Tony Isabella

Last updated
Tony Isabella
Tony Isabella Portrait.jpg
Portrait illustration of Tony Isabella by Michael Netzer
Born (1951-12-22) December 22, 1951 (age 69)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Notable works
Black Goliath
Black Lightning
Justice Machine
"Tony's Tips"
Awards Goethe Award 1972
Inkpot Award 2013

Tony Isabella (born December 22, 1951) [1] is an American comic book writer, editor, Actor, artist and critic, known as the creator and writer of Marvel Comics' Black Goliath; DC Comics' first major African-American superhero, Black Lightning; and as a columnist and critic for the Comics Buyer's Guide .



Early life and influences

Tony Isabella was born in Cleveland, Ohio. [2] He discovered comics at the age of four, when his mother began bringing him I. W. Publications titles she bought at Woolworth. [2] Early influences from the comic book world included Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Robert Kanigher, and Len Wein; Isabella was also influenced by writers such as William Shakespeare, Harlan Ellison, Ed McBain, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Lester Dent, Dave Barry, Max Allan Collins, Don Pendleton, and Studs Terkel. [2]

As a teenager, Isabella had many letters published in comic book letter columns, [3] primarily in the pages of Marvel titles. He was active in comics fandom as well, a member of CAPA-alpha, and a regular contributor to comics fanzines. [2]

Marvel Comics

Isabella's work in comics fandom attracted the attention of Marvel editor Roy Thomas [2] (whose professional career began in similar fashion), and in 1972 Thomas hired Isabella as an editorial assistant at Marvel. With Marvel's establishment of Marvel UK that year, Isabella was assigned the task of overseeing the reprints used in Marvel UK's nascent comics line. [4] He also served for a time as an editor for Marvel's black-and-white magazine line. [5]

As a writer, Isabella scripted Ghost Rider ; the characters It, the Living Colossus, in Astonishing Tales ; Luke Cage in Hero for Hire and Power Man; and Tigra in Marvel Chillers ; Daredevil ; [6] and Captain America . [7] While writing the "Iron Fist" feature in Marvel Premiere , he co-created the supporting character Misty Knight with artist Arvell Jones. [8] Isabella developed the concept of The Champions series [9] and wrote the first several issues. [10]


During his mid-1970s run on Ghost Rider , Isabella wrote a two-year story arc in which Johnny Blaze occasionally encountered an unnamed character referred to as "the Friend" who helped Blaze stay protected from Satan, who had granted Blaze supernatural power and created the Ghost Rider. Isabella said in 2007,

Getting prior approval from editor Roy Thomas, as I would from later editors Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, I introduced "The Friend" into the series. He looked sort of like a hippie Jesus Christ and that's exactly who He was, though I never actually called Him that.... It allowed me to address a disparity that had long bothered me about the Marvel Universe. Though we had no end of Hell(s) and Satan surrogates in our comics, we had nothing of Heaven.... [After two years] I'd written a story wherein, couched in mildly subtle terms, Blaze accepted Jesus as his savior and freed himself from Satan's power forever. Had I remained on Ghost Rider, which was my intent at the time, the title's religious elements would have faded into the background. Blaze would be a Christian, but he'd express this in the way he led his life. ... Unfortunately, an assistant editor took offense at my story. The issue was ready to go to the printer when he pulled it back and ripped it to pieces. He had some of the art redrawn and a lot of the copy rewritten to change the ending of a story two years in the making. "The Friend" was revealed to be, not Jesus, but a demon in disguise. To this day, I consider what he did to my story one of the three most arrogant and wrongheaded actions I've ever seen from an editor. [11]

Isabella later said the assistant editor referenced was Jim Shooter. [12] [13] In 2020, Shooter said he had been concerned that this "basically established the Marvel universe is a Christian universe" and could alienate some portion of the readership by suggesting "that all other religions are false." He said after consulting with editor Marv Wolfman, he made the changes. [14]

DC Comics

For DC Comics, Isabella worked as a writer and story editor [5] but is mainly known for his creation of Black Lightning , [15] writing both the character's short-lived 1970s and 1990s series. [16] After reaching an agreement with DC, [17] Isabella returned to the character in 2017 with the publication of the Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands limited series. [18] [19]

Isabella and artist Richard Howell produced the Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series in 1985, involving the characters of Hawkman and Hawkwoman. [20] An ongoing series was launched the following year. [21]

Justice Machine

In 1987, Isabella began writing the Justice Machine series for Comico, co-plotting with series creator and penciller Mike Gustovich. The new series picked up from the end of the Bill Willingham/Gustovich written limited series Justice Machine featuring the Elementals , which re-booted the series' continuity from the older Noble Comics/Texas Comics-published original series. The ongoing book became one of Comico's best-selling series, selling upwards of 70,000 copies of each issue at its peak. Isabella wrote the first 11 issues of the Comico series before moving on to other projects. [22]

In 1990, Isabella returned to the characters and wrote the series for Innovation Comics, with Gustovich pencilling once more.

"Tony's Tips"

Isabella wrote the Comics Buyer's Guide column "Tony's Tips" for over a decade. The last column was June 22, 2010. [23] Starting in 2013, he continued "Tony's Tips" online at Tales of Wonder. [24] [25] He also regularly writes about comics and his work on his personal blog. [26]


Isabella is the co-author with his fellow Comics Buyer's Guide columnist Bob Ingersoll of the short story "If Wishes Were Horses..." which was published in The Ultimate Super-Villains: New Stories Featuring Marvel's Deadliest Villains (1996), [27] and the novels Captain America: Liberty's Torch (1998) [28] and Star Trek: The Case Of The Colonist's Corpse (2003). [29] In 2009, his non-fiction book 1000 Comics You Must Read was published by Krause Publications. [30]

Other work

During the 1980s, Isabella operated Cosmic Comics, a comic book shop in the Colonial Arcade in Downtown Cleveland. [31]

He has also worked on translating foreign-language Disney comics and revising the wording for the U.S. market.

Personal life

Isabella's wife is named Barbara; they have two children, son Eddie (born c. 1989) and daughter Kelly (born c. 1992). [2]



Atlas/Seaboard Comics

Atlas Comics (Ardden Entertainment)

Caliber Comics


Dark Horse

DC Comics

Image Comics

Innovation Publishing

Marvel Comics

Topps Comics

Warren Publishing


Television roles
2020 Black Lightning Judge IsabellaEpisode: "The Book of War: Chapter Three: Liberation"

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  1. Miller, John Jackson (June 10, 2005). "Comics Industry Birthdays". Comics Buyer's Guide . Iola, Wisconsin. Archived from the original on February 18, 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Arndt, Richard J. (February 8, 2006). "Marvel's Black & White Horror Magazines Checklist". "A 2005 Interview With Tony Isabella", first item after the end of the checklist itself. Archived from the original on October 8, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  3. Smith, Stephen Scott Beau (May 15, 1983). "The LOCsmiths". Amazing Heroes . Stamford, Connecticut: Fantagraphics Books (23).
  4. Wymann, Adrian (May 13, 2009). "The Mighty World of Bronze Age British Marvel 1972–1974: Setting Up Marvel UK". Panelology!. Archived from the original on March 2, 2012. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  5. 1 2 Tony Isabella (editor) at the Grand Comics Database
  6. Mithra, Kuljit (May 1997). "Interview With Tony Isabella". Archived from the original on March 21, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
  7. Tony Isabella at the Grand Comics Database
  8. Hughes, William (September 2, 2015). "Luke Cage casts its Misty Knight, too, while it's at it". The A.V. Club . Archived from the original on September 5, 2015.
  9. Sanderson, Peter (2008). "1970s". In Gilbert, Laura (ed.). Marvel Chronicle A Year by Year History. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 171. ISBN   978-0756641238. Created by writer Tony Isabella and artist Don Heck, the Champions consisted of Angel, Iceman, Hercules, the Black Widow, and Ghost Rider.
  10. Walker, Karen (July 2013). "'We'll Keep on Fighting 'Til the End': The Story of the Champions". Back Issue! . Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing (65): 17–23.
  11. Isabella, Tony. "The Ghost Rider movie opens on February 16". Comics Buyer's Guide #1628 (May 2007) via Tony's Online Tips (April 11, 2007). Archived from the original on April 26, 2007. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  12. Isabella, Tony. "It's Everett True Tuesday here at TOT Central!". Tony's Online Tips (June 15, 2010). Archived from the original on December 6, 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2013. My anger over Shooter rewriting the last issue of my two-year Ghost Rider run, a story that had been approved every step of the way by three previous editors-in-chief, has been documented on several occasions.
  13. Howe, Sean (2012). Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. New York City: HarperCollins. ISBN   978-0061992100. He [Jim Shooter] told Tony Isabella to rewrite the climax to a two-year Ghost Rider story line, in which the hero was saved by Jesus Christ, on the grounds that it would be seen as religious propaganda.
  14. Shooter, Jim, in Off The Record with Jim Shooter (YouTube). Roger Priebe. Apr 20, 2020. Event occurs at 01:50. Retrieved May 26, 2020. Alt URL
  15. McAvennie, Michael (2010). "1970s". In Dolan, Hannah (ed.). DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 173. ISBN   978-0-7566-6742-9. Writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor von Eeden provided the creative juice for Black Lightning.
  16. Manning, Matthew K. "1990s" in Dolan, p. 269: "Writer Tony Isabella returned to his prized character, Black Lightning, in an ongoing series with artist Eddy Newell."
  17. Cave, Rob (March 27, 2017). "DC, Tony Isabella Reach Agreement on Black Lightning". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017.
  18. Cohen, Jason (August 19, 2017). "Black Lightning Creator Returns for Cold Dead Hands Mini". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017.
  19. Isabella, Tony (August 30, 2017). "Black Lightning Beat #1". Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017.
  20. Manning "1980s" in Dolan, p. 215: "May [1985] saw the return of the Winged Wonder in a four-issue miniseries entitled The Shadow War of Hawkman by writer Tony Isabella and penciller Richard Howell."
  21. Zawisza, Doug (July 2017). "Hawkman in the Bronze Age". Back Issue!. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing (97): 15–20.
  22. Martin, Brian (February 2017). "The Twisted History Mystery or...Welcome to the Machine". Back Issue!. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing (94): 28–31.
  23. Isabella, Tony (June 22, 2010). "Tony's Online Tips". Archived from the original on March 22, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2010. Tony's Online Tips has reached the end of its decade-plus run. I announced this last week in various venues, but I didn't want to leave without saying a more proper farewell and, in that farewell, try to explain this decision without sending any one into a panic.
  24. Isabella, Tony (2013-04-04). "Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing: HERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT TONY". Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  25. "Search Results for "Tony's Tips" – Tales of Wonder Blog". Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  26. "Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing". Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  27. Lee, Stan, ed. (1996). The Ultimate Super-Villains: New Stories Featuring Marvel's Deadliest Villains. New York, New York: Berkley Books. p. 341. ISBN   978-1572971134.
  28. Isabella, Tony; Ingersoll, Bob (1998). Captain America: Liberty's Torch . New York, New York: Berkley Books. pp.  272. ISBN   978-0425166192.
  29. Isabella, Tony; Ingersoll, Bob (2003). The Case of the Colonist's Corpse: A Sam Cogley Mystery. Simon & Schuster. pp.  288. ISBN   978-0743464970.
  30. "1000 Comic Books You Must Read | Krause Books". Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  31. Coville, Jamie (2000). "An Interview With Tony Isabella". Coville's Clubhouse. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Cosmic Comics was easily the most successful comics shop in the Cleveland area for nine of the eleven years I owned it.
  32. The Comic Reader #90 (October 1972).
  33. "Comic-Con International's Newest Inkpot Award Winners!". San Diego Comic-Con International. 2013. Archived from the original on May 8, 2015.
Preceded by
Gary Friedrich
Ghost Rider writer
Succeeded by
Gerry Conway
Preceded by
John Warner
Captain America writer
Succeeded by
Jack Kirby
Preceded by
Steve Gerber
Daredevil writer
(with Bob Brown in late 1975)
Succeeded by
Marv Wolfman
Preceded by
Black Lightning writer
Succeeded by
Dennis O'Neil
Preceded by
Hawkman writer
Succeeded by
Dan Mishkin
Preceded by
Bill Willingham
Justice Machine writer
Succeeded by
Doug Murray
Preceded by
Black Lightning vol. 2 writer
Succeeded by
Dave DeVries