TONY’S TIPS #176

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.

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camp-midnight

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

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captain-science

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

TONY’S TIPS #175

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…

garfield

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

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dc-finals-crisis

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.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

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.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER

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

ISBN 978-1-4012-6247-1

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world-of-archie

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

TONY’S TIPS #174

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

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aa

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.

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scarlet-witch

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

TONY’S TIPS #173

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

TONY’S TIPS #172

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

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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.

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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

TONY’S TIPS #171

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

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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

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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

TONY’S TIPS #170

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

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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

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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

TONY’S TIPS #169

I’ve already received quite a bit of response to last week’s piece on DC Universe Rebirth. The friends and readers who have spoken to me are optimistic in generally and intrigued by some of the wilder things that have happened in these initial issues.

There are those fans who want DC comic books to be exactly like the DC comic books they read when they were twelve or exactly like the DC comic books were before Crisis or after Crisis or…you get the picture. What’s embarrassing for me as an older reader – I’ll be 65 in December – is how these fans cling to the past. Those great old comics are still there. You can always read them in the originals or in the many wonderful collections DC and other publishers have been putting out for decades. But to expect comic books, even those published by major players like DC and Marvel, to remain exactly as they were decade after decade, is delusional.

New readers get turned onto comic books all the time. Maybe not in the numbers we would like, but they are coming and I welcome them. I don’t expect them to find the often-buffoonish Jimmy Olsen of the 1960s as entertaining as I did. I don’t expect them to be enamored of female characters who exist merely to be rescued by male heroes. I don’t expect them to be satisfied with nothing but Caucasian male heroes of indeterminate religion (but probably Christian). Comics today reflect the world of today, a world lush with different kinds of characters. You can enjoy the old comic books without being so hostile to change.

My take on comics continuity reflects my views on the longevity of popular characters and universes and the telling of great stories for readers old and new. What’s most important to me are the core values of the characters. If those are present, everything else is up for grabs.

Is there something in past continuity that is dated or just plain dumb? Ignore it. Really. Just pretend it never happened. Don’t do a six-issue arc explaining it or explaining it away. Just – and you can use your best mobster impression here – forget about it.

Can a writer revisit a character and make improvements in how he or she formerly envisioned the character? Of course they can. The only constant should be the commitment to quality writing and those core values mentioned above. When I return to comic-book writing in the near future, these are going to be my guiding philosophies. I hope the readers who have enjoyed my work in the past will like my new work even more.

Philosophy aside, here’s some comments on some of the “DC Universe Rebirth” comic books I’ve been reading…

Aquaman Rebirth #1 [$2.99] was a mixed bag for me. It had elements of which I’ve become weary, notably Black Manta and the seemingly endless Atlantean political disunity. I get more than enough of the latter from the evening news. As for Black Manta, he’s become the go-to-villain for Aquaman. While understandable, he’s been gone to too many times for my tastes. Give him a rest. Especially since his plans seem to bode ill for Mera. Sixty-five years of life and over thirty years of glorious marriage to a terrific woman has be less than enthusiastic over the whole “woman in jeopardy” bit in comics. Especially since Mera could certainly kick Black Manta’s ass before breakfast.

Aquaman also had elements I liked very much, especially the strong love between Mera and the title hero. Again, I point to my decades of happy marriage. There should be comics for folks like me, too.

Aquaman has great power and enormous responsibilities. That’s also on display in these initial Rebirth issues. Let his acceptance of and successful carrying out of those responsibilities play a major role in future issues – Should I mention that I enjoy super-heroes winning clear-cut victories over villains? – and I’ll be hooked on Aquaman. No fishing pun intended.

Detective Rebirth

Detective Comics #934 [$2.99] won me over with the saner-than-he’s-been-in-years Caped Crusader putting together a team of heroes that are more than cannon fodder for his obsessions. Inviting Clayface to be part of the team is brilliant and uplifting. Batman has often played lip-service to believe his foes can find redemption. Here, he’s actively working towards that end. I hope it sticks with the tragic Basil Karlo, says the guy who hated, absolutely hated, when Marvel Comics reformed the Sandman and than took that great bit of character development away from us.

It seems like The Flash will be pivotal to whatever is happening in Rebirth, which seems fitting since it was his actions that led to Flashpoint and the New 52. I haven’t been knocked out by the first couple of issues, but I’m keeping an open mind. I don’t want to see the legion of super-speedsters we’ve gotten over the years, but I could live with a few.

Wonder Woman rebirth

Wonder Woman Rebirth #1 [$2.99] did knock me out. I love the idea of Wonder Woman realizing her life has been altered over and over again.  It’s audacious and intriguing for the title to look at those clumsy continuity missteps squarely in the eye and try to sort them all out. If you’re asking for my votes, I would recommend ditching the dark mess that was the New 52 version of the character and give us something powerful and uplifting. Not because the lead character is a woman but because she’s Wonder Woman. I want a hero I admire and love as much as I admired and loved Lynda Carter in the live-action TV show and as much as I admired and loved the Wonder Woman in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Wonder Woman should be a hero for both the ages and for all ages.

As more Rebirth titles cross my path, I’ll doubtless return to this conversation. In the meantime, I’ll be back next week with reviews of other things. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #168

“Tony, what’s this DC Universe Rebirth stuff about?”

Now that is not an unusual question to be asked of someone like me, a comics professional and writer about comics for well over forty years.  What is unusual was that I was asked the question at G-Fest, a glorious Godzilla convention, and PulpFest, a terrific gathering of pulp magazine collectors. As I’ve been saying for some time now, even people who don’t follow our beloved comic books closely have a familiarity with them.  Even if that familiarity comes from news and other mainstream sources.

My familiarity with Rebirth comes from having read the first month of the involved titles. I don’t often read news articles or opinion columns on things I’m likely to read. I suppose I could ask my new friends at DC Entertainment to explain Rebirth to me…and I might do that soon…but, here, I’m going it alone.

DC Universe Rebirth strikes me as a soft reboot of the DC Universe most recently represented by “The New 52.” Some unknown person has been playing with reality. What we have at the moment seems to be a DC Universe which has some elements of the traditional universe and some of “New 52″ universe. I find this interesting. I want to see how it all shakes out.

There also seems to be a more optimistic atmosphere to the Rebirth titles. As I have always felt the super-hero genre is, at its very heart and soul, an optimistic one, that’s a good way to convince me to buy and read these comic books again.

DC Universe Rebirth #1 [$2.99] kicked off this new chapter for the Universe. It was written by Geoff Johns with stunning art by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez. It contains 63 pages of story and art, which, at today’s comics prices, is a great buy for three bucks.

I’m not going the review route per se this week, but I will touch on some of the appealing and/or interesting things in the issues I have read. Most of these issues have gone into multiple printings, so they shouldn’t be too hard for you to track down.

There seems to be a link to Watchmen, the landmark limited series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I surprised myself by being pretty much okay with this. Moore seems to have divorced himself from the property completely and Gibbons, who seems a mite miffed about this possible use of the characters, was okay with the Before Watchmen comics of a couple years back. I think what convinced me not to be upset was a comment from Marvel’s Tom Brevoort. While agreeing the original Watchmen series was complete unto itself, he said that if Marvel had owned the property, they probably would have brought the characters into the Marvel Universe a decade ago.

“Everything you thought you knew is a lie” is a common and seldom completely truthful come-on for super-hero stories. However, in the case of DC Universe Rebirth. It does appear a great deal of what we (and the heroes) know about the “New 52″ universe was a lie or, at least, a manipulation of reality. Wally “Kid Flash” West is back. A very old Johnny Thunder is screaming for his thunderbolt. Ryan Choi may be back as the Atom. Someone with a Legion of Super-Heroes ring is looking for Superman. The young Blue Beetle is working with Ted Kord. Green Arrow and Black Canary, who barely knew each other in the “New 52,” feel a connection with one another. And someone is watching our world with Batman knowing something is going on that isn’t right. I’m intrigued.

In Batman Rebirth #1 [$2.99] by writers Scott Synder and Tom King with artist Mikel Janin, Batman seems more sane than he has in too many years. I like that. Duke, the “Robin” whose parents remain in a mental hospital due to their exposure to Joker gas, is coming to work for the apparently integrated Bruce/Batman and not as another Robin. I like that. And there’s also a positively unsettling take on the Calendar Man.  I like that, too. I’m feeling better about the Batman after reading this.

In Green Arrow Rebirth #1 [$2.99] by writer Benjamin Percy with art by Otto Schmidt, Green Arrow and Black Canary are exploring their mutual attraction. Some of the conversations between them, mostly about Oliver Queen’s wealth and self-proclaimed status as a social justice warrior, lands with loud clunks. The points are made, but the speeches are unnatural.

GL Rebirth

Green Lanterns Rebirth #1 [$2.99] by Johns and Sam Humphries with art by Van Sciver and Ed Benes focus on rookie lanterns Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, who neither like nor trust one another. They are forced to work together by Hal Jordan. There’s also terrible menace growing beyond our planet. As is usually the case with me and the Green Lantern comics, I like the Earth stuff much better than the outer space or other universes stuff. Still, as with every Rebirth one-shot I’ve read, I find the characters and stories interesting enough that I want to see what happens next.

Superman Rebirth #1 [$2.99] by “storytellers” Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason with art by Doug Mahnke (pencils) and Jaime Mendoza (inks) is a very human story of the Superman who came to Earth from a parallel universe with his family. In it, he helps Lana Lang give the recently deceased “New 52″ Superman a proper burial alongside Jonathan and Martha Kent.

Action Comics

Meanwhile, we get another Superman in Action Comics #957 [$2.99] by writer Dan Jurgens with artist Patrick Zircher. It’s Lex Luthor in a super-suit. Which does not sit right with the Superman mentioned above.  Oh, yeah, and there’s a new Clark Kent who doesn’t seem to be Superman and a new Doomsday, sporting his original “burlap sack” look. So, yes, I want to see what happens next.

The Luthor of this comic book is more nuanced than many previous incarnations. I don’t trust him any more than the married Superman does, but decades of reading Superman comics have conditioned me to think of him as a stone villain. He may not be the Superman I want, but maybe he’s the Superman his city needs right now.

In apology to the artists who worked on the above comics, I know I give them the short shift when I discuss the issues they’ve drawn. First and foremost, I’m a story guy. That said, all of the art in the above issues was at least good and some of it, like Zircher’s Action Comics, was amazing. There’s a full-page shot of Superman in the issue that should be a poster.

I’m going to continue my examination of DC Universe Rebirth in my next column. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #167

Donald Trump is now officially the Republican Party’s candidate for President of the United States. If you’ve been reading my columns for any length of time, you probably have a pretty good idea how I feel about that. Which means I don’t have to take up any precious space explaining how I feel about it. I’m as relieved that I don’t have to do that explaining thing as much as you’re relieved I’m not doing it.  However…

What I am doing is alerting you to the recent publication of Yuge!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump by G.B. Trudeau [Andrews McMeel Publishing; $14.99]. How does the Donald feel about being portrayed in the Doonesbury comic strip? Well…

The back cover of this 112-page trade paperback features “Selected Comments from Donald Trump.” The comments start with “Doonesbury, Doonesbury! Everybody’s asking me to respond to Doonesbury! People tell me I should be flattered.” The comments conclude with “A total loser!”  In between, we get comments that are positively benign when compared to Trump’s usual rhetoric.

Trudeau’s interest in Trump started with the Donald’s first trial Presidential balloon in 1987. The cartoonist struck comedic goal, so he continued to use Trump from time to time. At one point, Uncle Duke, the former Rolling Stone writer kinda sorta based on Hunter S. Thompson, was Trump’s muscle and tasked with acquiring property from reluctant owners.

While there’s nothing in this collection flattering to Trump, there are many of the keen satirical insights that made Doonesbury one of the finest comic strips of all time. As such, it’s a valuable book on multiple levels. First and foremost, it is a terrific gathering of great comic strips. It’s also a fine example of political satire in the comic strips. And it’s a reminder that we should have seen Trump coming a mile away. He was just waiting for the angriest and most intolerant of his fellow citizens to catch up with him.

It’s said laughter is the best medicine. I hope that’s true because I’m feeling more than a little sick right now.

Yuge!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump is a remarkable collection. I recommend it to all.

ISBN 978-1-4494-8133-9

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Ms. Marvel 8

Ms. Marvel #5-8 [Marvel; $3.99] are, collectively, my pick of the week. I am also ready to officially declare that Ms. Marvel is my favorite Marvel title.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss the generally positive press on this character, Kamala Khan is a teenage Muslim girl who lives in Jersey City. When she was exposed to the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mist, she got super-powers. She became a super-hero and, in short order, a member of the Avengers. What makes Kamala so delightful for me is how writer G. Willow Wilson manages to combine super-heroics with real-life issues and teen life.

Kamala is stressed by the many facets of her life and the secrecy surrounding them. She feels the weight of family obligations just as strongly as those of her super-hero life. She experiences teen romance for the good and the bad. She tries to think before using her powers. She sometimes trusts authority figures too much. It’s a winning combination for me.

In these most recent issues, Kamala’s stress levels have been off the charts with her brother’s marriage vying for her attention as she deals with school and super-hero stuff. She’s also had to deal with the first stages of Marvel’s latest crossover event: Civil War II. Which I’ll describe as briefly as possible.

A new Inhuman has the power to rip off Minority Report. Excuse me, the power to see the future and, theoretically, prevent crimes and tragedies before they happen. Of course, this kind of sort of means the heroes who buy into this as a good thing will be arresting and otherwise violating the civil rights of individuals who have yet to commit an actual offense.

Captain Marvel, who Kamala respects tremendously, is on the side of civil rights being too inconvenient to bother with. Kamala follows her lead, but quickly has doubts about the situation as she quite correctly compares this to racial profiling. Issue #8 brings this into focus with a dynamite last page that really does make me want to see what happens next.

Ms. Marvel is available in several hardcovers and trade paperbacks. I recommend them all.

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Planet Comics 8

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Planet Comics books published by PS Artbooks of England. When last we spoke of them, I cautioned the initial years of this 1940s Fiction House title were mediocre at best. Sure, there were some ideas so bizarre that they were kind of fun. Sure, there was some of the early works of comics artist we now revere. But, all in all, these were not the cream of the comic-book crop.

With Planet Comics Volume Eight [$59.95], we’re getting more good stuff that not-so-good stuff. This hefty hardcover reprints Planet Comics #30-35 [May 1944 to March 1945]. The book also includes an informative intro by noted comic-book fan/historian and science-fiction author/fan Richard A. Lupoff. But, as always, the stories and art are the real draw.

“The Lost World” is rolling along nicely. Hunt Bowman and his high-heel wearing friend Lyssa are surviving on an Earth devastated by an alien invasion and fighting the vile Volta Men. The adventures are entertaining with art by such notables as Graham Ingels before he was deemed “Ghastly” and Lily Renee.

Artist Joe Doolin does fine work on “Mars, God of War.” The title character possesses the bodies of the human du jour – men and women – are uses them to foment war. The spectral sociopath is thwarted by a succession of brave men and women. In the last “Mars” story of this volume, he is opposed by the remarkable Mysta of the Moon. She will soon boot the God of War from his own feature.

The wacky “Norge Benson,” which features a bear as the hero’s main sidekick, is also fun. Alas, this book reprints the last stories of the feature.

The remaining series are basically assorted space cops and robbers. Some of the stories are good, some are mediocre, a few are simply awful. We don’t know who wrote the stories, but the artist roster includes Fran Hopper, George Tuska, Lee Elias and some of the first work of the legendary Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert.

These Planet Comics volumes – I’m running four or so volumes behind in reading them – won’t be for every comics reader. I get them for two reasons. First, I’ll purchase just about any reasonably-priced collection of comics from the 1940s or 1950s. Second, these books bring back fond memories of my late friend Dave Massaro, a gifted teacher who loaned me his original copies of Planet Comics issues because he thought they would inspire my own writing. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining volumes of Planet Comics. We will probably talk about them again.

ISBN 978-1-84863-861-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella