Wednesday, February 8, 2012


From Comics Buyer’s Guide #1686:
“Old times” never come back and I suppose it's just as well. What
comes back is a new morning every day in the year, and that's

- George E. Woodberry, American literary critic and poet (1855-

“The Year in Review” is the theme of this month’s CBG, though I’m
confining my remarks to the comic-book industry.  If I attempted to
review the 2011 world outside of comics, I’d need the entire issue
and then some, though I could sum it up with Lord Byron’s “And if
I laugh at any mortal thing, 'tis that I may not weep.”

The biggest comics story of the year has to be the success of DC’s
“New 52" relaunch of all its DC Universe titles.  The first month
of the releases marked the first time in decades that DC had more
market share than Marvel. DC has repeated the feat with the second
month of the relaunch.

That’s almost certainly not the end of the story.  Retailers have
been buying these comics on a returnable basis.  While that won’t
be the case down the line, at the moment, we can’t know for certain
how many copies of these books have actually been sold and how many
will eventually be returned to the publisher.

Many of the first month sales were likely made to the curious and
to the reemerging comics speculators.  We don’t know how long the
former will stick with these titles or how long it will take those
speculators to bail on the comics as they have always done in the
past.  More unknown factors to be considered.

What I can and do hope for is that these books do prove to be very
successful, enriching the creators who worked on them and giving a
shot in the arm to DC and the rest of the industry, especially the
long-suffering comics retailers.  The retailers are on the front lines
of our business and deserve our thanks.

From a non-business standpoint, reaction to the “new 52" titles has
been mixed.  Some readers loved them and some hated them.  I have
heard from CBG readers excited about DC Comics titles for the first
time in years and from readers who have now ended their decades of
buying DC titles.  My own reactions were mixed.

My favorite of the “New 52" debut issues was All-Star Western.  I
wasn’t surprised by this.  Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Jonah
was my favorite “Old DCU” title.  While Hex generally featured
sharp done-in-one stories, All-Star Western #1 was the first part
of an extended story in which Jonah comes to Gotham City and kind
of sort of teams up with medical doctor and budding student of the
human mind Amadeus Arkham.  There’s a “Jack the Ripper” murdering
women of easy virtue and a conspiracy of the rich and the powerful,
but the writers make the transition from done–in-one to story arc
with nary a seam to be seen.

My biggest disappointment with these “New 52" debuts?  None of them
were done-in-one stories.  Is that really such a lost art in modern
comics writing?

If I had to pick my “Top 10" of “The New 52":

1. All-Star Western
2. Aquaman
3. Action Comics
4. Justice League International
5. Superman
6. DC Universe Presents (Deadman)
7. Green Lantern
8. Green Arrow
9. Demon Knights
10. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

Geoff Johns’ Aquaman is the best and most relatable version of the
hero in decades.  I think I prefer the Aquaman of Batman: The Brave
and the Bold
by a hair, but that take on the Sea King would never
work in the DCU of the comic books.

The Superman of Action Comics is the cocky, dismissive of authority
hero of the earliest Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster stories.  I like
that guy better than the mostly respectful Boy Scout and superstar
Kal-El would later become.  I’m hoping the modern-day Superman seen
in Superman #1 will keep some of his early sass.

Dan Jurgens delivered a solid super-team book with Justice League
#1.  The C-list characters were fun and likeable, the
behind-the-scenes stuff with the United Nations was clever, and his
Batman was not the [rhymes with Rick] than is his usual portrayal
in today’s comics.

In DC Comics Presents #1, writer Paul Jenkins gave readers the best
version of Deadman since the earliest years of the character.  I’d
rather see this Deadman in an ongoing title than being part of the
mediocre Hawk and Dove.

Green Lantern is one of the titles that has picked up from the old
DCU, something I think defeats the purpose of the relaunch.  But,
despite that, I enjoyed the first issue and look forward to seeing
where it goes from there.  On the down side, I can’t come up with
a single good reason why anyone needs all those other Green Lantern
titles.  Nothing says “boring” to me more than 7000 heroes with the
same power and their hundreds of multi-colored counterparts...who
also have the same power. Yawn!

I hated Green Arrow.  He was a womanizer and a murderer.  Various
DC writers had turned him into the most unlikeable hero in the DCU.
The new Arrow is younger and not unlike Tony Stark is his style and
use of his resources to fight evil.  That similarity aside, I could
relate to him much better than I could to the old Arrow.  However,
it appears writer J.T. Krul is not staying on this title and that
does not bode well for its future.

The quirky Demon Knights and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. were
unexpected delights.  It paid off for DC to bring some weirdness to
the new DCU lineup.

On the way down side, there were several of the “New 52" titles I
found utterly repulsive: Deathstroke, Suicide Squad, Catwoman, and
Red Hood and the Outlaws. The first two books were as mean-spirited
as they come.  Catwoman avoided everything good ever done with the
title character as a pretext to sexual sensationalism; you’ll find
more class on The Jerry Springer Show.  And, no matter how much the
writer tries to spin his portrayal of Starfire in Red Hood and the
, it’s still an insult to the character, her creators, and
her fans.

There were “New 52" titles I found enjoyable and/or interesting:
Batgirl, Men of War, Swamp Thing, Resurrection Man, Batman, and
Wonder Woman. Assuming I continue to find them so, I will continue
reading them as long as the generous pal who loans me his comics
keeps buying them.

There were titles that had enough merit that I’d read more issues
of them to see if they improve: Detective Comics, Batwoman, Legion
of Super-Heroes, Blackhawk, Justice League Dark,
and Voodoo
Legion lacked the grandeur and sense of hope I was hoping would be
restored to the title.  Blackhawk needs to introduce its concepts
and protagonists more surely.  Voodoo, which was very well-written
and drawn, needs to establish a, let’s call it “moral foundation,”
for me to stick with it.

Batwing was in a class by itself.  Though the writing is woefully
inadequate, I like the character, the concepts, and the setting of
this book.  Batwing, an agent of Batman, Incorporator, is a police
officer in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He was a boy soldier
in his youth and is now one of a handful of policemen trying to do
their jobs within their corrupt police department.  Grant Morrison
created the character.  I’ll continue reading the book for a while,
but the writing has to rise to the potential this title is showing.
I hope that happens.

There are a large number of debut issues that didn’t do a thing for
me.  I know I’m a harder sell than most DC readers, but I couldn’t
find anything exciting or particularly well handled in Hawk & Dove,
O.M.A.C., Batman and Robin, Stormwatch, Grifter, Legion Lost, Birds
of Prey, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Superboy, Supergirl, Batman the
Dark Knight, The Flash, I Vampire, Savage Hawkman, Teen Titans
, or
Justice League.  They struck me as mediocre super-hero comics, no
better and in some cases much worse than their predecessors.

Then there were the tragic disappointments: Animal Man, Fury of the
Firestorms, Mister Terrific, Nightwing
, and Static Shock.  Each one
of these could and should have been good.

The most interesting element of Animal Man was Buddy Baker as a “D”
list hero bouncing from gig to gig, whim to whim, and his family’s
having to go along with it.  Unfortunately, that element soon gave
to way to a not particularly interesting Vertigo Lite motif.  This
book can’t be both DCU and Vertigo and, giving the character’s DCU
origins, I would prefer it struck to that sensibility.

With top creators like Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver on board,
I was expecting a lot from Fury of the Firestorms: The Nuclear Men.
But the first issue spent too much time on too trite villains and
an equally yawn-inducing conspiracy and not enough making me care
about either of the two young leads.

I was also looking forward to Mister Terrific and Static Shock as
I have more than a passing interest in super-hero titles starring
African-American leads.  The former was somewhat uneven and didn’t
bring anything new to the table; I’m still hoping for better stuff
in future issues. 

As for Static Shock, it was about as generic a teen super-hero book
as you can imagine.  It was a mistake to move the title character
from his house and neighborhood in the interesting city of Dakota
to the overused Metropolis.  They even had him working part-time at
S.T.A.R. Labs.  It’s as if DC editorial either never read the great
Milestone series or deliberately chose to ignore all the wonderful
material published in that sorely-missed series.

Nightwing #1 was a “blah” debut, disappointing because Dick Grayson
should be one of the most interesting characters in the DCU.  Not
only did he have the same traumatic origin as Batman - seeing his
parents murdered before his eyes - but then he ends up being raised
by a man who, in the current misguided DCU “Bible,” is more than a
little crazy himself.  There were good touches: a reunion with the
circus he used to perform with and his choice to live in a Gotham
City neighborhood that is much less than upscale.  But, overall, it
could and should have been a better comic book.

When I reviewed these debut issue at somewhat greater length in my
blog, I received the usual “right on” responses to my comments and
the usual “I disagree with your assessments” comments.  Which is as
it should be.  I write reviews, not commandments.

DC’s “New 52" was the big comics-industry story, but there were a
number of others worth noting.  For example, despite the apparent
success of DC’s bold and maybe desperate relaunch of its super-hero
titles, the company still trailed far behind Marvel when it came to
movie and TV success.

Marvel scored three hit movies in Captain America, Thor, and X-Men
First Class.
  All were very entertaining.  It also had the launch
of an Avengers animated series that quickly became one of my all-
time comics-to-cartoons favorites.

DC had one mediocre movie in Green Lantern and failed to get their
Wonder Woman TV show on the air.  Batman: The Brave and the Bold
continued to be great fun and Young Justice has been a good but not
great series. Gotta give this one to Marvel.

On a personal note, 2011 marked my return to comic-book writing for
the first time in a decade or so.  I never stopped writing, but the
closest I came to comic-book writing was writing newspaper comics.
Which is close but no cigar.  Not even a Segar.

When the fine folks at Ardeen/Atlas offered me the opportunity to
write Grim Ghost, I took the gig because I was amused to be asked
to again write a character I’d written just once in the mid-1970s
and because I wanted to prove to myself that I could still write a
darn good comic-book script.

If I may be immodest, Grim Ghost #1-6, the first story arc, proved
that to my satisfaction.  It gave readers interesting characters,
lots of surprises, and a full six issues worth of story.  None of
this stretching out a one-issue tale to fit a trade.  The readers
and my editors liked it as well. Winning!

The first Grim Ghost story arc will be collected in trade paperback
before the end of the year.  It’ll be followed by a second arc in
2012.  I’m pretty happy about that.

That’s my comics year in review.  I hope yours was as exciting an
fulfilling...and that 2012 is even more so!

Happy New Year, my friends!



This CBG reprint should have run last month, but the chaos of the
new year knocked me out of whack.  As you probably realize, I wrote
the above after reading the first and only the first issues of “The
New 52.”  Further reviews of these titles will be spotty, reserved
for those I truly enjoy or those which suggest a pertinent comment.
If you must have more “New 52" reviews, I suspect you can find them
quite easily elsewhere on the Internet.

The question I’m most frequently asked these days is when my second
Grim Ghost story will begin and when the trade paperback collection
of my first story will be published.  Sadly, the only answer I can
give you is...I don’t know.

I’m completely out of the loop re: all things Atlas.  I’d hoped to
start work on my second story late last year.  That didn’t happen.
I have submitted proposals for that second story and for a second
Atlas title.  When I know something and as soon thereafter as I can
tell you something, I’ll do so.

What I can do today is reveal something that’s been a wildly open
“secret” in the industry.  Despite a second writer being listed in
the credits of Grim Ghost #1-6, and outside of the usual editorial
input, I did all the writing on those issues.  The other credit was
a contractual matter from before I was hired to write the series.
I’ll likely discuss this in greater detail in the future, but, for
now, that’s what you get. 

If you enjoyed the writing on Grim Ghost #1-6, that’s me.  If you
didn’t enjoy it, well, that’s on me, too.  I wouldn’t have it any
other way.    

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2012 Tony Isabella


  1. According to Ingram (the jobber from whom my library purchases material), the release date for the Grim Ghost TPB is march 3.

    For funsies, heres the product description we get to see:
    Grim Ghost Tp
    Contributor(s): Susco, Stephen (Author), Isabella, Tony (Author), Jones, Kelley (Illustrator), Various Artists (Illustrator)

    ISBN: 0956125980 EAN: 9780956125989
    Publisher: Ardden Entertainment (View Publisher's Titles)
    US SRP: $ 19.99 US - (Discount: REG)
    Binding: Paperback
    Pub Date: March 13, 2012
    Publisher Marketing: Thirty-five years in the making! The Fringe is the place between life and death... and Michael Cavallaro is its newest occupant. As Michael begins to learn the nature of The Fringe from Matthew Dunsinane, better known as The Grim Ghost, we also learn ...

    Publisher Marketing: Thirty-five years in the making! The Fringe is the place between life and death... and Michael Cavallaro is its newest occupant. As Michael begins to learn the nature of The Fringe from Matthew Dunsinane, better known as The Grim Ghost, we also learn about The Grim Ghost''s history, which spans all the way back to the Revolutionary War, and his centuries-long battle with Braddock, a powerful force within the Fringe. The fates of these three men... these three souls... will come crashing together, with the entire existence of both the living - and the dead - at stake! And waiting in the wings is nothing short of a battle between Heaven and Hell! The critically-acclaimed Atlas series, The Grim Ghost, is collected here for the first time, including all six issues and the hard-to-find #0 issue.

    Ingram currently has 10 copies on order from the publisher. And I know one of them is going to wing it's way to Dallas for my branch.

  2. When the Grim Ghost trade paperback was first mentioned to me, I was told we'd be discussing additional materials for the book. That hasn't happened. In light of Diamond canceling orders on Atlas Unified #2-5, I'm more unsure than ever about what's going on with Atlas.

    The two things I am sure of is that Stephen Susco, nice guy that he is, didn't write a word of Grim Ghost #1-6 and I'm gonna be ticked off if he gets top billing over me,

  3. Lemme back Tony up here -- if you enjoyed the writing on Grim Ghost, tip the hat to him. He's a passionate and committed scribe, and I learned a great deal collaborating with him.

    Fortunately he still thinks I'm a nice guy, too.

    A little history on the project: I was originally approached with the task of bringing Grim Ghost back to life (as it were) and came up with the bones of a story arc that we all found appealing. But as the contracts were being signed, I become deluged by a flood of work in my day job (screenwriting & producing) and realized I could no longer hit the deadlines set by Atlas.

    I contacted the inimitable Atlas Captains (Jason Goodman & Brendan Deneen) and informed them of the quandary. Believing in the story arc we'd engineered they offered a suggestion -- that I pair up with a co-writer to share the load. And they had someone in mind straight away, someone they'd both been fans of for quite some time...

    Enter Tony Isabella, writer of the original Grim Ghost #3. A perfect choice.

    Tony and I hit it off via phone -- and more importantly, he dug the story angle we'd put in place. But it soon became clear that Tony had his own notions -- very intelligent ones, based on decades of artistry -- about changing elements of the story arc. And as he was doing the heavy lifting, the concept of "co-writing" was clearly and quickly becoming a limitation to Tony's own creative process.

    So I took what I felt would be the best course of action for the series: I simply got out of the way, taking on a more advisory role in the development, offering notes and suggestions but otherwise letting Tony follow his instincts without interference.

    Naturally I also asked Atlas to change the financial paradigm to more accurately reflect the reality of the situation -- in short, I didn't accept any payment.

    So let there be no doubt, to all who care to know: the foundation of the Grim Ghost arc may have been the product of a promising albeit short-lived marriage between myself and Tony... but the words themselves were the result of single parenting.

    - Stephen Susco