Origin II


By Kieron Gillen, Adam Kubert & Frank Martin (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-590-1

After years of mystery and imagination, in 2001 the perennially punching-above-his-weight feral fury Wolverine was finally accorded a definitive back-story in the miniseries Origin: the True Story of Wolverine.

The Canadian Wildman had captivated audiences from his earliest appearances in the X-Men comics, and did it all over again for a far larger audience in his movie incarnation, but the story when it came did not please or satisfy everyone.

Now writerKieron Gillen, artist Adam Kubert and colourist Frank Martin have collaborated on in-filling the next chapter and their 5-part miniseries Origin II (February to July 2014) makes an extremely appetising if perhaps controversial titbit to add to the canonical menu…

In Canada at the turn of the 19th century, 12 year old Rose was hired as the companion of sickly child James Howlett, on the palatial estate of his wealthy grandfather. Among the servants she befriended an all but feral child called Logan, abused son of the estate groundskeeper and general handyman.

Tragedy occurred one night as a murder-suicide shattered the uneasy stability of the gothic estate forever, forcing Rose and the Wolverine-to-be to flee for their lives. For years they lived life on the run, eventually settling in a quarrying camp where the harsh conditions and physical toil rapidly matured the sickly mutant.

However even here the repercussions of the Howlett Estate tragedy inevitably found them leading to a final, appalling confrontation in which a hasty unplanned unsheathing of bone claws cost Rose her life…

A few years later: It’s 1907 in the icy wilds of Canada. A man more beast than human runs with the wolves, fully accepted by the pack as one of them. Their harsh but happy life is destroyed however when a colossal white bear enters the territory. The creature doesn’t know how to eat like other bears and inexorably tracks the pack to its den before destroying the cubs.

The Wolfish Man’s peace of mind is shattered and after almost dying in killing the beast an even greater tragedy begins. The loss of his family has forced the not-wolf to start thinking again…

The Polar Bear was no unhappy wanderer, but introduced by men into the unfamiliar wilderness. Now showman Hugo Haversham, the trapper Creed and his disfigured woman Clara are scouring the icy wastes for other potentially profitable attractions. Creed and Clara share some strange secret; and react badly when their erstwhile employer – creepy English scientist Dr. Nathaniel Essex – turns up in the frozen frontier town.

He clearly knows something of her amazing affinity with animals and Creed’s uncanny healing abilities and is very angry that the entrepreneur has appropriated the butchered bear carcass for his circus show…

Haversham knows a dangerous rival when he sees one, too, and takes the first opportunity to leave when Creed announces they are heading out.

The scientist continues his own endeavours, using his paramilitary “Marauders” to disseminate a poison gas of his own devising in the deep woods, intent on finding what killed his white bear…

The tactic proves disastrous as the fumes drive a bizarre clawed aborigine to attack and butcher the gas-masked Marauders. Moreover the attacker seems utterly immune to the deadly vapours…

Essex’s remaining men pursue, driving the furious wild man straight into Creed’s traps. Although the snares don’t stand up to his claws, the human beast is helpless against Clara’s uncanny calming influence. To cruel Creed’s mounting fury the connection seems to be mutual…

Soon, suitably caged, the Clawed Man of the Woods is the star attraction of Hugo the Great’s Travelling Circus. Regularly tortured and baited by Creed and fawned upon by Clara, the no-longer mute beast-man has only one thought in his head: the sight of another beloved blond girl dying on his claws…

Essex is still in the picture too: following the show and trying to buy the feral exhibit for his ongoing experiments. When his frustrated patience finally expires so does Hugo – thanks to Essex’s gas – leaving the rapid-healing Clawed Man to undying agonies on the sinister scientist’s vivisection tables…

When all hope seems lost, Clara, having convinced Creed to help, breaks her new pet out and the trio flee into the night. Thanks to the torture – or perhaps Clara’s devotion – the poor, benighted creature who now calls himself Logan has begun to speak again…

A month later the fugitives are starving in New York City and Creed has had enough. He is not there when Essex’s men try to capture Clara’s wild lover and does not see history tragically, bloodily repeat itself…

He does however join the heartbroken, traumatised Logan in going after Essex, whilst happily concealing the true nature and extent of Clara’s powers…

The man who will be Mr. Sinister is unrepentant and working on his next project: an impossibly tempting solution that can lobotomise the imbiber and eradicate all painful memories…

The saga ends in more horrific score-settling before Logan escapes into the night and into history, but this tales still has a couple of shocking twists to reveal…

Brutal, visceral and compulsive; cleverly laying as much intriguing groundwork for future stories as answering long-asked questions, Origin II is a superior yarn that will delight true aficionados of the complex Canadian crusader and this engaging tome also includes an impressive covers-&-variants gallery by Kubert & Martin, Salvador Larroca & David Ocampo, Steve Leiber, Salva Espin & Pete Pantazis and Skottie Young.
™ & © 2014 Marvel. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British edition published by Panini UK.

Marvel Platinum: the Definitive X-Men


By Stan Lee, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Grant Morrison, Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Brent Eric Anderson, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Frank Quitely & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-599-4

Here’s another addition to the sterling Marvel Platinum/Definitive Edition series: a long-awaited treasury of tales reprinting certified landmarks from Uncanny X-Men #1, 141-142 and 281, Giant Size X-Men #1, Marvel Graphic Novel #5, X-Men volume 2, #1 and New X-Men #114-116 thereby providing a prodigious primer containing an immense amount of marvellously mythological mutagenic madness and Fights ‘n’ Tights fun.

Moreover, this mammoth tome offers a cover gallery by Jack Kirby & Sol Brodsky, Gil Kane & Cockrum, John Byrne & Terry Austin, Brent Anderson, Whilce Portacio & Art Thibert, Jim Lee & Scott Williams and Frank Quitely, an informative Foreword from editor Brady Webb, a vast text feature detailing the complex and convoluted history of the veritable army of heroes to have worn and Mike Conroy’s scholarly trawl through comicbook mythology in ‘The True Origin of the X-Men.

Cover-dated September 1963, X-Men #1 introduced gloomy, serious Scott “Slim” Summers (Cyclops), ebullient Bobby Drake AKA Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington III codenamed Angel, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy as The Beast.

These teens were very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and achieving integration between the sprawling masses of humanity and Homo Superior: an emergent off-shoot race of mutants with incredible extra abilities.

Scripted by Stan Lee ‘X-Men’ opens with the boisterous students welcoming their newest classmate… Jean Grey (promptly dubbed Marvel Girl) – a beautiful young woman possessing the ability to move objects with her mind.

Whilst the Professor is explaining the team goals and mission in life an actual Evil Mutant, Magneto, is single-handedly taking over American missile-base Cape Citadel. A seemingly unassailable threat, the master of magnetism is nonetheless valiantly driven off by the young heroes on their first outing in under 15 minutes…

It doesn’t sound like much, but the gritty, dynamic power of Kirby’s art, solidly inked by veteran Paul Reinman, imparted a raw aggressive energy to the tale which carried the bi-monthly book irresistibly forward.

As the decade proceeded the team was occasionally supplemented by magnetic minx Polaris and cosmic powerhouse Havok – although they were usually referred to respectively if not respectfully as Lorna Dane and Scott’s brother Alex.

After nearly a decade of eccentric, mind-blowing adventures, the masked misfits faded away in early 1970 as mystery and supernatural horror themes once again gripped the world’s entertainment fields, consequently causing a sustained downturn in costumed hero comics.

Their title was cancelled then revived at the end of the year as a modest reprint vehicle: the missing mutants reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe. The Beast was made over into a monster to fit the fashion of the times.

Then in the summer of 1975, at the behest of Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum revived and refashioned the mutant mystique with a brand new team in Giant Size X-Men #1.

The big, big blockbuster details how the original team was lost in action, forcing the distraught Professor X to scour Earth for replacements…

Recruiting already-established old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire – plus recent Hulk foe and Canadian secret agent Wolverine – most of Xavier’s time and attention was invested in unexploited and hidden new mutants scattered around the globe.

One such was Kurt Wagner, a demonic-looking German teleporter who would be codenamed Nightcrawler, whom Xavier saved from a religious lynch mob. Another was young Russian farm worker Peter Rasputin who could transform into a living steel Colossus and a third embittered, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled and pressured into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The final replacement was Ororo Monroe, a young woman who comported herself as an African weather goddess and would be known as Storm. These raw replacements were all introduced in the stirring opening chapter ‘Second Genesis’

‘…And When There Was One!’ found wounded team-captain Cyclops swiftly drilling the far from willing or eager association before leading them into primordial danger against the monolithic threat of ‘Krakoa… the Island That Walks Like a Man!’

Overcoming the phenomenal terror of a sentient mutant eco-system and rescuing the original team should have led to another Special, but so great was the groundswell of support that the follow-up adventure was reworked into a 2-parter for the rapidly reconfigured reprint monthly which became a bimonthly home to the team and began the mutant madness we’re still experiencing today…

The revision was an unstoppable hit and soon grew to become the company’s most popular and high quality title. In time Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark “Dark Phoenix” storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left and a naive teenaged girl named Kitty Pryde signed up…

Next in this compilation comes a brace of supremely impressive and influential issues. Uncanny X-Men #141-142 (January & February 1980) perfectly encapsulate everything that made the outrageous outcasts such an unalloyed triumph and touchstone of youthful alienation.

‘Days of Future Past’ by Claremont, Byrne & Austin depicts an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein mutants, paranormals and superheroes will have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots, who would then rule a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York will be a charnel pit with most surviving mutants kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a doomed and futile war of resistance.

The middle-aged Kitty is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel (eventually to escape that time-line and become the second Phoenix) Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak, black tomorrow where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated one by valiant one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her juvenile body and leading her disbelieving X-Men team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-powered terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Fast-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and tensely inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is indubitably one of the best individual stories of the Claremont/Byrne era and set the mood, tone and agenda for the next decade of mutant mayhem…

The series went from strength to strength and the franchise inexorably expanded. In 1982 a fresh generation of students enrolled in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Following hard on the heels of that X-line expansion with The New Mutants, Marvel capitalised on the buzz a year later by releasing a hard-hitting original Marvel Graphic Novel (#5) which emphasised the harsher aspects of alienation and bigotry which underpinned relations between Homo Sapiens and Superior in a stunningly effective modern parable starring the misunderstood mutants in a landmark tale truly worthy of the company’s hot new format.

‘God Loves, Man Kills’ is a grim cautionary tale: one of the most disturbingly true-to-life in the entire canon and opens with the murder of two children. The “Purifier” zealots responsible then proudly display the bodies in the playground where they died with the placard “muties” around their necks.

When mutant terrorist/freedom fighter Magneto finds the bodies the stage is set for one of the X-Men’s darkest cases…

Fundamentalist preacher Reverend William Stryker is the demagogue of the hour: his evangelical crusade against unholy, ungodly mutants has made him rich and powerful whilst his sinister secret death-squads have enabled him to undertake the latest stage of his mission in the full, controversial glare of the public eye. He even has powerful friends and allies within the Government…

Stryker’s divinely-inspired mission is to incite a race-war and eradicate the entire emergent sub-species, using not only his television ministries to whip up public fear and hatred, but with a private army of merciless mutant-hating racist killers.

His next step involves taking out the X-Men and begins when Professor Xavier, Cyclops and Storm are seemingly assassinated after participating in a TV debate.

When news of their deaths reaches the test of the team, Colossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler track down the assailants and discover that their friends are captives of Stryker’s Purifiers, just as old enemy Magneto appears, proposing a temporary truce…

Meanwhile Colossus’s sister Illyana and Kitty Pryde have stumbled upon the captives’ fate and been attacked too. Kitty escapes and goes on the run with murderous Purifiers hot on her trail…

Stryker has been busy: whilst happily torturing his captives he has devised a way to use Xavier’s telepathic abilities to destroy mutants and all those with latent mutant genes at one genocidal stroke.

As the hate-peddler’s plans enter the final stage Magneto and the remaining X-Men prepare for their most important battle, but the showdown on live TV from Madison Square Gardens offers many surprises and reversals of fortune as Stryker, in his paranoid hubris, overestimates the power of blind prejudice and the underestimates the basic humanity of the common man …

This tale is perhaps the most plainspoken and shocking example of mutants as metaphors for racial abuse in society and the stark message herein, savagely delivered by author Chris Claremont and artist Brent Anderson at the very top of their game, made explicit the power of bigotry and the ghastly repercussions of allowing it to bloom uncontested…

Moving, scary and immensely influential, God Loves, Man Kills is the X-Men at their most effective and movie-going readers will recognise much of the tale since it formed the basis for the X-Men film sequel X2.

This moving epic is followed by the first tantalising snippet of another landmark extended saga. The team had grown in popularity and was split into Blue and Gold teams by Xavier; the division engendering the launch of another X-title.

In Uncanny X-Men #281 (October 1991) ‘Fresh Upstart’ by Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio & Art Thibert over a Byrne script saw new villains The Upstarts – led by Shinobi Shaw and Trevor Fitzroy – murderously target the Hellfire Club elite such as cyborg Donald Pierce and White Queen Emma Frost and her young protégés The Hellions, with Storm’s Gold team Archangel, Colossus, Iceman and Jean Grey unable to stop the slaughter.

The same monthClaremont, Jim Lee & Scott Williamsscored monumental sales with X-Men volume 2, #1 wherein Magneto is drawn out of self-imposed exile in ‘Rubicon’.

The weary freedom fighter had distanced himself from Earthly affairs but is gulled by ambitious, devious mutant firebrand Fabian Cortez and his band of Acolytes into renewing his defence of oppressed mutants by attacking Earth and stealing nuclear missiles.

Xavier and Cyclops’ Blue team – Beast, Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue and Psylocke – were able to thwart his attempt but only pushed the master of magnetism further into the clutches of the murderously Machiavellian Acolytes…

New X-Men #114-116 (July to September 2001) wraps up this spectacular comics collection of comicbook X-cellence with a 3-part saga that changed the landscape of Marvel continuity and introduced psychic apex mutant predator Cassandra Nova in a globe-girdling yarn of primal terror.

‘E is for Extinction’ by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely – with Tim Townsend, Dan Green & Mark Morales – saw the creepy old lady gorily secure the DNA of the last surviving Trask (the troubled family which had first invented Sentinels) and cause the robotic nemeses to undergo uncontrolled mechanical evolution before eradicating more than eleven million mutants on their safe haven island state Genosha.

She then turned her attention to the Xavier school and met her match in Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Wolverine and Emma Frost – who was undergoing her own starling secondary metamorphosis.

In the aftermath Professor X made a personal decision which would change the nature of human/mutant relations forever…

Despite the minor quibble that the “Upstarts” story is unsatisfactorily incomplete, I can’t deny that what’s on offer here is of great quality and indisputably excellent examples of the mighty mutants at their most memorable and entertaining.

Most importantly this is another perfectly-designed literary device to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnations too. Filled with non-stop tension and blockbuster action, this the ideal tool to make film-goers into funnybook fans and another solid sampling to entice and charm even the most jaded lapsed reader to return.
© 2014 Marvel Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British edition published by Panini UK.

Avengers World: A.I.M.Pire


By Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spenser, Stefano Caselli, Rags Morales & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-596-3

Post-Infinity, the reshaping of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes into an unbeatable legion of justice continues in the new title Avengers World which serves the function of a core title from which other associated series would derive direction. Of course, that’s pretty much irrelevant if all you want is high stakes, high octane Fights ‘n’ Tights fun in the traditional Summer Blockbuster manner…

Scriptedby Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spenser with art by Stefano Caselli, Avengers World: A.I.M.Pire collects the first five issues (cover-dated January to June 2014) and includes a pertinent portion from one-shot All-New Marvel Now! Point One which nicely sets the ball rolling for the unending rollercoaster ride to come.

The drama begins as Captain America and Bruce Banner attempt to restore relations and rebuild bridges with peacekeeping security organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. by doing a favour for long-suffering Director Maria Hill.

During the Origin Bomb bombardment by planetary sculptor-turned-probationary Avenger Ex Nihilo (see Avengers: Avengers World and The Last White Event), large parts of the planet were subjected to forced, random and rapid evolution, and now Hill needs a team of seasoned metahumans to go into a transformed area of Canada which has already cost the lives of national superteam Alpha Flight.

However in a frantically fast-changing world she supersedes her own request when news comes in from the rogue state of Madripoor. Apparently the pacific island is burning…

An espionage stealth team consisting of Shang-Chi, The Falcon, Black Widow and Wolverine are soon in play but the bloody civil unrest only masks a deeper problem.

In the meantime Avengers Nightmask, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman and Starbrand are dispatched to Velletai in Italy when the entire population vanishes. Soon after arriving all contact is lost with the team…

At S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ Banner has been crunching data and pinpoints the newly autonomous nation known as A.I.M. Island as the crux of the cluster of strange crises. He also realises the island is changing shape and size and Cap reacts by sending relative neophytes Cannonball, Sunspot and Smasher in to investigate…

On Madripoor Shang-Chi has divined the reason for the unrest: mystic ninja clan The Hand, at the behest of most recent Master The Gorgon, have enacted a ritual whose collateral effects have enflamed the populace. The true purpose, however, was to awaken the unbelievably vast dragon the island rests upon. Tragically the Avengers are too late to stop the creature taking flight wearing Madripoor as a hat…

In Velletai, things are going badly too. The heroes have found a City of the Dead beneath the surface and the frantic departed are all screaming in Starbrand’s head…

The third prong of a triple threat manifests over A.I.M. Island as Smasher, Sunspot and Cannonball are easily captured by the techno-terrorists and delivered to the Scientist Supreme in his grand new capital city Barbuda: soon-to-be hub from where A.I.M. will rule the world…

The second chapter begins with the trio languishing in Barbuda even as the island continues its exponential growth. Whilst Captain America readies his rescue team, Smasher – latest Superguardian of the Shi’ar Empire and granddaughter of Golden Age hero Captain Terror – is being given a guided tour by Scientist Supreme Andrew Forson. His honeyed words are a mere trick to lull her suspicions before he turns her into the nation’s latest super-weapon with the aid of the cabal’s hidden ally: a cosmic force designated The Entropic Man

High over Southeast Asia, in Mardipoor, Shang-Chi valiantly challenges the Gorgon to single combat only to be cruelly beaten and tossed over the edge into the void, whilst in Velletai the heroes are attacked by undead monsters and Kevin Connor is forced to confront the hundreds of classmates and neighbours who died when the White Event explosively transformed him into Starbrand…

On the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier Director Hill addresses the Avengers’ glaring lack of a mystic member by seconding neophyte wizard Sebastian Druid whilst Cap prepares an away-team to rescue the prisoners of A.I.M. island/continent.

Druid divines the nature of the Velletai situation: the location is a spirit trap built by the Entropy worshipping Cult of Yagzan. What he doesn’t know, however, is that control of the City has been usurped by infernal Avengers’ arch-foe Morgan Le Fay

Events spiral out of control as Cap and Iron Man try to draw reality-warping former team-mate Manifold back into action, only to discover that the Australian is still trying to repair his abilities, which were damaged during the Infinity crisis.

His salvation only begins after a strange and painfully close encounter with Captain Universe who is still somewhat trapped in her role as “Mother of Creation”…

With time running out for Earth on three fronts, Manifold then teleports back to gather the remaining Avengers and transport then to the most significant battle of their lives…

To Be Continued…

Rounding off this action-packed, tantalising teaser tome is ‘Short Term Fixes’ by Nick Spenser & Rags Morales from All-New Marvel Now! Point One which reveals the background to Smasher, Sunspot and Cannonball’s mission to A.I.M. Island and the devious backroom dickering between Hill and the Sentinel of Liberty which led to the current relationship between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers…

This collection also offers digitally-diverting extra content for tech-savvy consumers courtesy of AR icon sections all accessible through a free digital code and the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices at Marvel’s Digital Comics Shop as well as a plethora of astounding covers-and-variants by John Cassaday& Laura Martin, Jung-Geon Yoon, Morales, Mike Deodato Jr., In-Hyuk Lee, Art Adams, Milo Manara, Skottie Young, Carlo Barberi, Chris Samnee, Simone Bianchi, Agustin Alessio, Ron Garney & Steve McNiven.
™ and © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

The Beano and The Dandy: Favourites from the Forties


By many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-821-0

As we’re all feeling a wee bit Caledonian at present, I thought I’d take a look at some of Scotland’s greatest achievements whilst simultaneously revelling in the Good Old Days of comics…

Released in 2003 as part of the DC Thomson’s Sixtieth Anniversary celebrations for their children’s periodicals division – which has more than any other shaped the psyche of generations of kids – this splendid oversized (296 x 204mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history.

Admittedly the book goes through some rather elaborate editing and paste-up additions whilst editorially explaining for younger readers the vast changes to the commonplace that have occurred over more than half a century, and naturally the editors have expurgated a few of the more egregious terms that wouldn’t sit well with 21st century sensibilities (Mussolini lampoon Musso the Wop becomes the far-less ethnically unsound “Musso” for instance) but otherwise this is a superb cartoon commemoration of one of the greatest morale-building initiatives this nation ever enjoyed.

They’re also superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937 The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A huge success, it was followed eight months later by The Beano – which launched on July 30th 1938 – and together they completely revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers, and the end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. They only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949…

This superb celebration of Celtic creativity is packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips. The fun starts on the inside front with a wonderful Biffo the Bear exploit, illustrated by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins, followed by Korky the Cat by James Crichton and a listing of ‘Forty from the 40’s’ before the vintage fun properly proceeds, sensibly sub-divided into themed chapters.

Sadly none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but as always I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

Then and Now offers a smart selection of comparisons to life in the past compared to the 21st century with hilarious examples and contributions from Lord Snooty – by the incredibly prolific Watkins – cowboy superman Desperate Dan at the doctor’s, ostrich antics with Big Eggo by Crichton (or perhaps Reg Carter), lady Wild West sheriff Ding-Dong Belle from Bill Holroyd and a glimpse at primitive fast-food courtesy of Dandy’s Bamboo Town duo Bongo and Pongo limned by Charlie Gordon.

There’s more medical mirth with Desperate Dan, wash day blues with Mickey’s Magic Book (Crichton?) and a prose yarn pinpointing the funnier points of the class war in The Slapdash Circus – with a stirring illustration by Toby Baines – before Charlie Chutney the Comical Cook (Allan Morley) plays pie-man and Watkins produces another Biffo blast.

Next comes The Horse That Jack Built, a rousing medieval adventure yarn starring a clockwork charger by Holroyd, before the chapter concludes in another Desperate Dan fable about messing around growing vegetables…

Entertainment then explores how fun was had in the war years – i.e. before television – beginning with a phonographic Korky yarn and the first fine example of licensed film feature Our Gang illustrated by that man Watkins.

The Our Gang (later known as Li’l Rascals) movie shorts were one of the most popular series in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids” (atypically, though, there was full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys) having idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple. The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach (he directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others) and these brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell Comics in the USA released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, restored the wit, verve and charm of the cinematic glory days with a progression of short tales that elevated the lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz or Huckleberry Finn.

Long before then, however (1937 and The Dandy #1, in fact), DC Thomson secured the British rights and produced their own uniquely home-grown weekly escapades of Alfalfa Switzer, Scotty Becket, Spanky McFarland, Darla Hood, Buckwheat Thomas and the rest, such as the quirky keep-fit frolic here…

Desperate Dan then endured some cool radio fun with Aunt Aggie, Keyhole Kate (Allan Morley) had trouble with a magic Lantern show, and Biffo’s juggling act brought nothing but pain and strife.

As depicted by the wonderful Eric Roberts, Podge found drumming was unwelcome around the village and the not-so-wild animals of Bamboo Town struck up – and out – the band, after which both Biffo and Korky suffered terribly for their R-and-R.

Posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz (Charles Holt) comes a-cropper in a brace of telling tales after which the aforementioned dictator of Italy is mercilessly lambasted in a cruel quartet of Musso strips by Sam Fair, Charlie Chutney bakes to excess, Our Gang take vengeance on a bullying boxer and Podge foils a bunch of schoolboy cheats.

How the daily travails of conflict were relieved is examined in Wartime 1 with Jimmy and his Magic Patch (Watkins) accidentally visiting bellicose Lilliput, Lord Snooty’s pals battling a Nazi spy and his pigeons whilst barmy barber Hair Oil Hal (by John Brown) cuts up in a clever quartet.

Sam Fair was in excoriating top form with the superbly manic Addie and Hermy slapstick assaults on Adolf Hitler and HermannWilhelm Göring/Goering, Meddlesome Matty (Fair or Malcolm Judge?) becomes a different sort of siren and Mickey’s Magic Book proves more hindrance than help during an air raid…

The complex world of Fashion begins with a plethoraof Korky on parade, Beano’s Ding-Dong Belle offered some six-gun hints on good manners, Doubting Thomas by Roberts was overwhelmed by a shop dummy and Meddlesome Matty went shoe shopping… for a horse…

Pansy Potter, the Strongman’s Daughter by Hugh McNeil was legendary for her unique looks – as seen in three strips here – but Swanky Lanky Liz, Charlie Chutney, Musso, Hair Oil Hal and Biffo all offer their own stylistic visions to round out this section before the un-PC past is more fully and shamefacedly explored in Out of Fashion withBiffo, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy, the Clockwork Boy (by the Torelli Brothers), Meddlesome Matty, Korky, Doubting Thomas, Bamboo Town and Mickey’s Magic Book all exhibiting behaviours we just don’t condone nowadays…

Strips depicting Transport follow with Multy the Millionaire (Richard Cox), Korky and Biffo all experiencing some distress and delay after which Watkins displays his superb dramatic style for 1946 fantasy adventure Tom Thumb.

There are also more travel travails for Korky, Ding-Dong Belle, Doubting Thomas, Podge, Swanky Lanky Liz and Desperate Dan before a prose chapter from an epic Black Bob serial (a Lassie-like wonder dog illustrated by Jack Prout) precedes a Big Eggo pantomime romp and a 1944 Watkins spectacular starring Jimmy and his Magic Patch as a slave on Roman ship.

The trip down memory lane ends with another bout of combat fever in Wartime 2, containing stunning contributions from Bamboo Town and Desperate Dan and a treat for Pansy Potter fans: four fill-in strips from those tenuous days illustrated by different artists who might or might not be McNeil, Basil Blackaller, Sam Fair, James Clark and/or Charles Grigg.

The campaign continues with a 1942 Tin-Can Tommy tale plus more Podge, Keyhole Kate, Doubting Thomas, Desperate Dan, Korky strips as well as more Jimmy and his Magic Patch and a lovely Lord Snooty and his Pals yarn with the kids helping the Home Guard before Biffo ushers us out just as he had invited us in…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out for a half-day to run amok once again.

© 2003 DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

Avengers: Adapt or Die


By Jonathan Hickman, Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato Jr., Butch Guice, Esad Ribic, Steve Pugh & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-583-3

Following an unending string of universe-shattering crises, Iron Man and Captain America swallowed old animosities and united to reshape The Avengers into a planetary defence force more army than voluntary association, with more than twenty active members – human or alien or something less clear cut – whose specialities range from stealth and counter-intelligence to sheer, blockbusting stopping power.

The posture and attitude also changed as the new group actively sought out potential disaster points rather than waiting for trouble to start.

Collecting Avengers volume 5 #24-28 (covering December 2013 to April 2014), the ongoing Big Picture series as scripted by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato Jr., Butch Guice, Esad Ribic & Steve Pugh continues to lay down the law, beginning with a Christmas present from 3030AD…

From that distant tomorrow comes a far-futuristic iteration of the Armoured Avenger bearing a timely warning of danger to interrupt a much-needed decompression barbecue on top of Avengers Tower.

Inside the building Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are working. Following twin invasions by the extra-galactic Builders and Thanos of Titan plus a mutagenic plague of new metahumans triggered by the Inhumans (Infinity and Inhumanity), the master strategists are readying the latest design of their “Avengers Machine” for safeguarding mankind…

On materialisation Iron Man 3030 panics. This cannot be the right place or time. There are heroes present that history never recorded as Avengers…

After the mandatory clash of arms the situation settles enough for the assemblage to take heed of the time-traveller who warns that a ‘Rogue Planet’ has been aimed at the Earth like a giant bullet…

With time to prepare, the heroes relocate to their frontier outpost on Mars and enact a truly original solution which leaves Earth with a monolithic secret weapon for future emergencies…

A chilling murder mystery then begins when size-changing savant Hank Pym is found dead amongst a mass of slaughtered New Yorkers in ‘Carve a Hole… Climb Inside’. With an Avenger murdered, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill makes the case her topmost priority…

As the investigation proceeds, the truth slowly comes out. Resurgent techno-terrorist cabal A.I.M. has been unwisely exploring the fringes between universes and plucked a sextet of Avengers from their own Earth in the moments before it died as part of the ongoing collapse of the multiverse.

As previously established, Reality is composed of discrete universes all held apart by an infinite crimson underspace dubbed the Superflow. Now that immemorial barrier is somehow fragmenting, with the timeless alien engineers who maintain it helpless to stop the carnage whenever an Earth drifts into contact with another Earth. On those occasions at least one is always obliterated…

A.I.M. has no grudge against their rescued finds and lets them loose upon the world as they prepare for the next phase of their research into other dimensions. Unfortunately General America, Thorr, Iron Monger, Ant-Man, Wasp and their lobotomised Hulk are no heroes and establish their credentials by slaughtering an entire district of annoying New Yorkers…

In ‘Look Around… There’s No Way Out’ Director Hill’s suspicions prove unfounded as the real Avengers go into action and the true facts unfold.

Months ago A.I.M., using genetic material stolen from the World’s Mightiest Heroes, upgraded their latest design of Super-Adaptoid, intent on tasking the six uncanny mechanoids with exploring the void between universes. The crazy scientists unwisely made their creations autonomous, self-aware and able to draw on an armoury of Avenger abilities: well able to mine the multiverse for technological treasures.

They never considered that new experiences might reshape their creatures’ programming or desires and foolishly despatched the Adaptoids to capture the extra-dimensional Avengers as they ran amok on Earth. In the resultant clash Ant-Man was killed and the enslaved Hulk broke free and fled…

Reverting to Bruce Banner the trans-dimensional fugitive made for a safe house he hoped his doppelganger also secretly maintained, whilst at A.I.M. HQ the Explorer Class Adaptoids took advantage of their newly-won free will and seized control of their own destinies…

‘Only Dirt… Six Feet Deep’ opens with Dr. Banner coming face to face with his other-Earthly counterpart and taking a very uncharacteristic chance even as on A.I.M. Island the Scientist Supreme reacts very badly to the news that his prime experiment is completely out of control. The variant Avengers have made savage contact with this Earth’s heroes and a devastating battle is wrecking the Big Apple. He wants all evidence of A.I.M. involvement eradicated…

The battle is just going the good guys’ way when an utterly out of control Hulk turns up and attacks everyone, giving the A.I.M. units a perfect opportunity to step in and surreptitiously extract the evil Avengers…

In the aftermath Bruce confronts Tony Stark, carrying ‘The Case’ and claiming to have deduced the billionaire inventor’s long-term goals. In a tense stand-off he reveals that he – not his double – was recovered by A.I.M. forces and has subsequently ensured that the evil Avengers will not be back.

Even as Captain America was agreeing to surrender the rampaging out of control Hulk to Maria Hill’s custody, Banner was learning from the Scientist Supreme that all the universes are dying – a fact Stark has concealed from his team-mates.

The rogue physicist reasoned the how and why of Iron Man’s recent actions and drive to reshape the Avengers. He also deduced that Stark had reformed the intellectual star-chamber dubbed The Illuminati to make all the really hard decisions and take those actions his fellow heroes would baulk at…

As Stark admits everything and makes Banner a shocking offer, in the trans-dimensional void the free will Adaptoids meet something strangely familiar and begin their next evolution…

To Be Continued…

A spectacular Fights ‘n’ Tights overload that will delight and astonish lovers of cosmic Costumed Dramas, this tome also offers a stunning 28 covers-and-variants gallery by Ribic, Deodato Jr., Agustin Alessio, Simone Bianchi, Joe Quinones, Carlo Barberi, J. Scott Campbell, Daniel Acuña, John Tyler Christopher, Lee Garbett, Tom Scioli, Walt Simonson, Art Adams, Michael Allred, Kris Anka, Alex Ross and Dustin Weaver, as well as digitally-diverting extra content for tech-savvy consumers courtesy of AR icon sections all accessible through a free digital code and the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices at Marvel’s Digital Comics Shop.
™ and © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think.

If the cover and the copy above hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contain nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homo-sexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and probably school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the mere thought of all that offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will just have to enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted – or perhaps had – to.

Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody…

Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The modern successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, and each chapter offers a wealth of strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

Our history opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and unto college but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ from Gothic Blimp Works #1, ‘River City Shoot-Out’from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all from 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’ for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ from Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970 and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ from Insect Fear #1, ‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’ and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop out life style, all topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also provides ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’,‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ whilst Zap #5 1970 barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’, a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of counterculture thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate his creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974) which also provided a quartet of single frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’, a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadres like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including the eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975, illustrations for William Burroughs’seminal short story‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’(Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, the front and back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork,‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1, (1971), eight-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. This is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Mighty Avengers volume 2: Family Bonding


By Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti, Greg Land, Jay Leisten & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-607-6

The colossal Infinity storyline detailed a staggering two-pronged threat to humanity: intergalactic eradication via all-out attack by an impossibly ancient race dubbed The Builders and – whilst the Avengers mobilised most of their assemblage off-planet to thwart that armada – a separate savage invasion at the behest of Thanos of Titan, who took advantage of the dearth of metahuman defenders to crush mankind…

In the Avengers’ absence, family man Luke Cage led a spirited superhero resistance movement and in the aftermath as the planet rebuilt itself, elected to keep his Mighty Avengers together as a decidedly different kind of crusading team…

Opening a storefront operation in his old Gem Theatre office, Cage’s intention was to bring the Avengers back to ordinary people.

His bold new idea: opening the heroic volunteer brigade to the public who can come to them with meta-related problems or issues of injustice or help the costumed folk in any way they feel able.

The core empowered team comprises The Falcon, Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and Photon but now calling herself Spectrum), sidelined and forgotten 1960s black superman Dr. Adam Brashear AKA Blue Marvel, She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters, old comrade Iron Fist and a couple of promising if troubled new kids: VíctorPower Man 2.0Álvarez and Ava Ayala, the latest mortal to become the godly avatar White Tiger.

Also helpfully hanging around is a mystically savvy mystery hero who helped out in an early case and now borrows the hand-me-down guise and gear of masked marauder Ronin

Scripted by Al Ewing, Mighty Avengers volume 2 #6-10 (April-September 2014) opens with the first shots rendered by Valerio Schiti for a sinisterly seditious saga wherein Falcon tracks a far-right radical who has just torched an anti-capitalist bookshop.

Elsewhere Cage is having an uncomfortable conversation with Brashear.

Required in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to cease public activities lest his example harm the already torturous pace of racial integration in America, Blue Marvel has only recently returned to public life; stirred from a lengthy self-imposed exile due to the impending and building crises threatening Earth.

He doesn’t welcome veiled accusations that his past capitulation actually hindered progress and justice for his fellow African-Americans, but before the discussion can get anywhere meaningful, a cosmic alarm calls the mighty Marvel away …

All conversation is shelved when Ava joins the gathering. She has suffered intolerable personal losses in recent days, heaped atop a long-unsatisfied desire to avenge her murdered family and the chilling pact she has recently made with the primeval Tiger God who supplies her strength, speed and martial arts mastery – for a price. She cannot remember the last time she rested…

On Liberty Island Spectrum and She-Hulk are testing the junior Power Man’s limits before returning to base, but the evening goes into overdrive when Falcon radios in that his book burner was working for army renegade and paramilitary extremist Gideon Mace.

On a lonely rooftop Ava Ayala overhears that the man who slaughtered her family has been released from the psychiatric institution which kept him from her, and the White Tiger cries out to her broken soul…

The story resumes as the fury-filled girl allows her predatory patron deity to take full control of their shared body in return for the promise of justice. Her Avenger friends quickly mobilise to stop her from crossing a line there’s no coming back from, but Victor and Iron Fist are no match for her feral feline rage…

Mace has been adopted as the spokes-figure for a shady but powerful hard right lobbying organisation called the American Policy Research Initiative, and their despicable lawyers make it clear that should anything happen to their poster-boy, the repercussions would be litigious and catastrophic for the store front champions.

With no choice but to play bodyguard to a bloodthirsty, bigoted maniac, the Avengers are waiting when White Tiger attacks. Ava almost defeats them all before finally succumbing to overwhelming force.

She awakens securely bound in Kadesh – Brashear’s undersea super-science fortress – with her friends desperately trying to contact one of their numerous supernatural allies to loosen the Tiger God’s grip on her.

Although Blue Marvel compliantly vanished from America for fifty years, Brashear covertly carried on the good fight under a number of aliases in Europe, Asia and the greater universe. Now a distress call comes in alerting him that techno-terrorists and old enemies W.E.S.P.E. have sponsored an extra-dimensional incursion of devastating force. When the old soldier hurtles off to fix it, he is accompanied by Spectrum and She-Hulk.

Behind the catastrophe is flamboyant, novice mad scientist Dr. Positron who has a deeply personal score to settle with Brashear…

As the away team tackle his deadly robo-insects and the remaining Avengers bicker on over how best to help Ava, in her cell the indomitable captive White Tiger takes her fate into her own hands and finally puts her manipulative power-patron in his proper place…

On Positron’s base Brashear faces shock after shock as his deranged foe opens a portal to the astounding Neutral Zone (where matter and anti-matter collide yet somehow co-exist), liberating Marvel’s long lost son Kevin from a ghastly, torturous imprisonment…

Issue #9 (illustrated by Greg Land & Jay Leisten) opens with enigmatic eldritch warrior Ronin targeted by an increasingly varied army of ninja were-beasts, whilst on the island of Dr. Positron, Kevin Brashear – mutated to monstrous size and shape – gradually oozes though a cascading dimensional portal and Blue Marvel shares his most tragic secret.

From the 1970’s until the early years of the new superheroic age, “Doc Brashear” and his super-genius son clandestinely combatted a host of uncanny evils until one day their arch-nemesis Evald Skorpion opened a hole into infinity and Kevin was sucked into it.

To save the world, a doting parent resolutely sacrificed his son…

Now as the colossal thing that was Kevin ponderously squeezes out of the wormhole, the terrifying effects of that sojourn in other-space can be fully seen, compelling heroes and villain to unite in putting the tragic victim back there at all costs…

In New York meanwhile a flock of were-roosters and snake-ninjas have succeeded in battle against the mystery hero, exposing his shocking identity to the world as a prelude to their expediting the coming of the appalling Age of the Deathwalkers

The epic adventure concludes – for now – with an intoxicating Original Sin crossover (another mega-major publishing event which disclosed many of the Marvel Universe’s most closely guarded secrets) as Blue Marvel is summoned to the moon to comply with the last wishes of a dead friend.

Whilst Cage and Co. resist mounting mystical menaces in New York, Adam ponders an impossible situation. Over his many years of isolation and ostracization, the seemingly immortal superman somehow became close to the aloof, remote and unshakably distant cosmic entity known as Uatu the Watcher.

Now the omnipotent sidereal witness has been murdered by agents unknown and the deeply shaken defender of the Earth is further astounded and gratified when Uatu’s significant other Ulana gives their baby into his safekeeping…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Land & Leisten Family Bonding is a fast, furious, fabulously inventive and fantastically offbeat collection combining eerie horror, amazing action and outrageous humour into an unforgettable frolic no Fights ‘n’ Tights fanboy could possibly resist.
™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Papyrus volume 4: The Evil Mummies


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-84-000000

Papyrus is the masterfully evocative magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Spirou, running to more than 30 albums, consequently spawning a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ (fold-in, half-sized booklets) inserts for Spirou, starring his jovial little cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip ‘Poussy’.

In the 1960s De Gieter launched South Seas mermaid fantasy ‘Tôôôt et Puit’ whilst Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, deep-sixing the Smurfs gig to expand his horizons working for Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on ‘Mischa’ for Germany’s Primo, whilst applying the finishing touches to his latest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the next forty years.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, blending Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration, through means of light fantasy romps always leavened and flavoured with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

The named star is a fearlessly forthright peasant boy (more accurately a fisherman) favoured by the gods who rose to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

As a youngster the plucky Fellah was blessed by the gods and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. The lad’s first task was to free supreme god Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty was to protecting Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unparalleled gift for seeking out trouble…

The Evil Mummies is the fourth Cinebook translation (19th album in the run and originally released in 1996 as Les Momies maléfiques); a riotous rollercoaster of all-action fearsome fantasy which begins in the rocky fastnesses of the deep sands where Pharaoh’s headstrong daughter impatiently leads an expedition to retrieve the revered mummies of the fabled Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa from the lost Hammamat mines where they fell defending the nation from the invading Hyksos.

The bodies are to be returned in honour and interred in Thebes, but first they have to find them…

Amongst Theti-Cheri, her protector Papyrus and all the assorted, hurrying specialists is sometime court jester Puin in charge of the precious pack animals – although it would be more accurate to say that his phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot is actually guiding all those reins…

In their haste to finish the mission the party are shamefully negligent and forget to make proper obeisance to divine Seth, Master of the Desert Wastes. Soon a furious cloud image warns of the dark overlord’s wrath. Nervously shrugging it off, the expedition prepares for sleep but is suddenly devastated by a terrifying flash-flood which manifests from nowhere to scatter the impious intruders.

Papyrus awakes battered and bruised over a lofty precipice. He has been saved from crushing doom by a great silver falcon, favoured beast of mighty Horus

In trying to retrieve his magic sword the boy-hero triggers a flaming omen which points him a certain direction. Setting off into the scorching desert he slowly follows a treacherous trail and with the falcon’s timely aid uncovers a deep crevice and shaft into a deep, long-forgotten mine.

In a chamber far within the abandoned workings is a golden statue of Seth and ten roughly hewn coffins in a makeshift temple…

Curiosity overcoming caution, Papyrus uncovers a ghastly, poorly preserved mummy in one but the second – already opened – box holds Theti-Cheri herself: alive but bound and gagged.

When he cuts her loose she descends into utter panic, frantically warning that she had been captured by walking corpses: the angry archers of Sekenenre Taa…

He is suddenly saved from a lethal arrow by the ever-present falcon but in his panicked flight is separated from the princess, before plunging into open air and landing in the mine’s ancient water-filled well.

Recovering his wits, he trails Theti and finds her on and the bird on a rooftop. She claims to have been saved by Horus himself.

Sadly the awakened mummies are determined and unstoppable. With his magic sword useless against the already dead, the boy is about to be crushed by the restless revenants and is only rescued when the princess plunges one of the monsters’ own arrows into a dusty body…

Before long though, the buried temple is crawling with revived and raging mummy murderers and the terrified youths are again racing in panic…

Spotting a trickle of water on a stony rock face Papyrus smites the wall with his sword and a watery tumult catapults them to relative safety in the well.

With the water flooding away, however, the pair can see two huge golden statues of Horus at the bottom and reason that they must restore them to the temple to quiet the still marauding mummies…

Seth unleashes more magical mischief to deter the already overwhelmed children, but Papyrus’ defiance and the lucky appearance of Khamelot quickly turn the tables. The unthinking dead things mistake the donkey for their own ghastly long-eared, long-nosed dark lord and rapidly retreat…

With aid from the faithfully following pack animals the Horus statues are quickly restored to their rightful stations but Theti insists that the now-dormant archer mummies must be respectfully gathered up and transported to their to proper resting place in Thebes as per her father’s plans…

As the bizarre entourage makes its laborious way back across the burning sands, a number of further strange encounters plunges both princess and protector into another hidden tomb. This one holds the real, sacredly interred Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa. But if that’s the case, who or what then have they been shipping back at such tremendous, exhausting effort?

Solving that enigma, the pair still have to defeat an army of bandits and pillagers but the battle leads them to the impossible plain where the lost members of the original expedition have been enduring the slow punishment of Seth…

Epic, funny, enthralling and masterfully fast-paced, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to seek out all these classic chronicles.
© Dupuis, 1996 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ric Estrada, Joe Orlando, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Bob Smith & Vince Colletta (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4757-7

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry is greatly lacking for not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right can be seen in Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1 which gathers the licensed comicbook tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and angsty, soap opera melodrama.

Sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated; sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis.

The series then made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action television series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comicbook.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends into four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This bombastic black-&-white extravaganza collects Super Friends #1-24 (spanning November 1976 to September 1979) and opens with a crafty two-part caper by Bridwell, Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando.

‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ found heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredible astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery if not outright intellectual theft…

The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman, having auditioned a host of young criminals, are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps and Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper.

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs the heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champions split up to tackle the crises but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them.

As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Unluckily for them Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2 but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’

The incomparable Ramona Fradon – aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith – took over the pencilling with #3 as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ saw fifty intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who then combined their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror who utterly overwhelmed Earth’s heroic defenders. However he soon fell victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ found the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler.

It wasn’t too long before a pattern emerged and a criminal connection was confirmed…

Author Bridwell was justly famed as DC’s keeper of the continuity, possessing an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of DC’s publishing minutiae. ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining our heroes as they hosted a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurked in the wings, awaiting the perfect moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donators…

The Atom played a crucial role in stopping the dastardly depredations of an animal trainer who used beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change was unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’

TV is very different from comics. When the new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were gone, replaced without warning or explanation by alien shapeshifters Zan and Jayna and their elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek.

With more room – and consideration for the fans – Bridwell turned the sudden cast change into a bombastic battle to save Earth from total annihilation whilst properly introducing the adult heroes’ newest students in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl who can change into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come with an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has determined to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat…

To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva are performing similar duties on a life-eradicator in England and Flash and mighty-leaping Impala are dismantling uncatchable ordnance in South Africa…

Hawkman and Hawkwoman then join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wondertwins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a deadly device designed to decimate Japan even as in Ireland Green Lantern and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their target of technological terror.

In New Zealand time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids, but is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog who categorically prove they are ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols just before a legion of alien horrors arrives on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’ after which Kingslayer’ pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past then resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’

The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptured their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends were called in to prevent a potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy was tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and led to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist who revealed the secret history of civilisation and begged help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’ before its random burrowing shattered mankind’s cities…

Super Friends #14 opened with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they were possessed by ancient sprits and tasked with plundering the world by Overlord. When the heroes scotched the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retained their powers and determined to become a crime-fighting team dubbed The Elementals

The issue also contained a short back-up tale illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last revealed how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their own world – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful rocketship to Earth…

Big surprises were in store in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals began their battle against evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crimelord. All the heroes were blithely unaware that they were merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 was a grand, old fashioned alien invasion yarn, perfectly foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wondertwins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ found Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on Krypton in the days before it detonated and future water world Neryla in the hours before it was swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks in no small part to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-rol – the Super Friends used Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure methodologies to go after the Trapper in the riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (illustrated by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860AD, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

Issue #19 saw the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the beast-breaker boosted Gleek, intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into the perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil – writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy – teamed with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensued when the team tackled vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle got hold of Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern and tried to make a masterpiece on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’

Bridwell, Fradon & Smith were back in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ found the heroes travelling to Exor to combat a brace of super-criminals who could duplicate all their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Neil, Fradon & Smith) revealed how temporal bandit Chronos subjected the Super Friends to a time-delay treatment which made them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wondertwins out-thought him…

The Mirror Master divided and banished teachers and students in #23 but was unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the fleet-footed Flash. This episode also spent some time fleshing out the Wondertwin’s earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming

This splendid selection of super thrills then concludes with ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ by O’Neil, Fradon & Smith wherein Zan and Jayna’s faces are found engraved on a recently unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but are in fact criminals who have been fleeing Exorian justice for thousands of years.

How lucky then that the kids are perfect doubles the crooks can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid – once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Brilliantly entertaining, masterfully crafted and always utterly engaging, these stories are comics gold that will delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2014 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 8: Shades of Death


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

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which premiered in 1984 amongst the assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk in Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He subsequently graduated to a solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

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

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

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

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

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

The title was as much a nomad as its star. This guest-star stuffed eighth monochrome masterpiece marshals yarns released by Mirage Publishing as Usagi Yojimbo volume 2, #1-6, and also offers some short tales from #7-8.

Following an evocative Introduction from legendary illustrator and Dean of dinosauria William Stout, the medieval mystery play continues with the 3-part crossover epic ‘Shades of Green’ wherein Usagi and his crusty companion Gennosuké (an irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taking rhino with a heart of gold) are recruited by Kakera: a ratty shaman in dire need of protection from the dwindling remnants of the once-mighty Neko Ninja clan.

The former imperial favourites have fallen upon hard times since they and the Ronin Rabbit crushed the Dragon Bellow plot of rebel Lord Takamuro. Now, the bat assassins of the Komori Ninja clan are constantly harrying, harassing and actively trying to replace them in patron Lord Hikiji’s service…

Chunin (deputy leader) Gunji believes the rodent wizard would make a mighty slave, and is scheming to usurp the new – female – clan chief Chizu whilst acquiring him…

With the Neko’s trap closing around them all, the sensei summons the spirits of four fantastic fighters to aid Usagi and Gen. The phantoms promptly posses a quartet of little Kamé (tortoises) and are reshaped into adolescent amphibian Ninja Turtles, identifying themselves as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello.

Usagi has fought beside one of their number before…

The subsequent battles go badly and eventually Gunji’s forces make off with Kakera-sensei. As Usagi leads the remaining heroes in relentless pursuit, the conniving chunin makes his move. Gunji’s attempt to assassinate Chizu is bloodily and efficiently ended by the late-arriving Rabbit Ronin who is astounded to be told by the lady he has saved that the Neko’s lethal interest in him is now at an end…

With the shaman rescued and Gunji dead, the adventure closes with the turtle spirits returned to their own place and time, leaving Gen and Usagi to follow their own (temporarily) separate roads…

‘Jizo’ then offers a delightful interlude as a grieving mother dedicates a roadside shrine to her murdered child and mysterious Karma places the killers in the path of a certain justice-dispensing, long-eared wanderer before 2-part tale ‘Shi’ leads Usagi to the assistance of a valley of poor farmers under constant attack by bullies and brigands seeking to make them leave their impoverished homes.

The thugs are secretly employed by a local magistrate and his ruthless brother who have discovered gold under the peasants land and want to extract it without attracting the attention of the local Lord’s tax collectors.

When the Ronin’s formidable opposition stalls the brothers’ scheme they hire a quartet of assassins whose collective name means “death”, but the killers are far less trouble than the head farmer’s daughter Kimie who has never seen someone as glamorous or attractive as the soft-spoken samurai…

Although there are battles aplenty for Usagi, the remorseless greed of the brothers finishes them before the yojimbo can…

A delightful silent comedy follows as ‘The Lizard’s Tale’ sees the Ronin play unwilling Pied Piper and guardian to a wandering flock of tokagé lizards (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate the anthropomorphic world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem). The rambunctious trouble-magnets then repay the favour when the wanderer is ambushed in the snow-drowned mountains by an army of vengeful bandits…

The remainder of the stories offer elucidating glimpses of the rabbit’s boyhood. Once, Miyamoto Usagi was simply the son of a small-town magistrate sent to spend his formative years learning the Way of Bushido from a gruff and distant leonine hermit named Katsuichi.

The stern sensei taught not just superior technique and tactics, but also an ironclad creed of justice and restraint which would serve the Ronin well throughout his turbulent life.

In ‘Usagi’s Garden’ the pupil rebels against the arduous and undignified task of growing food until the lion delivers a subtle but life changing lesson, whilst in ‘Autumn’ a painful fall propels the lad into a nightmare confrontation with a monster who has trapped the changing of the seasons in a bamboo cage…

The 3-chapter fable ‘Battlefield’ then discloses a key moment and turning point in the trainee warrior’s life.

It begins when a mind-broken, fleeing soldier shatters the boy’s childish dreams of warrior glory. The fugitive is a survivor of the losing side in a mighty battle and his sorry state forces Usagi to rethink his preconceptions of war.

Eager to ram home the lesson, Katsuichi takes his student to the battlefield where peasants and scavengers are busy snatching up whatever they can from the scattered corpses. Usagi is horrified. To take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, but even so a little later he cannot stop himself picking up a fallen hero’s Wakizashi (short sword).

However, after concealing the blade in safe place, the boy is haunted by visions of the unquiet corpse and sneaks off to return the stolen steel soul.

He is caught by soldiers who think him a scavenger and looter. About to lose his thieving hands he is only saved by the intervention of victorious Great Lord Mifunė.

The noble looks into the boy’s face and sees something honest, honourable and perhaps, one day, useful…

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

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

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

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, the saga alternately bristles with tension and thrills and often breaks your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is a perfect comics experience: a monolithic, magical saga of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories.

Sheer comicbook poetry by a sublime Comicbook Sensei…
Text and illustrations © 1993, 1994, 1997 Stan Sakai. All other material and registered characters are © and™ their respective owners. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.