TONY’S TIPS #269

I took an extended lunch break one day last week, going to my local multiplex movie theater for an early showing of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. This was my reward to myself for completing a somewhat challenging comics script. This was a delightful experience on so many levels that I knew I’d have to write about it.

I’m going to eschew the spoiler warnings because I don’t need them to do this animated feature justice. In fact, the only spoiler in this week’s “Tony’s Tips” column is in the Internet Movie Database synopsis of the movie:

A villain’s maniacal plan for world domination sidetracks five teenage superheroes who dream of Hollywood stardom.

This will ramble a bit because I want to share that fun afternoon with you. As I said, I went to an early showing figuring I’d grab lunch at the Regal Stadium 16 in Medina, Ohio. The t-shirt I wore had the Black Lightning logo from the TV series. The guy at the refreshment stand saw my shirt and excitedly asked:

“Do you know the guy who created Black Lightning lives right here in Medina?”

I confessed that I did know this and added:

“I’m him.”

The guy showed me his own art on his phone. I gave him some quick advice and then ordered what turned out to be a very tasty pizza. That was another pleasant surprise.

The individual theater showing the movie was almost empty. Besides me, there was a young woman with four kids. I got a kick out of how excited they were and how much they enjoyed the film. I enjoyed it as much or more than they did.

Robin and his team are miffed they aren’t on the guest list for the premiere of a new Batman movie. How they get seats at this showing is one of the best gags of the feature.

Robin is humiliated by the disrespect shown him. He dreams of being the star of his own movie. His teammates try to bolster his self-esteem in ways both heartwarming and hilarious. There’s some real heart and soul to this movie, deftly mixed in with the crazy humor and the occasional musical number.

I’m not going to give away of the gags. Some of them are aimed at older viewers. Some had me laughing out loud. The movie as a whole was incredibly inviting to most longtime comics readers like me and to the youngsters who probably only know these characters from the cartoons and movies and TV shows. We got a very satisfying ending, which made me love the film even more.

Kudos to writers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath for a smart and funny script. Kudos to directors Horvath and Peter Rida Michail. Kudos to the great Teen Titans voice actors –  Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong and Hynden Walch – and to all the fantastic guest voice actors. To the actor who also played a certain flame-headed motorcyclist of my acquaintance, I’m so happy you got to fulfill one of your dreams in this movie.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is my pick of the week. Starting in 2019, the Eisner Awards should start honoring comics-based movies and TV shows. This animated feature should be the first nominated, followed by Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Lightning, Black Panther, Lucifer and Luke Cage.

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tenements towers and trash

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City by Julia Wertz [Black Dog & Leventhal; $29.99] was a New York Times Notable Book of 2017. Based on Wertz’s columns for  The New Yorker and Harper’s, it combines comics storytelling with meticulous drawings of buildings, streets and all the architectural vibrancy that mark past and present-day New York.

This 284-page tome is perfect for displaying on your coffee table and picking up whenever you’re in the mood for a charming lesson on the Big Apple. Wertz makes much of this history personal. It made me wish I was with her on her exploratory walks around the city she called home for many years. Here and there, when she draw a part of the city I knew from my much shorter time there, I felt a yearning to see those places again.

The book is just plain gorgeous. I could look at it for hours and re-read some parts of it again and again. I think it would make an outstanding gift for someone you love who lives in New York City or who has lived in New York City or who wishes they could live or, at least, visit New York City for an extended time. It makes me want to arrange my schedule to spend a couple weeks in my old hood. What would it be like to be writing and making deadlines in the same area where I wrote so many of my Marvel and DC Comics stories? But I digress.

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City gets my recommendation. It’s a fine book.

ISBN 978-0-316-50121-7

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Heavy Vinyl

Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva, Irene Flores and Rebecca Nalty [BOOM! Box; $14.99] is a collection of the first four issues of the comic book, though the first three issues went by the name Hi-Fi Fight Club. This isn’t a book for which I have much affinity, which won’t stop me from recommending it here. Not every comic book has to be tailored for me.

Here’s the back-cover sales pitch:

When Chris joins the staff at her local record store, she’s surprised to find out that her co-workers share a secret: they’re all members of a secret fight club that take on the patriarchy and fight crime!

Starry-eyed Chris has just started the dream job every outcast kid in town wants: working at Vinyl Mayhem. It’s as rad as she imagined; her boss is BOSS, her co-workers spend their time arguing over music, pushing against the patriarchy, and endlessly trying to form a band. When Rosie Riot, the staff’s favorite singer, mysteriously vanishes the night before her band’s show, Chris discovers her co-workers are doing more than just sorting vinyl. Her local indie record store is also a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club!

Follow writer Carly Usdin (director of Suicide Kale) and artist Nina Vakueva (Lilith’s World) into Heavy Vinyl, where they deliver a rock and roll tale of intrigue and boundless friendship.

The music background didn’t do anything for me, but that’s on me. As I get older, I don’t listen to music while I’m writing. If it’s in English, it’s too distracting. When I do listen to music, it’s instrumental, Japanese or salsa. Go figure.

The characters are likeable, the writing is good, the art is good. The back-issue blurb about this story showing “that girls can be both smart and tough” got a snort out of me because there are now a few dozen comics that do the same thing. Yes, Heavy Vinyl is one of those comics, but it’s far from alone in this welcome change to the comics industry.

Basically, Heavy Vinyl isn’t my thing, but I can recognize it as a quality comic book and realize that a great many readers will like it better than I did. If this mention puts those readers together with this book, I’ll be delighted.

ISBN 978-1-68415-141-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #268

A few days ago, I binge-watched the second season of Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix. It was so excellent and so overpowering it became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to write about anything else until I shared my thoughts on the series with you. Though the season is  completed, I realize many of you will not have watched all thirteen episodes yet. Which means I must caution you that there are

SPOILERS AHEAD
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Luke Cage [played by Mike Colter] is out of prison, exonerated and trying to protect Harlem from gangsters like Mariah Dillard [Alfre Woodard] and “Shades” Alvarez [Theo Rossi]. The hero struggles with his fame even as significant other Claire Temple [Rosario Dawson] struggles with being part of his life and his world. Having lost an arm in The Defenders, Detective Misty Knight [Simone Missick] tries to overcome her loss and stay on the job.

james lucas

There are expanded roles for supporting characters. D.W. Griffith [Jeremiah Craft] is hawking Luke Cage t-shirts and videos, but, by season’s end, emerges as a voice of conscience. Mariah flunky Alex Wesley [John Clarence Stewart] shines. Sleazy attorney Ben Donovan [Danny Johnson] is more sleazy than ever. Ron Cephas Jones is his usual brilliant as Bobby Fish, Luke’s agent and friend. Sugar [Sean Ringgold], another of the Shades crew, plays a pivotal role as the season unfolds. Released from Seagate Prison and reunited with his lifelong friend Shades, Comanche [Thomas Q. Jones] is also a key player. All of these actors rise to the occasion when the stories demand it of them.

bushmaster

The new faces are astounding. Jamaican gangster Bushmaster [Mustafa Shakir] is simply the best villain of any who have appeared in any  Marvel Netflix series. He seeks a terrible vengeance on Mariah for grievous wrongs done to his family by her family. Tilda Johnson [Gabrielle Dennis] is Mariah’s estranged daughter, a doctor who now embraces more natural methods of healing.

Chaz Lamar Shepherd is outrageous as crooked entrepreneur “Piranha” Jones. Captain Tom Ridenhour [Peter Jay Fernandez] is a by-the-book commander trying to adapt to the violence in the streets.

Anansi [Sahr Ngaujah] is a voice of reason swallowed in the violent chaos his nephew Bushmaster has brought to Harlem. Preacher James Lucas [Reg E. Cathey] is Luke Cage’s estranged father. If you think this season has a great many family connections, you’ve nailed it.

Bonus. We get guest appearances by Danny Rand [Finn Jones], Foggy Nelson [Elden Henson], Colleen Wing [Jessica Henwick] and a semi-reformed Turk [Rob Morgan]. I got a kick out of these.

The character arcs drive this season. Luke finds punching won’t get the job done because there’s always someone who punches harder. He makes uneasy alliances, makes personal sacrifices, ends up owning Harlem’s Paradise, seat of power in the community he protects. Will his soul be the price he pays in the third season?

Spiritual “soul” is also key to Luke and his preacher father coming together. It’s an inspiring journey of reconciliation. Such a shame  Cathey passed away in February. I was really hoping for more scenes between him and Colter.

misty and luke

Misty’s journey. The show made the correct call in waiting before giving Misty her signature bionic arm. Her struggle in dealing with her limitations  was intense, especially during a barroom brawl in which she tried to punch an assailant with an arm no longer there. As her career path moves upward, there’s the intriguing possibility her and Luke might soon be at odds.

Claire Temple has been our POV into the insane world of people with abilities. She’s maintained that role through nearly every Netflix series. With this season, she reaches the breaking point. It’s an arc that feels incredibly real.

When I talked about Bushmaster being the best villain in any of the Marvel Netflix series, I don’t say that lightly. So many villains  seem wholly inadequate to the challenge of being the “big bad” in these stories. Wilson Fisk is an obsessive man-child incapable of controlling his anger. Diamondback was even more unhinged. I could not believe either could command their criminal armies and command the respect such power would require.

Flawed criminals can certainly be interesting. Corner “Cottonmouth” Stokes was actually a tragic figure in some ways, denied the life he wanted by his family ties. Mariah was this weird combination of  power player and madwoman. She was shaped and doomed by the tragedy of growing up in the Stokes family. Tilda might face the same doom as she turns dark at the end of the season.

shades

After Bushmaster, “Shades” Alvarez is the most interesting villain  in the Netflix Universe. He’s frighteningly good at his evil work. He plays by a set of rules, twisted though they might be, that are ignored by other villains. He aspires to a better life than that he has known and is capable of genuine love for people in his world. His arc in this second season is riveting, coming to a satisfying conclusion. But I hope we haven’t seen the last of him.

Bushmaster? He can go toe-to-toe with Luke Cage and, on a couple of occasions, come out the victor. He’s tricky, not above using some of his natural herbs against Cage. He’s brutally evil, but he has a background steeped in tragedy. He’s willing to sacrifice his own well-being to accomplish the vengeance he seeks. He’s as compelling a character as we have seen in the Netflix offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He has no reason to return to Harlem, but I’m hoping he turns up in some other Marvel series. Some other Marvel hero should make a trip to Jamaica. Maybe Rand Industries has some business interests there.

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Some spoiler-free observations. Cheo Hodari Coker is the creator of this series as well as the executive producer and the writer of a number of key episodes. My admiration for his talents and what he has brought to Luke Cage is immense.

The direction of the series has been top-notch. Three directors are great actors as well: Clark Johnson, Lucy Liu and Salli Richardson- Whitfield. The writing has been equally dead on.

The music? I could listen to soundtrack CDs of Luke Cage and Black Lightning all day and night long. The range of the music is quite astonishing. The live performances are sensational.

Luke Cage Season Two is every bit as good as Black Lightning Season One. I can offer no higher praise than that. While you’re waiting for season two of Black Lightning, you should watch Luke Cage. It gets my highest recommendation.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #267

Comic-Con International 2018 is in the record books. It will take me a few weeks to digest the news that came out of San Diego last weekend, but I can make some predictions.

Some of the news will strike me as amazing in a “can’t wait to see or read that” sort of way. Some of the news will strike me as “so stupid it destroys my faith in sentient humanity.” Some of the news will defy any prediction as in “that could be great or it could be terrible.” Life and comics are uncertain.

However…I hope that I’ll continue to find and enjoy all sorts of comics and related items. I hope that the remarkable diversity in the comics art form will continue and grow. I hope I’ll continue to share my fines with you right here.

Let’s lead with a truly outstanding comics collection…

We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust by Neal Adams, Rafael Medoff and Craig Yoe [Yoe Books; $49.99] gathers together eighteen classic comic-book stories about or concerning the Holocaust. This important book becomes all the more so at a time when the shadows of the Nazi scourge have not only resurfaced and spread across the world, but cast their unthinkable horror into the very White House that once stood so resolutely against them.

The book starts with introductions by Stan Lee, Adams, Medoff and Yoe. From there, it reprints Al Feldstein’s and Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race,” one of the first comics stories to shine a light on the Nazi death camps and still powerful over six decades after its initial publication.

The other seventeen stories were originally printed in war comics, horror comics and super-hero comics like Captain Marvel, Batman, Captain America and Uncanny X-Men. I was especially gratified that “The Duty of Man” by Chris Claremont and George Evans was included in this anthology. It is a strikingly strong work that appeared in War is Hell, the series I created for Marvel Comics in the 1970s, and which I turned over to Chris because I felt he would do a much better job with the concept. Which he did.

The final comics story in the book is “The Last Outrage” by Medoff and Adams. Published in X-Men: Magneto Testament #5 from 2008, it is a non-Marvel Universe story about the struggle of painter Dina Babbitt to recover paintings she did under coercion while she was a prisoner in Auschwitz. Those paintings how hang in the Auschwitz Museum. The museum refused to return these paintings to the since-passed Babbitt and refuses to return them to her surviving family. The museum once made the outrageous claim that the paintings were the property of the Nazi who forced Babbitt to paint them to save her life and that of her mother. That Nazi was Dr. Josef Mengele. In a few gripping pages, Medoff and Adams expose the vileness that was the backdrop of these paintings and the modern-day vileness of the museum’s refusal to return them to Babbitt’s family.

We Spoke Out is my top contender for every comics award it will be eligible for next year. It is a book that every comics fan should own. It is a book that should be in every public and school library because we must teach our children about the Holocaust. This book is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-63140-888-5

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Cici's Journal

Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training, written by  by Joris Chamblain and illustrated by Aurélie Neyret [First Second; $17.99] is a charming French graphic novel about a young girl who dreams of being a novelist. She keeps a journal, she observes the people she sees around her. When any of those people are something of a mystery, well, the game is afoot.

Cici is dedicated in her quest for answers to these mysteries, but that dedication often leads her to treating her friends and mother badly. She gets so focused that she fails to realize the people in her life are not there simply to support her story. They all have lives and needs of their own. This is pretty heady stuff for a book aimed at readers under the age of 13.

The mysteries are fascinating. The first of the two stories in the book concerns a mysterious man, his coat spattered with paint, who Cici spots in the forest where her friends and her are building a secret fort. The second story involves an elderly woman who checks out the same book from the town library every week. The development and resolutions of these stories are clever and satisfying, as is the growth we see in Cici.

I love this graphic novel. I’m amazed it didn’t win a whole bunch of awards. It would make a great gift for any pre-teen child, but especially for girls. It should be in public and school libraries. Though aimed at younger readers, this doddering old man enjoyed it immensely. You should check it out.

ISBN 978-1-62672-249-4

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Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs 1

Assassination Classroom and Princess Jellyfish are two of my most favorite manga series. Having finished reading both of them, I have been looking around for another manga series with which I can fall hopeless in love. Unfortunately, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs by Tadahiro Miura [Ghost Ship; $12.99] isn’t going to be that manga series. This despite having a cool premise:

Homeless and haunted by ghosts, high schooler Kogarashi thinks his luck has finally turned when he finds Yuragi-sou-a cheap boarding house that was formerly a hot springs inn, now full of super sexy, scantily clad female tenants. If Kogarashi can use his spirit abilities to banish the ghost that haunts the inn, he can even live there rent-free! But when the ghost, a beautiful teenage girl named Yuuna, appears before him, Kogarashi takes pity on her and is suddenly not so sure about the exorcism. Will he help save Yuuna from becoming an evil spirit? And what supernatural secrets do the other boarders hold?

What keeps me from embracing Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs is the plethora of salacious – albeit “R” rated at worst – images of beautiful young woman, some of them yokai, flashing their breasts, butts, panties and other undergarments. The style of Miura’s art is such that the characters don’t always appear to be of legal age. I find that problematic, even though it’s an established tradition in manga. I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’ll read the series past the first volume.

A live-action and somewhat more discreet version of Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs could make for a fun movie. Such mildly raunchy teen comedies are part of our American movie tradition. But, in its current manga form, the series is troubling.

ISBN 978-1-94780-404-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #266

Comic-Con International 2018 is happening in San Diego this week. If you are going to be there, I wish you a exciting, fun and safe convention.

If you’re a Black Lightning fan, be on the lookout for some special convention exclusives. There’s a special Black Lightning bag that comes with a Black Lightning pin. They look great.

There’s also an exclusive San Diego Comic-Con Lego Black Lightning figure that’s amazing. Writing the award-deserving Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands series that reinvented my creation for today was incredible satisfying. Seeing Black Lightning in a hit TV series on the CW was literally a dream come true. But a Black Lightning Lego figure? Now I know I’ve made it!

Sadly, I will not be at the convention. However, I encourage you to tell everyone I was there, that I was the nicest comics creator you met at the convention and that, after meeting me, you couldn’t stop fantasizing about me. Because all of those things would be true if I was at Comic-Con.

I raise my glass to all those lucky enough to be in Sam Diego this week. Have a wonderful time!

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Writer Sholly Fisch is the E. Nelson Bridwell of today. Coming from me, that’s high praise. Because when Bridwell wrote Super Friends in the 1970s, I thought it was a better Justice League comic book than the actual Justice League title. His stories were clever with fun twists and he made use of the vast cornucopia of characters to be found in the DC Universe.

Fisch’s Scooby-Doo! Team-Up Volume 5 [DC; $12.99] is every bit as delightful as Super Friends was. This trade paperback collects the stories from issues #25-30 of the ongoing title. The stories were all published online in a half-page format, but the art and layouts are so skillfully done that doesn’t leap out at the reader.

What Fisch brings to these stories is an encyclopedia knowledge of the DC Universe and a wry humor that works on multiple levels. The younger readers will be entertained and the older readers will find additional laughs aimed at them. For example, an issue teaming the Scooby gang with Green Arrow and Green Lantern during the emerald heroes hard-traveling days makes light of “moral decay” and other very familiar lines from the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams comics of the 1970s. I chuckled out loud several times.

Besides the “green team,” the six issues feature Hong Kong Phooey,  Plastic Man, Jonah Hex, Top Cat and the Challengers of the Unknown. I’m not listing all of the other heroes and villains who appear in these tales because I don’t want to lessen the surprises that await you. I will say this Hong Kong Phooey team-up was more humorous and satisfying than the martial arts mutt’s recent meeting with Black Lightning. This appearance made me want to watch the original Hong Kong Phooey cartoons.

I shouldn’t gloss over how well Fisch writes the Scooby-Doo cast. He nails all of them: Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Fred and Daphne. The mysteries they solve, even with the inclusion of super-villains and such, are true to the classic cartoon mysteries. Factor in the terrific art of Dario Brizuela, Scott Jeralds and Dave Alvarez with their clean lines and solid storytelling and you have a fun comic book for all ages.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up Volume 5 is my pick of the week. I recommend it to all of my Tips readers, especially those looking for something a bit more lighthearted than most super-hero comics.

ISBN 978-1-4012-8419-0

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Gumballs

Gumballs by Erin Nations [Top Shelf; $19.99] is a collection of his comics works that range from single-page strips to longer stories. These fascinating and funny works deal with the cartoonist’s gender transition, his life as a triplet, his workplace and more. There’s a series of vignettes about a love struck teenager and a series of full-page “personal ads” by some odd characters seeking love in one form or another. I found the latter baffling, but riveting.

Sometime in the hopefully near future, I’ll be able to write about a book like this without mentioning diversity or gender identity. Sometime, these stories will just be observations on and stories of a comics creator’s life. Yet, because we live in a time enjoying a glorious outpouring of diversity, a time enriched by all these new voices, I feel this needs to be mentioned. And because we also live in a time when throwbacks to primitive times strive to eliminate our wondrous diversity, I feel it’s important for creators and fans to champion this excellent material.

Gumballs collects the first four issues of the Gumballs comic book and adds 32 pages of new material. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to teen and older readers. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-60309-431-3

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accident-man

I have a very mild obsession about watching every movie based on a comic book or comic strip. It’s mild because no one has been good (or bad) enough to inflame my minor passion by publishing an easy-to-use encyclopedia of such movies. If someone does that, I could be in trouble.

Accident Man was a comics series by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner that appeared in the 1990s comics magazine Toxic! The title character was an assassin who made his for-hire murders look like accidents. I read a handful of Accident Man stories back in the day, but have no clear recollection of them.

Accident Man (2018) is a movie based on the Mills/Skinner stories. It stars Scott Adkins as hitman Mike Fallon. Adkins also co-wrote the screenplay. Familiar faces in the cast include Ray Stevenson, Ashley Greene, Dave Paymer, Michael Jai White, Ray Park and actress stuntwoman Amy Johnston. It’s a good cast and the fight scenes are effectively cool. The Internet Movie Database has this summary and, I caution you, it’s full of SPOILERS:

Mike Fallon is a stone cold killer whose methodical hits baffle the police and delight his clients. He’s the best at what he does. But when a loved one is dragged into the London underworld and murdered by his own crew, Fallon is forced to rip apart the life he knew in order to hold those accountable and avenge the one person who actually meant something to him.

Accident Man was fun, but both Adkins and the movie came off like “Jason Statham Lite.” It dragged every now and then during its 105-minute running time, but the various killers were darkly amusing. The story set its sights on its resolution and there were no real surprises between the start of Fallon’s personal mission and that resolution. The conclusion was just there; I didn’t find it truly satisfying. It needed something more.

Regular readers of my work know that I am far more forgiving of TV shows and movies than of comic books. I know how to create great comic books. Movies and TV are not presently part of my skill set. So my suggestion to you is that if you really like Jason Statham movies and have watched them all, Accident Man might tide you over until the next one.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #265

Ant-Man and the Wasp went into general release on Friday, July 6. The opening weekend estimate is that it earned $85-$95 million and that’s impressive. It was expected to do well, of course, because this is a Marvel Cinematic Universe release, but still impressive. Rotten Tomatoes rates it 86%.

Saintly Wife Barb and I were at the world premiere of the movie and saw it in Imax. I have not been a devotee of Imax in the past for various reasons, but I have to admit the presentation was amazing. I may have to rethink my theater habits.

Now that the movie has entered general release, I can talk about it in greater detail. This sequel has everything that made Ant-Man one of my favorite Marvel movies. Despite the trippy adventures within the Quantum Realm, this is a seriously down-to-earth story centered on family. Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a good father to his delightful daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the Wasp/Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are trying to find and rescue Hope’s long-missing mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. Those are the obvious families.

Yet Scott Lang’s formerly criminal associates (Michael Peña, T.I., David Dastmalchian) are like unto a family themselves. We even get a paternal vibe from Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) and the Ghost/Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), the desperate young woman he tries to help. All these family elements resonate with me. Indeed, I wish the movie had also given us more Judy Greer (Cassie’s mother) and Bobby Cannavale (Cassie’s stepdad), who I have loved in virtually everything they’ve ever appeared in.

The multiple threats in the movie are the weapons dealer who wants Hank’s tech, the perils of the Quantum Realm and the federal agents who have placed Scott under house arrest and are hunting Hank and Hope. I’m a bit conflicted about Homeland Security agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) being played as such an inefficient dweeb, but part of me responds such government mockery.

There are incredible action scenes throughout the movie. The heat, often playful, between Scott and Hope, is heartwarming. Hank Pym is so deliciously prickly that I want to be him when I grow up. (This would please my wife who has had a crush on Douglas since Streets of San Francisco.) Comedy-wise, Peña steals the movie whenever he narrates important back story.

This is an incredibly well-written, well-acted movie with special effects that are totally on point. The rivalry between Foster and Pym is a nice touch; I’m hoping Fishburne has a bigger role in the next Ant-Man/Wasp movie…and yes, I know you saw what I did there. Gotta earn my “special thanks to” credit somehow.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is my pick of the week. I’ll probably see it again in the next few weeks.

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Tap Dance Killer

I am tired to my bone marrow of comics creators and publishers who try to emulate the super-hero comics of the 1970s. At their best, most of these efforts come off as echoes of the past. Some of them, intentionally or not, are just plain insulting. Like, for example, whatever the heck Fantagraphics thinks it’s doing. Yet, every now and again, someone comes along and does a comic that adds modern sensibility to 1970s vibe and, in doing so, creates something that is both comfortingly familiar and crackling fresh.

Tap Dance Killer #1 [Hero Tomorrow Comics; $3.99] is evidence that writer/publisher Ted Sikora has mastered this combination. Quoting from the TDK’s Facebook page: “Nikki St Clair is a mega-talented actress who is cast in a horror-show musical as the TAP DANCE KILLER, but something changes in her causing this quadruple-threat performer to go full ‘method’ on the streets of Cleveland!”

Hero? Villain? Complicated? Nikki is all of these. Sikora takes us into her fragmented psyche through flashbacks, her dangerous days in prison and her life after escaping prison. She’s been targeted by the Cleveland mob. She has her own support group of sorts and, though I don’t trust them, I look forward to learning about them. And then there’s the big question: how much of the real Nikki is in and in control of her TDK persona?

Nikolaus Harrison captures the 1970s style of super-hero art. His work would have considered well-above-average then. This comic has good storytelling, vibrant colors that work with the storytelling and solid production values.

Tap Dance Killer #1 gets my recommendation. You’ll enjoy it. And, hey, while you’re here, I’ll also recommend Apama: The Undiscovered Animal and Hero Tomorrow, the independent film that started it all.

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Kid Space Patrol

Know a creative youngster who’s into comics and maybe want to try their hand at making their own? Have I got a very cool comic book for them?

Kid Space Patrol by John Zakour and Tayah Payne with illustrations by Scott Roberts [$12.99] is two books in one. The Kid Space Patrol adventure stars twins Layla and Mahdi, their mom and their lizard as they travel through space righting wrongs. My impulse is to say they fight evil, but, for a comic aimed at middle readers, KSP has a different approach to conflict. Once they suss out what’s going on in the situation, the twins come up with a novel way to end the problem. It’s clever stuff with a lively style of art that I think will inspire the book’s younger readers to try their own hands at drawing comic books.

Wait a minute, Tony! You said “two books in one. What’s the second book?” I am so glad you asked.

After the comics story, Zakour, Payne and Roberts conduct a nifty “how to” course in making comics. Their tutorial offers very sound tips and is very easy to understand.

Kid Space Patrol would make a great gift to the comics-loving young kid in your life. I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-9802-1883-8

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #264

Saintly Wife Barb and I attended the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp in Los Angeles last Monday. It was a fabulous evening and included some personal moments with Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Lawrence Fishburne. Not to mention comics pals like Jan Utstein- O’Neill of Marvel Studios; John Jackson Miller, who I worked with at Comics Buyer’s Guide and who created a couple of the characters who appeared in the film; Michael Lovitz, my amazing attorney who also represents many other comics creators; and Bob Layton, whose credits includes a legendary run on Iron Man.

Since the movie doesn’t go into general release until July 6, I’m not going to review it here. That review will have to wait until my next “Tony’s Tips” column. However, I will tell you it’s a terrific film, well worth seeing, and that my name appears in the “Special Thanks To” list in the end credits. As always, my thanks to Marvel Comics for bringing me to this event. I am forever grateful for the kindness and respect Marvel has shown and continues to show me. I am proud to be associated with the company.

MM Ant-Man Giant-Man

I don’t have to hold back on my review of Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume Three [$75], which arrived just in time for me to read before and after the Ant-Man and the Wasp premiere. In this volume, we get three new introductions and over 300 pages of comics and other features.

Mike Friedrich writes about his short-lived Ant-Man series that ran in Marvel Feature. That series, in which Hank Pym and the Wasp were trapped at insect-size, holds up well. Herb Trimpe drew the first three issues, brilliantly depicting the enormous world in which our heroes existed. Herb was followed by a young P. Craig Russell.

I wrote about Bill Foster’s return to the Marvel Universe as Black Goliath in a couple of issues of Power Man and then his own short-lived title. Foster plays a key role in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

David Michelinie’s introduction details his creation of Scott Lang, the ex-convict who is Ant-Man in the current comic books and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These three prose pieces cover a lot of comics history.

This Masterworks volume also reprints a short Ant-Man story by Roy Thomas and Ross Andru, the issues of Power Man that introduced Bill Foster’s giant-size identity, his own series, the few issues of The Champions in which he appeared and the two-issue origin of the Scott Lang Ant-Man by Michelinie, John Byrne and Bob Layton. There is also a section of special items, including never-published Ant-Man art. It’s a wonderful collection and I recommend it to anyone who loves Marvel comic books and movies.

For the incredible fun of it, Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume Three is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-302-91079-2

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Blazing Combat

Fantagraphics Books has published a third edition of The Blazing Combat Collection [$29.99]. The volume collects all four issues of the black-and-white comics magazine published by Jim Warren in the mid-1960s. Written by the rightfully legendary Archie Goodwin, the stories were controversial for the era and quickly frowned upon, as  as in “We won’t sell these at our PXs” by the American military. Which is why the title only ran four issues.

Goodwin’s tales ran the gamut of military history, but it was the stories set in Vietnam that triggered the military’s action against the title. The power of those and other less contemporary to that time stories are why I recommend the volume to you today. That and the many amazing artists who drew Goodwin’s scripts: Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, George Evans, Gray Morrow, Reed Crandall, Al McWilliams, John Severin, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Gene  Colan and Russ Heath. Also included in the book: interviews with Warren and Goodwin.

I own at least one of the previous printings of The Blazing Combat Collection, but this strikes me as the nicest of the three. It has an elegance to it that makes it a book I want on my bookshelves and which belongs in every public and (age appropriate) school library.

It’s a book you’ll want for your home library as well.

ISBN 978-1-68396-084-3

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Retro Fan

Edited by Michael Eury of Back Issue fame, Retro Fan [$8.95] is the new addition to TwoMorrows Publishing’s roster of great magazines. Dedicated to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Retro Fan celebrates those wonderful toys, TV shows, movies and more that the kids growing up in those decades loved.

The first issue is a basket of such goodies. There’s an interview with Lou Ferrigno, live action’s original Incredible Hulk. Martin Pasko writes about the Phantom. Andy Mangles boldly goes forth to reveal all about Star Trek: The Animated Series. In other pieces, you’ll be entertained by insightful looks at monster master Lon Chaney Jr.; Betty Lynn, Mayberry’s own Thelma Lou; Mego’s elastic Hulk; Mr. Microphone, perhaps the era’s most annoying toy; The Andy Griffith Show; collecting in general and more. Of special interest to me were Scott Shaw!’s report on Zody the Mod Robot and the very funny “rejected” cover than closes out the issue.

Retro Fan has wonderful writers, crisp layouts and so many photos and other images that you could fall into a nostalgia coma. If you of my generation, or just someone interested in the entertainments of my generation, you’ll love Retro Fan. I eagerly await the next quarterly issue.

I’ll be back next week with my review of Ant-Man and the Wasp plus other goodies. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #263

I’m writing this the day after I attended a special Marvel Comics screening of the first two episodes of Luke Cage Season Two. It was a wonderful event, made all the more so by the presence of Don and Marsha McGregor, the Marcus McLaurin family, and the families of Rich Buckler, Archie Goodwin, Billy Graham and George Tuska. Not to slight our honorable hosts: David Bogart, Tom Brevoort and Brian Overton.

I am best known for my work on Black Lightning at DC Comics and I mean no slight to the fine folks there when I say Marvel has always kept its agreements with me and, since the dawning of the company’s cinematic and television empires, with great respect. They’ve made me feel like I’m still part of the Marvel family.

Since Luke Cage Season Two dropped last Friday, I’m guessing many of you have already seen the entire season. It’ll be a while before I can do the same. But I do have some quick thoughts on the pair of episodes I have seen.

Luke is dealing with his new fame as he continues to fight the good fight in Harlem. It’s not an easy thing for him and it puts him at odds with some of those closest to him. Adding to his difficulties, his estranged father has turned up. Mike Colton continues to give Emmy-worthy performances as Cage.

Misty Knight, played by the transcendent Simone Messick, is giving her own Emmy-worthy performances as her character deals with losing an arm. While I’m looking forward to Misty getting her bionic arm as much as anyone, I applaud the show’s restraint in holding off on that for a while. Messick is killing it.

What else? New scary situations. New scary villains. Music that is the second best of any TV series I’m watching. The first is still Black Lightning. Sorry, Luke.

If you didn’t want the first season of Luke Cage, you need do that as soon as possible. Then, properly entertained and impressed, you can move on to the second season.

Luke Cage Season Two’s first two episodes are my undisputed picks of the week. I’ll have more to say about the second season when I re-watch those episodes and then the rest of the season.

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DC Comics Variant Covers

I described DC Comics Variant Covers: The Complete Visual History by Daniel Wallace [Insight Editions; $45] as being such a gorgeous coffee table book that it made me want to buy a new coffee table to put it on. But, though it has its many charms, it’s got a word in its title that makes me wince.

Complete.

There are dozens of great cover reproductions in this 11 by 14-inch book. Some of the best artists in comics. Some of the most dynamic images. Some of the funniest gags. However…it is, by no means, a complete visual history. We don’t get every variant cover, just a generous sampling thereof.

For the most part, Wallace offers a decent history of DC’s variant covers. Yet he never mentions some of DC’s earliest variant covers, such as the one done for Justice League #3 [July, 1983] as a test market for newsstand sales. The book also lacks a checklist of the DC variant covers.

Complete.

If Wallace had replaced the word “complete” with “a,” I wouldn’t be dismayed by this otherwise fun book. When books have “complete” or “encyclopedia” in the titles, the reader has a right to expect the books to be complete and encyclopedic. Not long ago, I reviewed a book called Encyclopedia of Black Comics that didn’t mention many of the most important black creators. It, too, did not live up to its title. This is why you will never see me use the words complete or encyclopedia in the titles of any books I write.

I’m still going to recommend DC Comics Variant Covers: The Complete Visual History. I think fans of comic-book art will get a kick out of it. I think it would make a terrific gift for the comics fan you love enough to spend almost half a c-note on. Just recognize that its title isn’t accurate.

ISBN 978-1-60887-832-1

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More Heroes 01

It almost goes without saying that Drew Friedman is one of the best and most interesting artists of our time. His intricate portraits can be appreciated and studied as the great works they are. Yet I didn’t much care for his Heroes Of The Comic Books: 75 Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends Of Comic Books [Fantagraphics Books; $34.99] when it was published in 2014. There were two distinct elements to my disappointment with the book.

The artistic one was that almost all of Friedman’s subjects in the book were drawn from images of their older selves. We didn’t see a lot of their vibrant prime years.

The historical one was that the text accompanying each portrait was either lacking in important detail or erroneous or wrong. When it comes to mainstream comics history, Fantagraphics often gets facts incorrect. It elevates conjecture, rhetoric and speculation to the level of truth.

Published in 2016, Friedman’s More Heroes Of The Comics: Portraits Of The Legends Of Comic Books [$34.99] is an improvement over the earlier books in a number of ways. Firstly, there’s more Friedman art to enjoy: 100 new full-page portraits of the legends of comic books and several smaller one.

Friedman has clearly found new photographic inspiration for these portraits. This time out, we get a range of ages with many of the creators shown in the prime. Having worked with some of this book’s subjects, that made the art more enjoyable for me.

Unfortunately, the historical material is still lacking. Some pages have little more than a paragraph of material. So many interesting accomplishments and quirks are left out of the text.

Worse, though better than in the first volume, there are many pesky errors of fact in this book. Many of these come from what I think has become a Fantagraphics and anti-mainstream bias that routinely ignores inconvenient facts if it doesn’t suit the writer’s agenda. Heck, the cover quote by indy favorite Daniel Clowes, comes right out and say readers shouldn’t bother with the history books.

Nowhere is the anti-mainstream bias more evident that when it comes to naming artists as creators or co-creators. I laughed out loud at the outrageous suggestion that Mike Sekowsky, as much as I admire his work, was a co-creator of the Justice League of America. That title was conceived by Julius Schwartz as a revamping of the 1940s Justice Society of America. The debut issue was written by Gardner Fox after a plotting session with Schwartz and his script was then edited by Schwartz. Every super-hero character in the series was an existing super-hero, none of them created, co-created or drawn by Sekowsky when they first appeared. The only original characters in the first story were sidekick Snapper Carr and villain Starro the Conqueror.

Current fashion is to name the original writer and artist of books and characters as co-creators. It’s accepted, even by me, as just the way it’s now done. But, though I accept this, I recognized how flawed it is from an historical standpoint. Editors have created characters and handed them off to writers and artists. Writers have written full scripts for the artist to draw. Artists come up with characters which the editor and writer put into the scripts. There is simply no “one size fits all” determination of creation except that which is convenient for bookkeeping purposes.

As with the previous volume, I recommend Friedman’s More Heroes Of The Comics for his brilliant portraits. It would make a wonderful gift for the comics fan savvy enough to take the text material with a grain of salt.

ISBN 978-11-60699-960-8

That’s all for this week, my friends. If all goes as planned, I’ll be Los Angeles the day this week’s column posts. Marvel invited me to the premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Joyfully, my plus one for this event is my Saintly Wife Barb. I’m not sure when I’ll review the movie – definitely not before its general release – but I will review it in the near future.

Have a great week. See you soon.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #262

My latest comics gear buy was this cool “Return of the Ant-Man” T-shirt from Stylin Online. I bought it because Marvel has invited me and my Saintly Wife Barb to the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Marvel has been great about inviting me to events like this and I thank them for it.

The “Return of the Ant-Man” t-shirt costs $19.88 in small through extra-large. It’s also available in XXL, XXXL and 4xL at a cost of $21.88, $22.88 and $23.88 respectively.

Black Lightning suit

Even if it arrives before we leave for the premiere, I don’t plan on wearing this shirt to the premiere. I’ll be debuting the second of the two new suits I bought this year from Men’s Warehouse. The first was the one I wore to the Black Lightning premiere in D.C. earlier this year. The second, which I just picked up, is a custom-made suit with a label you might find interesting:

The young man who sold me the suits was a James Bond fan and also a comics fan. His label read: You Only Live Twice. When he told me I could get any label I wanted, my choice was obvious.

I’ll be wearing the new suit to the Ant-Man and the Wasp premiere. Look for a report on that event and a review of the movie sometime in the near future. Speaking of other comics-oriented movies and TV shows…

Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger launched on Freeform on June 7 with two episodes. I’ve since watched the third episode. Here’s the quickie introduction from epguides.com:

Two troubled teens find themselves with strange powers, and a mysterious connection that draws them to each other.

Cloak and Dagger were created by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Ed Hannigan. They appeared in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (March 1982) as runaways whose run-in with a criminal chemist connected them and gave them super-powers, which they used to bring down drug dealers. Since then, Cloak (Tyrone Johnson) and Dagger (Tandy Bowen) have sometimes been considered mutants and sometimes not. In truth, the further removed they became from their Mantlo and Hannigan stories, the less interest I had in them. Fortunately, while keeping the most basic of basics, the new TV series doesn’t follow the comic books.

As young children, teens Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy (Olivia Holt) were exposed to energy released when a Roxxon Corporation oil rig collapses. They were in a lake at the time: Tyrone because his older brother had been shot by a bent cop and he dove in to try to rescue him. Tandy because her father, a Roxxon scientist, became distracted when the oil rig exploded while he was driving her home from a ballet lesson. Young Tyrone’s power manifested, as did young Tandy’s, and he rescued her.

Years later, their circumstances are much different. Roxxon pinned the oil rig disaster on Tandy’s father, leaving her and her mother penniless. Tandy lives in an abandoned church, pulling various cons with her boyfriend. Her never-stable mother is an alcoholic and drug abuser (Andrea Roth), chasing the fantasy she will get Roxxon into court and win a huge settlement.

Tyrone attends a Catholic high school and struggles to fit in. His mother (Gloria Reuben) is an activist struggling with the fear she might lose her only remaining child. Tyrone lives with the guilt of his brother’s death and the knowledge that his brother’s killer is still out there.

They meet by chance, reactivating their long-dormant powers. By the end of episode three, they understand they are somehow connected. Which just leaves them with more questions.

Joseph and Holt are terrific in their roles. The storytelling gets a little trippy at times, but it’s intriguing and powerful. This is the journey of two traumatized teens trying to make sense of their world while coping with their circumstances. The chemistry between the two young actors is simply amazing.

In my admiration for Joseph and Holt, I don’t want to sell anyone else short. Reuben is a commanding presence. Roth is a compelling tragic figure. Carl Lundstedt does well as the likeable young con man honestly in love with Tandy. J.D. Evermore is chilling as bent cop Connors. Noëlle Renée Bercy as Tyrone’s girlfriend Evita adds beauty, compassion and maybe a little menace to the proceedings via her voodoo-practicing aunt. It’s a great cast.

Of course, the highest kudos must go to Joe Pokaski, who created the TV show and wrote the first two episodes. He took the best of the characters and molded them into a terrific series. Right now, Cloak and Dagger is my favorite Marvel-based TV series. I’m in for the long haul.

Cloak and Dagger airs Thursdays on Freeform. It’s probably on all kinds of digital platforms, but I’m still working on mastering the remote control. For information on those platforms, you’ll have to go to someone who understands that stuff.

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Avengers Grimm Time Wars

The Asylum, maker of Sharknado and other fun films, has established its own shared super-hero universe. Their source material is fairy tales. They started with Avengers Grimm (2015) with heroines Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Red (Riding Hood). The villain was Rumpelstiltskin.

The Asylum followed that with Sinister Squad (2016) with Alice of Wonderland fame gathering a team of fairy tale villains to combat a different version of Rumpelstiltskin. Because this is not just a shared universe; it’s a shared multiverse.

In 2018’s Avengers Grimm: Time Wars, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Red team with Alice and her Looking Glass organization to try to prevent a shattered multiverse from messing up all reality as we know it. The villains are Magda, the evil queen of Atlantis, and a third incarnation of Rumpelstiltskin.

Yes, the similarities you note to various Marvel and DC super-hero movies are there. The Asylum is known for its “mockbuster” takes on films with much bigger budgets.

Yes, the usual anonymous “critics” on the Internet Movie Database have been merciless in panning this film. Wanna guess how many of them have ever published or released anything? My money would be on single digits. As in zero.

Yes, I thought the movie was good cheesy fun and a terrific way to relax for an hour-and-a-half. We’ve all read much worse super-hero comics and seen much worse super-hero movies and TV shows.

I’m a forgiving viewer when it comes to low-budget movies like this one. I’m not expecting Black Panther, though I would have loved to see the Asylum’s take on that classic. I’m just asking for those 90 minutes of entertainment. If you are of a similar mind, I believe you’ll enjoy Avengers Grimm: Time Wars.

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Jessica Jones Season Two poster

I had been planning to write a lengthy review of the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, but realized I didn’t have much to add from my comments on the first season. Jessica Jones is resolutely about people making bad choices again and again. That would usually be a deal-breaker for me, but, in Jessica, so brilliantly played by Krysten Ritter, we have a hero whose bad choices are often defined by her PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Indeed, given that a number of other characters in the series had their minds controlled by the late Killgrave, the bad choices usually worked for me.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

Jessica makes some good choices this season and, while they do not offset the bad choices completely, the finale leaves her in a much better place than previously. I liked that a lot.

There are some intriguing life-changes for several members of the supporting cast. I can’t say I was wild about all of these, but I found them interesting and what to see what happens with them next season. Some of these changes will radically alter what have been some of the most solid relationships in Jessica’s life.

The big bads of the second season weren’t as black and white as in the first season. One of them was a victim herself. Though they did not match the villainy of the first season’s Killgrave, they played a necessary part in Jessica’s journey. I give them points for that. Killgrave’s reappearance from Jessica’s troubled mind did nothing for me. Normally I love seeing David Tennant in anything. Here, it seemed utterly forced. Boo on that.

MILD SPOILERS OVER

The bottom line? The second season of Jessica Jones was well done with a great many blips in the quality. I definitely look forward to the show’s third season.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #261

Hey, kids! It’s retro activist Tony Isabella! The first in a series of sartorial shots of your friendly neighborhood tipster, wearing comics or comics-related gear.

This time around, we’re showing my new “People’s Free Food program Hoodie” [$45.99]. My Facebook friend Rahadyan Timoteo Sastrowardoyo wore one to this year’s East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention. I thought it was a cool looking hoodie, even if was a little pricey for my usual tastes.

Created and run by the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s, the People’s Free Food Program provided free food to Black and other oppressed people. It was among the many community outreach services the Party offered. Whatever opinion you might hold of the Party and I admit mine are conflicted, it did some good things and tried to help people often overlooked by the government and, indeed, other Americans.

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Charley's War

History also informs this week’s pick of the week. Charley’s War Volume 1: The Definitive Collection by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun [Rebellion; approximately $27 in U.S. dollars] reprints the stories originally published in the British weekly Battle Picture Library from January 6, 1979 to October 25, 1980. Over the past decades and in a number of different printings, I have read these chapters four or five times over. That I never tire of them is because Charley’s War is the finest war comics series of all time.

This is the story of Charley Bourne, an underage British soldier who lies about his age to join the British Army during World War I. The recruiters overlook that the sixteen-year-old Charley, not the brightest tool in the shed, can’t get his birth year correct on his application. England needs soldiers.

Before long, Charley is fighting in the trenches and, incredibly, getting smarter all the time. He adapts to the horrors around him and becomes a soldier who is equal parts brave, capable, and often damn lucky. He fights in the Battle of the Somme, one of the most bloody and deadly battles in the history of warfare. It’ has been reported that more than three million men fought in this battle with a million of them being wounded or killed. Mills and Colquhoun depict this brutal struggle in painful detail.

In stark chapters of mostly four pages, Charley’s War introduces us to foppish aristocrats, common men, petty bureaucrats, sadistic officers and clueless relatives who can’t understand why a lad like Charley can’t find the time to thank his auntie for the scarf she sent him. Charley and his mates soldier on, even when the food is terrible, their pay is late and too many of their officers look at them as fodder to be fed to the enemy for the great glory of king and crown. There are moments of humor in these stories, but those moments never last long.

Charley’s War is not an easy series to read, but it’s essential to anyone who considers themselves a supporter of great comics. This is a series you should read. This definitive collection, boasting the best reproduction the series has ever had and presenting over 300 pages of comics and additional features, are books you should have in your comics library.

Charley’s War Volume 1: The Definitive Collection

ISBN 978-1-78108-619-3

Charley’s War Volume 2: The Definitive Collection

ISBN 978-1-78108-620-9

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The Pervert

The Pervert by Remy Boydell with words by Michelle Perez [Image; $17.99] is, according to its back cover, “a surprisingly honest and touching account of a trans girl surviving through sex work in Seattle.” It’s the debut graphic novel for its creators and, based on this debut, I’m looking forward to what they do next and hoping it continues the story of this GN’s protagonist.

I don’t come to this graphic novel unaware. I have friends who are trans. I have friends who are sex workers. Each of their stories, each of their outlooks, each of their hopes and dreams for their futures are different. So I didn’t put any expectation on Boydell and Perez beyond telling this character’s story.

Their heroine faces and makes difficult choices. I can’t say that I feel all those choices were wise ones. But a reader with an open heart and mind can connect with her and wish for her happiness. If not now than in the times to come.

I confess I was put off by the graphic novel’s title since that’s a common insult thrown at transpeople and, indeed, many people who don’t fit the traditional “cisgender” or “cissexual” designation. Of course, I’m not wild about most such designations, including the ones that apply to me, and also don’t much hold to the notion of reclaiming such insults. That’s me. The anthropomorphic depiction of the humans in this graphic novel didn’t do much for me either. After so many years of this, it has grown tiresome for me. Boydell and Perez are telling a very human story here. I would have preferred the characters be drawn as human beings. Again, that’s me.

The Pervert is for mature readers and won’t be to everyone’s taste. I recommend it to those of you always looking for new stories told by new creators who want to reflect the world around us.

ISBN 978-1-5343-0741-4

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Self Storage

What if Storage Wars had zombies?

Storage Wars is a reality show that airs on A&E. It revolves around buyers who bid on storage units whose original owners have stopped paying rent on those units. They only get a quick glimpse of these units. Then they bid on them and hope to find treasure. I used to be a big fan of this show until it was revealed that the producers seed some of the units with great stuff.

Self Storage by writer/creator Clay McLeod Chapman and artist Matt Timson [451 Media; $19.99] throws zombies into the mix. Chris Smith is a likeable guy who barely gets by hocking stuff from abandoned storage units. Then he opens up a unit and finds a zombie name of Jessica. What the…you know.

This is an entertaining graphic novel. That’s coming from me, who has never been a fan of zombies. Except for maybe Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie, Shaun of the Dead and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (which I am about a hundred issues behind on.) The writing is good. The art is good. You get to know the characters. You get to watch the mystery of Jessica unfold. You get some shocks. It’s not unlike a fun B-movie.

Self Storage is definitely worth checking out. It would also make a fun movie. Are you listening, Hollywood?

ISBN 978-0-99852-120-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #260

My fascination with pre-code horror comics of the 1950s continues, enabled by PS Artbooks and their seemingly endless reprint volumes of that material. I read Pre-Code Classics: Mysterious Adventures Volume One [$49.99] over the weekend and it has earned a permanent place on my bookshelves.

Mysterious Adventures ran 25 issues from March 1951 to August 1955. Though the issues didn’t carry any particular branding, they were published by Story Comics. This volume reprints issues #1-6 of the series. Writing credits for these issues are nonexistent. Artists have been identified for many of the stories, but a number of those identifications seem like a wild guesswork to me.

The covers are fairly garish but not gory. Walter Johnson’s cover for the first issue is indicative of the story-driven nature of the covers. Strangely enough, that cover illustrated the issue’s prose story and not a comics story. Every one of these six issues has a small “Tales of Horror” blurb on the cover along with a reference to these being the strangest tales every heard.

The stories have the usual vampires, monsters, witches, possessed killers and so on found in most of the horror comics of the era. Issue #1’s cover seems to have inspired an actual comics story for the second issue, making me wonder if it that second issue story was originally intended for the first issue. By the end of “The Cabinet of the Living Death,” the male and female protagonists have been reduced in size and turned into Ju-Ju dolls. They can’t move, but they are still alive. Several issues later, that shock ending is used again, but in even more terrifying fashion with a pair of illicit lovers turned into still-sentient shrunken heads.

Another tale had a mother coming back from the grave to protect her daughter from her husband’s second wife. The mother’s spirit turns the second wife into a mad horse who is then shot and killed. The horse disappears and, when they find the second wife, she’s not just dead from a gunshot wound, but, near her body, is jewelry that had been buried with the first wife. I’d rate the writing in these comics a cut above the usual.

The art is pretty good as well. Ed Goldfarb (pencils) and Bob Baer (inks) make for an intriguing team. We also get solid artwork from Alvin C. Hollingsworth, Lou Cameron, John D’Agostino, Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallerico. I’m getting more selective about these horror reprint volumes, but I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in the genre.

ISBN 978-1-78636-196-7

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All-New Wolverine

I’ve been enjoying All-New Wolverine, the Marvel Comics title that stars Laura Kenney, the clone daughter of the original Wolverine. As X-23, she was created to be the perfect killing machine, was an assassin for an evil organization and eventually found her way to the X-Men and the road to redemption. She’s a terrific character and, save for when Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, I like her better than the original. Marvel’s overuse of Logan/Wolverine and its multiple incarnations of him have exhausted my interest in the character. I wish Logan weren’t coming back, but, alas, it isn’t my call and so All-New Wolverine will be ending. At least, Laura will be back for a fourth volume of X-23.

All-New Wolverine #25-32 [$3.99 each], the latest issues I’ve read of the title, were entertaining. At first, I was dismayed by issue #25-30’s “Orphans of X” because it seemed to be just another “self-involved super-heroes” tale, which I define as stories in which the heroes are fighting for themselves and not really to protect other lives. It sometimes seems like a majority of super-hero titles from Marvel and DC fall into this category.

Writer Tom Taylor brought something else into the mix. Yes, Laura and other Weapon X Project creations are being hunted down by the surviving family members of people killed by Laura and the others. Self-interest, right? Yet, by the end of the six-issue arc, Laura has seized control of the conflict and redirected her efforts into helping the survivors get justice without killing her and the rest of the Weapon X alumni. That’s followed by two done-in-one stories that are still connected to the Orphans of X, one of them featuring a guest appearance by Deadpool.

 All-New Wolverine Vol. 5: Orphans of X [$17.99] collects the story arc by Taylor and artist Juann Cabal. I enjoyed it so much that I’m recommending it to you and making it my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-30290-561-3

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Joe Shuster

The Artist Behind Superman: The Joe Shuster Story by Julian Voloj and Thomas Camp [Super Genius; $19.99] back-cover bills itself as “The Secret Story of Superman’s Creation.” This graphic novel may not live up to that claim precisely – much of that story has been written about elsewhere – but does manage an occasional surprise along the way. The visual format also lends a different perspective to the story of the two guys from Cleveland and how they achieved their dream, fell from the heights and then regained at least some dignity, financial compensation and respect before the end.

The focus on Shuster gives this book a perspective unlike the other books. Writer Jerry Siegel had always been the dominant partner in their collaboration. He came up with the basic Superman as super-hero concept and created the rudimentary world of their character. He was the one who fought, sometimes unwisely, for their rightful due. He was the one whose dramatics finally got the attention of the public at large. But Shuster is the star of this graphic novel and it reveals him as meek and mild as Superman pretended to be in his guise of Clark Kent. More than Siegel, Shuster seems to be the guy caught in the middle of the conflicts, going along with Siegel because of his loyalty to his friend and because he knew they were in the right.

Shuster’s is a sad story. The downside of this otherwise excellent comics work is that readers don’t get to see the light at the end of the Superman tunnel. The book simply ends too soon. Even so, it is a keeper for fans of Superman and students of comics history. It includes a selected bibliography for those who want to know more, as well as over a dozen pages of notes. It should be a contender in next year’s comics awards.

ISBN 978-1-62991-776-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella