I was invited to give a talk on comics during a lunch gathering of the Twelve High Club at the Western Reserve Masonic Community in my hometown of Medina, Ohio. I was impressed by the size and beauty of this retirement community. Though my own retirement home will most likely be a secluded cabin where I will surely be eaten by bears or wolves or scientologists, I did try to picture what my life would be like in such a place, which still involved my eventual demise by bears or wolves or scientologists. I’m not well.

This was an unusual audience for me. Most of the people in the room were older than me by a decade or more. The younger attendees were the guy who invited me to speak, his wife, a police chief, a fire chief and a surgeon. The only one who had read anything I’d written was, again, the guy who invited me to speak.

Given that everyone in the room had lived through a lot of history, I talked about comics history. The audience was interested when I told them comic books have almost always been socially progressive, that the industry was founded by Jewish businessmen barred from the more elegant levels of publishing. I talked about the diversity of talent that has always been at least part of comics and how today’s much greater diversity is making comics as good or better than at any time in the past.

I talked about my career and my travels during that career. When I solicited questions from the audience, I was asked about Stan Lee, the amount of research I do for my stories and how much of what I write is based on my own life. At the end, I got a nice certificate and round of applause. Not a bad way to spend a couple hours on a sunny afternoon.

Here are this week’s reviews…

My pick of the week is Superman: The Golden Age Newspaper Dailies: 1947-1949 [Library of American Comics; $49.99]. These stories were written by Alvin Schwartz, edited by Jack Schiff and drawn by Wayne Boring and, later, Win Mortimer. This handsome hardcover collection features the strips from April 28, 1947 through September 3, 1949. If you’re a reader used to the Superman of 2019, you will be amazed at how different the character and his newspaper strip adventures were seven decades ago.

Schwartz was writing for an audience much larger and older than the kids who read the Superman comics of that era. I knew him during his last years of life. We met at a Mid-Ohio-Con and bonded almost immediately. He was one of the most thoughtful of comics writers, which is why he could place Superman and his cast into situations of all kinds.

A millionaire – back then, a million bucks was real money – falls in love with the voice on the other hand of a wrong number. To earn a large donation for charity, Superman must figure out how to use his powers in a new and different ways. Schwartz was as inventive as any writer who ever worked in comics.

The perfect woman decides she must have Superman for her mate. A man gets the power to predict crimes, but ignores his visions when he falls for a beautiful gun moll. Clark Kent inherits one million dollars – real money, remember – and gets fired from his reporter job because Perry White doesn’t want to employ someone who doesn’t need the job. A Luthor-type mad scientist creates a weapon that can stop Superman in his tracks. The effects of the weapon linger into Superman’s next adventure. Superman works as a male escort – clean thoughts, chums – to help out a man trying to earn enough to start his own business. Adventures that were both outlandish and down to Earth. I love them a lot.

My favorite story of this book was the 1948 “Return of the Ogies.” These are invisible beings, normally confined to their island home,  who delight in following Superman everywhere. In this return, they become visible and, in doing so, shown to be two of the loveliest woman imaginable. Were I writing Superman, I’d find a way to bring the Ogies into the comic books. An occasional light adventure would be good for today’s teeth-clenching super-heroes.

Don’t let the high cover price deter you from adding this book to your collection. You can get a great deal on it from InStockTrades, the sponsors of this column.

ISBN 978-1-68405-437-4


Cool Japan Guide

I’m always finding great comics and comics-related books through my local library system. Published in 2015, my most recent discovery was discovery was comics creator Abby Denson’s Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen [Tuttle Publishing; $14.95] wherein Denson takes us on a personal tour of Japan. Given that visiting Japan is high on my bucket list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket, I started reading the book as soon as I brought it home from the library.

Japan is endlessly fascinating. Even with all the manga I read and all the kaiju movies I watch, I learned new things from this book.

It starts with pre-trip preparation tips. It moves on to what you should expect when you land in Japan, where you can get great food at reasonable prices, how to conduct yourself if you’re staying at a friend’s home and so much more.

Temples and shines were not high on my list of things I would like to see in Japan, but Denson convinced me they are places I must see on my dream trip. She reinforced my desire to visit the impressive manga and toy stores to be found in Japan. I was maybe four or five chapters into her book when I ordered a copy for my home library.

About the only things I want to experience in Japan that she didn’t write about were baseball and Godzilla. As long as I’m dreaming, I would love to be an invited guest at a Japanese comics convention. I recognize that would be a comics industry equivalent of carrying coals to Newcastle.

If you have any interest in visiting Japan, I think you will get a lot from this clever book. I recommend it highly.

ISBN 978-4-8053-1279-7


Crypt of Shadows

I love special events. Earlier this year, Marvel did a six-issue celebration of “80 Years of Marvel Greatness.” If I were a cynical person, I might describe the event as a way for Marvel to renew its trademarks on six long defunct titles. Either way, I bought every one of the six issues.

The original Crypt of Shadows was an all-reprint title that ran for 21 issues from January 1973 to November 1975. Crypt of Shadows #1 [January 2019; $3.95] is the first issue of the title to have new material. The writer is the prolific Al Ewing. The artists on the three connected stories are Garry Brown, Stephen Green and Djibril Morissette-Phan. It’s not an award-winner, but it’s a solid horror story. I enjoyed it.

The event’s other issues are: War is Hell, Journey into Unknown Worlds, Ziggy Pig/Silly Seal, Love Romances and Gunhawks. I bought the individual issues, but I’m guessing the six comics will get a trade paperback collection ere long.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella


June promises to be a productive month for me. I have launched my nigh-weekly Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales wherein I hope to dramatically decrease my Vast Accumulation of Stuff. If I manage that, I’ll be able to buy more stuff. But, please, don’t share that information with my Saintly Wife Barb.

I’m not attending any conventions in June, but I will be speaking at a private lunch of local Masons. It’s going to be a short talk, so I’ll likely concentrate on Cleveland connections to the history of comics. This is a pro bono talk because I was invited to speak by the brother-in-law of a neighbor who has helped me on the afore-mentioned garage sale.

It’s been suggested I sign up with various agencies and land some paying speaking gigs. It’s certainly something I should consider. In the meantime, feel free to recommend me to your local colleges, libraries, organizations and schools.

While I’ll still be writing several hours every day in June, my not being on the road should afford me more time to read comic books and other things. Maybe I’ll be able to catch up on all the comics-based movies and TV series on which I’m woefully behind. Maybe I’ll even watch a butt load of cheesy monster movies. Or maybe take the occasional nap. The possibilities are endless.

Summer is, traditionally, a great time to read comic books. When I was a kid, I could spend hours every day doing just that. I don’t have the kind of time as an adult, but I love reading comic books, graphic novels and books on comics history and sharing the best of those with the readers of this column.

Last week, I binged-read several issues of three different titles, two current and one going back a few years. Here’s what I thought of those comics…

If for no other reason that it changed the face of super-hero comic books as they had been known, Fantastic Four deserves to be known as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” Sure, the title has seen some weak runs in its long history, but, overall, it’s been pretty good and sometimes amazingly great. If this were a book instead of a column, I would comment on those amazingly great runs. Instead, I’ll talk on Fantastic Four #1-9 and Fantastic Four Wedding Special #1 of the current run. These issues were written by Dan Slott (with a few guest writers) and drawn by artists including Sara Pichelli, Stefano Caselli, Aaron Kuder and others.

The issues have pretty much all the stuff you would expect from any new run of Fantastic Four. There’s the family atmosphere. There’s a wedding. There’s Doctor Doom and Galactus. There are super-hero pals. There’s the “never surrender” and “always find a way” mantras that have been the heart of so many epic stories. In a sense, Slott is reinventing the wheel. I’m good with that.

Keep in mind that the original Fantastic Four wheel was invented in 1961, almost six decades ago. Many and probably most of today’s FF readers weren’t alive when that wheel hit the road. They deserve to see the basic design in action. It may be updated a bit from time to time, but, when a current creative team embraces the team’s core values, the wheel delivers an entertaining ride.

For me, it was good seeing the family back together with so little of the overwrought interpersonal drama that has marred some recent runs. We’ve seen the Four at odds with one another. Who needs any replay of that? These characters are at their best when they work together. Save the dysfunctional family crap for the cheaper seats.

The long-awaiting wedding of Alicia Masters and Ben Grimm was fun. No invasions of super-villains. No Skrulls in disguise. Just fun, albeit from a super-hero standpoint.

Really evil Doctor Doom is back and that feels very right. I got a kick out of the Infamous Iron Man redemption story, but it always felt like an alternate universe story to me. Doom’s machinations in this new run were beautifully diabolical. This is why he’s the FF’s most dangerous foe.

There have already been a couple of collections of Dan Slott’s run. Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 1: Fourever ($15.99] reprints the first four issues. Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 2: Mr. and Mrs. Grimm [$15.99] has issues #5-8 plus the wedding special. Both get my recommendation, especially for long-time fans of Fantastic Four who have been awaiting their return to glory.

Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 1: Fourever

ISBN 978-1302913496

Fantastic Four by Dan Slott Vol. 2: Mr. and Mrs. Grimm

ISBN 978-1302913502

Hawkman 1

I wrote Hawkman in the 1980s, working with the incredible Richard Howell, one of my all-time favorite artistic collaborators. It was an assignment I enjoyed and was very well received until an after-the-launch editor decided to upend my original five-year plan which had gotten me the assignment in the first place. I left the title and – here’s a big surprise – sales plummeted.

Since then, with a few notable exceptions, most of what DC has done with Hawkman is to make him unpleasant and to make his back story indecipherable. The New 52, the Death of Hawkman mini-series – talk about telegraphing the ending – and Metal made things worse. It was painful to see my old friend suffer.

Imagine my delight after reading the first ten issues of the latest Hawkman ongoing series by writer Robert Venditti and artist Bryan Hitch with its elegant solution to the continuity nightmare. While I’m not wild about the idea that Hawkman is seeking redemption for truly horrific crimes in one of his past lives, I’m always willing to give redemption stories a chance.

I’m enjoying this series. I love seeing Hawkman connect with some of his old friends in positive ways. I am thrilled by the amazing twists and turns. The writing and art are excellent. It has become one of my favorite super-hero titles.

Hawkman is my pick of the week. The first six issues are collected in the just-released Hawkman Vol. 1: Awakening [$16.99]. A second volume is scheduled for December. My guess is that, after you read the first volume, you may start searching for the individual issues that follow. Highly recommended.

Hawkman Vol. 1: Awakening

ISBN 978-1401291440

Hell House

My third review is for a mini-series you’ll have to work to find. In 2004 and 2005, IDW published a four-issue adaptation of Richard Matheson’s Hell House [$6.49 per issue]. Adapted by Ian Edginton, drawn by Simon Frasier, it well and truly did justice to one of the most frightening stories by one of the greatest horror writers of all time. I mention it this week because IDW (or whoever owns the rights) should put this series back into print in a collection as classy and stylish as the adaptation.

While you’re waiting for that to happen, you can find issues of the series on the secondary market. On eBay, I’ve seen the occasional single issues offered at cover price. More commonly, a set of the  entire mini-series runs $50. If you can find the series at a price you’re comfortable with, I recommend it highly.

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

© 2019 Tony Isabella