TONY’S TIPS #229

One of the best things about living in a time when comic books from the past are readily available is that it’s never too late to enjoy a great work you missed the first time around. Incredible as it now seems to me, I somehow never read 2009’s Vixen: Return of the Lion by G. Willow Wilson and Spanish artist/illustrator Cafu (Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano). Until now.

Vixen has always struck me as a great character waiting to become great. Though I’ve enjoyed her appearances in comic books, cartoons and the Legends of Tomorrow TV series, I never felt like I’d found “my” Vixen until this trade paperback collection of the five-issue mini-series. As Wilson writes and develops her, Mari McCabe is on the verge of discovering who she is and coming into her abilities to mimic any animal on Earth. Though she has been a super-hero and traveled to the stars as a member of the Justice League, McCabe is not truly Vixen until she returns to her native Zambesi in search of answers to her long-dead mother’s murder.

This is a painful journey for Mari, but she’s never less than the inspirational hero she’s meant to be. Even when she doubts herself. Beyond the character development, Wilson manages to do some really clever things with the story’s villain and include members of the Justice League without those heroes overpowering Mari’s role in the adventure.

Sidebar. I particularly liked Wilson’s use of Jefferson Pierce in this story. Too many writers have made Black Lightning subservient to Batman or Superman. In his appearance here, he is the equal of his teammates and reacts quickly and decisively to changing events on the ground.  Maybe I should add a collaboration with Willow on a Black Lightning/Vixen adventure to my lengthy bucket list of stuff I’d like to write before I kick the bucket.

Cafu’s art added considerably to my enjoyment of this story. He’s got a knack for drawing realistic and still dynamic super-heroes. His skill in drawing the human drama scenes was clear in every such scene. His African backgrounds were breathtaking. Add Cafu to the long list of artists I’d love to work with.

Vixen: Return of the Lion [DC; $17.99] is my pick of the week. It is readily available and is recommended for readers who love super-hero comics that go beyond the usual.

ISBN 978-1-4012-2512-4

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Super Gorillas

Super Gorillas Vs. The All-American Victory Legion by the late Alan Kupperberg [Charlton Neo; $7.99] is one of the most unusual comic books I’ve read recently. This is going to take some explanation. The two super-team stories in these issue – running 17 and 20 pages respectively – were written and drawn by Kupperberg as commissions in 2011 and 2013.  The team is mostly comprised of characters from the 1940s Centaur Comics, characters now in the public domain. The stories were found in Alan’s files by brother Paul Kupperberg, who realized these fun retro-style adventures would entertain not just Alan’s fans, but also fans of Golden and Silver Age storytelling.

As for Charlton Neo, it’s this wonderfully weird and goofy outfit that publishes all manner of fun comics featuring comics characters and comics genres only seen rarely in our industry. Are the comic books the stuff of Eisner Awards? No, they are not. But I’m buying, reading and getting a kick out of them, which is usually all I ask from my comics.

The hero line-up consists of Amazing Man, Blue Lady, Mystic Arrow, Dark Spider, Lightning and others. The simian super-villains in the cover story are the Green Gorilla, Kingorilla, Mighty Monkey and Kongster. In the second story, captured by the main foe of one of their number, the heroes are transported into the past and with no memories of their true selves. The concepts for the two tales are  credited to Stan Brown.

As with the Justice League stories of the early 1960s, the heroes are generally split off into teams of two and three. Kupperberg’s writing is straightforward and captures the spirit of these comics classics. His art is equally straightforward. It’s solid stuff on all fronts.

Alan was a pal of mine. We worked together on a number of stories for Marvel Comics editor Jim Salicrup. I enjoyed that a great deal, especially our Rocket Racer shorts, even though they were hidden in the back of Spider-Man annuals and, of all things, the Spider-Man reprints in Marvel Tales. I loved seeing new work from my friend. I think you’ll have fun with this comic book as well.

ISBN 9781543037371

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Newsboy Legion

DC’s limited special events have been fun. The teaming of DC heroes with Warner Bros. cartoon characters had me cackling with delight from start to finish. Recently, to honor the legendary Jack Kirby on what would have been his hundredth birthday, the publisher did a series of 48-page specials featuring Kirby creations in brand-new stories by some of our best and most interesting comics creators. The special that went to the top of my reading pile was The Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos Special #1 by Howard Chaykin [$4.99].

The Newsboy Legion are my favorite of Joe Simon’s and Jack Kirby’s 1940s creations for DC Comics. The duo had a knack for kid gangs. Teaming them with my second favorite of their 1940s DC creations – the Boy Commandos – made this special issue a must-have for me and it did not disappoint.

Chaykin’s writing and art are more realistic than the Simon/Kirby original stories, but they definitely manage to emulate that crazy 1940s vibe. The 27-page “A Separate Peace in Pieces” finds most of the super-heroes fighting the Axis powers overseas. That leaves the kids to deal with Nazi fifth columnists in New York. Chaykin knows his history and, telling this story seven decades after World War II, his knowledge informs the action and adventure. Kudos are also due colorist Wil Quintana and letterer Ken Bruzenak. This special looks great!

Adding to the fun is a reprint of “Cabbages and Comics” from Star Spangled Comics #29 [February 1944]. The Newsboys try to make money by publishing their own comic book – Suicide Slum Comics – based on themselves and their neighbors. Since some of those neighbors are criminals, well, let’s just say comic-book criticism was every bit as crude and rough as it is online today.

Some readers won’t care for Chaykin’s version of these characters. But, from where I sit, we get the best of two worlds. A modern take on the World War II heroes and a classic reprint. This comic book was five bucks well-spent.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #228

I still remember my first viewing of Jaws. It was 1975. I lived in the “penthouse” apartment of a less-than-stellar New York hotel so close to Times Square I could see pretty much everything there from my roof.  Someday I will tell you all the stories of my years at the Hotel Consulate.

It was summer. I had visitors from my native Cleveland: my friend from childhood Terry Fairbanks, his wife Nora Joyce and their niece Barbara Kepke, who I would marry after a courtship so long it could have gotten its own driver’s license. The ladies had gone shopping. Terry and I went to see Jaws.

Jaws was and remains a powerful film. The night after I saw it, I had a nightmare about a shark circling my living room couch. I knew it would inspire countless imitations. I predicted one of the first ones would be “Jaws on land” and, lo and behold, less than a year later and accompanied by a spiffy Neal Adams poster, Grizzly was in the same theater where I saw Jaws.

Comic books did not jump on the Jaws bandwagon with enthusiasm. We got a couple one-off super-hero stories with sharks. Marvel adapted Jaws 2. But it was comics men from across the Atlantic who created the definitive shark comics.

The Hookjaw Classic Collection [Titan Comics; $34.99] reprints the complete series about the baddest great white shark of them all in a handsome oversized hardcover volume. Created by Pat Mills, this scary serial was the highlight of the newly-released Action, a boys weekly that mostly imitated American thrillers, infusing its pages with glorious bloodshed and violence.

Writers Mills and Ken Armstrong, working with artists who’d likely never had to draw such carnage previously, had a mandate that each three-to-five-page installment of Hookjaw had to have at least one gory and interesting death. Alas, there were those who took great offense to such entertaining mayhem in a “children’s” comic weekly. Action was first diminished and then cancelled.

I had seen the odd Hookjaw chapter here and there. I loved it from the moment. The shark was something of a eco-hero, driven to dining on humans when they did terrible things like drill for oil in his neighborhood. Okay, I’ll admit that element of the series is kind of so subtle you could miss it. As far as I was concerned, Hookjaw needed no socially redeeming elements. It was an exciting series, filled with unexpected surprises and the knowledge no character was safe from being on the great white’s lunch menu.

Hookjaw Classics Collection fulfills my decades-long desire to have all of the Hookjaw material in one volume. It’s got the original stories. It’s got special stories from annuals. It’s got the lost pages from the final serial that was sanitized and terminated too soon as Action was circling the drain.

Since I like to point out such things, I’ll mention that this book would make a terrific gift for fans of British comics, students of British comics history, fans of Pat Mills (one of the best comics writers of our time), fans of shark movies and, in general, fans of “nature bites back” fiction. Indeed, since Action was banned from British newsstands, supporters of the First Amendment should also consider buying it. Okay, that’s a stretch maybe, but I just love this book. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 9781782768043

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Heroes of the Comics

Drew Friedman’s Heroes Of The Comics: Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends Of Comic Books [Fantagraphics Books; $34.99] has received considerable praise. I won’t say that praise is unfounded. Still, my reaction to the 2014 book was…disappointment.

Friedman’s portraits are outstanding works of arts. Yet, with rare exception, they are portraits of these comics creators as elderly men and women. I would have loved to have seen his drawings of such great creators when they were in their prime. After a while, I felt like I was looking through a senior citizens home yearbook.

My biggest disappointment came from the texts that accompanied each of the portraits. These texts have a great deal of misinformation in them. Some of the misinformation are errors of fact. Others are errors of bias as Friedman apparently subscribes to the established  Fantagraphics bias against certain creators.

I had wanted Heroes of the Comics for years. I figured it would be a nice addition to my comics history library. Instead, it will end up in one of my Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales.

Heroes of the Comics isn’t without merit, but I can’t recommended it.  That also disappoints me.

ISBN 978-1-60699-731-4

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Walt Disney Christmas Classics

Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics [Boom! Kids; $24.99] came out in 2009, but there are copies to be had in the secondary markets and often at very low prices. The full-color hardcover book is over a hundred pages of comic-book delights by Cark Barks, Walt Kelly, Jack Hannan, Romano Scarpa and others.

I love this book. “Christmas on Bear Mountain” by Barks is clearly one of his best with its delightful use of Uncle Scrooge and sheer dumb luck on Donald’s part. Mickey Mouse stars in Scarpa’s “It’s a Wonderful Christmas Story” and it’s a great take on the legendary It’s a Wonderful Life. “Best Christmas” by Barks is a gem that does not get the recognition it deserves. Likewise his “Santa’s Stormy Visit!” There are a lot of smiles in this thin volume.

By its very nature, Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics would make a fantastic holiday gift. Older readers can read the stories to the younger readers. When Disney comics stories are at their best, as are the ones collected herein, there are timeless tales every bit as enjoyable now as they were when they were first published. This book is worth the search.

ISBN 978-1-60886-548-2

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #227

Every book I’m reviewing this week ties for my “Pick of the Week.” It’s been a darn good week.

I’m not sure when I first saw the work of cartoonist Mimi Pond. It might have been in, of all things, the pages of Seventeen Magazine when I was doing “I Cover the Newsstand,” my Comics Buyer’s Guide column reporting on comics material running in mainstream magazines and the like. It could have been in National Lampoon or the other magazines that published her. I do remember that, from the moment I saw her work, I knew she was a cartoonist worth following.

The Customer is Always Wrong [Drawn and Quarterly; $29.95] might be her magnum opus. Weighing in at 448 pages and over two-and-a-half pounds, this graphic novel is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a post-college cartoonist working in a restaurant with sketchy co-workers and customers. Set in Oakland in the late 1970s, I can’t testify as to how well it captures that city. But I can say Pond’s depiction of the era matches my memories of those long-ago years. I knew people who could’ve posed for some of her supporting characters, though, thankfully, those dealing drugs knew enough to keep that nonsense away from me.

Customer is a brilliant and challenging work. It was hard for me to watch scene after scene of characters doing self-destructive things to themselves and others. Even “Madge” – Pond’s doppleganger in the book – makes her share of unfortunate choices. What kept me reading was Pond’s mastery of comics storytelling and my rooting for Madge as she navigated a world of drunks, junkies, con artists and just plain creepy people.  That Pond delivers a very satisfying ending to this graphic memoir is why I recommend it to you.

Much to my excitement, in researching this review, I learned of a number of other Mimi Pond works I hadn’t known of. I’ll be looking for them as soon as I finish this week’s “Tony’s Tips!” column. It is a hunt that excites me.

The Customer is Always Wrong is recommend for older teens and up. It should be in every college and public library and probably most high school libraries. Needless to say, it would also make a great gift for the graphic novel devotee in your life.

ISBN 978-1-77046-282-3

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Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel has been one of my favorite current comics since Marvel introduced the title heroine in 2013. Muslim teenager and Inhuman Kamala Kahn is an inspirational and realistic character. Created by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, Kamala has managed to appear in the various Marvel “events” without losing the core quality of her stories and character development.

Wilson reached new heights with Ms. Marvel #19-22 [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. In “Mecca,” an old enemy of the heroine has now joined forces with a Hydra-connected politician who brings his own police force to Kamala’s New Jersey home. It is a frightening story that echoes the anti-immigrant and white supremacist words and deeds of our current presidential administration. I’ve always liked super-hero comics with at least one foot in the real world and this tale fits the bill.

Wilson’s writing is as good as the best in our industry. She had me on the edge of my seat throughout the four issues and feeling more than a little sick to my stomach at the realization that Kamala’s super-heroic world isn’t all that different from mine. Artist Marco  Failla brought home the emotion of this story in the art with color artist Ian Herring pulling it all together. When the artsy-fartsy crowd turn up their noses at super-hero comic books in general, I’m able to point to Ms. Marvel as being as relevant and well-crafted as the best of their indy or alternative darlings.

 Coming in December, Ms. Marvel Vol. 8: Mecca [$17.99] will reprint Ms.  Marvel #19-24 in trade paperback. I hope this book comes out in time for holiday gift-giving because it would be a perfect present for any number of people on my list…and probably on your lists as well. Not to mention being suitable for all ages and a series that should be in every public and school library.

ISBN 978-1302906085

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Marvel Collectibles

I had a ball reading and reveling in The Full-Color Guide to Marvel Silver Age Collectibles: From MMMS to Marvelmania by J. Ballmann [Total Mojo Productions; $29.95]. Published in 2014, this second edition catalogues Marvel comic-related goodies from the 1960s. It has toys, posters, t-shirts, gumball items, games, model kits, fan club items and pretty much anything else you can think of. The 172-page book has over 1,400 pictures of this stuff. My reactions on seeing these treasures ranged from “I had that!” to “I never even heard of that!” to “Man, I hope some of this stuff turns up in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff.”

 This book is fun and informative. It was delight to see the items contained in the book and, at the same time, I learned a bunch of facts about them that I never knew. The back cover says this book was twelve years in the making. After reading a few pages of this obsessively complete volume, I don’t doubt this for even the merest moment. It’s a wonderful book on every level.

 Yes, I’m doing my “this would make a great holiday gift” shout-outs early this year, but, by Odin’s beard, this book would make a fine gift for all sorts of people. Know someone who was an avid Marvel readers as a youngster? They’ll get a kick out of this. Or someone who never stopped reading Marvel comic books from the 1960s to the present. Or someone who loves Marvel collectibles. Or someone who just wants to learn more about the formative years of one of the most popular phenomena in comics history.

 Ballmann’s terrific tome is suitable for all ages and deserves to be in every public, school and Marvelites library. You might have to pay more than the original cover price, but it’ll be worth it.

 ISBN 978-0-9815349-0-9

That’s all for now. I will be back next week with more reviews and holiday gift suggestions.

© 2017 Tony Isabella