TONY’S TIPS #241

There are those who venomously decry the appearance of characters of color, creators of color, strong women characters, strong women creators, gay characters, gay creators and, indeed, any characters and creators who are not straight white males. They cling to their straight white male privilege. They spit on the idea of diversity in today’s comic books and other entertainments. They are dinosaurs waiting for the comet to hit, certain to be reduced to the merest of flotsam, doomed to swept into the dustbin of history. Their time is passing. They rage against their inevitable fate.

I’m their polar opposite. I look with admiration and excitement at the great characters and comics coming our way as a result of the increased and increasing diversity of my beloved comics art form. The only thing I decry is that it’s taken so very long to get here.

I adore Riri Williams, the black teenager who is crazy smart and is filling in for Tony Stark in the pages of Marvel’s Invincible Iron Man. She calls herself Ironheart. Trying to make the world better and safer, she is more likely to use her compassion and intellect than her superior firepower and technology. In recent issues, Riki conquered Doctor Doom’s Latveria, named herself queen and started the nation on the road to democracy. That was one of 2017’s finest comic-book “wow” moments.

Brian Michael Bendis breathed new life into the Iron Man franchise, even if Stark himself has been absent-but-not-totally-absent from Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The latter title stars a repentant Victor von Doom donning Iron Man armor and doing good. Yeah, I know, but Bendis makes it believable.

Stark? Well, he’s in some kinda self-induced coma but an artificial intelligence version of him is a mentor of sort to Riki. I’ve long been impressed by how well Bendis has captured Robert Downey, Jr.’s voice and used it for the comics version of Tony. Adding to the fun is Mary Jane Watson who is kinda running Stark Industries with the assistance of yet another artificial intelligence. Adding even more fun to the mix is the inclusion of Stark’s birth mother, a former rock-and-roll star.

If you had described the above to me, I would have thought Marvel had lost its editorial mind. But Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man work. They are well-written. They are well-drawn. They are entertaining and exciting. They are definitely worth reading. They are my picks of the week. Here’s a list of the various recent Iron Man collections:

Invincible Iron Man/Ironheart Vol. 1: Riri Williams ($24.99)

ISBN 978-1302906719

Invincible Iron Man/Ironheart Vol. 2: Choices ($24.99)

ISBN 978-1302906733

Infamous Iron Man Vol. 1 ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1302906245

Infamous Iron Man Vol. 2: The Absolution of Doom ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1302906252

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Roots

I would be lying if I didn’t admit the eye-catching cover of Tara O’Connor’s Roots [Top Shelf; $19.99] was what attracted me to her autobiographical graphic novel. Redheads aren’t my Kryptonite. They are evidence of my excellent taste in women. Ever since I watched Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man. But even the most eye-catching cover won’t earn a creator a good review if they don’t deliver the goods. O’Connor delivers.

What starts out as our heartbroken heroine’s journey to Ireland to discover her roots quickly becomes a romantic comedy wrapped in a coming-of-self story wrapped in a travelogue. I would have liked to have seen more of her family history – that turned out to be harder for her to find than herself – and more travelogue – I fell hard for both Maureen O’Hara and Ireland watching my all-time favorite movie – but I can’t complain about the finished work. The writing and the art are terrific. It kept me turning pages. It delivered a totally satisfying ending…and it made me want to see more from this very talented comics creator.

Roots is also my pick of the week…and would make a pretty nifty Valentine’s Day gift for your special someone.

ISBN 978-1-60309-417-7

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Wake Up

Megumi Morino’s Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty Volume 1 [Kodansha Comics; $12.99] is a supernatural romance with a down-to-earth hero who is unexpectedly noble. Tetsu Misato is a high school student at odds with his domineering father. Tetsu wants to join the work force on graduation. His dad wants him to go to college – which Tetsu can’t afford – and calls him a spoiled snowflake who’s never even worked a part-time job. To determine his own destiny, Tetsu juggles school and a job with his father’s housekeeping agency. I faced a similar conflict when I left John Carroll University after less than a year there. I didn’t want to be saddled with college debt. I didn’t like the arrogant Jesuits who ran the place. Most importantly, I wanted to pursue a career as a writer. That worked out for me.

Back to Tetsu. He gets a part-time job at a mansion on a hill with a mysterious outbuilding separate from the estate. The building is the home of the owner’s even more mysterious daughter. Tetsu falls from the daughter, but Shizu isn’t always the one in change of her own body. What her family thinks is a multiple personality disorder is actually Shizu’s possession by several spirits.

Tetsu’s devotion and loyalty to Shizu informs this initial volume. He’s a truly admirable friend. Shizu is a frail heroine, but also a young woman capable of strength. The spirits seem to be a benign bunch, but I suspect we haven’t met all of them yet. I’m intrigued by this series and plan to continue reading it.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty should appeal to shojo manga readers and I recommend it to them.

ISBN 978-1-63236-519-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #240

This is my first “Tony’s Tips” of 2018, but I’m writing it about a day after my last column of 2017. This year will be crucial for the comics industry on multiple fronts. Actual comic books and graphic  novels will have to maintain their own creative identities even as comics-based movies and TV series continue to flourish. We will be dealing with the same harassment issues that face entertainment and media. We’ll be dealing with the unfortunate tax cuts giveaways to the wealthy and their collateral damage to our customers. It will be harder for many of our readers to come up with the discretionary income that allows them to buy what we create.

Much of the above is out of the hands of the talented writers and artists and editors working in comics. The best plan I can come up with is to work even harder to make comic books and graphic novels as good as we can. I have been amazed and delighted by the efforts of every member of the Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands creative team to make that six-issue series as good as it can possibly be. I see that same drive in other books from many other creators and publishers. I believe that if we make better comics then they – our readers – will come. That’s my New Year’s resolution.

This week, as a change of pace, I’m not going to have reviews per se. Instead, I’m going to give you a glimpse into what Tony reads in preparation for this column and all the other things I create.

I tend to bounce around from book to magazine to comic and back as I go through my day. Because I need to look up from my screen and stopping typing every so often during my day, I take many breaks to rest my brain and fingers.

I generally read two or three local newspapers per day. These are, by no means, good newspapers. But they give me a sense of the world immediately around me. I also read well over a hundred comic strips and editorial cartoons each day, but prefer to read those online on account of they are bigger in that platform. I used to ghost-write for a number of comic strips and like to keep current with what’s being published.

I read magazines, often because I fell for the cheap subscriptions that are gifts when you fill out a survey. These would include: New York, New Yorker, Real Simple, Essence, TV Guide, People, National Geographic, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, MAD, and, from the U.K., Beano (a weekly kids humor comic) and Commando (a weekly war comics digest). I probably forgot a few magazines. Often I just skim the issues, but I always do that because I never know when something in them might spark an idea.

Other things I’m currently reading:

Dan Gearino’s Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture [Swallow Press; $26.95] is a breezy, informative study of the comic shop culture and how it came to be. The first 150 or so pages offer a history enlivened with personal stories with the remainder of the book covering individual stores. I was involved in comic shops and distribution for close to a dozen years in the late 1970s and 1980s. Gearino’s accounts ring true to me. I’m enjoying his book greatly.

ISBN 978-0-8040-1190-7

I’ve reading two different manga volumes simultaneously. Princess Jellyfish Volume 7 by Ahiho Higashimura [Kodansha Comics; $19.99] continues the story of Tsukimi, a shy young woman who tried to save her home (and that of several like women) by designing and selling dresses. Desperate circumstances have led her to make the ultimate sacrifice by leaving her home and friends, moving to Singapore to work for a major fashion company. The series has humor, romance and a cross-dressing hero that never fails to entertain, inspire and surprise. Once I’ve finished the manga, I plan to watch the anime and the live-action movie inspired by the manga.

ISBN 978-1-63236-505-7

Don't Meddle

Nozomu Tamaki’s Don’t Meddle with My Daughter Volume 2 [Seven Seas; $12.99] is a raucous and risque super-hero series about a retired super-heroine named the Eighth Wonder and the daughter following in her mother’s footsteps. Much of the humor is titillating and even embarrassing for a refined older reader like myself. But it’s just so crazy and so much fun that I keep reading it.

ISBN 978-1-626925-85-4

Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego [TwoMorrows; $9.95] is my undisputed favorite magazine of comics history. Issue #150 celebrates 95 years of Stan Lee, my former boss, a mentor and my friend. I’m currently reading Ger Apeldoorn’s terrific article on Stan’s attempts to get out of comics in the challenging 1950s. The issue is filled with wonderful articles and artwork. The Eisner Awards judges should start marking their ballots now.

From the same publisher, Back Issue [$8.95] covers the Bronze Age of Comics and beyond. Editor Michael Eury is a child of that era; he and his writers are passionate about those comic books. Issue #102 is a “Mercs & Anti-Heroes Issue” with articles on Deadpool, Deathstroke, Vigilante and more. I’ll start reading that issue as soon as I finish Alter Ego #150.

Squirrel Girl

I’m two issues into The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s ridiculously fun visit to the Savage Land. In issue #22 [$3.99], writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson have Doreen and Nancy win a programming contest that lands them an all expenses paid visit to said Savage Land. Other winners include teams from Wakanda and Latveria. They learn the contest was more than it seems. The Savage Land is facing destruction and its guardians are hoping these whiz kids can save it. From the laugh-out-loud online exchange between Doreen and Tony Stark that kicks off the issue, this story arc is entertaining and exciting. Great stuff.

It looks like the entire story will be collected in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 7: I’ve Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You [$17.99]. It’s scheduled to be published in March.

ISBN 978-1302906658

My immediate reading pile also has some free comics from Halloween ComicFest. I’ve been reviewing these in my Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing [http://tonyisabella.blogspot.com] and these are the last few issues I haven’t written about.

One of my not remotely guilty pleasures is reading the PS Artbooks hardcover collections of classic and not-so-classic comics from the 1940s and 1950s. I always have one of these volumes on my reading pile and, at present, that volume would be Planet Comics Volume Ten [$69.99], reprinting issues #42-47 [May 1946 to March 1947]. I like to read these volumes a story at a time. They make for a nice break from all the other stuff I read.

ISBN 978-1-84863-896-9

The above answers the question of what Tony is reading right now. Just reading this long list makes me wonder where I find time to do anything else.

Here’s wishing all my friends and readers a happy new year. I will be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #239

Christmas has come and gone. Just a few days before Christmas, your Tipster turned 66 and, to the amazement of all, did not crumble to dust. I had a lovely birthday evening with Sainted Wife Barb, son Ed, daughter Kelly and cat Simba. We had pizza and pasta from what has become my favorite local pizza place, hooked up our new family gift – a Ultra HD Blu-ray player – and watched Wonder Woman, which is my favorite of the DC Comics movies. Not to mention hundreds of online greetings from my friends and readers. It was a good day to not crumble to dust.

While gearing up to finish writing Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands and plan my next works, I have been reading chunks of comic books. I’ll never again be a “read the new comics as they come out” kind of reader. It doesn’t fit my lifestyle. But I really enjoy reading several issues of a title at a time.

Darth Vader #1-9 [Marvel; $4.99 for #1, $3.99 each for the rest] is set after the Clone Wars. The Jedi have been defeated and most of them are dead. Palpatine is emperor. Anakin Skywalker has gone to the Dark Side of the Force, defeated and left to die by Obi-Wan Kenobi, and had his life preserved by Palpatine inside cybernetic armor. Thanks to a handy “what has gone before” prologue to these issues, you’d never know I haven’t seen Star Wars II, III and VIII. Kudos to Marvel for including these introductions in all their Star Wars comics.

I enjoyed these nine issues, despite their protagonist serving the most evil man in the galaxy and destined to become a mass murderer of planetary proportions. The Emperor is molding Vader with “tough love” and demanding his protégé prove himself at every turn. Vader faces overwhelming odds in his training and missions. This reader can’t root for him, but can’t deny his determination and skill in these matters.

Writer Charles Soule presents Vader with both worthy challenges and adversaries. Vader has had to forge his own light saber by taking and corrupting one from a Jedi he defeats in battle. In the latest issues, Darth is hunting down Jedi archivist Jocasta Nu, who is a fascinating character in her own right. The odds don’t seem to be in Nu’s favor, but I’m hoping she survives this story.

Penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli hails from Italy and has drawn comics for DC (Hellblazer) and Marvel (Spider-Man). In these comics, he’s captured the Star Wars universe and shown his proficiency with the action, the human drama and the storytelling. Inkers Cam Smith (#1-6) and Danielle Orlandini (#7-9) have complemented Camuncoli well. Colorist David Curiel has added great atmosphere to these comics. Kudos to editors Jordan D. White and Heather Antos for their roles in putting together a terrific creative team and facilitating that team’s ability to tell amazing stories.

The first six issues of this title have been collected in Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine [$17.99]. I recommend this series to hard-core and casual Star Wars fans alike. These are some excellent comics and so earn their place as my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1302907440

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Detective Comics 959

I also read Detective Comics #958-966 [DC; $2.99]. Since “Rebirth,” I’ve been enjoying Batman more than I have in years. He is far more sane that he’s been in years, still driven but no longer so driven as to be a menace to himself and others. He has enlisted people in his war on crime who he doesn’t treat like pieces on a chessboard. He seems honestly concerned about them and not merely in terms of his  battle plans. There are still some rough edges for me. To name one example, more Bruce Wayne screen time is needed.

Zatanna, especially in her traditional magician’s costume, has been a favorite of mine since I “met” her in 1964. She appears in #958-962. I like how writer James Tynion IV writes her. Artists Alvaro Martinez (pencils), Raul Fernandez (inks) and Brad Anderson (color) did an excellent job on the visuals.

That was followed by a two-issue story that had great moments for Clayface (maybe my favorite of Batman’s teammates) and the Spoiler. The story was by Tynion and Christopher Sebela with script by the latter, art by Carmen Carnero and color by Ulises Arreola and Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Issue #965-966 kicked off “A Lonely Place of Living” by Tynion IV, by artists Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira with color by Adriano Lucus. This loses me a bit for a number of reasons. I’m not fond of alternate universe and time travel stories. I’m also not yet sold on the “Mr. Oz” event running through several DC titles. Maybe it will grow on me, but I’m not there yet.

Issues #957-962 are collected in Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Deus Ex Machina [$16.99].

ISBN 978-1401274979

Detective Comics Vol. 5: A Lonely Place of Living [$16.99], which will collect issues #963-968 plus Detective Comics Annual #1, will be published in April of 2018.

ISBN 978-1401278229

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Duck Tales 0

I love the new DuckTales cartoon series airing on Disney XD. But, as much as I hate giving a negative review during Christmas week, IDW’s DuckTales comic books [$3.99 each] are not anywhere near as much fun or as well-crafted as the cartoons.

They purport to be the daring adventures of Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck and Della Duck. Almost every story in issue #0-4 had the same basic structure. They open at the conclusion of an adventure with Donald in some embarrassing situation. After removing any suspense with these openings, the stories go back to relate what happened, ending with a shot of poor suffering Donald.

I have been buying all of IDW’s Disney titles, but DuckTales has been taken off my list. It doesn’t entertain or interest me. Since your mileage might vary, I suggest you first seek to borrow these comics from your local library.

DuckTales: Treasure Trove [$9.99] reprints issues #0-2 and will be published in January.

ISBN 978-1684052080

DuckTales: Mysteries and Mallards [$9.99] with issues #3-5 will be published in May.

ISBN 978-1684052301

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #238

Christmas is eight days away as I write this week’s column, which means you’ve either finished your holiday shopping for the season or that you aren’t reading this because you’re running around like a maniac trying to finish your shopping.

If it’s the former, good for you. You deserve to kick back with a good comic book or graphic novel. Or maybe binge-watch one of the broadcast or streaming comic-book series your holiday preparation has kept you too busy to watch. Me, I need to finish the Punisher, start the Runaways and catch up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., iZombie and the Gifted. Of the shows I’m current with, I’d most recommend Lucifer, even though a devilishly good time might seem at odds with this particular holiday season.

As for more substantial comics reading, there are so many terrific collections I wouldn’t know where to begin with my recommendations. Actually, I do know where to begin. That would be the several thick collections of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. As I’ve said, I believe Sakai is our greatest living cartoonist.

Beyond that amazing saga, there are many other wonderful comic-book omnibuses and comic-strip collections. I’m looking at the Swamp Thing Bronze Age Omnibus across from my desk and a stack of books that includes the Pogo volumes lovingly gathered by Caroline Kelly, the daughter of Pogo creator Walt Kelly and a remarkable person who left us too soon. Enjoy the holidays, my friends, but also remember those who aren’t with us this year.

Here are some items I’ve read recently…

Best Wishes by Mike Richardson (story) and Paul Chadwick (script, art, lettering) is my pick of the week and one of the best graphic novels I’ve read all year. The black-and-white graphic novel [Dark Horse; $19.99] is a modern-day romance set in New York City and one that played out like a great movie in my head.

An ornate fountain from the old world, transplanted to Central Park to receive the coins and attendant wishes of those who bask in its beauty and feel its magic. Two strangers, a man and a woman, both graphic artists. One seeks fame and respect. The other seeks love. Fate draws them together as the city launches a competition for a new symbol. Lead characters Cal and Mary are expertly made; we get to know them and root from them, even when they’re at odds with one another. The supporting characters aren’t all as vivid, but Mary’s pro football player boyfriend is going to offer a great opportunity for whatever actor plays him in the movie that ought to happen.

I love Best Wishes so much I’ve already bought extra copies to give to friends. I’ll be amazed if it’s not a contender for next year’s best graphic novel in the Eisners and every other awards. It earns my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-50670-374-9

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Arakawa

When it comes to weird humor, I can always count on manga offering me something I never expected. Hikaru Nakamura’s Arakawa Under the Bridge 1 [Vertical Comics; $17.95] is fascinating, funny and very, very odd. It’s the story of Kou Ichinomiya, a young man who is the future owner of a vast corporation and who has already, while still in school, become a success on his own. Raised by a single parent, his father, Kou has had the rule “never own anyone” branded on his soul. His life takes a strange turn when he accidentally falls into the Arakawa River and almost drowns.

Kou’s rescued by Nino, a homeless woman who claims to be from Venus and who lives living under the Arakawa bridge. He must repay her, but, when he asks how, she asks him to teach her about love. They become boyfriend and girlfriend as Kou moves into his own makeshift home under the bridge. From there, things get even more strange for the wealthy young man.

There is an entire community of increasingly odd “citizens” living under the bridge. They range from a man who pretends to be a kappa (demon) and who is the chief of the village to Sister, a powerful ex-soldier who dresses as a nun, to Stella, a little blonde orphan from England who considers herself to be the gangster boss of the Arakawa Bridge people. Kou tries to navigate his crazy new life as the relationship between him and Nino grows. It’s a heartwarming, hilarious love story.

This Vertical volume combines volumes one and two of the manga into a single 366-page book. Arakawa Under the Bridge has been an anime series, a TV drama and a live-action film. The original manga runs to fifteen volumes.

This quirky romantic comedy won’t be to every reader’s taste, but I loved it. Next time you’re looking for something different from comics, give it a try.

ISBN 978-1-945054-41-9

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Simpsons

Simpsons Comics Explosion #4 [Bongo Comics; $9.99] is 96 pages of full-color fun. The yearly reprint special is filled with classic comics stories. Writer Ian Boothby, who always delivers hilarious scripts, is represented by “Stand by Me” (in which Homer gets a job standing next to people to make them look good); “Power Plants Vs. Zombies (a spoof of the popular video game); “Now You Wiggum, Now You Don’t (Chief Wiggum gives Homer a pass in exchange for Homer’s watching Ralph); and “Dial ‘M’ for Milhouse!” That last one is one of my all-time favorite Simpsons comics stories featuring Milhouse gained transformative powers. One of his super-hero identities is Electroshock, who resembles my own Black Lightning.

Bongo’s Simpsons comic books are always worth picking up, but this annual is exceptional. Just the thing to occupy those long days at the nuclear power plant. What’s the worst that could happen?

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #237

The holidays are nearly upon us. As has been the blessed case for years now, there is a wealth of collected editions of comic books, graphic novels, manga, books on comics history, comic-book movies, season sets of comics-based live-action TV series and comics-based cartoons and all manner of comics-related apparel including caps, t-shirts, socks and undergarments. If you’re shopping for a comics fan, you have more gift choices. If you’re a comics fan yourself, assuming you haven’t been naughty, those that love you won’t have any trouble finding all sorts of great gifts.

I see “Tony’s Tips” as being your year-round shopping guide. Most of what I write about here would be suitable for birthday, holiday and other special occasion presents. The column is sponsored by the fine folks of InStock Trades, one of my favorite online retailers because of the vastness of their inventory and the excellence of their service. If you enjoy this column, check them out.

Regular readers of this column know I tend to read comic books in batches. As much as I would love to read comics as I get them and be current on all the titles that interest me, I know that is not going to happen any time soon. Writing comic books and other stuff doesn’t give me the time to read all the comic books I would like to read, at least not in any timely fashion.

My haphazard reading habits put Batman #24-29 [DC; $2.99 each] in my hands this past week. Written by Tom King, this run includes a seemingly pivotal Batman/Catwoman story penciled by David Finch; the first four chapters of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” with art by Mikel Janin and an interlude tale featuring Kite-Man penciled by Clay Mann.

The Batman/Catwoman story wraps up some loose ends from a previous story arc and had some really nice moments in it. Batman advises a young super-hero whose powers can kill her. She asks him a pointed question about his own life. And the Bat’s relationship with Selina Kyle is re-framed in an intriguing way. “Intriguing” is a word I’ll be using again in this review. In any case, I did like this issue quite a bit.

“The War of Jokes and Riddles” is an adventure set earlier in the Batman’s career. The Joker and the Riddler are battling for control of Gotham, each having recruited other villains. Oh, both parties want Batman delivered to them before they’ll even consider a truce. Though the strategies of the war are intriguing, I have all sorts of problems with this story line.

These problems are not exclusive to this story. Most major comics villains are overused and the Joker tops that list. The brutality of these villains makes Batman look like a chump. They kill lots of people. They will suffer no meaningful consequences for their mass murdering. They will either be captured or “die” and then they will return to slaughter more people. Boo on that.

King does earn considerable points for his use and re-invention of Kite-Man, a long-time favorite of mine even before I revealed – in an issue of Hawkman – that his name was Charles Brown. That element combines with solid writing and art to keep me reading this story. Batman Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles [$19.99] is scheduled to be released any day now. It collects issues #25-31. If you like tales of Batman’s early days and his admittedly legendary villains,  you might want to put this book on your wish list.

ISBN 978-1401273613

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Bonfire

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter [Crown Archetype; $26] is the first novel by the actress playing Jessica Jones on the Marvel/Netflix series. She is also founder of Silent Machine, “a production company that aims to highlight complex female protagonists.” This novel’s Abby Williams is one such protagonist.

The book is a little choppy in places and I’m not wild about every element of its ending. On the plus side, Williams is a compelling character, a woman haunted by her small-town history who returns to her birthplace as an environmental lawyer to investigate the town’s major benefactor and employer. Ritter does an equally good job in creating the small town and helping her readers experience the good and the bad therein. Add the palatable evil that underlies Abby’s aversion to her old home town – Ritter doesn’t hesitate to create truly evil villains – and this first novel scores a recommendation from me. It’s not comics per se, but I think fans who have enjoyed Jessica Jones will enjoy this novel as well.

ISBN 978-1-5247-5984-1

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Going into Town 01

My pick of the week this week is Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast [Bloomsbury USA; $28]. A New York Times best-selling author, Chast created a little booklet on the city for her daughter who was attending college and living in Manhattan. As she says in her opening chapter, the cartoonist wanted her child to get off on the right foot with New York.

Born in Brooklyn and now living in the suburbs, Chast lived in New York in between those two destinations. In this charming, amazingly informative book, the cartoonist celebrates New York and the many wonders to be found there. From the basic layout of the place and just walking around the city, Chast takes us into the subway, shows us stuff to do, describes the flora and fauna, tells us about the food and even offers insight into New York City apartment life. As someone rediscovering his love of the city – I hated the place by the time I moved back to Ohio and for decades afterward – I found her book nothing short of delightful.

Comics and cartoons can tell all sorts of stories. This book is the story of a city. Not a dry history, but a lively guide to the New York of today. I recommend it to one and all.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next week with another trio of reviews for you. Be well.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #236

Old heroes don’t die and, if they are comics heroes, they usually don’t even fade away for long. In this week’s column, we’re looking at some classic heroes who have been with us since the 1930s, the 1940s and the 1950s.

Lee Falk’s Mandrake the Magician, whose newspaper strip launched on June 11, 1934, was a character I always kind of sort of liked even as I found it wanting. Mostly because I never bought that his sole actual “supernatural” ability was super-hypnotism. Some of what he did with that power defied the contention it was all in the minds of those around him. Also, though in later years, Falk attempted to set this right, Lothar disturbed me from the first time I saw him. Allegedly royalty, the amazingly strong Lothar wore stereotypical animal skins, spoke broken English, was easily confused and seemed more servant that friend or partner.

I read Mandrake sporadically in the newspapers. My first sustained exposure to him was in the mid-1960s when King Comics published ten issues of a Mandrake comic book. The stories were mostly based on newspaper strip stories with, initially, art by moonlighting Marvel artists Don Heck and Werner Roth. The stories in the later issues included some that were originally produced by Italian writers and artists. Back then, I found these comic books enjoyable but not especially outstanding.

In 2016, Hermes Press collected all of these comic-book stories in Mandrake the Magician the Complete King Years: Volume One and Two [$49.99 each]. Those hardcover books recently made the way to the top of my reading pile. The presentation of the comics was first-rate. It was fun revisiting the stories for the first time in four decades. I appreciated the informative introduction in the initial volume and the dual interviews with Fred Fredericks, who drew (and later wrote and drew) the newspaper strip from 1964 to 2013. As a bonus, the second Hermes volume also reprinted Dell’s Four Color #752 featuring original Mandrake stories written by Paul S. Newman  and drawn by Stan Campbell.

Coming back to these comics stories gave me warm gooey feelings of nostalgia. It was a time when new comics publishers like King and Tower were trying to gain a foothold on the newsstands, when some older publishers like Archie and Charlton were trying new things, when the American Comics Group (ACG) was still around doing comics  like no others and when publisher Jim Warren was engaging me with Creepy, Eerie and Blazing Combat. It was an exciting time to be a teenage comics reader with enough part-time jobs to be able to buy a lot of comic books. Then and now, I thought these Mandrake comic books were fun.

If you lack my nostalgic impulses, Mandrake the Magician Volumes One and Two are too expensive for your casual reading. You can get them at a nice discount from InStockTrades, which sponsors these weekly “Tony’s Tips” columns, but they still aren’t for every fan. Just for those of us who still get a kick out of Mandrake gesturing hypnotically and maybe making some magic happen. To those willing to abandon their disbelief, which includes yours truly, I recommend both volumes.

Mandrake the Magician the Complete King Years: Volume One

ISBN 978-1-61345-098-7

Mandrake the Magician the Complete King Years: Volume Two ISBN 978-1-61345-102-1

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Fighting American

I read and mostly enjoyed Fighting American #1-2 by Gordon Rennie with artist Duke Mighten [Titan Comics; $3.99]. The title hero was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1950s. At first, it was pretty much a Cold War reboot of their Captain America. Then they ran with the excesses of the Joseph McCarthy Era and turned into a  brilliant parody of patriotic heroes. Fighting America is one of my favorite Simon/Kirby creations.

Rennie and Mighten have created a half-continuation and half-reboot of the original comics. In their version, Fighting American and his sidekick Speedboy have been propelled into the future to battle an old enemy. They end up stuck in our time with Speedboy getting all wide-eyed at the more open displays of sexuality he sees while his adult partner scorns these modern mores with speeches that wouldn’t have been out of place on the 1960s Batman TV shows. Not all of the humor works. Sometimes it’s overplayed. But, regardless of the few bumps in the road, these were fun comic books. I’m in for the long haul and recommend you give the title a chance.

Fighting American Volume 1 [$16.99], a trade paperback collection of what I’m guessing is the first five issues, is scheduled to be released in May of next year.

ISBN 978-1785862106

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Green Hornet Spirit

This week’s top pick of the week is The Green Hornet ‘66 Meets the Spirit #1-5 by Fred Van Lente and artist Bob Q [Dynamite; $3.99 per issue]. There are mysteries galore in this adventure, all of which are resolved entertainingly. There are wonderful character scenes with the heroes. There’s an Will Eisner-esque vignette about a man name of Hypnos Schnooze that fits magnificently into the all-around story. This series was a delight on every level.

The Green Hornet ’66 Meets The Spirit will be collected in a trade paperback [$19.99] in May of next year. If you’re a fan of either the Green Hornet TV series or Will Eisner’s landmark Spirit comic, you’ll love this book. If it were already available, I’d buy a few copies for Christmas/holiday gifts.

ISBN 978-1524105907

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One last note. I’m putting together my 2018 appearance schedule as we speak. If you’re a promoter who would like be as a guest at an event or convention, now’s the time to contact me to discuss terms of such an appearance. I’ll respond as quickly as possible to all such inquires.

Another one last note. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #2 should be in the comics shops this week. That I urge you to buy this six-issue series is a clear conflict of interest. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me…and again when I do exactly the same thing for issues #3-6.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #235

I’m writing this edition of “Tony’s Tips” on Black Friday because, with the exception of going to our local Home Depot with my wife at 6 am in the morning, I spend the day safe inside Casa Isabella. The Home Depot trip is, for me, the equivalent of renewing our marriage vows. “How so?,” you foolishly ask?

I accompany my wife to Home Depot at that ungodly hour so she can purchase as many ninety-nine-cent poinsettias as can fit into our shopping cart. That generally works out to anywhere from one to two dozen. In truth, it’s not the crowd or hour I find daunting. It’s those plants.

Poinsettias. The Devil’s Flowers. The only actual plants that look like fake plants. I have hated this mostly crimson blot on nature for decades. And yet, because I love my wife, I go with her to Home Depot every morning after Thanksgiving. Hey, it’s cheaper than my going to Jared’s.

There are better expressions of love, especially if one happens to be shopping for a devotee of comic books and strips. Case in point: The Complete Peanuts Family Album: The Ultimate Guide to Charles M. Schulz’s Classic Characters by Andrew Farago [Weldon Owen; $40] with a foreword by Berkeley Breathed and a preface by Bob Peterson.

Weighing in at 3.4 pounds, this nine by eleven-inch hardcover is an amazing examination of Peanuts and its wondrous cast. Farago shines a light on the main characters and their world, but he also looks at more obscure characters. As I made my way through the book’s 256 pages, I would pause to squeal with delight as I spotted some long-forgotten bit player. Just as enjoyable was Farago’s explaining – through interviews with and quotes from Schulz – why those players faded from the strip quickly.

Beautifully designed and filled with over 700 images, many of them rarely seen, The Complete Peanuts Family Album manages to be both an attractive coffee table book and an informative history of the legendary comic strip. You won’t learn everything you need to know about Peanuts and Schulz, but you will learn stuff that never made it into other Peanuts histories.

The Complete Peanuts Family Album is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68188-292-5

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Disney Comics

For the truly dedicated student of comics history, there’s Disney Comics: The Whole Story by Alberto Becattini [Theme Park Press; $39.95]. A high school teacher of English in Florence, Italy, the obsessive Becattini has been writing about comics, illustration and animation for over four decades. In this 466-page book, he delivers what the back-cover blurb promises: An Encyclopedic Reference of Disney Comics.

Becattini’s detailed reporting on Disney comics from the very start of Disney comics to their growth in the United States of America and across the oceans is impressive. There so much information that I will be reading a portion here and a portion there. It’s the only way I’ll have a prayer of retaining so much Disney knowledge.

If there’s a flaw in the book, it’s that its encyclopedic nature is not conducive to breezy prose. It’s more of a fact book/text book that a wild ride through the world of anthropomorphic ducks, mice and other critters. Don’t fret. This astonishing volume also covers Disney’s human characters and comics as well.

My interest in overseas Disney comics and creators has been growing since I did a short stint rewriting various foreign Disney stories for the American market. Even now, when I peruse the huge database of Lambiek Comiclopedia, I keep a close eye out for Disney writers and artists. Especially the Italian writers and artists. Before I come to the end of my comics-writing life, I’d really love to work directly with some of my talented landsmen.

This is not a gift suitable for the casual comics fan or historian. However, if the subject is one in which a fan or historian already has an interest, you won’t find a better reference book for them. It earns my recommendation.

ISBN 978-1683900177

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Champions 11

To wrap up this week’s column, let’s talk in general terms about a favorite comic book of mine: Champions [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. Decades ago, I conceived of a comics series by that title that, by the time the editors had their way, went from a super-hero buddies road trip book starring Iceman and the Angel to an unwieldy team of “super-heroes for the common man” based in Los Angeles. Fans tell me they loved it. I can see why. But I’ve always been disappointed that I never really brought home that lofty concept in the manner I would have liked. Imagine my delight that Mark Waid, one of the best writers in comics, is doing such terrific comic books with a concept not unlike the one I conceived.

Former Avengers Ms. Marvel, Nova and the Miles Morales Spider-Man walked away from the senior team because they became disillusioned with how the adults were running things. As with so many super-hero titles, the heroes spent more time fighting their old enemies than helping people. Joined by the Hulk (ala Amadeus Cho), a time-tossed young Cyclops and Viv Vision, the teen teammates are determined to focus on helping people. There have already been a dozen issues of great Champions comic books with no end in sight.

One of the adverse side effects of the Marvel Universe is that its titles get swept up into whatever massive (and usually awful) epic that promises to change the Marvel Universe forever. Such epics are  a drug-free substitute for sleeping pills. I dislike them and wish Marvel would stop doing them.

Champions #11 [October 2017] was a tie-in to the recent repugnant Secret Empire event which saw Captain America transformed into a murderous Nazi. How murderous? He destroyed Las Vegas to show what a total boss he was. In that issue of Champions, Waid with penciler Humberto Ramos, inker Victor Olazaba and colorist Edgar Delgado showed us the horrific aftermath of the obliteration of Las Vegas. It was as brilliant as it was horrific and, to be honest, left me wondering if the Marvel Universe could ever be set to rights again. Couldn’t we have an issue where the real Captain America steps out of a shower and Sharon Carter tells him she just had the most awful nightmare? I’d suspend my disbelief for that.

Champions #12 [November 2017] was a breath of fresh air after the previous issue. It’s a solid done-in-one issue with the teen heroes battling Psycho-Man, not because he’s some old foe of theirs, but because he’s putting people in jeopardy and they need to stop that. I loved it.

Currently, Champions is crossing over with Avengers in a six-issue series alternating between the two titles. While it’s interesting to see the senior team proving the younger team was absolutely spot on to go its own way, it’s not as pleasing as the Champions doing their own thing. It’s not a bad story. It definitely has some cool moments. I’m just tired of crossovers large and small.

The first six issues of Champions have been reprinted in Champions Vol. 1: Change the World [$15.99]. The next several issues will be reprinted in Champions Vol. 2: The Freelancer Lifestyle [$19.99], which is due out before the end of the year. And, if you’d like to see the original Champions comic books, they have been collected in Marvel Masterworks: The Champions Vol. 1 [$100] with an fun-filled introduction by me. Each and every one of these fine volumes would make an excellent Christmas or holiday gift for the comics fan you love or for yourself.

Champions Vol. 1: Change the World

ISBN 978-1302906184

Champions Vol. 2: The Freelancer Lifestyle

ISBN 978-1302906191

Marvel Masterworks: The Champions Vol. 1

ISBN 978-0785196921

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #234

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m thankful that, as I lumber toward my 66th birthday, I still have fans and friends reading what I write and, one hopes, enjoying what I write. Of course, there are other things for which I’m profoundly thankful. My family. That I’m again writing Black Lightning comic books. That the Black Lightning live-action TV series will be debuting on the CW on Tuesday, January 16, 2018. Blessings abound.

I’m also grateful that, some 62 years from when I learned to read from comic books, I am still an avid fan of the medium. I read way more comics and collections and graphic novels than I can fit into this column or my nigh-daily blog. But, when I come across comics that are great or comics that, though not necessarily good, spark a review, I’m so pleased to have forums like this one wherein I can share my comments with you. Let us have at it.

I’ve got it bad for the PS Artbooks hardcover collections of public domain comic books. Even when I suspect the material won’t be very good, I am drawn to the opportunities to read comics I would likely never not been able to read any other way.

Pre-Code Classics: Jet Powers/Space Age Volume One ($44.00) brings us five science-fiction comics. Originally published by Magazine Enterprises, Jet Powers #1-4 were published in 1951. That numbering was continued with the one-shot Space Ace #5, originally published in 1952.

Drawn by Bob Powell, Jet Powers is a “captain of science, master of the atoms and molecules that make up the world we live in!” He’s a bonafide super genius and his sci-fi adventures involve the usual mad scientists and would-be alien conquerors. Each issue has three Jet Powers stories. Each of the four issues also presents a short comics story of Space Ace, a star adventurer and pirate. Lawrence Woromay drew the first Space Ace tale, the artist of the second has yet to be identified and the stories in #3 and #4 are penciled by Al Williamson with, on the last story, some inking assistance from Wally Wood.

The most interesting of the Jet Powers tales are those in which the humans of Earth are almost completely wiped out by “The Dust Doom.” This story continues in a later issue, next to Jet Powers stories that don’t seem to be part of that continuity. It’s jarring, but I like the audacity of the storyline.

Space Ace #5 isn’t nearly as interesting. Gone is the adventurer and pirate, replaced by a generic super-hero sort with a teenaged sidekick. There are five short Space Ace tales, all drawn by Fred Guardineer in a dull, flat style.

Jet Powers/Space Age Volume One is mostly pretty fun. If you love 1950s sci-fi comics, you’ll enjoy this book.

ISBN 978-1-78636-081-6

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Bloodstone Legion Monsters

I can’t recommend Marvel’s Bloodstone and the Legion of Monsters [$34.99]. The book collects the four-issue Legion of Monsters from 2011, some short Elsa Bloodstone stories from various specials and the original Ulysses Bloodstone series from Marvel Presents and the back pages of The Rampaging Hulk.

The Legion of Monsters mini-series by Dennis Hopeless with artist Juan Doe is terrific. Elsa is an edgy and fun heroine and I loved her interactions with her monstrous uneasy allies. While the 2012 trade paperback is out of print, you can easily find copies on the secondary markets. Get that trade paperback and you have the best part of the larger collection.

What really brings the book down are those original adventures of Ulysses Bloodstone. While some of the art is interesting and even well done – I like the teaming of American pencilers with finishers from the Philippines – the writing on these stories is pretty bad. The stories meander all over the place. The captions and dialogue are leaden. The only interesting one in the bunch is the finale of the series.

That finale was written by Steve Gerber, possibly recruited to put this suffering animal out of its misery. Gerber’s script takes no prisoners and is not kind to Ulysses. It’s nowhere near one of my sorely missed friend Steve’s comics masterpieces, but I confess I enjoyed his approach to wrapping up the series.

If the Legion of Monsters limited series was only available in this just-released larger collection, I would probably suggest you get it and stop reading before the 1970s Bloodstone stuff. But you’ll save yourself time and money by going for the 2012 trade paperback mentioned above.

Bloodstone and the Legion of Monsters:

ISBN 978-1302908027

Legion of Monsters:

ISBN 978-0785140573

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Fresh Romance

This week’s pick of the week is Fresh Romance Volume 2, edited by EMET Comics publisher Maytal Gilboa [$24.99]. The 192-page volume presents four fine stories of LGBTQ and interracial romances: “The Only One” by Cecil Castellucci, Sarah Winifred Searle; “Under the Oak Trees” by Sally Jane Thompson; “Walk It Off” by Suzana Harcum and Own White; and “One Lucky Bride” by Julie Hutchinson.

“One Lucky Bride” is a madcap comedy of errors about a lesbian who must get married by a certain deadline in order to inherit wealth. “Under the Oak Trees” deals with a long-distance romance. “Walk It Off” is an adventure/travel romance that will be continued – soon, I hope – in a future Fresh Romance volume. All of them are charming and entertaining stories told without cynicism and with an eye on the happy ending prize.

“The Only One” is the shortest tale in this anthology, but it’s my favorite. It’s the story of a romance that is literally a lifetime in the making. Romance is not just for the young. That is a theme that resonates with someone of my advanced years.

Fresh Romance Volume 2 will be of interest to the readers who love romance comics, who love human tales and who love to see diversity in comics. It would make a great gift for a romantic partner who shares your love of comics or one you want to introduce to the joy of comics. I’ll be looking for more EMET publications in the near future.

ISBN 978-0998179926

I’ll be back next week with more comics tips.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #233

This is the kind of week I like best. Three reviews and every one of them is a pick of the week.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, like almost all of the movies in this series, it was hugely entertaining. The film stars Chris Hemsworth (as Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Cate Blanchett (Hela) with key performances by Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Karl Urban (Skurge), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange). It was written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, and directed by Taika Waititi, who also motion-acted and voiced Korg. Here’s the Internet Movie Database synopsis:

Thor finds himself in lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

The movie kicks off with Thor venturing into the fiery depths on a mission to subdue the fire demon Surtur and so stave off the coming of Ragnarok. But the return of Thor’s forgotten sister Hela brings that prophesied destruction of Asgard ever closer. Odin is dying. Thor and Loki end up on a distant planet. Hela conquers Asgard and, by the time the Odin sons and their allies reach Asgard, Hela has already slaughtered most of Asgard’s defenders and appointed Skurge as her executioner.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER

Thor: Ragnarok is a dark film. Despite that, it has considerable humor, terrific performances, thrilling action, great character play and a heroism that offers the viewer hope no matter how dire the circumstances might appear. There are life-changing moments for several characters and not one of those moments feels forced. It’s what we have come to expect from Marvel Studios: an epic adventure true to its comic-book roots.

On a personal note, I was pleased to see Larry Lieber’s name next to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, recognizing his role as the writer of the first Thor comic-book story. I couldn’t catch every one of the other acknowledgments and special thanks given to comics creators in the end credits – there were many of them – but I applaud Marvel Studios including these in its movies.

If you have enjoyed previous Marvel Studios films, I think you’ll enjoy Thor: Apocalypse. Every time I see a new entry in the series, I want to sit down and watch all of them again. That would make one heck of a fun vacation week.

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Flintstones 2

The Flintstones Volume 2 by Mark Russell with artists Steve Pugh, Rick Leonardi and Scott Hanna [DC Comics; $16.99] is every bit as good as the first volume, which I lavished praise upon just a few months back. The witty Russell brings the modern stone age family face-to-face with today’s national and global concerns. Corporate greed and the lack of empathy for workers. Bogus religion used to promote base agendas.  Demonizing the other to feed the war machine as a matter of political policy. Exploitation of minorities, which, in this series, are mostly animals pressed into service as bowling balls and appliances. Insane consumerism. This is hilarious comedy with a thoughtfully chewy core.

This trade paperback reprints issues #7-12 of the limited series. A dozen issues of this fresh new take on the classic Flintstones cartoon aren’t enough. If Russell gets a second wind and wants to write more, I’ll buy them.

The Flintstones Volume One and Two are recommended to the grown-up kids of my generation who can accept a different vision for these beloved characters. They are also recommended to somewhat younger readers who have enjoyed the cartoons in their constant reruns on various cable networks. Consider them as holiday gifts for members of either group.  They are yabba-dabba-awesome!

The Flintstones Volume 1 ($16.99)

ISBN 978-1-4012-6837-4

The Flintstones Volume 2 ($16.99)

ISBN 978-1-4012-7398-9

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Usagi Legends

The Usagi Yojimbo Saga: Legends by Stan Sakai [Dark Horse; $24.99] breaks from the issue-by-issue reprinting of the great comic-book series to collect stories that took place outside Usagi’s ongoing timeline. It starts with the entire run of Space Usagi, a science-fiction series that took our samurai hero to a galaxy far far away. Sakai brought a “Star Wars” vibe to his classic characters with the result being a stunning thriller. Also include in this volume is the full-color graphic novel Yokai, a wild monster mash featuring Usagi in battle with a legion of demons and monsters; and a bevy of cool bonus features.

However, for me, the best story in this collection is the six-issue Senso. Imagine if the Martians from War of the Worlds had landed on Earth centuries earlier. Not in London, but in Japan’s Edo period and in the midst of a climatic battle between the warring factions of that time. It’s one of my favorite Usagi Yojimbo adventures of all time.

I recommend all of the Usagi Yojimbo collections from Fantagraphics and Dark Horse. As I’ve said, I consider Sakai our greatest living cartoonist. A gift of any of these volumes to those special comics readers in your life will introduce your loved ones to some of the finest comics work ever created. They’ll thank you for that.

ISBN 978-1-50670-323-7

That’s all for this installment of Tony’s Tips! I’ll be back here next week with another trio of reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #232

Normandy Gold [Titan Comics; $3.99] is a hard-as-nails crime comic book with a heroine who is even harder. Written by Megan Abbott, an Edgar-winning author of seven crime novels and writer/journalist Alison Gaylin, this comics series is drawn by the remarkable Steve Scott. By way of full disclosure, Scott is a good friend of mine. But I’m also an admirer of his work and it was his name that led me to Normandy Gold.

Sheriff Normandy Gold comes from a broken family, but was raised by a lawman. She followed him into the profession. This series opens with her receiving a phone call from her half-sister Lila, living in our nation’s capital. The initially happy conversation takes a dark turn when Lila is murdered as Normandy listens. The sheriff is in Washington D.C. a few pages later.

Set in the 1970s, this is a thriller of politics and prostitution. The D.C. police don’t have much interest in investigating the death of a call girl – there are so many of them in the city – but Gold will go to extreme lengths to find her sister’s killer and deal out some justice to him. The situation turns out to be a heck of a lot more complicated than Normandy imagined and with tendrils reaching upward to the highest levels of power.

I have the first four issues of Normandy Gold. The characterization of the sheriff is powerful and scary. There are scenes that shake her and the reader. Adding to these moments and the overall story is Scott’s sure storytelling and excellent depictions of the era in which the story is set. I’m hooked.

Normandy Gold is my pick of the week. A trade paperback collecting the series [$19.99] will be published in March. Even though I have (or will have) all of the individual issues, I plan to buy a copy of that book.

ISBN 978-1785858642

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Falcon

Though diminished by the Captain Hydra Steve Rogers nonsense – and nothing in that ridiculous event has changed my microscopically low opinion of it – the Captain America Sam Wilson title told a number of interesting stories that touched on the political issues of the real world. While all of those stories could have been told without the Captain Hydra stuff, I applaud them nonetheless. Knowing that Sam Wilson would almost certainly resume his role as the Falcon, I was eager to see what Marvel would do with him.

Falcon #1 [$3.99] has Sam trying to figure out what kind of a hero he wants to be. Screenwriter and producer Rodney Barnes has credits ranging from The Boondocks to Marvel’s Runaways. He’s also earned a number of top honors for his work. In this initial issue, Falcon is trying to broker peace between warring Chicago street gangs. It’s good premise, torn from reality, as it were, but it’s weakened by a couple clunky speeches and the last page introduction of a surprise fantasy element. Additionally, I’m not completely on board with the Joshua Cassara art. It’s kinda stiff in some scenes and way too shadowy in others.

I’m not giving up on Falcon. I like Sam Wilson too much for that. I also want to see where Barnes goes from here. My hope is that he doesn’t pin the folly of man on the supernatural.

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Ruff and Reddy

The Ruff & Reddy Show #1 [DC; $3.99] was a definite contender for this week’s pick of the week. Writer Howard Chaykin weaves a cool almost biographical tale about a world where humans coexist with and, naturally, discriminate against the very cartoon characters who entertain them. Ranging across a couple decades, we meet the team of Ruff and Reddy, a clever cat and somewhat less clever dog, who, despite the success they achieved together, hate each other. The enmity is the push that leads to the downfall of their careers.

Chaykin has a knack for writing the 1950s and 1960s. He knows his history and, in this first issue, there are echoes of those real-life entertainers who fell from grace. Artist Mac Rey illustrates the issue in a style that reminds me of the more “hip” cartoons of the 1960s. It’s a classy look for an intriguing story.

I was skeptical of DC placing beloved animated characters in this more realistic and serious world. Especially when it came to Ruff and Reddy, two of my own childhood favorites. However, with a rare exception, I’m getting a kick out of these titles. They may not be the characters as I remember them, but, as long as they challenge and entertain me, I’m on board with them.

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One more note for this week. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 is now on sale and has debuted to almost universally terrific reviews. Artist Clayton Henry is doing an amazing job on the series, as is colorist Pete Pantazis. Editor Jim Chadwick gives me better notes than almost any editor I’ve ever worked with in my 45 years in the comics biz. Everyone at DC, including management and publicity, is giving this series tremendous support. I’m as proud of this series as anything I’ve written. Which is my long-winded way of saying I hope you’ll give the series a look.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella