The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000 by Charles M. Schulz [Fantagraphics; $29.99] is my pick of the week. This 25th and final volume in the series collects the final thirteen-and-a-half months of the strip that redefined comic strips with its 1950 debut and continued to be a joy to its devoted readers and an inspiration to cartoonists all over the world for half a century. Indeed, since Peanuts reprints still run in many newspapers, the strip has continued to bring joy and inspiration in the 15 years since its creator’s death.

President Barack Obama, our first president to reference the comic books he read as a young man, wrote the foreword to this farewell volume. Calling Peanuts “an American treasure,” he wrote how this comic strip could bring one’s childhood rushing back: “That’s what made Charles Schulz so brilliant — he treated childhood with all the poignant and tender complexity it deserves.”

To me, Peanuts is always of the now. Even though I knew these were the concluding strips, I was still caught by surprise when I came to the last ones. Probably because Peanuts isn’t really gone and it will never be really gone. We can all still recall that one special strip or sequence that spoke to us so truly. We can close our eyes and see Charlie Brown and Snoopy and all our friends. Adults that we have become – and how the heck did that happen? – if we tried to speak to them, they would hear nothing more than bleating trumpets. Yet, magically, wonderfully, we can still hear them.

Also included in the book is the complete Li’l Folks feature Schulz did before he did Peanuts. This was a weekly feature consisting of three or four gag cartoons featuring a continuing cast of children (and a dog) not unlike Charlie Brown and his gang. Indeed, one of the kids is even named Charlie Brown. There were 138 installments of this feature, the building blocks of the international sensation that Peanuts would become.

Founded in 1976, Fantagraphics has published a stunning library of comics and books of all kinds and for all sensibilities. I couldn’t even begin to estimate how many of their books I have enjoyed and own. If I ever organized my Vast Accumulation of Stuff and go from boxes to bookshelves, it would not surprise to find a bookcase or two or three filled with Fantagraphics volumes. But, of all those amazing books, none of them have filled me with more sheer delight than their Peanuts collections. And, when I reach that far off day when I locate all of my Peanuts volumes and have them in one place, I’m going to read them again from start to finish.

Schulz is an American treasure. Fantagraphics deserves considerable praise for preserving his great achievement. Every public library, every school library, even comics reader’s library should include these books. They are golden dreams.

ISBN 978-1-60699-913-4



The Valiant Universe again reaches into the Unknown for Divinity II [$3.99 per issue] by writer Matt Kindt with artists Trevor Hairsine (pencils), Ryan Winn (inks) and David Baron (colors). In the first series, we learned how Russian cosmonaut Abram Adams and two of his fellow cosmonauts were sent deeper into space than anyone before. They met something Unknown. That contact changed Adams and gave him unimaginable powers. He became Divinity.

There was the expected clash with the forces of the West. It was a violent clash. Divinity won. Then he retreated into a reality that he created for himself. Those few humans who knew of his incredible power breathed a fleeting sigh of relief.

In this new series, Myshka, one of the other Cold War cosmonauts on that distant mission, has returned to Earth. With the same powers as Adams and no reluctance about using them in the service of her vision of Mother Russia and in her quest for vengeance towards the man who abandoned her in space. It’s on.

I’ve read the first two issues of this second series and there are seriously frightening moments in them. Myshka herself is as scary a villain as I’ve seen in the Valiant Universe and that is saying something. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What you can expect from this series is fine writing that is also friendly to new readers. Even if you didn’t read the first series, Kindt and a concise “what has gone before” page will bring you into the ongoing adventure. Hairsine’s drawing and visual storytelling are first-rate, full of dynamic action and gripping emotion. Winn and Baron tie it all together with excellent inking and color work. This is a darn good comic-book series.

Divinity collects the first four-issue series in a 112-page, full-color trade paperback. Divinity II will be published in September. I recommend both.

Divinity [$9.99]:

ISBN 978-1939346766

Divinity II [$14.99]:

ISBN 978-1682151518



I wasn’t expecting much from Hyperion #1-2 [Marvel; $3.99 each) by Chuck Wendig with artist Nik Virella. It’s a spinoff from the new Squadron Supreme series and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of that one. While SS has interesting concepts, it started out with the kind of cheap shock tactic on which too many super-hero titles have come to rely. The shock was accompanied by a Marvel executive’s apparent glee over the decapitation of a Marvel Universe icon, which further pushed me from any regard for Squadron Supreme. Some people should not to get to play with other people’s toys. Strike three came from this Hyperion incarnation being created by Jonathan Hickman, who has worked his way onto my no buy/no read list.

That said, I’m intrigued by the notion of a super-hero taking some time off to contemplate the violence, including committing murder, of his life while questioning what kind of hero he wants to be and even if he wants to be a hero. This Hyperion is still an arrogant and callous jerk, but I give him points for considering a different and perhaps better way.

Two issues haven’t been enough for me to decide if I like this new series. I know I like some things in it, first and foremost among them a young runaway named Doll who has the power to nag Hyperion into occasionally doing the right thing. I like enough about this comic book to keep reading it for now.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Politics is the theme of this week’s column. Trigger words will be kept to a minimum.

I thoroughly enjoyed All-New Inhumans #1-6 [Marvel; $4.99 for the first issue, $3.99 for the rest] by James Asmus and Charles Soule with artists Stefano Caselli and Andre Lima Araujo and colorist Andres Mossa. The new series is as much an international political thriller as it is super-hero adventure.

The Inhumans now have a more prominent role in the Marvel Universe, which pleases me more than I thought anything Inhumans ever would. I stopped liking the Inhumans when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revealed said people had created their own slave race, the Alpha Primitives. “Slavers” equal “not good guys” in my world view. Here’s some back story re: Marvel’s current take on the Inhumans…

Black Bolt blew up the Inhuman home city of Attilan, releasing big whomping clouds of mutagenic Terrigan Mist into Earth’s atmosphere. The Mist triggers changes in humans who have Inhuman DNA in their makeup. Black Bolt did to this to save the planet, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Medusa now rules the Inhumans and, with sister Crystal, is trying to help these new Inhumans adjust to their powers and find a place in the world. This title focuses on Crystal, an ambassador flying all over the globe in the humongous Royal Inhuman Vessel. The sight of this giant ship doesn’t always inspire confidence on account of it’s pretty darn frightening.

I love the international politics angle of this series and how the Inhumans act as a sovereign nation trying to work with their fellow nations for the common good and, especially, for the good of those new Inhumans. Crystal is quite the diplomat, but her priorities are with her own people. By turns, she can be compassionate, heroic, duplicitous and manipulative. With the Alpha Primitives seemingly absent from the mix, I’m finding myself interested in the Inhumans for the first time in a long time, though some credit must also go to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD television show.

Crystal is the star of All-New Inhumans, but I also love Gorgon’s new role. Crippled in some adventure I never read, he is Crystal’s good right hand, a teacher of the young and a warrior not bound by his physical limitations. I’ve always thought of him as just sort of there in the background, but he’s really coming into his own in the book. Add a number of other intriguing and likeable supporting cast members to the mix and you have a great series.

It hurts my brain to try to suss out the continuity of the Marvel (or the DC) Universe. I prefer titles which can be enjoyed without overt ties to a dozen other titles. All-New Inhumans is that kind of series. What readers need to know about the larger universe in which it takes place is so smoothly included in dialogue that it’s hardly noticeable. Well done, Asmus and Soule.

The first four issues and an introductory story have been collected in All-New Inhumans Vol. 1: Global Outreach [$15.99]. I recommend it and the ongoing title.

ISBN 978-0785196389


Dear President Johnson

My friend Nat Gertler is well-known as a Peanuts expert. However, as the owner and publisher of About Comics, he’s also known for his eclectic, interesting and handsomely made books. Recently, he has delved into “political entertainment,” restoring and republishing material that has been out of print for decades.

Dear President Johnson: Kids’ Letters to LBJ [$9.99} is a compact mix of Peanuts and politics of the most innocent kind. Originally published in 1964, the book gathers unbearable cute and devilishly funny notes sent to then-president Lyndon Johnson by children with illustrations by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz.

Adler was an author, editor and compiler. In his obituary, the New York Times said he “pursued his goal of being the P. T. Barnum of books by conceptualizing, writing, editing, compiling and hustling hundreds of them — prompting one magazine to anoint him “the most fevered mind” in publishing.” He died in 2014.

The obit also stated “Adler achieved early success by collecting and publishing letters children had written to President John F. Kennedy. He followed up with children’s letters to Smokey Bear, Santa Claus, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Obama, among many others.”

With the cooperation of LBJ’s White House staff, Adler selected 64 letters to be included in this book. There are requests for badges and other items. There are invitations to Boy Scout meetings and a lunch at one young writer’s school. The child says his mother will make extra tuna fish sandwiches for the President and his wife Lady Bird. There are compliments and heartfelt suggestions.

Because I sometimes have the mind of a 12-year-old, my favorite of these missives is the one in which fourth-graders from Chicago want to know the size of the President’s hand. They are creating units of measure and want to measure the circumferences of their desktops in “Johnsons.” Yes, I am ashamed of myself for loving this letter as much as I do.

Dear President Johnson is a fun look back at history seen through humor. It would be a great gift for folks who collected political artifacts and for Peanuts fans. It came within a hair of being this week’s pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1936404568


Cold War Coloring

My pick of the week is another About Comics publication. Cold War Coloring: Political Adult Coloring Books of the Kennedy Era [$9.99] collects and reprints five such books. The foreword and individual introductions to each books place them in the context of the era, providing a leg-up to readers who may not have been born when these coloring books were first published.

The first adult coloring book seems to be the Executive Coloring Book, published in 1961. The second one was the JFK Coloring Book, which leads off this collection. The book, conceived by Alexander A. Roman purports to be written by the young Caroline Kennedy. The copy is actually written by the prolific Paul Laikin, who I think wrote for every humor magazine of the 1950s through the 1980s. The illustrations are by MAD superstar Mort Drucker. It’s an amusing, charming book and more concerned with the nation’s fascination with than the politics of the moment. It’s wonderful.

The New Frontier Coloring Book is from 1962. Published by the son of a Republican senator, its snide tone will be familiar to those who follow current right-wing political cartoons. It’s anti-Kennedy with little to no regard for facts or reason. The art is as week as the writing with mediocre caricatures repeated over and over again. Still, I applaud About Comics for balancing this book between the two American parties.

The Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev Coloring Book (1962) was written by Amram Ducovny, the father of X-Files star David Duchovny. Don’t ask me to explain the spelling discrepancy of the last names. This coloring book is kind of funny, though it takes its cues from cold war propaganda. The Ken Nunes and Adrien Prober drawings are lively but not quite polished.

Khrushchev’s Top Secret Coloring Book (1962) is much more fun. It was conceived and written by Gene Shalit and drawn by the legendary Jack Davis. Of the coloring books included in this book, this one is the best drawn and the wittiest.

The John Birch [Society] Coloring Book (1962) is a fair but biting poke at the paranoia which characterized that group. The John Birch Society saw Communists and a One World Government everywhere that it looked. Mocking them was too easy then and it’s too easy today. This one was created by Martin Cohen and Dennis Altman, two of the creators of the Executive Coloring Book, and Robert Natkin.

Overall, Cold War Coloring is a remarkable volume. It reminds me of an era I barely understood as a child and clarify those times for me. It’s a perfect gift for coloring book buffs, nostalgia fans and political memorabilia collectors.

ISBN 978-1936404-62-9

About Comics will be publishing additional “Presidential Bookshelf” volumes. I await them eagerly.

My next convention appearance will be at Indy Pop Con, June 17- 19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. But I’ll be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Cartoonist Lucy Knisley is a national treasure. If you need proof of that, you need only read her newest work. Something New [First Second; $19.99] is a nearly 300-page graphic autobiography charting Knisley’s journey to marriage.

Three years after Knisley broke with her boyfriend, John came back into her life and proposed. That which had divided them had ceased to be issues. To me, Lucy and John had clearly been “the one” for each other and, if that was all this book was about, it would still have been an entertaining romance tale. But, instead, Knisley has written a delightful hilarious, honest and sometimes frightening exploration of two outside-of-the-box lovers facing one of the most cherished institutions in our culture and finding a way to make it (mostly) their own.

Something New takes readers along each step of the way in easy-to-digest chapters. The sheer amount of human interactions and useful information in each chapter is staggering, especially considering the amazing addendums/epilogues to each chapter. Just forget about saying yes to the dress. Lucy and Jon should be the stars of a TV show looking at their wedding and then getting involved with other weddings. I’d watch that show in a heartbeat.

True confession. I cry at weddings. I’m not obvious about it or, at least, I don’t think I’m obvious about it. But I tear up at these things because the union of two people is either a beautiful thing or a horror waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting bride and groom. I’m 32 years into my wonderful marriage so I’m always hoping for the best at these things.

So, yes, I got a little teary at various times while reading this book. Sometimes Lucy or John would do something so wondrous that I shed a tear of joy. Sometimes I felt the sting of frustration when things didn’t do quite so well. Overall, I smile and laughed a lot more than I got all misty-eyed. This is a funny and life-affirming graphic autobiography. It’s my pick of the week and – say it with me – should be in every public and school library and in the home library of every true devotee of the comics art form. I’m ordering some extra copies to give out as gifts.

ISBN 978-1-62672-249-1


Arrow Volume 1

The CW’s Arrow is one of my favorite TV series, something it shares with both DC’s and Marvel’s comics-inspired shows. However, it was just recently that I first read any of the short Arrow comic-book-style stories posted online and in various print editions. I liked what I read.

Arrow Volume One [DC Comics; $16.99] features nineteen short comics stories by a variety of writers and artists, among them the show’s executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, and Mike Grell, the legendary creator whose Green Arrow work is the standard by which other interpretations are weighed. This first volume was published in 2013 and has had additional printings since then.

These stories take place around the televised episodes. They add to those episodes and reveal background and other secrets only hinted at in those episodes. Each story is ten pages long and manages to tell a complete and satisfying tale in those ten pages. There have been times when I have felt such compact storytelling was a skill lost to the comics ages. I’m pleased to see it is still practiced.

I don’t know if I’d classified any of the stories as great per se, but they are all entertaining and well done. The stories were done by many writers and artists, but every character is in character, and the visuals retain the action, drama and realism of the show. That’s impressive for stories of this length.

There have been three volumes of these Arrow comics stories. I plan to read the other two as soon as possible.

Arrow Vol. 1

ISBN 978-1-4012-4299-2

Arrow Vol. 2 [$16.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-4603-7

Arrow Season 2.5 [$19.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-5748-4


Scooby-Doo Team-Up 2

While Scooby-Do! Team-Up isn’t the weirdest take on the classic and beloved cartoon – I’m thinking DC’s forthcoming Scooby Apocalypse wins that “honor: hands down – it’s still pretty far out there. But I read Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 2 by Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela [DC; $12.99] last week and it just plain tickled me.

Scooby and his meddling kids go back into the past for a hilarious visit with the Flintstones, then go into the future to team up with the Jetsons. There are also adventures with Superman, Jonny Quest and Secret Squirrel and a spooky crime caper with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Fisch’s stories are clever and very funny with enough meta jokes to please my inner fan. The art by Brizuela and Scott Jeralds is lively in design and sure-handed in the storytelling. The original cartoons should only have looked and moved this well.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up is good fun for all ages. There have been two volumes to date and I hope more are coming.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 1 [$12.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-4946-5

Scooby-Doo Team-Up Volume 2

ISBN 978-1-4012-5859-7

My next convention appearance will be at Indy Pop Con, June 17- 19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. But I’ll be back here next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella