Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine


By Jason Aaron, Adam Kubert & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785140801 (TPB)

Remember when comic stories were fun, thrilling and, best of all, joyously uncomplicated? Here’s one of those…

Eschewing mind-boggling continuity-links and crossover overload, writer Jason Aaron and artist Adam Kubert – with the impressive support of inkers Mark Morales, Dexter Vines & Mark Roslan (as well as colourist Justin Ponsor and letterer Rob Steen) – simply set out to craft a well-told, action-packed and even poignant time-travel fun-fest that does everything right… and superbly succeeded. The result was 6-issue miniseries Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine.

Without giving away too much delicious detail (trust me you’ll be grateful once you read the full epic adventure) 65-million years ago, as a giant asteroid hurtles towards Earth and an impact which will wipe out the dinosaurs and at least two emergent species of proto-hominid, a warring couple of marooned superheroes from the 21st century sadly make peace with their fate if not each other…

Lost in time for months through the most ridiculous of circumstances, Wolverine and Peter Parker are ready to die. The feral mutant has become leader of the smart but diminutive Small People, leading them to salvation from the predations of their giant evolutionary rivals the Kill People and all other threats, whilst the erstwhile Spider-Man has isolated himself from all contact, terrified of rewriting the future even if he is no longer part of it.

Moreover, Parker’s dreams are haunted by a woman he doesn’t know, but who has become the only thing he cares for…

At a most precipitous moment, the pair are snatched from their time zone and returned to what appears to be an utterly devastated present. The Small People have survived humanity’s fall and are new rulers of a shattered society, but are currently at risk of losing their own shot as overlords of Earth. A fresh Armageddon from leftover human technology, a time-travelling z-list villain and a terrifying sentient planet with the ghost consciousness of Doctor Doom appears to be about to end civilisation one more time…

After Wolverine saves the day and is brought back from beyond death by Parker, they are separated in time and dumped at significant and harrowing moments of each other’s early life; but all the while sinister forces wielded by a hidden cosmic mastermind are manipulating not just the heroes but time itself…

After literally saving the world and perhaps the universe, the heroes are still hunted and continually assaulted by Temporal Gangstas The Czar and Big Murder, until Spider-Man and Wolverine finally strike back and seemingly triumph, only to be stranded in the American West for years…

At least this time Peter is happily united with the mysterious girl of his dreams.

However, the epic is far from finished and heartbreak is just around the chronal corner…

Fast-paced, spectacular, incredibly ingenious and uproariously witty, this tale – available in trade paperback and digital editions – is a sparkling timeless gem and the perfect antidote for over-angsty costumed drama overload.
© 2012 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Epic Collection volume 5: 1970-1971 The Fall of Asgard


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Neal Adams & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1274-1 (TPB)

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with the Cosmic Unknown was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour trade paperback tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents Kirby’s final Asgardian exploits and the exemplary efforts of his unlucky over-pressured successors. Taken from Thor #175-194, the sagas collectively cover April 1970-December 1971, as universe-builder King Kirby abandoned the worlds he’d tirelessly cultivated with Stan Lee for the hopefully fresher fields of DC Comics and a cosmos uniquely his own…

What needs knowing: Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Without any hesitation or preamble, the reborn godling was soon defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extra-terrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces. Eventually the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run almost tangentially to the company’s signature superhero sagas. With a further revelation that Don Blake had never existed: but was a spell crafted to teach an arrogant god humility and humanity…

The astounding action begins here behind a Marie Severin cover as ‘The Fall of Asgard!’ (Lee, Kirby & inker Bill Everett) sees valiant Asgardian Balder and his Warriors Three allies Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg escape the clutches of lovestruck sorceress Karnilla only to confront the assemble hordes of giants and trolls marching on the Home of the Gods.

With All-Father Odin incapacitated by his annual Great Sleep, Loki has perfidiously seized the throne forcing war-goddess Sif to call Thor back home for perhaps the Last Battle…

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘Inferno!’ reveals the folly of the usurper as terrifying fire-demon Surtur breaks free of ancient Odinian captivity to begin his pre-ordained task of burning down the universe.

With everything appearing ‘To End in Flames!’, Loki flees to Earth, having first hidden Odin’s sleeping form in the life-inimical Sea of Eternal Night. As Thor leads a heroic Horatian last stand, Balder penetrates the Dimension of Death to rescue the All-Father just as Surtur fires up for his fulminating final foray…

Thor #178 (July 1970) was a shock and is a landmark: the first issue without Jack Kirby since the strip’s earliest days. Clearly a try-out or hasty fill-in yarn, ‘Death is a Stranger’ – by Lee, John Buscema & Colletta – depicts the Thunderer snatched away from Asgard by the nefarious Abomination and duped into an epic clash with the alien Stranger: an extra-galactic powerhouse who collects unique beings for scientific study…

Inked by John Verpoorten, the interrupted epic riotously resumed in #179 with ‘No More the Thunder God!’ as Thor, Sif and Balder are dispatched to Earth to arrest the fugitive Loki. This issue was Kirby’s last: he left the entire vast unfolding new mythology on a monumental cliffhanger just as the Thunder God is ambushed by his wicked step-brother. Using arcane magic, the Lord of Evil switches bodies with his noble sibling and gains safety and the power of the Storm whilst Thor is doomed to endure whatever punishment Odin decrees…

More than any other Marvel strip Thor was the feature where Kirby’s creative brilliance matched his questing exploration of an Infinite Imaginative Cosmos: dreaming, extrapolating and honing a dazzling new kind of storytelling graphics with soul-searching, mind-boggling concepts of Man’s place in the universe.

Although what followed contained the trappings and even spirit of that incredible marriage, the heart, soul and soaring, unfettered wonderment just were not there any longer: nor would they truly return until 1983 when Walt Simonson assumed creative control with #337 (see Mighty Thor: the Ballad of Beta Ray Bill).

Here, however, ‘When Gods Go Mad!’ introduced the radically different style of Neal Adams to the mix, inked by the comfortably familiar Joe Sinnott, as the true Thunderer is sent to Hell and the tender mercies of Mephisto, whilst on Earth Loki uses his brother’s body to terrorise the UN Assembly and declare himself Master of the World…

In #181’s ‘One God Must Fall’ Sif leads the Warriors Three on a rescue mission to the Infernal Realm even as Balder struggles to combat the power of Thor merged with the magic and malice of Loki until Mephisto is thwarted. Then, a cataclysmic battle of brothers on Earth subsequently sets the world to rights…

The new Post-Kirby era truly began with Thor #182, as John Buscema took up the artistic reins and began his own epic run as illustrator with ‘The Prisoner… The Power… and… Dr. Doom!’

The Storm Lord is unwillingly entangled in Earthly politics when a young girl entreats him to rescue her father from the deadly Iron Monarch of Latveria. The noble scion cannot refuse, especially as the missing parent is an expert on missile technology and is capable of making Doom the master of ICBM warfare…

The decidedly down-to-Earth and mismatched melodrama concludes with Don Blake ‘Trapped in Doomsland!’ until Thor can retrieve his misappropriated mallet, but even after his deadly mission of mercy is accomplished, tragedy is his only reward…

Comfortably settled in Lee, Buscema & Joe Sinnott began crafting their own ambitious cosmic saga, opening with #184 and exploring ‘The World Beyond!’ wherein an implacable, sinister force is discovered devouring the outer galaxies, with psychic reverberations of the horrific events impacting and unravelling life on Earth and in Asgard. With all creation imperilled, Odin departs to combat the enigmatic threat alone…

Sam Grainger inked ‘In the Grip of Infinity!’, as universal calamity intensifies and the All-Father falls to the enigmatic, seemingly all-consuming invader before ‘Worlds at War!’ exposes a hidden architect behind the ultimate Armageddon. That revelation leads 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 – answers all the questions before celebrating ‘The End of Infinity!’

Although vast in scope and drenched in powerful moments highlighting the human side of the gods in extremis, this tale suffers from an excess of repetitive padding and a rather erratic pace. Without pause, though, we plunge on as Thor #189 sees sepulchral goddess Hela come calling, demanding Thor feel ‘The Icy Touch of Death!’ to pay for all the souls she didn’t get in the recent sidereal showdown…

After a big chase around planet Earth she is finally dissuaded in ‘…And So, To Die!’, but the distraction has meanwhile allowed ever-opportunistic Loki to seize the Throne of Asgard and unleash ‘A Time of Evil!’ This typically tyrannical behaviour results in the deranged despot using Odin’s stolen power to manifest an unstoppable artificial hunter/killer dubbed Durok the Demolisher. Unleashing his merciless engine of destruction on Earth, Loki gloats at the ‘Conflagration!’ (Grainger inks) he has instigated…

Completing the retiring of the Old Guard, Gerry Conway came aboard as writer for double-length tale ‘What Power Unleashed?’ (#193, with Sal Buscema augmenting and inking brother John) to conclude the epic tale. Prevented by vows from taking up arms against Loki’s puppet, Balder and Sif cunningly enlist the Silver Surfer to aid the embattled Thunderer as Asgard totters on the brink of total destruction.

Free to act against the real enemy, Thor then retaliates with staggering power and ‘This Fatal Fury!’: occupying the usurper’s full and furious attention until wily All-Father Odin finally resumes his rightful place.

To be continued…

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 stories in this volume are still packed with intrigue and action and magnificently rendered by an illustrator who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, was every inch his equal in craft and dedication. This book (which also includes his covers to Thor Annuals #3 and 4, plus the unused cover to #175, inked by John Verpoorten, pertinent house ads and a selection of Buscema original art pages and covers) is an absolute must for all fans of the medium, and all disciples of the modern Norse gods.
© 1970, 1971, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man: Fever


By Brendan McCarthy & Steve Cook, with Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Marvel)
ISBN: 987-0-7851-4125-9 (TPB)

Peter Parker was a smart, alienated kid when he was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Developing astonishing abilities – augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the boy did what any lonely, unappreciated, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: try to cash in for girls, fame and money…

Hiding behind a home-made costume (in case he fails and makes a fool of himself), Parker becomes a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past him one night, the cocky teen doesn’t lift a finger to stop him. When the boy returns home that night, he learns that his beloved guardian uncle Ben Parker has been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunts the assailant who made his devoted Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, and discovers, to his horror, that it is the self-same felon he neglected to stop. The traumatised boy is fixated on the fact that his irresponsibility resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and swears to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night he has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

It wasn’t too long after his spectacular launch that Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s astonishing Spider-Man proved himself a contemporary hero who fitted every possible milieu and scenario; equally at home against cheap hoods, world-busting super-menaces or the oddest of alien incursions, and this superbly outré modern masterpiece – available in trade paperback and digital formats – celebrates that astounding versatility by reprising one of the most brilliantly bizarre team-ups from the early Marvel Age.

The legendary classic first meeting of Mystic Master and Wondrous Wallcrawler occurred in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 and it’s rightly included at the end of this beguiling tome featuring über-imaginatively narrative art trendsetter Brendan McCarthy’s tribute to Ditko’s dazzling graphic magic.

London-born McCarthy came to prominence in comics on 2000AD before branching out into international comics stardom whilst pursuing parallel careers in film, television and design. His most notable works range from Strange Days and Paradax to Judge Dredd, The Zaucer of Zilk, Zenith, Skin, Rogan Gosh, Dream Gang and innumerable stunning covers. His moving media credits include The Storyteller, Highlander, Lost in Space, Reboot, Mad Max 4: Fury Road and so much more.

Collected here is a digitally-psychedelic, intoxicatingly appealing 3-issue miniseries from 2010 and produced for the mature-audience Marvel Knights sub-imprint. Written and illustrated by McCarthy with lettering and additional colouring from old comrade Steve Cook, it begins with the web-spinner battling frequent flyer archfoe The Vulture even as Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange explores a few Outer Realms and inadvertently activates an ancient trap set in an old grimoire – the Lost Journal of Albion Crowley

The “webwaze” energy escapes into the very architecture and infrastructure of New York City, finding its way to the cornered Vulture: possessing the bad old bird before passing through him, permeating and infecting the Friendly Neighbourhooded one…

When Strange further examines the cursed chronicle, he discovers the sorry tale of Crowley and his unlucky acolyte Victor Neumenon, whose long ago trans-dimensional forays led them into fateful contact with cosmically peripheral spider-demons dubbed Arachnix, lurking in the darkest corners and crannies of Creation.

Both were subjected to unimaginable atrocity at the many hands of the hairy horrors, but only Crowley returned to recount his experiences, and spin their adventures his way…

Meanwhile, ensorcelled Spider-Man, reeling in delirious torment, has instinctively crawled into the bathroom of Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum where his now-tainted soul is suddenly snatched away by arcane Arachnix-Hunter Daddy Longlegs, who drags the essence of the hero to its hideous homelands to be devoured by the ghastly King Korazon

Arriving too late to assist, the Master of the Mystic Arts gives chase through increasingly impossible planes of existence, following the ethereal webwaze paths in his frenzied attempts to save his old friend from utter horror and eternal damnation…

Along the way the wizard meets keenly helpful void-dwellers Fetch Doggy Fetch and Pugly, even as Peter Parker’s enmeshed spirit faces consumption by the Eight-Legged Tribe. Somehow, however, the hero’s dual nature confounds the beasts. They cannot determine if he is Spider – and therefore kin – or Man, and thus the most appealing meal ever presented to any Arachnix…

To decide his prey’s future fate Korazon despatches the befuddled soul-shell through the Insect Gate to catch the fabled feast known as the Sorror-Fly from the home dimension of all arthropods. If the arbitrary man-spider can snare the elusive treat he is their brother, but if he returns empty-handed, he’s just lunch…

Whilst the englamoured hero hunts in the insect realm, Strange rescues fellow Earth-born traveller Ms. Ningirril, long-trapped during her own dimensional Walkabout. In gratitude, the Antipodean wanderer provides the mage with useful intelligence, sound advice and a safer, swifter means of navigating his search for Spider-Man…

In a fantastic City of Termites our befuddled hero has succeeded in his task and is dragging the woeful Sorror-Fly back to the Arachnix: further succumbing with each passing moment to the inexorable, bestial allure of his Spider side, even as his garrulous meal relates the dread history of the insect dimension and a prophecy of telling magnitude.

When the Sorcerer Supreme and his allies fortuitously arrive, the Fly transforms back to a form he has not held for over a century, presaging the redemption and cure of the fallen Wall-crawler and a spectacular end to an infinitude of eight-legged terrors…

Bold, ambitious and visually compelling and off the wall, this superb magical mystery tour is perfectly augmented here by that aforementioned first meeting…

In 1965 Steve Ditko was blowing away audiences with another oddly tangential, daringly different superhero. Amazing Spider-Man King Size Annual #2 revealed ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: introducing the webslinger to other realities after he accidentally interrupts an attack by wannabe wizard Xandu upon the Master of the Mystic Arts.

The villain had stolen the puissant Wand of Watoomb from Strange to achieve ultimate power, and when that pesky, interfering Spider-Man butts in, the power-crazed dilettante exiles him to an alien dimension – but not before the hero’s webbing snatches the arcane artefact from Xandu’s hand and takes it with him…

Cue an involuntary incredible journey to phantasmagorical, mind-bending worlds pursued by unstoppable zombie slaves and a desperately determined Doctor Strange in a dimension-hopping masterpiece of mystery and imagination…

Moody, creepy and staggeringly engrossing, this eerie eldritch escapade also includes the author/artist’s ‘Notes on the Design and Story Ideas for Spider-Man: Fever’ – a selection of commentary, roughs and sketches offering a fascinating glimpse of into the creative process of a truly unique talent, as well as a selection of Ditko pinups detailing the M.O.’s of The Circus of Crime, The Scorpion, The Beetle, Jonah’s Robot and the Crime-Master

Here’s another superb and crucial selection starring the timeless teen icon, superhero symbol and big screen superstar fans just cannot afford to do without
© 1965 and 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Epic Collection: Volume 1 1963-1965: The Howling Commandos


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, with George Roussos, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, Chic Stone & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1657-2 (TPB)

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos began as an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates premiered in May 1963; one of three teams concocted by men-on-fire Jack Kirby & Stan Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as the publisher to watch.

Two years later Fury’s post-war self was retooled as the big-name star of a second series (beginning with Strange Tales #135, August 1965) when espionage shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the 007 film franchise became global sensations.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden enemy organisations: with captivating super-science gadgetry and iconic imagineering from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various war comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places are all grimy and tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies. However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Kirby was – unfortunately – far too valuable a resource to squander on a simple war comic (or indeed the X-Men and Avengers: the other series launched in that tripartite blitz on kids’ spending money) and was quickly reassigned, leaving redoubtable fellow veteran Dick Ayers to illuminate later stories, which he did for almost the entire run of the series (95 issues plus Annuals) until its transition to a reprint title with #121 (July 1974).

The title then carried on until its ultimate demise in December 1981 with #167.

This initial trade paperback and eBook compendium collects the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1-19 (spanning May 1963 to June 1965) and opens – just as you’d expect – with blistering premier ‘Sgt. Fury, and his Howling Commandoes’ (that’s how they spellled it in the storree-title – altho knot ennyware else).

Crafted by Lee, Kirby and inker Dick Ayers, the rip-snorting yarn is bursting with full page panels interrupted by ‘Meet the Howling Commandos’ – a double-page spread starring the seven members of First Attack Squad; Able Company. This comprised Fury himself, former circus strongman/Corporal “Dum-Dum” Dugan and Privates Robert “Rebel” Ralston (a Kentucky jockey), former student Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, jazz trumpeter Gabriel Jones, mechanic Izzy Cohen and glamorous movie heartthrob Dino Manelli.

Controversially – even in the 1960s – this battle Rat Pack was an integrated unit with Jewish and black members as well as Catholics, Southern Baptists and New York white guys all merrily serving together. The Howling Commandos pushed envelopes and busted taboos from the very start…

The first mission was a non-stop action romp pitting ‘Seven Against the Nazis!’ and putting the squad through their unique paces as the ragged band of indomitable warriors take on hordes of square-necked Nazis to save D-Day and rescue a French resistance fighter carrying vital plans of the invasion.

They even bring back a high-ranking “kraut” prisoner and leave room for a Kirby fact-page comparing and contrasting six different side-arms of the period in ancillary feature ‘Weapons of War’

Issue #2 found the ‘7 Doomed Men!’ up to their torn shirts in Germans as they first infiltrate a French coastal town to blow up a U-Boat base and get back to England just in time to be sent on another suicide mission. This time it’s to destroy a secret facility at Heinemund in the heart of the Fatherland, where Nazi scientists are doing something sinister and nefarious with “hard water”…

These overblown fustian thrillers always played fast and loose with history and logic, so if you crave veracity above all, I’d steer clear, but if you can swallow a heaping helping of creative anachronism there’s always great fun to be had here – especially since nobody drew atomic explosions like Kirby…

This drama is topped off with more fact pages as ‘The Enemy That Was!’ explores the capabilities of ‘The German Infantryman’ whilst ‘Weapons of War: “Chatter Guns” of World War II’ details everything you need to know about submachine guns…

Rough-&-ready gallows humour and broad comedy became increasingly important to the series from #3 onwards, with home base rivalries and wry comradely sparring leavening the outrageous non-stop carnage of the missions. ‘Midnight on Massacre Mountain!’ sees the septet explosively invading Italy to rescue a US army division caught in a Nazi trap. Along the way they meet a brilliant OSS officer training partisan troops, and Fury believes that young Reed Richards will go far…

Supplementing this exploit is a fascinating feature revealing what ordnance and hardware cost in ‘America’s World War II Shopping List!’

‘Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh!’ in #4 began an inking tour of duty for George Bell (AKA 1950s Kirby studio-mate George “Inky” Roussos) and introduced a love interest for the Sarge, after he meets aristocratic Red Cross volunteer Lady Pamela Hawley during an air raid in London. How cruel and tragic was fate then, that the Howlers’ very next mission takes them to Berlin to kidnap a young British nobleman with the same name, acting as a crucial propaganda mouthpiece for the Wehrmacht…

The mission is a double disaster. Not only does Pamela’s ignoble brother perish, but the debacle also costs the life of a Howler…

‘Weapons of War: Combat Rifles of World War II’ then ends this shocking, surprisingly grim and low-key melodrama…

Fury’s key appearance as a CIA agent in FF #21 – not included here – was released between that issue and #5, but no mention is made of it when the dark and cunning yarn introduces one of Marvel’s vilest, greatest villains. ‘At the Mercy of Baron Strucker’ sees Fury humiliated and defeated in personal combat against an Aryan nobleman who uses candid filmed footage as a propaganda tool of the Nazis. Only too late does dashing Dino point out how the nonplussed noncom has fallen for the oldest trick in Hollywood’s archvillain playbook…

A riotous rematch goes rather better after which ‘Weapons of War: Light Machine Guns of World War II’ ends matters in a graphically educational manner, before ‘The Fangs of the Desert Fox!’ in #6 dumps the Squad in the desert to confront the massed forces of General Erwin Rommel in a mission foredoomed to fail…

‘The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury’ provides a glimpse into the hard-bitten hero’s past and offers insights into his tempestuous relationship with immediate superior Captain Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer. Of course, to get that information we must watch Fury endure a dramatic trial after seemingly sabotaging a mission and striking a commanding officer…

Although continuing to draw the magnificent, eye-catching covers, Kirby left the title with this issue. His astounding abilities were more profitably employed in the superhero titles, even as Lee began consolidating the ever-expanding Marvel Universe by utilising more WWII iterations of contemporary characters.

‘The Death Ray of Baron Zemo!’ in #8 pits the Howlers against a Captain America villain recently debuted in The Avengers. Ayers & Roussos capably depict the unit’s attempts to capture the Nazi super-scientist and a weapon which might shape the outcome of the entire war. The tale also introduced Junior Juniper’s replacement: a rather fruity caricature of a British soldier named Percival Pinkerton, resplendent in horn-rimmed specs, pencil moustache, fuchsia beret and impossibly utilitarian umbrella…

In #9 the implausibly audacious ‘Mission: Capture Adolf Hitler!’ goes awry after the latest Howlers’ invasion of Berlin again brings Fury face-to-face with Wolfgang von Strucker; leading to temporary capture and an astounding escape, after which ‘On to Okinawa!’ in #10 sees the squad achieve greater success when despatched to the Pacific to rescue a captured US colonel from the Japanese.

This tale also saw the debut of a bearded bombastic submarine commander who would become a series regular before eventually winning his own title (Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders) in 1967.

The pace had visibly slowed and melodramatic subplots increased by #11, with ‘The Crackdown of Capt. Flint!’ depicting Happy Sam briefly replaced by a spit-and-polish officer who soon learns the limitations of his ways after which, in #12, a raid on a V1 factory in the heart of Europe seemingly prompts Dino to join the Nazis ‘When a Howler Turns Traitor!’

It was just a pre-arranged ploy of course, but sadly nobody told the American commander, who latterly stuck the star in front of a firing squad…

This issue also included a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of Fury by Ayers.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #13 is arguably the best issue of the entire 167 issue run. The title says it all…

‘Fighting Side-by-Side with… Captain America and Bucky!’ reunited Lee, Kirby & Ayers in a blistering battle yarn wherein the Howlers cross paths with the masked Sentinels of Liberty after both teams stumble across a top-secret Nazi operation to build an invasion tunnel under the channel to England. To resort to the terms of the times: “Wah-Hoo!”…

Ayers was back to pencil #14 with Lee scripting and Roussos inking a minor milestone as harassed Adolf Hitler decrees the creation of a Nazi answer to Fury’s elite attack force. All ‘The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker!’ have to do is lure the Howlers to a V2 rocket base and spring their trap… Yeah, that’s all…

Irregular supplemental feature Weapons of War provides all the gen on the ‘B-26 Martin Marauder’ to inform and entertain in equal amounts before Steve Ditko stepped in to ink Ayers in issue #15 as ‘Too Small to Fight, Too Young to Die’ relates an ill-fated mission in Holland to destroy the dykes and flood the occupation forces. The job goes drastically awry and the Howlers “flee” back to Britain with nothing but a broken-hearted boy named Hans Rooten – who has no idea that his despised quisling father is in fact the Allies’ top spy in the region…

The boy is adopted as the Howlers’ plucky mascot but can’t accompany them when the squad is despatched to Africa in #16 to eradicate yet more Nazi super-weapons in ‘A Fortress in the Desert Stands!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia using the pseudonym Frankie Ray). From there it’s only a short camel-ride south until the ragtag rovers encounter spear-wielding natives and nasty Nazis engaged in a battle of Hearts & Minds ‘While the Jungle Sleeps!’ (by Lee, Ayers & Vince Colletta).

All this time the chalk-and-cheese romantic relationship between Nick and Lady Pamela Hawley has been developing to the point where the Yankee lout is ready to propose. That all ends in #18 (with Chic Stone inks) when, as the unit is busy sinking a German battleship in a Norwegian port, she is ‘Killed in Action!’

Crushed and crazy, Fury goes AWOL in the final tale of this collection, remorselessly hunting down the leader of the bomber flight which had targeted the hospital she worked in before extracting ‘An Eye for an Eye!’ in a satisfyingly shocking Lee story sensitively rendered by Ayers & Giacoia. The Howlers go along for the ride, but whether to help their leader or hold him back is debatable…

Gilding this gladiatorial lily, the book signs off with a wealth of stunning original art pages from Kirby and Ayers, several contemporary house ads, and previous collection covers. Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, almost anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre.

Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 2019 Marvel All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents the Atom volume 1


By Gardner Fox & Gil Kane with Murphy Anderson, Sid Greene, Mike Sekowsky & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1363-3 (TPB)

There’s a glorious wealth of classic comics superhero material available for fans these days, but whether in archival volumes or digital editions, an inexplicable amount of classy material remains in limbo. Prime case in point is the subject of today’s re-review: a veteran champion with an immaculate pedigree, a TV presence and sublime creative teams, who yet languishes in the realm of the currently unavailable…

Julius Schwartz had already ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, but his fourth attempt to revive and revitalize a “Golden Age Great” had stalled when Hawkman (who debuted in Brave and the Bold #34, February/March 1961) could not find an immediate audience. Undeterred, Schwartz persevered with the Winged Wonder, whilst moving forward. For Showcase #34 (September/October 1961) he revived and retooled a pint-sized strongman of the 1940’s Justice Society of America, resulting in a fascinating science-fiction champion and eternal underdog.

Professor Ray Palmer is a young physicist working on the compression of matter whose day job is teaching at Ivy Town University. He is wooing career girl Jean Loring, who wants to make her name as a trial lawyer before settling down as Mrs. Palmer (c’mon, it was the 1960s). One evening, Ray finds an ultra-dense fragment of White Dwarf Star Matter, which propels his researches in a new direction. By converting some of the degenerate matter into a lens he is able to shrink objects, but frustratingly, they always explode when he attempts to restore them to their original state.

As fiercely competitive as his intended bride, Ray keeps his progress secret until he can perfect the process. One day, the couple take a group of youngsters on a science hike to Giant Caverns, where a cave-in traps the entire party. As they all lie trapped and dying Ray secretly activates his reducing lens to shrink himself, and employs the diamond engagement ring he carries to carve a tiny fissure in the rock face into an escape hole. Expecting to explode at any second, he is astounded to discover that some peculiar combination of circumstances permit to him to safely return to his normal 6-foot height with no ill effects.

With his junior charges safe, Ray returns to his lab to find the process only works on his own body: all other subjects still catastrophically detonate. Somewhat disheartened, he ponders his situation and his new-found abilities…

And thus ended ‘The Birth of the Atom!’:a taut and intriguing short tale written by Gardner Fox and dynamically illustrated by Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson, which was supplemented in that Showcase issue by the spectacular ‘Battle of the Tiny Titans!’, wherein a 6-inch tall, teleporting alien becomes the unwilling slave of petty thief Carl Ballard and goes on a crime-spree in Ivy Town.

Jean is called in to defend a bank-teller accused of embezzlement – after all, the woman claims her cash-drawer was emptied by a little genie – and Ray determines to clandestinely help her using his newest innovation, a suit made from White Dwarf material, which can alter not only his height but also his weight and mass.

The story is thrilling and entrancing, not to mention astonishingly inventive – including such gimmicks as the molecule-sized Atom traveling along telephone wires – but the art – which allowed Kane to combine the usual long-shots, mid-shots and close-ups with glorious, balletic, full-body action poses – made this and all subsequent Atom adventures a symphony of human dynamism.

Ray’s patronising sexism in secretly aiding his dearly beloved was explained away over the years as a simple eagerness to help her achieve her career goals so she could then settle down as his bride…

Some text pages featuring a potted history of the original Al Pratt Atom and the science behind that phone trick filled out Showcase #34… and Schwartz was back on track with another instant hit.

The second try-out issue opted for a complete done-in-one story. ‘The Dooms from Beyond!’ is a spectacular tale of witches, curses and murderous trickery in pursuit of an inheritance, capped with biographies of Fox, Kane and Anderson – a true rarity in a time when most publishers preferred their staff to toil in anonymity.

The final Showcase try-out again featured two adventures; the first of which – ‘Prisoner in a Test Tube!’ – introduced a recurrent theme in the Tiny Titan’s career: Cold War Espionage. The American/Soviet arms-and-ideas race figured heavily in the life of patriotic physicist Ray Palmer and in the collegiate circle of Ivy Town where even Jean’s father was a scientist carefully watched by both CIA and KGB.

In this pensive thriller, a brief moment of East-West détente allows the Reds to replace a visiting Hungarian professor with a deadly doppelganger until the Atom takes a diminutive hand, after which it’s back to basics with super-science and criminal conundrums in the mystery of ‘The “Disappearing Act” Robberies!’

Editor Schwartz knew he had a sure thing. Barely breaking stride to count the sales figures, the bi-monthly Showcase stint segued into a bi-monthly feature title. The Atom #1 debuted with a June/July 1962 cover-date highlighting a spectacular full-length yarn entitled ‘Master of the Plant World!’ This pitted the hero against Jason Woodrue (later famed as the sentient vegetable Floronic Man) as an extra-dimensional botanist who enslaves Earth’s supernatural plant spirits in a scheme to conquer our world.

It’s followed by ‘The Oddest Man on Earth!’: another superb scientific mystery, counter-pointed by the return of Carl Ballard in the action-packed revenge thriller ‘The Prisoners who Vanished!’, and with #3 our hero finally faces a costumed arch-foe as flamboyant thief Chronos begins his obsessive career in ‘The Time Trap!’

That issue was doubly significant, if singly themed. Second tale ‘The Secret of the Atom’s Lamp!’ introduces Ray’s mentor and colleague Professor Alpheus Hyatt and his “Time-Pool”: a 6-inch wide energy field that opened onto other eras. Hyatt believed it to be an intriguing but useless scientific oddity, occasionally extracting oddments from it by blindly dropping a fishing line through it. Little did he know his erstwhile student was secretly using it to experience rousing adventures in other times and locations, such as this initial exploit in which the diminutive daredevil visits Arabia in 850 AD and unravels the true story of Aladdin. This charming, thrilling and unbelievably educational yarn set a format and high benchmark for some of the Atom’s best and most well-loved exploits…

Our hero joined the Justice League of America with issue #14 (September 1962) and The Atom #4 (December 1962/January 1963) featured ‘The Machine that Made Miracles!’: a prototypical crossover story in which the hero helps League mascot Snapper Carr solve a baffling mystery with aliens at the bottom of it, whilst ‘The Case of the Innocent Thief!’ offers a cool procedural crime yarn, as once more a client of Jean Loring’s occasions some clandestine legal aid from the Tiny Titan…

Issue #5 opened with a smart science-fiction thriller as the Mighty Mite journeys to a sub-atomic civilisation in ‘The Diamond of Deadly Dooms!’ (with a delightful art contribution from the great Mike Sekowsky) before ‘The Specter of 3000-Moons Lake!’ tests the hero’s detective skills in an eerie tale of bogeymen and bandits.

‘The Riddle of the Two-Faced Astronaut!’ in #6 was actually a cunning crime-caper, but the real highlight is another Time-Pool tale wherein our hero meets and masters infamous rogue Dick Turpin in ‘The Highwayman and the Mighty Mite!’ The next issue formed part of Editor Schwartz’s charm offensive to promote Hawkman as Winged Wonder encounters Tiny Titan in a full-length spectacular, world-threatening epic ‘The Case of the Cosmic Camera!’

Justice League villain Dr. Light opens a campaign to pick off his foes one by one when he subjects the Atom to a ‘Lock-up in the Lethal Lightbulb!’ in #8 and master craftsman Sid Greene began occasional inking duties with the deft mystery of ‘The Purloined Miniatures’ which completed that issue.

‘The Atom’s Phantom Double!’ is another high-tech fantasy of deadly doppelgangers, complimented by ‘The Seaman and the Spyglass!’ (Greene inks again) wherein the Mighty Mite proves instrumental in Hans Lippershey’s invention of telescopes, incidentally aiding explorer Henry Hudson shape the destiny of the USA, courtesy of the ubiquitous Time-Pool.

‘Ride a Deadly Grenade!’ is another breathtaking all-action Cold-War spy-thriller, whilst ‘The Mysterious Swan-Maiden!’ was just a crafty scam exposed by the scientific adventurer, but Atom #11 truly tested the Tiny Titan’s deductive mettle with both ‘Trouble at the Ten-Year Club’ and the Greene inked fantasy thriller ‘Voyage to Beyond!’

A technological master-criminal briefly made our hero his weapon-of-choice in ‘Danger… Atom-Gun at Work!’ after which charming Time-Pool tale ‘The Gold-Hunters of ’49!’ allows the compact champion to meet his literary hero Edgar Allan Poe in #12, with which issue Greene became regular inker (necessitated by Hawkman finally getting his long-awaited and Murphy Anderson-illustrated solo-feature).

Chronos returned in #13’s ‘Weapon Watches of the Time-Wise Guy!’, with Anderson returning to ink procedural drama ‘I Accuse Ray Palmer… of Robbery!’, but super-science was increasingly the order of the day as our hero then endures ‘The Revolt of the Atom’s Uniform!’ in #14, and battles spies with ‘Illusions for Sale!’ and the crafty Hyper-Thief in ‘The Super-Cracker who Defied the Law!’ in #15.

Atom #16 was another mind-boggling novel where yet another criminal scientist brought about the bizarre ‘Fate of the Flattened-Out Atom!’ before this immensely dynamic treat for eyes and imagination concludes with #17’s ‘Case of the Hooded Hijackers!’ (wherein Gil Kane displayed his love of gangster movies and potent talent for caricature) and finishes big with another magical Time-Pool extravaganza as the Tiny Titan visits the year 1888 and retrieves ‘Jules Verne’s Crystal Ball!’

The Atom was never a major name or huge success, but from reading these witty, compelling tales by Gardner Fox, where Gil Kane first mastered the fluid human dynamism that made him a legend, you’d be hard-pressed to understand why. This is sheer superhero perfection, and long overdue for a closer look.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5879-0 (HB)

One of the most momentous events in comics (and now, film) history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The everchanging roster proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, there’s no detriment: it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars are never away for too long due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning hardcover compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #112-119, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-11: collectively covering June 1973 to January 1974 and celebrating the beginning of an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #112 in ‘The Lion God Lives!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Frank Bolle) wherein a rival African deity returns to destroy the human avatar of the Panther God. As the Black Panther and his valiant comrades tackle that threat, in the wings an erstwhile ally and enemy and his exotic paramour made their own plans for the team…)

Unreasoning prejudice informed #113’s ‘Your Young Men Shall Slay Visions!’ (Bob Brown & Bolle) as a horde of fundamentalist bigots – offended by the “unnatural” love between Wanda, the mutant Scarlet Witch and the Vision – turn themselves into human bombs to destroy the sinful, unholy couple. Soon after, ‘Night of the Swordsman’ in #114 (Brown & Esposito) formally introduces the reformed swashbuckler and his enigmatic psychic martial artist paramour Mantis to the team… just in time to thwart the Lion God’s latest scheme.

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart (who provides a context-enhancing Introduction in this collected volume) was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, decided to attempt his own massive multi-player epic.

Bravely given the editorial go-ahead at a time when deadline crunches regularly interrupted ongoing storylines, the author and his regular pencillers Sal Buscema and Bob Brown laid their plans…

Threads had been planted as early as Defenders #4 with Englehart carefully putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head.

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff and as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk. When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know. For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil, all their heroes regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages, and in the wake of the Defenders’ success even more super-teams featuring pre-existing characters would be packaged: The Champions, Invaders, New Warriors, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy and so on… but never again with so many Very Big Guns…

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

After earthly madwoman Barbara Norris was cursed by amoral Asgardian Amora the Enchantress, the human was transformed into an incarnation of old Avengers enemy Valkyrie. The denouement of the tale also left part-time Avenger and Defender the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue. As Strange and Co. searched for a cure, aided by the Silver Surfer and tempestuous Hawkeye (another ex-Assembler looking to forge a solo career), they all fell into a subtle scheme orchestrated by two of the greatest forces of evil in all creation….

The classic confrontation finally commenced in Avengers #115 with lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (Brown & Esposito) wherein the still-understaffed heroes travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to encounter mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and a comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a brief prologue at the end. ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ reveals other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki allying to secure an ultimate weapon which will give them ultimate victory against all their foes. This despotic duo plan a false flag operation to deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts: surreptitiously “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye can de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that opens with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) is the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’, disclosing how a mystic SOS from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the World’s Mightiest Heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned Black Knight to stone…

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see the rival teams split up: one to gather the scattered sections of the Eye and the other to stop them at all costs…

Defenders #9 (with Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

In Avengers #117, ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (all illustrated by Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate duel in Defenders #10 (Sal Buscema & Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’. Tragically, understanding comes too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his entire dimensional realm with Earth’s.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic, climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Frank Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist demonic invasion on hideously mutated home soil whilst Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (well, for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat quelled, the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the time of the Crusades.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B & Bolle), the group battle 12th century black magic, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

Those never-ending struggles resume and the adventuring pauses after a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers – warned by clairvoyant vision from enigmatic Mantis – head once more to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, by Brown & Heck): encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action, staggering suspense and blistering battle…

As if extra enticements be needed, also included in this compendium are pages and pin-ups from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#5, 6, 7: Mantis by John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Jarvis by Marie Severin and a bombastic team shot by John and Sal Buscema), plus house ads for Avengers #116, previous collection covers from Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang, John Romita & Richard Isanove and original art pages by Brown & Esposito and #119’s Romita cover.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers; brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko while spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Best of all, Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 6: “Me Li’l Swee’ Pea”


By Elzie Crisler Segar, with Doc Winner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-483-2 (HB)

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. The lad worked as a decorator and house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, he played for the silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and, later, Buster Brown.

The celebrated cartoonist introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York, HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a pastiche of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences.

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later known as just Ham Gravy).

In 1924, Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (surely, no relation?) which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s entire career and even surviving his untimely death, to eventually become the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf.

A born storyteller, Segar had, from the start, an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match: a brilliant ear for dialogue and accent which boomed out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre and sheer sparkle to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so – and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” – he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, lurched on stage midway through the protracted continuity ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!” and many happy returns sailor!). Once his part was played out, he simply refused to leave…

Within a year he was a regular and, as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, gradually took his place as the star. The strip title was changed to reflect the fact and most of the tired old gang – except Olive – were consigned to oblivion …

The Old Salt clearly inspired his creator. The near-decade of thrilling mystery-comedies he crafted and the madcap and/or macabre new characters with which he furiously littered the strips revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his wryly self-aware humour) and utterly captivated the whole wide world.

These superb oversized (375 x 268 mm) hardback collections are the ideal way of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales, and this sixth and final mammoth compendium augments the fun with another insightful introductory essay from Richard Marschall exploring ‘The Continuity Style of E. C. Segar: Between “Meanwhile” & “To Be Continued” and closes with an absorbing end-piece essay describing the globalisation of the character in ‘Licensing and Merchandising Move to Center Stage of the Thimble Theatre: Popeye Fisks his way into American Culture plus a 1930 magazine feature graphically revealing the Sailor Man’s natal origins and boyhood in ‘Blow Me Down! Popeye Born at Age of 2, But Orphink from Start’ scripted by unknown King Features writers but gloriously and copiously illustrated by Segar himself.

As always, the black-&-white Daily continuities are presented separately to the full-colour Sundays, and the monochrome mirth and mayhem – covering December 14th 1936 to August 29th 1938 12th – begins with all-new adventure ‘Mystery Melody’, wherein Popeye’s shamefully disreputable dad Poopdeck Pappy is haunted and hunted by the sinister Sea Hag. Her ghastly Magic Flute is employed to irresistibly lure the old goat back into the clutches of the woman he loved and abandoned years ago…

The tension and drama mounts in second chapter ‘Tea and Hamburgers’, when the Hag approaches another old flame – J. Wellington Wimpy – and uses the reprobate’s insatiable lust (for food) to help capture Poopdeck. The plan works, but not quite as the sinister sorceress intended…

In ‘Bolo vs Everyone!’ events escalate completely beyond control as the Hag’s primordial man-monster attacks the crew and our grizzled mariner ends the fight in his own inimitable manner, whilst mystic marvel Eugene the Jeep (a fantastic 4th dimensional beast with incredible powers) uses his uncanny gifts to – temporarily at least – settle the Sea Hag’s hash…

A decided change of pace began with the next storyline. ‘A Sock for Susan’s Sake’ showcases Popeye’s big heart and sentimental nature as he takes a destitute and starving waif under his wing: buying her clothes, breaking her out of jail and going on the run with her. However, his kind-hearted deeds arouse deep suspicions about his motives from friends and strangers alike…

It’s a tribute to Segar’s skills that the storyline perfectly balances social commentary and pathos with plenty of action (that sock in question is not footwear) and non-stop slapstick comedy. Their peregrinations again land Susan and the Old Salt in jail for vagrancy, but the wonderfully sympathetic and easily amused Judge Penny really makes the prosecution work hilariously hard for a conviction in ‘Order in the Court!’

Naturally, jealous Olive gets completely the wrong idea and uses the Jeep to track down her straying beau in ‘Who is That Girl?’, leading to the discovery of the ingénue’s origins and the restoration of her stolen fortune – a case calling for the return of ace detective and former strip star Castor Oyl…

The grateful child and her father burden Popeye with a huge reward, but as he has his own adequate savings at home he gives it all – with some unexpected difficulty – away to “Widdies and Orphinks”…

In the next sequence, the Sailor Man has reason to regret that generosity as, on returning to his house, he finds his hard-earned “Ten Thousing dollars” savings have been stolen…

Most annoyingly, he knows Poopdeck has taken it but the old goat won’t admit it, even though he has a new diamond engagement ring which he uses to bribe various loose young (and not so young) women into going out gallivanting with him and sowing ‘Wild Oats’

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rough, rude, crude and shocking anti-hero. The first Superman of comics was not a comfortable paragon to idolise but a barely human brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority. Uneducated, opinionated, short-tempered, fickle (whenever hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or other movable bits thereabouts – at him), a gambler and troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society…and he wouldn’t want to be.

He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and somebody who took no guff from anyone.

As his popularity grew, he mellowed somewhat. He was still always ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows. He was and will always be “the best of us”… but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed. So, in 1936 Segar brought it all back again in the form of Popeye’s 99-year old unrepentantly reprobate dad…

The elder mariner was a rough, hard-bitten, grumpy brute quite prepared and even happy to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line, and once the old billy goat (whose shady past possibly concealed an occasional bit of piracy) was firmly established, Segar set Popeye and Olive the Herculean and unfailingly funny task of civilising the geriatric sod…

They return to their odious chore here as Pappy’s wild carousing, fighting and womanising grow ever more embarrassing and lead to the cops trying – and repeatedly failing – to jail the senior seaman.

Poopdeck finally goes too far and pushes one of his fancy woman fiancées into the river. At last brought to trial, he pleads ‘Extenuvatin’ Circumsnances’

The final full Segar saga began on 15th November 1937 as ‘The Valley of the Goons (An Adventure)’ sees Popeye and Wimpy drugged and shanghaied. Even though he could fight his way back home, Popeye agrees to stay on for the voyage since he needs money to pay lawyers appealing Pappy’s prison sentence. He quickly changes tack, however, when he discovers the valuable cargo they’re hunting is Goon skins!

The Cap’n and his scurvy crew are planning to slaughter the hapless hulking exotic primitives for a few measly dollars…

After brutally driving off the murderous thugs, Popeye – and the shirking Wimpy – are marooned on the Goons’ isolated island…

The barbaric land holds a few surprises: most notably the fact that the natives are ruled over by Popeye’s dour old pal King Blozo (formerly of Nazilia) who, with his imbecilic retainer Oscar, is calling all the shots. It’s a happy coincidence, as Wimpy’s eternal hunger and relentless mooching have won him a death sentence and he’s in imminent danger of being hanged…

All this time Olive, guided by the mystical tracking gifts of the Jeep, has been sailing the seven seas in search of her man and she beaches her boat just as Popeye begins to get the situation under control. In doing so he unfairly earns the chagrin of the island’s unseen but highly voluble sea monster George

Shock follows shock as the eerie-voiced unseen creature is revealed as the horrendous Sea Hag who re-exerts her uncanny hold (some illusions but mostly the promise of unlimited hamburgers) upon Wimpy and tries to make him the ‘Bride of George’

In the middle of this tale Segar fell seriously ill with Leukaemia and his assistant Doc Winner assumed responsibility for completing the story: probably from Segar’s notes if not at his actual direction.

Although Winner’s illustrations carry ‘Valley of the Goons’ to conclusion, this tome excludes the all-Winner adventure ‘Hamburger Sharks and Sea Spinach’ before resuming with the May 23rd instalment by the apparently recovered Segar.

‘King Swee’Pea’ saw the feisty baby – who had been left with Popeye – become the focus of political drama and family tension when he was revealed to be heir to the Kingdom of Demonia

After a protracted tussle with that nation’s secret service and bombastic kingmaker F.G. Frogfuzz Esquire, the Sailor Man has himself appointed regent and chief advisor before taking most of the cast with him and relocating to the harsh land where only Ka-babages grow.

Popeye soon finds that his mischievous little charge has started to speak: increasingly crossing and contradicting his gruff guardian and others, much to the annoyance of blustering bully King Cabooso of neighbouring (rival) nation Cuspidonia

Before long, another unique crisis manifests in ‘Rise of the De-Mings’ as smugly sassy subterranean critters begin devastating the Ka-babage crop even as Swee’Pea and Caboosa escalate their war of insults…

Sadly, although coming back strongly, within three months Segar had relapsed. The adventures end here with his last strip and a précis of Winner’s eventual conclusion…

Segar passed away six weeks after his final Daily strip was published.

The full-colour Sunday pages in this volume run from 20th September 1936 to October 2nd 1938, a combination of star turn and intriguing footers.

After an interlude with a new wry and charming feature – Pete and Patsy: For Kids Only – the artist settled once again upon an old favourite to back up Popeye.

The bizarrely entertaining Sappo (accompanied by scene-and show-stealing Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle) supplemental strip returned in a blaze of imaginative wonder, as Segar also benched the cartooning tricks section which allowed him to play graphic games with his readership and again pushed the boundaries of Weird Science as the Odd Couple – and long-suffering spouse Myrtle – spent months exploring other worlds.

The assorted Saps also dabbled with robot dogs, brain-switching machines and fell embarrassingly foul of such inventions as long-distance spy-rays, anti-gravity devices, limb extending “Stretcholene”, “Speak-no-Evil” pills, Atom-Counters and the deeply disturbing trouble magnet dubbed “Dream Solidifier”, whilst Sappo’s less scientific but far more profitable gimmicks kept the cash rolling in and the arrogant Professor steaming with outrage…

Above these arcane antics Sunday’s star attraction remained fixedly exploring the comedy gold of Popeye’s interactions with Wimpy, Olive Oyl and the rest of Segar’s cast of thousands (of idiots).

The humorous antics – in sequences of one-off gag strips alternating with the occasional extended saga – saw the Sailor-Man fighting for every iota of attention whilst his mournful mooching co-star became increasingly more ingenious – not to say surreal – in his quest for free meals…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiable J. Wellington Wimpy debuted on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s frequent boxing matches. The scurrilous but polite oaf obviously struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to take bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and ‘Let’s you and him fight’ – he was the perfect foil for a simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show, just like anything else unless it was firmly nailed down…

There was also a long-suffering returning rival for Olive’s dubious and flighty affections: local charmer Curly

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents or kissing pretty girls, Popeye pursued his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive with exceptional verve, if little success, but his life was always made more complicated whenever the unflappable, so-corruptible and adorably contemptible Wimpy made an appearance.

Infinitely varying riffs on Olive’s peculiar romantic notions or Wimpy’s attempts to cadge food or money (for food) were irresistible to the adoring readership, but Segar wisely peppered the Sundays with longer episodic tales, such as the saga of ‘The Terrible Kid Mustard’ (which ran from December 27th 1936 to February 28th 1937) and pitted the prize-fighting Sea Salt against another boxer who was as ferociously fuelled by the incredible nourishing power of Spinach…

Another extended endeavour starred the smallest addition to the cast (and eponymous star of this volume). The rambunctious tyke Swee’ Pea was never an angel and when he began stealing jam and framing Eugene the Jeep (March 7th through 28th) the search for a culprit proved he was also precociously smart too.

The impossible task of civilising Poopdeck Pappy also covered many months – with no appreciable or lasting effect – and incorporated an outrageous sequence wherein the dastardly dotard become scandalously, catastrophically entangled in Popeye’s mechanical diaper-changing machine…

On June 27th Wimpy found the closest thing to true love when he met Olive’s friend Waneeta: a meek, retiring soul whose father owned 50,000 cows. His devoted and ardent pursuit filled many pages over the following months, as did the latest scheme of his arch-nemesis George W. Geezil, who bought a café/diner with the sole intention of poisoning the constantly cadging conman…

Although starring the same characters, the Sunday and Daily strips ran separate storylines, offering Segar opportunities to utilise the same good idea in different ways.

On September 19th 1937 he began a sequence wherein Swee’ Pea’s mother returned, seeking to regain custody of the boy she had given away. The resultant tug-of-love tale ran until December 5th and displayed genuine warmth and angst amidst the wealth of hilarious antics by both parties to convince the feisty “infink” to pick his preferred parent…

On January 16th 1938 Popeye was approached by scientists who had stumbled upon an incipient Martian invasion. The invaders planned to pit their monster against a typical Earthman before committing to the assault so the Boffins believed the grizzly old pug was the planet’s best bet…

Readers had no idea that the feature’s glory days were ending. Segar’s advancing illness was affecting his output – there are no pages reproduced here between February 6th and June 26th – and although when he resumed drawing the gags were funnier than ever (especially a short sequence where Pappy shaves his beard and dyes his hair so he could impersonate Popeye and woo Olive), the long lead-in time necessary to create Sundays only left him time to finish 15 more pages.

The last Segar signed strip was published on October 2nd 1938. He died eleven days later.

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy-bloke and mainlining spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t go away But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

Popeye and the bizarre, surreally quotidian cast that welcomed and grew up around him are true icons of international popular culture who have grown far beyond their newspaper strip origins. Nevertheless, in one very true sense, with this marvellous yet painfully tragic final volume, the most creative period in the saga of the true and only Sailor Man closes.

His last strips were often augmented or even fully ghosted by Doc Winner, but the intent is generally untrammelled, leaving an unparalleled testament to Segar’s incontestable timeless, manic brilliance for us all to enjoy over and over again.

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. There was only ever one by Elzie Segar – and don’t you think it’s time you sampled the original and very best?
© 2012 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2011 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud and the Day of Misrule (volume 3)


By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-79-3 (PB album)

In his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, most read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Death has barely slowed him down and he still is.

Among his most popular series are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and of course Asterix the Gaul. In 1962, scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when he teamed with the superb Jean Tabary to produce imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was prototypical villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little scrote’s only successful scheme…

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record with the first instalment appearing in the January 15th issue in 1962. A minor hit, the feature jumped ship to Pilote: a magazine created and edited by Goscinny where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly hogged the limelight.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The revamped series started in Pilote in 1968, rapidly becoming a huge success, with 30 albums so far, a TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary assumed the scripting as well as the superbly stylish illustration, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than compilations of short punchy stories which typified their collaborations.

This third translated album – also available in digital formats) was actually the eighth French volume (released in 1972 as Le jour des fous) and offers the best of both worlds. The eponymous lead feature is a whacking great 20-page epic, disclosing the vile Vizier’s best chance to usurp the throne when a city festival dictates that for one day masters and servants swap roles.

All Iznogoud has to do is ensure that the Caliph isn’t around to reclaim his position at the end of the day: What could be simpler?

This is followed by a delightful 8-page slice of whimsy entitled ‘The Challenge’ wherein the Vizier attempts to embroil his sublime simpleton superior in a duel… with the usual insane outcome.

Thereafter, ‘The Labyrinth’ demonstrates the creators’ solid grasp of classic slapstick as an undefeatable maze proves no match for the Caliph’s incredible luck, before the book concludes with a sharp political spoof that also takes a good-natured poke at unions.

In ‘Elections in the Caliphate’ we discover that only the Caliph can vote; but when Iznogoud gets the notion that he can get a fakir or magician to make Haroun Al Plassid vote for absolutely anybody and not just himself as usual, it opens a truly chaotic can of worms – which is quite handy, since on polling day most of Baghdad traditionally goes fishing…

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on multiple levels. Much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and similarly translated on these pages by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue – for younger readers Iznogoud is a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a well-deserved cropper, but hides its credentials as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads,

Here the translators’ famed skills recall the best – and least salacious – bits of the legendary Carry On films as well as some peculiarly Tommy Cooper-ish surreal, absurdity…

Snappy, fast-paced hijinks and gloriously agonising pun-ishing (see what I did there?) patter abound in this mirthfully infectious series: a household name in France where “Iznogoud” became common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.
© 1972 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries


By Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-330-2 (HB)

A short story first written for the 1992 prose horror anthology Midnight Graffiti, Murder Mysteries was adapted into a radio play – or more accurately an audio drama – in 2000. You can also find it in Gaiman’s 2005 anthology collection Smoke and Mirrors. A reputedly excellent film script of the timeless tale remains – as of this writing – ready and waiting for a benefactor to make it happen…

In 2002 esteemed comics virtuoso P. Craig Russell in collaboration with the author adapted the story into a sublime graphic narrative and the result was an intriguing, introspective parable within a fable.

This classy hardback (or digital equivalent, should your preferences incline that way) is a luxurious second edition which also offers a fulsome deconstruction and critique of the finished comics work by Durwin S. Talon: the extended afterword ‘Mysteries Demystified’. Initially seen in The Art of P. Craig Russell, its analysis and copious visual extras – such as sketches, script excerpts and layouts – are augmented by an annotated Sketchbook section contributed by Russell, offering even more intimate glimpses into the creative process, and include original pencilled pages, ink and colour stages plus alternate and rejected images, as well as previous collection covers.

The meat of the book is a tale within a tale within yet another and begins after a nefarious interlude in Heaven with a British traveller stuck in Los Angeles over Christmas.

He’s reeling from culture shock, and momentarily succumbs to the allure of an old lover before extricating himself from a difficult situation. Aimlessly roaming the streets, he meets a bum who tells him a story in exchange for a shared cigarette.

As the oddly-compelling derelict speaks, the displace stranded listener is mesmerised by the eerie echoes of his own existence. The bum is actually an ex-angel and recounts a tale of the Silver City…

After God created the Angels, but before he made us or the world, the sexless winged paragons – each with their own divinely appointed role – were finishing up the details of Creation. The narrator was once Raguel: The Vengeance of the Lord, and it spent this period waiting.

Eventually Lucifer came to it. A novel thing had happened, something unique, something… wrong. An Angel’s existence had been ended. Deliberately…

Raguel was expected to find and punish the perpetrator, but the “who” and “how” of the mission soon gave way to a search for an undefinable “why”. Mired in an obfuscatory maze of resistance from other Angels, Raguel reached a conclusion: the abominable act was somehow connected to a new emotion the deceased had been constructing. It was called “Love”…

This engrossing murder-mystery, detective tale and supernatural fantasy has a languid lyrical quality devoid of tension or drama, but is nonetheless an engrossing diversion, technically perfect, gently compelling. The clean, lovely art – augmented by colours from Lovern Kindzierski and typography by Galen Showman – is some of the best Russell has ever created.

If you can appreciate beauty for its own sake and suspend your need for pulse-quickening drama and angst, this is a triumphant and fascinating example of the power of style over content.
Text © 2002, 2014 Neil Gaiman. Adaptation and illustrations © 2002, 2014 P. Craig Russell All Rights Reserved.

Death Threat


By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair, even this page is white, The Boy & the Bindi, I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly it inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best, as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they happily cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression debasing so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing.

Unlike those who cower behind the supposed anonymity of their keyboards and phones, Shraya and Lee have proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, which details how the bile of ignorant bullies (you won’t believe just how dumb some bigots are until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore bullies or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.