This summer has made me profoundly grateful that there are so many wonderful comics and graphic novels not published by DC or Marvel Comics. Oh, I still read and enjoy a whole bunch of spiffy titles from those companies, but summer is when they roll out their huge
“universe-changing” events and such comics by committee frequently annoy and bore me. I know these creators can tell terrific stories outside such events; I wish their publishers had faith that those terrific stories are ultimately more valuable than various crisis, wars and so forth.

Over at DC, they have so many major events going on that I have no idea if they are all taking place simultaneously. Doomsday Clock is running slow. There’s some other title about zombies or some such. This is, apparently, the year of the villain and it’s not even the one in the White House. And there’s the one I just read the first issue of: Event Leviathan.

Event Leviathan begins with several DC organizations, some of them government, some of them villainous, some of them both, wiped out in the first couple pages. Yes, some of those groups were dumb, but some of them weren’t…and it appears they were destroyed just to prop up some new clandestine organization. Yawn.

If it seems like I’m picking on DC, it’s because I seem to stumble into reading more DC titles at present. Marvel has several of its own events going on, but I haven’t gotten around to reading any of those yet. I do plan on reading them, but I think I’ll do so when they are collected in trade paperbacks where, theoretically, I’ll be able to read a big enough chunk of story that the overall event will make sense.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Red Sonja: The Falcon Throne by Marguerite Bennett with artists Aneke and Diego Galindo [Dynamite; $19.99]. Collecting Red Sonja Volume Three #1-6, the compilation finds Sonja dealing with the death of Hyrkania’s king, a good man who had done his best by his country. On his death bed, he regrets that he was unable to unite all the people of Hyrkania and offers his throne to Sonja. Alas, Sonja feels that, as queen, she would bring naught but doom to Hyrkania. What follows is unexpected.

A man with no discernable ability to lead becomes king. He unites the people at the cost of their freedoms and rules via fanaticism and xenophobia. Sounds familiar, right?

Bennett’s story is compelling as Red Sonja must become the hope of those demonized by the king, even as the new king is consumed with the thought of making her his queen. This is an exciting tale that connects with our own modern world and the mania that brings us to doom with each passing day. It’s a clever commentary on our times that never overpowers the action and suspense of Sonja’s sometimes desperate quest. The art is first-rate as is the coloring of Jorge Sutil and Morgan Hickman. Lettering is by Erica Schultz, a multi-talented writer and artist who will be teaching “story adaptation” and “writing and imaginative drawing” at the Kubert School.

Red Sonja: The Falcon Throne is rated “T+” for teens and up. I’ve been enjoying Dynamite’s various takes on this classic sword-and-sorcery heroine. This is one of their best.

ISBN 978-1-5241-0115-2

Black Widow

Another excellent comics collection is Black Widow: No Restraints Play by Jen and Sylvia Soska with art by Flaviano and color art by Veronica Gandini [Marvel; $15.99]. The Black Widow has been one of my favorite Marvel characters since before I wrote her in Daredevil and Champions. She’s adaptable to all manner of adventures from the super-heroic to the darkest of crime or espionage tales.

In this trade paperback reprinting of the five-issue Black Widow series published in 2018, Natasha is kind of sort of back from the dead, having been murdered by the Hydra version of Captain America. She’s a clone with implanted memories of her past, struggling with her demons and living in the shadows.

Some shadows are brighter than ever. Natasha is out to destroy No Restraints Play, a website streaming live torture to its depraved customers. She’s in Madripoor, closing in on the online torturers, working with local peacekeeper Tyger Tiger. But the revelation of deadly secrets and the presence of old enemies makes this mission even darker and more dangerous.

The Soska Sisters are film directors, producers and screen writers known for their violent, visceral movies. Thus, this is one of the bleakest Black Widow stories of them all. It’s not always an easy read – take the “T+” rating to heart – but it’s gripping and very satisfying. Recommended for fans of the darker sides of the super-hero genre.

ISBN 978-1302916732

Geek Girls Don't Cry

Since this seems to have become a “sisterhood is powerful” edition of Tips, let’s close with Geek Girls Don’t Cry: Real-Life Lessons From Fictional Female Characters by Andrea Towers [Sterling; $17.95]. Towers is a writer who has worked for both Entertainment Weekly and Marvel. In this non-fiction book, she discusses some of the most popular and strongest women characters in comic books, TV series and movies.

Towers zooms in on female protagonists ranging from Black Widow, FBI Agent Dana Scully and Hunger Games victor Katniss Everdeen to Wonder Woman, Storm and Cersei Lannister. She looks at their back stories, their strengths, their weaknesses and how they cope with those weaknesses. She shows the relevance of these fictional women to the real world, what we can learn from them and how we can then apply that knowledge to our own situations. She even rings him some actual psychologists to share their insights into these characters. It’s a fascinating study.

Normally, books like this would leave me cold. Too many “serious” books on comics and pop culture are little more than a collection of boring, convoluted term papers. However, Towers write about the matters at hand in a manner that’s inviting and still geeky enough for avid fans. I enjoyed Geek Girls Don’t Cry and recommend it to anyone looking to go beyond the typical conversations about these great women characters.

ISBN 978-1454933397

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella


Conventions seem to take a lot more out of me than in years past. I was exhausted after doing G-Fest and the San Diego Comic-Con back to back. But I expected to be exhausted.

On Sunday, I was the guest of honor at the NEO ComicCon. It was a one-day show half an hour from my home in Medina, Ohio. It was held at an indoor soccer complex carpeted with artificial turf. It’s the one convention I attend where my feet don’t hurt during and after the convention. I was looking forward to the event.

NEO did not disappoint. I got to hang with a bunch of old friends, make some new ones, see some amazing cosplay and contribute to the Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana Organization. It should have been a relaxing convention and it was. I still came home exhausted.
Maybe I should start taking naps during conventions.

One of the high points of NEO for me was giving my Black Lightning Beat presentation. I told the audience what had been happening with me and Black Lightning this year – my visit to the set and several other things – and then answered questions. Here’s my takeaway from my presentation:

The fans love the TV show and my writing. They don’t like the new Batman and the Outsiders book. They love BL crossing over into the Arrowverse. They really want more BL merchandise, especially toys for children, especially Thunder and Lightning action figures and dolls. I got a good laugh when I said I would buy Thunder’s Dream House and a even bigger one when I described an inappropriate- -for-kids Freeland playset, complete with drug dealers and other vices. I don’t think that playset should be made, but if it was, I would buy it. For my Black Lightning archives, of course.

In this column, I’m reviewing my usual three items. There won’t be a pick of the week because I thought them all worthy of the honor. We begin with a graphic novel that is getting lots of press and is already a bestseller.

George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy [Top Shelf; $19.99] is a moving and often shocking graphic memoir revisiting the actor, author and activist’s childhood in a succession of U.S. concentration camps for Japanese-Americans. With exceptions so rare, they are virtually non-existent, these people had committed no crimes against the U.S. Over 60% of them were American citizens, a good number of them born in our country. And, if you want to quibble about my characterizing the camps as concentration camps, let’s glance at The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 9 of the document says “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

Written by Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott with art by the wonderful Harmony Becker, They Called Us Enemy details a dark time in our ethical history. Stirred by politicians campaigning on fear and hate of the other – Sound familiar? – the American people went from standing by these victimized Japanese-Americans to supporting this manifestly immoral policy. Over 130,000 people, many of them children, suffered mightily as a result of the forced relocations.

Takei and his collaborators show how much internees lost when they were ripped from their homes and businesses. They depict the often squalid conditions in which those taken lived. But it also reveals the resiliency of the people and how they came together to create communities within their confinement. It also reveals the attempts to disrupt those communities and the continued hate-speech directed at them. It is not lost on me that such hate-speech still infects our country from the White House on down.

Lest I be accused of presenting a political screed, let me make my case that the most compelling part of this graphic memoir is how inspirational it is. Look at the love and unity of the people who were unfairly incarcerated. Look at the Takei family living their lives with grace and kindness and righteousness. Look at Takei himself, successful in his chosen field, happy in his personal life and always ready to stand by others in need. He’s an American hero.

I love They Called Us Enemy, difficult as reading it could be. I’m proud of a comics industry that can produce a work of art and heart as fine as this one. It’s a book I recommend to every comics fan, library and school. I’ll be buying additional copies for giving out as gifts.

ISBN 978-1-60309-450-4

Kaiju Girl Caramelise

If a comics creator were thinking “What off-beat manga would Tony Isabella totally fall in love with?”, they couldn’t do better than Kaiju Girl Caramelise by Spica Aoki [Yen Press; $13]. Shy teenager Kuroe Akaishi turns into a kaiju whenever romance enters her life. Sometimes it’s her hands, other times it’s her awkwardly emerging tail and, when things really get out of control, she turns into a full-blown giant creature named Harugon.

This is a delightful series. Kuroe is likeable and relatable. Arata Minami, class idol and the object of her romantic yearnings, is a very decent guy. However, my favorite character might the girl who Kuroe mistakes for Arata’s girlfriend but who is actually in love with…Harugon? This wondrously demented young lady dresses up in a Mothra larva and yearns for Harugon to smash her flat. It doesn’t get more wacky than that!

Kaiju Girl Caramelise is rated for teens, but I think it’s suitable for all ages. It’s big fun and I recommend it to all.

ISBN 978-1-9753-5705-4

Batman Giant 12

Even though DC Comics’ formerly Walmart-exclusive titles will soon be  available from comic shops, albeit on a two-week delay, I still plan to buy them from my neighborhood Walmart. This is nostalgia, pure and simple. I haven’t “haunted” a convenience store or a drug store for the new comics since before there were comic-book shops. I get a little anticipatory thrill wondering if the new DC giants will be on sale and a sense of victory when they have. As demented behavior goes, it could be worse.

Batman Giant is my favorite of the titles. Brian Michael Bendis and artist Nick Derington do the original lead story which has Batman traveling through time and space. It reminds me of the Jack Schiff-era Batman with its emphasis on sci-fi stuff, yet with modern-era writing and art.

The reprint features are Batman, Nightwing and Batgirl. All of them are from excellent runs of the characters, especially Gail Simone’s Batgirl. Add it up and you get roughly three-and-a-half comics for just five bucks. The title is one of the most entertaining bargains in comics. Welcome to Walmart!

Don’t mind me. I’m practicing for my inevitable job as a Walmart greeter. The new comics are by the first self-checkout aisle, just past the initial cluster of self-checkout machines.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella


I remain in awe of the San Diego Comic-Con. I’m writing this week’s  column after returning from the 50th anniversary of the convention  and the requisite-at-my-age several days of recovery from that most stellar of events.

Comic-Con has its detractors but there is truly nothing like it in the United States. It has more comics and comics-related panels and personalities than any other comics convention in the country, but it boasts considerable programming featuring animation, movies, TV shows, gaming, collectible toys and more. One morning, my Saintly Wife Barb attended a panel presentation on creating cakes that was standing room only. Not to mention all the events held outside the convention center, which I’m mostly not mentioning because I never got the chance to see any of them on account of I was always busy with comics stuff inside the convention center.

I got to hang out with friends who either worked in comics or were avid comics readers or were cast members of Black Lightning. I got to meet new friends. I felt the Black Lightning love from fans and pros and convention center employees and even one of the convention shuttle drivers. I ate at great restaurants, scored great stuff in the exhibitors area and watched some excellent panels. I never for a moment felt like this was not America’s best comics convention. If you thought there wasn’t enough comics at Comic-Con, you weren’t looking very hard.

I came home exhausted and wondering if this was my last Comic-Con. I hope not. While I’m trying to figure out how to make it to next year’s most sensational of all comics events, let’s move on to this week’s reviews…

Regular “Tony’s Tips” readers know I am fascinated by PS Artbooks’ hardcover collections of 1950s horror comics. Though the material is often substandard, I love delving into the history of the books.

Mysterious Stories Volume One [$44.99] reprints issues #2-7 of the title, issues cover-dated December 1954 through January 1956. The original publisher was Premier Magazines, a short-lived company whose entire output amounted to 41 issues of six titles in as many genres. They had a funny animal title, a MAD imitation, a western title, a crime title, a romance title, and this “horror” title. At eleven issues, the romance title was the most successful.

Horror from the Tomb was Premier’s first horror book, hitting the newsstands in 1954, just before the start of the Comics Code. There was just the one issue. Premier’s comics were distributed by Kable News. After seeing the comic, Kable president George B. Davis axed the title. In that same year, Davis gave testimony in the Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency.

Mysterious Stories took over the numbering with issue #2. The now Code-approved issues would have three six-page stories and a five-page horror-themed take on some classic fairy tale. Early on, some of the stories were introduced by the Keeper of the Graveyard, the Gravedigger and, for the fairy tales, Granny Gruesome. The art is by the usual 1950s comics workhorses with some pleasant surprises: Al Hollingsworth, George Woodbridge, Angelo Torres, Cal Massey and a gem of a job by Kurt Schaffenberger.

The stories are readable, but a few of them rise to a much higher level. “Fate Plays the Violin” is an insane tale of a violin that must have fresh strings made from living creatures to remain at its peak performance. “Dark Valley” is a haunting supernatural romance story drawn by Schaffenberger.  “A Dog’s Best Friend” is about the bond between a blind woman and her guide dog. “The Pipes of Pan” has a young girl befriended by the mythological creature.

Mysterious Stories has me eager to check out other Premier titles. I suspect you have to be into the 1950s horror comics to enjoy this book as much as I did. However, if you are into those comics, let me direct you to InStock Trades, which sponsors this weekly review column. They offer the volume at a 20% discount.

ISBN 978-1-78636-488-3


Bad Company

Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips [Image; $16.99] is my pick of the week, despite it triggering all sorts of bad memories of creators being screwed over by industry publishers, editors and even fellow creators. In many ways, that is the overriding history of the comics business, even if conditions have gotten better over the decades. There is still a long way to go.

Brubaker and Phillips state, in a matter of fact way, that comics won’t just break your heart. Comics will kill you. That sentiment is the driving force in this hardcover collection of two issues of the team’s bestselling title Criminal.

Hal Crane is a reluctant guest at a comics convention, but his dark side, born of years of frustration, takes hold of him. He goes on a dangerous quest to recover something precious to him. Though his story is not without humor – I enjoyed trying to recognize actual comics creators in their Bad Weekend counterparts – this is not a happy story. What makes it my pick of the week is brilliant writing and art. Great work often comes from pain.

Bad Weekend is rated “M” for “Mature” and that’s a fair assessment. I recommend this graphic novel to older readers, especially those interested in the often unsavory history of comics.

ISBN 978-1-5343-1440-5


I Married My Best Friend

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a “Girls’ Love” – aka “Yuri” – manga by Kodama Naoko [Seven Seas Entertainment; $12.99]. The lengthy title pretty much explains what this manga is all about.

Morimoto is a young professional. Her parents constantly badger her to marry a man, have children and settle down. Enter Hana, her best friend from high school, who suggest the two of them marry to get Morimoto’s folks off her back. Though this was supposed to be a sham marriage, Hana has actual romantic feelings for her friend and strives to be a good wife for her. This marriage is more real than either of them expected.

There’s a lot of good in this manga, which appears to be a single volume. Naoko’s art is lovely and her writing conveys character and situations well. Because of Hana, Morimoto becomes more ambitious in her job and achieves successes. Because of Morimoto, Hana does well in her freelance career. It’s a supportive marriage, which is always nice to see in comics of any kind.

I have one problem with this manga. Hana’s physical advances toward Morimoto are a bit aggressive in a couple places. Nothing violent. More in the realm of invading personal space. This isn’t unusual in Japanese comics, but I’m more sensitive to such things than I was when I first started reading such romantic comedies.

Naoko’s I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is suitable for older teens and adults. I liked it well enough to hope there’s more volumes coming.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella