TONY’S TIPS #285

Christmas and the other seasonal holidays are drawing close, which means I’m going into “this would make a great gift” mode for the next couple weeks of “Tony’s Tips!” Let’s start with three terrific items, every one of which would make a wonderful present for those beloved comics readers in your life and every one of which should be considered a pick of the week.

If it weren’t for assorted Black Lightning comic books written by me and the amazing Black Lightning TV series, Monsters Volume 1: The Marvel Monsterbus by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby [$100] would hands down be my favorite comics thing of the year. This is almost nine hundred pages of entertainment I love: comics stories by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby, and giant monsters. This is practically a holy book to me.

The brilliant art by Kirby on display in this book has never before been collected in a book like this. Even in the late 1950s and the earliest 1960s, no comics craftsman did work as exciting as Kirby. His sure-footed layouts and ability to make the outlandish look so real knocks me out. He is well served by inkers Dick Ayers, George Klein, Steve Ditko, Christopher Rule and others. The reproduction of these tales is nothing short of magnificent.

The stories are equally choice. You’ll see the initial appearances of characters who would play roles in the future Marvel Super-Hero Universe. Groot gets the cover, but there are also debuts of Zemnu the Titan; the living Colossus who, for a variety of weird reasons,  would one day be known as “It!”;, Doctor Droom/Druid and Gorgilla the Living Gargoyle. You’ll witness the emergence of the “outsider hero” trope of nerds and down-on-their-luck individuals who would informed the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe. You’ll enjoy how popular monsters were brought back for a second shot at our planet. And, for the total Marvel geeks among us, you’ll get a kick out of how names were re-purposed for Marvel super-heroes and villains: the afore-mentioned Colossus, the Molten Man-Thing, Diablo, the Living Pharaoh, the Hulk, Goliath, Elektro, the Scarecrow, Thorr, Vandoom, Magneto and the Sandman.

Award-nominated editor Cory Sedlmeier deserves kudos and awards for what he has created here. Besides putting together this great tome, he also includes a section featuring original art pages from some of these stories and the covers of later comic books reprinting some of them. I already know I’m going to reread this first volume from cover to cover and I’ll do the same with the second volume. These books are creations to cherish.

Monsters Volume 1 ($100)

ISBN 978-1-302-90861-4

Monsters Volume 2 ($100)

ISBN 978-1-302-90862-1

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Crosswind

I think I’m developing a thing for female assassins. Over at Dark Horse, Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s Lady Killer is a favorite. I find the darker aspects of Marvel’s Black Widow intriguing. And now I’m wild for Juniper Elanore Blue, who is described as a smart but downtrodden Seattle housewife. Juniper is one of the two lead protagonists of Crosswind Volume One by Gail Simone and Cat Staggs [Image; $9.99].

The other protagonist is Cason Ray Bennett, described as a slick, ruthless Chicago hitman. The thing is…Juniper and Cason are now living in each other’s bodies, cursed to this change of life by a mysterious old man. Cason as Juniper and Juniper as Cason makes for an entertaining and harrowing adventure.

Cason is targeted by the mobsters he works for. Juniper is dealing with her cheating husband and a stepson who won’t accept her as his mother. Everyone around the two disparate individuals is wondering what the heck’s going on. This is brilliant writing with expressive art that delivers a satisfying explanation for what’s happening and a satisfying conclusion to this first six-issue arc. I’m 100% ready for the second volume and I hope it’s not long in coming.

Side note. This is one of the most respectful treatment of a male to female (and female to male) body switch I’ve read. Simone did her homework on this and sought counsel from members of the trans community. There’s one of the reasons I’ll read any comic book she writes.

Additional side note. Crosswind is being developed for television by Vanessa Piazza, an executive producer on the TV shows Lost Girl and Dark Matter. If it makes it on air, I’ll be there.

ISBN 978-1-53343-0474-1

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WGSH Holiday Special

This last item is more of a stocking stuff, provided you can bear to roll it up to stick it in a stocking. Available only at WalMart, the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes Holiday Special #1 [DC; $4.99] is a hundred pages of seasonal adventures with some of your favorite DC Comics characters.

The special leads off with an all-new Flash story by Scott Lobdell with art by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund. You’ll see many members of the Rogues Gallery in this tale with several great moments for Captain Cold. The other stories in the issue are reprints of tales from earlier DC holiday specials. The best of these are a Superman story by Dan Jurgens and Jackson Guice that always me makes me tear up a little every time I read it; and a Batman/Alfred tale by Tom King and David Finch. Other featured characters include Supergirl, Batwoman, Harley Quinn and Green Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. I’m a fan of these 100-page giants and this special might be the best one yet.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next time with more holiday gift suggestions. Whatever holidays you celebrate – and whose gonna stop you from celebrating all of them – my wish is that this time of the year be filled with joy for all my readers.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #284

The Great American Comic Convention held a moving Stan Lee tribute on Sunday, November 19. The speakers included Tom DeFalco, Allen Bellman, Alex Saviuk, Ron Wilson, Randy Emberlin, Wendy and Richard Pini and others. I was happy to be at the tribute and participate in it. The crystal clear truth of Stan’s life is that he will never be forgotten. He will be remembered for his characters, stories and all he brought to the comics industry. In that spirit, I thought I would use this week’s column to talk about some of my favorite Stan Lee stories.

Many of these stories owe a great deal to Stan’s collaborators, be they artists like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or writers like Larry Lieber. This makes them no less Stan Lee stories. He was the light at the beginning of the tunnel and our guide on so many thrilling journeys. He will be forever honored for this.

Topping this too-short list is “Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!” [Fantastic Four Annual #1; 1963] by Lee, Kirby and Dick Ayers. At 37 pages of a desperate Fantastic Four defending New York from an invading Atlantean army, it was the most epic comics story I’d ever read at that time. The Four dealt with injuries and what seemed to be overwhelming odds. Namor was villain and tragic hero within the same story. The personalities of the characters were well crafted and somehow more real than the DC heroes and villains of the era. Add multiple bonus pages that introduced the FF’s world to me and the reprinting of the team’s origin and its first meeting with the Amazing Spider-Man. No wonder this comic book above all the others I’d read inspired me to want to write comics myself. It was, as I have noted elsewhere, a pivotal moment in my life.

I could write an entire column on my favorite Fantastic Four tales. I was bowled over by the Thing/Hulk battle (with key appearances by the Avengers) that ran in issues #25-26 [April-May 1964]. I would not be able to name many runs of a series that surpass issues #36-53 [March 1965-August 1966] with the introduction of the Frightful Four, the defeat of the Fantastic Four by their evil counterparts, our powerless heroes teaming with Daredevil to battle Doctor Doom in their Baxter Building headquarters, another battle with the evil FF, the introduction of the Inhumans, the Galactus trilogy, “This Man, This Monster!” (one of the finest examinations of heroism and redemption in comics history) and the first appearance of Marvel’s first black super-hero, the Black Panther.

I have the same problem with Spider-Man, which featured countless classic stories by Stan, Ditko, John Romita and other great comics artists. Heck, I’d have the same problem with just about every one of the early Marvel super-hero titles.

Spider-Man’s origin is one of the best in comics, featuring as it did the line that sums up the essence of the super-hero genre for me: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” Then there’s Amazing Spider-Man #33 [February 1966} where Spidey is trapped beneath an impossibly large hunk of machinery with the life of Aunt May on the line. Moving into the Romita era, I was thrilled by “The Petrified Tablet Saga” than ran from issue #68 through #77 [January-October 1969].

Tales of Suspense 69

So many great super-hero stories. The audacious Avengers yarn where the founders left the team to a roster that consisted of Captain America and three reformed villains. The X-Men’s first meeting with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Giant-Man battling the Human Top. Sub-Mariner’s quest in Tales to Astonish. Iron Man’s battle with the Titanium Man. The introduction of the Falcon. Daredevil trying to prevent the much more powerful Sub-Mariner from harming innocent New Yorkers. Those glorious double-sized issues of Silver Surfer, drawn by the legendary John Buscema. Thor. Incredible Hulk. Doctor Strange. Stan and his collaborators took the super-hero genre to places no previous creators had taken it.

I came to Stan’s other comics writing after I’d been hooked by the Marvel super-heroes. Giant monsters always fascinated me as a kid and still do so today. I think the classic pre-hero giant monster story is “Fin Fang Foom!” from Strange Tales #89 [October 1961 by Stan, Larry and Jack. Set in Taiwan and Communist China, the hero is the scholarly nerd we saw in many of these stories. Ridiculed by his father and his serving-in-the-army brother for not also being a solider, he uses his knowledge of mythology to awaken the ancient dragon of the title and trick him into destroying the Communist military forces ready to invade Taiwan…and then he tricks Fin Fang Foom back into his centuries-old slumber. Nerds often rule in these giant monster thrillers.

The Lee-Ditko “surprise ending” tales are also favorites of mine. Just five pages long and yet so many of them are unforgettable. I’m especially fond of “The Terror of Tim Boo Ba!” from Amazing Adult  Fantasy #9 [February 1962]. Tim Boo Ba is the supreme ruler of his planet until he is wiped from existence by a flash flood. It turns out his planet is part of a small scale model and the flood is the splash of water spilled on the model by a young boy. That blew my mind as a kid.

Sgt. Fury 18

Stan’s work on Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes was impressive. Though more pulp adventure than the war stories editor/writer Bob Kanigher was publishing over at DC Comics, they had their frequent moments of unforgettable human drama. The last page of issue #18 [May 1965] haunts me to this day. Having gotten up the courage to ask Pamela Hawley to marry him, Fury learns that she died rescuing others in a bombing attack and that her last words on this planet were “Tell my wonderful American sergeant how much I love him.” If you think that page has lost its impact over half a century later, guess again. I had tears in my eyes as I wrote this paragraph.

One more. A short story from Rawhide Kid #18 [October, 1960]. “A Legend is Born!” is one of my favorite Lee/Kirby collaborations.  In five masterful pages, Stan and Jack show their understanding of human nature, delivering action and one of the best “punch lines” ever.

The Kid is trying to have a peaceful meal when a bully, not knowing the identity of the young man, tries to push the Kid around.  Five panels is all it takes for Rawhide to show that bully and everyone else in the bar the folly of such behavior.

Rawhide escapes before the sheriff arrives.  The witnesses proceed to describe the Kid to the lawman.  They claim he was a giant with four guns the size of cannons and fists the size of sledgehammers. They say his voice was like the growl of a caged lion.  The sheriff is thrilled to have such a good description.

The last panel captions make the story…

For the record: The Rawhide Kid had an unusually low, mild voice! He was five feet, three inches, in his stocking feet, and had never in his life weighed more than one hundred and twenty-five pounds! His hands were normal size, a mite on the small side, maybe, and he carried no more than two regulation Colt .45’s!

 But human nature is what it is, and men will always color what they say!  That is why none of the records really agree about the Rawhide Kid – that is how legends are born!

This week’s column barely shows the top of the iceberg of terrific Stan Lee stories I have read since I first discovered Marvel Comics in the summer of 1963. I hope I wrote about some of your favorites this week. I know you have your own favorites. If you have your own column or blog, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, please share your favorites with the rest of us.

Stan truly loved his fans and he gave us a plethora of reasons to love him right back. We will never forget him. Excelsior!

I’ll be back next week with some holiday gift suggestions. Or, as we usually refer to them, some reviews of cool comics and related items. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #283

Stan Lee passed away on Monday. When I learned of his passing, this is what I posted on social media:

Stan Lee. He was an inspiration, a mentor and a friend. I don’t have the words at this time to express how much he meant to me and how much he will always mean to me. Thank you, Stan.

Almost immediately after I posted that, Cleveland19 News asked me if I could rush to the station to appear on their five o’clock news program and talk about Stan for a few minutes. I dug around in my closet hoping that at least one of my suits was good to go, drove to downtown Cleveland while my cell phone blew up with condolences from fans, fellow comics pros and friends (Don’t worry, I didn’t look at any of them while driving.) and got to the station in time for the live broadcast. Doubtless because I learned much of my own speaking style and ability to think on my feet from Stan, I managed to find the words I needed when I needed them.

By the time I got home, there was an email from Mike Sangiacomo of The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer asking if we could talk about Stan for a piece he was writing. Mike’s a friend and fellow comics writer. We talked for several minutes.

There were other calls, emails, requests and texts. I still haven’t responded to all of them. I even missed a call from my local paper – The [Medina] Gazette – though they were able to quote me from my online post and previous interviews they had done with me. By the time Monday turned into Tuesday, I was spent. Out of gas. Not even running on steam. Spent.

I’m writing this on Wednesday. I got a good night’s sleep and had a chance to think about what I wanted to share about Stan. Forgive me if what follows is random. It’s because Stan meant so much to me in so many ways.

Fantastic Four Annual 1

When I say Stan was “an inspiration,” what I really mean is that he was my inspiration for wanting to write comic books. It was July, 1963. On a family vacation. I bought Fantastic Four Annual #1. To this day, I consider it the greatest comic book ever published. It featured the great “Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!” It included dozens of fact pages about the heroes and their foes. It reprinted the origin of the team and their first meeting with Spider-Man. It opened me to an entire universe of great characters, creators and stories. Most importantly of all, it made me realize that creating comic books was a job and it was a job I wanted.

I learned to read and write from the comic books before I was four years old. Adults in my family would read them to me before that. I wanted to cut out the middleman. I fell in love with this means of telling stories. Oh, I read a whole lot of prose books as well, but the comics were special to me. As a slightly older youngster, I would act out my own adventures of the Challengers of the Unknown or the Justice League of America using my Louis Marx and Company toy soldiers. I always felt bad about designating one such soldier as Wonder Woman. Today, as an adult, I would applaud her courage in being her true self.

I discovered the Marvel Universe at a time when I might well have moved on from comics. Stan and his artistic co-creators made their world so exciting that I was hooked on comics as never before.

In his letters pages, Bullpen pages, “Stan’s Soapbox” and even in the stories themselves, Stan included the readers in this amazing new world. We wanted to be part of it, either by joining the Merry Marvel Marching Society or, in the case of future comics creators like me, by working on those glorious comic books.

Secrets Behind Comics

I found a copy of Secrets Behind the Comics by Stan Lee at a comics convention. That 1947 booklet became my Bible. I even used its awkward two-column format for writing scripts in my first attempts at same. I wrote stories for countless fanzines. I was training myself to write for Marvel Comics.

When I was hired to assist Stan on The Mighty World of Marvel and other produced in New York and published in England weekly comics, he became my mentor and teacher. I learned so much from him about writing, about salesmanship, about showmanship and more. There was never a moment when I felt he took the fans for granted. He loved them and always wanted to do right by them.

The two most important lessons that Stan Lee taught a generation of comics writers were these:

With great power, there must also come great responsibility.

There is good and evil in all men.

That first nine-word quote sums up the essence of the super-hero genre. Whether those heroes live up to it or not, it is the always  goal their better selves reach for.

The second eight-word quote is just as important. It gave license to creators to write about super-heroes who were flawed, sometimes tragically so, and super-villains who were more than their crimes. Without this lesson, I don’t think I would have written all those redemption stories I’ve written over the years. In a sense, this is also a lesson of hope.

In real life, I often consider both quotes. I try to live up to the responsibilities of the public forums I enjoy. With less success, I try to consider the good in people I might otherwise loathe with every fiber of my being. Even those who have done me grievous wrong in my career have done good turns for others.

Stan Lee was the most transformative creator and figure in comics. Every writer who followed him was inspired by him in one manner or another. Some will dispute that statement of mine. I suspect that, I can refute their claims for virtually any writer they claim was not influenced by Stan.

Come back next week for the second part of my tribute to Stan Lee wherein I talk about some of my favorite Stan Lee stories. I think some of the stories on my list will surprise you.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #282

The 2018 convention season is winding down for me. This weekend, I will be at the always wonderful Grand Rapids Comic-Con in Michigan. This is my fourth time attending the event and it’s one of my all-time favorite conventions. Check out the show’s website for a list of all the great guests and programming.

On the following weekend, I’ll be wrapping up my 2018 appearance schedule as a guest at the Great American Comics Convention in Las Vegas. This will be my first time at a Las Vegas convention and, to make it even cooler, my Saintly Wife Barb will be attending it with me. I’ll have more details for you next week, but, at present, I’m scheduled to appear on the morning news program of the Las Vegas CW affiliate next Friday.

After these two cons, I get to stay home for two solid months and actually write stuff. My goal is to finish the two books I’ve been writing and continue developing the brand-new super-hero universe I’ve created. I have no idea how I’m going to bring this universe to the marketplace, but I’m having a grand time creating characters and concepts for it.

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to start thinking about spiffy holiday gifts for your loved ones. I have some suggestions for you this week. Let’s get started.

Barbara Slate sent me a signed copy of You Can Do a Graphic Novel: Comic Books, Webcomics and Strips [Richard Minsky; $34.95 hardcover and $24.95 paperback]. This is a new version of her 2014 You Can Do a Graphic Novel. I treasure this book both for Barbara’s friendship and because it contains terrific tips for even overly-seasoned pros like myself. At a time when there are a great many platforms for making comics and sharing them with an audience, Slate’s book will be helpful for all those comics readers who have been inspired by the comics they read to create their own works.

Slate writes about getting started making comics and then moves on to story, plot, art, creating character, writing, layout and even the dreaded creative block. It’s easy-to-understand advice that, at all times, also encourages creators to find their own style and be their best creative self. In addition to Slate’s teachings, You Can Do a Graphic Novel also includes informative information from pros like Tom DeFalco, Rick Parker, June Brigman, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Trina Robbins, Hildy Mesnik, Ray Billingsley, Danny Fingeroth, Mary Fleener, Dan Parent, Jerry Craft, Dean Haspiel and several others.

If I were teaching a class on creating comics, You Can Do a Graphic Novel would be required reading. It’s a book that will make a fine gift for any young person who wants to make comics. It’s a book I would put in the public or school library. It’s a book that’s not on my wish list, but only because I’m the first kid on my block to already have a copy of it. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-0-937258-08-8

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Resident Alien

One of my favorite comic-book series will be coming to an end far too soon to suit me. Resident Alien: An Alien in New York by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse [Dark Horse Books; $14.99] is the fifth and penultimate volume in the story of an alien stranded on Earth and posing as a doctor in Patience, Washington.

Doctor Harry Venderspeigle is beloved by his patients, almost none of which know he is a visitor from another planet who shipwrecked on our world. While he waits for a rescue that may never come, he  provides medical care for his patients and solves murders and other mysteries. The federal government knows there is an alien on Earth and, with each new story, is getting close to finding Harry. Each mini-series to date has delivered a satisfying story while moving the overall story further.

In An Alien in New York, Harry discovers alien symbols in New York street graffiti and travels to the Big Apple to see if they might lead him home. Traveling to such a large city is difficult for the doctor because the greater number of people make it more difficult for him to maintain the human image he projects. It’s a risk that he has to take.

The writing and art on this series is consistently excellent with co-creators Hogan (script) and Parkhouse (art) producing intriguing  stories with real drama. Parkhouse is a master of depicting emotion and Hogan’s scripts give him many opportunities to showcase that mastery. I’ve read every issue to date and then re-read them just to marvel at their talents.

I love the series so much I’m buying all of the trade paperbacks. If you’re a lover of mysteries or down-to-earth science fiction, I think you’ll enjoy this series as much as I do. If anyone on your holiday gift list likes these things, well, you know the drill. The books would also be great for public and school libraries.

If you’re a comics shop owner, expect interest in Resident Alien to go up soon. The Syfy channel has placed a pilot order for Resident Alien. Production on the pilot started in October with the popular  Alan Tudyk as Harry. I’m excited.

Resident Alien Volume 1: Welcome to Earth!

ISBN 978-1616550172

Resident Alien Volume 2: The Suicide Blonde

ISBN 978-1616554422

Resident Alien Volume 3: The Sam Hain Mystery

ISBN 978-1616557782

Resident Alien Volume 4: The Man with No Name

ISBN 978-1506701530

Resident Alien Volume 5: An Alien in New York

ISBN 978-1506705651

This outstanding series concludes with Resident Alien Volume Six: Your Ride’s Here. While I’ll miss the series, I’m looking forward to seeing how Hogan and Parkhouse bring it home.

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Thirty Minutes Over Oregon

My last suggestion isn’t comics, but a fascinating look at a bit of World War II history seldom discussed. Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Melissa Iwai [Clarion Books; $17.99] is the tale of Japanese pilot Nobuo Fujita who, several months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, flew two bombing missions over the United States. Nobleman is best known in comics circles for writing non-fiction picture books about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, and Bill Finger, the long-unsung co-creator of Batman. Iwai is the artist of many award-winning picture books.

Thirty Minutes covers Fujita’s military service and continues on to describe the remarkable series of events that led to him becoming an honorary citizen of the very town he tried and failed to bomb. It’s a tale of atonement and redemption, as well as a model of how even former memories can put aside their past animosity and come together in friendship.

Though the book is aimed at school children in grades one through four, I found it to be entertaining and informative. Indeed, this incredible story would make an excellent movie. It might not reach the box-office success of Crazy Rich Asians, but I think it would find an appreciative audience. I’d go see that movie.

ISBN 978-0-544-43076-1

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #281

If you have been an exceptionally good child this year, then maybe Santa Claus or your other preferred holiday icon will bring you a copy of the Batman ’66 Omnibus [DC Comics; $125] for Christmas. The reindeer won’t much like this because this handsome hardcover book weighs six pounds, but, hey, I don’t see where they have a lot of room to complain, what with their working only one night a year and all. They must have a great union. That I had to purchase my own copy of this tremendous tome probably tells you more than I’d like about my own place on the naughty/nice scale.

The 966-page omnibus collects Batman ’66 #1-30 and Batman ’66: The Lost Episode #1 plus the story behind Harlan Ellison’s outline for that last comics. Ellison wrote a treatment for the TV series back in the day, but it was never produced. Len Wein took that treatment and adapted it into a comics story drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It’s one of the best stories in a book filled with great stories.

Mostly written by Jeff Parker, these Batman ‘66 adventures capture the spirit of the Batman television series. Parker and the artists laugh with the series and not at it. They tell dozens of enjoyable stories that are suitable for all ages. Taking advantage of the comics format, some of these tales introduce villains that weren’t yet created or weren’t yet prominent enough to have appeared on the TV show. We get Batman and Robin’s first meetings with Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, Croc, Harley Quinn and others. We also get stories featuring the TV series villains from the most popular – Catwoman, Joker, Penguin, Riddler – to more obscure foes like the Bookworm, Marsha Queen of Diamonds, Louie the Lilac and others.

The book also includes guest writers like the deservedly legendary Mike W. Barr, who spins a great Penguin yarn. Artistic contributors include Michael Allred, Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Joelle Jones and many others. Since each story is complete unto itself, you can read one or two every day when you need a break from the more grim comic books of today.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It would make a wondrous gift for any Batman or comics reader on your holiday shopping list.  It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-4012-8328-5

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Grainiliers

I’m always on the lookout for interesting and new-to-me manga. My latest “find” was Graineliers Vol. 1 by Rihito Takarai [Yen Press; $13]. Though the creator is known for his yaoi manga, this series isn’t overtly yaoi. It’s a science fantasy of sorts, set in a world where plants and their seeds have unusual powers. The Graineliers who develop and grow these plants are the driving force behind the economies and social structures of this world.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term yaoi, it’s a genre of fiction, originating in Japan, that features romantic relationships between its male characters. However, unless there are developments coming in subsequent volumes, Graineliers doesn’t seem to fall precisely into this genre.

Luca illegally cultivates and sells rare seeds. This is a serious crime in his world that can result in imprisonment. When the “cops” come a’calling, Luca thinks they are after him. But they are after his father. Luca’s dad orders his son to flee. Luca escapes with a handful of rare and very powerful seeds, one of which he ingests. Which is a thing that happens in his world and usually with fairly dire consequences.

Luca ends up in a coma and, when he awakes, he’s Swamp Thing. No, not really, but he’s no longer quite human, no longer needs food to survive (just water) and may have powers of his own. With his best friend, he’s conscripted into service with a prominent Grainelier. Luca is fascinated by the man’s legendary skills, but there’s also a risk of his new nature being discovered.

I like the world of the Graineliers and the suspense of Luca’s new life. This first volume came out in December of last year with the second volume published in March of this year. I enjoyed the first volume enough that I want to read the second.

Graineliers is recommended to fans who enjoy the variety of genres to be found in manga. These days, I read almost as much manga as I do our traditional American comic books and graphic novels from all over the world.

Graineliers Volume 1 ($13):

ISBN 978-0-3164-1291-9

Graineliers Volume 2 ($13):

ISBN 978-0-3164-1599-6

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Skyward

Image Comics is also justly praised for the wide variety of comics stories it presents. Skyward Volume 1: My Low-G Life by writer Joe Henderson, artist Lee Garbett and colorist Antonio Fabela [$9.99] takes place in a world where gravity suddenly weakens to the point where people and objects fly into the sky to be lost forever. It’s a world where storms float above the ground in huge masses and pose a deadly threat to anyone who enters one. It’s a frightening world, but Henderson and company go beyond the horror to show us the more matter-of-fact life of their new world.

Courier Willa Fowler is trying to find her way in this new world. She lost her mother on G-Day. Her father hasn’t left his home since that day. Dad has secrets. One of the most powerful men on Earth, a former associate of Willa’s father, wants those secrets. Willa is caught in an intrigue she had no idea existed.

Skyward has humanity and horror in equal doses. Henderson’s writing and character play is first-rate, as I might have expected from the showrunner of the great Lucifer TV series. Garbett’s art is sheer wonderment. Fabela’s colors accentuate the humanity and the wonder  well. I’m really loving this series.

Skyward is recommend to comics readers, especially those who like stories starring interesting female protagonists. This is a great time to be a comics fan.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0833-6

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I’ve got three conventions back-to-back this month:

November 3-4: Akron (Ohio) Comicon.

November 9-11: Grand Rapids (Michigan) Comic-Con

November 17-18: Great American Comics Convention (Las Vegas)

These will be my final conventions of the year. If you’re in any of these fine cities on these weekends, I hope you’ll try to come by and see me and the other guests.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #280

For nearly half a century, Halloween has been a special day for me and not just for the obvious reason that it’s, you know, Halloween. I cherish the day/night for more than costumes and candy, tricks and treats, scary and silly. You see…

It was on Halloween of 1972 that, wearing my future comics legend costume, I walked into the Marvel Comics offices for my first day as an honest-to-gosh comics professional. I had been hired by Roy Thomas to assist Stan Lee and Sol Brodsky with the British comics weeklies Marvel was producing in New York and publishing in Great Britain. I can’t remember exactly which issue of The Mighty World of Marvel was my first, but I know it was the start of a career in comics that had somehow lasted 46 years and counting.

I do remember Don McGregor was the first person to greet me while I waited for Roy Thomas to come into the office. He had heard that I was in the reception area and came out to say “hi” to someone he only knew from my letters to Marvel and other comics publishers. He brought me back to the office I would share with Sol, Pablo Marcos, George Roussos and others.

My “desk” was a drawing table with a manual typewriter on it. Next to it was a two-drawer artist’s desk. The first job I did that day was putting together a letters column, which involved rewriting the less than erudite letters we had received from our partners across the pond and writing answers for them. Roy looked the letters page over, made a few changes and told me I’d done a good job on it. I don’t think he ever asked to look at anything else I wrote for the British weeklies.

It was one of the best days of my life. This despite Jim Steranko slapping me on the back of my head and telling me he was going to get me fired. It was some stupid fanzine stuff that didn’t amount to a can of beans. He couldn’t get me fired.

A bit later, I would reprint a Steranko story in one of the black-and-white magazines I edited and even had a cover painting by him on another. We’re friends today. Though we’re on opposite sides of just about any political discussion you can think of, we share an intense love of comics and a desire to see the comics creators of the past remembered and honored.

Halloween is my Marvel Day. I should probably wear a Marvel costume this year. Chubby Wolverine is usually a hit.

On to this week’s reviews…

Every year, MAD Magazine brings us a new parody of some children’s classic. This time around, we get Don’t Let the Penguin Drive the Batmobile! by Jacob Lambert with pictures by Tom Richmond [$14.99]. It’s a hilarious send-up of Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, the first of five Pigeon books by Willems.

The premise: Batman is busy fighting crime elsewhere. It falls to the readers to keep an eye on the Batmobile. The Penguin wants to drive the Batmobile. He really really really wants to drive it and, really, who wouldn’t?

This hardcover passes my personal test for great MAD parodies. It’s funny even if you haven’t read the book it parodies. I laughed out loud at its ending.

Don’t Let the Penguin Drive the Batmobile! would make an excellent Christmas gift for a young reader who loves Batman or for an older reader who loves Batman. I’m buying at least two more copies of it for the former and haven’t ruled it out for some older friends. It may be a fairly quick read at 40 pages, but its excellence makes it my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-4012-7724-6

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Superman Isn't Jewish

Another DC Comics icon is referenced in Superman isn’t Jewish by  Jimmy Bemon with art by Emilie Boudet [Humanoids; $14.95]. In this graphic novel, young Benjamin equates being Jewish with Superman because the creators of Superman were Jewish. His religious father bolsters this belief with Benjamin happily accepts right up to the moment that he realizes being Jewish makes him “different” from his uncircumcised classmates. Then his being Jewish becomes his secret identity.

Ben doesn’t want to be Jewish. His mother is Catholic and, when she and his father divorce, he goes with her. Torn between his worlds, Ben wants to determine his own identity but can’t ignore what he’s inherited from his dad. His is a personal story within the larger story of Interfaith unions.

Superman Isn’t Jewish is a serious graphic novel, but it still has considerable humor. So many of us live lives in which we are torn between different aspects of our past and present lives. Bemon and Boudet examine this universal condition with poignancy.

As a bonus, this graphic novel includes secret family recipes from the creator’s Sephardic Jewish side and an exclusive link to watch the award-winning film adaptation of the graphic novel. I like this graphic novel a lot and recommend it to you and as a possible gift for comics friends with an expansive interest in the most vibrant art form of them all.

ISBN 978-1-59465-598-2

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Back Issue 108

Talk about great timing. Just as the forthcoming Aquaman is getting all sorts of buzz – I’ve been asked about it frequently by friends and neighbors who aren’t into comic books per see – Back Issue #108 [TwoMorrows; $8.95] presents a special Aquaman issue with a great cover by Eric Shanower.

Editor Michael Eury has pulled together an exciting compilation of articles and art on the Sea King. He himself writes a fine piece on Aquaman’s Bronze Age team-ups. In “The Greatest Stories Never Told” feature, we learn the intended tale for Aquaman #57 and the three different times it was reincarnated by writer Steve Skeates. There are articles on Aquaman merchandise, Black Manta, the post-Crisis Aquaman, Aqualad/Tempest, The Atlantis Chronicles and more. I was especially enamored of John Schwirian’s coverage of obscure indy super-hero Seadragon and Eury’s look at the animated Aquaman movie that never was.

It’s another great magazine from TwoMorrows. If you’re looking for a gift for a comics-reading friend, you should definitely consider a subscription to Back Issue or the Roy-Thomas edited Alter Ego. I love them both.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #279

Black Lightning Season Two kicked off on Tuesday, October 9, with an electrifying episode written by Salim Akil. My family and I were on the edge of our seats as scene after scene unfolded with crazy surprises. I had to take deep breaths during the commercial breaks and still felt exhausted by the end of the episode. I know you’re all going to think I’m a wee bit biased, but this is the best show on TV. Bar none. Great acting, writing and direction and an amazing level of dedication and talent behind the scenes. I’m so proud to be associated with this series, even distantly.

There was additional excitement for Clan Isabella that night. Our local CW station did an interview with me about why I created Black Lightning. The five-minute piece ran during their news broadcast at 7:30 pm and again at 10:30 pm. Though it proved my conjecture that I have a face for radio, I was very happy with the piece. Kudos to journalist Dan Deroos.

During one of the “what coming next” mentions of the interview, the news anchor referred to me as a “visionary.” Every one in the room burst into laughter. However, calling upon my visionary powers, I can confidently predict we will now leave my patting myself on the back and get on with this week’s reviews.

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DC and Walmart had a treat waiting for me when I visited my local Medina store to pick up some Halloween candy and other supplies for that spooky holiday. Swamp Thing Halloween Horror Giant #1 [$4.99] presents a hundred pages of monsters and mayhem, including a brand-new Swamp Thing story by Brian Azzarello and artist Greg Capullo. The 12-page tale has eerie visuals and seems to be setting up some major developments for the DCU, but, alas, the writing is lacking in clarity. Fortunately, the rest of the giant is filled with some very cool reprints.

The Enchantress and Blue Devil team for a funny little vignette by Dan DiDio with artists Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund. Paul Dini teams with artist Dustin Nguyen for a Zatanna solo story. Superman stars in a story by Steve Niles and Dean Ormston. Writer Mikey Way and artist Mateus relate a very different Batman and the Scarecrow tale. New to me was a longer, absolutely stunning Aquaman and the Demon adventure by J. Michael Straczynski and artist Jesus Saiz; it  was as chilling as its deep sea setting.

Halloween-themed reprints don’t get much more classic than “Night of the Reaper” by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Harlan Ellison and Bernie Wrightson. Then, just to top things off, we get the original (non-series) Swamp Thing story by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. If I have a complaint about this giant, it’s the lack of a text page explaining just how special these stories were.

There’s no comics shop near Casa Isabella, so my trips to Walmart to look for these new DC giants is as close as I can come to that experience. I like the giants because I think they can bring us new readers and because, just taken as they are, they are a very good value for their cost. I recommend them.

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Spook 1

If the Swamp Thing Giant was a Halloween treat, Pre-Code Classics: Spook Tales of Suspense & Mystery Volume One [PS Artbooks; $44.99] is a trick. Granted, it’s an interesting trick, but not what I was expecting from this hardcover collection.

Some background: Spook was published by Star Publications for nine issues from January 1953 to October 1954. It began with issue #22 [January 1953], which continued the numbering of several cancelled series: Criminals on the Run, Crime Fighting Detective and Shock Detective Cases. Although the cover of #22 carries the title Spook Detective Cases, the indicia lists Spook as the title.

The cover of that first issue is by L.B. Cole. The cover was new. Every interior story is reprinted from crime comics of 1946-1950. The one exception and the only story with a supernatural element is a Sergeant Spook story from a 1946 issue of Blue Bolt. The police officer was a ghost who could only be seen by psychics like his kid sidekick Jerry.

This volume reprints Spook #22-26 [January-October 1953]. There are some new horror stories by Jay Disbrow, a reprint of a Jungle Lil adventure and another Sergeant Spook yarn. Except for those tales, the other reprints are all crime stories, some of them rewritten. The standout among these is “The Kill-Crazy Monster” with garishly fun art by Rudy Palais. It’s a reprint from  Murder Incorporated #2 [March 1948].

Though disappointed by the contents, I don’t regret purchasing this book. I am fascinated by the low-rent horror comics of the 1950s, even those from the least of the comics publishers. If you share my interest in such material, you’ll want to at least read this first of two Spook volumes. I’m reading the second one at the moment and may have more to say about the title soon.

ISBN 978-1-78636-142-4

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Solution Squad

If you think math is scary, Jim McClain’s Solution Squad [$24.99] fits right into our Halloween theme this week. On the other hand, if you’re as jazzed as I am by a super-hero team that fights crime while teaching math concepts, then your only fear would probably be a pop quiz on the subject.

McClain is a teacher who creates fun and educational comics. The Solution Squad are young heroes whose names and powers are based on math concepts. They are “white hat” heroes who work well together. While the math is aimed at students in grades four through eight, the adventures and fact pages contained within this 146-page volume are fun for readers young and old.

The book starts with a brief tutorial on how to read comics. It’s informative and painless. Then we get a series of exciting stories featuring smart super-heroes, clever villains and surreptitiously teaching lessons on problem solving, prime numbers and more. There are “Who’s Who” pin-ups that relate everything a reader would need to know about the heroes, their foes and their world.

McClain, working with over a dozen terrific artists, created this series, writes the stories, letters them, designs everything that goes into this hardcover book and is its co-editor. Since I know what it takes to be a great teacher, I’m astonished McClain is able to accomplish that while producing these comics stories. He is an amazing individual and a credit to comics and his profession. Yeah, I’m gushing. He deserves it.

Jim McClain’s Solution Squad is my pick of the week. In addition to the hardcover edition, the book is also available in paperback. I recommend Solution Squad to comic-book fans, students and teachers.

Hardcover [$24.99]

ISBN 978-0-9989-4231-3

Paperback [$19.99]

ISBN  978-0-9989-4250-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #278

I had an amazing time at the Baltimore Comic*Con the weekend before last. It was a well-run convention with over a hundred guests from comics and other media. There were dozens of vendors, some offering huge discounts on their wares. The event’s volunteers were always helpful. The cosplay was terrific and, most important of all, the fans were among the nicest I’ve met at a convention. I sold almost every book I brought, signed over a hundred Isabella-written comic books, and saw dear friends I haven’t seen in decades.

Baltimore Comic*Con gets my recommendation. Mark your calenders for next year’s event, which is scheduled for October 18-20. Tell them Tony sent you.

The next convention appearance for me will be the Syracuse NY Comic Con on Saturday, October 13, from 11 am to 7 pm at the Center of Progress Building, 581 State Fair Boulevard in Syracuse. Among the other guests are Brian Johnson and Mike Zapcik from AMC’s Comic Book Men; actors and voice actors Kirby Morrow, J.G. Hertzler and Dana Synder; and comics creators Steve Geiger, Tom Peyer, Charles Barnett III, Mike Garland, Ken Wheaton and Joe Orsak. I’m looking forward to this event.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

Die Kitty Die: Hollywood or Bust by Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz [Chapterhouse Publishing; $24.99] is the second collection of Kitty comic books. It was published last October, but somehow escaped my notice until recently. Let me offer some brief background on this character.

Kitty Ravencraft is a witch and the star of some of the bestselling comic books of all time. When we met her in the first volume, she was down on her luck. Her comics sales were in the toilet and her sleazy publisher was looking to kill her and use the publicity to launch a new Kitty comic book with a new character taking over the title role. He didn’t succeed, but Kitty’s new comic turned out to be another major hit.

This time around, Hollywood has come a’knocking for the film rights to Kitty’s comics. Her sleazy publisher is still trying to kill her and have someone else play her in the movie. That someone is Forest Whitaker, which gives you an idea how much crazy fun is to be had in this 128-page volume.

Parent and Ruiz mock various comics characters, classic sitcoms and more. There are “reprints” of some of Kitty’s older comics stories. There are gorgeous pin-ups. There are terrific guest artists like J. Bone, Gisele Lagace, and Bill Golliher. And, on the main Kitty stories, we get inks by Rich Koslowski and colors by Glenn Whitmore and Anwar Hanano.

I recommend Die Kitty Die: Hollywood or Bust to older readers who will appreciate the parodies. Even if you’re not an older reader, I think you’ll enjoy this book. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-988-24726-7

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Hey Kids Comics

Howard Chaykin. He’s been one of the most interesting creators in comics for decades. Though I haven’t loved everything he has done in those decades, his name on a project means I’m going to buy it. There aren’t many creators who share that honor.

Chaykin’s Hey Kids! Comics! #1-2 [Image; $3.99 per issue] is kind of sort of a history of the American comic-book industry. The names have been changed, mostly because its characters are not meant to be precise counterparts to the creators and editors who inspired them. The anecdotes/stories, set in the years 1945, 1955, 1965 and 2001, are based on events and people in our real world comics biz. The two issues published to date are fascinating.

I take some comics history with a grain of salt. If a researcher, for example, was not in the room when the history went down, their version of the events can be hearsay or one-sided. My eyes tend to roll when such historians claim a certainty that doesn’t logically exist. Let me give you a quick example.

There is a story about a prominent comics artist whose editor did not give him a check for completed work in a timely – no relation to Timely Comics – fashion. The story would have the creator dangle the editor out a window or merely threaten to do so. I have heard this clearly exaggerated tale attributed to three different editors and at least as many creators. I don’t know if this apocryphal tale will show up in a future issue of Hey Kids! Comics!.

On the other hand, Chaykin’s story about the comics editor who gave his freelancers a list of Christmas gifts he wanted is one I have heard from more than one of those freelancers. All of whom named the same man. I can’t say the story is 100% true because I wasn’t in the room, but I believe it happened.

Chaykin doesn’t disappoint with the opening issues of Hey Kids! His art, dialogue and storytelling are all first-rate. The large cast of characters is sometimes difficult to follow, but that just gives me an excuse to reread all the previous issues as newer ones are published. Though it’s not likely, I would love to have annotations or other notes included with the inevitable collection. Then again, part of the fun is trying to figure out which real-life characters inspired Chaykin’s cast of creators.

I recommend Hey Kids! Comics! to Chaykin fans, comics history buffs and readers who enjoy stories that demand a more from them. The series is rated “M” for “Mature”.

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i am neil armstrong

I am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos [Dial Books; $14.99] is the latest book in their New York Times bestselling Ordinary People Change the World series for children. Intended for readers 5-8, the 40-page hardcover includes a four-page fold-out of the view from space enjoyed by Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.

As with their other books in this series, Meltzer and Eliopoulos do a fine job relating history in a lively manner. Though created for children, this book will delight older readers for its charm, its good humor and the quality of its writing and art. Any of the books in this series would make a wonderful gift for a young reader or an older one. It earns my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-0-7352-2872-6

That’s all for now. I’ll have more reviews and news of my November convention appearances next week.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #277

Flaming River Con was held on Saturday, September 22, at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, Ohio. This was the first LGBTQ comics convention in the Midwest. I was not a guest of the convention, but attended to show my support for the comics and the gay community. The name “Flaming River” stems from the time the Cuyahoga River caught on fire.

This was a terrific event. Though I could only stay for a few hours – I had a binge-watching date with my daughter Kelly – I met Sina Grace, writer of Marvel’s Iceman; caught up with my Sam Maronie, my friend of many decades; and met Sam’s husband Kevin. I hope this is just the first of many such conventions to come.

When I tell people that right now is the real Golden Age of Comics and that I’m enjoying comic books more right now than I ever have in a lifetime of enjoying comic books, one of the reasons I cite is the new characters and voices coming into our art form. Despite the relatively few “on the wrong side of history” naysayers, readers are embracing the diversity represented by creators who bring their own stories to their super-hero and other comics works. Inclusion. It’s making comics better than ever.

By the way, Kelly and I binge-watched the last few episodes of The Flash. I’ve been somewhat so-so about the past season, but anything that gets me more Ralph Dibny (as played by Hartley Sawyer) is fine by me. On to this week’s reviews…

Hercules

Hercules: Adventures of the Man-God Archive [Dark Horse; $49.99] collects all thirteen issues of the 1967-1969 series published by Charlton Comics. The stories were written by Joe Gill and Sergius O’Shaughnessy (aka Dennis O’Neil). The artist was the legendary Sam J. Glanzman. The title’s editors were Pat Masulli, Dick Giordano and Sal Gentile.

Charlton paid the lowest rates and printed on the cheapest paper in the comics industry. It has been reported they published comics to keep the overall company’s presses running 24/7. This combination of factors meant generally mediocre comic books, but didn’t prevent the publication of gems like Hercules.

Hercules was a sanitized version of the mythological legend, which was not surprising given the era and the then-powerful Comics Code Authority. Thus, Hercules was said to be the son of Zeus from that god’s previous marriage and the sins that led Herc to undertake his twelve labors were never described. Both Gill and O’Neil played a bit fast and loose with other aspects of the myths, but they still got most of the key points right.

Glanzman’s art was heroic and rugged where it needed to be heroic and rugged, but he could also draw in a more whimsical and almost psychedelic style when the story called for that. Between the art and dialogue that often reflected the 1960s, Hercules was perfectly acceptable to the readers of that era. I confess I laughed out loud when an exasperated Ares says to the vindictive Hera, “Gee, ma, I hate that kid!”

Hercules: Adventures of the Man-God Archive is my pick of the week. It would be a great gift to yourself or to the comics fans in your life. My sponsors here at InStock Trades are currently offering an excellent discount on the volume. Go for it!

ISBN 978-1-50670-788-4

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Border Town

Border Town #1 [DC/Vertigo; $3.99] is fun. Yeah, I know that will sound strange to those of you familiar with the comic. I mean, it starts with racists planning to murder Mexicans crossing the border into Arizona and ups the stakes with a demon slaughtering one and all. Mexicans and racists alike. As I read further into the issue, there was more racists and demons and blood-letting. If that’s not hilarity, what is?

Seriously, writer Eric M. Esquivel has crafted a solid opening to a series about a border town. It’s not just on the border of Mexico and Arizona; it’s also on the border of our world and some sort of monster dimension.

It’s the first day at a new high school for Frank. He makes a few new friends, gets attacked by one of those new friends, makes other new friends, fights one of his old new friends and then everyone is attacked by monsters who appear as whatever they fear most. For one young child, that happens to be Bane from Batman comics and movies. This is satire that has much to say about the state of our nation as empowered racists try to slow their inevitable sweeping into the dustbin of history. It’s fun with purpose.

Major props to Esquivel, artist Ramon Villalobos and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. They’ve done a fine job here. I’m in for the long haul on this scary good new series.

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Casper's Ghostland

Casper’s Ghostland #1 [American Mythology Productions; $3.99] marks the 100th issue of the title. There were 98 issues in the original run (1958-1979) with a one-shot in 1992. There are two new stories and several pages of short reprint gags and stories. The main cover for the issue and the interior art for the new stories are by Eric Shanower. Very nice work.

In Mike Wolfer’s “From Bad to Curse,” Casper visits Hot Stuff (the Little Devil) in the Enchanted Forest where he is startled to hear all the animals cussing. Even Hot Stuff, no stranger to that kind of language, is surprised. The source of the rude language and the solution to the cussing epidemic are clever components of the tale. While definitely reminiscent of the old Casper stories, this one is much more contemporary. Not to worry, the cussing is represented by that comic-book standby, “@#&!#@” and similar phrasing.

In Pat Shand’s “Blow Off Some Scream,” Casper tries to help Spooky when the Tuff Little Ghost has a falling out with girlfriend Pearl. As with Wolfer’s story, this adds some contemporary touches to the classic characters.

These are followed by a selection of one-to-three-page reprint gag stories staring Nightmare, Wendy the Good Little Witch and Spooky. All are pleasant fun.

Casper is a great character and this is a perfectly readable comic book. Yet I think American Mythology could do a lot more with the friendly ghost. Without losing any of the charm or inventiveness I associated with Casper as a young reader, they could make him even more contemporary. We live in a world as strange, sometimes scarily so, as the Enchanted Forest. Maybe I should take a swing at Casper or a character like him soon.

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #276

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands (DC Comics; $16.99) should be in your friendly comic shops and other fine bookstores within a week or two. I know this because I received my comp copies. This trade paperback collects all six-issues of my critically-acclaimed six-issue series wherein I kind of sort of rebooted Black Lightning for a new generation. The series was magnificently drawn by the great Clayton Henry (with some pages drawn by Yvel Guichet), colored by Pete Pantazis, lettered by Josh Reed and edited by Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards. Due in no small part to the talent of the above, I consider this to be the best work I have ever done in my nearly half-century comics career.

There are those who would again reduce Black Lightning, DC’s most iconic black super-hero, to a Batman sidekick. My take on that is that my creation is a headliner, both in the comic books and in the spectacular TV series on the CW. Always forward is what I want for Jefferson Pierce. If you feel the same way, I urge you to buy this trade collection. Indeed, consider buying multiple copies to give to your family, friends, public and school libraries. Show DC that you want more of my Black Lightning. I assure you there is nothing that would please me more than writing new Black Lightning stories until they pry my…ahem…cold dead hands from my keyboard.

In addition to the Cold Dead Hands issues, this volume has a never-before-published afterword by yours truly and a page of character sketches by Henry and Guichet. Uncharacteristic modesty prevents me from deeming this my pick of the week, but I do think it’s one of the best super-hero comics of the year.

ISBN 978-1-4012-7515-0

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Complete Cosmo

My actual pick of the week is The Complete Cosmo the Merry Martian [Archie Comics; $10.99], this despite the fact that nothing after page 165 of this collection is within light years of being as grand as the material before page 165. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Complete Cosmo is a dream come true. Cosmo was one of my favorite comic books when I was a kid. Writer Sy Reit and artist Bob White captured both my heart and imagination with their clever tales of a brave young Martian, his not-so-brave sidekick and the many odd friends they make on their travels through the solar system. The six issues of the original run were filled with action, humor and even some pretty solid science information. Every story had a panel or two teaching readers about the solar system and doing so in such a way that the knowledge fit smoothly into the tales. I was crushed when it disappeared from the newsstands after the sixth issue. It wasn’t until years later I learned it had disappeared because there was never a seventh issue.

The book also collects a “Good Guys of the Galaxy” tale from Archie #655 (Cosmo is one of those good guys), three short stories from a trio of Archie digests that use Cosmo in one way or another and the first issue of a recent Cosmo mini-series that relaunched the hero for modern readers. All of these stories are well-intentioned. None of them is terrible. Not one of them is as exciting and charming as the original series. Which is a shame. Because Cosmo remains one of the best comic-book series of the late-1950s “Space Age.”

My original copies of that original Cosmo series are well-read and even more well-worn. I’m delighted to have all those stories in a single volume. It’s a great collection and one I’ll be buying some additional copies of to share with comics friends. I recommend it as highly as I recommend Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands.

ISBN 978-1-68255-895-9

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FTL

Iron Circus Comics sent me an advance review copy of its FTL, Y’All [$30], a 336-page comics anthology wherein very talented newcomers tell stories spun off from an intriguing “what if” query. What if faster-than-light travel was suddenly and fairly cheaply available to all?

These “tales from the age of the $200 warp drive” are exciting in concept and include action, dread, humor, humanity and the burning question of where we are going. Not every one is a gem, but all are worth your attention.

Some of the gems are: “Cabbage Island” by Mulele Jarvis; “Space to Grow” by N.N. Chan; “Story of a Rescue” by Nathaniel Wilson; “Solitary” by David Andry and Paul Schultz; “The Senior Project” by Maia Kobabe; and “My Stars and Garters” by Ainsley Seago. There are 21 stories in this anthology.

Just one naysaying note. Clarity is lacking in a couple of stories. Sometimes it’s because the drawing is too cluttered. Sometimes it’s because the lettering is of the scribbled variety. I can’t address the art, but I can say that even newcomers should go to lettering fonts if their hand-lettering isn’t lacking. There is absolutely no art or honor in making your work hard to read.

FTL, Y’All will be available at the end of October. It could make a pretty great gift for the science-fiction friend or family member in your life. Think about it.

ISBN 978-1-9458-2020-5

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Rx

Rx by Rachel Lindsay [Grand Central; $28] is an unflinching graphic memoir of the cartoonist’s struggle with her bipolar disorder. If you deal with any mental illness of your own or with that of family members or friends, this work will kick you in the feels more than once. Take it slow if you must, but read this book. It’s a shining example of what we can do with comics.

Lindsay needs a job to have healthcare coverage. She gets one at an ad agency where she develops ads for an antidepressant drug. It’s a position that makes it impossible for her to avoid thinking about her illness and difficult to avoid being overwhelmed by everything around her. It’s a heartbreaking situation with no “happy ending” beyond her determination to fight her illness and make a good life for herself. Her missteps and triumphs combine to make for a great work of comics art. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1-4555-9854-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella