Monday, November 17, 2014

TONY'S TIPS #82

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...A Voice in the Dark, Trees and more Original Sin from Marvel.

REGULAR BLOGGING WILL RESUME IN DECEMBER

If you've been following my Facebook page, you know that the past several weeks have been a parade of expensive and time-consuming home and plumbing repairs. This has put me terribly behind schedule on a number of fronts. With my upcoming appearance at the Grand Rapids Comic-Con (Friday through Sunday, November 21-23, 2014, at the DeltaPlex, 2500 Turner Ave. NW) and more household work to be done before Thanksgiving, I'm not going to have any spare time for blogging. I'm sure I'll be posting some short items during these two weeks, but my full-scale blogging won't return until Monday, December 1. Thanks for your patience.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

THE PUNISHER 2014

I was there for the birth of the Punisher or, at least, some parts of it. I might not have been there at the precise moment when Gerry Conway and John Romita smacked Frank Castle’s butt to encourage his first breath - I’m amazed the kid didn’t shoot them on the spot - but I saw some of the post-birth cleaning up before the character,  swaddled in black leather, was put into Papa Gerry’s arms and, from there, introduced to the Marvel Universe in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 [February, 1974].

It would have been sometime in mid-1973 or so. I was working in the Marvel Comics offices on the British weeklies and other projects.I walked into John’s office and saw him tinkering with a drawing of the Punisher.

Gerry had come up with the idea and design of the new  character he originally called the Assassin before editor-in-chief Roy Thomas suggested usurping the name of the robot used by Galactus several years earlier. Gerry’s original design had a smallish skull’s head on his breast, which John expanded until it took up the whole front of the Punisher’s shirt. Ross Andru would be the first to draw the Punisher in an actual comic book.

When I walked into John’s office, he was drawing Frank’s face. At his side was one of the early Mack Bolan novels by Don Pendleton. The paperback action series about the Vietnam-era Green Beret who came home to the murder-suicide of his father and sister and took up arms against the Mafia, who, with good reason, he blamed for the killings. The series was the inspiration for the Punisher and the lead character’s rugged good looks likewise inspired the features of the Punisher.

I was intrigued by that Mack Bolan paperback, which also inspired several similar adventure series. The proliferation of such heroes  was not unlike the growth of the pulp-magazine heroes four decades prior. I bought the first several Bolan books and, over a weekend,read them obsessively. I would read well over a hundred of them in the ensuing years before marriage, parenthood, job responsibilities and, ultimately, the repetitious nature of the books brought an end to my obsession.

I liked the Punisher, this new not-quite-hero, from the start, but he was always an awkward fit for the Marvel Universe. However much his targets might have deserved killing, he was a murderer in the eyes of the law. Every time the heroes worked with him or let him escape, it diminished those heroes. Whenever they would attempt to capture him and he escaped despite of their powers, it diminished them. The character regularly stretched the willing suspension of disbelief so necessary to super-hero comics. Add the tendencies of some writers to portray the Punisher as a lunatic or monster...and Frank Castle would become even more of an uneasy travelers through the fantastical Marvel Universe.

The dubious morality of a “hero” who kills aside, the Punisher has always worked best for me when furthest away from the rest of the Marvel Universe. When you throw in the fantastic, you get bat-shit insanity like the Punisher teaming up with the Avengers or becoming some sort of heavenly hitman or even getting dismembered and being revived as a “Frankencastle” monster. Shy of being cut into pieces, he’s lost a finger here and an eye there, but those injuries have been either forgotten or took place in some alternate continuity.It gets too confusing for me and even Wikipedia isn’t of much help in sussing it all out.

This brings us to the newest series: The Punisher by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mitch Gerads.  Edmondson first showed up a few years ago with comic books published by Image. Gerads, who seems to be another relative comics newcomer, worked on some of those comics with Edmondson. Their respective styles fit the Punisher well, so I have no complaints in that regard.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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Having read the first 11 issues of this new series [$3.99 each], I liked where it started. Castle is tracking the Dos Soles drug gang and ends up in Los Angeles. It’s a good idea to keep the Punisher as far away from the New York City super-heroes as possible.

The Punisher action is what one would expect and it works well to a point. Complicating his activities is a government-sanctioned hit squad called - sacrilege - the Howling Commandoes. I’m not a fan of this sort of intrigue/villainy because the evil government routine has become such a cliche. I’m not a fan of it here, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me.

The Los Angeles cast includes the owner of a coffee shop and a police officer developing a crush on Frank without realizing who he is. These quiet moments are a nice contrast to the violence.

The Dos Soles get ambitious and bring in a super-weapon. This new series gets less enjoyable after that. With this weapon, which is not a bad idea per se, we also get A.I.M., the Taskmaster, Electro and the Black Widow. Though the Widow is probably one of the very few Marvel heroes who sort of works in the Punisher’s more mundane world, the rest sent the story off the rails for me.

This is what I mean when I say the Punisher is best when he’s not involved with the Marvel Universe. Electro should be able to turn Castle into ashes with ease. When the Punisher has an opportunity to put a rubber bullet into Electro’s eye and kill or, at the very least, maim him, he doesn’t do it. The characters aren’t themselves in this encounter.

The story picks up again when the surviving Dos Santos attack Los Angeles at a time when the Punisher isn’t in town. The city, which had seen crime drop as a result of Frank’s residence, quickly gets worse than it was before he came. Desperate police officers start bending and breaking the law to stem the tide of criminal violence. That’s interesting stuff.

The bottom line? Flawed though it is, The Punisher is a series I’ll keep reading in the hopes that the Marvel Universe will again fade into its distant background. Whether you would enjoy it or not will likely depend on how you prefer your Frank Castle. At least Frank isn’t slaughtering in the name of God or worrying about whether or not his body-part stitches will come undone.

Regular blogging will resume on December 1..

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Friday, November 14, 2014

THE SHADOW #87: THE POOLTEX TANGLE AND DEATH TURRETS

The Shadow #87: The Pooltex Tangle & Death Turrets [Sanctum Books;$14.95] features novels by Theodore Tinsley and Walter B. Gibson of The Shadow as a master escape artist. These full-length novels are  inspired by and a tribute to the legendary Harry Houdini.

The Pooltex Tangle is by Theodore Tinsley writing as Maxwell Grant.  It first appeared in The Shadow Magazine for the October 1, 1937. From the back cover:

Can The Shadow recover a stolen invention that will change the course of a future war?

Death Turrets is by Walter B. Gibson as Maxwell Grant.  It’s from the November 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. From the back cover:

In his true identity of Kent Allard, the Dark Avenger attempts to thwart the murderous plots of a serial killer!

In addition to the novels, The Shadow #87 also features a new essay by Will Murray that focuses on Gibson’s relationship with Houdini.Gibson, the president of the Philadelphia Assembly of the Society of American Magicians in his pre-Shadow days, knew Houdini and washired to write books on magic for him. Though Houdini died before this venture began, Gibson would, working with the Houdini estate,write Houdini’s Magic and Houdini’s Escapes.

Rounding out this volume are “Memories of Houdini” by Gibson and a short piece on Bill Lawlor, who posed as The Shadow for the photo cover of The Shadow Magazine for November 1, 1937.

As with the other Sanctum Books series - Doc Savage, The Whisperer and others - these Shadow adventures are entertaining journeys into the heroic fiction of the pulp era. More Sanctum Books news is on the way.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

REPORT: CLEVELAND COMIC CON

I was a guest at three conventions in as many weekends, which puts me three weeks behind in reporting to you on Cleveland Comic Con.The event was on Sunday, October 26 at the Doubletree Cleveland in Independence, Ohio.

Cleveland Comic Con is a newer show. It’s put on by a group of fans from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and North Carolina who love just about every kind of fandom there is: comic books, gaming, anime, cosplay and more. The promoters and volunteers clearly worked hard to deliver a quality convention experience. They hope their single-day show will eventually grow into a multiple-day event. I can see some obstacles ahead of them, but I’ll save my suggestions for the end of today’s bloggy thing.

I had two reasons for contacting the show about my appearing as a guest: Paul Kupperberg and Linda Lessmann Reinhold. Paul and I go back to before I moved to New York to work for Marvel Comics, back when he was publishing The Comics Reader with his boyhood pal Paul Levitz and I was writing for TCR and virtually every other fanzine that would have me. After an amazing run writing Life with Archie, Paul is writing for The Charlton Arrow, an ongoing tribute to the legendary comics company where so many comics creators made their first appearances. I bought the first two issues of the title from Paul and plan on reading/reviewing them in an upcoming edition of this bloggy thing of mine.

Linda started work at Marvel Comics a few weeks before I did. Like most of the younger guys that worked there, I had a crush on the talented colorist who was both gorgeous and sweet as could be.We’ve run into each other at conventions in the past, but this was a first reunion in way too many years.

I’m a firm believer in the notion that conventions are whatever you make of them. I asked the convention to put my table next to Paul’s table and the table shared by Linda and husband Bill, who is a very lucky man, a nice guy and a terrific artist.

How could I not have a great time at the convention with such good people around me? Linda was a guest on my “Tony’s Tips Live” presentation while Paul and I did a panel on “Making Independent Comics” that strayed off the subject and pretty much came down to a wonderfully snarky chat between two grizzled veterans of the comics industry.

After the show, Paul, Linda, Bill and I had dinner at the Winking Lizard, a swell bar-and-restaurant near the hotel. During the day, we talked about our lives, our kids, our careers, friends we knew back in the day, politics and everything else old friends will talk about when they get together for the first time in too long a time.The day was all I could have hoped for. I hope I get to see my dear friends again sooner rather than later.

I don’t want you to think my friends were the only good things about the Cleveland Comic Con. From my table in artist alley, I chatted with fans, signed a bunch of comic books, sold several copies of my award-deserving 1000 Comic Books You Must Read and other Isabella-written items, sold some other comics I had brought to the event  and also some Superman posters. I even sold the 25-to-30-year-old Superman cocoa and peanut butter I found in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff. So, not only did I have a great time at this convention, I came home with a few bucks in my pocket.

The Cleveland Comic Con crew seems to have a sincere desire to make their event as good as they can and they also seem to be willing to work hard to achieve their goal of growing the show. With that in mind, let me share a few comments.

The Doubletree isn’t the best venue for a convention that wants to grow. While there was a lot of open space in the ballroom serving as the dealers room, the artist alley room seems more than a little cramped and confined. I never got a chance to see if the wall that divided the two rooms could be opened. If it can be opened, I think it would greatly improve traffic flow and allow fans to move easily between the two areas. However, even if the wall could be opened, I think the convention will outgrow the Doubletree in another year or two. Indeed, it may have already outgrown it.

Cleveland Comic Con had a lot of enthusiastic cosplayers. I loved the costumes I saw. However, the cosplayers clogged the hallways of the hotel, especially when they and the fans were trying to enter the room where the costume contest was held. Those hallways could be a fire marshal’s nightmare.

I was pleased with the room where my panels were held. It was good-sized, bright and comfortable. The only problem I had with the set-up was that there were no stairs to the stage. At the start of my career, over four decades ago, I could have leaped on and off that stage with ease. At 63...not so much.

The pluses of the Doubletree was that it had free parking and lots of it. It had what seemed to be a decent in-house restaurant and was within a short walking distance of a couple good restaurants. During the show, there was a food table in the hallway outside the dealers room, and, for convention/hotel food, I thought the prices were reasonable. These pluses aren’t enough to make the Doubletree a suitable location for the future of the convention, but they are all elements which any new venue should have. You don’t want your attendees to have to sweat the small stuff.

The positives of Cleveland Comic Con outweigh my areas of concern.The promoters are smart guys who treated their guests and who put together a solid day of programming. I would happily return to the show next year.

Cleveland is one of the toughest markets for comics conventions in the country. Cleveland Comic Con has a shot at carving out a spot for themselves in that market. I wish them well.
 
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DAD

This is my favorite photo of my dad. He bought the motorcycle when he returned from his World War II service in the Army Air Corps. My grandmother hated it. His not-yet-wife and my mother wouldn’t ride on it. So he didn’t keep it long. But I think the picture shows an adventurous nature Dad would suppress as he accepted his roles as husband, father and the guy who kept the Isabella Brothers Bakery going for decades.

As you can tell from the photo, Dad could rock a hat. It was one of his many gifts, but, alas, one I did not inherit. I’m content with having inherited the Isabella Charm, which made him beloved of just about everyone who crossed his path from his family to his bakery customers to the people who cared for him in hospitals and hospice.

Louis A. Isabella passed peaceful in the very wee hours of Tuesday, October 14. He was 89 years old. He was married to my mother for 65 years. With her, he raised five kids while working for the bakery for half a century or so. The past couple of years were very rough on him while he struggled with various ailments.

Today’s blog will not be a recounting of his struggles. When I knew Dad wouldn’t be with us much longer, I knew I would write about him here. I also knew that, instead of mourning his life, I would try to celebrate his life and his role in my life. I mean no disrespect to my siblings, but this blog is between me and Dad.

I visited Dad as often as I could at various hospitals and nursing homes. We talked about stuff. We didn’t agree on a lot of it, but there was mutual respect. I was proud of him. He was proud of me. We didn’t leave anything unsaid before he was unable to communicate and that was a blessing to me. I knew we were good and that made his passing a bit easier for me to handle.

Dad got me better than the other members of my family. He was very supportive of my desire to be a writer. When I was in my teens, he partitioned off a portion of our basement to create an “office” for me and give me the privacy I needed to write. When I would move to New York to work for Marvel Comics, he rented a truck and brought my comic books and other stuff to my Brooklyn apartment.

I brought him to the Marvel offices and introduced him around. He met Stan Lee and they liked each other. That was a special moment for me, being in the same room with the two men who had shaped my life more than any other people in that life.

When I visited Dad in the hospital and rehab center, before he went into hospice, he was usually in good spirits. When he wasn’t, he’d sometimes talk about mistakes he had made in his life. I don’t know if he believed me, but I said most of what he considered mistakes were simply him doing what he had always done throughout his life.More times than I can count or want to recount here, Dad sacrificed his own ambitions and wants to help his children, other members of his family, friends and neighbors. He was a good guy and, in many ways, he taught me what it takes to be a good guy.

I have a great many stories I could tell you about Dad, his life, his final years and more. I’ll share those stories in the fullness of time. But I have to tell you about one special day I shared with Dad and my son Eddie because it will help me explain my father and the kind of man he was.

Dad served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and he loved planes. My son Eddie fell in love with planes around the time that he saw Top Gun on TV. So, when an opportunity arose for me to tour a National Guard airbase, I invited them to join me.

I was being considered for a writing gig for the Air Force. The guy who thought I would be perfect for the project arranged for me and Dad and Eddie to get a tour of that base. The project fell through, but the day was more rewarding than any paycheck could have been.

Eddie was in the third grade. I got permission to take him out of school for the day. Dad, retired since his bakery closed, drove to my house in Medina. We drove to the base in my van.

For me, watching Dad and Eddie on that tour was more fun than the tour itself. I couldn’t tell you which of them had the widest eyes as they got to explore big cargo planes and check out other areas of the base. To this day, I can picture their smiling faces. It’s a memory I hold dear and which comforts me whenever I start missing Dad. Which I do every day.

Sitting with Dad in hospice, during times when I couldn’t be sure if he could hear me, I figured out what that day revealed about him. I shared the revelation with a few others and they all understood what I was saying, even those who hadn’t known my father except at the end of his life.

Dad wanted to fly. He always wanted to fly. What kept him tied to the ground was his commitment to his family, his ongoing sacrifices to our needs. Dad couldn’t fly, but he wanted to make sure his kids could. That’s who Dad was.

Dad got me better than any other member of my family. He knew how much my writing meant to me. Even when he didn’t read the things I wrote, he took joy from seeing my name in the credits. I think he understood that writing was my flying. I hope he realized it was him who gave me my wings.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

GRAND RAPIDS COMIC-CON

The Grand Rapids Comic-Con will be Friday through Sunday, November 21-23, 2014, at the DeltaPlex, 2500 Turner Ave. NW in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Because I am a slave to my passions, I’m a late addition to the guest list. Despite that, the show organizers could not have been more gracious in making my appearance possible.

The passions of which I speak? One of the convention guests is Paul Bales, the co-producer of Sharknado and Sharknado 2: The Second One and the producer of other Isabella favorites like Mega Python Vs Gatoroid, Mega Piranha, and Mega Shark Vs Mecha Shark. The moment I heard Balas was a guest at the show, I wanted to meet him. Maybe if we hit off, I’ll get killed by a shark in Sharknado 3. A man has to dream, doesn’t he?

Other media guests include Alaina Huffman, who I adore in her role as Abbadon, Queen of Hell on the CW’s Supernatural, and the awesome Nichelle Nichols, who, as far as I’m concerned, has been the queen of outer space since she starred in the original Star Trek series.

Comics guests include Arvell Jones, co-creator of Misty Knight from the Iron Fist run we did together in the 1970s, Christopher Jones, William Messner-Loebs, Andrew Pepoy, Ryan Stegman, Chris Yambar,  the legendary Allen Bellman and others. The con is also bringing in a few literary guests and hosting an artist alley that looks packed with some very interesting talents.

Convention programming includes panels, costuming, special events and exhibits and after parties. It’s an impressive line-up with all sorts of fun.

On Sunday from 1:15 to 2:15 pm, I’ll be presenting my TONY’S TIPS LIVE panel. To quote myself:

Tony Isabella brings his long-running Comics Buyer’s Guide and online column to the Grand Rapids Comic Con. The creator of Black Lightning, Misty Knight and Tigra will bring his usual mix of news, reviews and views to the stage. There will be insights and insults. There will be snark and wisdom. There will be blood. Okay, maybe not blood, but things could get dangerous as Tony talks about the secret history of comics and answers audience questions. It’s chilling and thrilling...and you are there!

Because of my being a late addition to the convention, it looks as if I’ll be set up with the media guests. I’ll be bringing a box of my award-deserving and soon-to-be-out-of-print 1000 Comic Books You Must Read. If the publisher follows through on its decision to not to do a third printing - a baffling decision in light of the swell royalty checks I’ve been getting all along - all rights to the book will revert to me.

As always, I’ll be happy to sign any Isabella-written items free of charge. However, I will not sign any DC Comics books or merchandise for which I haven’t been paid. Even in this small way, I do regret disappointing any of my fans and readers. But I feel I must take a stand against DC’s continued disrespect of me and my work and the company’s violations of its agreements with me.  I appreciate your understanding in this matter.

That said...

I’m thrilled to be part of this show. It will be my last convention appearance of the year and I can’t think of a better event to close out 2014. I hope to see many of my bloggy thing readers, Facebook friends and other fans and acquaintances there.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella