The Shadow volume 1: The Fire of Creation


By Garth Ennis, Aaron Campbell, Carlos Lopez & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-361-2

In the early 1930s, The Shadow gave thrill-starved readers their measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced periodical novels dubbed – because of the low-grade paper they were printed on – “pulps” and, over the mood-drenched airwaves, through his own radio show.

Pulp titles were published in their hundreds every month, ranging from the truly excellent to the pitifully dire, in every style and genre, but for exotic adventure lovers there were two star characters who outshone all others. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, Man of Bronze, whilst the premier dark, relentless creature of the night dispensing terrifying grim justice was the mysterious slouch-hatted hero under discussion here.

Originally, the radio series Detective Story Hour – based on stand-alone yarns from the Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine – used a spooky voiced narrator (variously Orson Welles, James LaCurto and Frank Readick Jr.) to introduce each tale. He was dubbed “the Shadow” and from the very start on July 31st 1930, he was more popular than the stories he introduced.

The Shadow evolved into a proactive hero solving instead of narrating mysteries and, on April 1st 1931, starred in his own pulp series written by the incredibly prolific Walter Gibson under the house pseudonym Maxwell Grant. On September 26th 1937 the radio show officially became The Shadow with the eerie motto “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!” ringing out unforgettably over the nation’s airwaves.

Over the next eighteen years 325 novels were published, usually at the rate of two a month. The uncanny crusader spawned comic books, seven movies, a newspaper strip and all the merchandising paraphernalia you’d expect of a superstar brand.

The pulp series officially ended in 1949 although Gibson and others added to the canon during the 1960s when a pulp/fantasy revival gripped America, generating reprinted classic stories and a run of new adventures as paperback novels.

As hinted above, in graphic terms The Shadow was a major player. His national newspaper strip – by Vernon Greene – launched on June 17th 1940 and when comicbooks really took off the Man of Mystery had his own four-colour title; running from March 1940 to September 1949.

Archie Comics published a controversial contemporary comicbook in 1964-1965 under their Radio/Mighty Comics imprint, by Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, John Rosenberger and latterly Paul Reinman; and in 1973 DC acquired the rights to produce a captivating, brief and definitive series of classic comic adventures unlike any other superhero title then on the stands.

DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante. After the runaway success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman, Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage feature. This led to further, adult-oriented iterations (and even one cracking outing from Marvel) before Dark Horse assumed the license of the quintessential grim avenger for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

Dynamite Entertainment picked up the option in 2011 and, as well as republishing many of those other publisher’s earlier versions, began a series of new monthly Shadow comics. Set in the turbulent 1930s and 1940s these yarns were designed as self-contained story arcs, crafted by some of the top writers in the industry, each taking their shot at the immortal legend, and all winningly depicted by a succession of extremely gifted illustrators. First to fire was the incomparable Garth Ennis who muted his signature black humour for this tale screaming of unrequited injustice…

It begins with a précis of Japan’s official invasion of China in 1937 and the appalling atrocities inflicted by their forces as they began building their “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere”, jumping a few years and to the docks of New York City, where a dark angel dispenses bloody judgement to a murderous band of crooked dockworkers.

A little later abrasive, indolent playboy Lamont Cranston joins Washington insider Mr. Landers and his gung-ho young protégé Pat Finnegan at the Algonquin Hotel. They are meeting to discuss an imminent crisis amidst the worsening situation in the East, and how the massacre at the pier was connected to it. Specifically, two of the bodies dropped at the scene were high-ranking Japanese agents…

Despite Finnegan’s outspoken distaste at involving a civilian dilettante, a tale is shared of a rare mineral that both America and Japan will do anything to obtain. Cranston agrees to lead a small party into China to secure the samples (originally dug up by prospecting American geologists before they vanished) for the Land of the Free.

Of great concern is the unspecified part played by Taro Kondo: a formidable and ruthless Major in the Japanese intelligence service that Cranston had some unsavoury dealings with during his younger, less salubrious years in the East…

As Cranston prepares his paramour and assistant Margo Lane for the rigours that lie ahead, she has no conception of how much true horror and mass slaughter the Shadow has foreseen for the years to come…

Whilst Finnegan travels by spartan military plane transport, Cranston and Margo escape his juvenile jingoistic fervour by taking a Pacific Clipper. However their luxurious voyage is abruptly ended when they are attacked by Nazi agents masquerading as rich, indolent vacationers. The bloodbath that results brings down the plane and our heroes barely survive, but they have far greater things to worry about…

Ahead of them Kondo leads ambitious Emperor-lover and sexual deviant General Akamatsu on a tawdry trek to meet Chinese bandit Lord Wong Pang-Yan, descriptively and accurately known to all as “the Buffalo”.

The grotesque and greedy barbarian is their only means of acquiring the mineral they crave, and Kondo is eager to placate his haughty, nauseated superior. After all, they know the Shadow is coming and have other plans in place to deal with him. To soothe the General’s nerves Kondo promises he can behead the double-dealing Buffalo; as soon as they have the enigmatic matter poetically described as the Spirit-Weapon or Fire of Creation…

Since Buffalo Wong originally offered his treasure to many nations, there are a number of expeditions converging on the region. As a Japanese fighter plane removes the Soviet military force from the game, Kondo gloats at another problem solved and returns to placating his aggravating, arrogant superior.

It’s only a minor inconvenience to him that Cranston has survived his German allies’ attack and rendezvoused with the American agent Finnegan in Shanghai…

As the Yankees’ arrangements to use a British Navy vessel to reach Wong’s stronghold are finalised, Kondo’s assassins strike but once again are no match for the mesmerism and gunplay of the Shadow.

To make a point, the Dark Avenger not only eliminates his attackers but weeds out and ends every Japanese and German agent in the city…

At least the delay gives Kondo’s party a good head start. As their sailing boat (an unpowered Junk) navigates the great river, the former smuggler and crimelord passes the time by sharing all he knows about the human monster Kent Allard who was his criminal rival fifteen years previously. He doesn’t know how that despicable rogue became the man now known as Cranston, but is certain he is still the most implacable and remorseless killer on Earth…

Behind them Finnegan, determined to prove his manhood and authority, pushes the British Commander and crew. Resolved to catch Kondo’s military detachment before they reach their ultimate destination, he sees first hand the atrocities the Japanese soldiers casually inflict on “lesser” races, and in his disgust and inexperience leads the gunboat into a lethal trap.

Only he, Margo and the insufferable Cranston survive…

Far ahead of them Kondo and Akamatsu make their final trade with Wong – miracle mineral for gold – and the inevitable double-crossing and bloodletting begins.

What none of the treacherous villains realize is that the vengeful Shadow is already amongst them, cutting down soldiers and bandits like chaff as he patiently, determinedly makes his way to the true cause of all the terror…

At last Kondo realises he has only one card left to play…

Dynamite publish periodicals with a vast array of cover variants and here a vast collected gallery highlights dozens of iconic visions from Alex Ross, Chaykin, John Cassaday, Stephen Segovia, Ryan Sook, Sean Chen, Francesco Francavilla & Jae Lee. Adding to the Bonus Material is Ennis’s script for the first issue, and gloriously gilding the lily is a mountain of powerful pencil studies by Ross and Lee.

Sardonic, brutal and deviously convoluted, The Fire of Creation is a splendid addition to the annals of the ultimate and original Dark Knight, and one no lover of action and mystery can afford to miss.
The Shadow ® & © 2012 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast. All Rights Reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 5: The Dragon of Hong Kong


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-041-2

Indomitable intellectual adventurer Yoko Tsuno debuted in Spirou in September 1970 and is still delighting regular readers and making new fans to this day. These astounding, all-action, excessively accessible exploits of the slim, slight Japanese technologist-investigator are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning episodic epic was devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup who began his solo career after working as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn – always solidly grounded in hyper-realistic settings and underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were at the forefront of a wave of strips changing the face of European comics in the mid-1970s.

That long-overdue revolution featured the rise of competent, clever and brave female protagonists, all taking their places as heroic ideals beside the boys and uniformly elevating Continental comics in the process. Happily, most of their exploits are as timelessly engaging and potently empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Yoko Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were mere introductory vignettes before the superbly capable engineer and her valiant but less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 with Spirou’s May 13th issue…

Yoko’s exploits generally alternate between explosive escapades in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas with the secretive, disaster-prone alien colonists from planet Vinea. However, for the majority of English translations thus far, the close encounters have been more-or-less sidelined in favour of intriguing Earthly exploits such as this gloriously gargantuan ground-shaker with hidden depths.

There have been 27 European albums to date. This tale was first serialised in 1981 (Spirou #2244-2264) and collected the following year as 16th album Le Dragon de Hong Kong. Due to the quirks of publishing it reached us Brits as Yoko’s fifth Cinebook outing: a delicious homage to monster movies displaying the technomantic trouble-shooter’s softer sentimental side…

In the years before China regained control of Hong Kong, Yoko is visiting a distant Chinese branch of the family when the boat she is travelling on is attacked by a colossal reptile. The beast is driven off but Yoko finds a claw fragment imbedded in a gunwhale and takes it to a local lab for analysis. The results are startling…

The boffin in charge declares the talon is from a creature which has been biologically manipulated. He’s seen other such samples recently, all provided by a seller in the harbour fishmarket…

On questioning the vendor, Yoko learns the oversized produce on offer comes from an abandoned typhoon-wrecked aquaculture farm on Lantau Island, but by the time she reaches the desolate area the sun is setting.

It’s a lucky break. With the growing darkness, a little girl with a lantern appears amongst the broken pens and enclosures and starts playing a flute. As Yoko watches, the scene becomes even more incredible as the sounds summon the monstrous lizard, which the child joyously addresses as Dai Loon

Astonished, Yoko watches the girl feed the beast and make it perform tricks, but the uncanny sight becomes deadly serious when a masked man in a motorboat roars in and tries to kidnap the little miss…

Yoko’s prompt and dynamic action drives off the thug and soon the sodden wanderer is sitting in front of fire whilst little Morning Dew’s grandfather relates the bizarre history of the scaly wonder.

It all began when a researcher from the Chinese mainland rented the enclosures from Dew’s father to use as test-beds for his experiments…

They varied in success, but when the storm came all the subjects escaped. The elderly guardian cannot explain the strange connection between the dragon and the child but worries for her safety and future as his own days are surely numbered…

Three days later, Yoko and Morning Dew are shopping in Kowloon before meeting the recently arrived Pol and Vic at the airport. The canny inventor has a few ideas about tracking the dragon and wants their technical assistance with the details…

The scheme garners almost instant rewards and the three friends are actually gently guiding the vast creature into their custody when both boat and beast are simultaneously attacked by another – even larger – sea dragon… and this one shoots fire…

And thus kicks off a spectacular and cunningly devised mystery monster-fest as our heroes uncover a cruel and deadly get-rich-quick scheme which endangers the entire region. There will be terror, destruction and tragedy before the villain is brought to book, and before the case is closed Yoko will assume one of the greatest and most rewarding responsibilities of her young life…

Complex, devious and subtly suspenseful, this fresh look at a classic plot crackles with electric excitement and delivers a powerfully moving denouement conclusion, again affirming Yoko Tsuno as a top flight troubleshooter, at home in all manner of scenarios and easily able to hold her own against any fantasy superstar you can name: as triumphantly able to apprehend swindlers and wrangle marauding monsters, aliens, mad scientists or unchecked forces of nature…

As always the most effective asset in these breathtaking tales is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which superbly benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail.

The Dragon of Hong Kong is a stunning mystery mash-up which will appeal to any devotee of Holmes, Professor Challenger or Tintin.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1986 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2010 © Cinebook Ltd.

Marvel Adventures Iron Man volume 1: Heart of Steel


By Fred Van Lente, James Cordeiro, Ronan Cliquet, Scott Koblish, Amilton Santos, Gary Erskine & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2644-7

In 2003 the ever-expanding House of Ideas instituted the Marvel Age line: an imprint updating classic original tales and characters for a new and younger readership.

The enterprise was tweaked in 2005, with core titles morphing into Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man. The tone was very much that of the company’s burgeoning TV cartoon franchises, in delivery if not name. Supplemental series included Super Heroes, The Avengers, Hulk and Iron Man. These all chuntered along merrily until 2010 when they were all cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

Most of the re-imagined tales have since been collected in gleefully inviting digest-sized compilations such as this one which features the first four forays starring the gadget-laden Golden Avenger.

In original mainstream continuity, supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his 1963 debut when, as a VIP visitor in Vietnam, observing the efficacy of weaponry he’d designed, the arch-technocrat wünderkind was critically wounded and captured by a local warlord.

Put to work with the spurious promise of medical assistance upon completion, Stark instead built an electronic suit to keep his heart beating and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a small jump into a second career as a high-tech hero in Shining Super-Armour…

Conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when the economy was booming and “Commie-bashing” was America’s favourite national pastime, the emergence of a suave new Edison using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World seemed an obvious development.

Combining the then-sacrosanct tenet that technology and business in unison could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble paladins battling evil, the Invincible Iron Man seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Over the subsequent decades Tony Stark has been depicted as a liberal capitalist, eco-warrior, space pioneer, civil servant, statesman, and even spy-chief: Director of the world’s most scientifically advanced spy agency, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.

For most of that period his best friend and frequent stand-in was James Rhodes, a former military man who acted as pilot, bodyguard, advisor, co-conspirator and occasional necessary conscience. “Rhodey” even replaced Iron Man when Stark succumbed to alcoholism and eventually carved out his own chequered career as remorseless mechanised warrior and weapon of last resort War Machine

Here Rhodey is again reduced to a technical support role and joined by a supporting cast member of a much earlier vintage. Secretary and hyper-efficient factotum Pepper Potts has been in the picture since the seventh adventure (way back in October 1963), evolving from love-struck typist into a businesswoman and hero in her own right. Here a middle ground is struck and she’s Stark’s trusted Executive Administrator, confidante and general dogsbody…

Culled from Marvel Adventures Iron Man #1-4 (July-October 2007) this machine-tooled, perfect packet of explosive yarns is written throughout by Fred Van Lente, with colours from Studio F’s Martegod Gracia and letters by Blambot’s Nate Piekos and also includes a Cover Gallery supplied by Comics legend Michael Golden.

As ever, these stories are intended to bring newcomers up to speed on key points and characterisation whilst updating the material and begins with ‘Heart of Steel’ – winningly illustrated by James Cordeiro & Scott Koblish – which once again modifies the technological wizard’s origin in tune with modern sensibilities…

It all begins as a huge robotic monster attacks Manhattan and Stark suits up in his latest miracle-armour to tackle the beast. The clash sends his mind racing back six months to the moment when the spoiled multi-billionaire idol and smug was publicly challenged by esteemed scientist Gia-Bao Yinsen. The venerable sage accused Stark of selling his war-weapons to anybody with money and thereby letting them be used to destroy the island of Madripoor

Upset by the confrontation, the young genius shrugged it off until he was summarily abducted by techno-terrorists Advanced Idea Mechanics. They wanted him to build more death-toys for them and were pretty sure he would cooperate. Tony’s heart was grievously damaged in their attack and only AIM’s doctors could keep him alive…

Dumped in a top-of the line lab/workshop, Tony found old Yinsen was also a prisoner and together they devised mobile, weaponised life-support units to fight their way to freedom. Although Yinsen didn’t make it, his final words changed Stark’s life forever…

As also illustrated by Cordeiro & Scott Koblish, Iron Man’s greatest enemy is then reintroduced in ‘Enter the Dragon’. When Stark’s Chinese factory is suddenly depleted of its entire workforce, he charges to the rescue and clashes with supreme tech-genius the Mandarin: a descendent of Genghis Khan who intends topping his ancestor in the world-conquest stakes.

Employing his monumental mechanical wyrm to attack the Great Wall, the maniac makes a pretty good start until Iron Man gets heavy…

Pepper takes centre-stage in ‘The Creeping Doom’ (with art by Ronan Cliquet & Amilton Santos) as the Stark jet touches down in a desert wilderness to interview genetic engineer and botanist Samuel Smithers who has a few radical ideas about revolutionising global Agribusiness. Sadly, by the time they arrive, Sam has moved beyond the need for investors: having merged with his creations to become a marauding Plantman intent on seizing the world for the floral kingdom.

The only use he has for meaty organic matter is for mulch and compost, but he has reckoned without the sheer cunning of his adversaries…

Wrapping up this collection is ‘Hostile Takeover’ (with Cordeiro & Gary Erskine making the pictures) as Stark Board member Justin Hammer tries to manipulate stock and gain control of the company.

His method is flawless. Hire the infallible Spymaster to hack Iron Man’s armour, sending Tony’s “bodyguard” on a destructive rampage through the city – with Stark helpless inside it – and just watch the stock price fall until it’s time to make his killing. Hammer’s big mistake was assuming Pepper and Rhodey were the sort of servile flunkies he preferred to hire at Hammer Industries…

Rocket-paced, spectacularly exciting and enthralling with plenty of sharp wit to counterpoint the drama and suspense; these riotous super-sagas are a splendid example of Iron Man’s versatility that will delight Fights ‘n’ Tights fans of all ages and vintage.
© 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


By Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, adapted by Tony Lee and Cliff Richard (Titan Books edition)
ISBN: 978-184856-694-1

Here’s something short, sharp and shocking to tide over all horror-lovers and devotees of the dark during the long, tedious sun-filled summer months.

In 2009, at his Editor’s urging, writer Seth Grahame-Smith rewrote Jane Austen’s immortal 1813 tale of fashionably practical romance, blending it with elements of zombie apocalypse and martial arts fiction.

It became something of a literary sales sensation, starting a mini-genre of its own and has been latterly augmented by a prequel, sequel and interactive e-Book. On its way to becoming the Next Big Thing in popular films, it was also adapted as a rather intriguing graphic novel in 2010.

Optioned by Del Rey/Random House, the project was delegated to British scripter Tony Lee (Starship Troopers, Wallace and Gromit, Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars) and Brazilian illustrator Cliff Richard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, New Thunderbolts) who together translated the rather copious and mesmerising verbiage into pictorial narrative perfection…

A Word of Warning: read the original 1813 novel.

Just do.

How can you have got to your age without achieving some degree of literary accomplishment? It’s already funny and charming and bitingly savage, even before the addition of spin-kicks, massed musketry and marauding undead flesh-eaters…

In 19th century Britain a plague besets the land. The unquiet dead – variously described as the “Stricken”, “Dreadfuls”, “Zombies” or “Unmentionables” by genteel folk of good breeding – roam the land, infecting and eating the populace as well as livestock and sundry other living creatures.

This tedious inconvenience is well managed by militias, the army and many young folk who have scrupulously studied battle tactics and esoteric fighting arts from the cradle… even the women…

However, in bucolic Hertfordshire at Netherfield Park, a real crisis is developing: Mrs. Bennet has five daughters of marriageable age; at least one of whom simply must make a suitable entrance into society if the family home is to be preserved and maintained…

Tragically, although Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Catherine (Kitty) and Lydia are polished and accomplished in maidenly virtues, they are far too enamoured of their proficiency in oriental modes of combat to adequately apply themselves to impressing the splendid gentleman of means Mother wishes them to impress.

Most distracting and distressing of all is stalwart Mr. Bennet, who fritters away all his time seeking better ways to destroy the rapacious sufferers of the “strange plague”, rather than play proper host to the likes of dashing yet aloof Mr. Darcy or his associates such as gaudy Mr. Bingley and the objectionable Mr. Wickham as they pay their respects to his wayward daughters…

And so it progresses, as the ultimate romantic connexion between Elizabeth and Darcy is perpetually delayed by the stringencies of hidebound etiquette; petty manoeuvrings of dowagers, aunt and rivals all keenly expanding their own social standing; whims of fate and the interminable, incessant attacks of the mindless, slavering walking dead infesting England’s highways and byways…

Although very much a one-trick pony in terms of plot and story, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an astounding beautiful thing to look upon. Richard’s monochrome illustration is beguiling where it needs to be and stunningly effective in the plentiful fight scenes whilst Lee’s script successfully encapsulates the constant war between the daughters and their mother as she tries to marry them off to the family’s best social and financial advantage. He’s also pretty adept at wringing the irony and slapstick out of a scene…

Fast, furious and funny, this is well worth a look, just as long as you read the original Austen Classic of World Literature first…
© 2010 Quirk Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

Criminal volume 5: The Sinners


By Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63215-298-5

Way back in 2007, Tracey Lawless debuted in the second Criminal story-arc: a tough but comparatively honest guy drawn back from military service and into the underworld to repay his family’s debts.

At that time collaborators Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips were forging a creative partnership incapable of setting a foot wrong: each stand-alone tale building on the previous exploit, getting tougher, stronger, meaner and better…

Everything is set in and around Center City, a prototypical American everytown which serves as a shared backdrop for various seemingly unconnected ventures. Slowly, however, connections were made and a wider mosaic began to become clearer…

The entire series of compulsive crime capers was repackaged and re-released as a uniform set of trade paperbacks in 2015 with this as the fifth turbulent tome (reprinting the five issue comicbook series Criminal: The Sinners, September 2009-March 2010) as Lawless rears his battered grizzled head once again…

For a year the Lawless has been working off his dad’s and brother Ricky’s debts to undisputed Boss of Bosses Sebastian Hyde, killing whoever the ruthless bastard tells him to.

At least that was the plan, but Lawless doesn’t like wholesale slaughter and has been quietly choosing who lives or dies. Sure, he’ll cap anybody who really deserves it – and there are plenty of them – but he’s been increasingly finding ways to punish the little people who arouse Hyde’s ire without needing the services of an undertaker afterwards.

Despite himself, Sebastian has a grudging respect for Tracey and has been letting it slide, since Lawless has been his most effective enforcer since he joined the team. He’d probably feel less sanguine if he knew what his star goon was doing with Mrs. Hyde

Today, however, Hyde has an even bigger problem, one that needs brains not butchery.

All over town well-connected associates considered utterly beyond the reach of the law and even underworld rivals have been hit: not just Sebastian’s crew, but also feared and respected colleagues-in-crime nobody should be able to get near. It’s affecting everyone’s business and has to be stopped. Hyde owns plenty of cops, but this is something he needs sorted by someone he can at least control if not trust…

Tracy is no sleuth, but with no other choice, begins making enquiries into the shootings. Father Grant was a loan-shark and possible serial sexual predator, shielded by both the Church and the Mob; Scotty Adsit ran drugs and collected thumbs from those who baulked him and Big Tom McGinnis was the elder Statesman of the Irish Mafia, capped in his own restaurant rest room with twenty bodyguards just outside. There’s no connection other than that they were all very bad people and in every execution it’s like the killer was invisible…

Further complicating the issue is the arrival of military cop Special Agent Yoakum. Tracey has been AWOL for year now and despite his current untenable situation has no desire to trade it for active service or a stockade…

As he flounders through the darkest regions of the underworld, the death toll mounts. Joe Hill was Sebastian’s top man inside the police force and best hope for a lead, but he was left dead in the gutter before Lawless could meet him. However he provides a first inkling of what’s really going on and an idle comment from a sympathetic Internal Affairs cop forces Lawless to re-examine his assumptions…

In the course of his investigations Tracey met war vet and replacement priest Father Mike, but had no idea that while he was starting to put things together, Sebastian has made a few misapprehensions of his own and is now gunning for his unwilling gunsel…

As the bodycount of untouchables keeps rising, Tracey tracks another potential answer to Chinatown and ends up framed for the death of a Triad Boss, just as Yoakum closes in. All the time the trail keeps coming back to the church and Father Mike, but Tracey is blithely unaware that he has already met the killer – who has also passed sentence on him too – or that Sebastian has decided to cut his losses…

As all the strands converge, the slaughter mounts and when the shooting stops the criminal hierarchy of Centre City has changed forever…

Filled with twists, turns and devious double-cross, this viciously effective sex-&-violence saga offers a stark look at the other side of society: providing an irresistible view of raw humanity. These stories are amongst the very best crime comics ever crafted: ignore them at your peril…
© 2015 Basement Gang Inc. All rights reserved. Criminal™ and all prominent characters, likenesses and logos are trademarks of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

Clifton volume 4: Black Moon


By Rodrigue & de Groot, coloured by Liliane Denayer, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-30-4

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was originally devised by Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for the weekly magazine Tintin. The doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone au fait with espionage…

After three albums worth of strip material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left Tintin for arch-rival Spirou and his comedic crime-buster forlornly floundered.

Tintin revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene and aforementioned spy-boom, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier). These strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when first Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took his shot. He toiled on the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder. They produced ten tales after which, from 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned from De Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But Not For Long…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…This one, Black Moon, was originally released in 2004 as Lune noire – Clifton: the 22nd of 25 to date and Rodrigue & De Groot’s second collaboration…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. As a young man he became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon where he met Philippe “Turk” Liegeois and consequently began making a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard and eventually inherited Raymond Macherot’s moribund Clifton.

In 1989 de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Michel Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Leonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and much more.

Michel Rodrigue really, really likes Rugby. He was born in Lyon in 1961 and eventually pursued higher education at the National School of Fine Arts, where he also studied medieval archaeology.

From 1983-85 he was on the French Rugby team and in 1987 designed France’s mascot for the World Cup. He made his comics debut in 1984 with sports (guess which one) strip Mézydugnac in Midi Olympique. After illustrating an adaptation Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in 1986 he and collaborator Jean-Claude Vruble produced a volume of La Révolution Française, scripted by Patrick Cothias.

Rodrigue then joined Roger Brunel on Rugby en B.D., Du Monde dans la Coupe!, Concept, Le Rugby en Coupe and La Foot par la Bande.

For Tintin he drew Bom’s Les Conspirateurs and produced Rugbyman, the official monthly of the French Rugby Federation, amongst a welter of other strips. Along the way he began scripting too, and, after working with de Groot on Doggyguard joined him on the revived Clifton.

He also remains astonishingly creatively occupied, working on Ly-Noock with André Chéret, Brèves de Rugby, La Grande Trambouille des Fées for René Hausmann, Futurama comics, Cubitus with Pierre Aucaigne, and many more…

So who’s our hero?

Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. Typically, he has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises.

Sadly, he is also all too keenly aware that he is generally the only truly competent man in a world chockfull of blithering idiots…

In this relatively recent offering the accent is heavily on blistering adventure and sinister intrigue – albeit with a liberal dosing of political satire tipped in – and begins at the end with the murder of Clifton in a seedy hotel in North Korea.

Photos of his bloody corpse are leaked to the press and soon cause a terrific commotion in the secret Headquarters of MI-5. Veteran warhorse and ultra-capable spymaster Colonel Donald Spruce cannot believe the evidence of his eyes and neither can any of his appalled staff…

Agent Brian begins translating the text and recounts how British subject “Marmaduke Brent” was chased by persons unknown through the town of Ptang-Kong before being machine gunned to death. With no other information available all the devastated agents can do is arrange for the body of their fallen former comrade to be shipped home…

To Spruce falls the unenviable task of informing Clifton’s fiery, frequently befuddled housekeeper Mrs. Partridge of the tragedy…

A few days later, with great ceremony a British transport picks up the coffin and the exotic widow escorting it to its final destination. With the plane safely in the air, she quickly opens the box and lets Clifton out before his oxygen supply is exhausted…

Battered and groggy, the old war horse begins reviewing the convoluted path which led to this fine turn of events…

Was it only a month ago that he and the ravishing Miss Jade were approached by Spruce to clandestinely follow the Prime Minister’s idiot nephew Hank to North Korea and infiltrate the bizarre and avaricious Black Moon Cult which had somehow changed an annoying chinless wonder and embarrassing idiot into a blithering nincompoop and danger to the prestige of the nation?

Of course the valiant old soldier accepted the mission, but neither he nor Jade could have known how devious was their masked leader The Great Tralala, how well-established, ambitious and deadly his cult was, nor that they were already a clandestine nuclear power with the entire world in their sights…

Still, with nothing to lose and a world to save, Clifton naturally had to do his utmost…

Fast-paced, action packed and sporting set pieces and a body count that would put James Bond and SPECTRE to shame, Black Moon is a cleverly contrived light romp that will astound and delight blockbuster addicts and comes with a smart line in sardonic social commentary to please every fun-loving sucker for satire.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard) 2004 by Rodrigue & De Groot. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Batman in the Forties


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Jack Schiff, Dick Sprang, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Winslow Mortimer, Charles Paris, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0206-3

Part of a series of trade paperbacks intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades (the other being Superman, of course) these compilations always deliver a superb wallop of comicbook magic and a tantalising whiff of other, arguably better and certainly less unstable times.

Divided into discrete sections (and breaking its own rules by including some material from 1939), partitioned by spectacular cover galleries, this timeless treasure trove of cape-&-cowl action commences with an informative Introduction from comics historian Bill Schelly who adds context and commentary before the exotic nostalgia begins with a selection dedicated to ‘Cover Gallery: Milestones’, re-presenting the compelling Batman #1, Spring 1941, World’s Fair Comics #1, Spring 1941, Detective Comics #27, May 1939 and Detective Comics #38, February 1940.

Detective #27 spotlighted the Dark Knight’s debut in the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ from by Bob Kane and his close collaborator Bill Finger.

The spartan, understated yarn introduced dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime wherein a cabal of industrialists were successively murdered. The killings stopped when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intruded on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly dealt with the hidden killer.

‘Origin’ originated two years later (Detective Comics #33, November 1939). Here Gardner Fox, Kane & Sheldon Moldoff produced the first ever explanation of the hero’s tragic history in the first two pages of a longer tale (‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’ – and not included here), after which Detective #33 (April 1940) spawned ‘Robin the Boy Wonder’ by Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson.

This story changed the landscape of comicbooks forever; introducing child trapeze artist Dick Grayson whose parents were murdered before his eyes and who consequently joined Batman in a lifelong quest for justice. They began by taking down mobster Boss Zucco, the Graysons’ murderer…

‘The People vs. Batman’ is from Batman #7, October/November 1941, by Finger, Kane & Robinson. Something of a landmark, it’s also a potent and emotional crime melodrama. When Bruce Wayne is framed for murder and jailed, Robin takes over to clear up the case, ultimately resulting in the Dynamic Duo finally becoming official operatives of the Gotham police force. They would not be vigilantes again until the grim and gritty 1980’s…

Concluding this first section is ‘The Origin of Batman’ (Batman #47 June/July 1948, by Finger, Kane & Charles Paris) which added tone and depth to the traumatic event, as the Gotham Gangbuster at last tracks down and confronts the triggerman who murdered his parents…

‘Cover Gallery: Props’ features iconic paraphernalia as seen on Detective Comics #61 March 1942, Detective Comics #127 September 1947, Batman #48 August/September 1948, Batman #10 April/May 1942 before Batman #37 (October/November 1946) offers a magnificent clash of eternal adversaries when ‘The Joker Follows Suit!’

Fed up with failing in all his felonious forays, the Clown Prince of Crime decides that imitation is the sincerest form of theft and begins swiping the Dark Knights gimmicks, methods and gadgets; using them to profitably come to the aid of bandits in distress in a masterpiece of mirthful mayhem by an unnamed author, Robinson & George Roussos.

Most later Batman tales feature a giant coin in the Batcave and World’s Finest #30 is where that spectacular prop first appeared; spoils of a successful battle between the Caped Crusaders and Joe Coyne’s vicious bandit gang ‘The Penny Plunderers!’ (by Finger, Kane & Ray Burnley).

Crafted by Finger and Jim Mooney, the next tale comes from Batman #48 (August/September 1948) and reveals how an escaped convict finds the secret sanctum, leaving us privy to ‘The 1,000 Secrets of the Batcave’. Batman and Robin hunt out the gloating crook, expecting to be publicly exposed when they turn him in, but Fate has a cruel trick left to play…

World’s Finest Comics #3 Autumn 1941, Batman #22 April/May 1940, Detective Comics #42 August 1940, Batman #26 December 1944-December 1945 unite to form ‘Cover Gallery: The Batman Family’ and leads into key tales featuring the supporting cast such as the anonymously scripted ‘Alfred, Armchair Detective’ (Batman #31, October/November 1945).

Part of an occasional series, these were light-hearted supplemental vignettes (possibly written by Don Cameron or Joe Samachson and illustrated by Robinson. This one hilariously depicts how an idle night spent eavesdropping on crooks results in a big arrest of burglars by the dutiful butler…

A suspenseful, shocking high comes with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ wherein a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the lad’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce in a real lost gem from Batman #20 (December 1943-December 1944).

From 1947 to 1952, (issues #65-130) Robin, the Boy Wonder had his own solo series and regular cover spot in Star Spangled Comics at a time when the first superhero boom was fading, to be replaced by more traditional genres such as crime, westerns and boys’ adventure stories. The stories blended in-continuity action capers with more youth-oriented fare and adults Batman and Alfred reduced to minor roles – or entirely absent – allowing the kid crusader to display not just his physical skills but also his brains, ingenuity and guts.

SSC #70 (July 1947) introduced an arch-villain he could call his own as ‘Clocks of Doom’ saw the debut of an anonymous criminal time-&-motion expert forced into the limelight once his face was caught on film. The Clock’s desperate attempts to sabotage the movie Robin was consulting on inevitably led to hard time in this delightful romp by Finger, Win Mortimer & Paris.

‘Cover Gallery: The Villains’ culls classics images from Detective Comics #89 July 1944, Detective Comics #73 March 1943, Detective Comics #140 October 1948 and Detective Comics #29 July 1940, before moving on to declare ‘Your Face is your Fortune’ (Batman #15, February/March 1943, by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Here Catwoman returned, taking on a job at a swanky Beauty Parlour to gain info for her crimes and inadvertently falling for Society Bachelor Bruce Wayne…

‘The Scoop of the Century’ by Finger, Kane & Lew Sayre Schwartz, from Batman #49, October/November 1948, finds Batman battling the Mad Hatter for the first time but painfully distracted by a reporter.

Vicki Vale is convinced the Masked Manhunter is actually Bruce Wayne and, although he dissuades her here, she would spend the next fifteen years trying to prove it…

‘Clayface Walks Again’ (Detective Comics #49 March 1941, Finger, Kane Robinson & Roussos) wherein a deranged horror actor recommenced his passion for murder by trying to kill Bruce’s old girlfriend Julie Madison; literally “the one who got away” during the maniac’s previous campaign of terror…

‘The End of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #80, October 1943 by Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) saw former District Attorney-turned-maniac Harvey Kent seemingly cured of his split personality after a typically terrific tussle.

A different iteration then follows in ‘Half-Man Half Monster’ taken from the Batman Sunday newspaper strips for June 23-August 18, 1946. Here Finger, Jack Burnley & Mortimer re-imagine the turbulent tragedy as actor Harvey Apollo is disfigured on the witness stand while testifying and becomes a deranged, double-edged menace to society until the Caped Crusaders catch him…

After a copious ‘Contributors’ section detailing the lives of the men who made Batman there’s one  last treat in store. ‘The True Story of Batman and Robin’ is an entertaining but highly dubious company puff-piece from Real Fact Comics #5 January 1947 by author unknown and Mortimer “detailing” how Bob Kane invented the strip and how it’s produced. Believe it or don’t…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of twin icons published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks like this to stunning, deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions.

These are the stories that forged the character and success of Batman. The works of Bill Finger, Bob Kane and their multi-talented assistants are evergreen examples of pure and perfect superhero fiction. Put them in a thrifty, nifty package like this, include the pop art masterpieces that were the covers of those classics, and you have pretty much the perfect comic book. And you really, really should have it.
© 1939-1949, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 2


By Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Jen Van Meter, Christopher Golden, James Marsters, Doug Petrie, Daniel Brereton, Jeff Matsuda, Cliff Richards, Luke Ross, Ryan Sook, Hector Gomez, & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-826-3

A hunger to be frightened is imprinted inn our genes and courses through our surging blood. Psycho-killers, ravening monsters, unsuspected epidemics, funfair rides, overdue bills, undeleted search-histories and a host of other things – daft and not – all trigger our visceral, paralysed fright, fight or flight response and thus always feature highly in our mass entertainments.

These days however the slow-building tension and cerebral suspense of the printed genre has been largely overtaken and superseded by the shock-values and sudden kinetic action of both small and big screens, with the entire oeuvre also liberally doused in a hot sauce of teen alienation, unrequited love and uncontrollable hormones – all making for a heady (if often predictable and flavourless) brew.

The transition was very much the result of a landmark American TV show and assorted media spin-offs which refocused the zeitgeist. However, even decades later, Dark Horse Comics’ clever, witty graphic interpretation of the cult global mega-hit TV franchise Buffy the Vampire Slayer remains a superbly enjoyable fear-feast, so here’s another look at that comics landmark via the publisher’s economical and engaging Omnibus Editions series.

Once the company secured the strip licensing rights, they began producing a regular series, a welter of impressive original Graphic Novels, numerous miniseries, spin-offs and specials. They even featured assorted cast and characters in their own anthology titles such as Dark Horse Presents. Long after the beloved TV show died, from 2007 onward comics delivered creator Joss Whedon’s never-broadcast, continuity-canonical Season Eight and beyond to the delight faithful fans and followers.

Buffy Summers lived in small California hamlet Sunnydale, built over a paranormal portal to the Nether Realms dubbed The Hellmouth. Here, she and a small band of buddies battled devils, demons and all sorts of horror inexorably drawn to the area and whom/what/which all considered humanity an appetiser and planet Earth an irresistible eldritch “fixer-upper” opportunity.

With Rupert Giles, scholarly mentor, father-figure and Watcher of all things unnatural, Buffy and her “Scooby Gang” sought to make the after-dark streets of Sunnydale safe for the largely-oblivious human morsels, ably abetted and occasionally aided by an enigmatic stud-muffin calling himself Angel

Collected here in the second of seven big bad Omnibus editions are the contents of Buffy the Vampire Slayer #60-63, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #1-2, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ring of Fire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz plus pertinent material from anthologies Reveal and Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998, (collectively spanning 1998 to 2003), presented for your delectation as a chronological continuity rather than in original publishing order: well-nigh 300 pages of full-colour mystery, merriment and mystical martial arts mayhem.

As explained in series Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although printed sagas and spin-offs were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this series of books re-presents them in strict chronological continuity order, before apologising for the fact that back then an initial lack of up-to-date information often led to a few hairy moments and false starts.

This collection begins with outrageously experimental and enticing strip ‘Angels We Have Seen on High’ (by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Jeff Matsuda, Hakjoon Kang, Nolan Obena & colourist Dave McCaig from Reveal, November 2002) wherein Buffy – still not settled into her new home – reluctantly takes little sister Dawn to a funfair. When the Slayer is distracted by a pack of feeders, she leaves the brat with a responsible adult who proves to be anything but…

Happily a mysterious leather-clad figure proves to be her guardian angel…

Next up is ‘A Stake to the Heart’ (Buffy the Vampire Slayer #60-63, August-November 2003 by Nicieza, Cliff Richards, Brian Horton, Will Conrad & Michelle Madsen) wherein the family is sundered after Buffy’s dad leaves for a new, less complicated life. Taking out her feelings on Sunnydales’s undead legions, the Slayer is unaware that she is being observed by Angel and his demonic sponsor Whistler as well as malignancy spirits ‘Deceit’, ‘Guilt’, ‘Abandonment’ and ‘Trepidation’ which feed on misery and negative emotions.

Meanwhile in another part of town, a dowdy British scholar arrives and begins his new day job as the librarian at Sunnydale High School…

Despite their cruellest efforts the malignancies have never contended with someone like Buffy before, nor her still-hidden future allies…

Whimsically concocted by Jan Van Meter, Luke Ross, Rick Ketcham & Guy Major, ‘MacGuffins’ originated in Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998, and focuses on fun as Buffy gets a unique educational gift from new Watcher Giles: dutiful agent of the venerable cult tasked with training and assisting Slayers in their anti-arcane endeavours.….

All she has to do is catch the damned things before they wreck her house and life…

Although Buffy was a hot, hip teen monster-killer, as the TV series developed it became increasingly apparent that the bad guys were the true fan-favourites. Cool vampire villain and über-predator Spike eventually became a love-interest and even a suitably tarnished white knight, but at the time of this collection he was still a jaded, immortal, immoral psychopath… every girl’s dream date.

His eternal paramour was Drusilla: a demented, faithless libertine precognitive vampire who killed and turned him. Dru thrived on a constant stream of fresh decadent thrills and revelled in baroque and outré bloodletting.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #2 – from October 1999 – saw the twisted lovers gradually making their way to Sunnydale, roaming the American South in ‘Queen of Hearts’ (by Christopher Golden, Ryan Sook & Major). Arriving in St Louis they board a gambling palace on a paddle-steamer, just wanting to waste some time and test their fortunes. Unfortunately the enterprise is being operated by a sinister luck-demon with as little concept of fair play as Dru and Spike…

When they finally realise the real stakes, all the forces of elemental supernature can’t prevent the river running red – and sundry other colours – with demon blood…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ring of Fire was scripted by screenwriter/producer Doug Petrie (in his time a writer, director and co-executive producer on the TV show). The art comes from Sook, Tim Goodyear & colourist Dave Stewart. It was originally released as a slim, full-colour, all-new graphic novel which established the artist as a major comics talent.

The tale is set during TV Season 2 (which ran from Autumn 1997 to Spring 1998) when Buffy’s enigmatic vampire boyfriend Angel had reverted to a soulless slaughterer of innocents. His latest victim was High School computer teacher Jenny Calendar, who moonlighted as a gypsy witch and practising technopagan. She was also the one true love of Buffy’s mentor Giles…

One dark and stormy night twelve miles off the coast in ‘The Rising’ a Japanese cargo ship transporting ancient Samurai armour weathers staggering waves and a visit from a ghastly horror calling himself “Angelus”…

The 500-year-old war suit once belonged to warrior demon Kelgor, whose power was tied to it and enabled him to raise an army of undead killers in 16th century Japan. Angelus and his unwilling allies Spike and Drusilla intend sparking the necromantic apocalypse designated “The Ring of Fire” and all they lack is Kelgor’s corpse (hidden by Watchers half a millennium ago). They’re expecting the Slayer to find that for them…

Cool vampire villain Spike was severely wounded and confined to a wheelchair at this time and Dru exulted in tormenting him by playing up to Angelus …

With Giles all but paralysed by grief, “Scooby-Gang” stalwarts, Willow, Xander and Oz are left to search copious reference files for information, but as their painstaking study bears dark fruit Giles is ambushed by Angel and Dru at Jenny’s grave. Buffy is there to rescue him, but that just gives Spike the opportunity to follow the merely human vampire hunters and activate the dead Samurai’s blazing revival spell…

Rushing to their side Buffy manages to (mostly) destroy freshly resurrected Kelgor, but as the Slayer pursues she is arrested by Federal spooks who know exactly what she is…

Frustrated but not thwarted, the terrible trio are at each others throats until Dru realises there is still some life in Kelgor’s remains. Moreover, the demon wants to share his centuries-old back-up plan with them. Hidden with the remains of ‘The Seven Samurai’ graves scattered throughout the state is the secret of true resurrection, and if the vampires gather the contents of those hidden tombs, all their wicked wishes can still come true…

Meanwhile, locked in a covert detention centre, Buffy faces exposure to the world and worst yet her mother. Giles is gone: fallen far off the deep end and reverted to his old, manic persona of “Ripper”, but that’s not a bad thing since he knows the people who arrested Buffy aren’t government agents… or even people. Yet even before he can get to her, back-up Slayer Kendra busts her imprisoned predecessor out.

(Long Story Short: when Buffy briefly died the next Slayer was activated, and even though the Blonde Bombshell was subsequently revived, Kendra, once here, wasn’t going away…)

The action goes into overload as the Japanese hell-lord is finally fully reconstituted to form an alliance with Dru, leaving Angel and Spike twisting in the wind. The “Feds” are then exposed as opportunistic demons trying to secure the resurrection spell for themselves in ‘Kelgor Unbound’. They are ultimately frustrated in that diabolical dream as Ripper has taken off with it, madly determined on bringing back his Jenny…

Across town Buffy, Kendra and the gang are too late to stop the final ritual. Dru and Kelgor exultantly awaken a colossal flame-breathing devil-bird to expedite their conquest of humanity and, forced into a tempestuous alliance with bad boys Angel and Spike, the vastly overmatched Buffy and Co need more magic than young witch Willow can conjure.

They need Giles back or the world is lost…

That cataclysmic clash is followed by the first issue of the miniseries Buffy the Vampire Slayer Spike & Dru: ‘Paint the Town Red’ from April 1999. It was co-written by James Marsters, who played the laconic Spike, with Christopher Golden. Illustrated by Sook & Stewart, the tale is set just after the undead couple split following a terrific love-spat, and follows the heart-sore Cockney Devil to an isolated Turkish village where he establishes a private harem and hunting preserve. Everything is perfect until Dru comes looking for him with her latest conquest, a recently-resurrected necromancer.

Koines is her love-slave, a wizard capable of controlling corpses with but a thought. Until she set her death-monger against Spike it hadn’t occurred to anybody that vampires are just another kind of cadaver, but once the mage realises he decides to renegotiate the terms of his rather one-sided relationship with the inventively psychotic vampire virago, and Spike discovers that he is not quite over Dru yet…

The story portion of this immense collection concludes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz from October 1998

Scripted by Dan Brereton and illustrated by Hector Gomez, Sandu Florea & Major, it was the very first Buffy comics offering; released as a full-colour, all-original graphic novel which set the tone and timbre for the forthcoming series.

It all begins in ‘Promenade’ as twin ancient vampiric horrors slowly cruise towards California and a showdown in Sunnydale. At school Buffy is still insolently resisting the stern admonitions of Giles to keep training, but a merciful interlude is offered when the Watcher invites Buffy and her gang – Willow, Xander and former mean girl Cordelia – to accompany him to Baytown Port and meet his niece Jane, imminently due to disembark from a world cruise.

It also inadvertently affords the squad their first, albeit unsuspected, glimpse of Vampire “Old Ones” Lilith and Lamia, who have made a pilgrimage to the Hellmouth with their bloodsucking Champions to indulge in savage ritualistic combat.

That night Buffy, on monster patrol with (once more reformed and benevolent) vampire boyfriend Angel, encounters and destroys one of the Champions. Deprived of her tool for the ritual, Lilith decides Angel will be his replacement – whatever it takes…

Tension intensifies in ‘Moondance’ as Buffy hunts for the vanished Angel, with Jane tagging along in defiance of Giles’ wishes. The Bloody Sisters have an army of infernal beasts and creatures with them, however, and the gang is captured and dragged to the Hellmouth even as the Watcher frantically seeks the true purpose of the dark combat ceremony…

Buffy, however, is far more direct and simply marches straight into the monsters’ midst to deal with the threat and save her friends “Slayer-style” in blistering, action-packed eponymous conclusion ‘The Dust Waltz’.

Of course even after trashing the vampire hordes there’s the small problem of un-summoning the colossal elder god the battle was designed to awaken…

Supplementing this compilation of chthonic confabulations are copious photo, Title Page and Cover Galleries with material from Matsuda & McCaig, Horton, Ross, Ketcham & Major and Sook, to complete the eerie excitement experience

Visually impressive, winningly constructed and proceeding at a hell-for-leather pace, this arcane action-fest is utterly engaging even if you’re not familiar with the vast backstory: a creepy chronicle as easily enjoyed by the most callow neophyte as every dedicated devotee.

Moreover in this era of TV binge-watching, with the shows readily available on TV and DVD, if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ™ & © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Hellboy volume 4: The Right Hand of Doom


By Mike Mignola, with Dave Stewart & Pat Brosseau (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-093-9

Hellboy is a creature of vast depth and innate mystery; a demonic child summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists at the end of the Second World War but rescued and reared by Allied parapsychologist Professor TrevorBroomBruttenholm. After years of devoted intervention and education, in 1952 Hellboy began destroying unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as lead agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

This forth fearsome grimoire of graphic terrors and grave wit combines some new material with a gathering of shorter satanic sagas garnered from Dark Horse Presents #151, Dark Horse Presents Annual #1998, Gary Gianni’s The Monster Men, Abe Sapien: Dreams of the Dead and Hellboy: Box Full of Evil #1-2, communally spanning 1998-1999 and offering insights into different stages in the unique life of the “world’s greatest paranormal investigator”.

‘Part One: the Early Years’ leads with the mordantly surreal and hilarious ‘Pancakes’ (Dark Horse Presents Annual #1998 and seen in colour for first time) as a certain 2-year old terror enjoys his first taste of a human treat and is forever lost to the Lords of the Realm Infernal, after which Mignola begins his engaging, informative and ongoing directors’ notes on all the spooky stories contained herein…

Based on a 6th century English legend, ‘The Nature of the Beast’ (Dark Horse Presents #151 and also moodily coloured by Dave Stewart for this tome) finds a youthful Hellboy circa 1954, attempting to slay a dragon for a strange group of wise men with a hidden agenda before ‘King Vold’ – created specifically for this volume – sees the monstrous monster hunter in magic-drenched Norway in 1956. He’s been despatched by Professor Bruttenholm to aid scholarly colleague Edmond Aikman in confronting the spirit of a spectral wild huntsman, but once again mystic glamour, the promise of power and the allure of gold have turned a trustworthy ally into a dangerous liability…

Following more of Mignola’s insider information, ‘Part Two: the Middle Years’ begins with ‘Heads’ (a back-up from the March 1998 One-Shot Abe Sapien: Dreams of the Dead) with Hellboy exploring a ramshackle Kyoto dwelling in 1967 and outsmarting a six-pack of particularly gruesome Japanese cannibal monstrosities.

‘Goodbye, Mister Tod’ is likewise a back-up vignette (from Gary Gianni’s the Monster Men, August 1999), set in Portland, Oregon in 1979 with the increasingly world-weary investigator called just too late to help a medium who specialised in materialising ectoplasm. All the paranormal problem-solver can do now though is expel the horrific elder god slowly breaking its way into our reality with one of the grossest tactics ever seen in the annals of ghost-busting…

‘The Vârcolac’ originally appeared as six episodes in promo-pamphlet Dark Horse Extra. Here it’s been extensively redrawn and reformatted to fully feast on the action-packed spectacle of Hellboy battling an ultimate vampire so huge it can “eat the Sun and cause eclipses”…

As Mignola explains for ‘Part Three: the Right Hand of Doom’; after half a decade of tumultuous scene-setting, he finally started to answer some long-extant questions about his infernal foundling.

Answers began seeping out in eponymous short ‘The Right Hand of Doom’ from Dark Horse Presents Annual #1998 – presented here in colour for the first time – as the BPRD agent meets a priest with a connection to his arrival on Earth during WWII. Adrian Frost has an ancient document depicting Hellboy’s arcane stone appendage and offers to trade it for the true story of his terrestrial nativity and subsequent career.

The cleric learns how a Lord of Hell and an earthly witch spawned a child of diabolical destiny and how the grand plan was derailed by destiny and a human-reared child who moved Heaven and Hell to live his own life…

That background was soon expanded in 2-part 1999 miniseries ‘Box Full of Evil’ when Hellboy and BPRD associate Abe Sapien return to modern-day Britain to assess a mystic burglary. Old enemy Igor Bromhead has used his magic to steal the ancient metal coffer Saint Dunstan used to imprison a devil, but by the time they find him the vile plotter has opened the box and sold its contents to debauched Satanists Count Guarino and Countess Bellona.

Their facile joy is short-lived as the little double-dealer takes possession of the cask’s true treasure. In return for paltry wealth and appalling knowledge, the freed demon shares the secret name and true nature of Hellboy as well as his Abysmally-ordained destiny. It even helps Igor ambush the investigator, usurping both Hellboy’s true power and ascribed role in the destruction of the universe…

With that misappropriated magical might, the demon begins to end creation but has not reckoned on the incredible will and sheer bloody-mindedness of the paranormal troubleshooter, nor those other ancient powers of the Earth who have no intention of dying before their appointed times…

This astounding tale of hell-bent heroism and cosmic doom is then followed by an all-new 4-page epilogue which offers dark portents of further trials for the monster who will always be his own man…

Wrapping up the spectral showcase is a reproduction of the superb and spooky cover of the French collected Box Full of Evil plus a huge ‘Hellboy Sketchbook’ section, offering a variety of breathtaking drawings and roughs spanning 1993 through 1999.

Baroque, grandiose, fast-paced and deceptively witty, these tall tales will captivate adventure and horror addicts in equal amounts, making this another lovingly lurid lexicography of dark delights no comics fan or fear fantasy fanatic should be without.
™ and © 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2003 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Free Comics

I’m interrupting our regular daily dose of comics chit-chat to share with you all a Press Release we recently received from independent publisher Northwest Press.

Usually I do nothing more than mouth off about things which annoy or baffle me – and the situation described here does both to an extreme degree – but at this time of ever-increasing global stupidity, greed, venality and bigotry, the contradictory actions of an powerful commercial entity increasingly dominant in how we read comics and get informed – let alone how we view and learn about each other – just cried out for a stronger response.

Please read the Press Release carefully and if the issues described call out to you, download the free graphic novel and respond according to your conscience and feelings.

I’m trusting you all to be reasonable. You have every right to disagree in part or in total, but are not entitled to make the issue about you.

I’ve left in the company contact details too, in case you want to contact Northwest directly, and ask you all to act responsibly and not to abuse the gesture.

Normal trivialities will resume here tomorrow. Now go get your free forbidden book…

Apple blocks Hard to Swallow; publisher releases free version

June 13, 2016—Northwest Press submitted their new book HARD TO SWALLOW to Apple’s iBooks two weeks ago, with the intention of having a day-and-date release to coincide with the paperback edition that will be in comic book stores this month.

Unfortunately, Apple rejected the book—as they have the publisher’s past two releases aimed at adults only—for having “prohibited explicit or objectionable content”. The publisher has now decided to offer a censored version of the book for free, to shine a spotlight on what it sees as Apple’s ongoing campaign against sex in art.

In the days before the iPad debuted, Apple repeatedly rejected comic books and apps with gay content—some of which were very tame and included no nudity—and was accused of following a double standard when compared to heterosexual content. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously defended the platform’s restrictions on sexual content by saying Apple provided his customers “freedom from porn”.

Northwest Press Publisher Charles “Zan” Christensen, then a board member with the nonprofit LGBT comics advocacy organization Prism Comics, took them to task publicly for this in an online article.

in 2011, when the iBooks store was opened up to comics content from indie publishers, Northwest Press submitted its very first release, Jon Macy’s Teleny and Camille (which at that time was the most explicitly sexual book they had published). Apple accepted it, and accepted every subsequent release for about two years.

In Fall of 2013, Apple changed its submission process; they added a new “Explicit Content?” checkbox to their iTunes Producer software, which is used to submit titles to iBooks. The first book Northwest Press submitted to Apple since that change was Al-Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon, a gay, erotic, political satire of the War on Terror. This book contained far less sexual content than Teleny, so the publisher was perplexed when the book was rejected. Despite following up and protesting the rejection, Apple’s decision stood.

This happened again when Jon Macy finished the final chapter of his fantasy epic Fearful Hunter, and Northwest Press submitted the collected edition to iBooks. Apple rejected it.

“I pointed out that issues 1-3 were already available for sale on iBooks,” says Christensen. “But they did not budge. Fearful Hunter is apparently like ‘gay Voltron‘; fine in individual pieces, but way more formidable when assembled.”

Now that Hard to Swallow has been rejected as well, the publisher feels that Apple will continue to reject any graphic novel that includes sexual content.

“This is not censorship, per se,” says Christensen. “Apple is not the US government, and they can make their own decisions about what to include or not. But the waters are muddied by the fact that Apple’s devices behave a lot more like a distribution platform than a standalone bookstore, with independent publishers using iPhones and iPads as a means to distribute their work. When Apple blocks material on content grounds—blocking it from being sold in any app installed on a customer’s device, by the way—they are effectively banning the book from being sold on any of Apple’s over a billion active devices.”

“Think of it like this,” continues Christensen, “It’s like the company that makes your television preventing you from buying a spicy movie on pay-per-view.”

To make a point about what Apple’s behavior, Northwest Press has created a special version of Hard to Swallow, which readers can download for free. They refer to it as the “apple version”, because all of the sexual content and nudity has been censored with pictures of apples.

“This is the version of Hard to Swallow that’s acceptable to Apple,” says Christensen. “This is what you get when Apple dictates what you’re allowed to buy.”

The publisher has included an introduction to the special edition, penned by Christensen, as well as several Internet links: one is to an iBooks feedback form where the publisher urges you to share your feelings about content restrictions—”respectfully but firmly”—with Apple. The second is a link to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who work to protect comic book creators from censorship and legal threats. The third is a link to Northwest Press’ entire catalog on ComiXology, including the two previous books which Apple has rejected.

“Download Hard to Swallow: Apple Version,” says Christensen. “If you enjoy it, but can’t help but feel that something is missing, I hope you’ll let Apple know that you don’t need their opinion on what’s appropriate reading material for you.” # # #

Northwest Press is an independent comics publisher that has been producing quality comics exploring the LGBT experience since 2010. Their full catalog of books can be ordered directly and new books can be ordered through Diamond Comic Distributors.