TONY’S TIPS #252

I made two more or less local appearances last week. On Thursday, March 22, I went to the East Clark Elementary School where I spoke to fifth through eighth graders about Black Lightning and creating comics. I enjoyed spending a few hours with the students and their teachers. I even stayed around a little later than planned so that the principal of another school could drive over, meet me and get an autograph.

Then, on Saturday, courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library and the Rising Star Roastery, I taught a workshop on comics creation while sitting among huge bags of aromatic coffee beans from South America and other distant locales. I’m told it was the biggest turnout to date for the Library’s “Coffee and Comics” program.

Writing comics will always be my first creative love, but teaching about them is pretty high on the list as well. If you are a comics creator and are asked to appear at a school or library, I urge you to accept the invitation. It’ll make you reflect about what you do and possibly create some new comics readers.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

Black Panther Annual #1 [Marvel; $4.99] was the best annual I have read in years. In the wake of the wildly successful Black Panther movie, Marvel commissioned three new stories by three of the best Panther writers of all time: Christopher Priest, Don McGregor and Reginald Hudlin. I got the version with the Daniel Acuña cover, but a variant cover was also done by Brian Stelfreeze.

Priest’s “Back in Black” features government spook Everett K. Ross, one of several memorable characters introduced by the writer during his run on the Black Panther. Ross always seemed out of place back then, which made him pretty interesting. It was delightful to see Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Ross in the movie. Mike Perkins drew this story and did a fine job.

McGregor’s “Panther’s Heart” is the best story in the annual, but, then again, McGregor is my favorite Panther writer. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a poignant story that shows McGregor hasn’t lost a step since his “carefree” youth. The Acuña art lives up to the wonderful script.

“Black to the Future Part II” is Reggie Hudlin’s look at the Black Panther of an alternate future. It’s an eyeopener of a story with fantastic art by Ken Lashley, who recently drew a pair of terrific covers for my Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands series.

Between the movie and this annual, I’m getting a hankering to read all the Panther comic books from start to finish. Fortunately, they are all in print and soon to be back in print.

This is my pick of the week. Wakanda forever!

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Cosmo

Cosmo the Merry Martian, published by Archie Comics for six issues in 1958 and 1959, is one of my favorite childhood comics. Created by writer Sy Reit and artist Bob White, the hilarious adventures of this otherworldly champion and his often outlandish allies caught my imagination and never let go. I’ve often remarked that I would love to write new stories with the character. Alas, that character no longer exists in the current Archie scheme of things.

Cosmo #1 [$2.99 per issue] reinvents the hero and his friends. Gone are the wonderfully clever Bob White designs, replaced by generic figures influenced by anime and manga. These are the sort of designs you see frequently as western creators attempt to duplicate the success of their Asian counterparts. It’s not that the designs are bad. It’s just that they aren’t remotely special.

Writer Ian Flynn tells a decent story with some honest laughs. If the story wasn’t in a comic book called Cosmo, I’d probably like it a lot. I like it, but again…it doesn’t have the sharp wit and laugh out loud madness of the Reit scripts of the 1950s.

Cosmo is a good comic book. I think Flynn and artist Tracy Yardley are producing an entertaining series. I especially like astronaut Max Strongjaw, a human addition to the mix. Though the series pales next to the classic Cosmo the Merry Martian, I plan to keep buying and reading it. That’s a bigger deal than you think. Where I once bought all the Archie titles, Cosmo is the only one I’m buying at the present time. Pick of the litter, so to speak.

Cosmo is suitable for all ages. Give it a look.

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Exit Stage Left

DC Comics has published some intriguing comic books offering fresh modern takes on classic Hanna-Barbera characters. One I’m enjoying quite a bit if Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles [$3.99 per issue] by Mark Russell with pencil artist Mike Feehan and ink artist Mark Morales. Starting with the second issue, the title has a back-up feature: Sasquatch Detective by Brandee Stilwell with art by Gustavo Vazquez.

In this series, Snagglepuss is portrayed as a 1950s gay playwright in the style of Tennessee Williams. His world is one of desperate writers, actors and other gays living in the shadow of the McCarthy era’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. It is a gripping adult drama with different takes on other cartoon characters, such as Huckleberry Hound and Augie Doggie. It’s not remotely suitable for younger readers or for those older readers offended by what is, admittedly, a far cry from the cartoons of their youth. Me, I think there’s room for both versions and would happily buy this comic and a more traditional Snagglepuss comic book.

The “Sasquatch Detective” back-up feature is hard to describe, but great fun. I’m into it.

Exit Stage Left is highly recommended.

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One last note of clarification. Dynamite’s Bettie Page Volume 1: Bettie in Hollywood [$17.99] collects issues #1-4 of the title and also includes “an exclusive short story, illustrated by Joseph Michael Linsner, originally published in Playboy magazine.” Beyond noting that whoever wrote that solicitation doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of the word “exclusive,” I can merely repeat last column’s recommendation of this fine title.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #251

Mine! [ComicMix; $24.95] is an anthology that celebrates “liberty and freedom for all” and benefits Planned Parenthood. All profits from the sale of the book go to Planned Parenthood. Just to put my personal bias up front, I donate to the organization several times a year. It’s an important resource for women and men alike and has been inaccurately, unfairly demonized by the right as an abortion clinic and no more. Since you’re reading this column, I know you’re intelligent enough to know the facts. Indeed, you know that many of Planned Parenthood’s services save lives, including those of the mothers who want healthy babies.

Moving on to the anthology itself, Mine! features hundreds of pages of comics by some of the best creators in the business. If the book had page numbers, I could tell you exactly how many pages of story and art it contains. But it doesn’t and I’m too lazy to count them myself.

Question. Can anyone explain to me why books like this don’t have page numbers? I would have thought that to be an automatic function in the design process. Is it somehow more expensive to have those page numbers? I am sorely confused.

Editors Joe Corallo and Molly Jackson gathered over 100 creators to create this anthology. There are huge names on the roster, such as Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Denny O’Neil, Trina Robbins, Amber Benson and Louise Simonson. There are lesser-known talents whose recent work I’ve enjoyed. The contributions discuss history and a great many current issues.

Micha Cruz kicked off the anthology with a nice summation of what Planned Parenthood does. Niki Smith’s “Epidemic” shows the lethal consequences of clinics being shut down. Glenn Greenberg and Nick Guarracino celebrate the everyday heroism of the Planned Parenthood providers. Devin Grayson and Eugenia Koumaki focus on often-crazy misinformation kids share with one another. Neil Gaiman’s moving prose describing a real-life event is made all the more poignant by Mark Wheatly’s illustrations. Kelsey Hercs and Jessi Jordan team to present a vignette that spans the decades. Those six examples were chosen pretty much at random. There’s so much incredible content in this anthology that it would take two columns just to list all the creators and their works.

Mine! is my pick of the week. It’s an anthology to be cherished for the insights it provides as much as for its great comics. I suggest reading several contributions a day, the better to appreciate the works and take in their messages. I’m thinking this book could win an Eisner Award. It surely deserves one.

ISBN 978-1-939888-65-5

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Bettie Page

Bettie Page #6-8 [Dynamite; $3.99 each] wraps up the first series of her title with an absolutely delightful adventure involving an artifact from beyond our planet. Writer David Avallone’s handle on Bettie is equally delightful. She’s capable, feisty and crazy quick on her feet and with her brain. She has few inhibitions, but like her real-life counterpart, this Bettie is truly the girl next door with a strong moral fiber. This three-issue story makes use of all of that and includes terrific supporting characters and villains.

Visually, the Joseph Michael Linsner covers are simply beautiful. I like the Scott Chantler alternate covers as well, but Linsner’s Bettie are the stuff of dreams.

Interior artists Esau Figuera and Matt Gaudio tell the story well. The depiction of Bettie is as glamorous as her classic photos and pin-ups. Page remains the queen of pin-up art and photography and continues to inspire modern practitioners of that craft.

Bettie Page Vol. 1 [$17.99] is scheduled to be released in May of this year. From the ordering information on Amazon, it doesn’t seem to include all eight issues. I’m hoping that’s in error because I’d love to have the entire first series in one volume. Almost as much as I’m hoping for a second Bettie Page series in the near future. I’ve got it bad for that gorgeous dame.

ISBN 978-1524106447

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Ant Wars

One of the all-time greatest giant monster movies is Them! [1954]. Spawned by atomic bomb tests, giant ants arise from underground and begin preying on humans. The film has exciting monster moments and moving human stories. I loved it as a kid and I still love it as an adult. It has held up all these decades since its initial release. I still watch it about once a year.

 

Ant Wars [Rebellion; $12.04] also has giant ants. That 15-chapter serial originally appeared in the weekly 2000 AD #71-85 [from July 1 to October 7, 1978]. Written by Gerry Finley-Day with art by Jose Luis Ferrer and others, these enormous bugs hail from the Brazilian forest. Experimental pesticides designed to kill more common ants instead increased their size in monstrous fashion. This serial was classic 2000 AD weird adventure. I’d seen a chapter here and there, but this is the first time I’ve read it from start to finish. It’s an exciting story.

You’ve got an army captain, the only member of his unit to survive their first encounter with the ants, teaming with a “semi-civilized Indian” called Anteater. Because ants are a delicacy for his people and he likes to munch down on normal ants. This horrifies the army captain, but he knows he has a better chance of escaping the jungle to warn the authorities with Anteater at his side. The death toll is high, the killings are brutal and there’s no guarantee mankind comes out on top. Neither the writing nor the art is likely to win any awards, but this serial was a solid piece of work.

Ant Wars also contains “Zancudo” by Simon Spurrier with artist Cam Kennedy. From Judge Dredd Megazine #231-233 [circa 2005]. It’s not nearly as entertaining as “Ant Wars,” replacing the giant ants with giant mosquitos. It’s so-so at best. Take comfort in knowing “Ant Wars” alone makes this collection a excellent buy.

ISBN 978-1-78108-622-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

TONY’S TIPS #250

March and April should be relatively leisurely months for me with only a few appearance on my schedule. In March, outside of speaking to elementary school students in my native Cleveland, my only other appearance will be as part of the “Coffee and Comics” workshops created by the Cleveland Public Library and the Ohio Center for the Book. These workshops are hosted by the Rising Star Coffee Roastery at the Hildebrant Building, 3617 Walton Avenue in Cleveland.

On Saturday, March 24, 10:00-11:30 am, I’ll be teaching a class on creating characters. I’m still working on the specifics, but it’s likely I’ll talk about Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce and share with the class my original character description of a character I introduced in Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands.

These workshops are open to all ages and skill levels. If you plan to attend, please bring sketch pads and drawing material. With my friend Jefferson looking over my shoulder, I hope to share some of what I’ve learned in my over 45 years in comics.

In April, my only scheduled event to date is the East Coast Comicon on April 27-29 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. I’ll more information on that for you next month.

Getting to this week’s reviews…

Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil Volume 12 [$75] is this week’s pick of the week because I am a cheeky monkey who should’ve disqualified himself from the decision-making on account of this cool hardcover book has a new introduction by me and reprints four of the five DD stories I wrote. Next thing you know I’ll deny that I colluded with the Skulls to influence the Eisner Awards.

This book has two introductions. The first is by me and the second is by my pal Marv Wolfman, who followed me on Daredevil. Collected herein are issues #120-132 [April 1975 to April 1976] and a spiffy assortment of Daredevil-related images and text pieces.

My issues were a four-part thriller in which Hydra reformed with abunch of super-villains heading up its various divisions and then kidnapped DD bestie Foggy Nelson, who was being recruited to join S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ruling council. It was a bigger-than-typical story for Daredevil, but that’s what I needed to accomplish three things: establish Foggy as a competent, respected district attorney, pound the final nails into the coffin that was the Daredevil/Black Widow romance and take out my growing frustration with living in New York by breaking several of the city’s landmarks. Since you already know I am hopelessly biased here, I’ll add that these stories are filled with action, human drama and even a few choice witticisms. But, to be honest, there are also things that make me wince.

This was my first time reading Marv’s stories since they were first published and they were different than I recollected. Oh, they are as good as I remembered, but they are also more super-hero fun than I remembered. They are the stories that introduced Bullseye and the Torpedo. In the case of the latter, there’s a powerful fight scene that forces Daredevil to look at himself differently than he ever had before. That’s my pal Marv setting a high bar.

With one exception, all of these issues were drawn by Bob Brown. I had loved Brown’s work since he followed Jack Kirby on Challengers of the Unknown at DC Comics…and you try to think of a tougher act to follow. I was thrilled to work with Brown and take advantage of his mastery of both action and emotion.

To sum up: two informative introductions, 13 thrilling stories and many pages of excellent extras. If you’re a fan of Daredevil or Marvel magic in general, you’ll want this book.

ISBN 978-1-302-90968-0

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Ninja-K

Everything I thought I knew about Valiant’s Ninjak was wrong. Even his name is actually Ninja-K. That’s almost the mildest revelation to be found in Ninja-K #1-4 [$3.99 per issue]. More serious is that MI6 or, at least that part of MI6 that handles the Ninja agents, is more than a little dark and murderous, even when it comes to those we would consider friendly and innocent.

Writer Christos Gage delves into the origins of the Ninja program, which predates World War II. Colin King is Ninja-K. There have been ninja agents before him: Ninja-A, Ninja-B and so on. While trying to discover who has been murdering ninja agents, King learns very disturbing truths about his organization. The first issue sets the stage; subsequent issues also contain a back-up story featuring an early ninja agent. Both the flashback material and the contemporary story are fascinating. Besides being well-written, they have first-rate art by Tomas Giorello and Ariel Olivetti.

I am not generally a big fan of “evil government” stories because they’ve been overdone. I oppose bad government, but not the concept of government. Even so, I’m loving this Ninja-K story. It’s earned my recommendation. If you prefer to read your comics in collected editions, Ninja-K Volume 1: The Ninja Files [$9.99] will be published in May of this year. It will reprint the first five issues of the title.

ISBN 978-1682152591

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USAvengers

Among the things I can never remember are how many different teams of Avengers and X-Men are being published by Marvel Comics at any given time. The X-Men seem to be color-coding their teams, but the colors don’t make much sense to me. Is X-Men Blue the team with all the sad mutants? Are the members of X-Men Gold wealthy? Are X-Men Red mutants always angry? I’m lost.

The just-cancelled U.S.Avengers didn’t make much more sense to me. It was an American-based team, which sounds like it could have been  a thing until I realized all of the Avengers teams are pretty much American-based. But I did enjoy the more, which was written by the usually very entertaining Al Ewing.

U.S.Avengers ended with issue #12, but Ewing and artist Paco Diaz went out in grand fashion. Missing team member Cannonball was stuck on a planet that was like an old-style Archie comic book brought to life. As a guy who loves old-style Archie comic books, I got a big kick out of this storyline. It was fun. It had action. Most of all, it had a satisfying ending. Thumbs up.

The entire U.S.Avengers run has been reprinted in two collections. They are worth checking out.

U.S.Avengers Vol. 1: American Intelligence Mechanics [$17.99]

ISBN 978-1302906412

U.S.Avengers Vol. 2: Cannonball Run [$17.99]

ISBN 978-1302906429

That’s all for this go-round, my friends. I’ll return next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #249

Welcome to the only month that’s a command. The Black Lightning TV series has finished filming on its first 13-episode season, but we still have another seven episodes to view on Tuesday nights until the season finale on April 17. The show is must-watch viewing for me and my family…and I’ve always looked at my readers as part of the family. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #5 should be in comics shops this Wednesday with the finale coming a month after that. Will there be more Black Lightning comic books written by yours truly? That kind of sort of depends on your letting DC Comics know you would like to see and, more importantly, buy more Black Lightning comic books by me. I’ll keep you posted.

Getting to this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Bill Schelly’s Sense of Wonder: My Life in Comic Fandom–The Whole Story [North Atlantic Books; $19.95]. This is a greatly expanded version of the book he published in 2001. In this edition, Bill reveals his secret identity, telling his tale of growing up as a gay fan of comic books at a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness.

Considerable years ago, I started hearing from gay fans coming out. Sometimes, they came out to all. Sometimes, I was honored to be one of the few people they came out to. Two notions occurred to me when this started happening.

The first was that super-hero comics with their multitude of secret identities would speak to closeted gay men and women. Though Stan Lee and Jack Kirby may have created the X-Men as a costumed parable against bigotry, I think the mutants didn’t truly come into their own until fans started seeing them as a statement about being gay or different in modern society.

The second was that, though my taking public stands against bigotry and intolerance, I’d become someone fans felt they could trust. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I consider this both an honor and a responsibility I’ve never taken lightly. We are, gay or straight, stronger when we stand together.

Schelly’s book, already a wonderful story of his growing up in the comics fandom of the 1960s, now becomes more wonderful and, indeed, powerful when he adds all those more personal details of his life as a gay man. His original book stopped when he was 21. This book completes his biography to date.

Schelly is a leading comics historian. He has written definitive books on such legendary creators as Joe Kubert, Otto Binder, John Stanley and Harvey Kurtzman, winning an Eisner Award for that last one. In Sense of Wonder, the history he celebrates is his own. I’m thrilled by it and recommend to all comics fans.

ISBN 978-1623171513

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Timely Confidential

For yet another personal comics history this week, I also recommend Timely Confidential: When the Golden Age of Comic Books Was Young by Allen Bellman with editing by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo and Audrey Parente [Bold Venture Press; $39.95]. My friend Allen is one of the few living Golden Age creators still with us and, if you have ever met him at a convention, you know he’s a natural showman with great stories to tell. It’s a shame he left comics when they came under fire in the 1950s. I think he would have brought something special to the comics I read as a young comics fan.

Working with noted comics historian Vassallo, Bellman holds forth on his love of drawing, his entry into the comics industry in the 1940s and his comics work of the 1950s. He talks about the grief of his first marriage and his journey back to a productive life as an artist and a glorious second marriage. In heartwarming fashion, he relates how he was discovered by comics fans and started attending comics conventions as a honored guest.

Besides Bellman’s autobiographical tales, this book also contains a wealth of rare photographs and comics art. A comics gallery has full-color reprints of five complete stories (crime and romance) he drew in the 1950s. I got a kick out of those old stories, almost as much as I got from Allen’s life stories. This is as entertaining a comics history as you’ll find.

ISBN 9781979903035

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Comics Revue February

It always seems to take me by surprise, but the arrival of each new issue of Rick Norwood’s Comics Revue [$19.95] is always an event. Issue #381-382 [February 2018] cover-featured the newest addition to the Revue roster: Garth by Peter O’Donnell.

From Wikipedia:

Garth was a comic strip in the British Daily Mirror from July 24, 1943, to March 22, 1997. The strip belonged to the action-adventure genre and recounted the exploits of the title character, an immensely strong hero who battled various villains throughout the world and many different chronological eras.

The first chapter of “Warriors of Krull” sees Garth captured by an evil-but-beautiful queen who pits strong men against one another in battles to the death. While not as refined as O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, it’s still an exciting opening.

Written by Lee Falk and drawn by Wilson McCoy, this issue’s Phantom installment reprint material from 1958. It’s a riveting tale of the hero’s “good mark,” the one he bestows on worthy individuals with the promise they will always be under the Phantom’s protection.

My other favorites in the issue are the always funny Sir Bagby, a comic strip about knights and wizards by R&D Hackney; Stan Lynne’s hilarious Rick O’Shay story about a lawyer who, after successfully defending a horse thief, is paid for his service with the horse his client stole; and a Steve Canyon sports thriller by Milton Caniff involving college football.

Also in the issue: Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, Casey Ruggles, Gasoline Alley, Steve Roper, Alley Oop, Tarzan and Vietnam war action with Buz Sawyer. A terrific line-up in a terrific magazine. If you love classic newspaper comic strips, you’ll love Comics Revue.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #248

Marvel’s Black Panther has opened to critical acclaim and a boffo box-office that insures we’ll be seeing another Black Panther film at some point in the future. Between the Panther’s success and that of the Black Lightning and Luke Cage shows, I’m hoping we will see more heroes of color on the big and small screen. Off the top of my head, I’d watch movies or TV series of Ms. Marvel, Ironheart, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Static, Cyborg, Icon and Misty Knight. If I thought about it longer, I’m sure I’d be able to add several more names to that list.

I saw Black Panther the day after it opened. It had a large crowd for a Friday afternoon, especially considering it was playing on a number of screens in our local multi-plex. The film most definitely lived up to its advance buzz.

Black Panther is more than a super-hero movie. It’s a spectacle of startling proportions and an intense political thriller. Wakanda, the setting for most of the action, is breathtaking in its natural beauty and its technological wonder. This is the Wakanda created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a seamless merging of the country’s dual aspects.

The movie is just as exciting when the Panther tracks down stolen vibranium in South Korea. The choreography of the firefight in the casino and the chase scene that follows it is masterful.

Chadwick Boseman is transcendent as T’Challa, the new king charged with protecting his people’s safety and traditions while realizing they can no longer stand aloof from the rest of the world. He faces dangers from within and without his land.

Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is terrifying. His skill as an assassin is scary enough, but, added to his plan to make Wakanda a conqueror nation, he immediately moves to the forefront of Marvel movie villainy. That he’s not entirely wrong about some policies of Wakanda makes for some chilling moments.

There are many fine performances in the film, but I have to single out those of Martin Freeman and Letitia Wright. Freeman plays CIA agent Everett K. Ross and the interpretation is a vast improvement over the comic-book version of the character. Wright plays Shuri, the absolutely adorable and genius kid sister of T’Challa. I’d love to see Shuri recruited by the Avengers, if only to see her playing against Tony Stark.

I love Black Panther on several levels. I love its grandeur and its thoughtful approach to the issues facing Wakanda and the world. I love seeing so much of Lee, Kirby, Don McGregor, Rich Buckler and other comics creators in this movie. I love that it’s a different take on a Marvel super-hero film. I love the acting and the writing and the directing and every other creative and technological thing that went into the making of the movie.

Black Panther is my pick of the week. Is it too early for me to put in an order for the Blu-ray?

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Lady Killer

Lady Killer 2 by Joëlle Jones and colorist Michelle Madsen [Dark Horse; $17.99] continues the “adventures” of Josie Schuller, a 60’s housewife and mother who moonlights as an assassin. The dark comedy gets darker this time around with Josie working for herself instead of the agency that formerly employed her. Some scenes of a younger Josie inform the woman she has become. Before the end of this gore-soaked sequel, Josie faces some alarming consequences. These were disturbing, but, ultimately, have me hoping Lady Killer 3 will be coming our way soon.

What hasn’t changed in this second volume is Josie’s uncanny sense of 1960s style. She makes me wish those fashions would come back. What also hasn’t changed is how good Jones is in her duel roles as writer and artist. This is a well-told story with gorgeous art and solid storytelling.

If you liked Lady Killer, you’ll like Lady Killer 2. It’s edge-of-your-seat comics with some surprising scenes. If you haven’t read Lady Killer, you should. It’s one of my favorite comics series of the new millennium.

Lady Killer ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-61655-757-7

Lady Killer 2 ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-50670-029-8

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Spirits of Vengeance

On the recommendation of a critic who loved Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands and thus established his good taste, I read Spirits of Vengeance #1-5 [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. This unlikely teaming of the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, Blade, Damion Hellstorm and Satana is written by Victor Gischler, whose work I have enjoyed previously. Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll let you know up front that I enjoyed his work here as well.

There are some choice plot drivers in this story. The Covenant is an ancient diplomatic summit between an agent of Hell and an agent of Heaven to hash out any violations of their agreements that have been in place since the dawn of mankind. Then there’s a weapon made from the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus to the Romans, a weapon which could be a game-changer in that war between Heaven and Hell.

Gischler does a great job writing all the characters in this story: the good, the not-so-good, the not-so-bad and the bad. Artist David Baldeon does a good job with the “normal” scenes and great balls of fire with the supernatural stuff. Color artist Andrea Morra does a fine job tying it all together.

Spirits of Vengeance [$15.99], collecting all five issues, will be published in April. If you like Marvel’s supernatural characters, you’ll like this entertaining story.

ISBN 978-1302910518

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Want to see me in March? I’m sticking close to my home in Medina, Ohio that month.

I’ll be appearing at Cleveland Concoction, a multiple fandom event that takes place March 9-11 at the Bertram Inn & Conference Center in Aurora, Ohio. The show prides itself on being “by the fans, for the fans” and also calls itself “Your fandom escape by the lake!” It should be great fun and, with three days of that fun, I should have all sorts of time to chat with and hang out with the fans who attend. I’d love to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with another batch of reviews and the news of where else I’ll be appearing in March.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #247

It’s mid-February as I write this column. We’re five episodes into the Black Lightning TV series and four issues into Black Lightning: Cold Dark Hands. I’m feeling great about both.

Black Lightning is a blessing. I feel blessed to be associated with the character and to be here today to see how much he means to the readers and the viewers. I feel blessed the people at DC Comics and the TV show have made this possible.

I love getting complements on “my” show and, yes, I do see a lot of myself in this series. But the vast majority of the credit for this show we love should go to Salim and Mara Brock Akil, the writers and the most incredible cast on TV.

Cress, China, Nafessa, Christine, Marvin, James, Damon and all the supporting players. I’m very proud of my creation, but, thanks to these actors, I feel like every Tuesday night is Christmas. What a special gift they give me and the legions of Black Lightning fans.

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands has been the best experience of my 45 years in the comics industry. Artist Clayton Henry knocks it out of the park with every page he draws. Yvel Guichet has come out of the bullpen to provide some fine relief drawing. Peter Pantazis’ coloring is the best my stories have ever had. Letterer Josh Reed makes my words look good. And I can’t say enough good things about editors Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards, who give me the very best notes I’ve ever received from editors. They don’t try to get me to tell their stories. They get me to tell my stories better. Indeed, every one who is involved in this six-issues series at any level is making me look real good.

Of course, Black Lightning isn’t the only thing I’m looking forward to this month. When I finish this week’s column, I’ll see Marvel’s Black Panther at the local movie house. Look for my review of that film next week.

As for this week…

If you’re interested in 1950s horror comics, Pre Code Classics: The Unseen Volume One [PS Artbooks; $49.99] collects issues #5-10 [June 1952-May 1953] of the Standard Comics title. A second Unseen volume reprints the remaining five issues.

One of the things that struck me about the stories in The Unseen is how many were as straightforward as you can get. A protagonist has their initial encounter with the supernatural. They are told what will happen, be it an attack or a curse of whatever, and then the story moves directly and quickly at that fate.

There are a few nicely bizarre tales in this collection. A pair of were-tigers. A man who turns into a giant flesh-eating caterpillar. A killer haunted by a smiling man. Bizarre or straightforward, the stories are entertaining.

Otto Binder is the only writer who is known to have written for The Unseen, but the artists have mostly been identified. The artistic roster includes such beloved creators as Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Alex Toth, Jerry Grandenetti, George Roussos, Jack Katz, Art Saaf, John Celardo and Mike Sekowsky.

Fans of 1950s horror comics will want Pre Code Classics: The Unseen Volume One for the collections. I’m a most casual reader of those comics, but I enjoyed this volume and look forward to reading the second one.

ISBN 978-1-78636-107-3

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Swamp Thing Winter

Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 [DC Comics; $7.99] is a love letter and farewell to Swamp Thing creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. The first printing of this 80-page issue sold out and I’ve read a second printing is coming.

Leading off the issue is 40-page “The Talk of the Saints” by Tom King with artist Jason Fabok. It’s intriguing and lyrical, though perhaps a bit more complicated than it needed to be.

Filling out the issue is a tribute to Len Wein by DC editor Rebecca Taylor, which also serves to introduce Len’s final story. It was to have been the first chapter of a new Swamp Thing story by Len and artist Kelley Jones. Len plotted the tale, but did not complete the final script before his passing. DC presents the complete art for this first chapter along with Len’s plot.

I wish Len had scripting this story, but then, there could never be enough Len Wein writing for my taste. Len was a true wordsmith. He wrote poetically and movingly and descriptively. Of the writers who entered the field just before or at the same time I did, Len might well have been one of my greatest influences. His words set a bar that I constantly strive to come close to. And, though, the Kelley Jones art is Kelley all the way, there can be no mistaking the Wrightson influence in his work. Unfinished symphony or not, this is a tale that will remain with me. Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 is my pick of the week.

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Luke Cage 169

I don’t normally review a comics title two weeks in a row, but Luke Cage #169 [Marvel; $3.99] was a knock-out. Writer David F. Walker finished his “Caged!” story arc in fine fashion. It had Luke being Luke in grand fashion: shaking off the Ringmaster’s mind control, reaffirming who he is, taking names, kicking butts, delivering fine action scenes with a dollop of humor.

One of my ongoing complaints about super-hero story arcs is that a great many of them have a great premise and start out wonderfully, only to crash and burn with an unsatisfying ending. This issue of Luke Cage delivers the kind of ending that leaves the readers with smiles on their faces. Well done. Very well done.

I’ll be back next week with another trio of reviews and a heads-up on where you can see me in March. Have a great week.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #246

I was in New York early last week to be interviewed on camera for a Marvel Comics documentary project on that publisher’s legacy and the creators who shaped that legacy. It was an interesting couple of days, beginning with my too-brief stay at the weirdly wonderful Henry Normal Hotel in a Brooklyn area that was mostly warehouses with a studio or two in that mix. On a chilly early morning walk, I spotted the stages for Blue Bloods and The Good Fight. Beyond my immediate vicinity, there were apartment buildings, shops and very cool eateries like the Little Dokebi Korean restaurant. My “other daughter” Giselle – my daughter Kelly’s best friend since they were wee ones – now lives in New York. I took her to dinner at the above Little Dokebi. Lots of great food at reasonable prices and a chance to catch up with each other.

During the long interview, I was asked all manner of interesting, even penetrating questions about comics I’d written, characters I’d created, my background and my process. I don’t know what form this documentary will eventually take or when and how it will be shown. Even if I did, that’s not my news to release. I will say, knowing how many different creators are being interviewed, how pleased I am that so many different creators are being interviewed. You cannot tell an accurate history of Marvel Comics or comic books in general without including the men and women who have labored and continue to labor on these comic books. I was honored to be included in this documentary.

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

First up today is Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, an animated feature directed by Sam Liu, written by James Krieg and based on the 1989 graphic novel by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola. In an alternate Victorian era Gotham City, a recent-to-the-role Batman is trying to bring Jack the Ripper to justice. This animated version of Gotham by Gaslight differs from the original graphic novel is many ways. Except some surprises.

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

The first Ripper killing we see involves an alternate version of a popular comics character. Before long, we meet other members of the cast: Bruce Wayne; songstress and former circus star Selina Kyle; Sister Leslie Thompkins, a nun who tries to rescue women from the streets; Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne’s butler and confidant; District Attorney Harvey Dent; Hugo Strange, James Gordon and three young orphans – Dickie, Jason and Tim – who Alfred turns from their lives of petty crime to more noble purposes. I get a kick out of these different looks at DC characters that were such a key part of the publisher’s line of Elseworlds graphic novel.

The story unfolds with many surprises along the way. Even when the possible suspects are whittled down, I still didn’t see the reveal of the villain coming. That’s some good red herring there.

The acting is good with standout performances by Jennifer Carpenter as Selina, Anthony Head as Alfred and Yuri Lowenthal playing a most unpleasant Harvey Dent. The climatic race-against-time and battle with the Ripper are riveting. The biggest flaw is a not-completely-satisfying ending with too many unanswered questions and unresolved situations.

The animation? Not the best I’ve seen in a DC animated feature, but perfectly adequate for the story.

SPOILERS OVER

SPOILERS OVER

SPOILERS OVER

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is my pick of the week.

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Luke Cage 1

Luke Cage has been one of my favorite characters since the moment I first saw him in 1972’s Hero for Hire #1. There was a grittiness to those early Archie Goodwin scripts that won me over immediately. Later writers might have done some frankly embarrassing Luke Cage stories, but my love for the character endured the bad times while waiting for the good times to return.

In recent years, Brian Michael Bendis wrote the best Luke Cage in the history of Luke Cage. Then the Netflix series came along…and did Luke even better. Those are my new standards for what makes a good Luke Cage story. Bendis comes pretty close to those standards in the current Defenders title, but he’s the only comics writer to consistently get within striking distance. Until now.

Writer David F. Walker has been writing some pretty good Luke Cage in the current series. I’ve read Luke Cage #1-5 and #166-168. The gap in issue numbers comes from Marvel adjusting issue numbers as part of its “Legacy” movement. I would try to explain the math, but it makes my head hurt.

So we have Luke traveling to New Orleans to attend the funeral of an old friend who isn’t actually dead. We learn the old friend is not as good and noble as he was in the original Hero for Hire run. Once that arc was done, Luke ended up in a town and a prison under the control of an extremely scary take on the Ringmaster. I’ve been enjoying Walker’s run, but it’s not resonating with me as much as I would like. I understand the temptation of sending Luke Cage out on the road. Big-city fish out of water and all. Heck, I even did that when I was writing Luke’s adventures. But, when I take a few moments to reflect, it becomes obvious to me that Luke belongs in New York City. He doesn’t ring as true anywhere else.

Am I damning Walker’s run with faint praise? I guess so. I do like his work and the title is on my buy list, so I have no qualms about recommending it to you. I’ve been spoiled by the Bendis stories and the Netflix stories, but I still enjoy these new yarns. Check them out and decide for yourself.

Luke Cage Vol. 1: Sins of the Father [$15.99] reprints Luke Cage #1-5. It was published last November. Luke Cage Vol. 2: Caged! [$15.99], reprinting issues #166-170, will be published in April.

Luke Cage Vol. 1: Sins of the Father

ISBN 978-1302907785

Luke Cage Vol. 2: Caged!

ISBN 978-1302907792

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Kong Apes 1

I did not choose wisely when I decided to read and review Kong on the Planet of the Apes #1 [Boom! Studios; $3.99]. While I’m fond of the classic King Kong and even the goofy Japanese movies, Kong of Skull Island is a take it or leave it thing with me.

Planet of the Apes? I didn’t like Planet of the Apes even when I was editing a Planet of the Apes magazine for Marvel. I thought the last few moments of the first POTA movie were fun because, geez, of course they were on Earth all along and watching Charlton Heston chew the sand was over-the-top hilarious.

So what you have for the big finish of this week’s column is less a review and more an admonition to my myself to make better choices in selecting my comics entertainment. I wasn’t thrilled by Kong of Skull Island, which just seemed to me to go on and one with only an occasional interesting scene. I don’t like Planet of the Apes. I should not have expected this crossover comic to entertain me…and it didn’t.

This first of six issues is mostly apes from the original movie talking about how they found a big dead Kong just around the bend from the Statue of Liberty and mounting an expedition to find out what the heck that was all about. A giant monster attacks them at sea and the issue closes with a nicely-drawn image of a live Kong. It was a struggle to get through the issue.

If you’re a fan of Kong of Skull Island or Planet of the Apes, you might enjoy this comic-book series. I should have known I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I tend to be optimistic about such things. I do kind of like the notion of King Kong on the Planet of the Apes, but, for me, it probably should have been a comedy-adventure starring some square-jawed human hero blundering through a world of ages of all sizes and unwittingly making salient observations about our real world as he does so.

The takeaway from this not-a-review? Not every comic book will or should work for every reader. Choose wisely.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #245

February is a crazy busy month for me. Two conventions, finishing up Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, pitching ideas for future projects, flying to New York to be interviewed on camera for a cool Marvel Comics project focusing on that publisher’s legacy and the creators who are part of it. It’s why this week’s “Tony’s Tips” is posting so late. Mea culpa.

Like most weeks in this the true Golden Age of Comics, I have some comics to share with you. Let’s get right to the reviews, starting with my pick of the week…

Thomas F. Zahler’s Time & Vine [IDW; $24.99], which collects issues #1-4 of the title, will be published later this month. Drawn in the same animated and inviting style of Zahler’s classic Love and Capes super-hero situation comedy and his critically-acclaimed romance Long Distance, this graphic novel has one of the most intriguing premises in recent memories.

There’s a winery in Jefferson, New York. It’s a place of history, of memories and of magic. If you’re given access to its marvelously vast wine cellar, you can have a glass of wine from any vintage of the winery’s long history…and travel back in time to any day of the year that vintage was bottled.

Jack, the owner of the winery, is a greying “Time Lord” of sorts, looking for the perfect companion to join him on his time travels. Megan, a young woman visiting the winery with her schoolteacher friends, is dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease and her conflicted emotions for putting her mom in a nursing home. In her, Jack sees an adventurous spirit and a love of history. And so their journeys begin…

As with Zahler’s other series, the emphasis is on the characters. Jack has a past that drives him on their trips. Megan’s mother has a secret the schoolteacher must uncover. The supporting characters, both in the present and the past, are engaging. The attention to historical detail add to all their stories. The reader will come to embrace Jack and Megan as they would dear friends. It’s something I’ve seen in Zahler’s other works and, quite frankly, I’d like to see reflected in more movies and TV shows. I’m amazed the Hollywood powers that be haven’t pursued his creations.

The 176-page graphic novel tells great stories with the main story. It has laughs, suspenseful moments and a truly satisfying ending. Though full disclosure demands I mention Zahler is one of my best friends, I would have made this book my pick of the week even if I hated him. Which I maybe do a little, if only because Time & Vine makes me envious of his talents as both writer and artist.

I wish Time & Vine would be out in time for Valentine’s Day. But, at any time of the year, it would make a great gift for that comics reader or even that non-comics reader you love.

ISBN 978-1684050369

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Draw

TwoMorrows is known for its comics history and interviews magazines like Alter Ego, Back Issue and The Jack Kirby Collector, but also published Draw!, a fine “how to” journal on comics, illustration and animation and more. Though the magazine, edited by artist Mike Manley, is obviously aimed at artists, there’s a lot here for the writers and just plain fans among us.

Issue #34 [$8.95] leads off with a long discussion/interview with Greg Hildebrandt, one of my favorite fantasy, science fiction and even super-hero illustrators. It follows that with Jerry Ordway’s regular column, an interview with Aquaman artist Brad Walker, a “Comic Art Bootcamp” by a dozen different pros and Jamar Nicholas’ regular column on the tools of the art trade. Clearly, as a writer, my work process is very different from that of my artist partners. But knowing how they work and what tools they use, especially what with some of those tools simply not existing when I first started writing comic books 45 years ago, informs what I can expect when they are drawing one of my scripts.

Every issue, I learn from Draw! Learning of all kinds will always be of benefit to writers. Learning helps you grow as a writer. So, artist or not, I recommend Draw! It’s an important magazine that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

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TA Hulk

This is what it looks like when Hulks cry. Which is another way of saying this is how terrific comics become not-so-terrific. I speak of The Totally Awesome Hulk.

I love Amadeus Cho. Created by Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa, I’ve enjoyed the adventures of this teen genius from the start. One of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe, he’s gone from a great supporting character to curing Bruce Banner and becoming a new and different kind of Hulk. He’s impulsive and prideful, but no other Hulk has quite been like him. He’s been the head of a company and is a member of the new Champions, teaming with other young heroes who, honestly, had enough of hanging out with adult super-heroes more concerned with exercising control and fighting with their old enemies than actually helping people.

Totally Awesome Hulk #15-18 [$3.95] were a good example of why I’m an Amadeus Cho fan. In it, he teamed with other Asian heroes (Ms. Marvel, Shang-Chi and Silk) for an extended adventure in which they helped people, raised money for a charitable effort and inspired Asian-American kids. We also saw Cho’s impulsiveness and pride get in the way sometimes. To me, these were far more interesting traits for a Hulk than the default “anger” issue. Except…

Following a boring “Weapons of Mutant Destruction” crossover with Weapon X, the “anger and rage” stuff was clumsily introduced into Cho’s life. Been there, seen that. To further disinterest me, Cho then shot himself into space to get a grip on these issues, ending up on Planet Hulk. Been there, seen that. Since the title morphed into Incredible Hulk with the renumbered #709, I’m guessing this is a set-up to revive Bruce Banner and make him the Hulk again. This is what it sounds like when Hulks cry.

By all means, seek out Cho’s earlier adventures. They were lots of fun. I’ll continue to read Incredible Hulk in the hope I am wrong about where it’s heading. However, I can’t recommend this current direction.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #244

My 2018 convention season starts next month with Action! on Sunday, February 18, at St. Clair College in Windsor, Canada. This all-ages event features comic books, anime, manga, horror and video games. This will be my first convention appearance outside of the United States. As with most of my 2018 convention and other appearances, I’ll be signing Isabella-written stuff for free.

In February, I’ll also be a guest at Pensacon: Pensacola Comic Con on Friday through Sunday, February 23-25, at the Pensacola Bay Center. This lovely Florida city goes all out for the convention. Several bars and restaurants adopt special fan-based themes for the weekend. This is my third visit to what has become one of my very favorite conventions and, as with Action!, I’ll be signing Isabella stuff for free.

Turning to this week’s reviews…

I’m tempted to declare PS Artbooks as a dependent on my taxes. The British publisher releases two hardcover comics collections every month and I buy both of them. One of the most recent is Silver Age Classics: Out of This World Volume One [$49.99], which reprints the first six issues of the 1950s Charlton title.

Steve Ditko is the star of this title, though he doesn’t make his first appearance until the third issue. From issues #3-6, he drew 13 interior issues and all the covers. As you might expect, Ditko’s early work already shows his creativity and storytelling, as well as his range. There are pure science-fiction stories, a sea beast who could fit in with Godzilla and his Monster Island chums, some alien invaders and some alien visitors who are of a much friendlier sort. There are some terrific shock endings and genuinely warm-and-fuzzy endings.

My favorite of the Ditko stories in this volume are the Jack Oleck-written “The Supermen” in issue #3, an unusual tale of evolution, and issue #5’s heart-warming “The Man Who Stepped Out of a Cloud.” The prolific Joe Gill likely wrote that one.

The usual Charlton artists are represented in this volume: Charles Nicholas, Vince Alascia, Rocco Mastroserio, Dick Giordano, Bill Molno and Sal Trapani. Charlton’s page rates were almost certainly the lowest in the industry, but they were one of the few survivors of the comics crash of the 1950s. Artists made up for the low rates by volume and Charlton always had plenty of work for them.

Dick Wood wrote at least one story for Out of This World and might have written others. The prolific Ken Fitch also wrote stories for the title, but those have not yet been identified. As these reprint volumes continues, we’ll see some other artists and writers turning up for an assignment or two. The 1950s were tough times for comics professionals.

Most of the Ditko stories have been reprinted elsewhere and, in a few cases, multiple elsewheres. But I like seeing those stories in their original context, sharing issues with tales drawn by others. It gives me a better sense of the era.

Silver Age Classics: Out of This World Volume One is my pick of the week for the Ditko stories and for presenting its slice of comics history. I’m looking forward to subsequent volumes.

ISBN 978-1-78636-102-8

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Scooby Apocalypse

DC Comics has done some pretty strange takes on classic cartoons in recent years. I have more of an attachment to the Bugs Bunny bunch than I do to the House of Hanna-Barbara, but I have fond memories of some of the latter. In any case, for the most part, I’ve found these odd takes entertaining and, in the case of The Flintstones, flat-out brilliant. This is why I kept trying to give one of DC’s Hanna-Barbera revisions every opportunity to make me laugh or make me think or even make me think it wasn’t one of the dumbest, most vile comics of recent times.

Scooby Apocalypse Volume 1 [$16.99] isn’t as bad-to-the-soul vile as Afterlife with Archie, but that’s setting the bar so low as to be meaningless. Nothing is as bad as Afterlife with Archie and the other Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa-crafted abominations inflicted on the classic characters from Riverdale. I know both this series and the Archie ones have their devotees. I don’t fault readers who enjoy them. I write reviews. I don’t chisel commandments onto to slabs of stone. If you enjoy them, I’m happy for you.

Conceived by Jim Lee, written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and drawn mainly by Howard Porter, Scooby Apocalypse imagines the Mystery Machine crew in a post-apocalyptic world quickly becoming overrun by humans and other creatures turned into monsters by a mad scientists plot gone horribly awry. Our beloved Velma was one of those scientists, albeit not privy to the full details of the plot.  And when she gets together with Daphne and Fred – a disgraced news reporter and her hopelessly smitten cameraman – Velma continues to keep secrets from her new allies. In an era of long-overdue female empowerment, Daphne and Velma falls somewhat short of Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Faith and other heroines.

Scooby is a “Smart Dog” prototype, considered to be stupid by his fellow enhanced canine. Shaggy is a dog handler working with these dogs. They are the two most positive characters in this reimagining of the classic cartoon.

I know why Scooby Apocalypse doesn’t work for me. I am fond of the original characters and, from limited animation cartoons to live-action movies, have found them a likeable group. I think there is still a place for the originals in today’s entertainments and their continued success bears me out.

I’m not a fan of zombies. If you cut the number of zombie books, comics and movies in half, there would still be too many zombies. Eat a salad once a while, you lumbering cliches.

But I have a fondness for many other cartoon characters who appear in DC’s reimaginings – Ruff and Reddy leap to mind – and can enjoy their new comics. For my taste, Scooby Apocalypse isn’t compelling. The plot drags and the writing doesn’t sparkle. I just don’t think it’s a good comic book.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6790-2

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Not Brand Echh

Marvel’s Legacy movement with its renumbering of various titles and the attendant math involved makes my head spin…and I got “A’s” in honors math in high school. But one of the more delightful aspects of this was the publication of Not Brand Echh #14 [$3.99].

Not Brand Echh was one of my favorite comics titles as a teenager. Marvel making fun of itself and its competitors made me laugh out loud before that was an online thing. I wasn’t expecting to have a similar reaction to this surprise new issue as I did to those from the 1960s, but hope springs eternal.

What I got was an amusing anthology that mostly made me smile and that ain’t a bad thing in these sad times. Writer Nick Spencer made sport of his own Secret Empire travesty and earns points for that. Forbush Man was back trying to pitch a new series. Katie Cook got the biggest smile out of me, but, really, everyone involved in this issue acquitted themselves with honor and humor. My only complaint is that I wasn’t part of this Marvel madness.

Will there be more Not Brand Echh? I sure hope so. Because I have this big-budget Forbush Man movie script and…

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.
© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #243

It’s been a great year for me so far. Cleveland Magazine named me one of its most interesting people of 2018. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands has been getting rave reviews. I was a special guest at the “DC in DC” event where I got to meet the cast of the wonderful Black Lightning TV series and be part of the world premiere of the first episode. When the first episode aired nationally, it trended #1 on Twitter nationally and globally. It also got great reviews. I’ve already done over a dozen interviews with more scheduled for this week and seemingly forever thereafter. I’m also scheduled to appear at comics conventions, libraries and public schools. I often fear I’m hallucinating all this good fortune.

It’s also going to be a great year for comics readers. From around the world, we’ll be seeing great comic books and graphic novels of all kinds: super-heroes, slice-of-life, horror, crime fiction and, well, just about any genre you can think of and some you’ve likely never thought of before. The Black Panther will be debuting on the big screen with new comics-related shows launching or getting new seasons. Add the many reprints of classic and not-so-classic comic books and strips of the past and it’s clear than ever that we are, right now, living in the real Golden Age of Comics.

Here are my thoughts on the comic books and comics collections I’ve read recently…

I just reread Zander Cannon’s Kaijumax Season One: Terror & Respect Oni Press; $9.99] because I have switched from reading individual issues to reading the collected editions. As I try to reduce what I call my “Vast Accumulation of Stuff” to a manageable level, I’m finding the trades work better for me and that I enjoy the bigger chunk of story they contain.

Kaijumax is unlike any other series in comics. It combines prison drama with giant monsters. Oni also lists it as “humor,” but I must warn you the humor is of a dark variety, revolving around the odd juxtaposition of those giant monsters with the general tropes of a prison drama.

Electrogor is the very sympathetic lead protagonist. He’s a father desperate to get back to his children before they are captured and sent to this penitentiary for kaiju, a place where no distinction is made between harmless creatures and outright villains. If they are big and strange, they are fair game to be “arrested” and taken to this awful place. There are prison gangs, crooked guards (with the ability to turn into giants ala Ultraman), officials concerned only with bureaucracy and maintaining the appearance of order and a few individuals, human and otherwise, who are truly twisted. It’s a grim series that – fair warning – includes a brutal monster rape scene and its aftermath.

This first trade collects the entire first season of Kaijumax, six issues in all. Season Two is also available in a collected edition with Season Three due in May. This is a great series and not only I do I recommended it most highly to fans of giant monsters, prison dramas and great comics in general, it’s my top pick of the week.

Kaijumax Season 1 ($9.99):

ISBN 978-1620102701

Kaijumax Season Two: The Seamy Underbelly ($19.99):

ISBN 978-1620103968

Kaijumax Season Three: King of the Monstas ($19.99)

ISBN 978-1620104941

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Doctor Aphra

Here’s Wikipedia on Doctor Aphra: A human female archaeologist, full name Chelli Lona Aphra, recruited by Darth Vader, along with her two assassin droid companions, 0-0-0 (Triple-Zero) and BT-1 (Beetee) for several covert missions outside the knowledge of the Empire. She is first featured in the Marvel comic series Star Wars: Darth Vader, before getting her own ongoing titular comic series.

I read Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #9-14 [$3.99] and was troubled that I enjoyed them so much. Aphra is very popular and, of late, comes off as a combination of Indiana Jones and con artist. Especially in the hands of writer Kieron Gillen, she’s actually sort of kind of likeable. I just have a hard time forgetting that she was a willing servant of Darth Vader, the guy who blew up his daughter’s planet just because he could.

Still, I can’t deny I’ve been enjoying her recent adventures. She found a magic crystal containing the consciousness of an ancient Jedi and that went south pretty quick. She’s been betrayed by her murderous droids. She made some enemies along the way and some of those are looking to settle old scores. It’s not an easy life for a young lady trying to get by. In that, she bears a wee resemblance to Kitsune, the beautiful, charming thief who’s a recurring player in Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo stories. I mean, I like bad girls as much as the next guy, but planet-blowing-up is a real deal-breaker for me. But I’ll work on it.

With terrific art and storytelling by Kev Walker and Marc Deering, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is a fine comic-book series. Even if you’re not an obsessive Star Wars fan and more casual like myself, you’ll not having any trouble getting into this series. I’m thankful that comics writers and editors are again mastering the skills of making each issue accessible to a new reader.

Bad girls. Whatcha gonna do?

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War Mother

The Valiant Universe seems to get bigger every month, but most of its titles are very friendly to the new reader. They start with a brief “what has gone before” synopsis, usually on the inside front cover, and the writers keep the readers in the loop. Here’s what we get on the inside front cover of War Mother #1:

Ana – a.k.a. War Mother – is protector of the Grove and its people. As chief warrior and resource-collector for the city, she always had a violent, difficult job. But since the Grove’s cruel ruler, Sylvan, was struck down, things have become tougher. Ana is now the Grove’s leader, but the town has fallen on hard times, with food and resources scarce…

Writer Fred Van Lente takes it from there. Ana tries to do right by her people and finds them what could be a new home. But there are things she doesn’t know about the new home and things she doesn’t know about those closest to her. Armed with her sentient gun Flaco, Ana is in for a desperate battle against a seemingly invincible for and a world where natural perils abound. Drawn by Stephen Segovia, the four-issue series [$3.99 per issue] is an exciting adventure. I liked it a lot and recommend it to you.

The series will be collected in War Mother [$9.99]. That volume is scheduled for March and will include the 4001 A.D.: War Mother one-shot that preceded this series.

ISBN 978-1682152379

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella