TONY’S TIPS #161

All-New Inhumans

Politics is the theme of this week’s column. Trigger words will be kept to a minimum.

I thoroughly enjoyed All-New Inhumans #1-6 [Marvel; $4.99 for the first issue, $3.99 for the rest] by James Asmus and Charles Soule with artists Stefano Caselli and Andre Lima Araujo and colorist Andres Mossa. The new series is as much an international political thriller as it is super-hero adventure.

The Inhumans now have a more prominent role in the Marvel Universe, which pleases me more than I thought anything Inhumans ever would. I stopped liking the Inhumans when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revealed said people had created their own slave race, the Alpha Primitives. “Slavers” equal “not good guys” in my world view. Here’s some back story re: Marvel’s current take on the Inhumans…

Black Bolt blew up the Inhuman home city of Attilan, releasing big whomping clouds of mutagenic Terrigan Mist into Earth’s atmosphere. The Mist triggers changes in humans who have Inhuman DNA in their makeup. Black Bolt did to this to save the planet, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Medusa now rules the Inhumans and, with sister Crystal, is trying to help these new Inhumans adjust to their powers and find a place in the world. This title focuses on Crystal, an ambassador flying all over the globe in the humongous Royal Inhuman Vessel. The sight of this giant ship doesn’t always inspire confidence on account of it’s pretty darn frightening.

I love the international politics angle of this series and how the Inhumans act as a sovereign nation trying to work with their fellow nations for the common good and, especially, for the good of those new Inhumans. Crystal is quite the diplomat, but her priorities are with her own people. By turns, she can be compassionate, heroic, duplicitous and manipulative. With the Alpha Primitives seemingly absent from the mix, I’m finding myself interested in the Inhumans for the first time in a long time, though some credit must also go to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD television show.

Crystal is the star of All-New Inhumans, but I also love Gorgon’s new role. Crippled in some adventure I never read, he is Crystal’s good right hand, a teacher of the young and a warrior not bound by his physical limitations. I’ve always thought of him as just sort of there in the background, but he’s really coming into his own in the book. Add a number of other intriguing and likeable supporting cast members to the mix and you have a great series.

It hurts my brain to try to suss out the continuity of the Marvel (or the DC) Universe. I prefer titles which can be enjoyed without overt ties to a dozen other titles. All-New Inhumans is that kind of series. What readers need to know about the larger universe in which it takes place is so smoothly included in dialogue that it’s hardly noticeable. Well done, Asmus and Soule.

The first four issues and an introductory story have been collected in All-New Inhumans Vol. 1: Global Outreach [$15.99]. I recommend it and the ongoing title.

ISBN 978-0785196389

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Dear President Johnson

My friend Nat Gertler is well-known as a Peanuts expert. However, as the owner and publisher of About Comics, he’s also known for his eclectic, interesting and handsomely made books. Recently, he has delved into “political entertainment,” restoring and republishing material that has been out of print for decades.

Dear President Johnson: Kids’ Letters to LBJ [$9.99} is a compact mix of Peanuts and politics of the most innocent kind. Originally published in 1964, the book gathers unbearable cute and devilishly funny notes sent to then-president Lyndon Johnson by children with illustrations by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz.

Adler was an author, editor and compiler. In his obituary, the New York Times said he “pursued his goal of being the P. T. Barnum of books by conceptualizing, writing, editing, compiling and hustling hundreds of them — prompting one magazine to anoint him “the most fevered mind” in publishing.” He died in 2014.

The obit also stated “Adler achieved early success by collecting and publishing letters children had written to President John F. Kennedy. He followed up with children’s letters to Smokey Bear, Santa Claus, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Obama, among many others.”

With the cooperation of LBJ’s White House staff, Adler selected 64 letters to be included in this book. There are requests for badges and other items. There are invitations to Boy Scout meetings and a lunch at one young writer’s school. The child says his mother will make extra tuna fish sandwiches for the President and his wife Lady Bird. There are compliments and heartfelt suggestions.

Because I sometimes have the mind of a 12-year-old, my favorite of these missives is the one in which fourth-graders from Chicago want to know the size of the President’s hand. They are creating units of measure and want to measure the circumferences of their desktops in “Johnsons.” Yes, I am ashamed of myself for loving this letter as much as I do.

Dear President Johnson is a fun look back at history seen through humor. It would be a great gift for folks who collected political artifacts and for Peanuts fans. It came within a hair of being this week’s pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1936404568

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Cold War Coloring

My pick of the week is another About Comics publication. Cold War Coloring: Political Adult Coloring Books of the Kennedy Era [$9.99] collects and reprints five such books. The foreword and individual introductions to each books place them in the context of the era, providing a leg-up to readers who may not have been born when these coloring books were first published.

The first adult coloring book seems to be the Executive Coloring Book, published in 1961. The second one was the JFK Coloring Book, which leads off this collection. The book, conceived by Alexander A. Roman purports to be written by the young Caroline Kennedy. The copy is actually written by the prolific Paul Laikin, who I think wrote for every humor magazine of the 1950s through the 1980s. The illustrations are by MAD superstar Mort Drucker. It’s an amusing, charming book and more concerned with the nation’s fascination with than the politics of the moment. It’s wonderful.

The New Frontier Coloring Book is from 1962. Published by the son of a Republican senator, its snide tone will be familiar to those who follow current right-wing political cartoons. It’s anti-Kennedy with little to no regard for facts or reason. The art is as week as the writing with mediocre caricatures repeated over and over again. Still, I applaud About Comics for balancing this book between the two American parties.

The Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev Coloring Book (1962) was written by Amram Ducovny, the father of X-Files star David Duchovny. Don’t ask me to explain the spelling discrepancy of the last names. This coloring book is kind of funny, though it takes its cues from cold war propaganda. The Ken Nunes and Adrien Prober drawings are lively but not quite polished.

Khrushchev’s Top Secret Coloring Book (1962) is much more fun. It was conceived and written by Gene Shalit and drawn by the legendary Jack Davis. Of the coloring books included in this book, this one is the best drawn and the wittiest.

The John Birch [Society] Coloring Book (1962) is a fair but biting poke at the paranoia which characterized that group. The John Birch Society saw Communists and a One World Government everywhere that it looked. Mocking them was too easy then and it’s too easy today. This one was created by Martin Cohen and Dennis Altman, two of the creators of the Executive Coloring Book, and Robert Natkin.

Overall, Cold War Coloring is a remarkable volume. It reminds me of an era I barely understood as a child and clarify those times for me. It’s a perfect gift for coloring book buffs, nostalgia fans and political memorabilia collectors.

ISBN 978-1936404-62-9

About Comics will be publishing additional “Presidential Bookshelf” volumes. I await them eagerly.

My next convention appearance will be at Indy Pop Con, June 17- 19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. But I’ll be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella