TONY’S TIPS #320

Whew! My 2019 convention season is over. My final appearances were at the Akron Comicon in Ohio, followed a weekend later by the Grand Rapids Comic Con in Michigan. Both were fantastic events, but I’m looking forward to spending the next three months at home.

There are a dozen books I want to write. I’ve set myself the lofty goal of finishing three of them before my first appearance of 2020. Can the market support that many Isabella books at once? I hope we get the chance to find out.

At both of those conventions, I had fans tell me my review columns here and elsewhere introduced them to some of their favorite comics and graphic novels. I never tire of hearing that. If these columns have a mission, it’s just that. Bringing comics readers to amazing comics they may not have heard of before I reviewed them. Let’s see if any of this week’s three subjects fit that bill…

For a week in late October, and perhaps longer as I don’t check the lists frequently, Raina Telgemeier’s Guts [Graphix; $12.99] was the bestselling book in America. I’m not talking just the bestselling graphic novel. I’m talking bestselling period, even topping Stephen King’s The Institute. When I checked the book’s Amazon listing, I learned it was currently ranked #1 in Children’s Biography Comics, Anxiety Disorders Books and Children’s Difficult Discussions Books. All of these honors are well-deserved.

In Guts, the New York Times bestselling author and multiple Eisner Award-winning creator, Telgemeier tells the true story of her bout with an anxiety-triggered stomach disorder. From the back cover of this softcover book:

Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?

Having suffered similar disorders in my life, Guts was difficult to read at times. Telgemeier relates her story with courage, humanity and humor. It’s aimed at readers eight to twelve years old, but I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to a younger child and would darn near force it upon an older reader. Especially a delusional older reader who thinks comics are dead or dying. Comics are so much bigger than superhero crossover sagas and dark interpretations of superheroes twisted because comics publishers lack imagination.

I’m not going to proclaim Telgemeier is the future of comics, but I’ll put forth the undeniable truth that she is definitely a future of comics. Quality and sales are the proof of that.

Consider Guts and all other Telgemeier original graphic novels as highly recommend by this comics veteran. You’re in for a whole lot of great reading.

ISBN 978-0-545-85250-0

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Mickey Mouse

I was not a Mickey Mouse fan in my youth. I liked the serials that ran in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories okay, but it was hard for me to find every chapter of them. I also found them tame compared to the other comics I was reading. Then, as an adult, I discovered Mickey comic stories from overseas. These were more action-packed than what I’d read previously. I related to this feisty adventurer, short in stature but big on bravery. I particularly liked the great Italian creators who worked on these stores.

Mickey Mouse: The Quest for the Missing Memories [IDW; $14.99] is a particular treasure. Written by Francesco Artibani, this eight-part saga starts with Mickey defeating the Phantom Bolt at the cost of his memories. With chapters drawn by eight top Disney artists, he tries to live his life while reconnecting to character traits he can’t actually access emotionally.

One by one, teaming with a amazing cast of friends and heroes, our Mickey does recover all the missing pieces of his personality. It is an exciting thriller filled with friendship, heart and dangerous villains. This is my Mickey. More please.

Mickey Mouse: The Quest for the Missing Memories is suitable for readers of all ages. I know Mickey might not be first and foremost among kid favorites today, but I think this trade paperback would make a splendid gift for a youngster in your life. As well as for older friends and family members who would love to catch up with an old friend.

ISBN 978-1-68405-485-5

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Twilight Man

The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television [Life Drawn; $22.95] is a comics biography of the man who revolutionized television and became a beloved guide to millions of “tourists” as they journeyed into the realms of the fantastic and the future and the supernatural. The sign post he showed us directed us to some of the best acting and writing ever broadcast on television.

Writer/artist Koren Shadmi uses a storytelling style that fans of The Twilight Zone will recognize to show us the life of a man who was driven to expand television as he knew it. From his time in the military to the end of his life, Sterling experienced triumphs and losses. In short order, Shadmi brings him to vibrant life, making at least this reader wish he’d met Sterling and spend an afternoon with him. I know I would have come away smarter from the encounter.

Sterling lived his life with intensity. Shadmi allows us to share that life, albeit from a distance. If you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone, this book definitely belongs in your home library. Me? I just took a mid-paragraph break to order the complete series on DVD. I can’t wait to see and follow those signposts.

ISBN 978-1-64337-571-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #319

This is my comics industry origin story as I have always known it. I was working at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The newspaper was your basic tool of the rich and powerful. We went on strike. The owner of the paper called his pal the mayor. Mounted policemen attacked our picket line. I was knocked to the sidewalk and watched as the hoof of a horse hit the sidewalk inches from my face. I had a fear of horses for years afterwards.

I got up, dusted myself off, walked away from the PD building, went home to my apartment. Once there, I called Roy Thomas, newly-minted editor in chief of Marvel Comics. I asked my friend Roy if there were any jobs at Marvel, even an entry-level job. He offered me a job assisting Stan Lee on The Mighty World of Marvel British weekly and other projects. I accepted the job that night, even though it’d mean taking a pay cut.

The Plain Dealer settled the strike. I gave the newspaper two weeks notice and got bitched out for not giving them three or four weeks notice by a man later convicted of murder.

My first day at Marvel was Halloween, 1972, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or so I’d believed for 47 years.

In August, Roy and I were both guests of the New Mexico Comic Expo. We did a panel on the Marvel Bullpen of the 1970s. That’s when Roy told me something I’d never known before. I was already on his and Stan Lee’s radar when I made that fateful call.

Stan had asked Roy to find a “copywriter” to assist him with this and that. Roy mentioned I knew Marvel well, worked for a newspaper and wrote well. Stan okayed my being hired. Of course, once I was on staff, other opportunities, including writing comics and editing comics magazines came my way. To this day, I know my relationships with Roy and Stan as the two most important in my career. My joy in them is only enhanced by the new knowledge that, even if I hadn’t almost got face-smushed by a police horse, I would have ended up at merry olde Marvel.

How I got over my fear of horses also has a Marvel connection. Val Mayerik, who did the Living Mummy with me back in the day, was on a polo team in my native Ohio. He invited Saintly Wife Barb and I to one of his matches. When I stood next to Val’s beautiful well-trained mount, my fear of horses just evaporated. I haven’t had any equine-related night terrors since.

Moving to this week’s reviews…

Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas [$34.99] is a fitting salute to one of the best comics writers of them all. Weighing in at 352 pages, this softcover volume collects nineteen done-in-one stories with a bit of commentary from Thomas.

The book leads off with Modeling with Millie #44, the first story Thomas scripted for Marvel. I was particularly delighted to see it here because, somehow, I’ve never read it. Indeed, I haven’t read more than a few of Roy’s stories for Millie and other like titles.

The rest of the contents brought back a lot of memories of how much I was influenced by Roy’s writing. The Avengers stories wherein we first met the Vision. The Sub-Mariner/Thing battle with one of the most poignant final scenes ever. Captain Marvel in “The Mad Master of the Murder Maze,” a Thomas/Gil Kane story I read over and over again in my self-taught study of how to write comic books. And, of course, Avengers #100, drawn by Barry Smith, a textbook example of how to use a great many heroes in a story and still give them all their special moments. Entertaining and educational.

Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas is my pick of this week. No Marvel fan’s library should be without it.

ISBN 978-1-302-91840-8

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Go with Clouds 2

I never reviewed the first volume of Aki Irie’s Go with the clouds, North-by-Northwest. I did list it as one of the “Things that Make Me Happy” in my daily series of Facebook posts by that name. Here’s the Amazon pitch for that debut volume:

The story takes place in Iceland, at land’s end, 64°N. Kei Miyama is a 17-year-old with three secrets: he can talk to cars, he can’t handle pretty girls, and he works as a private investigator. One case has him searching for a beloved dog, another involves reuniting a woman with a man she fell for at first sight. And then comes a case that strikes close to home — searching for his own little brother.

I found Kei intriguing, the story and writing compelling, the art gorgeous. I ordered the second volume immediately.

Go with the clouds, North-by-Northwest 2 [Vertical Comics; $12.95] sort of takes off in an entirely different direction. Kei isn’t on any cases in this book. He’s on vacation with his little brother in Iceland. He still gets flustered around pretty girls and women. His connection with cars is mentioned briefly. An older character makes his debut in the series, though his past history with Kei is left almost entirely unspoken. But, really, what this volume delivers is a virtual vacation guide to Iceland…and it’s fascinating.

Irie made all the facts and scenery shots work as a terrific travel adventure. His art is more gorgeous than ever here. If Iceland were not so cold, he could have convinced me to vacation there. Just a different and quite wonderful book. I don’t know what path the next volume will take, but I’m on board.

ISBN 978-1-947194-68-7

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Scooby Doo Team Up 50

Scooby-Doo Team-Up became my favorite DC Comics title. Naturally, it’s been cancelled. Curse you, DC!

Issue #50 [$2.99] features “Crisis on Infinite Scoobys” by writer Sholly Fisch, artist Scott Jeralds and colorist Silvana Brys. It’s a delightful send-up of the alternate realities concept that’s now seen so frequently in super-hero comics from DC, Marvel and other publishers of spandex-clad protagonists.

As with Fisch’s other writing for this title, it’s a loving send-up that never gets crude or snarky. It guest-stars Batman and Robin, Bat-Mite and Scooby-Mite, and more versions of the Scooby-Doo gang than I knew existed. I laughed out loud frequently.

Farewell, dear Scooby-Doo Team-Up. I’ll always cherish the amazing fun you brought me. We may never see your like again, but I really we hope we do.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #318

I became an avid comic-book reader at a time when being known as an avid comic-book reader marked you as an awkward, backward outsider. That I was often the smartest kid in my elementary school classes didn’t change the cruel stereotype. More than once a nun asked what was wrong with me.

I’d like to say things changed in high school, but we had lockers in high school. Lockers into which a short comics fan could easily be shoved. Oddly enough, I had a side business selling comic books to students who didn’t want to be seen buying comics. Of course, if these transactions had been seen, the official response would have been along the lines of “Well, at least he’s selling drugs and not those evil comic books.”

My less-than-half-a-year in college introduced me to two important concepts: sex and also that I didn’t need to spend four more years in school to be a professional writer. Valuable lessons.

Today, comic books turn up in the strangest places. Hank Weisinger, the son of legendary Superman editor Mort Weisinger, has demanded the return of his father’s papers from the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. This was in response to false statements made on Fox News by Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Though these statements had nothing to do with Superman, Weisinger believes them to be antithetical to “Superman’s values of truth, justice and the American way. Said Weisinger:

“I cannot have my father’s papers at an university represented by a congresswoman who is the exact opposite.”

You know my political leanings. Even so, I would say the greatest need for truth and justice is in places where those values might not receive the respect they deserve. Weisinger has the inarguable right to do what he wishes with his father’s papers, but Cheney and others could learn some valuable lessons from the Man of Steel. We should put some classic comics into the Congressional Record. Do good and every one can be a Superman.

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Marvel Comics is celebrating its 80 years of making comics with a number of just plain fun specials. Among them is Avengers: Loki Unleashed #1 ($4.99) by writer Roger Stern, artist Ron Lim, color artist Espen Grundetgern and letterer Joe Caramagna. If I were to name my favorite Avengers writers, Stern would rank very high among them, somewhat below Stan Lee and Roy Thomas but well ahead of most others. A new Avengers comic book written by Roger was not remotely a hard sell for me.

This 30-page story fits nicely into the continuity of Stern’s run on the title. Though there are an unfortunate number of editorial notes directing readers to old issues, the story is easy to follow without them. My own preference would have been an annotations page as we see in the current History of the Marvel Universe.

What pleases me most about this adventure is that every character who appears in it is, as they used to say, on model. They look like themselves. They sound like themselves. They act like themselves. Even the godly among them are both heroic and human. That humanity is what connects me to heroes.

Is this story the stuff of awards? No. It’s an enjoyable tale that satisfies from start to finish. It’s a nice reminder that you could do an epic event and not immediately go to the next epic event. It is a refreshing story for both the heroes and the readers, but one that never fails to excite and thrill. It’s a good comic book and makes no apologies for not being as convoluted and grim as so many modern comic books.

I like many modern comic books. I also like treats like this one. Even as I weep that no one at Marvel thought to ask me to do an It! The Living Colossus or Tigra one-shot. Maybe they’ll call me for the 90th anniversary.

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Space Action

Odd bedfellows. Pre-Code Classics: Space Action and World War III [PS Artbooks; $44.95] reprints the three issues of the first title published by Ace Magazines in 1952 and the two issues of the latter title published in 1952 and 1953, close to a year apart from each other. Half of this hardcover collection is awful. The other half is insanely intriguing.

Space Action was a basic low-rent science fiction anthology. Every story has a pulp magazine style title and interchangeable heroes. Dull plots with overwritten captions and dialogue. Art that fails to excite.

We don’t know who wrote the stories, though Jerry Bails’ Who’s Who says pulp legend Walter B. Gibson was a contributor. I’m guessing he knocked out the Space Action text stories because I don’t want to think he wrote any of the lousy comics stories.

There are some decent artists in these three issues: Lou Cameron, Rocco Mastroserio and Mike Sekowsky. However, their work is almost as uninspired as the writing.

The good stuff comes in the second half of this collection. World War III was an insanely frantic comic book. The covers warned that these stories were about “the war that will never happen if America remains strong and alert.” The first issue’s cover shows Washington D.C. on the wrong end of an atomic bomb attack. The first story has this opening copy:

Let the reason for publishing this shocking account of World War III be completely clear. We want only to awaken America…and the world…to grim facts. The one way to prevent this mass destruction of humanity is to prepare NOW. Only a super-strong and fully enlightened America can stop this crushing horror of the future!

Written by Robert Turner, the title opens with the Russians bombing  an unprepared America. Carnage and death follow with the Americans desperately trying to defend against more attacks while preparing to strike back against the enemy. This isn’t your typical war comic book. It’s an anthology title with no recurring characters.

Artists Ken Rice, Lou Cameron, Jim McLaughlin and the unidentified artists of two stories in the second issue lean into the carnage in a big way. There are some truly shocking – but still more or less tasteful – images in these comic books. I wonder if the grimness of the first issue was the reason it was a year before the publisher released the second and final issue.

This volume is worth getting just for the World War III material. On that basis, I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-78636-498-2

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Usagi Yojimbo Book 8

My pick of the week is The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 8 by multiple Eisner and Harvey Award winner Stan Sakai [Dark Horse; $24.99]. If you’ve been reading my columns for any appreciable length of time, you know I consider Sakai our greatest living cartoonist and his samurai rabbit protagonist to be one of the greatest heroes in the history of comics.

This hefty softcover tome runs nearly six hundred pages, which is tremendous bang for your buck. Usagi faces murderers and monsters, ninjas and political schemers and even the elements. These stories are rich with the culture and history of Japan without ever letting
the background information get in the way of the exciting action. I study each of these books as they are published for the lessons in storytelling they impart.

In addition to the several hundred pages of stories, the book also has introductions by some of comicdom’s finest, historical texts, art galleries and more. The only bad thing about this and the other volumes in the series is that the next volume in the series hasn’t already been published and waiting for me.

Stan Sakai and Usagi Yojimbo are comics legends. I recommend them to anyone who loves comics.

ISBN 978-1-50671-224-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #317

Last week on the CW, we saw the series premiere of Batwoman and the season premieres of Supergirl, Black Lightning and the Flash. Arrow will return for its final season this week with Legends of Tomorrow following in January of 2020.

Over at Netflix, I still have Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Lucifer and the Punisher to watch. On the DC Universe streaming channel, there’s Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and Titans waiting for me. Preacher has concluded its four-season run on AMC, but I still have five episodes of its last season to watch. Not to mention lots of other comics shows on so many streaming channels I can scarcely name them all.

I’m in awe of this abundance of comics-based shows. I remember when all we had was The Adventures of Superman. Years later, Batman and the Green Hornet were on TV, as were at least two sitcoms spoofing super-heroes. We would eventually get the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman. Enough shows to keep our comics hopes alive, but nothing like today.

If I had time enough, I would watch all of the comics-based shows and movies and animated features. Comics entertainment, as opposed to the comics industry itself, has always been my safe place. The industry can break your heart. The comics can heal your soul. I’ve signed up for the long haul.

When it comes to animated features and the movies and the TV shows, do we have too much of a good thing? Probably, though I would make the case that what we actually have is too little time. Too little time to watch all the amazing comics entertainment available to us. Too little time to read all the great comics material available to us. Too little time.

What I try to do here in “Tony’s Tips” is talk about items you may or may not enjoy. What I strive to do is save you time by pointing you toward great stuff and warning you away from not-great stuff. When a reader thanks me for telling them about some comic or other item they loved, it makes my day. That’s what I’m here for.

Here are this week’s reviews…

I have read quite a bit of cool stuff recently, but my pick of the week is Harryhausen: The Lost Movies by John Walsh [Titan Books; $39.95]. Ray Harryhausen was one of our greatest special effects creators, utilizing painstaking methods to make monsters and devise scenarios that astound and entertain viewer many decades after they first appeared.

Walsh is an award-winning filmmaker whose works focus on social justice. A knowledgeable fan, his 1989 documentary set a high mark for the cinematic study of Harryhausen. This documentary and the HD audio and commentary Walsh did with Harryhausen are all acrchived by the charitable Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

Harryhausen. One of our greatest filmmakers. Walsh. A filmmaker who knows his Harryhausen stuff. Brought together for an amazing “what if” book of what might have been. There are drawings, models and treatments of ideas that never went beyond that initial stage. The book also contains projects turned down by Harryhausen and scenes that had to be cut from his movies. As you read this book, prepared to be mortally wounded every few pages as you read about the great movies that could have been.

Fun fact. In 1984, an X-Men script by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas was sent to Harryhausen. That’s one of the projects he turned down, but I would love to see that script someday.

Harryhausen: The Lost Movies is a beautifully-made book. It’s not comics history per se, but I don’t believe I’ve ever met a comics fan of my generation that wasn’t also a Harryhausen fan. This will make a great gift for someone you love.

ISBN 9781789091106

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Devil 1

I confess I’m envious of writers who get paid to play with public domain super-heroes like The Death-Defying Devil aka Lev Gleason’s original 1940s Daredevil. Gail Simone has teamed with artist Walter Geovani to do a new Dynamite series with the character. I’ve read the first two issues ($3.99 each) of the “Teen+” rated series and am enjoying it, though I am dismayed by the addition of an occult element in the second issue. Must we take the character’s name so literally?

I’m not knocking Simone here. She does a fine job with this street-level hero, not surprising given the ongoing quality of her work. It’s mostly that I believe there are wonderful comic books waiting to be mined from the street level without supernatural elements or reality-threatening crisis or the other “go bigger” stuff we see in too many super-hero comics. I can barely read a newspaper without coming up with several ideas for stories and characters.

My personal preferences aside, I recommend this series. As noted, the writing is excellent. The Geovani art is solid. You don’t need to read a dozen other comic books to know what’s going on in this one. Check it out.

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Sham Comics 1

Sham Comics [Source Point Press; $4 per issue] has become a must-read for me. Featuring public-domain characters and comics stories,  Tim Fuller and the other re-writers of those tales have done their “riffs” on Golden Age super-heroes, romance comics, medical comics and more. These selected tales were drawn by industry legends like Jack Kirby, Basil Wolverton, Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta and Vince Colletta’s studio.

Not every parody hits the mark. Some of them get fairly crude. The sheer inventiveness of these re-purposed comics has made me a fan. I hope we get a trade paperback collection of these fun comics. In the meantime, I highly recommend the individual issues.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #316

I had a terrific time this past weekend at the second Flaming River Con at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library. It was the second year for the Midwest’s first LGBTQA+ comics convention, a celebration of geek culture. Though the focus was on the LGBTQA+ community, it was a welcoming event for all.

I was on a panel discussing “Toxic Masculinity in Comics.” It was interesting conversation and I’ll likely write about it at length in the near future. Just to tease you, everyone on the panel agreed with me that the Batman is toxic as heck.

The convention after-party was held at The Side Quest, a geek bar in nearby Lakewood, Ohio. The intimate venue offers board games, closed-caption genre films such as Tremors, a favorite of mine, and drinks and food with geek-inspired names. My drink of choice was a
“Sonic Screwdriver,” but the bar also concocted a Black Lightning drink to commemorate my creation.

Inclusion makes comics better. So, even if none of the initials are applicable to me, I’m going to do what I can to be an ally to and support all the diverse voices in our art form.

This week’s reviews are for three incredible books. Each of them is so good you should consider all of them my picks of the week. Let us begin…

Marvel Masters of Suspense: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 [$100] is an important book on several levels. It collects all of Marvel’s Ditko-drawn anthology stories from April 1956 to December 1961. It is a testament to the growth and passion of the artist’s
storytelling abilities. Images and panel/page designs that remain stunning six decades after they were first published.

Though there are a handful of war and western stories in this book, most of the tales are fantasy and science fiction. Some of them are horror, but comic books couldn’t call that genre by name after the coming of the Comics Code. The only other Marvel artist who ranks with Ditko as the master of these genres is Jack Kirby. Those two men, along with editor/writer Stan Lee changed the face of comics forever. We are all in their considerable debt.

What you’ll find in these five-page efforts are keenly-drawn actors who play different roles in different stories. You’ll find “shock” endings, often used again and again. Surprising size ratios turn up in several sci-fi stories, as does the startling secret of the Abominable Snowman’s true nature. And, oh my, does mankind screw up what could have been life-changing first contacts with beings from other worlds on an alarmingly regular basis.

The writing on the stories is excellent. It’s sometimes corny, but just as often it is inspirational and even poignant. I wish we knew who wrote them. Stan Lee usually signed the stories he wrote. Carl Wessler is credited for several of them, thanks to personal records preserved by comics historians. Most remain uncredited. The team of Lee and brother Larry Lieber likely wrote some of them. I can only hope other records and identifications show up now that these tales have been collected.

Collections editor and book designer Cory Sedlmeier and his team honor Ditko and the other creators and this amazing era of Marvel with their dedicated and stylish work. One of the reasons I don’t retire from writing is so I can afford this and like volumes. I’m fortunate that InStock Trades, the sponsor of this column, always offers great discounts on their omnibus editions.

For me, Marvel Masters of Suspense: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 is indispensable for both its entertainment and historical value. I recommend it to all fans of Ditko and all students of this magical era in Marvel Comics history.

ISBN 978-1-302-91875-0

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Grass

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s Grass [Drawn and Quarterly; $29.95] is very difficult to read. Not because of any failings with the writing or the art. Because it tells the story of a young Korean girl who is forced into service as a sex slave for the Japanese Imperial Army occupying China.

In this horrific chapter of Japanese history, these “comfort women” were raped multiple times a day. They were barely fed. They had no adequate medical care. They were beaten and many of them died as a result of their slavery. They were prisoners without any means of even truly knowing where they were being held and with little hope of ever being reunited with the families. The very families who had sometimes sold them into slavery and who often turned their backs on these innocent women if they did return home. That Japan has not adequately apologized to and compensated the surviving women is an ongoing disgrace in that nation.

Gendry-Kim tells the story of Okseon Lee, a young girl now an old woman who survived the war and all the adversity that followed her the rest of her long life. The cartoonist interviewed Lee several times and formed a bond with her. Her graphic novel starts with the lead-up to the war, continues with the depravities Lee endured and brings readers right up to the struggle of the comfort women to get some kind of justice. The mealy-mouthed Amazon solicitation calls this a “disputed chapter in twentieth-century Asian history.” That description in itself is an insult to Okseon Lee and all the other women forced into sexual slavery. There is no dispute here. Japan committed these grievous crimes. Anyone who tries to lessen those crimes is being deliberately ignorant.

Grass fills me with rage. It takes a brilliantly, powerfully-told graphic novel to do that. You need to read this book. You need to share it with friends. It speaks a truth that needs to be heard and never forgotten.

ISBN 978-1-77046-362-2

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Snow glass apples

Snow, Glass, Apples [Dark Horse; $17.99] was released in August and has already gone back to press for a second edition. With stories and words by Neil Gaiman and adaptation and art by Colleen Doran, it is an unforgettable take on a classic fairy tale. It is a moving graphic novel. It is a wondrously visual graphic novel.

The basic premise is this: What if Snow White were the villain and not the queen who ruled over the lands in which they both existed? That’s all you’re getting from me. I don’t want to diminish any of the disturbing or sensuous scenes and images that await the reader. There are many of them.

Gaiman. Doran. These are creators you can always count on to bring something amazing to their work and your enjoyment in that work. I recommend it for older teens and adults.

ISBN 978-1-50670-976-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #315

A friend recently asked me if I actually enjoyed any of the recent DC and Marvel super-hero books. Such questions are difficult for me to answer because I don’t read comic books in the same way I assume a majority of readers read them. I generally read them in batches of issues or in collections, but that isn’t the biggest difference between myself and those presumed most readers.

When I read super-hero titles, I read them as if each title was its own universe. Years ago, I recognized I can make neither heads nor tails of the convoluted continuities of the Big Two. Popular heroes generally appear in multiple titles at once. Company-wide epics are common and usually universe and even multiverse extinction events. Indeed, it often seems to me that every DC and Marvel series puts existence as we know it in grave peril. Everyone who lives in the DCU or the MU must suffer from perpetual traumatic stress disorder. How could they not, given reality as they know it is threatened in every DC or Marvel super-hero comic book?

Rather than attempt to make logical sense out of these storylines, I choose to believe that what happens in a title stays in a title. Tony Stark Iron Man offers an interesting take on equal rights for artificial intelligences. I’m not sure if it’s mentioned in other Marvel titles, but that doesn’t concern me. I’m enjoying what’s on display in this title.

When my friend asked me this question, I mentioned Tony Stark Iron Man and the recent Super Sons title by Peter Tomasi. I had read the latter in one of the DC/Walmart titles. My friend responded that he couldn’t stand Damien Wayne.

In Super Sons, I saw Damien as a young man striving to be a better person than he was when he was, you know, an assassin. I’m almost always a sucker for a redemption story plus I liked the friendship between Damien and Jon Kent. My friend said Damien was different in the Batman books and not in a good way.

That didn’t surprise me. Given the excesses of the various Batman books, I would not have been surprised to see Damien throwing his foes into a wood chipper. In those Batman books. Damien was fine in Super Sons, which is the only book that mattered to me at the time I was reading it. And thus I maintain a semblance of sanity while I read DC and Marvel super-hero comics.

Moving to this week’s reviews…

Superman Year One #1 [DC Comics; $7.99] came up during the afore-mentioned conversation. With story and art by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr., it’s yet another retelling of Superman’s early years. This time around, it’s part of the “DC Black Label” imprint, which means it’s an oversized comic book intended to appeal to the mature readers. You know, like those who get the giggles when DC shows us Batman’s Batawang.

This premiere issue was okay. I was pleased Miller didn’t include the xenophobic bile that has marked some of his work. My friend was put off by the attempted rape of Lana Lang. It was an ugly scene, to be sure, but the preponderance of unreported rapes that we have since learned about makes that scene more about justice, albeit a somewhat brutal justice, than titillation. I was a bit disturbed by the physical injury Clark Kent visited upon the would-be rapists, but, since the young man was just learning about his powers and the extent of them, I decided that was acceptable. As I said, I found the story okay. Which ain’t bad when you take into account how very weary I have become of origin retellings. Much better than okay was the Romita art, inked by Danny Miki, the Alex Sinclair color art and the John Workman lettering.

Miller is far from a “sure thing” for me these days, but I enjoyed Superman Year One #1 enough to keeping reading the series. Maybe there is hope for a DC imprint named after a lousy beer, after all.

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MAD 9

MAD died for me with the first issue not edited by Bill Morrison. The drop in quality when DC made one of its pound-foolish decisions to cut him from the payroll was immediate and obvious. A few more issues later, things haven’t improved.

MAD #9 [$5.99] is billed as a “Special Tarantino Time Warp Issue.” The first several pages are in black-and-white and designed to look like the MAD magazine of the 1960s. It has a spoof of a fictional TV western mentioned in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as well as retro versions of “Spy Vs. Spy” and “The Lighter Side.” Then comes a return to color and a mixed bag of other features. A few made me laugh. Batman fans will enjoy Kerry Cullen’s one-page “Batman Funnies” and the longer “What If Batman Were Actually 80 Years Old” by writer Arie Kaplan and artist Pete Woods. The latter made me moderately nostalgic for those old DC Comics covers which showed their super-heroes as decrepit senior citizens. I got over that nostalgic feeling rather quickly.

Sidebar. Writing the above paragraph, I typed “The Lightning Side” by mistake. Now I’m trying to figure out what such a feature would look like. Making Black Lightning a comedian wouldn’t be the worst thing DC’s done to him lately.

MAD as we have known it will be going bye-bye. From what I’ve seen in the media, it will likely have new covers and interior reprints. There may be some occasional new material and maybe even some all-new specials. However, given how badly DC misjudged the brand value of MAD, I think it’s a decent bet to return to something similar to its old self. I just hope that happens sooner rather than later and that the magazine signs an editor as savvy as Morrison.

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Tammy Jinty

British comics weeklies have been an interest of mine since before I started my professional comics career as the editor of The Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly and Avengers Comics Weekly. When funds permitted, I was an avid reader of 2000 AD, the still-going-strong weekly starring Judge Dredd.

Back in the day, girls weeklies were big in the United Kingdom. One of the most popular was Tammy. Whenever sales on other girls titles took a dive, they would be merge with Tammy. There have been a few – too few – collections of these comics in recent years.

Earlier this year, Rebellion published the Tammy & Jinty Special 2019 [roughly $5 in US dollars]. The 52-page, full-color magazine featured nine all-new stories. The least of them was entertaining. The best of them made me want more. If someone published a weekly comics magazine like this at an affordable price – because postage can be a killer – I’d subscribe today.

There are supernatural strips like “Justine: Messenger of Justice” and “In the Cold Dark.” There are sports-themed strips like “Rocky of the Rovers” (kid sister of Roy of the Rovers), “Speed Demons” and “Bella at the Bar.” The magazine is a mix of multiple genres. This was five bucks well spent.

The Tammy & Jinty Special 2019 has me wanting to work in a weekly format in the near future. While I figure out how to achieve that goal, I recommend this magazine and the other Rebellion magazines featuring girls comics old and new.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #314

Summer 2019 is drawing to a close. Students have returned to their classrooms. The high school one block away from my house continues its tradition of hiring the shrillest marching band conductors that it can find and making sure they can be heard for miles. The local library has switched to its “winter” hours. Grocery stores are less crowded and pizza delivery times have improved.

Comics-wise, company-wide crossovers have diminished little. This now seems to be an eternal marketing strategy. Conventions continue to be held every weekend across the United States, but the smaller shows now have a chance to compete with larger ones. I enjoy both.
I’ll be doing a panel and a signing at the Flaming River Con, the Midwest’s first LGBTQ comics convention, on Saturday, September 21, at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library. In October, I’ll be a guest at the three-day Fanboy Expo Comics Convention in Knoxville, Tennessee. The dates: Friday through Sunday, October 18-20 at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Right now, I’m preparing my last Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sale of the year, writing a couple prose books showcasing my love of cheesy monster movies and starting a new gig that I can’t tell you about yet. I’m also taking naps with the windows open and the gentle breezes swirling around me. Odd as it may seems, I am both well-rested and incredibly productive.

I also read some exceptionally spiffy stuff last week. Let me tell you about it.

Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop with art by Gustavo Duarte [DC Zoom; $9.99] is part of the new DC Comics imprint for readers seven and up. Wrapped around a story involving invading Insectoids, each chapter has a member of the League answering a letter from one of their young fans. Does Superman ever make mistakes? Does Aquaman smell like fish? The charming and sometimes funny answers tie into the heroes’ past adventures. Northrop’s writing is first-rate and so is Duarte’s art.

A while back, I read a Free Comic Book Day offering that presented two chapters from this book. I was on the fence after reading that issue. However, now that I’ve read the entire book, I’m on the side of the fence that says “This was entertaining” and “This would make a terrific gift for a young reader.” This book also features excerpts from two forthcoming books: Dear Super-Villains by Northrop and Duarte, and Superman of Smallville by Art Baltazar and Franco. I plan to read both of those as soon as they become available.

ISBN 978-1-4012-8413-8

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American Dream

A secret to no one is that I’m a big fan and proponent of diversity in comics. We live in a big world filled with many different kinds of people. If we’re going to survive to join the United Federation of Planets, we need to know about one another and, hopefully, get along with one another. Comics from diverse creators can smooth our way in that regard.

Malaka Gharib’s graphic autobiography I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir [Clarkson Potter; $16.99] tells how the Egyptian-Filipino cartoonist grew up in three cultures: her father’s and her mother’s and our own American culture. It’s wondrous to see all of this through her words and drawings. The awkward moments she lives through are relatable because we’ve all lived through awkwardness in our own lives.

The Washington Post has named this one of the best graphic memoirs of 2019. It’s “a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children.” Again, it will come as no surprise to my readers that I believe such immigration is my country’s greatest strength and best chance to reach our Federation of Planets future. This is a funny and honest look at Gharib’s journey.

I recommend I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir for young teens and older. It should be in every public, middle school, high school and college library. Indeed, I’d love to see such places, as well as comic-book shops and traditional bookstores start putting together displays of such graphic novels. The only way to fight the hate born of ignorance is by sharing knowledge.

ISBN 978-0-525-57511-5

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Alter Ego 159

Alter Ego #159 [TwoMorrows; $9.95] is another outstanding issue of my favorite comics magazine. Editor Roy Thomas consistently brings us amazing comics history showcasing some of the finest writers and artists our art form and history has known.

In this issue, AE devotes over forty pages of material to the man known for years as “P.A.M.” in such classic comic books as Peter Cannon…Thunderbolt, Kid Montana and Johnny Dynamite. Because his comics work was created while moonlighting from his regular job as a policeman, Pete Morisi didn’t use his real name for most of his comics. But, early on, I became a huge fan of his work. He was a great storyteller, a fine writer and a artist whose images were deceptively simple. If I saw his work, even when money was tight in my teen years, I bought it.

In addition to the Morisi material, this issue of Alter Ego gives us Thomas’ first-hand account (with photos) of his day on the set of Daredevil. He played a prisoner, complete with orange jumpsuit. When I saw the photos, I e-mailed Roy: “We should have realized that working in comics would lead to such a thing.”

Alter Ego is an absolutely indispensable publication for serious students of comics history. If you buy only one magazine of comics history, it should be this one.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #313

This summer has made me profoundly grateful that there are so many wonderful comics and graphic novels not published by DC or Marvel Comics. Oh, I still read and enjoy a whole bunch of spiffy titles from those companies, but summer is when they roll out their huge
“universe-changing” events and such comics by committee frequently annoy and bore me. I know these creators can tell terrific stories outside such events; I wish their publishers had faith that those terrific stories are ultimately more valuable than various crisis, wars and so forth.

Over at DC, they have so many major events going on that I have no idea if they are all taking place simultaneously. Doomsday Clock is running slow. There’s some other title about zombies or some such. This is, apparently, the year of the villain and it’s not even the one in the White House. And there’s the one I just read the first issue of: Event Leviathan.

Event Leviathan begins with several DC organizations, some of them government, some of them villainous, some of them both, wiped out in the first couple pages. Yes, some of those groups were dumb, but some of them weren’t…and it appears they were destroyed just to prop up some new clandestine organization. Yawn.

If it seems like I’m picking on DC, it’s because I seem to stumble into reading more DC titles at present. Marvel has several of its own events going on, but I haven’t gotten around to reading any of those yet. I do plan on reading them, but I think I’ll do so when they are collected in trade paperbacks where, theoretically, I’ll be able to read a big enough chunk of story that the overall event will make sense.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Red Sonja: The Falcon Throne by Marguerite Bennett with artists Aneke and Diego Galindo [Dynamite; $19.99]. Collecting Red Sonja Volume Three #1-6, the compilation finds Sonja dealing with the death of Hyrkania’s king, a good man who had done his best by his country. On his death bed, he regrets that he was unable to unite all the people of Hyrkania and offers his throne to Sonja. Alas, Sonja feels that, as queen, she would bring naught but doom to Hyrkania. What follows is unexpected.

A man with no discernable ability to lead becomes king. He unites the people at the cost of their freedoms and rules via fanaticism and xenophobia. Sounds familiar, right?

Bennett’s story is compelling as Red Sonja must become the hope of those demonized by the king, even as the new king is consumed with the thought of making her his queen. This is an exciting tale that connects with our own modern world and the mania that brings us to doom with each passing day. It’s a clever commentary on our times that never overpowers the action and suspense of Sonja’s sometimes desperate quest. The art is first-rate as is the coloring of Jorge Sutil and Morgan Hickman. Lettering is by Erica Schultz, a multi-talented writer and artist who will be teaching “story adaptation” and “writing and imaginative drawing” at the Kubert School.

Red Sonja: The Falcon Throne is rated “T+” for teens and up. I’ve been enjoying Dynamite’s various takes on this classic sword-and-sorcery heroine. This is one of their best.

ISBN 978-1-5241-0115-2

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Black Widow

Another excellent comics collection is Black Widow: No Restraints Play by Jen and Sylvia Soska with art by Flaviano and color art by Veronica Gandini [Marvel; $15.99]. The Black Widow has been one of my favorite Marvel characters since before I wrote her in Daredevil and Champions. She’s adaptable to all manner of adventures from the super-heroic to the darkest of crime or espionage tales.

In this trade paperback reprinting of the five-issue Black Widow series published in 2018, Natasha is kind of sort of back from the dead, having been murdered by the Hydra version of Captain America. She’s a clone with implanted memories of her past, struggling with her demons and living in the shadows.

Some shadows are brighter than ever. Natasha is out to destroy No Restraints Play, a website streaming live torture to its depraved customers. She’s in Madripoor, closing in on the online torturers, working with local peacekeeper Tyger Tiger. But the revelation of deadly secrets and the presence of old enemies makes this mission even darker and more dangerous.

The Soska Sisters are film directors, producers and screen writers known for their violent, visceral movies. Thus, this is one of the bleakest Black Widow stories of them all. It’s not always an easy read – take the “T+” rating to heart – but it’s gripping and very satisfying. Recommended for fans of the darker sides of the super-hero genre.

ISBN 978-1302916732

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Geek Girls Don't Cry

Since this seems to have become a “sisterhood is powerful” edition of Tips, let’s close with Geek Girls Don’t Cry: Real-Life Lessons From Fictional Female Characters by Andrea Towers [Sterling; $17.95]. Towers is a writer who has worked for both Entertainment Weekly and Marvel. In this non-fiction book, she discusses some of the most popular and strongest women characters in comic books, TV series and movies.

Towers zooms in on female protagonists ranging from Black Widow, FBI Agent Dana Scully and Hunger Games victor Katniss Everdeen to Wonder Woman, Storm and Cersei Lannister. She looks at their back stories, their strengths, their weaknesses and how they cope with those weaknesses. She shows the relevance of these fictional women to the real world, what we can learn from them and how we can then apply that knowledge to our own situations. She even rings him some actual psychologists to share their insights into these characters. It’s a fascinating study.

Normally, books like this would leave me cold. Too many “serious” books on comics and pop culture are little more than a collection of boring, convoluted term papers. However, Towers write about the matters at hand in a manner that’s inviting and still geeky enough for avid fans. I enjoyed Geek Girls Don’t Cry and recommend it to anyone looking to go beyond the typical conversations about these great women characters.

ISBN 978-1454933397

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #312

Conventions seem to take a lot more out of me than in years past. I was exhausted after doing G-Fest and the San Diego Comic-Con back to back. But I expected to be exhausted.

On Sunday, I was the guest of honor at the NEO ComicCon. It was a one-day show half an hour from my home in Medina, Ohio. It was held at an indoor soccer complex carpeted with artificial turf. It’s the one convention I attend where my feet don’t hurt during and after the convention. I was looking forward to the event.

NEO did not disappoint. I got to hang with a bunch of old friends, make some new ones, see some amazing cosplay and contribute to the Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana Organization. It should have been a relaxing convention and it was. I still came home exhausted.
Maybe I should start taking naps during conventions.

One of the high points of NEO for me was giving my Black Lightning Beat presentation. I told the audience what had been happening with me and Black Lightning this year – my visit to the set and several other things – and then answered questions. Here’s my takeaway from my presentation:

The fans love the TV show and my writing. They don’t like the new Batman and the Outsiders book. They love BL crossing over into the Arrowverse. They really want more BL merchandise, especially toys for children, especially Thunder and Lightning action figures and dolls. I got a good laugh when I said I would buy Thunder’s Dream House and a even bigger one when I described an inappropriate- -for-kids Freeland playset, complete with drug dealers and other vices. I don’t think that playset should be made, but if it was, I would buy it. For my Black Lightning archives, of course.

In this column, I’m reviewing my usual three items. There won’t be a pick of the week because I thought them all worthy of the honor. We begin with a graphic novel that is getting lots of press and is already a bestseller.

George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy [Top Shelf; $19.99] is a moving and often shocking graphic memoir revisiting the actor, author and activist’s childhood in a succession of U.S. concentration camps for Japanese-Americans. With exceptions so rare, they are virtually non-existent, these people had committed no crimes against the U.S. Over 60% of them were American citizens, a good number of them born in our country. And, if you want to quibble about my characterizing the camps as concentration camps, let’s glance at The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 9 of the document says “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

Written by Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott with art by the wonderful Harmony Becker, They Called Us Enemy details a dark time in our ethical history. Stirred by politicians campaigning on fear and hate of the other – Sound familiar? – the American people went from standing by these victimized Japanese-Americans to supporting this manifestly immoral policy. Over 130,000 people, many of them children, suffered mightily as a result of the forced relocations.

Takei and his collaborators show how much internees lost when they were ripped from their homes and businesses. They depict the often squalid conditions in which those taken lived. But it also reveals the resiliency of the people and how they came together to create communities within their confinement. It also reveals the attempts to disrupt those communities and the continued hate-speech directed at them. It is not lost on me that such hate-speech still infects our country from the White House on down.

Lest I be accused of presenting a political screed, let me make my case that the most compelling part of this graphic memoir is how inspirational it is. Look at the love and unity of the people who were unfairly incarcerated. Look at the Takei family living their lives with grace and kindness and righteousness. Look at Takei himself, successful in his chosen field, happy in his personal life and always ready to stand by others in need. He’s an American hero.

I love They Called Us Enemy, difficult as reading it could be. I’m proud of a comics industry that can produce a work of art and heart as fine as this one. It’s a book I recommend to every comics fan, library and school. I’ll be buying additional copies for giving out as gifts.

ISBN 978-1-60309-450-4

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Kaiju Girl Caramelise

If a comics creator were thinking “What off-beat manga would Tony Isabella totally fall in love with?”, they couldn’t do better than Kaiju Girl Caramelise by Spica Aoki [Yen Press; $13]. Shy teenager Kuroe Akaishi turns into a kaiju whenever romance enters her life. Sometimes it’s her hands, other times it’s her awkwardly emerging tail and, when things really get out of control, she turns into a full-blown giant creature named Harugon.

This is a delightful series. Kuroe is likeable and relatable. Arata Minami, class idol and the object of her romantic yearnings, is a very decent guy. However, my favorite character might the girl who Kuroe mistakes for Arata’s girlfriend but who is actually in love with…Harugon? This wondrously demented young lady dresses up in a Mothra larva and yearns for Harugon to smash her flat. It doesn’t get more wacky than that!

Kaiju Girl Caramelise is rated for teens, but I think it’s suitable for all ages. It’s big fun and I recommend it to all.

ISBN 978-1-9753-5705-4

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Batman Giant 12

Even though DC Comics’ formerly Walmart-exclusive titles will soon be  available from comic shops, albeit on a two-week delay, I still plan to buy them from my neighborhood Walmart. This is nostalgia, pure and simple. I haven’t “haunted” a convenience store or a drug store for the new comics since before there were comic-book shops. I get a little anticipatory thrill wondering if the new DC giants will be on sale and a sense of victory when they have. As demented behavior goes, it could be worse.

Batman Giant is my favorite of the titles. Brian Michael Bendis and artist Nick Derington do the original lead story which has Batman traveling through time and space. It reminds me of the Jack Schiff-era Batman with its emphasis on sci-fi stuff, yet with modern-era writing and art.

The reprint features are Batman, Nightwing and Batgirl. All of them are from excellent runs of the characters, especially Gail Simone’s Batgirl. Add it up and you get roughly three-and-a-half comics for just five bucks. The title is one of the most entertaining bargains in comics. Welcome to Walmart!

Don’t mind me. I’m practicing for my inevitable job as a Walmart greeter. The new comics are by the first self-checkout aisle, just past the initial cluster of self-checkout machines.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #311

I remain in awe of the San Diego Comic-Con. I’m writing this week’s  column after returning from the 50th anniversary of the convention  and the requisite-at-my-age several days of recovery from that most stellar of events.

Comic-Con has its detractors but there is truly nothing like it in the United States. It has more comics and comics-related panels and personalities than any other comics convention in the country, but it boasts considerable programming featuring animation, movies, TV shows, gaming, collectible toys and more. One morning, my Saintly Wife Barb attended a panel presentation on creating cakes that was standing room only. Not to mention all the events held outside the convention center, which I’m mostly not mentioning because I never got the chance to see any of them on account of I was always busy with comics stuff inside the convention center.

I got to hang out with friends who either worked in comics or were avid comics readers or were cast members of Black Lightning. I got to meet new friends. I felt the Black Lightning love from fans and pros and convention center employees and even one of the convention shuttle drivers. I ate at great restaurants, scored great stuff in the exhibitors area and watched some excellent panels. I never for a moment felt like this was not America’s best comics convention. If you thought there wasn’t enough comics at Comic-Con, you weren’t looking very hard.

I came home exhausted and wondering if this was my last Comic-Con. I hope not. While I’m trying to figure out how to make it to next year’s most sensational of all comics events, let’s move on to this week’s reviews…

Regular “Tony’s Tips” readers know I am fascinated by PS Artbooks’ hardcover collections of 1950s horror comics. Though the material is often substandard, I love delving into the history of the books.

Mysterious Stories Volume One [$44.99] reprints issues #2-7 of the title, issues cover-dated December 1954 through January 1956. The original publisher was Premier Magazines, a short-lived company whose entire output amounted to 41 issues of six titles in as many genres. They had a funny animal title, a MAD imitation, a western title, a crime title, a romance title, and this “horror” title. At eleven issues, the romance title was the most successful.

Horror from the Tomb was Premier’s first horror book, hitting the newsstands in 1954, just before the start of the Comics Code. There was just the one issue. Premier’s comics were distributed by Kable News. After seeing the comic, Kable president George B. Davis axed the title. In that same year, Davis gave testimony in the Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency.

Mysterious Stories took over the numbering with issue #2. The now Code-approved issues would have three six-page stories and a five-page horror-themed take on some classic fairy tale. Early on, some of the stories were introduced by the Keeper of the Graveyard, the Gravedigger and, for the fairy tales, Granny Gruesome. The art is by the usual 1950s comics workhorses with some pleasant surprises: Al Hollingsworth, George Woodbridge, Angelo Torres, Cal Massey and a gem of a job by Kurt Schaffenberger.

The stories are readable, but a few of them rise to a much higher level. “Fate Plays the Violin” is an insane tale of a violin that must have fresh strings made from living creatures to remain at its peak performance. “Dark Valley” is a haunting supernatural romance story drawn by Schaffenberger.  “A Dog’s Best Friend” is about the bond between a blind woman and her guide dog. “The Pipes of Pan” has a young girl befriended by the mythological creature.

Mysterious Stories has me eager to check out other Premier titles. I suspect you have to be into the 1950s horror comics to enjoy this book as much as I did. However, if you are into those comics, let me direct you to InStock Trades, which sponsors this weekly review column. They offer the volume at a 20% discount.

ISBN 978-1-78636-488-3

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Bad Company

Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips [Image; $16.99] is my pick of the week, despite it triggering all sorts of bad memories of creators being screwed over by industry publishers, editors and even fellow creators. In many ways, that is the overriding history of the comics business, even if conditions have gotten better over the decades. There is still a long way to go.

Brubaker and Phillips state, in a matter of fact way, that comics won’t just break your heart. Comics will kill you. That sentiment is the driving force in this hardcover collection of two issues of the team’s bestselling title Criminal.

Hal Crane is a reluctant guest at a comics convention, but his dark side, born of years of frustration, takes hold of him. He goes on a dangerous quest to recover something precious to him. Though his story is not without humor – I enjoyed trying to recognize actual comics creators in their Bad Weekend counterparts – this is not a happy story. What makes it my pick of the week is brilliant writing and art. Great work often comes from pain.

Bad Weekend is rated “M” for “Mature” and that’s a fair assessment. I recommend this graphic novel to older readers, especially those interested in the often unsavory history of comics.

ISBN 978-1-5343-1440-5

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I Married My Best Friend

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a “Girls’ Love” – aka “Yuri” – manga by Kodama Naoko [Seven Seas Entertainment; $12.99]. The lengthy title pretty much explains what this manga is all about.

Morimoto is a young professional. Her parents constantly badger her to marry a man, have children and settle down. Enter Hana, her best friend from high school, who suggest the two of them marry to get Morimoto’s folks off her back. Though this was supposed to be a sham marriage, Hana has actual romantic feelings for her friend and strives to be a good wife for her. This marriage is more real than either of them expected.

There’s a lot of good in this manga, which appears to be a single volume. Naoko’s art is lovely and her writing conveys character and situations well. Because of Hana, Morimoto becomes more ambitious in her job and achieves successes. Because of Morimoto, Hana does well in her freelance career. It’s a supportive marriage, which is always nice to see in comics of any kind.

I have one problem with this manga. Hana’s physical advances toward Morimoto are a bit aggressive in a couple places. Nothing violent. More in the realm of invading personal space. This isn’t unusual in Japanese comics, but I’m more sensitive to such things than I was when I first started reading such romantic comedies.

Naoko’s I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is suitable for older teens and adults. I liked it well enough to hope there’s more volumes coming.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella