Wednesday, February 22, 2017

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 103

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 103rd installment in that series.

The Rawhide Kid #117 [November 1973] has a cover by Jack Kirby with Dick Ayers on the inks. Both the cover and “The Masked Maverick!” (18 pages) are reprinted from Rawhide Kid #44 [February 1965]. The story plot was by Stan Lee, the writing and art were Larry Lieber, and the lettering was Artie Simek. However, to make room for this reprint’s indicia - the earlier issue had the indicia on the inside front cover of the comic book - the first page art was cut off just below Lieber’s credits. I wrote about this story in January, 2013, and you can read that bloggy thing here.

This was the second time the story had been reprinted in under four years. It also ran in The Mighty Marvel Western #5 [June 1969]. As I recall, when Rawhide Kid first went all-reprint, there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to the title by the editorial and production departments. Which is why, looking through the issue for the first time since its original publication, I was surprised to see it had a brand-new letters column.

The “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” column is a half-page of teeny-tiny type. Paul Cipriano of Southbury, Connecticut really loved my pals Larry and George Roussos’s art on Rawhide Kid #112. Gringo of Elmsford, New York had lots to say: some compliments and some not-remotely-compliments. Matt Mitchell of Clyde, Texas wanted to know how Larry got started and the steps involved in drawing the western heroes. Marvel’s responses to these questions included a entreaty to readers to write to the title, which was downright cruel given the new all-reprint status of Rawhide Kid. Except...

I’m guessing this letter column was originally put together for an issue with a new Rawhide Kid story, probably the one that appeared in the one-shot Western Team-Up that came out in the same month as this issue. Considered that informed speculation since I was not involved in the production of these issues.
                                                                                

The bottom half of this page featured a house ad for Supernatural Thrillers #6. In that issue, “The Headless Horseman Rides Again!” (20 pages) was a modernization of the classic spooky icon by Gary Friedrich, George Tuska and Jack Abel. I don’t remember the actual story, but I do remember reflecting, during my stint writing Ghost Rider that this new Horseman might make an interesting opponent for Johnny Blaze.

The “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” run half a page and, for the first time in several months, again include the “Mighty Marvel Checklist” of “color comics now on sale!” The first item plugs new black-and-white titles Savage Tales and Crazy...Brother Voodoo in the pages of Strange Tales...the Son of Satan in Marvel Spotlight...Satana in Vampire Tales...The Thing in Marvel Feature...and the Black Panther in Jungle Action.

The second item is interesting in that it plugs a new color comics title called...Fu Manchu. Obviously, this morphed into Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Someone should interview Roy Thomas about what went on between the original concept for the series and what ended up in Marvel Special Edition.

The third item is more plugs. The Avengers/Defenders cross-over in those titles. Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog on Kull the Destroyer. And some dramatic changes in Sub-Mariner.

The Mighty Marvel Checklist mentions 27 different issues. Fantastic Four #140 has “more of the startling secret of Franklin Richards.” Spider-Man #126 has Spidey versus the Kangaroo. Avengers #117 pits the Vision against the Silver Surfer. Marvel Team-Up #15 has Ghost Rider for Spidey’s guest star of the month. Marvel Feature has the Thing duking it out with Iron Man. There’s also a plug for Western Team-Up #1, which I’ll be writing about next week.

The bottom half of the page is the usual house ad for FOOM (Friends of Ol’ Marvel), the official Marvel Comics fan club run by Jaunty Jim Steranko. You could sign up and get a subscription to the club magazine for $2.50 including postage and handling.

This is followed by a full-page paid ad for “A Genuine Spider-Man Medallion-Coin” from Hallmark Minting Service. With its “three-dimensional sculpted image of the world’s favorite web-swinger,” the coin costs two bucks. The price would double with the next few years and, though I have found no completed sales for this item on eBay, I did see auctions starting at $75.
                                                                                     

The final interior page is a Rawhide Kid pin-up. The basic image is by Jack Kirby, but the final pin-up seems to be been re-inked and slightly redrawn. My best guess for the second artist is Mirthful Marie Severin who a) could do anything and b) could have run Marvel if she had to. That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with some more stuff. Then I’ll be taking another few days off while I attend the Great Lakes Comic-Con. Always forward.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

GREAT LAKES COMIC-CON PRELUDE

Pensacon Comic-Con was almost certainly a wonderful weekend, but, since I’m writing this three days before the start of that event, I’m making an educated guess. You can look forward to my full con report in the next week or so. If all went according to plan, I returned home from Pensacon late yesterday afternoon and started getting ready for my next convention appearance.

Bloggy old Tony will be a special guest at the Great Lakes Comic-Con, Friday/Saturday, February 24-25, at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan. The convention runs from 5-9 pm on Friday and 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday.

Here’s the quick take on the event from its website:

The Great Lakes Comic-Con, or GLCC, is a comic, toy, and collectible event that runs annually in the Metro-Detroit Area (Michigan). The goals of GLCC are to provide a venue for collectors and dealers to get together, buy/sell some of their favorite collectibles, and support children’s literacy, as well as other child-related charities.

For The Great Lakes Comic-Con, we will be supporting Reading is Fundamental. Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit organization in the United States. The goal is a literate America in which all children have access to books and discover the joys and value of reading.


There over 5000 people at last year’s GLCC and those who attend the convention this year will find a pretty spiffy guest list including such luminaries as Nicholas Hammond, the star of the Spider-Man TV show of the 1970s, and WWF Hall of Fame wrestler Jack “the Snake” Roberts. Hmmm...I wonder if we could convince them to react that  classic “masked Peter Parker” wrestling scene from Amazing Fantasy #15. I’ll just stand back here when you ask them.

Three other media guests. Paul Soles was the voice of Spider-Man in the 1967-1970 cartoons and Hermey The Elf in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Tom Cook was an animator and director at Hanna-Barbera and Filmation and has worked on any many other films and projects as well. Movie and TV actress Lydia Graber will also be there. Her fascinating resume includes being an Ewok in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

The comics guests: Jim Shooter (Saturday only), Alex Saviuk, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Greg Land, Angel Medina, Thom Zahler, William Messner-Loebs, Ryan Stegman, Randy Zimmerman, Paul Storrie, Jason Moore, Tony Gray, Dirk Manning and Seth Damoose. And yours truly, “America’s most-beloved comic-book writer and columnist,” on hand to regale you with tales of my career, hints about my latest projects and assorted comics and real-life wisdom. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

In addition to dozens of great comics dealers and other exhibitors, the convention will also feature: panel presentations, cosplay, fan organizations, face painting, balloon sculpture, free board gaming, free arcade gaming, a Magic tournament and, on Friday only, the amazing Squirrel's Creations.

I’ll be appearing on two panels during the event:

“Tony’s Tips Live” (Friday, 7 pm) is a live-action version of the bloggy things and columns I’ve been writing for decades. I’ll have some of those afore-mentioned tales with which to regale you; talk about comic books, the real world and more; and answer those questions I can answer without violating any of the seeming dozens of contracts I have signed in recent years.

"Misty Knight, Iron Fist, and Netflix" (Saturday, 3 pm) will team my collaborator and long-time friend Arvell Jones for a panel that will cover the above and more. We might even argue about which of us Simone Missick likes best. Hint: it’s me.

When I’m not on panels or roaming the convention looking for great stuff to buy, you can find me at Table 901. I’ll be selling Black Lightning Volume One and other Isabella-written items, along with a selection of other comics and books and what-have-you.

Want me to deface your Isabella-written item with my signature? I can do that for you. There will be no charge for my autograph and no limit on how many items I’ll sign. However, on the off chance I have a line of fans waiting for me to sign their comics and you’ve brought me more than ten items to sign, I’ll sign the first ten and then ask you to step to the end of the line so I can sign for your fellow fans and get them on their way.

If you’re too shy to ask me questions at my panels, I’ll be happy to answer them for you at my table. There are some questions I can’t answer at the present time, but I’ll do my level best to accommodate your quest for knowledge.

I’m really looking forward to attending the Great Lakes Comic-Con, seeing so many old comics pals and making new ones. I hope you get a chance to attend the convention and see me. 

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

TONY'S TIPS #197

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Mickey’s Craziest Adventures by Lewis Trondheim and Nicolas Keramidas; the thoroughly wonderful Die Kitty Die! by Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz; and We Can Never Go Home Volume 1 by writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon with art by Josh Hood and Brian Level!

Monday, February 20, 2017

BACK FROM PENSACON

Hey, kids...

Sainted Wife Barb and I are back from Pensacon 2017. We had a wonderful time at one of the best conventions in the country and with some of the nicest people (fans, fellow guests, and especially everybody who worked to make this show so great). 

I'll be writing about the convention soon, but, in the meantime, thanks to everyone who took care of us and made us feel so loved.

I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

SIGNING OFF UNTIL TUESDAY

Hey, kids!

I'm heading to Pensacola, Florida and the wondrous Pensacon.

I'll be offline until I return on Tuesday.

Please note that, since comments have to be approved by me before they appear, that your comments won't be posted until I'm back.

Have a great weekend!

Tony Isabella


RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 102

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 102nd installment in that series.
 
The Rawhide Kid #116 [October 1973] has a cover by Jack Kirby with Frank Giacoia inking. The cover is reprinted from Rawhide Kid #47 [August 1965]. This is the start of the all-old Rawhide Kid. There will be no more new stories in this title, though one remaining new tale by Larry Lieber will appear in the one-shot Western Team-Up.

This issue reprints “The River Boat Raiders!” (17 pages), written and drawn by Lieber with lettering by Art Simek. This is the third time this story has appeared in a Marvel western comic. It also ran in The Mighty Marvel Western #4 [April 1969]. That it was reprinted for the second time in four years is a pretty good indication this reprint mag wasn’t getting much attention. I wrote about this tale in February 2013 and you can read that bloggy thing here.
                                                                            

Thirteen pages into the story, we get a half-page house ad for the first issue of Crazy Magazine. The black-and-white reproduction of the full-color cover by Kelly Freas shows the Nebbish (the Alfred E. Newman of the magazine) about to blow up the logos of Cracked, MAD, National Lampoon and Sick. The ad copy claimed Crazy was “the humor mag that 4 out of 5 mad doctors recommend!”
                                                                                
   
The Rawhide Kid reprint was followed by a two-page “special Two-Gun Kid feature!” Written by Stan Lee, penciled by Jack Kirby, inked by Dick Ayers and lettered by Jon D'Agostino, ““Two Lives Has He!” contracts “eloquent, cultured, scholarly, gentle” lawyer Matt Hawk with his “two-fisted, cold, ruthless” masked identity. This feature originally appeared in Two Gun Kid #61 [January 1963]. Even making allowances for that being just the second issue of the new Two-Gun Kid’s run, the descriptions for both Hawk and his masked identity aren’t very accurate.

The half-page Marvel Bullpen Bulletins plugged the usual variety of Marvel magazines and comic books: Crazy, the new Son of Satan strip in Marvel Spotlight, the new issues of Vampire Tales and Monsters Unleashed, the Recorder appearing in Warlock, Kraven the Hunter in Daredevil, Dr. Spectrum in Iron Man, a clash between Spider-Man and the Sub-Mariner in Marvel Team-Up and Savage Tales #2.

But there is one more items of particular interest to me. Here it is in full:

ITEM! Oh, yes - we almost forgot! We want to apologize for accidentally misleading a few of you in a recent Bullpen Bulletins, when he mistakenly reported the cover price of our new HAUNT OF HORROR digest-size magazine at 60 cents instead of the correct 75 cents. We mixed it up for a moment with MONSTER MADNESS - which itself has just added fifteen coppers to its price and a bunch of pages to its format, to become (under Roy and our hard-working new recruit TONY ISABELLA) a bigger bargain than ever! If you don’t believe us, pick up our fabulous fourth issue - which zeroes in on none other than the immortal KING KONG - and see what we mean!

That’s the first time I was mentioned in the Bullpen Bulletins. I didn’t know about it until I saw the finished page. It would still be another month or so before I got my official Marvel nickname.

As usual, the rest of the page was the usual half-page house ad for FOOM, the Friends of Ol’ Marvel fan club.

The last editorial page in the issue was a “Marvel Comics Survey.” Conducted by Mark Clements Research Inc. It asked a whole bunch of questions. You didn’t have to sign your name to the survey. Even if I weren’t working at Marvel, I would have never filled this out and sent it in. I mean, why would I cut a page out of one of my comic books? Here’s the survey:
                                                                             

Normally, I’ll be covering two reprint issues of The Rawhide Kid in each of my “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” columns. However, because of all the other stuff I have to do before I leave for Pensacon tomorrow, you’re only getting one this time around. That will also hold true for next week’s RKW. Two weeks from now, I’ll write about Western Team-Up #1, which featured the last Rawhide Kid story by my friend  Larry Lieber story. Three weeks from now, if all goes as planned, I’ll start covering two reprint issues each Wednesday.

The bloggy thing will resume on Tuesday, February 21. Join me then for a preview of my appearance at the Great Lakes Comic-Con, Friday and Saturday, February 24-25, in Warren, Michigan.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

TONY'S TIPS #196

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...I look at DC Rebirth titles Batman, Detective Comics, Nightwing...and Captain Kid by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and Wilfredo Torres...and the new Champions by Waid and Humberto Ramos!

MARVEL 1990s: SLEEPWALKER #1

I’m working my way through Marvel Firsts: The 1990s Omnibus [$125] - all 1288 pages of it - a story at a time. I was not a big fan of Marvel during the 1990s, but I figured it was time to take another look at the characters and comics launched in what has been called “comics' most divisive decade.”

This time out, we’re looking at Sleepwalker #1 [June 1991]. I know I read this issue when it came out and probably a few more issues beyond that. However, beyond the perhaps apocryphal report that Tom DeFalco, Marvel’s editor-in-chief back then, described the series as “Sandman done right,” I have no memory of this debut issue or of any others I might have read.

Sleepwalker was created by Bob Budiansky, who wrote all but two of the character’s 33-issue run. The title character was an alien from something called the Mindscape. The dimension, which borders on the minds of all living creatures, is inhabited by many weird creatures and some of those mean to do harm to human beings. The Sleepwalkers are the guardians of the Mindscape. They defend humans from those who would attack them in their dreams. At least, that’s what I got from reading the character’s Wikipedia entry.

Bret Blevins penciled and inked the cover of this first issue and also “ To Sleep Perchance to Scream!” (22 pages). Budiansky colored the issue and it was lettered by Tom Orzechowski. So, right off the bat, we’re talking A-list talents.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


College student Rick Sheridan has a Sleepwalker in his mind. This gives him nightmares. Which he doesn’t need considering that he has a pretty full plate. He’s majoring in film studies. He pays for his apartment by being the building’s janitor. He intimidates a couple of low-life drug pushers into moving on from the building’s front steps. He also works part-time teaching English to immigrants. He  has a cute, understanding girlfriend by the name of Alyssa Conover. Right off the bat, I like this young man a lot.

In one nightmare, Rick grabs a star medallion off the alien being  who has been tormenting him. When he wakes, he’s stunned by a news report about an alien being preventing a robbery. The police sketch  artist drawing of the creature is an exact match for the alien in Rick’s dreams.

When Rick dreams, the Sleepwalker appears. When he dozes off during a fun house ride, Alyssa actually sees the creature. Frightened by these events, Rick tries to stay awake.

The two drug pushers from earlier in the story try to rob a store. The exhausted Rick is there with Alyssa. One of the creeps pistol-whips Rick, the other grabs Alyssa to use as a shield. Rick passes out. Sleepwalker rises from his unconscious form and goes after the two criminals.

Gunfire knocks the Sleepwalker down, but doesn’t stop him. He goes after the criminals, who have left Alyssa behind. The alien bends a lamppost around their car. He animates a mailbox to capture one of the crooks. The other fights back.

A crowd emerges and, not knowing the situation, attack the alien. He causes the street to rise around them, but does not harm them. He wraps another lamppost around the second crook.

Alyssa asks the alien who he is. He tells her he’s a sleepwalker. The creature disappears when Rick wakes up.

Rick and Alyssa compare notes. Rick now knows that when he is not conscious, the being he thinks is a monster comes out.

Alyssa asks him if he’s alright. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever be alright.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


I really enjoyed this issue. It has very likeable characters in Rick and Alyssa. It has a nice sense of building mystery. It ends on a satisfying note that makes me want to read the next issue. Based on the debut issue, if Marvel were to reprint Sleepwalker in either an “epic collection” or “omnibus,” I’d buy them.

If you’ve been keeping score on this series of reviews, we are now at 4-3 with stories I liked getting a lead over stories I didn’t like. The next installment of my “Marvel Firsts: The 1990s” series will discuss X-Force #1. Keep an eye out for it.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of my rough-riding, two-fisted “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” series. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Monday, February 13, 2017

HOLIDAY HORROR: PRESIDENTS’ DAY

Here we are, continuing our reviews of holiday-themed horror films. What I call “Presidents’ Day” is actually “Washington’s Birthday,” a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of each February. Because we wouldn’t want Black History Month to be too black, now would we.

George Washington, more or less the first President of the United States, was born on February 22, 1732. Anyway, the holiday is more commonly known as “Presidents’ Day” and honors all of our American presidents, even those we’d like to forget. Like the current giant Cheeto holding the office.

In most states, the day is also a state holiday under a variety of names and spellings. From here, it’s getting really complicated and I’m going to direct you to Wikipedia for specifics.

The bloggy thing is celebrating Presidents’ Day a week ahead of the official federal holiday to give you more time to take advantage of all those Presidents’ Day sales on carpeting, mattresses and other fine products. Because if you wait until next Monday, all the good stuff will be gone. 

FDR: American Badass! [2012] is the first of two Presidents’ Day films we’ll be discussing today. It’s directed by Garrett Brawith, an actor who has appeared in such previous “reviewed by Isabella” movies as Poseidon Rex and Jurassic City. This is the second film he has directed.

The movie was written by Ross Patterson. He plays Southern senator Cleavon Buford in this movie and has other two dozen acting credits at the Internet Movie Database. He has a dozen credits as a writer, but the one I must see is Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves [2015]. On account of...do I really have to explain?

The cast is pretty impressive for a low-budget horror movie. Barry Bostwick plays FDR. Ray Wise plays Douglas MacArthur. Kevin Sorbo is the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.  Lin Shaye is amazing as Eleanor Roosevelt, as is the great Bruce McGill as Louis, close friend and confidant of FDR.

The IMDb describes the movie thus:

An outrageous, over-the-top spoof, FDR: American Badass is the untold true story of our country's greatest monster-hunting president! 
 
I’m going to forego the usual SPOILER WARNINGS because nothing that I write here will diminish this movie for you.

FDR gets polio from being bitten by a werewolf. He was attacked by order of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. All the Axis leaders and their staff and, apparently, their soldiers are werewolves. This is the alternative facts version of World War II.

On becoming President, Roosevelt takes the fight to the werewolves. Albert Einstein builds him a weaponized wheelchair. FDR even goes on a combat mission to Europe.

The movie is loaded with crass and often inappropriate humor. It’s rated R for its crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some violence and drug use. There are gags that made me wince, but, when you come right down to it, FDR battling werewolves is pretty cool. Even if the werewolf costumes look like some Halloween store had a really good day.

FDR: American Badass is one of those movies where your mileage will certainly vary. It’s a fun flick with really good acting and some hilarious moments. I enjoyed watching it once, but it’s not a film I would watch again. However, it has made me eager and more than a little frightened to see Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves. That might be a cry for help on my part.
                                                                             

President's Day (2010) is a comedy horror film directed by Chris LaMartina. Everyone who worked on this movie did so for free, which will give you some idea of what to expect from it. Here’s the quick summary from the IMDb:

A high school election turns deadly when a homicidal maniac dressed like Abe Lincoln starts killing off candidates.

I’m going to skip the SPOILER WARNINGS on this one because I don’t think my comments will ruin anything for you and because I will not be recommending you watch it even once.

The movie’s setting is a fictional Lincoln High School. The sports teams are the Lincoln Lambs. As in “led to the slaughter,” which is about as clever as this movie ever gets.

The candidates for school president are the usual ones. The front runner is the popular mean girl who looks like she’s at least ten years past high school age. There’s the new girl with a mysterious past. There’s the knows-all-the-angles black kid who runs because he wants to get to know the new girl. There’s the disabled girl in a wheelchair. There’s a school mascot played by Shawn C. Phillips, whose appearance in any movie pretty much guarantees it will suck. And so and so on.
 
The other characters - principal, police detective, school security guy, teachers, office staff - are as uninteresting as the students. There are a couple decent performances among the cast members, but, for the most part, paying them would have been a waste of the money better (barely) spent on cheesy gore effects.

The nicest thing I can say about this movie is that the identity of the killer in the Lincoln costume is clever. Much to my surprise, President’s Day played fair by giving viewers a solid clue to that identity. The Lincoln costume itself? Well, that looked like it was bought at yet another seasonal Halloween shop.

Since the movie isn’t entertaining, maybe I can make up for it with some trivia about the movie...

The movie was shot in 21 days and all the bathroom scenes were shot in a single day. Probably explains the constipated look on some of the cast’s faces. I’m just being mean now.

The movie was supposed to be filmed at LaMartina’s old high school. When that fell through, it was filmed at a private school. If this movie is ever remade, it should star Betsy DeVos and killer bears. Because...why not?

The film was originally supposed to be a 30-minute segment of some anthology film. It ran 80 minutes. With an estimate budget of five grand. Or about $62.50 per minute and, baby, every penny of that is up there on the screen.

Five different actors played the Lincoln killer. All of them were terrible.

Shawn C. Phillips sent in an audition tape to get his role in this movie. And they still hired him.

One more thing. Do not pay any attention to the Wikipedia entry on this movie. While it gets some stuff correct, the plot seems to be from an entirely different movie. Who knows why?

Okay, I’ve beat up on this pathetic production long enough. It is not a good movie. It is not even an entertainingly bad movie. It is a movie to be avoided.

Maybe I can find some better horror/monster movies for next year’s Presidents’ Day reviews.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Sunday, February 12, 2017

JULY 1963: BABY HUEY THE BABY GIANT #54

Today’s bloggy thing resumes my 136-part series on the comic books that hit the newsstands in the month of July 1963. That month was pivotal to my comic-book career because it was the month when Fantastic Four Annual #1 ignited my desire to write comics.

Baby Huey, a huge duckling created by Martin Taras for Paramount Pictures' Famous Studios, became a cartoon star during the 1950s. He appeared in 13 theatrical cartoons. Some of those cartoons were shown on television. Though Huey and many other Paramount cartoon  characters were already appearing in assorted titles published by Harvey Comics, the publisher purchased the rights to the Paramount cartoon stars in 1959.

Baby Huey, the Baby Giant ran 98 issues (September 1956 to October 1972) in its original run. There was a year between issues #97 and #98. Issue #99 was published in 1980. Issues #100 and #100 came out in 1990.

Baby Huey the Baby Giant #54 [October 1963] was a typical issue for Harvey Comics. I never bought a Baby Huey comic as a kid, though I did sometimes buy the more fantasy-oriented Casper, Hot Stuff and their supernatural friends. I also bought occasional issues of Sad Sack and Richie Rich. I shied away from the Harvey titles starring kids with mental disorders (Little Dot) and most of the other kid titles (Baby Huey, Little Audrey, Little Lotta). As a result, this issue, which has never been indexed by the Grand Comics Database, was brand-new to me.

Sid Jacobson was almost certainly the editor of this issue. Taras is listed at Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928-1999 as having penciled and inked Baby Huey stories in the 1960s, so some or all of this issue’s tales might be his work.

For today’s “July 1963" installment, I’m going page by page through this issue. I’m foregoing my usual SPOILER WARNINGS because I doubt this material will ever be reprinted and I want to give you a better feel for the issue’s contents.

The cover has Baby Huey shattering a table with a flyswatter. This is pretty much Huey’s thing, creating destruction wherever he goes because he hasn’t figured how strong he is or how to control that strength. Or maybe he’s just angry because he has to wear that dumb bonnet and diapers all the time. I don't even want to think about changing that diaper.

The inside front cover is an ad for the Cheerful Card Company. It costs nothing for you to try and, if you sell only a hundred boxes of their “Pearl Splendor Christmas Card assortment,” you can make $75. That would be $588.25 in 2017.

The issue opens on a silent, single-page gag strip. At the seaside, Baby Huey is trying to pole vault over a fence. The pole collapses under him. An older duck wearing a sea captain’s hat yells at the befuddled duckling before showing him that the “pole” is actually an antique retractable spyglass. The longest retractable spyglass ever made since it seems to extend to a length of six feet or more. I am skeptical.

Harvey comic books of this era usually began with a singe-page gag like this. Perhaps the publisher felt a quick laugh would entice a browsing reader into buying the comic book. More likely, it was so they could sell an advertisement on the second page of the comic. I still remember - with a combination of hilarity and horror - how Marvel’s ad reps one tried to convince Roy Thomas how wonderful it would be if they could sell the first page of our comics to their advertising clients. I wish I were making that up.

The second page of the comic is a full-page ad for Goodyear bicycle tires. It shows a young man delivering newspapers on his bike with the slogan...

A tough route requires tough tires
(That’s why he uses Goodyears)


“Mama’s Baby Boy” (5 pages) has Huey’s horrible parents - more on them soon - arguing over spanking their child. Papa doesn’t want to do it, but tells his boy that he will spank him the next time Huey does something naughty.

Mama takes Huey shopping. Huey proceeds to nearly wreck their car, rips up a parking meter because he wants a dime to buy ice cream, takes $8.93 worth of ice-cream cones from a vendor ($70.43 in 2016 dollars) and visits destruction on a department store. This is one of Huey’s signature moves: destroying stuff. When they get home, Papa has to spank Huey...and I immediately thought of the Superboy stories wherein Pa Kent tried to spank his super-son. A crying Huey runs to his mama.

HUEY: I got a nice mama, but I am mad at my papa, ‘cause he spanked me and I didn’t do anything!

MAMA: The brute!

Buzzy the Funny Crow appears in a two-page story possibly drawn by  Taras. He tricks Katnip into fighting Mauler Manx to win $500. The addled cat thinks Mauler is a midget, the same size as the poster advertising the challenge. Mauler is not a midget. Katnip gets the crap beat out of him, but accidentally knocks out the fighter as he himself goes down. Since he half-won, he and Buzzy get $250. Well, Buzzy gets $125 and Katnip’s share of their winnings pays for the bandages, splints and a cane. 

“The Mechanic” (5 pages) is the first of two stories in which Baby Huey’s parents entrust their child’s safety to the clearly crazed Cousin Dimwit. It’s like they want to be free of the kid forever. Anyway, Dimwit walks into an auto repair shop with Huey carrying a gigantic book titled Auto Mechanics Like How to Fix Cars. The shop owner is missing a few spark plugs himself. He figures anyone with a giant book like that must be a good mechanic.

Mr. Van Waddle brings his expensive and rare Quackillac - okay, I admit that’s funny - into the shop. He needs his carburetor fixed. The car is worth $15,000. In 2016 dollars, that’s $117,650.49. You know what’s coming.

Dimwit and Huey take the car apart and can’t put it back together. Van Waddle says he’ll sue the shop. Dimwit gets fired, but demands a day’s pay. The owner gives him the dismantled Quackillac. He and Huey put it back together and, though it looks hideous, the car can now fly.

Next up: two full-page house ads plugging other Harvey comics. The first one pushes giant Harvey comics:

Richie Rich Millions
Stumbo Tinytown
Little Lotta Foodland
Casper’s Ghostland
Spooky Spooktown
Little Audrey TV Funtime
Wendy Witch World
Little Dot’s Uncles and Aunts
Hot Stuff Sizzlers
Baby Huey Duckland
Dagwood
TV Casper and Company
Sad Sack Laugh Special
Richie Rich Dollars and Cents


The second page has the regular-sized comic books:

Casper
Dagwood
Devil Kids (with Hot Stuff)
Sad Sack
Blondie
Mutt and Jeff
Wendy the Good Little Witch
Richie Rich
Hot Stuff
Sad Sack and the Sarge
Little Dot
Little Lotta
Little Sad Sack
Baby Huey and Papa
Sad Sack’s Funny Friends (with Hi-Fi Tweeter)
Spooky
Baby Huey
Little Audrey


The jester-in-the-box that was the Harvey Comics mascot says these are “the funniest comics now on sale at your friendly dealer.”

The next page is a house ad for the Casper TV show. Casper asks his readers to “Look for us on T.V.! Check the channel in your local newspaper!” In very small type, it lists all the stations that air the program.

A panel across the bottom of this page advertises “A new cartoon show on ABC TV with Harvey Funnies." Shown are characters I’ve never heard of: Sammy Spaceman, Bongo, Creepers, Dirty Dan, Silly Stork. The jester-in-the-box says “Look for me every Saturday morning!”

One more full page of house ads before we get back to the comics. This one advertises Hot Stuff with Stumbo the Giant and a quartet of Sad Sack titles.

Cousin Dimwit is back in “The Scootie” (5 pages). Dimwit shows up in a spacesuit with his new scooter. The guy who sold him the suit and the scooter says it was a scooter suit.

Dimwit tells Huey to climb on the scooter for a ride. Papa watches them leave, probably hoping this is the time Huey doesn’t come back home. Dimwit and Huey wreck a train, catch a ride on an airplane in flight, fall onto the loading platform of a real spaceship. Sadly, Dimwit and Huey are removed from the capsule before it blasts off.  Papa asks if they really went to the moon.

DIMWIT: Of course we didn’t go to the moon. The road was too bad!

HUEY: Da-da goo!

Next we get two pages of mostly prose stories with a comic strip ad beneath each story. “Big Brother to the Rescue” stars someone named Peter Pekingese. The comic strip has Wendy the Good Little Witch as she sings, dances, cries, flies on her broom and waves her magical wand around.

WENDY: All witches are both good and bad...but when they’re bad, it makes me sad! And when they’re good it makes me gay...and I could shout to all our friend and say...“Read Wendy comics!”

“The Rule of the Jungle” stars Marty Monkey. The comic strip ad has Richie Rich sharing his first-world problems with the impoverished Freckles.

RICHIE: I have a problem. I’m making too much money. I want to publish an new comic with better stories, better pictures.

FRECKLES: What’s wrong with that?

RICHIE: More readers buy my comic magazine...and I have to print more comics and I have more money!

FRECKLES: But everyone should read Richie Rich comics because you have a better magazine!

Starring Herman (the mouse) and Katnip (the really dumb cat), “You Can Never Television” (5 pages) is the final comics story in this issue. Herman and some mice pals are hanging around inside an empty TV set casing because the set itself is out for repair. They trick Katnip into thinking they are on TV. Then they tell him they will get him on TV for a big chunk of cheese. Then they take a short-cut to the studio and get Katnip into the empty casing. They tell him to start acting and throws pies at him. Katnip is no longer liking this TV deal.

The mice put a mirror in front of the set casing so that Katnip can watch himself on TV. He looks at his pie-covered face and decides it’s hilarious. No wonder the audience is laughing.

The mice tell Katnip the set is actually out for repairs. It takes him a couple panels to figure out he’s been tricked. Meanwhile, the repairman puts the repaired set back in the casing. Katnip charges at it and bounces off. Herman laughs.

KATNIP: I should have trusted you, Herman...

HERMAN: You mean you’re not going to chase me?

KATNIP: No, I’ve got to stay here...

MICE: Yipe!

KATNIP: I ought to be comin’ on soon and I don’t want to miss me!

Yipe, indeed.

The rest of the issue consists of paid advertisements that we have discussed in previous installments of this series. You can buy “100 Toy Soldiers” for $1.25. You can get free new issue stamps. You can get 104 Kings Knights for $1.49.

The inside back cover ad is Wallace Brown Inc. wanting to sign you up to sell its Christmas card assortments. The back cover suggests you “Team up with Dad for B-B gun fun indoors!”

Hmm...maybe Papa and Mama should buy one of those for Huey.

That’s all for this installment of “July 1963.” More installments are in the works even as we speak.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Saturday, February 11, 2017

HOLIDAY HORROR: VALENTINE’S DAY

Valentine’s Day is this Tuesday, which gives you two whole days to determine the perfect gift for your valentine and one more day to run around to find something else when you realize everybody else already bought that gift and it cost too much anyway. Ah, romance is in the air, slowly drifting away from you.

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day then by talking about two movies filled with holiday-theme death and dismemberment? After all, you have given your heart - or somebody’s heart - to that very special person in your life.

I have two “romances” movies for you today. The first is Valentine [2001] starring Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton and  Katherine Heigl. Directed by Jamie Blanks, whose short directing resume includes Urban Legend [1998], the movie was loosely based on a novel by Tom Savage, writer of mystery and suspense stories. The screenplay is by Donna Powers, Wayne Powers, Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts. Here’s a quick summary of the movie from the ever-helpful Internet Movie Database:

Five women are stalked by an unknown assailant while preparing for Valentine's Day.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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1988. At a junior high dance, outcast geeky guy Jeremy Melton asks four girls to dance. Three of them shoot him down with cruelty and one tries to be nice about rejecting him. A fifth girl, overweight and unpopular Dorothy, accepts his invitation. She clearly doesn’t want to be seen with him either, so they sneak behind the bleachers and commence to making out. They are spotted by the class assholes.

To protect what wee dignity she has, Dorothy claims Jeremy sexually assaulted her. The assholes strip and beat Jeremy, who ends up in reform school. Yes, that’s messed up and yes, it will come back to haunt all five girls.

Years later...

Shelly [Heigl], whose response was “In your dreams, loser,” is now a medical student. After a disastrous speed dating event, she goes to her job at the morgue. She gets a nasty, unsigned Valentine’s Day card and is pursued by a killer wearing the same Cupid’s mask that a student wore at the junior high dance. She hides in a body bag, but the killer finds her and slits her throat. She dies lying down. Close enough to “in your dreams” to satisfy her killer’s taste for just desserts.

Two more pertinent points. The killer’s nose bleeds when he kills.  The former classmates he kills all die in manners consistent with their putdowns of him. Though it’s pretty obvious Jeremy is the man behind the mask, the movie actually manages to throw some surprises into the mix.

SPOILERS OVER
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Because Valentine is readily available, including from the cooler public libraries, I’m going to forego my usual blow-by-blow (maybe that should be stab-by-stab) coverage of the film.

Kate [Shelton], who was the nice girl at the dance, has a troubled relationship with Adam [Boreanaz], a journalist struggling with his alcoholism. They aren’t dating at the start of the movie, but are exploring resuming their romance.

None of the other girls are in good relationships either. Wealthy Dorothy [Jessica Capshaw] is involved with a con man. Lily [Jessica Cauffiel] has a sleazy artist boyfriend. Paige [Richards] is your basic horror movie slut. This gives the movie’s basic model police detective [Fulvio Cecere] plenty of suspects.

Shot in 42 days - Heigl worked just three days and Boreanez did his scenes in under two weeks - this relatively low-budget movie does not seem particularly cheap or rushed. Though a number of folks who worked on the film have apologized for it in later years, I don’t think they have anything to be ashamed of.

The movie is a tight little thriller. The acting is decent. Though the deaths aren’t gory, they are still frightening. The film plays more or less fair with the viewers. Though I mostly saw it coming, I liked the ending of this movie a lot.

Critics have panned this movie, but I found it entertaining. It’s even a movie I’d watch again. Give it a chance.

Here’s some fun trivia from the IMDb...

During the original casting process, Tara Reid, who had previously appeared in Urban Legend (1998), played "Dorothy” and Jennifer Love Hewitt played "Paige." At a cost of $10 million, this is the cheapest film to ever have a Superbowl spot.

Luke Wilson and Jeremy Sisto were considered for the role of Adam.
 
Moving right along...
                                                                              

My Bloody Valentine [2009] is an American remake of a 1981 Canadian horror movie of the same name. It was originally released in 3-D, but I saw it in the traditional format on DVD. Even so, some of the 3-D effects are obvious even in 2-D.

This remake stars Jensen Ackles (of TV’s Supernatural), Jaime King and Kerr Smith. It was directed by Patrick Lussier, whose directing resume is all horror films.  The 1981 screenplay and story was by, respectively, John Beaird and Stephen Miller. The 2009 screenplay  by Todd Farmer and Zane Smith.

Here’s the quick summary from the IMDb:

Tom returns to his hometown on the tenth anniversary of the Valentine's night massacre that claimed the lives of 22 people. Instead of a homecoming, Tom finds himself suspected of committing the murders, and it seems like his old flame is the only one that believes he's innocent. 
 
Having never seen the original My Bloody Valentine, I came to this remark without any preconceived notions.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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Tom is the son of the mine owner. He makes an error on the job and six miners are trapped in a cave-in. One miner, Harry Warden, kills the others to conserve the air. When they take him out of the mine, he’s comatose. When he wakes up one year later, on Valentine’s Day, he slaughters over a dozen people at the hospital.

Warden then heads to the mine where a party is in full swing. Tom [Ackles] is there with his girlfriend Sarah [King]. Also present is future sheriff Axel [Smith] and his girlfriend Irene [Betsy Rue]. Warden kills some of the kids. Tom gets left behind when Axel and the others make a run for it. The law arrives in time to save Tom, but he is shaken by the experience. The mine collapses on Warden, who is presumed dead.

Ten years later, with his estranged father dead, Tom returns. He’s selling the mine, which makes him the most hated man in town. Axel and Sarah are married with a son, but Axel is having an affair with a young woman who works for Sarah at the town grocery store. No one - with the possible exception of Sarah - is happy to see Tom back. Least of all Axel. And then the killing starts again.

SPOILERS OVER
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Like Valentine, this movie is readily available. Which is why I’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum.

The sequence in the hospital is laughably gory. Body parts strewn all over the place and a heart in a candy box. It’s overkill and, with the exception of a equally comical 3-D effect involving a jaw, it sets the gore bar too high for the rest of the movie.

There’s only three real suspects in the new killings. There’s Tom. There’s Axel. There’s Warden. Ackles and Smith’s performances are good, but King stands out with her portrayal of a wife and mother  who has made a life with Axel, is still feeling something for Tom, and who doesn’t know if one of them is a killer.

The film keeps viewers guessing, right to a surprisingly satisfying ending. It drags in places, but it stumbles forward and reveals all sorts of secrets in this mining town.

The gore is kind of a crutch the movie uses when it’s running low on acting chops or plot revelations. A lot of the plot progressions are by the numbers. Despite having a higher budget than Valentine, My Bloody Valentine isn’t as good or as tight a film.

That said...I enjoyed My Bloody Valentine. It’s not a great movie. It’s not a movie I need to watch again. But it was 101 minutes of entertaining cinematic fluff. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching.

“Holiday Horror” will be another recurring feature in this bloggy thing of mine with each installment tailored to the season. I will have another installment for Presidents Day. And, of course, I’ll be continuing my year-long War on Christmas by reviewing Christmas-themed horror movies as often as possible.

That’s all for today. I hope you have a much more fun and romantic Valentine’s Day than the characters in these films.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Friday, February 10, 2017

PENSACON PRELUDE 2017

Pensacon (Pensacola Comic Con) is my first convention appearance of the year. This is my second visit to Pensacon. I was a guest last year and loved the event so much I devoted six bloggy things to it. You can find the first column here and the others here, here, here, here and here.

Held mostly at the Pensacola Bay Center, Pensacon starts on Friday afternoon, February 17 at 1 p.m. and will continues through Sunday, February 19, ending at 6 p.m.. I will be there all three days and, even better, Sainted Wife Barb will be attending the show with me. This is a rare opportunity for you to meet the most forgiving woman in the universe.

During the weekend, some Pensacon programs will be at the Pensacola Grand Hotel, the Rex Theatre, the Pensacola Little Theatre and the Saenger Theatre. Pensacon is just too big to fit in one convention center. There will be lots to see and do all three days.

Pensacon has put together a great guest roster. Some of the guests I’m looking forward to seeing are: Henry Winkler, Guy Gilchrist, John Dell, Bob Camp, Barry Gregory, Mike Grell, Doug Sneyd, Matt Frank, Steve Scott, Dave Dorman, Mark Maddox, Kelly Yates, Gates McFadden, Neal Adams, Ricou Browning, Simon Bisley, John Wesley Shipp, Rodney Ramos, RenĂ© Auberjonois, Terry Farrell, Ted Raimi, Pat Broderick, Steven Williams, Mitch Pileggi, James Marsters, Bob Bergen, Jose Delbo and the amazing Scott Shaw! That list is nowhere near complete, but who just wants to read a list of names?

Sidebar. I’m hoping to interview some of the above for the bloggy thing. That depends on whether I can sweet-talk them into sitting down with me and whether I can buy and master a suitable recording device. I’m looking to do some different kinds of bloggy thing in this new and challenging year.

Pensacon will have a large exhibitors area, a large artists alley, cosplay, gaming, Sci-Fi speed dating, celebrity photo ops, movies, after hours activities and panels, panels, panels.
                              
For Tony Isabella fans and friends...

I’ll be spending a good chunk of each day at my artists alley table on the third floor of the Pensacola Bay Center. I’ll be bringing as many copies of Black Lightning Volume One as Barb and I can fit in our suitcases without making them too heavy.

As is my policy with conventions that provide support for my guest appearance, I will not be charging for autographs or photographs. However, I take no responsibilities for cameras and other devices shattering when you take my photo.

There is no limit to the number of Isabella-written items I’ll sign for you. However, if you have a large number of items and there’s a line - there usually isn’t - I’ll sign a few and then ask to go the end of line so that those with fewer items can get their items signed and get on to the business of enjoying all the other wonders of Pensacon.

I am currently scheduled to appear on four panels during the con. They are...

CLASSIC MOVIE MONSTERS
Friday, Feb 17th, 4:00-4:45 pm
Grand Hotel 1st Floor Room B
Meet the experts on all things monster as they discuss classic movies that feature some of the most famous monsters of filmland. Tony Isabella, artist Mark Maddox, writer David J. Skal, Anthony Taylor

DIVERSITY IN COMICS
Saturday, Feb 18th, 11:00-11:45 am
Saenger Theatre 2nd Floor Room B
Comic books are no longer just white guys in tights. Join these comic creators as they discuss how diversity has shown itself both on the page and behind the drawing board. Jen Broomall, Elliott Fernandez, Tony Isabella, NEN, Rodney Ramos, Jeremy Whitley

HOW TO MAKE A TRULY TERRIBLE COMIC: COMMON STORYTELLING MISTAKES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Sunday,  Feb 19th, 12:15-1:00 pm
Saenger Theatre 2nd Floor Room A
Pat Broderick, Jose Delbo, Barry Gregory, Tony Isabella, Jeremy Whitley

THE STARVING ARTIST: MYTHS AND REALITIES OF THE PROFESSION
Sunday, Feb 19th, 1:30-2:15 pm
Saenger Theatre 2nd Floor Room A
Everyone knows the myth of the "starving artist". However, working artists get paid and actually do not have to starve. These professionals will discuss what the industry is really like and what to expect when pursuing a career in art. John Dell, Derec Donovan, Tony Isabella, Roland Paris, Steve Scott

Those are my scheduled panels. However, last year, I was invited to be on a few other panels as well. As much as possible, if and when this happens, I’ll have some sort of makeshift sign at my artists alley table to let you know what additional panels I’ll be on and when and where they will be taking place.

When I’m at my artists alley table, I’ll do my best to answer your questions about my 45 years in the comics industry and pretty much anything I’ve written or written about. Please understand that, due to non-disclosure agreements, there will be some questions I can’t answer for you.

If you’d like to interview me or have me appear on your podcast, I will do my best to accommodate you. This works best if you contact me beforehand via email.

When I’m not at my artists alley table or on a panel, I’ll be out and about enjoying the convention like the rest of you. It’s always tough to get around and talk to all the guests I would like to talk to, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

If you are cosplaying as a character I created or wrote, I would be thrilled to have you come to my table and pose with you. Cosplay is one of the things I love best about conventions.

Please do not be shy about approaching me. I rarely bite, I think I’m a pretty decent fellow and, if I can make your Pensacon even a little more enjoyable, I’d love to do that.

If you’re going to be in the Pensacola area and are on the fence as to whether or not you’re attending Pensacon, I urge you to come to the convention. It’s one of the finest such events in the country and I know you’ll have a great time!

I’m very excited about returning to Pensacon, one of the best and best-run conventions ever. I’m even more excited that I’ll be able to share it with Sainted Wife Barb.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Thursday, February 9, 2017

APB

Cop fiction. Veteran readers of this bloggy thing will recall I’m a big fan of cop fiction and have been since my days in the Marvel Bullpen. On at least one occasion, Don McGregor did a reading from an 87th Precinct novel by Ed McBain. That got me hooked on McBain’s books and cemented by love of the kind of sort of genre.

Two of my all-time favorite TV shows are NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues. Depending on how long such a list would run, you’d see many other cop shows on it as well.

I love mixing cop fiction with super-heroes, the supernatural and science fiction. Gotham Central. Lucifer. Robocop. Just to name a few such pairings.

So when a show like Fox’s APB comes along with this premise...

After witnessing his best friend's murder, a tech billionaire makes an unprecedented deal to privatize the troubled local police force and transform it with cutting-edge technology, challenging Chicago's 13th District to rethink everything about the way they fight crime.

...you know I have to check it out.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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Some critics of the show have called it derivative. That’s not an unfair observation. When Justin Kirk plays Gideon Reed, there are clear echoes of Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark from Iron Man and all those other Marvel movies. However, to the credit of Kirk and the writers, the character is convincing when his best friend dies in his arms, when he tries to bond with the officers under his command, when their initial rejection of him and his tech hurts him, when he realizes the mayor really wants him to fail and when he becomes fully conscious of the enormity of the task he has undertaken. As long as Kirk and the writers keep the cockiness and the seriousness in equal measure, the character will continue to be real to the audience.

Natalie Martinez is excellent as Amelia Murphy, her name likely a nod to Robocop. She has played many detectives and police officers in her career. She has the cop role down. What distinguishes Murphy from Martinez’s other cop roles is that she appears to be a single, divorced mother sharing custody of her son with said son’s father. It’s underplayed, though we definitely saw her mother’s dislike of the father in the brief scene. With Murphy being the only regular character shown to have a life outside of the police work, this is a part of her life that needs exploring.

“Murphy” is not the only nod to Robocop. There is a Robocop vibe to this pilot. Less dystopian, but still there.

Three more actors worth mentioning here. Ernie Hudson, who has been a favorite of mine since Ghostbusters and who has shown incredible range over his career, plays Sgt. Ed Conrad. Not much was done with Conrad in the pilot. That should change because Hudson could be a major asset to the series.

Nestor Serrano as the slimy Mayor Michael Campos brings the evil to the show. He’s appropriately dismissive when Reed first makes his proposal, quietly seething when he realizes Reed has left him no choice but to agree to the proposal and downright menacing when he realizes Reed is a threat to his power. He’s a worthy adversary for Reed and I hope the writers keep the character away from any ties to crime families or some such. He’s a callous politician. That’s plenty of evil for one character.

Kevin Chapman isn’t a regular, but the Internet Movie Database has him appearing in at least three episodes. He played Fusco in Person of Interest. The man just looks like a cop who has seen too much of it all, but is still in the fight. I hope the series makes use of Chapman’s talents.

The technological centerpieces of this series are the APB app that allows citizens real-time communication with the police and the advanced drones Reed puts into the field.  

This amazing app comes with drawbacks. Some people can’t resist the urge to try it out whether there’s an emergency or not. I suspect “crying wolf” will be a part of other episodes as well. Because, in the real world, even without such technology, police departments do get bogus calls and even well-intentioned false calls.

The drones are very visual and, by the end of the episode, they are upgraded to be more effective. There are lots of ways to go here. Drones could be hacked. Drones could be protested as an invasion of privacy. Drones could be misused by police officers for their own personal benefit.

The pilot episode is shy on stunning moments. Reed tries too hard. Some things don’t go as planned. A rookie officer gets injured on the job. Reed has a brief crisis of confidence. The mayor tries to bully the billionaire. But, by the end of the episode, the killer of Reed’s friend is brought to justice. That’s when we get a pair of great moments.

The first is when Murphy asks Reed what happens next. He’s got what he wanted - justice for his friend - but what happens next. And I think this is the start of Reed maturing from brilliant dilettante to committed police commander.

The second is when, following this initial success of the APB app, their board lights up with calls from all over the city of Chicago. The 13th District was meant to be a test precinct. But the entire city wants in on this new technology. That scene of that big board lighting up is nothing short of amazing. It make me downright eager to see what happens next.

SPOILERS OVER
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APB has a solid premise. It’s got several outstanding actors. The pilot might not have been as solid as the premise, but it was good enough to bring me back next week. For now, I’m in.

Some additional notes from IMDb and elsewhere:

Following the departure of series creator David Slack over creative differences, Matt Nix has hired to be the new show runner. Nix is the creator of Burn Notice and The Good Guys, both of which I liked quite a bit.

IMDb claims the series is...Based on New Orleans sanitation magnate Sidney Torres and his formation of the French Quarter Task Force, a semi-privatized police force he created to deal with the rise of crime in his neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina.

Also from IMDb...The drone Gideon demonstrates at the beginning of the episode has the code name "TK421". This is the designation of the stormtrooper Luke Skywalker impersonates on the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977).

That’s all for today, my friends. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 101

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 101st installment in that series.

The Rawhide Kid #115 [September 1973] has a cover by Larry Lieber with inks by Frank Giacoia. Inside, “The Last Gunfight” (14 pages) is written and penciled by Lieber, inked by George Roussos, colored by Linda Lessmann and lettered by June Braverman. It’s the last new Rawhide Kid story that will appear in this title.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
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A lawman in the “twilight” of his life is practicing his shooting skills with his young son Davy. Sadly, the man’s eyes are weak and his hands have become unsteady. He plans to hang up his badge in a few days. By chance, on their ride back to town, the sheriff spots and recognizes the Rawhide Kid.

Knowing he’s no match for the wanted fugitive, the sheriff sets up a trap. Dave pretends to have a broken leg. When the Kid dismounts to help him, the lawman gets the drop on him from behind. The Kid unhitches his gun belt and is taken prisoner. He’ll be kept in the town jail until the territorial marshal can get him.

The Kid seems strangely resigned to his fate. He asks the sheriff if it matters to the lawman if he’s innocent. The sheriff says it doesn’t:

I’m just a lawman...not a judge and jury! It was my job to bring yuh in and I did it! Period!

Elsewhere, gunman Carl Kane has escaped from his captors. His gang is waiting for him with a horse. He tells his men that he’s got a score to settle. With the same sheriff who caught the Rawhide Kid and who caught Kane years ago. If you’re thinking just a little bit “High Noon,” you’re on the money.

Two good men are facing major life-changing events. The sheriff is going to face Kane alone. Not one of the men in the town will stand by him. They say this is the sheriff’s fight. And, in his cell, the Kid is facing a life in prison.

The Kid decides he must break out of the town jail. He fakes having a burst appendix, tricking the sheriff into coming into the cell.  He knocks the older man out, grabs his guns and heads for freedom. When the sheriff comes to, he knows he can’t go after the Kid. He has to stay and face Kane and his gang.

The fleeing Rawhide Kid spots the afore-mentioned gang heading for the town. It gives him pause:

I thought I could do it! I thought I could vamoose and let a hard-nosed old lawman handle his own problems! But I can’t! I can’t just ride off and let that sheriff die in the dust! I’ve got to go back to Rustwood!

Digression. What kind of town names itself “Rustwood”? First off, wood doesn’t rust. Second, wouldn’t you want a more inviting name for a town? Unless the town was founded by someone named Rustwood  who wanted to share his misery. End of digression.

The townspeople are surprised the Kid is back. The lawman doesn’t believe he’s there to help and thinks he’s working with Kane. But the sheriff realizes Rawhide is all he’s got.

Things move fast. At the sheriff’s cabin, Kane kidnaps Davy. One of his men comes to town and tells the lawman to come to Puma Pass to face Kane and his gang. The sheriff despairs, but the Kid comes up with a plan.

It’s conveniently raining. The Kid covers his clothes with a poncho and wears the sheriff’s star. He fools Kane and the gang just long enough to get Davy to cover. That’s when the shooting starts.

The Kid takes out Kane’s three men. He’s facing Kane. That’s when the lawman tells Rawhide to stand down:

I couldn’t have taken on the whole gang! But now that you’ve evened the odds...Kane is mine!

Kane draws first and wounds the sheriff in the shoulder. The lawman raises his own gun and shoots Kane dead.

Rawhide is impressed:

You won, sheriff! Not with speed or fancy tricks...but with a raw courage that age couldn’t kill!

He then asks:

Now what happens between you and me?

The sheriff responds:

Nothing! It’s no longer muh job to bring yuh in! Yuh see, muh term in office ended a couple minutes ago! I’m no longer the sheriff of Rustwood. I’m just an ordinary citizen!

An old man who has fought his last gunfight. A man who wants only peace and quiet from here on out.  


The Kid hopes the retired lawman finds it. He hopes they both do. It’s a satisfying ending for the story and, in some ways, even for the series.

The Rawhide Kid rides off to face the challenges of staying alive and staying free, always searching for a happiness and a peace he may never find. His legend lives on.

SPOILERS OVER
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This story has never reprinted in the United States, but there was a French-Canadian edition of this issue. I don’t think Lieber knew this was the last new Rawhide Kid story for the title. Indeed, he was already working on another story which would end up in Western Team-Up #1 [November 1973], a one-shot that wasn’t actually a team-up book. Additionally, this issue’s letter column does not mention that the title is going all-reprint.

Bloggy note. I’ll be writing about Western Team-Up #1 as soon as I can get a copy of the issue. Watch for it.

Just before the last page of “The Last Gunfight,” there’s a half-page house ad for Savage Tales #2, which is said to be on sale June 26. The 76-page, black-and-white magazine features the first part of “Red Nails” by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, a non-series story by Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow and other features. The issue also reprinted the Roy Thomas/Bernie Wrightson story from just two years prior and a Crusader story by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely from Black Knight #1 [May 1955].
                                                                            

This issue’s non-series back-up story is “The Life and Death of the Phoenix Kid” (5 pages) with art by Jay Scott Pike. The writer has yet to be identified, but the tale originally appeared in Frontier Western #10 [August 1957].

SPOILERS AHEAD
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A young man - “You’re Pete Bannock’s boy! You wouldn’t hold me up!” - takes up crime, robbing a general store and taking the name “The Phoenix Kid.” He vows folks who get to know that name from one end of the territory to the other.

Bannock holds up stores and stagecoaches again and again. He shoots and, though the story isn’t specific about this, likely commits a few murders along the way. His wanted posters, offering a reward of $1000, are everywhere. He’s kept his vow.

But when he robs a mail stage, he commits a federal offense. Now he is being pursued by government lawmen. He flees through the desert, but the trip takes its toll on him and a horse. Needing some fresh transportation, he sneaks up on a campfire, clubs the one man there and steals the man’s pony.

Bannock is moving faster than the posse, but the lawmen remain on his trail. He thinks stealing the pony was good luck because it’s faster than any horse he’s ever ridden. That’s because it is not, as he learns, a “paleface horse.” His instructors are two braves. He tries to bribe them. They aren’t interested.

The story’s last three captions...

Minutes later, the braves rode off, taking the stolen pony with them...

The contents of his saddlebags were scattered by the desert wind, while a lone coyote howled at the cloud-tossed moon...

The posse found him the next day, and they put him to rest with the others on lonely Boot Hill...
His tombstone reads:

The Phoenix Kid
Violence was his way
So he lived
So he died!


SPOILERS OVER
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Though the story is so straight-forward as to be uninteresting, I thought the Pike art was first-rate. The scripting had its moments, such as in those last panels quoted above. This was the only time this tale was reprinted in the United States.

The half-page Marvel Bullpen Bulletins plugged a variety of Marvel magazines and comic books: Savage Tales, some annuals (Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Conan the Barbarian), Dracula Lives, Tales of the Zombie, Crazy Magazine and Strange Tales starring Brother Voodoo. There was also a brief obit for Bill Everett, the creator of Sub-Mariner, who passed away on February 27, 1973. The rest of the page is the usual half-page house ad for FOOM, the Friends of Ol’ Marvel fan club.

The “Riding the Trail with Rawhide” letters column was once again a half page of very small type. There were three missives from readers. Robert Bendt of San Francisco praised Rawhide Kid #112, especially applauding supporting characters Cole and Nora. I also liked those two characters.

M. Posey (no address( called Marvel out for the racism in Rawhide Kid #110. Bloggy readers will recall I had problems with the issue as well. In its response, Marvel speaks to the times in which this story was set, mentions sympathetic treatment of Native Americans in Red Wolf and Man-Thing, and promises to be more careful in the future.

“Darango” of Alden, New York loves westerns, but has never read a western comic book because he thought they would make westerns look like the Three Stooges. But he loved Rawhide Kid #109 and plans to buy future issues of the book. He also requested a story explaining how the Kid got his horse Nightwind.

The rest of the page was a house ad for Dracula Lives! #3 [October 1973] which features new stories by Marv Wolfman with John Buscema, Gerry Conway with Alfonso Font, and a Dracula/Solomon Kane battle by Roy Thomas and Alan Weiss. There were also reprints of vampire comics from the 1950s and the usual text features.

The next issue of Rawhide Kid would commence the title’s new status as an all-reprint title. If all goes as planned, the next edition of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” will feature that issue and at least one more reprint issue.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

TONY'S TIPS #195

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Monsters Unleashed Prelude, a 264-page collection of 13 of the giant monster stories by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko, along with some more recent stories...I Am Jim Henson, the latest in the “Ordinary People Change the World” series of children’s books by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos...and manga classic NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

POWERLESS

Set in a DC Universe that includes Batman, Crimson Fox, Lex Luthor and Starro the Conqueror, Powerless made its NBC television debut last Thursday at 8:30 pm. The sitcom stars Vanessa Hudgens as Emily Locke and Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne. She’s the newly-hired director of research and development at Wayne Security in Charm City. He’s the CEO of the failing company. The firm designs products to make people safe in a world where super-heroes and super-villains cause collateral damage on a daily basis. I watched the pilot the night it first aired.

There are things I like about this pilot episode. There are things I don’t like about this pilot episode. There’s no way I could hate a series that features a cameo appearance by Starro the Conqueror from the first Justice League of America story...or that uses some classic comic-book covers in its opening credits. That said, I do have concerns.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
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SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


First and foremost, with the exception of the wonderful Tudyk, I’m not seeing any serious comedic chops in this cast. That’s okay for Hudgens. She’s the determined and hopeful young executive with the sincere desire to help people and make the company a success. But the delivery of the jokes by other cast members was weak. They all need to enhance that part of their performances.

I did like Christina Kirk as Jackie, Wayne’s executive assistant. She’s got moxie and, according to Wikipedia, her character is a fan of super-heroes. The “fan” aspect and the pushing back against the insufferable Van could serve her character well.

Tip to the writers: “Dumb” is not the same thing as “funny.” Some of the protection devices are blatantly absurd. A protective suit that only works once. Kryptonite glass which, being made of what I assume is a rare substance on Earth, would be astronomically expensive to produce in the necessary quantities. Engineering goofs can be humorous in this show, but the dumber you make the devices, the less creditable you make their inventors. Smart people can be funny. Witness the creative and popular success of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory.

Case in point for smart inventions: the EpiPen-like device that can inject its user with an antidote to the Joker’s venom. The device itself is a brilliant idea. The notion that, unable to come up with a next big thing, the best the company can do the following year is to simply release the device in a different color, made me laugh.

There’s another smart invention with a great payoff, but I’ll get to that in a bit. It’s worth the wait.

There are several nice “super-hero world” touches in this premiere episode. The resigned look on a man’s face when his car is crushed by a transit train that went off the rails during a battle between the Crimson Fox and a villain. Her staff buying Emily a bus pass on account of buses are safer than trains in this super-hero world of theirs. That background shot of Starro near the top of a skyscraper makes me smile every time I think of it. That juxtaposition of the fantastic and the mundane is key to this series.

There are some “inside” jokes that will make me watch this episode a second time because I missed them. The one I didn’t miss was an unseen Adam West voicing a commercial. One I missed is that a newscaster was apparently named “Marv Wolfman.” Is there no end to my pal Marv’s talents?

Digression. I want Emily to adopt a super-cat. If we can’t have a “Streaky” on Supergirl, maybe we can have one here?

Now that smart invention with the great payoff...

Inventor Wendy (Jennie Pierson) is mean to Emily from the get-go. She makes a device that warns her whenever Emily comes near to her. After a comment by another character that it would be nice if there was some way citizens could be warned of the approach of a super-villain like the currently-marauding Jack-O-Lantern, Emily comes up with the idea of adapting Wendy’s device for that very purpose.

They come up with a wrist device that can detect Jack-O-Lantern's unique scent pattern. It works. The unseen and unheard Bruce Wayne says the device will be put into Beta testing. The firm is saved. But, wait, there’s more.

Later, Emily and her team see a news report about how Batman used a new “scentreceptor” to track the Joker. Emily is surprised Batman came up with the same idea they did, and hopes that someday they'll work for him. A delightful moment.

Digression. I hope we see more such moments when something Emily’s team comes up with is reported to have been used by Batman or some other hero. It makes perfect sense that Bruce Wayne would want to keep Wayne Security operating for no other reason than the firm’s occasionally coming up something of use to him in his war against crime. It’s one answer to the eternal question of where Batman gets his wonderful toys.

SPOILERS OVER
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Summing up...

Powerless has a great premise. The series is in a position to make use of DC’s super-heroes without actually showing them. This will please comics fans, even those comics fans who don’t actually read comic books. Hey, it’s the world we live in.

Hudgens and Tudyk are the stand-out performers in this cast. Emily doesn’t need to be funny. She needs to be earnest and to react to the funny. Van needs to keep being the whiny asshat consumed with his “first world problems” and not really giving a darn about the firm or other people. His deadpan delivery of funny lines will work for this show.

Kirk has great potential. The writers need to give her every chance to become the third lead of the show. Since her character seems to have a thing for super-heroes, maybe the inventors can come up with a dating app for “civilians” and “supers” to connect.

The rest of the cast needs to bring their game up. The writers need to work with them on this.

Most importantly, the scripts have to be smart-funny and not dumb-funny. If they go for cheap super-hero laughs, they will mock the popular genre at the expense of the show. Embrace the genre. Treat it seriously and let the laughs grow out of that.

I’ll keep watching Powerless. Who knows...maybe the writers will name an obnoxious television pundit after me.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with more stuff. 

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Friday, February 3, 2017

ABOUT COMICS AND HISTORY

My friend Nat Gertler’s About Comics publishes comics and comics-related books as well as historical material that usually but not always has something to do with comics and/or cartooning. If that sounds a little less than exact, it’s because the company has put out books ranging from Charles M. Schulz’s It's Only a Game: The Complete Color Collection and remembrances of the beloved Schulz by his friends to comic-book reprint volumes to books about creating comics to Adult Coloring Books of the 1960s. Oh, yeah, and in its spare time, Gertler and About Comics created 24-Hour Comics Day, an  international celebration of comics creation that generated tens of thousands of pages every year.

Earlier this week, Nat sent me three of his most recently published  books. They were so unusual and, far more important, so interesting I read them within a day of their arrival.

Vic the Vet by Gabe Josephson [$9.99] is a new edition of a World War II Purple Heart recipient’s college cartoons about going back to school on the G.I. Bill. The collection was originally published by the Syracuse University Press in 1947. This new edition includes an informative introduction by Gertler, historical notes that put the cartoons in context and a cartoon that wasn’t included in the original volume. The book had me at its back cover blurb:

SURE, THEY BEAT THE NAZIS, BUT NOTHING PREPARED THEM FOR THE HORRORS OF...ACADEMIA!

The cartoons, featuring a look-alike of Josephson, were taken from the Daily Orange, the campus newspaper of Syracuse. They are funny snapshots of their times. One might show its soldier protagonist as he tries to adjust to being a college student. The next shows the fashions or the “customs” of the day. Josephson’s talents are being formed in these single-panel cartoons which also reveal some of his artistic influences, such as Dr. Seuss.

Digression. Has there been a collection of college life cartoons over the decades? When I look at Josephson’s work and think of the campus life of my children in the past decade, I wonder how those institutes of higher education got from there to now, and how they reflected all those decades. End of digression.

Coming in at just over a hundred pages, Vic the Vet was a very cool way to spend a couple hours. After his graduation, Josephson went on to become a cartoonist and book illustrator for such clients as Walt Disney Productions, the New York Times Book Review and Sesame Street. His The Skier’s Coloring Book is reprinted in the afore-mentioned Adult Coloring Books of the 1960s. I’m forever fascinated by comics I never knew existed. If you’re of a similar historical bent, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book.

ISBN 978-1-9364-0465-0
                                                                         
                                                                             

Also from About Comics...

Published by Victor H. Green, The Negro Motorist Green-Book: 1940 Facsimile Edition [$8.99] and The Negro Travelers' Green Book: 1954 Facsimile Edition [$8.99] aren’t comics-related. These 5 by 6.5 inches books were originally prepared by Green, who was “a New York mailman when he decided to start a travel guide for folks like him, the rising African-American middle class with the means to travel. His success with publishing the series, known to his customers simply as "the Green Book" led to him starting a travel booking agency aimed at the same market.”

Some history about these fascinating books:

The Green Book, first published in 1936, was [for folks] having the finances and vehicle for travel but facing a world where social and legal restrictions barred them from many accommodations. At the time, there were thousands of “sundown towns,” towns where African Americans were legally barred from spending the night there at all.

There was no Internet to guide Green in creating his travel guides. The United States Travel Bureau was one of his sources, but he also relied on reports from his customers. The thinness of these books (respectively, 52 and 88 pages) reveals the difficulty of his task and the paucity of African-American acceptance by whites in those times. I think my heart sank when I saw how few accommodations were available in even a large city like my native Cleveland. Just as my heart sinks when I see so many open racists appointed to positions of power in the Peepee Cheeto administration. Will this battle ever be won?

When the weather gets nicer, I hope to spend a day visiting some of the Cleveland sites listed in these books. I don’t expect to find the original structures, but I think it’ll be time well spent. If we do not remember history...

I recommend these guide books, especially if you’re interested in African-American and U.S. history.

The Negro Motorist Green-Book: 1940 Facsimile Edition

ISBN 978-1-9364-0467-4

The Negro Travelers' Green Book: 1954 Facsimile Edition

ISBN 978-1-9364-0466-7

That’s all for now. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella