Tuesday, September 26, 2017

BLACK LIGHTNING BEAT #2


This is where I bring you the latest Black Lightning news I can and am able/willing to share with you. It’s also where I’ll answer your questions on Black Lightning and related subjects. I hope to post a new installment of this blog-within-the-bloggy every two weeks, and more often if breaking news requires it.

Black Lightning has never been more in the public eye. Sometime in the “mid-season” part of 2018, Black Lightning the TV series will debut on the CW. In article after article, entertainment writers are calling it the most-anticipated show of the mid-season. This is exciting.

The Black Lightning series now has an Internet Movie Database page. There’s not a lot on it, but that will change as more episodes are completed and after the show starts airing on the CW.

It also turns out I also have my own Internet Movie Database page. Like the Black Lightning page, there’s not a lot on it. Some of what’s on it is erroneous. All the same, discovering the page came as a pleasant surprise. When I get a spare moment or ten, I try to correct that misinformation and add some new information.

This seems like a good place to remind you that I have no official position with the TV series. I’ve been treated with great respect and kindness by all involved parties, but I can’t get you hired as a writer, a cast member, an extra or any other job with the show. I’m the self-appointed “head cheerleader” for Black Lightning and  I’m content with that.
                                                                                 

When it comes to Black Lightning-related merchandise, sometimes I know about stuff and sometimes I don’t. For example, I didn’t know Black Lightning is apparently a “skin” in the video game Injustice 2. If someone at DC had told me this in advance, I would have responded with my own questions. What’s a skin? What’s Injustice 2? Don’t worry. I know how to Google. Once I get a free moment, I’ll do a Google search on that stuff.

When fans ask me what I think about this Injustice 2 thing, all I can say is that I’ve never had any interest in video games or the like. Of course, I’m thrilled for the additional exposure for Black Lightning. Of course, I’ll cash the check for whatever royalties I will receive from this. And, of course, most especially, if Black Lightning fans will get a kick out of this, I’m delighted for them.
                                                                              

In November of this year, DC Comics will publish Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1, the first issue of a six-issue series written by me and drawn by superstar artist Clayton Henry. This is my third time writing my creation and, given remarkable freedom by DC, I’m doing some different things with the character. He’s younger than I’ve ever written him before, but this is not a prologue series of any kind. It’s the start of the new continuity for Black Lightning that will be in place at least as long as I’m writing him. There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to give away too much before the series debuts. When I feel it’s appropriate, I’ll be happy to answer your questions on the new series.
                                                                                
                                                                             
Black Lightning Volume 2 [$24.99] is scheduled for a late January or early February release. It’s available for Amazon pre-ordering, but the product information listed there is incorrect. This volume will collect the Black Lightning tales that were published between my original 1970s series and my second 1990s series. Those stories appeared in World’s Finest, DC Comics Presents, Justice League of America, Detective Comics, The Brave and the Bold, Batman and the Outsiders and Secret Origins. I wrote the Secret Origins story and, though nobody seems to have noticed, it sets up the Black Lightning series I wrote in the 1990s. At that time, the second series lived only in my mind. In addition to the reprint of the Secret Origins story, I also wrote a new introduction for this volume.
                                                                             

Black Lightning Volume 3, which would reprint the 1990s series, is tentatively scheduled for February of 2019. However, if the Black Lightning TV series is the huge hit I think it will be, and if you buy a whole bunch of copies of Black Lighting: Cold Dead Hands and the Black Lightning trades, I have a hunch it could get into print sooner than 2019. I believe in Jefferson Pierce. 
                                                                                  
My next convention appearance will be the Official Buffalo Comicon, September 30-October 1, at the Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center, 153 Franklin Street in Buffalo. Other guests include John Wesley Shipp, Fred Williamson, Eric Roberts, Kevin Nowlan, Graham Nolan,  Steve Geiger and more. There will be great cosplayers and a variety of panel presentations. I’ll be doing my “Tony’s Tips Live!” panel sometime during the weekend. As with all my 2017 conventions, there will be no charge to have me sign Isabella-written comic books and books. That might not be the case at all my 2018 events.

My next-to-last 2017 convention will be the always wonderful Grand Rapids Comic-Con, October 20-22. It’s at the DeVos Place/Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids. There will be lots of terrific guests and more, but I’ll talk more about this convention in a near-future bloggy thing.

My last 2017 convention is the big one for Black Lightning’s fans. On November 4 and 5, at the John S. Knight Convention Center, the Akron Comicon will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Black Lightning with myself, the original series artist Trevor Von Eeden, the original series editor Jack C. Harris, the second series artist Eddy Newell and Mike W. Barr, the writer of Black Lightning in Batman and the Outsiders. This is the largest gathering of Black Lightning professionals ever at one con. There will be many other great guests at the event, but, for now, you can learn more about the show by visiting its website.

I’ve lost track of how many interviews I’ve done in recent weeks. John Burgio and a crew of college film students from Florida came to my home in Medina to interview me for a short documentary called Justice Like Lightning: The Black Lightning Story. The documentary is being edited and, if all goes well, I hope to have a copy to show at future “Tony’s Tips Live!” presentations.

I just finished doing a long interview with Wilson Simonetto for a Brazilian magazine called Mundo dos Super HerĂ³is (or World of Super Heroes). The completed interview, which I assume will be condensed for publication, runs over 3000 words. It’s entirely possible I’ll run some excerpts from it here.

I’m almost finished answering questions asked of me by Keith Reid-Cleveland for Black Nerd Problems. That interview will probably run about 1500 words when it’s completed.

In mid-October, I have two interviews scheduled. I’ll be speaking to the students of Michael Schuldiner’s course on super-heroes at the University of Akron. On the following day, a crew from WVIZ-TV, the local PBS station will be coming to my house and trainwreck of an office to interview and film me for a segment of that station’s arts and culture program. Look at me being all arty and cultured. Who’d a thunk?

Some tips for the well-dressed Black Lightning fan:

Black Action Tees has three different styles of t-shirts that are perfect for your next swanky gathering. There’s the Black Lightning Black Edition t-shirt:
                                                                              

There’s the adorable Soul Power Heroes and Heroines T-Shirt:
                                                                                

And the Black Rushmore T-Shirt:
                                                                               

In addition, from Marvel’s Luke Cage series on Netflix, I love my Pop's Barber Shop T-Shirt:
                                                                                

There was so much news this time out that I didn't have the room to answer any of your Black Lightning and related questions. I’ll do another installment of “Black Lightning Beat” on Thursday and get through as many of your questions as possible. If there’s something you’d like to ask me, e-mail me. The sooner I get your questions, the sooner I can answer them.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday,” your guide to the hard-riding reprints of Marvel’s greatest western hero. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Monday, September 25, 2017

SETTING MY SIGHTS ON MONDAY

It’s Monday. I’m back from my weekend stay-cation. I’m diving into my “stuff to write about” box to bring you the usual mix of news, views and reviews. We begin with a cheesy monster movie that came out last September...

Director/writer/producer Mike Lyddon made First Man on Mars [2016] on a budget of around $14,000. You’ll read no snarky remarks from me for this comedy/horror/sci-fi movie’s low budget. Despite the budget, the film kept me entertained or, at least, amused for its 77 minutes. Here’s the Internet Movie Database synopsis:

The countdown to terror has begun. Astronaut Eli Cologne became the first man on Mars, but something went horribly wrong. Infected by an alien organism, he returned to Earth a savage monster with an unquenchable thirst for human flesh.
Cologne [Benjamin Wood] is a obscenely wealthy entrepreneur. He’s financed his trip to Mars in the hopes of being even more obscenely wealthy. Not the best business plan.

Most of the actors play their roles real big. No award-winners in the cast, but they’re mostly fun to watch. Kirk Jordan’s deadpan sheriff and Jeffrey Estiverne equally deadpan deputy are especially entertaining.

The script has many goofy horror movie elements. The stereotypical backwoods folk living in the backwoods where the movie takes place. The less-than-forthcoming-but-sexy scientist who wants to find the transformed Eli before the authorities. The scientist’s assistants who she even makes a “red shirt” crack about. The publisher and the sexy models of his Bullets and Bimbos magazine. Some outrageously gory special effects. Fun stuff if you’re in the right mood...as I was when I watched this movie.

The only bumps in this cinematic ride were a narrator character at the beginning of the film, a clumsy commentary calling out online Harry Potter erotic for the child pornography it is and a steaming pile of shit on a corpse. The first wasn’t well-acted. The second just seemed like a weird addition. The third was (literally) potty humor. The worse thing about these elements was that they took me out of the movie, not something you want to do when a movie is as short as this one.

End of the day? Given that I got the film through my local library, I have no regrets about watching it. I won’t watch it again, but it was sufficiently entertaining that I’ll recommend it to others who share my interest in and love for cheesy monster movies. Sometimes you just have to embrace the fun of these things.

                                                                                  

From the UK, Commando #5020 reprints “Sea Ace” by a writer who is identified only as Brunt and artist Gordon C. Livingstone. The tale previously ran in issue #346 [July 1968].

The story revolves around two members of the R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue service, nicknamed the “Body Snatchers.” The mission of this branch of the service is to help those lost at sea, regardless of whether they are friend or foe. One of the lead protagonists is a pacifist committed to that mission. The other is a man consumed by hatred because of his father’s treatment by the Germans in the First World War. It’s a solid tale which, among other things, looks at how the perception of a man’s character can differ from one soldier to another. Artist Livingstone is a master of depicting the dangerous seas and military craft so vital to this story. I’d rank issue as one of the best I’ve read to date.

Overseas subscriptions to Commando are available. You can find out more by going to the comic’s website.

                                                                               

Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Vol. 6 [$39.99] collects the five-issue Untold Tales of Punisher Max and seven other one-shots. Twelve stories, twelve different writers. That made for surprising variety, even given Frank Castle’s so familiar war on crime and the more despicable nature of the crimes permitted by the Max imprint and its warning of explicit content.

Castle is not remotely a hero. I’m not sure what the medical term would be for his brand of madness, but he’s a bad man who murders other bad men. Every time he ends a particularly vile criminal, we feel a sense of relief and, hopefully, a little bit of shame that we condone such butchery.

My favorite story in this collection is “Happy Endings” by Peter Milligan with Juan Jose Ryp. It tells of a life-changing night in the life of an accountant and family man. The Punisher is basically a supporting character in this one.

Two women writers are represented in the volume. Valerie D’Orazio’s “Butterfly Effect” revolves around a tell-all book by a hitwoman for the mob. Megan Abbott’s “The Ribbon” is a smaller tale of a man who got away with murder once and is eager for more. The former has a dark energy going for it. The second seems a little tame for the Punisher. I enjoyed both of them.

Several stories involve people who got sucked into crime and made bad choices that led to their facing the Punisher. The outcome of such stories is never in doubt, but what makes them interesting is the journey to that inevitable meeting.

This is a book for adult readers who aren’t squeamish about truly vile crimes or their brutally violent outcomes. A little Punisher goes a long way with me, so I read the occasional collection here and there. But, if you’re more of a fan of the character, you will want to get this book.

ISBN 978-1-302-90739-6

                                                                              

Several bloggy readers have expressed keen interest in my launching an ongoing “Phantom Fridays” blog-within-the-blog in which I would write about the Phantom comic books published by Frew Publications in Australia. I’m not ready to do that yet, but it’s on tap for the future. It will most likely start when I reach the end of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” However, in the meantime, I’ll write about Frew’s comics in catch-all bloggy things like today's.

The Phantom #1778 is a more-or-less typical Frew issue. The front cover isn’t signed. The back cover is by Jeremy MacPherson, who I’m fairly sure drew the front cover as well. The images illustrate the issue’s lead story.

That lead story is “The Challenge” by writer Tony DePaul with art by Paul Ryan. It’s reprinted from the Phantom newspaper story that ran from May 11, 2015 to September 12, 2015. In this tale, Guran, chief of the Bandar, is challenged for that position by the younger Kipawa. It’s an excellent story about leadership, responsibility and wisdom.

Because the lead story ran just 27 pages, the issue also contains two chapters of “Heart of Darkness,” a seemingly endless serial by writer Claes Reimerthi and artist Joan Boix. To be honest, I’m finding it hard to follow this serial which involves supernatural stuff and stretches across the ages. When it’s completed, if that day ever comes, I’ll reread the whole thing to see if it makes more sense and is more enjoyable in one sitting.

                                                                                      

I’m breaking up with Archie Comics or, at the very least, taking an extended time out from their comic books. Their new style versions of their classic characters, though sometimes well written and well drawn, don’t have the attraction for me of the classic storytelling of Frank Doyle, George Gladir and Craig Boldman. I think Black Hood is a decent comic, but, though it’s by far the best of their dark super-hero revivals, it doesn’t knock my socks off. Afterlife with Archie is simply repugnant, as is whatever the heck they’re calling their Sabrina comic book. I lasted around twenty minutes into TV’s Riverdale and had my fill.

However, when Archie announced their new ongoing Your Pal, Archie title by Ty Templeton (writer/inks) and Dan Parent (pencils), I ordered it. I’ve read the first two issues and...they didn’t knock my socks off and managed to piss me off. The stories are quite readable and all. It’s the Archie editorial department that annoyed me enough to drop the title from my buy list.

Each issue has three stories of varying lengths. The third of these tales seems to be a reprint of a story from just before the change to the new style. I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with it is that one of the new stories is always continued in the next issue. Both chapters of these two-issue tales could easily run in place of the two new stories now presented in the title. Presenting them over two issue is just a greedy come-on to force readers to keep coming back. It’s crass and it’s cheap and I’ll have none of it.

I can’t remember how many issues I’ve advanced ordered. But, when it disappears from my buy list, I’ll let you know and I’ll make up my own conclusion to the continued story in my final issue. Heck, I’ll even run that conclusion in a future bloggy thing.

Archie comic books used to bring me joy. If they bring joy to their new readers, then I’m happy for them. I’m sad for me, but happy for them. Maybe I should create my own teen humor title.

That’s all for now, my friends. Come back tomorrow for the latest edition of “Black Lightning Beat.” Feel the power!
 
© 2017 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 123

RESOLVED: The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  This is why I’ve written over a hundred columns about him. Something about his short stature, but large courage, honor and fighting skills speaks to me.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I decide to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them. We’ve reached the title’s extended twilight.  We’ve seen the last new Rawhide Kid story that will appear in the now-bimonthly reprint series. This is the 123rd installment of my “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” columns.
                                                                            

The Rawhide Kid #136 [November 1976] has a “new” Jack Kirby cover. As uncovered by comics detective Nick Caputo, it’s the unpublished cover to Rawhide Kid #20 [February 1961], which was first printed as the cover of 1968 Dutch reprint Sheriff Classics #997. Both of the covers were inked by Dick Ayers.
                                                                             
                                                                   
Both of this issue’s Rawhide Kid stories are reprinted from issue #20: “Shoot-Out with Blackjack Bordon” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers (13 pages) and, by the same creators, “The Defeat of the Rawhide Kid” (5 pages). The two stories are reprinted without any cuts and I didn’t spot any editorial changes between the originals and the reprints. I wrote about this issue on March 14, 2012. You can read my comments here.
                                                                                 
The inside front cover is a full-page ad for Mead school supplies. All of the items have Marvel characters on them. I’ve seen several of these items over the years, but, as best I can recall, I never owned any of them myself.

This issue’s non-house ads included the U.S. School of Music, which offered the secret of teaching yourself music at home in your spare time; Slim Jim smoked beef snacks; Grit Publishing, recruiting kids to sell their Grit newspaper; Universal Bodybuilding on the inside back cover and La Salle Extension University on the back cover. As I’ve mentioned, even as a kid, I never sent away for any of these things. If it wasn’t comics, I wasn’t interested.

In the classified ads pages, there are 22 ads for mail-order comics dealers. That’s up six from the previous issue. In addition, there were classified ads for a Marvel Comics Index and The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom.
                                                                               

The first actual Marvel house ad is a full-pager hawking “Halloween Madness from Marvel.” There are Spider-Man and Hulk “costumes” at $3.94 each and eight different “fearful monster masks” for $10.53 each. Those prices include postage and handling.

The subscription ad from the previous issue of Rawhide Kid is back in this issue. It’s the same as the ad we showed you in last week’s Rawhide Kid bloggy thing.
                                                                                 

Half-page house ads for Crazy magazine and the fan club FOOM share a page. The former has a Howard the Duck illustration most likely drawn by Marie Severin. The latter announces that the latest issue of the fan club magazine will be devoted to Robert E. Howard, Conan and other REH creations.

This issue’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page kicked off with a “Stan Lee’s Soapbox” singing the praises of George Olshevsky’s indexes of Marvel comic books. I have a vague memory of seeing these enormous computer printouts of George’s work in the Marvel offices, but our fearless leader was plugging the first commercially-available index from George. It was the Marvel Comics Index of the Amazing Spider-Man and it covered the first 151 issues of the title as well as the annuals and specials.

The lead news item welcomed several “hitherto unheralded” staffers to the Marvel Bullpen. They included Karen Dougherty, Nel Yomtov, Warren Storob, Linda Taxel, and Michael Sandy. I had gone to work for DC Comics by then and returned to my native Cleveland, so I’m not sure I ever met any of these fine folks.

The second item announced a new Fantastic Four treasury edition for August. It focused on Doctor Doom, Sub-Mariner and the Frightful Four.

Item the third reported that Marvel’s softball team won two recent games. They beat publisher Franklin Watts 7-5, then defeated a fan team by a close score of 15-14.

Item four had more sports news. Mark Sinnott, son of Joe Sinnott, was most valuable player in the Saugerties New York teen basketball league. Mark’s team won the league championship.

Item five announced a special issue of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu that would feature a comics biography of the legendary Bruce Lee. It was written by John Warner, pencilled by Joe Station and inked by The Tribe.
                                                                            

The final news item of the Bullpen page announced The Mighty Marvel Comics Strength and Fitness Book from Simon and Schuster. It contained exercises described by various Marvel super-heroes. I don’t think I ever saw the book, but I may have to look for it at conventions or online. It would be a fun addition to my famous/infamous Vast Accumulation of Stuff.

At the bottom of the Bullpen page, we get the roster of the Marvel editorial brass:

Archie Goodwin (Editor)
Jim Shooter (Associate Editor)
Roger Slifer, Scott Edelman, Roger Stern (Assistant Editors)
John Romita (Art Director)
John Verpoorten (Production Manager)
Irving Forbush (Special Effects)
                                                                               

The Hostess comics-style ads are back with Spider-Man appearing in “The Spider-Man and the Fly!” This incredibly wordy sales pitch for Hostess Twinkies was pencilled by Ross Andru. My best guess for the inker is Frank Giacoia.
                                                                                  

There’s one more noteworthy ad in the issue. It’s a full-page pitch for The World Encyclopedia of Comics from Chelsea House Publishers. Edited by Maurice Horn, the 800-page book was available for $31.50 (including postage and handling). However, you could get two copies for $47.50 (including postage and handling). I owned this volume at some point in my life and, given the state of my Vast Accumulation of Stuff, I might still own it. I hope it turns up eventually.

That’s it for this installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” I’ll be back soon.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TONY'S TIPS #225

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Behaving Madly by Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe, a history of the MAD Magazine imitators of the 1950s and 1960s; Last Girl Standing, the autobiography of comics legend Trina Robbins; and Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Power Man Volume 2 with a new introduction by me and stories by me, Len Wein. Don McGregor, George Tuska, Ron Wilson and more!

TUESDAY MORNING THIS AND THAT

CAPA-Alpha, founded by fandom legend Jerry Bails in 1964, was the first amateur press association (APA) devoted to comic books. Issue #626 [December 2016] was K-a’s final print mailing. Acting Central Mailer Merlin Haas oversaw that 216-page mailing. There were just over two dozen apazines from 18 of then-current 24 members.

The cover shown above was by Douglas Jones aka Gaff, K-a’s Central Mailer. Haas stepped in while Gaff was recovering from a series of health problems. From what I’ve been told, the apa continues in an electronic format of some sort.

Before the coming of the Internet, CAPA-Alpha was the place to be for comics fans. At its height, it might have had as many as sixty members plus another dozen or so fans waiting on the wait list for an opening. Some of those on the wait list would contribute to the zine, even though they could not be guaranteed a copy of mailings in which they appeared. Some mailings were well over 500 pages. I apologize for not being more specific. My only connection with K-a in the past decade or so has been limited to receiving apazines from friends who were still in the ever-aging association.

I was recruited to join CAPA-Alpha by then Central Mailers Don and Maggie Thompson. It was exciting in those pre-Internet years and I was on and off the roster for decades. I was even a member after I became a comics professional.

What dulled my interest in K-a was technology. I’d write zines of twenty pages or more, paste them together with whatever art I could find, take them to the local Mail Boxes Etc, print off however many copies were required plus some extras, mail the required copies to the Central Mailer and then wait months for some kind of feedback. It was like unto watching paint dry.

Then I started writing online columns, culminating in this bloggy thing of mine. Less work. Easy publication. Instant response from my readers. I was done with apas forever, even electronic versions thereof. This bloggy thing suits me much better.

Still, in its day, CAPA-Alpha was where I made lots of friends that I cherish to this day. Where I learned a lot about comic books from before my time and from across oceans. Where I honed my craft as a writer. I’ll always honor it for those things.

CAPA-Alpha deserves to be remembered and honored. It’s too bad the Eisner Awards don’t have a Fan Hall of Fame. Because K-a deserves to be in it. Heck, when you consider how many comics professionals got their creative starts in K-a, I don’t think it would be out of line for the apa to be named to the existing Hall of Fame.
                                                                              

Reading A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison by Nat Segaloff [NESFA Press; $35] was like spending a long evening well into the dawning hours with my friend Harlan. Ellison gave Segaloff unprecedented access to his history and world. What emerged was a definitive biography of a man who is arguably the greatest writer of our time.

From Harlan’s earliest years to his present-day circumstances, this book tells all without holding back even the ugliest moments of a life lived large. I’m fond of saying that we are all the heroes of our own stories, but Ellison has the courage and integrity to talk about even the roughest edges of his personality. It’s a stunning story that, ultimately, made me love my friend even more than I did before I started reading.

Sidebar. In one sense, I owe Harlan my life. When I first moved to New York to work in comics, I lived in a tiny basement apartment in Brooklyn. My cheap-ass landlords had managed to divert most of the house’s heat to the upper floors of the house. I had no thermostat to control the heat in my part of the house and so had to spend my nights either buried under every blanket and coat I owned or at a small writing table I would move in front of the electric stove. I would write in front of the stove’s open door.

One day, before I started coming into my own as a writer, I felt so terribly alone that I planned to use my next paycheck to fly back to Cleveland for good. Then I started reading, re-reading really, Harlan’s introductions to the stories in his Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions anthologies. Just the introductions. Which so often spoke of the nobility of the writer. Ellison’s words were inspirational. I stuck it out and I’ve kept at this writing thing ever since.

Are there some contradictions in this account of the writer’s life? Of course there are. He’s a storyteller and stories change as they age. Like fine wine. But there is a core truth to every one of his  stories, both the ones I heard from Harlan himself and those I was just “hearing” for the first time. Imagine my delight when Harlan spoke about a story he wanted to write based on an old joke when I realized I’d already a story based on the same joke. I guess, over my years of reading his work and being blessed with his friendship, I learned a thing or two.

A Lit Fuse is a magnificent biography. I hope it receives a whole bunch of awards. Because it deserves them.

ISBN 978-1-61037-323-4

                                                                              

From the U.K., Commando #5019 features a brand-new, 63-page story. “Tank Commander” is by Ferg Handley with art by Vila. Tanks seem to be a popular subject in this long-running anthology series. Note the “Tank War 1939-45” block next to the logo.

Most story pages in Commando have two half-page panels. There are some splash pages and some with three panels, but two panels is the most common. Roughly speaking. Going by the old American standard of around six panels per page, that means the Commando stories are the equivalent of a 21-page story. That length gives its stories room for plenty of character drama in addition to the many battle scenes.

This story has two protagonists even though they never meet face-to-face. Sergeant Jack Taylor’s tank crew are killed in a massive German blitzkrieg offensive just prior to the retreat to Dunkirk. Taylor recruits a new and thoroughly inexperienced crew and must choose between getting revenge for his old team or protecting his new one. The German officer who led the offensive is determined to
see all of them dead. It’s a gripping battle tale that would have been shorter, but not out of place in the DC Comics war titles of the 1960s.

                                                                            

For several years now, I have been getting the Phantom comic books  by Frew Publications sent to me from Australia. As with Commando, I’m considering adding a reoccurring bloggy within the bloggy that would cover these comics. Does “Phantom Fridays” sound like something you might enjoy?

What you see here is Giantsize Phantom #1. It contains five action hero stories reprinted from the 1950s and one new story starring a hero from that era. The Phantom was the biggest Frew star, so most of the other heroes copied various elements of The Ghost Who Walks and his mythos. Besides a Phantom reprint, the roster consists of Catman and Kit, Diavolo (who got his start from a rejected Phantom story revamped to star a new character), the Phantom Ranger (set in America’s Old West, Sir Falcon (the new story featuring an updated version of the hero) and Jimmy Gray alias the Shadow (no relation to the classic American pulp magazine hero). Though derivative and often crudely written and drawn, these rare reprints are interesting for their historical value and perfectly readable adventure hero yarns.

I’m not sure how often Giantsize Phantom will be published, but I have asked my Australian supplier to include future issues with my shipments of the regular Phantom comics from Frew. I look forward to more of these lesser-known Australian adventurers.
                                                                               

Cleveland sports fans are used to bad days and years, but there was never a more tragic day than the day when popular Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a Carl Mays fastball  and subsequently died from that injury.

Molly Lawless’ Hit by Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball [McFarland; $14.99] is a nonfiction graphic novel telling the life stories of both Chapman and Mays, the years leading up to that deadly moment and the aftermath of the event. It was published in 2012, but somehow escaped my notice until now.

This is a riveting work that brings the history and its players to life. Chapman was beloved in Cleveland and in the clubhouse. He and some teammates formed a singing group that would perform at various functions around town. He married the lovely daughter of a business leader and, in off season, ran his own business. He was a baseball superstar in every sense of the word. Had his career and life not been cut so terribly short, he’d be in the Hall of Fame today. He played just nine years and the minimum requirement, which has only been waived once, is ten.

Mays was not at ease in social settings, nor was he beloved by his teammates. He’s been painted by some as a villain who deliberately beaned Chapman, but Chapman’s book does not embrace that scenario. At the time, to save money, umpires were ordered to keep baseballs in the game as long as possible. The result were balls so scuffed up that pitchers couldn’t always control their pitches. Mays, whose stats could have otherwise put him in the Hall of Fame, has forever been defined by that one fatal pitch.

Lawless delivers a solid graphic novel that brings these forever-linked players and their era to life in great detail. She puts the deadly moment into perspective and, in doing so, makes the reader feel the tragedy all the more keenly. I will definitely be seeking out more of her work.

ISBN 978-0-7864-4609-4

That’s all for today. Come back tomorrow for another installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Monday, September 18, 2017

MONDAY MORNING THIS AND THAT

My “stuff waiting to be reviewed” box is getting full, so let’s see if I can make it a little easy for Old Man Tony to lift. We begin with some information I recently learned from Edward Bebee on the DC History mailing list.

Regular readers of my columns know I'd love to see DC Comics do collections of their Adventures of Bob Hope and Adventures of Jerry Lewis comics of the 1950s and 1960s. The usual response is that DC doesn’t own the rights to those comics. My usual response to that is, given the considerable charitable efforts of those gentlemen in their lifetimes, a charitable component to such collections might be of interest to their estates. There are a lot of great artists and writers who worked on those titles.

As it turns out, the copyrights on some of those comic books have never been renewed and may be in the public domain. Which means DC or another publisher could reprint them. However, there are likely trademarks on the names of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Any interested parties should talk to an attorney first and then,  just because it’s the right thing to do, the estates of Hope, Lewis and Martin.

Bebee reported that Paramount Pictures Corporation filed copyright renewals on The Adventures of Dean Martin #1-27, 29 and 37. Which means issues #28, 30-36 and 38-40 are theoretically in the public domain with, also theoretically, the entire run of The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. Bob Hope (or his representatives) filed copyright renewals on the entire run of The Adventures of Bob Hope.

Looking at some other DC licensed comics of the era...

Cooga Mooga Products, Inc. filed renewals on Pat Boone #1-3 and #5. The fourth issue might well be in the public domain.

DC filed renewals on the entire twelve-issue run of Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners. They did the same for the nine-issue run of The Adventures of Alan Ladd.
Bebee could find no renewals for The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis #1-26. DC history buffs know several of those issue were “modernized” redrawn with all references to the classic TV series removed. The altered stories were published in Showcase #81 [March 1969] and the four-issue Windy and Willy.

Not to get too political here, but, for all the right-wing moaning about “Hollywood values,” those values have always included great charitable efforts by its performers and studios. Hope donated his talent and more to the USO. Through his Labor Day telethons, Lewis was the public face of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Comics creators and their publishers have proven themselves just as generous on numerous occasions. I think those charitable activities could be the hook to reprinting some great licensed comic books of the past. I’d buy them.

                                                                                  

Would you like to see regular reviews of the British comics digest Commando? I subscribe to the weekly 68-page war comics series from England and have been enjoying it a great deal. Each issue contains a 63-page anthology story set in various wars. Each month’s worth of issues has two new stories and two reprints.

Commando #5018 takes the concept further with “Time-Wrap Warrior” by Mike Knowles with art by C.T. Rigby. Originally published as #1294 [February 1979] and reprinted in issue #2604 [February 1992], this is an honest-to-gosh science-fiction story in which a man from the future travels back in time to foil the plans of four villains from his era who want to change history. The action ranges from the Roman invasion of Britain to England’s Middle Ages to World Wars I and II. It’s a solid comics adventure.

Each reprint issue of the title contains this note: Some language in early Commando reprint stories may not seem as acceptable as it was when first published. The material has been included to place the story in the context of time. It is in no way intended to cause offence by doing so.

                                                                                 

Nozomu Tamaki’s Don’t Meddle with My Daughter Vol. 1 [Seven Seas; $12.99] is a manga series about a teen super-hero and her mom, who used to be a super-hero and still has her powers. This is the kind of series that is just plain wrong on so many levels and which is still fun.

Though the name is never explained, Don’t Meddle has this nefarious organization called Blowjob. It has a lot of physical comedy based on large breasts and nudity. It’s one of those Japanese manga that makes you shake your head in disbelief. There were times when I was ashamed I enjoyed it as much as I did. And yet...

The mother-daughter relationship is both heartwarming and humorous. The current Eighth Wonder doesn’t realize her mom was the previous Eighth Wonder, though it should be obvious, and is somewhat jealous of her predecessor. The mom thought the super-hero stuff was in her past, but will do anything to protect her daughter. Throw in some mystery as to the daughter’s dad and, in between the risque humor, you have an intriguing super-hero soap opera. I’m going to continue reading this series for at least another volume or two.

ISBN 978-1-626925-32-8

                                                                               

Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness [Seven Seas; $13.99] is the artist’s breathtakingly honest tale of her battles with depression and sexuality. At 28 years old, Kabi is adrift in her own life. She goes from job to job. She is looked down upon by her family. She doesn’t know where she’s going and this frequently plunges her into crippling depression. She doesn’t present herself well in dress or demeanor. Adding to that, she has never had sex, something she feels she must experience.

Creating manga turns out to be Kabi’s salvation, at least in that she has finally found her passion. The desire to face her sexuality and finally have sex drives her to an escort agency. This graphic autobiography recounts her experiences.

Kabi’s courage in telling her story with all its embarrassments and other fears is nothing short of stunning. Inappropriate as it would be, I found myself wanting to hug her and maybe lessen her obvious pain in some small way.

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a powerful graphic novel. When I finished reading, I wanted a sequel in which Kabi achieves the happiness and normalcy she craves. I want things to be good for her. Any graphic novel that can make me feel this strongly for its  protagonist is one I have to recommend to adults and older teens. I hope next year’s Eisner Awards judges consider nominating it in the categories in which it would be eligible.

ISBN 978-1-626926-03-5

                                                                                 

The Bronze Gazette #79 [Summer 2017; $10] is another must-read for Doc Savage fans. The cover is an amazing Bob Larkin painting that was commissioned by publisher Terry Allen. It shows Pat Savage, Doc Savage and a classic Hollywood style werewolf. Inside, there are articles on two unforgettable women who appeared in Doc Savage novels, the scoop on Will Murray’s next Doc Savage novel, a piece on Bantam Doc Savage novels that never appeared, conversations with the fan Sisters of Bronze, a look at a female adventurer inspired by Doc Savage and more.

The Bronze Gazette packs a lot into its fifty pages. Its production values are superb. It’s one of my favorite magazines and, without hesitation, I recommend it to all of you.
                                                                                    

In addition to Dark Horse’s ongoing Buffy the Vampire Slayer title, the company is publishing done-in-one graphic novels set during our heroine’s years in Sunnydale. In Buffy: The High School Years - Glutton for Punishment [$10.99], needing extra credit, the Buffster and Xander sign up for a home economics class whose teacher is a very hungry and particular about what he eats tiger demon. This guy makes Gordon Ramsey look positively cuddly.

Written by Kel McDonald, the 72-page story hits the correct beats from start to finish. The characters sound like their live-action counterparts. The story has that Sunnydale High School logic to it where citizens don’t let the occasional monster send them fleeing for safer real estate. The villain is engaging from the beginning to the satisfying ending. Without giving us exact likeness of the actors who starred in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, artist Yishan Li gives us characters instantly recognizable as the characters from the TV series.

At a compact 6 by 9 inches, Glutton for Punishment would be a tasty little Halloween gift or stocking stuffer for the Buffy devotee in your life. Recommended.

ISBN 978-1-50670-115-8

                                                                            

One more for the road, especially if the road is located in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio. Written by Deb Thompson and Tonya Prater, Secret Cleveland: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure [Reedy Press; $20.95] offers ninety examples of intriguing, little-known places to see in Cleveland.

With photos accompanying each chapter, readers will learn about the Christmas Story house from the movie of the same name; the ghostly subway under the Detroit-Superior Bridge; the perhaps haunted House of Wills; a possible door to a parallel universe; a bar which has bullet holes from an alleged assassination of Eliot Ness; several hidden waterfalls and much more. You could plan years of worth of fun outings from this book.

The book would make a terrific gift for anyone living in Cleveland, but I suggest another twist on the present. Choosing from the book, offer to escort whoever you give it to on an adventure or three of their own choosing.

ISBN 978-1-68106-108-5

That’s all for today. I’ll have more reviews for you tomorrow. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Saturday, September 16, 2017

FREE COMIC BOOK FRIDAY #9

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

Free Comic Book Day happens but once a year. Every year, good old Bloggy Tony gets all the FCBD issues from his friends at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. Then he tries to read and review  all of them. He judges those individual issues on three criteria:

QUALITY: Is the material worthwhile?

ACCESSIBILITY: Is the material presented in such a way that someone coming to it for the first time can follow it?

SALESMANSHIP: After reading the FCBD offering, would someone want to buy more of the same?

On a scale of zero to ten, each of those criteria is worth up to three points. Tony awards the elusive tenth point when he deems a FCBD offering particularly worthy.


Monster High #0 [Titan Comics] features the classic monster movie-inspired Mattel dolls. This cute  franchise has spread into several other areas as well. This Free Comic Book Day issue has a 16-page story written by Abby Denson with art by Arianna Florean and Egle Bartolini.

QUALITY: I enjoyed this. It’s well-written, expressively-drawn and sets up an ongoing series.

ACCESSIBILITY: The issue has a “Who’s Who” page that introduces the main characters and the story itself is easy to follow. It’s a fun comic book that’s suitable for all ages.

SALESMANSHIP: If readers like this story, they will probably enjoy the ongoing comic-book series promoted in the issue. It also ran  ads for a Monster High official magazine and Monster High apparel. However, two other such pages were wasted. They promoted the brand but sans any explanation of the brand and without pitching specific products.

SCORE: 8.5 points out of a possible ten.
                                                                               

The Tick [New England Comics Press] stars the character created by Ben Edlund as a newsletter mascot for a chain of comic-book shops. Talk about humble beginnings for a super-hero who has since gone on to headline comic books, an animated cartoon series and two live-action series, the latest now airing on Amazon Video. I have liked some versions of this often oblivious hero better than others, but there’s no denying he and his sidekick Arthur speak to me and many other readers/viewers.

This FCBD issue presents two new stories of the Tick. One in which he throws himself a birthday party, the other in which he attends a political debate. Both are written by Jeff McClelland and drawn by Duane Redhead.

QUALITY: The birthday party is the better of the two. Amusing and even heartwarming. The political debate story had its moments, but basically fell flat on its face. However, to be fair, I’m sick of the “all politicians are terrible” position. It’s not the least bit profound. Indeed, it’s a willful ignoring of reality.

ACCESSIBILITY: There’s no real background given in these stories or elsewhere in the issue, but I’m not sure the Tick needs a whole lot of background. He’s a big goofy guy who doesn’t see things as more stable people do. You can get that much from the stories.

SALESMANSHIP: There is one ad offering previous Free Comic Book Day issues of the Tick and a second selling collected editions of his comic-book collections. There are no ads for DVDs of his animated series or his original live-action series. Indeed, neither is even mentioned in this issue.

SCORE: Six out of ten points.
                                                                                 

Wonder Woman #1 [DC] reprints “Year One Part One” by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott from issue #2 of the current Wonder Woman series. In this story, we get the backgrounds of Steve Trevor and Diana before their fateful meeting.

QUALITY: This is an excellent story beautifully drawn. During this period, Wonder Woman was bouncing back and forth between a new tale set in the modern day (odd numbered issues) and this retelling of the Amazon’s origins (even numbered issue). I didn’t care for the bouncing back and forth, but that doesn’t change my positive view of this story.

ACCESSIBILITY: It’s an origin story so what you need to know is, by its very nature, built right into the story. Also, the basic Wonder Woman origin has been around since the 1940s and, though more than a few details have changed over those decades, the core origin is still in place.

SALESMANSHIP: Many of the ads are geared to Wonder Woman fans. The inside front cover has the movie poster. Wonder Woman is shown in an ad for the various Six Flags amusement parks. Another ad is for a Wonder Woman prose novel by Leigh Bardugo. There are four pages of ads for expensive Wonder Woman statues. Wonder Woman is part of an ad for DC Universe: The Exhibit, which is part of the Warner Bros studio tour in Hollywood. There are ads for collections of the two stories mentioned above. There’s a full-page “ad” for the free DC Essential Graphic Novels 2017 catalog, available at your local comics store. Wonder Woman is on the cover of the catalog.

The remaining ads: Schick’s Hydro razors, the DC Universe Online game, Warner’s King Arthur movie and DVD sets of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Xiaolin Showdown, Static Shock and the Zeta Project.

SCORE: Ten out of ten points. 
                                                                         

Time Shifters [Graphix Spotlight/Scholastic] has a 28-page excerpt from a graphic novel by Chris Grine. A kid named Luke gets a weird device on his arm, a device dropped by a trio of monster villains. He is “rescued” from them by a scientist, a robot, a dinosaur and some sort of blob creature that has the form of a human girl.

QUALITY: Clearly aimed at younger readers, Time Shifters does have some funny moments. But it lacks any real sense of peril. I wasn’t bowled over by the script or art, but it was a very readable comic book. Its intended audience should enjoy it.

ACCESSIBILITY: Very little gets explained in this excerpt. That was  not a major problem as this is the start of a longer graphic novel.

SALESMANSHIP: The inside covers have ads for other graphic novels from Scholastic. The back cover has an ad for the full edition of Time Shifters.

SCORE: Seven out of ten points.

                                                                                

Catalyst Prime: The Event [Lion Forge] is a 26-page story that sets up a new super-hero universe. A large object is on course to turn the Earth into space dust. A corporation has been working to save our planet and sends several brave souls into space to accomplish that mission.

QUALITY: Written by Priest and senior editor Joseph Illidge, this has a lot of the familiar Priest quirks I’ve come to find tiresome. Since others like his writing more than I, I deduct no points for my personal preference. The art by Marco Turini and Will Rosado is excellent. The surprise ending is quite chilling, but does remind me of Valiant’s Harbinger series to some extent.

ACCESSIBILITY: Good. I didn’t have any trouble following the story despite the time jumps, but I would found more information on the characters and the corporation helpful.

SALESMANSHIP: So-so. The inside front cover is just a big credits page. In a giveaway comics, that space should be better utilized to sell the company’s comics. The inside back cover has an ad for the first of the Catalyst Prime titles.

SCORE: Seven out of ten points.

                                                                              

Boom! Studios 2017 Summer Blast has excerpts from three titles, two of them new. David Petersen’s Mouse Guard is the lead feature. It’s followed by Brave Chef Brianna about an enthusiastic human opening a human food restaurant in the aptly-named Monster City. The third and final story is about the band Coady and the Creepies, which is “proudly presented by Lumberjanes.”

QUALITY: The Mouse Guard story is excellent. The Brianna story is fun and makes me want to see more. The Coady and the Creepies story is so-so at best.

ACCESSIBILITY: All three stories were easy to follow.

SALESMANSHIP: Pretty good. The Brianna story is followed by a one-page recipe for “Brazilian Cheese Waffle Breakfast Sandwiches” with the note that every issue of Brave Chef Brianna will contain a new recipe. There are four pages of ads for Boom! titles, but the ads don’t tell you anything about the titles. The back cover is - thank Godzilla - the last time I have to see an ad for Disney’s current Pirates of the Caribbean movie in one of these Free Comic Book Day free comic books.

SCORE: Six out of seven points.

Mission accomplished! For the first time ever, I read and reviewed all of the Free Comic Book Day comics. Yea for me.

Of course, Halloween ComicFest will be here before you know it and I’ll have another batch of free comic books to read and review. I suppose there are worse fates.

I’ll be back on Monday with more stuff.
 
© 2017 Tony Isabella