TONY’S TIPS #197

We’ll start with one of the strangest items I’ve ever reviewed in my decades of writing about comics. It’s a 48-page graphic novel, published in a large 9.5 x 12.3 inches hardcover edition, lacking a beginning, a middle and maybe even an end.

Published by IDW, Mickey’s Craziest Adventures by Lewis Trondheim and Nicolas Keramidas [$14.99] purports to be pages from a “lost” Disney classic. According to the book’s introduction, Trondheim and Keramidas came across about forty issues of a Disney comic from the 1960s, which had never been archived at Disney and was published on a regional basis only. It is claimed to have been a spin-off from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories called Mickey’s Quest. However, the collection they found was not complete.

“Mickey’s Craziest Adventures” was a series of single-page comics that appeared in Mickey’s Quest. They ran from May 1962 to February 1969. Delighted by the pages they did see, Trondheim and Keramidas decided to restore them for publication. Even if this strip was not complete, they figured the pages they did have should be preserved for posterity.

I so wish that story were true.

But the alternative is pretty cool, too.

Trondheim and Keramidas (with colorist Brigitte Findakly) crafted 44 gorgeous and wildly imaginative full-page strips. Their “story” begins with “Chapter 2″ and continues with chapters 4, 7, 8, 10 and on. Rarely do we get two consecutive chapters. Often, the setting and situation in one strip is totally different in the next. They are all wonderfully made and left me desperately wishing for those missing strips. Oh, if only someone out there at a complete run of Mickey’s Quest. Chuckle.

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures is tremendous fun. It will confuse the heck out of younger readers, but us veteran Disney fans will find it amazingly entertaining. Since reading it, I have returned to it on several occasions, just to marvel at this strip or that strip. This book ties for my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1631406942

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Die Kitty Die

The only comics I read this week that could equal the sheer joy of the above book were Die Kitty Die! #1-4 [Charterhouse Comics; $3.99 per issue) by Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz. These two veterans from Archie Comics have crafted a series that has all the charm of the best Archie comic books of the 1960s and 1970s, a thoroughly modern sensibility, some of the sexiest art this side of Dan DeCarlo and more than a little commentary on the vagaries of comics publishing in the 2010s.

Kitty is a beautiful, big-breasted witch who has been appearing in her own comic book for decades. Somehow, the events of her comics also happen in her real life. For example, Kitty Comics has married her five times to five different husbands to increase sales. These marriages don’t last, but her ex-husbands are still around. Kitty Comics has also published the adventures of cartoon characters who parody Casper, Hot Stuff and Richie Rich. This was makes perfect sense when you read these issues.

The title comes from the latest Kitty Comics plan to raise sales. They want to kill Kitty and replace her with the nastier Katty. To achieve this goal, the company has offered to reward whoever kills Kitty with the return of their own comic books.

There’s so much to love in these issues. Each of them leads with a “reprint” of an earlier Kitty story. Kitty hangs out with a bunch of comics fans at a comic-book shop. There are pin-ups and fashion pages and faux advertisements. Simply put, these four issues are a sheer delight. They had me smiling from start to finish…and for a few hours beyond the finish. They have be smiling now because I know you’ll love them as much as I do.

Kudos to Parent, Ruiz and the league of co-conspirators in comics fun: Rich Koslowski, J. Bone, Glenn Whitmore, Janice Chiang, Gisele Lagrace and Bill Golliher. Their work deserves to be named a pick of the week.

A trade paperback collection of the four issues is due this month ($24.95). I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1988247144

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We Can Never Go Home

Joy informed my choices for picks of the week, but not every comic book is going to be an uplifting romp. We Can Never Go Home Volume 1 by writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon with art by Josh Hood and Brain Level [Black Mask; $9.99] is the pretty grim story of two young people who make bad decisions.

From the back cover:

Teenage misfits Duncan & Madison are on the run. The only things they can count on are their super powers, a handgun and each other.

Duncan and Madison are engaging protagonists. I wanted to like them and I did, only to be taken aback by their propensity to make some of the worst decisions in the history of worst decisions. Nothing goes as they plan. Violence and death are their companions on their journey. The ending of this first volume – first are planned – has them in circumstances much less than they would like.

The writing and story are a wee bit choppy in places, but I think this is, overall, a terrific graphic novel or portion of a terrific graphic novel. The art is personal and powerful. The characters are believable and interesting. The action sequences are exciting and gritty. The ending left me unsatisfied, but, knowing there are more volumes to come, pleases me. I’m sticking with this one.

We Can Never Go Home is not a comic for younger readers, though I think it will resonate with older teens and even old farts like me. I recommend it.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #196

Here’s the Tony Isabella DC Universe Rebirth update. I still don’t understand what the heck is going on in the DCU, but I am enjoying the ride. Most recently, I read a big chunk of Batman comic books: Batman #6-12, the latest Batman Annual, Detective Comics #940-945 and Nightwing 5-10. What follows won’t be a blow-by-blow review of those issues, just some overall comments, likes and dislikes.

Batman, for the most part, is being portrayed as a complex man with personal issues, but who is quite capable of compassion. In other words, he’s not a massive rhymes-with-frick. I like that and I also like that Bruce Wayne is not being treated simply as a disguise for Bats. Bruce is a real person and Batman is a large part of who he is. That works for me.

Batman has been delving into some science fiction storylines, sort of an updated version of the wild adventures he used to have back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The arc with the super-powered Gotham and Gotham Girl felt like a modern version of the Batman’s World’s Finest Comics team-ups with Superman. The story delivered a satisfying conclusion and Batman gained an intriguing supporting cast member who I hope stays around for a while.

The “Night of the Monster Men” arc, which stretched out over all of the above-mentioned titles, was good creepy fun. The monsters were horrific, but no more so than Hugo Strange, who created them. This latest Batman/Strange clash also had a satisfying ending. I really like solid endings because, quite frankly, we don’t see enough of them these days. Too many stories end with the horrendous villain escaping to kill again.

Batman’s new “Bat-Squad” of Batwoman, Clayface and other heroes and would-be heroes is another attraction for me. More than ever, Bats has a family and, like every real family I know, they don’t always do what “dad” wants them to do. And, of course, with Clayface, we are getting a redemption story and veteran readers of my writings know what a sucker I am for them.

In these issues, a seeming tragedy occurs. I liked the way Batman and his team reacted to this. Rage and sorrow were moderated with a restraint not often seen in super-hero comics.

As for what I haven’t liked…let’s start with the architect of the above tragedy being Batwoman’s father. The character comes off as a cliche in these issues and, to be honest, while I can see comics writers using the government as villains over the next few years, I am not on board with the tired trope of the former soldier using his training to change the world as he sees fit. Marvel’s Punisher is enough crazed combat vet for an entire industry.

There also seems to be a darkening of Catwoman. Who, apparently, is responsible, perhaps personally, for over 200 deaths. Sure, Selina lives and operates in an often-bleak, morally ambiguous world, but the whole mass murderer bit doesn’t feel right to me.

Then there’s Nightwing. Dick Grayson hasn’t felt right to me for a long time. Not during his “no costume” spy days and not since he’s suited up again. I want to like the guy. I want to enjoy his comic. I’m not doing either. This is a series that needs a new direction that honors Grayson’s history while giving us something we haven’t seen before.

That said, I’m enjoying the DC Universe Rebirth titles I have read and look forward to reading more of them. When I do, I’ll doubtless write about them here.

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Captain Kid

I was excited when I read the solicitation for Captain Kid by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and Wilfredo Torres [Aftershock; $3.99 per issue]. Waid rarely disappoints and the premise was one that resonated with this 65-year-old comics reader and writer:

Chris Vargas is a middle-aged man with a hacking cough, an obsolete job, and a bombastic secret: whenever he likes, he can transform into the teenage superhero Captain Kid!

There are lots of cool things about Chris. He’s a responsible guy trying to take care of his aged, sickly father. He wants to remain connected to his friends. For me, right there, that’s the answer to the question of why he doesn’t stay super and young all the time. Waid and Peyer also ground the super-heroics in reality. A super-hero needs a command of science and, especially, physics, if he is to use his powers effectively…and Chris comes up somewhat short in that area. Makes him more human. Makes him more interesting. So I’m mostly on board with this series.

Where I’m less than enthusiastic is the element of time-travel that permeates the first issue and the indications that there’s a larger story to be told, one involving other super-heroes and world-shattering events. Which is fine and good, I guess, even though you can’t hardly trip in a comic-book store without landing on super-hero comics filled with such things.

The middle-aged guy juggling power and responsibility, the guy who doesn’t want to lose himself in the super-hero suit, that’s a far more interesting theme than the common senses-shattering adventures I can get in dozens of other comic books.

I enjoyed Captain Kid #1 and #2. How much I continue to enjoy the series will probably depend on how well it maintains the elements I most enjoy and minimizes those I don’t.

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Champions

My pick of this week? That would be Champions [Marvel; first issue #4.99, following issues $3.99 each]. Written by Waid with Humberto Ramos (pencils) and Victor Olazaba (inks) on the art, this new book features young heroes Ms. Marvel, the Miles Morales Spider-Man, the Totally Awesome Hulk ala Amadeus Cho, Nova, Viv Vision (daughter of the Vision) and the Cyclops brought from the past with the other original X-Men in a time travel storyline that makes my brain throb if I think about it too much. But, since I’m not gonna think about it, I can report I love Champions without reservation.

Obviously, as the guy who first conceived and wrote Champions for Marvel back in the 1970s – albeit with a much different and rather bizarre roster – I have a sentimental attachment to the name. I’m also delighted beyond belief that my “Because the World Still Needs Heroes” tag line is being used in this new series. But there’s so much more to my regard for this new team.

Just as he did with his too-short-lived Legion of Super-Heroes book of 2005, Waid has come up with a fresh new concept for a teen hero series. Back then, it was rebellious youth. This time around, it’s young heroes disillusioned with the antics of the older heroes with whom they’ve teamed. They are disillusioned with those heroes and their agendas that get in the way of just helping people. They are disillusioned about the “punch first” philosophy of their mentors. They want to change the world in positive ways.

These young heroes aren’t spending their time fighting old enemies in battles that have nothing to do with non-super people. They are intelligent and dedicated young people who think about the possible consequences of their actions and make good choices as a result of this forethought. Best of all, they are written realistically. As the father of two kids who, with their neighborhood friends, grew to be capable and decent adults, I find Waid’s handling of Kamala Khan and her teammates to ring true. The super-powered Champions of the Marvel Universe, just like the young people of our real world, are the hope of the future.

Champions is a progressive super-hero team book. It’s well-written and well-drawn. I love it a lot and, unless you’re the kind of jerk who thinks “social justice warrior” is an insult, I think you will love it, too.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #195

When it comes to my entertainment preferences, “comics” in all its myriad forms – comic books, comic strips, graphic novels, cartoons, movies, TV shows – are and will always be my first love. Just as my second entertainment love will always be monsters, especially giant monsters. So I may well burst with joy as Marvel Comics devotes one of its huge publishing events to its glorious monsters of the 1960s and beyond.

Monsters Unleashed Prelude [$34.99] is a 264-page collection of 13 of the giant monster stories by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko. These are creatures whose names sound like someone spilled letterer Artie Simek’s box of sound effects. Goom! Googam! Orrgo! Moomba! Rommbu! Blip! Groot! Grottu! Vandoom! Backing up these thirteen tales, we have more recent stories from Fearless Defenders, Marvel Zombies, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and Totally Awesome Hulk. Excuse my squeals of delight.

The giant monster stories of the 1960s often featured what I call “outsider heroes.” The scientists who are mocked for their “crazy” theories or slight builds or shyness. The novelist trying to relax with his family. The escaped criminal. Even the ones who fit the traditional heroic image had a realism to their characters that spoke to me. Some of these stories were man versus monsters. Some were morality plays. Some were man versus man with the monsters a bit harder to recognize. I loved them all and, on rereading them so many decades later, find them just as much fun as ever.

Comics history digression. There have been many alternative facts about how these stories were created. The real truth comes from my friend Larry Lieber:

Stan would come up with the basic idea, sometimes in sessions with Larry. Then Larry would write a full script for artist Jack Kirby. Jack, recognized as one of the greatest storytellers in comics, was likely allowed to adjust these scripts for more dramatic visuals. The nutty names were Stan’s, the scripts were Larry’s and, almost certainly, the creature designs were Jack’s.

These giant monster stories appeared in titles like Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense. Many of the earliest ones were six or seven pages in length. Somewhere along the line, they were expanded to twelve or thirteen pages, which allowed Kirby to draw bigger panels and even full-page shots that looked like movie posters. At least they did to me.

The more recent stories in this collection don’t take me back to my youth, but they are fine efforts. They have me eagerly awaiting the full-blown invasion of these classic-to-me monsters into the Marvel Universe. And I’m squealing again.

ISBN 978-1-302-90089-2

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I Am Jim Henson

Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos’ “Ordinary People Change the World” series of children’s books continues with the release of I am Jim Henson [Dial Books; $14.99] last month. Meltzer is better known as a political thriller and non-fiction writer, but has also written for comic books and created TV shows. Eliopoulos is widely regarded as one of the best cartoonists in comics. If I’m recalling correctly, this is the thirteenth book in the series.

Henson was a born performer and a master of imagination. With his Muppets, he made children and grown-ups alike delight in the world around them, embrace worlds beyond their own, laugh at the comedy of the real and unreal, and learn about themselves, about others, about math and science and so much more. Henson and his characters invited us to explore and feel and grow and love. His contribution to our society is and remains immense.

Meltzer and Eliopoulos use Henson’s life to inspire young readers. In these books, the subjects narrate their stories and are shown as children themselves. This method speaks to the children who enjoy these books and to adults who can embrace that sense of wonder of their youth. I love the series without reservation and recommend each and every one of the books in it.

Birthday hint: The books make great gifts for young children. With subjects including George Washington, Helen Keller, Lucille Ball, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks and more, you’re sure to find one that will appeal to that birthday boy or girl in your life.

ISBN 978-0-525-42850-3

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Nonnonba

I’ve been reading a lot of Shigeru Mizuki manga of late. In recent months, I’ve praised his Kitaro comics and his four-volume Showa: A History of Japan. This week, I’m praising NonNonBa [Drawn and Quarterly; $26.95], which was first published in English in 2012. One of the wonderful things about our modern comics world is that brilliant works like this often remain available for years after their initial release, either though booksellers or through public and school libraries.

“NonNonBa” is a contraction for the Japanese words for grandmother and a person who serves Buddha. As seen in Mizuki’s Showa volumes, this woman was family, ally and spirit guide to the young mangaka to be. In this warm and fanciful memoir, autobiography mixed with ghost stories, the focus is on Mizuki and his relationship with his grandmother. She was his guide to the spirit world and his support when life dealt him hard blows. The artist loved her and, once you read this 432-page softcover, you will, too.

Choosing my “pick of the week” this time around wasn’t easy. There is my nostalgic love for the Marvel monsters of the 1960s. There is my continuing admiration for what Meltzer and Eliopoulos are doing with their “Ordinary People Change the World” series. It came down to the sheer artistry of Mizuki in sharing his life and his beloved grandmother with his readers.

NonNonBa is my pick of the week. It earns my highest recommendation and that extends to all of Mizuki’s work. He was truly one of the greatest comics artists of all time.

ISBN 978-1770460720

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #194

Fantagraphics Books gets possibly the most-deserved “pick of the week” recognition since I started writing this column for Tales of Wonder. The publisher earns it for The Complete Peanuts: Comics & Stories Volume 26 [$29.99], the culmination of one of the all-time greatest comic-strip reprint projects.

With the launching of Peanuts in 1950, Charles M. Schulz redefined the American comic strip as only a handful of cartoonists have done in the history of that popular art and entertainment form. He and his work were and remain an inspiration to cartoonists all over the world, just as the characters he created – Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest – are loved all over the world. That his cartoon legacy has been preserved in 25 beautifully-made hardcover collections is a blessing to comicdom.

“Wait a minute, Tony! You just wrote that Peanuts was collected in 25 volumes, but you’re reviewing a 26th volume. We know math isn’t your strong point, but what the heck?”

Relax, my Peanuts-loving posse. I can explain.

Besides Schulz’s 50-year-run creating the daily and Sunday Peanuts strips, he produced a figurative ton of other drawings and related items for comic books, storybooks, single-panel gags, advertising campaigns, book illustrations and more. This 344-page finale to The Complete Peanuts presents a great deal of that rare material along with historical information to put it into context.

There are gag cartoons from The Saturday Evening Post, seventeen in all, created and sold before Peanuts hit the newspapers. There are seven Peanuts comic-book stories Schulz did in the 1950s and 1960s. His collaborator Jim Sasseville handled most of the art for these Dell comic books.

The book has advertising art and strips, and even a drawing and a recipe Schulz did for the cover of a 1983 cookbook by the Women’s Sports Foundation. He was on the organization’s Board of Trustees.   There are special Christmas stories that appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping and Women’s Day. There are Peanuts storybooks, such as Snoopy and the Red Baron.

There are drawings Schulz did about golf and tennis, two passions of his. There are dozens of other spot drawings.

Most moving of all is a remembrance of Schulz written by his wife Jean. “Sparky” brings the great and humble man to life in a manner that made me wish I had met him…and which explains why his work will always be part of me.

This final volume and this entire series should be in every school and public library. I’m deliriously happy that these books are part of my personal library as well. Thank you, Fantagraphics, and, of course, thank you, Charles Schulz.

ISBN 978-1069699-975-8

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Shaft

It amazes me to say this. Until I read Shaft: A Complicated Man by David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely [Dynamite; $19.99], I had no experience with this iconic hero. I had never read one of Ernest Tidyman’s seven Shaft novels. I never saw the four Shaft movies, or any of the made-for-TV movies featuring the character. This despite Tidyman being a legend in my native Cleveland before he created the character. This despite my creations of Black Lightning and Misty Knight and my work on other African-American comics heroes like the Falcon and Luke Cage. This despite my long-held interest in adding more diverse characters to comics. Go figure.

Walker and Evely’s six-issue “origin of Shaft,” collected in this trade paperback, has sparked my interest in Tidyman’s famous hero. It shows how his life and his times shaped the man John Shaft would become. It brings those times to life in all their beautiful hope and ugly bigotry while reminding today’s readers that hope remains a precious commodity and bigotry is always just one racist politico away. It’s a solid thriller involving murderous crime bosses, the corrupt politicians in bed with them, their willing accomplices and the innocents caught up in their violence. It’s a well-written tale with guys and solid visuals. I liked it a lot.

The story collected in this volume won the 2015 Glyph Comics Award for Story of the Year. The book also features samples of the story scripts, concept art, variant covers and more. It gives the reader a solid bang for his twenty bucks. It made this reader start trying to figure out he can make time to read all those novels, including a new one by Walker, and watch all those movies. Can we please have an extra month or two this year?

ISBN 978-1-60690-757-3

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Punisher

John Shaft lives in a often-violent world. The Punisher, especially in the comics written by Garth Ennis, is the very personification of violence. That’s my takeaway from Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 [Marvel; $34.99] by Ennis with Darick Robertson, Lewis LaRosa, Tom Palmer and Leandro Fernandez.

This massive 424-page trade paperback reprints Born #1-4 (2003) and Punisher #1-12 (2004) and also includes an introduction by Ennis and dozens of pages of behind-the-scenes bonus material. These are not comic books for delicate sensibility.

Born by Ennis and Robertson with inker Palmer could be considered the “secret origin” of the Punisher before Frank Castle officially took on that identity. It follows Castle through his final tour of duty in Vietnam. Yet even there, he has taken on the attributes of judge, jury and executioner. He is becoming a monster and, though there is an indication, he is the willing host of some never-seen demon, he is as much monster as he is human.

When I say Frank Castle is violence, it’s because that is the one constant in his post-Vietnam world. “In the Beginning” by Ennis and LaRosa with Palmer casts him as a monster in a world of monsters. There are few innocents in this world and, more often than not, he cannot save them. This six-issue arc shows him at war with the mob responsible for the deaths of his wife and children, with those who would use him for his own ends and with a former ally who he will judge harshly. He is violence unrelenting.

Castle’s character is only slightly tempered in “Kitchen Irish” by Ennis and Fernandez, and that only because he allies himself with an old friend. The monsters he faces in this six-issue arc are the heirs of a vicious Irish gangster who hated his family as much as they hated him.

Readers who know of my preference for “white hat heroes” – heroes who hold themselves to a higher ideal and who sacrifice their own happiness to protect others – may be surprised by my praise for the Ennis Punisher. But these are not remotely super-hero stories in intent or execution. They are crime stories and maybe even horror stories. They are apart from the Marvel Universe that is simply not a good fit for Frank Castle. They are their own thing, a brilliant exploration of unending war in a world of monsters.

Frank Castle isn’t a hero, but is a most fascinating protagonist. These stories are intense and honestly told with visuals that suit them exceedingly well. They are not for every comics reader, but I recommend them to adults who enjoy taking a walk on the dark side from time to time.

ISBN 978-1-302-90015-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #193

I probably sound like a broken record to veteran readers of “Tony’s Tips” and my other writings about comics, but nothing gets me more excited than the amazing variety of material available to today’s comics readers. Today’s “Tips” is a shining example of this as we look at a super-hero series by an award-winning novelist, a comics adventure based on a Disneyland roller coaster and a different take on a classic Japanese manga.

First up is Angel Catbird Volume 1 by Margaret Atwood with artist Johnnie Christmas and colorist Tamra Bonvillain [Dark Horse Books; $14.99]. Atwood is best known for her 1995 novel The Handmaid’s Tale and other works. She’s also a poet, literary critic, essayist, environmental activist and inventor/developer. Christmas created and illustrated several acclaimed comics. They’re a formidable team and this graphic novel is further enhanced by Bonvillain’s colors. Bonvillain has worked with Greg Hildebrandt and also for many/most of the top comics publishers.

Angel Catbird is a super-hero comic book. Atwood clearly revels in the genre and the proof is in this 72-page debut of her character. Though she plays with familiar comics tropes – a scientist whose gene-splicing experiments turn him into a creature he never could have imagined; an evil man-rat corporate villain; a hidden race of cat people – she tells her story with such delight and skill that none of that impaired my enjoyment of this book. When I got to the end of this first hardcover book, I immediately wanted to read the second volume in the series. Fortunately, that volume is scheduled to appear in just a few weeks.

The book’s good guys are heroic and likeable, especially the odd-but-wonderful Count Catula. The bad guy is clever and dangerous. Feel free to hiss at him. The writing, the art, the storytelling, the coloring, are all wonderful. Yeah, this is a super-hero comic book, one fine super-hero comic book.

Angel Catbird is my pick of the week. The comics material is top-notch. The book is further enhanced by lots of bonus material and solid facts and tips about our animal neighbors on this planet. By my standards, it’s suitable for all ages. It’d make a terrific gift for any animal-loving comics reader.

ISBN 978-1-50670-063-2

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Big Thunder

Having seen Disney Parks attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror turned into movies – some more successfully than others – it didn’t surprise me that Disney and Marvel Comics could also turn such park attractions into comic books. I wasn’t sold on this idea initially. I kept passing on the comic books and the collections thereof.

Haunted Mansion by Joshua Williamson and Jorge Coelho [Marvel; $24.95] changed my mind. I read the first issue in a free Halloween ComicFest edition and liked it will enough to request a copy of the collection from my local library system. The tale of young Danny, lonely since the death of his globetrotting grandfather, entering the Mansion, interacting with some of the 999 spooks living there and becoming their hero was great fun. After reading this graphic novel, I requested other titles from the Disney Kingdoms and Marvel line. My personal jury is still out on Figment and Seekers of the Weird, but another book scored big with me.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad by Dennis Hopeless with artists Tigh Walker, Felix Ruiz and others [Marvel; $24.99] is a action-packed supernatural western with a haunted mine, a greedy mine owner, the mine owner’s rebellious daughter, a masked outlaw and a town posed on the brink of derstruction. Abigail Bullion is a feisty and not particularly proper young woman who rides a horse better than any man she knows and who has a keen sense of right and wrong.

The characters are finely tuned components of the story. Even with their allies, they can be prickly. The tale moves both smoothly and swiftly with very good writing and storytelling. The real villain of the piece is heinous, indeed. The threat from beyond our world is formidable. There’s even redemption for one character. We know how much Tony loves a good redemption story.

These aren’t classic comics stories, but they are entertaining and well worth reading. If you have a Disney parks fan in your life, I think they would enjoy them even more than I did.

Haunted Mansion:

ISBN 978-1-3029-0076-2

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:

ISBN 978-0-7851-9701-0

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unfollow

My initial impression of Unfollow: 140 Characters by Rob Williams, Mike Dowling and R.M. Guera [Vertigo: $14.99] was that is was not unlike Battle Royale, the Japanese manga series by Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi, based on the former’s novel. In the book and the manga, junior high school students are kidnapped to an island and forced to fight each other until only one remains alive. It is one of the most unsettling comics I have ever read.

In Unfollow, a dying social media billionaire is going to leave his entire fortune to 140 people (characters). The catch is that, when one of them dies, the shares of the others are increased. If you’re thinking folks are going to start dying, you’re thinking correctly.

Comparing Unfollow to Battle Royale is fair game, but I would not want you think I’m not intrigued by the first six issues that have been collected in this volume. Unfollow is much more high tech and the stakes are bigger. Along with the usual Vertigo weirdness – one of the characters cut off his own legs and wears a wedding dress to the island gathering of the 140 – there are some sympathetic people who, though flawed, are people I can root for. Additionally, the story isn’t confined to the island. Almost the entire cast leaves after the billionaire dies and one of the 140 is murdered by party or parties unknown.

ABC is said to have Unfollow in development for televison. Bringing us closer to the day when comic books completely control all of the TV networks and cable channels. I will cheer when Sister Wives and Duck Dynasty are pushed off the air by DC Bombshells and Howard the Duck. Comic books are much more real to me than so-called reality shows featuring deplorable blights on mankind.

I enjoyed Unfollow: 140 Characters. I look forward to Unfollow: God Is Watching, which should be out right now. A third volume is due in July. If you’re a fan of Vertigo, I think you’ll like this series.

Unfollow: 140 Characters

ISBN 978-1-4012-6274-7

Unfollow: God Is Watching

ISBN 978-1-4012-6723-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #192

Graphic novels and history are a natural match. The comics page can bring important events to life with a clarity and conciseness that often eludes the day-to-day coverage in newspapers and on TV. The history is there, framed by a panel, and without the denial of bias found in most newspapers and from the talking heads of television. If bias there be, the graphic novel creators reveal it and so give readers information necessary to their appraisal of these graphic works. For example:

March, the graphic novel trilogy by U.S. Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with art by Nate Powell, is informed by Lewis’ years in the Civil Rights Movement. He thinks it’s a good thing and I’m of the mind that anyone who doesn’t think the Movement was and is a good thing has a hole in their souls. But that bias isn’t hidden, unlike the bias some politicians and pundits try to disguise with the most convoluted acrobatics in logic or outright denial of what they are on the record as saying.

March has won several well-deserved awards along the way. The most recent, last year, was when March: Book Three won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It was the first graphic novel to ever receive a National Book Award.

On to this week’s reviews…

History that’s still unfolding is the subject of Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq by Sarah Glidden [Drawn & Quarterly; $24.95]. In this 304-page hardcover, Glidden uses comics to document her weeks-long trip to the Middle East with journalist friends. In a neat little sidebar, Glidden was able to pay for this trip because of a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The independent journalists, accompanied by Glidden and a childhood friend who served in the Army in the Middle East, seek stories on the effects of the Iraq War on the region and, especially, on the tens of thousands of refugees created by the War. They visit areas that seem peaceful and prosperous. They visit places where people are afraid to talk to the reporters without getting “guidance” from government. They confront their own doubts while trying to decide what journalism is. The former soldier, who does not really regret his service in the area, keeps part of his experience and feelings closed off from the others.

There is no true ending to this graphic novel. The regions visited by the group are still in flux with more refugees arriving each and every day. Some stories are told and others, less “sexy” are not. Cartoonist and journalist alike are left with the question they ask themselves: Do the stories we tell bring new knowledge to those who read them? As one journalist frames it, “Our politicians and their polices are only as smart as we are.”

Rolling Blackouts is riveting. The Iraqi War has been with us for decades and will likely remain with us for decades longer. Glidden brings insight and personal experience to the region and those who live there. It’s one of those works that every serious student of comics should read and which should be available in every public, private and school library.

ISBN 978-1-77046-255-7

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Showa

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan [Drawn & Quarterly; $24.95] is the first book in Shigeru Mizuki’s four-book series on his nation through 1989. Mizuki has been reviewed in this column before; I’ve praises his manga featuring Kitaro, a heroic monster boy who does battle with evil yokai. Indeed, it was my love of the Kitaro tales that led me to this book.

The 560-page softcover is imposing, but covers both Japan’s history and Mizuki’s life smoothly. The narrative can be appreciated even without the additional details provided by the notes in the back of the book. The reader gets a feel for Japan and this era in Japan’s history. As the publisher proclaims:

This volume deals with the period leading up to World War II, a time of high unemployment and other economic hardships caused by the Great Depression. Mizuki’s photo-realist style effortlessly brings to life the Japan of the 1920s and 1930s, depicting bustling city streets and abandoned graveyards with equal ease.

Beautiful art. Flowing storytelling. Historical figures juxtaposed with Mizuki and his family members. Heart, hardship, history, even humor. You’ll find them all in this graphic novel, first published in the United States in 2013.

I read this volume through my local library system, but I’m going to buy my own copy of this and the subsequent volumes. They’re that good and that important.

ISBN 978-1-77046-135-2

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Amazing True Story

My pick of the week is a graphic autobiography I first reviewed in 1998. The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom by Katherine Arnoldi [Graymalkin Media; $12.99] has been reissued in paperback with the addition of more reproductive rights information.

Arnoldi had a dream: to go to college. Fueling that dream was the author’s courage, strength and stamina and, above all else, a deep and abiding love for her child and her determination to make their life better. Her story is at points horrifying and soul-crushing. But, ultimately, it is wondrously triumphant. It was included in my award-deserving book 1000 Comic Books You Must Read:

“Arnoldi’s courageous real-life story of her life as a poor teenage mom trying to build a future for herself and her daughter. I picked this as the best graphic novel of the year and have recommended it to friends ever since.”

The book was nominated for an Will Eisner Award and was listed as one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly. My admiration for Arnoldi has grown. In this new edition of her book, she writes:

“I made this book to copy myself and take to GED (high school equivalency) programs. My purpose was to help single moms feel worthy to pursue their rights to an equal access to education and provide them with the information to do so, since young moms often miss out on high school guidance counseling.”

Also from the book:

“Katherine Arnoldi, PhD, was a Fulbright Fellow (2208-2009) and has been awarded two New York Foundation of the Arts awards (Fiction and Drawing), a Newhouse Award, The Henfield Transatlantic Fiction Award and the Dejur Award. A Pro-Choice advocate for equal rights to education for single moms, she lives in New York City and teaches at City University of New York.”

When she sent me the book, Arnoldi thanked me for my earlier review and for all I do for comics. I want to thank her for giving me yet another confirmation of the power of both the comics art form and the human spirit.

ISBN 978-1-63168-034-2

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #191

While I remain pretty much clueless as to what’s going on with DC Universe Rebirth and what caused these changes to said universe, I am certain that I’m enjoying the heck out of these kind of sort of reboots and/or revamps of the New 52 status quos. Without apology, I embrace both my ignorance and my bliss.

Action Comics is a good “case in point” of my bliss. I usually read ongoing titles in batches. The twice-monthly publishing frequency of Action Comics means I have a bigger piece of the pie whenever I read the title. As for what’s inside these comic books, there is so much cool stuff that I don’t mind not knowing the cause of it all. Not even if it involves Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic and rightly legendary Watchmen. I’ll circle on back to that discussion in a bit.

Action Comics #963-968 [$2.99 each] has a Superman from some other plane of existence who is married to the Lois Lane from his reality and who, with her, is raising a young super-powered son. After the death of this world’s previous Superman, Lex Luthor put on a super-suit and declared himself Superman. There’s a Superwoman or two in the mix, as well as a Clark Kent who isn’t Superman and who doesn’t seem to be anything other than a Earth-born human being. Throw in a mysterious corporation other than Lexcorp and some beings trying to change the future by killing Hitler, excuse me, killing Luthor before he becomes the Darkseid of our world, and I’m really hooked. What does this all mean? Where is this all going? When can I read the next issue?

Dan Jurgens, who was one of the Superman creators during the epic “Death of Superman/Funeral for a Friend/New Supermen” era for the Man of Steel, is the writer. Jurgens understands the family dynamic of this Superman, Lois, and Jon. Their scenes seem very real to me. He does an equally good job with the mistrust between Superman and Luthor, and the mystery of the human Clark Kent.

Artists for the issues include Patrick Zircher (#963-964), Stephen Segovia with inker Art Thibert (#965-966), and Tyler Kirkham (#976-977). Zircher’s work is my favorite of this artistic gathering, but all of the issues look great with the characters looking the same no matter who’s drawing them. I prefer ongoing characters to be “on model” in ongoing comic books.

Where is DC Universe Rebirth taking us? I’m hopeful it’s taking us to a consistent, fun and interesting universe. If that destination involves Watchmen, I’m fine with that. Like movies made from books, Moore and Gibbons’ original work will always be there for us. It’s not diminished by further use of the characters, especially if that use is respectful. My personal recent experience with DC Comics is that the company is more respectful of older creators than it has been in, literally, decades. I’m choosing to trust DC Comics this time around.

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foolkiller-1990s

If you want to read the 1990s ten-issue Foolkiller series by Steve Gerber with artist Joe Brozowski (as J.J. Birch), you’ll have to track down the original comic books. Because, in a shocking lapse, Marvel Comics has never collected this series.

Ross G. Everbest, the first Foolkiller – there have been four – was a religious fanatic. Greg Salinger, the next one, based his kills on people who he considered guilty of materialism and mediocrity, or of lacking “a poetic nature.” In the 1990s series, Kurt Gerhardt goes after violent criminals with the encouragement and inspiration of the incarcerated Salinger and the assistance of some underground supporters of Salinger. As shown in the 1990s series, Gerhardt’s definition of what constitutes a violent criminal expands to insane proportions. But it’s a fascinating crime/horror story with a often sympathetic killer. I’d rate it among the best comics of the 1990s.

I mention Foolkiller for two reasons. The first is that it really should be collected. The second is that, somewhat updated, it would make a terrific movie. Not a big-budget Marvel movie of the sort we have become accustomed to, but a smaller “B” movie that would fit nicely into the “slasher movie” genre. Even with all the use both Marvel and DC are getting out of their vast libraries of heroes and villains, some characters are better suited to the smaller films.

Foolkiller has all the elements necessary for a horror movie. You have a killer who seems unstoppable. You have a great many victims and the potential to kill them in interesting ways. As a direct-to-video movie with a modest (but not absurd) budget, I think it would be worth watching and turn a decent profit for Marvel.

foolkiller-2017

Getting back to comic books, there was a fourth Foolkiller who was in two “Marvel MAX” mini-series. I don’t know anything about him, but I’ve ordered complete sets of the two mini-series and may well write about them in the future. In the meantime, Salinger is back in a new series that made its debut in November.

Foolkiller #1-2 [$3.99} finds Salinger working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a psychotherapist whose patients are murderous vigilantes. His job is to determine if the killers could be of use to the organization. I sigh in sadness as I recall when S.H.I.E.L.D. was made up of good guys. Thankfully, that’s kind of sort of the case in the current TV series. Bless you, Phil Coulson.

Salinger has a job and a girlfriend. But the old urges remain and, at one point, he kills a patient he believes can not be re-purposed for S.H.I.E.L.D. work. His immediate superior thinks about this and decides Greg’s job description should be expanded to include such removals. Yes, I am still sighing.

Thus far, I’m not a fan of this new series. Writer Max Bemis isn’t doing a bad job, but he’s not engaging me anywhere near the way I was engaged by Gerber’s series. The art and storytelling by Dalibor Talajic with inker Jose Marzan Jr. and colorist Miroslav Mrva has its moments, but isn’t knocking my socks off. I’ll still with the series for a few more issues, but it hasn’t yet won me over. Your mileage may vary, so consider my comments neither a recommendation or a warning to avoid the title.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews. In the meantime, for the latest Isabella writings and other hopefully cool stuff, check out “Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing” [tonyisabella.blogspot.com], follow me on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/tony.isabella], or follow me on Twitter [@thetonyisabella].

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #190

Welcome to 2017, which will certainly be the most challenging year of my lifetime and for many, if not most of us. We who make comics and would stand against bigotry, dishonesty, sexism, xenophobia, zealotry and the lawlessness of the rich and the powerful in their unending pursuit of even greater wealth and power, we can and must do what artists have always done. We can use our art to challenge the rich and powerful, and to give comfort and support to those who are victimized by them. In the words of the sainted Harvey Pekar, “You can do anything with comics.”

Comics creators have the great power to reveal the human condition at its best and at its worst, and, in doing so be a force of change for the better. In this scary new year, more than ever, “with great power, there must also come great responsibility!”

I think I read that in a comic book.

On to this week’s reviews…

3 Devils by Bo Hampton with colorist Jeremy Mohler [IDW; $19.99] is a “supernatural western.” It reprints the first four issues of what I hope is an ongoing series. Its title heroes sound like the start of a joke: “a young Romani woman, a zombie and a werewolf walk into a bar…”

Tara, the Romani woman, is a child when she witnesses her father, brother and mother slaughtered by a vampire and his human henchmen. Marcus is a zombie with free will who is perhaps immortal. Though he says he has no soul, something about Tara speaks to something within him. Oliver is a sideshow freak who happens to be an actual werewolf. He joins the now-grown-into-young-womanhood Tara on her quest to find the vampire and avenge her family.

Sidebar. Set in the Old West as this story is, Tara is called and refers to herself as a “gypsy.” I take no exception with that; it’s historically accurate. However, writing these words today, I will use the word “Romani” throughout this and future reviews.

Hampton is a one-time collaborator of mine and a friend. He drew a Moon Knight story of mine back in 1983 or thereabouts. I’ve been a fan of his work – writing and drawing – ever since. This collection of 3 Devils #1-4 is solid on all fronts. A cracking good story and art that adapts to the needs of the action, the human drama and the supernatural spookiness. Mohler’s color work is every bit as good. If you like a good dose of scary with your western action, this is the trade paperback for you. I loved it and recommend it to all of you. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1631406980

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clean-room

Gail Simone’s Clean Room is unnerving and a half. I read an issue, think I’ve got it figured out, then the next issue hits me with a scary surprise I didn’t see coming. I read the first six issues as they came out and then reread them in Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception [$14.99]. I think the series works best when read in big chunks. But I digress.

In this opening volume by Simone and artist Jon Davis-Hunt, we’re introduced to the two strong women. Astrid Mueller is the founder of the Honest World Foundation, which feels more than a little like a cult and will make you shiver. Chloe Pierce is a reporter whose fiancé was a devoted Mueller follower until he blew his brains out. Sudden and shocking death turns out to be something fairly common around the Foundation. What these two women have in common is that they see things most other people can’t see. That awful knowledge is what drives their conflict and uneasy alliance.

Simone has created lots of interesting supporting characters with some of them being so likeable the reader worries about what will happen to them. Davis-Hunt, who also colors Clean Room with Quinton Winter, draws distinctive characters. His storytelling is spot on, as is ability to portray both the most human and the most horrific moments.

Clean Room is one of the best new comics of the decade. The second volume of the collected series, reprinting issues #7-12, should be available at fine comic-book shops and bookstores everywhere. You should embrace this series, shivers and all.

Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception

ISBN 978-1-4012-6275-4

Clean Room Vol. 2: Exile

ISBN 978-1-4012-6740-7

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harrow-county-1

Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Cook [Dark Horse; $14.99] is described as a “southern gothic fairy tale” in its back-cover blurb. Collecting the first four issues of the ongoing comic-book series, this first volume introduces us to young Emmy, who is more than she initially appears to be, and takes us to the back-woods Harrow County. The location is a key character in the story, every bit as disturbing as any of the creatures Emmy and the reader will meet. It’s a place where things have just not been right for a long time.

Because so much of the fun of reading this book comes from making discoveries alongside Emmy, I’m going to refrain from telling you anything else about the story. I will say Bunn’s writing is smooth, filled with emotion and suspense. Crook’s art suits both the human drama and…the other stuff.

I was introduced to Harrow County via a free Halloween ComicFest comic book, which, of course, the point of free special event comic books. There are three more Harrow County collections at this time and I plan to read all of them.

Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints

ISBN 978-1-61655-780-5

Harrow County Volume 2: Twice Told

ISBN 978-1-61655-900-7

Harrow County Volume 3: Snake Doctor

ISBN 978-1-50670-071-7

Harrow County Volume 4: Family Tree (due in February)

ISBN 978-1-50670-141-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #189

Walt Disney Presents Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Volume One 1932 to 1935 [IDW; $49.99] was about as far away from an impulse buy for me as it could have been. The “star” of this first volume is Bucky Bug, a character whose appearances in comic books always left me cold. You see, the Bucky Bug stories were always in rhyme with poetry so bad it was almost a crime.

What changed my mind? The cover appealed to me. The visual designs of Bucky and girlfriend June Bug are welcoming. Dean Mullaney, the editor and co-designer of The Library of American Comics, creates beautiful books that are handsomely made and packed with comics and informative essays.

Written by Earl Duvall, Ted Osborne and Merrill DeMaris, the Bucky Bug comic strips are exciting adventures, a coming-of-age tale of a plucky young bug discovering and making his way in a vast world. Bucky goes a’wandering, starts a business, meets a girl, leads an army to victory, reconnects with his parents and takes the reader to a satisfying conclusion of his story. The rhyming in these comic strips is much better than that in the comic books. I found myself reading the strip out loud, albeit only when no one was around but my cat Simba. She seemed to enjoy this, but, you know, cats. Who can tell for sure?

Drawn by the deservedly legendary Al Taliaferro, the comic strips were loosely based on the Silly Symphonies cartoons. Following the Bucky Bug tales, we get six more stories, including the comic-strip debut of Donald Duck. From the impulsive youngster of “Birds of a Feather” to the shark-fighting hero of “Penguin Isle” and the very trippy “Cookieland,” these are fun comics. I love this volume and, when I buy the second volume, it won’t be an impulse buy. I know a treasure when I see it.

Silly Symphonies Volume One is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1631405587

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kitaro

Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro has become one of my favorite characters in comics, manga or otherwise. The one-eyed lad – yes, it looks like he has two eyes, but the bulging eye is actually the spirit of his father – is the last member of the Ghost Tribe of yokai or spirit-monsters. He has inherited all the powers of the Tribe, using them to assist humans and others who have been attacked or victimized by evil yokai.

The Birth of Kitaro [Drawn and Quarterly; $12.95] recounts the tale of Kitaro’s birth and presents six other stories of the courageous boy’s battles with evil yokai. Featured in several stories is his sometimes friend and sometimes foe Nezumi Otoko, whose schemes to attain worldly wealth always backfire on him.

Kitaro is a popular figure in Japanese folklore whose origins seem to predate Mizuki’s manga. But the Mizuki version of the character, which he wrote and drew for fifty years, is easily the most beloved of them all. The Mizuki adventures are lighthearted, but they have an excitement and sense of wonder to them that would appeal to fans of the traditional super-hero comics of the 1960s if they gave them a chance. Kitaro is one of a very small handful of manga characters I’d like to write.

In addition to the manga stories, The Birth of Kitaro also includes an informative piece on the history of Kitaro by Zack Davisson, a “Yokei Files” piece by Davisson and eight pages of puzzles to test the reader’s yokei knowledge.

Amazon lists the age range for The Birth of Kitaro as 12-15, but I think it can be enjoyed by younger and older readers as well. If I had reviewed it before Christmas, I would have recommended it as a cool stocking stuffer, but the book would be a swell gift for any occasion. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-77046-228-1

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death-of-x

I became a Marvel kid in the 1960s and mostly stayed that way for the next few decades, even when I was writing for DC and some other publishers. These days, the two companies often change places in my estimation. Right now, courtesy of DC’s “Rebirth” whatever it is – “reboot” doesn’t seem to cover it – I’m enjoying more DCU titles. But I still enjoy a great many Marvel titles as well.

If Marvel has fallen to second place in my ranking of the Big Two, it’s because the company’s “big event” storylines are nihilistic and damaging to characters I loved. Captain America is turned into a virtual Nazi. Other characters are slaughtered for shock value. Relationships are broken. Unconquerable Wakanda gets conquered on three separate occasions. I find reading these stories unpleasant, even when they contain the germ of a good concept.

Case in point: the Inhumans/X-Men War. Even though it was clearly driven by a executive hissy-fit over cinema rights, the notion of Marvel’s two races of super-powered beings at odds with one another is intriguing.

I sat down to read the recent Death of X #1-4 mini-series, wherein the agendas of the Inhumans and the mutants clash to deadly effect. The Inhumans hold the Terrigen Clouds, the gaseous substance that triggers change in latent Inhumans, sacred. Those same clouds have been proven deadly to mutants.

Written by Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule with pencil art by Aaron Kuder and Javier Garron, Death of X has the Inhumans determined to defend the Terrigen Clouds while trying to assist some of the X-Men in finding a cure for its deadly effect on mutants. Other mutants, notable a faction led by Cyclops and Emma Frost, are determined to destroy the clouds forever.

The Cyclops of the current Marvel Universe is a stranger to me. I haven’t enjoyed the paths he has taken. But he’s not wrong in his desire to protect his fellow mutants by destroying the Clouds. Nor are Medusa and the Inhumans wrong in wanting to preserve the only means of adding to their numbers. That nuanced conflict made this series work for me. Enough so that I’ll be checking out subsequent comics in this ongoing event.

The four issues of Death of X should be available from your local comics shop or online. A trade paperback collection [$17.99] will be published in March. Worth checking out.

ISBN 978-1302903374

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This is the last “Tony’s Tips” of 2016. I want to wish my readers a happy new year, even though I realize that year is terrifying for readers who, by virtue of their gender, race, religion, sexuality, nationality and progressive beliefs were demonized and threatened by the President-Elect and his followers. The only consolation that I can offer these readers is that many of us, perhaps the majority of us, stand with you. We’ll be there for you for the simple reason that we are all stronger together.

Always forward…to 2017 and beyond.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #188

Weighing in at 6.3 pounds and 1152 pages, Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125] reprints issues #1-18 of the 1970s black-and-white magazine, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Special #1, and the all-article The Deadliest Heroes of Kung Fu #1. It also has three new introductions by Gerry Conway, Doug Moench and my own bad self. Conway created the Sons of the Tiger feature, Moench wrote more Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu stories than any other writer and I edited several issues of the title.

Because they are such beautiful and impressive volumes, I tend to get a little teary when I write about these omnibus books. That’s partly because holding them is like a religious experience for this comics guy who never dreamed such wonders could exist back when I was working on magazines like Deadly Hands of Kung Fu…and partly because I usually manage to drop them on my foot while I’m trying to read them. In the right (or wrong) hands, these omnibus volumes are deadly weapons.

My introduction focuses on the text articles we ran in Deadly Hands because our budget only allowed for maybe half of our overall page count to be comics stories. While finances might have been the most pressing reason for the use of these pieces, all of us who worked on them were enamored at producing something that was an honest-to-gosh magazine and not just a big comic book. We strived to come up with creative topics and presentations. Looking back on them today, I’m impressed. These issues look better than their low budgets and too tight deadlines should have allowed.

I didn’t get to write about the comics stories, but readers fondly remember them with good cause. We saw early work of great creators like Moench, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Chris Claremont, George Perez, Mike Vosburg, Rudy Nebres, Keith Pollard, Keith Giffen and others, appearing alongside veterans like Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano, Don Perlin and Judomaster co-creator Frank McLaughlin. All behind tremendous covers by Neal Adams, Bob Larkin, Earl Norem, Luis Dominguez, Nick Cardy and Harold Shull. I was thrilled to have been able to work with so many of these fine talents and, even allowing for my occasionally inept editing, proud of what we all did on these magazines.

While Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 doesn’t come cheap, you’ll be amply rewarded for your purchase with hours, nay, days and weeks of entertaining reading. I recommend it to fans of the martial arts genre, to us aging children of the 1970s, and to younger readers who will be astonished to discover these legendary comics magazines of the past.

ISBN 978-1-302-90133-2

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rosalie-lightning

As cool as the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu book is, this week, there is only one possible choice for my pick of the week. It’s cartoonist Tom Hart’s heartbreaking Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir [St. Martin’s Press; $19.99]. It’s the real-life drama of the death of Hart’s young daughter, and his and his wife’s journey to find a way of coping with that unimaginable loss. It has been justly praised by comics creators and critics for its honesty, beauty and bravery. As a parent myself, my heart sunk deep into my gut as I read this amazing work and didn’t feel right for many days after I finished it. Great comics have the power to touch the soul. This is one of the greatest of this or any other year.

Young as she is, Rosalie emerges as the most complete character of this memoir. We get to know her well and feel, if only from afar, the agony of her loss. Hart’s world doesn’t seem complete without her. His and his wife’s sometimes desperate search for something to make their lives whole again is simultaneously heroic and tragic. I actually hugged this book more than once.

During the events of this memoir, the Harts moved from New York and put their apartment up for sale. The housing market was down. One realtor bailed on them. The co-op board refused to let them sell at a price it considered too low. They were very nearly broke. So does the uncaring world refuse to give suffering people a respite from their sorrow. Instead, it piles on. I know the sheer frustration of such things and the manifest unfairness of having to deal with them when your heart has been shattered.

I can’t be objective about Rosalie Lightning. It hits me in so many places where it hurts. But it also allows for light or, at least, the possibility of light. This book is great comics and it is also great literature. It needs to be in the collection of every serious devotee of our comics art form.

ISBN 978-1-250-04994-0

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black-magick

Black Magick Volume 1: Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott [Image; $9.99] collects the first five issues of the ongoing series about Rowan Black, a police detective who is also a witch. Veteran readers of my writings will recall I love cop stories, especially when they are combined with elements of science fiction, super-heroes or the supernatural. I was hoping to enjoy this new series and Rucka and Scott didn’t disappoint me.

That the writing and art were first-rate didn’t surprise me. That the story threw some unexpected chills and developments was to be expected from these talented creators. Were I so inclined, I could gush about the intriguing characters and everything else wonderful about this trade paperback. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all of you. But…

What I really want to gush over is the back cover copy on the trade paperback. It’s one of the best sales pitches I’ve read in a very long time. Here it is…

SOMETHING WICCAN THIS WAY COMES.

Rowan Black knows:
the scent of a body burned at the stake the power of a murderer’s severed left hand the danger of blood spilled on stone beneath the new moon.

Rowan Black is a witch.

Rowan Black knows:
that a badge is worth exactly as much as the person carrying it that motive is overrated that you always watch your partner’s back.

Rowan Black is a cop.

She knows something else.

She knows magic is real.

The problem is, somebody else knows it, too.

Damn! That’s an irresistible come-on. I can’t wait for the second volume.

Here’s wishing my readers here and elsewhere, comics retailers all across this great world of ours, and my fellow comics professionals the happiest of holidays and the merriest of Christmases. We face some enormous challengers in 2017, but our art and our friends can get us through them and help us work to make a better world. We’ll always be stronger together.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella