TONY’S TIPS #183

The MLJ Companion [TwoMorrows; $34.95] is a magnificently hefty softcover book by Rik Offenberger, Paul Castiglia and Jon B. Cooke, a 288-page tome which cover-promises “The Complete History of the Archie Comics Super-Heroes!” Given that history commenced with the 1940s and continues to this day, that’s quite the goal the writers set for themselves. That they achieves so much of that goal is why I’m making their volume my pick of the week.

Let’s start with sixty pages of classic Golden Age adventures that will be brand new to most readers, including myself. These stories present a pivotal adventures of the Black Hood, the origin tales of Steel Sterling and the Hangman, and thrillers starring the Shield and the Web. From that great start, The MLJ Companion reports on every incarnation of the company’s super-heroes, including a bunch that never saw the light of day.

From the 1930s and 1940s, we get a history of the heroes by noted comics expert Ron Goulart, the Black Hood’s adventures on radio and his own pulp magazine, an interview with key MLJ artist Irv Novick, the mercurial Super-Duck, and a wild photo article on MLJ’s super-heroes that ran in a racy magazine by the name of Close-Up. The  magazine was published by MLJ prior to the company’s transition to Archie Comics.

The 1950s and the 1960s kick off with the rather staid Adventures of the Fly and Adventures of the Jaguar before moving into the wild “high camp” exploits of Fly-Man, the Mighty Crusaders, and Mighty Comics Presents. There’s a quick look at the original Fly Man, who appeared in two 1941 issues of another publisher’s Spitfire Comics; a discussion of Archie’s absurd adaptation of The Shadow, and some thoughtful commentary on whether Jerry Siegel’s “high camp” writing was satirical or just plain awful. The section also covers Archie Andrews becoming Pureheart the Powerful, an honestly entertaining merger of super-heroes with teen humor; and the surprising amount of Mighty Crusaders merchandising of the era.

The chapters concerning the 1970s through today deal mostly with a number of ultimately false starts to reviving the Archie heroes by Archie and (twice) by DC Comics. Even those false starts make for intriguing reading. There are interviews with Kelley Jones, Brian Augustyn and others. There are six pages of the Fly script written by Steve Englehart in 1989. There’s an article on the Fly movie that was being pitched in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So much of this was new to me that I’m sure even more of it will be new to most readers…and that they will find it utterly fascinating. I might quibble about whether it’s a “complete” history, but it is, without question, an astonishing history of characters and concepts that intrigue readers to this day.

I recommend The MLJ Companion to all super-hero fans and students of that genre. If you’re looking for a holiday gift for that super-hero fan in your life, this book would be a good choice.

ISBN 978-1-60549-067-0

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troll-bridge

Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge with art by Colleen Doran [Dark Horse; $14.99] is a comics adaptation of a short story by one of our best writers. The back cover blurb describes Gaiman’s tale as a “tragic coming-of-age fantasy masterpiece” and while “masterpiece” might be a wee bit excessive, there is no doubt in my mind that this is one of those cracking good stories that sticks to that place in one’s heart where sighs originate.

Jack, the protagonist of the story, is neither a terribly good man nor a terribly bad man. In a childhood filled with imaginary beasts and ghosts, Jack, as a young man, means an actual troll who lives under a bridge in an area that will soon succumb to the “progress” of changing times. He strikes a bargain with the troll and, in some ways, that shapes the rest of his life.

Doran’s art is emotional and expressive as it tells the story with nary a misstep. Almost any of the pages would look magnificent on one’s wall. Todd Klein’s lettering enhances both the story and the art. This hardcover book would make a wonderful gift for those who love fantasy and great comics. I find it suitable for all ages, but your mileage might vary on that score.

ISBN 978-1-50670-008-3

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cage-1

I was excited by the prospect of a Luke Cage comic book written and drawn by Genndy Tartakovsky, whose work on TV shows and movies like Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Hotel Transylvania have given me great enjoyment. His notion of doing Cage in a short of animated black action movie of the 1970s sounded like fun. For me, however, something went wrong between the talented creator’s amusing concept and the actual comic book.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

Cage! #1 [$3.99] is a too-thin super-hero plot wrapped around some frantic-looking art. Cage runs around walking into scenes that make him look kinda sorta dumb. He finds out all the super-heroes have disappeared, except for the X-Men who show up looking for a missing Jean Grey. By the end of the issue, he’s found several old enemies have teamed up to take him down. Then he gets punched by a mystery man or monster.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER

Cage! #1 fails because there’s no real substance to the issue. We get some delightful artwork and a few moderately funny gags. That’s all. It took me less than five minutes to read the issue. Which is lousy bang for your four bucks.

I’m not giving up on this limited series, but I’m not recommending it either. Try to borrow a friend’s copy and see if the comic book is too your liking. You may enjoy it more than I did.

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

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #182

Len, A Lawyer in History: A Graphic Biography of Radical Attorney Leonard Weinglass [AK Press; $19] is exactly what its exceedingly long title says it is. It’s a riveting account of the life of one of the most selfless lawyers of them all, a lawyer who tirelessly devoted himself to the defense of liberal and radical clients, men and women who rarely had the means to pay him the kind of fees he could have gotten working for establishment law firms. Simply put, Weinglass was a hero.

This graphic biography is written and illustrated by Seth Tobocman, who has often devoted his talents to the same kinds of causes that Weinglass championed. Among his other accomplishments, Tobocman is a founder and regular contributor to World War 3 Illustrated. The magazine regularly address vital social issues in comics art form. It’s a favorite magazine of mine, one which demands my concentrated attention and thoughtful reflection.

Getting back to Weinglass, he was a constitutional law advocate who served as a captain judge advocate in the Air Force. Successfully defending a black soldier in a court martial trial did not win him accolades from his superior officers. I’m sure they were even more horrified by the clients he served when he return to civilian life and private practice. They included the Chicago 7, Pentagon Papers whistler blower Daniel Ellsberg, Angela Davis, Kathy Boudin, Abbie Hoffman, Mumia Abu-Jamal and, at the time of his death, the Cuban Five. I’m guessing few of my younger readers recognize any of those names…and that only a few more of my older readers recognize most of them. Their stories are worth studying.

Tobocman makes Weinglass come alive in this graphic biography. The book is divided into easy-to-digest chapters that allow the reader to consider and perhaps do their own research into these matters. “Their Second Chance,” Weinglass’ defense of and interactions with native American convict Jimi Simmons and activist Karen Rudolph, is the kind of story that should be on the big screen. It’s moving and unforgettable.

Len, A Lawyer in History is my pick of the week. It’s not going to be of interest to all comics readers, but I think it’s a terrific example of how our art form can bring a clarity and power to real events. I recommend it to readers who like to be challenged and, of course, to public and school libraries.

ISBN 978-1849352406

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avengers-fan-fiction

It may be too in-joke-oriented for comics readers who don’t explore every corner of online comics fandom, but I got a kick out of All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1 [$4.99] featuring “The Fan-Fiction World of Ms. Marvel.” That’s right. Ms. Marvel reads and even writes fan fiction about the heroes she works with on a nigh-daily basis. Ulp!

Many years ago, I loved the fan fiction stories of my dear friend Dwight Decker. His fiction featured fans of his creation. I loved it so much I wrote a prose tale set in his universe and with myself in a lead role. It is one of the very few things I’ve written that embarrasses me. I’ve written things that weren’t very good – it’s part of the learning process – but that story, unlike the others, still makes me cringe.

Ms. Marvel’s fan fiction is about the Marvel Universe in which she lives and battles for good. This annual reveals that fan fiction in a framing sequence by G. Willow Wilson and Mahmud Asrar and five short stories by Mark Waid and Chip Zdarsky, Natasha Allegri, Zac Gorman and Jay Fosgitt, Faith Erin Hicks and Scott Kurtz. It’s an interesting collection of tales.

Because I don’t read fan fiction for a variety of reasons, I can’t speak to the accuracy of these stories. However, I was especially taken aback by Waid and Zdarsky’s “The Once and Future Marvel,” an anti-feminist adventure which sadly reflects the often-misogynist attitudes of those who rail against creators and stories supporting social equality and justice. Darkly humorous, the story must have been a difficult one for Waid and Zdarsky to do.

The annual also has a cartoony She-Hulk tale, an anthropomorphic take on Marvel heroes, a wild “Squirrel Girl Vs. Ms, Marvel” match and a kind of sappy romance. I like this stuff because it stretches the super-hero envelope in a way that does not impact the ongoing universe. The clever conclusion of Wilson’s framing sequence made me laugh out loud. Points for that.

This All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual is an intriguing change of pace. It’s worth checking out if you’re a Marvel hero devotee or a creator/reader of fan fiction about those heroes.

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betty-boop

I know I saw Betty Boop as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. The morning and afternoon kid shows with hosts like the friendly, wise Captain Penny and the otherworldly Barnaby bought and showed cartoons by the bucket. I didn’t realized the squeaky-voiced Betty was supposed to be a Jazz Age flapper, but, in those days of black-and-white television and but three channels to choose from, a kid could be entertained by anything that moved across the screen in a lively gait. It was my introduction to animation, viewing cartoons created ten and even twenty years before my birth.

Dynamite’s Betty Boop #1 [$3.99] captures the spirit of those old cartoons and improves them. Roger Langridge’s “Enter the Lizard” is a sprightly and mildly subversive take on the Max Fleischer Studios toons wherein the devil himself seeks the soul of innocent Betty. The script includes spiffy musical numbers that make me wish the comic came with a soundtrack. They look like so much fun.

The images and storytelling of artist Gisele Lagace are wonderful. Her drawings are animated. Her panel-to-panel flow is spot on and lively. Without distracting from the story, her work is so good it lingers in my mind from page to page.

Betty Boop #1 is a great start to this new series. I don’t plan on missing an issue. It could just be the little kid in me, but I may be falling in love.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #181

Sam Glanzman’s U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories, published by Dover Graphic Novels [Dover; $39.95] is a landmark gathering of one of the greatest comics series of all time. These shorts, sometimes as little as four pages, rank among the very best war comics that the comics industry has ever seen. I’d put them right up there with Harvey Kurtzman’s Frontline Combat, Archie Goodwin’s Blazing Combat and the best of the DC war titles by Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath and others.

Some background: Artist and writer Glanzman, who served on the USS Stevens during World War II, created these autobiographical slices of history. Though some of the details were changed for dramatic effect and some of the episodes are Glanzman telling of events we experienced second-hand, they are among the most true to life war stories ever seen in comic books.

The USS Stevens stories appeared in DC war titles Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat and Star Spangled War Stories. The legendary artist and editor Joe Kubert thought so highly of them, and of Glanzman’s genius, that he gave the artist great freedom to tell the stories Glanzman wanted to tell. Glanzman gave us tales of war’s horror and tedium. He gave us looks at the Japanese enemy of his war. He gave us stories of heroes and of fighting men damaged by their wartime experiences. In the justly-praised “Toro,” though the times demanded Glanzman be circumspect, he related the story of a gay sailor. This was perhaps a first for mainstream comic books.

This Dover collection is a dream come true for Glanzman fans like me. Whenever I compiled lists of collections I’d like to see, the USS Stevens stories were high on my list. There are over 60 short stories in this hardcover volume, as well as stories from Marvel’s Savage Tales and DC’s Joe Kubert Presents. I read them at a rate of two or three a day so that I could savor and study them. This was time well spent.

In addition to these groundbreaking stories, the volume includes a foreword by writer Ivan Brandon, an introduction by Jon B. Cooke, letters to Glanzman from Presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush, an informative afterword by former DC Comics assistant editor Allan Asherman, Glanzman’s War Diary spreads, extensive footnotes and story annotations by Cooke and a new four-page story of the USS Stevens. It took over 400 pages to present all this great material.

U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories is my pick of the week. The book would make a great gift for comics fans and non-comics readers interested in the history of the Pacific War. It belongs in every public and school library in the country and should hold a place of honor in your home library.

ISBN 978-0-486-80158-6

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journey-into-fear

Avid “Tony’s Tips” readers know I’ve an interest in pre-code horror comic books, even when the stories and art aren’t exactly classic. But no pre-code horror comics has fascinated me in quite the same way that Superior’s Journey into Fear fascinates me.

PS Artbooks out of the U.K. has collected the first seven issues of this odd title in Pre-Code Classic: Journey into Fear Volume One [$59.99]. These comic books were originally published from May 1951 to May 1952. Here’s what I can tell you about the title.

Superior Publishers Limited was a Canadian publisher who published mostly American reprints, but which also published original comic books that were distributed in the United States. From maybe 1946 to 1954, Superior published just over 200 different titles and just under a thousand issues.

Journey into Fear ran 21 issues from May 1951 to September 1954. We have virtually no credits for any of these issues, save that they were written and drawn by the Jerry Iger Shop. Some of the earliest stories might have art by Matt Baker, but, since he was the best of the Iger bunch, he was also the most copied. The art has an uniform house style look to it.

The writing is where my fascination lies. It’s not really very good writing, but you can see where the unknown authors are striving for good writing. The stories are in a league of their own with quirky plots that often reveal non-supernatural causes for the seemingly supernatural events of the tales.

My favorite story to date – I’m currently reading the second volume in the series – is “A Debt to the Devil” where the title character pushes a down-on-her-luck young woman to take a job with a handsome man whose wife is both evil and insanely jealous. The devil wants to claim the wife’s soul and eventually does so. In the process, he actually brings the young woman and her boss together romantically. He’s like a 1950s horror comic version of that creepy white-haired eHarmony spokesman. That’s just one of very strange stories in this volume. Small wonder I want them all.

ISBN 978-1-84863-955-2

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x-o-manowar

Congratulations to Valiant Entertainment on the publication of X-O Manowar #50 [$4.99], a milestone celebration. The wrap-around cover is a 50-artist jam featuring X-O figures by such legendary artists as Neal Adams, Butch Guice, Phil Jimenez, Bob Layton and 46 other creators. The extra-length “Long Live the King” by Robert Venditti with penciler Joe Bennett and several others is a most satisfying conclusion to this chapter in the life of Aric of Dacia. The issue also presents short comics stories written by Fred Van Lente, Jody Houser and Matt Kindt. It’s a heck of a celebration.

Valiant has constructed an entertaining, intrigue and viable comics universe. If the DC and Marvel universe have gotten too large for you but you still love the idea of a shared universe, I think the Valiant comics titles might be a good fit for you. The writers and editors do a good job recapping enough of what has gone before to allow easy entry into their world. Most of their earlier issues are also available in trade paperbacks. I recommend starting with Faith and Bloodshot – my favorite Valiant titles – and going from there. I think you’ll enjoy the journey.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #180

Our first item is something I never thought I’d see as a Batman fan in the 1960s. Indeed, it’s something I never even knew existed in that magical decade. Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 3 [DC Comics; $14.99] completes the reprinting of Batman comics stories created and published in Japan in 1966. The three volumes mark the first time all 18 of these stories have been presented in English. My sense of wonder was tingling from the moment I learned of these collections.

The started point for Kuwata’s interpretations of Batman, a global television sensation in the 1960s, were comics stories originally published in the United States. These stories were written by such renowned American writers as Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher with art by Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Giella. Kuwata then re-imagined and retold them in manga style for magazines like Shonen King and Shonen Gabo. Some tales are instantly recognizable to me and others not so much.

Readers will find a Batman and Robin who appear willing to kill in self-defense or who are, at least, indifferent to the deaths of the villains. Batman even uses a gun in one story. With one exception – “Ghost Batman” based on a story by Fox, Moldoff and Giella – the seven stories in this final volume predate the editorial reign of the legendary Julius Schwartz. One – “Robot Robbers” by Bill Finger and Charles Paris – dates back to 1947. Japanese takes on villains Planet Master, Clayface and Catman are among the foes faced by the Caped Crusaders.

If one can be nostalgic for stories one has never read before, that is what these Kuwata Bat-interpretations do for me. I am fascinated by their other-ness while remembering fondly the simpler and less complex Batman of my youth. I have no problem with a more grim and gritty Batman when today’s writers keep him firmly sane, but those old stories have a charm and a quality of their own. It’s nice to know they traveled overseas so successfully.

I recommended the Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga volumes for all kinds of readers. Avid Batman and manga fans will enjoy them. Those readers just dipping their toes into manga will find them a decent enough stepping stones to the entirely Japanese manga. Students of comics history will likely be as fascinated by them as I am. And with the holidays coming, these books would be great and relatively inexpensive gifts for the Batman or comics fan in your life. I know I had a terrific time with them.

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 1:

ISBN 978-1-4012-5277-9

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 2:

ISBN 978-1-4012-5552-7

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 3:

ISBN 978-1-4012-5756-9

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alena

Kim W. Anderson’s Alena [Dark Horse Comics; $17.99] is your basic slasher movie in comics form. It’s the English language edition of an award-winning Swedish graphic novel that has also been made into a movie. Lifted from the back cover blurb:

“Alena’s life is a living hell. Since starting at the snobbish boarding school Alena’s been harassed every day by Philippa and the girls on the lacrosse team. But Alena’s best friend Josephine is not going to accept that anymore-not from the counselor or principal, not from Philippa, and not from anyone at that horrid school. If Alena does not fight back then Josephine will take matters into her own hands. There’s just one problem: Josephine has been dead for a year.”

I came to my appreciation of (some) slasher movies later in life as I watched the multiple additions to such franchises as Halloween, Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp. This graphic novel embraces the genre and, though, such things aren’t always part and parcel of the genre, is well written with truthful characters, mounting suspense and a satisfying (if somewhat predictable) ending. I don’t know if I’d considered it award-worthy, but it was pleasant entertainment, not unlike the often cheesy horror and monster movies I enjoy. In a world of many disappointments in many areas, sometimes “good” is enough to make a book or movie worthwhile. Not everything has to be great to be entertaining.

This edition of Alena also features information and photos from the movie. It’s a book that would make a good gift for a fan of either European graphic novels or slasher movies.

ISBN 978-1-50670-215-5

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huck

My pick of the week is Huck Book One: All-American by Mark Millar with artist/co-creator Rafael Albuquerque and colorist Dave McCaig [Image; $14.99]. If I had to describe it in a sound byte, I’d call it “the feel-good super-hero book of 2016.”

Huck is a gas station attendant in a small town. He has incredible powers and uses them too secretly perform a good deed every day of his life. It’s his way of honoring his mother and the townspeople who have taken him in and shown him nothing but love and kindness. Oh, and about that “secretly perform” thing, let’s just say small-town people aren’t stupid. They know what Huck can do and does, and they respect his privacy. This 160-page book really gets going when Huck’s secret is exposed to the world and he faces the consequences of that revelation.

If you’ve got an ounce of super-hero love in you, you’re going to love Huck. He’s a great character and, despite his similarity to an iconic comics character or two, he has a freshness about him that made me smile. With outstanding writing and art, Huck would be one of the best gifts you could give a friend or family member in this coming holiday season. They don’t even have to be a comics reader. They will enjoy this book.

ISBN 978-1-63215-729-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #179

I pity the next batch of Eisner Awards judges. Lately, it seems as if a new award-deserving comic book or comics collection or graphic novel is crossing my path on a weekly basis. If i weren’t so busy, I could happily retire to a life of reading one great comics work after another.

Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts [GRAPHIX; $24.99 in hardcover, $10.99 in softcover] is a sure contender for the next round of comics awards. Teenager Catrina and her family move to Bahia de la Luna, a small town on the Northern California coast. They make the move because the climate with be better for Maya, Catrina’s little sister, who has cystic fibrosis. It is a friendly town that cherishes its past and its past relationships. Because Bahia de la Luna is also home to ghosts. Lots of ghosts.

There are so many terrific elements in this 256-page graphic novel. Sisters Catrina and Maya are very real, both in their love for one another and Catrina’s desire to have a life of her. The town itself is a character with its often spooky atmosphere moving the story to its hopeful and satisfying conclusion. The ghost tour and the Day of the Dead are both magical and scary. The supporting characters are supportive in the lives of the sisters. Midway through Ghosts, I was thinking how wonderful it would be to spend a few weeks or a retirement in Bahia de la Luna.

Telgemeier is a masterful storyteller. Her storytelling and story flow are impeccable, carrying the reader through the real world and the fantastic world with equal skill. Her characters are animated and the dialogue that comes from them always rings true. Colorist Braden Lamb adds vibrancy to an already vibrant story.

Ghosts is a graphic novel you can fall in love with. It’s a graphic novel you’ll return to many times. I got it through my library and, on finishing it, bought a copy for myself. I think I’ll be buying more copies to give out as gifts.

Kudos to Telgemeier. Ghosts is my pick of the week.

Hardcover:

ISBN 978-0-545-54061-2

Softcover:

ISBN 978-0-545-54062-9

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big-con-job

The Big Con Job by writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Matt Brady with art by Dominike “Domo” Stanton and colors by Paul Little (Boom Studios; ($19.99] is a fun concept that loses points in its execution. The setting is the convention circuit and the protagonists are “flabby action heroes, sex symbols and sci-fi bit players” eking out their increasingly smaller living at those conventions. Though all of the characters in this graphic novel are original creations, we’ve all seen them at various conventions.

The C-lost celebrities are recruited into a scheme to rob the Sam Diego Comic-Con. Yep, this is a caper story and the stakes are the millions in dollars the convention holds for dealers and autograph agents. I suspect more than a few dealers and autograph agents are not going to see the humor in this story. Me, I’m of the mind that entertaining stories can be told starring very good people and very bad people and all the people in between those extremes.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know and even work with some of the celebrities channeled for The Big Con Job, and even more comic-book artists and writers in much the same circumstances. I’m sympathetic to these characters, even recognizing how many things can go wrong with a scheme like this. Indeed, that’s one of the attractions of a good heist story.

In The Big Con Job, the writing and the art are good. There are a few places where I think more character or plot development would have made the graphic novel better. Overall, though, I had a good time with this story and I think you will, too.

ISBN 978-1-60886-850-6

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moon-girl

One of the reasons I read as many comics collections and graphic novels as I do is because I can get them through my library system. Another is because I have a generous friend who loans me his comic books after he reads them. This friend reads a lot of comic, but he doesn’t get everything. So Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur flew under my radar for a long spell. Until the first trade paperback of the series became available through my library.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF by writers Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare with art by Natacha Bustos and colors by Tamra Bonvillain [Marvel; $17.99] collects the first six issues of this very cool, very fun series. Moon Girl is Lunella Lafayette. She’s a preteen genius who is one of the smartest people – and maybe even the smartest person – in the Marvel Universe. As someone who does not really fit into the normal world, she’s terrified the Inhuman gene inside her will change her into something that’s even more at odds with that normal world. That fear is an amazing notion I have not seen articulated as well in any other Marvel title.

Devil Dinosaur is, of course, the clever saurian created by Jack Kirby in the 1970s. Devil has stuck around the Marvel Universe for decades and, when last seen, was having adventures with Moon Boy in the Savage Land. These names will mean nothing to readers who are not familiar with their Marvel Comics mythos, but, trust me, every one of those names from Devil to Savage Land says “Marvel magic” to us long-time Marvel afficinados.

Devil ends up in Mew York City, pursed by the caveman-like Killer Folk and taking a liking to Lunella. They have adventures, meet the odd Marvel hero, and protect one another. A girl and her dinosaur. How could I not love this well-written, beautifully-drawn series?

Though this volume ends on a cliffhanger, it delivers a satisfying chunk of excellent reading that has me eager for the next volume in the series. Suitable for all ages, I recommend this spiffy series to readers of all ages.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF (available now):

ISBN 978-1-302-90005-2

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties (available in January):

ISBN 978-1-302-90208-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #178

You would think I would be satisfied. I mean, we live in a comics world where classic and not-so-classic comic books of the past are collected into nice hardcover and softcover volumes. It’s a world where reprints of classic newspaper comic strips are also readily available. Don’t even get me started on the collections of current comic-book stories, the original graphic novels from all over the world and in every genre imaginable, the amazing manga that comes to us from Japan. This, as I have said so often, is the true Golden Age of Comics. And yet…I want more!

About once a year, I throw together a list of comics collections I would dearly love to read and own. These books represent money in the bank – my money – to whoever publishes them.

This year’s list came to me during a restless night. I wasn’t able to sleep. I keep thinking of collections I wanted. I grabbed a pen and a notepad and started writing them down. Most of them are new to this list. Some have appeared before, but, since they came to me during those small hours between sleep and full awakening, I figure the universe wants me to include them again.

In the order they came to me…

DC’S DANGEROUS CREATURES. See what I did there? With the title that has the same initials as DC Comics? This would be a collection of the creature stories that appeared in just about every DC title of the 1950s and 1960s, save for maybe Young Romance. Batman and Robin versus the Rainbow Creature. The Faceless Creature who appeared in a couple of Strange Adventures stories. Superman tangling with Titano the Super-Ape. The Challengers of the Unknown being put on the hot seat by the Volcano Men.

MARVELOUS MONSTERS OMNIBUS. I want every pre-Fantastic Four giant monster thriller collected in hardcover. Fin Fang Foom. Groot. The Colossus. Grottu. Goom and Googam. All of them because I was and I remain a monster-loving kid.

COSMO THE MERRY MARTIAN. This short-lived Archie Comics title only lasted six issues, but it left an indelible imprint on the brain of a young Tony Isabella. Created by Bob White, it featured a planet-hopping Martian and his pals from all around our solar system. It was clever and imaginative. Though I own all the original issues, I feel this series should be preserved for the ages. I also feel I should be hired to write new Cosmo stories, but who listens to me?

THE BARKER. Created by writer Joe Millard and artist Jack Cole, and continued by the great Klaus Nordling, this feature starred Carnie Callahan, the barker for Colonel Lane’s Mammoth Circus. Carnie and his supporting cast of colorful carnival folks made their debut in Quality’s National Comics #42 [May 1944}. Their amusing adventures appeared in that title for years and also in the fifteen-issue run of The Barker. I love these stories and, even though almost all of them are public domain and available online, I would still love to have actual books of them.

CANDY was Quality’s star performer in the teen humor genre. Created by Harry Sahle, Candy was an all-American small town girl who had a regular feature in Police Comics, her own long-running title and her even longer running newspaper strip. I think she held her own with Archie and Patsy Walker.

KATHY by Stan Lee and Stan Goldberg. The “teen-age tornado” ran for 27 issues between October 1959 and February 1964. It was Goldberg’s first major assignment and he did amazing work on it. Lee’s scripts were a little corny, but still very funny. I collect Kathy, though good condition copies are tough to come by at prices I can afford. I’d miss a few meals to have all these Lee/Goldberg gems gathered into two or three trade paperbacks.

THE BEST OF MILLIE THE MODEL and THE BEST OF PATSY WALKER. We will likely never see Marvel Masterworks volumes of these classic comics heroines. Maybe if I ask Marvel real nice, the company will publish anthologies that present the best of these characters from all over their long and successful careers.

THE BEST OF LARRY LIEBER’S RAWHIDE KID. I love the Lee/Kirby/Lieber version of this classic western hero. The Lee and Kirby issues have all been reprinted, but almost none of Larry’s decade-long run on the character. A “best of” volume is long overdue.

Looking at DC Comics again, THE BEST OF THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE and THE BEST OF THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS have long been on my wish list of reprint collections I’d love to see. Both featured an amazing array of great artists and writers. Jerry’s title even had several crossovers with DC super-heroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I suspect the rights situation might be complicated. However, knowing that both Lewis and the Hope estate are involved in all sorts of charities, I bet something could be worked out that would benefit the charities and introduce a new generation of fans to some terrific comics stories.

blonde-phantom-22

THE BLONDE PHANTOM. My favorite evening gown-wearing super-heroine. My standing joke is that the Blonde Phantom did everything the male heroes did, but backwards and in heels. I can’t explain why she had such appeal for me, but she does. If Marvel reprints her comic, they have a guaranteed buyer in me.

treasure-chest

THE BEST OF TREASURE CHEST. This was a Catholic-oriented comic book distributed in Catholic schools from 1946 to 1972. It was created by publisher George A. Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio. I had a subscription to Treasure Chest during my years at Sts. Philip and James School on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio.

My parents and the nuns who taught me loved Treasure Chest because it always ran comics stories about saints and such. But, for me and most kids, the attractions were the adventure and historical and even speculative history serials. These were often drawn by great artists like Frank Borth, Reed Crandall, Dick Giordano, Joe Sinnott and others. My all-time favorite was “Pettigrew for President,” a serial about the race to become the Presidential candidate for that high office. In addition to the saints and serials, Treasure Chest also had gag strips, puzzle pages, craft pages and more. It was a fine comic book and remains a favorite of mine.

Almost all of Treasure Chest is available online for free. Greedy old Tony would like a series of “best of” collections as well. We should draw much attention to the really excellent comics than ran in Treasure Chest and give them much-deserved praise.

ARCHIE HEROES OF THE SWINGING SIXTIES. They were corny and a pale imitation of what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others were doing over at Marvel Comics. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the goofy adventures of Fly-Man, the Mighty Crusaders, Steel Serling, the Web and the rest of the crazy super-heroes published by Archie Comics at the height of the Batman on TV craze.

Modesty forbids me from mentioning that I would also like to see at least two more volumes of BLACK LIGHTNING, the Isabella and Richard Howell THE SHADOW WAR OF HAWKMAN, and THE COMPLETE IT! THE LIVING COLOSSUS. Modesty becomes me, don’t you think?

I’ll be back next week with the usual reviews of comic books, books and anything else that tickles my fancy. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #177

The Black Bat #1: Brand of the Black Bat and Murder Calls the Black Bat [Sanctum Books; $14.95] kicks off a new series of pulp magazine reprints staring a hero who was very nearly Batman before Batman. As explained in a historical essay by Will Murray, the Black Bat debuted in Black Book Detective less than thirty days after Batman appeared in Detective Comics #27. Coincidental though they were, the similarities between the two characters almost led to a lawsuit between DC Comics and Thrilling. Instead, the two publishers worked out a truce. Batman wouldn’t appear in pulp magazines and the Black Bat wouldn’t appear in comic books.

Created by prolific pulp writer Norman Daniels (writing as G. Wyman Jones) and with considerable input from Thrilling’s editor-in-chief Leo Margulies, the Black Bat is the darkly-costumed persona of Tony Quinn, a former district attorney blinded in a courtroom attack. If you’re thinking Two-Face, well, there’s a good chance that Batman villain was inspired by Quinn. Unlike Harvey Dent, the terribly- scarred Quinn doesn’t go insane and turn to crime.

Carol, a beautiful stranger, takes Quinn to a mysterious surgeon. Quinn’s sight is more than restored. He can now see in the dark as easily as in light. Before long, he becomes the Black Bat and, with Carol, a reformed con man named Silk, and a brawler named Butch, he declares war on criminals like those who blinded him. Indeed, his first case is to bring those very criminals to justice.

This book reprints the first two Black Bat novels with the original illustrations by Harry Parkhurst. They are exciting adventures in the general style of The Shadow and The Whisperer, also published by Sanctum Books. Quinn is an admirable hero who inspires loyalty from his team. In public, to protect his other identity, he keeps up the pretense that he is sightless. Even so, Police Commissioner Warner suspects his friend Quinn is the Black Bat (but chooses not to pursue his suspicions). Detective McGarth, a bulldog of a cop, also suspects the truth, though he keeps failing to prove Quinn is the Black Bat. The ongoing duel between McGarth and Quinn adds some welcome humor to these sometimes grim thrillers.

By the way, Thrilling didn’t entirely keep up its part of the deal. As “The Mask,” the Black Bat began appearing in Exciting Comics. The first of these comics stories, adapted by Raymond Thayer from Brand of the Black Bat, is also included in this book.

Sanctum Books always delivers great bang for your bucks. I’m a big fan of their books and recommend them to all readers interested in pulp adventure heroes.

The Black Bat #1: Brand of the Black Bat and Murder Calls the Black Bat is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-60877-183-7

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hercules

I’ve always liked Marvel’s Hercules. It’s why I chose him to be the “strong man” of the Champions in the 1970s. He was bold and brash and a whole lot of fun. However, in Hercules #1-6 [$3.99 each], we see a different Hercules.

Writer Dan Abnett gives us a hero weary with being the super-hero frat boy of the Marvel Universe, bone-tired of being laughed at for his many peccadilloes. He’s on the wagon as part of his desire to clean up his act and restore his reputation. It’s moving to see a hero who is at once so powerful and yet also so vulnerable. I like this more sober Hercules.

Unfortunately, this Hercules also has to contend with the Uprising Storm: new gods for today’s world who want to sweep away the myths of the path. To oppose them. Hercules gathers together an unlikely alliance of friends and former foes. Yet even their combined might may not insure victory. The new gods are both mighty and ruthless. Even with his knowledge of modern times and technology, Hercules is in for the battle of his life.

All six issues of this mini-series have been collected in softcover as Hercules: Still Going Strong [$17.99]. I caution you that this collection ends on something of a cliffhanger. The story continues in Civil War II: Gods of War [$15.99], which will be released this November. I recommend the first book and I’m looking forward to the second.

Hercules: Still Going Strong:

ISBN 978-1-30290-033-5

Civil War II: Gods of War

ISBN 978-1-30290-034-2

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mickey-mouse-shorts

Mickey Mouse Shorts: Season One #1 and #2 [IDW; $3.99] surprised me in a good way. I hadn’t seen any episodes of the Disney animated television series, so I didn’t do what to expect. Disney Mickey Mouse executive producer Paul Rudish is as much a fan of Disney comics as anyone. The show tries to bring us the sillier side of the courageous, feisty, resourceful Mickey while maintaining his adventurous side. The result is some of the wildest Mickey cartoons since his black-and-white days and these comics adaptations of the cartoons are just as wild.

In just the first issue of the comics series, we see Mickey trying to win a dog show, commuting in Japan, dealing with Donald Duck’s comical foot injury, attending a soccer match and striving to have a romantic evening with Minnie. In the second issue, in addition to stories involving pandas, a fish and a double date with Donald and Daisy, we get “Potatoland,” a hilarious road trip tale that speaks to how much Mickey’s (and Donald’s) friends mean to them. It’s my favorite of these “shorts” stories to date and one I think worthy of, at least, a nomination in next year’s awards.

Pulp adventure, god-like heroes and villains, the most famous mouse of all. The variety available to today’s readers is nothing short of staggering. What a great time to be a fan.

That’s all for this column. I’ll be back next week with something a little different. I think you’ll enjoy it.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #176

One of my goals for the rest of this year is to catch up on all of the DC Comics movies, TV shows and animated features. My viewing of these will be erratic because I haven’t yet found the chronological listing – if such a list exists – that would allow me to exercise my OCD and watch them in order of release. Some whose own OCD takes a more active form than mine should prepare such a list and send it to me. Believe me, I would herald that individual’s greatness in a future installment of this column.

Batman: Bad Blood [Warner Bros. Animation/DC Comics; approximately $13] came to me through my local library. The 2016 direct-to-video release was directed by Jay Oliva who’s helmed many other animated features and worked as a storyboard artist on various live-action films. He’s got chops. It was written by J.M. DeMatteis, writer of countless comic books as well as many episodes of both animated and live-action. Okay, you probably could count all the comic books he has written, but you’d be counting for two or three days.

The bare bones Internet Movie Database summary of the feature goes exactly like this:

Bruce Wayne is missing. Alfred covers for him while Nightwing and Robin patrol Gotham City in his stead. And a new player, Batwoman, investigates Batman’s disappearance.

That summary is close enough for government work, but leaves out a number of salient points. The feature includes the origins of both Batwoman and Batwing with a teaser shot of another hero at the end of the film. It also has somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen super-villains, including the Electrocutioner, Tusk, Firefly, the Mad Hatter, the Calculator, Killer Moth and more. I’m hoping that a whole bunch of comics writers and artists got some money for the appearances of their creations.

The voice actors include Jason O’Mara as Batman, Yvonne Strahovski as Batwoman, Stuart Allan doing a darn fine job as Damian Wayne, Morena Baccarin, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Ernie Hudson (who I really want to work with some day because he’s my favorite Ghostbuster) and others. There is nary a false note among all these talented performers.

Wanting to avoid spoilers, all I’ll say about Batman: Bad Blood is that I enjoyed it. It threw some surprises at me. It had some real character growth. I’m adding it to my Amazon Wish List because I’d like to watch it again sometime and share it with others. It’s my pick of the week.

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camp-midnight

Camp Midnight by Steven T. Seagle and artist Jason Adam Katzenstein [Image Comics; $16.99] is the creepy, funny and ultimately moving story of what a young girl named Skye did on her summer vacation. Her parents are divorced, her dad’s new wife doesn’t seem to like her and she just got on the wrong bus for summer camp. Which takes her to a camp where activities don’t start until midnight and where all the other kids are monsters. Chalk up a win for Free Comic Book Day because it was the free excerpt of this graphic novel that got me to seek out the full edition.

Skye’s afraid to let the other campers know she’s an ordinary human being. Mia, the first friend Skye makes at the camp, doesn’t want anyone to know what she really is. So, alongside the creepy stuff and the funny stuff, we also get some not-remotely-preachy lessons about being yourself and standing up for yourself. The targeted age range for this book is 9-12, but it’s smart enough to be enjoyed my older readers. Even dinosaurs like me.

Seagle’s writing is sharp and his characters come alive in dialogue that never “sounds” wrong to me. Katzenstein’s art – his cartoons have appeared in Newsweek and The New Yorker – isn’t typical comics stuff, but it flows nicely and tells the story well. This could be a contender for next year’s awards.

I like Camp Midnight a lot. It should be in every public and school library that wants to build a graphic novel collection for readers of all ages. It would be a terrific gift for younger readers and, for that matter, older ones. Definitely recommended.

ISBN 978-1-63215-555-9

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captain-science

Roy Thomas Presents Captain Science [$69.99] is the latest vintage comics collection from the UK’s PS Artbooks. Originally published by Youthful Magazines, the volume reprints all seven issues of the title from November 1954 to July 1955.

Captain Science is a brilliant scientist who is given the advanced scientific knowledge of a dying race and an electronic brain that can alert him to any threat to our world. He’s joined in this fight by the young, very rich Rip Gary and the lovely Luana, who turned against her evil father to help the good Captain save our planet. It’s a fairly typical group of heroes with the somewhat troubling sidebar that Rip was mentally conditioned by an alien to devote his wealth to the service of Captain Science.

Each issue has two stories of the Captain and two other stories. An interplanetary detective named Brant Craig appears in most issues. Captain Science’s villains are evil alien conquerors and the gooey monsters who love them. Brant mostly brings criminals to justice. As for the non-series stories, they are often the best story in an issue. Some notable examples: “When Time Stood Still,” “The Glower of Death,” “The Hangman’s Son,” and the amazing “World War III with the Ants.” That last one could and should be expanded into a full-length graphic album, a novel or even a movie.

The writers of these comic books have not yet been identified, but the artist roster includes Wally Wood, Walter Johnson, Don Perlin, Gustav Schrotter, Joe Orlando, Myron Fass and Harry Harrison. The book also features a foreword by editor Thomas.

With issue #8, the name of the title changed to Fantastic. The last two Captain Science stories and the last Brant Craig adventure ran in that issue, but are not included in this hardcover. Fantastic ended with issue #9, which had four non-series anthology stories. I’m hoping PS Artbooks reprints those two issues of Fantastic in a near-future collection.

You know the drill on these PS Artbooks volumes. Though all of the reprinted comic books might not be classic, the books are wonderful additions to our comics library. In this case, fans of Wally Wood and Joe Orlando will want the bool for their artwork.

Captain Science was good fun. On that basis, along with the afore-mentioned historical value, I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-84863-956-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #175

Black Lightning. Before we get to this week’s reviews, I should say a few words to the three or four comics fans who somehow have not seen the latest news about the character I created for DC Comics. I’ll try to keep these remarks brief because, even at 65 years of age, I think people should try new things.

DC Entertainment has received a pilot commitment from Fox on Black Lightning. This means – and I hope I have this right – DC will be making a pilot for a Black Lightning TV series. If Fox loves this pilot, Black Lightning will get his show. This commitment is due to the hard work of Greg Berlanti, show runners Mara and Salim Akil, and Geoff Johns, who is a hero to the Isabella family.

I’ve spoken with Mara and Salim. We got along famously. Their take on Black Lightning is well within what I consider the core values of my creation. I’m excited about their plans.

For reasons that should be obvious to those of you have been around this rodeo for a few years, I’m not going to be able to say a lot about the show going forward. Or about other Black Lightning stuff. I’ll tell you what I can when I can. For example:

There will be more Black Lightning announcements coming. I believe you will like them as much as I do.

And now, this week’s reviews…

garfield

For several years now, KaBoom!, a division of Boom Entertainment, has been publishing original Garfield comic books based on the Jim Davis comic strip that is a favorite around the world and here at Casa Isabella. Don and Maggie Thompson introduced me to Garfield way back in 1980 when Ballantine Books published the first of over 60 collections of the strip. I loved the format of the book and I loved the strip itself. Garfield has been a daily part of my life ever since.

I prefer my Garfield comic books like Garfield prefers his lasagna: in big delicious chunks. Garfield Volume Four [July 2014; $13.99] was my latest mirthful meal. It collects material from Garfield Pet Force Special #1 and Garfield #13-16. The stories are written by Mark Evanier, who is one of my favorite writers and oldest friends, and Scott Nickel, whose comic strip Eek! is also a favorite of your friendly neighborhood tipster. Art is by Gary Barker with Mark and Stephanie Heike, Andy Hirsch, Courtney Bernard and Genevieve Ft. As I will be saying many nice things about Evanier, let me assure you my reviews aren’t influenced by my friendships for those whose work I write about. Mark has never once paid me to say nice things about him. He has me on a retainer. Drum roll.

“Pet Force” cats Garfield, Odie, Nermal and Arlene as super-heroes. In a story by Nickel, the team is disbanded under the influence of the emotion-controlling Hater. In a second story by Evanier, based somewhat on his experiences with shady contractors, the team faces a cosmic, world-destroying contractor. These tales are a very funny parody of super-hero comics.

But it’s the purer Garfield stories I love best, the stories that, despite starring a sentient cat, deal with real-life things like diets, cranky neighbors, lateness, self-esteem, inflated ego, cut-throat business competition and such. Evanier has a knack for this kind of story and his artists do fine work visualizing them.

Garfield Volume 4 is my pick of the week. Not only was it big fun to kick back and enjoy it from cover to cover, but it featured the kind of comics I read a second time to study how Evanier and crew made the stories work. The entire KaBoom! Garfield series gets my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-60886-392-1

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dc-finals-crisis

DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis [$9.99] by Shea Fontana with art by Yancey Labat is a 128-page, 6″ by 9″ original graphic novel for readers 8-12 years old. It’s based on the animated series that has been an online sensation since it first launched.

In this corner of the DC Multiverse, Super Hero High is where the teen versions of heroes and villains go to learn how to use their abilities effectively. The principal is Amanda Waller with Gorilla Grodd as her vice-president. The main characters include Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Bumblebee, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Katana and others. It’s an amusing concept that can be enjoyed by younger and older readers alike.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

That said, I was disappointed in this particular adventure. While preparing for their finals, the young heroines are kidnapped, one by one, by a mysterious villain whose identity will not fool comic-book readers in the least. The girls defeat this villain by working together, a sweet little moral that ignores the fact that, even at this early stage in their training, every one of these young women should have been able to beat the bad guy by themselves. The moral drove the story and that hurt the story.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER

DC Super Hero Girls is worth checking out. Even a flawed book like this one, it still entertaining.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6247-1

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world-of-archie

World of Archie Double Digest #61 [$4.99] is the new issue of the only Archie Comics title I still collect. I read a few of Archie’s standard-size comics like Archie, Jughead and The Black Hood, but the company just doesn’t speak to me as it did for so many years. No pun intended, the vileness that is Afterlife with Archie was the final nail in that particular coffin.

When I say I collect World of Archie Double Digest, that’s exactly what I mean. I have all 61 issues. I started collecting it because it was reprinting classic comics like Cosmo the Merry Martian and the pre-Pussycats Josie. It threw in some oddball stuff like Young Dr. Masters and Seymour, My Son. I kept collecting it even after it ran out of that material because it was still reprinting fun stuff by writers Frank Doyle and George Gladir – my two favorite Archie writers – and great artists like Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg, Harry Lucey and others.

The title has seen better days, but it still has enough of the good stuff to keep me buying.

The high points this time out are the second chapter of a spy spoof by Tom DeFalco, a fun “Reggie gets his comeuppance” story written and drawn by Al Hartley, the usual fun scripts by Doyle and Gladir, and an “Archie 1″ tale – the Riverdale kids in prehistoric times – that ends on a pun that made me groan in delight. In the past, I’ve recommended classic Archie comic books as a terrific change of pace from the grim and grittiness of so many super-hero comics. I still think World of Archie Double Digest works in that regard. Check it out sometime, especially if you can get hold of one of the earlier issues.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #174

First up today is the frankly disappointing Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 6 [Fantagraphics; $39.99]. The hardcover book collects 38 Ditko-drawn stories that were originally published by Charlton comic books dated 1958 and 1959. My disappointment doesn’t lie with the volume itself, but rather with the substandard stories presented therein.

Blake Bell’s introduction is informative, but his critical praise of Ditko’s work on these stories strikes me as excessive. But his historical insights and his inclusion of pages Ditko drew when he once again started getting work at Marvel helps put these stories in context.

Ditko rarely seems inspired by the stories reprinted here and that shows in his mostly journeyman art on them. It’s also quite likely Charlton’s notoriously low rates played a factor. Sometimes, then and now, the art of the comics art form takes a back seat to more mundane financial considerations.

There are, as you would expect, flashes of Ditko brilliance. “The Time Chamber” has a large final panel “shot” through a window and it’s stunning. Even some of the more minimalist art has a certain cleverness in Ditko’s execution of the drab stories he was given to illustrate.  Given how poorly written and often wildly unfocused the stories are, I’m not about to fault Ditko for not doing more with them. The story comes first and, if that’s not there, even if the art looks great, the story still falls flat. Great comics have both great stories and great art.

Some of the best writing and art in this volume is in the stories starring Black Fury. The mighty steed belongs to Rocky Lane, cowboy star of many movies and TV shows. Apparently, horse and man have a long-distance relationship. Lane himself only appears in one of the Black Fury stories. In any case…

Ditko seems somewhat energized by these western assignments. Though I can’t speak to the accurate of the horse anatomy, there is both beauty and power in Ditko’s depictions of Black Fury. The stories are also better written than most of the sci-fi efforts included in this volume.

The back cover blurb claims the sci-fi stories “tapped into Middle America’s fears and aspirations during the 1950s Cold War era and the beginning of the space race with Soviet Russia.” This is a bit of an exaggeration, but worth discussing. While the volume has some of the knee-jerk jingoism that would become more common at Charlton and other publishers during the 1960s, there are also stories which clearly oppose aggression from both the United States and Russia, or their otherworldly counterparts. That nuance would fade from the Charlton comics in the 1960s.

The bottom line is that Ditko is one of the most important creators to have worked in comic books. My disappointment in these reprinted efforts doesn’t change their historical importance because, at his best or at his most mundane, Ditko remains a key figure in comics. His work, even this work, needs to be available to today’s comics historians and readers.

I recommend Outer Limits to avid Ditko fans and also to those whose interests lie more with comics history in general. Bell is likely limited to reprinting public domain comic books, but wouldn’t it be sell if Marvel and other publishers either granted reprint rights to this dedicated history or published their own volumes showcasing the entirety of Ditko’s work for them? I would happily make room on my bookcases for such volumes.

ISBN 978-1-60699-916-5

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aa

Ever since I started writing comic books, I’ve been extraordinarily fond of what Don and Maggie Thompson deemed “done-in-one” stories. As comic books, especially super-hero comic books, shifted to story arcs and serials, the art of telling a satisfying super-hero tale in one standard-length issue became something of a lost art. While done-in-one comics never faded entirely, they became somewhat rare. These days, when I come across issues that tell a satisfying tale that can stand alone, when those issues are as well done as those I’ll be writing about in this column, I rejoice.

A+A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #5 [Valiant; $3.99] is one such done-in-one delight. It is the story of the first date of martial artist Archer and the super-heroine Faith and I suspect it had me grinning from start to finish.

The current ongoing A+A story has the immortal Armstrong searching for the equally immortal wife he forgot he had. While the friends await new leads, with encouragement from Armstrong, Archer decides to ask Faith out on a date. The two young heroes have had a mostly online friendship for some time. Their date is amusing in places, heartwarming in others and mildly action-packed for the few pages in which they’re attacked by criminals who call themselves the Loan

Sharks and who wear shark costumes that aren’t nearly as stylish as those of Left Shark and Right Shark. Yeah, it’s goofy, but, really, isn’t young love always goofy when you do it right?

The story was written by Rafer Roberts who, assisted by the “What Has Gone Before” content on the inside front cover, does a terrific job making the issue accessible to new readers without being real obvious about it. Penciler Mike Norton provides smooth visuals and storytelling. The human stuff is very real, the super-hero stuff is realistically dynamic. Colorist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Dave Sharpe also do fine work here. This is a swell comic book on every level. I loved it and I recommend it.

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scarlet-witch

There’s a lot going on in Marvel’s Scarlet Witch. As seen in Doctor Strange and other Marvel titles, magic and witchcraft are broken. In addition, Wanda Maximoff has met her real mother and is trying to learn more about her. However, in the midst of all this ongoing inner turmoil and multidimensional peril, Scarlet Witch #8 [$3.99] by James Robinson with art by Tula Lotay is a downright wonderful done-in-one story of Wanda telling her therapist what’s weighing on her mind lately. There is magic in the story and there is serious self-reflection and there is a surprise which absolutely delighted me for a reason I can’t say without spoiling said surprise. This is a really great comic book.

In a fictional universe laboring under one ill-considered “event” after another, at a comics publisher who routinely uses the deaths of characters as a marketing tool, at a company engaged in childish pettiness over its movie rights, Scarlet Witch #8 is a sensational done-in-one issue. That’s why I’m naming Scarlett Witch #8 as this week’s pick of the week.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella