TONY’S TIPS #309

This week’s column will appear sometime between when I return from G-Fest in Chicago and when I leave for the San Diego Comic-Con. The former is the biggest and best convention devoted to Godzilla and all things kaiju. The latter is, well, what the latter is depends on who you ask. I think of Comic-Con as a huge and terrific comics convention bundled with a half-dozen other pop culture conventions. As my ancient and wise friend Mark Evanier has often said, whatever your interests, be it comics or other media, you can definitely find your convention within the sprawling wonder that is Comic-Con. I’m looking forward to returning to San Diego for the first time in six years.

In honor of G-Fest, I’m starting this week’s “Tony’s Tips” with my review of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. My son Ed and I watched  it the night it was released. He called it “the most expensive fan service movie ever made.” I’ll explain that reference a little bit further down in this review.

Keeping this as spoiler-free as possible, this movie features just about everything a Godzilla fan could ask for in a Godzilla flick. Godzilla is awesome throughout. There are equally awesome takes on Mothra, Rodan and, of course, Ghidorah. There are human stories in the midst of the monster battles and, for me, such stories are what separates the great Godzilla movies from the okay Godzilla movies.

Besides the monsters, we have two opposing forces deeply involved in this movie. We have the monster-hunting Monarch, which is kind of like Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. with kaiju instead of Hydra and with more part-of-the-action scientists. Then we have bat-guano-insane “environmentalists” who look on humanity as just another oil spill to be cleaned up. Or stomped into the ground. Or flame-broiled by Ghidorah. Or, if a monster isn’t handy, shot to death by the army  following the chief mad tree hugger. I’m as much for repairing our damaged environment as anyone, but I’d like to do it in a way that doesn’t require humanity’s mass extinction.

Question: Who follows a villainous lunatic like Jonah Alan [played by Charles Dance]? Talk about self-loathing.

The acting is terrific throughout the film. Kyle Chandler is great as a scientist father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter [the wondrous Millie Bobby Brown] and save us all. Vera Farmiga is less terrific as his estranged wife and enemy; her character acts sans any semblance of logic and with a callousness that, while not close to Alan’s evil, is still not the stuff that makes me want to root for her. Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford and some of the other good scientists are well played.

Of course, the big stars are the monsters. They look great in the film. They are sometimes shot darker than I would have liked, but they will make your eyes open wide with delight.

Then there’s the fan service my son mentioned. If you’re a Godzilla fan tried and true, you will see so many nods to previous Godzilla movies. We may not see Mothra’s “Little Beauties” in the film, but Ziya Zhang plays the duel role of twin sister scientists who are stationed at different Monarch bases. I really hope we get to see the ladies together in a subsequent film. Maybe they could sing a bit of karaoke for us.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is my pick of the week. As soon as it’s available on Blu-ray, I’m buying it.

******************************
Peter Cannon

Pete Morisi’s original Peter Cannon Thunderbolt has always been a favorite of mine. The storytelling was direct, the art was elegant in its own way. Others have tried to carry on the character in one form or another. For Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons turned him into the arrogant Ozymandias. Now come writer Kieron Gillen and artist Casper Wungaard to have their own go at this quietly classic super-hero.

Peter Cannon Thunderbolt #1-5 [Dynamite; $3.99 per issue] comes off like an alternate universe version of Watchmen. Or maybe I should say alternate multiverse since the story involves an evil version of Peter Cannon trying to escape his reality by whatever murderous means necessary. “Our” Peter Cannon is the hero.

The Watchmen overtones were off-putting at first. I read Watchmen decades ago and a few times since then. But this mini-series was able to find its own voice by the midway point. It was exciting to see the good Peter pitted against his more powerful and decidedly evil parallel self. The ending was satisfying with a hint of more to come. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

SPOILER AHEAD
SPOILER AHEAD
SPOILER AHEAD
SPOILER AHEAD

One more quick comment. Tabu, ever-faithful aide to Peter Cannon, is gay and in love with his friend. Peter doesn’t reciprocate those feelings until the end of the series. I was reading Peter as being asexual, a type of character we rarely see in super-hero comics of any kind. The “I love you, too, Tabu” struck me as an unsuccessful  attempt to simplify the relationship. Because Gillen had done such a great job with the characterizations, I was disappointed that he took the easy way out at the end.

END SPOILER
END SPOILER
END SPOILER
END SPOILER

A hardcover collection of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt [$29.99] will be published in September. I recommend it.

ISBN: 978-1524112790

******************************
Swamp Monsters

One more for the road, especially if that road goes through a murky swamp. Edited by Steve Barnes and Craig Yoe with an introduction by comics creator and historian Stephen R. Bissette, Swamp Monsters [IDW; $24.99] collects fourteen tales of marshland horror and some
equally unnerving covers from pre-Code horror comics.

Bissette’s introduction runs fifteen pages. It’s exhaustive, but I got the feeling Stephen could write an entire book about all those comic-book swamp creatures. If he does, I’ll buy it.

The stories are goofy and scary and often both. You’ll see a pair of women who turn into hungry gators. You’ll see science gone mad. And don’t even get me started on the butterfly story, which may be unique in the annals of swamp monsters.

Swamp Monsters is good goopy fun. If you’re into pre-Code monster and horror comics, you’ll love this collection.

ISBN 978-1-68405-453-4

******************************
That’s all for now. I’m heading off to the San Diego Comic-Con, but I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #308

Saintly Wife Barb and my wedding anniversary hit on the same day as Father’s Day this year. I took Barb to dinner on the night before. Our kids Eddie and Kelly came over to our house on the actual day. The day could have gone better.

We ate at a pretty nice restaurant in our home town of Medina. The food was good and the service was slow. I was going to describe it as “glacially slow,” but, in these sad days of climate change, that isn’t as slow as it once was. Because of the slow service, we were unable to hit a primo donut and pastry shop just a few doors down from the restaurant before said shop closed.

We decided to go for ice cream at a once-beloved ice cream stand in the area. Another fail as the stand has gone downhill since we were last there. Fortunately, our evening’s entertainment turned out to be fun if somewhat disturbing. We watched Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019). It’s “Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence” and you need to take that rating seriously if you’re planning to watch it with younger children.

Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary:

Batman, Batgirl and Robin forge an alliance with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to fight against the Turtles’ sworn enemy, Shredder, who has teamed up with Ra’s Al Ghul and The League Of Assassins.

I want to reiterate this is a very violent feature. Decapitation, dismemberment and a very graphic scene in which one of the Turtles gets his arm broken. I don’t like giving you a spoiler like that, but I need to stress this film is not for younger viewers.

The movie is written by Marly Halpern-Graser, based on the comic by James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II. The story is a solid one with a number of gripping moments. The “versus” part of the title is well-played. Stubborn heroes with little knowledge of each other and their own ways of dealing with situations. I enjoyed how both sides learned to work with one another and to respect one another. That was one of the most satisfying parts of the film.

Directed by Jake Castorena, the movie has terrific voice work and animation. Troy Baker is excellent as both Batman and the Joker. I’m not as familiar with the actors who voiced the Turtles, but I felt their performances worked well. It was a treat to hear Rachel Bloom as Batgirl, John DiMaggio as Mr. Freeze, Brian George as the ever-faithful and sarcastic Alfred, Tom Kenny as the Penguin and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

After getting over my shock at the violence level in the movie, I did enjoy it. However, I was disappointed that neither April O’Neil or Splinter appeared in the film.

Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was worth the $4.99 rental fee (Amazon Prime) and the 87 minutes I spent watching it. I don’t expect I’ll watch it again, but I do recommend it to fans of Batman and the Turtles.

******************************
Nurses, Monsters, Hotrodders

Some of my creative contemporaries made their professional debuts in the Charlton comic books of the 1960s and 1970s. Others, myself included, simply enjoyed those quirky efforts with lousy printing and the lowest rates in the industry. Of late, some of those pros have launched Charlton Neo Media.

Neo Media’s initial offerings were original anthologies created in the spirit of Charlton and sometimes featuring Charlton characters considered to be in the public domain. Those comics might not have been classics, but they were fun. I’m okay with fun.

Of late, Neo Media has been publishing a series of “Charlton Comics  Silver Age Classic Cover Gallery” books. Courtesy of Rob Jones, an assistant to the legendary editor and artist Dick Giordano, these gallery editions feature vintage covers shot from the actual stats used to print those covers. Printed in black-and-white, the covers look better than in their original publication. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see them re-colored.

I ordered Nurses Monsters and Hotrodders [$7.99] on a whim. In its 64 pages (counting covers and the inexplicably blank pages at the end of the book), the square-bound comic book had an introduction, information on the various titles, 31 covers and a list of how to read these comics and more online for free. The covers shown are from such titles as Blue Beetle, Cynthia Doyle Nurse in Love, Drag-Strip Hotrodders, Doctor Tom Brent Young Intern, Gorgo, Hot Rods and Racing Cars, Konga, Konga’s Revenge, Nurse Betsy Crane, Three Nurses and The Young Doctors. Besides Giordano, the cover artists are Bill Fraccio, Vince Colletta, Pat Masulli, Jack Keller, Steve Ditko and Charles Nicholas.

I got a kick out of this cover gallery collection. Indeed, I have bought three more since: Teen-Age Love Confessions, Outlaws of the West and Strange Space Mysteries. I’m planning to buy any others I come across as well. These books won’t be for every one, but they will delight Charlton fans and comics historians. I recommend them to anyone who fits into either of those groups.

ISBN 9781545367865

******************************
Six Days

DC Comics made its bones in the general book markets with Vertigo volumes. To ditch that strong brand for DC Black Label, a moniker better suited to lousy beer, is one of those nonsensical decisions corporations make from time to time. I didn’t love everything that was published under the Vertigo brand, but so much great material was published that comics fans and historians will be talking about Vertigo for as long as there are comics and graphic novels. If they remember Black Label at all, it will probably be that the brand’s signature move was to show Batman’s privates in an execrable mini-series.

The recently-released Six Days: The Incredible Story of D-Day’s Lost Chapter [$24.99] proves there was still creative life in the Vertigo brand. Written by Robert Venditti and Kevin Maurer with art by Andrea Mutti, this hardcover graphic novel tells the remarkable story of American soldiers dropped too far into enemy territory on D-Day and how they were joined by the people of a French village in holding back the advance of the German army.

Six Days is history, grim and heroic. The cast of characters is a large one, but we get to know many of them. When one of them falls, it’s a pain we readers can share with the characters. I was moved by this gripping story. It’s my pick of the week and I recommend it to comics readers in general and war comics readers in particular.

ISBN 978-1-54012-9071-9

I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #307

Here’s wishing my “Tony’s Tips” readers a summer filled with fun, adventure and relaxation. For me, the next few weeks are all about getting ready for my July conventions and holding garage sales to give myself some extra spending cash for those events.

First up is G-Fest XXVI, Friday through Sunday, July 12-14, at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare. This is the largest annual gathering of Godzilla fans in the world. This year’s special guests include actor Akira Takarada; director Shusuke Kaneko; actress Peggy Neal; director Yoshikazu Ishii; modeler Takuji Yamada; Sonoe Nakajima, the daughter of Haruo Nakajima; animator Philo Barnhart and little old me. I’ll be doing a presentation titled “Cheesy Monsters Raid Again!” Expect cheesy monsters and corny jokes with a few surprises along the way.

Two days after I get home from G-Fest, I’ll be boarding a flight to San Diego for Comic-Con International (July 17-21). I’m attending because my wife and daughter want to return to the event at which they had such a good time in 2013. I’m not an invited guest of the convention. I have no actual business reason for being there. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself there.

I do expect to see old friends and maybe make some new ones. I will be doing a couple of panels with Mark Evanier, my friend of close to fifty years and one of the best human beings I know. I hope to speak with the publisher who bought the contract for my sadly out-of-print 1000 Comic Books You Must Read. Other than that, my dance card is open. If you’d like to get together with me, maybe discuss my working for or with you, maybe have me do a signing for a worthy charity or organization, don’t be shy about contacting me as soon as possible.

This being a review column and all…

My pick of the week is Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe [Lion Forge; $17.99]. This is an autobiographical graphic novel written and drawn by a creator who identifies as nonbinary and asexual and tells eir’s story with often painful honesty. Gender identity isn’t as simple as some would have it. There’s a scale and even that can be fluid. For creators like myself, creators who want their comics to be as inclusive as possible, works like Gender Queer can assist us in learning about those we wish to include. Gender Queer didn’t answer all my questions. Gender identity is a complicated study, even for we who identify as cisgender. But the more we know, the more we’re able to embrace the wondrous diversity of humanity.

A couple of notes:

Kobabe’s preferred pronouns are “E (subject), Em (object), Eir (possessive adjective), Eirs (possessive pronoun) and Emself (reflective). They are pronounced “ee, em, air, airs and emself.”

The Library Journal recommends this graphic novel for grades nine and up. This is deep stuff, which I think requires some maturity to even begin to understand. And, of course, one of the questions of mine that wasn’t answered was how to deal with younger children who
might be confused about their gender identity.

Gender Queer should pick up some award nominations next year. It’ll almost certainly be a book the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and like organizations will have to defend. But it’s worth defending. I recommend it for high school and older readers.

ISBN 978-1-5493-0400-2

******************************
Conan the Barbarian 1

Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian is back at Marvel Comics and my most major and virtually only gripe about the new comics is that Howard’s name should be on the covers. He does receive the creator credit inside the comics.

Conan the Barbarian #1-6 [$4.99 for the first issues, $3.99 after that] are written by Jason Aaron with art by Mahmud Asrar, colors by Matthew Wilson and lettering by VC’s Travis Lanham. Mark Basso is the editor with Ralph Macchio listed as consulting editor. It’s good to see Macchio in Marvel credits again.

“The Life of Death of Conan” deals with a decades-spanning conflict between Conan and the Crimson Witch, a sorceress who seeks Conan’s blood to resurrect her death god. The more a warrior cheats death, the more his blood gains the power needed for this resurrection. As you know, Conan cheats death about twice a week.

This is a clever way to show the scope of Conan’s life. I like how the various times are tied together by the Crimson Witch. Aaron’s story fits in nicely with the Conan saga. Asrar’s art has the grit and gore which has always been part of the barbarian’s adventures. I enjoyed these comics and look forward to reading the conclusion of this tale. In addition to the comics, each issue also contains a chapter of an all-new Conan novella by John C. Hocking. I can’t review those because I’m waiting until I can read the entire prose story at one time.

These first issues will be collected in Conan the Barbarian Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Conan Book One [$19.99]. If you’re a fan of Conan, I know you’ll enjoy this trade paperback.

ISBN 978-1302915025

******************************
Injection

The mind of Warren Ellis awes me. I’m your basic Unfrozen Caveman Comic-Book Writer. My stories tend to be down-to-earth and set in a “real” world gone somewhat askew because of the inclusion of the super-heroes and the supernatural and whatnot. Ellis goes places I
will likely never go to and, no matter how fantastic they are, he makes them seem real.

My local library kindly supplied me with Injection Deluxe Edition Volume 1 by Ellis, artist Declan Shalvey and color artist Jordie Bellaire [Image; $49.99]. The lettering and book design was done by Fonografiks with Heather Athos as managing editor.

In Injection, five insanely brilliant insane people fear that human progress in the 21st Century is stagnant. To kickstart progress, they create something born of magic and science. Then they split up and don’t realize what they made could flat-out destroy humanity. Time to get the band back together, not that its members are eager to do so.

Injection is downright scary science-fiction. Almost every one of the eighteen issues collected in this gorgeous hardcover book has an “ulp” moment that chilled me. Those moments are just as likely to come from one of the graphic novel’s human protagonists as from their creation.

Injection is a keeper. You’ll want to loan it out to your friends looking for something more intense (and on a personal level) than the latest overblown super-hero universe epic crossover. Incredible stories like Injection are among the reasons I believe this is the true Golden Age of Comics. Don’t let the price tag turn you away. InStock Trades, who sponsors “Tony’s Tips” here has the book at a generous discount. I have been a very satisfied customer of theirs since shortly after I discovered fire.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0862-6

I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella