Cochlea & Eustachia


By Hans Rickheit (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-801-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unseasonably Strange but Utterly Irresistible… 9/10

Hans Rickheit was born in 1973 and has been producing skilfully crafted art in many different arenas since the 1990s, beginning with self-published mini-comics before graduating to full-sized, full-length epics such as Kill, Kill, Kill and The Squirrel Machine. He has also worked in film, music, gallery works and performance art.

A Xeric award beneficiary, he came to broader attention in 2001 with the controversial graphic novel Chloe, and has since spread himself wide contributing to numerous anthologies and periodicals, creating beguiling webcomics and instigating the occasional anthology or minicomic of his own such as Chrome Fetus.

That last was the original venue for the strangely surreal binary sorority known as Cochlea & Eustachia. They first manifested in issue #5 in 2001, with obscure and occulted follow-ups in The Stranger, Proper Gander, Hoax, Typhon, Blurred Visions and Pood. Most recently they have destructively scurried and ambled through Rickheit’s webcomic pages (http://www.chromefetus.com/) and now are ready to inflict their distracting blend of ingénue iconoclasm and chaos chic through the printed page of a splendidly olde worlde graphic compilation.

A keen student of dreams, Rickheit has been called obscurantist, and indeed in all his beautifully rendered and realised concoctions meaning is layered and open to wide interpretation.

His preferred oeuvre is the recondite imagery and sturdily fanciful milieu of Victorian/Edwardian Americana which proved such rich earth for fantasists such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth, whilst his fine, studied, meticulously clear line is a perfect, incisive counterpoint to the frequently challenging logic-bending of miasmic mystery and cosmic confusion.

In Short: pay attention, scrutinise carefully and make up your own mind…

In a shabby, battered manse peculiar contraptions and bizarre trophies of things that should never have existed – let alone be stuffed and mounted – abound.

The master of the house is another strange creature and as he awakes from a unique bier and begins to wander the rooms, unseen and undetected wanton mischief makers Cochlea and Eustachia rouse also and resume their apparently aimless peregrinations through the walls, nooks and crannies of the edifice that rests atop a sea of animal skulls…

The nubile, girl-like creatures scutter about in dream-like journeys and progressions, avoiding and yet stalking the wheelchair bound savant as he continues his labours, cultivating creatures of incomprehensible oddity…

Soon chances occur for more manufactured calamity and a wildly sedate chase ensues, resulting in capture, shocking indignity and a clash with monsters and giant robots, but as the episode escalates we are left to wonder are the elfin wanderers a binary or in fact trinary partnership?

Or is the truth – if such a thing can ever be pinned down and vivisected – something even more baroque and uncanny?

All that basically means is that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling this sinisterly absurdist confection from one of the most impressively singleminded craftsmen working in comics today, and if you are at all tempted or intrigued you must buy this splendidly slewed and offbeat chronicle.

Scary, beautiful, disturbing and often utterly inappropriate, the full-colour exploits of the masked misfit misses is accompanied by an enticing extra tale in muted monochrome as the mysterious masqueraders return to declare ‘How It Works’, after finding a possibly handsome stranger stashed in a box in a starkly surreal swamp…

Visually reminiscent of the best of Rick Geary, Jason Lutes and Charles Burns whilst being nothing like them at all, Rickheit presents a singularly surreal and mannered design; a highly charged, subtly disturbing delusion that will chill, bewilder and possibly even outrage many readers.

It is also compelling, seductive, sublimely quirky, blackly hilarious and nigh-impossible to forget. As long as you’re an adult and braced for the unexpected, expect this to be one of the best books you’ll read this decade – or any other…
Cochlea & Eustachia © 2014 Hans Rickheit. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books Inc.

Tales of an Imperfect Future


By Alfonso Font (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-494-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For Starry-Eyed Cynics Everywhere… 8/10

Barcelona-born creator Alfonso Font Carrera was born on August 28th 1946. He studied Fine Arts and worked as an illustrator before slipping into comics in the 1960s with westerns tales in Hazañas del Oeste and Sioux for Ediciones Toray.

He soon graduated to horror stories and historical crime dramas about infamous criminals for the Selecciones Illustradas Agency and in 1970 began contributing material to British publisher Fleetway on strips such as Black Max in Thunder and Lion, soon thereafter graduating to America with work for mature magazine publishers Warren and Skywald.

With writer Carlos Echevarría, he created ‘Géminis’ (AKA Phil Jackson) and moved to Paris in 1975 to work for major comics magazine Pif Gadget devising ‘Sandberg, Père et Fils’ with Patrick Cothias, ‘Les Dossiers Mystère’ (written by Solet, and sharing art chores with Carlos Giménez and Adolfo Usero) and the Roger Lécureux-scripted ‘Les Robinsons de la Terre’.

From 1976-1982 he also freelanced for Scoop, Tousse Bourin and Super-As and at that time, incensed by publishers reprinting his work without permission or payment, he became active in Creators Rights issues and worked with Giménez, Victor Mora and Usero as the “Workshop Premia” seeking to create a union for comics professionals.

In the mid 1980s Font returned to Spain, contributing to new, home-grown publications like Cimoc, À Tope, and Circus whilst creating (with Mora) ‘Sylvestre’ and ‘Tequila Bang’.

For the Spanish iteration of 1984 he created signature sci fi gadabouts Clarke & Kubrick – who subsequently appeared in Cimoc and Rambla – and began a series of self-scripted, mordantly cynical and sardonic science fiction tales under the umbrella title ‘Cuentos de un futuro imperfecto’ which we know as Tales of an Imperfect Future

Seemingly never sleeping, he went on to create parody-laced aviation hero ‘Frederico Mendelssohn Bartholdy’, ‘El Prisionero de las Estrellas’, and classical adventure serial ‘Jann Polynésia’ – which evolved into the iconic ‘John Rohner’ for Cimoc and ‘Carmen Bond’ for À Tope

In 1987 he started a fruitful association with French publications Pilote and Charlie Mensuel with his series ‘Taxi’ and, after a brace of independent albums for Planeta publishers, revived John Rohner at Norma publishers.

Always occupied he went on to create ‘Privado’ and medieval warrior ‘Bri D’Alban’ for Cimoc, whilst collaborating on cop series ‘Negras tormentas’ (‘Black Storms’) with writer Juan Antonio De Blas. He even began occasionally illustrating Italy’s venerable western superstar Tex for Bonelli. In 1996 he returned to American pages with his erotic series ‘Dra, Dare’ for Penthouse Comix.

A major force in European graphic storytelling, Font has won numerous awards including The Grand Prize at Comic Barcelona and a Haxtur Award.

His artwork is loose, fluid, intricate and utterly electrifying and now Dark Horse have translated the original European collection of Tales of an Imperfect Future into a stunning oversized (287x224mm) monochrome hardback edition that will delight fans of grittily fantastic fiction.

Any Brit who grew up reading the short complete sagas exemplified and perfected in 2000AD’s Tharg’s Future Shocks, Pulp Sci-Fi or Tales from Beyond Science will be right at home – unless casual (human and robot) nudity is a problem…

Written and illustrated by Font throughout, the anthological nature of the tales is linked by the simple bridging device of a grotesque alien directly telling us that humanity is simultaneously a threat and embarrassment to the universe. However, rather than go to the time and expense of eliminating us, the Great Powers are offering us one last chance to change our ways and by way of inducement have provided some stories taken from our most probable futures to illustrate just why we’re so much of a problem…

The hard science hagiography commences with ‘Tanatos-1 Comes Home’ as the smug hierarchal rulers of earth gloat over the news that the AI super-weapon they created to destroy the alien fleets of Kloron has spectacularly succeeded.

As boffin Commander Grenh describes to the xenophobic top Bankers, Clerics and Military leaders how his programming compels the indestructible Tanatos-1 to unceasingly and implacably seek out all life in the universe and eradicate it, veteran General Alto Kervis asks himself why it has turned around and now nears Earth…

‘Rain’ introduces hard-working, long suffering blue-collar spacers Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke, stuck on a sodden world going slowly mad…

When the incessant deluge apparently causes a malfunction, hated computer Hal 2001 insists they go outside to fix the problem but Stanley is convinced the useless metal martinet is trying to kill its human masters…

Barbed humour gives way to barbarian fantasy in ‘Day of Glory’ as valiant John Smith battles devils and monsters to save his princess and his people. Tragically the wonder warrior is in for disappointment and shock once he impossibly defeats the sinister Overlord of Klaarn

Cracks appear in the foundations of the Military-Industrial complex when a vile capitalist proves to the government why the war they’re fighting must never end in ‘Stocks’, whilst

‘The Hunt’ prophetically takes the Hunger Games trope and ongoing war between “One-Percenters” and the rest of us to its logical conclusion…

Originally crafted in the mid 1980s, it follows two super-rich brats as they stalk each other with lethal weapons through the dystopian wastelands inhabited by the poor. Of course, even when they’re killing each other for sport on a reality show, the oligarchs still find a way to bloodily exploit the despised discarded millions…

‘“Like a Plague”’ then offers an excoriating morality tale about our suicidal ecological irresponsibility before Stanley and Arthur return in ‘Cyberratic’.

Having finally escaped the rain-drenched hellhole and their creepily disturbing electronic taskmaster, the unlikely heroes hit the Welcome Satellite for some R&R but stumble into a major mechanical malfunction on the totally-automated resort. Luckily a small droid keeps pulling their fat out of the robotic fire, but you’d think such passionate machine-haters would stop for a moment to ask why and how their little saviour escaped the malfunction plague…

‘The Final Enemy’ offers a bleak glimpse at the thinking behind the soldiers who will fight in the final atomic Armageddon whilst black humour informs the tale of Earth explorers who land on paradise and destroy it forever with ‘The Kiss’

Similar silliness informs the trash-inundated post-apocalyptic world of ‘The Cleaner’ when humanity’s last survivors activate a miraculous device to get rid of the cause and effects of the pollution which destroyed the world…

Although meant as a comedic interlude, the next vignette sadly comes across as dated and just a touch homophobic by today’s elevated standards, detailing the shock and peril a solitary explorer endures when he discovers his government-mandated and supplied robotic sexual companion is not a “Betty” but an over-zealous ‘Valentino’

Far more safe and salutary territory finds ‘Earth Control at Your Service, Sir.’ addressing a version of the Cold Equations quandary as two astronauts bringing an end to global famine realise that they won’t reach Earth if both men keep breathing the rapidly diminishing oxygen supply. As they struggle to make an impossible decision they have no inkling that the authorities on a starving world have their own ideas…

‘The Siege’ bloodily traces the rampage of a merciless murderous maniac as a fractured city endures police martial law and the ceaseless hunt for society’s greatest menace and the tormented tomorrows tumble to a close with the bleak sad tale of a doomed and dying spacer’s escape into fantasy and one last passionate rendezvous with beloved ‘Green Eyes’

Scary, satirical, suspenseful and superbly intoxicating Tales of an Imperfect Future offers a powerful panoply of graphic pleasures for every lover of comics adventure and science fiction wonders by a master of art long overdue for fame in the English-speaking world.
Tales of an Imperfect Future © 2014 SAF Comics, www.safcomics.com. All rights reserved.

Black Light: The World of L.B. Cole


By Leonard Brandt Cole with an introduction by Bill Schelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-762-8

The early days of the American comicbook industry were a whirlwind of spectacular exuberance and the front covers of the gaudy pamphlets that endlessly proliferated were all crafted to scream “Buy Me! Buy Me!” from within a sea of similar sights.

As such, that first visual contact was crucial to success and one of the greatest artists ever to mesmerise kids out of their hard-earned dimes was Leonard Brandt Cole (28th August 1918 – December 5th 1995) who had a master designer’s knack for combining captivating ideas and imagery with eye-popping style and technique.

Although he also illustrated quite a few interior strips (for Holyoke, Ajax, Farrel and Gilberton), Cole’s true gift and passion was devising attention-grabbing cover images rendered in what he called “poster colors”.

Whether on Horror, Superhero, Science Fiction, Sports, Humour, Crime, War, Western, Rugged Adventure, Jungle, Romance or Funny Animal titles, his stellar, absorbing art was instantly recognisable and in great part is what defines the Golden Age of Comics for us today…

His influence doesn’t end there, however. A shrewd businessman and editor, Cole started his own studio-shop to manufacture stories for assorted companies and parlayed it into publishing company (initially by buying existing properties from client Novelty Press in 1949) and then diversifying through his Star Comics line into genre novels, prose-pulps, puzzle-books and general magazine periodicals.

Frequently he would combine his electric primary colours over a black background adding instant extra punch to his renditions of masked champions, soaring spaceships, macabre monsters and a legion of damsels in love or distress…

Before joining the nascent comics industry in the early 1940s, Cole’s background was in science and printing. He studied veterinary science (he held a doctorate in Anatomy and Physiology from the University of Berlin) but was working as a lithographic Art Director when he made the seemingly sideways transition into illustration and comics.

Incredibly this colossal (272 pages, at 337x235mm), durably Flexibound compendium is his first major retrospective, bringing together a multitude of his most impressive works in one immense, colourful and informative volume

The astounding career of a comicbook Renaissance man is covered in fascinating detail in ‘Comics by Design – the Weird Worlds of L.B. Cole’ by pre-eminent historian of the medium Bill Schelly, whose appreciation ‘Fever Dreams in Four-Color Form’ is followed by his erudite biography and timeline of the artist, divided into four discrete periods.

Each section is augmented by photos, covers, original artwork and even comics extracts – ranging from panels and splash pages to complete stories (such as Paul Revere Jr.) – covered in lavish detail in ‘Into Comics’ and ‘Cole as Publisher’ whilst ‘Out of Comics’ focuses on his later move into commercial art, education and illustration.

In the 1980s Cole was “rediscovered” by comics fandom and achieved minor celebrity status through appearances at conventions. ‘Art Among the Junk’ covers this period up until his death when he began recreating his iconic covers as privately commissioned paintings for modern collectors.

The true wonder of this glorious phantasmagorical collection follows in ‘The Comics Covers of L.B. Cole’ which showcases long runs of the artist’s stunning covers – nearly 350 eye-popping poster images – from such evocative titles as 4Most, All-Famous Police Cases, Blue Bolt, Captain Aero, Cat-Man Comics, Classics Illustrated, Contact Comics, Confessions of Love, Criminals on the Run, Dick Tracy, Flight Comics, Frisky Animals, Ghostly Weird Stories, Killers, Jeep Comics, Mask, Popular Teen-Agers, Power Comics, Ship Ahoy, Shocking Mystery Cases, Spook, Sport Thrills, Startling Terror Tales, Suspense Comics, Target Comics, Terrors of the Jungle, Top Love, Toy Town, Western Crime Cases, White Rider and Super Horse and many more…

The pictorial feast doesn’t end there though as ‘Further Works’ gathers a host of his non-comics covers including books such as The Greatest Prison Breaks of All Time, Murders I’ve Seen, Raging Passions and Love Hungry, as well as magazine covers for joke periodicals like Wit and Wisdom, Sporting Dogs and World Rod and Gun. Gentleman’s publications and “sweat mags” such as Man’s True Action, Man’s Daring Adventures and Epic (Stories of True Action) also feature: all augmented with articles, working sketches and original drawings and paintings. There’s even a selection of his superb animal studies and anatomical and medical textbook illustrations, plus private commissions, recreations and unpublished or unfinished works…

Black Light is a vast and stunning treasury of fantastic imagery from a bygone age by a master of visual communication that no fan of popular art could fail to appreciate, but for comics lovers it’s something else too: a seductive gateway to astounding worlds of imagination and breathless nostalgia impossible to resist.
Black Light: The World of L.B. Cole © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All comics, artwork, photos, illustrations and intellectual properties © 2015 the respective copyright holder. All rights reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman volume One


By Harvey Kurtzman (Kitchen Sink Books/Dark Horse Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-61655-563-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Buy It Now, Love It Forever… 10/10

Well this is embarrassing…

About a month ago, after literally years of waiting impatiently, I finally reviewed one of the earliest classics of our art form, impetuously deciding that at least some of you might find and delight in Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book through second-hand and pre-owned suppliers.

Apparently, even as I was whining about the thing not being in print, superbly crafted copies of a wonderful new deluxe hardcover edition were winging their way around the planet thanks to the perspicacity of those fine people at Dark Horse and Kitchen Sink.

That will teach me to actually read some of the online reports and press releases we’re bombarded with here at Grumpy Old Luddite Central…

Still my humiliation is your good fortune as this magnificently oversized (297x184mm) masterpiece is ready to buy and just in time to make this Holiday Season a time of wickedly barbed merriment…

Here in Britain we think we invented modern satire, and quite frankly it’s a pretty understandable notion, with “The Great 1960s Satire Boom” producing the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, Bernard Levin, Richard Ingrams, Alan Bennett, Paul Foot, Ned Sherrin, Jonathan Miller, David Frost and institutions such as The Establishment club, That Was the Week that Was and the utterly wonderful Private Eye (long may She reign, offend, fly at Gads and survive repeated libel and defamation writs – there’s a Christmas Annual out even as we speak…).

Sadly our American cousins were not so magnanimously blessed. Their share of genuine world-changing, liberal-lefty rib-tickling intellectual troublemakers only really comprised Tom Lehrer and Harvey Kurtzman. Of course it is a very large country of excitable citizens, with an unbelievable number of guns equally distributed amongst smart folks, idiots and outright lunatics…

Creative genius Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

In 1959, having left Mad over issues of financial control and with both follow-up independent ventures Trump and  Humbug cruelly defunct, the irrepressible Kurtzman convinced Ballantine Books to publish a mass-market paperback of all-new satirical material. That company had just lost the rights to publish Mad’s phenomenally best-selling paperback reprint line and were cautiously amenable to a gamble…

The intriguing oddment saw the Great Observer in top form, returning to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema, contemporary television and apparently unchanging social sentiments in a quartet of hyper-charged tales. Unfortunately the project was the first of its kind in America and met with far less than stellar success. No one had ever published 140 pages of new comics in one savage bite before, and even the plenitude of strip reprint books packing bookshop shelves and newsstand spinners were always designed with one eye on the kids’ market.

This new stuff was strictly for adults who would happily follow newspaper or magazine strips but didn’t want to be seen carrying a whole book of them. Duly enlightened, Kurtzman instead returned to safer ground and launched Help! just in time for the aforementioned Swinging Sixties’ satire boom…

The slim monochrome package might not have changed the nation but it certainly warped and affected a generation of budding cartoonists and writers. Quickly becoming a legend – and nearly a myth in many fan circles – Jungle Book was rescued from limbo in 1986 when cartoonist, publisher and comics advocate Denis Kitchen released the entire lost volume as a deluxe oversized collectors hardback edition through his Kitchen Sink Press.

Adjudged by The Comics Journal as #26 in the “Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century”, the racy, revelatory controversial – and in 1959 completely ignored – tome’s full title is Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Or, Up from the Apes! (and Right Back Down) – In Which Are Described in Words and Pictures Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, and Other Heroes All Exhibiting the Progress of Man from the Darkness of the Cave into the Light of Civilization by Means of Television, Wide Screen Movies, the Stone Axe, and Other Useful Arts and this latest edition brilliantly gilds the graphic lily with a host of extra features and treats.

Augmented by a wealth of candid photos, covers and sketches from other works, this new chronicle of craziness offers an effusive Introduction by Gilbert Shelton and a fascinating and informative essay by Kitchen entitled ‘It’s a Jungle Out There!’ which reveals the tone of the times and discloses the background behind the novel novel’s creation.

Also included is the 1986 Kitchen Sink edition’s ‘Intro’ by rabidly devoted fan Art Spiegelman and, after the words and picture-fest concludes, a captivating ‘Epilogue’ ensues in the form of a scholarly ‘Conversation between Peter Poplaski and R. Crumb’

The material itself is gloriously timeless and revelatory. In 1959 it gave the author an opportunity to experiment with layout, page design, narrative rhythms and especially the graphic potential of lettering, all whilst asking pertinent, probing questions about the world rapidly changing all around him.

Each tale in the quartet is prefaced by Kurtzman’s own commentary as shared with comics historian Dave Schriener for the 1986 Edition…

‘Thelonius Violence, Like Private Eye’ is ostensibly a parody of groundbreaking TV show Peter Gunn, with the jazz-loving, hipster “White Knight for Hire” scoring chicks and getting hit an awful lot as he infallibly and oh-so-coolly tracks a killer whilst protecting blackmail victim Lolita Nabokov

The tale is slick and witty and sublimely smart, whereas the next piece (barely) contains a lot of pent-up frustration for past sins and misdemeanours.

In creating ‘Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite’ Kurtzman accessed his experiences working for low-rent publishers and bosses (such as Marvel’s Martin Goodman) to create the salutary tale of a decent young man’s progress up the corporate ladder at Shlock Publications Inc.

The quasi-autobiographical, impressionable and ambitious naïf in question is Goodman Beaver (who would be resurrected for Help! and eventually, improbably evolve into Little Annie Fanny) and his transformation from sweet kid to cruel, corrupt, exploitative average business jerk makes for truly outrageous reading.

The title comes from a trio of contemporary bestsellers on the subject of men in business: Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (1952), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson in 1955 and William H. Whyte’s 1956 drama The Organization Man.

‘Compulsion on the Range’ simultaneously spoofs top-rated western Gunsmoke and the era’s growing fascination with cod psychology and angst-ridden heroes as Marshal Matt Dolin’s far-reaching obsession with out-shooting infallible outlaw Johnny Ringding which takes him to the ends of the Earth…

The cartooning wraps up with an edgily barbed tribute to Great Southern novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre or assorted works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, filtered through a glorious froth of absurd melodrama, frustrated passions and steamy sex (by all accounts the Very Best Kind), all outrageously delivered via astoundingly rendered caricatures and inspired dialect and accent gags.

The tale was inspired by the time Kurtzman spent in Paris, Texas during his wartime service…

In ‘Decadence Degenerated’ us’n sees thet nothin’ evah changes in sleepy ole Rottenville. Then wun naht, when the boys is jus’ a-oglin’ purty Honey-Lou as ushul, sommin’ goes awry an’ it all leads to murdah an’ lynchin’ befoah some snoopy repohtah who claims he frum up Noath turns up thinkin’ he can fin’ the truth…

Soon vi’lint passions is furtha aroused and nuthin’ kin evah be the same agin…

Funny, evocative and still unparalleled in its depth, ambition and visual potency, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book inspired and influenced creators and storytellers as disparate as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. This is a masterpiece of our art form which no true devotee can afford to be without.
Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book (Essential Kurtzman Volume One) © 2014 Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. All contents © and/or ™ their respective creators or rights holders. All artwork and stories © the estate of Harvey Kurtzman unless noted.  All rights reserved.

Seven Soldiers of Victory Archives volume 3


By Joe Samachson & Arturo Cazeneuve (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1694-8

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual stars into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was resoundingly confirmed: readers just couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men, and a multitude of popular characters would inevitably increase readership.

Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one (or one-&-a-half if there’s sidekicks involved…).

The creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. Soon after the team debuted, even All American Comics’ publishing partner National wanted to get in on the act and thus created their own squad of solo stars, loaded with a bunch of their proprietary characters who hadn’t made it onto the roster of the cooperative coalition of AA and DC stars.

Oddly those eager editors never settled on a name and National’s squad of non-powered mystery men Crimson Avenger and Wing, Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, Vigilante, Green Arrow and Speedy – who debuted as a unit in Leading Comics #1 in 1941 – were retroactively and alternatively dubbed The Law’s Legionnaires and/or The Seven Soldiers of Victory.

They never even had their own title-logo but only appeared as solo stars grouped together on the spectacular covers, the last half-dozen of which (by Luis Cazeneuve and Jon Small,) preface each of the epic sagas cunningly crafted by writer Joe Samachson and illustrator Arturo Cazeneuve in this final spectacular collection of Golden Age delights.

The tales in this third deluxe hardback compendium were originally presented in the quarterly Leading Comics #9-14 (spanning Winter 1943/1944 to Spring 1945), after which the title overnight converted to a vehicle for funny animal stars, making the team one of the earliest casualties of the changing fashions which eventually saw the virtual demise of superhero comics.

Following an incisive discourse, fascinating background and compelling history lesson from comics legend Roy Thomas in his Foreword, that war-time wonderment resumes with a startling romp entitled ‘The Chameleon of Crime!’

The sagas generally followed a basic but extremely effective formula (established by Mort Weisinger in the Soldiers’ first outing) wherein the heroes would meet to assess a many-headed threat before heading off individually to handle a portion of the problem solo, only reuniting to tackle the final foe together.

Here that plan deviates slightly as a conglomeration of five gangsters hiding out in a swanky underworld resort get to talking about the heroes they have fled from, and are overheard by a sixth. Disguise artist Mr. X boasts that he can outwit any and all of Seven Soldiers champions and a substantial amount of money is wagered…

The villain’s first targets are “The Crimson” and Wing as ‘Mr. X Marks the Spot!’, smugly warning his oblivious foes of his plan to steal a giant gem before promptly getting thrashed and nearly caught…

The malevolent mastermind plays it smarter in ‘The X-ploits of Mr. X!’, but still can’t resist giving The Vigilante a heads-up before robbing a rodeo show. This time he has to threaten innocent bystanders to escape without the swag but with his skin intact…

Two bets down and feeling rattled, Mr. X’s duel with the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy involves an assault on ‘The House That Couldn’t be Robbed!’ Here the Crime Chameleon takes an undercover, backseat role, keeping his identity hidden from his own men, but still can’t outmanoeuvre the quick-thinking patriotic partners…

A text chapter entitled ‘Interlude at Hoodlums’ Hideout’ finds the frustrated mastermind back at the crime hotel being gibed by Red Heister, Dodo the Dip and Lazy Dyers – all recent winners in the larcenous communal wager – but still boasting that his final schemes will succeed.

Anxious gambler Blackie Kraul feels his portion of the bet might still be saved and secretly writes a warning to the Shining Knight… exactly as Mr. X intended…

Returning to comics format, the daring double-cross occurs in ‘The Gorilla and the Gangster!’ as the valiant Paladin tackles a gang using a huge ape to smash steel bars and rip open safes. Thanks to the interference of Blackie however the Shining Knight falls into Mr. X’s trap and only good fortune and overwhelming determination allow the hero to triumph…

Again frustrated and sent scurrying for safety, the infuriated X tries one final ploy to save face by defeating Green Arrow and Speedy. Trusting only himself and acting as High Society magician ‘Inco the Unknown!’ the scofflaw plunders at will but comes a cropper after mistakenly deducing that effete partygoer and prospective victim Mr. Ponsonby is actually the Emerald Archer’s alter ego…

Again defeated, Mr. X flees. Sadly for him after each clash he has left a tiny clue, so when the heroes put their heads together for the ‘Conclusion’ they soon deduce the location of the hoodlum hotel and corner both the criminal charlatan and the foolish thugs who first pitted him against the Law’s Legionnaires…

Leading Comics #10 featured an exotic adventure in the Pacific as ‘The King of the Hundred Isles!’ finds the Seven Soldiers searching the vast ocean for a missing museum expedition. When a sudden storm sinks their ship too, the rescue team are separated and scattered throughout a myriad of strange little fiefdoms…

The calm aftermath sees a number of odd new alliances as ‘Crusoe and Crusoe Inc.!’ focuses on the novel team of Crimson Avenger and Speedy, marooned on a desolate rock until a band of mysteriously-displaced American gangsters arrive on a mission of murder for their mysterious boss.

Despite a few tense moments the makeshift hero-team eventually overcomes and leaves in the thugs’ motor-launch…

Elsewhere, Green Arrow and Vigilante have washed up on an isle decorated with buildings much like their hometowns and encounter ‘His Majesty… King Baby-Face!’: a notorious mobster who had vanished from the USA years before.

Hiding out, Baby-Face Johnson had taken over the simple island populations with his legion of crooks and become obsessed with collecting fish. All that is lost now though as heroes and villain spectacularly clash and a major earthquake shatters everything the transplanted tyrant’s unhappy slaves had built…

Sidekicks Stripesy and Wing scrambled ashore on a small paradise populated by the gentle descendants of English mariners in the midst of a crisis. After two centuries of self-sufficiency the population put up no fuss when representatives of “The King” finally arrived to make them pay taxes in ‘Taskmasters and Toilers!’

However when the costumed newcomers point out that their ruler is a knave and impostor it leads to another War of Independence for the beleaguered colonists, only this time the heroic rebels are defeated…

On yet another of the Hundred Isles the long-missing scientists of the museum mission are passing their days cataloguing new piscine discoveries. Their enforced idyll ends when a pack of American wiseguys show up demanding their latest find for the King’s collection.

Luckily for ‘The Fortunate Fish!’, that was the moment Star-Spangled Kid and Shining Knight arrived on the Paladin’s flying horse…

As Wing and Stripesy face death and torture the colonists begin a counter attack in ‘Revelation of Roguery!’ and are greatly aided by the fortuitous arrival of The Kid and Sir Justin. With freedom in the air the costumed quartet quickly link up with their missing comrades in time to tackle Baby-Face and his army of felons, ensuring ‘Kingdom’s End!’

Issue #11 traces the fall of hardened racketeer Handsome Harry as he misplaces his talismanic chapeau in ‘The Hard-Luck Hat!’

Almost immediately the Seven Soldiers are on his trail and crush his gang in a furious fight. Only Harry escapes…

The story continues as the mobster’s hat falls into the hands of a shifty haberdasher who sells it to haughty J. Billington Bilker in ‘The Banker and the Bandit!’ The secret scoundrel is being squeezed by a bookie and agrees to let his cash-fat institution be robbed, but fortune is not on his side as Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy get involved in the case…

With Bilker jailed, his house and possessions – including that hat – are scooped up at auction by gang-boss Gas-pipe Grogan who has an inspired notion in ‘Muggs at Mealtime!’ Putting the squeeze on the restaurant industry by “taxing” table salt Grogan thought he had tasted ultimate success until The Vigilante weighed in…

The freewheeling, infelicitous fedora then ended up with Grogan’s flunky Bozo who had far less ambitious plans to get rich. He targeted a swank store owner with memory problems, intending to slowly fleece ‘The Absent-Minded Victim!’ but had the misfortune of meeting superhero-in-mufti Lee Travis

The eagle-eyed Crimson Avenger soon involved himself and partner Wing in the cruel scam, ending Bozo’s greedy dreams forever…

The discarded, peripatetic titfer blew away on a breeze and landed on ‘The High-Hatted House!’ of inventor John Harrison just as band of escaped convicts broke in, drawing the Shining Knight into a deadly dilemma before justice and mercy finally prevailed…

That dilapidated topper then fell into the hands of a thrift-store owner who stuck it on his shop mannequin just in time for a maverick financier to buy the whole ensemble.

Mr. Jordan intended ‘The Dummy Director!’ to be his protest proxy on a Board ruled by a financial bandit but had grievously underestimated the murderous ruthlessness of his offended Chairman.

Luckily millionaire Oliver Queen was already on the case, acting as Green Arrow to ensure the guilty parties were all properly punished…

The tale turns full-circle in ‘Hat’s Haven’ as the lucky lid lands at the feet of a hobo. Recognising it instantly, hungry fugitive Handsome Harry immediately feels its power and soon is benefiting from a cunning con involving the “Haven for Homeless Hoboes”.

His shelter is in fact a college of criminality but before too long the Law’s Legionnaires have infiltrated the institution, determined to end Harry’s crooked ways for good…

Leading Comics #12 saw crotchety Croesus Weldon Darrel issue ‘The Million Dollar Challenge!’ to the Seven Soldiers, offering that princely sum to charity in return for their participation in an eccentric five-way treasure hunt. Naturally the heroes agree and ‘The Cache in the Canyon!’ soon finds Vigilante in the Wyoming badlands hunting for a box of valuables. Sadly the wild country is also the stamping grounds of a murderous bunch of bandits who immediately jump to some wrong conclusions…

Crimson Avenger and Wing head to a small town to test ‘The Power of the Press!’ discovering an old hollow newspaper printer is the location of a fortune in jewels. Of course the cheap thugs currently in possession of the press have their own ideas about “finders keepers” and accuse the heroes of theft…

Green Arrow and Speedy trace a meteorite to a museum in search of ‘The Safe from the Sky!’ only to find themselves hunted by the police whilst Shining Knight’s pursuit of ‘The Puzzle of the Pyramid!’ leads to a monumental boobytrapped modern edifice with crooks ready to murder and frame him…

Stripesy and the Star-Spangled Kid gain some inkling of what’s really going as ‘Murder in Miniature!’ sees the Red, White and Blue Duo investigating a toy town built to stash crooks’ cash and falling foul of the local law before the team reunites for the shocking ‘Conclusion’ to expose the astounding secret of the enigmatic, eccentric and unscrupulous moneyman…

Issue #13 featured ‘Trophies of Crime!’ and opens in an art museum where an odd assortment of mementoes donated by the Seven Soldiers hints at incredible feats of skulduggery.

Once upon a time the infamous Barracuda was intent on retiring from a life of extremely successful felony. To while away his idle hours he organised a collection of artefacts for his personal Black Museum and began acquiring them by callously sacrificing his top lieutenants to distract the Magnificent Seven whilst others went after his targets…

Learning early of the scheme the Legionnaires split up to stop them and ‘Crime’s Cornerstone!’ finds Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy battling killer robots to secure what appears to be a simple stone building block even as in a fantastic construction of steel and glass the Shining Knight battles a band of burglars over ‘The Cup of the Borgias!’

A bold robbery and seemingly impossible murder draws Vigilante to an experimental plantation where a ruthless gang try every dirty trick to steal ‘The Rubber Dagger!’ only to fail at the last moment whilst the Crimson and Wing take to the seas in search of a shard of canvas from ‘The Sails of the Sally C.!’ as Green Arrow and Speedy happen upon a strange and deadly bidding war with mobsters trying everything to get ‘The Iron Band!’ a simple metal worker purchases from a jewellers.

In every case Barracuda’s hoods came off worst but the mastermind escaped, at least until the Seven left their ‘Mementos of Victory’ on public display and laid a perfect trap…

The short reign of the Seven Soldier of Victory ended in Leading Comics #14 (Spring 1945) with a fabulous flight of fantasy that ranged them against ‘The Bandits from the Books!’ after a chance encounter with scientific paragon Dr. Wimsett who has discovered a process which brings fictional characters to life.

Whilst the likes of Humpty Dumpty and Old King Cole are happy mooching around the laboratory, a select group of very bad eggs the scientist had locked in a room take the first opportunity to abscond to the outside world to make mischief…

Their plans were overheard by helpful Humpty who happily shares the secrets with the Seven, so before long Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy are shadowing Long John Silver, his crew and a band of renegade natives from Last of the Mohicans to ‘Treasureless Island!’, whilst Green Arrow and Speedy follow Shakespeare’s roistering rogue on a gluttonous binge in ‘Food for Falstaff!’

Crimson Avenger and Wing hunt malignant Uriah Heep and the Old Man of the Sea as they brutally acquire modern wealth in ‘Hypocrites, Incorporated!’ even as Shining Knight battles ‘The Giant Who Got a Job!’ and a few of his big friends from the fairytales whilst Vigilante has his work cut out trying to wrangle ‘Little Men with Big Ideas!’ as the marauding armies of Lilliput go on a rampage in farms and a toystore… Soon however the troublemakers are all back in the lab but have one last card to play before they can be banished ‘Back to the Books!’

Frantic fantasy would also have been the theme of the next adventure had there been one, but Leading abruptly transformed into a cartoon animal comedy anthology for the Summer issue. The changeover was so sudden that story was already competed. ‘The World of Magic: Joe Samachson’s Script for Leading Comics#15’ offers a wondrous glimpse of what might have been…

Moreover, when Paul Levitz rediscovered the script in 1974, editor Joe Orlando had it adapted as a chapter-play serial in Adventure Comics #438-443, illustrated by artists Dick Dillin, Tex Blaisdell, Howard Chaykin, Lee Elias, Mike Grell, Ernie Chua/Chan, José Luis García López & Mike Royer.

It’s a true shame room couldn’t be found to include that saga here too…

With an informative ‘Biographies’ section to round off the nostalgic wonderment, it only remains to say that these raw, wild and excessively engaging costumed romps are amongst some of the best but most neglected thrillers of the halcyon Golden Age. Happily, modern tastes too have moved on and these yarns are probably far more in tune with contemporary mores, making this a truly guilty pleasure for all fans of mystery, mayhem and stylishly retro superteam tussles…

© 1943, 1944, 1945, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

X-Men Forever 2: Back in Action


By Chris Claremont, Todd Grummett, Rodney Buchemi & various Terry Austin, Brent Anderson & Joe Rubenstein (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4664-3

In 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Marvel Girl and the Beast: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior. After years of eccentric and spectacular adventures the mutant misfits disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during a sustained downturn in costumed hero comics as supernatural mystery once more gripped the world’s entertainment fields.

Although their title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand new team in 1975’s Giant Size X-Men #1.

Old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire joined one-shot Hulk villain Wolverine and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus, and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John “Thunderbird” Proudstar in a makeshift squad.

Chris Claremont became scripter with the next tale – which saw Thunderbird become the first X-Man to die in action – and the new revision prospered.

It became an unstoppable hit and was soon the company’s most popular and high quality title. In time Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark “Dark Phoenix” storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left and a naive teenaged girl named Kitty Pryde signed up. The stellar saga seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne, however. Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised Fantastic Four, whilst Claremont stayed with the burgeoning mutants’ population.

He only left after scripting the “Mutant Genesis” storyline in X-Men #1-3 in 1991, at the height of the group’s popularity and following an unbroken sixteen year run. The team carried on evolving, facing crisis after crisis under a number of writers – including on occasion Claremont himself.

However in 2009 the author was offered a unique opportunity, thanks to the concept of Alternate Earths. Although published years later, X-Men Forever was set immediately after Mutant Genesis and ostensibly followed the heroes as Claremont would have written them had he stayed…

The project turned into a regular series which ran 24 issues (August 2009- July 2010) until a catastrophic climax saw the heroes sacrifice far too much to once more save their world…

Collecting X-Men Forever 2 #1-5 – spanning August to October 2010 – this slim chronicle from another universe focuses on a very different squad of heroes, written as ever by Claremont.

The world has recently reeled to the revelation that most mutants suffer from a genetic malady dubbed “burnout”. As revealed by Professor X, the condition causing super-powered mutation comes at a price and most meta-gifted Homo Superior will die young: their lifespans curtailed by as much as half due to their genetic advantages…

The world became a far deadlier and more desperate place on hearing the news.

Now the Beast is dead and Wolverine has been murdered by Storm. Kitty (AKA Shadowcat) has somehow had one of her beloved mentor’s Adamantium claws grafted to her arm. Nightcrawler Kurt Wagner and Rogue Anna Marie Raven have accidentally traded power-sets.

The aforementioned weather goddess has taken control of African nation Wakanda whilst a pre-teen version of her has replaced her on the team.

Former foe Sabertooth – maimed and blinded – has become an unlikely and still barely trusted recruit and even founding father Charles Xavier is gone: taken by the Shi’ar Empire. Now S.H.I.EL.D. Supremo Nick Fury notionally directs the mutants’ missions.

The remaining still-reeling stalwarts include Cyclops, Gambit and telepath Jean Grey, whilst geneticist Moira MacTaggert struggles to serve as science officer to the still outcast and frequently outlaw organisation…

The drama commences with ‘A Cry of… Vengeance!’ illustrated by Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher & Wil Quintana as, following the loss of Hank McCoy and Tony Stark (foiling a plot to eradicate all mutants by secret combine The Consortium), the Avengers arrive at the X-Mansion intent on taking the survivors in for “questioning”. The confrontation quickly devolves into all-out war and leads to an horrific explosive tragedy…

Meanwhile in an Omaha orphanage an old foe prepares for another vile assault on the misunderstood heroes…

It might well be a wasted effort. When the dust settles at the Xavier place all that the Avengers can see is a colossal three-mile wide crater. The release of power has somehow interacted with the Skrull and Shi’ar technologies cached at the school and detonated with cosmic force.

Nothing remains and the repentant superheroes depart, utterly unaware of the immense scam that has been perpetrated…

The story resumes ‘Six Weeks Later’ as the world – some of it at least – mourns the loss of the mutant champions. As Earth’s media continually rehashes the events looking for answers and somebody to blame, in Wakanda Queen Perfect Storm rages. Now she will never be able to make Kitty pay for disfiguring her with Wolverine’s transplanted claw…

With Fury gone, mutant-hating racist Ziggy Trask is elected chief of S.H.I.EL.D., and in Colorado WarrenThe AngelWorthington gathers all the surviving heroes who have worn the “X”, swearing to keep them safe from an ever-more hostile world.

…And in New York, publisher J. Jonah Jameson despatches journalist Peter Parker to get pictures of the federally embargoed disaster site. Nobody can truly believe the X-Men are gone but even Spider-Man’s notoriously crazy luck and fierce optimism cannot ascertain the true facts…

Only when Parker is again webswinging through the Big Apple does a truth emerge when he stumbles on a mugging, only to find a woman who looks uncannily like the deceased Nightcrawler foiling the felons…

The astounding truth begins to seep out in ‘A Night on the Town!’ ashapeshifting mastermind Mystique tours underworld dives looking for information on her two presumed dead children. At that very moment Spider-Man is confronting one of them exhibiting all the powers of the other…

Meanwhile at the geographical location of the X-Mansion – albeit one second out of phase with the universe – Fury, a select team of S.H.I.EL.D. volunteers and the dearly not-departed X-Men are all going frantic. Six weeks of lying low in an adjacent dimension are endangered because Rogue got cabin-fever and lost control of her new teleporting powers…

From inside their Skrull-enabled, other-dimensional hidey-hole, Cyclops despatches a stealthy retrieval team whilst in Omaha a malign scientist plans to abduct a hero’s surviving relatives, determined not to lose the crucial Summers genes…

In New York Spider-Man and Anna Marie while way their cares thrashing common thugs but things get nasty quickly when Ziggy Trask’s S.H.I.EL.D. Sentinel mechanoids zero in on the errant mutant…

Close by, Jean, Kurt and Kitty assess the situation but are ambushed by more murderous robots. As battle is joined they are saved by the heroes they were hunting and Mystique who has a starling offer in mind…

With art by Rodney Buchemi, Greg Adams & Quintana, ‘Stolen Lives!’ then cuts back to the mansion where Moira and Sabertooth have been kidnapped by Morlocks who have easily traversed the trans-dimensional divide.

Even as Fury and Cyclops dubiously ponder Mystique’s request to join the team the intruders are making their escape, intent on executing their former persecutor and using Moira’s research to stave off their own imminent deaths from mutant burnout…

As Agent Daisy Dugan organises a pursuit squad, her boss Fury is interrogating Mystique and learning to his horror for just how many decades the shapeshifter has involved herself in his affairs…

As Cyclops, Dugan, Kitty and Gambit enter the Morlock tunnels under New York, they are completely unaware that the young version of Storm has followed; intent on proving she is nothing like her treacherous older iteration.

As the heroes close in on the abductors, nobody realises that Trask’s S.H.I.EL.D. goons have targeted all of them…

Whilst mutants battle each other in ‘Dead Reckoning!’ (Buchemi, Adams & Quintana), back at the mansion Mystique’s debriefing has taken a disturbing turn as Jean is forced to confront her hidden feelings for the murdered Wolverine. In the tunnels the chaotic combat has reached an impasse but the moment when a truce could save them all is lost as Trask’s S.H.I.EL.D. agents burst in. Only some few escape thanks to the intervention of former Morlock leader Callisto…

Moreover, unless something happens quickly, the X-Men’s hard-won cloak of grave anonymity looks to have disappeared like smoke in the wind…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Terry Austin and Quintana, this quixotic mixture of intriguing Might-Have-Beens and exotic action offers all of Claremont’s soap opera bravura whilst displaying a fine sense of having-one’s-cake-and-eating-it-too for Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thorgal volume 1: Child of the Stars/Aaricia


By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-23-6

One of the best and most celebrated adventure series of all time, Thorgal manages the ultimate magic trick of being able to both please critics and sell bucketloads. The series debuted in iconic French weekly Tintin in 1977 with the inevitable album compilations beginning three years later. The expansive generational saga has a truly international following in fourteen languages, has generated many spin-off series and naturally offers a strong presence in the global gaming arena.

Narratively, Thorgal offers the best of all amazing worlds with an ostensibly starkly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure glibly yet seamlessly encompassing chilling science fiction elements, monstrous horror, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical fantasy standards such as gods, monsters, dwarves and demons.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz Rosiński (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek) the feature grew into a generational saga over the decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who has collaborated on a further five collections to date.

By the time Van Hamme departed the feature had expanded to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan but also other valiant family members in a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – all eventually winning their own section of albums.

In 1985 American publisher Donning released a superb series of oversized hardcover book translations but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

Although the original French series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life, this first British volume opts for a strictly chronological beginning and even doubles the pleasure by reprinting both the seventh (L’enfant des étoiles, 1984) and fourteenth (Aaricia, 1989) Le Lombard volumes, revealing the star’s origins and a few early adventures as well as the story of his divinely-destined bride-to-be…

Child of the Stars opens with ‘The Lost Drakkar’ as an expedition led by seemingly accursed Viking leader Leif Haraldson founders in stormy seas. Only fifteen men remain of the 120 who set out and wily, ambitious Gandalf the Mad convinces the survivors that the crew’s priest is right. Leif must be sacrificed to angry sea-god Aegir.

With everyone against him Leif prepares to sell his life dearly when the fates intervene. Thor’s constant storms suddenly subside and their drakkar (ship) pulls through eerie mists into a warm sunlit bay.

The relieved mariners are further stunned to find a strange metal chest unlike anything they have ever beheld, lying on the beach. It contains a baby boy and jubilant chief Haraldson instantly adopts the foundling, naming the child Thorgal Aegirsson after the two forgiving gods who spared them…

The story resumes with ‘The Metal that Didn’t Exist’ by voyaging a thousand years into the past when demon-snake Nidhogg tricked Ivaldi, King of the Dwarves into wagering his name on a game of draughts (they called it “checkers”).

When the gloating serpent won, it allowed the humiliated artificer one last chance: Ivaldi could buy back his name – and power – if he produced a jewel made from a metal that did not exist. He even offered a grace period of one millennium to work in…

The mortified and terrified dwarf nation immediately set their youngest, boldest son to search the world for the impossible and 999 years later the weary, footsore mite wandered into a Haraldson’s Northern Viking village and saw a small dark-haired boy wearing an amulet made of something that had never originated on our world…

Excited Tjahzi explained his plight to the solitary lad and offered him all the wealth of the dwarvish realm but Thorgal refused, instead generously offering to give him the necklace. The astounded seeker instantly set off for home but his travels had exhausted him and he collapsed.

Thorgal picked up Tjahzi and began to carry him towards the distant mountains, telling the aged mite of how the amulet came from the strange “raft” he was found in as a baby…

As they slipped between worlds into the gods’ realm the boy grew – or shrank – to the same size as his diminutive companion but their epic journey was soon interrupted by the giant Hjalmgunnar, The hungry horror would have eaten them if not for the Winged Cats of Frigg but the goddess’ envoys were far less effective against a swarm of flying Vampire-Snakes

The tiny travellers soon realised their mission was of great import to the major powers of the universe when, as they travelled a subterranean frozen river to the Dwarf Lands, a monstrous many-limbed monster serpent attacked.

Nidhogg was too arrogant, however, permitting the impetuous human boy to grow into his destined mature warrior form to duel more fairly. The intentionally cruel gesture and Thorgal’s dauntless courage allowed Tjahzi to slip by and deliver the unknown amulet to Ivaldi in time – at the cost of the boy-hero’s life.

Frigg, however, would not let such an injustice stand…

Little Thorgal awoke back in his village with the other children shouting. The wife of Gandalf had just been delivered of a baby girl. The little miracle was to be named Aaricia and when she was born she had a teardrop pearl gripped in each tiny fist…

Years later when Thorgal was just approaching adolescence his incredible history was finally revealed in ‘The Talisman’. Following a strange persistent call inside his head the boy voyaged across the country to a distant mountain where a bizarre hermit waited.

Thorgal had grown increasingly apart from the other children. Vile Gandalf had led a campaign to ostracise the foundling and the kids all called the child “bastard” and claimed he was not a true Viking.

The sage vaguely promised all the answers the wanderer wanted, but was astounded when the boy offered his most prized possession in return: a peculiar disc of unknown material given him by foster-father Leif Haraldson. The artefact had been inside the odd “raft” the baby was in and kept by the chief until Thorgal came of age…

The hermit did something to it and then had the boy meditate. Soon Thorgal’s thoughts are in the past and in the stars as an incredible story unfolds…

Years past a ship from the stars came to Earth. The awesomely powerful beings aboard had originated on Earth in eons past before migrating to the heavens, but even though they had returned in glory, many had not escaped the personal tyrannies of greed, jealousy, ambition and lust for power…

There was dissent and rebellion. The starmen battled and died. Soon only a baby in a lifeboat remained…

Former leader Xargos regretfully closed the psycho-transmitter and then removed all the restored memories he had shared with his grandson. The sage felt that with everything gone and the boy clearly not manifesting his race’s sometimes-latent psychic abilities Thorgal’s future would be kinder if he lived and died as an ordinary mortal…

Fourteenth collection Aaricia also contained a selection of short pieces and opens here with a fantastic trip as a sad little girl goes looking for her Mummy only to encounter some friendly “undergrowth Elves” who offer to take her where she wants to be…

As the entire village searches for Aaricia, ever-solitary Thorgal breaks off from the rest and follows a trail only he can discern. The little girl is almost in the arms of her recently dead mother when he arrives to drive off the vile demonic Nixes who have lured her to ‘Odin’s Mountain’

‘First Snow’ details how, when Haraldson dies, Gandalf makes a cautious power-grab. With the Northern Vikings about to enter the overarching Nordic alliance The Althing as a recognised kingdom, the usurper is terrified that the outsider bastard will become ruler and summarily seizes all Leif’s lands and possessions.

Only Aaricia’s intervention and the arrival of the Althing’s astute adjudicator prevents monstrous murder, but Thorgal is nevertheless left an outcast in his own country…

Years later the outraged boy is denied the universal training all growing warriors are heir to: condemned to become a mere Skald (travelling musician). Although the princess Aaricia still loves him her intended chafes at such injustice and eventually invokes the right of ‘Holmganga’: challenging Gandalf’s son Bjorn to a death-duel for the right to be raised as a true man…

The usurper king sees an opportunity to get rid of the only threat to his rule, and secretly hires assassins to ensure Thorgal’s doom, but the scheme founders when adoring Aaricia – determined to marry Thorgal when they are of age – takes matters into her own inspired hands…

The sagas conclude here with the astounding tale of ‘Tjahzi’s Tears’ as lost and blinded minor poet-god Vigrid washes up in his ramshackle flying Drakkar long enough for the curious princess to climb aboard. Thus begins a fantastic voyage as the girl is wafted away by the tragic nomad and resolves to guide the lost god back to Asgard, despite the attacks of monsters and devils.

Encountering incredible creatures and perilous places, child and despondent deity persevere over uncanny distances, overcoming a host of perils until she sacrifices her greatest treasure – the teardrop pearls she was born holding – in a moment of sheer imaginative ingenuity…

Sublimely rendered, astonishingly inventive and ferociously intoxicating, the enchantingly wondrous world of Thorgal is every fan’s perfect dream of fantasy unbound.
Original edition © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1984-1989 Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard). English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.