TONY’S TIPS #327

The comic-book world is abuzz with the news DC Comics is now down to one publisher, with the online worlds of praise and condemnation for the departed Dan DiDio and with all manner of speculations as to what this means for the DC Universe. I have refused a number of requests that I take part in this discussion for the simple reason I find it distasteful. A man who was clearly passionate about comic books has lost his job. I find that sad and wish him well in what future endeavors he may pursue.

Instead, let’s talk about Nightwing. I tend to read ongoing series in big whopping chunks. I wasn’t keeping count of how many issues I read, but I think it was around forty. What struck me most about these issues was, that while some offered good writing and art, the stories revolved around making Dick Grayson not Dick Grayson. Which struck me as odd because, if you understand the core values of this character, you would embrace them.

In the most recent issues I read, he had lost his memory and was calling himself Richard Grayson. It didn’t even happen in his own book. It happened in Batman. Talk about an insecure actor hogging the stage. Batman needs a therapist.

Grayson’s origin has been retconned to make him the heir apparent assassin of the terminally boring Court of Owls. The secret group Batman – who knows everything – somehow didn’t know about. I never could get past that illogical contrivance.

Dick Grayson can be a fascinating character. He comes from the same terrible loss of his parents that shaped Batman. He’s taken in by Batman and, at least before DC decided Batman was psychotic, given a childhood and a life brighter than any Batman has known. Then, as young men will do when they reach adulthood, Grayson went his own way. He tries to honor Batman without becoming Batman. I bemoan the corporate lack of imagination that doesn’t realize how many years, nay, decades worth of stories that can come from this character’s core values. It’s sad.

However, if Nightwing doesn’t fill me with joy, there are plenty of other comics that do. Here are this week’s reviews…

Bakemonogatari

All three of today’s entries are comics I got from my local library system after I read excerpts from or read about them in last year’s Free Comic Book Day and Halloween ComicFest giveaways.

Bakemonogatari volumes 1 and 2 [Vertical Comics; $12.99 each] star high school student Koyomi Araragi. Once turned into a vampire and then cured, he retains some of his vampiric powers: superhuman healing and enhanced vision. Now he tries to help others who suffer from supernatural maladies.

Drawn by the humble Oh!Great from the original story by Nisioisin, Bakemonogatari isn’t always the easiest to follow, but is worth the effort. Araragi is a relatable hero. Senjogahara, a beautiful and sometimes unpleasant high school student, is the first person that he helps. Then she joins him to help another supernatural victim. She claims she’s just repaying her debt to him, but, if I were the sort to “ship” comics characters, I’d definitely ship these kids.

I liked these first volumes of Bakemonogatari well enough that I’m looking forward to the third, which should be available in March. If you’re into manga, I think you’ll enjoy this series.

Bakemonogatari Volume 1:

ISBN 978-1947194977

Bakemonogatari Volume 2:

ISBN 978-1949980028

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Planet of the Nerds

Planet of the Nerds [Ahoy Comics; $17.99] has already been optioned for a live-action movie by Paramount. Written by Paul Constant with art by Alan Robinson, it’s a sci-fi comics about 1980s high school jocks and the genius nerd they torment. Alvin (the nerd) is working on a device to cryogenically freeze living creatures to be revived in the future. When the jocks break into his secret laboratory, the three of them get fast-frozen with Alvin escaping. The laboratory remains hidden until 2019. It’s uncovered by a construction crew and the jocks are revived. Suddenly finding themselves in a world they don’t understand, the jocks have a rough go of it in a society where nerds rule. They have no plan…until they realize Alvin is alive, rich and powerful.

Constant does a great job with the personalities of the jocks, an old girlfriend of one of them and, of course, Alvin. Robinson’s art and storytelling is first-rate. There are many surprises along the way, only some of which I saw coming. Most importantly, this done-in-one trade collection delivers a satisfying ending. I had a ball reading it, but, in an industry that often fails to realize when a story has reached its natural conclusion, I like the closure that comes with the ending.

ISBN 978-0998044248

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Dark Red

Dark Red by Tim Seeley and Corin Howell [Aftershock Comics; $14.99] is my pick of the week. Protagonist Chip is a “forgotten man.” He was turned into a vampire during World War II, but has staked his claim to a small town he feels is more decent than the big cities with their secret vampire kingdoms.

Chip does not feed on his neighbors. He works a lousy third-shift job at a gas station. He gets his nightly sustenance from a young woman whose body produces too much blood, a condition that will be fatal in time. It’s a peaceful existence until other vampires come to town. Chip has a long-standing problem with these vampires and not merely because they want his turf.

What puts this series a cut above most vampire comics is Seeley’s strong characters and Howell’s ability to make those characters distinctive and interesting. The story is a page-turner with lots of eye-opening scenes and surprises. The ending is satisfying, even though there is clearly more to come.

Dark Red isn’t Tomb of Dracula or Dracula Lives, but I can’t think of a vampire comic books I’ve enjoyed more since those two classics of the form. This gets my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1949028263

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2020 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #326

Comics conventions are a year-long activity, but my own appearance schedule for this year kicks off with Pensacon, February 28-March 1 at the Pensacola Bay Center. That’s where you can buy tickets for the event, get celebrity autographs and photos, visit the terrific creators on the artist alley, and shop the huge vendor floor. The event’s other official venues include the Pensacola Grand Hotel (across the street from the Bay Center), the Saenger Theatre, the Rex Theatre, and the Pensacola Little Theatre. This is one of the best conventions in the country.

I’ll be set up on the artist alley level. Saintly Wife Barb will be my booth babe. We’ll be selling whatever books and posters we can fit into our suitcases. Obviously, supplies will be limited.

I will sign anything you buy from me for free. If you’re bringing items to be signed, I charge $5 per item or, should you choose to have my signing witnessed by a grading company representative, $15. Photos of or with me are free.

I will be appearing on a number of panel presentations during the weekend. These will include my award-deserving Cheesy Monsters Raid Again, Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements as Reflected in Comic Books, Writing Horror Comics, Godzilla Versus Kong, Classic Monster Movies and Writing for Comic Books. I’m also serving as a judge for the Pensacon Short Film Festival. Check the pretty spiffy Pensacon website (or get the Pensacon app for your phone) for the most up-to-date information on times and places.

As in past years, the Pensacon guest list is amazing! I can’t begin to list the guests I want to meet, like Weird Al Yankovic and Dee Wallace-Stone, or the old friends I’ll be reuniting with, like Mark Maddox and Keith DeCandido. Okay, I guess I did start listing them, but, trust me, if I went down the entire list, I wouldn’t have room to review anything.

How’s that for a slick segue to this week’s reviews?

Ahoy Comics is the most exciting and fun comics publisher to enter the industry in years. Their books are well-written and well-drawn with considerable variety and a professional demeanor that doesn’t get stodgy like some other recent launches. Tip: if your outfit’s mission statement is anything other than making good entertaining comics, I don’t need to hear it. In a house filled with many comic books that do not bring me joy, I want comics that make me smile as I enjoy them.

The Wrong Earth Volume 1 by Tom Peyer, Jamal Igle, Juan Castro and Andy Troy [Ahoy Comics; $19.99] collects issues #1-6 of the title and adds bonus material about the creation of the universes wherein the stories take place. And what a story it is.

These are worlds where two versions of a super-hero find themselves in the other’s world. Dragonflyman might remind you of the Batman from the 1960s TV series. Dragonfly is the dark modern version of the character. Their adjustments to their new situations makes for
engaging character studies. Despite the extreme takes on two super-hero types, I was impressed by both characters being able to think on their feet in response to their world-switching. Kudos to Peyer for the great writing.

Igle is one of the best comics artist around with his storytelling expertise and his solid drawing. He mixes old-school sensibilities with modern stylings. If I’m an especially good boy this year, I’m hoping Santa brings me an opportunity to work with him.

Reading single issues becomes problematic for me because there are just so many comic books being published today. That’s why I read and why I recommend getting this collection. It’s nice to have such a big chunk of amazing story in one place.

The Wrong Earth is my pick of the week, but our other two entries aren’t far behind. It’s a good week.

ISBN 978-0-9980442-0-0

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Forgotten All-Star

Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox by Jennifer DeRoss [Pulp Hero Press; $27.34] examines the life and works of one of the legends of the comics industry. Fox started writing comics before the arrival of Superman and continued to write them into the 1980s.
He created or co-created legendary Golden Age heroes like Zatara,  Hawkman and the Flash, to name three. In the Silver Age, Fox would revive and revitalize those characters. All while also writing in virtually every genre known to the comics industry and writing a great many novels in almost as many genres. With over 4000 comics stories to his credit and dozens of novels, he was clearly one of America’s most prolific authors.

DeRoss covers Fox’s ancestors and his upbringing. Until this book, I had never known what a devote Catholic he was or how his religion shaped his writing. Though not a person of faith myself, I admire people of faith who live the best parts of their religions without using it as an excuse to discriminate and oppress others. Knowing this about the man makes the courage, decency and generosity of his characters all the more evident.

We are living in a Golden Age of comics and comics history. DeRoss has contributed to the latter with this biography. I hope she will be gracing us with more like it.

ISBN 978-1-68390-200-3

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Hedy Lamarr

Actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr was a fascinating woman whose ups and downs in her career and her life make for equally fascinating reading. Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life by William Roy and Sylvain Dorange [Life Drawn; $19.95] is a fine graphic novel biography of
“The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.”

Lamarr is a flawed protagonist, as are all humans when you consider the ways of our species. She rises to some challenges and falls to others. She makes good and bad choices. She suffers under a movie industry culture that often belittles her. Her story is as riveting
as her legendary beauty.

If I have a complaint about Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life, it’s that it should have been longer. I would have liked more details of her life. She looms too big to be fully realized in even this 176-page graphic biography.

I recommend this book to devotees of old movies and, of course, to insatiable comics readers like myself.

ISBN 978-1-59465-619-4

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

© 2020 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #325

I don’t like the modern-day Joker. I don’t “get” the manic love for one of the most overused villains in all of comics. Clearly, I am missing something.

In his first comics appearances in the early 1940s, the Joker was a vicious killer. That contrasted wonderfully with his clown-like appearance. As Batman became a considerably commercial property for DC Comics, the Joker was toned down. He was still devilishly clever in his criminal machinations, but he was far less scary than he had been. Sure, he attempted the occasional murder, but it didn’t seem like it was really his thing anymore.

Enter Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil and Julius Schwartz, respectively, the artist, writer and editor of Batman stories that harkened back to Batman’s earliest adventures. In “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” [Batman #251; September 1973], the murderous Joker of comics long gone made his return. That remains my favorite modern-day take on him. If a 47-year-old tale can be called “modern-day.”

The Joker has had his ups and downs since that comic. But, along the way, he became so brutally murderous that his appearances were more torture porn that super-hero or even crime fiction. He would commit mass murder and come back three months later to commit more mass murders. He would maim supporting characters or beat them to death. His violence overshadowed his cleverness.

This is the Joker of today. The Joker I feel the Batman has a moral imperative to put down for keeps. Because, even if he catches the Joker and puts him back in Arkham for the 700th time, the Joker is always going to escape and commit more mass murders. The Joker of the current DC Universe is an exercise in gore with the writers and artists vying to top the last team’s bloody carnage. “Clever” isn’t even part of the Joker’s equation anymore.

Yet the Joker clearly appeals greatly to a large audience in comic books and movies. There is no shortage of comic books featuring the character. Indeed, I’m told there are now at least three different Jokers running around the DC Universe. Is he selling franchises to other demented psychopaths?

In the movies, Joaquin Phoenix has won Oscar’s Best Actor award for his portrayal of the character in 2019’s Joker. A dozen years ago, Heath Ledger won Oscar’s Supporting Actor award for 2008’s The Dark Knight. The Joker has appeared in countless other Batman animated features, cartoons, movies and TV shows. I mean, yes, I’m sure you could count them, but I’m not likely to.

I don’t like the Joker. I don’t understand the love for the villain in every medium imaginable. But I do recognize how popular he is. Maybe, someday, I’ll figure out why.

On to this week’s reviews…

My first two reviews are of horror anthologies I learned about from free Halloween ComicFest 2019 comics. Junji Ito is a Japanese manga creator noted for his dozens of volumes of creepy comics that are, at the very least, unsettling as all get out, and, at their fearful heights, worthy of the H.P. Lovecraft stories which, among various Japanese writers, inspired Ito. The world of Ito’s works is cruel,  the plaything of forces that select their victims without regard to whether those victims are innocent.

Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection [Viz Media; $22.99] collects a baker’s dozen of terrifying tales. An addictive nectar that dooms addicts to an inhuman fate. People who are frozen in place for no discernable reasons. Haunted houses that are the stage for a family drama of seemingly unstoppable horror. The art does nothing to ease the fearful nature of these stories; it accents and increases the
reader’s dread.

I need to read more Ito manga. Just not right away. Smashed is one of the scariest graphic collections I’ve read in years. If that’s something in your wheelhouse, then I heartily recommend this book.

ISBN 978-1-4215-9846-8

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House of Fear 02

House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Stories by James Powell, Jethro Morales and several creative collaborators [Dark Horse Books; $12.99] is a delightful horror anthology aimed at readers 8-12 years old. Besides the snowmen, the creature roster includes the Tooth Fairy, a vengeful ghost and a swamp monster and leaf piles.

Though I’m somewhat older than the target audience, which is like saying Godzilla is somewhat taller than your neighborhood grocery store, I found these tales quite entertaining. They remind me a bit of the Goosebumps books my son Ed used to devour when he was just a tadpole…and much better than Marvel’s recent disastrous attempt to adapt the Goosebumps world to its comic books.

House of Fear would be a terrific gift for a youngster just getting into comics and monsters. Definitely worth checking out.

ISBN 978-1-50671-132-4

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Superman Giant 1

I like big comics and I cannot lie. My pick of the week is Superman Giant #1 (DC Comics; $4.99]. The issue’s 25-page all-new story is “Power Play” by writer Robert Venditti, penciler Paul Pelletier, inker Andrew Hennessy, colorist Adriano Lucas, letterer Clayton Cowles and editor Andrew Marino. What makes this story so special is not just that it’s a done-in-one tale which can be enjoyed sans any knowledge of the rest of the DC Comics universe. The adventure also speaks to how inspirational Superman can be in the right hands and how he has, indeed, inspired non-powered people. The world of this Superman is a much better world than we get in the mainstream DC comic books.

Filling out this 100-page issue are reprints of Supergirl, Action Comics and Superman stories from 2008, 2010 and 2016. All of them are entertaining.

Now that DC is distributing the formerly Walmart-exclusive titles to the direct market, the 100-page giants are easier to find than ever before. The selection is good, so take a look at them when you next visit your friendly neighborhood comics shop.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2020 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #324

Trevor von Eeden and I were in Atlanta the other day. Von Eeden is, of course, the artist of my first Black Lightning series and a key designer of my creation’s original costume. We were there to film cameo appearances in the season finale of Black Lightning. I’m not at liberty to tell you more until this episodes airs – which won’t be until March – but I think we did the comics industry proud with our thespian skills.

During the filming, director and showrunner Salim Akil paused our scene for a moment to introduce us to the gathered cast and crew. He thanked us for bringing Black Lightning to life back in the day and asked us to take a bow. It was a heady moment. I’d experienced it before when I visited the Black Lightning set for last season’s wrap party, but it was new for Trevor.

I was happy to share that moment with Trevor. All comics creators who contribute to all those comic-book-based movies and TV series should be treated with the same respect all the time. It’s not the norm for the industry, but, thankfully, the cast and crew of Black Lightning has always treated me with great love and respect. It’s something I don’t take lightly.

In the comics industry and most likely in other industries as well, living creators are…inconvenient. It’s why DC isn’t publishing a Black Lightning series written by me, the guy who knows and writes my creation better than their other writers, and, instead, reduced their most iconic black super-hero to a Batman subordinate. Which is putting it far more delicately than I usually do.

“Authentic” Black Lightning can still be enjoyed in the TV series, which has been renewed for a fourth season. To an extent, you can also find him in the Young Justice animated series. I don’t agree with every choice the latter has made, but the show clearly comes from a place of respect for the character and my work.

I’ll tell you more about my latest visit to Atlanta when I’m able to do so. For now, I have this week’s reviews for you…

Tigra: The Complete Collection [Marvel; $39.99] reprints all of the character’s solo or team-up adventures in a snazzy 424-page trade paperback. I’m the creator of Tigra, but, unlike Black Lightning, where every important element was conceived by me before I pitched the character to DC Comics, there were other creators involved in Tigra’s birth. For one thing, Tigra was a new identity acquired by Green Nelson, who had previously starred in The Claws of the Cat, a short-lived series of the early 1970s.

Editor Roy Thomas asked me to write Giant-Size Creatures #1, which would star Werewolf by Night. Hating to see any Marvel character go to waste, I came up with the idea of turning Green Nelson into some sort of were-creature. I bounced the idea off Duffy Vohland, a dear friend who left us too soon, and he was enthusiastic.

I pitched the idea to Roy. Both of us had the idea to name the kind of new character Tigra. I came up with the Cat People concept and, for the villains, Roy suggested Hydra, which he knew was a favorite of mine. Gil Kane designed the basic look of Tigra and the look was further refined by John Romita and Don Perlin.

Tigra: The Complete Collection collects all my stories, including a couple scripted by other writers, as well as the original Claws of the Cat, various team-ups and a mini-series by writer Christina Z and artist Mike Deodato Jr. The latter had Greer Nelson joining the Chicago police force, a nice development as she was the widow of a Chicago police officer.

These are entertaining stories. Tigra is a complex and sometimes confused heroine, but she is strong and courageous throughout them.
Much more so than the various super-team books written by swine-ish scribes who made her a cowardly sex kitten. I enjoyed re-reading my stories and those of the other writers included in this book. I’m sure you will, too.

Tigra: The Complete Collection is my pick of the week. That might be a conflict of interest, but I can live with it. Heck, visiting with Greer after all these years has me wanting to write her again. Somebody at Marvel should make that happen.

ISBN 978-1-302-92069-2

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Hope 4

My friend Dirk Manning is known for his horror stories. This time, with artist K. Lynn Smith, he took a swing at a super-hero series and knocked it out of the park.

In Hope #1-6 [Source Point Press; $3.99 per issue], the title hero is an unregistered super-hero who is secretly a wife and a mother. She doesn’t go for battles with super-villains or more commonplace criminals. Her jam is helping people and police with rescues and such in non-violent ways. Neither her husband or daughter know she is a super-hero.

That changes when an auto accident forces her to reveal her powers and identity to save her family. Her husband ends up in a coma. Her daughter is traumatized by this new knowledge about her mother and blames her for the accident. The state takes Hope’s daughter from her and the forthcoming custody hearing does nothing to make these situations better.

Hope has to deal with governmental protective custody, with super-villains trying to recruit her, with a daughter who hates her, with a husband lying comatose and with that segment of the public that hates her for being unregistered.

It’s an emotional story that made my heart hurt. And, at the end of the sixth issue (and first volume), Manning and Smith surprised me with a cliffhanger I didn’t see coming. That almost never happens because, you know, I’ve been doing this for nearly half a century.

Hope is a great series, suitable for teens and older. I recommend it to every super-hero fan who enjoys something different from the usual universe-wide punch-ups.

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return to romance

Return to Romance: The Strange Love Stories of Ogden Whitney [New York Review Comics; $19.95] collects nine tales of love drawn by a favorite, albeit underrated, artist of mine. Whitney is best known for his work for the American Comics Group, better known simply by its initials: ACG. He drew every genre of comics for the publisher, but the parody/adventure/supernatural/super-hero title Herbie was and remains his signature achievement.

In this collection, editors Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro present a nine-pack of often odd stories. The romantic pairings are not what were typical for the genre, but made believable by Whitney’s knack for putting personality into the expressions and movements of his characters and the excellent writing. There are moments in these stories that will make modern readers cringe a bit, but, after all, they were originally published from 1959 to 1964.

While I would caution you to avoid putting much stock in the text material, which has factual errors and unfounded presumptions, the book itself is a delight and an important preservation of Whitney’s romance work. I’d buy a second such book in a heartbeat.

ISBN 978-1-68137-344-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2020 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #323

Fans of Black Lightning and the other DC/CW super-hero shows have received good news to kick off the new year. All of those terrific shows have been renewed well before the end of the current season. Okay, sure, Arrow per se has concluded its eight-season run, but it will live on as a spin-off series tentatively titled Green Arrow & the Canaries.

The new Arrow series is set twenty years in the future of whatever the DC/CW universe looks like after the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event. The title hero is Oliver Queen’s daughter Mia. I don’t want to speculate and give away any possible spoilers for the new show, but I have to wonder, given Oliver’s new role in Crisis, if he might still be around in 2040.

As I write this column, I’m just three episodes of Supergirl away from being caught up on the DC/CW shows. It’s a small victory for me. If we start talking about all the other comics-related series on TV and steaming services, I probably have well over 200 episodes to watch. Not to mention dozens of comics-based movies and animated features. It’s sometimes hard to remember when all comics fans had to watch was The Adventures of Superman in the 1950s and Batman in the 1960s. Our universe has expanded.

Quite a few fun comics and collections have crossed my path lately.

Let’s get to the reviews…

Pre-Code Classics: Atomic War & Captain Courageous [PS Artbooks; $51.99] is yet another intriguing collection of vintage comic books from this British publisher. It reprints Atomic War #1-4 [November 1952 – April 1953] and Captain Courageous #1 and only [March 1942]. These titles were published by Ace, a pulp magazine publisher that  also produced comic books from the 1940s to 1956. Over a dozen of its 48 titles reached double digits and, in all, Ace published 668 comic books. Several of them were cited for “violent and gruesome imagery” in Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and during government hearings in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Atomic War is especially fascinating because, in an earlier PS book incorrectly titled as Pre-Code Classics: Space Action & Captain Courageous, World War III #1-2 [March 1952-May 1953] were included. Both titles – Atomic War and World War III – have essentially the same premise. During seemingly successful negotiations to end the Cold War, the Russians launch a treacherous attack. Major U.S. and other foreign cities are destroyed in a blink of an eye, followed by America launching equally devastating attacks on Russian cities and military bases. The theme of both titles is that only a strong American can prevent atomic war.

Atomic War has decent stories by unidentified writers and artwork by talents like Ken Rice, Lou Cameron, Bill Molno, Jim McLaughlin, Chic Stone and maybe Sol Brodsky.

The one-shot Captain Courageous Comics #6 (formerly Banner Comics) features the title character plus The Sword, Lone Warrior, Typhoon Tyson, Kay McKay and Paul Revere Jr. With the lone exception of the Lone Warrior, all would appear in other Ace comics titles. None of these are stand-out characters, but I’m thinking it might be fun for me to put a modern spin on them one of these days.

As always, these vintage comics collections from PS Artbooks should please comics historians and fans of little-known offbeat comics. I enjoy them a great deal.

ISBN 978-1-78636-515-6

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Bettie Page 1

Everything I’ve read about the real-life Bettie Page leads me to believe the iconic pin-up girl was a genuinely good person. She had some hard knocks in her life, but they didn’t darken her character. I hope, from whatever afterlife there is, that Ms. Page is enjoying Dynamite’s Bettie Page Unbound [$3.99 per issue] as much as I am.

Written by David Avallone, Unbound imagines Bettie as an unofficial government agent of sorts. She’s brave, capable, feisty, funny and gorgeous. That latter is due to the inspiration of the real Bettie and the talented artists, including Julius Ohta, Moy R, Kewber Baal and others, who draw Avallone’s scripts.

In this series, Bettie takes on Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones who are seeking to return to and conquer our world. On a quest for the magical devices that can prevent this, Bettie takes on a variety of new forms. These include warriors not unlike Red Sonja, Vampirella, Dejah Thoris and Tinker Bell. The stories are terrific fun, the art is wonderful and the myriad variant covers are amazing. The series delivers satisfying entertainment in every issue.

Bettie Page Unbound is one of my favorite current comics titles and my pick of the week. Though I’ve been faithfully buying individual issues of the series, I’m upgrading to the trade paperbacks. These comics are keepers. And, hey, just saying here, if Dynamite put out a trade collecting those variant covers, they could get even more money from me.

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Amazing Mary Jane 1

Another legendary beauty takes center stage in Marvel’s The Amazing Mary Jane [$3.99 per issue] by writer Leah Williams, artist Carlos Gomez, color artist Carlos Lopez and letterer Joe Caramagna. This series has a wild premise that won me over from the get-go. Forgive me, but there will be some MILD SPOILERS ahead.

Mary Jane Watson has a starring role in a Hollywood movie. But the director of the biopic about the supervillain Mysterio is actually Mysterio. Seeing the cast and crew full of “newcomers, rejects and outsiders” looking for their first break or the chance to get back in the game, Mary Jane keeps Mysterio’s secret. But the threats to the production are daunting: a lack of funding and the ire of the Vulture’s new Savage Six.

I love this series. With a Marvel Universe so complicated that it often loses me in its intricacy, this is a story I can enjoy sans the encyclopedic memory other MU comics demand. Williams’ writing blends comedy with a sometimes violent soap opera drama. Mary Jane is a fierce mother hen protecting the production. Mysterio is an actually sympathetic character. I love it.

The Amazing Mary Jane is the Mary Jane comic I’ve been waiting for and didn’t know it. I recommend it to all fans of MJ and her role as our eyes on the Marvel Universe.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2020 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #322

The new year is upon us. Columnists will be flooding their readers with their looking back at 2019, looking ahead to 2020, predictions for 2020, fears for 2020 and so on. If you tried to read them all, it might take you into 2021.

For my part, I’ll concentrate on comics. Creators will be dealing with the changing realities in the comics industry and, not always voluntarily, reassessing their place in it. Editors and other staff workers will, not always voluntarily, come and go. Sometimes one or two at a time, somethings more as publishers trim their payrolls. I’ve heard of one creator who, after a meeting where they discussed projects with someone, came home to a phone call telling them that someone was no longer with the company.

There will be many great comics from all around the world. Even if the traditional comic book falters, we’ll still have graphic novels and manga and even self-published works that look like traditional comic books. Creators will need to master new markets in 2020 and going forward.

Comics sellers will experience the same challenges and turmoil as other small business in a “booming” economy that only booms for the largest corporations and the richest individuals. Online retailers will thrive if they offer good prices, service and variety. At the risk of being accused of bias, I am a delighted customer of InStock Trades, who sponsors this column.

The comics shops, still the backbone of our industry, will open and close. Having been a shop owner for over a decade in the 1980s, I know they have a tough path ahead of them. But those comics shops that treat their customers with respect and make themselves part of their fan and public communities will have a leg up over the shops that emulate the Android’s Dungeon from The Simpsons.

I hit 68 a week prior to writing this. I face the same challenges and insecurities as all of the above. However, perhaps because I grew up reading the comic-book adventures of courageous and decent heroes, I am more optimistic than pessimistic about the future of comics, my country and our world.

Happy New Year. Now let’s do some reviewing…

Mac Raboy Master of the Comics by Roger Hill [TwoMorrows; $39.95] is another worthy addition to the publisher’s outstanding library of comics history books. This one focuses on a revered Golden Age artist, who broke the mold for the artists of that era.

Creating comic books in the 1940s was very much a volume business. Artists and writers had to work fast to fill the needs of editors and publishers, and to make a living. And then we have Raboy, who was brilliant, who was dedicated to making the best art he could, who was painstaking in creating that art and, who as a result, was far slower than his contemporaries. Yet his art sold comic books.It’s hard to imagine Captain Marvel Jr. without picturing Raboy’s work. Hill’s book details the lengths Fawcett Comics reached to get as much Raboy art in their comics as possible.

TwoMorrows calls this the definite book on the life and art of Mac Raboy. That’s a claim that should stand the test of time. Hill has always been one of our best comics historians and his attention to detail in his interviews with Raboy contemporaries and his telling the story of Raboy’s life is as painstaking as the approach Raboy took to his work.

If you’re interested in comics history, you need to own this book. If you’re judging any kind of comics awards, you need to strongly consider this book for nomination in those awards. I recommend it to all of you.

ISBN 979-1-60549-090-8

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Operation Peril

Operation Peril Volume One [PS Artbooks; $51.99] is one of the most fun comic-book collections yet from the UK publisher. Published by the American Comics Group from October/November 1950 to April-May 1953, Operation Peril was an anthology title that featured a trio of ongoing series and a one-off story in each issue.

The ongoing characters were Typhoon Tyler, a famous adventurer; The Time Travelers, a scientist and his significant other crossing time to fight spies and aliens; and hard-boiled private detective Danny Danger. The one-off story was usually a horror tale. Four different genres in one comic-book title.

The stories were possibly written by Richard E. Hughes, who wrote many ACG comics. The art included such notables as Ogden Whitney, Ken Bald and Leonard Starr. This first PS Artbooks volume reprints the first four issues.

Operation Peril Volume One is great fun, earning my recommendation. As with many comics of the 1940s and 1950s, there are problematic portrayals of non-white characters. Such portrayals are tamer than most, but they are there.

ISBN 978-1-78636-510-1

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Activist

Zuiker Press’ “Teen Topics” series is on a roll. Last time out, I praised Brother: A Story of Autism. This time out, I’m recommending the hard-hitting, hopeful Activist: A Story of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Shooting by Lauren Elizabeth Hogg [$12.99] with art by Don Hudson and Jose Marzan Jr., colors by Monica Kubina and lettering by Jimmy Betancourt and Tyler Smith for Comicraft.

School and other mass shootings are a clear and present danger that our leaders need to address with more than their empty thoughts and prayers. Blah blah blah second amendment blah blah blah can’t stop all of them so we won’t try to stop any of them blah blah blah. I want to slap their meaningless responses out of their lying mouths. Fortunately, Hogg is far more temperate than me.

Hogg, a survivor of the shooting whose two best friends were killed in the event, tells her story with emotion and conviction. She is fierce in taking a stand and demanding action. If I have hope for the future, it’s because young people like her will eventually put the aging political monsters of Washington out to pasture and take their places.

The “Teen Topics” series started out just a little too “Afterschool Special” for me. But, as it’s continued, it has added some bite to its messages. Every public and school library needs to make these books available to patrons and students.

ISBN 978-1-947378-21-6

Happy New Year to my Tony’s Tips readers. I will be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #321

Superman turned a novelty item into a booming industry still going strong over eighty years since he exploded into the public eye in Action Comics #1. Before long, Superman leapt from the comic-book page into other areas of entertainment and fun. A newspaper strip that ran for decades. Wonderfully crafted, imaginative theatrical cartoons. A thrilling radio show that ran from 1940-1951. A movie serial starring Kirk Alyn. Not to mention so much merchandise that it would take a quite hefty tome to picture all the different toys, articles of clothing, food products and more.

Superman made the comic-book industry. The comic-book industry made him a superstar. It was a great deal all around, save, of course, that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of this legendary character, got screwed over by their publishers. That part of the Superman story is one neither creators or fans should ever forget. However, at the moment, my focus is on the Superman radio show that
kicked off in 1940.

The Adventures of Superman hit the airwaves on February 12, 1940, as a syndicated show on New York City’s WOR. It would be broadcast three to five times a week nationally by Mutual and ABC, ending on March 1, 1951. All told, 2,088 original episodes of show aired on American radio. Some were 15-minute episodes, others were a half-hour in length. At various times, they ran in the afternoons and, at others, in the evenings and weekends.

Somewhere along the line, I either bought or was given CDs of the radio show. I listened to them while driving and thought they were great fun. Narrator Jackson Beck would intone the opening…

Up in the sky! Look!
It’s a bird!
It’s a plane!
It’s Superman!

…followed by the sound effect of Superman in flight whooshing by. Bud Collyer, his identity not revealed to the public initially, was the voice of Superman and Clark Kent. When he took vacations from the show in those days of no reruns, Batman and Robin would become
the focus of episodes.

When my longtime friend Anthony Tollin, a noted expert in a great many things including old-time radio, told me intriguing Superman radio trivia, I realized several episodes could be adapted to the comic books. The story that most interested me was the one wherein Superman took on the Ku Klux Klan.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about that:

In 1946, the series delivered a powerful blow against the Ku Klux Klan’s prospects in the northern US. The human rights activist Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the KKK and other racist/terrorist groups. Concerned that the organization had links to the government and police forces, Kennedy decided to use his findings to strike at the Klan in a different way. He contacted the Superman producers and proposed a story where the superhero battles the Klan. Looking for new villains, the producers eagerly agreed. Reportedly, Klan leaders denounced the show and called for a boycott of Kellogg’s products. However, the story arc earned spectacular ratings, and the food company stood by its support of the show.

I pitched DC Comics on a twelve-issue series that would adapt this and a few other episodes of the show. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I submitted the pitch, but it was either during Mike Carlin’s time as the editor of the Superman titles or shortly after he had been promoted to editor-in-chief. That places it in the 1990s, probably after I’d been unceremoniously booted from my 1995 Black Lightning series. The pitch was rejected.

It took three decades, but DC has finally gotten around to adapting perhaps the most famous story from The Adventures of Superman radio show. Superman Smashes the Klan #1 by New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang with art by Gurihiru and lettering by Janice Chiang [$7.99 per issue] kicked off a three-issue retelling of this tale. While it’s a somewhat mild portrayal of the Klan compared to the bloody and obscene history of the real-life organization, it’s a well-told story with inviting art. Hopefully, it will encourage readers to investigate the Klan on their own and realize why evil such as this can never be allowed to be normalized.

A high point of this first issue is the first part of “Superman and Me,” Yang’s essay on what Superman meant to him and far more. It compensates somewhat for the mildness of the Klan in this comics series.

Superman Smashes the Klan is my pick of the week. The second issue should be out by the time you read this column. I’m looking forward to reading that and the concluding issue.

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Brother

Brother: A Story of Autism by Bridget and Carlton Hudgens with art by Nam Kim, colors by Fahriza Kamaputra and lettering by Tyler Smith for Comicraft [Zuiker Press; $12.99] is the seventh book in the Zuiker Press series of “graphic novels written by young adults for their peers.” I’ve reviewed a few of these books in the past, noting some of them have an “Afterschool Special” vibe that softens  their impact.

Brother hit me differently. Possibly because I have some autistic  friends, I found it a more effective means of conveying a message. “Message” is perhaps a misnomer here. This GN gives readers who don’t know people with autism a window into what those lives are like and introduces those readers to the large range of what autism in. It’s a wonderful learning tool.

But it’s also a wonderful story of a brother and a sister who care so deeply for one another. It’s that human story that truly makes this GN stand out. The writing is engaging, heartwarming. The art tells the story well, supported by fine coloring and lettering. I love this book. It’s a title that should be available at all public and school libraries.

ISBN 978-1-947378-08-7

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Alter Ego 161

Finally, Alter Ego #161 [TwoMorrows; $9,95] is a full-issue tribute to Stan Lee, the man I consider the most influential comics creator of my lifetime. If it weren’t for Stan Lee and Marvel Comics, I’m not sure I’d be working in the comics industry. His collaborations with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Dick Ayers and others made me want to write comics, too.

Editor Roy Thomas, himself someone whose comics work influenced me mightily, has put together a wonderful remembrance of Stan the Man. From 1975, we get the transcript of a 1975 radio interview Lee did with Carole Hemingway. That’s followed by some twenty pages of Lee tributes from Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart, David Anthony Kraft, Richard J. Arndt and yours truly.

Alter Ego is the leading magazine of comics history. In this issue, we also get articles on Stan Lee’s collaboration with Moebius, and the complex story of Stan Lee, Al Landau and Marvel’s ventures into Great Britain and beyond. Michael T. Gilbert has the first part of an article on Charles Biro, the editor/writer whose comics were an inspiration to Lee. The late Bill Schelly contributed his memories of his few but meaningful contacts with Lee.

It’s an especially great issue of a magazine whose every issue is worthy of being called “great.” If you are at all interested in the history of comic books, you should be reading Alter Ego.

This should be where I say “‘Nuff Said,” but I want to take a line or two to thank InStock Books, the sponsors of this column, for their patience and understanding as I dealt with medical issues. I am managing my newly-discovered type 2 diabetes, getting stronger every day and back at work. Hopefully, this column will appear more regularly in the weeks to come.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers. I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

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