TONY’S TIPS #306

I was invited to give a talk on comics during a lunch gathering of the Twelve High Club at the Western Reserve Masonic Community in my hometown of Medina, Ohio. I was impressed by the size and beauty of this retirement community. Though my own retirement home will most likely be a secluded cabin where I will surely be eaten by bears or wolves or scientologists, I did try to picture what my life would be like in such a place, which still involved my eventual demise by bears or wolves or scientologists. I’m not well.

This was an unusual audience for me. Most of the people in the room were older than me by a decade or more. The younger attendees were the guy who invited me to speak, his wife, a police chief, a fire chief and a surgeon. The only one who had read anything I’d written was, again, the guy who invited me to speak.

Given that everyone in the room had lived through a lot of history, I talked about comics history. The audience was interested when I told them comic books have almost always been socially progressive, that the industry was founded by Jewish businessmen barred from the more elegant levels of publishing. I talked about the diversity of talent that has always been at least part of comics and how today’s much greater diversity is making comics as good or better than at any time in the past.

I talked about my career and my travels during that career. When I solicited questions from the audience, I was asked about Stan Lee, the amount of research I do for my stories and how much of what I write is based on my own life. At the end, I got a nice certificate and round of applause. Not a bad way to spend a couple hours on a sunny afternoon.

Here are this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Superman: The Golden Age Newspaper Dailies: 1947-1949 [Library of American Comics; $49.99]. These stories were written by Alvin Schwartz, edited by Jack Schiff and drawn by Wayne Boring and, later, Win Mortimer. This handsome hardcover collection features the strips from April 28, 1947 through September 3, 1949. If you’re a reader used to the Superman of 2019, you will be amazed at how different the character and his newspaper strip adventures were seven decades ago.

Schwartz was writing for an audience much larger and older than the kids who read the Superman comics of that era. I knew him during his last years of life. We met at a Mid-Ohio-Con and bonded almost immediately. He was one of the most thoughtful of comics writers, which is why he could place Superman and his cast into situations of all kinds.

A millionaire – back then, a million bucks was real money – falls in love with the voice on the other hand of a wrong number. To earn a large donation for charity, Superman must figure out how to use his powers in a new and different ways. Schwartz was as inventive as any writer who ever worked in comics.

The perfect woman decides she must have Superman for her mate. A man gets the power to predict crimes, but ignores his visions when he falls for a beautiful gun moll. Clark Kent inherits one million dollars – real money, remember – and gets fired from his reporter job because Perry White doesn’t want to employ someone who doesn’t need the job. A Luthor-type mad scientist creates a weapon that can stop Superman in his tracks. The effects of the weapon linger into Superman’s next adventure. Superman works as a male escort – clean thoughts, chums – to help out a man trying to earn enough to start his own business. Adventures that were both outlandish and down to Earth. I love them a lot.

My favorite story of this book was the 1948 “Return of the Ogies.” These are invisible beings, normally confined to their island home,  who delight in following Superman everywhere. In this return, they become visible and, in doing so, shown to be two of the loveliest woman imaginable. Were I writing Superman, I’d find a way to bring the Ogies into the comic books. An occasional light adventure would be good for today’s teeth-clenching super-heroes.

Don’t let the high cover price deter you from adding this book to your collection. You can get a great deal on it from InStockTrades, the sponsors of this column.

ISBN 978-1-68405-437-4

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I’m always finding great comics and comics-related books through my local library system. Published in 2015, my most recent discovery was discovery was comics creator Abby Denson’s Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen [Tuttle Publishing; $14.95] wherein Denson takes us on a personal tour of Japan. Given that visiting Japan is high on my bucket list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket, I started reading the book as soon as I brought it home from the library.

Japan is endlessly fascinating. Even with all the manga I read and all the kaiju movies I watch, I learned new things from this book.

It starts with pre-trip preparation tips. It moves on to what you should expect when you land in Japan, where you can get great food at reasonable prices, how to conduct yourself if you’re staying at a friend’s home and so much more.

Temples and shines were not high on my list of things I would like to see in Japan, but Denson convinced me they are places I must see on my dream trip. She reinforced my desire to visit the impressive manga and toy stores to be found in Japan. I was maybe four or five chapters into her book when I ordered a copy for my home library.

About the only things I want to experience in Japan that she didn’t write about were baseball and Godzilla. As long as I’m dreaming, I would love to be an invited guest at a Japanese comics convention. I recognize that would be a comics industry equivalent of carrying coals to Newcastle.

If you have any interest in visiting Japan, I think you will get a lot from this clever book. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-4-8053-1279-7

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I love special events. Earlier this year, Marvel did a six-issue celebration of “80 Years of Marvel Greatness.” If I were a cynical person, I might describe the event as a way for Marvel to renew its trademarks on six long defunct titles. Either way, I bought every one of the six issues.

The original Crypt of Shadows was an all-reprint title that ran for 21 issues from January 1973 to November 1975. Crypt of Shadows #1 [January 2019; $3.95] is the first issue of the title to have new material. The writer is the prolific Al Ewing. The artists on the three connected stories are Garry Brown, Stephen Green and Djibril Morissette-Phan. It’s not an award-winner, but it’s a solid horror story. I enjoyed it.

The event’s other issues are: War is Hell, Journey into Unknown Worlds, Ziggy Pig/Silly Seal, Love Romances and Gunhawks. I bought the individual issues, but I’m guessing the six comics will get a trade paperback collection ere long.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #305

June promises to be a productive month for me. I have launched my nigh-weekly Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales wherein I hope to dramatically decrease my Vast Accumulation of Stuff. If I manage that, I’ll be able to buy more stuff. But, please, don’t share that information with my Saintly Wife Barb.

I’m not attending any conventions in June, but I will be speaking at a private lunch of local Masons. It’s going to be a short talk, so I’ll likely concentrate on Cleveland connections to the history of comics. This is a pro bono talk because I was invited to speak by the brother-in-law of a neighbor who has helped me on the afore-mentioned garage sale.

It’s been suggested I sign up with various agencies and land some paying speaking gigs. It’s certainly something I should consider. In the meantime, feel free to recommend me to your local colleges, libraries, organizations and schools.

While I’ll still be writing several hours every day in June, my not being on the road should afford me more time to read comic books and other things. Maybe I’ll be able to catch up on all the comics-based movies and TV series on which I’m woefully behind. Maybe I’ll even watch a butt load of cheesy monster movies. Or maybe take the occasional nap. The possibilities are endless.

Summer is, traditionally, a great time to read comic books. When I was a kid, I could spend hours every day doing just that. I don’t have the kind of time as an adult, but I love reading comic books, graphic novels and books on comics history and sharing the best of those with the readers of this column.

Last week, I binged-read several issues of three different titles, two current and one going back a few years. Here’s what I thought of those comics…

If for no other reason that it changed the face of super-hero comic books as they had been known, Fantastic Four deserves to be known as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” Sure, the title has seen some weak runs in its long history, but, overall, it’s been pretty good and sometimes amazingly great. If this were a book instead of a column, I would comment on those amazingly great runs. Instead, I’ll talk on Fantastic Four #1-9 and Fantastic Four Wedding Special #1 of the current run. These issues were written by Dan Slott (with a few guest writers) and drawn by artists including Sara Pichelli, Stefano Caselli, Aaron Kuder and others.

The issues have pretty much all the stuff you would expect from any new run of Fantastic Four. There’s the family atmosphere. There’s a wedding. There’s Doctor Doom and Galactus. There are super-hero pals. There’s the “never surrender” and “always find a way” mantras that have been the heart of so many epic stories. In a sense, Slott is reinventing the wheel. I’m good with that.

Keep in mind that the original Fantastic Four wheel was invented in 1961, almost six decades ago. Many and probably most of today’s FF readers weren’t alive when that wheel hit the road. They deserve to see the basic design in action. It may be updated a bit from time to time, but, when a current creative team embraces the team’s core values, the wheel delivers an entertaining ride.

For me, it was good seeing the family back together with so little of the overwrought interpersonal drama that has marred some recent runs. We’ve seen the Four at odds with one another. Who needs any replay of that? These characters are at their best when they work together. Save the dysfunctional family crap for the cheaper seats.

The long-awaiting wedding of Alicia Masters and Ben Grimm was fun. No invasions of super-villains. No Skrulls in disguise. Just fun, albeit from a super-hero standpoint.

Really evil Doctor Doom is back and that feels very right. I got a kick out of the Infamous Iron Man redemption story, but it always felt like an alternate universe story to me. Doom’s machinations in this new run were beautifully diabolical. This is why he’s the FF’s most dangerous foe.

There have already been a couple of collections of Dan Slott’s run. Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 1: Fourever ($15.99] reprints the first four issues. Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 2: Mr. and Mrs. Grimm [$15.99] has issues #5-8 plus the wedding special. Both get my recommendation, especially for long-time fans of Fantastic Four who have been awaiting their return to glory.

Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 1: Fourever

ISBN 978-1302913496

Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 2: Mr. and Mrs. Grimm

ISBN 978-1302913502

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Hawkman 1

I wrote Hawkman in the 1980s, working with the incredible Richard Howell, one of my all-time favorite artistic collaborators. It was an assignment I enjoyed and was very well received until an after-the-launch editor decided to upend my original five-year plan which had gotten me the assignment in the first place. I left the title and – here’s a big surprise – sales plummeted.

Since then, with a few notable exceptions, most of what DC has done with Hawkman is to make him unpleasant and to make his back story indecipherable. The New 52, the Death of Hawkman mini-series – talk about telegraphing the ending – and Metal made things worse. It was painful to see my old friend suffer.

Imagine my delight after reading the first ten issues of the latest Hawkman ongoing series by writer Robert Venditti and artist Bryan Hitch with its elegant solution to the continuity nightmare. While I’m not wild about the idea that Hawkman is seeking redemption for truly horrific crimes in one of his past lives, I’m always willing to give redemption stories a chance.

I’m enjoying this series. I love seeing Hawkman connect with some of his old friends in positive ways. I am thrilled by the amazing twists and turns. The writing and art are excellent. It has become one of my favorite super-hero titles.

Hawkman is my pick of the week. The first six issues are collected in the just-released Hawkman Vol. 1: Awakening [$16.99]. A second volume is scheduled for December. My guess is that, after you read the first volume, you may start searching for the individual issues that follow. Highly recommended.

Hawkman Vol. 1: Awakening

ISBN 978-1401291440

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Hell House

My third review is for a mini-series you’ll have to work to find. In 2004 and 2005, IDW published a four-issue adaptation of Richard Matheson’s Hell House [$6.49 per issue]. Adapted by Ian Edginton, drawn by Simon Frasier, it well and truly did justice to one of the most frightening stories by one of the greatest horror writers of all time. I mention it this week because IDW (or whoever owns the rights) should put this series back into print in a collection as classy and stylish as the adaptation.

While you’re waiting for that to happen, you can find issues of the series on the secondary market. On eBay, I’ve seen the occasional single issues offered at cover price. More commonly, a set of the  entire mini-series runs $50. If you can find the series at a price you’re comfortable with, I recommend it highly.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #304

Tim Conway was one of us and, by us, I mean one of so many creative people who were born in Ohio. He was born on December 15, 1933, in  Willoughby, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. He grew up in nearby Chagrin Falls. He went to Bowling Green State University. After serving in the military, he returned to Cleveland where he worked in local TV with his dear friend Ernie Anderson. Locally, Anderson is revered for his hosting of monster movies as Ghoulardi. Nationally, he was the voice of ABC.

Most people probably remember Conway for playing Ensign Parker on McHale’s Navy or as the guy who constantly cracked up Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show. He was one of the funniest people in the known universe. A writer and producer, he starred as Dorf in sports comedy films. He voiced Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants. In his career he won six Primetime Emmy Awards, four were awarded for The Carol Burnett Show, including one for writing.

Conway was a brilliant performer and, judging from everything I’ve seen, a wonderful human being. He appeared in comic books, such as adaptations of McHale’s Navy and the short-lived Rango. Some of the movies he appeared in were also adapted for comics. It’s the comics connection that has me thinking about something today.

Adaptations and continuations of movies and TV series have never been completely absent from the comic books. These days, there are several dozen such comic books, albeit mostly featuring movies and TV series that fall into the general categories of fantasy, horror and science fiction. DC Comics has even done comics based on shows based on their characters. Ouroboros in action.

Where are the cop shows, the legal dramas, the medical dramas and the life-action situation comedies? Would The Big Bang Theory have succeeded as a comic-book series? Law and Order Special Victims Unit? The Good Fight? Grey’s Anatomy? Have the logistics for doing
such adaptations gotten too complicated?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Heck, I don’t even know if I’d want to read or write such comics. Okay, I could sort of see myself writing Adventures of Trevor Noah or Adventures of Rachel Maddow in modernized versions of what DC Comics used to do with Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. But, as you’ve surely realized by now, I’m not entirely right in the head.

So I’ll leave it at this. Tim Conway brought a lot of entertainment to a lot of people, myself included. I thank him for that.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

Zagor

I was just blown away when an online friend sent me the signature edition of Zagor: The Lost World by Mauro Boselli with artwork by Michele Rubini [Epicenter Comics; $29.99]. Weighing in at over 250 mostly black-and-white pages, this hardcover book is a bargain at its thirty-buck price tag.

Zagor is an adventurer and a protector whose stories take place in  the first half of the 18th century. His nom de guerre comes from a tribal name meaning “The Spirit with the Hatchet.” His strength is superhuman, as are his agility, endurance and speed. He could give Doc Savage and Tarzan the fight of their lives.

Patrick Welling is his real name and, although he’s considered to be a western hero, his daring deeds usually involve science fiction and horror. Popular in Italy, Zagor is even more popular in Serbia,  Croatia and Turkey.

The Lost World is an exciting adventure involving a hidden plateau  filled with cavemen and dinosaurs. Yes, you’ve heard that before. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it back in the day. Inspired by that Doyle thriller, Boselli makes this more a quest to find a missing friend and a tale of survival. It’s filled with action, danger and humor. Rubini is a master at drawing all those things.

Though The Lost World isn’t the earliest Zagor adventure, or even the first to be published in the U.S., it’s a good starting point for the series. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1-942592-25-9

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Imperfect

My pick of the week is Imperfect: A Story of Body Image by Dounya Awada with art by Miralti Firmansyah, colors by Fahriza Kamaputra and lettering by Tyler Smith. Just published by Zuiker Press, this hardcover graphic novel retails for $12.99.

Formed by the husband-and-wife team of Michelle and Anthony Zuiker,  the press publishes graphic novels that bring the personal stories and voices of its young authors to the forefront so that they might share their life experiences with their peers. Awada’s tale is the fourth in the series and the best one to date.

Body image issues plagued the young woman, leading her to unhealthy eating habits on both ends of the disorder. When she relates what she went through and how she nearly died, it hits home harder than the previous books in the series. Indeed, some of the things Dounya goes through are terrifying. Awada has a distinctive and powerful voice. Comics could use more of her voice. I hope Awada has more to offer our art form and other stories to tell.

Firmansyah’s art and storytelling are as powerful as the writing. Kamaputra’s colors are lovely, never distracting from the story and adding a greater reality to it. Smith’s lettering is easy to read, which is what lettering should be. This is a great-looking graphic novel and worthy of consideration for next year’s awards.

ISBN 978-1-947378-07-0

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Uncle Scrooge

IDW’s Disney comic books are inconsistent. Sometimes, they are kind of blah. Sometimes, they are merely readable. But, sometimes, and these are the Disney comics I live for, they are crazy, exciting and wildly imaginative.

Fausto Vitaliano’s Uncle Scrooge: My First Millions, which I read as four individual issues, was a hoot and a half from the story of how the title character made his first million to the tale of how he made his fourth. Grandma Duck’s enormous and doubtless delicious pie prevented us from learning how Scrooge made his fifth million. I would have skipped dessert for that adventure.

Those four issues have been collected in a just-released softcover edition [IDW Publishing; $17.99]. Scrooge makes his first million as a prospector. After that, it gets insane. Trading in eggplant and peppers futures. Building a coast-to-coast railroad. Hosting a super bowl. Making movies. Building cities. It may not be history as we know it, but it’s hilarious.

Vitaliano’s saga bounces across incredible and ridiculous twists in Scrooge’s path. It takes four terrific artists: Marco Mazzarello, Paolo Mottura, Stefano Intini and Giampaolo Soldati. Each of these artists brings vibrant movement and personality to their artwork. Kudos must also go to Disney Italia for the coloring, Tom B. Long for the lettering and Erin Brady for the translation and dialogue.

My First Millions is recommended for all ages.

ISBN 978-1684054572

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #303

Convention season is upon us. However, your tipster is staying at home May and June to concentrate on various projects. I’m writing a book about Black Lightning and related subjects, which I hope to have available for purchase by the start of Black Lightning Season Three on the CW. Hint: there’s an excellent possibility you’ll see a familiar face during that season.

I’m also reducing my Vast Accumulation of Stuff with weekly garage sales at my home in Medina, Ohio. This is the year I want to put a major dent in all those too many boxes I have in my house and in a rented storage unit. My aim is to be able to get completely out of that storage unit by the end of the year. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter for dates and times.

July will see me at the Godzilla convention G-Fest in Chicago (July  12-14) and San Diego’s Comic-Con International (July 17-21). More on those events as we get closer to them.

Comic-Con means this year’s Will Eisner Awards will be announced. This week’s reviews feature a comics anthology whose stories span centuries, a moving autobiographical graphic novel and a legendary magazine, all of which have been nominated for that most coveted of honors.

Edited by Shelly Bond, Femme Magnifique: 50 Magnificent Women Who Changed The World [Black Crown; $29.99] is an comic-book anthology of game-changing women throughout history. It’s filled with concise pieces on women I already knew and admired (Nellie Bly, Margaret Sanger, Octavia Butler, Joan of Arc, Rumiko Takahashi and Harriet Tubman) and amazing women I was being introduced to for the first time. That latter group includes scientist Mary Anning, the pharaoh Hatshepsut, archaeologist Kristy Miller and others.

Each of the mini-bios was created by a different team of creators. It’s an all-star roster: Gail Simone, Marguerite Sauvage, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Elsa Charretier, Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen, Dan Parent, Lucy Kinsley, Kieron Gillen, Annie Wu and too many others to name in this review.

This beautifully-made book is perfect for those times when you only have a few moments to read something. I enjoyed it over a number of days, reading two of three stories here and there.

This anthology is just plain inspirational and, as such, belongs in every home, public and school library. Want to encourage the young women in your lives? This would be a great gift. What to show the young men why our world is better with gender equality? This book will do that as well.

Femme Magnifique is my pick of the week. It’s been nominated in the category of “Best Anthology,’ earning my vote in a very tough field of nominees.

ISBN 978-1-68405-320-9

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One Dirty Tree

One Dirty Tree by Noah Van Sciver [Uncivilized Books; $19.95] has been nominated for an Eisner Award for “Best Reality-Based Work.” The title refers to the dilapidated house in which Van Sciver lived with his large and very poor Mormon family.

Van Sciver weaves his present-day life and relationships with often unsettling vignettes of his youth in the house his brothers named “One Dirty Tree.” It does not surprise me that those long-ago days impact his contemporary life. It does surprise me that he came out of his challenging background as a far more together adult than he gives himself credit for. This isn’t a story with a wildly joyous  ending, but it’s not a depressing ending either.

I have seen very little of Van Sciver’s work over the years. He’s a terrific storytelling and equally skilled at drawing his stories. I felt a connection to him, probably more due to his talent than my belief we all have a dirty tree in our pasts. This book inspires me to look for his earlier works.

One Dirty Tree is, as I see it, suitable for younger teens and up. I recommend it to public and school libraries. If your interest in  comics form is as widespread as mine, you may want a copy for your own home library. As with Femme Magnifique, I also voted for this book on my Eisner Awards ballot.

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MAD 7

Edited by Bill Morrison, MAD magazine [E.C. Publications; $5.99 per issue) has been nominated for “Best Humor Publication.” I voted for it in a heartbeat.

Under Morrison, who has been sadly and quite frankly absurdly, been let go by parent company DC Entertainment, MAD has managed the very difficult trick of updating its contents while holding on to what was best in its previous incarnation. Issue #7 is the most recent issue I’ve read and it was delightful.

Desmond Devlin with artist Tom Richmond, delivered “Awkward, Man!”, a send-up of one of DC’s best movies. On the other end of the mag, there was “Mad Predicts Avenjerks: Is This Ever Gonna End-Game?” by Ian Boothby with artist Gideon Kendall. A perverse part of me hopes the surprise crossover ending is actually something in the future of the various universes owned by Disney.

Not everything in MAD clicks with me, but much of the contents do. Peter Kuper’s Spy vs. Spy. Teresa Burns Parkhurst’s “Let’s Have Fun with Your Staggering Debt!” Sergio Aragones. Potrzebie Comics with contributions by Kerry Callen and Luke McGarry. “The Lighter Side of Fear” by Tammy Golden and Jon Adams.

Even though I’m chopping magazine and newspaper subscriptions that no longer give me joy, I just renewed my MAD subscription. Because it makes me laugh and alleviates the worries of the day. Except for fretting about what the post-Morrison MAD will look like. DC should  stand outside Bill’s window with a boom box and begs him to return.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #302

My Free Comic Book Day was spent at Rubber City Comics in downtown Akron, Ohio. I had a wonderful time signing comics for the fans and selling them Black Lightning and other books I’d written. One of my biggest sellers was Scooby-Doo Team-Up #46 wherein brilliant writer Sholly Fisch teamed my creation with Scooby, Shaggy, Velma and the rest of the gang. Thanks to Sholly’s respect for the characters who guest star in the book, as well as his uncanny knack for seamlessly including “in jokes” and still tell a solid suitable-for-all-ages Scooby-Doo tale, Scooby-Doo Team-Up has become my favorite current comic-book title. It gets my highest recommendation.

A special FCBD treat – and I do mean “treat” – were the scrumptious Black Lightning cookies from Sweet Mary’s Bakery, located next door to Rubber City. The bakery created several different cookies tying into the event. I might be a wee bit biased here, but I thought the Black Lightning ones were the best.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

James Warren

Joe Kubert. Harvey Kurtzman. John Stanley. Bill Schelly is arguably our finest comics biographer. His latest triumph is James Warren, Empire Of Monsters: The Man Behind Creepy, Vampirella, And Famous Monsters [Fantagraphics Books; $29.99], the amazing, engaging tale of one of the most interesting and pivotal publishers of the 1960s and beyond. Though I only knew Warren briefly and probably only had a half-dozen or so real conversations with him, Schelly’s Warren is precisely the intriguing guy I knew in New York City.

If you were a 1960s kid into monster, Famous Monsters of Filmland was a magazine you bought whenever you could scrape together the cover price. Already crazy about comic books, I would do chores to earn “extra” money. I’d sweep out a barber’s shop. I’d collect old pop bottles. I didn’t get every issue of Famous Monsters, but I got many of them.  Editor Forrest J Ackerman was the magazine’s “star.” It wasn’t until Warren launched the black-and-white comics magazine Creepy that his name became part of my comics world.

Creepy and companion magazine Eerie were inspirational. During the unfortunate Bill Parente years, I sent at least two scripts to the magazines. Neither sold, but editor Parente included some helpful tips with the rejections. I never did sell to Warren Publications, but the early issues of these magazines and Vampirella remain among my all-time favorites. But I digress when I should be extolling the wonders of this biography.

Schelly details Warren’s childhood. He shows the man’s ambition and talent. He reveals the persona Warren cultivated and how he lived up to it more often than not. He tells of Warren’s great successes and awful defeats. He pulls no punches, but the Warren that emerges is the one I knew and wish I knew better. Schelly recognizes that James Warren is rightfully a comics legend.

Fantagraphics does its usual magnificent job designing this book. It is as handsome a hardcover as you’ll find. Running a little over 350 pages, it is a bargain at its $30 price tag and even more so if you order it at a 30% discount from InStock Trades which sponsors this column.

James Warren Empire of Monsters is a riveting book that should be in the home library of everyone who’s serious about comics history. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68396-147-5

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Comics Revue

Rick Norwood’s Comics Revue [Manuscript Press; $19.95] remains one of my favorite magazines. Each 130-page issue is packed with great comic strips of the past. Issue #395-396, the most recent, also has a brand-new cover by Howard Chaykin.

The cover highlights the Hollywood adventures of two heroes: Garth by legendary writer Peter O’Donnell (the creator of Modesty Blaise) and artist Steven Dowling, and Mandrake the Magician by creator and writer Lee Falk with art by Phil Davis. The Mandrake sequence is a heartwarming tale of the master magician’s encounter with a spoiled child star. The Garth tale actually takes place after his time in Hollywood and features a mysterious man name of Malvino. Has Garth finally met an adversary equal to himself? I’ll have to wait until the next issue to be sure.

My favorite stories this time around are Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer in which the title hero is reunited with his believed-lost-at-sea wife and Stan Lynde’s Rick O’Shay. The latter kicks off what promises to be the hilarious tale of gunslinger Hipshot Percussion trying to give up smoking. Lynde was a master of action, drama, suspense and humor. Truly a classic cartoonist and strip.

Other features include the Phantom, Steve Canyon, Krazy Kat, Sir Bagby, Casey Ruggles, Flash Gordon, Alley Oop, Steve Roper, Tarzan and Gasoline Alley. I recommend Comics Revue to all fans of great comic strips. You can get subscription information by going to the magazine’s website: www.comicsrevue.com

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Geekerella

This week’s odd entry is Geekerella by Ashley Poston [Quirk Books; $18.99]. Billed as a “Once Upon a Con” fangirl fairy tale, it’s a young adult novel with a modern take on Cinderella. Geek girl Elle lives with her “evil” stepmother and two “evil” stepsisters. She’s treated like a servant in the house the stepmother inherited from Elle’s late father.

What Elle shared with her parents was a love of Starfield. Her dad founded a convention honoring the cult TV series. He and her mother were amazing cosplayers who attended the convention as Federation Prince Carmindor and Princess Amara. Those are the memories which keep her going and inspire her Starfield blog.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is playing Carmindor in the reboot of the show. Elle loathes the notion of him in the role and is brutal on her blog. What she doesn’t know is that he’s a Starfield fan, too. Adding to the fun…they’ve been texting one another with neither knowing the true identity of the person for whom they’re developing feelings.

What amused me most about the novel is how it adheres to the basics of the Cinderella story while modernizing it and throwing more than a few surprises into the mix. There are heartbreaking moments and there are soul-lifting moments. There’s even a grand ball following the convention’s costume competition.

I enjoyed Geekerella, so much so that I’ll be reading its sequel – The Princess and the Fangirl – as soon as I can get the book from my local library. This novel won’t be of interest to all readers. However, if you like stories about fans, I think you’ll get a kick out of this one.

ISBN 979-1-59474-947-6

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #301

Part of me thinks I held off watching Avengers: Infinity War (2018) until days before I saw Avengers: Endgame (2019) because I knew it did not end on a happy note. That’s nobody’s fault but my own. If you don’t see a movie in the first two weeks of its release, you do not have the right to get all prickly when you learn details of the movie after that.

Last Thursday, I saw Avengers: Endgame (2019) with my son Eddie and my daughter Kelly. Friday morning, I posted a spoiler-view comment on Facebook and Twitter.

Avengers: Endgame. Ten years in the making, the film is the nigh-perfect celebration of the Marvel Universe in both comics and movies. An astonishing achievement.

That is far from my last word on the movie. Now, with the blessing of Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo who’ve stated the ban on spoilers is rescinded, I’m devoting this week’s column to that outstanding picture. Three hours of wonderment that never once felt padded and which kept me in my seat for the entire running time. I’m not sure I even blinked.

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After watching Avengers: Infinity War, I thought I had figured out where this movie would go. I convinced myself that Doctor Strange had given his time stone some sort of delayed command to undo what Thanos did and give the returned heroes another chance to deal with said cosmic killer. Time travel did play a part in the movies but not as I anticipated.

The opening scenes of the movie took me by surprise. Captain Marvel rescues Tony Stark and Nebula from the ruined planet Titan. With the surviving members of the Avengers, they hunt down Thanos and cut off his Infinity Gauntlet hand. However, Thanos had destroyed the infinity stones to ensure no one could undo what he had done.

Thor cut off his Thanos’ head, paltry consolation for all they and the universe had lost. I was as shocked by Thanos’ death as I was the movie jumping ahead five years.

The five years forward scenes were emotional. Ant-Man returns after being trapped in the Quantum Realm for five years and is reunited with his now five-years-older daughter. Black Widow and the other Avengers are desperately trying to help people on Earth and across the stars. Captain America is heading up a support group; his heart isn’t truly in it. Thanos creator Jim Starlin is a member of that support group, which made my own heart soar.

Bruce Banner has found the way to co-exist with the Hulk. Hawkeye, crushed by the loss of his family, is slaughtering criminals around the world. Thor spends his days in a drinker stupor in New Asgard, crushed by all he lost and his failure to set things right. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts have a young daughter and have found peace in this new world.

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For Ant-Man, the five years was five hours. He realizes the Quantum Realm technology can be used to travel into the past and prevent Thanos from getting the stones. Tony refuses to participate until he figures how to make it work. Both he and Pepper realize he has to undertake this dangerous mission, even if it rips time asunder.

The time-travel sequences are exciting. The heroes retrieve all the stones, but not without suffering a terrible loss. Just as Thanos sacrificed Gamora to obtain the Soul Stone in the previous movie, the Black Widow sacrifices herself for the same prize.

The victory is not as complete. Nebula’s future self is compromised by her still-loyal-to-Thanos past self. This allows Thanos to get hold of the Quantum Realm technology and time-travel to the future with the overwhelming force of his armies.

In a heart-stopping sequence, Thanos attacks the Avengers in their compound. The heroes barely survive. While past Nebula tries to get the Infinity Gauntlet, the heroes face overwhelming odds. Until the first of the movie moments that made me cry.

Banner uses the Infinity Gauntlet to restore what Thanos snapped out of existence. He cannot fix everything. Those that died without being snapped are still dead. But, then there’s that great moment when, as the few surviving Avengers seemed certain to fall, portal after portal opens. All of the restored heroes join the fight. New heroes, such as Doctor Strange’s fellow mystics and a armor-wearing Pepper Potts, enter the fray. The choreography on this sequence is absolutely breath-taking. I’m not sure any Marvel or DC movie will ever be able to top it.

There are great moments within the epic battle and, fan service or not, it made me smile to see them. How could I not love the first Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance of A-Force, the gathering of so many Marvel heroines?

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Once you hit the last hour of the movie, do not leave your seat. It would take a review ten times as long as this to list all the cool moments in that last hour.

The defeat of Thanos is one of the most satisfying moments in MCU history. He watches all his plans and power disintegrate before he, too, crumbles into dust. Even though using the Infinity Gauntlet fatally injures Tony Stark, I had to restrain myself from shouting out my pleasure at the soul-crushing defeat of the arrogant Titan. Then my mood shifted. Tony lingered for a bit, long enough for some final goodbyes, and passed. That was the second time I cried during the movie. There would be others.

I can’t possibly list all the spot on moments in this movie. Doctor Strange realizing his place with the other heroes. The “reunion” of Peter Quill and not-his-Gamora. The sisterly banter between Gamora and Nebula. Captain America wielding Mjolnir because he’s totally worthy. Giant-Man kicking ass. Steve Rogers finally having the life he always deserved. The passing of the shield to Sam Wilson. Wanda and Clint mourning the Vision and Natasha.

That funeral scene. So many great actors and characters together in one special place in time. I’m tearing up again even thinking about it. Magnificent filmmaking.

One last moment. Though there are no end-credits scenes presaging the next MCU triumph, there is the clanking of Tony Stark building his first Iron Man suit. Whether it be foreshadowing or tribute to the movie that started this journey, it was the right final touch to Avengers: Endgame.

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What comes next? Certainly there are time paradoxes to explore in future movies. We might see a little bit of that in Spider-Man: Far from Home, which takes place after Endgame.

My own wish is that we not get another epic movie like Endgame for a good long time. There are many smaller stories to be told, many great characters who can be the focus of those stories.

Endgame is the end of an era. Let the new era begin.

I’ll be there for every one of those movies.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #300

Welcome to the 300th installment of “Tony’s Tips!” at the Tales of Wonder website. At least I think it’s the 300th installment. I am not 100% confident that we haven’t slipped up on the numbering in the five plus years I’ve been writing columns for this venue. But, hey, in the name of having a reason to celebrate, I ask all of you to assume our count is correct.

This week’s pick of the week is Mike Grell: Life Is Drawing Without An Eraser by Dewey Cassell with Jeff Messner [TwoMorrows; $27.95]. It’s a tribute to my good friend Mike, who also happens to be one of my favorite comics creators. One of my reasons for naming him as such is because there’s no mistaking a Grell story for a story by anyone else. Whether he writes it, draws it or does both, Mike’s an  original. I value that more and more each passing year as too many publishers, editors and, sadly, even creators, adopt house styles in their writing and art.

Cassell and Messner’s beautifully produced tribute to Grell covers his career in extensive, entertaining detail. Whoever your favorite Grell character is, they claim you will find them in this 176-page softcover volume. They ain’t wrong. I’m not going to say the book includes characters I had forgotten about – How can you forget one of Mike’s characters? – but they include some fairly obscure ones here. Push comes to shove, my favorite Grell character is Jon Sable except on the days when it’s his version of Green Arrow.

Most of Grell’s career is told in his own words. There are several interviews with folks like Dan Jurgens, Denny O’Neil and Mike Gold. There’s an examination of the Mike Grell method of creating comics. There’s a checklist of his work. And there’s so much gorgeous Mike Grell art I found myself lingering on the images.

One of my genuine comics career regrets is that I never got to work with Mike and, as I say that, I’m picturing him drawing a new Tigra story by me. But I feel privileged that we’ve been friends for over four decades. He’s a great creator and a great man.

I recommend this book to aspiring comics artists and writers, and to comics history buffs. Grell has lessons for all of you.

ISBN 978-1-60549-088-5

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Red Sonja Worlds Away 1

I’m kind of getting into Red Sonja for the first time in decades, this despite my strong belief that her iconic costume is one of the dumbest in comics history. You’ve heard all the jokes about chain mail irritation and the like, so I won’t repeat them.

If I were asked to write Red Sonja, you’d all hate me. I would find a reason to put her into the iconic costume from time to time, but I’d have her dressed more reasonably when it came to her doing the demons and monsters and wizards slaying. Fortunately, for those of you would surely hate me for this blasphemy, I don’t have to write Red Sonja because there are a lot of good Red Sonja comics already out there.

Red Sonja Worlds Away: Volume 1 by Amy Chu with artist Carlos Gomez  [Dynamite; $19.99] is one of them. After a tussle with Kulan Gath, Sonja finds herself transported to modern-day New York City. Before long, the city that never sleeps is having nightmares as the long-lived Gath kicks off his centuries-in-the-works plan to conquer the Big Apple and the world.

Red gets two allies, both of them police officers. That was a good way to hook me because you know I love cops and super-hero tales. (I’m not remotely strong enough to resist mentioning my own recent Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands series.)

Max can speak Sonja’s language to some extent and that’s only one of the intriguing things about him. Partner Jay is a warrior woman in her own right. I bonded with these two almost as quickly as did Red Sonja.

Mystical peril in the modern world. Likeable heroes. Evil wizard. Cool monsters. What’s not to like?

I got the first volume from my local library. As often happens with graphic novel series, the system doesn’t have the second volume. I bought one because I like the first one enough to want to read the rest of them. Consider that my recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-524-10376-7

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Delinquent Housewife

Manga comes in all lengths. Popular series can run into dozens of volumes. Other series run fewer volumes, often by design. At four volumes, Nemu Yoko’s The Delinquent Housewife [Vertical; $12.95 per volume) strikes me as a series that failed to find an audience and ended early. Here’s the premise:

Tohru Komukai sends his bride-to-be Komugi to live with his family until he returns from an overseas job. Komugi has secrets to hide. She doesn’t know how to do housework. She used to belong to an all-girls bosozoku (riding out of control) biker gang. There’s another secret not revealed until late in the series.

Dai, the younger brother of Tohru, learns some of Komugi’s secrets. He also develops a sexual interest in her that becomes more than a little creepy as the series progresses. The creepy elements weigh heavily on the more heartwarming and humorous aspects of the story.

That’s the bare bones of the series. After reading all four books, it took me a while to sort out my feelings about the manga. Which include not recommending it to you.

The Delinquent Housewife tries hard, but it never comes together. The art is very nice and there are some good scenes. It tries for a satisfying albeit truncated conclusion, but doesn’t really nail it. I did like it well enough that I’ll be on the lookout for some of Yoko’s other manga series.

The Delinquent Housewife 1:

ISBN 978-1-947194-17-5

The Delinquent Housewife 2:

ISBN 978-1-947194-23-6

The Delinquent Housewife 3:

ISBN 978-1-947194-29-8

The Delinquent Housewife 4:

ISBN 978-1-947194-51-9

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #299

Much to my dismay, I find I have wearied of PS Artbooks’ hardcover collections of classic and usually not-so-classic horror comics of the 1950s. While I am endlessly fascinated by the comics published by companies that are no more than ghosts today, I simply read too many of the volumes in too close proximity to one another. Clearly, I needed something different.

Perhaps PS read my mind, but I absolutely loved Pre-Code Classics: The Crime Clinic Volume One [$44.99]. This was a crime comic with a difference. It starred Dr. Tom Rogers, a prison psychiatrist, and focused on returning convicts to society by treating their mental and sometimes physical ailments. This book collects all five issues of the unusual title cover-dated July 1951 to Summer 1952.

While the Batman comics of the 1940s and 1950s – back when Batman was sane – did several wonderful stories about reformed criminals, reformation was the core value of the Dr. Tom Rogers stories. Even when faced with seemingly unsalvageable criminals, the good doctor found a way to reach them and offer them a chance of a better life in the future. With prison and sentencing reform finally becoming something of a bipartisan issue, this social justice comic was way ahead of its time.

Though the Dr. Tom stories are the highlights of these issues, the title offered some other interesting features as well. “The Padre” appeared twice; he was a Catholic priest in a slum neighborhood who worked to keep boys and older men alike on the straight and narrow.
Private eye Barney Bailey appeared once. In addition to the series stories, Crime Clinic would feature one-off stories with surprise endings, a true-crime tale written by Carl Wessler, multiple crime-related gag pages and the usual text stories I never seem to read. Maybe someday.

Outside of that one story by Wessler, we don’t know who wrote Crime Clinic stories. We do know the artists.

The legendary Norman Saunders painted all five covers. The Dr. Tom stories were drawn by Leonard Starr, John Prentice, Al McWilliams, Irv Novick and Nick Cardy. The Padre was drawn by Mike Suchorsky. Barney Bailey was drawn by Arthur Peddy. The final issue one-offs were drawn by Gerald McCann and Frank Kramer.

Pre-Code Classics: The Crime Clinic Volume One is my pick of the week. I know PS plans some other crime volumes and hope they delve into western, romance, war and teen humor as well. I would buy all of them. And, just to be clear, I haven’t given up on their horror volumes. I still buy them all, still intend to read them, and still plan to do some different things with them in the future.

ISBN 978-1-78636-478-4

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Gorgo vs. Konga

I have worked with some fairly childish editors in my nearly fifty years in comics, but eight-year-old Griffin Yoe is the first actual child listed as editor of a project to which I contributed. The son of Craig Yoe, Griffin picked the four stories reprinted in Ditko’s Monsters: Gorgo vs. Konga [Yoe Books/IDW; $9.99].

One of the best things about Ditko’s Monsters: Konga vs. Gorgo is Griffin’s brief notes as to why he picked the stories he chose for this flipbook. One side is Gorgo, the other side is Konga and the whole package is delightful.

The Gorgo side has an introduction by me. It reprints the Charlton Comics adaptation of the Gorgo movie as presented by the prolific writer Joe Gill and artist Steve Ditko. The second story is “Gorgo Captured” from 1963. Gill and Ditko has a knack for combining big monster action with human comedy, drama and romance.

The Konga side has a wonderful remembrance of Ditko by his nephew Mark. It skips the Konga movie adaptation – the movie was not good – and goes to two 1962 stories. The Konga series had continuity of a sorts and the second of these two tales begins directly after the first of them. More great stuff.

Daddy Yoe has collected all the Ditko-drawn Gorgo and Konga comic books in handsome hardcover editions that are worth whatever you have to pay for them. As good as these books are, I dream for the complete collections of Gorgo, Konga and Reptilicus/Reptisaurus. Even when not drawn by Ditko, these are fun comics that I continue to enjoy to this day.

ISBN 978-1-68405-447-3

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marooned lagoon

Scott Shaw is one of my favorite cartoonist. When I learned he had illustrated a children’s book, I ordered it immediately. Written by Paul Gerrish, Marooned Lagoon [Play-tone, LLC; $19.99] is a 76-page oversized – 12.2 x 9.4 inches – hardcover adventure of very young animals separated from their families by a hurricane.

The kid critters must work together to survive. Not every one is a team player. Some of the alliances are scary at first. But, at the end of this first book, friendship and working together keeps the youngsters safe.

The story is entertaining. The writing is great. The illustrations give me more reason to consider Shaw one of the finest cartoonists working today. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Marooned Lagoon is suitable for all ages. I wish my kids were still young enough for me to read it to them. But, since they’re 30 and 27 years old, respectively, that would be awkward.

ISBN 978-1-7321927-0-6

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Free Comic Book Day is almost upon us. This year, I’ll be making an appearance at a new-for-me venue. On Saturday, May 4, you’ll find me signing and talking about comics at Rubber City Comics at 74 E. Mill Street in downtown Akron, Ohio. Voted Akron’s best comic-book shop for three years running, the store will be open from 10 am to 5 pm. If you’re in the area, come on over!

I’ll be back with more reviews next week.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #298

I love comics. I love making comics. I love reading comics. I love talking about comics. Every now and then, someone asks me to talk about comics somewhere other than at a convention or online. Like the “Coffee and Comics” storytelling workshop I’ll be doing for the Ohio Center for the Book in conjunction with the Cleveland Public Library. It happens on Saturday, April 27, 10:00-11:30 am at the Rising Star Coffee Roastery, 3617 Walton Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.

Comics are a visual medium. A comics writer must know how to write a script for an artist and the artist has to know how to turn that script into art that carries the story through however many panels and pages said story requires.

Writers have to think visually and recognize what an artist can and cannot fit into a panel or a page. That often means killing one’s darlings to keep the story moving. Artists have to think about the story as well. It’s not enough to draw great pictures. Those images have to keep the story moving.  Whether you’re a writer or artist, telling the story is job one.

For this workshop, I’m going to provide my “students” with random script pages for comics stories in various genres. At the moment, I plan to write pages for a super-hero story, a horror story and a romance/slice-of-life story.

While I answer questions about comics storytelling, the artists in the class will be asked to rough out a page layout. I don’t expect anyone to finish penciling a page in an hour-and-a-half, but that rough layout should be doable. Of course, where this workshop gets more interesting is what happens next. Which I’ll reveal after this  week’s reviews…

This is not the kind of book I would normally review here. It does not have much to do with comics. However, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick [Hanover Square Press; $26.99] speaks to me on so many levels that I’m making an exception.

Milicent Patrick was the woman who designed the Creature from the Black Lagoon, who is not only my favorite of the classic Universal monsters but one of my favorite monsters of all. Horror movie maker O’Meara was inspired by the Creature and, later in her life, by her discovery that a woman was behind the design of the so alien and so human Gill-Man. It inspired her in her own career and it inspired her to learn more about the woman who’d been virtually erased from the history of horror movies.

Patrick was an artist, an actress, a designer, a model and so many things. She was a troubled free spirit and so stunningly beautiful that many reporters and researches made her beauty the story. She was sent on a tour to promote The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Part of the tour agreement was that she not claim credit for her work and instead praise department head Bud Westmore, who was one horrible human being. Jealous of Patrick’s fame and talented, the despicable Westmore fired her when she returned from the tour. He also got his brother drunk in order to steal a job from him. Not a good man, but I don’t want to make him the story.

Patrick was amazing in every aspect of her life, including, sadly, her inability to overcome a family that considered her little more than a whore. Then and now, that’s the go-to for diminishing an accomplished woman. I certainly relate to her story, albeit in ways I’m not yet comfortable writing about.

What I am comfortable writing about is that attempt to erase her. Because it’s common to the comics industry as well. Creators are an inconvenient truth for publishers, editors and even those who write about comics. There are those who try to ignore how much the Black Panther movie owes to writer Don McGregor. For decades, DC Comics went along with the diminishing of Batman co-creator Bill Finger. It’s a comics industry cancer that has been going on since the dawn of the industry.

In her role as biographical detective, O’Meara does an incredible job of uncovering Patrick’s story and making it real for readers. There are sections that brought me to tears. Though I got the book through my local library system, I ended up buying a copy to add to my own home library. I love it that much.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is my pick of the week. I recommend it to fans of the Creature, students of horror films, supporters of the enormous contributions women and other outsiders have brought to the cinematic and comics arts. We have to remember these great creators, past and present and future.

ISBN 978-1-335-93780-3

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Giant Days 9

As with previous collections of the title, Giant Days Volume Nine by John Allison and Max Sarin [BOOM! Box; $14.99] was another fun visit with BFFs Esther, Daisy and Susan as they finish their second year of college. I enjoy the characters and how their lives combine comedy drama in roughly equal measures. The stories and adventures contained within are funny, to be sure, but there are also moments of heartbreak and doubt. Even when things get a bit slapstick, the stories feel real. I’m not surprised many consider Giant Days one of the best, if not the best, comics available today.

Other than my usual recommendation that you should try Giant Days if you’re not already reading it, I have nothing to add that I can add without spoiling some delicious moments for you. This volume reprints issues #33-36 of the series. The next volume, which will collect issues #37-40, is due in June. I’ll be waiting as eagerly for that volume as I did this volume.

ISBN 978-1-86415-310-7

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Hinamatsuri

I’m having a blast seeking out odd manga series to sample, though I recognize these are only odd from my American perspective. Even our slice-of-life graphic novels tend to be similar while Japanese creators go all over the spectrum.

Masao Ohtake’s Hinamatsuri Volume 1 [One Peace Books; $11.95] tells of an ambitious young yazuka member whose life is upended when an oval-shaped object falls into his apartment and “hatches” a young girl with psychic powers. Nitta suddenly finds himself as a father figure to the strange young lady while being driven to exasperation by how little she understands or fits into our world. On the other hand, Hina’s use and frequent misuse of her powers help him rise to higher position in the crime syndicate.

I’d describe Hinamatsuri as “dark humor lite.” The reality of the yakuza and their crimes is soft-pedaled with Nitta coming off as a struggling salaryman. I’m not entirely on board with this series, but enjoyed this first volume enough to keep reading it for now. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might enjoy it as well. The second volume is out with the third volume coming in June.

ISBN 978-1-64273-005-0

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Continuing from this week’s opening…

Members of the workshop will be encouraged to e-mail their finished pages to me. I’ll be going over every “submission” with the intent of hiring one of these artists to draw an eight-page story for me. I don’t know where the completed story will appear, but the artist I choose will be paid the admittedly low rate of $50 a page for the work. I’ll retain all rights to the work, but that initial $50 page rate will be considered an advance against any future money earned by the completed story. If you come to my workshop and do the work, you could end up as a published artist.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #297

April is here and I have two scheduled appearances this month. The first one is the Great Philadelphia Comic Con, April 12-14, at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Station Avenue, Oaks, PA. If you go to the convention’s website, it lists over two dozen comics industry guests, including Neal Adams, Don McGregor and Larry Hama. It also lists over three dozen media guests, including John Wesley Shipp, Alice Cooper and Rose McIver. Plus cosplay, gaming, and much more. It looks to be a spectacular event, made even more so because my Saintly Wife Barb will be attending with me. Best of all, there is no added admission price to see the world’s most patient woman, a wonderful person who has been married to me for just short of 35 years without strangling me.

I’ll tell you about my second April appearance on the other side of this week’s reviews…

Man and Superman 100-Page Super Spectacular by Marv Wolfman with artist Claudio Castellini [DC Comics; $9.99] is the best Superman story I’ve read in decades. Originally written over ten years ago for the defunct Superman Confidential title, it’s an epic retelling of Clark Kent’s first weeks in Metropolis.

I don’t use the term “epic” lightly. While Man and Superman might not have a cosmic catastrophe at its core – and I’m so very weary of those from both DC and Marvel – it gives us a super-hero who has justifiable doubts about his dual roles in the world, who overcomes those doubts and emerges as the hero who will soon become known as the world’s greatest super-hero. It’s an incredible Superman story, one that doesn’t rely on dozens of other heroes, that doesn’t need  to crossover with twenty other issues. It stands alone. Few things would be make me happier with DC and Marvel comic books that more adventures like this one.

Wolfman’s writing is some of his best. I’d compare it to his run on Tomb of Dracula or the first years of The New Teen Titans. Yes, he is a dear friend of mine, but he knows as well as anyone that does not influence my reviews in the slightest. He’s as good as he ever was, which says a lot for a fifty-plus-year career.

Castellini’s art is eye-catching where it needs to be and down to earth for the human drama.  The color art by Hi-Fi works with the story and art, never overwhelming it. The Tom Orzechowski lettering is right up there as well. Yes, Tom is also a dear pal and someone I hired when I was a Marvel editor. I have a lot of friends in this business. Thankfully, most of them are amazing at what they do. It keeps our too-rare meetings from becoming awkward.

Man and Superman is my pick of the week in a competitive week. It’s rated “T” for teen, but I’d have no problem giving it to a younger reader. It’s a terrific comic book.

NOTE: Before anyone sees a slight where there is none, I have not yet read the various Superman comic books written by Brian Michael Bendis. I plan on binge-reading them this summer.

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Friendly Neighborhood

Marvel Comics seems to roll out a new Spider-Man title every month. Not all or even most of them are to my liking. That said, I really enjoyed Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1 [$4.99] and #2 [$3.99]. The key element in my enjoyment is in the title:

Neighborhood.

I’m not kidding when I say I’m increasingly bored by cosmic battles and crossover overload. What won me over to this new Spidey title is that, even with some fairly odd goings-on, it has the feel of a down-to-earth super-hero title.

Written by Tom Taylor, whose efforts on DC’s Injustice and Marvel’s All-New Wolverine were first-rate, the title gives me a Spidey and a Peter Parker to whom I can relate. In both identities, our man is a good neighbor. His day-to-day civilian problems aren’t over the top, at least not for the Marvel Universe. I mean, I’m not sure why he has Boomerang for a roommate, given that said villain has been a cold-blooded assassin for pretty much his entire comics history, but I’ll give Taylor some rope here.

Artist Juann Cabal’s provides some lively visuals throughout these issues. Despite having seen a great many double-page shots of Spidey swinging among the skyscrapers, I was very impressed by Cabal’s version of that well-worn image. Kudos also to color artist Nolan Woodward and letterer Travis Lanham.

The basic fun atmosphere of the book still allows for some fairly heavy human drama. A back-up story in the first issue – with art by penciller Marcelo Ferreira, inker Roberto Poggi, color artist Jim Campbell, and letterer Lanham – promises some difficult times for Peter and a beloved supporting character.

Let’s call Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man “my” Spider-Man comic for now. I’m looking forward to future issues.

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Exorsisters 1

Ian Boothby is one of my favorite comics writers. He was the best of the Simpsons Comics writers at Bongo Comics. He’s done some fine and funny work for MAD. Not enough comics afficinados know his name and they should. All of which brings us to Exorsisters #1-5 [Image; $3.99 each] with excellent art by Gisele Lagace; great color art by Pete Pantazis of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands fame; and solid lettering by Taylor Esposito.

The title stars are Cate and Kate Harrow. Their mother is a piece of work who dragged them into her deals with the devil. Their job is to be pains in the buttocks to said devil and others of his ilk. I don’t want to reveal more because there are many cool surprises in these issues.

Boothby brings a lot of character to the young ladies. He combines supernatural suspense with considerable humor. Lagrace is more than up to providing the visuals. I’ve loved her work since the moment I saw it. Someday, short of making a deal with the devil, I’d love to work with her.

Exorsisters Volume 1: Damned if You Don’t [$16.99] will be hitting the comics shops any day now. It’s rated T+ for teen plus because it’s got that supernatural element in it. If there’s a down side to this volume, it’s that it ends on a cliffhanger. But, that aside, it does deliver a big chunk of satisfying story. I recommend it to teen and older readers.

ISBN 978-1534312043

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The second of my April appearances is a Coffee and Comics workshop in conjunction with the Ohio Center for the Book and the Cleveland Public Library. It happens on Saturday, April 27, 10:00-11:30 am at the Rising Star Coffee Roastery, 3617 Walton Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be discussing comics storytelling with a few surprises for the “class.” I’ll have more information on this event in next week’s column. See you then.

© 2019 Tony Isabella