TONY’S TIPS #275

I’m back from a whirlwind week in Los Angeles where I hung out with dear old friends like Maggie Thompson and Mark Evanier; shopped at the amazing Galco’s Soda Pop Stop; visited DC Comics and talked about possible future projects; had lunch at a Thai restaurant with Elliot S! Maggin, Ken Penders and Larry Houston; saw BlackkKlansman (which I recommend highly); had lunch at the Magic Castle; went to Long Beach for dinner with my goddaughter Vanessa; and attended a memorial party for my friend and sometimes mentor Harlan Ellison. If I started dropping names of the amazing people who were at the party, there wouldn’t be room for the comic-book reviews this week.

The DC Comics and Looney Tunes mash-ups have been weird wonderful fun. Lex Luthor/Porky Pig #1 [$4.99] is no exception. Written by Mark Russell, whose The Flintstones was one of my favorite comics in recent memory with art by Brad Walker (pencils), Andrew Hennessy (inks) and Andrew Dalhouse, the lead story gives us a Porky who was an huge success in the crypto currency business until he crashed and burned. Hired by Lex to run his company’s social media efforts, Porky doesn’t realize Luthor’s platform exists to steal information from users. That will cost him.

Russell also takes some shots at pharmaceutical companies who raise their rates on life-saving drugs. The greedy CEOs? Doctor Sivana and Professor Ivo.

The second shorter story is “Lex’s Next Appointment” and is told in a more traditional animated style by writer Jim Fanning, penciller John Loter and inker/colorist Paul J. Lopez. Porky is an office supplier salesman calling on LexCorp. Hilarity ensures.

Lex Luthor/Porky Pig is my pick of the week. Look for it wherever marvelously insane comic books are found.

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Punisher 1

Marvel has published a new The Punisher #1 [$4.99], though if you look closely at the brand box in the upper left corner, you’ll see it is also [Legacy] #229. As the handy “what has gone before” title and credits page informs us after relating Frank Castle’s origin, the Punisher was duped by the evil Steve Rogers during the absurd “Secret Empire” event and now seeks revenge on Hydra for his butt-hurt feelings. Oh, yeah, and he no longer has the War Machine armor he was flying around in before this new first issue.

Matt Rosenberg, a good writer, is the writer of this new “World War Frank” story arc. It is drawn by Szymon Kudranski with colors by Antonio Fabela. I don’t consider the Punisher a hero, but wanted to like this first chapter more than I did.

Castle is portrayed as a silent killer throughout the issue. Which takes away something important to him and other Marvel characters. They have personalities.

The storytelling is less than adequate to the story. The action is not clear. The faces of the villains are not dissimilar enough to make their identities clear. Baron Zemo’s mask distinguishes him; the Mandarin just looks like another guy and, for that matter, not too different from Tony Stark, who also appears. The issue does deliver what could be a major development, assuming it isn’t undone before the end of the arc.

I’ve been a fan of Hydra since they were introduced, as witness my being about the only Marvel writer using them in the mid-1970s. So I applaud seeing some of those groovy green outfits. Still, I will need to see something better than this first issue to become truly invested in Castle’s war against Hydra. I’ll keep reading in hope of seeing that, but I can’t honestly recommend this series to you at this point. Buyer beware.

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Leviathan

As the pastor of the First Church of Godzilla on Facebook, there’s no way I would pass on Leviathan #1 by John Layman and Nick Pitarra [Image; $3.99]. Kaiju terror comes to the big city when things get out of hand at a party and the partygoers seem to summon a dragon of biblical proportions.

Protagonist Ryan Deluca, the host of the party is on a beer run, at the time. His apartment building and his girlfriend Vee Monroe is in the path of the creature. His rescue of her takes an unexpected turn, even as the United States and its Japanese allies prepare to unleash some specialized weaponry against the monster.

Layman has long been one of my favorite writers. Pitarra is a fine artist. Colorist Michael Garland knocks it out of the park with his hues. However…I’m going to take a “wait and see” position on this series. There is good stuff in this inaugural issue, but the story hasn’t quite come together yet.

Kaiju completists like me will want this issue, but I’m not ready to recommend it to non-believers. I’ll keep reading and revisit the title in a few months.

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My next convention appearance will be at the Baltimore Comic*Con, Friday through Sunday, September 28-30, at The Baltimore Convention Center. The media guests are Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory) and Zachary Levi (Shazam!). This will be Levi’s only North American signing event in 2018 and your only chance to meet him.

The comics guest list is amazing. The event has literally dozens upon dozens of name creators from Art Adams to Mike Zeck. This is my first time at the convention and I’m already wondering how I’ll find the name to chat even briefly with my many friends who are on the guest list.

One old friend I know I’ll be chatting with is Bob Greenberger, my former editor on DC’s Star Trek. He’ll be moderating Sunday’s “Tony Isabella Spotlight” presentation in rooms 347-348 from 1:30 to 2:30 pm. I’ll also be spending as much time as possible at my table, so please, if you’re coming to the convention, come and say “hi.” I’ll be happy to sign your Isabella-written stuff for a nominal fee or sell you Isabella-written stuff I have on hand or just answer your questions on this and that.

If you can’t attend the Baltimore Comic*Con, don’t fret. I will be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #274

When I was a youngster, Batman was my favorite super-hero.  It was the George Reeves Superman on TV that introduced me to the genre, but, once I started buying comic books, it was the Caped Crusader all the way.

Before I decided I wanted to write comics, I wanted to be Batman. Even if my parents were not wealthy and hadn’t been gunned down in an alley, I figured that, with dedication and work, I could be the Batman.

I was even training myself. I had this shoe box containing weather maps I’d clipped from the newspapers and envelopes filled with dirt samples from around our neighborhood. If the bully down the street committed a crime and left dirt behind, I would be able to prove it came from his yard. I don’t know what happened to that crime-lab in a shoe box. I’d like to think it’ll turn up someday and completely confound whoever finds it.

When Batman debuted on TV, I was insulted by the series playing my hero for laughs. But I still watched every episode and went to the  movie that came out that summer. It was only in the past decade or so that I came to appreciate that the series is fun and, in so many ways, faithful to Batman and his comic-book mythos.

 Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) reunited three of the original cast members of the TV show: Adam West, Burt Ward and the always glorious Julie Newmar. The animated feature was directed by Rick Morales from a screenplay by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker. With a deliciously cold Pepsi Wild Cherry, a big bowl of popcorn, and my cat Simba showing a mild interest whenever Newmar spoke, I was ready to be entertained and even delighted.

From the Internet Movie Database summary:

Batman and Robin spring into action when Gotham City is threatened by Penguin, The Joker, Riddler and Catwoman. This time, the four super villains have combined their wicked talents to hatch a plot so nefarious that the Dynamic Duo really have their hands full.

So it’s a kind of sort of the sequel to the 1966 live-action movie.

There’s even a nod to movie Catwoman Lee Meriwether and alternate TV Catwoman Eartha Kitt when a drugged Batman sees three different Catwomen. As if that were a bad thing.

The villains steal a “diabolical” replica gun that creates endless counterparts of anything, including human beings. Batman and Robin capture the three male villains, but, as a result of the drug that he was exposed to, Batman becomes a super-control-freak. He makes countless duplicates of himself and pretty much takes over Gotham City, firing Commissioner Gordon, Chief O’Hara, the mayor, a judge and so on. He becomes more brutal and seems likely to start killing people if this continues. A reluctant Robin teams up with Catwoman, who was betrayed and nearly killed by the other villains, to try to set Batman to rights.

Return of the Caped Crusaders is a split-personality movie. For the first half of the movie, it’s almost a beat-by-beat episode of the TV series without the wink-wink charm of the original. The second half gets surprisingly and uncomfortably dark.

The voice-action is pretty good, but it takes West and Ward a few scenes to get back into the rhythm of their former roles. Newmar is amazing from the start. The other performers are okay, but I can’t say there are any stand-outs among them.

The bottom line? Keep your expectations on the low side and you’ll enjoy this movie. It’s fun. It has crazy sound effects. It has over a dozen other Bat-villains making appearances. It has all sorts of “in” jokes, enough that I’m going to watch the movie again to see if I can catch them all the second time around.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was worth the ten bucks that I paid for it and the time I spent watching it. I recommend to all Bat-fans who have come to terms with the 1960s TV series.

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Batman Two Face

Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) is a better animated feature than Return of the Caped Crusaders. West, Ward and Newmar all return. We get a major bonus in William Shatner as Harvey Dent/Two-Face and a cool  cameo by Lee Meriwether as prison psychiatrist Lucilee Diamond. We also get Professor Hugo Strange [Jim Ward] and Dr. Quinzel [Sirena Irwin]. Director Morales and writers Jelenic and Tucker also return for this movie. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent is mutilated in a laboratory accident. When the duplicitous Two-Face embarks on a crime spree, Batman and Robin must solve the mystery of his identity while facing off against several other foes.

Strange has invented a device to extract evil from criminals like the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin. When the experiment takes a bad turn, Dent is exposed to the essence of evil or whatever you want to call it and becomes Two-Face. Obviously, the cartoon opted to forgo the more grisly Two-Face origin from the comic books and other versions. This also allows for other people to experience the same transformation.

Dent is arrested, sentenced, cured, rehabilitated and, incredibly, allowed to be an assistant district attorney. Robin/Dick Grayson is not buying it, which causes a rift between Batman and his partner. This is well played.

Even better played is the jailhouse romance of Batman and Catwoman. It’s corny. It’s sweet. It fits the 1960s demeanor of this feature. Alas, this movie is the last time we’ll know the joy of hearing the Batman voiced by West. He is missed.

Batman Vs. Two-Face is a big fun in 72 minutes. Watch it closely. You’ll see nods to all sorts of geeky things. There are even scenes lifted from Silver Age comic books. It’s my pick of the week.

One before we call it a column. From Amazon, you can now get both Batman vs. Two-Face and Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders for around ten bucks in a two-film collection. Both animated films are also available on Amazon Prime.

I’m on my way to Los Angeles for several days, but I’ll return next week with more reviews. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #273

In this, the true Golden Age of Comics, our favorite super-heroes can appear in endless variations and in any number of storytelling platforms from the traditional comic book to cartoons, movies, TV shows, video games and prose novels. When the creators of these new stories adhere to the core values of these characters, the results can be entertaining and meaningful.

DC Comics characters have been appearing in a series of young adult novels written by established authors in the field. A while back [Tony’s Tips #259], I reviewed Batman: Nightcrawler by Marie Lu. I said it was “a page-turning thriller,” recommending it to “fans who cherish a more realistic,  sane hero than usually seen in the comic books and movies.”

This week, I’m reviewing Catwoman: Soulstealer by #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Sarah J. Mass [Random House; $18.99]. It’s even better than the Batman novel.

This novel features an alternate version of Catwoman. Running with a violent girl gang to provide for her sister Maggie, Selina trades her relative freedom to join the League of Assassins. The League’s end of the deal is to get Maggie into a good foster home where she can receive treatment for her multiple sclerosis.

Years later, having created the new identity of wealthy socialite Holly Vanderhees, Selina has returned to Gotham to launch a series of daring robberies targeting the city’s richest citizens. With the Bat away on an extended mission, this cat will be playing with Luke Fox aka Batwing. In this re-imagination, Selina is a contemporary of Luke’s and also suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder. She from her days fighting for the pleasure of gangster Don Falcone and his cronies, he from his service in the Middle East.

There are lots of familiar names in this novel. Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn. The Joker. Several of the deadliest assassins the League has to offer, assassins sent to find Selina, recover something she has stolen from the League and, the name of their group kind of being a dead giveaway, kill her as brutally as possible.

Like the Batman novel, this one is a page-turning thriller. There is action. There is emotion, sometimes revealing itself in the most unexpected ways. There is heroism and sacrifice in a situation that is more grey than outright dark, even though things to get fairly dark on occasion.

I love Catwoman: Soulstealer, and even though I also love the two other books I’m reviewing this week, this novel is my pick of the week. It’s a different kind of Catwoman story, but it’s one of the best. I recommend it to one and all.

ISBN 978-0-399-54969-4

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Tokyo Tarareba Girls

Having finished reading two of my all-time favorite manga series – Assassination Classroom and Princess Jellyfish – I have been on the hunt for new (or new to me) manga that delight me as much as those series did. In my quest, I came across Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume One by Akiko Higashimura [Kodansha Comics; $12.99]. Higashimura is the creator of Princess Jellyfish.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is a comedy aimed at young women in their late teens or somewhat older young women who have entered the job market and making their own way in the world. Clearly I don’t fit squarely into that demographic, but Higashimura is a skilled creator with a fun sense of humor. His work speaks to me.

Our heroine is Rinko, a 33-year-old writer of romance teleplays who has never been married. Her career has gotten a little shaky, her love life is non-existent. Her leisure time is spend drinking with  Kaori and Koyuki, her best friends since high school. On one such night, their loud complaints about men and their situations annoy a handsome man in the bar. He tells them they are “what if” women, constantly bitching about what might have been instead of trying to change their lives. Rinko vows to get married by the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

Rinko’s path crosses that of the handsome man at her job. It’s not a pleasant coincidence. But, even as Rinko takes some hits at work, the reader can’t help but hope to gets everything she wants out of life. I know I’m rooting for her.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is a seven-book series. I’m in for their whole ride. There has also been a ten-episode TV series, but I won’t seek that out until I finish reading the manga.

If you’re into manga beyond the usual battle, horror, or science-fiction tales, I think you’ll enjoy Tokyo Tarareba Girls.

ISBN 978-1-63236-685-6

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Guardians of the Louuve

For several years now, NBM’s ComicsLit imprint has been publishing  an extraordinary series of original graphic novels in collaboration with the Louvre museum in Paris. The graphic novels are crafted by comics artists from around the world, each creating a story based on the museum and its many astonishing collections. Some of these are more fantastic than others. I have been reading these graphic novels as fast as my local library system can get them to me.

Guardians of the Louvre by acclaimed manga artist Jiro Taniguchi [NBM; $24.99] is a hauntingly beautiful tale of a Japanese artist who comes to Paris, intending to visit all the great museums in the capital. He comes down with a fever and lies bedridden in a hotel room in a foreign-to-him land where he doesn’t speak the language.

He gets the Louvre and gets lost in the huge crowds of visitors to the landmark. But, perhaps in delirium, he finds himself guided by the Winged Victory of Samothrace and having conversations with a succession of famous painters whose works hang in the museum. The conversations seem to take place in other places and other times, but the experience reflect the artist’s own struggle with a great loss in his own life.

Some of the Louvre graphic novels are out of print. I would love to see NBM collect them all in an omnibus edition. I’d happily spend well over a hundred dollars for such an edition. In the meantime, I urge you seek out Guardians of the Louvre and the other graphic novels in this series.

ISBN 978-1-68112-034-8

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My next convention appearance is the second annual Hall of Heroes Comic Con, Saturday and Sunday, September 8-9, in downtown Elkhart, Indiana. Sponsored by the Hall of Heroes Museum, this looks like a fun event with plenty of comics and media guests, presentations, gaming and cosplay. I hope to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella