Wednesday, May 6, 2015

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 66

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 66th installment in that series.

The Rawhide Kid #81 [November 1970] has a cover by Larry Lieber - pencils and inks - and a new Rawhide Kid story, written and drawn by Lieber with inks by John Tartaglione. As I’ve mentioned before, Tartaglione is one of my favorite inkers for Larry.

“Range War!” is a 19-page story posing as a 20-page story by virtue of pages 12 and 13 being half-page pages. This was something Marvel was doing at the time, though I don’t recall it lasting for very long.

The story has some familiar elements. It opens with Rawhide heading into an area he’s never been before. As he has done in other tales, the Kid wonders if this can be a new start for him:

It’s cow country! Maybe I can hire on at one of the spreads! Maybe this time I can finally hang up my guns for good...and live a life of peace and quiet!

Cattle rancher Garrison is surprised the Kid doesn’t wear guns, but hires him as a wrangler. On his way to the bunkhouse, Rawhide meets Kathy, his new boss’s beautiful, flirtatious daughter.

KATHY: Hi! I’m Kathy Garrison! What’s your handle?

RAWHIDE: Clay! Johnny, to my friends!

KATHY: Well, I surely do hope that I will soon be a member of that fortunate group!

RAWHIDE: Keep smiling like that...and you’ll win a lifelong membership!

Johnny is pretty happy about the situation. He has a honest job and there’s a girl who has taken a fancy to him. He’s worried someone will recognize him as the infamous Rawhide Kid, but figures that’s tomorrow’s problem.  He’s wrong.

Tomorrow’s problem is that One-Percenter Garrison is mighty peeved over the “squatters” (farmers) who have settled on free range land given to them by the government. Garrison considers that land to be his land and plans to run the new settlers off. When Kathy tries to talk him out of this, her father tells her not to fret her pretty over this. He knows what he’s doing.

That evening, Johnny and Kathy are talking when Garrison sees the two of them together. He storms downstairs and tells Johnny that he was hired to work on his spread and not to sweet-talk his daughter. Kathy objects to no avail. Johnny walks away.

The next day, Johnny and some of Garrison’s men ride the range to a nearby farm whose owner is putting up a fence:

If there’s anything a cowpoke hates, it’s the sight of barbed wire!

Garrison’s thugs order the farmer to take down his fence. The man states his legal right to the land. The thugs threaten the farmer, who goes for a rifle some distance from the fence.

The thugs get ready to gun the farmer down. Johnny rides into the men and prevents that.

The thugs aren’t so brave when facing a farmer with a loaded rifle pointing at them. They leave and make two promises. One...they’ll be back. Two...they’ll “settle accounts” with Johnny when they get back to the Garrison ranch.

Garrison figures Johnny needs to be taught a lesson. Unarmed with guns trained on him and being held by the cowhands, Johnny is helpless when foreman Buck comes at him:

BUCK: Yuh see, when I work a guy over...I don’t miss a trick!

We don’t see the beating, but we do see the aftermath:

An hour later, an unconscious Rawhide Kid is dumped in a lonely meadow beyond the ranch!

The Kid is spotted by a farmer and his son. They take care of the angry young man who vows vengeance on Garrison.

RAWHIDE: I owe him plenty...and the Rawhide Kid pays his debts!

The farmer doesn’t want that:

Look...we’ve a range war on our hands...and a professional gunman like you can only make things worse! If you go up against Garrison, he’ll bring in other fast guns and peace will never come to these parts!

Johnny agrees. He’s not thrilled with it, but he’s gonna call it a day and ride out of the area.

Garrison isn’t at all adverse to a range war. He has already hired gunslinger Duke Dawson. Johnny spots the Dawson gang riding toward the Garrison spread and heads back to the farmers.

At the Garrison spread, one of the gunslicks gets fresh with Kathy and almost draws on Garrison when he pulls the thug away from his daughter. Dawson steps in. He and his men came there to do a job. They want to get on with it.

Rawhide warns the farmers, telling them to contact him at the first sign of any trouble. Dawson and his men wound a farmer and burn the farmer’s house to the ground. The Kid rides to the Garrison spread to confront him.

The owlhoots recognize Johnny as the Rawhide Kid and open fire on him from the house. Johnny lassos the chimney and swings into the house through a window. He shoots down all of Dawson’s men without breaking a sweat.

Dawson grabs Kathy to be his ticket out of the fracus. Garrison is helpless. Rawhide rides after Dawson. He rescues Kathy, knocks Duke down with one punch and then shoots Dawson when the gunslick tries to shoot him in the back.

Garrison is grateful for the safe return of his daughter. We get a nice finish with a familiar last panel.

GARRISON: I’m luckier than I deserve to be! You saved my daughter’s life, Kid! Name your price! Anything!

RAWHIDE: Peace! Stop fighting with the homesteaders! Let them be! This country is big enough for everyone!

[Yes, it’s true. The Rawhide Kid is a commie socialist Muslim who wants to destroy our country.]

GARRISON: Okay! It’s finished! You’ve my word on it! The range war is ended!

KATHY: What about Johnny? Won’t you stay?

RAWHIDE: When I was just Johnny Clay, I could have stayed!

RAWHIDE: But now that folks know I’m the fugitive Rawhide Kid, I’d best move on!

RAWHIDE: ...for my own safety, and yours!

RAWHIDE: Adios!

“Range War” is a good story. Maybe not one of Lieber’s best, but a  good story all the same. Like most of Larry’s Rawhide Kid work, it has never been reprinted.

This issue’s “The Mighty Marvel Checklist” takes up less than one half a page. Amazing Spider-Man #90 announces the unexpected death of one of Marveldom’s greats (Captain George Stacy). Daredevil #69 teams DD with the Black Panther. Sub-Mariner #31 has Triton, Sting-Ray and Attuma. The other 23 titles include six super-hero reprint titles, three “horror” comics, four westerns, a romance comic and Mad about Millie #18.

The rest of the page is an advertisement for Marvelmania Magazine (a sample issue that comes with the club catalog). Both could have been yours for fifty cents.

Various back-issue dealers have space on the classified ads pages: Howard Rogofsky, Passaic Book Center, Robert Bell, Grand Book Inc. and Clint’s Books. You could also order “100 stick-on stamps of the scariest Movie Monsters” for $1. A sample copy of the fanzine The Comiccollector could also be yours for a buck.

The “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” page touted the company’s victories in fandom’s Alley Awards. Fantastic Four won Best Adventure Title. Roy Thomas was Best Writer. Neal Adams was Best Artist...probably not just for his Marvel work. Tom Palmer was Best Inker.  Captain America #113 was named the Best Cover of the Year. Silver Surfer #5 was the Best Feature-Length Story. “At the Stroke of Midnight” from Tower of Shadows #1 was the Best Short Feature Story. Spider-Man got Best Adventure Hero, Dr. Doom got Best Villain and Rick Jones got Best Supporting Character. There was also a shout out for Dick Giordano’s winning Best Editor.

Other items reported Gene Colan taking over the art on the Black Widow in Amazing Adventures...Marvel publishing a slew of king-size reprint special at a quarter each...Sgt. Fury writer Gary Friedrich co-writing The Pocket Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll 1950-1963 with Len Brown...Joe Sinnott inking Neal Adams on Thor...the Spider-Man artistic team of Gil Kane and John Romita...and John Verpoorten inking Romita on Fantastic Four. Whew!

In “Stan’s Soapbox,” our fearless leader announces the formation of the Academy of Comic-Book Arts, which he saw as a counterpart to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Alas, though ACBA was still around when I got into the industry a few years later, it didn’t last much longer than that. As I recall, many members hoped it would become a comic-book industry union of sorts. That didn’t happen. Not then and not in the decades since.

The “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” page is followed by a full-page ad for two other Marvel westerns: Western Gunfighters #2 and Kid Colt Outlaw #150. Both are cover-dated October 1970.

Western Gunfighters #2 has a cover by Herb Trimpe that features the Ghost Rider with three inset panels at the bottom. The inserts are from reprint tales drawn by  Al Williamson, Joe Maneely and Werner Roth. The issue is 68 pages and sold for a quarter.

The lead story is a brand-new Ghost Rider story by Gary Friedrich with art by Dick Ayers (pencils) and Tom Sutton (inks). It runs 10 pages. That’s followed by the first of two Apache Kid stories drawn by Roth and reprinted from Apache Kid #13 (April 1955). Each of the stories is 6 pages in length. From the same issue of Apache Kid, we get the Joe Kubert-drawn “Pony Express” (5 pages).

The remaining stories first appeared in Quick-Trigger Western #13 (July 1956). “The Man from Cheyenne” (7 pages) is drawn by Maneely. “When the Sioux Attack” (6 pages) is written by Stan Lee with art by Gene Colan. “The Wild One!’ (5 pages) is likewise written by Lee with art by Matt Baker.

Kid Colt Outlaw #150 has a new cover by Trimpe. It features three Kid Colt reprints from issue #68 (January 1957) and one Colt story from issue #76 (January 1958).

“A Desperado at our Door!” is also from issue #68. The four-pager was written by Lee and drawn by Maneely.

The “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page kicks off with a  negative missive from “Western fan” Richard Durham of Geneva, New York. He doesn’t care for the current stories and the off-familiar situation Rawhide finds himself in. He does offer a bunch of good suggestions, including having the Kid get involved in a range war.

Jim Cook of Missoula, Montana points out that one recent story had a reference to the Boy Scouts at least two decades before the Boy Scouts were founded.

Ernie Sazton of Bethal Park, Pennsylvania had a terrific idea for a story that I will totally steal if I ever get to write a Rawhide Kid series:

“The Kid lives in a period of time when Hawaii was first being settled. He could be blamed for a serious crime and be forced to feel the country. He could then take refuge on Hawaii for a few issues.”

Finally, Calvin Hardy of Starr, North Carolina points out that the villain on the cover of Rawhide Kid #75 is standing over our hero with a smoking pistol. Inside the story, he shoots Rawhide with a rifle. Hardy gets a no-prize for this.

Look for another “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” next week.

I’ll be back on Monday with other stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

Avengers: Age of Ultron made for a great afternoon at the movies! I went to Medina’s Regal Cinema with son Eddie, daughter Kelly and our neighbors Giselle and Greg. Because we went on a Sunday early in the afternoon, our tickets were only $5.50 each. I can’t begin to recall when I last saw a major release on its opening weekend at such a low price.

The movie opens with the Avengers invading a Hydra base to retrieve Loki’s scepter. It’s an impressive action sequence and only one of several in the film.

Enhanced humans Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch make their Marvel Cinematic Universe debut. You can’t say the “M” word in any Marvel movies not made by Twentieth Century Fox. They more than hold their own against the Avengers with cocky Pietro bowling them over like ten pins and Wanda messing with their minds. She leaves something behind in Tony Stark’s brain.

Stark asks Thor if he and Bruce Banner can examine the scepter for a few days. They find the weapon is powered by an infinity stone. They try to use that power to develop a better way to defend Earth from alien invasions. The road to Hell...

Things go horribly awry. Ultron, the new artificial intelligence created by Stark and Banner, has his own plan for bringing peace to Earth. He gets the best of Jarvis and assumes control of a legion of Iron Man robots. Said robots crash the celebration party. Things go even more horribly awry and, before long, the heroes are facing an extinction level threat.

I have some notes on Age of Ultron, but, to read them, you’ll have to ignore the following warnings...

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
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Writer/director Joss Whedon could be an enhanced human. His script has eleven heroes, assorted SHIELD and Hydra agents, Ultron and a couple other villains from the comics, and the usual looming menace in the end credits. The script and the movie flow like cool water over a fall. There are defining moments for almost every character. There is comedy and tragedy. There is romance. There are inspiring scenes of heroism in the midst of terrible destruction. It is the super-hero movie that embraces its super-hero roots instead of making them all dark and ugly as DC Comics does with its films. Honest to Godzilla, I want to hug Joss Whedon right now.

What a great gathering of characters and what an amazing ensemble cast to play them. Robert Downey Jr. has made Tony Stark his own and, man, would his Tony be both wonderful and impossible to live with. James Spader’s Ultron is Stark on steroids: cruelly sarcastic and emotionally explosive. It’s a far different Ultron than we’ve seen in the comics, but it works perfectly here.

Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a delight. The party scene is huge fun. His teamwork with the Avengers is impressive. His key moments with the Vision are just so right and, by the way, Paul Bettany is great as the Vision.

Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo made for a surprising romantic pairing, but they made it work. We need a Black Widow movie sooner rather than later.

Chris Evans is, as always, on point as Captain America. The script uses humor to remind us that Steve Rogers is, indeed, a man out of his own time. The “language” running joke is as funny as anything I’ve seen in super-hero comics or movies.

Jeremy Renner delivers an outstanding performance as family man and do-it-yourself handyman Hawkeye. Renner is an actor I’ll watch in anything. He’s that good.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen have a character arc that was truly impressive. Their transition from wanting Tony Stark to suffer to joining the Avengers plays out beautifully.

Stan Lee has his best cameo ever. The audience laughed in delight the moment he appeared on the screen. To know my boss and mentor is to love him, even if, like most moviegoers, you only know him from a distance. If I ever make movies, Marvel or otherwise, I’ll always have a cameo role for Stan.

The movie has the usual fun nods to the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wakanda, the kingdom of the Black Panther, is mentioned. We see Ulysses Klaue, who, as Klaw, was the first super-villain to face the Black Panther in the comic books. In an illusion inflicted on Captain America by the Scarlet Witch, the band playing at a huge party is named for Roy Thomas, co-creator of Ultron and the Vision. Hayley Atwell appears as Peggy Carter in that scene. I’m certain there are other Marvel references I missed.

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The general opinion seems to be that Avengers: Age of Ultron, while a great movie, isn’t as good as Avengers. However, the more I think about the two films, the more I believe the two movies are equally good. The character play between the heroes is more easy/familiar than in the first movie. We know these characters better and they know each other better. The exciting action sequences are just as memorable as in the first movie, but, like the best of the Marvel comic books, it’s the characters and dialogue that keep us coming back for more.

Avengers: Age of Ultron gets my highest recommendation. I hope to see it again and I’ll definitely buy the Blu-ray when it’s offered for sale.

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The theater showed several previews before Avengers: Age of Ultron. Jurassic World looks awesome. Tomorrowland looks pretty darn spiffy as well. Ant-Man and Pixels look like fun. Fantastic Four strikes me as rough with mediocre special effects, but I’ll probably see it when it comes out.

The biggest disappointment - and this came as no surprise to me - was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. DC just doesn’t know how to make good super-hero movies. All they can do is twist their classic characters into even darker versions of themselves than they are even in DC’s depressing super-hero comic books.

Here’s the key difference between Marvel and DC super-hero movies. In Marvel’s movies, the heroes and the filmmakers put a premium on keeping civilian deaths to a minimum. DC’s movies are little more than destruction porn and human slaughter porn. They revel in the high body counts they put on the screen.

Maybe you think the protection of human life in the Marvel movies is unrealistic. I don’t care. I want to see heroes saving people. I want to see heroes being brave enough and clever enough to save people against impossible odds. The DC movies lack the heroism and optimism that are the very heart of the super-hero genre.

I won’t be seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I won’t see it at a theater. I won’t rent it. I might not even get it from the library for free. I’d rather spend two hours watching the cheesiest giant monster movie ever made than spend that two hours wallowing in the soul-crushing darkness that is DC.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of our hard-riding Rawhide Kid Wednesday series.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Monday, May 4, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #106

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder: Batman: The Silver Age Newspaper Comics Volume 2: 1968-1969, Groo: Friends and Foes and the award-winning and award-nominated El Deafo by Cece Bell!

WHAT I DID THIS WEEKEND

I spent a good chunk of my Saturday celebrating Free Comic Book Day at Heroic Adventures in Massillon, Ohio. It’s a terrific shop stuffed to the rafters with comic books, graphic novels, toys, video games and more.

Owner Curt Griffin and his staff are first-rate. Despite the store being packed with customers - Free Comic Book Day tends to do that to a shop - I watched them help countless customers find comics and other cool stuff. I have to give a special shout out to the woman I’ll always think of as “Little Helper Loni,’ a diminutive dynamo of charm and smiles.

There were some amazing cosplayers on hand for the celebration of comicdom’s holiday. Captain America looked like he could have won World War II by himself. Iron Man was huge and imposing. Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch looked great. There were two fans dressed as Black Widow, one of my favorite Avengers.

The store’s other guest was artist Dan Gorman, who I know from too many conventions to count. Dan does medical illustrations, comics, sketch cards, commissions, t-shirts and more. I bought one of his prints a while back and love it a lot. We had a great time chatting at Heroic Adventures and - fingers crossed - we might be working on something together in the near future.

I had a wonderful time at Heroic Adventures and, if you live in the area or are just passing through the area, I highly recommended you  pay the store a visit. On Free Comic Book Day and every day, great comic-book shops are a national treasure.

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Some conversations I had with people at Heroic Adventures have now reached the level of frequent conversations.  I want to talk about them for a bit.

The first is when someone doesn’t know who I am or what I’ve done. Sometimes they are embarrassed about that and they really shouldn’t be. There have been thousands of - maybe tens of thousands - comics creators in the comic-book industry. The days when one could know  most active professionals are long since past.

My healthy ego notwithstanding, it doesn’t bother me when someone doesn’t know who I am. In fact, I’ve gotten a kick out of this on occasion. Recently, in a convention artist alley, an artist seated across from me had no idea who I was. He was curious about all the people who seemed really excited to see me. He mentioned this to a few friends at a comics-grading service and they gave him a bit of a (joking) hard time over not knowing me. When he told me about it, I chuckled.

I take no offense when someone comes up to my table and asks who I am. I take pride in the work I’ve done and do. I’m always happy to  talk to someone about it. Maybe I get a new reader. Maybe I don’t. But I do like to think I’ve added, if only a little, to the fan’s  enjoyment of the convention.

Except when I’m making with the jokes, I don’t consider myself to be a “legend” in the comics industry. However, with increasing and alarming frequency, I’m being called a “comics legend.” One of my friends thinks it’s all about survival. If you manage to live long enough, you automatically become a “legend.”

If you must call me a “legend,” add the adjective “living” to that. I find that reassurance comforting.

One more conversation thing.

This one does bug me a little. It’s when people assume I’m retired. The basis for this assumption seems to be that I’m not writing for Marvel or for those evil bastards at DC Comics. With the right gig, I would love to write for Marvel again because I think the company is publishing some very entertaining comic books and treating even old guys like me with respect. But there’s so much more to my life than those two outfits.

My current workload includes writing a 60,000-word memoir, writing plots for a comic strip client, writing the weekly “Tony’s Tips” column for Tales of Wonder, preparing movie pitches at the request of a studio, writing this nigh-daily bloggy thing, preparing a new weekly comics feature and looking wistfully at the 200-plus items on my growing bucket list of things I want to write before I kick the bucket. Does that sound like “retirement” to you?

That said, I could use a nap every now and then.

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What else did I do this weekend?

I wrote my “Tony’s Tips” column for May 11, scanned covers for the column and e-mailed the whole shooting match to Tales of Wonder. I signed the contract for my new book and mailed it to the publisher. I figured out my production schedule for the new book. I collected my winnings - around $50 - from son Eddie having placing a bet for me at the Kentucky Derby. I watched recorded episodes of Backstrom and iZombie. Finally, when Eddie got home from Kentucky, we went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron with daughter Kelly and our neighbors Giselle and Greg.

What did I think of Avengers: Age of Ultron? A film that incredible deserves a bloggy thing all to itself. I’ll be back tomorrow with that bloggy thing. See you then.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Thursday, April 30, 2015

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY IN MASSILLON

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY IN MASSILLON

This Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, the comics industry holiday during which great comics shops across the country celebrate comic books and those who read them.

On Free Comic Book Day this year, I’ll be joining Curt Griffin and his staff at Curt’s Heroic Adventures Comics & Pop Culture Store, 126 Gnau Ave SW, Unit A in Massillon, Ohio. I’ll be appearing from 11 am to 4 pm.

Heroic Adventures will be giving out free comic books prepared by a host of comics publishers. These comic books aren’t free to the stores that give them out.  As a former comics retailer myself, I ask that you also take some time to check out the comic books and related items Heroic Adventures and other stores have for sale. Spending a few dollars at these generous shops is a terrific way to thank retailers for keeping comics so easily and readily available. I know the stores will appreciate your business.

What will I be doing at Heroic Adventures?

First and foremost, I will be signing Isabella-written comics and books free of charge. I’ll sign as many items as you like. Always free of charge.

I’ll be happy to answer your questions about my comics career and comics in general. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I’ll do my best to make up an entertaining lie. Making up stuff is what comics writers do for a living.

Time permitting, like if I’m not busy signing comics and answering questions, I’ll be happy to look at your art portfolio and tell you what I think of your work. Sorry, writers, but, for legal reasons that are obvious if you think about this for a minute, I will not read your plots, proposals or scripts...or even listen to whatever ideas you have. The last thing in the world you or I would want is for me to inadvertently steal one of your ideas because, months or years later, I don’t remember that it came from you.

I’ll be happy to post for pictures with you, especially if you’re cosplaying. All I ask is that you send me the photo via e-mail with permission to use it in a future bloggy thing.

I think that covers everything you need to know about my appearance at Heroic Adventures. I’m exciting to be part of that fine store’s Free Comic Book Day. See you then and there!

I’ll be back soon with updates on Isabella projects and the usual mix of news, views and reviews.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #105

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...I review Garth Ennis' War Stories, Zander Cannon's Kaijumax and the first two issues of The Creeps!

EXPECT DELAYS

I need to take a few days off from blogging to attend to some personal stuff. There is no cause for alarm. I just need to organize what promises to be am extremely busy summer for me. I should be back here on Friday.