Adventures of Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-820-8(HB) 978-1-40520-632-7(Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Get ’Em All… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a timeless masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi began working for conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, one year later the artist was producing his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his supremely popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even of being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands, which allowed Remi and his growing studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist occupiers and reluctantly added to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising post-war exercises also generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon.

With the war over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

Sadly, Hergé’s personal life was less satisfactory, but although plagued by physical and mental health problems, the travails only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities…

Le Bijoux de la Castafiore was serialised in Le Journal de Tintin from 4th July 1961 to September 4th 1962 with the inevitable book collection released in 1963. For the first time, The English edition was published in the same years as its European original…

The Castafiore Emerald is quite a departure from the eerie bleak thriller that preceded it (Tintin in Tibet) and the general run of globetrotting tales. The resolution of that icy escapade seemed to have purged much of the turmoil and trauma from the artist’s psyche.

His production rate – but not the quality – slowed to a leisurely crawl as he became a world traveller himself, visiting America, Taiwan and many other places he had featured in the exploits of his immortal boy reporter. Fans would wait fifteen years for these last three adventures to be done.

When the blithely unstoppable operatic grand dame Bianca Castafiore imposes herself on Captain Haddock at Marlinspike Hall – complete with fawning entourage and a swarm of reporters in hot pursuit – she turns the place upside down, destroying the irascible mariner’s peace-of-mind.

A flighty force of nature claiming to crave isolation and quiet recuperation, the Diva floods Marlinspike with anxiety, just as Tintin and the Captain are attempting to win fair treatment for a roving band of gipsies (let’s call them Roma now, shall we?).

Much to the chagrin of the irascible mariner, when the pride of Castafiore’s fabulous jewels is stolen, events take a constantly escalating, surreal and particularly embarrassing turn before Tintin finally solves the case through calm, cool deduction.

Unlike the rest of the canon, this tale is restricted – like a drawing room mystery – to one locale: the impressive house and grounds inherited by Haddock as inhabited by a hilarious cast of regulars including acerbic, long-suffering butler Nestor and deranged genius Professor Calculus. It reads very much like an Alfred Hitchcock sparkling thriller from the 1950s: Light, airy, even frothy in places, with the emphasis always on laughs…

There are no real villains but plenty of diabolical happenstance generating slapstick action and wry humour while affording Hergé plenty of opportunities to take pot-shots at the media, Society – High and low – and even the then-pervasive and ever-growing phenomenon of television itself.

The tale was published in 1961. It would be five years until the next one.

At least you don’t have to wait: this comics masterpiece can – and should – be yours as soon as possible.
The Castafiore Emerald: artwork © 1963 by Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1963 Methuen & Co Ltd. All rights reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers


By Marshall Rogers, Bob Rozakis, Steve Englehart, Dennis J. O’Neil, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, James Robinson, Terry Austin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3227-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Bat-Magic… 10/10

William Marshall Rogers (January 22nd 1950 – March 24th 2007) was a true but quiet giant of comic books. He was born in Flushing, Queens region of New York City and attended Kent State University in Ohio (yeah, that Kent State) where he trained as an architect.

He afterwards worked lots of menial jobs – both inside the arts industries and the real world – before his first work was published, and that only after years of trying, getting close and resolutely trying harder and always getting better at his craft. He was first published in Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine after which he got his big break at DC under editor Julie Schwartz, doing superhero back-up strips in prestigious title Detective Comics.

That led to work on Batman and a fortuitous pairing with high-level Marvel defector Steve Englehart in 1977.

A period of pure magic resulted and the creators would reunite regularly thereafter: on Mister Miracle, Madame Xanadu (DC first direct sale title), Eclipse’s I am Coyote, Scorpio Rose and Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Silver Surfer, as well as Batman sequel series Dark Detective.

In 1989, he was the first artist for the revived Batman newspaper strip (from November 6th until January 21st 1990.

Always in demand, Rogers worked on countless features for many companies over the years but was at his boldly experimental best drawing Howard the Duck and G.I. Joe, adapting Harlan Ellison’s Demon With a Glass Hand (1986) and illustrating Don McGregor’s noir thriller Detectives Inc.: A Remembrance of Threatening Green. Perhaps his most personal contribution was his own charming fantasy Cap’n Quick and a Foozle

Although his contributions to Batman’s canon were relatively few, they are all of exceptional quality and this commemorative hardback and digital tome reprints Roger’s contributions from Detective Comics #468, 471-476, 478, 479, 481; DC Special Series #15, Secret Origins #6; Legends of the Dark Knight #132-136 and Dark Detective #1-6, cumulatively spanning April 1977 to September 2005.

This fabulous celebration opens sans preamble in ‘Battle of the Thinking Machines’, scripted by Bob Rozakis and inked by Terry Austin. The big fight yarn was the culmination of a series of solo stories starring rotating back up stars Green Arrow, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Hawkman and the Atom wherein each singly battled computerised schemer The Calculator. Here, the villain returns to face lead hero Batman at the front of the book, with all the aforementioned costumed champions in attendance as the Printed Circuit Predator sought a way to inoculate himself from all future superheroic interference…

In the mid-1970s Marvel were kicking the stuffing out of DC Comics in terms of sales if not quality product. The most sensible solution – as always – seemed to be to poaching away top talent. That strategy had limited long-term success but one major defection was Steve Englehart, who had recently scripted groundbreaking, award winning work on the Avengers, Defenders and Dr. Strange titles.

He was given the Justice League of America for a year but also requested – and was given – the Batman slot in flagship title Detective Comics. Expected to be daring, innovative and forward looking, he instead chose to invoke a classic and long-departed style which became a new signature interpretation, and one credited with inspiring the 1989 movie mega-blockbuster. It also gibed perfectly with the notions of Rogers and his inseparable inker Austin. Initially Englehart was paired with artists Walt Simonson & Al Milgrom for the series, introducing in ‘…By Death’s Eerie Light!’ and ‘The Origin of Dr Phosphorus’; not only a skeletal, radioactive villain but also the corrupt City Council of Rupert “Boss” Thorne.

In those issues – not included here – the Caped Crusader first isolated and then outlawed in his own city. The team also provided the sequel ‘The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus!’ which introduced another landmark character: captivating Modern Woman Silver St. Cloud.

With issue #471 (August 1977) relative newcomers Rogers & Austin took over the art chores and true magic began to be made. As the scripts brought back golden-age and revered A-list villains, the art captured and reinforced the power and moodiness of the strip’s formative years whilst adding to the unique and distinctive iconography of the Batman.

Last seen in Detective Comics #46 (1940), quintessential Mad Scientist Hugo Strange came closer than any other villain to destroying both Bruce Wayne and the Batman in ‘The Dead Yet Live’ and ‘I Am The Batman!’ (Detective #471 and #472 respectively), briefly stealing his identity and setting in motion a diabolical scheme that would run through the entire sequence…

Teen Wonder Robin returned in Detective Comics #473’s ‘The Malay Penguin!’ as podgy Napoleon of Crime the Penguin challenged a temporarily reunited Dynamic Duo to an entrancing, intoxicating duel of wits, after which ‘The Deadshot Ricochet’ updates an old loser in the second ever appearance of a murderous high society dilettante sniper (after an initial outing in Batman #59, 1950). The tale so reinvigorated the third-rate trick-shooter that he’s seldom been missing from the DC Universe since; starring in a number of series such as Suicide Squad and Secret Six, and even in a couple of eponymous miniseries and on both silver and small screens.

The best was saved for last, with all the sub-plots concerning Silver St. Cloud, Boss Thorne, Gotham City Council, and even a recurring ghost culminating in THE classic confrontation with The Joker.

The absolute zenith in this short, stellar sequence resurrecting old foes could only star the Dark Knight’s nemesis at his most chaotic. Cover-dated February and April 1978, Detective #475-476 introduces ‘The Laughing Fish’ before culminating in ‘The Sign of the Joker!’: one of the most reprinted Bat-tales ever concocted. It was later adapted as an episode of award-winning Batman: The Animated Adventures TV show in the 1990s.

In fact, you’ve probably already read it. But if you haven’t… what a treat you have awaiting you! Manic and murderous, the Harlequin of Hate goes on a murder spree after mutating fish.

As sea food with the Joker’s horrific smile turn up in catches all over the Eastern Seaboard, the Clown Prince attempts to trademark them. When patent officials foolishly tell him it can’t be done, they start dying… publicly, impossibly and incredibly painfully…

The story culminates in a spectacularly apocalyptic clash among the city’s rooftops which shaped and informed the Batman mythos for the next two decades…

Having said all he wanted to say, Steve Englehart left Batman and soon after quit comics for a few years. After a reprinted story in #477, Rogers drew one last extended adventure for #478-479…

Len Wein scripted ‘The Coming of… Clayface III’ and ‘If a Man be Made of Clay…’ with Dick Giordano replacing Austin as inker on a tale of obsession and tragedy. Another Golden Age villain got a contemporary make-over. Here a deranged scientist seeks to cure his deformed body and instead becomes a walking, predatory disease until the overmatched manhunter steps in…

‘Death Strikes at Midnight and Three’ is taken from all-Batman DC Special Series#15 (Summer 1978): an ambitious if not totally successful text-thriller in pulp style marrying a wealth of superb illustrations by Rogers to Denny O’Neil’s uncharacteristically lacklustre prose as the Gotham Gangbuster hunts a murderous self-proclaimed genius of crime through the city night.

O’Neil & Rogers were far more effective in crafting enigmatic, experimentally retro comics tale ‘Ticket to Tragedy’ (Detective Comics #481 December 1978/January 1979), with Batman stalking a killer from London to America to prove to a disillusioned scientist that justice could still be found for the innocent…

After a long time away, Rogers – and Austin – returned to the Dark Knight in ‘Secret Origin of The Golden Age Batman’ (Secret Origins #6 September 1986), wherein Roy Thomas précised and codified the history of the 1940s (or Earth-2) hero just in time for ongoing sensation Crisis on Infinite Earths to wipe it all away in a new unified, rationalised DCU.

Post-Crisis, Legends of the Dark Knight was a Batman title employing star guest creators to reimagine the hero’s history and past cases for modern audiences.

Devised by Archie Goodwin, James Robinson, Rogers, Bob Wiacek & John C. Cebollero, issues #132-136 (August-December 2000) explore Wayne family history in story arc ‘Siege’ as an elderly mercenary and his deadly team return to Gotham in ‘Assembly’. Colonel Brass has a multi-layered plan for profit and personal gratification that harks back to the old days when he was a trusted aide and virtual son to Bruce’s grandfather Jack Wayne.

Regrettably, as seen in ‘Assault’, ‘Breach’, ‘Battle’ and ‘Defense’, that involves not only duping business woman Silver St. Cloud and plundering the city but also taking over Wayne Mansion, and digging down to some old hidden caves (now fully-inhabited and packed with Bat paraphernalia). Of course, if that entails wiping out any surviving Waynes who might keep Brass from his long-awaited revenge and reward, that’s just a well-deserved bonus…

Under Englehart, Rogers & Austin, Detective Comics managed to be nostalgically avant-garde and iconoclastically traditional at the same time, setting both the tone and the character structure of Batman for decades to come, and leading, indirectly, to both an award-winning animated TV series and the blockbuster movie of 1989. That made thoughts of a reunion run both constant and inevitable – like a school reunion where you forget yourself for a moment, then catch yourself pogoing to “God Save the Queen” in the bar mirror. Of course, the truth is you can’t ever go back and you just look like an idiot doing it now.

Although not quite as bad as that, Batman: Dark Detective #1-6 (July-September 2005) suffers from an excess of trying too hard as Englehart, Rogers & Austin reunited to recount what happened after the major players reassembled on ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ as Silver St. Cloud returns to Gotham to help her new fiancé Senator Evan Gregory secure his nomination as a Gubernatorial candidate. That means looking for donations from old lover Bruce Wayne, but events are further complicated when the Joker announces his own run for the role. His tactics can be best described by his own slogan “Vote for Me …Or I’ll Kill You”.

The plot thickens in ‘You May See a Stranger’ as – amidst a growing bodycount – other lethal loons make their own sinister sorties. Now, as well as The Joker’s terrifyingly unconventional political aspirations, Batman also has to deal with The Scarecrow’s unwitting release of Wayne’s repressed memories of a murder attempt upon himself the night after his parents were killed, and a frankly ludicrous clone-plot as Two Face tries to fix himself through Mad Science.

Before long, the shamefully inescapable occurs as Bruce and Silver succumb to long-thwarted unresolved passions in ‘Two Faces Have I’

Plagued by guilt – both long entrenched and of more recent vintage – the Dark Knight writhes in manufactured nightmares even as fresh horrors are actually happening in grim reality. ‘Thriller’ sees the Maniac of Mirth abduct Silver and her recently un-engaged would-be Governor joins Batman in a rescue bid in ‘Everybody Dance Now’ that leads only to tragedy and doom in catastrophic concluding chapter ‘House’

Rounding out the magnificent mystery and mayhem is a lengthy Cover Gallery by Rogers and his many inkers and colourists.

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and scenes just as compelling now as then and Marshall Roger’s vision of Batman is a unique and iconic one. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy and this lavish compilation is a treat any Batfan or comics aficionado will always treasure.
© 1977,1978, 1979, 1986, 2000, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

James Bond: Hammerhead


By Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-322-4 (HB) 978-1-52410-713-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Blockbuster Entertainment… 10/10

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s novel creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to every new movie, game or novel.

Amongst those various iterations are some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never truly found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection – available in hardback trade paperback and digital iterations – is probably one of them. It originates from 2017, compiling a 6-issue miniseries from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment.

Their fabulously engaging take on the veteran antihero was originally redefined by Warren Ellis & illustrator Jason Masters, who jettisoned decades of gaudy paraphernalia that had accumulated around the ultimate franchise star, opting instead for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense agent who is all business. Successive creative teams have maintained that sleek, swift efficiency and at last Andy (The Losers, Green Arrow: Year One, Shadowland, Gamekeeper, Uncanny) Diggle: a British writer seemingly born to extend the adventures of 007.

Deftly and effectively handling the stunning visuals is Luca Casalanguida whose art – in combination with colourist Chris Blythe and letterer Simon Bowland – stirs wonderfully potent echoes of illustrator Yaroslav Horak who made the original newspaper strip such a heady delight.

This high-tech terrorism tale opens with Bond in Venezuela, bloodily failing his assignment to capture lethal hacker-for-hire Saxon and gather intel on enigmatic terrorist Kraken. Hauled – after the opening credits, of course – back to MI6 HQ in Vauxhall Cross, London, the agent is suitably carpeted by M before being fobbed off with a babysitting job.

His charge is Lord Bernard Hunt, a British Arms magnate currently upgrading the UK’s tired old Trident Nuclear arsenal. Hunt’s company is also a major exporter of cutting-edge weaponry, and Bond is to shadow him at an arms fair in Dubai…

Thankfully there’s compensation of a sort as the gunsmith’s luscious daughter Victoria is also the firm’s Vice President. A dedicated patriot and anglophile, “Tory” finds plenty of ways to amuse the bodyguard: everything from a guided tour of the company’s new super toy – a colossal rail gun dubbed Hammerhead – to drinking and games…

Tragically, Kraken is again one step ahead of Bond and the mission goes disastrously wrong…

Meanwhile back in Blighty, an attack on a Hunt helicopter in Scotland results in the loss of a mothballed Trident warhead…

With Tory’s help, Bond is soon on the track of the suspected perpetrators. After a great deal of research, battle and bloodshed, a trail leads to Yemeni smuggler Karim Malfakhar. However, despite being responsible for most of the bodycount, Bond is not content with how the mission is unfolding. Something is not right…

Black Crannog is Hunt’s Nuclear Reprocessing Facility: a sea platform in the Outer Hebrides where Tory welcomes M, Miss Moneypenny and Defence Secretary Simon Wallis to discuss the crisis. When Kraken springs a trap, not all of them survive…

Happily, in the interim, Bond has put all the piece together correctly and is heading for the rig in a Royal Navy Ballistic Missile Submarine with a full team of SBS (Special Boat Service) commandos. As Kraken proudly initiates the final stage of a plan to nuke London and usher in a new era of warfare, Bond makes another spectacular last-ditch assault to save the day and kill his latest foe.

Luckily, Black Crannog is literally packed with super weapons…

Offering all the traditional Bond set-pieces such as exotic locales, spectacular chases and astoundingly protracted fight sequences, this is a rousing mystery romp fans will adore, supported by a gallery of eye-catching variant covers by Francesco Francavilla, Robert Hack & Ron Salas, plus art features detailing Casalanguida’s process from layout to finished line art and character design sketches.

This riotous espionage episode is fast, furious and impeccably stylish: in short, another ideal James Bond thriller, that will leave you both shaken and stirred…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Mike Friedrich, Barry Alfonso, Tom Orzechowski, Bill Mantlo, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Chic Stone & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0351-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Iron Clad Entertainment Gold… 8/10

Arch-technocrat and supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963) when, whilst a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of the munitions he had designed, the inventor was critically wounded and captured by sinister, savage Communists.

Put to work building weapons with the dubious promise of medical assistance on completion, Stark instead created the first Iron Man suit to keep himself alive and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a simple jump to full time superheroics as a modern Knight in Shining Armour…

First conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when Western economies were booming and “Commie-bashing” was an American national obsession, the emergence of a new and shining young Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World, seemed an obvious development. Combining the then-sacrosanct faith that technology and business in unison could solve any problem, with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, Stark – the Invincible Iron Man – seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, whilst he was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history.

With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

With glamour, money and fancy gadgetry not quite so cool anymore the questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America…

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium – available in hardback and digital editions – completes that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #68-81 (June 1974 – December 1975) and offering one last insightful measure of historical context courtesy of then-departing writer Mike Friedrich’s Introduction.

Iron Man #68-71 comprised the opening sortie in a multi-part epic which saw mystic menace The Black Lama foment a war amongst the world’s greatest villains, with ultimate power, inner peace and a magical Golden Globe as the promised prizes.

Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by Tuska & Mike Esposito, it all begins in Vietnam on the ‘Night of the Rising Sun!’ where the Mandarin struggles to free his consciousness which is currently trapped within the dying body of Russian super-villain the Unicorn.

Stark’s pacifist love interest Roxie Gilbert had dragged the inventor to the recently “liberated” People’s Republic in search of (part-time Iron Man) Eddie March’s lost brother Marty: a POW missing since the last days of the war. Before long, however, the Americans are separated after Japanese ultra-nationalist, ambulatory atomic inferno and sometime X-Man Sunfire is tricked into attacking the intrusive Yankee Imperialists…

The assault abruptly ends once Mandarin shanghaies the Solar Samurai and uses his mutant energies to power a mind-transfer back into his own body. Reinstated in his original form, the Chinese Conqueror commences his own campaign of combat in earnest, eager to regain his castle from rival oriental overlord Yellow Claw.

Firstly, though, he must crush Iron Man – who had tracked him down and freed Sunfire in ‘Confrontation!’ That bombastic battle ends when the Golden Avenger is rendered unconscious and thrown into space…

‘Who Shall Stop… Ultimo?’ then finds the reactivated giant robot-monster targeting the Mandarin’s castle (claimed by the Claw in a previous battle) as the sinister Celestial duels the ancient enemy to the death, with both Iron Man and Sunfire arriving too late and forced to mop up the sole survivor of the contest in ‘Battle: Tooth and Yellow Claw! (Confrontation Part 3)’…

After all that Eastern Armageddon, a change of pace was called for, so Stark takes in the San Diego Comicon in #72’s ‘Convention of Fear!’ (by Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta, from a plot by Barry Alfonso), only to find himself ambushed by fellow incognito attendees Whiplash, Man-Bull and The Melter – who are made an offer they should have refused by the ubiquitous Black Lama…

Next issue the Super-Villain War kicks into high gear with ‘Turnabout: A Most Foul Play!’ (illustrated by Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & Jim Mooney and derived from a premise by letterer Tom Orzechowski).

After secret-sharing confidantes Pepper Potts-Hogan and her husband Happy settle a long-festering squabble with Tony at Stark International’s Manila plant, Iron Man returns to Vietnam and a deadly clash with the Crimson Dynamo in a hidden, high-tech jungle city which is subsequently razed to the ground by their explosive combat.

Iron Man #74’s ‘The MODOK Machine!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) brings the Black Lama’s contest to the fore as the Mad Thinker electronically overrides the Avenger’s armour and set helpless passenger Stark upon the malevolent, mutated master of Advanced Idea Mechanics…

Without autonomy, the Golden Gladiator is easily overwhelmed and ‘Slave to the Power Imperious!’ (inked by Chic Stone) sees him dragged back to the Thinker’s lair and laid low by a strange psychic hallucination even as MODOK finishes his cognitive co-combatant and apparently turns the still-enslaved steel-shod hero on his next opponent… Yellow Claw.

As this is happening, elsewhere radical terrorist Firebrand is somehow sharing Stark’s Black Lama-inspired “psycho-feedback” episodes…

The tale wraps on a twisty cliffhanger as the Claw destroys MODOK and his clockwork puppet Avenger, only to discover that the Thinker is not only still alive but still holds the real Iron Man captive.

That’s quite unfortunate as the following issue – #76 – blew its deadline and instead reprinted Iron Man #9 (represented here by just the cover) before Friedrich, Jones & Stone’s ‘I Cry: Revenge!’ finds the fighting-mad hero breaking free of the Thinker’s control, just as Black Lama teleports the Claw in to finish his final felonious opponent…

Still extremely ticked off, the Armoured Avenger takes on all comers but is ambushed by the late-arriving Firebrand who has been psionically drawn into the ongoing melee.

As Iron Man goes down, the Lama declares non-contestant Firebrand the ultimate victor, explaining he has voyaged from an alternate universe before duping the unstable and uncaring flaming rabble-rouser into re-crossing the dimensional void with him…

Although a certifiable maniac and cold-blooded killer, Firebrand is Roxie Gilbert’s brother and the groggily reviving Iron Man feels honour-bound to follow him through the rapidly closing portal to elsewhere…

Deadline problems persisted, however, and the next two issues are both hasty fill-in tales, beginning with #78’s ‘Long Time Gone’ – by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta – which harks back to the Avenger’s early days and a mission during the Vietnam war which first brought home the cost in blood and misery Stark’s munitions building had caused. IM #79 shares ‘Midnite on Murder Mountain!’ (Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta) wherein the hero emphatically ends the scientific abominations wrought by deranged geneticist and determined mind-swapper Professor Kurakill…

At last, Iron Man #80 returned to the ongoing inter-dimensional saga as Mission into Madness!’ – Friedrich, Stone & Colletta – follows the multiversal voyagers to a very different America where warring kingdoms and principalities jostle for prestige, position and power.

Here the Lama is revealed as King Jerald of Grand Rapid: a ruler under threat from outside invaders and insidious usurpers within. He’d come to our Earth looking for powerful allies but had not realised that travel to other realms slowly drives non-indigenous residents completely crazy…

With the mind-warp effect already destabilising Iron Man and Firebrand, it’s fortunate that treacherous Baroness Rockler makes her move to kill the returned Jerald immediately, and the Earthlings are quickly embroiled in a cataclysmic ‘War of the Mind-Dragons!’ before turning on each other and fleeing the devastated kingdom for the less psychologically hazardous environs of their homeworld…

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are Gil Kane’s stellar front to all-reprint Giant-Size Iron Man #1 and a short gallery of original art covers and pages by Kane, Jones & Pollard.

With this volume Marvel fully embedded itself in the camp of the young and the restless who experienced at first hand and every day the social upheaval America was undergoing. Their rebellious teen sensibility and increased political conscience permeated forthcoming publications as the core audience grew beyond Flower Power protests into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed and repentant capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold cash…
© 1974, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Bugle Boy


By Alexandre Clérisse, translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics)
No ISBN – digital only edition

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What All Those War Stories Really Mean… 9/10

The dead don’t care what we do, but how we treat and remember them defines who we are as a culture and species. Inspired by a true story, Trompe la mort was first published in 2009, offering a humorous, whimsical tone to what must have been a pretty depressing situation…

Translated by digital-only Europe Comics, The Bugle Boy is a story of debts paid and brothers-in-arms honoured, which begins as an ageing veteran decides to settle some long outstanding affairs…

Marcel is a surviving participant of WWII, and as a surly bugger of 85-years vintage, is inexplicably moved by an impending notion to sort out unfinished business before he joins the rest of his generation in the boneyard.

Back in the war, he was a dashing young company bugler and is now increasingly unsettled at the events which forced him to bury his beloved instrument on a battlefield. As memories of those fraught, often humiliating days keep coming to him, the gritty old sod, with his feisty and unwillingly dutiful granddaughter Andrea, embark on an unpleasant, cross-country bus trek to the distant rural region where – in 1940 – he and his comrades fought their first and last battle.
Before being captured, the idealistic lad he was buried that bugle before it could be employed as it should, and now all he can think of is getting it back.

Sadly, once all the tedious and painful travails of the journey are completed, Marcel has a still-more difficult problem to solve. The instrument has been already found and turned by the Mayor into a tourist-trap badge of French patriotism. It’s grandly installed in the local town museum – which is now dedicated to bugles of all sorts – as the heart and soul of the town’s rebirth. With elections coming, the wily demagogue is planning on exploiting it and the glorious – if comfortably mis-defined – past, as the clarion symbols of his re-election campaign. He has no intention of returning it to its rightful owner.

But not if Marcel and Andrea have anything to say about it…

Writer/artist Alexandre Clérisse was born in 1980 and began seriously making comics in 1999 through a series of experimental fanzines. In 2002 he graduated from EESI school of Visual Arts in Angoulême – where he still resides – and began releasing such superbly readable Bande Dessinee as Jazz Club, Souvenir de l’empire de l’atome (seen in English as IDW’s Atomic Empire) and all-ages Seek-&-Find book Now Playing

Heartwarming and irreverent, poignant and deeply funny, The Bugle Boy has all the force and gently subversive wit of classic Dad’s Army episodes and cannot fail to hit home with any reader possessing grandparents who remember and kids who wonder what war is really like…
© 2019 – Dargaud – Clérisse. All rights reserved.

Mata Hari


By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, with Pat Masioni & Sal Cipriano (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 987-1-50670-561-3(TPB) eISBN: 987-1-50670-590-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because History is Never Straightforward or Straitlaced… 9/10

Until relatively recently (some would argue that should read “hopefully soon”), History has never really treated women well or even fairly. When not obscured, sidelined or just written out, they have been cruelly misunderstood and misrepresented.

Moreover, we’re all painfully aware these days, a bold lie or convenient fabrication has far more veracity that simple, muddled, messy truth.

Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (née Zelle) was born on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden, in the Dutch Netherlands, to milliner and later industrialist Adam Zelle. She was the eldest of four children and raised in wealth until her father lost it. Her life became more troubled and remarkable after that, before she died on 15th October 1917 in front of a French Firing Squad.

In between, she had married, lived in the East Indies, had children she never really knew and remade herself as a rather scandalous dancer and performer. Margreet adopted the stage name Mata Hari (it means “eye of the dawn” in Malay) and her gifts led to her becoming a courtesan in the highest circles of privileged society, with princes, ambassadors, tycoons and generals all clamouring for her attention. She was also courted by some countries – including France and Great Britain – to act as an espionage operative…

After a chequered life during a period when European society welcomed strong independent women, she was accused on meagre evidence of spying for the Germans during the Great War, and convicted.

Deemed to have caused the death of 50,000 men, and the moral ruination of countless others, Mata Hari has become the purest and most enduring symbol of the deadly, cunning femme fatale…

In the last few decades, serious historical investigation has cast a rather different, and far fairer complexion on the mythical spy in film, song, ballet, books, musicals and all arenas of popular culture, none better than an imaginative 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, a collaboration of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, Judge Anderson), artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverine: The Logan Legacy, Deep State, Insexts), colourist Pat Masioni and letterer Sal Cipriano.

Blending hard fact with emotive supposition and informed extrapolation, the sorry episode unfolds in the flashbacks and daydreams of a prisoner held at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris in October 1917. Opening chapter ‘Bare Faced’ introduces Margreet as she desperately struggles to complete a book that will tell her story in her own words…

Against a backdrop of political and military manipulation resolved to make an example of her, ‘Bare Breast’ details her disastrous, life changing marriage and its terrible consequences whilst ‘Bare Heart’ relates her fight back to independence and notoriety after which ‘Bare Teeth’ moves on to the war and the great love for a Russian soldier that leads to her ultimate downfall in ‘Bare All’…

Real life doesn’t work the way narrative would like and the people there aren’t actors. This contemplative tale (packed with documentary photos and available in paperback and digital formats) carefully acknowledges that frustrating complexity in an account scrupulously devoid of heroes and outright villains whilst exposing centuries of institutionalised injustice – in an extremely entertaining manner. It closes with a series of textual Codas (offering many more intimate photos of the woman and her times) with ‘Mata Hari’s Conviction’ relating the oddities and strange events regarding the disposal of her body and an authorial opinion by Beeby in ‘Was Mata Hari a Martyr?’…

In both word and imagery, Mata Hari is a potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising retelling of a murky and long-misconceived historical moment that any fan of history and lover of comics will adore…
Mata Hari text and illustrations © 2019 Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina. All rights reserved.

The Complete Aces High issues 1-5 (EC Archives)


By Irv Werstein, Carl Wessler, Jack Oleck, George Evans, Jack Davis, Bernie Krigstein & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-308-4 (HB) eISBN 978-1-50670-727-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Combat Comics Classics… 9/10

No smug commentary today, just appropriate business.
Legendary imprint EC Comics began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC.

Gaines only retained Picture Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups his major target market. He latterly augmented his core title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History.

Sadly, the worthy project was already struggling badly when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

His son William was dragged out of college and into the family business and – with much support and encouragement from unsung hero Sol Cohen (who held the company together until the initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned his dreams of a career in chemistry) – transformed the ailing enterprise into Entertaining Comics

After some tentative false starts and abortive experiments, Gaines and his multi-talented associate Al Feldstein settled into a bold and impressive publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at an older and more discerning readership.

From 1950-1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the anthologised genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction. Moreover, under the auspices of writer, artist and editor Harvey Kurtzman, the company introduced an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Kurtzman was hired to supplement the workforce on the horror titles but wasn’t keen on the genre and instead suggested a new action-adventure title. The result was Two-Fisted Tales which began with issue #18 as an anthology of rip-snorting, he-man dramas. However, with America embroiled in a military “police action” in Korea, the title soon became primarily a war comic and was rapidly augmented by a second, Frontline Combat.

Also written and edited by Kurtzman, who assiduously laid-out and meticulously designed every story, it made for great entertainment and a unifying authorial voice but was frequently a cause of friction with his many artists.

In keeping with the spirit of the New Trend, these war stories were not bombastic, jingoistic fantasies for glory-hungry little boys, but rather subtly subversive examinations of the cost of conflict which highlighted the madness, futility and senseless, pointless waste of it all…

When the McCarthy-era anti-comics crusade of the 1950s crushed the industry and gutted EC output by effectively banning horror, crime, gore, political commentary and social justice, Gaines and Feldstein retrenched: releasing experimental titles under the umbrella of a “New Direction”.

Kurtzman’s Mad – which had defined a whole new genre, bequeathing unto America Popular Satire – converted into a monochrome magazine, safely distancing the outrageously brilliant comedic publication from the fall-out caused by the socio-political witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles…

Denied a soapbox to address social ills, Gaines’ new books concentrated on intrigue, adventure and drama informed by new modern fascinations: either intellectual or mass entertainment fads.

Impact, Extra!, Piracy and Valor all clearly reflected themes of contemporary film and TV, whilst Psychoanalysis and M.D. targeted mature audiences through the growing genre of medical dramas. Incredible Science Fiction bridged the transition from old range to new line up whilst also tapping into movie trends. Final offering Aces High carried on a tradition of breathtaking war comics, but omitted ethical commentary to concentrate on aviation sagas dedicated to the myth of honourable combat conducted between knights of the skies…

Although still graced with stunningly beautiful artwork and thoughtful writing, the New Direction titles couldn’t find an audience and died within a year.

This volume of Dark Horse’s EC Archives gathers the entire run of Aces High (#1-5, spanning March to December 1955) gathering some of the most gorgeous art of the era – or ever – but with scripts curtailed by the newly instituted Comics Code Authority and Gaines’ own sense of financial survival, that compelling edge of social crusading was lost…

The fraught history of the company is outlined here in an informative Introduction by Grant Geissman after which Howard Chaykin’s Foreword provides keen insights into the times and the gifted creators involved before the stories begin. Sadly, as is often the case, despite diligent efforts by researchers and historians, many of these tales have no writing credit, but c’est la vie, non?

Aces High was very much a star vehicle slanted towards the interests and expertise of aviation aficionado George Evans who leads off the first issue – after editorial ‘Prop Wash’ – with ‘The Way it Was’, scripted by Irv Werstein. With an WWI veteran taking his grandson to an air show, Evans traces the history and development of his war in the air, emphasising the true cost in lives…

Uncredited prose feature ‘The Stork with Talons’ details the career of legendary aviator Charles Nungesser after which masterful Wally Wood delineates the history of Lieutenant Tom Pomeroy: a newly qualified combat pilot who can’t understand why his fellow airmen consider him ‘The Outsider’

Bernie Krigstein was one of the most innovative illustrators in comics – as well as commercial and gallery art – and in ‘The Mascot’ captures the air of hopeful fervour as an American squadron in France realise that the stray mutt they’ve adopted can predict who will not return from missions…

The premiere outing concludes with Carl Wessler & Jack Davis introducing ‘The New C.O.’ whose ideas of conduct are revolting but unarguably effective…

The second sortie opens with ‘Chivalry!’ by Wessler, Evans: crossing No-Man’s Land for a peek at the German view as a Jagdstaffel of decent, patriotic fliers must find a way to deal with new posting Lt. Horst Viegel, whose only consideration is adding to his kill-tally…

RAF legend Albert Ball is eulogised in text page ‘The Ace of Aces’ after which Krigstein limns a tale of ‘Revenge’ wherein a USAC captain hunts down the German flier who strafed Red Cross nurses and cost him his one true love…

Wessler & Wood detail the vagaries of luck afflicting a string of pilots assigned ‘Locker 9’ before prose page ‘Laughing Warrior’ précis’ the life of France’s greatest air ace Georges Guynemer before Jack Davis renders the devious saga of doctrinaire military martinet Major Trout whose quibbling antics in ‘Footnote’ have salutary, lifesaving underpinnings…

Aces High #3 takes wing with Oleck & Evans’ ‘The Rules’ as novice replacement Lt. Edward Dale disdains hour and fair play to become famous and pays the inevitable price, after which ‘Prop Wash’ reprints the letters of the many fans the comic book won whilst Krigstein’s ‘The Spy’ offers a touch of the old EC magic as American pilots cast suspicious eyes on a fellow squadron member who has a German name…

A tragic pilot-training washout reduced to the role of spanner-wielding ‘Greasemonkey’ redeems himself in a superb Wood rendered yarn before prose fiction ‘The Acid Test’ (with a grizzled raddled veteran having to deal with his baby brother joining the squadron) segues into a gleeful, yet dogged battle of wills between an established ace and a cocky replacement pilot over ‘The Case of Champagne’ by Wessler & Davis.

Jack Oleck & Evans lead off #4 as ‘The Green Kids’ sees a daily argument over sending raw recruits into combat changes complexion after angry, embittered Flight Leader Joseph Caswell is promoted to Squadron Commander and must now decide who flies and who doesn’t..

More postal praise in ‘Prop Wash’ leads to a wry examination of superstition in Wessler & Krigstein’s ’The Good Luck Piece’ after which the writer teams with Wood for ‘The Novice and the Ace’ wherein a cunning psychological trick unnerves an entire US squadron… until a callow newcomer takes a chance…

Prose fiction ‘The Last Laugh’ details the last mistake of an escaping German pilot, before Wessler & Davis reveal the tribulations of an American mechanic hungry to fly against the Boche in ‘Home Again’

The short-lived series came to a close with #5, leading with Oleck & Evans’ ’C’est La Guerre!’ as American pilots play dice to decide who goes on a suicide mission after which prose page ‘Airman Unknown’ details how a veteran of the Lafayette Escadrille sought to identify and repatriate the bodies of lost American fliers.

Breaking with tradition, this issue includes episodes from WWII, beginning with the Davis-illumined ‘Iron Man!’ and P-47 pilot Fred Allison who believes he can’t be shot down, after which Wessler & Krigstein take us back to the Great War for ‘Spads Were Trump’.

Here valiant American Lt. Walt Muller conceals a deeply personal reason for avoiding combat against German Ace the Red Eagle…

An incongruous prose review and guide of film and record releases, ‘The Entertainment Box’ leads into a Wood tour de force to end the issue and series. ‘Ordeal’ relates the astounding record of P-40 pilot Lt. Stoner against the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre of War, before exposing the one thing he cannot face…

The covers – by Evans – have all been restored from the masterful colour guides of original colourist Marie Severin, resulting – with modern reproduction techniques – in a sequence of graphic poems of unsurpassed beauty, whilst original house ads and commercial pages from the period tantalise in a way no other ads ever could, completing a nostalgic experience like no other.

The New Direction was a last hurrah for the kind of literate, mature comics Gaines wanted to publish. When they failed, he concentrated on Mad magazine and satire’s gain was comics’ loss. Now you have the chance to vicariously relive those times and trends, I strongly suggest that whether you are an aged EC Fan-Addict or nervous newbie, this is a book no comics aficionado can afford to miss…
© 1955, 2017 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2017 Grant Geissman.

Captain Marvel Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Steve Englehart, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Alfredo Alcala, Al Milgrom & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5877-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Maximum Marvel Mayhem… 8/10

In 1968, upstart Marvel was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly overtaking industry leaders National/DC and Gold Key Comics and, having secured a new distributor which would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially, the company was about to undertake a creative expansion of unparalleled proportions.

Once each individual star of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales was awarded their own title, the House of Ideas just kept on going. In progress was a publishing plan which sought to take conceptual possession of the word “Marvel” through both reprint series like Marvel Tales, Marvel Collector’s Items Classics and Marvel Super-Heroes. Eventually, showcase titles such as Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature also proudly trumpeted the name, so another dead-cert idea was to publish an actual hero named for the company – and preferably one with some ready-made cachet and pedigree as well.

After the infamous DC/Fawcett copyright court case of the 1940s-1950s, the prestigious designation Captain Marveldisappeared from newsstands. In 1967, during the “Camp” craze superhero boom generated by the Batman TV series, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot able to divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch), the series nevertheless failed to attract a large following in that flamboyantly flooded marketplace and on its demise the name was quickly snapped up by Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand new title: it had been reconfigured from double-sized reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces, which comprised vintage monster-mystery tales and Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added a showcase section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, plus new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Phantom Eagle to try out in all-new stories.

To start the ball rolling, the title headlined an alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

After two appearances, Captain Marvel catapulted straight into his own title and began a rather hit-and-miss career, battling spies, aliens, costumed cut-ups such as Sub-Mariner, Mad Thinker and Iron Man. Most frequently, however, he clashed with elements of his own rapaciously colonialist race – such as imperial investigative powerhouse Ronan the Accuser – all the while slowly switching allegiances from the militaristic Kree to the noble, freedom-loving denizens of Earth.

Disguised as NASA scientist Walter Lawson, he infiltrated a US missile base and grew closer to security chief Carol Danvers, gradually going native even as he was constantly scrutinised by his ominously orbiting commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg – Mar-Vell’s ruthless rival for the love of the teeming starship’s medical officer Una

The impossible situation came to a head when Mar-Vell gave his life to save the empire from overthrow from within. As a reward, vast, immortal hive-mind the Supreme Intelligence inextricably bonded the expiring warrior with voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who – just like Billy Batson (the naïve lad who turned into the original Fawcett Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!”) – switched places with a mighty adult hero whenever danger loomed.

By striking a pair of ancient, wrist worn “Nega-bands” together they could temporarily trade atoms: one active in our universe whilst the other floated, a ghostly untouchable, ineffectual voyeur to events glimpsed from the ghastly anti-matter Negative Zone.

The Captain was an alien lost on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for humanity three hours at a time, atomically chained to Rick by mysterious wristbands which enabled them to share the same space in our universe, but whenever one was active here the other was trapped in a terrifying isolated antimatter hell…

The book was cancelled soon after that… only to return some more!

A series which would not die, Captain Marvel returned again in the summer of 1972 for another shot at stardom and intellectual property rights security and secured its place when Jim Starlin used the title to wage a cosmic war with his greatest creation: the Mad Titan Thanos.

This fourth stellar Masterworks compilation (available in luxurious hardback and far-ranging eBook formats and spanning September 1972 to September 1976 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #34-46) details what happens after the ultimate villain was defeated and seemingly killed.
It is preceded by an Introduction by incoming scripter Steve Englehart who – with co-plotter and illustrator Al Milgrom – charted an even more cosmic course for the Good Captain…

With the universe saved and restored, Starlin’s run ended on a relatively minor note in Captain Marvel #34 as ‘Blown Away!’ – plotted by Jim, inked by Jack Abel and dialogued by Englehart – explored the day after doomsday.

As Rick tries to revive his on-again, off-again musical career, newly extant secret cabal the Lunatic Legion despatches Nitro, the Exploding Man to acquire a canister of nerve gas from an Air Force base where Carol Danvers is Chief of Security…

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats Nitro, he succumbs to the deadly toxin which escapes its canister in the explosive melee. From this exposure he would eventually contract the cancer that killed him – as depicted in Marvel’s first Graphic Novel, The Death of Captain Marvel – but that’s a tale for a different review…

Issue #35 finds Mar-Vell all but lifeless in ‘Deadly Genesis’ (Englehart, dialoguer Mike Friedrich & artist Alfredo Alcala). Simultaneously, Rick languishes in the Negative Zone where he is attacked by insectoid monster Annihilus …until a barely-remembered 3-hour time-limit automatically switches his body with the comatose Kree hero.

Later, as Rick’s manager Mordecai Boggs drives him to a gig, Rick’s consciousness slips into the N-Zone and animates Mar-Vell’s unresponsive body to escape Annihilus, and the lad realises this new power is merely one tactic in a cunning plan devised by the duplicitous, devious Supreme Intelligence…

Meanwhile on Earth, Rick’s vacated body has been taken to hospital where old friends Ant-Man and the Wasp are fortuitously visiting when the Living Laser attacks. The villain has been artificially augmented by his new masters, but it’s not enough to stop the retired Avengers or prevent Rick reclaiming his body and using the Nega-bands to restore his bonded soul mate to their particular brand of normality…

At this time, deadline difficulties caught up with the title and #36 was reduced to running a reprint of his origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #12. This Essential edition only includes the foreboding 3-page bookend ‘Watching and Waiting’ by Englehart, Starlin, Alan Weiss & friends, before the saga properly relaunches in #37 with ‘Lift-Off!’ from Englehart, Milgrom & Klaus Janson.

Although Mar-Vell easily discerns that the Lunatic Legion’s attacks stem from the Moon, Rick insists on playing a gig before they set off. After bidding farewell to Mordecai and his sometime stage partner Dandy, they wisely prepare for their trip by outfitting the boy with an advanced spacesuit…

Mar-Vell blasts off but only makes it as far as the outer atmosphere before being attacked by another Lunatic agent. Cyborg Nimrod is no match for Kree firepower, however, and in the Neg-Zone implacable Annihilus endures a painful defeat when he again assaults Rick who joyously revels in the sheer power packed into his EVA gear…

Crisis averted, the bored, naive kid swallows a “vitamin” Dandy slipped him before departure and is transported on a trip unlike any he’s ever experienced. Tragically, as Mar-Vell reaches the air-filled lost city in the “Blue Area of the Moon” he too begins to experience bizarre hallucinations and is utterly unable to defend himself when the all-powerful Watcher ambushes him…

The austere, aloof cosmic voyeur Uatu is part of an ancient, impossibly powerful race of immortal beings who observe all that occurs throughout the vast multiverse but never act on any of it. Non-interference is their fanatical doctrine, but Uatu has continually bent – if not broken – the adamantine rule ever since he debuted in Fantastic Four #13…

Now, somehow, the Legion have co-opted the legendarily neutral astral witness. Once Uatu defeats Mar-Vell, the demi-god despondently dumps his victim with the Lunatic Legion who are exposed as rebel, supremacist Kree plotting to overthrow the Supremor. Fundamentalists of the original race which assimilated the millions of other species, the colonially aggressive and racially purist Blue Kree plan to execute their captive who seemingly has ‘…No Way Out!’, but are unprepared for the closer psychic link which the hallucinations have forged between Earth kid and Kree captain…

With the insurgents defeated, Mar-Vell and Rick follow the repentant Uatu as he returns to his own distant world in #39 to voluntarily undergo ‘The Trial of the Watcher’

In the aftermath of that mind-bendingly bizarre proceeding, Rick and Mar-Vell are finally liberated from their comic bond. With both now independently existing in the positive-matter universe and able to return and leave the Negative Zone at will, their troubles seem over. They couldn’t be more wrong…

CM #40 shifts focus as ‘Rocky Mountain ‘Bye!’ (inked by Al McWilliams) reveals how the space-farers return to an Earth which has no real use for them. As Mar-Vell battles a deadly beast possessing the corpse of his first love Una, Rick finds his music career and even his beliefs are considered irrelevant and of no value. Equally heart-sore and dispirited, the former cellmates reunite and decide to travel to the stars together…

The first stop is Hala, capital of the Kree Empire and Mar-Vell’s birthworld as #41 reveals ‘Havoc on Homeworld!’ (Englehart, Milgrom, Bernie Wrightson, P. Craig Russell, Bob McLeod & Terry Austin) with the populace suddenly swept up in a race war against “Pinks” (human flesh-toned Kree mulattos like our hero).

Determined to warn the Supremor of the conflict and the schemes of the Lunatic Legion, the heroes are appalled to learn the strife has been actively instigated by the colossal mind-collective…

It transpires that, from his earliest moments in military service, Mar-Vell has been groomed by the Supremor to be its ultimate foe. As the ruthless amalgamation of military minds seeks to jump-start the development of the evolutionarily-stalled Kree, it desperately needs an enemy to contend against and grow strong…

Distracting his baffled, betrayed opponents with Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence places one Nega-band on Rick and another on Mar-Vell and casually banishes them to the farthest reaches of the empire…

Issue #42 sees them deposited in an insane pastiche of Earth’s wild west mining towns and quickly embroiled in interstellar claim-jumping and a ‘Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!’ (inks by Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito). As the Kree with a star on his chest lays down the law and has a showdown with the cosmically-charged Stranger, close by Drax the Destroyer is ravaging worlds and planetoids, slowly going insane for lack of purpose. Rick goes his own way and is almost fatally distracted by a beautiful girl nobody else can see…

Drax was created to kill Thanos, but since the Titan’s defeat – by someone else – the devastating construct has wandered the universe, slowly going crazy.

CM #43 shows how – unaware that Thanos still lives – the purposeless nemesis takes the opportunity to assuage his frustrations by attacking the hero who stole his glory in ‘Destroy! Destroy!’ (Englehart & Milgrom).

The epic clash ends in #44 as ‘Death Throws!’ sees the pointless conflict escalate until Rick’s imaginary friend intervenes and opens the Destroyer’s eyes…

With sanity restored all round, Mar-Vell then voyages to a Kree colony world ravaged by cyborgs and life-absorbing Null-Trons and discovers Supremor has been subtly acting to merge him and Rick into one puissant being to further his evolutionary agenda in ‘The Bi-Centennial!’

Forewarned, and with a small band of most unlikely allies, the cosmic conflict then wraps up in blockbusting fashion as Rick and Mar-Vell unite by not combining to defeat the Supremor in a battle ‘Only One Can Win!’ (scripted by Chris Claremont, and limned by Milgrom & Austin)…

This bombastic battle book of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle also incorporates bonus treats in the form of the cover of all-reprint Giant-Size Captain Marvel #1, cover art from Ron Wilson & Giacoia and original artwork and colour guides from Starlin.

Captain Marvel was never the company’s most popular or successful character but the good stuff is amongst the very best the House of Ideas produced in its entire history.

If you want to see how good superhero comics can be, you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth and who knows… you might see something that will blow your mind…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Palace of Tears Part 1


By Michael Lomon, with Alice Mazzilli
No ISBN

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Old School Blockbuster Family Entertainment… 9/10

Those of you who get out to popular events are probably well aware that all this week the Thought Bubble Yorkshire Comic Art Festival is lighting up the North, and morphs into a massive Comic Con on Saturday and Sunday (9th and 10th November).

As well as all the usual wonderments, mega guest stars convivial and bon homie of such enterprises, Thought Bubble is very proud of the number of comics and graphic novels that use the event for a high-profile launch springboard.

If you have the opportunity, you should go. Take your friends and family too. They’ll have a great time and maybe see that you aren’t that weird – relatively speaking – after all…

One enterprising chap attending the celebration is artist, illustrator and Motion Graphics Designer Michael Lomon – who wearily balances the complex digital day job with an irresistible drive to create thrilling traditional adventures (in actual pen and ink, yet!) – will be there, launching in person his latest extravaganza The Palace of Tears Part 1.

Somewhere in times forgotten or yet to be experienced, a poor fisherman dredges up a strange casket which contains possible doom and potential untold wealth. After opening the ornate flotsam – and subsequently outwitting the arcane horror within – the fisherman is set upon a precarious path to riches, selling very special fish to the Sultan.

However, human nature being what it is, neither vendor nor consumer can leave well enough alone and the equanimous daily transaction soon comes fatally adrift…

Accused of wizardry and cast into a dungeon, the cunning angler is astounded when a most unusual liberator manifests in a blaze of destructive luminescence and goes on a cataclysmic rampage.
That’s when things start to get really interesting… and quite terrifying…

Derived from an ancient Jewish folk tale and originated previously as a webcomic, this scintillating science fantasy tome offers a stunning, suspenseful yet fast-paced romp visually informed by classical fairy tales such as the Arabian Nights and Sinbad, with lush, lavish artwork referencing the very best of Michael Kaluta, Charles Vess, Moebius and the cinematic exploits of Douglas Fairbanks. It’s frankly quite dazzling to behold…
Absorbing, charming and over far too soon for my impatient attentions, this a sheer delight you must experience for yourself: either by going to the Comic Con and shelling out or via the usual web-based emporia…
© 2019 Michael Lomon. All rights reserved.

Find out more about The Palace of Tears at and other fine products at www.michaellomon.com
Find out more about Thought Bubble Yorkshire Comic Art Festival at https://www.thoughtbubblefestival.com/

Batman Begins – the Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight


By Scott Beatty, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Kilian Plunkett, Dick Giordano, Rick Burchett, Scott McDaniel, Tom Fowler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0440-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bat Fun… 8/10

It looks like I’m just destined to be wrong. Do you remember flared jeans, or even bell-bottoms? From which time? As the 1970s gasped to a close I said that we’d never see those again. Horribly, tragically, I was wrong.

I was seven when the Batman TV show first aired, and I loved it. By the time I was nine I had learned the word ‘travesty’ and loathed the show with a passion. When it was all over and the “Camp” fallout had faded from my beloved comics, giving way to the likes of Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil and the iconoclastic Neal Adams, I was in seventh heaven and praised pantheons of deities that I should never see ‘Batmania’ again. I was, of course, doubly wrong.

The Caped Crusader reconquered the world in 1989 and only the increasing imbecility of its movie sequels stopped that particular multimedia juggernaut. Now there’s a been a whole new sequence of films (some not half-bad – though that’s beside the point) spin-offs and a new iteration beyond that beckons. Each of these cinematic milestones generated its own host of print (and latterly, digital) tie in Bat Products.

Originally released in 2005, this crafty marriage of an inevitable “Official Movie Adaptation” of Batman Begins with a well-considered selection of thematically similar stories is one of the best I can recall and a nice prospect if you’re looking for a great read or ideal gift option…

The lead feature – creditably handled by Scott Beatty on script with Kilian Plunkett & Serge LaPointe illustrating – is an intensely readable reworking of the myth, so much so that I was able, for once, to stifle the small, shrill and incessant comic-fan voice that always screams “why do they keep mucking about with this?”, and “why isn’t the comic version good enough for those movie morons?”

I do, however, still question the modern hang-up with having to start from origin stories at all. Was Star Wars: A New Hope a relative flop because we didn’t know how Darth Vader got Laryngitis? Which Bond movie tells us how he got to be so mean and sardonic? Why can’t film-makers assume that an audience can deduce motivation without a brand-spanking-new road-map every time? Although to be painfully honest, most modern comics seem to be afflicted with this bug too…

Could it be that it’s simply a cheap way of adding weight to the villain du jour, who can then become a Motivating Force in the Birth of the Hero? Said baddies this time out are the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul, but I’m not going to speak any more about the cinema or plot of a movie that’s already being superseded by this generation’s Gotham Guardian. Batman fans will have already passed judgement…

Accompanying the filmic iteration, and following a pin-up by Ruben Procopio, is ‘The Man Who Falls’ by the aforementioned O’Neil and veteran Bat-artist Dick Giordano and taken from Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Heroes. This is a skilful, engaging comics retooling of the so-pliable natal legend, created to address the media mania around the 1989 movie.

Hard on its heels and prefaced by a pin-up courtesy of Bill Sienkiewicz comes one of the better stories of recent vintage. ‘Air Time’ is by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett & Rodney Ramos from Detective Comics #757 in 2001. It’s a taut countdown thriller that in many ways presages the style adopted for the wonderful procedural series Gotham Central.

KReasons’ (Batman #604, 2002), by Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel, revisits Batman’s origins in a tale seeking to redefine his relationship to inimical amour Catwoman, before the volume concludes with the brilliant ’Urban Legend’ from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #168.

In a grim and unsettling tale of frailties, Tom Fowler illustrates a wickedly sharp Bill Willingham script stuffed with the dark humour and skewed sensibilities that made his Fables stories such a joy for grown-ups who love comics.

This is a smart package for any casual reader the films might send our way, with a strong thematic underpinning. In an era of streaming and ultra-rapid home release, I’m increasingly unsure of the merit of comic adaptations, but if you are into such things it’s probably best they’re done well, like here…
© 1989, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.