Deadpool Corps volume 1: Pool-Pocalypse Now


By Victor Gischler, Rob Liefeld, Marat Mychaels & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4825-8

Stylish killers and mercenaries craving something more than money have long made popular fictional protagonists, and light-hearted, exuberant bloodbath comics will always find an appreciative audience…

Deadpool is Wade Wilson (yes, a thinly disguised knockoff of Slade Wilson AKA Deathstroke the Terminator; get over it – DC did): an inveterate, unrepentant hired killer who survived cancer and genetics experiments that left him a grotesque bundle of scabs, scars and physical abnormalities but also practically immortal, invulnerable and capable of regenerating from any wound.

He is also a certifiable loon…

The wisecracking high-tech “Merc with a Mouth” was created by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, debuting in New Mutants #97, another product of the “Weapon X” project which created Wolverine and so many other mutant/cyborg super-doers. He got his first shot at solo stardom with a couple of miniseries in 1993 (Deadpool: the Circle Chase & Sins of the Past) but it wasn’t until 1997 that he finally won his own title, which blended fourth-wall-busting absurdist humour (a la Ambush Bug and Warner Brothers cartoons) into the mix and secured his place in Marvel’s top rank.

Since then he has become one of Marvel’s iconic, nigh-inescapable characters, perennially undergoing radical rethinks, identity changes, reboots and more before always – inevitably – reverting to irascible, irreverent, intoxicating type in the end…

Here, following events too ludicrous to mention, Wilson has linked up with a quartet of alternate Deadpools from very different alternate Earths and formed the strangest team in Marvel’s history (and yes, that includes the Pet Avengers).

Collecting Deadpool Corps #1-6 (June-November 2010) the manic mayhem begins with the 5-part ‘Disrespect Your Elders’ (by Victor Gischler, penciller Liefeld and inker Adelso Corona) as the new comrades – Wilson, the strikingly female Lady Deadpool, killer bad boy and errant pre-teen Kidpool, a floating masked cranium from the Marvel Zombiverse dubbed Headpool and a costumed mutt who answers to Dogpool – are hired by the Elder of the Universe known as The Contemplator to expunge a horrific threat to creation…

From a universe preceding The Big Bang an unstoppable force has manifested which absorbs intelligence. Thousands if not millions of planets have succumbed to the power of The Awareness, their sentience and independence subsumed into a slavish nullity. Protected as they are by their own innate, intrinsic imbecility, Contemplator wants the Deadpools to go kill it…

In a bit of a dudgeon over their selection is another Elder calling himself The Champion. The mightiest physical specimen in existence feels the honour of saving universal intellect should be his, but although he’s no big brain either he just isn’t in the Wilson squad’s league…

Whizzing across the cosmos in the super ship “Bea Arthur” – with plenty of pit-stops in the skeeviest bars, cantinas and dives for information and violent recreation – the team soon confront and readily outwit their brawny rival…

Forced to take a different tack, Champion teams up with fellow Elder The Gardener to remove his insufferable rivals but is utterly astounded by their response. Somehow elected their leader, “Championpool” readies himself for glorious combat before again finding himself humiliatingly outsmarted by the Terran morons and stranded on a dead-end world whilst they fly off to reap all the glory…

Tracking the menace involves going undercover, drinking, beating up lots of aliens, shopping and even colluding and cohabiting with legendary star smuggler The Broken Blade, but eventually they near the end of their quest…

More a superb succession of gags than a plot, the adventure follows the Crazy Corps as they bumble and smart-mouth their way across the universe until finally they confront The Awareness and despite – or rather because of – their uniquely skewed mentalities, triumph in the strangest way possible…

Rewarded with wishing rings by the exultant Contemplator, the Silly Squad stay in space where this initial compilation concludes with the bombastic ballad of ‘The Blue Buccaneer’ (illustrated by Marat Mychaels & Jaime Mendoza).

Trading on their intergalactic reputation as badasses-for-hire, the Deadpool Corps accept a commission to wipe out a pirate band preying on interstellar commerce, necessitating Lady Deadpool going undercover in the most shocking – to her at least – of disguises, uncovering the most unexpected of old acquaintances leading the perilous privateers…

Surreal, wickedly irreverent and excessively violent in the grand Bugs Bunny/Road Runner tradition, Deadpool Corps is frat boy foolish and frequently laugh-out-loud funny: a wonderfully antidote to the cosmic angst and emotional Sturm und Drang of most contemporary Fights ‘n’ Tights comics but pays lip service to being a notionally normal Marvel milestone by also offering a full covers-&-variants gallery by Liefeld and sketch variant by Ed McGuinness…
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Inner City Romance


By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-60699-813-7

Please pay careful attention: this book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, as well as the kind of coarse and vulgar language that most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such material is likely to offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then.

Guy Colwell is an artist, activist and occasional cartoonist whose works are deeply personal and immensely passionate. As such they have often been controversial. An early Underground Commix creator, his output was graphically sexual, ferociously pro-change and subtly anti-establishment.

A conscious objector and political activist during the time of the Vietnam War (the US government preferred the creepily draconian term “Non Co-operator”) he was prepared to serve time at a Federal prison rather than compromise his principles. Already tenuously starting a long and prestigious career as a gallery painter, Colwell’s incarceration was the spark for a second creative path as a cartoon journalist and comics creator.

This superb and long-overdue collection re-presents to Americans (the series has been a perennial favourite in Europe since the 1980s) a seminal 5 issue underground classic he crafted between 1971 and 1978, blending open minded exploration of alternative lifestyles with keen observation of the life of the nation’s disenfranchised and marginalised underclasses, all thoughtfully argued through beguiling depictions of sex, drugs, crime, socio-political rebellion and ecological radicalism.

They’re all stunningly beautiful to look at too…

Lavishly augmented by more than 30 of Colwell’s gallery paintings, candid photos, a selection of his magazine illustrations and even historically significant examples of his time as a courtroom sketch artist, the commemorative celebration opens with a little history and philosophy in ‘Good Times and Bad: The Evolution of Revolution’ by Patrick Rosenkranz – who also scribed the ‘Epilogue’ and an effusive overview of ‘The Artist’ at the end of the book.

The monochrome cartoon blasts from the past begin with the epochal ‘Choices’ from Inner City Romance #1 as three convicts are released on the same day…

Marvin and token white guy Paddy can think of nothing more than getting high, getting laid and making money they way they used to, but for black power activist James – who’s leaving the joint even more radicalised than when he went in – all that is secondary to rejoining his political brothers and sisters and taking the war to “The Man”.

Driving to San Francisco in a stolen car the trio rave on about what they’re going to do and all too soon Marvin and Paddy are indulging in an orgy of sex and drugs.

After touching base with a most willing soulmate at the Street Defense Committee, James eventually rejoins his debauched jail buddies but as he watches their excesses he realises he is at a crossroads in his life…

For many readers the political message was electrically clear, and the astoundingly explicit sexual antics serve here as a nothing more than powerfully distracting sleight of hand…

The comic was a huge counter culture hit (going through four printings) and the saga notionally continued a year later in issue #2 with ‘Radical Rock’

As Rosenkranz explains in a brief introduction, in the intervening time Colwell had been drawing a strip for the newspaper San Francisco Good Times, but when that organ of infinitely free expression folded, he recycled his paean to peace and anti-war sentiment into a new comicbook, adding in powerful overtones highlighting the increasingly oppressive nature of policing in the city.

The result was a strangely intoxicating brew akin to a rock opera with dialogue delivered in scintillating rhyming couplets and quatrains as The People combat authoritarian excesses and illegal imprisonment of activists by attempting to hold a benefit concert in the park.

The “Powers That Be” have their own agenda of course and plan a major bust, but when James is gunned down in the street all bets are off…

The same issue also contained ‘Part Two (Adagio)’ which deftly shifts scene to carnally explore the reactions of the previous generation of poor folks. Colwell has always seen sex as something joyous to be indulged in by young and old, pretty or plain and this moving affirmation that “everybody does it” acts as a powerful counterpoint to the unfolding drama as the creaky lovers are interrupted by news that their son has been arrested and mercilessly beaten.

By the time they get to the police station the drama is set to escalate into horrific tragedy…

Inner City Romance #3 was released in 1977 and is the artist’s personal favourite. Largely devoid of dialogue, it thematically returns to the prison system and follows the escape into dreams of three very different inmates, resulting in some of Colwell’s most inventive, erotic and phantasmagorical artwork…

Issue #4 was released the same year and returned to real-world activism by fictionalising the scandal surrounding the abandonment and eventual eviction of the elderly, handicapped, ethnic minorities and just plain poor residing in the International Hotel, San Francisco.

Colwell’s sensitive take on the Humans vs. Money affair is an intensely evocative and surprisingly even-handed affair, highlighting need for change and the ultimate price of life as a young boy perishes due to the short-sighted addition of ‘Ramps’ to a rickety, ramshackle ghetto complex local government is just too cheap to fix…

With Vietnam over and social crusading giving way to an era of sexual liberation, Colwell’s final Inner City Romance foray explored the liberation of libido in a quintet of short tales which still found space and time to question the effects of freedom and progress on different strata of society. It begins with the unabashed joy of loving in ‘Good for You’ before a different stroke focuses on recreational drug-taking and the budding Punk Scene in ‘DownUp’

Arson and deprivation mark the experiences of a loose association of urban youngsters in ‘Interkids’, whilst the unluckiest woman in town experiences three different kinds of hellish horror when she becomes the victim of ‘Sex Crime’ before the fables conclude with sheer exuberance and impassioned release for two young lovers ‘All Over the Clover’

Still-crusading, he ends the festival of life in this magnificent softcover compilation with a stunning gallery of his best paintings proving that old campaigner never die, they just keep getting cleverer…

For decades the publicity-shy Colwell was thought by his fans and contemporaries to be a black artist, so strident, effective and authentic was his narrative voice. Even today his ethnicity is unimportant; what counts is that he’s human and urgently begs us all to be human too. Why not start a little Inner City Romance of your own and see for yourself?
Inner City Romance © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All contents © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc unless otherwise noted. All comics stories, illustrations and paintings © 2015 Guy Colwell. All rights reserved.

Sweatshop


By Peter Bagge with Stephen DeStefano, Bill Wray, Stephanie Gladden, Jim Blanchard, Johnny Ryan & Joanne Bagge (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-812-0

More generally known for his compulsively challenging (I so loathe that word “alternative”) strip material for mature audiences, cartooning legend Peter Bagge (Neat Stuff, Hate, Buddy Bradley, Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations) once found himself courted by the highest echelons of the comicbook mainstream and it resulted in two extremely different but delightfully enjoyable comedy ventures.

As he explains in his trenchant Afterword ‘Sweatshop: The Whys and What Fors’, forward-looking DC editor Joey Cavalieri accidentally oversaw the release of two overwhelmingly successful graphic novels – Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World – crafted by a host of Indie cartoonists and was asked/allowed to follow up the venture with something else in the same vein.

Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez had previously put together an intriguing and manically enticing, all-ages cartoon romp for the grievously underserved juvenile girls market (see Yeah!) for mainstream industry leader DC under their WildStorm imprint, and the company wanted to have another go.

Unable to commit to the punishing deadlines of a monthly comicbook solo, the cartoonist created his own sweatshop team to equitably distribute the workload and – after more dithering, ducking and diving – the saga of aging and indolent strip veteran Mel Bowling was born…

Naturally the feature was not what DC expected and the series was cancelled after #2, but due to the time lag involved, by then a full half dozen issues were completed. As with Yeah!, the compiled tales have now found their true spiritual home in these more enlightened graphic times as a sparky, spunky full-colour paperback collection from Fantagraphics, so you can at last profit from DC’s errors…

The premise is wickedly simple: Mel is the creator of successful family strip Freddy Ferret and officially has been for decades. However, with such an icon securely established, the crusty curmudgeon no longer does anything himself but “oversees” a studio of pathetic young hopefuls, doing their time and paying their dues before fame inevitably catches up with them all.

Acting as office manager and long-suffering interface between the modern world and the reactionary living fossil is Mel’s beleaguered spinster sister Millie who tries to keep the ship steady whilst the “creator” sits on his duff dreaming up increasingly more awful catch phrases and commissioning merchandising tat…

Scripted throughout by Bagge and coloured by his long-time collaborator and wife Joanne, the wryly seditious insider hilarity commences with the news that Mel has at last been nominated for a prestigious industry award. Pencil artist and closet superhero fanboy Alfred Post, creepily abrasive loner inker Nick Calamari and shy, quirky letterer Carrie cannot believe the trash they’ve been generating has garnered enough support for a Ham Fisher Prize but Millie is harbouring a secret.

Fed up with her brother’s annual carping and bitching, she’s pulled a few duplicitous strings to get him on the shortlist, but as far as the kids are concerned it’s a disaster: Mel was always appallingly mean when he wasn’t nominated, but now that he could actually lose something he’s never won and always wanted, they communally dread the next month…

Mel is gloating in advance, convinced he’s finally going to get one over on cartoon competitor and golf rival Wayne Goodman but the night of the ‘The “Hammies”’ (illustrated by Bagge) proves to be the train-wreck everybody – except Mel – expected… ‘The New Recruit’ (drawn by Stephen DeStefano) then introduces freshly hired gag writer Elliot: a hip ‘n’ cool, radical lefty wannabe who’s only killing time until his dope new strip Word Up! hits big.

Sadly the vegan newcomer’s ideals and stomach take a major hit after Mel treats his team to lunch at The King’s Trough – the nastiest old-school burger bar in town – where Mel’s effusive views on race and youth kill what’s left of Elliot’s appetite…

The tale is complemented by a trio of shorts illustrated from Bill Wray disclosing the efforts of the unsung juniors in ‘The New Guy’ (by Nick),‘Carrie’s Comic Diary 6/10’ and Alfred’s costumed crusader ‘The Peerless Penciller’

Bagge & Wray then collaborate on ‘A Traitor in Our Midst’ as Nick starts disseminating cruel spoofs of Freddy Ferret and blames Elliot when Mel finds them. Typically, the fallout is not at all what the creepy inker anticipated…

DeStefano & Wray then delineate ‘Carrie’s Time’ as the letterer’s Indie diary strip is optioned for an animation show. Mel’s jealous interference at first seems selfish but there’s a few surprises in store for everybody concerned, after which Wray solos on ‘Carrie’s Comic Diary Storyboards’, detailing why this particular show was never going to fly…

‘Behold, the Peerless Penciller’ (DeStefano art) then focuses on shy, retiring Alfred as Millie encourages him to follow his superhero dreams: even self-publishing his comicbook for him. Following a hilarious cameo from Charles Burns the depressed kid listens to the wrong advice and tries to change his beloved Fights ‘n’ Tights style to chase the Manga comics dragon…

‘Millie the Enabler’ (drawn by Stephanie Gladden and inked by Jim Blanchard) then reveals the pressure the unappreciated sister is under as a romantic interest enters her life. Mel’s constant neediness almost scuppers the relationship until Carrie offers to pinch hit for her…

This chapter is accompanied by a page of “Alfred’s” manga doodles courtesy of that man Wray…

Johnny Ryan joins the team to illustrate ‘The Wrong Dates’ after Elliot correctly assesses his male co-workers as virgins and Carrie decides to help the unlovely – and possibly unlovable – comic geeks out by arranging meetings with some of her unattached female friends.

‘Freddy Gets “Edgy”’ (Gladden & Blanchard) finds Elliot at last a published strip cartoonist, prompting Mel to consider updating the ever-unchanging Ferret. First though he’s going to hire a focus group to evaluate the proposed changes…

‘A Convention to Remember’ is an all-Bagge affair as Mel is gulled into attending a Comics Expo. He was told he was to be Guest of Honour, but the organisers never said he would be the only one…

Drowning amidst a sea of nerds, pimples, body-odour, desperation and fanaticism, the sweatshop team individually experience their private hells (meek Alfred adopted by a sexy fan chick, Carrie finding her very own stalker and Nick having to talk to people) until somebody suggests setting Neil Gaiman’s pants on fire…

In ‘I Have No Son!’ (illustrated by Ryan), the salutary glimpses into our magic universe come to a close when the kids discover the grotesque bum regularly dumpster-diving outside the studio has a personal connection to Mel. However, there’s far more going on than meets the eye – or the nostrils – and a distressing reunion leads to soft-hearted Carrie befriending the bum’s mum in ‘The Ex’ (Gladden & Blanchard).

Before too long she knows why Mel divorced her…

A wicked cruel “Nick Calamari” sidebar (by Wray again) details ‘It’s the Adventures of… The Meddler starring Miss Carrie Big Buttinsky’ and the gloriously baroque carton Commedia dell’arte concludes with ‘Mel + Irene’s First Date’ (Gladden & Blanchard) which harks back to Spring 1973 when a shy, aspiring cartoonist made the rather rash move that started his little empire going…

Barbed, raucous and superbly outrageous, this marvellous warts-and-all comedic comics-industry expose is an ideal object and object lesson for everyone who ever considered indulging in the funniest of funny businesses.
© 2015 Peter Bagge. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc.

The Tower Chronicles: DreadStalker


By Matt Wagner & Simon Bisley (Legendary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-93727-836-6

In The Tower Chronicles: Geisthawk, FBI agent Alicia Hardwicke first encountered a strangely compelling masked bounty hunter named John Tower who filled a rather select niche in the broad spectrum of law-enforcement and peacekeeping services. This odd enigma helped people with highly specialised problems: things cops and feds and government refused to even acknowledge the existence of…

After having her eyes opened and seeing what Tower – “the Geisthawk” – did with vampires and ghosts and even stranger supernal threats, Alicia started skipping work and letting her day job slide to join him on his bizarre cases, but she could never crack his carefully guarded façade of secrets nor ascertain the reason for his relentless, thankless and generally unrewarding crusade.

The concept was created by Thomas Tull (whose Legendary Pictures is responsible for the latest Batman/Dark Knight movies as well as The Hangover, Man of Steel and 300) and comics veteran Matt Wagner – presumably as a prime concept for the new hero’s own monster-bashing film franchise…

This slim and sinister spooky sequel volume collects The Tower Chronicles: DreadStalker #1-6 (spanning August 2014 to January 2015) wherein Wagner, illustrator Simon Bisley and colourist Ryan Brown ramp up the tension whilst revealing a few of the horror-hunter’s darkest secrets.

The saga begins in the frozen wilds of Northern Ontario where a couple of thrill-seeking teenagers stumble upon a very hungry Wendigo. Their immediate gory consumption is narrowly averted by Tower and Hardwicke but, after the rescue and inevitable bloody battle, the FBI agent realises her sullen partner seems more interested in ransacking the beast’s lair that attending to a shellshocked survivor…

Elsewhere creepy cultists “The Brotherhood of the Rose” know far more about Tower than he would like, and confer on how to deal with the DreadStalker and give the first hints to his true motivations. Apparently magic calls to magic and supernatural terrors tend to confiscate eldritch artefacts. Somewhere there are objects Tower wants and his constant despatching of dire hidden horrors gives him unmatched opportunities to search for such spoils…

The Brotherhood also covet such articles and, now that Tower has allied himself with Hardwicke, they believe they have the potential to exert a little leverage…

In the Washington DC office Alicia is using the Bureau’s vast resources to look into Tower’s past but her investigations are beginning to return impossible results. She is also starting to draw attention from her superiors, and terms like “negligence”, “obsession” and “reassigned” are being used by her furious boss…

In his lonely citadel Tower broods. He is actually centuries old and has carried a grievous wound of the heart for that entire time. All his searching and ransacking of monsters’ dens is for one sublime purpose but his quest seems as far from success now as it always has. …And on the other side of a looking glass, a beautiful, mournful woman waits for him… Determined to get some concrete answers, Hardwicke confronts Tower’s elderly lawyer Romulus Barnes and wrangles an incredible story from the attorney of how the taciturn troubleshooter saved a young law student’s son from demonic doom in return for a lifetime of legal servitude…

A most insidious villain, Martin Castle spearheads a cabal of entrepreneurs dubbed “The Château Group” and, when not selling genetically augmented heirs to shady sheiks, he and they harbour patient dreams of acquiring the world. However, Castle’s machinations mask a vile and increasingly debilitating secret…

Some answers – for the reader at least – are forthcoming as Tower resurfaces in New Mexico, hunting an avian monstrosity. Scaling the high cliffs to its nest, Jean Latour’s mind cannot help but wing back to the First Crusade when as one of nine Christian warriors dedicated to liberating the Holy Land he co-founded The Knights Templar in 1119 Anno Domini.

He recalls how the crusaders’ initial vows of piety, poverty, chastity and charity gradually eroded as their ranks grew and their coffers swelled, and how his life changed forever when he rescued the heathen maiden Nadira from Christian soldiers determined to stop her from praying at the mosque they had converted to a barracks…

In New Mexico Tower’s reveries are curtailed when the appalling Thunderbird attacks, only to fall after an horrific battle to the DreadStalker’s accumulated centuries of martial prowess. The net result is only more disappointment as the slaughtered beast’s nest reveals many artefacts but nothing of any use to the immortal warrior.

When Tower drags his battered, pain-wracked body back to his car, Alicia is waiting…

Still refusing to share, he drives off and Hardwicke reluctantly goes to plan B, applying the federal screws to another member of Tower’s support network. Raf is the genius who builds the uniquely devastating ordnance employed by the Geisthawk to expunge assorted creatures of the night but his tale of how the un-aging man exorcised his unquiet mother only adds to Alicia’s growing sense of unease…

As Mr. Castle undergoes radical surgery in Austria to alleviate an unpleasant arcane infirmity, further gathered strands at last force Agent Hardwicke to accept the impossible: her silent partner is possibly hundreds of years old and has been holding back a horde of horrors for all that time…

The man himself is in Colorado, dealing with a werewolf incursion in a brutally efficient manner before heading on to Ireland. En route he calls Alicia who probably scuppers her own career to join him, blithely unaware that the Brotherhood and Castle are both using her to track Tower. Neither organisation really wants the monster hunter, but they really need the prizes he’s likely to find…

After a cataclysmic battle with a ghastly Gaestlych, Tower finally relents and shares his story with Alicia, but the revelations give her no joy or satisfaction…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced and astoundingly action-packed, this slight but satisfying romp is tailor-made for transferral to large or small screen as companion or rival to Constantine, True Blood and Supernatural, but The Tower Chronicles primarily offers comics fans a spectacular rollercoaster of straightforward beastie-bashing in the grand traditional manner beloved of Fights ‘n’ Tights enthusiast everywhere.
© 2015 Legendary Comics LLC and Matt Wagner. All Rights Reserved.

Kick-Ass 3 – trade paperback edition


By Mark Millar, John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-087-1

Once upon a time, perennial High School no-hoper Dave Lizewski – a pitifully ordinary and unhappy teenager who loved comicbooks – realised that he had no chance of being part of the school “in-crowd”. He just hung out with the other geeks, nerds and social lepers; talking TV, movies, funnybooks and wishing he could have a perfect life and trophy girlfriend.

Then one day he had his big inspiration – he was going to be a masked superhero. All he needed was a costume and a gimmick. Oh, and a codename too…

Clad in a wetsuit bought online and filled with hope, Dave started patrolling the streets and promptly got beaten into a coma by three kids tagging a wall…

After months in hospital and with three metal plates in his skull, Dave eventually returned to school, but the compulsion had only grown stronger. Soon he was prowling the city again. This time a chance encounter was recorded on witnesses’ camera-phones and uploaded to YouTube…

An overnight internet sensation and supremely now overconfident, Dave – or Kick-Ass – inspired a wave of copycats, attracted the extremely unwanted attention of Organised Crime and met the closest thing to real superheroes the world had ever seen…

Dave’s life went into deadly overdrive when he met diminutive Mindy McCready – AKA Hit-Girl – and her burly, brutish, utterly insane senior partner Big Daddy: cool, efficient ninjas of justice and everything he’d aspired to be but could never approach in a million years…

These armoured, gun-toting urban vigilantes were utter ciphers, stalking and destroying the operations of brutal Mafia boss Johnny Genovese with remorseless efficiency and in complete attention-shunning anonymity. Before long Dave was drawn into their war and met fellow adventurer Red Mist, who turned out to be Genovese’s abused, psychotic son Chris: a bastard maniac in his own right.

Things got really out of hand and lots of people died. Mostly scumbags, but some good people and a few innocent civilians too…

The mesmerising saga comes to a cataclysmic climax close as Kick-Ass 3 collects the final 8-part miniseries (originally published through Marvel’s Icon imprint) from Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Tom Palmer and Dean White in a beguiling full-colour mass market paperback.

As seen previously, Red Mist had evolved into a truly psychotic and blood-drenched super-villain to counter the fannish tidal wave of costumed champions. In the aftermath of a bloody slaughter, superheroes were outlawed in New York, Dave and faithful masked pals Todd and Marty went undercover and the totally OTT Hit-Girl was arrested and sent to prison…

The saga resumes now with the lads reviewing a letter from the deadly tyke and planning to bust her out with the aid of a few costumed associates. However, life is not as clear cut as comicbooks and the scheme ignominiously fails.

Life goes on and the boys graduate High School, seeping into dead-end jobs whilst spending nights patrolling and training for their next attempt. Soon, though, tensions begin to rise as skeevy newcomer hero The Juicer takes over their once-communal lair – formerly Mindy’s old tricked-out HQ. The gloating sod even moves in his girlfriend…

Disgusted, undeterred and resolved not to spoil things, Dave gets back to the streets. When a posse of gangbangers attempt to mug Kick-Ass the battle goes badly wrong before he is rescued by witness – and nurse – Valerie.

Elsewhere, greater events are afoot. Brutally maimed Chris Genovese is stuck in prison hospital awaiting trial when his uncle Rocco pays a visit. With the established hierarchy of organised crime decimated by Hit-Girl, the aged Don has returned from exile in Sicily. He had been shipped off years ago when his deviant tastes and merciless depredations proved to be too much even for the Mafia.

Now he’s back and making a move to unite all the criminals in America under his rule – and he plans to make Chris his heir…

Self-proclaimed super-villain Chris is a changed boy and wants no part of it, but Rocco has the police force on his payroll. Nobody ever says no to the Don…

The boy’s mother has had enough too, but when she sneaks into his room determined to execute her crazy child she catches someone else with the same idea…

Dave meanwhile has organised another attempt to spring Hit-Girl but even as he preps his motley crew, the lass in question is facing down her latest psychiatrist.

The malevolent tyke has spent the intervening months terrorising and pacifying the entire prison around her, whilst psychologically breaking a long string of mental health professionals assigned to her, but Dr. Alex White is made of sterner stuff. The ruthless, remorseless headshrinker is determined to crush not cure the waif-like homicidal maniac, whatever it takes…

Dave is a man distracted. Although he has planned a raid on the mob as they fête the recently released Chris, his attention is mostly on Valerie. Thus the consequent attack is a disaster and the badly-scared mystery men barely get away with their lives…

In the cold light of day the heroes have a bitter falling-out at Justice Forever HQ and Dave adds The Juicer to his growing list of arch enemies. It’s hard to care, though, as he and Val are dating now and he’s having sex regularly…

The only thing he hasn’t given up on is Hit-Girl. He will get her out, somehow, someday…

He doesn’t know it, but Dave is on a clock. Rocco is firmly in the driving seat now and obsessed with the tiny titan too. He wants her out of jail so that he can smash his treasured golden ice-pick right into her brain…

As Dr. White plays the latest card in his duplicitous bag of brain-bending tricks, at Vic Gigante’s place the bent cop – and Rocco’s most influential agent on the NYPD – has an interesting idea. With three trusted pals he’s devised a way to make even more dirty money in a foolproof manner.

Soon a quartet of “Robin Hood” masked heroes are brutally raiding all of Rocco’s places of business; killing mooks and confiscating cash. The Skull & Bones boys claim it’s all being passed on to the poor and naturally everybody believes them…

Lost in a lustful daze, not even a timely intervention by Todd can shake Dave up enough to get back in costume and on track, but the increasingly bold raids of the Skull & Bones gang is driving Rocco crazy. Only when the deviant Don declares war on every masked hero in the city and despatches hit squads to gun them down wherever they are does Dave finally rouse himself from a besotted haze and get back on the streets…

The psychological campaign against Hit-Girl is also beginning to work. The formerly indomitable Mindy is retreating into memories of training with her dad and sharing those episodes with the exultant White.

Unfortunately the cocky doctor overplays his hand and seems to lose everything, but before he can reassess the situation Rocco Genovese has his family’s nemesis abducted from the penitentiary so that he can slaughter her in style.

Ferrying her to a big party at his estate, the Don thinks he’s won but is utterly unprepared for betrayal from within, the incomprehensible inability of Kick-Ass to give up and the sheer determination and total, sociopathic verve which inspires Hit-Girl in her holy mission to eradicate criminal scum…

Building to a cataclysmic, graphically hyper-violent, ferociously cathartic conclusion, the saga of simple soul Dave and the atrociously foul-mouthed Hit-Girl wraps up in unforgettable manner with plenty of shocking twists and surprises in a blockbusting clash which answers all the questions in a fashion fitting, furious and final…

The blackly comedic and ultra-violent comedy quartet of tales which comprise the Kick-Ass saga are the ultimate extension of the modern trend for “realistic” superhero stories whilst simultaneously forming a brilliantly engaging and cynically hilarious examination of boyhood dreams and power fantasies, delivered with dazzling aplomb, studied self-deprecation and spellbinding style.

Here Millar’s mesmeric script skilfully dances on the very edge of possibility and credibility, whilst the stunning art collaboration of John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer and colourist Dean White afford a vision of New York life that ranges from Paradise to Hell on Earth.

Bracketed by a pithy Introduction from screen writer Geoff Wadlow and Afterword Acknowledgements from writer and artist, this majestically wide-screen extravaganza is a sharp, superb and stunning tale not just for comics fans but a genuine treasure for all followers of frantic fun and fantasy in any medium.

© 2013 and 2014 Millarworld Limited and John S. Romita. All rights reserved.

Kick-Ass 3 is scheduled for publication on February 27th

Love and Rockets: New Stories volume 7


By The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-770-3

Years pass like centuries when you’re waiting for a wonderful treat but at long last here’s the latest annual instalment of Love and Rockets: New Stories. So life is once more challengingly complete …

Now solidly in its fourth decade as a transcendent and transformative force shaking up the American comics industry, Love and Rockets was originally an anthology magazine featuring amongst other gems and joys the slick, intriguing, sci-fi-tinged hi-jinx of punky young things Maggie and Hopeylas Locas – and a series of heart-warming, gut-wrenching soap-opera epics set in a rural Central American paradise called Palomar.

The Hernandez Boys (three guys from Oxnard, California: Jaime, Gilberto and Mario), gifted synthesists all, captivated the comics cognoscenti with incredible stories sampling and referencing a host of influences – everything from comics, TV cartoons, masked wrestlers and the exotica of everything from American Hispanic pop culture to German Expressionism.

There was also a perpetual backdrop displaying the holy trinity of youth: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll – also alternative music, hip hop and punk.

The result was dynamite then and the guys have only got better with the passing years. Mario only officially contributed on rare occasions, but Jaime’s slick, enticing visual forays explored friendship and modern love by destroying stereotypes of feminine attraction through his fetching coterie of “Gals Gone Wild”, whilst bro Gilberto created a hyper-real and passionately poignant landscape and playground of wit and venality for his extended generational saga Heartbreak Soup: a quicksilver chimera of breadline Latin-American village life with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast.

The shadows cast by Palomar still define and inform his latest tales both directly and as imaginative spurs for ostensibly unaffiliated stories.

Fully evolved into an annual omnibus compendium of wonders, Love and Rockets: New Stories features one-off vignettes supplementing a string of contiguous and continuing story strands, opening here with Beto’s ‘Killer in Palomar’.

After having apparently quitting her blossoming cinema career Doralis “Killer” Rivera headed back to Palomar to visit her distanced family. She was fleeing rumours of pregnancy and just wanted some peace and a normal life. At least that’s what she told herself…

Now she’s reeling from the horror of a deranged stalker-fan who murdered people in her name, but new friend Theo is more worried about her strange reaction to a copycat stripper/double appropriating her reputation to become a porn star. And to make things even more complicated Killer is chatting to dead Tia Doralís again…

Jaime then returns to his singularly aging signature characters as Maggie and Hopey ditch their significant others for a weekend to attend an Eighties-Friends reunion in ‘Do I Look at the Camera, Or Do I Look at Me?’

The devout pals and former lovers may have moved on, but there’s still some spark of the old wild couple in play – especially the constant bickering – and eventually the ladies at leisure settle on watching a movie Maggie’s boyfriend Ray recommended coincidentally  running at the Indie cinema that used to be the girls’ teenage hangout…

Metafiction and magical realism have always played a large part in the Hernandez Boy’s tales and as Maggie and Hopey settle in for a weird screen experience, elsewhere in time and space star of the film Maria Rodriguez is showing it to her baby daughter Fritz/Rosalba (for further details and family indiscretions best check out High Soft Lisp or Luba)…

Blending a bizarre B-movie fantasy with more telling insights into three generations of powerful and beautiful women, Gilberto’s story segues into Killer’s time as a toddler – and the mistakes all the women in her family seem condemned to repeat – before ‘Daughters and Mothers and Daughters’ flashes back to more revelations, inter-cut with her playing her own grandmother in scandalous biopic Maria M

Jaime’s vignette ‘You and Hopey’ focuses on poor abandoned Ray and how he spends his time as a weekend-widower, after which the artist switches track to follow frustrated teen wrestling hopefuls in ‘Our Lady of the Assassinating Angels’ before returning to Ray for ‘The Cody Pendant’ and an evening alone, coincidentally watching the same movie as Maggie and Hopey…

Beto steps in for a fantastic slice of hokey fantasy as ‘Magic Voyage of Aladdin’ offers an incredible genre mash-up with the legendary boy adventurer and his astoundingly pneumatic patron Circe battling witches, monsters, aliens and bat-people in three anarchic cine-plays, beginning with ‘Chapter 1: the Electrical Brain’ moving on to ‘Chapter 2: the Cave of Bats’ and calamitously concluding with ‘Chapter 3: the Living Corpse’

Jaime tags in to continue the travails of young Tonta Agajanian in ‘If It Ain’t Fixed, Don’t Break It!’ as the troublesome teen escapes her scandalous family (murdered step-father and her far-from-sane mother still prime suspect even after being cleared by DA’s office) for a comicbook party.

After another fine moment annoying the rich kids, Tonta and gullible associate Gomez suddenly find themselves pulled over by the cops…

The dirty doppelgangers poaching the reputation of Killer’s dynasty of sexy starlets make their unseemly entrances in Gilbert’s ‘Meet Fritz Jr.’ and unwittingly offer tantalising glimpses of unsuspected family connections, after which Jaime turns up the filmic fantasy dial with the hilariously scary sci fi classic ‘Princess Animus!’ wherein a beautiful cannibal gains the power to dominate the universe…

However when the film breaks at the best bit Maggie and Hopey are left at a loose end and unwisely head back to the motel early…

Beto closes down this annual affair (bracketing an untitled Jaime two-pager highlighting las Locas’ morning-after) with another outrageous grindhouse movie pastiche in ‘The Golem Suit Starring Killer’ before a painful day for Fritz and her copyright infringing facsimile meeting fans at a convention as ‘Talent’ wraps things up for another too-long wait until next time…

Warm-hearted, deceptively heart-wrenching, subtly shocking, challenging, charming and irresistibly addictive, Love and Rockets: New Stories is a grown up comics fan’s dream come true and remains as valid and groundbreaking as its earlier incarnations – the diamond point of the cutting edge of American graphic narrative.
© 2015 Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Green Arrow volume 1: Hunter’s Moon


By Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4326-5

First appearing in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comic books. At first glance this combination of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him but he has always managed to keep himself in vogue.

Probably his most telling of many makeovers came in 1987, when, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, auteur Mike Grell was given the green (Shameless, me!) light to make him the star of DC’s second “Prestige Format Mini-Series”.

Grell was counted a major creator at the time. Beginning his rise with a laudable run on Legion of Super-Heroes, he went on to draw the revived Green Lantern/Green Arrow and practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired fantasy series Warlord. He had also notched up a big fan following illustrating many Aquaman, Batman and Phantom Stranger stories before establishing his independent creator credentials at First Comics with Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance

In the grim ‘n’ gritty late Eighties, it was certainly time for another overhaul of the Emerald Archer. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves or paint brushes on them just don’t work. Thus, in an era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, the evergreen survivor adapted and thrived under the direction of a creator famed for the realism of his stories.

The Longbow Hunters focused on the super-hero’s mid-life crisis as he relocated to Seattle and struggled to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick Speedy was now a dad, Oliver Queen had technically become a grandfather. With long-time “significant other” Dinah Lance AKA Black Canary he began to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice never dimmed for either of them.

She went undercover to stamp out a drug ring, and he became engrossed in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. Ollie was also made aware of a second – cross-country – slayer who had been murdering people with arrows…

Eschewing his gaudy costume and gimmicks he reinvented himself as an urban hunter to stop such unglamorous everyday monsters, stumbling into a mystery that led back to World War II involving the Yakuza, CIA, corporate America and even the Viet Nam war…

The intricate plot, subtly blending three seemingly disparate stories that were in fact one, still delivers a shocking punch even now in its disturbingly explicit examination of torture, which won the series undeserved negative press when it was first published. Although possibly tame to most modern tastes, this was eye-opening stuff in the 1980’s, which is a shame, as it diverted attention from the real issue… and that was a massive surge in quality and maturity.

The sophisticated and intricate plot – weaving themes of age, diminishing potency, vengeance and family – were another turning point in American comics and led to an ongoing series specifically targeting “Mature Readers”. The treatment and tone heavily influenced and flavoured today’s TV adaptation Arrow and has led to the release of Grell’s nigh-forgotten urban predator tales in a new range of economical trade paperbacks.

This first full-colour paperback collection, scripted by Grell with superbly efficient and powerfully understated art from Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin, re-presents Green Arrow volume 2, #1-6 (February to July 1988), offering grimly realistic yarns ripped from headlines that have as much impact and relevance today as they did nearly thirty years ago…

Sparse, Spartan and devastatingly compelling, the initial tales were all constructed as two-part dramas beginning here – sans any preamble – with ‘Hunter’s Moon’ as the hunter (the series was notable in that other than on the cover, the soubriquet “Green Arrow” was never, ever used) prowls his new home dealing harshly with thugs, gangbangers and muggers before heading home to his still-traumatised girlfriend.

Black Canary was tortured for days before Ollie found her and, although the physical wounds have faded, Dinah Lance is still suffering…

She’s not the only one. Police Lieutenant Jim Cameron has just heard that child-torturing sociopath Al Muncie has used his vast beer-dynasty inheritance to buy a retrial after 18 years in prison.

The cops couldn’t get him for murdering all those “missing” kids but one lucky ten year old, after days of appalling torment, escaped and testified so Muncie’s been locked up for aggravated assault ever since. Now the heartbroken cop has to tell that brave survivor she must do it all over again…

The victim grew up to become Dr. Annie Green and she’s working wonders treating Dinah, but the therapist’s own long-suppressed terrors come flooding back when Muncie – despite being in total lockdown in his palatial house on the family brewery estate – somehow hand-delivers a little souvenir of their time together…

On hand when Annie freaks out and flees in panic, Ollie gives chase and finds her once more calm and resigned. On hearing the full story he makes a house-call on the maniac but cannot “dissuade” him from paying Annie another visit that night…

The experienced manhunter is waiting as a masked assailant tries to break in to the doctor’s apartment, but when the intruder shrugs off a steel arrow to the chest Ollie realises something’s not right…

Part Two expands the mystery of how Muncie can get past police guards at will, but by the time the Arrow has convinced the cops to raid Muncie’s den with the solution to the obsessed sociopath’s disappearing act and apparent invulnerability, the killer has already made his move.

Once again however Muncie has underestimated Annie, and her defiance buys Ollie time to intercept the hellbent human beast. After a furious chase back to the brewery the killer meets his fate in a most ironic manner…

A broad change of pace follows as ‘The Champions’ sees Ollie abducted by government spooks and pressganged into competing for a deadly prize. A joint space venture with the Chinese has resulted in a deadly “DNA-programmable” virus being created and, following the sudden destruction of the satellite lab where it was propagated, the only surviving sample has crashed onto remote San Juan Island.

With political allies turned rivals for sole possession of a bio-agent which can be set to kill anything from wheat harvests to black or yellow or white people, overt warfare would only lead to catastrophic publicity, so the political superpowers have agreed to use a gladiatorial bout as the method of deciding ownership.

Ollie has his own reasons for accepting the job. For starters he doesn’t trust any government with the DNA-hunting bug, the agents who drafted him are Russian not American and, most urgently, he has no doubt that he’ll be killed if he refuses to compete…

Equipped with a tracking device, Ollie is dumped on the island as a colossal storm starts, meeting his arrogant opposite getting off the ferry. Former CIA operative Eddie Fyers is an old foe and one of the sneakiest killers on Earth. He convinces Ollie they should work together… before double-crossing and leaving him to bleed out in a blizzard.

The archer is rescued by an archaeologist who has inadvertently picked up the fallen bio-agent pod, but as Ollie argues with his saviour over the wisdom and morality of his mission, her cabin is peppered with gunfire…

Fyers has the upper hand but suffers a sudden change of attitude when a third team ambushes him and his prisoners. It seems neither the Russians or Chinese trusted their champions…

Again forced to team up, spy and vigilante despatch the hit squad but Ollie has the very last word after finding a way to deprive everybody of the bio-sample…

Determined to challenge all manners of social inequity, Grell’s final story in this collection confronted the rise in homosexual prejudice that manifested in the wake of the AIDs crisis.

It begins after two customers leaving Dinah’s flower shop are brutally attacked by kids ordered to “gay-bash” as part of their gang initiation. The horrific crime is further compounded when Ollie discovers that Dinah’s new assistant Colin is not only a bloody-handed perpetrator but also a victim…

The Warhogs are the most powerful gang in the city, but their new induction policy is one the Arrow cannot allow to exist any longer. Any kid refusing to join is mercilessly beaten by a ‘Gauntlet’ of thugs. Those who eagerly volunteer suffer the same treatment as their initiation. And once you’re accepted as a Warhog you still have to prove your loyalty by beating – and preferably killing – a “queer”…

In the shocking conclusion Ollie, having failed to make a dent through any of his usual tactics, goes straight to the top. Big boss Reggie Mandel has big plans for the Warhogs. He’s already made them a national force to be reckoned with, but when he arrives in Seattle to check on his regional deputy Kebo, the Machiavellian schemer is confronted by a nut with a bow challenging him in his own crib…

The Arrow is keen to point out that the strictly local Warhog policy of gay hate-crimes is not only bad for business but is serving someone else’s private agenda. Reggie actually agrees with the vigilante, but before he’s prepared to take appropriate action he expects his verdant petitioner to undergo the same gauntlet any Warhog must survive before being heard…

Terse, sparse scripts, economical and immensely effective illustration and an unfailing eye for engaging controversy make these epic yarns some of the most powerful comic tales American comics ever produced. Compiled here with a cover gallery by Grell (both fully painted and line art), Hannigan & Giordano, this compulsive retooling is an epic masked mystery saga no lover of the genre will want to miss.

© 1988, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium II


By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-907-6

Master cartoonist Rick Geary is a unique presence in both comics and true crime literature. His compelling dissections – in the form of graphic novel reconstructions – of some of the most infamous and groundbreaking murder mysteries since policing began never fail to beguile or entertain.

His unblinking eye has, of late, been examining the last hundred years or so in his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, but Geary first began his graphic assignations with Mankind’s darker aspects in a delicious anthologised tome entitled A Treasury of Victorian Murder in 1987. That initial volume and three of the eight that succeeded it (Jack the Ripper, The Fatal Bullet and The Beast of Chicago) were re-issued in 2012 as a splendidly morbid monochrome deluxe hardback – because, after all, bloody murder is always a black and white affair…

At last, more of his most compelling past triumphs have been gathered into a second blockbusting 400 page black-&-white hardback to delight fans of the genre and, without a shadow of a doubt, make new converts out of the as yet unconvinced…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation with his fascination with the ruthless propensities of humans throughout history, Geary’s forensic eye has scoured police blotters, newspaper archives and even history books to compile more irresistibly infectious social sins and felonious infractions.

Moreover, his unique cartooning style is the perfect medium to convey the starkly factual narratives in a memorable, mordant and undeniably enjoyable manner. Each epic endeavour is accompanied by an Introduction and scholarly Bibliography, with most adaptations also offering splendidly informative maps and diagrams to set the stories firmly in place.

Starting off this catalogue of crime is The Borden Tragedy, dissecting the wealth of details surrounding one of the most infamous – if not mythic – crimes ever perpetrated.

In Fall River, Massachusetts on August 4th 1892, prosperous self-made man Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were found slain inside their own home. Death in both cases was caused by multiple axe blows.

Rather than his later neutral narrative stance, here Geary illustrates the “first-hand account” of an acquaintance of youngest daughter Lizzie Borden who, after much inept investigation and public speculation, was settled upon by the authorities as the likeliest suspect.

The various suppositions, theories, scandals and gossip-points are scrupulously examined as she stands trial for the crimes – a case muddled by a subsequent axe-murder whilst Lizzie was in custody – and follows her through the much-protracted case, past her acquittal to her eventual death in 1927…

The graphic re-enactment is accompanied by a copious photo and text section featuring a wealth of ‘Press Clippings of the Time’ as well as a reproduction of ‘Borden’s Indictment’ and The Boston Advertiser article on her eventual “Not Guilty” verdict. The Mystery of Mary Rogers concerns the assault and murder of a New York City cigar shop girl which mesmerised the citizenry in 1841. Such was the furore that author Edgar Allen Poe appropriated the events for his C. Auguste Lupin tale The Mystery of Marie Roget: a rather unwise move since he knew the deceased and opened himself up to loudly-voiced suspicions of complicity…

The facts are that on the 28th July 1841, a number of well-to do citizens left stifling Manhattan Island for the Jersey Shore and discovered the body of the “Segar Girl” floating in the Hudson; battered, strangled and with her hands tied across her chest.

A hasty autopsy and even quicker inquest, held under insultingly cavalier circumstances, produced no culprits or suspects but somehow managed to throw suspicion on everyone from the men who pulled her out of the water to her drunken suicidal fiancé and even her own mother…

A talking point for all and sundry from the highest society paragon to the lowliest street trash, her death produced ever-more scandalous revelations and groundless lewd rumours – all scrupulously explored by Geary – over the next few years but the case remains unsolved still…

The Saga of the Bloody Benders began in largely unsettled Kansas, in the period immediately following the American Civil War, after a family of German-speaking immigrants settled near the Osage Trail. There they built a General Store-&-Hotel equidistant between the nascent townships of Cherry Vale, Parsons and Thayer.

By the time they vanished four years later, provably ten but probably many, many more travellers and settlers had been robbed and murdered. Thereafter, the insalubrious Benders simply vanished from the sight of man…

Geary, with supreme style and dry wit, presents the facts and the best of the rumours in his inimitable cartoon style to create yet another unforgettable masterpiece of Gothic whimsy.

The Case of Madeleine Smith focused on the true and scandalous secret affair between Emile L’Anglier, a low-born French clerk, and prim, proper, eminently respectable Miss Madeleine Smith, daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant.

The slow poisoning of the Gallic Romeo led to a notorious trial in the 19th century and the eventual verdict shocked everyone and satisfied nobody….

The entrancing chronicle of carnage and venality concludes with the epic account of The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, covering the 62 days from 4th March to May 4th 1865 when actor John Wilkes Booth and a band of like-minded Confederate patriots schemed to murder the President (and other Northern politicians they held responsible for the destruction of the South), and how their wild plot came to startling, implausible fruition…

Following the Inauguration Ceremony for his second Term of Office, the normally fatalistic and security-disparaging President Lincoln was troubled by unease, disquiet and dreams of assassination, possible generated by the sack-full of death threats stored by his Secretary John Hay.

Elsewhere Secessionist sympathiser Booth was planning a blow for revenge and personal immortality but increasingly found his co-conspirators a disappointing bunch. Driven and desperate, he persevered for his cause…

All the many players are scrutinised in Geary’s careful examination and the peculiar circumstances which left Lincoln vulnerable are counterbalanced by insights and minutiae provided into his less-than-fanatical killers.

Only one of the many assassinations planned by the Secessionist cabal came to anything, and following the foul deed, grisly death-watch and post mortem, Geary’s depiction of the bold but inept manhunt which followed is capped by Booth’s satisfyingly dramatic end, leaving nothing but the artist’s masterful summing up to ask the questions nobody has answered yet and leave us all with the certain knowledge that this too is a murder still largely unsolved…

These compelling cold cases are a perfect example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simplistic fantasy entertainment, and such merrily morbid murder masterpieces as these should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.

Such seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing produce an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading: Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry, as much for his style as his subject matter and methodology in telling tales. Always presenting both facts and the theories – contemporary and modern – with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, he attacks criminology’s greatest mysteries with a force and power even Oliver Stone would envy.
© 1997-2007, 2015 Rick Geary.

Black Widow: Kiss or Kill


By Duane Swierczynski, Joe Aherne, Manuel Garcia, Brian Ching, Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bit & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4701-5

The Black Widow started life as a svelte and sultry honey-trap Russian agent during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days. Natalia Romanova was subsequently redesigned as a super villain, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – defecting and finally becoming an agent of SHIELD, freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of the Avengers.

Throughout her career she has been considered efficient, competent, deadly dangerous and somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that she had undergone experimental Soviet procedures which had enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological processes which had messed up her mind and memories…

Always a fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after featuring in the Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers movies, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This particular caper compilation (reprinting Black Widow volume 4 #6-8 spanning November 2010 to January 2011) was the second and final story arc of a short-lived series and includes a riotous team up tale from the Iron Man: Kiss & Kill 1-shot (August 2010).

The espionage elitism opens with the eponymous 3-chapter ‘Kiss or Kill’ by writer Duane Swierczynski, illustrated by Manuel Garcia, Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bit and colourist Jim Charalapidis, as idealistic young journalist and recently bereaved son Nick Crane finds himself the target of two mega-hot, ultra lethal female super-spies in Houston’s club district.

Both of them say they want to save him but each seems far more intent on ending Nick’s life, and in between mercilessly fighting each other and hurtling across the city in a stampede of violent destruction both have demanded that he name his privileged source…

Nick is inclined to believe the blonde called Fatale. After all, he has a surveillance tape of the redhead – the Black Widow – with his father moments before he died…

After his senator dad was found with his brains all over a wall, Nick started digging and uncovered a pattern: a beautiful woman implicated in the deaths of numerous key political figures around the world…

After a staggering battle across the city Natalia is the notional victor but isn’t ready when Nick turns a gun on her. She still goes easy on him and he wakes up some time later in Roanoke, Virginia utterly baffled. She explains she’s on the trail of an organisation devoted to political assassination using a double of her to commit their high profile crimes but the angry young man clearly doesn’t believe her.

Further argument is curtailed by the sudden arrival of an extremely competent Rendition Team who remove them both to a secret US base in Poland. After a terrifying interval the Widow starts thinking that her extreme scheme to get the name out of Nick might be working but that all goes to hell when a third force blasts in and re-abducts them.

Realising that her government liaison is playing for more than one side, the Widow blasts her way out, dragging Nick with her, and soon they are on the run with only her rapidly dwindling and increasingly untrustworthy freelance contacts to protect them.

The escape has however almost convinced Nick to trust her with his source but that moment passes when the latest iteration of Crimson Dynamo and illusion-caster Fantasma derail the train they’re on…

Another explosive confrontation is suddenly cut short when Fatale arrives but rather than assassination she has an alliance in mind. The mysterious mastermind behind the killings and framing the Widow has stopped paying the killer blonde and thus needs to be taught a lesson about honouring commitments…

Now armed with Nick’s contact’s details they go after the enigmatic “Sadko” but the shady operator seems to be one step ahead of them as usual.

But only “seems”…

To Be Continued…

Rounding out this espionage extravaganza ‘Iron Widow’, written by Joe Aherne with art by Brian Ching and colourist Michael Atiyeh from Iron Man: Kiss & Kill, sees the Russian émigré give Avenging inventor Tony Stark a crash course in spycraft after a very special suit of Iron Man armour is stolen.

Fully schooled, the billionaire succeeds too well in locating his missing mech but falls into a terrifying trap set by sinister Sunset Bain and becomes a literal time-bomb pointed at the origin of The Avengers. Luckily Black Widow is on hand to prove skill, ingenuity and guts always trump mere overwhelming power…

A fast and furious, pell-mell, helter-skelter rollercoaster of high-octane intrigue and action, Kiss or Kill also includes a captivating collation of covers-&-variants by Daniel Acuña, J. Scott Campbell, Brian Stelfreeze, Ching & Chris Sotomayor and Stephane Perger, making this such a superb example of genre-blending Costumed Drama that you’d be thoroughly suspect and subject to scrutiny for neglecting it.
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures volumes One & Two


By Alex Toth & anonymous (Eclipse Books)
ISBNs: 0-913035-41-6 and 0-913035-51-3

Alex Toth was a master of graphic communication who shaped two different art-forms and is largely unknown in both of them.

Born in New York in 1928, the son of Hungarian immigrants with a dynamic interest in the arts, Toth was something of a prodigy and after enrolling in the High School of Industrial Arts doggedly went about improving his skills as a cartoonist. His earliest dreams were of a quality newspaper strip like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but his uncompromising devotion to the highest standards soon soured him on newspaper strip work when he discovered how hidebound and innovation-resistant the family values-based industry had become whilst he was growing up.

Aged 15, he sold his first comicbook works to Heroic Comics and after graduating in 1947 worked for All American/National Periodical Publications (who would amalgamate and evolve into DC Comics) on Dr. Mid-Nite, All Star Comics, the Atom, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Sierra Smith, Johnny Peril, Danger Trail and a host of other features. On the way he dabbled with newspaper strips (see Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos) but was disappointed o find nothing had changed…

Continually striving to improve his own work he never had time for fools or formula-hungry editors who wouldn’t take artistic risks. In 1952 Toth quit DC to work for “Thrilling” Pulps publisher Ned Pines who was retooling his prolific Better/Nedor/Pines comics companies (Thrilling Comics, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Black Terror and many more) into Standard Comics: a publishing house targeting older readers with sophisticated, genre-based titles.

Beside fellow graphic masters Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Art Saaf, John Celardo, George Tuska, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and particularly favourite inker Mike Peppe, Toth set the bar high for a new kind of story-telling: wry, restrained and thoroughly mature; in short-lived titles dedicated to War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction and especially Romance.

After Simon and Kirby invented love comics, Standard, through artists like Cardy and Toth and writers like the amazing and unsung Kim Aamodt, polished and honed the genre, turning out clever, witty, evocative and yet tasteful melodramas and heart-tuggers both men and women could enjoy.

Before going into the military, where he still found time to create a strip (Jon Fury for the US army’s Tokyo Quartermaster newspaper The Depot’s Diary) he illustrated 60 glorious tales for Standard; as well as a few pieces for EC and others.

On his return to a different industry – and one he didn’t much like – Toth resettled in California, splitting his time between Western/Dell/Gold Key, such as these Zorro tales and many other movie/TV adaptations, and National (assorted short pieces such as Hot Wheels and Eclipso): doing work he increasingly found uninspired, moribund and creatively cowardly. Eventually he moved primarily into TV animation, designing for shows such as Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman, Shazzan!, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Super Friends among many others.

He returned sporadically to comics, setting the style and tone for DC’s late 1960’s horror line in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and especially The Witching Hour, and illustrating more adult fare for Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and The Rook. He redesigned The Fox for Red Circle/Archie, produced stunning one-offs for Archie Goodwin’s Batman or war comics (whenever they offered him a “good script”) and contributed to landmark or anniversary projects such as Batman: Black and White.

His later, personal works included Torpedo for the European market and the magnificently audacious swashbuckler Bravo for Adventure!

Alex Toth died of a heart attack at his drawing board on May 27th 2006 but before that the kids he’d inspired (mostly comics professionals themselves) sought to redress his shameful anonymity with a number of retrospectives and comics compilations. One of the first and best was this Eclipse Books twin set, gathering his many tales for Dell featuring Disney’s TV iteration of the prototypical masked avenger.

In 2013, Hermes Press released a lavish complete volume in full colour but, to my mind, these black and white books (grey-toned, stripped down and redrawn by the master himself) are the definitive vision and the closest to what Toth originally intended, stripped of all the obfuscating quibbles and unnecessary pictorial fripperies imposed upon his dynamic vision by legions of writing committees, timid editors and Disney franchising flacks.

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in the All-Story Weekly for August 6th and ran until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ in All-Story Weekly on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (resulting in 78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961) the ongoing comics series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This superb set reproduces the tales produced by Toth for Dell Comics; firstly as part of the monumental try-out series Four-Color (issues #882, 920, 933, 960, 976 & 1003), and thereafter as a proven commodity with his own title – of which the restless Toth only drew #12. Other artists on the series included Warren Tufts, Mel Keefer and John Ushler and the Dell series was subsequently relaunched in January 1966 under the Gold Key imprint, reprinting (primarily) the Toth drawn material in a 9-issue run than lasted until March 1968.

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures Volume One opens with an effusive and extremely moving ‘Introduction by Howard Chaykin’ before steaming straight into the timeless wonder, but I thought that perhaps a brief note on the scripts might be sensible here.

As part of Disney’s license the company compelled Dell to concentrate on adapting already-aired TV episodes complete with florid, overblown dialogue and stagy, talking head shots which Toth struggled mightily – and against increasingly heated resistance from writers and editors – to pare down and liven up. Under such circumstances it’s a miracle that the strips are even palatable, but they are in fact some of the best adventure comics of the practically superhero-free 1950s.

Sadly, all the covers were photo-shots of actor Guy Williams in character so even that graphic outlet was denied Toth – and us…

One bonus however is that the short, filler stories used to supplement the screen adaptations were clearly generated in-house with fewer restrictions, so here Toth’s brilliance shines through…

The origin and set-up for the series came with Four-Color #882 (February 1958) in ‘Presenting Señor Zorro’. Retelling the first episode of the TV show, it introduces dashing swordsman Don Diego De La Vega, returning from Spain in 1820 to his home in Pueblo De Los Angeles in answer to a letter telling of injustice, corruption and tyranny…

With mute servant Bernardo – who pretends to be also deaf and acts as his perfect spy amongst the oppressors – Diego determines to assume the role of a spoiled and cowardly fop whilst creating the masked identity of El Zorro “the Fox” to overthrow wicked military commander and de facto dictator Capitan Monastario.

Shrugging off the clear disappointment of his father Don Alejandro, Diego does nothing when their neighbour IgnacioNachoTorres is arrested on charges of treason but that night a masked figure in black spectacularly liberates the political prisoner and conveys him to relative safety and legal sanctuary at the Mission of San Gabriel

The second TV instalment became the closing chapter of that first comicbook as ‘Zorro’s Secret Passage’ finds Monastario suspicious that Zorro is a member of the De La Vega household and stakes the place out. When the Commandante then accuses another man of being the Fox, Diego uses the underground passages beneath his home to save the innocent victim and confound the dictator…

Four-Color #920 (June 1958) adapted the third and fourth TV episodes, beginning with “Zorro Rides to the Mission” which became ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part One’ as Monastario discovers where Nacho Torres is hiding and surrounds the Mission. Unable to convince his lancers to break the sacred bounds of Sanctuary, the tyrant settles in for a siege and ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part Two’ sees him fabricate an Indian uprising to force his way in. Sadly for the military martinet Diego has convinced his bumbling deputy Sergeant Demetrio Garcia that the Mission is haunted by a mad monk…

Despite appearing only quarterly, Zorro stories maintained the strict continuity dictated by the weekly TV show. “Garcia’s Secret Mission” became ‘Garcia’s Secret’ in Four-Color #933 (September 1958) and saw Monastario apparently throw his flunky out of the army in a cunning plot to capture the Fox. Once again the ruse was turned against the connivers and El Capitan was again humiliated.

The last half of the issue saw a major plot development, however, as TV instalment “The Fall of Monastario” became ‘The King’s Emissary’ wherein the Commandante tries to palm off ineffectual Diego as Zorro to impress the Viceroy of California only to find himself inexplicably exposed, deposed and arrested…

The rest of this initial outing comprises a quartet of short vignettes commencing with ‘A Bad Day for Bernardo’ (Four-Color #920) wherein the unlucky factotum endures a succession of mishaps as he and Zorro search for a missing señorita and almost scotch her plans to elope, whilst Four-Color #933 provided the tale of youngster Manuelo, who ran away to become ‘The Little Zorro’. Happily Diego is able to convince the lad that school trumps heroism… in this case…

In ‘The Visitor’ (Four-Color #960, December 1958) Diego and Bernardo find a baby on their doorstep and help the mother to free her husband from jail before the volume concludes with ‘A Double for Diego’ (Four-Color #976, March 1959) wherein Sgt. Garcia – now in temporary charge of Los Angeles – seeks Diego’s help to capture Zorro, necessitating the wily hero trying to be in two places at once…

Zorro Volume Two leads off with ‘A Foreword’s Look Back and Askance’ by Alex Toth, who self-deprecatingly recaps his life and explains his artistic philosophy, struggles with Dell’s editors and constant battle to turn the anodyne goggle-box crusader back into the dark and flamboyant swashbuckler of the Mamoulian movie…

Four-Color #960 (December 1958) has TV tales “The Eagle’s Brood” and “Zorro by Proxy” transformed into visual poetry when a would-be conqueror targets Los Angeles as part of a greater scheme to seize control of California. With new Capitan Toledano despatched to seek out a vast amount of stolen gunpowder, ‘The Eagle’s Brood’ infiltrate the town, sheltered by a traitor at the very heart of the town’s ruling elite…

Made aware of the seditious plot, Zorro moves carefully against the villains, foiling their first attempt to take over and learning the identity of an untouchable traitor…

The saga resumed and concluded in ‘Gypsy Warning’ (Four-Color #976, adapting “Quintana Makes a Choice” and “Zorro Lights a Fuse”) as Zorro foils a plot to murder pro tem leader Garcia and stumbles into the final stages of the invasion of Santa Barbara, San Diego, Capistrano and Los Angeles…

With The Eagle temporarily defeated, short back-up ‘The Enchanted Bell’ (Four-Color #1003, June 1959) sees Zorro prevent the local tax collector confiscating a prized bell beloved by the region’s Indians to prevent a possible uprising, after which the lead story from the same issue details how ‘The Marauders of Monterey’ (adapting “Welcome to Monterey” and “Zorro Rides Alone”) lure officials from many settlements with the promise of vitally needed supplies and commodities before robbing them.

Sadly for them, Los Angeles sent the astute but effete Don Diego to bid for the goods and he had his own solutions for fraud and banditry…

After more than a year away Toth returned for one last hurrah as ‘The Runaway Witness’ (Zorro #12, December 1960/February 1961) found the Fox chasing a frightened flower-girl all over the countryside. Justice rather than romance was on his mind as he sought to convince her to testify against a powerful man who had murdered his business partner… This stunning masterclass in comics excellence concludes with ‘Friend Indeed’ from the same issue wherein Zorro plays one of his most imaginative tricks on Garcia, allowing the hero to free a jail full of political prisoners…

Full-bodied, captivating and beautifully realised, these immortal adventures of a global icon are something no fan of adventure comics and thrilling stories should be without.
Zorro ® and © Zorro Productions. Stories and artwork © 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961Walt Disney Productions This edition © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc.