TONY’S TIPS #290

My 2019 got off to a great start. I flew to Atlanta to attend the  Black Lightning second season wrap party and then visited the set for two days.

The love and respect I received from literally everyone working on the show was equaled only by my love and respect for them. At the wrap party, I was asked to address the cast and crew. On the set, I sat behind Salim Akil and his monitors while he directed pivotal scenes from the finale. I was given a tour of the amazing sets, the back lot and the construction areas. I had lunch with the wondrous Christine Adams on Monday and with Jordan Calloway, Bill Duke and Marvin Jones on Tuesday. I signed books and posters for members of the crew and even got to wear a Black Lightning vest, as shown in this week’s opening photo.

I’ll be writing about my Atlanta adventures over at Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing [http://tonyisabella.blogspot.com/]. While I won’t be revealing any details of the remaining episodes airing this season, I will have lots to tell you.

On to this week’s reviews…

Norm Breyfogle 1

I’ve been revisiting the Norm Breyfogle era of Batman in the sadly out-of-print Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Volume 1, which was originally published in the summer of 2015. At that time, the 520-page volume sold for $49.99. This days, alas, buying a copy on the secondary market could run you a hundred bucks or more. I’m writing about the volume this week in the hopes my words and your subsequent appeals to DC Comics will convince the publisher to put the book back into print.

Breyfogle’s expressive and fluid art is astonishing in its range. He portrayed Batman’s moodiness in both the Dark Knight’s face and figure. He drew dramatic action scenes that fly across the panels in exciting and lifelike manner. He could depict human emotion as well as any of the great Batman artists. His storytelling was solid and, when it served the story, eye-popping. I always like his work and, now that I have the opportunity to study it, like it more with each passing year.

It helps that Breyfogle’s art was in the service of great stories by great writers like John Wagner and Alan Grant. Those veterans of the British comics industry brought a different feel to the Batman without losing the essence of the character. Their Batman was the hero of the night streets. No reality-changing epic crossovers in this volume. Just down-to-earth and remarkably entertaining tales of a champion of justice. Guest stories by Mike W. Barr, Max Allan Collins, Jo Duffy and Bob Greenberger add to the mix.

Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Volume 1 is my pick of the week. Keep searching for a copy you can afford. It’s definitely worth the hunt.

ISBN 978-1-4012-5898-6

******************************

Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows: The Complete Newspaper Strips [Hermes Press; $50] is  a hardcover collection of the critically-acclaimed but short-lived newspaper strip based on the longer-running afternoon soap opera. Drawn and perhaps written by Ken Bald, the strip ran from March 14, 1971 through March 11, 1972. It was a very good year.

Bald has had an amazing career in comic books and comic strips. He drew super-heroes in the 1940s for a number of publishers, notably Timely Comics. He created the character Namora while he was working on Timely’s Sub-Mariner. He drew some of the most beautiful women in comic books, including the Blonde Phantom and Millie the Model. Before Dark Shadows, he drew the Dr. Kildare strip, also based on a popular television series.

Starring “good” vampire Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows went full-on supernatural thriller during its single year. Vengeful immortals and Egyptian gods. Werewolves and a powerful warlock. We even get some time travel with the spirit of a never-born Collins ancestor from the path. The stories could have run a little longer and the writing could have been a little more powerful, but these tales are great fun.

Because my schedule was at odds with the afternoon airing of Dark Shadows, I never watched more than a few episodes of the legendary series. This collection of the newspaper strip has me interested in exploring the show’s other incarnations: the TV series, the movies, the comic books and the novels.

Dark Shadows: The Complete Newspaper Strips is recommended to fans of Ken Bald, newspaper story strips, supernatural fiction and, most certainly, of the Dark Shadows show. InStock Trades, who sponsors this weekly review columns, has it at 25% off.

ISBN 978-1-61345-140-3

******************************

Satoko and Nada

Manga continues to amaze and delight me. My most recent discovery is Satoko and Nada Volume 1 by writer/artist Yupechika with Marie Nishimori as script advisor [Seven Seas; $12.99]. Satoko is a young Japanese woman going to school in the United States. New roommate Nada is a Saudi Arabian woman. Both bring their cultures to their lives in America, a journey played out in single-page comic strips that do have some continuity between the strips.

This is a feel-good manga. Satoko and Nada are respectful of each other’s culture and eager to learn more about them…and about the culture of our own country. There is a honest and charming humor to their day-to-day lives, building blocks to a beautiful overall tale of acceptance and inclusion.

“Friendship knows no borders” is a nice summation of this series. Satoko and Nada possess a good heart, a heart full of hope, a heart full of respect. It’s a charming comic that more American reviewers should be writing about and more American fans should be reading. Suitable for teens and, by my personal estimation, younger readers as well, it gets my recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-626929-09-8

******************************

If you want to start making plans now, my first convention of 2019 will be the North Texas Comic Book Show, February 2-3 at the Irving Convention Center, 500 West Las Colinas Boulevard in Irving, Texas. The guest list includes the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” reunion of writer J.M. DeMatteis, penciler Mike Zeck and inker Bob McLeod plus Larry Hama, Joe Station, Elliot S! Maggin and many more comics greats. I hope to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #289

This is my final “Tony’s Tips” column of 2018. It was a good year for me. I was delighted by the positive critical response for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, currently available in trade paperback wherever fine comics are sold. Like, for example, though the great people at InStockTrades.

Full disclosure. InStockTrades sponsors this weekly column. But I am also a customer of theirs. I recommend their prices and service to all of my readers here.

I was a guest at a whole bunch of conventions in 2018 and hope to be a guest at a whole bunch of conventions in 2019. DC Comics had me out for the world premiere of Black Lightning in January, while Marvel Comics brought my wife Barb and myself to the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp later in the year. I got to meet the entire cast of Black Lightning and some Ant-Man and the Wasp cast members, notably Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Lawrence Fishburne.

I appeared on several TV news shows last year. I was interviewed by dozens of print and online journalists. I spoke at several schools and libraries. I received love and respect from countless fans and entertainment industry professionals. I count comics professionals among the later because, more than ever, comics drive the TV shows and movies we love.

This concluding year was not perfect. We lost many dear people and saw frankly disgusting behavior on the political and social media fronts. But hope remains and, like so many of you, I hope we will do better on all fronts in 2019. Always forward.

****************************************

Plastic Man #1-6 by Gail Simone with artist Adriana Melo and color artist Kelly Fitzpatrick [DC Comics; $3.99 per issue] checks off my Plastic Man boxes. It is a redemption story and you know how much I love those. It portrays Plastic Man as funny and capable without going dark as DC did in the Metal and Terrifics titles. It has as much heart as I’ve seen in any recent super-hero comics. It boasts some terrific guest heroes and villains.

Simone remains one of our art form’s best writers. Her Plastic Man is far from perfect, but a hero at his core. Pado Swakatoon is one of the best supporting characters Plas has ever had. The plot takes twists and turns I didn’t see coming…and that’s no mean feat for a guy who’s been doing this as long as I have. At the end of these six issues, I felt I had read a satisfying story and wanted more of the same as soon as possible.

Melo’s art and storytelling are amazing. The action stuff is full of movement. The human stuff is full of emotion. The actual drawing is first-rate from start to finish.

Plastic Man is the kind of comic we need more of from DC. A writer puts their mark on a character and it’s obvious that writer has a better grasp of the character than any of the other writers at DC. When it happens it’s wondrous to behold, though there’s always the fear that the company won’t recognize the priceless gem that’s been laid before them.

If you’re more a trade paperback reader, Plastic Man [$16.99] will be available in that format come April. The six-issue series is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1401289379

******************************

Tony Stark 1

Writer Dan Slott takes chances. Yes, because he writes high-profile Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, he likely has the approval of his editors. Still, I find myself awed by some of the directions he has taken these iconic heroes. Currently, I’m very much enjoying Tony Stark: Iron Man. I have read the first six issues {$4.99 for #1, $3.99 for each of the other issues] and I’m impressed.

The corporate intrigue, human drama and pseudo-science tickles me. Stark is about to give the world a virtual reality system that is ridiculously cool. Business rivals and the odd super-villain have been causing problems. Tony and his birth mom are having troubles connecting. His company is safeguarding the rights of A.I. beings like Jocasta, while Jocasta herself is facing interesting personal issues. And let’s not leave out the budding romance with the Wasp and the evil brother. It’s such a jumble of stuff, some of which borders on cliche. However, all of it comes together to make for an entertaining series.

If, as with Plastic Man, you prefer reading comic books in trades,you won’t have too long to wait for Tony Stark: Iron Man Vol. 1: Self-Made Man [$16.99]. The collection of the first six issues is due to hit the stores in January.

ISBN 978-1302912727

******************************

Ne Ne Ne

Is there a manga sub-genre involving young women in love with older men? A few weeks back, I reviewed After the Rain 1 by Jun Mayuzuki. It’s the story of a high school student smitten by the 45-year-old manager of a family restaurant. What seemed like a creepy premise turned out to be a rather sweet tale of these two different people chastely exploring their feelings for one another.

For this week’s column, we’re looking at Ne Ne Ne by Shizuku Totono (story) and Daisuke Hagiwara (art). Published by Yen Press with a “T” for “teen” rating, this seemingly done-in-one volume manga has a young woman still in her teens married to a man twenty years her senior. It’s an arranged marriage to secure the fortunes of both of their families. Oh, yeah, and she’s never seen her husband’s face. He wears a cat/fox mask because he’s always “on call” for dealing with supernatural matters.

Koyuki wants to be a good wife to Shin, but she’s inexperienced in the ways of wedded bliss. It turns out Shin is just as innocent as his much younger wife. What drives the story and what also provides much gentle humor is the couple’s mutual difficulty in navigating this unfamiliar territory. Lest you mistakenly think Ne Ne Ne has  salacious content, let me add Shin has vowed not to have sex with Koyuki until she is older.

Despite their lack of physical intimacy, Koyuki and Shin do grow as a couple. They are very likeable characters. I’m disappointed there aren’t more volumes to their stories. I would like to spend a bit more time with them.

Because of the premise, I don’t think this manga will entertain all readers. I thought it was well-written and well-drawn. I recommend it based on its likeable characters and the quality of the art and writing.

ISBN 978-1-9753-8103-5

That’s a wrap for 2018. I’ll be back with more reviews in the new year before us. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella