"Testimony is an integral part of the Black religious tradition. It is the occasion where the believer stands before the community of faith in order to give account of the hope that is in him or her."
- James Hal Cone
I drove 900 miles round trip to attend the fifth annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention [www.ecbacc.com] on May 19th and 20th in Philadelphia. It was worth every mile of the journey to be part of something so exciting, so worthwhile, so uplifting of spirit, and so reaffirming of key tenets of my comics career and my ongoing faith in the comics art form.
ECBACC is held at Temple University, but the opening reception was at the African-American Museum in Philadelphia. Our host was Yumy Odom, the director of Temple's Pan-African Studies Community Education Program and a co-founder and organizer of the convention. It was a full evening.
Odom's welcoming address was followed by the screening of the trailer for M. Asli Dukan's INVISIBLE UNIVERSE, a documentary-in-progress on black images in popular culture, including, of course, comic books. The program also included profoundly moving musical and poetic tributes to beloved writer Octavia Butler by Suzzette Rink, Misty Sol, and Davina Stewart.
There were awards to be bestowed that night, starting with the first annual Glyph Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in comics made by, for, and about people of color. It was my honor to "present" the Glyph for Best Writer to an absent Lance Tooks for his LUCIFER'S GARDEN OF VERSES: DARLIN' NIKI, [NBM; $8.95], the one book in his terrific series that I haven't read yet.
The other winners were... Story of the Year: NAT TURNER, Kyle Baker, writer/artist;
Robb Armstrong, creator of newspaper comics strip JUMP START, received an outstanding achievement award, giving a compelling and funny speech about his career and the unstinting encouragement he received from his mother as a child. The strong family values that are part and parcel of Armstrong's strip were clearly inspired by his upbringing.
Also presented were the Pioneer Awards, honoring trailblazing creators who made significant contributions to the growth of black comics. This year's most worthy recipients were Turtel Onli and Tony Tallarico.
Onli is an artist, educator, and the father of the first Black Age of Comics conventions, which are held in Chicago. Onli's done more cool stuff than can fit into one column, including publishing comics and working with the Rolling Stones, but you can learn more about him by going here:
Tallarico, a prolific comics creator of the 1960s through the 1970s, was honored for LOBO. That sadly short-lived title starred a former "buffalo solider" roaming the American West in the years following the Civil War and was the first comic book to headline a black hero. In addition to his comics work, Tallarico has written over a thousand children's books.
It was an inspiring evening and it set the tone for the next day's events and fellowship. I realize "fellowship" is a word not often used to describe a comics convention, but there's none other that better fits the spirit of unity at ECBACC.
ECBACC was one of the smallest conventions I've ever attended. BLACKJACK creator and writer Alex Simmons, writing about the event for PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, reported 200 registered attendees, up from 150 the previous year. However, from the energy and excitement in Temple University's Anderson Hall, where vendors and guests lined the corridors, and where panels and workshops were held in stylish lecture rooms, it never seemed like a small convention.
Guests included actor/screenwriter/producer Kevin Grevioux of UNDERWORLD fame; Professor William H. Foster III, author of LOOKING FOR A FACE LIKE MINE and a leading authority/archivist/educator on African-Americans in comics; FIRESTORM artist Jamal Igle, original BLACK LIGHTNING artist Trevor Von Eeden, and others. This was the first time Trevor and I have gotten together in well over a decade. I got to see and hear about the hot stuff he's drawing and writing, including a comics biography which promises to be one of the most exciting books of this decade.
Founders Odom and Maurice Walters put together a great program of panels and workshops. I was on a "Changing Images" discussion, moderated by Foster, with Simmons, Dukan, Von Eeden, PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS writer Jerome Maida, and KIDS OF THE KING creator Reggie Byers. The serious work of ECBACC still left me plenty of time to sign copies of BLACK LIGHTNING and LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN; check out the comics and books being sold by creators at the convention; and, chat with Stephanie Brandford and Rick Watson, online friends I was meeting for the first time. Brandford is a Glyph Awards judge and Watson is the creator/administrator of those awards, and the writer of GLYPHS: THE LANGUAGE OF THE BLACK COMICS COMMUNITY, which can be found at:
ECBACC flew by. I've rarely felt more accepted, embraced, or honored, you name it, at a comics event. The 6th annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention is scheduled for May 18 and 19, same location, and I'm already making my plans to attend. To get on the show's mailing list and receive information on next year's show as it becomes available, e-mail:
If history is written by the victors, the leading authority in the Marvel Universe should probably be the Encyclopedia Wakandan. For, in BLACK PANTHER: WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER? [$14.99], writer Reginald Hudlin has "re-mixed" the African nation from the secret ecological and technological paradise first envisioned by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby into an unconquerable world power, still mysterious, but now recast as an ever-present burr in the saddle of those lands who covet its wealth and resent its independence. As Hudlin puts it, Wakanda deals with the world on its own terms...or not at all. Any rival nation or force attempting to have it otherwise is merely testing the limits of its own capacity for delusion and stupidity. No one beats Wakanda.
Hudlin is clearly passionate about his vision of Wakanda and the Black Panther who leads the country. This made for a powerful opening arc to the ongoing series, though I have minor quibbles on a scene here or there. For example, it's hard for me to reconcile the Black Knight and Radioactive Man seen in this volume with their appearances in other contemporary Marvel titles, though I do think Hudlin used them effectively. And I flat-out don't believe that an earlier Panther beat Captain America. As I see it, if Cap goes up against Galactus, he finds a way to beat him. But, hey, Hudlin's enthusiasm for his guy is infectious nonetheless.
Hudlin revises the history of the Black Panther and his land as outsiders once again invade Wakanda. Though the Panther always comes off as confident and supremely capable, the sheer enormity of the threats he faces keeps the tale exciting. The action sequences are fast and furious, the political battles every bit as intense. The supporting players get great moments as the adventure unfolds. This is top-of-the-line storytelling, enhanced by the dynamic art of penciller John Romita Jr., inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Dean White. This series deserved the mainstream media attention that it received and then some.
BLACK PANTHER: WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER? gathers the first six issues of the ongoing title with additional pages of cover sketches and variant covers. It also has the initial pitch for the series, a fascinating document marred only by a gratuitous slam at one of the Panther's earlier writers. I didn't see a need to, in effect, rain on someone who carried the torch at a time when damn few were willing to do so. Regardless of my dismay over that comment, this book still earns an easy five out of five Tonys.
Robert Roach's THE ROACH [Black Inc Imprints; $2.95 per issue] combines pulp-fiction action with racial and societal issues, and does this so well I don't hesitate to call it one of the smartest adventure titles being published today. Its title hero is a white man come to the south side of Chicago to fight the criminals who prey on the exploited folks - "brown, white, Asian, whatever" - who live there.
Set in the years between World Wars I and II, creator Roach's four-issue "Something To Die For" arc transcends the "judge, jury, and executioner" cliches of its pulp magazine forerunners. Though the bad guys are bad guys and Roach makes no apologies for them, he never lets them become one-dimensional. The same is true for his heroes and supporting characters. By need, circumstance, or cause, they are natural to this place and time, imbuing Roach's story with a keen sense of reality.
Roach's writing knocks me out. In the third issue, the Roach and his rescuer, an ex-soldier who served in Europe World War I and who returned to the U.S. because his family needed him, have a two-page conversation on race, justice, power, and economics that opens the Roach to new insights. The soldier's sense of duty brought him back to Chicago from the relatively color-blind Paris, but, when he tells the Roach he has "no idea how it feels--for the first time--to be treated like a whole man," it brings home the sacrifice the soldier has made. The respect each of these men so obviously has for one another is inspiring.
Roach's art is not as developed as his writing, but it should not be dismissed either. There's an intensity to his drawing that, coupled with his storytelling skills, overcomes most flaws. That each issue shows improvement over the previous issue's art thrills me. Here is a comics talent worth watching.
THE ROACH earns four out of five Tonys.
If you can't find the book at your friendly neighborhood comics shop, visit the creator's Hometown Productions website at:
Alex Simmons' BLACKJACK: BLOOD & HONOR [Dark Angel; $11.95] is also a period piece. In 1935, African-American solider of fortune Arron Day (Blackjack) takes on the job of protecting Oshio Masato, an outspoken Japanese dignitary marked for death by those driving Japan towards war with its neighbors and the West. The resources of the assassins are great. A secret from Masato's past increases the already considerable danger.
Simmons scores big in the action and suspense departments, but he doesn't shortchange the human interest either. Woven throughout the tale are scenes from Day's past exploring his relationship with his father and his dad's prejudices. While Day is the most fully-realized cast member, the supporting players also come into their own as the graphic novel unfolds.
The art? Truth be told, I'm not sure who drew what in BLOOD & HONOR. The credits list ten artists, among them Ken Lashley and Jamal Igle. But, whoever did whatever, the art's consistently good from page to page and chapter to chapter.
BLACKJACK: BLOOD & HONOR was originally published in 1999, but copies are still available from the Dark Angel Productions website. Consider this a final incentive to order and read the book as soon as possible: it earns the full five Tonys.
FIRESTORM THE NUCLEAR MAN is a consistently fun, intelligent super-hero comic, so, naturally, hardly anyone ever talks about it. That's a shame because writer Stuart Moore, penciller Jamal Igle, and inker Keith Champagne deserve some accolades for all their fine work on the title.
Issues #23-26 [DC; $2.50/$2.99 each] take place...say it with me...one year later than the events of INFINITE CRISIS. Firestorm has changed his outward look a touch, but the real change is within the elemental entity. College student Jason Rusch now unites with U.S. Senator Lorraine Reilly to form Firestorm and wield the atomic powers of the universe. Dr. Martin Stein, Rusch's former Firestorm partner, has been missing for several months as the first of these issues opens.
Moore's stories are a great mix of human interest, politics, science fiction, and super-hero action. The human interest comes from Jason attempting as normal a life as possible, Lorraine trying to fulfill her senatorial duties while helping Jason, and the folks around them trying to deal with their outwardly odd relationship. Complicating their lives is that, when they're not being Firestorm, they must remain within a mile of each other or something explosive occurs. Jason goes to college in New York, Lorraine's works in the nation's capitol, you do the travel math.
The politics are born of DC Universe events, but still reflect real-world issues. The administration has authorized alien science to be used in powerful offensive weapons Lorraine quite accurately characterizes as "insane" and "overkill." In these early issues, she campaigns to insure some accountability for the cost and use of these devices.
The science fiction comes from the amazing depictions of the Firestorm matrix as conceived by Moore and Igle. This stuff is way out there, my friends, but in a good way, presenting complex ideas through stunning illustrations.
Super-hero action? Rusch and Reilly, who is also the heroine Firehawk when she's not being half of Firestorm, go two-on-two with super-villains Killer Frost and Mr. Freeze, complete with a guest appearance of a particularly prickly Batman. Then they go off to track down the missing Stein.
Sidebar. In his one scene, Batman comes off like a complete ass. Pardon the expression, but talk about the bat-pot calling the kettle black as he berates Firestorm and his "inexperience" for the innocent people killed by Frost and Freeze, all of whom died before Jason and Lorraine learned the villains struck. Seems to me that, on that basis, we can blame Batman for the thousands of innocents murdered by the Joker...and that's just for starters.
If I digress any long, I'll have to pay a royalty to brother Peter David, so I'll finish this review with this:
FIRESTORM THE NUCLEAR MAN #23-26 are all solidly entertaining comics in a genre that too often settles for mediocre stunt-events. They earn an impressive four Tonys.
Above is an photo of Turtel Onli and your favorite Tipster at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention. You can find a lot more ECBACC photos here:
I have the second of the two issues of LOBO published by Dell in the mid-1960s and am looking for an affordable copy of the first issue. Somewhere down the line, you can count on my writing about this sadly short-lived series. In the meantime, you can read the character's Wikipedia entry here:
Sometime later this week, I'll have some Black Lightning items of interest. You can also expect to see reviews of recent issues of BLACK PANTHER and FIRESTORM.
Friday's TOT opened with a review of MAN COMICS #6 [February, 1951]. In that column, I wrote:
"When the title was launched by Marvel in 1949, it featured adventure and crime tales. However, with its ninth issue, it began a war comic and that's what it remained until it ended with issue #28 in 1953."
TOM LAMMERS corrected that error:
Cool beans, Tony! Yeah, I love those early "action/adventure" issues of Man, Men's Adventures, and Young Men. But note that the last three issues were *not* war genre, but rather kid gang/spy. These were written up in ALTER EGO #58.
I plead involuntary brain-freeze, especially since I read and enjoyed Tom's article. Those last three issues starred Bob Brant and the Trouble-Shooters and Lance Brant. The Trouble-Shooters are "typical" teenagers who fight criminals and, on a single occasion, a killer mutant. Older brother Lance is a government secret agent who does things like stop a shipment of "atomic guns" from making their way to North Korea. No word on whether these heroes from the Fab Fifties are related to the Betty Brant who works for THE DAILY BUGLE in the Spider-Man comics.
My thanks to Tom Lammers for this correction.
A quick reminder:
Last week's TONY POLLS questions will only remain active until sometime after midnight. If you want to vote on SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (1001 years later), the ANNIHILATION event over at Marvel, genre shows of the 2006 TV season, and coming shows for the 2007 season, you need to head over to:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: