TONY’S TIPS #303

Convention season is upon us. However, your tipster is staying at home May and June to concentrate on various projects. I’m writing a book about Black Lightning and related subjects, which I hope to have available for purchase by the start of Black Lightning Season Three on the CW. Hint: there’s an excellent possibility you’ll see a familiar face during that season.

I’m also reducing my Vast Accumulation of Stuff with weekly garage sales at my home in Medina, Ohio. This is the year I want to put a major dent in all those too many boxes I have in my house and in a rented storage unit. My aim is to be able to get completely out of that storage unit by the end of the year. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter for dates and times.

July will see me at the Godzilla convention G-Fest in Chicago (July  12-14) and San Diego’s Comic-Con International (July 17-21). More on those events as we get closer to them.

Comic-Con means this year’s Will Eisner Awards will be announced. This week’s reviews feature a comics anthology whose stories span centuries, a moving autobiographical graphic novel and a legendary magazine, all of which have been nominated for that most coveted of honors.

Edited by Shelly Bond, Femme Magnifique: 50 Magnificent Women Who Changed The World [Black Crown; $29.99] is an comic-book anthology of game-changing women throughout history. It’s filled with concise pieces on women I already knew and admired (Nellie Bly, Margaret Sanger, Octavia Butler, Joan of Arc, Rumiko Takahashi and Harriet Tubman) and amazing women I was being introduced to for the first time. That latter group includes scientist Mary Anning, the pharaoh Hatshepsut, archaeologist Kristy Miller and others.

Each of the mini-bios was created by a different team of creators. It’s an all-star roster: Gail Simone, Marguerite Sauvage, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Elsa Charretier, Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen, Dan Parent, Lucy Kinsley, Kieron Gillen, Annie Wu and too many others to name in this review.

This beautifully-made book is perfect for those times when you only have a few moments to read something. I enjoyed it over a number of days, reading two of three stories here and there.

This anthology is just plain inspirational and, as such, belongs in every home, public and school library. Want to encourage the young women in your lives? This would be a great gift. What to show the young men why our world is better with gender equality? This book will do that as well.

Femme Magnifique is my pick of the week. It’s been nominated in the category of “Best Anthology,’ earning my vote in a very tough field of nominees.

ISBN 978-1-68405-320-9

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One Dirty Tree

One Dirty Tree by Noah Van Sciver [Uncivilized Books; $19.95] has been nominated for an Eisner Award for “Best Reality-Based Work.” The title refers to the dilapidated house in which Van Sciver lived with his large and very poor Mormon family.

Van Sciver weaves his present-day life and relationships with often unsettling vignettes of his youth in the house his brothers named “One Dirty Tree.” It does not surprise me that those long-ago days impact his contemporary life. It does surprise me that he came out of his challenging background as a far more together adult than he gives himself credit for. This isn’t a story with a wildly joyous  ending, but it’s not a depressing ending either.

I have seen very little of Van Sciver’s work over the years. He’s a terrific storytelling and equally skilled at drawing his stories. I felt a connection to him, probably more due to his talent than my belief we all have a dirty tree in our pasts. This book inspires me to look for his earlier works.

One Dirty Tree is, as I see it, suitable for younger teens and up. I recommend it to public and school libraries. If your interest in  comics form is as widespread as mine, you may want a copy for your own home library. As with Femme Magnifique, I also voted for this book on my Eisner Awards ballot.

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MAD 7

Edited by Bill Morrison, MAD magazine [E.C. Publications; $5.99 per issue) has been nominated for “Best Humor Publication.” I voted for it in a heartbeat.

Under Morrison, who has been sadly and quite frankly absurdly, been let go by parent company DC Entertainment, MAD has managed the very difficult trick of updating its contents while holding on to what was best in its previous incarnation. Issue #7 is the most recent issue I’ve read and it was delightful.

Desmond Devlin with artist Tom Richmond, delivered “Awkward, Man!”, a send-up of one of DC’s best movies. On the other end of the mag, there was “Mad Predicts Avenjerks: Is This Ever Gonna End-Game?” by Ian Boothby with artist Gideon Kendall. A perverse part of me hopes the surprise crossover ending is actually something in the future of the various universes owned by Disney.

Not everything in MAD clicks with me, but much of the contents do. Peter Kuper’s Spy vs. Spy. Teresa Burns Parkhurst’s “Let’s Have Fun with Your Staggering Debt!” Sergio Aragones. Potrzebie Comics with contributions by Kerry Callen and Luke McGarry. “The Lighter Side of Fear” by Tammy Golden and Jon Adams.

Even though I’m chopping magazine and newspaper subscriptions that no longer give me joy, I just renewed my MAD subscription. Because it makes me laugh and alleviates the worries of the day. Except for fretting about what the post-Morrison MAD will look like. DC should  stand outside Bill’s window with a boom box and begs him to return.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #302

My Free Comic Book Day was spent at Rubber City Comics in downtown Akron, Ohio. I had a wonderful time signing comics for the fans and selling them Black Lightning and other books I’d written. One of my biggest sellers was Scooby-Doo Team-Up #46 wherein brilliant writer Sholly Fisch teamed my creation with Scooby, Shaggy, Velma and the rest of the gang. Thanks to Sholly’s respect for the characters who guest star in the book, as well as his uncanny knack for seamlessly including “in jokes” and still tell a solid suitable-for-all-ages Scooby-Doo tale, Scooby-Doo Team-Up has become my favorite current comic-book title. It gets my highest recommendation.

A special FCBD treat – and I do mean “treat” – were the scrumptious Black Lightning cookies from Sweet Mary’s Bakery, located next door to Rubber City. The bakery created several different cookies tying into the event. I might be a wee bit biased here, but I thought the Black Lightning ones were the best.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

James Warren

Joe Kubert. Harvey Kurtzman. John Stanley. Bill Schelly is arguably our finest comics biographer. His latest triumph is James Warren, Empire Of Monsters: The Man Behind Creepy, Vampirella, And Famous Monsters [Fantagraphics Books; $29.99], the amazing, engaging tale of one of the most interesting and pivotal publishers of the 1960s and beyond. Though I only knew Warren briefly and probably only had a half-dozen or so real conversations with him, Schelly’s Warren is precisely the intriguing guy I knew in New York City.

If you were a 1960s kid into monster, Famous Monsters of Filmland was a magazine you bought whenever you could scrape together the cover price. Already crazy about comic books, I would do chores to earn “extra” money. I’d sweep out a barber’s shop. I’d collect old pop bottles. I didn’t get every issue of Famous Monsters, but I got many of them.  Editor Forrest J Ackerman was the magazine’s “star.” It wasn’t until Warren launched the black-and-white comics magazine Creepy that his name became part of my comics world.

Creepy and companion magazine Eerie were inspirational. During the unfortunate Bill Parente years, I sent at least two scripts to the magazines. Neither sold, but editor Parente included some helpful tips with the rejections. I never did sell to Warren Publications, but the early issues of these magazines and Vampirella remain among my all-time favorites. But I digress when I should be extolling the wonders of this biography.

Schelly details Warren’s childhood. He shows the man’s ambition and talent. He reveals the persona Warren cultivated and how he lived up to it more often than not. He tells of Warren’s great successes and awful defeats. He pulls no punches, but the Warren that emerges is the one I knew and wish I knew better. Schelly recognizes that James Warren is rightfully a comics legend.

Fantagraphics does its usual magnificent job designing this book. It is as handsome a hardcover as you’ll find. Running a little over 350 pages, it is a bargain at its $30 price tag and even more so if you order it at a 30% discount from InStock Trades which sponsors this column.

James Warren Empire of Monsters is a riveting book that should be in the home library of everyone who’s serious about comics history. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68396-147-5

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Comics Revue

Rick Norwood’s Comics Revue [Manuscript Press; $19.95] remains one of my favorite magazines. Each 130-page issue is packed with great comic strips of the past. Issue #395-396, the most recent, also has a brand-new cover by Howard Chaykin.

The cover highlights the Hollywood adventures of two heroes: Garth by legendary writer Peter O’Donnell (the creator of Modesty Blaise) and artist Steven Dowling, and Mandrake the Magician by creator and writer Lee Falk with art by Phil Davis. The Mandrake sequence is a heartwarming tale of the master magician’s encounter with a spoiled child star. The Garth tale actually takes place after his time in Hollywood and features a mysterious man name of Malvino. Has Garth finally met an adversary equal to himself? I’ll have to wait until the next issue to be sure.

My favorite stories this time around are Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer in which the title hero is reunited with his believed-lost-at-sea wife and Stan Lynde’s Rick O’Shay. The latter kicks off what promises to be the hilarious tale of gunslinger Hipshot Percussion trying to give up smoking. Lynde was a master of action, drama, suspense and humor. Truly a classic cartoonist and strip.

Other features include the Phantom, Steve Canyon, Krazy Kat, Sir Bagby, Casey Ruggles, Flash Gordon, Alley Oop, Steve Roper, Tarzan and Gasoline Alley. I recommend Comics Revue to all fans of great comic strips. You can get subscription information by going to the magazine’s website: www.comicsrevue.com

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Geekerella

This week’s odd entry is Geekerella by Ashley Poston [Quirk Books; $18.99]. Billed as a “Once Upon a Con” fangirl fairy tale, it’s a young adult novel with a modern take on Cinderella. Geek girl Elle lives with her “evil” stepmother and two “evil” stepsisters. She’s treated like a servant in the house the stepmother inherited from Elle’s late father.

What Elle shared with her parents was a love of Starfield. Her dad founded a convention honoring the cult TV series. He and her mother were amazing cosplayers who attended the convention as Federation Prince Carmindor and Princess Amara. Those are the memories which keep her going and inspire her Starfield blog.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is playing Carmindor in the reboot of the show. Elle loathes the notion of him in the role and is brutal on her blog. What she doesn’t know is that he’s a Starfield fan, too. Adding to the fun…they’ve been texting one another with neither knowing the true identity of the person for whom they’re developing feelings.

What amused me most about the novel is how it adheres to the basics of the Cinderella story while modernizing it and throwing more than a few surprises into the mix. There are heartbreaking moments and there are soul-lifting moments. There’s even a grand ball following the convention’s costume competition.

I enjoyed Geekerella, so much so that I’ll be reading its sequel – The Princess and the Fangirl – as soon as I can get the book from my local library. This novel won’t be of interest to all readers. However, if you like stories about fans, I think you’ll get a kick out of this one.

ISBN 979-1-59474-947-6

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #301

Part of me thinks I held off watching Avengers: Infinity War (2018) until days before I saw Avengers: Endgame (2019) because I knew it did not end on a happy note. That’s nobody’s fault but my own. If you don’t see a movie in the first two weeks of its release, you do not have the right to get all prickly when you learn details of the movie after that.

Last Thursday, I saw Avengers: Endgame (2019) with my son Eddie and my daughter Kelly. Friday morning, I posted a spoiler-view comment on Facebook and Twitter.

Avengers: Endgame. Ten years in the making, the film is the nigh-perfect celebration of the Marvel Universe in both comics and movies. An astonishing achievement.

That is far from my last word on the movie. Now, with the blessing of Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo who’ve stated the ban on spoilers is rescinded, I’m devoting this week’s column to that outstanding picture. Three hours of wonderment that never once felt padded and which kept me in my seat for the entire running time. I’m not sure I even blinked.

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After watching Avengers: Infinity War, I thought I had figured out where this movie would go. I convinced myself that Doctor Strange had given his time stone some sort of delayed command to undo what Thanos did and give the returned heroes another chance to deal with said cosmic killer. Time travel did play a part in the movies but not as I anticipated.

The opening scenes of the movie took me by surprise. Captain Marvel rescues Tony Stark and Nebula from the ruined planet Titan. With the surviving members of the Avengers, they hunt down Thanos and cut off his Infinity Gauntlet hand. However, Thanos had destroyed the infinity stones to ensure no one could undo what he had done.

Thor cut off his Thanos’ head, paltry consolation for all they and the universe had lost. I was as shocked by Thanos’ death as I was the movie jumping ahead five years.

The five years forward scenes were emotional. Ant-Man returns after being trapped in the Quantum Realm for five years and is reunited with his now five-years-older daughter. Black Widow and the other Avengers are desperately trying to help people on Earth and across the stars. Captain America is heading up a support group; his heart isn’t truly in it. Thanos creator Jim Starlin is a member of that support group, which made my own heart soar.

Bruce Banner has found the way to co-exist with the Hulk. Hawkeye, crushed by the loss of his family, is slaughtering criminals around the world. Thor spends his days in a drinker stupor in New Asgard, crushed by all he lost and his failure to set things right. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts have a young daughter and have found peace in this new world.

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For Ant-Man, the five years was five hours. He realizes the Quantum Realm technology can be used to travel into the past and prevent Thanos from getting the stones. Tony refuses to participate until he figures how to make it work. Both he and Pepper realize he has to undertake this dangerous mission, even if it rips time asunder.

The time-travel sequences are exciting. The heroes retrieve all the stones, but not without suffering a terrible loss. Just as Thanos sacrificed Gamora to obtain the Soul Stone in the previous movie, the Black Widow sacrifices herself for the same prize.

The victory is not as complete. Nebula’s future self is compromised by her still-loyal-to-Thanos past self. This allows Thanos to get hold of the Quantum Realm technology and time-travel to the future with the overwhelming force of his armies.

In a heart-stopping sequence, Thanos attacks the Avengers in their compound. The heroes barely survive. While past Nebula tries to get the Infinity Gauntlet, the heroes face overwhelming odds. Until the first of the movie moments that made me cry.

Banner uses the Infinity Gauntlet to restore what Thanos snapped out of existence. He cannot fix everything. Those that died without being snapped are still dead. But, then there’s that great moment when, as the few surviving Avengers seemed certain to fall, portal after portal opens. All of the restored heroes join the fight. New heroes, such as Doctor Strange’s fellow mystics and a armor-wearing Pepper Potts, enter the fray. The choreography on this sequence is absolutely breath-taking. I’m not sure any Marvel or DC movie will ever be able to top it.

There are great moments within the epic battle and, fan service or not, it made me smile to see them. How could I not love the first Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance of A-Force, the gathering of so many Marvel heroines?

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Once you hit the last hour of the movie, do not leave your seat. It would take a review ten times as long as this to list all the cool moments in that last hour.

The defeat of Thanos is one of the most satisfying moments in MCU history. He watches all his plans and power disintegrate before he, too, crumbles into dust. Even though using the Infinity Gauntlet fatally injures Tony Stark, I had to restrain myself from shouting out my pleasure at the soul-crushing defeat of the arrogant Titan. Then my mood shifted. Tony lingered for a bit, long enough for some final goodbyes, and passed. That was the second time I cried during the movie. There would be others.

I can’t possibly list all the spot on moments in this movie. Doctor Strange realizing his place with the other heroes. The “reunion” of Peter Quill and not-his-Gamora. The sisterly banter between Gamora and Nebula. Captain America wielding Mjolnir because he’s totally worthy. Giant-Man kicking ass. Steve Rogers finally having the life he always deserved. The passing of the shield to Sam Wilson. Wanda and Clint mourning the Vision and Natasha.

That funeral scene. So many great actors and characters together in one special place in time. I’m tearing up again even thinking about it. Magnificent filmmaking.

One last moment. Though there are no end-credits scenes presaging the next MCU triumph, there is the clanking of Tony Stark building his first Iron Man suit. Whether it be foreshadowing or tribute to the movie that started this journey, it was the right final touch to Avengers: Endgame.

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What comes next? Certainly there are time paradoxes to explore in future movies. We might see a little bit of that in Spider-Man: Far from Home, which takes place after Endgame.

My own wish is that we not get another epic movie like Endgame for a good long time. There are many smaller stories to be told, many great characters who can be the focus of those stories.

Endgame is the end of an era. Let the new era begin.

I’ll be there for every one of those movies.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella