Velveteen & Mandala


By Jiro Matsumoto (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-30-8 (Tankōbon PB)

Things have been a bit too much sweetness and light around here lately. Here’s a change of pace and taste then then needs a bit of an advisory warning. This book revels in gratuitous violence, barely-closeted misogyny and sexualised imagery. So why, then, is it so very good?

Civilisation has radically changed. What we knew is no longer right or true, but disturbing remnants remain to baffle and terrify, as High School girl Velveteen and her decidedly off-key classmate and companion/enemy Mandala eke out an extreme existence on the banks of a river in post-Zombie-Apocalypse Tokyo.

Here (with straight-faced nods to Tank Girl), using an abandoned battle-wagon as their crash-pad, the girls while away the days and nights casually slaughtering roaming hordes of zombies – at least whenever they can stop squabbling with each other…

From the very outset of this grim, sexy, gratuitous splatter-punk horror-show there is something decidedly “off” going on: a gory mystery beyond the usual “how did the world end this time?”

On the surface, Velveteen & Mandala (Becchin To Mandara in its original 14-chapter run between 2007-2009 in the periodical Manga Erotics F) is a monster-killing yarn which owes plenty to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but there’s more than meets the eye or ballistic charge happening here.

We begin at ‘The Riverside’ with the pair awaking from dreams to realise and remember the hell they now inhabit. Cunning catch-up concluded, ‘Smoke on the Riverside’ then reveals a few of the nastier ground-rules of their current lifestyle, and especially Velveteen’s propensity for arson and appetite for destruction…

‘Sukiyaki’ finds the girls on edge as food becomes an issue, whilst the introduction of ‘The Super’ who monitors their rate of zombie dispatch leads to more information (but not necessarily any answers) in this enigmatic world, after which ‘The Cellar’ amps up the uncertainty as Velveteen steals into her new boss’s ghastly man-cave inner sanctum…

In a medium where extreme violence is commonplace, Matsumoto increasingly uses unglamourised nudity and brusque vulgarity to unsettle and shock the reader, but the flashback events of … ‘School Arcade, Underground Shelter’ – if true and not delusion – indicate that a society this debased might not be worth saving from the undead…

In ‘Omen’ and ‘Good Omen (Whisper)’ the obfuscating mysteries begins to clear as B52 bombers dumps thousands more corpses by the Riverside, adding to the “to do” roster of walking dead the girls must deal with once darkness falls…

Throughout the story Matsumoto liberally injects cool artefacts of fashion, genre and pop-culture seemingly at random, but as the oppressive horrors get ever closer to ending our heroines in ‘Genocide’ and ‘Deep in the Dark’, a certain sense can be imagined, so that once the Super is removed and Velveteen promoted to his position in ‘Parting’, the drama spirals into a hallucinogenic – possibly untrustworthy – climax for ‘Mandala’s Big Farewell Party’ and ‘Nirvana’ before the further revelations of ‘Flight’

Deliberately misleading and untrustworthy – and strictly aimed at over-18s – this dark, nasty, scatologically excessive tale graphically celebrates the differences between grotesque, flesh-eating dead-things and the constantly biologically mis-functioning Still-Living (although the zombie “Deadizens” are still capable of cognition, speech and rape…); all wrapped up in the culturally acceptable and traditional manner of one blowing the stuffings out of the other…

Confirmed confrontationalist Jiro Matsumoto (Uncivilized Planet, Avant-Pop Mars, A Revolutionist in the Afternoon, Tropical Citron) is probably best known for dystopian speculative sci-fi revenge thriller Freesia, but here his controversial yet sublime narrative gifts are turned to a much more psychologically complex – almost meta-fictional – layering of meaning upon revelation upon contention, indicating that if you have a strong enough stomach the very best is still to come…

First seen in English as a monochrome paperback in 2011, this stand-alone saga will be available in digital formats later this year.
© 2009 Jiro Matsumoto. All right reserved. Translation © 2011 Vertical, Inc.

Papyrus volume 4: The Evil Mummies


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-027-6 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the masterfully evocative magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 collected albums, and consequently spawning a wealth of merchandise, including an animated television show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through “mini-récits” (fold-in, half-sized booklets) inserted into LJdS, starring his jovial little cowboy Pony, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis. After that he joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy.

In the 1960s, De Gieter launched South Seas mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit whilst Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, deep-sixing the Smurfs gig to expand his horizons working for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974, De Gieter assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst applying the finishing touches to his latest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the next forty years…

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, blending Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration, through means of light fantasy romps always leavened and flavoured with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

The named star is a fearlessly forthright peasant lad (specifically, a fisherman by trade) favoured by the gods who rises to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

As a youngster the plucky Fellah was blessed by the divine powers and given a magic sword, courtesy of a daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. The lad’s first task was to free supreme god Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos, thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom. However, his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty is protecting Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unparalleled gift for seeking out trouble…

The Evil Mummies is the fourth Cinebook tome (of, inexplicably, only six thus far). Available in paperback and in eBook formats, it translates the 19th European album in the run, which was originally released in 1996 as Les Momies maléfiques: a riotous rollercoaster of all-out action and fearsome fantasy which begins in the rocky fastnesses of the deep sands. Here Pharaoh’s headstrong daughter impatiently leads an expedition to retrieve the revered mummies of the fabled Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa from the lost Hammamat mines, who legendarily fell defending the nation from the invading Hyksos.

The bodies are to be returned in honour and interred in Thebes, but first they have to find them…

Cheekily joining Theti-Cheri, her protector Papyrus and all the assorted, hurrying specialists is sometime court jester Puin, charged with caring for the precious pack animals – although it would be more accurate to say that his phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot is actually guiding all those reins…

In their haste to finish the mission, the party are shamefully negligent and forget to make proper obeisance to divine Seth, Master of the Desert Wastes, and soon a furious cloud image warns of the dark overlord’s wrath. Nervously shrugging it off, the expedition prepares for sleep but is suddenly devastated by a terrifying flash-flood manifesting from nowhere and brutally scattering the impious intruders.

Papyrus awakes battered and bruised above a lofty precipice. He has been saved from crushing doom by a great silver falcon, favoured beast of mighty Horus

In trying to retrieve his magic sword the boy-hero triggers a flaming omen which points him a certain direction. Setting off into the scorching desert, he slowly follows a treacherous trail and with the falcon’s timely aid uncovers a deep crevice and shaft into a deep, long-forgotten mine. In a chamber far within the abandoned workings is a golden statue of Seth and ten roughly hewn coffins in a makeshift temple…

Curiosity overcoming caution, Papyrus uncovers a ghastly, poorly-preserved mummy in one but the second – already opened – casque holds Theti-Cheri herself: alive, but bound and gagged. When he cuts the princess loose, she descends into utter panic, frantically warning that she had been captured by walking corpses: the angry archers of Sekenenre Taa…

The boy warrior is saved from a lethal arrow by the ever-present falcon, but in his panicked flight is separated from his rattled companion, before plunging into open air and landing in the mine’s ancient water-filled well.

Recovering his wits, he trails Theti and finds her and the bird on a rooftop. She claims to have been saved by Horus himself.

Sadly, the aroused mummies are determined and unstoppable. With his magic sword useless against the already dead, Papyrus is about to be crushed by the restless revenants and is only rescued when the princess plunges one of the monsters’ own arrows into a dusty body…

Before long though, the buried temple is crawling with revived and raging mummy murderers and the terrified youths are again racing in panic. Spotting a trickle of water on a stony rock face, Papyrus smites the wall with his sword and a watery tumult catapults them to relative safety in the well.

With the water flooding away, however, the pair can see two huge golden statues of Horus at the bottom and realise that they must restore them to the temple to quiet the still-marauding mummies…

Seth unleashes more magical mischief to deter the already overwhelmed children, but Papyrus’ defiance and the fortuitous appearance of Khamelot quickly turn the tables after the unthinking dead things mistake the donkey for their own ghastly long-eared, long-nosed dark lord and rapidly retreat…

With aid from the faithfully following pack animals, the Horus statues are quickly restored to their rightful stations but Theti insists that the now-dormant archer mummies must be respectfully gathered up and transported to their proper resting place in Thebes as per her father’s plans…

As the bizarre entourage makes its laborious way back across the burning sands, more strange encounters plunge both princess and protector into another hidden tomb. This one holds the real, righteous, sacredly-interred Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa. But if that’s the case, who or what have they been shipping back at such tremendous, exhausting effort?

Solving that enigma, the pair still have to defeat an army of bandits and pillagers even as the battle leads them to the impossible plain where the lost members of the original expedition have been enduring the slow punishment of Seth…

Epic, funny, enthralling and frenetically paced, this amazing adventure will thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions wedding heroism and humour with wit and charm. Anybody who has worn out those Tintin and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to unearth and acquire all these classic chronicles.
© Dupuis, 1996 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

Golden Age Hawkman Archives volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Dennis Neville, Sheldon Moldoff & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0418-1 (HB)

Although one of DC’s most long-lived and certainly their most visually iconic character, the various iterations of Hawkman have always struggled to find enough of an audience to sustain a solo title. From his beginnings as one of the assorted B-features in Flash Comics (the others being Cliff Cornwall, The King, The Whip and Johnny Thunder), all adding lustre to the soaraway success of the eponymous speedster at the helm of the comic book, Winged Wonder Carter Hall has struggled through assorted engaging, exciting but always short-lived reconfigurations.

Over decades from ancient hero to re-imagined alien space-cop and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths freedom fighter, or the seemingly desperate but highly readable bundling together of all previous iterations into the reincarnating immortal berserker-warrior of today, the Pinioned Paladin has performed exemplary service without ever really making it to the big time.

Where’s a big-time movie producer/fan when you need one?

Created by Gardner Fox & Dennis Neville, Hawkman premiered in Flash Comics #1 (cover-dated January 1940) and stayed there, growing in quality and prestige until the title died, with the most celebrated artists to have drawn the Feathered Fury being Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Kubert, whilst a young Robert Kanigher was justly proud of his later run as writer.

Together with his partner Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, the gladiatorial mystery-man countered fantastic arcane threats and battled modern crime and tyranny with weapons of the past for over a decade before vanishing with the bulk of costumed heroes as the 1950s dawned.

His last appearance was in All Star Comics #57 (1951) as leader of the Justice Society of America, after which the husband-and-wife hellions were revived and re-imagined nine years later as Katar Hol and Shayera Thal of planet Thanagar.

That was thanks to Julie Schwartz’s crack creative team Gardner Fox & Joe Kubert – a space-age interpretation which even survived 1985’s winnowing Crisis on Infinite Earths. Their long career, numerous revamps and perpetual retcons ended during the 1994 Zero Hour crisis, but they’ve reincarnated and returned a couple of times since then too…

However, despite being amongst DC’s most celebrated and picturesque strips over the years, Hawkman and Hawkwoman always struggled to sustain sufficient audience to save their numerous solo titles.

This spectacular deluxe hardcover re-presentation of the formative years (collecting appearances from Flash Comics #1-22 spanning January 1940 to October 1941) begins with a fond reminiscence by artist Moldoff in the ‘Foreword’ before the magic begins as it should with ‘The Origin of Hawkman’ by Fox & Neville.

In his first epochal episode, dashing Carter Hall is a playboy scientific tinkerer and part-time archaeologist with a penchant for collecting old, rare weapons, whose dormant memory is unlocked by an ancient crystal dagger purchased for his collection. Through dreams the dilettante realises that once he had been Prince Khufu of ancient Egypt, who was murdered with his lover Shiera by Anubis’ High Priest Hath-Set. Moreover, with his newly returned memories, Hall realises that the eternal struggle is primed to play out once more…

As if pre-destined, he bumps into the equally reincarnated and remembering Shiera Sanders just a terrifying electrical menace turns New York City’s Subway into a killing field. The new couple surmise the deadly Doctor Hastor is their ancient nemesis reborn and, fashioning an outlandish uniform and anti-gravity harness of mystic Egyptian “Ninth Metal”, Hall hunts the deranged electrical scientist to his lair. He’s just in time to save mesmerised Shiera from a second death-by-sacrifice and mercilessly ends the cycle – at least for now…

Flash #2’s, ‘The Globe Conquerors’ concentrated on fantastic science as Hall and Shiera tackle a modern Alexander the Great who builds a gravity-altering machine in his ruthless quest to conquer the world, whilst ‘The Secret of Dick Blendon’ in #3 sees “The Hawk-Man” expose a wicked scheme by insidious slavers who turn brilliant men into zombies for profit, to gather riches and to find the secret of eternal life.

Moldoff debuted as artist in Flash Comics #4, illustrating a splendidly barbarous thriller wherein the Winged Warrior clashes with ‘The Thought Terror’; a sinister mesmerist enslaving the city’s wealthy citizens, before ‘The Kidnapping of Ione Craig’ in #5 pits the crime-fighting phenomenon against “Asiatic” cultists led by legendary assassin Hassan Ibn Saddah. The killers are determined to stop a pretty missionary and secret agent from investigating distant Araby

Moldoff has received overly unfair criticism over the years for his frequent, copious but stylishly artistic swipes from newspaper strips by master craftsmen Alex Raymond and Hal Foster in his work of this period, but one look at the stunning results here as the feature took a quantum leap in visual quality should silence those quibblers for good…

Maintaining the use of exotic locales, the story extended in issue #6 as Hall and Ione struggle to cross burning Saharan sands to the African coast before defeating Arab slavers and their deadly ruler ‘Sheba, Queen of the Desert’

Issue #7 further explored the mystical and supernatural underpinnings of the strip which easily lent themselves to spooky tales of quasi-horror and barbaric intensity. “The Eerie Unknown” and deluded dabblers in darkness were much-used elements in Hawkman sagas, as seen in ‘Czar, the Unkillable Man’ wherein the Avian Avenger, back in the USA and reunited with Shiera, clashes with a merciless golem animated by a crazed sculptor aiming to get rich at any cost.

Issue #8 featured another deranged technologist as ‘The Sunspot Wizard’; Professor Kitzoff alters the pattern and frequency of the solar blemishes to foment riot, madness and chaos on Earth… until the Winged Wonder intervened, after which in ‘The Creatures from the Canyon’ Hawkman foils aquatic invaders living in the deeps 5,000 feet below Manhattan Island who have decided to expand their ancient empire upwards…

Bidding for an old firearm at an auction in #10, Hall is inexorably drawn into a murder-mystery and the hunt for a lost Colorado goldmine in ‘Adventures of the Spanish Blunderers’, before ‘Trouble in Suburbia’ manifests after a hit-and-run accident draws plucky Shiera into a corrupt and convoluted property-scam. Boyfriend Carter Hall is quite prepared to stand back and let her deal with the villains – even if Hawkman does exert a little surreptitious brawn to close the case…

Another murderous scam involves an old High Society chum as ‘The Heart Patient’ reveals how a pretty gold-digger and rogue doctor serially poison healthy young men and fleece them for a cure, whilst in #13 ‘Satana, the Tiger Girl’ preys on admirers for far more sinister reasons: pitting Hawkman and Shiera against scientifically hybridised killer-cats…

 ‘The Awesome Alligator’ then sees an elder god return to Earth to inspire and equip a madman in a plot to conquer America, with ancient secrets and futuristic super-weapons. None of those incredible threats could withstand cold fury and a well-wielded mace, however…

At this time the Pinioned Paladin usually dispatched foes of humanity with icy aplomb and single-minded ruthlessness, and such supernatural thrillers as #15’s ‘The Hand’ gave Fox & Moldoff ample scope to display the reincarnated warrior’s savage efficiency when he tracks down a sentient severed fist which steals and slaughters at its inventive master’s command, whilst ‘The Graydon Expedition’ in #16 reinforces the hero’s crusading credentials after Shiera goes missing in Mongolia, and the Winged Wonder undertakes a one-man invasion of a fabulous lost kingdom to save her.

In Flash Comics #17, ‘Murder at the Opera’ puts the bold birdman on the trail of an arcane Golden Mummy Sect with a perilously prosaic origin and agenda, whilst #18 finds him investigating skulduggery in the Yukon as Shiera rushes north to offer aid to starving miners during ‘The Gold Rush of ‘41’.

Evidently capable of triumphing in any environment or milieu, Hawkman next thwarted deranged physicist Pratt Palmerin #19, when that arrogant savant attempts to become the overlord of crime using his deadly ‘Cold Light’. In #20, ‘The Mad Bomber’ finds the Avian Ace allied with a racketeer to stop mad scientist Sathan from destroying their city with remote-controlled aerial torpedoes, after which Hawkman is forced to end the tragically lethal rampage of an alien foundling raised by a callous rival for Shiera’s affections in ‘Menace from Space’

This first high-flying archive compilation concludes with October 1941’s Flash Comics #22 and ‘The Adventure of the Killer Gang’ as headstrong Shiera witnesses a bloody hijacking and determines to make the bandits pay. Although she again helps Hawkman deal with the murderous vermin as a civilian here, big changes were in store for the feisty, capable heroine…

Already in All Star Comics #5 (July 1941) she had first worn wings and a costume of her own, and in Flash Comics #24 (December 1941) she would at last become an equal partner in peril and fully-fledged heroine: Hawkgirl… but sadly that’s a tale for another volume…

Exotic, engaging and fantastically inviting, these Golden Age adventures are a true high-point of the era and still offer astonishing thrills and chills. When all’s said and done it’s all about the heady rush of raw adventure, but there’s also a fabulous frisson of nostalgia here to wallow in: seeking to recapture that magical full-sensorium burst of smell and feel and imagination-overload that finds kids at a perfect moment and provokes something visual and conceptual that almost literally blows the mind…

We re-read stories hoping to rekindle that instantly addictive buzz and constantly seek out new comics desperately hoping to recapture that pure, halcyon burst, and these lost mini-epics are phenomenally imbued with everything fans need to make that breathtaking moment happen. Hopefully DC will realise that soon and revive these compelling compulsive collections: either in solid form or at least in some digital editions…
© 1940, 1941, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Silent Invasion: Abductions


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock, with Paul McCusker (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-255-7 (TPB)

During the vast expansion of opportunity and outpouring of innovation that graced comics during the 1980s, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma which had plagued the medium was finally dispelled. America started catching up to the rest of the world; acknowledging sequential narrative as an actual Capital “A” Art Form, and their doors opened wide open for foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the most critically acclaimed and indescribably intoxicating features of the period came from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press which set up shop in the USA and began publishing at the very start of the black & white comics bubble in 1984. They quickly established a reputation for excellence, with a strong line of creator-based properties and some genuinely remarkable series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Flaming Carrot,Normalman, and the compulsively backwards-looking Cold War/UFO/paranoia-driven delight seen here: The Silent Invasion.

That last was a stunningly stylish conspiracy saga, bolting 1950s domestic terrors (invasion by Reds; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a phenomenally fresh and enticing delight for the strangely similar Reagan era. From here and now, it’s never seemed more distressingly likely that politics, if not all history, is cursed to repeat certain cycles and strategies…

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes (a whopping 298 x 2058 mm), re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein inspired co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock concocted a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic cult sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

Now, after far too long a wait – and with America once again enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption (but no collusion!!), cover-ups at every level of government and the press under attack from the people and traditions it seeks to inform and safeguard – the series has been remastered, marginally revised and re-released in a more manageable paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format) with the express intention of catching up and finally completing the tensely compelling epic.

Third outing Abductions! gathers the moodily monochrome Sixties-set follow-up first seen in a manner both Byzantine and fitting. In May 1998, Indy heavyweight Caliber began The Silent Invasion: Abductions but the miniseries folded after one issue, only to be picked up by NBM in 2001 and successfully released as 5-issue sequence Secret Messagescourtesy of Cherkas, Hancock and auxiliary artist Paul McCusker. It ran from May 2001 to May 2002, presumably despite the best efforts of Greys, Lizards or Deep Government interventions…

The truth out here continues after an informative and coolly appraising Introduction ‘Here We Go Again’, from novelist Robert J. Sawyer (FlashForward, The Oppenheimer Alternative). However, before all that…

The 1950s in American were a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incomparable scientific and cultural advancements, great wealth and desperate, intoxicating optimism inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft truly incisive and evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but more of that elsewhere…

What Has Gone Before: In April 1952, notorious Union City private eye Dick Mallet saw a strange light in the night sky. Next morning the cops found his empty, crashed automobile. A month later reporter Matt Sinkage was still getting grief from Frank Costello, Editor of the Union City Sentinel. Matt was frantic to expose “The Truth behind Flying Saucers” but quickly became an ostracised laughing stock, especially since he also suspected his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov was a Russian spy….

Sinkage alienated his family and drove his fiancée Peggy Black to distraction. All he could think about was a night six months previously in Albany when he witnessed a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a crazy night everyone remembers… except him.

When Matt broke into Ivan’s apartment, he saw the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine. It confirmed his suspicions that they were Atomic spies. Days later, Matt collided with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber and cunningly asked her out to lunch. Things developed and Gloria begged him to save her from what she claimed were Red agents even though the thugs subsequently claimed to be Federal agents…

Hiding out at his brother Walter’s place, Matt was still seeing flying saucers everywhere and couldn’t understand why everybody else thought they were just jets. In Union City, Frank was pressured by brutish FBI Agent Phil Housley: an old acquaintance who regularly forced him to suppress unwelcome or troubling news items…

This time he wanted Sinkage. What no newsman knew was that Housley was also working for a shadowy agency calling itself The Council. What Housley didn’t know was that he was only a pawn…

Back in suburbia, Walter’s wife Katie – convinced Matt and his new floozy Gloria were up to no good – reached out to the FBI. The fugitives were heading out in Walter’s car when Peggy showed up. She couldn’t understand why her man was with a flashy trollop, and wouldn’t accept that Matt only wanted the lowdown on the Reds and access to Kalashnikov’s memoirs and files. Matt knew Gloria was playing a double game, but agreed to go with to a remote town where a “contact” could protect them both…

Mr K called in his own heavies to hunt them, all factions equally unaware that the FBI had visited Katie and a net was closing around Sinkage and his mystery woman…

When the Council learn Sinkage was involved in the “Albany event”, near-panic ensued. Matt eventually succumbed to suspicion. Gloria kept vanishing and refused to acknowledge it. and Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abduct her and rough up Matt.

Events spiralled and came to a head in sleepy Stubbinsville. Housley and the FBI tracked the runaways and met up with the Reds and what might well have been aliens in the isolated region. The net closed around them as a fantastic and terrifying light-show ignited the dark skies. By the time the G-Men reached them, Gloria had vanished and Sinkage was in a coma. Days later, Matt was freed and all charges dropped. He was strangely content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to whom all the various parties hounding them really were, Sinkage knew what he had seen when Gloria vanished. Now he could only wait for her inevitable return…

Three years later, in September 1955, Sinkage was still waiting. He had spent much of that time in an asylum. On release, he moved to bucolic Rockhaven and resumed his old trade as a journalist. The uncaring outsider had tentatively established himself in the small town, but his job at The Ranger paid a pittance and offered no satisfaction. Sinkage earns extra cash writing fake news for spurious tabloid The Tattler.

His life spirals again after a proposed piece on cattle mutilations leads to a quasi-religious space cult in his own backyard. At first journalistic sight, the Sirian Utopia Foundation is a long con gulling wealthy widow Gladys Tanner. She devoutly believes the world is heading for imminent Armageddon and that her new gurus are in contact with a benign cosmic council promising enlightenment and global paradise …and they can also reunite her with her departed husband…

Her followers include many prominent Washington politicians and Sinkage’s research connects them to a bunch of missing scientists. That’s when Housley turns up, acting all buddy-buddy. Matt lapses into his old suspicions and starts snooping, “discovering” – after many tribulations and threats – that an extremely unconvincing fake flying saucer in the Tanner barn is a prop disguising the real thing…

The Council’s top thug Brennan resurfaces, spouting drivel about a commie conspiracy at the Tanner farm. Sinkage even thinks long-gone Kalashnikov has returned, but once again, drastic action by the Feds seemingly ends the investigation. Sinkage is now convinced of what’s really going on: America and the world are in the midst of a sly alien conquest and only he can expose it.

His first move is to join his recently at-liberty nemesis in Housely Investigations back in Union City, even though it means moving back in with Walter and his despicable sister-in-law Katie. By May 1958, Sinkage has become a phantom celebrity, a flying saucer freak and UFOlogist regularly cited by the media, but seldom seen. He warns of invasion and stalks political rising star and Presidential hopeful Senator Harrison T. Callahan – a candidate he believes to be mind-controlled by the invaders.

By 1959, Sinkage is an anonymous star on television, stridently declaring how aliens seize minds and program brains. His campaign against Callahan continues unabated. When the Senator decides to end to harassment, The Council re-enter the life of long-sidelined Phil Housley, proclaiming the alien issue is a Soviet plot to destabilise the USA. Over Walter’s most strenuous objections Katie manoeuvres to get Sinkage back into the asylum and he disappears from their lives…

In August, Callahan officially announces his candidacy and Sinkage makes a last desperate move, determined to preserve humanity at all costs…

In volume three (available in monochrome trade paperback and digital formats), the spotlight settles on Housley as ‘A Good Lawyer is Hard to Find’ sees the grizzled world-weary Private Eye basking in old glory in September 1965.

Nobody really cares anymore how he saved the life of America’s next president in August 1959, or that he had to kill a crazy reporter to do it. Now Housley’s life is all about making ends meet, accommodating his estranged wife Vivian while still seeing his kids, and keeping secretary/girlfriend Meredith Baxter from shouting at him. Union City, meanwhile, is reeling from a string of bizarre serial killings…

With life constantly kicking him hard, Phil finds an unexpected upside when glamourous new client Sarah Finster hires him to find her missing husband. She’s something of a maneater, exceedingly generous and will do literally anything to locate her innocuous spouse Howard

The missing man is an attorney at prestigious Phelps, Finster and Phelan: Simultaneously simple and uncomplicated, his only character quirk is that he suffers blackouts: disappearing for days at a time and reappearing with no knowledge of where he’s been or that any time has passed. That’s when Housley really starts paying attention. After all, he’s been experiencing exactly the same problems lately…

Finster had been seeing a shrink about the problem, a doctor named Jeffrey Plunck, but before tracking him down Phil interviews the employers and learns more than he bargained for. They reveal that not only had Howard been disappearing and experiencing memory problems for more than a year, he also claimed to have been abducted by aliens…

The mystery deepens in ‘Ghosts are Hard to Bury’ as Housley contacts creepily officious Dr. Plunck and is stonewalled in a manner he thought only Feds could pull off. Heading home to Meredith, he falls asleep in front of new TV sensation Canadian Football and has a chilling dream about Matt Sinkage, the madman he killed to save current US President Callahan…

When an envelope arrives, containing a note to meet and a recent photo of a number of people including Plunck and the impossibly still-alive Sinkage, Phil dashes off to a seedy club and meets Nora Marsh: Howard’s probable girl on the side and another regular alien abductee.

He has no idea he’s being shadowed until he’s ambushed. When he regains consciousness, Nora is gone but she’s left a list of names which lead to the missing Howard. Bringing the bemused and bewildered lawyer home, Phil is suddenly blasted by blazing light and awakens having lost more time… and memories…

‘Canadian, Eh’ opens with dazed and confused Phil revisiting all he knows about Sinkage and confronting the reporter’s former boss Frank Costello. He learns the paper Nora gave him lists people who have recently died or been murdered in uncanny circumstances. Walter Sinkage then adds fuel to the insane alien nonsense by expounding a raft of crazy suppositions about Canada’s Flying Saucer programme – and their football exploits – leaving Housley more baffled than ever and blithely unaware of how many different people have him under observation.

And that’s when the bodies start piling up and circumstantially pointing to Phil, his increasingly troubled homelife and those oh-so-convenient memory black-outs…

As witnesses and potential allies vanish or die, and with a procedural net he’s very used to holding now closing around him, Phil goes into overdrive in ‘The Lost and the Found’. On the run but uncharacteristically determined to find answers, Housley raids Dr. Plunck’s office, stumbling upon an incredible secret (more than one, in fact), provoking a massive and deadly response from his hidden foes, and precipitating a savage and chaotic clash with the resurgent forces of The Council and the irresistible powers behind them in chilling conclusion ‘Falling into the Light’

To Be Concluded…

Gripping and utterly addictive, The Silent Invasion is a uniquely beguiling confection rendered in a compelling, spectacularly expressionistic style: an epic that perpetually twists and turns, leaving readers dazed, dazzled and always hungry for more. Tragically, its warped Machiavellian shenanigans have never been more relevant than now and lead me to conclude that the infiltration is complete and that weird inexplicable non-humans already stalk all earthly corridors of power…

Abductions! offers an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” which no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore and the best is still to come…
© 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2012 and 2020 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. All rights reserved.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

School for Extraterrestrial Girls volume 1: Girl on Fire


By Jeremy Whitley & Jamie Noguchi (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-492-6 (HB) 978-1-54580-493-3 (TPB)

Once upon a time, stories designed to enthral and entertain young girls were a prolific staple of comics output. By the end of the 20th century the sector had all but faded from the English-speaking world, but enjoyed a splendid resurgence – particularly in America – as the graphic novel market expanded to its current prominence.

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers – especially girls – and combine licensed properties such as The Smurfs, Gumby and Nancy Drew with intriguing European imports like Brina the Cat and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project. This supremely enticing premier volume from Jeremy Whitley (The Unstoppable Wasp, Princeless) & Jamie Noguchi (Erfworld) is home grown, but magnificently captures a few contemporary zeitgeists that seem certain to generate huge interest and probably a TV series…

Tara Smith is 15-years old, smart, diligent and extremely hard-working. She obeys her rather strict, cold parents and strives at all times to be good and succeed in all her endeavours. In her most private moments, she stares at the stars and feels that one day she will be extraordinary, especially if she manages to fulfil her longed-for destiny…

She is admittedly a bit odd. Her life is totally regulated and Tara takes special medicine every day. She also wears an electronic medical alarm bracelet 24/7 as well as an heirloom necklace. She never, ever takes them off…

However, even though her life is one of unremitting routine, one day the alarm clock doesn’t go off and Tara will never be the same again…

As a result of the timing malfunction and rushing for the school bus, Tara forgets to take her pills. It’s a day for disasters. She trips, breaks her bracelet and, even after frantically making it to school on time, feels weird all day. After terrorising her classmates and making an exhibition of herself, Tara ends the day by catching on fire, rushing through the school like a human torch and passing out in the showers…

When she awakens, she’s in a freezer with her bracelet missing and confronted by the formidable presence of female MIB Agent Stone. When she makes Tara remove the necklace the terrified girl instantly transforms into a reptilian being and catches fire again. Suspicions confirmed, Stone swiftly explains some unsavoury facts of life to her shellshocked captive…

Before long Tara is despatched to a very special top-secret school built to house and safeguard girls just like her: young alien refugees abandoned or trapped on Earth and educated under the directives of numerous clandestine treaties, all unsuspected by the greater mass of humanity which still believes itself to be the only life in the universe…

Thus begins a thrilling epic as Tara gradually assimilates into her new school (Blacksite 513 AKA The School for Extraterrestrial Girls), making friends, enemies and many, many mistakes as she slowly uncovers the secrets of her hidden past and an awful truth regarding her own existence on Earth…

And as if just surviving being the new girl isn’t hard enough, as she continues hiding in human form and denying her true saurian self, events spiral out of control when Tara’s “parents” stage a deadly raid to reclaim their “property”. That’s when the confused reptilian finally learns who her real friends are…

Moreover, in the aftermath Stone decides the campus has been fatally compromised and that for security she must move students and faculty into a facility already occupied by Extraterrestrial boys…

To Be Continued…

Championing diversity and tolerance, whilst subtly addressing issues of gender, puberty and peer acceptance, this rollicking action romp successfully blends and updates the traditional girls boarding school/extraordinary chums model that was the backbone of British girls comics for decades and now seems set to shape the lives of another generation of youngsters looking for understanding and a few appropriate role models.

Irresistible fun no one should miss and available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is drama and thrills in perfect balance to delight any young adult or wistfully nostalgic parent or guardian.
© 2020 Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi. All other editorial material © Papercutz.

A Carrot for Iznogoud (Iznogoud volume 5)


By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-021-4 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short life, René Goscinny (1926-1977) was one of the most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Incredibly, he still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and of course Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery all proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to concoct the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud, who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; the first episode appearing in the January 15th issue in 1962. A minor hit, it subsequently jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a cropper for younger readers, whilst older, wiser heads revelled in the pun-filled, witty satire: the same magic formula which made its more famous cousin Asterix such a global success.

…And just like the saga of the indomitable little Gaul, this irresistibly addictive Arabian nonsense is adapted here by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to the English tongue.

Moreover the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly applied creative anachronism to keep the plots bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The revamped series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly becoming a massive European hit, with 30 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and even a live action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary added the scripting to his sublimely stylish illustration (from the 13th album onwards), moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified the collaborations.

This fifth Cinebook English language edition was actually the seventh French album (released in 1971 as Une carotte pour Iznogoud) with the lead tale an exceptional, extended epic comprising half the book, bolstered by a triumvirate of shorter yarns and prefaced as ever with a handy catch-up profile page of the usual suspects…

The eponymous A Carrot for Iznogoud’, is a rare bird indeed as the verminous Vizier is all but absent from proceedings which commence when gentle, isolated and very dim Haroun Al Plassid finally gets an inkling of what his trusted deputy is truly like…

Stealing out into Baghdad disguised as an insurance salesman, the Caliph finally gets the message that his beloved people fear, despise and revile his precious Iznogoud. Shocked and dismayed, he ponders what to do before – politely – accidentally aiding an ancient wizard (or perhaps crazy old coot…).

In gratitude the dotard tells him of a fabled vegetable that makes people nice. Desperately keen to redeem and “cure” his advisor, the Caliph instantly dashes off on a monumental solo voyage of discovery to secure some of the legendary “Carrot”.

The logic is simple: if eating carrots makes you nice all he has to do is find a place where people are pleasant, kind, honest and generous. The deed is nowhere near as simple as the thought – or indeed, the Caliph…

After exhausting and enraging the grocers and market sellers of his own lands, the search takes the determined Haroun Al Plassid to neighbouring kingdoms, across deserts and even oceans (where he encounters a certain band of pirates moonlighting from their damp and dangerous day jobs in Asterix), but everywhere all he finds are conmen, chancers, rude brutes and impatient surly types just like the ones at home in Baghdad.

He is almost ready to give up when he is sold as a slave to lordly Rhu’Barbfoul in distant Lastyearatmarienbad and sent to the kitchens to grate carrots for soup.

Excited beyond belief he begs his master to give him a carrot and release him, which after hearing the tale of woe and (perhaps) thanks to the steady diet of nice-making veg, the nervous lord does…

The journey home is no less dramatic or magical, though fraught with painful ironies, but even after the Caliph reclaims his vacated throne, the ameliorating herb he fought so hard to secure does not at the last find its way to its intended target…

Wry and deliciously surreal, the epic is an especial change of pace as the evil architect of all woes only appears in two panels over the 19 hilarious pages…

He is completely present for the three venal vignettes which follow, beginning with an outrageously bizarre close encounter in the desert entitled ‘Magic-Fiction’.

When Iznogoud and bumbling, long-suffering crony Wa’at Alahf are taking a break from the sorcery-besotted city of Baghdad they stumble across a couple of Martian explorers. The curious, affable alien explorers want facts and data for their records but, after seeing the power of their Spatial-Temporaliser ray-guns, all the Vizier can envisage is the effect the weapons would have on the royal simpleton he wants to replace: an indolent oaf who couldn’t answer a straight question if his dinner depended on it…

Sadly, after sneaking the E.T.’s back to the palace, Iznogoud’s intemperate temperament gets the better of him before his plan can succeed…

Baghdad is a city that suffers with an excess of heat but in ‘Iznogoud on Thin Ice’the vile vizier hears tell of a drinks seller whose wares are always freezing cold. Ever inquisitive and always looking for an angle he investigates and discovers that the unfortunate lady in charge is so unseemly that anyone who glimpses her face is frozen solid with shock. She just stacks the chilled out victims in her cellar and stores her drinks beside them…

The infernal imp’s heart soars! All he has to do is get the Caliph to peek under the appalling and enigmatic Gehtorehd’s ever-present veil and the throne is his…

Sadly, her gift doesn’t work on anyone with an elevated temperature, so even after getting the gorgon into the palace Iznogoud has to wait for the doctors to cure the Caliph who has a touch of fever. All he has to do is wait a while, but Iznogoud is a very impatient potentate-in-waiting…

There’s more direct skulduggery afoot in ‘Tried and Tsetsed’ which closes this compilation of crazy criminality. When bribe-taking Iznogoud officially greets an embassage from Africa he is given the most dangerous beast they know as a placating present by the chief ambassador who came ill-prepared to grease palms.

He is less than impressed until he is advised that the dread Tsetse Fly can put victims into a permanent slumber with one little bite. Now seeing his dreams falling into place at last, the Vizier lays his plans to introduce the bug to his boss, but is distracted by his idiot servant Wa’at Alahf and releases the flying terror in the wrong room…

Snappy, fast-paced hi-jinks and abundantly stocked with gloriously agonising pun-ishments (see what I did there?), this mirthfully infectious series is a household name in Europe, and especially in France where “Iznogoud” is common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently not that tall.

Still a cartoon barometer for chicanery and inanity, Iznogoud is a masterpiece of savvy commentary in a world where realpolitik has finally caught up and – inconceivably – surpassed the fertile imaginations of comics’ premiere wits.
© 1971 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones Omnibus volume 1


By Walt Simonson, Denny O’Neil, David Michelinie, Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, John Buscema, John Byrne, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Ron Frenz, Kerry Gammill, Dan Reed, Luke McDonnell & various (Dark Horse/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-246-8 (Dark Horse TPB) 978-1-84576-808-9 (Titan TPB)

Although dormant for the moment, Dark Horse Comics have held the comics-producing franchise for Indiana Jones since 1993: generating thousands of pages of material, much of it excellent and some not quite. It might be construed as heretical to say it, but dedicated film fans aren’t all that quality conscious when it comes to their particular fascination, whether it’s games about finding Atlantis or the latest watered-down kids’ interpretation or whatever.

The Dark Horse Omnibus line is a wonderfully economical way to keep older material in print for such fans by bundling old publications into classy, full-colour digests. They’re slightly smaller than US comic-books but larger than a standard tankōbon manga volume, running about 400 pages per book, but not all of them are available in digital editions at the moment.

This initial Indy volume (of three) chronologically re-presents the first dozen Marvel Comics (the original license holder) interpretations which followed the film Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as including the 3-issue miniseries adaptation by Walt Simonson, John Buscema & Klaus Janson that preceded that celluloid landmark. I’m being this specific because the comic version was also released as a single glossy, enhanced-colour magazine in the Marvel Super Special series (#18: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you’re curious).

And, just in case you’re the one who hasn’t seen the film… Set in the days before World War II, Hitler’s paranormal investigation division gathers occult artifacts from around the planet and soon crosses swords with a rough and ready archaeology professor from a New York university. Soon the unconventional Doctor Indiana Jones is scammed by the US government into tracking down his old tutor: a savant who might have knowledge of the biblical and mystically potent Ark of the Covenant…

Although Abner Ravenwood has since died, his daughter Marion possesses the clues the Jones needs. Unfortunately, she’s also an old flame he abandoned and would rather burn in hell than help him…

However, when the Nazis turn up and try to torch her in the Nepalese bar she washed up in, Marion joins Jones in a breakneck chase across the globe from Cairo to the lost city of Tanis to a secret Nazi submarine base on a tropical island, fighting natives and Nazis every step of the way until the ancient artifact separates the just from the wicked in a spectacular and terrifying display of Old Testament style Wrath…

The movie’s format – baffling search for a legendary object, utterly irredeemable antagonists, exotic locales, non-stop chase action, outrageous fights and just a hint of eldritch overtones – became the staple for the comic book series that followed, opening in impressive manner with ‘The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones’ a 2-part yarn from Jack-of-all-genres John Byrne, assisted by Terry Austin, with veteran scripter Denny O’Neil pitching in for the concluding ‘22-Karat Doom!’

When an old student is murdered before his eyes, Indy swears to complete the lad’s research, subsequently trekking through Africa in search of a tribe who can turn men to gold. He is never more than one step ahead of a maniac millionaire with no love of mysteries or antiquities, but is possessed by a deep and abiding love of profit…

That adventure ends with our hero plunging out of a doomed plane and into issue #3’s American-set adventure ‘The Devil’s Cradle’ (by O’Neil, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Mel Candido & Danny Bulanadi) wherein he lands in a hillbilly wilderness where a rogue US Army Colonel and a band of witch-burning yokels are separately hunting a 400 year-old alchemist with all the secrets of the ages at his fingertips…

David Michelinie, Ron Frenz & Bulanadi’s ‘Gateway to Infinity!’ then sees the archaeological adventurer en route to Stonehenge, courtesy of the US government, as a ring of Nazi spies again fail to kill him. Hitler’s spies and parapsychologists are still hunting preternatural artifacts and the crystal cylinder uncovered at the ancient monument definitely qualifies. English professor Karen Mays dates it to the Triassic period, millions of years before Man evolved, so the murderous Aryans will stop at nothing to make it theirs…

Luckily for Jones and Mays – but not the Reich – the spies eventually succeed. However, to their eternal regret their vile machinations unleash ‘The Harbingers’ and only Indy’s swift reactions prevent a horror beyond time escaping into our world.

Jazz Age mastermind Howard Chaykin joins Austin to illustrate the wonderfully classy ‘Club Nightmare’ (plotted by Archie Goodwin and scripted by Michelinie) as Marion opens a swanky Manhattan night-spot only to run afoul of mobsters and worse even before it opens. With Indy on hand to save the day, the situation swiftly goes from calamitous to disastrous…

Michelinie, Kerry Gammill & Sam de La Rosa soon have the hero globe-trotting again in ‘Africa Screams’, as a tussle in Tuscany with tomb-robber Ian McIver provides a solid clue to an even deeper mystery. Following an old map, Indy and Marion are soon on their way to the Dark Continent in search of the legendary Shintay – a tribe of pale giants, outcast from and last survivors of fabled Atlantis…

Unfortunately, McIver and those ever-eager Nazi scavengers are also on the trail and in ‘Crystal Death’ the vast power of the Shintay nearly wipes out half of Africa…

Issues #9 and 10 find our artifact hunter the target of a sinister plot by German spies and Aztec wannabees in ‘The Gold Goddess: Xomec’s Raiders’ (Goodwin, Michelinie, Dan Reed & Bulanadi), leading to a series of death-defying battles in the lofty heights of the Big Apple and the depths of the Brazilian jungle

This volume concludes in epic style with a breathtaking global duel and a brand-new villain as Indy is seduced by nefarious antiquities collector Ben Ali Ayoob into hunting down a persistent Biblical myth: ‘The Fourth Nail’.

In ‘Blood and Sand’, Jones travels from the Australian Outback to Barcelona trying to find the unused final spike that should have ended Christ’s suffering on the Cross, but his quest is dogged by bad luck, Arabic ninjas, guardian gypsies, immense insane bandits and irascible bulls looking for a handy matador to mangle…

The perilous pilgrimage reaches an inevitable conclusion in ‘Swords and Spikes’ (with additional art from Luke McDonnell and Mel Candido), a cavalcade of carnage, breakneck action and supernatural retribution.

With a covers gallery from such able and diverse hands as James T. Sherman, Walt Simonson, Terry Austin, Byrne, Howell & Armando Gil, Frenz, Mike Gustovich, Chaykin, Gammill, Bob Wiacek and Bob McLeod, this is a splendid chunk of simple escapist fun: the type of buried treasure any fan of any age would be delighted to unearth and rejoice over.
™ &© 1981, 1983, 2009 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sumo


By Thien Pham (First Second)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-581-0 (PB)

This book is about looking.

The magically multi and cross-cultural nature of pictures mixed with words continually generates a wealth of absolutely fantastic and improbable gems for readers with eyes and minds wide open. Back in 2012, this deliciously absorbing visual poem instantly became one of my favourite tomes: an elegiac and gently enthralling visual experiences of a kind I’ve seldom encountered in many a year, and one I often return to.

It’s all about pasts and futures…

The tale begins in a Japanese Dojo as another rikishi in training greets the dawn. He carries out his assigned chores and exercises with the other jonokuchi in the heya training stable. Despite his superior strength, size and speed, he is again knocked out. The supervising oyakata is in despair and doubts the spirit and determination of his latest find…

Scott once thought he was a big man in every sense of the term, but the glory days of High School Football never turned into the glittering, lucrative Pro career he dreamed of. Somehow, he ended up in his small town of Campbell with his best buddies, drinking beer and wasting his days.

When adored girlfriend Gwen dumped him, even that shallow, pointless life needed to end. They had been together since grade school…

Years ago, a visiting Japanese Sumo trainer had watched the boy play and never forgotten the warrior spirit he saw displayed in that sports arena. When the venerable gentleman offered a chance for fame and glory, Scott thought long and hard…

With nothing to lose, Scott accepted a bizarre offer: move to Japan and try out as a junior wrestler in the decidedly un-All-American enterprise known as Sumo…

This is a hard look at expectations and second chances…

The transition hasn’t been what he expected or hoped for. They dyed his hair and changed his name since all Sumo have professional shikona stage-names and looks. Only now “Hakugei” is failing again. If it wasn’t for the trainer’s daughter Asami and the idyllic occasional break spent fishing, this new life would be as intolerable as his old one…

This story is about striving…

With time fast running out, Hakugei must decide what he really wants and has to do it before the last match of the mae-zumo tournament. He has to win at least one bout or be sent home in disgrace …and he’s just lost the fourth one in a row…

It’s all about the build-up towards tension’s inevitable release…

This surprisingly contemplative and lyrical exploration of love, hope, honour and gigantic nearly-naked men bitch-slapping each other in truly explosive manner effortlessly blends and intercuts flashbacks and real time to craft a sublimely skilful and colourfully emotive experience. Cartoonist and teacher Thien Pham (Level Up) hypnotically and enthrallingly marries two wildly disparate worlds to produce an enchanting and thoughtful story that will delight and astound. This is a graphic novel you too will read over and over again.
© 2012 Thien Pham. All rights reserved.

Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Hal Sherman, Stan Aschmeier & Jon Chester Kozlak (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1308-0 (HB)

There are many comics anniversaries this year. Some of the most significant will be rightly celebrated, but a few are going to be unjustly ignored. As a feverish fanboy wedged firmly in the past, I’m again abusing my privileges here to carp about another brilliant vintage book, criminally out of print and not slated for revival either physically or in digital formats…

One of the most interesting aspects of DC’s Golden Age superhero pantheon is just how much more they gripped the attention of writers and readers from succeeding generations, even if they didn’t set the world alight during their original “Glory Days”.

Numerous relatively short-lived or genuinely second-string characters with a remarkably short shelf life through the formative years of the industry have, since the Silver Age which began in 1956, seldom been far from our attention and been constantly revived, rebooted and resurrected.

One of the most revered, revisited and frequently revived is Doctor Fate, who first appeared in 1940, courtesy of writer Gardner F. Fox and the uniquely stylistic Howard Sherman. Although starting strong, he was another incredibly powerful man of mystery who failed to capture the imaginations of enough readers to build on the chimeric tone of the times. He even underwent a radical revision midway through his initial run and lost his strip even before WWII ended.

Since his Silver Age revival, however, Fate has become a popular cornerstone of more than one DC Universe and he’s still going strong, albeit in some daringly radical forms…

Following the historically informative and laudatory Foreword by big-time devotee fan and Golden Age Keeper of the Flame Roy Thomas, this monumental 400-page full-colour deluxe hardback (representing the entirety of Doctor Fate’s run from More Fun Comics #55-98 from  May 1940 to July/August 1944) introduces the potentate of peril in a 6-page parable wherein he combats ‘The Menace of Wotan’.

During those simpler times origins and motivations were far less important than plot and action, so this eerie yarn focuses on a blue-skinned Mephistopheles’ scheme to assassinate comely lady of leisure Inza and how her enigmatic, golden-helmed protector thwarts the plot. Our hero deals harshly with the nefarious azure mage, barely mentioning in passing that Fate possesses all the lost knowledge and lore of ancient civilisations.

That’s probably the biggest difference between the original and today’s Fate: back then, he was no sorcerer but an adept of forgotten science (a distinction cribbed from many Lovecraftian horror tales of the previous two decades of pulp fiction): a hair-splitting difference all but lost on the youthful readers.

In #56 – which boasted the first of 11 cover spots for the Wielder of Old Wisdoms –‘The Search for Wotan’ sees Fate carry Inza up the Stairs of Judgement to Heaven where they learn their foe is not dead but actually preparing to blow up the Earth. Foiling the plan but unable to permanently despatch the big blue meanie, Fate is forced to bury his enemy alive at the centre of the world…

‘The Fire Murders’ in #57, sees certified doom-magnet Inza targeted by mystic arsonist Mango the Mighty before her guardian Fate swiftly ends the campaign of terror, whilst in the next issue a modern mage recovers ‘The Book of Thoth’from its watery tomb and unleashes a wave of appalling, uncanny phenomena until the Blue-and-Gold Gladiator steps in.

The self-appointed bulwark against wicked mysticism levitates out of his comfort zone in More Fun #59 to repel an invasion by ‘The People from Outer Space’ but is firmly back in occult territory for #60 when he destroys ‘The Little Men’ employed by a mythic triumvirate of colossal Norns to crush humanity.

Behind #61’s striking Sherman cover, ‘Attack of the Nebula’ pits the Puissant Paladin against a cosmic cloud and wandering planetoid summoned by an Earthly madman to devastate the world, then sees the doctor derail a deranged technologist’s robotic coup in #62’s ‘Menace of the Metal Men’ and save Inza from petrification by ‘The Sorcerer’ in More Fun #63.

Like many of Fox’s very best heroic series, Doctor Fate was actually a romantic partnership, with Inza (after a number of surnames she eventually settled on Cramer) acting as assistant, foil, and so very often, target of many macabre menaces. In #64 she and Fate – who still had no civilian identity – share a pleasure cruise to the Caribbean where a slumbering Mayan God of Evil wants to utilise her unique psychic talents in ‘The Mystery of Mayoor’.

She got a brief rest in #65 as Fate soloed in a bombastic battle to repel an invasion of America by ‘The Fish-Men of Nyarl-Amen’ but plays a starring role in the next episode as Fate exposes a sadistic crook trying to drive his wealthy cousin to suicide by convincing her that she is ‘The Leopard Girl’

A year after his debut, More Fun Comics #67 (May 1941) at last revealed ‘The Origin of Doctor Fate’: revealing how the boy Kent Nelson had accompanied his father Sven on an archaeological dig to Ur in 1920.

Broaching a pre-Chaldean pyramid, the lad awakened a dormant half-million-year-old alien from the planet Cilia, and accidentally triggered security systems which killed his own father. Out of gratitude and remorse, the being known as Nabu the Wise trained Kent to harness the hidden forces of the universe – levitation, telekinesis and the secrets of the atom – and – after two decades – sent him out into the world to battle those who used magic and science with evil intent.

That epic sequence only took up three pages, however, and the remainder of the instalment finds time and space for Fate and Inza to turn back a ghostly incursion and convince Lord of the Dead Black Negal to stay away from the lands of the living…

Fate graduated to 10-page tales and held the covers of More Fun #68-76: beginning a classic run of spectacular thrillers by firstly crushing a scientific slaughterer who had built an invisible killing field in ‘Murder in Baranga Marsh’, before gaining a deadly arch-enemy in #69 when deranged physicist Ian Karkull uses a ray to turn his gang into ‘The Shadow Killers’

In #70, the shadow master allied with Fate’s first foe as ‘Wotan and Karkull’ construct an arsenal of doomsday weapons in the arctic. They are still too weak to beat the Master of Cosmic Forces though, whereas rogue solar scientist Igorovichwould have successfully blackmailed the entire planet with ‘The Great Drought’ had Inza not dramatically intervened…

With involvement in WWII now clearly inevitable, covers had increasingly become more martial and patriotic in nature, and with More Fun #72 (October 1941) Fate underwent an unexpected and radical change in nature.

The full-face helmet was replaced with a gleaming metallic half hood and his powers diminished. Moreover, the hero was no longer a cold, emotionless force of nature, but a passionate, lusty, two-fisted swashbuckler throwing punches rather than pulses of eerie energy. His previous physical invulnerability was countered by revealing that his lungs were merely human and he could be drowned, poisoned or asphyxiated…

The quality and character of his opposition changed too. ‘The Forger’ pits him against a gang of con-men targeting Inza’s family and other farmers; altering intercepted bank documents to pull off a cruel swindle, whilst a far more rational and reasonable nemesis debuted in #73 when criminal mastermind ‘Mr. Who’ uses his body-morphing, forced-evolution Solution Z to perpetrate a series of sensational robberies.

Despite a rather brutal trouncing – and apparent death – the brute returned in #74 with ‘Mr. Who Lives Again’ seeing the sinister scientist employ his abilities to replace the City Mayor, whilst in #75 ‘The Battle Against Time’ finds Fate racing to locate the killer who framed Inza’s best friend for murder…

Underworld chess master Michael Krugor manipulates people like pawns but ‘The King of Crime’ is himself overmatched and outplayed when he tries to use Inza against Fate, after which #77 saw a welcome – if brief – return to the good old days as ‘Art for Crime’s Sake’ has the Man of Mystery braving a magic world of monsters within an ancient Chinese painting to rescue young lovers eldritchly exiled by a greedy art dealer…

Issue #78 features clever bandits who disguised themselves as statues of ‘The Wax Museum Killers’, whilst #79’s ‘The Deadly Designs of Mr. Who’ reveals how the metamorphic maniac attempts to impersonate and replace one of the richest men on Earth, before #80’s innovative felon ‘The Octopus’ turns a circus into his playground for High Society plunder.

In More Fun #81 cunning crook The Clock uses radio show ‘Hall of Lost Heirs’ to trawl for potential victims and easy pickings whilst the next issue saw Fate expose the schemes of stage magician/conman The Red Sage. He was offering Luck for Sale!’

‘The Two Fates!’ then sees fortune tellers using extortion and murder to bolster their prognostications only to be stopped by the real deal…

In #84, the energetic crimebuster braved ‘Crime’s Hobby House!’ to stop thieving special effects wizard Mordaunt Grimmusing rich men’s own pastimes to rob them, before big changes for Kent Nelson occurred in #85.

Here the society idler quickly qualifies as a surgeon and medical doctor, embarking on a new career of service to humanity. Additionally, his alter ego ditches the golden cape, to become an acrobatic and human – if still bulletproof – crimebuster, exposing a greedy plastic surgeon helping crooks escape justice as ‘The Man Who Changed Faces!’

The medical theme predominated in these later tales. ‘The Man Who Wanted No Medals’ was a brilliant surgeon who feared a crushing youthful indiscretion would be exposed and #87’s ‘The Mystery of Room 406’ dealt with a hospital cubicle where even the healthiest patients always died. In ‘The Victim of Doctor Fate!’, Nelson suffers crippling self-doubt when he fails to save a patient. Those only fade after the surgeon’s diligent enquiries reveal the murderous hands of Mad Dog McBain secretly behind the untimely demise…

Charlatan soothsaying scoundrel Krishna Das is exposed by Fate and Inza in #89’s ‘The Case of the Crystal Crimes’, after which ‘The Case of the Healthy Patient!’ pits them against a fraudulent doctor and incurable hypochondriac. Mr. Who then resurfaces, using his chemical conjurations to shrink our hero to doll size in #91’s ‘The Man Who Belittled Fate!’

The Thief of Time struck again – whilst still in jail – in More Fun #92 as ‘Fate Turns Back The Clock!’ before superb Hal Sherman ended his long association with the strip in ‘The Legend of Lucky Lane’, wherein an impossibly fortunate felon finally plays the odds once too often…

As the page-count dropped back to 6 pages, Stan Aschmeier illustrated the next two adventures, beginning with 94’s ‘The Destiny of Mr. Coffin!’ with Fate coming to the aid of a fatalistic old soul framed for being a fence whilst ‘Flame in the Night!’ sees a matchbox collector targeted by killers who think he knows too much…

With the end clearly in sight, Jon Chester Kozlak took over the art beginning with More Fun #96 and ‘Forgotten Magic!’, as Fate’s Chaldean sponsor is forced to remove the hero’s remaining superhuman abilities for a day – leaving Fate to save trapped miners and foil their swindling boss with nothing but his wits and courage.

The restored champion then exposes the spurious bad luck reputed to plague ‘Pharaoh’s Lamp!’ and ended/suspended his crime-crushing career in #98 by sorting out a case of mistaken identity when a young boy is confused with diminutive Stumpy Small AKA ‘The Bashful King of Crime!’

With the first age of superheroes coming to a close, new tastes were developing in the readership. Fate’s costumed co-stars Green Arrow, Aquaman and Johnny Quick – along with debuting concept Superboy – moved over to Adventure Comics, leaving More Fun as an anthology of cartoon comedy features.

Initially dark, broodingly exotic and often genuinely spooky, Doctor Fate smoothly switched to the bombastic, boisterous, flamboyant and vividly exuberant post war Fights ‘n’ Tights style but couldn’t escape evolving times and trends. Here and forever, however, both halves of his early career can be seen as a lost treasure trove of tense suspense, eerie enigmas, spectacular action and fabulous fun: one no lover of Costumed Dramas or sheer comics wonderment can afford to miss.
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Beano and the Dandy: Favourites from the Forties


By many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-821-0 (HB)

I couldn’t let the occasion pass unremarked, so here’s a suggestion of better times and more carefree entertainments to celebrate Britain’s longest running comic. On July 30th 1938, The Beano was unleashed upon the Great British Public…

Released in 2003 as part of the DC Thomson’s Sixtieth Anniversary celebrations for their children’s periodicals division – which has more than any other shaped the psyche of generations of kids – this splendidly oversized (296 x 204mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history. Tragically, neither it nor its companion volumes are available digitally yet, but hope springs ever eternal…

Admittedly the book goes through some rather elaborate editing and paste-up additions whilst editorially explaining for modern readers the vast changes to the once-commonplace that have occurred over eight decades, and naturally the editors have expurgated a few of the more egregious terms that wouldn’t sit well with 21st century sensibilities (Mussolini lampoon Musso the Wop becomes the far-less ethnically unsound “Musso”, for instance) but otherwise this is a superb cartoon commemoration of one of the greatest morale-building initiatives this nation ever enjoyed.

They’re also superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A huge success, it was followed eight months later by The Beano – which launched on July 30th 1938 – and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941, only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. The rascally rapscallions only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949.

This superb tribute of Celtic creativity is packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips and the mirth starts on the inside front with a wonderful Biffo the Bear exploit, illustrated by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins, followed by a sharp Korky the Cat gag-page by James Crichton and a listing of ‘Forty from the 40’s’, before the vintage fun properly proceeds, sensibly sub-divided into themed chapters.

Sadly, none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

Then and Now offers a smart selection of comparisons to life in the past measured against 21st century existence, with hilarious examples and contributions from Lord Snooty – by the incredibly prolific Watkins – cowboy superman Desperate Dan at the doctor’s, ostrich antics with Big Eggo (by Crichton or perhaps Reg Carter), Wild West woman sheriff Ding-Dong Belle – from Bill Holroyd – and a glimpse at primitive fast-food courtesy of Dandy’s Bamboo Town duo Bongo and Pongo as limned by Charlie Gordon.

There’s medical mirth with Desperate Dan, wash day blues with Mickey’s Magic Book (Crichton?) and a prose yarn pinpointing the funnier points of the class war in The Slapdash Circus – with a stirring illustration by Toby Baines – before Charlie Chutney the Comical Cook (Allan Morley) plays pie-man, whilst Watkins produces another Biffo blast.

Next comes The Horse That Jack Built, a rousing medieval adventure yarn starring a clockwork charger by Holroyd, and the chapter concludes in another Desperate Dan fable about messing around growing vegetables…

Entertainment explores how fun was had in the war years – i.e. before television – beginning with a phonographic Korky yarn and the first fine example of licensed film feature Our Gang illustrated by that man Watkins.

In case you were wondering… Our Gang (later known as Li’l Rascals) movie shorts were one of the most popular series in Film history. Beginning in 1922, they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids” (atypically, though, there was full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys) having idealised adventures in times both safer and simpler. The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach (who directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others) and these brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

In 1942, Dell Comics in the USA released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, restored the wit, verve and charm of the cinematic glory days with a progression of short tales that elevated the lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy Gale in Oz or Huckleberry Finn.

Long before then, however (1937 and in The Dandy #1, in fact), DC Thomson had secured the British rights to produce their own uniquely home-grown weekly escapades of Alfalfa Switzer, Scotty Becket, Spanky McFarland, Darla Hood,Buckwheat Thomas and the rest, such as the quirky keep-fit frolic included here…

Desperate Dan then endures some cool radio fun with Aunt Aggie whilst Keyhole Kate (Allan Morley) has trouble with a Magic Lantern show, and Biffo’s juggling act brings nothing but pain and strife.

As depicted by the wonderful Eric Roberts, Podge find drumming is unwelcome around the village and the not-so-wild animals of Bamboo Town strike up – and out – the band, after which both Biffo and Korky suffer terribly for their R-and-R.

Posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz (Charles Holt) comes a-cropper in a brace of telling tales after which the aforementioned dictator of Italy is mercilessly lambasted in a cruel quartet of Musso strips from Sam Fair, even as Charlie Chutney bakes to excess, Our Gang take vengeance on a bullying boxer and Podge foils a bunch of schoolboy cheats.

How the daily travails of conflict were relieved is examined in Wartime 1 with Jimmy and his Magic Patch (Watkins) accidentally visiting bellicose Lilliput, whilst Lord Snooty’s pals battle a Nazi spy and his pigeons and barmy barber Hair Oil Hal (by John Brown) cuts up in a clever quartet.

Sam Fair was in excoriating top form with the superbly manic Addie and Hermy slapstick assaults on Adolf Hitler and Hermann Wilhelm Göring/Goering, Meddlesome Matty (Fair or Malcolm Judge?) becomes a different sort of siren and Mickey’s Magic Book proves more hindrance than help during an air raid…

The complex world of Fashion begins with a plethora of Korky on parade, Beano’s Ding-Dong Belle offers some six-gun hints on good manners, Doubting Thomas (by Roberts) is overwhelmed by a shop dummy and Meddlesome Matty went shoe shopping… for a horse…

Hugh McNeil’s Pansy Potter, the Strongman’s Daughter was legendary for her unique looks – as seen in three strips here – but Swanky Lanky Liz, Charlie Chutney, Musso, Hair Oil Hal and Biffo all offer their own stylistic visions to round out this section before the un-PC past is more fully and shamefacedly explored in Out of Fashion. Here Biffo, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy, the Clockwork Boy (by the Torelli Brothers), Meddlesome Matty, Korky, Doubting Thomas, Bamboo Town and Mickey’s Magic Book all exhibit behaviours we just don’t condone nowadays…

Strips depicting Transport follow with Multy the Millionaire (Richard Cox), Korky and Biffo all experiencing some distress and delay after which Watkins displays his superb dramatic style for 1946 fantasy adventure Tom Thumb.

There are also more travel travails for Korky, Ding-Dong Belle, Doubting Thomas, Podge, Swanky Lanky Liz and Desperate Dan before a prose chapter from an epic Black Bob serial (a Lassie-like wonder dog illustrated by Jack Prout) precedes a Big Eggo pantomime romp and a 1944 Watkins spectacular starring Jimmy and his Magic Patch as a slave on a Roman ship.

Our trip down memory lane concludes with another bout of combat fever in Wartime 2, offering stunning contributions from Bamboo Town and Desperate Dan plus a treat for Pansy Potter fans: four fill-in strips illustrated by different artists who might or might not be McNeil, Basil Blackaller, Sam Fair, James Clark and/or Charles Grigg.

The campaign continues with a 1942 Tin-Can Tommy tale plus more Podge, Keyhole Kate, Doubting Thomas, Desperate Dan, and Korky strips as well as more Jimmy and his Magic Patch and a lovely Lord Snooty and his Pals yarn – with the kids helping the Home Guard – before Biffo ushers us out just as he had invited us in…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out for a half-day to run amok once again.
© 2003 DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.