TONY’S TIPS #266

Comic-Con International 2018 is happening in San Diego this week. If you are going to be there, I wish you a exciting, fun and safe convention.

If you’re a Black Lightning fan, be on the lookout for some special convention exclusives. There’s a special Black Lightning bag that comes with a Black Lightning pin. They look great.

There’s also an exclusive San Diego Comic-Con Lego Black Lightning figure that’s amazing. Writing the award-deserving Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands series that reinvented my creation for today was incredible satisfying. Seeing Black Lightning in a hit TV series on the CW was literally a dream come true. But a Black Lightning Lego figure? Now I know I’ve made it!

Sadly, I will not be at the convention. However, I encourage you to tell everyone I was there, that I was the nicest comics creator you met at the convention and that, after meeting me, you couldn’t stop fantasizing about me. Because all of those things would be true if I was at Comic-Con.

I raise my glass to all those lucky enough to be in Sam Diego this week. Have a wonderful time!

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Writer Sholly Fisch is the E. Nelson Bridwell of today. Coming from me, that’s high praise. Because when Bridwell wrote Super Friends in the 1970s, I thought it was a better Justice League comic book than the actual Justice League title. His stories were clever with fun twists and he made use of the vast cornucopia of characters to be found in the DC Universe.

Fisch’s Scooby-Doo! Team-Up Volume 5 [DC; $12.99] is every bit as delightful as Super Friends was. This trade paperback collects the stories from issues #25-30 of the ongoing title. The stories were all published online in a half-page format, but the art and layouts are so skillfully done that doesn’t leap out at the reader.

What Fisch brings to these stories is an encyclopedia knowledge of the DC Universe and a wry humor that works on multiple levels. The younger readers will be entertained and the older readers will find additional laughs aimed at them. For example, an issue teaming the Scooby gang with Green Arrow and Green Lantern during the emerald heroes hard-traveling days makes light of “moral decay” and other very familiar lines from the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams comics of the 1970s. I chuckled out loud several times.

Besides the “green team,” the six issues feature Hong Kong Phooey,  Plastic Man, Jonah Hex, Top Cat and the Challengers of the Unknown. I’m not listing all of the other heroes and villains who appear in these tales because I don’t want to lessen the surprises that await you. I will say this Hong Kong Phooey team-up was more humorous and satisfying than the martial arts mutt’s recent meeting with Black Lightning. This appearance made me want to watch the original Hong Kong Phooey cartoons.

I shouldn’t gloss over how well Fisch writes the Scooby-Doo cast. He nails all of them: Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Fred and Daphne. The mysteries they solve, even with the inclusion of super-villains and such, are true to the classic cartoon mysteries. Factor in the terrific art of Dario Brizuela, Scott Jeralds and Dave Alvarez with their clean lines and solid storytelling and you have a fun comic book for all ages.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up Volume 5 is my pick of the week. I recommend it to all of my Tips readers, especially those looking for something a bit more lighthearted than most super-hero comics.

ISBN 978-1-4012-8419-0

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Gumballs

Gumballs by Erin Nations [Top Shelf; $19.99] is a collection of his comics works that range from single-page strips to longer stories. These fascinating and funny works deal with the cartoonist’s gender transition, his life as a triplet, his workplace and more. There’s a series of vignettes about a love struck teenager and a series of full-page “personal ads” by some odd characters seeking love in one form or another. I found the latter baffling, but riveting.

Sometime in the hopefully near future, I’ll be able to write about a book like this without mentioning diversity or gender identity. Sometime, these stories will just be observations on and stories of a comics creator’s life. Yet, because we live in a time enjoying a glorious outpouring of diversity, a time enriched by all these new voices, I feel this needs to be mentioned. And because we also live in a time when throwbacks to primitive times strive to eliminate our wondrous diversity, I feel it’s important for creators and fans to champion this excellent material.

Gumballs collects the first four issues of the Gumballs comic book and adds 32 pages of new material. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to teen and older readers. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-60309-431-3

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accident-man

I have a very mild obsession about watching every movie based on a comic book or comic strip. It’s mild because no one has been good (or bad) enough to inflame my minor passion by publishing an easy-to-use encyclopedia of such movies. If someone does that, I could be in trouble.

Accident Man was a comics series by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner that appeared in the 1990s comics magazine Toxic! The title character was an assassin who made his for-hire murders look like accidents. I read a handful of Accident Man stories back in the day, but have no clear recollection of them.

Accident Man (2018) is a movie based on the Mills/Skinner stories. It stars Scott Adkins as hitman Mike Fallon. Adkins also co-wrote the screenplay. Familiar faces in the cast include Ray Stevenson, Ashley Greene, Dave Paymer, Michael Jai White, Ray Park and actress stuntwoman Amy Johnston. It’s a good cast and the fight scenes are effectively cool. The Internet Movie Database has this summary and, I caution you, it’s full of SPOILERS:

Mike Fallon is a stone cold killer whose methodical hits baffle the police and delight his clients. He’s the best at what he does. But when a loved one is dragged into the London underworld and murdered by his own crew, Fallon is forced to rip apart the life he knew in order to hold those accountable and avenge the one person who actually meant something to him.

Accident Man was fun, but both Adkins and the movie came off like “Jason Statham Lite.” It dragged every now and then during its 105-minute running time, but the various killers were darkly amusing. The story set its sights on its resolution and there were no real surprises between the start of Fallon’s personal mission and that resolution. The conclusion was just there; I didn’t find it truly satisfying. It needed something more.

Regular readers of my work know that I am far more forgiving of TV shows and movies than of comic books. I know how to create great comic books. Movies and TV are not presently part of my skill set. So my suggestion to you is that if you really like Jason Statham movies and have watched them all, Accident Man might tide you over until the next one.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #265

Ant-Man and the Wasp went into general release on Friday, July 6. The opening weekend estimate is that it earned $85-$95 million and that’s impressive. It was expected to do well, of course, because this is a Marvel Cinematic Universe release, but still impressive. Rotten Tomatoes rates it 86%.

Saintly Wife Barb and I were at the world premiere of the movie and saw it in Imax. I have not been a devotee of Imax in the past for various reasons, but I have to admit the presentation was amazing. I may have to rethink my theater habits.

Now that the movie has entered general release, I can talk about it in greater detail. This sequel has everything that made Ant-Man one of my favorite Marvel movies. Despite the trippy adventures within the Quantum Realm, this is a seriously down-to-earth story centered on family. Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a good father to his delightful daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the Wasp/Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are trying to find and rescue Hope’s long-missing mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. Those are the obvious families.

Yet Scott Lang’s formerly criminal associates (Michael Peña, T.I., David Dastmalchian) are like unto a family themselves. We even get a paternal vibe from Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) and the Ghost/Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), the desperate young woman he tries to help. All these family elements resonate with me. Indeed, I wish the movie had also given us more Judy Greer (Cassie’s mother) and Bobby Cannavale (Cassie’s stepdad), who I have loved in virtually everything they’ve ever appeared in.

The multiple threats in the movie are the weapons dealer who wants Hank’s tech, the perils of the Quantum Realm and the federal agents who have placed Scott under house arrest and are hunting Hank and Hope. I’m a bit conflicted about Homeland Security agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) being played as such an inefficient dweeb, but part of me responds such government mockery.

There are incredible action scenes throughout the movie. The heat, often playful, between Scott and Hope, is heartwarming. Hank Pym is so deliciously prickly that I want to be him when I grow up. (This would please my wife who has had a crush on Douglas since Streets of San Francisco.) Comedy-wise, Peña steals the movie whenever he narrates important back story.

This is an incredibly well-written, well-acted movie with special effects that are totally on point. The rivalry between Foster and Pym is a nice touch; I’m hoping Fishburne has a bigger role in the next Ant-Man/Wasp movie…and yes, I know you saw what I did there. Gotta earn my “special thanks to” credit somehow.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is my pick of the week. I’ll probably see it again in the next few weeks.

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Tap Dance Killer

I am tired to my bone marrow of comics creators and publishers who try to emulate the super-hero comics of the 1970s. At their best, most of these efforts come off as echoes of the past. Some of them, intentionally or not, are just plain insulting. Like, for example, whatever the heck Fantagraphics thinks it’s doing. Yet, every now and again, someone comes along and does a comic that adds modern sensibility to 1970s vibe and, in doing so, creates something that is both comfortingly familiar and crackling fresh.

Tap Dance Killer #1 [Hero Tomorrow Comics; $3.99] is evidence that writer/publisher Ted Sikora has mastered this combination. Quoting from the TDK’s Facebook page: “Nikki St Clair is a mega-talented actress who is cast in a horror-show musical as the TAP DANCE KILLER, but something changes in her causing this quadruple-threat performer to go full ‘method’ on the streets of Cleveland!”

Hero? Villain? Complicated? Nikki is all of these. Sikora takes us into her fragmented psyche through flashbacks, her dangerous days in prison and her life after escaping prison. She’s been targeted by the Cleveland mob. She has her own support group of sorts and, though I don’t trust them, I look forward to learning about them. And then there’s the big question: how much of the real Nikki is in and in control of her TDK persona?

Nikolaus Harrison captures the 1970s style of super-hero art. His work would have considered well-above-average then. This comic has good storytelling, vibrant colors that work with the storytelling and solid production values.

Tap Dance Killer #1 gets my recommendation. You’ll enjoy it. And, hey, while you’re here, I’ll also recommend Apama: The Undiscovered Animal and Hero Tomorrow, the independent film that started it all.

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Kid Space Patrol

Know a creative youngster who’s into comics and maybe want to try their hand at making their own? Have I got a very cool comic book for them?

Kid Space Patrol by John Zakour and Tayah Payne with illustrations by Scott Roberts [$12.99] is two books in one. The Kid Space Patrol adventure stars twins Layla and Mahdi, their mom and their lizard as they travel through space righting wrongs. My impulse is to say they fight evil, but, for a comic aimed at middle readers, KSP has a different approach to conflict. Once they suss out what’s going on in the situation, the twins come up with a novel way to end the problem. It’s clever stuff with a lively style of art that I think will inspire the book’s younger readers to try their own hands at drawing comic books.

Wait a minute, Tony! You said “two books in one. What’s the second book?” I am so glad you asked.

After the comics story, Zakour, Payne and Roberts conduct a nifty “how to” course in making comics. Their tutorial offers very sound tips and is very easy to understand.

Kid Space Patrol would make a great gift to the comics-loving young kid in your life. I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-9802-1883-8

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #264

Saintly Wife Barb and I attended the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp in Los Angeles last Monday. It was a fabulous evening and included some personal moments with Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Lawrence Fishburne. Not to mention comics pals like Jan Utstein- O’Neill of Marvel Studios; John Jackson Miller, who I worked with at Comics Buyer’s Guide and who created a couple of the characters who appeared in the film; Michael Lovitz, my amazing attorney who also represents many other comics creators; and Bob Layton, whose credits includes a legendary run on Iron Man.

Since the movie doesn’t go into general release until July 6, I’m not going to review it here. That review will have to wait until my next “Tony’s Tips” column. However, I will tell you it’s a terrific film, well worth seeing, and that my name appears in the “Special Thanks To” list in the end credits. As always, my thanks to Marvel Comics for bringing me to this event. I am forever grateful for the kindness and respect Marvel has shown and continues to show me. I am proud to be associated with the company.

MM Ant-Man Giant-Man

I don’t have to hold back on my review of Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume Three [$75], which arrived just in time for me to read before and after the Ant-Man and the Wasp premiere. In this volume, we get three new introductions and over 300 pages of comics and other features.

Mike Friedrich writes about his short-lived Ant-Man series that ran in Marvel Feature. That series, in which Hank Pym and the Wasp were trapped at insect-size, holds up well. Herb Trimpe drew the first three issues, brilliantly depicting the enormous world in which our heroes existed. Herb was followed by a young P. Craig Russell.

I wrote about Bill Foster’s return to the Marvel Universe as Black Goliath in a couple of issues of Power Man and then his own short-lived title. Foster plays a key role in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

David Michelinie’s introduction details his creation of Scott Lang, the ex-convict who is Ant-Man in the current comic books and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These three prose pieces cover a lot of comics history.

This Masterworks volume also reprints a short Ant-Man story by Roy Thomas and Ross Andru, the issues of Power Man that introduced Bill Foster’s giant-size identity, his own series, the few issues of The Champions in which he appeared and the two-issue origin of the Scott Lang Ant-Man by Michelinie, John Byrne and Bob Layton. There is also a section of special items, including never-published Ant-Man art. It’s a wonderful collection and I recommend it to anyone who loves Marvel comic books and movies.

For the incredible fun of it, Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume Three is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-302-91079-2

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Blazing Combat

Fantagraphics Books has published a third edition of The Blazing Combat Collection [$29.99]. The volume collects all four issues of the black-and-white comics magazine published by Jim Warren in the mid-1960s. Written by the rightfully legendary Archie Goodwin, the stories were controversial for the era and quickly frowned upon, as  as in “We won’t sell these at our PXs” by the American military. Which is why the title only ran four issues.

Goodwin’s tales ran the gamut of military history, but it was the stories set in Vietnam that triggered the military’s action against the title. The power of those and other less contemporary to that time stories are why I recommend the volume to you today. That and the many amazing artists who drew Goodwin’s scripts: Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, George Evans, Gray Morrow, Reed Crandall, Al McWilliams, John Severin, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Gene  Colan and Russ Heath. Also included in the book: interviews with Warren and Goodwin.

I own at least one of the previous printings of The Blazing Combat Collection, but this strikes me as the nicest of the three. It has an elegance to it that makes it a book I want on my bookshelves and which belongs in every public and (age appropriate) school library.

It’s a book you’ll want for your home library as well.

ISBN 978-1-68396-084-3

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Retro Fan

Edited by Michael Eury of Back Issue fame, Retro Fan [$8.95] is the new addition to TwoMorrows Publishing’s roster of great magazines. Dedicated to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Retro Fan celebrates those wonderful toys, TV shows, movies and more that the kids growing up in those decades loved.

The first issue is a basket of such goodies. There’s an interview with Lou Ferrigno, live action’s original Incredible Hulk. Martin Pasko writes about the Phantom. Andy Mangles boldly goes forth to reveal all about Star Trek: The Animated Series. In other pieces, you’ll be entertained by insightful looks at monster master Lon Chaney Jr.; Betty Lynn, Mayberry’s own Thelma Lou; Mego’s elastic Hulk; Mr. Microphone, perhaps the era’s most annoying toy; The Andy Griffith Show; collecting in general and more. Of special interest to me were Scott Shaw!’s report on Zody the Mod Robot and the very funny “rejected” cover than closes out the issue.

Retro Fan has wonderful writers, crisp layouts and so many photos and other images that you could fall into a nostalgia coma. If you of my generation, or just someone interested in the entertainments of my generation, you’ll love Retro Fan. I eagerly await the next quarterly issue.

I’ll be back next week with my review of Ant-Man and the Wasp plus other goodies. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella