Monday, December 4, 2017


A sad fact of life is that I will never review everything sitting in my review box or the two piles of books, comics and other items that couldn’t fit into the review box. Nevertheless, let’s see how many of them I can cover in today’s bloggy thing.

I get a kick out of David Avallone’s Bettie Page [Dynamite; $3.99 per issue]. This series about the iconic pin-up queen has a set-up introduction on the inside front cover of each issue:

People can be forgiven for thinking they know all there is to know about Bettie Mae Page. She was, after all, a public figure in every sense of the term. Even so, Ms. Page kept much of her life private, and with good reason. Recently, a secret diary was discovered hidden among her possessions. Its contents were well known to the Federal Government, though they had remain highly classified since 1951. In the present day, the Bureau felt that sufficient time has passed, and that Ms. Page’s service to her nation, indeed, to the world, could now be revealed. Despite Mr. Avallone’s questionable reputation, he was chosen to adapt this diary to the form you hold in your hands. It is our hope that with this, the heroism of Ms. Page can be appropriately enshrined in the hearts of her fellow countrymen.

I was hooked from that introduction. Having now read five issues of the title and thrilled to its Cold-War adventures involving sinister plots and flying saucers and mad scientists and secret agents and - be still, my kaiju-loving heart - giant scorpions, I’m recommending  this series to any comics fans who love sassy heroines with a 1950s vibe. Avallone’s scripts are entertaining. The multiple artists do vary in quality, but even the least of them does a decent job. The covers - regular and variants - are wonderful. This is just plain fun. We need more of that in comic books.

Having read The Divided States of Hysteria #1-6 by Howard Chaykin [Image; $3.99], I find I have almost as much to say about the fan reaction to this edgy series as I do about the actual comic books. I’ll start with the comics.

Extrapolating from the current chaos in the country, though, to be truthful, it’s a chaos that existed long before the inauguration of the Worst President Ever, Chaykin gives us a world where the United States has been sundered by the worst terrorist attack ever. It’s a truly diabolical plot with a horrific body count that leaves the country with even more inadequate leadership that we’re accustomed to. And, because we must always have someone to blame, we blame all the usual minorities as well as the government agent who failed to prevent the attack. In these issues, that agent is given a second chance of sorts. He recruits a team of terrible people serving life sentences to hunt down and kill the planners of that attack. It’s a dense thriller with lots of shocking moments that lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Online comics fandom went crazy when this series launched. Chaykin was accused of every “phobe” you could think of as if the very act of writing about the awful things human beings do to one another someone made him guilty of those things. He was especially accused of being transphobic in regards to the team member who ended up in prison because she fought back and killed her attackers. Obviously, I’m not in agreement with these online commentators.

Chaykin has made a career of stretching the boundaries of comics in both content and storytelling. Readers should have known what they were getting into. Almost every character in this series is a bad person. A couple are marginally better than others. Two are protagonists I found myself hoping would find their way into the light. Here’s where I activate the spoiler warnings.


The government operative in charge of this revenge mission cheats on his wife with a mistress. He fails to do his job while juggling these affairs. He pays a terrible price for these shortcomings when his wife, his children and his mistress all die in these terrorist attacks. He seeks some kind of justice.

The transgender character refers to a bad thing she did when she was sixteen. She is a prostitute, which, like it or not, is not something unusual in our world. She kills her attackers brutally, but what she does to them is no different from what they would have done to her.

The planners of the terrorist attack are a mixed bunch of horrible people, mostly united by their love of power and profit and their hatred of Jews. That some of them walk in the circles of government power is horrifying.

The government operative and the transgender character grow beyond their past lives in the course of this story. I don’t know that I’d want to hang out with them, but the operative is dedicated to his mission and loyal to his team. The transgender character shows him kindness before they become involved physically. That involvement is another moment of change for the operative.


Bad things do happen to good and bad people in this story. All of these bad things are in service of a story that is clearly not for the faint of heart.

The Divided States of Hysteria is an outstanding series. It’s what I have to come to expect from Chaykin and why he’s one of a handful of comics creators whose new work will always warrant a look from me. It might not be a series for you.

In January, Image will collect The Divided States of Hysteria in a trade paperback [$16.99]. I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1534303836

Faith is one of my favorite super-heroes. Writer Jody Houser does a terrific job with her adventures. Even so, the four-issue Faith and the Future Force [Valiant; $3.99] was a tough sell to me. This was a time travel tale, my least favorite kind of science fiction. My fondness for DC/CW’s Legends of Tomorrow not withstanding, time travel is too messy for me.

In Future Force - written by Houser; drawn by Cary Nord with Brian Thies - time-traveling physicist Neela Sethi has journeyed through the centuries doing this and that. Some of what she did or tried to do has been problematic. This time out, she’s trying to prevent a robot from erasing human history.

She recruits Faith and other heroes. It does not go well for those heroes. It didn’t go well for me either. I wasn’t liking this story at all. Until the fourth and final issue.

Without giving much away, Faith does something so Faith, so darned perfect, it made up for the three-issue set-up to this satisfying conclusion. Even as it made her ask a question whose answer might weigh heavily on her in the future.

Here’s what I’m going to recommend. If you see a comic or a trade paperback collection starring Faith, buy it. You don’t need to be a Valiant completist to enjoy these stories. The individual stories have all the information you need to enjoy them. Just buy any and every Faith book you see. You’ll thank me.

The Faith and the Future Force trade paperback will be released in late December at a reader-friendly price of $9.99.

ISBN 978-1682152331

Paul Kupperberg’s Secret Romances #1-2 [Charlton Neo Media; $6.99 each] are not steamy stories of the longtime comic writer’s amorous adventures. Suggested for mature readers, they are what my friend calls “postmodern 21st Century love comics.”

Right up front, I’ll let you know that I loved some of the tales in the first issue and hated some of them. I suspect most readers will have a similar reaction. A story about two police officers sort of made my skin crawl. A story about two people meeting in person after they made a match online moved me, as did a story about love in a senior citizens home. A satirical story had what struck me as too obvious a conclusion. The second issue didn’t have the heights of the two stories I loved in the first, but there wasn’t a bad story within its pages.

Kupperberg’s artistic roster is excellent. The covers are by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dean Haspiel. The interior art is by Pat and Tim Kennedy, Jeff Austin, Rob Kelly, Angel Gabriel, Daerick Gross, Bob Smith, Barb Kaalberg, Kevin Tuma, Mort Todd, Joe Staton and Fernando Ruiz. Solid from cover to cover.

Charlton Neo Media is an odd publishing outfit, built on the mostly public domain ruins of the original Charlton Comics. But I’ve been enjoying their books and will continue following them, If you are looking for something different, this might be exactly the comics you have been wanting.

I'm taking several days off from the bloggy thing to complete my next Black Lightning script and some other work, but I'll be back next week to thrill you anew.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

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