Niki de Saint Phalle: The Garden of Secrets

By Dominique Osuch & Sandrine Martin, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-158-1

NBM’s magnificent line of European-created modern biographies always offers a treasure-trove of potent wonderment and this latest luxury hardcover release (also available in all eBook formats) is arguably one of the most beguiling graphic releases of the year.

Catherine-Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle was born on October 29th 1930 and for most of the 20th century towered over the fickle world of Avant Garde art as Niki de Saint Phalle.

She was a model, actress, writer, filmmaker, painter and sculptor, but made her greatest visual impact as a creator of gigantic assemblages and themed gardens. She was also a passionate and strident activist and advocate of cultural, political and women’s issues. She died on May 21st 2002.

That species of dry facts and lists of her creations and accomplishments you can find all over the internet – or even in books if you’re that way inclined – but in Niki de Saint Phalle: The Garden of Secrets graphic collaborators Dominique Osuch & Sandrine Martin unpick their subject’s torrid and too-often turbulent life through a procession of dreamy childlike chapter-plays and vignettes divided into the major arcana of the Tarot that so fascinated Niki.

French writer, artist and graphic novelist Dominique Osuch (Amours fragiles, Les Cinq de Cambridge, Tomoë) was born in 1962. She and took a literary degree in 1980 and an Illustration qualification from l’École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg four years later.

The script she provides for this mesmerising biographical account captures the raw relentless wonderment of a woman who always viewed the world with open-minded eyes but still sought to make it a better place…

Sandrine Martin also illustrates children’s books. She graduated from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Decoratifs, Paris in 2004 and began selling illustrations to Le Monde, Libération, Psychologies Magazine, Bayard and Gallimard as well as creating short stories for comics magazine Lapin.

In 2012 she released a collection of her artwork entitled La Montagne de sucre and after completing the biography I’m plugging here released a book of illustrated short stories entitled Petites Niaiseuses.

A child conflicted and shaped by abuse, neglect and a strict Catholic upbringing, Niki de Saint Phalle grew up in America and France during the Great Depression, married young and unwisely and, through broad and deep friendships and recurring life-threating physical maladies and mental illness, discovered her true calling was exploring existence through the making of art.

She created towering monumental monoliths, whimsical parks, deviously themed art gardens and iconic soft and hard statuary venerating and exposing female form and functions. The tireless virtuoso and inveterate world traveller also collaborated with many of modern art’s greatest visionaries, wrote plays and made films to address and ameliorate her own childhood traumas. Whilst always championing and raising funds for the creation of galleries and exhibitions to bolster public health and wellbeing, Niki became one of the earliest advocates of AIDS Awareness, creating a book intellectually targeted at her young son which forthrightly explained the situation. It was released to great acclaim and success worldwide.

In the same vein, she also designed colourful artistic condoms that people would be eager to wear…

This book – which also offers additional material such as a succinct yet detailed Chronology, Suggested Further Reading and Creator Biographies – is a loving and extremely enticing celebration of one of the most important female artists of all time: a champion of innovation, modern technology, timeless sensuality and unbridled honest emotion. How can you not enjoy this superb introduction to a truly unique example of humanity at its most fundamentally alive?

Trust me, you can’t.
© 2014 Casterman. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Back to the Klondike – Gladstone Comic Album #4

By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-902-0

From the late 1940’s until the mid-1960s Carl Barks worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedic adventure yarns for kids, creating a Duck Universe of memorable – and highly bankable – characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), The Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) to augment the stable of cartoon actors from the Disney Studio.

His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the star of this show.

So potent were his creations that they fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for licensing publisher Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio.

Throughout this period, Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy, as was all Disney’s cartoon and comicbook output), had been singled out by a rabid and discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material – and a selection of other Disney comics strips – in the 1980s and kept on going until 2008. Since then cultural saviours Fantagraphics have begun reprinting all the Barks material in a series of snazzy hardcover compilations. Once they’ve done that I’ll start reviewing those but until then this still readily available paperback album is one of the very best you can still find…

Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working guy, generating covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when necessary and contributing story and/or art to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore.

This album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) and features one of the best tales Barks ever told.

It’s taken from Four Color Comics #456 (September 1952 and technically the second full story to star the multimillionaire mallard). To further confuse matters, the Byzantine numbering system used by Dell also lists this issue as Uncle Scrooge #2.

‘Back to the Klondike’ is a rip-roaring yet deeply moving yarn, a brilliant comedy and even a bittersweet romance, which added huge depth to the character of the World’s Richest Duck, even whilst reiterating the superficial peccadilloes that make him such a memorable and engaging star.

Scrooge McDuck is old and getting forgetful: he can’t recall how much money he has seconds after he’s finished counting it, nor even where his traps to locate it are hidden. After one too many close shaves he finally shells out for a doctor who diagnoses “Blinkus of the Thinkus” and prescribes some pills to restore his scrupulous memory.

They work! Recalling a gold-strike he made 50 years previously, the old miser drags Donald Duck and his nephews to the Far North to recover the precious hoard cached and forgotten five decades ago, but as the journey progresses he also recalls the rough, tough life of a prospector and the saloon-girl who tried to cheat him of his find: Glittering Goldie O’Gilt

This superb yarn tells you everything you could ever need about the irascible oligarch. It’s the perfect character tale and rattles along like an express train, sad, happy, thrilling and funny by turns, and it’s supplemented in this book with a classic Gyro Gearloose tale from 1960.

‘Cave of the Winds’ is taken from Four Color Comics #1095, and finds Scrooge consulting the fabulously off-kilter feathered inventor on a perfect hiding place for the ever-increasing McDuck cash cache. The answer, sadly, is far from satisfactory…

The cartoon convolutions conclude with a short and punchy untitled tale from Uncle Scrooge #8 (1954) which has Scrooge run for City Treasurer – but without spending any money on expenses (or anything else)…

No matter what your age or temperament, if you’ve never experienced the captivating Carl Barks magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your own purchasing power to any search engine. The rewards are there for the finding and far more valuable than mere money…
© 1987, 1960, 1954, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

How Comics Work

By Dave Gibbons & Tim Pilcher (Rotovision/Quarto)
ISBN: 978-2-88893-341-0

We haven’t covered a “How To” book for ages and this recent release is one of the most comprehensive and rewarding I’ve seen in many a year.

Thus, Yet Again, in the interests of complete transparency: I must admit to having known Mr. Gibbons (Britain’s first Comics Laureate) since the days of Warrior Magazine in the early 1980s, and Tim for an equally lengthy time. The British Comics Scene is a small but affable one and it’s not like we get together once a month to drink beer, gossip or braid each other’s rapidly vanishing hair…

Since beginning his stellar professional career in the 1970s (as a letterer) Dave Gibbons has triumphed in every arena of comics production and all those hard-earned technical secrets and insights, as well as his incomparable philosophy of working has been distilled by him and his collaborator – author, editor and comics historian – Tim Pilcher into a handy, comprehensive and supremely accessible guide to every aspect of the visual storytelling business.

Never ones to hang about or dither, and following the delightful ‘Introduction: The Dave Gibbons Way’, the methodically efficient master class begins with Scriptwriting. This and every other category-chapter opens with a discussion and celebration of the ‘Early Influences’ on the creator and his process, swiftly followed by a guided discussion of ‘Ideas’; ‘Plotting and World Building’; ‘Pacing and Movement’; ‘Writing for Yourself’ and ‘Writing for Other Artists’ before concluding with ‘Writing Influences’ and a dissection of the work of Frank Miller.

Each individual section is heavily illustrated with sketches, visual examples and finished artwork from numerous projects such as Watchmen, Give Me Liberty, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Rogue Trooper, Dan Dare, Green Lantern, Superman, Batman vs. Predator, The Originals, Treatment, Aliens: Salvation, Kamandi, Batman: Year One and more.

Next up is the immensely fun subject and occupation of Visual Groundwork; divided – after another ‘Early Influences’ tribute – into ‘Character and Costume Design’; ‘Designing Superheroes’; ‘Character Style Guides’; ‘Redesigning Existing Characters’; ‘Landscapes, Sets and Locations’; ‘Vehicle Design’ and ‘Props’ after which ‘Creator Star: Frank Hampson’ is lovingly scrutinised.

The nuts and bolts of Sequential Storytelling comes next, subdivided into ‘Interpreting Scripts’; ‘Thumbnails and Visual Pacing’; ‘Page Layouts’; ‘Grid Structures’; ‘Page Designs’; ‘Panel Designs’; ‘Pencils’; ‘Inks’; ‘Digital Inking’, and ‘Outputting Digital Artwork’ precedes an appreciation of ‘Artistic Hero: Wally Wood’.

The “invisible” but crucial art of Lettering is tackled next, divided into the ever-popular ‘Early Influences’; and the technical but rewarding disciplines of ‘Page Mark-Up and Dead Space’; ‘Balloon Positioning and Flow’; ‘Balloon Variations’; ‘Kerning and Leading’; ‘Hand Lettering’; ‘Digital Lettering’ and ‘Sound Effects (SFX)’. This is bolstered by an appreciation of ‘Lettering King: Sam Rosen’.

Colouring is the next topic tackled with ‘Drawing for Colour’ backed up by hot tips on crafting ‘Colour Roughs’; ‘Fully Painted Artwork’; ‘Digital Colour’; ‘Digital Colour: Flats’; ‘Digital Colour: Rendering’ and ‘Digital Effects’ with an appropriate pictorial tribute in ‘Painter Focus: Frank Bellamy’.

The mysteries of Design comprise the last lesson-set and, after one last sharing of ‘Early Influences’, confronts the challenges of ‘Cover and Logo Design’; ‘Front Cover Design’; ‘Back Cover Design’; ‘Other Cover Considerations’; ‘Wrap-Arounds and Spine Designs’; ‘Interlinking Cover Design’; ‘Interior Book Design’; ‘Character and Title Logos’ and ‘Icons’ before highlighting ‘Design Star: Chip Kidd’.

Of course, just reading a book like this is worthwhile but not nearly enough, so the final chapter is all about getting involved with a selection of carefully concocted Exercises for fired-up neophytes and rusty old lags to hone their skills on…

There are a host of books both academic and/or instructional designed to inculcate a love of comics whilst offering tips, secrets and an education in how to make your own sequential narratives. There are others intended to foster and further the apparently innate and universal desire to simply make art and make it proficiently and well.

There are, however, precious few that do either with as much style, enthusiasm or perspicacity as this captivating, picture-packed tome. From 1984 to the late 1990s I taught comics scripting, design, production and other useful foundation skills at the London College of Printing, London Cartoon Centre and other forward-thinking centres of Further Education. If these guys had released this book back then I would have just stayed home and read comics instead…
© 2017 Quarto Publishing, plc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 10

By Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5046-6 (HB)

With the constantly expanding Marvel Universe growing ever more interconnected as it matured, characters literally tripped over each other in New York City and its environs, but such was not the case with Thor.

The Asgardian milieu and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had long drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning new landscapes. When the unthinkable happened and the increasingly discontented King of Comics jumped ship from the House of (His) Ideas for arch-rival DC in 1970 an era ended.

Left to soldier on, Stan Lee called in artist John Buscema to carry a seemingly unbearable burden…

In case you came in late: disabled doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces.

This bombastic transitional compendium (available in hardcover and digital formats) reprints Mighty Thor #184-194, spanning January – December 1971 with the puissant Thunder God going both forward and back between mortal and godly realms.

The new era had actually begun with John Buscema delineating a rash clash between the Thunder God and Dr. Doom, but the real start came as this volume begins following the inevitable Introduction from Lee.

Here, then, Lee, Buscema and inker Joe Sinnott crafted their own ambitious cosmic saga, opening with #184 and exploring ‘The World Beyond!’ wherein a sinister and implacable force is discovered devouring the outer galaxies, with the subsequent psychic reverberations impacting and unravelling life on Earth and in Asgard.

With all creation imperilled, Odin departs to combat the enigmatic threat alone…

Sam Grainger inked ‘In the Grip of Infinity!’ as universal calamity intensifies and the All-Father falls to the enigmatic, seemingly all-consuming invader before ‘Worlds at War!’ exposes a hidden architect behind the ultimate Armageddon.

That revelation leads to a desperate last-ditch ploy uniting the forces of Good and Evil together in ‘The World is Lost!’ before one final clash – inked by Jim Mooney – answers all the questions and culminates in ‘The End of Infinity!’

Although vast in scope and drenched in powerful moments highlighting the human side of the gods in extremis, this tale suffers from an excess of repetitive padding and a rather erratic pace.

Without pause, though, we plunge on as Thor #189 sees sepulchral goddess Hela come calling, demanding Thor feel ‘The Icy Touch of Death!’ to pay for all the souls she didn’t get in the recent sidereal showdown…

After a big chase around planet Earth she is finally dissuaded in ‘…And So, To Die!’, but the distraction has meanwhile allowed Thor’s wicked brother Loki to seize the Throne of Asgard and unleash ‘A Time of Evil!’

This typically tyrannical behaviour results in the deranged despot using Odin’s stolen power to manifest an unstoppable artificial hunter/killer dubbed Durok the Demolisher.

Unleashing his merciless engine of destruction on Earth, Loki gloats at the ‘Conflagration!’ (inked by Grainger) he has instigated…

Completing the retiring of the Old Guard, Gerry Conway came aboard as writer for double-length tale ‘What Power Unleashed?’ (#193, with Sal Buscema augmenting and inking brother John) to conclude the epic tale.

Prevented by vows from taking up arms against Loki’s puppet, Balder the Brave and Thor’s True Beloved Sif cunningly enlist the Silver Surfer to aid the embattled Thunderer as Asgard totters on the brink of total destruction. Free to act against the real enemy, Thor then retaliates with staggering power and ‘This Fatal Fury!’: stealing the usurper’s attention until wily All-Father Odin finally resumes his rightful place.

To be continued…

The Kirby Thor will always be a high-point in graphic fantasy, all the more impressive for the sheer imagination and timeless readability of the tales. With his departure the series foundered for the longest time before finding a new identity, yet even so the stories in this volume are still packed with intrigue and action and magnificently rendered by an illustrator who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, was every inch his equal in craft and dedication. This book (which also includes the covers to Thor Annuals #3 and 4, pertinent house ads and a brace of Buscema original art pages) is an absolute must for all fans of the medium.
© 1971, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

By Bill Watterson (Time Warner/Sphere/Andrew McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-75151-274-8 (PB)                     : 978-0-8362-1809-4 (HB)

Almost any event big or small is best experienced through the eyes of a child – and better yet if he’s a fictional child controlled by the whimsical sensibilities of a comic strip genius like Bill Watterson.

Calvin is the child in us all; Hobbes is the Tiger of our Aspirations; no, wait… Calvin is this little boy, an only child with a big imagination and a stuffed Tiger that is his common sense and moral sounding board…

No; Calvin is just a little Boy and Hobbes talks only to him. That’s all you need or want.

A best-selling strip and critical hit for ten years (running from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995), Calvin and Hobbes came and went like a comet and we’re all the poorer for its passing. It redefined depictions of the “Eyes of Wonder” which children all possess, and made us adults laugh, and so often cry too.

We all wanted a childhood like that kid’s, bullies, weird teachers, obnoxious little girls and all. At least we could visit…

The strip appeared in more than 2,400 newspapers all over the planet and from 2010 reruns have featured in over 50 countries. There have been 18 unmissable collections including a fabulous complete boxed set edition in both soft and hard cover formats. I gloat over my hardback set almost every day.

Reprints of the strip are also available online through the Andrews McMeel Uclick platform.


Unlike most of his fellows, Watterson shunned the spotlight and the merchandising Babylon that follows a comic strip mega-hit and dedicated all his spirit and energies into producing one of the greatest treatments on childhood and the twin and inevitably converging worlds of fantasy and reality anywhere in fiction.

Calvin is a hyper-active little boy growing up in suburban middle-American Everytown. There’s a city nearby, with Museums and such, and a little bit of wooded wilderness at the bottom of the garden. The kid’s smart, academically uninspired and happy in his own world. He’s you and me. His best friend and companion is a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, who – as I might have already mentioned – may or may not be alive. He’s certainly far smarter and more ethically evolved than his owner…

And that’s all the help you’re getting. If you know the strip you already love it, and if you don’t you won’t appreciate my destroying the joys of discovery for you. This is beautiful, charming, clever, intoxicating and addictive tale-telling, blending wonder and laughter, socially responsible and wildly funny.

After a miraculous decade, at the top of his game Watterson retired the strip and himself, and though I bitterly resent it, and miss it still, I suppose it’s best to go out on a peak rather than fade away by degrees. I certainly respect and admire his dedication and principles.

This sumptuous volume is a compendium of the first two collections, Calvin and Hobbes and Something Under the Bed Is Drooling, displaying the beguiling magic of the strip in tales that will make you laugh and isn’t afraid to make you cry. Truly this is a masterpiece and landmark of American cartooning.
© 1988 Universal Press Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents Superman Team-Ups volume 1

By Martin Pasko, Dave Michelinie, Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Cary Bates, Steve Englehart, Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway, Mike W. Barr, Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, José Luis García-López, Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, Dick Dillin, Joe Staton, Rich Buckler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2535-3

As I’ve been inundating you with Superman stuff in this Anniversary year and celebrating the graphic literary device of team-ups this week, how could I let this superb collection go unremarked, especially as so much of the material remans inaccessible in more modern, full-colour compilations? Comics fans are all completists at heart, and until new editions or digital equivalents are released this is as good at it gets…

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing he/she wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the comics industry (and according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it) we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies in a united front…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then-biggest gun (it was the publicity-drenched weeks before the release of Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman was over a decade away) a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as Batman had been doing since the middle of the 1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

In truth, the Action Ace had already enjoyed the serial sharing experience once before, when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Teen Titans, Vigilante, Dr. Fate and others (issues #198-214; November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the proper status quo was re-established.

This superbly economical monochrome collection re-presents the first 26 issues of the star-studded monthly and opens the show with a two-part thriller featuring Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash who had also been Superman’s first co-star in that aforementioned World’s Finest Comics run.

‘Chase to the End of Time!’ and ‘Race to the End of Time!’ featured in DC Comics Presents #1 and 2 (July-August and September-October 1978), as scripter Marty Pasko and the utterly astounding José Luis García-López (inked by Dan Adkins) rather reprised that WF tale. Here warring alien races trick both heroes into speeding relentlessly through the time-stream to prevent Earth’s history from being corrupted and destroyed.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, nobody could predict the deadly intervention of the Scarlet Speedster’s most dangerous foe, Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash

David Michelinie wrote a tantalising pastiche of classic Adam Strange Mystery in Space thrillers for García-López to draw and ink in ‘The Riddle of Little Earth Lost’ wherein the Man of Two Worlds and Man of Tomorrow foil the diabolical cosmic catastrophe scheme of a deranged genius to transpose, subjugate and/or destroy Earth and light-years distant planet Rann.

Len Wein came aboard to script the superb ‘Sun-Stroke!’ wherein the Man of Steel and the madly-malleable Metal Men join forces to thwart solar-fuelled genius I.Q. and toxic elemental menace Chemo after an ill-considered plan to enhance Earth’s solar radiation exposure provokes a cataclysmic solar-flare.

Sea King Aquaman is embroiled in ‘The War of the Undersea Cities’ (by Wein, Paul Levitz & Murphy Anderson) when his subjects re-open ancient hostilities with the mer-folk of undersea neighbour Tritonis, home of Superman’s old college girlfriend Lori Lemaris. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail when the deadly Ocean Master is revealed to be meddling in their sub-sea politics, after which ‘The Fantastic Fall of Green Lantern’ (Levitz, Curt Swan & Francisco Chiaramonte) sees the Man of Steel inherit the awesome power ring after Hal Jordan falls in battle against Star Sapphire.

Although triumphant against his female foe, Superman is subsequently ambushed by anti-matter warriors from Qward leading to ‘The Paralyzed Planet Peril!’ (#7, Levitz, Dick Dillin & Chiaramonte) wherein those aliens try to colonise Earth until the robotic Red Tornado swirls in to the rescue.

‘The Sixty Deaths of Solomon Grundy’ by Steve Englehart & Murphy Anderson co-stars Swamp Thing (at a time when the bog-beast still believed he was a transformed human and not an enhanced plant) searching the sewers of Metropolis for a cure to his condition, only to stumble onto a battle between the Man of Steel and the mystic zombie who was “born on a Monday”…

Marty Pasko returns to script the Joe Staton & Jack Abel illustrated ‘Invasion of the Ice People!’ wherein Wonder Woman assists in repelling an attack by malign disembodied intellects before another 2-part tale commences with ‘The Miracle Man of Easy Company’ (Cary Bates, Staton & Abel)…

Here a super-bomb blasts Superman back to World War II and a momentous meeting with indomitable everyman soldier Sgt. Rock, before the Caped Kryptonian returns home to battle a brainwashed and power-amplified Hawkman in ‘Murder by Starlight!’ (Bates, Staton & Chiaramonte).

DCCP #12 offered a duel between the Action Ace and New God Mister Miracle in ‘Winner Take Metropolis’ by Englehart, Richard Buckler & Dick Giordano before Levitz scripts an ambitious continued epic that begins with ‘To Live in Peace… Nevermore!’ (art from Dillin & Giordano), wherein the Legion of Super-Heroes prevent Superman saving a little boy from alien abduction to preserve the integrity of the time-line. It didn’t help that the lad was Jon Ross, son of Clark Kent’s oldest friend and most trusted confidante…

Driven mad by loss, Pete Ross risks the destruction of reality itself by enlisting the aid of Superboy to battle his older self in ‘Judge, Jury… and No Justice!’ (Levitz, Dillin & Giordano), after which the Man of Steel helps scientist-hero Ray Palmer regain his size-changing powers in ‘The Plight of the Giant Atom!’ (Bates, Staton & Chiaramonte).

Issue #16 finds Superman and Black Lightning battling a heartsick alien trapped on Earth foe millennia in ‘The De-volver!’ (Denny O’Neil, Staton & Chiaramonte) after which Gerry Conway, García-López & Steve Mitchell herald the return of Firestorm in ‘The Ice Slaves of Killer Frost!’: a bombastic, saves-the-day epic which brought the Nuclear Man back into the active DC pantheon after a long hiatus.

Zatanna co-stars in the Conway, Dillin & Chiaramonte rollercoaster ride ‘The Night it Rained Magic!’; Batgirl helps solve the eerie mystery ‘Who Haunts This House?’ (O’Neil, Staton & Chiaramonte) and Green Arrow steals the show as always in the gripping, big-business-busting eco-thriller ‘Inferno from the Sky!’ by O’Neil, García-López & Joe Giella.

DCCP #21 depicts the eclectic and eccentric detective Elongated Man as patient zero in ‘The Alien Epidemic’: a tense medical mystery by Conway, Staton & Chiaramonte, after which Mike W. Barr provides an effective science fiction doom-tale co-starring Captain Comet as the future-man endures ‘The Plight of the Human Comet!’ (art by Dillin & Frank McLaughlin).

‘The Curse Out of Time!’ (#23, O’Neil, Staton & Vince Colletta) affects two separate Earths, compelling Superman and Doctor Fate to defeat imps and ghosts before normality can be restored and the supernatural theme continues in a magnificent team-up with Deadman in #24 wherein Wein & García-López revealed the tragic and chilling story of ‘The Man Who Was the World!’

The long unresolved fate of Jon Ross is happily concluded in the cunning and redemptive ‘Judgement Night’ with the enigmatic Phantom Stranger finagling and overcoming an insoluble, intolerable situation with Superman, courtesy of Levitz, Dillin & McLaughlin.

This stellar collection concludes with a spectacular return engagement for Green Lantern as Emerald Crusader and Man of Tomorrow battle each other and a trans-dimensional shape-shifter in ‘Between Friend and Foe!’; plotted and pencilled by Jim Starlin, scripted by Marv Wolfman and inked by Steve Mitchell.

These short, pithy adventures act as a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators; delivering a breadth and variety of self-contained, exciting and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent all the way to utterly unmissable. This book is the perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and a delightful slice of the ideal Costumed Dramas of a simpler, more inviting time…
© 1978, 1979, 1980, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold

By J. Michael Straczynski, Jesús Saíz, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Cliff Chiang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2793-7 (HB)                :978-1-4012-2809-5 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955; an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes and a format mirroring and cashing in on that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Devised and written by Robert Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was replaced by National Periodicals/DC Comic’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title then evolved to create a whole sub-genre – although barely anybody noticed at the time…

That was Superhero Team-Ups.

For almost a decade DC had enjoyed great success pairing Superman with Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics and in 1963 sought to create another top-selling combo from their growing pantheon of masked mystery men. It didn’t hurt that the timing also allowed extra exposure for characters imminently graduating to their own starring vehicles after years as back-up features…

This was during a period when almost no costumed heroes acknowledged the jurisdiction or (usually) existence of other costumed champions. When B&B offered this succession of team-ups, they were laying the foundations for DC’s future close-knit comics continuity. Now there’s something wrong with any superstar who doesn’t regularly join every other cape or mask on-planet every five minutes or so…

That short-lived experiment eventually calcified as “Batman and…” but for a while readers were treated to some truly inspired pairings such as Metal Men and Metamorpho, Flash and The Spectre or Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

The editors even achieved their aim after Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad remained together after their initial foray and expanded into the Teen Titans

That theme of heroes united together for a specific time and purpose was revived in 2007 for the third volume of The Brave and the Bold, resulting in many exceedingly fine modern Fights ‘n’ Tights classics, and this compilation – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects issues #27-33 (November 2009 – June 2010): the first seven issues scripted by TV and comics star scribe J. Michael Straczynski.

The run of easily accessible, stand-alone tales delved into some of the strangest nooks and crannies of the DCU and opens here with ‘Death of a Hero’, illustrated by Jesús Saíz wherein teenager Robby Reed visits Gotham City and soon decides to help out a Batman sorely pressed by the machinations of The Joker

The child prodigy had his own series in the 1960s as a kid who found a strange rotary device dotted with alien hieroglyphics that could temporarily transform him into a veritable army of super-beings when he dialled the English equivalents of H, E, R and O…

Here, however, after the lad dials up futuristic clairvoyant Mental Man, the visions he experiences force him to quit immediately and take to his bed…

He even forgets the Dial when he leaves, but it is soon picked up by down-&-out Travers Milton who also falls under its influence and is soon saving lives and battling beside the Dark Knight as The Star

What follows is a meteoric and tragic tale of a rise and fall…

Again limned by Saíz, B&B #28 takes us a wild trip to the ‘Firing Line’ as the Flash (Barry Allen) falls foul of a scientific experiment and winds up stranded in the middle of World War II. Injured and unable to properly use his powers, the diminished speedster is taken under the wing of legendary paramilitary aviator squadron The Blackhawks, but finds himself torn when his scruples against taking life crash into the hellish cauldron of the Battle of Bastogne and his martial love for his new comrades in arms…

Brother Power, The Geek was short-lived experimental title developed by the legendary Joe Simon at the height of the hippy-dippy 1960s (of just last week if you’re a baby booming duffer like me). He was a tailor’s mannequin mysteriously brought to life through extraordinary circumstances, just seeking his place in the world: a bizarre commentator and ultimate outsider philosophising on a world he could not understand.

That cerebral angst is tapped in ‘Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ as the elemental outcast crawls out of wreckage in Gotham City and clashes with Batman as they both strive to save homeless people from authoritarian brutality and greedy arsonists. Like the times it references, this story is one you have to experience rather than read about…

Straczynski & Saíz then play fast and loose with time travel in ‘The Green and the Gold’ as mystic Lord of Order Doctor Fate is helped through an emotional rough patch by Green Lantern Hal Jordan. As a result of that unnecessary kindness the mage gets to return the favour long after his own demise at the moment the Emerald Warrior most needs a helping hand…

Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Walden Wong and Justiniano, The Brave and the Bold #31 describes the ‘Small Problems’ encountered by The Atom after Ray Palmer is asked to shrink into the synapse-disrupted brain of The Joker and perform life-saving surgery. Despite his better judgement the physicist eventually agrees, but nobody could have predicted that he would be assimilated into the maniac’s memories and be forced to relive the Killer Clown’s life…

Straczynski & Saíz reunite as sea king Aquaman and hellish warrior Etrigan the Demon combine forces in a long-standing pact to thwart a revolting Cthonic invasion of ‘Night Gods’ from a hole in bottom of the ocean before this mesmerising tome concludes with a bittersweet ‘Ladies Night’ from times recently passed, illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

When sorceress Zatanna experiences a shocking dream, she contacts Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and insists that they should join her on an evening of hedonistic excess and sisterly sharing. Only Babs is left out of one moment of revelation: what Zatanna foresaw would inescapably occur to her the next day at the hands of the Joker…

Smart, moving and potently engaging, these heroic alliances are a true treat for fans of more sophisticated costumed capers, and skilfully prepared in such a way that no great knowledge of backstory is required. Team-ups are all about finding new readers and this terrific tome is a splendid example of the trick done right…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up

By Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber, Tony Isabella, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Peter Gillis, John Buscema, George Tuska, Bill Everett, George Evans, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Keith Giffen, George Pérez, Bob Hall, Carmine Infantino, Arvell Jones & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9406-4

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner was the second super-star of the Timely Age of Comics – but only because he followed the cover-featured Human Torch in the running order of Marvel Mystery Comics #1 in 1939. He has had, however, the most impressive longevity of the company’s “Big Three”: Torch, Subby and Captain America…

The Marine Marvel was revived in 1962 in Fantastic Four#4; once again an anti-hero/noble villain, prominent in the company’s pantheon ever since.

The following FF issue introduced the first great villain of the Silver Age in the form of technologically armoured dark knight Doctor Doom, who shares star-billing in this eclectic yet excellent trade paperback and eBook compilation of dastardly double-dealings encompassing Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1-2, Super-Villain Team-Up #1-14, 16-17, as well as pertinent crossover appearances from Avengers #154-156 and Champions #16 and spanning March 1975 – May 1980.

Incidentally, Fantastic Four #6 featured the first Super-Villain Team-Up of the Marvel Age as Doom and Namor joined forces as ‘The Deadly Duo’: an epic regrettably omitted from this collection.

The Master of Latveria inevitably betrayed and tried to kill the Prince of Atlantis in that tale: an event which colours the relationship of the characters to this day…

So popular was the metal-shod maniac that during Marvel’s first big expansion, he helmed his own solo-series in Astonishing Tales #1-10. That feature vanished with no warning and Doom returned to his status as premier antagonist in the Fantastic Four and elsewhere until Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1 was released (cover-dated March 1975); once more bathing the Deadly Despot in a starring spotlight.

In the intervening years the Sub-Mariner had also lost his own series, despite some very radical and attention-grabbing stunts. A nerve-gas dumping accident perpetrated by surface dwellers had catastrophically altered his hybrid body, forcing him to wear a hydrating-suit to breathe. The same toxin had plunged the entire nation of Atlantis into a perpetual coma…

For this new venture, Prince Namor – alone and pushed to the brink of desperation – rescues Doom from a deadly plunge to Earth after the Iron Dictator’s latest defeat (at the hands of the FF and Silver Surfer) in an impressive and effective framing sequence bracketing two classic reprint tales.

‘Encounter at Land’s End!’ (by Roy Thomas, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott) finds Doom plucked from the sea and the edge of death by a Sub-Mariner in dire need of scientific wizardry to cure his somnolent race. As such, he is prepared to offer an alliance against all mankind to get it…

Painfully aware of their unhappy past history, the outlaws recall a previous encounter (from Sub-Mariner #20 by Thomas, Buscema & Johnny Craig). ‘In the Darkness Dwells Doom!’ recounts how a fugitive Atlantean monarch was offered sanctuary in New York’s Latverian embassy before inevitably being blackmailed and betrayed (again) by the Devil Doctor…

Back in the present, initially reluctant Doom reconsiders the partnership deal after recalling a past battle against the diabolical Diablo…

‘This Man… This Demon!’ (Larry Lieber, Thomas, Frank Giacoia & Vince Colletta) was a solo try-out from Marvel Super-Heroes #20 in 1969, which restated the Doctor’s origins and revealed his tragic, doomed relationship with a gypsy girl named Valeria. That relationship was than exploited by demon alchemist Diablo who claimed he need an ally but instead wanted a new slave. Doom dealt with the charlatan in typically effective style…

The regal debate descends into another cataclysmic clash of egos and raw destructive power with both parties more bitterly opposed than ever, but the follow-up ‘To Bestride the World!’ (Thomas, Mike Sekowsky & Sam Grainger) in the all-original Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #2 (June 1975), sees Doom compelled to change his mind after his own android army rebels when the tyrant’s long-lost Doomsman (in its new guise of Andro) returns and co-opted them for a war against all organic life.

As a result of blistering battle and extensive carnage-wreaking, Namor and Doom triumph together and part as uneasy allies, only to regroup in the pages of Super-Villain Team-Up #1 (August 1975) in a chaotic ongoing series that began with ‘Slayers from the Sea!’ by Tony Isabella, George Tuska, Bill Everett & Fred Kida.

Doom actually contemplates treating an ally as an equal in the opening chapter ‘An Alliance Asunder?’, whilst in the second part ‘Frenzy on a Floating Fortress’ (illustrated by George Evans & Frank Springer) Namor is ambushed by old foes Attuma, Dr. Dorcas and Tiger Shark

This compels Doom to rush to his rescue in #2 as ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ (with art from Sal Buscema & Kida), the Sub-Mariner’s truest friend is murdered by his assembled enemies, leading to a brutal climax in ‘If Vengeance Fails!’ by Jim Shooter, Evans & Jack Abel.

Super-Villain Team-Up was an intriguing concept cursed with a revolving-door creative team crisis: nobody seemed able to stay with the series for more than a couple of issues. Somehow, the standards remained high but with no long-term planning the plots and characterisation jumped all over the place.

Bill Mantlo, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney produced ‘A Time of Titans!’ in #4 as Doom and Sub-Mariner battle each other and encountered a prototype Deathlok the Demolisher before splitting up yet again, after which Steve Englehart stepped in for ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (illustrated by Trimpe & Don Perlin).

Here the Lord of Latveria artificially exacerbates Namor’s breathing affliction and threatens to annihilate dormant Atlantis. Despite all the efforts of the Fantastic Four, Sub-Mariner is forced to swear fealty to Doom or see his people and himself perish forever…

This tumultuous issue also introduced mystic Batman knock-off the Shroud whose avowed mission was to free the world from the curse of Doom at any and all costs…

Jack Abel inked ‘Prisoner!’ in #6 as the FF invade Latveria to rescue the oath-bound Sub-Mariner, only to be sent packing by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who has just signed a non-aggression pact with Doom.

Another American observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties in ‘Who is… The Shroud?’ (Pablo Marcos inks) and, after revealing his origins to Namor, the Master of Darkness frees him from his vow by executing Dr. Doom.

As Shroud and Namor flee for the border chaos breaks out in Latveria, but in actuality Doom was not dead. Rescued and imprisoned by Namor’s cousin Namorita and girlfriend Tamara in ‘Escape!’ (illustrated by Keith Giffen & Owen McCarron) he bides his time, exploiting their misguided apprehension that they can make the Metal-shod Monarch help Atlantis and their Prince.

The international crisis escalates as it segued into an ongoing Avengers storyline, beginning ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ (Avengers #154 by Conway, George Perez & Marcos) as the Sub-sea slayer enslaves the World’s Mightiest Heroes and commands them to kill Namor…

The saga continued in Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (scripted by Mantlo, drawn by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani) as the ‘Pawns of Attuma!’ attack, only to discover Doom in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault.

In Avengers #155 the beaten heroes are helpless captives, leaving only the confused, battle-crazed Namor and a substitute team comprising The Beast and aging WWII speedster The Whizzer to hunt down the barbarian sea lord, before the epic conclusion ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (#156, written by Shooter, drawn by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and resurgent heroes unite to crush Attuma and prevent Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Latveria, Shroud has installed former ruler Prince Rudolfo as a faux Doctor Doom, but things go wrong very quickly in Super-Villain Team-Up #10 (Mantlo, Bob Hall & Perlin) when Captain America investigates ‘The Sign of the Skull!’

In the Latverian Embassy, the genuine despot learns from the Star-Spangled Avenger that Nazi overlord The Red Skull has once more invaded Doom’s homeland, even as the Sub-Mariner discovers greedy surface-men pillaging his comatose city of Atlantis.

As Doom and Captain America carve their way through Latveria’s formidable defences, the Skull proceeds in establishing his Fourth Reich, easily defeating the Shroud in ‘My Ally, My Enemy’ but when Namor rages in, tracking the ravagers of Atlantis to Doom’s castle, the tables are finally turned and the Iron Dictator swears to finally cure the Atlanteans in return for the Sub-Mariner’s aid against the Nazi invaders.

Firstly though, the Skull plans to enslave the Earth with a hypno-ray and must be crushed in ‘Death Duel!’, with the Iron Doctor pursuing the Fascist mastermind to his hidden moonbase, casually sacrificing the Shroud in the process…

Finally fulfilling his oath, Doom resurrects the comatose Atlanteans in SVTU #13, but only after a blistering sub-sea battle with amphibian arch-nemesis Krang and a Brobdingnagian sea beast in ‘When Walks the Warlord!’ (by Mantlo, Giffen & Perlin).

With Atlantis and Namor restored, a new era begins and ends with Super-Villain Team-Up #14 (October 1977).

‘A World for the Winning!’, by Mantlo, Hall, Perlin & Duffy Vohland, opens with mutant villain Magneto tricked into a duel with Doom who was at that moment de facto master of the world since he had seeded the planet’s atmosphere with a mind-control gas.

Ever the sportsman, the Lord of Latveria releases Magneto from his control, allowing him to liberate one other thrall and challenging them both to save the world from his ultimate dominance…

It was the troubled title’s last issue and the story concluded in Champions #16 (November 1977) as the Master of Magnetism and the Beast spectacularly overcome all odds and save the day in ‘A World Lost!’ (Mantlo, Hall & Mike Esposito).

A year later Super-Villain Team-Up #15 appeared from nowhere (dated November 1978 and presumably released to safeguard the copyright) with a reprint of the Red Skull story from Astonishing Tales #4-5. You’ll need to look elsewhere to see that yarn.

‘Shall I Call Thee Master?’ by Peter Gillis, Carmine Infantino & Bruce Patterson, was released a year after that (#16, May 1979, with one final issue 12 months after that) wherein the Red Skull, Hatemonger and radical geneticist Arnim Zola while away the days in a human atrocity lab conducting experiments on a camp full of human slaves.

This is a dark exploration of monstrous inhumanity where torture and degradation are simply a way of passing the time until the leftover Fascists can build a new Cosmic Cube and reshape all reality to their twisted whims…

In this instance they are thwarted by merely mortal secret agents in the long delayed but savagely effective conclusion ‘Dark Victory!’ (Gillis, Arvell Jones & Patterson), after which the concept and title were shelved for decades.

This eccentric and thoroughly fan-only compendium includes a full cover gallery by Ron Wilson, Gil Kane, Ed Hannigan, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Marie Severin, Jack Kirby, Dave Cockrum, Giffen, John Byrne, Hall, Al Milgrom & Keith Pollard plus Roy Thomas’ editorial text feature ‘The Road to Land’s End’.

For all its flaws Super-Villain Team-Up was a bold experiment and a genuinely enjoyable dalliance with the different during the 1970s – as long as the reader had a solid knowledge of the company’s complex continuity. I truly wish more people would sample the delights of this offbeat saga, but I doubt any new reader could cope with the terrifying torrent of unexplained backstory.

Still, I’d be delighted if you prove me wrong…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents the Losers Volume 1

By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, John Severin, Ken Barr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3437-9-8

Team-ups are a valuable standby of comics, and war stories have always thrived by mixing strange bedfellows together. None more so than this splendid composite: another woefully neglected series in today’s modern print/digital graphic novels marketplace.

The Losers were an elite unit of American soldiers formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (later supplemented by the Fighting Devil Dog Pooch) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March1959) and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82.

The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) and entered a brief limbo until the final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comicbook warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their individual use-by dates when they were teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years and their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden group anti-hero adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 for a run of blistering yarns written by Kanigher and illustrated by such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin and Joe Kubert.

With the tag-line “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small but passionate following. This magnificent monochrome tome collects that introductory tale from the October 1969 G.I. Combat and the complete formative run of suicidal missions from Our Fighting Forces #123-150 (January /February 1970-August/September 1974), after which comicbook messiah Jack Kirby took over the series for a couple of years and made it, as always, uniquely his own. For that seminal set you must see Jack Kirby’s The Losers Omnibus (no really, you must. That’s an order, Soljer…)

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas, and G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969) introduced one of his most successful. ‘The Losers!’, illustrated by the magnificent hyper-realist Russ Heath, saw the Armoured Cavalry heroes of the Haunted Tank encounter a sailor, two marines and grounded pilot Johnny Cloud, each individually and utterly demoralised after negligently losing all the men under their respective commands.

Guilt-ridden and broken, the battered relics were inspired by tank commander Jeb Stuart who fanned their sense of duty and desire for vengeance until the crushed survivors regained a measure of respect and fighting spirit by uniting in a combined suicide-mission to destroy a Nazi Radar tower…

By the end of 1969 Dirty Dozen knock-off Hunter’s Hellcats had long outlived their shelf-life in Our Fighting Forces and with #123 (January/February 1970) evacuated in the epilogue ‘Exit Laughing’ which segued directly into ‘No Medals No Graves’, illustrated by Scottish artist Ken Barr (whose stunning work in paint and line has graced everything from Commando Picture Library covers, through Marvel, DC and Warren, to film, book and TV work) and picked up the tale as Storm, Cloud, Gunner and Sarge sat in enforced, forgotten idleness until the aforementioned Lieutenant Hunter recommended them for a dirty, dangerous job no sane military men would touch…

It appears Storm was a dead ringer for a British agent – even down to the wooden leg – and the Brass needed the washed-up sailor to impersonate their vital human resource. The only problem is that they wanted him to be captured, withstand Nazi torture for 48 hours and then break, delivering damaging disinformation about a vast commando raid that wouldn’t be happening…

The agent would do it himself but he was actually dead…

And there was even work for his despondent companions as a disposable diversionary tactic added to corroborate the secrets Storm should hopefully betray after two agonising days…

Overcoming all expectation the “Born Losers” triumphed and even got away intact, after which Ross Andru & Mike Esposito became the regular art team in #124 when ‘Losers Take All’ showed how even good luck was bad, after a mission to liberate the hostage king of a Nazi-subjugated nation saw them doing all the spectacular hard work before losing their prize to Johnny-come-lately regular soldiers…

‘Daughters of Death’ in #125 found the suicide squad initially fail to rescue a scientist’s children only to blisteringly return and rectify their mistakes, Of course, by then the nervous tension had cracked the Professor’s mind, rendering him useless to the Allied cause…

‘A Lost Town’ opened with The Losers undergoing a Court Martial for desertion. Reviled for allowing the obliteration of a French village, they faced execution until an old blind man and his two grandkids revealed what really happened in the hellish conflagration of Perdu, whilst in ‘Angels Over Hell’s Corner’ a brief encounter with a pretty WREN (Women’s Royal Navy Service) in Blitz-beleaguered Britain drew the unit into a star-crossed love affair that even death itself could not thwart…

In a portmanteau tale which disclosed more details of the events which created The Losers, Our Fighting Forces #128 described the ‘7 11 War’ wherein a hot streak during a casual game of craps presaged disastrous calamity for any unlucky bystander near to the Hard Luck Heroes, after which ‘Ride the Nightmare’ saw Cloud endure horrifying visions and crack up on a mission to liberate a captive rocket scientist, before the team again became a living diversion in #130’s ‘Nameless Target’. However, by getting lost and hitting the wrong target, The Losers gifted the Allies with their greatest victory to date…

John Severin inked Andru in OFF #131, in preparation to taking over the full art chores on the series, and ‘Half a Man’ hinted at darker, grittier tales to come when Captain Storm’s disability and guilty demons began to overwhelm him. Considering himself a jinx, the sea dog attempted to sacrifice himself on a mission to Norway but had not counted on his own brutal will to survive…

Back in London, Gunner & Sarge were temporarily reunited with ‘Pooch: the Winner’ (#132 by Kanigher & Severin), prompting a fond if perilous recollection of an exploit against the Japanese in the distant Pacific. However, fearing their luck was contagious, the soldiers sadly decided the beloved “Fighting Devil Dog” was better off without them…

Dispatched to India in #133’s ‘Heads or Tails’, The Losers were ordered to assassinate the “the Unholy Three” – Japanese Generals responsible for untold slaughter amongst the British and native populations. In sweltering lethal jungles, they only succeeded thanks to the determined persistence and sacrifice of a Sikh child hiding a terrible secret.

Our Fighting Forces #134 saw them brutally fighting from shelled house to hedgerow in Europe until Gunner cracked. When even his partners couldn’t get him to pick up a gun again it took the heroic example of indomitable wounded soldiers to show him who ‘The Real Losers’ were…

Issue #135 began a superb extended epic which radically shook up the team after ‘Death Picks a Loser’. Following an ill-considered fortune telling incident in London, the squad shipped out to Norway to organise a resistance cell, despite efforts to again sideline the one-legged Storm. They rendezvoused with Pastor Tornsen and his daughter Ona and began by mining the entire village of Helgren, determined to deny the Nazis a stable base of operations.

Even after the Pastor sacrificed himself to allow the villagers and Americans time to escape, the plan stumbled when the explosives failed to detonate and Storm, convinced he was a liability, detonated the bombs by hand…

Finding only his wooden leg in the flattened rubble, The Losers were further stunned when the vengeful orphan Ona volunteered to take the tragic sailor’s place in the squad of Doomed Men…

The ice-bound retreat from Helgren stalled in #136 when she offered herself as a ‘Decoy for Death’ leading German tanks into a lethal ambush, after which Cloud soloed in a mission to the Pacific where he found himself inspiring natives to resist the Japanese as a resurrected ‘God of the Losers’

Reunited in OFF #138, the Bad Luck Brigade became ‘The Targets’ when sent to uncover the secret of a new Nazi naval weapon sinking Allied shipping. Once more using Ona as bait they succeed in stunning fashion, but also pick up enigmatic intel regarding a crazy one-eyed, peg-legged marauder attacking both Enemy and Allied vessels off Norway…

Our Fighting Forces #139 introduced ‘The Pirate’, when a band of deadly reivers attacked a convoy ship carrying The Losers and supplies to the Norwegian resistance. Barely escaping with their lives the Squad was then sent to steal a sample of a top secret jet fuel but discovered the Sea Devil had beaten them to it.

Forced to bargain with the merciless mercenary for the prototype, they found themselves in financial and combat competition with an equally determined band of German troops who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer…

‘Lost… One Loser’ revealed that Ona had been with Storm at the end and was now plagued by a survivor’s guilty nightmares. Almost convincing her comrades that he still lived, she led the team on another mission into Norway, the beautiful traumatised girl again used herself as a honey trap to get close to a German bigwig and found incontrovertible proof that Storm was dead when she picked up his battered, burned dog-tag…

Still troubled, she commandeered a plane and flew back to her home to assassinate her Quisling uncle in #141’s ‘The Bad Penny’, only to be betrayed to the town’s German garrison and saved by the pirate who picked that moment to raid the occupied village for loot.

Even with the other Losers in attendance the Pirate’s rapacious rogues were ultimately triumphant but when the crippled corsair snatched Ona’s most treasured possession, the dingy dog-tag unlocked many suppressed memories and Storm (this is comics: who else could it be?) remembered everything…

Answers to his impossible survival came briskly in OFF #142 and ‘½ a Man’ concentrated on the Captain’s struggle to be reinstated. Shipping out to the Far East on a commercial vessel, he was followed by his concerned comrades and stumbled into an Arabian insurrection with three war-weary guardian angels discreetly dogging his heel.

Back with The Losers again in #143, Storm was soon involved in another continued saga as ‘Diamonds are for Never!’ found the Fatalistic Five sent to Africa to stop an SS unit from hijacking industrial diamonds for their failing war effort. However, even after liberating a captured mine from the enemy, the gems eluded the team as a pack of monkeys made off with the glittering prizes…

Hot on their trail in ‘The Lost Mission’ the pursuers stumble onto a Nazi ambush of British soldiers and determine to take on their task – demolishing an impregnable riverside fortress…

Despite being successful the Squad are driven inland and become lost in the desert where they stumble into a French Foreign Legion outpost and join its last survivor in defending ‘A Flag for Losers’ from a merciless German horde and French traitor

Still lost in the trackless wastes they survived ‘The Forever Walk!’ in #146, battling equally-parched Nazis for the last precious drops of water and losing one of their own to a terrifying sandstorm…

In ‘The Glory Road!’ the sun-baked survivors encountered the last survivor of a German ambush, but British Major Cavendish seemed unable to differentiate between his early days as a star of patriotic films and grim reality and when a German patrol captures them all the mockery proves too much for the troubled martinet…

Again lost and without water, in #148 ‘The Last Charge’ saw The Losers save a desert princess and give her warrior father a chance to fulfil a prophecy and die in glorious battle against the Nazi invaders, whilst #149 briefly reunited the squad with their long-missing member before tragically separating again in ‘A Bullet for a Traitor!’

This volume concludes with ‘Mark our Graves’ in #150 as The Losers linked up with members of The Jewish Brigade (a special British Army unit) who all paid a steep price to uncover a secret Nazi supply dump…

Although a superbly action-packed and moving tale, it was an inauspicious end to the run and one which held no hint of the creative culture-shock which would explode in the pages of the next instant issue when the God of American Comicbooks blasted in to create a unique string of “Kirby Klassics”…

With covers by Joe Kubert, Frank Thorne and Neal Adams, this grimly efficient, superbly understated and beautifully rendered collection is a brilliant example of how war comics changed forever in the 1970s and proves that these stories still pack a TNT punch few other forms of entertainment can hope to match.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons

By Bob Haney & Dick Dillin, Dennis O’Neil, John Calnan, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6968-5

Are you old enough to yearn for simpler times?

The brilliant expediency of the 52 Parallel Earths concept lends the daftest tale from DC’s back catalogue credibility and contemporary resonance since there’s now a chance that even the hippest and most happening of the modern pantheon can visit/interact with the most outrageous world or concept in DC’s long history. It doesn’t hurt either that following DC’s Rebirth reboot the actual sons of the Dark Knight and Man of Tomorrow are now part of the established – and “real” – DC Universe.

Thus, this collection (available in trade paperback and eBook editions) of well-told “imaginary” tales from the 1970s (January 1972-December 1976), supplemented by a few episodes from more self-conscious times, can be re-released with a clear continuity-conscience without even the most strident fan complaining.

Written by Bob Haney and drawn by Dick Dillin, the Super-Sons appeared with no preamble fanfare in World’s Finest Comics #215, 1972; a bad time for superhero comics, but a great era for teen rebels. Those free-wheeling, easy-rider, end of the flower-power days saw a huge focus on “teen consciousness” and the “Generation Gap” was a phrase on many lips.

The editors clearly saw a way to make arch-establishment characters instantly pertinent and relevant and – being mercifully oblivious to the constraints of continuity (and some would say logic) – simply generated tales of the maverick sons of the World’s Finest heroes out of whole cloth.

And well-constructed, well told tales they are. In debut outing ‘Saga of the Super Sons!’ (inked by Henry Scarpelli) the young warriors run away from home – on the inevitable motorcycle, natch! – and encounter a scurrilous gang-lord.

But worry not, the paternalistic parents are keeping a wary eye on the lads! Speaking as someone who was the target market for this experiment, I can admit that the parental overview grated then and still does, but as there were so many sequels somebody must have liked it.

‘Little Town with a Big Secret!’ appeared in the very next issue: another low key human interest tale, but with a science-fiction twist and the superb inking of Murphy Anderson complimenting Haney & Dillin’s murder-mystery yarn.

Crafted by the same team, WF # 221 featured ‘Cry Not for My Forsaken Son!’ which showed a troubled runaway boy the difference between merit and worth, and the value of a father as opposed to a biological parent, whilst in #222 ‘Evil in Paradise’ (inked by Vince Colletta) the young heroes voyaged to an undiscovered Eden to resolve the ancient question of whether Man is intrinsically Good or Evil.

‘The Shocking Switch of the Super-Sons’ (WF #224, and also inked by Colletta) carried teen rebellion to its most logical conclusion as a psychologist convinces the boys to temporarily trade fathers whereas ‘Crown for a New Batman!’ provides a radical change of pace as Bruce Wayne Jr. inherits the Mantle and the Mission after his father is murdered!

Never fear, all is not as it seems, fans! This thriller – guest starring Robin – first appeared in WF #228, and was inked by Tex Blaisdell, who then inked Curt Swan, on the more traditional Lost Civilisation yarn ‘The Girl Whom Time Forgot’ in WF#230.

The Relevancy Era was well over by the time Haney, Dillin & Blaisdell crafted ‘Hero is a Dirty Name’ (WF #231), wherein the Sons are forced to question the motivation for heroism, in a thriller also featuring Green Arrow and The Flash.

In #233’s ‘World Without Men ‘(inked by John Calnan) the ever-questioning rambling Super-Sons tackle sexual equality issues and unravel a crazy plot to supplant human males, after which ‘The Angel with a Dirty Name’ (by the same team in WF #238) offers a super-villains ‘n’ monsters slug-fest indistinguishable from any other super tale, before the original series ends with WF #242’s ‘Town of the Timeless Killers’ – illustrated by Ernie Chua (nee Chan) & Calnan – wherein the kids are trapped in a haunted ghost town and stalked by immortal gunslingers; an ignominious close to a bold experiment.

Four years later the boys popped back for a momentary revival in ‘Final Secret of the Super-Sons’ (Denny O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano in WF #263, 1980) where it was shockingly revealed that they were no more than a simulation running on Superman’s giant Computer. In a grim indication of how much of a chokehold shared continuity had grown into, they then escaped into “reality” anyway to wreak havoc in a manner the Matrix movies would be proud of…

The collection concludes with a short tale by Haney & Kieron Dwyer that appeared in Elseworlds 80-Page Giant in 1999. ‘Superman Jr. is No More!’ is a charming and fitting conclusion to this odd, charming and idiosyncratic mini-saga, embracing the original conceit as it posits what wold happen if the Man of Steel died and his boy was forced to take over too soon…

Supplemented with a full cover gallery by Nick Cardy, Chan, Calnan, Dick Giordano, Ross Andru & Ty Templeton, these classic adventures are packed with potency and wit. If you’ve an open mind and refined sense of fun, why not take a look at a few gems (and one or two duds) from an era where everybody read comics and nobody took them too seriously?
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1999, 2017 DC Comics. All rights reserved.