TONY’S TIPS #155

When I select my “pick of the week” each week, it’s generally the comic book, graphic novel, collection or other publication that I enjoyed the most. It’s a little more complicated this time around. I can’t say I enjoyed my choice more than the other things I’ll be writing about in this column, but I do believe this week’s winner is one of the most significant comics collections ever published, and that it’s coming at the right time in comics history.

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix [Fantagraphics; $100] is a two-volume reprinting of the underground/alternative comics anthology that was both part of a movement that changed the way many of us looked at the comics art form and a precursor of the current comics era that may be most notable for its greater inclusion of female writers and artists. When I see how many of my favorite modern comic books and graphic novels are by women, it makes this collection all the more indispensable to comics historians and readers.

I started buying underground comix when I moved out of my parents’ house in the early 1970s. I was working for a local newspaper and lived a short walk from a “head shop” that sold drug paraphernalia, counter culture magazines and underground comix. That I only bought the comix – and I bought them by the fistful – made the shopkeeper nervous at first, but, once he realized I was a comics afficionado, he relaxed. What he never understood was how I could read all kinds of comics from Archie and The Avengers to The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Wimmen’s Comix.

Complete Wimmen's

As with the alternative comics works of today, I found underground comics to be a mixed bag. Then as now, I found artsy-fartsy comics pretentious and uninteresting. I still struggle with and despise lettering that makes reading this works more difficult. While I did not and do not mind a bit of naval-gazing from the comics creators who work this side of the comics street – the personal comics are often the best – sometimes it’s as self-indulgent as any “reality” show featuring the Kardashians.

Wimmen’s Comix was and is no different. Born in a era when, season of love and tolerance or not, women cartoonists were not usually respected by their male counterparts, the stories in these volumes are sometimes more anger then craft and more political statements than insights. But, as with the other comics and graphic novels I love, there are so many diamonds in the rough.

These volumes reprint the pivotal It Ain’t Me Babe Comix and all 17 issues of Wimmen’s Comics, over 700 pages of art and story plus an informative introduction by Trina Robbins, long a favorite comics creator of mine and also one of our most groundbreaking historians. Over 100 cartoonists contributed to these comix/comics and it’s as stellar a line-up as there ever was: Alison Bechdel, Joyce Farmer, Shary Flenniken, Phoebe Gloeckner, Roberta Gregory, Joan Hilty, Carol Lay, Lee Marrs, Cynthia Martin, Barb Rausch, Dori Seda, Mark Skrenes, Carol Tyler and so many more.

If I had to pick a favorite issue, it might be Wimmen’s Comix #6, which was a “bicentennial” issue with entertaining looks at history and herstory. But that favorite pick would probably change the next time I flipped through these volumes. Though the reading gets tough at times, the great stuff in these books makes the effort totally worthwhile. If you want to know how we got here, you have to look back at where we were. That’s why I believe The Complete Wimmen’s Comix is an indispensable part of your comics library.

ISBN 978-1-60699-898-4

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alamo all-stars

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars [Abrams; $12.95] is the sixth book in the wonderful series of graphic novel histories from the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author. Hale is a master of presenting the facts, grim as they often are, in an entertaining and even humorous fashion. The books are suitable for readers as young as eight, but can be enjoyed by adults as well, be they comics fans or history buffs. 

The starting point of the books in this series is Nathan Hale, the hero of the American Revolution, facing his death by hanging. But, taking his cue from Scheherazade, the legendary storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, Hale delays his demise by telling tales of American history to his executioners, including events taking place long after his death. After the initial jolt, this seems perfectly reasonable. Then again, I believe a man can fly.

In this book’s 120 meticulously-researched pages, Hale covers the events leading up to the battle of the Alamo and the key players in those events. It’s the story of Texas, the story of bad things done by men whose history we cleansed to fit modern myths – for example, Jim Bowie was a smuggler dealing in illegal slaves – and the story of how much we lose when we take shortcuts with history. Forgotten is the Goliad Massacre in which 350 men were slaughtered by Santa Ana’s army.

Alamo All-Stars is dense in facts and observations, presenting them in a downright breezy manner. The entire Hazardous Tales series is, to my mind, a must-have for school and public libraries. Nor would these books be out of place in the personal library of comics fans who embrace true variety in their collections.

ISBN 978-1-4197-1902-8

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Heroes in the Night

It came out in 2013, but I only recently discovered and read Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement by Tea Krulos [Chicago Review Press; $16.95]. From time to time, you’ve probably seen TV news reports on the seemingly random citizens who don their homemade, sometimes very sophisticate costumes to fight crime and help their fellow citizens. As Krulos reveals, while the former is not always successful or wise, the latter can have benefits to the communities in which these heroes operated.

Krulos takes his costumed subjects seriously. He doesn’t hold back when examining when heroes are out of their depth of acting in the name of personal glory. But he also applauds their good deeds and their overwhelmingly good hearts. If you don’t tear up a little on reading the segment of the book on Power Boy, a nine-year-old kid facing an incurable disease and the story of his virtual adoption by real-life super-heroes from across the country, then you don’t get super-heroes and super-hero fiction at all. On the flip side, if you’re at all sane, you must be at least a bit concerned about the number of these real-life costumed heroes who cite Rorschach as their inspiration. Shudder.

Heroes in the Night is a fascinating book. I wouldn’t recommend you use it as a super-hero handbook, but it may inspire you to question what you can do to be a hero in your everyday life.

ISBN 978-1-61374-775-9

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #154

April saw me at two comics conventions. My plan for the rest of the year is too make at least two such appearances a month as I barrel my way towards my December birthday and reaching the ripe old age of 65. Time flies when you’re having life.

I want to thank Jesse Noble and Joe Nieporte for inviting me to Gem City Comic Con in Dayton, Ohio, and FantastiCon in Toledo, Ohio. I had a wonderful time at both of their events and hope to return to them in 2017. At the end of this week’s column, I’ll fill you in on my May appearances.

Onward to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Postal [Top Cow/Image; $3.99 per issue]. The ongoing series was created by Matt Hawkins, written by Bryan Hill and Hawkins until Hill went solo around issue #10, drawn by Isaac Goodhart and colored and edited by Betsy Gonia. There are echos of Fargo and Twin Peaks in the series, but it definitely stands on its own as among the most unique titles in the modern age.

The setting of the title is one of its most fascinating characters. Eden, Wyoming is as off the grid as humanly possible. From Postal Dossier #1 [$3.99]:

“You won’t find it on a map, and you won’t find it on satellite imaging. There’s no cellphone towers, no open internet usage, no cable TV, no state infrastructure – not even the road that runs through it…doesn’t have a zip code of designation…not a single trace of record of the town anywhere.”

It’s a town for final chances. A place to disappear to have a life unconnected to your past crimes. Some of its residents have served their time. Others are fugitives. All are under the rule of Mayor Laura Shiffron, whose murderous husband founded the town and ran it until Shiffron and others hung him from a tree. Which didn’t kill him. In a town of criminals, he was the most vicious and he’s not down with Eden yet.

Mark Shiffton is the mayor’s son and its postman. He is said to be “a textbook case of Asperger’s Syndrome.” His difference makes him an amazing detective and, in the series to date, he’s used his gift to help people and uncover Eden”s secrets. If they gave out Eisner Awards for best new character, he would have gotten my vote. Then again, Hawkins and Hill should be lauded for their handling of the character. The writing on this series has been first-rate since the first issue, with each issue making me all the more eager for the next issue.

Goodhart and Gonia deliver visuals worthy of the writing. Just one example of their amazing skill is how they depict the many faces of Maggie Prendowski. The town’s friendly waitress was a drug dealer and perhaps worse. She’s the informant and plaything of a crooked F.B.I. agent. She’s a romantic interest for Mark and, even in this town of false faces and secrets, I think she honestly cares for the postman.

Two trade paperback collections of Postal have been published with a third due out in June. I recommend them highly.

Postal Volume 1 [$9.99]

ISBN 978-1-63215-342-5

Postal Volume 2 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1-63215-592-4

Postal Volume 3 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1-63215-710-2

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Ghost

Pre-Code Classics: Ghost Comics Volume 1 [PS Artbooks; roughly $45-50] is one of the more disappointing books in this ongoing series collecting horror comics of the 1950s. It reprints the first seven issues of the Fiction House title from 1951-1953.

The quality of Fiction House titles is generally inconsistent. It took years for Planet Comics to become a worthwhile title. With its material coming from the Jerry Iger Studio, Fiction House’s writing and art was dependent on who was working for Iger at the time. Some of the writers and artists were very good, others were at the other end of the spectrum. This factors into Ghost Comics because most of the stories in these first issues are reprints from earlier Fiction House titles like Jumbo Comics, Wings Comics and others. Adding to the unsatisfying experience is that the reprints were often cut by two to four pages for the reprinting.

The high points of this collection are the Maurice Whitman covers. There are several stories drawn by Lily Renée, whose work I like, Jack Kamen, Rafael Astarita, and the interesting team of penciler Bill Benulis and Jack Abel. The Benulis/Abel stories may not have been reprints since the Grand Comics Database doesn’t identify them as such. Though some of the “Werewolf Hunter” stories are creepy in a good sense, most of the writing is so-so. Also amusing are a few reprinted stories in which Nazis have become Commies. One must keep up with the villains of the day.

Even when I don’t particularly enjoy a Pre-Code Classics volume, I know there will be comics fans and historians thrilled to have them available. Though I sometimes sell the volumes I don’t like, I do not regret buying them. I love the thought of reading comic books I would never otherwise get to read, even if they are far from the best of the era’s offerings. If you share that with me, then you’ll also be glad for this and other volumes.

ISBN 978-1-84863-759-7

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Horimaya

I read quite a bit of manga, though it’s only a drop in the bucket of what’s available. Of late, I’m drawn more to relationship tales than the action stuff, which I often find repetitive. Interesting characters are what I like in manga and what I strive for in my own comics writing.

Horimiya Volume 1 by HERO and Daisuke Hagiwara [Yen Press; $13] is a relationship comedy. Kyouko Hori is one of the most popular girls at her school, but almost never joins her classmates for abt after-school activities. With her parents constantly traveling for their respective jobs, Hori heads straight home to take care of her kid brother and their house. In a sense, she had dual identities. She is an admired star at school and a plain Jane housekeeper and nanny the rest of the time.

Izumi Miyamura is the opposite. At school, he appears awkward and gloomy and shy. Underneath his plain exterior, he’s a hot guy with piercings and tattoos. One of his daily challenges is to keep his other self hidden from his fellow students, which is not easy when it comes to activities like swimming.

The paths of the two students, opposites in their dual identities, cross. They learn that there are many sides to every person and to every story. They connect and becomes friends. For lack of a better word, it’s a pleasant story with some tense moments and surprises. The writing is solid and the art is lovely. If subsequent volumes are as enjoyable as this one, I’ll keep reading them.

ISBN 978-0-316-34203-2

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If you’d like to meet me, get an Isabella-written comic book signed or just talk comics, I’ll be making two public appearances in May. On Saturday, May 7, aka Free Comic Book Day, I will be at Toys Time Forgot in Canal Fulton, Ohio. Two weeks later, Saturday, May 21, I am a special guest of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia. I would be very pleased to see some of my “Tony’s Tips” readers at these events.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #153

I have no one “pick of the week” for you this week. Instead, I have a three-way tie for that honor. It’s a good week.

Operation Ajax: The Story of the CIA Coup that Remade the Middle East [Verso; $25.95] was published last August. It’s a history in comics form with credits like those in a movie. A Cognito Comics & Verso Books production. Written by Mike de Seve. Edited by Stephen Kinzer. Created by Daniel Burwen. Adapted for comics b Mike de Seve and Jason McNamera. It’s a comics work that will not set well with many readers, introducing them as it were to history which has been routinely ignored by the media and political presentations of the factors and forces that created the turbulent region as we know it today. It is not an easy read.

The story opens in 1953. We get a “cast of characters” at the front of the book, but all are brought to unflinching life as the history unfolds. It starts with the oil, of course, and the fading British empire’s need for it or, more precisely, the power and influence it holds as a result of its control of that commodity. The rightfully revered Winston Churchill is a key player in what was certainly not his finest hour.

Greed for power and wealth. A mistreated and underpaid Iranian work force. Rulers and soldiers and politicians vying for dominance in a region becoming increasingly hostile for foreigners and nationals alike. A real chance for an Iranian democracy dashed nations like England and the United States promoting their interests above all others, often using tactics that most reasonable people would call criminal acts of war. By the time you reaching the final chapter of this history, you will be struck by what could have been the Iran of our time. If only…

As I said, Operation Ajax is a hard book to read. It will not sit well with those who try to reduce the Middle East conflict to such inane statements as “They hate our freedoms” or “Islamic terror.” Certainly they are those who hate our freedoms. Certainly there are those who use “religion” as a front for their own lust for power. But the creation and evolution of the ongoing crisis is not easily or accurately reduced to those talking points.

De Seve is an Emmy-nominated writer and director who has worked for major studios on major animation projects. The book has a cinematic feel to it that serves the telling of this history well. We get the story in chapters, each with its own brief introduction. This makes the complicated history easier to grasp. There’s a foreword at the front of the book and historical materials at the back of the book that add to the understanding of uncomfortable truths. However, it is the sure writing and expressive art that brings the reader into the times in which this history happened.

I admire the craft and the honesty and the intensity of Operation Ajax. I recommend to comics readers as an example of what our art form can accomplish, to those of us who struggle with the complex realities of our times and to libraries committed to serving their patrons well.

ISBN 978-1-78168-923-3

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lois lane

Tim Hanley’s Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter [Chicago Review Press; $18.95] is more than just the facts, m’am. While it is a meticulously-researched, almost obsessively-sourced biography of one of fiction’s best-known journalists, the book’s insights into the presentation of Lois by almost exclusively male editors, writers and artists offer insights valuable to anyone making comic books at a time when female readers are the fastest-growing part of our audience and as female creators are becoming more and more prominent in our field.

Hanley shows us all the many aspects of Lois Lane. In this history, we see her as the “sub sister” wanting to fight for scoops with the boys. We see the feisty reporter who will risk life and limb for story. We see the petulant diva who can’t see what hides behind the glasses of a fellow reporter. We see the subdued woman conforming to the times. We see the unruly child who must be taught lessons, often painfully, by the men in her life. We see the feminist icon fighting for social justice. We see the strong partner in both love and work. So many different versions of Lois Lane.

Hanley makes his most useful contributions to the conversation when he points how often – and to the detriment of the character – Lois is simply there to advance Superman’s story. It makes me consider how often that is done with both female and male supporting players and how I might address that in my future comics writing. Anything that forces me to rethink my art and craft is going to rate pretty high with me.

Investigating Lois Lane is a must-read for comics fans, historians and creators. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1-61373-332-5

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mystery girl

Paul Tobin, co-creator and writer of the glorious Bandette graphic albums, presents another strong female lead in Mystery Girl [Dark Horse; $3.99 per issue]. Trine Hampstead is a street detective and that should be taken literally as her office consists of a chair, a rug and a few plants in front of an apartment building in London. Her sign advertises:

All Mysteries Revealed!!

Everything Solved (Already)

No Questions Asked

Once a mystery is put before her or a question asked, Trine knows the solution to the mystery and the answer to the question. Though she doesn’t know how this ability came to her, Trine utilizes it to help people and to make a living. She doesn’t know what hasn’t been put before yet, but, everything else, yeah. She knows.

Trine is a likeable, relatable hero. Artist Alberto J. Alburquerque makes her real and is equally swell at creating a London that feels right to me. Colorist Marissa Louise uses her hues to work with the story and support it. This comic book, of which I have now read the first three issues, is the complete package.

The more-or-less street level mysteries give way to a case that has more global consequences. This feels like a natural progression and it’s further evidence of Tobin’s skill. He’s become a writer whose work I will always check out.

Mystery Girl Volume 1 [$12.99] will collect the first issues of the title. It’s scheduled to hit stores in July. Even though I bought the single issues, I’ll still be buying the trade. Mystery Girl is not just a keeper. It’s a keeper to be shared.

ISBN 978-1-61655-959-5

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #152

My interest in pre-code horror comics was sparked decades ago when science fiction and fantasy author Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote about them for the weekly Comics Buyer’s Guide. I was fascinated by the subject, but pre-code horror comics were hard to come by in those days. Some EC Comics horror stories had been reprinted in various formats and Marvel’s black-and-white and color horror comics from the 1970s were reprint some of that company’s scary tales from the 1950s, but that was pretty much it.

Today, with so many pre-code horror comics entering into the public domain, publishers like the UK’s PS Artbooks have been collecting entire runs of some pre-code titles in reasonably-priced hardcover editions. Shot from the original comics and sadly lacking any sort of historical context to the reprints, these books are still worth their fifty-bucks-or-so price tags. Just be warned that not every pre-code horror comic is as good as the issues published by EC, or worthy runner-ups like Marvel/Atlas and ACG.

PS’ Pre-Code Classics: Web of Evil Volume One through Three reprint the entire 21-issue run of the Quality Comics title from November 1952 to December 1954. I reviewed the first volume a couple months back, but now I have all three to consider.

Quality was, indeed, a quality publisher. Their biggest hits were Blackhawk and Plastic Man. They reprinted Will Eisner’s The Spirit and, simultaneously, published the adventures of a knockoff name of Midnight. Other notable Quality heroes included Uncle Sam, the Ray, Dollman, Phantom Lady and the Human Bomb. In the teen humor genre, Candy, which I collect when I can afford to, is one of the best of the Archie imitators. I also love The Barker, a quirky series about a traveling circus/carnival.

Horror was not a comfortable fit for Quality, but comics publishers were competing against the great many other publishers who entered the field after World War II and the lure of other entertainments. Sales were declining and no genre was off the table if there was a chance it could sell. Quality never went in for the excesses that some of their rivals embraced, but their horror comics didn’t stand out in any way.

Plastic Man creator Jack Cole contributed to the earliest issues, possibly writing his own stories. I have described his art on these tales as “boisterous” and “dizzying,” but his work was more so on Plastic Man and on rival publisher Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay and Daredevil. To date, comics detectives have not identified the other writers who contributed to Web of Evil.

The stories in Web of Evil feature a mix of vengeful spirits, men pretending to be vengeful spirits, supernatural creatures, science gone horribly wrong and the like. In addition to Cole, Web’s better artists include Charles Cuidera, Charles Nicholas, Harry Lazarus, Sheldon Moldoff and an effectively moody Louis Ravielli.

Web of Evil #20 [November, 1954] is my favorite issue of the title. Cover story “The Monster from the Deep” lifted some of its better moments from the classic 1953 movie The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. “Katumba – The Man-Made Terror” invokes King Kong with its tale of two crooks and their fake monster. “Make-Up for Horror” is a real chiller about a make-up artist whose unusual techniques bring him both fame and ruin. We even get a mummy in “Death from the Tomb.” I was on the fence as to whether or not I was going to keep these three volumes – I’ve sold some pre-code horror collections I didn’t care for – but this issue earned them a place in my comics library.

Pre-Code Classics: Web of Evil Volume One:

ISBN 978-1-84863-873-0

Pre-Code Classics: Web of Evil Volume Two:

ISBN 978-1-84863-898-3

Pre-Code Classics: Web of Evil Volume Three:

ISBN 978-1-84863-910-2

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Clean Room

Speaking of horror…

Gail Simone’s Clean Room [Vertigo; $3.99] per issue is possibly the most unsettling comics series I’ve read this year. It kicks off it Germany with an apparently possessed truck driver running over the young Astrid Mueller. Twice. Astrid grows up to start a cult-like organization that’s even scarier than Scientology. Astrid is one of two protagonists in this series. I use “protagonist” instead of “hero” because I’m not certain where either Mueller or reporter Chloe Pierce sit on the whole good/evil chart. That’s part of why I’m intrigued by and enjoying this series. Six issues in and I am not sure what’s going down and if I have a horse in this possibly humanity-ending race. Some writer that Simone.

Chloe is a sympathetic character, trying to get past her husband’s suicide – he was investigating Mueller – and her own recent attempt at suicide. Chloe is tough and vulnerable, but more the former than the latter. She may have powers that are just now developing, which makes me wonder if Mueller wants to work with her to save humanity or use her for Astrid’s own ends. Some writer that Simone.

Sidebar. Chloe has these neighbors. Very gentlemanly and perhaps a bit slow. I love them a lot. Some writer that Simone.

Artist and colorist Jon Davis-Hunt brings the right atmosphere to the book. His character designs are excellent and his storytelling is top-notch. The right artist for this series.

I’ve read the first six issues of Clean Room and I look forward to as many more as it takes to tell this story. Those issues will be collected in Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception [$14.99] in June. That’s a book you’ll want to read.

ISBN 978-1-40126-275-4

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spirit

My pick of the week is Will Eisner’s The Spirit [Dynamite; $3.99 per issue] by writer Matt Wagner, artist Dan Schkade and colorist Brennan Wagner. Modern comic books don’t seem to have any interest in short stories, so you won’t see anything like Eisner’s classic tales here. Instead, you get a big sprawling story that takes place in Central City and several foreign ports.

When the series opens, the Spirit has been missing for years and is presumed to have been killed by one of his many enemies. Former sidekicks turned private detectives Sammy Strunk and Ebony White are trying to find out what happened to the Spirit while the Dolan family are trying to move on with their lives. There is all kinds of criminal and political intrigue going on in the city. The danger only increases when a definitely alive Spirit returns, raising even more questions. It’s a fun story, seasoned with appearances of old friends and foes.

Nine issues into the series, writer Wagner is maintaining a sweet Eisner ambiance to the stories while Schkade does the same with the visuals. I’m enjoying this series a great deal and so recommend it to all of you.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #151

I have no shame.

My pick of the week is Black Lightning [DC Comics; $19.99], which collects the stories from Black Lightning #1-11, Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #1 and World’s Finest Comics #260. These stories, mostly written by yours truly with two by the legendary Dennis O’Neil and mostly drawn by original series artist Trevor Von Eeden, have never been reprinted since their original appearances from 1977 to 1979. Okay, if you want to quibble, Black sLightning #1 was reprinted at reduced size in a DC digest magazine during that period, but that’s it. Unless you read these stories in their original publications, they will be new to you today.

When I created Black Lightning, it was the not-quite-culmination of a personal quest to create an inspirational African-American super-hero who readers black and white, young and old, could relate to. My quest was born of my longing for simple fairness, long before I heard and embraced the term “diversity.” I had black friends who read comic books and they didn’t often see themselves in the comic books they read. I thought that was wrong. So when I got into the comics industry in 1972, I wanted to do something about it.

I got my training at Marvel Comics under the tutelage of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. I was privileged to be part of an amazing bunch of writers which included Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Don McGregor, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. When I moved to DC and new challenges, fate and two questionable scripts by another writer gave me a rare opportunity to make comics history. But you can read all about that in this collection’s new introduction.

In these stories, you will meet Jefferson Pierce, a man who, after some disappointments in his life, returns to the high school where he first earned renown as an athlete and embraces his studies as a teacher. He came looking for a new start, to encourage students as he had been encouraged young minds and, perhaps, to reconnect with the sense of community that has always been so vital to our black communities and our nation. What he didn’t expect to happen was to become a reluctant soldier in a war. With the fourth issue of the original series, each story began the same way:

Jefferson Pierce: a man who came home and found that home in the merciless grip of the 100. Now he fights the mob on two fronts, in the classroom as a dedicated teacher and in the streets as the dynamic…Black Lightning!

In these stories, you will see Black Lightning accept the mantle of super-hero while contending with ruthless mob-boss Tobias Whale and minions such as the Cyclotronic Man and Syonide. You will see him meet such classic DC characters as Inspector Henderson, Jimmy Olsen and Superman. You will see the earliest work of future super-star artist Trevor Von Eeden.

When a writer reads stories he wrote four decades ago, he’s putting his ego at risk. Long-forgotten flaws in the work leap out at you. But, at the risk of sounding immodest, I think these stories hold up pretty well. There are moments that make me proud, such as when Black Lightning explains to Superman why he can do what Superman cannot do or when Jeff Pierce makes peace with his past. There are thrilling action sequences, tragic losses and joyous victories to be had. I’m proud of this work and I hope you’ll find enjoyment and merit in it as well.

Jeff Pierce’s “mantra,” as it were, was his version of an old poem:

Justice, like lightning,
Should ever appear,
To some men hope
And to other men fear.

Thanks to Den Didio, Geoff Johns, Paul Santos and other DC folks, the hopes I had for this creation live on. Their respect for Black Lightning and my work is genuine and welcome. These old tales could represent a new beginning for Jefferson Pierce and what he stands for. I invite you to join the dream.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6071-2

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Captain Marvel

Welcome to the new comics industry. Sisters are continuing to do it for themselves and I’m extremely glad for it. As regular readers of this column know, many of my favorite super-hero and other comics star female characters and are often written and drawn by talented creators who happen to be women.

The post-Secret Wars relaunch of Captain Marvel [Marvel; $3.99] is by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, show runners and writers on Marvel’s Agent Carter television series. In the relaunch, Captain Marvel (Carol

Danvers) commands the Alpha Flight space station, an early warning and defense station protecting our planet from alien encounters of the unfriendly kind. That the first issue of the new series was also the first comic-book script for the duo boggles my mind. It’s the equivalent of hitting a home run in your first at-bat as a professional. Maybe not a perfect out of the park homer, but a home run just the same.

Carol is everything a super-hero should be. Human and super-human. We can relate to her frustration at the bureaucracy involved in her new job while admiring her leadership chops. The use of the Alpha Flight characters is a little problematic for me – Puck asking for Carol’s autograph, the seemingly unnecessary mention that Sasquatch and Aurora were once romantically involved – but I’m intrigued by other supporting cast members as well as the mini-Babylon 5 vibe of the station’s dealings with various extraterrestrials. Two issues in and I’m hooked.

Captain Marvel looks and reads well with solid art by Kris Anka and colors by Matthew Wilson. If you’ve enjoyed other super-hero titles I’ve recommended, you’ll enjoy this one, too.

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Mandalay

Mandalay by Philippe Thirault with art by Butch Guice, Mike Perkins and others [Humanoids; $39.95] is a dark and exciting adventure set in colonial Burma in the 1940s. It’s the tale of twin brothers who find themselves on opposite sides of conflicts between the Burmese and their British occupiers, between the British and the invading Japanese and between their passions for the same woman, with all of these situations inflamed by dark powers released from an ancient, cursed city. Published in a glorious, hardcover, oversized edition, Mandalay is 188 pages of excitement, horror, romance and tragedy. Once I started reading the graphic novel, I couldn’t turn its pages fast enough…and then I went back to savor them again.

Mandalay almost slipped under my radar, but a brief online mention led me to it. The story is compelling with an ending that is both satisfying and wonderfully unnerving. The Guide/Perkins are is top-notch, as are the forty or so pages drawn by other skilled artists. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to seek out other comics work from Europe. Read it and see for yourself.

ISBN 978-1-59465-131-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #150

My pick of the week isn’t a comic-book series or a graphic novel. It’s the delightful DC Super-Hero Girls Special that premiered on Boomerang a couple weeks back. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time I watched the one-hour presentation. I’m pretty sure I giggled with glee a few times during that hour.

DC Super Hero Girls has been around for several months. Wikipedia describes is as a “super-hero fashion doll and action franchise” with the basic premise as “At Super Hero High School, well-known DC heroes attend classes and deal with all the awkwardness of growing up with the added stress of having superpowers.” I knew it was out there, but it never quite penetrated my conscious mind. It took a mention in TV Guide to catch my attention.

Thirteen short animated episodes of the series were posted on the DC Super Hero Girls website and YouTube. This first season ran from October of last year through February of this year. These episodes introduced the concept, showed Wonder Woman coming to the school, and featured over two dozen other DC characters. Most of the heroes were re-imagined as teenagers.

In the special, the newly-arrived-to-Earth Supergirl enrolls in the school and faces some real challenges from the get-go. But she also makes friends like Barbara Gordon (who becomes Batgirl during the special), Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Harley Quinn and Bumblebee. One of the neat things is that, as principal Amanda Waller says, this is a place where gifted teenagers learn how to be heroes and that seems to include characters we normally think of as villains, such as the Cheetah. Some of the faculty might also given you cause for pause. For example, Gorilla Grodd is on the staff.

The show has terrific voice actors, including Grey DeLisle (Wonder Woman/Lois Lane, Anais Fairweather as Supergirl, Mae Whitman as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Tara Strong as Harley Quinn/Poison Ivy and many more. In a nice touch, Dean Cain and Helen Slater voice Pa and Ma Kent. The character designs are vibrant with the animation and storytelling also being first-rate. I love this series.

The special will continue to air on Boomerang for the time being, so you’ll get no further spoilers from me. But I recommend you give it a viewing at your earliest opportunity. It will leave you with a good feeling in your heart and your head. I liked it so much that I immediately bought Wonder Woman at Super Hero Hire [Random House; $13.99], the just-released young readers novel by Lisa Yee. Expect a review of that book in the very near future.

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Faith

I don’t think there has ever been a better time in the comic-book world for super-women of all ages. Of late, it seems many and maybe most of my favorite comic-book titles star female characters. The partial list includes Ms. Marvel, The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl, DC Comics Bombshells, Bandette, Harley Quinn and Lazarus. That many of these are the work of the new wave of female creators who’ve gained prominence in the industry is no coincidence.

Joining this sorority of super-heroes is Faith [Valiant; $3.99 per issue] by Jody Houser with art by Francis Portella and Marguerite Sauvage. Faith, a telekinetic psiot who can fly and create a field allowing her to carry and move objects, has been a member of both the team called the Renegades and the government-sanctioned Unity. She’s on her own now, trying to live up to her idea of what a hero should be. Oh, yeah, and she’s one of us. A fan.

Faith Herbert is hitting the comic-book heroics in a manner which makes me worry that she’s heading for disappointment. She’s adopted a secret identity as online pop culture writer Summer Smith, which sort of speaks for itself. She has super-hero dreams. Even though her ex-boyfriend Torque has revealed himself to be a colossal jerk, she hasn’t lost all faith in him. I love this young woman and hope the world will not be too cruel to her.

Even though the Valiant Universe is fairly dense, Houser makes it easier for those of us who can no longer remember all the ins and outs of the multiple fictional universes we follow. Her stories are well-crafted with a nice blend of action and quite moments. Both of the two issues I’ve read have had compelling cliffhangers drawing me to the next issue. Her dialogue is as natural as it gets in the unnatural world of super-heroes. This is top-notch writing.

I’m also loving the art. Portella does the “real” sequences, which are the bulk of each issue. Sauvage does the “fantasy” sequences. The storytelling, by which I mean the panel-to-panel and page-to-page progression, is excellent. The drawings themselves are equally so. Color artist Andrew Dalhouse adds vibrancy without overpowering the drawings. Letterer Dave Sharpe is one of the best in the comics business.

Faith is a terrific series and I recommend it to all lovers of good super-hero comics. You know, make that great super-hero comics.

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Hellcat

I also read the first two issues of Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat by Kath Leth (writer), Brittney L. Williams (artist) and Megan Wilson (color artist). The first issue opened with our heroine describing her plans for “Super-Temp: the Patsy Walker Agency for Heroes and Other Cool Friends What are In need of Work.” Patsy had me at “So, waddaya think?” even as I was slapping my forehead in regret that I hadn’t come up with that idea first.

The second page of the story summed up Patsy’s history in a manner funny and succinct. I believe I love Leth in a fatherly or perhaps grandfatherly way. Yes, I am ancient.

The two issues continued to amaze me. Patsy tries to work retail. Believably banter between characters. Lively art and storytelling. Telekinetic roommate. Poor broke Patsy becoming a celebrity because rival Hedy Wolfe holds the rights to and is republishing the Patsy Walker comic books created by Patsy’s deranged mother when the kid was a teenager. An old enemy on the horizon.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat has what most super-heroes comic books lack: joy. I read an issue. I feel happy. I don’t get that feeling from enough comic books. One more reason I recommend this title to all of you who want to enjoy their super-heroes and not just wonder where they went wrong.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #149

Welcome to another column of reviews, views and even a plug for my latest comics effort. We’ll start with my pick of the week…

Awarding “pick of the week” to Bart Simpson #100 [Bongo; $4.99] may seem like rewarding bad behavior, but I’ve enjoyed the kid’s comics and TV adventures for too long not to honor the final issue of his series. For the grand finale, Nathan Kane (story and edits) and Ian Boothby (script) have pulled out all the stops for a 44-page time-traveling, reality-altering epic. Kane and Boothby are accompanied by excellent artists Nina Matsumoto (pencils), Andrew Pepoy (inks) and Art Villanueva (colors). It’s a great looking comic book.

This extra-long story has a twist around every turn of the pages. There are lots of laughs and wild action scenes. There is even an heartwarming moment when Bart encounters Mrs. Krabappel in Heaven. I got a little misty over those pages. They cemented my view that this issue deserves a nomination in next year’s comic-book awards.

Bongo Comics itself deserves ongoing praise for its publications. They feature entertaining done-in-one stories (and sometimes more than one done-in-one story) that don’t rely on continuity beyond a passing familiarity with the Simpsons TV series. I’m not even sure you need even a passing familiarity to enjoy Bongo’s wonderfully-written, well-drawn and impeccably produced comics. Their various titles have been on my buying list for years, outlasting a number of favorites from other publishers. If there were a Tony Isabella Seal of Approval, Bongo would get it.

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all-new x-men

All-New X-Men [Marvel; $3.99 per issue] stars four of the original five X-Men, brought from the past to the present because modern-day Hank McCoy went mad scientist with time travel. His intentions were good. Cyclops and the current X-Men had gone off the rails in a big way and Hank thought seeing their younger selves would remind them of a time when they weren’t megalomaniacal jerks. It didn’t work, but the old kids back on the block were interesting as they looked with horror on what their future selves had done. Also, the young Jean Grey outed the young Iceman as gay, which came as a shock to the adult Iceman. Good times.

In the post-Secret Wars version of the title, Jean Gray is starring in an X-Men title that’s not as good as this one. Angel, who has a glowing set of wings for some reason, is romancing the all-new and female Wolverine. Other members include Kid Apocalypse, a bamf name of Pickles and Idie Okonkwo, a mutant with the power of temperature manipulation. It’s a good group and I especially like how the young Cyclops is trying to hide from and then live with the sad fact that his adult self was a megalomaniacal jerk to end all megalomaniacal jerks. While young Scott Summers has inspirational and leadership chops, he’s afraid to make the most of them.

Written by Dennis Hopeless, the first three issues featured Scott and the others crossing paths with a gang of young Chicago mutants who called themselves the Ghosts of Cyclops. Kids do the stupidest things. It was a solid story with excellent art by penciler Mark Bagley, inker Andrew Hennessy and colorist Nolan Woodward. I liked it these issues, though I somewhat alarmed that the fourth issue is a lead-in to Apocalypse Wars, “the next big X-Men event.” Because, Bullwinkle, that trick never works.

If All-New X-Men is still good after “the next big X-Men event,” I will keep reading and recommending it.

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extraordinary x-men

Extraordinary X-Men [Marvel; $3.99] is the X-Men title that’s not as good as the one I just reviewed and, in truth, it’s a title that seems designed to make me not like it. The roster includes Storm, who I don’t know anymore; Iceman, whose struggles with realizing he is gay get a little creepy when he asks a much younger gay mutant for advice; Magik, who has always been unlikeable; Colossus, who is way too enabling of his kid sister; Cerebra, some sort of Sentinel, but a good one; Nightcrawler, who is currently suffering through a nervous breakdown; Jean Grey, who shouldn’t be in this book; and an alternate universe version of Wolverine, a character who is still overused in any universe. They have been fighting the uninteresting Mister Sinister and a clone of the dead older Cyclops. Oh, yeah, and this team and the mutants they shelter are all living in a sanctuary in Limbo. Where’s House Hunters International when you need it?

That’s my come away from all this: bad choices, twisted characters, very clumsy handling of Iceman’s life-changing revelation and the disappointment the whole “mutants are deathly allergic to Terrigen mist isn’t making for much better, more emotional and more gripping stories. I would give this one a pass.

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Garfield small

You’ll have to look real hard to find my credit in my latest comics work. I did the “dialogue restoration” for The Garfield Show #6: Apprentice Sorcerer [Papercutz; hardcover $12.99, paperback $7.99]. The short version of what I do is:

I take the French comics albums adaptations of the popular Garfield TV show and try to restore as much of the original English scripts as the art and space allows. I write some new dialogue here and there as necessary or sometimes because I’m just having so much fun working on these stories.

It’s a great gig for me. Mark Evanier, who produces and does most of the writing for the show, is one of my dearest, oldest friends. Tom Orzechowski, a pal from my pre-Marvel days in comics fandom and another old/dear friend, got his first professional gigs from me. Papercutz editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup is another old/dear friend. Jim has hired me to write for him at three different publishers. In short, I’m having great fun working with three great pals. Buy this book and get it on the fun.

Hardcover: ISBN 978-1-62991-450-3

Paperback: ISBN 978-1-62991-449-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #148

Disney, the man and the organization he created, have been a part of my life for virtually all my life. As a child, I was as regular viewer of The Mickey Mouse Club and The Wonderful World of Disney as my family’s TV watching allowed in those days before recording programs to enjoy later was even a notion. I had a crush on Annette Funicello. I loved Zorro and, indeed, while in kindergarten and not yet five years old, I wrote my first “review” of the Guy Williams series. I saw the films, with Dumbo and The Absent-Minded Professor being early favorites. Oddly enough, I didn’t read the comic books back then, though I was well acquainted with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the rest of the gang through their cartoons. My discovery of the stories of Carl Barks when I was just out of my teens was a revelation. More than any other comics creator, “Unca Carl” made me a believer of and a devoted fan of every kind of comics. Directly and indirectly, Disney expanded my world.

As an adult, I have enjoyed the Disney parks. I did a little work on Disney comics as sort of a script doctor on reprints of stories originally published in other countries. As Disney acquired other creative universes that I love – the Muppets, Marvel Comics, Star Wars – I found the company has become even more a part of my life.

I enjoy the new Muppets television series. Naysayers strike me as akin to those comics fans who can’t accept that comics are not the same as they were in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, etc. The older Muppet movies and TV shows are still available for viewing and they’re still great. Stick with those and stop annoying those of us who can accept a greater range of Muppets than is dreamt of in your philosophy.

I think the Marvel movies that come out of Disney are the very best super-hero movies ever made. The only non-Disney movie that ranks with them is Deadpool.

I loved the newest Star Wars movie. Was it “by the numbers” as some suggest? Perhaps, but it has wonderful new characters, respectful treatment of classic characters, action, drama and humor. It might not have triggered my sense of wonder for me in the exact same way the first Star Wars movie did, but I have no doubt it did for any number of younger viewers.

Limited though my comic-book buying is these days, I am buying all the new Disney comics being published by IDW, all of the Star Wars comics being published by Marvel and several of the current Marvel super-hero titles, including Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I’m good with Disney being a big part of my life. Bigger is not always or necessarily better, but Disney brings me great joy in so many different ways that it would be churlish of me to disparage the company for its size and success.

I’ve been enjoying all IDW’s Disney comics, but the issues I read most recently were Donald Duck #8-10 [$3.99 each]. All these issues feature foreign adventures translated into English and published in the US for the first time. I’m partial to Italian stories like #8’s “Spaced-Out Christmas” by Massimo Marconi and Romano Scarpa, but I have found most of the IDW imports entertaining.

Speaking of the Marconi/Scarpa story, it’s a 28-page yuletide epic which kicks off with Donald feeling like a incompetent and unlucky loser. Then it gets weird when he is seemingly abducted by aliens come to destroy our planet. It’s exciting and funny and uplifting. It’s followed by a Dutch story showcasing Donald’s own generosity of spirit. Donald is a character of vast range and it’s nice to see these comics looking at both his positives and negatives.

Issues #9 and 10 present a fun Italian secret agent adventure, an Icelandic tale of the Duck Avenger, a Danish holiday story written by the USA’s own Pat and Carol McGreal, and a Dutch clash with the Beagle Boys. The IDW Disney comic books are among my favorite comic books in the current marketplace.

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Secret Stories Disney World

The best vacation of my life was when Barb and I took our children to Walt Disney World with our neighbor and his daughter. As much as I love Disneyland – and I love it more than almost any other place on the planet – I love Walt Disney World. I would live there if I could afford it.

My friend Jim Korkis writes wonderful books about all things Disney and has just published Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never Knew You Never Knew [Theme Park Press; $14.95]. This 200-page softcover bills itself as “The Rosetta Stone of Disney Magic” and, after reading it, I definitely believe in magic.

Korkis worked as an instructor at WDW’s Disney University. I think of him as the Disney version of Indiana Jones, as much a seeker of rare knowledge and a history. In concise two-page chapters, Korkis reveals the cool secrets of the place, including tales of abandoned attractions, the nigh-supernatural determination and details that went into the creation of other attractions and a “character you’ve never heard of it, even though he appears numerous times throughout Disney World.”

Korkis writes in an entertainingly informative style that conveys the magic of Disney. I love his books and I recommend all of them. This one is as good a place to start as any.

ISBN 978-1-941500-68-2

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a-disney-sketchbook

Last Christmas, I received A Disney Sketchbook [Disney Editions; $50] from a pal with excellent taste and obvious generosity. This 2012 hardcover is a collection of animation development drawings from Steamboat Willie to Tangled. The sketches are amazing in their imagination and power. I have kept the book close at hand because, sometimes, I just need to get lost in the nostalgia these drawings trigger and the inspiration they provide. Turning the pages is much like watching a world being created before your eyes. It is a book to be cherished and shared.

ISBN 978-142316569-9

I hope you enjoyed this look at Disney comic books and other magic. I’ll be back next week with reviews from other corners of the ever wondrous world of comics.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #147

Bernie

It is a sad and yet wondrous fact of comic-book life that there are just too many great comics, collections and graphic novels being published these days. Even if your comics-buying budget is large, you probably can’t afford to buy even half of the wondrous material available to you. Fortunately, for many of us, our public library fills the gap between the comics we want to read and the funds we have available to purchase them. Continue reading “TONY’S TIPS #147”

TONY’S TIPS #146

Nimona

I am still working through some problems on my end of this weekly review column, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s hope it isn’t actually a cartoon train heading for your beloved tipster, though that could be hilarious.

My top pick for the week is Nimona by Noelle Stevenson [HarperTeen; hardcover, $17.99; softcover, $12.99]. Starting out as a webcomic, this National Book Award finalist is a fantasy adventure that is, by turns, action-packed, frightening, funny and poignant. I’d buy the hardcover for your own home library and the softcover to share with family and friends who, afterward, will be forever grateful to you for turning them on to this graphic novel. Continue reading “TONY’S TIPS #146”