Welcome Back Kotter #3, March 1977

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“The Return of Augie Berelli”

Cover: Bob Oksner

Writer: Tony Isabella, Pencils: Ric Estrada & Bob Oksner

Inker: Bob Oksner, Editor: Joe Orlando

A thug visits Kotter and his wife at their home. He warns Kotter that Augie Berelli will be at the school that day and Kotter better be there.

Kotter tells his wife that Berelli, one of the most notorious gangsters in the country, was an original sweathog and a classmate of Kotter’s! In fact, Kotter won the heart of a fair maiden also wooed by Berelli, who swore vengeance!

At school, Kotter is beside himself – he believes Epstein’s note from his mother, takes Horshack seriously and apologizes to Woodman! The Sweathogs offer to help their teacher.

Berelli walks into the classroom and says hello to Kotter and his nephew Vinnie Barbarino.

NEPHEW!!? That’s right, Berelli isn’t here for vengeance, but to thank Kotter for the good job he is doing teaching his nephew.  The Sweathogs are impressed by Berelli’s charm … and wealth!

Kotter reminds his class that Berelli is a criminal, infuriating Barbarino who leaves in a huff.

The FBI approach Kotter and ask him to help catch Berelli. Barbarino hears the conversation and throws a punch at the agent. Kotter agrees to help the FBI in exchange for releasing Vinnie.

The next day, Berelli charges into the classroom to confront Kotter. The FBI get the drop on him, until he takes Kotter hostage. Barbarino tries to intervene and is rewarded with a smack from his uncle. Berelli whispers to Kotter to fight back and catch him. Fumblingly (is that a word?) he finally does so.

It turns out this confrontation was planned by Berelli and the FBI as part of a guilty plea. After Berelli found out Vinnie punched a G-Man, he realized his nephew was going down his path and did not want Vinnie to turn out like him. So, he arranged his capture by Kotter; who has the one thing Berelli does not have – his nephew’s respect.

The last panel shows Vinnie at his classroom desk crying.

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The letter column printed positive review of issue #1, most were thankful the comic was not done in the Binky/Scooter (read Archie) mode of half-page gags and two or three-page stories.

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The art here is still wonderful. The team of Estrada and Oksner work on these characters, although at times there is a lack of background art. Perhaps they were rushed by a dreaded deadline doom (to borrow a phrase from the competition)?

Tony Isabella is a wonderful comic book writer, prose author, comic book historian (1001 Comic Books You Must Read Before You Die and July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic Book Life of Tony Isabella, Volume 1) and is a very nice guy – the creator of Black Lightning, the Champions, Misty Knight and more! Black Lightning is the most recent (and welcome) addition to the current “DC/TV” line on the CW network and Tony’s latest comic book work is Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands at DC.

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About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

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