Baggywrinkles – A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea


By Lucy Bellwood with Joey Weiser & Michele Chidester (Toonhound Studios)
ISBN: 978-0-9882202-9-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For those Quiet Moments after all the Mainbraces have been properly Spliced… 10/10

Everybody needs an abiding passion in their lives, and born storyteller Lucy Bellwood seems blessed with two as this superb paperback compilation – also available as an ebook – of her comics about tall ships and the history of sailing delightfully proves.

In her Introduction she describes how at seventeen she fell under the spell of rigging, sheets and wind after spending a few life-changing weeks crewing aboard the Lady Washington – a fully functioning replica of a 1790s Brig.

How that inspired her to produce a succession of strips detailing her time afloat and many of the things she learned then and since make up the first seafaring snippet ‘The Call of the Running Tide’: a funny, fact-packed evocation of the immortal allure of sea and stars.

Following that is an utterly absorbing data page deftly describing and exactly explaining ‘What is a Baggywrinkle?

I now know; so does my wife and one of our cats, but I’m not telling you because it’s truly cool and I’m not going to spoil the surprise…

‘Sea of Ink’ describes with captivating charm and sheer poetic gusto ‘The Baggywrinkles Official Guide to Nautical Tattoos’, covering the history, development and specific significance of the most popular symbols worn by mariners across the centuries. It’s followed by a definitive ‘Fathom Fact’ and an account of Bellwood’s first days at sea traversing ‘Parts Unknown’ whilst nailing down the very basics of the ancient profession. It is backed up by the nitty-gritty of sea-man’s staple ‘Hard Tack’

‘The Plank’ hilariously and wittily debunks the accumulated misleading mythology surrounding the pirates’ most infamous human resources solution and is counterbalanced by an evocative look at the first Lady Washington and her forgotten place in history. ‘Pacific Passages’ details how, in 1791, the Boston trader and accompanying sloop Grace deviated slightly from their journey to Shanghai and discovered Japan by anchoring in the Oshima Bay.

A tale of remarkable restraint and mutual respect which ended happily for all concerned, but the real trouble started 63 years later when Commodore Matthew Perry showed up and forced isolationist Japan to open her doors to foreign trade…

The heart-warming tale is supplemented by a ‘Glossary’ of Japanese and English terms and is followed by a superb and succinct history of the greatest scourge ever to afflict nautical travellers.

‘Scurvy Dogs’ relates the effects, causes and raft (sorry!) of solutions postulated and attempted by every stripe of learned man in the quest to end the debilitating condition’s toll of attrition. It’s followed by ‘Scurvy Afterword’: an engrossing essay by Eriq Nelson relating how we’re not out of the woods yet and why Scurvy still blights the modern world from individual picky eaters to millions suffering in refugee camps…

Wrapping up this magnificently beguiling treat is ‘The Scurvy Rogues’: an outrageously enticing and informative ‘Guest Art Gallery’ with strips and pin-ups from fellow cartoon voyagers Lissa Treiman, Betsy Peterschmidt, Adam T. Murphy, Kevin Cannon, Ben Towle, Steve LeCouilliard, Isabella Rotman, Dylan Meconis and Beccy David. And while we’re at it let’s not forget to applaud the colouring contributions of Joey Weiser & Michele Chidester…

Meticulously researched, potently processed into gloriously accessible and unforgettable cartoon capsule communications, the stories shared in Baggywrinkles are brimming with verve and passion: a true treat for all lovers of seas, wild experiences, comfy chairs, good company and perfect yarn-spinning.
© 2010-2016 Lucy Bellwood. All Rights Reserved.

Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework


By Nadja Spiegelman & Trade Loeffler (Toon Books/Raw Junior)
ISBN: 978-1-935179-02-3 (HC)                    ISBN: 978-1-935179-38-2 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Take Me to Your Leader’s Bookshelf… 9/10

These days there’s a wealth of comics and cartoon books for the young to cut their milk-teeth on and amongst the most entertaining are those produced by Toon Books.…

This particular treat by writer Nadja Spiegelman & Trade Loeffler follows the escapades of a couple of alien kids cutting classes when they should be doing homework.

In space, however, teachers can still track you down wherever you are, and when an urgent call reminds Zig he has to complete his science project – bringing a pet in to class – he reluctantly lands on the blue-green planet he’s passing and goes hunting for an animal to adopt…

Thus begins a grand odyssey as Zig and his electronic know-it-all pal Wikki interview and pursue a range of earthly creatures for the role, only slightly hampered by the detail that they both are approximately the size of Earth mice. At least they have a shrinking ray with them…

Aimed at 5-and-over age-ranges, this splendidly child-sized (236 x162 mm) full-colour landscape format tome is a gloriously evocative, sleekly exciting kid-friendly caper, produced in hardback, paperback and e-book editions. Fast-paced, charming and packed with learning content as Wikki’s face-screen provides photos and gloriously gross fun facts about Flies, Dragonflies, Frogs and Raccoons, Zig’s quest to “bring ‘em back alive” is a sweet blend of science and fiction that will keep kids and parents enthralled.
© 2010 RAW Junior, LLC. All rights reserved.

Why not check out the scene at: http://www.toon-books.com/zig-and-wikki-in-something-ate-my-homework.html

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Captain America volume 1 – Revised Review


By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby and various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 0-7851-1619-2 (HC);  978-0785157939 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Evergreen Hit… 8/10

The success of DC’s Archive imprint – luxury hardback chronological collections of rare, expensive and just plain old items out of their mammoth back-catalogue – gradually resulted in a shelf-buckling array of Golden and Silver Age volumes which paid worthy tribute to the company’s grand past and still serves a genuine need amongst fans of old comics who don’t own their own software company or Money Bin. Even if production of the series seems to have been generally sidelined in recent months…

From DC’s tentative beginnings in the 1990’s Marvel, Dark Horse and other publishers have since pursued this (presumably) lucrative avenue, perhaps as much a sop to their most faithful fans as an exercise in expansion marketing.

DC’s electing to spotlight not simply their World Branded “Big Guns” but also those idiosyncratic yet well-beloved collector nuggets – such as Doom Patrol, Sugar and Spike or Kamandi – was originally at odds with Marvel’s policy of only releasing equally expensive editions of major characters from “the Marvel Age of Comics”, but eventually their Timely and Atlas era material joined the procession…

A part of me understands Marvel’s initial reluctance: sacrilegious as it may sound to my fellow fan-boys, the simple truth is that no matter how venerable and beloved those early stories are, no matter how their very existence may have lead to true classics in a later age, in and of themselves, most early Marvel tales – and other “Golden Age Greats” – just aren’t that good by today’s standards.

This Marvel Masterworks Captain America – now also available as an ebook – volume  reprints more or less the complete contents of the first four issues of his original title (spanning March to June 1941) and I stress this because all the leading man’s adventures have often been reprinted before, most notably in a shoddy, infamous yet expensive 2-volume anniversary boxed set issued in 1991.

However, the groundbreaking and exceptionally high quality material by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby seen here is not really the lure … the real gold nuggets for us old sods are those rare back-up features from the star duo and their small team of talented youngsters. Reed Crandall, Syd Shores, Alex Schomburg and the rest worked on main course and filler features such as Hurricane, the God of Speed and Tuk, Caveboy; strips barely remembered yet still brimming with the first enthusiastic efforts of creative legends in waiting.

Captain America was devised at the end of 1940 and boldly launched in his own monthly title from Timely – the company’s original name – with none of the customary cautious shilly-shallying.

Captain America Comics, #1 was cover-dated March 1941 and was an instant monster, blockbuster smash-hit. Cap was instantly the absolute and undisputed star of Timely’s “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner – and one of the very first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

Today, the huge 1940s popularity of the other two just doesn’t translate into a good read for modern consumers – excluding, perhaps, those far-too-few Bill Everett crafted Sub-Mariner yarns.

In comparison to their contemporaries at Quality, Fawcett, National/All American and Dell, or Will Eisner’s The Spirit newspaper strip, the standard of most Timely periodicals was woefully lacklustre in both story and most tellingly, art. That they survived and prospered is a Marvel mystery, but a clue might lie in the sheer exuberant venom of their racial stereotypes and heady fervour of jingoism at a time when America was involved in the greatest war in world history…

I suspect given the current tone of the times politically, such sentiments might be less controversial now than they have been for quite a while…

However, the first ten Captain America Comics are the most high-quality comics in the fledgling company’s history and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had National (née DC) been wise enough to hire Simon & Kirby before they were famous, instead of after that pivotal first year?

Of course we’ll never know and though they did jump to the majors after a year, their visual dynamic became the aspirational style for superhero comics at the company they left and their patriotic creation became the flagship icon for them and the entire industry.

This compelling and exceptional volume opens with ‘Case No. 1: Meet Captain America’ by Simon & Kirby (with additional inks by Al Liederman) wherein we first see how scrawny, enfeebled young patriot Steven Rogers, continually rejected by the US Army, is recruited by the Secret Service.

Desperate to counter a wave of Nazi-sympathizing espionage and sabotage, this passionate man is invited to become part of a clandestine experiment intended to create physically perfect super-soldiers. However, when a vile Nazi agent infiltrates the project and murders its key scientist, Rogers became the only successful graduate and America’s not-so-secret weapon.

Sent undercover as a simple private he soon encounters Bucky Barnes: a headstrong, orphaned Army Brat who becomes his sidekick and costumed confidante. All of that is perfectly packaged into mere seven-and-a-half pages, and the untitled ‘Case No. 2’ takes just as long to spectacularly defeat Nazi showbiz psychics Sando and Omar as they spread anxiety and fear amongst the Americans.

‘Captain America and the Soldier’s Soup’ is a rather mediocre and unattributed prose tale promptly followed by a sinister 16-page epic ‘Captain America and the Chess-board of Death’ with our heroes thrashing more macabre murdering Nazi malcontents before the groundbreaking introduction of the nation’s greatest foe…

Solving ‘The Riddle of the Red Skull’ proves to be a thrill-packed, horror-drenched master-class in comics excitement…

The first of the B-features follows next as Hurricane (Son of Thor) and the last survivor of the Greek Gods – don’t blame me; that’s what it says – sets his super-fast sights on ‘Murder Inc.’ in a rip-roaring but clearly rushed battle against fellow-immortal Pluto (so not quite the last god either; nor exclusively Norse or Greek…) who is once more using mortals to foment pain, terror and death.

Hurricane was a rapid reworking and sequel to Kirby’s ‘Mercury in the 20th Century’ from Red Raven Comics #1 (August 1940) whereas ‘Tuk, Caveboy: Stories from the Dark Ages’ is all-original excitement as a teenaged boy in 50,000 BC and raised by a beast-man determines to regain the throne of his antediluvian kingdom Attilan from the usurpers who stole it.

This is an imaginative barbarian spectacular that owes as much to Tarzan as The Land that Time Forgot but it certainly delivers the thrills we all want…

Historians believe Kirby pencilled this entire issue and although no records remain, inkers as diverse as Liederman, Crandall, Bernie Klein, Al Avison, Al Gabrielle, Syd Shores and others may have been involved in this and subsequent issues…

Captain America Comics #2 screamed onto the newsstands a month later and spectacularly opened with monster mash-up ‘The Ageless Orientals Who Wouldn’t Die’, blending elements of horror and jingoism into a terrifying thriller with a ruthless American capitalist exposed as the true source of a rampage against the nation’s banks…

‘Trapped in the Nazi Stronghold’ sees Cap and Bucky in drag and in Europe to rescue a pro-British financier kidnapped by the Nazis whilst ‘Captain America and the Wax Statue that Struck Death’ returned to movie-thriller themes in the tale of a macabre murderer with delusions of world domination.

The Patriotic Pair then deal with saboteurs in the prose piece ‘Short Circuit’ before Tuk tackles monsters and mad priests in ‘The Valley of the Mist’ (by either the King and a very heavy inker or an unnamed artist doing a passable Kirby impression) and Hurricane – now “Master of Speed” swiftly and spectacularly expunges ‘The Devil and the Green Plague’ in the fetid heart of the Amazon jungles.

17-page epic ‘The Return of the Red Skull’ led in #3 – knocking Adolf Hitler off the cover-spot he’d hogged in #1 and #2 – with Kirby opening up his layouts to utterly enhance the graphic action with a veritable production line of creators (including Ed Herron, Martin A, Burnstein, Howard Ferguson, William Clayton King, and possibly George Roussos, Bob Oksner, Max Elkan and Jerry Robinson) joining the art team.

Whilst eye-shattering scale and spectacle unite with non-stop action and eerie mood as key components of the Sentinel of Liberty’s exploits horror elements dominated in ‘The Hunchback of Hollywood and the Movie Murder’ as a patriotic film is plagued by sinister “accidents”.

Stan Lee debuts with text tale ‘Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge’ before Simon & Kirby – and friends – recount ‘The Queer Case of the Murdering Butterfly and the Ancient Mummies’; blending eerie Egyptian antiquities with a thoroughly modern costumed psychopath.

Then Tuk (drawn by either Mark Schneider – or perhaps Marcia Snyder) reaches ‘Atlantis and the False King’ after which Kirby contributes a true tale in ‘Amazing Spy Adventures’ before Hurricane confronts ‘Satan and the Subway Disasters’ with devastating and final effect…

The final issue in this fabulous chronicle opens with ‘Captain America and the Unholy Legion’ as the star-spangled brothers-in-arms crush a conspiracy of beggars terrorising the city, before taking on ‘Ivan the Terrible’ in a time-bending vignette and thereafter solving ‘The Case of the Fake Money Fiends’. The all-action extravaganzas culminate in magnificent fashion when our heroes then expose the horrendous secret of ‘Horror Hospital’

After Lee-scripted prose-piece ‘Captain America and the Bomb Sight Thieves’ young Tuk defeats ‘The Ogre of the Cave-Dwellers’ and Hurricane brings down a final curtain on ‘The Pirate and the Missing Ships’.

An added and very welcome bonus for fans is the inclusion of all the absolutely beguiling house-ads for other titles, contents pages, Sentinels of Liberty club bulletins and assorted pin-ups…

Although lagging far behind DC and despite in many ways having a much shallower vintage well to draw from, with this particular tome at least the House of Ideas has a book that will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best that the Golden Age of Comics could offer and should be on every fan’s “never-miss” bookshelf.
© 1941, 2005, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Fifth Beatle: Brian Epstein Story


By Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker & various (M-Press/Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-835-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Picture Story that truly Sings… 10/10

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – multi-award winning and originally released in 2013 – is probably one of the best and the most likely to reach a large mainstream audience. It certainly deserves to…

Written by Broadway Producer and author Vivek J. Tiwary and playfully illustrated by Andrew C. Robinson (Dr Blink: Super Hero Shrink, Dusty Star, JLA) – with additional material by Kyle Baker – it traces the meteoric rise of impresario Brian Epstein, who pretty much invented the role and function of modern management as he steered The Beatles from scruffy oiks playing dingy clubs and caverns to fabulous wealth and global mega-stardom in less than a decade.

The story is a pretty tragic one as Gay, Jewish record shop manager Epstein steered a trailblazing course for his charges at a time when his religion still provoked derision and prejudice and his sex life got him beaten up and threatened with prison.

In a deliciously light, enthusiastically joyous and smoothly welcoming manner this tale follows the Fab Four’s rise, as orchestrated by a man who dressed them and schooled them; sorting out tours and merchandise, toys and cartoon shows at a time when such crucial ephemera had never been seen before. He especially ensured that they got most of the money they earned…

Epstein was no one-trick wonder, but managed other star acts such as Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer (who provides loving Introduction ‘When I Got a Call From Brian, That’s When I Grew Wings’) and genuinely cared that his boys were left alone to make the music he loved…

If you know your history you know this tale is a proper injustice-laced tear-jerker without a happy ending, but Tiwary and Robinson – with Kyle Baker lending a superb animation-style meta-reality to the Beatles catastrophic visit to the Philippines – keep the spirits high without losing any of the edge, impact or inherent tragedies and indignities Epstein endured to succeed.

Brian Samuel Epstein first saw the Beatles perform in 1961 and by the time he died in August 1967 – of an overdose of sleeping pills – had seen them conquer the world in terms of sales and change the nature of music with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. He was 32.

How the world and the music industry have gradually made amends and returned him to the history he has for so long been excised from is covered in the author’s thought-provoking Afterword ‘This Feeling That Remains…’, and reiterated by pioneering cartoonist Howard Cruse in a feature on LGBTQ advocacy organisation Freedom for All Americans.

Also adding to the massive enjoyment is copious sketch and commentary section ‘With a Little Help from my Sketchbook: a Ticket to Ride to Selected Drawings, Preliminaries, Designs, and More’ by Robinson. offering insights and creative commentary plus more of the same from Kyle Baker in ‘The Places I Remember’.

Wrapping up festivities are a batch of features by Tiwary: ‘The Birth of the Beatles and Impossible Dreams’, ‘The Curtain Rising: Brian Epstein’s Induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ and a memorabilia fan’s dream as ‘The Past Was Yours, But the Future’s Mine’ shares ticket stubs, posters, greetings card and other unique snippets of pop history.

This is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that will resonate for all the right reasons with anybody who loves to listen and look.
Text and illustrations of The Fifth Beatle: Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition © 2013, 2016 Tiwary Entertainment Group Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Flash: The Silver Age volume 1


By John Broome, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino & various (DE Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6110-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wholesome Entertainment… 9/10

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of the American comic book began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comicbook industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956. The newsstands had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled – by such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955), Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955), a revival of Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the aforementioned Captain America (December 1953-October 1955). Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) had come and made little mark. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to serious try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age: aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comicbook featuring his predecessor (a scientist named Jay Garrick who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”). Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry Allen became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

This splendidly economical full colour paperback compilation superbly compliments Infantino’s talents and the tone of the times. These stories have been gathered many times but here the package – matt-white, dense paper stock – offers punch, clarity and the ineffably comforting texture of the original newsprint pulp pamphlets.

This is what a big book of comics ought to feel like in your eager, sweaty hands…

Collecting all four Showcase tryout issues – #4, 8, 13 and 14 – and the first full dozen issues of his own title (The Flash volume 1 #105-116, October 1956 to November 1960) the high-speed thrills begin with the epochal debut tales from Showcase #4.

‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ (scripted by Kanigher) sees Barry endure his electrical metamorphosis and promptly goes on to subdue bizarre criminal mastermind Turtle Man after which ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier!’ – written by the brilliant John Broome – finds the newly-minted Scarlet Speedster batting a criminal from the future before returning criminal exile Mazdan to his own century, proving the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power. These are slickly polished, coolly sophisticated short stories introducing the comfortingly suburbanite new superhero and firmly establishing the broad parameters of his universe.

Showcase #8 (June 1957) led with another Kanigher tale. ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’, a perplexing if pedestrian mystery, saw veteran Frank Giacoia return as inker, but the real landmark was the Broome thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’.

With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new costumed character phenomenon by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike the Golden Age, these new super-heroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Bad guys would henceforth be as memorable as the champions of justice. Captain Cold would return time and again. Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s pantheon of classic super-foes.

Joe Giella inked the two adventures in Showcase #13 (April 1958). ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ was written by Kanigher and displayed Flash’s versatility as he tackled atomic terrorists, battled Arabian bandits, counteracted an avalanche on Mount Everest and scuttled submarine pirates in the specified time slot.

Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ then premiered the outlandish Mr. Element, who utilised the periodic table as his arsenal.

Showcase #14 (June 1958) opened with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’: a masterful fantasy thriller and a worthy effort to bow out on as Flash and girlfriend Iris West encounter extra-dimensional invaders with the strangest life-cycle imaginable.

The issue closed with a return engagement for Mr. Element sporting a new M.O. and identity – Doctor Alchemy. ‘The Man Who Changed the Earth!’ is a classic crime-caper with serious psychological underpinnings, as Flash struggles to overcome the villain’s latest weapon: mystic transmutational talisman the Philosopher’s Stone…

When the Scarlet Speedster graduated to his own title John Broome was the lead writer, supplemented eventually by Gardner Fox. Kanigher would return briefly in the mid-1960s and would later write a number of tales during DC’s ‘Relevancy’ period.

Taking its own sweet time, The Flash #105 launched with a February-March 1959 cover-date (so it was out for Christmas 1958) and opened with Broome, Infantino and Giella’s sci-fi chiller ‘Conqueror From 8 Million B.C.!’ before introducing yet another money-mad super-villain in ‘The Master of Mirrors!’

Issue #106 introduced one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of telepathic super-simians instantly captured the fan’s attentions in ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ and even after Flash thrashed the hairy hooligan Grodd promptly returned in the next two issues.

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (for some reason any comic with a substantial simian in it spectacularly outsold those that didn’t in those far-ago days) but these tales are also packed with tension, action and engagingly challenging fantasy concepts.

Offering an encore here is ‘The Pied Piper of Peril!’: a mesmerising musical criminal mastermind, stealing for fun and attention rather than profit…

Issue #107 led with the ‘Return of the Super-Gorilla!’ by regular team Broome, Infantino and Giella, a multi-layered fantasy thriller that took our hero from the African (invisible) city of the Super-Gorillas to the subterranean citadel of antediluvian Ornitho-Men, and closed with ‘The Amazing Race Against Time’ which featured an amnesiac who could outrun the Fastest Man Alive in a desperate dash to save all of creation from obliteration. With every issue the stakes got higher whilst the dramatic quality and narrative ingenuity got better!

Frank Giacoia inked #108’s high-tech death-trap thriller ‘The Speed of Doom!’ featuring trans-dimensional raiders stealing fulgurites (look it up, if you want) but Giella was back for ‘The Super-Gorilla’s Secret Identity!’ wherein Grodd devises a scheme to outwit evolution itself by turning himself into a human…

The next issue saw ‘The Return of the Mirror-Master’ with the first in a series of bizarre physical transformations that would increasingly become a signature device for Flash stories, whilst the contemporary Space Race provided an evocative maguffin for a fantastic undersea adventure in the ‘Secret of the Sunken Satellite’. Here Flash encountered an unsuspected sub-sea race on the edge of extinction whilst enquiring after the impossible survival of an astronaut trapped at the bottom of the sea.

The Flash #110 was a major landmark, not so much for the debut of another worthy addition to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Challenge of the Weather Wizard’ (inked by Schwartz’s artistic top-gun Murphy Anderson) but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Vizier of Velocity became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive.

Inked by Giella, ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first teenaged sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 which had a February off-sale date).

Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where the torch-passing actually stuck.

Anderson also inked ‘The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures’ in # 111, which successfully overcomes its frankly daft premise to deliver a taut, tense sci-fi thriller which nicely counterpoints the first solo outing for Kid Flash in ‘The Challenge of the Crimson Crows!’

This folksy parable has small-town kid Wally use his new powers to rescue a bunch of kids on the slippery slope to juvenile delinquency. Perhaps a tad paternalistic and heavy-handed by today’s standards, in the opening months of 1960 this was a strip about a boy heroically dealing with a kid’s real dilemmas, and the occasional series would remain concerned with human-scaled problems, leaving super-menaces and world saving for team-ups with his mentor.

In Flash #112 ‘The Mystery of the Elongated Man’ introduced an intriguing super stretchable newcomer to the DC universe – who might have been hero or villain – in a beguiling tantaliser whilst Kid Flash tackled juvenile Go-Carters and corrupt school-contractors in the surprisingly gripping ‘Danger on Wheels!’

Mercurial mania The Trickster launched his crime career in #113’s lead tale ‘Danger in the Air!’ and the second-generation speedster took a break so that his senior partner could defeat ‘The Man Who Claimed the Earth!’: a full-on cosmic epic wherein the ancient alien Po-Siden attempts to bring the lost colony of Earth back into the galaxy-spanning Empire of Zus.

Captain Cold and Murphy Anderson returned for ‘The Big Freeze’, where the smitten villain turns Central City into a glacier just to impress Barry’s girlfriend Iris. Meanwhile her nephew Wally saves a boy unjustly accused of cheating from a life of crime when he falls under the influence of the ‘King of the Beatniks!’

Then Flash #115 offered another bizarre transformation, courtesy of Gorilla Grodd in ‘The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds!’, and when aliens attempt to conquer Earth the slimmed down champion needs ‘The Elongated Man’s Secret Weapon’ as well as the guest-star himself to save the day. Once again Murphy Anderson’s inking gave the over-taxed Joe Giella a breather whilst taking art-lovers’ breath away in this beautiful, fast-paced thriller.

This gloriously rewarding volume concludes with Flash #116 as ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ sees a seemingly fool-proof way of killing the valiant hero, which took both time-tinkering and serious outwitting to avoid whilst Kid Flash returned in ‘The Race to Thunder Hill’; a father-son tale of rally driving, but with car-stealing bandits and a young love interest for Wally to complicate the proceedings.

These earliest tales were historically vital to the development of our industry but, quite frankly, so what? The first exploits of The Flash should be judged solely on their merit, and on those terms they are punchy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated and captivating thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his TV incarnation.
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman the Silver Age Dailies volume 3: 1963-1966


By Jerry Siegel & Wayne Boring (IDW Publishing Library of American Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-6134-0179-4

It’s indisputable that the American comicbook industry – if it existed at all – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without Superman. Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s unprecedented invention was fervidly adopted by a desperate and joy-starved generation and quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an impossible army of imitators and variations within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of breakneck, breathtaking action and wish-fulfilment which epitomised the early Man of Steel grew to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East affected America, 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 Superman was master of the world. Moreover, whilst transforming the shape of the fledgling funnybook industry, the Man of Tomorrow relentlessly expanded into all areas of the entertainment media. Although we all think of the Cleveland boys’ iconic invention as the epitome and acme of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1, the Man of Steel became a fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely graphic narrative terms, but the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers and their hyperkinetic kind long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, across all platforms and age ranges…

Far more people have seen or heard an actor as Superman than have ever read his comicbooks. The globally syndicated newspaper strips alone reached untold millions, and by the time his 20th anniversary rolled around at the very start of what we know as the Silver Age of Comics, Superman had been a thrice-weekly radio serial regular and starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons, two films, a TV series and a novel by George Lowther.

He was a perennial sure-fire success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended that first smash live-action television presence. In his future were three more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a blockbuster movie franchise and an almost seamless succession of games, bubblegum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even his superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

Although pretty much a spent force these days, for the majority of the last century the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail that all American cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country – and often the planet – it was seen by millions, if not billions, of readers and generally accepted as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books. It also paid better.

And rightly so: some of the most enduring and entertaining characters and concepts of all time were created to lure readers from one particular paper to another and many of them grew to be part of a global culture.

Mutt and Jeff, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Charlie Brown and so many more escaped their humble tawdry newsprint origins to become meta-real: existing in the minds of earthlings from Albuquerque to Zanzibar.

Most of them still do…

So it was always something of a risky double-edged sword when a comicbook character became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?) to became a genuinely mass-entertainment syndicated serial strip.

Superman was the first original comicbook character to make that leap – about six months after as he exploded out of Action Comics – but only a few have ever successfully followed. Wonder Woman, Batman (eventually) and groundbreaking teen icon Archie Andrews made the jump in the 1940s and only a handful like Spider-Man, Howard the Duck and Conan the Barbarian have done so since.

The daily Superman newspaper comic strip launched on 16th January 1939, supplemented by a full-colour Sunday page from November 5th of that year. Originally crafted by such luminaries as Siegel & Shuster and their studio (Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, Dennis Neville, John Sikela, Ed Dobrotka, Paul J. Lauretta & Wayne Boring) the mammoth task soon required the additional talents of Jack Burnley and writers like Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff & Alvin Schwartz.

As seen in this volume, the McClure Syndicate daily feature ran continuously until April 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers, boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan had occasionally substituted for the unflagging Boring & Stan Kaye, whilst Siegel provided the lion’s share of stories, telling serial tales largely separate and divorced from comicbook continuity throughout years when superheroes were scarcely seen.

Then in 1956 Julie Schwartz kicked off the Silver Age with a new Flash in Showcase #4 and before long costumed crusaders began returning en masse to thrill a new generation. As the trend grew, many publishers began to cautiously dabble with the mystery man tradition and Superman’s newspaper strip began to slowly adapt: drawing closer to the revolution on the comicbook pages.

As Jet-Age gave way to Space-Age, the Last Son of Krypton was a comfortably familiar icon of domestic modern America: particularly in the constantly evolving, ever-more dramatic and imaginative comicbook stories which had received such a terrific creative boost when superheroes began to proliferate once more. The franchise had actually been cautiously expanding since 1954, and in 1961 the Caped Kryptonian could be seen not only in Golden Age survivors Action Comics, Superman, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Superboy but also in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and Justice League of America.

Such increased attention naturally filtered through to the far more widely-read newspaper strip and resulted in a rather strange and commercially sound evolution…

This third and final expansive hardback collection (spanning November 25th 1963 to its end on April 9th 1966) opens with a detailed Introduction from Sidney Friedfertig, disclosing the provenance of the strips; how and why Jerry Siegel was tasked with repurposing recently used and soon to be published scripts from the comicbooks; making them into daily 3-and-4 panel black-&-white continuities for the apparently more sophisticated and discerning newspaper audiences.

It also offers a much-needed appreciation of the author’s unique gifts and contributions…

If you’re a veteran comicbook fan, don’t be fooled: the tales “retold” here at first might seem familiar but they are not rehashes: they’re variations and deviations on an idea for audiences seen as completely separate from the kids who bought comicbooks. Even if you are familiar with the traditional source material, the adventures collected here will read as brand new, especially as they are gloriously illustrated by Wayne Boring at the peak of his illustrative powers.

After a few years away from the feature, Boring had returned to replace his replacement Curt Swan at the end of 1961, regaining the position of premiere Superman illustrator to see the series to its demise. Moreover, as the strip drew to a close many strip adaptations began appearing prior to the “debut” appearances in the comics…

As an added bonus, the covers of the issues these adapted stories came from have been included as a full, nostalgia-inducing colour gallery…

Siegel & Boring’s astounding everyday entertainments commence with Episode #145 ‘The Great Baroni’ (from November 25th to September 14th 1963), revealing how the Caped Kryptonian helped an aging stage conjuror regain his confidence and prowess: based on a yarn by Siegel & Al Plastino from Superboy #107 (which had a September 1963 cover-date).

‘The Man Who Stole Superman’s Secret Life’ (December 16th 1963 to 1st February 1964 and first seen in Superman #169, May 1964, by Siegel & Plastino) was a popularly demanded sequel to a tale where the Man of Tomorrow lost his memory and powers but fell in love.

When his Kryptonian abilities returned he returned to his regular life, unaware that he had left heartbroken Sally Selwyn behind. She thought her adored Jim White had died…

Now as Clark investigated a crook who was a perfect double for Superman he stumbled into Sally and a potentially devastating problem…

Episode #147 – running from February 3rd to March 9th – saw the impossible come true as ‘Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor’ (by Leo Dorfman, Swan & George Klein from Superman #168 April 1964) reveals how the criminal genius fled to 1906 and landed the job of running a prestigious San Francisco newspaper… until a certain Man of Tomorrow tracks him down…

March 9th saw Clark, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane begin ‘The Death March’ (originally an Edmond Hamilton & Plastino tale from Jimmy Olsen #76, April 1964): a historical recreation which turned agonisingly real after boss Perry White seemingly had a breakdown. Of course, all was not as it seemed…

‘The Superman of 800 Years Ago’ has a lengthy pedigree. It ran in newspapers from April 6th to May 18th but was adapted from the unattributed, George Papp illustrated story ‘The Superboy of 800 Years Ago’ as seen in Superboy #113 (June 1964) which was in turn based upon an earlier story limned by Swan & Creig Flessel from Superboy #17 at the end of 1951.

Here a robotic Superman double is unearthed at a castle in Ruritanian kingdom Vulcania, and our inquisitive hero time-travelled back to the source to find oppressed people and a very familiar inventor. Suitably scotching the plans of a usurping scoundrel, he left a clockwork champion to defend democracy in the postage stamp feudal fiefdom…

‘Superman’s Sacrifice’ was the 150th daily strip, running from May 18th to June 20th (adapted from a Dorfman & Plastino thriller first seen in Superman #171, August 1964). Here the Man of Steel is blackmailed by advanced alien gambling addicts Rokk and Sorban. They want to wager on whether Superman will kill an innocent. If he doesn’t they will obliterate Earth. The callous extraterrestrials seem to have all the bases covered and, even when the Metropolis Marvel thinks he’s outsmarted them, Rokk and Sorban have an ace in the hole…

It was followed by another tale from the same issue wherein Hamilton & Plastino first described ‘The Nightmare Ordeal of Superman’ (June 22nd to July 25th) wherein the Man of Tomorrow voyages to another solar system just as its power-bestowing yellow sun novas into red. Deprived of his mighty powers our hero must survive a primitive world, light-years from home, battling cavemen and monsters until rescue comes in a most unlikely fashion…

The author of ‘Lois Lane’s Love Trap’ was unattributed but the tale was drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger when seen in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 52 (October 1964). As reinterpreted here by Siegel& Boring from July 27th to August 22nd however, it tells how Lois and Clark travel to the rural backwoods to play doctor and cupid for diffident lovers, after which August 24th to October 10th offered ‘Clark Kent’s Incredible Delusions’ (seen in comicbooks in Superman #174, January 1965 by Hamilton, Swan, Plastino & Klein).

Incredible incidents begin after a visitor to the Daily Planet casually reveals he is secretly Superman. Not only does he have the powers and costume, but Clark cannot summon his own abilities to challenge the newcomer. Can Kent have been hallucinating for years? The real answer is far more complex and confusing…

A tip of the hat to a popular TV show follows as a deranged actor trapped in a gangster role kidnaps Lois and her journalistic rival, determined to prove her companion is a mobster and ‘The “Untouchable” Clark Kent’ (October 12th November 7th): a smart caper transformed by Siegel from a yarn by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #173 November 1964.

‘The Coward of Steel’ (Siegel & Plastino, Action Comics #322, March 1965) ran from November 9th – December 19th, revealing how Superman’s pipsqueak act became all-consuming actuality after aliens ambushed the hero with a fear ray.

The year changed as Lois went undercover to catch a killer in ‘The Fingergirl of Death’ (Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 55 by Otto Binder & Schaffenberger; February 1965), reinterpreted here by Siegel& Boring from December 21st 1964 to January 23rd.

‘Clark Kent in the Big House’ – January 25th – March 6th – was seen in Action #323 April 1965 by Binder & Plastino and found Clark in a similar situation: covertly infiltrating a prison to get the goods on an inmate. Sadly once he’s there the warden has an accident and nobody seems to recognise that Kent is anything other than a crook getting his just deserts…

There was more of the same in ‘The Goofy Superman’ which ran March 8th to April 12th, taken from Robert Bernstein & Plastino’s tale from Superman #163; August 1963. This time though, Red Kryptonite briefly made Clark certifiably insane. After he was committed and got better, he stuck around to clear up a few malpractices and injustices at the asylum before heading home…

A different K meteor caused extremely selective amnesia and ‘When Superman Lost His Memory’ from April 14th to May 22nd (originally by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #178 July 1965) the mystified Man of Steel had to track down his own forgotten alter ego…

‘Superman’s Hands of Doom’ was the 160th strip saga, running from May 24th through June 26th, adapted from a Dorfman & Plastino thriller in Action #328 (September 1965). It detailed the cruelly convoluted plans of big-shot crook Mr. Gimmick who tried to turn Superman into an atomic booby trap primed to obliterate Metropolis, after which a scheming new reporter started using dirty tricks to make her mark at the Planet, landing ‘The Super Scoops of Morna Vine’ (June 28th – August 21st) through duplicity, spying, cheating and worse in a sobering tear-jerker first conceived and executed by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #181, November 1965.

The comicbook version of ‘The New Lives of Superman’ – by Siegel, Swan & Klein – didn’t appear until Superman #182 in January 1966, but the Boring version (such an unfair name for this brilliant artist!) ran in papers from August 23rd – October 16th 1965: detailing how Clark Kent had an accident which would leave any other man permanently blind.

Not being ordinary, Superman had to find another secret identity and hilariously tried out being a butler and disc jockey before finding a way for Clark to return to reporting…

Something like the truly bizarre ‘Lois Lane’s Anti-Superman Campaign’ was seen in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 55 (Dorfman & Schaffenberger, January 1966). However, as reinterpreted by Siegel & Boring for an adult readership from October 18th to December 18th, the stunts produced for the Senatorial race between her and Superman are wild and whacky (and could never happen in real American politics No Sirree Bob!), even if 5th Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk is behind it all…

Running from December 20th 1965 through January 8th 1966, as adapted from a Dorfman & Pete Costanza thriller in Superman #185 (which eventually saw full-colour print in April 1966), ‘Superman’s Achilles Heel’ offered a slick conundrum as the Man of Might began wearing a steel box on his hand after losing his invulnerability in one small area of his Kryptonian frame.

The entire underworld tried to get past that shield but nobody really thought the problem through…

The end of the hallowed strip series was fast approaching but it was business as usual for Siegel & Boring who exposed over January 10th to February 26th ‘The Two Ghosts of Superman’ (Binder & Plastino from Superman #186, May 1966) as the hero went after crafty criminal charlatan Mr. Seer. Fanatical fans might be keen to see the cameo here from up and coming TV superstar Batman before the curtain closes…

The era ended with another mystery. ‘From Riches to Rags’ (Dorfman & Plastino from Action Comics #337, May 1966) has Superman compulsively acting out a number of embarrassing roles – from rich man to poor man to beggar-man and so forth.

Spanning February 28th to April 9th, it depicted a hero at a complete loss until his super-memory kicked in and recalled a moment long ago when a toddler looked up into the night sky…

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1963-1966 is the last of three huge (305 x 236 mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

If you love the era or just crave simpler stories from less angst-wracked times these yarns are great comics reading, and this a book you simply must have…
Superman™ and © 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

I Hate Fairyland volume 1: Madly Ever After


By Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu & various (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63215-685-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sugar and Spice and Everything Nicely Reimagined… 10/10

We grow up with fairytales all around us. They’re part of the fabric of our lives. Some people generally outgrow them whilst others take them to heart and make them an intrinsic aspect of their lives…

Have you met Skottie Young?

He’s a guy with feet firmly planted in both camps and well able to alternatively embrace the enchantment of imagination and give it a hilariously cynical mean-spirited drubbing at the same time.

Hopefully you’ll have seen his glorious, multi-award winning interpretation of Baum’s Oz books produced by Marvel and his spectacular run on Rocket Raccoon (and Groot): or perhaps just his gut-bustingly funny baby superhero covers…

Maybe you’re aware of his collaboration with Neal Gaiman on Fortunately the Milk.

If not, there’s so much more in store for you after enjoying this particular slice of mirthful mayhem…

I Hate Fairyland is a truly cathartic little gem: a mind-buggering romp of deliciously wicked simplicity and one I heartily recommend as a palate-cleanser for anyone overdosing on cotton candy, wands and glitter…

Once upon a time little Gertrude wished she could visit the wonderful world of magic and joyous laughter and her wish was inexplicably granted. She met happy shiny people, fairies, elves, giants, talking animals and animated trees, rocks, stars, suns and moons and just loved them all.

Resplendent Queen Cloudia made her an Official Guest of Fairyland and invited her to play a game. When she wanted to go back to her own world the six-year-old simply had to find a magic key and open the door to the realm of reality. The fabulous Fairy Queen even gave Gertrude a quaintly talking bug as guide and helpmeet plus a magic map of all the Known Lands…

That was twenty-seven year ago and although Gert’s body has not aged a day her mind certainly has. It’s also gotten pretty pissed-off at the interminable insufferable task and just wants it all to end.

Of course, as an Official Guest of Fairyland Gert can’t die and has taken to expressing her monumental frustration in acts of staggering violence and brutal excess as she continues hunting for that fluffer-hugging key…

With no other choice, Gert and dissolute bug Larrigon Wentsworth III toil ever onward in search of the way home, enduring horrific – but non-fatal – injuries and taking out their spleen (and often other peoples’) on whoever gets in her way.

After all this time, however, Even Queen Cloudia has had enough. Sadly, she can’t do anything about it whilst Gert is an Official Guest of Fairyland: a privilege that cannot be revoked.

Subtle hints of vast rewards to barbarians and assassins and evil witches all prove worthless too. Between the protection spell and Gert’s own propensity for spectacular bloodletting there’s nothing in the incredible kingdoms to stop her.

And then someone has a really amazing idea. Why not invite another sweet little girl to Fairyland and offer her the same deal? When she finds the key, wins the game and goes back, Gert will lose her Official Guest of Fairyland status and they can be rid of her at last…

Of course that all goes swimmingly, just like Cloudia hoped and everybody but Gert lives happily ever after.

No, it really, really doesn’t work out like that…

To Be Continued…

Collecting the first five issues of the Image Comic series (October 2015 to February 2016) by Young, colourist Jean-Francois Beaulieu and letterer Nate Piekos of Blambot®, this sublimely outrageous treat offers hilariously over-the-top cartoon violence and the most imaginative and inspired use of faux-profanity ever seen in comics.

This is an unmissable wakeup call for everybody whose kids want to be little princesses and proves once and for all that sweet little girls (and probably comics artists) are evil to the core if you push them too far…
© 2016 Skottie Young. All rights reserved.

Shame – New, Revised Review


By Lovern Kindzierski, John Bolton & Todd Klein (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-987825-04-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An adult Fairy Tale for when the kids have all passed out… 10/10

Life is full of folk-loric warnings:

Red Sun at Morning: Sailor take Warning.
Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.
Appearances can be Deceiving.

A cliché is a truth repeated so often you get bored and stop listening to the message…

Comics are unequivocally a visual medium and that’s never been more ably demonstrated than in this seductively bewitching allegorical fable from writer Lovern Kindzierski, painter John Bolton and letterer Todd Klein.

Originally released as a 3-part miniseries between 2011 and 2013, the entire saga is housed now in its proper setting: a lavish and sublime full-colour hardback tome, liberally garnished with beguiling bonus features.

So if you’re sitting comfortably – with all the doors locked and windows covered – let’s begin…

Once upon a time in ‘Conception’ a benevolent but painfully unprepossessing witch named Mother Virtue spent all her days doing little favours and grand good deeds for the ordinary and unfortunate, and for these kind actions she was beloved by all. Spiritually, she was probably the most perfect woman in the world, but as for her looks…

She lived life well and grew old and content, but one day after decades of joyous philanthropy, a single selfish thought flashes idly through her mind. Momentarily she longs for a daughter and wishes for it to be true: that she might be a mother in fact as well as name…

It is just the opening malign Shadow of Ignorance Slur needs. Employing dark magics, he instantly impregnates the champion of Good with a malign seed of evil and in gloating triumph brags to the wise-woman that her daughter will be a diabolical demon well-deserving of the name Shame

Deeply repenting that selfish whim and now dreading the horrors yet to come, Mother Virtue methodically transforms her idyllic cottage in the woods into a floral prison dubbed Cradle; reluctantly repurposed to isolate and eventually contain the thing cruelly growing in her belly. The miserable matron-to-be also assembles a contingent of Dryads to care for and guard the baby.

Once Virtue finally births Shame, she quickly abandons the devil’s burden to be reared in the mystic compound, where it grows strong and cruel but so very beautiful…

After much concentrated effort, however, slavish minions of Shame’s sire finally breach Cradle’s green ramparts and begin schooling the child in vile necromancy to ensure her dire, sordid inheritance. Armed with malefic potency, Shame slowly refashions her garden guardians into something more pliable and appropriately monstrous…

As the devil’s daughter physically ripens, Slur himself comes to his evil child and through him Shame learns the terrifying power of sex. With the aid of an infernal incubus which has stolen seed from many men, she quickens a child in her own belly and eventually births a beautiful baby girl.

Into that infant Slur pours Mother Virtue’s soul; gorily ripped from the despondent dotard’s aging carcase at the moment of her granddaughter’s delivery. Even the nunnery Virtue had locked herself within was no proof against the marauding Shadow of Ignorance…

And with her despised mother now her own child, securely bound within the selfsame floral penitentiary, Shame goes out into the world to make her mark…

‘Pursuit’ takes up the story sixteen years later. The Virtue infant has grown strong and lovely, despite every effort of the malformed and mystically mutated Dryads and Shame’s own diabolical sorcery which have toiled mightily but with no effect in a campaign of corruption which made every day of her young life a savage test of survival.

This daily failure makes Shame – now elevated by her own evil efforts to queen of a mortal kingdom – furious beyond belief.

When not burning witches and wise women who might threaten her absolute domination or having her unconquerable armies ravage neighbouring realms, the haughty hell-spawn spies upon her mother/child with infernal devices, but always comes away bitterly disappointed and incensed….

Elsewhere, a knight of great valour lies dying and mournfully bids his afflicted son Merritt farewell. Today we’d say he has Down’s syndrome but in that far ago and long away time the husky lad simply labours under an extra burden in his desire to be a true hero…

Even with his last breaths, the swift-failing father dreads how his foolish, naïve, beloved boy will fare in a world ruled by the Queen who has ended him…

The hopeless dreaming youth is stubborn above all else and, when Merritt discovers the vegetable hell-mound of Cradle, stories his mother told him long ago run again through his head. A strange, inexplicable yearning compels him to overcome the appalling arcane odds to break in and liberate the beautiful prisoner… although she actually does most of the work…

Free of the malefic mound, all Virtue’s mystic might returns and, far away, Shame’s world reels. Mocking Slur cares little for his daughter but much for his plans and thus reveals Merritt is Destiny’s wild card: a Sword of Fate who might well reshape the future of humanity. Of course, that all depends on whose side he joins…

As the young heroes near the capital they are ambushed. After a tremendous mystic clash, Merritt awakens in a palace with a compelling dark-haired angel ministering to his every need and desire. Meanwhile, far below in a rank, eldritch dungeon, Virtue languishes and patiently adjusts her plans…

This eldritch esoterically erotic epic concludes in classic fashion with ‘Redemption’ as Merritt falls deeper under the sultry sway of the dark queen. As he slowly devolves into her submissive tool of human subjugation, in a fetid subterranean stinkhole, Virtue – under the very noses of her tormentors – weaves her intricate magic with the paltry and debased materials at hand…

Even cradled in the Queen’s arms, the warrior Merritt is still a child shaped by his mother’s bedtime stories and when Virtue contacts him he readily sneaks down to her cell, dreams of nobility and valiant deeds filling his slow, addled head…

Now the scene is set for a final fraught confrontation between mother and daughter, but first Virtue sends Merritt straight to Hell on a vital quest to recover the Hope of the World

The narrative core of all fairytales is unchanging and ever powerful, so tone and treatment make all the difference between tired rehash and something bold, fresh and unforgettable. This tale certainly qualifies…

Moreover, the photo-based hyper-realised expressionism of John Bolton’s lush painting transforms the familiar settings of fantasy standards and set-pieces into something truly bleak and bizarre to match the grim, earthily seedy meta-reality of Kindzierski’s script.

Bracketed with a Foreword by Colleen Doran and Preface from author Kindzierski at the front and creator commentary courtesy of ‘From the Imagination of John Bolton and Lovern Kindzierski’ at the nether end – featuring an in-depth interview adjudicated by publisher Alexander Finbow and supplemented with a stunning treasure trove of pre-production art, designs and sketches – this astoundingly attractive tome also includes a tantalising glimpse of things to come in the shape of an 8-page preview of forthcoming sequel Tales of Hope

Dark and nasty yet packed with sumptuous seductions of every stripe, the salutary saga of Shame is every adult fantasist’s desire made real and every comic fan’s most fervent anticipation in one irresistible package…
Shame the story, characters, world and designs are © Lovern Kindzierski, John Bolton and Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd.

Stinky


By Eleanor Davis (Toon Books/Raw Junior)
ISBN: 978-0-9799238-4-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Smells Like a True Favourite… 9/10

Once upon a time – and for the longest time imaginable – comics were denigrated as a creative and narrative ghetto cherished only by children and simpletons. For decades the producers, creators and lovers of the medium struggled to change that perception and gradually acceptance came.

These days most folk accept that word and pictures in sequential union can make stories and tell truths as valid, challenging and life-changing as any other full-blown art-form.

Sadly, along the way the commercial underpinnings of the industry fell away and they won’t be coming back…

Where once there were a host of successful, self-propagating comics scrupulously generating tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate such specific demographics as Toddler/Kindergarten, Young and Older Juvenile, General, Boys and Girls periodical publications, nowadays Britain, America and most of Europe can only afford to maintain a few paltry out-industry licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for younger readerships.

The greater proportion of strip magazines are necessarily manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market, whilst the genres that fed and nurtured comics are more effectively and expansively disseminated via TV, movies and assorted games media.

Thankfully old-fashioned book publishers and the graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sensible long-term goals, so the lack has been increasingly countered and the challenge to train and bring youngsters into the medium taken up outside the mainstream – and dying – periodical markets.

I’ve banged on for years about the industry’s foolish rejection of the beginner-reading markets, but what most publishers have been collectively offering young/early consumers – and their parents (excepting, most notably the magnificent efforts of David Fickling Books and their wonderful comic The Phoenix) – has seldom jibed with what those incredibly selective consumers are interested in or need.

In recent years however the book trade has moved with the times and where numerous publishing houses have opened comic medium divisions, one in particular has gone all-out to cultivate tomorrow’s graphic narrative nation.

Toon Books/Raw Junior was established by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly as an imprint of the groundbreaking and legendary alternative magazine to provide high-quality comics stories to entice pre-schoolers and starter-readers into a lifelong love affair with strips in particular and reading in general.

Their burgeoning stable of talented creators have produced a wealth of superbly superior comic tales in three accredited educational standards (Level 1: First Comic for brand new readers, Level 2: Easy-to-Read for Emerging Readers and Level 3: Chapter Books for Advanced Beginners) and the company even supplements their publications with an online tool.

TOON-BOOKS.com offers follow up such as interactive audio-versions read by the authors – and in a multitude of languages – and a “cartoon maker” facility which allows readers to become writers of their own adventures about the characters they have just met in the printed editions. Many books include a page of tips for parents and teachers on ‘How to Read Comics with Kids’

This particular yarn from Eleanor Davis sticks tight to traditional fare winningly rendered as she introduces a gloomy, anxious swamp monster whose smelly, dank world of pickled onions, possums, slugs, toads and especially stench seems likely to be upset forever after new neighbours move in…

There’s a town near the swamp and in it are kids. Kids who like baths and eat cake smell weird…

Stinky is especially nervous of a new kid. Somehow he’s even worse than the others. He’s called Nick, eats apples, likes toads and is building a tree house in Stinky’s swamp! Determined to drive off the newcomer, the moist monster undertakes a campaign of terror but the little human pest just accepts all the nasty surprises and keeps on building…

And thus begins an epic struggle which will result in a most unique friendship…

Gently hilarious, beautifully illustrated and heart-warmingly proving that it takes all sorts to make a world, Stinky is a fabulous walk on the wild side you’ll find impossible to forget – especially as your hosts have been kind enough to provide you with a detailed map to follow…
© 2008 RAW Junior, LLC. All rights reserved.

Why not check out the scene at: http://www.toon-books.com

Black Panther volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet


By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-302-90053-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Cat’s Whiskers for Comics Fans… 8/10

Regarded as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since July 1966 when he first met the Fantastic Four. You can even see how far we’ve all come in his fiftieth anniversary year as that intriguing introductory tale in included at the back of this slim new volume…

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose hidden kingdom is the only source of a miraculous alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – supposedly derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – had enabled Wakanda to become one of the wealthiest and most secretive nations on Earth. For much of its history it has been an isolated, utopian technological wonderland.

The tribal resources and people of Wakanda have been safeguarded since time immemorial by a human champion who derived cat-like physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb which ensure the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult and Royal Family.

The “Vibranium” mound had ensured the country’s status as a secret superpower for centuries but increasingly made Wakanda a target for subversion and incursion in modern times.

Now this sleek, extremely engaging restart – collecting Black Panther volume 6 #1-4 and spanning June-September 2016 – introduces a whole new era of political unrest to Africa’s oldest surviving kingdom and Earth’s most advanced (human) nation…

Scripted by correspondent and author Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Day Men) the story opens as T’Challa resumes the throne he had so recently surrendered to his sister Shuri before global catastrophe, economic collapse and consecutive invasions from Sub-Mariner’s Atlantis and Thanos’ extraterrestrial Black Legion wrought havoc amongst the Wakandans.

Now as he strives to reassure his people, a moment of indiscipline amongst his soldiers provokes disaster. As T’Challa addresses striking miners at the Great Mound, a gesture is misinterpreted and guards fire on protesters. Only the Black Panther’s senses can detect the presence of another influence, shaping emotions and triggering the escalating clash which follows…

Meanwhile, in The Golden City of Wakanda another crisis brews. A member of his formidable Dora Milaje elite bodyguards has acted beyond her station; punishing a local chieftain’s abusive treatment of wives and daughters with uncompromising finality.

For taking the law into her own hands Aneka must die…

Near the Nigandan Border a political cell of super-powered rebels takes stock. “The People” are dedicated to fomenting violent change in Wakanda using ancient sorcery, unsuspected connections to the palace and the fervent dream of a new nation…

Aneka’s resolve to face her fate bravely is challenged and swiftly withers when her comrade-in-arms and lover Ayo explosively breaks her out of jail. Wearing the latest in (stolen) Wakandan cybernetic war-armour, the women head into the wilds, seeking nothing but freedom but all too soon they are diverted by the horrific plight of abused women they continually encounter.

As the furious fugitives punish the awful ravages of malevolent bandits and rogue chiefs, emancipated women flock to their bloody banner. Wakanda’s growing civil war finds itself faced with a third passionate, deadly faction ready to die for their cause…

And in a place supposedly far removed from the cares of the world, recently deceased Queen Shuri is challenged by a mysterious stranger on The Djalia, the ethereal Plane of Wakandan Memory. Shuri is not destined for peace or rest but has a task to finish if the spirits of her ancestors are to be believed…

Tragically, as the opposing forces and ideologies converge in a very earthly hiding hole, the extremely rich white man funding much of the chaos gloats and further refines his grand plans…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced, compelling and gloriously readable, this splendid blend of political thriller, action epic and mystic revelation comes with a stunning cover-&-variants gallery by Alex Ross, Stelfreeze, Olivier Coipel, Gabrielle Dell’Otto, Mark Brooks, Ryan Sook, Todd Nauck & Rachelle Rosenberg, Felipe Smith, Larry Stroman, Mark Morales & Jason Keith, Funko, Skottie Young, John Tyler Christopher, Neal Adams Dale Keown, Mike McKone & Frank Martin, Sanford Greene, Frank Cho, Jamal Campbell and Kyle Baker. There’s also a map of Wakanda and its encroaching border nation, a fascinating glimpse ‘Behind the Scenes with Brian Stelfreeze’ offering commentary, insights and a wealth of production art and sketches, and a feature on ‘Process and Development’ tracing typed word to printed page…

Moreover, following a comprehensive Black Panther Chronology and Creator Biographies, is followed by that aforementioned Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott classic. Here ‘The Black Panther!’ attacks the FF as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

A full-on rollercoaster ride no fan of Fights ‘n’ Tights furore will want to miss.
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