My favorite Marvel Comics titles are the titles I can read without worrying overmuch about what’s going on in the soul-crushing events that overwhelm that fictional universe with a regularity I wish my aging body possessed. Captain America might be Captain Nazi in all the other titles. Captain Marvel might be the enemy of basic civil rights. Some other hero might be decapitating Sub-Mariner, who, if I’m correct, has gotten better since losing his head. None of that matters in my favorite titles. They entertain me with but passing references to that other nonsense.

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man by writer Chip Zdarsky with artist Adam Kubert [$4.99 for the premiere issue; $3.99 after that] is well on its way to being one of my favorite titles. It’s got a sense of humor to it without minimizing the dire perils our heroes face in the three issues I’ve read. I said “heroes” because the Human Torch has been hanging with Spidey here and because the issues also feature Teresa Parker, Peter’s maybe/maybe not sister. I like them all.

Zdarsky doesn’t ignore the “Peter Parker is like this technological billionaire” stuff that’s going on in other Spider-Man titles, but he doesn’t focus on it. He brings in some crazy continuity from a few Spider-Man adventures I’d forgotten about, but his scripts have enough information, often charmingly presented, that I can follow the stories without resorting to Wikipedia. Most importantly, he’s bringing a honest sense of humor to Spidey. With too many writers, that humor comes off as forced. They’re trying too hard. Zdarsky? It seems to come naturally to him.

Kubert’s art is the kind of art I like to see in super-hero comics. It’s big and bold for the action sequences and comes down to Earth for the human scenes. Color artist Jordie Bellaire does an amazing job complementing Kubert’s drawings without overwhelming them. This is a nice-looking comic book.

What? You need more hooks to get you interested? Okay…

The Terrible Tinkerer has a kid brother. He’s a good guy and he’s very cool. Teresa is being hunted by rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who want information she’s injected into her own body. Spider-Man has met and might be dating a gorgeous stand-up comedian. The Kingpin is in there, too. He’s become an even more fascinating character as he seeks to project a new image as a wealthy benefactor/protector to the city he claims to love. New York, New York.

This December, Marvel will collect the first six issues of this new title in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1: Into the Twilight [$17.99]. If may or may not be out in time for Christmas and other seasonal holiday gift-giving, but, if it is, it could be a swell gift for the Spider-Fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1302907563


Old Guard 1

From earlier this year, The Old Guard #1-5 by Greg Rucka with art by Leandro Fernandez [Image; $3.99 per issue] is the first of what is planned to be a five-volume series about immortals living among us. It’s not that these men and women can’t die. They can die, but they never know which “death” will be the one they don’t come back from. But that’s close enough to immortality that the rich and the powerful will do anything to be like them.

Andy, Nicky, Joe and Book have lived for hundreds and thousands of years. They work as mercenaries, but guard their immortality from even their most trusted customers. Nile is a new immortal. Whenever a new immortal is activated, the others know about it and reach out to that person.

In this initial series, they are betrayed by someone they trusted.  It is not pretty. Some of them have been captured. Others will do whatever it takes to rescue their friends. It’s a violent tale of loyalty and consequences.

Rucka is a writer I can usually count on to deliver a good story, and this series is no exception to that. It’s not an award-winner, but it’s a solid adventure yarn. Fernandez’s art does a good job of supporting the story, the action, the characters and those afore-mentioned consequences. I’ll keep reading this one.

These first five issues have been reprinted in The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire [$16.99]. If your tastes run more for adventure without costumed characters, or if your tastes are as all over the creative map as mine, you’ll enjoy this series.

ISBN 978-1534302402


Popular Comics

My pick of the week is probably the most unusual pick of the week I’ve done in this column. It’s an anthology comic book produced by mostly comics fans and meant to be “a tribute to the classic Dell Comics Group.” At $11.99 for 64 pages of stories, All-New Popular Comics doesn’t deliver a lot of bang for your bucks. What it does deliver is the obvious delight that the fans had working either on characters they love or characters somewhat similar to those they love. What’s in and not in the public domain is a tricky puzzle to solve these days.

The lead feature is “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” based on the popular media hero from the 1950s. Having just read the actual Dell comic books starring Corbett, I have to say this story failed to capture the essence of the title or characters. There was one character bit that worked for me, but it was one of the most repetitive cliches of the Dell comic books. That’s the case with most of the stories. They just don’t get it right.

There were elements of this comic book I liked. Ken McFarlane took writer Jim Ludwig’s creaky joke and drew a good looking example of a teen girl humor strip. However, Ludwig redeemed himself with an interesting (but too short) meeting of the Fab Four and a group of Dell’s monster heroes. Ludwig also wrote and drew a funny parody of various Dell medical characters.

Sandy Carruthers did a dynamite full-page drawing of Kona facing a giant sea monster. Dave Noe wrote an amusing take-off of “Casey at the Bat” featuring a plethora of Dell heroes. Noe and artist Robert Schaupp did a tolerable Lobo story, but failed to really convey the landmark western character, arguably the full African-American hero to headline his own comics title.

Ultimately, though I got a kick out of this issue, Popular Comics tried to do too much and include too many features. It also lacked the editorial discernment to realize that some of the features and some of the writing and some of the art was simply not up to even the rawest of professional standards. It is an ambitious fanzine, but it’s not a terrific comic book.

Going forward, if All-New Popular Comics continues, it needs to be more selective. Fewer stories, longer stories and higher standards. For example, while I assume the various horror and sci-fi shorts were meant to recall Dell’s anthology titles of the 1960s, there’s nothing in them that screams “Dell” or “John Stanley.” Much better, I think, to devote that space to the character strips.

Despite my criticism, I recommend All-New Popular Comics for older readers who remember the days of the Dell comics it honors and the old fanzines wherein myself and other future professionals learned the rudiments of our craft. “Fun” is a good place to start, but it is still just a start.

ISBN 9781945667541

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Comics history is on my mind this week with a book on the imitators of MAD magazine, the autobiography of a Will Eisner Comics Industry Hall of Fame member and a cool collection of street-level super-hero stories from the 1970s. You’ve heard me say this before, but  now is the true Golden Age of Comics with all manner of wonderful comics from around the world and from the past and present, coming out right alongside books that expand our knowledge of the medium we love and those who created it.

First up is Behaving Madly by Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe [IDW and Yoe Books; $34.99]. Apeldoorn, who writes for television, stage and screen in his native Netherlands, is also one of our best and most dogged comics historians. If there’s a fact out there waiting to be uncovered, my pal Ger will find it. Yoe has won two Eisner Awards and been nominated for other awards on account of he puts together collections of comics that would otherwise be lost to the ages. He has published more than 50 such books.

What we have in Behaving Madly is perhaps the first history of the many magazines that tried to ride the coattails of MAD, still the best and most successful of all such humor publications. As much as I know of comics history, more than half of the titles discussed in the introduction were revelations to me. I had never heard of Bunk, Cockeyed or Cuckoo and those are but three of over a dozen titles.

Past the introduction, Behaving Madly presents comics and features from many of these mostly short-lived magazines. The jokes might be a bit dated and the parody subjects unknown to fans of generations that came well after my own, but these amusing artifacts are more intriguing that I ever imagined they could be.

The artists? We’re talking a who’s who of the best comics artists of the 1950s, legendary talents looking for work at a time when the comics industry was being battered and bruised by the usual censors trying to find scapegoats for complex societal problems. The roster  in this book includes Basil Wolverton, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, Jack Kirby, Will Elder, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Joe Maneely, Angelo Torres, Bob Powell and many more.

I know it’s September, but it’s never too early to start searching for great gifts for the folks you love. Among the people who would get a kick out of Behaving Madly would be fans of MAD Magazine, pop culture or nostalgia buffs and students of comics history. Imagine the fun a teacher could have giving his students an assignment to read these articles and stories and compare them to those real-life people and situations being parodied.

Yoe Books are both entertaining and informative. Comics history is not the sole providence of the perpetually arrogant. Learning can be fun and Yoe always brings that to his books.

ISBN 978-1631408564


Last Girl Standing

Wanna talk comics legends? How about Trina Robbins? The Eisner Hall of Fame member is a writer, artist and comics historian. She was a pioneer in the underground comix movement. She published the first such comic produced entirely by women. She has edited collections of women cartoonists and, as a comics historian, done some of the best work in that field. She’s a wonder.

Last Girl Standing [Fantagraphics Books; $19.99] goes beyond comic books as Robbins shares her memories of a life that saw her side-by-side with dozens and maybe hundreds of counter culture and music icons. This is a Trina Robbins I never knew and her journeys from WWII-era New York to San Francisco and beyond flat-out dazzle me. She was present at and active in so many important movements. I’m not sure she doesn’t have some Amazon DNA in her make-up.

This is a memoir to savor. You read of Trina’s adventures, you see the photographs, you take a deep breath. Then you’re ready for the next adventure. This book is a literary high. It should be in every high school and public library.

Last Girl Standing would be…yeah, here it comes again…a spiffy gift for all sorts of people. Comics history buffs, but especially female comics history buffs and modern-day creators. Dull lads like me who were never involved in the counter culture to any momentous extent. Heck, the only time I got high on drugs was when a woman I dated in the early 1970s would take a hit off a joint made from the pot I’d given one of our friends for a birthday and then kiss me. I’m still not sure it was the pot that got me high. But, enough of writing stuff that will embarrass my children. 

Last Girl Standing is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68396-014-0 


Luke Cage Volume 2

Recently released is Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2 [$75]. This handsome hardcover edition has a new introduction by yours truly and reprints the stories from Power Man #17-31 by me, Len Wein, Don McGregor, George Tuska, Ron Wilson and other Marvel stalwarts of the 1970s.

I don’t want to give away too much from my introduction, but I was a Cage fan from day one. Working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time Luke made his debut, I pitched the newspaper on my doing an article on the character. The editors gave it a pass on account of the paper had just published a big article on comics a year or so before. Surely comic books weren’t worth two such articles. I’ll pause to let you roll your eyes here.

I am incredibly biased, but I think there’s a lot of good comics in this volume. Len Wein and George Tuska created Cornell Cottonmouth, who was a key character in the Luke Cage series on Netflix. I did a mostly satiric story taking on “planned communities” – code for no blacks allowed – and turned supporting character scientist Bill Foster into Black Goliath. McGregor wrote the angriest Luke Cage seen to that point and injected a street beat into his issues. The art throughout this collection has the same feel.

So, yes, I’m definitely biased, but I think this Marvel Masterworks will please readers young and old alike. It’s from beginnings like this that we get Luke Cage and the other impressive programs from the Marvel Netflix Universe. Check it out.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Stronger together. Even in these divisive times, that notion should be a no-brainer. The caveat, of course, is that the people who come together must have good hearts and minds. Sorry, Nazis and white supremacists, by your very natures, you’re not invited to this kind of party. Yeah, I know, I’m so intolerant.

For this edition of Tony’s Tips, I’m looking at three super-teams from Marvel Comics. All of them have strong ties to Marvel’s vast history, but all of them are new as well.

I wasn’t bowled over by the preview of the new Defenders comic book when I read it in one of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings. I didn’t think the transition from the Netflix versions of the heroes to their comic-book counterparts was a smooth one. I wasn’t at all convinced Diamondback was a powerful enough “big bad” to lead off the new series. But I liked the Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and David Marquez (artist) preview enough to order the series from my friendly online comics supplier. That turns out to have been one of my better calls.

Having read The Defenders #1-4 ($4.99 for the first ish, $3.99 per issue for the others), I like the way this series is progressing. Bendis and Marquez have mastered the tightrope walk between comic-book and live-action storytelling. If a reader is new to the comic books, he’ll recognize the heroes from the Netflix series. That new reader might be thrown by some divergent elements – such as Jessica and Luke being married and having had a child – but the characters are pretty faithful to both of their incarnations.

Diamondback has proven himself to be formidable, but there’s also a hint that he’s not the actual “big bad” of this initial Defenders storyline. There is a real sense of menace to the ongoing serial. I’m eager to see what comes next.

I’m recommending The Defenders. Avid super-team readers will find much to enjoy in the title, even more so if, like me, they tend to prefer street-level heroes. Newcomers to comic books will be able to follow this series easily and without worrying about the rest of the vast Marvel Comics Universe.

Defenders Vol. 1: Diamonds Are Forever [$15.99] will be released in late December. It will contain the Free Comic Book Day preview and the first six issues of this ongoing title. The timing is a little off for a Christmas present, but somebody you love must have their birthday early in 2018.

ISBN 978-1302907464


Avengers 1.1

My pick of the week is the oddly-numbered, five-issue Avengers by writer Mark Waid with art mostly by Barry Kitson (pencils) and Mark Farmer (inks). The “mostly” is because we start getting additional inkers by #3.1 and additional pencilers for the final issue of the series [$3.99 per issue].

The five issues take place between Avengers #16 [May 1965) and #17 of the original series. The founding members of the super-team have handed it off to Captain America and given him three replacements  – Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch – who are clearly less mighty than the heroes they are replacing – and who the public has known as villains in the recent past. That’s an awful lot to ask of pre-Nazi Cap, though it was great seeing the real deal in new stories again. Even if those stories were set in the past.

Things do not go smoothly for the new team. They are outmatched by their opponents. They have personal disagreements more extreme than those we saw in 1965. And…no, that’s all you’re going to get from me. No further spoilers. I want you to read the series free of any preconceptions. You’ll thank me for that.

The series has been collected in Avengers: Four [$15.99]. Waid’s at the top of his game. The art is amazing. The characters and their dire circumstances are engrossing. This would make a great gift for that super-team fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1302902612


X-Men Blue

Most current X-Men books leave me unimpressed and uninterested, but I have been enjoying X-Men Blue [$3.99 per issue] by writer Cullen Bunn with various artists. This title stars the original teenaged X-Men who were brought to the present because grown-up Hank McCoy was kind of an idiot. They miss their old lives. This is why they are blue. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The old/young X-Men are trapped in a world their adult selves made. Most of them are struggling not to be as messed up as those adult counterparts. Teenage Hank is looking for a brand-new way to be an idiot by mastering magic. Maybe that’ll work out.

Actually, the young X-Men are a pretty interesting group. They are working (secretly) with Magneto, but they don’t trust him. Already, they are smarter than the grown-ups. Jean Grey carries the heaviest burden because she doesn’t want to go all Phoenix-crazy on her new world. Cyclops, Angel and Iceman are all very sane. They have been joined by a son of Wolverine from a different universe, which makes me sigh but alternative realities are like crack to X-Men writers. They just can’t say “no” to them.

I know it sounds like I’m damning this book with faint praise, but I’m being kind of a jerk. It’s well-written, well-drawn and I want to see what happens next. On my scorecard, that adds up to a pretty good comic book.

X-Men Blue Vol. 1: Strangest [$15.99] collects the first six issues of the series. It’s available right now. X-Men Blue Vol. 2: Toil and Trouble [$15.99] comes out in late November. I recommend them both.

X-Men Blue Vol. 1: Strangest

ISBN 978-1302907280

X-Men Blue Vol. 2: Toil and Trouble

ISBN 978-1302907297

One last note. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 [$3.99] by yours truly and artist Clayton Henry is now available for pre-order. I’m pretty proud of this new series, so I hope you’ll consider buying it. Thanks.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


The smarter half of my brain has been telling me I need to relax a bit more. With no tropical beach in sight, I decided to watch DVDs and TV shows. The upside of this is…no chance of getting sunburn. The downside…no refreshing fruity drinks delivered by scantily-clad waitresses, or, for those so inclined, waiters. I’m totally cool with equal-opportunity fantasies. However, even without those tall refreshing drinks and, you know, the other thing, I still had a pretty good time in front of my TV set.

Batman and Harley Quinn [DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Animation] is my pick of the week. Directed by Sam Liu from a story by Bruce Timm and a teleplay by Timm and James Krieg, this is a hilarious dark comedy which is able to feature both big laughs and touching emotional moments without ever taking the viewer out of the movie. Here’s the Wikipedia summary:

Batman and Nightwing form an uneasy but needed alliance with Harley Quinn to stop Poison Ivy and [the] Floronic Man from transforming people into plants.

Batman is voiced by the great Kevin Conroy. Melissa Rauch is pitch-perfect as Harley. Other actors include the excellent Loren Lester as Nightwing, the always delectable Paget Brewster as Poison Ivy and the ever-commanding Kevin Michael Richardson as Jason Woodrue. Also in the cast: John DiMaggio, Eric Bauza, Robin Atkin Downes, Trevor Devall, Rob Paulsen, Mindy Sterling, and, in a funny scene, Bruce Timm as an unseen Booster Gold. Every performance was solid. Kudos to casting director Wes Gleason.

If you’ll excuse some MILD SPOILERS…

Released from prison, Harley is working as a waitress in a sleazy club called Superbabes. Check out the walls of said establishment for some classic DC Comics artwork.

Batman and Nightwing are, indeed, reluctant to recruit Harley for this mission. Harley is torn between the necessity of saving the world and her friendship with Ivy. These conflicts ring very true and add to the depth of the feature.

Plus: Harley and Nightwing have a moment. Exactly what that means is open to interpretation – I know what I think happened – and it does not please Batman. Nightwing’s under-the-breath muttering is one of the best lines in the movie.

If I have any complaint about this movie, it’s that DC and Warner neglected to include credits for several comics creators who should have been there: Gardner Fox and Gil Kane for Jason Woodrue, Robert  Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff for Poison Ivy, and Pat Misulli, Joe Gill and Dick Giordano for Sarge Steel. DC has gotten much better at this, but there’s room for improvement.

I bought the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital version of the movie, originally priced at $24.98. The special features include “The Harley Effect,” “Loren Lester: In His Own Voice,” two Harley cartoons from Batman: The Animated Series, and a peak at the animated Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. I’m going to pre-order Gotham by Gaslight as soon as it becomes available for pre-order.

If you loved Batman: The Animated Series, you’ll enjoy this movie. I’d love to see more like it.


Defenders TV

A couple weeks back, I wrote about seeing the first two episodes of Marvel’s Defenders at a special screening in New York. After the series started streaming on Netflix, my son Eddie and I watched the remaining six episodes. Here are my thoughts on the entire series with some SPOILERS.

Most of the leads and supporting players were terrific throughout. I was critical of Finn Jones’ performance as Danny Rand/Iron Fist in the first two episodes, but he upped his game when he had scenes with Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock) Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) and Mike Colter (Luke Cage) in the remaining episodes. As did Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing).

The villains were all over the map. Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra started out real scary and became less so as the series progressed.  Elodie Yung’s Elektra Natchios was never convincing. Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao was sometimes subservient, which I later realized came from her remarkable guile, and sometimes scary. Ramon Rodriguez’s Bakuto was a scenery-chewing joke from the moment he showed up in this series and his performance torpedoed a pivotal scene with the always wonderful Simone Messick as Misty Knight.

As much as I loved the leading players and supporting cast members from the previous Netflix series, The Defenders took a nose dive in the final two episodes. That’s when smart people, both heroes and villains, started doing monumentally stupid things. I loathe when that happens because it takes me right out of whatever movie or TV series I’m watching. Because of that flaw, the best grade I’m able to give The Defenders is a B-.

My disappointment in The Defenders doesn’t keep from me being very excited for the next seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, or the debut of the Punisher. I’m hoping the writers of those series don’t fall back on the “smart people, stupid moves” device. These characters deserve better.


Midnight Texas

Based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, Midnight, Texas is sort of like a supernatural super-hero team comic book. The title city is a sanctuary for supernatural beings. It sits on a weakening barrier between Hell and Earth and this draws other not-so-benign  supernatural beings to the town. The ten-episode season debuted on July 24, on NBC.

The “team” is an interesting mix. The lead protagonist is a psychic on the run from an old enemy, accompanied by his granny’s ghost, who only he can see. There’s a vampire whose lover is an assassin, albeit a human assassin. There’s a were-tiger preacher. There’s a witch. And there’s a pair of gay angels who hide their true selves because other heavenly agents would come looking for them and not to bring them wedding gifts. To be clear, the angels hide that they are angels and not that they are gay.

The humans in the town include the psychic’s girlfriend, her really dysfunctional family, and a man trying to make amends for his past as the son of a white supremacist leader. Other human residents may suspect or even know some of their neighbors are different, but do not seem to care. Outsiders are fearful of the town, but still stop by every now and then to carry out some mischief. As I said, this is an interesting mix with a monster-of-the-week sensibility that reminds me of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Night Stalker and the non-mythology episodes of X-Files.

Midnight, Texas isn’t as amazing as any of those series, but it is a solidly entertaining show. The acting is good to excellent, as is the writing. In the six episodes I’ve seen, three major storylines have been brought to satisfying conclusions. I’m already hoping it gets picked up for a second season.

That’s all for now. I will be back next week with reviews of three, honest-to-Odin actual Marvel Comics super-team comics books. Which three? Ah, that would be telling. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella