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

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

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

Moving on to this week’s reviews…

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

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

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

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

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

This is my pick of the week. Wakanda forever!



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

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

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

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

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


Exit Stage Left

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

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

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

Exit Stage Left is highly recommended.


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

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-939888-65-5


Bettie Page

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1524106447


Ant Wars

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


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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-78108-622-3

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.


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

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

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

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

Getting to this week’s reviews…

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1-302-90968-0



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

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

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

ISBN 978-1682152591



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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1302906412

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

ISBN 978-1302906429

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

© 2018 Tony Isabella


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

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

Getting to this week’s reviews…

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978-1623171513


Timely Confidential

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

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

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

ISBN 9781979903035


Comics Revue February

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

From Wikipedia:

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella