Saturday, May 30, 2015

AVENGERS GRIMM

Avengers Grimm [2015] is a recent direct-to-video release fro, the fun folks at The Asylum, makers of such cinematic goodies as Nazis at the Center of the Earth, Mega Piranha and, of course, Sharknado and its sequels. If one can love a movie studio, then I’m deeply, madly in love with The Asylum.

The Asylum’s spirited movies may not have the biggest budgets and stars, but they capture the wonderfulness of the “B” movies that enlivened my childhood. When I watch one of their movies, I feel like that 12-year-old boy who huddled close to his family’s black-and-white TV set in Cleveland with the sound turned down low so as to not disturb the rest of the family.

Ghoulardi aka Ernie Anderson was my guide to monstrous movie mayhem in those bygone years. He was the king of Cleveland TV and taught me the ways of Godzilla and the Black Scorpion and that crazy tree monster that came from Hell. Just saying “Hell” out loud back then would have been grounds for going to confession at Saints Philip and James Church.

If I want to be honest and I always try to be honest with my bloggy thing readers, that black-and-white TV was my real church and the beatnik-like Ghoulardi was its pastor. Small wonder I grew up and became the founder and pastor of the First Church of Godzilla, now holding services on Facebook. But I digress.

In Avengers Grimm, five fairy-tale heroines are whisked from their magical world to our more mundane world by the evil machinations of Rumpelstiltskin. Here, they must use their magical powers and their well-honed natural skills to keep “Rumpy” from conquering our world as he seeks a way back to their world. Yes, I called him “Rumpy.” I’m not typing “Rumpelstiltskin” more often than I absolutely have to. I wouldn’t do that to my Spell Checker.

The premise of this movie delights me. Some have called it a mash-up of Marvel’s Avengers and Once Upon a Time - not without some justification - but this movie doesn’t feel like either the super-hero movies or the TV series to me. It has flaws which kept it from being as good as it could and should have been, but, though I will mention them here today, didn’t keep from spending an enjoyable 87 minutes with Snow White and her posse.

The "Avengers Grimm" are Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and the outsider Red (as in riding hood). The first three have magical powers, Rapunzel has weaponized hair and Red is just hella good at archery and other fighting skills. Working with the villain are the Wolf (of course), Iron John (a gangster forced to work with Rumpy to protect his neighborhood), an extremely corrupt police force and a legion of transformed and mind-controlled human beings who got on the wrong side of Rumpy.

Lou Ferrigno gives a terrific performance as Iron John. Casper Van Diem is a little chewy as Rumpy. The fairy-tale fighters - Lauren Parkinson, Milynn Sarley, Marah Fairclough, Rileah Vanderbilt and Elizabeth Peterson - are a little shaky with their performances, but look and move well. With a little work, I think they could all be much improved in any sequel.

Briefly seen is Jonathan Medina as “Jack,” who could be either Jack Be Nimble or Jack the Giant Killer. He has a great “don’t blink or you’ll miss it scene” where’s he helping a girl and her little dog to safety. I assume the magic mirror portals open to more than one fantasy world.

Avengers Grimm was written and directed by Jeremy M. Inman. I think this is his first major writer and director gig, though he worked as a digital imaging technician on nearly two dozen other movies. He’s also been an actor, producer, editor, second unit director and filled other roles as well. It’s a good first effort. I hope to see more of his work in the future.

Avengers Grimm isn’t a great movie. It is a fun movie with obvious potential to become a series of movies. That’s all I ask from “B” movies and The Asylum rarely disappoints me.

Forget about Disney and Universal and all those other movie-making places. When I grow up, I want to be in Asylum pictures.

Come back tomorrow for my review of a non-Asylum movie that may be one of the worst movies I ever have seen and reviewed.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Friday, May 29, 2015

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY FRIDAY

I read another batch of the free Free Comic Book Day comic books I got from my pal Bob Hoskins and the cool crew of Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. Let’s get right to it...

There were three contenders for my Best FCBD Issue of the Week, but I had to go with Terrible Lizard #1 from Oni Press. Written by Cullen Bunn with art by Drew Moss and colors by Ryan Hill, this is an all-ages series about a girl and her tyrannosaurus.

The two of them meet cute. Dad is a scientist working on a temporal displacement project for the government. Jess is a lonely girl who has no friends because of the demands of her father’s work. Wrex is the tyrannosaurus who bonds with Jess because she’s the first human it meets when it’s dragged growling into our time and also because she’s the only human not trying to kill it.  After reading just the one issue, I love this series.

So...does Terrible Lizard meet my criteria for a good Free Comic Book Day issue? It sure does. It features quality material, it is complete accessible to new readers and, judging from my reaction to it, it will entice new readers to buy the comic book. My reaction was to immediately order the trade paperback.

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The first runner-up was Mercury Heat from Avatar Press. Launching in July as a monthly, this sci-fi series is set on Mercury in the future. It’s written by Kieron Gillen with art by Omar Francia and, yes, I did say it was set on Mercury, which isn’t generally thought of a great planet for human life. Gillen explains it all in the 19 pages of notes that follow the 11 pages of story that leads off the giveaway. Now I’m not a scientist, nor am I a right-wing science-denying dickweed, but what I read was more than enough for me to willingly suspend my disbelief and enjoy this and any future issues of Mercury Head I might read.

Luiza Bora is the protagonist of Mercury Heat. She’s a tough woman who wanted to be a cop on Earth but was told she wasn’t suited for such work. Mercury isn’t nearly as picky.

Mercury Heat isn’t an all-ages book, but it’s perfectly accessible for teen and older readers. Luiza is a good character and she could be a great character. The writing and art are first-rate.  I’m not an avid reader of science fiction these days, but I saw enough in this free comic book that I want to read more. Let’s score this as a win for Avatar Press.

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The second runner-up this week is Tales of Honor #0 from Top Cow. This issue features the 17-page “Bred to Kill” by Matt Hawkins and artist Linda Sejic. The story is set in something called the Honor Herrington Universe and, while a text page preceding the story does give a new reader a bit of a leg up into this universe, it doesn’t offer enough information. I had to turn to Wikipedia:

Honor...Harrington is a fictional character invented in 1992 by writer David Weber as the heroine of the eponymous "Honorverse", a universe described in a series of best-selling military science fiction books set between 4003 and 4025 AD.

Harrington is an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy (RMN), the space navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, an interstellar monarchy that counterbalances its relatively small size with superior space combat technology and capability. She has a genius for tactical command, often overcoming significant odds in critical battles and frequently finding herself at the centre of significant military actions. Her dedication to duty and uncompromising performance results in receiving numerous awards and promotions, earning the respect of interstellar empires, and accumulating implacable enemies. She is a skilled martial artist and through her association with her treecat companion Nimitz, develops an empathic sense that assists her in understanding the emotions of those around her.


Even though Tales of Honor #0 didn’t meet all my criteria for what a FCBD issue should be, the story was sufficiently well-told and entertaining enough that it got me to seek out more information on the series myself. As with Avatar’s Mercury Heat, I’m interested in reading more of this character and her universe.

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Moving right along...

The Legendary Comics 2015 Preview is little more than a catalog of upcoming and existing titles. Some of those titles might interest me, but the nature of this preview doesn’t allow more than a quick sales pitch and a cover for most of the titles...and not much more for others. In my case, my interest comes from either familiarity and appreciation for the creators - Chris Robertson, Steven Grant, Mark Waid and others - or an existing regard for a property being turned into a comic book, such as Godzilla and Pacific Rim. I don’t know if a new reader would have that same level of interest. I have to write this giveaway as less than sufficient for the job at hand.

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As always with FCBD giveaways, there are comic books which simply hold no or little interest to me. I can’t judge those with the same confidence I review other titles.

Boom! Studios Ten Year Celebration 2015 is a thick comic that has come-ons for ten different titles. Most of those are adaptations of cartoons or movies which I’ve never seen and will likely never see. Things like Adventure Time and The Regular Show. I know these are popular, but they have no attraction for me. I am familiar with and enjoy Mouse Guard, Peanuts and Garfield. Because I’ve heard great things about it from folks whose opinions I respect, I have a copy of Lumberjanes on its way to me. But I don’t think the two to four pages of each of these features offers enough of a come-on to get a new reader to check them out.

I’ve never been able to get into Sonic the Hedgehog or Mega Man, so this Archie giveaway comic did nothing for me. I also didn’t find it accessible to readers who aren’t already fans of the games or comic books, nor did I find the material included in the issue to be of high quality. As I have it previous years, I would have to rate this giveaway issue a fail.

I feel the same about the Street Fighter Super Combo Special from Capcom and Udon Entertainment. I don’t care about the video games. I didn’t find the material accessible or good. It may well delight those readers who are already into Street Fighter, but I can’t see it enticing any other readers.

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I have never watched an entire episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, but I did enjoy reading SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies 2015 from United Plankton Pictures and Bongo Comics. The 22-page lead story was fun, as were the short back-up strips. I don’t see myself watching the cartoon or buying the comic book as a result of reading this issue - time and money are the issues here - but I could see a reader who had a passing interest in the show being won over by this giveaway comic. This FCBD comic succeeds.

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I really wanted to like the Drawn & Quarterly FCBD 2015 SuperMutant Magic Academy/Step Aside Pops Combo more than I did. The premise of Jillian Tamaki’s SuperMutant Magic Academy seemed like it would be right in my wheelhouse, but the execution of the short gags left me unimpressed. The Step Aside, Pops gags from Hark! A Vagrant creator Kate Beaton were better but a very strange companion to the Tamaki pages. Ultimately, I think this FCBD giveaway would be confusing to most new readers. It’s not a complete fail, but it’s some distance from being a success.

That’s all for this edition of Free Comic Book Day Friday. I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about a new release from The Asylum. See you then.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Thursday, May 28, 2015

TELEVISION THURSDAY

My new normal is writing and researching until either I can’t think straight or various body parts start hurting. Then I read or watch TV. Writing about the stuff I read and the stuff I watch makes me feel less like I’m goofing off. I am a little touched in the head.

ABC

I have almost the entire second season of Agents of SHIELD sitting unwatched on my DVR. I hope to start watching those episodes soon. When I get to the end of the season, I’ll write about the series. I’ve already written about Agent Carter.

Sainted Wife Barb and I watch Castle together. The previous season ended on a stupid cliffhanger which was resolved in a manner only slightly less stupid. If we didn’t love Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic and the rest of the cast so much, we might have dumped the series right then and there. However...

The season picked up nicely with several solid episodes and a plot development that had writer Richard Castle bounced from his working relationship with Detective Kate Beckett and opening up a private detective firm. It was a crazy wonderful notion and, to my delight and surprise, the show didn’t let it go on too long.

That was followed by more solid episodes, a resolution to two old foes, a dumb resolution to the previous season cliffhanger’s final questions and an intriguing look at what drove Castle to become a mystery writer. However, in usual dumb TV style, the season ended on a couple of silly plot developments that are supposed to make us believe...everything will change.

Beckett has taken the Captain’s test, which, of course, would take her off the streets. She is also being recruited by serious people within the department to run for the state senate, which makes as little sense as me running for Miss America.

End-of-the-season cliffhangers are a mug’s game. I wish they hadn’t become a staple of scripted dramas and, for that matter, scripted comedies. A pox on them!

Also from ABC...I was the only member of my family to sit through the entire first season of the musical comedy Galavant. I found it amusing and especially enjoyed Timothy Omundson as King Richard. I am amazed the show got renewed for a second series, but I’ll be on board for it.

Cancelled by ABC...Forever was about a seemingly immortal New York City medical examiner. It was very well acted with decent writing, but I just stopped watching it at one point because it didn’t seem to be moving forward at all. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had that experience with the series.

Looking at the new ABC shows that have been announced, The Muppets is the only one that interests me. Because it’s the Muppets...and that’s good enough for me.

CBS

I like my cop/detective/forensics shows, so I watch a lot of CBS’ shows. Since I’m several episodes away from current on Criminal Minds, CSI: Cyber and Scorpion - Barb watches that last one with me - I’ll save those for another column.

Elementary has been excellent this season. The show often stresses that Sherlock Holmes is a drug addict, but he has always managed to resist falling off the wagon. The season finale isn’t explicit as to whether or not Holmes takes that fall, but it presented one of the most horrifying evil plots against the great detective that we have seen. The source of that evil is so petty its revelation might well have been the most frightening thing I have seen in scripted television this season. Well done.

CSI has been cancelled after an uneven season. Ted Danson was not enough to hold the show together. Elizabeth Shue and other recent additions never jelled. Veteran actors seemed to be off their game all season and the show never recovered from the loss of the great  Paul Guilfoyle at the end of last season. Whatever the show needed to make it as good as it had been, the current show runners couldn’t find it.

CSI will have a two-hour finale next season. After that, Danson’s character is moving over to CSI: Cyber. That looks like an awkward move to me, but I’ll keep an open mind.

The Big Bang Theory continued to make me laugh with and not at its quirky characters. There are comics fans who hate the show and take every joke personally, but I don’t haven’t seen jibes half as cruel as those I read online from actual fans.

Two and a Half Men has ended, well past its time. I kept watching it because Ashton Kutcher, Jon Cryer, Conchata Ferrell, Melanie Lynskey and Courtney Thorne-Smith were still very funny performers. But the show had been getting more and more mean-spirited over the years and its finale was a textbook example of a creator just being a dick. I won’t miss it.

CBS has three new shows that interest me. Supergirl looks like so much fun. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders will star Gary Sinise and I’ll give any show he does a good look.

The third series is a summer show. Zoo is based on a book by James Patterson about the animal kingdom turning on mankind. While I am not sure which side I’ll be rooting for, I will say it looks to be a pretty exciting and scary show.

NBC

The only show I watched on NBC this season was Constantine, based on the DC Comics character. I had been watching Grimm, but stopped about midway through the second season for no other reason than I was trying to cut back on my TV viewing. I recall the show fondly, so I may well catch up on it one of these years.

Constantine started out disappointing, but got better as the first and only season progressed. I was enjoying the show, but, alas, in its final episode, it fell prey to stupid cliffhanger syndrome with a revelation that made no sense whatsoever.

If the show does return - and that seems unlikely - it should waste no time “fixing” the absurd cliffhanger and introducing more of DC’s supernatural characters into the mix. The show was already hinting at the Spectre. He’s a good place to start.

As far as new NBC shows, I haven’t come across any that interest me enough to watch them. Maybe in 2016-2017.

That’s all for this edition of “Television Thursday.” I’ll be back next Thursday with more TV reviews and I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of “Free Comic Book Day Friday.” See you then.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 68

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 and fighting skills) Johnny Clay spoke to the short of stature (but big on comics-reading skills) teenage Tony Isabella.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel Comics 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. This is the 68th installment in that series.
 
The Rawhide Kid #83 [January 1971] could have been billed as “the story you demanded!” Because, as the cover by Larry Lieber and John Tartaglione shows, after countless reader requests, the Kid becomes a lawman!

“The Rawhide Kid, Lawman” (20 pages; but pages 12 and 13 are half-pages) was written and penciled by Lieber and inked by Tartaglione. In the lawless town of Deadrock, the Kid is making a quick stop to pick up supplies. He knows a town like this spells trouble that he can live without.

When reckless trail hands ride into town and almost run over a boy and his dog, Rawhide rescues the boy and then confronts the galloping lunkheads. They draw down on the Kid and he disarms four men with three shots. Because he’s that good and because there wasn’t room for a fourth sound effect.

The townspeople recognize the Rawhide Kid, but the mayor says that he doesn’t care if the Kid was Jack the Ripper. He thanks Rawhide for standing up to the cowpokes. Another citizen asks the Kid if he would consider hiring on as the town’s sheriff. No one but Rawhide is concerned the Kid is an outlaw with a price on his head.

MAYOR: Other gunmen of questionable character have become mighty fine peace officers!

CITIZEN: This could be a way to square yourself with the law!

CITIZEN: Besides, there’s no warrant out on yuh in this county! Yuh kin settle down here and still do what you do best...gunslingin’! Only now it’ll be to keep law and order!

The Kid accepts the job. The townspeople are thrilled they have “a first-rate peace officer who’ll make it safe for decent folks to walk the streets!"

The Kid vows to do his best and wonders if this marks the beginning to a new life for him:

What an ironic twist of fate! After all these years of dodging tin stars, I end up wearing one!

But maybe this badge will buy me the decent, respectable life that I’ve hankered after for so long! Maybe my days as a fugitive are ended forever!


The lawman job suits the Rawhide Kid. Within three pages, the Kid has become a popular figure in the town:

For the first time in years...folks are smilin’ at me...instead of eyeing me suspiciously and fearfully! It sure feels great!

The story cuts to Luke Clanton, who’s about to complete a five-year sentence for armed robbery. It was the Rawhide Kid who caught Luke and brought him to justice...and it’s revenge against the Kid that has obsessed Clanton all those years.

Normally, a Luke Clanton, even with a gang out of owlhoots, would not be much of a problem for the Rawhide Kid. But, as that bastard fate would have it, Nightwind, our hero’s horse, gets a roof caught in a gopher hole. The Kid does a header into the hard ground. When he comes to, his vision is blurred and he can hardly see anything.

The town doctor says Rawhide’s eyes are undamaged. His vision will return to normal in a few days. The Mayor tells the Kid he can stay with him and the missus while he heals.

Meanwhile, Clanton finds out the Kid is the lawman of Deadrock and heads there with his gang. The outlaws terrorize the townspeople. If the people don’t hand over the Kid within the hour, Clanton and his goons will level the entire town.

The Mayor says they can’t turn the Kid over to Clanton because the outlaws will kill our blinded hero. The townspeople says it’s the Kid or the town. Rawhide begs to differ:

Your only chance is to stand up to these gunmen! You can do it! You far outnumber them. I can’t see, but I can draw upon my own experience to tell you how to fight them! Together, we can win!
 
The townspeople don’t share Rawhide’s confidence. They give him to Clanton. But Luke doesn’t think his revenge will be complete if the Kid doesn’t know who he is...and the Kid doesn’t remember someone who was just one of the guns he’s tangled with all over the west. Clanton decides to take the Kid with them. He’ll hold him prisoner until Rawhide’s sight returns and then kill him.

Blurry of vision or not, Rawhide isn’t going to go out that easy. He attempts to escape, knocking over one outlaw only to be tripped by another. Fortunately, the fall restores the Kid’s sight. So he grabs a gun from one of his captors and, clearly not feeling very kindly, kills every last one of them.

The Kid reflects on the carnage: His name was Luke Clanton...and his thirst for vengeance is quenched at last! The ironic thing is that I don’t even remember him! He’s just another forgotten face from the turbulent past!

That soliloquy reveals so much about the life the Rawhide Kid has led that the reader can actually feel the young man’s pain.

Deadrock is jubilant over the Kid’s return and his taking out the Clanton gang. Until Rawhide tosses his badge to the ground:

I’ll defend folks who are worth defendin’...but not you!

The measure of a town is how it weathers a crisis! Some towns stand tall and proud when the goin’ gets rough! But, when trouble came to Deadrock, you folks looked the other way...and left a blind sheriff to the tender mercies of armed killers!

And so, I’ll just be pushin’ on! There’s nothing here for me any more! Nothing but a shattered dream...in a town of shame.

Like so much of Lieber’s excellent work on this title, “The Rawhide Kid, Lawman” has never been reprinted in the United States.

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As has become the norm, this issue’s “The Mighty Marvel Checklist” takes up less than one half of a page. Once again, there were no standout issues on the list this go-round. Sharing the newsstands with Rawhide: Fantastic Four #106, Amazing Spider-Man #92, Avengers #83, Thor #183, Captain America #133, Hulk #135, Daredevil #71, Sub-Mariner #33, Iron Man #33, Amazing Adventures #4, Tower of Shadows #9, Sgt. Fury #83, Ka-Zar #3, Marvel’s Greatest Comics #30, Where Monsters Dwell #7, Where Creatures Roam #4, Nick Fury #17, Fear #2, Kid Colt Outlaw #151, Ringo Kid #7, Two-Gun Kid #96. Mad About Millie #17, Mighty Marvel Western #12 and My Love #9.

The rest of the page is a Marvelmania advertisement for “104 Marvel Art Masterpieces” from Marvelmania. The pictures are said to be of “favorite super-heroes, villains, best covers, comic art pages” and come in a variety of sizes from 2.5" x 4" to 8.5" x 11". The cost for the set, including postage and handling, was $2.

I never ordered or saw these items. If you bought them back in the day or acquired them since, I’d love to hear all about them. Send some scans if you can and I’ll share them with your fellow bloggy thing readers.

On the classified ad pages, the pitch for “100 stick-on stamps of the scariest Movie Monsters” is gone, but the usual comics dealers were still on hand: Howard Rogofsky, Passaic Book Center, Robert Bell, Grand Book Inc. and Clint’s Books. One dollar would still get you a sample copy of The Comiccollector fanzine.

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The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page is back this month. The lead item tells of a visit to the Bullpen by Marvelmania’s Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman. I’ve clearly confused my time line on this because I thought Mark and Steve (and myself) were all long gone from that organization by then.

Other items include impressionist Will Jordan entertaining at the first open meeting if the Academy of Comic Book Arts; Sol Brodsky leaving Marvel to start his own comics company (Skywald, though it wasn’t mentioned by name); John Verpoorten being promoted to Marvel production manager; Joe Sinnott returning to Fantastic Four as the title’s inker; Roy Thomas and then-wife Jeanie going to Rutland for the Vermont city’s annual Halloween parade; kudos for Marvel’s new Conan comic series from Harlan Ellison, Don and Maggie Thompson, Dick Lupoff, Glenn Lord, Ted White and August Derleth; and Bullpen welcomes to then-young artists Berni Wrightson and Rich Buckler. The last item reported Buckler working on a new strip by the name of Man-Wolf. Anyone know anything about that never-published strip?

In “Stan Lee’s Soapbox,” the Man talks about Marvel trying to stick to its every-story-complete-in-one-issue policy and not being very comfortable with it. The fans are asked for their thoughts.

The bottom of the Bullpen page has a small ad for Marvel Tales #29 and Daredevil Annual #2. The former has a new cover by Sal Buscema with inks by either Buscema or Verpoorten. It reprints Amazing Spider-Man #39 and #40 by Stan Lee, John Romita and Mike Esposito along with a Doctor Strange adventure by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee from Strange Tales #141.

Daredevil Annual #2 also has a new cover by Sal Buscema with inks by possibly Buscema or Herb Trimpe. Ths issue reprints Daredevil #9 by Wally Wood (script, finished art) and Bob Powell (layouts) and #10 by Stan Lee (script), Powell (pencils) and Wood (inks).

This issue also features a full-page ad for Kid Colt Outlaw #151 with a new cover by Trimpe. Inside are three Kid Colt reprints from 1958 by Stan Lee, Jack Keller and Christopher Rule; Keller and an unidentified writer; and Lee and Joe Maneely. A fourth, non-series story is by artist George Woodbridge and an as-yet-unidentified writer.

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The issue’s finale is its “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page. Rozina Jaworski of Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts wants to see the return of the Lynx from issue #76 and suggests the villainess go after the Kid with all-woman band of outlaws.

Roland Rangno (no address given) is a big fan of the “Tales of Fort Rango” series in Western Gunfighters. He suggests:

Why not have a cavalry attack squad like Sgt. Fury and the Howlers except in the eighteen hundreds? You could have Major Brett Sabre as the commanding officer and some of the men of the fort as his detail. They could be telegraphed from Washington to do special assignments such as chasing border bandits, breaking up a spy-ring which consists of deserters and stopping Indian raids on small villages. Also, once in a while, you could have them defending a small outpost. How are these for ideas?

Finally, Diane Nagura of San Francisco believes “it’s time for the fairer sex to be heard from in Western comics” and adds:

Rawhide Kid has the cool combination of action, suspense and a little romance which every girl needs.

That’s a wrap for this week’s “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” feature. I’ll be back tomorrow with a new “Television Thursday” column.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

TWOMORROWS TUESDAY

The true Golden Age of Comics is right now. It’s a time when fans can read many of the great and not-so-great comic books of decades past in print or electronic form. It’s a time when great new comic books and graphic novels are being created in every genre you can imagine and from all around the world. It’s a time when dedicated comics historians are working tirelessly to discover and preserve the history of the art form and its creators.

TwoMorrows Publishing of Raleigh, North Carolina is a treasure in this most golden of comics ages. The company publishes some of the best magazines of comics history - Alter Ego, Back Issue, The Jack Kirby Collector - and the informative Draw! (The Professional “How-To” Magazine on Comics, Cartooning and Animation). The publisher’s catalog include books on comics history and comics creators. In a competitive field, TwoMorrows more than holds its own with all of the other publishers doing such great work in this area.

I’m currently reading Will Eisner: A Spirited Life (Deluxe Edition) by Bob Andelman [$39.95]. Andelman’s original book was a treasure. This hardcover deluxe edition is the Scrooge McDuck money bin of Eisner history and memorabilia.

Andelman spent three years interviewing Eisner for the first book.This edition adds hundreds of black-and-white and full-cover images to that work. There are new interviews with Drew Friedman, Howard Chaykin, Darwyn Cooke, Sergio Aragones, Michael Uslan and others, interviews “which clear the air on topics left unfinished by the first edition and add depth to the reader’s knowledge of Eisner’s body of work. There’s an introduction by Michael Chabon, followed by a foreword by Neal Adams.

What truly makes this expanded edition, just as it made the first edition, is Andelman’s quest to present a complete picture of Will Eisner, his works, his business savvy, his creative genius, and all the other elements and factors that made up the life of one of the greatest comics men of all time. I’m a little over a hundred pages into the book, savoring every chapter and interview, but I didn’t want to wait to recommend it to you. If you’re interested in comics history, if you’re a fan of Eisner’s work, this is a book you must add to your personal comics library.

I don’t know if an expanded edition of an existing work will still be eligible for next year’s comics industry awards, but, if it is, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life will get my votes. Why did it have to come out in the same year as the first in my series of kind of sort of memoirs? I knew I saw Joe Btfsplk hanging around my neighborhood last week!

Keep reading the bloggy thing for the latest on my kind of sort of memoir. Buy Andelman’s book today.

ISBN 978-1-60549-061-8

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Modern Masters Volume 30: Paolo Rivera [$15.95] is a recent entry in the long-running TwoMorrows series of books focusing on some of the best and brightest artists working in comics today. Each book in the series offers a lengthy interview with its subject covering their background, career, inspirations and working methods, as well as enough examples of their work to fill an art gallery.

Rivera grew up in an art store. He paints, he pencils, he inks, he colors and he sculpts. Though I’m a story guy first and foremost, I was fascinated by how he goes about creating his amazing single images and his comic-book pages. It’s illuminating to see how much thought he puts into his work.

Eric Nolen-Weathington has written dozens of books like this one. He is one of the best interviewers in comicdom and his skills makes each of these books a keeper. You’ll not go wrong buying this book or any of the other volumes in the series.

ISBN 978-1-60549-060-1

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Alter Ego is my favorite magazine about comics and Back Issue, its companion magazine, is high on the list as well. The May issues of these titles were a crossover celebrating 75 years of Green Lantern and the Flash.

Alter Ego focuses on the Golden and Silver ages of comics. Issue #132 [$8.95] kicks off with Kurt Mitchell’s entertaining and informative article on Flash, Green Lantern and a third super-star of the Golden and Silver Age, Hawkman. Those familiar with my own comics writing will recall I’m somewhat fond of the Winged Wonder. That’s followed by a remembrance of artist Arthur Peddy and a few more fragments of the missing Justice Society of America story that Alter Ego has been restoring bit by bit.

Michael T. Gilbert concludes his two-part article on Bob Powell’s The Man in Black Called Fate, piecing together the details on that character’s own lost issue. The issue also features an interview with Al Dellinges (the ultimate Joe Kubert fan), a memoriam for the great Al Feldstein of EC and MAD renown and a few pieces on Captain Marvel and other Fawcett Comics characters.

In Back Issue #80 [$8.95], comics historian John Wells picks up the adventures of the Flash and Green Lantern in the Bronze Age. There are several other articles on the two heroes, including one by Mark Waid and another by Paul Kupperberg. Closing out the issue is one final stroll though the various New York offices of DC Comics, now located in the Los Angeles area. I definitely don’t share any dewy nostalgia for DC or its offices - I generally refer to my time as a DC staffer as my “six months in Hell” - but most fans will enjoy the remembrances.

Alter Ego and Back Issue are must-reads for any fan or professional interested in the history of comics. Even as I strive to reduce my Vast Accumulation of Stuff, I know my runs of these magazines will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands.

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The five artists named on the cover of Draw! #30 [8.95] read like a wish list of artists any writer would be thrilled to work with: Chris Samnee, Butch Guice, regular columnist Jerry Ordway, editor-in-chief Mike Manley and Bret Blevins. The magazine’s audience is aspiring artists, but, as with the Modern Masters series, a writer can learn a lot from this publication about working with artists.

Leading off the issue, managing editor and designer Eric Nolen-Weathington interviews Samnee on cartooning in a field increasingly driven by photo-realism. Ordway writes about taking an image from your mind-s eye to the finished page. Manley interviews Guice about his latest work. Blevins and Manley offer a “Comic Art Bootcamp” on the drawing of the human ear. Columnist Jamar Nichols reviews the tools of the trade.

Draw! might not interest the casual student of comics. However, if you’re an artist or a writer looking to understand the artists he will be working with, it’s a valuable magazine.

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The Jack Kirby Collector
#64 [$10.95] is a “Kirby at War” issue and the most intense exploration of the artist’s life as a soldier and the comics which drew on those experiences I’ve ever seen. From the opening feature - a comics story visualization by Jean Depelley and artist Tom Scioli based on the often brutal combat Kirby saw during World War II - to interviews with people who knew Jack or some of his fellow soldiers to rare World War II art by Kirby to overviews of Kirby’s war comics, this issue is sometimes shocking, sometimes terrifying and always interesting. The best Kirby scholarship puts its emphasis on his incredible work and a life that mirrors so much of the American experience. That’s what this fantastic issue of The Jack Kirby Collector does and why I give it my recommendation.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back here tomorrow with another rip-roaring installment of our “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” series.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Monday, May 25, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #109

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...I write about DC's Convergence event!

MEMORIAL DAY: PAST AND PRESENT


Today is Memorial Day. We are at war. We are always at war. Maybe we always will be at war. Maybe that’s our new normal as a nation and as a world.

Mostly old and mostly rich and mostly white men prattle endlessly as to how much we should be at war. They debate how to fight our wars du jour. They debate how many mostly young and mostly not rich men and women they are willing to put in harm’s war to serve our neverending wars. They prattle and they debate and they rage from their safe podiums so far from the realities of war.

Today is Memorial Day. A day when we honor those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our wars.

I used to write about Memorial Day almost every year. I don’t know why I stopped.

I think I need to write about Memorial Day every year. I long for the year I can write about it when we are not at war.

Here some of my Memorial Day thoughts from past years.

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From 2004...

Memorial Day. It's a day to remember those who have died in service to our nation, those whose sacrifices should be honored on each and every day.

Today's column had to reflect this day, but it was hard for me to focus on our slain heroes through my anger at the administration which has so recently and fraudulently sent more than 800 young men and women to their deaths. This current war is driven by the greed of the rich and the powerful and not by any imminent danger to the American people.

Of course and sadly, there *are* wars that need to be fought. Our country was attacked; we must respond to that attack and defend against future attacks. Neither of those goals explains why we're in Iraq or why our soldiers are dying there. Still, this is not a day for such a conversation.

Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Dick Feagler, in that paper's Sunday edition, wrote of a young man who died in Iraq and joins the dead of earlier wars. His column concluded thus:

In the morning, there's a parade. Many of us sleep through that. We lie in bed and hear the thump of the drums from a high school band marching us to a place where some vets will tell us about the kids who have died for us. Somebody is sure to say that a lot of kids have given their lives for us. But my limited experience in war is that kids don't give lives for us. They give lives for each other. They are trained, our children, to try to save each other from the cauldron into which we have sent them.

All bravery really comes from that. When the Iraq kid gets to heaven, most of his friends are young men. He can search as he may, but he will seldom find anybody over 40. And he will never find a politician of the stripe that sent him there.

When we play taps tomorrow, even if some old guy is playing it, keep in mind that it's played for a kid. It always has been. The old folks wipe their tears, but maybe they ought to be more careful...more careful of the kids from the Marne and Anzio and, tomorrow, Iraq.


I can't say it better than that.

Memorial Day.

We honor those who have given their lives for our country by remembering their sacrifice. I think we also honor them by making sure we don't ask today's soldiers--or tomorrow's--to make similar sacrifice for anything less than the defense of this nation or to safeguard its most precious ideals.

If there be fault to be found in our military, I think it lies more with elected officials who don't embrace those ideals or even understand what they are...and those unwilling to adequately arm and compensate our troops...than with the men and women who serve in its ranks. That, too, is a subject we will discuss here in the weeks to come.

But, today is for remembering our war dead and thanking them for that sacrifice. It seems so utterly inadequate to express with words my admiration and gratitude for their acts. I owe them much, and, yet, this, too, is what they fought and died for.

Make War No More. We have to try harder.

For all of them. For the Iraq kid.

And for tomorrow's kids.

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From 2006:

Memorial Day is a day for commemorating the U.S. men and women who died in military service to this country, although it has also become known for cookouts and the running of the Indianapolis 500. I get the "cookouts" part of it, such gatherings are reflective of the fellowship, ideals, and way of life for which our honored dead made the ultimate sacrifice. It's the cars racing around a track at absurd speeds and at great risk to their drivers that throws me. Then again, I also don't get the whole "climbing a mountain because it's there" stuff. Some sports are just stupid.

Though I make light of some of the ways we Americans celebrate Memorial Day, don't think for a moment that I would ever make light of the tremendous debt we owe those who died in our name. When we stand humbly before their graves, concepts like "good war" or "bad war" are insignificant. These men, these women, died for us, died for our nation. It was a debt we can never truly repay.

Which doesn't mean we can't try.

Now and always, we must equip our soldiers with the tools and equipment they need to complete the tasks we set before them and to complete them safely. We must make sure their personal needs and those of their families are met.

We must give them clear and moral justification for the tasks we set before them. We must not send them into combat unless the danger to our country is clear and imminent. We must not send them into combat in the name of commerce or expediency. Their lives are far more precious than the bottom line or some political advantage. And we must absolutely hold our leaders responsible for failures to command our troops justly and wisely.

I am not an isolationist. There are innocent people suffering in many lands. I can accept our soldiers being deployed to provide humanitarian aid and protection to those innocents. But, always, always, with the highest regard for the safety of the men and women sent on these missions.

Those we honor on Memorial Day gave us the very best they had to offer. We owe them no less than ours.

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From 2008:

Memorial Day is one of those holidays I don't entirely get. Now before anyone accuses me of not supporting the troops, I will quickly add that I most definitely do appreciate the sacrifice our fallen soldiers made on behalf of all of us and honor them for it, and I haven't even once threatened to veto legislation that would give our living veterans a college education and the other benefits anyone with a conscience would readily see they deserve.

Dozens of cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. President Lyndon B. Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace some four decades ago, but the notion of honoring one's fallen soldiers really seems to have originated in the South. Which was sort of problem for me, since the Confederate ladies were placing flowers and flags on the graves of Civil War dead, men who died trying to protect slavery. But, as we have now seen thousands of American soldiers die for President George W. Bush's despicable agenda, it becomes manifest that we can not and never should blame soldiers for the wars our leaders inflict on them.

It also bothers me that Memorial Day has been transmogrified into "Memorial Day Weekend," a celebration of cookouts and other entertainments and pleasures. There's been a bill hanging around Congress for a decade which would do away with the "last Monday of May" celebration and switch the holiday back to its traditional May 30 date. The traditional date would make for a more solemn day and I can see the value in that.

However, I can also see the value in celebrating the sacrifice of our fallen by doing some of the more positive things that define our way of life. We can have those cookouts and other pleasures of the day because of their sacrifice.

Conflicted as I may be, I'm certain our soldiers, both living and dead, deserve our respect and our thanks. We should remember them every day of the year, but most especially on the days when we vote for the leaders who will hold the fates of present and future soldiers in their hands.

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From 2009:

Memorial Day.

This is the day we honor our American men and women who have died in military service. The first Memorial Day was for soldiers who died during the Civil War. It now honors American casualties of all wars and military actions.

There will be speeches and parades. There will be visits to the local cemeteries where our fallen lay. At national cemeteries, volunteers will place flags at each soldier's grave. Flags will be flown half-mast until noon with a moment of remembrance at 3 in the afternoon. All these gestures are fitting and proper.

However...

The best way to honor our war heroes is, as a nation, to live up to the sacrifice they made for us.

They died for their buddies next to them, for their families, and for America at its best. They sure as anything didn't die for politicians or political agendas, or for bloated corporations and equally bloated CEOs.

Some of those buddies, some of those buddies who died and some who lived because of the sacrifices of their buddies, were gay. It isn't even a matter of debate. It's fact. Gay men and women have served in our military, have served honorably in our military, and have died in the service of our country.

It's obscene that the United States of America, the nation by which all other nations are judged, does not allow gay Americans to serve openly in the military. Their blood and their lives, their commitment and their sacrifice, only differ from those of their fellow soldiers by dint of their being forced to deny who they are to serve. If not this Memorial Day then by the next, our President and our Congress must end the military's discrimination against gay Americans. We need their service and skills more than ever as we face enemies radically different from any enemies we have faced in the past.

They fought and died for their families. It's equally obscene that many members of those families have seen their jobs lost due to corporate greed, have seen their jobs leave our country and go overseas, have watched the architects of these deplorable practices earn enormous paychecks while their corporations crash and burn and ask for billions from the citizens they have failed.

They fought and died for our better angels. For the America that educates its children, works to ensure decent health care and housing and nutrition to its citizens, labors to treat all of our people with fairness and justice, does not demonize Americans for their race, religion, or sexuality, and certainly doesn't demonize them for media ratings or political gain.

Honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day. Honor them with the lowered flags and the parades and the speeches and, of course, with our prayers. And then...

Honor them every other day by building and sustaining the kind of America for which they made the ultimate sacrifice.

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2015:

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 ended the DADT policy and allowed gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces. It was signed into law on December 22, 2010 by President Barack Obama. As of September 20, 2011, following certification and implementation of repeal, DADT was no longer U.S. policy. Neither our country nor the world came to an end.

The Act survived two filibusters attempts by Republicans. When it came to a vote in a Senate, every one of the “no” votes was cast by a Republican. No Democrat voted against the act.

It gets better. It gets better because it has to get better if we are to make our world a better place.

It needs to get better faster. Especially for those men and women who serve in our armed forces, no matter their race, gender, creed or sexual orientation, it needs to get better.

Honor our fallen heroes. Help make things better.

© 2015 Tony Isabella