Black River


By Josh Simmons (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-833-5

After far too long way, cartoonist Josh Simmons (House, Jessica Farm, The Furry Trap) returns with another masterfully monochrome comics epic: a poetically potent, visually enthralling, ferociously challenging tale some might reasonably call a horror story.

However, despite its post-apocalyptic setting and milieu and constantly rising death-toll, Black River has more in common with the arduous privations and torturous trials of endurance and personal choice typical of a Jack London adventure novel than a slasher flick, serial killer slaughter or even last ditch stand against the zombie horde du jour.

Sacrificing plot to concentrate on character and experience, the story details how a band of people roam the wastes of Earth after the world ends.

Incessantly moving forward, the motley mixed-up band of strangers hunt for scarce supplies in wrecked cities and outpost; staying one step ahead of whatever destroyed civilisation. Of course, even as they wearily trudge the length of the continent, scavenging for necessities – and even occasional, instantly abused luxuries like booze and drugs – they cannot stop madness finding them or death from picking them off one by one.

Their years-long nomadic perambulation takes an even darker turn after they are all captured by a marauding band led by a charismatic sociopath called Benji. These brutes have reverted to little more than true beasts, but solitary, traumatised Shauna endures the worst atrocities they can commit before lethally turning the tables on them and leading the now solely female group back out into the wilds again.

Years pass, battles are fought and the group thins as life winnows them down to nothing…

Simmons doesn’t offer answers or explanations: this epic trek of unrelieved toil and raw survivalism is truly all about the journey and what happens next as the ever-shifting cast of desperately determined humans take life one day at a time, one step after another until the inescapable end comes…

Black River is bleak, unrelenting and morbid, but Simmons is a fantastically perceptive creator and realises that even in such an existence, there must be moments of rude hilarity or short-lived contentment and even unexpected joy to balance the constant fight for one more day…

A saga of grim attrition in a world without hope, Black River perfectly displays the best and worst of human nature and is a tale which, once read, will never be forgotten…
© 2015 Josh Simmons. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Mystery Girl volume 1


By Paul Tobin, Alberto J. Albuquerque, Marissa Louise & Marshall Dillon (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-959-5

There’s a fabulous wave of smart, entertaining stand-alone comics on the market these days, offering readers a single uncomplicated hit of graphic entertainment without the grief of buying into massive back-history or infinite cross-continuity.

One of the best I’ve seen recently is the compilation of a fierce, frenetic and funny debut 4-issue miniseries from 2015, starring the most infallible detective of all time.

As crafted by Paul Tobin (Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Plants vs. Zombies, Bandette, Colder) and Alberto J. Albuquerque (Letter 44) – with colours by Marissa Louise and letters from Marshall Dillon – this slim, sleek, slick yarn seems certain to lead to more enigmas excitingly unravelled in our immediate future…

Like any ancient city, London has its fair share of unique characters and unsolved mysteries, but that’s never the case whenever Trine Dorothy Hampstead sets up her “office” on the pavements and begins chatting…

The effusive, ebullient young woman has an incredible gift. She knows the answer to any question she’s asked. Instantly and infallibly. “Where are my keys?” “Did Dad leave a will?” “Where is my son’s body?”

All inquiries get an instant response and every answer is correct…

Trine is a local celebrity in her community, not only for the fact that she’s never judgemental or exploits her gift, but also because everyone knows there’s only one mystery the poor lass can’t solve: how she got her uncanny power…

Trine has an immense taste for life at full throttle and abiding desire to help those in need: regularly consulting with local private eye Alfie and aiding her perpetually sceptical boyfriend – and Metropolitan police constable – Ken Bloke in his work, even though he refuses to believe in her gift…

Her already extraordinary life takes a big step into the unknown when ancient DNA specialist Jovie Ghislain comes to Trine with a fascinating query. The biologist has been researching a 1930’s expedition to the wild Sakha region of Siberia. In the notes of the fabled Weimar-Steinberg trek, the explorers detail how they uncovered a frozen mammoth carcass so perfectly preserved that the meat was still fresh and edible.

The records are tragically incomplete and Ghislain – desperate to secure viable DNA from the deceased giant – wants to know where the rest of the body is now…

The answer is not immediately forthcoming. In fact Trine refuses to say anything unless she can join Jovie’s excursion and personally show the scientists where it is.

Trine thrives on new experiences and this time her gift has paid a huge dividend. As preparations are made, she shrugs off all questions from friends and acquaintances but does confide in her pet budgie Candide. The reason that mammoth meat was so fresh is obvious. It hadn’t been dead long. Now she’s off to see its kin in the only place on earth where the mighty beasts still live…

Sadly, the original expedition and its journals are also the subject of a search by wealthy and far less friendly folk. However, when a mystery billionaire commissions a psychopathic hitman to find all the original journals and stop the new expedition, even the deadly Linford is taken with Trine. Foregoing his usual callous efficiency, the murdering mercenary takes his time, insinuating himself into the life of all her friends. It’s all working out fine until the Mystery Girl is asked about her pal’s latest boyfriend and suddenly she knows all about the new beau, including his real profession…

Hampstead’s plan to deal with him is shockingly effective, but doesn’t go nearly far enough…

Believing the coast clear, Trine and Jovie head for the Arctic Circle, blissfully unaware that their trail is being dogged by Linford’s sinister paymaster and that the killer himself is down but not out. Instead he has devised a cunning method to turn his opponent’s gift against her…

Yet again, however, the obsessive hitman has underestimated Trine’s power, ingenuity and ruthless resolve but when finesse fails at least he can always fall back on overwhelming firepower and direct action…

With the explorers nearing their frozen El Dorado, the bad guys make their move, revealing what’s actually behind all the death and destruction. Now it no longer matters if Trine is asked the right question or not…

As the ghastly true story of the Weimar-Steinberg expedition is exposed, their heirs and inheritors will prove willing to commit mass murder to keep the bloody secret covered up, but Trine asks herself a different question and a life-saving solution pops into her head…

Fast-paced, spectacularly action-packed, witty and superbly balanced as hero and villain play cat-&-mouse around the world, Mystery Girl is a funny, imaginative, brutally uncompromising introduction to a potent and engaging new female character who seems destined for greatness.

Also included are fascinating bonus features including a copious and heavily annotated Sketchbook section with commentary from Tobin and Albuquerque, concept to finished art examples, cover roughs and designs and unused cover art, revealing the masses of effort that went into making this one of the best character debuts of the year.

Don’t ask why you weren’t in at the beginning of her climb to stardom: get Mystery Girl and become someone with (some of) the answers…
Mystery Girl™ & © 2015, 2016 Paul Tobin and Alberto J. Albuquerque. Mystery Girl™ and all prominently featured characters are trademarks of Paul Tobin and Alberto J. Albuquerque.

Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man Worlds Unite Book 1: Deadly Fusion


By Ian Flynn, Joel Enos, Dan Schoening, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin, Luis Antonio Delgado, Matt Herms, Ben Bates, Jack Morelli & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-62738-998-3

From the earliest days of comicbooks, the periodical pamphlets have been a cheap and effective way to augment brands and franchises: offering stopgap and interim “extra” adventures and experiences for stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers or Alan Ladd, TV, movie and kids cartoon dynasties such as Star Trek, Tom & Jerry or Bugs Bunny and an almost infinite number of games, toys and even sugar-packed edibles.

It’s solid business sense and mutually advantageous: publishers get to sell comics, maintain space on shop shelves and cross-sell to new audiences whilst licensees get a relatively inexpensive method of keeping their properties active in at least part of the public consciousness in the long periods between blockbuster releases or off-season doldrums.

Since its 1991 release, Sega’s video game Sonic the Hedgehog has become a fully entrenched global phenomenon. Soon after the initial game release the speedy beast and his crime-busting animal associates became comicbook stars in Britain, America and all over the world.

In the USA, family friendly Archie Comics won the rights to publish an ever-expanding cast of characters beginning with a brace of miniseries in 1992 and 1993. Sonic the Hedgehog volume 3 debuted in July 1993 and has continued continuously ever since, becoming the longest-running game/toy based comicbook in American history at 283 issues and counting. With demand remaining high, the Hedgehog quickly generated a raft of spin-off titles such as Knuckles the Echidna and Sonic X to fill out a whole boutique universe of similarly-themed titles.

Decades later Capcom also picked Archie as publisher for their own complex, complicated and heavily cross-marketed video game franchise Rockman. You probably know it as Mega Man. An expanding line of comics started in April 2011 as the time-bending, dimension-hopping sci fi exploits of the plucky robot warrior and his worthy allies became another genuine funnybook phenomenon.

Last year the world – especially the corporate fantasy-scape shared by kids and game-playing adults – grew closer and overlapped when these two separate but intellectual properties clashed in a spectacular, monolithically successful team-up called Worlds Collide wherein the universes of Sonic and Mega Man were explosively thrown together, creating fresh worlds, a new kind of excitement and better villains to battle…

Nothing screams “sequel” like record-breaking sales and a legion of strident, thrill-starved fans, so that breakthrough meeting was swiftly revisited in an even more ambitious follow-up. The Worlds Unite event reunites the heroes and villains, encompassing all the disparate titles of both pantheons and will eventually fill three graphic novel compilations.

Deadly Fusions – gathering material from Sonic Universe #76, Sonic Boom #8, Sonic the Hedgehog #273, Mega Man #50, Sonic the Hedgehog: Worlds Unite Battles #1 and Mega Man: Worlds Unite Battles #1 – sets the ball rolling; filled with a frankly bewildering array of heroes and villains in constant (family-friendly) conflict, but that’s merely a tantalising, appetite-whetting prelude to cataclysmic and universe altering events yet to come…

Cooperatively crafted by scripters Ian Flynn & Joel Enos with art by Dan Schoening, Ben Bates, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin, Luis Antonio Delgado, Matt Herms, Ben Bates, Jack Morelli & Rachel Deering, the drama begins when über-menace Sigma comes back from a furious future in the realm of Mega Man X to ally with contemporary master-menace Zavok and crazed terrorist Xander Payne. In his spare time Sigma also kidnaps Mega Man and Sonic’s respective arch-nemeses Dr. Wily and Dr. Eggman to create a legion of baddies dubbed the Deadly Six of Lost Hex

From his pocket dimension he then declares war on Mega Man’s world and that of Sonic and his animal allies. Sigma seems unstoppable after both heroes are defeated and “disappeared”, even though their friends the Robot Masters and Freedom Fighters valiantly take up the struggle.

However, as the tomorrow tyrant’s schemes inexorably near fruition, he is unaware that his captive scientific renegades are scurrilously working their own agendas: preparing to each become sole survivor and singular conqueror of all the varied realms of creation…

To Be Continued…

A non-stop, manic fight-fest to delight youngsters – and everybody with bulging thumbs who steadfastly hone their competitive natures on a console every chance they get – Deadly Fusion is an uncomplicated and relentless avalanche of non-stop rollercoaster action, packed with visually potent extras.

These include a handy prequel recap feature, a brace of ‘Bonus Battles’ vignettes, a series of gag-strips (by Bill Freiberger, Jonathan H. Gray, Lamar Wells, Rick Bryant & Aleah Baker), a copious sketch and design section detailing the development of the new characters and a truly vast gallery of covers and variants by Patrick “SPAZ” Spaziante, Rafa Knight, Ben Bates, Evan Stanley, Jamal Peppers, Phyllis Novin, Ben Hunzeker, Ryan Jampole, Gary Martin, Steve Downer, T. Rex, Roger & Idalia Robinson, Ed Huang, Irvin Rodriguez and Patrick Thomas Parnell.

Breathtaking and compulsive game-based fun –all that’s missing is the electronic beeping and explosion sounds, and I’m sure someone will be happy to provide those as the pages oh-so-swiftly turn…
© Sega. All rights reserved. CAPCOM, Mega Man and all related characters © CAPCOM. Published by Archie Comics Publications, Ltd under license.

Time Clock


By Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-930-1

Help Wanted: Girl cartoonist seeks meaning of contemporary existence and like-minded individuals to share bewilderment and revelations with.

Interests/Hobbies include: drinking, counting sand, growing stuff, antiquing for pop culture “trash”, drinking, meaningful conversations with musical instruments, playing board games with same, recreational herbal intoxicants, reminiscing about wild-times with gal-pals and old cronies, drinking, visiting difficult relatives.

Employment: unwanted but regrettably necessary. Although not native to the Big City, is extremely adaptable and will do anything – unless it’s hard, boring or she sucks at it…

After graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts, Leslie Stein began producing astonishingly addictive cartoon strips in the self-published Yeah, It Is. Winning a Xeric Grant for her efforts, she then started an even better comicbook entitled Eye of the Majestic Creature: blending autobiographical self-discovery, surreal free-association, philosophical ruminations, nostalgic reminiscences and devastatingly dry wit to describe modern life as filtered through her seductive meta-fictional interior landscape. She is a creator who sees things as they really aren’t, but makes them authentic and even desirable to anyone willing to pay attention…

This long-awaited third volume resumes Stein’s airy, eccentric and engaging pictorial mood-music as her mythologized autobiography continues to reveal the history and ambitions (for want of a better term) of Larrybear – a girl deliberately and determinedly on her own, trying to establish her uniquely singular way of getting by.

Eschewing chronological narrative for an easy, breezy raconteur’s epigrammatic delivery, illustrated in loose, free-flowing line-work, detailed stippling, hypnotic pattern-building or even honest-to-gosh representational line-drawing, Stein operates under the credo of “whatever works, works” – and she’s not wrong…

Larrybear makes friends easily: bums, winos, weirdoes, dropouts, misfits, non-English-speaking co-workers and especially inanimate objects. Her bestest buddy is her talking guitar/flatmate Marshmallow, one of the many odd fellow travellers who all aggregate around her, briefly sharing her outré interests and latest dreams.

However Larrybear doesn’t want an average life, just more experiences, less hassle and affable companions to share it all with.

This latest graphic dinner party starts with another Friday at work. After scrupulously completing her wage-slave tasks, she heads off to show her latest creation at the long-awaited Sand Counters Convention.

The guy at the next table next is annoying but okay, and she’s touched when venerable old Sand Counter Henry Peet admires her work but, after seeing über-stylist Tim Heerling swanking and lapping up the adulation of the audience, she is mysteriously moved and decides that now she has a new nemesis…

And in the meantime, stay-at-home stringed instrument Marshmallow – feeling unfulfilled – takes up baking to shorten the incessant loneliness…

A second untitled segment then finds Larrybear hanging out with old pal Boris, sharing stories and intoxicants, but still blithely unaware of how he feels about her…

After months of prevaricating, and whilst still enduring dreams about that Heerling guy, our aimless star finally relocates to the countryside where she, Marshmallow and the rest of her animated instrument collection enjoy a life of bucolic fulfilment and idle contemplation until they can’t stand it any more…

This superbly quirky diversion then concludes with ‘Boy’ as Larrybear learns that living miles from the nearest bar and being unable to drive is severely impacting her drinking time, whilst having competition-quality sand delivered is a huge mistake…

All too soon however, she’s back in her natural environment, dealing booze to drunks and sharing their buzz, just as the biggest storm in living memory threatens to close up the city…

All delivered in a mesmerising, oversized (292 x 204 mm) monochrome package, these incisive, absurdist, whimsically charming and visually intoxicating invitations into a singularly creative mind and fabulous alternative reality offer truly memorable walks on the wild side. For a gloriously rewarding and exceptionally enticing cartoon experience – one no serious fan of fun and narrative art can afford to miss – you simply must spend a few hours with a Time Clock.
© 2016 Leslie Stein. All rights reserved.

Worry Doll


By Matt Coyle (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80616-7

In the comics biz it’s not too often that something truly different, graphically outstanding and able to subvert or redirect the medium’s established forms comes along.

Sadly, when it does we usually ignore it whilst whining that there’s nothing fresh or new in view.

That’s pretty much what happened with Matt Coyle’s astounding Worry Doll when, after six years of work on the dark epic, it was published by Mam Tor in 2007 and sank from the collective audience’s sight after causing but the barest of ripples.

To be fair, British-born, Australia-based Coyle (see also, if you can, his mordant, socio-political satire Registry of Death) did win the 2007 Rue Morgue award for Best Comic Book Artist for his incredible photo-realistic line-art on Worry Doll, but the innovative delivery of one of the creepiest tales in comics history never garnered the acclaim it deserved in our superhero-saturated toy, TV and film license-loaded entertainment arena.

Now, thanks once again to Dover Books’ Comics & Graphic Novels division, another lost classic of the art form has a second chance to shine, so let’s show some proper respect and make this edition the popular success it should be…

A soft-cover monochrome landscape affair; enigmatic observations and conversations are delivered in the oldest format of pictorial narrative, with blocks of text on one page balanced by an illustrated panel or sequence of images on the facing folio, as a most distressing story unfolds…

A happy home becomes a charnel scene of slaughter and in the aftermath, amidst the bloody remains of a recently-despatched family, a trio of beloved mannequins intended to assuage anxiety take on ghastly animation and leave in search of answers – or is it actually just different questions?

Making their way across familiarly picturesque and simultaneously terrifying country, the dolls increasingly depend on the kindness of strangers, until their nightmare road-trip is eventually subsumed in someone’s story. As our perspective shifts, we get clues that other hands are working these puppets and the story is not as it seems nor quite done yet…  

Spooky and subversive, blending classic noir mood and tone with storybook quests and psychologically daunting introspection, Worry Doll operates on multiple layers of revelation, both in the staggeringly detailed illustration and the prose accompaniment; constantly offering hints and forebodings if not answers…

With a new Foreword from comics author and filmmaker Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing, The Red Tree, The Arrival) who sagely deconstructs the journey and Coyle’s virtuosity with line and form, this is a complex, engaging and ominously beautiful masterwork no true lover of comics or addict of sinister suspense can afford to miss.
© 2007 by Matthew Coyle. Foreword © 2016 by Shaun Tan. All rights reserved.

Dream Gang


By Brendan McCarthy & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-000-7

London-born Brendan McCarthy came to funnybook prominence in 2000AD before finding international comics stardom whilst pursuing a parallel career in film, television, music videos and design.

Forward-looking, iconoclastic yet simultaneously deeply reverential of comics’ great innovators, his most notable graphic works include Strange Days and Paradax, Judge Dredd, Zenith, Sooner or Later, Skin, Rogan Gosh, Spider-Man: Fever and innumerable stunning covers. His moving-media credits are equally singular and impressive, having produced scripts and/or design work for The Storyteller, Highlander, Lost in Space, pioneering CGI animation series Reboot, Mad Max 4: Fury Road and so much more.

Originally seen as scintillating segments of a occluded whole in Dark Horse Presents volume 3 #1-4, #7-10 and #14-17 in 2014-2015, McCarthy’s latest magnum opus has been completely remastered here: a digitally-psychedelic, intoxicatingly intriguing yarn (with lettering from Nate Piekos of Blambot® and additional colouring from Len O’Grady) which begins with a tedious worn-down wage slave enduring his greyly monochrome mind-numbing existence.

Everything changes – but not necessarily for the better – when his head hits the pillow and he is transported to an incredible, overwhelming wonderworld where dreams are made manifest and the id and subconscious roam free and wild…

However the dreamscape is in the midst of a terrifying civil war with a marauding entity dubbed Zeirio ripping apart the fantastical strata and recondite regions of the Dreamscape in his lust to acquire a hidden ultimate weapon and break out into the real world.

Instantly attacked by a passing Hate-Wraith, our reluctant wanderer is only saved by the swift intervention of quirkily charismatic Sheriff Chumhartley who then presses him into service by activating his Dream Avatar…

Now submerged within the masked super-heroic frame of the Dream Voyager, the baffled, bemused and partially amnesiac real-worlder is subjected to a parade of mind-blasting sights as he reluctantly joins the imaginary brotherhood of the Dream Gang in a last-ditch pursuit of Zeirio.

However, with his new allies losing ground – and, too often, their lives – the imported champion is further baulked and distracted by the appearance of a beloved and long-lost friend from his past, who distracts his dream-fuelled attention and might well be their adversary’s greatest and cruellest counter-weapon…

An astounding visual voyage of discovery to a region of tantalisingly phantasmagorical, thought-bending phenomena to endure Horatian struggles against insurmountable odds, this is a moody, moving and creepily compelling psychological escapade to delight all lovers of the life fantastic.

Devotees of McCarthy’s unique artistic visions will be further rewarded by a copious bonus section which includes an informative Afterword and a large gallery of art pieces: sketches, production notes, concept development and character designs from the decades in which this story moved from enchanting idea to finished ethereal epic.
Dream Gang™ © 2014, 2015, 2016 Brendan McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Pandora’s Box volume 2: Sloth


By Radovanović & Alcante, coloured by Usagi and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-006-1

Pandora’s Box is the impressive conception of Belgian author Didier Swysen under his nom de plume Alcante (Jason Brice, Rani, La Conjuration de Cluny). The format is a sequence of eight stand-alone stories, all informed by burgeoning ethical issues we’re daily dealing with and each revealing the ultimate cost of succumbing to one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” that have afflicted humanity since that fabled box was first breached…

Each headline haunted epic blends Cassandra-toned contemporary societal concerns with technological extrapolation, framed in modern terms and images against a backdrop of a tale from classical mythology offered as foreboding metaphorical prognostications to the political and plutocratic powers-that-be…

Utilising disturbingly familiar yet widely disparate hot-button topics, the stories are linked only by the fact that each individual protagonist is accosted and warned by an arcane and peculiar bag-lady prior to the denouement…

Each tale is illustrated by one of a truly international pantheon of different artists. Second saga Pandora Box – La pareses references the fall of Troy and was deftly delineated by Serbian illustrator Vujadin “Vuja” Radovanović (Čuvari zaboravljenog vremena, Džo XX, Candide ou l’optimisme, de Voltaire) and coloured by Usagi, recounting how a magnificent hero responds to the passing of time, the failure of his powers and fading of his cherished glory…

Paris Troy has been the fastest man alive for a decade: a multi-gold medal winning Olympian and pristine example of all that is honourable and magical about sporting endeavour. Now as the sprinter recovers from a thigh injury in preparation for the next Great Games, an obnoxious rival is all over the media, baiting the runner and winning races, edging ever closer to Troy’s cherished world record.

The thought of someone like Ace Achean stealing his place in the world disgusts Paris, but is it the only reason he finally listens to his brother’s loathsome suggestions?

Hector Troy might well have been even faster than his sibling, but since he was caught doping and barred from competition, no one will ever know for sure. Now, with his confidence ebbing due to the injury or perhaps some psychological block, and Achean baiting him and threatening to take his sponsorship deals, Paris turns his back on a lifetime of proudly clean living and succumbs to Hector’s temptations.

It doesn’t hurt so much after he learns that his supplier is also helping Ace keep his edge…

And then, with the Olympics open and Troy doped to the gills, the once noble sportsman discovers he’s been lured into a moral maze and inescapable trap by someone who has hated him for years…

With his life, fortune, reputation and legacy all at stake and nothing but shame, humiliation and disdain in his future, Paris seems to have no way out…

Stark, powerful and expressive, this tale of great temptation not resisted shows how a good man can be pushed to despicable extremes and is a potent metaphor for so much that’s wrong with the modern word of intoxicating celebrity and quick fixes…

A powerful fable with an uncompromising message, Pandora’s Box – Sloth is as much a salutary warning to ponder as a story to enjoy.
© Dupuis, 2005 by Radovanovic & Alcante. All rights reserved. English translation: © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Memetic


By James Tynion IV & Eryk Donovan (Boom Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-743-1

Even people who love to be scared can get a bit jaded. Terror tales come in many forms and formats, from Sophisticated Suspense to J-Horror to no-holds-barred graphic splatter and torture-porn, but at the heart of them all is the power to connect with an audience and make them nervously wonder. Thankfully, thus far creators are keeping just ahead of consumers and still seem able to enact new notions with great style and captivating facility whenever we need a little extra anxiety in our lives…

Embracing all the old adages whilst thinking far outside the box, in 2014 writer James Tynion IV (The Eighth Seal, Batman Eternal) partnered with old associate Eryk Donovan (The House in the Wall), colourist Adam Guzowski and letterer Steve Wands to put a fresh, clever and thoroughly post-modern spin on the overused doomsday scenario of the Zombie Apocalypse with 3-issue miniseries Memetic.

If you need a little definition here: A meme is an idea that starts with individual, spreads to many and potentially is taken up by entire communities or societies, like not eating yellow snow, washing behind the ears or voting for the worst possible candidate in any given election…

Aaron Sumner had a bad start in life but simply persevered. Despite the congenital illness which messed up his eyes and left him needing hearing aids and daily medication, he made friends, worked hard and now leads a relatively normal life at Jefferson State College.

He even had a boyfriend until recently, but was totally unprepared for the role he was about to play in the last act of humanity…

Aaron is still fretting about recently gone-but-not-forgotten beloved Ryan Nowak, and petulantly surfing the web when someone forwards an image that promises to “change everything”…

Intrigued, he opens the file and agrees that it’s a pretty picture, unaware that he is one of the few humans on the planet immune to its secret power…

Everybody else who sees the image is immediately besotted and cannot stop looking at it, but baffled Aaron soon tires of not getting it and goes to sleep. He’s woken up by best friend Sarah Bentley who totally feels the tingle of friendly companionship the picture generates. Together they reason that it’s Aaron’s medical deficits which are preventing him from sharing the togetherness.

In mere hours the image has gone beyond viral. It has been copied and pasted on walls and even made it onto regular news channels. Nobody can grasp just why it has such a feelgood factor, but it looks like before the day is over everybody on Earth will be sharing the joy…

That’s disturbing news for Marcus Shaw. The former military specialist was one of the Pentagon’s biggest military brains until macular degeneration rendered him practically sightless, and the effect he hears of on the news and from speaking to his increasingly distracted friends reminds him of an old project proposed by Weird Science specialist Dr. Barbara Xiang.

When he contacts his old bosses he quickly realises it’s too late. Someone has succeeded where they failed and created a weaponised Meme…

All over the world progress pauses as people see the picture, disseminate the picture and perpetually stare at the picture.

Aaron is baffled and growing concerned. That turns to total terror when the second-stage kicks in. Twelve hours after initial exposure, the image addicts begin bleeding from the eyes and take to the streets in lemming-like mass marches. Screaming mindlessly, they surge through the streets ripping apart anyone not sharing their mindless union and converging in towering masses of melting flesh…

Elsewhere, last-ditch action is being taken. Dr. Xiang has managed to avoid seeing the image and linked up with Marcus. She knows full well the potential threat and wants him to lead a reconnaissance mission to find the originator of the meme and, if possible, create a counter-measure.

Aaron’s world is crumbling. Sarah stays with him until she starts to feel the scream building inside her, and even a last-minute reunion with Ryan is doomed to end badly…

Using now-abandoned government and military resources, Marcus and Xiang locate the origin point of the meme and a team heads off to confront their hidden enemy. They cannot help but speculate on who – or what – could have created such a complex thought weapon: one which is clearly evolving and forcing humanity into its final moments…

The answer, when it comes, is beyond anything they could possibly have imagined…

And Aaron ostracised, alone and again an outsider makes one final act of free will…

Engaging, engrossing, fearsomely believable and utterly compelling, Memetic also offers behind the scenes bonuses including sketches, model sheets, a feature showing the creative process from ‘Script to Page’, commentary and ‘Afterwords’ from author and artist, plus a cover and variants gallery by Donovan.

Unfolding at a frenetic pace – 72 hours from start to a doom-drenched finish – this a yarn to chill the hearts of blasé Generation Tech and the most timid of silver surfer alike: one you also will have extreme difficulty turning away from…
™ & © 2015 James Tynion IV. All rights reserved.

The Rocketeer & The Spirit: Pulp Friction


By Mark Waid, Paul Smith, Loston Wallace, J Bone, Bob Wiacek & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-881-4

The American comics industry has generated its fair share of immortal heroes. However, whilst everyone is familiar with household names such as Flash Gordon, Superman, Dick Tracy or Popeye, there are also timeless champions who pretty much remain hallowed names known only to the in-crowd and cognoscenti: characters who have had their shot at global mega-stardom but for some reason never caught on with the masses. Characters like The Spirit and The Rocketeer

Will Eisner was a pivotal creative force who helped shaped the entire medium of comics. From 1936 to 1938 he worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the studio-stable known as the “Eisner-Eiger Shop”, creating strips for both domestic and foreign markets.

As Willis B. Rensie he created and drew the opening instalments of a huge variety of characters ranging from funny animal to historical sagas, Westerns, Detectives, aviation action thrillers… and superheroes… lots of superheroes…

In 1940 Everett “Busy” Arnold, head honcho of Quality Comics, invited Eisner to take on a new challenge. The Register-Tribune newspaper syndicate wanted a 16-page weekly comicbook insert to be given away with the Sunday editions. Eisner created three strips which would initially be handled by him before two were handed off to his talented assistants.

Bob Powell inherited Mr. Mystic and distaff detective Lady Luck first fell into the capable hands of Nick Cardy (née Nicholas Viscardi) and later the inimitable Klaus Nordling.

Eisner kept the lead strip for himself, and over the next twelve years masked detective The Spirit grew into the most impressive, innovative, imitated and talked-about strip in the business. In 1952 the venture folded and Eisner moved into commercial, instructional and educational strips, working extensively for the US military in manuals and magazines like P*S, the Preventative Maintenance Monthly, generally leaving comics books behind.

In the wake of “Batmania” and the 1960s superhero craze, Harvey Comics released two giant-sized reprint editions with some new material from Eisner, which lead to a brace of underground compilations and a slow but inexorable rediscovery and revival of the Spirit’s fame and fortune via black and white newsstand reprint magazines.

Warren Publishing collected old stories, occasionally adding painted colour from such contemporary luminaries as Rich Corben, but from #17 the title reverted to Kitchen Sink, who had produced those first two underground collections.

Eisner found himself re-enamoured with graphic narrative and discerned that there now existed a willing audience eager for new works. From producing new Spirit covers for the magazine (something the original newspaper insert had never needed) he became increasingly inspired. American comics were evolving into an art-form and the restless creator finally saw a place for the kind of stories he had always wanted to tell.

He subsequently began crafting some of the most telling and impressive work the industry had ever seen: first in limited collector portfolios and eventually, in 1978, with the groundbreaking sequential narrative A Contract With God and thereby jumpstarting our modern comics phenomenon of graphic novels…

Although his output was far smaller and life far shorter, Dave Stevens had an equally revolutionary effect on the industry: his lush and lavish illustration style influencing a generation of artists as his signature retro-futurist character The Rocketeer became the first breakout star of the Independent Comics movement which stemmed from the creation of the Comicbook Direct Sales Market.

Due to Stevens’s legendarily uncompromising artistic vision – and consequent slow page rate – very few of The Rocketeer’s period exploits appeared before the artist’s death from Hairy Cell Leukaemia in 2008. Since then, however, diverse other hands have added to the canon, as with the miniseries collected in this slim but stunning hardcover edition.

Just in case these vintage adventurers are new to you, The Spirit used to be Denny Colt: Central City’s greatest detective and criminologist. After apparently dying in battle with a vile master-villain, Colt opted to remain officially dearly departed and battle evil in a semi-official capacity as a masked enigma, aided by girlfriend Ellen Dolan and her father the crime-ridden metropolis’ Police Commissioner.

Cliff Secord is an itinerant West Coast pilot who – circa 1938 – found a fantastic jetpack outfit and ever thereafter stumbled into a succession of criminal plots and capers. With the eventual permission of the flight engine’s inventor – one of the greatest heroes of that or any other era – Cliff still finds himself regularly battling bad guys as The Rocketeer. When that’s not occupying his time, he’s busy looking for work or being given the run-around by his star-struck, fame-obsessed, trouble-magnet girl Betty

Team-ups are part-and-parcel of comics extravaganzas and both heroes have had their share of cataclysmic and catastrophic clashes with the valiant giants of the period and the industry.

This yarn however – collecting a 4-issue miniseries by Mark Waid which ran from July to December 2013 – concentrates as much on humour as bombastic action and begins on the East Coast in February 1941 where business executives and government meet to decide the future of the Next Big Thing…

Alderman Cunningham is stridently opposed to letting business cartels control the new medium and argues that, just like with radio, public airwaves must not be owned by any individual or corporation seeking to monopolise recently invented Television…

Mere hours later an early morning fashion shoot on a California beach is ruined when beautiful Betty finds the idealistic politician’s mangled corpse…

When the stiff is identified as Cunningham, Commissioner Dolan and Spirit are baffled. How could the victim have travelled more than 3000 miles in one night? Determined to investigate, they book passage on a trans-continental plane, having reluctantly crumbled before the forceful Ellen who demands to join them and see Hollywood…

In Los Angeles, Cliff Secord is again being ignored by the traumatised Betty. He mopes dejectedly until his grizzled old mechanic Peevy points out that whoever killed the Alderman might also want to silence the girl who found the body…

Nearby, a very wealthy entrepreneur places a coast-to-coast call to The Spirit’s greatest enemy to discuss his incredible new invention, the pursuance of their plans and how to stop a certain masked interloper from interfering…

Said hero – still wearing his mask – is stiffly staggering off a plane at Chaplin Field with his equally exhausted cross-country companions. In a weary, unguarded moment he mentions Betty. Learning of the “slip”, an already paranoid Cliff panics and, assuming the masked killer has come for his girl, dons his rocket-man suit to attack…

After a spectacular battle, Ellen finally manages to convince the two testosterone-soaked mutton heads they are on the same side, and a tentative alliance is formed… at least until Spirit interviews Betty and the flighty starlet finds she’s in love or thereabouts with the hunky masked cop…

Illustrator Paul Smith gives way to Loston Wallace & Bob Wiacek as the second chapter opens with the fractious, clueless allies heading for the LA Morgue to examine Cunningham’s body, even as television wizard Benedict Trask and The Octopus discuss how best to get Betty out of the picture and deal with the interlopers meddling in their affairs. Their solution is unique indeed and everything would have worked out swell if not for inveterate tinkerer Peevy who has built his own prototype TV receiver and intercepted something he shouldn’t have…

The villains respond in typical manner but their big mistake is believing the planes sent to strafe Peevy’s hangar are enough to stop Rocketeer and The Spirit…

With J Bone stepping in to limn the final two chapters the high-octane tale ramps up into top gear as Cliff travels back to Central City with Spirit and the Dolans to find Betty, expose the sinister scheme of Trask and the Octopus, uncover the crooks’ treacherous connections to a certain Fascist foreign power, prevent America’s airwaves from being subverted and even save President Roosevelt from being assassinated by television in a rocket-paced, breathtaking rollercoaster ride that delivers non-stop thrills and chills…

Accompanied with an Introduction from Denis Kitchen, filling in all the necessary back-story on the iconic characters, and visually embellished by sketches and a large cover gallery by Darwyn Cooke, Smith, Jordie Bellaire, Bone and Chris Samnee, Pulp Friction is a no-nonsense fun-filled action frolic to delight lovers of the good old days of Thud and Blunder…
© 2014 The Rocketeer Trust and Will Eisner Studios, Inc. The Rocketeer is a registered trademark of, and all related characters, their distinctive likenesses and indicia are trademarks of The Rocketeer Trust. All Rights Reserved. The Spirit © 2014 Will Eisner Studios, Inc. The Spirit and Will Eisner™ Will Eisner Studios, Inc. ® in the US Patent and Trademark Office. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek Gold Key Archives volume 2


By Dick Wood, Len Wein, Alfredo Giolitti & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-108-4

Star Trek debuted on American televisions on September 8th 1966, running until June 3rd 1969: three seasons comprising 79 episodes. A moderate success, the series only really became popular after going into syndication, running constantly in American local TV regions throughout the 1970s. It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing quite a devoted fanbase.

There was some merchandising, and an inevitable comicbook – from Gold Key – which ran for almost a decade beyond the show’s cancellation. However, at the start neither authenticity nor immediacy were paramount. Only six issues were released during the show’s entire 3-season run: published between July 1967 and December 1968, those quirkily enticing yarns are all gathered in the first Star Trek: Gold Key archive collection.

The reason for the inaccuracies between screen and page was simple and probably a clear indicator of the attitude both studio and publisher held about science fiction material. Scripter Dick Wood (a veteran comics writer with credits ranging from on hundreds of series from Batman to Crime Does Not Pay to Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom) had never seen any episodes when commissioned to write the comic, with he and Italian artists Nevio Zaccara – and later Alberto Giolitti – receiving only the briefest of outlines and scant reference materials from the show’s producers. The comics craftsmen were working almost utterly in a vacuum…

Nevertheless, by the time of these interstellar exploits – reprinting Star Trek #7-12 from March 1970 to November 1971 – the well-intentioned contradictions to now-firmly established Trek lore were slowly fading as better reference and familiarity with the actual show steered the printed Enterprise incidents towards canonical parity with the TV phenomenon.

Following a revelatory Introduction ‘The Adventure Continues…’ from licensed-character specialists/authors Scott and David Tipton, another stunning photo-collage cover – a rarity at the time outside Gold Key titles – leads into an eerie cosmic quest as Kirk and his crew discovers ‘The Voodoo Planet’ (Wood & Giolitti, #7).

In an unexplored region of space, Enterprise discovers an uninhabited doppelganger of Earth, complete with monuments and landmarks. When a hidden mastermind then causes the Eiffel Tower to crumble, word comes that the original back home has also come tumbling down…

As the seemingly magical destruction continues, Enterprise tracks a transmission and travels to a planet almost obscured by debris and space junk and finds there a primitive race practising voodoo…

Shock follows shock as a landing party finds escaped Earth war-criminal Count Dressler has subjugated the natives and adapted their abilities to launch devastating attacks on the world that exiled him…

The villain’s arrogance soon proves his undoing as Dressler underestimates the ingenuity of Mr. Spock and sheer bloody-mindedness of James T. Kirk

‘The Youth Trap’ was released with a September 1970 cover-date and sees assorted members of the crew transformed into children by a manic alien explorer who has turned a fantastic survival technology into an irresistible weapon.

Whilst Kooba’s appalled comrades only want to get home, the madman believes his chronal ray will win him a universe. Once again the combination of Spock’s brains and Kirk’s brawn win the day…

From the February 1971 ninth issue, Wood was replaced by dedicated Trek viewer Len Wein (Swamp Thing, Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk) who joined the astounding Alberto Giolitti to explore ‘The Legacy of Lazarus’ wherein the ever outward-bound Enterprise fetched up to a remote planet and found it populated with all the great figures of humanity’s past.

When Spock vanishes his trail leads to a hidden cavern where Earth’s greatest historian Alexander Lazarus has combined robotics and recovered alien technology to gather in the actual brainwaves of history’s giants to create the most astounding resource for knowledge ever conceived.

Sadly, the great feat has only whetted the savant’s appetite and Lazarus wants to perform the same feat with the great and good of Vulcan’s past. To get started, he needs the brain of a native and Spock is the nearest and therefore only logical candidate…

Luckily for the beleaguered Science Officer, Kirk and his comrades can call on the wisdom and courage of Earth’s greatest heroes to aid in their rescue attempt…

With Star Trek #10 (May 1971) stills from Paramount were no longer forthcoming and George Wilson began his series of captivating painted covers. Meanwhile, on the pages inside, mystery and imagination hold sway as the starship is plucked out of the void by a cosmic genie whilst Kirk, Spock, Dr. Leonard McCoy and Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott are dumped at the feet of a storybook tyrant who demands they steal for him the awesome ‘Sceptre of the Sun’

All too soon however the doughty space-farers unravel the lies underpinning the seeming omnipotence of Chang the Sorcerer to find his true origins stem from a long-lost expedition from Earth in ages past…

From August 1971, ‘The Brain Shockers’ details how neophyte Yeoman Pandora Trask is tricked by a marauding alien into opening a hatch she wasn’t meant to; unleashing a wave of malignant emotions hidden aboard the Enterprise.

The deadly feelings were originally extracted and bottled at the time Vulcans first sought to abandon passion for logic and were being transported to a secret destination, but now their rampage through the ship and the assailant’s world will wreak havoc unless Spock can outthink both them and immortal, seemingly suicidal Malok

Closing this bombastic treasure-trove is ‘The Flight of the Buccaneer’ (#12, November 1971) with Kirk, McCoy, Scott and Spock ordered undercover to infiltrate a nest of interstellar pirates and recover Star Fleet’s stolen store of Dilithium crystals in a fast-paced, all-guns-blazing romp homaging Treasure Island

Packed with photo-covers, promotional photos and a complete Cover Gallery this is another fabulously enticing, expansive and epic compendium of thrills: truly engaging stories to delight young and old alike and well worthy of your rapt attentions.
® and © 2014 CBS Studios, Inc. Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.