The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-283-0 (TPB) eISBN 978-1-68112-284-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sinister, Seductive, Superb… 10/10

During the vast expansion of opportunity and outpouring of innovation that graced comics during the 1980s, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma which had plagued the medium was finally dispelled. America started catching up to the rest of the world; acknowledging sequential narrative as an actual Capital “A” Art Form, and their doors opened wide open for foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the era’s most critically acclaimed and inescapably intoxicating features sprang from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press which set up shop in the USA at the start of the black & white comics bubble in 1984. They quickly established a reputation for excellence offering a strong line of creator-based properties including some genuinely remarkable series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Flaming Carrot, Normalman, and a compulsively backwards-looking Cold War/UFO/paranoia-driven delight: The Silent Invasion.

That last was a stunningly stylish conspiracy saga, bolting 1950s domestic terrors (invasion by Reds; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic: and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a phenomenally fresh and enticing delight for the strangely similar Reagan era. From here and now, it’s never seemed more distressingly likely that politics, if not all history, is cursed to repeat certain cycles and strategies…

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes, re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein inspired co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock designed a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic cult sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

Now, as the world again teeters on the edge of a multiple-choice test of imminent dooms – and with America once more enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption, cover-ups at every level of government and the press under attack from the people and traditions it seeks to inform and safeguard – the series is remastered, revised, re-released and continued in a handy trade paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format)…

Gripping and utterly addictive, The Silent Invasion is incomprehensibly charming and challenging. Rendered in a compelling, spectacularly expressionistic style it is an epic of perpetual twists and turns, leaving readers dazed, dazzled and always hungry for more, and its Machiavellian contortions and observations have never been more relevant than now. After all, doesn’t the news confirm every day that infiltration is complete, assimilation is near-total and utterly non-human tyrant-morons have already co-opted earthly corridors of power…

1950s America remains a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incomparable scientific and cultural advancements, great wealth and desperate, intoxicating optimism inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft incisive, evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but that’s not really a mystery, is it?

What Has Gone Before: In April 1952, infamous Union City private eye Dick Mallet saw a strange light in the night sky. Next morning, cops found his empty, crashed automobile. A month later reporter Matt Sinkage was still getting grief from Frank Costello, Editor of the Union City Sentinel. Matt was frantic to expose “The Truth behind Flying Saucers” but became an ostracised laughing stock, especially since he also suspected his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov was a Russian spy….

Sinkage alienated his family and drove his fiancée Peggy Black to distraction. All he could think about was the night six months ago in Albany when he witnessed a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a crazy night everyone remembers… except him.

When Matt broke into Ivan’s apartment, he saw the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine. It confirmed his suspicions that they were Atomic spies. Days later, Matt collided with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber and cunningly asked her out to lunch. Things developed and Gloria begged him to save her from what she claimed were Red agents, even though the thugs subsequently claimed to be Federal agents…

Hiding out at his brother Walter’s place, Matt was still seeing flying saucers everywhere and couldn’t understand why everybody else thought they were just jets. In Union City, Costello was pressured by brutish FBI Agent Phil Housley: an old acquaintance who regularly forced him to suppress unwelcome or troubling news items…

This time he wanted Sinkage. What no newsman knew was that Housley also worked for a shadow agency: The Council. What Housley didn’t know was that he was only a pawn…

Back in suburbia, Walter’s wife Katie – convinced Matt and his new floozy Gloria were up to no good – reached out to the FBI. The fugitives were heading out in Walter’s car when Peggy showed up. She couldn’t understand why her man was with a flashy trollop, and wouldn’t accept that Matt only wanted the lowdown on the Reds and access to Kalashnikov’s memoirs and files. Matt knew Gloria was playing a double game, but agreed to go with to a remote town where a “contact” could protect them both. Mr K called in his own heavies to hunt them, all factions equally unaware the FBI had visited Katie and a net was closing around Sinkage and his mystery woman…

When the Council learn Sinkage was involved in the “Albany event”, near-panic ensued. Matt eventually succumbed to suspicion. Gloria kept vanishing and refused to acknowledge it and Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abducted her and roughed up Matt.

Events spiralled and came to a head in sleepy distant Stubbinsville. Housley and the FBI tracked the runaways, meeting up with the Reds and what might well have been aliens in the isolated region. The net closed around them as a fantastic, terrifying light-show ignited the dark skies. By the time the G-Men reached them, Gloria had vanished and Sinkage was in a coma. Days later, he was free and all charges dropped. He was strangely content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to whom all the various parties hounding them really were, Sinkage knew what he had seen when Gloria vanished. Now he could only wait for her inevitable return…

Three years later, in September 1955, he was still waiting. He’d spent much of that time in an asylum. On release, he moved to bucolic Rockhaven and resumed his old trade as a journalist. The uncaring outsider had tentatively established himself in the small town, but his job at The Ranger paid a pittance and offered no satisfaction. Sinkage earned extra cash writing fake news for spurious tabloid The Tattler.

His life spiralled again after a proposed piece on cattle mutilations led to a quasi-religious space cult in his own backyard. At first journalistic sight, the Sirian Utopia Foundation was a long con gulling wealthy widow Gladys Tanner. She devoutly believed the world was heading for imminent Armageddon and that her new gurus were in contact with a benign cosmic council promising enlightenment and global paradise, and could reunite her with her departed husband…

Her followers included prominent Washington politicians who Sinkage connected to missing scientists. When Housley turned up, acting friendly, Matt lapsed into old suspicions and started snooping, “discovering” a fake flying saucer in the Tanner barn was a prop disguising the real thing…

The Council’s top thug Brennan resurfaced, spouting drivel about commie conspiracy at the Tanner farm but again, drastic action by the Feds ended the investigation convincing Sinkage that America and the world are in the midst of a sly alien conquest only he can expose.

Sinkage joined his nemesis as part of Housley Investigations in Union City, even though it meant moving living with Walter and despicable Katie. By May 1958, he was a phantom celebrity: a flying saucer freak regularly cited by the media, yet seldom seen. Cassandra-like, he warned of invasion, and stalked Presidential hopeful Senator Harrison T. Callahan – a candidate he believed to be a mind-controlled alien puppet.

By 1959, he was an anonymous star on TV, stridently declaring how aliens seized minds. When Senator Callahan sought to stifle Sinkage’s campaign, The Council reactivated Housley, claiming the entire alien issue a Soviet plot to destabilise America. Over Walter’s objections Katie manoeuvred to get Sinkage back into the asylum and he subsequently vanished from their lives…

In August, Callahan officially announced his candidacy and Sinkage made a desperate move, resolved to save humanity whatever the cost…

He was foiled by Housley who briefly became a minor celebrity, but by 1965 the grizzled world-weary Private Eye was old news. Nobody cared anymore how he saved the life of America’s next president in August or that he killed a crazy reporter. Housley’s life was all about making ends meet, accommodating estranged wife Vivian while still seeing his kids, and keeping secretary/girlfriend Meredith Baxter happy. Union City, meanwhile, reeled from a string of bizarre serial killings…

With life constantly kicking him hard, Phil found an unexpected upside after predatory, exceedingly generous client Sarah Finster hired him to find her husband, Howard. He was an attorney at prestigious Phelps, Finster and Phelan: a simple, uncomplicated guy who started suffering blackouts, He’d been disappearing for days at a time and reappearing with no knowledge of where he’d been or that time has passed. That truly intrigued Housley, since he’d been experiencing exactly the same problems lately…

Diligent investigation led Phil to a shrink named Jeffrey Plunck, and more than he bargained for. Apparently, Howard had been disappearing and experiencing memory problems for a year, and claimed he’d been abducted by aliens…

Officious Dr. Plunck stonewalled in a manner Phil thought only Feds could pull off, and for some reason Housley had a chilling dream about Matt Sinkage. When an envelope arrived, containing a note and recent photo of Plunck and the impossibly still-alive Sinkage, Phil sought out Nora Marsh: Howard’s girl on the side and another regular alien abductee. Abruptly ambushed, he regained consciousness to find Nora gone, leaving a list of names that led him to Howard. When he took the bewildered lawyer home, Housley was blasted by blazing light and awakened having lost more time and memories…

Revisiting all he knows about Sinkage and confronting the reporter’s former boss Frank Costello, Housley learned Nora’s list is people who have recently died or been murdered in uncanny circumstances. Walter Sinkage then added fuel to the insane alien nonsense by expounding a raft of crazy suppositions about Canada’s Flying Saucer programme – and their football exploits – which left the weary detective more baffled than ever and blithely unaware of how many different people have him under observation…

When bodies start piling up and circumstantially pointing to Phil, his increasingly troubled homelife and those oh-so-convenient memory black-outs only add fuel to a well-built fire of conspiracy, and as witnesses and potential allies vanish or die, a procedural net he was very used to holding closed around him.

Shifting into furious overdrive, Phil went on the run, determined to find answers. Raiding Plunck’s office, he stumbled upon an incredible nest of secrets, provoking a massive, deadly response which precipitated a savage clash with resurgent Council forces and the irresistible powers behind them…

The chilling campaign reaches 1970 in new volume Dark Matter, where (after ‘Previously in The Silent Invasion’ – a far more succinct précis of past events) dull and boring Walter Sinkage steps up to the paranoia plate after moving to suburban ‘Willowdale’.

Status-hungry wife Katie finally sees her life back on track, but the move proves her downfall as it causes Walter to look through brother Matt’s copious files, which have festered in the basement since before he died. It also overlaps the moment Walter experiences his first – but not last – flying saucer sighting…

Soon and inevitably, Walter is drawn into a beguiling web of intrigue and cautiously joins AAA – Alien Abductees Anonymous – run by creepily unctuous Reverend Wilson Monroe Parsons on behalf of the remarkably ubiquitous Xylotec Research Foundation. As “Steve”, Sinkage learns there are two kinds of abductee: the usual whacko attention-seekers and people like Charlene Bathgate – and himself – who have clearly been changed by something uncanny. Parsons can tell the difference and assigns Charlene to watch the new guy…

Home and work life deteriorate as Walter sinks further into obsession. Time and memories slip as the AAA crowd becomes his sole focus, and a tipping point comes when he’s introduced to gleaming and scary Pam and Sam, Missionary vanguards for the Cosmic Fellowship of Our Lady of the Spaceways temple (think Scientologists with even better teeth, and sparkles) who insist Steve has “the Gift” and give him their utmost attention. It translates into inviting themselves into Walter’s home and converting Katie into a braindead zealot. Events have meanwhile moved far beyond Walter’s control and he’s being dragged somewhere strange: seeing more lights in the sky and worse…

When he’s snatched by government-type heavies who want to take him to Stubbinsville, he’s saved by the miraculous appearance of Matt Sinkage before being drawn into the heavens for Enlightenment…

The Council return in a dominant position, executing plans that will reshape human society in ‘Camp X’ as Walter’s disappearance triggers a police missing persons investigation. For Detective Sawchuck it’s just another case, but his partner Eddy Dime is utterly overwhelmed by Walter/Matt’s files and irretrievably sucked in to the mystery. After talking to Reverend Parsons and Charlene, Dime cannot let go, especially after pressure from on high forces his boss to shelve the case…

Eddy doesn’t care. After finding Walter’s car in Stubbinsville and talking to town historian Sydney Ellsworth, he’s determined to examine a supposedly-decommissioned military base everyone knows is still active and the reason for so many UFO sightings. Ellsworth knows it’s just a lab for mind-control experiments by the Military-Industrial Complex that controls the government…

Whilst reporting to Katie Sinkage, Dime meets Pam and Sam, experiences headaches and disorientation and wakes up days later with jumbled memories. Refusing to drop the case he then realises he’s being watched by trench-coated strangers…

Enigma and intensity exponentially expand in ‘Feints and Fumbles’ as the web closes around Dime, who goes off the reservation, stashing Sinkage’s files. While Katie shills for the Cosmic Fellowship temple and predicts Walter’s imminent return, Charlene seemingly opens up to Dime: moving into his apartment to hide from the army of conspirators closing in. Soon after, Eddy sees lights in the sky and has his own inexplicable experience, and when Feds try to confiscate his findings, quits the force…

As the Council exerts its power over the police and city leaders, with many old faces like Dr. Plunck or Frank Costello in attendance, ‘Return to Stubbinsville’ finds Dime in business as a PI and finally face-to face with back-but-baffled Walter Sinkage. The abductee can’t remember much beyond probes and lights, but is convinced brother Matt was there. Hungry for answers, Dime enrols in the Cosmic Fellowship church and undergoes an orientation process that changes him forever, even as Charlene endures her own comeuppance. And then Ellsworth phones, urgently suggesting Dime come to Camp X if he wishes to achieve ‘Enlightenment’

The truth might well be out there, but it’s not what anybody expects or is ready to accept…

Supplemented by a fascinating selection of ‘Sketches and Layouts’; riddled throughout with in-joke DC Comics creators Easter eggs, and contemporary critiques like a delicious swipe at a former President and legendary sore loser, this is another impeccable brush with mindboggling paranoia-as-entertainment you won’t be able to put down.

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter provides an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore – and the best is still to come…
© 2021 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. All rights reserved.

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter will be released on December 16th 2021 and is available digitally and for physical copy pre-order now.

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

Christmas Treat: the entire saga thus far can be yours for a bargain festive price. Just head to…
THE SILENT INVASION Bundle (Includes VOLS. 1-4)
By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock

The Art of Sushi


By Franckie Alarcon, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-285-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-86-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sensational Sagacity for All Seasonings… 9/10

Usually this bit is about sex or swearing, but I’m issuing my first ever culinary advisory here.

If you are vegan, squeamish or simply care about fish and other animals and are likely to be upset by graphic depictions of the preparation of really cool creatures like octopi or eels, do not buy this book. It’s really not your thing.

Once more confirming that there’s nothing you can’t craft compelling comics about if you’re talented and inspired, here’s a gripping graphic testament to the art, philosophy and mindset of Japan’s most misunderstood culinary export.

First seen as L’Art du Sushi in 2019, and courtesy of ever-inquisitive, fantastically convivial cartoonist-foodie Franckie Alarcon, The Art of Sushi follows the artist and close associates on a fact-finding tour of Japan. Their mission is in response to the recent phenomenon of France falling madly in love with the oriental art of food, and subsequent seeking to mimic and master its traditions and pure quality; whilst making it just a little bit theirs, too…

After a cheery introduction, scene-setting, history and visual précis to the discipline’s antecedents and nine basic forms, “Bibi” Alarcon, girlfriend Marilyne, Editor David and photographer Chloe join translator/guide Rica in Tokyo to track down a revered Master, one who is also a three-starred Michelin chef…

As well as fascinating insights into the philosophy, personal beliefs and techniques of 50-year veteran craftsman Hachiro Mizutani, the researchers taste marvels and come to understand the importance of sourcing the components. ‘Mizutani: Traditional Sushi’ catalogues dishes and how they’re constructed before following him to legendary Tsukiji Market to test the daily catch in still-living splendour before detailing how they are prepared… and why. The lesson includes eye-watering comparisons with the practices of Brittany fishermen….

Sidebars include the parlous state of the oceans and fish stocks, how to make rice and a beguiling history of knife-making.

As seen in ‘Maguro bocho and Oroshi bocho’, the nation’s metallurgical artisans used to make swords, but now craft far more dangerous implements…

After reinforcing our presentiments with tastes of old Japan, the tourists explore the rush of the contemporary city with a brilliant young chef making all the right waves in ‘Okada: Modern Sushi’. Prior to that, they headed into the country to visit with Rica’s family and spent time on fishing boats.

The pride of their catch comes with them to Okada’s city restaurant for a display of his innovative virtuosity and is supplemented by lessons in consuming the beverages that are an integral part of Sushi appreciation; the history of rice; aesthetics of presentation, more blade techniques for preparing various sea creatures and useful information in spotting and dealing with the assorted parasites that infest uncooked food…

One of the most compelling asides concerns the best shape and materials of bowls, plates, cups and other tableware, which diverts into a visit to a ceramicist providing such containers to the trade…

Every visit results in a fresh eating experience and freebies to take home, but after leaving Okada’s place the team go to Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture to learn all about rice wines and ‘The Stages of making Sake’: for many the most important component in ceremonial Sushi consumption…

Once done examining old and new at the high end, our intrepid voyagers tackle the working world of ‘Everyday Sushi’ in modern Japan. Beginning with a day aboard an eel fishing boat, learning cunning tricks to keep the catch alive until ready to eat, the Europeans later enjoy a home-prepared feast courtesy of Mrs. Tanemura – who runs an eatery out of her house – and discover the hard truths about Nori (seaweed wraps/mats) from her other guests…

The trip concludes with a mind-blowing visit to a soy sauce brewery before the city offers Sushi in fast food and convenience store mode before the exhausted well-stuffed visitors go home to reassess the state of ‘Sushi in France’ with now-learnèd eyes and taste buds.

Apparently, the biggest challenge is adapting to a far smaller range of truly fresh and seasonal ingredients in a largely land-locked country, but as star chefs Takuya Watanabe – in between revealing how to grow authentic wasabi in European soil – and Yannick Alléno point out, Gastronomy and Sushi are about technique. It works with vegan or even mammal-meat ingredients. There are even chocolate desserts available for the bold and truly discerning…

Closing out a truly revelatory reading experience comes a selection of ‘Recipes’ comprising ‘Rica’s Chirashi’ with either tuna, eel or avocado as main ingredient; ‘Okada’s Green Tea Octopus’, ‘Mrs. Okada’s Temari’ (a selection including meat- and fish-free options) and ‘Sasa Sushi’ (mackerel), plus an accompanying cocktail: ‘The Sake Mojito’

Also adding value is an ‘Address Book’ of recommended restaurants in Japan and France, and physical stores and online sources for ingredients, utensils and travel advice.

The art of food and pleasures of eating have never been better appreciated or shared than in books like these, blending the exoticism of travel with the tantalising yet satisfying anticipation of gustatory consumption. The Art of Sushi is simply delightful: an inviting comics divertissement that must surely whet the appetite for more…
© Editions Delcourt 2019. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Art of Sushi will be released on December 14th 2021 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The JSA All Stars Archives volume 1


By John Wentworth, Ken Fitch, Bill O’Connor, Sheldon Mayer, Charles Reizenstein, Bill Finger, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, Howard Purcell, Hal Sharp, Irwin Hasen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1472-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Golden Aged But Evergreen Enjoyment… 8/10

In their anniversary year, here’s yet another DC classic collection long overdue for revival and digital return. Until then – and if you can find it – this hardback will make a perfect present for you or yours…

After the actual invention of the comic book superhero – indisputably the Action Comics debut of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

The creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding business. However, before that team of all-stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify, and this superb hardcover sampler gathers the debut adventures of a septet of beloved champions who never quite made it into the first rank but nonetheless scored enough to join the big team and maintain their own solo spots for much of the Golden Age of American Comics.

Whilst the most favoured 1940s stalwarts have all won their own DC Archive collections (some even making it into digital modern editions this century), this particular tome bundles a bunch of lesser lights – or at least those who never found as much favour with modern fans and revivalists – and features the first 5 appearances of 7 of the JSA’s “secondary” mystery men: all solid supporting acts in their own anthology homes who were potentially so much more…

Gathered here are short, sharp, stirring tales from Flash Comics #1-5; Adventure Comics #48-52; All-American Comics #19-29 and Sensation Comics #1-5, collectively spanning January 1940 to May 1942. They are preceded a sparkling, informative and appreciative Foreword Golden Age aficionado and advocate Roy Thomas.

The vintage vim and vigour begins with a character equally adored and reviled in modern times. Johnny Thunderbolt – as he was originally dubbed – was an honest, well-meaning, courageous soul who was also a grade “A” idiot. However, what he lacked in smarts he made up for with sheer luck, unfailing pluck and the unconscious (at least at first) control of an irresistible magic force.

The series was played for action-packed laughs, but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was, quite frankly, a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon. At least his electric genie was more plausible than an egomaniacal orange-toned cretin in control of America’s nuclear arsenal…

John Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier introduced the happy sap in ‘The Kidnapping of Johnny Thunder’, from the first monthly Flash Comics (#1, January 1940) in a fantastic origin which detailed how, decades previously, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia. He was to be raised as the long-foretold wielder of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

Ancient enemies on neighbouring isle Agolea started a war before ceremonial indoctrination could be completed and at age seven the lad, through that incomprehensible luck, returned to his parents to be raised in the relative normality of the Bronx.

Everything was fine until Johnny’s 17th birthday when the ancient rite finally came to fruition and – amid bizarre weather conditions – the Badhnisians intensified the search for their living weapon…

By the time they tracked him down, he was working in a department store and had recently picked up the habit of blurting out the phrase “say you”. It generally resulted in something very strange happening. One example being a bunch of strange “Asiatics” attacking him and being blown away by a mysterious pink tornado…

The pattern was set. Each month Johnny looked for gainful employment, stumbled into a crime or crisis where his voluble temperament would result in an inexplicable unnatural phenomenon that solve the problem but left him no better off. It was a winning theme that lasted until 1947 – by which time the Force had resolved into a wisecracking thunderbolt-shaped genie – while Johnny was slowly ousted from his own strip by sexy new crimebuster Black Canary

Flash Comics #2 featured ‘Johnny Becomes a Boxer’. After stepping in to save a girl from bullies, he somehow convinced vivacious Daisy Darling to be his girlfriend. He than became Heavyweight Champion, leading to his implausibly winning a fixed bout in #3’s ‘Johnny versus Gunpowder Glantz’. Only now Daisy refused to marry a brute who lived by hitting others…

The solution came in ‘Johnny Law’ when kidnappers tried to abduct Daisy’s dad. Following his sound thrashing of the thugs, and at his babe’s urging, Johnny then joined the FBI …

This tantalising taste of times past concludes with ‘G-Man Johnny’ (#5 May 1940) as the kid’s first case involves him in a bank raid resulting in his own dad being taken hostage…

Although he eventually joined the JSA, and despite the affable, good-hearted bumbling which carried him through the war, the peace-time changing fashions found no room for a hapless hero anymore and when he encountered a sultry masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. Nevertheless, fortuitously imbecilic Johnny Thunder is fondly regarded by many modern fans and still has lots to say and a decidedly different way of saying it…

Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily’s Hourman was a far more serious proposition who actually had a shot at stardom. He began by supplanting the Sandman as cover feature on Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940). Here, his exploits run through issue #52 (July) establishing the unique and gripping methodology which made him such a favourite of later, more sophisticated fans…

In an era where origins were never as important as action, mood and spectacle, ‘Presenting Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man’ begins with a strange classified ad offering assistance to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler has invented “Miraclo”: a drug super-energising him for 60 minutes at a time and his first case sees him help a wife whose man was being dragged back into criminal endeavours by poverty and bad friends…

‘The Disappearance of Dr. Drew’ finds Tyler locating a missing scientist kidnapped by thugs whilst ‘The Dark Horse’ has the Man of the Hour crush a crooked, murderous bookie who had swiped both horse and owner before a key race.

Mad science and a crazy doctor employing ‘The Wax-Double Killers’ adds scary thrills and super-villain cachet for the timely hero to handle, whilst ‘The Counterfeit Hour-Man’ – which concludes the offerings here – sees him again battling Dr. Snegg in a scurrilous scheme to frame the hooded hero.

Hourman always looked great and his adventures developed into a tight and compulsive feature, but he never caught on: timed out at the beginning of 1943 (#83).

Next second string star is Calvin College student Al Pratt: a diminutive but determined lad fed up with being bullied by jocks who remade himself into a pint-sized, two-fisted mystery man ready for anything.

One of the longest lasting Golden Age greats, The Mighty Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and rendered by Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone. He debuted in All-American Comics #19 and eventually transferring to Flash Comics in February 1947. He sporadically appeared until the last issue (Flash #104, February 1949) and was last seen in the final JSA tale in All Star Comics#57 in 1951.

The tales here span #19-23 (October 1940-February 1941), beginning by ‘Introducing the Mighty Atom’ as the bullied scholar hooks up with down-and-out trainer Joe Morgan, whose radical methods soon have the kid in the very peak of physical condition and well able to take care of himself.

However, when Al’s hoped-for girlfriend Mary is kidnapped, the lad eschews fame and potential sporting fortune to bust her loose and then opts for a new extra-curricular activity…

He sported a costume for his second exploit, going into ‘Action at the College Ball’  to foil a hold-up and then tackling ‘The Monsters from the Mine’ who were enslaved by a scientific mania intent on conquest. The college environment offered plentiful plot opportunities. In ‘Truckers War’ the Atom crushes hijackers who had bankrupted a fellow student and football star’s father. The episodes conclude here with ‘Joe’s Appointment’ as the trainer is framed for spying by enemy agents and needs a little atomic aid…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true watchword was variety, and flagship anthologyAll-American Comics offered everything from slapstick comedy to aviation adventure on its four-colour pages. One of the very best humour strips featured the semi-autobiographical exploits of Scribbly Jibbet: a boy who wanted to draw. Created by real-life comics wonder boy Sheldon Mayer, Scribbly: Midget Cartoonist debuted in the first issue (April 1939) and soon built a sterling rep for himself beside star reprint features like Mutt and Jeff and all-new adventure serial Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airways.

However, contemporary fashions soon demanded a humorous look at mystery men, and in #20 (November 1940) Mayer’s long-term comedy feature evolved into a delicious spoof of the trend when Scribbly’s formidable landlady Ma Hunkeldecided to do something about crime in her neighbourhood – so she dressed up as a husky male masked hero.

‘The Coming of the Red Tornado’ sees her don cape, woollen long-johns and a saucepan for a identity-obscuring helmet to crush gangster/kidnapper Tubb Torponi. The mobster had made the mistake of snatching her terrible nipper Sisty and Scribbly’s little brother Dinky (they would later become her masked sidekicks) and Ma was determined to see justice done…

An ongoing serial rather than specific episodes, the dramedy concluded in ‘The Red Tornado to the Rescue’, with the irate, inept cops deciding to pursue the mysterious new vigilante, but the ‘Search for the Red Tornado’ only made them look (more) stupid.

With the scene set for outrageous parody ‘The Red Tornado Goes Ape’ pits the parochial masked manhunter against a zoo full of critters before this superb selection ends with ‘Neither Man nor Mouse’ (All-American Comics #24) with the hero apparently retiring and crime resurging… until Dinky and Sisty become the Cyclone Kids

A far more serious and sustainable contender debuted in the next issue, joining a growing host of grim masked avengers.

‘Dr. Mid-Nite: How He Began’ by Charles Reizenstein & Aschmeier (All-American Comics #25, April 1941) revealed how surgeon Charles McNider is blinded by criminals but subsequently discovers he can see perfectly in the dark. The maimed physician becomes an outspoken criminologist but also devises blackout bombs and other night paraphernalia to wage secret war on gangsters from the darkness, aided only by his new pet owl Hooty

After catching his own assailant, he smashes river pirates protected by corrupt politicians in ‘The Waterfront Mystery’ and rescues innocent men blackmailed into serving criminals’ sentences in jail in ‘Prisoners by Choice’ (#27 and guest illustrated by Howard Purcell).

With Aschmeier’s return, Mid-Nite crushes aerial wreckers using ‘The Mysterious Beacon’ to down bullion planes and then smashes ‘The Menace of King Cobra’: a secret society leader lording it over copper mine workers…

The Master of Darkness also lasted until the era’s end and appeared in that last JSA story. Since his 1960s return he’s become one of the most resilient and mutable characters in DC’s pantheon of Golden Age revivals, but the next nearly-star was an almost forgotten man for decades…

When Sensation Comics launched in January 1942 all eyes were rightly glued to the uniquely eye-catching Wonder Woman who hogged all the covers and unleashed a wealth of unconventional adventures every month. However, like all anthologies of the time, her exploits were carefully balanced by other features. Sensation #1-5 (January to May 1942) also featured a pugnacious fighter who was the quintessence of manly prowess and a quiet, sedate fellow problem solver who was literally a master of all trades.

Crafted by Charles Reizenstein & Hal Sharp, ‘Who is Mr. Terrific?’ introduced Terry Sloane: a physical and mental prodigy who so excelled at everything he touched, that by the time of the opening tale he was planning his own suicide to escape terminal boredom.

Happily, on a very high bridge he found Wanda Wilson, a girl with the same idea. By saving her, Sloane found purpose: crushing the kinds of criminals who had driven her to such despair…

Actively seeking out villainy of every sort, he performed ‘The One-Man Benefit Show’ after thugs sabotaged performers, travelled to the republic of Santa Flora to expose ‘The Phony Presidente’ and helped a rookie cop pinch an “untouchable” gang boss in ‘Dapper Joe’s Comeuppance’.

His last showing here finds him at his very best, carefully rooting out political corruption and exposing ‘The Two Faces of Caspar Crunch’

Closing out this stunning hardback extravaganza is another quintet from Sensation #1-5, this time by Bill Finger & Irwin Hasen: already established stars for their work on Batman and Green Lantern.

‘This is the Story of Wildcat’ premieres one the era’s most impressive “lost treasures” and a genuine comicbook classic in the tale of boxer Ted Grant who is framed for the murder of his best friend. Inspired by a kid’s worship for Green Lantern, Grant clears his name by donning a feline mask and costume and ferociously stalking the real killers.

Finger & Hasen captured everything which made for perfect rollercoaster adventure in their explosive sports-informed yarns. Mystery, drama and action continued unabated in the sequel ‘Who is Wildcat?’ as Ted retires his masked identity to contest for the vacant world boxing title, but cannot let innocents suffer as crime and corruption befoul the city…

‘The Case of the Phantom Killers’ sees Wildcat track down mobsters seemingly striking from beyond the grave, before his adventures alter forever with the introduction of hard-hitting hillbilly hayseed ‘Stretch Skinner, Dee-teca-tif!’ He came to the big city to be a private eye and instead became Ted Grant’s foil, manager and crime-busting partner…

The comic craziness concludes here with a rousing case of mistaken identity and old-fashioned framing, as Wildcat saves his new pal from a killer gambler in ‘Chips Carder’s Big Fix’

These eccentric early adventures might not suit some modern fan’s tastes but they stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s (not so) Greatest Superheroes. If you have an interest in the way things were and a hankering for simpler times, less complicated or angsty adventure and fun at every turn, this may well be a book you’ll cherish forever…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 2007 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Hubert Reeves Explains BiodiversitY


By
Hubert Reeves, Nelly Boutinot & Daniel Casanave, coloured by Claire Champion and translated by Joseph Laredo (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital release only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Lasting Lessons Lavishly Limned and Laudably Learned… 9/10

It’s sometimes easy to forget that other countries have national treasures, too: popular spokes-folk sharing their passions for the good of us all. Living folk, that is, not pilfered artefacts taken into “protective custody” by most western “explorers” whilst visiting other people’s continents: that’s just shameful and unforgivable…

Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Professors Brian Cox, Lucy Worsley, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and many others have translated their passions into education, elucidation, mass entertainment and good works, but they are not alone and most nations have their own voices of wonder, reason and sanity. For French-speakers, one of those effulgent natural educators is Professor Hubert Reeves.

Born Quebecois in 1932, raised and educated in Montreal but now resident in Paris, the physicist and professional educator is a major name in Thermonuclear Reactions, Light Nuclei and “Positronium”; advises NASA and has – since 1965 – been Director of Research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique.

In later life he became the go-to guy for science stuff on French TV and has contrived a series of bande dessinée detailing Earth’s rapidly dwindling and almost expired bounties. Following the translated book featured here – which started life in 2017 as Hubert Reeves explique: La bioversité – he turned his sagacious eye to Oceans and Forests, which I’ll probably get around to later, assuming we still have any next year…

Working with co-writer Nelly Boutinot (vice-president of the Humanity and Biodiversity Association) and publisher/illustrator Daniel Casanave (Shelly; Romantica; Une Aventure rocambolesque) the Man of Letters has here inserted himself into a gentle and laconic nature ramble with a group of school children exploring lush countryside which inescapably includes all our mighty works. Delivered with simple but strictly factual directness in a captivating cartoon style that enchants and seduces, the relationships and shared history of cities, suspension bridges and other technologies is deconstructed in terms of their impact on the natural world.

Clarifying and connecting the link between microorganisms and petrochemicals; weather cycles and climate change; the balance between prey and predators in healthy ecosystems; the impact of invasive species (both deliberately imported and free-roaming); the cost to us all of every extinction and the no-brainer importance and function of the oxygen cycle that keeps us all alive, Le Professeur makes his case and proves his points while exulting in the majesty and complexity of existence…

Explained with stunning clarity using powerful symbols and examples from all across the embattled globe, yet still able to end on an optimistic note, Hubert Reeves Explains Biodiversity affords a superb and satisfying life lesson that belongs in every classroom, library and boardroom. Get it for the kids, or maybe they’ll get it for you…
© 2019 – LE LOMBARD (DARGAUD-LOMBARD s.a.) – CASANAVE, REEVES, & BOUTINOT

Conan the Barbarian Epic Collection: volume 2: Hawks from the Sea 1972-1973


By Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith, with Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2655-7 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sensational Sagas for All Seasons… 9/10

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than 15 years of cautiously calcified publishing practises in response to the censorious oversight of the self- inflicted Comics Code Authority: created to police the publishers’ product after the industry suffered its very own McCarthy-style 1950s Witch-hunt.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that sprang adapted pulp legend Conan the Cimmerian, via an anthological yarn in Chamber of Darkness #4, whose hero bore deliberate thematic resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry (now Windsor-) Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was gradually breaking out of the company’s all-encompassing Jack Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems – including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic book adventures of Robert E. Howard’s brawny warrior soon became as big a success as the revived prose paperbacks which had heralded a world resurgence in tales of fantasy and the supernatural.

After decades away, the brawny brute recently returned to the Aegis of Marvel, subtitled “the Original Marvel Years” due to the character’s sojourn with other publishers and intellectual properties rights holders. This second selection of groundbreaking action fantasy yarns features the contents of Conan the Barbarian #14-26 spanning March 1972-May 1973 – a period when the character was swiftly becoming the darling of the Comics world – and features two creators riding the crest of that creative wave. Digitally remastered and available in trade paperback or digital formats, these absorbing arcane adventures sparked a revolution in comics and a franchising empire in my youth, and are certainly good enough to do so once again.

As we hurtle back in time approximately 12,000 years into a forgotten age of wonders, the dramas open with a classic map of ‘The Hyborean Age of Conan’ plus an accompanying quote I’m sure every devoted acolyte already knows by heart…

The fabulous pictorial fantasy resumes with a tempestuous transatlantic team-up as Conan meets Michael Moorcock’s groundbreaking icon Elric of Melniboné in a 2-part tale freely adapted by Thomas, Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema from a treatment by the British cult author and his frequent collaborator James Cawthorn.

Elric was a landmark of the Sword & Sorcery genre: last ruler of a pre-human civilization. The denizens of Melniboné were a race of cruel, arrogant sorcerers: dissolute creatures in a slow, decadent decline after millennia of dominance over the Earth.

An albino, Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of his line, is physically weak and possessed of a brooding, philosophical temperament, caring for nothing save his beautiful cousin Cymoril, even though her brother Prince Yrrkoon openly lusts for her and his throne.

Elric doesn’t even really want to rule, but will execute his duty. He is the only one of his race to see the newly evolved race of Man as a threat to the Empire and owns – or is possessed by – black sword Stormbringer: a magical blade which drinks the souls of its victims to feed their vitality to the albino.

His life is all blood and tragedy, exacerbated by his despised dependence on the black sword and his sworn allegiance to the chimerical Lord of Chaos Arioch

Heady stuff for those simpler comic book times: the “White Wolf “was the complete antithesis of roistering lusty, impetuous Conan, who was drawn into a trans-dimensional conflict after rescuing old associate Zephra from marauding Chaos Warriors in ‘A Sword Called Stormbringer!’

She was the daughter of Zukala: a wizard who strangely bore no animosity towards the barbarian youth who had shattered his power and maimed his face the last time they clashed. In fact, the mage wanted to hire Conan to stop rival wizard Kulan Gath from rousing a sleeping demon queen from another realm…

The promise of much gold convinces the normally magic-averse warrior to accept the commission and soon he and Zephra are riding hard for the lake beneath which lies Terhali of Melniboné. They are unaware that Xiombarg, Queen of Swords (and rival Lord of Chaos) has despatched her own warriors to intercept them. As they near the haunted mere, the humans meet a gaunt, eerie albino with his own reasons for seeking out Terhali.

After a violent misunderstanding, Conan and Elric call a suspicious truce, intent on stopping Kulan Gath, his patron Xiombarg and a small army of Chaos killers. However, once the unlikely trio of world savers reach submerged city Yagala, they find ‘The Green Empress of Melniboné!’ is wide awake and intends making her apocalyptic mark on the Hyborian Age…

It takes the callous intervention of Arkyn, Lord of Order and Zephra’s willing sacrifice to end the emerald menace before the heartsick heroes part: each riding towards his own foredoomed destiny…

Conan #16 featured a sort-of reprint in ‘The Frost Giant’s Daughter’: a haunting, racy tale written by Howard and originally adapted in black-&-white for Savage Tales #1. It was slotted into the monthly schedule here after Windsor-Smith first resigned – citing punishing deadlines and poor reproduction values of the now monthly title.

The original monochrome magazine was an early attempt to enter the more adult market, so when it was reprinted, Smith’s art had to be judiciously censored to obscure some female body parts youngsters might be corrupted by. Even so, it remains a beautiful piece of work job by Smith and comes with another map of ‘The Hyborian Age of Conan’.

The artist’s resignation triggered a frantic scrabble for a replacement, which happily brought forth avid R.E. Howard fan Gil Kane, who lent his galvanic dynamism to a stunning 2-part adaptation of a prose short story originally starring Celtic hero Black Turlogh O’Brien

Inked by Ralph Reese, ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ opens as Conan clashes once again with former foe and current pirate chief Fafnir, before the ship they ride in founders in a storm. As the only survivors, Cimmerian and Vanirman wash ashore on a mist-enshrouded island and fall into a savage power struggle between ambitious castaway Kyrie – who claims to be the incarnation of goddess Aala – and High Priest Gothan who rules the oldest kingdom in the world through sorcery and his puppet King Ska

Now, the faux deity employs an ancient prophecy concerning two warriors from the sea to make her play, but only slaughter and cataclysm result after the insurgency releases ‘The Thing in the Temple’ (inked by Dan Adkins)…

Clearly refreshed and re-inspired, Windsor-Smith returned with #19 for a defining magnum opus, wherein the Cimmerian and Fafnir – last survivors of drowned Bal-Sagoth – are picked up and pressed into service with the invasion fleet of a power-hungry prince…

Developed and adapted from Howard’s lost historical classic The Shadow of the Vulture, the War of the Tarim was a bold epic embroiling the still-young wanderer in a Holy War between city-state Makkalet and expansionist the Empire of Turan, led by ambitious Prince Yezdigerd. He would become a bitter, life-long enemy of our sword-wielding swashbuckler.

‘Hawks of the Sea’ opens slowly as the outlanders learn the ostensible reason for the conflict – the abduction of the current fleshly receptacle of Living God Tarim – but soon kicks into high gear when Yezdigerd’s initial beachhead in Makkalet is repulsed by sorcery. Only Conan’s inimitable prowess and ingenuity allows any survivors to escape back to the relative safety of their ships…

The Cimmerian later joins a commando raid to steal back the man-god and meets a “temple-wench” who turns out to be the city-state’s embattled queen. The mission goes bloodily awry when Machiavellian high priest Kharam-Akkadunleashes the citadel’s ‘Black Hound of Vengeance!’ Barely surviving the beast’s fury, Conan returns to Yezdigerd’s flagship where – upon discovering what the invaders have done with their own burdensome wounded – he maims the Turanian prince and jumps ship…

Grandeur and terror spike with ‘The Monster of the Monoliths!’ (inked by Adkins, P. Craig Russell, Val Mayerik & Sal Buscema) as Conan – at risk of his life – defects to besieged Makkalet and is promptly commissioned by ineffectual King Eannatum to ride through the lines with a small company of men and seek allies and assistance amongst the Queen’s noble but distant family.

Little does he realise he’s been judged expendable but a worthwhile sacrifice for an arcane antediluvian horror from beyond the mortal realms… but then again, little does the loathsome travesty of nature understand the nature of the man it’s been offered…

Conan the Barbarian #22 was a reprint, represented here by the cover and a ‘Special Hyborian Page Pin-up! before inkers Adkins & Chic Stone and the dream-team restart hostilities in ‘The Shadow of the Vulture!’: setting the scene and introducing trend-setting warrior Red Sonja, a female mercenary who would take fantasy fans by storm, especially since the next chapter, ‘The Song of Red Sonja’ – drawn, inked & coloured by Windsor-Smith – became one of the most popular and reprinted stories of the decade. It went on to win the 1973 Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards in the Best Individual Story (Dramatic) category, but was also the restless illustrator’s colour comic swansong…

On his departure, Thomas commenced a long and fruitful partnership with John Buscema, who, in fact, had been Thomas’s first choice to draw Conan, but was deemed by then-publisher Martin Goodman too valuable to waste on a mere licensed property…

Issue #25 introduced Big John via ‘The Mirrors of Kharam Akkad’ (inked by brother Sal and the legendary John Severin): incorporating a loose adaptation of Howard’s King Kull tale The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune while setting the pieces in play for a spectacular conclusion…

The war ended in raw, grimly ironic fashion in ‘The Hour of the Griffin!’ – inked by Ernie Chua (nee Chan) – and swiftly silenced all the nay-sayers who claimed that Conan would die without its original artist…

Even greater heights would be scaled in the months and years to come…

Also included in this grand grimoire of graphic thrills are another map; 16 pages of original art and covers by Windsor-Smith and Kane plus fascinating documents from the Comics Code Authority, listing art changes needed before they allowed ‘The Frost Giant’ Daughter’ to be published, as well as “before-&-after” changes demanded for ‘The Song of Red Sonja’.

This treasure trove then closes with a selection of past collection covers  by John Buscema & Marie Javins and John Cassaday & Laura Martin.

Stirring, evocative, deeply satisfying, this is one of the best collections in a superb series of a paragon of adventurers. What more does any red-blooded, action-starved fan need to know?
© 2020 Conan Properties International, LLC (“CPI”)

Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden – Life is Full of Pricks


By Nathalie Tierce (Indigo Raven)
ISBN: 978-1-73783-260-7 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-734174-4-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Particularly Pointed Party Favours for all those Imminent, Inescapable Get-togethers… 8/10

The marriage of image and text is a venerable, potent and astoundingly evocative discipline that can simultaneously tickle like a feather, cut like a scalpel and hit like a steam-hammer. Moreover, repeated visits to a particular piece of work can even generate different responses depending on the recipient’s mood.

If you’re a multi-talented artist like Nathalie Tierce, who’s excelled in film and stage production for everyone from the BBC to Disney and Tim Burton to Martin Scorsese; music performance design for Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Rolling Stones; gallery art; painted commissions and latterly, graphic narratives such as Fairy Tale Remnants, challenges must be a hard thing to find.

Thankfully, human-watching is frequently its own reward, resulting in books like this slim, enthrallingly revelatory paperback (or digital digest) which forensically dissects human nature: exploring modern times and unchanging human nature through a lens of Lockdown and via the immortal truths of folklore as expressed in Aesop’s Fables.

On show in this handy art boutique are stunning paintings in a range of media, but all rendered in the bizarrely baroque classical manner of Breughel or Bosch, albeit blended with the quixotic energy of cartoon satirists Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

Each condemnatory visual judgement is deftly wedded to moving, querulous and frankly often quite terrifying epigrams capturing contemporary crisis points of isolation, confusion, despondency and simple surrender to fate: summarised in fractured haikus and weaponised odes such as ‘Lost in a Supermarket’, ‘Domestic Bliss’, ‘Thoughts on the Outside’,‘Destiny Guides Our Fortunes’, ‘Say No Meore’, ‘The Lamb and the Wolf’, ‘Clown Adrift’, ‘Plucked Grumpy Chicken’,‘Speeding Back to the Comfort of Hell’, ‘Tragic Circus’ and more.

Blending wicked whimsy with everyday paranoia and neighbourly competitiveness, Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden is a mature delight for all students of human nature with a sharp eye and unforgiving temperament – and surely, isn’t that all of us?
© 2021 Indigo Raven. © 2021 Nathalie Tierce. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four by Johnathan Hickman – The Complete Collection volume 1


By Jonathan Hickman with Sean Chen, Lorenzo Ruggiero Adi Granov, Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie, Paul Neary, Scott Hanna & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1336-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: World’s Greatest Comic Conceptualists… 9/10

The Fantastic Four is generally considered the most pivotal series in modern comic book history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the roster has changed continuously over the years but always returning to the original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and Human Torch, who together formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

The quartet are also known as maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious younger brother Johnny Storm; driven survivors of an independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and, eventually, project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was mutated into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

The series has always been more about big ideas than action/adventure, and that was never more true than in this compilation when the FF were steered by writer, artist designer and stellar modern imagineer Jonathan Hickman (Nightly News; Pax Romana; East of West; Infinity; House of X; Secret Wars).

This chronological compilation opens during the Dark Reign that followed a successful conquest of Earth, when the draconian Federal mandate known as the Superhuman Registration Act led to Civil War between costumed heroes. Tony Stark was hastily appointed the US government’s Security Czar – a “top cop” in sole charge of the beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom. As Director of high-tech enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. he became the very last word in all matters involving metahumans and the USA’s vast costumed community…

Stark’s subsequent mismanagement of various crises led to the arrest and assassination of Captain America and an unimaginable escalation of global tension and destruction, culminating in the Secret Invasion by shape-shifting alien Skrulls. Discredited and ostracised, he was replaced by apparently rehabilitated, recovering schizophrenic Norman Osborn – the original Green Goblin – who assumed full control of the USA’s covert agencies and military resources, disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed the nation under the aegis of his own new organisation H.A.M.M.E.R.

The erstwhile villain had first begun his climb back to respectability after taking charge of the Thunderbolts Project: a penal program which offered a second chance to super-criminals who volunteered to undertake Federally-sanctioned missions…

Not content with legitimate political and personal power, Osborn also secretly conspired with a coalition of major malevolent masterminds to divvy up the world between them. The Cabal was a Star Chamber of super-villains working towards mutually self-serving goals, but such egomaniacal personalities could never play well together for long and cracks soon began to show, both in the criminal conspiracy and Osborn himself…

As another strand of his long-term plan, the Homeland Metahuman Security overlord fired Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers and created his own, more manageable team consisting of compliant turncoats, tractable replacements and outright impostors. Constantly courting public opinion, Osborn launched his Avengers whilst systematically building up a personally loyal high-tech paramilitary rapid-response force.

During this Dark Reign, the rapidly destabilising madman – through means fair and foul – officially worked to curb the unchecked power and threat of meta-humanity, whilst his clandestine cabal of dictators divvied up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections covering the entire Marvel Universe.

Reed Richards had been a major supporter of Stark and key proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act even though his actions tore his family apart; driving his wife Sue and brother-in-law Johnny Storm into the opposing camp of costumed resistors dubbed the Secret Avengers. His best friend Ben Grimm – unwilling to choose sides – left the country to become an exile in France…

This collection opens with 5-issue miniseries Dark Reign: Fantastic Four and portions of Dark Reign: The Cabal (spanning May to September 2009): exploring and explaining Mister Fantastic’s side of the argument, as well as the terrifying motivations which prompted his uncharacteristic behaviour even as the still-wounded family painfully try to reconcile in their old home The Baxter Building……

The drama begins with a prelude a week after the Skrull invasion as Earth’s greatest mind constructs a colossal interdimensional transit threshold. ‘The Bridge’ – illustrated by Sean Chen & Lorenzo Ruggiero – is a pathway to alternate Earths. Demoralised and confused, Richards wants to explore all the other Earths to see if the Civil War and subsequent tragedies which followed happened elsewhere and how a plurality of other Mr. Fantastics dealt with it.

He needs to know how to prevent such a catastrophe ever happening again, but only just convinces Sue, Ben and Johnny that he must go before the metaphorical roof caves in…

Acting with sublime overconfidence and seemingly blessed by good fortune, Osborn chooses that moment to invade the Baxter Building with his H.A.M.M.E.R. troops, determined to shut down the Fantastic Four and confiscate all their incredible technologies.

Outraged and ready for trouble, Invisible Woman, the Torch and the Thing head for the ground floor just as Osborn’s men cut power to the building. The resultant surge in energy interacts with Reed’s Bridge and collapses space-time. When the elevator doors open they find themselves in another realm: a primitive jungle where men, dinosaurs and space gods co-exist…

With the adults out of action, children Franklin and Valeria take charge of the situation, bluffing the H.A.M.M.E.R. heavies into leaving, but little Val knows it’s only a matter of time until Osborn comes in person. She might be only three, but she’s already as smart as her father…

Setting to, Val begins repairing the building’s electrical and defence systems even as somewhen else her devoted guardians battle hordes of time-lost terrors and, in a region where all places meet, her dad views universe after universe and sees few happy outcomes…

As hours pass in the normal world, Sue, Johnny and Ben are bounced from one bizarre alternity to the next, gradually gathering a stout band of like-minded heroes about them.

In fact they are strange variations of themselves: a gentle, noble erudite Thing, chamberlain to the court of the Virgin Queen; a blazing pirate Torch on a flying galleon, sharp-shooting sheriff Black Susan from an extremely wild, Wild West frontier town and so many more, all assisting as they determinedly fight their way to somewhere they can get home from…

After a night on their own, Val and Franklin are awoken by Security Czar Osborn and his forces, accompanied by Dark Avenger “heavy” Spider-Man (actually deranged impostor Scorpion possessed by the Venom symbiote). In a moment of sublime bravado, the forces of Big Bad Government are stalled and legally finessed by the really annoying little girl…

In Collapsed Time, Sue, Johnny and Ben inexorably carve their way through a cascade of colliding realities whilst, in No Space, Reed – having analysed an infinity of alternate Earths – is forced to accept a truly humbling hypothesis…

His switching off The Bridge instantly returns the displaced FF to the Baxter Building where Osborn, having lost all patience, is trying to shoot the kids. After a brief but brutal battle the Federal forces are routed. When Osborn tries to shoot Reed in the back after surrendering, Franklin displays a burst of the dormant power which will make him the terror of reality in years to come…

In the tense aftermath of a temporary, portent-laden standoff, Mister Fantastic dismantles The Bridge at Sue’s insistence, but keeps from her the incredible beings he met before returning and the new resolution he has made: a decision that will also have devastating repercussions for all the universes in the months to come…

Rounding out this spectacular segue into the unknown is a sinister snippet from Dark Reign: The Cabal. ‘And I’ll Get the Land’ (limned by Adi Granov) gives a salutary glimpse into the scary mind of Doctor Doom as he negotiates a side deal with fellow Cabal associate Sub-Mariner whilst pondering what to do with maniac upstart Osborn once his usefulness is ended…

The wonderment resumes with Hickman’s initial arc on the monthly Fantastic Four title – #570 to 574 from October 2009 to February 2010 and dubbed Solve Everything. These first forays of a truly mind-boggling confirmed Hickman as someone who truly lived up to the series’ “Big Sky Thinking” antecedents…

Illustrated by Dale Eaglesham ‘Is It Playing God If You’re Truly Serious About Creation?’ sees certified super-genius Richards – driven by childhood memories of his demanding father – face the greatest challenge and most beguiling seduction of his fantastic life.

After foiling the latest mad assault by scientific criminal Bentley Wittman – AKA the Wizard – involving giant robots piloted by hideously modified clones of the deranged hyper-intellectual, Wittman upsets and destabilises the victorious Richards by challenging him to examine some cold hard facts. He postulates that the world is broken and about to tear itself apart, but everyone is too busy applying band-aids to try fixing it…

The exchange stays with Richards. Even as the family goes about its usual business, Mister Fantastic discusses things with 3-year old Valeria – a prodigy even smarter than he is – before retiring to his private lab to mull things over.

The Room of 100 Ideas is the place where Richards has made his greatest breakthroughs and triumphs, the sanctum from which he has changed the world over and over again, but it also harbours one last dream and goal – Idea 101: Solve Everything…

Now, he contacts a mysterious inter-dimensional organisation of intellectual supermen to help him fix the world and at last discovers that the benevolent Council is completely composed of alternate Earth iterations of himself, all waiting patiently for him to join their elevated ranks. The self-appointed champions of rationality and guardians of the multiverse feel it is time he lived up to his true potential. He is sorely tempted…

The grand tour of perfect possibilities continues in ‘You Stood Beside Me, Larger Than Life and Did the Impossible’ as the newcomer proves his worth by killing a planet-devouring Galactus and army of Silver Surfers on Earth 2012, all before popping home to touch base with his friends and family at breakfast.

They’re preparing for Franklin’s birthday and, even though Richards cannot share his new experiences, Sue knows something big is troubling him. After a frank but vague discussion, the distracted super-mind promises to have everything sorted one way or another in seven days…

His time “in the lab” actually finds him travelling to every incredible corner of Creation where his agglomerated alternates police and improve the lot of all humanities. Over and again their combined efforts have created a fantastic technological paradise but still Richards has unresolved, inexplicable reservations, especially at night in bed, thinking about his family and recalling conversations with his own father…

The intellectual idyll is rudely shattered in ‘We Are Men We Have No Masters’ when the multiversal Council is attacked by Celestials: Space Gods intent on taking control of all realities. The apocalyptic battle decimates the ranks of the Richards before a solution and ultimate victory is achieved. As the cosmic dust settles, Reed at last makes his decision – the only one a really smart man can…

Originally published as ‘Adventures on Nu-World’ (and illustrated by Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie) the next tale focuses on the Thing and Human Torch as they take a long-anticipated vacation-break on an artificial resort much like a cosmic Las Vegas, blithely unaware of two extremely important facts…

The first is that Reed and Sue’s kids have stowed away aboard their transport, but probably more critical is the realisation that the man-made world is in the midst of civil war prompted by the entire planet having slipped into the event horizon of a Black Hole…

With a host of guest including Skaar, Son of Hulk, ‘These Are the End Times’ follows the slow procession and brutal struggle to total obliteration, highlighting the astounding gifts of toddler Valeria who secretly solves the problem and gets (almost) everyone home safely…

The story portion of this splendid celebration of all things Fantastical continues with ‘All Hope Lies With Doom’(Edwards & Currie again) as the boy’s birthday finally arrives and the extended family – including Dragon Man, uncle Spider-Man, the kids from Power Pack and mutant orphans Artie and Leech – enjoy the party of a lifetime. It’s only slightly spoiled when a time-travelling raider crashes the affair, and he’s soon sent packing by the adults – but not before he delivers a secret warning to Valeria and a unique gift for the birthday boy.

Valeria isn’t worried: after all, if there’s one person she can trust, it’s her grown up brother Franklin…

Originally collected as graphic compilation Prime Elements, FF #575 to 578 (October 2009-February 2010) follows, as the author and illustrator Dale Eaglesham set the scene for future epics with a series of exploratory fables classified as ‘This is a Summoning’

It begins as the Mole Man dumps mutated moloids on the Richards’ clan, alerting them to ‘The Abandoned City of the High Evolutionary’ deep beneath the world. Here, hyper-evolved beings are apparently running rampant and will soon be let loose on the surface world…

Alerted to secrets in the Earth, the team head into the oldest lake in existence in #576, encountering incredible ancient beings who claim to be ‘The Old Kings of Atlantis’

In #577, the secrets of primordial Kree genetic tampering seems to signal the end for the lunar colony of Black Bolt: revealing links to four other cosmic species and the rise of all-conquering ‘Universal Inhumans’

The innovation revolution then concludes – for now – with #578 as ‘The Cult of the Negative Zone’ ominously reveals that the insectoid hordes of Annihilus have established a deadly fifth column on Earth, but are unable to maintain dominance in the antimatter realm that spawned them. Are they then prepared for an assault by the new Inhuman alliance’s war-hungry Light Brigade?

Fast-paced, action-drenched, profoundly imaginative and wickedly funny, this sharp sortie into strange worlds includes a covers-&-variants gallery by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi; Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig; Alan Davis, Mark Farmer; Marko Djurdjevic, Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, Daniel Acuña, John Rausch, Javier Rodriguez, Eaglesham & Paul Mounts, John Cassaday & Laura Martin, Marcelo Dichiara, Christopher Jones & Sotocolor, to deliver the perfect package for all tried-and-true Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionados with a hunger for mind-expanding marvels…

Smart, tense, thrilling and exhibiting genuine warmth and humanity, this is a grand starting point for new or returning readers with a view to recapturing the glory days of fantasy and science fiction, and especially a different kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights theatre…
© 2019 MARVEL

The Bluecoats volume 10: The Blues in Black and White


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-341-3 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Read Some Pictures: It’ll Last Longer… 8/10

The myths and legends of the cinematic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunslingers. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and tangential all-ages classics such as Yakari. Even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer fit the broad-brimmed bill.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until his retirement in 2020 – Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic maverick defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – illustrative tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis in 1952 as a letterer.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and – before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 – studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he scripted dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 65 (and counting) album sequence.

Our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume – Du Nord au Sud – the sad-sack soldiers were situated back East, fighting in the American Civil War. All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your run-of-the-mill, whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big, burly professional fighting man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a medal-wearing hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

The Blues in Black and White was the 10th translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 11th European volume) and as Les Tuniques Bleues: Des bleus en noir et blanc was first seen on the continent in 1975, serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #1965 to #1975 before becoming an album collection two years later.

It opens with another spectacular yet pointless battle, with Blutch in fine whining form after a string of horrific near-death experiences. His mood is further tested when he finds a civilian prowling about, pointing a weird box at casualties and other scenes of horror…

The oblivious, self-absorbed stranger is Matthew Brady, who has been sent by President Lincoln to record the war through the strange new medium of photography. After becoming an unwilling subject and accidental laughing stock, Chesterfield is deeply suspicious and, soon after, resentfully resistant as his vain superiors and battle-weary comrades embrace the technological marvel. Before he can react, he and Blutch are appointed bodyguards and dogsbodies: compelled to escort the oblivious, practically-suicidal snapper anywhere and everywhere he wants…

Soon, however, the surly sergeant has all the combat his warrior’s heart can cope with – and even the long-desired prospect of a gong – whilst the sly, shirking corporal has found a way to utterly avoid battle by becoming the photographer’s assistant. He even dresses like a civilian now!

As the daily carnage continues, Chesterfield becomes increasingly irked at the effect of the picture maker. Almost everyone wants to be captured for posterity, to the detriment of actual fighting. While Brady is gone, Blutch “immortalises” everyone, and the sergeant teeters on the brink of madness. He even takes charge of charging whilst his officers are too busy preening and primping for their next heroic pose…

The lethal status quo returns with a bump when the President shows up to decorate Chesterfield. Brady is with him and ready to take his own shots again, meaning Blutch can get back to fighting – just as the Confederate forces rally to retake all the ground they’ve lost while the Sarge was secretly in command…

Things go from bad to worst, as the Rebel response swiftly overwhelms the Union forces. When Lincoln and Brady are almost captured, Blutch and Chesterfield show just what they’re made of… and pay a heavy price…

A shade darker than usual, this wry treatise on fame and pride is a hugely amusing poke at the glory boys of history, deftly delivering an anti-war saga cleverly targeting younger, less world-weary audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by our down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly. These are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the kind of war-story and Western that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1977 by Lambil & Cauvin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1373-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly Sagas and Some Socially Forbidden Fruits… 8/10

Until DC finally get around to republishing and digitally releasing their vast untapped comic treasures, I’m reduced to recommending some of their superb past printed glories whenever I feel like celebrating a key anniversary of the world’s preeminent female superhero who first caught the public’s attention in October 8 decades ago…

Wonder Woman was created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth and their life partner Olive Byrne. The vast majority of the outlandish adventures they collectively penned were limned by classical illustrator Harry G. Peter.

The Astounding Amazon debuted in All Star Comics #8 (cover-dated December 1941) before gaining her own series and the cover-spot in new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. She was an instant hit, and won her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston & Co – the women unacknowledged and uncredited for decades – scripted all the Amazing Amazon’s many and fabulous exploits until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. The venerable H.G. Peter continued until his own death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97 – in April of that year – was his last hurrah and the end of an era. Ross Andru & Mike Esposito had debuted as cover artists 3 issues earlier, but with the opening inclusion of Wonder Woman #98, took over the visual component as Robert Kanigher reinvented much of the old mythology and even tinkered with her origins.

This second economical monochrome Showcase collection covers issues #118-137: spanning November 1960 to April 1963, a period of increased fantasy frolics and wildly imaginative excess which still divides fans into violently opposing camps…

With the exception of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a few anodyne back-up features, costumed heroes went extinct at the beginning of the 1950s, replaced by merely mortal champions in a welter of anthologised genre titles. When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s interest in costumed crime-busters with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956, the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more…

Whilst re-inventing Golden Age Greats such as Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman, National/DC also updated those hoary survivors who had weathered the backlash – especially the Man of Steel, Caped Crusader and ever-resilient Amazing Amazon…

The fanciful blend of girlish whimsy, rampant sexism, untrue romance, alien invasion, monster-mashing and all-out surreal (some would say-stream-of-consciousness) storytelling continues unabated here from the get-go beginning with ‘Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision!’ (#118) seeing the comely champion constantly distracted from her mission to wipe out injustice by the antics of her savagely-sparring suitors Colonel Steve Trevor and Manno the merman.

Amazon science (and the unfettered imagination of Kanigher, for whom slavish continuity, consistency or rationality were never as important as strong plots or breathtaking visuals) had already enabled readers to share the adventures of Wonder Girl and latterly Wonder Tot – the Princess of Power as teen and toddler – both in their appropriate time-zones and, on occasion, teamed together on “Impossible Days”.

WW #119 opened with a tale of the Titanic Teen. ‘Mer-Boy’s Secret Prize!’ sees the besotted undersea booby repeatedly risk his life to win his intended inamorata a flashy treasure, whilst in ‘Three Wishes of Doom!’, a capable but arrogant young girl wins a competition and claims Wonder Woman’s Bracelets, Lasso and Tiara with the disastrous notion of using them to out-do the Amazing Amazon…

Issue #120’s ‘The Secret of Volcano Mountain! pits teen and adult Dianas – a decade apart – against the same terrifying threat as an alien elemental twice attempts to conquer the world, after which an “Impossible Day” event sees Wonder Girl, her older self and their mother Queen Hippolyta unite to defeat the monstrous peril of ‘The Island Eater!’

‘The Skyscraper Wonder Woman’ introduces Diana’s pre-schooler incarnation as the Sinister Seer of Saturn seeks to invade Earth with a colossal robot facsimile whilst simultaneously de-aging the Amazon to her younger – but crucially, no less competent – adolescent and pre-adolescent incarnations…

Wonder Woman #123 offered a glimpse of the ‘Amazon Magic-Eye Album!’ as Hippolyta reviewed some of the crazy exploits of her daughter as Tot, Teen and adult, whilst the issue after contrived to team them all together against shape-shifting nuclear threat Multiple Man on ‘The Impossible Day!’

Steve and Manno resumed their war for the princess’ hand in marriage in #125’s ‘Wonder Woman… Battle Prize!’ with the improbable romantic triangle ending up marooned on a beast-&-alien amoeba-men-infested Blue Lagoon…

‘Wonder Tot and Mister Genie!’ was the first of two tales in #126, depicting what might happen when an imaginative super-kid is left on her own, whilst exasperated US Air Force lieutenant Diana Prince gets steamed at being her own romantic rival for Trevor in ‘The Unmasking of Wonder Woman!

The next issue sees her stopping another extraterrestrial assault in ‘Invaders of the Topsy-Turvy Planet’ before ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Honeymoon!’ gives usually incorrigible Trevor a terrifying foretaste of what married life with his Amazon Angel might be like…

WW#128 revealed the astounding and charming ‘Origin of the Amazing Robot Plane!’ before things turn (a bit) more serious when the Amazon endures the deadly ‘Vengeance of the Angle Man!’

In #129, another spectacular Impossible Day sees the entire Wonder Woman Family (that would be just her at three different ages with mum alongside to save the day) in ‘The Vengeance of Multiple Man!’ whilst #130 opens with Wonder Tot discovering the ‘Secret of Mister Genie’s Magic Turban!’ and closes with an outrageous and embarrassing attack by Angle Man on her mature self in ‘The Mirage Mirrors!’

WW #131’s, ‘The Proving of Wonder Woman!’ details the origins of her unique epithets (such as “Thunderbolts of Jove”, “Neptune’s Trident” and “Great Hera”) before back-up ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Birthday Gift!’ has indefatigable, incorrigible Manno risk all manner of maritime monstrosity to find her a dazzling bauble, whilst the Amazon herself was trying to find her mother a present.

‘Wonder Tot and the Flying Saucer!’ sees the adult Amazon turn herself into a toddler to converse with a baby and discover the secret of a devastating alien atomic attack, whilst a second story reveals ancient romantic encounters which occurred when ‘Wonder Queen Fights Hercules!’

Wonder Woman #133 cover-featured the Impossible Tale of ‘The Amazing Amazon Race!’ wherein Tot, Teen, Woman and Queen compete in a fraught athletic contest with deadly consequences, whilst in Man’s World, Diana Prince takes centre-stage to become ‘Wonder Woman’s Invincible Rival… Herself!’ when a movie-project went dangerously awry.

‘Menace of the Mirror Wonder Women!’ pits her and Steve against the Image-Maker: a deadly other-dimensional mastermind able to animate and enslave reflections, before #134 closes with another disastrous sub-sea date for Wonder Girl when she must prevent ‘The Capture of Mer-boy!’

It was one more time for Multiple Man as he/it returned to battle the Wonder Family in #135’s Impossible Day drama ‘Attack of the Human Iceberg!’, whilst #136 had the Female Fury transformed into a ravenous, colossal threat to humanity after alien machine men infect her with a growth-agent to become ‘Wonder Woman… World’s Greatest Menace!’

This compendium concludes with #137’s classic duel on an ersatz Earth, where mechanical replicas of humanity and metal facsimiles of the Amazons run amok. Here, Earth’s foremost female defender must overcome ‘The Robot Wonder Woman!’

By modern narrative standards these exuberant, effulgent fantasies are usually illogical and occasionally just plain bonkers, but in those days far less attention was paid to continuity and shared universes: adventure in the moment was paramount and these strangely infectious romps simply sparkled then and now with fun, thrills and sheer spectacle.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, but the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity of such innocuous costumed fairy tales must be a delight for unbiased readers, whilst the true, incomparable value of such stories is the incredible quality entertainment they still offer.
© 1960-1963, 2008 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A Sea of Love


By Wilfrid Lupano & Grégory Panaccione (Lion Forge/The Magnetic Collection)
ISBN: 978-1-942367-45-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Words Just Aren’t Enough… 10/10

The sheer breadth, variety and creative ambition of comics holds me breathless sometimes. It feels like there’s no subject or blend thereof; no tone or trope; no limits and absolutely no style or admixture that talented individuals can’t turn into heartrending, hilarious, thrilling, educational, evocative, uplifting and/or infuriating stories.

This completely silent saga from prolific French writer Wilfrid Lupano (Old Geezers; Azimut; Blanc Autour; Le Loup; Valerian spin-off Shingouzlooz Inc. and many more) and illustrator Grégory Panaccione (Someone to Talk To; Toby Mon Ami; Match; Âme perdue) somehow offers all of those in one delicious hardback or digital package.

Originally seen au continent as Un Océan d’amour in 2014, this wordless yet universally comprehensible pantomime is an unforgettable saga celebrating the timeless resilience of mature love. Here it is craftily concealed but constantly displayed in a tale of tetchy devotion between an aged diminutive fisherman and his quiet, timid, overly-flappable but formidably indomitable wife.

Every morning before the sun lights their rustic hovel, she makes him a wonderful breakfast before he heads out into the big ocean in his little boat. They have their fractious moments and he can be a trial sometimes, but their relationship is rock solid and never-ending.

This particular morning, however, the old coot finally falls foul of a changing world, when his little vessel is snagged in the nets of a vast trawler factory ship. Saving his idiot apprentice, the old git is soon swallowed up and gone…

At least, that’s what the sole survivor believes when he washes up ashore. However, the matronly fresh widow refuses to accept that and – disregarding decades of homey domestic programming – goes looking for him.

Oh, the incredible adventures she has and the people she meets…

He, meanwhile, is still very much alive. Stranded on his little tub, with nothing but tinned sardines and memories to sustain him, he is washed uncontrollably across the world. Befriended by a sardine-loving gull, he experiences first hand and close up the way we’ve befouled the seas and meets a wide variety of people he’s casually misjudged all his life, before eventually fighting his way back to his little cottage and the faithful one who’s waiting for him. At least, he complacently assumed she is…

Epic, hilarious, terrifying, shocking and sublimely satisfying, this is masterpiece of graphic narrative with so very much to say. Why not give your eyes a treat and have a good listen?
A Sea of Love © 2018 Editions Delcourt. All rights reserved.