Jim – Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal


By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-752-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A beguiling glimpse into the early thoughts of a narrative master … 9/10

There are a few uniquely gifted and driven comics creators who simply defy categorisation or even description. There’s a pantheon of artisans: Kirby, Ditko, Hergé, Eisner, Clowes, Meskin, Millionaire and a few others who bring something utterly personal and universally effective to their work just beyond the reviewer’s skills (mine certainly) to elucidate, encapsulate or convey. They are perfect in their own way and so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice.

You just have to read the stuff yourself.

At the top of that distinguished heap of graphic glitterati is Jim Woodring. It’s a position he has maintained for years and clearly appears capable of holding for generations to come.

Woodring’s work has always been challenging, spiritual, grotesque, philosophical, heartbreaking, funny, beautiful and extremely scary. Moreover, even after reading that sentence you will still be absolutely unprepared for what awaits the first time you encounter any of his books – and even more so if you’ve already seen everything he’s created.

Cartoonist, fine artist, toy-maker and artistic Renaissance man, Woodring’s eccentric output has delighted far too small and select an audience since his first mini-comics forays in 1980. Even though the reader may have avidly adored his groundbreaking oneirically autobiographical Fantagraphics magazine Jim (1986 and cherry-picked for this collection), its notional spin-off series Frank (of which the volume Weathercraft won The Stranger 2010 Genius Award for Literature), maybe Tantalizing Stories, Seeing Things or more mainstream features such as his Star Wars and Aliens tales for Dark Horse Comics, there is still never anything but surprise waiting when his next story appears…

An accomplished storytelling technician these days, Woodring grows rather than constructs solidly surreal, abstractly authentic, wildly rational, primal cartoon universes, wherein his meticulous, clean-lined, sturdily ethereal, mannered blend of woodblock prints, R. Crumb landscapes, expressionist Dreamscapes, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria all live and play and often eat each other.

His stories follow a logical, progressional narrative – often a surging, non-stop chase from one insane invention to the next – layered with multiple levels of meaning but totally devoid of speech or words, boldly assuming the intense involvement of the reader will participate and complete the creative circuit.

Such was not always the case and this superb and sumptuous oversized (292 x 228mm) hardcover compilation – which gathers his earlier formative and breakthrough efforts in colour and monochrome – offers the very best of his strips, paintings, poems and stories from breakthrough autobiographical magazine JIM and other (sadly unnamed) sources between 1980 and 1996.

This compulsive collection also includes a new 24-page strip starring the artist’s hulking, bewhiskered, aggressively paranoid, dream-plagued family man/cartoonist alter ego, and certainly cements his reputation as a master of subconscious exploration, surreal self-expression and slyly ironic comedic excoriation – and it’s still almost impossible to describe.

You really, really, really have to dive in and discover for yourself…

Packed with hallucinatory spot-images and cover illustrations from JIM, the furtive fruits of Woodring’s ever-present dream-recording “autojournal” are prefaced by a beguiling and informative ‘Author’s Note’ before the wonderment begins with ‘Jim #1 in its entirety’: the complete contents of his very first self-published fanzine from 1980.

A master of silent expressive cartooning, Woodring’s playfully inventively fascination with and love of words and tale-making shines through in such laboriously hand-lettered, illustrated epigrammatic vignettes as ‘Lozenge’ and ‘Jim Today’ as well as witty iconographic concoctions like ‘Tales of Bears’ and ‘Troutcapper Hats’ before the first strip saga details a doomed fishing trip in ‘Seafood Platter from Hell’ and a moment of early silent psychedelia reveals how ‘Two Children Inadvertently Kill an Agent of the Devil Through an Excess of Youthful High Spirits’

Another personal true story and painful brush with disability and imperfection is disclosed in ‘Invisible Hinge’ whilst ‘The Hour of the Kitten’ returns to distressed, disturbed prose before the first of many outrageous faux-ads offers those indispensable conscience-pets ‘Niffers’, preceding another text-trek in ‘A Walk in the Foothills’.

Cats play a large part in these early strips and ‘Big Red’ is probably the cutest bloody-clawed, conscienceless killer you’ll ever meet whilst ‘Enough is Enough’ offers graphic pause before an ad for the home ‘Dreamcorder’ segues into a disturbing poster of rural excess in ‘A Lousy Show’.

‘Particular Mind’ provides a strip encapsulating life-drawing, relationships and hallucinations after which the tempting services provided by ‘Jim’s Discipline Camp’ are counterbalanced by a paean to pharmacopoeia in ‘Good Medicine’.

More savage exploits of ‘Big Red’ lead to a commercial presentation in ‘This is the Meat (…That Changed Me, Dad!)’, whilst ‘Horse Sinister’ describes in prose and pictures another disturbing dream dilemma and ‘At the Old Estate’ introduces a sophisticated loving couple whose wilderness paradise is forever altered by an unwelcome visitor’s incredible revelation. Thereafter a worried young child describes how life changed after he found his parents’ ‘Dinosaur Cage’

The truly eccentric tale of ‘Li’l Rat’ (from a 1965 story by John Dorman) is followed by a visual feast of images from ‘Jim Book of the Dead’ and a surreal flyer for ‘Rolling Cabine’, after which ‘What the Left Hand Did’ captures in strip form the horrors of mutilation and malformation before the macabre tone-painting ‘Almost Home’ leads to an epic strip of father and son fun beginning with ‘Let’s Play!’

Jim’s jaunt soon transports him to ‘Powerland’ where dad meets himself, whilst ‘Nidrian Gardner’ revisits a couple of suave swells whilst ‘Looty’ offers consumers a toy they just shouldn’t own…

‘The Hindu Marriage Game’ leads our unhappy bearded fool to a place where his lack of judgement can truly embarrass him whilst ‘Quarry Story’ explores a debilitating recurring dream about the nature of artistic endeavour and ‘This House’ explains how you can live life without ever going outside again…

The first inklings of the mature creator emerge in absurdist romp ‘The Birthday Party’ after which prose shaggy-dog story ‘The Reform of the Apple’ leads to a dark and distressing cartoon confrontation with doom on ‘The Stairs’ before the largely monochrome meanderings give way to stunning full-colour surreal reveries in ‘Screechy Peachy’.

The radiant hues remain for galvanic image ‘Vher Umst Pknipfer?’ and pantomimic rollercoaster romp ‘Trosper’ before bold black & white introspection resumes with a naked lady and a garrulous frog in ‘Dive Deep’.

A ghostly Hispanic condition of drunkenness haunts a bunch of cruelly playful kids in ‘Pulque’ after which young Max asks dad a leading question in ‘Echo’ and radio rebels Chip and Monk meet some girls and risk the wrath of civic authority with illegal broadcasting in ‘A Hometown Tale’, after which an ideal wife has a bad-tempered off-day in ‘Obviously Not’.

As the years progressed many of Woodring’s later spiritual and graphic signature creatures had slowly begun to appear in his strips. Old met new in ‘His Father Was a Great Machine’ wherein strident Jim has an encounter with a phantasmagorical thing, after which little Susan and a determined slug shaped up for an inevitable collision in the prose fable ‘When the Lobster Whistles on the Hill’.

Sheer whimsy informs ‘Cheap Work/Our Hero is a Bastard’ and the bizarre offerings of ‘Jimland Novelties’ whilst ‘The Smudge-Pot’ shows what all magazine letters pages should be like, after which ‘Pulque’ – in full colour strip mode – returns with a message for the dying before ‘Boyfriend of the Weather’ wraps up the surreal voyages with a homey homily and reproductions of Jim #1, volume 2 back cover and Jim #2, volume 2 cover bring this festival of freakish fun to the finale with style, aplomb and oodles of frosting…

Woodring’s work is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities – otherwise why would I need to plug his work so earnestly – and, as ever, these astounding drawings have the perilous propensity of repeating like cucumber and making one jump long after the book has been put away, but the artist is an undisputed master of graphic narrative and an affirmed innovator always making new art to challenge us and himself.

He makes us love it and leaves us hungry for more and these early offerings provide the perfect starter course for a full bodied feast of fantasy…

Are you feeling peckish yet…?
© 2014 Jim Woodring. All rights reserved.

Asterix and Obelix All at Sea


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-75284-778-8

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes on the Marne. As a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he showed artistic flair from an early age and dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at thirteen, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When World War II broke out he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the recovering nation’s burgeoning comics industry.

His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own masterpiece The Beast is Dead is far too long overdue for a commemorative reissue…).

The tireless Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the artistic prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon becoming fast friends, they resolved to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, following which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they resulted in a western starring a “Red Indian” who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year, he made his debut in Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Asterix

Although the gallant Gaul was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first hilarious historical romp was collected in an album as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially since the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic serial subsequently collected into book-length compilations, in 1974 the 21st (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first published as a complete original album before serialisation. Thereafter each new release was an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

More than 325 million copies of 35 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s best-selling international authors, and now that torch has been passed and new sagas of the indomitable are being created by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

One of the most popular comics on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with twelve animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the narrative premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

Many of the intoxicating epics are set in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen reduced to quizzical tourists and bemused commentators in every fantastic land and corner of the civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era. The rest – more than half of the canon – take place in Uderzo’s beloved Brittany, where, circa 50 B.C., a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

The land is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last just refuses to be pacified…

Whenever the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less, daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the miraculous magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export from the mid-1960s onwards, Asterix the Gaul continues to grow in quality as new creators toil ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas and building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold…

Uderzo’s sixth session as sole creator was Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (originally entitled La Galère d’Obélix): released in 1996 and the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. It began in the cruel and callous capital of civilisation wherein the Master of the World was having a bit of a bad day. Not as bad however as his Grand Admiral Crustacius, who has just allowed a bunch of galley slaves to mutiny and steal Julius Caesar’s personal galley…

As the severely tongue-lashed mariner and his browbeaten aide Vice-Admiral Nautilus scurry away to pursue the fugitives, aboard the magnificent vessel magnificent Greek rebel Spartakis – bearing a striking resemblance to the magnificent Kirk Douglas in all his glory – debates with his recently-liberated comrades from many nations on where in the Rome-ruled world they can go to remain free…

A British oarsman then suggests a certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica which the empire has never conquered…

Meanwhile in the faraway subject of their discussions, Asterix and Obelix are in an argumentative mood too, but their clash is put aside when word comes that the entire complement of all four encircling garrisons are massing on the far side of the forest.

Always eager for a little martial recreation the villagers dose up on Getafix the Druid’s strength-boosting magic potion. Once again Obelix is frustrated in his attempt to get a share of the tantalising elixir and stumbles off in high dudgeon.

The generally genial giant had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and grown up a permanently superhuman, eternally hungry hulk who hated being told no and didn’t believe more of the mouth-watering miracle mixture could harm him…

The Romans are utterly unaware of the danger insouciantly sauntering towards them, engaged as they are in drill to celebrate the imminent arrival of Admiral Crustacius. Thoroughly thrashing the amassed legions, the victorious Gauls wonder why Roman-bashing addict Obelix is absent and Getafix, dreading the worst, dashes back to discover his greatest fears realised.

The intransigent idiot has imbibed deeply from the potion and been turned to stone…

Nothing the Druid can conceive seems able to cure the calcified colossus and it’s during this time of trouble that Spartakis and his freed slaves arrive, requesting sanctuary. As the welcoming villagers carry the huge ornate galley into the village, the Obelix ordeal takes a strange turn as his stony spell wears off and the former fighting fool returns to flesh and blood – albeit as the puny helpless little boy he was before ever falling into the potion pot. The little wimp can’t even eat roast boar anymore…

The little lad is the darling of the town but cannot abide his weak ineffectual status. The situation becomes truly intolerable after the boy is captured by Crustacius and shipped off to Rome. After suitably castigating the soldiery, Asterix, Getafix and faithful mutt Dogmatix give chase in Caesar’s ship, manned by Spartakis and his valiant crew.

Powered by potion, the pursuers easily overtake the Romans, who have been hampered by the obnoxious antics of Obelix and the predations of the perennially, phenomenally unlucky pirates to whom – after a period of traditional chastisement – Asterix gives Caesar’s stolen galley.

Crucially, however, in his haste the little warrior leaves behind a barrel of potion when his comrades and little Obelix all transfer to a new, less noticeable vessel.

As the Gauls sail off in the pirate’s ship, Getafix has an inspired idea and suggests to Spartakis that they make for the last remnant of Atlantis, explaining that the idyllic Canary Islands survived the inundation of the magic continent and the people living there now are reclusive beings of great power and knowledge who might be able to restore Obelix to his natural state…

When they finally arrive in that beautiful land of miracles they are greeted by old man Absolutlifabulos and hordes of beautiful, happy children riding dolphins, centaurs, swans and winged cattle. The jolly dotard explains that the Atlanteans have reverted themselves to carefree immortal childhood, but their powers cannot do anything to cure Obelix.

As the downhearted Gauls make their way home, Spartakis and his men opt to stay and become forever kids too…

Meanwhile on Caesar’s galley Crustacius has discovered Getafix’s stashed potion and powered up, dreaming of ousting his foul-tempered boss and making himself Emperor, even as leagues away a Roman boarding party invades the pirate galley and menaces the powerless Gauls.

With Asterix about to be killed, little Obelix goes berserk and the emotional overload restores him to his corpulent, hyper-charged self, much to the distress of the terrified soldiers…

By the time Crustacius reaches Rome he has made the same mistake Obelix did and his rapid overdosing on potion only provides Julius Caesar with another statue for the Circus Maximus

In Gaul however, Obelix, with a lot of frustration to work through, debarks at recently repaired Aquarium for a spot of cathartic violence before he accompanies his faithful chums back to the village for a celebratory feast…

Packed with thrilling action, good-natured joshing, raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking fantasy and paean to true friendship cements Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch. © 1996 Les Editions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translations © 1998, 2002 Les Editions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

New Revised Review

By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco, Ivan Reis & Jesus Merino (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0447-1 (hardcover):         978-1-4012-0714-4 (trade paperback)

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths 1980s and 1990s, they were remade as cautious (but respectful) co-workers who did the same job whilst deploring each other’s methods.

They preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League… but then, the character continuity of team titles has always been largely at odds with heroes at home in their own titles…

However, after a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought the pair together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters in a series of epic adventures packed with high-value guest-stars.

This visually intoxicating tour of alternate times and places, collecting issues #14-18 of Superman/Batman (January-April 2005 and scripted by Jeph Loeb with art by Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino), again revisits and resets the original team-up concept, seeing the most important heroes in the universe uniquely co-opted by a trio of menaces from a very familiar tomorrow…

It all begins in ‘I Pledge Allegiance…’ wherein a rocketship crash in a Kansas cornfield and a murder in Gotham City back alley take a turn into the unknown thanks to a trio of time travellers. Decades pass and Kal-El of Krypton and 10-year old murder witness Bruce Wayne are reared by the cunning chrononauts to become the heroes they were destined to be, but with decidedly different ethics and motives.

The manipulators are far from idle over those years, intercepting other key events and ensuring Barry Allen, Arthur Curry, Hal Jordan and alien J’onn J’onzz all die before becoming Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern and the Manhunter from Mars.

However destiny is hard to thwart and other champions will always arise to try and restore the way reality should be…

Even as global rulers Superman and Batman are eradicating annoying gadfly Green Arrow and celebrating their anniversary of dominance with fond foster parents Lightning Lord, Cosmic King and Saturn Queen of the 31st century Legion of Super Villains, in a dank subway under America’s former capital a determined Amazon invader is using her Lasso of Truth…

Galvanised by her Grecian gods, Diana of Themyscira has tracked down the mystical embodiment of the Human Spirit and restored his memory.

Now Uncle Sam is ready to set the world right once again…

Wearing the power ring intended for Hal Jordan and liberating his original team of Freedom Fighters (Phantom Lady, Dollman, The Ray and Human Bomb) from their time-overwritten new lives, he leads them and Diana in a bold counterattack against the Cape & Cowl oppressors’ HQ in ‘What Price Freedom…?’

Their targets meanwhile, have just survived their closest call yet, destroying the mystic city of Nanda Parbat but almost falling before the possession powers of Deadman Boston Brand

By the time Superman and Batman return, Uncle Sam’s team have already defeated a team of thralls from the erstwhile Legion of Super-Heroes and, with no quarter asked, Diana kills Batman before herself being slain by his vengeance-crazed foster brother. The Freedom fighters press on to capture their target – the future felons’ time machine – but when Kal detonates the Human Bomb with his lethal heat vision the co-mixing of alien energies disrupts the time bubble and rends the very fabric of space-time.

And in a place beyond all universes, an unlikely assemblage of reluctant allies consider how best to remedy the situation they have instigated…

Superman and the somehow restored Batman awaken in a strange Earth where animals talk and act like men, and after a violent confrontation with Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, abruptly find themselves phased into another impossibly confused iteration of their home.

Here western gunfighters El Diablo, Bat Lash, Tomahawk, Scalphunter, Jonah Hex (packing bullets made from a glowing green meteor) and other cowboy crusaders hunt them down on behalf of President Lex Luthor and execute them both…

Alive again in that non-dimensional other-place, Man of Steel and Darkest Knight are confronted by Darkseid, knowledge god Metron, Etrigan the Demon and an older wiser Superman, who apprise them of the stakes in play ‘When Time Goes Asunder…’ before instructing the notional heroes how only they can repair reality.

Of course the Master of Apokolips does nothing for free…

Sent through time to mend their own origin tales, the saving of Jonathan and Martha Kent goes perfectly but when faced with allowing his parents to be killed again Bruce Wayne baulks and kills their assailant before the thief can pull the trigger.

As the Caped Crimebuster vanishes from reality, Superman is catapulted forward in time to ‘A World without Batman…’, or indeed any superheroes. Attacked by Sgt Rock’s Easy Company and the Haunted Tank, the Action Ace fights back valiantly before discovering that immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul is the undisputed dictator of Earth and he has destroyed every metahuman the world ever knew…

Retrenching Clark Kent then seeks out the Waynes and their playboy son Bruce in an attempt to restore some semblance of the only man ever to defeat “The Demon’s Head”…

Despite his many failings, Bruce is still a strategic genius and soon devises a horrific way to bolster the hard-pressed heroes’ forces before their final, doomed assault on Al Ghul. Tragically the World’s Finest warriors have not realised that their foe has allied himself with the time-tampering Villains’ Legion, nor that their former foster parents have plundered the future for murderous metahuman reinforcements…

The chronal carnage concludes with a spectacular confrontation in ‘Thy Will be Done’ (with additional pencilling by Ivan Reis) as Superman on the edge of utter defeat turns his enemies’ time-bending tactics to his own advantage and finds allies of his own from another furious future…

Although a superbly engaging piece of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction, this temporal tempest of a tale suffers from the most common ailment to afflict such time-warping sagas – the reader already knows it will come OK in the end.

The art however is astoundingly beautiful and, subtly augmented by Laura Martin’s colouring, is one of the prettiest cascades of chronal Armageddons you will ever see…

Although an aging fan-boy’s dream and featuring a vast amount of fondly familiar razzle-dazzle from scripter Loeb, Absolute Power is probably a yarn best enjoyed by dedicated fans equipped with the memories to keep it all straight.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 3: The Skyriders


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-014-6

The glamour of the American Experience has fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters.Hergé was a devotee, and the spectrum of memorable comics ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such French and Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke,and even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World or Milo Manara and Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

‘Les Tuniques Bleues’ orThe Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and his replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent.

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

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – beginning his glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the series are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, two hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (‘North and South’) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war). All subsequent adventures, although ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average 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 other easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly 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 hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

The Skyriders is the third album of the translated Cinebook series (chronologically the eighth French volume ‘Les cavaliers du ciel’) and opens with Chesterfield dashing to see his severely wounded pal. However, when he finds out Blutch has bribed a surgeon to declare him unfit for duty, the doughty sergeant goes through the roof…

Dragging Blutch back to the Front lines, the sergeant is just in time to be ordered by frankly quite mad Captain Stark to join him in another heroic cavalry charge against the massed Rebel infantry. The division has suffered a few losses recently so the unstoppable wave of valiant Union horsemen will number exactly three…

The assault naturally fails and the deranged officer is captured, with Blutch and the deeply shaken Chesterfield making it back to their own lines more by luck than skill.

The Union generals are in a bit of a tizzy. They have plenty of artillery and ground troops but are being worn down by the swift-moving Confederate cavalry’s harrying tactics. What they need is some method of observing the enemy’s position. Also, with the news of Stark’s capture comes the apprehension of his revealing key positions so the strategists are forced into trying something new.

All they need are a big balloon and a couple of expendable idiots…

The first observation flight is a huge success, so much so that the generals go up themselves after the principle is proved. Sadly, the Brass are far better fed than Blutch and Chesterfield and the wicker basket they crowd into proves painfully insufficient to their needs…

Broken and battered the big bosses choose to keep their bandaged feet on the ground from then on and our Bluecoats remain the army’s only airborne soldiery, enduring shot and shell as they spy on the enemy from above…

Stark meanwhile has not talked and the Confederates are beginning to lose traction in the battle. Correctly blaming the balloon for their reversals of fortune, the Gray commanders determine to destroy their aerostatic nemesis at all costs and a daring sortie on the observation post enables them to cut the balloon free from its moorings…

Adrift in the sky the hapless duo try everything to get down safely – consequently causing great consternation to the Rebel forces – before finally crashing to earth on top of their own already balloon-damaged commanding officers.

Ordered to rescue Captain Stark or face a firing squad, Chesterfield then devises an audacious, suicidal plan: using the balloon at night, he and Blutch will infiltrate the Confederate camp and bust their mad boss out.

What could possibly go wrong?

As always their manic midnight misadventures result in pain, humiliation and not a few explosions and, incredibly, victory and success – of a sort…

This is another hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1976 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Thor: Ages of Thunder


By Matt Fraction, Patrick Zircher, Khari Evans, Clay Mann, Dan Brereton, Doug Braithwaite, Michael Allred, Miguel Ángel Sepúlveda, Victor Olazaba & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3568-5

Since his creation by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby in Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962), the spectacular adventures of Thor have encompassed everything from crushing petty crime capers to saving universes from cosmic doom. As the decades passed he has also survived numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an easily jaded readership.

An already exceedingly broad range of milieux and scenarios spawned even greater visual variety after the Thunderer’s recent introduction to the pantheon of cinematic Marvels and his ongoing triumphs as a bona fide burgeoning movie franchise.

From the cod mythology of the company’s own bowdlerized Aesir whilst simultaneously drawing upon established ancient of Scandinavia, in 2008 Matt Fraction and a doughty band of artists crafted a saga spanning a number of specials and one-shots which riotously examined the early days of the bellicose Lord of Storms in the fantastic prehistory of the Nine Realms of existence, and this slim bombastic fantasy tome collects the opening blasts with Thor: Ages of Thunder (June 2008), Thor: Reign of Blood (August), Thor: Man of War (January 2009) and Thor: God-Sized Special (February 2009).

The legendary adventure opens with the eponymous ‘Ages of Thunder’ – rendered in painterly manner by Patrick Zircher, Khari Evans & Victor Olazaba – which sees the gods of Asgard arrogantly gloating after their gory victory against the ferocious Frost Giants of Jotunheim; monsters who had rampaged to the very gates of the city and even breached one of the great walls before Thor’s mighty hammer ended their threat with lethal finality.

The complacent victors then feasted mightily, gorging themselves on the golden apples of immortality which were the source of their power and could only be gathered from the magnificent World Ash Yggdrasil by lovely enchantress Idun.

…All but dour Thor, who shunned the festivities and as usual saved his share of the magic fruit against imagined times of future peril…

Some time later a human stonemason came to the gates of Asgard and bargained to repair the broken wall. Sensing sport, Allfather Odin and duplicitous Loki dickered with the mortal and imposed what they considered impossible conditions and a ludicrous deadline for the task, secure in the knowledge that what the man promised was impossible and they would never have to pay his preposterous price…

Of course the smug war gods were completely wrong and in a terrifyingly short time the mason was almost done: looking forward to carrying off his reward… beautiful, irreplaceable Idun…

Faced with humiliation and the loss of the source of all his people’s strength, Odin ordered the master of mischief to fix the problem, which the conniving cheat accomplished with barely a day to spare. Unfortunately this only provoked the furious mason to reveal his true identity – one of the recently defeated Frost Giants – and his bloody revenge was only ended by the arrival of the red-handed, increasingly aloof Thunder God.

For his part in the near-calamity Loki was banished to the icy wastes where, amidst horrendous cold and privation, he was approached by a giant eagle – another shapeshifting giant – who offered to save and feed him in return for Idun…

This bargain the trickster kept, delivering the golden goddess to the giant’s icy harem. Soon the Aesir were ailing as their mighty powers faded with the last of the apples they once devoured so profligately…

As heroic gods searched the Nine Realms for the missing enchantress, Odin and the court resolved to beg Thor for apples from his miserly hoard, but the Thunderer refused their entreaties. All-wise Odin reasoned Loki was the cause of their trouble and with dire threats forced him to retrieve Idun, but knowing his adopted son’s nature then beseeched Thor to follow and make sure the task was done properly…

This the murderous, sour- spirited Thor accomplished but an awful rift was driven between Allfather and sons…

The tale resumes in ‘Thor: Reign of Blood’ (illustrated by Evans, Zircher & Olazaba) as the Frost Giant’s tragic yet formidable daughter enacts a plan of icy vengeance which begins as a savagely relentless winter grips Asgard. Sheltered in his cavernous, echoing Great Hall, Odin reveals that in his youth he had a dalliance with the icy maiden which almost cost his life and has despised her ever since.

Nevertheless Spring must come so they will negotiate…

With Loki as envoy she is invited to Asgard and demands the greatest treasure in existence before she will rescind her endless freeze. Charged with cleaning up the mess, the trickster commissions three wondrous artefacts from the artisan dwarves of Nidavellir: a gold-propagating armband, a magical necklace and a giant-killing broadsword…

Unable to help himself, Loki then enters into a deadly side bet with the craftsmen over which treasure Odin will deem best…

When the gifts are displayed, the Allfather suddenly succumbs to his long-suppressed hatred and uses the sword to dispatch the Frost Giant’s Daughter before she can choose her tribute, effectively, if dishonourably, ending the eternal winter.

Once Loki weasels his way out of his bet with the dwarves the matter seems settled, but Idun is increasingly beguiled by the metal-smiths’ magical necklace…

Travelling to Nidavellir she sells herself for the gleaming trinket, and when Odin learns what she has done his rage knows no bounds. In response The Enchantress curses the entire world, causing legions of the dead to arise and attack the helpless living.

Once more mighty Thor is called upon to risk everything and end an overwhelming threat created by his family’s arrogance and cupidity…

‘Thor: Man of War’ (Clay Mann, Zircher & Olazaba) finds the Thunderer driven into berserker rage by the antics of his people, rampaging like a maniac through all the Nine Worlds. Enraged at the disruption of the natural order, Odin orders his beloved Valkyries to stop his errant heir by any means necessary.

Soon their leader Brunnhilda has engaged the demented Thor in all-out combat, but their cataclysmic clash awakens a colossal Storm Giant and soon both Asgardians are battling for their live against the ravaging pernicious primal entity. Before it finally falls, the furious fighters need the timely assistance of godly comrades Balder, Hogun, Fandral and Volstagg

However, rowdily celebrating their victory in Svartalfheim, the victorious heroes and war women soon fall into fighting each other and watchful Odin is compelled to personally teach his wayward son the meaning and responsibilities of godhood…

Closing the chronicle, from Thor: God-Sized Special #1 comes ‘The Death and Life of Skurge the Executioner’ by Dan Brereton, Doug Braithwaite, Michael Allred & Miguel Ángel Sepúlveda, which traces the life of a former villain who redeemed his many grievous sins at the gates of the underworld to save the hosts of Asgard and Earth.

After a rousing visual recap, the saga moves on to a bizarre mystery as the assembled warriors of the golden realm realise that their memories of Skurge have been tampered with.

Travelling to the underworld, Thor, Loki and Balder find that even Death Goddess Hela has succumbed to the mystic meddling.

Given leave to continue by the terrifying queen of the damned, the voyagers press on and find that the cause of all their woes is the seductive Enchantress… but her motives for the worlds-shaking spell are nothing they could have suspected…

With extra features including covers by Marko Djurdjevic, a section on his preliminary production process and impressive pencil sketches and roughs by Zircher, this is a bloodily beautiful fairytale fable which would not be out of place amongst the true Elder Eddas.

Frantic, furious and ferociously enthralling, Ages of Thunder is a superb slice of mythic Marvel madness no action-loving fantasy fan could possibly resist.
© 2008, 2009, Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spirou & Fantasio: The Marsupilami Thieves


By André Franquin,translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-167-9

Spirou (whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter AKA Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuisin response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

The legendary anthology was launched on April 21st 1938 with this other red-headed lad as the lead of the anthology weekly comic which bears his name to this day.

He began life as a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939.

She was aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946 Jijé’sassistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the short, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating a phenomenally popular magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and now a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums all his own), crafting increasingly fantastic tales until he resigned in 1969.

He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures that tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the serial, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts best known as Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era. Their sterling efforts consequently revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998.

As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the main vehicle were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann and Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou and Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, concentrating on translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for this fifth edition (originally entitled Les voleurs du Marsupilami or ‘The Marsupilami Robbers’), they’ve reached back all the way to 1952 and translated the second appearance of the adorable wonder-beast by the great man himself.

On January 3rd 1924, Belgian superstar creator André Franquin was born in Etterbeek. Drawing from an early age the lad began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When the war forced the school’s closure a year later, Franquin found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

All during those early days Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé who was the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a perfect creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four” who revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946) and the eager lad ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. Along the way Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

The heroes travelled to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio as well as one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in this current English translation).

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle,Boule et Bill), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis saw Franquin sign up with rivals Casterman on Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

He soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 but was obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle,illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires,but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to on his departure – is Marsupilami, which in addition to comics tales has become a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums.

Franquin, plagued in later life by bouts of depression, passed away on January 5th 1997 but his legacy remains, a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

The Marsupilami Thieves was originally serialised in Spirou #729-761 (collected into an album in 1954); a sequel to previous adventure Spirou et les héritiers in which the valiant lad and his inseparable companion colleague encountered an incredible elastic-tailed anthropoid in the jungles of Palombia and brought the fabulous, affable creature back to civilisation.

Franquin’s follow-up tale – crafted from an idea by fellow cartoonist Jo Almo (Geo Salmon) – sees the triumphant journalists visit the big City Zoo where their latest headline has ended up, only to be stricken with guilt and remorse at the poor creature’s sorry state of incarceration.

Resolving to free the poor thing and return him to his rainforest home, their plan is foiled when the poor thing suddenly dies in its cage. Distraught and suspicious, the boys muscle their way in to see the vet and discover the corpse has gone missing…

Acting quickly Spirou and Fantasio rouse the authorities and the commotion prevents the body thief from escaping. All through the night the keepers and our heroes scour the institution and in the dark of night finally spook the mysterious malefactor from his cosy hiding place…

There follows a spectacular and hilarious midnight chase through the zoo, with the lads harrying a dark figure who must be some kind of athlete past a panoply of angry animals, hindered more than helped by inept keepers…

They almost catch the intruder, but a last burst of furious energy propels the bandit over a back wall, but not before Spirou snatches a paper clue from him…

The precious scrap takes the determined investigators to the flat of Victor Shanks, where his wife Clementine provides further information. Her man is flying off to the city of Magnana for his new job and to deliver a package…

The boys’ frantic chase to the airport is plagued by manic misfortune and they miss Victor by mere moments, but undeterred borrow a neighbour’s car and attempt to follow overland.

This leads to a fractious episode of fisticuffs with striking Customs Officers. After a night in jail, the undeterred duo and the kvetching Spip eventually fetch up in Magnana and the search begins.

A month later they are frustrated and ready to throw in the towel when Spirou literally runs into Clementine Shanks and tracks her to a football stadium where formerly unemployed desperate Victor is now a star of the local soccer team…

Confronting the essentially good-hearted rogue Fantasio and Spirou force the truth from him. In return for his new job Victor drugged and swiped the Marsupilami for ruthless showman The Great Zabaglione as a star attraction for his circus and travelling menagerie…

Determined to see the little creature free, the boys attempt to infiltrate the show but are quickly discovered and forcefully expelled, but after a chance meeting with weird science master Count of Champignac try once more disguised as miraculous magic act Cam and Leon

This time the ruse works but after a phenomenally outrageous opening performance the brutal Zabaglione rumbles the reporters and things look bleak for the lads and the Marsupilami until guilt-wracked Victor steps in to save the day.

…And once the dust settles the wondrous beast is free, but happily opts to stay with the boys and share their fun-filled, exciting exploits…

Soaked in superb slapstick comedy and with gallons of gags throughout, this exuberant yarn is packed with angst-free action, thrills and spills and also offers an early ecological message and an always-timely moral regarding the humane treatment of animals. There is even a fascinating history and creative overview of the timeless wandering heroes in the back-up feature ‘Spirou & Fantasio’s Stories Last Through Generations’.

The Marsupilami Thieves is the kind of lightly-barbed, comedy-thriller to delight readers who are fed of a marketplace far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly sweet fantasy.

Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductive but wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, The Bluecoats and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a true and enduring landmark tale from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1954 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

Usagi Yojimbo book 9: Daisho


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-259-7

Despite changing publishers a few times the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Author Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as an extra in anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy which premiered in 1984 amongst assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk in Albedo Anthropomorphics #1.

He subsequently graduated to a solo-starring act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Stan Sakai was two years old, his family moved to Hawaii from Kyoto, Japan. He left the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer - before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, after which Sakai transformed a work-in-progress about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

Its engaging protagonist is a Bushido bunny and it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously peripatetic and expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a wandering Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly the 17th century AD by our Christian reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources from Zatoichi to Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a born soldier whose master has been murdered, now devoted to the spiritual tenets of Bushido. He simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

The title was as much a nomad as its star. This guest-star-stuffed eighth monochrome masterpiece marshals yarns released by Mirage Publishing as Usagi Yojimbo volume 2, #7-14, and comes with an Introduction from writer James Robinson, after which the medieval mystery play resumes with ‘The Music of Heaven’ wherein Miyamoto and a wandering flock of tokagé lizards (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate the anthropomorphic world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem) encounter a gentle, pious priest whose life is dedicated to peace, music and enlightenment…

When their paths cross again later, the ronin is almost murdered by a ruthless assassin who has killed and impersonated the holy man Komuso in an attempt to catch Usagi off guard…

Evocative and movingly spiritual, this classic of casual tragedy perfectly displays the vast range of storytelling Sakai can pack into the most innocuous of tales.

More menaces from the wanderer’s past reconnect in ‘The Gambler, The Widow and the Ronin’ as a professional gambler who fleeces villagers with rigged samurai duels plies his shabby trade in just another little hamlet.

Unfortunately this one is home to his last stooge’s wife, and whilst his latest hired killer Kedamono is attempting to take over the business, to make matters worse the long-eared nomad who so deftly dispatched his predecessor Shubo has just strolled into town looking for refreshments…

Again forced into a fight he doesn’t want, Miyamoto makes short work of blustering Kedamono, leaving the smug gambler to safely flee with the entire take. Slurping back celebratory servings of Saké, the villain has no idea that the inn where he relaxes employs a vengeful widow and mother who knows just who really caused her man’s death…

‘Slavers’ then begins a particularly dark journey for the ronin as Usagi stumbles across a boy in chains escaping from a bandit horde. Little Hiro explains how the ragtag rogues of wily “General” Fujii have captured an entire town and are making the inhabitants harvest all their crops for the scum to steal…

Resolved to save them the rabbit infiltrates the captive town as a mercenary seeking work, but is soon exposed and taken prisoner.

‘Slavers Part 2’ finds Miyamoto stoically enduring the General’s tortures until the boy he saved bravely returns the favour, after which the Yojimbo’s vengeance is awesome and terrible.

However even as the villagers rebel and take back their homes and property, chief bandit Fujii escapes, taking Usagi’s daishō (matched long and short swords) with him.

As previously seen, to take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, and the monster not only has them but continually dishonours them by slaughtering innocents as he flees the ronin’s relentless pursuit.

‘Daisho – Part One’ opens with a hallowed sword-maker undertaking the holy methodical process of crafting blades and the harder task of selecting the right person to buy them. Three hundred years later, Usagi is on the brink of madness as he follows the bloody trail of Fujii, remorselessly picking off the General’s remaining killers whilst attempting to redeem those sacred dispensers of death…

The chase leads him to another town pillaged by Fujii where he almost refuses to aid a wounded man until one of the women accuses him of being no better than the beast he hunts…

Shocked back to his senses Miyamoto saves the elder’s life and in gratitude the girl Hanako offers to lead him to where Fuji was heading…

‘Mongrels’ then changes tack as erstwhile ally and hard-to-love friend Gennosuké enters the picture. The irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taker is on the prowl for suitably profitable prospects when he meets the Stray Dog: his greatest rival in the unpopular profession of cop-for-hire.

After some posturing and double-dealing wherein each tries to edge out the other in the hunt for Fujii they inevitably come to blows and are only stopped by the fortuitous intervention of the rabbit ronin…

‘Daisho – Part Two’ sees the rugged individualists come to a shaky truce in their overweening hunger to tackle the General. Mistrustful of each other they nevertheless cut a swathe of destruction through Fujii’s regrouped band, but even after the furious ronin regains his honour swords there is one last betrayal in store…

Older, wiser and generally unharmed, Gen and Usagi then part company again as ‘Runaways’ once more takes a peek into Usagi’s past. Stopping in a town he hasn’t visited in years, the rabbit hears a name called out and his mind goes back to a time when he was a fresh young warrior in the service of Great Lord Mifunė.

Young princess Takani Kinuko had been promised as bride to trustworthy ally Lord Hirano and the rabbit had been a last-minute replacement as leader of the “babysitting” escort column to her impending nuptials.

When an overwhelming ambush destroyed the party, Usagi was forced to flee with the stuck-up brat, both masquerading as carefree, unencumbered peasants as he strove to bring her safely to her husband-to-be through a seeming army of ninjas killers.

The poignant reverie concludes in ‘Runaways – Part 2’ as valiant hero and spotless maid fell in love whilst fleeing from the pitiless, unrelenting marauders on their heels. Successful at last, their positions naturally forced them apart once she was safely delivered.

Shaken from his memories the ronin moves on, tragically unaware that he was not the only one recalling those moments and pondering what might have been…

This emotional rollercoaster ends on a note of portentous foreboding with ‘The Nature of the Viper’, opening a year previously when a boisterous, good-hearted fisherman pulled a body out of the river and nursed his amazingly not dead catch slowly back to health. If he expected gratitude or mercy the peasant was sadly mistaken, as the victim explained whilst killing as soon as he was able.

Jei is a veritable devil in mortal form, believing himself a “Blade of the Gods”; singled out by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The maniac makes a convincing case: when he stalked Usagi the monster was struck by a fortuitous – or possibly divinely sent – lightning bolt and is still keen to continue his quest…

This medieval monochrome masterwork also includes a gallery of covers to charm and delight one and all.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, and always astoundingly action-packed, Usagi Yojimbo alternately bristles with tension and thrills and frequently breaks your heart with irresistible tales of pride, triumph and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, this is a perfect comics experience: monolithic, magical tales of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories.
Text and illustrations © 1994, 1995, 1998 Stan Sakai. All other material and registered characters are © and™ their respective owners. Usagi Yojimbo and all other prominently featured characters are registered trademarks of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

All-New X-Men: One Down


By Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and many and& various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-626-7

When bestial mutant Henry McCoy learned he was dying, he indulged in a spot of time-travel in a last-ditch attempt to give his life meaning. Seeking to prevent a species war, he brought the young, naive X-Men of his own youth into the future to reason with his radicalised former comrade Scott Summers, praying the still idealistic and hopeful teens could reason with Mutant Enemy Terrorist No. 1 and divert him from a path of doctrinaire madness…

The gamble paid off in all the wrong ways. Rather than shocking Cyclops back to his senses, the confrontation hardened the renegade’s heart and strengthened his resolve. Moreover, even after the younger McCoy miraculously cured his older self, boy-Henry and the rest of the X-Kids were trapped in their own future and began gradually defecting to the radicalised team…

Scripted by Brian Michael Bendis, this stellar saga collects All-New X-Men #25-29 (published from June to August 2014), taking the time-displaced teens to the ends of the universe and even further into uncharted temporal territory…

The mind-shattering rematch commences in All-New X-Men #25 (illustrated by Stuart Immonen & Wade Von Grawbadger and a host of guest-artists) and follows a dramatic change in young Jean Grey’s status as the team catches their collective breath after being shanghaied to the ends of the universe by Gladiator and the Shi’ar who sought to exterminate the timelost telepotent before she could become a host vessel for the Phoenix…

Already the teen quintet have been reduced to four as the younger Cyclops elected to remain in space with Corsair of the Starjammers- the father he believed dead and gone for most of his young life…

The future-locked Angel, Iceman, Beast, and Jean are stretched to their emotional breaking point. Since an attack by Evil Mutants masquerading as X-Men from the future (X-Men: Children of the Atom) they have faced the very real prospect of never returning to their own time; risking destroying all reality with every moment they aren’t back there and, worst of all, watching Jean go slowly crazy trying not to become the impossibly perfect superwoman everybody keeps talking about in such hushed tones…

The celebratory 25th issue is something of a visual tour de force as the elder Beast has a dreamlike visitation showing him the alternate futures and realities that have been eradicated because of his precipitate act of bringing the teen heroes into today…

Short on plot but fascinating fans with tantalising glimpses of rosters both familiar and fantastic, what follows is a feast of vignettes, scary, dramatic and even funny, illustrated by David Marquez, Bruce Timm, Arthur Adams, David Mack, Robbi Rodriguez, Lee Bermejo, Kent Williams, J.G. Jones, Maris Wicks, Jason Shiga, Dan Hipp, Jill Thompson, Paul M. Smith, Skottie Young, Ronnie del Carmen, J. Scott Campbell, Max Wittert, Jake Parker and Bob Wiacek; some of which, I’m sure, we’ll be seeing again one day…

The narrative resumes with Immonen & Wade Von Grawbadger at the artistic helm again with #26 and Jean’s own nightmares regarding the change in her power-set brought on by the Shi’ar confrontation and her brush with the Phoenix force. She finds a measure of solace in the unsuspected solicitude of the older Cyclops…

Meanwhile outside in the Canadian wilderness surrounding the fortress-like New Charles Xavier School, Angel is trying to explain to X-23 (a teenage female clone of Wolverine) that young Scott has dumped her for a life of adventure with his dad. When she storms off she is ambushed by the last person she expected to see…

Later, when Professor Kitty Pryde sends out search parties, they find her near-dead form and rush her back to safety inside the citadel… but it isn’t her…

The duplicity is the first gambit in a second attack by the future Brotherhood – hulking monster Ice-Thing, Deadpool, a Hank McCoy somehow consecrated to evil, psychotic shapeshifter Raze, super-strong Molly Hayes (from the Runaways) and Marvel Girl’s psionic remnant Xorn – led by the son of Charles Xavier

Chapter three reveals the uncanny origins of the wicked Xavier and his crusade to destroy his father’s legacy. As the invaders storm the facility, Xorn turns the psychically conjoined Stepford SistersCeleste, Mindee and Phoebe – into a telepathic torture engine to torment and take out the students…

In the melee one casualty discovers a new superpower and the tables turn when the real X-23 bursts in, eager to pay back her recent murder in kind…

Xavier’s objective is Jean and, as he psychically engages her, his insane true motivations are revealed for the first time, as is a fortuitous secret – not all of his team are volunteers…

He is also completely unaware of and unprepared for the changes wrought by her ordeal in outer space and soon the battle goes catastrophically against him. The one good thing about time travel, however, is that that you can try, try, try again…

To Be Continued…

Dark, moody, chronally complex, convoluted and explosively cathartic, One Down blends brooding tension and sinister suspense with staggering all-out action and comes with a stunning 10 covers-&-variants gallery by Immonen, Von Grawbadger, Rafael Grampa, Frank Cho, Alex Ross and Matthieu Forichon as well as AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) for access to story bonuses once you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smartphone or Android-enabled tablet.
™ and © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Uncanny Avengers: Avenge the Earth


By Rick Remender, Daniel Acuña & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-627-4

If you haven’t read the Avengers for a while then you’ve got lots of catching up to do.

What You Need to Know: Once upon a time mutant hero Wanda Maximoff – daughter of arch-villain Magneto and known to the world as the Scarlet Witch – married android warrior The Vision and they had (through the agency of magic and her unsuspected chaos-energy fuelled ability to reshape Reality) twin boys. Over the course of time it was revealed that her beloved sons were mere magical constructs which subsequently vanished (for further details see Marvel Platinum: the Definitive Avengers).

Years passed and the loss drove Wanda mad. When she finally slipped over the edge her resultant slaughter-spree destroyed many of her Avenger comrades. The effects of her actions spread to reshape the entire Marvel Universe, resulting in the team’s dissolution and climactic reboot (Avengers Disassembled and New Avengers: Breakout).

The team had barely recovered from that catastrophe before she overwrote Reality again, altering recent Earth history such that mutants ruled over a society where humans were an evolutionary dead-end, living out their lives and destined for extinction within two generations.

It took a legion of champions and a huge helping of luck to put that genie back in a bottle (see House of M), but in the aftermath less only 198 mutants existed on Earth…

The Witch was partially rehabilitated and began her quest for redemption during Avengers versus X-Men where the World’s Mightiest Heroes strove against the remaining mutants for control of Hope Summers: a girl born to be the mortal host of implacable force of cosmic destruction and creation known as The Phoenix.

However the primal phenomenon instead possessed a quintet of X-Men, corrupting them by manifesting their dream of making Earth a paradise for besieged, beleaguered Homo Superior and hell for humanity.

At the height of the clash mankind was briefly enslaved by resurgent mutants before the appetites of the omnipotent Phoenix Force caused those possessed by it to turn upon each other. Soon its transcendent power transformed rallying figurehead and mutant freedom-fighter Cyclops into another apparently unstoppable, insatiable “Dark Phoenix”.

At that crossroads moment his beloved mentor Charles Xavier, founder of the X-Men and formulator of the aspiration of peaceful mutant/human co-existence, returned – only to be killed by his most devoted disciple…

Professor X’s death united X-Men and Avengers in a joint effort which overthrew the cosmic avatar but, in the days following the departure of the Phoenix Force, progress and reconciliation stalled. The mostly human world festered with fresh resentment even as new mutants began to manifest, and it wasn’t long before mankind fell into its old habits of intolerance, violence and bigoted, vigilante outrages…

When undying über-Nazi Red Skull stole Xavier’s brain and appropriated the deceased mutant’s awesome telepathic abilities, his terrorist outrages were halted by a new team of Avengers: one formed by Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. to counter the rising tide of inter-species hostility…

Having been born out of one wave of genocidal race-wars, the Sentinel of Liberty was painfully aware that America’s mutant minority had been poorly served – when not actively institutionally discriminated against – and sought to make amends by publicly adopting Xavier’s utopian vision. To that end he convened the high-profile, affirmatively-active Avengers Unity Division, comprising human and mutant heroes working together.

The quintessential Avenger chose former government agent Havok (Cyclops’ brother Alex Summers) to lead the team, which consisted of himself, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Rogue, Wolverine, Sunfire, Wonder Man and the Wasp.

Later, at a press conference inducting the latter two, the group was ambushed by the Grim Reaper and the clash ended with Rogue killing the psychopath in full view of the watching world. In one shocking instant the entire enterprise seemed utterly undermined with all that hard-won pro-mutant progress wasted…

Still reeling from that setback the Unity Division were then blasted into universal overdrive as the eternal rivalry between arch-nemesis Kang the Conqueror and his elder self Immortus resurfaced with the attack of future-reared mutant Dark Messiahs The Apocalypse Twins

Through temporal manipulation they appropriated mystic Asgardian war-axe JarnBjorn - a weapon capable of killing even space god Celestials – and set about reordering our present where all-powerful scourge Apocalypse had recently been killed.

Many attempted to replace him as mutant messiah and exterminator of humanity. On solar-orbiting Starcore Station his son Genocide petitioned the terrifying Celestials to accept him as their new agent.

Celestials are a crucial component in the mechanics of the cosmos; their only interest being the raw, unstoppable processes of evolution. The Apocalypse Twins exercised their claim by using JarnBjorn to murder the supposedly-omnipotent Celestial Gardener: framing humanity for the blasphemy and thereby endangering the very fabric of existence…

The Scarlet Witch’s relationship with Wonder Man had been strained ever since she killed and resurrected him, and the traumatised energy being had reacted in many odd ways. For one thing he became a pacifist, willing to help the Avengers in every way possible – except by fighting – and eventually declared himself Wanda’s devoted lover…

The Avengers could not stop the Twins crashing the space-station on Rio de Janeiro, although Thor and Sunfire did save the city from utter obliteration.

The Twins were reacting to years of cruel deceit. Raised by Kang in time-warped isolation in a private concentration camp in 4145AD, Eimin and Uriel eventually deduced their patron’s motives were self-serving and resolved only to trust each other whilst saving their own embattled species…

To that end they constituted their own squad of Four Horsemen of Apocalypse to winnow humanity and its heroes. These latest heralds of mutant Rapture and human Armageddon were not the bio-engineered living creatures their predecessor preferred, though. Instead Eimin and Uriel opted for a quartet of dead apostles – Sentry, Banshee, Daken and Grim Reaper – to pave their way to mutant ascendancy…

When Immortus informed Captain America of the plot and the ghastly consequences should the Twins win the war to control all times, spaces and realities, he also included undisclosed details of Wolverine’s murderous past, and the Unity team split over issues of philosophy and pragmatism…

Thus Havok was hard-pressed to keep the Avengers focused before the onslaught of the Twins’ zombie Horsemen, and their attack failed…

The Twins were actually enacting a secret agenda: tricking Wanda and her lover into using her world-warping powers to bring about the long-desired Mutant Rapture…

Despite destroying Uriel, the Uncanny Avengers could not stop Eimin from altering the timeline. Earth was obliterated by Celestial Executioner Exitar and Planet X became the homeworld of the entire mutant race.

Six years later, Havok, his wife The Wasp and time-travel expert The Beast work as a resistance cell, trying to unmake the new history and restore a reality they feel to be the right one…

Collecting Uncanny Avengers #18-22 (published May-September 2014), this time-rending confection kicks everything into chaotic overload as Alex Summers battles old mutant foes and even former friends on a world which is a literal paradise for Homo Superior. Despite the best efforts of Magneto and his fanatical followers they eventually succeed but reality does not immediately revert.

Instead Kang appears with an army of the multiverse’s greatest villains – and even a few future heroes – with some bad news…

Although the Dam is down, this reality will persist unless Havoc can gather the survivors of the Uncanny Avengers and send their consciousnesses back in time to prevent the key events from ever transpiring.

To ensure Alex complies, Kang then steals his daughter Katie, promising to keep her safe from all the necessary time-alterations, but the grizzled mutant knows a veiled threat and extortion when he sees them…

Eimin is also aware of the temporal manipulations and rouses the mutant defenders of Planet X to stop Havok, Wasp and Beast. Amongst the hit-squad sent to foil them are their oldest friends and even Alex’s brother Cyclops.

Amidst the spectacular clashes, another scheme is being played out and the resistors’ hopeless cause is successful due to a last-minute switching of allegiances by a mutant high in the hierarchy of power of the X-World…

Soon the minds of Alex, Wasp, Sunfire, Wolverine and Thor are back in their younger bodies just as Earth is facing its final moments. Some heroes warn Wanda and Wonder Man that they are being tricked by Eimin whilst others intercept Tony Stark and the Vision as they obliviously prepare to lead a coalition of Avengers, Doctor Doom plus an army of metahumans – good and evil – against the planet-sized Exitar: the outraged Celestials’ official executioner and sentient Extinction Event.

Forearmed with future knowledge, the humans destroy the lethal Celestial, but this only leaves the duplicitous and Machiavellian Kang and his Chronos Corp in control of the miraculously saved and restored world. The entire campaign has been orchestrated by the Conqueror to place him in ultimate control of the universe…

Kang, however, has not reckoned on the determination and outrage of grieving father Havok, nor the last ditch heroics of his ultimate rival Immortus and a hastily convened Infinity Watch of cosmic champions including The Guardians of the Galaxy, Silver Surfer, Nova, the Phoenix, Starfox and Universal Protector Captain Mar-Vell

In the shattering aftermath of that final all-out confrontation, most – but not all – Avengers are restored to life, and many who have been resurrected will never be the same, physically or emotionally.

And the thought occurs… what will the Celestials do when they learn of their punishing agent’s death?

Scripted by Rick Remender, gloriously illustrated by Daniel Acuña, and offering a covers-&-variants by Acuña, Greg Land, Frank D’Armata, Lee Weeks, Paul Mounts, Katie Cook, In-Hyuk Lee, Agustin Alessio, Rob Guillory and John Tyler Christopher, here is pure superhero adventure at its most apocalyptic.

This bombastic, bewildering, breathtaking, utterly compulsive and convoluted saga may be a bit daunting for casual readers, but dedicated followers of high-octane Costumed Dramas will no doubt adore the fantastic premise, incredible action and staggering scope of events.
™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Lobey’s The Wee Boy! – Five Lobey Dosser adventures by Bud Neill


By Bud Neill, compiled by Ranald MacColl (Mainstream Publishing)
ISBN: 1-85158-405-6

Nobody’s ever accused me of being sensitive to the tone of the times, but with all thoughts directed north of the border for so long now, I’ve decided to feature this superbly unique dose of Celtic (more properly Glaswegian) cartoon magic today.

It’s the work of a tragically near-forgotten genius of pen and brush who should rightly be a household name wherever people like to laugh and ponder the absurdity of existence, no matter what flag they fly.

William Neill – forever immortalised as “Bud” – was born in 1911 in Partick just before the family moved to Troon in Ayrshire. He was a typical kid and fell in love with the brash wonder of silent movies – most especially the rambunctious westerns of William S. Hart.

His other great drive was a love of horses, and he could always be found hanging around stables, trading odd jobs for the chance of a few minutes’ riding.

After finishing school the young artistic star won a place at Glasgow School of Art. In the late 1930s Bud briefly emigrated, working in Canada and absorbing the tricks of America’s greatest newspaper cartoonists in their creative heyday.

He served as a gunner during WWII but was invalided out and became a bus driver. These experiences led to his creating a series of pocket cartoons starring the “Caurs & Clippies” of Glasgow’s tramcar system.

By 1944 Bud was drawing for the Glasgow Evening Times: sharp, wry observational pieces starring the city and its inhabitants, characterised by a devastating and instantly enchanting use of the iconic rhythms, vernacular and argot everyone shared.

In January 1949 The Evening News began running the uniquely surreal escapades of his greatest creation. Sheriff Lobey Dosser of Calton Creek was a brilliant inspiration: the adventures of a canny wee lawman in a hauntingly typical western town populated exclusively by Scots (from Glasgow’s Calton district, presumably) living an outrageously domestic, hilariously apt inner city life all whilst tricked out in cowboy hats and six-guns…

Delving deep into the venerable, anarchic and often surreal material of music hall and pantomime, Bud crafted a supremely odd, anachronistically familiar, bizarrely inviting world of solecism masquerading as local events. The series transferred to The Sunday Mail in 1956 where it became so popular that previous, complete strip adventures were collected in instant sell-out, one shilling landscape booklets (all incredibly sought after collectors’ items these days).

Neill died in 1970 but his work steadily continued to garner fans and acquire a mythical status, so by the middle of the decade Glasgow artist and sculptor Ranald MacColl began work on a biography.

That in turn led to a series of graphic collections such as this one and eventually belated recognition for Neill and his most memorable creations.

Bud was subsequently celebrated in exhibitions, galleries and, following Glasgow’s becoming European City of Culture in 1990, two separate bronze statues (Lobey, Rank Bajin and noble steed Elfie in Woodlands Road and, in Homecoming Year 2009, The G.I. Bride and her “Wean” at Partick Station), funded by public donations, Strathclyde Passenger Transport and private sponsors.

Hard to find but so worth the effort, Lobey’s The Wee Boy! gathers the contents of five of those shilling collections in a sensibly narrative chronological – not publication or even creation – order and is packed with informative extras such as MacColl’s fascinating historical and atmospheric Introduction and a hilarious Prologue by Bud himself from 1958, before the astonishing origin of the champion of Calton Creek is revealed in ‘Lobey Dosser: His Life Story’.

On a rare quiet day the grizzled sheriff recounts his early life to a jail full of impressionable young’uns…

Once upon a time in auld Glesca a mother had one bairn too many and the precocious tyke, to spare her further hardship, put his possessions in a hanky on a stick and headed off to make his way in the world.

Although only a few months old, he rejected being fostered out to his mean Auntie Mabel and joined a merchant ship under the tyrannical Captain Blackswite, unaware that the big shouty blackguard was a pirate…

After many exciting years at sea Lobey jumped ship and was befriended by cannibals and their erudite chief Hannibal which led to more exploring, meeting monsters and other strange things before encountering a race of Oxbridge-educated white savages and happily acquiring a rare two-legged horse.

El Fideldo was to become his greatest friend and inseparable companion. Together they made their way to Mexico where the wee wanderer discovered an unsuspected talent for upholding the law and keeping the peace. After cleaning out a nest of vicious banditos the restless pair headed north and soon fetched up in Laredo, Texas where a disastrous love affair with Adoda, formidable daughter of wealthy Whisk E. Glorr, led to a clash with rustlers led by scurrilous Watts Koakin

His heart broken – even though he had cleaned up the range – Dosser and Elfie kept heading west until they reached Arizona and first met future arch-nemesis Rank Bajin selling out the wagon train he was guiding to the local Sioux…

Rescuing the embattled settlers, Lobey decided to stay with the Scots expats as they built a town in the wilderness.  They called it Calton Creek…

Wild, imaginative and with every daily episode loaded with sight gags, striking slapstick, punishing puns, cartoon in-jokes and intoxicating vernacular, each Lobey Dosser tale was a non-stop carnival of graphic mirth and this terrific tome continues in fine fettle with ‘The Mail Robbery’ wherein nefarious Bajin attempts to incite an Indian uprising amongst the Pawnee of Chief Toffy Teeth and leaves the little lawman to die of thirst in the searing deserts. As the scorched sheriff struggles to survive, the naïve citizens are left to adapt to a protective occupation by flash Yankee G.I.s and airmen…

Sardonic and satirically cutting, the yarn also sports one of the best – and daftest – horseback chases in entertainment history…

Romance and mystery abound in ‘The Secret of Hickory Hollow’ as that Bajin scoundrel buys up the mortgage on Vinegar Hill’s farm and tries to kick out the old coot and his substantial niece Honey Perz. The villain has got wind of a mineral resource on the property that would make a man as wealthy as the Maharaja of Baroda, or perhaps even a regional Deputy Superintendent of the Coal Board…

When Lobey organises the cash needed to pay off the outstanding loan, Bajin reluctantly resorts to the last resort and begins romancing sweet, innocent, hulking Honey…

It all looks bleak for justice until the sheriff befriends an astoundingly good-looking and wholesome uranium prospector named Hart O’Gold who quickly tickles Honey’s fickle fancy…

However nobody – including ghostly guardian Rid Skwerr – is prepared for the soviet spies behind the entire affair to jump in take over and it needs the timely intervention of mystic imp Fairy Nuff to save their accumulated hash before the Dosser can finally expose the viper in the nest…

The local natives are always up to mischief and ‘The Indian War’ kicks off when the railroad tries to lay track through Pawnee Territory just as Chief Rubber Lugs of the Blackfeet Tribe revisits an old and outstanding grudge with Chief Toffy Teeth.

The ineffectual Captain Goodenough arrives with a division of cavalry to safeguard the white citizenry but matters soon worsen, painfully exacerbated when the folk of Calton Creek take advantage of Lobey’s absence (he’s trying to negotiate with both bunches of bellicose braves) to run Rank Bajin out of town and the hooded hoodlum starts freely peddling weapons to both sides…

…And then Bajin kills Lobey and takes over the town.

…And then…

The last yarn in this monochrome tome of tall tales is the most incredible of all as ‘The “Reform” of Rank Bajin’ sees the vile villain scooting around Calton Creek doing good deeds and selling off his astounding arsenal of wicked weapons and cunning contraband. Baffled, perplexed, confused and not sure what’s going on, Lobey asks Boot Hill haunter Rid Skwerr to spy on the no-longer reprehensible Rank and even love-struck Fairy Nuff gets in on the act.

The astounding truth finally emerges: Bajin has a boy who is growing up honest, so he is selling up and returning to the family he deserted in Borstal Bluffs, Iowa to sort the shameful lad out. Knowing the tremendous vacuum his absence will leave in Calton’s exciting landscape, however, he has a recommendation for a locum arch-enemy for his arch-enemy…

Can this possibly all be true or is the beastly Bajin executing his most sinister scheme yet?

Cunningly absurdist, socially aware, humorously harnessed insanity in the manner of Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and the immortal Goon Show, the adventures of Lobey Dosser are a brilliant example of comic strips perfectly tailored to a specific time, place and audience which magically transcend their origins to become a masterpiece of the art form.

It’s also side-splitting, laugh-out-loud, Irn Bru spit-take hilarious and really needs to be recollected for today’s audiences.

And of course that’s what I really want: a complete reprinting of these sublimely perfect spoofs.

And once you read some so will you…
© Ranald MacColl 1992. All rights reserved.