Walt Disney Presents Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Volume One 1932 to 1935 [IDW; $49.99] was about as far away from an impulse buy for me as it could have been. The “star” of this first volume is Bucky Bug, a character whose appearances in comic books always left me cold. You see, the Bucky Bug stories were always in rhyme with poetry so bad it was almost a crime.

What changed my mind? The cover appealed to me. The visual designs of Bucky and girlfriend June Bug are welcoming. Dean Mullaney, the editor and co-designer of The Library of American Comics, creates beautiful books that are handsomely made and packed with comics and informative essays.

Written by Earl Duvall, Ted Osborne and Merrill DeMaris, the Bucky Bug comic strips are exciting adventures, a coming-of-age tale of a plucky young bug discovering and making his way in a vast world. Bucky goes a’wandering, starts a business, meets a girl, leads an army to victory, reconnects with his parents and takes the reader to a satisfying conclusion of his story. The rhyming in these comic strips is much better than that in the comic books. I found myself reading the strip out loud, albeit only when no one was around but my cat Simba. She seemed to enjoy this, but, you know, cats. Who can tell for sure?

Drawn by the deservedly legendary Al Taliaferro, the comic strips were loosely based on the Silly Symphonies cartoons. Following the Bucky Bug tales, we get six more stories, including the comic-strip debut of Donald Duck. From the impulsive youngster of “Birds of a Feather” to the shark-fighting hero of “Penguin Isle” and the very trippy “Cookieland,” these are fun comics. I love this volume and, when I buy the second volume, it won’t be an impulse buy. I know a treasure when I see it.

Silly Symphonies Volume One is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1631405587



Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro has become one of my favorite characters in comics, manga or otherwise. The one-eyed lad – yes, it looks like he has two eyes, but the bulging eye is actually the spirit of his father – is the last member of the Ghost Tribe of yokai or spirit-monsters. He has inherited all the powers of the Tribe, using them to assist humans and others who have been attacked or victimized by evil yokai.

The Birth of Kitaro [Drawn and Quarterly; $12.95] recounts the tale of Kitaro’s birth and presents six other stories of the courageous boy’s battles with evil yokai. Featured in several stories is his sometimes friend and sometimes foe Nezumi Otoko, whose schemes to attain worldly wealth always backfire on him.

Kitaro is a popular figure in Japanese folklore whose origins seem to predate Mizuki’s manga. But the Mizuki version of the character, which he wrote and drew for fifty years, is easily the most beloved of them all. The Mizuki adventures are lighthearted, but they have an excitement and sense of wonder to them that would appeal to fans of the traditional super-hero comics of the 1960s if they gave them a chance. Kitaro is one of a very small handful of manga characters I’d like to write.

In addition to the manga stories, The Birth of Kitaro also includes an informative piece on the history of Kitaro by Zack Davisson, a “Yokei Files” piece by Davisson and eight pages of puzzles to test the reader’s yokei knowledge.

Amazon lists the age range for The Birth of Kitaro as 12-15, but I think it can be enjoyed by younger and older readers as well. If I had reviewed it before Christmas, I would have recommended it as a cool stocking stuffer, but the book would be a swell gift for any occasion. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-77046-228-1



I became a Marvel kid in the 1960s and mostly stayed that way for the next few decades, even when I was writing for DC and some other publishers. These days, the two companies often change places in my estimation. Right now, courtesy of DC’s “Rebirth” whatever it is – “reboot” doesn’t seem to cover it – I’m enjoying more DCU titles. But I still enjoy a great many Marvel titles as well.

If Marvel has fallen to second place in my ranking of the Big Two, it’s because the company’s “big event” storylines are nihilistic and damaging to characters I loved. Captain America is turned into a virtual Nazi. Other characters are slaughtered for shock value. Relationships are broken. Unconquerable Wakanda gets conquered on three separate occasions. I find reading these stories unpleasant, even when they contain the germ of a good concept.

Case in point: the Inhumans/X-Men War. Even though it was clearly driven by a executive hissy-fit over cinema rights, the notion of Marvel’s two races of super-powered beings at odds with one another is intriguing.

I sat down to read the recent Death of X #1-4 mini-series, wherein the agendas of the Inhumans and the mutants clash to deadly effect. The Inhumans hold the Terrigen Clouds, the gaseous substance that triggers change in latent Inhumans, sacred. Those same clouds have been proven deadly to mutants.

Written by Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule with pencil art by Aaron Kuder and Javier Garron, Death of X has the Inhumans determined to defend the Terrigen Clouds while trying to assist some of the X-Men in finding a cure for its deadly effect on mutants. Other mutants, notable a faction led by Cyclops and Emma Frost, are determined to destroy the clouds forever.

The Cyclops of the current Marvel Universe is a stranger to me. I haven’t enjoyed the paths he has taken. But he’s not wrong in his desire to protect his fellow mutants by destroying the Clouds. Nor are Medusa and the Inhumans wrong in wanting to preserve the only means of adding to their numbers. That nuanced conflict made this series work for me. Enough so that I’ll be checking out subsequent comics in this ongoing event.

The four issues of Death of X should be available from your local comics shop or online. A trade paperback collection [$17.99] will be published in March. Worth checking out.

ISBN 978-1302903374


This is the last “Tony’s Tips” of 2016. I want to wish my readers a happy new year, even though I realize that year is terrifying for readers who, by virtue of their gender, race, religion, sexuality, nationality and progressive beliefs were demonized and threatened by the President-Elect and his followers. The only consolation that I can offer these readers is that many of us, perhaps the majority of us, stand with you. We’ll be there for you for the simple reason that we are all stronger together.

Always forward…to 2017 and beyond.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Weighing in at 6.3 pounds and 1152 pages, Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125] reprints issues #1-18 of the 1970s black-and-white magazine, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Special #1, and the all-article The Deadliest Heroes of Kung Fu #1. It also has three new introductions by Gerry Conway, Doug Moench and my own bad self. Conway created the Sons of the Tiger feature, Moench wrote more Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu stories than any other writer and I edited several issues of the title.

Because they are such beautiful and impressive volumes, I tend to get a little teary when I write about these omnibus books. That’s partly because holding them is like a religious experience for this comics guy who never dreamed such wonders could exist back when I was working on magazines like Deadly Hands of Kung Fu…and partly because I usually manage to drop them on my foot while I’m trying to read them. In the right (or wrong) hands, these omnibus volumes are deadly weapons.

My introduction focuses on the text articles we ran in Deadly Hands because our budget only allowed for maybe half of our overall page count to be comics stories. While finances might have been the most pressing reason for the use of these pieces, all of us who worked on them were enamored at producing something that was an honest-to-gosh magazine and not just a big comic book. We strived to come up with creative topics and presentations. Looking back on them today, I’m impressed. These issues look better than their low budgets and too tight deadlines should have allowed.

I didn’t get to write about the comics stories, but readers fondly remember them with good cause. We saw early work of great creators like Moench, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Chris Claremont, George Perez, Mike Vosburg, Rudy Nebres, Keith Pollard, Keith Giffen and others, appearing alongside veterans like Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano, Don Perlin and Judomaster co-creator Frank McLaughlin. All behind tremendous covers by Neal Adams, Bob Larkin, Earl Norem, Luis Dominguez, Nick Cardy and Harold Shull. I was thrilled to have been able to work with so many of these fine talents and, even allowing for my occasionally inept editing, proud of what we all did on these magazines.

While Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 doesn’t come cheap, you’ll be amply rewarded for your purchase with hours, nay, days and weeks of entertaining reading. I recommend it to fans of the martial arts genre, to us aging children of the 1970s, and to younger readers who will be astonished to discover these legendary comics magazines of the past.

ISBN 978-1-302-90133-2



As cool as the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu book is, this week, there is only one possible choice for my pick of the week. It’s cartoonist Tom Hart’s heartbreaking Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir [St. Martin’s Press; $19.99]. It’s the real-life drama of the death of Hart’s young daughter, and his and his wife’s journey to find a way of coping with that unimaginable loss. It has been justly praised by comics creators and critics for its honesty, beauty and bravery. As a parent myself, my heart sunk deep into my gut as I read this amazing work and didn’t feel right for many days after I finished it. Great comics have the power to touch the soul. This is one of the greatest of this or any other year.

Young as she is, Rosalie emerges as the most complete character of this memoir. We get to know her well and feel, if only from afar, the agony of her loss. Hart’s world doesn’t seem complete without her. His and his wife’s sometimes desperate search for something to make their lives whole again is simultaneously heroic and tragic. I actually hugged this book more than once.

During the events of this memoir, the Harts moved from New York and put their apartment up for sale. The housing market was down. One realtor bailed on them. The co-op board refused to let them sell at a price it considered too low. They were very nearly broke. So does the uncaring world refuse to give suffering people a respite from their sorrow. Instead, it piles on. I know the sheer frustration of such things and the manifest unfairness of having to deal with them when your heart has been shattered.

I can’t be objective about Rosalie Lightning. It hits me in so many places where it hurts. But it also allows for light or, at least, the possibility of light. This book is great comics and it is also great literature. It needs to be in the collection of every serious devotee of our comics art form.

ISBN 978-1-250-04994-0



Black Magick Volume 1: Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott [Image; $9.99] collects the first five issues of the ongoing series about Rowan Black, a police detective who is also a witch. Veteran readers of my writings will recall I love cop stories, especially when they are combined with elements of science fiction, super-heroes or the supernatural. I was hoping to enjoy this new series and Rucka and Scott didn’t disappoint me.

That the writing and art were first-rate didn’t surprise me. That the story threw some unexpected chills and developments was to be expected from these talented creators. Were I so inclined, I could gush about the intriguing characters and everything else wonderful about this trade paperback. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all of you. But…

What I really want to gush over is the back cover copy on the trade paperback. It’s one of the best sales pitches I’ve read in a very long time. Here it is…


Rowan Black knows:
the scent of a body burned at the stake the power of a murderer’s severed left hand the danger of blood spilled on stone beneath the new moon.

Rowan Black is a witch.

Rowan Black knows:
that a badge is worth exactly as much as the person carrying it that motive is overrated that you always watch your partner’s back.

Rowan Black is a cop.

She knows something else.

She knows magic is real.

The problem is, somebody else knows it, too.

Damn! That’s an irresistible come-on. I can’t wait for the second volume.

Here’s wishing my readers here and elsewhere, comics retailers all across this great world of ours, and my fellow comics professionals the happiest of holidays and the merriest of Christmases. We face some enormous challengers in 2017, but our art and our friends can get us through them and help us work to make a better world. We’ll always be stronger together.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Imagine you’re a comic book-reading child of the 1960s and getting a little bored and/or uneasy about that. There’s a sameness to so many of the comics you’re reading. Some adults in your life express concern that you’re still reading those things. Being a smart kid, probably because you’ve read so many comic books, you have already figured out that your comic-book collection is not an attraction to those cute girls in your class.

Imagine you discover the revolutionary comic books of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, followed shortly thereafter by things like Jim Warren’s Creepy. Imagine those comic books set a creative fire under publishers like DC and, suddenly, their comic books are getting interesting again. The boredom and the doubts disappear in a blast of Kirby Krackle.

Imagine, as you enter the 1970s and your kind of sort of adulthood, that comics get even more interesting. That you start communicating with other comics fans and even comics professionals. That a dream of working in comics starts becoming less a dream and more a goal.

Imagine you do start working in the comics industry at a time when your beloved super-heroes are being joined by comic books starring martial artists, monsters and even a sarcastic duck. Imagine a time when it appears there are no limits to what can and does appear in comic books. Super-heroes may dominate from time to time, but they will never again be the whole show.

Imagine your reading of comic books becomes more work-oriented and that you no longer have time to read every comic that crosses your path. You skip issues. You only glance at some titles. You figure you’ll get the time to read them when you retire.

Imagine you work in the comics industry for over four decades. You work in all areas of the industry. You get married and raise a nice family. You realize you’re never going to retire because, even if you did retire, you love what you do too much to seriously consider not doing it.

Imagine you suddenly realize you’re an adult. Trust me, that can be a horrifying experience. But, wait, there’s an upside to getting to be that old. It’s called your second childhood.

Imagine you’ve had a couple of pretty good years. Imagine some of the comics you loved from the past or always wished you had time to read are now available in handsome hardcover omnibus editions that could crush your skull if they ever fell off a bookshelf.

Imagine you found a seller of these wondrous volumes offering them at really terrific discounts. Imagine you convince yourself you’ve been a good boy and can buy a bunch of them without feeling guilty about it. Imagine you have a forklift to carry them to your office.

You have just imagined my life. Indeed, if I had to describe it and taking into account the season, I would go so far as to say it’s a wonderful life. I know you saw what I did there.

Over the past months, I’ve bought at least seven omnibus editions and a couple of Marvel’s epic collection softcovers. Most of them were purchased from InStockTrades [] because they offer great prices, deliver outstanding service, and because they are the official sponsors of “Tony’s Tips” at Tales of Wonder. When I buy stuff from InStock, I help pay myself. When you buy from InStock, you get those same great deals and service, and you help to pay me. I’m pretty sure that it also makes both Jesus and Santa smile, but I would never be so presumptuous as to state that as a fact. Though it probably is.

The reason I said “at least” is because I only counted the volumes I could see as I looked around my office. Think Tokyo after a visit from Godzilla. I once called Marvel’s Damage Control to clean up my office and they refused the job because a) they’re only human and b) they don’t actually exist. Except – This is between you and me, okay? – they really do.

In alphabetical order, these are the books I can see as I cast my eyes around the Hoary Home Office of Isabella:

Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage [$34.99]

ISBN 978-1-302-90190-5

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 [$75]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9924-3

Gotham Central Omnibus [$99.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-6192-4

Howard The Duck Omnibus [$99.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-3023-9

Iron Fist Epic Collection: The Fury of Iron Fist [$39.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9164-3

Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125]

ISBN 978-1-302-90129-5

Star Wars: The Complete Marvel Years Omnibus Vol. 3 [$125]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9346-3

The Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 1 [$99.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-8566-6

Werewolf by Night Omnibus [$125]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9908-3

I had different reasons for buying all of these. In the case of Don McGregor’s Black Panther stories, I want to read them once again to explore the signature work of one of the most individual writers in comics history. This book will go on my night stand to be read an issue a day. Not gonna rush through those comics.

I would have bought the Doctor Strange Omnibus eventually because I want to get the first volumes of all the Marvel series I grew up with in the 1960s. I got it sooner rather than later because that new Doctor Strange movie has restored my interest in the character. Throughout 2017, I’ll read as many other Doctor Strange collections as I can get my hands on.

Gotham Central Omnibus was an impulse buy. I’ve read all the issues and enjoyed them up to the point when one of the characters turned into the Spectre. But the entire run is worth a second reading and that will likely follow the Black Panther book.

Howard the Duck? Can you ever get enough Steve Gerber comic books? I don’t think so. As for the stories not written by my dear friend Steve, I either ignored or merely skimmed them when they first came out. This time around, I’ll read them.

I bought the Iron Fist book for two reasons. It reprints the three issues I did with artist Arvell Jones, one of which introduced the magnificent Misty Knight. But I’ve often said Chris Claremont did the heavy lifting on the character and I look forward to re-reading his stories as well.

I enjoyed Shang-Chi in the 1970s, but I confess I didn’t read every issue of his book after I stepped down from being the editor of the black-and-white magazine The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Doug Moench did outstanding work in the title and now I have the time to enjoy them leisurely.


I bought the third volume of Star Wars: The Complete Marvel Years Omnibus because, having read and enjoyed the first two volumes with their fine stories by Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, David Micheline and Jo Duffy, I wanted to read the rest of the title’s run. I had borrowed those first two from my library, but, for some reason, it never got the third one. When I saw it at a good price, I went for it. The Force is strong within those comics.

The Fantastic Four Omnibus, like the Doctor Strange Omnibus, is a must-have book for me. The Marvel comic books of the 1960s are why I’ve worked in comics industry for over four decades. I’m looking forward to rediscovering those classics.


Werewolf by Night was one of those titles I mostly skimmed, despite all the great writers who contributed to the run: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich and Doug Moench. It will be fun to read these stories from the start and take my time with them.

These collections aren’t cheap, but they are definitely worthwhile. If your budget allows, any of them would make for an eye-opening gift for that comics fan you love.

As for me, I plan on buying them as long as I can. It won’t become a problem until the pile is taller than I am. I think I still have about four feet to go.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


I am the comics guy in my home city of Medina, Ohio. I’ve been the comics guy in a great many other places and situations as well. I suspect many of you have been the comics guy or gal in your city, neighborhood, office, school, what have you. I’m the comics guy in Medina because I have worked in comics for over four decades, but also because the local newspaper has written about me and my comics garage sales on several occasions.

When you’re the comics guy, people expect that you have seen every comics-related movie and that you saw them on the day they opened. They want to know what you thought of them before they take out the second mortgage that will allow them to go to the theater and watch the movie for themselves. I have Medina friends and neighbors who still feel betrayed because I never saw either Man of Steel (2013) or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I may or may not see them in the near future, but that’s another discussion.

I saw Doctor Strange (2016) nine days after it opened. I thought it was pretty darn sweet on several levels and wrote about it briefly in my “Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing.” In the interest of conserving my critical resources, here’s what I wrote there:

“[Though] part of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, it gave a self-contained story of a hero’s journey from self-centered egotist to selfless hero. Even when he’s playing a jerk, it’s easy to like actor Benedict Cumberbatch, but, by the end of this movie, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. Again.

“Rachel McAdams deserves credit for her understated but wonderful performance as Christine Palmer. She holds her own with such movie heavyweights as Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo).

“The special effects are spectacular and fill so much of the screen and running time that I was exhausted when I walked out of the theatre. The filmmakers did a great job bringing Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s imaginative drawings to cinematic life. But, without the flawed and yet glorious humanity that comes from co-creator Stan Lee’s contributions to the original comic, the movie would’ve been little more than a big light show. An awesome light show, to be sure, but just a light show. As always, it’s the human elements that make for a great super-hero comic book, movie or TV show.”

Doctor Strange isn’t available for purchase as a holiday gift, but the movie is still running in theaters. Take a “Marvel Magic” break from all the hustle and bustle of the season by taking someone you love to the film. Oh, yeah, and sit through all the end credits to see the extra scenes.



If you’re an old-timer like me and feeling nostalgic for the early years of the Master of the Mystic Arts, or if you’ve come to Doctor Strange via the movie and want to learn more about him, there’s no better starting place than Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 [Marvel; $75]. This glorious 456-page hardcover book collects the original Doctor Strange stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Those classic adventures appeared in Strange Tales #110-111, Strange Tales #114-146, and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2.

As Dean Mullaney writes in his introduction, Doc Strange was unlike the other Marvel super-heroes. His stories started out as five-page episodes not unlike the anthology supernatural chillers that ran in titles like Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish before the coming of the super-heroes. Doc’s origin was a tight eight pages and, for most of his Strange Tales run, his adventures got ten pages and no more. But even the shorter stories introduced readers to amazing characters like the Ancient One, Baron Mordo, Nightmare, and, most especially the dreaded Dormammu. Lee gave a literary weight to the stories while Ditko used his art to created the weirdest worlds of all. With the coming of Dormammu, almost god-like in his power and wrath, Doctor Strange moved beyond his fellow Marvel super-heroes. His concerns were not with saving a city or a nation or even Earth itself. He had become the champion of everything, both the seen and the unseen.

True confession. Once I started being able to buy Strange Tales on a regular basis – it was harder to find every issue of my favorite comic books in the 1960s – I read the Doctor Strange stories before I read the cover-featured Human Torch stories.

In addition to all that Lee/Ditko excitement, this omnibus volume is packed with special features. Every cover, even if Doc Strange wasn’t prominent on them. Every letters page. Every reprint cover. A gallery of Doctor Strange pin-ups by some of the most astonishing artists to ever draw the Sorcerer Supreme. It doesn’t take a master magician to figure out Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 is this week’s pick of the week.

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 would also make a great gift for any old and new fan of the character. Don’t let the price scare you on account of InStock Trades, which sponsors this very column, always offers great prices on books like this. May the Vishanti watch over you and your loved ones at this happiest and most mystical time of the year.

ISBN 978-0-7851-9924-3



In keeping with the “magic” theme of this week’s column, I want to share a few quick thoughts about Marvel’s Scarlet Witch #9 [$3.99]. As you can tell by the Civil War II logo David Aja has brilliantly tied into his cover art, this is a tie-in to the crossover event. That the crossover event bores the snot out of me is irrelevant to this mini-review because writer James Robinson actually uses this mandatory involvement to good effect.

Robinson is at his best here. He delivers a satisfying done-in-one story that ties in with what’s been going on in the series from the start, with the “magic crisis” shown in Doctor Strange and several other Marvel titles and with this new civil war between the Marvel heroes. Yet none of that overshadows the real story of this issue: a turning point in the relationship of siblings Wanda Maximoff and speedster brother Pietro aka Quicksilver.

Wanda’s position on the “civil war” between Captain Marvel and Tony Stark is well thought out, even though it’s a position I disagree with. Her position puts her into conflict with Pietro, which allows Robinson to examine the life-long conflicts between the siblings. Portrayed by artist Joelle Jones and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, that simmering pot explodes in emotionally-charged images that are nothing short of stunning.

Scarlet Witch #9 is a magnificent issue. It’s a fine example of how even “corporate” comic books can rank with the best of our medium. It should be recognized and praised as such.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella