OMAC – One Man Army Corps by Jack Kirby


By Jack Kirby with D. Bruce Berry, Mike Royer & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-1026-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

There’s a magnificent abundance of Jack Kirby collections around these days – but still not everything, so I reserve my right carrying on whining…

This slim trade paperback/digital collection re-presents possibly his boldest, most bombastic and most heartfelt creation after the comics landmark that was his Fourth World Cycle.

Famed for larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, “King” Kirby was an astute, spiritual man who had lived through poverty, gangsterism, the Depression and World War II. He experienced Pre-War privation, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures, but always looked to the future while understanding human nature intimately. In OMAC: One Man Army Corps, he gave his darkest assumptions and prognostications free rein, and his “World That’s Coming” has proved far too close to the World we’re frantically trying to escape now…

In 1974, with his newest creations inexplicably tanking at DC, Kirby tentatively considered a return to Marvel, but – ever the consummate professional – he scrupulously carried out every detail of an increasingly onerous and emotionally unrewarding DC contract. When The Demon was cancelled, the King needed another title to maintain his Herculean commitments (Jack was legally obliged to deliver 15 completed pages of art and story per week!) and returned to an idea he had shelved in 1968.

That was to re-interpret Captain America for a possible future where all Kirby’s direst suspicions and fears could be made manifest. In 1974 he revisited those anxieties: producing a nightmare scenario that demanded not a hero but a warrior.

Dubbing his Day-After-Tomorrow dystopia “The World That’s Coming”, Kirby let his mind run free – and scared – to birth a frighteningly close appreciation of our “Now”, where science and wealth have outstripped compassion and reason, and humanity teeters on the brink of self-inflicted global destruction. His thoughts then are represented here in the editorial that accompanied the premier issue…

OMAC #1 launched in September-October 1974, introducing the Global Peace Agency, a world-wide Doomwatch-style police force who manufactured a super-soldier to course-correct mankind and crisis-manage the constant threats to a species with hair-trigger fingers on nuclear stockpiles, chemical weapons of mass destruction and made-to-measure biological horrors.

Base human nature was the true threat behind this series, and that was first demonstrated by decent young man Buddy Blank who – whilst working at Pseudo-People Inc. – discovers that the euphemistically entitled Build-A-Friend division hides a far darker secret than merely pliant girls that come in kit-form. (I believe we even have those now, too…)

Luckily Buddy has been singled out by the GPA’s resident genius Professor Myron Forest for eternal linkage to sentient satellite Brother Eye. His atoms shifted and reconstructed, Buddy is rebuilt to become a living God of War, and the new-born human weapon easily destroys his ruthless employers before their murderous plans can be fully realised. ‘Buddy Blank and Brother Eye’ was followed by a truly prophetic tale, wherein impossibly wealthy criminal Mister Big purchases an entire city simply to assassinate Professor Forest in ‘The Era of the Super-Rich!’

Kirby’s tried and trusted approach was always to pepper high concepts throughout blazing action, and #3 was the most spectacular thus far. OMAC fought ‘One Hundred Thousand Foes!’ to get to murderous Marshal Kafka; terrorist leader of a Rogue State with a private army, WMDs and a solid belief that the United Nations can’t touch him. Sound familiar…? That incredible clash carries on and concludes in #4’s ‘Busting of a Conqueror!’

With #5, Kirby moved on to other new crimes for a new world. The definition of a criminal tends to blur when you can buy anything – even law and justice – but rich old people cherry-picking young men and women for brain-implantation is (hopefully) always going to be a no-no. Still, you can sell or plunder specific organs even now…

Busting the ‘New Bodies for Old!! racket took two issues, and after the One-Man-Army-Corps smashed ‘The Body Bank!’ he embarked on his final adventure. Ecological disaster and water shortage was the theme of the last tale, but as our hero trudges across a dry, desolate lake bottom amidst the dead and dying marine life he is horrified to discover the disaster is the work of one man. ‘The Ocean Stealers!’ (#7) introduced scientific madman Doctor Skuba, who mastered atomic manipulation techniques that had turned feeble Buddy Blank into an unstoppable war machine.

Joe Kubert drew the cover to final outing OMAC #8. ‘Human Genius Vs Thinking Machine’; was an epic episode seeing Brother Eye apparently destroyed as Skuba and Buddy Blank died together in an incredible explosion.

But that final panel was a hasty, last-minute addition by unknown editorial hands, for the saga never actually finished. Kirby, his contract completed, had promptly returned to Marvel and new challenges like Black Panther, Captain America, 2001, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and especially The Eternals.

Hormone treatments, Virtual Reality, medical computers, satellite surveillance, genetic tampering and all the other hard-science predictions in OMAC pale into insignificance against Kirby’s terrifyingly accurate social observations in this bombastic and tragically incomplete masterpiece.

OMAC is Jack Kirby’s Edwin Drood: an unfinished symphony of such power and prophecy that it informs not just the entire modern DC universe and inspires ever more incisive and intriguing tales from the King’s artistic inheritors but still presages more truly scary developments in our own mundane and inescapable reality…

As always in these wondrously economical collections it should be noted that the book includes Kirby pencilled pages.

Jack Kirby is unique and uncompromising. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind. That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene, affected the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour around the world for generations and still wins new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep whilst being simultaneously mythic and human: and just plain Great.

© 1974, 1975, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America: Man Out of Time


By Mark Waid, Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel & Scott Hanna (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5128-9 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-84653-487-4 (UK TPB)

One of the pivotal moments in Marvel Comics history occurred when the Mighty Avengers recovered a tattered body floating in a block of ice (#4, March 1964) and resurrected World War II hero Captain America. This act followed the return of the Sub-Mariner in Fantastic Four #4 and completed a bridge back to the years of Timely and Atlas Comics. With it, newly-minted Marvel Comics Group confirmed and consolidated a solid, concrete, potential-packed history: evoking an enticing sense of mythic continuance for the fledgling company and instantly granting it the same cachet and enduring grandeur of market leader National/DC.

In 2010, after years of conflicting continuity (and with a movie coming) Marvel tasked fan-favourite writer Mark Waid with updating those pivotal events and early future-shocked days for the contemporary world. Of course, that modern milieu was the year 2000, not 1964…

This captivating re-interpretation and updating collects 5 issue miniseries Captain America: Man Out of Time (November 2010-April 2011) and opens in the dying days of the war as Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are officially removed from the European frontline. Their destination is England and an appointment with doom-laden destiny…

After the world goes fiery red and then black, the Sentinel of Liberty is stunned to awaken in tomorrow’s world before reacting automatically and uncompromisingly to meeting this World’s Mightiest Heroes…
Waid, perfectly complimented by artists Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel & Scott Hanna, wisely leaves the classic adventures largely unchanged, to concentrate on the missing, contemplative moments and personal crises confronting the uncomprehending Steve Rogers, which means readers completely unaware of the character’s comic book history and exploits could experience some confusion in places. However, the narrative, although superficially disjointed, is clear-cut enough to counter this and those interested in the fuller picture can easily fill in the gaps by perusing one of so many available reprint collections to cover the entire period featured here…

In chapter 2, the reeling hero meets former Hulk sidekick Rick Jones (an absurdly close double for the departed Bucky), gets a rapid reality check on his new home and finally accepts that there’s no way home for this Old Soldier.

Except, that’s not strictly true…
Among the many technological miracles his new allies introduce him to the embryonic science of time-travel, and even while battling threats like the Lava Men and Masters of Evil, the unhappy warrior only thinks of returning to his proper place and saving his best friend…

The old adage “be careful what you wish for” never proves more true than when time-reiver Kang the Conqueror attacks: utterly overwhelming the 21st century heroes and casually dispatching Captain America back to 1945. However, the Sentinel of Liberty’s sense of duty, threat to his new allies and the unpalatable things he had forgotten about “the Good Old Days” prompt Cap into brilliantly escaping his honeyed time-trap and returning to the place and moment where he is most needed to once again save the day…

Resolute and resolved to tackle his Brave New World, Captain America is now ready to carve out a whole new legend…
I’m generally less than sanguine about updates and reboots of classic comics material, but I will admit that such things are a necessary evil as years go by, so when the deed is done with sensitivity and imagination (not to mention dynamic, bravura flamboyance) I can only applaud and commend the effort.

Balancing the reinterpretation is the classic inspiration as the book ends with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos’ reprinted epic ‘Captain America joins… The Avengers!’ cover-dated March 1964, and proving magic can be retooled but never replaced…

Thrilling, superbly entertaining, compelling and genuinely moving, Captain America: Man out of Time is a wonderful confection to delight and enthral old aficionados, impress new readers and should serve to make many fresh fans for the immortal Star-Spangled Avenger.
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jaimie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-280-9 (TPB) 978-1-78845-118-5 (Waterstones Exclusive Edition)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a staple of comics phenomenon The Phoenix since the very first issue in 2012: recounting a madcap vendetta gripping animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia masquerading as more-or-less mundane but critically endangered English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), the trendsetting, mindbending yarns have been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one.

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargy began yonks ago after an obnoxious little beast popped up in the wake of a disastrous British space shot. After crashlanding in Crinkle Woods – scant miles from his launch site – lab animal Monkey believed himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite all efforts from reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative forest resident Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just could not contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who was – and is – a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating loutish troublemaker…

Problems are exacerbated by the other unconventional Crinkle creatures, particularly a skunk called Skunky who has a mad scientist’s attitude to life and a propensity to build extremely dangerous robots and super-weapons…

Here – with artistic assistance from Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-ordnances resumes and intensifies. The unruly assortment of odd critters loitering around and cluttering up the bucolic paradise have finally picked sides: shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz as they respond to another personal crisis and the rise to power of an unsuspected third force in woodland politics…

As ever divided into seasonal outbursts, the saga starts slowly with a chilly teaser tale as Winter ends in the ‘Thaw of the Snow-Bots’…

The assorted animals have been in stasis in a giant freezer, and once fire-breathing snowmen attack, they decide it’s best to have a little more kip… or do they?

The story actually resumes in Spring and the far future where time-traveller Ai – a superfast Ai-Ai not naturally indigenous to our sylvan glades and endangered shores – learns of a disaster that’s history here but her tomorrow. A good person, she undertakes ‘The Journey Home’ but arrives too late as ‘A Rather Maniacal Badger’ details how the woods have been conquered at last…

Previously, a catastrophic rivalry erupted when rival evil genius Maniacal Badger vied with Skunky for the title of “The Most Brilliant Animal in the Woods”. Now, while everyone was hibernating, the black-&-white bounder has occupied the region and established a base in a 50-foot (15-24 meters) high statue of himself as the first step in building his dream of Badgertopia.

The shock of defeat particularly affects Skunky, who descends into a spiral of depression and lowering esteem…

Universal innocents Weenie squirrel and Pig have their own way of de-stressing and not even roving robot drones can upset ‘A Quiet, Uneventful Day’ on the lake. Old animosities are paused and enemies become temporary allies planning to resist through ‘Distraction’ and strategic deployment of brain-battered, bewildered suicide bomber/former stuntman Action Beaver, but when that scheme flops we instead focus on ‘A Sad Skunk’ as the original mad scientist undergoes an existential crisis and needs Bunny to share it with…

The relative inactivity soon triggers his robot back-up to mischief mode, but even ‘Mecha Skunky!’ is not immune to the doldrums and there’s nothing ‘Action Beaver!’ can do to rectify the situation, especially after the badger activates a gross flying terror who swallows everybody in ‘The Whale!’

Having retreated to the tunnels built by long-gone but not forgotten local legend Fantastic Le Fox, the uneasy animal animals hide from the tyrant’s tantrums in ‘Too Noisy!’: unexpectedly discovering a hidden, weapon-stocked lair that will be the base for their fight back… once they have safely reassembled ‘All the Toys in the Toyshop!’

Although initial giant robot ‘Battle Bat!’ spectacularly fails, resistance efforts continue, but Monkey is easily distracted and soon moves to make his own empire in ‘Monkeyopia Rises!’ and as Summer begins ‘Divisions!’ proliferate. Before long the war with Bunny flares up again and instantly moves into the province of war crimes as the simian unleashes his flatulence-powered ‘Rofl-Copter!’

Weenie and Pig go on a ‘Treasure Hunt!’ in the mouldering pile of toxic rubbish kindly left by the Hyoomanz, but find no shield from the badger’s latest infamy: mind controlling everyone and turning the Woods into his digital plaything in ‘Game Over!’

A brief diversion follows in an exclusive Bunny vs Monkey Detective Story, but ‘The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night-Time’ is less baffling than Bunny’s failure to join mystic brotherhood ‘The Order of the Moose’…

When young Hyoomanz find themselves ‘(Not) Alone in the Woods’ during a class trip one little girl renews her old acquaintance with Metal Steve after he saves them from Maniac Badger attacks, whilst elsewhere ‘Monst-Ughs!’ run wild after improper use of Skunky’s old monster ray, leading to a glimpse at the tyrant’s origins and family issues in ‘The Making of a Maniacal Badger!’

Incorrigible Monkey then loses control of marauding robot ‘Doom Fists!’ after he is attacked by his wicked doppelganger Evil Monkey and partner in crimes Evil Monkey Wife, whilst elsewhere Skunky recovers some of life’s zest after helping Weenie and Pig repair one of the badger’s ‘Evil Drones!’

Three part saga ‘The Saving of Skunky!’ sees order restored after the badger’s plan to kidnap Skunky and steal what’s left of his evil genius goes awry. Trapped together in the Dark Woods, the skunk experiences a ghastly visitation and by the time the Maniacal one gets back to his conquered kingdom, there’s a restored archenemy waiting to deliver ‘A Sharp Shock’ with electrified clouds and a Zeus costume…

Badger’s retaliation is ancient thought monster ‘Ragnaggtrix!’ but there’s an inherent flaw in something dependent on belief that the evil genius didn’t consider. Thankfully, Skunky is preoccupied ‘Distracting the Monkey!’ from cadging more superweapons to misuse…

Bunny becomes guinea pig when Skunky and Monkey test emotion-warping Mind Mines in ‘Highly Strung!’ and as ‘Autumn begins The Rise of an Empire!’ finds expansionist Monkeytopia devasted by its ruler’s idiocy, even as the badger traps the woodland creatures inside his new phone app in ‘Game On!’ It’s a huge, costly mistake…

‘Balloonacy!’ breaks out when Weenie and Pig try to attend Ai’s birthday party, before a new character debuts. ‘Lucky!’ is a red panda who escaped a lab doing weird experiments. It might not have been in time though, since the three-way war for supremacy in the woods triggers an odd reaction…

The action and drama ramp up for a big finish as Badger is made to clean his room and employs the ‘Doomsday Device!’ that opens portals to Hell. Shame about his mum and dad…

Skunky makes a silly mistake and gives the wrong animal some atomic powered ‘Explosive Sweets!’ which makes Halloween’s ‘Fright Night!’ Scare-Off pretty anticlimactic war, before another peek at the future reveals the legend of ‘Jetpack Beaver!’

A distant relative tries to make one woodland weirdo ‘Pigging Rich!’ with little success, after which a bad tooth and unwise consultation with Skunky results in Monkey taking a big bite out of everything in ‘Chomp!’

The cataclysmic end begins when the Maniacal one pressgangs ‘The Badger Army’ to do his bidding but forgets the species’ tendency to unionise even as Skunky creates a ‘Terraforming Orb!!’ to purpose-build a new world. It’s a shame Monkey dropped it on his own head while it was switched on…

Winter begins with 3-chapter epic ‘A Very Badger Christmas’ that delivers shocking big reveals, pulls all the plot threads of the past year together, ends the world and still leaves rueful survivors wondering what comes next in ‘Aftermath’. Whatever you think happened you’re wrong, so you just have to buy this book to see how…

The animal anarchy might end for now there’s one more secret to share with detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Maniacal Badger’ so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The zany zenith of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning crammed into one eccentrically excellent package: never failing to deliver jubilant joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. This is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Is that you yet?

Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2022. All rights reserved.
Bunny vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger is published on July 7th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Dark Horse Archives volume Four


By Dick Wood, Roger McKenzie, Don Glut, Al McWilliams, Ernie Colón, José Delbo, Dan Spiegle, Jesse Santos, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-825-6 (HB) 978-1-61655-512-2 (TPB)

Comics colossus Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history, but that didn’t matter one iota to kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product. Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman had been a crucial component of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915: drawing upon commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts. They even boasted a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).

From 1938, the affiliated companies’ comic book output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

Western Publishing had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed titles including newspaper strips, TV tie-in and Disney titles (like Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with in-house originations such as Turok, Son of Stone, Brain Boy, and Kona Monarch of Monster Isle.

Dell and Western split just as a comic book resurgence triggered a host of new titles and companies, and a superhero boom. Independent of Dell, new outfit Gold Key launched original adventure titles including Mighty Samson; Magnus – Robot Fighter; M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War; Space Family Robinson and – in deference to the atomic obsession of the era – a cool, potently understated thermonuclear white knight…

The new company’s most recognisable and significant stab at a superhero bore the rather unwieldy codename of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, who debuted in an eponymous title cover-dated October 1962 and thus on sale in the last days of June – Happy 60th Birthday Doc! – sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers which made it feel like a grown up book rather than a simple comic.

With #3, George Wilson took over the iconic painted covers: a glorious feature that made the hero unique amongst his costumed contemporaries…

This fourth and final collection spans April 1968 via a 12-year hiatus – all the way to March 1982, encompassing a period when superheroes again faded from favour, whilst supernatural themes proliferated in comics books. Gold Key had their own stable of magical mystery titles: anthologies such as Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Grimm’s Ghost Stories and The Twilight Zone. They even ran a few character-driven titles including Dagar the Invincible, Tragg and the Sky Gods and The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor.

Included in this volume are the contents of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #23-31, plus a guest cameo from The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #14: a very mixed bag preceded by an Introduction from the late Batton Lash (Supernatural Law; Archie Meets the Punisher; Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre).

The Supreme Science Hero was born when a campaign of sabotage at US research base Atom Valley culminated in the death of Dr. Bentley and accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer quite) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his mere presence is lethal to all around him until scientific ingenuity devises – with dutiful confidantes girlfriend Gail Sanders and mentor Dr. Clarkson – a few brilliant work-arounds…

Solar was created by Paul S, Newman but the majority of later tales were written by Golden Age all-star Dick Wood (Sky Masters of the Space Force; Crime Does Not Pay; The Phantom; Mandrake the Magician; Flash Gordon and countless others). In this final volume a number of artists shared duties, beginning with Alden “Al” McWilliams (Danny Raven/Dateline: Danger; Star Trek, Flash Gordon; Twilight Zone; Buck Rogers; Justice Inc.; Star Wars and so much more) who drew the first tale here.

The atomic adventuring resumed with the latest ploy of evil mastermind Nuro: Solar’s nemesis and a madman who defeated death by implanting his personality inside a super-android. ‘King Cybernoid Strikes Part I & II’ (#23: cover-dated April 1968 by Wood & McWilliams) sees the malevolent man-machine escape his destroyed citadel of evil to replace a billionaire philanthropist, infiltrate Atom Valley and orchestrate his enemy’s demise by shutting down the nuclear reactors Solar needs to sustain his existence. The hero’s plan to survive seems like nuclear suicide but happily works out…

Ernie Colón was next to render the Atomic Ace beginning with #24’s (July 1968) Wood-written ‘The Deadly Trio Part I & II’.

Born in Puerto Rico on July 13th 1931, Ernie Colón Sierra was a multi-talented maestro of the American comics industry whose work delighted generations of readers. Whether as artist, writer, colourist or editor, his contributions affected the youngest of comics consumers (Monster in My Pocket, Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost at Harvey Comics and Marvel’s Star Comics imprint) to the most sophisticated connoisseur with strips.

His mature-reader material comprised newspaper sci fi classic Star Hawks, comic book graphic novels Ax, Manimal, The Medusa Chain and more, and comics as wide-ranging as Vampirella, Battlestar Galactica, Arak, Son of Thunder, Damage Control, Doom 2099, I… Vampire, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, and Airboy. He also drew the 1990s revival of Magnus: Robot Fighter for Valiant amongst so very many others.

Colón was master of many trades and served as an innovative editor, journalist, historian and commentator as well. Amongst his vast output were sophisticated experimental works and seminal genre graphic novels done in collaboration with Harvey Comics/Star Comics collaborator Sid Jacobson. These include The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror, Che: a Graphic Biography and Vlad the Impaler. In 2010 they released Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography and 2014’s The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination with Gary Mishkin.

While diligently hard at work on newspaper strip SpyCat (Weekly World News 2005-2019) he sought other challenges, like historical works A Spy for General Washington and The Great American Documents: Volume 1, both collaborations with his author wife Ruth Ashby. He died on August 8th 2019…

Here he adds an edge of high-octane dramatic tension to Solar’s exploits as the fugitive King Cybernoid unleashes three deadly war machines, each the ultimate weapon in its preferred environment of earth, air and water and each a crucial component in a lethal booby trap…

‘The Lost Dimension Part I & II’ (#25, October) began a continued tale with Atom Valley’s teleportation experiments opening Earth to attacks from an evil parallel dimension. Impatient to solve the mystery of vanishing test subjects, Gail’s nephew and resident teen super-genius Hamilton Mansfield Lamont uses the apparatus on himself and is captured by mirror universe duplicates. When Solar follows he uncovers a plot to invade and conquer our universe and must use his intellect as well as atomic powers to resist the wicked facsimiles’ plans ‘When Dimensions Collide parts I & II’ (#26 January 1969).

A new year saw a fresh illustrative hand. Argentinian illustrator José Delbo (Billy the Kid; Mighty Samson; Yellow Submarine; The Monkees; Wonder Woman; Superman; Batman; Turok, Son of Stone; Transformers,) had been a prolific US comics illustrator since 1965, and was a valued contributor to Gold Key’s licensed titles. He took on the Atomic Ace in a 2-issue run that spanned 12 years, beginning with Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #27.

Cover-dated April 1969, the done-in-one yarn written by Wood saw the titanic troubleshooter clashing again with cyborg Nuro. It began at a British radio telescope as the hero sought to prevent marauding energy beings using the installation to invade Earth via ‘The Ladder to Mars’. After solving ‘The Mystery Message’, Solar triumphs in an outer space ‘Battle of the Electronic Fighters’.

This was the last appearance for quite a while, as the taste for men in tights waned. A guest shot from the genre-experimental 1970s was a rare treat, before a superhero resurgence saw Solar’s return in what I’m assuming was an inventory tale that had sat in a drawer since cancellation. In the meantime, Gold Key had undergone a few changes and was now using the publishing umbrella of “Whitman”.

Cover-dated April 1981, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #28 featured Wood & Delbo’s ‘The Dome of Mystery’: a traditional 2-chapter saga that saw Nuro use a deadly force field dome to destroy his enemies. Although initially helpless against ‘The Movable Fortress’, Solar’s persistence and ingenuity eventually triumphs in ‘The Dome of Mystery: An Army of Molecules’. Also included was an informational strip by Al McWilliams ‘A Day at the Man of the Atom’s Secret Training Grounds’.

The next issue was cover-dated October 1981, with writer Roger McKenzie (Captain America; Daredevil; Next Man; Battlestar Galactica; Men of War: Gravedigger) joined by veteran artist Dan Spiegle. Criminally unsung, his career was two-pronged and incredibly long. Born in 1920, Spiegle wanted to be a traditional illustrator but instead fell – after military service in the Navy – into comics at the end of the 1940s. He was equally adept at dramatic narrative art and humorous cartooning, and his impossibly large and varied portfolio includes impeccable work on Hopalong Cassidy; Rawhide; Sea Hunt; Space Family Robinson; Blackhawk and Nemesis for DC; Crossfire; Scooby Doo; Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; Indiana Jones; the entire Hanna-Barbera stable and so much more.

In high energy action mode here, he limns the Atomic Ace’s close encounter with extradimensional energy vampire ‘Li’Rae’ and her subsequent attempt to colonise and consume Earth. The hero’s penultimate exploit was cover-dated February 1982, with McKenzie & Spiegle resurrecting the Man of the Atom’s greatest foe. When international Man of Mystery Mr. Dante gathers the world’s greatest scientist on his artificial paradise of New Atlantis, Solar soon uncovers his real identity and deadly scheme, but not before the villain unleashes a geothermal ‘Inferno’…

One month later the heroic exploits concluded with #31 and an assault by an misguided admirer of Gail’s. When actor Ron Barris gains incalculable power in a special effects accident, he targets “rival” Solar in his TV superhero role ‘When Strikes the Sentinel!’ in his deranged scheme to make her his own, but his new powers are no match for the Atomic Avenger…

The mid-70s cameo appearance previously mentioned closes this archive. It comes from The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #14 (June 1975): a series starring a troubled mystic and supernatural troubleshooter in the classic vein. ‘The Night Lakota Died’ is by Don Glut & Jesse Santos (who also painted the cover) and finds famed ghostbuster Dr. Adam Spektor accused of murdering his assistant and lover. On the run, the magician uncovers a plot by archenemy Kareena to entrap the mage and seduce him to the side of her Dark Gods.

Her plan revolves around keeping a certain atomic superhero under her mesmeric spell, but once again the witch underestimates the resolve of the forces of light…

Enticingly restrained and understated, these Atom Age action comics offered a compelling counterpoint to the hyperbole of DC and Marvel and remain some of the most readable thrillers of the era. These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again…
DOCTOR SOLAR®, MAN OF THE ATOM ARCHIVES Volume 4 ® and © 1968, 1969, 1975, 1981, 1982, 2015 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost


By Keezy Young (The Lion Forge/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-941302-46-0 (Lion Forge PB/Digital edition) ‎978-1-63715-073-3 (Oni Press PB/Digital edition)

I’m ending our meagre contributions to this year’s Pride Month with a heads up/timely reminder for a superb, upbeat love story in the sincere hope that one day we won’t need a specially appointed time and space for queer people, or women, or black and asian ones or in fact any person not white and “naturally” hetero-male.

It’s all just stories, folks. Why can’t we just share them out fairly?

Back in 2017, queer, non-binary artist, author and storyteller Keezy Young (Never Heroes, Hello Sunshine) created a supernatural romance that garnered lots of critical attention, accolades and awards. Young resides in Seattle and has used art to tell tales since able to hold a crayon in a fist, so it’s no surprise how good they are at it now. They specialise in creating YA comics and stories about being young, adventurous and LGBTQIA.

Rendered in bright pastel colours and big, welcoming images, Taproot is the story of Hamal; a gentle young man who loves plants and growing things. He always has time to chat and offer advice on plant care, even though his boss at the flower store is a bit of a tartar about unnecessary customer service.

Mr Takashi would be even more surly if he realised that many of the people Hamal talks to are dead. Unable to understand or explain his gift, Hamal is not afraid: gathering a small band of ghostly regulars who spend much of their time with him. There’s moody teen April, effervescent grade schooler Joey and Blue. a good looking older teen who spends too much time trying to fix up Hamal’s love-life. If Blue knows who Hamal really pines for, he’s good at covering it up…

They’ve been close for a year now. The aimless revenant just followed Hamal one day and was astounded when the living doll stared into his invisible face and asked him why. No longer isolated and cut off from existence, Blue stuck around and other wandering spirits gradually tagged along.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Recently, something dark and strange has begun slowly unfolding. The plants aren’t thriving, and increasingly the spooks are being sucked into a ghastly spectral forest realm of doom and decay. It would be really frightening if they weren’t already dead…

It all comes to a head after Blue is drawn to the forest and confronts a monster who knows what’s really going on in creation. Terrifying and predatory, it recognises what Hamal really is and has plans for both the living and the dead. Worst of all, it has a way to fulfil Blue’s most heartfelt desire… if the ghost boy will play along…

Thankfully, that’s just the beginning of a whole new life for the would-be lovers and a novel existence for Hamal, as the story takes on fresh life via some captivating plot twists that every romantic who loves happy endings can see just by tapping this…
© 2017 Keezy Young. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2007 NetComics.

Lonesome volume 1: The Preacher’s Trail


By Yves Swolfs, coloured by Julie Swolfs; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-000-5 (Album PB/Digital edition)

In comics, Western skies are at their most moody and iconic when seen through European eyes.

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics. They collectively recognise what too many here still dismiss as “kids’ stuff” as having academic and scholarly standing, as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as a true art form.

Myths and legends of the American Old West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees of cowboy culture and stand at the forefront of the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series. These range from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry, Comanche and Lucky Luke, and tangentially even children’s classics like Yakari or colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s superbly evocative Indian Summer.

Lonesome: La piste du prêcheur debuted in 2018, the first volume of a gritty, historically-grounded drama with supernatural overtones, similar in tone and mood to Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

It is crafted by veteran Belgian taleteller Yves Swolfs, who was born in April 1955 and – like most kids of that generation and geographical location – probably grew up surrounded by imported and home-generated cowboy culture.

He studied Literature and Journalism at Brussels’ Saint-Luc Institute before joining Claude Renard’s Atelier R comics studio, in 1978. His first stories were published in the studio’s own Le Neuvième Rêve magazine before stepping out into the field of commercial design and illustration. His first success was a western: Durango was published by Éditions des Archers in 1980 and ran for four decades, under various publishers. The feature was inspired by cinematic spaghetti westerns of the 1970s and served as  a staple source of income as Swolfs experimented with other genres: French Revolution-set historical drama Dampierre (1987); horror fantasy Le Prince de la Nuit (1991); dystopian sci fi thriller Vlad (2000) and contemporary thriller James Healer (2002).

Always busy, in 1999 Swolfs scripted western Black Hills 1890 for illustrator Marc-Renier and in 2003 wrote and drew medieval fantasy saga Légendes, amongst a host of other comics projects. He relaxes by playing in a rock band.

The Preacher’s Trail opens in 1861, with a solitary rider trekking through snow-enveloped wastes in the savage period of mounting tensions leading to the American Civil War. Newly-created territories Nebraska and Kansas have been a proxy battleground for the North and South since 1854, with slave-owners’ agents and radical Abolitionists clashing and stirring up the citizens for religious, political and commercial reasons. Blood has been spilled by anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” and Missouri’s “Border Ruffians” indiscriminately and the entire region is a powder keg waiting to explode.

Into this disaster-in-waiting rides the determined searcher. He’s hunting a proselytizing preacher, and easily overcomes the murderous bushwhackers Abolitionist Reverend Markham stationed in an isolated saloon to deter his enemies. However, before the last gunman dies, the stranger touches him and is granted a vision of where his target is heading…

In nearby township Holton City, the Reverend – surrounded by an army of gunslingers – stridently entreats the people to join his crusade against the abomination of slavery. Many are not roused or fooled, but all are keenly aware that the holy man care nothing for their lives…

The town banker/Mayor Harper may be throwing his support behind the rabblerouser, but local newspaper publisher Marcus has been doing some research and has reached a dangerous conclusion…

As the rider beds down for the night, his thoughts go back to the Indian medicine man who raised him after his family were murdered and he ponders his eerie gift. At that moment elsewhere, farming family the Colsons are being butchered by the Preacher’s acolytes. Markham has judged them to be immoral sinners, but the atrocities he personally inflicts upon the woman prove it’s no God driving his campaign of terror…

Next morning the rider stumbles across the massacre. By now, he’s fully conversant with the Preacher’s methods and ignores the faked “evidence” of South-supporting Border Ruffians, but is astounded and delighted to discover a survivor…

Taking the child to Holton, the stranger is unsurprised to see his accounts of the crime and description of the perpetrators ignored. He knows Markham always finds influential supporters like bankers and local politicians. The townsfolk are shaken though. First the newspaper office burns down and Marcus vanishes, and now a massacre…

After ignoring an unsubtle warning to mind his own business from Harper’s hired gun Clayton, the rider’s breakfast is interrupted by Sheriff Abel. He’s more inclined to believe stories about the Preacher, but knows who runs things, if not why…

When the rider leaves town in the morning, it’s with new knowledge gained through his strange gift and furtive conversations with bargirl Lucy, an ally of Marcus. Well versed in the brutal whims of men like Harper and Markham. Unfortunately, her allegiance is uncovered and she pays a heavy price after the stranger leaves…

On the trail, the stalker meets fugitive Marcus and hears what the idealistic journalist has uncovered of an international plutocratic plot to instigate war, but his sole concern is catching the Preacher. Debate distracts them and almost costs their lives when Clayton’s gang ambushes them after they stop at a friend’s cabin. The shootout leaves the stranger with Marcus’ notebook and the psychometrically derived knowledge of what Harper and Clayton did to Lucy, as well as a fierce determination to fix things in Holton before resuming his pursuit of Markham… and this time, the rider will be the one dictating how and where the final clash takes place…

Dark, uncompromisingly gritty, diabolically clever and lavishly limned in a style reminiscent of Jean Giraud’s Blueberry, this is as much conspiracy drama as revenge western with an enigmatic figure slowly discovering himself whilst derailing a plot to change the world. Here the inescapable war that’s looming is not due to a crusade of opposing beliefs but a devious scheme by commercial interests to foment war for profit and their own gain.

Before publication by Cinebook, Lonesome was initially released in digital-only English translation by Europe Comics, so if you don’t want to wait for later Cinebook editions, you can satisfy your impatience that way. Regardless, this is a superb example of a genre standard done right and if you like your west wild and wicked you won’t be sorry…
© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 2018 by Yves Swolfs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2020 Cinebook Ltd.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 2


By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela, Scott Jeralds & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5859-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

The links between kids’ animated features and comic books are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series-writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the world’s cultural landscape. They popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows like Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all that, they are most renowned for devising mega-brand Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his two-legged sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst mountains of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series. They started with Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976); Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979); Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many, many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such as Tiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo…

In 2013, the pesky mystery-solving kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling online chapters #13-24 of Scooby-Doo! Team-Up, which were then released as #7-12 (December 2014-May 2015) of a physical comic book, this second captivating compendium consists of a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch, blending the best of both worlds – animated screen and folding paper…

Lettered throughout by Saida Temofonte we kick off with ‘Scooby-Doo, When are you?’, visualised by Scott Jeralds & colourist Franco Riesco as, way back when, Professor Alfred Einstone’s new time machine plucks the plucky kids of Mystery Inc. back to the Stone Age. Unable to return the future kids stay with the professors neighbours Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, but it’s not long before they are all embroiled in scary hijinks after a trip to the theatre leads to a clash with The Phantom of the Operrock…

After joining forces to expose a property scam and prove rich businessmen  are evil in very era the visitors are sent home thanks to the power of super alien the Great Gazoo, but he slightly overshoots them…

With hues by Wendy Broome, the amazed investigators are ‘Future Shocked’ to materialise far ahead of their own time in the home of George Jetson and his post-atomic family, just in time to save George’s job as a Space-Age Specter targets Spacely Sprockets and bitter rival Cogswells Cogs. With the profit motive not applicable to this case, Velma soon deduces who’s really behind the ghostly goings on before a lucky coincidence finally restores our time travellers to their own milieu…

In modern day Metropolis, the Daily Planet is plagued by Great Caesar’s Ghost in ‘Truth, Justice, and Scooby Snacks’ courtesy of Fisch, artist Dario Brizuela, and colourist Franco Riesco. Knowing his limits, Superman calls in the gang to help Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White solve the baffling case and unmask a sneaky super-villain behind everything.

However, when Red Kryptonite turns the Action Ace into a monster and the reporters pitch in to help, their temporary technologically-induced superpowers accidentally end up in Scooby and Shaggy. Good thing Superdog Krypto is around to help…

Another classic Hanna Barbera feature returns as ‘Quest for Mystery!’ sees the ghostbusting teen in competition with boy adventurer Jonny Quest and his monster-hunting family. When the cursed Keeler Ruby is stolen and a mummy marauds through a museum, sinister mastermind Doctor Zin is unmasked after Jonny’s genius dad Dr. Benton Quest is abducted. Of course, even Zin’s Island of Monsters proves inadequate against Shaggy and Scooby’s talent for inducing fortunate accidents…

When warring nations seek to sign a peace treaty, the spirit of warrior King Leopold disrupts the ceremony and spy agency International Sneaky Service consults Freddie, Daphne and Velma for a solution. With Scooby and Shaggy in tow, the kids get on the case with top ISS operative Secret Squirrel (and Morocco Mole!) to unmask an old enemy disrupting peace for profit in ‘I Spy Something… Boo!’

The never-ending chase closes for now with a return trip to Batman’s hometown and clash with ‘Gotham Ghouls’, with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy setting a trap for the gang. Happily, it’s just a means of securing their assistance against a spook singling the bad girls out for personalised torment. However, once the kids start looking, they soon see that the haunting is not supernatural in nature, and it’s not one persecuting phantom, but two…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids of a certain vintage, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills deliciously revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2015 Hanna-Barbera. All Rights Reserved. Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Secret Squirrel and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera (s15). Superman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and all related characters and elements are ™ & © DC Comics.

Incredible Hulk: Hulk Vs. The Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Howard Mackie, Marie Severin, Frank Miller, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Jorge Lucas & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3129-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May. He was technically (excluding once-&-future Ant-Man Henry Pym) the second superhero star of the dawning Marvel Age. A few more debuted that year – so Happy Anniversary all – before the true Annus Mirabilis Atomicus (stop sniggering: it hopefully means Year of Atomic Miracles) that was 1963…

This 2008 collection was unleashed on readers due to the World War Hulk event. Reprinted here are Fantastic Four #25-26, Journey into Mystery #112, Tales to Astonish #92-93, Daredevil #163, Incredible Hulk #300 & 340, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14 and Hulk Vs. Fin Fang Foom cumulatively spanning cover-dates April 1964 to February 2008.

With the Big Green Galoot and his chartreuse cousin both making new screen appearances this year, it seems sensible to take another look at the original Marvel antihero’s irascible interactions with his fellow power-packed pals. First, though…

Bruce Banner was a military scientist caught in a gamma bomb detonation of his own devising. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors caused him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and misunderstood miscreant of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow maligned misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

This book is for every fan (isn’t that all of us?) that asked eternal question “who would win if…?” and we open without preamble on an early landmark as Fantastic Four #25 (April 1964) sees a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning then and ever since.

The Hulk’s own title had folded after six issues, and he joined debuting solo star assemblage The Avengers, before explosively quitting in #2: joining Namor’s assault on them in #3. That globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history but you’ll need to go elsewhere to see it.

Here and now, it’s 3 months later and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos use FF #25 to establish an evergreen tradition – the first of many instances of ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’.

Accompanied by FF #26’s concluding episode ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, the is an all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster searches Manhattan for former sidekick Rick Jones, with only an injury-wracked Fantastic Four to curtail his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action ramps up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner – this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors that haunted Lee for decades – and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The second chapter of the Hulk’s career began in Tales to Astonish #59 (September 1964) as his became co-star to fading property Giant-Man – soon to be replaced by Marvel’s Man from Atlantis – whilst the Green Goliath’s guest star career continued unabated. Next up is a perfect example of that pulling power: the lead story in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) where ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’

The Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters. This tale is the first of many return engagements: a glorious gift to every fight fan and arguably Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, detailing a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin back in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work as a returning foe and yardstick of heroism and determination of those unlucky enough to battle him.

Technical aside: I’m reviewing the digital release and here that blistering bout is followed by JIM #112’s Tales of Asgard back-up ‘The Coming of Loki!’ by Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta. I suspect you won’t find it in the physical copies of this book…

In Tales to Astonish #92 (June 1967) Lee, superb Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia promised a ‘Turning Point!’, depicting Banner hunted through a terrified New York City as prelude to his alter ego clashing with an incredible opponent in the next issue. Back then, Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case as he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer’: ironically driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

There’s a big leap to March 1979 next as Daredevil #163 sees Matt Murdock offer the fugitive Banner sanctuary before the tormented scientist again loses his eternal struggle to suppress the monster inside. Inevitably, the forgone conclusion is the Man without Fear outclassed and punching up before getting creamed to save New York from the Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ by Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller & Josef Rubinstein, after which we hurtle to Incredible Hulk #300 (cover-dated October 1984) and the end of an epic run by scripter Bill Mantlo and illustrator Sal Buscema. The Hulk had gone from monster outcast to global hero and Banner’s intellect had overridden the brute’s simplistic nature, but now, thanks to the insidious acts of dream demon Nightmare, banner was gone leaving only a murderous, mindless engine of gamma fuelled destruction to ravage New York City.

Inked by Gerry Talaoc, extended epic ‘Days of Rage!’ saw the unstoppable monster easily defeat every superhero in town before being exiled to another universe…

Of course, he came back and was mostly restored, but radical change remained a constant. October 1984’s Incredible Hulk #340 was highpoint in a game-changing run by Peter David and sensation-in-waiting Todd McFarlane. The Hulk was notionally de-powered and returned to the grey-skinned cunning brute of his first appearances just in time for a savage rematch with Wolverine in ‘Vicious Circle’. That inconclusive bout segues here to another battle with another shared-birthday boy.

The wondrous crawler was wracked with agonising ‘Denial’ (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14, February 2000, by in Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna) in a mismatched clash that occurred with Peter Parker reeling in shock and grief, believing his wife Mary Jane and baby daughter had died in a plane crash. All he had left was great responsibility and something to hit…

We end on a raucously rowdy light-heartedly cathartic note with a modern take on the classic monster battles motif. One-shot Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom #1 (February 2008) was by Peter David, Jorge Lucas & Robert Campanella, revealing an “untold tale” of the early Kirby-era with the gamma goliath headed to the far north in time to see a dragon decanted from the ice.

Parody pastiche ‘The Fin from Outer Space’ is a furious flurry of fisticuffs and fantastic force unleashed with the sole intent of making pulses pound…

With covers from Kirby – with Roussos and Stone, Marie Severin & Giacoia, Miller & Rubinstein, Bret Blevins, McFarlane & Bob Wiacek, Romita Jr. and Jim Cheung, John Dell & Justin Ponsor, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense, all-battle bill of fare no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could have the strength to resist. Grab it if you can!
© 2020 MARVEL.

Superman in the Fifties


By Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, William Woolfolk, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Win Mortimer, Kurt Schaffenberger, Stan Kaye, Ray Burnley, Sy Barry & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0758-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In the early years of this century, DC launched a series of graphic archives intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades: delivering magnificent past comic book magic from the Forties to the Seventies via a tantalisingly nostalgic blast of other – arguably better, but certainly different – times. The collections carried the cream of the creative crop, divided into subsections, partitioned by cover galleries, and supplemented by short commentaries; a thoroughly enjoyable introductory reading experience. I prayed for more but was frustrated… until now…

First in a trilogy of trade paperbacks – the others being Batman and Wonder Woman (thus far, but hopefully Aquaman, Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter are in contention too, as they have become such big shot screen stars these days) – the experiment is being re-run, including even more inviting wonders from the company’s amazing, family-friendly canon.

Gathered here is an expanded menu of delights adding to that of the 2002 edition, and even rerunning Mark Waid’s original context-stuffed Introduction.

The stories originated in Action Comics #151, 162, 223, 232, 234, 236, 239, 242, 247, 249, 252, 254-255; Adventure Comics #210; Showcase #9; Superman #65, 79-80, 96-97, 118, 125, 127, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #8; Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #13, 19 and World’s Finest Comics #68, 74, 75 which span the entire decade as the Adventures of Superman TV show propelled the Man of Tomorrow to even greater heights of popularity.

Supported by the first of a series of factual briefings, the collection leads with Part One: Classic Tales, opening on ‘Three Supermen from Krypton!’ Written by William Woolfolk and illustrated by Al Plastino (one of a talented triumvirate who absolutely defined the hero during this decade), it originated in Superman #65, (July/August 1950): a classy clash revealing unknown facts about Superman’s vanished homeworld. It also provided the increasingly untouchable champion with a much needed physical challenge after a capsule containing three comatose Kryptonian lawbreakers crashes on Earth and the inmates suddenly discover they have incredible powers…

Woolfolk and paramount art team Wayne Boring (peak of that triumvirate) & inker Stan Kaye probed outer space to provide another daunting threat in ‘The Menace from the Stars!’ (World’s Finest Comics #68, January/February 1954). However, all was not as it seemed in this quirky mystery, as a brush with a Green Kryptonite-infused asteroid gave the Man of Steel amnesia. Happily, before he could inadvertently expose his secret identity, another sudden impact set things aright…

Bill Finger, Boring & Kaye crafted ‘The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!’: a fanciful yet evocative human interest tale typical of the era and sorely missed in modern, adrenaline-drenched times. Cover-dated March 1955, the tearjerker from Superman #96 shared the tribulations of a blind child losing hope and is followed by a previously unseen entry.

‘It!’ debuted in Action Comics #162 (November 1951 by Finger, Boring & Kaye): an early alien-menace-with-a-moral yarn depicting a destructive rainbow-hued enigma terrorising Metropolis until the Man of Steel deduces the thing’s incredible secret.

Superman #97 (May 1955) carried Jerry Coleman, Boring & Kaye’s canonical landmark ‘Superboy’s Last Day in Smallville!’, revealing the previously unseen rite of passage by way of exposing a crook’s decades-delayed masterplan, after which Action Comics #239 exposes ‘Superman’s New Face’ (April 1958) – courtesy of famed pulp writer Edmond Hamilton, Boring & Kaye. When an atomic lab accident deforms Superman to the point that he must wear a full-face lead mask, there is – of course – method in his seeming madness…

The  first section closes with a tale from one of the many spin-off titles of the period – and one that gives many 21st century readers a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane was one of precious few comics with a female lead, but her character ranged erratically from man-hungry, unscrupulous schemer through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue.

Most stories were played for laughs in a patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits. It helps that they’re all so beautifully illustrated by sublimely whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger. ‘The Ugly Superman!’ comes from #8 (April 1959), revealing how a costumed wrestler falls for Lois, giving the Caped Kryptonian another chance for some pretty unpleasant Super-teasing. It was written by the veteran Robert Bernstein, who – unlike me – can cite the tenor of the times as his excuse.

As the franchise expanded, so did the character roster and internal history. Part Two: The Superman Family is dedicated to our hero’s ever-extending supporting cast, leading with ‘Superman’s Big Brother!’ (Superman #80, January/February 1953). Scripted by Hamilton and limned by Plastino, it sees a wandering super-powered alien mistaken for a sibling, before an incredible truth comes out. It’s followed here by previously unreprinted tale ‘The First Superman of Krypton’ (Hamilton, Boring & Kaye, Action Comics #223, December 1956) with Superman finding video records from his birthworld and learning how – and why – his father Jor-El briefly enjoyed powers under a red sun…

Next comes the introduction of a genuine new family member. After the Man of Tomorrow made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a different perspective could provide a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

Answers came as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – following years agitating their publisher – unleashed Superboy: inventing and/or fleshing out doomed Krypton, Kal-El’s early years, foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident. The experiment was a huge hit and the lad swiftly bounced into the lead spot of Adventure Comics and – in 1949 – his own title: living a life forever set 20 years behind his adult counterpart.

Encountering crooks, monsters, aliens, other super kids, school woes and the suspicions of girl-next-door Lana Lang, the Boy of Steel enjoyed an eventful, wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Sy Barry introduced a wayward, mischievous and dangerously playful canine companion who had survived Krypton’s doom due to a freak accident in ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’.

Krypto had been baby Kal-El’s pet on Krypton before being used by desperate Jor-El as a test animal for the space rocket he was building. The dog’s miraculous arrival on Earth more than a decade later heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world over the latter part of the decade: all making Superboy less lonely and unique. Every kid needs a dog…

Fresh additions follow, beginning with ‘The Story of Superman, Junior’ (Action Comics #232, September 1959, by Coleman, Boring & Kaye) which sees the Man of Tomorrow adopt a super-powered lad whose space capsule crashes outside the city. However, Johnny Kirk is human, vanished from Earth years previously and his strangely familiar origin and eager inexperience poses an existential threat after the hero adopts him…

Cover-dated December 1958, Action Comics #247 details how an insidious criminal scheme to expose the hero’s secret identity prompts an extreme face-saving solution in Binder & Plastino’s ‘Superman’s Lost Parents!’ before we reach the landmark which, more than any other, moved Superman from his timeless Golden Age holdover status to become a vibrant part of the DC Silver Age revival. It came in in Action Comics #252 (May 1959) as ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ introduced cousin Kara Zor-El, born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

There had been a few intriguing test-runs before the future star of the ever-expanding Superman universe finally took off, but now the stage was set.

Eventually, Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents – observing Earth through their scopes – sent their daughter to safety as they perished. Landing on Earth, she met Kal-El, who created her cover-identity of Linda Lee: hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale so she could learn about her new world and master her new powers in secrecy and safety. This time the concept struck home and the teenaged refugee began her lengthy career as a solo-star from the very next issue.

This section ends with another popular animal guest-star who was also one of the most memorable recurring super-foes of the period. ‘Titano the Super-Ape!’ debuted in Superman #127 (February 1959): a chimpanzee mutated into a Kryptonite-empowered King Kong analogue after being launched into space by rocket scientists. The chimp’s devotion to Lois and big hatred for the Man of Steel were unchanged in the aftermath, and as a skyscraper-sized giant ape with kryptonite vision, he became too dangerous to live. Thankfully, the Action Ace found another way in this beloved masterpiece by Binder, Boring & Kaye combining action, pathos and drama to superb effect.

Part Three: The Villains highlights our hero’s greatest enemies, leading with a team-up of The Prankster, Lex Luthor and extra-dimensional sprite Mr. Mxyztplk in a tale more mirthful mystery than moment of menace and mayhem. Devised by Hamilton, Boring & Kaye from Action Comics #151, December, 1950) ‘Superman’s Super-Magic Show!’ is followed by ‘The Creature of 1,000 Disguises!’ (Action Comics #234, November 1957) by the same team, with the hero plagued by a shapeshifting alien whose idea of fun is juvenile, frustrating and potentially catastrophic.

Superman #118 (January 1958) sees an uncredited writer & Plastino detail ‘The Death of Superman!’  as a fake Man of Steel tricks Lois in an attempt to secure damaging evidence after which Binder, Boring & Kaye reveal ‘Superman’s New Uniform!’ (Action Comics #236, January 1958) as a deadly plot by Luthor to destroy his arch enemy.

Binder & Plastino introduced both the greatest new villain and most expansive character concept the series had yet seen in Action Comics #242, (July 1958) as ‘The Super-Duel in Space’ saw evil alien scientist Brainiac attempt to add Metropolis to his menagerie of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale completely changed the mythology of the Man of Steel: introducing Kandor, a city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac captured them. Although Superman rescued his fellow survivors, the new villain escaped to strike again and again. It would be years before the hero restored the Kandorians to their original size.

Action Comics #249, (February 1959) sees Luthor deliberately irradiate himself with Green K to avoid capture in Binder & Plastino’s ‘The Kryptonite Man!’, but his evil genius proves no match for our hero’s sharp wits, used with equal aplomb in ‘The Battle with Bizarro!’ (Action #254, July 1959) by the same creative team. This story actually re-introduced the imperfect duplicate, who had initially appeared in a well-received story in Superboy #68, from 1958. Even way back then, sales trumped death…

The Frankensteinian doppelganger was resurrected thanks to Luthor’s malfunctioning duplicator ray and Bizarro’s well-intentioned search for a place in the world caused chaos, exacerbated when the lonely monster used the device to make more of his kind. The saga was continued over two issues – an almost unheard of luxury back then – concluding with outrageous empathy in ‘The Bride of Bizarro!’ (#255, August 1959).

Final section Part Four: Superman’s Pals stems largely from that epochal television show, which made most of the supporting cast into household names., but begins with an early exploit of the “World’s Finest Team” from World’s Finest Comics #74, January/February 1955. The great friends’ solidarity is upset after a shapeshifting alien orchestrates a manic rivalry but ‘The Contest of Heroes’ (Finger, Swan & Kaye) is not what it seems…

Superman #79 (November/December 1952) has Hamilton & Plastino depict how a corrupt publisher seeks ‘The End of the Planet!’ but is outfoxed by the dedication of the reporters he made jobless whilst ‘Superman and Robin!’ is a classic bait-and-switch teaser from WFC #75 (March/April 1955), wherein a disabled Batman can only fret and fume as his erstwhile assistant seemingly dumps him for a better man. I’m sure Finger, Swan & Kaye knew that no-one would believe that they had really broken-up the Batman/Boy Wonder team, but the reason for the ploy is a killer….

The Adventures of Superman television show launched in the autumn of 1952, adopting its name from the long-running radio serial that preceded it. It was a monolithic hit of the still young medium and National Periodicals began tentatively expanding their increasingly valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet. The solo-career of the first spin-off star from the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage began with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date. Here, ‘The Stolen Superman Signal’ (#13, June 1956, by Binder, Swan & Ray Burnley) perfectly displays the lad’s pluck and aura of light-hearted whimsy that distinguished the early stories when  criminals target the cub reporter’s secret weapon: a wristwatch emitting a hypersonic sound only the Action Ace an hear…

The Planet’s top female reporter also got her own comic book thanks to TV exposure, but it took another three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively push that boat out again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age was getting going, try-out title Showcase – which had launched The Flash  in #4 & 8) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6 & 7) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Soon after they awarded the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, following a brief mid-1940s string of solo tales in Superman.

From Showcase #9 (June/July 1957) ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past!’ is by Coleman & Plastino, introducing an adult Lana Lang as a rival for superman’s affections and beginning decades of sparring that led to many a comic-book catfight…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #19 (March 1957, by Binder, Swan & Burnley) contributed comedy classic ‘Superman’s Kid Brother’ as major head trauma convinces the cub reporter that he is also superpowered and cruel circumstance keeps that misapprehension alive long past the point where his life is endangered…

The last tale in this section – and the volume – is ‘Superman’s New Power!’ by Coleman, Boring & Kaye from Superman #125 (November 1958). Here an uncanny accident grants the Man of Steel new and incomprehensible abilities with catastrophic consequences…

Also including an extensive cover gallery by Plastino, Boring, Swan, Win Mortimer, Kaye & Burnley, and extensive creator Biographies, this is a wonderful slice of comics history, refreshing, comforting and compelling. Any fan or newcomer will delight in this primer into the ultimate icon of Truth Justice and The American Way.
© 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Stumptown volume 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)


By Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth & various (Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-93496-437-8 (HB) 978-1-62010-440-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-068-4

Plenty of superhero, supernatural and sci fi comics make the jump to TV and movies these days, but not so many straightforward down to earth crime sagas. One that did came from the ever-entertaining, prodigiously prolific, multi award-winning Greg Rucka: a screenwriter (The Old Guard) and novelist (Atticus Kodiak crime sequence, Jad Bell series and half a dozen general thrillers).

Rucka has also crafted astounding graphic thrillers like Whiteout, Queen & Country and Lazarus and excelled working on prime properties and characters Star Wars, Superman, Batman, Gotham Central (co-scripted by Ed Brubaker), Wonder Woman, Grendel, Elektra, the Punisher and Wolverine and been a major contributor to epic events such as 52, No Man’s Land, Infinite Crisis and New Krypton.

One of HIS most engaging concepts features a private eye barely getting by in the writer’s own backyard: Portland Oregon – AKA “Stumptown”…

The series launched in November 2009 as a 6-issue miniseries from Oni Press, with modern day Portland locales a vibrant and integral part of the story. A huge hit, the series was indefinitely extended and ran until #19. The TV show launched September 25, 2019 and was equally entertaining and initially successful, before dying after one superb season during the worst days of the pandemic.

Preceded by Matt Fraction’s Introduction ‘On Stumptown’, and illustrated by Matthew Southworth (Savage Dragon, Ares, Infinity Inc.) with additional colour from Lee Loughridge & Rico Renzi, ‘The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)’ introduces Dexadrine Callisto Parios, private detective and sole owner of Stumptown Investigations.

She’s struggling with bills, two mortgages, a gambling problem, and dangerous impulses whilst looking after dependent brother Ansel and ignoring other people’s constant grief because of her bisexuality – or more likely her attitude to them shoving their noses into problems she doesn’t want to confront yet…

Here, things kick off with Dex being executed by two low grade thugs before we spin back 27 hours to the Whispering Winds casino, where her latest binge and sky high tab have won her a face-to-face meeting with the owner Native American matriarch Sue-Lynne Suppa.

The bosslady also has problems. Wayward granddaughter Charlotte has gone missing – probably with a girl this time – and Dex’s unique skillset, unusual connections and urgent need makes her the perfect hunter to track down and bring home the truant. In return, the casino will forgive the PI’s entire debt.

Its easy to decide what to do if you’ve got no choice…

However, as soon as Dex finishes checking out Charlotte’s apartment, she’s roughed up by moronic thugs Dill and Whale, who also want to find the missing bad girl. Message delivered, the idiots drive off, and Dex is immediately abducted by far more professional goons working for hugely wealthy (don’t ask how he made his pile) Hector Marenco.

Hector has pressing family problems too, but he’s not talking about his sexually-predatory firebrand daughter Isabel or ambitious idiot son Oscar. He needs Charlotte found too, and is willing to pay twice what Sue-Lynne’s offering… but only if Dex tells him first when she finds the lost girl.

Checking in with Ansel (Rucka’s superbly positive and inclusive take on a neuro-atypical character – he has Downs Syndrome but is a realistically rendered, sensitively realised actor who fully participates in the stories), Dex gets a late call from a terrified Charlotte and cautiously arranges a secret meeting…

The staggered flashbacks catch up to now as Dex’s body is dragged out of the river. Her foresight in wearing body armour pays off in more aches, pains and arrest by the Portland Police Bureau, but at least now she knows how serious Charlotte’s problem is and has a good idea who’s involved, if not why…

Diligent research provided by close friend police detective Tracy Hoffman – and an unpleasant but mercifully brief reunion with precinct captain Volk – gives Dex the identity of one of her would-be killers, but as she doggedly proceeds, ambush interviews with the evermore intrusive Marenco siblings lead to a big break. At least it’s not a missing persons gig anymore…

Now helplessly enmired in a federal crime scenario and escalating civil war within a ruthless family trapped in centuries-old bigotries, face-saving and macho posturing, Dex has to negotiate her way out and keep her meagre supply of friends safe as ancient prejudice and modern crime meet head-on and a father ruthlessly resolved to maintain his position and defend the old ways goes into merciless clean-up mode.

Thankfully, Parios is tough, thinks fast and has a gift for making plans on the fly…

A superbly stylish thriller perfectly exploiting changing society and the nature of Oregon myth and culture, this initial yarn was originally collected as a hardback in 2011 with subsequent volumes in both luxury and trade paperback editions. All are available digitally.

Winningly, there are also wonderful extras included in this first tome, starting with Artifacts of Stumptown – a photo feature of cool promotional objects (“tchotchkes”) released to market the series. There was an 8-page monochrome promo micro-comic (printed at the size of a business card and packaged with a magnifying glass) reprinted at full size here as ‘Dex Parios of Stumptown Investigations in “Mustang Ranch”’; t-shirt designs; art prints and a poster mimicking a yellow pages ad for Stumptown Investigations deigned by Eric Trautman.

If you love crime drama, detective fiction, strong female role models or just bloody great storytelling, you need to pay a visit to Stumptown.
Stumptown ™ & © 2011 Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth. All rights reserved.