Tuesday, January 24, 2017

LEGION OF COLLECTORS

I love a mystery and I love getting cool stuff in the mail. Thus, I was a prime potential customer for the various subscription boxes  offered to comics and other fans. I think Loot Crate was my first.

Subscription boxes aren’t unique to comics, gaming, horror/sci-fi fandoms or pop culture in general. There are or have been boxes for groceries, snack foods, alcohol, educational stuff, fashion, make-up, pets, sex toys and much more. What they all have in common is that they physically deliver niche and often exclusive products to their buyers.

Loot Crate was my first, but, after a while, I decided the contents of those boxes were more miss than hit with me. Too many gaming and anime items. I needed to get more specific to be passion for comic books and related items.

I currently subscribe to three bi-monthly subscription boxes: The Marvel Collector Corps Box, the DC Legion of Collectors Box and the just-launched Stan Lee Box. I’ll be writing about all these boxes in the next few weeks, but, for today, we’re looking at the January “DC Legacy” box.

I have a “Sidekick Membership” in the Legion. Every other month, I am automatically billed $25 plus postage and handling and receive a box containing “$50 of value in exclusive, high-quality DC Comics and Funko collectible products. No fluff, no filler!”

There is no set commitment with this membership. I can cancel this subscription at any time. I don’t see myself doing this because I have been delighted with each of the boxes I’ve received.

My favorite item this time around was the set of Batman and Robin salt and pepper shakers that pay homage to the classic TV series of the 1960s. Funko figures make me smile; these had me grinning from ear to ear as I showed them to my family.                                                                                 
                                                                       
My second favorite item was the Krypto the Superdog t-shirt with a ringer collar. My son Eddie cast envious eyes on this shirt when he saw it. But, once I put it on and found it to be very comfortable, there was no chance of my giving it up. Some boxes got an alternate shirt: Ace the Bat-Hound. The Ace shirt looked pretty cool and, if I ever find it sold separately in my size, I’ll doubtless buy it.
                                                                                 
Other items included a Plastic Man figure with one stretchy arm. It looks great. When I first started ordering these subscription boxes from DC and elsewhere, I figured I’d sell some of the items to help defray their cost. Except that now that I’m in love with the Funko figures, I don’t think I’ll be able to part with any of them.
                                                                              

The box had a comic book as well: Funko #6: Adventure Comics 452. It had a Funko variant cover by Adam Archer. Inside, it reprinted “Dark destiny, Deadly Dreams” by David Michelinie (writer) and Jim Aparo (artist) with Jerry Serpe (colorist). This 1977 story was a momentous one with the return of Black Manta, a revelation on the villain’s identity and a rift between Aquaman and Aqualad. It also had the murder of Aquaman’s toddler son, a development with which I was not happy back in the day and still despise. Had I remained writing for DC and accepted the company’s offer to become the new Aquaman writer, I would have undone that sensationalistic death in my first issue.

Here’s what I wrote about my plans over a decade ago...

I accepted the Aquaman assignment for one major reason: I was pissed that Aquababy had been killed off. I thought it was a cheap and cruel story development and, rightly or wrongly, I believed it was done because parenthood was not considered a "hip" thing for a super-hero. Carl Barks had shown us just how many good stories you could get out of a parent/child relationship in his wonderful Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck stories. I saw no reason why good stories, albeit probably not as hilarious, couldn't be derived from the same relationship in super-hero comics.

Digression. In my original series plan for Marvel's “It, the Living Colossus,” Bob O'Brien was married to his actress-girlfriend with two teen or nearly-teen children. Anyone in the family could have projected their consciousness into the Colossus and controlled it.  Marvel wanted to go in a different, more traditional super-heroic direction. End of digression.

I wanted to write Aquaman just so I could bring Aquababy back to life. The kid was the product of a marriage between the mixed-species Aquaman and an other-dimensional queen. As I saw it, we only thought he was dead when he was actually going through a metamorphosis.

While the revived Aquababy would still have been a very young child, his mental development would be that of a child in his early teens. Moreover, he would be a genius. I'm talking Reed Richards in Huggies here.

This would freak out the Atlanteans big-time. These were not, as I saw them, the most forward-thinking of people. I mean, they used to boot children out of their city just for having purple eyes or some such. A baby who came back from the dead and was now much smarter than they were, well, that would have to be the work of the devil or their undersea equivalent thereof.

Aquaman would put his family first. He'd renounce his throne, leave Atlantis, and shortly thereafter become a nautical power unto himself. While the stories would always revolve around Aquaman and his family, I also planned to have him put together and lead a team of adventurers and heroes.

Aquaman's new team would be like unto an oceanic Blackhawks. I figured it would include Aqualad, Dolphin (who had, at the time, appeared in but one issue of Showcase), a couple of mer-people from the Superman/Lori Lemaris version of Atlantis, at least one of the nearly-forgotten Sea Devils, and other characters to be announced later. I planned to create new heroes and pick E. Nelson Bridwell's brain for any existing DC characters who might well fit into these demented plans of mine.

I figured Aquaman's activities would annoy and anger a whole bunch of people. His former subjects. Some of the surface world's governments if he opposed their interests. Maybe even some of his Justice League buddies. Lots of possibilities.

That's as far as I got with my plans. I never worked out any plots, never wrote even one page of script. I left DC and didn't write for them again for several years. I rarely read any Aquaman comic books after that.

I wish this mini-memoir has a more interesting ending, but it doesn't. But it does give you some idea of what I would have done with Aquaman in 1977.

                                                                      
                                                                                 

There were two more small items in the “DC Legacy” box. One was a Green Arrow patch. The other was a Swamp thing pin.

That was a lot of wonderful stuff for my $25 plus shipping. You can count me as a very satisfied consumer.

I’ll talk more about subscription boxes at some time in the future. However, tomorrow, I have another installment of our “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” series. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY'S TIPS #193

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Angel Catbird Volume 1 by Margaret Atwood with artist Johnnie Christmas; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad by Dennis Hopeless; and Unfollow: 140 Characters by Rob Williams, Mike Dowling and R.M. Guera!

Monday, January 23, 2017

LOVE IS LOVE

Love is Love [IDW; $9.99] is “a comic book anthology to benefit the survivors of the Orlando Pulse shooting.” It is beautiful and sad and anger-inducing and life-affirming and, in an industry known for its generosity, and its sometimes stumbling forward movement, it’s one of the most remarkable outpourings of support I've ever seen in my forty-four years in the industry. That it hit and remained at the top of The New York Times bestseller list and other such lists fills me with pride for the comics creators and publishers who came together to make this loving statement for a community so unfairly targeted by small minds and unconscionable violence.

My admiration and love for this anthology is getting in the way of this review. I think I can manage to stick to the facts for a few sentences, so here I go...

After hearing of the 49 lives lost in the shooting, Marc Andreyko was feeling gut-punched and helpless. He was not alone. He posted a comment on Facebook suggesting the comics community had to do something, anything, in the wake of such violence. This anthology nigh-spontaneously grew out of his post as dozens of other creators  came forward to offer their services...and a book like this became inevitable...and IDW got involved as publisher...and DC Comics and other publishers got involved...and here we are.

“Here” is an anthology that feels spontaneous but which must have taken incredible coordination on some many levels that the thought of so many hearts and minds and talents and business savvy united in common cause makes me dizzy and, as previously noted, so proud. From the gorgeous cover by Elsa Charretier with Jordie Bellarie to an introduction by Monster and Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, though 140-some pages of comics and other images to the afterword by Andreyko, this is a collection that speaks to the reader’s mind and heart and soul. 

I’m stalling. In a book containing dozens of one and two-page contributions, it seems wrong to mention only a few. The one that brought tears to my eyes was writer James Robinson and artist Sagar Fornies' tale of a career Marine giving a wedding dinner toast to his son and his son’s new wife. I thought of a woman not unlike the heroine of this story, a woman who found happiness after a long struggle and who brought joy to the life of a good man and comfort to the lives of others. I’m getting sniffly and teary writing about the effect the sequence had on me. Comics that powerful do not cross my field of vision every day. Love is Love is filled with such moments.

You know, I’m going to leave it at just that one example of all the great writing and art in this anthology. There are appearances by DC Comics characters and other existing characters. There are expressions of  anger. There is fear. There are calls to action, even if the call is for something as simple and glorious as dancing. As I said earlier, In an industry known for its generosity, Love is Love is perhaps the most amazing outpouring of love and support and righteousness that I have ever experienced.

Love is Love has gone through at least three printings as I write these comments. When I checked its Amazon listing just now, it was “temporarily out of stock.” But copies will be available there and from other vendors. I hope it never goes out of print. Because we need to be reminded of both the tragedy and the love. Because this book needs to be in the hands of every comics reader, especially those whose hearts and minds have been closed by the bigotry of the right. Because it needs to be in every public and school library. Because, despite being suggested for mature readers, it is a book that needs to be read by young people at risk. To tell them that, even in times like this, they are not alone and that there are good and decent people who will be there for them and who will work to make things better for them.

In my mind, this started out as one of my usual review columns in which I would discuss several comics and related items. That plan got changed a few paragraphs back. For today, Love is Love is the only comic book I want to talk about.

Love is love. Never give up, never surrender. Always forward and, for life’s sake, keep on dancing. Not me, of course, because no one wants to see this old white guy dancing, but keep on dancing.

The bigots and the killers can and will be beaten. They will end up in the dustbin of history. Good people can and do come together to make this a better world. Because we are always, forever, stronger together.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Thursday, January 19, 2017

KING KONG VS. TARZAN

Look at that amazing Joe DeVito cover! Is there any doubt why this new Will Murray novel is one of the books I wish I could reading right now? Soon, my precious, soon.

King Kong Vs. Tarzan [Altus Press; $24.95] is part of two ongoing series: “The Wild Adventures of King Kong” and “The Wild Adventures of Tarzan.” From the back cover:

BEAST-GOD VERSUS APE-MAN

The year was 1933. Filmmaker Carl Denham had captured the stupendous monster he had dubbed "King" Kong. But that was only the beginning. Denham was determined to get the dethroned ruler of Skull Mountain Island back to America, and cash in on the greatest wild animal capture in human history.

The saga of how Kong was taken in chains from his Indian Ocean kingdom to New York City has never been told. In order for the cargo freighter Wanderer to make the long transit to the Atlantic, she is forced to circumnavigate Africa—jungle home of the legendary Tarzan of the Apes!

Here is the long-anticipated clash between the Monarch of Skull Island and Lord of the Jungle. When the largest anthropoid who ever lived encounters the savage superman raised by the great apes, will they make peace—or war?


ISBN 9781618272812

I’m a huge fan of Murray’s fiction and non-fiction. He’s one of the best popular culture historians out there and one heck of a great guy to boot. Keep watching the bloggy thing, adventure-lovers! I’ll have more Murray books to tell you along the way.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

DOC SAVAGE: EMPIRE OF DOOM

In the category of books I wish I could be reading right now:

Doc Savage: Empire of Doom by Will Murray and Lester Dent writing as Kenneth Robeson [Altus Press; $24.95]. This latest in “The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage” teams up two of the pulp era’s greatest heroes. From the back cover:

It began with the hijacking of a destroyer from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The stolen warship struck midtown Manhattan with its mighty guns, then vanished far out to sea.

Who were the strange raiders wearing the golden uniforms of no known power who pulled off the daring highjacking? And who was their mysterious leader, a being of seemingly supernatural abilities?

Doc Savage did not know. But The Shadow did! Combining forces, the Man of Bronze and the Dark Avenger follow the trail of a superfoe from The Shadow’s past.

But can they learn to trust one another? From fog-shrouded New York to a futuristic underground kingdom in the heart of Asia, the battle sprawls—with the world’s fate at stake!


ISBN 9781618272850

Keep watching the bloggy thing, adventure-lovers! I’ll have another Will Murray book to tell you about soon.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 98

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 98th installment in that series.

The Rawhide Kid #112 [June 1973] has a cover by Larry Lieber with inks by Herb Trimpe. Inside, the all-new “Frontier Fury” (14 pages) is written and penciled by Lieber with George Roussos inking, June Braverman lettering and Corey Adams coloring. The editor of record is Roy Thomas.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of the story, let me answer a question from a regular reader of this blog. She asked if I’ve read these Rawhide Kid stories since their original publications. Nope. When I reread a tale like this one. I’m doing so for the first time in 44 years. Now, as I reread them, I may recall things I liked or didn’t like about them. However, for the most part, I’m rereading and rediscovering them anew.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The story opens Cole Jessup, “a gunhawk on the run,” ducking into a saloon to avoid the Fargo Boys. He killed one of their own when the man called him out, but he’s not fast enough to outshoot four gunslicks. But, once in the saloon, he recognizes the Rawhide Kid enjoying a bowl of stew.

Jessup joins the Rawhide at his table. The two hit it off. Which is when the Fargo Boys show up.

Cole points out he’s with the Rawhide Kid, making the Fargos think the two men are partners. The Kid has no choice but to back Jessup when the shooting starts. This does not go well for the Fargo Boys. The wounded owlhoots limp away from the saloon.

Fiery rancher Nora Evans storms into the saloon and slaps the face of Cragstone, another rancher. The man wants her land. She accuses him rustling her cattle and killing off her ranch-hands. He laughs and tells her to prove it.

Getting to slap Cragstone was a bonus. Nora came to the saloon to hire men who aren’t afraid of Cragstone or his guns. Only two men sign on: Cole Jessup and the Rawhide Kid. Both are smitten with the pretty young rancher.

Cragstone isn’t worried;

Two young firebrands and a shapely wench are a mighty interestin’ combination! Could be we won’t have to do anything but wait until the fur flies! 

Back at the ranch, the Kid and Cole are enjoying their new jobs and “havin’ a boss lady whose easy on the eyes.” Their romantic rivalry is friendly enough, but Cragstone still thinks they will fall out, leaving the ranch to be easy pickings for him and his goons.

Sure enough, when Cole gets too fresh with Nora, Rawhide steps in and a fistfight ensues. The Kid wins that, but then Cole challenges him to a gunfight. The Kid doesn’t have a choice, but, rather than hurt or kill Jessup, he shoots the gun out of the man’s hand. The angry Cole leaves, telling Rawhide that he can fight Cragstone all by himself.

Unfortunately for Jessup, the Fargo Boys spot him and ambush him. Leaving him for dead, they ride off to sign up with Cragstone. The old man is paying plenty for gun hands.

Cragstone is delighted Jessup is out of the picture. He tells the Fargo Boys they can write their own ticket if they can kill Rawhide as well.

Cragstone’s men cut one of Nora’s fences and make off with cattle. The Kid sends Nora back to the ranch and trails the rustlers. Right into an ambush. He’s outnumbered and pinned down behind some rocks.

Returning to her ranch, Nora sees the fallen Cole. He’s not dead. She hugs him. She does care about him.

Cole deduces Rawhide is heading into a trap. He rides to the rescue and arrives in time to take out a killer who was preparing to shoot the Kid in the back. Between the two of them, Cole and the Kid make short work of the bad guys. Cragstone pulls a hidden gun on his foes. It’s the last bad move he’ll ever make.

I love the last two panels of this story. Cole and Nora kiss. The Kid decides to push on.

COLE: Wal, honey...Cragstone and his boys are out of business! Our troubles are over!

RAWHIDE: From here it looks like your troubles are just beginnin’ ma’am! In any case, I wish you two lots of luck! With your tempers, you’ll need it! What you won’t need, is havin’ me around! So I’ll just push on!

NORA: Adios, kid!

Cole and Nora were fun supporting characters and I wish we had seen them again. Alas, there would only be three more new Rawhide Kid stories in the title’s run.

SPOILERS OVER
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This is one of those stories that deserves to be reprinted...and it was. With a new cover by Gil Kane, it was reprinted in issue #144 [March 1978].

This issue has one of those marketing things that annoyed the heck out of me as a reader and as a Marvel staffer. Across the bottoms of the story pages were these one-line plugs. Like:

Mighty as the Hulk! That’s the macabre Man-Thing...in every fright-filled issue of Fear!

I might have written some of these. I definitely wrote some of the even more absurd topper lines for the British weeklies that Marvel was producing around the same time, the result of our frequently clueless UK partners thinking we should make our weeklies look like every other British weekly. I should write a bloggy thing on this sort of disconnect between the Marvel offices and the folks across the ocean.

Marvel was still running pages of classified ads at this time and there were always ads from comics dealers. In this issue: Steve Keisman (Flushing NY), Comic Sales Company (Brooklyn NY); Passaic Book Center (Passaic NJ); Grand Book Inc (Brooklyn NY); David T. Alexander (Hollywood, CA); Howard Rogofsky (Flushing NY); J. Hunt (Kenmore NY); Robert Bell (Hauppauge NY); and Ken Mieno (Northfield IL). There was also an ad for GB Love’s ComiCollector fan magazine.

There were also lots of non-comics ads. The one that caught my eye this time around was: 
Wear the Badge of the Future in Conservation. Get FREE FACTS about exciting outdoor careers. You could send away for a “free conservation career kit”.
                                                                               

Also in this issue is “ A Man and His Gun!” (5 pages) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. It’s from Kid Colt Outlaw #95 [December 1960]. It’s one of the best of the non-series stories with amazing Kirby/Ayers art and top-notch writing from Lee.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


Three masked riders threaten Ben at gunpoint. They ask “Where are yore irons?”

Ben doesn’t carry guns. The lead rider doesn’t believe him because  “everybody totes a gun in these parts!”

The men unmask. It’s the Collins brothers, Ben’s neighbors, come to play a prank on him. They didn’t believe Ben doesn’t believe in gun play. They wanted to see if he had a hidden gun and knew how to use it. Ben reiterates that he doesn’t believe in gun-fighting.

Red, one of the brothers, expresses his belief that Ben is “yella!”

Ben turns his back and goes inside his cabin.

RED: Well I’ll be switched! We sure got ourselves a chicken-livered neighbor, boys! He won’t fight for nothin’ nohow!

Inside, we meet Ben’s father, a man of the cloth. He realizes that the boys have been riding his son. Ben’s father opines “it’s mighty difficult being the son of a minster at times.”

BEN: Don’t say that, Dad! I’m proud to be your son! And some day I aim to be just like you!

The Collins brothers see smoke coming from their ranch and ride to the scene. Ben and his dad also see the smoke and ride after them.

The main barn is burning like tinder. Impulsive Red grabs a bucket of water and rushes into danger, thinking the barn can be saved. A wall crumbles and Red is trapped inside.

While the other Collins watch helplessly, Ben says they can’t just stand and do nothing. He rushes into the burning barn. Ben’s father and the Collins brothers fear the worst...until Ben comes running out of the fire with Red.

In the final panels, the Collins boys apologize to Ben. They know he has more courage than the three of them put together. He thanks them, but says he has to go. Asked where, he responds:

I’m off to Boyneville to study for the ministry...just like my dad! I’m gonna spread the word thruout the West that the day of the gun has ended! At long last the West has come of age

Sadly, in 2017, we know that the day of the gun is still with us.

SPOILERS OVER
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I love Kirby-drawn westerns, especially when they are accompanied by great writing and inking. I’d love to see Marvel collect some of the best of these stories. Combined with historical annotations of the people and events featured in them.

Next up is a full-page house ad for Dracula Lives! It’s “more than a comic book...a giant-size 76-page magazine masterpiece filled with story strips, features and a treasury of photos!”

The “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” page has no “Stan’s Soapbox” because Marvel has so many “goodies” to be tossed at readers in the coming weeks. There are pitches for Dracula Lives and Monsters Unleashed. There are teasers for Tales of the Zombie and Vampire Tales.

The bulletins page plugs the current issue of Spider-Man, “one of the greatest, most important issues ever...spotlighting perhaps the most momentous turning point yet in the career of our wondrous wall-crawler!” Yeah, it’s the issue when Gwen Stacy was killed by the Green Goblin and a failure of creative imagination.

The half-page bulletins section ends with an item on The Haunt of Horror, the prose-fiction digest edited by Gerry Conway. Even with stories by Fritz Lieber, Harlan Ellison and R.A. Lafferty, HOH will only last two issues.

The rest of the page is an ad for FOOM (Friends of Old Marvel), the new Jim Steranko-produced fan club. For $2.50, a member would get a poster, a membership card, stick-ons, a full year’s subscription to the FOOM magazine and a special surprise envelope. Four issues later, Steranko would leave and I would end up as the next (but far from the last) editor of FOOM Magazine.

The “Riding the Trail with Rawhide” letters column also got cut to half-a-page of really tiny type. Denny Tolmund of Kansas City asks how old the Kid is. He was confused by the difference in how some artists draw him. The answer:

It’s been several years since the fateful gunfight that caused Johnny Clay to be falsely branded an outlaw. At the time of the gunfight, Johnny was approximately nineteen years old. We’d guess his “present” age is about twenty-three.

David Miller of Brooklyn, New York liked that Rawhide Kid #107 had a full-issue adventure, but wasn’t thrilled it was a reprint. He wants all-new, full-length adventures.

David M. Kalis of Clayton, Missouri didn’t like Rawhide Kid #107. He couldn’t buy the “human gorilla” angle.

The bottom half of the page was an ad for Monsters Unleashed, which instructed readers to...

Be on the look-out for:

*Awesome authors like Robert (Psycho) Bloch and Robert E. (Conan) Howard!

*Art and script by the Bullpen’s best!

*Fabulous features on far-out fright films!

*Plus: a treasury of terror-laden photos!


It was an exciting time to be a Marvel Comics reader and also to be a fan working in the Marvel Bullpen.

I'm taking a few days off, but I'll be back soon with more stuff!

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

TONY'S TIPS #192




This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...My reviews of Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq by Sarah Glidden; Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, the first book in Shigeru Mizuki’s four-book series on his nation's history through 1989; and The Amazing "True" Story of a Teenage Single Mom by Katherine Arnoldi!