Meet the Men of Bronze:
Tony Isabella in 1974
by Matthew R. Bradley
No, I am not making a case for “Tony the Tiger” Isabella (b. 1951) as an unsung genius of the Bronze Age, but I do feel that, in the immortal words of Arthur Miller, “attention must be paid.” For a period of about three years ending in September 1976, this tireless utility player contributed to a large and varied number of color and black-and-white titles, the latter including multiple issues each of Dracula Lives and Tales of the Zombie. While rarely transformative, Isabella’s work was often solid, grounding him in a wide swath of the Marvel Universe; moreover, he added to said universe with new characters and strips that, if not breakout successes, were embraced by at least some of us “Marvel Maniacs.”
In the second half of 1973, Isabella got his four-color feet wet with scripts for Chamber of Chills #5 and Creatures on the Loose #25; took over the short-lived Doc Savage for its final issues (#7-8); began a relationship with Luke Cage in Hero for Hire #15; and wrote a fill-in for Captain America #168. He ended ’73 by reviving It! The Living Colossus—whose two 1961 Tales of Suspense appearances had recently been reprinted in Monsters on the Prowl #17 and 25—for a four-issue series that kicked off in Astonishing Tales #21.
February: While continuing to display his diversity with the likes of Crazy #2, Monsters Unleashed #4, and Vampire Tales #3, Tony worked with Roy Thomas on Incredible Hulk #172, and would do so again on #178, which ended Roy’s “Warlock crucifixion” plotline.
June: With Ghost Rider #6, Isabella began his longest single run, which lasted until #19, interrupted only by a reprint (#10) and a Bill Mantlo fill-in (#16). When he created The Champions in October 1975—writing six of the first seven issues—he included the biker, although according to Wikipedia, the last-minute choice was not part of his original plan.
July: In Giant-Size Creatures (thereafter …Werewolf, as in “by Night”) #1, and the true spirit of ’70s ecology, Tony recycled the eponymous hero of one of Marvel’s three failed distaff books, The Cat, into Tigra the Were-Woman. The character enjoyed significantly greater success in her furry incarnation, eventually joining the Avengers, but her second solo series (in Marvel Chillers #3-7), of which he wrote three issues, was almost as short. Also in that “Giant-Size July,” Tony was one of the writers on Giant-Size Defenders #1.
August: With Supernatural Thrillers #8, Isabella took over from creator Steve Gerber to chronicle the next six adventures of N’Kantu the Living Mummy, which lasted until #15. That same month, Tony renewed his acquaintance with Cage, the book now rechristened Power Man, for a six-issue stint starting with #20. In #24 (April 1975), Tony would turn venerable Avengers supporting character Bill Foster into Black Goliath, and the following February, he wrote the first issue of Foster’s short-lived solo book, then taken over by an up-and-coming Chris Claremont. Meanwhile, in early 1975, Tony also wrote three issues (Marvel Premiere #20-22) of the new series starring Luke’s future partner, Iron Fist, and eventually brought things full circle with Power Man and Iron Fist #110 (October 1984).
October: After eight issues of reprints, Isabella joined forces with Thomas, Claremont, and an uncredited Gerber on War Is Hell #9 to introduce John Kowalski, compelled by Death himself to perish in a different guise at the close of each issue. Claremont stayed with the series through cancellation with #15, and tied it up in Man-Thing Vol. 2 #10-11.
November: Jumping into another short-lived series in midstream, Isabella penned two adventures of Spidey’s erstwhile foe, the Man-Wolf, in Creatures on the Loose #32-33.
December: Fantastic Four #153 marked another Isabella fill-in on a major title. He later served in a similar capacity, with admittedly varying degrees of success, on such Bronze-Age outings as Avengers #145-6, Captain America #189-91, Captain Marvel #39, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #35, and—wait for it—Super-Villain Team-Up #1-2.
So, a jack of all trades, and master of none? Perhaps, but as that rare bird who actually looked forward to Black Goliath and The Champions, I’m not prepared to write him off. I also have fond memories of his five-issue 1975 interlude (#119-23) amid Bob Brown’s underrated run on Daredevil, during which Isabella wrote a multi-part text piece entitled “The Hydra File,” which provided a commendable history of that nefarious organization.