The comic-book world is abuzz with the news DC Comics is now down to one publisher, with the online worlds of praise and condemnation for the departed Dan DiDio and with all manner of speculations as to what this means for the DC Universe. I have refused a number of requests that I take part in this discussion for the simple reason I find it distasteful. A man who was clearly passionate about comic books has lost his job. I find that sad and wish him well in what future endeavors he may pursue.

Instead, let’s talk about Nightwing. I tend to read ongoing series in big whopping chunks. I wasn’t keeping count of how many issues I read, but I think it was around forty. What struck me most about these issues was, that while some offered good writing and art, the stories revolved around making Dick Grayson not Dick Grayson. Which struck me as odd because, if you understand the core values of this character, you would embrace them.

In the most recent issues I read, he had lost his memory and was calling himself Richard Grayson. It didn’t even happen in his own book. It happened in Batman. Talk about an insecure actor hogging the stage. Batman needs a therapist.

Grayson’s origin has been retconned to make him the heir apparent assassin of the terminally boring Court of Owls. The secret group Batman – who knows everything – somehow didn’t know about. I never could get past that illogical contrivance.

Dick Grayson can be a fascinating character. He comes from the same terrible loss of his parents that shaped Batman. He’s taken in by Batman and, at least before DC decided Batman was psychotic, given a childhood and a life brighter than any Batman has known. Then, as young men will do when they reach adulthood, Grayson went his own way. He tries to honor Batman without becoming Batman. I bemoan the corporate lack of imagination that doesn’t realize how many years, nay, decades worth of stories that can come from this character’s core values. It’s sad.

However, if Nightwing doesn’t fill me with joy, there are plenty of other comics that do. Here are this week’s reviews…


All three of today’s entries are comics I got from my local library system after I read excerpts from or read about them in last year’s Free Comic Book Day and Halloween ComicFest giveaways.

Bakemonogatari volumes 1 and 2 [Vertical Comics; $12.99 each] star high school student Koyomi Araragi. Once turned into a vampire and then cured, he retains some of his vampiric powers: superhuman healing and enhanced vision. Now he tries to help others who suffer from supernatural maladies.

Drawn by the humble Oh!Great from the original story by Nisioisin, Bakemonogatari isn’t always the easiest to follow, but is worth the effort. Araragi is a relatable hero. Senjogahara, a beautiful and sometimes unpleasant high school student, is the first person that he helps. Then she joins him to help another supernatural victim. She claims she’s just repaying her debt to him, but, if I were the sort to “ship” comics characters, I’d definitely ship these kids.

I liked these first volumes of Bakemonogatari well enough that I’m looking forward to the third, which should be available in March. If you’re into manga, I think you’ll enjoy this series.

Bakemonogatari Volume 1:

ISBN 978-1947194977

Bakemonogatari Volume 2:

ISBN 978-1949980028

Planet of the Nerds

Planet of the Nerds [Ahoy Comics; $17.99] has already been optioned for a live-action movie by Paramount. Written by Paul Constant with art by Alan Robinson, it’s a sci-fi comics about 1980s high school jocks and the genius nerd they torment. Alvin (the nerd) is working on a device to cryogenically freeze living creatures to be revived in the future. When the jocks break into his secret laboratory, the three of them get fast-frozen with Alvin escaping. The laboratory remains hidden until 2019. It’s uncovered by a construction crew and the jocks are revived. Suddenly finding themselves in a world they don’t understand, the jocks have a rough go of it in a society where nerds rule. They have no plan…until they realize Alvin is alive, rich and powerful.

Constant does a great job with the personalities of the jocks, an old girlfriend of one of them and, of course, Alvin. Robinson’s art and storytelling is first-rate. There are many surprises along the way, only some of which I saw coming. Most importantly, this done-in-one trade collection delivers a satisfying ending. I had a ball reading it, but, in an industry that often fails to realize when a story has reached its natural conclusion, I like the closure that comes with the ending.

ISBN 978-0998044248

Dark Red

Dark Red by Tim Seeley and Corin Howell [Aftershock Comics; $14.99] is my pick of the week. Protagonist Chip is a “forgotten man.” He was turned into a vampire during World War II, but has staked his claim to a small town he feels is more decent than the big cities with their secret vampire kingdoms.

Chip does not feed on his neighbors. He works a lousy third-shift job at a gas station. He gets his nightly sustenance from a young woman whose body produces too much blood, a condition that will be fatal in time. It’s a peaceful existence until other vampires come to town. Chip has a long-standing problem with these vampires and not merely because they want his turf.

What puts this series a cut above most vampire comics is Seeley’s strong characters and Howell’s ability to make those characters distinctive and interesting. The story is a page-turner with lots of eye-opening scenes and surprises. The ending is satisfying, even though there is clearly more to come.

Dark Red isn’t Tomb of Dracula or Dracula Lives, but I can’t think of a vampire comic books I’ve enjoyed more since those two classics of the form. This gets my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1949028263

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2020 Tony Isabella


Comics conventions are a year-long activity, but my own appearance schedule for this year kicks off with Pensacon, February 28-March 1 at the Pensacola Bay Center. That’s where you can buy tickets for the event, get celebrity autographs and photos, visit the terrific creators on the artist alley, and shop the huge vendor floor. The event’s other official venues include the Pensacola Grand Hotel (across the street from the Bay Center), the Saenger Theatre, the Rex Theatre, and the Pensacola Little Theatre. This is one of the best conventions in the country.

I’ll be set up on the artist alley level. Saintly Wife Barb will be my booth babe. We’ll be selling whatever books and posters we can fit into our suitcases. Obviously, supplies will be limited.

I will sign anything you buy from me for free. If you’re bringing items to be signed, I charge $5 per item or, should you choose to have my signing witnessed by a grading company representative, $15. Photos of or with me are free.

I will be appearing on a number of panel presentations during the weekend. These will include my award-deserving Cheesy Monsters Raid Again, Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements as Reflected in Comic Books, Writing Horror Comics, Godzilla Versus Kong, Classic Monster Movies and Writing for Comic Books. I’m also serving as a judge for the Pensacon Short Film Festival. Check the pretty spiffy Pensacon website (or get the Pensacon app for your phone) for the most up-to-date information on times and places.

As in past years, the Pensacon guest list is amazing! I can’t begin to list the guests I want to meet, like Weird Al Yankovic and Dee Wallace-Stone, or the old friends I’ll be reuniting with, like Mark Maddox and Keith DeCandido. Okay, I guess I did start listing them, but, trust me, if I went down the entire list, I wouldn’t have room to review anything.

How’s that for a slick segue to this week’s reviews?

Ahoy Comics is the most exciting and fun comics publisher to enter the industry in years. Their books are well-written and well-drawn with considerable variety and a professional demeanor that doesn’t get stodgy like some other recent launches. Tip: if your outfit’s mission statement is anything other than making good entertaining comics, I don’t need to hear it. In a house filled with many comic books that do not bring me joy, I want comics that make me smile as I enjoy them.

The Wrong Earth Volume 1 by Tom Peyer, Jamal Igle, Juan Castro and Andy Troy [Ahoy Comics; $19.99] collects issues #1-6 of the title and adds bonus material about the creation of the universes wherein the stories take place. And what a story it is.

These are worlds where two versions of a super-hero find themselves in the other’s world. Dragonflyman might remind you of the Batman from the 1960s TV series. Dragonfly is the dark modern version of the character. Their adjustments to their new situations makes for
engaging character studies. Despite the extreme takes on two super-hero types, I was impressed by both characters being able to think on their feet in response to their world-switching. Kudos to Peyer for the great writing.

Igle is one of the best comics artist around with his storytelling expertise and his solid drawing. He mixes old-school sensibilities with modern stylings. If I’m an especially good boy this year, I’m hoping Santa brings me an opportunity to work with him.

Reading single issues becomes problematic for me because there are just so many comic books being published today. That’s why I read and why I recommend getting this collection. It’s nice to have such a big chunk of amazing story in one place.

The Wrong Earth is my pick of the week, but our other two entries aren’t far behind. It’s a good week.

ISBN 978-0-9980442-0-0

Forgotten All-Star

Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox by Jennifer DeRoss [Pulp Hero Press; $27.34] examines the life and works of one of the legends of the comics industry. Fox started writing comics before the arrival of Superman and continued to write them into the 1980s.
He created or co-created legendary Golden Age heroes like Zatara,  Hawkman and the Flash, to name three. In the Silver Age, Fox would revive and revitalize those characters. All while also writing in virtually every genre known to the comics industry and writing a great many novels in almost as many genres. With over 4000 comics stories to his credit and dozens of novels, he was clearly one of America’s most prolific authors.

DeRoss covers Fox’s ancestors and his upbringing. Until this book, I had never known what a devote Catholic he was or how his religion shaped his writing. Though not a person of faith myself, I admire people of faith who live the best parts of their religions without using it as an excuse to discriminate and oppress others. Knowing this about the man makes the courage, decency and generosity of his characters all the more evident.

We are living in a Golden Age of comics and comics history. DeRoss has contributed to the latter with this biography. I hope she will be gracing us with more like it.

ISBN 978-1-68390-200-3

Hedy Lamarr

Actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr was a fascinating woman whose ups and downs in her career and her life make for equally fascinating reading. Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life by William Roy and Sylvain Dorange [Life Drawn; $19.95] is a fine graphic novel biography of
“The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.”

Lamarr is a flawed protagonist, as are all humans when you consider the ways of our species. She rises to some challenges and falls to others. She makes good and bad choices. She suffers under a movie industry culture that often belittles her. Her story is as riveting
as her legendary beauty.

If I have a complaint about Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life, it’s that it should have been longer. I would have liked more details of her life. She looms too big to be fully realized in even this 176-page graphic biography.

I recommend this book to devotees of old movies and, of course, to insatiable comics readers like myself.

ISBN 978-1-59465-619-4

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

© 2020 Tony Isabella


I don’t like the modern-day Joker. I don’t “get” the manic love for one of the most overused villains in all of comics. Clearly, I am missing something.

In his first comics appearances in the early 1940s, the Joker was a vicious killer. That contrasted wonderfully with his clown-like appearance. As Batman became a considerably commercial property for DC Comics, the Joker was toned down. He was still devilishly clever in his criminal machinations, but he was far less scary than he had been. Sure, he attempted the occasional murder, but it didn’t seem like it was really his thing anymore.

Enter Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil and Julius Schwartz, respectively, the artist, writer and editor of Batman stories that harkened back to Batman’s earliest adventures. In “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” [Batman #251; September 1973], the murderous Joker of comics long gone made his return. That remains my favorite modern-day take on him. If a 47-year-old tale can be called “modern-day.”

The Joker has had his ups and downs since that comic. But, along the way, he became so brutally murderous that his appearances were more torture porn that super-hero or even crime fiction. He would commit mass murder and come back three months later to commit more mass murders. He would maim supporting characters or beat them to death. His violence overshadowed his cleverness.

This is the Joker of today. The Joker I feel the Batman has a moral imperative to put down for keeps. Because, even if he catches the Joker and puts him back in Arkham for the 700th time, the Joker is always going to escape and commit more mass murders. The Joker of the current DC Universe is an exercise in gore with the writers and artists vying to top the last team’s bloody carnage. “Clever” isn’t even part of the Joker’s equation anymore.

Yet the Joker clearly appeals greatly to a large audience in comic books and movies. There is no shortage of comic books featuring the character. Indeed, I’m told there are now at least three different Jokers running around the DC Universe. Is he selling franchises to other demented psychopaths?

In the movies, Joaquin Phoenix has won Oscar’s Best Actor award for his portrayal of the character in 2019’s Joker. A dozen years ago, Heath Ledger won Oscar’s Supporting Actor award for 2008’s The Dark Knight. The Joker has appeared in countless other Batman animated features, cartoons, movies and TV shows. I mean, yes, I’m sure you could count them, but I’m not likely to.

I don’t like the Joker. I don’t understand the love for the villain in every medium imaginable. But I do recognize how popular he is. Maybe, someday, I’ll figure out why.

On to this week’s reviews…

My first two reviews are of horror anthologies I learned about from free Halloween ComicFest 2019 comics. Junji Ito is a Japanese manga creator noted for his dozens of volumes of creepy comics that are, at the very least, unsettling as all get out, and, at their fearful heights, worthy of the H.P. Lovecraft stories which, among various Japanese writers, inspired Ito. The world of Ito’s works is cruel,  the plaything of forces that select their victims without regard to whether those victims are innocent.

Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection [Viz Media; $22.99] collects a baker’s dozen of terrifying tales. An addictive nectar that dooms addicts to an inhuman fate. People who are frozen in place for no discernable reasons. Haunted houses that are the stage for a family drama of seemingly unstoppable horror. The art does nothing to ease the fearful nature of these stories; it accents and increases the
reader’s dread.

I need to read more Ito manga. Just not right away. Smashed is one of the scariest graphic collections I’ve read in years. If that’s something in your wheelhouse, then I heartily recommend this book.

ISBN 978-1-4215-9846-8


House of Fear 02

House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Stories by James Powell, Jethro Morales and several creative collaborators [Dark Horse Books; $12.99] is a delightful horror anthology aimed at readers 8-12 years old. Besides the snowmen, the creature roster includes the Tooth Fairy, a vengeful ghost and a swamp monster and leaf piles.

Though I’m somewhat older than the target audience, which is like saying Godzilla is somewhat taller than your neighborhood grocery store, I found these tales quite entertaining. They remind me a bit of the Goosebumps books my son Ed used to devour when he was just a tadpole…and much better than Marvel’s recent disastrous attempt to adapt the Goosebumps world to its comic books.

House of Fear would be a terrific gift for a youngster just getting into comics and monsters. Definitely worth checking out.

ISBN 978-1-50671-132-4

Superman Giant 1

I like big comics and I cannot lie. My pick of the week is Superman Giant #1 (DC Comics; $4.99]. The issue’s 25-page all-new story is “Power Play” by writer Robert Venditti, penciler Paul Pelletier, inker Andrew Hennessy, colorist Adriano Lucas, letterer Clayton Cowles and editor Andrew Marino. What makes this story so special is not just that it’s a done-in-one tale which can be enjoyed sans any knowledge of the rest of the DC Comics universe. The adventure also speaks to how inspirational Superman can be in the right hands and how he has, indeed, inspired non-powered people. The world of this Superman is a much better world than we get in the mainstream DC comic books.

Filling out this 100-page issue are reprints of Supergirl, Action Comics and Superman stories from 2008, 2010 and 2016. All of them are entertaining.

Now that DC is distributing the formerly Walmart-exclusive titles to the direct market, the 100-page giants are easier to find than ever before. The selection is good, so take a look at them when you next visit your friendly neighborhood comics shop.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2020 Tony Isabella


Trevor von Eeden and I were in Atlanta the other day. Von Eeden is, of course, the artist of my first Black Lightning series and a key designer of my creation’s original costume. We were there to film cameo appearances in the season finale of Black Lightning. I’m not at liberty to tell you more until this episodes airs – which won’t be until March – but I think we did the comics industry proud with our thespian skills.

During the filming, director and showrunner Salim Akil paused our scene for a moment to introduce us to the gathered cast and crew. He thanked us for bringing Black Lightning to life back in the day and asked us to take a bow. It was a heady moment. I’d experienced it before when I visited the Black Lightning set for last season’s wrap party, but it was new for Trevor.

I was happy to share that moment with Trevor. All comics creators who contribute to all those comic-book-based movies and TV series should be treated with the same respect all the time. It’s not the norm for the industry, but, thankfully, the cast and crew of Black Lightning has always treated me with great love and respect. It’s something I don’t take lightly.

In the comics industry and most likely in other industries as well, living creators are…inconvenient. It’s why DC isn’t publishing a Black Lightning series written by me, the guy who knows and writes my creation better than their other writers, and, instead, reduced their most iconic black super-hero to a Batman subordinate. Which is putting it far more delicately than I usually do.

“Authentic” Black Lightning can still be enjoyed in the TV series, which has been renewed for a fourth season. To an extent, you can also find him in the Young Justice animated series. I don’t agree with every choice the latter has made, but the show clearly comes from a place of respect for the character and my work.

I’ll tell you more about my latest visit to Atlanta when I’m able to do so. For now, I have this week’s reviews for you…

Tigra: The Complete Collection [Marvel; $39.99] reprints all of the character’s solo or team-up adventures in a snazzy 424-page trade paperback. I’m the creator of Tigra, but, unlike Black Lightning, where every important element was conceived by me before I pitched the character to DC Comics, there were other creators involved in Tigra’s birth. For one thing, Tigra was a new identity acquired by Green Nelson, who had previously starred in The Claws of the Cat, a short-lived series of the early 1970s.

Editor Roy Thomas asked me to write Giant-Size Creatures #1, which would star Werewolf by Night. Hating to see any Marvel character go to waste, I came up with the idea of turning Green Nelson into some sort of were-creature. I bounced the idea off Duffy Vohland, a dear friend who left us too soon, and he was enthusiastic.

I pitched the idea to Roy. Both of us had the idea to name the kind of new character Tigra. I came up with the Cat People concept and, for the villains, Roy suggested Hydra, which he knew was a favorite of mine. Gil Kane designed the basic look of Tigra and the look was further refined by John Romita and Don Perlin.

Tigra: The Complete Collection collects all my stories, including a couple scripted by other writers, as well as the original Claws of the Cat, various team-ups and a mini-series by writer Christina Z and artist Mike Deodato Jr. The latter had Greer Nelson joining the Chicago police force, a nice development as she was the widow of a Chicago police officer.

These are entertaining stories. Tigra is a complex and sometimes confused heroine, but she is strong and courageous throughout them.
Much more so than the various super-team books written by swine-ish scribes who made her a cowardly sex kitten. I enjoyed re-reading my stories and those of the other writers included in this book. I’m sure you will, too.

Tigra: The Complete Collection is my pick of the week. That might be a conflict of interest, but I can live with it. Heck, visiting with Greer after all these years has me wanting to write her again. Somebody at Marvel should make that happen.

ISBN 978-1-302-92069-2


Hope 4

My friend Dirk Manning is known for his horror stories. This time, with artist K. Lynn Smith, he took a swing at a super-hero series and knocked it out of the park.

In Hope #1-6 [Source Point Press; $3.99 per issue], the title hero is an unregistered super-hero who is secretly a wife and a mother. She doesn’t go for battles with super-villains or more commonplace criminals. Her jam is helping people and police with rescues and such in non-violent ways. Neither her husband or daughter know she is a super-hero.

That changes when an auto accident forces her to reveal her powers and identity to save her family. Her husband ends up in a coma. Her daughter is traumatized by this new knowledge about her mother and blames her for the accident. The state takes Hope’s daughter from her and the forthcoming custody hearing does nothing to make these situations better.

Hope has to deal with governmental protective custody, with super-villains trying to recruit her, with a daughter who hates her, with a husband lying comatose and with that segment of the public that hates her for being unregistered.

It’s an emotional story that made my heart hurt. And, at the end of the sixth issue (and first volume), Manning and Smith surprised me with a cliffhanger I didn’t see coming. That almost never happens because, you know, I’ve been doing this for nearly half a century.

Hope is a great series, suitable for teens and older. I recommend it to every super-hero fan who enjoys something different from the usual universe-wide punch-ups.


return to romance

Return to Romance: The Strange Love Stories of Ogden Whitney [New York Review Comics; $19.95] collects nine tales of love drawn by a favorite, albeit underrated, artist of mine. Whitney is best known for his work for the American Comics Group, better known simply by its initials: ACG. He drew every genre of comics for the publisher, but the parody/adventure/supernatural/super-hero title Herbie was and remains his signature achievement.

In this collection, editors Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro present a nine-pack of often odd stories. The romantic pairings are not what were typical for the genre, but made believable by Whitney’s knack for putting personality into the expressions and movements of his characters and the excellent writing. There are moments in these stories that will make modern readers cringe a bit, but, after all, they were originally published from 1959 to 1964.

While I would caution you to avoid putting much stock in the text material, which has factual errors and unfounded presumptions, the book itself is a delight and an important preservation of Whitney’s romance work. I’d buy a second such book in a heartbeat.

ISBN 978-1-68137-344-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2020 Tony Isabella