TONY’S TIPS #256

My admittedly biased choice for the biggest news this time around is that Black Lightning: The Complete First Season will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The TV series stars the character created by a guy name of Tony Isabella. Gosh, where have we heard that name before?

Though I have no official role in the show, you don’t have to look too deep to find my creative DNA in the mix. Early on, before DC hired show runners Salim and Mara Brock Akil, I was asked to write a paper on Black Lightning’s core values. After the amazing Akils were hired, we had a long conference call on all things Lightning. That was followed by my visit to the Black Lightnings writers room in Burbank. I call myself the show’s unofficial head cheerleader, constantly applauding the adherence to Jefferson Pierce’s values, the great writing and the award-caliber acting from Cress Williams and the entire cast. I love this series and am so honored to have been even a small part of it.

Besides the 13 episodes of the first season, the Blu-ray and DVD sets will feature these extras: Black Lightning Comic-Con panel, A Family of Strength, Black Lightning Come Visit Georgia, a gag reel and deleted scenes. I hope the last includes the extended scene of Jeff at the roller rink with daughters Anissa and Jennifer. I saw that scene during my Burbank visit when Salim showed me the full presentation video that sold the series. It’s what made me proclaim from the beginning that Williams was the perfect choice to play my creation. He’s proven me right in every scene since.

The suggested retail price for the two-disc Blu-ray set is $39.99. The SRP for the three-disc DVD set is $29.99. Needless to say, but I’m gonna say it anyway, either version would make a wonderful gift for those you love throughout the year.

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Suicide Squad

Since we’re on the subject of DC Entertainment home video, I bought and watched Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay on DVD [$18.96]. The Blu-ray version [$24.96] is also available. Here’s the brief summary from the Internet Movie Database:

Task Force X targets a powerful mystical object that they will risk their lives to steal.

Written by Alan Burnett, one of my favorite DC animation scribes, this R-rated animated feature is not for the faint of heart. There are a great many gory deaths with some of the victims being well-known DCU characters. There aren’t really any heroes in this movie, though there are characters who act with a surprising morality that plays nicely against the evil goings-on. That “R” rating isn’t kidding: strong bloody violence throughout, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and some drug material.

The 86-minute film is tight. Amanda Waller wants a mystic “Get Out of Hell” card because, let’s face it, that’s where she’s going as she is as much of a ruthless monster as any member of the Suicide Squad. She sends two teams of villains after it, though few of her agents or their opponents, come out of this alive. Shocking scenes and surprising moments are frequent. It’s a knuckle-squeezing film, but it does have a satisfying ending. I appreciated that because, of late, so many comic books fail in that regard.

Characters include Deadshot [voiced by Christian Slater], Waller [Vanessa Williams], Harley Quinn [Tara Strong], Bronze Tiger [Billy Brown], Killer Frost [Kristin Bauer van Straten], Captain Boomerang [Liam McIntyre], Copperhead [Gordon Emery] and many others. Black Lightning’s Tobias Whale [Dave Fennoy] also appears and, honestly, he’s the reason I bought this movie.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay follows Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox [2013], which I haven’t yet seen. But Hell to Pay stands on its own. Extreme violence or not, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. I’m glad I bought it.

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Squirrel Girl

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl [Marvel; $3.99 per issue] doesn’t work for everyone. I have friends who find the notion of a super-hero whose powers seem like a better fit for DC’s Legion of Substitute Substitute Heroes – the little known team made up of super-heroes rejected by the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Legion of Super-Pets – absurd. I don’t disagree. I just think Squirrel Girl elevates absurd to wonderful.

In issues #27-30’s “The Forbidden Pla-Nut,” Squirrel Girl with pals Nancy and Tippy travel to a planet of squirrels who fare they are about to be the next meal of Galactus. Because they’ve been conned by a Silver Surfer imposter. By the time the funny story concludes, we get guest appearances by Loki (currently the Sorcerer Supreme), Dormammu, Drax the Destroyer, the real Silver Surfer and the Star Wars recap screen crawl. This adventure works for me because it’s in Squirrel Girl’s world, which is in a part of the Marvel Universe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I might not believe it in Avengers, but, in this title, no problem. Kudos to writer Ryan North, artist Erica Henderson and the editors who encourage their delicious absurdity. They make Squirrel Girl a breath of fresh air month after month. I appreciate that.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 8: My Best Friend’s Squirrel [$17.99], which will reprint issues #27-32 of the title, is due to be released in June of this year. It’s just the ticket for summer reading. Surf’s up!

ISBN 978-1302910761

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Alter Ego 152

Edited by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego #152 [TwoMorrows; $9.95] devotes much of that 100-page issue to Larry Ivie, the comics fan, comics pro, artist, writer and visionary who first came up with the notion of a modern (ala 1960s) version of the Justice Society of America. Ivie even called it the Justice League.

Sandy Plunkett, a terrific artist himself, was a friend of Ivie’s. His study of the man is breathtakingly inclusive. Though Ivie may seem like a minor comics professional, his work and his enthusiasm encouraged many better-known creators. Ivie is controversial to the extent that some comics folks doubt some of his claims. But, in my own brief correspondence with him when I was still in my teens, he was a great source of history and insight. To this day, I feel Ivie should have been a more major part of the industry. If awards were given out for individual articles, Plunkett’s would get my vote for best of the year.

The issue also features a brief excerpt from a memoir by legendary comics writer John Broome, Michael T. Gilbert’s look at some sleazy romance comics of the 1950s, Bill Schelly on his new book (Sense of Wonder), a tribute to artist Sam Glanzman and more.

Alter Ego remains my favorite comics-oriented magazine. This issue is particularly terrific. It’s my pick of the week.

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One more note before I take my leave. My next convention appearance will be at the East Coast Comicon, April 27-29, at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. The guest list includes Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Howard Chaykin, Larry Hama, Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber, Jim Salicrup, Nancy Silberkleit, Jim Starlin, Joe Sinnott, Wendy & Richard Pini, and many others. I’m looking forward to hanging out with so many old friends, making new friends and generally having a blast. Hope to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #255

This week’s pick of the week is Marvel’s Werewolf by Night Omnibus [$125]. I’m talking nearly 1200 pages of 1970s comics and features by Doug Moench, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Don Perlin, Mike Ploog and others.

The Werewolf by Night series made its debut in Marvel Spotlight #2 [February 1972]. Conceived by Roy and Jean Thomas and written by Gerry Conway, it introduced the cursed Jack Russell to comicdom and the Marvel Universe in particular. It also debuted decades of jokes about the lead character’s name. The jokes were officially declared old in March of 1972.

Not every story in this volume, which collects every Werewolf tale from Marvel Spotlight #2 to Werewolf by Night #43 [March 1977] was terrific, but nearly every one was entertaining. Conway delivered some nice gothic tales. Len Wein brought his lyrical word-smithing chops to others, including a Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man. Marv Wolfman – “At last – Werewolf written by a Wolfman” – created two of Russell’s classic villains in the Hangman and Taboo, as well as the Eisner-esque Topaz. But it’s Moench who had the longest run on the feature, developing the supporting cast, taking Russell and his friends all over the world, delving into supernatural dimensions, and, when sales started dipping, ushered in a surprising change in the Werewolf’s course. I would have liked to have seen Moench take that further, but, alas, sales figures are a harsh mistress.

Werewolf By Night’s first artist was the remarkable Mike Ploog and he was perfect for the feature. He was also greatly in demand, so other artists were recruited. Tom Sutton and Gil Kane did some fine work on the strip, but it was Don Perlin who made the Werewolf his own. Not as flashy as the above-mentioned artists, Perlin was one heck of a storyteller and handled every wacky notion Moench threw at him. They were a terrific team.

Sidebar. Don drew my Tigra debut from Giant-Size Creatures #1 [July 1974], also included in this omnibus and was just wonderful to work with. I wish I could have done more than one story with him back in the day. I think we were a good team.

Besides the Marvel Spotlight issues and the Werewolf’s own title, this hefty hardcover includes Marvel Team-Up #12, the crossover with a notable count from Tomb of Dracula #18, Giant-Size Creatures #1, a prose story from Monsters Unleashed #6-7, all the new stories from Giant-Size Werewolf #2-5, and the big monster bash from Marvel Premiere #28. That last one teamed the Werewolf with Ghost Rider, Man-Thing and Morbius in a wild adventure by Bill Mantlo and Frank Robbins. There’s also a generous helping of special feature pages in this book. Amazing stuff.

If you’re into 1970s Marvel in all its glory and weirdness, you’ll want this not-inexpensive book. However, InStock Trades, the fine outfit that sponsors this column, is currently offering it at a 42% discount. Worth looking into.

ISBN 978-0-7851-9908-3

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Bingo Love

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin with artist Jenn St-Onge [Image Comics; $9.99] will surely and deservedly be an Eisner and other awards contender. Rated “T” for “Teen,” it’s the life-story of two girls who meet and fall in love in 1963. Their families are horrified by the sight of their first kiss and with a determination born of both bigotry and ignorance, separate them. As this sometimes bittersweet graphic novel unfolds, we watch the adult lives of Hazel and Mari, the choices they make and their amazing reunion. There is sadness and turmoil in their story, but what stands out most of all is how joyously they commit to one another.

Franklin’s characters are easy to embrace. Her dialogue strikes the right notes. St-Onge’s drawings are charming and flirty and filled with emotion. Colorist Joy San does a fine job, as does letterer Cardinal Rae. I love this original graphic novel a lot.

My one quibble is that, at two different places in the book, just as something vital is happening in this story, readers are directed to digital episodes. Not cool. Those episodes should have been in this book. Hopefully, this will be corrected in some future edition of the graphic novel.

Bingo Love is something special. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0750-6

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Rashomon

Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case by Victor Santos [Dark Horse; $19.99] is such a stylishly told crime noir story is really needs to have its own category. Swank noir? Fine art noir? I’m not sure what that category should be named. What I’m sure of is that, beyond a superficial similarity to Frank Miller’s Sin City works, Rashomon is unlike any crime comics story I have ever read and one of the best I’ve read in recent years.

Santos was inspired by the works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, regarded as the father of the Japanese short story. Some Akutagawa stories featured the heroic commissioner Heigo Kobayashi.

In this take on the classic Rashomon, the body of a famous samurai is found along a road in feudal Japan. Investigating the slaying, Kobayashi interviews a number of suspects and witnesses, none of whom give the same testimony. The most unnerving of the characters in the tale is the widow of the samurai, a calculating, sensuous woman who might have been behind the murder and subsequent actions bring her into repeated contact with the commissioner and may also have inspired other violent acts.

There are no real answers in this graphic novel. Certainly Santos leaves much open for speculation. Yet what drew me to the book and gave me such delight was his telling of his tale. There were pages that made my eyes grow wide. This is a great story with astonishing art in a beautiful hardcover volume.

Rashomon would appeal to fans of crime noir, historical fiction and manga. I definitely recommend it to those fans.

ISBN 978-1-50670-317-6

Hope you enjoyed this column. I’ll be back next week with another three-pack of reviews. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #254

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #6 was released last week and the reviews have been wonderful. Outside of the few benighted critics who believe super-hero comics should consist of powered individuals punching each other in the head and those who object to non-white  heroes or diversity in comics in general, the initial reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

The first season of Black Lightning is drawing to a close and it’s common for viewers to tell me each new episode is their favorite to date. I don’t disagree as week after week has delivered brilliant acting, crazy good acting and surprising twists. Thirteen episodes just doesn’t seem like enough to me. While we’re waiting for season two – the series received an early renewal – check your convention listings for appearances by Black Lightning cast members. They’re a great group of people who I know you’ll enjoy meeting. Heck, if I wasn’t otherwise committed, I’d follow them around the country. Which maybe sounds creepy now that I think about it.

While I wait to see what my next comics gig will be, I’ve started work on four different books and getting ready for my famous Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales. I’ll have more to say about all these projects in the near future. In the meantime, I’m delighted to bring you this week’s reviews. Every item I’m writing about this week should be considered my “pick of the week” because they’re all that good.

From the Burger Books imprint at Dark Horse, Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson with artist Warren Pleece [$19.99] has a new edition to celebrate the graphic novel’s tenth anniversary. It’s  a handsome hardcover book with enhanced toned art, an afterword by Johnson, character sketches and other added material. The add-ons are terrific, but it’s the story that makes this a classic.

Zane Pinchback, a reporter for a black-owned New York newspaper in the early 20th century, is light-skinned enough to pass for white. He has used this to investigate lynchings and other crimes against black people throughout the American South. After a near escape, he plans to retire his “Incognegro” identity. Until his own brother is arrested in Mississippi and charged with killing a white woman. It is a grim chronicle of murderous racists, the acceptance of their heinous crimes and even the elevation of those crimes to some sort of carnival entertainment, including postcard souvenirs of those crimes. Today, when we have a racist president surrounded by white supremacists, Johnson’s story resonates more strongly than when it was first published.

Pleece’s art and storytelling are top-notch, drawing readers into the era and the horrors of that era. He and Johnson put a spotlight on the setting, the disgusting racism and the things people would do to survive and be themselves. That this graphic novel is taught in schools doesn’t surprise me. Indeed, it should be taught in more schools. It is an important reflection of our history, a truth that saddens me, albeit not as much that it’s a truth many Americans do not yet recognize.

Also being published by Berger Books and Dark Horse is Johnson and Pleece’s Incognegro Renaissance [$3.99 per issue], a five-issue origin story of Zane’s other identity. A hardcover collection of this series is scheduled for October publication.

Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery [$19.99]

ISBN 978-1506705644

Incognegro: Renaissance [$19.99]

ISBN 978-1506705637

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Puerto Rico Story

There are at least two other Puerto Rico benefit anthologies in the works, but Lion Forge hits the comics shops first with its amazing Puerto Rico Strong [$12.99]. The anthology is just over 200 pages of stories and art, which makes it a true bargain.

So many talents came together, united by their horror for what has befallen the island and their desire to do something to support the relief efforts. The anthology is more than stories of Puerto Rican life in this time of need. Latinx creators tell their own stories and also delve into the culture and history of the island. There is so much power in their drawings and words that I’m reading the book for a second time, savoring a story or two each day as part of my morning routine.

Dozens of creators contributed to this anthology. You’ll recognize some names from your favorite comics of the past. You’ll wonder why you haven’t heard of others before this. I hope I get to see more work from both groups.

Puerto Rico Strong is a breathtaking reflection of creators coming together for a good cause. It is a book to be cherished.

ISBN 978-1-941302-90-3

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Dave Hunt

If you read mainstream comic books during the 1970s through 2000 or so, you’ll have seen the name “Dave Hunt” hundreds of times. From his start working in production at Marvel, Dave was a colorist, letterer, background inker, inker and penciller for Marvel, DC and other publishers. I didn’t socialize with Dave, maybe a lunch here and there when we both worked at Marvel, but he struck me as a real salt-of-the-earth guy, an amiable and friendly fellow, and a solid professional. Even in a comics career filled with as much stellar work as Dave’s, my fondest memory of him is personal.

When Dave learned I spent my first Thanksgiving in New York alone, a turkey sandwich from a Brooklyn deli for a meal that represented pretty much my last money until my next paycheck (which, luckily, was just days away), he was mortified. If he had known, he said, he would have invited me to spend the day with his family. He was one of the good ones. Heck, one of the best ones. That he is no longer with us diminishes our world.

Dave Hunt: An Artist’s Life by Hunt and Lee Benaka [ComicArtAds; $25] is an autobiography and more. The beautiful book presents the artist’s story in his own words. It has a foreword by the great Joe Sinnott, who hired Dave to do background inks for him. It has more photographs and more examples of Dave’s work than I can count. The examples include Hunt’s fine arts creations. All topped off with an exhaustive checklist of Dave’s comics work.

The title of the book says more than it appears on the surface. In detailing his life, Hunt wrote an informative essay or sorts on the lives of other artists. His dedication to his craft, his numerous inspirations and the business of being an artist. It’s a fantastic book and reference resource.

Copies of the book can be had by sending $25 to Benaka via PayPal. His PayPal ID is: savewamubluegrass@hotmail.com

ISBN 978-1-54392-875-4

That wraps another week’s worth of tips. I’ll be back in seven days with more reviews. I hope you’ll join me.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #253

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #6 will be hitting the comic-book shops this week. Due in no small part to the great art of Clayton Henry, the editorial support of Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards, and the amazing color art of Pete Pantazis, I think the six issues represent my best comics work ever. It was a thrill to reinvent my signature creation for a new era and I hope I’ll return to him in the near future.

I have a pretty light appearance schedule in April. I’ll be filming a public service announcement for literacy and Free Comic Book Day at WBNX-TV, our local CW station. The PSA will be aired during the various DC Comics and other shows. Beyond that, I’ll be speaking to a group of students for their special projects.

That means I’ll have a lot of time to work on my own new projects. By the time this column posts, I’ll have decided what that will be. It could be a new book of comics history. It could be a movie. It could be a graphic novel. So many choices.

While I’m making those choices, here are the items I’ve selected to write about this week…

I didn’t purchase Pre-Code Classics Ghostly Weird Stories Volume 1 [PS Artbooks; $44.99] because I thought the stories reprinted in this hardcover collection from the U.K. were classics. I bought it because of my fascination with the horror comics of the 1950s and the production thereof.

Published by Star Publications, Ghostly Weird Stories ran but five issues, continuing its numbering from Blue Bolt and Blue Bolt Weird Tales of Terror. Issues #120-124 are cover-dated September 1953 to September 1954. L.B. Cole drew all the covers with the cover copy consisting of the caption from the splash panel of the cover story. The cover tale, usually written and drawn by Jay Disbrow, was often the only original material in an issue.

Disbrow’s work is intriguing its own right. Artistically, he has a style of its own. Lots of grim faces and horrifying creatures. As a writer, boy howdy, is he one wordy wordsmith. Huge captions and word balloons that required smaller than normal lettering so as to not crowd out the art.

His stories are entertaining, but only one of them – “Death Ship” – is memorable. That one is a character study of a spaceship captain who can’t resist the call of the stars no matter how good his life on Earth is. He’s looking for something out there, but whether he finds it or not, is left to the reader to decide.

The other stories are a mixed bag. Reprints of jungle heroes Jo-Jo, Rulah and Tonaka appear. Heroes like Torpedo Man and the Mask are in some of the issues as well. Horror tales and even a crime story are reprinted. Besides the Disbrow lead stories, the only other new story is “The Last Man Alive,” an off-beat tale about a surly guy who doesn’t like sharing the world with people. It’s drawn by the equally off-beat A. C. Hollingsworth. Many of these stories would be reworked with additional gore to appear in the notorious black-and-white comics magazines by Eerie Publications in the late 1960s and mid-1970s.

Sidebar. Marvel Comics had a similar business plan for some of the 1970s “mystery” comics it published around the same time as those Eerie magazines. After several issues, titles like Tower of Shadows would feature only one new story and then fill out the rest of their pages with reprints.

Pre-Code Classics Ghostly Weird Stories Volume 1 isn’t a must-have for anyone who doesn’t share my fascination with the horror comics of the past. But, if you are one of our maniacal number, I suspect you’ll enjoy the collection.

ISBN 978-1-78636-181-3

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Punisher Max

Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Volume Seven [Marvel; $39.99] is grindhouse gore in super-hero drag. It reprints PunisherMAX #1-22 from January 2010 to April 2012.

Written by Jason Aaron with art by Steve Dillon and colorist Matt Hollingsworth, this is the most brutal series of Punisher comics I have ever read. There are no good guys among the combatants here. There are monsters in human guise…and Frank Castle is every bit as monstrous as those he hunts and slaughters.

Clearly set in an alternate Marvel Universe, the players in these stories include the Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra. There are quick violent deaths in these stories and lingering torturous killings. These are more horrifying crime comic books than I imagined before I read them. They make the crime comic books of the 1950s look like TV’s afternoon specials. That said…the writing, the art and the coloring are all of the highest quality. Each issue had me wanting to see what happened next and, when I got to the last issue of the series, I was satisfied by the overall ending. This isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but if your intestinal fortitude is higher than most readers, I think you’ll find this collection to be worth reading.

ISBN 978-1-302-90912-3

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How to Go Steady

My pick of the week is the long-titled How to Go Steady: Timeless Dating Advice, Wisdom, and Lessons from Vintage Romance Comics by comics historian and love comics expert Jacque Nodell [CreateSpace; $12.99]. The back cover calls it “history book meets how-to guide,” which is pretty good short hand for what Nodell has created here.

The field of romance comics in general has not been covered as well as it should be. It was a leading genre from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s. Its target audience were girls and young woman, but it had plenty of male readers as well.

Nodell has been collecting and writing about romance comics for as long as I can remember. Her “Sequential Crush” blog was one I would visit frequently. I always enjoyed her articles and learned a lot from them. What she has done in this book is focus on one part of the romance comics allure: the advice columns.

Though often written by men, these columns actually contained some useful lessons. Nodell went through hundreds of comic-book advice columns to put together a dating/relationship guide with some solid suggestions for young women and men. Though the advice offered in the comic books tended to be very conservative, the basics hold up pretty well today.

Though I’ve been safely and happily married for over thirty years, I found this book to be entertaining. If I’m ever again fortunate enough to edit a romance comic – I was the editor of Young Love at DC Comics for a short time in 1976 – you can be sure I’ll include an advice column in that comic book.

Entertaining and informative, shining a light on a part of comics history never before covered in such detail, How to Go Steady would make a great gift for anyone even remotely interested in romance comics. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 9781983612909

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella