The Light and Darkness War


By Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-180-8

During the 1980s the American comics scene enjoyed an astounding proliferation of new titles and companies in the wake of the creation of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers able to firm-sale straight to retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised vendors, the industry was able to support less generic titles and creators could experiment without losing their shirts.

In response Marvel Comics developed a line of creator-owned properties at the height of the subsequent publishing explosion, launching a number of idiosyncratic, impressive series in a variety of formats under the watchful, canny eye of Editor Archie Goodwin. The delightfully disparate line was dubbed Epic Comics and the results reshaped the industry.

One of the most evocative releases was a darkly compelling war/fantasy/science fiction serial with a beautifully simple core concept: Valhalla is real and forever…

Conceived and created by author, poet and comics scribe Tom Veitch (Legion of Charlies, Antlers in the Treetops, Animal Man, Star Wars: Dark Empire) and Cam Kennedy (Fighting Mann, Judge Dredd, Batman, Star Wars: Dark Empire) The Light and Darkness War originally ran from October 1988 to September 1989, just as that period of exuberant creative freedom was giving way to a marketplace dominated by reductive exploitation led by speculators.

Because of that downturn, this fantastic saga of martial pride and redemption through valiant service in the Great Beyond never really got the popular acclaim it deserved, hopefully something this glorious hardback retrospective compilation from Titan Comics will belatedly address…

Following heartfelt reminiscences and an appreciation in the ‘Foreword by Commander Mike Beidler, USN, Retired’ the astounding fable introduces paraplegic Vietnam war veteran Lazarus Jones, a broken, troubled warrior for whom the fighting never ended.

Home when he should have died with his inseparable friends, plagued with red-hot memories of beloved comrades lost when their Huey went down, by 1978 the wheelchair-bound wreck of a man is in a most parlous state.

Shattered by what will one day be designated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Laz cannot help making life hell for his devoted wife Chris. His miserable existence takes an even darker turn when Jones begins seeing visions of long-gone Huff, Slaw and Engle all calling him to join them.

A little later when Chris’ car crashes, Laz is severely hurt and left in a coma he might never awake from…

Elsewhere on the other side of Eternity, a shadowy shape speaks to Lazarus offering a choice: he can go back or he can join his long-departed brothers …

And thus begins a fantastic adventure as the half-man is restored to perfect health and reunited with those who know him best. The catch is that this afterlife is like nothing any holy book ever promised. It’s a vast cosmos of painful, unrelenting physicality where strange alien species commingle and Earth’s dead continue much as they had before.

Pilots steer gunships – albeit flying ones made of stone and levitated by little blue aliens called “menteps” – Leonardo da Vinci carries on inventing weapons for powerful lords and soldiers from every era have one more chance to serve and die…

Miraculously and joyously restored, Laz eagerly rejoins Engle, Slaw and Huff in the only thing he was ever good at. Manning a flying boat armed with light-powered weapons he becomes part of a vast force perpetually defying an unimaginable wave of invading evil from the Outer Darkness.

It’s a war with no overall plan or envisaged endgame, just eternal conflict, but recently a dark lord named Na has risen to the foremost rank of the “Deadsiders” and the legions of night seem to be gaining an advantage in the never-ending conflict fought on a million planets and a billion fronts…

For five hundred years however the genius da Vinci has created weapons that have checked the rapid advance and held the invaders to a tenuous stalemate, but Deadsiders are tirelessly patient and resort to inexorably taking worlds one at a time.

But now a novel event has taken place. Although Lazarus has happily enlisted in the army of Light comprised of those who died in battle on Earth, on the other side of the sky his body is still alive…

Stationed on besieged world Black Gate, Laz and the “Light Gang” are unable to prevent libidinous Lord Na from infiltrating and overcoming the planetary defences, but at least they save Governor Nethon’s daughter Lasha from becoming the conqueror’s latest power-supplying plaything.

Although gradually winning the war for the dark, Na is impatient for a faster outcome. To achieve that end he had his necromancers rediscover an ancient, long-forgotten way to contact the Earth realm and dupes millionaire arms-dealer and devout Satanist Niles Odom into creating a device to physically bridge the dimensions.

Na’s wishes are simple; he wants earthly particle weapons, rail guns, atom bombs…

The unwitting dupe building Odom’s bridge is Nicky Tesla, a brilliant physicist whose intellect rivals that of his dead uncle Nikola, the wizard of electricity who once astounded the world.

With his clairvoyant girlfriend Delpha little Nicky has used his uncle’s old researches to complete an inter-realm gate for crazy-rich Odom, but when an army of zombies come through it and abduct him and Delpha nobody is prepared for what follows.

As the scientists are dragged across into an impossible world where Uncle Nikola is alive again, Laz and the Light Gang – following in Na’s wake – explosively head the other way…

They soon find themselves trapped on their birth-world, just as whole and hale as the day they died… and where Jones still languishes somewhere in a hospital bed.

With all the Afterworlds at stake they have no choice but to fight their way back to the War again…

Also included in this gloriously fulsome chronicle is a sketch-&-developmental art ‘Background Briefing’ by Veitch & Kennedy, discussing the Underground Comic origins and antecedents of the story as well as the history, physics and metaphysics of the Light and Darkness War and a potent overview and personal recollection from Stephen R. Bissette, ‘Endless War: The Life, Loss and Afterlife of Lazarus Jones’.

Fast paced, suspenseful, astonishingly imaginative and utterly beautiful to behold, the complex tale of Laz’s team and their struggle, how two generations of Tesla reshape a war that has been waged forever, and how in the end only love and devotion can battle overwhelming evil is a masterpiece of graphic endeavour and one no lover of fantasy fiction should miss.
The Light and Darkness War is ™ and © 2015 Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy. All rights reserved.

Essential Werewolf By Night volume 2


By Doug Moench & Don Perlin with Bill Mantlo, Virgil Redondo, Yong Montaño, Frank Robbins & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2725-3

As Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in 1970, in the wake of losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators – Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby – they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was an en bloc wave of horror titles rapidly devised in response to an industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales. The move was handily expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (plus narcotics and bent coppers – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of 1950s pre-code reprints made sound business sense (so they repackaged a bunch of those too) the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always the watch-word was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be incorporated into the mix as soon as possible.

When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of scary superstars – beginning with a werewolf and traditional vampire – before chancing something new via a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the supernatural zeitgeist.

Werewolf By Night debuted in Marvel Spotlight #2 (preceded by masked western hero Red Wolf in #1, and followed by the afore-hinted Ghost Rider) although the title, if not the character, was actually cribbed from a classic short thriller from pre-Code horror anthology Marvel Tales #116 (July 1953).

Marvel had a long-time tradition of using old (and presumably already copyrighted) names and titles when creating new series and characters. Hulk, Thor, Magneto, Doctor Strange and many others all got notional starts as throwaways before being re-imagined as major characters…

This copious compendium compiles and completes in moody monochrome the remaining adventures of a good-hearted young West Coast lycanthrope who briefly shone as an unlikely star for the entire length of a trading trend, gathering between two soft covers Werewolf By Night volume 1 #22-45, Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #2-5, and a strange team tryout from Marvel Premiere #28 collectively spanning October 1974 to March 1977.

Jack Russell is a teenager with a thankfully rare but very disturbing condition. On her deathbed his mother revealed unsuspected Transylvanian origins to the kid: and explained a family curse which would turn him into a raging beast on every night with a full moon… as soon as he reached his 18th birthday.

After many months of misunderstanding as Jack tried to cope alone with his periodic wild side, Jack’s stepfather Philip Russell expanded the story, revealing how the Russoff line was cursed by the taint of Lycanthopy: every child doomed to become a wolf-thing under the full-moon from the moment they reached eighteen.

Moreover the feral blight would do the same to his little sister Lissa when she reached her own majority…

As the lad tried and repeatedly failed to balance a normal life with his monthly cycle of uncontrollable ferocity he met his mentor and confidante Buck Cowan, an aging writer who had became Jack’s best friend when the pair began to jointly investigate the wolf-boy’s history. Their incessant search for a cure was made more urgent by little Lissa’s ever-encroaching 18th birthday.

In the course of their researches they had crossed swords with many monsters – human and otherwise – including off-the-rails cop Lou Hackett, who had been going increasingly crazy in his hunt for a werewolf nobody believed in, and fellow lycanthrope Raymond Coker who had found a shocking remedy. For one werewolf to lift his curse he/she had to kill another one…

Written entirely by Doug Moench and pencilled for most of the run by the criminally underrated Don Perlin, the midnight mysteries resume here with the Vince Colletta inked Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #2 where ‘The Frankenstein Monster meets Werewolf by Night’.

Roaming the streets of New York in ‘Prisoners of Flesh!’, the massive mute monster hops a freight train west after overhearing of a mystic named Danton Valya who can transplant souls into new bodies…

He arrives in Los Angeles just as Jack Russell discovers his sister has been abducted by Valya’s Satanist cult ‘To Host the Beast’ and cataclysmically clashes with the monster who has only to let the diabolists sacrifice the werewolf and Lissa to gain his heart’s desire.

Tragically the noble artificial man has more compassion than the cultists and prefers his own sorry existence to benefiting from ‘The Flesh of Satan’s Hate!’

Werewolf By Night #22 (Moench, Perlin & Colletta) introduced a crazed murderer dubbed Atlas who stalks and slays many of Buck’s movie friends. However when Russell’s hairy Other encounters the ‘Face of the Fiend!’, Atlas beats the beast unconscious and in the morning light Jack is arrested for the latest murder…

Lieutenant Vic Northrup was a good friend of the deceased Hackett and knows Russell is hiding something, but eventually has to release him for lack of evidence. Picking Jack up from the station Buck reveals he has gleaned the inside story of Atlas and his own historical involvement in the story, only to become the next victim…

However, the werewolf is on hand when he strikes and the battle explodes into LA’s streets where disbelieving cops had to admit that ‘The Murderer is a Maniac!’

In #24 Buck introduces Jack to fringe scientist Winston Redditch who claims to have chemically isolated the constituents of the human psyche and thus might be able to suppress Jack’s periodic bestial outbursts. Sadly the boffin accidentally tries the serum himself first and unleashes ‘The Dark Side of Evil!’

The remorseless thug he becomes calls himself DePrayve and fights the werewolf to a standstill, giving Northrup an opportunity to capture the hirsute “urban legend” which has stalked the city and drove Hackett crazy…

From WBN #25 the art took a quantum leap in quality as Perlin – already co-plotting the stories – began inking his own art. When the beast busts out of custody ‘An Eclipse of Evil’ finds Redditch turning his warped attention to the lycanthrope as a potential guinea pig for further experimentation, only for both the feral fury and dastardly DePrayve to be targeted by deranged vigilante and “protector of purity” The Hangman

The horrific three-way clash resulted in ‘A Crusade of Murder’ with Redditch hospitalised, the vicious vigilante in custody and battered, bloody but unbowed Jack still free and cursed…

Eschewing chronological order for the sake of unbroken continuity-clarity, January’s Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #3 pops up here and reveals a ‘Castle Curse!’ (inked by Sal Trapani) which sees Jack return to Transylvania after receiving a monster-infested vision of former love interest – and psionic powerhouse – Topaz in ‘Spawned in Dream… Slain in Nightmare!’

Jack drags Buck and Lissa ‘Home to Slay!’ in the Balkans, finding the old family home under siege by pitchfork-wielding villagers who have all their worst fears confirmed when he goes hairy and gets hungry, before finally tracking down Topaz in the care – and custody – of a gypsy matriarch with an agenda of her own.

The blood-crazed old witch has a tragic connection to the Russoff line and was exploiting Topaz’s restored powers to enact a grisly ‘Vengeance in Death!’ upon the villagers by raising an army of zombies. The chain of events she set in motion could only end in death…

Werewolf By Night #27 (March 1975) began a chilling and fantastic extended saga with the introduction of ‘The Amazing Doctor Glitternight’. Back in the USA Jack’s feral alter ego runs loose on the isolated Californian coast and is drawn to a cave where a bizarre wizard is making monsters from what appears to be fragments of Topaz’s soul…

The eerie mage is hunting for Topaz’s dead stepfather Taboo and will not be gainsaid, even after Jack’s uncontrollable were-beast slaughters his eldritch masterpiece…

The mage intensifies his campaign in ‘The Darkness from Glitternight’ heaping horrors upon Jack and friends before capturing Lissa on her birthday and using dark magic to turn her from simple werewolf into ‘A Sister of Hell’

The ghostly reappearance of Taboo proves a turning point as wolf battles hellbeast and everybody clashes with Glitternight before a ‘Red Slash Across Midnight’ seemingly results in a cure for one of the tortured Russell clan…

April’s Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #4 offers a long-delayed clash with living vampire Morbius beginning with ‘A Meeting of Blood’ (Moench & Virgil Redondo) as the former biologist tracks his old girlfriend Martine and discovers a cure for his own exsanguinary condition.

Unfortunately the chase brings him into savage and inconclusive combat with a certain hairy hellion and the solution is lost…

Also in that double-sized issue was Moench & Yong Montaño’s ‘When the Moon Dripped Blood!’ wherein Jack and Buck stumble across a group of rural loons all too successfully summoning a ghastly elder god. Although great at consuming and converting human offerings and acolytes, the appalling atrocity is seemingly no match for a ravening ball of furious fangs and claws…

Werewolf By Night #31 (July 1975) was a turning point as ‘Death in White’ (Moench & Perlin) has Jack plumb depths of utter despair after a skiing weekend turns into a nightmare when the werewolf stalks a little girl and Buck nearly dies trying to save her.

With the same cover-date and catching up at last, Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #5 shifted into full-on fantasy mode. Illustrated by Montaño, ‘Prologue: I Werewolf’ recaps Jack’s peculiar problems before ‘The Plunder of Paingloss’ discloses how the leaders of dimensional realm Biphasia – permanently polarised between night and day – instigate a ‘Bad Deal with the Devil’s Disciple’ on Earth when demonist Joaquin Zairre kidnaps the werewolf…

Dispatching the beast though a ‘Doorway of the Dark Waters’, Jack is soon a pawn in a sorcerous war where ‘Fragile Magic’ on the world of light and darkness allows him and his allies to raid the ‘The Ark of Onom-Kra’ and expose a secret tyrant in ‘Silver Rain, Sardanus and Shadow’

Returned to the real world Werewolf By Night #32 (August 1975) introduces mercenary Marc Spector who is hired by criminal capitalists, equipped with a silver-armoured costume and weapons and tasked with capturing Russell or his animal other as ‘…The Stalker Called Moon Knight’ (Moench & Don Perlin with the assistance of Howie Perlin).

The bombastic battle and its ferocious sequel ‘Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight’ received an unprecedented response and quickly promoted the lunar avenger to prominence as Marvel’s edgy answer to the Batman: especially after the mercurial merc rejected his employers entreaties and let the wolf, as well as hostages Lissa and Topaz, run free…

Next up is a uniquely odd attempt to create a team of terrors. Marvel Premiere #28 (February 1976) introduced The Legion of Monsters in ‘There’s a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!’ by Bill Mantlo, Frank Robbins & Steve Gan.

When an ancient alien manifested a rocky peak in LA, the werewolf, Man-Thing, Morbius and Ghost Rider were drawn into a bizarre confrontation which might have resulted in the answer to all their wishes and hopes, but instead only lead to death and disappointment…

Werewolf By Night #34 (October 1975, Moench & Perlin) began another eerie suspense thriller as Jack, Lissa, Topaz and Buck’s girlfriend Elaine Marston braved a haunted house in search of cure for Cowan’s werewolf-caused coma.

Elaine had lost her first husband to the doomed domicile and it took a lot to bring her back. That triggering event is the dying Buck muttering the name of deceased spiritualist Belaric Marcosa who apparently still roamed the hell-house where ‘Not All the Shades of Death nor Evil’s Majesty’ could rein in his sadistic games…

Braving the unknown the terrified quartet fetched up to the mansion and were soon enduring ‘Evil in Every Stone, No Longer Hiding’; becoming enmired in a war between ‘Marcosa in Death’ and the spirits of the many victims he had tortured and destroyed.

Their horrific psychological ordeal eventually results in victory for Jack and his companions as ‘The End’ produces a miraculous recovery in the dying Buck and the cessation of Marcosa’s phantom depredations…

WBN #38 took a sharp change of direction as Jack exiled himself to the wilderness only to stumble on a desperate fugitive fighting to save his baby from a murderous gangster who had taken up with his former wife. In the midst of such mundane matters Jack is visited by a trinity of infinite beings who threaten to alter his existence forever and ominously warn that ‘Rebirth Also Kills’

The celestial visitants are also in touch with former werewolf Raymond Coker as he squats in a hut in distant Haiti and even appear to Lissa and Topaz as they tend the still recuperating Buck.

The “Three Who Are All” are subtly ensuring all the players are in place for a game of cosmic consequences and in #39 when Jack races back to his friend he finds Coker and mystic troubleshooter Brother Voodoo waiting. No sooner are introductions made than an army of zuvembies attack and Russell learns that ‘Some are Born to the Night’

Portentous proclamations of unfulfilled destinies propel the adventurers and Topaz back to Haiti where obsessed Vic Northrup is still looking for answers to Lou Hackett’s death. Ahead of them all is an infernal pit nurturing a shocking travesty of life with the resurrected Glitternight in charge of all the ‘Souls in Darkness’

Revealed in WBN #41 as a former member of the gestalt which was once “Five Who Are All”, Glitternight’s fascination with monster-making is at last explained as the arcane abomination’s attempts to dominate reality are spectacularly thwarted through the return of the missing fourth celestial as well as the indomitable resistance of Brother Voodoo and Jack in ‘…And Death Shall be the Change’.

Key to their eventual triumph is the moment when Russell discovers how to become a werewolf in full control of his mental faculties; at will, day or night…

Returning to America, the Werewolf-by-Choice naturally decides to become a superhero and moves to New York in time to stumble onto a plot by the Masked Marauder. Also on scene is a certain Armoured Avenger and, after the usual misunderstandings, Jack is shaggy knees-deep in trouble with ‘The Marauder and the Man of Iron’

The tale, the series and this essential edition all conclude with Werewolf By Night #43 as ensorcelled fang-&-claw unite with high-tech wizardry to destroy an awesome animalistic automaton and end the ‘Terrible Threat of the Tri-Animan’

Despite the rather lame and ill-considered attempt to reinvent the series at the last, this moody masterpiece of macabre menace and all-out animal action covers some of the most under-appreciated magic moments and terror tales in Marvel history: tense, suspenseful and solidly compelling.

If you must have a mixed bag of lycanthropes, bloodsuckers, aliens, masked mystery men and moody young misses – this is a far more entertaining mix than most modern movies, books or miscellaneous matter…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore – DC Comics Classic Library


By Denny O’Neil, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2085-3

Superman is the comicbook crusader who started the whole genre and in the decades since his debut in 1938 has probably undertaken every kind of adventure imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this hardback commemoration of one his greatest extended adventures originally released just as comics fandom was becoming a powerful – if headless – lobbying force reshaping the industry to its own specialised desires .

When Julie Schwartz took over the editorial duties of the Man of Steel in 1970, he was expected to shake things up with nothing less than spectacular results. To that end he incorporated many key characters and events that were developing as part of fellow iconoclast Jack Kirby’s freshly unfolding “Fourth World”.

That bold experiment was a breathtaking tour de force of cosmic wonderment which introduced a staggering new universe to fans; instantly and permanently changing the way DC Comics were perceived and how the entire medium could be received.

Schwartz was simultaneously breathing fresh life into the all-powerful but moribund Superman franchise and his creative changes were just appearing in 1971. The new direction was also the vanguard and trigger for a wealth of controversial and socially challenging material unheard of since the feature’s earliest days: a wave of tales described as “relevant”…

Here the era and those changes are described and contextualised – after ‘A Word from the Publisher’ – in Paul Levitz’s ‘Introduction’ after which the first radical shift in Superman’s vast mythology begins to unfold.

With iconic covers by Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson this titanic tome collects Superman #233-238 and #240-242, originally running from January to September 1971.

Almost all the groundbreaking extended epic was crafted by scripter Denny O’Neil, veteran illustrator Curt Swan and inker Murphy Anderson – although stand-in Dick Giordano inked #240. The willing and very public abandonment of super-villains, Kryptonian scenarios and otherworldly paraphernalia instantly revitalised the Man of Tomorrow and began a period of superb human-scaled stories which made him a “must-buy” character all over again.

The innovations began in ‘Superman Breaks Loose’ (Superman #233) when a government experiment to harness the energy of Kryptonite goes explosively wrong. Closely monitoring the test, the Action Ace is blasted across the desert surrounding the isolated lab but somehow survives the supposedly fatal radiation-bath.

In the aftermath reports start to filter in from all over Earth: every piece of the deadly green mineral has been transformed to common iron…

As he goes about his protective, preventative patrols, the liberated hero experiences an emotional high at the prospect of all the good he can do now and isn’t even phased when the Daily Planet’s new owner Morgan Edge (a key Kirby character) shakes up his civilian life: summarily ejecting Clark Kent from the print game and overnight remaking him into a roving TV journalist…

Meanwhile in the deep desert, the site of his recent crashlanding offers a moment of deep foreboding when Superman’s irradiated imprint in the sand shockingly grows solid and shambles away in ghastly parody of life…

The resurgent suspense resumes in #234’s ‘How to Tame a Wild Volcano!’ as an out-of-control plantation owner refuses to let his indentured native workforce flee an imminent eruption.

Handicapped by misused international laws, the Man of Tomorrow can only fume helplessly as the UN rushes towards a diplomatic solution, but his anxiety is intensified when the sinister sand-thing inadvertently passes him and agonisingly drains him of his mighty powers.

Crashing to Earth in a turbulent squall storm the de-powered hero is attacked by bossman Boysie Harker’s thugs and instantly responds to the foolish provocation, relying for a change on determination rather than overwhelming might to save the day…

The ‘Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp’ in #235 gave way to weirder ways (the industry was enjoying a periodic revival of interest in supernatural themes and stories) as mystery musician Ferlin Nyxly reveals that the secret of his impressive and ever-growing aptitudes is a archaic artefact which steals gifts, talents and even Superman’s abilities.

The Man of Steel is initially unaware of the drain as he’s trying to communicate with his eerily silent dusty doppelganger, but once Nyxly graduates to a full-on raving super-menace dubbed Pan, the taciturn homunculus unexpectedly joins its living template in trouncing the power thief…

The next issue offered a science fictional morality play as cherubic aliens seek Superman’s assistance in defeating a band of devils and rescuing Clark Kent’s best friends from Hell. However the ‘Planet of the Angels’ proves to be nothing of the kind and the Caped Kryptonian has to pull out all the stops to save Earth from a very real Armageddon…

Superman #237 has the Metropolis Marvel save an astronaut only to see him succumb to a madness-inducing mutative disease. After another destructive confrontation with the sand-thing further debilitates him, the harried hero is present when more mortals fall to the contagion and, believing himself the cause and an uncontrollable ‘Enemy of Earth’, considers quarantining himself to space…

As he is deciding Lois Lane stumbles into another lethal situation and Superman’s instinctive intervention seemingly confirms his earlier diagnosis, but another clash with his always-close sandy simulacrum on the edge of space heralds an incredible truth.

Pathetically debilitated, Superman nevertheless saves Lois and again meets the ever-more human creature. Now able to speak, it gives a chilling warning and the Man of Steel realises exactly what it is taking from him and what it might become…

A mere shadow of his former self, the Man of Tomorrow is unable to prevent a band of terrorists taking over a magma-tapping drilling rig and endangering the entire Earth in #238’s ‘Menace at 1000 Degrees’.

With Lois one of a number of hostages and the madmen threatening to detonate a nuke in the pipeline, he desperately begs his doppelganger to assist him, before its cold rejection forces the depleted hero to take the biggest gamble of his life…

Superman #239 was an all-reprint giant featuring the Action Ace in his incalculably all-powerful days – and thus not included here – but the much-reduced Caped Kryptonian returned in #240 (Giordano inks) to confront his own lessened state and seek a solution in ‘To Save a Superman’.

The trigger was his inability to extinguish a tenement fire and the wider world’s realisation that their unconquerable champion was now vulnerable and fallible…

Especially interested were his old enemies in the Anti-Superman Gang who immediately allocated all their resources to destroying their nemesis. After one particularly close call Clark is visited by an ancient Asian sage who somehow knows of his other identity and offers an unconventional solution…

From 1968 onwards superhero comics began to decline and publishers sought new ways to keep audience as tastes changed. Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales, and if you weren’t popular, you died.

Editor Jack Miller, innovating illustrator Mike Sekowsky and relatively new scripter Denny O’Neil stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of funnybook history with the only female superhero then in the marketplace.

They revealed that the almighty mystical Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, and took with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons…

Reduced to mere humanity she opted to stay on Earth, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, resolved to fighting injustice as a mortal. Tutored by blind Buddhist monk I Ching she trained as a martial artist, and quickly became a formidable enemy of contemporary evil.

Now this same I Ching claims to be able to repair Superman’s difficulties and dwindling might, but evil eyes are watching. Arriving clandestinely, Superman allows the adept to remove all his Kryptonian powers as a precursor to restoring them, allowing the A-S Gang the perfect opportunity to strike.

In the resultant melee the all too human hero triumphs in the hardest fight of his life…

The saga continues with “Swan-derson” back on the art in #241 as Superman overcomes a momentary but nearly overwhelming temptation to surrender his oppressive burden and lead a normal life…

Admonished and resolved he then submits to Ching’s resumed remedy ritual and finds his spirit soaring to where the sand-being lurks before explosively reclaiming the stolen powers. Leaving the golem a shattered husk, the phantom brings the awesome energies back to their true owner and a triumphant hero returns to saving the world…

Over the next few days however it becomes clear that something has gone wrong. The Man of Tomorrow has become arrogant, erratic and unpredictable, acting rashly, overreacting and even making stupid mistakes.

In her boutique Diana Prince discusses the problem with Ching and the sagacious teacher soon deduces that during his time of mere mortality whilst fighting the gangsters, Superman received a punishing blow to the head. Clearly it has resulted in brain injury that did not heal when his powers returned…

When the hero refuses to listen to them Diana and Ching have no choice but to track down the dying sand-thing and request its aid. Ching recognises it as a formless creature from the other-dimensional realm of Quarrm and listens to the amazing story of its entrance into our world. He also suggests a way for it to regain some of what it recently lost…

Superman meanwhile has blithely gone about his deranged business until savagely attacked by the possessed and animated statue of a Chinese war-demon. Also able to steal his power, this fugitive from Quarrm has no conscience and wears ‘The Shape of Fear!

The staggering saga concludes in ‘The Ultimate Battle’ as the Quarrmer briefly falls under the away of a brace of brutal petty thugs who put the again de-powered Superman into hospital…

Rushed into emergency surgery the Kryptonian fights for his life as the sand-thing fights the war-demon in the streets, but events take a bizarre turn once the latter drives off its foe and turns towards the hospital to finish off the flesh-&-blood Superman.

Recovering consciousness – and a portion of his power – the Metropolis Marvel battles the beast to a standstill but needs the aid of his silicon stand-in to drive the thing back beyond the pale…

With the immediate threat ended Man of Steel and Man of Sand face each other one last time, each determined to ensure his own existence no matter the cost…

The stunning conclusion was a brilliant stroke on the part of the creators, one which left Superman approximately half the man he used to be. Of course all too soon he returned to his unassailable, god-like power levels but never lost the tension-free smug assurance of his 1950s-1960s self.

A fresh approach, snappy dialogue and more terrestrial, human-scaled concerns to shade the outrageous implausible fantasy elements, wedded to gripping plots and sublime artwork make Kryptonite Nevermore! One of the very best Superman sagas ever created

Also included here is the iconic ‘House Ad’ by Swan & Vince Colletta which proclaimed the big change throughout the DC Universe and a thoughtful ‘Afterword by Denny O’Neil’ wraps things up with some insights and reminiscences every lover of the medium will appreciate.
© 1971, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 2


By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, Ron Wilson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2173-3

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was an en bloc creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority mandates.

The concept of team-up books – an established star joining or battling (frequently both) less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those halcyon simpler times editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Nevertheless Marvel Team-Up was the second official Spider-Man title (an abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the more respectable – and expensive – magazine market in 1968 but folded after two issues) when it launched in March 1972, and immediately began bucking the downward trend for costumed crusaders.

Spanning September 1974 to November 1976, this second Essentially mammoth monochrome compilation gathers the turbulent collaborations from Marvel Team-Up #25-51 plus a crossover tale from Marvel Two-In-One # 17 and opens with ‘Three into Two Won’t Go!’ (by Len Wein, Jim Mooney & Frank Giacoia) as Daredevil joins the Wondrous Wallcrawler in thrashing inept costumed kidnappers Cat-Man, Bird-Man and Ape-Man, after which MTU #26 finds the Torch and Thor battling to save the world from Lava Men in ‘The Fire This Time…’ by Wein, Mooney, Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

At this time, in a desperate effort to build some internal continuity into the perforce brutally brief encounters, the scripter introduced a shadowy trio of sinister observers with an undisclosed agenda who would monitor superhero episodes and eventually be revealed as providers of outrageous technologies for many of the one-shot villains who came and went so quickly…

They weren’t involved when the Chameleon framed Spider-Man (again) and tricked the Hulk into freeing a man from the New York Men’s Detention Center for the most unexpected reason of all in #27’s ‘A Friend in Need!’ (Wein, Mooney & Giacoia), but did have a hand in ‘The City Stealers!’ (#28 by new regular creative team Gerry Conway, Mooney & Vince Colletta) when strange mechanoids swiped the island of Manhattan, forcing Spidey and Hercules (mostly Hercules) to drag it back to its original position…

Marvel Team-Up #29 displays a far less amicable pairing as flaming kid Johnny Storm and patronising know-it-all Iron Man butt heads whilst tracking a seeming super-saboteur in ‘Beware the Coming of Infinitus! or How Can You Stop the Reincarnated Man?’

Spider-Man and The Falcon then find that ‘All That Glitters is not Gold!’ in #30 whilst tracking a mind-control drug back to its crazy concoctor Midas, the Golden Man before Mooney bowed out in MTU #31 as the Webspinner and Iron Fist experience time unravelling whilst battling reverse-aging Drom, the Backwards Man ‘For a Few Fists More!’

Conway and Colletta welcomed Sal Buscema aboard as penciller in #32 for a fiery collaboration between the Human Torch and Son of Satan who inflicted ‘All the Fires in Hell…!’ on a demon which had possessed Johnny’s pal Wyatt Wingfoot and assorted fellow members of his Native American Keewazi tribe.

The search for continuity continued in #33 when Spider-Man and Nighthawk acrimoniously tackle raving mega-nutcase Norton Fester – who had forgotten he had super strength – in ‘Anybody Here Know a Guy Named Meteor Man?’

Whilst Nighthawk was happy to drop the case at the earliest opportunity, his Defenders comrade Valkyrie was ready to step in and help Spidey finish off the looney Looter, but they both missed the real threat: mutant demagogue Jeremiah, Prophet of the Lord, who had acquired Fester’s home to house his mind-controlled cult of human psychic batteries in ‘Beware the Death Crusade!’

The latter maniac’s predations were ended in Marvel Team-Up #35 when the Torch and Doctor Strange saved Valkyrie from becoming a sacrifice in the zealot’s deranged ‘Blood Church!’ whilst in #36 Spider-Man was kidnapped and shipped off to Switzerland by assuredly insane Baron Ludwig Von Shtupf, who proclaimed himself The Monster Maker

‘Once Upon a Time, in a Castle…’ the bonkers biologist wanted to pick-&-mix creature traits and had already secured The Frankenstein Monster to practise on, but after the Webslinger busts them both out and they stumble upon sexy SHIELD Agent Klemmer their rapid counterattack goes badly wrong after Von Shtupf unleashes his other captive – the furiously feral Man-Wolf – and only big Frankie can prevent a wave of ‘Snow Death!’

As new creative team Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito take over, the Amazing Arachnid is back in the USA for issue #38, meeting The Beast and barely surviving the ‘Night of the Griffin’ when the former X-Man’s constantly-evolving manmade monster foe goes on a ruthless murder spree…

Another extended epic begins when Spider-Man and the Torch are simultaneously targeted by supposedly deceased archenemies Crime-Master and The Big Man in #39’s ‘Any Number Can Slay!’ The masked mobsters are fighting for control of the city and each has recruited their own specialist meta-thugs – Sandman and The Enforcers respectively – but the shady double-dealers are all utterly unprepared for the intervention of mystic martial arts mavens The Sons of the Tiger in #40’s ‘Murder’s Better the Second Time Around!’

Mantlo and Buscema then undertook a truly impressive and ambitious epic with a time-&-space spanning multi-parter which saw the Amazing Arachnid visiting the past and a number of alternate tomorrows beginning with ‘A Witch in Time!’ in Marvel Team-Up #41.

The opening instalment saw mutant Avenger Scarlet Witch abducted by infamous witch-hunter Cotton Mather who used Doctor Doom’s time machine to drag her back to Salem in 1692. Her plight was observed by Spider-Man who naturally followed but he failed to save her and was himself accused of infernal sorcery in that rabid Massachusetts town…

Whilst Mather fanned hysterical flames of paranoia, the Avenger’s synthezoid husband time-travelled to her side in #42’s ‘Visions of Hate!’, only to fall before the witch-finder’s mysterious power too. As the innocents of Salem prepare themselves for death, the heroes make their escape but fall to Mather’s hitherto unseen benefactor The Dark Rider.

Just as the master manipulator reveals himself however the stakes change again when a severely affronted Doctor Doom appears angrily demanding to know who’s been playing with his toys in #43’s ‘A Past Gone Mad!’

The frantic battle against an immortal chronal predator seems predestined to fail until the time-tides are unexpectedly turned in MTU #44 with the last-minute arrival of mind-goddess Moondragon but in the aftermath Spider-Man tragically discovers that history is well-nigh impossible to alter in ‘Death in the Year Before Yesterday!’

The Arachnid is the last to return to the 20th century but his departure in issue #45 results in deadly diversions and ‘Future-Shock!’ as he lands in devastated (alternate future) New York City 2019 where Warrior of the Worlds Killraven helps him survive numerous attacks by mutants and Martians in terrifying tripods before sending him back on his way home..

Unfortunately before he gets there the Wallcrawler experiences another shocking stopover in ‘Am I Now or Have I Ever Been?’, with cyborg warrior Deathlok saving him from a mutant hive-mind in a Manhattan shattered by war a mere fifteen years after his own lost and longed-for era…

A scared, sad and sobered Spider-Man finally makes it home in Marvel Two-In-One #17 just in time for a crossover with The Thing. That blockbuster opens with ‘This City… Afire!’ by Mantlo, Sal B & Esposito where, after battling beside Ka-Zar in the Savage Land, big Ben Grimm is ignominiously returned to the Big Apple by mutated madman Basilisk who has created an erupting volcano in the Hudson River…

Already reeling, Spidey swings into action for the cataclysmic conclusion in Marvel Team-Up #47 where Mantlo, Ron Wilson & Dan Adkins render the spectacular clash of heroes who boldly proclaim ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

MTU #48 begins another suspenseful extended saga when ‘Enter: the Wraith!’ (Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Esposito) introduces Police Captain Jean DeWolff as Spidey and Iron Man struggle to stop a mad bomber using model planes to destroy city landmarks and Stark International properties. As the heroes fruitlessly pursue leads, the enigmatic Wraith turns his attention upon them and proves to be not only connected to Jean but some kind of psionic metahuman…

With Iron Man again the guest-star, issue #49 reveals that ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ as the masked maniac resumes his irresistible psychic assaults and explosive attacks on New York and the tragic story of Jean’s Police Commissioner dad and murdered cop brother comes out.

However the connection between them and the unstoppable villain are only exposed after the Webslinger recruits Master of Mystic Arts Doctor Strange to apply his unique gifts to the problem in #50’s ‘The Mystery of the Wraith!’

The saga and this character-packed compilation conclude with Marvel Team-Up #51 and ‘The Trial of the Wraith!’ by a most unusual panel of judges whose hidden abilities are not enough to prevent one last crack of the whip by the unrepentant renegade…

These stories and illustration of these tales are of variable quality – frankly ranging from just plain daft to utterly gripping – but all have an honest drive to entertain and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for the casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiast there’s lots of fun on hand and younger readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adventure Time: Candy Capers Mathematical Edition


By Ananth Panagariya, Yuko Ota, Ian McGinty, Evan Dahm, Tessa Stone, Maarta Laiho & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1- 78276-318-5

If you haven’t seen the Cartoon network show this book spins off from, Adventure Time is set in a post-apocalyptic future about a thousand years after the “Great Mushroom War”. In the oddly magical Land of Ooo a bizarre coterie of largely comestible and confectionery-based life-forms live their strange lives and a human boy and his shapeshifting dog are having a grand old time…

Scripted by Ananth Panagariya and Yuko Ota, primarily illustrated by Ian McGinty and vividly coloured by Maarta Laiho, the Kaboom!/Boom! Studios 6-issue miniseries Adventure Time: Candy Capers has been repackaged as a stunning and sturdily oversized (193 x 287 mm) full-colour hardback which begins by revealing how heroic Jake and Finn are at last recognised as being missing in ‘Sour Problems in Sweet Town’ when regal Princess Bubblegum suddenly remembers she gave them the hammer she really, really needs right now!

Her decision is to assign her creepy major domo Peppermint Butler to the case but his scary scouring of the kingdom doesn’t go well because his un-trusty associate ‘Cinnamon Bun is Helping! (to the despair of those around him)’

Since it’s not a proper kingdom without heroes Jake and Finn, the Princess promotes the Butler to being-in-charge-of-protecting-everything and goes off to look for them herself…

The new Boss of the Banana Guards is not so good at “Destroying Problems” however and soon decides that the best way forward is to reinstate the ‘Royal Hero Draft’

Peppermint’s first picks are snarky Marceline the Vampire Queen and elephantine Treetrunks, whom he promptly despatches to weirdly accursed Bloodskull Village to solve the ‘Mystery, She Wrote’.

Using their dubious wiles and the mantra “what would Jake and Finn do?” the bizarre babes soon unearth the Bad Haircut Wizard who claims to be behind the town’s woes… Oh, and they also discover Finn’s Demon Blood Sword is being used as a utensil at the local diner…

When Marceline and Treetrunk both suddenly retire, Peppermint Butler and Cinnamon Bun decide to check out whether the missing heroes are no longer alive and pop down to the Land of the Dead to ask the guy in charge. However to get in they first have to waste time playing the ‘Game of Death’ (art by Evan Dahm) with his moronic minions…

Finally finding that the AWOL champions aren’t dead, PB and CB are forced to carry on looking for them and so reluctantly draft the obnoxiously inept Earl of Lemongrab and gabby Lumpy Space Princess to go quiz the Why-Wolves.

The scary canines are intrigued but in return want all the other wolves to stop calling them nerds when they meet at ‘The Summit of Wolf Mountain’.

Sadly, the ‘Gathering of Wolves’ goes badly but just when the assembled clans are about to eat each other and everybody else, Lemongrab accidentally breaks an ancient curse and something truly extraordinary happens…

Forced to fire his latest draftees, Peppermint Butler again petulantly takes up the case and starts looking for who sold Finn’s Demon Blood Sword to the cursed café. The trail leads to arms dealer Choose Goose but the rhyming rowdy wants something in return for his information and expects the detectives to become his suave spies in the ‘Casino Royal’

Bad Guy Magpie is a very competent opponent who nevertheless mistakes the dapper minty delicacy for superspy Agent Princess but when the real her comes to the rescue the entire cheating clip joint goes up in flames…

Next to be suckered into the hero-game are Jake and Finn’s old enemies Ice King and Susan Strong, who are called upon to stop a giant from crushing a distant hamlet. Somehow the incompetent idiots uncover an actual plot to frame the big guys but typically, to save the village they have to destroy the village…

Fed up with defending the Realm Peppermint B reveals his own dark wizardly gifts in ‘Reflections and Dark Confections’ before employing those eldritch arts to seek out the lost lads. That doesn’t go too well and soon he and Cinnamon are battling demonic doppelgangers and confronting a kleptomaniac cross-dressing Sea Witch they believe might have kidnapped Jake and Finn. Sadly however, the trail turned out to be a simple red herring…

Princess Bubblegum takes charge again for a raid on the ‘Lair of the Vault King’ (illustrated by Tessa Stone) but Peppermint Butler’s superteam of the Bun, Starchy, Hot Dog Princess, BMO, Neptr, Agent Princess, Gunter, Mr. Cupcake, Muscle Princess, Notorious Pup Crew and the rest are not willing enough or ready for ‘Operation: Cinnamon Bun’s Cool Plan!’ and the sugary sortie goes awry after they all realise that Jake and Finn were never there in the first place…

The interminable mystery is finally resolved in ‘Sunset on Candy Kingdom’ when the badgered butler loses patience and determines to use his magic to make the heroes Ooo desperately needs. Sadly when his gooey golems set of to “Destroy Problems” even his last-minute conversion to costumed crusading is insufficient to end the rampage and it takes the blockbusting Bubblegum Princess to save the day…

And only then does she remember where she put Jake and Finn…

Augmenting this sublimely surreal romp is a huge ‘Cover Gallery’ – 35 stunningly sweet and sickly weird images by Josceline Fenton, Magnolia Porter, Rebecca Mock, Tessa Stone, Yuko Ota, Tyler Parker, Bryan Turner, Maris Wicks, Nomi Kane, Brinson Thieme, Jemma Salume, Scott Maynard, T. Fabert, Melanie Gillman Brooke Allen, Andrea Tamme, Jay Fosgitt, Fellipe Martins, Yasmin Liang, Eva Eskelinen, Michael Dialynas, Mia Schwartz, Laura Birdsall, Andy Price, Mychal Amann, Mad Rupert, Renato Faccini, Wook Jin Clark, Emily Watson, Andy Hirsch and Hannah Nance Partlow – as well as ‘Cold Case Files’ which reveal ‘Cover Inspirations’ providing the original half dozen pop culture detectives who informed Yuko Ota’s covers.

Rounding out the cartoon confections are a cornucopia of ‘Character Designs’ and ‘Layout Designs’ for those inspired to concoct a few graphic Adventures Times of their own…

Strangely addictive, madly absurd and sweet as cartoon candy, this is a treat for young and old alike.
© Cartoon Network (S15). All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 7: The Curious Trio


By Roger Leloup (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-127-3

The edgy yet uncannily accessible European exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno began gracing the pages of Spirou from the September 24th issue in 1970 and are still going strong.

The mind-blowing, eye-popping, extremely expansive multi-award winning series was created by Belgian author, artist and novelist Roger Leloup who was born in 1933 and worked as one of Herge’s meticulous background assistants on the iconic Adventures of Tintin strip before striking out on his own.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative yet always framed in hyper-realistic settings and sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the forefront of a wave of strips featuring competent, brave and immensely successful female protagonists which revolutionised European comics in the 1970s and 1980s and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.

The first Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were all short introductory vignettes before Miss Tsuno truly hit her stride with premier epic Le trio de l’étrange which started serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue.

Although the first of her 26 European albums, in English The Curious Trio was actually the 7th chronicle released by Cinebook and opens in a busy TV studio at midnight (back when actual humans pushed, pulled and focussed the clunky paraphernalia) where young Director Vic Van Steen loses his rag with best pal Pol Paris for falling asleep on his camera.

Later, still smarting from another fractious tiff, the pair walk home past a deserted construction site and espy what looks like a brilliant burglary…

The quietly flamboyant break-in is in fact a pre-arranged test by sleekly capable freelance Japanese electrical engineer Yoko Tsuno who has been hired by the owners of a major firm to test their new security. After apologising for nearly ruining her trial with their well-intentioned interference, the lads invite the enigmatic Yoko to join their film crew as sound engineer on a proposed outside shoot.

The job is to explore a range of flooded caves for a documentary and before the week is out the new friends are hauling equipment to a spectacular cavern ready to work out the technical details. No sooner do they begin however than something goes terribly wrong and the trio are dragged deep underground by the irresistible, swirling waters…

From here the remarkably realistic strip takes a huge leap into the uncanny as their subterranean submersion dumps them into a huge metal-shod vault where they are taken prisoner by blue-skinned humanoids.

The colossal complex is of incredible size and, as the captives are bundled into a fantastic vessel which runs on rails via magnetic levitation and driven even deeper underground, a handy translation helmet enables the only friendly-seeming stranger to explain.

Her name is Khany and her race, the Vineans, have been sleeping in the Earth for almost half a million years…

However since recently awakening internecine strife has entered the lives of the colonists as ambitious militaristic brute Karpan constantly manoeuvres to seize power from the vast electronic complex known as The Centre which regulates the lives of the colonists.

The humans’ first meeting with the blustering bully does not go well after he tries to beat Khany, and martial artist Yoko gives him a humiliating and well-deserved thrashing…

In his fury Karpan attempts to disintegrate them but is pulled away by security forces. As the newcomers resume their trip to the Centre he secretly follows their magnetocarrier, resolved to destroy them…

As they hurtle to unimaginable depths in the maglev ship, Khany introduces the humans to a stowaway – her young daughter Poky – and relates the astounding tale of the Vineans’ escape from planetary doom and two million light-year voyage to Earth. Accustomed to subterranean living, when they arrived they hollowed out a mountain and dug down even further.

Her history lesson is interrupted by Karpan’s murderous attack, which is only thwarted by Yoko’s quick thinking and her companions’ near-insane bravery…

Eventually, after another, far more subtle murder attempt, the badly damaged magnetocarrier reaches its destination and the astonished visitors are brought before a stupendous computer to plead their case and expose Karpan’s indiscretions.

The vast calculator dubbed The Centre controls every aspect of the colony’s life and will deliver judgement on the human invaders’ ultimate fate, but after mind-scanning Yoko its pronouncement is dire: the strangers are to be placed in eternal hibernation…

When Pol plays his long-hidden trump card and threatens to destroy the machine with a stolen disintegrator, diplomatic Khany proposes a solution; suggesting simply waiting until they can all confront the still-absent Karpan…

Yoko is still deeply suspicious and not convinced that Karpan is responsible for every attempt on their lives. Whilst she’s resting that “night”, Poky sneaks into her habitation chamber and takes her on an illicit tour of the underside and innards of the impossibly huge complex that verifies her suspicions with a ghastly revelation.

What they expose is a horrific threat not just to the Vineans – Karpan included – but to every human on the surface of Earth…

The eerie mystery then explodes into spectacular action and a third act finale worthy of a James Bond movie as Yoko’s duel with an incredible malign menace settles the fate of two species…

Absorbing, rocket-paced and blending tense suspense with bombastic thrills, spills and chills, this is a terrific introduction to a world of rationalist mystery and humanist imagination with one of the most unsung of all female action heroes and one you’ve waited far too long to meet…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2012 © Cinebook Ltd.

Ordinary


By Rob Williams & D’Israeli (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-009-2

Admit it. We’ve all pondered – and both comics and movies have explored in various tones and styles – a particularly thorny contemporary question: what happens when everybody wakes up with superpowers?

Collecting a rather witty riff on that quandary, this wickedly charming little fable from Rob Williams & Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker – first seen in Judge Dredd Megazine #340-345 at the end of 2013, then as a Titan Comics miniseries and now gathered into one scintillating colour hardback tome – takes the big question a step further by positing that on that day of astounding ascension everybody becomes a modern Prometheus but you…

After an effusive Introduction from Warren Ellis the strange tale of off-the-books plumber and inept gambler Michael Fisher begins one typical morning as he wakes up in Queens, NYC. He’s late for another call-out and stumbling almost unthinkingly straight into a great big bunch of complete insanity.

Narrowly escaping a thorough thumping from the Samoans he owes cash to, the harried divorcee arrives at his latest job just in time to see the elderly client rapidly de-age to squelchy nothingness and short-tempered boss Brian turn into a talking bear.

The metamorphic madness is everywhere. Giants, flaming men and snotty dragons are popping up every second but all Michael can think of is calling his ex Sarah to see if their son Josh is okay.

As the freaked-out military rapidly fail to control the situation, the truth slowly dawns. Not just New Yorkers but all of humanity have, in the space of an instant, become a race of shapeshifters, superhumans and worse.

Everyone, apparently, except Michael…

As madness and panic grip the world Mike naturally heads for a bar and after Brian joins him they watch the President’s emergency news conference. It would have gone much better if someone had been able to tell PotUS that his new power was broadcasting his actual thoughts in little cartoon thought balloons above his head…

When TV news reveals his son Josh’s school is on fire Brian urges Michael to get across the river and find his boy but the now-empowered Samoans almost catch him and it takes low cunning, a Midas touch and a cosmically aware cabbie to save the day…

As chaos and carnage grip the nation, deep in the Pentagon the President is visibly (to all and sundry) losing it as his fundamentalist Vice-President stridently argues that the power proliferation is a Heaven-sent blessing intended to help the Land of the Free smite all the world’s unbelievers.

Scottish Genomics Professor and resident scientific expert Dr. Tara McDonald has a more reasoned argument. The situation is a literal plague and uncontrolled super-abilities will destroy mankind unless they find a cure quickly. Already America’s enemies are gathering and nations all over Earth are marshalling their burgeoning meta-resources to settle age-old scores and eradicate contemporary rivals.

However before McDonald can even postulate a remedy they have to find someone who is immune to the catastrophic contagion…

Against incredible odds – which comprise both transformees and the increasingly hard-pressed, savagely dictatorial remnants of the civil authorities – and all his normal instincts Michael has made his way into Manhattan even as in Washington McDonald’s best efforts have yielded pitiful results.

Things really go south after a nuke detonates in Afghanistan and the Veep seizes command. The rabid Christian doesn’t want a cure and when the only man in existence without uncanny abilities becomes a minor media celebrity after rescuing his son from a New York school, the acting Commander-in-Chief’s zealots are only one of a number of ruthless factions instantly targeting the unfortunate Mr. Fisher…

Now it’s a race against time as deadly opponents from warring and friendly nations alike contend to control the unluckiest, most useless man in the world with the fate of humanity in the balance. Fate and science however have teamed up to deliver a big surprise for everybody…

Also included in this thought-provoking package is a gallery of guest pinups from Edmund Bagwell, Ben Oliver, Laurence Campbell, Brian Ching & Michael Atiyeh, Brendan McCarthy, Neil Googe, Dom Reardon, Henry Flint, Alison Sampson & Ruth Redmond, James Harren, Ale Aragon and Mark Buckingham & D’Israeli, plus a little learned discourse – stuffed with the illustrator’s behind-the-scenes sketches and working drawings – on ‘Ordinary Science’ from Evolutionary Biologist and comics fan JV Chamary (PhD)…

Devilishly clever, cruelly passionate, potently humane and devastatingly funny, this sharp treatise on the true meaning of power politics offers a uniquely British spin on the eternal fantastic flight of idle fantasy and will delight all lovers of he genre with a world-weary eye to the way life really works…
Ordinary is ™ and © 2014 Rob Williams and Matt Brooker. All rights reserved.

Empowered Unchained volume 1


By Adam Warren with Emily Warren, Ryan Kinnaird, John Staton, Takeshi Miyazawa, Brandon Graham & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-580-1

The trappings and minutiae of superheroes have finally become part of the contemporary conceptual consciousness, just as science fiction did in the 1960s and 1970s. As such the genre has finally laid itself open to the kind of loving ridicule and jocund spoofery which resulted in movies such as Galaxy Quest, Evolution, Mars Attacks, Woody Allen’s Sleeper or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Whilst superhero films haven’t quite reached those raucous heights (although Mystery Men and British TV’s Misfits come damn close) the social democratisation of the once niche – or perhaps ghetto – genre’s core concepts have at least resulted in a few tellingly effective and fondly outrageous comicbook series in recent years.

Indubitably one of the best and most engaging is Empowered, which details in excruciating detail the misadventures of haplessly charming hero-nerd Elissa Megan Powers, who, through events I’ll save for a later review, came into possession of an alien super-suit and quite naturally opted to join the ranks of the world’s already overcrowded super-champion community…

Although incredibly powerful, the hypermembrane outfit is shockingly skin-tight – which does nothing for her punishing body-image issues – and, despite being (eventually) self-repairing, tears at the slightest shock before taking its own sweet time to fix the gaping and revealing holes costumed combat regularly result in.

Moreover, since the dratted rag constantly malfunctions, “Emp” all too often ends up beaten, bound and saucily posted in humiliatingly revealing positions on social media by smirking villains.

Consequently she’s been saddled with a “D-list” rating and a tawdry reputation as a bondage icon with a pathetic “damsel-in-distress” problem. In fact even though she generally triumphs in the end, Empowered is considered to be the lamest “Cape” in the Masks-&-Tights game…

Created and crafted by US manga pioneer Adam Warren (Dirty Pair, Bubblegum Crisis, Gen 13, Livewires) and rendered in his signature “Amerimanga” style, the series – which launched in 2007 – soon spawned a number of even more outrageous guest-artist specials, now happily collected in this splendid monochrome and full-colour softcover compilation

Gathering the Empowered Specials: The Wench with a Million Sighs (December 2009), Ten Questions for the Maidman (June 2011), Hell Bent or Heaven Sent (December 2012), Animal Style (June 2013), Nine Beers with Ninjette (September 2013) and Internal Medicine (March 2014), this riotously sly, wickedly wry and extremely sophisticated smutty comedy also offers full biographies of the shameless collaborators, and in ‘Unchained Extras’ pre-colour cover line art plus masses of designs and sketches in pencil, pen, colour and even computer rendering from all the participants.

Of course the true payoff is the stories themselves beginning with ‘The Wench with a Million Sighs’. With a little title-art assistance from Emily Warren (no relation) Adam’s shot-from-pencils black-&-white art reveals how, whilst the pitifully overmatched Empowered is battling – and being ridiculed by – DNA hunting super-villain grave-robbers, safely back home her bodaciously insatiable stud-muffin insignificant-other Thugboy and BFF Kozue Kaburagi – AKA New Jersey hellion Ninjette – are being treated to the low-down on what makes Elissa tick…

The shameless narrator of the tell-all trivia is certainly the one who knows her best: immortal alien super-devil The Caged Demonwolf has been stuck on the indomitable lass’ coffee table ever since Emp stopped it from destroying Earth by trapping its diabolical essence within an extraterrestrial “bondage belt”…

Emily Warren graduated to co-illustrator with fifteen pages of colour craziness supplementing Adam’s monochrome sections in ‘Ten Questions for the Maidman’ wherein the Torn Titan’s odd relationship with the most terrifying crusader of the costumed community is examined via a tawdry celebrity chat show.

Blessed with no miraculous powers, what secret allows a mere man clad in a French maid outfit to overcome the mightiest foes and foil every threat to humanity? And why has the Dark-Knight Domestic chosen to break his customary silence on cheesy talk show Superstrong Words with BlitzCraig?

‘Hell Bent or Heaven Sent’ features guest creator Ryan Kinnaird for the colour section as Empowered joins the cleanup after a monumental battle featuring huge alien monsters and is relegated to dumping assorted wrecked remnants of “villainware” in the legendary off-planet “Joint Superteam After-Action Superdebris Storage Vault” with robotic champions Mechanismo and El Capitan Rivet.

Sadly even Techno-Capes and Cyberbros are just dirty little boys at heart and when a bored metal man’s private “sexyfiles” interact with the forbidden trashed tech, a plague of horny little cyber-angels and sensually pliable devil-girls are exported to the real world where their unquenchable chumminess manifests as a rapidly proliferating electronic STD…

Designer John Staton steps up to craft the lion’s share of manic battles in ‘Animal Style’ when an army of beast-based mecha-malevolents try to rip off the fabulous wonder cars and “…mobiles” from the 20th Annual International/Interchronal Alternate Timeline Superhero Auto Show

Sadly for Terrorpin, Powerpachyderm, Brass Monkey, Cyberian Tiger, Supercobra and Maul Bunny the convention organisers have hired Empowered as a security guard and the cocky crimebots don’t take her seriously enough…

Transpacific manga star Takeshi Miyazawa (Lost Planet, Bound Raven, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane) comes aboard for a poignant all-monochrome exploration of Emp’s greatest gal-pal Kozue Kaburagi, detailing the appalling life and secret history of the New Jersey nemesis through ‘Nine Beers with Ninjette’ after which things end with a bunch of bangs as the latest invasion of Earth involves Empowered, Ninjette and a coterie of UberNurses from the Purple Paladin Memorial Hospital struggling to save a dying baby bioship before its excitable xenomorphic mother eradicates everything.

The main problem is that the cosmic infant is afflicted with sentient mites and the soppy heroes can see the pregnant parasites’ momma’s point of view too. Can the flighty girls find a solution that will accommodate both sides in this dire dilemma of ‘Internal Medicine’ (co-crafted by Brandon Graham, late of Prophet, King City and Multiple Warheads)?

Fast, smart, filthily funny in the best possible taste and ferociously action-packed, this is a deliciously immature and superbly addictive treat for all lovers of Fights ‘n’ (laddered) Tights fiction no fan with a secret life can afford to miss…
© 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Adam Warren, Empowered, Ninjette, Thugboy and all prominent characters and their distinctive likenesses are trademarks of Adam Warren. All rights reserved.

Troy Trailblazer and the Horde Queen


By Robert Deas (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-46-9

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally engaged kids and parents who read it…

The magazine inevitably led to a line of superbly engaging graphic novel compilations, the latest of which is a rollicking space opera romp that will delight readers with a profound sense of fun and unchecked imaginations.

From that fabulous first year and created by Robert Deas (November, Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth, Pride & Prejudice, Medikidz) comes impetuous stellar sentinel Troy Trailblazer – who originally appeared in The Phoenix #10, 18 and 27-32 – in a riotous complete adventure which mixes light-hearted sidereal shenanigans with just a touch of dark and dreadful doom…

Thanks to the double-page pin-up ‘Meet Team Troy’ you’ll quickly become familiar with the valiant lad, his advanced tactical droid Blip, animalistic alien associate Barrus and super-cool former bounty hunter Jess Jetrider.

Moreover the schematics for ‘The Pathfinder’ will provide all you need to know about the freelance heroes’ astounding starship, so there’s no need to pause before racing into ‘Chapter 1: Mistakes of the Past’ which finds the questing quartet bombastically retrieving the Infinity Jewel with a maximum of collateral damage from the Royal Palace on planet Thagus

Congratulating themselves on a job well done the astral adventurers celebrate by setting course for the sunny beaches on Solus, but before too long battle-hardened Jessica is roused from hyper-sleep by a disturbing dream and acknowledges a distress call from ice-world Siberas

On awakening, the baffled lads are far from happy to be wading across glaciers in beachwear and when the arctic conditions wreck the Pathfinder’s engines they lose all sense of proportion. It’s quickly regained, however, when a gigantic snow-beast starts chasing them and hurt feelings turn to pure terror when a clutch of horrific bug-like parasites easily bring the shaggy carnivore down…

Pushing on rapidly through the snows the cosmic champions soon find the mining colony which issued the distress call, only to discover the workers possessed by more of the creepy bugs. Most disturbing is the fact that Jess is seemingly hearing voices and acting weirdly distracted…

Things come to a grisly head when they recover a holo-message from security chief Alan Ripley which describes how deep excavations disinterred a monstrous hive-creature from an entombed starship. His warning is cut off mid-sentence and almost instantly our heroes are running for their lives from the bug-wearing, mind-locked miners who tirelessly hunt their would-be rescuers…

Somewhere amidst all the chaos Jess gets separated from her companions and, apparently answering a mental siren call, wanders off into the deepest part of the pit…

There’s a brief tension-break for ‘Blip’s Autopsy Report’ – wherein the robotic science wizard dissects and provides dissertation on the diabolical parasites – before the shocking suspense resumes with the Pathfinder crew following Jess but ultimately failing to stop her being taken over by the Horde Queen and becoming the malevolent monster’s perfect weapon of complete conquest…

After a frantic panic and race to escape the story resumes fifteen years later in ‘Chapter 2: The Fate of the Future’

Over that dark period the Horde Queen’s spawn have erupted into space and devastated planet after planet. On Troy’s homeworld of Nova 2, the older, wiser and battle-weary Trailblazer is now leader of the hard-pressed Horde Resistance, fighting a losing battle against the ghastly melding of his best friend and the parasite-mother.

The determined freedom-fighters have lost every battle but thanks to brilliant Blip have devised a last chance solution which might win the war. Unfortunately, just as they activate the cobbled-together time-machine and head back to Siberas to stop Jess ever falling under the Queen’s spell, the triumphant horror bursts in and follows Troy and Barrus back to the beginning…

What happens next is both astoundingly heroic and bitterly tragic and reveals what happy endings actually cost.

Fast-paced, fun and not afraid to be really scary when it counts, this is a superb interstellar saga, excitingly told in a broadly manga manner which will delight space freaks and thrill seekers of all ages.

Text and illustrations © Robert Deas 2015. All rights reserved.

Troy Trailblazer and the Horde Queen will be released on June 4th 2015 and is available for pre-order now.

Batman Adventures volume 1


By Kelly Puckett, Marty Pasko, Ty Templeton, Brad Rader, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5229-8

Batman: The Animated Series aired in America from September 5th 1992 until September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon show – ostensibly for kids – was devised and designed by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm and quickly revolutionised the image of the Dark Knight, subsequently resulting in some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the Dark Knight’s decades-long publishing history as the series spawned a comicbook spinoff.

By employing a timeless visual tone (dubbed “Dark Deco”) the TV episodes mixed iconic elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power and mood of the premise, perfectly honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and style that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly find fault with.

Naturally the comicbook version became a cast-iron certainty for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market which stormed into and out of shops in the mid-1990s. Now those titanic all-ages tales have been rediscovered and gathered here are the first ten titanic tales epics The Batman Adventures comicbook (first seen from October 1992 to July 1993) in a smashing, straightforward sampler of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy.

The moody magnificence action begins with ‘Penguin’s Big Score’ by Kelly Puckett, Ty Templeton & Rick Burchett. Each story was divided into three chapters and ‘Charm School Dropout!’ found the Bird of Ill Omen taking tips on how to rehabilitate his nefarious reputation from The Joker, whilst in ‘Top of the World, Ma!’ the Foul Fowl’s new standing as a philanthropist had all Gotham agog.

The sinister scheme was finally exposed by Batman in the climactic third act ‘Power of the Press’, but the hero had no idea that the real winner was the Clown Prince of Crime…

In issue #2, ‘Catwoman’s Killer Caper’ (Puckett, Templeton & Burchett) kicked off with a gem heist before, on Joker’s insistent urging, sultry Selina Kyle visited England’s Tower of London to swipe ‘The Family Jewels!’

In hot pursuit, the Gotham Gangbuster headed across The Pond to quell ‘Panic over Londontown’ and solved the mystery of a seemingly impossible theft in ‘Midnight Madness’ – but not before the Harlequin of Hate snatched the real prize…

All that crafty conniving culminated in ‘Joker’s Late-Night Lunacy!’ from #3 by Puckett, Templeton & Burchett, with Gotham’s airwaves hijacked and Commissioner Gordon kidnapped by the larcenous loon who made himself literally unmissable viewing in ‘A Star is Born!’

‘I Want My JTV!’ saw District Attorney Harvey Dent make it onto the Joker’s inhospitable guest list, but Batman was again one step ahead of the game and lowered the boom in the explosive ‘Flash in the Pan!’

Writer Marty Pasko and penciller Brad Rader joined inker Burchett for a gripping two-issue tale of terror guest starring Robin as ‘Riot Act’ describes ‘Panic in the Streets’ after a strange plague caused citizens to lose the ability to read.

Even with utter chaos gripping the city the Teen Wonder’s ‘Help on the Wing’ results in a huge step forward but when ‘Robin Takes a Fall’ the mastermind reveals himself and the drama intensifies in #4 with ‘Riot Act: Johnny Can’t Read!’ as the Scarecrow steps up his campaign to teach all the slackers of the modern world a harsh lesson….

However, the Dynamic Duo are well aware of the ‘Hi-Fi Hijinx’ at the root of the problem and, with the help of a repentant henchman, end the crisis in ‘Those Who Can’t Do!’

Next comes a crafty change of pace as Bruce Wayne is arrested for murder in ‘The Third Door!’ Crafted by Puckett, Rader & Burchett, the cunning locked-room mystery opens with ‘The Party’s Over’ as the prime suspect details the facts of the case to young Dick Grayson, before being locked up with a mob of dangerous thugs in ‘Crime and Punishment’, leaving the wonder kid to ferret out the real killer in tense conclusion ‘War and Peace’

After a mere half-dozen superb stories the comicbook adventures took a step towards utter perfection when then-rising star Mike Parobeck assumed the pencilling duties.

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

His timeless tenure began with ‘Raging Lizard!’ which sees shady pro wrestler Killer Croc face a long dark night of the soul in ‘Requiem for a Mutant!’ when he’s scheduled to fight Masked Marauder – a grappler who had humiliated and broken him in their last match…

Batman meanwhile is searching for Chicago mobster Mandrake who’s planning on taking over Gotham by ousting reigning crime czar Rupert Thorne in ‘Eye of the Reptile!’ Naturally all those trajectories converge in the third act for a major throw-down ‘Under the Waterfront!’

From issue #8 ‘Larceny, My Sweet’ begins with the hunt for an unstoppable thief who can ‘Break the Bank!’ with his bare hands, whilst TV reporter Summer Gleeson divides her time between chasing scoops and being romanced by a dashing stranger in ‘Love’s Lost Labours’. Sadly when the Gotham Gangbuster crushes the crime-wave he also exposes monstrous old muck menace Clayface and ends the affair of ‘Beauty and the Beast!’

In #9 ‘The Little Red Book’ everyone is chasing holds all Thorne’s dirty secrets and Commissioner Gordon is presiding over a ‘Gangster Boogie!’ With the cops and entire underworld looking to win out over ‘The Big Boss’, it takes all Batman’s energy and wits to bring the diary to DA Dent for the beginning of ‘Rupert’s Reckoning!’

Wrapping up the all-ages action is‘The Last R?ddler Story’ which describes ‘Nygma’s Nadir!’ as the perpetually frustrated Prince of Puzzlers considers retirement. Dispirited and despondent because the Caped Crusader always solves his felonious games, the villain grudgingly accedes to his faithful hench-persons’ pleas to give it one more try in ‘Days of Wine and Riddles!’

How upset would Eddie Nygma be if he knew Batman isn’t even aware of him, absorbed as he is in apprehending infamous trio Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfesser in ‘Triumph or Tragedy …?’

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are quintessential Bat-magic, and this long-awaited compilation is a treasure every fan of any age and vintage will adore.

Pure, unadulterated delight!

© 1992, 1993, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.