Thursday, May 24, 2018

BLACK LIGHTNING CORE VALUES

My most important job today is preparing for Saintly Wife Barbara’s and my trip to northern Michigan and the Cherry Capital Comic Con, Friday, May 25, through Sunday, May 27 at the scenic Grand Traverse Resort, 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd, Acme, Michigan. However, since I won’t be posting new bloggy things until we return/recover  from that event, I wanted to leave you with something special for the weekend.

A few years back, when DC Comics President & Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns reached out to me to begin the process of resolving the long-standing differences between the company and myself, he told me of his desire to do a Black Lightning TV series. It didn’t take long for DC and myself to realize that we would be working together again. It took a while to hammer out an agreement that both DC and I could live with, but that was never an adversarial process. Nor would DC and I wait for the final agreement to be signed before we began working together.

One of the first things Geoff asked me to do was share my thoughts on Black Lightning’s core values. I wrote the following about three years ago. It was never meant to be carved in stone. Indeed, my own thinking has changed somewhat since I wrote it. Still, it was the starting point for both the TV series and my critically-acclaimed Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands.

Here’s what I wrote...

If I had to choose the two most important elements that make Black Lightning and Jefferson Pierce, they would be:

He is a role model.

He is a teacher.

I wanted him to be a positive character. He could have his flaws, but they wouldn’t be melodramatic flaws. He might beat himself up a little when he failed to accomplish something or failed to save someone. In the later case, he never forgets anyone he has failed to save. His memories of them stay with him. He’s the kind of man who inspires people, something I tried to show in both of my runs on the series.

I wanted him to be a teacher because I wanted him to be familiar to every reader, young and old, who read his comics. Everyone has had teachers. The lucky ones have had teachers who inspired them to go beyond what they might have thought were their limits.

Those two core values necessitate that Black Lightning be an adult. A younger Black Lightning, even a college student Black Lightning, won’t have the life-experience to be these two things: role model and teacher. If I were rebooting the character, I’d make him 30 or so. Young enough to not seem ancient, old enough to know what he’s talking about.

Other traits:

Jefferson Pierce is a reluctant hero. He would rather not disguise his identity and fight crime in such a garish manner. But he knows he must use his power for the benefit of his community and, if it comes to it, the world. The street-level stories are where my heart has always been, but I recognize we may have to go to a more vast canvas to drive the character to greater success.
 
Jefferson Pierce is an orphan. His mother died shortly before Black Lightning #1 (1977). He has no living relatives. But, what he does have, is an intense desire to have a family. He will build families around himself wherever he goes. He did it as a teacher in Suicide Slum. He did it when he was a member of the Outsiders. He even did it in the Brick City, which was a neighborhood in Cleveland...which is where his second series took place even if I never called it by name. He is a family man.

Sidebar. The one regret I have about how I portrayed Jeff Pierce in the original series is that I made him a divorced man. I could’ve shown a strong black marriage, something that was almost unheard of in the comics of the 1970s. I know there’s an editorial theory that super-heroes can’t be married. But I also know that Black Lightning has often challenged the norms and that’s something that should be part of whatever is done with him.

Sidebar. By the way, I disagree with the whole non-married super-heroes thing. Portraying marriages adds a reality to the fantastic, which I think is necessary to telling super-hero stories to which readers can relate. I also think readers actually like to see the heroes happy from time to time. If we’ve done our jobs right, they love these heroes as much as we do.

Had I remained on the second Black Lightning series, I would have had Jeff and Lynn remarry and start a family. There is solid drama to be found in such relationships and that makes super-hero stories more than glorified video games.

Jefferson Pierce is a man of faith. I used to call him a Northern liberal Baptist. All of the faith, none of the bigotry. In a world where there are Kryptonians and Martians, element men and detective chimps, no rational human being would get bent out of shape because someone was gay or transgender or anything else. Jeff judges people on the content of their character and, because he’s a man of faith, he gives even bad people a chance to redeem themselves.


Sidebar. Religion is something comic books shy away from. I thought it was important to show Jeff going to church. Because religion is part of the lives of many of our readers and viewers. I might not be a church-goer, though I am the founder and pastor of the First Church of Godzilla on Facebook, but I recognize religion’s place, for good or otherwise, in our society. Just as characters of color like Black Lightning gave readers someone to relate to, religious characters can serve the same purpose.

So where could Black Lightning go?

As I’ve said, the street-level stories are where my heart is with this character, but that doesn’t mean and should never mean that’s all we do with the character. I think what we do with Jeff Pierce depends on the venue...though I think Lightning’s connection to the real world and his commentary on the real world should always be a part of his adventures.

In comic books, Black Lightning can be involved in different kinds of adventures. He should not be subservient to Batman, Superman or any other character. He should be able to inspire even members of the metahuman community, as he did with the Tattooed Man in a one-shot written by Grant Morrison a few years back. I could see him as a mentor to younger heroes.

In comic books and other media, there’s an opportunity to address the issues of inequality and injustice that exist in our own land. In the context of exciting stories.

If Black Lightning were to be, say, a Netflix series, you could go more street and more social relevance than you could in a different venue. Maybe even get a super-hero series some of the respect they deserve. I’m frustrated that the fine acting and writing on shows like The Flash and Arrow and Agent Carter and S.H.I.E.L.D. do not receive the recognition they are surely due.


If Black Lightning were to be a CW series, you would probably want to be a bit less heavy than in a Netflix series. I always tried to include supporting characters that could provide humor while also being effective allies of Jeff Pierce.

If Black Lightning were to be a movie, you would need to go bigger. But I think it would still be essential to make the real stuff as real as possible to make the fantastic stuff more believable. Ant-Man works because so much of it is real: the plight of an ex-con, the distrust of evil CEOs, the grief over lost love, the challenge of raising a child of divorce.

I am fully aware that comic books are different from TV shows are different from movies. I don’t expect such versions of my creation to be exactly as I envision them. But nothing I’ve ever done with Black Lightning was not thought out. Maybe I’m being immodest, but I think my work is an essential starting point for anything anyone does with the character.


I’m not mired in the past. I wrote Black Lightning in the 1970s. I didn’t him write him that way in the 1990s. I wouldn’t write him in 2015 the same way I wrote him in those decades. But I think Black Lightning and most heroes can remain fresh without sacrificing the core ideas and values which were part of their original concepts.

From the start, my dream has always been to see Black Lightning as the fourth member of a DC Big Four, alongside Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman. Whether that is attainable or not, that should be the goal.

I hope this is useful to you, Geoff. I’m going to copy Dan on it as well. Please feel free to call on me if I can be of further service in these areas.


That’s what I wrote in 2015. I leave it to you to judge how close the TV series and my recent comic-book work follow the core values I set down in the above.

Enjoy your weekend. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

When it comes to prose books, most of what I read falls into these categories: mystery/police novels set in Cleveland or other parts of Ohio; non-fiction books on subjects that interest me or that I’m reading for research; comics history; novels featuring comic-book characters; novels by favorite authors like Max Allen Collins and Stephen King; and books that do not easily fit into any category. Like the first of the books I’m written about today.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twist and illustrated by EG Keller [Chronicle Books; $18.99] is a well-deserved kick in the nuts to homophobic Vice-President Mike Pence. Produced by Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver, it tells how Pence’s pet rabbit - Marlon - met the love of his life, another bunny named Wesley. It’s a charming tale with some bite to it in the form of a parody of Pence himself.

This book is a response to Marlon Bundo's A Day in the Life of the Vice President, a children’s book created by Pence and his family. Pence promoted the book at Focus on the Family, an anti-LGTB hate group. Because even though his book didn’t concern homosexuality at all, Pence lays down with bigots and racists at every opportunity. It’s in the job description as any one in the Dumpster President’s White House.

This is not a book everyone will want to share with their children. Myself, I would have no trouble reading it to my grandkids if I had any. With Pence and other pseudo-Christians promoting bigotry at a matter of course, it’s important to offer children a more tolerant view of the world. They are a hope for a better world. Unlike that sought by Pence and his ilk.

I love the book and will probably buy a few more copies to give out as gifts. And, yes, of course, it outsold the Pence book by a lot. Because it’s a better Bundo.

ISBN 978-1-4521-7380-1
 
                                                                           

A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum [Seventh Street Books; $15.95] is a crime novel set in the smallish Eastern Ohio steel town of Mingo Junction. It’s small enough that the town hero is Duke Ducheski, a steel worker who won a high school basketball championship and got his then-girlfriend, now-shrewish wife pregnant before he could go to college. It’s large enough to be profitable for the mobsters who run the town. One of the mobsters is Duke’s brother-in-law.

Duke has been saving money to open his own bar. He’s been trying to divorce his wife so he can marry his single-mom girlfriend. He is intensely loyal to his friends and they to him. When one of those friends does something stupid, Duke tries to help him, which sets in motion a series of violent events.

Yocum’s characters are solid creations and he writes well. Though there are times in the novel when people make really bad decisions that they should have known better than to make - an increasingly common and cheap plot device - I got hooked by the novel early on. It gets my recommendation.

Yocum has been an Edgar Awards finalist. After reading this book, I plan to check out his other novels. They are also set in my home state of Ohio, which is added incentive.

ISBN 978-1-63388-417-5

                                                                                  

Set in the small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser [St. Martin's Press; $26.99] is a mystery novel that reminds me of TV’s Desperate Housewives. One night, a group of neighborhood women enjoy an evening of conversation, revelations, drinking and more drinking sitting around a backyard fire put. The next day, one of the women and her two children have gone missing. The game is afoot.

Suspicion immediately falls upon missing mom Kristin’s soon-to-be-ex-husband. Paul married her after her first husband and the father of her twins died. But he never adopted the twins and is suspected of having abused Kristin. When the police release the maybe/maybe not crime scene, Paul moves back into their house.

Happily-married Clara finds herself drawn into the investigation. A former editor, Clara is advising a neighbor’s child who wants to publish a neighborhood newsletter. When the kid wants to publish a conversation she overheard, one that casts further suspicion on Paul, Clara rules against it. The girl publishes it anyway and, all of a sudden, Clara is in the middle of the investigation as well. She and her children are also forced to take a “time out” from the  private school the kids had been attending.

Never-married Izzy, who produces a radio talk show and is a rather new arrival to the hood, finds herself getting involved with Paul. Izzy fled to Yellow Springs after her sister married the man Izzy was secretly in love with.

Police investigating a crime that might not have happened. Gossip steering the investigation and the lives entwined in it. The creepy soon-to-be-ex-husband. All these elements mix with the fascinating women characters and a keen understanding of "neighborhood politics" to deliver a slow but always intriguing story with several endings to satisfy its readers. I enjoyed this book and have already put in a request with my library for Strawser’s first novel.

ISBN 978-1-250-10788-6
                                                                             

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu [Viking; $25] is a memoir by the New Orleans mayor who removed the Confederate statues from his city. It’s a poignant look at the long-ingrained racism that has been given new life by our racist President and his vile fellows and supporters.

Born in a part of our nation where racism has always been more out in the open, Landrieu writes about history and his relationship to that history. It’s the history that is just now beginning to become better known, a history that reveals that Confederate statues were not erected to honor Confederate leaders, but as a warning to black citizens to mind their places.

These monuments to traitors, no matter how finely made, were never meant to be art. They were meant to terrorize blacks and force them to comply with the wishes of white supremacists. Whites who did not hold with those anti-American views could easily ignore the statues they passed every day. Blacks could not ignore them and should not have had to ignore them.

I knew these stories, including a Republican president’s shocking lack of concern for the people left most vulnerable in the wake of Katrina, before I read Landrieu’s book. Yeah, George Walker Bush may have risen to the rank of just our second worst President ever, but I still consider him to have been an incompetent president and war criminal whose policies hurt and destroyed the lives of American citizens and the innocents caught in the middle of his bloody wars of choice. He gets no pass from me. That said, Landrieu offers us a more honest view of our sometimes shameful history and brings his readers to a moral clarity presented without the loud histrionics of commentators like, well, yours truly.

In the Shadow of Statues is a praiseworthy book and one I recommend strongly. It’s my hope Landrieu will become a much greater force on our national stage. He’s the kind of leader we need.

ISBN 978-0-525-55944-3
                  
That’s all for today, my bloggy readers. Remember that I will be a guest at the Cherry Capital Comics Con in northern Michigan Friday through Sunday. I hope to see you there.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

CONVENTIONAL THINKING

My next convention appearance is the Cherry Capital Comic Con this weekend (Friday through Sunday) at the Grand Traverse Resort, 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd, Acme, Michigan. For more information on this event, check out yesterday’s bloggy thing.

This week is turning out to be more hectic than I would like. I’ve been nominated for an arts prize and preparing my submission will take most of a day. I have an afterword to write and three or four bloggy things and columns. Not to mention getting ready for Cherry Capital Comic Con. Sheesh!

I’ll be doing several other conventions this year and also holding a great many garage sales at Casa Isabella in Medina, Ohio. I had hoped to start the garage sales next weekend, but, while I was at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, Saintly Wife Barbara hired a contractor to complete the work on our long-delayed master bedroom bathroom.

He set up his tile-cutting machinery in the garage. Which now looks like ground zero of a dust-bomb explosion. Which means I’ll need to spend a few days cleaning the garage before I can set up my display tables and fill them with wonderful items at incredibly low prices. That work will begin in earnest on my return from Michigan.

Here’s my appearances and garage sales schedule for the rest of the year. It’s possible I’ll be adding an appearance of two before the end of the year. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my eagerly-awaited (by me) August appearance at Connecticut’s Terrificon. With family, household and work stuff, I just couldn’t make the timing work for this year. Hopefully, I can attend next year.

Friday, June 8: Fingerlakes Comic Con

Saturday, June 9: Fingerlakes Comic Con

Sunday, June 10: Fingerlakes Comic Con

Friday, June 15: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, June 16: VAOS garage sale

Friday, June 22: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, June 23: VAOS garage sale

Friday, June 29: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, June 30: VAOS garage sale

Friday, July 6: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, July 7: VAOS garage sale

Friday, July 13: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, July 14: VAOS garage sale

Friday, July 20: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, July 21: VAOS garage sale

Friday, July 27: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, July 28: VAOS garage sale

Friday, August 3: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, August 4: VAOS garage sale

Friday, August 10: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, August 11: VAOS garage sale

Sunday, August 19: NEO Comic Con (North Olmsted)

Friday, August 24: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, August 25: VAOS garage sale

Friday, August 31: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, September 1: VAOS garage sale

Saturday, September 8: Hall of Heroes Museum

Sunday, September 9: Hall of Heroes Museum

Friday, September 28: Baltimore Comic Con

Saturday, September 29: Baltimore Comic Con

Sunday, September 30: Baltimore Comic Con

Saturday, November 3: Akron Comicon

Sunday, November 4: Akron Comicon

Friday, November 9: Grand Rapids Comic Con

Saturday, November 10: Grand Rapids Comic Con

Sunday, November 11: Grand Rapids Comic Con

Saturday, November 17: Great American Comic Convention (Las Vegas)

Sunday, November 18: Great American Comic Convention (Las Vegas)

Some additional notes:

All of the above are subject to change if my work requires me to be someplace other than Medina in the coming months. Such work is a long shot, but not outside the realm of possibility.

I’m scheduling so many garage sales because I’m determined to get rid of my three storage units by the end of the summer. That would save me just over $200 a month. So there will be many new items at each and every garage sale.

Depending on the always mercurial Ohio weather, these garage sales could be extended through September. In the same vein, should the weather turn against us on the already scheduled dates, I’ll cancel dates rather than risk injury to my customers. Always check my social media for updates.

The garage sales will be advertised in these bloggy things of mine, and also on Craig’s List, Facebook and Twitter. When you see those announcements, please share them with your friends.

In the past, I’ve advertised in the Medina Gazette. I’ll probably do that initially, but I may not do that for every garage sale. I may experiment with advertising in the Akron or Cleveland papers as well. Maybe even on our local cable provider. It kind of depends on how much money the garage sales bring in.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.
        
© 2018 Tony Isabella

Monday, May 21, 2018

CHERRY CAPITAL COMIC CON (May 25-27)

Cherry Capital Comic Con is my next convention appearance and, as an added bonus, Saintly Wife Barb will be accompanying me on this trip to northern Michigan.

C4 (as the event is known) will be Friday, May 25, through Sunday, May 27 at the scenic Grand Traverse Resort, 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd, Acme, Michigan. While there, I’m hoping to visit the factory which provides Wil E. Coyote with all his cool road runner hunting supplies.

From C4's website:

C4 is Northern Michigan’s largest comic book and pop entertainment expo. Located at the scenic Grand Traverse Resort, C4 is Northern Michigan’s perfect gathering of comic book creators, exhibitors, and fans. Celebrating 10 years of excellence in 2018, C4 pulls out all the stops to bring you the best show possible.

With a concentration on comics and comic creators, C4 strives to keep the “comic” in comic con. Offering an intimate setting to meet the people behind your favorite comics, C4 is the place to have the conversations you never thought you could with the people that make the comics we all love. Between the creators you know and the new creators you will discover, C4 has a great comics experience for everyone!

While creators are a big focus, we also pride ourselves on our great variety of vendors for you to shop and find that perfect comic or collectible that you have been after. Bronze, Silver, Golden Age and more comics. Star Wars toys, Pop Vinyls, T-shirts, and so much more.

If shopping isn’t your style, we still have even more fun for the whole family. Panels to learn about the comics industry and more. A costume contest for the adults AND a costume contest for the kids. A karaoke after party. Silent Auction. 501st Legion photo ops and so much more. Come on out to C4 and have an experience you’ll remember.


The show hours:

Friday, May 25th: 5-8 pm

Saturday, May 26th– 10:00 am-6:00 pm

Sunday, May 27th– 11:00 am-5:00 pm

I’ll be there all three days.

C4's guest of honor is Jim Steranko, always one of the (if not the) most knowledge creators in any room. He’ll be there on Saturday and Sunday. Also appearing will be actor Brian O’Halloran (Clerks) and voice actor Billy West (Futurama). O’Halloran will be appearing all three days. West will be at the event Saturday and Sunday.

The comics guests are legendary: Mike Grell, Gene Ha, Angel Medina, William Messner-Loebs, Jill Thompson and myself. Though the event’s website says I’ll be there on Saturday and Sunday, I will be there all three days. C4 has treated me so well that I wanted to attend from start to finish.

There will be a great many other terrific creators and vendors at C4. I hope to take breaks from my table to see what they have for sale. Although, with Barb there, I’ll need to curtail my spending. Not a complaint. I love having her come to events with me.

C4's panel schedule is still being finalized, but I’ll be doing at least one panel during the weekend:

SUNDAY
1-2 pm
COMICS: THEN AND NOW
*Outback Steakhouse Panel Room

Join Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella and Warlord creator Mike Grell for a retrospective on their careers in the comic industry- discussing the creation of characters that stand the test of time, changes in the medium and personal anecdotes about their adventures in the business.
 
I may do more than this one panel. If I find out about that before I leave for the convention, I’ll post an update to today’s bloggy thing and also on Facebook and Twitter.

If you visit my table at the convention, I’ll be delighted to sell you Black Lightning comic books, posters, scripts and trades. I’ll also have copies of July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella Volume One. As always, if you buy items from me, I sign them for free. Otherwise...

My signing fees are modest. I’ll sign any item not purchased from me for free. After that first one, I charge $2 per item.

If you bring a representative of any grading company to witness my signature, the price goes up to $5 per item. The same if you ask me to sign a certificate of authenticity.

Photos of me or with me are free at this time. At some point in the future, I plan to offer some staged photos of me. I won’t know the price on those until I find out what they’ll cost me.

Cosplayers: please make your way around to my table. I would love to see your costumes and get photos of you for this bloggy thing. Especially if you’re cosplaying as characters I created or that I have written.

Editors and publishers: I am not under exclusive contract at this time. I’m always happy to discuss my working with you. Maybe it’s me, but I think From the Creator of Black Lightning at the top of a project we do will get said project some attention.

Everyone: I truly pride myself on answering questions honestly. However, due to non-disclosure agreements and sometimes me just not wanting to give something away before I’m ready, there will be questions that I can’t or won’t answer.

I’m really looking forward to Cherry Capital Comic Con. I hope to see you there. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

ECBACC, GLYPH AWARDS AND ME

Bloggy Tony has been off his game for a few weeks now, which is why you haven’t seen too many new bloggy things. I’m running behind on my weekly “Tony’s Tips” columns as well. That won’t change quickly. Right now, I’m concentrating on getting ready and strong enough for this weekend’s East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC) in Philadelphia. You can read about it here.

One of the things I look forward to when I attend ECBACC is seeing the new comics from the Glyph Awards nominees and other creators. What generally happens is that, whatever I make selling stuff at my table, I spend on comics at the convention. Professor Bill Foster, a giant among men in so many ways, tells me that I’m participating in the “Black Economy” when I do this. Since he’s smarter than me, I’m more than happy to roll with that.

My life has been very hectic since DC Entertainment and I came to an agreement on my past service to DC and our future relationships. As with any relationship, there have been ups and downs and a few disappointments. Likely on both sides. But, as anyone who reads this blog and my other online writings know, I’m grateful I was able to reboot my proudest creation in the Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands six-issue series and would love nothing more than to write Black Lightning comics until my dying day.

I’m also over the moon in love with the Black Lightning TV series. I was thrilled when DC asked me to write a “Black Lightning Core Values” paper even before they hired the brilliant Salim and Mara Brock Akil to be the series show runners. I was excited that we got to talk about all things Black Lightning in a very productive phone conference DC arranged. And I can’t even describe the buzz I got when Salim brought me out to Burbank to meet with the writers of the series. These are all things I dreamed would happen but, until they did, never actually believed they would.

There is so much of me in the Black Lightning show that I sometimes slip and call it “my” show. But that’s not accurate. The Akils, the writers and the best cast on television bring so much of their own genius to each and every episode. Every Tuesday night, I felt like I was unwrapping a special present.

I can’t predict my future with DC or the Black Lightning series. I do know there is no other character and no other projects to which I would rather devote my talents than Black Lightning. Whether it’s in the pages of new comic books or on the small screen or whatever other opportunities arise.

Back to ECBACC. For the foreseeable future, ECBACC is one of only two conventions where I’ll be signing for free. The other one will be November’s Akron Comicon. I’m updating my signature policy for other conventions, but you can see the original draft of the policy by checking out this bloggy thing.

Because I’m still sorting things out, I don’t want to say too much about my plans for the next few months. I will be appearing at many conventions this year, though my previously announced schedule will be changing somewhat. I will be holding as many of my fan-favorite Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales as I can squeeze into that convention schedule. Keep watching the bloggy thing for news of my appearances and garage sales.

I’m taking a break from most of my online posting, but that’s just until I get things back to my normal crazy schedule. I’ll post new bloggy things as often as I’m able.

Despite my crazy life, I remain open for business. If you want to know what that means, here’s yet another bloggy thing for you to check out. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by. That’s all for now. I’ll be back as soon as possible with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Saturday, May 12, 2018

PHANTOM FRIDAY

Lee Falk’s the Phantom is one of my favorite comics characters. I first saw him in the Saturday newspaper my father would bring home. Because of his grueling schedule at the family bakery and the time he spent taking care of his wife and children, my father only had time to relax and read a newspaper that one day of the week. Though it was impossible for me to truly follow any Phantom story, I took a liking to the character right away.

Over the years, I have followed the Phantom in his newspaper strip adventures, prose adaptations of those adventures, various cartoon and cinematic treatments of him and every comic book I could lay my hands on. These days, in addition to following the Phantom’s comic strip online and reading the occasional and usually unsatisfying American Phantom comic book, I subscribe to the Phantom comics that are created by Frew Publications in Australia.

This recurring “Phantom Fridays” feature will appear on an ongoing basis in this bloggy thing of mine. It won’t run every Friday, but you’ll probably see it a couple times a month. While it will cover any American Phantom comic books I read, it will mostly discuss the Frew issues and specials.

Giantsize Phantom #4 (approx. $7.50 in U.S. dollars) is a recent addition to the Frew roster. Its 100 pages present a Phantom story  and reprints of other Frew characters, many of them bearing a more than slight resemblance to the Ghost Who Walks. We also get text pages on various aspects of Australian comics history and, usually, a brand-new story of one of the characters.

The fine Glenn Lumsden cover highlights the science fiction nature of this issue’s contents. The lead story is a reprint of Lee Falk’s “How the Phantom Saved the Earth.” It’s a 1993 Sunday story drawn by Sy Barry. That’s followed by stories of Captain Strato by John Dixon from the 1950s; Cometman by Peter Chapman, another tale from the 1950s; and a new Planetman story by Shane Foley, whose work I have enjoyed in Alter Ego and elsewhere. Planetman is another hero from the 1950s. Wrapping up the issue is a text piece on Planetman by Kevin Patrick. The back cover announces another new Planetman adventure by Christopher Sequeira and Massimo Gamberri.

I can’t tell you these non-Phantom reprints are terrific stories. They’re not. They do have a certain charm and a definite historical importance, but they are so-so at best.

Though the art in Foley’s original Planetman story isn’t as good as the Barry and Dixon visuals, I loved this adventure. Especially in how it tied in with the lead Phantom story. Nicely done.
                                                                                

The issue also came with a Phantom’s Universe card featuring Hero, the Phantom’s trusty stallion. The card measures 5.5 by 3.5 inches.

                                                                                 

The Phantom #1800 [approx. $9 in U.S. dollars] is the title’s 2017 Christmas Special. The 100-page issue features three stories from  recent newspaper strips. First is “Trouble in the Twelve Nations” by writer Tony DePaul and artist Terry Beatty. This Sunday tale ran from 12/27/2015 to 6/19/16 and had the Phantom foiling a threat to the stability of the kingdom once led by Lothar, great friend to Mandrake the Magician.

“The Wise Guy” ran from 6/26/16 to 4/2/17 and is also by DePaul and Beatty. In this Sunday story, The Ghost Who Walks contends with a family of American mobsters and sets one of them on a better path.

Wrapping up the issue is “The Phantom Stamp,” an odd daily story of an official who wants to issue a Phantom postage stamp. Of course, he thinks the Phantom is merely a legend. The story is written by DePaul and drawn by Mike Manley. It ran from 11/7/16 to 3/11/17.
                                                                                 

In addition to these three stories, which were published in color, the issue came with 63 Phantom trading cards. These showed the Frew covers from issue #232 (3/7/63) to #294 (8/26/65).

                                                                              

Phantom #1801 [approx. $2.75 in U.S. dollars] is a standard 36-page issue.“The Emperor’s Treasure” was first published by Semic Press, which was, at one time, Sweden's largest comic book publisher. The story is from 1981. This is its first Australian publication.

Written by Ulf Granberg and drawn by Jaime VallvĂ©, this adventure of the current Phantom sets him on a treasure hunt in Corsica. It starts with “Kit Walker” visiting an old college professor of his. The treasure is also sought by the lovely-but-evil Madame Sauvage and her brutish henchmen. Published in black-and-white, this is an entertaining tale. Not a classic, but still good.
                                                                                

One more, but it’s the biggest issue of the year. The Phantom #1802 [approx. $12.50 in U.S. dollars] is the title’s 2018 annual. Page count is 212 pages and that’s not counting the 24-page replica edition of Frew’s The Phantom #26.

The theme of the annual is “The Phantom Goes West” and every story is set in the American West. Starting from an informative foreword by Phantom expert Andreas Eriksson, the stories concentrate on the series of events that led to the 17th Phantom meeting and courting his American wife Mary Stillwell.

In “Wagon Master” by Ulf Granberg and Janne Lundstrom with art by Ozcan Eralp, the Phantom rescues former slaves from a vicious man attempting to exploit them. It’s from 1975.

A character from the previous story appears in “The Indian Hater” by Lundstrom and Eralp. In this 1975 story, the Phantom deals with the bigotry of the not-long-for-this-world George Armstrong Custer.

In the short “Terror in the Desert,” the Phantom meets Mary. She’s a member of a religious movement that built a town in the middle of the desert to escape persecution. Another Lundstrom/Eralp, the 1974 story predates the two stories that precede it in this annual.

Written and drawn by Eralp, “Badlands” reveals Mary’s town has been destroyed and sets the Phantom on a search for any survivors. From 1976, it’s a grim, but ultimately satisfying story.

“The Freedom Trail” bu Scott Goodall with art by Felmang is one of the best of the “Phantom Out West” stories. Published in 1999, it involves the invention of dynamite and the Phantom’s quest to put an end to a foreign slaver trying to sell freed slaves across the seas. I’d rank it as a classic.

“The Phantom Cowboy” is a 1994 daily story by Lee Falk with art by Sy Barry, George Olesen and Keith Williams. It tells the story of the 16th Phantom meeting and marrying his wife Anne. The tale seems to be at odds with the previous stories of the 17th Phantom, but I can overlook that. The Phantom’s longevity and his being handled by so many different creators around the world makes such blips in the timeline impossible to avoid.

I got a kick out of “The Assassin,” a 1991 story written by Norman Worker with art by George Olesen. It has supernatural elements and involves time travel.

As much as I love the Phantom, I’d have to say the most exciting story in this annual is a brand new story that reboots and revamps the origin of the Phantom Ranger. Written and drawn by Italian creator Romano Felmang with inks by Max Fish, it’s a terrific tale. All future stories of the Phantom Ranger will appear in Giantsize Phantom.
                                                                              

A replica edition of Frew’s The Phantom #26 is packaged with this annual. As you’ll see from the sample page shown below, the comic book reprinted Phantom newspaper strips in a sideways format. The back cover of the replica has a “no longer available” advertisement for an Australian comic book starring Pop-Eye the Sailorman. Such an odd alteration of the character’s name.
                                                                                    
                                                                              

Also packaged with the annual was a cardboard mask of Kid Phantom, one of the creepiest looking characters ever. The Kid stars in his own ongoing title. I read one excruciatingly awful issue and then canceled my subscription. We will speak of this no more.
                                                                                  
You can buy Frew’s Phantom comic books directly from the publisher. With a little searching, you can also find Australian dealers who will send them to you. I’ll have more information for you the next time I write a “Phantom Fridays” installment.

Thanks for visiting. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Friday, May 11, 2018

COMICS! COMICS! COMICS!

There are so many things I like to write about in this bloggy thing of mine. I read a butt-load of comic books from all over the world every week. I read mystery and police novels (usually set in Ohio). I read non-fiction books on subjects that interest me. I watch what  I realize is an obscene amount of television and tell myself I have to do this because so much of what I watch comes from the comics I  love. On a good week, I get to watch a cheesy monster movie or two.

I’ve been reviewing all the above for more columns and years than I can remember. I’ve been told my reviews are helpful to readers. I’ve been told the favorable ones help the sales on the things that I praise. I have no way of knowing if this is the case or not. But, since I like writing reviews and you seem to enjoy reading them, I figure I’ll keep doing this.

Marvel’s Monsters Unleashed [$3.99] seems like a super-hero comic book created by someone who asked the question, “What comic would Tony Isabella get a kick out of?” This series is a good answer to that question.

Kid Kaiju is Kei Kawada, a young Inhuman with the ability to create and summon monsters by drawing them. He’s been working with Damage Control, Elsa Bloodstone and others to use his power for good while trying not to make his loving parents too crazy.

Starting with issue #9, new writer Justin Jordan has been bringing us “Learning Curve,” a story arc in which Kei teams up with various creations for solo missions. These are solid complete-in-an-issue adventures that have been great fun.

The first three chapters of this arc have three different artists. Francesco Gaston, Bachan and Alex Arizmendi all deliver fine work. Color artists Chris Sotomayor and Marcio Menyz bring consistency to the visuals. Kudos to departing editor Christina Harrington and senior editor Mark Paniccia for their roles in creating this truly entertaining series.

Issues #6-11 are collected in Monsters Unleashed Vol. 2: Learning Curve [$17.99], due to be released in late May. Earlier volumes in the series - it started as a crossover event - are also available.

ISBN 978-0785196372
                                                                                  

Commando #5060 features “The Fighting Few” by Maitland with art by Gordon C. Livingston, who also did the cover painting. This story is designated as an “Air War 1939-45" tale. It’s also part of the digest-size comic magazine “Gold Collection,” which denotes a story being published for the third time. This story originally appeared in 1969 and was reprinted in 1977.

Conflicts between fighting men is a standard plot device for these 63-page adventures. This time, the conflict is between a squadron leader who can’t be trusted and a flying officer who takes the law into his own hands to protect himself and his fellow pilots. Thanks the squadron leader, the flying officer’s reputation has taken some hits. This isn’t a classic issue of Commando, but it’s a solidly-crafted and entertaining story in a genre we don’t see often enough these days.

                                                                                       

Commando #5061 presents the all-new “Fenshire Sliver” by George Low with artist Kieth Page, who also did the striking cover. This issue is designated “War in Europe 1939-45.”

Obsession is the theme of this tale, notable that of platoon leader Lieutenant Adrian Seacombe of the Fenshire Regiment. Seacombe cares only for his ancestor’s regimental silver. Private Harry Clark is a member of the elite class, but turns down a commission to serve with the regular soldiers. He and his best mate Joe Reagan lose the silver in France during what is known as the “Phoney War.” Because of this, Harry and Joe are on the front lines of Seacombe’s insane obsession with the silver.

This 63-page adventure has plenty of surprises, excellent character development and a most satisfying ending. It’s an issue that fuels my obsession to sometimes write an issue of Commando or another war comic like it.
                                      
                                                                                                                             
Commando #5062 reprinted “Time to Pay” by K.P. MacKenzie with art by C.T. Rigby and cover art by Ian Kennedy. The tale was previously published in 1993. It’s designated as an “S.O.E.” story.

The Special Operations Executive was formed from the amalgamation of three existing secret organizations. Its purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.

This story focuses on Captain Mario Celini’s unit. Though they were allies, the Germans treated the Italian soldiers like disposable cannon fodder. When the tides of war shift, Celini and his men join forces with a British officer to fight the Nazis and the vicious SS officer in charge of them. Not a classic adventure, but, like most of the Commando offerings, an entertaining read.
                                                                                 

Inspired by the recent Batman/Shadow meetings I’ve read, I decided to finally read all the other Shadow comics published by Dynamite. I started with The Shadow #1-25 [2012-2014]. Written by Garth Ennis and then Victor Gischler and then Chris Roberson, this version of the classic hero has more of the mystic around him than in the pulp magazine stories I’ve been reading. It took a few issues for me to get comfortable with this.

Having accepted the supernatural elements, I really enjoyed these comics. As cold as the Shadow is, I found myself sympathizing with his never-ending quest for redemption and his burden of having to deal harshly with evildoers. That’s sort of his job description.

The comics were well-written with truly formidable villains. They had good art and visual storytelling. The Shadow’s aides were well played, especially Margo Lane and Burbank. Most importantly, every story arc had a satisfying conclusion.

I have a three-inch-high stack of Dynamite’s Shadow comics waiting for me. I’m suspect I’m going to enjoy reading them over the next few weeks.
                                                                                   

I’m a sucker for holiday-themed super-hero comic books. DC Rebirth Holiday Special [February 2017; $9.99] just turned up in the Vast Accumulation of Stuff that fills a great deal of Casa Isabella. It may be a year old and this might be several months after the last Christmas and before the next one, but the cover by Jorge Jimenez spoke to me. So here we are.

Paul Dini and Elsa Charretier provide “A Very Harley Holiday,” the introduction that wraps around the entire special. It’s fun stuff. There are two Harleys in my mind: the spritely one and the darker murderous one. I prefer the former, but the two have been used in an interchangeable manner. In the world where I make the decisions at DC, we either go with the former or established that there are actually two Harleys. Might be a way to freshen up the character.

There are ten stories of varying lengths in the special featuring Superman and Batman, Superboy and Krypto, Batman and Detective Chimp, Wonder Woman and Constantine, the Flash, New Super-Man, Batwoman, The Titans, Batgirl and Nightwing and the Green Lanterns. I’m not going to write a story by story review, but I will mention the highlights.

Tim Seeley’s Superman and Batman story - “The Last Minute” - was my favorite in the issue. Nice character work, some warm laughs and nice art by Ian Churchill. Whenever Batman is humanized, it strikes a happy place in my brain. The Batman/Detective Chimp team-up by Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte was also fun.

The Titans appear in “What a Year for A New Year” by James Asmus. It’s a so-so story, but worthy of mention because it features the Silver Age villain Ding-Dong Daddy. I have to give the tale points for the groovy comeback.

Also worthy of mention was “The Epiphany” by writers Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala with art by V. Kay Marion and Tony Gray. Judgmental aliens challenge Green Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz with the fate of Earth in the balance. This isn’t ground-breaking comics - we’ve seen this many times before - but the portrayals of Jessica and Simon elevate the story. I liked it.

I know there’s another DC holiday special or two in my boxes upon boxes of comics waiting to be read. When I find it, I’ll move it to the top of my reading pile.

That’s all for now, my friends. I’ll be back soon with more stuff. Have a great day.

© 2018 Tony Isabella