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.




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.




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


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


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


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



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.


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


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


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


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


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


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?


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


The Black Lightning TV series has its CW premiere this week. It’ll be shown on Tuesday, January 16, at 9:00 pm EST with an encore on Friday, January 19, at the same time. It has been called the most anticipated new show on television and not just by me, the writer who created the character in 1976. Having already seen the first of this season’s thirteen episodes – because I do have friends in high places – I think the rest of you will be as pleased with the show as I am. Black Lightning’s back!

Black Lightning is also back in the comic books. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #3, which came out this month, is the halfway point of the six-issue series written by me with sensational art by the great Clayton Henry, amazing coloring by Pete Pantazis, top-notch lettering by Josh Reed, and editing by two of the best editors I’ve ever worked with: associate editor Harvey Richards and group editor Jim Chadwick. The series, especially this latest issue, is getting tremendous reviews. We’re trying to address real-world issues in a super-hero universe. I urge you to check it out.

Now that I’m now that I’m done with the personal plugs, let’s see what else is on this week’s review pile…

Mark Vogel’s psychedelic Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture [TwoMorrows; $39.95] is quite a departure for a publisher which has built its sterling reputation on comics history magazines and publications like Alter Ego, Back Issue and a slew of books on the great comics creators of the past and present. However, it’s no less entertaining and informative than those other works.

Vogel revels in the era when young people defined and revitalized the entertainment culture of America and the world. It’s a fun book in which Jim Hendrix can rub shoulders with the Monkees, the Banana Splits, Scooby Doo and the new mod Wonder Woman of the late 1960s.

Content about and interviews with a variety of musicians like the Beatles, the Cowsills, The Doors and more are prominent in Groovy, but readers also get insights into television shows like Laugh-In, The Smothers Brothers and The Partridge Family. Movies from Riot on Sunset Strip to Easy Rider are also featured. Art is represented by Peter Max, Jim Steranko, R/ Crumb and more. Historical touch points like the black rights movement, the Vietnam War, hippies, legendary music festivals and Jesus Christ Superstar are also discussed. It’s an inclusive and expansive tome that focuses on and brings to life a unique era in our pop culture history. It’s a fascinating read.

I would remiss if I didn’t also mention Vogel’s design work on his book. Each article or interview is short enough to make Groovy one of those books a reader can enjoy in small doses when their time is limited or several articles at a time when they have a few hours of leisure time. The articles are accompanied by terrific photos and art, making the book as much a joy to look through as to read. Recommended for readers 16 and up – probably because of discussions of drugs and free love – it would make a great gift for the folks of my generation and for younger readers fascinated by pop culture and its history. I lived through the era of Groovy and would relish similar books on previous eras.

Groovy is far and away by pick of the week. I’m not certain that it has enough comics content to be eligible for a Eisner Award, but, if I were a judge, I would certainly bend the rules to include it. It’s a terrific book.

ISBN 978-1-60549-080-9


Babes in Arms

Babes in Arms: Women in the Comics During the Second World War by Trina Robbins [Hermes Press; $60] is a fine addition to the growing history of female comics creators of the past. Much of that history is the result of Robbins’ dedication to finding and writing about these creators.

This book concentrates on four creators: Barbara Hall, Jill Elgin, Lily Renee and Fran Hopper. Readers will find biographies of these women that cover their careers in comics and their personal lives. Some of the type is smaller than I would like, but these articles have information and never-before-seen photos that make the strain to my peepers a fair trade-off.

In addition to the information, this book reprints over 150 pages of comics stories by these creators with most of those pages being in color. The comic-book features reprinted showcase Jane Martin, the Girl Commandoes and the delectable Senorita Rio. I haven’t read many stories of these characters, so these World War II and post-World War II adventures were remarkable. We see the gung-ho spunk usually reserved for male heroes and, unfortunately, the offensive caricatures that were common in that war-torn era. Senorita Rio was my favorite of the characters. She was brave, smart and sexy and, though it was downplayed, a heroine of Hispanic origin. That was quite unusual for the 1940s.

The high price of Babes in Arms is why I can’t give it an universal recommendation. But if the history of women in comics is of special interest to you, you’ll want this book.

ISBN 978-1613450956


1964 Comic Con

The 1964 New York Comicon: The True Story Behind the World’s First Comic Convention by J. Ballman [Totalmojo Productions; $29.95] is fairly bursting at the seems with information, sometimes trivial, about the origins, planning and reality of that pivotal event. My hat is off to Ballman for the months of work that clearly went into the creation of this 272-page tome.

My respect for Ballman’s industrious labor is tempered by the dry writing that comprises the history. There’s no spark to the various accounts. For me, quite frankly, it was a tedious chore to read it from cover to cover. It’s not that the history isn’t important. It is and I’m glad it’s preserved even in this fashion. It’s just not a fun book to read.

If you are passionate about the history of comics conventions, you will want this book. The price tag is reasonable for a book of this size. But if your interest in the subject matter is casual, you’ll want to give it a pass or just purchase it to keep on the shelf if you ever need the information in contains.

ISBN 978-0981534916

That’s all for this time around, my friends. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


There are those who venomously decry the appearance of characters of color, creators of color, strong women characters, strong women creators, gay characters, gay creators and, indeed, any characters and creators who are not straight white males. They cling to their straight white male privilege. They spit on the idea of diversity in today’s comic books and other entertainments. They are dinosaurs waiting for the comet to hit, certain to be reduced to the merest of flotsam, doomed to swept into the dustbin of history. Their time is passing. They rage against their inevitable fate.

I’m their polar opposite. I look with admiration and excitement at the great characters and comics coming our way as a result of the increased and increasing diversity of my beloved comics art form. The only thing I decry is that it’s taken so very long to get here.

I adore Riri Williams, the black teenager who is crazy smart and is filling in for Tony Stark in the pages of Marvel’s Invincible Iron Man. She calls herself Ironheart. Trying to make the world better and safer, she is more likely to use her compassion and intellect than her superior firepower and technology. In recent issues, Riki conquered Doctor Doom’s Latveria, named herself queen and started the nation on the road to democracy. That was one of 2017’s finest comic-book “wow” moments.

Brian Michael Bendis breathed new life into the Iron Man franchise, even if Stark himself has been absent-but-not-totally-absent from Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The latter title stars a repentant Victor von Doom donning Iron Man armor and doing good. Yeah, I know, but Bendis makes it believable.

Stark? Well, he’s in some kinda self-induced coma but an artificial intelligence version of him is a mentor of sort to Riki. I’ve long been impressed by how well Bendis has captured Robert Downey, Jr.’s voice and used it for the comics version of Tony. Adding to the fun is Mary Jane Watson who is kinda running Stark Industries with the assistance of yet another artificial intelligence. Adding even more fun to the mix is the inclusion of Stark’s birth mother, a former rock-and-roll star.

If you had described the above to me, I would have thought Marvel had lost its editorial mind. But Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man work. They are well-written. They are well-drawn. They are entertaining and exciting. They are definitely worth reading. They are my picks of the week. Here’s a list of the various recent Iron Man collections:

Invincible Iron Man/Ironheart Vol. 1: Riri Williams ($24.99)

ISBN 978-1302906719

Invincible Iron Man/Ironheart Vol. 2: Choices ($24.99)

ISBN 978-1302906733

Infamous Iron Man Vol. 1 ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1302906245

Infamous Iron Man Vol. 2: The Absolution of Doom ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1302906252



I would be lying if I didn’t admit the eye-catching cover of Tara O’Connor’s Roots [Top Shelf; $19.99] was what attracted me to her autobiographical graphic novel. Redheads aren’t my Kryptonite. They are evidence of my excellent taste in women. Ever since I watched Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man. But even the most eye-catching cover won’t earn a creator a good review if they don’t deliver the goods. O’Connor delivers.

What starts out as our heartbroken heroine’s journey to Ireland to discover her roots quickly becomes a romantic comedy wrapped in a coming-of-self story wrapped in a travelogue. I would have liked to have seen more of her family history – that turned out to be harder for her to find than herself – and more travelogue – I fell hard for both Maureen O’Hara and Ireland watching my all-time favorite movie – but I can’t complain about the finished work. The writing and the art are terrific. It kept me turning pages. It delivered a totally satisfying ending…and it made me want to see more from this very talented comics creator.

Roots is also my pick of the week…and would make a pretty nifty Valentine’s Day gift for your special someone.

ISBN 978-1-60309-417-7


Wake Up

Megumi Morino’s Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty Volume 1 [Kodansha Comics; $12.99] is a supernatural romance with a down-to-earth hero who is unexpectedly noble. Tetsu Misato is a high school student at odds with his domineering father. Tetsu wants to join the work force on graduation. His dad wants him to go to college – which Tetsu can’t afford – and calls him a spoiled snowflake who’s never even worked a part-time job. To determine his own destiny, Tetsu juggles school and a job with his father’s housekeeping agency. I faced a similar conflict when I left John Carroll University after less than a year there. I didn’t want to be saddled with college debt. I didn’t like the arrogant Jesuits who ran the place. Most importantly, I wanted to pursue a career as a writer. That worked out for me.

Back to Tetsu. He gets a part-time job at a mansion on a hill with a mysterious outbuilding separate from the estate. The building is the home of the owner’s even more mysterious daughter. Tetsu falls from the daughter, but Shizu isn’t always the one in change of her own body. What her family thinks is a multiple personality disorder is actually Shizu’s possession by several spirits.

Tetsu’s devotion and loyalty to Shizu informs this initial volume. He’s a truly admirable friend. Shizu is a frail heroine, but also a young woman capable of strength. The spirits seem to be a benign bunch, but I suspect we haven’t met all of them yet. I’m intrigued by this series and plan to continue reading it.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty should appeal to shojo manga readers and I recommend it to them.

ISBN 978-1-63236-519-4

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


This is my first “Tony’s Tips” of 2018, but I’m writing it about a day after my last column of 2017. This year will be crucial for the comics industry on multiple fronts. Actual comic books and graphic  novels will have to maintain their own creative identities even as comics-based movies and TV series continue to flourish. We will be dealing with the same harassment issues that face entertainment and media. We’ll be dealing with the unfortunate tax cuts giveaways to the wealthy and their collateral damage to our customers. It will be harder for many of our readers to come up with the discretionary income that allows them to buy what we create.

Much of the above is out of the hands of the talented writers and artists and editors working in comics. The best plan I can come up with is to work even harder to make comic books and graphic novels as good as we can. I have been amazed and delighted by the efforts of every member of the Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands creative team to make that six-issue series as good as it can possibly be. I see that same drive in other books from many other creators and publishers. I believe that if we make better comics then they – our readers – will come. That’s my New Year’s resolution.

This week, as a change of pace, I’m not going to have reviews per se. Instead, I’m going to give you a glimpse into what Tony reads in preparation for this column and all the other things I create.

I tend to bounce around from book to magazine to comic and back as I go through my day. Because I need to look up from my screen and stopping typing every so often during my day, I take many breaks to rest my brain and fingers.

I generally read two or three local newspapers per day. These are, by no means, good newspapers. But they give me a sense of the world immediately around me. I also read well over a hundred comic strips and editorial cartoons each day, but prefer to read those online on account of they are bigger in that platform. I used to ghost-write for a number of comic strips and like to keep current with what’s being published.

I read magazines, often because I fell for the cheap subscriptions that are gifts when you fill out a survey. These would include: New York, New Yorker, Real Simple, Essence, TV Guide, People, National Geographic, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, MAD, and, from the U.K., Beano (a weekly kids humor comic) and Commando (a weekly war comics digest). I probably forgot a few magazines. Often I just skim the issues, but I always do that because I never know when something in them might spark an idea.

Other things I’m currently reading:

Dan Gearino’s Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture [Swallow Press; $26.95] is a breezy, informative study of the comic shop culture and how it came to be. The first 150 or so pages offer a history enlivened with personal stories with the remainder of the book covering individual stores. I was involved in comic shops and distribution for close to a dozen years in the late 1970s and 1980s. Gearino’s accounts ring true to me. I’m enjoying his book greatly.

ISBN 978-0-8040-1190-7

I’ve reading two different manga volumes simultaneously. Princess Jellyfish Volume 7 by Ahiho Higashimura [Kodansha Comics; $19.99] continues the story of Tsukimi, a shy young woman who tried to save her home (and that of several like women) by designing and selling dresses. Desperate circumstances have led her to make the ultimate sacrifice by leaving her home and friends, moving to Singapore to work for a major fashion company. The series has humor, romance and a cross-dressing hero that never fails to entertain, inspire and surprise. Once I’ve finished the manga, I plan to watch the anime and the live-action movie inspired by the manga.

ISBN 978-1-63236-505-7

Don't Meddle

Nozomu Tamaki’s Don’t Meddle with My Daughter Volume 2 [Seven Seas; $12.99] is a raucous and risque super-hero series about a retired super-heroine named the Eighth Wonder and the daughter following in her mother’s footsteps. Much of the humor is titillating and even embarrassing for a refined older reader like myself. But it’s just so crazy and so much fun that I keep reading it.

ISBN 978-1-626925-85-4

Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego [TwoMorrows; $9.95] is my undisputed favorite magazine of comics history. Issue #150 celebrates 95 years of Stan Lee, my former boss, a mentor and my friend. I’m currently reading Ger Apeldoorn’s terrific article on Stan’s attempts to get out of comics in the challenging 1950s. The issue is filled with wonderful articles and artwork. The Eisner Awards judges should start marking their ballots now.

From the same publisher, Back Issue [$8.95] covers the Bronze Age of Comics and beyond. Editor Michael Eury is a child of that era; he and his writers are passionate about those comic books. Issue #102 is a “Mercs & Anti-Heroes Issue” with articles on Deadpool, Deathstroke, Vigilante and more. I’ll start reading that issue as soon as I finish Alter Ego #150.

Squirrel Girl

I’m two issues into The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s ridiculously fun visit to the Savage Land. In issue #22 [$3.99], writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson have Doreen and Nancy win a programming contest that lands them an all expenses paid visit to said Savage Land. Other winners include teams from Wakanda and Latveria. They learn the contest was more than it seems. The Savage Land is facing destruction and its guardians are hoping these whiz kids can save it. From the laugh-out-loud online exchange between Doreen and Tony Stark that kicks off the issue, this story arc is entertaining and exciting. Great stuff.

It looks like the entire story will be collected in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 7: I’ve Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You [$17.99]. It’s scheduled to be published in March.

ISBN 978-1302906658

My immediate reading pile also has some free comics from Halloween ComicFest. I’ve been reviewing these in my Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing [] and these are the last few issues I haven’t written about.

One of my not remotely guilty pleasures is reading the PS Artbooks hardcover collections of classic and not-so-classic comics from the 1940s and 1950s. I always have one of these volumes on my reading pile and, at present, that volume would be Planet Comics Volume Ten [$69.99], reprinting issues #42-47 [May 1946 to March 1947]. I like to read these volumes a story at a time. They make for a nice break from all the other stuff I read.

ISBN 978-1-84863-896-9

The above answers the question of what Tony is reading right now. Just reading this long list makes me wonder where I find time to do anything else.

Here’s wishing all my friends and readers a happy new year. I will be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


Christmas has come and gone. Just a few days before Christmas, your Tipster turned 66 and, to the amazement of all, did not crumble to dust. I had a lovely birthday evening with Sainted Wife Barb, son Ed, daughter Kelly and cat Simba. We had pizza and pasta from what has become my favorite local pizza place, hooked up our new family gift – a Ultra HD Blu-ray player – and watched Wonder Woman, which is my favorite of the DC Comics movies. Not to mention hundreds of online greetings from my friends and readers. It was a good day to not crumble to dust.

While gearing up to finish writing Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands and plan my next works, I have been reading chunks of comic books. I’ll never again be a “read the new comics as they come out” kind of reader. It doesn’t fit my lifestyle. But I really enjoy reading several issues of a title at a time.

Darth Vader #1-9 [Marvel; $4.99 for #1, $3.99 each for the rest] is set after the Clone Wars. The Jedi have been defeated and most of them are dead. Palpatine is emperor. Anakin Skywalker has gone to the Dark Side of the Force, defeated and left to die by Obi-Wan Kenobi, and had his life preserved by Palpatine inside cybernetic armor. Thanks to a handy “what has gone before” prologue to these issues, you’d never know I haven’t seen Star Wars II, III and VIII. Kudos to Marvel for including these introductions in all their Star Wars comics.

I enjoyed these nine issues, despite their protagonist serving the most evil man in the galaxy and destined to become a mass murderer of planetary proportions. The Emperor is molding Vader with “tough love” and demanding his protégé prove himself at every turn. Vader faces overwhelming odds in his training and missions. This reader can’t root for him, but can’t deny his determination and skill in these matters.

Writer Charles Soule presents Vader with both worthy challenges and adversaries. Vader has had to forge his own light saber by taking and corrupting one from a Jedi he defeats in battle. In the latest issues, Darth is hunting down Jedi archivist Jocasta Nu, who is a fascinating character in her own right. The odds don’t seem to be in Nu’s favor, but I’m hoping she survives this story.

Penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli hails from Italy and has drawn comics for DC (Hellblazer) and Marvel (Spider-Man). In these comics, he’s captured the Star Wars universe and shown his proficiency with the action, the human drama and the storytelling. Inkers Cam Smith (#1-6) and Danielle Orlandini (#7-9) have complemented Camuncoli well. Colorist David Curiel has added great atmosphere to these comics. Kudos to editors Jordan D. White and Heather Antos for their roles in putting together a terrific creative team and facilitating that team’s ability to tell amazing stories.

The first six issues of this title have been collected in Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine [$17.99]. I recommend this series to hard-core and casual Star Wars fans alike. These are some excellent comics and so earn their place as my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1302907440


Detective Comics 959

I also read Detective Comics #958-966 [DC; $2.99]. Since “Rebirth,” I’ve been enjoying Batman more than I have in years. He is far more sane that he’s been in years, still driven but no longer so driven as to be a menace to himself and others. He has enlisted people in his war on crime who he doesn’t treat like pieces on a chessboard. He seems honestly concerned about them and not merely in terms of his  battle plans. There are still some rough edges for me. To name one example, more Bruce Wayne screen time is needed.

Zatanna, especially in her traditional magician’s costume, has been a favorite of mine since I “met” her in 1964. She appears in #958-962. I like how writer James Tynion IV writes her. Artists Alvaro Martinez (pencils), Raul Fernandez (inks) and Brad Anderson (color) did an excellent job on the visuals.

That was followed by a two-issue story that had great moments for Clayface (maybe my favorite of Batman’s teammates) and the Spoiler. The story was by Tynion and Christopher Sebela with script by the latter, art by Carmen Carnero and color by Ulises Arreola and Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Issue #965-966 kicked off “A Lonely Place of Living” by Tynion IV, by artists Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira with color by Adriano Lucus. This loses me a bit for a number of reasons. I’m not fond of alternate universe and time travel stories. I’m also not yet sold on the “Mr. Oz” event running through several DC titles. Maybe it will grow on me, but I’m not there yet.

Issues #957-962 are collected in Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Deus Ex Machina [$16.99].

ISBN 978-1401274979

Detective Comics Vol. 5: A Lonely Place of Living [$16.99], which will collect issues #963-968 plus Detective Comics Annual #1, will be published in April of 2018.

ISBN 978-1401278229


Duck Tales 0

I love the new DuckTales cartoon series airing on Disney XD. But, as much as I hate giving a negative review during Christmas week, IDW’s DuckTales comic books [$3.99 each] are not anywhere near as much fun or as well-crafted as the cartoons.

They purport to be the daring adventures of Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck and Della Duck. Almost every story in issue #0-4 had the same basic structure. They open at the conclusion of an adventure with Donald in some embarrassing situation. After removing any suspense with these openings, the stories go back to relate what happened, ending with a shot of poor suffering Donald.

I have been buying all of IDW’s Disney titles, but DuckTales has been taken off my list. It doesn’t entertain or interest me. Since your mileage might vary, I suggest you first seek to borrow these comics from your local library.

DuckTales: Treasure Trove [$9.99] reprints issues #0-2 and will be published in January.

ISBN 978-1684052080

DuckTales: Mysteries and Mallards [$9.99] with issues #3-5 will be published in May.

ISBN 978-1684052301

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella



Christmas is eight days away as I write this week’s column, which means you’ve either finished your holiday shopping for the season or that you aren’t reading this because you’re running around like a maniac trying to finish your shopping.

If it’s the former, good for you. You deserve to kick back with a good comic book or graphic novel. Or maybe binge-watch one of the broadcast or streaming comic-book series your holiday preparation has kept you too busy to watch. Me, I need to finish the Punisher, start the Runaways and catch up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., iZombie and the Gifted. Of the shows I’m current with, I’d most recommend Lucifer, even though a devilishly good time might seem at odds with this particular holiday season.

As for more substantial comics reading, there are so many terrific collections I wouldn’t know where to begin with my recommendations. Actually, I do know where to begin. That would be the several thick collections of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. As I’ve said, I believe Sakai is our greatest living cartoonist.

Beyond that amazing saga, there are many other wonderful comic-book omnibuses and comic-strip collections. I’m looking at the Swamp Thing Bronze Age Omnibus across from my desk and a stack of books that includes the Pogo volumes lovingly gathered by Caroline Kelly, the daughter of Pogo creator Walt Kelly and a remarkable person who left us too soon. Enjoy the holidays, my friends, but also remember those who aren’t with us this year.

Here are some items I’ve read recently…

Best Wishes by Mike Richardson (story) and Paul Chadwick (script, art, lettering) is my pick of the week and one of the best graphic novels I’ve read all year. The black-and-white graphic novel [Dark Horse; $19.99] is a modern-day romance set in New York City and one that played out like a great movie in my head.

An ornate fountain from the old world, transplanted to Central Park to receive the coins and attendant wishes of those who bask in its beauty and feel its magic. Two strangers, a man and a woman, both graphic artists. One seeks fame and respect. The other seeks love. Fate draws them together as the city launches a competition for a new symbol. Lead characters Cal and Mary are expertly made; we get to know them and root from them, even when they’re at odds with one another. The supporting characters aren’t all as vivid, but Mary’s pro football player boyfriend is going to offer a great opportunity for whatever actor plays him in the movie that ought to happen.

I love Best Wishes so much I’ve already bought extra copies to give to friends. I’ll be amazed if it’s not a contender for next year’s best graphic novel in the Eisners and every other awards. It earns my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-50670-374-9



When it comes to weird humor, I can always count on manga offering me something I never expected. Hikaru Nakamura’s Arakawa Under the Bridge 1 [Vertical Comics; $17.95] is fascinating, funny and very, very odd. It’s the story of Kou Ichinomiya, a young man who is the future owner of a vast corporation and who has already, while still in school, become a success on his own. Raised by a single parent, his father, Kou has had the rule “never own anyone” branded on his soul. His life takes a strange turn when he accidentally falls into the Arakawa River and almost drowns.

Kou’s rescued by Nino, a homeless woman who claims to be from Venus and who lives living under the Arakawa bridge. He must repay her, but, when he asks how, she asks him to teach her about love. They become boyfriend and girlfriend as Kou moves into his own makeshift home under the bridge. From there, things get even more strange for the wealthy young man.

There is an entire community of increasingly odd “citizens” living under the bridge. They range from a man who pretends to be a kappa (demon) and who is the chief of the village to Sister, a powerful ex-soldier who dresses as a nun, to Stella, a little blonde orphan from England who considers herself to be the gangster boss of the Arakawa Bridge people. Kou tries to navigate his crazy new life as the relationship between him and Nino grows. It’s a heartwarming, hilarious love story.

This Vertical volume combines volumes one and two of the manga into a single 366-page book. Arakawa Under the Bridge has been an anime series, a TV drama and a live-action film. The original manga runs to fifteen volumes.

This quirky romantic comedy won’t be to every reader’s taste, but I loved it. Next time you’re looking for something different from comics, give it a try.

ISBN 978-1-945054-41-9



Simpsons Comics Explosion #4 [Bongo Comics; $9.99] is 96 pages of full-color fun. The yearly reprint special is filled with classic comics stories. Writer Ian Boothby, who always delivers hilarious scripts, is represented by “Stand by Me” (in which Homer gets a job standing next to people to make them look good); “Power Plants Vs. Zombies (a spoof of the popular video game); “Now You Wiggum, Now You Don’t (Chief Wiggum gives Homer a pass in exchange for Homer’s watching Ralph); and “Dial ‘M’ for Milhouse!” That last one is one of my all-time favorite Simpsons comics stories featuring Milhouse gained transformative powers. One of his super-hero identities is Electroshock, who resembles my own Black Lightning.

Bongo’s Simpsons comic books are always worth picking up, but this annual is exceptional. Just the thing to occupy those long days at the nuclear power plant. What’s the worst that could happen?

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella



The holidays are nearly upon us. As has been the blessed case for years now, there is a wealth of collected editions of comic books, graphic novels, manga, books on comics history, comic-book movies, season sets of comics-based live-action TV series and comics-based cartoons and all manner of comics-related apparel including caps, t-shirts, socks and undergarments. If you’re shopping for a comics fan, you have more gift choices. If you’re a comics fan yourself, assuming you haven’t been naughty, those that love you won’t have any trouble finding all sorts of great gifts.

I see “Tony’s Tips” as being your year-round shopping guide. Most of what I write about here would be suitable for birthday, holiday and other special occasion presents. The column is sponsored by the fine folks of InStock Trades, one of my favorite online retailers because of the vastness of their inventory and the excellence of their service. If you enjoy this column, check them out.

Regular readers of this column know I tend to read comic books in batches. As much as I would love to read comics as I get them and be current on all the titles that interest me, I know that is not going to happen any time soon. Writing comic books and other stuff doesn’t give me the time to read all the comic books I would like to read, at least not in any timely fashion.

My haphazard reading habits put Batman #24-29 [DC; $2.99 each] in my hands this past week. Written by Tom King, this run includes a seemingly pivotal Batman/Catwoman story penciled by David Finch; the first four chapters of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” with art by Mikel Janin and an interlude tale featuring Kite-Man penciled by Clay Mann.

The Batman/Catwoman story wraps up some loose ends from a previous story arc and had some really nice moments in it. Batman advises a young super-hero whose powers can kill her. She asks him a pointed question about his own life. And the Bat’s relationship with Selina Kyle is re-framed in an intriguing way. “Intriguing” is a word I’ll be using again in this review. In any case, I did like this issue quite a bit.

“The War of Jokes and Riddles” is an adventure set earlier in the Batman’s career. The Joker and the Riddler are battling for control of Gotham, each having recruited other villains. Oh, both parties want Batman delivered to them before they’ll even consider a truce. Though the strategies of the war are intriguing, I have all sorts of problems with this story line.

These problems are not exclusive to this story. Most major comics villains are overused and the Joker tops that list. The brutality of these villains makes Batman look like a chump. They kill lots of people. They will suffer no meaningful consequences for their mass murdering. They will either be captured or “die” and then they will return to slaughter more people. Boo on that.

King does earn considerable points for his use and re-invention of Kite-Man, a long-time favorite of mine even before I revealed – in an issue of Hawkman – that his name was Charles Brown. That element combines with solid writing and art to keep me reading this story. Batman Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles [$19.99] is scheduled to be released any day now. It collects issues #25-31. If you like tales of Batman’s early days and his admittedly legendary villains,  you might want to put this book on your wish list.

ISBN 978-1401273613



Bonfire by Krysten Ritter [Crown Archetype; $26] is the first novel by the actress playing Jessica Jones on the Marvel/Netflix series. She is also founder of Silent Machine, “a production company that aims to highlight complex female protagonists.” This novel’s Abby Williams is one such protagonist.

The book is a little choppy in places and I’m not wild about every element of its ending. On the plus side, Williams is a compelling character, a woman haunted by her small-town history who returns to her birthplace as an environmental lawyer to investigate the town’s major benefactor and employer. Ritter does an equally good job in creating the small town and helping her readers experience the good and the bad therein. Add the palatable evil that underlies Abby’s aversion to her old home town – Ritter doesn’t hesitate to create truly evil villains – and this first novel scores a recommendation from me. It’s not comics per se, but I think fans who have enjoyed Jessica Jones will enjoy this novel as well.

ISBN 978-1-5247-5984-1


Going into Town 01

My pick of the week this week is Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast [Bloomsbury USA; $28]. A New York Times best-selling author, Chast created a little booklet on the city for her daughter who was attending college and living in Manhattan. As she says in her opening chapter, the cartoonist wanted her child to get off on the right foot with New York.

Born in Brooklyn and now living in the suburbs, Chast lived in New York in between those two destinations. In this charming, amazingly informative book, the cartoonist celebrates New York and the many wonders to be found there. From the basic layout of the place and just walking around the city, Chast takes us into the subway, shows us stuff to do, describes the flora and fauna, tells us about the food and even offers insight into New York City apartment life. As someone rediscovering his love of the city – I hated the place by the time I moved back to Ohio and for decades afterward – I found her book nothing short of delightful.

Comics and cartoons can tell all sorts of stories. This book is the story of a city. Not a dry history, but a lively guide to the New York of today. I recommend it to one and all.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next week with another trio of reviews for you. Be well.

© 2017 Tony Isabella