TONY’S TIPS #225

Comics history is on my mind this week with a book on the imitators of MAD magazine, the autobiography of a Will Eisner Comics Industry Hall of Fame member and a cool collection of street-level super-hero stories from the 1970s. You’ve heard me say this before, but  now is the true Golden Age of Comics with all manner of wonderful comics from around the world and from the past and present, coming out right alongside books that expand our knowledge of the medium we love and those who created it.

First up is Behaving Madly by Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe [IDW and Yoe Books; $34.99]. Apeldoorn, who writes for television, stage and screen in his native Netherlands, is also one of our best and most dogged comics historians. If there’s a fact out there waiting to be uncovered, my pal Ger will find it. Yoe has won two Eisner Awards and been nominated for other awards on account of he puts together collections of comics that would otherwise be lost to the ages. He has published more than 50 such books.

What we have in Behaving Madly is perhaps the first history of the many magazines that tried to ride the coattails of MAD, still the best and most successful of all such humor publications. As much as I know of comics history, more than half of the titles discussed in the introduction were revelations to me. I had never heard of Bunk, Cockeyed or Cuckoo and those are but three of over a dozen titles.

Past the introduction, Behaving Madly presents comics and features from many of these mostly short-lived magazines. The jokes might be a bit dated and the parody subjects unknown to fans of generations that came well after my own, but these amusing artifacts are more intriguing that I ever imagined they could be.

The artists? We’re talking a who’s who of the best comics artists of the 1950s, legendary talents looking for work at a time when the comics industry was being battered and bruised by the usual censors trying to find scapegoats for complex societal problems. The roster  in this book includes Basil Wolverton, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, Jack Kirby, Will Elder, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Joe Maneely, Angelo Torres, Bob Powell and many more.

I know it’s September, but it’s never too early to start searching for great gifts for the folks you love. Among the people who would get a kick out of Behaving Madly would be fans of MAD Magazine, pop culture or nostalgia buffs and students of comics history. Imagine the fun a teacher could have giving his students an assignment to read these articles and stories and compare them to those real-life people and situations being parodied.

Yoe Books are both entertaining and informative. Comics history is not the sole providence of the perpetually arrogant. Learning can be fun and Yoe always brings that to his books.

ISBN 978-1631408564

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Last Girl Standing

Wanna talk comics legends? How about Trina Robbins? The Eisner Hall of Fame member is a writer, artist and comics historian. She was a pioneer in the underground comix movement. She published the first such comic produced entirely by women. She has edited collections of women cartoonists and, as a comics historian, done some of the best work in that field. She’s a wonder.

Last Girl Standing [Fantagraphics Books; $19.99] goes beyond comic books as Robbins shares her memories of a life that saw her side-by-side with dozens and maybe hundreds of counter culture and music icons. This is a Trina Robbins I never knew and her journeys from WWII-era New York to San Francisco and beyond flat-out dazzle me. She was present at and active in so many important movements. I’m not sure she doesn’t have some Amazon DNA in her make-up.

This is a memoir to savor. You read of Trina’s adventures, you see the photographs, you take a deep breath. Then you’re ready for the next adventure. This book is a literary high. It should be in every high school and public library.

Last Girl Standing would be…yeah, here it comes again…a spiffy gift for all sorts of people. Comics history buffs, but especially female comics history buffs and modern-day creators. Dull lads like me who were never involved in the counter culture to any momentous extent. Heck, the only time I got high on drugs was when a woman I dated in the early 1970s would take a hit off a joint made from the pot I’d given one of our friends for a birthday and then kiss me. I’m still not sure it was the pot that got me high. But, enough of writing stuff that will embarrass my children. 

Last Girl Standing is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68396-014-0 

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Luke Cage Volume 2

Recently released is Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2 [$75]. This handsome hardcover edition has a new introduction by yours truly and reprints the stories from Power Man #17-31 by me, Len Wein, Don McGregor, George Tuska, Ron Wilson and other Marvel stalwarts of the 1970s.

I don’t want to give away too much from my introduction, but I was a Cage fan from day one. Working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time Luke made his debut, I pitched the newspaper on my doing an article on the character. The editors gave it a pass on account of the paper had just published a big article on comics a year or so before. Surely comic books weren’t worth two such articles. I’ll pause to let you roll your eyes here.

I am incredibly biased, but I think there’s a lot of good comics in this volume. Len Wein and George Tuska created Cornell Cottonmouth, who was a key character in the Luke Cage series on Netflix. I did a mostly satiric story taking on “planned communities” – code for no blacks allowed – and turned supporting character scientist Bill Foster into Black Goliath. McGregor wrote the angriest Luke Cage seen to that point and injected a street beat into his issues. The art throughout this collection has the same feel.

So, yes, I’m definitely biased, but I think this Marvel Masterworks will please readers young and old alike. It’s from beginnings like this that we get Luke Cage and the other impressive programs from the Marvel Netflix Universe. Check it out.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #224

Stronger together. Even in these divisive times, that notion should be a no-brainer. The caveat, of course, is that the people who come together must have good hearts and minds. Sorry, Nazis and white supremacists, by your very natures, you’re not invited to this kind of party. Yeah, I know, I’m so intolerant.

For this edition of Tony’s Tips, I’m looking at three super-teams from Marvel Comics. All of them have strong ties to Marvel’s vast history, but all of them are new as well.

I wasn’t bowled over by the preview of the new Defenders comic book when I read it in one of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings. I didn’t think the transition from the Netflix versions of the heroes to their comic-book counterparts was a smooth one. I wasn’t at all convinced Diamondback was a powerful enough “big bad” to lead off the new series. But I liked the Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and David Marquez (artist) preview enough to order the series from my friendly online comics supplier. That turns out to have been one of my better calls.

Having read The Defenders #1-4 ($4.99 for the first ish, $3.99 per issue for the others), I like the way this series is progressing. Bendis and Marquez have mastered the tightrope walk between comic-book and live-action storytelling. If a reader is new to the comic books, he’ll recognize the heroes from the Netflix series. That new reader might be thrown by some divergent elements – such as Jessica and Luke being married and having had a child – but the characters are pretty faithful to both of their incarnations.

Diamondback has proven himself to be formidable, but there’s also a hint that he’s not the actual “big bad” of this initial Defenders storyline. There is a real sense of menace to the ongoing serial. I’m eager to see what comes next.

I’m recommending The Defenders. Avid super-team readers will find much to enjoy in the title, even more so if, like me, they tend to prefer street-level heroes. Newcomers to comic books will be able to follow this series easily and without worrying about the rest of the vast Marvel Comics Universe.

Defenders Vol. 1: Diamonds Are Forever [$15.99] will be released in late December. It will contain the Free Comic Book Day preview and the first six issues of this ongoing title. The timing is a little off for a Christmas present, but somebody you love must have their birthday early in 2018.

ISBN 978-1302907464

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Avengers 1.1

My pick of the week is the oddly-numbered, five-issue Avengers by writer Mark Waid with art mostly by Barry Kitson (pencils) and Mark Farmer (inks). The “mostly” is because we start getting additional inkers by #3.1 and additional pencilers for the final issue of the series [$3.99 per issue].

The five issues take place between Avengers #16 [May 1965) and #17 of the original series. The founding members of the super-team have handed it off to Captain America and given him three replacements  – Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch – who are clearly less mighty than the heroes they are replacing – and who the public has known as villains in the recent past. That’s an awful lot to ask of pre-Nazi Cap, though it was great seeing the real deal in new stories again. Even if those stories were set in the past.

Things do not go smoothly for the new team. They are outmatched by their opponents. They have personal disagreements more extreme than those we saw in 1965. And…no, that’s all you’re going to get from me. No further spoilers. I want you to read the series free of any preconceptions. You’ll thank me for that.

The series has been collected in Avengers: Four [$15.99]. Waid’s at the top of his game. The art is amazing. The characters and their dire circumstances are engrossing. This would make a great gift for that super-team fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1302902612

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X-Men Blue

Most current X-Men books leave me unimpressed and uninterested, but I have been enjoying X-Men Blue [$3.99 per issue] by writer Cullen Bunn with various artists. This title stars the original teenaged X-Men who were brought to the present because grown-up Hank McCoy was kind of an idiot. They miss their old lives. This is why they are blue. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The old/young X-Men are trapped in a world their adult selves made. Most of them are struggling not to be as messed up as those adult counterparts. Teenage Hank is looking for a brand-new way to be an idiot by mastering magic. Maybe that’ll work out.

Actually, the young X-Men are a pretty interesting group. They are working (secretly) with Magneto, but they don’t trust him. Already, they are smarter than the grown-ups. Jean Grey carries the heaviest burden because she doesn’t want to go all Phoenix-crazy on her new world. Cyclops, Angel and Iceman are all very sane. They have been joined by a son of Wolverine from a different universe, which makes me sigh but alternative realities are like crack to X-Men writers. They just can’t say “no” to them.

I know it sounds like I’m damning this book with faint praise, but I’m being kind of a jerk. It’s well-written, well-drawn and I want to see what happens next. On my scorecard, that adds up to a pretty good comic book.

X-Men Blue Vol. 1: Strangest [$15.99] collects the first six issues of the series. It’s available right now. X-Men Blue Vol. 2: Toil and Trouble [$15.99] comes out in late November. I recommend them both.

X-Men Blue Vol. 1: Strangest

ISBN 978-1302907280

X-Men Blue Vol. 2: Toil and Trouble

ISBN 978-1302907297

One last note. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 [$3.99] by yours truly and artist Clayton Henry is now available for pre-order. I’m pretty proud of this new series, so I hope you’ll consider buying it. Thanks.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #223

The smarter half of my brain has been telling me I need to relax a bit more. With no tropical beach in sight, I decided to watch DVDs and TV shows. The upside of this is…no chance of getting sunburn. The downside…no refreshing fruity drinks delivered by scantily-clad waitresses, or, for those so inclined, waiters. I’m totally cool with equal-opportunity fantasies. However, even without those tall refreshing drinks and, you know, the other thing, I still had a pretty good time in front of my TV set.

Batman and Harley Quinn [DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Animation] is my pick of the week. Directed by Sam Liu from a story by Bruce Timm and a teleplay by Timm and James Krieg, this is a hilarious dark comedy which is able to feature both big laughs and touching emotional moments without ever taking the viewer out of the movie. Here’s the Wikipedia summary:

Batman and Nightwing form an uneasy but needed alliance with Harley Quinn to stop Poison Ivy and [the] Floronic Man from transforming people into plants.

Batman is voiced by the great Kevin Conroy. Melissa Rauch is pitch-perfect as Harley. Other actors include the excellent Loren Lester as Nightwing, the always delectable Paget Brewster as Poison Ivy and the ever-commanding Kevin Michael Richardson as Jason Woodrue. Also in the cast: John DiMaggio, Eric Bauza, Robin Atkin Downes, Trevor Devall, Rob Paulsen, Mindy Sterling, and, in a funny scene, Bruce Timm as an unseen Booster Gold. Every performance was solid. Kudos to casting director Wes Gleason.

If you’ll excuse some MILD SPOILERS…

Released from prison, Harley is working as a waitress in a sleazy club called Superbabes. Check out the walls of said establishment for some classic DC Comics artwork.

Batman and Nightwing are, indeed, reluctant to recruit Harley for this mission. Harley is torn between the necessity of saving the world and her friendship with Ivy. These conflicts ring very true and add to the depth of the feature.

Plus: Harley and Nightwing have a moment. Exactly what that means is open to interpretation – I know what I think happened – and it does not please Batman. Nightwing’s under-the-breath muttering is one of the best lines in the movie.

If I have any complaint about this movie, it’s that DC and Warner neglected to include credits for several comics creators who should have been there: Gardner Fox and Gil Kane for Jason Woodrue, Robert  Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff for Poison Ivy, and Pat Misulli, Joe Gill and Dick Giordano for Sarge Steel. DC has gotten much better at this, but there’s room for improvement.

I bought the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital version of the movie, originally priced at $24.98. The special features include “The Harley Effect,” “Loren Lester: In His Own Voice,” two Harley cartoons from Batman: The Animated Series, and a peak at the animated Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. I’m going to pre-order Gotham by Gaslight as soon as it becomes available for pre-order.

If you loved Batman: The Animated Series, you’ll enjoy this movie. I’d love to see more like it.

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Defenders TV

A couple weeks back, I wrote about seeing the first two episodes of Marvel’s Defenders at a special screening in New York. After the series started streaming on Netflix, my son Eddie and I watched the remaining six episodes. Here are my thoughts on the entire series with some SPOILERS.

Most of the leads and supporting players were terrific throughout. I was critical of Finn Jones’ performance as Danny Rand/Iron Fist in the first two episodes, but he upped his game when he had scenes with Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock) Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) and Mike Colter (Luke Cage) in the remaining episodes. As did Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing).

The villains were all over the map. Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra started out real scary and became less so as the series progressed.  Elodie Yung’s Elektra Natchios was never convincing. Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao was sometimes subservient, which I later realized came from her remarkable guile, and sometimes scary. Ramon Rodriguez’s Bakuto was a scenery-chewing joke from the moment he showed up in this series and his performance torpedoed a pivotal scene with the always wonderful Simone Messick as Misty Knight.

As much as I loved the leading players and supporting cast members from the previous Netflix series, The Defenders took a nose dive in the final two episodes. That’s when smart people, both heroes and villains, started doing monumentally stupid things. I loathe when that happens because it takes me right out of whatever movie or TV series I’m watching. Because of that flaw, the best grade I’m able to give The Defenders is a B-.

My disappointment in The Defenders doesn’t keep from me being very excited for the next seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, or the debut of the Punisher. I’m hoping the writers of those series don’t fall back on the “smart people, stupid moves” device. These characters deserve better.

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Midnight Texas

Based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, Midnight, Texas is sort of like a supernatural super-hero team comic book. The title city is a sanctuary for supernatural beings. It sits on a weakening barrier between Hell and Earth and this draws other not-so-benign  supernatural beings to the town. The ten-episode season debuted on July 24, on NBC.

The “team” is an interesting mix. The lead protagonist is a psychic on the run from an old enemy, accompanied by his granny’s ghost, who only he can see. There’s a vampire whose lover is an assassin, albeit a human assassin. There’s a were-tiger preacher. There’s a witch. And there’s a pair of gay angels who hide their true selves because other heavenly agents would come looking for them and not to bring them wedding gifts. To be clear, the angels hide that they are angels and not that they are gay.

The humans in the town include the psychic’s girlfriend, her really dysfunctional family, and a man trying to make amends for his past as the son of a white supremacist leader. Other human residents may suspect or even know some of their neighbors are different, but do not seem to care. Outsiders are fearful of the town, but still stop by every now and then to carry out some mischief. As I said, this is an interesting mix with a monster-of-the-week sensibility that reminds me of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Night Stalker and the non-mythology episodes of X-Files.

Midnight, Texas isn’t as amazing as any of those series, but it is a solidly entertaining show. The acting is good to excellent, as is the writing. In the six episodes I’ve seen, three major storylines have been brought to satisfying conclusions. I’m already hoping it gets picked up for a second season.

That’s all for now. I will be back next week with reviews of three, honest-to-Odin actual Marvel Comics super-team comics books. Which three? Ah, that would be telling. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #222

Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics by Roger Hill [TwoMorrows Publishing; $49.95] is the definitive biography and examination of one of the great artists in the history of comics. It’s a book you might not realize is vital to the study of comics history until you see it and, having seen it, you won’t be able to imagine not having it in your comics library.

Crandall was a masterful illustrator in an era when readers didn’t often see artists as good as he was. If that wasn’t enough, he was also a masterful storyteller. His amazing detailed drawings always served the scripts he worked on. Small wonder he was quickly seen as one of the best in the field and usually commanded the top rate at whatever publisher was lucky enough to have him.

Hill gives us a true biography of Crandall that includes the story of the artist’s family, his schooling, his promise and triumphs as a student, his family/friend/romantic relationships, his fledging entry into the comics field and his swift conquering of that field. On page after page, we see the artistry and genius of Crandall and, with each image, we gain a greater appreciation of just how good he was and how fortunate we comics readers are to have had him doing this work.

I was not around to witness Crandall’s legendary work on Blackhawk, Dollman and other 1940s feature, at least not first hand. I have seen some of those comics since and they have never failed to awe me. Good gosh, the man could draw beautiful woman and sleek planes and exotic locations and ordinary objects made large because they were placed in perspective with a doll-sized super-hero.

As a kid going to a Catholic school in Cleveland, I saw Crandall’s work in Treasure Chest. The first chapter of an serialized history of communism – “This Godless Communism” – gave me nightmares as he depicted an America in the grip of Soviet dictatorship. Literally. Though Crandall’s art was as circumspect as you would expect in a comic book made specifically for Catholic schools, I had terrifying dreams of priests, nuns, parents and other Catholics crucified on Bosworth Avenue, where my school was located. Though none of his other Treasure Chest work hit me that hard, his realistic drawings on other historical or biographical stories brought other times and places to life.

In my teens, I found his work in the Creepy and Eerie magazines I would sneak into my house. MAD Magazine was banned by my parents for many years – they put too much stock in the repressive Catholic newspapers of the era – so I figured Creepy and Eerie would also be unwelcome. But I read and cherished all three magazines.

A high school teacher from a school I didn’t attend, but who I knew through comics-reading friends in his classes, introduced me to the  EC comics and more Crandall genius. I looked at his work in those and other comics and pictured a man laboring over each assignment, never stopping to sleep or eat more than necessary. Hill portrays a much different artist than in my imaginings, but an artist just as impressive.

Crandall loved to draw. It was his core nature and he embraced it. He could and did draw fast, but the quality of his work would never reveal the speed and ease with which he created his masterpieces. He was a modest man, loyal to his friends, dedicated to his craft, and, like so many greats of the 1940s and 1950s, never knowing how much his work was cherished by his readers. But he did know he had the respect of his fellow artists and, later in his life, how much his fans loved him.

Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics would be worth owning for this story of this great artist. When you likewise consider all of the wonderful Crandall covers and pages and drawings it includes, it becomes an indispensable volume. It’s my pick of the week and I urge all of you to buy, read and cherish it.

ISBN 978-1-60549-077-9

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Lost Films 02

When it comes to entertainment, comic books are my first love. But, as my friends and readers know, I also love giant monsters movies.  Especially Japanese giant monster movies. The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films by John LeMay [CreateSpace; $16.99] is the author’s third book in a trilogy of titanic terror and the most fascinating of the three volumes.

In The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 1: 1954-1980 and The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol 2: 1984-2014 [$12.95 each], you’ll find coverage of the movies made and released in those years. However, in this third book, LeMay uncovers dozens of movies that were almost made and even some “fan” films that were made. As big a kaiju fan as I am, I still didn’t know about most of these blockbusters that never were. Nor did I know everything about movies that were made.  For example, Gamera [1965] was made to make use of miniature sets built for a disaster/disastrous movie about giant rats called Giant Horde Beast Nezura. The giant rat movie was partially shot in 1963, but cancelled due to the logistical horror of filming actual rats. LeMay’s book is filled with such incredible revelations about film ideas that evolved into very different films when they were actually made. There are stories and monsters that never saw the light of a motion picture screen.

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films will astound you. If you have any interest in these movies, and, if so, I embrace you as family, you’ll want this book and the two volumes that preceded it. I recommend them all.

Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 1: 1954-1980:

ISBN 978-1536827880

Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol 2: 1984-2014:

ISBN 978-1541144316

Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films:

ISBN 978-1548145255

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Mysterious Girlfriend

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 6 by Riichi Ueshiba [Vertical; $15.95] is the conclusion of the weird wonderful manga that follows the relationship of Akira Tsubaki and Mikoto Urabe. I’m going to turn to Wikipedia to try to sum up this series:

“Urabe is a transfer student who recently came to Tsubaki’s school.  After a series of strange events, Tsubaki finds himself addicted to Urabe’s drool. Once she claims the addiction as love sickness, the relationship slowly progresses, focusing on the odd bond that comes out of the drool attachment.”

Despite its freaky elements, this is an honest-to-gosh love story. No matter how odd the stories got – such as Urabe being the exact twin of a pop idol or their classmates making a movie that echoes their relationship – it was impossible for me not to root for these two kids.  The power of their love is inspiring.

Manga – and especially this manga – isn’t for every comics reader. But, if you want to try something out of your usual reading, check out this series. Yes, it will make you feel a little creepy every now and then, but, mostly, I think it will make you happy.

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 1

ISBN 978-1942993452

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 2

ISBN 978-1942993469

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 3

ISBN 978-1942993704

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 4

ISBN 978-1942993711

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 5

ISBN 978-1942993728

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 6

ISBN 978-1942993735

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #221

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was a major media star in the 1950s. With fellow students Astro and Roger Manning, Corbett was in training at the Space Academy. They were working toward becoming members of the Solar Guard, which protected human beings in the solar system and beyond. Their thrilling adventures appeared in television, radio, books, comic books, comic strips and more. There were Tom Corbett coloring books, costumes, a pocket watch, a Space Academy playset with plastic figures, a lunch box and a View-Master packet. Corbett was even spoofed on several episodes of the popular radio program Bob and Ray. From 1952 through 1954, Dell published eleven issues of Tom Corbett comic books. Prize Comics published three additional issues in 1955.

Pre-Code Classics: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Volumes One and Two [PS Artbooks; $59.99 each] collects all fourteen Tom Corbett comics in two hardcover editions. In merely good condition, the issues would cost you over $175, assuming you could find them. The convenience of having entire runs in one or two volumes is what draws me back to PS’s offerings again and again.

The Dell issues are superior to the Prize issues, largely because the stories run over 30 pages. Even an average story benefits from that kind of breathing space and original comics writer Paul Newman wrote above-average stories. Joe Greene, who followed Newman on the Dell series, did a fine job as well. While the art on these issues isn’t breathtaking, John Lehti, Alden McWilliams and Frank Thorne were all terrific storytellers who knew how to keep a story moving in an interesting way.

The Prize issues don’t measure up to the Dell ones. Instead of one long story, each issue has three Tom Corbett adventures of seven to eight pages each, a two-page “Captain Quick and the Space Scouts” tale and assorted filler pages. Of the latter, I got a kick out of the “Space News” text pages, which featured several short items on space science and related subjects.

By the Prize series, Roger Manning, who was a boastful, impulsive, yet still fairly competent and occasionally heroic cadet, was gone from the series and replaced by the simply bumbling T.J. Thistle. Even though Greene wrote a couple of stories for the Prize issues, the stories didn’t have the range of the Dell adventures. Indeed, the new comics often came off as little more than police in space tales. Even artist Mort Meskin couldn’t elevate them above merely adequate.

Though the above may seem like I’m condemning these hardcovers with faint praise, I have no regrets about purchasing them. I wouldn’t have read these comics if PS hadn’t collected them. With a discount from InStock Trades, who sponsor this weekly column, I got both of them for under a hundred bucks combined. That’s a reasonable price to pay to scratch my itch to learn more about the comics published in the 1950s. If you’re also interested in the comics of the 1950s or in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, I think you’ll enjoy these volumes as much as I did.

Pre-Code Classics: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Volume One

ISBN 978-1-78636-056-4

Pre-Code Classics: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Volume Two

ISBN 978-1-78636-062-5

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Gumby

While I was visiting New York recently, Papercutz editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup gave me a copy of Gumby Vol. 4 #1 [$3.99], the latest comics series based on the beloved character created by Art Clokey. The issue features three comics stories totaling 25 pages and three additional pages of text-and-photo features. Oh, yeah, and it has a cover by the great Rick Geary.

I have never been a huge Gumby fan, but I recall watching many of the cartoons as a kid and always enjoying them. The three stories in this issue remind me of those simpler times.

Jeff Whitman’s “An Alien Abundance” is actually a sequel of sorts to the very first Gumby cartoon. Drawn by Joylon Yates, an artist whose work I’ve praised in the past, the tale goes to the moon and back. It’s a fun adventure, suitable for all ages, including older readers like myself.

Kyle Baker’s “Model-y Crew” introduces fashion doll Maddie. It’s an odd sort of Cinderella story with Gumby and Pokey attempting to get their new friend ready for an event while a dastardly “Blockhead” works against them.

Finally, Ray Fawkes with artist Yates relates the chilling thriller of “Gumby and Pokey in the Land of Ice Cream.” More good-natured giggles for one and all.

If you’re a Gumby fan, a reader with varied tastes or a parent in search of good comics for young readers, Papercutz delivers on all three counts with this premiere issue. Give it a look.

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Buffy Season 11 #1

My top pick of the week is Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 11 #1-7 [Dark Horse; $3.99 per issue] by Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs. Warning. There will be SPOILERS AHEAD, the better to tell you why I love this new season so much.

This new season picks up where the previous season left off. Buffy and her cast seem to be happy and living in San Francisco. That’s when a dragon pretty much destroys the city.

Government forces use this attack as an excuse to crack down on all supernatural beings. Before long, supernatural creatures are being relocated to camps. This is put forth as a “temporary” measure to give the government time to find a better solution to the problem, a solution that will work for all concerned. Oh, yeah, I completely believe they want what’s best for everyone.

That’s the END OF THE SPOILERS. Now come the reasons I choose this series as my pick of the week.

This story terrifies me. Being published at a time when we have a president who refuses to stand against neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white nationalists…at a time when civil rights violations are on the rise…at a time when the ruling party works to disenfranchise voters who don’t support them…this story terrifies me in a “Good Lord! This actually could happen here!” way.

Add that to watching beloved characters and even new characters go through indignities and injury at the hands of arrogant government thugs. My heart sinks at least once an issue as I follow this soul-crushing, albeit brilliant, story line.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has always been at its best when speaking to real-world issues, even metaphorically. We’ve followed Buffy and the Scooby Gang through the horror of high school, relationships, the passing of loved ones and more. With this story, Buffy becomes again one of the most relevant of heroic sagas.

Currently available in trade paperback is Buffy Season 11 Volume 1: The Spread of Their Evil [$19.99], which collects the first six issues. Coming next February is Buffy Season 11 Volume 2: One Girl in All the World [$19.99], which features the remaining issues in this season.

If you love Buffy, you’ll love this new series. If you like heroic fiction with a real-world edge, this story will hook you but good. If you’ve been reading my reviews long enough to trust me whenever I recommend something, you’ll seek out this series. It ranks among the best Buffy comics that have ever been done.

Buffy Season 11 Volume 1: The Spread of Their Evil

ISBN 978-1506702742

Buffy Season 11 Volume 2: One Girl in All the World

ISBN 978-1506702926

Thanks for spending some time with me. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #220

Marvel’s The Defenders will drop on Netflix on Friday, August 18. The series runs a tight eight episodes. Courtesy of Marvel Comics, I viewed the first two episodes at a special screening at the ABC Building in New York City. I was invited because, with my long-time friend Arvell Jones, I created Misty Knight. Along with Arv’s wife Wanda, others in attendance were Tom Brevoort, David Bogart, Brian Overton, Larry Hama, Michael Gaydos and son Kevin, Martha Thomases, Ann (Mrs. Archie) Goodwin and her family and others I did not know. It wasn’t a large gathering, but the screening room was very nice. I had a great time.

Don’t worry. I was just setting the stage. I know what you really want me to write about are the first two episodes. Let’s see if I can do so without too many spoilers…

Defenders 01

I was mightily impressed by the writing of Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, as well as the directing of S.J. Clarkson. I doubt it was an easy task to bring together the leads and supporting casts of four separate series, refer to what has gone before in those four series and move the characters into a new story. Yet Clarkson and company wove together scenes of all the characters, taking care of both back story and new business and keeping the audience engaged in the overall story. Most of the scenes flowed well. I’ll discuss the ones that didn’t in a moment.

The Daredevil segments pick up with Matt Murdock having abandoned his super-hero identity to do satisfying pro bono work. A scene of him laying hard truth on a young accident victim was magnificently played by Charlie Cox, as was his ongoing struggle with the lure of his other identity. Also pleasing were his scenes with Deborah Ann Woll [Karen Page] and Elden Henson [Foggy Nelson]. I’m hoping the three continue to move toward their former camaraderie in the next season of Daredevil.

Jessica Jones [Krysten Ritter] is struggling with her new fame in the wake of her lethal defeat of Killgrave in her own series. Her adoptive sister [Trish Walker, played by Rachael Taylor] is worried for her and with good cause. Her friend Malcolm [Eka Darville] has insinuated himself into her stalled private eye business. All these interactions are wonderful.

Luke Cage [Mike Colter] is out of prison and finally has that cup of coffee with Claire Temple [Rosario Dawson], so brilliant as our doorway into all four of the series. Misty Knight [Simone Messick] is now part of a city-wide task force and steers Luke towards some ways he can help the Harlem community.

Iron Fist [Finn Jones] and Colleen Wing [Jessica Henwick] are still tracking down the Hand without much success. They get their asses handed to them by [redacted], but do find a lead that brings them back to New York. Sadly, the Iron Fist segments are the only weak link in these two episodes. Jones is not on the same level as the other leads and his mediocre performance doesn’t give Henwick much to work with.

Sigourney Weaver plays Alexandra, a character who is first shown as vulnerable and then elegant and then so scary she intimates one of the scarier supporting characters. If I had to name the top three performances in these episodes, I would rank her with the always-incredible Colter and Messick.

Defenders 02

The individual quests of the characters start to overlap in these first two episodes, though the entire quartet has not yet “formed” their team. Matt Murdock meets Jessica Jones in the second episode, “rescuing” her from a Misty Knight interrogation. It turns out that Luke Cage was represented by Foggy Nelson, who works for attorney Jeri Hogarth [Carrie-Anne Moss] who has represented both Jones and Danny “Iron Fist” Rand. Foggy’s outsourced some cases to his friend Matt and one of those includes representing Jessica. Luke tries to help a young man who has already lost a sister and a brother to the streets and that ties in with whatever Alexandra is planning. Which is the case with the missing person job pursued by Jessica. Luke’s “case” leads to his meeting Danny and an entertaining fight between them. None of this feels forced. Though we don’t know exactly what Alexandra’s planning, it’s clearly something major enough to affect the entire city. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

Defenders 03

Here comes the blasphemy part of my review. Although Luke Cage and Danny Rand are besties in the comics and generally work very well together in the comics, I don’t want to see a similar bromance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe unless actor Finn Jones ups his game considerably in the remaining six episodes.

My bottom line on the Defenders is that it’s well worth watching. Only doing eight episodes keeps the tension of the overall story at a high level. The first season of Luke Cage is still my favorite of these Netflix series, but I have an open mind as to where Defenders will fall on my list. It could be a contender.

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Defenders EW

Here’s a non-Defenders reflection based on the conversation I had with Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort at the screening. Because I sort of relish my somewhat outsider status in the comics field, I don’t keep up with editorial comings and goings to the extent I should. On the other hand, to my credit, I also ignore the gossipy “Let’s you and he fight” click bait promoted by Bleeding Cool and other similar websites. But, yes, I should know much more about the editorial workings of the leading comics publishers.

Tom told me Marvel’s editorial staff numbers just a smidgin over a dozen editors and assistants. That boggled my mind given how many comic books they produced every month, how many of them are among my favorite current comics and how few of them are badly written or drawn. That doesn’t mean I like all of their comics. Readers here and elsewhere know that’s not the case. But that Marvel manages to pull this off with such a small editorial staff impresses the heck out of me. Next time you’re enjoying your favorite Marvel (or DC or other publisher) comics, give a thought to the hard-working editors who get those issues across the finish line.

That’s it for this edition of Tony’s Tips! I’ll be back next week with more reviews. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #219

This week’s pick of the week is Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 7 by Stan Sakai [Dark Horse; $24.99]. The 624-page trade paperback collects Usagi Yojimbo Volume Three #117-138 and 2009’s Free Comic Book Day story, “One Dark and Stormy Night.” It’s hard for me to imagine a week when Usagi Yojimbo wouldn’t be my top pick. Since 1984, there is no cartoonist who’s created more consistently exceptional work. If you asked me to name the world’s greatest living cartoonist, my answer, without hesitation, would be Stan Sakai.

Usagi Yojimbo is set at the start of Japan’s Edo period, which ran from 1603 to 1868. Miyamoto Usgai, is a rabbit warrior, masterless since his lord died in battle. Based partly on the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, the ronin travels across the land on a warrior’s pilgrimage. He often interacts with the many friends he has made on his journeys and sometimes works as a bodyguard or bounty hunter. His skill is astounding. His compassion, courage and firm sense of justice are the equal of his fighting prowess.

For a little over a year, I’ve been reading Usagi Yojimbo from the feature’s beginning. I started with the two-volume collection from Fantagraphics and have continued with the Dark Horse books. I tried to read one story each day to make sure that I would read at least one great comics story every day.

In this volume, Usagi has to protect his somewhat larcenous friends Kitsune and Kiyoko and, in doing so, must face an evil wizard and said mage’s zombie warriors. In another story arc, the ronin must examine his feelings about honor and vengeance. In other tales, he becomes embroiled with crime gangs and outlaws. Sakai creates each of the adventures with a sure sense of character and storytelling, backed up by meticulous research in all the elements of the tales. Simply put, I am in awe of this cartoonist.

The next collection, due out this month, is The Usagi Yojimbo Saga: Legends. This unnumbered volume gathers some of the warrior’s most intriguing tales, including Senso, Yokai, and the long out of print Space Usagi. It will weigh in at 557 pages.

Usagi Yojimbo is a masterpiece of the comics art form. It belongs in the home library of every serious comics reader, as well as in every public and school library across the land. If the series is not already being studied as the great literature it is, it should be. It is an ongoing work of art.

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 1 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556099

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 2 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556105

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 3 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556112

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 4 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556129

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 5 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556136

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 6 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556143

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 7 [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1616556150

Usagi Yojimbo Saga Legends [$24.99]

ISBN 978-1506703237

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Marvel Digest

Archie Comics have partnered with Marvel Comics to launch a series of digests reprinting the latter’s super-hero tales. Marvel Comics Digest #1 [July 2017; $6.99] features over 200 pages of Spider-Man stories in Archie’s standard 6.5″ by 5″ format.

This debut issue leads off with 1966’s “Just a Guy Named Joe,” the last Spider-Man story drawn by Steve Ditko, who also plotted this off-beat story of a boxer who gains super-powers. Stan Lee scripted the story.  That’s followed by a four-issue arc by Len Wein and Ross Andru from 1976. After that, we get more recent tales from various Spider-Man titles that retold earlier adventures or were out of the traditional Marvel continuity, including some based on the cartoon shows. One of the latter teams Spidey with Deadpool.

More than any other comics publisher, Archie rules the supermarket. The company pays dearly for check-out counter space, but does well with it.  Adding Marvel to the mix – the second issue of the digest series will feature the Avengers – is a smart move. I’m expecting we will see other Marvel heroes from the movies and maybe even TV appearing in digest form.

It would also be smart for Archie to work with DC in the same way. I think a DC Superhero Girls or Wonder Woman digest would sell very well these days, especially considering it would be seen by female and male shoppers with daughters. Those are potential comics buyers who don’t frequent comic-book shops.

I recommend Marvel Comics Digest for fun summer reading and, come the holidays, for stocking stuffers.

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Youngblood

Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood [Image; $3.99 per issue] has returned with new characters, new creators and a new situation for the heroes old and new.  I’ve read the first two issues of the title and plan to continue reading it.

I’m not very familiar with Youngblood in its various incarnations. The background of this new series is still unfolding in these two issues, but, someone along the past line, Youngblood became known as the world’s most infamous super-team. One of its members is now the president of the United States and another is suffering from a terminal condition. Young heroes are emerging and kind of sort of working together. When one goes missing, others launch the search to find him. Their efforts are met with opposition from yet another member of the original team.

Writer Chad Bowers does a good job here, though more clarity would be welcome. Likewise, more and quicker background information. Jim Towe’s art is pretty good as well. The bottom line is that this is a solid super-hero comic book.

Being pretty much a universe unto itself, Youngblood is the kind of super-hero comic that should appeal to those who find Marvel’s and DC’s super-hero universe too vast. I recommend it as a change-of-pace for those readers.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next week with more reviews and maybe a surprise or two.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #218

I’m just back from G-Fest, the biggest and best Godzilla convention on this side of the world. I had a wonderful time there, but that pleasure comes at a cost: this week’s column is running late. I’m determined to get my crazy schedule under control, so, hopefully, we’ll be back on track by next week.

I’m not sure what the official title of The Complete Sabrina the Teenage Witch: 1962-1972 [Archie Comics; $9.99] is. It’s listed as the above on Amazon and, on the cover of the 5.2 x 1.1 x 7.5 inches book, as Sabrina the Teenage Witch Complete Collection V1. What I’m absolutely sure of is that I love this 500-plus page gathering of ten years of Sabrina goodness.

The early Sabrina is my favorite version of the character. She is not evil, just selfish and thoughtless in the manner of many young people then and now. She was originally drawn with a devilish mien about her, a dangerously sexy look. Alas, her appearance was soften over the years.

Following an introduction by Archie Comics editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick, we get the first Sabrina story from Archie’s Mad House #22 [October 1962] by writer George Gladir, penciler Dan DeCarlo and inker Rudy Lapick. In just five pages, we learn everything we need to know about Sabrina, including her envy of the lives/loves of ordinary teenage girls. It’s a classic introduction.

Della the Head Witch was the next regular character to be added to the Sabrina stories. Aunt Hilda didn’t come along until 1964 and, apart from an earlier one-shot appearance, Aunt Zelda wasn’t added to the ongoing cast until 1971. There’s a one-shot crossover with Mad House’s Ronald the Rubber Boy early on with Sabrina not being placed in the Archie Universe until the success of the Archie songs and TV series made it advantageous to tie the teenage witch to the better-known characters. Even so, there were long-ish periods when Sabrina didn’t appear in solo stories or at all.

Though DeCarlo is the best of the Sabrina artists, there are some interesting and very good interpretations by other artists. There were a handful of stories drawn by Bill Kreese and Gus LeMoine. I’m fond of the LeMoine work and would rank him just below DeCarlo and tied with Stan Goldberg.

The early stories are the most fun for me, but the Archie Universe ones have their moments. When Al Hartley comes in to write and draw Sabrina for some Christmas specials, his religious proselytizing is a tad heavy-handed for my tastes.

The bottom line: I love having all these Sabrina stories collected in one volume. I’ve always liked the character and seeing how she was developed over her first decade of comics life is interesting. This book is a must-have for Sabrina and Archie fans and would be a swell stocking stuffer come the winter holidays.

The Complete Sabrina the Teenage Witch: 1962-1972 is my pick of the week. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-936975-94-5

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ANAD Avengers

The Marvel Comics super-hero universe is a complicated creature and I’m not ashamed to admit it’s too convoluted for me to follow with any confidence. Which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy many Marvel titles within that universe.

I take the position that each individual title is its own universe. It probably connects to other titles, but I don’t worry about that. If I try to figure out why some characters are appearing in several titles simultaneously, my head will explode. Most of us would not want that to happen.

There are approximately 3000 Avengers appearing in 127 comic books that have the word “Avengers” in their titles. That’s just a rough estimate, but I think my numbers are pretty close. Which Avengers appear in which title is determined by a fantasy super-hero draft not unlike fantasy sports drafts. Which may not be true, but is, at least, a pretty convincing alternative fact.

Writer Mark Waid seems to have done pretty well with his draft for All-New, All-Different Avengers. The roster listed on the “what has gone before” page of issues #14 and #15 [$3.99 each and the finales of the title that began a year earlier] listed Captain America (Sam Wilson, the one who’s not a Nazi), Iron Man (who I think is in some kind of coma), Thor (the Jane Foster one), Vision, Spider-Man (the Miles Morales one), Ms. Marvel, Nova and the Wasp (the daughter of Hank Pym). Janey Van Dyne, the first Wasp also appears. The spiffy keen art is by Adam Kubert and Jeremy Whitley is credited as a co-writer of issue #14.

You’re probably think my head is about to explode. It’s not. These two issues are done-in-one character stories centering around Nadia Pym and Jane Foster. In issue #14, Nadia, one of the very smartest people in the Marvel Comics universe, tries to figure out how she can bring the two Civil War II sides to find a peaceful resolution. In issue #15, Jane Foster is trying to decide which side she should be on while dealing with her mortal self’s terminal cancer. Despite the grimness of the subject matter and the impossibility of truly happy endings, both issues are uplifting. Nadia and Jane are true heroes, something still in short supply in most super-hero comics from any publisher.

I liked both issues a lot and will be following the new Mark Waid-written Avengers title. Meanwhile, can anyone tell me which of the Avengers titles drafted It the Living Colossus?

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Destroyer 1

Victor LaVelle’s Destroyer [Boom! Studios; $3.99 per issue] brings the Frankenstein Monster back to civilization in a six-issue series drawn by Dietrich Smith with colors by Joana Lafuente. We meet the Monster sitting on an iceberg and swimming with the whales, up to the moment when whalers slaughter said whales. The Monster exacts a brutal vengeance on the whalers and then hitches a ride with the animal rights activists who witnessed the carnage. Within a handful of pages, LaVelle hits the reader with the Monster’s grim reaction to “catching up” on the world via the Internet and follows that up with a violent surprise I didn’t see coming.

Destroyer had already hooked me. Then we got introduced to the last surviving member of the Frankenstein family and a genius scientist who lost her son and seeks to revive him. I’m two issues into this series and planning to stay right to the end. I expect the eventual meeting between the Monster and the scientist will be nothing short of stunning.

Destroyer is action, horror and social commentary. I recommend it to older readers. It’s well worth reading.

No conventions or travel for a bit, so I’ll be back next week with more reviews. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #217

Hogan’s Alley #21 [Bull Moose Publishing; $6.95] is the most recent issue of “the magazine of the cartoon arts.” Irregularly published by editor Tom Heintjes and design director David Folkman, it’s one of those magazines I have to read from cover to cover, even when a subject may be of little or no interest to me. Even then, I relish the scholarship that goes into those articles and appreciate the inviting quality of their writing.

Hogan’s Alley is named for the tenement home of the Yellow Kid, who many consider the first American comics character. Newspaper comic strips are covered in every issue, but the contents always include material on cartoons, comic books and other areas of comics art as well. I never know what I’m going to find in an issue, just that I will be enlightened and entertained.

The cover touts an article on the best and worst origins of super-heroes, rarities from the archives of legendary comics artist and illustrator Jack Davis, an unpublished interview with Krazy Kat creator George Herriman and an article on the frequent references to Shakespeare in Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. I could quibble with some of my friend Craig Shutt’s selections for the worst super-hero origins – The core origin stories of Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter were pretty good until later writers made them much more complicated than need be – but Shutt does a good job of making the cases for his choices.

The 148-page issue has longer, thoughtful pieces like the Heintjes discussion with four working women cartoonists mixed with shorter pieces like the look at Wally Wood’s commercial advertising art by Jim Korkis. It has sidebars and snippets throughout. Very often, an article, interview or sidebar will lead me to an online search for books and comics by some of the subjects thereof. It’s the variety of comics art that keeps me intensely devoted to the field and my career in it. I see that same variety reflected in each and every issue of Hogan’s Alley.

For more information on how to subscribe to the magazine and to see an archive of features on comics art history and more, visit the Hogan’s Alley website at:

http://cartoonician.com/

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Flintstones

The Flintstones Volume 1 by Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh [DC; $16.99] is one of several titles offering new, sometimes startling takes on the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. Russell is known for God Is Disappointed in You, an irreverent retelling of the Bible. His reimagining of the Flintstones, the beloved cartoon show which started out in prime time in the 1960s, is only slightly less threatening to Russell’s immortal soul. Pugh is a Brit comics artist rock star whose previous works include 2000 AD, Animal Man, Swamp Thing and more.

This new series about the modern Stone Age family whose lifestyle was a gently bizarre mirror of our own lives moves well beyond the TV show’s charming domestic animal substitutes for appliances like vacuum cleaners and garbage disposals and delivers examinations of issues we’re still trying to suss out in 2017. Corporate greed, consumer culture, monogamy, gay marriage, social status, religion, government using fear to pursue military objectives, the treatment of the veterans who have served in such campaigns are all on view in the six issues collected in this volume.

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble may not be as boisterous as their cartoon incarnations. Wilma and Betty are not the housewives of the 1960s. Even so, these thoughtful new takes on these beloved cartoon characters are every bit as likeable as their predecessors and all the more fascinating. For that matter, though Bedrock isn’t quite as comforting as in the 1960s, it now reflects our own cities and lives more closely. I love this series.

How good is The Flintstones? I’ve read it twice now because there was great stuff I missed the first time around. I’m going to order the second volume as soon as I finish this review. I’m also going to order God Is Disappointed in You because Russell has earned some more of my money by his outstanding writing here.

The rest of the creative team is just as wonderful. Pugh’s art and storytelling is first-rate. If DC sold a print of this collection cover without the copy, I’d buy it to hang on my office wall. The color artistry of Chuck Chuckry shows why he’s long been one of my favorite colorists. Letterer Dave Sharpe always delivers the goods. Whatever editor Marie Javins did to shape and facilitate this new series is something she should keep doing because it really is some swell stuff.

The Flintstones Volume 1 is my pick of the week.

The Flintstones Vol. 1:

ISBN 978-1-4012-6837-4

The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam (due in October):

ISBN 978-1-4012-7398-9

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Gods of War

What amazed me most about Marvel’s recent Civil War II disaster, of which the best can be said is that it wasn’t remotely as awful as the Captain America/Hydra/Nazi event, is that some writers managed to find ways to subvert it by showing how immoral and wrongheaded Captain Marvel’s embrace of “predictive justice” was. That was the case with Civil War II: Gods of War [$15.99] by writer Dan Abnett with artist Emilio Laiso.

Reprinting the four-issue mini-series of the same name, Gods of War has Hercules continuing his struggle to overcome his reputation as a shallow drunk and party boy to be again worthy of his position as the first of all heroes. I’ve always liked the fun-loving Hercules of the Marvel Universe, but this version is very relatable. I want him to triumph over his demons and get back to where he can laugh boisterously without stimulants.

Hercules and a rather ragtag team of ancient gods are the only ones aware of the new deities who want to bring the world crashing down for their own twisted pleasure. That’s right. The new deities can not be seen by the Inhuman Ulysses. His ability to predict future events doesn’t register them. So much for Captain Marvel’s fascist commitment to subvert basic human rights in exchange for supposed security.

But Gods of War is more than just a raised middle finger to Civil War II. It’s a story of a hero on a painful quest for redemption in the most difficult of times. It’s a story of friendship, courage and sacrifice. It’s a story of ordinary humans rising to join the struggle. It’s good comics. And, hey, this collection even reprints the goofy punch-out between Hercules and Thor that originally ran in 1965’s Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. You can’t go wrong with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wonderment.

I have certainly been critical of various Marvel titles in recent months. But I’ll never be done with this publisher because it keeps bringing us exceptional super-hero and other comics.

Civil War II? Just an awkward stain on an exciting universe that includes such great titles as Ms. Marvel, The Unstoppable Wasp, Champions and many others.

Civil War II: Gods of War is well worth reading. I recommend that you check it out sooner rather than later.

ISBN 978-1-302-90034-2

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Black Lightning star

One more note for this week’s column. It’s late because I was away for a couple days and came back to the worst jet lag I’ve ever had. My apologies.

Why was I away? Because DC Entertainment and Black Lightning show runners Salim and Mara Brock Akil brought me to Burbank to meet and talk with the Black Lightning writers. Obviously, I can’t tell you what I learned about their plans. What I can tell you is that I’ve never been more excited about a TV show.

Comic books and TV shows are not the same thing. They demand very different approaches. But the Black Lightning of this TV show has the same core values as the Black Lightning I created for the comic books back in 1976…and there’s a (to me) astonishing respect for and use of my own work on the character. It was a honor to spend a few hours in that writers room. Black Lightning is back…and not just on TV. More on that tease later.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #216

Eisner Award-winning author Bill Schelly is known for his stunning biographies of comics greats. He’s written about Otto Binder, Joe Kubert and Harvey Kurtzman. The Kurtzman book won him a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Book.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu [Fantagraphics; $39.99] is Schelly’s latest landmark volume. Stanley was the writer and artist of the classic Little Lulu comics, the classic Nancy comics and so many others. He sometimes did the entire job on a comic book, both the writing and full art. He most often wrote what I call “drawn scripts,” scripts that were detailed or rough layouts with the copy included. Other artists would then do the final drawings.

Stanley came from a generation of comic-book geniuses who were not known to fandom at large. By the time comics fans began to research comics history, Stanley had retired from comics and was working as a silk screener. He attended but one comics convention in his life, though one of the convention’s other guests was the legendary Carl Barks of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge fame. Their joint panel is covered in this biography.

Writing a biography about a subject who has passed and with little source material is a daunting challenge. Schelly, of course, didn’t let that stop him. He did extensive interviews with Stanley’s son and surviving co-workers. He reached out to get every fact that was out there. The result is a book that celebrates Stanley’s work and reveals the artist’s struggles with alcoholism and depression. It shines a bright light on the man and his work. This book is simply a magnificent addition to comic-book history.

Because I was a super-hero kid growing up, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered and quickly learned to appreciate giants like Barks and Stanley. Especially fascinating to me was the manner in which Stanley approached his stories. He basically started on page one without a clear idea of where the tales might go. I’m not quite that loose in my storytelling, but I plot loosely enough to allow for the magical surprises that sometime come to me while I’m doing the finished script.  Such moments are among the most joyful for me. I hope they were also for Stanley.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu is a full-color book whose size – 10.4 x 13.4 inches – qualifies it as a deluxe coffee table book. The layout of the volume is breathtaking. The reprinted art pops off the pages. It is an indispensable addition to the library of any comics reader interested in comics history. The quality of the research, the writing and the production is why this fine book is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-60699-990-5

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Big Moose

I’ve dropped the “new” Archie titles from my buying list, though I may continue to read them via the good graces of a friend who loans me his comic books. It’s not that the titles are necessarily bad – except for Betty and Veronica, which is pretty awful, and Afterlife with Archie, which is an abomination – but they have become more cheap soap opera than the nuanced comedy they were in the hands of writers like Frank Doyle, George Gladir and Craig Boldman.

The recent Big Moose One-Shot [$4.99] shows the good and the bad of “new” Archie. It featured three stories by three different writer-artist teams. I have no beef with the artists. Cory Smith, Thomas Pitilli and Ryan Jampole did terrific work with characters who were recognizable from story to story. But the writers – Sean Ryan, Ryan Cady and Gorf – didn’t seem to be writing the same lead character.

My favorite of the three was Cady’s “Have It All.” Moose struggles, but is determined to meet all his obligations. It’s a nice little tale of friendship, persistence and personal honor. This should be the model for future Moose stories.

Alas, “Moose vs. the Vending Machine” played Moose as being dumb as a pile of bricks, a characterization which should have been laid to rest decades ago. “The Big Difference” had a Moose who was a bully. A bully with redeeming qualities, but a bully nonetheless.

Someday, I’d like to try my hand at a contemporary teen humor comic book. Because I’m convinced you can combine the quality of a Doyle, a Gladir and a Boldman with stories that are funny and meaningful. I keep hoping Archie Comics manages that.

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Worlds of Fear

Good or bad, I never regret shelling out relatively big bucks for the PS Artbooks of Pre-Code Classics. In the case of Worlds of Fear Volume One [$59.99], it allowed me to read five horror comic books published by Fawcett Comics, best known as the Silver Age home of the original Captain Marvel. However, when it comes to recommending some of these hardcover volumes to you, I have to assume most of my readers do not share my mania for reading less-than-classic classic reprints. Which is what you get here.

Horror was not Fawcett’s forte. Though some legendary artists drew some of these stories, the dismal writing is usually more than the talents of Sheldon Moldoff, Bernard Baily, Bob Powell, George Evans and the like could overcome.

This first volume collects Worlds Beyond #1 and Worlds of Fear #2-5 from November 1951 through June 1953. Of the almost two dozen tales in this book, only two of them stood out. In both cases, there was the glimmer of a good story to be had if said tales had been better developed and written.

Worlds of Fear #4’s “The Dead Lover Returns!” tells of a young man who spots the woman he knows is his soul mate from across a great distance. He dies before he can meet her. He pleads his case before the guardians of the afterlife, saying he had never known true love in his life and wants a chance to experience it. They agree to send him back under challenging circumstances. The biggest catch is that if the woman falls in love with him, she will join him in death. This story would be worth a rewrite.

Issue #5 had “The Devil Puppet” with penciled art by Mike Sekowsky. A down-on-his-luck puppeteer carves a new puppet from the wood of a hanging tree. The new puppet brings him fame and fortune, but it quickly gains evil sentience. The plot isn’t remotely original, but the tale is told with considerable mania.

Pre-Code Classics World of Fear Volume One is for the completist. I’ll let you know if the second volume is better.

ISBN 978-1-78636-058-8

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My next convention appearance will be at G-Fest, the big Godzilla convention held from July 14 to July 16 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare. I’ll be doing a panel presentation each day. On Friday, we doing a panel on “Marvel Monsters.” On Saturday, I’ll be discussing Gorgo, Konga and Reptilicus in the movies, in the comics and in the odd novelizations of those 1960s films. On Sunday, the focus will be on “Syfy Monsters and Other Giant Critters.” The cheese will be celebrated at that last one.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews and a few notes on a mysterious trip I’m taking at the end of this week. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella