Doctor Who Graphic Novel #1: The Iron Legion


Illustrated by Dave Gibbons and scripted by Pat Mills, John Wagner & Steve Moore (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-904159-37-7

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Characters.” The history of our homegrown graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film icons and television actors: such disparate legends as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Shirley Eaton (“The Modern Miss”), Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and so many more long forgotten.

As well adored and adapted were actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins ran in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Thunderbirds, Pinky and Perky, The Clangers and literally hundreds more.

Hugely popular anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed comic property…

Doctor Who premiered on black-&-white televisions across Britain on November 23rd 1963 with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. In 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began: issue #674 offered the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th), Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. It became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us – under various names – ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree.

Panini’s UK division is in the ongoing process of collecting every strip from its archive in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums, each concentrating on a particular incarnation (those in the know refer to them as “regenerations”) of the deathless wanderer. This particular tome was the very first, gathering 36 weekly monochrome strips from the first 38 weeks, all drawn, inked and lettered by International Treasure Dave Gibbons and published between 11th October 1979 and July 3rd 1980.

In fact, the Doctor Who stories were amongst the last regular comics work the artist created for the British market before being scooped up by the Americans as part of the early 1980s “British Invasion”.

All that and more is covered in the comprehensive ‘Dave Gibbons Interview’ conducted by Alan Woollcombe which precedes the frantic tales plucked from the annals of history featuring the Fourth Doctor (AKA Tom Baker). Thanks to the skills of writers Pat Mills & John Wagner (who plotted the yarns together but alternated as solo-scripters for completed stories) and latterly Steve Moore, the adventuresome episodes combine thrills, fights and scares with a suitable degree of surreal humour and whimsical Anglophilic cultural nonsense…

The cosmic comics carnage kicks off with a ‘The Iron Legion’ (originally seen in Doctor Who Weekly #1-8: 11th October to December 5th 1979) with Mills providing dialogue as the wandering Time Lord lands in a contemporary English village just as it is attacked by robot soldiers from a parallel plane where the Roman Empire never fell.

Taken as a prisoner across the dimensional divide, The Doctor faces formidable opposition from the tyrannical mechanical General Ironicus, bratty boy-Emperor Adolphus and his terrifying mother Juno.

However, as the gob-smacked Gallifreyan strives to survive the worst trials and tribulations the all-conquering empire can throw at him, he realises that there is an even greater evil controlling the toga-draped elite: immortal alien devil Magog and his arcane brethren The Malevilus.

Escape is no longer the issue: The Doctor needs to stop a ghastly scheme to enslave and consume the entire universe…

Wagner did the typing for next serial ‘City of the Damned’ (DWW #9-16: 12th December 1979 – January 30th 1980) as our hero attempts to enjoy a little downtime in placid Benidorm but instead ends up in grim metropolis Zombos, where all emotion has been outlawed and the citizens submit to mind-altering procedures to keep the all-pervasive state sound and stable.

Captured by the passionless Moderators, The Doctor is only saved from surgically-induced emotional lobotomy by daring – possibly deranged – rebels fighting to restore feeling to the People.

When one of their number unleashes a doomsday bio-weapon that thrives on the lack of emotion, the Time Lord and his ZEPO (Zom Emotional People’s Organisation) allies. The immortal wanderer has to think – and feel – fast to save the population and restore feeling to the endangered masses…

The next two tales were fill-ins and our ongoing saga resumes with the strip from #19 as, still searching for a seaside retreat, The TARDIS next dumps the increasingly harried Doctor in the English town of Blackcastle. The BBC news is full of denials that a starship has crashed into the local steelworks, but schoolgirl Sharon Davies and her friend Fudge know better. After all, they have already befriended ‘The Star Beast’ (February 20th – April 9th) that was hiding in the wreckage and promised to hide it from its enemies…

The Doctor has already met them but believes he’s successfully escaped the contingent of Wrarth Warriors. He is blissfully unaware that they have implanted a devasting bomb in his stomach for the moment he finally meets their elusive prey Beep the Meep

Even after escaping that near-death experience, the gullible Gallifreyan is unaware of quite who and what’s he’s dealing with in a devious tale where no-one and nothing are quite what they seem…

And to make things even more complicated, by the time the stardust settles, Sharon has moved into the TARDIS as his latest companion…

The Mills & Wagner stories – originally created as prospective TV adventures – conclude in deep space and an indeterminate future as The Doctor and Sharon encounter space truckers Joe Bean and Babe, servicing the colony worlds of the New Earth System. What nobody knows at this stage is that the planets are under attack by highly infectious lycanthropic horrors dubbed ‘The Dogs of Doom’ (DWW #27-34: 10th April – June 5th).

As the creatures ravage the young planets, eradication seems certain, and doubly so once the infected Doctor discerns that the werewolves are merely tools of his greatest enemies – the Daleks!

This stunning, sterling trade paperback concludes with the first story by veteran British comics stalwart Steve Moore and the threat of ‘The Time Witch’ (DWW #197-202: June 12th to 3rd July).

Before Earth formed, psychic adept Brimo was imprisoned in a timeless cell for misusing her powers. From her crystal cage she saw galaxies rise and fall and raged to be free…

That joyous moment occurred when the dashing time meddler’s TARDIS accidentally interfaced with a blank universe, freeing her and granting her the power to reshape reality. Unfortunately for her, The Doctor realised that those conditions applied to anybody trapped in that unformed region, and in a battle of wills and imagination his brain was second to none…

Sheer effusive delight from start to finish, this is a splendid book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics another shot…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis, Dalek word and device mark and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Dalek device mark © BBC/Terry Nation 1963.All other material © its individual creators and owners. Published 2004 by Panini. All rights reserved.

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying


By the Original Writer, Mick Anglo, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon, Mick Austin, Paul Neary & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5462-4 (HB)

I got my start in comics as the most junior of juniors on a rather iconoclastic and sensational magazine named Warrior. It was an incredible learning experience but producing arguably Britain’s most influential comic magazine was a tense, fraught, high energy, cauldron-like existence for all involved and some of those comrades-in-arms barely talk to each other these days.

That’s part of the story behind the fact that the incredible author of most of the stories in this premier compilation doesn’t want his name anywhere near it.

As that’s the case I’m happy to respect his wishes. It is a shame, though, as this is a work which changed the shape and nature of superhero comics forever, even if during the latter days of it in Warrior, we all thought the bloody strip was cursed…

If you’re interested in rumour, speculation and divided perspectives on ancient history, there are plenty of places online to visit for other information, but today let’s just discuss one of the very best superhero stories ever crafted…

This book is available in a variety of formats and although some of the back-up contents might vary in essence it is a lavish, remastered full re-presentation of the original Marvelman saga A Dream of Flying; stuffed with extra story content and page after page of lush behind-the-scenes material, production art and more.

Just in case you weren’t aware: the hero of this tome was originally created by jobbing artist and comics packager Mick Anglo for publisher L. Miller and Son in 1954 to replace a line of extremely popular British weekly monochrome reprints starring the Marvel Family as originally generated by US outfit Fawcett.

When a decade-long legal dispute between Fawcett and National/DC arguing copyright infringement ended just as the superhero trend nosedived in America, the defendant simply closed down most of its comics line. Overnight this act deprived British – and other foreign clients’ – firms of one of their most popular reprint strands.

In a feat of slippery brilliance, Anglo rapidly retooled defunct Yank heroes Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel into Marvelman, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman, subsequently detailing their simplistic, charming adventures until 1963, when falling sales and changing tastes finally caught up with them all and they vanished into comicbook limbo.

In 1982 the characters and concepts were picked up by Dez Skinn for his proposed new independent and proudly British venture and quite soon magic was being created again…

The second end began when a certain US comics publisher started suing Warrior for using the word “Marvel” even though when Marvelman was created they were still calling themselves “Atlas”. (No, of course I’m over it now…)

An inescapable truism of modern life is that money trumps fact every time…

This compelling volume opens with ‘Prologue 1956: The Invaders from the Future’ (originally created by Anglo and the great Don Lawrence but subtly tweaked by our unnamed “original writer”) as a scene-setting foretaste of what might have been before the deconstructionist main event opens.

In that idealised past epoch, invulnerable time-travellers from 1981 are beaten back by the intrepid trio of superheroes before the real story begins in the drab, humdrum and utterly ordinary world of Thatcherite Britain, circa 1982…

Over-the-hill freelance journalist Mike Moran is plagued by ‘A Dream of Flying’ (illustrated by Garry Leach) as a godlike gleaming superman before being blown up by atom bombs…

This morning, however, he can’t let it stop him getting to the opening of the new atomic power station at Larksmere, even if his concentration is ruined by another of his crippling headaches and the agonising frustration of a word he’s forgotten lurking just beyond the tip of his tongue…

The press launch is an unmitigated disaster. When a band of terrorists attack the site, Mike collapses and while he’s being dragged off something happens. That word comes back to him and, in a catastrophic salvo of heat and light and noise, he transforms into the creature of his dreams before comprehensively dealing with the gunmen and flying off into space…

In ‘Legends’ the glittering paragon returns to Mike’s wife and attempts to explain the impossible events and his restored memories of being a superhero in Fifties Britain. Liz Moran cannot help but laugh at the canon of ridiculous absurdities this incredible creature spouts even if to all intents and purposes he is her husband. After all, if his restored memories are correct, why has nobody ever heard of him?

To augment the drama (and pad out the comicbooks this compilation is taken from), ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ devotes space to pages offering a wealth of pre-production work: sketches, design roughs, pencilled panels and complete original art, colour-indications, pertinent ads, pin-ups and covers by Leach.

These are supplemented by ‘Kimota! The Secret Origin of Mick Anglo’s Marvelman’ by British comics historian and journalist Mike Conroy, and ‘Mick on Mick’ sees Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada interviewing Mick Anglo before a brace of the veteran’s strips (from Marvelman #25, February 3rd 1954) reveal what all the post-war fuss was about.

‘Marvelman and the Atomic Bomber’ finds precocious newsboy Micky Moran on the trail of deadly spies after which ‘Marvelman and the Stolen Radium’ has the Atomic Warrior foiling dastardly bandits led by Professor Hatz and saving England from fatal contamination…

Further vintage thrills materialise in ‘The Stolen Reflections’ (Marvelman #32, March 24th 1954) when mad scientist Gargunza builds a machine to animate mirror images…

Returning to modern times and full colour, aging Mike’s insane situation is exacerbated next morning ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. Technological guru and self-made billionaire John Bates calls out of the blue and Mike suddenly remembers the amiable little lad with superpowers who was his jolly sidekick before being caught in the same atomic blast that eradicated his own memories.

After he and Liz visit the unctuous mogul, Mike realises with horror that his fawning junior partner never changed back to human but has been slowly using his gifts to dominate the world for the last eighteen years…

Rumbled, Bates ferociously attacks in ‘Dragons’, using abilities which have grown and evolved in two decades of constant if covert use to beat the recently returned Miracleman near to death. However, the horrific super-duel is abruptly curtailed by a sudden jump into what we thought back then would be the near-future…

Warrior #4 was sold as a summer special in August 1982. It led with a bold fill-in set three years into the story time-line. The editorial long-term plan had been to create a “Justice League” of Warrior characters and ‘The Yesterday Gambit’ – with art by Steve Dillon, Alan Davis & Paul Neary – starred two of them in an interlude from their final battle with an ultimate nemesis.

The complex plot involved trans-dimensional teleporting alien samurai Aza Chorn (as yet unintroduced) who ferried Miracleman through time to battle himself at different stages of his career. The expended energies of the cataclysmic combats would be harvested by the gallant Warpsmith to use against their unstoppable future foe…

The ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ offers more pre-production work: sketches, designs for Bates, complete original art, and covers by Leach, supplemented by ‘A Short History of British Comics’ by Mike Conroy plus a brace of 1950s classics.

‘The Birth of Marvelman’ (Marvelman #65, November 1st 1954) was the eagerly-anticipated origin tale of how reclusive astro-scientist Guntag Barghelt first gifted plucky young Micky Moran with the greatest power in the universe, after which issue #102 (July 30th 1955) saw a newly-minted boy hero rescuing innocent kids unjustly accused of being juvenile delinquents in ‘Introducing Kid Marvelman’

The appalling supra-normal duel of metahuman gods resumes next: spectacularly devastating much of London. Pencilled by Alan Davis and inked by Leach, ‘Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder’ emphasises the true horror of para-powered combat and only ends when the smugly overconfident former Kid Miracleman accidentally defeats himself…

The first inklings of the incredible truth begin to emerge in ‘Secret Identity’ (Davis & Leach) as Sir Dennis Archer of mothballed, clandestine organisation “The Spookshow” despatches his top assassin to find and sanction a threat he’s long-believed eradicated in a flash of atomic fire decades past.

Mike and Liz meanwhile head for Dartmoor to test Miracleman’s abilities in private.

Their marriage has suffered since the initial transformation, especially as Mike insists he and his alter-ego are two different people and Miracleman has got Liz pregnant after his own fruitless years of trying…

Davis fully took over the art chores with ‘Blue Murder’ as Archer’s highly capable investigator/hitman Evelyn Cream tracks down and brilliantly takes out Moran with a minimum of fuss…

Following Mick Austin’s award-winning cover to Warrior #7, ‘We Are Warpsmiths!’ reintroduces the hero’s prospective alien allies through covers, sketches and design roughs, culminating with the stranger creatures’ initial storyline as first seen in Warrior #9 and 10.

Reproduced here in captivating full colour and showcasing the bizarre and exotic realms the militaristic peacekeepers are sworn to defend, ‘Cold War, Cold Warrior’ sees a family group of stellar sentinels critically overreact to a suspected incursion into their protectorate…

The unending, extended conflict with their cosmic antithesis The Qys results in constant, deadly politicking and here innocent kids and two members of their own Warpsmith cadre are sacrificed to expediency and a greater agenda…

By the advent of ‘Out of the Dark’ (first seen in Warrior #9, January 1983) the enigmatic killer Cream has inexplicably switched sides, aiding Miracleman as he seeks out the truth of his origins in a top-secret military bunker which contains deadly defences, another – lesser – superhuman and more. The human resources prove as nothing to the sparkling juggernaut in their midst but the Spookshow has one last card to play: a deformed and inadequate leftover superhuman dubbed Big Ben

‘Inside Story’ reveals at last what happened when British Intelligence happened upon the find of an epoch and how they foolishly sought outside assistance to utilise it. Tragically, that single misjudgement led to a catalogue of others…

Soon Miracleman understands how recovered and reverse-engineered alien DNA techniques, cruel and callous genetic experimentation and the paranoia of one deranged, debauched scientist who grew supermen and programmed them to compliance using comicbook fantasies led to his current predicament in culminating chapter ‘Zarathustra’

To Be Continued…

The remainder of this stunning collection is rounded out with tantalising snippets from Warrior’s then-gestating shared universe, beginning with ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ – illustrated by Davis as a framing device in the Marvelman Special – which originally featured a number of classic, remastered Anglo-era adventures and a fascinating peek into what might have been…

The nomadic multiplanar policemen called Warpsmiths reappear in ‘Ghostdance’ (originally published in A1 #1, October 1989) in a direct continuation of the first saga, as the surviving dutiful sentinels grieve and move on in their own uniquely inexplicable manner…

This last is accompanied by more ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ material from Leach, tracing the development of the Warpsmiths and augmented by a selection of house ads, even more original art pages and found background material.

Wrapping things up is a stunning gallery of covers and variants by Leach, Davis, Austin, Joe Quesada, Danny Miki, Richard Isanove, John Cassady, Paul Mounts, Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Laura Martin, Skottie Young, Mark Buckingham, D’Israeli, Jerome Opena, Dean White, Steve Oliff, Neal Adams, Frank Martin, Mark Farmer, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, Mike McKone, Paulo Rivera, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo, J.G Jones, Javier Rodriguez, John Tyler Christopher, Gerald Parel and Bryan Hitch, generated for Marvel’s 2013 relaunch of the property.

One of the greatest superhero comics sagas ever. There’s simply nothing else to say…
© 2014 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Darkie’s Mob: The Secret War of Joe Darkie


By John Wagner & Mike Weston (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-442-8

Britain has always had a solid tradition for top-notch comic strips about the Second World War but the material produced by one radically different publication in the 1970s and 1980s surpassed all previous efforts and has been acknowledged as having transformed the entire art form.

Battle was one of the last great British weekly anthologies: a combat-themed anthology comic which began as Battle Picture Weekly on 8th March 1975 and, through absorption, merger and re-branding became Battle Picture Weekly & Valiant, Battle Action, Battle, Battle Action Force and ultimately Battle Storm Force before itself being combined with the too-prestigious-to-cancel Eagle on January 23rd 1988.

Over 673 gore-soaked, epithet-stuffed, adrenaline-drenched issues, the contents of the blistering periodical gouged its way into the bloodthirsty hearts of a generation, consequently producing some of the best and most influential war stories ever. These include Major Eazy, D-Day Dawson, The Bootneck Boy, Johnny Red, HMS Nightshade, Rat Pack, Fighter from the Sky, Hold Hill 109, Fighting Mann, Death Squad!, Panzer G-Man, Joe Two Beans, The Sarge (star-artist Mike Western’s other best work ever), Hellman of Hammer Force and the stunning and iconic Charley’s War among many others.

The list of talented contributors was equally impressive: writers Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve McManus, Mark Andrew, Gerry Finley-Day, Tom Tully, Eric & Alan Hebden, with art from Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Jim Watson, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Carlos Pino, John Cooper, Mike Dorey, Cam Kennedy and more.

One of the most harrowing and memorable series during that reign of blood and honour was an innovative saga of group obsession and personal vengeance set in the green hell of Burma in the months following the Japanese invasion and rout of the entrenched British Empire in Spring 1942.

As delivered by John Wagner & Mike Western, Darkie’s Mob is a phenomenally – and deservedly – well-regarded classic of the genre, wherein a mysterious maniac adopts and subverts a lost, broken, demoralised and doomed squad of British soldiers. His intent is to on use them to punish the Japanese in ways no normal man could imagine…

This glorious oversized monochrome hardback compilation collects the entire uncompromising saga – which originally ran from 14th August 1976 to 18th June 1977 – in a deluxe edition which also contains a comprehensive cover gallery and ‘Dead Men Walking’: an effusive introduction by unabashed fan and occasional war-writer Garth Ennis.

The tale opens as a frenetically fast-paced mystery-thriller beginning in 1946 when Allied troops discover the blood-soaked combat journal of Private Richard Shortland, reported missing along with the rest of his platoon during the frantic retreat from the all-conquering Japanese.

The first entry and the opening initial episode are dated May 30th 1942 and describe a slow descent into the very heart of darkness…

Beaten and ready to die, the rag-tag remnants of the British Army are rescued from certain death by the uncompromising, unconventional and terrifyingly pitiless Captain Joe Darkie who strides out of the hostile Burmese verdure and instantly asserts an almost preternatural command over the weary warriors. The men are appalled by Darkie’s physical and emotional abuse of them and his terrifying treatment of an enemy patrol he encounters whilst leading them out of their predicament.

They’re even more shocked when they discover that he’s not heading for the safety of their lines but guiding them deeper into Japanese-held territory…

Thus begins a guerrilla war like no other, as Darkie moulds the soldiers – through brutal bullying and all manner of psychological ploys – into fanatics with only one purpose: hunting and killing the enemy.

In rapid snatches of events culled from Shortland’s account we discover that Darkie is a near-mythical night-terror to the invaders, a Kukri-wielding, poison-spitting demon happy to betray, exploit and expend his own men to slaughter his hated foes. He is equally well-known to the enslaved natives and ruthlessly at home in the alien world of the Burma jungles and swamps. What kind of experiences could transform a British Officer into such a ravening horror?

An answer of sorts quickly comes after Shortland intercepts a radio communication and discovers that the Army has no record of any soldier named Joe Darkie, but the dutiful diarist has no explanation of his own reasons for keeping the psycho-killer’s secret to himself…

For over a year the hellish crusade continued with the Mob striking everywhere like bloody ghosts; freeing prisoners, sabotaging Japanese bases, destroying engineering works and always killing in the most spectacular manner possible. Eventually after murdering generals, blowing up bridges and casually invading the most secure cities in the country, the Mob become the Empires’ most wanted men as both Britain and Japan hunt the rogue unit with equal vehemence and ferocity.

Darkie wants to kill and not even Allied orders will stop him…

The mob are gradually whittled away by death, insanity and fatigue as Darkie infects them with his hatred and nihilistic madness until all the once-human soldiers are nothing more than Jap-hating killing machines ready and willing to die just as long as they can take another son of Nippon to hell with them…

The descent culminates but doesn’t end with the shocking revelations of Darkie’s origins and secret in Shortland’s incredible entry for October 30th 1943, after which the inevitable end inexorably drew near…

This complete chronicle also includes a heavily illustrated prose tale from the 1990 Battle Holiday Special and I’m spoiling nobody’s fun by advising you all to read this bonus feature long before you arrive at the staggering conclusion…

A mention should be made of the language used here. Although a children’s comic – or perhaps because it was – the speech and interactions of the characters contains a strongly disparaging and colourful racial element.

Some of these terms are liable to cause offence to modern readers – but not nearly as much as any post-watershed TV show or your average school playground – so please try and remember the vintage and authorial directives in place when the stories were first released.

Battle exploded forever the cosy, safely nostalgic “we’ll all be alright in the end” tradition of British comics; ushering an ultra-realistic, class-savvy, gritty awareness of the true horror of military service and conflict, pounding home the message War is Hell.

With Darkie’s Mob Wagner and Western successfully and so horrifyingly showed us its truly ugly face and inescapable consequences.
Darkie’s Mob © 2011 Egmont UK Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Dead Men Walking © 2011 Garth Ennis.

The Golden Years of Adventure Stories


By various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-0851165271

Here’s a wonderful compilation commemorating the truly unique DC Thomson comic experience, concentrating on their many action and adventure serials. The Dundee based company has long been a mainstay of British popular reading and the strong editorial stance has informed a huge number of household names over the decades.

The main tenet of the Thomson adventure philosophy is a traditional, humanistic sense of decency. Runner Alf Tupper‘The Tough of the Track’ – might be a poor, rough, working class lad, competing in a world of privileged “Toffee-Nosed Swells”, but he excels for the sheer joy of sportsmanship, not for gain or glory.

There are no anti-heroes in the Thomson heroic stable, almost in direct opposition to the iconic, anarchic, mischief-makers of their humour comics.

British spy Bill Sampson may be the dreaded ‘Wolf of Kabul’ to the Afghan tribesmen he encounters with devoted assistant Chung (who will live forever as the wielder of the deadly “Clicky Ba” – that’s a cricket bat to you and me), but he’s still just an ordinary chap at heart, as are all the other characters spotlighted here. They’re just the sort of people ordinary kids should want to grow up into.

Heroes like Samson actually predate the company’s conversion of prose adventure fiction into comic strips – generally accepted as 1961, when the proliferation of TV sets among the perceived audience dictated the switch from words to pictures.

For many years previously, what children bought were boys’ or girls’ “papers”, packed with well-written text stories and the odd illustration and features page. Thomson held these over in titles such as Adventure until the end of the 1950s, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable, converting their pulp-stars into pictorial idols.

Wolf of Kabul, for instance, began in 1922, but was easily and successfully translated into a comic strip in the 1960s.

In this compendium are both prose stories and strips featuring some of Britain’s best loved and longest running heroes subdivided into categories that mirror the average schoolboy’s interests.

So thrill again, or catch the bug with such Schooldays sagas as The Red Circle School (1940s) and Kingsley Comp (1980s); the sporting triumphs of The Tough of the Track (1949-onwards), Wilson the mysterious Man in Black (The Truth About Wilson: 1943-onwards), or Gorgeous Gus (a millionaire – even before he became a footballer – who didn’t like to run but had an infallible shot).

You might prefer to peruse Cast, Hook and Strike, the story of Joe Dodd: an exceptional angler from the 1970s (yes, a fishing strip, and don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it).

Or perhaps your fancy will be caught by the War stories I Flew with Braddock, Code-name Warlord, and V for Vengeance, or the outrageous heroics of Morgyn the Mighty (Strongest Man in Africa), The Laughing Pirate, or The Hairy Sheriff (a cowboy ape).

And, as ever, Wolf of Kabul will capture your fancy and fulfil that desire to sample simpler times.

These tales, taken from the classic periodical publications Adventure, The Skipper, The Wizard and Rover, latterly supplemented by material from Hornet, Hotspur, Victor and Warlord, are accompanied and augmented by numerous glorious cover reproductions and feature pages, loaded with fun and shiny with nostalgia.

I only wish I could name all the creators responsible, but Thomson’s long-standing policy of creative anonymity means I’d be guessing too many times. I can only hope that future collected celebrations will include some belated acknowledgement of all the talented individuals who between them shaped the popular consciousness of generations, and made childhoods joyful, wondrous and thrilling.
© 1991 DC Thomson & Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01


By John Wagner, Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-90426-579-5

Britain’s last great comic icon could be described as a combination of the other two, combining the futuristic milieu and thrills of Dan Dare with the terrifying anarchy and irreverent absurdity of Dennis the Menace. He’s the longest-lasting adventure character in our admittedly meagre comics stable, having been continually published every week since February 1977 when he first appeared in the second issue of science-fiction anthology 2000AD – and now that The Dandy’s gone, veterans Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan might one day be overtaken in the comedy stakes too…

However, with at least 52 2000AD strips a year, annuals, specials, a newspaper strip (in the Daily Star and later The Metro), the Judge Dredd Megazine, numerous reprinted classic comics collections, some rather appalling franchised foreign comicbook spin-off titles, that adds up to a phenomenal amount of material, most of which is still happily in print.

Judicial Review: Dredd and his dystopian ultra-metropolis of Mega-City One – originally it was to be a 21st century New York – were created by a very talented committee including Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and others, but with the major contribution coming from legendary writer John Wagner who has written the largest portion of the canon under his own name and several pseudonyms.

Joe Dredd is a fanatically dedicated Judge in the super-city, where hundreds of millions of citizens idle away their days in a world where robots are cheaper and more efficient than humans, and jobs are both beloved pastime and treasured commodity. Boredom has reached epidemic proportions and almost everybody is just one askance glance away from mental meltdown. Judges are peacekeepers who maintain order at all costs: investigating, taking action and trying all crimes and disturbances to the hard-won equilibrium of the constantly boiling melting pot. Justice is always immediate…

Dredd’s world is a polluted and precarious Future (In)Tense with all the key analogues for successful science fiction (as ever a social looking-glass for the times it’s created in) situated and sharply attuned to a Cold War Consumer Civilisation. The planet is divided into political camps with post-nuclear holocaust America locked in a slow death-struggle with the Sov Judges of the old Eastern Communist blocs. The Eastern lawmen are militaristic, oppressive and totalitarian – and that’s by the US Judges’ standards – so just imagine what they’re actually like…

The Judges are necessary fascists in a world permanently on the edge of catastrophe, and sadly, what far too many readers never realise is that the strip is a gigantic satirical black comedy with oodles of outrageous, vicarious cathartic action.

Such was not the case when the super-cop debuted in 2000AD Prog (that’s issue number to you) #2 on March 5th 1977. He was stuck at the back of the new weekly comic in a tale finally scripted – after much intensive re-hashing – by Peter Harris and illustrated by Mike McMahon & Carlos Ezquerra.

The blazing, humourless, no-nonsense (all that would happily come later) action extravaganza introduced the bike-riding Sentinel of Order in the cautionary tale of brutal bandit Whitey, whose savage crime spree was ended with ferocious efficiency before the thug was sentenced to Devil’s Island – a high-rise artificial plateau surrounded by the City’s constant stream of lethal, never-ending, high-speed traffic…

In Prog 3 Dredd investigated ‘The New You’ in a cunning thriller by Kelvin Gosnell & McMahon wherein a crafty crook tries to escape justice by popping into his local face-changing shop, whilst #4 saw the first appearance of the outcast mutants in ‘The Brotherhood of Darkness’ (Malcolm Shaw & McMahon) as the ghastly post-nuclear pariahs invade the megalopolis in search of slaves.

The first hints of humour began in Prog 5’s ‘Krong’ by Shaw & Ezquerra, with the introduction of Dredd’s little-old-lady Italian cleaner Maria, wherein deranged horror film fan and hologram salesman Kevin O’Neill – yes it’s an in-joke – unleashes a giant mechanical gorilla on the city. The issue was the first of many to cover-feature old Stone Face (that’s Dredd, not Kev)…

‘Frankenstein 2’ pits the Lawman against an audacious medical mastermind, hijacking citizens to keep his rich aging clients in fresh, young organs, whilst #7 sees ruthless reprobate Ringo’s gang of muggers flaunting their criminality in the very shadow of ‘The Statue of Judgement’ until Dredd lowers the boom on them…

The first indications that the super-cop’s face is somehow hideously disfigured emerge in #8, as Charles Herring & Massimo Belardinelli’s ‘Antique Car Heist’ finds the Judge tracking down a murderous thief who stole an ancient petrol-burning vehicle, after which co-creator John Wagner returned in Prog 9 to begin his staggering run of tales with ‘Robots’, illustrated by veteran British science fiction artist Ron Turner.

The gripping vignette was set at the Robot of the Year Show, and revealed the callous cruelty indulged in by citizens upon their mechanical slaves as a by-product of a violent blackmail threat by a disabled maniac in a mechanical-super chair… This set the scene for an ambitious mini-saga comprising #10-17.

Those casual injustices paved the way for ‘Robot Wars’ (alternately illustrated over the weeks by Ezquerra, Turner, McMahon & Ian Gibson) wherein carpenter-robot Call-Me-Kenneth succumbs to a mechanical mind meltdown and emerges as a human-hating steel Spartacus, leading a bloody revolution against the fleshy oppressors.

The slaughter is widespread and terrible before the Judges regain control, helped in no small part by loyal, lisping Vending droid Walter the Wobot, who graduated at the conclusion to Dredd’s second live-in comedy foil…

With order restored, a sequence of self-contained stories firmed up the vision of the crazed city. In Prog 18 Wagner & McMahon introduced the menace of mind-bending ‘Brainblooms’ cultivated by another little old lady (and career criminal), and Gerry Finley-Day & John Cooper described the galvanising effect of the ‘Muggers Moon’ on Mega-City 1’s criminal class before Dredd demonstrated the inadvisability of being an uncooperative witness…

Wagner & McMahon then debuted Dredd’s bizarre paid informant Max Normal in #20, whose latest tip ended the profitable career of ‘The Comic Pusher’; Finley-Day & Turner turned in a workmanlike thriller as the super-cop tackles a seasoned killer with a deadly new weapon in ‘The Solar Sniper’ and Wagner & Gibson showed the draconian steps Dredd was prepared to take to bring in mutant assassin ‘Mr Buzzz’.

Prog 23 comfortably catapulted the series into all-out ironic satire mode with Finley-Day & McMahon’s ‘Smoker’s Crime‘ when Dredd stalks a killer with a bad nicotine habit to a noxious City Smokatorium, after which Malcolm Shaw, McMahon & Ezquerra reveal the uncanny secret of ‘The Wreath Murders’ in #24.

The next issue began the feature’s long tradition of spoofing TV and media fashions as Wagner & Gibson concoct a lethal illegal game show in ‘You Bet Your Life’ whilst #26 exposes the sordid illusory joys and dangers of the ‘Dream Palace’ (McMahon) before #27-28 offer some crucial background on the Judges themselves when Dredd visits ‘The Academy of Law’ (Wagner & Gibson) to give Cadet Judge Giant his final practical exam. Of course, for Dredd there are no half measures or easy going and the novice barely survives his graduation…

With the concluding part in #28, Dredd moved to second spot in 2000AD (behind brutally jingoistic thriller Invasion) and the next issue saw Pat Mills & Gibson tackle robot racism as Ku Kux Klan-analogue ‘The Neon Knights’ brutalised the reformed and broken artificial citizenry until the Juggernaut Judge krushes them…

Mills then offered tantalising hints on Dredd’s origins in ‘The Return of Rico!’ (McMahon) as a bitter criminal resurfaces after twenty years on the penal colony of Titan. The outcast is looking for vengeance upon the Judge who had sentenced him., but from his earliest days as a fresh-faced rookie, Joe Dredd had no time for corrupt lawmen – even if one were his own clone-brother…

Whitey escapes from Devil’s Island (Finley-Day & Gibson) in Prog 31, thanks to a cobbled-together contraption that turns off weather control, but doesn’t get far before Dredd sends him back, whilst the fully automated skyscraper resort ‘Komputel’ (Robert Flynn & McMahon) becomes a multi-story murder factory that only the City’s greatest Judge can counter before Wagner (using his frequent pseudonym John Howard) took sole control for a series of savage, whacky escapades beginning with #33’s ‘Walter’s Secret Job’ (Gibson).

Here the besotted droid is discovered moonlighting as a cabbie to buy pwesents for his beloved master….

McMahon & Gibson illustrated the two-part tale of ‘Mutie the Pig’: a flamboyant criminal and bent Judge, and performed the same tag-team effort for ‘The Troggies’, a debased colony of ancient humans living under the city and preying on unwary citizens…

Something of a bogie man for wayward kids and exhausted parents, Dredd does himself no favours in Prog 38 when he bursts in on ‘Billy Jones’ (Gibson) and exposes a vast espionage plot utilising toys as surveillance tools.

On tackling ‘The Ape Gang’ in #39 (19th November 1977 and drawn by McMahon), the Judge seamlessly graduated to the lead spot whilst quashing a turf war between augmented, educated, criminal anthropoids in the unruly district dubbed “the Jungle”…

‘The Mega-City 5000’ was an illegal and murderously bloody street race the assembled Judges were determined to shut down, but the gripping action-illustration of the Bill Ward drawn first chapter is sadly overshadowed by hyper-realist rising star Brian Bolland, who began his legendary association with Dredd by concluding the mini-epic in blistering, captivating style in Prog 41. Bolland, by his own admission, was an uneconomically slow artist and much of his later Dredd work would appear as weekly portions of large epics with other artists handling other episodes, to give him time to complete his own assignments with a minimum of pressure…

From out of nowhere in a bold change of pace, Dredd is then seconded to the Moon for a six-month tour of duty beginning in Prog #42. His brief is to oversee the rambunctious, nigh-lawless colony set up by the unified efforts of three US Mega-Cities there. The colony was as bonkers as Mega-City One and a good deal less civilised – a true Final Frontier town…

The extended epic began with‘Luna-1’ by Wagner & Gibson, with Dredd and stowaway Walter almost shot down en route in a mysterious missile attack before being targeted by a suicide-bomb robot before they can even unpack.

‘Showdown on Luna-1’ introduces permanent Deputy-Marshal Judge Tex from Texas-City, whose jaded, laissez-faire attitudes get a sound shaking up as Dredd demonstrates he’s one lawman who isn’t going to coast by for the duration of his term in office.

Hitting the dusty mean streets, Dredd starts cleaning up the wild boys in his town by outdrawing a mechanical Robo-Slinger and uncovering yet another assassination ploy. It seems that reclusive mega-billionaire ‘Mr. Moonie; has a problem with the latest law on his lunar turf…

Whilst dispensing aggravating administrative edicts like a frustrated Solomon, Dredd chafes to hit the streets and do some real work in #44’s McMahon-limned ‘Red Christmas’. An opportunity arises when arrogant axe-murderer ‘Geek Gorgon’ abducts Walter and demands a showdown he lives to regret, whilst ‘22nd Century Futsie!’ (Gibson) finds Moonie Fabrications clerk Arthur Goodworthy cracking under the strain of over-work and going on a destructive binge, with Dredd compelled to protect the future-shocked father’s family from Moonie’s over-zealous security goons…

The plotline concludes in Prog 46 with ‘Meet Mr. Moonie’ (Gibson) as Dredd and Walter confront the manipulative manufacturer and uncover his horrific secret.

The feature moved to the prestigious middle spot with this episode, allowing the artists to really open up and exploit the comic’s full-colour centre-spreads, none more so than Bolland as seen in #47’s ‘Land Race‘ as Dredd officiates over a frantic scramble by colonists to secure newly opened plots of habitable territory. Of course, there’s always someone who doesn’t want to share…

Ian Gibson then illustrated 2-part drama ‘The Oxygen Desert’ (#48-49), wherein veteran moon-rat Wild Butch Carmody defeats Dredd using his superior knowledge of the airless wastes beyond the airtight domes. Broken, the Judge quits and slides into despondency, but all is not as it seems…

Prog 50 featured the debut of single-page comedy supplement Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd – but more of that later – whilst the long-suffering Justice found himself knee-boot-deep in an international interplanetary crisis when ‘The First Lunar Olympics’ (Bolland) against a rival lunar colony controlled by the Machiavellian Judges of the Sov-Cities bloc escalates into assassination and a murderous, politically-fuelled land grab.

The conflict was settled in ostensibly civilised manner with strictly controlled ‘War Games’, yet there is still a grievously high body-count by the time the moon-dust settles…

This vicious swipe at contemporary sport’s politicisation was and still is bloody, brutal and bitingly funny…

Bolland also illustrated the sardonic saga of ruthless bandits who were up for a lethal laugh in #52’s ‘The Face-Change Crimes’, employing morphing tech to change their appearances and rob at will until Dredd beats them at their own game.

Wagner & Gibson then craft a 4-part mini-epic (Progs 53-56) wherein motor fanatic Dave Paton’s cybernetic, child-like pride-and-joy blows a fuse and terrorises the domed territory: slaughtering humans and even infiltrating Dredd’s own quarters before the Judge finally stops ‘Elvis, The Killer Car’.

Bolland stunningly limned a savagely mordant saga of a gang of killer bandits who hijack the moon’s air before themselves falling foul of ‘The Oxygen Board’ in #57, but only managed the first two pages of 58’s ‘Full Earth Crimes’, leaving Mike McMahon to complete the tale of regularly occurring chaos in the streets whenever the Big Blue Marble dominates the black sky above…

It was a fine and frantic note to end on as, with ‘Return to Mega-City’, Dredd rotates back Earthside and resumes business as unusual. Readers were probably baffled as to why the returned cop utterly ignored a plethora of crime and misdemeanours, but Wagner & McMahon provide the logical and perfect answer in a brilliant, action-packed set-up for the madcap dramas to come….

This first Case Files chronicle nominally concludes with Wagner & McMahon’s ‘Firebug’ from Prog 60, as the ultimate lawgiver deals with a seemingly-crazed arsonist literally setting the city ablaze. The Law soon discovers a purely venal motive to the apparent madness…

There’s still a wealth of superb bonus material to enjoy before we end this initial outing however, and kicking off proceedings is the controversial First Dredd strip (illustrated by Ezquerra) which was bounced from 2000AD #1 and vigorously reworked – a fascinating glimpse of what the series might have been.

It’s followed by the eawliest Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd stwips (sowwy – couldn’t wesist!) from 2000AD Progs 50-58.

Scripted by Joe Collins, these madcap comedy shorts were seen as an antidote to the savage and brutal action strips in the comic and served to set the scene for Dredd’s later full-on satirical lampoonery.

‘Tap Dancer’ was illustrated by Gibson and dealt with an embarrassing plumbing emergency whilst ‘Shoot Pool!’ (Gibson) has the Wobot again taking his Judge’s instructions far too literally…

Bolland came aboard to give full rein to his own outrageous sense of the absurd with the 5-part tale of ‘Walter’s Brother’: a bizarre tale of evil twins, a cunning frame-up and malign muggings that inevitably result in us learning all we ever needed to know about the insipidly faithful and annoying rust-bucket.

Dredd then had to rescue the plastic poltroon from becoming a pirate of the airwaves in ‘Radio Walter’ before the star-struck servant finds his 15 seconds of fame as the winner of rigged quiz-show ‘Masterbrain’ before this big, big book concludes with a trio of Dredd covers from Progs 10, 44 and 59, courtesy of artists Ezquerra, Kev O’Neill and McMahon.

Always mesmerising and beautifully drawn, these short, punchy stories starring Britain’s most successful and iconic modern comics character are the constantly evolving narrative bedrock from which all the later successes of the Mirthless Moral Myrmidon derive.

More importantly, they are timeless classics no real comic fan can ignore – and just for a change something that you can easily get your hungry hands on. Even my local library has copies of this masterpiece of British literature and popular culture…
© 1977, 1978, 2006 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved. Judge Dredd & 2000AD are ® &™

The Mirror Classic Cartoon Collection


By Peter O’Donnell, Jim Edgar, Barrie Tomlinson, Steve Dowling, John Allard, Frank Bellamy, Martin Asbury, Reg Smythe, Jim Holdaway, Jack Greenall, Jack Clayton, John Gillatt & various, compiled by Mike Higgs (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-1-89944-175-4

The Daily Mirror has been home to a number of great strips over its long history – beginning with one of the Empire’s greatest successes Tiger Tim, (who debuted there in 1904) and culminating with the likes of the war-winning morale-boosting naive nymph Jane, not to mention The Perishers, Garth, Andy Capp and many others.

Two of the above cited feature in this beautiful compilation from Mike Higgs’ Hawk Books which did so much over the years to keep British cartoon history alive. This particular triumph gathers sample selections from the newspaper’s back catalogue in a spiffy, luxuriously oversized (280 x 180 mm) hardback that is stuffed with fun, thrills and quality nostalgia.

The illustrious Garth is the first star, featured in an adventure from 1957 by series originator and longest serving creator Steve Dowling (1943-1969) – and then succeeded by his assistant John Allard, then Frank Bellamy and finally Martin Asbury.

Garth is a hulking physical specimen, a virtual human superman with the involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives. This simple concept lent the strip an unfailing potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits.

‘The Captive’ – written by Peter O’Donnell and illustrated by Dowling and Allard – is a contemporary tale with our hero abducted from Earth as a prize in a galactic scavenger hunt instigated by bored hedonistic aliens who don’t realise quite what they’ve gotten themselves involved with…

A second adventure, ‘The Man-hunt’, is the last that Frank Bellamy worked on. The astounding Bellamy died in 1976 whilst drawing this story of beautiful alien predators in search of prime genetic stock with which to reinvigorate their tired bloodlines. Written by Jim Edgar, the strip was completed by Asbury who took over with the 17th instalment. This tongue-in-cheek thriller is full of thrills and fantastic action, yet never loses its light humorous touch.

Andy Capp is a drunken, skiving, misogynistic, work-shy, wife-beating scoundrel who has somehow become one of the most popular and well-loved strip characters of all time. Created by jobbing cartoonist Reg Smythe to appeal to northern readers during a circulation drive, he first saw the light of day – with long-suffering, perpetually abused-but-forgiving wife Florrie in tow – on August 5th 1957.

This volume reprints 37 strips from the feature’s 41-year run, which only ended with Smythe’s death in 1998, but the sheer magic of this lovable rogue is as inexplicably intoxicating as it always was, defeating political correctness and common decency alike: A true Guilty Pleasure.

Romeo Brown began in 1954, drawn by Dutch artist Alfred “Maz” Mazure, and starred a private detective with an eye for the ladies and a nose for trouble. The feature was a light, comedic adventure series that added some glamour to the dour mid-1950s, but really kicked into high gear when Maz left in 1957 to be replaced by Peter O’Donnell and the brilliant Jim Holdaway, who would go on to create the fabulous Modesty Blaise together. Romeo shut up shop in 1962 and is represented here by a pair of romps from the penultimate year. ‘The Arabian Knight’ and ‘The Admiral’s Grand-daughter’ combine sly, knowing humour, bungling criminality and dazzlingly visuals in a manner any Carry-On fan would die for.

Useless Eustace was a gag-panel (a single-picture joke) that ran from January 1935 to 1985. Created by Jack Greenall, its star was a bald nondescript everyman who met the travails of life with unflinching enthusiasm but very little sense. Greenall produced the strip until 1974, and other artists continued it until 1985. The selections here are from the war years and the 1960s. Another comedy panel was Calamity Gulch, a particularly British view of the ubiquitous “Western” which invaded our sensibilities with the rise of television ownership in the 1950s. Created by Jack Clayton, it began its spoofing and sharp-shooting on 6th June 1960, and you can see 21 of the best right here, Pardner.

A staple of children’s comics that never really prospered in newspapers was the sports adventure. At least not until 1989 when those grown up tykes opened the Daily Mirror to find a football strip entitled Scorer, written by Barrie Tomlinson and drawn by Barry Mitchell, and eventually John Gillatt. Very much an updated, R-rated Roy of the Rovers, the strip stars Dave ‘Scorer’ Storry and his team Tolcaster F.C. in fast, hot, sexy tales of the Beautiful Game that owed as much to the sports pages it began on as to the grand cartoon tradition.

‘Cup Cracker’, included here is by Tomlinson & Gillatt from 1994, and shows that WAGS (Wives And GirlfriendS, non-sports fans) were never a new phenomenon.

Not many people know this – or indeed, care – but before I review an old book (which I arbitrarily define as something more than three years old) I try to locate copies on the internet. It’s a blessing then to still see this wonderful and utterly British tome is readily available in France, Germany – most of Europe in fact and even in Britain. Surely that’s a testament to the book’s quality and desirability, and if that’s the case maybe The Mirror Group or some print philanthropist should expedite a new edition – or even a few sequels…
© 1998 Mirror Group Newspapers, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4218-8 (HB)

Monolithic modern Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now is due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #117-128: spanning December 1971 to November 1972 with Stan Lee surrendering the scripting chores whilst John Buscema and Joe Sinnott did their utmost to remake Jack Kirby’s stellar creation in their own style and image and outdoing themselves with every successive issue…

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother Johnny miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after cosmic rays penetrated their stolen ship’s inadequate shielding. As they crashed back to Earth the uncanny radiation mutated them all in unimaginable ways…

Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields whilst Johnny could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. They agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born the Fantastic Four.

Following an effusive Preface from Lee and a candid, context-creating and fact-filled Introduction by Roy Thomas, the drama opens with the team in turmoil as usual. After saving the world (from the Over-mind) the heartsick Human Torch headed for the Himalayas and a long-delayed rapprochement with his lost girlfriend Crystal of the Uncanny Inhumans in FF #117.

Months previously she had been forced to leave civilisation because modern pollutants had poisoned her system, but when blazing mad Johnny Storm battled his way into her homeland in ‘The Flame and the Quest!’ (written by Archie Goodwin) he is horrified to discover that she had never arrived back in the Great Refuge of Attilan

Flying way back to New York, Johnny consults part-time nanny and career-sorceress Agatha Harkness who tracks Crystal down in Central American dictatorship Terra Verde. Arriving there exhausted and expectant, Johnny finds his love is the mesmerised slave of arcane alchemist Diabolo.

The mystic has convinced the populace – and Crystal – that she is a reborn goddess and needs her to seize control in ‘Thunder in the Ruins!’ (inked by Jim Mooney). He would have succeeded too, if not for that flaming kid…

The issue also included an intriguing short piece starring the Thing in ‘What Mad World?’ (Goodwin, Buscema & Mooney) wherein the Tragic Titan is afforded a glimpse of an alternate Earth where an even greater mishap occurred after the fateful spaceflight which created the FF…

The Black Panther – cautiously renamed Black Leopard for contemporary political reasons – guest-starred in #119’s ‘Three Stood Together!’ as inker Sinnott returned and Roy Thomas scripted a damning – if shaded – indictment of South African apartheid.

When the heroic ruler of jungle wonderland Wakanda is interned in the white-ruled state of Rudyarda, Ben and Johnny fly in to bust him out and clash with old enemy Klaw who is attempting to steal a deadly new super-weapon…

Fantastic Four #120 heralded an extended and overlong epic by Stan Lee which began with ‘The Horror that Walks on Air!’ as a seemingly omnipotent invader claiming to be an angel scours the Earth and declares humanity doomed.

The tale laboriously continues in ‘The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret of Gabriel!’ with the recently reunited and utterly overmatched quartet saved by the late-arriving Silver Surfer before facing off against world-devouring ‘Galactus Unleashed’, before Reed again outsmarts the cosmic god to prevent the consumption of ‘This World Enslaved!’

Although beautifully illustrated, the hackneyed saga was a series low-point, but Lee was back on solid dramatic ground with #124’s ‘The Return of the Monster’ and concluding episode ‘The Monster’s Secret!’ wherein the mystery menace Reed had once dubbed ‘the Monster from the Lost Lagoon’ resurfaces to haunt a Manhattan hospital, steal drugs and kidnap Sue… but only for the best and most noble of reasons…

Roy Thomas assumed the role of writer/editor with #126, revisiting the classic origin and first clash (from FF #1) with the Mole Man in ‘The Way it Began!’ this was all mere prelude for what was to follow…

The reverie prompts the Thing to invade the sub-surface despot’s realm in search of a cure for the blindness which afflicts his girlfriend Alicia Masters in ‘Where the Sun Dares Not Shine!’ and all-too soon the embattled brute is embroiled in a three-way war between Mole Man, Kala, Empress of the Netherworld and immortal dictator Tyrannus.

When his comrades go after Ben they are duped into attacking him in ‘Death in a Dark and Lonely Place!’

The narrative concluded for the moment, there follow four pages of pin-ups by Buscema & Sinnott highlighting ‘The Fabulous F.F.’s Friends… and Foes’, plus the Kirby & Vince Colletta cover to 1971’s all-reprint Fantastic Four Annual #9 to wrap up this morsel of Marvel magic.

Although Kirby had taken the explosive imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Lee served to carry the series for years afterwards. These admittedly erratic and inconsistent stories kept the team book ticking over until bolder hands could once again take the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine Heroes back to the stratospheric heights where they belonged.

Solid, honest and creditable efforts, these tales are probably best appreciated by dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but they can still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1971, 1972, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved

Teen Titans: The Silver Age Volume One


By Bob Haney, Bruno Premiani, Nick Cardy, Irv Novick, Bill Molno & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7508-2

The concept of kid hero teams was not a new one when the 1960s Batman TV show finally prompted DC to trust their big heroes’ assorted sidekicks with their own regular comic in a fab, hip and groovy ensemble as dedicated to helping kids as they were to stamping out insidious evil.

The biggest difference between wartime groups such as The Young Allies, Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos or 1950s holdovers like The Little Wise Guys or Boys Ranch and the creation of the Teen Titans was quite simply the burgeoning phenomena of “The Teenager” as a discrete social and commercial force. These were kids who could – and should – be allowed to do things themselves without constant adult help or supervision.

This quirkily eclectic trade paperback and eBook compilation re-presents the landmark try-out appearances from The Brave and the Bold #54 and 60 and Showcase #59 – collectively debuting in 1964 and1965 – as well as the first eleven issues of Teen Titans solo title, spanning January/February 1966 to September/October 1967.

As early as the June-July 1964 issue of The Brave and the Bold (#54), DC’s Powers-That-Be tested the waters in a gripping tale by writer Bob Haney superbly illustrated by unsung genius Bruno Premiani.

The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister’ united Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin the Boy Wonder in dire and desperate battle against a modern wizard-cum-Pied Piper who tried to abduct all the teen-agers of scenic Hatton Corners. The young heroes accidentally meet in the town by chance after students invite them to mediate in a long-running dispute with the town adults…

This element of a teen “court of appeal” was the motivating principle in many of the group’s cases. One year later the team reformed for a second adventure (B&B #60, by the same creative team) and introduced two new elements.

‘The Astounding Separated Man’ features more misunderstood kids (weren’t we all?); this time in the coastal hamlet of Midville and threatened by an outlandish monster whose giant body parts can detach and move independently. Wonder Girl was added to the roster (not actually a sidekick, or even a person at that juncture, but rather an incarnation of Wonder Woman as a child – a fact the writer and editor of the series seemed blissfully unaware of) but most importantly they kids finally had a team name: ‘Teen Titans’.

Their final try-out appearance was in Showcase (#59, November-December 1965); birthplace of so many hit comic concepts. It was also the first to be drawn by the brilliant Nick Cardy (who became synonymous with the 1960s series).

‘The Return of the Teen Titans’ pits the neophyte team against teen pop trio ‘The Flips’ who are apparently also a gang of super-crooks. As was so often the case, the grown-ups had got it all wrong again…

The next month Teen Titans #1 debuted (cover-dated January/February 1966 and released mere weeks before the Batman TV show aired on January 12th) with Robin very much the point of focus on the cover and most succeeding ones.

Haney & Cardy crafted an exotic thriller entitled ‘The Beast-God of Xochatan!’ which sees the team act as Peace Corps representatives in a South American drama of sabotage, giant robots and magical monsters. The next issue held a fantastic mystery of revenge and young love involving ‘The Million-Year-Old Teen-Ager’ who was entombed and revived in the 20th century. He might have survived modern intolerance, bullying and culture shock on his own but when his ancient blood enemy turned up the Titans were ready to lend a hand…

‘The Revolt at Harrison High’ in #3 cashed in on the contemporary craze for drag-racing in a tale of bizarre criminality. Produced during a historically iconic era, many readers now can’t help but cringe when reminded of such daft foes as Ding-Dong Daddy and his evil biker gang, and of course the hip, trendy dialogue (it wasn’t that accurate then, let alone now) is pitifully dated, but the plot is strong and the art magnificent.

‘The Secret Olympic Heroes’ guest-starred Green Arrow’s teen partner Speedy in a very human tale of parental pressure at the Olympics, although there’s also skulduggery aplenty from a terrorist organisation intent on disrupting the games.

TT #5’s ‘The Perilous Capers of the Terrible Teen’ finds Titans facing the dual task of aiding a troubled young man and capturing an elusive super-villain dubbed the Ant, despite all evidence indicating that they’re the same person, after which another DC sidekick made his Titans debut.

Illustrated by Bill Molno & Sal Trapani ‘The Fifth Titan’ then introduces Beast Boy (the obnoxious juvenile know-it-all from the iconic Doom Patrol). Feeling unappreciated by his adult mentors, the young hero wrongly assumes he’ll be welcomed by his peers. Rejected again he then falls under the spell of an unscrupulous circus owner and the kids need to set things right.

Slow and overly convoluted, it’s possibly the low-point of a stylish run, but many fans disagree, citing #7’s ‘The Mad Mod, Merchant of Menace’ as the biggest stinker. However, beneath the painfully dated dialogue there’s a witty, tongue-in-cheek tale of swinging London, cool capers and novel criminality, plus the return of the magnificent Nick Cardy to the art chores.

It was back to America for ‘A Killer called Honey Bun’ (illustrated by Irv Novick & Jack Abel): another tale of intolerance and misunderstood kids, played against a backdrop of espionage in Middle America, and featuring a deadly prototype robotic super-weapon in the menacing title role…

Teen Titans #9’s ‘Big Beach Rumble’ finds the Titans refereeing a swiftly-escalating vendetta between rival colleges on holiday when modern day pirates led by the barbarous Captain Tiger crash the scene. Novick pencilled it and Cardy’s inking made it all very palatable in a light and uncomplicated way

The editor obviously agreed as the art teem continued for the next few issues, beginning with ‘Scramble at Wildcat’: a rowdy crime caper featuring dirt-bikes and desert ghost-towns, with skeevy biker The Scorcher profiting from a pernicious robbery spree…

Wrapping up this initial outing, Speedy returned in #11’s spy-thriller ‘Monster Bait’, with the young heroes going undercover to save a boy being blackmailed into betraying his father and his country…

Although perhaps dated in delivery now, these tales were an incomprehensibly liberating experience for kids when first released. They truly betokened a new empathy with increasingly independent youth and sought to address problems that were more relevant to and generated by that specific audience. That they are so captivating in execution is a wonderful bonus. This is absolute escapism and absolutely delightful and you absolutely should get this book
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale


By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8152-2 (King)                 978-1- 4052-8153-9 (Whale)

I had originally prepared these reviews as part of a forthcoming week of TV-related books and graphic novels but, following the news of the death of the wonderful Peter Firmin on July 1st, I found myself feeling painfully bereft and quite woeful.

So, just because I want to and as a public acknowledgement of the gifts of a brilliant creator who shaped my entire life (as well as so many millions of others), there is a change to today’s scheduled viewing…

Peter Arthur Firmin was born in Harwich on 11 December 1928. After training at Colchester School of Art and National Service in the Royal Navy he went to the Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949 to 1952. A creative man of many talents and disciplines, he then worked as a stained-glass designer, jobbing illustrator and lecturer.

Whilst teaching at Central in 1957 he was targeted by up-and-coming children’s TV writer Oliver Postgate who believed (quite rightly) that clever individuals could produce high-quality kids viewing at reasonable cost.

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became a full-partner in new venture Smallfilms, which would be based in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers. Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets.

During those early days Firmin seemed tireless. In addition to the Smallfilms job he also devised, designed and populated other kids shows such as The Musical Box and Smalltime. In 1962 with Ivan Owen he created a fox puppet for The Three Scampies. The puppet soon had his own show and career as Basil Brush

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Seeing Things – An Autobiography as well as working as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 Firmin was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate and Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips and spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. Between 1965 and 1973 Postgate and Firmin crafted a series of books in an early-reader format featuring the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Recently re-issued in superb hardcover editions perfect for tiny hands, the first two are Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin.

On the death of his father, quiet, unassuming Noggin becomes king of the northland Viking tribe known as the Nogs. He rules with understanding and wisdom – generally thanks to his advisors: bluff Thor Nogson, talking green cormorant Graculus and his wife Nooka who hails from the far north (we’d call her an Inuit princess these days).

Despite many fantastic adventures, Noggin prefers a quiet home life with his people and his boisterous son Knut

Noggin the King opens with bucolic pastoral scenes of the Nogs and the good-hearted sovereign helping his people however he can. However, whilst happily repairing the roof of an old farmer, the ruler dislodges a bird’s nest. Bringing the nest and its occupants back to his castle, he cares for the fledglings and mother and wonders if he is also the King of birds in the Land of Nogs. If he is then they are his subjects too and thus he is responsible for their safety and welfare.

Riven with doubt, the King then sets out on a short quest with Nooka beside him to confirm his suspicions and is rewarded by the feathered kingdom with a great but grave new honour…

Noggin and the Whale offers a far more light-hearted aspect of kingship as the mild monarch celebrates his birthday in the usual manner: doling out gifts to all the children of his realm. This year they all get musical instruments, but when they hold an impromptu concert on a boat in the little walled harbour, the merriment is interrupted by a most insistent whale.

Every time the kids get going the cetacean surges up under the boat and eventually even placid Noggin loss his temper and orders the sea-beast to swim away.

Instead it glides over to the open harbour gate and sulkily blocks the way just as the fishing boats are trying to moor up for the night. Nothing the townsfolk can do will shift the surly creature.

Suddenly Prince Knut has an idea. He realises why the whale has been acting so strangely and, after consulting with his father, commissions Royal Inventor Olaf the Lofty to create a unique present for the morose marine mammal…

Charming, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin affected generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets and books like these. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965.

The Epic of Gilgamesh


Translated by Kent H. Dixon & illustrated by Kevin H. Dixon (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-793-1 (PB)                     : 978-1-60980-794-8 (eBook)

Comics is the most expansive medium we have for extolling heroic deeds, combining a facility for depicting all aspects of character with an unlimited budget for special effects and communicating instantaneous visceral understanding and appreciation to and on the part of the audience.

That was not always the case: once upon a time all we had was words, originally spoken or chanted but eventually translated into permanent marks on long-lasting surfaces.

As of this writing, The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known work of human literature. A truly timeless heroic saga, the work’s earliest incarnation is actually five Sumerian poems lauding the accomplishments of Bilgamesh, King of Uruk, that date from the Third Dynasty of Ur – or about 2100 BC as you or I and modern Mesopotamians would reckon it.

As is so often the case, some smart wordsmith long ago appropriated and reconditioned the snippets into something grander with the saga surviving into our era via a series (still incomplete) of Babylonian tablets. The material is open to frequent interpretation and has been translated into many languages since first discovered.

What source material we have comes from tablets of cuneiform logographs discovered back in 1853 by Hormuzd Rassam amidst the remains of the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh (near modern Mosul in Iraq). In the early 1870s western historian George Smith published his first translation and, after more hands-on study and research, a full and final version in his 1880 book The Chaldean Account of Genesis. The first direct Arabic translation – by Iraqi Taha Baqir – only appeared in 1960.

Many later scholars have had a bash, with 2003’s 2-volume critical work by Andrew George being generally accounted as the most definitive thus far.

I, however, am no scholar (or gentleman, by all accounts) and the graphic novel on point today has my vote for perhaps the most honest and genuine treatment yet…

Gilgamesh is the prototype and template of all modern hero myths, with a demi-god king, alternatively beloved and despised, stricken and emboldened by his own greatness triumphing over all odds and odd monsters, but ultimately brought low by his own humanity.

It’s also a story with creation myth motifs (Man brought forth from clay; god-touched, animal-saving survivors of great floods; resurrection from the dead) that reoccur over and over again in later religions.

This version, though, is replete with earthy humour, casual smut and everyday venality. It feels like despite the mystical trappings, the characters at its heart are all-too human: which is quite cool, as artefacts dating back to 2600 BC have been recently uncovered that indicate the actual existence of some of the actors in this particular passion play…

What also lends this superb monochrome marvel much of its compelling veracity and beguiling attraction is a somewhat unique collaboration. Kent H. Dixon is an award-winning poet, screenwriter, novelist and educator who spends his days teaching and translating literary works from Japanese hibakusha to classics by Rilke and Mallarmé.

Kent H. Dixon is a social activist, underground radio show host and the award-winning cartoonist who created …And Then There Was Rock and subversive milestone Mickey Death in the Winds of Impotence. He might be the only aging rebel in the world happy to work with his dad…

Their slowly-unfolding, decade-long collaboration on The Epic of Gilgamesh caught the attention of top bloke Russ Kick (You Are Being Lied To and Everything You Know is Wrong; and data archive thememoryhole2.org) who quickly made it and them a key part of his superb Graphic Canon series.

So, what do you get here that other translations don’t offer? Following Kick’s scene-setting, context-establishing Introduction, Kent Senior’s Translator’s Note relates how the literary wizard retranslated the original tablets – including recently unearthed Tablet 5 – and offers a few hints regarding narrative direction whilst Kevin Dixon’s Artist’s Note spills a few secrets on producing a classic everybody “knows” as an out of sequence part-work…

As for the story: an arrogant hero-king wanders the Earth and realms of gods and monsters. He’s pretty vile to women and beats up whom he pleases until the gods create a perfect enemy who ends up becoming his truest, only friend. And then he dies and Hero defies the universe and challenges Hell to get him back. You’ve heard it all before but you’ve never seen it like this…

Bold and brash, raw and raucous, this inviting interpretation also manages to maintain a graceful poetic rhythm and deftly incorporate the philosophy and instructions-for-living that permeate and underscore the original without missing a beat. A magnificent tale with a big heart and supremely engaging, this funny, scary, action-packed pictorial fable is a brilliant achievement and I for one am hungry for more.

Spenser’s Faerie Queene or Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West anyone?
© 2018 by Kent H. Dixon and Kevin H. Dixon. All rights reserved.