With two more “Tony’s Tips” columns to write before the end of the year, I’ve made the courageous choice to not present anything that remotely resembles a “Best of the Year” list. First off, you can’t swing a cursor without hitting one of the hundreds of those things that are available online. Second, I find such lists to be almost invariably useless.

You get the “Best of” lists that focus only on big books from the major publishers, be they the periodical Big Two or the mainstream graphic novel folks. You get the lists that concentrate on artsy-fartsy, navel-gazing that speak to the human condition, but only if  if you define the human condition as “first world problems” that a reasonable person would just deal with. You’ll get the lists that represent whatever demographic the list-maker considers themselves to be part of. Too many comics pundits are incapable of accepting comics outside their increasingly narrow interests and that doesn’t serve readers like me who like all kinds of comic books and graphic novels. There’s so much other good stuff out there.

So, for these final two columns of 2018, I’m just going to go with my usual three things I enjoyed and think some of you might enjoy as well. This week, it happens to be an item from DC, an item from Marvel and a prose and photos look at a pop culture icon. Next time out, it’ll be three other things. I roll how I roll.

DC Comics anthologies have been more miss than hit in recent years. With the exception of most of their 100-page giant collaborations with Walmart, I found them lacking in consistency and quality. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1 [$9.99] featuring “10 cataclysmic carols” from various post-apocalyptic DC continuities. Imagine my surprise when I enjoyed the issue so much I want to recommend it to you.

Edited by Alex Antone and Dave Wielgosz – and I’m a bit embarrassed those names are unfamiliar to me – the 80-page giant delivers some outstanding stories. The Rip Hunter: Time Master framing sequence by Mark Russell and artist Mike Norton serves that purpose and even offers some laughs along the way. The Superman One Million tale by Steve Orlando with artists Brad Walker and Drew Hennessy is a great story as is Paul Dini’s Firestorm tale with art by Jerry Ordway. I also liked stories featuring the Flash, Supergirl, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Catwoman and Kamandi. The only story that failed to hit the mark with me was the Batman 666 with its extremely lame attempt at delivering a semblance of a happy or even not awfully bleak ending. Not for the first time, I must conclude there’s too much Batman in the DCU. The company needs to recognize that it has an huge roster of equally great characters.


Jessica Jones

Between the excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie and  the equally choice Jessica Jones live-action series on Netflix, I’m inspired to do some Brian Michael Bendis binge-reading in the next few weeks. While I’m getting ready for that, I read Jessica Jones: Blind Spot [Marvel; $19.99] by Kelly Thompson with artists Mattia DeIllus and Marcio Takara and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg. I read the graphic novel via my local library.

Collected here in print for the first time, Blind Spot was a Marvel digital original. Enjoying life with husband Luke Cage and their child Dani, Jessica continues her work as a private investigator. She returns to her office after a case to find the dead body of a former client she wasn’t able to help, and subsequently arrested by police officers for the murder. She learns of other powerful women who have been found murdered and discovers a link between her and all of them. After that, it’s super-hero noir with guest stars and surprising twists. By the end of issue #5 (of the six included in this trade paperback), we get a very satisfying ending to Jessica’s case. The trade paperback should have ended there.

The sixth issue is all about Dani’s birthday. It’s fun stuff until we arrive at the last-page cliffhanger. As some of you may recall from other reviews I’ve written, I absolutely loathe when a trade paperback doesn’t contain a complete story. In this case, I don’t even know where to go for the story that must follow that last-page cliffhanger. Is it available digitally? Will it be collected in a trade paperback? Did it ever conclude? Not remotely cool.

Thompson’s writing is first-rate. The art, colors and storytelling are very good as well. If there is more Thompson-written Jessica Jones out there, this book has me wanting to read it. I recommend Jessica Jones: Blind Spot to you, with the warning that it ends on the afore-mentioned cliffhanger.

ISBN 978-1-302-91292-5


Bettie Page

Bettie Page was a cultural icon whose images fascinate me and whose life is every bit as intriguing. Bettie Page: The Lost Years: An Intimate Look at the Queen of Pinups, through her Private Letters and Never-Published Photos by Toni Rodriguez with Ron Brem [Lyons Press; $27.95] explores Page’s life after the end of her modeling career. The large-size hardcover book is filled with rare materials from her sister Goldie Jane Page and supplied by Goldie’s son Ron. Often in Bettie’s own words, we get an examination of her life and her struggles beyond her unforgettable celebrity.

The book rounds out the extraordinarily special woman behind those instantly recognizable bangs, stunning figure and bright girl-next-door smile. It leaves me wanting more and, fortunately, there are other books about Bettie and even some swell comics from Dynamite Publishing. These are definite additions to my home library and I think you’ll enjoy them as well.

ISBN 978-1-4930-3450-5

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


If you’re still doing your holiday shopping, then you might just be in the same panic mode as your favorite Tipster. Unless you order something online RIGHT NOW, that something might not arrive in time for your Christmas or other holiday shopping. However, since this is the season of miracles, I’ll offer a few more suggestions this week…and then go out and finish my own shopping!

Take your comics-loving loved one out for an afternoon or evening at the movies. Specifically, I recommend the amazingly spectacular Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, an animated feature directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Rothman and a story by Lord. Uncredited are over a dozen comics writers and artists who created the characters who appear in this movie. Bad form, Sony. Bad form.

Despite the slighting of comics creators not named Stan Lee, Steve Ditko or Brian Michael Bendis, this story of Miles Morales becoming his world’s Spider-Man and teaming up with spider-heroes from other worlds is an exciting, stylish and emotional presentation. Every aspect of the movie from the story to the animation to the acting to the graphics to the music is stunning. Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary of the movie:

Miles Morales becomes the Spider-Man of his reality and crosses paths with his counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat to all reality.

Shameik Moore is great as the out-of-his-element Miles. His scenes with the beaten-down-by-his-world Peter B. Parker [Jake Johnson] are the heart of the movie. Liev Schreiber is gloriously scary as the Kingpin, as is Kathryn Hahn as Doc Ock. Other notable players include Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, Mahershala Ali as Miles’ Uncle Aaron, Lily Tomlin as Aunt May, John Mulaney as Spider-Ham, Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir and Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III as Tombstone. Stan Lee’s cameo gave me big feels.

Though the movie does contains scenes of violence, I would rate it as suitable for all but the youngest viewers. Some of the more meta humor will be lost on non-comics afficionados, but there are still plenty of other laughs to keep things light when you need a break from the more dramatic moments. Most importantly, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a simple-yet-profound message at its core and had me feeling hopeful as I left the theater. Stories like this one have the power to inspire. When the film is available for purchase on Blu-ray or DVD, I plan to add it to my home video collection. It’s a keeper.

Note. If you’re really doing your gift-shopping up to the very last moment, keep in mind Aquaman opens on December 21. Advance reviews of the movie are extremely positive. If I finish my shopping, I’m thinking of taking myself to it on my December 22 birthday. I will be turning 67 years old this year. Yow, am I ancient!


Batman Complete Animated Series

The deluxe limited edition of Batman: The Completed Animated Series is one of the nicest series sets I’ve seen. It’s expensive. Even at Amazon prices, you’re talking over a hundred bucks for the Blu-ray plus digital version. But, after buying one for a friend, I put it on my own wish list. If it doesn’t turn up under my tree, I’ll buy it for myself next month.

The set contains all 109 episodes in high definition. The package includes mini-Funko figures of the Batman, Joker and Harley Quinn  plus seven exclusive lenticular cards of original animation art. Two bonus discs contain animated films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero!

There are 25 in-depth features, including the new definitive making of Batman: The Animated Series documentary. Also include in the set are commentaries with show creators on a dozen episodes. Short of finding some way to transport a viewer into the episodes, I don’t think you could ask for a finer complete presentation of Batman: The Animated Series. Highly recommended.


Great Survival Test

One more suggestion, though just reading the title might take too long for you to buy for a Christmas present. Disney Masters Vol. 4: Daan Jippes and Freddy Milton: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Great Survival Test [Fantagraphics; $29.99] is the latest in a series of hardcover books collecting classic stories from some of the world’s best Disney comics storytellers.

These tales present Donald Duck at his best and worst. He competes with Gladstone Gander for various awards. He tries to teach lessons to his Junior Woodchucks nephews. He shows his mastery of various skills and, more often than not, is undone by his pride in what he accomplishes. There are 18 stories, all of them short enough for a quick break from your workday or a comedy nightcap at the end of a workday. I have been reading these books through my local library, but I think I’ll be buying them for my home library.

Jippes and Milton are masters of comics creation, but, fortunately, they don’t suffer from the results of that mastery as our old pal Donald does. The book also includes short biographies of the men, as well as a Milton piece on “Doing It the Barks Way.” Barks is, of course, Carl Barks, the most masterful Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge storyteller of them all.

ISBN 978-1-68396-111-6

Here’s wishing all my Tony’s Tips readers the happiest of holidays this Christmas season and the same to the great people at InStock Trades who sponsor these weekly review columns. Bless each one of you. As I see it, you’re all on the “nice” list.

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


How’s your holiday shopping going? I was feeling a bit prideful the other day because I’d completed my gift-buying for my best friends in the Cleveland area. Then I realized I still had family gifts to buy and long-distance gifts to buy and that one of the gifts I had purchased for one of my best friends might not arrive until the day after I get together with him and those other friends. In short, I am moving into the “losing my mind” shopping season. However, while some speck of sanity reminds, allow me to offer a few suggestions that may make your shopping go a little smoother.

Spider-Man and Iron Man are two of the most popular characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the bond developed between them one of the more heartwarming aspects of their movies. If you have a MCU fan who doesn’t read many comics on your shopping list, they might enjoy Spider-Man/Iron Man: Marvel Team-Up [$24.99] by Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema and other Marvel Comics creators of the 1970s.

Running just over 200 pages, this trade paperback collects all the Spider-Man/Iron Man stories from Marvel Team-Up. That’s nine issues plus some original art reproductions and covers. The villains are among Marvel’s mightiest and the other heroes who appear keep the adventures moving.

We get Gerry Conway’s three-issue thriller of Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Human Torch and the Inhumans getting caught in the middle of a war between Kang the Conqueror and Zarrko the Tomorrow Man. Then we get Bill Mantlo’s four-issue introduction of the Wraith co-starring Doctor Strange. With script by David Michelinie, Herb Trimpe plots and draws the introduction of the volcanic menace Magma. Whiplash appears in two issues, once under his original name and once under his newer name of Blacklash. I wrote the second of those, starring Spider-Man in his black costume, Jim Rhodes as Iron Man, and set in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

With the exception of my own story, which I confess I’ve read a few times over the years, this was my first time reading these stories since their original publication. I got a kick out of them and I’m thinking folks on your gift list might enjoy them as well.

ISBN 978-1-302-91368-7



Call it a hunch. When I first heard about the manga After the Rain 1 by Jun Mayuzuki [Vertical; $17.95], I was concerned. After all, it is the story of a high school student smitten by the 45-year-old manager of a family restaurant. In the world of manga, it’s hardly unusual for titles involving young women to have a creepy side and pander to fan service. Yet something about the cover showing Akira Tachibana, the reserved student, made me recognize that this manga was something else.

Akira was a sports star at her high school until an injury took her out of competition and triggered depression. She meets Masami, the divorced manager and single father, when he shows her a kindness on a rainy day. She takes a part-time job at the restaurant.

Akira is a complex heroine. She doesn’t rush into anything and she examines her feelings. But she likes Masami and wants to pursue a relationship with him. She is of legal age, but he is much older. Mayuzuki never allows the story to get creepy. Instead, there is a sweetness to the unfolding events.

In one chapter of the first volume, Akira bonds with Masami’s young son. In another, she fends off the advances of a blackmailing co-worker by agreeing to go to a movie with him.

On Akira’s first date with Masami, he takes her to the same movie. Later, she becomes upset because she was two program booklets for the movie and isn’t sure which is from her date with the manager. That program is the only one important to her.

Beautiful art, storytelling and writing make After the Rain 1 one of the most compelling of manga series. If someone on your list is a manga fan, especially if they enjoy shojo manga, I think they’ll enjoy this series. I know I’m in for the duration.

ISBN 978-1-947194-34-2


I am Sonja

Suitable for gift-giving to young readers at any time of the year, the “Ordinary People Change the World” series by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos are amazing explorations of everyday folks who rose to great accomplishments by dint if their dedication and hard work. The latest in this remarkable series is I am Sonia Sotomayor [Penguin Young Readers Group; $14.99], which relates the life story of the Supreme Court Justice.

This hardcover biography in comics form is fun and inspirational. I always get a kick out of seeing the exceptional heroes of these drawn as young children. It makes them so much more relatable for the intended audience of the books. But the writing and art are so terrific that adults will find joy in them as well.

Like all the young books in the series, this one belongs in every single school and public library in the United States. All of the books in the series belong there as well. As noted above, they make great gifts for young readers. For older readers, well, for what it’s worth, this latest book has convinced me to start collecting them all. Just to have around Stately Isabella Manor if I am ever blessed with grandchildren.

ISBN 978-0-7352-2873-3


Cold Dead Hands TP

One more gift recommendation and, yes, I’m promoting something that I wrote. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands [DC; $16.99] collects my recent reboot of my creation. He’s younger than any version I have written before. He’s smarter than any version I’ve written before. He has a real family where, in past Isabella incarnations, he has built families around himself. His stories are more contemporary than ever before, a mixture of super-hero action, street drama, and social commentary. I think it’s the best writing I have ever done. I hope you’ll buy a copy for yourself and consider giving copies to friends and family for the holidays.

ISBN 978-1-4012-7515-0

That’s my gift recommendations for this week. I’ll have some more recommendations next week for living-on-the-edge readers who have not yet finished their holiday shopping. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


Christmas and the other seasonal holidays are drawing close, which means I’m going into “this would make a great gift” mode for the next couple weeks of “Tony’s Tips!” Let’s start with three terrific items, every one of which would make a wonderful present for those beloved comics readers in your life and every one of which should be considered a pick of the week.

If it weren’t for assorted Black Lightning comic books written by me and the amazing Black Lightning TV series, Monsters Volume 1: The Marvel Monsterbus by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby [$100] would hands down be my favorite comics thing of the year. This is almost nine hundred pages of entertainment I love: comics stories by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby, and giant monsters. This is practically a holy book to me.

The brilliant art by Kirby on display in this book has never before been collected in a book like this. Even in the late 1950s and the earliest 1960s, no comics craftsman did work as exciting as Kirby. His sure-footed layouts and ability to make the outlandish look so real knocks me out. He is well served by inkers Dick Ayers, George Klein, Steve Ditko, Christopher Rule and others. The reproduction of these tales is nothing short of magnificent.

The stories are equally choice. You’ll see the initial appearances of characters who would play roles in the future Marvel Super-Hero Universe. Groot gets the cover, but there are also debuts of Zemnu the Titan; the living Colossus who, for a variety of weird reasons,  would one day be known as “It!”;, Doctor Droom/Druid and Gorgilla the Living Gargoyle. You’ll witness the emergence of the “outsider hero” trope of nerds and down-on-their-luck individuals who would informed the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe. You’ll enjoy how popular monsters were brought back for a second shot at our planet. And, for the total Marvel geeks among us, you’ll get a kick out of how names were re-purposed for Marvel super-heroes and villains: the afore-mentioned Colossus, the Molten Man-Thing, Diablo, the Living Pharaoh, the Hulk, Goliath, Elektro, the Scarecrow, Thorr, Vandoom, Magneto and the Sandman.

Award-nominated editor Cory Sedlmeier deserves kudos and awards for what he has created here. Besides putting together this great tome, he also includes a section featuring original art pages from some of these stories and the covers of later comic books reprinting some of them. I already know I’m going to reread this first volume from cover to cover and I’ll do the same with the second volume. These books are creations to cherish.

Monsters Volume 1 ($100)

ISBN 978-1-302-90861-4

Monsters Volume 2 ($100)

ISBN 978-1-302-90862-1



I think I’m developing a thing for female assassins. Over at Dark Horse, Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s Lady Killer is a favorite. I find the darker aspects of Marvel’s Black Widow intriguing. And now I’m wild for Juniper Elanore Blue, who is described as a smart but downtrodden Seattle housewife. Juniper is one of the two lead protagonists of Crosswind Volume One by Gail Simone and Cat Staggs [Image; $9.99].

The other protagonist is Cason Ray Bennett, described as a slick, ruthless Chicago hitman. The thing is…Juniper and Cason are now living in each other’s bodies, cursed to this change of life by a mysterious old man. Cason as Juniper and Juniper as Cason makes for an entertaining and harrowing adventure.

Cason is targeted by the mobsters he works for. Juniper is dealing with her cheating husband and a stepson who won’t accept her as his mother. Everyone around the two disparate individuals is wondering what the heck’s going on. This is brilliant writing with expressive art that delivers a satisfying explanation for what’s happening and a satisfying conclusion to this first six-issue arc. I’m 100% ready for the second volume and I hope it’s not long in coming.

Side note. This is one of the most respectful treatment of a male to female (and female to male) body switch I’ve read. Simone did her homework on this and sought counsel from members of the trans community. There’s one of the reasons I’ll read any comic book she writes.

Additional side note. Crosswind is being developed for television by Vanessa Piazza, an executive producer on the TV shows Lost Girl and Dark Matter. If it makes it on air, I’ll be there.

ISBN 978-1-53343-0474-1


WGSH Holiday Special

This last item is more of a stocking stuff, provided you can bear to roll it up to stick it in a stocking. Available only at WalMart, the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes Holiday Special #1 [DC; $4.99] is a hundred pages of seasonal adventures with some of your favorite DC Comics characters.

The special leads off with an all-new Flash story by Scott Lobdell with art by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund. You’ll see many members of the Rogues Gallery in this tale with several great moments for Captain Cold. The other stories in the issue are reprints of tales from earlier DC holiday specials. The best of these are a Superman story by Dan Jurgens and Jackson Guice that always me makes me tear up a little every time I read it; and a Batman/Alfred tale by Tom King and David Finch. Other featured characters include Supergirl, Batwoman, Harley Quinn and Green Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. I’m a fan of these 100-page giants and this special might be the best one yet.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next time with more holiday gift suggestions. Whatever holidays you celebrate – and whose gonna stop you from celebrating all of them – my wish is that this time of the year be filled with joy for all my readers.

© 2018 Tony Isabella