TONY’S TIPS #166

The Batman Adventures Volume 4 by Paul Dini, Brice Timm, Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck and others [DC Comics; $24.99] is my pick of the week this time around. Just as Batman: The Animated Series is my favorite movie or television incarnation of the legendary hero, the comic book based on that series is one of my all-time favorite Batman title. In the mid-1990s, when these stories first appeared, it was common for comics fans to deem the series the best current Batman title.

The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1, which is included in its entirety in this volume, is a comics collaboration between writer Dini and other members of the animated show’s creative staff. The anthology features Batman, Batgirl, Clayface, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, the Joker and Commissioner Gordon. Each short tale is complete unto itself with a satisfying ending. Especially choice are a melancholy Mr. Freeze story and an action-packed Joker tale. But there’s also much to be said for the sight of Harvey Bullock as Santa Claus and Renee Montoya as his elf.

Puckett has several great stories in this trade paperback. One is an epic three-issue adventure in which Batman/Bruce loses all of his adult memories. Another is a wry comedy in which Mastermind and his two criminal compatriots are smack in the middle of a quest for a fantastic pearl. Ty Templeton pens a moving yarn of Bruce Wayne’s romance with a single mother that caught me smack dab in the heart.

The collection concludes with a sprawling 44-page thriller in which the Batman joins forces with the Demon to stop Ra’s Al Ghul’s mad plan to wipe out most of humanity. This tribute to Jack Kirby was by Dini with co-plotters and artists Timm and Glen Murakami. This book is over 250 pages of some of the very best Batman comic books of the 1990s.

The Batman Adventures Volume 4 is suitable for all ages. If you’re a Batman fan, a connoisseur of great comics, someone looking for a gift for a Batman fan, or, especially, the book buyer of a public or school library, you should buy this book. You should also buy a copy for yourself. Because you’ll want one.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6061-3

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

Buffy

Buffy: The High School Years – Freaks & Geeks by Faith Erin Hicks with artist Yishan Li [Dark Horse Books; $10.99] takes us back to our stake-wielding heroine’s first year at Sunnydale High School in Hellmouth, er, I mean Sunnydale, California. To put it another way, this compact [80 pages, 6″ by 9″) graphic novel is set during the first season of Joss Whedon’s wonderful Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, which was must-watch television at my house.

Hicks takes us back to when Buffy was still making the adjustment from most popular girl at her former high school to outsider at her school. Her friendships with Willow and Xander are still new, both for the Slayer and her friends. Her tutelage under Giles is just as new with the reserved watcher starting to become more than just her instructor in the ways of vampire-slaying. All of them have doubts about these new relationship, which Hicks uses to great effect in this story.

Nerdy vampires. Four students who were abused in life and who are still dismissed by cool vampires in their undead existence. Just as desperate for attention as in their former lives, the four figure killing the Slayer will gain them immediate entrance to the coolest of the cool vampire ranks. They play on Buffy’s doubts, something common to high school students and, indeed, most of us throughout our lives. This adds the kind of emotional element to the vampire-slaying seen in the best episodes of the TV series and the best of the Buffy comic books over the years.

The highest compliment I can pay Freaks & Geeks is that I could see it as a first-season episode of the TV series. It captures all of the angst and wonder of that first season. It feels like the show. It would have made for a memorable episode.

This is the first book in a series of Buffy: The High School Years graphic album. Buffy: The High School Years- Glutton for Punishment [$10.99] by Kel McDonald and artist Li is scheduled for publication in November. I’m looking forward to it.

Buffy: The High School Years – Freaks & Geeks

ISBN 978-1-61655-667-9

Buffy: The High School Years- Glutton for Punishment

ISBN 978-1-50670-115-8

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

Kitaro

Add Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro to the list of manga characters I love. Kitaro is a one-eyed boy with supernatural powers, the last living member of the Yurei Zoku. This “Ghost Tribe” used to roam our world until the growing numbers of humans chased them underground. But there are other creatures and ghosts bedeviling modern-day mankind. The answer to the question of who they gonna call when that happens is…Kitaro.

The Birth of Kitaro [Drawn and Quarterly; $12.95] is the first in a series of volumes reprinting the earliest Kitaro adventures from the 1960s. Mizuki draws on Japan’s countless legends of ghosts and other fearsome things for his stories, but the horror is lightened with humor and wacky characters. Neko Musume is a good example of those characters. He’s an unrepentant con man monster who is kind of sort of Kitaro’s friend. Kitaro also kind of sort of has more the one eye. His late father’s sentient eyeball lives in his son’s empty eye socket and often helps his son out of jams.

Mizuki has a crisp to-the-point style in both his writing and his art. This first volume has seven done-in-one stories, the opening part of a prose feature on the history of Kitaro plus a section of “Yokei Files” on the things that dwell in Kitaro’s world. That’s a lot of fun and suitable-for-all-ages content.

Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon, the second in this seven-volume series, will be published in October. If you read this first volume before then, you’ll be awaiting each and every volume as eagerly as do I.

The Birth of Kitaro

ISBN 978-1-77046-228-1

Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

ISBN 978-1-77046-236-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #165

Tales of war and warriors are among the most fascinating, horrible and profound stories of the comics art form. When removed from the crass jingoistic tone that characterized the genre for much of its existence, such comics works can illuminate the human condition and draw readers into the experiences of the men and woman called upon to put their lives on the line for our lives or, far too often, for the economic or political desires of those who do not serve, have not served and will never serve their country and their fellows in this dangerous manner. If I seem to have climbed on to my soapbox, it’s because of this week’s pick of the week.

A New York Times bestseller, Maximilian Uriarte’s The White Donkey: Terminal Lance [Little, Brown and Company; $25] is an emotionally-changed graphic novel about a young Marine who faces the horror and the mundane realities of serving in Iraq. Abe enlisted in the Corps in search of something missing from his life. What he finds comes at a terrible price.

When I cite the emotional nature of this graphic novel, I refer to my emotions as I read it. I could feel the lump in my gut growing as I turned page after page. How can we put our young soldiers into situations like the then and now disaster that is the Middle East and do so again and again? How can we squander the potential of men and women who have so much to give our country in peace as well as in war? My jaw drops as Uriarte tells Abe’s story in crisp, to the point dialogue and drawings. There are more than a few moments that made me gasp or even choke as I read them. There were tears…for Abe, for his fellow soldiers, for my country.

Uriarte is am Infantry Marine and Iraq veteran, who enlisted at 19. He served four years as a MRAP turret gunner and as a combat artist and photographer. He created Terminal Lance while still on active duty. The strip is published in the Marine Corps Times. The White Donkey is the first graphic novel of the Iraq War written and drawn by an actual veteran of the War.

Released in April, The White Donkey: Terminal Lance deserves to be nominated for all applicable comics art and comics industry awards. It needs to be read…and not just by comics fans. Simply put, it is an unforgettable graphic novel.

ISBN 978-0-316-36283-2

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

Lois Lane

Lois Lane: Double Down is the second book in the young adult Lois Lane series by noted YA author Gwenda Bond [Switch Press; $16.95]. Weighing in at close to 400 pages, the novel is a solid thriller on every level. It has likeable characters, dastardly villains and a couple of players who fall somewhere in between. Even not so young adults – says the senior citizen reviewer – will enjoy it.

Bond keeps the focus on Lois throughout the book, but never slights other characters. We see more of what will make Lois an incredible reporter in the future. We get to know her mother and sister much better. We get to know her friends and other supporting players. We get new reasons to not trust Sam Lane, her father, and further than I could throw him. We get more of the online relationship between Lois and her “SmallvilleGuy,” even as we are introduced to a new online presence, the mysterious “TheInventor.”

I hope Bond is writing another Lois Lane book because she’s created an impressive Lois for modern readers. If she isn’t, I hope Switch Press has another writer lined up. This is a Lois Lane I definitely want to watch grow into the woman her fans have always known that she could be. I recommend this novel to Superman fans of all ages and genders. It’s a great read.

ISBN 978-1-63079-038-7

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

Think Tank

One of my favorite current comic-book series is Postal, the ongoing Image title by Matt Hawkins and Bryan Hill and Isaac Goodhart. The series, which I’ve praised in the past, is set in the very odd town of Eden, Wyoming. When I learned Postal would be crossing over with two other series created by Matt Hawkins, I went in search of those  earlier series.

Think Tank Volume 1 by Hawkins and artist Rahsan Ekedal [$14.99] came out in December, 2012, but is still in print, Its protagonist is David Loren, a genius recruited by the government when he was a teen. He’s the smartest scientist in the military think tank where he lives, but he’s grown increasingly opposed to the military using his creations for killing. Loren wants out.

David is MacGyver on super-science brain steroids. His success rate is higher than any other scientist in the think tank and would be even higher if he weren’t withholding some of his successes. But he’s considered such a high-value government asset the military would be willing to stick him in a dark hole or even terminate him to keep him from taking his talents elsewhere. That’s a challenge David can’t resist.

What follows is a fast-moving and very smart story. Even the more outlandish science stuff seems completely implausible within this collection of Think Tank #1-4. The story itself is reason enough to seek out this book, but the bonus features add considerable value to the collection: a cover gallery, the fascinating “Science Class” columns and previews of two other Image series, Echoes and Sunset. I’ve ordered both.

Think Tank Volume 2 is also on its way to me, but I couldn’t wait to let my Tips readers know how much I enjoyed the first volume in the series. For me, Hawkins has become a writer worth seeking out. I’m sure I’ll be writing about his other work in the future. In the meantime, check out Postal and Think Tank.

Think Tank Volume 1:

ISBN 978-1-60706-660-6

Think Tank Volume 2:

ISBN 978-1-60706-745-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #164

Hero Comics [IDW; $19.99] is an anthology of comics stories and art created to benefit the Hero Initiative, an non-profit organization, which, in turn, gives financial and other help when comics creators are in dire need of assistance. While the Comic Book Legal Defense gets more donations and press – and does good work protecting the First Amendment rights of cartoonists and other creators – it’s the Hero Initiative that speaks more deeply to me.

The Hero Initiative treats the comics creators it helps with great respect, as well they should. Many of those they have assisted are the very writers and artists who inspired subsequent generations of creators. Increasingly, those in need of their help are creators of my own generation and those that followed us. These are my people and I love Hero for having their backs.

That great respect I mention includes respecting the privacy of the creators helped by the Initiative. This is one reason why the fans don’t always realize how much good work Hero does. Confidentiality does not get headlines in the comics press.

While some comics creators don’t want their circumstances revealed, others have come forward to become champions of the Hero Initiative and their fellow comics creators. Mike Grell wrote the introduction to this collection. Russ Heath contributes a poignant single-page comics story that encompasses how comics artists have not received fame and appropriate fortune for their work and how a simple act of kindness, giving Heath a bottle of wine along with the more vital help he needed, can foster self-esteem in creators beaten down by the industry. Not that tough guys like Russ and my friend Mike are ever beaten down.

So here we have this benefit book. It is 120 pages of outstanding comics creativity by the likes of Howard Chaykin, David Lloyd, Bill Willingham, Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg, Sam Kieth, John Layman, Richard Starkings, Kevin Eastman, Kurt Busiek, Dave Sim, Gene Ha, Gerry Conway, Phil Hester, Mark Stegbauer, Bill Messner-Loebs, J. Scott Campbell, Ralph Reese and many others. These are stories and images that tugged at my heart, contributions from those who are no longer with us: Josh Medors, Gene Colan, Darwyn Cooke, Dave Simons, Alan Kupperberg, Stan Goldberg and Robert Washington. These are my people. They will always be my people.

Hero Comics is my pick of the week. When you buy it, you’re helping comics creators. I urge you to buy this book, to become a member of the Hero Initiative and to donate as generously to the organization as your own circumstances allow. You can be a hero, too.

ISBN 978-1631406089

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

Superman Adventures

DC’s Superman Adventures was set in the continuity of Superman: The Animated Series. It ran for 66 issues from 1996 to 2002. It was a companion title to The Batman Adventures and Justice League titles, also based on animated series. DC has started reissuing the trade paperbacks collecting these stories. Superman Adventures Volume 2 [$19.99] is the latest reissue.

This book collects Superman Adventures #11-16, Superman Adventures Annual #1 and Superman Adventures Special #1. The writers line-up is impressive: Scott McCloud, Mark Evanier, Mark Miller, Hilary J. Bader and David Michelinie. Likewise the pencilers and inkers: Rick Burchett, Neil Vokes, Joe Staton, Terry Austin and others. Not one of these suitable-for-all-ages tales is less than entertaining and most are far more than that.

There’s no writing down to a young audience in this book. McCloud kicks things off with a two-issue story about a dying Superman and the world’s attempt to save him, then follows that with a clever, funny tale about aliens challenging Superman to a sporting contest. Evanier draws a contrast between traditional print journalism and modern media that also shows their similarities. His second story in the book features the always-fun Bibbo.

I loved the Superman cartoons this comics series drew its tone from and I love these comic books. They would make wonderful gifts for the young and the old Superman fans in your lives.

Superman Adventures Volume 1 [$19.99]:

ISBN 978-1401258672

Superman Adventures Volume 2 [$19.99]:

ISBN 978-1401260941

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

Usagi 154

I’ve been re-reading Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo from the start of that exceptional comics series, but I’m also reading new issues as they are published. There is no such thing as too much Sakai.

Usagi Yojimbo #154 [Dark Horse; $3.99] is a done-in-one adventure. “Kazehime” is a bat-like ninja whose life Usagi saves. Her clan of ninjas has featured prominently in other tales. When our wandering samurai’s journey leads him to a job protecting a merchant, he once again crosses path with her.

The issue is completely accessible to new readers. The inside front cover gives sufficient background to Usagi’s world and situation. Sakai’s clear storytelling, both in the writing and in expressive black-and-white art, bring a reader into the story and keeps them there.

Besides Kazehime, we also meet sword-for-hire Yamaguchi, who was on the opposite side from Usagi when they met years ago. Yamaguchi commands the merchant’s less-than-professional guards. He recruits Usagi so he can have at least one dependable sword at his side. He is an interesting character who works well with Usagi.

Sakai delivers a fine story with a satisfying conclusion. It’s one more reason Usagi Yojimbo has been and remains one of the very best comic books being published today.

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

My July weekends are going to be busy and fun. I’m attending three conventions in as many weekends.

First up is G-Fest, the annual Godzilla convention held in Chicago. I’ll be doing a “Kaiju in the Comics” presentation at this event, showcasing giant monsters in said comics. This convention will take place on July 15-17.

PulpFest is devoted to pulp magazines like Doc Savage, The Shadow and many others. It takes place July 22-24 in Columbus, Ohio. I’m not a featured guest at this convention. I go there to see old pals I don’t see anywhere else.

My July schedule wraps up with Monsteramafest, a brand-new event in Akron, Ohio. Put on by the same folks who do the wonderful Akron Comic-Con, it will take place on July 30-31. I’ll be appearing on a panel devoted to Cleveland’s own Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson), the monster-movie host who ruled Cleveland when I was a kid.

I love to see my readers at these and other events. If you are at the same convention as me, don’t be shy about coming over to chat with me. I enjoy that a great deal.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #163

It’s not a comic book or graphic novel. It’s not a book about comic books or anything related to comic books per se. My slim rationale for choosing Stephen King’s End of Watch by Stephen King [Scribner; $30] as my pick of this week is that it does have a super-villain. Before I discuss this new novel, I need to make with a bit of “what has gone before.”

THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD

End of Watch is the finale of King’s Bill Hodges trilogy. Hodges is the retired police detective we met in Mr. Mercedes (2014). He is haunted by his most infamous unsolved case, the slaughter of people waiting in line at an early-morning job fair. Their killer ran them over in a stolen Mercedes and then drove the woman whose Mercedes he stole to suicide. The killer – Brady Hartsfield – is a computer genius and a sociopath.

Brady’s mistake is when he tries and fails to drive Hodges to suicide as well. He compounds that by trying and failing to kill Hodges, by accidently killing his own mother and by trying to go out with a suicide bomber bang at a concert. Hodges and his “team” – Holly Gibney, the niece of one of Brady’s victims, and Jerome Robinson, a young friend – prevent Brady from carrying out this massacre. Holly prevents the heck out of it by clobbering Hartsfield with her laptop until Brady’s brains are mush. The mad killer ends up in a coma and an institution.

Finders Keepers (2015) has Bill working as a private investigator with Holly and Jerome at his side. In this second book, the big bad is an obsessive fan who murdered a reclusive writer and, 35 years later, is seeking that writer’s lost notebooks. Hartsfield is not a major player in this novel, but King features him and reveals Mr. Mercedes isn’t quite as brain-damaged as we thought.

In End of Watch, Bill’s health is failing, though he tries to hide this from Holly. Meanwhile, an egotistical, immoral neurologist has used Brady as a test subject for experimental drugs. The treatment gives Brady the ability to act despite his ruined body. He’s going after those teens he failed to kill at the concert…and he’s going after Bill Hodges and his team. Which is as specific as I’m going to get here.

THE SPOILERS ARE OVER

End of Watch is as riveting as the best King novels. Hodges, Holly and Jerome are heroic, likeable and relatable characters. Pete Huntley, Bill’s former partner on the force, is a solid supporting player. Pete’s new partner is a detective more focused on advancing her career than doing her job. And Brady? He is a scary, venomous villain. The kind you love to hate.

End of Watch delivers heart-stopping thrills and horrific moments. Most importantly, it delivers a satisfying ending that feels right. Not only does King still have it, he’s never lost it. I will keep reading his books as long as he keeps writing them.

Mr. Mercedes [$30]:

ISBN 978-1476754451

Finders Keepers [$30]:

ISBN 978-1501100079

End of Watch [$30]:

ISBN 978-1501129742

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

Wonder Woman Earth 1

Wonder Woman: Earth One Volume One by Grant Morrison with artist Yanick Paquette and colorist Nathan Fairbairn [DC; $22.99] is the latest in the series that has seen modern-day reinterpretations of Superman, Batman and the Teen Titans. Some of those graphic novels have been brilliant, some less so. This one isn’t brilliant, but it is a solid and solidly entertaining work.

Morrison never soft-pedals either the oppression of the Amazons by abusive men or the lesbianism that naturally results as the warrior woman create their own island society. Paquette with his drawings and Fairbairn with his colors draw a sharp contrast between those two states of existence. The oppression is hard to take, the island is wondrously uplifting despite the secret dishonesty which lies at the heart of Princess Diana’s birth.

Morrison’s reinvention of Steve Trevor as a man of color who sees the parallels between Amazon and American history re: slavery and other deprivations and deceits. Etta Candy is gloriously reinvented as a unabashed bisexual whose confidence and joy of self is simply delightful. I love her and I love this graphic novel.

I highly recommend this graphic novel. You will read it and love it and then join me in anxiously awaiting Volume Two.

ISBN 978-1-4012-2978-8

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

Last Night

Edited by Liesa Mignogna, Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life: Neil Gaiman!! Jodi Picoult!! Brad Meltzer!!…and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders That Changed Their Lives [Thomas Dunne Books; $25.99] is a collection of articles by authors about the comic-book heroes with whom they connected in a formative way. Those of us in the comics industry whose creative bent is to honor the essentially optimistic nature of the super-hero genre have long understood the power of our work to change lives for the better. More than I can express, I cherish the communications from readers who have told me they became teachers because of Black Lightning or found a key to strengthening their relationships in a scene I wrote decades ago. If you want to take the above as my disdain for comics creators and publishers who use super-heroes to act out their own darkest desires, feel free. They are damaged individuals incapable of appreciating or understanding the joy of the genre.

Back on point, Last Night is the mixed bag you’d expect from such an anthology of stories from diverse creators. A couple of them are pretentious and virtually unreadable. Most are intriguing. A few of them will touch your hearts and souls. Among the latter were the contributions from Delilah S. Dawson, Anthony Breznican, Alethea Kontis, editor Mignogna, and the three pieces on Wonder Woman from Carrie Vaughn, Leigh Bardugo and Jodi Picoult. There’s a lot more good than bad in Last Night and a fair share of great. I recommend it to readers whose interest in comic books extends beyond just the comic books themselves.

ISBN 978-1-250-04392-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #162

The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000 by Charles M. Schulz [Fantagraphics; $29.99] is my pick of the week. This 25th and final volume in the series collects the final thirteen-and-a-half months of the strip that redefined comic strips with its 1950 debut and continued to be a joy to its devoted readers and an inspiration to cartoonists all over the world for half a century. Indeed, since Peanuts reprints still run in many newspapers, the strip has continued to bring joy and inspiration in the 15 years since its creator’s death.

President Barack Obama, our first president to reference the comic books he read as a young man, wrote the foreword to this farewell volume. Calling Peanuts “an American treasure,” he wrote how this comic strip could bring one’s childhood rushing back: “That’s what made Charles Schulz so brilliant — he treated childhood with all the poignant and tender complexity it deserves.”

To me, Peanuts is always of the now. Even though I knew these were the concluding strips, I was still caught by surprise when I came to the last ones. Probably because Peanuts isn’t really gone and it will never be really gone. We can all still recall that one special strip or sequence that spoke to us so truly. We can close our eyes and see Charlie Brown and Snoopy and all our friends. Adults that we have become – and how the heck did that happen? – if we tried to speak to them, they would hear nothing more than bleating trumpets. Yet, magically, wonderfully, we can still hear them.

Also included in the book is the complete Li’l Folks feature Schulz did before he did Peanuts. This was a weekly feature consisting of three or four gag cartoons featuring a continuing cast of children (and a dog) not unlike Charlie Brown and his gang. Indeed, one of the kids is even named Charlie Brown. There were 138 installments of this feature, the building blocks of the international sensation that Peanuts would become.

Founded in 1976, Fantagraphics has published a stunning library of comics and books of all kinds and for all sensibilities. I couldn’t even begin to estimate how many of their books I have enjoyed and own. If I ever organized my Vast Accumulation of Stuff and go from boxes to bookshelves, it would not surprise to find a bookcase or two or three filled with Fantagraphics volumes. But, of all those amazing books, none of them have filled me with more sheer delight than their Peanuts collections. And, when I reach that far off day when I locate all of my Peanuts volumes and have them in one place, I’m going to read them again from start to finish.

Schulz is an American treasure. Fantagraphics deserves considerable praise for preserving his great achievement. Every public library, every school library, even comics reader’s library should include these books. They are golden dreams.

ISBN 978-1-60699-913-4

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

Divinity

The Valiant Universe again reaches into the Unknown for Divinity II [$3.99 per issue] by writer Matt Kindt with artists Trevor Hairsine (pencils), Ryan Winn (inks) and David Baron (colors). In the first series, we learned how Russian cosmonaut Abram Adams and two of his fellow cosmonauts were sent deeper into space than anyone before. They met something Unknown. That contact changed Adams and gave him unimaginable powers. He became Divinity.

There was the expected clash with the forces of the West. It was a violent clash. Divinity won. Then he retreated into a reality that he created for himself. Those few humans who knew of his incredible power breathed a fleeting sigh of relief.

In this new series, Myshka, one of the other Cold War cosmonauts on that distant mission, has returned to Earth. With the same powers as Adams and no reluctance about using them in the service of her vision of Mother Russia and in her quest for vengeance towards the man who abandoned her in space. It’s on.

I’ve read the first two issues of this second series and there are seriously frightening moments in them. Myshka herself is as scary a villain as I’ve seen in the Valiant Universe and that is saying something. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What you can expect from this series is fine writing that is also friendly to new readers. Even if you didn’t read the first series, Kindt and a concise “what has gone before” page will bring you into the ongoing adventure. Hairsine’s drawing and visual storytelling are first-rate, full of dynamic action and gripping emotion. Winn and Baron tie it all together with excellent inking and color work. This is a darn good comic-book series.

Divinity collects the first four-issue series in a 112-page, full-color trade paperback. Divinity II will be published in September. I recommend both.

Divinity [$9.99]:

ISBN 978-1939346766

Divinity II [$14.99]:

ISBN 978-1682151518

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

Hyperion

I wasn’t expecting much from Hyperion #1-2 [Marvel; $3.99 each) by Chuck Wendig with artist Nik Virella. It’s a spinoff from the new Squadron Supreme series and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of that one. While SS has interesting concepts, it started out with the kind of cheap shock tactic on which too many super-hero titles have come to rely. The shock was accompanied by a Marvel executive’s apparent glee over the decapitation of a Marvel Universe icon, which further pushed me from any regard for Squadron Supreme. Some people should not to get to play with other people’s toys. Strike three came from this Hyperion incarnation being created by Jonathan Hickman, who has worked his way onto my no buy/no read list.

That said, I’m intrigued by the notion of a super-hero taking some time off to contemplate the violence, including committing murder, of his life while questioning what kind of hero he wants to be and even if he wants to be a hero. This Hyperion is still an arrogant and callous jerk, but I give him points for considering a different and perhaps better way.

Two issues haven’t been enough for me to decide if I like this new series. I know I like some things in it, first and foremost among them a young runaway named Doll who has the power to nag Hyperion into occasionally doing the right thing. I like enough about this comic book to keep reading it for now.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #161

Politics is the theme of this week’s column. Trigger words will be kept to a minimum.

I thoroughly enjoyed All-New Inhumans #1-6 [Marvel; $4.99 for the first issue, $3.99 for the rest] by James Asmus and Charles Soule with artists Stefano Caselli and Andre Lima Araujo and colorist Andres Mossa. The new series is as much an international political thriller as it is super-hero adventure.

The Inhumans now have a more prominent role in the Marvel Universe, which pleases me more than I thought anything Inhumans ever would. I stopped liking the Inhumans when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revealed said people had created their own slave race, the Alpha Primitives. “Slavers” equal “not good guys” in my world view. Here’s some back story re: Marvel’s current take on the Inhumans…

Black Bolt blew up the Inhuman home city of Attilan, releasing big whomping clouds of mutagenic Terrigan Mist into Earth’s atmosphere. The Mist triggers changes in humans who have Inhuman DNA in their makeup. Black Bolt did to this to save the planet, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Medusa now rules the Inhumans and, with sister Crystal, is trying to help these new Inhumans adjust to their powers and find a place in the world. This title focuses on Crystal, an ambassador flying all over the globe in the humongous Royal Inhuman Vessel. The sight of this giant ship doesn’t always inspire confidence on account of it’s pretty darn frightening.

I love the international politics angle of this series and how the Inhumans act as a sovereign nation trying to work with their fellow nations for the common good and, especially, for the good of those new Inhumans. Crystal is quite the diplomat, but her priorities are with her own people. By turns, she can be compassionate, heroic, duplicitous and manipulative. With the Alpha Primitives seemingly absent from the mix, I’m finding myself interested in the Inhumans for the first time in a long time, though some credit must also go to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD television show.

Crystal is the star of All-New Inhumans, but I also love Gorgon’s new role. Crippled in some adventure I never read, he is Crystal’s good right hand, a teacher of the young and a warrior not bound by his physical limitations. I’ve always thought of him as just sort of there in the background, but he’s really coming into his own in the book. Add a number of other intriguing and likeable supporting cast members to the mix and you have a great series.

It hurts my brain to try to suss out the continuity of the Marvel (or the DC) Universe. I prefer titles which can be enjoyed without overt ties to a dozen other titles. All-New Inhumans is that kind of series. What readers need to know about the larger universe in which it takes place is so smoothly included in dialogue that it’s hardly noticeable. Well done, Asmus and Soule.

The first four issues and an introductory story have been collected in All-New Inhumans Vol. 1: Global Outreach [$15.99]. I recommend it and the ongoing title.

ISBN 978-0785196389

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

Dear President Johnson

My friend Nat Gertler is well-known as a Peanuts expert. However, as the owner and publisher of About Comics, he’s also known for his eclectic, interesting and handsomely made books. Recently, he has delved into “political entertainment,” restoring and republishing material that has been out of print for decades.

Dear President Johnson: Kids’ Letters to LBJ [$9.99} is a compact mix of Peanuts and politics of the most innocent kind. Originally published in 1964, the book gathers unbearable cute and devilishly funny notes sent to then-president Lyndon Johnson by children with illustrations by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz.

Adler was an author, editor and compiler. In his obituary, the New York Times said he “pursued his goal of being the P. T. Barnum of books by conceptualizing, writing, editing, compiling and hustling hundreds of them — prompting one magazine to anoint him “the most fevered mind” in publishing.” He died in 2014.

The obit also stated “Adler achieved early success by collecting and publishing letters children had written to President John F. Kennedy. He followed up with children’s letters to Smokey Bear, Santa Claus, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Obama, among many others.”

With the cooperation of LBJ’s White House staff, Adler selected 64 letters to be included in this book. There are requests for badges and other items. There are invitations to Boy Scout meetings and a lunch at one young writer’s school. The child says his mother will make extra tuna fish sandwiches for the President and his wife Lady Bird. There are compliments and heartfelt suggestions.

Because I sometimes have the mind of a 12-year-old, my favorite of these missives is the one in which fourth-graders from Chicago want to know the size of the President’s hand. They are creating units of measure and want to measure the circumferences of their desktops in “Johnsons.” Yes, I am ashamed of myself for loving this letter as much as I do.

Dear President Johnson is a fun look back at history seen through humor. It would be a great gift for folks who collected political artifacts and for Peanuts fans. It came within a hair of being this week’s pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1936404568

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

Cold War Coloring

My pick of the week is another About Comics publication. Cold War Coloring: Political Adult Coloring Books of the Kennedy Era [$9.99] collects and reprints five such books. The foreword and individual introductions to each books place them in the context of the era, providing a leg-up to readers who may not have been born when these coloring books were first published.

The first adult coloring book seems to be the Executive Coloring Book, published in 1961. The second one was the JFK Coloring Book, which leads off this collection. The book, conceived by Alexander A. Roman purports to be written by the young Caroline Kennedy. The copy is actually written by the prolific Paul Laikin, who I think wrote for every humor magazine of the 1950s through the 1980s. The illustrations are by MAD superstar Mort Drucker. It’s an amusing, charming book and more concerned with the nation’s fascination with than the politics of the moment. It’s wonderful.

The New Frontier Coloring Book is from 1962. Published by the son of a Republican senator, its snide tone will be familiar to those who follow current right-wing political cartoons. It’s anti-Kennedy with little to no regard for facts or reason. The art is as week as the writing with mediocre caricatures repeated over and over again. Still, I applaud About Comics for balancing this book between the two American parties.

The Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev Coloring Book (1962) was written by Amram Ducovny, the father of X-Files star David Duchovny. Don’t ask me to explain the spelling discrepancy of the last names. This coloring book is kind of funny, though it takes its cues from cold war propaganda. The Ken Nunes and Adrien Prober drawings are lively but not quite polished.

Khrushchev’s Top Secret Coloring Book (1962) is much more fun. It was conceived and written by Gene Shalit and drawn by the legendary Jack Davis. Of the coloring books included in this book, this one is the best drawn and the wittiest.

The John Birch [Society] Coloring Book (1962) is a fair but biting poke at the paranoia which characterized that group. The John Birch Society saw Communists and a One World Government everywhere that it looked. Mocking them was too easy then and it’s too easy today. This one was created by Martin Cohen and Dennis Altman, two of the creators of the Executive Coloring Book, and Robert Natkin.

Overall, Cold War Coloring is a remarkable volume. It reminds me of an era I barely understood as a child and clarify those times for me. It’s a perfect gift for coloring book buffs, nostalgia fans and political memorabilia collectors.

ISBN 978-1936404-62-9

About Comics will be publishing additional “Presidential Bookshelf” volumes. I await them eagerly.

My next convention appearance will be at Indy Pop Con, June 17- 19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. But I’ll be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #160

Cartoonist Lucy Knisley is a national treasure. If you need proof of that, you need only read her newest work. Something New [First Second; $19.99] is a nearly 300-page graphic autobiography charting Knisley’s journey to marriage.

Three years after Knisley broke with her boyfriend, John came back into her life and proposed. That which had divided them had ceased to be issues. To me, Lucy and John had clearly been “the one” for each other and, if that was all this book was about, it would still have been an entertaining romance tale. But, instead, Knisley has written a delightful hilarious, honest and sometimes frightening exploration of two outside-of-the-box lovers facing one of the most cherished institutions in our culture and finding a way to make it (mostly) their own.

Something New takes readers along each step of the way in easy-to-digest chapters. The sheer amount of human interactions and useful information in each chapter is staggering, especially considering the amazing addendums/epilogues to each chapter. Just forget about saying yes to the dress. Lucy and Jon should be the stars of a TV show looking at their wedding and then getting involved with other weddings. I’d watch that show in a heartbeat.

True confession. I cry at weddings. I’m not obvious about it or, at least, I don’t think I’m obvious about it. But I tear up at these things because the union of two people is either a beautiful thing or a horror waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting bride and groom. I’m 32 years into my wonderful marriage so I’m always hoping for the best at these things.

So, yes, I got a little teary at various times while reading this book. Sometimes Lucy or John would do something so wondrous that I shed a tear of joy. Sometimes I felt the sting of frustration when things didn’t do quite so well. Overall, I smile and laughed a lot more than I got all misty-eyed. This is a funny and life-affirming graphic autobiography. It’s my pick of the week and – say it with me – should be in every public and school library and in the home library of every true devotee of the comics art form. I’m ordering some extra copies to give out as gifts.

ISBN 978-1-62672-249-1

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

Arrow Volume 1

The CW’s Arrow is one of my favorite TV series, something it shares with both DC’s and Marvel’s comics-inspired shows. However, it was just recently that I first read any of the short Arrow comic-book-style stories posted online and in various print editions. I liked what I read.

Arrow Volume One [DC Comics; $16.99] features nineteen short comics stories by a variety of writers and artists, among them the show’s executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, and Mike Grell, the legendary creator whose Green Arrow work is the standard by which other interpretations are weighed. This first volume was published in 2013 and has had additional printings since then.

These stories take place around the televised episodes. They add to those episodes and reveal background and other secrets only hinted at in those episodes. Each story is ten pages long and manages to tell a complete and satisfying tale in those ten pages. There have been times when I have felt such compact storytelling was a skill lost to the comics ages. I’m pleased to see it is still practiced.

I don’t know if I’d classified any of the stories as great per se, but they are all entertaining and well done. The stories were done by many writers and artists, but every character is in character, and the visuals retain the action, drama and realism of the show. That’s impressive for stories of this length.

There have been three volumes of these Arrow comics stories. I plan to read the other two as soon as possible.

Arrow Vol. 1

ISBN 978-1-4012-4299-2

Arrow Vol. 2 [$16.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-4603-7

Arrow Season 2.5 [$19.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-5748-4

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

Scooby-Doo Team-Up 2

While Scooby-Do! Team-Up isn’t the weirdest take on the classic and beloved cartoon – I’m thinking DC’s forthcoming Scooby Apocalypse wins that “honor: hands down – it’s still pretty far out there. But I read Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 2 by Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela [DC; $12.99] last week and it just plain tickled me.

Scooby and his meddling kids go back into the past for a hilarious visit with the Flintstones, then go into the future to team up with the Jetsons. There are also adventures with Superman, Jonny Quest and Secret Squirrel and a spooky crime caper with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Fisch’s stories are clever and very funny with enough meta jokes to please my inner fan. The art by Brizuela and Scott Jeralds is lively in design and sure-handed in the storytelling. The original cartoons should only have looked and moved this well.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up is good fun for all ages. There have been two volumes to date and I hope more are coming.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 1 [$12.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-4946-5

Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 2

ISBN 978-1-4012-5859-7

My next convention appearance will be at Indy Pop Con, June 17- 19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. But I’ll be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #159

If you’re one of those Superman fans who don’t enjoy the Ayn Rand-infused cinematic tragedies of director Zack Snyder, you may well find Totally Unofficial 100 Things Superman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Joseph McCabe [Triumph Books; $14.95] a welcome relief from Snyder’s inability to grasp the most basic concepts of the super-hero genre. This 300-page-plus softcover takes the reader from Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Covering over 75 years of super-adventures and behind-the-scenes events would be a challenge even for a man of steel.

McCabe does an excellent job covering that territory. There are a few places where he states his opinions as facts, which is always annoying to a grumpy old fan like me, and one case where he seems to be completely ignorant of an individual’s criminality, but he’s able to leap years and decades of Superman history with a hundred breezy chapters, over two dozen interviews with actors, comic-book creators and movie makers, and countless illustrations and photos. Okay, yes, someone could count them, but that someone wouldn’t be me because I would lose count and have to start over and just would never finish this review.

There’s also one terrific foreword by my pal Mark Waid, one of my favorite comics writer and one of the four or five writers I would hire to write Superman if I was in charge of the character. A fan can dream.

I read 100 Things Superman – What? You expect me to type the entire title again? – over a few weeks. It sat on top of a pile of books I keep on my bedroom night stand. I’d read a dozen pages before I went to sleep and before I would take a nap and sometimes because reading a book I knew I’d review is something I can delude myself into considering not goofing off. Because it wasn’t. I was working. No, really. Stop snickering. I hate you.

100 Things Superman is a swell book. It would make a great gift for the comics reader in your life. It would make a great gift for the new Superman fan who, despite those Zack Snyder movies, loves the character and wants to know more about him. It would make a great gift for you to give yourself. Because you deserve it and because you weren’t snickering a paragraph ago.

ISBN 978-1-62937-186-3

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

Classic Popeye

IDW’s Classic Popeye [$4.99 per issue] is one of the true delights of this true Golden Age of Comics. Readers can enjoy wonderful new comics from all over the world as well as classic and not-quite-so-classic comic books from the past. This title earns its adjective issue after issue.

Classic Popeye #44 reprints Popeye #44 [Dell; April-June 1958} with stories and art by Bud Sagendorf. Save for the back cover house ad and two small, bottom-of-the-page house ads, the issue is cover-to-cover entertainment. Two Popeye stories, a short O. G. Wotasnozzle tale, two one-page Popeye gags and a single-page text story. Given that a near-mint condition copy of the original comic could easily sell for a hundred dollars, five bucks seems like a real bargain to Thrifty Tony.

The stories are funny and imaginative. Swee’pea opens a mysterious box and out pops a strange creature called Orbert, which grants the lad’s every wish. Modern readers will laugh and then be ashamed of themselves at a panel in which Popeye grabs Bluto by the collar and demands to know “What’s in the box?”

In the middle story, Wotasnozzle accompanies his annoyed landlord on a fishing trip. As usual, O.G.’s scientific devices are not yet ready for the marketplace.

The second Popeye story has Swee’pea kidnapped by criminals wanting to know where Popeye has buried the vast quantities of pirate gold the one-eyed sailor has found over the years. The so obvious answer had me laughing out loud.

IDW has been reprinting these reprints as Popeye Classics. They’ve published seven hardcover volumes to date with an eighth volume on the schedule for September. These volumes may be difficult to find and even a little pricey, but it’s worth looking for them and also looking for bargains.

Arf…these am some swell comical books.

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

Johnny Red

Garth Ennis writes war comics that are the equal of all but a few of our history’s very best war comics – Harvey Kurtzman’s EC Comics titles and Archie Goodwin’s Blazing Combat – and superior to most titles in the genre. Currently, he almost has the genre to himself between War Stories (Avatar) and Johnny Red (Titan), my pick of the week for this week.

Johnny Red first appeared in Battle, the renowned British weekly of the 1970s. Created by writer Tom Tully and artist Joe Colquhoun, the ongoing serial told of a Royal Air Force cadet who received a dishonorable discharge after hitting a superior officer. He ended up joining and becoming the leader of a Russian fighter squadron. That’s not the entire Johnny Red story, but it’s enough for the purposes of this review.

Johnny Red #1 [$3.99] starts with a wealthy collector of warplanes bankrolling the restoration of a Hurricane, a single-seat British fighter plane that could be catapulted from the deck of a ship for what would, unless a pilot could manage to reach a friendly land, almost certainly be its last flight. The restoration craftsmen have done research into the history of this aircraft, which conversation leads us into the dangerous life of our title hero.

In the six issues published to date, Ennis gives us grim-but-real characters fighting and sometimes surviving in the perilous setting of the Second World War. There are brave men and women facing doom on a daily basis. There is courage and an odd fellowship. There are dastardly Germans and corrupt Russians. It’s a hopeless situation, but the sharp writing and the explosive art draw the reader into it and make you feel like you’re facing the same perils.

I can’t say enough good things about the art of Keith Burns. He is a keen storyteller and, when the pages erupt in battle, it’s as if bullets and flaming metal are all around you. I think it’s the most exciting war art since Joe Kubert, Russ Heath and Sam Glanzman were at their best. Were I able to afford original art, I’d bust open my budget to get one of Burns’ magnificent art combat spreads. Wow, this is great stuff.

Johnny Red is one of the best comics being published today. Besides all of the above, each issue also features a historical text piece or two. If you’re more inclined to write for a collection, Johnny Red: Collection 1 [$16.99] is due to be released in October of this year. It’d make a great gift for war buffs and war comic book fans alike. It gets my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1782761853

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #158

This week is my first-ever “First Issue Special” review column in which I’ll be taking a look at the first issues of three new comic-book titles. Which one will be my pick of the week? I’ll save that for this week’s big finish.

Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates makes his comic-book writing debut in Black Panther #1 [$4.99] and it is a breathtaking journey into the soul of Wakanda. I have expressed my dissatisfaction and even disgust with how the Black Panther and Wakanda have been seen in Marvel comic books. Unconquerable Wakanda has been conquered at least three times in recent years. T’Challa’s innate nobility has been tarnished as inferior comics writers – those who would bring darkness to the most optimistic of comics genres – brought him down to their level. Had I been relaunching the Black Panther, I would have ignored all of that and claimed it all went away when reality was remade in the wake of Secret Wars III. Coates does not do this.

Coates jumps into the rodeo and rides all of these untidy elements. He presents a Wakanda divided, but the divisions come as a likely result of the multiple tragedies. While this initial issues is more than a mite short of the Panther action so brilliantly portrayed in the 1970s stories written by Don McGregor, there are political and spiritual conflicts that intrigue me. I do still want to see of the “people punching other people” that Coates himself lists as one of the key elements of a good super-hero comic book, but this issue is a good start.

The issue’s visuals are as wonderful as the writing. Artist Brian Stelfreeze brings a thoughtful design sense to every aspect of the Wakandan backdrops and costuming, drawing heavily on the “African mentality” of the script and settings. His storytelling is likewise excellent. Color artist Laura Martin enhances the art. This issue is a class act all the way: a terrific story and bonus pages on the development and aspirations of the series. Editorial earns points with a “what has gone before” opening page that sets the stage for this and future issues.

I only buy a handful of Marvel Comics titles. Black Panther is and will remain among them as long as subsequent issues are as terrific as this premiere effort.

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

Grizzly Shark

I’m not sure comics creator Ryan Ottley knows who I am or anything about me. However, if he did know anything about me, he would have known it’s not in me to resist buying a comic book called Grizzly Shark [Image; $3.50]. Outside of my wife and kids and a few of my friends, comics are my first love. My second love is cheesy monster movies. I am the guy who will watch Dinoshark and Mega-Shark Versus Giant Porcupine and every other darn movie of that sort. The cheese is strong within me.

Grizzly Shark is about a shark who has somehow ended up in a forest and is now chowing down on anyone who crosses his path. Though we rarely see the entire shark – I suppose Ottley’s budget for special effects was limited – we do see the critter munch on a whole bunch of folks in gory and hilarious ways. Colorist Ivan Plascencia uses a lot of red in this comic book.

This is a goofy comic book. I love it. I will be back for the next issue and as many more issues as Ottley wants to make. It’s like he can see into my very soul.

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

Power Lines

Jimmie Robinson’s Power Lines [Image; $3.99] likewise speaks to me, albeit in a far more serious manner. It’s a tale of ancient power returning to our divisive world and one that doesn’t shy away from the barriers preventing our unity.

When we meet Derrick – his street name is D-Trick – he and his pals are heading to an affluent, mostly white California suburb to tag the buildings there. Their graffiti is their art and they believe creating it in this place will insure their fame. However, Tight, the leader of the crew, is there to smash and grab whatever he can. He shatters a car window and steals the purse inside the vehicle.

Derrick is spotted by the local police before he can tag anything. He runs from them when. They corner him…and that’s when strange things happen. Derrick feels the power around him and he flies away from the cops. He has no idea what just happened.

When we meet Sarah Bellingham, the 48-year-old widow whose car was broken into, she appears to be a stone racist. Yet she’s also been touched by the power, something Derrick recognizes when Saran and her ex-solider son come looking for her stolen phone. Later events bring Derrick and Sarah into contact again and we get to see her in a different light.

This comic has heroes and villains sans costumes. It has mystery. It has great characters. It has surprises and, at the end of issue #2, a truly “gotta see what happens next” cliffhanger. I’m hooked.

Power Lines is a one-man show. Robinson created the series, writes it, draws it, colors it and letters it. I envy his multiple talents and I recommend this series to anyone who likes super-heroes with a different attitude.

My pick of the week was a tough call, but the honor goes to Power Lines. I hope T’Challa and Grizzly Shark will be good sports about my choice.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #157

My pick of the week is Al Plastino: Last Superman Standing by Eddy Zeno [TwoMorrows; $17.95]. It’s an “illustrated biography” of the artist who, along with Wayne Boring and Curt Swan, defined the Man of Steel for readers of the 1950s and 1960s.

Something I hear frequently from comics fans, and I do not except myself here, is that they didn’t appreciate this or that artist as a kid. Plastino was one of those for me. Boring’s work on Superman was dark in its depictions of the mundane and hauntingly wondrous in its depictions of the character’s sci-fi elements. Swan drew a Superman that was our smiling friend and utterly graceful when he uses his powers. Plastino was the middle artist. Yet, when I look at Plastino’s work these days, I see an uncanny mastery of emotion and storytelling that equals the work of the other classic Superman artists of the era.

Zeno is a treasure among comics historians. He loves his subjects and, in the case of Plastino, counted him as a friend. Many of his conversations with the artist, conversations which form the heart and soul of this book, happened within a short time of Plastino’s 2015 death. There is a remarkable immediacy to this book, a sense for the reader that they have also gotten a chance to know the man behind the art.

Zeno covers Plastino’s life and career in fascinating detail that, despite said detail, made me yearn for more. More examples of the man’s art, more insights from the solid professional that Plastino was, more lessons on the craft and work ethic his subject brought to his comics and other work. Without hesitation, I will tell you the smartest lesson Plastino has to impart to all who follow him, is to have multiple clients. It’s a practice I have adopted in the past decade of my life and it has served me well.

From the formative years of the artist to his fight to see his art for “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” placed in its proper and intended home, Al Plastino: Last Superman Standing is clearly the definitive work on this great comics creator. All I could ask for beyond this is a collection of Plastino’s best Superman tales. It would be a fitting companion volume to Zeno’s award-deserving book and an equally deserved honor for Plastino.

ISBN 978-1-60549-066-3

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

Lois Lane

Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond [Switch Press; $16.95 hardcover, $9.95 softcover] was published last May, but I just got around to reading it this May. The only downside to living in this, the true Golden Age of Comics, is that I’ll never have time to read and watch all the comics stuff I’d like to read and watch. Here’s this young adult novel’s back cover come-on:

From acclaimed author Gwenda Bond comes a contemporary reimagining of teenage Lois Lane. She’s an Army brat who’s moved more times than she can count with her father General Sam Lane. But now they’re in Metropolis for good, and Lois is determined to fly straight. Stay quiet. Fit it. Maybe make a friend. As soon as she walks into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive video game they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her snazzy new job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But even she needs help sometimes. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a-friend, a guy she knows only his screen name: SmallvilleGuy.

Young adult readers will relate to the bullying, the loneliness and the people in positions who do nothing about either. As a parent, I can relate to all of that, though the biggest bullies with whom I had to deal during my own children’s time in school were abusive teachers and an unconcerned principal. What Lois and her new pals go through really hit home for me.

There are many great elements in this book. There’s an X-Files vibe that is just barely science fiction. There’s a great take on Perry White, editor of The Daily Planet. There are intriguing scenes with General Lane that make you wonder what kind of father and what kind of man he really is. Me, I don’t like him.

Also wonderful are the online interactions between young Lois and her unseen SmallvilleGuy. His name is   never mentioned, but readers will really get the sense of who this young man is and who he is destined to become.

Is there an Eisner Awards category for novels based on comic books? There should be. Because this book deserved to be nominated in that category.

Bond’s Lois Lane: Double Down [also $16.95] is the second book in this series and was published this month. I plan on ordering it as soon as I finish writing this column.

Lois Lane: Fallout

ISBN 978-1-630790-005-9

Lois Lane: Double Down

ISBN 978-1-630790-038-7

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

i am a hero

Zombie outbreaks are not usually my thing, but when the good people at Dark Horse Comics sent me I am a Hero Omnibus Volume 1 by Kendo Hanazawa [$19.95], I figured I’d read a chapter or three to see if it had something more than the typical zombie outbreak comic book or movie. It did.

The lead character of I am a Hero is an unsuccessful manga artist working as one of a small army of assistants to a very successful creator. Hideo Suzuki’s one series crashed and burned after a short run. Now he’s 35 years old with no self-esteem to speak of. “I am a hero” is the mantra he chants to himself. His job is exhausting. His life is one of unrealized dreams, unfulfilling relationships and unending frustration.

The build to the “zombie outbreak” is brilliantly quiet and slow. The horror lurks in the background: news stories and shadows in the streets. When it explodes into Suzuki’s life, the fearful action is swift and unrelenting. A “hero” woefully unequipped for survival is forced into a fight and a flight for survival. Fans of zombie tales will find the requisite gore and gotcha moments in this manga, but it’s the character of Suzuki that has me hooked and eager for the next volume in the series.

ISBN 978-1-61655-920-5

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella