TONY’S TIPS #279

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spook 1

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-78636-142-4

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Solution Squad

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

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

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

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

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

Hardcover [$24.99]

ISBN 978-0-9989-4231-3

Paperback [$19.99]

ISBN  978-0-9989-4250-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #278

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

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

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

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-988-24726-7

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Hey Kids Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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i am neil armstrong

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

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

ISBN 978-0-7352-2872-6

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #277

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

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

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

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

Hercules

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-50670-788-4

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Border Town

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

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

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

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

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Casper's Ghostland

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #276

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-4012-7515-0

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Complete Cosmo

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-68255-895-9

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FTL

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-9458-2020-5

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Rx

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

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

ISBN 978-1-4555-9854-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

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