Hogan’s Alley #21 [Bull Moose Publishing; $6.95] is the most recent issue of “the magazine of the cartoon arts.” Irregularly published by editor Tom Heintjes and design director David Folkman, it’s one of those magazines I have to read from cover to cover, even when a subject may be of little or no interest to me. Even then, I relish the scholarship that goes into those articles and appreciate the inviting quality of their writing.

Hogan’s Alley is named for the tenement home of the Yellow Kid, who many consider the first American comics character. Newspaper comic strips are covered in every issue, but the contents always include material on cartoons, comic books and other areas of comics art as well. I never know what I’m going to find in an issue, just that I will be enlightened and entertained.

The cover touts an article on the best and worst origins of super-heroes, rarities from the archives of legendary comics artist and illustrator Jack Davis, an unpublished interview with Krazy Kat creator George Herriman and an article on the frequent references to Shakespeare in Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. I could quibble with some of my friend Craig Shutt’s selections for the worst super-hero origins – The core origin stories of Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter were pretty good until later writers made them much more complicated than need be – but Shutt does a good job of making the cases for his choices.

The 148-page issue has longer, thoughtful pieces like the Heintjes discussion with four working women cartoonists mixed with shorter pieces like the look at Wally Wood’s commercial advertising art by Jim Korkis. It has sidebars and snippets throughout. Very often, an article, interview or sidebar will lead me to an online search for books and comics by some of the subjects thereof. It’s the variety of comics art that keeps me intensely devoted to the field and my career in it. I see that same variety reflected in each and every issue of Hogan’s Alley.

For more information on how to subscribe to the magazine and to see an archive of features on comics art history and more, visit the Hogan’s Alley website at:



The Flintstones Volume 1 by Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh [DC; $16.99] is one of several titles offering new, sometimes startling takes on the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. Russell is known for God Is Disappointed in You, an irreverent retelling of the Bible. His reimagining of the Flintstones, the beloved cartoon show which started out in prime time in the 1960s, is only slightly less threatening to Russell’s immortal soul. Pugh is a Brit comics artist rock star whose previous works include 2000 AD, Animal Man, Swamp Thing and more.

This new series about the modern Stone Age family whose lifestyle was a gently bizarre mirror of our own lives moves well beyond the TV show’s charming domestic animal substitutes for appliances like vacuum cleaners and garbage disposals and delivers examinations of issues we’re still trying to suss out in 2017. Corporate greed, consumer culture, monogamy, gay marriage, social status, religion, government using fear to pursue military objectives, the treatment of the veterans who have served in such campaigns are all on view in the six issues collected in this volume.

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble may not be as boisterous as their cartoon incarnations. Wilma and Betty are not the housewives of the 1960s. Even so, these thoughtful new takes on these beloved cartoon characters are every bit as likeable as their predecessors and all the more fascinating. For that matter, though Bedrock isn’t quite as comforting as in the 1960s, it now reflects our own cities and lives more closely. I love this series.

How good is The Flintstones? I’ve read it twice now because there was great stuff I missed the first time around. I’m going to order the second volume as soon as I finish this review. I’m also going to order God Is Disappointed in You because Russell has earned some more of my money by his outstanding writing here.

The rest of the creative team is just as wonderful. Pugh’s art and storytelling is first-rate. If DC sold a print of this collection cover without the copy, I’d buy it to hang on my office wall. The color artistry of Chuck Chuckry shows why he’s long been one of my favorite colorists. Letterer Dave Sharpe always delivers the goods. Whatever editor Marie Javins did to shape and facilitate this new series is something she should keep doing because it really is some swell stuff.

The Flintstones Volume 1 is my pick of the week.

The Flintstones Vol. 1:

ISBN 978-1-4012-6837-4

The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam (due in October):

ISBN 978-1-4012-7398-9


Gods of War

What amazed me most about Marvel’s recent Civil War II disaster, of which the best can be said is that it wasn’t remotely as awful as the Captain America/Hydra/Nazi event, is that some writers managed to find ways to subvert it by showing how immoral and wrongheaded Captain Marvel’s embrace of “predictive justice” was. That was the case with Civil War II: Gods of War [$15.99] by writer Dan Abnett with artist Emilio Laiso.

Reprinting the four-issue mini-series of the same name, Gods of War has Hercules continuing his struggle to overcome his reputation as a shallow drunk and party boy to be again worthy of his position as the first of all heroes. I’ve always liked the fun-loving Hercules of the Marvel Universe, but this version is very relatable. I want him to triumph over his demons and get back to where he can laugh boisterously without stimulants.

Hercules and a rather ragtag team of ancient gods are the only ones aware of the new deities who want to bring the world crashing down for their own twisted pleasure. That’s right. The new deities can not be seen by the Inhuman Ulysses. His ability to predict future events doesn’t register them. So much for Captain Marvel’s fascist commitment to subvert basic human rights in exchange for supposed security.

But Gods of War is more than just a raised middle finger to Civil War II. It’s a story of a hero on a painful quest for redemption in the most difficult of times. It’s a story of friendship, courage and sacrifice. It’s a story of ordinary humans rising to join the struggle. It’s good comics. And, hey, this collection even reprints the goofy punch-out between Hercules and Thor that originally ran in 1965’s Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. You can’t go wrong with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wonderment.

I have certainly been critical of various Marvel titles in recent months. But I’ll never be done with this publisher because it keeps bringing us exceptional super-hero and other comics.

Civil War II? Just an awkward stain on an exciting universe that includes such great titles as Ms. Marvel, The Unstoppable Wasp, Champions and many others.

Civil War II: Gods of War is well worth reading. I recommend that you check it out sooner rather than later.

ISBN 978-1-302-90034-2


Black Lightning star

One more note for this week’s column. It’s late because I was away for a couple days and came back to the worst jet lag I’ve ever had. My apologies.

Why was I away? Because DC Entertainment and Black Lightning show runners Salim and Mara Brock Akil brought me to Burbank to meet and talk with the Black Lightning writers. Obviously, I can’t tell you what I learned about their plans. What I can tell you is that I’ve never been more excited about a TV show.

Comic books and TV shows are not the same thing. They demand very different approaches. But the Black Lightning of this TV show has the same core values as the Black Lightning I created for the comic books back in 1976…and there’s a (to me) astonishing respect for and use of my own work on the character. It was a honor to spend a few hours in that writers room. Black Lightning is back…and not just on TV. More on that tease later.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Eisner Award-winning author Bill Schelly is known for his stunning biographies of comics greats. He’s written about Otto Binder, Joe Kubert and Harvey Kurtzman. The Kurtzman book won him a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Book.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu [Fantagraphics; $39.99] is Schelly’s latest landmark volume. Stanley was the writer and artist of the classic Little Lulu comics, the classic Nancy comics and so many others. He sometimes did the entire job on a comic book, both the writing and full art. He most often wrote what I call “drawn scripts,” scripts that were detailed or rough layouts with the copy included. Other artists would then do the final drawings.

Stanley came from a generation of comic-book geniuses who were not known to fandom at large. By the time comics fans began to research comics history, Stanley had retired from comics and was working as a silk screener. He attended but one comics convention in his life, though one of the convention’s other guests was the legendary Carl Barks of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge fame. Their joint panel is covered in this biography.

Writing a biography about a subject who has passed and with little source material is a daunting challenge. Schelly, of course, didn’t let that stop him. He did extensive interviews with Stanley’s son and surviving co-workers. He reached out to get every fact that was out there. The result is a book that celebrates Stanley’s work and reveals the artist’s struggles with alcoholism and depression. It shines a bright light on the man and his work. This book is simply a magnificent addition to comic-book history.

Because I was a super-hero kid growing up, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered and quickly learned to appreciate giants like Barks and Stanley. Especially fascinating to me was the manner in which Stanley approached his stories. He basically started on page one without a clear idea of where the tales might go. I’m not quite that loose in my storytelling, but I plot loosely enough to allow for the magical surprises that sometime come to me while I’m doing the finished script.  Such moments are among the most joyful for me. I hope they were also for Stanley.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu is a full-color book whose size – 10.4 x 13.4 inches – qualifies it as a deluxe coffee table book. The layout of the volume is breathtaking. The reprinted art pops off the pages. It is an indispensable addition to the library of any comics reader interested in comics history. The quality of the research, the writing and the production is why this fine book is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-60699-990-5


Big Moose

I’ve dropped the “new” Archie titles from my buying list, though I may continue to read them via the good graces of a friend who loans me his comic books. It’s not that the titles are necessarily bad – except for Betty and Veronica, which is pretty awful, and Afterlife with Archie, which is an abomination – but they have become more cheap soap opera than the nuanced comedy they were in the hands of writers like Frank Doyle, George Gladir and Craig Boldman.

The recent Big Moose One-Shot [$4.99] shows the good and the bad of “new” Archie. It featured three stories by three different writer-artist teams. I have no beef with the artists. Cory Smith, Thomas Pitilli and Ryan Jampole did terrific work with characters who were recognizable from story to story. But the writers – Sean Ryan, Ryan Cady and Gorf – didn’t seem to be writing the same lead character.

My favorite of the three was Cady’s “Have It All.” Moose struggles, but is determined to meet all his obligations. It’s a nice little tale of friendship, persistence and personal honor. This should be the model for future Moose stories.

Alas, “Moose vs. the Vending Machine” played Moose as being dumb as a pile of bricks, a characterization which should have been laid to rest decades ago. “The Big Difference” had a Moose who was a bully. A bully with redeeming qualities, but a bully nonetheless.

Someday, I’d like to try my hand at a contemporary teen humor comic book. Because I’m convinced you can combine the quality of a Doyle, a Gladir and a Boldman with stories that are funny and meaningful. I keep hoping Archie Comics manages that.


Worlds of Fear

Good or bad, I never regret shelling out relatively big bucks for the PS Artbooks of Pre-Code Classics. In the case of Worlds of Fear Volume One [$59.99], it allowed me to read five horror comic books published by Fawcett Comics, best known as the Silver Age home of the original Captain Marvel. However, when it comes to recommending some of these hardcover volumes to you, I have to assume most of my readers do not share my mania for reading less-than-classic classic reprints. Which is what you get here.

Horror was not Fawcett’s forte. Though some legendary artists drew some of these stories, the dismal writing is usually more than the talents of Sheldon Moldoff, Bernard Baily, Bob Powell, George Evans and the like could overcome.

This first volume collects Worlds Beyond #1 and Worlds of Fear #2-5 from November 1951 through June 1953. Of the almost two dozen tales in this book, only two of them stood out. In both cases, there was the glimmer of a good story to be had if said tales had been better developed and written.

Worlds of Fear #4’s “The Dead Lover Returns!” tells of a young man who spots the woman he knows is his soul mate from across a great distance. He dies before he can meet her. He pleads his case before the guardians of the afterlife, saying he had never known true love in his life and wants a chance to experience it. They agree to send him back under challenging circumstances. The biggest catch is that if the woman falls in love with him, she will join him in death. This story would be worth a rewrite.

Issue #5 had “The Devil Puppet” with penciled art by Mike Sekowsky. A down-on-his-luck puppeteer carves a new puppet from the wood of a hanging tree. The new puppet brings him fame and fortune, but it quickly gains evil sentience. The plot isn’t remotely original, but the tale is told with considerable mania.

Pre-Code Classics World of Fear Volume One is for the completist. I’ll let you know if the second volume is better.

ISBN 978-1-78636-058-8


My next convention appearance will be at G-Fest, the big Godzilla convention held from July 14 to July 16 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare. I’ll be doing a panel presentation each day. On Friday, we doing a panel on “Marvel Monsters.” On Saturday, I’ll be discussing Gorgo, Konga and Reptilicus in the movies, in the comics and in the odd novelizations of those 1960s films. On Sunday, the focus will be on “Syfy Monsters and Other Giant Critters.” The cheese will be celebrated at that last one.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews and a few notes on a mysterious trip I’m taking at the end of this week. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella