I became an avid comic-book reader at a time when being known as an avid comic-book reader marked you as an awkward, backward outsider. That I was often the smartest kid in my elementary school classes didn’t change the cruel stereotype. More than once a nun asked what was wrong with me.

I’d like to say things changed in high school, but we had lockers in high school. Lockers into which a short comics fan could easily be shoved. Oddly enough, I had a side business selling comic books to students who didn’t want to be seen buying comics. Of course, if these transactions had been seen, the official response would have been along the lines of “Well, at least he’s selling drugs and not those evil comic books.”

My less-than-half-a-year in college introduced me to two important concepts: sex and also that I didn’t need to spend four more years in school to be a professional writer. Valuable lessons.

Today, comic books turn up in the strangest places. Hank Weisinger, the son of legendary Superman editor Mort Weisinger, has demanded the return of his father’s papers from the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. This was in response to false statements made on Fox News by Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Though these statements had nothing to do with Superman, Weisinger believes them to be antithetical to “Superman’s values of truth, justice and the American way. Said Weisinger:

“I cannot have my father’s papers at an university represented by a congresswoman who is the exact opposite.”

You know my political leanings. Even so, I would say the greatest need for truth and justice is in places where those values might not receive the respect they deserve. Weisinger has the inarguable right to do what he wishes with his father’s papers, but Cheney and others could learn some valuable lessons from the Man of Steel. We should put some classic comics into the Congressional Record. Do good and every one can be a Superman.

Marvel Comics is celebrating its 80 years of making comics with a number of just plain fun specials. Among them is Avengers: Loki Unleashed #1 ($4.99) by writer Roger Stern, artist Ron Lim, color artist Espen Grundetgern and letterer Joe Caramagna. If I were to name my favorite Avengers writers, Stern would rank very high among them, somewhat below Stan Lee and Roy Thomas but well ahead of most others. A new Avengers comic book written by Roger was not remotely a hard sell for me.

This 30-page story fits nicely into the continuity of Stern’s run on the title. Though there are an unfortunate number of editorial notes directing readers to old issues, the story is easy to follow without them. My own preference would have been an annotations page as we see in the current History of the Marvel Universe.

What pleases me most about this adventure is that every character who appears in it is, as they used to say, on model. They look like themselves. They sound like themselves. They act like themselves. Even the godly among them are both heroic and human. That humanity is what connects me to heroes.

Is this story the stuff of awards? No. It’s an enjoyable tale that satisfies from start to finish. It’s a nice reminder that you could do an epic event and not immediately go to the next epic event. It is a refreshing story for both the heroes and the readers, but one that never fails to excite and thrill. It’s a good comic book and makes no apologies for not being as convoluted and grim as so many modern comic books.

I like many modern comic books. I also like treats like this one. Even as I weep that no one at Marvel thought to ask me to do an It! The Living Colossus or Tigra one-shot. Maybe they’ll call me for the 90th anniversary.

Space Action

Odd bedfellows. Pre-Code Classics: Space Action and World War III [PS Artbooks; $44.95] reprints the three issues of the first title published by Ace Magazines in 1952 and the two issues of the latter title published in 1952 and 1953, close to a year apart from each other. Half of this hardcover collection is awful. The other half is insanely intriguing.

Space Action was a basic low-rent science fiction anthology. Every story has a pulp magazine style title and interchangeable heroes. Dull plots with overwritten captions and dialogue. Art that fails to excite.

We don’t know who wrote the stories, though Jerry Bails’ Who’s Who says pulp legend Walter B. Gibson was a contributor. I’m guessing he knocked out the Space Action text stories because I don’t want to think he wrote any of the lousy comics stories.

There are some decent artists in these three issues: Lou Cameron, Rocco Mastroserio and Mike Sekowsky. However, their work is almost as uninspired as the writing.

The good stuff comes in the second half of this collection. World War III was an insanely frantic comic book. The covers warned that these stories were about “the war that will never happen if America remains strong and alert.” The first issue’s cover shows Washington D.C. on the wrong end of an atomic bomb attack. The first story has this opening copy:

Let the reason for publishing this shocking account of World War III be completely clear. We want only to awaken America…and the world…to grim facts. The one way to prevent this mass destruction of humanity is to prepare NOW. Only a super-strong and fully enlightened America can stop this crushing horror of the future!

Written by Robert Turner, the title opens with the Russians bombing  an unprepared America. Carnage and death follow with the Americans desperately trying to defend against more attacks while preparing to strike back against the enemy. This isn’t your typical war comic book. It’s an anthology title with no recurring characters.

Artists Ken Rice, Lou Cameron, Jim McLaughlin and the unidentified artists of two stories in the second issue lean into the carnage in a big way. There are some truly shocking – but still more or less tasteful – images in these comic books. I wonder if the grimness of the first issue was the reason it was a year before the publisher released the second and final issue.

This volume is worth getting just for the World War III material. On that basis, I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-78636-498-2

Usagi Yojimbo Book 8

My pick of the week is The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 8 by multiple Eisner and Harvey Award winner Stan Sakai [Dark Horse; $24.99]. If you’ve been reading my columns for any appreciable length of time, you know I consider Sakai our greatest living cartoonist and his samurai rabbit protagonist to be one of the greatest heroes in the history of comics.

This hefty softcover tome runs nearly six hundred pages, which is tremendous bang for your buck. Usagi faces murderers and monsters, ninjas and political schemers and even the elements. These stories are rich with the culture and history of Japan without ever letting
the background information get in the way of the exciting action. I study each of these books as they are published for the lessons in storytelling they impart.

In addition to the several hundred pages of stories, the book also has introductions by some of comicdom’s finest, historical texts, art galleries and more. The only bad thing about this and the other volumes in the series is that the next volume in the series hasn’t already been published and waiting for me.

Stan Sakai and Usagi Yojimbo are comics legends. I recommend them to anyone who loves comics.

ISBN 978-1-50671-224-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella


Last week on the CW, we saw the series premiere of Batwoman and the season premieres of Supergirl, Black Lightning and the Flash. Arrow will return for its final season this week with Legends of Tomorrow following in January of 2020.

Over at Netflix, I still have Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Lucifer and the Punisher to watch. On the DC Universe streaming channel, there’s Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and Titans waiting for me. Preacher has concluded its four-season run on AMC, but I still have five episodes of its last season to watch. Not to mention lots of other comics shows on so many streaming channels I can scarcely name them all.

I’m in awe of this abundance of comics-based shows. I remember when all we had was The Adventures of Superman. Years later, Batman and the Green Hornet were on TV, as were at least two sitcoms spoofing super-heroes. We would eventually get the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman. Enough shows to keep our comics hopes alive, but nothing like today.

If I had time enough, I would watch all of the comics-based shows and movies and animated features. Comics entertainment, as opposed to the comics industry itself, has always been my safe place. The industry can break your heart. The comics can heal your soul. I’ve signed up for the long haul.

When it comes to animated features and the movies and the TV shows, do we have too much of a good thing? Probably, though I would make the case that what we actually have is too little time. Too little time to watch all the amazing comics entertainment available to us. Too little time to read all the great comics material available to us. Too little time.

What I try to do here in “Tony’s Tips” is talk about items you may or may not enjoy. What I strive to do is save you time by pointing you toward great stuff and warning you away from not-great stuff. When a reader thanks me for telling them about some comic or other item they loved, it makes my day. That’s what I’m here for.

Here are this week’s reviews…

I have read quite a bit of cool stuff recently, but my pick of the week is Harryhausen: The Lost Movies by John Walsh [Titan Books; $39.95]. Ray Harryhausen was one of our greatest special effects creators, utilizing painstaking methods to make monsters and devise scenarios that astound and entertain viewer many decades after they first appeared.

Walsh is an award-winning filmmaker whose works focus on social justice. A knowledgeable fan, his 1989 documentary set a high mark for the cinematic study of Harryhausen. This documentary and the HD audio and commentary Walsh did with Harryhausen are all acrchived by the charitable Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

Harryhausen. One of our greatest filmmakers. Walsh. A filmmaker who knows his Harryhausen stuff. Brought together for an amazing “what if” book of what might have been. There are drawings, models and treatments of ideas that never went beyond that initial stage. The book also contains projects turned down by Harryhausen and scenes that had to be cut from his movies. As you read this book, prepared to be mortally wounded every few pages as you read about the great movies that could have been.

Fun fact. In 1984, an X-Men script by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas was sent to Harryhausen. That’s one of the projects he turned down, but I would love to see that script someday.

Harryhausen: The Lost Movies is a beautifully-made book. It’s not comics history per se, but I don’t believe I’ve ever met a comics fan of my generation that wasn’t also a Harryhausen fan. This will make a great gift for someone you love.

ISBN 9781789091106

Devil 1

I confess I’m envious of writers who get paid to play with public domain super-heroes like The Death-Defying Devil aka Lev Gleason’s original 1940s Daredevil. Gail Simone has teamed with artist Walter Geovani to do a new Dynamite series with the character. I’ve read the first two issues ($3.99 each) of the “Teen+” rated series and am enjoying it, though I am dismayed by the addition of an occult element in the second issue. Must we take the character’s name so literally?

I’m not knocking Simone here. She does a fine job with this street-level hero, not surprising given the ongoing quality of her work. It’s mostly that I believe there are wonderful comic books waiting to be mined from the street level without supernatural elements or reality-threatening crisis or the other “go bigger” stuff we see in too many super-hero comics. I can barely read a newspaper without coming up with several ideas for stories and characters.

My personal preferences aside, I recommend this series. As noted, the writing is excellent. The Geovani art is solid. You don’t need to read a dozen other comic books to know what’s going on in this one. Check it out.

Sham Comics 1

Sham Comics [Source Point Press; $4 per issue] has become a must-read for me. Featuring public-domain characters and comics stories,  Tim Fuller and the other re-writers of those tales have done their “riffs” on Golden Age super-heroes, romance comics, medical comics and more. These selected tales were drawn by industry legends like Jack Kirby, Basil Wolverton, Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta and Vince Colletta’s studio.

Not every parody hits the mark. Some of them get fairly crude. The sheer inventiveness of these re-purposed comics has made me a fan. I hope we get a trade paperback collection of these fun comics. In the meantime, I highly recommend the individual issues.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella


I had a terrific time this past weekend at the second Flaming River Con at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library. It was the second year for the Midwest’s first LGBTQA+ comics convention, a celebration of geek culture. Though the focus was on the LGBTQA+ community, it was a welcoming event for all.

I was on a panel discussing “Toxic Masculinity in Comics.” It was interesting conversation and I’ll likely write about it at length in the near future. Just to tease you, everyone on the panel agreed with me that the Batman is toxic as heck.

The convention after-party was held at The Side Quest, a geek bar in nearby Lakewood, Ohio. The intimate venue offers board games, closed-caption genre films such as Tremors, a favorite of mine, and drinks and food with geek-inspired names. My drink of choice was a
“Sonic Screwdriver,” but the bar also concocted a Black Lightning drink to commemorate my creation.

Inclusion makes comics better. So, even if none of the initials are applicable to me, I’m going to do what I can to be an ally to and support all the diverse voices in our art form.

This week’s reviews are for three incredible books. Each of them is so good you should consider all of them my picks of the week. Let us begin…

Marvel Masters of Suspense: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 [$100] is an important book on several levels. It collects all of Marvel’s Ditko-drawn anthology stories from April 1956 to December 1961. It is a testament to the growth and passion of the artist’s
storytelling abilities. Images and panel/page designs that remain stunning six decades after they were first published.

Though there are a handful of war and western stories in this book, most of the tales are fantasy and science fiction. Some of them are horror, but comic books couldn’t call that genre by name after the coming of the Comics Code. The only other Marvel artist who ranks with Ditko as the master of these genres is Jack Kirby. Those two men, along with editor/writer Stan Lee changed the face of comics forever. We are all in their considerable debt.

What you’ll find in these five-page efforts are keenly-drawn actors who play different roles in different stories. You’ll find “shock” endings, often used again and again. Surprising size ratios turn up in several sci-fi stories, as does the startling secret of the Abominable Snowman’s true nature. And, oh my, does mankind screw up what could have been life-changing first contacts with beings from other worlds on an alarmingly regular basis.

The writing on the stories is excellent. It’s sometimes corny, but just as often it is inspirational and even poignant. I wish we knew who wrote them. Stan Lee usually signed the stories he wrote. Carl Wessler is credited for several of them, thanks to personal records preserved by comics historians. Most remain uncredited. The team of Lee and brother Larry Lieber likely wrote some of them. I can only hope other records and identifications show up now that these tales have been collected.

Collections editor and book designer Cory Sedlmeier and his team honor Ditko and the other creators and this amazing era of Marvel with their dedicated and stylish work. One of the reasons I don’t retire from writing is so I can afford this and like volumes. I’m fortunate that InStock Trades, the sponsor of this column, always offers great discounts on their omnibus editions.

For me, Marvel Masters of Suspense: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 is indispensable for both its entertainment and historical value. I recommend it to all fans of Ditko and all students of this magical era in Marvel Comics history.

ISBN 978-1-302-91875-0


Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s Grass [Drawn and Quarterly; $29.95] is very difficult to read. Not because of any failings with the writing or the art. Because it tells the story of a young Korean girl who is forced into service as a sex slave for the Japanese Imperial Army occupying China.

In this horrific chapter of Japanese history, these “comfort women” were raped multiple times a day. They were barely fed. They had no adequate medical care. They were beaten and many of them died as a result of their slavery. They were prisoners without any means of even truly knowing where they were being held and with little hope of ever being reunited with the families. The very families who had sometimes sold them into slavery and who often turned their backs on these innocent women if they did return home. That Japan has not adequately apologized to and compensated the surviving women is an ongoing disgrace in that nation.

Gendry-Kim tells the story of Okseon Lee, a young girl now an old woman who survived the war and all the adversity that followed her the rest of her long life. The cartoonist interviewed Lee several times and formed a bond with her. Her graphic novel starts with the lead-up to the war, continues with the depravities Lee endured and brings readers right up to the struggle of the comfort women to get some kind of justice. The mealy-mouthed Amazon solicitation calls this a “disputed chapter in twentieth-century Asian history.” That description in itself is an insult to Okseon Lee and all the other women forced into sexual slavery. There is no dispute here. Japan committed these grievous crimes. Anyone who tries to lessen those crimes is being deliberately ignorant.

Grass fills me with rage. It takes a brilliantly, powerfully-told graphic novel to do that. You need to read this book. You need to share it with friends. It speaks a truth that needs to be heard and never forgotten.

ISBN 978-1-77046-362-2

Snow glass apples

Snow, Glass, Apples [Dark Horse; $17.99] was released in August and has already gone back to press for a second edition. With stories and words by Neil Gaiman and adaptation and art by Colleen Doran, it is an unforgettable take on a classic fairy tale. It is a moving graphic novel. It is a wondrously visual graphic novel.

The basic premise is this: What if Snow White were the villain and not the queen who ruled over the lands in which they both existed? That’s all you’re getting from me. I don’t want to diminish any of the disturbing or sensuous scenes and images that await the reader. There are many of them.

Gaiman. Doran. These are creators you can always count on to bring something amazing to their work and your enjoyment in that work. I recommend it for older teens and adults.

ISBN 978-1-50670-976-6

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella