The Great American Comic Convention held a moving Stan Lee tribute on Sunday, November 19. The speakers included Tom DeFalco, Allen Bellman, Alex Saviuk, Ron Wilson, Randy Emberlin, Wendy and Richard Pini and others. I was happy to be at the tribute and participate in it. The crystal clear truth of Stan’s life is that he will never be forgotten. He will be remembered for his characters, stories and all he brought to the comics industry. In that spirit, I thought I would use this week’s column to talk about some of my favorite Stan Lee stories.

Many of these stories owe a great deal to Stan’s collaborators, be they artists like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or writers like Larry Lieber. This makes them no less Stan Lee stories. He was the light at the beginning of the tunnel and our guide on so many thrilling journeys. He will be forever honored for this.

Topping this too-short list is “Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!” [Fantastic Four Annual #1; 1963] by Lee, Kirby and Dick Ayers. At 37 pages of a desperate Fantastic Four defending New York from an invading Atlantean army, it was the most epic comics story I’d ever read at that time. The Four dealt with injuries and what seemed to be overwhelming odds. Namor was villain and tragic hero within the same story. The personalities of the characters were well crafted and somehow more real than the DC heroes and villains of the era. Add multiple bonus pages that introduced the FF’s world to me and the reprinting of the team’s origin and its first meeting with the Amazing Spider-Man. No wonder this comic book above all the others I’d read inspired me to want to write comics myself. It was, as I have noted elsewhere, a pivotal moment in my life.

I could write an entire column on my favorite Fantastic Four tales. I was bowled over by the Thing/Hulk battle (with key appearances by the Avengers) that ran in issues #25-26 [April-May 1964]. I would not be able to name many runs of a series that surpass issues #36-53 [March 1965-August 1966] with the introduction of the Frightful Four, the defeat of the Fantastic Four by their evil counterparts, our powerless heroes teaming with Daredevil to battle Doctor Doom in their Baxter Building headquarters, another battle with the evil FF, the introduction of the Inhumans, the Galactus trilogy, “This Man, This Monster!” (one of the finest examinations of heroism and redemption in comics history) and the first appearance of Marvel’s first black super-hero, the Black Panther.

I have the same problem with Spider-Man, which featured countless classic stories by Stan, Ditko, John Romita and other great comics artists. Heck, I’d have the same problem with just about every one of the early Marvel super-hero titles.

Spider-Man’s origin is one of the best in comics, featuring as it did the line that sums up the essence of the super-hero genre for me: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” Then there’s Amazing Spider-Man #33 [February 1966} where Spidey is trapped beneath an impossibly large hunk of machinery with the life of Aunt May on the line. Moving into the Romita era, I was thrilled by “The Petrified Tablet Saga” than ran from issue #68 through #77 [January-October 1969].

Tales of Suspense 69

So many great super-hero stories. The audacious Avengers yarn where the founders left the team to a roster that consisted of Captain America and three reformed villains. The X-Men’s first meeting with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Giant-Man battling the Human Top. Sub-Mariner’s quest in Tales to Astonish. Iron Man’s battle with the Titanium Man. The introduction of the Falcon. Daredevil trying to prevent the much more powerful Sub-Mariner from harming innocent New Yorkers. Those glorious double-sized issues of Silver Surfer, drawn by the legendary John Buscema. Thor. Incredible Hulk. Doctor Strange. Stan and his collaborators took the super-hero genre to places no previous creators had taken it.

I came to Stan’s other comics writing after I’d been hooked by the Marvel super-heroes. Giant monsters always fascinated me as a kid and still do so today. I think the classic pre-hero giant monster story is “Fin Fang Foom!” from Strange Tales #89 [October 1961 by Stan, Larry and Jack. Set in Taiwan and Communist China, the hero is the scholarly nerd we saw in many of these stories. Ridiculed by his father and his serving-in-the-army brother for not also being a solider, he uses his knowledge of mythology to awaken the ancient dragon of the title and trick him into destroying the Communist military forces ready to invade Taiwan…and then he tricks Fin Fang Foom back into his centuries-old slumber. Nerds often rule in these giant monster thrillers.

The Lee-Ditko “surprise ending” tales are also favorites of mine. Just five pages long and yet so many of them are unforgettable. I’m especially fond of “The Terror of Tim Boo Ba!” from Amazing Adult  Fantasy #9 [February 1962]. Tim Boo Ba is the supreme ruler of his planet until he is wiped from existence by a flash flood. It turns out his planet is part of a small scale model and the flood is the splash of water spilled on the model by a young boy. That blew my mind as a kid.

Sgt. Fury 18

Stan’s work on Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes was impressive. Though more pulp adventure than the war stories editor/writer Bob Kanigher was publishing over at DC Comics, they had their frequent moments of unforgettable human drama. The last page of issue #18 [May 1965] haunts me to this day. Having gotten up the courage to ask Pamela Hawley to marry him, Fury learns that she died rescuing others in a bombing attack and that her last words on this planet were “Tell my wonderful American sergeant how much I love him.” If you think that page has lost its impact over half a century later, guess again. I had tears in my eyes as I wrote this paragraph.

One more. A short story from Rawhide Kid #18 [October, 1960]. “A Legend is Born!” is one of my favorite Lee/Kirby collaborations.  In five masterful pages, Stan and Jack show their understanding of human nature, delivering action and one of the best “punch lines” ever.

The Kid is trying to have a peaceful meal when a bully, not knowing the identity of the young man, tries to push the Kid around.  Five panels is all it takes for Rawhide to show that bully and everyone else in the bar the folly of such behavior.

Rawhide escapes before the sheriff arrives.  The witnesses proceed to describe the Kid to the lawman.  They claim he was a giant with four guns the size of cannons and fists the size of sledgehammers. They say his voice was like the growl of a caged lion.  The sheriff is thrilled to have such a good description.

The last panel captions make the story…

For the record: The Rawhide Kid had an unusually low, mild voice! He was five feet, three inches, in his stocking feet, and had never in his life weighed more than one hundred and twenty-five pounds! His hands were normal size, a mite on the small side, maybe, and he carried no more than two regulation Colt .45’s!

 But human nature is what it is, and men will always color what they say!  That is why none of the records really agree about the Rawhide Kid – that is how legends are born!

This week’s column barely shows the top of the iceberg of terrific Stan Lee stories I have read since I first discovered Marvel Comics in the summer of 1963. I hope I wrote about some of your favorites this week. I know you have your own favorites. If you have your own column or blog, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, please share your favorites with the rest of us.

Stan truly loved his fans and he gave us a plethora of reasons to love him right back. We will never forget him. Excelsior!

I’ll be back next week with some holiday gift suggestions. Or, as we usually refer to them, some reviews of cool comics and related items. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


Stan Lee passed away on Monday. When I learned of his passing, this is what I posted on social media:

Stan Lee. He was an inspiration, a mentor and a friend. I don’t have the words at this time to express how much he meant to me and how much he will always mean to me. Thank you, Stan.

Almost immediately after I posted that, Cleveland19 News asked me if I could rush to the station to appear on their five o’clock news program and talk about Stan for a few minutes. I dug around in my closet hoping that at least one of my suits was good to go, drove to downtown Cleveland while my cell phone blew up with condolences from fans, fellow comics pros and friends (Don’t worry, I didn’t look at any of them while driving.) and got to the station in time for the live broadcast. Doubtless because I learned much of my own speaking style and ability to think on my feet from Stan, I managed to find the words I needed when I needed them.

By the time I got home, there was an email from Mike Sangiacomo of The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer asking if we could talk about Stan for a piece he was writing. Mike’s a friend and fellow comics writer. We talked for several minutes.

There were other calls, emails, requests and texts. I still haven’t responded to all of them. I even missed a call from my local paper – The [Medina] Gazette – though they were able to quote me from my online post and previous interviews they had done with me. By the time Monday turned into Tuesday, I was spent. Out of gas. Not even running on steam. Spent.

I’m writing this on Wednesday. I got a good night’s sleep and had a chance to think about what I wanted to share about Stan. Forgive me if what follows is random. It’s because Stan meant so much to me in so many ways.

Fantastic Four Annual 1

When I say Stan was “an inspiration,” what I really mean is that he was my inspiration for wanting to write comic books. It was July, 1963. On a family vacation. I bought Fantastic Four Annual #1. To this day, I consider it the greatest comic book ever published. It featured the great “Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!” It included dozens of fact pages about the heroes and their foes. It reprinted the origin of the team and their first meeting with Spider-Man. It opened me to an entire universe of great characters, creators and stories. Most importantly of all, it made me realize that creating comic books was a job and it was a job I wanted.

I learned to read and write from the comic books before I was four years old. Adults in my family would read them to me before that. I wanted to cut out the middleman. I fell in love with this means of telling stories. Oh, I read a whole lot of prose books as well, but the comics were special to me. As a slightly older youngster, I would act out my own adventures of the Challengers of the Unknown or the Justice League of America using my Louis Marx and Company toy soldiers. I always felt bad about designating one such soldier as Wonder Woman. Today, as an adult, I would applaud her courage in being her true self.

I discovered the Marvel Universe at a time when I might well have moved on from comics. Stan and his artistic co-creators made their world so exciting that I was hooked on comics as never before.

In his letters pages, Bullpen pages, “Stan’s Soapbox” and even in the stories themselves, Stan included the readers in this amazing new world. We wanted to be part of it, either by joining the Merry Marvel Marching Society or, in the case of future comics creators like me, by working on those glorious comic books.

Secrets Behind Comics

I found a copy of Secrets Behind the Comics by Stan Lee at a comics convention. That 1947 booklet became my Bible. I even used its awkward two-column format for writing scripts in my first attempts at same. I wrote stories for countless fanzines. I was training myself to write for Marvel Comics.

When I was hired to assist Stan on The Mighty World of Marvel and other produced in New York and published in England weekly comics, he became my mentor and teacher. I learned so much from him about writing, about salesmanship, about showmanship and more. There was never a moment when I felt he took the fans for granted. He loved them and always wanted to do right by them.

The two most important lessons that Stan Lee taught a generation of comics writers were these:

With great power, there must also come great responsibility.

There is good and evil in all men.

That first nine-word quote sums up the essence of the super-hero genre. Whether those heroes live up to it or not, it is the always  goal their better selves reach for.

The second eight-word quote is just as important. It gave license to creators to write about super-heroes who were flawed, sometimes tragically so, and super-villains who were more than their crimes. Without this lesson, I don’t think I would have written all those redemption stories I’ve written over the years. In a sense, this is also a lesson of hope.

In real life, I often consider both quotes. I try to live up to the responsibilities of the public forums I enjoy. With less success, I try to consider the good in people I might otherwise loathe with every fiber of my being. Even those who have done me grievous wrong in my career have done good turns for others.

Stan Lee was the most transformative creator and figure in comics. Every writer who followed him was inspired by him in one manner or another. Some will dispute that statement of mine. I suspect that, I can refute their claims for virtually any writer they claim was not influenced by Stan.

Come back next week for the second part of my tribute to Stan Lee wherein I talk about some of my favorite Stan Lee stories. I think some of the stories on my list will surprise you.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


The 2018 convention season is winding down for me. This weekend, I will be at the always wonderful Grand Rapids Comic-Con in Michigan. This is my fourth time attending the event and it’s one of my all-time favorite conventions. Check out the show’s website for a list of all the great guests and programming.

On the following weekend, I’ll be wrapping up my 2018 appearance schedule as a guest at the Great American Comics Convention in Las Vegas. This will be my first time at a Las Vegas convention and, to make it even cooler, my Saintly Wife Barb will be attending it with me. I’ll have more details for you next week, but, at present, I’m scheduled to appear on the morning news program of the Las Vegas CW affiliate next Friday.

After these two cons, I get to stay home for two solid months and actually write stuff. My goal is to finish the two books I’ve been writing and continue developing the brand-new super-hero universe I’ve created. I have no idea how I’m going to bring this universe to the marketplace, but I’m having a grand time creating characters and concepts for it.

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to start thinking about spiffy holiday gifts for your loved ones. I have some suggestions for you this week. Let’s get started.

Barbara Slate sent me a signed copy of You Can Do a Graphic Novel: Comic Books, Webcomics and Strips [Richard Minsky; $34.95 hardcover and $24.95 paperback]. This is a new version of her 2014 You Can Do a Graphic Novel. I treasure this book both for Barbara’s friendship and because it contains terrific tips for even overly-seasoned pros like myself. At a time when there are a great many platforms for making comics and sharing them with an audience, Slate’s book will be helpful for all those comics readers who have been inspired by the comics they read to create their own works.

Slate writes about getting started making comics and then moves on to story, plot, art, creating character, writing, layout and even the dreaded creative block. It’s easy-to-understand advice that, at all times, also encourages creators to find their own style and be their best creative self. In addition to Slate’s teachings, You Can Do a Graphic Novel also includes informative information from pros like Tom DeFalco, Rick Parker, June Brigman, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Trina Robbins, Hildy Mesnik, Ray Billingsley, Danny Fingeroth, Mary Fleener, Dan Parent, Jerry Craft, Dean Haspiel and several others.

If I were teaching a class on creating comics, You Can Do a Graphic Novel would be required reading. It’s a book that will make a fine gift for any young person who wants to make comics. It’s a book I would put in the public or school library. It’s a book that’s not on my wish list, but only because I’m the first kid on my block to already have a copy of it. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-0-937258-08-8


Resident Alien

One of my favorite comic-book series will be coming to an end far too soon to suit me. Resident Alien: An Alien in New York by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse [Dark Horse Books; $14.99] is the fifth and penultimate volume in the story of an alien stranded on Earth and posing as a doctor in Patience, Washington.

Doctor Harry Venderspeigle is beloved by his patients, almost none of which know he is a visitor from another planet who shipwrecked on our world. While he waits for a rescue that may never come, he  provides medical care for his patients and solves murders and other mysteries. The federal government knows there is an alien on Earth and, with each new story, is getting close to finding Harry. Each mini-series to date has delivered a satisfying story while moving the overall story further.

In An Alien in New York, Harry discovers alien symbols in New York street graffiti and travels to the Big Apple to see if they might lead him home. Traveling to such a large city is difficult for the doctor because the greater number of people make it more difficult for him to maintain the human image he projects. It’s a risk that he has to take.

The writing and art on this series is consistently excellent with co-creators Hogan (script) and Parkhouse (art) producing intriguing  stories with real drama. Parkhouse is a master of depicting emotion and Hogan’s scripts give him many opportunities to showcase that mastery. I’ve read every issue to date and then re-read them just to marvel at their talents.

I love the series so much I’m buying all of the trade paperbacks. If you’re a lover of mysteries or down-to-earth science fiction, I think you’ll enjoy this series as much as I do. If anyone on your holiday gift list likes these things, well, you know the drill. The books would also be great for public and school libraries.

If you’re a comics shop owner, expect interest in Resident Alien to go up soon. The Syfy channel has placed a pilot order for Resident Alien. Production on the pilot started in October with the popular  Alan Tudyk as Harry. I’m excited.

Resident Alien Volume 1: Welcome to Earth!

ISBN 978-1616550172

Resident Alien Volume 2: The Suicide Blonde

ISBN 978-1616554422

Resident Alien Volume 3: The Sam Hain Mystery

ISBN 978-1616557782

Resident Alien Volume 4: The Man with No Name

ISBN 978-1506701530

Resident Alien Volume 5: An Alien in New York

ISBN 978-1506705651

This outstanding series concludes with Resident Alien Volume Six: Your Ride’s Here. While I’ll miss the series, I’m looking forward to seeing how Hogan and Parkhouse bring it home.


Thirty Minutes Over Oregon

My last suggestion isn’t comics, but a fascinating look at a bit of World War II history seldom discussed. Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Melissa Iwai [Clarion Books; $17.99] is the tale of Japanese pilot Nobuo Fujita who, several months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, flew two bombing missions over the United States. Nobleman is best known in comics circles for writing non-fiction picture books about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, and Bill Finger, the long-unsung co-creator of Batman. Iwai is the artist of many award-winning picture books.

Thirty Minutes covers Fujita’s military service and continues on to describe the remarkable series of events that led to him becoming an honorary citizen of the very town he tried and failed to bomb. It’s a tale of atonement and redemption, as well as a model of how even former memories can put aside their past animosity and come together in friendship.

Though the book is aimed at school children in grades one through four, I found it to be entertaining and informative. Indeed, this incredible story would make an excellent movie. It might not reach the box-office success of Crazy Rich Asians, but I think it would find an appreciative audience. I’d go see that movie.

ISBN 978-0-544-43076-1

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

© 2018 Tony Isabella