Saturday, March 17, 2018


Time travel alert! The Wayback Machine has been set for Wednesday, August 9, 2017.

Marvel Comics invited me to New York for a special screening of its Defenders series, scheduled to be released on Netflix on Friday, August 18. Misty Knight, who I co-created with artist Arvell Jones during our brief 1970s stint on Iron Fist, would be featured on the series. For that reason and because I’m as big a Marvel fan as the next fan, I accepted the invitation readily.

Even though I’ve done all of my most recent comic-book writing for DC Comics, I remain on excellent terms with Marvel. I’ve written introductions for a number of Masterworks and Omnibus editions. Marvel always kept its agreements with me and I’m still thrilled to be associated with them, even in small ways.

Because I wanted to give myself a relaxing mini-vacation, I flew in a couple days early. This would let me meet up with some dear old friends and wander my old NYC neighborhood a bit. Back in the day, I lived in a somewhat seedy (and boarding on sleazy) hotel so close to Times Square I could see the Great White Way from my penthouse rooftop. Don’t be too impressed by the “penthouse” description of my apartment. It was a one-bedroom apartment that was a penthouse only by virtue of it being on the rooftop of the hotel.

Living in that apartment was an exciting adventure up to the point where I got mugged in it. I’d come home from an evening out with a lady friend to find that two men had broken into the place and were still there. I scored a few punches to good effect, but mostly got the crap beat out of me. I’ll tell you more about the hotel and my time in New York when I get around to writing my memoirs of sorts. To sum up, the hotel and surrounding buildings were torn down and a Crowne Plaza hotel stands there today.
As I had done when I came to New York for the premiere of the Luke Cage show, I stayed at the Econo Lodge Times Square on West 47th at 8th Avenue. The rooms are really tiny, but it’s a decent place with a decent continental breakfast in a neighborhood that, though much changed from when I lived nearby, I knew well.

After spending decades in the way too Republican and way too white Medina, it was a joy to be able to walk a block and hear several different languages and inhale the smell of trucks offering food from just as many cultures. I needed (and still need) more color in my life. Once Sainted Wife Barb retires, I want to move somewhere that fills that need for me. Unfortunately, unless I see some huge, ongoing cash from the Black Lightning TV show, I could never afford to live in my old neighborhood. Sigh.

My Wednesday night dinner partner was Jim Salicrup, editor-in-chief at Papercutz. Jim and I go back decades. In 1972, he was one of the first to welcome me when I started work at Marvel in 1972. We had dinner at the terrific Virgil’s Real BBQ restaurant on West 44th. One of the best things about my old stomping grounds is that there are more great restaurants than I could possibly eat at even if I stayed for a year.

From Virgil’s, we went to Midtown Comics at Times Square. It was my first visit to the landmark comic-book store, which is one flight up from the street and occupies two huge floors packed with all sorts of comic books, graphic novels and related items. I managed to resist buying all sorts of the above, but it was a close thing that took all my will power. It’s a great place and - hint, hint - I would love to do a signing there sometime. Whatever it would cost Midtown to bring me out there for a signing, the store would likely get back from me as a customer.

We wandered to Bryant Park and continued to chat about comics and old friends and such. Jim is one of my favorite people and I wish we could see each other more often.

When my Thursday lunch plans fell through, I took a stroll that led me to the Hard Rock Café. I had a good lunch with a side order of conversation, courtesy of actress/waitress Olivia. It was slow at the restaurant, so we talked about our respective careers. It was a good way to kill an hour or so.

From there, I went to the AMC 25 to see Atomic Blonde, a movie I’d wanted to see but which had left my local theater before I got the chance to see it. Based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston with illustrator Sam Hart, the Cold War-era thriller was directed by David Leitch and starred  Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman and Sofia Boutella. Here’s the quickie synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:

An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

The movie was...okay. More action-oriented than the graphic novel, the action was where the film was most entertaining. Director Leitch didn’t make as good a use of the exotic settings as he could have. The twists and turns in the plot often slowed down the film. The acting, save for Theron and Boutella, didn’t impress me. Still, I think the movie is worth seeing just for the action scenes.

I was actually more impressed by the theater itself. Six stories of  screening rooms. Comfortable seating. A snack bar on every floor, though only two were open that afternoon. I can’t say Atomic Blonde was worth the $13.29 price of my ticket but I was impressed enough by the AMC 25 itself that I hoped to see another movie there before I flew back to Medina on Saturday.

Thursday dinner was another wonderful time. I visited Larry Lieber, the legendary Marvel writer and artist, at his apartment. We went to The Three Star on First, one of the neighborhood eateries for another terrific meal.

Larry is another of my favorite comics folks. We became friends and worked together while I was on staff at Marvel. While a freelancer, I did some work for him at the 1970s incarnation of Atlas Comics. We’ve kept in touch as much as possible, but this was the most time we’d spent together in decades.

What didn’t we talked about that evening? Larry told me about his life since we’d last met, the novel he was writing, a short story he did write which might be one of the most moving romance stories of all time and his penciling the syndicated Spider-Man newspaper strip. At 87, Larry is as creative, fun and interesting as he ever was. Like his brother Stan Lee, he was and remains an inspiration to me. I’ll see him again later this year.

Friday morning saw me rise early to stroll my old neighborhood. Gone is the seen-better-days hotel I once lived in, replaced by a huge Crowne Plaza Hotel. Most of the street I lived on has changed. The gigantic Sam Goody where I bought so many albums is gone, but the Eugene O’Neil Theater - owned by writer Neil Simon - is still going strong. Much to my surprise, a second theater is now across the street from it.

One of my favorite New York moments of the trip was seeing the trio of t-shirts pictured above. There were in the display window of one of those quintessential Times Square souvenir shops, just around the corner from the Econo Lodge. I was sorely tempted to buy the third shirt because it literally made me laugh out loud. I passed when I realized I couldn’t even wear it in my own house without upsetting Sainted Wife Barb, who thinks I’m way too antisocial even without advertising the sentiment.

I flagged down a cab and headed to the ABC Building on West 66th. My destination: the special screening of The Defenders that was my reason for this trip. I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you about that screening and rest of my time in New York.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

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