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

TONY’S TIPS #265

Ant-Man and the Wasp went into general release on Friday, July 6. The opening weekend estimate is that it earned $85-$95 million and that’s impressive. It was expected to do well, of course, because this is a Marvel Cinematic Universe release, but still impressive. Rotten Tomatoes rates it 86%.

Saintly Wife Barb and I were at the world premiere of the movie and saw it in Imax. I have not been a devotee of Imax in the past for various reasons, but I have to admit the presentation was amazing. I may have to rethink my theater habits.

Now that the movie has entered general release, I can talk about it in greater detail. This sequel has everything that made Ant-Man one of my favorite Marvel movies. Despite the trippy adventures within the Quantum Realm, this is a seriously down-to-earth story centered on family. Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a good father to his delightful daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the Wasp/Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are trying to find and rescue Hope’s long-missing mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. Those are the obvious families.

Yet Scott Lang’s formerly criminal associates (Michael Peña, T.I., David Dastmalchian) are like unto a family themselves. We even get a paternal vibe from Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) and the Ghost/Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), the desperate young woman he tries to help. All these family elements resonate with me. Indeed, I wish the movie had also given us more Judy Greer (Cassie’s mother) and Bobby Cannavale (Cassie’s stepdad), who I have loved in virtually everything they’ve ever appeared in.

The multiple threats in the movie are the weapons dealer who wants Hank’s tech, the perils of the Quantum Realm and the federal agents who have placed Scott under house arrest and are hunting Hank and Hope. I’m a bit conflicted about Homeland Security agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) being played as such an inefficient dweeb, but part of me responds such government mockery.

There are incredible action scenes throughout the movie. The heat, often playful, between Scott and Hope, is heartwarming. Hank Pym is so deliciously prickly that I want to be him when I grow up. (This would please my wife who has had a crush on Douglas since Streets of San Francisco.) Comedy-wise, Peña steals the movie whenever he narrates important back story.

This is an incredibly well-written, well-acted movie with special effects that are totally on point. The rivalry between Foster and Pym is a nice touch; I’m hoping Fishburne has a bigger role in the next Ant-Man/Wasp movie…and yes, I know you saw what I did there. Gotta earn my “special thanks to” credit somehow.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is my pick of the week. I’ll probably see it again in the next few weeks.

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Tap Dance Killer

I am tired to my bone marrow of comics creators and publishers who try to emulate the super-hero comics of the 1970s. At their best, most of these efforts come off as echoes of the past. Some of them, intentionally or not, are just plain insulting. Like, for example, whatever the heck Fantagraphics thinks it’s doing. Yet, every now and again, someone comes along and does a comic that adds modern sensibility to 1970s vibe and, in doing so, creates something that is both comfortingly familiar and crackling fresh.

Tap Dance Killer #1 [Hero Tomorrow Comics; $3.99] is evidence that writer/publisher Ted Sikora has mastered this combination. Quoting from the TDK’s Facebook page: “Nikki St Clair is a mega-talented actress who is cast in a horror-show musical as the TAP DANCE KILLER, but something changes in her causing this quadruple-threat performer to go full ‘method’ on the streets of Cleveland!”

Hero? Villain? Complicated? Nikki is all of these. Sikora takes us into her fragmented psyche through flashbacks, her dangerous days in prison and her life after escaping prison. She’s been targeted by the Cleveland mob. She has her own support group of sorts and, though I don’t trust them, I look forward to learning about them. And then there’s the big question: how much of the real Nikki is in and in control of her TDK persona?

Nikolaus Harrison captures the 1970s style of super-hero art. His work would have considered well-above-average then. This comic has good storytelling, vibrant colors that work with the storytelling and solid production values.

Tap Dance Killer #1 gets my recommendation. You’ll enjoy it. And, hey, while you’re here, I’ll also recommend Apama: The Undiscovered Animal and Hero Tomorrow, the independent film that started it all.

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Kid Space Patrol

Know a creative youngster who’s into comics and maybe want to try their hand at making their own? Have I got a very cool comic book for them?

Kid Space Patrol by John Zakour and Tayah Payne with illustrations by Scott Roberts [$12.99] is two books in one. The Kid Space Patrol adventure stars twins Layla and Mahdi, their mom and their lizard as they travel through space righting wrongs. My impulse is to say they fight evil, but, for a comic aimed at middle readers, KSP has a different approach to conflict. Once they suss out what’s going on in the situation, the twins come up with a novel way to end the problem. It’s clever stuff with a lively style of art that I think will inspire the book’s younger readers to try their own hands at drawing comic books.

Wait a minute, Tony! You said “two books in one. What’s the second book?” I am so glad you asked.

After the comics story, Zakour, Payne and Roberts conduct a nifty “how to” course in making comics. Their tutorial offers very sound tips and is very easy to understand.

Kid Space Patrol would make a great gift to the comics-loving young kid in your life. I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-9802-1883-8

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #264

Saintly Wife Barb and I attended the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp in Los Angeles last Monday. It was a fabulous evening and included some personal moments with Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Lawrence Fishburne. Not to mention comics pals like Jan Utstein- O’Neill of Marvel Studios; John Jackson Miller, who I worked with at Comics Buyer’s Guide and who created a couple of the characters who appeared in the film; Michael Lovitz, my amazing attorney who also represents many other comics creators; and Bob Layton, whose credits includes a legendary run on Iron Man.

Since the movie doesn’t go into general release until July 6, I’m not going to review it here. That review will have to wait until my next “Tony’s Tips” column. However, I will tell you it’s a terrific film, well worth seeing, and that my name appears in the “Special Thanks To” list in the end credits. As always, my thanks to Marvel Comics for bringing me to this event. I am forever grateful for the kindness and respect Marvel has shown and continues to show me. I am proud to be associated with the company.

MM Ant-Man Giant-Man

I don’t have to hold back on my review of Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume Three [$75], which arrived just in time for me to read before and after the Ant-Man and the Wasp premiere. In this volume, we get three new introductions and over 300 pages of comics and other features.

Mike Friedrich writes about his short-lived Ant-Man series that ran in Marvel Feature. That series, in which Hank Pym and the Wasp were trapped at insect-size, holds up well. Herb Trimpe drew the first three issues, brilliantly depicting the enormous world in which our heroes existed. Herb was followed by a young P. Craig Russell.

I wrote about Bill Foster’s return to the Marvel Universe as Black Goliath in a couple of issues of Power Man and then his own short-lived title. Foster plays a key role in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

David Michelinie’s introduction details his creation of Scott Lang, the ex-convict who is Ant-Man in the current comic books and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These three prose pieces cover a lot of comics history.

This Masterworks volume also reprints a short Ant-Man story by Roy Thomas and Ross Andru, the issues of Power Man that introduced Bill Foster’s giant-size identity, his own series, the few issues of The Champions in which he appeared and the two-issue origin of the Scott Lang Ant-Man by Michelinie, John Byrne and Bob Layton. There is also a section of special items, including never-published Ant-Man art. It’s a wonderful collection and I recommend it to anyone who loves Marvel comic books and movies.

For the incredible fun of it, Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume Three is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-302-91079-2

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Blazing Combat

Fantagraphics Books has published a third edition of The Blazing Combat Collection [$29.99]. The volume collects all four issues of the black-and-white comics magazine published by Jim Warren in the mid-1960s. Written by the rightfully legendary Archie Goodwin, the stories were controversial for the era and quickly frowned upon, as  as in “We won’t sell these at our PXs” by the American military. Which is why the title only ran four issues.

Goodwin’s tales ran the gamut of military history, but it was the stories set in Vietnam that triggered the military’s action against the title. The power of those and other less contemporary to that time stories are why I recommend the volume to you today. That and the many amazing artists who drew Goodwin’s scripts: Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, George Evans, Gray Morrow, Reed Crandall, Al McWilliams, John Severin, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Gene  Colan and Russ Heath. Also included in the book: interviews with Warren and Goodwin.

I own at least one of the previous printings of The Blazing Combat Collection, but this strikes me as the nicest of the three. It has an elegance to it that makes it a book I want on my bookshelves and which belongs in every public and (age appropriate) school library.

It’s a book you’ll want for your home library as well.

ISBN 978-1-68396-084-3

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Retro Fan

Edited by Michael Eury of Back Issue fame, Retro Fan [$8.95] is the new addition to TwoMorrows Publishing’s roster of great magazines. Dedicated to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Retro Fan celebrates those wonderful toys, TV shows, movies and more that the kids growing up in those decades loved.

The first issue is a basket of such goodies. There’s an interview with Lou Ferrigno, live action’s original Incredible Hulk. Martin Pasko writes about the Phantom. Andy Mangles boldly goes forth to reveal all about Star Trek: The Animated Series. In other pieces, you’ll be entertained by insightful looks at monster master Lon Chaney Jr.; Betty Lynn, Mayberry’s own Thelma Lou; Mego’s elastic Hulk; Mr. Microphone, perhaps the era’s most annoying toy; The Andy Griffith Show; collecting in general and more. Of special interest to me were Scott Shaw!’s report on Zody the Mod Robot and the very funny “rejected” cover than closes out the issue.

Retro Fan has wonderful writers, crisp layouts and so many photos and other images that you could fall into a nostalgia coma. If you of my generation, or just someone interested in the entertainments of my generation, you’ll love Retro Fan. I eagerly await the next quarterly issue.

I’ll be back next week with my review of Ant-Man and the Wasp plus other goodies. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #263

I’m writing this the day after I attended a special Marvel Comics screening of the first two episodes of Luke Cage Season Two. It was a wonderful event, made all the more so by the presence of Don and Marsha McGregor, the Marcus McLaurin family, and the families of Rich Buckler, Archie Goodwin, Billy Graham and George Tuska. Not to slight our honorable hosts: David Bogart, Tom Brevoort and Brian Overton.

I am best known for my work on Black Lightning at DC Comics and I mean no slight to the fine folks there when I say Marvel has always kept its agreements with me and, since the dawning of the company’s cinematic and television empires, with great respect. They’ve made me feel like I’m still part of the Marvel family.

Since Luke Cage Season Two dropped last Friday, I’m guessing many of you have already seen the entire season. It’ll be a while before I can do the same. But I do have some quick thoughts on the pair of episodes I have seen.

Luke is dealing with his new fame as he continues to fight the good fight in Harlem. It’s not an easy thing for him and it puts him at odds with some of those closest to him. Adding to his difficulties, his estranged father has turned up. Mike Colton continues to give Emmy-worthy performances as Cage.

Misty Knight, played by the transcendent Simone Messick, is giving her own Emmy-worthy performances as her character deals with losing an arm. While I’m looking forward to Misty getting her bionic arm as much as anyone, I applaud the show’s restraint in holding off on that for a while. Messick is killing it.

What else? New scary situations. New scary villains. Music that is the second best of any TV series I’m watching. The first is still Black Lightning. Sorry, Luke.

If you didn’t want the first season of Luke Cage, you need do that as soon as possible. Then, properly entertained and impressed, you can move on to the second season.

Luke Cage Season Two’s first two episodes are my undisputed picks of the week. I’ll have more to say about the second season when I re-watch those episodes and then the rest of the season.

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DC Comics Variant Covers

I described DC Comics Variant Covers: The Complete Visual History by Daniel Wallace [Insight Editions; $45] as being such a gorgeous coffee table book that it made me want to buy a new coffee table to put it on. But, though it has its many charms, it’s got a word in its title that makes me wince.

Complete.

There are dozens of great cover reproductions in this 11 by 14-inch book. Some of the best artists in comics. Some of the most dynamic images. Some of the funniest gags. However…it is, by no means, a complete visual history. We don’t get every variant cover, just a generous sampling thereof.

For the most part, Wallace offers a decent history of DC’s variant covers. Yet he never mentions some of DC’s earliest variant covers, such as the one done for Justice League #3 [July, 1983] as a test market for newsstand sales. The book also lacks a checklist of the DC variant covers.

Complete.

If Wallace had replaced the word “complete” with “a,” I wouldn’t be dismayed by this otherwise fun book. When books have “complete” or “encyclopedia” in the titles, the reader has a right to expect the books to be complete and encyclopedic. Not long ago, I reviewed a book called Encyclopedia of Black Comics that didn’t mention many of the most important black creators. It, too, did not live up to its title. This is why you will never see me use the words complete or encyclopedia in the titles of any books I write.

I’m still going to recommend DC Comics Variant Covers: The Complete Visual History. I think fans of comic-book art will get a kick out of it. I think it would make a terrific gift for the comics fan you love enough to spend almost half a c-note on. Just recognize that its title isn’t accurate.

ISBN 978-1-60887-832-1

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More Heroes 01

It almost goes without saying that Drew Friedman is one of the best and most interesting artists of our time. His intricate portraits can be appreciated and studied as the great works they are. Yet I didn’t much care for his Heroes Of The Comic Books: 75 Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends Of Comic Books [Fantagraphics Books; $34.99] when it was published in 2014. There were two distinct elements to my disappointment with the book.

The artistic one was that almost all of Friedman’s subjects in the book were drawn from images of their older selves. We didn’t see a lot of their vibrant prime years.

The historical one was that the text accompanying each portrait was either lacking in important detail or erroneous or wrong. When it comes to mainstream comics history, Fantagraphics often gets facts incorrect. It elevates conjecture, rhetoric and speculation to the level of truth.

Published in 2016, Friedman’s More Heroes Of The Comics: Portraits Of The Legends Of Comic Books [$34.99] is an improvement over the earlier books in a number of ways. Firstly, there’s more Friedman art to enjoy: 100 new full-page portraits of the legends of comic books and several smaller one.

Friedman has clearly found new photographic inspiration for these portraits. This time out, we get a range of ages with many of the creators shown in the prime. Having worked with some of this book’s subjects, that made the art more enjoyable for me.

Unfortunately, the historical material is still lacking. Some pages have little more than a paragraph of material. So many interesting accomplishments and quirks are left out of the text.

Worse, though better than in the first volume, there are many pesky errors of fact in this book. Many of these come from what I think has become a Fantagraphics and anti-mainstream bias that routinely ignores inconvenient facts if it doesn’t suit the writer’s agenda. Heck, the cover quote by indy favorite Daniel Clowes, comes right out and say readers shouldn’t bother with the history books.

Nowhere is the anti-mainstream bias more evident that when it comes to naming artists as creators or co-creators. I laughed out loud at the outrageous suggestion that Mike Sekowsky, as much as I admire his work, was a co-creator of the Justice League of America. That title was conceived by Julius Schwartz as a revamping of the 1940s Justice Society of America. The debut issue was written by Gardner Fox after a plotting session with Schwartz and his script was then edited by Schwartz. Every super-hero character in the series was an existing super-hero, none of them created, co-created or drawn by Sekowsky when they first appeared. The only original characters in the first story were sidekick Snapper Carr and villain Starro the Conqueror.

Current fashion is to name the original writer and artist of books and characters as co-creators. It’s accepted, even by me, as just the way it’s now done. But, though I accept this, I recognized how flawed it is from an historical standpoint. Editors have created characters and handed them off to writers and artists. Writers have written full scripts for the artist to draw. Artists come up with characters which the editor and writer put into the scripts. There is simply no “one size fits all” determination of creation except that which is convenient for bookkeeping purposes.

As with the previous volume, I recommend Friedman’s More Heroes Of The Comics for his brilliant portraits. It would make a wonderful gift for the comics fan savvy enough to take the text material with a grain of salt.

ISBN 978-11-60699-960-8

That’s all for this week, my friends. If all goes as planned, I’ll be Los Angeles the day this week’s column posts. Marvel invited me to the premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Joyfully, my plus one for this event is my Saintly Wife Barb. I’m not sure when I’ll review the movie – definitely not before its general release – but I will review it in the near future.

Have a great week. See you soon.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #262

My latest comics gear buy was this cool “Return of the Ant-Man” T-shirt from Stylin Online. I bought it because Marvel has invited me and my Saintly Wife Barb to the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Marvel has been great about inviting me to events like this and I thank them for it.

The “Return of the Ant-Man” t-shirt costs $19.88 in small through extra-large. It’s also available in XXL, XXXL and 4xL at a cost of $21.88, $22.88 and $23.88 respectively.

Black Lightning suit

Even if it arrives before we leave for the premiere, I don’t plan on wearing this shirt to the premiere. I’ll be debuting the second of the two new suits I bought this year from Men’s Warehouse. The first was the one I wore to the Black Lightning premiere in D.C. earlier this year. The second, which I just picked up, is a custom-made suit with a label you might find interesting:

The young man who sold me the suits was a James Bond fan and also a comics fan. His label read: You Only Live Twice. When he told me I could get any label I wanted, my choice was obvious.

I’ll be wearing the new suit to the Ant-Man and the Wasp premiere. Look for a report on that event and a review of the movie sometime in the near future. Speaking of other comics-oriented movies and TV shows…

Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger launched on Freeform on June 7 with two episodes. I’ve since watched the third episode. Here’s the quickie introduction from epguides.com:

Two troubled teens find themselves with strange powers, and a mysterious connection that draws them to each other.

Cloak and Dagger were created by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Ed Hannigan. They appeared in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (March 1982) as runaways whose run-in with a criminal chemist connected them and gave them super-powers, which they used to bring down drug dealers. Since then, Cloak (Tyrone Johnson) and Dagger (Tandy Bowen) have sometimes been considered mutants and sometimes not. In truth, the further removed they became from their Mantlo and Hannigan stories, the less interest I had in them. Fortunately, while keeping the most basic of basics, the new TV series doesn’t follow the comic books.

As young children, teens Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy (Olivia Holt) were exposed to energy released when a Roxxon Corporation oil rig collapses. They were in a lake at the time: Tyrone because his older brother had been shot by a bent cop and he dove in to try to rescue him. Tandy because her father, a Roxxon scientist, became distracted when the oil rig exploded while he was driving her home from a ballet lesson. Young Tyrone’s power manifested, as did young Tandy’s, and he rescued her.

Years later, their circumstances are much different. Roxxon pinned the oil rig disaster on Tandy’s father, leaving her and her mother penniless. Tandy lives in an abandoned church, pulling various cons with her boyfriend. Her never-stable mother is an alcoholic and drug abuser (Andrea Roth), chasing the fantasy she will get Roxxon into court and win a huge settlement.

Tyrone attends a Catholic high school and struggles to fit in. His mother (Gloria Reuben) is an activist struggling with the fear she might lose her only remaining child. Tyrone lives with the guilt of his brother’s death and the knowledge that his brother’s killer is still out there.

They meet by chance, reactivating their long-dormant powers. By the end of episode three, they understand they are somehow connected. Which just leaves them with more questions.

Joseph and Holt are terrific in their roles. The storytelling gets a little trippy at times, but it’s intriguing and powerful. This is the journey of two traumatized teens trying to make sense of their world while coping with their circumstances. The chemistry between the two young actors is simply amazing.

In my admiration for Joseph and Holt, I don’t want to sell anyone else short. Reuben is a commanding presence. Roth is a compelling tragic figure. Carl Lundstedt does well as the likeable young con man honestly in love with Tandy. J.D. Evermore is chilling as bent cop Connors. Noëlle Renée Bercy as Tyrone’s girlfriend Evita adds beauty, compassion and maybe a little menace to the proceedings via her voodoo-practicing aunt. It’s a great cast.

Of course, the highest kudos must go to Joe Pokaski, who created the TV show and wrote the first two episodes. He took the best of the characters and molded them into a terrific series. Right now, Cloak and Dagger is my favorite Marvel-based TV series. I’m in for the long haul.

Cloak and Dagger airs Thursdays on Freeform. It’s probably on all kinds of digital platforms, but I’m still working on mastering the remote control. For information on those platforms, you’ll have to go to someone who understands that stuff.

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Avengers Grimm Time Wars

The Asylum, maker of Sharknado and other fun films, has established its own shared super-hero universe. Their source material is fairy tales. They started with Avengers Grimm (2015) with heroines Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Red (Riding Hood). The villain was Rumpelstiltskin.

The Asylum followed that with Sinister Squad (2016) with Alice of Wonderland fame gathering a team of fairy tale villains to combat a different version of Rumpelstiltskin. Because this is not just a shared universe; it’s a shared multiverse.

In 2018’s Avengers Grimm: Time Wars, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Red team with Alice and her Looking Glass organization to try to prevent a shattered multiverse from messing up all reality as we know it. The villains are Magda, the evil queen of Atlantis, and a third incarnation of Rumpelstiltskin.

Yes, the similarities you note to various Marvel and DC super-hero movies are there. The Asylum is known for its “mockbuster” takes on films with much bigger budgets.

Yes, the usual anonymous “critics” on the Internet Movie Database have been merciless in panning this film. Wanna guess how many of them have ever published or released anything? My money would be on single digits. As in zero.

Yes, I thought the movie was good cheesy fun and a terrific way to relax for an hour-and-a-half. We’ve all read much worse super-hero comics and seen much worse super-hero movies and TV shows.

I’m a forgiving viewer when it comes to low-budget movies like this one. I’m not expecting Black Panther, though I would have loved to see the Asylum’s take on that classic. I’m just asking for those 90 minutes of entertainment. If you are of a similar mind, I believe you’ll enjoy Avengers Grimm: Time Wars.

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Jessica Jones Season Two poster

I had been planning to write a lengthy review of the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, but realized I didn’t have much to add from my comments on the first season. Jessica Jones is resolutely about people making bad choices again and again. That would usually be a deal-breaker for me, but, in Jessica, so brilliantly played by Krysten Ritter, we have a hero whose bad choices are often defined by her PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Indeed, given that a number of other characters in the series had their minds controlled by the late Killgrave, the bad choices usually worked for me.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

Jessica makes some good choices this season and, while they do not offset the bad choices completely, the finale leaves her in a much better place than previously. I liked that a lot.

There are some intriguing life-changes for several members of the supporting cast. I can’t say I was wild about all of these, but I found them interesting and what to see what happens with them next season. Some of these changes will radically alter what have been some of the most solid relationships in Jessica’s life.

The big bads of the second season weren’t as black and white as in the first season. One of them was a victim herself. Though they did not match the villainy of the first season’s Killgrave, they played a necessary part in Jessica’s journey. I give them points for that. Killgrave’s reappearance from Jessica’s troubled mind did nothing for me. Normally I love seeing David Tennant in anything. Here, it seemed utterly forced. Boo on that.

MILD SPOILERS OVER

The bottom line? The second season of Jessica Jones was well done with a great many blips in the quality. I definitely look forward to the show’s third season.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #261

Hey, kids! It’s retro activist Tony Isabella! The first in a series of sartorial shots of your friendly neighborhood tipster, wearing comics or comics-related gear.

This time around, we’re showing my new “People’s Free Food program Hoodie” [$45.99]. My Facebook friend Rahadyan Timoteo Sastrowardoyo wore one to this year’s East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention. I thought it was a cool looking hoodie, even if was a little pricey for my usual tastes.

Created and run by the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s, the People’s Free Food Program provided free food to Black and other oppressed people. It was among the many community outreach services the Party offered. Whatever opinion you might hold of the Party and I admit mine are conflicted, it did some good things and tried to help people often overlooked by the government and, indeed, other Americans.

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Charley's War

History also informs this week’s pick of the week. Charley’s War Volume 1: The Definitive Collection by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun [Rebellion; approximately $27 in U.S. dollars] reprints the stories originally published in the British weekly Battle Picture Library from January 6, 1979 to October 25, 1980. Over the past decades and in a number of different printings, I have read these chapters four or five times over. That I never tire of them is because Charley’s War is the finest war comics series of all time.

This is the story of Charley Bourne, an underage British soldier who lies about his age to join the British Army during World War I. The recruiters overlook that the sixteen-year-old Charley, not the brightest tool in the shed, can’t get his birth year correct on his application. England needs soldiers.

Before long, Charley is fighting in the trenches and, incredibly, getting smarter all the time. He adapts to the horrors around him and becomes a soldier who is equal parts brave, capable, and often damn lucky. He fights in the Battle of the Somme, one of the most bloody and deadly battles in the history of warfare. It’ has been reported that more than three million men fought in this battle with a million of them being wounded or killed. Mills and Colquhoun depict this brutal struggle in painful detail.

In stark chapters of mostly four pages, Charley’s War introduces us to foppish aristocrats, common men, petty bureaucrats, sadistic officers and clueless relatives who can’t understand why a lad like Charley can’t find the time to thank his auntie for the scarf she sent him. Charley and his mates soldier on, even when the food is terrible, their pay is late and too many of their officers look at them as fodder to be fed to the enemy for the great glory of king and crown. There are moments of humor in these stories, but those moments never last long.

Charley’s War is not an easy series to read, but it’s essential to anyone who considers themselves a supporter of great comics. This is a series you should read. This definitive collection, boasting the best reproduction the series has ever had and presenting over 300 pages of comics and additional features, are books you should have in your comics library.

Charley’s War Volume 1: The Definitive Collection

ISBN 978-1-78108-619-3

Charley’s War Volume 2: The Definitive Collection

ISBN 978-1-78108-620-9

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The Pervert

The Pervert by Remy Boydell with words by Michelle Perez [Image; $17.99] is, according to its back cover, “a surprisingly honest and touching account of a trans girl surviving through sex work in Seattle.” It’s the debut graphic novel for its creators and, based on this debut, I’m looking forward to what they do next and hoping it continues the story of this GN’s protagonist.

I don’t come to this graphic novel unaware. I have friends who are trans. I have friends who are sex workers. Each of their stories, each of their outlooks, each of their hopes and dreams for their futures are different. So I didn’t put any expectation on Boydell and Perez beyond telling this character’s story.

Their heroine faces and makes difficult choices. I can’t say that I feel all those choices were wise ones. But a reader with an open heart and mind can connect with her and wish for her happiness. If not now than in the times to come.

I confess I was put off by the graphic novel’s title since that’s a common insult thrown at transpeople and, indeed, many people who don’t fit the traditional “cisgender” or “cissexual” designation. Of course, I’m not wild about most such designations, including the ones that apply to me, and also don’t much hold to the notion of reclaiming such insults. That’s me. The anthropomorphic depiction of the humans in this graphic novel didn’t do much for me either. After so many years of this, it has grown tiresome for me. Boydell and Perez are telling a very human story here. I would have preferred the characters be drawn as human beings. Again, that’s me.

The Pervert is for mature readers and won’t be to everyone’s taste. I recommend it to those of you always looking for new stories told by new creators who want to reflect the world around us.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0741-4

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Self Storage

What if Storage Wars had zombies?

Storage Wars is a reality show that airs on A&E. It revolves around buyers who bid on storage units whose original owners have stopped paying rent on those units. They only get a quick glimpse of these units. Then they bid on them and hope to find treasure. I used to be a big fan of this show until it was revealed that the producers seed some of the units with great stuff.

Self Storage by writer/creator Clay McLeod Chapman and artist Matt Timson [451 Media; $19.99] throws zombies into the mix. Chris Smith is a likeable guy who barely gets by hocking stuff from abandoned storage units. Then he opens up a unit and finds a zombie name of Jessica. What the…you know.

This is an entertaining graphic novel. That’s coming from me, who has never been a fan of zombies. Except for maybe Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie, Shaun of the Dead and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (which I am about a hundred issues behind on.) The writing is good. The art is good. You get to know the characters. You get to watch the mystery of Jessica unfold. You get some shocks. It’s not unlike a fun B-movie.

Self Storage is definitely worth checking out. It would also make a fun movie. Are you listening, Hollywood?

ISBN 978-0-99852-120-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #260

My fascination with pre-code horror comics of the 1950s continues, enabled by PS Artbooks and their seemingly endless reprint volumes of that material. I read Pre-Code Classics: Mysterious Adventures Volume One [$49.99] over the weekend and it has earned a permanent place on my bookshelves.

Mysterious Adventures ran 25 issues from March 1951 to August 1955. Though the issues didn’t carry any particular branding, they were published by Story Comics. This volume reprints issues #1-6 of the series. Writing credits for these issues are nonexistent. Artists have been identified for many of the stories, but a number of those identifications seem like a wild guesswork to me.

The covers are fairly garish but not gory. Walter Johnson’s cover for the first issue is indicative of the story-driven nature of the covers. Strangely enough, that cover illustrated the issue’s prose story and not a comics story. Every one of these six issues has a small “Tales of Horror” blurb on the cover along with a reference to these being the strangest tales every heard.

The stories have the usual vampires, monsters, witches, possessed killers and so on found in most of the horror comics of the era. Issue #1’s cover seems to have inspired an actual comics story for the second issue, making me wonder if it that second issue story was originally intended for the first issue. By the end of “The Cabinet of the Living Death,” the male and female protagonists have been reduced in size and turned into Ju-Ju dolls. They can’t move, but they are still alive. Several issues later, that shock ending is used again, but in even more terrifying fashion with a pair of illicit lovers turned into still-sentient shrunken heads.

Another tale had a mother coming back from the grave to protect her daughter from her husband’s second wife. The mother’s spirit turns the second wife into a mad horse who is then shot and killed. The horse disappears and, when they find the second wife, she’s not just dead from a gunshot wound, but, near her body, is jewelry that had been buried with the first wife. I’d rate the writing in these comics a cut above the usual.

The art is pretty good as well. Ed Goldfarb (pencils) and Bob Baer (inks) make for an intriguing team. We also get solid artwork from Alvin C. Hollingsworth, Lou Cameron, John D’Agostino, Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallerico. I’m getting more selective about these horror reprint volumes, but I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in the genre.

ISBN 978-1-78636-196-7

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All-New Wolverine

I’ve been enjoying All-New Wolverine, the Marvel Comics title that stars Laura Kenney, the clone daughter of the original Wolverine. As X-23, she was created to be the perfect killing machine, was an assassin for an evil organization and eventually found her way to the X-Men and the road to redemption. She’s a terrific character and, save for when Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, I like her better than the original. Marvel’s overuse of Logan/Wolverine and its multiple incarnations of him have exhausted my interest in the character. I wish Logan weren’t coming back, but, alas, it isn’t my call and so All-New Wolverine will be ending. At least, Laura will be back for a fourth volume of X-23.

All-New Wolverine #25-32 [$3.99 each], the latest issues I’ve read of the title, were entertaining. At first, I was dismayed by issue #25-30’s “Orphans of X” because it seemed to be just another “self-involved super-heroes” tale, which I define as stories in which the heroes are fighting for themselves and not really to protect other lives. It sometimes seems like a majority of super-hero titles from Marvel and DC fall into this category.

Writer Tom Taylor brought something else into the mix. Yes, Laura and other Weapon X Project creations are being hunted down by the surviving family members of people killed by Laura and the others. Self-interest, right? Yet, by the end of the six-issue arc, Laura has seized control of the conflict and redirected her efforts into helping the survivors get justice without killing her and the rest of the Weapon X alumni. That’s followed by two done-in-one stories that are still connected to the Orphans of X, one of them featuring a guest appearance by Deadpool.

 All-New Wolverine Vol. 5: Orphans of X [$17.99] collects the story arc by Taylor and artist Juann Cabal. I enjoyed it so much that I’m recommending it to you and making it my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-30290-561-3

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Joe Shuster

The Artist Behind Superman: The Joe Shuster Story by Julian Voloj and Thomas Camp [Super Genius; $19.99] back-cover bills itself as “The Secret Story of Superman’s Creation.” This graphic novel may not live up to that claim precisely – much of that story has been written about elsewhere – but does manage an occasional surprise along the way. The visual format also lends a different perspective to the story of the two guys from Cleveland and how they achieved their dream, fell from the heights and then regained at least some dignity, financial compensation and respect before the end.

The focus on Shuster gives this book a perspective unlike the other books. Writer Jerry Siegel had always been the dominant partner in their collaboration. He came up with the basic Superman as super-hero concept and created the rudimentary world of their character. He was the one who fought, sometimes unwisely, for their rightful due. He was the one whose dramatics finally got the attention of the public at large. But Shuster is the star of this graphic novel and it reveals him as meek and mild as Superman pretended to be in his guise of Clark Kent. More than Siegel, Shuster seems to be the guy caught in the middle of the conflicts, going along with Siegel because of his loyalty to his friend and because he knew they were in the right.

Shuster’s is a sad story. The downside of this otherwise excellent comics work is that readers don’t get to see the light at the end of the Superman tunnel. The book simply ends too soon. Even so, it is a keeper for fans of Superman and students of comics history. It includes a selected bibliography for those who want to know more, as well as over a dozen pages of notes. It should be a contender in next year’s comics awards.

ISBN 978-1-62991-776-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #259

It’s been a busy, exciting few weeks for your friendly neighborhood Tipster-Man. I was a guest at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia and Northern Michigan’s Cherry Capital Comic Con. Nominated for a prestigious arts prize, I had to prepare a portfolio of my work.

I’ve been getting ready to launch my 2018 garage sales, my ongoing attempt to reduce my Vast Accumulation of Stuff to something I can honestly call a collection and confine to one or two rooms in my Tardis of a house. As of this writing, the stuff fills three full rooms, parts of four other rooms and three off-site storage units. My “arrgh” is definitely a cry for help.

But, as always, there are always new wonderful comics and comics-related things to delight me. Here are a trio of choice books I’ve read recently.

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Let’s start with my pick of the week. The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York by Peter J. Tomasi with art by Sara Duvall [Harry N. Abrams; $24.99] is the story of the making of the Brooklyn Bridge. This is epic history in graphic novel form and one of the most compelling comics I’ve read all year.

The Brooklyn Bridge remains an architectural marvel over a century after its completion. It was originally designed by John Augustus Roebling, but completed by his son Washington and his daughter-in-law Emily. Its story is rich with history, a tale of perseverance against the most daunting physical and political odds.

The Bridge is also a family story. John died early in the decade-and-a-half construction project. His son Washington saw the bridge to completion, even after his own bridge-related illness kept him from supervising the construction on site. Emily was his eyes and ears on the project and the conduit from which Washington led his builders. As determined as her husband and perhaps wiser, Emily is a magnificent heroine in an era where women were unlikely to wield such power. When this graphic novel is made into a movie – and it should be – the best actresses of our time will vie for the chance to play Emily.

Tomasi turns his lifelong love of “all things bridges” into what is arguably his best comics writing ever. Duvall’s art shows a great attention to historical detail and an impressive skill portraying human emotions. While I don’t have a great deal of faith in comics industry awards, I will be amazed and disappointed if The Bridge is not nominated for multiple awards.

I recommend The Bridge to anyone who loves great comics. I think it would make a great gift for comics and non-comics readers alike. That it belongs in every public and school library in the country goes without saying. Except I’m going to say it because I want to drive home how wondrous this book is.

ISBN 978-1-4197-2852-5

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Batman Nightwalker

Batman: Nightwalker by New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu [Random House Books for Young Readers; $18.99] is part of the “DC Icons” series. Aimed at readers 12 and up, this novel puts a just-graduated-from-high-school Bruce Wayne against a terrorist outfit targeting Gotham City’s most elite citizens. Having just come into his inheritance, Wayne is on their list.

Unlike the mercurial young man of TV’s Gotham, Lu’s Bruce Wayne is a remarkable consistent character. He is driven and occasionally reckless, but he has a fierce dedication to justice. He is clever, compassionate and courageous. Unfortunately, those traits put him at odds with the Gotham City police when he attempts to chase one of the Nightwalkers. His circumstances keep him from suffering any serious consequences, but his community service has him mopping the floors at Arkham Asylum.

Forming a connection with a young woman inmate charged with murder who has refused to speak to the police, Bruce is recruited by the police to report on anything he might learn from their encounters. Bruce is fascinated by the brilliant and enigmatic Madeleine. But does she have feelings for him or is she merely using him to move forward the Nightwalkers agenda?

Lu’s writing is first-rate. She does a great job with Bruce and his supporting cast. Some, such as Alfred, Harvey Dent and Lucius Fox, will be recognizable to Batman fans. Others, such as classmates Dianne and Richard, Detective Draccon, and the haunting Madeleine, are fine additions to the Batman mythos.

Batman: Nightwalker is a page-turning thriller. I recommend it to fans who cherish a more realistic, sane hero than usually seen in the comic books and movies.

Also available in the “DC Icons” series: Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo and Catwoman: Soulstealer by Saran J. Mass. Coming in January 2019 will be Superman: Deathfighter by Matt de la Pena.

Batman: Nightwalker

ISBN 978-0-399-54978-6

Catwoman: Soulstealer

ISBN 978-0-399-54969-4

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

ISBN 978-0-399-54973-1

 

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Princess Jellyfish 8

Ahiho Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish Volume 8 [Kodansha Comics; $9.99] is the penultimate volume in this utterly delightful Josei manga series about the otaku women – NEETS who refer to themselves as the “Amars” (nuns) – who live in an apartment building in Tokyo. Yeah, I know I just threw around some words than some of you will not know. Consider this a teaching moment.

Josei manga is a manga subset aimed at women in their late teens on into adulthood. Though I’m pretty obviously not a member of this demographic, I enjoy manga of this type because it emphasizes the characters and human interactions more than most battle, horror and science fiction manga.

Otaku is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, most usually referring to their interest in anime or manga. I am otaku for so many different things that it would take an entire column to list all of them.

The acronym NEET originated in the United Kingdom and has spread to Japan and other lands. It refers to a young people who are “Not in Education, Employment or Training.” Get a job, you slackers!

Real estate developers have cast avaricious eyes on Amamizukan, the home of the Amars. To save their home, the woman decide to conquer the fashion industry with jellyfish-inspired clothing designed by the series romantic lead Tsukimi. Their knight in dazzling dresses and heels is Kuranosuke, the son of a politician who crossdresses to avoid following in his father’s footsteps.

Princess Jellyfish combines romantic comedy, political satire, pop culture and corporate intrigue. It’s one of my favorite manga ever. I recommend it to both female and male readers.

ISBN 978-1-63236-563-7

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #258

I’ve started charging for my signature on comics and other things I’ve written. My first signature is free and additional signatures cost a mere $2 per item. If you buy items from my convention table, I’ll sign those items for free.

In addition to covering hotel, meals and travel expenses, I’ve also started charging an appearance fee to most conventions and events. It’s not an inconsequential fee, but it is inexpensive compared to what many other guests receive.

Why am I doing this? Because the fans have shown a willingness to pay far more for signatures from movie, television and wrestling celebrities and barely celebrities, and because the conventions and other events now routinely pay appearance fees to such celebrities and barely celebrities. But that’s only a partial answer.

My main reason for charging these appearance and signature fees is because I want the money. There are a great many projects I want to create before I kick the bucket. It would be swell if I had a cadre of editors and publishers lining up to bring these works to the marketplace, but that’s not the case. In lieu of that, I’m hoping to finance the projects by making more money from the conventions I attend and the books I sign.

If a fan doesn’t want to pay for that second signature, I have no problem with their decision. I mean, I might be a tad disappointed in them if they have just shelled out $40 for a signed photo of some guy who plays a background zombie on TV and won’t pay for my signature. But I won’t hold it against them.

If a convention or event doesn’t want to pay my appearance fee, I’m not going to get upset with them either. From the decades I worked on my friend Roger Price’s Mid-Ohio-Con, I know putting on events is a demanding, expensive proposition. If the budget doesn’t have room for me, I understand that. But, odds are, this means I won’t be attending their convention. I’ll stay home and either relax or work. It’s all good for me.

Sooner rather than later, I think most comics creators will come to the same place I am today. Many already have. As for the fans, I’m hoping they will understand the realities of our changing world and continue to support us. Thank you.

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This week’s pick of the week is Batman ’66 Meets Steed & Mrs. Peel by Ian Edginton with artist Matthew Dow Smith [DC Comics; $16.99]. Dismayed by the utter soul-crushing bleakness of the Batman movies and most of the Batman comics books, I found myself increasingly drawn to lighter Batman adventures such as those found in various animated series, comic books based on those series, the mid-1960s Batman TV series and, of course, the recent series of comic books based on it. I have a new appreciation for the charming camp of the TV series and absolutely love the Batman ‘66 comics.

After 30 issues of Batman ‘66 and a special issue presenting a lost script written by Harlan Ellison and adapted to comics by Len Wein, DC switched over to mini-series teaming the Caped Crusaders with other legends of that era: Green Hornet, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Wonder Woman and, from across the Atlantic, the avenging Steed and Mrs. Peel. They had me from the get-go.

A Catwoman jewel heist leads to a bigger case involving Batman’s aristocratic antagonist Lord Ffogg and the mechanical Cybernauts who vexed Steed and Peel on more than one occasion. Edginton nails all of the characters in a story filled with action, surprises and a healthy dose of British charm and wit. Smith is less ceratin with his visualizations of the characters, but not so much that is hurts the series. The six-issue series is great fun and I recommend it to all looking for a more friendly Batman.

ISBN 978-1-4012-7384-2

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Founders Fandom

Historian and author Bill Schelly has again turned his attention to fans in Bill Schelly Talks with the Founders of Comic Fandom Volume One [Pulp Hero Press; $17.95]. It was in the 1960s that comic-book fans began to form the community that has grown larger with every passing year. In this book, Schelly interviewed six of the founders of that fandom. His subjects:

Richard and Pat Lupoff, the science fiction fans whose fanzine Xero ran nostalgic articles on the comics of the 1940s by themselves, Don Thompson, Richard Kyle, Roy Thomas and others.

Jerry Bails, the “Father of Comic Book Fandom” and the creator of Alter Ego, CAPA-alpha (the first amateur press association devoted to comic books), the first comics newszine and the first comics adzine.

Ronn Foss, legendary fan artist who followed Bails as the editor as many of the Bails-created fanzines.

Richard “Grass” Green, creator of countless comics for fanzines and underground comics and the most prominent black member of comics fandom in its formative years.

John Benson, the scholarly interviewer of comics greats like Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman and Gil Kane, as well as a noted author and editor. Squa Tront, the beloved EC Comics fanzine, was his fanzine.

Schelly may well be our greatest comics fandom historian. If you’re interested in that subject, you’ll want this book and the volumes to follow.

ISBN 978-1683901198

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Star Wars Thrawn

Though the Star Wars Universe has grown too vast for me to really comprehend, Marvel’s Star Wars comic books continue to be old man friendly and entertaining. Their opening pages contain enough info to give me a leg-up into the stories with those stories themselves being relatively self-contained.

Star Wars: Thrawn #1-2 [$4.99 and $3.99, respectively) introduced me to a character first seen in Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn. Thrawn is from “an unnamed planet in wild space, beyond the outer rim in the unknown regions.” A cunning strategist and warrior, he places himself in the service of the Galactic Empire and begins his rise to power within those ranks.

I can’t say I like Thrawn – after all, he’s a willing member of an evil empire – but I find him fascinating. I don’t know what his end game might be, but I enjoyed these first two issues and am looking forward to future issues.

Kudos to writer Jody Houser, who always delivers fine scripts, and artist Luke Ross, an equally fine artist and storyteller. If I see their names on a comic book, I read it. ‘Nuff said!

If you’d like to comment on this week’s column, you can e-mail me at tonyisa@ohio.net. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll be back next week with more news, views and reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #257

The CW’s Black Lightning has concluded its first season. Since so many friends and readers have asked me what I thought of the season finale, here are my quick comments:

The season finale was everything I could’ve hoped for. Salim Akil has said Black Lightning #5 from my second comic-book series was a big inspiration for that finale, but he and his team went so much further. There were great character moments, including Mama Pierce with a shotgun. There were exciting action scenes, like Jefferson  and his family under siege. There was a satisfying ending and also a nice tease to the next season.

One of the things I most loved was how Tobias Whale, played so well by Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III, has built a sort of new family for himself. While I don’t know what Salim has planned for the second season, I think we may be seeing the establishment of a family feud for the ages. By the way, Marvin was one of the friends who asked me what I thought of the finale.

Moving on…my next appearance will be at The Toys Time Forgot in Canal Fulton, Ohio. That will be on Free Comic Book Day, May 5. My fellow guests include Matt Horak, artist on Marvel’s The Punisher and Spider-Man/Deadpool. In keeping in the spirit of the day, I’ll be signing for free. Not free will be the various Black Lightning and Isabella items I’ll be selling at the event. But, hey, let the old comic-book writer make a buck, okay?

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MAD #1 [$5.99] gets better paper, a new editorial team, new design and some new features to go along with that new numbering. What it doesn’t get is a completely new cover. Alfred E. Newman holding his middle finger to his nose is a repeated idea from several decades ago. It’s not edgy. It’s not shocking, although, depending on their location, some stores could have a problem displaying and selling it. It’s a terrible way to kick off the new era I’d been and still am looking forward to.

Many old favorites remain. There’s a parody of the latest Star Wars movie by Desmond Devlin and artist Tom Richmond. Sergio Aragones is here with “A MAD look at Harassment” and marginal cartoons. Peter Kuper is still entertaining me with his Spy vs. Spy pages and the legendary Al Jaffee is still amazing and entertaining me with his fold-ins. Sometime, because of these fold-ins, Jaffee’s mind should be named one of the greatest in the history of mankind.

My second-favorite of the new features was Potrzebie Comics with a DC super-hero story by Kerry Callen; a Luke McGarry contribution about Heaven’s 27 Club – where the stars who died at the age of 27 go – and a new strip by Bob Fingerman. All of these efforts speak well to MAD’s future.

But the feature that made me laugh out loud was writer Ian Boothby and artist Tom Richmond’s “Starchie Reconstituted.” It starts with an Archie take-off not unlike the one that appeared in the 1950s. It morphs into a parody of Riverdale. It’s as clever a piece as I have seen in MAD this decade.

MAD #1 gets my recommendation. It’s a good start to what I hope is going to be a long run of making America laugh again.

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Astro City 51

Astro City is near the end of its current run with a brilliant and heartrending two-issue tale of Miranda’s Friends, a support group for those who have lost loved ones in the fantastic battles fought by the heroes and villains of the city. “Brilliant” is redundant, of course, when it comes to the series and stories created by Kurt Busiek, Brent E. Anderson and Alex Ross.

Issues #50 and #51 [Vertigo; $3.99] each have a special meaning in today’s world where the names of victims of violence are forgotten while the names of their infamous killers are so much better known. This is especially true for Michael, the founder of the group, but that is something for you to discover when you read these issues.

For most of its existence, Astro City has been my favorite super-hero comic book. I mean, there was the six months when my own Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands was coming out, but, other than that, it was Astro City that spoke most deeply to me and my love for super-heroes in general. Busiek’s writing, Anderson’s art, Ross’ covers, and the amazing work of letterer John G. Roshell and colorist Peter Pantazis. If there’s been a bad issue of Astro City, I sure never read it.

Astro City #52 will be the final issue. From here on, the stories will be present in a series of original graphic novels. I’ll miss my near-monthly visit to the city, but I’m excited for what comes next. While I’m waiting, I plan to buy the Astro City collections and reread all their great stories. Though I’m actively reducing my Vast Accumulation of Stuff, Astro City is and will always forever be a keeper.

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Luke Cage 170

Luke Cage #170 [Marvel; $3.99] wraps the hero’s current series with one of the most heartwarming comic books of the year. Written by David F. Walker with art by Guillermo Sanna and striking colors by Marcio Myers, this done-in-one story is about Luke “reconnecting with what matters most.”

Luke has been on the road for most of this run. Now he’s returned to New York and reunited with wife Jessica Jones and their daughter Danielle. Bullied by one of the other kids at day care, Danielle is feeling blue. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She just wants her dad to tell her a story.

After Danielle rejects the story about how Luke beat up Doctor Doom because he owed her money – “You tell that one all the time.” – and the one about how he and Uncle Danny (Iron Fist) became the best super-hero team in the world – “You tell that one all the time, too. It’s boring.” – she demands a brand-new story, one Luke makes up from his head.

What follows is comic-book magic. Luke starts his story. Danielle keeps changing it and adding things to it. At the end, it’s a story they most created. This gives me major good feelings.

This is a award-deserving winning issue of Luke Cage. I’d vote for it a heartbeat. Unless it was against an issue of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, but that’s my ego fail. Not only do I urge you to track down and read this splendid comic book, I’m naming it my pick of the week.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella