One of my goals for the rest of this year is to catch up on all of the DC Comics movies, TV shows and animated features. My viewing of these will be erratic because I haven’t yet found the chronological listing – if such a list exists – that would allow me to exercise my OCD and watch them in order of release. Some whose own OCD takes a more active form than mine should prepare such a list and send it to me. Believe me, I would herald that individual’s greatness in a future installment of this column.

Batman: Bad Blood [Warner Bros. Animation/DC Comics; approximately $13] came to me through my local library. The 2016 direct-to-video release was directed by Jay Oliva who’s helmed many other animated features and worked as a storyboard artist on various live-action films. He’s got chops. It was written by J.M. DeMatteis, writer of countless comic books as well as many episodes of both animated and live-action. Okay, you probably could count all the comic books he has written, but you’d be counting for two or three days.

The bare bones Internet Movie Database summary of the feature goes exactly like this:

Bruce Wayne is missing. Alfred covers for him while Nightwing and Robin patrol Gotham City in his stead. And a new player, Batwoman, investigates Batman’s disappearance.

That summary is close enough for government work, but leaves out a number of salient points. The feature includes the origins of both Batwoman and Batwing with a teaser shot of another hero at the end of the film. It also has somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen super-villains, including the Electrocutioner, Tusk, Firefly, the Mad Hatter, the Calculator, Killer Moth and more. I’m hoping that a whole bunch of comics writers and artists got some money for the appearances of their creations.

The voice actors include Jason O’Mara as Batman, Yvonne Strahovski as Batwoman, Stuart Allan doing a darn fine job as Damian Wayne, Morena Baccarin, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Ernie Hudson (who I really want to work with some day because he’s my favorite Ghostbuster) and others. There is nary a false note among all these talented performers.

Wanting to avoid spoilers, all I’ll say about Batman: Bad Blood is that I enjoyed it. It threw some surprises at me. It had some real character growth. I’m adding it to my Amazon Wish List because I’d like to watch it again sometime and share it with others. It’s my pick of the week.



Camp Midnight by Steven T. Seagle and artist Jason Adam Katzenstein [Image Comics; $16.99] is the creepy, funny and ultimately moving story of what a young girl named Skye did on her summer vacation. Her parents are divorced, her dad’s new wife doesn’t seem to like her and she just got on the wrong bus for summer camp. Which takes her to a camp where activities don’t start until midnight and where all the other kids are monsters. Chalk up a win for Free Comic Book Day because it was the free excerpt of this graphic novel that got me to seek out the full edition.

Skye’s afraid to let the other campers know she’s an ordinary human being. Mia, the first friend Skye makes at the camp, doesn’t want anyone to know what she really is. So, alongside the creepy stuff and the funny stuff, we also get some not-remotely-preachy lessons about being yourself and standing up for yourself. The targeted age range for this book is 9-12, but it’s smart enough to be enjoyed my older readers. Even dinosaurs like me.

Seagle’s writing is sharp and his characters come alive in dialogue that never “sounds” wrong to me. Katzenstein’s art – his cartoons have appeared in Newsweek and The New Yorker – isn’t typical comics stuff, but it flows nicely and tells the story well. This could be a contender for next year’s awards.

I like Camp Midnight a lot. It should be in every public and school library that wants to build a graphic novel collection for readers of all ages. It would be a terrific gift for younger readers and, for that matter, older ones. Definitely recommended.

ISBN 978-1-63215-555-9



Roy Thomas Presents Captain Science [$69.99] is the latest vintage comics collection from the UK’s PS Artbooks. Originally published by Youthful Magazines, the volume reprints all seven issues of the title from November 1954 to July 1955.

Captain Science is a brilliant scientist who is given the advanced scientific knowledge of a dying race and an electronic brain that can alert him to any threat to our world. He’s joined in this fight by the young, very rich Rip Gary and the lovely Luana, who turned against her evil father to help the good Captain save our planet. It’s a fairly typical group of heroes with the somewhat troubling sidebar that Rip was mentally conditioned by an alien to devote his wealth to the service of Captain Science.

Each issue has two stories of the Captain and two other stories. An interplanetary detective named Brant Craig appears in most issues. Captain Science’s villains are evil alien conquerors and the gooey monsters who love them. Brant mostly brings criminals to justice. As for the non-series stories, they are often the best story in an issue. Some notable examples: “When Time Stood Still,” “The Glower of Death,” “The Hangman’s Son,” and the amazing “World War III with the Ants.” That last one could and should be expanded into a full-length graphic album, a novel or even a movie.

The writers of these comic books have not yet been identified, but the artist roster includes Wally Wood, Walter Johnson, Don Perlin, Gustav Schrotter, Joe Orlando, Myron Fass and Harry Harrison. The book also features a foreword by editor Thomas.

With issue #8, the name of the title changed to Fantastic. The last two Captain Science stories and the last Brant Craig adventure ran in that issue, but are not included in this hardcover. Fantastic ended with issue #9, which had four non-series anthology stories. I’m hoping PS Artbooks reprints those two issues of Fantastic in a near-future collection.

You know the drill on these PS Artbooks volumes. Though all of the reprinted comic books might not be classic, the books are wonderful additions to our comics library. In this case, fans of Wally Wood and Joe Orlando will want the bool for their artwork.

Captain Science was good fun. On that basis, along with the afore-mentioned historical value, I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-84863-956-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Black Lightning. Before we get to this week’s reviews, I should say a few words to the three or four comics fans who somehow have not seen the latest news about the character I created for DC Comics. I’ll try to keep these remarks brief because, even at 65 years of age, I think people should try new things.

DC Entertainment has received a pilot commitment from Fox on Black Lightning. This means – and I hope I have this right – DC will be making a pilot for a Black Lightning TV series. If Fox loves this pilot, Black Lightning will get his show. This commitment is due to the hard work of Greg Berlanti, show runners Mara and Salim Akil, and Geoff Johns, who is a hero to the Isabella family.

I’ve spoken with Mara and Salim. We got along famously. Their take on Black Lightning is well within what I consider the core values of my creation. I’m excited about their plans.

For reasons that should be obvious to those of you have been around this rodeo for a few years, I’m not going to be able to say a lot about the show going forward. Or about other Black Lightning stuff. I’ll tell you what I can when I can. For example:

There will be more Black Lightning announcements coming. I believe you will like them as much as I do.

And now, this week’s reviews…


For several years now, KaBoom!, a division of Boom Entertainment, has been publishing original Garfield comic books based on the Jim Davis comic strip that is a favorite around the world and here at Casa Isabella. Don and Maggie Thompson introduced me to Garfield way back in 1980 when Ballantine Books published the first of over 60 collections of the strip. I loved the format of the book and I loved the strip itself. Garfield has been a daily part of my life ever since.

I prefer my Garfield comic books like Garfield prefers his lasagna: in big delicious chunks. Garfield Volume Four [July 2014; $13.99] was my latest mirthful meal. It collects material from Garfield Pet Force Special #1 and Garfield #13-16. The stories are written by Mark Evanier, who is one of my favorite writers and oldest friends, and Scott Nickel, whose comic strip Eek! is also a favorite of your friendly neighborhood tipster. Art is by Gary Barker with Mark and Stephanie Heike, Andy Hirsch, Courtney Bernard and Genevieve Ft. As I will be saying many nice things about Evanier, let me assure you my reviews aren’t influenced by my friendships for those whose work I write about. Mark has never once paid me to say nice things about him. He has me on a retainer. Drum roll.

“Pet Force” cats Garfield, Odie, Nermal and Arlene as super-heroes. In a story by Nickel, the team is disbanded under the influence of the emotion-controlling Hater. In a second story by Evanier, based somewhat on his experiences with shady contractors, the team faces a cosmic, world-destroying contractor. These tales are a very funny parody of super-hero comics.

But it’s the purer Garfield stories I love best, the stories that, despite starring a sentient cat, deal with real-life things like diets, cranky neighbors, lateness, self-esteem, inflated ego, cut-throat business competition and such. Evanier has a knack for this kind of story and his artists do fine work visualizing them.

Garfield Volume 4 is my pick of the week. Not only was it big fun to kick back and enjoy it from cover to cover, but it featured the kind of comics I read a second time to study how Evanier and crew made the stories work. The entire KaBoom! Garfield series gets my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-60886-392-1



DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis [$9.99] by Shea Fontana with art by Yancey Labat is a 128-page, 6″ by 9″ original graphic novel for readers 8-12 years old. It’s based on the animated series that has been an online sensation since it first launched.

In this corner of the DC Multiverse, Super Hero High is where the teen versions of heroes and villains go to learn how to use their abilities effectively. The principal is Amanda Waller with Gorilla Grodd as her vice-president. The main characters include Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Bumblebee, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Katana and others. It’s an amusing concept that can be enjoyed by younger and older readers alike.


That said, I was disappointed in this particular adventure. While preparing for their finals, the young heroines are kidnapped, one by one, by a mysterious villain whose identity will not fool comic-book readers in the least. The girls defeat this villain by working together, a sweet little moral that ignores the fact that, even at this early stage in their training, every one of these young women should have been able to beat the bad guy by themselves. The moral drove the story and that hurt the story.


DC Super Hero Girls is worth checking out. Even a flawed book like this one, it still entertaining.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6247-1



World of Archie Double Digest #61 [$4.99] is the new issue of the only Archie Comics title I still collect. I read a few of Archie’s standard-size comics like Archie, Jughead and The Black Hood, but the company just doesn’t speak to me as it did for so many years. No pun intended, the vileness that is Afterlife with Archie was the final nail in that particular coffin.

When I say I collect World of Archie Double Digest, that’s exactly what I mean. I have all 61 issues. I started collecting it because it was reprinting classic comics like Cosmo the Merry Martian and the pre-Pussycats Josie. It threw in some oddball stuff like Young Dr. Masters and Seymour, My Son. I kept collecting it even after it ran out of that material because it was still reprinting fun stuff by writers Frank Doyle and George Gladir – my two favorite Archie writers – and great artists like Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg, Harry Lucey and others.

The title has seen better days, but it still has enough of the good stuff to keep me buying.

The high points this time out are the second chapter of a spy spoof by Tom DeFalco, a fun “Reggie gets his comeuppance” story written and drawn by Al Hartley, the usual fun scripts by Doyle and Gladir, and an “Archie 1″ tale – the Riverdale kids in prehistoric times – that ends on a pun that made me groan in delight. In the past, I’ve recommended classic Archie comic books as a terrific change of pace from the grim and grittiness of so many super-hero comics. I still think World of Archie Double Digest works in that regard. Check it out sometime, especially if you can get hold of one of the earlier issues.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


First up today is the frankly disappointing Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 6 [Fantagraphics; $39.99]. The hardcover book collects 38 Ditko-drawn stories that were originally published by Charlton comic books dated 1958 and 1959. My disappointment doesn’t lie with the volume itself, but rather with the substandard stories presented therein.

Blake Bell’s introduction is informative, but his critical praise of Ditko’s work on these stories strikes me as excessive. But his historical insights and his inclusion of pages Ditko drew when he once again started getting work at Marvel helps put these stories in context.

Ditko rarely seems inspired by the stories reprinted here and that shows in his mostly journeyman art on them. It’s also quite likely Charlton’s notoriously low rates played a factor. Sometimes, then and now, the art of the comics art form takes a back seat to more mundane financial considerations.

There are, as you would expect, flashes of Ditko brilliance. “The Time Chamber” has a large final panel “shot” through a window and it’s stunning. Even some of the more minimalist art has a certain cleverness in Ditko’s execution of the drab stories he was given to illustrate.  Given how poorly written and often wildly unfocused the stories are, I’m not about to fault Ditko for not doing more with them. The story comes first and, if that’s not there, even if the art looks great, the story still falls flat. Great comics have both great stories and great art.

Some of the best writing and art in this volume is in the stories starring Black Fury. The mighty steed belongs to Rocky Lane, cowboy star of many movies and TV shows. Apparently, horse and man have a long-distance relationship. Lane himself only appears in one of the Black Fury stories. In any case…

Ditko seems somewhat energized by these western assignments. Though I can’t speak to the accurate of the horse anatomy, there is both beauty and power in Ditko’s depictions of Black Fury. The stories are also better written than most of the sci-fi efforts included in this volume.

The back cover blurb claims the sci-fi stories “tapped into Middle America’s fears and aspirations during the 1950s Cold War era and the beginning of the space race with Soviet Russia.” This is a bit of an exaggeration, but worth discussing. While the volume has some of the knee-jerk jingoism that would become more common at Charlton and other publishers during the 1960s, there are also stories which clearly oppose aggression from both the United States and Russia, or their otherworldly counterparts. That nuance would fade from the Charlton comics in the 1960s.

The bottom line is that Ditko is one of the most important creators to have worked in comic books. My disappointment in these reprinted efforts doesn’t change their historical importance because, at his best or at his most mundane, Ditko remains a key figure in comics. His work, even this work, needs to be available to today’s comics historians and readers.

I recommend Outer Limits to avid Ditko fans and also to those whose interests lie more with comics history in general. Bell is likely limited to reprinting public domain comic books, but wouldn’t it be sell if Marvel and other publishers either granted reprint rights to this dedicated history or published their own volumes showcasing the entirety of Ditko’s work for them? I would happily make room on my bookcases for such volumes.

ISBN 978-1-60699-916-5



Ever since I started writing comic books, I’ve been extraordinarily fond of what Don and Maggie Thompson deemed “done-in-one” stories. As comic books, especially super-hero comic books, shifted to story arcs and serials, the art of telling a satisfying super-hero tale in one standard-length issue became something of a lost art. While done-in-one comics never faded entirely, they became somewhat rare. These days, when I come across issues that tell a satisfying tale that can stand alone, when those issues are as well done as those I’ll be writing about in this column, I rejoice.

A+A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #5 [Valiant; $3.99] is one such done-in-one delight. It is the story of the first date of martial artist Archer and the super-heroine Faith and I suspect it had me grinning from start to finish.

The current ongoing A+A story has the immortal Armstrong searching for the equally immortal wife he forgot he had. While the friends await new leads, with encouragement from Armstrong, Archer decides to ask Faith out on a date. The two young heroes have had a mostly online friendship for some time. Their date is amusing in places, heartwarming in others and mildly action-packed for the few pages in which they’re attacked by criminals who call themselves the Loan

Sharks and who wear shark costumes that aren’t nearly as stylish as those of Left Shark and Right Shark. Yeah, it’s goofy, but, really, isn’t young love always goofy when you do it right?

The story was written by Rafer Roberts who, assisted by the “What Has Gone Before” content on the inside front cover, does a terrific job making the issue accessible to new readers without being real obvious about it. Penciler Mike Norton provides smooth visuals and storytelling. The human stuff is very real, the super-hero stuff is realistically dynamic. Colorist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Dave Sharpe also do fine work here. This is a swell comic book on every level. I loved it and I recommend it.



There’s a lot going on in Marvel’s Scarlet Witch. As seen in Doctor Strange and other Marvel titles, magic and witchcraft are broken. In addition, Wanda Maximoff has met her real mother and is trying to learn more about her. However, in the midst of all this ongoing inner turmoil and multidimensional peril, Scarlet Witch #8 [$3.99] by James Robinson with art by Tula Lotay is a downright wonderful done-in-one story of Wanda telling her therapist what’s weighing on her mind lately. There is magic in the story and there is serious self-reflection and there is a surprise which absolutely delighted me for a reason I can’t say without spoiling said surprise. This is a really great comic book.

In a fictional universe laboring under one ill-considered “event” after another, at a comics publisher who routinely uses the deaths of characters as a marketing tool, at a company engaged in childish pettiness over its movie rights, Scarlet Witch #8 is a sensational done-in-one issue. That’s why I’m naming Scarlett Witch #8 as this week’s pick of the week.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


I spent a day with the Suicide Squad, but I didn’t go to the movie theater to do so. Instead, I read a big fat collection presenting earlier incarnations of the concept. In these earliest versions, there were a lot more dinosaurs.

Suicide Squad: The Silver Age Omnibus Volume 1 by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito and a few other creators [DC; $49.99] is a hardcover collection of the adventures that appeared in The Brave and the Bold and eleven later tales from Star Spangled War Stories. The two runs are as different from each other as they are from the cinematic and modern comics versions of the franchise.

The original Suicide Squad, also known as Task Force X, consisted of pilot/leader Rick Flagg, space medicine nurse Karin, physicist Doc Evans and astronomer Jess. They were trained to handle anything that came their way. What came their way were situations too weird and dangerous for other teams, situations that involved an alarming number of dinosaurs. In the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, kids and, specifically, kids who bought comics, loved dinosaurs.

Brave and Vold 37

Characters created by writer Kanigher almost always have traumatic back stories. Each member of the Squad had been the only survivor – in the case of Doc and Jess, survivors – of missions/experiments that went horribly wrong. Rick and Karin were in love, but, as Doc and Jess also longed for Karin, they didn’t act on their desires to preserve the smooth functioning of the team. The “sole survivors” bit was only mentioned a few times, but the love quadrangle, that was mentioned in every Suicide Squad tale in The Brave and the Bold #25-27 and #37-39.

With the art team of Andru and Esposito, Kanigher filled those six issues with wildly imaginative menaces. There were giant monsters from space, from ancient legends and from mad science experiments. There was an alien spaceship build to look like a giant dinosaur. There were evil Communists bent on conquering America, though they were never specifically said to be Communists. (But we kids of the Cold War, we knew who they were.) There was the sinister Sculptor Sorcerer, a spiffy super-criminal who really deserves to appear in some modern-day DC Comics title.

Andru and Esposito? I loved their work then and now. They drew some of the most beautiful women in comics and Karin is certainly among them. I remember being fascinated by her blonde hair, tight as the Comics Code would allow sweaters and pencil skirts, and those high heels perpetually dangling off one of her feet in moments of peril. She even wore that outfit under her jump suit.

The male members of the Squad were rock-jawed and somewhat stocky. It’s as if they were chiseled from living marble, but with none of the stiffness of unyielding stone.

The dinosaurs and other creatures? The Andru/Esposito touch could be seen as soon as you walked into a drug store and headed for the comic-book displays. They were masters of the medium and very few artists of that era could match their excellence.

Though the name “Suicide Squad,” the lovely Karin and the hard-as-nails Rick Flagg all lived on when Amanda Waller created her 1980s black ops team of troubled heroes and villains seeking pardons for their crimes, the original version of Task Force X was not a sales success. The first three “tryout” issues apparently did well enough to earn the Suicide Squad a second “tryout,” the very human heroes failed to earn their own ongoing book in a DC Universe that already had the Blackhawks, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Sea Devils and time master Rip Hunter’s team of history-traveling adventurers. Not even the dinosaurs could sell enough comic books to keep this first Suicide Squad in action.

But writer/editor Kanigher must have liked the way “Suicide Squad” rolled off his typewriter. When his Star Spangled War Stories went from French Resistence warrior Mademoiselle Marie to G.I.s battling dinosaurs in the improbable “The War That Time Forget” series, he used the name or variations of the name in eleven stories. All but one of these stories were written by Kanigher and all but two were drawn by Andru and Esposito.

Set in the Pacific in World War II, Star Spangled War Stories #110 was the first of two stories that featured the Professor (an island observer) and the Skipper (the captain of a PT boat that was never assigned, up to this point, anything but “milk runs”). I can only assume Gilligan, the millionaire, his wife, the movie star and Mary Ann were either AWOL or MIA. Besides the dinos, they encountered a giant white ape and, in the second tale, his son. Though the name “Suicide Squad” was not used in the story itself, the cover of the comic book and its splash page referred to “The Suicide Squadron’s Mystery Mission.”

Star Spangled War Stories 116

The WWII Suicide Squad made its first actual appearance in #116’s “The Suicide Squad” where its commanding officer described it:

You men of the Suicide Squad have been uniquely trained for special missions from which no regular combat soldier could hope to return!

Indeed, members of this squad were said to be able fire any weapon, drive any vehicle, fly any aircraft, perform any combat task, bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and so on. The last two are just my dumb jokes. They would have fried up that bacon in their “steel pots,” i.e., their helmets.

The first two Squad members we meet are Morgan and Mace, neither of whom is playing with a full deck of cards. Morgan hates Mace with a fanatical passion because Mace was the surviving member of a two-man Olympics toboggan team that had a fatal crash. The athlete who died was Morgan’s brother. So, in scene after scene, even when they are facing death on a mission, Morgan is aiming his weapon at Mace. He threatens to shoot him and occasionally does fire a shot at him. Consumed by guilt, Mace takes this crap when any sane person would feed Morgan to a dinosaur. The duo would appear in four stories. Three of them feature “Baby Dino,” a flying dinosaur who befriends them and who Morgan also wants to shoot, while their last adventure introduces the never-to-be-seen again Caveboy.

The “enemies forced to team up” bit gets used a few more times in this run of Suicide Squad stories. There’s the Sheriff and the Wild One, a lawman and the young criminal he once arrested. There’s the Stoner brothers, one a police officer and the other a fugitive from the law. There are two soldiers who knew each other as teenagers, one from the wrong side of the tracks and the other from the right side of the tracks.

Maybe the most chilling of the Suicide Squad tales is “The Monster that Sank a Navy,” the last Kanigher/Andru/Esposito collaboration. We see the devastating effect facing off against dinosaurs has on the mind of one soldier. Andru and Esposito deliver unforgettable images in their farewell to the series.

One of the other stories is drawn by Joe Kubert. The last story in this collection is written by Howard Liss and drawn by Gene Colan. All in all, this omnibus edition presents 336 pages of great comics from the Silver Age of Comics. If you were around when these tales were first published, you’ll probably get a kick out of them again. If you weren’t around, you have fun reading ahead of you.

I award Suicide Squad: The Silver Age Omnibus Volume 1 my highest recommendation. Why else would I devote an entire column to it?

ISBN 978-1-4012-6343-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella