TONY’S TIPS #256

My admittedly biased choice for the biggest news this time around is that Black Lightning: The Complete First Season will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The TV series stars the character created by a guy name of Tony Isabella. Gosh, where have we heard that name before?

Though I have no official role in the show, you don’t have to look too deep to find my creative DNA in the mix. Early on, before DC hired show runners Salim and Mara Brock Akil, I was asked to write a paper on Black Lightning’s core values. After the amazing Akils were hired, we had a long conference call on all things Lightning. That was followed by my visit to the Black Lightnings writers room in Burbank. I call myself the show’s unofficial head cheerleader, constantly applauding the adherence to Jefferson Pierce’s values, the great writing and the award-caliber acting from Cress Williams and the entire cast. I love this series and am so honored to have been even a small part of it.

Besides the 13 episodes of the first season, the Blu-ray and DVD sets will feature these extras: Black Lightning Comic-Con panel, A Family of Strength, Black Lightning Come Visit Georgia, a gag reel and deleted scenes. I hope the last includes the extended scene of Jeff at the roller rink with daughters Anissa and Jennifer. I saw that scene during my Burbank visit when Salim showed me the full presentation video that sold the series. It’s what made me proclaim from the beginning that Williams was the perfect choice to play my creation. He’s proven me right in every scene since.

The suggested retail price for the two-disc Blu-ray set is $39.99. The SRP for the three-disc DVD set is $29.99. Needless to say, but I’m gonna say it anyway, either version would make a wonderful gift for those you love throughout the year.

******************************

Suicide Squad

Since we’re on the subject of DC Entertainment home video, I bought and watched Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay on DVD [$18.96]. The Blu-ray version [$24.96] is also available. Here’s the brief summary from the Internet Movie Database:

Task Force X targets a powerful mystical object that they will risk their lives to steal.

Written by Alan Burnett, one of my favorite DC animation scribes, this R-rated animated feature is not for the faint of heart. There are a great many gory deaths with some of the victims being well-known DCU characters. There aren’t really any heroes in this movie, though there are characters who act with a surprising morality that plays nicely against the evil goings-on. That “R” rating isn’t kidding: strong bloody violence throughout, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and some drug material.

The 86-minute film is tight. Amanda Waller wants a mystic “Get Out of Hell” card because, let’s face it, that’s where she’s going as she is as much of a ruthless monster as any member of the Suicide Squad. She sends two teams of villains after it, though few of her agents or their opponents, come out of this alive. Shocking scenes and surprising moments are frequent. It’s a knuckle-squeezing film, but it does have a satisfying ending. I appreciated that because, of late, so many comic books fail in that regard.

Characters include Deadshot [voiced by Christian Slater], Waller [Vanessa Williams], Harley Quinn [Tara Strong], Bronze Tiger [Billy Brown], Killer Frost [Kristin Bauer van Straten], Captain Boomerang [Liam McIntyre], Copperhead [Gordon Emery] and many others. Black Lightning’s Tobias Whale [Dave Fennoy] also appears and, honestly, he’s the reason I bought this movie.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay follows Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox [2013], which I haven’t yet seen. But Hell to Pay stands on its own. Extreme violence or not, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. I’m glad I bought it.

******************************

Squirrel Girl

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl [Marvel; $3.99 per issue] doesn’t work for everyone. I have friends who find the notion of a super-hero whose powers seem like a better fit for DC’s Legion of Substitute Substitute Heroes – the little known team made up of super-heroes rejected by the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Legion of Super-Pets – absurd. I don’t disagree. I just think Squirrel Girl elevates absurd to wonderful.

In issues #27-30’s “The Forbidden Pla-Nut,” Squirrel Girl with pals Nancy and Tippy travel to a planet of squirrels who fare they are about to be the next meal of Galactus. Because they’ve been conned by a Silver Surfer imposter. By the time the funny story concludes, we get guest appearances by Loki (currently the Sorcerer Supreme), Dormammu, Drax the Destroyer, the real Silver Surfer and the Star Wars recap screen crawl. This adventure works for me because it’s in Squirrel Girl’s world, which is in a part of the Marvel Universe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I might not believe it in Avengers, but, in this title, no problem. Kudos to writer Ryan North, artist Erica Henderson and the editors who encourage their delicious absurdity. They make Squirrel Girl a breath of fresh air month after month. I appreciate that.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 8: My Best Friend’s Squirrel [$17.99], which will reprint issues #27-32 of the title, is due to be released in June of this year. It’s just the ticket for summer reading. Surf’s up!

ISBN 978-1302910761

******************************

Alter Ego 152

Edited by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego #152 [TwoMorrows; $9.95] devotes much of that 100-page issue to Larry Ivie, the comics fan, comics pro, artist, writer and visionary who first came up with the notion of a modern (ala 1960s) version of the Justice Society of America. Ivie even called it the Justice League.

Sandy Plunkett, a terrific artist himself, was a friend of Ivie’s. His study of the man is breathtakingly inclusive. Though Ivie may seem like a minor comics professional, his work and his enthusiasm encouraged many better-known creators. Ivie is controversial to the extent that some comics folks doubt some of his claims. But, in my own brief correspondence with him when I was still in my teens, he was a great source of history and insight. To this day, I feel Ivie should have been a more major part of the industry. If awards were given out for individual articles, Plunkett’s would get my vote for best of the year.

The issue also features a brief excerpt from a memoir by legendary comics writer John Broome, Michael T. Gilbert’s look at some sleazy romance comics of the 1950s, Bill Schelly on his new book (Sense of Wonder), a tribute to artist Sam Glanzman and more.

Alter Ego remains my favorite comics-oriented magazine. This issue is particularly terrific. It’s my pick of the week.

******************************

One more note before I take my leave. My next convention appearance will be at the East Coast Comicon, April 27-29, at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. The guest list includes Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Howard Chaykin, Larry Hama, Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber, Jim Salicrup, Nancy Silberkleit, Jim Starlin, Joe Sinnott, Wendy & Richard Pini, and many others. I’m looking forward to hanging out with so many old friends, making new friends and generally having a blast. Hope to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #255

This week’s pick of the week is Marvel’s Werewolf by Night Omnibus [$125]. I’m talking nearly 1200 pages of 1970s comics and features by Doug Moench, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Don Perlin, Mike Ploog and others.

The Werewolf by Night series made its debut in Marvel Spotlight #2 [February 1972]. Conceived by Roy and Jean Thomas and written by Gerry Conway, it introduced the cursed Jack Russell to comicdom and the Marvel Universe in particular. It also debuted decades of jokes about the lead character’s name. The jokes were officially declared old in March of 1972.

Not every story in this volume, which collects every Werewolf tale from Marvel Spotlight #2 to Werewolf by Night #43 [March 1977] was terrific, but nearly every one was entertaining. Conway delivered some nice gothic tales. Len Wein brought his lyrical word-smithing chops to others, including a Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man. Marv Wolfman – “At last – Werewolf written by a Wolfman” – created two of Russell’s classic villains in the Hangman and Taboo, as well as the Eisner-esque Topaz. But it’s Moench who had the longest run on the feature, developing the supporting cast, taking Russell and his friends all over the world, delving into supernatural dimensions, and, when sales started dipping, ushered in a surprising change in the Werewolf’s course. I would have liked to have seen Moench take that further, but, alas, sales figures are a harsh mistress.

Werewolf By Night’s first artist was the remarkable Mike Ploog and he was perfect for the feature. He was also greatly in demand, so other artists were recruited. Tom Sutton and Gil Kane did some fine work on the strip, but it was Don Perlin who made the Werewolf his own. Not as flashy as the above-mentioned artists, Perlin was one heck of a storyteller and handled every wacky notion Moench threw at him. They were a terrific team.

Sidebar. Don drew my Tigra debut from Giant-Size Creatures #1 [July 1974], also included in this omnibus and was just wonderful to work with. I wish I could have done more than one story with him back in the day. I think we were a good team.

Besides the Marvel Spotlight issues and the Werewolf’s own title, this hefty hardcover includes Marvel Team-Up #12, the crossover with a notable count from Tomb of Dracula #18, Giant-Size Creatures #1, a prose story from Monsters Unleashed #6-7, all the new stories from Giant-Size Werewolf #2-5, and the big monster bash from Marvel Premiere #28. That last one teamed the Werewolf with Ghost Rider, Man-Thing and Morbius in a wild adventure by Bill Mantlo and Frank Robbins. There’s also a generous helping of special feature pages in this book. Amazing stuff.

If you’re into 1970s Marvel in all its glory and weirdness, you’ll want this not-inexpensive book. However, InStock Trades, the fine outfit that sponsors this column, is currently offering it at a 42% discount. Worth looking into.

ISBN 978-0-7851-9908-3

******************************

Bingo Love

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin with artist Jenn St-Onge [Image Comics; $9.99] will surely and deservedly be an Eisner and other awards contender. Rated “T” for “Teen,” it’s the life-story of two girls who meet and fall in love in 1963. Their families are horrified by the sight of their first kiss and with a determination born of both bigotry and ignorance, separate them. As this sometimes bittersweet graphic novel unfolds, we watch the adult lives of Hazel and Mari, the choices they make and their amazing reunion. There is sadness and turmoil in their story, but what stands out most of all is how joyously they commit to one another.

Franklin’s characters are easy to embrace. Her dialogue strikes the right notes. St-Onge’s drawings are charming and flirty and filled with emotion. Colorist Joy San does a fine job, as does letterer Cardinal Rae. I love this original graphic novel a lot.

My one quibble is that, at two different places in the book, just as something vital is happening in this story, readers are directed to digital episodes. Not cool. Those episodes should have been in this book. Hopefully, this will be corrected in some future edition of the graphic novel.

Bingo Love is something special. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0750-6

******************************

Rashomon

Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case by Victor Santos [Dark Horse; $19.99] is such a stylishly told crime noir story is really needs to have its own category. Swank noir? Fine art noir? I’m not sure what that category should be named. What I’m sure of is that, beyond a superficial similarity to Frank Miller’s Sin City works, Rashomon is unlike any crime comics story I have ever read and one of the best I’ve read in recent years.

Santos was inspired by the works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, regarded as the father of the Japanese short story. Some Akutagawa stories featured the heroic commissioner Heigo Kobayashi.

In this take on the classic Rashomon, the body of a famous samurai is found along a road in feudal Japan. Investigating the slaying, Kobayashi interviews a number of suspects and witnesses, none of whom give the same testimony. The most unnerving of the characters in the tale is the widow of the samurai, a calculating, sensuous woman who might have been behind the murder and subsequent actions bring her into repeated contact with the commissioner and may also have inspired other violent acts.

There are no real answers in this graphic novel. Certainly Santos leaves much open for speculation. Yet what drew me to the book and gave me such delight was his telling of his tale. There were pages that made my eyes grow wide. This is a great story with astonishing art in a beautiful hardcover volume.

Rashomon would appeal to fans of crime noir, historical fiction and manga. I definitely recommend it to those fans.

ISBN 978-1-50670-317-6

Hope you enjoyed this column. I’ll be back next week with another three-pack of reviews. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #254

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #6 was released last week and the reviews have been wonderful. Outside of the few benighted critics who believe super-hero comics should consist of powered individuals punching each other in the head and those who object to non-white  heroes or diversity in comics in general, the initial reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

The first season of Black Lightning is drawing to a close and it’s common for viewers to tell me each new episode is their favorite to date. I don’t disagree as week after week has delivered brilliant acting, crazy good acting and surprising twists. Thirteen episodes just doesn’t seem like enough to me. While we’re waiting for season two – the series received an early renewal – check your convention listings for appearances by Black Lightning cast members. They’re a great group of people who I know you’ll enjoy meeting. Heck, if I wasn’t otherwise committed, I’d follow them around the country. Which maybe sounds creepy now that I think about it.

While I wait to see what my next comics gig will be, I’ve started work on four different books and getting ready for my famous Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales. I’ll have more to say about all these projects in the near future. In the meantime, I’m delighted to bring you this week’s reviews. Every item I’m writing about this week should be considered my “pick of the week” because they’re all that good.

From the Burger Books imprint at Dark Horse, Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson with artist Warren Pleece [$19.99] has a new edition to celebrate the graphic novel’s tenth anniversary. It’s  a handsome hardcover book with enhanced toned art, an afterword by Johnson, character sketches and other added material. The add-ons are terrific, but it’s the story that makes this a classic.

Zane Pinchback, a reporter for a black-owned New York newspaper in the early 20th century, is light-skinned enough to pass for white. He has used this to investigate lynchings and other crimes against black people throughout the American South. After a near escape, he plans to retire his “Incognegro” identity. Until his own brother is arrested in Mississippi and charged with killing a white woman. It is a grim chronicle of murderous racists, the acceptance of their heinous crimes and even the elevation of those crimes to some sort of carnival entertainment, including postcard souvenirs of those crimes. Today, when we have a racist president surrounded by white supremacists, Johnson’s story resonates more strongly than when it was first published.

Pleece’s art and storytelling are top-notch, drawing readers into the era and the horrors of that era. He and Johnson put a spotlight on the setting, the disgusting racism and the things people would do to survive and be themselves. That this graphic novel is taught in schools doesn’t surprise me. Indeed, it should be taught in more schools. It is an important reflection of our history, a truth that saddens me, albeit not as much that it’s a truth many Americans do not yet recognize.

Also being published by Berger Books and Dark Horse is Johnson and Pleece’s Incognegro Renaissance [$3.99 per issue], a five-issue origin story of Zane’s other identity. A hardcover collection of this series is scheduled for October publication.

Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery [$19.99]

ISBN 978-1506705644

Incognegro: Renaissance [$19.99]

ISBN 978-1506705637

******************************

Puerto Rico Story

There are at least two other Puerto Rico benefit anthologies in the works, but Lion Forge hits the comics shops first with its amazing Puerto Rico Strong [$12.99]. The anthology is just over 200 pages of stories and art, which makes it a true bargain.

So many talents came together, united by their horror for what has befallen the island and their desire to do something to support the relief efforts. The anthology is more than stories of Puerto Rican life in this time of need. Latinx creators tell their own stories and also delve into the culture and history of the island. There is so much power in their drawings and words that I’m reading the book for a second time, savoring a story or two each day as part of my morning routine.

Dozens of creators contributed to this anthology. You’ll recognize some names from your favorite comics of the past. You’ll wonder why you haven’t heard of others before this. I hope I get to see more work from both groups.

Puerto Rico Strong is a breathtaking reflection of creators coming together for a good cause. It is a book to be cherished.

ISBN 978-1-941302-90-3

******************************

Dave Hunt

If you read mainstream comic books during the 1970s through 2000 or so, you’ll have seen the name “Dave Hunt” hundreds of times. From his start working in production at Marvel, Dave was a colorist, letterer, background inker, inker and penciller for Marvel, DC and other publishers. I didn’t socialize with Dave, maybe a lunch here and there when we both worked at Marvel, but he struck me as a real salt-of-the-earth guy, an amiable and friendly fellow, and a solid professional. Even in a comics career filled with as much stellar work as Dave’s, my fondest memory of him is personal.

When Dave learned I spent my first Thanksgiving in New York alone, a turkey sandwich from a Brooklyn deli for a meal that represented pretty much my last money until my next paycheck (which, luckily, was just days away), he was mortified. If he had known, he said, he would have invited me to spend the day with his family. He was one of the good ones. Heck, one of the best ones. That he is no longer with us diminishes our world.

Dave Hunt: An Artist’s Life by Hunt and Lee Benaka [ComicArtAds; $25] is an autobiography and more. The beautiful book presents the artist’s story in his own words. It has a foreword by the great Joe Sinnott, who hired Dave to do background inks for him. It has more photographs and more examples of Dave’s work than I can count. The examples include Hunt’s fine arts creations. All topped off with an exhaustive checklist of Dave’s comics work.

The title of the book says more than it appears on the surface. In detailing his life, Hunt wrote an informative essay or sorts on the lives of other artists. His dedication to his craft, his numerous inspirations and the business of being an artist. It’s a fantastic book and reference resource.

Copies of the book can be had by sending $25 to Benaka via PayPal. His PayPal ID is: savewamubluegrass@hotmail.com

ISBN 978-1-54392-875-4

That wraps another week’s worth of tips. I’ll be back in seven days with more reviews. I hope you’ll join me.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #253

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #6 will be hitting the comic-book shops this week. Due in no small part to the great art of Clayton Henry, the editorial support of Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards, and the amazing color art of Pete Pantazis, I think the six issues represent my best comics work ever. It was a thrill to reinvent my signature creation for a new era and I hope I’ll return to him in the near future.

I have a pretty light appearance schedule in April. I’ll be filming a public service announcement for literacy and Free Comic Book Day at WBNX-TV, our local CW station. The PSA will be aired during the various DC Comics and other shows. Beyond that, I’ll be speaking to a group of students for their special projects.

That means I’ll have a lot of time to work on my own new projects. By the time this column posts, I’ll have decided what that will be. It could be a new book of comics history. It could be a movie. It could be a graphic novel. So many choices.

While I’m making those choices, here are the items I’ve selected to write about this week…

I didn’t purchase Pre-Code Classics Ghostly Weird Stories Volume 1 [PS Artbooks; $44.99] because I thought the stories reprinted in this hardcover collection from the U.K. were classics. I bought it because of my fascination with the horror comics of the 1950s and the production thereof.

Published by Star Publications, Ghostly Weird Stories ran but five issues, continuing its numbering from Blue Bolt and Blue Bolt Weird Tales of Terror. Issues #120-124 are cover-dated September 1953 to September 1954. L.B. Cole drew all the covers with the cover copy consisting of the caption from the splash panel of the cover story. The cover tale, usually written and drawn by Jay Disbrow, was often the only original material in an issue.

Disbrow’s work is intriguing its own right. Artistically, he has a style of its own. Lots of grim faces and horrifying creatures. As a writer, boy howdy, is he one wordy wordsmith. Huge captions and word balloons that required smaller than normal lettering so as to not crowd out the art.

His stories are entertaining, but only one of them – “Death Ship” – is memorable. That one is a character study of a spaceship captain who can’t resist the call of the stars no matter how good his life on Earth is. He’s looking for something out there, but whether he finds it or not, is left to the reader to decide.

The other stories are a mixed bag. Reprints of jungle heroes Jo-Jo, Rulah and Tonaka appear. Heroes like Torpedo Man and the Mask are in some of the issues as well. Horror tales and even a crime story are reprinted. Besides the Disbrow lead stories, the only other new story is “The Last Man Alive,” an off-beat tale about a surly guy who doesn’t like sharing the world with people. It’s drawn by the equally off-beat A. C. Hollingsworth. Many of these stories would be reworked with additional gore to appear in the notorious black-and-white comics magazines by Eerie Publications in the late 1960s and mid-1970s.

Sidebar. Marvel Comics had a similar business plan for some of the 1970s “mystery” comics it published around the same time as those Eerie magazines. After several issues, titles like Tower of Shadows would feature only one new story and then fill out the rest of their pages with reprints.

Pre-Code Classics Ghostly Weird Stories Volume 1 isn’t a must-have for anyone who doesn’t share my fascination with the horror comics of the past. But, if you are one of our maniacal number, I suspect you’ll enjoy the collection.

ISBN 978-1-78636-181-3

******************************

Punisher Max

Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Volume Seven [Marvel; $39.99] is grindhouse gore in super-hero drag. It reprints PunisherMAX #1-22 from January 2010 to April 2012.

Written by Jason Aaron with art by Steve Dillon and colorist Matt Hollingsworth, this is the most brutal series of Punisher comics I have ever read. There are no good guys among the combatants here. There are monsters in human guise…and Frank Castle is every bit as monstrous as those he hunts and slaughters.

Clearly set in an alternate Marvel Universe, the players in these stories include the Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra. There are quick violent deaths in these stories and lingering torturous killings. These are more horrifying crime comic books than I imagined before I read them. They make the crime comic books of the 1950s look like TV’s afternoon specials. That said…the writing, the art and the coloring are all of the highest quality. Each issue had me wanting to see what happened next and, when I got to the last issue of the series, I was satisfied by the overall ending. This isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but if your intestinal fortitude is higher than most readers, I think you’ll find this collection to be worth reading.

ISBN 978-1-302-90912-3

******************************

How to Go Steady

My pick of the week is the long-titled How to Go Steady: Timeless Dating Advice, Wisdom, and Lessons from Vintage Romance Comics by comics historian and love comics expert Jacque Nodell [CreateSpace; $12.99]. The back cover calls it “history book meets how-to guide,” which is pretty good short hand for what Nodell has created here.

The field of romance comics in general has not been covered as well as it should be. It was a leading genre from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s. Its target audience were girls and young woman, but it had plenty of male readers as well.

Nodell has been collecting and writing about romance comics for as long as I can remember. Her “Sequential Crush” blog was one I would visit frequently. I always enjoyed her articles and learned a lot from them. What she has done in this book is focus on one part of the romance comics allure: the advice columns.

Though often written by men, these columns actually contained some useful lessons. Nodell went through hundreds of comic-book advice columns to put together a dating/relationship guide with some solid suggestions for young women and men. Though the advice offered in the comic books tended to be very conservative, the basics hold up pretty well today.

Though I’ve been safely and happily married for over thirty years, I found this book to be entertaining. If I’m ever again fortunate enough to edit a romance comic – I was the editor of Young Love at DC Comics for a short time in 1976 – you can be sure I’ll include an advice column in that comic book.

Entertaining and informative, shining a light on a part of comics history never before covered in such detail, How to Go Steady would make a great gift for anyone even remotely interested in romance comics. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 9781983612909

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #252

I made two more or less local appearances last week. On Thursday, March 22, I went to the East Clark Elementary School where I spoke to fifth through eighth graders about Black Lightning and creating comics. I enjoyed spending a few hours with the students and their teachers. I even stayed around a little later than planned so that the principal of another school could drive over, meet me and get an autograph.

Then, on Saturday, courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library and the Rising Star Roastery, I taught a workshop on comics creation while sitting among huge bags of aromatic coffee beans from South America and other distant locales. I’m told it was the biggest turnout to date for the Library’s “Coffee and Comics” program.

Writing comics will always be my first creative love, but teaching about them is pretty high on the list as well. If you are a comics creator and are asked to appear at a school or library, I urge you to accept the invitation. It’ll make you reflect about what you do and possibly create some new comics readers.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

Black Panther Annual #1 [Marvel; $4.99] was the best annual I have read in years. In the wake of the wildly successful Black Panther movie, Marvel commissioned three new stories by three of the best Panther writers of all time: Christopher Priest, Don McGregor and Reginald Hudlin. I got the version with the Daniel Acuña cover, but a variant cover was also done by Brian Stelfreeze.

Priest’s “Back in Black” features government spook Everett K. Ross, one of several memorable characters introduced by the writer during his run on the Black Panther. Ross always seemed out of place back then, which made him pretty interesting. It was delightful to see Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Ross in the movie. Mike Perkins drew this story and did a fine job.

McGregor’s “Panther’s Heart” is the best story in the annual, but, then again, McGregor is my favorite Panther writer. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a poignant story that shows McGregor hasn’t lost a step since his “carefree” youth. The Acuña art lives up to the wonderful script.

“Black to the Future Part II” is Reggie Hudlin’s look at the Black Panther of an alternate future. It’s an eyeopener of a story with fantastic art by Ken Lashley, who recently drew a pair of terrific covers for my Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands series.

Between the movie and this annual, I’m getting a hankering to read all the Panther comic books from start to finish. Fortunately, they are all in print and soon to be back in print.

This is my pick of the week. Wakanda forever!

******************************

Cosmo

Cosmo the Merry Martian, published by Archie Comics for six issues in 1958 and 1959, is one of my favorite childhood comics. Created by writer Sy Reit and artist Bob White, the hilarious adventures of this otherworldly champion and his often outlandish allies caught my imagination and never let go. I’ve often remarked that I would love to write new stories with the character. Alas, that character no longer exists in the current Archie scheme of things.

Cosmo #1 [$2.99 per issue] reinvents the hero and his friends. Gone are the wonderfully clever Bob White designs, replaced by generic figures influenced by anime and manga. These are the sort of designs you see frequently as western creators attempt to duplicate the success of their Asian counterparts. It’s not that the designs are bad. It’s just that they aren’t remotely special.

Writer Ian Flynn tells a decent story with some honest laughs. If the story wasn’t in a comic book called Cosmo, I’d probably like it a lot. I like it, but again…it doesn’t have the sharp wit and laugh out loud madness of the Reit scripts of the 1950s.

Cosmo is a good comic book. I think Flynn and artist Tracy Yardley are producing an entertaining series. I especially like astronaut Max Strongjaw, a human addition to the mix. Though the series pales next to the classic Cosmo the Merry Martian, I plan to keep buying and reading it. That’s a bigger deal than you think. Where I once bought all the Archie titles, Cosmo is the only one I’m buying at the present time. Pick of the litter, so to speak.

Cosmo is suitable for all ages. Give it a look.

******************************

Exit Stage Left

DC Comics has published some intriguing comic books offering fresh modern takes on classic Hanna-Barbera characters. One I’m enjoying quite a bit if Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles [$3.99 per issue] by Mark Russell with pencil artist Mike Feehan and ink artist Mark Morales. Starting with the second issue, the title has a back-up feature: Sasquatch Detective by Brandee Stilwell with art by Gustavo Vazquez.

In this series, Snagglepuss is portrayed as a 1950s gay playwright in the style of Tennessee Williams. His world is one of desperate writers, actors and other gays living in the shadow of the McCarthy era’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. It is a gripping adult drama with different takes on other cartoon characters, such as Huckleberry Hound and Augie Doggie. It’s not remotely suitable for younger readers or for those older readers offended by what is, admittedly, a far cry from the cartoons of their youth. Me, I think there’s room for both versions and would happily buy this comic and a more traditional Snagglepuss comic book.

The “Sasquatch Detective” back-up feature is hard to describe, but great fun. I’m into it.

Exit Stage Left is highly recommended.

******************************

One last note of clarification. Dynamite’s Bettie Page Volume 1: Bettie in Hollywood [$17.99] collects issues #1-4 of the title and also includes “an exclusive short story, illustrated by Joseph Michael Linsner, originally published in Playboy magazine.” Beyond noting that whoever wrote that solicitation doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of the word “exclusive,” I can merely repeat last column’s recommendation of this fine title.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #251

Mine! [ComicMix; $24.95] is an anthology that celebrates “liberty and freedom for all” and benefits Planned Parenthood. All profits from the sale of the book go to Planned Parenthood. Just to put my personal bias up front, I donate to the organization several times a year. It’s an important resource for women and men alike and has been inaccurately, unfairly demonized by the right as an abortion clinic and no more. Since you’re reading this column, I know you’re intelligent enough to know the facts. Indeed, you know that many of Planned Parenthood’s services save lives, including those of the mothers who want healthy babies.

Moving on to the anthology itself, Mine! features hundreds of pages of comics by some of the best creators in the business. If the book had page numbers, I could tell you exactly how many pages of story and art it contains. But it doesn’t and I’m too lazy to count them myself.

Question. Can anyone explain to me why books like this don’t have page numbers? I would have thought that to be an automatic function in the design process. Is it somehow more expensive to have those page numbers? I am sorely confused.

Editors Joe Corallo and Molly Jackson gathered over 100 creators to create this anthology. There are huge names on the roster, such as Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Denny O’Neil, Trina Robbins, Amber Benson and Louise Simonson. There are lesser-known talents whose recent work I’ve enjoyed. The contributions discuss history and a great many current issues.

Micha Cruz kicked off the anthology with a nice summation of what Planned Parenthood does. Niki Smith’s “Epidemic” shows the lethal consequences of clinics being shut down. Glenn Greenberg and Nick Guarracino celebrate the everyday heroism of the Planned Parenthood providers. Devin Grayson and Eugenia Koumaki focus on often-crazy misinformation kids share with one another. Neil Gaiman’s moving prose describing a real-life event is made all the more poignant by Mark Wheatly’s illustrations. Kelsey Hercs and Jessi Jordan team to present a vignette that spans the decades. Those six examples were chosen pretty much at random. There’s so much incredible content in this anthology that it would take two columns just to list all the creators and their works.

Mine! is my pick of the week. It’s an anthology to be cherished for the insights it provides as much as for its great comics. I suggest reading several contributions a day, the better to appreciate the works and take in their messages. I’m thinking this book could win an Eisner Award. It surely deserves one.

ISBN 978-1-939888-65-5

******************************

Bettie Page

Bettie Page #6-8 [Dynamite; $3.99 each] wraps up the first series of her title with an absolutely delightful adventure involving an artifact from beyond our planet. Writer David Avallone’s handle on Bettie is equally delightful. She’s capable, feisty and crazy quick on her feet and with her brain. She has few inhibitions, but like her real-life counterpart, this Bettie is truly the girl next door with a strong moral fiber. This three-issue story makes use of all of that and includes terrific supporting characters and villains.

Visually, the Joseph Michael Linsner covers are simply beautiful. I like the Scott Chantler alternate covers as well, but Linsner’s Bettie are the stuff of dreams.

Interior artists Esau Figuera and Matt Gaudio tell the story well. The depiction of Bettie is as glamorous as her classic photos and pin-ups. Page remains the queen of pin-up art and photography and continues to inspire modern practitioners of that craft.

Bettie Page Vol. 1 [$17.99] is scheduled to be released in May of this year. From the ordering information on Amazon, it doesn’t seem to include all eight issues. I’m hoping that’s in error because I’d love to have the entire first series in one volume. Almost as much as I’m hoping for a second Bettie Page series in the near future. I’ve got it bad for that gorgeous dame.

ISBN 978-1524106447

******************************

Ant Wars

One of the all-time greatest giant monster movies is Them! [1954]. Spawned by atomic bomb tests, giant ants arise from underground and begin preying on humans. The film has exciting monster moments and moving human stories. I loved it as a kid and I still love it as an adult. It has held up all these decades since its initial release. I still watch it about once a year.

 

Ant Wars [Rebellion; $12.04] also has giant ants. That 15-chapter serial originally appeared in the weekly 2000 AD #71-85 [from July 1 to October 7, 1978]. Written by Gerry Finley-Day with art by Jose Luis Ferrer and others, these enormous bugs hail from the Brazilian forest. Experimental pesticides designed to kill more common ants instead increased their size in monstrous fashion. This serial was classic 2000 AD weird adventure. I’d seen a chapter here and there, but this is the first time I’ve read it from start to finish. It’s an exciting story.

You’ve got an army captain, the only member of his unit to survive their first encounter with the ants, teaming with a “semi-civilized Indian” called Anteater. Because ants are a delicacy for his people and he likes to munch down on normal ants. This horrifies the army captain, but he knows he has a better chance of escaping the jungle to warn the authorities with Anteater at his side. The death toll is high, the killings are brutal and there’s no guarantee mankind comes out on top. Neither the writing nor the art is likely to win any awards, but this serial was a solid piece of work.

Ant Wars also contains “Zancudo” by Simon Spurrier with artist Cam Kennedy. From Judge Dredd Megazine #231-233 [circa 2005]. It’s not nearly as entertaining as “Ant Wars,” replacing the giant ants with giant mosquitos. It’s so-so at best. Take comfort in knowing “Ant Wars” alone makes this collection a excellent buy.

ISBN 978-1-78108-622-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

TONY’S TIPS #250

March and April should be relatively leisurely months for me with only a few appearance on my schedule. In March, outside of speaking to elementary school students in my native Cleveland, my only other appearance will be as part of the “Coffee and Comics” workshops created by the Cleveland Public Library and the Ohio Center for the Book. These workshops are hosted by the Rising Star Coffee Roastery at the Hildebrant Building, 3617 Walton Avenue in Cleveland.

On Saturday, March 24, 10:00-11:30 am, I’ll be teaching a class on creating characters. I’m still working on the specifics, but it’s likely I’ll talk about Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce and share with the class my original character description of a character I introduced in Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands.

These workshops are open to all ages and skill levels. If you plan to attend, please bring sketch pads and drawing material. With my friend Jefferson looking over my shoulder, I hope to share some of what I’ve learned in my over 45 years in comics.

In April, my only scheduled event to date is the East Coast Comicon on April 27-29 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. I’ll more information on that for you next month.

Getting to this week’s reviews…

Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil Volume 12 [$75] is this week’s pick of the week because I am a cheeky monkey who should’ve disqualified himself from the decision-making on account of this cool hardcover book has a new introduction by me and reprints four of the five DD stories I wrote. Next thing you know I’ll deny that I colluded with the Skulls to influence the Eisner Awards.

This book has two introductions. The first is by me and the second is by my pal Marv Wolfman, who followed me on Daredevil. Collected herein are issues #120-132 [April 1975 to April 1976] and a spiffy assortment of Daredevil-related images and text pieces.

My issues were a four-part thriller in which Hydra reformed with abunch of super-villains heading up its various divisions and then kidnapped DD bestie Foggy Nelson, who was being recruited to join S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ruling council. It was a bigger-than-typical story for Daredevil, but that’s what I needed to accomplish three things: establish Foggy as a competent, respected district attorney, pound the final nails into the coffin that was the Daredevil/Black Widow romance and take out my growing frustration with living in New York by breaking several of the city’s landmarks. Since you already know I am hopelessly biased here, I’ll add that these stories are filled with action, human drama and even a few choice witticisms. But, to be honest, there are also things that make me wince.

This was my first time reading Marv’s stories since they were first published and they were different than I recollected. Oh, they are as good as I remembered, but they are also more super-hero fun than I remembered. They are the stories that introduced Bullseye and the Torpedo. In the case of the latter, there’s a powerful fight scene that forces Daredevil to look at himself differently than he ever had before. That’s my pal Marv setting a high bar.

With one exception, all of these issues were drawn by Bob Brown. I had loved Brown’s work since he followed Jack Kirby on Challengers of the Unknown at DC Comics…and you try to think of a tougher act to follow. I was thrilled to work with Brown and take advantage of his mastery of both action and emotion.

To sum up: two informative introductions, 13 thrilling stories and many pages of excellent extras. If you’re a fan of Daredevil or Marvel magic in general, you’ll want this book.

ISBN 978-1-302-90968-0

******************************

Ninja-K

Everything I thought I knew about Valiant’s Ninjak was wrong. Even his name is actually Ninja-K. That’s almost the mildest revelation to be found in Ninja-K #1-4 [$3.99 per issue]. More serious is that MI6 or, at least that part of MI6 that handles the Ninja agents, is more than a little dark and murderous, even when it comes to those we would consider friendly and innocent.

Writer Christos Gage delves into the origins of the Ninja program, which predates World War II. Colin King is Ninja-K. There have been ninja agents before him: Ninja-A, Ninja-B and so on. While trying to discover who has been murdering ninja agents, King learns very disturbing truths about his organization. The first issue sets the stage; subsequent issues also contain a back-up story featuring an early ninja agent. Both the flashback material and the contemporary story are fascinating. Besides being well-written, they have first-rate art by Tomas Giorello and Ariel Olivetti.

I am not generally a big fan of “evil government” stories because they’ve been overdone. I oppose bad government, but not the concept of government. Even so, I’m loving this Ninja-K story. It’s earned my recommendation. If you prefer to read your comics in collected editions, Ninja-K Volume 1: The Ninja Files [$9.99] will be published in May of this year. It will reprint the first five issues of the title.

ISBN 978-1682152591

******************************

USAvengers

Among the things I can never remember are how many different teams of Avengers and X-Men are being published by Marvel Comics at any given time. The X-Men seem to be color-coding their teams, but the colors don’t make much sense to me. Is X-Men Blue the team with all the sad mutants? Are the members of X-Men Gold wealthy? Are X-Men Red mutants always angry? I’m lost.

The just-cancelled U.S.Avengers didn’t make much more sense to me. It was an American-based team, which sounds like it could have been  a thing until I realized all of the Avengers teams are pretty much American-based. But I did enjoy the more, which was written by the usually very entertaining Al Ewing.

U.S.Avengers ended with issue #12, but Ewing and artist Paco Diaz went out in grand fashion. Missing team member Cannonball was stuck on a planet that was like an old-style Archie comic book brought to life. As a guy who loves old-style Archie comic books, I got a big kick out of this storyline. It was fun. It had action. Most of all, it had a satisfying ending. Thumbs up.

The entire U.S.Avengers run has been reprinted in two collections. They are worth checking out.

U.S.Avengers Vol. 1: American Intelligence Mechanics [$17.99]

ISBN 978-1302906412

U.S.Avengers Vol. 2: Cannonball Run [$17.99]

ISBN 978-1302906429

That’s all for this go-round, my friends. I’ll return next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #249

Welcome to the only month that’s a command. The Black Lightning TV series has finished filming on its first 13-episode season, but we still have another seven episodes to view on Tuesday nights until the season finale on April 17. The show is must-watch viewing for me and my family…and I’ve always looked at my readers as part of the family. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #5 should be in comics shops this Wednesday with the finale coming a month after that. Will there be more Black Lightning comic books written by yours truly? That kind of sort of depends on your letting DC Comics know you would like to see and, more importantly, buy more Black Lightning comic books by me. I’ll keep you posted.

Getting to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Bill Schelly’s Sense of Wonder: My Life in Comic Fandom–The Whole Story [North Atlantic Books; $19.95]. This is a greatly expanded version of the book he published in 2001. In this edition, Bill reveals his secret identity, telling his tale of growing up as a gay fan of comic books at a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness.

Considerable years ago, I started hearing from gay fans coming out. Sometimes, they came out to all. Sometimes, I was honored to be one of the few people they came out to. Two notions occurred to me when this started happening.

The first was that super-hero comics with their multitude of secret identities would speak to closeted gay men and women. Though Stan Lee and Jack Kirby may have created the X-Men as a costumed parable against bigotry, I think the mutants didn’t truly come into their own until fans started seeing them as a statement about being gay or different in modern society.

The second was that, though my taking public stands against bigotry and intolerance, I’d become someone fans felt they could trust. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I consider this both an honor and a responsibility I’ve never taken lightly. We are, gay or straight, stronger when we stand together.

Schelly’s book, already a wonderful story of his growing up in the comics fandom of the 1960s, now becomes more wonderful and, indeed, powerful when he adds all those more personal details of his life as a gay man. His original book stopped when he was 21. This book completes his biography to date.

Schelly is a leading comics historian. He has written definitive books on such legendary creators as Joe Kubert, Otto Binder, John Stanley and Harvey Kurtzman, winning an Eisner Award for that last one. In Sense of Wonder, the history he celebrates is his own. I’m thrilled by it and recommend to all comics fans.

ISBN 978-1623171513

******************************

Timely Confidential

For yet another personal comics history this week, I also recommend Timely Confidential: When the Golden Age of Comic Books Was Young by Allen Bellman with editing by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo and Audrey Parente [Bold Venture Press; $39.95]. My friend Allen is one of the few living Golden Age creators still with us and, if you have ever met him at a convention, you know he’s a natural showman with great stories to tell. It’s a shame he left comics when they came under fire in the 1950s. I think he would have brought something special to the comics I read as a young comics fan.

Working with noted comics historian Vassallo, Bellman holds forth on his love of drawing, his entry into the comics industry in the 1940s and his comics work of the 1950s. He talks about the grief of his first marriage and his journey back to a productive life as an artist and a glorious second marriage. In heartwarming fashion, he relates how he was discovered by comics fans and started attending comics conventions as a honored guest.

Besides Bellman’s autobiographical tales, this book also contains a wealth of rare photographs and comics art. A comics gallery has full-color reprints of five complete stories (crime and romance) he drew in the 1950s. I got a kick out of those old stories, almost as much as I got from Allen’s life stories. This is as entertaining a comics history as you’ll find.

ISBN 9781979903035

******************************

Comics Revue February

It always seems to take me by surprise, but the arrival of each new issue of Rick Norwood’s Comics Revue [$19.95] is always an event. Issue #381-382 [February 2018] cover-featured the newest addition to the Revue roster: Garth by Peter O’Donnell.

From Wikipedia:

Garth was a comic strip in the British Daily Mirror from July 24, 1943, to March 22, 1997. The strip belonged to the action-adventure genre and recounted the exploits of the title character, an immensely strong hero who battled various villains throughout the world and many different chronological eras.

The first chapter of “Warriors of Krull” sees Garth captured by an evil-but-beautiful queen who pits strong men against one another in battles to the death. While not as refined as O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, it’s still an exciting opening.

Written by Lee Falk and drawn by Wilson McCoy, this issue’s Phantom installment reprint material from 1958. It’s a riveting tale of the hero’s “good mark,” the one he bestows on worthy individuals with the promise they will always be under the Phantom’s protection.

My other favorites in the issue are the always funny Sir Bagby, a comic strip about knights and wizards by R&D Hackney; Stan Lynne’s hilarious Rick O’Shay story about a lawyer who, after successfully defending a horse thief, is paid for his service with the horse his client stole; and a Steve Canyon sports thriller by Milton Caniff involving college football.

Also in the issue: Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, Casey Ruggles, Gasoline Alley, Steve Roper, Alley Oop, Tarzan and Vietnam war action with Buz Sawyer. A terrific line-up in a terrific magazine. If you love classic newspaper comic strips, you’ll love Comics Revue.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #248

Marvel’s Black Panther has opened to critical acclaim and a boffo box-office that insures we’ll be seeing another Black Panther film at some point in the future. Between the Panther’s success and that of the Black Lightning and Luke Cage shows, I’m hoping we will see more heroes of color on the big and small screen. Off the top of my head, I’d watch movies or TV series of Ms. Marvel, Ironheart, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Static, Cyborg, Icon and Misty Knight. If I thought about it longer, I’m sure I’d be able to add several more names to that list.

I saw Black Panther the day after it opened. It had a large crowd for a Friday afternoon, especially considering it was playing on a number of screens in our local multi-plex. The film most definitely lived up to its advance buzz.

Black Panther is more than a super-hero movie. It’s a spectacle of startling proportions and an intense political thriller. Wakanda, the setting for most of the action, is breathtaking in its natural beauty and its technological wonder. This is the Wakanda created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a seamless merging of the country’s dual aspects.

The movie is just as exciting when the Panther tracks down stolen vibranium in South Korea. The choreography of the firefight in the casino and the chase scene that follows it is masterful.

Chadwick Boseman is transcendent as T’Challa, the new king charged with protecting his people’s safety and traditions while realizing they can no longer stand aloof from the rest of the world. He faces dangers from within and without his land.

Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is terrifying. His skill as an assassin is scary enough, but, added to his plan to make Wakanda a conqueror nation, he immediately moves to the forefront of Marvel movie villainy. That he’s not entirely wrong about some policies of Wakanda makes for some chilling moments.

There are many fine performances in the film, but I have to single out those of Martin Freeman and Letitia Wright. Freeman plays CIA agent Everett K. Ross and the interpretation is a vast improvement over the comic-book version of the character. Wright plays Shuri, the absolutely adorable and genius kid sister of T’Challa. I’d love to see Shuri recruited by the Avengers, if only to see her playing against Tony Stark.

I love Black Panther on several levels. I love its grandeur and its thoughtful approach to the issues facing Wakanda and the world. I love seeing so much of Lee, Kirby, Don McGregor, Rich Buckler and other comics creators in this movie. I love that it’s a different take on a Marvel super-hero film. I love the acting and the writing and the directing and every other creative and technological thing that went into the making of the movie.

Black Panther is my pick of the week. Is it too early for me to put in an order for the Blu-ray?

******************************

Lady Killer

Lady Killer 2 by Joëlle Jones and colorist Michelle Madsen [Dark Horse; $17.99] continues the “adventures” of Josie Schuller, a 60’s housewife and mother who moonlights as an assassin. The dark comedy gets darker this time around with Josie working for herself instead of the agency that formerly employed her. Some scenes of a younger Josie inform the woman she has become. Before the end of this gore-soaked sequel, Josie faces some alarming consequences. These were disturbing, but, ultimately, have me hoping Lady Killer 3 will be coming our way soon.

What hasn’t changed in this second volume is Josie’s uncanny sense of 1960s style. She makes me wish those fashions would come back. What also hasn’t changed is how good Jones is in her duel roles as writer and artist. This is a well-told story with gorgeous art and solid storytelling.

If you liked Lady Killer, you’ll like Lady Killer 2. It’s edge-of-your-seat comics with some surprising scenes. If you haven’t read Lady Killer, you should. It’s one of my favorite comics series of the new millennium.

Lady Killer ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-61655-757-7

Lady Killer 2 ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-50670-029-8

******************************

Spirits of Vengeance

On the recommendation of a critic who loved Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands and thus established his good taste, I read Spirits of Vengeance #1-5 [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. This unlikely teaming of the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, Blade, Damion Hellstorm and Satana is written by Victor Gischler, whose work I have enjoyed previously. Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll let you know up front that I enjoyed his work here as well.

There are some choice plot drivers in this story. The Covenant is an ancient diplomatic summit between an agent of Hell and an agent of Heaven to hash out any violations of their agreements that have been in place since the dawn of mankind. Then there’s a weapon made from the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus to the Romans, a weapon which could be a game-changer in that war between Heaven and Hell.

Gischler does a great job writing all the characters in this story: the good, the not-so-good, the not-so-bad and the bad. Artist David Baldeon does a good job with the “normal” scenes and great balls of fire with the supernatural stuff. Color artist Andrea Morra does a fine job tying it all together.

Spirits of Vengeance [$15.99], collecting all five issues, will be published in April. If you like Marvel’s supernatural characters, you’ll like this entertaining story.

ISBN 978-1302910518

******************************

Want to see me in March? I’m sticking close to my home in Medina, Ohio that month.

I’ll be appearing at Cleveland Concoction, a multiple fandom event that takes place March 9-11 at the Bertram Inn & Conference Center in Aurora, Ohio. The show prides itself on being “by the fans, for the fans” and also calls itself “Your fandom escape by the lake!” It should be great fun and, with three days of that fun, I should have all sorts of time to chat with and hang out with the fans who attend. I’d love to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with another batch of reviews and the news of where else I’ll be appearing in March.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #247

It’s mid-February as I write this column. We’re five episodes into the Black Lightning TV series and four issues into Black Lightning: Cold Dark Hands. I’m feeling great about both.

Black Lightning is a blessing. I feel blessed to be associated with the character and to be here today to see how much he means to the readers and the viewers. I feel blessed the people at DC Comics and the TV show have made this possible.

I love getting complements on “my” show and, yes, I do see a lot of myself in this series. But the vast majority of the credit for this show we love should go to Salim and Mara Brock Akil, the writers and the most incredible cast on TV.

Cress, China, Nafessa, Christine, Marvin, James, Damon and all the supporting players. I’m very proud of my creation, but, thanks to these actors, I feel like every Tuesday night is Christmas. What a special gift they give me and the legions of Black Lightning fans.

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands has been the best experience of my 45 years in the comics industry. Artist Clayton Henry knocks it out of the park with every page he draws. Yvel Guichet has come out of the bullpen to provide some fine relief drawing. Peter Pantazis’ coloring is the best my stories have ever had. Letterer Josh Reed makes my words look good. And I can’t say enough good things about editors Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards, who give me the very best notes I’ve ever received from editors. They don’t try to get me to tell their stories. They get me to tell my stories better. Indeed, every one who is involved in this six-issues series at any level is making me look real good.

Of course, Black Lightning isn’t the only thing I’m looking forward to this month. When I finish this week’s column, I’ll see Marvel’s Black Panther at the local movie house. Look for my review of that film next week.

As for this week…

If you’re interested in 1950s horror comics, Pre Code Classics: The Unseen Volume One [PS Artbooks; $49.99] collects issues #5-10 [June 1952-May 1953] of the Standard Comics title. A second Unseen volume reprints the remaining five issues.

One of the things that struck me about the stories in The Unseen is how many were as straightforward as you can get. A protagonist has their initial encounter with the supernatural. They are told what will happen, be it an attack or a curse of whatever, and then the story moves directly and quickly at that fate.

There are a few nicely bizarre tales in this collection. A pair of were-tigers. A man who turns into a giant flesh-eating caterpillar. A killer haunted by a smiling man. Bizarre or straightforward, the stories are entertaining.

Otto Binder is the only writer who is known to have written for The Unseen, but the artists have mostly been identified. The artistic roster includes such beloved creators as Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Alex Toth, Jerry Grandenetti, George Roussos, Jack Katz, Art Saaf, John Celardo and Mike Sekowsky.

Fans of 1950s horror comics will want Pre Code Classics: The Unseen Volume One for the collections. I’m a most casual reader of those comics, but I enjoyed this volume and look forward to reading the second one.

ISBN 978-1-78636-107-3

******************************

Swamp Thing Winter

Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 [DC Comics; $7.99] is a love letter and farewell to Swamp Thing creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. The first printing of this 80-page issue sold out and I’ve read a second printing is coming.

Leading off the issue is 40-page “The Talk of the Saints” by Tom King with artist Jason Fabok. It’s intriguing and lyrical, though perhaps a bit more complicated than it needed to be.

Filling out the issue is a tribute to Len Wein by DC editor Rebecca Taylor, which also serves to introduce Len’s final story. It was to have been the first chapter of a new Swamp Thing story by Len and artist Kelley Jones. Len plotted the tale, but did not complete the final script before his passing. DC presents the complete art for this first chapter along with Len’s plot.

I wish Len had scripting this story, but then, there could never be enough Len Wein writing for my taste. Len was a true wordsmith. He wrote poetically and movingly and descriptively. Of the writers who entered the field just before or at the same time I did, Len might well have been one of my greatest influences. His words set a bar that I constantly strive to come close to. And, though, the Kelley Jones art is Kelley all the way, there can be no mistaking the Wrightson influence in his work. Unfinished symphony or not, this is a tale that will remain with me. Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 is my pick of the week.

******************************

Luke Cage 169

I don’t normally review a comics title two weeks in a row, but Luke Cage #169 [Marvel; $3.99] was a knock-out. Writer David F. Walker finished his “Caged!” story arc in fine fashion. It had Luke being Luke in grand fashion: shaking off the Ringmaster’s mind control, reaffirming who he is, taking names, kicking butts, delivering fine action scenes with a dollop of humor.

One of my ongoing complaints about super-hero story arcs is that a great many of them have a great premise and start out wonderfully, only to crash and burn with an unsatisfying ending. This issue of Luke Cage delivers the kind of ending that leaves the readers with smiles on their faces. Well done. Very well done.

I’ll be back next week with another trio of reviews and a heads-up on where you can see me in March. Have a great week.

© 2018 Tony Isabella