The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer: The Mystery of the Great Pyramid part 2 – The Chamber of Horus


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland & Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-38-0

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless Ligne claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The new anthology was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features…

Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide was the second extended exploit of the peerless pair, originally running in Le Journal de Tintin from March 23rd 1950 to February 21st 1951 and, as seen yesterday, it saw the True Brits investigating murder, mayhem and mystery in modern Egypt…

With his great friend murdered, Mortimer is resolved to finish the case himself and begins by visiting the decidedly odd Doktor Grossgrabenstein in his mansion. He hasn’t made up his mind about the German, but the archaeologist’s staff – especially his thuggish foreman Sharkey – are definitely playing some deeper game…

The visit almost ends in disaster but once again a mysterious warning in Egyptian tips Mortimer off and he leaves before the gang can grab him. Later that night he meets again the aged holy man Sheik Abdel Razek and the enigmatic cleric gives him a strange talisman and a warning of the arcane forces he faces.

Rationalist sceptic though he is, the physicist keeps the artefact near and that night, when another vicious attempt is made on his life, the charm proves its worth…

Instructing Nasir to make discreet inquiries, Mortimer returns to the Giza excavation, unaware that he has picked up a silent shadow. A commotion then brings him to Razek’s dwelling where Sharkey is threatening the old man, but before the Professor can intervene the bully is sent scurrying by a shocking display of spooky pyrotechnics…

The house is incredibly ancient, built from reclaimed materials, and as he chats with the sheik Mortimer sees glyphs and symbols etched into the walls which can only have come from the original pyramids.

Razek is charmingly evasive however and Mortimer eventually leaves, but on his way back sees figures lurking around Grossgrabenstein’s work site.

Although he loses them, the chase gives him an opportunity to inspect the tunnels under the tomb. However further investigation is cut short when he clashes with native worker Abbas whom he suspects has been following him…

Things take a dangerous turn the next night when he returns to the German’s grand home. A sudden slip by Grossgrabenstein tips off Mortimer that the boisterous historian has at some stage been replaced by gifted mimic Olrik. After a mighty struggle, the Professor is captured and soon after Nasir too is bundled into the opulent cell he has been dumped in…

Their bacon is saved by the unexpected arrival of the police who storm the mansion with guns blazing. In the confusion a beloved old comrade resurfaces as Francis Blake sheds his own disguise to rescue his beleaguered friends.

When the gunfire subsides the triumphant police try to arrest the real Grossgrabenstein and, as they blunder around, slippery Olrik again escapes…

With all their nefarious opposition seemingly routed, Blake and Mortimer are free to concentrate on solving the mystery of the Chamber of Horus and why ultra-modern super-criminal Olrik was so obsessed by it.

Soon they are carefully exploring the claustrophobic tunnels beneath the Great Pyramid and eventually discover not only the incredible treasures of the pharaohs but their old arch-foe plundering the sacrosanct horde.

Olrik is as hard-headed and no-nonsense as his British adversaries and puts no faith in curses, talismans or magic, but the sudden arrival of Razek teaches all of the western heretics a lesson they will never forget… before carefully erasing their memories to protect the secrets his line has spent millennia protecting…

Fast-paced, action-packed, wry and eerie, this spectacular conclusion is a thunderous rollicking conclusion to the moody, mystery of the ancient world and a superb treat for fans of blockbuster sagas like The Mummy or Indiana Jones.

A sheer delight for lovers of fantastic fiction, Blake & Mortimer are the graphic personification of the Bulldog Spirit and worthy successors to the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion…

Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud – Lombard s.a.). © 1987 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer: The Mystery of the Great Pyramid part 1 – The Papyrus of Manethon


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-37-3

Brussels-born Edgar P. Jacobs was a prodigy who drew from an early age and was besotted by music and the performing arts – especially opera. Upon graduation from commercial school in 1919, he promptly rejected safe, steady office work and instead avidly pursued his artistic passions…

A succession of odd jobs at opera-houses (everything from scene-painting to set decoration and even performing as both an acting and singing extra) supplemented private performance studies, and in 1929 Jacobs won an award from the Government for classical singing.

His dream of operatic glory was crushed by the Great Depression, and when arts funding dried up following the global stock market crash he was forced to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing. He moved into illustration in 1940, with regular work for Bravo magazine and some jobs for short stories and novels and, when the occupying Nazi authorities in Belgium banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero Flash Gordon, Jacobs famously took over the syndicated strip to complete the saga.

His ‘Stormer Gordon’ lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation dictators, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U, a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

During this period Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring the original black and white strips from The Shooting Star (originally run in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was contributing to the drawing too, working on the extended epic The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun.

Following the Liberation, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comicstrip masters to work for his bold new venture. Founding publishing house Le Lombard, Leblanc also launched Le Journal de Tintin, an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. It was edited by Herge and would star the already legendary intrepid boy reporter plus a host of new heroes and features.

Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, Le Journal de Tintin featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s The Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs’ since their time together on Bravo, and the epic thriller serial ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred Captain Francis Blake: an English Military Intelligence officer closely modelled on him. The debonair spy was to be partnered with a bluff, gruff excitable British boffin – Professor Philip Mortimer

The serial ran from issue #1 (26th September 1946 to September 8th 1949) and cemented Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right. In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s very first album release with the concluding part published three years later. The volumes were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, supplemented in 1964 by a single omnibus edition.

In 1984 the saga was repackaged for English translation as three volumes during a push to win some of Britain’s huge Tintin and Asterix market, but failed to find an audience. The venture ended after seven magnificent, under-appreciated volumes.

Cinebook have had far more success publishing Blake and Mortimer since 2007 and recently completed a triptych of the very first adventure…

Chronologically, the next epic was this eerily exotic thriller which originally ran in Tintin as Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide from March 23rd 1950 to February 21st 1951.

These are the second and third volumes of the current Cinebook series and pick up the ongoing adventures in the months following the defeat of Tibetan warlord Basam-Damdu and liberation of the planet from his monomaniacal tyranny…

The Mystery of the Great Pyramid, part 1 opens with the author’s fascinating and pertinent feature on everything Ancient Egyptian – complete with extremely handy maps and plans – before the story proper begins with fretful Professor Philip Mortimer taking some time off to pursue his occasional hobby.

A keen amateur archaeologist, the boffin has flown to Cairo with devoted assistant Nasir for a holiday and to help Egyptologist Ahmed Rassim Bey translate an astounding new find. However as they debark at the airport, the vigilant Indian thinks he spots an old enemy…

When no sign can be found the travellers move on, and the following morning Mortimer is examining some fragile scraps of papyrus attributed to legendary contemporary archivist Manethon. The ancient priest’s writings indicate that a secret treasure is hidden beneath a certain pyramid in a “Chamber of Horus”…

Cautious of the effect of such a sensationalistic discovery, the scientists decide to proceed carefully, blithely unaware that trusted assistant Abdul Ben Zaim is in the employ of a cruel and dangerous enemy…

Even after an evening of socialising the learned men are keen to get to work. Returning late to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum they discover Abdul furtively loitering and Mortimer’s suspicions are aroused. When nobody is watching, the physicist craftily secures a portion of the papyrus and talks Ahmed into conducting a clandestine test…

Abdul is indeed playing a double game and his mysterious master is a man both subtle and exceedingly dangerous.

That night the leader tries to steal the documents but is surprised by Mortimer who has anticipated such a move. The canny scientist is just as surprised when the villain is revealed as Colonel Olrik.

The wily war criminal has been missing since the fall of warlord Basam-Damdu but has lost none of his lethal skills. Overpowering Mortimer, the rogue escapes, taking with him the last shred of papyrus the Professor had been holding…

In his lair, Olrik presses Abdul, who hastily translates the assembled fragments and declares the Chamber of Horus must be in the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau…

Under constant surveillance by Olrik’s gang, Mortimer and Nasir warily go about their business, hoping to lure the mastermind out of hiding. Meanwhile Abdul, believing himself undiscovered, returns to work at the museum, where flashy German Egyptologist Herr Doktor Grossgrabenstein is loudly informing everyone of his latest search for the tomb of Tanitkara.

The bombastic treasure-hunter invites Mortimer to visit him and view his unique collection but the boffin is too absorbed with shadowing Abdul – a task made far harder by the inept assistance of the local police.

When a lucky clue leads the resolute researcher to an antique store, Olrik’s scurrilous henchman Basendjas ambushes and imprisons Mortimer in the basement, but after a tremendous, extended battle the doughty doctor breaks free and calls in the cops.

Sadly, even on the defensive, Olrik is formidable and fights free of the encroaching authorities before vanishing into the warrens of the city…

After Abdul is killed by a hit-and-run driver the effusive Doktor Grossgrabenstein is present when Mortimer admits defeat and calls in a seasoned professional…

In London, Captain Francis Blake receives a cablegram and takes a leave from desk duty at security organisation I5. The Scotland Yard department is already investigating a surge of criminal activity in Northeast Africa and is happy to have their top man take a personal interest.

Blake heads out to Egypt by devious and complex means but, despite his circuitous route and customary caution, does not make it. Mortimer becomes increasingly impatient as he awaits the espionage expert’s arrival and to kill time finally accedes to his German colleague’s repeated requests to visit his dig at Giza.

When he arrives Mortimer finds bullying foreman Sharkey whipping native workers and is just in time to thrash the brute as he tries to attack an old Holy Man who has objected…

The enraged thug pulls a gun but is admonished by Grossgrabenstein, who then reluctantly allows the Professor to inspect the recently cleared chambers below the pyramid.

As Mortimer climbs back to the surface, a hasty, anonymous cry alerts him and he narrowly dodges a huge rock which crashes into the space where he stood. The area it stone fell from is empty and nobody recognises the voice which called out…

Making his way back to his hotel the weary scientist is then crushed to receive news that his best friend has been shot to death in a phone booth at Athens airport…

Bitter and enraged, Mortimer swears to make Olrik pay…

To Be Concluded…

Beguiling, suspenseful and fantastic in the grandest tradition of epic intrigue, The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer is the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; delivering splendid Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with breathtaking visual punch. Every kid of any age able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) can’t help but revel in the adventure of their lives… and so will you.

Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud – Lombard s.a.). © 1986 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Ultimate Fantastic Four volume 3: N-Zone


By Warren Ellis, Adam Kubert & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-904159-93-1

After Marvel’s financial problems and creative roadblock in the late 1990s, the company came back swinging. A critical new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for an older and more sophisticated “youth culture”.

The Ultimate imprint abandoned monumental long-grown continuity – which had always been Marvel’s greatest asset – to re-imagine major characters in their own self-sufficient universe, offering varying degrees of radical makeover to appeal to the contemporary 21st century audience and offer them a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Peter Parker became again a nerdy high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors, and mutants were a dangerous, oppressed ethic minority scaring the pants off the ordinary Americans they hid amongst. There were also fresh and fashionable, modernistic, scientifically feasible rationales for all those insane super-abilities manifesting everywhere…

The experiment began in 2000 with a post-modern take on Ultimate Spider-Man. Ultimate X-Men followed in 2001 and the Mighty Avengers were remodelled, becoming The Ultimates in 2002.

The stories, design and even tone of the heroes were reworked to cater to the apparently-different tastes of a new readership: (hopefully) new consumers unprepared or unwilling to deal with five decades (seven if you include Golden Age Timely tales retroactively co-opted into the mix) of interconnected story baggage.

The experiment prospered but quickly filled up with refashioned, morally ambiguous heroes and villains. Eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor.

In 2008, imprint-wide decluttering exercise “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of superhumans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan, courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

Long before then, though, Marvel’s original keystone concept was given its Ultimate work out and this third tumultuous collection, gathering Ultimate Fantastic Four #17-12 (January to June 2005), relates how a subtly different, still clandestine Awesome Foursome explosively came to public attention in their brand new, yet chillingly familiar world.

The most significant change to Stan & Jack’s breakthrough concept was a rather telling one: all four heroes were far, far younger than their mainstream antecedents…

Whereas in the original, middle-aged maverick genius Reed Richards, doughty college buddy Ben Grimm, ineffectual girlfriend Sue Storm and her younger brother Johnny survived a privately-funded space-shot which foundered when cosmic rays penetrated their vessel’s inadequate shielding before mutating into a quartet into quirky freaks, here a child prodigy and lonely super-genius was increasingly despised by his abusive blue-collar dad.

Bullied at school and obsessed with other dimensions, Reed’s only friend was classmate and school sports star Ben, who had unaccountably appointed himself the wonder-nerd’s protector…

Reed’s life changed the day his High School science project – teleportation – caught the eye of a government talent scout from a high powered think tank. Soon the kid was ensconced in a federally funded New York facility for budding geniuses…

Run by Professor Franklin Storm, the Baxter Building was a wonderland of top-flight resources, intellectual challenges and guarded support, but the school was primarily an ideas factory and the 100 strange, bright kids were expected to produce results…

The Chief Administrator’s little boy Johnny was there mostly as a courtesy, but daughter Sue was a biology prodigy and one of the biggest young brains on Earth…

Reed’s teleportation researches were just a necessary preliminary to his greater goal: mastery of a strange sub-dimension – a place the Baxter scientists call the Negative Zone. With their aid the passing years were largely spent in trying to fully access it, but regular studies continued too, with quite a few burn-outs and casualties.

Some kids thrived on the aggressive hot-housing; especially creepy, arrogant, insular Victor Van Damme who, after a particularly galling incident with Reed, somehow managed to swallow his seething animosity to collaborate on cracking the dimension calculations…

At last 21-year-old Reed and still-fractious lab partner Victor were shipped out to Nevada for the first full test of the N-Zone teleport system. The Storm kids went along for the ride, but as army technicians counted down, Victor argued with Reed before secretly changing the still hotly debated and contested calculations…

At that moment backpacker Ben Grimm had wandered into camp to see his old sidekick after more than a decade apart, and snotty Johnny distracted Reed by disclosing that his sister Sue had the hots for the long-obsessed but crushingly shy wonderboy…

The test firing was a literal catastrophe. The site was devastated in a shattering release of energy with Reed regaining consciousness some distance away as an amorphous blob of eerily boneless flesh, mistaken by the soldiers for an extra-dimensional invader.

Ben came to in Mexico, a huge rocky monster, and Johnny eventually called in from a hospital bed in France. He kept catching on fire without ever burning himself…

Sue simply vanished without a trace…

She was eventually recovered from miles below New York City, gifted with invisibility and force field powers but captured by disgraced, long-missing Baxter boffin Arthur Molekevic: a literal Mole Man re-populating ancient, previously inhabited caverns with a selection of his own dish-grown monsters and homunculi…

The unsavoury savant had deduced that the quartet’s uncontrolled projection through N-Space – utterly unprotected from whatever transformative energies and unknown physical laws might apply there – had transformed them on some unfathomable fundamental level. Their incredible new gifts and appearances were the result…

When Mole Man attacked the surface world the foursome had chaotically united to defeat him – although their participation had been covered up by the army, as were all their subsequent activities.

This third 6-part saga – by Warren Ellis, Adam Kubert, and inkers John Dell, Scott Hanna, Mark Morales, Nelson and Larry Stucker plus digital colour wizard Dave Stewart – picks up the story after Reed and his companions met again their old classmate Victor…

Always seeking the most intimate secrets of their incredible transformations, Reed’s quest for a cure to their conditions temporarily stalled after his clash with “Dr. Doom”, but upon returning to the Baxter Building the young genius resumed researching and as this tale opens has not only deduced how Johnny’s flame powers actually work but also discovered something new about the enigmatic N-Zone…

Before long he has convinced Dr. Storm – and military liaison General Thaddeus Ross – to let him pilot a reconditioned space shuttle into the mystery realm…

Greed and the thought of potential military advantage eventually seduce the reluctant adults in charge and soon the mutated quartet are exploring a completely new kind of space in a dimension previously impossible to define.

As they progress, Reed and Sue deduce that the crimson otherspace might be a sub-universe in the process of dying. The sheer amazement of the revelation is quickly surpassed however when they pick up a signal that can only have been made by thinking beings…

Johnny doesn’t really care: for the first time since he got his powers, he’s feeling sick…

Their rendezvous with an immense creature leads to a meeting with a wide variety of life forms on a colossal, ramshackle space station, but Ben has a hit upon a worrying thought that has escaped the wonderstruck Reed. If your world was ending, wouldn’t you try to find another?

Soon the heroes are being feted by the bizarre ancient insectoid their translator tech describes as “Nihil”. The ruler of a ragtag world of survivors from a myriad races and species is happy to share knowledge, explaining the true nature of multiversal architecture and the perilous state of the N-Zone.

Unfortunately as Johnny’s condition worsens and the humans prepare to take him back to Earth for medical treatment, the arthropod alien shows his true colours, attempting to kill Ben and Reed, determined to make their fresh, healthy young universe his own…

Breaking free and making a desperate dash for home, the explorers inadvertently bring a legion of hungry monsters with them and Earth learns of its newest heroes when the team is forced to battle the ravening hungry horrors who so spectacularly crash into Las Vegas…

With their unlikely triumph captured by a thousand phones and cameras, the Fantastic Four are now the world’s latest super-sensations and no amount of military manoeuvring can change the fact…

To Be Continued…

Rocket-paced, razor sharp and blisteringly action-packed, this riotous romp is also awash with smart engaging teen-oriented humour for the era of the acceptable nerd and go-getting geek, delivering another sublimely enthralling alternate view of Marvel’s most important title that will impress open-minded old fans of the medium just as much as the newcomers they were ostensibly aiming for.
© 2004, 2005 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

 

Afterlife With Archie Book 1


By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61988-908-8

For nearly three quarters of a century Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome fun but the company has always been a deviously subversive one.

Family friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s clean-cut teens.

As you probably know by now, Archie has been around since 1941, spending most of those seventy-plus years chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle his every move…

As crafted over the decades by a legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully created the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. In times past they have cross-fertilised their stable of stars through such unlikely team-ups as Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie Meets Glee, Archie Meets Vampirella or Archie Meets Kiss, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation have invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

In 2013 however the publishers took a bold and controversial step which paid huge dividends and created the biggest sales sensation in the company’s history.

It all began with a variant cover for Life With Archie #23 with illustrator Francesco Francavilla (Black Beetle, Zorro, Detective Comics, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy etc.) providing a moody spoof EC zombie graveyard scene. The variant was a sensation and cognitive cogs began to turn at the editorial offices…

When playwright, TV scripter and comicbook scribeRoberto Aguirre-Sacasa- whose many successes include Say You Love Satan, The Mystery Plays, 4: Marvel Knights Fantastic Four, Nightcrawler, Big Love, Sensational Spider-Man and Glee amongst others – got involved, it wasn’t long before a strange new enterprise was hatched.

Archie Comics is no stranger to horror titles. In the 1970s the company created the sub-imprint Red Circle for anthology terror tales during a supernatural boom time, before converting the line to superhero features as the decade progressed.

They even had a resident star-sorceress in Sabrina the Teenage Witch

However, whereas that venture was decidedly a newsstand project, the proposed 21st century endeavour took the company into uncharted waters.

When it was released, the 5-issue miniseries Afterlife With Archie was available solely through Direct Sales outlets and the first title in the company’s history to carry a parental advisory; “Rated Teen +”…

The sinister saga was an outright sensation, selling hugely and garnering phenomenal critical approval from sources as far-ranging as Salon, Fangoria, The Plain Dealer and NPR (National Public Radio) as well as all the usual comics review pundits. Each issue spawned further printings in a desperate race to keep up with demand…

I’m not going to dwell much on the plot, but suffice to say it doesn’t stray far from the time-honoured scenaria of the best sort of teen horror movies – minus the gratuitous sex and oafish dependence on guns – but it does hone all those tropes and memes to a superbly gripping point by inflicting them upon a beloved and intimately understood cast we all think we know…

It all starts one dark and ghastly midnight with Jughead hammering on the door of Sabrina’s house. A hit-and-run driver has killed the boy’s beloved pet Hot Dog and he needs her to bring him back…

Even with the arcane aid of her spooky eldritch elders the attempt fails, compelling the deeply moved Sabrina to try a spell she knows she should not and engendering for herself a most hideous punishment…

The next day, school starts out pretty much normal. Everyone is hyped about the upcoming Halloween Dance, although loud, obnoxious Reggie seems painfully preoccupied with some guilty secret and Juggie is absent…

Concerned, Archie stops in for a visit to find his friend in a bad way. The always voracious boy is weak and sickly and his arm is infected from a nasty bite. Hot Dog just sits far back in the dark under the house, growling and snarling…

That night at the Gym the party is in full swing with kids tricked out in all their innocent gory glory. As usual tensions are high between Betty and Veronica, Dilton and Chuck are furiously debating the merits of their favourite scary movies and Devil-May-Care Reggie is still acting strange…

Things take a dark turn once Jughead appears. His costume is amazing, like a scarecrow Zombie King. As yet nobody knows he’s already eaten one of the chaperones…

The shocking scenes soon start, and lifelong friends begin falling thick and fast. With no choice but to accept the impossible, Archie leads the stunned, surviving students to the fortress-like Lodge Mansion, with the inexorably growing army of infectious dead closely following…

With danger all around, tensions lead to many revelations, as years of suppressed feelings are finally exposed like raw nerves.

Although safe within the palatial citadel, the grieving Andrews boy needs to get out and discover what has happened to his parents and the rest of the town. As yet nobody is aware that one of the cowering kids is already carrying the unstoppable necromantic taint of the grave…

Bold, uncompromising, suspenseful, powerfully shocking and genuinely scary, this yarn is also astoundingly moving (there’s nobody more sentimental than a comicbook geek, but I’m not ashamed to admit that twice during this tale I teared up and had to reach for the tissues) as it takes a cast as familiar as your own family and puts them through hell and into damnation.

Literally nobody is safe and by the end of this first story-arc – comics fan or not – you will be gobsmacked and hungry for more.

Happily there is a Book 2…

This grim graphic grimoire also comes with an unholy host of extras beginning with the story behind the phenomenon in ‘Covers from the Darkside’ which talks about the genesis of the project, a full gallery of the 22 covers, variants and subsequent reprint covers by Francavilla, Tin Seeley, Andrew Pepoy, Tito Peña, Robert Hack and Jason Millet and is rounded off with ‘Sketches of the Dead’ which reproduces Francavilla’s glorious pencil layouts for much of the entire five chapter saga…

Dark gripping fun and one of the very best comicbook horror stories ever created, Afterlife With Archie is a brilliant experience no Funnybook Fan or Fear Aficionado should miss.

© 2014 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014


By various, edited by Peter Kuper & Seth Tobocman (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60486-958-3

Since the 1980s and proceeding ever more unchecked into the 21st century, nations and human society have been plagued with horrors and disasters exacerbated if not actually caused by a world-wide proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid bosses and governments.

These paragons have finally succeeded in elevating politicians of every stripe to that phylum of generally useless tools and pimples on the butt of humanity once only occupied by ambulance-chasing lawyers, lifestyle coaches and management consultants.

Since then so many apparently entitled and greedy archetypes like bankers, astrologers, wedding planners, doorstep evangelists, CEOs, celebrity gossip columnists, newspaper editors, the shamelessly privileged and all types of psychics have joined their rarefied ranks, and I’m thinking I probably need to either grow my own provably unadulterated coffee or further refine my critical parameters…

The century before ours wasn’t much better, but it did spawn a global awareness of the sheer symbolic power of art to promote debate, action and change. Politically charged, culturally aware imagery has been used over and over again by the underdogs – and, to be honest, the more savvy oppressors – in countless intellectual clashes as irresistible Weapons of Mass Deliberation…

This is a book that should make you angry and inspired. That is its point and purpose…

Created in response to Ronald Reagan’s presidency – possibly the only thing non-Americans can be thankful to the mad, bible-thumping bastard for – World War 3 Illustrated was founded in 1979 by Pratt Institute art students Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman in the wake of a rising tide of political conservatism, religious fundamentalism and unchecked capitalist autocracy

The magazine quickly became a beacon and rallying point for artistic activists: a collective collaboration galvanising and powerfully polemical, covering a vast procession of issues the political Powers-That-Be and increasingly law-immune Corporate Hegemonies would prefer were never aired or exposed.

Always championing the ever-diminishing rights of the individual over the juggernaut of rapacious commercial expansion and global monetary domination, the magazine brought – and still brings – together creative freedom-fighters who oppose the insidious wave of creeping everyday injustices through art, information and – most effectively of all – opposing views and dissenting opinions.

Now the smart, informed publishing people of PM Press have released a spectacular and sumptuous hardback retrospective of World War 3 Illustrated; re-presenting some of the graphic gadfly’s greatest moments in a stunning collection no self-aware seditionist could afford to miss at a time when individual freedoms and planetary wellbeing have never been more endangered…

One crucial word of clarification: the Third World War hasn’t been declared and has no recognised Theatre of Operations. It’s an ongoing series of perpetual localised skirmishes intended to replace individuality with homogeneity, freedom with conformity, humanity with faceless consumerism and intellect, spontaneity and self-esteem with a slavish devotion to money and oligarchic, board-sanctioned options from a menu of consumerist choices designed to keep the merchant-machine running…

Stuffed with spot-art and themed chapters fronted by double-page Chapter Icons from Kuper, Scott Cunningham, Sabrina Jones, Tobocman, Susan Willmarth, Kevin C. Pyle, Rebecca Migdal, Sandy Jimenez, Ethan Heitner, Nicole Schulman, Christopher Cardinale and Hilary Allison, this grand bible of creative resistance opens with the rousing and informative ‘Introduction: In Cahoots!’ by veteran activist, educator and reformer Bill Ayers before the parade of artistic action gets underway.

Starting World War 3 reveals the way it all began in the essay ‘Manifesto’, by Tobocman & Kuper, before the early forays are revisited in ‘Old Pals’ by Peter Bagge, whilst “Dr. Froydo Baggins” diagnoses the scatological power structure of modern society in ‘Top Feces’ by Isabella Bannerman & Robert Desmond, and Chuck Sperry’s terrifying collage ‘Bud’ is followed by Tobocman’sstate of disunion revelation in ‘The World is Being Ripped’. The chapter is closed by ‘Dove vs. Technology (back cover #8)’ by Aki Fujiyoshi.

Theocracy unbound is the subject of In God We Trust? opening with ‘Rapture’ – Kuper’s terrifying visualisation of an actual speech by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell – after which Erik Drooker moodily relates his ‘First Encounter’ with The Lord and Mike Diana explains how ‘Jesus is Suffering for You’

Ryan Inzana describes his liberating escape from ‘One Nation Under Fear’ before ‘Pope Exposed (back cover #5)’ by David Shannon leads to the pantomimic revelation of ‘Jesus in Hell’ by James Romberger, and Isabelle Dervaux ends things on a blasphemous high note with ‘Walking on Water’.

The war on women is highlighted in Herstories, opening with Isabella Bannerman’s gripping ‘Herstories (cover #16)’ from 1992. This is followed by the evocative ‘Women’s Rights’ by Paula Hewitt Amram and the harrowing ‘Walking Down the Street’ by Sabrina Jones and a truly disturbing glimpse into the pressures on young girls to have sex in ‘K-9’s First Time’ by K-9 & Fly before Jones scores again with ‘Saudi Woman (back cover #14)’ to close the chapter.

Gentrification and the New York Elite’s attempts to forcibly relocate its poor by Fiscal Ethnic Cleansing are spotlighted in Captive City,beginning with the trenchant ‘Ave A’ by Anton Van Dalen and Tobocman’s ‘Why Are Apartments Expensive?’

Drooker then imaginatively shares some cold, harsh facts and statistics in ‘Shelter from the Storm’, whilst Steve Brodner plays Devil’s Advocate in ‘The Pound’ and Mac McGill interprets ‘Memories’ with apocalyptic panache.

Nicole Schulman then reveals why ‘You Can’t Go Home, Again?’ whilst Tobocman declares ‘War in the Neighorhood’ and Jeff Lewis wistfully bemoans how ‘I Was Raised on the Lower East Side’ to suspend the ongoing class war… until next time…

Autobiology focuses on differences of opinion such as the divisive nature of sneakers in ‘Skips’ by Sandy Jimenez, ineffectual relationships in Bannerman’s ‘No Visible Evidence’ and parenting in Scott Cunningham’s ‘Alien Metaphor’, after which Drooker relates a chilling anecdote in ‘The Fall’ and Kuper details how he was called as an expert witness in Mike Diana’s comics obscenity trial in the ‘Sunshine State’

The misrule of Law comes under excoriating scrutiny in Under Arrest, opening with ‘Police State America’ by Tobocman, detailing how a black woman in New York was gunned down by a SWAT Team for incurring rent arrears, whilst Drooker’s ‘Coup d’Etat of the Spirit’ movingly recalls a friend who got on the wrong side of a police action…

‘Yard In!’, by Mumia Abu-Jamal & Gregory Benton, wryly pinpoints one of the many cruel insanities endured by Death Row inmates before Drooker’s ‘Prison Issue (cover #24)’ leads to Kevin C. Pyle’s revelatory expose of the mean-spirited “Diesel Therapy” used to break prisoners’ spirits ‘On the Road’. Benton then returns to offer a shred of comfort in ‘#AM-8335’.

Sperry opens the chilling Biohazard section with a bleak confrontation of ‘My Mother, My Mother’ before Pyle produces the most horrifying piece in this collection with his documentary detailing of the grotesque criminal acts of the United States Public Health Service which began a near-forty year long, generational study of syphilis by deliberately withholding antibiotic treatments from the African American community of Macon County, Alabama in the shocking tale entitled ‘Pink Medicine’

Encroaching environmental catastrophe is the meat of Green House, Blue Planet, beginning with Tobocman’s captivating ‘What You Need to Know’, whilst Rebecca Migdal’s ‘The Food Chain (cover #41)’ precedes ‘Someday in the Future’ by Susan Willmarth, revealing how corporate misuse of the drug Diclofenac led to the near extinction of India’s vulture population and the almost complete destruction of the subcontinent’s food chain.

Drooker’s forbidding illustration ‘Moloch’, then leads to ‘Needle Factory’, a bleak cutting whimsy from Felipe Galindo, after which Sue Coe presents a series of ghastly images created in response to the monstrous Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2006 – ‘Murder in the Gulf’, ‘BP Burns Turtles’ and ‘Sold!’

At least Drooker is there to wrap it up with a hope-filled dream of ‘The Jungle’

We Y New York opens with the ‘9/11 Release Poster’ by Kuper & Sperry, and an autobiographical reverie in ‘9-11-01’ by Fly, before Ward Sutton briefly interjects a sardonic aside with the ‘Fear News Network’ whilst counterculture pioneer and seasoned campaigner Spain Rodriguez tellingly dissects all stripes of ‘Faith-Based Terrorism’ and Mac McGill offers up another evocative expression of architectural Armageddon in ‘IX XI MMI’

A discussion of Global Economy and the New World Empire begins with a strident lesson from Nichole Schulman in ‘Fossil Fuel’, whilst Kuper examines the concepts of war for oil in ‘Bombs Away’ and Tom Tomorrow lampoons government rhetoric and corporate Thinkspeak in ‘Are You a Real American?’ after which Chuck Sperry creates a visual icon for the new century in ‘Bush Hates Me’ and Tom Tomorrow hilariously peeks in on ‘Bush Dreams’.

The fertile soil is further ploughed by Sabrina Jones with the cruelly poetic ‘Chronicle of the New Crusade’, and Art Spiegelman doles out a strong dose of satire in his oil-mainlining Uncle Sam pastiche ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves, America!’, which is followed by Kuper’s infamous and controversial ‘Richie Bush in Hell’s Bells’ parody.

By brilliantly employing Harvey Comics’ Richie Rich character, the artist engendered the disapproval of US Customs who subsequently seized copies of this strip when it was reprinted in Slovenian magazine Stripburger

This chapter closes with ‘Talking Liberties (cover #34)’ by Mirko Ilic and a montage of various works and public events in ‘WW3 Arts in Action’.

Promised Land? examines the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian Conflict, beginning with ‘Casting Stones’ by Drooker before Kuper bares his heart and soul recounting his many trips to Israel and how the country devolved to a point and state he could no longer recognise in ‘Promised Land’, after which Sabrina Jones shares her own personal experiences of time in the Holy Land in ‘Fear and Firecrackers’.

‘Art Against the Wall’ is an photo-illustrated essay by Eric Drooker describing the construction, impact upon and creative response to Israel’s “Security Wall” by the Palestinians it imprisons and isolates; a subject then expanded upon in cartoon form in Tobocman’s biting ‘The Serpent of State’

Iniquities affecting the wider world come to the fore in Going Global, beginning with ‘The Quiet Occupation’ by Nicole Schulman, examining through specific, documented case histories, the incredible “Get Out of Jail Free” policy afforded to the American military in South Korea under SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

This appalling legislation has, since 1967, afforded absolute immunity to US personnel facing prosecution for crimes against the indigenous population ranging from theft and environmental damage to rape and murder…

The case of a San Salvadoran kid unfairly deported follows in Carlo Quispe’s ‘Pulgarcito de las Americas’, as does Jordan Worley’s provocative ‘Land and Liberty (cover #27)’, before a selection from Kuper’s visual diary of life in Mexico – specifically the brutal suppression of a Teacher’s strike – rounds out the chapter in ‘Oaxaca, Oaxaca’

The horrendous scandal of New Orleans’ Federal abandonment is covered in After the Flood, commencing with an emphatic if subjective impression of ‘Katrina’ by McGill, after which volunteer worker Christopher Cardinale records his thoughts and interactions with hurricane survivors in ‘Coming Together’, whilst McGill records the fate of ‘Mrs. Spencer’s Home’ and Tobocman details the resilience of the people who returned in ‘Post Katrina 2nd Line’

Attempting to end on lighter terms, Modern Times features outrageous and unbelievable exposé ‘On the Tea Party Trail’ by Kuper, then pictorialises the fine, independent folk of ‘Madison Wisconsin’ courtesy of Susan Semensky Bietila, before Tobocman & Jessica Wehrle delve in detail into the early moments of the ‘Occupy the City’ movement capped by another photo feature of ‘WW3 Arts in Action’ and Drooker’s sublime ‘May Day’ poster.

To add context to the collection Time Line then traces the history of World War 3 Illustrated through a short history of the planet since 1970, augmented by a stunning cover gallery of key issues of the magazine…

The most disheartening thing about this magnificent book is the realisation that so many of these issues – such as globalisation, one-percentism, women’s rights to equal pay and control of their own bodies, the maltreatment and exploitation of prison inmates, the disenfranchisement of African Americans and so much more – are still as being as keenly contested today as they ever were… although surely that’s only a reason to fight even harder and more creatively?

This is a book that belongs in every library and on every school bookshelf, and it most certainly needs to be in the hands of every person who dreams of a fairer, better world…

© 2014 World War 3 Illustrated, Inc. All art, photos and text © 2014, to the individual artists. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 5: The Anger of the Great Sphinx


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-115-0

Papyrus is the rapturously beguiling masterwork of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Spirou, running to more than 30 albums and consequently spawned a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ (fold-in, half-sized booklets) inserts for Spirou, starring his jovial cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip ‘Poussy’.

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

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on ‘Mischa’ for Germany’s Primo, whilst his newest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the following four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic fantasy and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditional “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Moreover each tale readily blended light fantasy escapades with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who quickly rises to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster the plucky Fellah was singled out and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek.

The youthful champion’s first task was to free supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty is to protect Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Anger of the Great Sphinx is the fifth Cinebook translation (20th album of the series and originally released in 1997 as La Colère du grand Sphinx); a spooky testing of faith through vile supernatural villainy eventually thwarted by unflinching daring and honest devotion…

The eerie escapade opens when restless Papyrus discovers the princess sleepwalking in the corridors of Pharaoh’s great Palace in Memphis. Cautiously following, he trips over court jester Puin and by the time he recovers his feet Theti-Cheri has seized a waiting chariot and hurtled into the dark desert beyond the gates.

Extremely alarmed, the lad leaps astride Puin’s phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot and rushes after her…

In the bleak wastes Papyrus is attacked by a living sandstorm threatening to end the line of Pharaohs, but successfully drives it off with his magic sword, just as terrified Puin catches up. As the sun rises they see that they are near the venerable complex of pyramids and Re Harmakhis, Guardian of the Horizon.

The mighty monuments and the Great Sphinx are all but buried under the eternally shifting sands…

Nervous Puin wants to return to the city, leaving such great concerns to Pharaoh and the gods, but Papyrus refuses to abandon the mesmerised princess who can be seen between the paws of the great statue. As he approaches, the stone beast roars that Theti-Cheri now belongs to him because her father has broken an ancient pact to keep the sands from covering him and his temples.

As assign of his dissatisfaction, the princess will die at sunset…

Desperate for a solution, the boy hero agrees to give the insidious sandstorm his magic sword if it will save the princess and the swirling devil advises the lad to find Anty, the Divine Ferryman and seek passage to the Island of the Gods where he can petition the Divinities for merciful intervention…

Dashing to the Nile with Puin and Khamelot in hot pursuit, Papyrus is forced to match wits with the duplicitous Ferryman – a conniving talking crocodile boat with a grudge against the boy from previous encounters.

Once again the rogue vessel tries to cheat and bamboozle the boy. Whilst ostensibly taking the trio to the gods’ home, Anty plies the humans with a hallucinogenic drink (resulting in a stunning and baroque display of the author’s spectacular imagination and artistic virtuosity) before leaving them unconscious in a bed of reeds.

Here they are discovered by trio of sibling dotards – dubbed Pepi I, Pepi II and Pepi III – who minister to them. They are in turn saved by Papyrus when bullying brigands try to rob their hovel. The elders are fishermen now but once they were paid by Pharaoh to keep the Sphinx and pyramids clear of sand.

In recent years though they appear to have been forgotten…

With horror the boy realises they have been left back near the Sphinx and the day is fast fading. With ho hope left of gaining the gods’ aid he rushes off to find Anty and teach the conniving Ferryman the error of his wicked ways before returning to hand his wonderful sword over to the smugly triumphant sandstorm…

At his most despondent moment, through the roaring sand Papyrus sees the Pepis. The elderly janitors have organised the entire village: young and old alike are toiling amid the storm to clear the Sphinx for the sake of their beloved princess.

When Khamelot inadvertently reminds the frantically labouring peasants of a tried-and-true way to dampen down the swirling grains and make them more manageable, the furiously screaming storm devil is at last beaten and blows away…

In the quiet still morning the Sphinx is again free from obstruction and obscurity, but Papyrus is heartbroken to see that it is all too late.

Carrying the corpse of Theti-Cheri into the desert he denies his faith, screaming at the gods who have been so unfair… and they answer, revealing the foolish mistake the passionate, impatient lad has made…

With the princess joyously restored and Re Harmakhis gleaming in all his golden glory Pharaoh at last arrives in a blare of trumpets to reaffirm his dynasty’s obligations and devotion to the gods, elevating the three Pepis to the exalted station of Eternal Guardians of the Sphinx. The newly appointed opponents of the shifting sands have recently taken possession of a certain magic sword and gratefully return it to the boy who restored their family fortunes…

Epic, chilling, funny, enthralling and masterfully engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add these classic chronicles to their dusty, wellbeloved bookshelves.
© Dupuis, 1997 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.

The System


By Peter Kuper (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60486-811-1

Artist, storyteller and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland when he was six. The youngster met fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman and they progressed through the school system, catching the bug for self-publishing early. They then attended Kent State University together. Graduating, they moved to New York in 1979 and, whilst both studying at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, created the political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated.

Both separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and through art events, Kuper and Tobocman have championed social causes, highlighted judicial and cultural inequities and spearheaded the use of narrative art as an effective means of political activism.

Many of Kuper’s most impressive works have stemmed from his far-flung travels but at heart he is truly a son of New York, with a huge amount of his work using the city as bit player or star attraction.

He created The New York Times’ first continuing strip – Eye of the Beholder – in 1993, adapted such modern literary classics as Franz Kafka’s Give it Up! (1995) and The Metamorphosis (2003) to strip form, whilst always creating his own canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the many strings to his bow – and perhaps the most high-profile – has been his brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997.

In 1995 he undertook a bold creative challenge for DC’s Mature Reader imprint by crafting a mute yet fantastically expressive 3-part thriller and swingeing social commentary for Vertigo Verité. The System was released as a softcover graphic album in 1997 and has now been magnificently repackaged in a lavish hardback edition from PM Press.

Following a moving Preface from the author describing the genesis of the project, Senior News Editor at Publisher’s Weekly Carl Reid offers an effusive appreciation in ‘Bright Lights, Scary City’ before the drama begins…

As if telling a beguiling, interlinked portmanteau tale of many lives interweaving and intersecting – and often nastily ending – in the Big City without benefit of word-balloons, captions or sound effects was not challenge enough, Kuper pushed his own storytelling abilities to the limit by constructing his pages and panels from cut stencils, creating the narrative in a form akin to urban street art.

It is astoundingly immediate, evocative and effective…

A stripper is murdered by a maniac. An old, weary detective ruminates on his failures. A boy and girl from different neighbourhoods find love. A derelict and his dog eke out a precarious daily existence and a beat cop does his rounds, collecting payoffs from the crooked dealers and helpless shopkeepers he’s supposed to protect. Religious zealots harass gay men and an Asian cabbie gets grief from the white fares who despise him whilst depending on his services.

The streets rattle with subway trains below and elevated trains above.

Strippers keep dying, children go missing, love keeps going and the airport brings a cruel-faced man with radioactive death in his carry-on luggage…

There are so many million stories in The City and they are all connected through the unceasing urban pulse and incessant, unending forward motion of The System

Clever, compulsive and breathtakingly engrossing, this delicious exercise in dramatic interconnectivity and carefully constructed symbolism is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can be.

© 2014 Peter Kuper. All rights reserved.

Essential Avengers volume 8


By Jim Shooter, George Pérez, David Michelinie, Tom DeFalco, Jim Starlin, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6322-0

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even if the team’s Big Three – Iron Man, Captain America and Thor – are absent, it simply allows the lesser lights and continuity players to shine more brightly.

Although the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, constantly churning, open door policy, human-scale narrative drivers featured the regulars without titles of their own whose eventful lives played out only within these stories and no others.

This electric eighth black and white compilation collects Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ extraordinary exploits from issues #164-184 of the monthly comicbook (spanning October 1977-June 1979), the contents of Avengers Annuals #7 and 8 plus the concluding half of an acclaimed crossover epic from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2.

During this period Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, even as Cosmic Doomsmith Jim Starlin recruited the team to inscribe an epic ending to his seminal interpretation of tragic antihero Adam Warlock

Opening this titanic tome is a stunning 3-part saga by Shooter, John Byrne & Pablo Marcos which reinvented one of the team’s oldest adversaries.

It began in #164 wherein, after months of speculation and experimentation, the resurrected Wonder Man was finally discovered to have evolved into a creature of pure ionic energy. Elsewhere, aging Maggia Don Count Nefaria had recruited Whirlwind, Power Man (the original mercenary who had undergone the same transformative experiment as Wonder Man) and Living Laser to amass plunder for him, but the tactic was mere subterfuge.

After the thieves trashed a squad of Avengers, Nefaria used his flunkies’ bodies as template and power source to turn himself into a literal Superman and attack the already battered heroes in ‘To Fall by Treachery!’

The tension built in #165 as ‘Hammer of Vengeance’ saw the lethally out-powered team fall, only to be saved by elderly speedster The Whizzer who pointed out that, for all his incredible strength, Nefaria too was an old man with death inevitably dogging his heels.

Panicked and galvanised, the Overman went berserk, carving a swathe of destruction through the city whilst seeking a confrontation with Thunder God Thor and the secret of his immortality.

Before too long he had reason to regret his demands…

The surprise arrival of the Thunderer in ‘Day of the Godslayer!’ ended the madman’s dreams but also highlighted growing tensions within the victorious team…

This superb thriller is followed by‘The Final Threat’ (Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein) from Avengers Annual #7, which saw Captain Marvel and Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions were confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrived with news that death-obsessed Thanos had amassed an alien armada and built a soul-gem powered weapon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestalled the stellar invasion and prevented the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) saw Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, which disclosed how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now held the Avengers captive whilst he again prepared to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man headed for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that The Thing also had a history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution were able to end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

Back in the monthly an epic of equal import was about to unfold. Shooter’s connection to the series, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that period’s greatest tales, none more so than the stellar – if deadline-plagued – saga which unravelled over the succeeding months: a sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 and, after a brief pause, resumed for #170 through 177.

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team and tensions started to show in #167 with ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’ by Shooter, George Pérez & Marcos.

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th Century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened…

It all kicked off when star-spanning 31st century superheroes Guardians of the Galaxy materialised in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing a cyborg despot named Korvac.

Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their minor-moon sized ship was swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, where, after the customary introductory squabble, the future men – Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic space God Starhawk – explained the purpose of their mission…

Captain America had fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor had faced the fugitive Korvac before so peace soon broke out, but even with the resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the time travellers were unable to find their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth a new and mysterious being named Michael is lurking in the background. At a fashion show staged by the Wasp he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters and they both vanish…

Avengers #168 reveals ‘First Blood’ and stirs up more trouble as Federal liaison and hidebound martinet Henry Peter Gyrich begins making like bureaucratically hot for the maverick team. In Colorado meanwhile Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes whilst in suburban Forest Hills Starhawk – in his female iteration of Aleta – approaches a quiet residence…

Michael/Korvac’s plan consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on those aforementioned Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed. When Starhawk confronts him the villain kills the intruder and instantly resurrects him without the ability to perceive Michael or any of his works…

The drama screeches to a halt in #169, which declared ‘If We Should Fail… The World Dies Tonight!’ The out of context potboiler – by Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt – saw Cap, Iron Man and Black Panther travel the planet in search of doomsday bombs wired to the failing heart of a dying man before the major mayhem resumed in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’ by Shooter, Pérez & Marcos.

As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan ex-Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (designed by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage and escapes into New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron himself, the team stride into a trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’ but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her.

However at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to see Cap and Jocasta wink out of existence…

The problems pile up in #172 as Watchdog-come-Gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye and responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances.

Thus handicapped the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the increasing disappearances as a squad of heavy hitters rushes off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily enacting a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson)…

Answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in ‘Threshold of Oblivion!’, plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate.

As the vanishings escalate the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man), with the assistance of Vance Astro, finally track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’ (Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle the heroes triumph and their old foe reveals the shocking truth: he is in fact an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia ago and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as the Avengers – from the slowly approaching apocalypse.

As he reveals that predicted end-time is here and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate the Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic Noah is obliterated in a devastating blast of energy. The damage however is done and the entrenched hierarchies of creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 began the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) saw the amassed and liberated ranks of Avengers and Guardians follow the clues to Michael as the new god shared the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina, before ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) saw the entire army of champions destroyed and resurrected as Michael easily overpowered all opposition but faltered for lack of one fundamental failing…

Spread through a series of lesser adventures the overarching epic ponderously and ominously unfolds before finally exploding into a devastating and tragic Battle Royale that is the epitome of superhero comics. This is pure escapist fantasy at its finest.

Despite being somewhat let down by the artwork when the magnificent George Perez gave way to less enthusiastic hands such as Sal Buscema, David Wenzel and Tom Morgan, and cursed by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), the sheer scope of the epic plot nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion.

Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure.

If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader.

After the death and triumphant resurrection of the heroes Avengers Annual #8 gets back to business with a spectacular Fights ‘n’ Tights clash in ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’ by Roger Slifer, Pérez, Marcos & Villamonte, wherein the sentient power-prism of arch villain Doctor Spectrum begins possessing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, leading the team into another blockbusting battle against the Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent Femazon Thundra

A complete change of pace came in Avengers #178. ‘The Martyr Perplex!’ by Steve Gerber, Carmine Infantino &Rudy Nebres saw Beast targeted by master brainwasher The Manipulator in a tense psycho-thriller teeming with shady crooks and government spooks, after which Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, Al Gordon & Mike Esposito concocted a 2-part yarn introducing tragic mutant Bloodhawk and an ambitious hitman in ‘Slowly Slays the Stinger!’

Whilst the Stinger cautiously executed his plan another squad of heroes return with Bloodhawk to his desolate island home of Maura for a ‘Berserkers’ Holiday’, just in time to battle an animated and agitated stone idol.

When they returned victorious Stinger was waiting and the assemblage lost its newest ally forever…

Avengers #181 introduced new regular team Michelinie & Byrne – augmented by inker Gene Day – as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ had Agent Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the army of heroes down to a federally acceptable seven.

As the Guardians of the Galaxy headed back to the future, Iron Man, Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wasp had to placate Hawkeye after he was rejected in favour of new member The Falcon – parachuted in to conform to government quotas on affirmative action…

Almost immediately Gyrich’s plans were in ruins as a strange gipsy sorcerer attacked, claiming Wanda and Pietro were his long lost children. He stole their souls, trapping them in little wooden dolls, and the resultant clash in #182’s ‘Honor Thy Father’ (inked by Klaus Janson) only created more questions, as overwhelming evidence seemed to confirm Django Maximoff’s story; compelling the Witch and Quicksilver to leave with him on a quest for answers…

This breathtaking collection concludes with a 2-part confrontation by Michelinie, Byrne, Janson & D. Hands from Avengers #183-184.

‘The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!’ began as Ms. Marvel was cleared by Gyrich to replace Wanda whilst elsewhere in the Big Apple the formidable Absorbing Man decided to quit being thrashed by heroes and leave the country. Unfortunately his departure plans included kidnapping a young woman “for company” and led to a cataclysmic showdown with the heroes and Hawkeye (who was determined to win back his place on the team) leading to carnage, chaos and a ‘Death on the Hudson!’

These truly epic yarns set the tone for the compulsive, calamitous Costumed Dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the so slick and cool 21st century…

No lovers of superhero sagas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book, and fans who think themselves above Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

How the World Was – A California Childhood


By Emmanuel Guibert translated by Kathryn Pulver (First Second)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-664-0

In 1994 French cartoonist, author and storyteller Emmanuel Guibert(The Photographer, Sardine in Outer Space, The Professor’s Daughter) had a chance encounter with elderly American émigré Alan Cope.

The latter was a veteran of World War II and, as they became firm friends, shared his memories of the conflict and his own modest part in it.

Moved and inspired, the artist transformed those conversational recollections into a beguiling graphic memoir entitled La Guerre d’Alan. The first of three albums was released in 2000 – a year after Cope passed away – and debuted as English-language graphic novel Alan’s War in 2008.

Now, that immensely moving volume has been augmented by a wonderful prequel, also culled from laconic, memorable chats between a young man of artistic mien and an ordinary if contemplative old guy with a long life to recall.

This second dip into the well of the Californian expatriate’s life – originally released in France in 2010 as L’enfance d’Alan – focuses on his formative years in the Golden State as it gradually turned from rural paradise into America’s smoggy, grimy industrial and entertainment powerhouse…

Delivered in a understated yet mesmeric, matter-of-fact manner, the frankly miraculous marriage of memory and narrative art opens in full colour at the end of Alan’s life before slipping into the monochrome past…

Alan Cope was born in 1925 when California was still profoundly insular, distant and undeveloped. Here, through his graphic collaborator he shares the intimate daily details and observational minutia of a keen-eyed boy growing up in a loving family, regularly moving from place to place and generally getting by as honest, hardworking folks did in far simpler times…

Through anecdotes, opinions and intimate family secrets from three generations of the maternal Hanson and Cope lines, a gentle history of joy, tribulation and imperceptible progress unfolds, packed with magical visions of endless days, roller skating, safe and empty streets, pets and pals and pastimes.

Thus all the fascinating insights and misapprehensions of the young and impressionable boy meld into an elegant and elegiac appraisal of a time, place and way of life we are all the poorer for having lost.

Through universally mutual childhood experiences – tussles, escapades with bugs, spiders and snakes, girls, doctors, old rented houses, the ever-present wilderness, poverty, family squabbles and troubles, death and religion – Guibert traces his departed friend’s growth in a world where nothing really happened but did so with inexorable force in ways that could only be properly perceived from the distant safety of later decades.

It was life and you just got on with it…

Utterly magical and captivating in a way mere words cannot express, How the World Was is a loving paean to lost days and a disappearing way of living and thinking, steeped in evocative charm and delivered with easy approachability, gentle humour, enchanting sensitivity and remarkable panache.

Buy it now and read it regularly for as long as you live…

© 2010 Emmanuel Guibert & L’Association. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 by First Second.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 4


By Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Al Plastino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3837-7

When the groundbreaking Man of Steel debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention, but even then the need for a solid supporting cast was apparent and cleverly catered for. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered right beside Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset.

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid started working alongside Lois and Clark from issue #6 (November 1938) onwards.

His first name was disclosed in Superman #13 (November-December 1941) having already been revealed as Jimmy Olsen to radio listeners as when he had become a major player in The Adventures of Superman show from its debut on April 15th 1940. As somebody the same age as the target audience, on hand for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listener’s benefit) he was the closest thing to a sidekick the Action Ace ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952 it was again an overnight sensation and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their revitalised franchise with new characters and titles.

First to get a promotion to solo-star status was the Daily Planet’s impetuously capable if naïve “cub reporter”. His gloriously charming, light-hearted, semi-solo escapades began in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (September-October 1954), the first spin-off star in the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage.

It took three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively extend the franchise again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway, try-out title Showcase – which had already launched The Flash (#4) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6) -followed up with a pair of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (#9-10) before swiftly awarding the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had held a regular solo-spot in Superman.

In previous reviews I’ve banged on at length about the strange, patronising, parochial – and to at least some of us potentially offensive – portrayals of kids and most especially women during this period, and although at least fairer and more affirmative instances were beginning to appear, the warnings still bear repeating.

At that timeLois Lane was one of precious few titles with a female lead, and, in the context of today, one that gives many 21st century fans a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Within the confines of her series the valiant, capable working woman careered crazily from man-hungry, unscrupulous bitch through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue. The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon, and many stories were played for laughs in that same patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits.

It helps that they’re mostly sublimely illustrated by the wonderfully whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

For the Superman family and cast the tone of the times dictated a highly strictured code of conduct and parameters: Daily Planet Editor Perry White was a stern, shouty elder statesman with a heart of gold, Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen was a brave and impulsive unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and plucky News-hen Lois Lane was brash, nosy, impetuous and unscrupulous in her obsession to marry Superman although she too was – deep down – another possessor of an Auric aorta.

Yet somehow even with these mandates in place the talented writers and artists assigned to detail their wholesomely uncanny exploits managed to craft tales both beguiling and breathtakingly memorable and usually as funny as they were exciting.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen wasn’t quite as contentious, but still far too often stories meant to amuse portrayed the bright, plucky kid in a variety of socially demeaning – if not downright cruel – situations and humiliating physical transformations. Even so the winning blend of slapstick adventure, action, fantasy and science fiction (in the gentle but insidiously charming manner scripter Otto Binder had perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel) made the series one of the most popular of the era.

Again, originally most yarns were played for laughs in a father-knows-best manner and tone which can again appal me today, even though I still count them amongst some of my very favourite comics.

Confusing, ain’t it?

This fourth intriguingly intermingled, chronologically complete compendium collects the affable, all-ages tales from Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #17-26, (May 1960-July 1961) and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #45-53 (June 1960-June 1961): a period of infinite wackiness and outrageous absurdity, but one which also saw the inevitable dawning of a far more serious milieu for the Man of Tomorrow and his human family.

This particular black-&-white ethical conundrum commences with the Man of Steel’s perpetual lady-in-waiting as Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #17 (May 1960) introduced ‘The Girl that Almost Married Clark Kent’ – by Robert Bernstein & Schaffenberger – revealing how Lois covertly helped heiress Doris Drake win her reporter partner’s affections, unaware that the conniving rich girl had proof of the Caped Kryptonian’s secret identity…

‘Lana Lang, Superwoman’ (Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan & Stan Kaye) then saw jealousy run wild as Superman gave first one then the other girl in his life superpowers in a secret scheme to foil Brainiac – with no thought as to how either woman would feel once the crisis was over…

The issue ended with ‘How Lois Lane Got Her Job’ by Binder & Schaffenberger, which disclosed how, even before she had even met him, Superman was inadvertently helping the neophyte journalist score scoops…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #45, (June 1960 and illustrated throughout by Swan & John Forte) kicked off with ‘Tom Baker, Power Lad’ by Binder; a clever tale in which an apparently ordinary boy temporarily gained super powers – although the shocking truth involved then-top secret weapon Supergirl and the Bottle City of Kandor

Meddling with resident crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter’s experimental time machine hurled Jimmy back to the Wild West where he became accidental killer ‘The Gunsmoke Kid’ (by a sadly uncredited scripter) whilst in ‘The Animal Master of Metropolis’ (by Bernstein) Jimmy became a local hero and target of crooked gamblers after he started playing with a magic wand that gave him absolute mastery of the world’s fauna.

From July 1960, Lois Lane #18 opened with ‘The Star Reporter of Metropolis’ (possibly Binder & definitely Schaffenberger) wherein a mousy protégé stole Lois’s thunder for the best possible reasons, whilst ‘The Sleeping Doom’ (Bernstein & Schaffenberger) offered a superb thriller as aliens invaded Earth by taking over people after they fell asleep. The valiant lass staved off slumber for days until Superman could return to send the invaders packing, after which ‘Lois Lane Weds Astounding Man’ by Binder & Al Plastino, found the flabbergasted journalist wooed by an alien wonder warrior with a very strange secret…

That same month in Jimmy Olsen #46 – another all-Swan & Forte art-extravaganza – Siegel’s ‘Jimmy Olsen, Orphan’ revealed how an accident gave the cub reporter amnesia and he ended up in the same institution where Linda Lee was hiding whilst learning how to be a Supergirl, after which ‘The Irresistible Jimmy Olsen’ (Bernstein) hilariously lampooned Hollywood as a succession of starlets tried to romance the baffled but willing lad.

Of course the eager actresses were all operating on the mistaken assumption that our boy was Tinseltown’s latest genius Movie Producer…

The issue then concluded with another outing for Jimmy’s occasional alter ego in ‘Elastic Lad’s Greatest Feats’ with scripter Binder perfectly blending drama and comedy to deliver a punishing moral to the ever-impulsive kid…

Lois Lane #19 (August 1960 and fully illustrated by Schaffenberger) opened with ‘The Day Lois Lane Forgot Superman’ (Bernstein) with devoted sister Lucy convincing her perennially heartbroken elder sibling to try hypnosis to get over her destructive obsession.

Of course once it worked, it gave Lois time to pester Clark Kent so much he had no time to save the world…

When an accident seemingly catapulted Lois into the past she quickly became enamoured of Samson, a hero with a secret identity and ‘The Superman of the Past’ in a quirky yarn by scripter Binder, after which Jerry Siegel debuted a new occasional series.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ was the first tale of a poignant comedy feature depicting the laughter and tears that might result if Lois secretly married the Man of Steel. Although seemingly having achieved her heart’s desire, she is officially only married to dull, safe Clark and must keep her relationship with the Man of Tomorrow quiet. She can’t brag or show pride and has to swallow the rage she feels whenever another woman throws herself at the still eligible bachelor Superman…

For an artefact of an era uncomfortably dismissive of women, there’s actually a lot of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #47, (September 1960) found Jimmy in over his head as he impersonated an escaped convict and was trapped as gangland big shot Winky McCoy,‘The King of Crime’ in a cracking suspense tale by Bernstein, after which the impatiently under-age lad was transformed into a husky thirty-something by another Prof. Potter potion in ‘Jimmy Grows Up!’

Once Binder sagely proved that maturity isn’t everything, Siegelwrapped up the issue with a thrilling romp as the alien producers of horror movies starring Superman and Jimmy returned seeking sequels. Their robot cub reporter didn’t like the prospect of being junked at shooting’s end, however, and tried to replace the flesh and blood original in ‘The Monsters from Earth!’

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #20 (October 1960) opened with the whimsical ‘Superman’s Flight from Lois Lane’ (Siegel & Schaffenberger), wherein the Man of Tomorrow fled into his own past to see if a different life-path would have resulted in a civilian existence unencumbered by a nosy snooping female.

Disc Jockey Clark soon realised his inquisitive assistant Liza Landis made Miss Lane look positively disinterested and happily ended the experiment, after which ‘The Luckiest Girl in Metropolis’ (Bernstein & Plastino) saw Lois targeted by a Machiavellian mobster seeking to destroy her credibility as a witness before ‘Lois Lane’s Super-Daughter’ by Siegel & Schaffenberger returned to the Imaginary Mr. & Mrs. scenario where their attempts to adopt Linda (Supergirl) Lee led to heartbreak and disaster…

Over in Jimmy Olsen #48 that same month, anonymously scripted ‘The Story of Camp Superman!’ presented a heart-warming mystery as the cub worked as counsellor to a bunch of youngsters – one of whom knew entirely too much about Superman – before ‘The Disguises of Danger’ again saw undercover Jimmy use his acting abilities to get close to a cunning crook. ‘The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen’ (by Binder) then saw the diminutive Superman Emergency Squad from Kandor repeatedly harass Jimmy in a clandestine scheme to stop the lad accidentally exposing the Man of Steel’s civilian identity…

The all-Schaffenberger November 1960 Lois Lane (#21) featured a double-length epic by author unknown (perhaps Edmond Hamilton?) which saw the Anti-Superman Gang utilise explosive toys to endanger the news-hen in ‘The Lois Lane Doll’: an act which forced the Action Ace to hide her in his Fortress of Solitude.

When even that proved insufficient she found refuge – and unlikely romance – whilst ‘Trapped in Kandor!’ Siegel then scripted a classic comic yarn as sworn rivals gained incredible abilities from a magic lake and decided to duke it out like men in ‘The Battle Between Super-Lois and Super-Lana!’

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #49, December 1960 opened with ‘Jimmy’s Gorilla Identity!’ wherein the luckless lad met DC stalwart Congo Bill and got his personality trapped in the hunter’s occasional alter ego, the giant golden ape dubbed Congorilla, whilst Professor Potter was blamed for, but entirely innocent of, turning the cub reporter into ‘The Fat Boy of Metropolis!’ in a daft but clever crime caper and Siegel played with contemporary trends as Jimmy impersonated a rock ‘n’ roll star to impress Lucy Lane in ‘Alias, Chip O’Doole!’

Another all-Schaffenberger affair, Lois Lane #22 (January 1961), began with a Red Kryptonite experiment that afflicted the Man of Steel with a compulsion to repeatedly pop the question to an increasingly dubious and suspicious Lois on ‘The Day When Superman Proposed!’ (Binder & Schaffenberger), after which ‘Lois Lane’s X-Ray Vision!’ (Bernstein) saw a pair of irradiated sunglasses create a tidal wave of problems for the Metropolis Marvel, whilst in ‘Sweetheart of Robin Hood!’ another time-shift dream found Lois courted by a very familiar-seeming Defender of Truth, Justice and the Nottinghamshire Way…

Over in Jimmy Olsen #50, ‘The Lord of Olsen Castle’ by Siegel, Swan & Sheldon Moldoff saw Jimmy as the potential heir of a Swedish castle and title. All he had to do was accomplish a slew of fantastic feats and defeat an ogre, utterly unaware that Superman and a host of other Kryptonians were secretly pitching in…

‘The Weirdest Asteroid in Space’ by Binder, Swan & Moldoff offered a spectacular monster mystery before a Potter experiment transferred all the Man of Steel’s might into his teenage pal resulting in ‘The Super-Life of Jimmy Olsen!’ by an unknown author and artist Al Plastino.

Lois Lane#23 (February 1961) opened with Binder & Schaffenberger’s riotous romp ‘The 10 Feats of Elastic Lass!’ as the impetuous reporter borrowed some of Jimmy’s stretching serum to track down mad bomber The Wrecker, whilst ‘The Curse of Lena Thorul!’ (Siegel) exposed a bewitching beauty’s incredible connection to Lex Luthor before another Imaginary visit to a possible future found ‘The Wife of Superman!’ (Siegel again) worn to a frazzle by two super-toddlers and yearning for her old job at the Daily Planet…

Jimmy Olsen #51, March 1961 revealed ‘Jimmy Olsen’s 1000th Scoop!’ by Bernstein, Swan & Forte, with the prospective milestone repeatedly delayed by Superman for the best possible reasons, after which a sultry alien took a very unlikely shine to the lad. Sadly ‘The Girl with Green Hair’ (Binder, Swan & Forte), was the result of a scheme by a well-meaning third party to get Lucy to be nicer to Jimmy and it all went painfully, horribly wrong…

The issue ended with ‘The Dream Detective!’ (Swan & Stan Kaye) as the cub reporter inexplicably developed psychometric abilities and unravelled mysteries in his sleep, whilst in Lois Lane #24 (April 1961) anonymously scripted ‘The Super-Surprise!’ saw Lois undercover as a platinum blonde scuppering a deadly plot against the Man of Tomorrow, superbly illustrated by Schaffenberger, as was Bernstein’s ‘The Perfect Husband’ wherein a TV dating show led Lois into a doomed affair with a he-man hunk who was almost the spitting image of Clark Kent.

…Almost…

The issue ended on ‘Lois Lane… Traitor!’ by Bernstein & John Forte, with Lois in the frame for the murder of the King of Pahla until the incredible, unbelievable true culprit came forward…

Also available that April, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #52 featured ‘The Specter of the Haunted House’ by Leo Dorfman, Swan & Kaye wherein a gang of cunning thieves used supernatural sceptic Olsen as a patsy for a bold robbery scheme, whilst ‘The Perils of Jimmy Olsen!’ – illustrated by Swan & Forte – saw the laid-up cub reporter use a robot double to perform feats of escalating daring and stupidity before ‘Jimmy Olsen, Wolfman!’ (Siegel, Swan & Kaye) offered a welcome sequel to the original hit tale wherein Superman’s Pal was again afflicted by lycanthropy thanks to the pranks of other-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk

In Lois Lane#25 (May 1961) the Imaginary series reached an impressively bittersweet high point in ‘Lois Lane and Superman, Newlyweds!’ (Siegel & Schaffenberger) as she convinced hubby to announce their relationship to the world and had to live with the shocking consequences…

The brilliant reporter side was then highlighted in Bernstein’s diabolical thriller ‘Lois Lane’s Darkest Secret!’ with the daring reporter risking her life to draw out and capture a mesmeric master criminal before ‘The Three Lives of Lois Lane!’ (possibly Dorfman with Forte illustrating) found the journalist surviving a car crash only to be subsumed into the personalities of dead historical figures Florence Nightingale, Betsy Ross and Queen Isabella of Spain whilst Superman could only stay near and try to limit the damage…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #53, June 1961 opened with ‘The Boy in the Bottle!’ (Siegel, Swan & Kaye) as the cub suffered future shock whilst trapped in Kandor, after which sheer medical mischance resulted in the now-legendary saga of ‘The Giant Turtle Man!’ and an oddly casualty-free rampage (courtesy of Siegel, Swan & Forte) before ‘The Black Magician!’ (unknown writer, Swan & Forte) had Jimmy banished to the court of King Arthur by spiteful Mr. Mxyzptlk

The contents of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane#26 (July 1961) closes this time-sensitive titanic tome, with three more Schaffenberger classics, beginning with Siegel’s ‘The Day Superman Married Lana Lang!’

In this imaginary tragedy the Action Ace finally made his decision and settled down with his childhood sweetheart but lived to regret it, whilst ‘Lois Lane’s Childhood!’ (Siegel) revealed how the lives of Kal-El on doomed Krypton and baby Lois on Earth were intertwined by fate and providence before Bernstein’s ‘The Mad Woman of Metropolis’ concludes the comics cavalcade on a stunning high as Lois foiled a diabolical plot by criminals to murder Clark and drive her insane.

As well as containing some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these fun, thrilling, deeply peculiar and, yes, sometimes offensive tales perfectly capture the changing tone and tastes which reshaped comics from the smug, safe 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

Despite all the well-intentioned quibbles from my high horse here in the 21st century, I think these stories still have a huge amount to offer funnybook fun-seekers and I strongly urge you to check them out for yourselves. You won’t be sorry…

© 1960, 1961, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.