Saturday, April 25, 2015

HIT LIST

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

Comic Bento is “A surprise selection of fantastic Graphic Novels with at least $60 worth of comics in every box and mailed right to your door!” I’m currently on the automatically renewable one-month plan which costs $25 with shipping and handling.

I received my first Comic Bento box earlier this month. Here’s the third of my four reviews of the GNs in that box...

Hit List by Ralph Tedesco and Sami Kivela [Zenescope; $15.99] is a sexier-than-the-norm “B” action movie in comic-book form. The back cover synopsis tells you almost everything you need to know about the graphic novel:

As a young boy, Jordan Bale’s life was drastically affected by unthinkable violence few people can relate to. Driven by that anger, Bale grew to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.

Now, a group of hired killers will be brought together to carry out Bale’s intricate plan for vengeance thirty years in the making and it’s a plan that could very easily spiral out of control.


Tedesco’s story and writing are good and flow well, but they aren’t in any way special. Bale’s hired killers have the moral high ground by “virtue” of their targets being completely despicable. Kivela’s drawing and storytelling are good as is the Brian Valenza coloring. The covers and variant covers emphasize the sexy women characters. But that’s sort of Zenescope’s stock in trade, so it didn’t come as a surprise.

Hit List is a perfectly readable graphic novel. I do realize that’s damning it with faint praise. Still, in a marketplace with many above-average comic and graphic novels and too many unreadable comics and graphic novels, faint praise is better than none at all.

ISBN 978-1-939683-48-9

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Other things that have crossed my mind of late...

The 2015 Eisner Awards nominations have been announced. Every year, I look at the list and wish I had the time to take a week or three off and read all the nominated works. That might happen some year in the hopefully near future, but it won’t be this year. When you read Monday’s bloggy thing with its attendant announcement of the next major Tony Isabella project, you’ll understand why reading all the Eisner-nominated works is off the 2015 table.

I’m pleased by the recognition given Ms. Marvel and its creators in this year’s nominations and, generally, by the terrific variety of the nominated works. Just looking at the comics and books on this list that I have read, voters are going to have a lot of very hard decisions to make. Which is, or course, wonderful for the art form and industry I love so much.

Good on you, comicdom.

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Spencer Beck is the president of The Artists’ Choice and has been an original art sales representative for three decades. He’s a good guy, which is one of the reasons his client list is among the most impressive in the field.

Earlier this week, Beck announced his company had been hired by a group of collectors to buy high-quality comics art from the 1960s through the 1990s. His company was given a budget of $1 million to purchase this art.

The announcement was greeted by the now-familiar cries of how true fans were being priced out of the original art market and that this was horrible news for comicdom. Which is, if you’ll excuse my crude language, poppy-cock.

Beck made this public because making it public is how you get key pieces that haven’t been on the market to maybe come on the market for the first time in years and decades. He’s doing right by those new clients of his and by the potential sellers who might consider that now is a good time to let someone else enjoy the original art they’ve been enjoying.

The whole “true fan” thing has always bothered me. How much money someone has to spend on comics or related items isn’t a determining factor as to whether or not their love for comics is “true.” It’s the love that matters. You can spend a million dollars on comics or only read comics you can borrow from your public library. It’s the love that matters.

As far as pricing comics fans out of the original art market, that ship left port a good while back. Key pieces are already commanding prices of tens of thousands of dollars. In a good year, I have the means to commission a small nice piece or two. A nice Jack Kirby page has been out of my reach for more than a decade. Heck, I can’t afford to buy splash pages from stories I wrote. It’s way of things and I don’t fret about it.

The most sought-after pages are already selling for five figures. Some are selling for over $100,000. Taking that into consideration, even with a million dollars to spend, Beck’s company might only end up purchasing ten pages. That’s a minuscule fraction of the comics art market. Unclench already.

Beck’s announcement might not be thrilling news for many and maybe most collectors. It’s good news for other collectors because it may increase the value of pages they want to sell and make pages they have long desired available to them.

If fan rage were energy, it would be the perpetual motion machine of our dreams. Let’s save it for things that really matter and not for something as arguably trivial as this.

I extend my best wishes to Beck and his clients. I hope they find some great art for his efforts and their money.

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We end today’s bloggy thing with the reminder that, on Free Comic Book Day, I’ll be at Heroic Adventures Comics & Pop Culture Store, 126 Gnau Ave SW, Unit A in Massillon, Ohio. I’ll be there from 11 am to 4 pm. You can get more details here.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the last of my Comic Bento reviews and more. See you then.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Friday, April 24, 2015

GET MORE TONY: MARVEL MASTERWORKS

Just released from Marvel Comics is Marvel Masterworks The Avengers Volume 15 by Steve Englehart, George Perez & George Tuska with Tony Isabella & Don Heck [$75]. This hardcover collection reprints The Avengers #136-149, which includes the two-issue story written by yours truly and Heck. Here's a blurb from Amazon:

Earth's Mightiest Heroes have put out a call for new members and into their ranks come the Beast, Hellcat and Moondragon. With the return of Captain America, Yellowjacket and the Wasp it makes for one of the greatest Avengers teams of all time! And they're going to need every last one of them to overcome the challenges ahead. The cosmic Stranger attacks and in the battle the Wasp is critically injured and the Avengers must save one of their own while struggling to save themselves. Then comes one of the greatest Avengers sagas of all ti me! In a time-travelling adventure they'll team with the Marvel heroes of the old West in a fight to overcome Kang and the Squadron Sinister! 

As I've noted in the past, Marvel actually sends me a check when the company reprints my stories. So, if you buy this book, you're putting a few bucks in the pockets of guys like me and Englehart and the other creators.
ISBN 978-0-7851-9196-4

This has been a Bloggy Thing bonus post.




WEIRD AL TAKES OVER

MAD #533 [June 2015; $5.99] boasts something no other issue of this legendary humor magazine has ever had: “Weird Al” Yankovic as its guest editor. What a wondrously mad notion!

“Weird Al” has been a favorite of mine since I first heard one of his song parodies - 1983's “Ricky” - and it’s a love I have shared with my family. Buying each new Yankovic CD is a given around Casa Isabella. The only question being how quickly can I buy them and the answer to that one is almost always the day each CD is released to the public.

Wikipedia lists Yankovic as a “singer, songwriter, parodist, record producer, satirist, actor, music video director, film producer and author”...and you really should read his Wikipedia entry to get a sense of what an accomplished individual he is. With this issue of MAD, “Weird Al” adds guest editor to his resume.

From this issue’s cover to inside back cover, Yankovic’s presence can be seen and enjoyed. He wrote its introductory page, answered  letters from readers, picked a classic reprint for “The MAD Vault” feature and wrote the amusing “Pages from Weird Al’s Notebook.” He is the subject of Al Jaffee’s special “Weird Al” edition of “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and artist Tom Bunk’s double-paged visit to a “Weird Al” concert.

Taking a nod from MAD’s popular and always entertaining “Fundalini Pages,” Yankovic recruited several of his famous friends to write bits for “The Weird Al-ini Pages.” The impressive line-up: Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, Chris Hardwick, Kristen Schaal, Rich Blomquist,  Emo Phillips, Thomas Lennon and John Hodgman.

The “Weird Al” material would be enough for me to give this issue my recommendation, but there’s much more. John Caldwell does a fun send-up of ancestry.com. Peter Kuper continues “Spy Vs. Spy” in the proud tradition of Antonio Prohías, the feature’s original creator.  Sergio Aragones takes a look at California. Tim Carvell delivers  a mock-up of a young man’s website in his latest ““Planet Tad!!!!!” spread. “The Strip Club” has comic strips from a selection of cool cartoonists.

Most impressively, writer David Shayne and artist Tom Richmond do a different, surprisingly thoughtful and yet still funny parody of American Sniper. As part of the parody, “Michael Moore” and “Sarah Palin” discuss the movie. It’s a daring take on this MAD tradition and it works very well.
 
MAD has really upped its game in recent years. The magazine took a nosedive with the 1985 departure of legendary editor Al Feldstein, but it’s back as good as ever. I’ve been a subscriber for several years now and its bimonthly arrival is always a treat. If you have not sampled MAD of late, you should. I think you’ll find it worth your “cheap” six bucks.

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Once again, I want to remind you that, on Free Comic Book Day, I’ll be at Heroic Adventures Comics & Pop Culture Store, 126 Gnau Ave SW, Unit A in Massillon, Ohio. I’ll be there from 11 am to 4 pm. You can get more details here.

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Here’s a SyFy channel programming note.

Lake Placid vs. Anaconda [2015] will debut tomorrow, April 25, at 9 pm. It’s a made-for-television crossover between the Lake Placid and Anaconda movie series. Surprisingly, SyFy has done pretty much nothing to promote this movie. It doesn’t really even have a proper trailer. Just a real short promo clip.

What little I know about the movie comes from Wikipedia and IMDb. The former offers this synopsis:

Killer crocodiles and giant anacondas clash in this thriller about corporate greed and science gone wrong.

Heck, that could be a movie about our political system.

The cast includes SyFy veterans Yancy Butler (likely reprising her role in two previous Lake Placid movies), Robert Englund and Corin Nemec. IMDb includes Nicki Minaj in its cast listing. That could mean the young singer is joining the ranks of music stars who have met their unpleasant demises in SyFy movies at the hands of giant creatures of one kind or another.

Watch for my review in an upcoming bloggy thing.

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This is a shorter-than-planned bloggy thing, following a few days of unexpected distractions. But I’ll be back tomorrow with a lot more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Thursday, April 23, 2015

THE COLDEST CITY

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

Comic Bento is “A surprise selection of fantastic Graphic Novels with at least $60 worth of comics in every box and mailed right to your door!” I’m currently on the automatically renewable one-month plan which costs $25 with shipping and handling.

I received my first Comic Bento box earlier this month. Here’s the second of the four reviews I’ll be writing of the graphic novels in that box...

The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart [Oni; $19.99] was published in May, 2012. It was to be the first of a series of spy  thrillers, but, so far, Johnston has not released a second graphic novel in that genre.

The fall of the Berlin Wall is the backdrop for this graphic novel. Lorraine Broughton, a veteran British intelligence agent, is sent to the city on short notice and with little preparation to recover a list naming every spy in Berlin. The claustrophobic and paranoia-inducing setting and tone of the book makes it an interesting and sometimes unnerving read.

The spy play in this book comes in multiple shades of grey. There is the verbal fencing between agents of different and sometimes the same countries. There are dangerous missions carried out under the very noses of the Russians. There are violent confrontations as it becomes clear a secret assassins group is at work. Broughton never knows who she can trust and who is what they claim to be. For the reader, that’s true for every single character in the book.

Johnston’s writing is excellent and he wrings great suspense from both the action sequences and the debriefing sequences between his protagonist and her superiors. However, an unnecessary affectation - having some characters speak in their native language without any English translating - is annoying in the extreme. That was one of those darlings that the writer should have killed...with extreme prejudice.

Hart’s art is less successful. It was so minimal at times I wasn’t sure who characters were or what they were doing. When a comic is  in black-and-white, the artist needs to add sufficient detail and shading to make the storytelling clear.

Overall, I liked The Coldest City and would gladly read another spy thriller from Johnston.

ISBN 978-1-934964-53-8

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Things are getting crazy busy - mostly in good ways - here at Casa Isabella. I’ll likely go into far more detail early next week when I announce my next major project. In the meantime, I’ll be writing odds and ends bloggy things like this one.

First and foremost, I want to remind you that, on Free Comic Book Day, I’ll be at Heroic Adventures Comics & Pop Culture Store, 126 Gnau Ave SW, Unit A in Massillon, Ohio. I’ll be there from 11 am to 4 pm. You can get more details here.

On another front...

Much to my dismay, I’ve not yet heard from any LGBT advocacy group that wants to share my Indy Pop Con table and provide information about fighting discrimination in Indiana. You can read what I have had to say about this here, here and here.

My back-up plan is asking any such group to provide informational materials I can distribute from my table. As always, any interested parties should email me sooner rather than later.

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The Beat and other news sites are reporting that Valiant and Sony have signed an agreement for five Bloodshot and Harbinger movies. My reading of the new Valiant comics isn’t as complete as I would like - I’m working on it - but I love the idea of an entertainment company going beyond DC and Marvel for super-hero content. This is good for Valiant and good for comics in general.

That said, I hope the comics creators who worked on Bloodshot and Harbinger will be compensated and credited for their contributions to the films. There’s no good excuse for comics publishers and the movie makers they partner with to shut comics creators out of the profit pie or to give them screen credit for their contributions. It’s just the right thing to do.

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I have watched three more episodes of Marvel’s Daredevil TV series: “Cut Man,” “Rabbit in a Snow Storm” and “In the Blood.” I’m still liking this show a lot.

Vincent D'Onofrio is downright chilling as Wilson Fisk. He looks as dangerous as any comics version of the Kingpin and has the acting chops to convey the brutality and intelligence of the character. But, is it just me, or does this Kingpin remind you of a taller and beefier Brian Michael Bendis? Just to play it safe, I’m going to be really nice to Bendis the next time I see him.

One more Daredevil note. As the guy who first drew and presumably designed the Owl, Joe Orlando’s name is appearing on the creators credit card whenever Leland Owlsley appears in an episode. It may just my imagination, but that creators credits card seems to be on the screen a little longer than in the first episode.

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The Internet is buzzing with the revelation that Bobby Drake a.k.a. Marvel’s Iceman is gay. I’m not sure what this means since what I think is the current Marvel Universe has two Iceman. One is Bobby Drake as an adult and the other is Bobby Drake as his teenage self. Judging from the pages I’ve seen online, teen Bobby is definitely gay and adult Bobby is straight, gay or bisexual. I haven’t given this a lot of thought, mostly because I can’t keep all the X-Men titles...err...straight.

I don’t know how I feel about the specific-to-Icemen developments. Before I can form an opinion, I’ll have to read the issues whenever my friend who loans me his comic books loans them to me. But I do have some general thoughts.

Some readers don’t like it when a character who has been portrayed as straight is suddenly gay. Except that, sans the “suddenly,” this does happen in the real world. If it can happen in the real world, then it can happen in the Marvel Universe.

What seems to be missing here is the process. I can’t imagine that it’s easy for a person to come to the realization that they aren’t the straight person they always believed themselves to be. I also imagine it would be just as difficult for a gay person to realize they might be bisexual or straight. We’re not seeing the events or feelings bringing these characters to the realization they are not as they believed themselves to be.

Super-hero comics aren’t known for their subtlety. Northstar outed himself as gay via blast-shaped word balloon in the middle of some battle. An important moment like that should not have made me laugh out loud, but that’s exactly what it did.

I think there’s greater drama and understanding to be had from the process through which characters arrive at such realizations about themselves. I think that would be more realistic. Because what is more real in our lives than human drama?

I might have more to say about this in the future. But, for now, I would love to hear your thoughts on all this.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 65

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 65th installment in that series.

The Rawhide Kid #80 [October 1970] is a key issue, but not for any good reason. Although it has a new cover pencilled by Larry Lieber and possibly inked by Herb Trimpe, the issue reprints stories from issue #56 [February 1967]. From this point on, the title will often feature reprints, shorter-than-usual Lieber stories and fill-ins by other creators. More often than not, the back-up stories will come from various western comics of the late 1950s. The Rawhide Kid #115  [September 1973] will be the last issue to feature any new interior material. This issue is the beginning of the still somewhat distant end.

“Fall of a Hero” (17 pages) is written and pencilled by Lieber with inks by Vince Colletta. “Reno’s Revenge” - the back-up tale - is by Denny O’Neil with art by Al Ulmer. I wrote about these stories in my bloggy thing for May 8, 2013. Surprisingly, neither of the two stories was identified as a reprint.

“The Mighty Marvel Checklist” takes up less than half a page this issue. In very small type, it heralds Fantastic Four #103, drawn by John Romita and featuring Magneto and the Sub-Mariner and another 36 titles, 37 titles if you count the "just kidding" kidding listing of The Ladies Home Journal #1893.

Gil Kane gets a shout-out for Amazing Spider-Man #89. Herb Trimpe gets a shout-out for Silver Surfer #18, which, though drawn by Jack Kirby, is said to be “the one that paves the way for Herb Trimpe’s new version!”

Red Wolf makes his debut in Avengers #80. Neal Adams gets a shout-out for drawing Thor #180. Sub-Mariner #30 has a guest appearance by Captain Marvel. Spoof #1 is launched with parodies of Marooned, Dark Shadows and the Mod Squad.

Most titles are only mentioned by name and issue number. Fright #1 is on sale this month, one of several horror/monster titles on the list. There are also western titles, Millie the Model titles, two romance titles and Li’l Kids #2. Now free to publish as many comic books as it wanted, Marvel was again venturing into genres that had been successful for the company in the past. Most reprinted older, sometimes updated stories, but some had new material. Eventually, the super-heroes would dominate the company’s output even more than they had dominated it in recent years.

The rest of the page was a “Super Poster Offer” from Marvelmania, the ill-fated fan club which Marvel outsourced to a disreputable entrepreneur. You could get four posters for $1.50 plus half-a-buck postage. The posters were said to be a giant three foot high and in full-color. There was Spider-Man by Romita, Doctor Doom by Kirby, Hulk by Trimpe and Captain America by Steranko. Since I never saw these “in the flesh,” I’d be interested in hearing from any of my readers who did buy them.

There are fewer comics-related ads in this issue, but one of them is a full-page pitch for Monogram’s model kid of Peanuts character Snoopy in his Sopwith Camel. The ad is designed like a comics page and the kit includes a battery-powered propeller “you flip to start like a real plane.”

The issue’s smaller advertisers include back-issue sellers Howard Rogofsky, Grand Book Inc., Passaic Book Center, Comic Sales Co. and Richard Alf. There’s also an ad for Futura, which bills itself as a high-quality fanzines with lots of art and information on comic books of the past. One dollar would bring you a sample copy of the fanzine from publisher D.G. Cassidy.

Also noted...Art Directors Course offered to teach fans to learn  to draw comics at home from experts. A quarter would get you full information from the Manhasset, New York-based company. Did any of my bloggy thing readers ever answer this ad? If you did, I’d love to hear all about your experience with the course.

Today’s bloggy thing doesn’t change my resolve to write about every issue of Rawhide Kid from when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby relaunched the title with a new Rawhide Kid. When an issue features a reprint of a story or stories I’ve already written about, I will include a link to the appropriate bloggy thing. But I will also write about any new-to-the-title reprints and editorial stuff (letters pages, Marvel Bullpen pages and comics ads) found in those issues. Since Rawhide Kid ran until issue #151 [May 1979], we still have a lot of hard-riding ahead of us.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

WORK TO BE DONE IN INDIANA

This is important work to be done in Indiana, but I’ll need a great deal of help to get started on it. I need to connect with a LGBT advocacy group in that state. Before I get into any further detail on my plans, some background...

I’ll be a guest of Indy Pop Con, Friday through Sunday, June 26-28, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. If you read this bloggy thing of mine regularly, you know I cancelled my appearance at one point in response to the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill pass by Governor Mike Pence and his fellow Republican bigots. The bill would have protected discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. It was a vile bill, written with the assistance of “religious” groups so virulent in their hatred of gays that one of them is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. I think they all should be listed, but that’s another bloggy thing for another day.

Pence got hammered for this bill. Businesses started threatening to pull out of Indiana. His popularity rating dropped 20 or so points overnight as he vowed this law would stand. Which it did until it didn’t. Which is when Pence and his GOP goons changed the bill just enough to pass muster with those not paying close attention.

The sad fact remains that Indians still allows LGBT discrimination in a variety of areas. Many other states also allow these kinds of discrimination. So, when I changed my mind about attending Indy Pop Con, it was because I thought I could do more good traveling to the state and supporting its LGBT community.

Here’s what I posted earlier this month...

Ultimately, I decided I could do some good if I did attend Indy Pop Con. I told the promoters that I wanted to share my table with some local LGBT group or progressive organization which would inform the fans of the issues and real freedoms at stake. I would ask fans who wanted me to sign their Isabella-written items to make a donation to the fight against discrimination.

Indy Pop Con was completely cool with what I wanted to do and was already working on something similar. It’s too early for me to talk about these in-the-works ideas, but they will satisfy my desire to make my Indy Pop Con appearance a positive force, however small, in these matters.


The further details I mentioned above...

This kind of activism isn’t completely new to me, but the last time I was remotely this hands on was when I joined the fight against the Medina, Ohio branch of the Christian Coalition when it tried to impose its values on our award-winning library. We won that one at the polls. But that happened close to two decades ago and I’m not as young and feisty as I was back then.

So, as I said up top, I want to share my table with an LGBT group that can provide information for those who want to end the kind of discrimination we see in Indiana and elsewhere.

I am not bringing anything to sell at Indy Pop Con. I’ll be there to sign your Isabella-written items and answer your questions and talk about this and that. I have never charged for signing and I’m not charging at this convention either. However, if you’re inclined to donate to the cause of ending discrimination against your fellow Americans, your donation will be accepted gratefully.

Indy Pop Con may have something else in the works that will tie in to what I’m doing. If it does, I will almost certainly be a part of their effort. But the above is what I hope to do at my guest table. To accomplish what I want to accomplish, I need some LGBT advocacy group to join me.

If your group is interested, email me with whatever credentials you think would be helpful to me and a link to your website. I’d like to have a partner in place as soon as possible.

I am not looking to be confrontational here. But my firm belief is that, constitutionally and morally, the United States of America in 2015 cannot allow the kind of discrimination we see in Indiana and elsewhere. Working to end that discrimination is important and I’m happy to lend whatever small celebrity I possess to that cause.

There’s important work to be done in Indiana and I need your help to do it. Please join me.
 
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff. 
  
© 2015 Tony Isabella

Monday, April 20, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #104

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...I write about the Black Hood, Creature Cops and Strange Sports Stories.