TONY’S TIPS #210

When recently contemplating my favorite comic-book companies that are gone but not forgotten, I knew early on that all my top choices would be publishers from before I started working in the industry. What sort of surprised me when I got to choosing the comics outfit I missed the most was that it was the American Comics Group, best known as ACG to the fans of the 1960s.

When I reading their comic books in the 1960s, there were only four ACG titles: Adventures into the Unknown, Forbidden Worlds, Unknown Worlds and Herbie. Almost every story and maybe every story in those issues was written by editor Robert E. Hughes utilizing a variety of aliases. The “voice” of Hughes was also evident in the letters page where he was never afraid to challenge readers if he felt they didn’t appreciate a story he thought was great or praised a story he felt was one of his weaker efforts. He even faced down trolls who wrote insulting letters to his comics. Yes, there were trolls back then. We just didn’t call them that.

Hughes also had a knack for making average and even mild-mannered characters the heroes of his stories. I never got tired of seeing some put-upon schlemiel rise up to a challenge and change his life for the better. As veteran readers of my work know, I’m a sucker for a good redemption tale.

For some time now, the UK-based PS Artbooks has been reprinting both Adventures into the Unknown and Forbidden Worlds in hardcover editions. At great peril to my checking account, I’ve been buying and enjoying them. My latest was Forbidden Worlds Volume Twelve [$59.99], which reprints issues #71-76, cover-dated October 1958 to March 1959. There are many highlights in those issues.

Ogden Whitney drew all six covers. An underrated talent, Whitney’s cast of characters – you would see similar types on his covers and his interior stories – were realistic representations of ordinary human beings. Exactly the sort that would serve as the protagonists in Hughes’ stories.

However, it was not just human beings who showed surprising courage or learned important life lessons in these tales. “The Iron Brain” was a robot who developed independent thought and wanted to be accepted by the humans around him. It wasn’t a unique concept for a story, but Hughes and artist Mike Roy told it in such a way as to make the characters, even the robot, very real.

There are some amazing artists in these issues. Many of them were and remain underrated, but there are stellar turns by John Forte, Paul Reinman and John Rosenberger. A story drawn by John Buscema is indicative of his amazing talent, and even Al Williamson shows up for a story. Solid, steady and sometimes sensational visuals were not at all alien to ACG’s comic books.

The highlight of this particular volume is “Herbie’s Quiet Saturday Afternoon” by Hughes and Whitney. This is an early adventure of the stout young hero with thick glasses who is generally considered to be ACG’s best continuing character. Right from the start, this kid was clearly a star.

As long as PS Artbooks reprints these wonderful ACG comic books, I will continue buying them. They might be dangerous to my financial well-being, but they delight my soul.

ISBN 978-1-78636-007-6

******************************

Escape from Monster Island

Escape from Monster Island [Zenescope; $15.99] could be an above-average movie of the sort beloved by creature-feature afficinados. The premise is that the U.S. Government has been capturing dozens of species of “monsters”, keeping their existence secret from the public and imprisoning them on an island for experimental purposes. Yes, experimenting on these creatures is monstrous, so labeling the test subjects as “monsters” is definitely calling the kettle black.

The monsters pretty much took over the island a few years back and all that’s keeping them from going beyond the island is the force field that locks them in. But the force field is failing, an elite mercenary squad is being sent it to recover vital research and the military wants to nuke the island as soon as the force field stops working. The clock is definitely ticking.

Written by Joe Tyler from a story by Joe Brusha and Ralph Tedesco, Escape is entering. Some of the characters – human and “monster” – are well developed. Others are little more than cannon fodder. This graphic novel, which collects the six-issue comic-book series, has exciting action, scary “monsters” and surprising twists. The Carlos Granda art is excellent, both in the actual drawings and in telling the story in a visually smooth manner. Best of all, the adventure has a satisfying ending, something that still seems to be a great challenge for many comics creators.

Escape from Monster Island isn’t an award-winning comics work, but it is a solid and enjoyable tale. I recommend to my fellow monster-movie fanatics. And, hey, if you’re a movie maker with a reasonably decent budget, you might want to take a look at this book for your next film.

ISBN 978-1942275374

******************************

Civil War II

Speaking of comics with unsatisfying endings, not to mention a heap of other shortcomings, I give you Civil War II [Marvel; $50]. Let me amend that. I wouldn’t give you Civil War II on account of we’re friends and friends don’t hurt each other that way.

Collecting Civil War #0-8 and a story from Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Civil War), this hardcover book is another sad example of Marvel shooting itself in the crotch for shock value. Yeah, I know “foot” is the usual target, but, hey, shock value. Did it work?

Ulysses, a new Inhuman, seems to have the power to tell the future with certainty via the horribly realistic visions he receives and “lives” through. Which is enough for Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) and other wannabe totalitarians to start locking up people because Ulysses says so. They aren’t locking up people for crimes they’ve committed. They’re locking up people because one man – one man – is saying they will commit those crimes. Which is all fascist Captain Marvel needs to upend constitutional and moral rights. Even after she’s given evidence that Ulysses may not be batting the thousand percent she has been claiming.

Congratulations, Marvel. I’ll never be able to think of Carol as a hero again. Maybe it’s time to retire her and bring back Mar-Vell to assume the name of Captain Marvel. His being dead shouldn’t stop you. You threw logic out the window with this and so many of your other “big freaking event” series.

Sidebar. There’s supposed to be a Captain Marvel movie. I sincerely hope the Marvel Cinematic Universe chooses to ignore Civil War II. It would be nice to have the real Carol Danvers up there on the big screen and not the evil twin of the comic books.

Civil War II is not recommended for readers of any age. Even beyond the disastrous dismantling of Captain Marvel’s legacy, it lacks an ending that resolves any of the issues it raised. It simply takes Ulysses out of the equation. Disappointing.

ISBN 978-1-302-90156-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #209

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is one of my favorite Marvel Studios movies. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) is even better. It has all the humor of the first film plus it amps up the action (big stuff going on) and the human drama (made me tear up a few times). Here’s the quickie summary from the Internet Movie Database, which is always my first stop when I’m reviewing a film:

“Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.”

The movie opens on a splendidly weird battle between the Guardians and a slimy space monster. Their job: protect the super-batteries that power the world of the Soverign, a golden-skinned race who believe themselves superior to all others. Which is probably why, after the heroes defeat the slimy space monster, Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries. He’s like that.

Though the action – chases through space, crash landings, a battle with a near-omnipotent being – is breathtaking, what takes this sequel to its greater heights are the human stories. Quill’s desire to find his father. Gamora’s troubled relationship with her sister Nebula. Yondu and his Ravagers’ exile from the larger community of Ravagers, the reason for their breach of the space pirates code and their misery at being outcasts among outlaws. Characters finding unexpected common ground with others. Even more than in the first movie, the characters come to life in ways that make them very real to the audience.

The acting is as good or better than in any of the Marvel movies. For that matter, it’s as good or better than in most other movies released in 2017. Chris Pratt (Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Kurt Russell (Ego) and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper as, respectively, the voices of Baby Groot and Rocket are all amazing. But, the star of the film is Michael Rooker, who deserves an Oscar nomination for his layered portrayal of Yondu. It’s the performance of a lifetime and left me eager to see what he does next.

Marvel Comics readers will squeal with sheer delight at all the new characters the movie introduces into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The vastness of that universe is used to great effect and, even if a viewer doesn’t share the “oh, wow” recognition factor of devoted Marvelites like me, the writing never leaves said viewer out of the loop. What a ride!

Director and writer James Gunn probably won’t get any nominations for either of his roles on this movie, but he deserves them. I am already looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be in the theaters for several weeks to come, but, if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t put it off. You’ll want to see it more than once and you’ll want to tell your friends and loved ones about it. If the fates are kind, the movie will be available for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD before the winter holidays. It would sure make my gift shopping easier.

******************************

Lois Lane novel

Lois Lane: Triple Threat by Gwenda Bond [Switch Press; $16.95] is the third hardcover novel in the reimagining of the classic comics character by the noted young adult and children’s author. In these books, teenage Lois and her family have settled in Metropolis after bouncing around from army base to base depending on where her dad, General Sam Lane, was stationed. She’s made friends at her school and works part time for the Scoop, a teen department of The Daily Planet. And she has an online boyfriend she’s never met in person. He goes by the screen name SmallvilleGuy.

This time around, mysterious teens with super-powers are turning up in Metropolis and are targeting Lois. She’s already made enemies in her brief career as a journalist, including the gang boss who ran the city before she helped put him away and the still-at-large mad scientist who worked for said gang boss. Now there is another new player on the scene, a woman claiming to be hundreds of years old. All this while Lois’ dad continues to investigates reports of the flying man he and her once saw, a flying man who saved their lives. Oh, yeah, one more thing:

SmallvilleGuy is coming to Metropolis with his parents so he and Lois can finally meet. Pressure, much?

Bond’s Lois Lane is one of the best versions of the character. She is a dedicated journalist, but she also has the empathy to consider the people behind the stories. She has a suspicious mind, but she is also learning to trust people. Like SmallvilleGuy, she wants to do good in the world, which sometimes means making touch decisions, not all of which this reader would agree with.

I’ve enjoyed all three of these Lois Lane novels. I recommend them to you and hope we’ve not seen the last of them.

Lois Lane: Fallout [$16.95]

ISBN 978-1630790059

Lois Lane: Double Down [$16.95]

ISBN 978-1630790387

Lois Lane: Triple Threat [$16.95]

ISBN 978-1630790820

******************************

Frozen

My weekend light reading was Disney Frozen #1-6 [$2.99 each], which were published by Joe Books, a Canadian comic book company with the rights to publish comics based on Disney’s animated feature films and TV shows. I’ve been aware of the company’s existence, but this is the first time I’ve read any of their offerings.

Written by Georgia Ball and drawn by Benedetta Barone – with some other hands on deck from time to time – the Frozen comic books are aimed at young readers, but not so young that it prevents an older reader from enjoying them. The longer stories are good and usually have morals about family, friendship and goodness to share. Their drawback is that Ball seems to shy away from any real suspense of sense of jeopardy. Even as a kid, I wanted stories to have a little edge to them.

A couple issues of Frozen are filled with short gag stories of one or more pages. These fall so flat that I wonder if they come from U.K. comic books. While there are amazing Disney comics coming out of Italy and other European countries, the Disney U.K. product has been almost unfailingly tepid…and that’s coming from a writer who once had the job of making them somehow less tepid for the American audience.

I liked Frozen – the movie – a lot. Kids love Frozen a lot. Those kids would certainly be thrilled to have Frozen comic books, which make great little gifts and rewards for the youngsters. However, if you’re an older reader, you’ll want to pass on these comics.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #208

Everything I’m writing about this week should be considered my pick of the week. They’re all so terrific I couldn’t choose just one of them. This is a wonderful time to be a comics fan.

Nadia Pym is The Unstoppable Wasp [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. She’s the daughter of Hank Pym and Maria Trovaya, his first wife. During the Cold War, Trovaya was kidnapped and killed by Russian agents. What we now know – besides the Cold War continuing to this day with Russia interfering in our elections and being ruled by a murderous dictator – is Maria lived long enough to give birth to a daughter of whom the kinda dead for now Pym was unaware. I’m simultaneously appalled and impressed by this continuity implant.

Nadia was raised in the same Red Room program in which Black Widow was trained. Getting hold of a Pym Particle – what allows Ant-Man and others to change their size – she escaped and came to America. I’m hearing Neil Diamond right now, are you?

Nadia is brilliant and so full of determination and wonder that I can’t help but love her. The Red Room clearly couldn’t lay a glove on her. She has helped the Avengers and other heroes. She has the blessing of and is helped by Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. She’s being guided by Edwin Jarvis, once voted the 25th best Avenger and who I would rank higher on that list. She has used her abilities and considerable inheritance to form G.I.R.L. – Genius in (action) Research Labs – and recruit gifted young women to do their scientific research in a female-friendly atmosphere. She’s become friends with Mockingbird, Moon Girl, Ms. Marvel, me and any comics readers who love positive super-heroes whose comic books make them feel all happy inside.

Writer Jeremy Whitley is the creator of Princeless, a comics series about a courageous and smart princess who refuses to abide by the stereotypes to which society would hold her. It has been nominated for two Eisner Awards – Best Single Issue and Best Comic for Kids Ages 8-12 – and five Glyph Awards, winning three of the latter in the categories of Best Female Character, Best Writer and Story of the Year. He and Nadia deserve to win more awards because his work on The Unstoppable Wasp is downright transformative.

Issue after issue, artist Elsa Charretier delivers clear, exciting storytelling in a pleasing spritely style that conveys action and emotion with equal aplomb. I don’t use the word “spritely” lightly. Her art is magical.

Praise must also go to color artist Megan Wilson, who casts scene after scene in vibrant hues that support the stories, and editors Alanna Smith and Tom Brevoort for what they do to facilitate this most remarkable comics series. I’ll be shocked if The Unstoppable Wasp doesn’t get nominated for and win a whole bunch of comic-book awards next year.

The Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 1: Unstoppable! [$12.99] will be coming out in September. The trade paperback will collect the first four issues of the title and Nadia’s earlier appearance in All-New, All-Different Avengers #14. I recommend this book to comics readers of all ages, and to public and school libraries.

ISBN 978-1302906467

******************************

Astro City

In this year’s Eisner nominations, Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson [Vertigo/DC] is up for Best Continuing Series and my pal Kurt is up for Best Writer. Both should win.

Astro City sets the standard for consistent high quality in issue after issue. I tend to read comics series in batches and recently read issues #37-43 [$3.99]. The high quality has become a given for this series, but I am equally impressed by the variety of stories to be told in this universe.

We get stories of heroes (and a heroine) defined by their eras and the rebellious attitudes and music of those eras. There’s not even a slight doubt in my mind that I would buy ongoing series starring Mister Cakewalk or Jazzbaby. But that’s not Astro City’s style. It is an anthology series that always satisfying while always leaving me wanting more.

We get stories about a human woman – a lawyer – who lives in Astro City’s spooky Shadow Hill neighborhood. She ends up representing a magic-based super-heroine before a tribunal of supernatural beings.

We meet the super-hero the city was named for and a super-villain who has been stranded on an island for years. We get some wondrous background on the Gentleman, one of my favorite of the Astro City heroes. All of these stories are entertaining, poignant with great art and storytelling. I think even the most jaded super-hero fan in the world would be filled with delight reading Astro City.

Astro City Vol. 15: Everyday Heroes [$24.99] is the most recent of the Astro City hardcovers. It collects issues #37-41. I recommend it to any reader who loves super-hero comic books and comic books in general.

ISBN 978-1401274931

******************************

Hero-a-Go-Go

I’m only about 50 pages into the 272-page Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters, & Culture of the Swinging Sixties by Michael Eury [TwoMorrows; $36.95] and yet, here I am, deeming it worthy of pick-of-the-week status and recommending it to you. Sure, I suppose I could have sped my way through the entire book. But the pages I have read were enough to convince me this is a tome to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Eury is a comics fanatic and the editor of the esteemed Back Issue magazine. In this book, he weaves a symphony of “camp” comic books and popular culture, bounding from riff to riff as he explores the likes of Magicman, Nemesis, Metamorpho, Captain Action, the super-heroic versions of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Werewolf, Captain Klutz, Herbie, Super-Hip, aspects of Batman and Batmania and much more. It’s a book filled with essays, histories and interviews with Bill Mumy, Ralph Bakshi, Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean), Ramona Fradon and other Sixties legends.

I’m taking my time reading this treasure trove of fun facts, but I have the sacred responsibility – it’s the Code of the Tipster – to alert you to the book sooner rather than later. Recommended it to local and school libraries. Purchase a copy for yourself. Purchase a copy for your best comics-reading pal. You will be glad you did. Now excuse me while I read about Jerry Lewis and Super-Goof.

ISBN 978-1-60549-073-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #207

The comic book was way better than the movie. I’m talking about The Assignment [Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics; $19.99], the adaptation of the 2016 limited release movie directed by Walter Hill and co-written by Hill and Dennis Hamill. I watched the film as a video on demand. There’s a mildly convoluted history to the Matz/Jef graphic novel, which I’ll cover as tersely as possible. First, here’s the basic plot:

A hitman murders the beloved brother of a brilliant rogue surgeon. The surgeon hires one of the hitman’s clients to kidnap the killer and bring him to her. She performs gender reassignment surgery on him. That’s both her revenge and her experiment. Will the assassin accept this second chance at life or will he continue his violent ways?

Hamill wrote the original screenplay in 1978. It was called Tom Boy and its protagonist was a juvenile delinquent who raped and killed the wife of a plastic surgeon. Hill optioned the screenplay twice, rewriting it. He had success with a earlier graphic novel in France and so decided to do The Assignment as a graphic novel. The graphic novel attracted an investor, who asked that the movie be done very cheaply and that it have recognizable names in the cast. To Hill’s credit, the movie doesn’t look cheap and he did sign some terrific actors for key roles.

I watched the movie after reading the comic book. The movie lacked the depth of characterization of the comic book. The actors always seemed to be consciously acting and, given the pedigree of the cast – Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub – that was immensely disappointing to me. Rodriguez plays hitman Frank Kitchen both before and after surgery and never looks the part of the male hitman. The frequent violent action scenes were very well staged. There were some good moments between Frank and a woman who becomes important to him, and between Frank and a dog he rescues from a man who trains dogs to fight. The ending of the movie indicates a new direction for Frank, but doesn’t demonstrate it in the slightest. Like I said, the comic book is way better than the movie.

The Wikipedia page for the movie doesn’t mention Matz or Jef. The former is a well-known French writer who has had previous graphic novel success with some of his works being adapted or optioned for movies. I couldn’t find any information on Jef, but, after looking at his riveting drawings and storytelling, I agree with the graphic novel’s description of him as an “artist extraordinaire”.

Matz and Jef bring Frank Kitchen to life in much more vivid fashion than did the movie. I felt they got me more into his head than the movie. Best of all, they continued the story, albeit only for a few pages, beyond the movie. Their satisfying final scenes made me want to see more of this character and his life going forward.

Sidebar. In this column, I used male pronouns for Frank because he isn’t transsexual. His gender reassignment was not something that he wanted. It was done to him against his will. He remains Frank, even as he makes adjustments to his life. I intend no disrespect to the trans community.

I tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible because I think the adaptation is well worth reading. If Hill, Matz and Jef – or other comics creators – have more to say about Frank, I would definitely be on board with those stories.

ISBN 978-1785861451

******************************

Donald Duck Sundays

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Complete Sunday Comics 1939-1942 by Bob Karp and Al Taliaferro [IDW; $49.99] is my pick of the week. These original newspaper strips were reproduced from the pristine original material in the Disney Vaults, the real-world equivalent of Scrooge McDuck’s Money bin.

Donald made his Sunday newspaper debut in several episodes of the popular Silly Symphonies page. His own comics page launched shortly after that and became an instant hit. Reading these strips, each a short comedic story that stands on its own, made it clear why that was the case. They are masterful little cartoons on paper featuring Donald battling against a world that defies him and often gets downright insulting about it. One has to admire the confidence of our man Don, as well as his endless optimism and pure stubbornness. Even though these strips are almost eighty years old and are clearly products of their times, they are still entertaining today.

Writer Bob Karp was a master gag writer. He started working for the Disney company in the 1930s and continued writing the Donald Duck newspaper strips into the 1970s. Artist Al Taliaferro was a great counterpart to Karp with the ability to add a surprising fluidity to his two-dimensional drawings. It’s easy to imagine these amazing strips as animated cartoons.

Donald Duck: The Complete Sunday Comics 1939-1942 was an absolute joy to read. I recommend it for readers of all ages.

ISBN 978-1631405303

******************************

Red Hood and the Outlaws

Continuing my quest to get relatively current with DC’s super-hero comics, I read Red Hood and the Outlaws though issue #8 [$2.99 per issue]. Sadly, the title isn’t doing it for me, even though I think the team roster is nothing short of brilliant.

You have Red Hood (Jason Todd) who was Robin and therefore in line to be Batman before he got murdered and revived and turned into a mostly-but-not-always grim-and-gritty vigilante at odds with much of the super-hero community. You have Bizarro, who, as we know from countless stories, is an imperfect duplicate of Superman, but kind of likeable in his own way. You have Artemis, who is not completely unlike Wonder Woman.

Red Hood and the Outlaws stars DC’s big three except they are not the big three, just a twisted reflection of the big three. Which is a terrific notion. Out of the hope that this comic-book series will rise to the level of the terrific notion at its core, I’ll continue to read it. I aspire to optimism.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #206

I binge-read David Walker’s Power Man and Iron Fist #1-14 plus the Power Man and Iron Fist: Sweet Christmas Annual #1 ($3.99 for the regular issues; $4.99 for the annual). Given I have considerable fondness for the title stars and some history writing both of them, I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to reading such excellent comic books.

Walker combines the street-style of Luke Cage with the mysticism of Danny Rand in this series. The two heroes and their friendship are well used with their back-and-forth conversations being very funny at times…and serious when it’s called for. There are nice moments with Luke and his family – at least until some other writer in some other book split up Luke and Jessica – and reflective moments when the heroes, especially Danny, question their choices and place in this world. I’m a guy who likes to see the real world reflected in the super-hero comics he reads. Walker brings that realism to the fantastic Marvel Universe in fine fashion.

Sidebar. I haven’t read all of Civil War II yet, mostly because I am bone-weary of these mammoth and ultimately useless major events. I’m guessing whatever went down between Luke and Jessica went down there. Or maybe it was in the new Jessica Jones series, which I’ve read but which seems to take place after the split. The new Jessica series has the disadvantage of being tied to yet another, oh, I’ll just say it, manifestly dumb event. The bottom line is that I liked Jessica in Power Man and Iron Fist a heck of a lot more than in her own new series. May the Universe protect us from creators who think the way to write super-hero comic books is to dump on those heroes unrelentingly. End of sidebar.

Walker brings back a great many characters from Luke and Danny’s pasts with great takes on those characters and the Harlem in which they operate. Luke and Danny mostly stay on the side of the angels, but there’s a considerable grey area in which yesterday’s foe might become today’s ally. That the issues to date have offered terrific redemption stories clicks another of my boxes. This is really smart writing that draws readers into the world of Heroes for Hire.

Did I mention my heart beat just a tad faster when Heroes for Hire reopened for business? I love the concept.

Several artists were involved in the issues I read. Sanford Greene is my clear favorite, but Flaviano, Elmo Bondoc and Scott Hepburn all did fine work as well.

Getting back to Civil War II for a moment, that sad event has too many heroes – heroes – deciding that it’s perfectly okay to arrest, sentence and imprison people for crimes that they haven’t committed yet on account of some psychic Inhuman says they’re going to commit those crimes. If I’m a super-hero or even just a typical American citizen who actually understands what our country is supposed to be about, my immediate response is:

“Are you kidding? That’s not just a massive civil rights violation, it’s immoral on every level. What’s next? We start taking missions from Alex Jones?”

To sum up…Civil War II was really dumb.

There were about a thousand tie-ins to Civil War II. Walker had one of the best takes on it. He has Luke Cage game the system to trick the fascist super-heroes into doing what he wants them to do. Gee, how come the psychic didn’t see that coming?

Power Man and Iron Fist is my pick of the week. There have been two collections of the series to date. Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys are Back in Town [$15.99] reprints the first five issues. Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2: Civil War II [$16.99] collects the next four issues plus the Sweet Christmas Annual. I recommend both volumes for fans and libraries alike.

Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys are Back in Town

ISBN 978-1302901141

Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2: Civil War II

ISBN 978-1302901158

******************************

Nightwing

I also binge-read DC’s Nightwing #11-17 [$2.99 per issue]. Before and after Rebirth, this has been a so-so title for me. That said, the recent storyline involving Dick Grayson returning to Bludhaven, meeting and working with some reformed villains, starting a brand-new and interesting romance, and running afoul of a Bludhaven cop who doesn’t think highly of costumed heroes was entertaining. I’m a sucker for bizarre groupings of heroes and villains, even when, as with this story, I didn’t know who most of them were. It could be I never read the comics they appeared in previously, it could be those comics were utterly forgettable. That doesn’t matter to me as long as I can follow the story – which I could – and if the story has a satisfying conclusion – which it did. So kudos to writer Tim Seeley and artist Marcus To on this serial.

Unfortunately, the issues following that story bring back another of the grotesque villains that have dominated the Batman titles for too long. There’s a sameness to these villains with their bizarre motivations and their inclinations toward disfigurement and other tortures. Psychopath after psychopath works better in a TV series like Criminal Minds than in a comic book. Mostly because, save for rare cases, TV series don’t bring back their psychopaths in issue after issue. I’m a huge fan of Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould’s willingness to polish off even a great villain to make room for the next one.

I like Nightwing well enough to continue reading it. But I’d like it to be more than Batman Lite.

******************************

Avengers Steed Peel

One more item for this week and it’s a pip. The Avengers Steed and Mrs. Peel: The Comic Strips [Big Finish; $16.67 or thereabouts] is a collection of the eight, gorgeous fully-painted stories that ran in D.C. Thompson’s Diana magazine in 1967. The strips, drawn by Emilo Frejo with assistance from Juan Gonzales, ran two pages per week from issues #199 to #224. These stories have also been adapted by Big Finish for its series of Avengers audio adventures.

I ordered this book for its novelty value and because Mrs. Peel was a boyhood crush of mine. I was pleasantly surprised to find these stories were clever and not at all beyond the scope of the Avengers TV episodes I loved. Steed and Peel were in character, albeit not quite as flirty as in the TV series. The art, as mentioned above, is gorgeous. The more I learn about these British comics weeklies, the more I wish I were writing for such magazines today.

I enjoyed this collection tremendous. It also features informative articles on the making of the audio adventures. It’s a fascinating volume and the only downside is that it has me wanting to buy the audio adventures as well, and watch all the Steed and Peel episodes again, and start searching out the various paperback adventures of the team, and…oh, blimey, I’ve got it bad.

ISBN 978-1-78187-697-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #205

If, like me, you approve of punching Nazis, then Mark Fertig’s Take That, Adolf! The Fighting Comic Books of the Second World War! [Fantagraphics Books; $29.99] is the coffee table book of both your dreams and nightmares. The handsome softcover book provides insight into the role comic-book heroes of the 1940s played when Hitler and his Axis cohorts threatened the world. This colorful 252-page tome includes more than 500 covers from that era, covers drawn by comic-book legends like Jack Kirby, Alex Schomburg, Bill Everett, Charles Biro, Jack Burnley, Reed Crandall and others.

Fertig’s text can be a little too dry at times, but it does a good job explaining the times that brought these garish covers to life. The covers are the real attraction of this book. They are exciting and horrifying, both for the brutal violence they depict and the clear racism that will startle and upset readers with more modern, evolved sensibilities. I would never suggest censoring these images – there’s that whole bit about what happens when you forget history – but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to see the word “Jap” on the cover of a Superman comic book, even one from the 1940s.

The cover of Red Dragon Comics #7 [Street and Smith; July 1943] was the one that stopped me in my tracks. Drawn by an unknown artist, it shows the hero blasting the flesh off the bones of a Japanese officer and exposing the officer’s shattering spine. Adding to the impact, the officer isn’t drawn as the usual cruel and dehumanizing caricature with which the Japanese were usually depicted. He looks human and it makes the violence all the more shocking.

Many of the covers have little or nothing to do with the interiors of these comic books. Heroes like Batman and Superman are fighting alongside American soldiers or bringing them supplies, which they almost never did in their actual stories. Heroes raised money for the war effort with covers often including reproductions of bonds and stamps.

It wasn’t just costumed heroes who supported the soldiers on their covers. Five different covers from July 1945 show the same letter urging readers to buy War Bonds. Bugs Bunny holds the letter on the cover of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics #45. Andy Panda and Charlie Chicken post the letter on New Funnies #101. The cover of Popular Comics #113 has the letter being held by Smilin’ Jack, Pat Ryan and Connie from Terry and the Pirates, and Smokey Stover. Head shots of the stars of Super Comics #86 – Dick Tracy, Smitty, Winnie Winkle, Moon Mullins, Harold Teen, Tiny Tim – float around the letter on that cover. On the cover of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #58, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Dopey react the Spirit of ‘76 image with the letter turned into a flag.

The comics industry reached out to its readers with covers showing humor and heroism, horror and determination. Fertig’s collection of these images is a terrific way to capture the times that inspired those covers. I recommend this book highly while cautioning readers that some images might be too alarming for youngsters.

Take That, Adolf is my pick of the week. Get a copy for yourself, then recommend it to your local public and school libraries.

ISBN 978-1-60699-987-5

******************************

Batgirl

I’m reading my way through more of DC’s “Rebirth” titles. Some of them delight me and others leave me cold. My interest in all things Green Lantern has been on a downward slide since those titles went “all the colors of the wind” on us. The Justice League books aren’t doing it for me. This doesn’t mean they are bad comic books, just that they aren’t doing it for this reader.

Batgirl and Batgirl and the Birds of Prey are titles I enjoy, but which aren’t among my favorite DC titles. As much as I like Barbara Gordon in these titles, she still strikes me as too young to have lived all the history that still follows her even after “Rebirth.” Even so, there are things I like very much in these books.

“The Son of the Penguin” story arc that began in Batgirl #7 [$2.99] captured my interest. I’ve read through issue #9 and look forward to learning more about Ethan Cobblepot and whatever relationship he has with his father.

In Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, I’m pleased by the portrayal of the Huntress, a great character who has performed poorly in recent years. She was particularly misused in the ill-conceived Grayson. I disliked that series so much that I get a twinge whenever it gets mentioned, even in passing, in this title.

Both titles have solid writing – Hope Larson in Batgirl; Julie and Shawna Benson in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey – and decent art and storytelling. The stories of the supporting characters add weight to the super-hero stuff. I’m not handing out any awards to either title, but both are entertaining. That’s enough for me to continue reading them and to recommend them to you.

******************************

Poe Dameron

Marvel’s Poe Dameron [$3.99 per issue] is yet another entertaining book. Written by Charles Soule with art by Phil Noto, it’s a Star Wars spin-off that stars the Resistance X-wing pilot introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens [2015]. The title is set immediately before that movie.

I’ve read Poe Dameron #1-12, which features exciting clashes with the First Order and the New Republic. Poe’s supporting cast – droid BB-8 and his Black Squadron of fellow fighter pilots – expand the adventures in good ways. Poe even has his own arch-nemesis in the form of Terex, a former officer of the First Order Security Bureau who has his own agenda going on. This is fun stuff.

You need to be reading all Marvel’s Star Wars titles to follow and enjoy Poe Dameron. The first six issues have been collected in Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron [$19.99]. The next batch of issues will be reprinted in Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 2: The Gathering Storm [$19.99], shipping in July. I recommend these books to Star Wars fans young and old.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron

ISBN 978-1302901103

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 2: The Gathering Storm

ISBN 978-1302901110

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #204

Resolved: I don’t have to know what the heck is going on with DC’s Rebirth event. I’m just know I’m enjoying more of the publisher’s super-hero titles than I was before Rebirth.

A case in point is Superman by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason with art by Jorge Jimenez and Doug Mahnke. I like some issues more than others, but that I can single out a one-issue story or a two-issue story as particularly enjoyable is a huge step up from “arcs” designed to tell one story in enough issues to pad the inevitable hardcover and trade editions.

This time around, I’m looking at Superman #7-9. The current series has a married Clark and Lois living with their son Jon in Hamilton County, three hundred miles from Metropolis. It’s an ongoing “mike drop” for those who claim married super-heroes, much less married super-heroes with children, can’t be interesting.

Issue #7 opens with Superman flying around the world to help some of his super-friends. Predicably, Batman is kind of a rhymes-with-wick about it. The others appreciate the help. Then Clark returns home to spend a night at the county fair with his family, promising Lois there will be no Superman-ing that evening. This done-in-one story is funny and heartwarming and the kind of comic books that’ll put a smile on your face.

Things are more serious in Superman #8 and #9, featuring the two-issue “Escape from Dinosaur Island.” Superman and Jon are working on the latter’s science project when one of the strange crystals in the Fortress of Solitude transports them to another dimension. I’m thinking this other dimension is where the Dinosaur Island of DC’s “The War That Time Forgot” stories is located. Those stories were published in Star Spangled War Stories in the 1960s. The youngsters reading this column won’t know this, but those “soldiers battling dinosaur” comics were prime trade bait when your Tipster was but a lad on Cleveland’s west side. They sold out at the drug stores and other general stores. One issue of Star Spangled War Stories could get you two or three other comics in trade with your neighborhood buddies. They were the gold standard of comics.

Anyway, Superman and Jon meet one of DC’s war heroes from the 1960s and later issues. It’s an nostalgic adventure without being dated. It’s a respectful treatment of the hero and it ends on a satisfying note. If Rebirth means more comic books like these, I’m a willing convert. Well done, DC. Well done.

******************************

Angel City

My pick of the week is the amazing Angel City by Janet Harvey with artist Megan Levens and colorist Nick Filardi [Oni Press; $3.99 per issue]. I read the six-issue series in one sitting. I don’t know if this means anything, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that it suddenly hit me that both the writer and artist are women. Maybe it means I got so into the story so quickly that the creators were in the background. Yeah, let’s go with this is such a page-turner the story consumed all my attention until I finished it.

Dolores Dare is a Hollywood hopeful who ends up working for the mob as a leg breaker. Set in 1930s Los Angeles, the six issues show her coming to Hollywood with a fellow hopeful. When her friend’s body is found behind the famous Chinese Theater, Dolores starts looking for the killer.

Angel City includes real people and places. Gangster Bugsy Siegel is a character. The Zoot Suit riots are part of the story. Harvey and Levens draw their readers into the era in which powerful men played powerful games with innocent women and others subservient to their often-depraved desires. As she tracks the killer and tries to bring him to justice, Dolores learns things that maybe she would’ve preferred not to learn.  But no inconvenient truth deters her from her self-imposed mission.

Angel City has terrific writing and art. Almost every issue has an historical essay that ties into the main story and brings that much more reality to it. I love this series a lot and hope we have not seen the last of Dolores Dare.

Due out in August, Angel City: Town Without Pity [$19.99] collects the six-issue series. If you’re into noir fiction, you’ll want this book. If you have friends or loved ones into that kind of fiction, you might want to think about gifting them with this book. And, if you’re like me and love both great comics and noir fiction, you’ll want to buy the book for yourself. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 978-1620104262

******************************

Wendy Project

The classic Peter Pan story gets a modern, psychological retelling in The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and artist/colorist Veronica Fish [Papercutz/Super Genius; $12.99]. On a late summer’s night, teenager Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake. Her two younger brothers are in the back seat. John is traumatized by the crash and goes mute. Michael is not found, though Wendy insists he was taken away by a flying boy. The police ask if she has a history of drug use. Her parents send her to a therapist and a new school. As the young woman struggles with her guilt, she becomes more and more convinced that the flying boy is real, and comes to believe Michael wants her to join him in some other place. Osborne and Fish tell this story so well that readers cannot be certain what really happened. Even the satisfying conclusion casts doubt.

Due to be released in May, The Wendy Project is a fresh new take on an old favorite. It’s today, but it’s also yesterday. It is a tale that will move you. Just the thing for comics readers who like to explore different stories in our art form and the different ways of telling them. I recommend it to those readers.

ISBN 978-1-62991-786-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #203

Veteran readers of my online writings know that I am a man of many parts. Yes, I am a comic-book fan and professional. But my second pop culture love is cheesy monster and horror movies. And, of all the cinematic creatures I have enjoyed, none means as much to me as Godzilla. Call him Gojira, his original Japanese name, or call him Godzilla, he’s still the King of the Monsters.

G-Fan #114 [Winter 2017; $6.95] is the latest issue of editor and publisher J.D. Lees’ quarterly fanzine of The Godzilla Society of North America. The 88-page magazine is filled with great articles on Godzilla, amazing photos and more.

The lead articles discuss Shin Godzilla, the first new Toho Studios Godzilla movie in years. The intelligent commentary comes by way of Daniel DiManna and former Godzilla movie actor Robert Scott Field. Both bring a lot to the conversation, though I would disagree with some of Field’s more political observations. I saw the movie during its brief run in the United States and like it as much as DiManna did and more than Field did. 

The issue also presents a photo-festooned report on an exhibition of kaiju memorabilia; a retrospective of the little-seen Dogora the Space Monster; a reproduction of the pressbook for Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster; an article on The Lost Continent; writer Allen Debus bringing his considerable science chops to a critical history of flying monsters Rodan and Varan; Lyle Huckins linking lost worlds of five seemingly unrelated films; kaiju art and fiction, a letters column and a news column. It’s the kind of magazine a Godzilla fan can relax with for hours and days.

With the disclosure that your beloved Tipster is also the pastor of the First Church of Godzilla on Facebook, G-Fan #114 is my pick of the week. How could I do less for a magazine whose stated goal is “International understanding through Godzilla!”

******************************

Hookjaw

Hookjaw was the star of Action, a mid-1970s British comics weekly that horrified the sort of adults that generally get horrified at comics that strike out in daring new and often bloody directions. Devised by the legendary writer and editor Pat Mills, Action was, to some extent, the Asylum of its time. The Asylum owes much of its success to mockbusters, entertaining movies not unlike movies with much bigger budgets from much bigger studios. Action featured its own “Dirty Harry” type and a knockoff of the film Deathball. With Jaws being the first summer blockbuster, Action also had its very own monstrous white shark.

Hookjaw was the nickname of a shark that had a gaff hook stuck in its jaw. Besides its considerable gore, the strip had environmental themes. Years after Action was toned down and disappeared, a good chunk of Hookjaw was reprinted in Judge Dredd Megazine. I read it there and loved it.

Move ahead to 2017. Titan Comics has launched a new Hookjaw title [$3.99 per issue] that adds a socio-political aspect to the mix of carnage and environmental concerns. Written by Si Spurrier with art by Conor Boyle, colors by Giulia Brusco and lettering by Rob Steen, the new series has shark researchers, Somali pirates, covert U.S. military and spooks and more.

Hookjaw is thought to be a legend, one that even appeared in comic books in the 1970s, until it reveals itself again. That brings the pro-environment protestors and the media to the party. Snacks will be served, albeit it to Hookjaw. It’s a solid adventure tale with mystery and real-world sensibilities. Each issue also has a prose article on some aspect of sharks.

Hookjaw is a terrific comic book series. I’ve read the first three issues and I’m…okay…hooked. I recommend it to readers who, like me, like comics and monster movies.

******************************

Elvis

Decades after his death, Elvis Aaron Presley continues to fascinate pop culture historians and his countless fans. I was never an avid Presley fan, but, to this day, I can hear many of his songs in my head and conjure up that image of a smiling young man with a guitar who looked like a real-life version of Captain Marvel, Jr.

Elvis by Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Henanff [NBM; $19.99] is a hardcover comics biography of Presley. Though the graphic album is limited by its brief 80-page length, the script does cover quite a bit of territory while include at least passing mentions of the other great musicians whose work inspired Presley or were inspired by Presley’s work. Le Henanff’s photo-realistic art adds emotion and weight to the Elvis story. It’s as if each page were hanging in an art gallery just beyond your touch. It’s an impressive book and, to my mind, a natural gift for that Elvis fan you know.

ISBN 978-1-68112-076-8

******************************

Though I hesitate to use this column to promote my own work, I did want to let you know about my upcoming convention appearances. This list isn’t 100% complete. I’m talking to a few other conventions. But, if you want to meet me, ask me questions and get me to sign a few books, you can find me at these events:

April 29-30: FantastiCon (Lansing, Michigan)

May 6: Free Comic Book Day at The Toys Time Forgot (Canal Fulton, Ohio)

May 19-20: East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (Philadelphia)

July 14-16: G-Fest (Chicago)

August 20: NEO ComicCon 3.0 (North Olmsted, Ohio)

October 20-22: Grand Rapids Comic-Con (Grand Rapids, Michigan)

November 4-5: Akron Comicon (Akron, Ohio)

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #202

Logan [2017] is the most grim and violent of the Marvel movies. It is not my favorite of the Marvel films, but I would not hesitate to list it as one of the best comic-book movies of them all.

Directed by James Mangold, who co-wrote it Scott Frank and Michael Green, Logan is set in the year 2029. It is a dark era for mutants. There have been no mutant births in a quarter-century. Mutants are near extinct. They have been and continued to be hunted by “black ops” and artificially-enhanced Reavers. Mutant DNA is harvested to be used in the creation of new mutants, children and clones looked upon as things rather than human beings.

Logan, played one last time by the brilliant Hugh Jackman, is one of the last remaining mutants. He is old. As his healing abilities weaken, he is dying from adamantium poisoning, his own body killing him. He works as a chauffeur, trying to make enough money to take to the seas with Charles Xavier.

Xavier, played by the even more brilliant Patrick Stewart, must be hidden away from the world. His physical deterioration makes him a threat to all, human and mutant alike. He is cared for by Caliban [Stephen Merchant], a mutant seeking atonement for his former role as a mutant hunter. On the high seas, Xavier will have peace from the voices that scream in his mind day and night. He is a man whose illness led to a terrible tragedy he can never forget or forgive himself for. Yet, such is Stewart’s art, that Xavier is also a man who refuses to abandon hope for the future.

Into this bare bones of an existence come two forces. One is Laura [Dafne Keen], a child created from Logan’s own DNA. The other force are those who hunt her: Zander Rice [Richard E. Grant], a soulless scientist who plays God with Laura and those like her; and Donald Pierce [Boyd Holbrook], the leader of the Reavers.

Without revealing too much more than I have already revealed, let me say that watching Logan was an emotional experience for me. It is not an easy movie to watch. It is grim and it is violent, but it is also heroic and thoughtful and ultimately satisfying. It speaks to me of parenthood and responsibility. It is, at its end, the end of Logan’s lifelong struggle to be more man than beast. There are moments, especially in the final scenes, that had me crying on the inside. Which is where the real tears live.

One such moment has nothing to do with the movie itself. For what I believe is the first time in a non-Marvel Studios production – Logan is a 20th Century Fox film – there are acknowledgments of at least some of the comic-book writers and artists whose comic books contributed to the movie. The special thanks don’t include all the creators they should have included, but their presence in the end credits is a good start for 20th Century Fox.

Logan is a great film. I recommend it to older viewers. Trust me. The “R” rating is accurate. Keep the young kids away from it until they’re older. But, for adults, prepare to experience a super-hero movie that can be dark without abandoning light. This one is truly a masterpiece.

******************************

Batman Wonder Woman 1

Batman ‘66 is among my favorite super-hero comics of recent years. I’ve also enjoyed the more serious Wonder Woman ‘77. No surprise I have been looking forward to the six-issue Batman ‘66 Meets Wonder Woman ‘77 [$3.99 per issue]. Having now read the first two issues, I’m not in the least bit disappointed.

Written by Jeff Parker and Marc Andreyko, the series doesn’t have as much humor as the Batman ‘66 title. But it’s a solid start with Batman and Robin first opposing Catwoman and Talia – the former is stealing a rare book for the latter – and then flashing back to a World War II era auction in which Thomas and Martha Wayne donated the tomes to raise money to find the Nazis. A young Bruce Wayne has his first meetings with Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia and Wonder Woman. The League of Shadows want the books. The Nazis want the books. Young Bruce isn’t of a mind to let that happen.

The art is by David Hahn (pencils), Karl Kesel (inks) and Madpencil (colors). The Catwoman in the story is the Eartha Kitt version, my favorite Catwoman after Julie Newmar. Gotham’s Camren Bicondova has not yet become Catwoman in that TV series, but, when she does, she will definitely be a contender.

With the next issue, Batman and Robin ‘66 will be connecting with Wonder Woman ‘66. Which makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing Batman ‘77 before the end of the series. I hope so.

Batman ‘66 Meets Wonder Woman ‘77 is solid super-hero adventure. It gets my recommendation.

******************************

Alters

Alters [AfterShock; $3.99 per issue] is the story of people and a world in transition. Charlie/Chalice is transitioning into her true self at the same time her super-powers have activated. The growing number of “Alters” has changed the world forever with a murderous sociopath trying to force them to serve him while a team of heroes tries to rescue them. The non-super characters are watching their world and their lives change around them.

Alters is the tale of a journey, both within and without its pages. Writer Paul Jenkins has created an intriguing character in Chalice, but his stories reflect his own journey as he strives to create a positive protagonist who is unlike himself and as he discovers the many ways in which he can tell her story. His editorials, starting in the second issue, reflect and illuminate that journey in these scariest of times for the United States and the world.

Artist Leila Leiz is doing a first-rate job with both the drawing and the storytelling. Drawing comics is more than drawing a series of pictures. Those pictures have to relate to one another and move the writer’s story forward from panel to panel and page to page. Colorist Tamra Bonvillain adds additional weight to the art and the story with her work. It’s a great-looking comic book.

Of course, as my veteran readers know, I am a story guy first and foremost. Jenkins gets high marks from me for giving me a character I can cheer for and relate to. Charlie herself, of course, but also her brother Teddy, who has cerebral palsy. I’m also quite enjoying the slow growth of Charlie’s father. Jenkins put some work in on a character who could have easily become a stereotype.

Alters ties with Logan as my pick of the week. It’s super-heroics in a fantasy world that feels real. It delivered some extraordinary surprises in its first four issues. It’s a keeper and I recommend it to one and all.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #201

Rick Norwood’s Comics Revue [Manuscript Press; $19.95 per issue) is one of my favorite magazines. Every issue is packed with a terrific selection of some of the best newspaper comic strips of all time. For me, the main attraction of the magazine has long been Modesty Blaise by creator/writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Enrique Romero. However, there are so many great strips in each issue that I never skip to the back of the issue to read Modesty first.

Modesty is the retired leader of a benign criminal organization – no drugs, no prostitution, no murder for hire – who disbanded the organization when she retired. With Willie Garvin, the right-hand man she rescued from a downward spiral, she misses the excitement of her past. She meets and becomes of considerable service to Sir Gerald Tarrant, a top official of the British Secret Service. She and Willie deal with old enemies on a frequent basis and also help friends and strangers in need. I love Modesty and Willie, who are, simply put, two of the best characters ever created and, push comes to shove, will name their strip as my favorite adventure strip of all time.

Comics Revue’s current Modesty adventure has a vacationing Tarrant troubled by a woman who sells arms to terrorist. It turns out the woman is one of those old enemies mentioned above. Halfway through the story and I’m already ranking Granny Smythe as one of the most interesting adversaries Modesty and Willie have faced.

On the road to Modesty Blaise, Comics Revue presents over a dozen other remarkable strips. “Tarzan’s Double” by John Celardo and Dick van Buren takes us into a hidden land with a beautiful ruler who’s smitten with the Lord of the Jungle. Sir Bagby by brothers Rick and Bill Hackney is a brilliant albeit little-known comic strip about a bumbling knight serving a bumbling king with the dubious aid of a bumbling wizard. The hilarious strip has only been reprinted in the pages of Comics Revue.

The rest of the line-up: The Phantom (1969) by Lee Falk and artist Sy Barry; The Phantom (1950) by Falk and Wilson McCoy; Krazy Kat by George Herriman; Rick O’Shay, a western strip with action, humor and heart by Stan Lynde; Flash Gordon (1959) by Harry Harrison and Mac Raboy; Flash Gordon (1969) by Harrison and an unnamed artist; Tarzan (1977) by Russ Manning; Alley Oop (1940) by V.T. Hamlin; Gasoline Alley (1982) by Dick Moores; Steve Canyon (1974) by the legendary Milton Caniff; Steve Roper (1956) by Allen Saunders and William Overgard; and Buz Sawyer (1965) by Roy Crane. All of these great strips add up to 132 pages of classic entertainment.

Comics Revue is my pick of the week. It’s available at fine comic-book stores everywhere or you can order it directly from Manuscript Press at P.O. Box 336, Mountain Home TN 37684. A single issue will cost you $20 with $59 for a one-year subscription and $118 for two years. With the quality of the newspaper strips and the magazine’s high production values, I think it’s a bargain.

******************************

Black History

Image Comics continues to surprise in delightful ways. The latest such surprise was Ronald Wimberly’s Black History in Its Own Words [$16.99], a hardcover collection of his illustrations of important black figures with “the words that defined them and their times.” Wimberly is an artist, cartoonist and designer who has worked with DC/Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse and other publishers. He also wrote and drew the cartoon essay “Lighten Up,” which is something worth looking up online.

Wimberly portrays 39 historical and pop culture figures. The roster includes Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, Ice Cube, Laverne Cox, James Baldwin and Lena Horne. Each illustration is prefaced by a bit of biographical information and, within the drawing, has a quote from the figure. Two quotes that hit me hard were Cox’s “When you put love out in the world it travels, and it can touch people and reach people in ways we never expected.” and Baldwin’s “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” For me, the first quote represents hope for our sad country and world…and the second represents the reality for too many of my friends and fellow Americans.

Black History in Its Own Words is an important, vital collection. It belongs in public and school libraries. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0153-5

******************************

Movie Comics

Confession. Books about comic books that come out of academia are real tough sells to me. It often comes down to the vast difference between someone – me, for example – who actually knows about making comic books and someone – them – who thinks they know about making comic books and surround their conversation with convoluted mumbo jumbo. But, hey, I couldn’t even last a full year of college before I ran screaming into the real world.

In the case of Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page by Blair Davis [Rutgers University Press; $27.95], I went for it because the subject matter was one of keen interest to me. It turned out to be a good decision on my part.

Davis keeps the mumbo jumbo to a bare minimum as he discusses the relationship between comic strips and comic books, and the movies, cartoons, TV shows and even radio programs based on them. Then he sweetens the informative pot by also covering the reverse: how the comics adapted movies and TV shows to their medium. The result is a fascinating overview of the relationship from the beginnings of the American comic strips and comic books through the 1960s.

Movie Comics is a solid piece of work. I approve.

ISBN 978-0813572253

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella