TONY’S TIPS #206

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To sum up…Civil War II was really dumb.

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1302901141

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

ISBN 978-1302901158

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Nightwing

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

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

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

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Avengers Steed Peel

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-78187-697-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #205

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-60699-987-5

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Batgirl

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

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

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

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

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

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Poe Dameron

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

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

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

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron

ISBN 978-1302901103

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

ISBN 978-1302901110

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #204

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angel City

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN: 978-1620104262

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Wendy Project

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

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

ISBN 978-1-62991-786-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #203

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

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

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

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

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

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Hookjaw

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

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

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

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

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

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Elvis

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

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

ISBN 978-1-68112-076-8

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

April 29-30: FantastiCon (Lansing, Michigan)

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

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

July 14-16: G-Fest (Chicago)

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

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

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

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #202

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Batman Wonder Woman 1

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

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

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

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

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

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Alters

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #201

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Black History

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-5343-0153-5

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Movie Comics

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-0813572253

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #200

This being my 200th “Tony’s Tips” column in this venue, I figured I should do something different for it. Since I have been telling anyone who would listen that right now is the true “Golden Age of Comics” – with great new comics and graphic novels from all over the world, collections of classic newspaper strips, and countless reprints of classic and perhaps-not-so-classic comic books from the 1940s to the present day – this week’s column discusses a comics weekly some of you have never heard of and most have never seen a copy of. It’s all about the discoveries, my friends.

I’ve been fascinated by British comics weeklies since before I was hired by Marvel Comics to work on New York City-produced weeklies such as The Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly. Fittingly, the first British weekly I ever bought was an issue of Fantastic, which combined British strips with reprints of Marvel’s 1960s super-hero features. I got it from the legendary Jerry Bails, the father of comics fandom, at a Detroit Triple Fan Fare.

These days, I buy 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine from a friendly neighborhood comics shop two states away from my Medina, Ohio home. I sometimes buy back issues of the reprint comics produced by Alan Class in the 1960s and 1970s. Class published material from Marvel, ACG, Tower, Charlton and other American outfits, albeit in black-and-white. The odd issue of Commando, which features original war stories, has also made its way into my Vast Accumulation of Stuff.

Beano 3871

Allow me to digress a moment. When you’ve been in the comics biz as long as I have, you sometimes receive “found money.” This can be a reprint check for long-forgotten work. It can be a surprise find of a comics rarity that can be sold quickly. It can even be repayment of a loan to another comics professional made years or decades ago. In short, it’s money I wasn’t expecting.

When found money comes my way, half of it will go to worthy causes like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. The other half is used to treat myself to something fun. Most recently, that “something fun” was a year’s subscription to the long-running The Beano, a British kids comics weekly that has been published by DC Thomson since July of 1938.

What sparked my interest in The Beano were columns by Lew Springer, a contributor to Beano, in his indispensable blog Blimey! wherein he writes about the British comics of the past, present and future. You can read Blimey! at: http://lewstringer.blogspot.com

Beano 3872

The stars of The Beano are kids. Mostly rotten kids. Some of them just short on impulse control. Some of them given to pranks. Some of them with a skewered sense of justice. And even one super-hero in the form of Bananaman, a youngster who gains super-powers when he eats a banana.

I’m only a few issues into my subscription, but most of the strips seem to be tied into “The Bash Street Kids” in one way or another. We have Dennis the Menace – no relation to the comparatively saint-like character created by Hank Ketcham – and his nasty dog Gnasher. We have Minnie the Minx, said to be tougher than all the boys. We have future con man Roger the Dodger. We have Tricky Dick, supreme prankster. While the behavior of these characters is often immoral, I must note that the adults who usually end up as their victims are no paragons of virtue either.

Each 36-page issue of The Beano is in full color and measures a bit over eleven-and-a-half by eight inches. It has comics stories than run from one to six pages long. It has half-page strips. It has a variety of games and puzzles and joke pages. It has contents, one of which allows a lucky kid to become the “Beano Boss” of an issue. I want to know what the age limit is on that one.

Beano back cover

The back page of each issue is a “Make Me a Menace” strip in which readers e-mail their “menace name” and a photo to the magazine. In the most recent issues, we’ve seen Magic Matthew, Animated Aiden, Victor the Viking. I think Beano is due for a Tony the Tiger or a Terrible Tony. After all, at 65 years old, I can make the case that I’m in my third or fourth childhood.

Though I was warned the humor might be too British for my American tastes, I have had no problem getting into the fun of these comics and understanding the uniquely British slang and touches. I think there’s a reason England rates high on my list of countries in which I could see myself living. The other places on my top three list in that regard are Japan and Monster Island.

Are the comics and jokes a little archaic? Frankly, as long as they make me laugh, I don’t care. Examples:

What makes Mickey Mouse fall over?

Disney spells!

What do boats look for on a date?

Row-mance!

What do you get when you cross a snake with a builder?

A boa constructor!

Okay, maybe not comedy gold, but good inexpensive laughs even for age-challenged readers like myself.

My year-long subscription to The Beano cost me approximately $135 in U.S. funds, which comes out to around $2.50 per issue, including shipping. Which is a pretty good deal as I see it. If you’d like to check out The Beano – you can also subscribe to the digital version of the weekly – head over to the DC Thomson website:

https://www.dcthomson.co.uk

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #199

Goodnight Batcave by Dave Croatto with pictures by Tom Richmond [MAD; $14.99] claims to be “a 100% UNauthorized parody! (We’re MAD Magazine. What did you expect!?). Well, while I don’t expect “the usual gang of idiots” to be math whizzes, I feel I must point out that Batman and MAD are owned by the same corporation. So, at the very best, this hardcover is “a 50% UNauthorized parody!” For that matter, considering how many “Goodnight Moon” parodies I have seen over the years, I don’t think the 50% puts MAD in actual jeopardy. But I digress.

For I have not come to bury Goodnight Batcave, but to praise it to all who read this column. It is one of the funniest books I’ve read all year. I read it aloud to myself and I had to stop several times when my laughing prevented me from reading it. I have ordered both of my children to get married and start giving me grandchildren to whom I can read this book. I want those moppets to love it as much as I do. I long to hear “Read it again, Granddad,” which I will do no matter how much their parents want them to go to sleep. Because it’s not me who will have to deal with kids who didn’t get enough sleep the night before. It’s the circle of life!

Croatto’s hilarious words are perfectly supported by the drawings of the most excellent Richmond. You could frame almost every page and put it on a wall and you would laugh whenever you passed these works of art. Which is why I recommend you not hang these drawings on stair walls. You could laugh and miss a stair and fall to some injury. Such a mishap is only hilarious when it happens to someone else, so be sure to take a selfie and send it to me before you hit.

Goodnight Batcave is my pick of the week. As soon as my kids tell me how many grandchildren they are giving me, I’m going to order a whole mess of copies.

ISBN 978-1-4012-7010-0

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Dramacon

So much English language manga has come out over the past couple decades I was not remotely able to keep up with it. Which is why, from time to time, through the fine service of my local library, I often request manga from years past. This week, I want to tell you about a three-book series that came out in 2005 and which is only available on the secondary market. Which I’m doing because Dramacon Vol. 1 by Svetlana Chmakova [TOKYOPOP; October 2005] just charmed the heck out of me with its story of young manga creators who meet at an anime convention.

Barely legal fledging writer Christie is set up in artist alley at her first convention ever. She’s selling the comic which she wrote and which her boyfriend Derek drew. Already tense from the newness of it all, Christie is taken aback by Derek’s flirting with pretty cosplayers and other fans. She flees from their table and, having a tough time navigating through her tears, runs into a mysterious, handsome young stranger. Which is all the summary you’re getting from me.

Chmakova told a story that held my interest. For the most part, I found her characters well-developed, the notable exceptions being friends of Christie and Derek. She does a terrific job capturing the drama, comedy, insanity, hustle and bustle of a decent-sized convention. There is even a brush with greatness that struck me as very true to life. There is also one very dark scene that earns the book its teens and up rating.

Dramacon is worth searching for. I’ve requested the remaining two volumes from my library and will be looking for my own copies when I’m at conventions this spring and summer. If you have any regard for shojo manga, I think you’ll like this series.

ISBN 978-1598161298

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Harrow County Family Tree

Harrow County Volume Four: Family Ties by writer Cullen Bunn with artist Tyler Crook [Dark Horse; $14.99] gathers issues #13-16 of the “southern gothic fairy tale” and adds fifty pages of background art and features.

The ongoing story of Emmy, descendant of a witch who once brought ruin to the county, continues as she does her best to protect people who both rely on her and frequently fear her. It is a solitary life for the young woman, sweetened by the company of a precious few friends.

In this volume, which might be the scariest one to date, Emmy meets her “family” and it’s not a joyous event. These others, as powerful as Emmy, have their rules which would spell doom for those Emmy has been protecting and perhaps for the young witch herself. There is considerable dread to be pushed aside and boundaries to cross along the way. I may be the black sheep of my birth family, but I never had to deal with creatures as terrifying as these.

Bunn excels at giving life to Emmy. The young woman is caring and formidable and likeable. She has a steely courage and determination that puts steel in the reader’s spine as well. Crook’s art is down to earth and still moody as all get out. Nothing is exactly normal in Harrow County. There are dark corners everywhere.

I’ll continue to recommend Harrow County to all those who desire a different take on the horror genre. There are four volumes in the series to date with two more scheduled for June and October of this year. Here’s the list…

Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints ($14.99)

ISBN 978-1616557805

Harrow County Volume 2: Twice Told ($14.99)

ISBN 978-1616559007

Harrow County Volume 3: Snake Doctor ($14.99)

ISBN 978-1506700717

Harrow County Volume 4: Family Tree ($14.99)

ISBN 978-1506701417

Harrow County Volume 5: Abandoned ($14.99)

ISBN 978-1506701905

Harrow County Volume 6: Hedge Magic ($15.99)

ISBN 978-1506702087

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #198

This week’s column is all about the girls. I’m looking at a trio of books starring courageous young women in stories that will amuse, excite and, in one case, certainly expand your view of the world. Don’t ask me to choose between them. They are all so good that all of them deserve to be my pick of the week.

First up: Dreadnought Nemesis Book One by April Daniels {Diversion Publishing; $14.99]. In this young adult prose novel, Danny Tozer, who is transgender, inherits the powers of the greatest super-hero in a world filled with such heroes and their foes. When the dying Dreadnought transfers his powers to Danny, the fifteen-year-old finds herself transformed into the girl she always knew she was. It is the answer to her dreams and the start of challenges unlike any she has faced before.

Danny’s abusive father, whose solitary parental impulse has been to make his son a man, demands they find a “cure” for her condition. Her mother tries to be understanding, but is hopelessly subservient to her husband. Danny’s best friend hits on her. As for the super-hero community…

Danny is somewhat taken under the wing of a super-hero team whose members have their own agendas. Some openly welcome her. Some only want the power of Dreadnought in their ranks. One is disgusted by the very thought of a transgender super-hero and wants to find some way to transfer Dreadnought’s powers to a more suitable champion. One has secrets of her own.

Danny has one true friend and ally in Calamity, a young woman who is a “grey” hero and not affiliated with the more visible heroes. But the two girls find themselves in mortal peril when they try to bring down Utopia, the cyborg who killed the previous Dreadnought.

Daniels does well with the human drama and the super-hero action of this novel. Danny struggles with her life and powers, but is brave and determined. Some of the human drama of this book will nigh unto break your heart. Some of the super-hero action is brutal enough to make you wince. I was drained by the time I finished reading this novel…and eager for the next book in the series.

Dreadnought Nemesis Book One is suitable for teens. I suspect this book will be challenged by some because, not unlike the character Graywytch, they can’t abide the notion of a transgender super-hero. The most polite response I can manage for those some folks is that I wish them a speedy journey to the dustbin of history.

If there are awards for prose fiction related to comics and such – and, if there’s not, there should be – I would earnestly nominate Dreadnought Nemesis Book One for that honor. After you read it, I think you’ll feel the same.

ISBN 978-1-68230-068-8

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DC Super Hero Girls

The students of Super Hero High School are back to thrill us anew in DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths [$9.99], an original graphic novel by Shea Fontana with art by Yancey Labat, colors by Monica Kubina and lettering by Janice Chiang. This very cool take on some of the most popular DC heroes and villains is a delight in multiple venues: videos, comics, toys and more.

This time, Wonder Woman, Bumblebee, Batgirl, Supergirl, Poison Ivy, Katana and Harley Quinn are studying The Odyssey for a class taught by Professor Etrigan (aka the Demon), excited about a slumber party on Wonder Woman’s Themyscira and trying to find Batgirl’s missing Batplane while facing fearsome foes from both this world and other realms. If that seems like a lot for one sentence, it’s on account of this 120-page graphic novel being packed with great characters, dangerous villains and action and humor a’plenty.

The book is aimed at kids eight to twelve, but older readers (and really older readers like me) will still enjoy it. Old-time comics fans will get a kick out of seeing so many characters from old-time comic books. “Suitable for all ages” has seldom been as true as it is here. You’d have to be a total grumpy-puss not to have fun with this graphic novel. Highly recommended.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6761-2

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Bandette Three

The greatest thief in all the lands returns in Bandette Volume 3: The House of the Green Mask by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover [Dark Horse; $14.99]. She’s out to solve the greatest of all mysteries, the location of the fabled house that contains the greatest of all wisdoms and treasures. Yes, I used “greatest” three times in this one paragraph.  But, my darlings, Bandette, she deserves all of our praise and our love and, at least, most of our chocolate. I have it bad for this young lady.

Seriously…

Tobin and Coover reach new heights in this 128-page hardcover. The title story is a page turner that slows down just enough to present some truly fine moments for the supporting cast. There is very real peril facing our heroine and her friends, but, at no time, does it diminish the exuberant fun that is the hallmark of this character.

In addition to the title story, the book features an introduction by Kurt Busiek, two short comics story, a prose story and scads of background information and sketches. It’s a steal at the price and that’s something of which Bandette would surely approve.

I recommend all three volumes of this series. When the fourth one comes out, I’ll recommend that one as well.

Bandette Volume 1: Presto!

ISBN 978-1-61655-279-4

Bandette Volume 2 Stealers Keepers!

ISBN 978-1-61655-668-6

Bandette Volume 3: The House of the Green Mask

ISBN 978-1-50670-219-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

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