TONY’S TIPS #275

I’m back from a whirlwind week in Los Angeles where I hung out with dear old friends like Maggie Thompson and Mark Evanier; shopped at the amazing Galco’s Soda Pop Stop; visited DC Comics and talked about possible future projects; had lunch at a Thai restaurant with Elliot S! Maggin, Ken Penders and Larry Houston; saw BlackkKlansman (which I recommend highly); had lunch at the Magic Castle; went to Long Beach for dinner with my goddaughter Vanessa; and attended a memorial party for my friend and sometimes mentor Harlan Ellison. If I started dropping names of the amazing people who were at the party, there wouldn’t be room for the comic-book reviews this week.

The DC Comics and Looney Tunes mash-ups have been weird wonderful fun. Lex Luthor/Porky Pig #1 [$4.99] is no exception. Written by Mark Russell, whose The Flintstones was one of my favorite comics in recent memory with art by Brad Walker (pencils), Andrew Hennessy (inks) and Andrew Dalhouse, the lead story gives us a Porky who was an huge success in the crypto currency business until he crashed and burned. Hired by Lex to run his company’s social media efforts, Porky doesn’t realize Luthor’s platform exists to steal information from users. That will cost him.

Russell also takes some shots at pharmaceutical companies who raise their rates on life-saving drugs. The greedy CEOs? Doctor Sivana and Professor Ivo.

The second shorter story is “Lex’s Next Appointment” and is told in a more traditional animated style by writer Jim Fanning, penciller John Loter and inker/colorist Paul J. Lopez. Porky is an office supplier salesman calling on LexCorp. Hilarity ensures.

Lex Luthor/Porky Pig is my pick of the week. Look for it wherever marvelously insane comic books are found.

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Punisher 1

Marvel has published a new The Punisher #1 [$4.99], though if you look closely at the brand box in the upper left corner, you’ll see it is also [Legacy] #229. As the handy “what has gone before” title and credits page informs us after relating Frank Castle’s origin, the Punisher was duped by the evil Steve Rogers during the absurd “Secret Empire” event and now seeks revenge on Hydra for his butt-hurt feelings. Oh, yeah, and he no longer has the War Machine armor he was flying around in before this new first issue.

Matt Rosenberg, a good writer, is the writer of this new “World War Frank” story arc. It is drawn by Szymon Kudranski with colors by Antonio Fabela. I don’t consider the Punisher a hero, but wanted to like this first chapter more than I did.

Castle is portrayed as a silent killer throughout the issue. Which takes away something important to him and other Marvel characters. They have personalities.

The storytelling is less than adequate to the story. The action is not clear. The faces of the villains are not dissimilar enough to make their identities clear. Baron Zemo’s mask distinguishes him; the Mandarin just looks like another guy and, for that matter, not too different from Tony Stark, who also appears. The issue does deliver what could be a major development, assuming it isn’t undone before the end of the arc.

I’ve been a fan of Hydra since they were introduced, as witness my being about the only Marvel writer using them in the mid-1970s. So I applaud seeing some of those groovy green outfits. Still, I will need to see something better than this first issue to become truly invested in Castle’s war against Hydra. I’ll keep reading in hope of seeing that, but I can’t honestly recommend this series to you at this point. Buyer beware.

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Leviathan

As the pastor of the First Church of Godzilla on Facebook, there’s no way I would pass on Leviathan #1 by John Layman and Nick Pitarra [Image; $3.99]. Kaiju terror comes to the big city when things get out of hand at a party and the partygoers seem to summon a dragon of biblical proportions.

Protagonist Ryan Deluca, the host of the party is on a beer run, at the time. His apartment building and his girlfriend Vee Monroe is in the path of the creature. His rescue of her takes an unexpected turn, even as the United States and its Japanese allies prepare to unleash some specialized weaponry against the monster.

Layman has long been one of my favorite writers. Pitarra is a fine artist. Colorist Michael Garland knocks it out of the park with his hues. However…I’m going to take a “wait and see” position on this series. There is good stuff in this inaugural issue, but the story hasn’t quite come together yet.

Kaiju completists like me will want this issue, but I’m not ready to recommend it to non-believers. I’ll keep reading and revisit the title in a few months.

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My next convention appearance will be at the Baltimore Comic*Con, Friday through Sunday, September 28-30, at The Baltimore Convention Center. The media guests are Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory) and Zachary Levi (Shazam!). This will be Levi’s only North American signing event in 2018 and your only chance to meet him.

The comics guest list is amazing. The event has literally dozens upon dozens of name creators from Art Adams to Mike Zeck. This is my first time at the convention and I’m already wondering how I’ll find the name to chat even briefly with my many friends who are on the guest list.

One old friend I know I’ll be chatting with is Bob Greenberger, my former editor on DC’s Star Trek. He’ll be moderating Sunday’s “Tony Isabella Spotlight” presentation in rooms 347-348 from 1:30 to 2:30 pm. I’ll also be spending as much time as possible at my table, so please, if you’re coming to the convention, come and say “hi.” I’ll be happy to sign your Isabella-written stuff for a nominal fee or sell you Isabella-written stuff I have on hand or just answer your questions on this and that.

If you can’t attend the Baltimore Comic*Con, don’t fret. I will be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #274

When I was a youngster, Batman was my favorite super-hero.  It was the George Reeves Superman on TV that introduced me to the genre, but, once I started buying comic books, it was the Caped Crusader all the way.

Before I decided I wanted to write comics, I wanted to be Batman. Even if my parents were not wealthy and hadn’t been gunned down in an alley, I figured that, with dedication and work, I could be the Batman.

I was even training myself. I had this shoe box containing weather maps I’d clipped from the newspapers and envelopes filled with dirt samples from around our neighborhood. If the bully down the street committed a crime and left dirt behind, I would be able to prove it came from his yard. I don’t know what happened to that crime-lab in a shoe box. I’d like to think it’ll turn up someday and completely confound whoever finds it.

When Batman debuted on TV, I was insulted by the series playing my hero for laughs. But I still watched every episode and went to the  movie that came out that summer. It was only in the past decade or so that I came to appreciate that the series is fun and, in so many ways, faithful to Batman and his comic-book mythos.

 Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) reunited three of the original cast members of the TV show: Adam West, Burt Ward and the always glorious Julie Newmar. The animated feature was directed by Rick Morales from a screenplay by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker. With a deliciously cold Pepsi Wild Cherry, a big bowl of popcorn, and my cat Simba showing a mild interest whenever Newmar spoke, I was ready to be entertained and even delighted.

From the Internet Movie Database summary:

Batman and Robin spring into action when Gotham City is threatened by Penguin, The Joker, Riddler and Catwoman. This time, the four super villains have combined their wicked talents to hatch a plot so nefarious that the Dynamic Duo really have their hands full.

So it’s a kind of sort of the sequel to the 1966 live-action movie.

There’s even a nod to movie Catwoman Lee Meriwether and alternate TV Catwoman Eartha Kitt when a drugged Batman sees three different Catwomen. As if that were a bad thing.

The villains steal a “diabolical” replica gun that creates endless counterparts of anything, including human beings. Batman and Robin capture the three male villains, but, as a result of the drug that he was exposed to, Batman becomes a super-control-freak. He makes countless duplicates of himself and pretty much takes over Gotham City, firing Commissioner Gordon, Chief O’Hara, the mayor, a judge and so on. He becomes more brutal and seems likely to start killing people if this continues. A reluctant Robin teams up with Catwoman, who was betrayed and nearly killed by the other villains, to try to set Batman to rights.

Return of the Caped Crusaders is a split-personality movie. For the first half of the movie, it’s almost a beat-by-beat episode of the TV series without the wink-wink charm of the original. The second half gets surprisingly and uncomfortably dark.

The voice-action is pretty good, but it takes West and Ward a few scenes to get back into the rhythm of their former roles. Newmar is amazing from the start. The other performers are okay, but I can’t say there are any stand-outs among them.

The bottom line? Keep your expectations on the low side and you’ll enjoy this movie. It’s fun. It has crazy sound effects. It has over a dozen other Bat-villains making appearances. It has all sorts of “in” jokes, enough that I’m going to watch the movie again to see if I can catch them all the second time around.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was worth the ten bucks that I paid for it and the time I spent watching it. I recommend to all Bat-fans who have come to terms with the 1960s TV series.

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Batman Two Face

Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) is a better animated feature than Return of the Caped Crusaders. West, Ward and Newmar all return. We get a major bonus in William Shatner as Harvey Dent/Two-Face and a cool  cameo by Lee Meriwether as prison psychiatrist Lucilee Diamond. We also get Professor Hugo Strange [Jim Ward] and Dr. Quinzel [Sirena Irwin]. Director Morales and writers Jelenic and Tucker also return for this movie. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent is mutilated in a laboratory accident. When the duplicitous Two-Face embarks on a crime spree, Batman and Robin must solve the mystery of his identity while facing off against several other foes.

Strange has invented a device to extract evil from criminals like the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin. When the experiment takes a bad turn, Dent is exposed to the essence of evil or whatever you want to call it and becomes Two-Face. Obviously, the cartoon opted to forgo the more grisly Two-Face origin from the comic books and other versions. This also allows for other people to experience the same transformation.

Dent is arrested, sentenced, cured, rehabilitated and, incredibly, allowed to be an assistant district attorney. Robin/Dick Grayson is not buying it, which causes a rift between Batman and his partner. This is well played.

Even better played is the jailhouse romance of Batman and Catwoman. It’s corny. It’s sweet. It fits the 1960s demeanor of this feature. Alas, this movie is the last time we’ll know the joy of hearing the Batman voiced by West. He is missed.

Batman Vs. Two-Face is a big fun in 72 minutes. Watch it closely. You’ll see nods to all sorts of geeky things. There are even scenes lifted from Silver Age comic books. It’s my pick of the week.

One before we call it a column. From Amazon, you can now get both Batman vs. Two-Face and Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders for around ten bucks in a two-film collection. Both animated films are also available on Amazon Prime.

I’m on my way to Los Angeles for several days, but I’ll return next week with more reviews. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #273

In this, the true Golden Age of Comics, our favorite super-heroes can appear in endless variations and in any number of storytelling platforms from the traditional comic book to cartoons, movies, TV shows, video games and prose novels. When the creators of these new stories adhere to the core values of these characters, the results can be entertaining and meaningful.

DC Comics characters have been appearing in a series of young adult novels written by established authors in the field. A while back [Tony’s Tips #259], I reviewed Batman: Nightcrawler by Marie Lu. I said it was “a page-turning thriller,” recommending it to “fans who cherish a more realistic,  sane hero than usually seen in the comic books and movies.”

This week, I’m reviewing Catwoman: Soulstealer by #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Sarah J. Mass [Random House; $18.99]. It’s even better than the Batman novel.

This novel features an alternate version of Catwoman. Running with a violent girl gang to provide for her sister Maggie, Selina trades her relative freedom to join the League of Assassins. The League’s end of the deal is to get Maggie into a good foster home where she can receive treatment for her multiple sclerosis.

Years later, having created the new identity of wealthy socialite Holly Vanderhees, Selina has returned to Gotham to launch a series of daring robberies targeting the city’s richest citizens. With the Bat away on an extended mission, this cat will be playing with Luke Fox aka Batwing. In this re-imagination, Selina is a contemporary of Luke’s and also suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder. She from her days fighting for the pleasure of gangster Don Falcone and his cronies, he from his service in the Middle East.

There are lots of familiar names in this novel. Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn. The Joker. Several of the deadliest assassins the League has to offer, assassins sent to find Selina, recover something she has stolen from the League and, the name of their group kind of being a dead giveaway, kill her as brutally as possible.

Like the Batman novel, this one is a page-turning thriller. There is action. There is emotion, sometimes revealing itself in the most unexpected ways. There is heroism and sacrifice in a situation that is more grey than outright dark, even though things to get fairly dark on occasion.

I love Catwoman: Soulstealer, and even though I also love the two other books I’m reviewing this week, this novel is my pick of the week. It’s a different kind of Catwoman story, but it’s one of the best. I recommend it to one and all.

ISBN 978-0-399-54969-4

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Tokyo Tarareba Girls

Having finished reading two of my all-time favorite manga series – Assassination Classroom and Princess Jellyfish – I have been on the hunt for new (or new to me) manga that delight me as much as those series did. In my quest, I came across Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume One by Akiko Higashimura [Kodansha Comics; $12.99]. Higashimura is the creator of Princess Jellyfish.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is a comedy aimed at young women in their late teens or somewhat older young women who have entered the job market and making their own way in the world. Clearly I don’t fit squarely into that demographic, but Higashimura is a skilled creator with a fun sense of humor. His work speaks to me.

Our heroine is Rinko, a 33-year-old writer of romance teleplays who has never been married. Her career has gotten a little shaky, her love life is non-existent. Her leisure time is spend drinking with  Kaori and Koyuki, her best friends since high school. On one such night, their loud complaints about men and their situations annoy a handsome man in the bar. He tells them they are “what if” women, constantly bitching about what might have been instead of trying to change their lives. Rinko vows to get married by the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

Rinko’s path crosses that of the handsome man at her job. It’s not a pleasant coincidence. But, even as Rinko takes some hits at work, the reader can’t help but hope to gets everything she wants out of life. I know I’m rooting for her.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is a seven-book series. I’m in for their whole ride. There has also been a ten-episode TV series, but I won’t seek that out until I finish reading the manga.

If you’re into manga beyond the usual battle, horror, or science-fiction tales, I think you’ll enjoy Tokyo Tarareba Girls.

ISBN 978-1-63236-685-6

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Guardians of the Louuve

For several years now, NBM’s ComicsLit imprint has been publishing  an extraordinary series of original graphic novels in collaboration with the Louvre museum in Paris. The graphic novels are crafted by comics artists from around the world, each creating a story based on the museum and its many astonishing collections. Some of these are more fantastic than others. I have been reading these graphic novels as fast as my local library system can get them to me.

Guardians of the Louvre by acclaimed manga artist Jiro Taniguchi [NBM; $24.99] is a hauntingly beautiful tale of a Japanese artist who comes to Paris, intending to visit all the great museums in the capital. He comes down with a fever and lies bedridden in a hotel room in a foreign-to-him land where he doesn’t speak the language.

He gets the Louvre and gets lost in the huge crowds of visitors to the landmark. But, perhaps in delirium, he finds himself guided by the Winged Victory of Samothrace and having conversations with a succession of famous painters whose works hang in the museum. The conversations seem to take place in other places and other times, but the experience reflect the artist’s own struggle with a great loss in his own life.

Some of the Louvre graphic novels are out of print. I would love to see NBM collect them all in an omnibus edition. I’d happily spend well over a hundred dollars for such an edition. In the meantime, I urge you seek out Guardians of the Louvre and the other graphic novels in this series.

ISBN 978-1-68112-034-8

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My next convention appearance is the second annual Hall of Heroes Comic Con, Saturday and Sunday, September 8-9, in downtown Elkhart, Indiana. Sponsored by the Hall of Heroes Museum, this looks like a fun event with plenty of comics and media guests, presentations, gaming and cosplay. I hope to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #272

I was delighted to see Back Issue #107 [TwoMorrows; $8.95] devoted its September 2018 issue to Archie Comics. Not the modern versions that, as regular readers of this column know, leave me cold. Nope. Editor Michael Eury’s topic for this latest issue is “From the groovy ‘70s through the big ‘80s, Archie Comics in the Bronze Age!” The issue went immediately to the top of my reading pile.

Although Archie Comics didn’t always get credit for its attempts to expand its characters and its impact in the comics marketplace, the company did a lot of interesting things during those two decades. I used to talk to the late Michael Silberkleit a bit back then and, even when we disagreed, I thought he was a smart cookie. It’s sad I never got to do a full-on interview with him.

The line-up of subjects and writers in this issue is spectacular. Jack Abramowitz kicks things off with a wonderful overview. There are Jerry Boyd interviews with Stan Goldberg and George Gladir, who were exceedingly kind to me. Gladir gave me rare issues of Bats and other comics for my 1000 Comic Books You Must Read. I was working on a new comic-book series tailored for Goldberg at the time of his passing. I want to return to it soon, but where will I ever find anyone as perfect for it as Stan?

Steven Thompson has a fun article about the various Archie clones published by other comics companies. Kurt Heitmueller, Jr. does a two-page strip about his love of Archie comics. There are articles about Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Christopher Larochelle), Archies on television (the amazing Andy Mangels), That Wilkin Boy (Mark Arnold), Red Circle Sorcery (Ed Catto), Red Circle Superheroes (Steven Wilber), Cheryl Blossom (Jerry Smith) and a neat collection of rare artwork curated by Boyd. Indeed, my only quibble with Back Issue is that I want to see writers credited for their articles on the contents page and not just in the “special thanks” section. I have favorite Back Issue writers and would love to be able to go to their articles first.

Back Issue #107 is my pick of the week. If Archie Comics ever gets away from dark and largely lacking in humor soap-opera, I’d love to be a part of that movement. You can move forward without abandoning the core values of these classic characters.

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Secret Weapons Owen

Since I’m not the kind of comics reader who goes to a comics store every Wednesday, picks up the new releases and immediately goes home to read them, I seldom review individual issues here. Still, every now and then, one of those issues tickles my fancy and makes me want to share it with out.

Secret Weapons: Owen’s Story #1 [Valiant; $3.99] focus on Owen Cho, a psiot whose power doesn’t seem particularly useful. Owen conjures objects out of nothingness, but he has no control over what kind of object he conjures or even when it will materialize. It’s the super-powered equivalent of the mystery boxes sold at comics conventions. He never knows what he’s going to get.

In a fun story by writer Eric Heisserer with art by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin, Owen’s life and power are closely examined. While I don’t want to give away too much, let’s just say there might be a method of sorts to this madness.

Valiant published a nice bunch of titles every month. The universe of these titles keeps growing, but the writers do an excellent job keeping readers old and new in the storytelling loop. I enjoy them quite a bit. If you have found other comics universes not to your liking, I recommend you give the Valiant titles a shot.

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Bizenghast

I’ve been reading a great deal of manga lately, looking for series to replace some recently-concluded favorites. One that caught my eye was Bizenghast: The Collector’s Edition Volume I by M. Alice LeGrow [Tokyopop; $19.99]. It’s a gothic adventure drama series. I got this volume, which collects the first three books in the seven-volume series through my local library system and it hooked me early on.

Fifteen-year old Dinah Wherever’s parents were killed in an accident and now she lives with her aunt in a haunted estate that includes a former hospital and a former boarding house. Both her aunt and her doctor believe Dinah is schizophrenic. But the grounds are, indeed, haunted. Dinah has been charged with freeing the ghosts who linger there. If she fails, she will remain there forever. Assisting her in this calling is Vincent, her only friend.

The characters and stories are intriguing. Before long, some other supernatural creatures show up to help Dinah. The perils of what she must do grow with each new adventure.

LeGrow’s art is gothic Lolita. The storytelling is a little rough in places – this is her first comics work – but I’ve been enjoying this series. Though this first collectors edition might be difficult to track down, it’s worth the effort.

ISBN 978-1-4278-5690-6

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Comic Book Cabaret

My next public appearance will be a first for me. I will be doing a reading from my Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands mini-series in a nightclub setting. If you’re going to be in the Cleveland area on Saturday evening, September 1, think about coming to this event:

Tap Dance Killer’s Comic Book Cabaret

Hero Tomorrow Comics is throwing a loving farewell for the Phantasy complex featuring a vaudeville show of rock and theatre performers, dancers, poets, and comic book writers! It’ll be a night like you’ve never seen!

The Symposium Nightclub
11794 Detroit Ave
Lakewood, OH 44107

The doors open at 6 pm. The show runs 7 pm to midnight. Admission is $5 at the door. If you’re under 21, it’s $8 at door. This venue is cash only.

Yeah, this is a little out there for me. But, barreling towards 67, I remain committed to trying new things, spreading my “brand” far and wide and always, always going forward.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #271

We’re three issues into the “new” MAD [E.C. Publications; $5.99 per issue]. That strikes me as a reasonable sampling to assess how the legendary humor magazine has and hasn’t changed.

Mark Fredrickson’s cover for the third issue is fairly brutal. I do  quibble at the inclusion of Roseanne Barr. Yes, she’s awful. But,  unlike the others, she’s not, to the best of my knowledge, a serial sexual predator. If the left-leaning politics are more noticeable in MAD these days – and I admit they are – is because the Dumpster gives them so much to work with.

The MAD movie and/or TV parodies are still a monthly feature. This issue’s “Messy Layered One” by writer Desmond Devlin and artist Tom Richmond was entertaining…and I haven’t even seen the movie that it was mocking.

The writers are a mix of old faithfuls like Dick DeBartolo and new folks like Tammy Golden, who, with artist Jon Adams, has revived the classic Dave Berg “The Lighter Side Of…” feature. It’s not up to Berg’s standards, but it was good enough that I’d like to see it again become a regular part of MAD.

“Spy Vs. Spy” – or this issue’s, “Spy Vs. Spy Vs. Spy” isn’t doing much for me lately. I’m a fan of Peter Kuper’s work but it’s harder to laugh at espionage humor when our highest elected official is a Russian agent.

I’m loving “Potrzebie Comics” a lot. “Infant Terrible” by writers Paula Sevenbergen and Allie Goertz with art by Pauline Ganucheau is a gem. Kerry Callen’s “The Origin of Spidery-Man” was excellent. I am on the fence when it comes to Bob Fingerman’s “Boonies Burbs and Burgs” which is sometimes more gross than funny.

Along with the usual great contributions by Sergio Aragones and the Al Jaffee fold-in – both never cease to amaze me – there’s a nice tribute to the late Nick Meglan in the issue.

MAD remains what it ever has been. It has some brilliant material. It has some material that bombs. It has decent material in between those two extremes. It’s still a great magazine, one to which I am delighted to subscribe. It’s my pick of the week. If you want to imagine me pulling a dripping copy of MAD out of my nose, feel free to do so. Because, you know, it’s MAD.

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Injustice Gods Among Us Year One The Complete Collection

Turning super-heroes dark has become as much as a cliche as those pure-as-angels champions who dominated the 1950s and 1960s. As someone who believes the genre is essentially an optimistic one, twisting classic characters into dark versions of themselves does not appeal to me. However, sometimes good writing can hook me into enjoying even the darkest of super-hero comics.

They don’t come much darker than Injustice: Gods among Us: Year One – The Complete Collection by writer Tom Taylor and a dozen artists [DC; $24.99]. Based on a video game – something else that generally doesn’t appeal to me – this hefty tome collects the Injustice: Gods among Us digital chapters #1-36, published in comics as Injustice: Gods among Us #1-12 and Injustice: Gods among Us Annual #1. This volume was published in 2016, but is still available from our lovely sponsors at InStock Trades.

You probably know the starting point of Injustice, but I’ll avoid any spoilers beyond this: Superman suffers a terrible loss at the hands of an iconic villain. His response is extreme, leading to his decision to save the world by dominating it. Some heroes join him. Others oppose him.

Taylor is the star here. He makes a convincing case for Superman’s renunciation of his previous moral code. That Superman doesn’t see it that way is part of what makes the story convincing. Almost all of the other heroes and villains are much like their traditional selves, but twisted into non-traditional actions. Even if Injustice didn’t feature a take on Black Lightning that mostly works for me, I think I would want this book for my collection. I know I will be checking out the succeeding volumes.

With the cautionary note that this collection does contain graphic violence, I recommend it to older readers.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6270-2

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Power Man and Iron Fuat Vol 1

Catching up on my reading, Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys are Back in Town by David F. Walker with artists Sanford Greene and Flaviano [Marvel; $15.99] was a hoot-and-a-half. Collecting Power Man and Iron Fist #1-5 from 2016, it’s just your basic fun “buddy book” with Luke and Danny getting back together to help out an old friend. Unfortunately, that old friend is playing them.

This book has Luke and Danny getting together to help their former secretary Jennie, released from prison for a crime she committed while possessed. She asks them to retrieve a family heirloom from crime-boss Tombstone. Except it’s actually a mystic amulet. With which Jennie and her former cellmate Black Mariah plan to use for their own gain.

The book is equal parts action and comedy. Jennie’s new powers make her a formidable foe. Tombstone sends various goons after Luke and Danny. Jessica Jones (Luke’s wife and the mother of their child) keeps making fun of him for teaming up with Danny once again. Danny  keeps asking Luke why Jessica hates him. We get heroes and villains as guest stars. There’s a nice parallel between the bond that ties Jennie and Mariah and the continuing bromance of the former Heroes for Hire. I was grinning most of the time I was reading this book with the occasional laugh-out-loud moments.

Is it a classic collection? No, but it’s a thoroughly entertaining volume and that’s plenty good for me. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-302-90114-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #270

Puerto Rico was devastated by hurricanes and, sadly, the President, Congress and even much of the American public has failed to assist that part of America in sufficient manner. We’ve watched the death toll grow from the small numbers originally and falsely reported. We have seen our government fail to repeal repressive laws that would have helped our fellow Americans recover and rebuild faster. We’ve seen the plight of our fellow citizens ignored by the media as they focus on whatever dumb thing Trump did or said today. If I were Oliver Queen on the TV show Arrow, I’d look at myself and my country with scorn and intone “You have failed your countrymen.”

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez celebrates the spirit of Puerto Rico and the need that exists on the island in Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico [Somos; $19.99]. Working with his super-hero creation La Borinquena, an impressive roster of comics writers and artists, and DC Comics’ generous use of some of its legendary super-heroes, Miranda-Rodriguez has put together an anthology that is remarkable in its purpose and its quality.

La Borinquena is a terrific creation. The environmentally-powered super-hero represents the courage, the drive and the spirituality that is key to Puerto Rico.

The short stories and other artwork include comics super-stars and lesser (but not less talented) creators. That list includes Frank Miller, Gail Simone, Tony Daniel, Greg Pak, Reginald Hudlin, Denys Cowan, Ken Lashley, Bill Sienkiewicz, Tara Strong and others. The anthology contributors even include celebrities like Rosaro Dawson, Ruben Blades, Kirk Acevedo and more.

La Borinquena has some powerful super-friends helping her in this great undertaking: Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash, Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Green Lantern, Static, Icon, Swamp Thing and more. Every story is a delight in one way or another. Despite the grimness of the situation, these are stories about good people pulling together in the cause of light.

I love Ricanstruction and recommend it to one and all. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this book go to the efforts in Puerto Rico. You’ll be doing good by buying this great comic book. And, if you would, please consider donating to the organizations continuing the work our government left unfinished.

ISBN 978-0-692-09221-7

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Springfield Confidential

The Simpsons is the most popular animated show in U.S. history and the longest running scripted American TV series period. Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons by Mike Reiss with Mathew Klickstein [Dey Street Books; $27.99] is a sure contender for its claim of being “the ultimate fan guide” to the show, but it’s also the story of a writer’s life.

Reiss is the longest-serving writer and producer of The Simpsons. He still contributes to the show, flying in from New York City once a week. He’s written for movies and other TV shows. He’s written children’s books. One of those kids’ books – The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln – was met with considerable and ridiculous criticism. Naturally, I’m hoping to read it soon.

As a writer, I’m fascinated by the autobiographical parts of this book and the detailed descriptions of how episodes of The Simpsons are conceived, birthed and nurtured on their way to my TV screen. The trivia alone would make Simpsons Confidential a must-have book for Simpsons fans. Throw in globe-trotting to the unexpected lands where The Simpsons is a hit (and one place where it is not) and the “ultimate fan guide” doesn’t seem far off at all.

The book has a forward by Judd Apatow as well as interviews with Apatow, Conan O’Brien, Al Jean, Nancy Cartwright, Dan Castellaneta and others. It doesn’t diminish the magic of the show; it enhances it. If you’re a casual or even a lapsed viewer of The Simpsons, you will enjoy this book.

Simpsons Confidential would make a terrific gift for Simpsons fans and for those interested in the behind-the-scenes creation of that and other shows. It should definitely have a place in your more hip public and school libraries. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-0-06-274803-4

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My-Brothers-Husband

My pick of the week is My Brother’s Husband Volume One by Gengoroh Tagame [Pantheon; $24.95]. Work-at-home divorced dad Yaichi raises his daughter Kana in suburban Tokyo. Yaichi’s gay twin brother Ryoji, who left Japan and moved to Canada, has passed. A knock on Yaichi and Kana’s door changes their lives.

Canadian Mike Flanagan was married to Ryoji and has come to Japan to connect with his late husband’s country and family. Yaichi has some difficulty wrapping his head around the presence of his twin’s husband entering their lives, but invites him to stay with him and Kana. The young girl is over the moon with joy at meeting her new uncle and the two bond quickly.

This frankly beautiful story of acceptance, love and respect does not shy away from the prejudice gay people face, a prejudice that is quietly magnified in Yaichi’s conservative world. Yaichi makes the effort to overcome his prejudice, but is still deeply concerned when the parents of some of Kana’s friends don’t want them to play with her because of Mike and even more so when Kana asks her father if girls can marry other girls the same way Mike and Ryoji married.

Tagame is an openly gay comics creator, so there’s an authenticity to the story. His stories and art have been published and displayed all over the world. I’m looking forward to see more of his comics.

My Brother’s Keeper is an all-ages title, but, as with any comics, parents should make their own decisions as to whether or not this series is suitable for their children. They don’t get to make that decision for other people’s children and I would urge them to look at this manga with open eyes. It is a brilliant work that has won a 2018 Eisner Award and the Japan Media Arts Award for Outstanding Work of Manga from the Agency of Cultural Affairs.

This is another comics work that should be read by anyone who loves great comics. It belongs in public and school libraries, though it will doubtless be challenged by some. Great comics art, like great art period, makes us think. Closed minds will never be conducive to that process.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #269

I took an extended lunch break one day last week, going to my local multiplex movie theater for an early showing of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. This was my reward to myself for completing a somewhat challenging comics script. This was a delightful experience on so many levels that I knew I’d have to write about it.

I’m going to eschew the spoiler warnings because I don’t need them to do this animated feature justice. In fact, the only spoiler in this week’s “Tony’s Tips” column is in the Internet Movie Database synopsis of the movie:

A villain’s maniacal plan for world domination sidetracks five teenage superheroes who dream of Hollywood stardom.

This will ramble a bit because I want to share that fun afternoon with you. As I said, I went to an early showing figuring I’d grab lunch at the Regal Stadium 16 in Medina, Ohio. The t-shirt I wore had the Black Lightning logo from the TV series. The guy at the refreshment stand saw my shirt and excitedly asked:

“Do you know the guy who created Black Lightning lives right here in Medina?”

I confessed that I did know this and added:

“I’m him.”

The guy showed me his own art on his phone. I gave him some quick advice and then ordered what turned out to be a very tasty pizza. That was another pleasant surprise.

The individual theater showing the movie was almost empty. Besides me, there was a young woman with four kids. I got a kick out of how excited they were and how much they enjoyed the film. I enjoyed it as much or more than they did.

Robin and his team are miffed they aren’t on the guest list for the premiere of a new Batman movie. How they get seats at this showing is one of the best gags of the feature.

Robin is humiliated by the disrespect shown him. He dreams of being the star of his own movie. His teammates try to bolster his self-esteem in ways both heartwarming and hilarious. There’s some real heart and soul to this movie, deftly mixed in with the crazy humor and the occasional musical number.

I’m not going to give away of the gags. Some of them are aimed at older viewers. Some had me laughing out loud. The movie as a whole was incredibly inviting to most longtime comics readers like me and to the youngsters who probably only know these characters from the cartoons and movies and TV shows. We got a very satisfying ending, which made me love the film even more.

Kudos to writers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath for a smart and funny script. Kudos to directors Horvath and Peter Rida Michail. Kudos to the great Teen Titans voice actors –  Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong and Hynden Walch – and to all the fantastic guest voice actors. To the actor who also played a certain flame-headed motorcyclist of my acquaintance, I’m so happy you got to fulfill one of your dreams in this movie.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is my pick of the week. Starting in 2019, the Eisner Awards should start honoring comics-based movies and TV shows. This animated feature should be the first nominated, followed by Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Lightning, Black Panther, Lucifer and Luke Cage.

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tenements towers and trash

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City by Julia Wertz [Black Dog & Leventhal; $29.99] was a New York Times Notable Book of 2017. Based on Wertz’s columns for  The New Yorker and Harper’s, it combines comics storytelling with meticulous drawings of buildings, streets and all the architectural vibrancy that mark past and present-day New York.

This 284-page tome is perfect for displaying on your coffee table and picking up whenever you’re in the mood for a charming lesson on the Big Apple. Wertz makes much of this history personal. It made me wish I was with her on her exploratory walks around the city she called home for many years. Here and there, when she draw a part of the city I knew from my much shorter time there, I felt a yearning to see those places again.

The book is just plain gorgeous. I could look at it for hours and re-read some parts of it again and again. I think it would make an outstanding gift for someone you love who lives in New York City or who has lived in New York City or who wishes they could live or, at least, visit New York City for an extended time. It makes me want to arrange my schedule to spend a couple weeks in my old hood. What would it be like to be writing and making deadlines in the same area where I wrote so many of my Marvel and DC Comics stories? But I digress.

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City gets my recommendation. It’s a fine book.

ISBN 978-0-316-50121-7

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Heavy Vinyl

Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva, Irene Flores and Rebecca Nalty [BOOM! Box; $14.99] is a collection of the first four issues of the comic book, though the first three issues went by the name Hi-Fi Fight Club. This isn’t a book for which I have much affinity, which won’t stop me from recommending it here. Not every comic book has to be tailored for me.

Here’s the back-cover sales pitch:

When Chris joins the staff at her local record store, she’s surprised to find out that her co-workers share a secret: they’re all members of a secret fight club that take on the patriarchy and fight crime!

Starry-eyed Chris has just started the dream job every outcast kid in town wants: working at Vinyl Mayhem. It’s as rad as she imagined; her boss is BOSS, her co-workers spend their time arguing over music, pushing against the patriarchy, and endlessly trying to form a band. When Rosie Riot, the staff’s favorite singer, mysteriously vanishes the night before her band’s show, Chris discovers her co-workers are doing more than just sorting vinyl. Her local indie record store is also a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club!

Follow writer Carly Usdin (director of Suicide Kale) and artist Nina Vakueva (Lilith’s World) into Heavy Vinyl, where they deliver a rock and roll tale of intrigue and boundless friendship.

The music background didn’t do anything for me, but that’s on me. As I get older, I don’t listen to music while I’m writing. If it’s in English, it’s too distracting. When I do listen to music, it’s instrumental, Japanese or salsa. Go figure.

The characters are likeable, the writing is good, the art is good. The back-issue blurb about this story showing “that girls can be both smart and tough” got a snort out of me because there are now a few dozen comics that do the same thing. Yes, Heavy Vinyl is one of those comics, but it’s far from alone in this welcome change to the comics industry.

Basically, Heavy Vinyl isn’t my thing, but I can recognize it as a quality comic book and realize that a great many readers will like it better than I did. If this mention puts those readers together with this book, I’ll be delighted.

ISBN 978-1-68415-141-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #268

A few days ago, I binge-watched the second season of Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix. It was so excellent and so overpowering it became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to write about anything else until I shared my thoughts on the series with you. Though the season is  completed, I realize many of you will not have watched all thirteen episodes yet. Which means I must caution you that there are

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Luke Cage [played by Mike Colter] is out of prison, exonerated and trying to protect Harlem from gangsters like Mariah Dillard [Alfre Woodard] and “Shades” Alvarez [Theo Rossi]. The hero struggles with his fame even as significant other Claire Temple [Rosario Dawson] struggles with being part of his life and his world. Having lost an arm in The Defenders, Detective Misty Knight [Simone Missick] tries to overcome her loss and stay on the job.

james lucas

There are expanded roles for supporting characters. D.W. Griffith [Jeremiah Craft] is hawking Luke Cage t-shirts and videos, but, by season’s end, emerges as a voice of conscience. Mariah flunky Alex Wesley [John Clarence Stewart] shines. Sleazy attorney Ben Donovan [Danny Johnson] is more sleazy than ever. Ron Cephas Jones is his usual brilliant as Bobby Fish, Luke’s agent and friend. Sugar [Sean Ringgold], another of the Shades crew, plays a pivotal role as the season unfolds. Released from Seagate Prison and reunited with his lifelong friend Shades, Comanche [Thomas Q. Jones] is also a key player. All of these actors rise to the occasion when the stories demand it of them.

bushmaster

The new faces are astounding. Jamaican gangster Bushmaster [Mustafa Shakir] is simply the best villain of any who have appeared in any  Marvel Netflix series. He seeks a terrible vengeance on Mariah for grievous wrongs done to his family by her family. Tilda Johnson [Gabrielle Dennis] is Mariah’s estranged daughter, a doctor who now embraces more natural methods of healing.

Chaz Lamar Shepherd is outrageous as crooked entrepreneur “Piranha” Jones. Captain Tom Ridenhour [Peter Jay Fernandez] is a by-the-book commander trying to adapt to the violence in the streets.

Anansi [Sahr Ngaujah] is a voice of reason swallowed in the violent chaos his nephew Bushmaster has brought to Harlem. Preacher James Lucas [Reg E. Cathey] is Luke Cage’s estranged father. If you think this season has a great many family connections, you’ve nailed it.

Bonus. We get guest appearances by Danny Rand [Finn Jones], Foggy Nelson [Elden Henson], Colleen Wing [Jessica Henwick] and a semi-reformed Turk [Rob Morgan]. I got a kick out of these.

The character arcs drive this season. Luke finds punching won’t get the job done because there’s always someone who punches harder. He makes uneasy alliances, makes personal sacrifices, ends up owning Harlem’s Paradise, seat of power in the community he protects. Will his soul be the price he pays in the third season?

Spiritual “soul” is also key to Luke and his preacher father coming together. It’s an inspiring journey of reconciliation. Such a shame  Cathey passed away in February. I was really hoping for more scenes between him and Colter.

misty and luke

Misty’s journey. The show made the correct call in waiting before giving Misty her signature bionic arm. Her struggle in dealing with her limitations  was intense, especially during a barroom brawl in which she tried to punch an assailant with an arm no longer there. As her career path moves upward, there’s the intriguing possibility her and Luke might soon be at odds.

Claire Temple has been our POV into the insane world of people with abilities. She’s maintained that role through nearly every Netflix series. With this season, she reaches the breaking point. It’s an arc that feels incredibly real.

When I talked about Bushmaster being the best villain in any of the Marvel Netflix series, I don’t say that lightly. So many villains  seem wholly inadequate to the challenge of being the “big bad” in these stories. Wilson Fisk is an obsessive man-child incapable of controlling his anger. Diamondback was even more unhinged. I could not believe either could command their criminal armies and command the respect such power would require.

Flawed criminals can certainly be interesting. Corner “Cottonmouth” Stokes was actually a tragic figure in some ways, denied the life he wanted by his family ties. Mariah was this weird combination of  power player and madwoman. She was shaped and doomed by the tragedy of growing up in the Stokes family. Tilda might face the same doom as she turns dark at the end of the season.

shades

After Bushmaster, “Shades” Alvarez is the most interesting villain  in the Netflix Universe. He’s frighteningly good at his evil work. He plays by a set of rules, twisted though they might be, that are ignored by other villains. He aspires to a better life than that he has known and is capable of genuine love for people in his world. His arc in this second season is riveting, coming to a satisfying conclusion. But I hope we haven’t seen the last of him.

Bushmaster? He can go toe-to-toe with Luke Cage and, on a couple of occasions, come out the victor. He’s tricky, not above using some of his natural herbs against Cage. He’s brutally evil, but he has a background steeped in tragedy. He’s willing to sacrifice his own well-being to accomplish the vengeance he seeks. He’s as compelling a character as we have seen in the Netflix offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He has no reason to return to Harlem, but I’m hoping he turns up in some other Marvel series. Some other Marvel hero should make a trip to Jamaica. Maybe Rand Industries has some business interests there.

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Some spoiler-free observations. Cheo Hodari Coker is the creator of this series as well as the executive producer and the writer of a number of key episodes. My admiration for his talents and what he has brought to Luke Cage is immense.

The direction of the series has been top-notch. Three directors are great actors as well: Clark Johnson, Lucy Liu and Salli Richardson- Whitfield. The writing has been equally dead on.

The music? I could listen to soundtrack CDs of Luke Cage and Black Lightning all day and night long. The range of the music is quite astonishing. The live performances are sensational.

Luke Cage Season Two is every bit as good as Black Lightning Season One. I can offer no higher praise than that. While you’re waiting for season two of Black Lightning, you should watch Luke Cage. It gets my highest recommendation.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #267

Comic-Con International 2018 is in the record books. It will take me a few weeks to digest the news that came out of San Diego last weekend, but I can make some predictions.

Some of the news will strike me as amazing in a “can’t wait to see or read that” sort of way. Some of the news will strike me as “so stupid it destroys my faith in sentient humanity.” Some of the news will defy any prediction as in “that could be great or it could be terrible.” Life and comics are uncertain.

However…I hope that I’ll continue to find and enjoy all sorts of comics and related items. I hope that the remarkable diversity in the comics art form will continue and grow. I hope I’ll continue to share my fines with you right here.

Let’s lead with a truly outstanding comics collection…

We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust by Neal Adams, Rafael Medoff and Craig Yoe [Yoe Books; $49.99] gathers together eighteen classic comic-book stories about or concerning the Holocaust. This important book becomes all the more so at a time when the shadows of the Nazi scourge have not only resurfaced and spread across the world, but cast their unthinkable horror into the very White House that once stood so resolutely against them.

The book starts with introductions by Stan Lee, Adams, Medoff and Yoe. From there, it reprints Al Feldstein’s and Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race,” one of the first comics stories to shine a light on the Nazi death camps and still powerful over six decades after its initial publication.

The other seventeen stories were originally printed in war comics, horror comics and super-hero comics like Captain Marvel, Batman, Captain America and Uncanny X-Men. I was especially gratified that “The Duty of Man” by Chris Claremont and George Evans was included in this anthology. It is a strikingly strong work that appeared in War is Hell, the series I created for Marvel Comics in the 1970s, and which I turned over to Chris because I felt he would do a much better job with the concept. Which he did.

The final comics story in the book is “The Last Outrage” by Medoff and Adams. Published in X-Men: Magneto Testament #5 from 2008, it is a non-Marvel Universe story about the struggle of painter Dina Babbitt to recover paintings she did under coercion while she was a prisoner in Auschwitz. Those paintings how hang in the Auschwitz Museum. The museum refused to return these paintings to the since-passed Babbitt and refuses to return them to her surviving family. The museum once made the outrageous claim that the paintings were the property of the Nazi who forced Babbitt to paint them to save her life and that of her mother. That Nazi was Dr. Josef Mengele. In a few gripping pages, Medoff and Adams expose the vileness that was the backdrop of these paintings and the modern-day vileness of the museum’s refusal to return them to Babbitt’s family.

We Spoke Out is my top contender for every comics award it will be eligible for next year. It is a book that every comics fan should own. It is a book that should be in every public and school library because we must teach our children about the Holocaust. This book is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-63140-888-5

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Cici's Journal

Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training, written by  by Joris Chamblain and illustrated by Aurélie Neyret [First Second; $17.99] is a charming French graphic novel about a young girl who dreams of being a novelist. She keeps a journal, she observes the people she sees around her. When any of those people are something of a mystery, well, the game is afoot.

Cici is dedicated in her quest for answers to these mysteries, but that dedication often leads her to treating her friends and mother badly. She gets so focused that she fails to realize the people in her life are not there simply to support her story. They all have lives and needs of their own. This is pretty heady stuff for a book aimed at readers under the age of 13.

The mysteries are fascinating. The first of the two stories in the book concerns a mysterious man, his coat spattered with paint, who Cici spots in the forest where her friends and her are building a secret fort. The second story involves an elderly woman who checks out the same book from the town library every week. The development and resolutions of these stories are clever and satisfying, as is the growth we see in Cici.

I love this graphic novel. I’m amazed it didn’t win a whole bunch of awards. It would make a great gift for any pre-teen child, but especially for girls. It should be in public and school libraries. Though aimed at younger readers, this doddering old man enjoyed it immensely. You should check it out.

ISBN 978-1-62672-249-4

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Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs 1

Assassination Classroom and Princess Jellyfish are two of my most favorite manga series. Having finished reading both of them, I have been looking around for another manga series with which I can fall hopeless in love. Unfortunately, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs by Tadahiro Miura [Ghost Ship; $12.99] isn’t going to be that manga series. This despite having a cool premise:

Homeless and haunted by ghosts, high schooler Kogarashi thinks his luck has finally turned when he finds Yuragi-sou-a cheap boarding house that was formerly a hot springs inn, now full of super sexy, scantily clad female tenants. If Kogarashi can use his spirit abilities to banish the ghost that haunts the inn, he can even live there rent-free! But when the ghost, a beautiful teenage girl named Yuuna, appears before him, Kogarashi takes pity on her and is suddenly not so sure about the exorcism. Will he help save Yuuna from becoming an evil spirit? And what supernatural secrets do the other boarders hold?

What keeps me from embracing Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs is the plethora of salacious – albeit “R” rated at worst – images of beautiful young woman, some of them yokai, flashing their breasts, butts, panties and other undergarments. The style of Miura’s art is such that the characters don’t always appear to be of legal age. I find that problematic, even though it’s an established tradition in manga. I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’ll read the series past the first volume.

A live-action and somewhat more discreet version of Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs could make for a fun movie. Such mildly raunchy teen comedies are part of our American movie tradition. But, in its current manga form, the series is troubling.

ISBN 978-1-94780-404-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #266

Comic-Con International 2018 is happening in San Diego this week. If you are going to be there, I wish you a exciting, fun and safe convention.

If you’re a Black Lightning fan, be on the lookout for some special convention exclusives. There’s a special Black Lightning bag that comes with a Black Lightning pin. They look great.

There’s also an exclusive San Diego Comic-Con Lego Black Lightning figure that’s amazing. Writing the award-deserving Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands series that reinvented my creation for today was incredible satisfying. Seeing Black Lightning in a hit TV series on the CW was literally a dream come true. But a Black Lightning Lego figure? Now I know I’ve made it!

Sadly, I will not be at the convention. However, I encourage you to tell everyone I was there, that I was the nicest comics creator you met at the convention and that, after meeting me, you couldn’t stop fantasizing about me. Because all of those things would be true if I was at Comic-Con.

I raise my glass to all those lucky enough to be in Sam Diego this week. Have a wonderful time!

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Writer Sholly Fisch is the E. Nelson Bridwell of today. Coming from me, that’s high praise. Because when Bridwell wrote Super Friends in the 1970s, I thought it was a better Justice League comic book than the actual Justice League title. His stories were clever with fun twists and he made use of the vast cornucopia of characters to be found in the DC Universe.

Fisch’s Scooby-Doo! Team-Up Volume 5 [DC; $12.99] is every bit as delightful as Super Friends was. This trade paperback collects the stories from issues #25-30 of the ongoing title. The stories were all published online in a half-page format, but the art and layouts are so skillfully done that doesn’t leap out at the reader.

What Fisch brings to these stories is an encyclopedia knowledge of the DC Universe and a wry humor that works on multiple levels. The younger readers will be entertained and the older readers will find additional laughs aimed at them. For example, an issue teaming the Scooby gang with Green Arrow and Green Lantern during the emerald heroes hard-traveling days makes light of “moral decay” and other very familiar lines from the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams comics of the 1970s. I chuckled out loud several times.

Besides the “green team,” the six issues feature Hong Kong Phooey,  Plastic Man, Jonah Hex, Top Cat and the Challengers of the Unknown. I’m not listing all of the other heroes and villains who appear in these tales because I don’t want to lessen the surprises that await you. I will say this Hong Kong Phooey team-up was more humorous and satisfying than the martial arts mutt’s recent meeting with Black Lightning. This appearance made me want to watch the original Hong Kong Phooey cartoons.

I shouldn’t gloss over how well Fisch writes the Scooby-Doo cast. He nails all of them: Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Fred and Daphne. The mysteries they solve, even with the inclusion of super-villains and such, are true to the classic cartoon mysteries. Factor in the terrific art of Dario Brizuela, Scott Jeralds and Dave Alvarez with their clean lines and solid storytelling and you have a fun comic book for all ages.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up Volume 5 is my pick of the week. I recommend it to all of my Tips readers, especially those looking for something a bit more lighthearted than most super-hero comics.

ISBN 978-1-4012-8419-0

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Gumballs

Gumballs by Erin Nations [Top Shelf; $19.99] is a collection of his comics works that range from single-page strips to longer stories. These fascinating and funny works deal with the cartoonist’s gender transition, his life as a triplet, his workplace and more. There’s a series of vignettes about a love struck teenager and a series of full-page “personal ads” by some odd characters seeking love in one form or another. I found the latter baffling, but riveting.

Sometime in the hopefully near future, I’ll be able to write about a book like this without mentioning diversity or gender identity. Sometime, these stories will just be observations on and stories of a comics creator’s life. Yet, because we live in a time enjoying a glorious outpouring of diversity, a time enriched by all these new voices, I feel this needs to be mentioned. And because we also live in a time when throwbacks to primitive times strive to eliminate our wondrous diversity, I feel it’s important for creators and fans to champion this excellent material.

Gumballs collects the first four issues of the Gumballs comic book and adds 32 pages of new material. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to teen and older readers. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-60309-431-3

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accident-man

I have a very mild obsession about watching every movie based on a comic book or comic strip. It’s mild because no one has been good (or bad) enough to inflame my minor passion by publishing an easy-to-use encyclopedia of such movies. If someone does that, I could be in trouble.

Accident Man was a comics series by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner that appeared in the 1990s comics magazine Toxic! The title character was an assassin who made his for-hire murders look like accidents. I read a handful of Accident Man stories back in the day, but have no clear recollection of them.

Accident Man (2018) is a movie based on the Mills/Skinner stories. It stars Scott Adkins as hitman Mike Fallon. Adkins also co-wrote the screenplay. Familiar faces in the cast include Ray Stevenson, Ashley Greene, Dave Paymer, Michael Jai White, Ray Park and actress stuntwoman Amy Johnston. It’s a good cast and the fight scenes are effectively cool. The Internet Movie Database has this summary and, I caution you, it’s full of SPOILERS:

Mike Fallon is a stone cold killer whose methodical hits baffle the police and delight his clients. He’s the best at what he does. But when a loved one is dragged into the London underworld and murdered by his own crew, Fallon is forced to rip apart the life he knew in order to hold those accountable and avenge the one person who actually meant something to him.

Accident Man was fun, but both Adkins and the movie came off like “Jason Statham Lite.” It dragged every now and then during its 105-minute running time, but the various killers were darkly amusing. The story set its sights on its resolution and there were no real surprises between the start of Fallon’s personal mission and that resolution. The conclusion was just there; I didn’t find it truly satisfying. It needed something more.

Regular readers of my work know that I am far more forgiving of TV shows and movies than of comic books. I know how to create great comic books. Movies and TV are not presently part of my skill set. So my suggestion to you is that if you really like Jason Statham movies and have watched them all, Accident Man might tide you over until the next one.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella