TONY’S TIPS #190

Welcome to 2017, which will certainly be the most challenging year of my lifetime and for many, if not most of us. We who make comics and would stand against bigotry, dishonesty, sexism, xenophobia, zealotry and the lawlessness of the rich and the powerful in their unending pursuit of even greater wealth and power, we can and must do what artists have always done. We can use our art to challenge the rich and powerful, and to give comfort and support to those who are victimized by them. In the words of the sainted Harvey Pekar, “You can do anything with comics.”

Comics creators have the great power to reveal the human condition at its best and at its worst, and, in doing so be a force of change for the better. In this scary new year, more than ever, “with great power, there must also come great responsibility!”

I think I read that in a comic book.

On to this week’s reviews…

3 Devils by Bo Hampton with colorist Jeremy Mohler [IDW; $19.99] is a “supernatural western.” It reprints the first four issues of what I hope is an ongoing series. Its title heroes sound like the start of a joke: “a young Romani woman, a zombie and a werewolf walk into a bar…”

Tara, the Romani woman, is a child when she witnesses her father, brother and mother slaughtered by a vampire and his human henchmen. Marcus is a zombie with free will who is perhaps immortal. Though he says he has no soul, something about Tara speaks to something within him. Oliver is a sideshow freak who happens to be an actual werewolf. He joins the now-grown-into-young-womanhood Tara on her quest to find the vampire and avenge her family.

Sidebar. Set in the Old West as this story is, Tara is called and refers to herself as a “gypsy.” I take no exception with that; it’s historically accurate. However, writing these words today, I will use the word “Romani” throughout this and future reviews.

Hampton is a one-time collaborator of mine and a friend. He drew a Moon Knight story of mine back in 1983 or thereabouts. I’ve been a fan of his work – writing and drawing – ever since. This collection of 3 Devils #1-4 is solid on all fronts. A cracking good story and art that adapts to the needs of the action, the human drama and the supernatural spookiness. Mohler’s color work is every bit as good. If you like a good dose of scary with your western action, this is the trade paperback for you. I loved it and recommend it to all of you. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1631406980

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clean-room

Gail Simone’s Clean Room is unnerving and a half. I read an issue, think I’ve got it figured out, then the next issue hits me with a scary surprise I didn’t see coming. I read the first six issues as they came out and then reread them in Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception [$14.99]. I think the series works best when read in big chunks. But I digress.

In this opening volume by Simone and artist Jon Davis-Hunt, we’re introduced to the two strong women. Astrid Mueller is the founder of the Honest World Foundation, which feels more than a little like a cult and will make you shiver. Chloe Pierce is a reporter whose fiancé was a devoted Mueller follower until he blew his brains out. Sudden and shocking death turns out to be something fairly common around the Foundation. What these two women have in common is that they see things most other people can’t see. That awful knowledge is what drives their conflict and uneasy alliance.

Simone has created lots of interesting supporting characters with some of them being so likeable the reader worries about what will happen to them. Davis-Hunt, who also colors Clean Room with Quinton Winter, draws distinctive characters. His storytelling is spot on, as is ability to portray both the most human and the most horrific moments.

Clean Room is one of the best new comics of the decade. The second volume of the collected series, reprinting issues #7-12, should be available at fine comic-book shops and bookstores everywhere. You should embrace this series, shivers and all.

Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception

ISBN 978-1-4012-6275-4

Clean Room Vol. 2: Exile

ISBN 978-1-4012-6740-7

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harrow-county-1

Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Cook [Dark Horse; $14.99] is described as a “southern gothic fairy tale” in its back-cover blurb. Collecting the first four issues of the ongoing comic-book series, this first volume introduces us to young Emmy, who is more than she initially appears to be, and takes us to the back-woods Harrow County. The location is a key character in the story, every bit as disturbing as any of the creatures Emmy and the reader will meet. It’s a place where things have just not been right for a long time.

Because so much of the fun of reading this book comes from making discoveries alongside Emmy, I’m going to refrain from telling you anything else about the story. I will say Bunn’s writing is smooth, filled with emotion and suspense. Crook’s art suits both the human drama and…the other stuff.

I was introduced to Harrow County via a free Halloween ComicFest comic book, which, of course, the point of free special event comic books. There are three more Harrow County collections at this time and I plan to read all of them.

Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints

ISBN 978-1-61655-780-5

Harrow County Volume 2: Twice Told

ISBN 978-1-61655-900-7

Harrow County Volume 3: Snake Doctor

ISBN 978-1-50670-071-7

Harrow County Volume 4: Family Tree (due in February)

ISBN 978-1-50670-141-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #189

Walt Disney Presents Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Volume One 1932 to 1935 [IDW; $49.99] was about as far away from an impulse buy for me as it could have been. The “star” of this first volume is Bucky Bug, a character whose appearances in comic books always left me cold. You see, the Bucky Bug stories were always in rhyme with poetry so bad it was almost a crime.

What changed my mind? The cover appealed to me. The visual designs of Bucky and girlfriend June Bug are welcoming. Dean Mullaney, the editor and co-designer of The Library of American Comics, creates beautiful books that are handsomely made and packed with comics and informative essays.

Written by Earl Duvall, Ted Osborne and Merrill DeMaris, the Bucky Bug comic strips are exciting adventures, a coming-of-age tale of a plucky young bug discovering and making his way in a vast world. Bucky goes a’wandering, starts a business, meets a girl, leads an army to victory, reconnects with his parents and takes the reader to a satisfying conclusion of his story. The rhyming in these comic strips is much better than that in the comic books. I found myself reading the strip out loud, albeit only when no one was around but my cat Simba. She seemed to enjoy this, but, you know, cats. Who can tell for sure?

Drawn by the deservedly legendary Al Taliaferro, the comic strips were loosely based on the Silly Symphonies cartoons. Following the Bucky Bug tales, we get six more stories, including the comic-strip debut of Donald Duck. From the impulsive youngster of “Birds of a Feather” to the shark-fighting hero of “Penguin Isle” and the very trippy “Cookieland,” these are fun comics. I love this volume and, when I buy the second volume, it won’t be an impulse buy. I know a treasure when I see it.

Silly Symphonies Volume One is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1631405587

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kitaro

Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro has become one of my favorite characters in comics, manga or otherwise. The one-eyed lad – yes, it looks like he has two eyes, but the bulging eye is actually the spirit of his father – is the last member of the Ghost Tribe of yokai or spirit-monsters. He has inherited all the powers of the Tribe, using them to assist humans and others who have been attacked or victimized by evil yokai.

The Birth of Kitaro [Drawn and Quarterly; $12.95] recounts the tale of Kitaro’s birth and presents six other stories of the courageous boy’s battles with evil yokai. Featured in several stories is his sometimes friend and sometimes foe Nezumi Otoko, whose schemes to attain worldly wealth always backfire on him.

Kitaro is a popular figure in Japanese folklore whose origins seem to predate Mizuki’s manga. But the Mizuki version of the character, which he wrote and drew for fifty years, is easily the most beloved of them all. The Mizuki adventures are lighthearted, but they have an excitement and sense of wonder to them that would appeal to fans of the traditional super-hero comics of the 1960s if they gave them a chance. Kitaro is one of a very small handful of manga characters I’d like to write.

In addition to the manga stories, The Birth of Kitaro also includes an informative piece on the history of Kitaro by Zack Davisson, a “Yokei Files” piece by Davisson and eight pages of puzzles to test the reader’s yokei knowledge.

Amazon lists the age range for The Birth of Kitaro as 12-15, but I think it can be enjoyed by younger and older readers as well. If I had reviewed it before Christmas, I would have recommended it as a cool stocking stuffer, but the book would be a swell gift for any occasion. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-77046-228-1

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death-of-x

I became a Marvel kid in the 1960s and mostly stayed that way for the next few decades, even when I was writing for DC and some other publishers. These days, the two companies often change places in my estimation. Right now, courtesy of DC’s “Rebirth” whatever it is – “reboot” doesn’t seem to cover it – I’m enjoying more DCU titles. But I still enjoy a great many Marvel titles as well.

If Marvel has fallen to second place in my ranking of the Big Two, it’s because the company’s “big event” storylines are nihilistic and damaging to characters I loved. Captain America is turned into a virtual Nazi. Other characters are slaughtered for shock value. Relationships are broken. Unconquerable Wakanda gets conquered on three separate occasions. I find reading these stories unpleasant, even when they contain the germ of a good concept.

Case in point: the Inhumans/X-Men War. Even though it was clearly driven by a executive hissy-fit over cinema rights, the notion of Marvel’s two races of super-powered beings at odds with one another is intriguing.

I sat down to read the recent Death of X #1-4 mini-series, wherein the agendas of the Inhumans and the mutants clash to deadly effect. The Inhumans hold the Terrigen Clouds, the gaseous substance that triggers change in latent Inhumans, sacred. Those same clouds have been proven deadly to mutants.

Written by Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule with pencil art by Aaron Kuder and Javier Garron, Death of X has the Inhumans determined to defend the Terrigen Clouds while trying to assist some of the X-Men in finding a cure for its deadly effect on mutants. Other mutants, notable a faction led by Cyclops and Emma Frost, are determined to destroy the clouds forever.

The Cyclops of the current Marvel Universe is a stranger to me. I haven’t enjoyed the paths he has taken. But he’s not wrong in his desire to protect his fellow mutants by destroying the Clouds. Nor are Medusa and the Inhumans wrong in wanting to preserve the only means of adding to their numbers. That nuanced conflict made this series work for me. Enough so that I’ll be checking out subsequent comics in this ongoing event.

The four issues of Death of X should be available from your local comics shop or online. A trade paperback collection [$17.99] will be published in March. Worth checking out.

ISBN 978-1302903374

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This is the last “Tony’s Tips” of 2016. I want to wish my readers a happy new year, even though I realize that year is terrifying for readers who, by virtue of their gender, race, religion, sexuality, nationality and progressive beliefs were demonized and threatened by the President-Elect and his followers. The only consolation that I can offer these readers is that many of us, perhaps the majority of us, stand with you. We’ll be there for you for the simple reason that we are all stronger together.

Always forward…to 2017 and beyond.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #188

Weighing in at 6.3 pounds and 1152 pages, Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125] reprints issues #1-18 of the 1970s black-and-white magazine, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Special #1, and the all-article The Deadliest Heroes of Kung Fu #1. It also has three new introductions by Gerry Conway, Doug Moench and my own bad self. Conway created the Sons of the Tiger feature, Moench wrote more Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu stories than any other writer and I edited several issues of the title.

Because they are such beautiful and impressive volumes, I tend to get a little teary when I write about these omnibus books. That’s partly because holding them is like a religious experience for this comics guy who never dreamed such wonders could exist back when I was working on magazines like Deadly Hands of Kung Fu…and partly because I usually manage to drop them on my foot while I’m trying to read them. In the right (or wrong) hands, these omnibus volumes are deadly weapons.

My introduction focuses on the text articles we ran in Deadly Hands because our budget only allowed for maybe half of our overall page count to be comics stories. While finances might have been the most pressing reason for the use of these pieces, all of us who worked on them were enamored at producing something that was an honest-to-gosh magazine and not just a big comic book. We strived to come up with creative topics and presentations. Looking back on them today, I’m impressed. These issues look better than their low budgets and too tight deadlines should have allowed.

I didn’t get to write about the comics stories, but readers fondly remember them with good cause. We saw early work of great creators like Moench, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Chris Claremont, George Perez, Mike Vosburg, Rudy Nebres, Keith Pollard, Keith Giffen and others, appearing alongside veterans like Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano, Don Perlin and Judomaster co-creator Frank McLaughlin. All behind tremendous covers by Neal Adams, Bob Larkin, Earl Norem, Luis Dominguez, Nick Cardy and Harold Shull. I was thrilled to have been able to work with so many of these fine talents and, even allowing for my occasionally inept editing, proud of what we all did on these magazines.

While Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 doesn’t come cheap, you’ll be amply rewarded for your purchase with hours, nay, days and weeks of entertaining reading. I recommend it to fans of the martial arts genre, to us aging children of the 1970s, and to younger readers who will be astonished to discover these legendary comics magazines of the past.

ISBN 978-1-302-90133-2

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rosalie-lightning

As cool as the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu book is, this week, there is only one possible choice for my pick of the week. It’s cartoonist Tom Hart’s heartbreaking Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir [St. Martin’s Press; $19.99]. It’s the real-life drama of the death of Hart’s young daughter, and his and his wife’s journey to find a way of coping with that unimaginable loss. It has been justly praised by comics creators and critics for its honesty, beauty and bravery. As a parent myself, my heart sunk deep into my gut as I read this amazing work and didn’t feel right for many days after I finished it. Great comics have the power to touch the soul. This is one of the greatest of this or any other year.

Young as she is, Rosalie emerges as the most complete character of this memoir. We get to know her well and feel, if only from afar, the agony of her loss. Hart’s world doesn’t seem complete without her. His and his wife’s sometimes desperate search for something to make their lives whole again is simultaneously heroic and tragic. I actually hugged this book more than once.

During the events of this memoir, the Harts moved from New York and put their apartment up for sale. The housing market was down. One realtor bailed on them. The co-op board refused to let them sell at a price it considered too low. They were very nearly broke. So does the uncaring world refuse to give suffering people a respite from their sorrow. Instead, it piles on. I know the sheer frustration of such things and the manifest unfairness of having to deal with them when your heart has been shattered.

I can’t be objective about Rosalie Lightning. It hits me in so many places where it hurts. But it also allows for light or, at least, the possibility of light. This book is great comics and it is also great literature. It needs to be in the collection of every serious devotee of our comics art form.

ISBN 978-1-250-04994-0

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black-magick

Black Magick Volume 1: Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott [Image; $9.99] collects the first five issues of the ongoing series about Rowan Black, a police detective who is also a witch. Veteran readers of my writings will recall I love cop stories, especially when they are combined with elements of science fiction, super-heroes or the supernatural. I was hoping to enjoy this new series and Rucka and Scott didn’t disappoint me.

That the writing and art were first-rate didn’t surprise me. That the story threw some unexpected chills and developments was to be expected from these talented creators. Were I so inclined, I could gush about the intriguing characters and everything else wonderful about this trade paperback. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all of you. But…

What I really want to gush over is the back cover copy on the trade paperback. It’s one of the best sales pitches I’ve read in a very long time. Here it is…

SOMETHING WICCAN THIS WAY COMES.

Rowan Black knows:
the scent of a body burned at the stake the power of a murderer’s severed left hand the danger of blood spilled on stone beneath the new moon.

Rowan Black is a witch.

Rowan Black knows:
that a badge is worth exactly as much as the person carrying it that motive is overrated that you always watch your partner’s back.

Rowan Black is a cop.

She knows something else.

She knows magic is real.

The problem is, somebody else knows it, too.

Damn! That’s an irresistible come-on. I can’t wait for the second volume.

Here’s wishing my readers here and elsewhere, comics retailers all across this great world of ours, and my fellow comics professionals the happiest of holidays and the merriest of Christmases. We face some enormous challengers in 2017, but our art and our friends can get us through them and help us work to make a better world. We’ll always be stronger together.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #187

Imagine you’re a comic book-reading child of the 1960s and getting a little bored and/or uneasy about that. There’s a sameness to so many of the comics you’re reading. Some adults in your life express concern that you’re still reading those things. Being a smart kid, probably because you’ve read so many comic books, you have already figured out that your comic-book collection is not an attraction to those cute girls in your class.

Imagine you discover the revolutionary comic books of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, followed shortly thereafter by things like Jim Warren’s Creepy. Imagine those comic books set a creative fire under publishers like DC and, suddenly, their comic books are getting interesting again. The boredom and the doubts disappear in a blast of Kirby Krackle.

Imagine, as you enter the 1970s and your kind of sort of adulthood, that comics get even more interesting. That you start communicating with other comics fans and even comics professionals. That a dream of working in comics starts becoming less a dream and more a goal.

Imagine you do start working in the comics industry at a time when your beloved super-heroes are being joined by comic books starring martial artists, monsters and even a sarcastic duck. Imagine a time when it appears there are no limits to what can and does appear in comic books. Super-heroes may dominate from time to time, but they will never again be the whole show.

Imagine your reading of comic books becomes more work-oriented and that you no longer have time to read every comic that crosses your path. You skip issues. You only glance at some titles. You figure you’ll get the time to read them when you retire.

Imagine you work in the comics industry for over four decades. You work in all areas of the industry. You get married and raise a nice family. You realize you’re never going to retire because, even if you did retire, you love what you do too much to seriously consider not doing it.

Imagine you suddenly realize you’re an adult. Trust me, that can be a horrifying experience. But, wait, there’s an upside to getting to be that old. It’s called your second childhood.

Imagine you’ve had a couple of pretty good years. Imagine some of the comics you loved from the past or always wished you had time to read are now available in handsome hardcover omnibus editions that could crush your skull if they ever fell off a bookshelf.

Imagine you found a seller of these wondrous volumes offering them at really terrific discounts. Imagine you convince yourself you’ve been a good boy and can buy a bunch of them without feeling guilty about it. Imagine you have a forklift to carry them to your office.

You have just imagined my life. Indeed, if I had to describe it and taking into account the season, I would go so far as to say it’s a wonderful life. I know you saw what I did there.

Over the past months, I’ve bought at least seven omnibus editions and a couple of Marvel’s epic collection softcovers. Most of them were purchased from InStockTrades [www.instocktrades.com] because they offer great prices, deliver outstanding service, and because they are the official sponsors of “Tony’s Tips” at Tales of Wonder. When I buy stuff from InStock, I help pay myself. When you buy from InStock, you get those same great deals and service, and you help to pay me. I’m pretty sure that it also makes both Jesus and Santa smile, but I would never be so presumptuous as to state that as a fact. Though it probably is.

The reason I said “at least” is because I only counted the volumes I could see as I looked around my office. Think Tokyo after a visit from Godzilla. I once called Marvel’s Damage Control to clean up my office and they refused the job because a) they’re only human and b) they don’t actually exist. Except – This is between you and me, okay? – they really do.

In alphabetical order, these are the books I can see as I cast my eyes around the Hoary Home Office of Isabella:

Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage [$34.99]

ISBN 978-1-302-90190-5

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 [$75]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9924-3

Gotham Central Omnibus [$99.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-6192-4

Howard The Duck Omnibus [$99.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-3023-9

Iron Fist Epic Collection: The Fury of Iron Fist [$39.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9164-3

Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125]

ISBN 978-1-302-90129-5

Star Wars: The Complete Marvel Years Omnibus Vol. 3 [$125]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9346-3

The Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 1 [$99.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-8566-6

Werewolf by Night Omnibus [$125]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9908-3

I had different reasons for buying all of these. In the case of Don McGregor’s Black Panther stories, I want to read them once again to explore the signature work of one of the most individual writers in comics history. This book will go on my night stand to be read an issue a day. Not gonna rush through those comics.

I would have bought the Doctor Strange Omnibus eventually because I want to get the first volumes of all the Marvel series I grew up with in the 1960s. I got it sooner rather than later because that new Doctor Strange movie has restored my interest in the character. Throughout 2017, I’ll read as many other Doctor Strange collections as I can get my hands on.

Gotham Central Omnibus was an impulse buy. I’ve read all the issues and enjoyed them up to the point when one of the characters turned into the Spectre. But the entire run is worth a second reading and that will likely follow the Black Panther book.

Howard the Duck? Can you ever get enough Steve Gerber comic books? I don’t think so. As for the stories not written by my dear friend Steve, I either ignored or merely skimmed them when they first came out. This time around, I’ll read them.

I bought the Iron Fist book for two reasons. It reprints the three issues I did with artist Arvell Jones, one of which introduced the magnificent Misty Knight. But I’ve often said Chris Claremont did the heavy lifting on the character and I look forward to re-reading his stories as well.

I enjoyed Shang-Chi in the 1970s, but I confess I didn’t read every issue of his book after I stepped down from being the editor of the black-and-white magazine The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Doug Moench did outstanding work in the title and now I have the time to enjoy them leisurely.

star-wars

I bought the third volume of Star Wars: The Complete Marvel Years Omnibus because, having read and enjoyed the first two volumes with their fine stories by Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, David Micheline and Jo Duffy, I wanted to read the rest of the title’s run. I had borrowed those first two from my library, but, for some reason, it never got the third one. When I saw it at a good price, I went for it. The Force is strong within those comics.

The Fantastic Four Omnibus, like the Doctor Strange Omnibus, is a must-have book for me. The Marvel comic books of the 1960s are why I’ve worked in comics industry for over four decades. I’m looking forward to rediscovering those classics.

werewolf-by-night

Werewolf by Night was one of those titles I mostly skimmed, despite all the great writers who contributed to the run: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich and Doug Moench. It will be fun to read these stories from the start and take my time with them.

These collections aren’t cheap, but they are definitely worthwhile. If your budget allows, any of them would make for an eye-opening gift for that comics fan you love.

As for me, I plan on buying them as long as I can. It won’t become a problem until the pile is taller than I am. I think I still have about four feet to go.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #186

I am the comics guy in my home city of Medina, Ohio. I’ve been the comics guy in a great many other places and situations as well. I suspect many of you have been the comics guy or gal in your city, neighborhood, office, school, what have you. I’m the comics guy in Medina because I have worked in comics for over four decades, but also because the local newspaper has written about me and my comics garage sales on several occasions.

When you’re the comics guy, people expect that you have seen every comics-related movie and that you saw them on the day they opened. They want to know what you thought of them before they take out the second mortgage that will allow them to go to the theater and watch the movie for themselves. I have Medina friends and neighbors who still feel betrayed because I never saw either Man of Steel (2013) or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I may or may not see them in the near future, but that’s another discussion.

I saw Doctor Strange (2016) nine days after it opened. I thought it was pretty darn sweet on several levels and wrote about it briefly in my “Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing.” In the interest of conserving my critical resources, here’s what I wrote there:

“[Though] part of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, it gave a self-contained story of a hero’s journey from self-centered egotist to selfless hero. Even when he’s playing a jerk, it’s easy to like actor Benedict Cumberbatch, but, by the end of this movie, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. Again.

“Rachel McAdams deserves credit for her understated but wonderful performance as Christine Palmer. She holds her own with such movie heavyweights as Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo).

“The special effects are spectacular and fill so much of the screen and running time that I was exhausted when I walked out of the theatre. The filmmakers did a great job bringing Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s imaginative drawings to cinematic life. But, without the flawed and yet glorious humanity that comes from co-creator Stan Lee’s contributions to the original comic, the movie would’ve been little more than a big light show. An awesome light show, to be sure, but just a light show. As always, it’s the human elements that make for a great super-hero comic book, movie or TV show.”

Doctor Strange isn’t available for purchase as a holiday gift, but the movie is still running in theaters. Take a “Marvel Magic” break from all the hustle and bustle of the season by taking someone you love to the film. Oh, yeah, and sit through all the end credits to see the extra scenes.

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doctor-strange-omnibus

If you’re an old-timer like me and feeling nostalgic for the early years of the Master of the Mystic Arts, or if you’ve come to Doctor Strange via the movie and want to learn more about him, there’s no better starting place than Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 [Marvel; $75]. This glorious 456-page hardcover book collects the original Doctor Strange stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Those classic adventures appeared in Strange Tales #110-111, Strange Tales #114-146, and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2.

As Dean Mullaney writes in his introduction, Doc Strange was unlike the other Marvel super-heroes. His stories started out as five-page episodes not unlike the anthology supernatural chillers that ran in titles like Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish before the coming of the super-heroes. Doc’s origin was a tight eight pages and, for most of his Strange Tales run, his adventures got ten pages and no more. But even the shorter stories introduced readers to amazing characters like the Ancient One, Baron Mordo, Nightmare, and, most especially the dreaded Dormammu. Lee gave a literary weight to the stories while Ditko used his art to created the weirdest worlds of all. With the coming of Dormammu, almost god-like in his power and wrath, Doctor Strange moved beyond his fellow Marvel super-heroes. His concerns were not with saving a city or a nation or even Earth itself. He had become the champion of everything, both the seen and the unseen.

True confession. Once I started being able to buy Strange Tales on a regular basis – it was harder to find every issue of my favorite comic books in the 1960s – I read the Doctor Strange stories before I read the cover-featured Human Torch stories.

In addition to all that Lee/Ditko excitement, this omnibus volume is packed with special features. Every cover, even if Doc Strange wasn’t prominent on them. Every letters page. Every reprint cover. A gallery of Doctor Strange pin-ups by some of the most astonishing artists to ever draw the Sorcerer Supreme. It doesn’t take a master magician to figure out Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 is this week’s pick of the week.

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 would also make a great gift for any old and new fan of the character. Don’t let the price scare you on account of InStock Trades, which sponsors this very column, always offers great prices on books like this. May the Vishanti watch over you and your loved ones at this happiest and most mystical time of the year.

ISBN 978-0-7851-9924-3

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scarlet-witch

In keeping with the “magic” theme of this week’s column, I want to share a few quick thoughts about Marvel’s Scarlet Witch #9 [$3.99]. As you can tell by the Civil War II logo David Aja has brilliantly tied into his cover art, this is a tie-in to the crossover event. That the crossover event bores the snot out of me is irrelevant to this mini-review because writer James Robinson actually uses this mandatory involvement to good effect.

Robinson is at his best here. He delivers a satisfying done-in-one story that ties in with what’s been going on in the series from the start, with the “magic crisis” shown in Doctor Strange and several other Marvel titles and with this new civil war between the Marvel heroes. Yet none of that overshadows the real story of this issue: a turning point in the relationship of siblings Wanda Maximoff and speedster brother Pietro aka Quicksilver.

Wanda’s position on the “civil war” between Captain Marvel and Tony Stark is well thought out, even though it’s a position I disagree with. Her position puts her into conflict with Pietro, which allows Robinson to examine the life-long conflicts between the siblings. Portrayed by artist Joelle Jones and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, that simmering pot explodes in emotionally-charged images that are nothing short of stunning.

Scarlet Witch #9 is a magnificent issue. It’s a fine example of how even “corporate” comic books can rank with the best of our medium. It should be recognized and praised as such.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #185

Maybe it’s the approaching holiday season, but I’m in such a great mood this week that I’m writing about not one, not two, but three picks of the week. Do you hear that, Santa? Is that worth another check in the “nice” column?

Mark Crilley’s Brody’s Ghost Collected Edition [Dark Horse Books; $24.99] gathers all six volumes of the supernatural thriller by the creator of Akiko and Miki Falls. The former is one of my all-time favorite comic-book series, one I used to read to my children when they were young enough to let me do that sort of thing. The latter is a love story with the heroine being a high school senior and the hero a young man with a secret. Crilley has also written books on drawing comics and manga. Simply put, he is one of the most skilled creators of our time.

Brody’s Ghost is a 600-page epic combining the search for a serial killer with a love story and supernatural action. Brody is having a bad life, losing his girlfriend, his job and even his home. But his world gets turned even more upside down when he sees a ghostly girl, gets recruited into her quest to bring the serial killer to justice and discovers he has hidden powers. The girl isn’t telling him everything, the killer is as mysterious and scary as any you’ve seen on shows like Criminal Minds and the powers, well, they might be pushing his former life even further away.

Manga is a big influence on Crilley’s work; he’s taught English in Fukushima, Japan, and Taiwan. But his mastery of the comic art form is evident in his instructional books and videos. Just as this epic adventure combines elements of several genres, Crilley brings all his diverse influences and skills to bear in this story. He creates characters that remain with you and puts them into situations that keep you on the edge of your seat.

As the holidays draw ever closer, I’m always considering whether or not the items I review here would make good gifts and for whom they would make good gifts. Brody’s Ghost strikes me as something that would appeal to manga fans and mystery fans alike. It’s not unlike a C.S.I. procedural if you switch the science for the supernatural. There are clues and they must be followed. Stick with this story. I assure you it will satisfy you and then some.

ISBN 978-1-61655-901-4

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tarzan

Tarzan is a classic character whose long existence has become more than a little problematic in today’s world. The “white jungle god” notion is often offensive. That Thomas Yates’ Tarzan: the Beckoning [Dark Horse Books; $19.99] avoids that pitfall is a credit to the writer/artist’s talents and sensibilities.

This is a Tarzan who is not the white jungle god of all Africa. He is a confident, powerful man who is more at home in Africa than he is anywhere else in the world. He is a man who moves through Africa with obvious respect for its people, its creatures and its wonders. He does not project himself as any kind of ruler, but as a man who follows the dictates of his conscience and would be a friend to all those of good character.

Yeates is no stranger to classic heroes, having worked on Zorro and Prince Valiant. In this collection of his seven-issue Tarzan series from 1992-93, the immortal hero and his equally immortal wife have been living in America and battling the illegal trade in ivory. Tarzan and the elephants of his African home have long shared an astonishing bond of friendship and, when he discovers the harvested tusks of his brothers, his rage is scarcely controllable. Thus we get an adventure with one foot planted firmly in the modern world of corporate greed and individual malice.

There’s more to the story. We learn how Tarzan and Jane came to be immortal. We see the machinations of a trickster god facing death. We enter a lost civilization. Yeates delivers action, romance and suspense. It’s a thrilling tale.

Tarzan: the Beckoning should be a pleasing gift to fans of Tarzan and his creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. It should also be a terrific gift for fans of Yeates, of which I am definitely one. That’s why it’s the second of this week’s three picks of the week.

ISBN 978-1-61655-981-6

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misty

Misty by Pat Mills and others [Rebellion; $19.99] gives us a look at the influential girls horror comic published in the U.K. shortly after the launch of 2000 AD. As Mills relates in his foreword, the girls comics always sold better than the boys comics. As for me, I have always been intrigued by and enjoyed the weekly format of such titles and still hope that, one day, I will get the opportunity to write for one of them.

The Shirley Bellwood cover is a alluring portrait of Misty herself, the host of the weekly. To be the best of my limited knowledge, Misty didn’t star in her own feature but introduced features within the title. The weekly ran for 101 issues from February 4, 1978 to January 12, 1980 before being incorporated into the longer-running Tammy. This sort of merger was common in British weeklies.

This trade paperback collects two serials. “Moonchild” by Mills and John Armstrong tells of Rosemary Black, a girl with strange powers and being raised by a mother driven by her own more earthly demons. Mills says it was inspired by Stephen King’s Carrie, but, compared to that classic work, it’s fairly tame. Still, Mills always comes through with a riveting story and this is no exception.

The book’s second and even better serial is “The Four Faces of Eve” by Malcolm Shaw with art by Brian Delaney. Eve Marshall is a girl with no memory of her past, a past deliberately hidden from her by her parents…and that’s all you’re getting from me because I don’t want to spoil even the slightest of the great twists and turns that await you in this story.

Who would be a good recipient of the gift of Misty? Besides me, who already has his copy? Comics historians curious about the British weeklies leap to mind as do devotees of romance comics, even though neither of these two serials includes a romantic element. It just seems to me like something romance fans would enjoy.

Here’s hoping Rebellion continues to mine the comics libraries they have acquired for more books like this one.

ISBN 978-1-78108-452-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #184

My pick of the week will come as no surprise to readers aware of my manic love for the seriously weird. Craig Yoe’s Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real! [IDW; $39.99] collects over two-dozen comics tales of the 1940s and 1950s starring some of the strangest super-heroes of all time. Where do I begin?

There’s the Hand, who is just that and nothing more, a disembodied hand that can increase its size in its wart against crime. There’s Captain Hadacol, the spokeshero for a muscle-building drink which was at least 12% alcohol. No wonder kids loved it!

Religious heroes are well represented by Kismet, the Man of Fate, who was likely the first Muslim super-hero in comic books, and the Deacon, who wore a priest’s outfit and had a young male sidekick. The famous Madam Fatal was a guy who dressed up like an old lady to beat the bejabbers out of bad guys. Rainbow Boy left a rainbow in his wake as he flew across the sky and could also mold his rainbows into objects. Jerry Siegel’s Nature Boy could request (not really command) the forces of nature to assist him against criminals and usually man-made menaces.

Yoe, who designed and edited this 328-page treasure, kicks things off with a fun, informative introduction. He also write intros for each of his super-hero assemblage. Captain Truth, who looked like a half-naked musketeer. Fantomah, the super-powered goddess whose head turned into a scary skull when he was really ticked off at the evil men she confronted. Kangaroo Man with his kangaroo sidekick. Yellowjacket, who fought crime with bees because he didn’t realize yellowjackets were wasps. Miss Liberty, who never appeared inside a comic book, just as a floating head shot in the logo of Miss Liberty Comics #1 and only.

Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real is enormous fun and would make a suitable gift for anyone who loves comics history, super-heroes or weird stuff in general. I recommend you read two or three stories a day, savoring the insanity without plunging full on into madness.

More goodness. Super Weird Heroes: Preposterous But True! [$39.99], a sequel to this wonderful tome, has already been scheduled for a March 2017 release. I am deliriously happy.

Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real:

ISBN 978-1631407451

Super Weird Heroes: Preposterous But True:

ISBN 978-1631408588

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love-addict

My “skip” of the week is Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater by Koren Shadmi [Top Shelf Productions; $24.99]. I don’t have any major complaints with the art or the dialogue. In service of a much better story, I would be fine with them. It’s the story itself that manages to bore and repulse me simultaneously. I think we need to throw up a warning here… 

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

Whiney animator “K” breaks up with his girlfriend. He turns into a sad sack until his man-slut friend turns him on to hookup service “Lovebug.” The animator starts going on many dates and sleeps with many women. This behavior makes him feel good about himself, except not really. He quickly becomes the sort of person I would avoid at all costs. Because he’s a jerk who thinks with his penis.

“K” sleeps around. He actually meets a terrific woman and dates her exclusively for a couple of months before he breaks up with her on account of he’s not through having random and indiscriminate sex. So indiscriminate that, after a drunken night of unprotected sex, he fears he may have contracted a STD. I would say it would serve him right, but he would have probably spread it with the same lack of maturity he shows throughout this graphic novel.

How bad does “K” become? Bad enough that he comes damn close to forcing himself on an unwilling and vulnerable date. I would have said he crossed the line into criminal behavior, but he suffers no consequences as a result of his behavior. I guess the author’s bar for criminal behavior is set higher than mine.

The final insult? Remember that terrific woman? Though pretty much sheer dumb luck he doesn’t deserve, “K” gets back together with her and the author wants us to believe they live happily ever after or some such. Although with this jerk, I figure his commitment-deficit syndrome will kick in within six months.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER

The protagonist of Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater is an unlikeable toad. His closest friend is even worse. The women who he dates are a mixed bag, but lose points for using “Lovebug” to hook up with unlikeable toads like the protagonist. Realistic or not – and I suspect there’s more realism to this story than I would want to believe – this is the kind of graphic novel that makes me feel unclean after reading it. In short…not recommended.

Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater:

ISBN 978-1-60309-393-4

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legend-of-wonder-woman-1

Writer/artist Renae De Liz’s The Legend of Wonder Woman [DC; $3.99 per issue] is an impressive nine-issue re-telling of the Amazon’s origin, restored to its original World War II setting. It’s filled with human drama and otherworldly mythology with enough action to satisfy super-hero fans. But where De Liz shines is with the most human parts of the story.

When Amazon Princess Diana encounters downed pilot Steve Trevor, it is a life-changing moment. Her world suddenly becomes much bigger than the island of Themyscira and her sister warriors. Her entrance into the far more complicated outside world and her somewhat shaky attempts to find her place and meaning in that world are riveting. When Etta Candy comes on the stage, the drama is enlivened with a touch of humor and good old-fashion moxie.

I have no idea if this series fits into the old DC or the New 52 or Rebirth on any other existing take on DC’s super-heroes and I don’t particularly care if it does or not. These nine issues are a most satisfying story on their own. I’ll leave the continuity concerns to others.

De Liz’s writing and art are first-rate. Ray Dillon does everything else – inks, colors, lettering – and does it well. This is a great series that looks great, too. Check it out.

If you prefer to read comics in collected editions, you will have but a short wait for this one. The Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Origins [$29.99] will be released in hardcover any day now. I think it would be a swell holiday gift for the Wonder Woman in your life.

The Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Origins:

ISBN 978-1401267285

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

© 2016 Tony Isabella

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