TONY’S TIPS #216

Eisner Award-winning author Bill Schelly is known for his stunning biographies of comics greats. He’s written about Otto Binder, Joe Kubert and Harvey Kurtzman. The Kurtzman book won him a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Book.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu [Fantagraphics; $39.99] is Schelly’s latest landmark volume. Stanley was the writer and artist of the classic Little Lulu comics, the classic Nancy comics and so many others. He sometimes did the entire job on a comic book, both the writing and full art. He most often wrote what I call “drawn scripts,” scripts that were detailed or rough layouts with the copy included. Other artists would then do the final drawings.

Stanley came from a generation of comic-book geniuses who were not known to fandom at large. By the time comics fans began to research comics history, Stanley had retired from comics and was working as a silk screener. He attended but one comics convention in his life, though one of the convention’s other guests was the legendary Carl Barks of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge fame. Their joint panel is covered in this biography.

Writing a biography about a subject who has passed and with little source material is a daunting challenge. Schelly, of course, didn’t let that stop him. He did extensive interviews with Stanley’s son and surviving co-workers. He reached out to get every fact that was out there. The result is a book that celebrates Stanley’s work and reveals the artist’s struggles with alcoholism and depression. It shines a bright light on the man and his work. This book is simply a magnificent addition to comic-book history.

Because I was a super-hero kid growing up, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered and quickly learned to appreciate giants like Barks and Stanley. Especially fascinating to me was the manner in which Stanley approached his stories. He basically started on page one without a clear idea of where the tales might go. I’m not quite that loose in my storytelling, but I plot loosely enough to allow for the magical surprises that sometime come to me while I’m doing the finished script.  Such moments are among the most joyful for me. I hope they were also for Stanley.

John Stanley: Giving Life To Little Lulu is a full-color book whose size – 10.4 x 13.4 inches – qualifies it as a deluxe coffee table book. The layout of the volume is breathtaking. The reprinted art pops off the pages. It is an indispensable addition to the library of any comics reader interested in comics history. The quality of the research, the writing and the production is why this fine book is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-60699-990-5

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Big Moose

I’ve dropped the “new” Archie titles from my buying list, though I may continue to read them via the good graces of a friend who loans me his comic books. It’s not that the titles are necessarily bad – except for Betty and Veronica, which is pretty awful, and Afterlife with Archie, which is an abomination – but they have become more cheap soap opera than the nuanced comedy they were in the hands of writers like Frank Doyle, George Gladir and Craig Boldman.

The recent Big Moose One-Shot [$4.99] shows the good and the bad of “new” Archie. It featured three stories by three different writer-artist teams. I have no beef with the artists. Cory Smith, Thomas Pitilli and Ryan Jampole did terrific work with characters who were recognizable from story to story. But the writers – Sean Ryan, Ryan Cady and Gorf – didn’t seem to be writing the same lead character.

My favorite of the three was Cady’s “Have It All.” Moose struggles, but is determined to meet all his obligations. It’s a nice little tale of friendship, persistence and personal honor. This should be the model for future Moose stories.

Alas, “Moose vs. the Vending Machine” played Moose as being dumb as a pile of bricks, a characterization which should have been laid to rest decades ago. “The Big Difference” had a Moose who was a bully. A bully with redeeming qualities, but a bully nonetheless.

Someday, I’d like to try my hand at a contemporary teen humor comic book. Because I’m convinced you can combine the quality of a Doyle, a Gladir and a Boldman with stories that are funny and meaningful. I keep hoping Archie Comics manages that.

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Worlds of Fear

Good or bad, I never regret shelling out relatively big bucks for the PS Artbooks of Pre-Code Classics. In the case of Worlds of Fear Volume One [$59.99], it allowed me to read five horror comic books published by Fawcett Comics, best known as the Silver Age home of the original Captain Marvel. However, when it comes to recommending some of these hardcover volumes to you, I have to assume most of my readers do not share my mania for reading less-than-classic classic reprints. Which is what you get here.

Horror was not Fawcett’s forte. Though some legendary artists drew some of these stories, the dismal writing is usually more than the talents of Sheldon Moldoff, Bernard Baily, Bob Powell, George Evans and the like could overcome.

This first volume collects Worlds Beyond #1 and Worlds of Fear #2-5 from November 1951 through June 1953. Of the almost two dozen tales in this book, only two of them stood out. In both cases, there was the glimmer of a good story to be had if said tales had been better developed and written.

Worlds of Fear #4’s “The Dead Lover Returns!” tells of a young man who spots the woman he knows is his soul mate from across a great distance. He dies before he can meet her. He pleads his case before the guardians of the afterlife, saying he had never known true love in his life and wants a chance to experience it. They agree to send him back under challenging circumstances. The biggest catch is that if the woman falls in love with him, she will join him in death. This story would be worth a rewrite.

Issue #5 had “The Devil Puppet” with penciled art by Mike Sekowsky. A down-on-his-luck puppeteer carves a new puppet from the wood of a hanging tree. The new puppet brings him fame and fortune, but it quickly gains evil sentience. The plot isn’t remotely original, but the tale is told with considerable mania.

Pre-Code Classics World of Fear Volume One is for the completist. I’ll let you know if the second volume is better.

ISBN 978-1-78636-058-8

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My next convention appearance will be at G-Fest, the big Godzilla convention held from July 14 to July 16 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare. I’ll be doing a panel presentation each day. On Friday, we doing a panel on “Marvel Monsters.” On Saturday, I’ll be discussing Gorgo, Konga and Reptilicus in the movies, in the comics and in the odd novelizations of those 1960s films. On Sunday, the focus will be on “Syfy Monsters and Other Giant Critters.” The cheese will be celebrated at that last one.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews and a few notes on a mysterious trip I’m taking at the end of this week. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #215

British comics have fascinated me since I bought several issues of Pow and Wham from Jerry “Father of Comics Fandom” Bails at a early 1970s Detroit Triple Fan Fair. Ironically, when I went to work for Marvel Comics in late 1972, my main job was putting together Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly and the other British weeklies we produced in the United States, but which were printed and sold in the United Kingdom.

Currently, I buy 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine from my pals at Stormwatch Comics in New Jersey. I also have a subscription to The Beano, the kids humor weekly that has been around forever and a day. The Beano comes to me from Great Britain, usually two issues at a time. Recently, I added another legendary British comics title to my Vast Accumulation of Stuff.

Commando is a 68-page, black-and-white, digest-size comics weekly. Each issue features a complete 63-page, two-panels-per-page “action story.” Focusing mostly on stories from World War I and II, though other wars are sometimes featured, it was launched in 1961 and has continued ever since.

The current cover price of Commando is two pounds, which translates to around $2.50 in U.S. dollars. I receive the comic in packages of four issues. Based on what I’ve read so far, there are two brand-new stories per month and two reprinted stories.

Commando #5011 presented “Flight of Fancy,” a new story by George Low with art by Rezzonico and Vila. Set in World War II, the tale has a pulp adventure vibe to it in the form of a futuristic flying craft being tested by the Germans.

In issue #5012, “Launch the Wildcats” was a World War II air action story reprinted from 1968. The emotional core of the tale was the prejudice faced by a British pilot raised in Germany as a young boy and sent to England by his German relatives when things started to get bad. You know, that Hitler guy.

Issue #5013 has “The Hill,” a new Vietnam War story by Ferg Handley with art by Morahin. Four rookie American soldiers find themselves caught in the Tet Offensive. A palpable sense of doom infuses the tale.

The cover of issue #5014 has a “Special Forces 1939-1945″ blurb in its upper right corner. “Killer Commando” is a reprint from 1992. A skilled commando is profiting from his spy missions and willing to kill anyone who stands between him and that profit. His nemesis is civilian police detective Ernest Hallows.

Every one of these stories is a done-in-one tale. They all feature solid writing and art. If you enjoy straightforward war comics in classic styles, then I think you’ll enjoy Commando. You can check out the title’s subscription packages at:

www.commandocomics.com

Commando is my pick of the week.

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Occupy Avengers #1

In a nation and a world where justice seems to be in increasingly short supply, Occupy Avengers [Marvel; $3.99 per issue] fits nicely in my progressive liberal wheelhouse. That the series is an ongoing redemption story makes me like it even more.

What you need to know is that, during Civil War II, Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner to prevent him from becoming the Hulk and slaughtering a whole bunch of civilians and heroes. Except that was not really justice. It was “predictive justice,” the fascist Captain Marvel’s code phrase for tossing out civil rights. That Banner had already asked Hawkeye to take him out if there was any possibility of his becoming the Hulk again doesn’t change the immorality of what the Captain Marvel faction was doing.

So now Hawkeye is traveling the country trying to find redemption after being cleared of murder in the courts. In the six issues of this title that I’ve read, he’s faced “businessmen” contaminating the water supply of a New Mexico reservation while stealing clean water from the tribe. He’s stumbled across a plot to create life-model decoys. He’s defended the ultimate outsiders: Skrull/human hybrids just trying to live peaceful lives. He’s teamed up with Red Wolf and Tilda Johnson, the first a time-displaced lawman and the second a former super-villain. Okay, maybe the group’s claim to the Avengers name is shaky, but we could use more heroes who speak truth to power while shooting arrows at said power.

Kudos to writer David F. Walker; artists Carlos Pacheco and Gabriel Hernandez Walta; inker Rafeal Fonteriz; colorists Sonia Oback, Wil Quintana and Jordie Bellaire; and editors Tom Brevoort with Darren Shan. They have done a fine job with this title.

Occupy Avengers #1-4 have been collected in Occupy Avengers Vol. 1: Taking Back Justice [$17.99] along with the ‘70s issues of Avengers which introduced the modern-era Red Wolf. Occupy Avengers #5-9 will be collected in Occupy Avengers Vol. 2: In Plain Sight [$15.99] in October. The pair would make great holiday gifts for you or a fan you love.

Occupy Avengers Vol. 1: Taking Back Justice

ISBN 978-1302906382

Occupy Avengers Vol. 2: In Plain Sight

ISBN 978-1302906399

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Savage #1

The Valiant Universe gets larger all the time. Though things like alternate realities, supernatural dimensions and time travel aren’t among my favorite story subjects, Valiant publishes quality comics that, through a combination of “what has gone before” prose and the acumen of its writers, are new reader-friendly and relatively easy to follow. The company roster contains three of my favorite ongoing comics series: Faith, Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong.

Savage [$3.99 per issue] doesn’t seem to connect to the rest of the Valiant Universe, but I might have missed some clues along the way. Here’s the Amazon blurb for the series:

Fifteen years ago, the world’s most famous soccer star, his former supermodel wife and their infant son disappeared without a trace. The world believes they are dead. But, in reality, their private jet crashed on a mysterious, unknown island ruled by prehistoric creatures from another time. This is the story of how they lost their humanity.

The four-issue series follows the fearful journey of that family. The island has dinosaurs that want to eat you and vicious men who want to kill you. Written by B. Clay Moore with art by Clayton Henry and Lewis Larosa and colors by Brian Reber, it’s an exciting and violent tale that has some truly shocking moments and ends on a cliffhanger I saw coming but was no less effective for it. I’m being vague here because I want you to go out and read this series for yourself. I recommend the trade paperback of the series which was released in April. At $9.99, it’s actually less expensive than the original comic books.

ISBN 978-1682151891

I’ll be back next week with more reviews and some information on my next convention appearance. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #214

I’m writing this week’s Tips on a packed-with-fun-and-other-things weekend during which I have…

Celebrated the 33rd anniversary of marrying my Sainted Wife Barb. So far year 34 is looking good, too.

Held my first Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sale of the summer, delighting in seeing old friends and making a few bucks. I should write an entire column on how I am being Draconian in reducing my VAOS to a much more manageable accumulation of stuff.

Explained to a guy that the reason the comics, books and magazines in my garage sale quarter boxes – five for a dollar – have not been arranged in alphabetical order for his convenience is on account of dude, they cost a quarter.

Tried to find new, polite ways to describe just how much I loathe sight unseen – the idea of Black Lightning in some “black ops” team of Batman and the Outsiders on account of I’m so [expletive] tired of seeing my guy take orders from Batman I could [crude reference to bodily waste excretion] lightning myself.

Been writing a comic-book script not unrelated to the above which could be adversely affected by the above.

Exhausted myself trying to convince a click-bait news site that the official – official with DC Comics and DC Entertainment – credit line for Black Lightning is “Created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden.”

Exhausted myself trying to tell fans the name of that other super-hero with electrical powers is “Static” not “Static Shock.”

Started working on the three panel presentations I’ll be doing at this year’s G-Fest, the premiere U.S. Godzilla convention held in Chicago next month.

Making time to celebrate Father’s Day with Barb and our wonderful children, Eddie and Kelly.

As cartoonist Seth so famously said, “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.” Stay strong, Tony. Stay strong.

My top pick of the week is Pre-Code Classics: Lars of Mars/Crusader from Mars/Eerie Adventures Volume One [PS Artbooks; $39.99]. Since this hardcover collects the only two issues of Lars of Mars and the only two issues of Crusader from Mars and the only issue of Eerie Adventures, I suspect it will be the only volume. More the pity on account of I’d love to read more Lars of Mars.

Lars of Mars, quite possibly created by Jerry Siegel and certainly drawn by Murphy Anderson, is one of those wacky concepts I’d love to reboot for modern times. The original Lars comics were cover-dated July/August 1951. The premise:

When Mars becomes alarmed by Earthlings dropping atomic bombs here and there, it sends Lars of Mars, its most daring adventurer, to go to Earth to make sure we don’t do crazy stuff that would force the Martians to destroy us. Lars adopts the identity of a TV hero who plays a Martian super-hero on Earth. His coworkers think he’s just a method actor who stays in character 24/7. They don’t connect him to the mysterious Martian super-hero who has recently come to Earth to fight crime and injustice. In this era of reality TV, the reboot would practically write itself. In addition to the Anderson art on Lars, we also get Gene Colan drawing the “Ken Brady Rocket Pilot” back-up feature.

Crusader from Mars [March-Fall 1952] has a similar albeit grimmer premise. Tarka and Zira have been found guilty of committing the only crime on Mars in fifty years. They murdered Tarka’s rival for Zira. They are banished to Earth to atone for the crime by fighting evil on our world.

Eerie Adventures is a one-shot anthology title which includes two tales drawn by Bob Powell and Howard Nostrand. None of the stories in any of these five issues were first-rate, but almost every one of them is intriguing.

If you’re wondering why this book is my pick of the week, it’s for no other reason that Lars of Mars tickled me. Sometimes, that’s all I need to really love something.

ISBN 978-1-78636-053-3

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Regrettable

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History by Jon Morris [Quirk Books; $24.95] is a sequel to his 2015 League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History. Like the first book, it’s a wild journey through some of the most insane creations ever to grace the pages of comic books.

From the Golden Age of comics to the Modern Age, Morris pokes fun at the likes of the Balloon Maker, Reefer King, Sadly-Sadly, Batroc the Leaper, Egg Fu, the Mod Gorilla Boss, Ghetto-Blaster and Turner D. Century. Sometimes the writer bends the facts a tad and, now and again, he fails to realize some choices – Marvel’s Swarm comes to mind – are actually pretty great villains. Still, overall, this is 256 pages of wonderment. I recommend it for fans with an interest in comics history and a sense of the absurd. I also think it would make an excellent gift for the comics fan in your life.

ISBN 978-1-59474-932-2

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Star Wars strips

Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 1 by Russ Manning and others [Marvel; $39.99] collects adventures from a number of sources. Most of these strips were rearranged to fit a comic-book format. A few are presented in close to their original formats. While I find the comic-book format presentations somewhat lacking – I always feel like something important as been left out as I read them – there’s no denying the quality of the strips and the art that bring them to life.

The creative line-up includes Archie Goodwin, Steve Gerber, Alfredo Alcala, Al Williamson and more. Goodwin was my favorite writer of the Marvel comic-book series that came out at the same time as the original movies and he turned out to be my favorite writer of these newspaper adventures.

Once again, we have a book that should attract all kinds of comics readers. Obviously, Star Wars fans will want it. Fans of Manning and the other creators will be just as eager to add the volume to their collections. If you access the Force, I’m sure it will tell you this 464-page softcover will make a great gift for that special Jedi knight of yours.

ISBN 978-1-302-90464-7

That’s a wrap for this week’s column. I’ll be back next week with more tips. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #213

Summer’s here. I’ll be staying home for most of June and July, save for my annual journey to G-Fest, the wonderful Godzilla convention held in Rosemont, Illinois. Otherwise, I’ll be writing comic books and columns and books and introductions to books. I’ll be putting on my famous Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales in the perhaps hopeless quest to reduce my accumulation to the point where I can call it a collection without sobbing. I’ll be celebrating 33 years of marriage to my Sainted Wife Barb and our son Eddie’s 29 years on this planet. We’ll have our traditional July 3 cookout at our home and watch the fireworks from the nearby high school from our front lawn. And, of course, I will be reading lots of comic books in all their myriad, wondrous forms.

Among the comic books I’m currently loving, Rough Riders Volume 1: Give Them Hell by creator and writer Adam Glass and artist Patrick Olliffe [AfterShock; $19.99] ranks high enough to be my pick of the week. It delivers a solidly entertaining and exciting tale of 19th Century heroes fighting a shadow war unknown to history.

Teddy Roosevelt is the Nick Fury/Tony Stark of these turn-of-the-century avengers. Tortured by things he’s seen, Roosevelt gathers a team of unlikely heroes to battle against the mysterious forces posed to conquer our world. The roster: boxer Jack Johnson, Coney Island magician Harry Houdini, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, inventor Thomas Edison. Glass and Olliffe even include a super-villain in the still-not-dead Rasputin.

Glass doesn’t shy away from the imperfections of his heroes or the prejudice of the times. Johnson and Houdini, as a black man and a Jew, face the racism common to the times. Oakley is an alcoholic. Edison’s alleged penchant for claiming credit for the discoveries of others is shown in this graphic novel. Roosevelt struggles with the necessity of working with privileged and wealthy businessmen he despises. As the story unfolds, he and his team will face down some of their demons and show surprising emotions and strengths.

Olliffe’s solid storytelling and artistic acumen is indispensable. His action scenes flash across the pages. His human scenes bring us closer to the characters. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb does an outstanding job bringing depth to the art. Letterer Sal Cipriano continues to be one of those letterers who is so good the reader doesn’t realize how good he is.

Rough Riders Volume 1 collects the first seven issues of the title. I hope we’ll be seeing more of this series and more of its unlikely heroes. I recommend it for readers of all ages.

ISBN 978-1935002925

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Giant Days

One of the best things about modern comics is how many comic books and graphic novels now have women characters as their leads and, in many cases, created by women. I enjoy a great many of these comics. However, as with my beloved super-hero comics, the mere presence of women leads or creators doesn’t translate to a terrific comic book.

Recently, Marv Wolfman, he of Tomb of Dracula, Teen Titans, and so many other credits there could be a Marv Wolfman Museum, remarked how much he liked the Wonder Woman movie and how much he disliked that so many reviewers said something along the lines of “It’s done better than expected for a film directed by (or starring) a woman.”

Marv continued: “Movies, like books, paintings, comics, music and a thousand other things I can’t think of right now, is an art form. And art is gender neutral. Art isn’t better or worse because it was done by a man or woman.”

Happily, Giant Days by creator/writer John Allison, artists Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin and colorist Whitney Cougar [Boom! Box] is both a series starring three young woman and a terrific comic book. Esther, Susan and Daisy share a hall of residence at an university.

They also share one another’s journeys through a morass of modern life that includes experimentation and growth, chauvinism, illness, academic terrors, romantic relationships, mysteries, old foes and a little weirdness from time to time. There are many comic books and webcomics that attempt to explore much the same ground and with similar characters. Few of them equal Giant Days.

Allison’s dialogue “sounds” real to me, which makes his characters real and relatable. Treiman and Saris draw expressive figures and faces while grounding the characters in reality. Cougar’s colors further enliven the world of Giant Days. Jim Campbell’s lettering is easy to read and never distracting. To me, all of that is what makes great comics. Everything is in service to the characters and to the story. No showboating here.

I’ve read the first two volumes of Giant Days. Two more have been published with a fifth due this month. So, when I’m finished with this review, I’m going to order the ones I don’t own yet. Consider that my way of recommending them to all of you.

Giant Days Vol. 1 [$9.99]

ISBN 978-1608867899

Giant Days Vol. 2 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608868049

Giant Days Vol. 3 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608868513

Giant Days Vol. 4 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608869381

Giant Days Vol. 5 [$14.99]

ISBN 978-1608869824

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Sugar and Spike

Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations by Keith Giffen, Bilquis Everly and Ivan Plascencia [DC; $14.99] was fun, albeit not quite as much fun as I would have liked. Back in the day, the legendary Sheldon Mayer created a comic book about two babies who had their own language and tried to figure out the grown-up world. Those are some of the best comic books of all time and they really need to be collected in their entirety. But I digress.

Giffen turned the toddlers into 20-something private investigators doing the usual often-sordid private investigator stuff. Until they stumble into a niche market: keeping past indiscretions of super-heroes out of the headlines. Relax. Those past indiscretions don’t have anything to do with Russian prostitutes, making secret deals with Russia, taking money from kids with cancer or the like. They all come from long-ago adventures long since forgotten by today’s comics publishers, editors, writers and readers.

Batman’s more bizarre costumes have gone missing. Superman needs to retrieve the kryptonite he buried on an island he made that looks like him. Wonder Woman almost married a monster who now wants her back. Green Lantern fears the body of his former alien pal Itty is a museum exhibit. The Legion of Super-Heroes wants a dangerous machine, so much that several configurations of Legion time-travel to the same time and place.

What keeps this book from being as much fun as I would like is that Sugar is incredibly unpleasant and Spike allows her to treat with extreme disrespect. Sugar was always the alpha baby in those great old Mayer stories, but this is just unsettling.

If you’re willing to ignore that most of the past adventures that play roles in these stories could not possibly all be part of the same continuity – and I’m quite willing to do that – you’ll get a kick out of this volume. I recommend it for old-time DC fans with a keenly developed sense of the absurd.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6482-6

Enjoy your summer, my friends. I will be back next week with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #212

Recent Marvel Comics “epics” have been taking it on the chin around here of late. While it’s deserved – Civil War II was particularly despicable and wrongheaded – I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m down on Marvel. The company still publishers some great super-hero comics. Like the ones I’m writing about this week.

Ms. Marvel is the super-hero the United States of America needs as Captain Marvel goes fascist and Captain America hails Hydra. Writer G. Willow Wilson has made teenage Kamala Khan incredibly admirable and very real. Kamala has doubts from time to time and makes some mistakes, but her heart is good and her mind is sharp. In this era of failed and even criminal leadership, it’s nice to have a hero we can count on to do the moral thing. It’s no crime to stumble. It is a shame when someone with great power allows that stumble to remain in place.

I have Ms. Marvel #9-17 [$3.99] before me as I write this column. All are written by Wilson with art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona. The first three issues are Civil War II tie-ins. Caution. For me to express my admiration of this title, I will occasionally have to include SPOILERS in my comments.

If you were lucky enough to miss Civil War II entirely, what went down is that a new Inhuman seemingly had the power to predict the future with certainty. Powerful government forces acted on what he predicted as if it were fact, arresting people who hadn’t committed crimes and without any evidence that they were planning to commit crimes. Captain Marvel, who later admitted that she would violate civil rights if there were only a 10% chance of those predictions being accurate, was the poster child for the government. Kamala, an admirer of Captain Marvel, agreed to work with her.

Kamala’s admiration and compliance soon gave way to doubt and then rejection of this super-powered assault on civil rights. She quit and faced the consequences of her initial bad decision. In another fine Marvel super-hero title – Champions – she joined with several other young heroes to find a better, kinder and more productive way to function as super-beings in a troubled world. I wish and hope and believe it will be children like her who lead our nation out of its current darkness.

Obviously, Ms. Marvel pushes my progressive liberal buttons in good ways. I was greatly impressed by a recent storyline that revolved around online bullying. But Ms. Marvel is more than its political and social stands. It is an entertaining and exciting super-hero title in the traditional and well-tested Marvel manner. Kamala has great power, great responsibility and all of the stuff we and our children deal with in the real world.

From where I stand, a truly great super-hero comic is one in which the real world stuff is portrayed with enough reality to make the fantastic stuff believable. It has relatable characters who live in my world, albeit a super-powered version of my world. It has heroes who truly aspire to be heroes.

Ms. Marvel clicks all my boxes. It’s my favorite Marvel super-hero comic and my pick of the week.

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Sam Wilson

I’m not a fan of Nick Spencer’s writing. I’ve been critical, to put it mildly, of his tedious Captain Hydra storyline in which Steve Rogers, a Roosevelt Democrat and the creation of two of comicdom’s greatest Jewish comics creators, is revealed to be a Nazi. There’s a Cosmic Cube involved, so I’m sure it’ll be undone in unsatisfying fashion, but, in the meantime, we’ve seen a year’s worth of Captain America being a murderous Nazi. It’s garbage.

That said, you’ll be surprised to learn I think Spencer’s writing on Captain America: Sam Wilson has been excellent. To catch up the readers who haven’t followed the series…

Steve Rogers got old. He gave his shield and title to Sam Wilson. There were those who objected to this because, well, because they were racists. When Steve got young again, he said Sam should keep the shield and the title. People objected because, well, because they were racists. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have seen the resurgence of white supremacists in our country and, indeed, in the highest circles of our government.

Sidebar. When I say “people,” I mean people in the story, not fans who object to Sam becoming Captain America because it’s not exactly the way Captain America was when they were twelve. While I do tend to dismiss such moaning, I don’t assume that every fan of this type is a racist. They are, as so many fans are, resistant to change in their favorite characters and comics. Fortunately for them, there are decades of Captain America comic books they can enjoy. We live in a comics age of plenty.

What draws me to Captain America: Sam Wilson is that Spencer tells powerful stories about race and that is an important thing to do in our world. Yes, Captain Hydra is behind some of the awful things we see in these comic books, but the stories would work just as well and be just as powerful without the Captain Hydra nonsense. Again, look at what’s happening in our country right now.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #21 [$3.99], the most recent issue I’ve read, has Sam renouncing the Captain America shield and title. He seems to be resuming his identity as the Falcon and this seems to be the final issue of the title. Though I don’t keep up on comics news as I once did – kind of busy trying to make it at the moment – I hope this means we’re getting a new Falcon title and that it’ll continue to address important issues.

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Patsy Walker

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat has a most convoluted history. She was the subject of embarrassing teen humor/romance comics created by her mother.

She married her high-school sweetheart who became an abusive monster. She hung out with Hank “the Beast” McCoy, donned a super-hero suit previously worn by the Cat, became a super-hero, became kind of an Avenger, joined the Defenders, married the Son of Satan, died and went to Hell, came back from the dead and…ow! My brain hurts!

You would think writer Kate Leth might have simplified or ignored some of the above for Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat, the brilliant sixteen-issue series she did with artists Brittney L. Williams and Natasha Allegri. You would be thinking wrong. Leth used all of it. She made it fit together smoothly while adding such great concepts as an employment agency for super-powered people who do not want to become super-heroes or super-villains. They just want to use their powers to earn an honest living doing non-super-hero and non-super-villain things.

Leth combined action, human drama, humor and even a bit of tragedy into her stories. The art didn’t look like anything you’d expect to see in a Marvel super-hero comic, but it was so just right for this Marvel super-hero comic. After borrowing the individual issues from a friend, I went out and bought the trade paperbacks. Because these comic books are keepers. I’m keeping them around so that I can read them again and because I think I might learn a new trick or two from them.

I’m recommending the Patsy Walker trades to everybody. If you like super-hero comics and aren’t mired in just one way of doing them, you’ll love these books. If you’re not a fan of super-hero comics, you’ll still love these books.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90035-9

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 2: Don’t Stop Me-Ow ($17.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90036-6

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 3: Careless Whiskers ($15.99)

ISBN 978-1-302-90662-7

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #211

From the heart of Cleveland, Apama The Undiscovered Animal Volume 2 [Hero Tomorrow Comics; $19.99] is a hometown favorite and my pick of the week. The 184-page, full-color softcover collects issues #6-11 of the title by writers Ted Sikora and Milo Miller with artist Benito Gallego. The book is loaded with extras, starting with an introduction by legendary comic-book writer and editor Roy Thomas. As my friend and mentor says, Apama is the kind of comic book that makes you remember you’re a comic-book fan.

Apama grew from a wonderfully quirky independent movie called Hero Tomorrow. In that 2007 film, a struggling comics creator tries to keep his dreams alive by designing and becoming a super-hero with the powers of an animal unknown to the modern world. Consider that the short version recommendation that you see this movie. There is much more to it than I have space to relate to you here.

In this series, ice cream truck driver Ilyia has truly become Apama with mixed results. He’s helped people, but he’s also inadvertently hurt people. He’s brought villains to justice, but he’s failed to protect some of their innocent victims. He is confused about both of his lives. If this sounds like a super-hero of the 1970s, well, it has that special vibe. Sikora and Miller would not have been out of place among the Marvel writers of that decade. Coming from me, that’s high praise.

Artist Gallego has more than a little John Buscema in his work. The Spanish artist is a terrific storyteller whose action scenes move with crackling energy and whose human moments feel real. With the pun fully intended, I marvel at how good he is.

The stories are as delicious strange as their hero. A criminal who does dirty work for corporations becomes a corrosive super-villain. A riot breaks when a failing baseball team holds a “Ten-Cent Beer Night” in a crazy tale based on an actual event in Cleveland sports history. Against their will, stage performers become deadly super-villains. It’s a wild ride from start to finish.

Backing up the comics stories are all those extras I mentioned at the top of this review. There are background comics and histories that trace the secret origins of some of the concepts seen in the new Apama stories. There are guest pinup galleries featuring Apama, his mystical foe Regina and the Tap Dance Killer.

Apama the Undiscovered Animal earns my highest recommendation. It’s a great comics series that should appeal to old-time fans like me, and also to modern readers. Discover Apama today because everyone will be talking about him tomorrow.

ISBN 978-164007987-8

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Shaft Imitation of Life

From Dynamite Entertainment, Shaft: Imitation of Life by David F. Walker with artist Dietrich Smith [$15.99] is the follow-up series to Shaft: A Complicated Man, which was named “Story of the Year” in the 2015 Glyph Comics Award.

Shaft is an African-American private investigator who was created by novelist and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman. Shaft appeared in five novels, four movies and a TV series. Tidyman, just to do a bit more hometown bragging, was born in Cleveland.

In this new comics story, Shaft is doing pretty well following his role in a high profile case. Too well for his liking. He tries to avoid the jobs that will inevitably go off the rails, but his sense of honor and justice, much as he tries to deny him, lead him into very dangerous territory. Before long, Shaft finds himself mixed up with sadistic mobsters, idiot filmmakers, murderous pornographers and more. Such is the life of the cat who won’t cop out.

Walker and Smith present an action-packed story that takes readers into some pretty dark places. Yet from the darkness, Shaft emerges as a fundamentally decent man who’s much more of a hero that he’ll admit to. I’m a big fan of this character.

This collection is rated “M” for mature readers. I’d include older teens in that because their world is more dangerous that we parents like to admit. It’s definitely recommended to fans who like their heroes hard-boiled.

Shaft: A Complicated Man:

ISBN 978-1-6069-0757-3

Shaft: Imitation of Life:

ISBN 978-1-5241-0260-9

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Amazing Spider-Man

Over the weekend, I read The Amazing Spider-Man #15-26 [with cover prices ranging from $3.99 to $9.99]. Judging from the publication information in the indicia, these twelve issues came out within a span of ten months. The writers were Dan Slott and Christos Gage, and I generally enjoy their work. The main artist for these issues seems to have been Giuseppi Camuncoli with penciler Stuart Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger coming on with #25. The art on these issues is constantly good. So why didn’t I enjoy them?

Issue #15 has Mary Jane becoming the new Iron Spider, essentially an Iron Man suit in spider-drag. Then we get a bunch of issues with a “Before Dead No More” topper, followed by more issues labeled “A Clone Conspiracy Tie-In,” and then the Green Goblin returns. Been there, done that, the whole group of issues could have been called “Beating Dead Horses” in my mind.

As with the Green Lanterns over at DC, I think there are too many Spider-heroes at Marvel. I have hated “clone technology” since it first raised its derivative ugly head. The Green Goblin is another one of those super-villains that bores me because he keeps coming back again and again with nary a new twist. Been there, done that. Want something new.

Adding to my dislike of these issues, apparently, you need to have read The Clone Conspiracy series to fully understand what was going on in these Spider-Man issues. Having not read that series, I had the sense that the Spider-Man issues were missing key scenes…and wondering if the murky motivations of the main villain somehow made sense if you read the Clone Conspiracy series. My gut feeling: if a reader pays four bucks and up for a comic book, the reader should not have to buy other comic books to get the full story.

I have found much of Slott’s Spider-Man work interesting. But this run just didn’t do it for me. It happens.

Lest you think I’m down on Marvel, I’ll be back here next week with a column dedicated to Marvel titles I really love or, at the least, find intriguing enough to enjoy them.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #210

When recently contemplating my favorite comic-book companies that are gone but not forgotten, I knew early on that all my top choices would be publishers from before I started working in the industry. What sort of surprised me when I got to choosing the comics outfit I missed the most was that it was the American Comics Group, best known as ACG to the fans of the 1960s.

When I reading their comic books in the 1960s, there were only four ACG titles: Adventures into the Unknown, Forbidden Worlds, Unknown Worlds and Herbie. Almost every story and maybe every story in those issues was written by editor Robert E. Hughes utilizing a variety of aliases. The “voice” of Hughes was also evident in the letters page where he was never afraid to challenge readers if he felt they didn’t appreciate a story he thought was great or praised a story he felt was one of his weaker efforts. He even faced down trolls who wrote insulting letters to his comics. Yes, there were trolls back then. We just didn’t call them that.

Hughes also had a knack for making average and even mild-mannered characters the heroes of his stories. I never got tired of seeing some put-upon schlemiel rise up to a challenge and change his life for the better. As veteran readers of my work know, I’m a sucker for a good redemption tale.

For some time now, the UK-based PS Artbooks has been reprinting both Adventures into the Unknown and Forbidden Worlds in hardcover editions. At great peril to my checking account, I’ve been buying and enjoying them. My latest was Forbidden Worlds Volume Twelve [$59.99], which reprints issues #71-76, cover-dated October 1958 to March 1959. There are many highlights in those issues.

Ogden Whitney drew all six covers. An underrated talent, Whitney’s cast of characters – you would see similar types on his covers and his interior stories – were realistic representations of ordinary human beings. Exactly the sort that would serve as the protagonists in Hughes’ stories.

However, it was not just human beings who showed surprising courage or learned important life lessons in these tales. “The Iron Brain” was a robot who developed independent thought and wanted to be accepted by the humans around him. It wasn’t a unique concept for a story, but Hughes and artist Mike Roy told it in such a way as to make the characters, even the robot, very real.

There are some amazing artists in these issues. Many of them were and remain underrated, but there are stellar turns by John Forte, Paul Reinman and John Rosenberger. A story drawn by John Buscema is indicative of his amazing talent, and even Al Williamson shows up for a story. Solid, steady and sometimes sensational visuals were not at all alien to ACG’s comic books.

The highlight of this particular volume is “Herbie’s Quiet Saturday Afternoon” by Hughes and Whitney. This is an early adventure of the stout young hero with thick glasses who is generally considered to be ACG’s best continuing character. Right from the start, this kid was clearly a star.

As long as PS Artbooks reprints these wonderful ACG comic books, I will continue buying them. They might be dangerous to my financial well-being, but they delight my soul.

ISBN 978-1-78636-007-6

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Escape from Monster Island

Escape from Monster Island [Zenescope; $15.99] could be an above-average movie of the sort beloved by creature-feature afficinados. The premise is that the U.S. Government has been capturing dozens of species of “monsters”, keeping their existence secret from the public and imprisoning them on an island for experimental purposes. Yes, experimenting on these creatures is monstrous, so labeling the test subjects as “monsters” is definitely calling the kettle black.

The monsters pretty much took over the island a few years back and all that’s keeping them from going beyond the island is the force field that locks them in. But the force field is failing, an elite mercenary squad is being sent it to recover vital research and the military wants to nuke the island as soon as the force field stops working. The clock is definitely ticking.

Written by Joe Tyler from a story by Joe Brusha and Ralph Tedesco, Escape is entering. Some of the characters – human and “monster” – are well developed. Others are little more than cannon fodder. This graphic novel, which collects the six-issue comic-book series, has exciting action, scary “monsters” and surprising twists. The Carlos Granda art is excellent, both in the actual drawings and in telling the story in a visually smooth manner. Best of all, the adventure has a satisfying ending, something that still seems to be a great challenge for many comics creators.

Escape from Monster Island isn’t an award-winning comics work, but it is a solid and enjoyable tale. I recommend to my fellow monster-movie fanatics. And, hey, if you’re a movie maker with a reasonably decent budget, you might want to take a look at this book for your next film.

ISBN 978-1942275374

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Civil War II

Speaking of comics with unsatisfying endings, not to mention a heap of other shortcomings, I give you Civil War II [Marvel; $50]. Let me amend that. I wouldn’t give you Civil War II on account of we’re friends and friends don’t hurt each other that way.

Collecting Civil War #0-8 and a story from Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Civil War), this hardcover book is another sad example of Marvel shooting itself in the crotch for shock value. Yeah, I know “foot” is the usual target, but, hey, shock value. Did it work?

Ulysses, a new Inhuman, seems to have the power to tell the future with certainty via the horribly realistic visions he receives and “lives” through. Which is enough for Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) and other wannabe totalitarians to start locking up people because Ulysses says so. They aren’t locking up people for crimes they’ve committed. They’re locking up people because one man – one man – is saying they will commit those crimes. Which is all fascist Captain Marvel needs to upend constitutional and moral rights. Even after she’s given evidence that Ulysses may not be batting the thousand percent she has been claiming.

Congratulations, Marvel. I’ll never be able to think of Carol as a hero again. Maybe it’s time to retire her and bring back Mar-Vell to assume the name of Captain Marvel. His being dead shouldn’t stop you. You threw logic out the window with this and so many of your other “big freaking event” series.

Sidebar. There’s supposed to be a Captain Marvel movie. I sincerely hope the Marvel Cinematic Universe chooses to ignore Civil War II. It would be nice to have the real Carol Danvers up there on the big screen and not the evil twin of the comic books.

Civil War II is not recommended for readers of any age. Even beyond the disastrous dismantling of Captain Marvel’s legacy, it lacks an ending that resolves any of the issues it raised. It simply takes Ulysses out of the equation. Disappointing.

ISBN 978-1-302-90156-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #209

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is one of my favorite Marvel Studios movies. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) is even better. It has all the humor of the first film plus it amps up the action (big stuff going on) and the human drama (made me tear up a few times). Here’s the quickie summary from the Internet Movie Database, which is always my first stop when I’m reviewing a film:

“Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.”

The movie opens on a splendidly weird battle between the Guardians and a slimy space monster. Their job: protect the super-batteries that power the world of the Soverign, a golden-skinned race who believe themselves superior to all others. Which is probably why, after the heroes defeat the slimy space monster, Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries. He’s like that.

Though the action – chases through space, crash landings, a battle with a near-omnipotent being – is breathtaking, what takes this sequel to its greater heights are the human stories. Quill’s desire to find his father. Gamora’s troubled relationship with her sister Nebula. Yondu and his Ravagers’ exile from the larger community of Ravagers, the reason for their breach of the space pirates code and their misery at being outcasts among outlaws. Characters finding unexpected common ground with others. Even more than in the first movie, the characters come to life in ways that make them very real to the audience.

The acting is as good or better than in any of the Marvel movies. For that matter, it’s as good or better than in most other movies released in 2017. Chris Pratt (Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Kurt Russell (Ego) and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper as, respectively, the voices of Baby Groot and Rocket are all amazing. But, the star of the film is Michael Rooker, who deserves an Oscar nomination for his layered portrayal of Yondu. It’s the performance of a lifetime and left me eager to see what he does next.

Marvel Comics readers will squeal with sheer delight at all the new characters the movie introduces into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The vastness of that universe is used to great effect and, even if a viewer doesn’t share the “oh, wow” recognition factor of devoted Marvelites like me, the writing never leaves said viewer out of the loop. What a ride!

Director and writer James Gunn probably won’t get any nominations for either of his roles on this movie, but he deserves them. I am already looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be in the theaters for several weeks to come, but, if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t put it off. You’ll want to see it more than once and you’ll want to tell your friends and loved ones about it. If the fates are kind, the movie will be available for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD before the winter holidays. It would sure make my gift shopping easier.

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Lois Lane novel

Lois Lane: Triple Threat by Gwenda Bond [Switch Press; $16.95] is the third hardcover novel in the reimagining of the classic comics character by the noted young adult and children’s author. In these books, teenage Lois and her family have settled in Metropolis after bouncing around from army base to base depending on where her dad, General Sam Lane, was stationed. She’s made friends at her school and works part time for the Scoop, a teen department of The Daily Planet. And she has an online boyfriend she’s never met in person. He goes by the screen name SmallvilleGuy.

This time around, mysterious teens with super-powers are turning up in Metropolis and are targeting Lois. She’s already made enemies in her brief career as a journalist, including the gang boss who ran the city before she helped put him away and the still-at-large mad scientist who worked for said gang boss. Now there is another new player on the scene, a woman claiming to be hundreds of years old. All this while Lois’ dad continues to investigates reports of the flying man he and her once saw, a flying man who saved their lives. Oh, yeah, one more thing:

SmallvilleGuy is coming to Metropolis with his parents so he and Lois can finally meet. Pressure, much?

Bond’s Lois Lane is one of the best versions of the character. She is a dedicated journalist, but she also has the empathy to consider the people behind the stories. She has a suspicious mind, but she is also learning to trust people. Like SmallvilleGuy, she wants to do good in the world, which sometimes means making touch decisions, not all of which this reader would agree with.

I’ve enjoyed all three of these Lois Lane novels. I recommend them to you and hope we’ve not seen the last of them.

Lois Lane: Fallout [$16.95]

ISBN 978-1630790059

Lois Lane: Double Down [$16.95]

ISBN 978-1630790387

Lois Lane: Triple Threat [$16.95]

ISBN 978-1630790820

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Frozen

My weekend light reading was Disney Frozen #1-6 [$2.99 each], which were published by Joe Books, a Canadian comic book company with the rights to publish comics based on Disney’s animated feature films and TV shows. I’ve been aware of the company’s existence, but this is the first time I’ve read any of their offerings.

Written by Georgia Ball and drawn by Benedetta Barone – with some other hands on deck from time to time – the Frozen comic books are aimed at young readers, but not so young that it prevents an older reader from enjoying them. The longer stories are good and usually have morals about family, friendship and goodness to share. Their drawback is that Ball seems to shy away from any real suspense of sense of jeopardy. Even as a kid, I wanted stories to have a little edge to them.

A couple issues of Frozen are filled with short gag stories of one or more pages. These fall so flat that I wonder if they come from U.K. comic books. While there are amazing Disney comics coming out of Italy and other European countries, the Disney U.K. product has been almost unfailingly tepid…and that’s coming from a writer who once had the job of making them somehow less tepid for the American audience.

I liked Frozen – the movie – a lot. Kids love Frozen a lot. Those kids would certainly be thrilled to have Frozen comic books, which make great little gifts and rewards for the youngsters. However, if you’re an older reader, you’ll want to pass on these comics.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #208

Everything I’m writing about this week should be considered my pick of the week. They’re all so terrific I couldn’t choose just one of them. This is a wonderful time to be a comics fan.

Nadia Pym is The Unstoppable Wasp [Marvel; $3.99 per issue]. She’s the daughter of Hank Pym and Maria Trovaya, his first wife. During the Cold War, Trovaya was kidnapped and killed by Russian agents. What we now know – besides the Cold War continuing to this day with Russia interfering in our elections and being ruled by a murderous dictator – is Maria lived long enough to give birth to a daughter of whom the kinda dead for now Pym was unaware. I’m simultaneously appalled and impressed by this continuity implant.

Nadia was raised in the same Red Room program in which Black Widow was trained. Getting hold of a Pym Particle – what allows Ant-Man and others to change their size – she escaped and came to America. I’m hearing Neil Diamond right now, are you?

Nadia is brilliant and so full of determination and wonder that I can’t help but love her. The Red Room clearly couldn’t lay a glove on her. She has helped the Avengers and other heroes. She has the blessing of and is helped by Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. She’s being guided by Edwin Jarvis, once voted the 25th best Avenger and who I would rank higher on that list. She has used her abilities and considerable inheritance to form G.I.R.L. – Genius in (action) Research Labs – and recruit gifted young women to do their scientific research in a female-friendly atmosphere. She’s become friends with Mockingbird, Moon Girl, Ms. Marvel, me and any comics readers who love positive super-heroes whose comic books make them feel all happy inside.

Writer Jeremy Whitley is the creator of Princeless, a comics series about a courageous and smart princess who refuses to abide by the stereotypes to which society would hold her. It has been nominated for two Eisner Awards – Best Single Issue and Best Comic for Kids Ages 8-12 – and five Glyph Awards, winning three of the latter in the categories of Best Female Character, Best Writer and Story of the Year. He and Nadia deserve to win more awards because his work on The Unstoppable Wasp is downright transformative.

Issue after issue, artist Elsa Charretier delivers clear, exciting storytelling in a pleasing spritely style that conveys action and emotion with equal aplomb. I don’t use the word “spritely” lightly. Her art is magical.

Praise must also go to color artist Megan Wilson, who casts scene after scene in vibrant hues that support the stories, and editors Alanna Smith and Tom Brevoort for what they do to facilitate this most remarkable comics series. I’ll be shocked if The Unstoppable Wasp doesn’t get nominated for and win a whole bunch of comic-book awards next year.

The Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 1: Unstoppable! [$12.99] will be coming out in September. The trade paperback will collect the first four issues of the title and Nadia’s earlier appearance in All-New, All-Different Avengers #14. I recommend this book to comics readers of all ages, and to public and school libraries.

ISBN 978-1302906467

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Astro City

In this year’s Eisner nominations, Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson [Vertigo/DC] is up for Best Continuing Series and my pal Kurt is up for Best Writer. Both should win.

Astro City sets the standard for consistent high quality in issue after issue. I tend to read comics series in batches and recently read issues #37-43 [$3.99]. The high quality has become a given for this series, but I am equally impressed by the variety of stories to be told in this universe.

We get stories of heroes (and a heroine) defined by their eras and the rebellious attitudes and music of those eras. There’s not even a slight doubt in my mind that I would buy ongoing series starring Mister Cakewalk or Jazzbaby. But that’s not Astro City’s style. It is an anthology series that always satisfying while always leaving me wanting more.

We get stories about a human woman – a lawyer – who lives in Astro City’s spooky Shadow Hill neighborhood. She ends up representing a magic-based super-heroine before a tribunal of supernatural beings.

We meet the super-hero the city was named for and a super-villain who has been stranded on an island for years. We get some wondrous background on the Gentleman, one of my favorite of the Astro City heroes. All of these stories are entertaining, poignant with great art and storytelling. I think even the most jaded super-hero fan in the world would be filled with delight reading Astro City.

Astro City Vol. 15: Everyday Heroes [$24.99] is the most recent of the Astro City hardcovers. It collects issues #37-41. I recommend it to any reader who loves super-hero comic books and comic books in general.

ISBN 978-1401274931

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Hero-a-Go-Go

I’m only about 50 pages into the 272-page Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters, & Culture of the Swinging Sixties by Michael Eury [TwoMorrows; $36.95] and yet, here I am, deeming it worthy of pick-of-the-week status and recommending it to you. Sure, I suppose I could have sped my way through the entire book. But the pages I have read were enough to convince me this is a tome to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Eury is a comics fanatic and the editor of the esteemed Back Issue magazine. In this book, he weaves a symphony of “camp” comic books and popular culture, bounding from riff to riff as he explores the likes of Magicman, Nemesis, Metamorpho, Captain Action, the super-heroic versions of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Werewolf, Captain Klutz, Herbie, Super-Hip, aspects of Batman and Batmania and much more. It’s a book filled with essays, histories and interviews with Bill Mumy, Ralph Bakshi, Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean), Ramona Fradon and other Sixties legends.

I’m taking my time reading this treasure trove of fun facts, but I have the sacred responsibility – it’s the Code of the Tipster – to alert you to the book sooner rather than later. Recommended it to local and school libraries. Purchase a copy for yourself. Purchase a copy for your best comics-reading pal. You will be glad you did. Now excuse me while I read about Jerry Lewis and Super-Goof.

ISBN 978-1-60549-073-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #207

The comic book was way better than the movie. I’m talking about The Assignment [Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics; $19.99], the adaptation of the 2016 limited release movie directed by Walter Hill and co-written by Hill and Dennis Hamill. I watched the film as a video on demand. There’s a mildly convoluted history to the Matz/Jef graphic novel, which I’ll cover as tersely as possible. First, here’s the basic plot:

A hitman murders the beloved brother of a brilliant rogue surgeon. The surgeon hires one of the hitman’s clients to kidnap the killer and bring him to her. She performs gender reassignment surgery on him. That’s both her revenge and her experiment. Will the assassin accept this second chance at life or will he continue his violent ways?

Hamill wrote the original screenplay in 1978. It was called Tom Boy and its protagonist was a juvenile delinquent who raped and killed the wife of a plastic surgeon. Hill optioned the screenplay twice, rewriting it. He had success with a earlier graphic novel in France and so decided to do The Assignment as a graphic novel. The graphic novel attracted an investor, who asked that the movie be done very cheaply and that it have recognizable names in the cast. To Hill’s credit, the movie doesn’t look cheap and he did sign some terrific actors for key roles.

I watched the movie after reading the comic book. The movie lacked the depth of characterization of the comic book. The actors always seemed to be consciously acting and, given the pedigree of the cast – Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub – that was immensely disappointing to me. Rodriguez plays hitman Frank Kitchen both before and after surgery and never looks the part of the male hitman. The frequent violent action scenes were very well staged. There were some good moments between Frank and a woman who becomes important to him, and between Frank and a dog he rescues from a man who trains dogs to fight. The ending of the movie indicates a new direction for Frank, but doesn’t demonstrate it in the slightest. Like I said, the comic book is way better than the movie.

The Wikipedia page for the movie doesn’t mention Matz or Jef. The former is a well-known French writer who has had previous graphic novel success with some of his works being adapted or optioned for movies. I couldn’t find any information on Jef, but, after looking at his riveting drawings and storytelling, I agree with the graphic novel’s description of him as an “artist extraordinaire”.

Matz and Jef bring Frank Kitchen to life in much more vivid fashion than did the movie. I felt they got me more into his head than the movie. Best of all, they continued the story, albeit only for a few pages, beyond the movie. Their satisfying final scenes made me want to see more of this character and his life going forward.

Sidebar. In this column, I used male pronouns for Frank because he isn’t transsexual. His gender reassignment was not something that he wanted. It was done to him against his will. He remains Frank, even as he makes adjustments to his life. I intend no disrespect to the trans community.

I tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible because I think the adaptation is well worth reading. If Hill, Matz and Jef – or other comics creators – have more to say about Frank, I would definitely be on board with those stories.

ISBN 978-1785861451

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Donald Duck Sundays

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Complete Sunday Comics 1939-1942 by Bob Karp and Al Taliaferro [IDW; $49.99] is my pick of the week. These original newspaper strips were reproduced from the pristine original material in the Disney Vaults, the real-world equivalent of Scrooge McDuck’s Money bin.

Donald made his Sunday newspaper debut in several episodes of the popular Silly Symphonies page. His own comics page launched shortly after that and became an instant hit. Reading these strips, each a short comedic story that stands on its own, made it clear why that was the case. They are masterful little cartoons on paper featuring Donald battling against a world that defies him and often gets downright insulting about it. One has to admire the confidence of our man Don, as well as his endless optimism and pure stubbornness. Even though these strips are almost eighty years old and are clearly products of their times, they are still entertaining today.

Writer Bob Karp was a master gag writer. He started working for the Disney company in the 1930s and continued writing the Donald Duck newspaper strips into the 1970s. Artist Al Taliaferro was a great counterpart to Karp with the ability to add a surprising fluidity to his two-dimensional drawings. It’s easy to imagine these amazing strips as animated cartoons.

Donald Duck: The Complete Sunday Comics 1939-1942 was an absolute joy to read. I recommend it for readers of all ages.

ISBN 978-1631405303

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Red Hood and the Outlaws

Continuing my quest to get relatively current with DC’s super-hero comics, I read Red Hood and the Outlaws though issue #8 [$2.99 per issue]. Sadly, the title isn’t doing it for me, even though I think the team roster is nothing short of brilliant.

You have Red Hood (Jason Todd) who was Robin and therefore in line to be Batman before he got murdered and revived and turned into a mostly-but-not-always grim-and-gritty vigilante at odds with much of the super-hero community. You have Bizarro, who, as we know from countless stories, is an imperfect duplicate of Superman, but kind of likeable in his own way. You have Artemis, who is not completely unlike Wonder Woman.

Red Hood and the Outlaws stars DC’s big three except they are not the big three, just a twisted reflection of the big three. Which is a terrific notion. Out of the hope that this comic-book series will rise to the level of the terrific notion at its core, I’ll continue to read it. I aspire to optimism.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella