TONY’S TIPS #279

Black Lightning Season Two kicked off on Tuesday, October 9, with an electrifying episode written by Salim Akil. My family and I were on the edge of our seats as scene after scene unfolded with crazy surprises. I had to take deep breaths during the commercial breaks and still felt exhausted by the end of the episode. I know you’re all going to think I’m a wee bit biased, but this is the best show on TV. Bar none. Great acting, writing and direction and an amazing level of dedication and talent behind the scenes. I’m so proud to be associated with this series, even distantly.

There was additional excitement for Clan Isabella that night. Our local CW station did an interview with me about why I created Black Lightning. The five-minute piece ran during their news broadcast at 7:30 pm and again at 10:30 pm. Though it proved my conjecture that I have a face for radio, I was very happy with the piece. Kudos to journalist Dan Deroos.

During one of the “what coming next” mentions of the interview, the news anchor referred to me as a “visionary.” Every one in the room burst into laughter. However, calling upon my visionary powers, I can confidently predict we will now leave my patting myself on the back and get on with this week’s reviews.

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DC and Walmart had a treat waiting for me when I visited my local Medina store to pick up some Halloween candy and other supplies for that spooky holiday. Swamp Thing Halloween Horror Giant #1 [$4.99] presents a hundred pages of monsters and mayhem, including a brand-new Swamp Thing story by Brian Azzarello and artist Greg Capullo. The 12-page tale has eerie visuals and seems to be setting up some major developments for the DCU, but, alas, the writing is lacking in clarity. Fortunately, the rest of the giant is filled with some very cool reprints.

The Enchantress and Blue Devil team for a funny little vignette by Dan DiDio with artists Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund. Paul Dini teams with artist Dustin Nguyen for a Zatanna solo story. Superman stars in a story by Steve Niles and Dean Ormston. Writer Mikey Way and artist Mateus relate a very different Batman and the Scarecrow tale. New to me was a longer, absolutely stunning Aquaman and the Demon adventure by J. Michael Straczynski and artist Jesus Saiz; it  was as chilling as its deep sea setting.

Halloween-themed reprints don’t get much more classic than “Night of the Reaper” by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Harlan Ellison and Bernie Wrightson. Then, just to top things off, we get the original (non-series) Swamp Thing story by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. If I have a complaint about this giant, it’s the lack of a text page explaining just how special these stories were.

There’s no comics shop near Casa Isabella, so my trips to Walmart to look for these new DC giants is as close as I can come to that experience. I like the giants because I think they can bring us new readers and because, just taken as they are, they are a very good value for their cost. I recommend them.

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Spook 1

If the Swamp Thing Giant was a Halloween treat, Pre-Code Classics: Spook Tales of Suspense & Mystery Volume One [PS Artbooks; $44.99] is a trick. Granted, it’s an interesting trick, but not what I was expecting from this hardcover collection.

Some background: Spook was published by Star Publications for nine issues from January 1953 to October 1954. It began with issue #22 [January 1953], which continued the numbering of several cancelled series: Criminals on the Run, Crime Fighting Detective and Shock Detective Cases. Although the cover of #22 carries the title Spook Detective Cases, the indicia lists Spook as the title.

The cover of that first issue is by L.B. Cole. The cover was new. Every interior story is reprinted from crime comics of 1946-1950. The one exception and the only story with a supernatural element is a Sergeant Spook story from a 1946 issue of Blue Bolt. The police officer was a ghost who could only be seen by psychics like his kid sidekick Jerry.

This volume reprints Spook #22-26 [January-October 1953]. There are some new horror stories by Jay Disbrow, a reprint of a Jungle Lil adventure and another Sergeant Spook yarn. Except for those tales, the other reprints are all crime stories, some of them rewritten. The standout among these is “The Kill-Crazy Monster” with garishly fun art by Rudy Palais. It’s a reprint from  Murder Incorporated #2 [March 1948].

Though disappointed by the contents, I don’t regret purchasing this book. I am fascinated by the low-rent horror comics of the 1950s, even those from the least of the comics publishers. If you share my interest in such material, you’ll want to at least read this first of two Spook volumes. I’m reading the second one at the moment and may have more to say about the title soon.

ISBN 978-1-78636-142-4

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Solution Squad

If you think math is scary, Jim McClain’s Solution Squad [$24.99] fits right into our Halloween theme this week. On the other hand, if you’re as jazzed as I am by a super-hero team that fights crime while teaching math concepts, then your only fear would probably be a pop quiz on the subject.

McClain is a teacher who creates fun and educational comics. The Solution Squad are young heroes whose names and powers are based on math concepts. They are “white hat” heroes who work well together. While the math is aimed at students in grades four through eight, the adventures and fact pages contained within this 146-page volume are fun for readers young and old.

The book starts with a brief tutorial on how to read comics. It’s informative and painless. Then we get a series of exciting stories featuring smart super-heroes, clever villains and surreptitiously teaching lessons on problem solving, prime numbers and more. There are “Who’s Who” pin-ups that relate everything a reader would need to know about the heroes, their foes and their world.

McClain, working with over a dozen terrific artists, created this series, writes the stories, letters them, designs everything that goes into this hardcover book and is its co-editor. Since I know what it takes to be a great teacher, I’m astonished McClain is able to accomplish that while producing these comics stories. He is an amazing individual and a credit to comics and his profession. Yeah, I’m gushing. He deserves it.

Jim McClain’s Solution Squad is my pick of the week. In addition to the hardcover edition, the book is also available in paperback. I recommend Solution Squad to comic-book fans, students and teachers.

Hardcover [$24.99]

ISBN 978-0-9989-4231-3

Paperback [$19.99]

ISBN  978-0-9989-4250-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #278

I had an amazing time at the Baltimore Comic*Con the weekend before last. It was a well-run convention with over a hundred guests from comics and other media. There were dozens of vendors, some offering huge discounts on their wares. The event’s volunteers were always helpful. The cosplay was terrific and, most important of all, the fans were among the nicest I’ve met at a convention. I sold almost every book I brought, signed over a hundred Isabella-written comic books, and saw dear friends I haven’t seen in decades.

Baltimore Comic*Con gets my recommendation. Mark your calenders for next year’s event, which is scheduled for October 18-20. Tell them Tony sent you.

The next convention appearance for me will be the Syracuse NY Comic Con on Saturday, October 13, from 11 am to 7 pm at the Center of Progress Building, 581 State Fair Boulevard in Syracuse. Among the other guests are Brian Johnson and Mike Zapcik from AMC’s Comic Book Men; actors and voice actors Kirby Morrow, J.G. Hertzler and Dana Synder; and comics creators Steve Geiger, Tom Peyer, Charles Barnett III, Mike Garland, Ken Wheaton and Joe Orsak. I’m looking forward to this event.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

Die Kitty Die: Hollywood or Bust by Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz [Chapterhouse Publishing; $24.99] is the second collection of Kitty comic books. It was published last October, but somehow escaped my notice until recently. Let me offer some brief background on this character.

Kitty Ravencraft is a witch and the star of some of the bestselling comic books of all time. When we met her in the first volume, she was down on her luck. Her comics sales were in the toilet and her sleazy publisher was looking to kill her and use the publicity to launch a new Kitty comic book with a new character taking over the title role. He didn’t succeed, but Kitty’s new comic turned out to be another major hit.

This time around, Hollywood has come a’knocking for the film rights to Kitty’s comics. Her sleazy publisher is still trying to kill her and have someone else play her in the movie. That someone is Forest Whitaker, which gives you an idea how much crazy fun is to be had in this 128-page volume.

Parent and Ruiz mock various comics characters, classic sitcoms and more. There are “reprints” of some of Kitty’s older comics stories. There are gorgeous pin-ups. There are terrific guest artists like J. Bone, Gisele Lagace, and Bill Golliher. And, on the main Kitty stories, we get inks by Rich Koslowski and colors by Glenn Whitmore and Anwar Hanano.

I recommend Die Kitty Die: Hollywood or Bust to older readers who will appreciate the parodies. Even if you’re not an older reader, I think you’ll enjoy this book. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-988-24726-7

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Hey Kids Comics

Howard Chaykin. He’s been one of the most interesting creators in comics for decades. Though I haven’t loved everything he has done in those decades, his name on a project means I’m going to buy it. There aren’t many creators who share that honor.

Chaykin’s Hey Kids! Comics! #1-2 [Image; $3.99 per issue] is kind of sort of a history of the American comic-book industry. The names have been changed, mostly because its characters are not meant to be precise counterparts to the creators and editors who inspired them. The anecdotes/stories, set in the years 1945, 1955, 1965 and 2001, are based on events and people in our real world comics biz. The two issues published to date are fascinating.

I take some comics history with a grain of salt. If a researcher, for example, was not in the room when the history went down, their version of the events can be hearsay or one-sided. My eyes tend to roll when such historians claim a certainty that doesn’t logically exist. Let me give you a quick example.

There is a story about a prominent comics artist whose editor did not give him a check for completed work in a timely – no relation to Timely Comics – fashion. The story would have the creator dangle the editor out a window or merely threaten to do so. I have heard this clearly exaggerated tale attributed to three different editors and at least as many creators. I don’t know if this apocryphal tale will show up in a future issue of Hey Kids! Comics!.

On the other hand, Chaykin’s story about the comics editor who gave his freelancers a list of Christmas gifts he wanted is one I have heard from more than one of those freelancers. All of whom named the same man. I can’t say the story is 100% true because I wasn’t in the room, but I believe it happened.

Chaykin doesn’t disappoint with the opening issues of Hey Kids! His art, dialogue and storytelling are all first-rate. The large cast of characters is sometimes difficult to follow, but that just gives me an excuse to reread all the previous issues as newer ones are published. Though it’s not likely, I would love to have annotations or other notes included with the inevitable collection. Then again, part of the fun is trying to figure out which real-life characters inspired Chaykin’s cast of creators.

I recommend Hey Kids! Comics! to Chaykin fans, comics history buffs and readers who enjoy stories that demand a more from them. The series is rated “M” for “Mature”.

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i am neil armstrong

I am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos [Dial Books; $14.99] is the latest book in their New York Times bestselling Ordinary People Change the World series for children. Intended for readers 5-8, the 40-page hardcover includes a four-page fold-out of the view from space enjoyed by Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.

As with their other books in this series, Meltzer and Eliopoulos do a fine job relating history in a lively manner. Though created for children, this book will delight older readers for its charm, its good humor and the quality of its writing and art. Any of the books in this series would make a wonderful gift for a young reader or an older one. It earns my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-0-7352-2872-6

That’s all for now. I’ll have more reviews and news of my November convention appearances next week.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #277

Flaming River Con was held on Saturday, September 22, at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, Ohio. This was the first LGBTQ comics convention in the Midwest. I was not a guest of the convention, but attended to show my support for the comics and the gay community. The name “Flaming River” stems from the time the Cuyahoga River caught on fire.

This was a terrific event. Though I could only stay for a few hours – I had a binge-watching date with my daughter Kelly – I met Sina Grace, writer of Marvel’s Iceman; caught up with my Sam Maronie, my friend of many decades; and met Sam’s husband Kevin. I hope this is just the first of many such conventions to come.

When I tell people that right now is the real Golden Age of Comics and that I’m enjoying comic books more right now than I ever have in a lifetime of enjoying comic books, one of the reasons I cite is the new characters and voices coming into our art form. Despite the relatively few “on the wrong side of history” naysayers, readers are embracing the diversity represented by creators who bring their own stories to their super-hero and other comics works. Inclusion. It’s making comics better than ever.

By the way, Kelly and I binge-watched the last few episodes of The Flash. I’ve been somewhat so-so about the past season, but anything that gets me more Ralph Dibny (as played by Hartley Sawyer) is fine by me. On to this week’s reviews…

Hercules

Hercules: Adventures of the Man-God Archive [Dark Horse; $49.99] collects all thirteen issues of the 1967-1969 series published by Charlton Comics. The stories were written by Joe Gill and Sergius O’Shaughnessy (aka Dennis O’Neil). The artist was the legendary Sam J. Glanzman. The title’s editors were Pat Masulli, Dick Giordano and Sal Gentile.

Charlton paid the lowest rates and printed on the cheapest paper in the comics industry. It has been reported they published comics to keep the overall company’s presses running 24/7. This combination of factors meant generally mediocre comic books, but didn’t prevent the publication of gems like Hercules.

Hercules was a sanitized version of the mythological legend, which was not surprising given the era and the then-powerful Comics Code Authority. Thus, Hercules was said to be the son of Zeus from that god’s previous marriage and the sins that led Herc to undertake his twelve labors were never described. Both Gill and O’Neil played a bit fast and loose with other aspects of the myths, but they still got most of the key points right.

Glanzman’s art was heroic and rugged where it needed to be heroic and rugged, but he could also draw in a more whimsical and almost psychedelic style when the story called for that. Between the art and dialogue that often reflected the 1960s, Hercules was perfectly acceptable to the readers of that era. I confess I laughed out loud when an exasperated Ares says to the vindictive Hera, “Gee, ma, I hate that kid!”

Hercules: Adventures of the Man-God Archive is my pick of the week. It would be a great gift to yourself or to the comics fans in your life. My sponsors here at InStock Trades are currently offering an excellent discount on the volume. Go for it!

ISBN 978-1-50670-788-4

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Border Town

Border Town #1 [DC/Vertigo; $3.99] is fun. Yeah, I know that will sound strange to those of you familiar with the comic. I mean, it starts with racists planning to murder Mexicans crossing the border into Arizona and ups the stakes with a demon slaughtering one and all. Mexicans and racists alike. As I read further into the issue, there was more racists and demons and blood-letting. If that’s not hilarity, what is?

Seriously, writer Eric M. Esquivel has crafted a solid opening to a series about a border town. It’s not just on the border of Mexico and Arizona; it’s also on the border of our world and some sort of monster dimension.

It’s the first day at a new high school for Frank. He makes a few new friends, gets attacked by one of those new friends, makes other new friends, fights one of his old new friends and then everyone is attacked by monsters who appear as whatever they fear most. For one young child, that happens to be Bane from Batman comics and movies. This is satire that has much to say about the state of our nation as empowered racists try to slow their inevitable sweeping into the dustbin of history. It’s fun with purpose.

Major props to Esquivel, artist Ramon Villalobos and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. They’ve done a fine job here. I’m in for the long haul on this scary good new series.

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Casper's Ghostland

Casper’s Ghostland #1 [American Mythology Productions; $3.99] marks the 100th issue of the title. There were 98 issues in the original run (1958-1979) with a one-shot in 1992. There are two new stories and several pages of short reprint gags and stories. The main cover for the issue and the interior art for the new stories are by Eric Shanower. Very nice work.

In Mike Wolfer’s “From Bad to Curse,” Casper visits Hot Stuff (the Little Devil) in the Enchanted Forest where he is startled to hear all the animals cussing. Even Hot Stuff, no stranger to that kind of language, is surprised. The source of the rude language and the solution to the cussing epidemic are clever components of the tale. While definitely reminiscent of the old Casper stories, this one is much more contemporary. Not to worry, the cussing is represented by that comic-book standby, “@#&!#@” and similar phrasing.

In Pat Shand’s “Blow Off Some Scream,” Casper tries to help Spooky when the Tuff Little Ghost has a falling out with girlfriend Pearl. As with Wolfer’s story, this adds some contemporary touches to the classic characters.

These are followed by a selection of one-to-three-page reprint gag stories staring Nightmare, Wendy the Good Little Witch and Spooky. All are pleasant fun.

Casper is a great character and this is a perfectly readable comic book. Yet I think American Mythology could do a lot more with the friendly ghost. Without losing any of the charm or inventiveness I associated with Casper as a young reader, they could make him even more contemporary. We live in a world as strange, sometimes scarily so, as the Enchanted Forest. Maybe I should take a swing at Casper or a character like him soon.

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella