Friday, April 28, 2017

DEFUNCT

Comic Book Resources ran one of its typical click-bait lists a few weeks back: 15 Defunct Comic Book Publishers. Around the same time, comics writer Gail Simone asked her Facebook and Twitter followers to name their favorite defunct comic-book publishers. I thought it was an interesting question and filed it away for further thought. Here’s what I came up with...

Looking at the CBR list, I dismissed almost all the site’s choices immediately. I realized I felt no particular sense of loss for the publishers who had operated before I became a comics fan or after I had become a comics professional.

I revere EC Comics, but I own their comics in hardcover reprints. Some of the attempts to continue those anthology titles have been interesting. Some have not. The caption-heavy style of EC’s finest stories isn’t a style I would want to emulate today. And EC’s most successful and sustainable title - MAD - is still being published today and is still an enjoyable magazine.

Quality Comics? Even though I kind of sort of collect old Quality titles like Kathy and The Barker, most of Quality’s better heroes ended up at DC Comics. Those heroes haven’t always been done well at DC, but DC gets points for effort.

Fawcett’s main legacy is Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, who are also owned by DC Comics. Those heroes have sometimes done well at DC and sometimes not. I don’t feel any real longing for Fawcett and feel absolutely none for Fox Comics with its mostly cheap-ass production philosophy.

Harvey Comics almost made my list because I have these sick urge to re-imagine all those weird Harvey cartoon characters as villains. I feel the same way about the cast of the Peanuts newspaper strip. That said, I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at Richie Rich - I would do political and social satire - or such Hollywood-based heroes as Stuntman and the Black Cat.

CBR’s choices that came and went after I became a professional were WildStorm, Awesome, Eclipse, Caliber, Comico, Pacific, Defiant and Malibu. Some of those companies published some excellent comic-book series, but my fondness is for individual titles and not for these outfits as a whole.

Of CBR’s choices, only two are on my short list of favorite defunct publishers. It wasn’t hard coming up with my list, but it took some mental wrangling to rank them. In reverse order, here are my four favorite defunct publishers.

4. TOWER COMICS

When Tower Comics launched T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 in 1965, I was a full-fledged Marvel fan. I still read some comics from DC, Gold Key and other publishers, but T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was one of the few super-hero titles that excited me as much as the Marvel books. Created and spearheaded by Wally Wood, characters like Dynamo and Noman thrilled me. The 25-cent, 64-page comic books offered story after story with amazing heroes, villains and artists. By 1965, I could recognize the styles of beloved artists, so it was thrilling to see work by Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko, Ogden Whitney, Gil Kane and others. I was thrown by Manny Stallman’s work on “The Raven,” but, in retrospect, it was pretty cool material.

When one of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents died to save his teammates, it was a shocking moment. Yet the seriousness of that classic tale of heroism did not prevent other stories from exploring the humor of various characters. I bought every T.H.U.N.D.E.R.-related title, as well as Fight the Enemy and Undersea Agent. I didn’t buy Tippy Teen or any of her spin-off titles, but now wish I had. I may have to start searching for those at conventions.

Counting a few mass market paperback collections, Tower published 85 issues before closing shop in 1969. Though the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents have been revived by more than a few other publishers over the years, none of the versions has captured the excitement of the original run. In a world where money was no object for me, I would happily buy all 85 of those original issues.
                                                                               

3. DELL COMICS

When I talk about Dell Comics, I’m talking about that publisher’s efforts after its 1962 split with Western Publishing. Since 1938, Dell had financed and distributed comic books produced by Western. Western held all the lucrative licenses - Disney and Warner Bros. and many others - so the dissolution of their business arrangement left Dell without its bestselling titles.

Wikipedia offers this post-Western history of Dell:

While most of the talent who had worked on the Dell line continued at Gold Key, a few creators like John Stanley stuck with Dell and its new line. Dell also drew new talent to its fold, such as Frank Springer, Don Arneson, and Lionel Ziprin.

Dell Comics continued for another 11 years with licensed television and motion picture adaptations, including Mission: Impossible, Ben Casey, Burke's Law, Doctor Kildare, Beach Blanket Bingo and a few generally poorly received original titles. The few long lasting series from this time include the teen-comic Thirteen Going on Eighteen (written by John Stanley), Ghost Stories (with only the first written by Stanley), Combat, Ponytail, Kona Monarch of Monster Isle, Toka the Jungle King and Naza Stone Age Warrior. Dell additionally attempted to do superhero titles, including Nukla, Superheroes (starring the Fab 4, as the group's name was spelled on covers), Brain Boy, and a critically ridiculed trio of titles based on Universal Pictures monsters Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolf that recast the characters as superheroes.

Dell Comics ceased publication in 1974.


As a teenager, I got the impression Dell would throw any comic book against the wall to see if it would stick. Their crazy super-hero comics had an odd attraction for me. We should also remember that it was Dell who published two issues of the western comic Lobo, the first comic book to star an African-American hero. Lobo was killed by the racism of the marketplace, but it was a noble effort worthy of our respect.

I didn’t buy many Dell comics after the company split with Western, but I picked up issues here and there when I had a few extra bucks in my pocket and do so today when I find good condition copies at a decent price. I’ll be looking for more of them at this year’s conventions.

Dell (post-Western) was #1 on the CBR list.
                                                                            

2. CHARLTON COMICS

Charlton would have ranked high on my list just for publishing its ongoing Gorgo, Konga and Reptilicus/Reptisaurus titles. But there was so much more from the company, based in Derby, Connecticut and known for paying some of the lowest rates in the comics industry. Wikipedia offers this historical information:

In 1931, Italian immigrant John Santangelo, Sr., a bricklayer who had started a construction business in White Plains, New York, five years earlier, began what became a highly successfully business publishing song-lyric magazines out of nearby Yonkers, New York. Operating in violation of copyright laws, however, he was sentenced in 1934 to a year and a day at New Haven County Jail in New Haven, Connecticut, near Derby, Connecticut where he and his wife by then lived. In jail, he met Waterbury, Connecticut, attorney Ed Levy, with whom he began legitimate publishing in 1935, acquiring permissions to reproduce lyrics in such magazines as Hit Parade and Song Hits. Santangelo and Levy opened a printing plant in Waterbury the following year, and in 1940 founded the T.W.O. Charles Company, named after each of the co-founders' sons, both named Charles, eventually moving its headquarters to Derby.

It has long been opined that Charlton published comic books to keep its printing presses running 24/7. The quality of that printing was less than good, but that didn’t stop me and lots of other kids from buying Charlton comics. You see, Charlton published every kind of comic there was: crime, funny animal, horror/monster, kid humor, nurses, romance, science fiction, teen humor, war, western and even  hot rod comics. Something for every reader.

The first Charlton books I bought were Gorgo and Konga, the first because I loved the movie on which it was based, the second because it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the movie on which it based and because I was drawn to the Steve Ditko art. As my income increased, I bought Charlton’s action heroes and horror comics and war comics and western comics. Low rates or not, there were a lot of terrific characters and creators in those comics. These days, I pick up the odd Charlton book here and there while actively collecting Gorgo, Konga, Reptilicus/Reptisaurus and Nurse Betsy Crane.

Charlton ranked #6 on the CBR list.
                                                                             
1. ACG COMICS

The American Comics Group always seemed like a small local business to me. When I reading their comic books in the 1960s, there were only four ACG titles: Adventures into the Unknown, Forbidden Worlds, Unknown Worlds and Herbie. Almost every story and maybe every story in those issues was written by editor Robert E. Hughes utilizing a variety of aliases. The “voice” of Hughes was also evident in the letters page where he was never afraid to challenge readers if he felt they didn’t appreciate a story he thought was great or praised a story he felt was one of his weaker efforts. He even faced down trolls who wrote insulting letters to his comics. Yes, there were trolls back then. He just didn’t call them that.

I liked the ACG comics because I could always count on competently written stories, some of which were humorous and some of which were outright great. “Competently written” may sound like I am damning them with faint praise, but, even as a teenager, I appreciated the craft and style that went into ACG scripts.

Hughes also had a knack for making average and even mild-mannered characters the heroes of his stories. I never got tired of seeing some put-upon schlemiel rise up to a challenge and change his life for the better. As veteran readers of my work know, I’m a sucker for a good redemption tale.

A few years before ACG went out of the newsstand comics business in 1967, Hughes gave into the TV-inspired super-hero craze and created super-heroes to headline Adventures into the Unknown and Forbidden Worlds. Admittedly, Nemesis and Magicman were somewhat crazed, but Hughes was trying to bring in some new readers without alienating his fantasy and science-fiction-loving readers. He might not have succeeded, but I remember those characters fondly. They are among a relative handful of existing characters I would be interested in writing today.

Of late, I’ve been enjoying the PS Artbooks hardcover collections of Adventures into the Unknown and Forbidden Worlds. They’re great fun with most of the stories holding up pretty well.

ACG is on the top of my list because I miss that “small business” aura of their titles. Even in our modern era, where there are many such small comics businesses producing comics. ACG seems special to me. It was a special company.
                                                                             
That’s my list of my favorite defunct comics publishers. Sometime later today, I’ll be driving to Lansing Michigan for the weekend’s  FantastiCon.

I won’t be posting new bloggy things while I’m on the road, but I will be back on Monday with more stuff. See you then.  

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Thursday, April 27, 2017

MARVEL 1990s: X-FORCE #1

I’m slowly working my way through Marvel Firsts: The 1990s Omnibus [$125] - all 1288 pages of it - a story at a time. I was not a big fan of Marvel during the 1990s, but I want to take another look at the characters and comics launched in what has been called “comics' most divisive decade.”

Today, we’re looking at X-Force #1 [August 1991]. The series was a continuation of New Mutants, the series on which cover artist and plotter and interior artist Rob Liefeld made his bones. The line-up for the team was: Cable, Domino, Cannonball, Shatterstar, Warpath, Feral and Boomer. There were five bagged variants of the issue containing cards featuring Cable, Shatterstar, Deadpool, Sunspot & Gideon and X-Force.

The 52-page issue featured “A Force To Be Reckoned With” (32 pages) by Liefeld with scripter Fabian Nicieza. Chris Eliopoulos was the letterer, Brad Vancata the colorist and Bob Harras the editor. I’m sure I skimmed the issue when it came out, but the 1990s were more than a little tough on me financially and my comic-book buying was limited. With my aging memory, reading this story again is almost like reading it for the first time.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The story commences with Cable and his team invading an Antarctica base of the terrorist Mutant Liberation Front for about 17 pages of hitting and punching and hand cutting off and jaw breaking before the villains escape somewhat worse for the wear. You can use even extended action sequences like this to explore the combatants, but this sequence doesn’t really do that. The layouts and drawing are big and bold, but the depth isn’t there. The most interesting part of this opening is the realization that mutants who were students are now soldiers. Their lives have changed.

The remainder of the story has more meat to it. We see Sunspot, a former member of the New Mutants, training with Gideon. The story doesn’t tell me much about the latter, but it establishes that he is some sort of mentor to Sunspot, both in this training and in the young mutant’s entry into the world of big business.

We meet SHIELD commander G.W. Bridge, whose mission is to capture Cable and his team. Bridge seems to recognize that his targets are not evil per se, but, for him, they cross the lines between right and wrong. This wasn’t a remotely fresh character concept, not even in the 1990s.

We learn a little bit about Cable that helps us understand why he wages this war. We also learn that he’s keeping some of his mutant powers secret from all but one of his team members.

Sunspot’s business meeting goes south when the head of their rival corporation has Black Tom Cassidy take him and Gideon hostage. I’ve been in meetings like that, albeit figuratively.

In the final scene, Bridge calls the Canadian military’s Department K to request the services of someone called “Weapon X” to go after X-Force. Given a secondary feature of the issue has a fact page on Deadpool, I’m guessing Weapon X is Deadpool. Sherlock Holmes ain’t got nothing on me.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


If I came across as a little flippant in my comments on the story, it’s because it’s not a terribly interesting one. At least, not to me. I know it was a big hit with younger readers and that’s all to the good. Not every comic book has to be written for me. If others like it, I’m more than okay with that. Variety in comics is one of my big issues, even if that variety means a particular comic book isn’t for me.

If you’ve been keeping score on this series of reviews, we are now  4-4 with stories I liked tied with stories I didn’t like. Which is honestly a better score than I expected. But we still have around a thousand pages to go.

One more thing. This issue also contains “Cable Guide: A Look into the Files of X-Forces Mysterious Leader.” The four pages, scripted by Nicieza and drawn by Liefeld, offer information on Deadpool, Feral, Shatterstar and G.W. Bridge.

When next we return to “Marvel 1990s,” I’ll be writing on X-Factor #71, the issue that changed the focus and the cast of the series. Look for it sometime in May.

I’ll be back tomorrow with different stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 108

The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  Something about the short of stature - but big on courage, honor and fighting skills - Johnny Clay 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 wanted to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them in this bloggy thing of mine. We’re currently in the extended twilight of the title. We’ve seen the last new Rawhide Kid story that will appear in the title, which is now a bimonthly reprint. This is the 108th installment in my “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” series.

The Rawhide Kid #121 [July 1974] had a new cover penciled by Larry Lieber and inked by Frank Giacoia. It shows the Kid fighting side by side with Kid Colt. Instead, the issue reprints the Rawhide Kid story from Rawhide Kid #40 [June 1964]. There’s just one teeny tiny problem with the new cover which can be seen by comparing it to the original Jack Kirby/Sol Brodsky cover.
                                                                                 

That’s right. The story reprinted in this issue is “The Rawhide Kid Meets The Two-Gun Kid” (18 pages) by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers. Kid Colt appears nowhere in Rawhide Kid #121. Whoops!

Since I wasn’t involved with this issue, all I can give you are my best guesses for this error. It’s possible the Lieber/Giacoia cover was intended for the previous issue, which did guest-star Kid Colt, and didn’t make it for that issue. It’s all possible this new cover was really intended for an issue of Western Team-Up that never came out because Western Team-Up ended up being a one-shot. There is a 15-page Kid Colt/Rawhide Kid team-up by Lieber that might have been done around this time and which was ultimately published in Giant-Size Kid Colt #1 [January 1975]. If anyone out there can confirm or deny either of my guesses, I’d love to hear from you.

I wrote about “The Rawhide Kid Meets The Two-Gun Kid” back in October, 2012. You can read my comments here.

The “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” page for this issue had the return of “Stan Lee’s Soapbox,” but it wasn’t one of Stan’s better ones. It was a puff piece touting Marvel’s various higher-price titles: the 35-cent Giant-Size comics, the 60-cent Super-Sized comics and the 75-cent black-and-white magazines. Stan also boasted that the FOOM fan club now had more than 25,000 members and invited all of those members to send in ideas and suggestions to make the fan club even better.

The second part of the bulletins page was clearly written before some plans for the Super-Giants and the Giant-Size titles changed. There are plugs for Super-Giant Spider-Man, Super-Giant Avengers and Super-Giant Conan. There is a plug for Giant-Size Creature #1, starring Werewolf by Night and introducing Tigra. (Okay, that one turned out to be accurate.) There was a plug for Giant-Size Super-Teams #1 starring the Defenders, which became Giant-Size Defenders #1 before it hit the newsstands.

Sidebar. I wrote the Werewolf by Night/Tigra story mentioned above. I also wrote the new framing sequence for Giant-Size Defenders #1 and picked the reprints for the issue. I don’t remember why Marvel had to go mostly reprint for that debut, but it was likely due to the usual insane deadlines we faced. I do remember my work on the issue was a rush job all around.

More plugs and shout-outs filled the third section of the Bullpen page. Deathlok would be launched in Astonishing Tales in “a story concocted and drawn by Rich (Swash) Buckler, and dynamic dialogue by Devil-May-Care Doug Moench.

Other items:

Lethal Larry Hama was the new artist of the Iron Fist feature that was running in Marvel Premiere.

Peerless Paul Gulacy was the new artist on Master of Kung Fu. Like Crafty Craig Russell and Valiant Val Mayerik, Gulacy was a protégé of Dapper Dan Adkins.

Dauntless Don Perlin was drawing Werewolf by Night in both the 25-cent standard-size comic and the 35-cent giant-size comic.

Debonair Dave Cockrum would be returning as the embellisher of the Avengers.

Other dropped names: Affable Al Milgrom and (Santa) Klaus Janson. Considering some of these nicknames, I really lucked out when I was christened Tony (the Tiger) Isabella.

There was no “Mighty Marvel Checklist” this time around, not even in this issue’s “Bullpen Bonus Page”

Speaking of that “Bullpen Bonus Page”...

What a waste! The whole page is a plug for the Marvel Value Stamps and the Marvel Value Stamps Stampbook, which, along with a “special bonus poster,” was yours for fifty cents...to cover the postage and handling. From day one, I hated the concept of these value stamps. What they really did was decrease the value of Odin-knows-how-many comic books that they were cut from. 

On this page, it’s announced that fans would get MVS discounts from Phil Seuling’s New York Comic Art Convention in July and the San Diego Comics Convention later that summer. I wonder how many fans got their MVS Stampbooks stamped at those events.

As long as I’m ragging on this idiotic notion, let me ask how many of you have bought an old issue from this era and, on reading it, discovered there was a Marvel Value Stamp-size hole in your comic book. During my years as a comics retailer, I probably came across dozens of these damaged comic books. Sigh.
                                                                             
This issue’s non-series reprint is “Growler Joe Meets the Stranger” (4 pages) from Kid Colt Outlaw #14 [May 1951]. Possibly penciled by Myron Fass, this story is so gosh-darned awful that I consider it my civic duty to spoil it for you.

It’s 1880. Former Sheriff Clay Barker drinks in disgrace. When a stranger to the town asks how the lawman lost his badge, he learns that Barker backed down when he called out by a bad hombre named Growler Joe. The stranger walks over to Barker’s table and tells him he would like to help.

Barker tells the stranger Growler Joe hangs out at another saloon in town. The stranger goes to the Big Strike Saloon and calls out Growler Joe. He has a prior beef with Growler Joe on account of Joe tried to back-shoot him in Texas.

The two men draw. The stranger shoots the guns out of Joe’s hands. Why does the story not name the stranger? Patience. I will reveal every bit of awfulness in this story.

The stranger tells Barker that Growler Joe has been dealt with. But the former sheriff figures there’s no coming back from the cowardice he showed. The stranger has a plan. The sheriff agrees to it.

Back at the Big Strike Saloon, when discussing fast draws with the clientele, the stranger says:

Down in Yuma they say thar’s a fella by the name of Clay Barker who’s greased lightnin’ on the draw. That’s one hombre I ain’t hankerin’ to draw on!

Told Barker is the town’s ex-sheriff and asked if he’s funning with the barflies, the stranger double down and says:

No, sirree! There’s many an hombre down Rio way who’ll steer plumb clear of Barker if they get wind that he’s around.

That’s when Barker enters the saloon and proclaims that, sheriff or no sheriff, there ain’t gonna be any blood-spilling in this town. Barker calls out the stranger and outdraws him. The stranger stands down and leaves town, leaving the townspeople stunned:

Jumpin’ Jackrabbits! Barker out drawed the man who gunned Growler Joe! I reckon thar ain’t a man west of the Pecos who deserves that badge more than Barker does!

Let’s review. Barker was too cowardly to face Growler Joe. So the stranger took out Growler Joe. Then Barker and the stranger conned the townspeople into thinking Barker must have just been having a bad day or something when the sheriff left them all to the mercy of Growler Joe. So the townspeople gave Barker back his badge and his job. What could possibly go wrong in the future?

On the outskirts of town, Barker thanks the stranger for his help. He asks the man what his name is. Brace yourselves:

Folks up New Mexico way call me Billy...Billy the Kid!
                                                                              
Comics writers of the 1950s and 1960s loved to use real historical figures in their western stories. Usually they get the details as wrong as wrong gets. However, save for the fact that this version of Billy the Kid is insanely generous to the old sheriff, the Kid’s timeline actually works for this story. From Wikipedia...

Billy the Kid, born Henry McCarty and also known as William H. Bonney (September 17, 1859–July 14, 1881) was an American Old West gunfighter who participated in New Mexico's Lincoln County War. He is known to have killed eight men.

His first arrest was for stealing food in late 1875, and within five months he was arrested for stealing clothing and firearms. His escape from jail two days later and flight from New Mexico Territory into Arizona Territory made him both an outlaw and a federal fugitive. After murdering a blacksmith during an altercation in August 1877, Bonney became a wanted man in Arizona Territory and returned to New Mexico, where he joined a group of cattle rustlers. He became a well-known figure in the region when he joined the Regulators and took part in the Lincoln County War. In April 1878, however, the Regulators killed three men, including Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady and one of his deputies. Bonney and two other Regulators were later charged with killing all three men.

Bonney's notoriety grew in December 1880 when the Las Vegas Gazette in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the New York Sun carried stories about his crimes. He was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett later that same month, tried and convicted of the murder of Brady in April 1881, and sentenced to hang in May of that year. Bonney escaped from jail on April 28, 1881, killing two sheriff's deputies in the process, and evaded capture for more than two months. He ultimately was shot and killed by Garrett in Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881. Over the next several decades, legends grew that Bonney had not died that night, and a number of men claimed they were him.


One more thing for today. Around this time, Marvel was running one-line house ads at the bottom of most (but not all) story pages in an issue. I have a vague memory of having seen something like this in British comics weeklies and of maybe having done something like it in Marvel’s British weeklies during my time as the editor of those produced-in-America titles.

Here are the one-liners from Rawhide Kid #121:

WHO IS THE TARANTULA? FIND OUT IN SPIDER-MAN #134!

FANTASTIC FOUR VS. FRIGHTFUL FOUR - AND IT’S HAPPENING NOW!

FIRE VS. GOLD! THE HUMAN TORCH VS. ICEMAN - IN MARVEL TEAM-UP!

(Fire vs. Gold? Clearly, the proofreading of these one-liners left much to be desired.)

DIG “THE EXORCIST”? TRY THE SON OF SATAN - IN MARVEL SPOTLIGHT!

AT LAST! THE MAN-WOLF STARS IN CREATURES ON THE LOOSE!

WHO IS THE FIRELORD? THE ANSWER’S IN THOR #225!

KUNG FU THRILLS! THE COMING OF IRON FIST - IN MARVEL PREMIERE!

DON’T GO CRAZY! BUY CRAZY - NOW ON SALE!

SIMON GARTH, THE ZOMBIE, STALKS AGAIN! BELIEVE IT!

Though I wrote similar one-line notices somewhere along the line, I’m fairly certain I didn’t write any of the above! Then again, I did so many odd jobs for Marvel during my time there that it’s in the realm of possibility that I did write these and don’t remember writing them. Those were wild times.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with another blast from the past. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TUESDAY TRIPLE FEATURE

Kong: Skull Island was one of the highlights of last week for me. Giant monsters. Big screen. Exciting story. Terrific acting. This is my kind of movie all the way. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts from a screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly and a story by John Gatins, this re-imagining of King Kong is set at the end of the Vietnam War and that is an inspired choice.

In the movie, the discovery of Skull Island was not possible until the invention and deployment of surveillance satellites in space. That the Russians also have such satellites gives the U.S. military and scientists reason to visit the island without knowing exactly what they’re getting into. Except scientist Bill Randa [played by John Goodman] who has a pretty good idea what awaits them on Skull Island. The other characters are at the mercy of Randa and Colonel Preston Packard [Samuel L. Jackson], another commanding figure who has his own reasons for accepting this mission and bringing along American soldiers who were one day away from going home.

Avoiding spoilers as much as possible...

Kong is impressive. His back story is powerful, ultimately making him one of the film’s most sympathetic characters. Also impressive are the island’s other creatures and the ever-present threat they post to the human characters.

The movie takes the time to introduce us to many of the scientists and soldiers who go to Skull Island. Some of the deaths come as a real shock, as do some of the survivals. Once the film takes us to the island, the story flows wonderfully. There are moments of sheer horrifying action and moments quiet, even reflective.

Sidebar. The make-up effects on the islanders are amazing. Worthy of Oscar nomination. Worthy of an Oscar win.

There are several outstanding performances. Tom Hiddleston’s jaded mercenary finds his true self on the island. Samuel L. Jackson is frightening as a man who finds his purpose only in war. Brie Larson is great as a feisty anti-war photographer.

The best performance? That would be John C. Reilly as a World War II pilot stranded on the island for decades. Even while serving to explain the inexplicable, he brings so much heart to his character. It’s a performance worthy of Oscar nomination.

There is a scene at the end of the credits. It’s great fun. Stick around to see it.

Kong: Skull Island is as fine a film as any I’ve seen in the past few years. I recommend it highly.
 
                                                                             
Suicide Squad (2016) is a terrible terrible movie. Which was pretty much what I expected. Friends whose opinions I respect didn’t care for it, which is putting it mildly. My son Eddie reacted in horror when I borrowed the film from our local library. But, like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I haven’t seen yet, it was a movie that I felt I should watch. I have a long list of movies like that. Sigh.

I’ll start with the very short list of things I liked about Suicide Squad. I liked Katana. I kind of liked Croc. I thought El Diablo’s tragedy and search for redemption was well played. I could kind of relate to Deadshot’s wanting to be a father to his daughter. Thus ends the short list.

I have always considered Amanda Waller to be one of the vilest of villains and she’s more vile than ever in this film. She scares the government into her “Suicide Squad” program telling them they need to protect themselves from the next Superman if the next Superman is a bad guy. However, the menace that threatens all mankind in the movie is a menace of Waller’s making. Oh, yeah, she also murders a room full of government workers because they don’t have the proper clearance to know about the debacle she created. If I’m Rick Flag, I pop a cap in her ass right then and there.

Flag is no hero either. He’s a mindless soldier who enters into an inappropriate relationship with a member of the Squad. His mistakes of action and judgment get people killed.

The Joker? Let me check. Yeah, I still hate this overused villain. Put him in the ground already. Forever.

In a scene that runs during the credits, Bruce Wayne helps Waller in exchange for information on the heroes who will presumably join the Justice League. He tells her to shut down the Suicide Squad or he and his friends will do it for her. Yes, please. And while you are at it, give the authorities and the press enough on Waller that she can be tried, convicted and tossed into a cell for the rest of her life. Unless, of course, Midway City is in a state that still has the death penalty.

Hey, when it comes to overused villains who keep getting away with their heinous crimes, I’m all for revving up Old Sparky.

                                                                           

Central Intelligence (2016) was a Redbox rental. My daughter Kelly and I had wanted to watch it when it was available “On Demand” and missed that opportunity. Since she had bravely sat through Suicide Squad with me and since I was still feeling under the weather from a weekend of aches and pains, I was more than happy to watch this movie with her. Here’s the IMDb summary:

After he reconnects with an awkward pal from high school through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant is lured into the world of international espionage.

Central Intelligence is your basic silly comedy-adventure movie. It works because its two stars - Dwayne Johnson as the awkward high-school friend turned buff CIA agent and Kevin Hart as the student of the year turned office drone - are just so darn likeable. Yes, the actors and their characters have annoying quirks, but you want to root for them. The comedy action scenes are fun. The character growth is mildly moving. There are solid supporting performances by Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Justin Bateman and Ryan Hansen. There’s even a surprising, very funny uncredited cameo near the end of the movie.

Central Intelligence isn’t an award-winner. It’s not a movie I’ll ever watch again. It was simply an amusing, entertaining, relaxing way to spend a little over an hour-and-a-half. Sometimes that’s all I need from a movie.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with a new installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” See you then.
    
© 2017 Tony Isabella

Monday, April 24, 2017

TONY'S TIPS #206

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Power Man and Iron Fist, Nightwing, The Avengers Steed and Mrs. Peel: The Comic Strips!

COMICS REVUE #371-371

Comics Revue #371-372 [Manuscript Press; $20] arrived in my mailbox last week. As veteran bloggy thing readers know, this is one of my favorite magazines bar none. Dated April, 2017, this double-issue is 132 pages of some of the best comic strips of all time. Here’s what editor Rick Norwood presents this time around:

Complete in this issue:

THE PHANTOM by Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy
TARZAN by John Celardo and Dick van Buren
SIR BAGBY by R&D Hackney

Serials:

RICK O’SHAY by Stan Lynde
CASEY RUGGLES by Warren Tufts
FLASH GORDON by Mac Raboy and Harry Harrison’
ALLEY OOP by V.T. Hamlin
BUZ SAWYER by Roy Crane
TARZAN by Russ Manning
GASOLINE ALLEY by Dick Moores
STEVE CANYON by Milton Caniff
STEVE ROPER by Allen Saunders and William Overgard
FLASH GORDON by Harry Harrison
MODESTY BLAISE by Peter O’Donnell and Romero

Subscriptions are $59 for one year, $118 for two years (outside the US, $89 per year sent airmail). For more information, write:

Manuscript Press
P.O. Box 336
Mountain Home TN 37684

ISSN #1552-5848

FANTASTICON LANSING (APRIL 29-30)

My next convention appearance is Joe Nieporte’s FANTASTICON, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30, at the Causeway Bay Hotel and Convention Center, 6820 South Cedar Street in beautiful (I assume) Lansing, Michigan. The show runs 10 am-6 pm on Saturday and 10 am-5pm on Sunday. Admission prices for Saturday are $8.50 in advance and $12.00 on the day of the show. Bargain-priced admission on Sunday is $5.50 in advance and $8.00 on the day of the show. A two-day pass (advance only) is $12.50, and kids five and under are free. I’m looking forward to this event.

Besides my own beloved self, the Fantasticon guest lists includes Misty Knight co-creator Arvell Jones, comics artist Jason Moore, the comics legend who am William Messner-Loebs, comics artist Scott Rosema, actor/singer/activist Eugene Clark, makeup special effects artist Daniel Phillips, sketch and tattoo artist B.C. Hepner, Tugg the Superhero Dog and Midwest Droid Builders. I believe those are the droids you were looking for. The show’s artists alley will have over a dozen participants and the vendors area will have over two dozen sellers of fine and wondrous items.

Panels and events will include nerd trivia, musicals, two cosplay contests, droid building, makeup special effects. Arvell and I will be doing a panel on Saturday at 2:30 pm:

Creating an iconic Comic Book Character Q&A
Participate in a Q&A session with long time comic book creators Tony Isabella (Marvel/DC) and Arvell Jones (Marvel/DC). Hear how they collaborated on creating the character, MISTY KNIGHT, now an important part of the Marvel Netflix Universe


This panel will be fun because Arvell and I remember the creation of Misty Knight in significantly different ways. Which is all good on account of we love each other like brothers. Fans who come to our panel can ask us about other characters and comics, too. No comics fans will be harmed during this presentation. Maybe.

I’m particularly excited about the convention’s cosplay contests. This will be the first convention where I’m handing out my sure-to-be-esteemed CERTIFICATE OF COSPLAY while giving qualifying costume players an actual American dollar bill for their efforts.

Here’s the deal on that...

WEAR A COSTUME, GET A DOLLAR

I have made no secret of my love for cosplay. Seeing fans in their costumes is one of the things I like best about appearing at comics and other conventions. However, because of the way some conventions arrange their artist alleys or exhibitors areas, I don’t always get to see many of the cosplayers. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. My own cheap-ass hands.

At every one of my remaining convention appearances in 2017, I will have money and a certificate for cosplayers. Here’s how that will work...

I have a list of cosplay I’d like to see at my 2017 appearances.  Many are characters that I created or co-created (Black Lightning, Misty Knight and Tigra). Others will be characters I wrote, such as Hawkman, Hawkwoman, the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider and others. Some will just be characters I love like the Blonde Phantom, Cosmo the Merry Martian, Herbie Popnecker, the original Sugar and Spike, the classic Zatanna, Mademoiselle Marie, and others. If you come to my convention booth/table cosplaying as these characters, I will give you a dollar and a special certificate.

A dollar? Yeah, but it’s the thought that counts and I will have at least fifty bucks on hand to hand out at each convention. If this frivolity is as successful as I hope it will be, I’ll up the bank to seventy-five or a hundred dollars per event.

The certificate? It’s a thing of beauty that I will be unveiling at Fantasticon Lansing.

Here’s the character list...

Bandette
Batwoman (1960s)
Batwoman (modern-day)
Black Lightning
Black Widow
Blonde Phantom (Golden Age)
Chalice (Alters)
Cosmo the Merry Martian
Darkstar
Doc Savage
Dreadnought (novel by April Daniels)
Emma Peel and John Steed
Faith
Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze; 1970s)
Godzilla or other giant movie monsters
Grim Ghost (Atlas)
Gwen Stacy (1960s)
Hawkman
Hawkwoman
Herbie Popnecker
Icon
IT! The Living Colossus
Jimmy Olsen (1960s)
Kitaro
Kite-Man
Koro Sensei (Assassination Classroom)
Lady Killer (Dark Horse)
Little Lulu
Lois Lane (1960s)
Luke Cage
Mademoiselle Marie
Magicman (ACG)
Mary Jane Watson (1960s)
Misty Knight
Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan)
Ms. Tree
Nemesis (ACG)
Pat Savage
Rawhide Kid (1960s/1970s)
Richie Rich
Rocket (from Icon)
Rocket Racer
Sara Lance
Sugar and Spike (1960s)
Tigra
Top Cat
Usagi Yojimbo
Vixen
Zatanna (1960s)

Now that I’ve written it down, it sounds like I’m the kid who could only get a dog to play with him by tying a burger around my neck. But I’m willing to come off as pathetic to see some great cosplay. If it works, it’ll be grand fun. If it doesn’t work, well, it won’t be the first time a plan of mine went awry.

Feel free to spread this bloggy thing cosplay contest all over the Internet. Just this weekend, I bought a new phone that will allow me to take decent photos of the cosplayers who visit my table. You best believe I will share them with my readers here and elsewhere.

At my convention table/booth...

I will be selling the Black Lightning trade paperback reprinting my first series as well as other Isabella-written items. On request, I will sign these and other Isabella stuff. There will be no charge for my signature or, for the most part, any limit on how many items I will sign for you. However, in the unlikely situation in which I have a line of folks waiting for my signature and you have a large stack of things for me to sign, I’ll sign a few items for you and ask you to step to the back of the line until I’ve signed for the other people in the line. I’ll do my best to make sure everyone who wants signatures gets them as quickly as possible.

I’ll be selling other things as well, but I never know what those things will be. There’s an excellent chance I’ll have two boxes of recent comic books priced at just a dollar apiece. There will be a few surprises in those boxes.

Other possibilities include: the 1988 two-sided Superman poster I have been selling at other conventions, a box of trade paperbacks and hardcovers priced at two and five dollars each, and maybe some other stuff. What I have depends on how much time I have to prepare stuff for the convention in between finishing some writing things for various clients.

While I’m at my table, I’ll be happy to answer your questions about comics and my career in comics. However, keep in mind that, due to agreements I’ve signed, I might not be able to answer all of your questions at this time. I’ll answer what I can.

While I’m not at my table, I’ll be chatting with friends and making my way around the vendors areas. Among the comics I’ll be looking for are issues of Charlton’s Nurse Betsy Crane, Marvel’s Kathy and The Mighty Marvel Western. If you have any Alan Class reprints from England or other interesting British comics - and if I’m making a few bucks at my table - I might buy some of those.
                                                                                   
Having been to one of Joe Nieporte’s shows before, I can’t imagine anyone there could feel threatened or uncomfortable. But, if you do, feel free to hang out around my table for as long as you need to. My table should always be considered a safe space for fans and pros alike. We are always stronger together.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella