TONY’S TIPS #214

I’m writing this week’s Tips on a packed-with-fun-and-other-things weekend during which I have…

Celebrated the 33rd anniversary of marrying my Sainted Wife Barb. So far year 34 is looking good, too.

Held my first Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sale of the summer, delighting in seeing old friends and making a few bucks. I should write an entire column on how I am being Draconian in reducing my VAOS to a much more manageable accumulation of stuff.

Explained to a guy that the reason the comics, books and magazines in my garage sale quarter boxes – five for a dollar – have not been arranged in alphabetical order for his convenience is on account of dude, they cost a quarter.

Tried to find new, polite ways to describe just how much I loathe sight unseen – the idea of Black Lightning in some “black ops” team of Batman and the Outsiders on account of I’m so [expletive] tired of seeing my guy take orders from Batman I could [crude reference to bodily waste excretion] lightning myself.

Been writing a comic-book script not unrelated to the above which could be adversely affected by the above.

Exhausted myself trying to convince a click-bait news site that the official – official with DC Comics and DC Entertainment – credit line for Black Lightning is “Created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden.”

Exhausted myself trying to tell fans the name of that other super-hero with electrical powers is “Static” not “Static Shock.”

Started working on the three panel presentations I’ll be doing at this year’s G-Fest, the premiere U.S. Godzilla convention held in Chicago next month.

Making time to celebrate Father’s Day with Barb and our wonderful children, Eddie and Kelly.

As cartoonist Seth so famously said, “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.” Stay strong, Tony. Stay strong.

My top pick of the week is Pre-Code Classics: Lars of Mars/Crusader from Mars/Eerie Adventures Volume One [PS Artbooks; $39.99]. Since this hardcover collects the only two issues of Lars of Mars and the only two issues of Crusader from Mars and the only issue of Eerie Adventures, I suspect it will be the only volume. More the pity on account of I’d love to read more Lars of Mars.

Lars of Mars, quite possibly created by Jerry Siegel and certainly drawn by Murphy Anderson, is one of those wacky concepts I’d love to reboot for modern times. The original Lars comics were cover-dated July/August 1951. The premise:

When Mars becomes alarmed by Earthlings dropping atomic bombs here and there, it sends Lars of Mars, its most daring adventurer, to go to Earth to make sure we don’t do crazy stuff that would force the Martians to destroy us. Lars adopts the identity of a TV hero who plays a Martian super-hero on Earth. His coworkers think he’s just a method actor who stays in character 24/7. They don’t connect him to the mysterious Martian super-hero who has recently come to Earth to fight crime and injustice. In this era of reality TV, the reboot would practically write itself. In addition to the Anderson art on Lars, we also get Gene Colan drawing the “Ken Brady Rocket Pilot” back-up feature.

Crusader from Mars [March-Fall 1952] has a similar albeit grimmer premise. Tarka and Zira have been found guilty of committing the only crime on Mars in fifty years. They murdered Tarka’s rival for Zira. They are banished to Earth to atone for the crime by fighting evil on our world.

Eerie Adventures is a one-shot anthology title which includes two tales drawn by Bob Powell and Howard Nostrand. None of the stories in any of these five issues were first-rate, but almost every one of them is intriguing.

If you’re wondering why this book is my pick of the week, it’s for no other reason that Lars of Mars tickled me. Sometimes, that’s all I need to really love something.

ISBN 978-1-78636-053-3

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Regrettable

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History by Jon Morris [Quirk Books; $24.95] is a sequel to his 2015 League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History. Like the first book, it’s a wild journey through some of the most insane creations ever to grace the pages of comic books.

From the Golden Age of comics to the Modern Age, Morris pokes fun at the likes of the Balloon Maker, Reefer King, Sadly-Sadly, Batroc the Leaper, Egg Fu, the Mod Gorilla Boss, Ghetto-Blaster and Turner D. Century. Sometimes the writer bends the facts a tad and, now and again, he fails to realize some choices – Marvel’s Swarm comes to mind – are actually pretty great villains. Still, overall, this is 256 pages of wonderment. I recommend it for fans with an interest in comics history and a sense of the absurd. I also think it would make an excellent gift for the comics fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1-59474-932-2

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Star Wars strips

Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 1 by Russ Manning and others [Marvel; $39.99] collects adventures from a number of sources. Most of these strips were rearranged to fit a comic-book format. A few are presented in close to their original formats. While I find the comic-book format presentations somewhat lacking – I always feel like something important as been left out as I read them – there’s no denying the quality of the strips and the art that bring them to life.

The creative line-up includes Archie Goodwin, Steve Gerber, Alfredo Alcala, Al Williamson and more. Goodwin was my favorite writer of the Marvel comic-book series that came out at the same time as the original movies and he turned out to be my favorite writer of these newspaper adventures.

Once again, we have a book that should attract all kinds of comics readers. Obviously, Star Wars fans will want it. Fans of Manning and the other creators will be just as eager to add the volume to their collections. If you access the Force, I’m sure it will tell you this 464-page softcover will make a great gift for that special Jedi knight of yours.

ISBN 978-1-302-90464-7

That’s a wrap for this week’s column. I’ll be back next week with more tips. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #213

Summer’s here. I’ll be staying home for most of June and July, save for my annual journey to G-Fest, the wonderful Godzilla convention held in Rosemont, Illinois. Otherwise, I’ll be writing comic books and columns and books and introductions to books. I’ll be putting on my famous Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales in the perhaps hopeless quest to reduce my accumulation to the point where I can call it a collection without sobbing. I’ll be celebrating 33 years of marriage to my Sainted Wife Barb and our son Eddie’s 29 years on this planet. We’ll have our traditional July 3 cookout at our home and watch the fireworks from the nearby high school from our front lawn. And, of course, I will be reading lots of comic books in all their myriad, wondrous forms.

Among the comic books I’m currently loving, Rough Riders Volume 1: Give Them Hell by creator and writer Adam Glass and artist Patrick Olliffe [AfterShock; $19.99] ranks high enough to be my pick of the week. It delivers a solidly entertaining and exciting tale of 19th Century heroes fighting a shadow war unknown to history.

Teddy Roosevelt is the Nick Fury/Tony Stark of these turn-of-the-century avengers. Tortured by things he’s seen, Roosevelt gathers a team of unlikely heroes to battle against the mysterious forces posed to conquer our world. The roster: boxer Jack Johnson, Coney Island magician Harry Houdini, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, inventor Thomas Edison. Glass and Olliffe even include a super-villain in the still-not-dead Rasputin.

Glass doesn’t shy away from the imperfections of his heroes or the prejudice of the times. Johnson and Houdini, as a black man and a Jew, face the racism common to the times. Oakley is an alcoholic. Edison’s alleged penchant for claiming credit for the discoveries of others is shown in this graphic novel. Roosevelt struggles with the necessity of working with privileged and wealthy businessmen he despises. As the story unfolds, he and his team will face down some of their demons and show surprising emotions and strengths.

Olliffe’s solid storytelling and artistic acumen is indispensable. His action scenes flash across the pages. His human scenes bring us closer to the characters. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb does an outstanding job bringing depth to the art. Letterer Sal Cipriano continues to be one of those letterers who is so good the reader doesn’t realize how good he is.

Rough Riders Volume 1 collects the first seven issues of the title. I hope we’ll be seeing more of this series and more of its unlikely heroes. I recommend it for readers of all ages.

ISBN 978-1935002925

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Giant Days

One of the best things about modern comics is how many comic books and graphic novels now have women characters as their leads and, in many cases, created by women. I enjoy a great many of these comics. However, as with my beloved super-hero comics, the mere presence of women leads or creators doesn’t translate to a terrific comic book.

Recently, Marv Wolfman, he of Tomb of Dracula, Teen Titans, and so many other credits there could be a Marv Wolfman Museum, remarked how much he liked the Wonder Woman movie and how much he disliked that so many reviewers said something along the lines of “It’s done better than expected for a film directed by (or starring) a woman.”

Marv continued: “Movies, like books, paintings, comics, music and a thousand other things I can’t think of right now, is an art form. And art is gender neutral. Art isn’t better or worse because it was done by a man or woman.”

Happily, Giant Days by creator/writer John Allison, artists Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin and colorist Whitney Cougar [Boom! Box] is both a series starring three young woman and a terrific comic book. Esther, Susan and Daisy share a hall of residence at an university.

They also share one another’s journeys through a morass of modern life that includes experimentation and growth, chauvinism, illness, academic terrors, romantic relationships, mysteries, old foes and a little weirdness from time to time. There are many comic books and webcomics that attempt to explore much the same ground and with similar characters. Few of them equal Giant Days.

Allison’s dialogue “sounds” real to me, which makes his characters real and relatable. Treiman and Saris draw expressive figures and faces while grounding the characters in reality. Cougar’s colors further enliven the world of Giant Days. Jim Campbell’s lettering is easy to read and never distracting. To me, all of that is what makes great comics. Everything is in service to the characters and to the story. No showboating here.

I’ve read the first two volumes of Giant Days. Two more have been published with a fifth due this month. So, when I’m finished with this review, I’m going to order the ones I don’t own yet. Consider that my way of recommending them to all of you.

Giant Days Vol. 1 [$9.99]

ISBN 978-1608867899

Giant Days Vol. 2 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608868049

Giant Days Vol. 3 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608868513

Giant Days Vol. 4 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608869381

Giant Days Vol. 5 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608869824

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Sugar and Spike

Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations by Keith Giffen, Bilquis Everly and Ivan Plascencia [DC; $14.99] was fun, albeit not quite as much fun as I would have liked. Back in the day, the legendary Sheldon Mayer created a comic book about two babies who had their own language and tried to figure out the grown-up world. Those are some of the best comic books of all time and they really need to be collected in their entirety. But I digress.

Giffen turned the toddlers into 20-something private investigators doing the usual often-sordid private investigator stuff. Until they stumble into a niche market: keeping past indiscretions of super-heroes out of the headlines. Relax. Those past indiscretions don’t have anything to do with Russian prostitutes, making secret deals with Russia, taking money from kids with cancer or the like. They all come from long-ago adventures long since forgotten by today’s comics publishers, editors, writers and readers.

Batman’s more bizarre costumes have gone missing. Superman needs to retrieve the kryptonite he buried on an island he made that looks like him. Wonder Woman almost married a monster who now wants her back. Green Lantern fears the body of his former alien pal Itty is a museum exhibit. The Legion of Super-Heroes wants a dangerous machine, so much that several configurations of Legion time-travel to the same time and place.

What keeps this book from being as much fun as I would like is that Sugar is incredibly unpleasant and Spike allows her to treat with extreme disrespect. Sugar was always the alpha baby in those great old Mayer stories, but this is just unsettling.

If you’re willing to ignore that most of the past adventures that play roles in these stories could not possibly all be part of the same continuity – and I’m quite willing to do that – you’ll get a kick out of this volume. I recommend it for old-time DC fans with a keenly developed sense of the absurd.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6482-6

Enjoy your summer, my friends. I will be back next week with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #212

Recent Marvel Comics “epics” have been taking it on the chin around here of late. While it’s deserved – Civil War II was particularly despicable and wrongheaded – I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m down on Marvel. The company still publishers some great super-hero comics. Like the ones I’m writing about this week.

Ms. Marvel is the super-hero the United States of America needs as Captain Marvel goes fascist and Captain America hails Hydra. Writer G. Willow Wilson has made teenage Kamala Khan incredibly admirable and very real. Kamala has doubts from time to time and makes some mistakes, but her heart is good and her mind is sharp. In this era of failed and even criminal leadership, it’s nice to have a hero we can count on to do the moral thing. It’s no crime to stumble. It is a shame when someone with great power allows that stumble to remain in place.

I have Ms. Marvel #9-17 [$3.99] before me as I write this column. All are written by Wilson with art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona. The first three issues are Civil War II tie-ins. Caution. For me to express my admiration of this title, I will occasionally have to include SPOILERS in my comments.

If you were lucky enough to miss Civil War II entirely, what went down is that a new Inhuman seemingly had the power to predict the future with certainty. Powerful government forces acted on what he predicted as if it were fact, arresting people who hadn’t committed crimes and without any evidence that they were planning to commit crimes. Captain Marvel, who later admitted that she would violate civil rights if there were only a 10% chance of those predictions being accurate, was the poster child for the government. Kamala, an admirer of Captain Marvel, agreed to work with her.

Kamala’s admiration and compliance soon gave way to doubt and then rejection of this super-powered assault on civil rights. She quit and faced the consequences of her initial bad decision. In another fine Marvel super-hero title – Champions – she joined with several other young heroes to find a better, kinder and more productive way to function as super-beings in a troubled world. I wish and hope and believe it will be children like her who lead our nation out of its current darkness.

Obviously, Ms. Marvel pushes my progressive liberal buttons in good ways. I was greatly impressed by a recent storyline that revolved around online bullying. But Ms. Marvel is more than its political and social stands. It is an entertaining and exciting super-hero title in the traditional and well-tested Marvel manner. Kamala has great power, great responsibility and all of the stuff we and our children deal with in the real world.

From where I stand, a truly great super-hero comic is one in which the real world stuff is portrayed with enough reality to make the fantastic stuff believable. It has relatable characters who live in my world, albeit a super-powered version of my world. It has heroes who truly aspire to be heroes.

Ms. Marvel clicks all my boxes. It’s my favorite Marvel super-hero comic and my pick of the week.

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Sam Wilson

I’m not a fan of Nick Spencer’s writing. I’ve been critical, to put it mildly, of his tedious Captain Hydra storyline in which Steve Rogers, a Roosevelt Democrat and the creation of two of comicdom’s greatest Jewish comics creators, is revealed to be a Nazi. There’s a Cosmic Cube involved, so I’m sure it’ll be undone in unsatisfying fashion, but, in the meantime, we’ve seen a year’s worth of Captain America being a murderous Nazi. It’s garbage.

That said, you’ll be surprised to learn I think Spencer’s writing on Captain America: Sam Wilson has been excellent. To catch up the readers who haven’t followed the series…

Steve Rogers got old. He gave his shield and title to Sam Wilson. There were those who objected to this because, well, because they were racists. When Steve got young again, he said Sam should keep the shield and the title. People objected because, well, because they were racists. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have seen the resurgence of white supremacists in our country and, indeed, in the highest circles of our government.

Sidebar. When I say “people,” I mean people in the story, not fans who object to Sam becoming Captain America because it’s not exactly the way Captain America was when they were twelve. While I do tend to dismiss such moaning, I don’t assume that every fan of this type is a racist. They are, as so many fans are, resistant to change in their favorite characters and comics. Fortunately for them, there are decades of Captain America comic books they can enjoy. We live in a comics age of plenty.

What draws me to Captain America: Sam Wilson is that Spencer tells powerful stories about race and that is an important thing to do in our world. Yes, Captain Hydra is behind some of the awful things we see in these comic books, but the stories would work just as well and be just as powerful without the Captain Hydra nonsense. Again, look at what’s happening in our country right now.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #21 [$3.99], the most recent issue I’ve read, has Sam renouncing the Captain America shield and title. He seems to be resuming his identity as the Falcon and this seems to be the final issue of the title. Though I don’t keep up on comics news as I once did – kind of busy trying to make it at the moment – I hope this means we’re getting a new Falcon title and that it’ll continue to address important issues.

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Patsy Walker

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat has a most convoluted history. She was the subject of embarrassing teen humor/romance comics created by her mother.

She married her high-school sweetheart who became an abusive monster. She hung out with Hank “the Beast” McCoy, donned a super-hero suit previously worn by the Cat, became a super-hero, became kind of an Avenger, joined the Defenders, married the Son of Satan, died and went to Hell, came back from the dead and…ow! My brain hurts!

You would think writer Kate Leth might have simplified or ignored some of the above for Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat, the brilliant sixteen-issue series she did with artists Brittney L. Williams and Natasha Allegri. You would be thinking wrong. Leth used all of it. She made it fit together smoothly while adding such great concepts as an employment agency for super-powered people who do not want to become super-heroes or super-villains. They just want to use their powers to earn an honest living doing non-super-hero and non-super-villain things.

Leth combined action, human drama, humor and even a bit of tragedy into her stories. The art didn’t look like anything you’d expect to see in a Marvel super-hero comic, but it was so just right for this Marvel super-hero comic. After borrowing the individual issues from a friend, I went out and bought the trade paperbacks. Because these comic books are keepers. I’m keeping them around so that I can read them again and because I think I might learn a new trick or two from them.

I’m recommending the Patsy Walker trades to everybody. If you like super-hero comics and aren’t mired in just one way of doing them, you’ll love these books. If you’re not a fan of super-hero comics, you’ll still love these books.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90035-9

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 2: Don’t Stop Me-Ow ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90036-6

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 3: Careless Whiskers ($15.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90662-7

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella