Tarzan and the Adventurers (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 5)


By Burne Hogarth & Rob Thompson with James Freeman, Dan Barry, Nick Cardy, Bob Lubbers & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78565-380-3 (landscape album HB)

This book includes Discriminatory Content produced during less enlightened times.

The 1930 and 1940s were decades of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the age before mass television, newspaper strips (and their bastard spawn comic books) were the only form of visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old, consequently shaping the culture of many nations. Relatively few strips attained nigh-universal approval and acclaim. The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

Evolving from mock melodrama comedic features like Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs or Carl Ed’s Harold Teen, the full-blown dramatic adventure serial truly started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were skilful adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. The following years saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity to huge success. Not only strips, but also actual fictive genres were born in that decade, still impacting today’s comic books and all our popular entertainment forms.

In terms of art quality, adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed. The strip soon became beloved by the masses, supplementing and nurtured by the movies, books, radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this sublime oversized (330 x 254 mm), monochrome/full -colour hardback series, Foster initially quit at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes. He was replaced by Rex Maxon, but at the insistent urging of author Burroughs, returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page offering original adventures. Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, as Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936: 233 consecutive weeks. He then left again for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur which debuted in February 1937. Once the 4-month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year old neophyte.

Burne Hogarth was a passionate graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised action/adventure narrative illustration. His galvanic dynamism of idealised human figures and animals can still be seen in today’s comic books: all that impossibly body-positive perfection in motion can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts. Burroughs was a big fan and cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This fabulous fifth & final tome encompasses Sunday pages from October 1949 to September 1950 and the equivalent Daily strips (September 1947 through September 1950), with Hogarth gradually easing out of the now-onerous job and employing a legion of gifted ghosts to fulfil his obligations. During this period, commercially-led format changes reduced the size and changed the shape of the Sunday strip from tabloid to landscape framing, but the contents suffered no loss of wonder, action or drama. The transition and repercussions are discussed with some academic frontloading and fitting further explanation in the form of extended essay ‘Transforming Tarzan’s Jungle’ by Henry G. Franke III. Fully briefed for our trek, we resume the fun with ‘Tarzan and the Adventurers’: Sunday pages #973 – 1010 as seen spanning October 30th 1949 to July 16th 1950. The saga was crafted by Hogarth, writer Rob Thompson and latterly James Freeman – who was forced upon Hogarth after the syndicate fired his preferred collaborator. It sees the Ape-Man visiting old ally Masai chief N’Kola just as white explorers Baker and Cleveland arrive, seeking the tribes’ help in locating a medicinal herb which might be a malaria cure.

In truth, the scurrilous duo are hunting lost treasure sunk in kingdom-demarcating Lake Dagomba, and need help in convincing Dagomba headman Mabuli to allow them access. This chief hates Tarzan but the impasse is ended when wicked witch doctor Chaka strikes a sinister side deal that triggers valiant efforts and vile betrayal, double cross, murder and bloody civil warfare incorporating spectacular chases, fantastic duels with beasts, mortals and the very landscape, captivating readers for months until the saga ended with explosive irony and tons of TNT…

The end was near for Hogarth and the Jungle Lord, and the Sunday association closed in a short serial finished by a comic book artist slowly making strips his career. Born in 1922, Robert Bartow “Bob” Lubbers drew a host of features before WWII, but other than The Vigilante and The Human Fly after hostilities ceased, mostly settled on newspaper stars like The Saint, Big Ben Bolt, Li’l Abner, Secret Agent X-9 and his own creations Long Sam and Robin Malone. That all occurred after a stellar run assisting/replacing Hogarth.

Ostensibly crafted by – and still signed “Hogarth”, ‘Tarzan and the Wild Game Hunters’ (#1011-1019: July 23rd to September 17th 1950) saw the vine-voyaging valiant aid cowboy-turned safari man Russ Rawson in capturing a rhino and gorilla for Winchester Zoo… but only after determining that Africa would be a far better place without these pair of particularly perilous rogue beasts…

Before switching to moody monochrome and standard single tier-per-diem layouts for the dailies section, Franke III explores ‘The Daily Grind’ in another erudite prose prologue preceding the accumulated serial sequences: providing context and background on writer Thompson and artistic aids/replacements Dan Barry, Nick Cardy & Lubbers, with John Lehti and Paul Reinman also getting a worthy mention.

Monday to Saturday storylines were relentless and tough to get right. No matter how good you are, there’s only so much progress to be made in 3-4 panels at a time, and savvy creators usually combined classic themes with familiar material whenever they could. Here that notion resulted in a (very) broad adaptation/reinterpretation of ERB’s prose pulp serial Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, which had been first serialised between September 1929 and March 1930 ,before becoming the 13th canonical novel in 1932. The strips comprising ‘Tarzan at the Earth’s Core’ (#2509 to 2616, September 1st 1947 through January 3rd 1948) were supervised by Hogarth & Thompson but limned primarily by Dan Barry (1911-1997).

He also began as a jobbing comic book guy. Like his own brother Seymour “Sy” Barry – who produced The Phantom newspaper strip for three decades – Dan worked in a finely-detailed, broadly realistic style, blending aesthetic sensibility with straightforward visual clarity and firm, almost burly virile toughness: a gritty “He-man” attitude for a new era, contemporarily christened “New York Slick”.

He drew masked hero fare like Airboy, Skywolf, Boy King, Black Owl, Spy Smasher, Doc Savage and more before joining the US Air Force and, on returning after the hostilities, drew monster hero The Heap and sundry genre shorts for titles like Crimebusters whilst running his own outfit producing educational/informational comics. Dan began his  gradual withdrawal from funnybooks as early as 1947, joining Hogarth’s studio and assuming art chores on the Tarzan daily for a year, whilst still gracing DC’s crime, mystery and science fiction anthologies until as late as 1954. He was offered Flash Gordon and quickly accepted, but that’s the stuff of another review…

In deepest, darkest Africa, the Jungle Lord is tracked down by explorer Jason Gridley who has been in contact with a man named David Innes, and resolved to save that lost soul. Innes is an adventurer who joined Professor Abner Perry in a giant drilling vehicle that took them deep inside the Earth. They are now trapped in an incredible antediluvian realm more than 500 miles below the world’s crust: a land of beast men, lost empires, dinosaurs and even more incredible things…

Tarzan is largely a spectator for this sequence as ERB’s prose adventures in Pellucidar are updated and recounted for readers before Lord Greystoke joins the rescue party using another mole machine – built by boffin Dr. Dana Franklin – to reach the exotic underworld. Adding romantic interest is Franklin’s glamourous daughter/assistant Doris as they voyage deep into a myriad of incredible adventures.

As well as saving Innes and Perry and reuniting the former with his own true love Dian the Beautiful, the newcomers face sentient pterodactyl tyrants (Thipdars if you’re au fait with the books), clash with cavemen and ape beasts (Sagoths), fight a macabre menagerie of long-extinct monsters, war with lizard warriors (Horibs) and get utterly lost and reunited in a land where time does not pass and night never comes…

The series is a paean to primitivism and is a boost to all those besotted with wild kingdoms. There are even pulchritudinous primeval pairings… Gridley to cavegirl princess Jana and Doris with Clovian cave chief Ulan

The drama is divided into individual overlapping adventures until all the players eventually reunite for a big, big finale. With the aforementioned ghost artists deployed to augment Barry & Thompson, the saga concludes with episodes #2617-2640 of ‘Tarzan at the Earth’s Core’ (January 5th – 31st January 1948) as all the plot threads cleave together and those who want to return to the surface do so…

Although he was still involved in a mostly administrative capacity, Hogarth’s signature had been missing for some time when ‘Tarzan and Hard-Luck Harrigan’ #3361-3414: 22nd May – 22nd July 1950) began. The strip sported the name of new illustrator Nick Cardy; AKA strip veteran Nicolas Viscardi, who had drawn Lady Luck and other features for Will Eisner, and post-war became a DC mainstay on Gang Busters, Congo Bill, Aquaman, Teen Titans, Bat Lash, Batman/The Brave and the Bold and so much more. The tale itself was lighter fare with humorous overtones as Greystoke encountered a decrepit and devious old western prospector/snake oil peddler who had foolishly hitched his wagon to an African adventure… The affable scoundrel initially tried to capture Tarzan’s monkey pals before attempting to catch and sell the Ape-man himself before learning the error of his ways…

Sadly, old habits died hard. When the odd companions encountered desert raider El Mahmud dying of wounds, they were forced by the bandit’s devoted lieutenant Rambul to “cure” him with Harrigan’s bottled nostrum. That’s when the literal gold-digger spots the treasure the raiders possess and reverts to type, determined to enjoy one last lucky strike, no matter who he must betray…

Again demarcated by an artist change, ‘Tarzan and Hard-Luck Harrigan’ concluded with episodes #3415-3420 (24th – 29th July 1950) signifying the beginning of Lubbers 3½ year tenure, with a rowdily raucous big battle and the old coot’s redemption before moving briefly on to final inclusion ‘Attack of the Apes’ (#3421-3462: 31st July – 16th September 1950) with Lubbers benefitting from Hogarth’s last moments of oversight in a spooky yarn where a renegade troop of Great Apes (the fictious subspecies that reared Tarzan) begin attacking native villages…

After investigating in the primal manner of the lord of the forests, Tarzan gains a new anthropoid assistant in brutal Bay-At, learns who, why and what the true culprits are and renders his own judgement…

And that was that for Hogarth’s Tarzan until a flurry of new material appeared as graphic novel prototypes in the 1970s, which helped usher in a more mature view of the comics medium itself.

Tarzan is a fictive figure who has attained immortal reality in a number of different creative arenas, but none offer the breathtaking visceral immediacy of Burne Hogarth’s comic strips. These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion: stretching, running, fighting, surging rushes of power and glory where even backgrounds and landscapes achieve a degree of dramatic interactive expressionism. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are available in full for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Trademarks Tarzan® and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission. Copyright © 2018 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Erased – An Actor of Color’s Journey Through the Heyday of Hollywood


By Loo Hui Phang & Hugues Micol: translated by Edward Gauvin (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-681123-38-7 (HB)

This book includes Discriminatory Content included for dramatic effect. If any such use of slurs, epithets, terms, treatment or attitudes offends you, you really should not be reading this book – or maybe you need it more than most.

Cinema was the great and dominant art form of the 20th century. There have been untold tons of film books (even I’ve got one coming out later this year!) and loads of graphic biographies about movie stars and Hollywood – so many, that humanity shares a communal/mutual vision capable of supporting more subversive dalliances with those mediums. Here’s a smart and powerful biographical account employing that common ground to probe some of the deeper social issues stemming from the dominance of the fabled tinsel town Dream Factory through eras where the playing fields were never ever equal…

In 2020, Laotian-born writer Loo Hui Phang (Bienvenue Au College, Delices De Vaches, The Smell of Starving Boys) and veteran French illustrator Hugues Micol (Tumultes, Les Parques, Agughia) collaborated on European reminiscence Black-Out, describing the unseen, forgotten and retroactively redacted career of a mixed race actor who was a contemporary film phenomenon before his political ideals and subversive acts against discriminatory movie making practises led to his contributions being excised from acceptable Hollywood history.

Employing a dreamlike semi surreal narrative delivered via symbolic tableaux and straight strip art storytelling, it told the compelling, inequitable and tragic tale of a gifted entertainer who could have been America’s first black film star…

In 1936 Los Angeles, rich, famous and utterly acceptable foreign immigrant Cary Grant meets a beautiful boy orphan at a boxing gym. Taken with his looks and attitude, the transplanted Londoner takes the kid under his wing. Soon the lad is playing those always anonymous minor “ethnic roles” in epic box office masterpieces like Lost Horizon and Gone With the Wind.

Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Lena Horne, Rita Hayworth and dozens of other starlets seek his company. He is schooled by David O. Selznick and gulled by Louis B. Mayer, and in later years Paul Robeson gives him life advice as he instinctively and unwisely makes enemies like John Wayne and Senator Joseph Mc Carthy…

A truly beautiful and visual striking man, Maximus Ohanzee Wildhorse AKA – and against his own wishes – “Maximus Wyld” always turned heads in cosmopolitan, covertly egalitarian, boldly bohemian but officially segregated Hollywood. Of course, that casually collegiate acceptance never made it into the roles or onto screens where culturally-conscripted stereotypes were peddled to ignorant, scared, easily riled John Q Public. Throughout his many appearances Wyld cleverly subverted the medium, using it to propound his views on a two-tier system and diminution of his peoples: a stance that led to his downfall and even greater erasure from historical view…

He is a proud, politically radical socialist enjoying every forbidden fruit accruing to his obvious physical attractions. In the new Sodom and Gomorrah, that means intimate entrée into the twilight world of homosexuality, decadence and hedonism, and those charms and willingness to listen also make him a constant true confidante and companion to Hollywood’s most contentiously defended commodity and obviously enslaved minority – lovely women…

The tale of his not-rise and inescapable fall touches on all areas of engrained traditional white privilege. Wyld is a human melting pot and walking (tap dancing, really) metaphor: exotic, universally attractive, unconventional but morally sound and sexually ambivalent. He stems from many races (plantation negro, First Nation/“red Indian”, Chinese) previously and still subjugated and used by the transported-but-aggressively dominant European culture.

Cloaked in shamanic mysticism and force, Max’s saga unfolds with him holding another secret. Professionally lauded, but officially uncredited he is inescapably in touch with his metaphorical ancestors – particularly a Comanche medicine man, a spirit stallion, coolies and slaves – all silently reminding him his career and livelihood are built and still thrive on the desecration and degradation of his ancestors…

A totemic figure – albeit shrouded in shadow and his own judiciously-kept council – Max played a vast range of non-white characters from house slaves to African tribesmen to Tibetans to painted savages, but was constantly denied honest moments in the spotlight, just as were all marginalised peoples of that period of US history. However, his unshakable dream of being the breakout actor of color in Tinseltown never really dies. It’s taken from him.

Or it would have been if he ever really existed…

This tale is a masterfully researched and constructed faux expose: a deviously fanciful conceit acting as if this poor guy really was there. A symbolic amalgamation of so many untold stories, Erased employs the facts of past ethnic experience to make a unifying myth: telling of an Invisible Man left out of history – like how many of today’s electronics won’t register people of colour because they were calibrated by white male Silicon Valley nerds…

The deeply moving personal journey ends with a powerful ‘Epilogue 1986’ as lingering heyday survivor Rita Hayworth ruminates on Max Wyld, after which the entire affair is awarded an effusive appraisal in an Afterword by author, publisher and critic Leland Cheuk.

The major themes, issues and delivery of the tale were previous covered in I An Not Your Negro author Raoul Peck’s erudite and challenging ‘Preface’, prior to ‘Maximus Wyld: A Bibliography’ providing a selected listing of all the major movies potentially graced by his presence in advance of the main event…

So sleekly, mesmerizingly effective is the result that Erased – An Actor of Color’s Journey Through the Heyday of Hollywood won Loo Hui Phang the Grand Prize for Excellence in Non-Fiction (publication & translation) as part of the Albertine Translation Foundation project, as well as garnering the Prix René Goscinny 2021 at Angoulême International Comics Festival.

This is a mighty and memorable missal of metafiction: one no mature reader of comics or lover of film can afford to miss. Just remember – it’s not real it’s only a non-movie of a movie…
© Futuroplis / 2020. All rights reserved. © 2024 NBM for the English translation.

Erased – An Actor of Color’s Journey Through the Heyday of Hollywood is published on 16th July 2024 and available for pre-order now. NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Tiny Titans volume 2: Adventures in Awesomeness


By Art Baltazar & Franco & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2328-1 (TPB/digital edition)

Links between animated features and comic books are long established and, for younger consumers, indistinguishable. Honestly, it’s all just entertainment in the end…

For quite some time at the beginning of this century, DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and worked to consolidate that link between television and printed fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such small screen landmarks as Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and many more screen gems.

The kids’ comics line also generated truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of the publisher’s proprietary characters – such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content. For many (mostly adults) the line’s finest release was a series ostensibly aimed at early-readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is joyfully all smooshed up together, Tiny Titans became a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (all together now: “… erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…”) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the far greater boutique supplied by mainstream comics – and eventually the entire DC Universe continuity – to little kids and their parents/guardians in a wholesome kindergarten environment.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with multilayered in-jokes, sight-gags and the beloved yet gently mocked trappings and paraphernalia generations of strip readers and screen-watchers can never forget… and all located in the utopian Sidekick City Elementary School. Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with assorted (sort-of familiar) characters getting by, trying to make sense of the great big world. The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

After handy and as-standard identifying roll-call pages ‘Meet the… Tiny Titans’ and a poster page cover of ‘Titans in Space’, the pint-sized tomfoolery opens with ‘Ya Think?’ as transparent-headed Psimon deliberates over his checkers game with similarly glass-fronted The Brain… until Kid Flash and Wonder Girl start heckling…

Meanwhile, at school, Starfire gets a text from her dad telling her to come home. Of course, she invites all her friends and two-and-a-half days later the entire class is wandering around alien planet Tameran…

Once they get back Robin convenes a meeting of his new avian themed ‘Bird Scouts’, only to find his alternate identities causing a little contention and confusion…

The issue ends with a Franco Tiny Titans pinup preceded by a return confrontation between Psimon and his hecklers in ‘To Get to the Other Side’. Sadly, once again his tormentors get the last word…

‘Report Card Pickup!’ finds adult Justice Leaguers confronting Principal Slade (AKA Deathstroke) and substitute teacher Mr. Trigon over the grades of the little folk whilst introducing a new intake from Sidekick City Preschool – ominously dubbed the Tiny Terror Titans

Starfire gives Blue Beetle an unwanted makeover in ‘Happy Feeling Blue’ whilst Robin, Batgirl and Ace the Bat-hound get invitations to BB’s birthday party in ‘Joke’s on You’.

Elsewhere, the other Wonder Girl (the series played extremely fast-&-loose with continuity so suck it up if you’re expecting serious logic, ok?) and tiny winged Bumblebee indulge their ‘Book Smarts’ until Beast Boy shows up. Meanwhile under the sea, Aqualad chairs a meeting of ‘Pet Club, Atlantis’ until Raven and The Ant spoil things by breaking the first rule…

Concluding with a Puzzler page and a bonus pinup, #8 gives way to a 9th issue and inescapable predicament as the kids go ape because of ‘Monkey Magic’

When Beppo the Super-Chimp gets hold of a magic wand at Robin’s Comic Book Party, the attendees are soon reduced to hirsute ancestral forms. Thankfully Batgirl & Bumblebee are meeting with the size-shifting Atom family (The Atom, Mrs. Atom, Crumb, Dot, baby Smidgen and little dog Spot) and initially missing the ensuing chaos.

Bad boys of the Brotherhood of Evil aren’t so lucky when Beppo flies over and suddenly Brain and Psimon are as simian and banana-dependent as their talking-gorilla comrade M’sieu Mallah and before long Starfire and Batgirl also get monkey-zapped…

Resolute, bureaucratic Robin then institutes the first meeting of ‘The Titan Apes’ but that only provokes the pesky Super-Chimp to really see what his wand can do and even after Raven’s magic sorts everything out, Beppo rises to the challenge…

Closing with another Tiny Titans Puzzler Page and pinup of the diminutive ‘Atom’s Family’ the animal antics carry over into the next month as ‘World’s Funnest!’ sees Supergirl entertaining Batgirl at ‘Tea Time’. Tragically, the Girl of Steel has forgotten to feed pet cat Streaky and her guest has been equally derelict in her duties to Ace, forcing the power pets to seek redress as the little ladies set out on a global jaunt, meeting annoying monsters Kroc and Bizarro

A Tiny Titans Word Link Puzzler and Bonus Pinup of the eventually-reconciled stars wraps up the issue before the penultimate outing reveals romantically declined Beast Boy in the throes of ‘Terra Trouble’. The green Romeo’s intended inamorata is a feisty lass with refined tastes and in ‘Counting on Love Rocks!’ she shows him the depth and density of her disaffection, after which Robin greets visiting Russian student Starfire and gets wrapped up in a tempestuous ‘Name Exchange’ dilemma.

Terra meanwhile is not fooled by a viridian ‘Rock Dog’ and Beast Boy ends up with more bruises. Wiser, younger heads (mask, helmets, etc) just go to a carnival and leave them to it, with the lovesick loser escalating his campaign with a little ‘Rock Show’ whereas Aqualad and scary blob Plasmus attend a monster movie ‘Double Feature’

Agonisingly undaunted, Beast Boy decides on a costume makeover and new origin. Dressed like Superman he builds a ‘Rocket Box’ but yet again fails to kindle a spark…

Silent mirth then illuminates ‘Tiny Titans Presents… The Kroc Files: Changing a Lightbulb’ before another TT Puzzler and ‘Super Bonus Pin-Up! of Alfred and the Penguins’ escort us smartly to the final outing in this smart and sassy tome.

‘Faces of Mischief’ focuses on the school staff as ‘Morning with the Trigons’ finds the substitute teacher and demonic overlord called in on short notice. It’s ‘Monday Morning’ and as the Principal and Trigon goof off to a baseball game, Slade leaves cafeteria server Darkseid in charge. This is the chance the Apokolyptian Lord of Destruction has been waiting for…

With the adult slackers listening to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, the kids are forced to endure exams and their ‘Finals Crisis’ seems eternal. After apparent ages, Robin needs a ‘Hall Pass’ but is soon accosted by not just the official Monitor but also the diabolical Anti-Monitor (trust me, if you’re wedded to DC Lore, this is comedy gold: for the rest of you, it’s still hilariously drawn…)

Finally, the dread day ends for the kids, but as Raven heads home with Slade’s kids Rose and Jericho, she hears something that could ruin her life and takes drastic steps to ensure ‘Our Little Secret’ just as their dads concoct a sinister do-over for the following week…

Bringing the graphic glee to a halt is a silent ‘Kroc Files: Sending an E-Mail’, a TT Baseball Unscramble Puzzler and a pin-up of the entire nefarious ‘Sidekick City Elementary Faculty’.

Despite being aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts and The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in unadulterated nerdish comic bookery – are unforgettable gags and japes no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating to readers of any age and temperament. What more do you need to know?
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Two-In-One Masterworks volume 7


By Tom DeFalco, Alan Kupperberg, David Michelinie, Doug Moench, Ron Wilson, Jerry Bingham, Pablo Marcos, Chic Stone, Gene Day & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-5509-0 (HB/Digital edition)

This book includes some Discriminatory Content produced during less enlightened times.

Above all else, Marvel has always been about team-ups. The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling (often both) with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel awarded their most popular hero the same deal DC had with Batman in The Brave and the Bold since the early 1960s. Although confident in their new title, they wisely left options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in The Human Torch. In those distant days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since superheroes were actually in a decline, they might well have been right.

Nevertheless, after the runaway success of Spider-Man’s guest vehicle Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas ran with the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most popular star. They began with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12 before awarding him his own team-up title, with this 7th stirring selection gathering the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #75-82 and MTIO Annuals #5 & 6, collectively covering September 1980 – December 1981.

Preceded by a comprehensive and informative contextual reverie in editor Jim Salicrup’s Introduction ‘Hoo-Ha!’, a late-running annual event anachronistically opens the fun. Although released in summer 1980, Alan Kupperberg & Pablo Marcos’ addition to the ongoing feud between The Thing and The Hulk (Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5, cover-dated September 1980) was omitted from the last volume due to the epic continued tales therein, but sits comfortably enough here. ‘Skirmish with Death’ sees the titanic duo join ruthless extraterrestrial explorer/researcher The Stranger to stop death god Pluto destroying the universe…

Pausing only for a contemporary house ad plugging the big birthday bash, cosmic extravaganzas remain in vogue for anniversary issue Marvel Two-In-One #75 (May 1981, by Tom DeFalco, Kupperberg & Chic Stone, with Marie Severin) as Ben and The Avengers are drawn into the Negative Zone to stop a hyper-powered Super-Adaptoid, and find themselves inevitably ‘By Blastaar Betrayed!’

Hitting mundane reality with a bump, MTIO #76 exposes ‘The Big Top Bandits’ (DeFalco, David Michelinie, Jerry Bingham & Stone) as Iceman and Ben make short work of the Circus of Evil before a double dose of action in #77 as Thing and Man-Thing nearly join in a rescue mission where ‘Only the Swamp Survives!’ (DeFalco, Ron Wilson & Stone). This tale also features a poignant, bizarre cameo from The Human Torch and Sergeant Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos

The innate problem with team-up tales is always a lack of continuity – something Marvel always rightly prided itself upon – and which writer/editor Marv Wolfman had sought to address during his tenure through the simple expedient of having stories link-up via evolving, overarching plots which took Ben from place to place and from guest to guest. That policy remained in play until the end, and here sees the lovably lumpy lummox head to Hollywood to head-off a little copyright infringement in DeFalco, Michelinie, Wilson & Stone’s ‘Monster Man!’ The sleazy producer to blame is actually alien serial abductor Xemnu the Titan and Big Ben needs the help of budding actor Wonder Man to foil its latest subliminal mind-control scheme…

Delivered by Doug Moench, Wilson & Gene Day Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 then introduces ‘An Eagle from America!’ as old chum Wyatt Wingfoot calls The Thing in to help in a battle between brothers involving Indian Tribal Land rights but which had grown into open warfare and attempted murder. The clash results in one sibling becoming new hardline superhero ‘The American Eagle’: hunting his erring brother and a pack of greedy white killers to the Savage Land, consequently recruiting jungle lord Ka-Zar before ‘Never Break the Chain’ sees Ben catch up to them amidst a cataclysmic final clash against old enemy Klaw, Master of Sound in ‘…The Dinosaur Graveyard!’

Monthly Marvel Two-In-One #79 and DeFalco, Wilson & Stone reveal how cosmic entity ‘Shanga, the Star-Dancer!’ visits Earth and makes a lifelong commitment to decrepit WWII superhero Blue Diamond (formerly of The Liberty Legion) whilst in #80,‘Call Him… Monster!’ sees Ben Grimm risk doom and damnation to prevent Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze from crossing the infernal line over a pair of cheap punks…

Extended subplots return in ‘No Home for Heroes!’ as Bill (Giant-Man) Foster enters the final stages of his lingering death from radiation exposure. Ben, meanwhile, has been captured by deranged science experiment M.O.D.O.K. and subjected to a new bio-weapon, only to be rescued by old sparring partner Sub-Mariner. Before long ‘The Fatal Effects of Virus X!’ lay him low and he begins to mutate into an even more hideous gargoyle…

Helping him hunt for M.O.D.O.K. and a cure are Captain America and Giant-Man, and their success leads brings us to the end of this vintage voyage.

Well, not quite as the bonus features offer Ron Wilson’s ‘Special Foom Sneak Preview: The American Eagle!’ as first seen in F.O.O.M. #21 (Spring 1978), with Ed Hannigan & Walt Simonson’s original cover art for MTIO Annual #6 and its painted colour guide. Wrapping up the extras are the covers for reprint series The Adventures of The Thing # 2 & 4 (May & July 1992 by Joe Quesada & Dan Panosian and Gary Barker & Mark Farmer respectively).

Most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s loads of fun to be found for young and old readers alike. Fiercely tied to the minutia of Marvel continuity, these stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are certainly of variable quality, but whereas a few might feel rushed and ill-considered they are balanced by other, superb adventure romps as captivating today as they ever were.
© 2024 MARVEL.

Battle of Britain War Picture Library


By Ian Kennedy & various (Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-779-4 (HB/Digital edition)

This book contains Discriminatory Material produced during less enlightened times.

By official reckoning – the UK’s at least – The Battle of Britain (10th July – 31st October 1940), began 83 years ago today. German historians consider it to have kicked off in July 1940: one part of a long, continuous campaign that proceeded from until 11th May 1941 when the Wehrmacht changed their failed tactics.

Whatever your opinion, the aerial operation has become a major touchstone for UK culture – like Boudicca or Abolition of the Monasteries – constantly cited, used and abused by dog whistle demagogues, political hacks, chancers and charlatans, all seeking a rabid reactionary unthinking response or quick debating point scored, pissing on the truth value. It was a time of unified dogged, true heroism under pressure on the entire nation’s part.

It has also become a keystone and foundation of our entertainment fiction: the bedrock and basis of every type of tale from gratifying adventure and shocking fantasy to inspirational romance and cathartic comedy. The Battle of Britain has naturally also been made a crucial core component of British comics. Just like the artist celebrated here…

Born in 1932, Ian Kennedy went to Clepington Primary School and attended Dundee’s Morgan Academy before landing his first job at the town’s major employer – just pipping the city’s Marmalade makers. If you look that up you’ll find I’ve just been absolutely hilarious…

Taken on in 1949 as a trainee illustrator for the art department of DC Thomson & Co, Kennedy always claimed his first work was filling in black squares on crossword puzzles for the publisher’s paper The Sunday Post (home of The Broons and Oor Wullie and many other singular classics). He soon graduated to drawing strips – mostly war and especially air combat stories – and by 1953 was also freelancing for the Scottish company’s major English competitor Amalgamated Press (latterly Odhams/Fleetway/IPC). Kennedy could be seen on serials in weeklies Knockout, Hotspur, Wizard, Buster and others, as well as illustrating longer standalone sagas for both publishers’ digest lines in titles such as Thriller Picture Library and Air Ace Picture Library.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s he diversified, favouring fantasy themes and generating many classic science fiction sagas for DCT’s new digest Starblazer, all whilst continuing his historical flights of fancy in Commando (War Stories in Pictures), Fleetway Picture Library, War Picture Library et al. Kennedy also exploited his aviation expertise outside comics from the 1980s, in magazines, books and by producing spectacular covers for RAF Leuchars Air Show programmes, even whilst winning his greatest fame with high profile strips and licensed adaptations in Eagle, Battle Picture Weekly, Wildcat, Star Lord, 2000 A.D. and more. The work included Tiger Taggart, Typhoon Tennyson, Blake’s 7, Dan Dare, Judge Dredd, Time Quake, M.A.S.K., M.A.C.H. 1, Invasion, Ro-Busters and countless others.

Generally uncredited throughout his career in the pages of weeklies like Victor, Buddy and the rest, he was most recognisable for his covers – which graced 2000 A.D., Eagle, Star Lord, Tornado Starblazer and especially Commando (for which he painted over 1600 – many after his official retirement in 1997). Ian Kennedy finally laid down his brushes in February 2022…

Two of his very best tales are on view here, but I sadly can’t be as forthcoming on their writers. Even the editors have no credible data on those anonymous stalwarts instead with the biographies at the back namechecking potential candidates/regular contributors Tom Tully, E.W. Evans, Douglas Leach, Gordon W. Brunt, Edward G. Cowan, V. Stokes, R.P. Clegg, James Hart Higgins, Syd J. Bounds, R. Wilding and A. Carney Allan as potential contributors.

Reprinted here are the contents of Air Ace Picture Library #65 & #182 with Kennedy detailing a brace of ripping yarns set in the skies above Blighty in their finest, most fiery hours.

At the end of the mission are the original covers in a full colour painted ‘Gallery’ with #65’s (August 1961) ‘Steel Bats’ followed by its reprint in AAPL #428 (as ‘Cat’s Eyes’), bolstered by the one-&-only AAPL #182’s original cover sortie from February 1964. Resolved not to spoil the fun I’m finally being brief and saying only that opener ‘Steel Bats’ (Air Ace Picture Library #65, August 1961) follows the trials and travails of pitiful novice fighter pilot Flight-Lieutenant Bill Mitchell from hopeless screwup in ‘Chapter1: The Rebel’ through an ignominious, unwanted ‘Transfer Granted’ to night fighter training school. When personal tragedy forces Mitchell to capitalise on an unsuspected natural advantage, Bill and new pal Gunner Wilton become ‘Two Up!’ and darlings of the Brass, but they also inspire ire in night fighter Squadron Leader Esmond Furness… until ‘Mitch’s Private War’ boils over into the bigger conflict and confirms his value, valour and ultimate victory over the real enemy… the bombers blasting London…

‘“Never Say Die” Wapiti’ is another – and rather more mischievous – fish out of water yarn, first seen in February 1964’s Air Ace Picture Library #182. Here, the poor discipline of young pilots is exemplified by Pilot-Officer Stan Perkins whose excessive eagerness and impatience flying Spitfires during the Battle of Britain results in near-catastrophe and his becoming a ‘Sacked Pilot!’

Summarily banished from operations and speedily transferred to “X planes station”, the despondent flier finds it a veritable aircraft graveyard dubbed “Misery Farm” by the other dangerous failures who explain he’s on a dummy field packed with obsolete kit designed to make “Jerries” waste fuel and ordnance. Stan is even more galled to learn he’s the new Commanding Officer…

Resolved to rejoin the Real War, Perkins and like-minded new friend/accomplice Flynn and hapless scavenging engineer Flight Sergeant Foley convert a discarded but serviceable Great War biplane, rendering it airworthy again. Sadly they only end up ‘Chased by a Bomb!’ on the maiden voyage! ‘Under Arrest!’, Stan believes himself doomed to spend his war on the ground and behind bars, but uncanny circumstances conspire to keep the mavericks flying: absconding with the biplane to perpetrate an ‘Unofficial Air Raid’ over France… just as the most important commando mission of the war is going wrong.

Sparking another apparent disaster, shot down by their own side and having to fight their way back to England beside the French Resistance all appear pointless exercises in the aftermath, but on arrival Perkins and Flynn learn ‘The Escape’ has all been worth the effort…

Clever and captivating, smart and spectacular, these war stories are utterly engaging and perfectly spotlight the astounding gifts of one our art form’s most skilled exponents. Come see for yourself…
© 1961, 1964, 2020 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd.

The Complete Johnny Future


By Alf Wallace, Luis Bermejo & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-758-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Gosh I feel inexplicably optimistic and upbeat this week and can’t imagine why. Let’s continue looking forward and back and explore one of our little industry’s best lost secret: a buried masterpiece of international cooperation that has stood the test of time…

Until relatively recently, Britain never really had a handle on superheroes. Although every reader from the 1950s on can cite a particular favourite fantasy muscle-man or costumed champion – from Thunderbolt Jaxon to Morgyn the Mighty to Marvelman, Gadget Man & Gimmick Kid to The Spider, Tri-Man and Phantom Viking to Red Star Robinson, The Leopard from Lime Street and Billy the Cat (& Katie!) and all worthy stalwarts deserving their own archived revivals! – who have populated our pages, they all somehow ultimately lacked conviction. Well, almost all…

During the heady Swinging Sixties days of “Batmania”, just as Marvel Comics was first infiltrating our collective consciousness, a little-remembered strip graced the pages of a short-lived experimental title. The result being sheer, unbridled magic…

With Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtaking the London-based competition (monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press) during the late 1950s & 1960s, the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed to compete offered incredible vistas in adventure tales. Thanks to Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid’s defection to AP, they also had a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of The Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk. During that latter end of the period, the Batman TV show sent the world superhero crazy just as AP finished absorbing all its local rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway, Odhams and ultimately IPC.

Formerly the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated Press (founded by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the 20th century) had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not always fresh or original. The all-consuming monolith had been reprinting the early successes of Marvel comics for a few years, feeding on the growing fashion for US-style action/adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DCT’s Wolf of Kabul or the Tough of the Track. A key point at that time was that although both part of the Mirror Group, Fleetway and Odhams were deadly rivals…

Power Comics was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate their periodicals containing reprinted American superhero material from the greater company’s regular blend of sports, war, western adventure and gag comics such as Buster, Valiant, Lion or Tiger. During this period, the strictly monochrome Power weeklies did much to popularise budding Marvel characters and their shared universe in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the actual American imports.

The line began with Wham! – but only after the comic was well-established. Originally created by newly-ensconced Baxendale, it had launched on June 20th 1964. Initially, the title was designed as a counter to The Beano, as was Smash! (launching February 5th 1966), but the tone of times soon dictated the hiving off into a more distinctive imprint, which was augmented by the creation of little sister Pow!

Pow! premiered with a cover date of January 31st 1967, combining home-grown funnies like Mike Higgs’ The Cloak, Baxendale’s The Dolls of St Dominic’s, Reid’s Dare-a-Day Davy, Wee Willie Haggis: The Spy from Skye and British originated thrillers such as Jack Magic and The Python with the now ubiquitous resized US strips: in this case Amazing Spider-Man, The Hulk and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The next step was even bolder. Fantastic – and its sister paper Terrific – were notable for not reformatting or resizing the original US artwork whereas in Wham!, Pow! or Smash!, an entire 24-page yarn could be rejigged and squeezed into 10 or 11 pages, and were accompanied by British comedy and adventure strips.

These slick new titles – each with a dynamic back cover pin-up taken from Marvel Comics or created in-house by apprentice comics bods and future superstars Barry Windsor-Smith and Steve Parkhouse (see below) – reprinted US Superhero fare, supplemented by minimal amounts of UK originated filler and editorial.

Fantastic #1 debuted with cover-date February 18th 1967 (but first seen in newsagents on Saturday 11th), revealing the origin stories of Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men, but from the get-go, savvy tykes like me were as engrossed by a short adventure serial also included to fill out the page count. The Missing Link was beautifully drawn and over the following year (February 18th 1967 – February 3rd 1968) would become a truly unique reading experience…

The series began inauspiciously as a homegrown Incredible Hulk knock off. Oddly, editor and writer Alfred “Alf” Wallace crafted for the filler a tone very similar to that adopted by Marvel’s own Green Goliath when he became a small screen star a decade later…

The illustrator was the astoundingly gifted Luis Bermejo Rojo, a star of Spanish comics forced to seek work abroad after the domestic market imploded in 1956. He became a prolific contributor to British strips, working on a succession of moody masterpieces in a variety of genres. These included The Human Guinea Pig, Mann of Battle, Pike Mason, Phantom Force Five and Heros the Spartan, appearing in Girls Crystal, Tina, Tarzan Weekly, Battle Picture Library, Thriller Picture Library The Eagle, Buster, Boys World, Tell Me Why, Look and Learn and many more. Bermejo finally achieved a modicum of his long-deserved acclaim in the 1970s, after joining fellow studio mates José Ortiz, Esteban Maroto and Leopoldo Sanchez working on adult horror stories for Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.

I’m still a big kid helplessly enmired in nostalgia, but to me his greatest moments were the year spent drawing Johnny Future

The Missing Link – as the feature was entitled for the first 15 episodes – was disturbingly similar in tone and delivery to television’s Hulk of the 1970s. The strip’s titular protagonist was superhumanly strong, seemingly intellectually challenged and tragically misunderstood. The saga combined human-scaled drama with lost world exoticism in the manner of King Kong, as can be see seen following Steve Holland’s incisive and informative Introduction ‘Welcome to the Future!’, when the drama opens in the wilds of Africa.

A bestial man-beast roams the veldt, swamps and mountains, until great white hunter Bull Belson comes to capture him, accompanied by secretary/photographer Lita Munro. The infamous tracker sees only profit in his quarry: a mute beast who, after much frustratingly destructive behaviour, is lured into captivity by an inexplicable attraction to Miss Munro…

To be fair, she actually has the brute’s interests at heart, attempting to befriend and teach the Link on the slow voyage back to England, but on reaching London Dock, the prospective sideshow attraction is spooked by mocking labourers and shockingly breaks his bonds… and cage.

Brutally rampaging across the city at the heart of the Swinging Sixties, the Link is hunted by the army, but no one realizes that beneath the bestial brow is a cunning brain. Hopping a freight train north, he seeks refuge in an isolated government atomic research laboratory run by Dr. Viktor Kelso and is accidentally dosed with vast amounts of transformative radiation. Unleashed uncanny forces jumpstart an evolutionary leap, turning the primitive beast into a perfect specimen of human manhood, while simultaneously sparking near-catastrophic meltdown in the machinery. It is only averted by the massive instinctive intellect of the new man. Arrested as a terrorist spy, the silent superman is very publicly tried in court and again encounters Lita.

Kelso meanwhile has deduced the true course of events. As the Link uses his prison time to educate himself in the ways of the world, the unstable scientist works on a deadly super-weapon, prompting the Link to escape jail and clear his name. With super-strength and his newly enhanced massive mind, the task is easy but he still needs Lita to complete his plan…

The series cheerfully plundered the tone of the times. The drama seamlessly morphs into and pilfers chilling contemporary science fiction tropes as Kelso’s device brings Britain to a literal standstill, leaving only the evolved outsider to thwart a staggeringly ambitious scheme.

Set on a fresh, bold openly heroic path, and despite still being a hunted fugitive, the Link creates a civilian identity (John Foster) and a costumed persona just as the nation is assaulted by ‘The Animal Man’: a psionic dictator able to control all beasts and creatures. Incredibly, that includes recently ascendant Johnny Future, with the villain only defeated through overextending himself after accidentally awakening a primordial horror from Jurassic times…

In short order, Johnny Future tackles Dr. Jarra and his killer robot; a society of evil world-conquering scientists; invention-plundering shapeshifting aliens; prehistoric giants and deranged science tyrant The Master.

Fully hitting his stride, the tomorrow man overcomes personality warping psychopath Mr. Opposite and defeats the top assassins of the Secret Society of Science‘The Brain, The Brute and the Hunter’, prior to saving Earth from marauding living metal and destroying Dr. Plasto’s animated waxwork killers.

… And that was that. Without warning the comic merged with sister publication Terrific and there was no more room for a purely British superhero. Here, however, there’s one final memorable delight: a 14-page, full-colour complete adventure with Johnny battling diabolical primordial revenant Disastro, as first seen in Fantastic Annual 1968, as well as a colour pin-up from Fantastic #30 (September 9th 1967).

Interest in superheroes and fantasy in general were on the wane and British weeklies were diversifying. Some switched back to war, sports and fantasy adventure yarns, whilst – with comedy strips on the rise again – others became largely humour outlets. The Complete Johnny Future is a unique beast: a blend of British B-movie chic with classic monster riffs seen through the same bleakly compelling lens that spawned Doctor Who and Quatermass. It is the social sci fi of John Wyndham trying on glamourous superhero schtick whilst blending the breakneck pace of a weekly serial with the chilling moodiness of kitchen sink crime dramas.

There was never anything quite like this before – or since – and if you love dark edges to your comics escapism you must have this amazing collection far sooner than tomorrow.
™ & © 1967, 1968, & 2020 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey book 8: The Impossible Pig! (paperback edition)


By Jamie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-312-7 (Digest HB)

Britain and America were a bit preoccupied on July 4th this year and might have missed this major milestone of the Good Times returning. However, now that the happy dust has settled and before all the bunting gets packed away, lets celebrate another earthshaking milestone: the softcover escape of a truly wonderful comics read…

Bunny vs Monkey has been the hairy/fuzzy backbone of The Phoenix since the very first issue back in 2012: recounting a madcap vendetta gripping animal arch-enemies in an idyllic arcadia masquerading as more-or-less mundane but critically endangered English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Max and Chaffy, Flember), his trendsetting, mindbending multi award-winning yarns have been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in digest editions such as this one.

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargy began yonks ago after an obnoxious little beast plopped down in the wake of a disastrous British space shot. Crashlanding in Crinkle Woods – scant miles from his launch site – lab animal Monkey believed himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite every effort to dissuade him by reasonable, rational, sensible, genteel, contemplative forest resident Bunny. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine could not contain or control the incorrigible idiot ape, who to this day remains a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating, troublemaking lout…

Problems are exacerbated by other unconventional Crinkle creatures, particularly the skunk called Skunky possessing a mad scientist’s intellect and attitude to life plus a propensity for building extremely dangerous robots, bio-beasts and sundry other super-weapons. Here – with adaptive artistic assistance from design deputy Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-ordnances resumes even though everybody thought all the battles had ended. They even seemingly forgot ever-encroaching Hyoomanz

Divided as ever into seasonal outbursts, this magnificent mass-market (and now soft-shelled) amalgamation of insanity opens in the traditional manner: starting slowly with a sudden realisation. Probably by using his fingers, Monkey has worked out that Bunny’s side has more good guys (Ai, Pig Piggerton, Weenie, Metal E.V.E. and Le Fox) than his own bad ones! Wisely rejecting Skunky’s offer to make more evildoers, the sinisterly stupid simian seeks to steal some of Bunny’s buddies: making insidious individual approaches in ‘A Big Hole’. One immediate success goes utterly unnoticed whilst those worthy stalwarts debate ways to get hapless Pig out of a giant pit before finding the ‘Tunnels’ the sweet simpleton used to get there in the first place…

First contact and a really strange day for all – including a wholly new kind of Crinkle critter – occurs in ‘Jerb-eing Unreasonable’, before Monkey commits carnage in a psychic bodysuit that can literally ‘Imagine That’: opening the doors to another Spring. At this time a certain white rabbit is pilfering carrots from an angry Hyooman, and saved by Monkey in a colossal exo-skeletal ‘Spade-O-Matic’, officially opening hostilities between bipeds and beasts…

Meanwhile and maybe later, Bunny experiences ‘Mossy Mayhem’ when Skunky’s latest experiment escapes, even as Metal E.V.E ponders astral reality and rashly asks her friend to explain ‘Pig Science’…

As Monkey demands 25% more evil from his crew, he’s distracted by Metal Steve’s latest faux pas – a doomed relationship with ‘Wipey’ – and ‘Sun 2.0’ renders repercussions of Skunky upgrading the source of all light and warmth, and Action Beaver is subject to a ‘Body Swap’ after Monkey covets his apparent immunity to pain and harm. It doesn’t end well…

Once the Great Woodland Bake-off inevitably culminates in ‘Cakes and Bruises’ Monkey use a superstrength serum unwisely. As his bones mend he has a Damascus moment: deducing that being a ‘Good Monkey’ might be less harmful. He gives nobility a go… but it too doesn’t end well…

A fresh face materialises as Pig meets ‘The Visitor’: inadvertently saving Lucky the Red Panda from atomic discorporation. Sadly, the effect is only temporary and when their memories merge, Lucky is stuck in this dimension with our plucky porcine adrift in the molecular stream of the cosmos. Trapped on Earth, the stranger tries desperately to convince all and sundry she is ‘Actually Pig’, often assisted by typical distractions like marauding sprout-farting monster ‘Gruntulak!’ and a no-holds-barred campaign to elect ‘President Monkey’.

Skunky starts disassembling woodland residents: harvesting DNA to make endless duplicates in ‘All A-Clone’ but even Skunky’s science can’t handle Lucky…

As Summer starts, mad science wins again. Skunky sets a trap to prove Lucky is ‘Not Pig’ and even finds what happened to the lost one, after which Monkey manages to murder cloud-gazing in ‘Weather or Not’ and Weenie gets a shocking letter in ‘Blackmail’. With the truth about to out, ‘Pocket Pig’ finds our gentle woodland folk forming a torch-waving mob to establish their real friend’s fate, only to find Skunky has already found a way to exploit the situation. However, when he constructs a device to broach outer realms, Monkey makes a shambles of the ‘Portal Recall’…

When the awful anthropoid gets a mail-order giant robotic Chicken of Darkness, he never anticipated some assembly required and the woods are saved by ‘A Loose Nobble’, allowing good manners and better natures to resurface. Thus, all the animals contribute to ‘Lucky’s Home’ – especially Monkey with his goop gun and crushing space-sphere of doom…

Elsewhere, as Metal Steve and Metal E.V.E hold a private contest to decide the best automaton in ‘Who Will Win the War of the Robots’, Skunky’s clumsiness triggers a crop of carnivorous blooms in ‘Chomp!’ As Monkey’s alter ego “Captain Explosives” accidentally uncovers a crop of chronal crystals in ‘Time and Again’, Skunky makes a great breakthrough: a remote control for existence with a ‘Freeze Frame’ able to warp and rewind reality…

With everything on pause, ‘The Second Pigging’ heralds the return of a lost friend whose voyage to the cosmos has resulted in Complete Spiritual Enlightenment and manifestation as a Non-Corporeal Vision. Sadly, when nobody cheers, the Ultimate Pig pops off in a dudgeon, leaving Lucky to save the day and restore time in ‘Hairy Nearly’: a major turning point that upsets many participants…

In what passes for a return to normality, Monkey is possessed by the ghost of a chicken and triggers an invasion of ‘Zombies!’ just as Autumn opens with Skunky & Monkey unleashing a giant robot that is ‘Turtle-y Ridiculous’…

Former good guy Fantastic Le Fox is also possessed and proffers ‘A Warning’ of failure and worse which Monkey immediately reacts badly to even as transcendent Pig returns to make contact with and elevate ‘Prophet Beaver’. Of course, no one listens…

Monkey meanwhile has been messing with elemental forces, turning the woods into an ‘Expressionistic’ nightmare before losing patience and challenging Bunny to a duel of ‘Brain Power’. After winning by cheating, the simian sap learns a painful lesson that is only the beginning of his woes as ‘Double Bunny’ depicts a doppelganger emerging who will change the status quo in quite appalling ways…

Lost and distraught, Bunny undertakes a mission for Skunky into the bowels of the earth in search of ‘Long-Lost Flopsy’. Guess how that ends…

Drama intensifies when ‘The Impossible Pig’ returns to reality only to learn that being ‘Disappointingly Mortal’ would be better than life as a power battery for Skunky, before ‘Lucky’s Fortune’ turns the tide…

Bunny has not been right since meeting the other rabbit and with Metal E.V.E.’s aid ‘The Search is On’ for a boon companion. Only briefly interrupted by reality running wild, the hunt resumes in ‘Better Luck Next Time!’ as Le Fox’s niece arrives for some rowdy ‘Fennec Fun!’ She’s on the run and another relation isn’t far behind her…

Solitude has bitten our hero hard and nothing Monkey can do will distract ‘A Lonely Bunny’ in his morose meanderings, so the little meany challenges Impossible Pig instead, and learns real suffering in ‘Butt Then…’

When Winter arrives, Lucky sees snow for the first time, enduring cheeky hostiles chucking chilly snowballs until the wonder-pig steps up as ‘Protector’ but is tricked by Skunky who wants to depower the self-promoting saviour ‘At All Costs’

Resolved to return to the Molecular Stream, Impossible Pig takes advice from unknowable factor Le Fox, but stumbles into a wild Christmas Party on his way to the fabulous Lake of Eternity. He also meets Lucky who wants to leave this reality just as much, but as they argue over who should take the one-way ride, a dear friend and desolate hero is already ‘Jumping the Queue’

To Be Continued…

The agonised anxiety-addled animal anarchy might have ended for now, but there are still secrets to share: specifically detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Lucky’ plus a preview of other treats and wonders available in The Phoenix to wind down from all that angsty furore…

The zany zenith of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird, wild wit, inspired invention, stunning sentiment and cracking cartooning all stuffed into one eccentrically excellent extravagant package. These tails (tee hee!) never fail to deliver jubilant joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. This is the kind of comic book parents beg kids to read to them. Shouldn’t that be you?
Text and illustrations © Fumboo Ltd. 2023. All rights reserved.

Batman: Silver Age Dailies and Sundays volume 1: 1966-1967


By Whitney Ellsworth, Joe Giella, Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino, Bob Powell, Werner Roth, Curt Swan & various (Library of American Comics)
ISBN: 987-1-61377-845-6 (HB)

Last century in America the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail all cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers aspired to and hungered for; syndicated across the country and the planet. Always a prime tool of circulation-building, strips won millions of readers and were regarded (in most places) as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic books.

They also paid better, and the Holiest of Holies was a full-colour Sunday page, so it was always something of a poisoned chalice if comic book characters became so popular that they swam against the tide and became a syndicated serial strip. After all, weren’t funnybooks invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?

Both Superman and Wonder Woman made the jump soon after their debuts and many features have done so since. Due to numerous war-time complications, the Batman and Robin newspaper strip was slow getting its shot, but when the Dynamic Duo finally hit the comics section of papers, the feature proved to be one of the best-regarded, highest quality examples of the trend, both in Daily and Sunday formats (and we’ll be covering what collections there are of those landmarks quite soon in this Dark Knight anniversary year).

The 1940s strips never achieved the circulation they deserved, but the Sundays were latterly given a new lease of life when DC began including selected episodes in the 1960s Batman 80-Page Giants and Annuals. Those exceedingly high-quality adventures were ideal short stories, adding an extra cachet of exoticism for youngsters captivated by simply seeing their heroes in tales that were positively ancient and redolent of History with a capital “H”.

Such was not the case as the decade proceeded when, for a relatively brief moment, humanity went bananas for superheroes in general but most especially went “Bat-Mad”…

Comic books’ Silver Age utterly revolutionised a creatively moribund medium cosily snoozing in unchallenging complacency, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning genre of masked mystery men. For quite some time the changes instigated by Julius Schwartz in Showcase #4 (October 1956) had rippled out to affect all National/DC Comics’ superhero characters but generally passed by Batman and Robin. Fans buying Detective Comics, Batman, World’s Finest Comics and latterly Justice League of America read exploits that – in look and tone – were largely unchanged from safely anodyne fantasies that had turned the Dark Knight into a mystery-solving, alien-fighting costumed Boy Scout after the 1940s turned into the 1950s.

By the end of 1963, however, Schwartz having – either personally or by example – revived and revitalised the majority of DC’s line (and, by extension and imitation, the entire industry) with his reinvention of the Superhero, was asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled nigh-moribund Caped Crusaders.

Shepherding his usual team of top-notch creators, the Editor stripped down the core-concept, downplaying the ETs, outlandish villains and daft transformations, bringing cool modernity to the capture of criminals and overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself. The most apparent change to us kids was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol but, far more importantly, the stories similarly changed as a subtle aura of genuine menace had crept back in. At the same time Hollywood was in production of a television series based on Batman and, through the sheer karmic insanity that permeates the universe, the studio executives were basing their interpretation upon the addictively daft material DC was emphatically turning its editorial back on rather than the “New Look Batman” currently enthralling readers.

The Batman TV show premiered on January 12th 1966 and ran for three seasons of 120 episodes, airing twice weekly for the first two. It was a monumental, world-wide hit and sparked a wave of imitation. Resulting media hysteria and fan frenzy generated an insane degree of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and introduced us all to the phenomenon of overkill. No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, even 60 years later, to a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to be that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish Boy Scout in a mask…

“Batmania” exploded across the world and almost as quickly became toxic and vanished, but at its height sparked a fresh newspaper strip incarnation. The strip was a huge syndication success and even reached fuddy-duddy Britain, not in our papers and journals but as the cover feature of weekly comic Smash! (with the 20th issue onwards).

Overwhelmingly successful, Batman’s TV show ended in March 1968. As it foundered and faded away, the global fascination with “camp” superheroes – and no, the term had nothing to do with sexual orientation no matter what you and Mel Brooks might suspect about Men in Tights – burst as quickly as it had boomed and the Caped Crusader was left with a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who now wanted their hero back…

From the time when the Gotham Guardians could do no wrong comes this superb collection re-presenting the bright and breezy, intentionally zany cartoon classics, augmented by a wealth of background material, topped up with oodles of unseen scenes and detail to delight the most ardent Baby-boomer nostalgia-freaks.

It opens with an astonishingly informative and astoundingly picture-packed, candidly cool introduction from comics historian Joe Desris entitled A History of the Batman and Robin Newspaper Strip’, stuffed with a wealth of newspaper promotional materials, premiums and giveaways, sketches, comic book covers and the lowdown on how the strip was coordinated to work in conjunction with the regular comic books. The Dailies and Sundays were all scripted by former DC writer/editor – and the company’s Hollywood liaison/producer – Whitney Ellsworth (Tillie the Toiler, Congo Bill) and initially illustrated by Bob Kane’s long-term secret art collaborator Sheldon Moldoff, before inker Joe Giella was tapped by the TV studio to provide a slick, streamlined modern look in the visuals – frequently as penciller but ALWAYS as embellisher.

Since the feature was a 7-day-a-week job, Giella often called in few comicbook buddies to help lay-out and draw the strip; luminaries such as Carmine Infantino, Bob Powell, Werner Roth, Curt Swan and more…

Back then, black-&-white Dailies and full-colour Sundays were usually offered as separate packages with continuity strips often generating different storylines for each. With Batman the strip started out that way, but switched to unified 7-day continuities in December 1966.

For convenience, this collection begins with the Sunday-only yarns. As on TV, the first villain du jour was a certain top-hatted raucous raptor…

‘Penguin Perpetrated a Prank’ (May 29th – July 10th 1966) saw the Fowl Felon and masked moll Beulah go on a rather uninspired crime spree, after which ‘The Nasty Napoleon’ (July 17th – October 16th) introduced a pint-sized plunderer with larcenous intent and delusions of military grandeur. Moldoff was replaced by Giella &Infantino at the end of August, if you were wondering…

Contemporarily “Swinging England” was almost as big a craze as Batman so it was no surprise the Dynamic Duo would hop across The Pond to meet well-meaning but bumbling imitators ‘Batchap and Bobbin’, fighting crime in the sleepy hamlet of Lemon Regis (October 23rd – December 18th) after which the Sundays were incorporated into the working week storylines.

Monochrome Dailies launched on May 30th: Ellsworth & Moldoff kicking off with a healthy dose of sex & violence as ‘Catwoman is a Wily Wench’ (running to July 9th 1966) saw the sultry bandit easily captured only to break out of jail and go on a vengeance-fuelled spree intended to end Batman’s career and life. Next came ‘Two Jokers and a Laughing Girl’ (July 11th – September 24th) wherein the Clown Prince of Crime is paroled into the custody of Bruce Wayne, whilst covertly robbing Gotham blind by employing a body-double. As Giella took over the art chores, it took a guest shot from Superman to iron out that macabre miscreant’s merry muddle.

Claiming to have been robbed of his rightfully stolen loot, the Wily Bird brigand became ‘Penguin the Complainant’ (September 26th – October 8th), demanding his greatest enemies and the Gotham police catch a modern-day pirate plaguing him. That led in turn to a flotilla of fists and foolishness as Batman & Robin began ‘Flying the Jolly Roger’ (October 10th – December 9th), after which Daily and Sunday segments unified as our courteous but severely outmatched Chivalrous Crusaders faced their greatest challenge from a trio of college girls: The Ivy League Dropouts. The co-ed crooks and their floral field commander seen in The Sizzling Saga of Poison Ivy’ (December 10th 1966 – March 17th 1967) were unrelated to the psychotic poisoner created by Robert Kanigher in Batman #181 (June 1966) in all but name…

Like its TV counterpart, the strip began increasingly featuring real-world guest stars and the bad girls’ scheme to plunder hospitality magnate Conrad Hilton‘s latest enterprise – The Batman Hilton – led to comedic cross-dressing hijinks, a doomed affair for Bruce and plenty of publicity for all concerned…

The guest policy was expanded in ‘Jack Benny’s Stolen Stradivarius’ (March 18th – April 30th) as the infamously penny-pinching comedian promised Gotham’s Gangbusters a $1000-an-hour stipend (for charity, of course) to recover his fiddle and insisted on accompanying them everywhere to ensure they worked at top speed…

A major character debuted in ‘Batgirl Ain’t your Sister’ (May 1st – July 9th) with a masked mystery woman prowling the night streets. She was beating up plenty of baddies but their loot never seemed to be recovered…

With no clues and nothing to go on, all Batman & Robin could do was masquerade as crooks and rob places in hopes of being caught by the “Dominoed Daredoll”, but by the time they found each other The Riddler had involved himself, planning to kill everybody and keep all that accumulated loot for himself…

Riding a wave and feeling ambitious, Ellsworth & Giella began their longest saga yet as ‘Shivering Blue Max, “Pretty Boy” Floy and Flo’ (July 10th 1967 – March 18th 1968 and ending in the next book) saw a perpetually hypothermic criminal pilot accidentally down the Batcopter and erroneously claim the underworld’s million dollar bounty on Batman & Robin. The heroes were not dead, but the crash had caused the Caped Crusader to lose his memory. As Robin and faithful manservant Alfred sought to remedy his affliction, Max collected his prize and jetted off for sunnier climes. With Batman missing, neophyte crimebuster Batgirl tracked down the heroes – incidentally learning their secret identities – and was instrumental in restoring him to action… if not quite his full functioning faculties.

When underworld paymaster BG (Big) Trubble heard the heroes had returned he quite understandably instituted procedures to get his money back, forcing Max to return to Gotham where he stupidly fell foul of Pretty Boy before that hip young gunsel and his sister Flo kicked off a murderous scheme to fleece a horoscope-addicted millionaire…

To Be Continued and concluded, Bat-Fans…

Supplementing the parade of guilty pleasures is a copious, comprehensive and fabulously educational section on ‘Notes on Stories in this Volume’ – also generously illustrated with covers, photos and show-&-strip arcana – as well as a fascinating behind-the-scenes display highlighting editorial corrections and alterations to the strips required by those ever-so-fussy TV studio people. Everything then ends for now with a schematic key to ‘The Batman Cast’ as depicted on the back cover.

The stories in this compendium reflect gentler times and an editorial policy focusing as much on broad humour as Batman’s reputation as a manhunter, so the colourful, psychotic costumed super-villains are in a minority here, but if you’re of a certain age or open to fun-over-thrills this a collection well worth your attention.

Batman: Silver Age Dailies and Sundays 1966-1967 was the first of huge (305 x 236 mm) lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Gotham Gangbusters, and another crucial addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, Bringing Up Father, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many other cartoon icons. Hopefully one day they will all be available digitally too…

If you love the era, or simply the medium of serial graphic narratives, these stories are great comics reading, and this is a book you must have.
© 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Batman and all related characters and elements ™ & © DC Comics.

Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful


By Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-822-1 (PB)

Just in case you missed the last few days here’s a sly reminder of what we’ve just voted to end – at least as concerns direct involvement in public life…

There are books to read, books you should read – and some, certainly, that you shouldn’t – and there are Important books. The relatively new field of graphic novels has many of the first but still boasts precious few important books yet. Thankfully, British documentarian, journalist and cartoonist Darryl Cunningham seems to specialise in the latter and apparently never rests…

It’s hard enough to get noticed within the industry (simply excelling at your craft is not enough) but when comics does generate something wonderful, valid, powerful, true to our medium yet simultaneously breaking beyond into the wide world and making a mark, the reviews from that appreciative greater market come thick and fast – so I’m not going to spend acres of text praising this forthright, potentially controversial and damning examination of Earth’s Newest (but hopefully not Last) Dark Gods – the Super Rich.

Multi-disciplined artist Cunningham was born in 1960, lived a pretty British life (didn’t we all?) and graduated from Leeds College of Art. A welcome regular on the Small Press scene of the 1990s, his early strips appeared in legendary paper-based venues such as Fast Fiction, Dead Trees, Inkling, Turn and many others.

In 1998, he & Simon Gane crafted Meet John Dark for the much-missed Slab-O-Concrete outfit and it remains one of my favourite books of the era. You should track it down or agitate for a new edition.

Briefly sidelining comics as the century ended, Cunningham worked on an acute care psychiatric ward: a period informing 2011 graphic novel Psychiatric Tales, a revelatory inquiry into mental illness delivered as cartoon reportage.

As well as crafting web comics for Forbidden Planet and personal projects Uncle Bob Adventures, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night or The Streets of San Diablo, he’s been consolidating a pole position in the field of graphic investigative reporting; specifically science history, economics and socio-political journalism via books such as Science Tales, Supercrash: How to Hijack the Global Economy, Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery and The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis.

This offering details the rise and pernicious all-pervasive influence of three icons of the plutocratic ideal, all while debunking such self-deluding and damaging public myths as “self-made”, “coming from nothing” and “fair and honest”…

It opens with a pictorial Introduction outlining how late 19th and early 20th century robber barons of the Gilded Age set the scene for the rise of today’s financial overlords – and how governments responded to them…

Depicted in clear, simple, easily accessible imagery, Cunningham then deconstructs carefully crafted legends and official biographies of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, energy barons Charles & David Koch and internet retail supremo/space cadet Jeff Bezos with an even-handedness I’m not sure any other investigative author could match – or would want to.

Via an avalanche of always-attributable, deftly delineated facts and reported events, the artist delivers the very opposite of hard-hitting polemic, instead massaging and lathering readers with an ocean of appetising data allowing us make up our own minds about proudly ruthless apex business predators who have controlled governments, steered populations and reshaped the planet in their quest for financial dominance.

Best of all, Cunningham even has the courage to offer bold – and serious – suggestions on how to rectify the current state of affairs in his Afterword, and (should anybody’s lawyers or tax accountants be called upon) backs up all his cartoon classwork with a vast and daunting list of References for everything cited in the book.

Comics has long been the most effective method of imparting information and eliciting reaction (that’s why assorted governments and militaries have used them for hard and soft propaganda over the last century and a half), and with Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful we finally see that force being used against today’s greatest threat to continued existence…
© Darryl Cunningham 2019. All rights reserved.

The Thirteenth Floor vol. 01


By John Wagner, Alan Grant & José Ortiz & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN:978-1-78108-653-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Let’s pause for another shamble down memory lane for us oldsters whilst – perhaps – offering a fresh, untrodden path for younger fans of the fantastic in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This stunning paperback/eBook package is another knockout nostalgia-punch from Rebellion Studios’ superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, collecting the opening episodes of seminal shocker The Thirteenth Floor.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Scream and ran the distance, spanning all 15 issues from 24th March – 30th June 1984. It survived the comic’s premature cancelation and subsequent merger, continuing for a good long while in Eagle & Scream – with the remaining stories here taking us from 1st September 1984 to 13th April 1985. Although arguably the most popular – and certainly most lavishly illustrated – of Scream’s fearsome features, The Thirteenth Floor is actually the third strip to be gathered from that lost dark wellspring, preceded by Monster in 2016 and The Dracula File in 2017. Mayhap we’ll get to those in the fullness of time.

This book accomplishes its terrorising in stark, shocking monochrome but does include at the end a gallery of full-colour wraparound covers by series artist José Ortiz, and then-newcomer Brett Ewins, as well as introductory contextual notes from editor Ian Rimmer and a darkly dry history lesson from co-author Alan Grant. With regular writing partner John Wagner, he wrote all the electronically eldritch episodes as enigmatic “Ian Holland”.

Grant maintained the strip derived in part from his own time of residence on the 11th floor of a similar tower block and, having done my own time in a south London multi-story edifice, I can imagine why the sojourn was so memorable for him…

The series benefitted tremendously from the diligent mastery of its sole illustrator – sublime José Ortiz Moya: a veteran creator with a truly international pedigree. Born on September 1st 1932 in Cartagena in the Spanish region of Murcia, he started professional illustration early, after winning a comics competition in national comic Chicos. Whilst working on comics digest books and strips like Sigur el Vikingo, he gradually transitioned to the better-paying British market, beginning in 1962 by drawing newspaper strip Carolynn Baker for The Daily Express. Ortiz also worked on numerous kids’ comics here before making a wise move to America in 1974, and became a mainstay of Warren Publishing on horror magazines Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella.

In the early 1980s Ortiz returned to Spain, joining Leopold Sánchez, Manfred Sommer and Jordi Bernet in short-lived super-group cooperative Metropol, even as he worked with Antonio Segura on many long-lasting strips such as post-apocalyptic action-thriller Hombre.

Metropol’s collapse brought him back to British comics where he limned The Tower King and The House of Daemon for Eagle, strips including Rogue Trooper for 2000AD… and this macabre masterpiece…

Ortiz continued to excel, eventually settling in the Italian comics biz, with significant contributions to megastars Tex Willer, Ken Parker and Magico Vento. He died in Valencia on December 23rd 2013.

Because of the episodic nature of the material, originally delivered in sharp, spartan 4-page bursts (eventually dropping to a standard 3), I’m foregoing my usual self-indulgent and laborious waffle: leaving you with a précis of the theme and major landmarks…

A little bit into the future (as seen from the dystopian-yet-still-partially-civilised Britain of 1984), a council tower block is equipped with an experimental computer system to supervise all the building systems and services whilst simultaneously monitoring welfare and wellbeing of tenants. Maxwell Tower (one of the names we creative contributors waggishly called the offices of IPC’s comics division at that time) looms into the rather bleak urban night.

Within, however, novel computer-controlled systems assure everyone enjoys a happy life. The servers even manifest a congenial personality offering advice and a bit of company. Dubbed “Max” by tenants, it/he – just like $%*£!! Alexa or Siri today – increasingly inserts itself into every aspect of their lives through its constantly active monitoring systems. For their own good, naturally…

Because humans are fallible and quite silly, the architects fancifully never designated a 13th floor. Cognizant of human superstition, they designed their edifice to arbitrarily transit straight from 12 to 14. A human onsite controller/concierge/handyman lives in the penthouse. His name is Jerry and everything is just hunky-dory… until one day it isn’t…

The troubles apparently begin when a mother and son move in. They are trying to make a new start after losing the family breadwinner, but are plagued by a particularly persistent and violent debt-collector. After Mr. Kemp threatens the bereaved Henderson family, he stalks into an elevator and is later found on the ground floor, having suffered an agonising and fatal heart attack. Police write it off as an accident or misadventure, but they don’t know the truth.

Over-protective Max is far more powerful than anyone suspects and can turn his lifts into a terrifyingly realistic arena of terror, judgement and retribution. He calls it his “Thirteenth Floor”…

Over weeks and months, Max detects outrages and injustices and promptly subjects assorted vandals, hooligans, burglars, bailiffs, lawyers, conmen, extortionists, shoddy plumbers, shady workmen and even a clan of problem tenants preying on their own neighbours to various impossibly realistic terrors of the damned. Equally vexatious to the monitoring “mommy-dearest” machine is the useless bureaucrat from its own housing department who treats people like subhuman trash. Max devises a very special hell for him after the uncivil servant’s lazy blunders temporarily make one of Max’s families homeless…

Sometimes punishment experiences are enough to modify behaviour and ensure silence, but too often the end result is simply another death. It happens so frequently Max is reluctantly compelled to brainwash husky tenant Bert Runch into being his agent: a mindless drone hypnotically conditioned to be Max’s arms and legs, excising incriminating evidence – or bodies – and forgetting what he’s done.

Sadly, veteran policeman Sergeant Ingram suspects something is amiss and doggedly persists in returning to Maxwell Tower over and over again, ultimately forcing the coddling computer into precipitate action…

Moreover, as Max’s actions grow increasingly bold, Jerry starts suspecting something is wrong. Checking the hardware and finding a cracked Integrated Function Module, Jerry calls in council computer experts and Max must act quickly to preserve his unsanctioned intellectual autonomy. This triggers a cascade of uncontrollable events with Max taking ever-wilder risks, and results in the tower being stormed by an army of police determined to shut down the AI murder machine…

That’s where this moody masterpiece pauses with a great big To Be Continued…

These strip shockers are amongst the most memorable and enjoyable in British comics: smart, scary and rendered with stunning imagination and skill. Don’t believe for a moment the seemingly limited set-up restricts visual impact. The macabre punitive illusions of The Thirteenth Floor incorporate every possible monster from zombies and dinosaurs to hell itself and history’s greatest villains, whilst the settings range from desert islands to the infinities of time and space. This a superb sophisticated suspense, leavened with positively cathartic social commentary that is impossible to dismiss.
© 1984, 1985 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. All Rights Reserved.