TONY’S TIPS #292

My 2019 convention season started with the North Texas Comic Book Show on February 2-3 in Irving, Texas. The show was geared toward fans of the comic books of the 1970s and 1980s with terrific guests like Neal Adams, J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod, Joe Staton, Larry Hama, Elliot S! Maggin, Keith Pollard, Al Milgrom, Randy Emberlin, Graham Nolan, Denys Cowan, Aaron Lopresti, John Beatty, Rudy Nebres, Larry Stroman, Scott Koblish, Michael Golden, Arthur Suydam, Tim Vigil, Bill Reinhold, Linda Lessmann Reinhold and my new friend Amy Chu. Thanks to Amy, convention goers will once more be seeing my cheesy Godzilla sketches. We’re not talking fine art here, but the sketches are somewhat amusing.

I had a wonderful time at the North Texas Comic Book Show and will be writing about it in my personal blog in the near future. In the meantime, let me share that it is a wonderful and wonderfully run event. If invited to be a guest at the show in the future, say yes.  If you’re a fan, start digging through your long boxes of classic comics to get them signed by some of the finest writers and artists in comics history.

On to this week’s reviews…

The Unknown Anti-War Comics [Yoe Books/IDW; $29.99] is this week’s pick of the week. Edited by Craig Yoe and featuring comics written and drawn by Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, Denny O’Neil and several rarely discussed comics creator, it’s a most unexpected book. It collects stories that appeared in various Charlton Comics genre titles – war and science fiction – that could honestly be described as anti-war stories. All but one of them originally appeared in comic books published during the Cold War of the 1950s. The one exception is from 1967, a time when a comparatively youthful peace movement was protesting the U.S.A.’s war in Vietnam.

The hardcover book kicks off with a single-page comics introduction by artist Nate Powell of March acclaim. Next is a foreword by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary. Editor Yoe provides historical context to the reprinted comics in his “Peace Comics” essay. To me, context is an important element of such books. There is a history to the comics we do and it should be recorded.

From a historical standpoint, I’m delighted this book starts with material from Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’s Never Again, a short-lived title that didn’t disguise its anti-war sentiments. The host of these stories was the Unknown Soldier and their settings ranged from the Roman Empire to World War II.

One story worth noting is “No Common Ground” wherein refugees from outer space are surrounded by an impenetrable steel-like wall. The peaceful aliens have superior weaponry, but only want someplace to live in peace. It’s not looking good for either side until an alien child and a Earth child are found playing with each other. Though the basic plot to this tale was repeated over the years, this 1963 story penciled by Bill Molno and Rocco Mastroserio still brings a smile to my face.

Not all of the stories in the collection have such happy endings. But the overall theme of the volume is that hope and peace are not beyond our ability to achieve. That is a important lesson for our own contentious times.

ISBN 978-1-68405-178-6

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Com Artist

The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente [Quirk Book; $14.99] is a murder mystery set at Comic-Con International. The novel is a bit flawed, but I like it enough to recommend it to you.

What sold me is protagonist Mike Mason, a comic book artist with a couple of very successful projects in his past, one of which became a hit movie. After his wife cheats on him with his editor, Mason becomes a nomad. He travels from convention to convention, cutting deals so that he can stay a few extra days after each convention. He has storage units in several cities. I love this concept a great deal and wouldn’t mind seeing another Mike Mason mystery.

Mason is supposed to accept an award for an elderly artist, one of the best, who inspired Mike and who was ripped off by a publisher in so many ways. The artist dies just before the convention, which Mason doesn’t learn about until an odd young woman who says she’s assigned to assist him at the show, tells him about it. That’s sad, but it’s the most normal thing that happens to Mason.

The editor who stole his wife is murdered. The cops think Mason was the killer. He’s pursued by thugs and has no idea why. His wife – they never signed divorce papers – shows up at the con. A popular writer is trying to lure him back to the title on which Mike made his bones. He’s kidnapped by the publisher who screwed his mentor. And so and so on, all interwoven with crazy comics and convention stories based on reality. Throw in excellent Tom Fowler drawings appearing throughout the novel and you’ve got an entertaining read. For the most part.

Van Lente doesn’t nail the ending. The final chapters include many twists that make for a much-too-complicated conclusion. The novel needed to be either shorter or longer, the latter to make a little more sense out of the events. It’s a good book, but it doesn’t fill me with satisfaction.

Just the same, I want to encourage you to give it a chance. I like the Mike Mason character and some of the supporting players. I want to see more of them.

ISBN 978-1-68369-034-4

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Supers Book One

Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia by Frédéric Maupomé with art by Dawid [Top Shelf; $14.99] is the first book in a graphic album series about three young refugees from outer space. Older brother Matt and siblings Lily and Benji were abandoned on Earth by their parents in an effort to protect the kids. They’ve found a place to live and made it seem their folks are around. They have enrolled in school. But school can be tough for the new kids, especially when they have powers they can never use in public. Matt, Lily and Benji live with the fear of being discovered and what would surely happen to them if they were.

Supers won me over with its realistic portrayal of the “new kids in school” scenes and its never overpowering sci-fi elements. I like how the kids have each other’s backs and the desire to help people, even though their good intentions sometimes don’t work as they had hoped. The writing and art tell their story in an engaging manner. I’m in for the whole series.

ISBN 978-1-60309-439-9

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Pensacon 2019 in Pensacola, Florida is my next convention. It’ll be held February 22-24 at the Pensacola Bay Center, Pensacola Grand Hotel and other venues in the city. It’s one of my favorite events of the year and I hope to see some of my “Tony’s Tips” readers at the convention. You’ll have an amazing time!

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

 

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #291

I’m writing this week’s column at what I sincerely hope is the tail end of what the local Cleveland newscasters having been calling a “Snowmageddon.” For some reason, the inclement weather has combined with some sort of cold/flu/plague bug to give me a craving for old abominable snowman movies. I watched The Snow Creature (1954) and The Abominable Snowman (1957) back to back. I would tell you these two films are unrecognized cinematic classics, but not even below zero wind chills can numb my mind to that extent.

Fortunately, I also had some pretty good comics to ease my misery. From the streets of Harlem to the depths of the ocean with a side trip to Metropolis, the three books I’m reviewing this week helped keep my mind off my physical ailments and the snow piles towering over me when I walked to get the mail or my daily newspapers. Even a Snowmageddon can have an upside.

I only met legendary author and comics writer Alvin Schwartz once. It was at one of Roger Price’s Mid-Ohio-Con events. By the end of our first conversation, Alvin and I had bonded. Though I never saw my friend again, we called each other on the phone and we exchanged e-mails. He was an inspiration to me. His novels on the concept of the tulpa (a being or object which is created through spiritual or mental powers) gave me a new way of looking at the characters I had created and why they seemed so real to me.

Superman: The Golden Age Dailies: 1944-1947 [IDW; $49.99] collects the Man of Steel’s daily adventures from October 30, 1944 to April 26, 1947. Schwartz wrote these stories, the equally legendary Wayne Boring drew them and Dean Mullaney lovingly presents them in this glorious hardcover book from The Library of American Comics. It’s a fascinating, fun visit to a past era of one of the most beloved characters in fiction.

These stories could be classified as situation comedies of a sort. A con man is mistakenly revealed to be Superman. Lois Lane is set to inherit millions if she gets married. Invisible creatures make Superman’s life maddening, as does the somewhat more visible Mister Mxyztplk. A young man’s future is nearly ruined because a professor doesn’t believe in Superman’s powers. There are some more serious tales in the mix, such as one on juvenile delinquency, but, for the most part, these are breezy entertainments, perfectly suitable for all readers.

Schwartz’s dialogue is always clever. Boring’s art is both iconic and warmly inviting. The production of this book is as much a work  of art as the actual comic strips. It is a thing of joy and my top pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68405-197-7

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Voyage to the Deep

This is a wild one. Inspired by the movie Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea [1961], Dell Comics published Voyage to the Deep, a nigh-psychedelic, title featuring the adventures of the nuclear super-submarine S.S.N. Proteus. In each of the four issues of the title, Admiral Jonathan Leigh and his crew were called upon to battle “the Enemy,” a mysterious adversary seemingly bent on eradicating all life on Earth.

Voyage to the Deep [It’s Alive/IDW; $24.99] has lovingly gathered all four issues of the title. Drawn by the legendary Sam Glanzman, whose World War II service in the United States Navy informed his incredible work on hundreds of comics, the first three issue-length stories were very likely written by Lionel Ziprin, a Kabbalist and poet who lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and is known to have written issues of Kona Monarch of Monster Isle and scripts for some of Dell’s war comics. The fourth issue has been attributed to the prolific Paul S. Newman.

No world-destroying scheme was too diabolic for the Enemy. It tried to destroy the Earth by flood, by ice, by anti-matter and by fire. Each time, Admiral Leigh would devise outlandish methods by which his submarine could foil the attacks. In most issues, salvation was preceded by manic imaginings of what humanity would suffer if the Enemy succeeded. Glanzman excelled at such disastrous drawings and Ziprin’s prose made the predictive art even more fearsome.

Sidebar. I was so taken by Ziprin’s writing I went to eBay to buy a comics adaptation of the TV series Adventures in Paradise [1959-1962] on the possibility he wrote the issue. I’ll write about it in the near future.

If the comics themselves weren’t reason enough to buy this handsome hardcover collection, the additional features seal the deal. Comics creator and historian Stephen R. Bissette’s introduction gives us a insightful look at submarines in fantasy fiction and their use in comic books during the Cold War. Additionally, there are galleries for the Voyage to the Deep covers, inside covers and back covers; an afterword by artist Rufus Dayglo, and biographies of Glanzman, Bissette and Dayglo. Collection editor Drew Ford should be proud of this volume. It’s wonderful!

ISBN 978-1-68405-450-3

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Luke Cage Everyman

Luke Cage: Everyman [Marvel; $19.99] collects the digital series by  writer Anthony Del Col and artist Jahnoy Lindsay. I enjoy Marvel’s print versions of such digital series because the comics tend to be complete unto themselves with interesting premises and satisfying endings. With the ongoing series, it sometimes seems like stories never really end. They just lurch clumsily into a continuation of the same old stories.

Harlem is suffering from a life-threatening heat wave as the story opens. The mysterious “Everyman” purports to be the champion of the people, murdering the powerful and wealthy deemed to have committed crimes against the people. The victims die swiftly from diseases that come out of nowhere.

Hired to guard a client targeted by Everyman, Luke is also dealing with his own medical situation. He has been diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). His skin might be invulnerable, but his brain is showing the effects of the hits he’s taken during his career as a hero for hire.

Del Col does a good job writing Luke. We get some great scenes of Luke with his daughter Danielle. We get some emotional moments of Luke realizing what his disease likely means for his relationship with her and others he loves. I think some of our best super-hero stories contrast the fantastic with the real world.

Luke Cage: Everyman is a solid story with good art. The inclusion of Omega Red was a minus for me. Of late, I am increasingly bored with all things X-Men. But that won’t prevent me from recommending this trade paperback to you. The more quality Luke Cage comics we get, the happier I am.

ISBN 978-1-302-91291-8

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #290

My 2019 got off to a great start. I flew to Atlanta to attend the  Black Lightning second season wrap party and then visited the set for two days.

The love and respect I received from literally everyone working on the show was equaled only by my love and respect for them. At the wrap party, I was asked to address the cast and crew. On the set, I sat behind Salim Akil and his monitors while he directed pivotal scenes from the finale. I was given a tour of the amazing sets, the back lot and the construction areas. I had lunch with the wondrous Christine Adams on Monday and with Jordan Calloway, Bill Duke and Marvin Jones on Tuesday. I signed books and posters for members of the crew and even got to wear a Black Lightning vest, as shown in this week’s opening photo.

I’ll be writing about my Atlanta adventures over at Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing [http://tonyisabella.blogspot.com/]. While I won’t be revealing any details of the remaining episodes airing this season, I will have lots to tell you.

On to this week’s reviews…

Norm Breyfogle 1

I’ve been revisiting the Norm Breyfogle era of Batman in the sadly out-of-print Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Volume 1, which was originally published in the summer of 2015. At that time, the 520-page volume sold for $49.99. This days, alas, buying a copy on the secondary market could run you a hundred bucks or more. I’m writing about the volume this week in the hopes my words and your subsequent appeals to DC Comics will convince the publisher to put the book back into print.

Breyfogle’s expressive and fluid art is astonishing in its range. He portrayed Batman’s moodiness in both the Dark Knight’s face and figure. He drew dramatic action scenes that fly across the panels in exciting and lifelike manner. He could depict human emotion as well as any of the great Batman artists. His storytelling was solid and, when it served the story, eye-popping. I always like his work and, now that I have the opportunity to study it, like it more with each passing year.

It helps that Breyfogle’s art was in the service of great stories by great writers like John Wagner and Alan Grant. Those veterans of the British comics industry brought a different feel to the Batman without losing the essence of the character. Their Batman was the hero of the night streets. No reality-changing epic crossovers in this volume. Just down-to-earth and remarkably entertaining tales of a champion of justice. Guest stories by Mike W. Barr, Max Allan Collins, Jo Duffy and Bob Greenberger add to the mix.

Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Volume 1 is my pick of the week. Keep searching for a copy you can afford. It’s definitely worth the hunt.

ISBN 978-1-4012-5898-6

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Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows: The Complete Newspaper Strips [Hermes Press; $50] is  a hardcover collection of the critically-acclaimed but short-lived newspaper strip based on the longer-running afternoon soap opera. Drawn and perhaps written by Ken Bald, the strip ran from March 14, 1971 through March 11, 1972. It was a very good year.

Bald has had an amazing career in comic books and comic strips. He drew super-heroes in the 1940s for a number of publishers, notably Timely Comics. He created the character Namora while he was working on Timely’s Sub-Mariner. He drew some of the most beautiful women in comic books, including the Blonde Phantom and Millie the Model. Before Dark Shadows, he drew the Dr. Kildare strip, also based on a popular television series.

Starring “good” vampire Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows went full-on supernatural thriller during its single year. Vengeful immortals and Egyptian gods. Werewolves and a powerful warlock. We even get some time travel with the spirit of a never-born Collins ancestor from the path. The stories could have run a little longer and the writing could have been a little more powerful, but these tales are great fun.

Because my schedule was at odds with the afternoon airing of Dark Shadows, I never watched more than a few episodes of the legendary series. This collection of the newspaper strip has me interested in exploring the show’s other incarnations: the TV series, the movies, the comic books and the novels.

Dark Shadows: The Complete Newspaper Strips is recommended to fans of Ken Bald, newspaper story strips, supernatural fiction and, most certainly, of the Dark Shadows show. InStock Trades, who sponsors this weekly review columns, has it at 25% off.

ISBN 978-1-61345-140-3

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Satoko and Nada

Manga continues to amaze and delight me. My most recent discovery is Satoko and Nada Volume 1 by writer/artist Yupechika with Marie Nishimori as script advisor [Seven Seas; $12.99]. Satoko is a young Japanese woman going to school in the United States. New roommate Nada is a Saudi Arabian woman. Both bring their cultures to their lives in America, a journey played out in single-page comic strips that do have some continuity between the strips.

This is a feel-good manga. Satoko and Nada are respectful of each other’s culture and eager to learn more about them…and about the culture of our own country. There is a honest and charming humor to their day-to-day lives, building blocks to a beautiful overall tale of acceptance and inclusion.

“Friendship knows no borders” is a nice summation of this series. Satoko and Nada possess a good heart, a heart full of hope, a heart full of respect. It’s a charming comic that more American reviewers should be writing about and more American fans should be reading. Suitable for teens and, by my personal estimation, younger readers as well, it gets my recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-626929-09-8

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If you want to start making plans now, my first convention of 2019 will be the North Texas Comic Book Show, February 2-3 at the Irving Convention Center, 500 West Las Colinas Boulevard in Irving, Texas. The guest list includes the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” reunion of writer J.M. DeMatteis, penciler Mike Zeck and inker Bob McLeod plus Larry Hama, Joe Station, Elliot S! Maggin and many more comics greats. I hope to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #289

This is my final “Tony’s Tips” column of 2018. It was a good year for me. I was delighted by the positive critical response for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, currently available in trade paperback wherever fine comics are sold. Like, for example, though the great people at InStockTrades.

Full disclosure. InStockTrades sponsors this weekly column. But I am also a customer of theirs. I recommend their prices and service to all of my readers here.

I was a guest at a whole bunch of conventions in 2018 and hope to be a guest at a whole bunch of conventions in 2019. DC Comics had me out for the world premiere of Black Lightning in January, while Marvel Comics brought my wife Barb and myself to the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp later in the year. I got to meet the entire cast of Black Lightning and some Ant-Man and the Wasp cast members, notably Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Lawrence Fishburne.

I appeared on several TV news shows last year. I was interviewed by dozens of print and online journalists. I spoke at several schools and libraries. I received love and respect from countless fans and entertainment industry professionals. I count comics professionals among the later because, more than ever, comics drive the TV shows and movies we love.

This concluding year was not perfect. We lost many dear people and saw frankly disgusting behavior on the political and social media fronts. But hope remains and, like so many of you, I hope we will do better on all fronts in 2019. Always forward.

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Plastic Man #1-6 by Gail Simone with artist Adriana Melo and color artist Kelly Fitzpatrick [DC Comics; $3.99 per issue] checks off my Plastic Man boxes. It is a redemption story and you know how much I love those. It portrays Plastic Man as funny and capable without going dark as DC did in the Metal and Terrifics titles. It has as much heart as I’ve seen in any recent super-hero comics. It boasts some terrific guest heroes and villains.

Simone remains one of our art form’s best writers. Her Plastic Man is far from perfect, but a hero at his core. Pado Swakatoon is one of the best supporting characters Plas has ever had. The plot takes twists and turns I didn’t see coming…and that’s no mean feat for a guy who’s been doing this as long as I have. At the end of these six issues, I felt I had read a satisfying story and wanted more of the same as soon as possible.

Melo’s art and storytelling are amazing. The action stuff is full of movement. The human stuff is full of emotion. The actual drawing is first-rate from start to finish.

Plastic Man is the kind of comic we need more of from DC. A writer puts their mark on a character and it’s obvious that writer has a better grasp of the character than any of the other writers at DC. When it happens it’s wondrous to behold, though there’s always the fear that the company won’t recognize the priceless gem that’s been laid before them.

If you’re more a trade paperback reader, Plastic Man [$16.99] will be available in that format come April. The six-issue series is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1401289379

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Tony Stark 1

Writer Dan Slott takes chances. Yes, because he writes high-profile Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, he likely has the approval of his editors. Still, I find myself awed by some of the directions he has taken these iconic heroes. Currently, I’m very much enjoying Tony Stark: Iron Man. I have read the first six issues {$4.99 for #1, $3.99 for each of the other issues] and I’m impressed.

The corporate intrigue, human drama and pseudo-science tickles me. Stark is about to give the world a virtual reality system that is ridiculously cool. Business rivals and the odd super-villain have been causing problems. Tony and his birth mom are having troubles connecting. His company is safeguarding the rights of A.I. beings like Jocasta, while Jocasta herself is facing interesting personal issues. And let’s not leave out the budding romance with the Wasp and the evil brother. It’s such a jumble of stuff, some of which borders on cliche. However, all of it comes together to make for an entertaining series.

If, as with Plastic Man, you prefer reading comic books in trades,you won’t have too long to wait for Tony Stark: Iron Man Vol. 1: Self-Made Man [$16.99]. The collection of the first six issues is due to hit the stores in January.

ISBN 978-1302912727

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Ne Ne Ne

Is there a manga sub-genre involving young women in love with older men? A few weeks back, I reviewed After the Rain 1 by Jun Mayuzuki. It’s the story of a high school student smitten by the 45-year-old manager of a family restaurant. What seemed like a creepy premise turned out to be a rather sweet tale of these two different people chastely exploring their feelings for one another.

For this week’s column, we’re looking at Ne Ne Ne by Shizuku Totono (story) and Daisuke Hagiwara (art). Published by Yen Press with a “T” for “teen” rating, this seemingly done-in-one volume manga has a young woman still in her teens married to a man twenty years her senior. It’s an arranged marriage to secure the fortunes of both of their families. Oh, yeah, and she’s never seen her husband’s face. He wears a cat/fox mask because he’s always “on call” for dealing with supernatural matters.

Koyuki wants to be a good wife to Shin, but she’s inexperienced in the ways of wedded bliss. It turns out Shin is just as innocent as his much younger wife. What drives the story and what also provides much gentle humor is the couple’s mutual difficulty in navigating this unfamiliar territory. Lest you mistakenly think Ne Ne Ne has  salacious content, let me add Shin has vowed not to have sex with Koyuki until she is older.

Despite their lack of physical intimacy, Koyuki and Shin do grow as a couple. They are very likeable characters. I’m disappointed there aren’t more volumes to their stories. I would like to spend a bit more time with them.

Because of the premise, I don’t think this manga will entertain all readers. I thought it was well-written and well-drawn. I recommend it based on its likeable characters and the quality of the art and writing.

ISBN 978-1-9753-8103-5

That’s a wrap for 2018. I’ll be back with more reviews in the new year before us. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #288

With two more “Tony’s Tips” columns to write before the end of the year, I’ve made the courageous choice to not present anything that remotely resembles a “Best of the Year” list. First off, you can’t swing a cursor without hitting one of the hundreds of those things that are available online. Second, I find such lists to be almost invariably useless.

You get the “Best of” lists that focus only on big books from the major publishers, be they the periodical Big Two or the mainstream graphic novel folks. You get the lists that concentrate on artsy-fartsy, navel-gazing that speak to the human condition, but only if  if you define the human condition as “first world problems” that a reasonable person would just deal with. You’ll get the lists that represent whatever demographic the list-maker considers themselves to be part of. Too many comics pundits are incapable of accepting comics outside their increasingly narrow interests and that doesn’t serve readers like me who like all kinds of comic books and graphic novels. There’s so much other good stuff out there.

So, for these final two columns of 2018, I’m just going to go with my usual three things I enjoyed and think some of you might enjoy as well. This week, it happens to be an item from DC, an item from Marvel and a prose and photos look at a pop culture icon. Next time out, it’ll be three other things. I roll how I roll.

DC Comics anthologies have been more miss than hit in recent years. With the exception of most of their 100-page giant collaborations with Walmart, I found them lacking in consistency and quality. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1 [$9.99] featuring “10 cataclysmic carols” from various post-apocalyptic DC continuities. Imagine my surprise when I enjoyed the issue so much I want to recommend it to you.

Edited by Alex Antone and Dave Wielgosz – and I’m a bit embarrassed those names are unfamiliar to me – the 80-page giant delivers some outstanding stories. The Rip Hunter: Time Master framing sequence by Mark Russell and artist Mike Norton serves that purpose and even offers some laughs along the way. The Superman One Million tale by Steve Orlando with artists Brad Walker and Drew Hennessy is a great story as is Paul Dini’s Firestorm tale with art by Jerry Ordway. I also liked stories featuring the Flash, Supergirl, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Catwoman and Kamandi. The only story that failed to hit the mark with me was the Batman 666 with its extremely lame attempt at delivering a semblance of a happy or even not awfully bleak ending. Not for the first time, I must conclude there’s too much Batman in the DCU. The company needs to recognize that it has an huge roster of equally great characters.

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Jessica Jones

Between the excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie and  the equally choice Jessica Jones live-action series on Netflix, I’m inspired to do some Brian Michael Bendis binge-reading in the next few weeks. While I’m getting ready for that, I read Jessica Jones: Blind Spot [Marvel; $19.99] by Kelly Thompson with artists Mattia DeIllus and Marcio Takara and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg. I read the graphic novel via my local library.

Collected here in print for the first time, Blind Spot was a Marvel digital original. Enjoying life with husband Luke Cage and their child Dani, Jessica continues her work as a private investigator. She returns to her office after a case to find the dead body of a former client she wasn’t able to help, and subsequently arrested by police officers for the murder. She learns of other powerful women who have been found murdered and discovers a link between her and all of them. After that, it’s super-hero noir with guest stars and surprising twists. By the end of issue #5 (of the six included in this trade paperback), we get a very satisfying ending to Jessica’s case. The trade paperback should have ended there.

The sixth issue is all about Dani’s birthday. It’s fun stuff until we arrive at the last-page cliffhanger. As some of you may recall from other reviews I’ve written, I absolutely loathe when a trade paperback doesn’t contain a complete story. In this case, I don’t even know where to go for the story that must follow that last-page cliffhanger. Is it available digitally? Will it be collected in a trade paperback? Did it ever conclude? Not remotely cool.

Thompson’s writing is first-rate. The art, colors and storytelling are very good as well. If there is more Thompson-written Jessica Jones out there, this book has me wanting to read it. I recommend Jessica Jones: Blind Spot to you, with the warning that it ends on the afore-mentioned cliffhanger.

ISBN 978-1-302-91292-5

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Bettie Page

Bettie Page was a cultural icon whose images fascinate me and whose life is every bit as intriguing. Bettie Page: The Lost Years: An Intimate Look at the Queen of Pinups, through her Private Letters and Never-Published Photos by Toni Rodriguez with Ron Brem [Lyons Press; $27.95] explores Page’s life after the end of her modeling career. The large-size hardcover book is filled with rare materials from her sister Goldie Jane Page and supplied by Goldie’s son Ron. Often in Bettie’s own words, we get an examination of her life and her struggles beyond her unforgettable celebrity.

The book rounds out the extraordinarily special woman behind those instantly recognizable bangs, stunning figure and bright girl-next-door smile. It leaves me wanting more and, fortunately, there are other books about Bettie and even some swell comics from Dynamite Publishing. These are definite additions to my home library and I think you’ll enjoy them as well.

ISBN 978-1-4930-3450-5

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #287

If you’re still doing your holiday shopping, then you might just be in the same panic mode as your favorite Tipster. Unless you order something online RIGHT NOW, that something might not arrive in time for your Christmas or other holiday shopping. However, since this is the season of miracles, I’ll offer a few more suggestions this week…and then go out and finish my own shopping!

Take your comics-loving loved one out for an afternoon or evening at the movies. Specifically, I recommend the amazingly spectacular Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, an animated feature directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Rothman and a story by Lord. Uncredited are over a dozen comics writers and artists who created the characters who appear in this movie. Bad form, Sony. Bad form.

Despite the slighting of comics creators not named Stan Lee, Steve Ditko or Brian Michael Bendis, this story of Miles Morales becoming his world’s Spider-Man and teaming up with spider-heroes from other worlds is an exciting, stylish and emotional presentation. Every aspect of the movie from the story to the animation to the acting to the graphics to the music is stunning. Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary of the movie:

Miles Morales becomes the Spider-Man of his reality and crosses paths with his counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat to all reality.

Shameik Moore is great as the out-of-his-element Miles. His scenes with the beaten-down-by-his-world Peter B. Parker [Jake Johnson] are the heart of the movie. Liev Schreiber is gloriously scary as the Kingpin, as is Kathryn Hahn as Doc Ock. Other notable players include Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, Mahershala Ali as Miles’ Uncle Aaron, Lily Tomlin as Aunt May, John Mulaney as Spider-Ham, Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir and Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III as Tombstone. Stan Lee’s cameo gave me big feels.

Though the movie does contains scenes of violence, I would rate it as suitable for all but the youngest viewers. Some of the more meta humor will be lost on non-comics afficionados, but there are still plenty of other laughs to keep things light when you need a break from the more dramatic moments. Most importantly, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a simple-yet-profound message at its core and had me feeling hopeful as I left the theater. Stories like this one have the power to inspire. When the film is available for purchase on Blu-ray or DVD, I plan to add it to my home video collection. It’s a keeper.

Note. If you’re really doing your gift-shopping up to the very last moment, keep in mind Aquaman opens on December 21. Advance reviews of the movie are extremely positive. If I finish my shopping, I’m thinking of taking myself to it on my December 22 birthday. I will be turning 67 years old this year. Yow, am I ancient!

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Batman Complete Animated Series

The deluxe limited edition of Batman: The Completed Animated Series is one of the nicest series sets I’ve seen. It’s expensive. Even at Amazon prices, you’re talking over a hundred bucks for the Blu-ray plus digital version. But, after buying one for a friend, I put it on my own wish list. If it doesn’t turn up under my tree, I’ll buy it for myself next month.

The set contains all 109 episodes in high definition. The package includes mini-Funko figures of the Batman, Joker and Harley Quinn  plus seven exclusive lenticular cards of original animation art. Two bonus discs contain animated films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero!

There are 25 in-depth features, including the new definitive making of Batman: The Animated Series documentary. Also include in the set are commentaries with show creators on a dozen episodes. Short of finding some way to transport a viewer into the episodes, I don’t think you could ask for a finer complete presentation of Batman: The Animated Series. Highly recommended.

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Great Survival Test

One more suggestion, though just reading the title might take too long for you to buy for a Christmas present. Disney Masters Vol. 4: Daan Jippes and Freddy Milton: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Great Survival Test [Fantagraphics; $29.99] is the latest in a series of hardcover books collecting classic stories from some of the world’s best Disney comics storytellers.

These tales present Donald Duck at his best and worst. He competes with Gladstone Gander for various awards. He tries to teach lessons to his Junior Woodchucks nephews. He shows his mastery of various skills and, more often than not, is undone by his pride in what he accomplishes. There are 18 stories, all of them short enough for a quick break from your workday or a comedy nightcap at the end of a workday. I have been reading these books through my local library, but I think I’ll be buying them for my home library.

Jippes and Milton are masters of comics creation, but, fortunately, they don’t suffer from the results of that mastery as our old pal Donald does. The book also includes short biographies of the men, as well as a Milton piece on “Doing It the Barks Way.” Barks is, of course, Carl Barks, the most masterful Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge storyteller of them all.

ISBN 978-1-68396-111-6

Here’s wishing all my Tony’s Tips readers the happiest of holidays this Christmas season and the same to the great people at InStock Trades who sponsor these weekly review columns. Bless each one of you. As I see it, you’re all on the “nice” list.

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #286

How’s your holiday shopping going? I was feeling a bit prideful the other day because I’d completed my gift-buying for my best friends in the Cleveland area. Then I realized I still had family gifts to buy and long-distance gifts to buy and that one of the gifts I had purchased for one of my best friends might not arrive until the day after I get together with him and those other friends. In short, I am moving into the “losing my mind” shopping season. However, while some speck of sanity reminds, allow me to offer a few suggestions that may make your shopping go a little smoother.

Spider-Man and Iron Man are two of the most popular characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the bond developed between them one of the more heartwarming aspects of their movies. If you have a MCU fan who doesn’t read many comics on your shopping list, they might enjoy Spider-Man/Iron Man: Marvel Team-Up [$24.99] by Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema and other Marvel Comics creators of the 1970s.

Running just over 200 pages, this trade paperback collects all the Spider-Man/Iron Man stories from Marvel Team-Up. That’s nine issues plus some original art reproductions and covers. The villains are among Marvel’s mightiest and the other heroes who appear keep the adventures moving.

We get Gerry Conway’s three-issue thriller of Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Human Torch and the Inhumans getting caught in the middle of a war between Kang the Conqueror and Zarrko the Tomorrow Man. Then we get Bill Mantlo’s four-issue introduction of the Wraith co-starring Doctor Strange. With script by David Michelinie, Herb Trimpe plots and draws the introduction of the volcanic menace Magma. Whiplash appears in two issues, once under his original name and once under his newer name of Blacklash. I wrote the second of those, starring Spider-Man in his black costume, Jim Rhodes as Iron Man, and set in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

With the exception of my own story, which I confess I’ve read a few times over the years, this was my first time reading these stories since their original publication. I got a kick out of them and I’m thinking folks on your gift list might enjoy them as well.

ISBN 978-1-302-91368-7

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after-the-rain-8578

Call it a hunch. When I first heard about the manga After the Rain 1 by Jun Mayuzuki [Vertical; $17.95], I was concerned. After all, it is the story of a high school student smitten by the 45-year-old manager of a family restaurant. In the world of manga, it’s hardly unusual for titles involving young women to have a creepy side and pander to fan service. Yet something about the cover showing Akira Tachibana, the reserved student, made me recognize that this manga was something else.

Akira was a sports star at her high school until an injury took her out of competition and triggered depression. She meets Masami, the divorced manager and single father, when he shows her a kindness on a rainy day. She takes a part-time job at the restaurant.

Akira is a complex heroine. She doesn’t rush into anything and she examines her feelings. But she likes Masami and wants to pursue a relationship with him. She is of legal age, but he is much older. Mayuzuki never allows the story to get creepy. Instead, there is a sweetness to the unfolding events.

In one chapter of the first volume, Akira bonds with Masami’s young son. In another, she fends off the advances of a blackmailing co-worker by agreeing to go to a movie with him.

On Akira’s first date with Masami, he takes her to the same movie. Later, she becomes upset because she was two program booklets for the movie and isn’t sure which is from her date with the manager. That program is the only one important to her.

Beautiful art, storytelling and writing make After the Rain 1 one of the most compelling of manga series. If someone on your list is a manga fan, especially if they enjoy shojo manga, I think they’ll enjoy this series. I know I’m in for the duration.

ISBN 978-1-947194-34-2

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I am Sonja

Suitable for gift-giving to young readers at any time of the year, the “Ordinary People Change the World” series by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos are amazing explorations of everyday folks who rose to great accomplishments by dint if their dedication and hard work. The latest in this remarkable series is I am Sonia Sotomayor [Penguin Young Readers Group; $14.99], which relates the life story of the Supreme Court Justice.

This hardcover biography in comics form is fun and inspirational. I always get a kick out of seeing the exceptional heroes of these drawn as young children. It makes them so much more relatable for the intended audience of the books. But the writing and art are so terrific that adults will find joy in them as well.

Like all the young books in the series, this one belongs in every single school and public library in the United States. All of the books in the series belong there as well. As noted above, they make great gifts for young readers. For older readers, well, for what it’s worth, this latest book has convinced me to start collecting them all. Just to have around Stately Isabella Manor if I am ever blessed with grandchildren.

ISBN 978-0-7352-2873-3

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Cold Dead Hands TP

One more gift recommendation and, yes, I’m promoting something that I wrote. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands [DC; $16.99] collects my recent reboot of my creation. He’s younger than any version I have written before. He’s smarter than any version I’ve written before. He has a real family where, in past Isabella incarnations, he has built families around himself. His stories are more contemporary than ever before, a mixture of super-hero action, street drama, and social commentary. I think it’s the best writing I have ever done. I hope you’ll buy a copy for yourself and consider giving copies to friends and family for the holidays.

ISBN 978-1-4012-7515-0

That’s my gift recommendations for this week. I’ll have some more recommendations next week for living-on-the-edge readers who have not yet finished their holiday shopping. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #285

Christmas and the other seasonal holidays are drawing close, which means I’m going into “this would make a great gift” mode for the next couple weeks of “Tony’s Tips!” Let’s start with three terrific items, every one of which would make a wonderful present for those beloved comics readers in your life and every one of which should be considered a pick of the week.

If it weren’t for assorted Black Lightning comic books written by me and the amazing Black Lightning TV series, Monsters Volume 1: The Marvel Monsterbus by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby [$100] would hands down be my favorite comics thing of the year. This is almost nine hundred pages of entertainment I love: comics stories by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby, and giant monsters. This is practically a holy book to me.

The brilliant art by Kirby on display in this book has never before been collected in a book like this. Even in the late 1950s and the earliest 1960s, no comics craftsman did work as exciting as Kirby. His sure-footed layouts and ability to make the outlandish look so real knocks me out. He is well served by inkers Dick Ayers, George Klein, Steve Ditko, Christopher Rule and others. The reproduction of these tales is nothing short of magnificent.

The stories are equally choice. You’ll see the initial appearances of characters who would play roles in the future Marvel Super-Hero Universe. Groot gets the cover, but there are also debuts of Zemnu the Titan; the living Colossus who, for a variety of weird reasons,  would one day be known as “It!”;, Doctor Droom/Druid and Gorgilla the Living Gargoyle. You’ll witness the emergence of the “outsider hero” trope of nerds and down-on-their-luck individuals who would informed the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe. You’ll enjoy how popular monsters were brought back for a second shot at our planet. And, for the total Marvel geeks among us, you’ll get a kick out of how names were re-purposed for Marvel super-heroes and villains: the afore-mentioned Colossus, the Molten Man-Thing, Diablo, the Living Pharaoh, the Hulk, Goliath, Elektro, the Scarecrow, Thorr, Vandoom, Magneto and the Sandman.

Award-nominated editor Cory Sedlmeier deserves kudos and awards for what he has created here. Besides putting together this great tome, he also includes a section featuring original art pages from some of these stories and the covers of later comic books reprinting some of them. I already know I’m going to reread this first volume from cover to cover and I’ll do the same with the second volume. These books are creations to cherish.

Monsters Volume 1 ($100)

ISBN 978-1-302-90861-4

Monsters Volume 2 ($100)

ISBN 978-1-302-90862-1

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Crosswind

I think I’m developing a thing for female assassins. Over at Dark Horse, Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s Lady Killer is a favorite. I find the darker aspects of Marvel’s Black Widow intriguing. And now I’m wild for Juniper Elanore Blue, who is described as a smart but downtrodden Seattle housewife. Juniper is one of the two lead protagonists of Crosswind Volume One by Gail Simone and Cat Staggs [Image; $9.99].

The other protagonist is Cason Ray Bennett, described as a slick, ruthless Chicago hitman. The thing is…Juniper and Cason are now living in each other’s bodies, cursed to this change of life by a mysterious old man. Cason as Juniper and Juniper as Cason makes for an entertaining and harrowing adventure.

Cason is targeted by the mobsters he works for. Juniper is dealing with her cheating husband and a stepson who won’t accept her as his mother. Everyone around the two disparate individuals is wondering what the heck’s going on. This is brilliant writing with expressive art that delivers a satisfying explanation for what’s happening and a satisfying conclusion to this first six-issue arc. I’m 100% ready for the second volume and I hope it’s not long in coming.

Side note. This is one of the most respectful treatment of a male to female (and female to male) body switch I’ve read. Simone did her homework on this and sought counsel from members of the trans community. There’s one of the reasons I’ll read any comic book she writes.

Additional side note. Crosswind is being developed for television by Vanessa Piazza, an executive producer on the TV shows Lost Girl and Dark Matter. If it makes it on air, I’ll be there.

ISBN 978-1-53343-0474-1

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WGSH Holiday Special

This last item is more of a stocking stuff, provided you can bear to roll it up to stick it in a stocking. Available only at WalMart, the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes Holiday Special #1 [DC; $4.99] is a hundred pages of seasonal adventures with some of your favorite DC Comics characters.

The special leads off with an all-new Flash story by Scott Lobdell with art by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund. You’ll see many members of the Rogues Gallery in this tale with several great moments for Captain Cold. The other stories in the issue are reprints of tales from earlier DC holiday specials. The best of these are a Superman story by Dan Jurgens and Jackson Guice that always me makes me tear up a little every time I read it; and a Batman/Alfred tale by Tom King and David Finch. Other featured characters include Supergirl, Batwoman, Harley Quinn and Green Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. I’m a fan of these 100-page giants and this special might be the best one yet.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next time with more holiday gift suggestions. Whatever holidays you celebrate – and whose gonna stop you from celebrating all of them – my wish is that this time of the year be filled with joy for all my readers.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #284

The Great American Comic Convention held a moving Stan Lee tribute on Sunday, November 19. The speakers included Tom DeFalco, Allen Bellman, Alex Saviuk, Ron Wilson, Randy Emberlin, Wendy and Richard Pini and others. I was happy to be at the tribute and participate in it. The crystal clear truth of Stan’s life is that he will never be forgotten. He will be remembered for his characters, stories and all he brought to the comics industry. In that spirit, I thought I would use this week’s column to talk about some of my favorite Stan Lee stories.

Many of these stories owe a great deal to Stan’s collaborators, be they artists like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or writers like Larry Lieber. This makes them no less Stan Lee stories. He was the light at the beginning of the tunnel and our guide on so many thrilling journeys. He will be forever honored for this.

Topping this too-short list is “Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!” [Fantastic Four Annual #1; 1963] by Lee, Kirby and Dick Ayers. At 37 pages of a desperate Fantastic Four defending New York from an invading Atlantean army, it was the most epic comics story I’d ever read at that time. The Four dealt with injuries and what seemed to be overwhelming odds. Namor was villain and tragic hero within the same story. The personalities of the characters were well crafted and somehow more real than the DC heroes and villains of the era. Add multiple bonus pages that introduced the FF’s world to me and the reprinting of the team’s origin and its first meeting with the Amazing Spider-Man. No wonder this comic book above all the others I’d read inspired me to want to write comics myself. It was, as I have noted elsewhere, a pivotal moment in my life.

I could write an entire column on my favorite Fantastic Four tales. I was bowled over by the Thing/Hulk battle (with key appearances by the Avengers) that ran in issues #25-26 [April-May 1964]. I would not be able to name many runs of a series that surpass issues #36-53 [March 1965-August 1966] with the introduction of the Frightful Four, the defeat of the Fantastic Four by their evil counterparts, our powerless heroes teaming with Daredevil to battle Doctor Doom in their Baxter Building headquarters, another battle with the evil FF, the introduction of the Inhumans, the Galactus trilogy, “This Man, This Monster!” (one of the finest examinations of heroism and redemption in comics history) and the first appearance of Marvel’s first black super-hero, the Black Panther.

I have the same problem with Spider-Man, which featured countless classic stories by Stan, Ditko, John Romita and other great comics artists. Heck, I’d have the same problem with just about every one of the early Marvel super-hero titles.

Spider-Man’s origin is one of the best in comics, featuring as it did the line that sums up the essence of the super-hero genre for me: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” Then there’s Amazing Spider-Man #33 [February 1966} where Spidey is trapped beneath an impossibly large hunk of machinery with the life of Aunt May on the line. Moving into the Romita era, I was thrilled by “The Petrified Tablet Saga” than ran from issue #68 through #77 [January-October 1969].

Tales of Suspense 69

So many great super-hero stories. The audacious Avengers yarn where the founders left the team to a roster that consisted of Captain America and three reformed villains. The X-Men’s first meeting with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Giant-Man battling the Human Top. Sub-Mariner’s quest in Tales to Astonish. Iron Man’s battle with the Titanium Man. The introduction of the Falcon. Daredevil trying to prevent the much more powerful Sub-Mariner from harming innocent New Yorkers. Those glorious double-sized issues of Silver Surfer, drawn by the legendary John Buscema. Thor. Incredible Hulk. Doctor Strange. Stan and his collaborators took the super-hero genre to places no previous creators had taken it.

I came to Stan’s other comics writing after I’d been hooked by the Marvel super-heroes. Giant monsters always fascinated me as a kid and still do so today. I think the classic pre-hero giant monster story is “Fin Fang Foom!” from Strange Tales #89 [October 1961 by Stan, Larry and Jack. Set in Taiwan and Communist China, the hero is the scholarly nerd we saw in many of these stories. Ridiculed by his father and his serving-in-the-army brother for not also being a solider, he uses his knowledge of mythology to awaken the ancient dragon of the title and trick him into destroying the Communist military forces ready to invade Taiwan…and then he tricks Fin Fang Foom back into his centuries-old slumber. Nerds often rule in these giant monster thrillers.

The Lee-Ditko “surprise ending” tales are also favorites of mine. Just five pages long and yet so many of them are unforgettable. I’m especially fond of “The Terror of Tim Boo Ba!” from Amazing Adult  Fantasy #9 [February 1962]. Tim Boo Ba is the supreme ruler of his planet until he is wiped from existence by a flash flood. It turns out his planet is part of a small scale model and the flood is the splash of water spilled on the model by a young boy. That blew my mind as a kid.

Sgt. Fury 18

Stan’s work on Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes was impressive. Though more pulp adventure than the war stories editor/writer Bob Kanigher was publishing over at DC Comics, they had their frequent moments of unforgettable human drama. The last page of issue #18 [May 1965] haunts me to this day. Having gotten up the courage to ask Pamela Hawley to marry him, Fury learns that she died rescuing others in a bombing attack and that her last words on this planet were “Tell my wonderful American sergeant how much I love him.” If you think that page has lost its impact over half a century later, guess again. I had tears in my eyes as I wrote this paragraph.

One more. A short story from Rawhide Kid #18 [October, 1960]. “A Legend is Born!” is one of my favorite Lee/Kirby collaborations.  In five masterful pages, Stan and Jack show their understanding of human nature, delivering action and one of the best “punch lines” ever.

The Kid is trying to have a peaceful meal when a bully, not knowing the identity of the young man, tries to push the Kid around.  Five panels is all it takes for Rawhide to show that bully and everyone else in the bar the folly of such behavior.

Rawhide escapes before the sheriff arrives.  The witnesses proceed to describe the Kid to the lawman.  They claim he was a giant with four guns the size of cannons and fists the size of sledgehammers. They say his voice was like the growl of a caged lion.  The sheriff is thrilled to have such a good description.

The last panel captions make the story…

For the record: The Rawhide Kid had an unusually low, mild voice! He was five feet, three inches, in his stocking feet, and had never in his life weighed more than one hundred and twenty-five pounds! His hands were normal size, a mite on the small side, maybe, and he carried no more than two regulation Colt .45’s!

 But human nature is what it is, and men will always color what they say!  That is why none of the records really agree about the Rawhide Kid – that is how legends are born!

This week’s column barely shows the top of the iceberg of terrific Stan Lee stories I have read since I first discovered Marvel Comics in the summer of 1963. I hope I wrote about some of your favorites this week. I know you have your own favorites. If you have your own column or blog, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, please share your favorites with the rest of us.

Stan truly loved his fans and he gave us a plethora of reasons to love him right back. We will never forget him. Excelsior!

I’ll be back next week with some holiday gift suggestions. Or, as we usually refer to them, some reviews of cool comics and related items. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #283

Stan Lee passed away on Monday. When I learned of his passing, this is what I posted on social media:

Stan Lee. He was an inspiration, a mentor and a friend. I don’t have the words at this time to express how much he meant to me and how much he will always mean to me. Thank you, Stan.

Almost immediately after I posted that, Cleveland19 News asked me if I could rush to the station to appear on their five o’clock news program and talk about Stan for a few minutes. I dug around in my closet hoping that at least one of my suits was good to go, drove to downtown Cleveland while my cell phone blew up with condolences from fans, fellow comics pros and friends (Don’t worry, I didn’t look at any of them while driving.) and got to the station in time for the live broadcast. Doubtless because I learned much of my own speaking style and ability to think on my feet from Stan, I managed to find the words I needed when I needed them.

By the time I got home, there was an email from Mike Sangiacomo of The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer asking if we could talk about Stan for a piece he was writing. Mike’s a friend and fellow comics writer. We talked for several minutes.

There were other calls, emails, requests and texts. I still haven’t responded to all of them. I even missed a call from my local paper – The [Medina] Gazette – though they were able to quote me from my online post and previous interviews they had done with me. By the time Monday turned into Tuesday, I was spent. Out of gas. Not even running on steam. Spent.

I’m writing this on Wednesday. I got a good night’s sleep and had a chance to think about what I wanted to share about Stan. Forgive me if what follows is random. It’s because Stan meant so much to me in so many ways.

Fantastic Four Annual 1

When I say Stan was “an inspiration,” what I really mean is that he was my inspiration for wanting to write comic books. It was July, 1963. On a family vacation. I bought Fantastic Four Annual #1. To this day, I consider it the greatest comic book ever published. It featured the great “Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!” It included dozens of fact pages about the heroes and their foes. It reprinted the origin of the team and their first meeting with Spider-Man. It opened me to an entire universe of great characters, creators and stories. Most importantly of all, it made me realize that creating comic books was a job and it was a job I wanted.

I learned to read and write from the comic books before I was four years old. Adults in my family would read them to me before that. I wanted to cut out the middleman. I fell in love with this means of telling stories. Oh, I read a whole lot of prose books as well, but the comics were special to me. As a slightly older youngster, I would act out my own adventures of the Challengers of the Unknown or the Justice League of America using my Louis Marx and Company toy soldiers. I always felt bad about designating one such soldier as Wonder Woman. Today, as an adult, I would applaud her courage in being her true self.

I discovered the Marvel Universe at a time when I might well have moved on from comics. Stan and his artistic co-creators made their world so exciting that I was hooked on comics as never before.

In his letters pages, Bullpen pages, “Stan’s Soapbox” and even in the stories themselves, Stan included the readers in this amazing new world. We wanted to be part of it, either by joining the Merry Marvel Marching Society or, in the case of future comics creators like me, by working on those glorious comic books.

Secrets Behind Comics

I found a copy of Secrets Behind the Comics by Stan Lee at a comics convention. That 1947 booklet became my Bible. I even used its awkward two-column format for writing scripts in my first attempts at same. I wrote stories for countless fanzines. I was training myself to write for Marvel Comics.

When I was hired to assist Stan on The Mighty World of Marvel and other produced in New York and published in England weekly comics, he became my mentor and teacher. I learned so much from him about writing, about salesmanship, about showmanship and more. There was never a moment when I felt he took the fans for granted. He loved them and always wanted to do right by them.

The two most important lessons that Stan Lee taught a generation of comics writers were these:

With great power, there must also come great responsibility.

There is good and evil in all men.

That first nine-word quote sums up the essence of the super-hero genre. Whether those heroes live up to it or not, it is the always  goal their better selves reach for.

The second eight-word quote is just as important. It gave license to creators to write about super-heroes who were flawed, sometimes tragically so, and super-villains who were more than their crimes. Without this lesson, I don’t think I would have written all those redemption stories I’ve written over the years. In a sense, this is also a lesson of hope.

In real life, I often consider both quotes. I try to live up to the responsibilities of the public forums I enjoy. With less success, I try to consider the good in people I might otherwise loathe with every fiber of my being. Even those who have done me grievous wrong in my career have done good turns for others.

Stan Lee was the most transformative creator and figure in comics. Every writer who followed him was inspired by him in one manner or another. Some will dispute that statement of mine. I suspect that, I can refute their claims for virtually any writer they claim was not influenced by Stan.

Come back next week for the second part of my tribute to Stan Lee wherein I talk about some of my favorite Stan Lee stories. I think some of the stories on my list will surprise you.

© 2018 Tony Isabella