The Four Faces of Typhoid Mary

Writer Ann Nocenti, during her time on Daredevil from late 1986 to early 1991, told many unconventional stories that addressed a number of controversial topics.  One of her vehicles for exploring certain issues was the character of Typhoid Mary who she co-created with artist John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 cover

Typhoid Mary is definitely one of Nocenti’s most memorable creations.  Mary Walker is telepathic, telekinetic and pyrokinetic.  She also suffers from multiple personality disorder, switching between the sweet, innocent, naïve Mary and the sadistic, domineering, seductive Typhoid.  This transformation is not merely mental but also physical, with her pulse rate & temperature changing.

After Nocenti’s departure from Daredevil, she continued to develop Typhoid Mary in a pair of serials that ran in the biweekly anthology Marvel Comics Presents.  Working with artist Steve Lightle, she teamed up Typhoid first with Wolverine and then with Ghost Rider.  The arcs of these two serials culminated in the full-length two-part story “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” that appeared in Marvel Comics Presents #150-151, published in early 1994.  The artwork was by Lightle and Fred Harper.

MCP #150 opens with Typhoid ostensibly in the care of psychiatrist Doctor Hunt.  Unfortunately Hunt is badly in need of a refresher course on professional ethics, as he believes he has fallen in love with Mary, and their “sessions” involve having sex with her.  Hunt is supposedly planning to integrate Mary’s personalities together, although more than one character suspects that what he really intends to do is obliterate the kindly Mary persona so that he will have the kinky Typhoid all to himself.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 5

Wolverine removes Mary from Hunt’s care, not only because he can see that the psychiatrist is a quack, but also because he requires Typhoid’s help.  A young mutant empath & chameleon named Jessie has been abducted by the Fortress, one of those innumerable nefarious scientific conspiracies that populate the Marvel universe.  Wolverine needs Typhoid to infiltrate the Fortress and extricate Jessie.  He is able to sell this mission to Mary by explaining that if Jessie is not rescued she will be subjected to unscrupulous experiments, much as the two of them also have been.

Typhoid’s rescue attempt goes awry and she is captured by the Fortress.  She unconsciously sends out a telepathic SOS to not just Wolverine, but to her old paramour / adversary Daredevil and to Ghost Rider… although at this point in time the flaming-skulled cyclist is dead (well, deader than usual) and the mayday is received by his replacement Vengeance.

The imprisoned Typhoid is probed by the Fortress scientists, which results in a third personality bursting forth.  Bloody Mary is a ruthless man-hater who vows to avenge the crimes “the patriarch” has inflicted upon women.  She brutally decimates the Fortress personnel and departs with Jessie.

Later, arriving at a woman’s shelter, Bloody Mary is shocked to discover that Jessie is, in fact, a boy; his empathic abilities had previously caused him to mimic first Steel Raven, the female mercenary who brought him to the Fortress, and then Mary.  Now, though, he is reverting to his true gender.  Bloody Mary is furious.  Calling Jessie a “filthy liar,” she violently slaps the teenager.  Stealing the shelter’s files on battered women, Mary flees, intending to avenge them.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 24

Bloody Mary embarks upon her mission of retribution, brutalizing the husbands and boyfriends of the women in the shelter, inflicting upon them the exact injuries they gave their victims.  Attempting to track her down are Wolverine, Daredevil and Vengeance, who each have their own ideas about how to deal with Bloody Mary.  The three vigilantes at odds with one another, as they argue over whether Mary deserves psychiatric help, imprisonment, or death.

Added to the mix is Steel Raven, dispatched by the Fortress to retrieve Jessie.  Raven is beginning to have second thoughts about her employers, though, unsettled by their experiments on children.  When Raven catches up to Bloody Mary, she finds that she is in agreement with her quest for retribution against abusive men.  The mercenary holds off Vengeance and Wolverine so that Mary can continue on her mission.

Vacillating back and forth between her three personalities, Mary once again encounters Jessie, who has been looking for her.  The empathic teen begins to copy each of Mary’s personas in rapid succession…

Mary: Look at you, my multiple personalities, they’re contagious. Look at you. You echo all I am. Stay away. I can’t be responsible!

Jessie: I want to be with you, Mary. I want to help you.

Mary: How did you manage to trick me, make me think you were a girl?

Jessie: Because I am a girl. I’m just trapped in this boy’s body. I want to be like you.

Mary: Oh, yeah? Which me? Who shall I be for you?

Jessie: That Wolverine man was right. There’s one more in there. One more that’s the best of all. Don’t you feel it?

Prompted by Jessie, Mary looks within herself, and uncovers a fourth personality, a woman who refers to herself as “Walker.”  This identity shares certain aspects of the other three.  Walker is kind but assertive.  She is not abusive, nor will she allow herself to be abused.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 24

Walker reflects upon her various natures…

“I began to hate all the shrinks and doctors, all the men, and I divided myself into four parts: one helpless before men, one using them, one hating them… and now me, indifferent to them. Beyond them.”

Walker returns to the hospital where she was being treated and confronts Hunt on his unethical, criminal behavior, and then exposes what he did to her.  As he is being led away by the police, she turns to address the reporters on the scene.  Walker vows to continue Bloody Mary’s quest to avenge women, but it is apparent she will be doing so a more rational manner.  And with that she departs, Jessie accompanying her.

The first time I read “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” I was 18 years old.  I found it incredibly thought-provoking.  It raised so many questions that I had never really considered previously, about women’s roles in society and how these are often imposed upon them by men, about homosexuality & gender identity, about crime & punishment.  Two decades later, re-reading it, Nocenti’s story still stirred a great deal of contemplation.

Interviewed in October 1998 by the Daredevil fan site Man Without Fear, Nocenti explained the creation of Typhoid Mary…

“As for where Typhoid came from, you’ll have to ask the shrink I’ve as yet never gone to. I think I wanted to shatter the female stereotypes–virgin, whore, bitch, ditz, feminist, girl scout, all-suffering mother, et al.–into tiny fragments and yet keep all the pieces in the same little female bundle.”

Through her character Nocenti addresses the identities that men often assign to women.  Typhoid Mary is a challenge to the Virgin-Whore Complex, the idea often perpetuated by male-dominant cultures that a woman is either a virtuous, chaste innocent or a sinful, promiscuous seductress, with no middle ground in-between.  Mary is the “virgin” and Typhoid is the “whore,” and neither of them is healthy.  These two halves are the result of fission of personality.  The splitting of an atom initially results in tremendous energy but ultimately leads to radioactive decay.  Likewise, Mary Walker’s personality split to protect her from trauma, but over time this became detrimental, with neither aspect able to function as a whole individual.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 16

Mary by herself is kind and caring, but also helpless and unsophisticated, unprepared to cope with the complexities of the world.  Typhoid, on the other hand, protects herself from harm by acting as the aggressor and manipulating others, but this renders her incapable of forming real friendships and relationships with others.  Both Mary and Typhoid possess attributes that, if united, would make them a strong, independent, healthy person.

Bloody Mary is another unbalanced splinter of Mary Walker’s personality.  Nocenti casts Bloody Mary as an embodiment of the stereotype of the militant feminist, what some derogatorily refer to as a “Feminazi.”  Bloody Mary views the conflict between men and women in absolutes, declaring that “All women are political prisoners.”  She regards all men as victimizers, not realizing that she is guilty of the same broad judgments as those she opposes.

If, however, the determination and convictions of Bloody Mary were united with the qualities of Mary Walker and Typhoid Mary, once again you would have an individual who is secure and balanced.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I think that all of us, men and women, are incredibly complex.  At different times in our lives, in different setting among different people, we play different roles, we assume different identities, emphasize different parts of our personalities.  Sometimes we have trouble deciding exactly who we are.

Even with someone such as Hunt, Nocenti demonstrates that people are complicated.  For all his sins, at one point the psychiatrist does express self-doubt and begins to question his objectivity.  Ultimately, though, Hunt pushes aside his uncertainty.  He attempts to rationalize his actions to Walker with a misogynist rant about how all women are seductive manipulators.  Sometimes, when you get right down to it, people really are jerks.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 28

Jessie is an interesting figure.  Through him/her, Nocenti touches upon the question of what determines sexual orientation and gender identity.  How much of it is conscious individual choice, how much is a result of socialization, and how much of it is biological?

When I was in my teens I was still trying to make up my mind about homosexuality.  I will admit at one point I knew very little about the subject and the thought of people of the same gender having sex seemed really weird.  Then in the early 1990s I read newspaper articles about how homosexuality was likely determined by genetics.  At that point I must have started to understand that if sexual orientation was something that a person was born with, just like skin color or eye color or height or being left-handed, then it was unjust to discriminate against someone on that basis.

As for the transgender aspect of Jessie’s character, two decades later sex change remains even more controversial than homosexuality.  It still seems a bit odd to me.  The concept of a person’s psychological gender identity being different from their physical one is difficult for me to understand.  But just because something is beyond my conception doesn’t make it wrong.  It is important to keep an open mind.  And I recognize that it is crucial for people to be comfortable in their own skin, to be happy with who they are.

“Bloody Mary” is a good story, although not without its flaws.  Perhaps Nocenti’s plot is overly ambitious, attempting to fit in its in-depth exploration of Typhoid Mary, appearances by Wolverine, Daredevil and Vengeance, and the introductions of Steel Raven, Jessie and the Fortress.

There may have been certain editorial directives at work that Nocenti had to work within, such as the use of Vengeance.  It would have made more sense to have Ghost Rider appear but, again, the character was (temporarily) deceased, and so Vengeance was slotted in even though he’d never met Typhoid before.   He doesn’t have much to do in this story.  Daredevil also seems to be fighting for space.  Halfway through MCP #151 he rather abruptly agrees to just let Wolverine handle Typhoid, and then vanishes from the story.

The division of artwork between Steve Lightle and Fred Harper isn’t ideal.  Both Lightle and Harper are very talented artists, but they have extremely different styles.  Consequently the two halves of this story are visually quite different.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 16

Lightle’s detailed artwork on the first half of “Bloody Mary” is amazing.  I have been a fan of his since I first saw his covers for Classic X-Men in 1989.  So I was happy his work began appearing regularly in MCP starting in 1992.

Lightle works in tangent with colorist Maryann Lightle who, as you can probably guess by that last name, is his wife.  It seems likely that her familiarity with her husband’s work enabled Maryann Lightle to do an extremely effective job coloring his art on this issue.

I especially liked Lightle’s design for Wolverine’s stealth uniform.  Lightle also designed the Steel Raven character, and co-plotted the first half of the story with Nocenti.

It appears that Lightle was originally intended to illustrate the entire story.  In late 1993 I met MCP editor Richard Ashford at a store signing.  He had preview artwork for upcoming issues including this story, which he stated was going to run in #149-150.  Fast forward to early 1994 and MCP #149 came out with no sign of Typhoid Mary but instead four stand-alone eight page stories.  “Bloody Mary” by Nocenti & Lightle did begin in the next issue, but the letter column announced that the artist on second part would be Harper.

I don’t know if there were deadline problems and work on this story was running late (hence the story being moved back an issue), or if Ashford was worried that it would come in behind schedule, but whatever the case he assigned the second half to Harper, who was a regular contributor to MCP.  Lightle did illustrate to cover for #151, though.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 5

On the second half of “Bloody Mary,” Harper does very solid work.  His layouts and storytelling on many of his pages are dramatic and inventive.  As I said, Harper’s art is very unlike Lightle’s, but judged on its own merits it is good.

Regrettably sometimes the coloring doesn’t do Harper too many favors.  I don’t blame colorist Joe Andreani, who did quite a bit of work at Marvel in the 1990s.  Apparently MCP didn’t get the best color reproduction that was available at the time.  Or perhaps it is just that Harper’s style with its heavy use of blacks is better-suited to appearing in black & white.  I’ve seen a number of his original pages from MCP and they look so much more impressive in person, revealing a lot of detail that was unclear or obscured when they were printed.

In any case, despite certain problems, Marvel Comics Presents #150-151 are still a strong pair of issues.  Ann Nocenti’s writing on “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” it thoughtful and intelligent.  Nocenti does an excellent job continuing to develop her creation Typhoid Mary, and through her addresses a number of controversial topics while crafting an entertaining story.

UPDATE: I was just notified by Steve Andreski, via the Back Issue Magazine group on Facebook, that there is an upcoming trade paperback from Marvel collecting the Typhoid Mary serials from MCP including “Bloody Mary,” as well as several other excellent stories featuring the character written by Ann Nocenti.  Here’s the info…

Typhoid's Kiss TPB solicitation

I highly recommend purchasing a copy of the Daredevil: Typhoid’s Kiss trade paperback when it comes out.  There are some really great stories that are going to be contained in this volume.  Thanks for the info, Steve!

Dick Ayers: 1924 to 2014

This is one blog post that I really wish I did not have to write.  I just found out that longtime comic book artist Dick Ayers passed away on May 4th at the age of 90.

Ayers was born on April 28, 1924 in Ossining, NY.  He spent the first twelve years of his childhood in White Plains.  At age 13, his family moved to a farming community in Upstate New York.  He returned to Westchester in his late teens, just in time to graduate from high school.  Years later, Ayers would say that his teenage years spent living in that rural area, with its lack of electricity & plumbing and multitude of horses, was the perfect training to become an artist who specialized in drawing Westerns.

Serving in World War II, Ayers was stationed in England & France.  Shortly after returning home, he attempted to pitch a comic book series he had devised, Chic ‘N’ Chu.  Although unsuccessful, in the process Ayers met Tarzan newspaper strip artist Burne Hogarth and studied under him.  In the late 1940s, Ayers began drawing comic books for Vin Sullivan’s Magazine Enterprises, and in 1950 created the Western masked vigilante known as the Ghost Rider for them.  Around this time he also began dating Lindy Walter.  They soon fell in love, and married in 1951.

In the 1950s, Ayers began working for writer / editor Stan Lee at Atlas Comics, the 1950s incarnation of Marvel.  He illustrated a significant number of Western, war, and horror stories, as well as drawing several stories for the short-lived revival of the original Human Torch and Toro in 1954.  One of his Human Torch stories was left unseen for 14 years, until editor Roy Thomas had “The Un-Human!” published in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968).  I’ve always enjoyed the crazy splash page for that tale, with its titanic eight-headed, six-limbed monster parachuting down from the sky!

Marvel Super-Heroes 16 Human Torch splash

In the late 1950s Ayers first began inking Jack Kirby, an association that continued into the 1960s, as Atlas officially became Marvel Comics.  I have always felt that Ayers was a really good match to ink Kirby on Western, war, and monster stories.  Among those was Strange Tales #89 (cover dated October 1961) which featured the debut of the now-iconic Chinese dragon Fin Fang Foom.  Ayers was also a good choice to ink Kirby on the early Fantastic Four issues, which still had one foot firmly in the territory of the recent Atlas monster & sci-fi tales.

Ayers had this sort of “earthy” quality that really suited the war and Western genres both as a penciler, and as an inker to Kirby.  In contrast, you had the slick, polished embellishments of Joe Sinnott, which were a much better fit for the high-tech science fiction adventures that Kirby was penciling in his later Fantastic Four stories.  That just goes to show the importance not just of finding the right pairing of penciler & inker, but also making sure that their finished work fits the atmosphere of the stories they are illustrating.

One of the best fits at Marvel for Ayers, first as an inker and then a penciler, was the retro World War II series Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, which began publication in 1963.  After inking Kirby on the first few issues (plus the Captain America team-up in #13) Ayers took over as the regular penciler with #8, staying on the series for the next decade.  Ayers collaborated with writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich on Sgt. Fury.  He was paired with such embellishers as John Severin, John Tartaglione, and Frank Giacoia, the latter of whom Ayers stated was his favorite inker to work with.

Sgt Fury 23 pg 4

Ayers was the un-credited co-plotter on a number of these stories.  In his Introduction to the Sgt. Fury Marvel Masterworks Volume 2, Ayers detailed the genesis of one of his favorites, issue #23, “The Man Who Failed,” which was based on a suggestion from his wife Lindy: “Have the Howlers assigned to rescue a nun who was trying to save children from behind Japanese lines.”  The adventures of Nick Fury during World War II were always more slapstick than Saving Private Ryan, and there is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor to the scripting of the series.  Ayers explained that he regarded the Howlers’ exploits as “Baron Munchausen” stories, the types of colorful exaggerations that he and his fellow soldiers might indulge in after returning from the battlefield.

That said, Sgt. Fury could occasionally be gritty or poignant.  “The Man Who Failed” had Stan Lee showing British Howler Percy Pinkerton making peace with his youthful indiscretions & mend fences with his older brother.  “Killed In Action” in issue #18 ended with the tragic death of Pamela Hawley, Nick Fury’s first true love.  And issue #s 28-29 had Stan Lee & Roy Thomas scripting an apocalyptic confrontation between Fury and his arch-foe Baron Strucker.  Ayers did superb work penciling all of these dramatic stories.

Capt Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders 2 cover

With writer Gary Friedrich, Ayers also worked on the Sgt. Fury spin-off title Capt. Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders.  That short-lived series’ most memorable story arc is probably the one that ran in issue #s 2-4, wherein Friedrich & Ayers revealed the super-secret origin of Baron Strucker and the terrorist organization Hydra.

In the early 1970s, Ayers was receiving less work from Marvel.  They also began reprinting his earlier stories without paying him.  For a time Ayers had to work as a security guard to make ends meet.  Eventually Ayers had the opportunity to explain his situation to Neal Adams.  An early, forceful advocate of creators’ rights, Adams got in touch with DC Comics editor Joe Orlando on Ayers’ behalf.  Orlando assigned Ayers to a number of titles including Kamandi, Jonah Hex, Freedom Fighters, Scalphunter in Weird Western Tales, G.I. Combat, and The Unknown Soldier.  On that last title Ayers’ pencils were embellished by talented Filipino artist Gerry Talaoc.  As I’ve written before, I very much enjoyed their collaboration.

Unknown Soldier 255 pg 1

Ayers worked at DC through the mid-1980s.  He also did work for the Archie Comics / Red Circle line of books, drawing a revival of The Original Shield.  Starting in 1991, Ayers began working on Femforce, the fun superhero title published by Bill Black’s AC Comics.  Ayers demonstrated a real mastery of the female form in those comics, illustrating some playfully sexy good girl art.

AC has also brought back into print a variety of public domain Golden Age comic book stories.  Ayers’ classic Ghost Rider stories were among the material reprinted in AC’s Best of the West, with the character re-named the Haunted Horseman.  Ayers would occasionally contribute new artwork to the book, such as Best of the West #43, which had Ayers collaborating with artist Ed Coutts on a beautiful cover spotlighting the Haunted Horseman and the time-traveling Femforce gunslinger Buckaroo Betty.

Best of the West 43 cover

In 2005 Mecca Comics Group published Ayers’ three volume graphic novel autobiography The Dick Ayers Story, which was in-depth look at both his personal life and long career as an artist.  This was a project that Ayers had spent several years working on, a labor of love on his part.

Dick and Lindy Ayers lived in White Plains for several decades, and so would often make appearances at NY-area comic book conventions.  The first time I met them was at a show held at the Westchester County Center in the mid-1990s.  I remember asking Dick what he thought about current comic book artists.  He told me that he felt many of the more recent artists in the biz were not good storytellers.  He explained that a good comic book artist is someone who, if you removed all of the dialogue and narration, a reader would still be able to tell what the story was about just by looking at the artwork, how the action moves from one panel to the next.  That was probably the first time I ever heard comic book artwork explained to me in that way, and it helped me to develop an appreciation for the importance of layouts & storytelling.

Dick and Lindy Ayers at the All Time Classic New York Comic Book Convention in June 2000
Dick and Lindy Ayers at the All Time Classic New York Comic Book Convention in June 2000

I would often see Dick and Lindy at comic shows.  They were always such friendly people.  When I still lived near White Plains, they invited me over to their house on a few occasions.  It was a really enjoyable to see Dick’s studio, and to take a look at his original artwork that he had framed.  Another time, on a pleasant spring afternoon, we were in their back yard having lemonade & cookies.  I also saw them when Dick gave a lecture at the White Plains Public Library.

The last time I saw Dick and Lindy was at a small NYC comic show around 2011.  I recall that Dick was walking with a cane, and looking a bit unwell.  It seemed like age was finally starting to catch up to him.  However, I was recently happy to learn that he was scheduled to be a guest at the New York Comic Fest which is going to be held on June 14th at the Westchester County Center.  I was really looking forward to seeing Dick and Lindy again.  Unfortunately, that is now not to be.

I’m sad that Dick Ayers is no longer with us.  However, I am happy he lived a good, long life.  He leaves behind both a large family and an impressive body of work.

Happy birthday to Tony Isabella

I wanted to wish an early birthday to the super-talented comic book writer, critic & columnist Tony Isabella, who was born on December 22, 1951.  I’ve enjoyed Isabella’s comic books since I was a kid.  His straightforward, no-nonsense, yet slyly humorous observations on society & popular culture in his online blog and in the pages of the late, lamented Comic Buyer’s Guide are always informative & insightful.

Ghost Rider 7 cover

Isabella started in the comic book biz in 1972 as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics.  He also wrote a diverse assortment of Marvel titles in 1970s, among them Daredevil, Captain America, the “It, the Living Colossus” feature in Astonishing Tales, Monsters Unleashed, and Power Man.  He co-created The Champions, and revamped the short-lived heroine The Cat aka Greer Grant Nelson into the popular Tigra in Giant-Sized Creatures #1.  For a time Isabella was the regular writer on Ghost Rider.  He intended to stay on that particular series longer than he did.  Unfortunately, one of his issues was rewritten at literally the last minute by Jim Shooter, in the process derailing a significant ongoing storyline, and Isabella walked off the title in protest.

In 1977, Isabella created Black Lightning, the very first African American character to have a solo title at DC Comics.  Paired with then-newcomer Trevor Von Eeden, Isabella wrote the first ten issues of the Black Lightning series.  Also at DC, in the mid-1980s, working with artist Richard Howell, Isabella began a major Hawkman storyline.  That’s when my young ten year old self first discovered Isabella’s writing.  I discussed the interesting premise of that series in my recent blog post about Richard Howell.  I think that Isabella was doing some good, suspenseful writing on Hawkman, and it is unfortunate that he departed the series due to a disagreement with editorial.

Captain Universe TPB pg 135

In the early 1990s, Marvel editor Jim Salicrup gave a number of interesting assignments to Isabella.  These included a handful of issues of Web of Spider-Man, a trio of Rocket Racer short stories, and back-up stories for the 1990 Spider-Man annuals featuring Ant-Man and Captain Universe.  Both of those tales were illustrated by the legendary Steve Ditko.  In the Captain Universe story, the latest recipient of the Uni-Power was a two year old child named Eddie, named after Isabella’s own son.  This delightful story also featured a cute nod to Ditko’s classic Gorgo and Konga comic books published by Charlton in the 1960s.  (Isabella’s story is collected in the Captain Universe: Power Unimaginable trade paperback.  Go get it!)

Salicrup became editor-in-chief of Topps Comics in 1992.  Several of the titles published by Topps were based on some of the many previously undeveloped series concepts devised by Jack Kirby, and were referred to as the “Kirbyverse.”  Among these was Satan’s Six, an entertaining four issue horror comedy miniseries which Isabella wrote.

Satan's Six 1 cover

In 1995, Isabella had the opportunity to return to Black Lightning, a character who he has said on numerous occasions has great personal significance to him.  Working with the immensely talented artist Eddie Newell, Isabella wrote some amazing, emotional, moving stories.  However, apparently due to some behind-the-scenes editorial shenanigans, Isabella was removed from the book after issue #8, and the series then sputtered to cancellation just five issues later.  Despite this unfortunate turn of events, I definitely look back on those first eight issues by Isabella & Newell, as well as their ten page Black Lightning story in the DCU Holiday Bash II, as among the best mainstream material published by DC in the 1990s.

Isabella has also collaborated with fellow Comic Buyer’s Guide columnist Bob Ingersoll on several occasions.  They co-wrote the Star Trek: All of Me special published by DC in 2000, a Star Trek novel, a prose short story in the anthology The Ultimate Super-Villains, and the novel Captain America: Liberty’s Torch.  I enjoyed that last one.  The book featured illustrations by Mike Zeck & Bob McLeod.  In it, Cap is captured and placed on trial by a fanatical, ultra right wing militia that has accused him of betraying the country to minorities and foreigners.  What was interesting about how Isabella & Ingersoll wrote the novel is that they never really reveal to us Cap’s own opinions are on all of these controversial issues.  Instead of having Steve Rogers get on a soap box to offer a civics lecture, the authors pretty much leave it up to the reader to decide for himself or herself Cap’s views on globalization, immigration, taxes, and big government.

I was thrilled when Isabella recently had the opportunity to return to comic books and write the six issue miniseries The Grim Ghost, published by Atlas Comics in 2011.  Isabella did really great work on the series, which also featured amazingly atmospheric artwork by Kelley Jones & Eric Layton.  Regrettably, Atlas ended up having some distribution problems, and it took me quite a while to snag a copy of the final issue.  That also seems to have prevented a trade paperback collection from being published.  All that aside, it was a really good series, and it is well worth tracking down.

Grim Ghost 6 cover

Looking back over Isabella’s body of fiction, as well as his work as a columnist, a great deal of his own viewpoints and opinions come out through his writings.  Isabella definitely has an ultra liberal perspective.  Nope, I am not jumping to conclusions, is says so right on his Facebook page, under Political Views: “Very Liberal.”  I’m a bit more middle-of-the-road myself, and occasionally I’ll read something of his and think to myself “Whoa there, Tony, might want to rein it in just a little!”  But I certainly respect the deep sincerity of his views.

He is also a very spiritual person.  And not, I certainly must add, in a “If you don’t believe in God, you are going to Hell” sort of way.  Isabella sees God as a loving entity, not a punishing one.  His protagonists often find redemption and the strength to go on via their faith in a higher power, by resolving to do good and set aside their own inner flaws & defects of character. That is what Isabella was trying to do with the character of John Blaze, who had sold his soul to the Devil, within the pages of Ghost Rider, and why he was so angry when Shooter threw a monkey wrench into those plans.  This is a theme that he returned to so effectively with the characters of Matthew Dunsinane and Michael Colavito in The Grim Ghost. The importance of casting off pride & resentment, and need to let go of the past, in order for each of these men to finally be free to escape from the purgatory known as the Fringe and find salvation, is one of the central messages of the series.

Something you may have noted in this blog post: Isabella seems to have had his share of clashes with editors at both Marvel and DC.  I think that this is indicative of a man who is very principled, ethical and passionate about his work, and who is unwilling to let editorial, or the corporate types overseeing them, impose what he sees as unreasonable demands upon him.  The comic book industry has innumerable examples of creators who have been exploited & abandoned by greedy, short-sighted corporate interests.  So I certainly admire Isabella for standing up for himself and not allowing others to steamroll him.

Black Lightning 5 cover

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Tony Isabella on a couple of occasions, first at one of the Big Apple conventions over a decade ago, and then at New York Comic Con in 2011.  I later found out that those were the only two NYC conventions that he’s done in the last two decades!  Talk about good timing.  Both times I found him to be a very pleasant fellow.  Having followed his comic books and columns for so long, it was a pleasure to meet him on those two occasions, and to have him autograph some of the books that he has worked upon.

Have a very happy birthday, Tony.  I sincerely hope that there are many more years, as well as many more stories, to come for you.  Keep up the great work.