Wednesday, August 31, 2016

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 85

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 85th installment in that series.

The Rawhide Kid #99 [May 1972] has a Larry Lieber cover with inks and probably coloring by George Roussos. Inside the issue, Lieber’s “The Manhunters” (14 pages) is written and penciled by Lieber with inks and colors by Roussos.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The Kid rides into a town with no sheriff. Seeing a “clerk wanted” sign in a general store window, he decides to take off his guns and apply for the job. The older couple who own the store like the cut of his jib and hire him.

Meanwhile, in another small town, bounty hunters Colby and Rafe have tracked down the Brogan Brothers. Colby prefers fugitives who are wanted dead or alive because “dead is a lot neater.”

Colby guns down two of the brothers with his sawed-off shotgun. The third brother tries to surrender, but Colby goads him into drawing down on the lightning-fast but otherwise slow Rafe.

The sheriff who pays Colby and Rafe considers them no better than the many fugitives they’ve killed. Colby basically tells the lawman to talk to the hand. He and Rafe have a new bounty to hunt:

I am to nail a young squirt with a fancy rep, who’s been on the loose far too long –- the Rawhide Kid!

The manhunters confront the unarmed Rawhide outside the store where he’s been working. Colby says he’s going to bring the Kid to trial, but makes it pretty clear he’s figuring Rawhide will make a break for it and give him an excuse to gun him down. Either way, dead or alive, he’ll collect the reward on the Kid.

Unarmed or not, Rawhide is going to make Colby work for the price on the Kid’s head. He knocks down the bounty hunter with a single punch, but doesn’t do as well with the brutish Rafe. Rafe squeezes the Kid’s hands, breaking them.

The town doctor says it’s not as bad as it looks. A minor fracture and a few dislocated bones. But the Kid’s hands will take weeks to heal. Colby says Rawhide will need his hands for breaking rocks in the territorial prison:

Less’n, of course, he don’t never make it to prison!
 
Colby is making no bones - pun intended - about what fate Rawhide will face once they leave town. The Kid makes a break for it using elbows, feet, a chair and his head. He crashes through a window and escapes:

Now to hide out till my hands mend! Then I’ll come back for those hombres--with my hardware!

The Kid’s employers hide him in their own home. They don’t see an outlaw, just "a honest, hard-working clerk who doesn’t deserve to  languish in prison.”

Colby begins to terrorize the townspeople. He and Rafe will level the town a piece at a time until the Kid is turned over to him.

Rawhide knows the despicable Colby will do just that. He asks his employer to tightly strap a gun to his hand. The older man asks how the Kid will squeeze the trigger. The Kid says he won’t. 
 
Tony of 1972 figured it out. Can you?

Colby and Rafe think they’ve won. Whether the Kid is a cripple or not, Colby tells Rafe taking him down with make the former farmer’s rep. Which is what Rafe has been dreaming of:

RAFE: Yore gun’s clear, Kid! But how yuh gonna squeeze the trigger with broken fingers?
 
RAWHIDE: I’m not!

RAWHIDE: I’m fanning the gun!

Rafe dies. Colby fires his shotgun at Rawhide. The Kid rolls under the blast and then reunites Colby with Rafe.

Rawhide sticks around the town for a few weeks until his hands are healed. The store owners tell him he’s welcome to stay in the town. But now that his identity is known, the Kid figures it’s safer for everyone if he pushes on.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


“The Manhunters” is a tight and well-told story with a satisfying ending. It would be reprinted seven years later in The Rawhide Kid #151 [May 1979]. With a new cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob Wiacek, that would be the last issue of the series.
                                                                               

This issue’s reprint is “Crag Noonan Fastest Gun in the West!” (7 pages) by Stan Lee and artist Angelo Torres. It originally appeared in Quick Trigger Western #14 [September 1956].

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


A common gunfight in a lawless Arizona town. Onlooker Crag Noonan steals the gun belt off the body of the loser. Noonan likes how the belt looks on him and thinks that, if the dead man had been just a mite faster, he’d still be wearing these guns.

Ignoring the odd jobs that had been his lot, Noonan practices until his aim is uncanny and his draw is a blur. He quickly makes a rep for himself and gets a job as a hired gun for a ruthless rancher. By the time he has shot and wounded over a dozen men, two marshals figure they have to bring the gunfighter to justice.

The marshals are just average shots, but they are driven by their duty. Noonan, who is not facing a murder charge, says that if they draw on him, he will shoot them before they can reach their guns. One marshal does the math for the gunfighter:

You can only get one of us, Noonan...while you do, the other one will settle you for sure!

Noonan can’t believe the lawmen would let him shoot one of them to bring him in. He tries to process this. The men are not bluffing. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to do their duty. It’s a stand-off, but it’s Noonan who makes the next move:

It was the gunman who broke! He realized the lawmen has something worth dying for...their jobs and their duty. But, in that dramatic split-second, Crag Noonan realized the man who lives by violence is left with nothing...not even the courage to face hopeless odds.

So ends the story of Crag Noonan...he was sentenced to four years in the county prison, and upon his release, he took a job as a cowhand and faded into oblivion...perhaps he had learned, in time, that when the showdown comes, a fast draw alone is never enough!


SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


This is a solid story, creating considerable drama without a great deal of gunplay. The Torres art is evocative, but the reproduction diminishes its impact. I would love to see the original art to this story. I bet it’s amazing.

The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page is back with the “Stan’s Soapbox” column showing Luke Cage, star of Marvel’s brand-new Hero for Hire title. The copy, both here and in the accompanying “Mighty Marvel Checklist” is pretty generic hype. It’s as if Marvel wasn’t quite sure how to promote the new title.

The lead item on the page touts Marvel getting some play at a comic art exhibition held by the New York Cultural Center and also in an hardcover book called 75 Years of the Comics. The item concentrates on Marvel and doesn’t mention the non-Marvel comic books included in both the exhibition and the book. I’m sensing the Marvel and DC rivalry is heating up.

Another example is an item on the previous year’s Rutland Halloween Parade. Roy Thomas was on a float in a Spider-Man costume when one “excited fan dressed up as a certain red-and-blue-clad superstar published by our Distinguished Competition but jumping up and down ecstatically yelling “Spider-Man! Spider-Man!”

Then as now, both Marvel and DC took plenty of shots at each other. Joining the Bullpen later that year, I was not immune to the silly war of the words. With the wisdom of over four decades in comics, I recognize such trash talk just makes both companies look petty. I love titles published by both Marvel and DC...and by many other companies as well. When it comes to comics and graphic novels, I am an authentic independent...and not one of those pundits whose idea of quality is “anything but Marvel or DC.”

In other Bullpen news...Steve Englehart has joined the Bullpen as a proofreader, penciler, inker, scripter and maybe even letterer.  Native American super-hero Red Wolf is getting his own title with art by Syd Shores. Production chief John Verpoorten is back from a California vacation. Gerry Conway wrote six full-size comic books this month. Publisher (Merry) Martin Goodman was so happy about the reception the fans were giving Marvel’s new issues that he threw an impromptu party “for the whole blamed Bullpen at one of NYC’s swingin’est eateries.”

The Mighty Marvel Checklist includes Galactus and the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four; a death cult targeting Flash Thompson in Amazing Spider-Man; the legions of Pluto battling the hordes of Hela for the soul of Odin; Hawkeye returning to the Avengers; the Hulk vs. the Creeping Unknown; and much more.

The “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page is a bit shorter to make room for the annual “Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation.” Reader Trevor Down of Winnipeg really liked Rawhide Kid #95, which took place in...Canada. Go figure.

Robert A. Gillis of Elmsford, New York thinks Rawhide Kid would be even better with a new plotter. He recommends Roy Thomas or Gardner Fox or himself. Cheeky comics fan.

Michael Bryan of Seminole, Florida praises the John Romita-drawn reprints in The Western Kid #1. He wants to see new stories of the Kid drawn by Romita. That’s not in the cards, but Marvel responds with a tease for an all-new Outlaw Kid series. When that new series came around a few months later, it would run for just seven issues. Indeed, I have so little memory of those seven new stories I might have to track them down so I can read them again.

Per the “Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation.” The Rawhide Kid was selling an average of 193,444 copies per issue at this time. Not many titles can manage that today.

That’s it for this edition of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Monday, August 29, 2016

TONY'S TIPS #172

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Fearless: A Cartoonist’s Guide to Life by Robb Armstrong, creator of the syndicated newspaper strip Jump Start; Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space: The Lost Adventures #1-3; and Pre-Code Classics: Eerie Volume One and Volume Two!

Friday, August 26, 2016

THE SHADOW #97: CRIME AT SEVEN OAKS

Knowing how much my friend Anthony Tollin loves dogs, I’m amazed it took his Sanctum Books this long to publish The Shadow’s adventure with a Great Dane by the name of Vulcan. The story and the dog were so popular that readers clamored for Vulcan to appear again. Alas, he never did.

The connecting link between the two Shadow novels reprinted in The Shadow #97: Crime at Seven Oaks & The Northdale Mystery [$14.95; June 2015] is the city of Northdale. Though it’s never explicitly stated, the city is probably in New Jersey, not far from our hero’s usually Manhattan haunts, and likely a stand-in for Westfield, New Jersey, the real-life city which other novels say in the home town of Lamont Cranston. One of author Walter B. Gibson’s brothers lived in Westfield.

Writing as Maxwell Grant, Gibson wrote both of these novels. Crime at Seven Oaks first appeared in The Shadow Magazine for August 1, 1940. Here’s the back cover blurb: The wail of the banshee signals Crime at Seven Oaks until The Shadow enlists a Great Dane to bring a killer to justice!

The Northdale Mystery is from The Shadow Magazine for May 1, 1942: Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane investigate a bizarre bank robbery and unravel The Northdale Mystery.

This volume also includes a historical essay by Will Murray and a  piece by Tollin on the 20,000-year-long centuries-old relationship between man and dog. The latter includes photographs of some of the award-winning dogs Tollin has raised.

Sanctum publishes great books. I recommend them all.

ISBN 978-1-60877-180-6

Keep reading the bloggy thing for more information on Sanctum Books publications.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Thursday, August 25, 2016

THURSDAY THOUGHTS

So I’m reading a recent issue of New Avengers when I realized this sad truth: if my life depended on it, I could not tell you how many different Avengers teams are currently active in the current Marvel Universe. Or which heroes are on which team. Or how many Inhumans teams are currently active and who’s on them. Or how many teams of X-Men and who’s on them, though I suspect the number of X-Men teams will dwindle in the wake of Marvel’s ongoing hissy fits over not having movie rights to their merry mutants.

I do know how many Fantastic Four teams are currently active in the Marvel Universe. Do I get points for that?

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I have been mildly interested in the brouhaha over a Wizard World convention in Chicago having a gun dealer among their vendors and then not having a gun dealer among their vendors and then having a gun dealer among their vendors and then, apparently after said gun dealer began setting up at the show, not having him again. I have but a few thoughts...

I find it incredible that Wizard World, using some third party to fill their vendor booths, did not have some mechanism in place to vet the vendors before selling them space. Wizard World events are their own thing. They generally include lots of non-comics, non-fan booths. When Sainted Wife Barb attended last year’s Cleveland show, those booths were of interest to her. Me, I sort of like expanding the comics tent to include them because I relish the opportunities to bring new customers into the comics business. But, then again, I’m also one of those rare old farts who doesn’t whimper and moan because comic books aren’t exactly like they were when I was twelve years old.

The consternation of the ammo-sexuals in comics will be vocal. They see so many non-existent America-destroying liberal conspiracies at every turn that I fully expect them to mutter under their breaths about “Second Amendment solutions.” From my point of view, having a gun vendor at a comics convention in Chicago, a city plagued by gun violence, was insensitive.

Noting all of the above, I think Wizard World was wrong to renege on their agreement to allow the gun vendor to exhibit at the con. Third party involvement or not, they had a deal with him. As long as he adhered to the convention’s rules for exhibitors, he should have been allowed to set up. Wizard World should learn from this, then make whatever adjustments to their vendor policies they need to make to avoid such situations in the future.

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Unlicensed prints and products. Artists and other creators are now speaking out on this sort of thing, though, in truth, the artists mostly seem concerned about their own work being pirated and not with the copyright violations of characters they may have worked on but do not own. For me, it’s not a grey area.

Comic-book publishers have largely turned a blind eye to this sort of thing as a sort of perk to creators who work or have worked for them. That will certainly change because some of these pirate works present the creative properties in ways the owners would not and do not approve.

My own take on this is that legitimate comics creators - i.e., not those folks who sell prints based on the work of others - should  work with the copyright owners for the prints they sell at comics conventions. When I decided to create new products to sell at the conventions I’ll be attending in 2017 and beyond, I contacted the copyright owners to learn their policy. The meeting of our minds on this was cordial and painless.

I’m new to this print stuff, but hope to release up to ten limited edition prints for sale at my 2017 convention appearances. All of them would feature characters on which I’ve worked. Some will be covers of stuff I wrote, some will be original prints. I’ve already signed up the artists for two of the latter and will be talking to other artists in the near future.

I take copyrights pretty seriously. Yes, I have and will continue to take advantage of fair usage laws. Even the cover at the top of today’s bloggy is a case of fair usage.

There’s no way I could or would claim “fair usage” when producing prints for sale to the fans at conventions. I am delighted to work with copyright holders to meet their requirements in this area. I think this should be the standard operating policy for the comics industry.

This is an art form and a business. We should treat both aspects of it with the same integrity and regard.

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Kudos to Action Lab Entertainment for combining several creator-owned characters into a six-issue Actionverse crossover. Not every one of the issues was a hit. I feel the conclusion of the overall story damaged the integrity of one of my favorite characters. But every one was, at the very least, readable and entertaining. The series was worth the readers’ investment in price and reading time. I like to see creators and publishers reach.

Besides...how can I not love a company called Action Lab who will be publishing a comic book called Action Lab: Dog of Wonder about a heroic Labrador Retriever? It has a cover by Neal Adams and, yes, I plan on buying it.

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Not all hero crossovers are created equal. Over at Dynamite, they have two pretty dismal ones going. The first is Gold Key Alliance featuring Doctor Solar, Mighty Samson, Magnus, Turok and one of two other characters originally published by Gold Key/Western Comics in the 1950s and 1960s. The other is King’s Quest which continues the seemingly endless teaming of Flash Gordon, the Phantom, Mandrake, Prince Valiant and Jungle Jim. Both are tedious exercises in...oh, heck if I know.

I could accept nostalgic treatments of these classic characters. I could accept and quite possibly enjoy well-conceived updating of these characters. These two series are muddled middle ground. They are not well-written and merely adequately drawn. I’m struggling to get through the last issues of these things.

Dynamite loves to acquire licensed properties. Nothing wrong with that. But their record with these properties is less than splendid. Some have been terrific. Some have been just good but entertaining. Too many have been awful. They should slow down on these acquisitions until they can do justice to all of them.

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On the other hand, I read and enjoyed the first two issues of DC’s Future Quest [$3.99 each]. This series is teaming up a boatload of Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon adventure heroes. Written by Jeff Parker with art by Evan Shaner, Steve Rude, Ron Randall and Jonathan Case, these issues dazzled me.

Confession. Outside of Johnny Quest, which I watched religiously, I didn’t watch most of the original cartoons these characters come from. I probably watched more episodes of Space Ghost and Birdman than the others, but, once the comics writing bug hit me, I would more likely to spend my Saturday mornings working on my own super-heroes than watching cartoons. I know Johnny Quest well and have, at best, a passing familiarity with the others.

Parker and crew have nailed the Johnny Quest characters. Birdman, Space Ghost and others seem right to me as well. This is a series I’ll continue to look forward to and read. When this series reaches its end, I hope we see spinoffs of some of the heroes.

I also want to write a Ruff and Reddy comic book. Can you hear me, Dan Didio?

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One last note. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m enjoying Marvel’s Hyperion by Chuck Wendig with artist Nik Virella. Basically, this hero from another world is trying to find his place in this world, a place which might not include the super-hero stuff. Yet, because he’s a pretty good guy, he can’t not help people.

There’s an internal monologue in which Hyperion is thinking of all the events that led him to his current status. He is unsure of the rightness of his past actions. He is unsure of what he needs to be doing...and then he thinks these thoughts.

Then I met her. Doll. And I thought, maybe I don’t have to help everyone. Maybe I can help just one human at a time.

That’s more than just some pretty good writing. That could be the starting point of a great ongoing super-hero series.
 
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I’m taking time off from the bloggy thing while I finish my first comic-book script in years, but I’ll be back soon with more stuff. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 84

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 84th installment in that series.
 
The Rawhide Kid #98 [April 1971] has a cover drawn by Larry Lieber with Bill Everett inks. Inside the issue, Lieber’s “The Gun and the Arrow” (14 pages) is one of his very best Rawhide Kid stories. It’s inked by George Roussos. I like this issue’s tale so much that I’m going to tell you as little as possible about it.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD


The story opens with three bushwhackers killing two Apache braves. They don’t spot a third brave who heads to their camp to tell the tribe what has happened.

The eternally wandering Rawhide Kid has also seen the murders and takes matters into his own hands. His plan to turn the bushwhackers over to the law changes when they draw on him. It’s the last thing they will ever do before heading to Hell.

Other Apaches come across the scene and, not having heard from the third brave, open fire on Rawhide. They don’t kill him, but he is in bad shape.

The Apaches bring the Kid to Iron Wolf, chief of their tribe. That third brave from before, who apparently lingered long enough to see Rawhide avenge his fellows, shows up in time to confirm our young hero’s innocence.

Iron Wolf turns Rawhide over to his sister Bright Fawn for healing. Romance blossoms and the Kid begins to think he has at last found the peace he has always sought.

But there are bad white men in town who would profit from a war between the Apaches and the white townspeople. They’re more than willing to take extreme measures to make that happen.

MILD SPOILERS OVER
MILD SPOILERS OVER
MILD SPOILERS OVER


This story has it all. Action, romance, tragedy and, at the heart of it, some profound social commentary. Though the setting is the Old West, the same bigotry and fears and rush to judgment espoused by the likes of Donald Trump are with us today. Sadly, those foul attitudes have even more potential to bring harm to the innocents than they do in this classic Rawhide Kid story.

I think the time is well overdue for Marvel Comics to publish The Best of the Rawhide Kid by Larry Lieber. My pal remains one of the best and most underrated writers of the 1960s and 1970s. His work deserves to be seen by modern readers.

I urge you to track down this issue for yourself. “The Gun and the Arrow” is also reprinted in The Rawhide Kid #150 [March 1979] with a cover by Tony Dezuniga.
                                                                                 

Two four-page stories from the 1950s follow the cover story. Red Hawkins and Tall Feather - two travelers who apparently had their own series - appear in “The Wild Beast” with art by Syd Shores. The story first appeared in Apache Kid #53 [December 1950]. The second story is “Back Down Or Die!” by Stan Lee and Doug Wildey from The Ringo Kid Western #16 [February 1957].

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


Red Hawkins and Tall Feather are a rather bland duo. Red bets Tall a plugged nickel that his friend can’t capture a wild horse, then heads to town alone.

Tall feather does succeed, only to be ambushed by a couple of horse thieves. The wild horse helps him fight them off and, in gratitude, he frees the animal. Yawn!

“Back Down and Die!” is one of those Stan Lee stories that combine a surprise ending with a moral. Town tough guy Bull Morgan has told everyone that he plans to marry the new schoolteacher. The teacher arrives...and he’s a man.

Bull is mocked and takes it out on the schoolteacher. He tells the man to draw, but the teacher is unarmed. Bull tells the teacher to get out of town by dawn or he’ll throw him out.

The teacher isn’t about to leave:

I was sent here to set up a school for children! No brawling bully can deprive the youngsters of this town of an education.

A townsman tells the teacher he’ll have to back down or die. This is usually where we learn the teacher is a former Texas Ranger or something. Stan spins that.

The teacher is just a teacher. But he’s a teacher with a shotgun. He tells Bull he’s got a 50-50 chance to shoot him before the bully dies. No matter how fast he is, Bull doesn’t like those odds. He refuses to draw and leaves town, vowing to go to another state, change his name and become a rancher:

I’ll never be able to look at a gun again...

The teacher gets the last speech:

Well, that takes care of the first lesson I’ve taught...the best way to beat a bully is to stand up to him on your own terms. And now...it’s time for school!

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


“Back Down and Die!” gave me an idea for a short western story of mine own. I’m not sure if I’ll write it as a prose tale or a comics script. But it’s on the list for later this year.

The “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page is back this issue with an apology for its absence in recent issues and four missives from readers.

Jim Rubino of Hollywood, Florida praises issue #94 for portraying what he thought was the first black man in a western comic book and for its strong stance against bigotry. In all fairness, Dell’s Lobo, which starred a black cowboy, only lasted two issues before it was cancelled due to poor sales. Unfortunately, the poor sales were caused by local distributors refusing to deliver the title to the newsstands they serviced. That was still a concern when Marvel launched Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.
Greg Puryear of Charlotte, North Carolina wants longer Rawhide Kid stories, more new stories with new characters in Marvel’s western comics and the return of the Scorpion. The Rawhide Kid foe and not the Spider-Man villain. The unknown Marvel person answering these letters states Larry is most comfortable with the current length of his stories.

Ben McLeod of Glen Arm, Maryland has a question about the Kid’s real name and a complaint that Kid Colt’s clothes are ridiculous. For the record, Rawhide’s real name is Johnny Clay, but, as he was raised by Ben Bart, many people knew him as Johnny Bart.

Finally, Daniel Snyder of Baltimore, Maryland wants to see Rawhide travel all over the world. Marvel’s response:

Frankly, Dan, the idea doesn’t hit us quite right. Kinda seems that anyone named the Rawhide Kid would look a little out of place in Buckingham Palace. But what do we know? We’ll toss this our for the fans to decide, too. It’s great bein an editor when you don’t have to make decisions...

That’s it for this edition of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TONY'S TIPS #171

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...This Magazine is Haunted Volume One; Is This Tomorrow: America Under Communism and DC's New Super-Man #1 by writer Gene Luen Yang with artists Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend
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CITIZEN TONY: THE RIGHT TO VOTE

Donald Trump has implied that, if he loses the presidential race,  it’s because the election was rigged. If he does lose, as I hope he does, I think it’ll be because he’s Donald Trump, with all the many  negatives that implies. But he’s not entirely incorrect saying the election is rigged. Just not in the ways he or his supporters are likely to understand, much less accept.

The right to vote is perhaps the most important right we Americans have. To our discredit, it was not a right granted to all Americans citizens for many years. Even today, it is a right under attack on multiple fronts.

Let’s start with redistricting, a process that has been misused by both parties but which the Republicans have mastered to a degree never before seen. The winners of state elections get to draw the districts for the next elections. They draw them to benefit their future candidates, creating elongated districts of odd shapes that make no logical sense other than to insure the victories of their candidates. This is why in recent years, though more citizens vote for Democrats, the Republicans command so many state legislatures, command state houses and have achieved such dominating control of the House of Representatives. It’s because the districts are drawn that way - rigged that way - to insure that success.

Redistricting should never be in the hands of politicians. To me, it would be like baseball/football/basketball players being their own umpires and referees. Imagine a batter being the one who gets to determine if a pitch was a ball or a strike. Imagine that pass receiver being the judge of whether or not he caught the football in bounds. While the games might be more interesting on some level, they would be become meaningless. Just like huge parts of our state and local governments.

Redistricting should be a matter for non-partisan geographers and mathematicians. You divide a state into however many districts of “x” number of people. If your state has a million residents and ten districts, then each district would have a hundred thousand people in it. Simple math.

The geographers would then divide those ten districts into shapes as close to rectangles as humanly possible. No snake-like districts that slither across ridiculously long lengths. No districts curling around other districts like a python crushing its prey. Just simple rectangles and squares.

In the past, there have been arguments districts should be drawn to reflect the people who live in them. That rural folks have much different needs than city folks. That farmers and manufacturers and construction workers and white collar workers are so different from one another they need their own state and federal representatives. If that ever made sense - and maybe it did when our country was in its infancy - it doesn’t make sense in 2016.

We are all Americans. The issues which face us concern all of us. We have more in common than not, despite the fear-mongering rants of those who benefit from our divisions. For our nation to be truly representative of its people, redistricting must be taken away from those who profit from it. It should never again be a political perk of winning an election.

Our right to vote is challenged and threatened on other fronts as well. I’ll be continuing this discussion in the next installment of “Citizen Tony.”

I’ll be back tomorrow with different stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Monday, August 22, 2016

MONDAY MOVIE MADNESS

I’ve watched a number of horror/monster/science fiction movies in recent weeks. I’ll start with the one I enjoyed the most and then do the others in chronological order of release.

Sharkenstein [2016] is another low-budget entertainment from Mark Polonia and Wild Eye Releasing. I ordered it from Amazon [$19.95} as soon as I hear about it because, come on, look at that amazing title. How could I resist?

Polonia is the director and producer of this and 36 other movies of this nature. The only one I recall seeing is Jurassic Prey [2015], which I didn’t like nearly as much as I liked this one. If I still have that one, I should watch it again. Polonia also co-produced Queen Crab [2015], which helps his credibility with me.

First-time writer J.K. Farlew did a decent job here. Since he had nothing to do with the budget, I’ll give him points for a hilarious premise and a decent script.

The actors? You’ve probably never heard of any of them. I’ll name the interesting ones in the course of this review.

Here’s the IMDb summary of the film:

In the final days of World War II, a secret experiment to weaponize sharks is shut down and destroyed by the Third Reich. But now 60 years later, a small ocean town is plagued by a bloodthirsty, mysterious creature, one built and reanimated using parts of the greatest killers to ever inhabit in the sea - the Sharkenstein monster!

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


Jeff Kirkendall plays the mad scientist who, now that his patchwork shark is functional and obedient, moves onto the next phase of his plan to create a Fourth Reich. He wants to transplant the immortal brain and heart of the Frankenstein Monster into his badly-animated shark. I love this concept and think it should be carried over into a series of sequels: Squirrelenstein, Cowenstein, Cosbyenstein, Trumpenstein, the possibilities are endless.

Ken Van Sant plays the competent local lawman. I liked how he got irritated at the idiots and the insanity he had to deal with here.

The most irritating characters might be the three teenagers who have come to the town on vacation. One of the two male “teens” looks to be in his 30s, the other in his 20s.

Greta Volkova is the third of the “teens.” She looks like a mid-20s call girl role-playing as a pig-tailed schoolgirl, but she’s cute and fun to watch, especially when she rattles off the titles of all the Frankenstein movies made by Universal and Hammer to the lawman. They have this older man/younger woman who wants to jump his bones thing going for them.

There’s also am entertaining mob of angry townspeople who, after Sharkenstein evolves into a creature who can move on land, hunt him with pitchforks and machine guns. This made me laugh.

Kathryn Sue Young plays minor character Bonnie Boom Boom, a former porn star who looks to be in her 50s or 60s. She has the one scene in the movie that took me out of the movie. After Sharkenstein eats her photographer, the creature rapes Bonnie. That’s not acceptable in a movie like this. Not remotely.

The thing is...up to that moment, I thought Young’s character was fun. Me, I would have had Bonnie attracted to the monster and be the aggressor. Afterwards, Sharkenstein would spare her and lumber off. Bonnie would complain that he’ll probably never call him. Men are all monsters.

The last scene of the movie is dumb. It’s a last scene you’ve seen many times. Even low-budget films can do better.

SPOILERS OVER      
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
      

I can’t stress enough that this is a low-budget movie. But I got a kick out of it and, on that basis, recommend it to you.      
 
                                                                           

2 Lava 2 Lantula! [2016] premiered on the SyFy Channel on August 6 of this year. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Colton West must defeat the lavalantulas once again.
 
Before long, I was rooting for the lavalantulas. That’s on either Steve Guttenberg, who plays aging action hero West, or director Nick Simon. Whichever one of them decided Guttenberg should speak in the kind of stupid growl voice used in the recent Batman movies. Every time he opened his mouth, my ears hurt.

That was the most prominent flaw in this movie, but it had plenty of company. Writers Neil Elman and Ashley O'Neil filled the script with “look at me” homages to other movies and repeat shockers from the original Lavalantula. They also made the familial relationships in the movie hopeless complicated. The source of the movie’s title, a line of dialogue seen in the trailers, feels forced.

Michael Winslow and Marion Ramsey, Police Academy alumnae who shone in the first Lavalantula, show little enthusiasm for this by-the-numbers sequel. By the time, Martin Love’s military character gets ready to nuke Florida - like in most every movie involving kaiju in the city - I’m thinking it might have been worth it if it meant that there would not be a Lavalantula 3.

Yes, I am being hard on this movie. Because, unlike Sharkenstein, it had a decent budget. It could and should have been better than this seemingly slapped-together mess. I won’t be buying the DVD and I won’t be watching it again.
                                                                               

Nurse 3-D [Lionsgate; 2013] is a slasher movie that I got from my local library and watched sans 3-D, which was apparently added via CGI after the movie was filmed because it was cheaper. The film was fun to watch because of the haunting and over-the-top performance of Paz de la Huerta as murderous nurse Abby Russell. Everything you need to know about Abby is in de la Huerta’s opening monologue:

My name is Abigail Russell. I look like a slut. But don't be fooled, this is merely a disguise to lure the dangerous predators who walk among us. This is their jungle. Their breeding ground. And tonight I'm on the hunt. These are the cheaters - the married lying scum. They are like diseased cells, cultured in alcoholic petri dishes, but destroy unsuspecting families, and infect millions of innocent vaginas. There is not cure for the married cock. Only me, the Nurse.

There are decent performances by Katrina Bowden and Corbin Bleu as a young nurse and her paramedic boyfriend. Abby desires the nurse, but, when rejected, tries to frame Bowden for her murders. We get several chilling and gory deaths, culminating in a chase through a hospital. The movie earns its “R” rating, but the rising body count always serves the plot.

Nurse is directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, whose directed episodes of several TV series, including Limitless, Arrow, Criminal Minds, The Flash and Sleepy Hollow. Co-written by Aarniokoski and David Loughery, this film deserves a sequel.

Abigail Russell deserves a chance to become an iconic horror movie slasher killer. Especially if she’s again played by the fascinating and scary sexy de la Huerta.    
                                                                            

I watched The Vortex [2012] - aka The Vortex: Gate to Armageddon - without knowing I was watching it. I had watched Big Bad Bugs on Amazon Prime, not learning until I started researching it that it was actually a movie I owned on DVD but had never gotten around to watching. Here’s the IMDb summary:

After a convoy of American soldiers disappears, a special ops team is deployed to rescue them. They soon encounter an army of gigantic scorpions, spiders and snakes that have come to Earth from another dimension.

This is your basic worth-watching-once movie. It gives us a giant scorpion attacking American soldiers from the get-go, but takes its time before it rolls out alien spiders, more scorpions, what looks like a cardboard hornet and some really big snakes.

Good performances by Jack Plotnick and Ted Jonas as an odd couple super-scientist and military tough guy. Sarah Lieving plays a combo scientist/high-ranking military officer who was married to Plotnick and is engaged to Jonas. She’s okay in the role, but the bromance between the romantic rivals is choice.

Camden Toy chews up the scenery as a mad scientist who wants to see the world swallowed by an other-dimensional wormhole. He faces off with Jonas in a goofy climatic battle that leads to another one of those unsatisfying endings horror movies thrive on. I swear these things need a double-shot of originality.

                                                                                 

One more for today. Here’s everything you need to know about Time of the Apes [1987} and it comes to you via Wikipedia...

Saru no Gundan (Army of the Apes) is a Japanese science fiction series from 1974 based on Pierre Boulle's La Plan├Ęte Des Singes ("The Planet Of Apes"). Produced by Tsuburaya Productions, the series ran for 26 episodes and followed a female scientist and two young children who travel through time to a future ruled by apes. The trio struggle to find a way to get back home to the 20th century.

In 1987, television producer Sandy Frank edited together several episodes of the series, including the first and last episodes, into a movie called Time of the Apes. Syndicated to broadcast and cable outlets, this compilation film was also released on home video in mid-1988.

The movie was then featured twice on Mystery Science Theater 3000, originally on KTMA in 1989, and then later as part of season 3 in 1991 on Comedy Central.


It’s hard to judge the TV series from this compilation movie that seems to consist of the first and last episodes with some passing scenes from in-between episodes. It’s even harder to judge when the only version I was able to find was the chopped-up mess brought to us by those rude and unfunny jerks of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s brilliant comedy. It’s like sitting in an actual theater with oh-so-clever friends. I’ve heard it all before. Here’s the truth:

You’re all wrong. Every last one of you is wrong. It’s a horrible program with pathetically dismal skits. I’d rather watch even the worst of the (uncut) movies they mock than this show.

That’s all for today. Come back tomorrow for another installment of Citizen Tony.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Sunday, August 21, 2016

DOC SAVAGE #82: THE BOSS OF TERROR

Here’s the word on another Sanctum Books classic...

Doc Savage #82: The Boss of Terror and The Magic Forest [June 2015; $14.95] reprints two novels by Lester Dent and William G. Bogart (writing as Kenneth Robeson) that literally take Doc from one end of the country to the other.

Dent’s The Boss of Terror first appeared in the May 1940 issue of Doc Savage Magazine. The adventure is set in the Main wilderness. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Eerie bolts of blue lightning electrocute wealthy men whose only connection is their last name, in an expanded novel featuring restored text from Lester Dent’s original manuscript.

Bogart’s The Magic Forest is set in Alaska, well before it became a state. It’s from the April 1942 issue of Doc Savage Magazine. The back cover blurb:

Doc Savage searches for The Magic Forest after Renny’s plane vanishes.

Renny is, of course, one of Doc Savage’s five friends who share his love of adventure and his commitment to fight evil and help people.

Noted historian Will Murray’s “Intermission” gives the background on these Doc Savage stories. Publisher Anthony Tollin contributes essays on America’s Air Ace “Bill Barnes” and “The Men Behind Doc Savage.”

This book also reprints the five-page Bill Barnes comic-book story from the second issue of Shadow Comics.     
As with other Sanctum Books editions - The Black Bat, The Shadow and others - these Doc Savage novels are entertaining journeys into the heroic fiction of the pulp era.  They’re wonderfully made books and I regularly despair I might never get around to reading all of them. More to come.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

PULPFEST 2016: ADDENDUM



Today we have things I forgot to tell you about my PulpFest weekend because I misplaced the really excellent notes I took during that weekend. I also have reviews of items I acquired at or in relation to the convention. The above photo is me with Lewis Forro, who has graciously allowed me to use his PulpFest photos.

One of the reasons the weekend felt off to me was because my drives to and from PulpFest happened in temperatures that reached 90-plus degrees and in a van whose air conditioning had decided it would be a jolly fun time to stop working. I would open the windows to let hot air pass over me to dry my copious sweat, but it was a fairly miserable two hours each way.

During my previous PulpFest bloggy things, I neglected to elaborate on the health food company and possible pyramid scheme that pushed the PulpFest dealers room from its original location. Visitors to that company’s conferences ran the gamut from the impossibly trim to the not-so-trim. These folks seemed to be very excited to meet one another in an almost cult-like way.

On Saturday, the health food company had some sort of very healthy foods buffet outside the Regency Ballroom. We had to walk past the buffet whenever we went to the PulpFest dealers room. Naturally, it smelled delicious. Several of my fellow PulpFest attendees wondered if we could sneak our way into the buffet line.

As the doors to the Regency Ballroom were wide open, I could hear and see a speaker who might have been the head honcho of the group. He had the demeanor of an Amway zealot, the modern-day equivalent of the snake oil salesmen of olde. He showed a photo of himself and Pope Francis. It was the typical quick photo which that most kind and generous of popes often allows, but the speaker talked like it was some much bigger deal.

There is, indeed, one born every minute.
                                                                           
                                                                        
On to my convention booty...
                                                                                
The Bronze Gazette #76 [Pulplications!; $10] was given to me at G-Fest by art director Kez Wilson. The magazine was founded by Howard Wright in 1990. It’s now in the hands of Wilson, editor Chuck Welch and publisher Terry Allen. It’s a handsome, digest size magazine of 60 pages. The cover painting by Bob Larkin shows actor Ron Ely as Doc Savage. It’s a beaut. Between the covers, we get a whole lot of fun stuff.

The esteemed Will Murray is all over the issue, which was fine by me. He writes about his new Doc Savage novels. Duane Spurlock adds a review of a Doc novel by Murray. Jeff Deischer contributes some thoughts on Murray’s first series of Doc novels. Then Murray is back to discuss the prospect of Dwayne Johnson playing the Man of Bronze in a new movie.

Other features? Curt Hardaway writes about attending his first Doc Savage convention. Julian Puga uncovers “The Doc Savage/Frank Buck Connection.” We get the Mayan Alphabet Key used by Doc and his men in many adventures. Wilson interviews Anthony Tollin on completing his reprinting of the original Doc Savage pulp magazine stories. Welch provides a checklist of those reprints and also has a piece on editors changing the titles of stories. Bobb Cotter reviews the Doc Savage Archives published by Dynamite. “Sons of Savage,” which will be an ongoing series on characters inspired by Doc Savage, is basically a too-long plug for Dare Devlin, Supreme Adventurer and not a very enticing plug at that. Publisher Allen contributes news about upcoming Doc Savage books.

The Bronze Gazette is an excellent magazine. I look forward to the next issue and recommend it to all Doc Savage fans.


Mr. Jigsaw #14 [Redbud Studio; $2.99] is an unusual adventure for the “Man of a Thousand Parts.” As usual, it was penciled, inked and lettered by Gary Kato. But, for the first time, he also wrote this issue. Wrote it so well that, if it hadn’t been for co-creator Ron Fortier’s inside back cover article, I would have thought Ron was the author. That’s high praise.

If you’ve never read Mr. Jigsaw - if you’ve ignored all of my past recommendations to do so, I have failed you - Charlie Grant is this nice guy super-hero who can split his body into multiple pieces and control them from afar. Over the years, Fortier and Kato have build one of the most appealing casts of supporting characters in comics history. If you knew these people, you would like them. Decent men and women. Salt of the earth.

In this issue, an old enemy kidnaps one of Charlie’s friends and an infant he was babysitting. He lures Charlie into a trap and drugs him. Charlie has no control of his parts. Before long, those parts are running wild with Charlie’s friends carrying his drugged head and trying to reunite it with the rest of him. It’s one of the most hilarious super-hero stories I’ve read.

Look. I care about my bloggy thing readers. I want nothing but the best for you. So, this time, will you please take my recommendation to heart and start reading Mr. Jigsaw? I ask so little.

                                                                               


So let me tell you about Rodney Schroeter...

Schroeter is the editor of The Current, a free monthly newspaper  serving the people of Sheboygan, Wisconsin and thereabouts. Before I met him, I had never realized how much I like saying and writing “Sheboygan.” Got a lilt to it. 

Schroeter was handing out copies of the June 2016 issue containing a very nice spread on Tony Tollin and Sanctum Books. I have no idea how Sheboygan reacted to an article that likely had little to do with their own interests, but I’m going to guess Schroeter puts together such a fun newspaper that his readers don’t object to his occasional indulgence. Having read or skimmed the 11 issues he gave or sent to me, I’ll go on record saying The Current is one of the best newspapers of this sort I’ve seen...and I tend to pick these things up wherever I travel.

Some of the regular Current features include bite-size comments on classic films shown on Turner Classic Movies, an always fascinating column by naturalist Emily Stone, an occasional column by outdoors guy Mark Walters who often writes about his hunting activities with his daughter and the usual local interest pieces. It’s a nice mix.

In the self-indulgent category...Rodney has written about the Grand Rapids Comic Con, legendary artist James Bama, author Albert Payson Terhune and writing/publishing a comic adapting a Terhune story and drawn by William Messner-Loebs. He's also published articles on other Wisconsin writers and artists. Once or twice, I winced while reading one of Rodney’s more political pieces, but, given my own lack of reluctance about expressing my own views, I can’t get too upset about his writings.

I like The Current. It’s a terrific newspaper and I wish there was something like it in my neck of the woods. You can always see the “current” issue of The Current here.
                                                                             
                                                                            
Schroeter also gave me a copy of Human Interest Stuff [Wisconsin Writers Association Press; $4], his and Messner-Loebs’ comic-book adaptation of a Terhune story about a man and the dog that changes his life. The 22-page tale is effectively told. The writing is top-notch and the art brings the characters to life. Schroeter takes a small liberty with the last line of the story, but it’s a liberty that improves the narration. The 36-page, black-and-white magazine also includes Terhune’s original prose story and information on the author and his works. It’s a nice package, much more interesting to me than many of today’s self-published comics with their emphases on autobiographical navel-gazing or popular genre tropes. It is a solidly entertaining comic book and earns my recommendation. If you want to get a copy or copies, go here.

That’s all I have for you on PulpFest and the blessings thereof, at least until I get around to reading the other items I got at that convention. I’m thinking of writing review columns similar to this one, concentrating on comics and books I acquired at other events. In the meantime, come back tomorrow for a Monday of movie madness. You won’t believe the films I’ll be writing about. 
   
© 2016 Tony Isabella






Saturday, August 20, 2016

PULPFEST 2016: PART TWO

Concluding my PulpFest 2016 report...

PulpFest 2016 (with FarmerCon XI) ran from Thursday, July 21 (6 pm) to Sunday, July 24 (2 pm) at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. The convention dealers room had been moved from its usual location to accommodate another organization. Renovations to the Hyatt Regency hotel and the food court connected to it were causing a few difficulties. But PulpFest was still PulpFest, one of my favorite conventions. The above photo is courtesy of Lewis Forro, one of the many terrific people I met over the weekend.

Saturday morning saw me in excellent spirits, though there would be a few moments of dismay as the day progressed. I went to the food court for my usual convention breakfast at the Egg and Chicken. I chatted with the owner who told me the long renovation process had hurt all the vendors in the court. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve eaten at the Egg and Chicken and the Siam Express at so many events - they are owned by the same families - that their owners recognize me and always greet me warmly.

During the renovation, which would be going on for several months, seating for the food court had been moved from the court itself to the large foyer outside the non-food shops, such as the comic-book  store. As I sat down with my breakfast, my friends Ron Fortier and Rob Davis came through to get some coffee. Their Airship 27 is one of the leader publishers of “new pulp” fiction with over a hundred books to their name. They also have long and distinguished careers  in the comic-book field. We had a nice “catching up” conversation, the sort of unexpected pleasure that makes PulpFest such a special event for me.

The dealers room was opened from 10 am to 4 pm. Except for when I took a lunch break at the Siam - their chicken fried rice is among the best I’ve ever had - I chatted and I shopped. I was given some items and traded copies of Black Lightning Volume One [DC Comics; $19.95) for other items. Here’s what I ended up with, not all of it from PulpFest itself:
                                                                              
A shocking red PulpFest baseball cap, showing my pride in being a part of the convention.

The Bronze Gazette #76, the first issue from the new team of editor Chuck Welch, art director Kez Wilson and publisher Terry Allen. It was actually at G-Fest in Chicago where Kez gave me a copy of this fine magazine, but it made more sense to mention it here. Look for my further comments in a review column that will post sometime in the next three days.

Love Story Writer by Daisy Bacon [Bold Venture; $14.95], which is a reprint of a 1954 book on how to write and market romance stories by the editor for almost 25 years of Street and Smith’s incredibly successful Love Story Magazine. I hope to read and review this one  within the next couple weeks.
                                                                                

The Midnight Guardian: Hour of Darkness by journalist, writer and fan John C. Bruening [Flinch! Books; $16.95]. This is my pal John’s first novel and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Adventures of Supergirl #1-4 [DC Comics; $2.99 each]. I bought them at the comic-book store that’s part of the food court and shopping connected to the hotel. Based on the television series version of the character, they didn’t do much for me. They weren’t bad comic books, but neither were they very good comic books.

Mr. Jigsaw #14 by Ron Fortier and Gary Kato [Redbud Studio; $2.99]. Veteran readers of my review columns from the late Comics Buyer’s Guide to this bloggy thing of mine know how much I love this all-ages super-hero series. I’ll have more to say about this issue in a few days.

The Pulpster #25. This is the official magazine of PulpFest 2016. It’s a classy publication filled with informative articles on the pulps and their creators. Add it to the pile of stuff I really want to read real soon now.

Rodney Schroeter gave me several issues of The Current, a monthly giveaway newspaper he edits in Wisconsin. He later sent me several more issues. I now know more about his part of the country than my own. He also sent me Human Interest Stuff, a comics adaptation of an Albert Payson Terhune story drawn by William Messner-Loebs. All of this booty from Rodney will be further discussed in the review column I’ve mentioned above.

At 3:00 pm, Anthony Tollin and I were scheduled to do “Ten Years in the Shadow’s Sanctum,” an overview of the Sanctum Books’ decades of producing handsome volumes of The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Black Bat and other pulp hero books. I was again substituting for writer and historian Will Murray whose essays have always been a big part of the Sanctum Books publications.

I was pretty qualified to be part of this presentation by virtue of having been friends with Tollin for closing in on half-a-century. I interviewed him about his careers in comics, old-time radio and now pulp fiction publishing. About the only thing we didn’t cover at length was his love of dachshunds. In addition to all his other accomplishments, several of his dogs have been bonafide champions. The man knows dogs as well as he knows comic books, radio shows and pulp magazines. He also owns a hundred pairs of stretch socks. All I’ve got on him is an Inkpot Award and my innate cuteness.

Our panel was very well received. I always enjoy appearing on such panels with Tollin. We have fun and I learn stuff. It’s an enticing combination.

PulpFest 2016 would continue through 2:00 pm on Sunday, but I got antsy about the writing awaiting me at home. Especially since I had a library presentation to give and two more conventions to attend in the next three weeks. If I’d been able to buy the travel laptop as planned - it’s coming soon - I probably would’ve stayed through the evening and morning. Instead, I checked out of the hotel, said my goodbyes and drove back to my Medina home.

PulpFest has not yet announced its plans for 2017. They may not be returning to the Hyatt Regency and the Greater Columbus Convention Center. With my life taking some interesting turns, I don’t know if I’ll be back next year.

I certainly hope I’ll be able to attend PulpFest 2017. It’s a great event. If you have even a mild interest in pulp magazine fiction, if you enjoy new stories and novels in that tradition, I think you will have a wonderful time at the convention.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
 
© 2016 Tony Isabella

Friday, August 19, 2016

BACK ISSUE #91

TwoMorrows is one of my favorite publishers.  Their magazines and books have added my knowledge of comics history in an entertaining and lively fashion.  I’m not always able to read and review their works in a timely fashion, but, as I do with Anthony Tollin and his Sanctum Books, I will do my best to let you know whenever new books and magazines are released by the publisher.

Back Issue #91 [September, 2016; $8.95] is the “All-Jerks Issue” of this wonderful Will Eisner Award-nominated magazine. The Kevin Maguire cover shows Batman putting the “bonk” on Guy Gardner while announcing the “hero history of the GL you love to hate.” The other featured jerks include Namor, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, DC Comics’ biggest blowhards, Reggie Mantle, the Heckler Obnoxio the Clown and me. Okay, there’s not actually an article on me in this issue, but I was interviewed for the Jameson piece. There are also comments from Rich Buckler, Kurt Busiek, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Steve Englehart, Tom DeFalco, Keith Giffen and others. This issue looks like a whole lot of fun. Check it out.

PULPFEST 2016: PART ONE

PulpFest 2016 (with FarmerCon XI) ran from Thursday, July 21 (6 pm) to Sunday, July 24 (2 pm) at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Things were a little different for the con this year and more than a little off for me personally. The former was stuff out of the hands of PulpFest and the latter had nothing to do with the event. As they do every year, the convention committee put on an outstanding event.

GRUMPY WARNING

Don’t let anything in this multi-day convention report give you a false impression. PulpFest is and always will be aces in my book. I will be writing about things not remotely the con’s fault. If I weren’t such a whiney boy, I’d skip over them. But I am what I am. I need to purge these things from my psyche.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Thursday afternoon saw me on the road to Columbus. I’d worked well into the wee hours of the night. I was frustrated I hadn’t finished more of what I had hoped to finish, doubly so because my plans to purchase a laptop on which I could work during the weekend hadn’t come together. I was frustrated and tired, a combination which made me more than a little grumpy. Still, I was really looking forward to PulpFest. It’s one of my favorite conventions.

My main reason for coming to PulpFest - I don’t collect pulps and I don’t often have time to read either “new pulp” fiction or those spiffy reprints of classic pulp heroes from my pal Anthony Tollin’s Sanctum Books - is to see dear friends I don’t see anywhere else. So I was looking forward to seeing Tollin as well as Ron Fortier, Rob Davis, Michelle Nolan and others.

I also enjoy staying at the Hyatt Regency hotel, which is one of my favorite hotels. Their rooms are always clean and comfortable. The staff is always friendly. Besides being connected to the convention center, the hotel is also connected to a terrific shopping area and food court. The shopping area has a nice little comic-book store. The food court has a great breakfast place (Chicken and Egg) and a wonderful Chinese place (Siam). I’ve eaten at those places so many times and at so many different events that the owners recognize me and always greet me warmly.

However, when I arrived at the hotel, something seemed off to me. The parking valet - a young woman - was friendly enough and so was the bellman who brought my luggage and assorted boxes to my room. But I thought the front desk staff was just going through the motions. They weren’t exactly chilly, but neither were they warm. That was a sharp contrast to previous years.

The second blow to my weekend came when I walked down to the food court to get some of the Siam’s delicious chicken fried rice. The food court was closed for renovation. As it turned out, the court would be open until 3 pm each day, but there was no indication of that on the closed doors blocking entrance to the court. I didn’t find out until Friday afternoon that I could have had breakfast at Chicken and Egg. Instead, I had to settle for a leaden, tasteless bagel from a Starbucks in the convention center. I’m not sure that  bagel isn’t still with me.

The PulpFest dealers room, which is the heart of the event, was not in its usual Regency Ballroom location. Apparently, the hotel had double-booked the weekend and the show’s traditional space had been given to some sort of Amway-like healthy foods company. I’ll have more on that later in this convention report.

The PulpFest dealers room was now located in the enormous Battelle South exhibition hall on the third floor of the convention center across the large foyer of the Regency Ballroom. If it weren’t for the signage outside the hall, you wouldn’t have known PulpFest was even there. Once you entered the hall, it was a bit of a hike to actually get to the registration table and dealers room. The hike isn’t a complaint as it helped me reached my Fitbit goal every day of PulpFest. Go health!

My mood lightened immediately on walking into the dealers room. The early bird shopping wouldn’t start until six pm, but I was able to walk around and greet various dealers and writers I knew from past PulpFest conventions. Among them, of course, was my friend of over four decades, Anthony Tollin.

“Tex” Tollin is one of my favorite people. He has had a remarkable triple-decker career. He was a colorist and production assistant at DC Comics for over two decades. He is a old-time radio expert who wrote books on that subject and wrote scripts for radio programs. A close friend of the late Walter B. Gibson, the top writer of The Shadow pulp novels and much more, Tollin is also the leading expert on both Gibson and The Shadow. Through Sanctum Books, he is about to publish his one-hundredth collection of The Shadow’s adventures.Tollin is a good man in every sense of the term: decent, honest, incredibly capable, knowledgeable and loyal to his friends. It’s an honor to be one of those friends.

Looking for a quick meal because we would be doing a panel later in the evening, we walked across the street to Max and Erma’s. Which was something of a mixed blessing. The food was good and the prices were very reasonable. The service was slow, but that gave us time to chat leisurely. Of course, the chatting would have been a little easier were it not for the presence of a guitar player who combined being very loud with being not very good.

Our evening panel (9:10-9:55 pm) was the first panel presentation of the convention. “Street & Smith’s Second Stringers” was on Cap Fury and The Whisperer, two of the characters who starred in their own somewhat short-lived titles before appearing in the back of Doc Savage and The Shadow magazines. Cap Fury, aka the Skipper, had a seemingly seen-better-days ship that was, in reality, an advanced vessel filled with all sorts of scientific gadgets and firepower. The character was a favorite of a young Stan Lee.

The Whisperer was Police Commissioner James Gordon before the guy with the same name who appeared in the Batman comic books. He was hostile to most authority - he used to punch out his politically-connected deputy police commissioner on occasion - quick-tempered, short of stature and somewhat - as it a lot - ambivalent about the law and civil liberties. To fight crime his own way, Gordon would become The Whisperer, a supposed criminal who was feared by other criminals. I could be this guy, which is why he’s my favorite pulp character after Doc Savage.

I was a nearly last-minute substitute for the esteemed Will Murray, a noted writer and historian. Will had to cancel his appearance at PulpFest due to a family matter. With some quick reading to refresh my memories of these characters, I was able to keep up with Tollin and contribute to the conversation. Afterward, several fans walked up to the podium to tell us how much they enjoyed the panel. Doing panels with Tollin is as much a pleasure for me as it seems to be for the fans. I was getting my PulpFest groove back.

The dealers room reopened at 10 am on Friday morning. At PulpFest, I generally split my time between the convention and relaxing in my hotel room. During my time in the dealers room, I chatted with old friends and made some new ones. I’d go into more details, but the notes I took on the convention have vanished into the vortex that is my office. To the names I have already dropped, I’ll add writers Frank Schildiner and John C. Bruening, Wisconsin newspaper editor Rodney Schroeter, comics and pulp dealer Gary Dietrich, long-time Cleveland buddy Marty Swiatkowski, Chuck Welch (the new editor of The Bronze Gazette), Dick and Norma Enos, Laurie Powers and others. Place your bets now on how soon those vanished notes will reappear. I’m thinking within a hour of my posting the final chapter of this PulpFest report.

As has become a PulpFest tradition, I took Tollin to the excellent BD’s Mongolian Grill for our Friday night meal. The grill is this huge wheel on which a dozen or more meals can be cooked before your eyes and simultaneously. You fill your bowl with whatever you want from a wide selection of meats, veggies and other items. You select your preferred sauce from an equally wide selection. I have never had less than an excellent meal at BD’s, which is located a short walk from the Hyatt on Marconi Boulevard.

There are always a number of interesting panels at PulpFest. That night, the one I most wanted to attend was Laurie Powers’ talk on Street and Smith’s Love Story Magazine (the best-selling of all the Street & Smith titles) and the romance pulp phenomenon. Because the fastest growing demographic in comics readership is women, this is an area of both pulp and modern publishing that fascinates and intrigues me. Ever since I first learned of Love Story’s success, I have been hoping for someone to publish facsimile issues of the magazine and its sister romance pulps. If you publish them, I will buy them. Don't leave my money on the table.

Laurie’s talk was excellent. I learned a lot from her and found my interest in romance pulps even keener than before her presentation. If memory serves - those missing notes - she is currently writing a book on Daisy Bacon, a writer of romantic fiction and, for almost 25 years, the editor of Love Story Magazine.

Because of delays with earlier panels, it was pretty late by this time. I headed back to my hotel room for a spot of reading and a good night’s sleep. Would I wake up on Saturday with a less grumpy demeanor. You’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Thursday, August 18, 2016

CITIZEN TONY: OPENING STATEMENT

Right off the bat - no spoiler warning necessary - let me state the obvious. I’m a proud progressive liberal. I like being on the right side of history and morality. I realize this will annoy and anger some of my readers. I’d like to think that, if they stick around, they will recognize that my positions are good for the country and the world. Failing that, I hope they will, at least, accept there is a legitimate other side and that we don’t hate America or want to destroy it. I don’t even want to take away all your guns.

I have been kicking around this bloggy-within-the-bloggy for well over a year. I even wrote a few practice columns with titles like “President Tony” and “Emperor Tony.” But, in our democracy, despite all the challenges posed to it by the uber-wealthy and those who, usually against their own best interests, side with them, it’s the citizens who can and should steer our nation.

So...Citizen Tony.

What I have in mind for this hopefully weekly feature is to simply tell you where I stand on the important issues of the day. When I speak with conservatives who don’t shame the name, they generally come to realize that my positions make sense. At a recent event, I listened to a conservative go on and on about Hilary Clinton. The conversation ended when I asked if he really thought Donald Trump  would be better for America than Clinton. The man literally bowed his head in anguish and said softly, “No.”

He believed this would be the death of the Republican Party. I told him I thought that would be a good thing...because then those real conservatives, the patriots, the ones capable of not automatically dismissing any ideas put forward by Democrats (including ideas that originated on the right) would have the opportunity to bring forth a conservative party that would be a boon to our land.

One thing this weekly feature will not be is a column that dwells on the upcoming elections. For me, when it comes to the President, the choice is clear. Trump proves his unsuitability for the office with nearly every public utterance. Clinton, for all her flaws and despite decades of savage and untruthful attacks from the Hilary hate machine, is qualified to hold the highest office in our land. She might not have been my first choice, but, in the here and now, she is the best choice.

My choices for down-the-ballot candidates are also clear. With the strangleholds the zealots of the right have on our Congress and our state houses, I feel I have to vote against Republicans. The only exceptions will be those races in which I either know a candidate personally - which can work for or against them - or when the non-Republican candidate is clearly unsuited for the office they seek.I do my homework before I vote, even to the so-called non-partisan races for judges, school board members and the like.

While I realize that insults have become part of the process, I’ll do my best to avoid them in this feature. We have plenty of folks making hilarious and not-so-hilarious jokes about the candidates. Besides, the Trump/orange creamsicle riposte I have been working on just isn’t coming together.

Something else...these weekly political statements will be shorter than my usual bloggy things. While putting my positions into action and making them work is complicated, the basic common sense behind them isn’t.

“Citizen Tony” won’t have a set day. For the immediate future, it will run in between convention reports and comics/movies reviews. While I have putting good idea of the subjects I want to discuss, I’m also open to suggestions from my readers.

If my political writings turn you off, you can and should take some comfort in knowing I’ll still be writing about all that other stuff you like better on the other six days of the week. These “Citizen Tony” columns will be clearly labeled as such.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the start of my PulpFest 2016 convention report. Place your bets now on how many days it will run.
 
© 2016 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

MORE WEDNESDAY REVIEWS

If you’ve been reading my weekly “Tony’s Tips” column at Tales of Wonder, you know I’ve been enjoying the DC Universe Rebirth titles. This despite not really understanding what’s happening to the DCU. My friends at DC Comics claim it’s not a reboot. My best guess at this time is that it’s a merging of pre-Flashpoint continuity with post-New 52 continuity with whatever the heck the editors and the writers and the artists think will make for entertaining stories. It’s the Wild West out there!

As a post-continuity comics reader and writer, I like the idea that characters need not be bound by what has gone before. Sometimes the best way to deal with dumb stuff that worked its way into previous issues is to ignore it completely. Whatever old comics you loved, they’re still there. Read and enjoy them. But, to expect 50-year-old stories to be the law for today’s comics is damaging to the new comics. Here’s my pocket guide to continuity:

Get the characters right. Establish the core values of the heroes and villains and supporting cast members you’re writing. Stick to those core values but, otherwise, tell stories that resonate with our modern times. That Jimmy Olsen, for example, is brave and loyal and good at what he does, is more core to his character than being dumped on by Lucy Lane, turning into human porcupines and wearing a bowtie and a plaid suit jacket. His core values don’t change if he’s tall, dark and handsome on TV. I love those goofy Jimmy Olsen comic books as much as anybody, but I don’t want new Jimmy stories in that mold.

Here are some quick thoughts on recent Rebirth titles...

Titans: Rebirth #1 by Dan Abnett with Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund [$2.99] brings together the original and now older Teen Titans as Wally West returns from the Speed Force and jogs their memories of their past friendship. It’s cool seeing the old gang back together. The return of Lilith, who never quite fit comfortably with the team in the previous continuities, seems a much better fit in this one.The “mysterious menace who tried to keep us apart” bit has not yet engaged me, but the Titans are so happy to be together once again that I’ll stick around to see what happens.

Aquaman #2 by Abnett with Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher [$2.99] has a mostly satisfying conclusion to the latest conflict between our title hero and Black Manta. Good back story, good resolution and a political challenge for Aquaman and Atlantis. All fine stuff. Not so fine is that yet another villain who can’t remain in custody for more than a few pages before we get an escape and clumsy foreshadow of future villainy. Come on. Good stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Cliffhangers like this one are just weak tea.

I’m less enthusiastic but still intrigued by Batman #2, Green Arrow #2, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Rebirth #1 and Justice League: Rebirth #2 [$2.99 each]. While I delight in a Batman who is far more mentally stable than we’ve seen in recent years, it seems odd to have him mentoring the super-powered Gotham and Gotham Girl in what could be a throwback to his 1960s World’s Finest team-ups with Superman. Still, the last page appearance of a classic villain was sort of cool.

Green Arrow is very grim. The title is adding elements similar to those on the Arrow TV series and it hasn’t been the smoothest of fits. This title needs some work.

The Hal Jordan special offers a great deal of complicated back story and lots of ra-ra-go-team. I need to see more from this title.

The Justice League special is in a similar vein, but centers more about Superman’s place in the League with a new Superman in action. I really like this new Superman from another reality. He’s married to Lois Lane and raising a super-powered son with her. Except for the “imaginary stories” of the 1960s, these are tales we have not seen done with the Man of Steel.

Which probably explains why Superman #2 by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason is my favorite of this batch of Rebirth issues. If I get to vote, I vote for this Superman sticking around as THE Superman of the DC Universe.

                                                                              

Christopher Mills has produced two different - and very different from each other - comic-book series in recent months. Each series runs three issues.

Gravedigger [$3.99 per issue] is written by Mills with art by the sensational  Rick Burchett. It’s a  noir series starring a career criminal seeking the score that will set him up for life. The obstacles to that plan are two unrelated eff-ups. He’s framed for the murder of a mob boss’ daughter...and he gets brought into an arms heist where there’s not enough fans for all the shit that hits.

These two "Gravedigger" McCrae stories were originality produced for online publication and are printed sideways. Mills writes a hard as nails story and Burchett is equally hard in the visuals. It’s exciting to read these stories, but McCrae’s world is not one you would want to live in. There’s an warning on the covers of all three issues of this series:

Warning: This book contains explicit language and extreme bad guy-on-bad guy violence. Stay alert!

The trade paperback Gravedigger: Hot Women Cold Cash [Action Lab Entertainment; $11.99] was released last November and is available via Amazon. Highly recommended.

ISBN  978-1632291158

                                                                            

Also from Mills is Perils on Planet X with art by Gene Gonzales and colors by Ian Sokoliwski [Atomic Pulp; $4.99 per issue]. Taking its inspiration from Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars, Perils is a  fast-paced thriller wherein American astronaut Donovan Hawke gets lost in time and space and ends up on a distant savage planet. Cue the beautiful alien princess, strange creatures, sword-and-blaster action and, of course, daring-do and exciting escapes from, well, a variety of perils.

Perils on Planet X might not cover any new ground in the genre, but the story is solid, the writing and art are energetic, and it’s fun stuff. I think Perils of Planet X does a better “Flash Gordon” than anything Dynamite has published in recent years. So, if you enjoy this kind of space adventure, this series will delight you.

Perils on Planet X was self-published and can ONLY be bought via mail order through IndyPlanet at:

http://www.indyplanet.us/atomicpulp/

Thar’s all for now. Come back tomorrow for the first installment of a brand-new “bloggy-within-the-bloggy.”

© 2016 Tony Isabella