TONY’S TIPS #262

My latest comics gear buy was this cool “Return of the Ant-Man” T-shirt from Stylin Online. I bought it because Marvel has invited me and my Saintly Wife Barb to the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Marvel has been great about inviting me to events like this and I thank them for it.

The “Return of the Ant-Man” t-shirt costs $19.88 in small through extra-large. It’s also available in XXL, XXXL and 4xL at a cost of $21.88, $22.88 and $23.88 respectively.

Black Lightning suit

Even if it arrives before we leave for the premiere, I don’t plan on wearing this shirt to the premiere. I’ll be debuting the second of the two new suits I bought this year from Men’s Warehouse. The first was the one I wore to the Black Lightning premiere in D.C. earlier this year. The second, which I just picked up, is a custom-made suit with a label you might find interesting:

The young man who sold me the suits was a James Bond fan and also a comics fan. His label read: You Only Live Twice. When he told me I could get any label I wanted, my choice was obvious.

I’ll be wearing the new suit to the Ant-Man and the Wasp premiere. Look for a report on that event and a review of the movie sometime in the near future. Speaking of other comics-oriented movies and TV shows…

Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger launched on Freeform on June 7 with two episodes. I’ve since watched the third episode. Here’s the quickie introduction from epguides.com:

Two troubled teens find themselves with strange powers, and a mysterious connection that draws them to each other.

Cloak and Dagger were created by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Ed Hannigan. They appeared in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (March 1982) as runaways whose run-in with a criminal chemist connected them and gave them super-powers, which they used to bring down drug dealers. Since then, Cloak (Tyrone Johnson) and Dagger (Tandy Bowen) have sometimes been considered mutants and sometimes not. In truth, the further removed they became from their Mantlo and Hannigan stories, the less interest I had in them. Fortunately, while keeping the most basic of basics, the new TV series doesn’t follow the comic books.

As young children, teens Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy (Olivia Holt) were exposed to energy released when a Roxxon Corporation oil rig collapses. They were in a lake at the time: Tyrone because his older brother had been shot by a bent cop and he dove in to try to rescue him. Tandy because her father, a Roxxon scientist, became distracted when the oil rig exploded while he was driving her home from a ballet lesson. Young Tyrone’s power manifested, as did young Tandy’s, and he rescued her.

Years later, their circumstances are much different. Roxxon pinned the oil rig disaster on Tandy’s father, leaving her and her mother penniless. Tandy lives in an abandoned church, pulling various cons with her boyfriend. Her never-stable mother is an alcoholic and drug abuser (Andrea Roth), chasing the fantasy she will get Roxxon into court and win a huge settlement.

Tyrone attends a Catholic high school and struggles to fit in. His mother (Gloria Reuben) is an activist struggling with the fear she might lose her only remaining child. Tyrone lives with the guilt of his brother’s death and the knowledge that his brother’s killer is still out there.

They meet by chance, reactivating their long-dormant powers. By the end of episode three, they understand they are somehow connected. Which just leaves them with more questions.

Joseph and Holt are terrific in their roles. The storytelling gets a little trippy at times, but it’s intriguing and powerful. This is the journey of two traumatized teens trying to make sense of their world while coping with their circumstances. The chemistry between the two young actors is simply amazing.

In my admiration for Joseph and Holt, I don’t want to sell anyone else short. Reuben is a commanding presence. Roth is a compelling tragic figure. Carl Lundstedt does well as the likeable young con man honestly in love with Tandy. J.D. Evermore is chilling as bent cop Connors. Noëlle Renée Bercy as Tyrone’s girlfriend Evita adds beauty, compassion and maybe a little menace to the proceedings via her voodoo-practicing aunt. It’s a great cast.

Of course, the highest kudos must go to Joe Pokaski, who created the TV show and wrote the first two episodes. He took the best of the characters and molded them into a terrific series. Right now, Cloak and Dagger is my favorite Marvel-based TV series. I’m in for the long haul.

Cloak and Dagger airs Thursdays on Freeform. It’s probably on all kinds of digital platforms, but I’m still working on mastering the remote control. For information on those platforms, you’ll have to go to someone who understands that stuff.

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Avengers Grimm Time Wars

The Asylum, maker of Sharknado and other fun films, has established its own shared super-hero universe. Their source material is fairy tales. They started with Avengers Grimm (2015) with heroines Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Red (Riding Hood). The villain was Rumpelstiltskin.

The Asylum followed that with Sinister Squad (2016) with Alice of Wonderland fame gathering a team of fairy tale villains to combat a different version of Rumpelstiltskin. Because this is not just a shared universe; it’s a shared multiverse.

In 2018’s Avengers Grimm: Time Wars, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Red team with Alice and her Looking Glass organization to try to prevent a shattered multiverse from messing up all reality as we know it. The villains are Magda, the evil queen of Atlantis, and a third incarnation of Rumpelstiltskin.

Yes, the similarities you note to various Marvel and DC super-hero movies are there. The Asylum is known for its “mockbuster” takes on films with much bigger budgets.

Yes, the usual anonymous “critics” on the Internet Movie Database have been merciless in panning this film. Wanna guess how many of them have ever published or released anything? My money would be on single digits. As in zero.

Yes, I thought the movie was good cheesy fun and a terrific way to relax for an hour-and-a-half. We’ve all read much worse super-hero comics and seen much worse super-hero movies and TV shows.

I’m a forgiving viewer when it comes to low-budget movies like this one. I’m not expecting Black Panther, though I would have loved to see the Asylum’s take on that classic. I’m just asking for those 90 minutes of entertainment. If you are of a similar mind, I believe you’ll enjoy Avengers Grimm: Time Wars.

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Jessica Jones Season Two poster

I had been planning to write a lengthy review of the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, but realized I didn’t have much to add from my comments on the first season. Jessica Jones is resolutely about people making bad choices again and again. That would usually be a deal-breaker for me, but, in Jessica, so brilliantly played by Krysten Ritter, we have a hero whose bad choices are often defined by her PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Indeed, given that a number of other characters in the series had their minds controlled by the late Killgrave, the bad choices usually worked for me.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

Jessica makes some good choices this season and, while they do not offset the bad choices completely, the finale leaves her in a much better place than previously. I liked that a lot.

There are some intriguing life-changes for several members of the supporting cast. I can’t say I was wild about all of these, but I found them interesting and what to see what happens with them next season. Some of these changes will radically alter what have been some of the most solid relationships in Jessica’s life.

The big bads of the second season weren’t as black and white as in the first season. One of them was a victim herself. Though they did not match the villainy of the first season’s Killgrave, they played a necessary part in Jessica’s journey. I give them points for that. Killgrave’s reappearance from Jessica’s troubled mind did nothing for me. Normally I love seeing David Tennant in anything. Here, it seemed utterly forced. Boo on that.

MILD SPOILERS OVER

The bottom line? The second season of Jessica Jones was well done with a great many blips in the quality. I definitely look forward to the show’s third season.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #261

Hey, kids! It’s retro activist Tony Isabella! The first in a series of sartorial shots of your friendly neighborhood tipster, wearing comics or comics-related gear.

This time around, we’re showing my new “People’s Free Food program Hoodie” [$45.99]. My Facebook friend Rahadyan Timoteo Sastrowardoyo wore one to this year’s East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention. I thought it was a cool looking hoodie, even if was a little pricey for my usual tastes.

Created and run by the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s, the People’s Free Food Program provided free food to Black and other oppressed people. It was among the many community outreach services the Party offered. Whatever opinion you might hold of the Party and I admit mine are conflicted, it did some good things and tried to help people often overlooked by the government and, indeed, other Americans.

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Charley's War

History also informs this week’s pick of the week. Charley’s War Volume 1: The Definitive Collection by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun [Rebellion; approximately $27 in U.S. dollars] reprints the stories originally published in the British weekly Battle Picture Library from January 6, 1979 to October 25, 1980. Over the past decades and in a number of different printings, I have read these chapters four or five times over. That I never tire of them is because Charley’s War is the finest war comics series of all time.

This is the story of Charley Bourne, an underage British soldier who lies about his age to join the British Army during World War I. The recruiters overlook that the sixteen-year-old Charley, not the brightest tool in the shed, can’t get his birth year correct on his application. England needs soldiers.

Before long, Charley is fighting in the trenches and, incredibly, getting smarter all the time. He adapts to the horrors around him and becomes a soldier who is equal parts brave, capable, and often damn lucky. He fights in the Battle of the Somme, one of the most bloody and deadly battles in the history of warfare. It’ has been reported that more than three million men fought in this battle with a million of them being wounded or killed. Mills and Colquhoun depict this brutal struggle in painful detail.

In stark chapters of mostly four pages, Charley’s War introduces us to foppish aristocrats, common men, petty bureaucrats, sadistic officers and clueless relatives who can’t understand why a lad like Charley can’t find the time to thank his auntie for the scarf she sent him. Charley and his mates soldier on, even when the food is terrible, their pay is late and too many of their officers look at them as fodder to be fed to the enemy for the great glory of king and crown. There are moments of humor in these stories, but those moments never last long.

Charley’s War is not an easy series to read, but it’s essential to anyone who considers themselves a supporter of great comics. This is a series you should read. This definitive collection, boasting the best reproduction the series has ever had and presenting over 300 pages of comics and additional features, are books you should have in your comics library.

Charley’s War Volume 1: The Definitive Collection

ISBN 978-1-78108-619-3

Charley’s War Volume 2: The Definitive Collection

ISBN 978-1-78108-620-9

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The Pervert

The Pervert by Remy Boydell with words by Michelle Perez [Image; $17.99] is, according to its back cover, “a surprisingly honest and touching account of a trans girl surviving through sex work in Seattle.” It’s the debut graphic novel for its creators and, based on this debut, I’m looking forward to what they do next and hoping it continues the story of this GN’s protagonist.

I don’t come to this graphic novel unaware. I have friends who are trans. I have friends who are sex workers. Each of their stories, each of their outlooks, each of their hopes and dreams for their futures are different. So I didn’t put any expectation on Boydell and Perez beyond telling this character’s story.

Their heroine faces and makes difficult choices. I can’t say that I feel all those choices were wise ones. But a reader with an open heart and mind can connect with her and wish for her happiness. If not now than in the times to come.

I confess I was put off by the graphic novel’s title since that’s a common insult thrown at transpeople and, indeed, many people who don’t fit the traditional “cisgender” or “cissexual” designation. Of course, I’m not wild about most such designations, including the ones that apply to me, and also don’t much hold to the notion of reclaiming such insults. That’s me. The anthropomorphic depiction of the humans in this graphic novel didn’t do much for me either. After so many years of this, it has grown tiresome for me. Boydell and Perez are telling a very human story here. I would have preferred the characters be drawn as human beings. Again, that’s me.

The Pervert is for mature readers and won’t be to everyone’s taste. I recommend it to those of you always looking for new stories told by new creators who want to reflect the world around us.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0741-4

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Self Storage

What if Storage Wars had zombies?

Storage Wars is a reality show that airs on A&E. It revolves around buyers who bid on storage units whose original owners have stopped paying rent on those units. They only get a quick glimpse of these units. Then they bid on them and hope to find treasure. I used to be a big fan of this show until it was revealed that the producers seed some of the units with great stuff.

Self Storage by writer/creator Clay McLeod Chapman and artist Matt Timson [451 Media; $19.99] throws zombies into the mix. Chris Smith is a likeable guy who barely gets by hocking stuff from abandoned storage units. Then he opens up a unit and finds a zombie name of Jessica. What the…you know.

This is an entertaining graphic novel. That’s coming from me, who has never been a fan of zombies. Except for maybe Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie, Shaun of the Dead and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (which I am about a hundred issues behind on.) The writing is good. The art is good. You get to know the characters. You get to watch the mystery of Jessica unfold. You get some shocks. It’s not unlike a fun B-movie.

Self Storage is definitely worth checking out. It would also make a fun movie. Are you listening, Hollywood?

ISBN 978-0-99852-120-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #260

My fascination with pre-code horror comics of the 1950s continues, enabled by PS Artbooks and their seemingly endless reprint volumes of that material. I read Pre-Code Classics: Mysterious Adventures Volume One [$49.99] over the weekend and it has earned a permanent place on my bookshelves.

Mysterious Adventures ran 25 issues from March 1951 to August 1955. Though the issues didn’t carry any particular branding, they were published by Story Comics. This volume reprints issues #1-6 of the series. Writing credits for these issues are nonexistent. Artists have been identified for many of the stories, but a number of those identifications seem like a wild guesswork to me.

The covers are fairly garish but not gory. Walter Johnson’s cover for the first issue is indicative of the story-driven nature of the covers. Strangely enough, that cover illustrated the issue’s prose story and not a comics story. Every one of these six issues has a small “Tales of Horror” blurb on the cover along with a reference to these being the strangest tales every heard.

The stories have the usual vampires, monsters, witches, possessed killers and so on found in most of the horror comics of the era. Issue #1’s cover seems to have inspired an actual comics story for the second issue, making me wonder if it that second issue story was originally intended for the first issue. By the end of “The Cabinet of the Living Death,” the male and female protagonists have been reduced in size and turned into Ju-Ju dolls. They can’t move, but they are still alive. Several issues later, that shock ending is used again, but in even more terrifying fashion with a pair of illicit lovers turned into still-sentient shrunken heads.

Another tale had a mother coming back from the grave to protect her daughter from her husband’s second wife. The mother’s spirit turns the second wife into a mad horse who is then shot and killed. The horse disappears and, when they find the second wife, she’s not just dead from a gunshot wound, but, near her body, is jewelry that had been buried with the first wife. I’d rate the writing in these comics a cut above the usual.

The art is pretty good as well. Ed Goldfarb (pencils) and Bob Baer (inks) make for an intriguing team. We also get solid artwork from Alvin C. Hollingsworth, Lou Cameron, John D’Agostino, Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallerico. I’m getting more selective about these horror reprint volumes, but I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in the genre.

ISBN 978-1-78636-196-7

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All-New Wolverine

I’ve been enjoying All-New Wolverine, the Marvel Comics title that stars Laura Kenney, the clone daughter of the original Wolverine. As X-23, she was created to be the perfect killing machine, was an assassin for an evil organization and eventually found her way to the X-Men and the road to redemption. She’s a terrific character and, save for when Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, I like her better than the original. Marvel’s overuse of Logan/Wolverine and its multiple incarnations of him have exhausted my interest in the character. I wish Logan weren’t coming back, but, alas, it isn’t my call and so All-New Wolverine will be ending. At least, Laura will be back for a fourth volume of X-23.

All-New Wolverine #25-32 [$3.99 each], the latest issues I’ve read of the title, were entertaining. At first, I was dismayed by issue #25-30’s “Orphans of X” because it seemed to be just another “self-involved super-heroes” tale, which I define as stories in which the heroes are fighting for themselves and not really to protect other lives. It sometimes seems like a majority of super-hero titles from Marvel and DC fall into this category.

Writer Tom Taylor brought something else into the mix. Yes, Laura and other Weapon X Project creations are being hunted down by the surviving family members of people killed by Laura and the others. Self-interest, right? Yet, by the end of the six-issue arc, Laura has seized control of the conflict and redirected her efforts into helping the survivors get justice without killing her and the rest of the Weapon X alumni. That’s followed by two done-in-one stories that are still connected to the Orphans of X, one of them featuring a guest appearance by Deadpool.

 All-New Wolverine Vol. 5: Orphans of X [$17.99] collects the story arc by Taylor and artist Juann Cabal. I enjoyed it so much that I’m recommending it to you and making it my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-30290-561-3

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Joe Shuster

The Artist Behind Superman: The Joe Shuster Story by Julian Voloj and Thomas Camp [Super Genius; $19.99] back-cover bills itself as “The Secret Story of Superman’s Creation.” This graphic novel may not live up to that claim precisely – much of that story has been written about elsewhere – but does manage an occasional surprise along the way. The visual format also lends a different perspective to the story of the two guys from Cleveland and how they achieved their dream, fell from the heights and then regained at least some dignity, financial compensation and respect before the end.

The focus on Shuster gives this book a perspective unlike the other books. Writer Jerry Siegel had always been the dominant partner in their collaboration. He came up with the basic Superman as super-hero concept and created the rudimentary world of their character. He was the one who fought, sometimes unwisely, for their rightful due. He was the one whose dramatics finally got the attention of the public at large. But Shuster is the star of this graphic novel and it reveals him as meek and mild as Superman pretended to be in his guise of Clark Kent. More than Siegel, Shuster seems to be the guy caught in the middle of the conflicts, going along with Siegel because of his loyalty to his friend and because he knew they were in the right.

Shuster’s is a sad story. The downside of this otherwise excellent comics work is that readers don’t get to see the light at the end of the Superman tunnel. The book simply ends too soon. Even so, it is a keeper for fans of Superman and students of comics history. It includes a selected bibliography for those who want to know more, as well as over a dozen pages of notes. It should be a contender in next year’s comics awards.

ISBN 978-1-62991-776-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella