Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards Seasons 3 & 4


By various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-896-9

Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the Cartoon Network show this book celebrates, Adventure Time is set in a post-apocalyptic future about a thousand years after the “Great Mushroom War”. In the crazily magical Land of Ooo a bizarre coterie of life-forms live their strange lives and a human boy and his shapeshifting dog are having a grand old time…

The series is multi-award-winning and an absolute paragon of meticulous yet inspired creativity. Populated with an astoundingly bizarre cast which includes notional heroes Jake and Finn, regal Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen, elephantine Treetrunks, the Earl of Lemongrab, gabby Lumpy Space Princess, BMO, Neptr, Agent Princess, Susan Strong, dour penguin Gunter and cool, cruel antagonist the Ice King, every aspect of each episodes is planned in the most minute detail, even to the so-briefly-glimpsed introductory images which depict each story’s individual designation.

Those “Title Cards” are just one more opportunity for the in-house creative wizards to push boundaries and their own artistic envelopes and have been celebrated with their own glitzy eye-popping albums. This sublimely surreal second selection – gathering the incredible, gone-in-a-second scenes in a more lasting and luxurious setting – features bold, bizarre and beautiful breaks in narrative from the third and fourth season conceived and crafted by Natasha Allegri, Gunnar Gilmore, Tom Herpich, Nick Jennings, Andy Ristaino, Rebecca Sugar, Pendleton Ward and Michelle Xin, each visual accompanied by behind-the scenes notes, preliminary sketches and commentary by the individual illustrator.

Presented in a stunning, sturdily oversized (295 x 232 mm) full-colour hardback the otherworldly wonders are preceded by an excitable Introduction and rapturous Resumés of the Artists involved, before the 42 individual episode cards with evocative legends such as ‘Conquest of Cuteness’, ‘Memory of a Memory’, ‘Fionna and Cake’, ‘Beautopia’, ‘Dad’s Dungeon’, ‘You Made Me’ and ‘Reign of Gunters’ beguile, bedazzle and bewilder with seductively teasing terms any and every lover of weirdness and wild all-ages escapism.

Strangely addictive, madly absurd and sweet as cartoon candy, this is a treat for young and old alike. Adventure Time, Cartoon Network, the logos and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Cartoon Network (S15). All rights reserved.

Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards Seasons 3 & 4 will be released on August 4th 2015 and is available for pre-order now.

High Crimes


By Christopher Sebela & Ibrahim Moustafa (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-472-9

Generally I prefer to go into loads of detail regarding the plot of a book under review but sometimes that’s not possible or even fair. This is definitely one of those occasions…

High Crimes debuted as a 12-issue digital comic by writer Christopher Sebela (Screamland: Death of the Party, Captain Marvel, Escape from New York) and illustrator Ibrahim Moustafa (The Pound: Ghoul’s Night Out, The Flash: Season Zero), produced by Monkeybrain Comics, and its stunning blend of captivating big-sky concept, seedy suspense thriller and chase-movie blockbuster is just too heady an experience to deny fellow action fans.

The scintillating serial took the industry by storm; garnering immense praise and lots of award nominations and now that it’s completed Dark Horse have collected it in its entirety – along with sidebar stories and a wealth of behind-the-scenes and promotional material – into a splendid hardcover chronicle for a wider, more traditionally-minded, book-loving audience.

Once upon a time Suzanne Jensen owned the world. Now she’s an exile eking out a shabby life on its metaphorical roof. When she was a world-famous Olympic snowboarder the medals piled up, but after the authorities discovered that their public paragon of perfection was an unrepentant recreational drug abuser, “Zan” went to extraordinary lengths to escape, abandoning everything she knew and loved to avoid giving back those glittering but pointless symbols of her former greatness.

Drifting across the globe she eventually fetched up in Kathmandu, working as a fly-by-night cut-rate guide, living life one pharmaceutical hit and geological threat at a time. Despite all those promises to herself, however, she never quite made to the top of the granite goddess that dominated the view and attention of everybody around her, native, grifter or spoiled tourist…

She found makework and a fellow damaged soul in the form of aged burn-out Haskell Price, who preys on the families of rich idiots and starry-eyed dreamers risking everything to reach the top of Mount Everest. Haskell is a cold-hearted modern-day graverobber, collecting small personal effects and occasionally recovering the bodies of the so-many climbers who don’t make it.

More accurately he initially rescues just their right hands (for fingerprint identification), strong-arming grieving relatives into handing over cash to retrieve and return the complete cadaver for proper burial. The mountain takes a ferocious toll on the ever-increasing number of thrill-seeking visitors and even if only one bereaved family in a handful fall for the proffered “service”, it’s enough to get by…

Everything changes when he finds a corpse-icle lost near the summit for years. When those particular prints are faxed Stateside it unleashes an avalanche of terror in the form of an ultra-secret, black-ops hit-squad determined to find missing super-agent Sullivan Mars and – more importantly – the still-crucial secrets he absconded with so long ago…

Haskell can’t really help them when they turn up, since Zan has already swiped Mars’s journal and a minute canister of microfilm, but when she sees the collateral carnage the cleaner-squad are prepared to inflict she makes the craziest decision of her life.

As the merciless operatives force Haskell to take them on the arduous, weeks long trek to the summit and Mars’ body, she determines that with no place left to run she’s going to clean up her own mess for once.

Following in the footsteps of the killer elite Zan resolves to rescue Haskell or barring that at least finally get to summit of the overpowering mountain and see the world as it truly is before she dies…

Mirroring her slow and torturous progress with a succession of shocking revelations from Sullivan’s stolen secrets, and clocking up a startling bodycount, the epic odyssey offers a stupendous and breathtakingly vicarious journey of discovery no armchair adrenaline addict could possibly resist, with an emotional pay-off that is a joy and shock to experience.

Preceded by an Introduction from Greg Rucka, the compulsively enthralling yarn is complimented by a Bonus Features section which includes commentary by author Sebela, alternate cover sketches, the 3-page trailer vignette ‘Strange Truths’ from Free Comic Book Day 2014’s ‘Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Defend Comics’, a “declassified” ‘User’s Guide to High Crimes’, loads of character sketches and all the phenomenal, inspired and imaginative promotional postings and briefs issued to rouse interest in the series.

Epic, arduous and devastatingly addictive, something to treasure for all the right reasons and not just because it’s there…
High Crimes™ © 2013, 2014 Christopher Sebela & Ibrahim Moustafa. All rights reserved.

The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s


By Tom Tully & David Sque (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-024-6

There was a time when comics in Britain reflected the interests of a much larger proportion of the youthful population, and when adults kept their less-acceptable reading habits a closely guarded secret. Since it became practically cool to read graphic narrative, however, many of the nation’s greatest comic-strip heroes – sporting, as well as action-based or freaky and fantastical – have been making their way back in various collections and revivals.

Roy of the Rovers began on the front cover of Tiger, a brand new weekly anthology periodical published by Amalgamated Press (later IPC and Fleetway Publications). Launched on September 11th 1954, “The Sport and Adventure Picture Story Weekly” was a cannily crafted companion to Lion, the company’s successful response to The Eagle (home of Dan Dare, but precious few sporting heroes).

From the first Tiger concentrated heavily on sports stars and themes, with issue #1 also offering The Speedster from Bleakmoor, Mascot of Bad Luck and Tales of Whitestoke School amongst others. In later years racing driver Skid Solo and wrestler Johnny Cougar joined the pantheon of traditional strips such as Billy’s Boots, Nipper, Hotshot Hamish and Martin’s Marvellous Mini, but for most of its 1,555-issue run Tiger was “the comic with Roy of the Rovers”.

Roy started as a humble apprentice at mighty Melchester Rovers, and after many years of winning all the glories the beautiful game could offer, settled down to live the dream: wife, kids, wealth, comfort and triumphant adulation every Saturday…

Created by Frank S. Pepper, who used the pseudonym Stewart Colwyn, and drawn by Joe Colquhoun (who kept the nom-de-plume when he eventually began scripting the series as well), the evergreen adventures of Roy Race were generally written for much of his early career by the comic’s Editor Derek Birnage (although credited to “Bobby Charlton” for a couple of years).

In 1975 time finally caught up with Roy and he became player-manager of the only club-team he ever played for, and the following year the footballing phenomenon got his own weekly comic, just in time for the 1976-77 season, premiering on September 25th and running for 855 consecutive issues, only ending with the 20th March 1993 edition.

This glossy oversized paperback excerpts the covers and lead strips from the eponymous Roy of the Rovers weekly spanning the first issue to 2nd June 1979, when the comic was regularly selling a million copies a week. The stories were always much more than simply “He shoots! He’s scores!!!” formulaic episodes: they’re closer to the sports-based TV dramas of later decades like Dream Team or Friday Night Lights (although of course that’s not about proper football…)

Weekly comics have a tremendous advantage when it comes to staying topical. From draught script to issue-on-sale can be as little as six weeks. This meant that with a judicious eye to the upcoming events diary, a strip can comfortably lock into big public occasions and even short-lived crazes.

This stellar selection re-presents material from a period when the game was changing radically and writer Tom Tully made full use of contemporary headlines and concerns to spice up the action. With reliable David Sque handling the full-colour artwork the serials here encompass burning issues of the era such as too much money, too little money, the burgeoning transfer market (“£60,000 for a striker!”) and even the Rovers’ first international purchase…

One word of warning: although the artist has endeavoured to keep most of the era’s fashion atrocities to a minimum, this is a book overflowing with the tonsorial travesties that typified the “Age of Mullets” so if you’re of a nervous disposition…

The soccer shenanigans start with all the teams in the League increasingly disturbed by a flashy supermarket owner’s offer to pay £30,000 to the first player in English football to score 50 goals in one season.

As the unity-shattering Goals Rush Challenge competition progresses Roy – himself a strong contender for a prize he does not want and will not accept if he wins – has to fend off dissent in the team, accusations of selfish greed from the fans and far worse from a crusading sports writer who thinks he’s selling out…

At the same time the close-knit squad was chasing an unbeaten-run record and forced to expand, wrecking the harmony of the team as new players with selfish modern attitudes muscled in and found that here they had to adapt to Roy’s way or the highway…

Along the way Penny Race quietly and dutifully had twins (so as not to disturb her husband’s soccer ruminations, I suppose) and as the team celebrated another stunningly successful year, Roy nipped over to the USA for the off-season to save a friend’s all-star soccer team from bankruptcy and found himself having to learn the glorified Rugby that Americans call “Football” before anyone would listen to him…

On his return he brought a few new-fangled ideas such as giant replay screens which came in very handy for the new season as the spectre of hooliganism at last reared its mindless head at Melchester, before the compendium of past glories concludes with the team looking for a sponsor for their new kit whilst Roy and the boys grudgingly become acquainted with abrasive Paco Diaz, the legendary Spanish soccer god forced upon them by the profits-mad Board of Directors…

As well as a Foreword from Frank Skinner, celebrity-studded photo-articles and pin-ups of the period, this edition includes numerous features by footy-mad comedy genius Eric Morecambe, games, puzzles, readers’ jokes in Famous Football Funnies and a mouth-watering selection of adverts of the time, offering everything from Dinky toys to Raleigh Bikes – a dedicated nostalgist’s perfect storm…

Old football comics are never going to be the toast of the medium’s Critical Glitterati, but these were astonishingly popular strips in their day, and produced for maximum entertainment value by highly skilled professionals. They still have the power to enthral and captivate far beyond the limits of nostalgia and fashion. If your footy-mad youngster isn’t reading enough, this might be the cunning tactic to catch him or her totally offside…
Roy of the Rovers © Egmont UK Ltd. 2009. All other material © its respective creators or copyright holders.

Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier & the Vampire


By Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-803-1

As well as being involved with some of the very best superhero yarns of the late 20th century, Legendary fantasist and comics-creator Mike Mignola has carved himself a splendid and memorable niche in the industry’s history by revitalising the sub-genre of horror-heroes via such macabre mayhem-mavens as Hellboy, B.P.R.D. and Lobster Johnson, creating his own very special dark place where thrill-starved fans can wallow in all things dire and dreadful…

Clearly he has far more ideas than he can successfully manage in one lifetime. As well all those sequential art endeavours he has expressed a deep and abiding love for the classical supernatural-thriller medium through illustrated prose novels such as Joe Golem and the Drowning City (co-crafted with long-time writing associate Christopher Golden) and this potent tribute to the writings of pioneers of the dread and uncanny H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, with perhaps just a touch of Jack London…

Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier & the Vampire was first released as a luxurious Random House hardback 2007 and the captivatingly dark, doom-drenched blend of martial steampunk and classic vampire horror-yarn subsequently led to Mignola & Golden sporadically concocting further exploits of the titular hero in comics form from 2010 onwards, beginning with 5-issue miniseries Baltimore: The Plague Ships, illustrated by Ben Stenbeck.

This sturdy oversized paperback edition from Dark Horse re-presents that initial textual sortie into the outer reaches of imagination whilst also offering a brace of chilling comicstrip shockers by Mignola, Golden and Stenbeck culled from the 2013 one-shot Baltimore: The Widow and the Tank.

With constant and effective allusion to Hans Christian Andersen’s heartbreaking fairytale The Steadfast Tin Soldier, the eerie epic relates the transformative tale of dutiful if unimaginative Scion of Albion Lord Henry Baltimore who answered England’s call to arms in 1914 only to be severely wounded during the battles in Ardennes.

When he fell history took a horrific turn which began when the terrified officer awoke amongst a crater full of dead men being fed on by ghastly bat-like vampires who had for centuries abandoned their predator roles for the safer niche of clandestine carrion-feeders. When the appalled aristocrat lashed out, taking an eye from the leech prematurely consuming his life’s blood, it roused the creature and its disgusting brethren to a fury of vengeance-taking which cost Baltimore his entire family, unleashed a plague which decimated all humanity and roused a demonic force intent on reclaiming the Earth after contentedly quiescent millennia…

The one thing the obsessed Nosferatu’s sustained campaign of cruelty did not do was break Baltimore. Instead it honed the once-effete and ineffectual product of civilisation into an unstoppable hammer to smash the reawakened vampiric forces wherever they could be found – although not before the world was reduced to a pitiful, disjointed and primitive killing field on the edge of utter obliteration…

For most of the novel Baltimore is an enigmatic, unknown force far from the spotlight, given shape and form by three strangers who meet in a befouled hostelry in broken city at the behest of a man they have all benefited from knowing…

As the day passes, former Army Surgeon Dr. Lemuel Rose, merchant seaman Demetrius Aischros and Baltimore’s childhood companion Thomas Childress Jr. compare notes on the currently missing monster-hunter and share their own horrendous intimate brushes with various agencies of diabolism that have left all three maimed, wary but resolutely prepared for the worst the magical realms can throw at them. Or so they think…

Constructed like a portmanteau novel as a series of linked short stories and told in the manner of Victorian after-dinner raconteurs, the drama and tension build slowly but inexorably towards the inevitable appearance of the transformed and unwavering vampire-killer and a confrontation years in the making and steeped in the blood of millions…

Ponderous, inexorable, moodily despondent and completely captivating, this aggregation of singular horrors experienced alone and perpetual perils shared is complemented by two short comics vignettes illustrated with cool understatement by Ben Stenbeck.

‘The Widow’ harks back to the days after the plague brought The Great War to a unofficial halt when Baltimore returned to England in search of a new breed of gore-drinker hiding amidst the mortal populace, whilst the second episode sees the implacable hunter ally temporarily with a bloodsucker to escape even worse paranormal predators lurking around ‘The Tank’.

Moreover the scintillating saga contained within this supremely satisfyingly tome is graced with 146 grittily monochrome full, half, third and quarter-page illustrations by Mignola to complete a joyous homage to the necromantic good old days.

Miss it at your peril, fright fans…
© 2007, 2015 Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. All rights reserved.

Canardo, Private Eye: Blue Angel


By Benoít Sokal (Xpresso Books/Fleetway)
ISBN: 978-1-85386-267-0

Artist, writer and games designer Benoít Sokal (Sanguine, Syberia, Amerzone, Kraa) was born in Brussels in 1954. He studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc De Bruxells, the prestigious art school where legendary creator Claude Renard (Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul, Aux Médianes de Cymbiola, Le Rail, Ivan Casablanca) taught and nurtured many students who would become Belgium’s modern masters of comics.

Sokal joined that select band of professionals in 1978, selling humorous strips and characters to À Suivre and striking gold early. He had been producing short, blackly comedic tales featuring anthropomorphic animals living in a world of contemporary humanity. Amongst the vast cast was a tawdry, unscrupulous, hard-drinking private detective named Inspector Canardo. Although never a true protagonist in those days, the dour duck was always around when events inevitably spiralled out of control…

The occasional series struck a chord with European audiences and soon Canardo was headlining his own series of albums. The first, in 1979, gathered those early shorts into an “Album #0” entitled Premières enquêtes and was followed by 22 more to date: the latest, Le vieux canard et la mer being released in 2013.

Dividing his time between his mallard megastar and more realistic dramas such as police thriller Silence, on Tue! (with François Rivière) and Le Vieil homme qui n’écrivait plus, by the end of the 1990s Sokal had made the sideways jump from comics to videogames creation, leaving artist Pascal Regnauld to handle most of the illustration for his foul-feathered fowl.

The series toys with the internal consistency of storytelling: Canardo and other cast regulars have died several times, timescales are largely irrelevant, early tales have humans, anthropomorphic animals and regular critters cautiously coexisting side by side, science and magic happily co-mingle with the seedily traditional elements of sex, violence, depression and existential isolation and some of the players occasionally refer to themselves inhabiting a comics story.

Although a huge hit on the continent, Canardo struggled to find a place amongst English-speaking audiences. Sporadically released in translation between 1989 and 1991 by Rijperman and NBM for the American continent and through Fleetway’s Xpresso books in the UK, Sokal’s patently adults-only, philosophically nihilistic and bleakly moody homage to film noir came and went largely unnoticed and it’s high time some savvy publisher took another shot…

The third collected volume, La Mort Douce (literally The Suave Death, released in 1981), became Canardo: The Blue Angel – the second British release from Xpresso, the experimental division of publishing monolith Fleetway – when the home of Judge Dredd, Charlie’s War, Johnny Red and Roy of the Rovers sought to catch a pan-Atlantic wave of interest in comics for grown-ups.

Sampling and deliciously channelling the brittle hopelessness of Weimar Germany the tale opens in a bar as singer Lili Niagara – a chanteuse with a life-ending-illness – takes her final job at seedy dive Freddo’s Bar.

Wry drama stoops to the level of Shakespearean tragedy when the duck in the trenchcoat wets his whistle there just as hulking addle-witted bear Bronx wanders in. The loathsome patrons quickly indulge in another bout of savagely teasing and abusing the seemingly oblivious, emotionally unreachable simpleton, but when the far-from-divine Miss Niagara begins singing Lili Marlene (in the original German) the placid victim suddenly turns into a raging terror and kills his chief tormentor.

As previously mentioned, in the earliest escapades the dowdy duck dick is little more than a disinterested spectator; an éminence grise perfectly capable of shaping events and preventing tragedies but always unwilling to get involved unless there’s a direct benefit for him. That starts to change with this cruel investigation into exploitation, greed and past sins paid for at the last…

Whilst Canardo dickers with the owner over a fee for piling in, manic Bronx snatches up the startled singer in one hairy paw before vanishing into the wasteland beyond town. Finally settling upon a month’s free whisky to return the disappeared Diva, the PI slouches off next morning and fruitlessly interviews the aged gypsy crone the bear usually lives with.

His quarry meanwhile has returned to his usual dormant state, and doesn’t notice when his captive sneaks off only to land in real trouble, stumbling into a pack of riverside-dwelling degenerates who want more than just a tune from the ailing performer. They do begin her abuse by making her sing first though, but as the strains of Lili Marlene leak out of their grimy shack, Bronx, once more gripped by a psychotic rage, comes crashing through the wall.

As the singer gratefully thanks her again quiescent rescuer they are approached by sleazy fight-promoter Wes Disposal who wants to make the bear a superstar and before long the big brute is facing off against a true mauler in a makeshift arena.

Sadly no amount of punishment can make Bronx respond and the big lug is being cruelly, savagely taken apart when Canardo steps out of the shadows, advising Lili to sing a certain song. When she grudgingly complies she at last comprehends the cause-and-effect at work as Bronx ends the one-sided bout with horrific efficiency…

The singer is in a bad way. Illness is ravaging her and Lili is prepared to do anything and use anyone to get the “medicine” that eases her agonising symptoms, but the shabby sleuth seems more interested in the pitiful war stories of an old soldier propping up the bar. The bedraggled veteran’s sodden antics are hilarious but a terrified clarity enters his rheumy eyes when he overhears the duck ruminating on why hearing Lili Marlene turns Bronx into a berserker…

When Wes tries to abscond with the bear and all the winnings he meets the fate of all cheating chiselers, and as day breaks Canardo and the concerned-despite-herself Lili are heading deep into a swampy wasteland in search of the blood-stained innocent.

What they find is a troop of old soldiers hidden for decades who share responsibility for the hideous crimes and atrocities which created Bronx and who have been waiting ever since for their deserved doom to return and claim them…

The finale is spectacularly operatic in nature: one of those grim Russian ones where everybody dies…

Stark, wry, bleak, outrageously amusing and almost Brechtian in tone and execution, the saga of Carnardo is a powerful antidote to traditional adventure paladins and a supreme example of the antihero taken to its ultimate extreme. It’s also beguilingly lovely to look upon in a grim, traffic accident, bunny-in-the-headlights manner.

Let’s hope some publisher with a little vision agrees…
La Mort Douce © 1981 Casterman. English Translation and UK edition © 1991 Xpresso Books. All rights reserved.

Abe Sapien: The Drowning


By Mike Mignola & Jason Shawn Alexander (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-185-0

Hellboy is a creature of vast depth and innate mystery; a demonic baby summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists at the end of Word War II but subsequently raised, educated and trained by democracy-loving parapsychologist Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as the chief agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After decades of unfailing, faithful service the big red rover became mortally tired and resigned. Itinerantly roaming the world, he still managed to encounter strange deaths and weird happenstances, never able to outrun trouble or his sense of duty.

This book is not about him.

The collection under review here instead notionally features the first solo exploit of his trusty amphibian associate Abe Sapien: a valiant yet deeply unsure and insecure champion whose origins and experience with those occult occasions typically handled by the Enhanced Talents Task Force are at this time still largely theoretical…

Originally released as a 5-part miniseries from February to June, 2008, The Drowning is scripted by creative head honcho Mike Mignola and moodily realised by Jason Shawn Alexander who also provides a fabulous and informative Abe Sapien Sketchbook at the back of this full-colour walk – or is that swim? – on the weird and wild side. Also involved in this tribute to black arts is letterer Clem Robins with the magical colours coming from Dave Stewart.

The action opens with a glimpse into demonic deeds of the past as, in 1884, occult detective Edward Grey boldly and bombastically defeats mighty warlock Epke Vrooman before sinking his hellish ship sixty miles off the French coast near the former leper-colony of Isle Saint-Sébastien.

In (contemporary) 1981 Hellboy is gone from the B.P.R.D. and Chief Bruttenholm pushes reticent Abe into leading a milk-run mission to retrieve the fabulous, lore-laden Lipu Dagger Queen Victoria’s Most Special Agent used to end the malevolent mage almost a century before.

With experienced agents already in place, all the merman has to do is dive deep and fetch back the prize artefact. Sadly, with magic nothing is ever easy…

As the on-site proceedings get underway none of the B.P.R.D. team are aware that unquiet spirits are already undertaking their own recovery mission and whilst horrific monsters intercept Abe at the sunken wreck, back on land an ancient crone puts into motion the ceremony she has waited her entire life to complete…

By the time the battered aquatic investigator struggles ashore almost everyone on Saint-Sébastien is dead and a pack of wizened devils are attempting to resurrect their diabolical master. Cut off from the outside world and unable to pass this mess on to somebody more qualified, Abe is flailing until the old woman takes charge, instructing him in some deeper truths about the Isle, the god the benighted inhabitants chose to worship and what truly moved and motivated Epke Vrooman on the last night of his former life…

Armed with appalling information and the knowledge that there’s no one to save the day, the neophyte agent turns to face his greatest challenge and worst nightmares…

Mignola has an incredible knack for creating powerfully welcoming mythologies and this escapade effectively dragged Abe Sapien out of the overwhelming shadow of satanic superstar Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. and set him on his way as a celebrated solo star.

Potent, powerful and utterly drenched in uncanny atmosphere, this is a terrific tale of an irresistible horror hero to haunt your dreams.
© 2008 Mike Mignola. All rights reserved. All key and prominently featured characters ™ Mike Mignola.

Blake and Mortimer: S.O.S. Meteors


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-97-7

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction scope, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless Ligne claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Le Journal de Tintin (dated 26th September 1946): an international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The magazine was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the post-war world…

S.O.S. Météores was originally serialised from January 8th 1958 to 22nd April 1959 and subsequently collected in a single album as the eighth drama-drenched epic escapade six months after the conclusion, just in time for the Christmas rush. In 2009 it was translated into English as Cinebook’s sixth Blake and Mortimer release, and – subtitled ‘Mortimer in Paris’ – begins here with the incomparable boffin in the City of Lights, answering a Gallic colleague’s pleas for assistance.

Meteorologist Professor Labrousse, like all his unfortunate ilk, is unhappily shouldering the brunt of public ire over freak weather events which are bringing France to its knees and when Mortimer arrives, he experiences for himself the chaos such tumultuous storms are inflicting upon the traffic-heavy metropolis. Thankfully, the embattled weatherman has despatched a taxi to collect the weary Englishman and bring him to the relative calm of suburban Jouy.

Both driver and passenger are unaware of a flashy American car suspiciously dogging them, and as conditions steadily worsen the ride becomes truly hazardous, leading to an inevitable crash. Separated from the driver and blindly wandering in the storm, Mortimer plunges into a lake and barely manages to scrabble to safety.

Finding his way back to the road, the exhausted scientist thumbs a lift to Labrousse’s house and is gratefully welcomed. Of the taxi driver, however, there is no trace…

The old colleagues discuss the catastrophic weather and uncanny events long into the night but the next morning their further deliberations are curtailed when the police arrive, eager to interview the Englishman about a certain cab driver’s disappearance…

Deeply troubled, the learned men later attempt to retrace Mortimer’s steps and discover the terrain is completely different from Englishman’s memories but encounter a thug and his immense dog going over the same sodden ground. The intruders are clearly following the orders of a boss who keeps well hidden, and a violent altercation is barely avoided with a simple whistle from the unseen voyeur…

Eventually the studied experience of the local postman enables the baffled British boffin to solve the geographical mystery and the recovered trail leads him to a nearby estate with huge walls patrolled by the same terrifying hound he met earlier. Well-versed in surveillance procedure, Mortimer prepares to probe further but is distracted when a sudden snowstorm begins. Determinedly he returns later, well-prepared and using the blizzard as cover to investigate the estate. It proves to be a tremendous mistake…

Next morning in Paris, Divisional Commissioner Pradier of French Intelligence welcomes a counterpart from Great Britain, looking into a new espionage network at work in France. Captain Francis Blake’s keen insight quickly scores a hit and opens up new leads that seem connected to the uncanny weather conditions tormenting the nation, but when he meets hastily-summoned Labrousse Blake learns that old comrade Mortimer has vanished after announcing that the aberrant meteorology is man-made…

Travelling to Jouy with the horrified weatherman, Blake makes a shocking impression on Labrousse’s usually-affable neighbour and suddenly the strange atmospheric conditions start being compounded with odd little accidents and frustrations that can only be seen in total as concerted enemy action…

The saga kicks into high gear when Blake recognises some old – and previously presumed dead – enemies and is chased through unrelenting arctic conditions back to Paris in a deadly, hair-raising game of cat-&-mouse which culminates when he confronts his greatest foe once again…

With the help of Pradier’s forces Blake soon has the villains on the run, spectacularly fleeing over the rooftops of Paris, but the big fish of course escapes and the heroes must face the fact that they might never know what has become of Mortimer…

In Jouy, however, the irascible researcher has made good use of his time incarcerated with the diabolical Professor Milosh Georgevich who has used the vast resources of an aggressor nation to weaponise weather in advance of an audacious scheme to invade France for the third time in a century…

Forced to act alone he escapes his jailers and picks up an unexpected ally as he tries to sabotage the colossal climate engines, utterly unaware that his greatest friend has picked up new clues and is closing in on the plotters…

Moody and comparatively low-key until the final act when the tension builds to explosive heights and a Bond-Movie finish, S.O.S. Meteors is a splendid mystery romp packed with astounding action, scads of sinister suspense and a blockbuster climax to delight spy-buffs and devotees of Distinguished Duo alike.

Addictive and absorbing in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination and the natural successors to such heroic icons as Professor Challenger, Bulldog Drummond and Richard Hannay, always delivering grand, old-fashioned Blood-&-Thunder thrills, chills and spills in timeless fashion and with a mesmerising visual punch.

Any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) will enjoy the experience of their lives…

This Cinebook edition also includes excerpts from two other B&M albums plus a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1989 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

The Batman Adventures volume 2


By Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5463-6

As re-imagined by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and happily fed back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

The comicbook version was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years. This second modern compendium, however, gathers issues #11-20 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from August 1993 to May 1994) in a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett.

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. This gift has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989 to 1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Mike Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, fun-fuelled animation-inspired style revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly comics and merchandise at DC and everywhere else in the comics publishing business.

Like the show itself each story is treated as a three-act play and kicking off events here is moodily magnificent ‘The Beast Within!’ as obsessed scientist Kirk Langstrom agonises; believing he is somehow uncontrollably transforming into the monstrous Man-Bat whenerer ‘The Sleeper Awakens!’

The truth is far more sinister but incarcerated in ‘G.C.P.D.H.Q!’ neither the chemist nor his beloved Francine can discern ‘The Awful Truth!’ Happily, ever-watchful Batman plays by his own rules…

Following on with a shocking shift in focus, young Barbara Gordon makes a superhero costume for a party in ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

With no professional help on hand, Babs has to act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… but then Catwoman shows up for the frantic finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

The troubled relationship of Batman and Talia, Daughter of the Demon was tackled with surprising sophistication in ‘Last Tango in Paris’ with the sometime-lovers teaming up to recover a statue stolen from diabolical Ra’s Al Ghul. ‘Act 1: Old Flame’ saw them stumble into a trap set by one of The Demon’s rivals but turn the tables in ‘Act 2: Paris is Burning’ before each of the trysting couple’s true motivations was exposed in the heartbreaking ‘Act 3: Where there’s Smoke’

Despite being a series to be read one glorious tale at a time, the creators had also laid groundwork for an epic sequence to come, but whilst Bruce was occupied in Europe the spotlight shifted to Dick Grayson as the Teen Wonder worried about how to break the news of a game-changing decision to his mentor, even as ‘Public Enemy’ saw the latest incomprehensible rampage of crazy crook The Ventriloquist

‘Act 1: Greakout!’ found the wooden weirdo and his silent stooge escaping clink and orchestrating a massive heist in ‘Act 2: The Grinks Jog’, only to ultimately have the limelight stolen by Robin in ‘Act 3: The Gig Glock!’

Police Commissioner Jim Gordon then teamed with Batman in ‘Badge of Honor’, uniting to save a hostage undercover cop from Boss Rupert Thorne in ‘Act 1: Officer Down!’ ‘Act 2: Cop Killer!’ saw the seemingly unstoppable duo track down the fallen hero only to face their greatest obstacle in ‘Act 3: Code Dead!’ when Thorne himself gets his hands dirty…

In ‘The Killing Book’ the Harlequin of Hate took offence to his portrayal in comics and ‘Act 1: Seduction of the Innocent!’ saw the Joker kidnap a publisher’s latest overnight sensation in order to show in ‘Act 2: How to Draw Comics the Joker Way!’ Naturally ‘Act 3: Comics and Sequential Death!’ only proved that Batman is not a guy to tolerate funnybooks or artistic upstarts…

Seeds planted in Paris flourished and bloomed in ‘The Tangled Web’ as The Demon’s latest act of genocide finally begins with ‘Act 1: Into the Shadows!’ However ‘Act 2: New World Order’ proves yet again that Ra’s has critically underestimated his enemy when a different masked stranger saves Earth from catastrophe in ‘Act 3: What Doth it Profit a Man?’

Following the epic victory Robin meets the mysterious Batgirl for the first time on ‘Decision Day’ as conflicted Barbara Gordon again succumbs to the addictive lure of costumed crime-fighting. Thwarting a bomb plot in ‘Act 1: Eyewitness!’ the feisty if untutored fire-breather opts to find the culprit herself in ‘Act 2: Smoking Gun’, even if she does grudgingly accept a little assistance from the Teen Wonder in ‘Act 3: No Justice, No Peace!’

Gotham’s Master of Terror turns up inside Batman’s head in ‘Troubled Dreams’ as the Dark Knight becomes one of many sufferers of ‘Act 1: Nightmare over Gotham!’ Just for once, however, there’s another instigator of panic in the mix, enquiring in ‘Act 2: Who Scares the Scarecrow?’ until the Caped Crusader catches the true dream-invader in ‘Act 3: Beneath the Mask’…

The fabulous foray into classic four-colour fun concludes with another spectacular yet hilarious outing for a Terrible Trio of criminals who bear a remarkable resemblance to DC editors Dennis O’Neil, Mike Carlin and Archie Goodwin.

‘Smells Like Black Sunday’ opens with ‘Act 1: And a Perfesser Shall Lead Them!’ as the Triumvirate of Terror bust out of the big house, hotly pursued by the Gotham Gangbuster in ‘Act 2: Flying Blind with Mastermind’. Sadly their scheme to become a three-man nuclear power falters as ‘Act 3: Legend of the Dark Nice’ finds the evil geniuses underestimating the sheer cuteness of guard dogs and their cataclysmic comrade’s innately gentle disposition…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are the impeccable Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.

Pure, unadulterated delight – so keep buying until every tale is back in print!
© 1993, 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Fear Agent volume 2: My War


By Rick Remender & Jerome Opeña (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 987-1-59307-766-2

Fear Agent debuted from Image Comics in 2005 and ran for eleven issues before folding. It was subsequently picked up by Dark Horse in 2007 with the first tale represented in an explosive collection as Re-Ignition. It introduced dissolute, Mark Twain-spouting, alcoholic Texan freelance pest-control operative Heath Huston: the original Man With a Past But No Future…

One of the last humans in existence, he was hunting aliens and eradicating outer-space thingies for a fee, looking for a way to end it all on his own terms, when he got suckered into triggering a nigh-inescapable trap to destroy what remained of Earth by bombarding it with “Feeders”.

The flesh-eating horrors can only be stopped by blowing up any planet they land on and Huston realised the plot was another attempt by the Dressite Empire – Earth’s greatest enemy – to finish the job they started decades ago, when they tried to wipe out mankind and only the legendary Fear Agents were (barely) able to stop them…

Huston – claiming to be the only survivor of that august cadre of warriors – barely escaped the Dressite trap, taking with him feisty, surly warp scientist Mara Esperanza – last survivor of space station Glentbin – and raced to stop the wave of ravenous, unstoppable Feeder larvae hurtling towards Earth aboard a convoy of deadly Trojan Horse ships to eradicate the slowly-rebuilding human race.

Until now his only companion had been Annie, a sentient AI spaceship who hated Mara on sight. Now, thanks to more Dressite treachery, they all fell together into another trap. However, the wicked plotters underestimated the astounding Annie, who contrived to ride their deadly warp-wave and dumped the humans – alive but lost – on a strange alien world where they become embroiled in an apocalyptic war between creatures of flesh and monsters of metal.

As the conflict proceeded and Huston fretted that Feeders were inexorably closing on Earth, he realised that he was lost not just in space but also time. Savouring a chance to preserve his homeworld centuries before any marauding ETs ever attacked, Huston embarked on a crazy raid with his meat-based allies that went horribly, irretrievably wrong. And then he died.

This second volume (representing Image issues #5-10) opens with the time-lost reprobate somehow battling giant brains and getting on really rather extraordinarily well with the sultry and completely unpredictable Mara, only to be given a tantalising glimpse of possible personal futures just as Annie warns them that they are in orbit above Earth.

The scenes below are utterly appalling, but as Huston tools up to go down fighting the now gigantic mature Feeders, the many wars he has fought blur and a new element enters the baffling picture: a previously unknown coalition of races which arrests him for causing a time anomaly…

Thrown into a ghastly Gen-Pop of otherworldly malefactors, Heath devolves into an even more disgusting wreck, slaughtering other inmates and stealing their drugs. Utterly unrepentant, he is a pathetic addict when finally charged and doesn’t even notice when his accusers let slip that this is the thirteenth time a Heath Huston has stood before them…

Left to rot in the worst of all imaginable jails, he sinks into addiction and barely understands when he is rescued by Annie and Mara and arrives (via a telling flashback which recounts the day his family died and the alien invaders first hit his homeworld) on an Earth that couldn’t possibly exist, a Terra where other Fear Agents still fight against ghastly all-consuming monsters. A world where his dead wife Charlotte is president of all that remains of humanity…

Confused? Good, you’re supposed to be, but if you stick with this astoundingly compelling rollicking rollercoaster ride everything will become even more cosmically confounding before eventually slotting neatly into place. Pandering to your juvenile desires to see monsters, space-babes, ray-gun blasts and humongous explosions whilst deftly straining your brain with deviously clever extrapolations of classic science fiction memes, this collection comes with a sketchbook section from illustrator Jerome Opeña: affording readers a powerfully character-driven, fast, furious, frantic, thrilling, manic and exceedingly clever, balls-to-the-wall Sci Fi romp which exults in the best OTT traditions of 2000AD, and has all the adrenalin-fuelled fun any fantasy aficionado could want.

Once upon a time science fiction was hard, fast all-encompassing action wrapped in impossible ideas, but over the years films like Star Wars and TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica slowly pacified, ameliorated, crossbred and bastardised the form until it became simple window-dressing for cop stories, westerns and war yarns…

Rick Remender clearly loves the old-fashioned, wide-eyed wonder stuff too, and with artistic collaborator Opeña revels in sublimely impossible, mind-bending adventurous Amazing Stories to remind us all of what we’ve been missing.

Fear Agent was a breath of fresh air when it came out and remains one of very best cosmic comics experiences around. If you’re old enough, Sentient enough and Earthling enough, this is a series you must see before you die, have your brain-engrams recorded and are cloned into a new form unable to enjoy terrific fiction feasts.
© 2006, 2007 Rick Remender & Tony Moore. All rights reserved. All characters and distinctive likenesses are ™ Rick Remender & Tony Moore.

Superman: Man of Steel volume 8


By John Byrne, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Ross Andru, Mike Mignola, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4391-3

Although largely out of favour these days as many decades of Superman mythology are relentlessly assimilated into one overarching, all-inclusive multi-media franchise, the stripped-down, gritty, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Action Ace as re-imagined by John Byrne and built upon by a stunning succession of gifted comics craftsmen produced many genuine comics classics.

Controversial at the start, Byrne’s reboot of the world’s first superhero was rapidly acknowledged as a solid hit and the collaborative teams who complemented and followed him maintained the high quality, ensuring continued success.

That vast, interlocking saga is being collected – far too slowly – in a more-or-less chronological combination format as fabulously economical trade paperbacks and Superman: The Man of Steel is the eighth volume (revisiting Superman #16-18, Adventures of Superman #439-440 and Action Comics #598-600, covering March to June 1988).

The Fights ‘n’ Tights frenzy begins with the debut of DC’s signature super-spy outfit ‘Checkmate!’ (Action Comics #598, courtesy of Byrne, Paul Kupperberg and inker Ty Templeton) wherein Lois Lane faces an Arab terrorist hiding behind diplomatic immunity whilst the Caped Kryptonian is handling the capture of a US nuclear aircraft carrier.

Luckily an enigmatic masked “Knight” in black and gold is working behind the scenes to stop the plot but can even he prevent atomic Armageddon?

Over in Superman #16 (Byrne & Karl Kesel), Metropolis is plagued by crazy, life-threatening stunts whilst Morgan Edge’s TV station is held hostage by disgruntled employee “Uncle” Oswald Loomis. The wily old entertainer is bemoaning changing tastes and times in ‘He Only Laughs When I Hurt!’ but taking Lois prisoner is no way to put his point across. However this very modern Prankster has more than gimmicks up his sleeve to counter the Man of Action’s swift response…

And in Antarctica polar scientists make an incredible discovery…

In Adventures of Superman #439 (Byrne, Jerry Ordway & John Beatty), Jimmy Olsen and Cat Grant stumble upon a hidden paramilitary encampment with enough power to cripple the Man of Steel, but when the wounded hero crashes down in Metropolis the doctors treating him can only diagnose that he has been turned into a robot…

The incredible truth behind the impossible situation and the ‘Tin Soldiers’ comes quickly, but not quite in time for the captive reporters, after which evil entrepreneur Lex Luthor returns to bedevil Superman by turning the multifaceted, malleable Metal Men into a lethal weapon composed of ‘Element 126’: a snappy thriller written and inked by Byrne – with the assistance of Keith Williams – and pencilled by legendary illustrator Ross Andru, first seen in Action Comics #599…

Superman #17 then revealed the return of murderous mystic Silver Banshee, still searching for a lost tome of lore and making corpses in the all-Byrne ‘Cries in the Night’. Once again outmatched and at a loss for answers, this time the Metropolis Marvel is saved by a hulking and equally enigmatic Scot named Bevan McDougal who only leaves the hero with more questions…

Answer to the robotic replacements incursion comes as maverick inventor Professor Emil Hamilton returns in Adventures of Superman #440 (scripted by Byrne, illustrated by Ordway & Dennis Janke Beatty) but he finds the Man of Tomorrow positively giddy at the prospect of meeting again the fascinating heroic newcomer Diana of Themyscira.

A semblance of professionalism only resumes after Superman consults with the grim Batman in Gotham City who has been trying to track down the owner of a certain scrapbook which seems to hold all the secrets of the Kryptonian’s childhood. The eventual answer is a breathtaking shock in ‘The Hurrieder I Go’

Meanwhile in Metropolis Luthor gloats after his spies bring him enough dirt to finally bring incorruptible Police Captain Maggie Sawyer under his merciless heel…

May 1988 was the fiftieth anniversary of Superman and to celebrate Action Comics #600 was an all-new 80-page carnival of delights from a host of creators. Variant covers and pin-ups by Linda Medley, Art Adams, John Bogdanove, Kevin Maguire, Dave Gibbons, Mike Zeck and Walt Simonson accompanied spectacular lead story ‘Different Worlds’ (Byrne & George Pérez) which at last addressed the obvious chemistry between Superman and Wonder Woman, before the couple are drawn to Olympus in ‘Fallen Idols’. Finding the home of the gods conquered by Darkseid in ‘Broken Mirrors’, the resulting cataclysmic ‘Battle!’ only ends with the New God again tasting defeat in ‘This Hollow Victory…’

The rest of the captivating regular cast also get time to shine. Lois proves her independence and gains new respect for Clark after learning of glamorous Kal-El and Princess Diana’s supposed ‘True Love’ in a pithy yarn written by Byrne and Roger Stern with art from veteran illustrator Kurt Schaffenberger, inked by Ordway.

Byrne & Dick Giordano then brought the war of wills between Maggie Sawyer and Luthor to a head in ‘Games People Play’, but not in a way the multi-billionaire would have wanted, whilst Jimmy was ‘A Friend in Need’ (Byrne, Stern, Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson) when a strange malady almost killed his caped pal, dragging the hurt hero deep into the earth where tragic antihero Man-Bat found him delirious in ‘The Dark Where Madness Lies’ from Byrne & Mike Mignola…

This splendid repository of collected comic delights concludes with the magnificent resolution as Superman #18 reveals that the radiation wave-front from the hero’s long exploded birthworld has finally reached his adoptive home. With the aid of alien émigrés Hawkman and Hawkwoman the incapacitated cosmic orphan undertakes a ‘Return to Krypton’ (courtesy, of Byrne, Mignola & Kesel) to experience cosmic wonders and astounding visions of terrifying clarity…

To Be Continued…

The back-to-basics approach lured many readers to – and most crucially back to – the Superman franchise at a time when interest in the character had slumped to perilous levels, but it was the sheer quality of the stories and art which made them stay.

Such cracking superhero tales are a true high point in the Man of Tomorrow’s monolithic canon and these astoundingly readable collections are certainly the easiest way to enjoy a stand-out reinvention of the ultimate comic-book icon.
© 1988, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.