at which they had such a good time in 2013. I’m not an invited guest of the convention. I have no actual business reason for being there. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself there.

I do expect to see old friends and maybe make some new ones. I will be doing a couple of panels with Mark Evanier, my friend of close to fifty years and one of the best human beings I know. I hope to speak with the publisher who bought the contract for my sadly out-of-print 1000 Comic Books You Must Read. Other than that, my dance card is open. If you’d like to get together with me, maybe discuss my working for or with you, maybe have me do a signing for a worthy charity or organization, don’t be shy about contacting me as soon as possible.

This being a review column and all…

My pick of the week is Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe [Lion Forge; $17.99]. This is an autobiographical graphic novel written and drawn by a creator who identifies as nonbinary and asexual and tells eir’s story with often painful honesty. Gender identity isn’t as simple as some would have it. There’s a scale and even that can be fluid. For creators like myself, creators who want their comics to be as inclusive as possible, works like Gender Queer can assist us in learning about those we wish to include. Gender Queer didn’t answer all my questions. Gender identity is a complicated study, even for we who identify as cisgender. But the more we know, the more we’re able to embrace the wondrous diversity of humanity.

A couple of notes:

Kobabe’s preferred pronouns are “E (subject), Em (object), Eir (possessive adjective), Eirs (possessive pronoun) and Emself (reflective). They are pronounced “ee, em, air, airs and emself.”

The Library Journal recommends this graphic novel for grades nine and up. This is deep stuff, which I think requires some maturity to even begin to understand. And, of course, one of the questions of mine that wasn’t answered was how to deal with younger children who
might be confused about their gender identity.

Gender Queer should pick up some award nominations next year. It’ll almost certainly be a book the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and like organizations will have to defend. But it’s worth defending. I recommend it for high school and older readers.

ISBN 978-1-5493-0400-2

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Conan the Barbarian 1

Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian is back at Marvel Comics and my most major and virtually only gripe about the new comics is that Howard’s name should be on the covers. He does receive the creator credit inside the comics.

Conan the Barbarian #1-6 [$4.99 for the first issues, $3.99 after that] are written by Jason Aaron with art by Mahmud Asrar, colors by Matthew Wilson and lettering by VC’s Travis Lanham. Mark Basso is the editor with Ralph Macchio listed as consulting editor. It’s good to see Macchio in Marvel credits again.

“The Life of Death of Conan” deals with a decades-spanning conflict between Conan and the Crimson Witch, a sorceress who seeks Conan’s blood to resurrect her death god. The more a warrior cheats death, the more his blood gains the power needed for this resurrection. As you know, Conan cheats death about twice a week.

This is a clever way to show the scope of Conan’s life. I like how the various times are tied together by the Crimson Witch. Aaron’s story fits in nicely with the Conan saga. Asrar’s art has the grit and gore which has always been part of the barbarian’s adventures. I enjoyed these comics and look forward to reading the conclusion of this tale. In addition to the comics, each issue also contains a chapter of an all-new Conan novella by John C. Hocking. I can’t review those because I’m waiting until I can read the entire prose story at one time.

These first issues will be collected in Conan the Barbarian Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Conan Book One [$19.99]. If you’re a fan of Conan, I know you’ll enjoy this trade paperback.

ISBN 978-1302915025

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Injection

The mind of Warren Ellis awes me. I’m your basic Unfrozen Caveman Comic-Book Writer. My stories tend to be down-to-earth and set in a “real” world gone somewhat askew because of the inclusion of the super-heroes and the supernatural and whatnot. Ellis goes places I
will likely never go to and, no matter how fantastic they are, he makes them seem real.

My local library kindly supplied me with Injection Deluxe Edition Volume 1 by Ellis, artist Declan Shalvey and color artist Jordie Bellaire [Image; $49.99]. The lettering and book design was done by Fonografiks with Heather Athos as managing editor.

In Injection, five insanely brilliant insane people fear that human progress in the 21st Century is stagnant. To kickstart progress, they create something born of magic and science. Then they split up and don’t realize what they made could flat-out destroy humanity. Time to get the band back together, not that its members are eager to do so.

Injection is downright scary science-fiction. Almost every one of the eighteen issues collected in this gorgeous hardcover book has an “ulp” moment that chilled me. Those moments are just as likely to come from one of the graphic novel’s human protagonists as from their creation.

Injection is a keeper. You’ll want to loan it out to your friends looking for something more intense (and on a personal level) than the latest overblown super-hero universe epic crossover. Incredible stories like Injection are among the reasons I believe this is the true Golden Age of Comics. Don’t let the price tag turn you away. InStock Trades, who sponsors “Tony’s Tips” here has the book at a generous discount. I have been a very satisfied customer of theirs since shortly after I discovered fire.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0862-6

I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #306

I was invited to give a talk on comics during a lunch gathering of the Twelve High Club at the Western Reserve Masonic Community in my hometown of Medina, Ohio. I was impressed by the size and beauty of this retirement community. Though my own retirement home will most likely be a secluded cabin where I will surely be eaten by bears or wolves or scientologists, I did try to picture what my life would be like in such a place, which still involved my eventual demise by bears or wolves or scientologists. I’m not well.

This was an unusual audience for me. Most of the people in the room were older than me by a decade or more. The younger attendees were the guy who invited me to speak, his wife, a police chief, a fire chief and a surgeon. The only one who had read anything I’d written was, again, the guy who invited me to speak.

Given that everyone in the room had lived through a lot of history, I talked about comics history. The audience was interested when I told them comic books have almost always been socially progressive, that the industry was founded by Jewish businessmen barred from the more elegant levels of publishing. I talked about the diversity of talent that has always been at least part of comics and how today’s much greater diversity is making comics as good or better than at any time in the past.

I talked about my career and my travels during that career. When I solicited questions from the audience, I was asked about Stan Lee, the amount of research I do for my stories and how much of what I write is based on my own life. At the end, I got a nice certificate and round of applause. Not a bad way to spend a couple hours on a sunny afternoon.

Here are this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Superman: The Golden Age Newspaper Dailies: 1947-1949 [Library of American Comics; $49.99]. These stories were written by Alvin Schwartz, edited by Jack Schiff and drawn by Wayne Boring and, later, Win Mortimer. This handsome hardcover collection features the strips from April 28, 1947 through September 3, 1949. If you’re a reader used to the Superman of 2019, you will be amazed at how different the character and his newspaper strip adventures were seven decades ago.

Schwartz was writing for an audience much larger and older than the kids who read the Superman comics of that era. I knew him during his last years of life. We met at a Mid-Ohio-Con and bonded almost immediately. He was one of the most thoughtful of comics writers, which is why he could place Superman and his cast into situations of all kinds.

A millionaire – back then, a million bucks was real money – falls in love with the voice on the other hand of a wrong number. To earn a large donation for charity, Superman must figure out how to use his powers in a new and different ways. Schwartz was as inventive as any writer who ever worked in comics.

The perfect woman decides she must have Superman for her mate. A man gets the power to predict crimes, but ignores his visions when he falls for a beautiful gun moll. Clark Kent inherits one million dollars – real money, remember – and gets fired from his reporter job because Perry White doesn’t want to employ someone who doesn’t need the job. A Luthor-type mad scientist creates a weapon that can stop Superman in his tracks. The effects of the weapon linger into Superman’s next adventure. Superman works as a male escort – clean thoughts, chums – to help out a man trying to earn enough to start his own business. Adventures that were both outlandish and down to Earth. I love them a lot.

My favorite story of this book was the 1948 “Return of the Ogies.” These are invisible beings, normally confined to their island home,  who delight in following Superman everywhere. In this return, they become visible and, in doing so, shown to be two of the loveliest woman imaginable. Were I writing Superman, I’d find a way to bring the Ogies into the comic books. An occasional light adventure would be good for today’s teeth-clenching super-heroes.

Don’t let the high cover price deter you from adding this book to your collection. You can get a great deal on it from InStockTrades, the sponsors of this column.

ISBN 978-1-68405-437-4

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Cool Japan Guide

I’m always finding great comics and comics-related books through my local library system. Published in 2015, my most recent discovery was discovery was comics creator Abby Denson’s Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen [Tuttle Publishing; $14.95] wherein Denson takes us on a personal tour of Japan. Given that visiting Japan is high on my bucket list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket, I started reading the book as soon as I brought it home from the library.

Japan is endlessly fascinating. Even with all the manga I read and all the kaiju movies I watch, I learned new things from this book.

It starts with pre-trip preparation tips. It moves on to what you should expect when you land in Japan, where you can get great food at reasonable prices, how to conduct yourself if you’re staying at a friend’s home and so much more.

Temples and shines were not high on my list of things I would like to see in Japan, but Denson convinced me they are places I must see on my dream trip. She reinforced my desire to visit the impressive manga and toy stores to be found in Japan. I was maybe four or five chapters into her book when I ordered a copy for my home library.

About the only things I want to experience in Japan that she didn’t write about were baseball and Godzilla. As long as I’m dreaming, I would love to be an invited guest at a Japanese comics convention. I recognize that would be a comics industry equivalent of carrying coals to Newcastle.

If you have any interest in visiting Japan, I think you will get a lot from this clever book. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-4-8053-1279-7

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Crypt of Shadows

I love special events. Earlier this year, Marvel did a six-issue celebration of “80 Years of Marvel Greatness.” If I were a cynical person, I might describe the event as a way for Marvel to renew its trademarks on six long defunct titles. Either way, I bought every one of the six issues.

The original Crypt of Shadows was an all-reprint title that ran for 21 issues from January 1973 to November 1975. Crypt of Shadows #1 [January 2019; $3.95] is the first issue of the title to have new material. The writer is the prolific Al Ewing. The artists on the three connected stories are Garry Brown, Stephen Green and Djibril Morissette-Phan. It’s not an award-winner, but it’s a solid horror story. I enjoyed it.

The event’s other issues are: War is Hell, Journey into Unknown Worlds, Ziggy Pig/Silly Seal, Love Romances and Gunhawks. I bought the individual issues, but I’m guessing the six comics will get a trade paperback collection ere long.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella