Iron Man Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1972: The Fury of the Firebrand


By Archie Goodwin, Gerry Conway, Allyn Brodsky, Mimi Gold, Robert Kanigher, Gary Friedrich, Johnny Craig, Don Heck, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2207-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Glittering Bauble of Shiny Nostalgic Marvel Madness… 8/10

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions (just like now), the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combined with the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, the concept behind the Invincible Iron Man seems an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, where once Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism: a glamorous millionaire industrialist/inventor and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his metal alter-ego, the tumultuous tone of changing times soon resigned his suave, playboy image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disasters and social catastrophe from the abuse of industry and technology the new mantras of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly socially conscious readership.

All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

This sterling hardback – and eBook – compilation covers the period May 1970 through May 1972, re-presenting Iron Man #25-46 and incorporating a tumultuous team-up with the Man Without Fear from Daredevil #73 which held a key portion of a rather complex comics crossover.

Imminently departing scripter Archie Goodwin pins Iron Man’s new Green colours to the comic’s mast in #25’s stunning eco-parable ‘This Doomed Land… This Dying Sea!’, ably assisted by EC legend Johnny Craig, whose slick understated mastery adds a sheen of terrifying authenticity to proceedings. Here, the Armoured Avenger clashes and ultimately teams with veteran antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner, before being compelled to destroy one of his own hyper-polluting facilities, consequently overruling and abandoning his company’s previous position and business model…

Tragically, his attempts to convince other industry leaders to do likewise meets with the kind of reaction that tragically then (and again now) typifies America’s response to the real-world situation…

Original Iron Man artist Don Heck returned for the fantasy-fuelled romp ‘Duel in a Dark Dimension!’ (scripted by Goodwin and inked by Craig) with guest villain The Collector kidnapping Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan in a convoluted scheme to secure an extradimensional super-sword…

America’s mounting racial tensions took centre-stage in ‘The Fury of the Firebrand!’, introducing an inflammatory radical with a secret and highly personal hate-filled agenda aimed squarely at Stark and the fat cats he represented. The incendiary fiend was also a human napalm grenade…

Goodwin bowed out with #28’s riotous return match ‘The Controller Lives!’, wherein the mind parasite attacks Stark and SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell through an old girlfriend, after which Mimi Gold scripted an old-fashioned commie-buster yarn, drawn by Heck and inked by Chic Stone in #29, with Iron Man liberating a tropical paradise from its enslaving socialist overlords in ‘Save the People… Save the Country!’.

Impressive new kid on the block Allyn Brodsky took over as scripter with #30’s ‘The Menace of the Monster-Master!’: a rousing rampage full of Maoist menace with a giant lizard ravaging Japan until the Golden Avenger steps in, taking charge and exposing a cunning plot…

Far more intriguing is ‘Anything… For the Cause!’ wherein back-to-nature hippie protesters and outraged teen radicals are manipulated by an unscrupulous local businessman. This social drama also adds cool young Irish science nerd Kevin O’Brian to the regular cast.

IM #32’s ‘Beware… The Mechanoid!’ (illustrated by George Tuska & “Joe Gaudioso”) then relates a salutary tale of a benign alien explorer making the tragic mistake of exploring America whilst disguised as a black man…

Heck & Gaudioso (actually moonlighting Mike Esposito) handled the art for ‘Their Mission: Destroy Stark Industries!!’as corporate raider Spymaster unleashes his Mission: Impossible-inspired team The Espionage Elite to deprive America of both the inventor and his company. This fast-paced thriller concluded in bombastic finale ‘Crisis… and Calamity!!’with the near-death of a cast regular, signalling the advent of a darker, more driven Armoured Avenger…

Something of a comics wunderkind at this time, Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s reins in Iron Man #35 as the traumatised hero understandably seeks ‘Revenge!’ on Spymaster before being distracted by an ongoing battle between Daredevil, Nick Fury, Madame Masque and the global criminal network Zodiac – all contesting ownership of an extra-dimensional wish-granting super-weapon.

That battle spills over into Daredevil #73 and a mass abduction into another dimension in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’(by Conway, Gene Colan & Syd Shores) before messily and inconclusively concluding halfway through Iron Man #36 (Heck & Esposito). The remainder of the issue and battle for the Zodiac Key is necessarily shelved as the Steely Centurion is waylaid by terra-forming aliens in ‘…Among Men Stalks the Ramrod!’

Incapacitated and with his recently transplanted new heart critically damaged, Stark reveals his secret to Kevin O’Brian ‘In This Hour of Earthdoom!’ (Jim Mooney inks) before rapidly retrenching, recuperating and ultimately repelling the invaders. The fantastic fantasy drama pauses here for a hard-boiled and pleasantly low-key diversion in the form of an engaging gangster caper from Conway, Tuska & Esposito wherein Iron Man is forced to respond quite assertively ‘When Calls Jonah…!’

Conway resumes the mad science tales – with Herb Trimpe illustrating – in ‘A Twist of Memory… a Turn of Mind!’, wherein insidious oriental mastermind White Dragon (Yes, I know, but social relevance clearly advanced at its own piecemeal rate and racial profiling was less obvious than poisoned air and rivers…) deviously turns Stark into a brainwashed pawn, thereby inadvertently enslaving the Golden Avenger too.

Devoted assistant Kevin O’Brian comes to the rescue, but is led down a path to inevitable doom when he assists his mind-locked employer in a torturous ‘Night Walk!’ (by Tuska & Jim Mooney) to save his sanity and defeat the sinister foe.

Simultaneously, Marianne Rodgers, a woman they both love, begins a slow glide into madness as her telepathic powers gradually grow beyond her control and start eating at her mind…

Issue #41 continued a convoluted storyline dealing with mystery mastermind Mr. Kline. (For the full story you should also track down contemporaneous Daredevil and Sub-Mariner issues: you won’t be any the wiser but at least you’ll have a full set…)

Next, ‘The Claws of the Slasher!’ sees squabbling saboteurs target Washington DC during a Senate investigation into Stark Industries; accidentally triggering a psychic transformation in Marianne, who temporarily morphs into a mind-warping harpy in ‘When Demons Wail!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia). The clash culminates in a blockbusting, extra-long battle against psionic godling Mikas in ‘Doomprayer!’ (with Mooney inks). During that cataclysmic conflict O’Brian dons his own super-armour to join the fray as The Guardsman; causing his own mental state to rapidly deteriorate and making his eventual showdown with Stark utterly unavoidable…

Plotted by Conway, scripted by DC A-Lister Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Tuska & Vince Colletta, Iron Man #44 finds Stark near death after his last battle. In ‘Weep for a Lost Nightmare!’, he is watched over by Kevin and Marianne as Kline dispatches a robotic copy of old adversary The Night Phantom to finish the ailing hero off. The tale was truncated midway and completed in the next issue – presumably due to deadline problems.

Gary Friedrich scripted concluding chapter ‘Beneath the Armour Beats a Heart!’ in #45, after which Stark faces a revolt by his own Board of Directors who convince the jealousy-consumed O’Brian to stand with them.

When student protestors invade the factory, greed-crazed capitalist and reactionary revolt instigator Simon Gilbertconvinces O’Brian to don his Guardsman suit and teach the kids a lesson, leading to a horrific escalation in ‘Menace at Large!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) wherein Iron Man intervenes to save lives and causes the fully-amok O’Brian’s death…

To Be Continued…

The galvanised wonderment also includes the covers of Iron Man Annuals #1 and 2, a selection of house ads and a gallery of original art covers and interior pages by Marie Severin & Sam Grainger, Sal Buscema, Tuska and Frank Giacoia, to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator carefully politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

With this volume Marvel further entrenched itself in the camp of the young and the restless, experiencing first hand, and every day, the social upheaval America was undergoing. This rebellious teen sensibility and enhanced political conscience permeated the company’s publications as their core audience evolved from Flower Power innocents into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

But that’s the meat of another review, as this engrossing graphic collection is done. From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains. These superhero sagas are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Lola’s Super Club: “My Dad is a Super Secret Agent”


By Christine Beigel & Pierre Foiullet, translated by Jeff Whitman (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0563-3 (HB) 978-1-5458-0564-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fantastic Fantasy Fun… 8/10

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

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers – especially girls – and combine licensed properties such as The Smurfs, Gumby and Nancy Drew with compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project and intriguing European imports like Brina the Cat and Chloe. They’ve recently taken on the challenge of finally introducing Asterix to poor, culture-deprived New Worlders. I must check that out on your behalf of course…

An eagerly anticipated transatlantic transplant soon to be yours, Lola’s Super Club is the brainchild of prolific children’s novelist Christine Beigel & comics veteran Pierre Fouillet (co-creators of Le Chat Pelote: Adoptez Moi!) detailing the manically frenetic exploits of a little lass blessed with a superabundance of imagination.

Lola is able to animate her cat Hot Dog and selected favourite toys – such as the size-changing lizard Super James (in undies) – to accompany her on adventures across all Time and Space as the irrepressible Super-Lola

This initial outing offers two complete adventures in one sleek volume (available in hardback, paperback and in digital editions) as Lola and her crew come to the rescue of her father Robert Darkhair (AKA superspy James Blond – an Agent so Top Secret, even he doesn’t know he’s licensed to thrill…) in eponymous romp ‘My Dad is a Super Secret Agent’.

To save him from arrogant Arch Fiend/shabby supervillain Max Imum, his sinister talking hounds Zero and Zero and his diabolical witch mother Mini Mum, Super Lola engages in a frantic chase from home in Friendly Falls, USA through sordid sewers and dank dungeons, into the stratosphere and through terrifying jungles, encountering and defeating or befriending skeletons, monsters, jungle men and pirates before she can declare her mission accomplished and her dad and missing mother reunited safely at home…

Further helter-skelter Imagineering ensues in second adventure ‘My Mom is Lost in Time’ after Lola and her gang – sorry, “Club” – are sucked into a TV show and end up battling bears at the frozen pole, fleeing dinosaurs in the Jurassic, and clashing with Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, while making history in all the wrong places…

However, with every stopover in significant moments the Super Club is getting closer to home and to Lola’s absent mum…

Fun, fast-paced and furiously inventive, these fanciful feasts combine imagination and discovery with a solidly positive message of family solidarity and free expression every child desperately needs to experience and absorb. Make sure this book is in your young’uns’ stocking this year and that the subtext becomes part of their life story, no matter how far-fetched or extraordinary…
© Christine Beigel + Pierre Fouillet, 2010. © Bang. Ediciones, 2011, 2013 All rights reserved. English translation and all other material © 2020 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Lola’s Super Club: “My Dad is a Super Secret Agent” is scheduled for release on December 8th 2020 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

Superman: The Golden Age Volume Five


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, George Roussos, Sam Citron & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8797-9 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vital Vintage Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Tomorrow. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, and whimsical comedy. Once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, to that list was added patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters – all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least, Superman was master of the world. He had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry by the time of these tales. There was a successful newspaper strip, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio was producing some of the most expensive – and best – animated cartoons ever conceived.

Thankfully the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release, and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster had infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

This latest addition to the splendid Golden Age/Silver Age strand of DC reprint compendia presents more of an epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Siegel, Shuster and the sterling crew of their “Superman Studio”. This stalwart band collaboratively set the nascent comics world on fire with crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, cathartically exuberant exploits of a righteous and superior man dealing out summary justice equally to social malcontents, exploitative capitalists, thugs and ne’er-do-wells, and captured the imagination of a generation.

This fifth remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Action Ace’s early exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the turbulent, times spanning May 1942 to February 1943: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #48-57, Superman #16-19 and his solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #6-8 (an oversized anthology title where he shared whimsical cover-stardom with Batman and Robin).

As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration depicting Superman trouncing scurrilous Axis War-mongers and reminding readers what we were all fighting for – captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray, Jack Burnley and John Sikela – whilst each tale is credited to prolific co-originator Siegel.

I sometimes think – like many others I know – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”. However, even in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

Jerry Siegel was producing some of the best stories of his career, showing the Action Ace in all his morale-boosting glory; thrashing thugs, spies and masters of bad science whilst America kicked the Axis fascists in the pants…

Co-creator Joe Shuster, although plagued by punishing deadlines for the Superman newspaper strip and his rapidly failing eyesight, was still fully involved in the process, overseeing the stories and drawing character faces whenever possible, but as the months passed the talent pool of the “Superman Studio” increasingly took the lead in the comicbooks as the demands of the media superstar grew and grew. Thus, most of the stories in this volume were drawn by John Sikela with occasional support from others…

The magic begins with ‘The Merchant of Murder!’ from Action Comics #48 wherein the hero topples an insidious gang of killers led by The Top who uses wartime restrictions to sell used cars with deadly faults and defects until reporter Lois Lane and her soft-spoken leg man get involved…

Sikela flew solo on all of Superman #16, beginning with ‘The World’s Meanest Man’ as the Caped Kryptonian crushes a mobster attempting to plunder a social program giving deprived slum-kids a holiday in the countryside, before moving on to battle an astrologer prepared to murder his clients to prove his predictions in ‘Terror from the Stars’.

‘The Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers’ pits the Metropolis Marvel against Mister Sinister, a trans-dimensional tyrant who makes buildings vanish, after which the power-packed perilous periodical concluded with a deeply satisfying and classic campaign against organised crime as Superman crushes the ‘Racket on Delivery’.

Action Comics #49 introduced The Puzzler – a despicable, deadly and obsessive criminal maniac who hated losing and never played fair in ‘The Wizard of Chance’ (inked by Ed Dobrotka).

The debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company collaborated with the organisers of the New York World’s Fair: producing two commemorative comic books celebrating the event. The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics beside such four-colour stars as Zatara, Gingersnap, The Sandman and Batman and Robin. The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies were a huge hit and convinced National’s owner and editors that such an over-sized package of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition.

The bountiful format was retained for a wholly company-owned quarterly which retailed for the then-hefty price of 15¢. Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941), the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

From WFC #6 (Summer 1942), Siegel, Leo Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Man of Steel vs. the Man of Metal’ pits our hero and newsboy Jimmy Olsen against Metalo: a mad scientist whose discoveries make him every inch Superman’s physical match…

Back in Action Comics #50, Clark Kent and Lois are despatched to Florida to scope out sporting skulduggery in ‘Play Ball!’– a light-hearted baseball tale illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka before Superman #17 offers a quartet of tales beginning with ‘Man or Superman?’ (pencilled by Shuster with Sikela inking), wherein Lois first begins putting together snippets of evidence and at last sensing that klutzy Clark might be hiding a Super-secret, even as the subject of her research tangles with sinister saboteur The Talon.

Following that, ‘The Human Bomb’ (art by Nowak) sees a criminal hypnotist transform innocent citizens into walking landmines until the tireless Action Ace scotches his wicked racket.

Sikela handled the last two tales in the issue beginning with ‘Muscles for Sale!’, in which Superman’s Fortress of Solitudeand Trophy Room debut and the Man of Steel battles another mad mesmerist turning ordinary citizens into dangerously overconfident louts, bullies and thieves, whilst ‘When Titans Clash!’ depicts a frantic and spectacular duel of wits and incredible super-strength after Luthor regains the mystic Power Stone to become Superman’s physical – but never intellectual – master …

Action Comics #51 introduces the canny faux-madness of practical-joking homicidal bandit The Prankster in the rollercoaster romp in Sikela’s ‘The Case of the Crimeless Crimes’ and the next issue features the ‘The Emperor of America!’, wherein an invading army are welcomed with open arms by all Americans except the indignantly suspicious Man of Steel who single-handedly liberates the nation in a blistering, rousing call-to-arms classic…

As the war progressed the raw passion and sly wit of Siegel’s stories and the rip-roaring energy of Shuster and his team were galvanised by the parlous state of the planet and Superman got even became better and more flamboyant to deal with it all. His startling abilities and take-charge, can-do attitude won the hearts of the public at home and he was embraced as a patriotic tonic for the troops across the war-torn world.

The rise was meteoric, inexorable and unprecedented. He was the indisputable star of Action and World’s Finest Comics plus his own dedicated title, whilst a daily newspaper strip (begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from 5th November of that year) garnered millions of new fans globally. A thrice-weekly radio serial had been running since February 12th 1940 and, with a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming the entire Earth’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of evil aliens, marauding monsters and slick super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, thrilling tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster were just as engrossing and spoke powerfully of the tenor of the times, and are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “To Be Continueds” here!

A perfect example of the done-in-one tale is Siegel, Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Eight Doomed Men’ from World’s Finest Comics #7: a tale involving a coterie of ruthless millionaires targeted for murder because of the wicked past deeds of their privileged college fraternity. This enthralling crime mystery is suitably spiced up with flamboyant high-tech weaponry that pushes the Man of Tomorrow to his limits…

Superman #18 (September/October 1942) then offers a quartet of stunning sagas, leading with Sikela’s ‘The Conquest of a City’ wherein Nazi infiltrators use a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name… until Superman spearheads the counter-attack…

Nowak’s ‘The Heat Horror’ posits an artificial asteroid threatening to burn the city to ashes until the Metropolis Marvel defeats Lex Luthor, the manic mastermind who initially aimed it at Earth.

‘The Man with the Cane’ offers a grand, old-fashioned and highly entertaining espionage murder mystery for Dobrotka & Sikela to illustrate after which Superman takes on his first fully costumed super-villain when ‘The Snake’ perpetrates a string of murders during construction of a river tunnel in a moody Nowak-drawn masterpiece.

Sikela is inked by George Roussos on fantastic thriller ‘The Man Who put Out the Sun!’ from Action Comics #53, wherein bird-themed bandit Night-Owl uses “black light” technology and ruthless gangsters to plunder at will until the Man of Steel takes charge, whilst in #54, ‘The Pirate of Pleasure Island!’ (Sikela) follows the foredoomed career of upstanding citizen Stanley Finchcomb, a seemingly civilised descendent of ruthless buccaneers who succumbs to madness and becomes a modern day merciless marine marauder. Or perhaps he truly is possessed by the merciless spirit of his ancestor Captain Ironfist in this enchanting supernatural thriller…?

A classic (and much reprinted) fantasy shocker opened Superman #19. ‘The Case of the Funny Papers Crimes’ (Sikela & Dobrotka) sees bizarre desperado Funnyface bring the larger-than-life villains of the Daily Planet’s comics page to terrifying life in a grab for loot and power, after which ‘Superman’s Amazing Adventure’ (Nowak) finds the Man of Steel battling incredible creatures in an incredible extra-dimensional realm – but all is not as it seems…

Some of the city’s most vicious criminals are commanded to kill a stray dog by the infamous Mr. Z in ‘The Canine and the Crooks’ (Nowak) and it takes all of Clark and Lois’ deductive skills to ascertain why before ‘Superman, Matinee Idol’breaks the fourth wall for readers as the reporters visit a movie house to see a Superman cartoon in a shameless yet exceedingly inventive and thrilling “infomercial” plug for the Fleischer Brothers cartoons then currently astounding movie-goers; all lovingly rendered by Shuster and inked by Sikela…

This latest leaf through times gone by continues with a witty and whimsical Li’l Abner spoof illustrated by Sikela & Dobrotka. ‘A Goof named Tiny Rufe’ focuses on desperate cartoonist Slapstick Sam who co-opts, plagiarises and ruins the simple lives of a couple of naïve hillbillies to fill his idea-empty panels and pages… until Superman intercedes to give the hicks their lives back and the devious dauber the drubbing he so richly deserves……

World’s Finest #8 (Winter, 1942-1943) next exposed ‘Talent Unlimited’ (Sam Criton & Sikela) as Superman tracks down a missing heiress who had abandoned wealth for a stage career and poor but honest theatrical friends. Unfortunately, even though she didn’t want her money, other people did…

A brace of episodes from Action Comics brings this gleaming Golden Age visit to a close, starting with ‘Design for Doom!’ from #56. Illustrated by Sikela, it pits the Caped Kryptonian against a deranged architect who creates global city-wrecking catastrophes simply to prove the superiority of his own creations.

Superman was pitifully short on returning villains in the early days so #57’s return of the Prankster as ‘Crime’s Comedy King’ made a welcome addition to his meagre Rogues Gallery, especially as the Macabre Madcap seems here to have turned over a new philanthropic leaf. Of course, there’s malevolence and a big con job at the heart of his transformation…

As fresh, thrilling and compelling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly presented in these glorious paperback collections where the graphic magic defined what being a Super Hero means, with every tale dictating the basic iconography of the genre for all others to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1942, 1943, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Set to Sea

By Drew Weing (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-368-2 (HB) 978-1-60699-771-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Alluring, Tantalising, Refreshing and Totally Satisfying Escapism… 10/10

Graphic novels have been around long enough now that certain subdivisions have developed.

Many are superhero sagas stuffed with visual Sturm & Drang, others canny crime capers, haunting horror stories or quirky comedies. Age and/or taste targeting and other demographics apply too, with some books intended for mature readers whilst others are designed to appeal mostly to youngsters.

Happily, there are still those others which defy simple categorisation: the heartfelt results of earnest, talented creators letting themselves go where their unfettered imaginative minds take them. Sometimes they’re simply a good strong tale, beautifully told and universally appealing.

Such a craftsman is Drew Weing (The Creepy Files of Margo Maloo), who first came to notice in 2010 with this subversively mesmerising tale of maritime fortitude.

Available in deliciously handy, pocket-sized hardback and softcover editions as well as digitally, it’s a true marvel that this tale never found a mass audience so here I am plugging it again. If there’s any justice this time – when we’re all marooned in our own homes – it will finally make him a household name amongst lovers of tall tales and comic treasures.

This beguiling, irresistibly stirring salty saga follows an indigent poet and aspiring barfly with a taste for maritime verse whose lack of true inspiration is dramatically cured after he is press-ganged aboard a Hong-Kong clipper and forcibly learns the true life of a globe-girdling sailor man.

Initially resistant to a life afloat, a terrifying brush with death and battle against rapacious pirates opens the poet’s eye, forcing him to accept the only life he could ever truly enjoy.

As the years and a myriad of exotically different lands pass by he even manages, whilst traversing the world for joyous, raucous decades, to satisfy his artistic leanings into the bargain and finally discern where his heart truly lies…

Magically circular in structure and beautifully drawn in a worshipful blend of Elzie Segar, traditional woodcut prints with, I suspect, a touch of Jeff Smith’s Bon  and Tony Millionaire’s wonderful confections (see Drinky Crow’s Maakies Treasury or any other collection of this truly bizarre strip), this superbly rough ‘n’ tumble monochrome epic collects the impressive original online comic into a salty, panel-per-page paean to the value of true experience over romantic fantasy, while proving a telling examination of the role of the arts in our lives.

A true graphic odyssey which any lover of a dream-life must see, this eternally fresh yet solid entertainment is a genuine “must read”.

Captain’s Orders…
© 2014 Drew Weing. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man Vs. Mysterio


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, Howard Mackie, Peter David, Dan Slott, John Romita Sr., Ross Andru, John Romita Jr., Marie Severin, Alex Saviuk, Todd Nauck & Marcos Martin, with Don Heck, Javier Pulido & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1871-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights Fantasy… 8/10

Heroes are only truly defined by their enemies and superheroes doubly so, with the added proviso that costumed crusaders generally have a rogue’s gallery of fantastic foes rather than just one arch-nemesis. Even so, there’s always one particular enemy who wears that mantle: Moriarty for Sherlock Holmes; Blofeld for James Bond; Luthor for Superman.

Spider-Man has always had two top contenders… but Mysterio was never one of them.

However, this nifty trade paperback (and eBook) compilation gathers many of the now-cinematic evil enigma’s key and most entertaining clashes with the Wondrous Wallcrawler, tracing his devious development whilst offering an uncomplicated, no-frills thrill-ride of frantic spills and chills, equally appetising to film-inspired new meat and grizzled old veterans of the Fights ‘n’ Tights arena.

Collecting Amazing Spider-Man #13, 66-67, 141-142, 618-620; Web of Spider-Man #90; Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11-13 and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #50-51 – collectively spanning June 1964 to April 2010 – the moody menace manifests sans preamble in ‘The Menace of… Mysterio!’ (by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko from Amazing Spider-Man #13).

Here a chilling super-foe premiers in the form of a seemingly eldritch mercenary hired by publisher J. Jonah Jameson to capture Spider-Man. Eventually, however, the bizarre bounty-hunter reveals his own dark criminal agenda and is exposed as a scientific trickster not a mystic marauder…

When Ditko quit Marvel the webspinner’s adventurers were limned by John Romita and a succession of stellar associates. One of most spectacular collaborations came in Amazing Spider-Man #66-67 (November & December 1968) as Lee scripted a psychedelic blockbuster for Romita, Don Heck & inkers Mike Esposito (Mickey Demeo) and Jim Mooney to illuminate. This time, the psychotic special-effects mastermind returns seeking loot and vengeance in ‘The Madness of Mysterio!’ as the master of FX illusions engineers his most outlandish stunt, with the wallcrawler subjected to a bizarre form of mind-bending resulting in an all-out action-packed brawl entitled ‘To Squash a Spider!’.

Perhaps more interestingly, this yarn introduces Randy Robertson, college student son of the Daily Bugle’s city editor and one of the first young black regular roles in Silver Age comics.

Lee and his staff were increasingly making a stand on Civil Rights issues at this time of unrest and Marvel would blaze a trail for African American and other minority characters in their titles. There would also be a growth of student and college issues during a period when American campuses were coming under intense media scrutiny…

Jump forward a few years to February & March 1975 and Amazing Spider-Man #141-142 and – as Peter Parker comes to terms with the death of first love Gwen Stacy – a long-running comedy thread ends with the frankly ridiculous Spider-Mobile crashing into the harbour, thanks to a series of apparent hallucinations, but the wallcrawler barely has time to care as a supposedly long-dead enemy returns in ‘The Man’s Name Appears to be… Mysterio!’

Despite the psychological assaults escalating and Parker continually questioning his own sanity, the mystery is solved through rational deduction and violence in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’, with all entertainment coming courtesy of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru & Esposito…

Even more years later, a fanciful piece of classic Spider-history is unpicked by Roger Stern John Romita Jr. & Mooney in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #50 and 51 (from January & February 1981) as ‘Dilemma’ and ‘Aliens and Illusions!’ (the latter pencilled by Marie Severin) reveal how special effects guru Quentin Beck was secretly battling the Amazing Arachnid long before he adopted his luminous fishbowl hat and green tights…

Crafted by Howard Mackie, Alex Saviuk & Sam de la Rosa, Web of Spider-Man #90 (November 1992) was part of the wallcrawler’s 30th anniversary celebrations. ‘The Spider’s Thread’ again delves into secret personal history as the hero’s old theatrical agent returns, presaging a manic series of attacks from an army of impossible foes… until Spidey discerns his real enemy in ‘Sleight of Mind!’

Set during the first superhero Civil War, 3-parter ‘I Hate a Mystery’ is by Peter David, Todd Nauck, Robert Campanella, & Rodney Ramos and comes from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11-13 (October-December 2006). Peter Parker has recently gone public with his identity after acquiescing to the Super Human Registration Act, but his life as a high school science teacher is shattered by press intrusion and the vengeful acts of three separate but equally unhappy Mysterios…

The dramatic quotient of this collection cranks into overdrive for concluding extended epic ‘Mysterioso’, originally seen in Amazing Spider-Man #618-620 (March & April 2010), by writer Dan Slott and art team Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido & Javier Rodriguez. Divided into ‘Un-Murder Incorporated’, ‘Re-Appearing Act’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’, the wallcrawler’s war against Mr. Negative and an army of old enemies takes an even darker turn after Aunt May is turned evil and a seemingly undead Mysterio is hired by cyborg mafioso Silvermane to destroy his bitter rival Hammerhead. The chaotic final clash is even more confused and cataclysmic and leaves us all on a tense cliffhanger…

Adding extra sheen are info pages, cover reprints (from Spider-Man Classics, Marvel Tales and others), variant covers and pin-ups by Ditko, Dwayne Turner, Romita Sr. and Jr. and Joe Quinones, plus Marvel Handbook fact-pages on all three villains who have thus far played Mysterio.

Epic and engaging, this grab-bag of aerial assaults and titanic tussles is pure comicbook catharsis: fast, furious fun and thrill-a-minute-melodrama no fights ‘n’ Tights fan could resist.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics


By Gahan Wilson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-612-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: One Last Hard-Earned Laugh in the Face of the Toughest Holiday Season in Living Memory… 9/10

Born on February 18th 1930 and dying a year ago today, Gahan Allen Wilson was an illustrator, cartoonist, essayist and author who always had his eyes and heart set on the future. According to Gary Groth’s Afterword in this sublime collection, he and grew up reading comic strips as much as fantasy fiction.

It always showed.

The mordantly macabre, acerbically wry and surreal draughtsman tickled funnybones and twanged nerves with his darkly dry graphic confections from the 1960s; contributing superb spoofs, sparklingly horrific and satirically suspenseful drawings and strips and panels as a celebrated regular contributor in such major magazines as Playboy, Collier’s, The New Yorker and others. He also wrote science fiction for Again Dangerous Visions, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Twilight Zone Magazine and Realms of Fantasy as well as contributing criticism, book and film reviews for them all.

In an extremely broad and long career he wore dozens of creative hats, even embracing the modern digital universe by creating – with Byron Preiss – his own supernatural computer game, Gahan Wilson’s the Ultimate Haunted House.

When National Lampoon first began its devastatingly satirical (geez, do modern folk even recognize satire anymore?) all-out attack on the American Dream, Wilson was invited to contribute a regular strip to their comics section. His sublimely semi-autobiographical, darkly hilarious paean to lost childhood ran from 1972 and until 1981 and was collected as Nuts, another superb compilation from this publisher that you should own and share.

Few people – me included – knew that during that period he also, apparently more for fun and relaxation than profit, produced his own syndicated Sunday strip feature. For two years – beginning on March 3rd 1974 – Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics appeared in a small cross-section of newspapers from Boston to Los Angeles and, as with all his work, it bucked a trend.

At a time when most cartoonists were seeking a daily continuity strip, building a readership and eking jokes out with sensible parsimony, Wilson let himself go hog-wild, generating a half-dozen or so single-shot gags every Sabbath, blending his signature weird, wild monsters, uncanny aliens and unsavoury scenes with straight family humour, animal crackers, topical themes and cynically socio-politically astute observations.

Looking at them here it’s clear to me that his intent was to have fun and make himself laugh as much or even more than his readership; capturing those moments when an idea or notion gave him pause to giggle whilst going about his day job…

I’m not going to waste time describing the cartoons: there are too many and despite being a fascinating snapshot of life in the 1970s they’re almost all still outrageously funny in the way and manner that Gary Larson’s Far Side was a scant six years later.

I will say that even whilst generating a storm of humorous, apparently unconnected one-offs, consummate professional Wilson couldn’t restrain himself and eventually the jokes achieved an underlying shape and tone with recurring motifs (clocks, beasts, wallpaper, etc), guest appearances by “The Kid” (from Nuts) and features-within-the-feature such as The Creep and Future Funnies

Collected in a gloriously expansive (176 pages, 309x162mm) full-colour, landscape hardback, as well as in digital formats, this complete re-presentation of a lost cartooning classic offers a freewheeling, absurdist, esoterically banal, intensely, trenchantly funny slice of nostalgia. These fabulous joke page compendiums range from satire to slapstick to agonising irony and again prove Wilson to be one of the world’s greatest visual humourists.

This is a book no fan of fun should miss and, with Christmas oppressively bearing down on us, could be a crucial solution to the perennial “what to get him/her/them/they” question…
All comic strips © 2013 Gahan Wilson. This Edition © Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 1


By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401249465 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Ages Fun and Frolic… 8/10

It’s been bad year for everybody, but from my selfish and blinkered perspective, the graphic arts have been particularly diminished by the loss of many giants. Here’s an offhand tribute to two more…

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series writers Joe Ruby (March 30th 1933-August 26th 2020) and Ken Spears (March 12th 1938-November 6th 2020) co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the World’s cultural landscape. They also popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows such as Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all this, they are most renowned for devising mega-franchise Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst the mountain of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series from Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976), Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979), Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all the Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such asTiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold or Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo

In 2013, the mystery-solving pesky kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling material from Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1-6 (January-November 2014) this first fabulous trade paperback – or eBook – features a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch illustrator Dario Brizuela, colourists Franco Riesco & Heroic Age and letterers Saida Temofonte & Deron Bennett.

It all begins with Mystery Inc. aiding Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin in a hunt for mutated scientist Kirk Langstrombefore being diverted by a gang of fake flyers in ‘Man-Bat and Robbin’!’ after which issue #2 asks ‘Who’s Scared?’ As the Caped Crusader and Ace, the Bat-Hound enjoy seeing the original Scooby gang admitted to the legendary Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, the terror-inducing Scarecrow strikes, and only the canine contingent can resist his latest fear chemicals…

Still visiting Gotham City, the gang discover ‘Two Mites Make It Wrong’ as impulsive imp Bat-Mite starts his reality-altering pranks again and normality is only possible through the intervention of unforeseen antithesis Scooby-Mite

Channelling a contemporary surreal TV hit, ‘Teen Titans – Ghost!’ then brings the Mystery Machine to Jump City for a spot of haunting at Titans Tower, before Daphne and Velma visit Wonder Woman on Themyscira and indulge in a Kanga rodeo whilst the boys mess about in the invisible jet before reuniting to solve a mythological monster mystery causing ‘Trouble in Paradise’

This initial outing concludes with a mass masked hero marathon when a visit to the Super Friends’ Hall of Justice leads to a ghost hunt. Mystery soon solved, the gang, Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, the Justice League of America and Supergirl then must all battle the notorious Legion of Doom in ‘A (Super) Friend in Need’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills skilfully revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2014, 2015 Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and all related characters and elements are ™ DC Comics. Scooby-Doo and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera.

The Flash of Two Worlds Deluxe Edition


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9459-5 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Superhero Wonderment… 10/10

As previously stated, there have been a lot of comic book anniversaries this year, possibly none more significant than original speedster The Flash who debuted in 1940. That’s happily led to a swathe of splendid vintage material being revived, such as this tome from 2009, gathering material that truly reshaped how the industry and the fanbase consumed their reading matter: a stunning collection gathering some of the most influential and beloved stories of the Silver Age.

Way back then in 1956, Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in that epoch with his Showcase successes The Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America (happy sixtieth!) and more revivals – which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which further changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration gathering the first half dozen Barry Allen team-ups with his predecessor Jay Garrick: specifically, the contents of The Flash #123, 129, 137, 151, 170 and 173, originally seen between September 1961 and September 1967…

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster were the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with key writers John Broome and Gardner Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever. Following an Introduction from Flash-Fanatic Geoff Johns and Foreword by Paul Levitz, you can see how and why…

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Joe Giella) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig, Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists.

Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts, either via annual summer collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own individual series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters. Of those bold sallies only The Spectre graduated to his own title…

Received with tumultuous acclaim by the readership, the Earth-2 concept was revisited months later in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ (June 1962) which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen 1940s stalwarts Wonder Woman, The Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from #137 (June 1963) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw both Flashes in action against 50,000-year-old tyrant Vandal Savage to save the abducted Justice Society of America: a tale leading directly to the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the subsequent creation of an annual team-up tradition.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age” but the Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could only see us now…

A less well-known but superbly gripping team-up tale is ‘Invader from the Dark Dimension!’ (Flash #151, March 1965,): another full-length shocker wherein demonic super-bandit The Shade ambitiously infiltrates Earth-1 as the opening gambit in an avaricious attempt to plunder both worlds…

Flash #170 (May 1967) was scripted by John Broome and inked by the sublime Sid Greene, reuniting the Speedsters after a gap of two years to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’, with the Earth-1 Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick is visiting and calls on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following and concluding this cornucopia of cosmic chills, Flash #173 (September 1967, by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic triple team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly reveals devilish layers of intrigue since the sinister stalker’s Andromedan super-safari conceals a far more scurrilous purpose for the three speedy pawns before the wayward wanderers finally fight free and find their way home again…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here – in lavish hardback or handy digital editions – shaped American comics for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave of animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967, 2009, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy


By Alex Nikolavitch & Felix Ruiz, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-266-3(HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-267-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it’s not Christmas without magic castles in the air… 9/10

When it comes to biography, Walt Disney is a true “Marmite” figure, with writers and historians pretty evenly divided between effusive hagiography and excoriating exposés.

As fully discussed in author Alex Nikolavitch’s Introduction, the genius who nurtured and nourished the childhood dreams of generations across the globe is an immensely polarising figure: a sensitive creator and twice-burned artisan who grew increasing and equally obsessed with micromanaging all around him and spreading heartfelt joy.

What this superb graphic summation of the fantasy overlord’s complex and contradictory life adds is the necessary balance quietly provided throughout and beyond Walt’s life by his nigh-invisible brother Roy

Alex Nikolavitch is a French author, screenwriter, essayist and educator, who writes comics and has a steady sideline translating English-language books like V for Vendetta, Tank Girl and Spawn to supplement his own series such as Burton and Les Canaux du Mitan. His collaborator here is mercurial Spanish artist and colourist Felix Ruiz (Savage Wolverine, Agents of Atlas: Marvel Boy, The Uranian, Halo) who reverts to a charmingly compelling and effective École de Marcinelle bigfoot style to trace the career of America’s greatest dream factory…

In episodic bursts of vivid scenes preceded by a potted history of animation, the story opens with ‘Of a Mouse and Men’as cartoon pioneers Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks – reeling from having their creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit taken from them by unscrupulous money men – bounce back with a new character… a mouse.

More crucially, Walt asks his brother Roy to join the team. He is an accountant, with his feet planted firmly on the ground and his hands on the financial tiller.

…And then “Talkies” revolutionise the film industry and Walt has another good idea just as the Great Depression looms…

Second Chapter ‘Childhood Dreams’ covers the turbulent period after Snow White was released, as Roy secures global distribution in some very unwholesome places, balanced with the brothers’ fruitless attempts to rationalise their new lifestyles to their pious, old-fashioned doctrinaire parents. This leads to revelatory flashbacks of the boys growing up in rural religious Missouri and Walt’s transformative first encounter with Movies…

The war years and infamous union-busting strike of Disney’s animation studio is covered in ‘Turbulence’, as well as the post war years of expansion, as the arch creator increasingly seeks to control every aspect of his ever-expanding kingdom.

Walt’s anti-communist mania blatantly manifests in ‘Builder of Empires’, as the company moves into television and theme parks and the aging autocrats faces his own mortality…

Skilfully negotiating the complex web of beguiling creativity that always warred with a ruthless struggle for autonomy, political control and money, The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy is a superbly delivered balancing act between reportage and drama. Evoking amazement, glee, sympathy and moral outrage in turn, the tale – delivered in jolly, velvetxglove-over-lead-lined-blackjack cartoon manner – is available in substantial hardback and various digital formats and is supplemented with an historical critique by author Jarett Kobek in ‘Afterword: How to Build a Media Empire’ plus suggested Further Reading.

This is a splendid work no fan of comics or film history should miss.
© 2019 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2020 NBM for the English translation.

The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy is scheduled for release on November 26th 2020 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

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

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

By Bill Watterson (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-74074-847-9 (HB boxed set) 978-1-44943-325-3 (PB boxed set)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Absolute Epiphany of Joyous Delight… 10/10

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

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

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

An immediate best-selling strip and perennial award-winning critical hit running from November 18th 1985 through December 31st 1995, Calvin and Hobbes came and went like a bright, soft comet and we’re all the poorer for its passing. In the decade of its existence, the strip redefined depictions of the “Eyes of Wonder” which children possess, and made us mere adults laugh, and so often cry too. Its influence shaped a generation of up-and-coming cartoonists and comicbook creators.

We all wanted a childhood like that pesky kid’s; bullies, weird teachers, obnoxious little girls and all. At least we can – and still do – revisit…

The Daily and Sundays appeared in more than 2,400 newspapers all over the planet and – from 2010 – reruns have featured in over 50 countries. There were 18 unmissable collections (selling well in excess of 45,000,000 copies thus far), including the fabulous complete boxed set edition in both soft and hard cover formats I’m plugging today. Yes, it’s a comparatively expensive item but I gloat over my hardback set almost every day and cannot count the number of times I’ve dipped into it over the years.

Unlike most of his fellows, Watterson shunned the spotlight and the merchandising Babylon that generally follows a comic strip mega-hit. He dedicated all his spirit and energies into producing one of the greatest testaments to childhood and the twin and inevitably converging worlds of fantasy and reality anywhere in fiction. All comics purists need to know is that the creator cites unique sole-auteur strips Pogo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts as his major influences and all mysteries are solved…

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

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

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

I cannot imagine any strip fan – or indeed, parent – living life without Calvin and Hobbes. Imaginative, dazzling, unforgettably captivating, these are some of the best cartoons ever crafted. You should have them in your house.

Usually I plug a specific item – and I am here too – but today’s lesson is really a big thank you and heartfelt recommendation for an iconic strip and its brilliant creator.

I normally shy away from excessively priced items too, but in this case (not a pun, no matter how much I want it to be) the expense is worth the outlay. This is a set of books to summon up glorious childhood memories, meant to be read lying on the floor with kids and pets and snacks all jostling for the best vantage point.

The entire Calvin and Hobbes canon is still fully available in solo volumes and so is this aforementioned wrist-cracking box set, but not, sadly, in a digital edition yet. You can, however, enjoy digital dollops of this graphic milestone if so inclined by going to gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes. They are also available online through the Andrews McMeel Uclick platform, so there’s no reason for you not to make this brilliant example of our art form a permanent part of your life. And you’ll thank me for it, too…
© 1989, 2005, 2012 Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.