The Mighty Thor: When Gods Go Mad


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, John Buscema & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-185-9

When the Thor films screened across the world, Marvel quite understandably released a batch of tie-in books and trade paperback collections to maximise exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with or even rekindle a childhood comics experience.

In the UK the company’s British adjunct Panini collected an unlikely assemblage featuring the Thunderer’s most turbulent transition for one of its handy Pocket Book Editions (130 x 198mm) which, much to my surprise, works exceedingly well as an introductory epic into the wondrous worlds of contemporary Asgardian mythology…

Whilst the expanding Marvel Universe had grown evermore interconnected as it matured, with characters constantly tripping over each other in New York City, the godly heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had often drawn the Storm Lord away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

More than any other Marvel feature, The Mighty Thor was the strip where Kirby’s creative brilliance always found its greatest release in cosmically questing exploration of an infinite and dangerous universe and the strip suffered a sharp, sudden loss of imaginative impetus when he unexpectedly quit Marvel in 1970.

His departure left the series floundering, despite the best efforts of (arguably) the company’s greatest remaining illustrators, Neal Adams and John Buscema. The King’s dreaming, extrapolating and honing of a dazzling new kind of storytelling and graphic symbology, wedded to soul-searching, mind-boggling questioning of Man’s place in the universe – and all within the limited confines of a 20-page action adventure – appeared an impossible act to follow, but now with the perspective of passing decades it might be worth reassessing that judgement…

Collecting Thor #179-188, cover-dated August 1970 to May 1971 and scripted throughout by Stan Lee, the saga opens following a cataclysmic clash with fire-demon Surtur which saw omnipotent over-god Odin imprisoned by treacherous Loki in “The Sea of Eternal Night” whilst his subjects battled fiery Armageddon.

The forces of good naturally persevered and here and now the action commences with ‘No More the Thunder God!’ as warrior companions Sif and Balder are dispatched to Earth to arrest the fugitive Loki in the wake of Thor’s early departure on the same mission.

This story was Kirby’s last tale of the Thunderer and he left on a cliffhanger with the Thunder God ambushed by his wicked step-brother. By mystically switching bodies, the cunning Lord of Evil gains safety and all the powers of the Storm Lord whilst Thor is fated to endure whatever punishment Odin decrees for the arch-schemer…

The epic resumed in ‘When Gods Go Mad!’ which introduced the totally different style of Neal Adams to the mix – even if inked by the comfortably familiar Joe Sinnott – as the true Thunder God is sent to Hades and the tender mercies of infernal demon-lord Mephisto, whilst on Earth Loki uses his brother’s stolen body to terrorise the United Nations Assembly and declare himself Master of the World…

Faithful lover Sif, however, knowing the truth leads the Warriors Three Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg on a rescue mission to the Infernal Realm, leaving valiant Balder to struggle against the power of Thor and malice of Loki in the concluding chapter ‘One God Must Fall!’

Eventually Mephisto is worn down by the innate nobility and unflagging courage of the Asgardians, banishing them from his vile domain and leaving the true Thunder God free to battle his brother and inevitably set the world to rights….

The new era truly began with Thor #182 as John Buscema assumed the artistic reins for ‘The Prisoner… The Power… and… Dr. Doom!’ as the First Son of Asgard becomes entangled in Earthly politics after a young girl entreats him to rescue her missile-designer father from the deadly Iron Monarch of Latveria.

The decidedly down-to-Earth and mismatched melodrama concluded with human alter ego Dr. Don Blake ‘Trapped in Doomsland!’ until Thor could retrieve his mislaid mallet and teach the insidious dictator the true meaning of power…

Lee, Buscema & Sinnott then began their own ambitious cosmic saga in #184 with ‘The World Beyond!’ wherein a sinister and implacable force began devouring the outer galaxies, and the subsequent psychic reverberations began to unravel life on Earth and in Asgard. With all life imperilled Odin departs to combat the enigmatic threat alone…

Sam Grainger inked ‘In the Grip of Infinity!’ as the cosmic calamity intensified and the All-Father fell to the invader whilst ‘Worlds at War!’ revealed the true architect of the conflagration, leading to a desperate last-ditch ploy uniting the forces of Good and Evil together in ‘The World is Lost!’ before one final clash – inked by Jim Mooney – answered all the questions and led to ‘The End of Infinity!’

Although vast in scope and drenched in powerful moments revealing the human side of the gods in extremis, this tale suffers from an excess of repetitive padding and a rather erratic pace. At least this book wisely excludes the ponderous epilogue (from Thor #189) which saw the true architect of the universal rampage come calling for ill-considered revenge…

All in all, When Gods Go Mad offers a grandiose and bombastic series of battles and incipient ever-encroaching doom in the best Fights ‘n’ Tights tradition, illustrated by three of the most brilliant artists American comics have ever produced.

The Kirby Thor will always be a high-point in graphic fantasy, all the more impressive for the sheer imagination and timeless readability of the tales. With his departure the series foundered for the longest time before finding a new identity, yet even so the artists who followed him – whilst not possessing his vaulting visionary passion – were every inch his equal in craft and dedication.

Thus this book (which also includes covers by Adams, Sinnott, John Romita Sr., Marie Severin, John Buscema and John Verpoorten) is still an absolute must for all fans of action and inspirational, unearthly adventure.
™ & © 2013 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

The Veil


By Greg Rucka & Toni Fejzula, with Aljoša Tomić & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-492-7

It’s January and the nights are long and cold. Good thing there’s plenty of scary stories and coolly creepy graphic novels to while away the midnight hours…

Written by Greg Rucka and chillingly illustrated by Toni Fejzula with additional colour work from Aljoša Tomić, Veil collects the introductory 5-issue miniseries (March to July 2014) which saw the debut of one of the more intriguing femme fatales in modern comics history…

It all begins in an abandoned, desolate subway station where a beautiful, naked and extremely confused young woman awakens on a bed of most surprised rats. Babbling incoherently but not at all scared, she makes her way above ground and finds herself in a modern Sodom and Gomorrah where her nubile helplessness soon attracts the attention of the pimps and other two-footed predators…

Big mean Vincent especially seems unable to resist his most basic urges but the victim-to-be is rescued by unlikely hero Dante who inexplicably – and unlike every other John on the street – seems compelled to shield rather than covet her…

Covering her nakedness, Dante takes her to his shabby apartment and tries to get some sense out of the girl who calls herself “Veil”. Vincent and his homies, however, are not the types to defer gratification and come looking for her with plenty of guns and bad attitudes…

It’s the last mistake of their short, violent lives but in the bloody aftermath Dante knows more than ever that, whatever she is, this girl must be protected. As they go on the run through the seedy backstreets and alleys of the city Veil seems to grow more clear-headed even as she displays ever-greater impossible abilities.

Elsewhere men wielding a different kind of irresistible power are discussing her. In the gory detritus of a satanic ritual, money-man Mr. Scarborough unwisely chides the black magician he and his consortium have hired – with apparently negligible return…

Despite apparent failure and the clear absence of the thing they paid for, insouciant Cormac remains aggravatingly untroubled. Just why is revealed after Scarborough’s thugs try to kill him for his presumed failure and the scheming wizard displays some of the other powers at his command…

The demands of ego satisfied on both sides, Cormac assures Scarborough that he will find the missing vessel of unfettered power he was hired to summon. He never actually specifies who will profit from it, though…

Back in the nasty part of town, cops have arrested Dante and Veil, but the girl’s uncanny allure compels one of them to force himself upon her as he has so many other street girls. His partner will never sleep easy again after seeing what she left of him…

With Veil vanished, the still-handcuffed Dante flees whilst in an empty, deconsecrated church Cormac works, summoning a rat familiar to scent out his target and draw it to him. If he knows that Scarborough and his billionaire business associates have sanctioned an assassination hit team to take him out, he doesn’t care…

The killer elite arrive soon after the mesmerised Veil and are on site when the mage binds her with a mystic chain, ordering her to change to her true form. The hit squad doesn’t stand a chance…

Dante meanwhile has hooked up with an old friend who has rid him of the handcuffs, if not his obsession to help the strangely compelling Veil. The poor sap isn’t that surprised when a rat bites Gabriel and something terrifying starts talking through his mouth. It seems the Devil wants his property back and is prepared to help Dante save her from the mad mortals who currently possess her…

Sharply scripted and superbly illustrated, this rocket-paced rollercoaster ride to Hell and back is a superb blend of corporate chicanery, sinister sorcery, grimy street crime, gory excess and unlikely heroism that delivers a bloodbath of spooky, sexy action even as it promises more revelations to come.

This classy full-colour hardback edition also includes a copious ‘Veil Sketchbook’ section depicting the evolution and intriguing multiple aspects of the enigmatic star to astound art lovers and all aficionados of the darkly exotic.
© 2014, 2015 Nervous Habit, Inc. All rights reserved.

Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2


By many and various, edited by Michael Dowers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-807-6

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

Michael Dowers, the force behind not only this compilation but also Brownfieldpress and Starhead Comix, adores the concept of crafting and disseminating mini comics and his books Newave!- The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980 and volume one of this series described and reproduced hundreds of examples: spotlighting with enticing, encouraging exuberance those incurably driven artisans who came out of the “anything goes” 1960s and 1970s Underground Commix movement still craving a vehicle of expressly personal expression.

Such creators aren’t really in it for the money – although a few have moved on to find a modicum of mainstream comics fame, at least – and, in an era before computers, they found time to write, draw and compile artwork (small press people are notoriously generous, contributing to projects at the drop of a hat) before laboriously photocopying, cutting, folding, stapling and then distributing the miniscule marvellous results.

Just by way of definition: most mini comics were and still are home-produced pamphlets using borrowed – or when necessary paid for – print processes. The most popular format was an 8½ x 11inch sheet, folded twice, and printed at local copy-shops (or clandestinely churned out on school/work repro systems like early Xerox, Photostat, Mimeo or Spirit Banda machines) on any paper one could lay hands on.

Because they weren’t big, they were called “mini commix”. Inspired, no?

Thanks to a seemingly inexhaustible modern appetite for such uniquely individualistic endeavours here’s a superb sequel tome – one more massive paper brick of fun (848 monochrome and colour pages, 178 x 127mm) – compiling and sharing many of the very best mini masterpieces from the 1970s to right here, right now…

Many key figures in the proliferation of this uniquely eloquent people’s medium are included here, not only through examples of their groundbreaking work, but also through statements, interviews and fond reminiscences.

If human beings have access to any kind of reproductive technology they seemingly cannot resist making copies of their own private parts or creating their own comics, and here content comes from all over the North American continent – and even beyond – covering everything from superhero spoofs, monster-mashes, robot rampages, animal antics, autobiography, recreational drugs, religious, spiritual and philosophical diatribes and polemics, surreal experimental design and just plain fun stories, chatter and gags: all as sexually explicit, violent, strident or personally intimate as their creators wanted them to be…

As usual I’ll deliver here my standard warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or illustrated scenes of explicit sex or unbelievable comedy violence, don’t buy this book and stop reading this review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll probably cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then.

It all starts with Michael Dowers’ introduction wherein he brings the history of the sub-medium up to date and posits a connection with the legendarily scandalous “Gentlemen’s under-the-counter” publications known as Tijuana Bibles which livened up life for our forebears in the early part of the 20th century with explicit and illegal cartoon cavortings featuring famous stars of screen and newspaper strips.

That proposition is upheld and further explored following ‘The Hundred Year Old New Waver in “Damn Punks Got it Easy Today”’: a hilarious graphic diatribe (dis)courtesy of Brad W. Foster from Time Warp #3 (2007) after which a genuine, authentic and anonymous Tijuana Bible inclusion offers erotic relief to ‘The Van Swaggers’.

Then follows a batch of modern tributes and reinterpretations beginning with masked wrestler/guitarist The Crippler by Fiona Smyth (2007) and the astoundingly disturbing, politically punishing ‘Obliging Lady’ from Ethan Persoff & Scott Marshall’s The Adventures of Fuller Bush Man & John McCain (2009)…

A splendid faux pastiche of the original pamphlets, Hairy Crotch & Rim Johnson in ‘The Interview’ is an anonymous entry from 1995, whilst Lilli Loge abandons the form but ramps up the spirit for the tale of a girl and her slave in ‘A Blessing in Disguise’ from Ben & Jenny from 2009.

That same year clean-cut Euro icon Lucky Luke got homo-erotically spoofed as ‘Hunky Luke in Calamity Jack’ by Anna Bas Backer after which Antoine Duthoit (2013) plunders Jim Woodring’s style and character cast for the outrageous Spank.

From 1972 Trina Robbins delivers classic pastiche ‘Sally Starr Hollywood Gal Sleuth’ solving a “Minit Mystery” whilst Bob Conway offers classic cartoon capers ‘Out to Lunch’ and ‘Chicken Shit’ in 1980’s Tales of Mr. Fly, and David Miller & Par Holman venerate the disaffected teen outsider experience in a blast of vignettes in Punkomix #1 from 1982.

Clark Dissmeyer laments the life of a Two-Fisted Cartoonist (#1 1983) after which Steve Willis’ 1983 Sasquatch Comix #3 details a strange encounter in the wild woods and R.K. Sloane & Jeff Gaither noxiously explore a life in hell with Fresh Meat from 1985.

A genuine small press big noise reveals all in the ‘Jeff Nicholson Interview’ after which the creator’s infamous cartoon polemic Jeff Nicholson’s Small Press Tirade (1989) still proves to be astoundingly powerful and the ‘Dan Taylor Interview’ segues neatly into some of his superbly eclectic Shortoonz from 1990 and the deliciously vulgarian Unleashed #1 from 2010.

John Trubee’s 1990 Vomit! #1 is a captivating manifesto of the politically baroque and philosophically bizarre whilst from 1992 Jason Atomic’s Wongo Batonga pt. 2 gloriously celebrates the magnificent freedom of superheroic imagination in a lengthy explosion of power-packed battles before Patrick Dowers explores human diversity in Marvels of the Sideshow Freaks.

Corn Comics #1 (Marc Bell, 1993) provides a hilarious laugh-ride of bitter twisted types after which the ‘Tom Hart Interview’ precedes his wittily poignant 1993 slice-of-life saga Love Looks Left and all-star line-up J.R. Williams, Pat Moriarity & R.L. Crabb collaborate on the 1994 cautionary tale ‘Devil Stay Away From Me’.

Impishly shocking Ellen Forney & Renée French then reveal how The Exquisite Corpse Bakes a Pie (1994), after which a ‘Molly Kiely Interview’ is stunningly supplemented by her rendition of a bevy of female music and movie icons who all possessed that indefinable sense of Sass! (1995).

Jeffrey Brown’s 1998 paean to hopelessness and confusion ‘To Wenatchee’ is followed by Pshaw’s whimsical story of a little robot in The One Eyed World (1999) after which ‘Colin Upton Presents A Short Guide To the Care and Production of Mini-Comics’ provides everything anyone needs to know about making story-art stories.

Contemporary cartoon wild child Johnny Ryan 2002 exposes guilty secrets from Shouldn’t You Be Working? #5, before the ‘Souther Salazar Interview’ leads to the artist’s wide-ranging ‘In Case of Emergency Only’ (2003) and Max Clotfelter’s eerily post-apocalyptic Snake Meat #1 from 2004.

Her smartly evocative 2004 Science Fiction Affliction is preceded by an ‘Alison Cole Interview’ after which Thought Cloud Shrines from 2007 perfectly displays Theo Ellsworth’s astounding graphic imagination and meticulous penmanship; gifts shared by Lisa Hanawalt and revealed in a stunning fashion parade of freaks in Stay Away From Other People from 2008, augmented by her hilarious ‘12 Things To Do When you Are Stuck in Traffic’.

Travis Millard’s ‘Sad Dad’ introduces a deucedly depressing modern pantheon in Who Let the Gods Out (2008) whilst Bobby Maddness explores a variety of baffling annoyances in Too Small Comics #2 (2010) and Esther Pearl Watson describes a ghastly future populated solely by pop stars and fashion models in Eric Parris World from 2009.

The marvellous Jim Rugg contributes a stunning and outrageous pop at America’s dumbest President and most moronic national symbol in the delirious ‘Rambo 3.5’ (2009) after which, from 2010, Donald & Daniel Zettwoch mesmerise with their incredible personal history of phone exchange technology in ‘Cut Lines and Intricate Minds’ as seen in Tel-Tales #1 and Tom Neely employs dozens of bootlegged Popeyes in a surreal spinach-fuelled Battle Royale for his Doppelgänger

The ‘Jason T. Miles Interview’ leads naturally enough into his 2010 tale of terror ‘Dump’ from Pines 3.

The irrepressible manga marvel DJ Cat Gosshie goes through a series of adorable “totally-street” trans-Pacific short story syncopations as delineated by Harukichi in 2011 before Pakito Bolino then relates the hyperkinetic end of everything with the ‘Male of the Future’ from D.O.C. (2012)

DemonDust #10 by Bernie McGovern (2012) lyrically explores the poetry of atomic theory and human interactiveness whilst from the same year Shuttlecakes reveals the stunning dexterity and artistic facility of Susan Belle before the ‘Caroline Paquita Interview’ leads to her seductively gender-political compilation Womanimalistic #3 from 2013 to close the monochrome section of this collection.

However, following the ever-so-useful ‘Artist website and contact info’ pages, there’s even more compelling cartoon self-expression all crafted to make use of carefully considered colour, commencing with Kristyna Baczynski’s travails of a pretty kitty in ‘Nine Lives’ from 2012, Leah Wishnia’s disturbing exploration of women’s lives from Spithouse #1 (2008) and an even more distressing tale of psychological brutality from Nick Bertozzi in ‘5/4’ from 2000 before Ethan Persoff concludes the challenging cartoon content with a stunning graphic potpourri from Plastic Tales and Stories #2.

This tremendous tome features some of the host of pioneering craftsmen who worked in the self-printing movement which became today’s thriving Alternative/Small Press publishing industry as well as the current internet comics phenomenon, and this book has incredible appeal on an historical basis.

However, that’s really not the point: the real draw of such collections is that creativity is addictive, good work never pales or grows stale and the great stories and art here will make you keen to have a go too.

I’ve done it myself, for fun – even once or twice for actual profit – and it’s an incredible buzz (I should note that I am still married to a wife not only tolerant but far more skilled and speedy in the actual “photocopy, cut, fold, staple” bit of the process and willing, if not keen, to join in just so she might occasionally be with the compulsive dingbat she married…)

The sheer boundless enthusiasm and feelgood rewards of intellectual freedom from making such comics celebrated in this astoundingly vast, incredibly heavy and yet still pocket-sized hardback is a pure galvanic joy that will enchant and impel every fan of the art-form: as long as they’re big enough to hold a pencil, old enough to vote, and strong enough to lift the book.
Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2 © 2015 Michael Dowers and Fantagraphics Books. All contents © 2013 their respective creators or authors. All rights reserved.

Wolverine: Season One


By Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Salva Espin & Cam Smith, with Jason Aaron, Ramón Pérez, Laura Martin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6672-6

Much as I’d love to believe otherwise, I know that the Cold War, transistor radio and pre-cellphone masterpieces of my youth are often impenetrable to younger fans – even when drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett or Don Heck.

Perpetual and overarching revision – or at least the appearance of such – is the irresistible force driving modern comics. There must be a constant changing of the guard, a shifting of scene and milieu and, in latter times, a regular diet of death, resurrection and rebirth – all grounded in relatively contemporary terms and situations.

Even for relatively minor or secondary stars the process is inescapable, with increasing supra-comicbook media adjuncts (film, TV, games, etc.) dictating that subjects be perpetually updated because the goldfish-minded readers of today apparently can’t understand or remember anything that’s more than a week old.

Alternatively, one could argue that for popular characters or concepts with a fifty-year + pedigree, all that history can be a readership-daunting deterrence, so radical reboots are a painful but vital periodic necessity…

Publishing ain’t no democracy, however, so it’s comforting to realise that many of these retrofits are thankfully exceptionally good comics tales in their own right and anyway, the editors can call always claim that it was an “alternate Earth” story the next time the debut saga is modernised…

Released in 2013, Wolverine: Season One is an all-new distilation of the Feral Fury’s debut appearances in the Marvel Universe, delivered in a hardback graphic novel with hidden extras.

It was a late entry into a series designed to renovate, modify and update classic origin epics (following Fantastic Four, X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Hulk, Doctor Strange, and Avengers) which, despite clearly being intended as story-bibles for newer, movie-oriented fans and readers, mostly managed to add a little something to the immortal but hopelessly time-locked tales.

Scripted by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, illustrated by Salva Espin & Cam Smith with colours from Jim Charalampidis, the saga opens in the forested wilds of Canada where our unmistakable savage star is engaged in a ferocious struggle for survival against the mystical man-eating monster known as the Wendigo.

The horrific death-duel is witnessed by backpackers Heather and James Macdonald Hudson whose first assumptions – that the man is as bestial as the monster – are shaken when the clearly overmatched underdog intervenes after Wendigo turn his hungry attention to them…

Battle rejoined, the big beast slaughters the little man and shambles off, leaving the stunned couple to realise that – somehow, impossibly – their saviour is not dead…

Taking him back to their cabin, they nurse the incredibly fast-healing stranger to a semblance of health but although his body mends quickly his mind seems shattered. Moreover, they can see metal inside the clearly superhuman survivor…

Heather and James are not ordinary citizens either. They are employed by Canada’s security services where he is prominent in the clandestine Department H, building a suit of high-tech battle armour.

Idle chatter with the older scientists there leads James to rumours of a project called “Weapon X” wherein a man had indestructible Adamantium grafted to his bones before going crazy and slaughtering everybody…

The potentially homicidal maniac and certified amnesiac meanwhile has been patiently tended by Heather who has achieved a cognitive breakthrough. Reaching the man submerged by the animal, she has restored his power to speak but not to remember his past.

She was only slightly daunted by the razor sharp, nine-inch claws that tended to spring out of his arms whenever he became frustrated or upset…

James meanwhile has discussed Weapon X with his boss Dr. Myra Haddock and been told a pack of face-saving placatory lies about the whole shameful affair. She is however, extremely keen to bring the feral enigma into Department H, whose mandate is creating a super-soldier for Canada…

Soon the wild man is being groomed for the role of a special agent – a role he seems remarkably familiar with – but James is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Heather’s new role as his “keeper” and the subject’s growing infatuation with his wife…

Throughout the training period the clawed conundrum has been subject to traumatic nightmares (buried memories of the tortures he endured as the involuntary test subject of the Weapon X program) and after a particularly arduous session in the laboratory he snaps, attacking Heather in berserk fury.

During the PTSD driven assault he shouted a name… “Logan”…

The net result is a huge fight as James dons the Exo-Suit he’d been building and goes after the mystery man. Total destruction of the base is only averted by scheming Dr. Haddock’s intervention; dragging them back to Heather’s bedside so she can shout at them both…

Chastened and frightened, the agent now known as Logan wants to quit, but Haddock has other plans. The monolithic man-monster known as the Hulk has wandered over the border into Canada and she wants her Weapon X to tackle the emerald invader. Not to kill him, necessarily: if Logan can get back with a gamma-irradiated blood sample that will be success enough. With such a transformative DNA to add to the Department’s discoveries, a Canadian super-soldier serum is an eventual certainty.

There’s only one little problem: the Jade Goliath is in the same region as the Wendigo and Logan still has a psychological handicap regarding the cannibal beast which all but killed him…

Outfitted in a tailored combat outfit and codenamed “Wolverine” the feisty scrapper is dropped into the middle of a brutal blockbusting battle between the behemoths – and is nearly pounded to jelly. Only last minute intervention by James saves the mighty mite, but he does come back with the Green Goliath’s blood all over him…

Haddock, however, has had enough of her subordinates’ seeming lack of guts and hires a freelance operative named Victor Creed who has similar abilities to Logan but none of his squeamishness about killing or following orders.

The big brute also claims to have shared history with Logan. The little amnesiac certainly has plenty of bad dreams and flashbacks after meeting the cruelly taunting new guy…

With Codename Wolverine benched due to his growing insubordination and repugnance at the Department’s methods, Creed – now using the combat appellative “Sabretooth” – is dispatched to bring in the Wendigo for Haddock’s vivisection labs whilst Logan is placed in lockdown and sedated.

He’s sprung by Heather who gives him a new costume to go after Sabretooth and her blinkered, out-of-his-depth husband. James might have a suit like Iron Man’s but he’s no superhero, and accompanying Creed on this mission is likely to get him killed…

Thanks to Logan’s mutant super senses he locates the cannibal beast first and, due to his new rational state, manages to befriend the monster. Unfortunately when James – still writhing in unfounded jealousy of Logan – and Creed arrive, Sabretooth’s bloodlust soon provokes a terrifying four-way war…

Only when Heather becomes involved and endangered does James come to his senses and suddenly all bets are off…

The cataclysmic combat seems to shake a few hidden memories loose, however, and in the aftermath Wolverine wants out of Department H. James too has had enough of Haddock and goes to her superiors with a new idea: rather than super-soldiers, perhaps what Canada needs is a team of superheroes.

He even knows a consultant the government can hire: a metahuman specialist named Professor Charles Xavier. Once Logan and the American savant meet history is made…

The Beginning…

As an additional fillip the reimagined origin is supplemented with ‘Survival 101’ by Jason Aaron, Ramón Pérez and Laura Martin (from Wolverine and the X-Men #25, April 2013) wherein the tough-love terror, in his capacity as headmaster of the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning, drags a pack of his most troublesome and recalcitrant charges on an educational away-day to the dinosaur-infested Savage Land for a little team-building and bonding.

Of course if he’d realised his murderous big brother Dog had returned from the dead to hunt him, Professor Logan might just have opted for detentions and pop quizzes instead…

Fair Warning: this tale is funny, scary and extremely addictive but does not conclude here…

Also included are seven pages of design sketches, cover examples and variants by Espin, Julian Totino Tedesco, Pérez & Martin making this an enticing and entertaining package for both newcomers and dedicated aficionados alike.
© 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Neomad Book 1: Space Junk


By Sutu & The Love Punks (Gerstalt Comics/Big hART)
ISBN: 978-1-922023-14-8

I have no first hand experience of the Australian Experience. Most of what I do know comes from movies, TV or Midnight Oil and Men at Work records.

…And comics of course, ranging from the country’s 1950s DC reprints – both flimsy pamphlets and Christmas Annuals – to their lengthy and venerable take on Lee Falk & Ray Moore’s strip icon The Phantom plus some few precious strips such as Southern Squadron and The Jackaroo (from homegrown superhero anthology Cyclone!) during the 1980s and 1990s when American Indie publishers went for hunting quality material from around the world to fill their empty pages.

Things are way better these days with outfits like Gestalt Comics producing superbly original graphic novels like Torn, Eldritch Kid and Vowels for international audiences, many with the unique flavour of the Land Down Under.

Now, in conjunction with Arts and Social Change organisation Big hART, cartoonist, illustrator and computer-designer Stuart “Sutu” Campbell has joined forces with a talented bunch of kids to produce a multimedia entertainment epic, the barest fraction of which comprises this deliriously engaging and anarchically excellent graphic novel.

The lads are all from Ieramagudu (Roebourne) on the edge of the Pilbara Desert, within the Murujuga National Park and Cultural Heritage Site.

The area is home to approximately one million petroglyphs dating back more than 30,000 years: a place of artistic expression and creativity for almost as long as mankind has existed…

Far more recently, Sutu and Big hART – as part of the Yijala Yala Project – have been teaching some of the kids growing up there computer-colouring techniques whilst the youngsters have been sharing their imaginations, enthusiasm and ideas. The collective result is Neomad, blending ancient indigenous customs and spirituality with dystopian futurism, eternal verities and the never-ending struggle for survival…

Space Junk is the first part of a sci fi trilogy which opens as young Mav relates a fireside interview with his Maali – a paternal grandfather of great sagacity and insight. The oldster was telling the story of the boy’s birth whilst imparting the customs of their people until the night sky was suddenly lit by a falling star.

That’s good luck. Everybody knows that when a star falls at night it brings new life…

Elsewhere but nearby in 2076AD, a tech-smart tribe of youthful extroverts are out illegally tapping the water pipeline when they see a plummeting, blazing rocket booster burn across the heavens.

Jahmal, Edwin, Dan, Jarried, Stanley, Deshawn and the rambunctious rest of the self-appointed Love Punks are more interested in fun than profit and their piratical, good natured squabbling soon sets off an alarm. Panic quickly changes back to cocky determination and bravado so the creepy spybot which races in to determine what’s wrong is soon reduced to spare parts in their accumulated arsenal of recycled, repurposed junk…

The posse are all far less sanguine when the authoritarian cops dubbed the Segz steam in on hover platforms and give frantic chase…

The helter-skelter pursuit careens across the wasteland, past a boy and his Maali sitting at a fire. The rush of wind portentously extinguishes the flames and Mav decides he’d better join his fellow Love Punks…

The high-speed chase roars deeper into the plains – annoying the heck out of assorted wildlife – and Mav catches up to them just as they reach the foot of a monstrous red rock plateau. Things look grim until someone has the bright idea to shove the power crystal from the sabotaged spybot into their faltering and overloaded hoverquad’s engine…

Suddenly hurtling up the vertical rock face and leaving the disgusted Segz far below, the Punks hit the plateau top in time to see the booster crash down and, ever curious, head over to explore.

Cooling the surprisingly intact debris with their purloined water the boys quickly realise that what they’ve got is not simple space debris. Etched onto the vehicle’s slowly cooling side is a strangely disturbing petroglyph similar to the thousands of age-old designs which can be found all over Murujuga…

To Be Continued…

Raucous and riotous, this hell-for-leather rollercoaster of joyous fun is but the beginning of a colossal tale that will take the Love Punks to the ends of the universe to discover the secrets of everything…

Crafted by Sutu with Senior Colourist Haw Kong and featuring contributions from Junior Colourists – and actors – Alison Lockyer, Ashton Munda, Brodie Tahi Tahi, Corbyn Munda, Dannette Wilson, Eric Wedge, Jahmal Munda, Jarried Ashburton, Jordan Coppin, Layla Walker, Maverick Eaton, Max Coppin, Nathaniel Edwins, Sidney Eaton, Tonina Smith, Troydan Long, Vynka Parker, William Eaton and Woedin Wilson, the book comes with a section of photo-features including a boisterous introduction to the real Love Punks, some facts about Murujuga National Park, a glossary of words from the Aboriginal Yindjibarndi and Ngarluma languages (which pepper the text) plus plugs for Book 2: The Last Crystal, the award-winning Love Punks interactive video game, the live-action films and documentaries…

Worthy, impressive and above all else tremendously entertaining, this is a book kids will love and want to be part of for years to come.
© 2013 Big hART.

Showcase Presents the Legion of Super-Heroes volume 5


By Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4297-8

Once upon a time, a thousand years from now, a band of super-powered kids from a multitude of worlds took inspiration from the greatest legend of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited their inspiration to join them…

Thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino when the many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), just as the revived superhero genre was gathering an inexorable head of steam in America.

Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and overwritten, retconned and rebooted over and over again to comply with editorial diktat and popular fashion.

This sturdy, cosmically-captivating fifth massive monochrome compendium gathers a chronological parade of futuristic delights from Superboy #193, 195, and Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #197-220, covering February 1973 to October 1976, as well as the debut issue of opportunistic spin-off Karate Kid #1 (March 1976) at a time when the superhero genre had again waned but which was slowly recovering to gain its current, seemingly unassailable ascendancy.

That plunge in costumed character popularity had seen the team lose their long-held lead spot in Adventure Comics, be relegated to a back-up in Action Comics and even vanish completely for a time. Legion fans however are the most passionate of an already fanatical breed…

No sooner had the LSH faded than agitation to revive them began. After a few tentative forays as an alternating back-up feature in Superboy, the game-changing artwork of Dave Cockrum inspired a fresh influx of fans and the back-up soon took over the book – exactly as they had done in the 1960s when the Tomorrow Teens took Adventure from Superboy and made it uniquely their  own…

The resurgent dramas begin here with the back-up by Cary Bates & Cockrum from Superboy #193 wherein a select team consisting of Chameleon Boy, Duo Damsel, Chemical King and Karate Kid went undercover on a distant world to prevent atomic Armageddon in ‘War Between the Nights and the Days!’

That’s followed by #195’s ‘The One-Shot Hero!’ which told the story of ERG-1 – a human converted to sentient energy in an antimatter accident. The character had been mentioned in a 1960’s tale of the Adult Legion but here Bates & Cockrum at last fleshed out his only mission and heroic sacrifice with passion and overwhelming style…

The really big change came with the July issue as the long-lived title (it had premiered in 1949 just as the Golden Age was coming to an end) became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197.

The relaunch offered a full-length extravaganza, ‘Timber Wolf: Dead Hero, Live Executioner!’ which saw the Boy of Steel summoned to the future to be greeted by a hero he believed long dead in the line of duty.

Somehow Timber Wolf has escaped the grave and triumphantly greets his old comrade, but astute Legion leader Mon-El fears some kind of trick and is proved right when the miraculous survivor goes berserk at an awards ceremony, attempting to assassinate the President of Earth.

Wolf is restrained before any harm can be done and a thorough deprogramming soon gives him a clean bill of mental health. Unfortunately that’s exactly what the team’s hidden enemy had planned and when a deeper layer of brainwashing kicks in the helpless mind-slave turns off the security systems allowing militaristic alien warlord Tyr to invade Legion HQ.

Thankfully telepathic Saturn Girl is on hand to free the mental vassal and scupper the assault, but in the scuffle Tyr’s computerised gun hand escapes, swearing vengeance…

The organisation’s greatest foes resurface with a seemingly infallible plan in #198’s ‘The Fatal Five Who Twisted Time!’ – travelling back to 1950s Smallville to plant a device which will edit the next thousand years to prevent the LSH from forming.

As second chapter ‘Prisoners of the Time Lock’ reveals, however, a squad comprising Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Chameleon Boy and Mon-El has already escaped to the relative safety of the time stream, determined to restore history or die with the resultant clash concluding in a ‘Countdown to Catastrophe’

With an entire issue to play with and short stories clearly popular, the format settled on alternating epics with a double-dose of vignettes. Thus issue #199 opened with ‘The Gun That Mastered Men!’ as Tyr’s computerised wonder weapon returned to liberate its creator, only to rebel at the last moment and try to take over Superboy’s body instead. With that threat comprehensively crushed, Bouncing Boy then took centre stage to relate his solo battle against Orion the Hunter in ‘The Impossible Target’

It was mere prelude to the anniversary issue #200 wherein he lost his power to hyper-inflate and had to resign. However it did allow the Bounding Bravo to propose to girlfriend Duo Damsel, unaware that she had been targeted to become ‘The Legionnaire Bride of Starfinger’

The marriage was an event tinged with grandeur and tragedy as the super-villain kidnapped her in ‘This Wife is Condemned’, attempting to emulate her powers and make an army of doppelgangers but ‘The Secret of the Starfinger Split!’ was never revealed after Superboy enacted a cunning counter-ploy…

Issue #201 featured the resurrection of ERG-1 as the energy-being reconstituted himself to save the Legion from treachery in ‘The Betrayer From Beyond’ whilst ‘The Silent Death’ saw precognitive Dream Girl infallibly predict a comrade’s imminent demise even though no hero anywhere appeared to be endangered…

Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #202 was a 100-Page Giant but only two tales were new. They were also Cockrum’s final forays in the 30th century and saw the debut of his equally impressive successor Mike Grell as inker on ‘Lost a Million Miles from Home!’

Here Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet face a perplexing mystery in deep space: an inexplicable loss of ship’s power which compels them to abandon ship in the worst possible place imaginable…

‘Wrath of the Devil-Fish’ by Bates & Cockrum was the artist’s swan song, featuring the debut of the re-designated ERG-1 as Wildfire and an eerie amphibian creature who attacked a pollution-cleansing automated Sea-Station. Of course the monster was not what he seemed and the Legion thought they might have found a unique new recruit…

Having utterly transformed the look, feel and fortunes of the Legion, Cockrum moved to Marvel where he would perform the same service for another defunct and almost forgotten series entitled X-Men

With Grell now handling the full art, our youthful Club of Champions were still on the meteoric rise, depicted as a dedicated, driven, grittily realistic combat force in constant, galaxy-threatening peril. However the super-science stalwarts still struggled against a global resurgence in spiritual soul-searching and supernatural dramas, with most of the comics industry churning out a myriad of monster and magic tales.

Thus the genre even invaded the bastions of graphic futurism in #203’s ‘Massacre by Remote Control’ (Bates & Grell) when increasing indifference and neglect caused veteran legionnaire Invisible Kid to lose his life saving his comrades.

The sadness was tinged with joy, however, as this was a twist on gothic ghost stories and the fallen hero was united with a lover from the other side of the Veil of Tears…

It was back to sensibly rational ground for SsLSH #204 and ‘The Legionnaire Nobody Remembered’, wherein the heroes explored the secrets of time traveller Anti-Lad whose accidental meddling altered history, demanding a most hands-on response to fix everything. Bates & Grell then exposed ‘Brainiac 5’s Secret Weakness!’ by reigniting his millennium-spanning romance with Supergirl

Issue #205 was another mostly-reprint 100-Page Giant but included one novel-length saga which saw 20th century Lana Lang save the assembled heroes from becoming ‘The Legion of Super-Executioners’ after the entire team was overwhelmed by a psionic immortal who patiently planned to abduct them all and breed a super-army of conquest…

‘The Legionnaires who Haunted Superboy’ led in #206 and saw Superboy visited by dead friends Invisible Kid and Ferro Lad. This time however the underlying theme was nascent cloning science not eldritch unrest and the outcome was mostly upbeat, after which ‘Welcome Home Daughter… Now Die!’ highlighted Princess Projectra’s dilemma as both modern hero with a commoner boyfriend and untouchable heir to a primitive feudal kingdom after a dutiful family visit resulted in an attack by a marauding monster…

SsLSH #207 opened with ‘The Rookie who Betrayed the Legion!’ as Science Police liaison Dvron seemingly colluded with mesmeric villain Universo whilst ‘Lightning Lad’s Day of Dread!’ saw the hero unite with his wicked brother Mekt to share a moment of personal grief.

It was but a prelude to the next issue (another 100-Page Giant) with a two pronged plan marooning Mon-El and Superboy in the 1950s whilst their comrades suffered the ‘Vengeance of the Super-Villains’ in the 30th Century. However the cunning murder-plot of Lightning Lord’s Legion of Super-Villains was not clever enough to fool Brainiac 5 of wily LSH espionage chief Chameleon Boy…

During the 1960’s the main architect of the Legion’s transformation from semi-comedic adventure feature to gritty super-battalion was teenaged sensation Jim Shooter, whose scripts and layouts (generally finished and pencilled by the astoundingly talented Curt Swan) made the series irresistible to a generation of fans growing up with their heads in the Future and tension-drenched drama on their minds.

Now, after time away getting a college education and working in advertising, Shooter returned in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #209 with ‘Who Can Save the Princess?’ tersely detailing how Projectra succumbing to the lethal Pain Plague led her lover Karate Kid to make an ultimate sacrifice.

Bates & Grell then wrapped up the issue with a heart-warming mystery as young fan Flynt Brojj became a ‘Hero for a Day’; saving the Legion from an insidious assassination attempt…

Issue #210 was an all Shooter/Grell affair, opening with far darker fare as ‘Soljer’s Private War’ revealed how a tragic victim of World War VI was transformed by horrific circumstances and resurrected to rampage unstoppably through 30th century Metropolis after which ‘The Lair of the Black Dragon’ revealed the incredible origin of Karate Kid.

When a pack of martial artists attack the hero, their defeat leads to a further attack on the aged Sensei who trained Val Armorr from birth, and painful revelations that the Legionnaire’s birth-father was Japan’s greatest villain…

In issue #211 ‘The Ultimate Revenge’ (Shooter) saw Element Lad risk his career and honour to exact vengeance from space pirate Roxxas who exterminated the hero’s entire race whilst Bates detailed how the Legion of Substitute Heroes took possession of ‘The Legion’s Lost Home’ incidentally solving one of the most infamous cold cases in the history of theft…

Shooter was now main writer on the series and SsLSH #212 began with ‘Last Fight for a Legionnaire’ wherein a sextet of ambitious and disgruntled teens challenged Matter-Eater Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet and Chameleon Boy for their positions on the team – resulting in the replacement of one of veteran heroes – whilst ‘A Death Stroke at Dawn’ found ineffectual-seeming Substitute Legionnaire Night Girl rediscovering her confidence by triumphantly saving boyfriend Cosmic Boy and herself from murderous ambushers…

In #213 Ultra Boy only realised he was afflicted with a crippling psychological handicap when the hunt for infallible super-thief Benn Pares took the team into ‘The Jaws of Fear’ after which Timber Wolf overcame a far more physical threat with his rarely exercised wits when attacked by mega-thug Black Mace in ‘Trapped to Live – Free to Die!’ by Shooter, Grell and inker Bill Draut.

In #214 the heroes found ‘No Price Too High’ to save a trillionaire’s obnoxious son from himself and the deranged, disaffected employee who had taken over one of his dad’s automated manufacturing worlds before Bates, Grell & Draut revealed the deep-seated trauma which took away Shrinking Violet’s powers in ‘Stay Small – Or Die!’

Luckily for Brainiac 5, his drastic plan to shock her back to normal worked in time for her to save him from the fallout of his own callous actions…

Bates & Grell also observed ‘The Final Eclipse of Sun Boy’ in SsLSH #215, as an intangible assassin stalked Phantom Girl to Earth and was in turn followed by an unlikely and unsuspected ally, before Shooter, Grell & Draut revealed Cosmic Boy as ‘The Hero Who Wouldn’t Fight’: honouring a sacred day of penance and super-power abstinence even at the cost of his life…

Despite the comics world being in the grip of martial arts madness since 1973, DC were a little slow in making an obvious move and giving one of the oldest comicbook Kung Fu fighters his own solo title.

Karate Kid #1 launched with a March-April 1976 cover-date and plunged valiant Val Armorr back a thousand years to contemporary New York City in ‘My World Begins in Yesterday’ by Paul Levitz, Ric Estrada & Joe Staton.

The self-made warrior had crashed the time barrier to recapture arch enemy Nemesis Kid, and, after rejecting friendly advice and stern orders to return to Tomorrow, tracked and trashed his enemy with the astounded assistance of schoolteacher Iris Jacobs.

Finding the primitive milieu far more amenable than his origin era, Karate Kid unexpectedly then elected to stick around in the 20th century…

That same month SsLSH #216 saw Bates & Grell tackle a thorny issue in ‘The Hero who Hated the Legion’ as the team tried to recruit its first black member. The isolationist Tyroc and his entire long-sequestered race carried a big grudge and it took determined diplomacy and a crisis which threatened the entire island of Marzal to challenge the prejudice of centuries…

The same creative team then took a peek into ‘The Private Lives of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel’ revealing how even retired Legionnaires still had to fight for their lives on occasion.

Shooter & Grell monopolised issue #217 beginning with ‘The Charge of the Doomed Legionnaires’ wherein rapacious Khund warlord Field Marshal Lorca pitted his strategic genius against Brainiac 5 but underestimated the sheer guts of his despised foes, whilst ‘Future Shock for Superboy’ found the Teen of Steel beguiled by 30th century girl Laurel Kent, blithely unaware that he was interested in his own descendant…

Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #218 revealed how Tyroc’s induction into the team was shanghaied by Zoraz, ‘The Secret Villain the World Never Knew’ (Bates & Grell) although the neophyte soon turned the tables on the interloper, after which Shooter (with story inspiration from Ken Klaczac) disclosed ‘The Plunder Ploy of the Fatal Five’ in #219.

Here the terrifying Fatal Five went on an implausible spree of cosmic crimes, gathering items which could only be used for the creation of an all-conquering army, but when the Legion capably counterattacked they realised they’d jumped to woefully wrong conclusions…

This cavalcade of chronal capers concludes with #220 as inker Bob Wiacek joined Shooter & Grell for one final brace of bombastic blockbusters, beginning with ‘The Super Soldiers of the Slave-Maker’ wherein the Legion attempted to liberate conquered planet Murgador.

With most resistance coming from the terrified inhabitants, the astounded heroes learned that a huge bomb at the world’s core made them all helpless hostages to their alien overlord, forcing an application of subterfuge and misdirection to rectify the impossible situation…

Everything wraps up here with ‘Dream Girl’s Living Nightmare’ as Chameleon Boy tried to cheat fate and save a cosmic benefactor from death despite the infallible prediction of his precognitive comrade…

The Legion is unquestionably one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in funnybook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became American Comics Fandom. Moreover, these scintillating and seductively addictive stories – as much as Julie Schwartz’s Justice League or Marvel’s Fantastic Four- fuelled the interest and imaginations of generations of readers and created the industry we all know today.

If you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to feed your future dreams as soon as possible.

© 1973-1976, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Oculus


By Luke Melia, Vincent Smith, David Anderson & various (Tabella Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-50276-589-5                  eBook ASIN: B00IC4EQJ2

As I’m sure you know by now, I’m a huge advocate of comics creators with the drive and dedication to take control of their own destinies. Late last year I reviewed a superbly written graphic horror tale called The White Room of the Asylum by Luke Melia and a coterie of artists which utterly amazed and impressed me.

Now with a chameleonic, Iain Banks-like shift of genres the indie artistic entrepreneurs are back – specifically writer/letterer Melia, illustrator Vinny Smith and colour-artist David Anderson – with a distinctly disturbing sci fi cop drama that is every bit as gripping and smart…

By 2027 the world has been completely altered by a social media innovation of astounding power and devastating simplicity.

Oculus sells an implanted chip which allows users to record and/or share in real-time whatever they’re seeing and hearing. The service connects with any or all other possessors of the implant and the company claims that to comprise most of the planet.

Live streaming intimate moments of an individual’s everyday life can be with one person, a selection of friends and acquaintances or the entire world. The facility has completely changed every aspect of society.

It has especially transformed the law and policing. It’s really hard to claim innocence if the victim has shared you committing the crime with thousands of viewers and the Oculus mainframe has a record of you doing it…

Police forces are more tech resource teams, video researchers and IT bods than boots-on- the-ground coppers – except for the bellicose, tooled-up, OTT tactical teams designated SABU (Special Armed response and Bomb disposal Unit) – so feckless young graduate Shane Edwards’ first day in the Major Crimes Department of the New Oxford Constabulary is something of a letdown.

He’s already having a tragic life. Despite his being the son of the Mayor – who had to very blatantly pull strings to get him into the police – his best friend (he so wants her to be more) and Oculus intimate Emma Hudson is going through hell because her sister is going to jail.

It’s not official yet but Lauren was observed killing her cheating boyfriend in full view of an enrapt and aghast global audience…

After meeting department boss Alan Campbell and the shockingly small team of detectives, Shane is swiftly dubbed ‘Another Girl in the Office’ by astonishingly abrasive colleague Jane. Dogsbody Chris seems okay but the new kid doesn’t even meet old lag Jeff who is supposed to be his mentor and partner…

That introduction only comes in the middle of the night when the grizzled and rather unconventional old plod turns up on the doorstep to drag him to a crime scene emergency. He won’t even let Shane change out of his pyjamas and slippers…

Incident reporting has also been revolutionised by Oculus. Why wait for a scream or a phone call when most crimes are seen by somebody somewhere as they happen; be they perp, witness, victim or even police officer…?

This particular “Shout” is for a grotesquely bloody murder picked up all over the Oculus network, but by the time they arrive on scene, the story is already staring to unravel.

For starters, the girl seen being repeatedly stabbed, screaming her lungs out and expiring is Isobel Bendis, who slashed her wrists and died weeks earlier – and Jane should know: she was the officiating officer and attended the funeral a fortnight previously…

Ascertaining that the broadcast was faked, Jeff employs a particularly cool piece of kit called a Repeat Torch which illuminates the outlines of living bodies on solid objects such as walls… just like electromagnetic Luminol…

The hazy blue rays show two living persons – presumably the grisly, prankish fraudsters – manufacturing the body dump. Following the ghostly trail leads Shane and Jeff through the sewers and into the underground transit system, where the gobsmacked coppers realise at last that they been played from start to finish by some very clever individuals…

The startling events of Oculus are rendered in full colour and cunningly augmented with a wealth of satirical ads for such items as the voyeuristic ‘Extreme Jobs’ site, ‘Wild-Sight’, ‘The Oculus Cloud’, ‘Life in Third Person’ and decision-making app ‘Indie-Sysiv’ – all concocted by Luke & Vivienne Melia, Vinny Smith, David Anderson, Michael Kennedy, Christian David Navarro, Jenna Kyle, James Smith, Bobby Peñafiel and Roel S. Palmaira.

Key background information is provided by a series of faux magazine interviews with the social revolution’s inventor Alan Jensen (designed and illustrated by Ephraim Zev Zimmerman) and following the first of these – ‘The Origins of Oculus’ – the saga resumes with the entire Major Crimes unit – all five of them – reviewing events.

Cliff has established that the “murder” broadcast was recorded, not live, and sent from the username “Dolos”, tagged with a large variety of terms such as “Free”, “Sex”, “Star Trek” and “Anime” all cunningly designed to catch the eye of the widest possible audience…

Unfortunately due to budget constraints Campbell can’t sanction a costly activity report from the Oculus Corporation for what looks like a nasty student prank. Still smarting from looking like a fool and being seen trudging through sewers in pyjamas and tiger slippers, Shane vigorously disagrees. He argues that whoever did this is organised, meticulous, capable of fooling everybody who saw into believing it was real… and live. Dolos also had no problems digging up and stealing a corpse to carry it off…

Campbell relents and agrees to let Shane and Jeff continue to work on it as long as costs stay down: after all, these days there simply isn’t that much work for detectives to do…

Jeff has been in the force for a very long time and knows lots of strange people. Thinking one of them might have a handle on the matter, he drags his excitable understudy to a basement flat to meet inventor and hacker Bentley, a most peculiar individual clearly long off his meds and living in a wonderland of paranoia and bizarre hand-made devices…

‘0.4% Chance It Could Destroy The World’ sees the first lead found as the batty boffin suggests back-street Oculus implants and breaks into the high security Oculus Corporation database records.

Armed with Dolos’s account inception date and the enigma’s Friends List, the dynamic duo hit the quiet streets of New Oxford where Jeff suggests trying a far more traditional method of finding things out…

Fat Maisey is a low-level street rat and if anyone knows about illegal Oculus implants he will. Sadly the chase after the little weasel only leads our heroes into an armed ambush and ultra-violent counter-operation involving the gun-toting gung-ho grunts of SABU…

Barely escaping with their lives Shane and Jeff head back to the station whilst elsewhere two conspirators bicker and agree to speed up the pace of their plan…

Still felling out of his depth, Shane talks things over with “just friends” Emma before going out on a date with old college acquaintance Anna Rice. They end up in bed but since Anna’s idea of having a great time is being seen getting off by hundreds of strangers, close friends and especially herself, Shane’s night does not have a happy ending…

Following another Jensen interview (‘The Origins of PADs and Broadcasting’) the next chapter ‘How Could I Ever Truly Respect Her?’ opens with the boy wonder getting some well deserved ragging from his mentor.

Even Shane’s mum tuned in to the open broadcast and he is – for the third day running – the laughing stock of the New Oxford Constabulary. At least Jeff is amused enough to share some of his own tragic personal history, but inexplicably Emma seems furious with the bewildered newbie…

Events suddenly overtake the mental self-flagellation when Campbell calls them all in to a meeting which also includes members of Operations and Counter-terrorism divisions. All assembled are advised to tune in to a certain Oculus Drive path where Dolos is again broadcasting.

Definitely live this time, the mystery prankster is loading a gun in a public toilet somewhere in New Oxford…

As the frantic law officials follow the progress of the gloved perpetrator through his – or her – own eyes, Shane recognises The Francis Castle Shopping Centre. Dolos, now sitting at the central fountain pretending to read a newspaper, adds more Tag-terms to the live feed: words like “Francis Castle”, “massacre” and “hundreds dead”…

The bigwigs freak out and SABU are dispatched, but Shane uses his own Oculus system to link with a stranger shopping at the mall. Convincing Gabrielle to walk over to the fountain, the police use her eyes but see that no one is there, even though Dolos’s open channel shows the chilling conundrum staring right back at the baffled teenager over his paper…

When the enigma’s eyes show him unwrapping a bomb and scrawling the word “Kaboom” on a wall, full-panic mode kicks in and masked-and-armoured SABU officers storm the centre, frantically evacuating the citizens and using the Dolos view to trail him to the bomb.

Once again there is nothing there, and the baffled cops are just turning to go when a colossal detonation rocks the building…

After Jensen’s ‘How Oculus Changed the Entertainment Industry’ a telling flashback of Shane and Emma at college leads to gloom and despondency in the present as the NOC reel in the aftermath of a disaster that has left 35 dead and hundreds injured.

Brain-fried from constantly reviewing the impossibly divergent Oculus recordings, Jeff and Shane go book-shopping to clear out the nonsensical but inescapable theory of an invisible maniac being behind all their woes…

The second-hand tome is for Jeff’s friend Bryce: a very smart lady who owned a research company which dabbled in camouflage and stealth technologies – although her real area of expertise was human cloning. ‘Oh, And By The Way, There Are Six Of Them’ sees Shane astonished to meet a sextet of his partner’s pal as they pursue the assorted blind alleys regarding becoming unseen…

However, as they all congregate to review the combined synched footage of numerous victims, one of Bryce does identify an anomaly who might just be an accomplice of Dolos…

As Shane tries to re-establish a personal life free of shame and snickering rozzers, the wheels of modern police procedure roll on and soon the mystery man in the recordings is identified and arrested… but only after a little illicit assistance from Bentley…

The next Jensen feature deals with ‘Education and the Workplace’ after which Jeff and Shane conduct their first interview with terrified Rhys Ennis who, after literally spilling his guts, does so metaphorically and explains how the anonymous Dolos hired him…

The kid is clearly just a pawn and the NOC eventually let him go. It’s only later as Jeff tells his protégé about Bryce that Shane realises in a burst of exasperated inspiration the simple trick the terrorists devised to cheat a system the entire world believes cannot be fooled…

As the police swing into action Shane heads home for much needed sleep, but is soon awakened by a live cast from Emma. From under her bed she – and Shane – can see a man with a gun stalking murderously through her house…

Jeff arrives ahead of his partner and chases the assailant off and by the time Shane arrives there’s nothing to do but comfort the distraught Emma. His mentor however has cornered the intruder and with Shane scrupulously tuned in goes down in a hail of bullets in ‘You Can’t Unsee Shit Like That, No Pun Intended’

Bracketed by Jensen interviews ‘Oculus Health Implications & the Law’ and ‘The Future of Oculus’, the incredible truth behind a devilish and misconceived scheme finally comes out in ‘So What Went Wrong?’

However even as Jeff’s colleagues arrest Dolos and sweat the incomprehensible truth out of the last person Shane ever expected to see, events conspire to prove that nothing is as it seems and nobody can really be trusted…

Originally released as an eBook in February 2014, this full-colour printed trade-paperback edition is now available (complete with cover gallery by Anderson) delivering a superbly imaginative, compelling and suspenseful future crime yarn no lover of whodunits will want to miss.
© 2014 Luke Melia, Vinnie Smith and David Anderson. All rights reserved.

Greenberg the Vampire – a Marvel Graphic Novel


By J.M. DeMatteis & Mark Badger (Marvel)
ISBN: 0871350904                 ISBN-13: 978-0-8713-5090-9

During the 1980s and following the organic development of a Direct Sales Market, the American comics industry was transformed by a magical proliferation of new titles and companies.

With publishers now able to firm-sale straight to specialist retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised shops, the comics biz was able to support less generic titles whilst creators were able to experiment without losing their shirts and even to own the concepts and characters they invented.

In response Marvel developed a line of creator-owned properties and concentrated a lot of resources into the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing said creator-owned properties, licensed assets such as Conan the Barbarian and new proprietary Marvel Universe tales launched in extravagant over-sized packages (286 x 210mm rather than the now standard 258 x 168mm, in imitation of the European format albums of the times) which always felt and looked like far more than an average comicbook no matter how good, bad or offbeat the contents might have been.

Even the regular comicbook line upped its game, searching for material which would appeal to a broader customer-base than the provably false traditional marketing concept of an “average” teenaged boy…

From 1986 comes a quirky Marvel Graphic Novel line (#20 if you’re counting) which mixes horror fantasy with the unique comedy of New York’s Jewish community, cannily crafted by Thinking-Man’s funnybook scribe J.M. DeMatteis and lavishly painted by the inimitable Mark Badger.

Oscar Greenberg is a famous writer of horror novels and something of a recluse. He is also, since a night of diligent research went slightly awry, a vampire.

Attending a Satanist’s meeting in search of useful material, he picked up a beautiful, eager and very willing lady who later, in a fit of overly-amatory passion, gave him the wrong sort of bite and ended his life. They’ve been together ever since…

Don’t get Oscar started on Bram Stoker. For every fact the “expert” got right about vampires he got three wrong. For a start, although they all need a certain amount of blood to survive, the undead much prefer animal to human and only the deranged go around deliberately biting people – and then only until the aberrant’s night-living kin can catch and stop them.

Vamps are highly shy, deeply spiritual, intellectual folk who don’t want to be bothered or be a nuisance: it’s the only way they can face themselves in the mirror in the evening. Yes, they do reflect and you can photograph them: something Oscar has been ducking paparazzi to avoid for over a decade…

The modern-day literary hermit is in a stable, loving relationship with Denise Keaton, the bitey lady who accidentally “turned” him and most of his loving family know about his condition – all except poor frail, often confused Mama, whom he’s sure couldn’t stand the shock of learning her beloved boy had predeceased her, even if he still comes calling every chance he gets…

Oscar even hired his obnoxious wannabe-journalist nephew Morrie as his assistant, but the lad hasn’t got that much to do since Uncle Oscar is not having a good time lately. As the city reels and writhes under the escalating terror of a bloody serial killer dubbed the “New York Ripper” the master of gory fictive horror is suffering the cruellest, most long-lived bout of writer’s block ever recorded…

The frustration is killing him, so after another explosive, typewriter-trashing bout of petulance, he takes a welcome break by attending a full-family feast at Mama’s (vampires eat and drink – even garlic – the blood-drinking is strictly for medicinal purposes).

However, en route in a heavily screened limousine, Oscar spots a streetwalker who sends his mind racing back to the day of his Bar Mitzvah…

On that day in 1954 as he rehearsed for the life-changing ceremony to come, a beautiful woman appeared and made him a man in a much more pleasant and supremely physical manner, before vanishing with a promise that they would meet again…

Back in the now the dinner is going well, and doting, oblivious Mama is in her element until she has some sort of fit, screaming at a darkened window and swearing that “she” can’t have “him”. Before passing out Henrietta Greenberg’s final whispered word is “Lilith”…

Later, as young Morrie waits in a bar for his latest flame Arlene, she becomes the latest gory incident in the Ripper’s campaign. The crushed and despondent youth is utterly unaware how the killing is connected to his own close-knit family…

Oscar meanwhile has been pushed to the edge of insanity by his inability to create and in desperation accepts a longstanding offer to write the screenplay for one of his old stories. The entire family visits the set of “The Blood of Mrs. Morris” where unctuous producer Thad Turkel introduces his captivating ingénue discovery Evie Adams and assures them all of astounding future success…

Oscar is instantly beguiled by the waif and his fall from grace is confirmed. His temperament changes: he’s angry all the time, avoids Denise and all he can think about is the starlet. He doesn’t even notice when Morrie goes crazy and Mama recognises that her grandson’s been possessed by a Dybbuk

She may be senile sometimes, but Mama Greenberg knows things and has never been a fool. Instantly shelving a decade of maternal disapproval she aligns with “Shiksa” Denise and takes Oscar’s true love into her confidence, revealing how when her baby-boy was just a baby she managed, through love and prayer and ancient rites, to drive off an ancient evil known as Lilith as she tried to steal the child.

The profane First Woman and Mother of All Monsters laughed as she left, promising to possess him one day. Clearly that moment has arrived…

Elsewhere Oscar is fully under the spell of the sorceress who has earmarked him to provide the creative spark she needs to make the world her own, beguiling him body and soul. However as Lilith discards such old worn out toys as the Ripper and concentrates on dominating her glamoured writer, humanity’s last hope is marshalling her own forces…

With her son’s soul on the line, Henrietta Greenberg has dropped all pretence and gathered Denise, her faith and her family about her. Not even the eternal forces of rage, greed and lust will keep a son from his mother…

Poignant, moving, funny and exceptionally entertaining, Greenberg the Vampire is at once a superb light-horror parable and sardonic but sincere paean of praise to the unshakable power of Family expressed through the happily inexhaustible well of literature known as “Jewish Voices”.

As such it compellingly taps into the Jewish-American experience most famously represented by authors as varied as Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller or Michael Chabon and comedians/entertainers like Woody Allen, Billy Crystal, Mel Brooks and even Lenny Bruce.

Most enticing, though, is that it easily rests within the small but constantly growing sub-genre of graphic novels like The Golem’s Mighty Swing, The Big Kahn, Hereville, Maus and most clearly the epic and astounding canon of semi-autobiographical tales such as A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories, The Dreamer and Will Eisner’s New York the Big City.

An enchanting tale of timeless relevance to all people who love happy endings.
© 1986 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.

Orbital volume 3: Nomads


By Serge Pellé & Sylvain Runberg, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-080-1

The truest thing that can be said about French science fiction is that it always delivers amazing style and panache even when the underlying premise might be less than original. In Serge Pellé & Sylvain Runberg’s beautiful Orbital series a seemingly-mismatched pair of Diplomatic Peacekeeper agents are deployed to quell incipient brushfire wars and mediate internal pressures within a vast pan-species intergalactic alliance, but the hoary “buddy-movie” format is a mere skeleton for eye-popping missions, star-spanning intrigue and intense personal interactions which are always are handled with deft wit and great imagination, never failing to carry the reader along in a blaze of fantastic fun…

What you need to know: after decades of pariah-status galactic exclusion, Earth in the 23rd century has finally been allowed to join a vast Confederation of interstellar civilisations, despite grave and abiding concerns about humanity’s aggressive nature and xenophobic tendencies.

A militant “Isolationist” faction on Earth had moved from politics to horrific terrorism in the immediate run-up to formal induction, committing atrocities both on Earth and distant worlds where mankind had developed colonies and mining bases, but ultimately they failed to prevent humanity’s inclusion in the pan-galactic union.

One particular Confederation worry was the way humans had treated the alien civilisation of the Sandjarrs, whose world was invaded in Earth’s all-consuming drive for territory and exploitable resources. The subsequent atrocities almost exterminated the stoic, pacifistic desert creatures…

Interworld Diplomatic Office operatives are assigned in pairs to troubleshoot throughout the galaxy, defusing crises before they can become flashpoints of violence. IDO’s first human recruit Caleb Swany had been surprisingly teamed with Sandjarr Mezoke Izzua, a situation clearly designed as a high-profile political stunt, as was their initial mission: convincing an Earth mining colony to surrender a profitable planetary mining industry back to the aliens who actually own the moon Senestem it was situated on…

Moreover, even though Earth is a now a member of the Confederation, with humans well placed in all branches of interstellar service, the Isolationist cause is still deeply cherished by many, needing only the slightest spark to reignite…

Orbital: Nomads is the third epic album published by Cinebook (originally released in 2009 as ‘Nomades’), and picks up soon after Caleb and Mezoke’s hard-won solution was implemented.

The Galactic Great-and-Good have arrived on Earth to very publicly celebrate and affirm the end of Human/Sandjarr hostilities in a series of spectacular Reconciliation Ceremonies, but the political glad-handing looks to be upstaged by another interspecies crisis…

One of the greatest benefits of induction into The Confederation has been the infusion of alien technologies which have cleansed and reinvigorated the ecosystem of long-abused and much-polluted Earth.

Now however an incident has occurred in the newly restocked, abundant seas and mangrove swamps around Malaysia, with the sudden death of millions of fish leading to a bloody clash between local fishermen and an unsuspected enclave of a race of nomadic space-gypsies called The Rapakhun

In Kuala Lumpur Caleb is reminiscing with his old mentor Hector Ulrich – instrumental in brokering Earth into the Confederation and Swany into the Interworld Diplomatic Office – when news arrives of the trouble.

This will be tricky: much of mankind is still anti-alien, and locale economies are fragile, whilst the Rapakhun are no innocent angels. Many space civilisations despise them: the stellar nomads are flighty wanderers who go where they please, refuse to be represented in or on Confederation Councils and worst of all, practice cannibalism…

Many Confederation races despise them and by the time Caleb and Mezoke arrive on scene events have escalated and tensions heightened to fever pitch as a committee of human fishermen face off against Rapakhun spokeswoman Alkuun.

The ancient tries to explain that the problem was an escaped Elokarn. The wanderers’ gigantic domesticated aquatic beasts have all been excessively agitated since arriving on Earth…

With the Diplomatic Agents assuring all parties that tests are being undertaken to ascertain not only why the Elokarn went crazy but also why the fish are dying off again, the situation seems contained, but when Alkuun invites the human guests to join in their holy consumption of a still-living and eager Rapakhun male they are physically revolted.

No amount of explanation that the willing, deeply spiritual and hugely prestigious sacrifice is meant to strengthen and invigorate the gods of Earth can offset the grisly sight…

Returning to Kuala Lumpur, Mezoke and Caleb are anxious. Although the Malaysian Navy are policing the area, the IDO agents know full well the tenuous trust humans place in any alien species, but their attention is unfortunately diverted by the sudden arrival of Caleb’s old friend Lukas Vesely.

The scrawny teen of his youth has become a hulking, good-natured member of Ulrich’s security force and seems very keen to relive the good old days. Caleb, of course, has no idea of Lukas’ usual duties, which include brutally and mercilessly dealing with any isolationist protests which might give visiting aliens the wrong impression about Confederate Earth…

In the mangrove swamps fish are still dying and when another group of fisherman get too close to the agreed-upon neutral zone Ulrich’s forces overreact and vaporise them, outraging many watching members of the Malaysian Navy…

Caleb and Mezoke are otherwise fully occupied as the delegation of Sandjarr dignitaries have arrived. The aloof and stand-offish nature of the guests of honour provoke Mezoke to surly silence, and reports from Senestem take the shine off their supposed triumphant solution whilst test results from the mangrove swamps all prove inconclusive. No contamination of any sort has killed the fish: the culprit is some unknown form of energy…

Caleb attempts to downplay and even suppress the concatenation of bad news in hope of keeping the Reconciliation Ceremonies alive over Mezuke’s objections until she reveals a shocking truth about her life before joining IDO…

The death of the fishermen meanwhile has reached the populace and a “patriotic” clique in the Navy peacekeeping force has colluded to look the other way if the fishermen want to deal with the nomads once and for all…

By the time the IDO agents learn of the incursion the appalling bloodshed has ceased and, wading through a site of unspeakable carnage, Caleb and Mezuke decide to split up. The rapidly destabilising situation on Earth must be carefully managed but most crucial is to send an urgent investigation team to the last world the Rapakhun visited and find out exactly what the wanderers are really capable of…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced, action-packed, gritty space-opera with delightfully complex sub-plots fuelled by political intrigue and infighting elevates this tale to lofty and exotic heights, proving Orbital to be a series well worth watching…
Original edition © Dupuis 2009 by Runberg & Pellé. All rights reserved. This edition published 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.

Dirty Pair: Dangerous Acquaintances


By Toren Smith & Adam Warren (Manga Books)
ISBN: 978-1-900097-06-0 (UK edition)

In the fast and furious future of 2141AD, intergalactic proliferation of human civilisation has led to a monumental bureaucracy, greater corruption and more deadly criminals preying upon the citizens of the United Galactica.

Thus the constant need for extra-special Trouble Consultants: pan-planetary private paramilitary police employed by the 3WA (or Worlds Welfare Work Association) to maintain order in hotspots across the (sort-of) civilised universe…

Kei and Yuri are team #234, officially designated “The Lovely Angels” after their sleek and efficient starship. They are lethal, capable and infallible. Whenever they are deployed, they strike fast and hard and never fail…

However, the collateral damage they inevitably cause is utterly unimaginable and usually makes client worlds regret ever asking for their aid in the first place….

Much to the crisis agents’ disgust and chagrin, the ever-present media have dubbed them “The Dirty Pair” and any planetary government unlucky enough to need them generally regards them less as first choice and more a last resort …

The concept was originated for light novels by Japanese author Haruka (Crusher Joe) Takachiho in 1985 before making the jump to TV, movie and OVA anime. Oddly there was no comics iteration until over a decade later. This situation prompted Adam Warren and Toren Smith of manga translation company Studio Proteus to approach independent publisher Eclipse Comics with an idea for a US comicbook miniseries…

The result was Biohazards; a riot of light-hearted, manic murder and monstrous mayhem which was then swiftly collected in a brash and breezy graphic album. The reprintings from US franchise inheritor Dark Horse (and Manga Books in the UK) heralded a blistering run of wry and raucous adventures that still read as well today as they did when the Japanese comics experience was seen as a rare, quaint and exotic oddity…

In the follow-up Dangerous Acquaintances – originally released as a 5-issue miniseries from Eclipse between June 1989 and March 1990, before first being gathered into a trade paperback in 1991 – the catastrophically unlucky private sector peacekeepers are enjoying a spot of well-deserved downtime on planet Rocinante – a world riotously celebrating its 25th year of independence – when soused-to-the-gorgeous-gills Kei spots an unwelcome but very familiar face…

‘Things Past’ explains that although free, single and over 21, the planet is in turmoil due to the imminent arrival of a host of dignitaries on experimental super liner “The Lyra” (one of only three vessels capable of jumping to warp within a planet’s gravity-well) and the increasingly desperate outrages of terrorist cell United Galactica/Free Rocinate.

None of that means anything to the drunken danger girl: all she can think about is getting her hands on a woman who once betrayed and nearly killed her…

Back when she and Yuri were mere trainee cadets they were constantly and humiliatingly surpassed in every discipline by Shasti. Their rival was a bioroid built by 3WA to be the ultimate Trouble Agent: a tetrad possessing a perfectly designed body and, thanks to multiple uploaded personalities, able to shift instantly between being the ideal warrior, detective, spy or social specialist, amongst others.

She never failed on any mission but there were worries that her schizoid mind-menu might have made her crazy…

Back in the present Kei refuses to calm down and chaotically pursues her target through massing crowds with the constantly complaining Yuri hot on her heels. As ‘Dangerous Acquaintances’ opens, they track Shasti across town and Yuri casts her mind back to their last mission with her, when they were all assigned to bring in a deadly sociopath named Lacombe

On present-day Rocinante the totally-tanked pursuers catch up with the oblivious target at a shopping plaza in time to see her trading a briefcase with a suspicious-looking bearded stranger. Unfortunately, when they confront her, Shasti has lost none of her combat advantages…

As the bioroid orders her accomplice to flee, Yuri’s mind flashes back to the mission when Shasti’s instability kicked in and she inexplicably proclaimed her love for the lethally compelling Lacombe…

The reverie is shattered as the planet’s Special Police storm in, brutally arresting the Trouble Agents whilst letting their meek-seeming “victim” go, and ‘Unquiet Zone’ finds the furious, sober and mortally hung-over operatives sprung simply because the cops need their cell for more provably-crazy UG/FR fanatics.

As Kei and Yuri hit the streets their fragile ears are bombarded with a public broadcast announcing the imminent arrival of the dignitary-stuffed, treasure-laden “Lyra” and, horrified, they realise where Shasti will strike, even if not what exactly she’s after…

Whilst the determined pair are planning to sneak aboard the wonder-ship, in an opulent hotel room their despised foe is giving her band of revolutionaries a final inspirational pep-talk, but her minds are focused on the moment long ago when she and her team of Trouble Agents cornered Lacombe.

The mission was going perfectly until she switched sides, joining the insanely seductive terrorist and murdering all her comrades. Or so she thought…

On the Lyra, Yuri and Kei have endured all manner of hell, (barely) dressed as hospitality hostesses constantly groped by the great and good of many civilisations. The ruse has however allowed them to find Shasti’s inside man and after a little “enhanced interrogation” he reveals his freedom-loving leader’s plan.

Except, of course, Shasti has been lying to the UG/FR all along. Now in control of the prototype ship, the bioroid activates the lockdown protocols and sealing everybody in. Whilst the still oblivious rebel cadres carve a bloody swathe through the imprisoned plutocrats, she undertakes her true goal: stealing the entire experimental warp section right out of the super-liner…

Locked cabins and robotic security lasers are no match for angry Angels and in ‘One of My Turns’ the apparently unkillable agents bust out and, tooling up with ballistic ordinance from the Lyra’s museum exhibit of ancient weapons, go hunting…

As the suddenly engine-less Lyra plunges to fiery doom at the ‘Ground Zero’ of Rocinante’s capital city, in deep space the engine section module reappears and Shasti waits for a rendezvous with her murderous beloved. She has no idea that the women she betrayed, almost murdered and unforgettably humiliated have made the jump with her and are hungrily approaching to take a decade’s-worth of bloody vengeance…

At once incredibly information-dense and astonishingly addictive, these deliciously daft yet cool, light-hearted cyber-punk space operas offer a solidly satisfying slice of futuristic fantasy to delight all fans of tech-heavy blockbusters. Also included is a pastiche-packed, behind-the-scenes farcical feature as Adam Warren shockingly reveals ‘Just How the Dirty Pair Gets Done!!’ to leaven all that savage comedy with some outrageous silliness…

The digest-sized (210x150mm) UK editions have the tag line “in the tradition of Red Dwarf” and that assessment is not a million miles from the truth – as long as you factor in sexy death-dealing ingénues, sharp socio-political commentary, incomprehensibly skimpy costumes and utter oodles of cartoon carnage.

Brutally wry, explosively funny, hilariously action-packed and extremely spectacular, this is a truly stellar romp to get every sci fi aficionado panting for more.
The Dirty Pair © 1994 Haruka Takachiho. English language version © 1994 Adam Warren and Studio Proteus. All rights reserved.