Defenders Masterworks volume 2

By Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4216-4

The Defenders were the last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, and would eventually number amongst their membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No real surprise there, since the initial line-up was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood and mad, outcast and bad and so often actually dangerous to know.

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

This second sterling and sturdy hardcover (and eBook) masterworks collection assembles a veritable host of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonders from a large list of sources: Defenders #7-16, Giant Sized Defenders #1 and Avengers #115-118, encompassing cover-dates August 1973 to October 1974 and commences after author Steve Englehart shares recollections of his groundbreaking tenure in an informative Introduction, after which Defenders #7 jumps right in as Len Wein co-scripts with Englehart and Frank Bolle inks Sal Buscema in ‘War Below the Waves!’

Here tempestuous ex-Avenger Hawkeye temporarily climbs aboard the “non-team” bandwagon to help defeat the undersea threat of Attuma and soviet renegade the Red Ghost; a bombastic battle to usurp the Sub-Mariner of his titles and kingdom concluded a month later in ‘…If Atlantis Should Fall!’ with Englehart once more providing all the words and Frank McLaughlin inking…

Since Defenders #4 the forward-thinking scripter had been putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head, and next here comes a little prologue taken from the end of Avengers #115 which finally set the ball rolling.

Drawn by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ sees interdimensional despot the Dread Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki unite to search for an ultimate weapon to give them final victory against their foes. They resolve to trick the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could restore the petrified Black Knight.

That plan was initiated at the end of Defenders #8: a brief opening chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ entitled ‘Deception!’ as a message from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin entities of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116 (by Englehart Brown & Esposito) wherein the World’s Mightiest Heroes – hunting for their missing comrade – “discover” their old enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone.

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

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

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

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

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century. In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Bolle inks), the group battle black magic during the Crusades, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked departing scripter Englehart…

With issue #12 Len Wein assumed the writer’s role, starting a run of slightly more traditional costumed capers as Sal Buscema & Jack Abel illustrated the return of the mind-bending Xemnu in ‘The Titan Strikes Back!’ against a pared-down cast consisting of Strange, Valkyrie and the Hulk.

A bona fide hit, the non-team were part of a big experiment in extra-value comics that began with opens with Giant Sized Defenders #1 (July1974): a stunning combination of highly readable reprints wrapped in a classy framing sequence by Tony Isabella, Jim Starlin & Al Milgrom. The vintage thrills commence with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers’ ‘Banished to Outer Space’ from The Incredible Hulk #3, followed by magnificent 1950s Bill Everett Sub-Mariner fantasy-feast ‘Bird of Prey!’

From there the focus switches to Dr. Strange and the Denny O’Neil/Steve Ditko mini-masterpiece ‘To Catch a Magician!’ (Strange Tales #145) before the concoction concludes with a blockbusting battle as the star trio, sorcerer’s apprentice Clea and the valiant Valkyrie dispatch a self-inflicted mystic menace.

After a splendid double-page pin-up by Sal Buscema the regular epics resume for a spectacular Saves-the-World struggle against the villainous Squadron Sinister that opens in ‘For Sale: One Planet… Slightly Used!’ (featuring an early inking job for Klaus Janson) and concludes in the Dan Green-embellished ‘And Who Shall Inherit the Earth?’ as Marvel’s Batman-analogue Nighthawk unites with the Defenders to defeat his murderous former team-mates and aquatic alien marauder Nebulon, the Celestial Man.

Defenders #15 initiates a two-part duel with manic mutant Magneto who first institutes a ‘Panic Beneath the Earth!’ – courtesy of Wein, Buscema & Janson – leading X-Men mentor Charles Xavier to enlist the outcast heroes’ aid. The concluding clash includes the insidious Brotherhood of Evil and ‘Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant’ (inked by Esposito) as well as the apparent end of true master of evil…

Also included here are behind-the-scenes treats including contemporary house ads, creator biographies and previous collection covers by Carlos Pacheco, John Romita and Richard Isanove.

For the longest time, The Defenders was the best and weirdest superhero comicbook in the business, and if you love superheroes but crave something just a little different these yarns are for you… and the best is still to come.
© 1973, 1974, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Wendy Project

By Melissa Jane Osborne & Veronica Fish (Super Genius/Papercutz)

When does a favourite story or plot become an actual artefact of culture accessible to all? What separates last year’s fictional trope (dystopian future oppresses valiant outsider teen; alienated kid courted by supernatural lover; magic exists but the authorities have been covering it up) from fundamental narrative memes that underpin all aspects of societal development (underprivileged hero overcomes great odds to win a birthright; loss of loved ones leads to path of vengeance; clever child becomes powerful adult by overcoming adversity)?

When you read a fantastic saga of mortal valiantly heroes slaying a marauding dragon, has the author accessed a rich and ancient cultural heritage or just swiped a scene from a Tolkien tale?

In today’s mass entertainment-driven world, certain classic stories – such as Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz – have been constantly referenced, either overtly or surreptitiously, for a number of commercially sound reasons: assured consumer familiarity; brand awareness or simply that the originals were so masterful that we just don’t want them to end.

In 2015 Emet Comics released a beguilingly fresh riff on J. M. Barrie’s immortal paean to childhood Peter Pan, contrived by actress/writer Melissa Jane Osborne (Oma, Campus Crush) and illustrator Veronica Fish (Spider-Woman, Archie, Slam).

The Wendy Project was one of the most beautiful and evocative releases of the year, marrying inescapably recognisable fantasy landmarks with elements of family tragedy in an often distressing coming-of-age story.

The entire enchanting emotional rollercoaster ride is now available in a compact paperback edition from All-Ages and Young Adults graphic novel publisher Papercutz and will – if there’s any justice – soon be a household name in its own right.

Let’s be straight here: this story is the flip side of the coin. The issue at hand is not a fantastic journey to a place of wonders but what happens to the family if children are lost…

One night in New England, 16-year old Wendy Davies is driving her younger brothers home when the car crashes into a lake. As she loses consciousness, the aghast older sister thinks she sees little Michael being carried off into the sky by a flying boy…

The investigation proceeds and even after leaving hospital Wendy clings to her conviction that her brother is still alive. After all, the police still haven’t found his body…

Middle sibling John is no help. He hasn’t spoken since the crash but Wendy knows he shares her secret…

Still deeply traumatised, Wendy’s parents move her to a new school and a therapist cajoles the girl into starting a journal of words and pictures to help her process her grief. Wendy knows what she knows, however. The flying boy is real and taken Michael so she must find them and bring her brother home again.

As days pass Wendy starts to see that many of the kids at her school in new yet familiar light. Are they part of the plot to keep Michael from her? And then slowly but with escalating frequency and power, the two worlds of New England and Neverland begin to blend and merge…

Mimicking the style of Wendy’s own pencil, pen and crayon recollections and interpretations, Osborne’s “awfully big adventure” is rendered by Veronica Fish in mostly monochrome tones with emphatic and explosive bursts of radiant colour as the fantasy – or is that a greater reality? – intersects with her process of recuperation or acceptance. The conclusion is one no participant is ready for…

So, when is it acceptable and even necessary to stand on the shoulders of narrative giants and play with their magnificent toys?

When you can burnish the legend by looking with fresh eyes, add lustre to the original canon and make new wonders for new and old readers. The Wendy Project does just that and is a book you must read.
© 2017 Emet Entertainment LLC. & Melissa Jane Osborne. All Rights Reserved.

Loveless volume 1: A Kin of Homecoming

By Brian Azzarello & Marcelo Frusin & various(Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1061-8 (Vertigo)             978-1845763374 (Titan Books UK edition)

As an entertainment genre, the Western is a rather odd duck which can be sub-divided into two discrete halves: a sparkly, shiny version which dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades and best personified by heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff: typified by and popularised through the celluloid efforts of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef or latterly in TV shows such as Deadwood

In comics, that latter kind of yarn – grimy, gritty, excessively dark and overwhelmingly nihilistic – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Charlier & Giraud’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer: iconic sagas which have only recently made their mark on US culture…

This book – available in UK and US paperback editions, but still as yet not in digital form – is that sort: recounting bleak, brutal incidents utterly unsanitised and unsuitable for kiddie consumption, but which in the end are probably far closer to historical truth than any six-gun shootout on Main Street or rhinestone spectacle…

The inspirationally iconic trappings of the Western make the milieu well-nigh irresistible to creative folk. We all want a crack at a cowboy story. When the horror-smudged eyes of Brian Azzarello and Marcelo Frusin, who did so much to revive and revitalise crime comics genre 100 Bullets and returned a razor-sharp hard edge to urban supernatural horror in Hellblazer, took a good hard look at the Western the result was sheer dynamite…

This initial volume from Vertigo gathers the first five issues (from December 2005-April 2006) and steadfastly sticks to the sound maxim that “Hell is Other People”…

Down in the battered, deprived South, Blackwater was a nasty little town even before the Secession Conflict. Now that it’s occupied by gloatingly victorious Union soldiers the place is rapidly dissolving into a cesspool and an open sore, with hate and resentment bubbling everywhere.

Moreover, for many in town and throughout the surrounding countryside, the war isn’t over until they say so…

…And then former resident and voluntary stranger Wes Cutter rides back into town with a silent brooding companion nobody recognises…

A defeated Confederate soldier, outlaw and extremely dangerous man, Cutter quickly sets about making all-new enemies to complement those he’s always had in his unwholesome home town.

Is it only coincidence that his return coincides with a growing wave of murder and destruction? And just what did happen to the wife he left behind…?

Blackly violent and relentlessly oppressive; sporting a large cast of broken and intriguing characters and patiently unfolding a dire and deadly mystery, Loveless is an adult tale of revenge powerfully reminiscent of films such as High Plains Drifter and Unforgiven, but this shockingly visceral saga has many more shades and crannies than either.

The compelling enigma of Cutter and his equally deadly companion is as engrossing as the violence is compelling. Here is a very modern Western which will enthral readers whether they like cowboys or not.
© 2005, 2006 Brian Azzarello & Marcelo Frusin. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 1

By Otto Binder, Al Plastino, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7292-0

Superhero comics seldom do sweet or charming anymore. Modern narrative focus concentrates on turmoil, angst and spectacle and although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Such was not always the case as this superb trade paperback compendium – spanning Action Comics #252-284 (May 1959 to January 1962) and also available in eBook editions – of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City joyously proves.

Also included and kicking off proceedings is the delightful DC House Ad advertising the imminent arrival of a new Girl of Steel. Sadly missing, however, is the try-out story The Three Magic Wishes’ – written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye from Superman #123, August 1958 – which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

Here, then, the drama commences with ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’, the third story from Action Comics #252 introducing Superman’s cousin Kara, who had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the giant world’s debris, and Kara’s dying parents, having observed Earth through their scanners and scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she meets Superman who creates the cover-identity of Linda Lee whilst hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale allowing her to learn about her new world and powers in secrecy and safety. This groundbreaking tale was also written by Binder and drawn by the hugely talented Al Plastino.

Once the formula was established Supergirl became a regular feature in Action Comics (starting with #253), a residency that lasted until 1969 when she graduated to the lead spot in Adventure Comics. In ‘The Secret of the Super-Orphan!’, at her new orphanage home she makes the acquaintance of fellow orphan Dick Wilson (eventually Malverne) who would become her personal gadfly (much as the early Lois Lane was to Superman), a recurring romantic entanglement who suspects she has a secret. As a young girl in far less egalitarian times, romance featured heavily in our neophyte star’s thoughts and she frequently met other potential boyfriends: including alien heroes and even a Merboy from Atlantis.

Many of the early tales also involved keeping her presence concealed, even when performing super-feats. Jim Mooney was selected as regular artist and Binder remained as chief scripter for most of the early run.

In Action #254’s ‘Supergirl’s Foster-Parents!’, sees an unscrupulous couple of con-artists easily foiled, after which Linda meets a mystery DC hero when ‘Supergirl Visits the 21st Century!’ in #255. Her secret is almost exposed in ‘The Great Supergirl Mirage!’ before she grants ‘The Three Magic Wishes!’ to despondent youngsters and teaches a mean bully a much-needed lesson.

The Man of Steel often came off rather poorly when dealing with women in those less enlightened days, always under the guise of “teaching a much-needed lesson” or “testing” someone. When she plays with Krypto, ignoring his secrecy decree, cousin Kal-El banishes the lonely young heroine to an asteroid in ‘Supergirl’s Farewell to Earth!’ but of course there’s paternalistic method in the madness…

‘The Cave-Girl of Steel!’ then sees her voyage to the ancient past and become a legend of the Stone Age before Action #260 finds her transformed by the mystical Fountain of Youth into ‘The Girl Superbaby!’

The next tale introduced feline fan-favourite Streaky the Super-Cat in ‘Supergirl’s Super Pet!’ after which ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Victory!’ delivers a salutary lesson in humility to the Girl of Steel. Binder moved on after scripting ‘Supergirl’s Darkest Day!’ in which the Maid of Might rescues an alien prince, after which Jerry Siegel took over the storytelling as ‘Supergirl Gets Adopted!’: a traumatic and sentimental tale which only ends with the lonely lass back at Midvale orphanage.

I’ve restrained myself so please do the same when I say that the next adventure isn’t what you think. ‘When Supergirl Revealed Herself! (Siegel & Mooney from Action#265) is another story about nearly finding a family, after which Streaky playfully returns in ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’

Supergirl encounters fantastic fellow super-kids in Action #267’s ‘The Three Super-Heroes!’ but narrowly fails to qualify for the Legion of Super Heroes through the cruellest quirk of fate. Picking herself up she then exposes ‘The Mystery Supergirl!’ before Siegel & Mooney introduce Mer-boy Jerro who becomes ‘Supergirl’s First Romance!’

‘Supergirl’s Busiest Day!’ is packed with cameos from Batman and Robin, Krypto and Lori Lemaris all celebrating a very special occasion, after which Streaky makes another bombastic appearance as the wonder girl builds ‘Supergirl’s Fortress of Solitude!’.

Otto Binder wrote ‘The Second Supergirl!’, an alternate world tale that was too big for one issue. A sequel, ‘The Supergirl of Two Worlds!’ appeared in Action #273 – as did a novel piece of market research. ‘Pick a New Hairstyle for Linda (Supergirl) Lee!’ involved eager readers in the actual physical appearance of their heroine and gave editors some valuable input into who was actually reading the series…

Siegel & Mooney then soundly demonstrate the DC dictum that history cannot be changed in ‘Supergirl’s Three Time Trips!’ before ‘Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl!’ offers a truly nightmarish scenario, rapidly followed by a return visit to the Legion of Super Heroes in ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!’, whilst Action #277 featured an animal epic in ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’

The next five tales in this volume form an extended saga taking the Girl of Steel in totally new directions. On the eve of Superman announcing her existence to the world, Supergirl loses her powers and – resigned to a normal life – is adopted by the childless Fred and Edna Danvers. Tragically it’s all a deadly plot by wicked Lesla-Lar, Kara’s identical double from the Bottle City of Kandor. This evil genius plans to replace Supergirl and conquer the Earth. This mini-epic – ‘The Unknown Supergirl!’, ‘Supergirl’s Secret Enemy!’, ‘Trapped in Kandor!’, ‘The Secret of the Time-Barrier!’ and (following the results of the Hair Style competition) ‘The Supergirl of Tomorrow!’ ran in Action #278-282 and solidly repositioned the character for a more positive, effective and fully public role in the DC universe. The epic also hinted of a more dramatic and less paternalistic, parochial and even sexist future for the most powerful girl in the world, over the months to come…

The young heroine still in very much a student-in-training, her very existence kept secret from the general public and living with adoptive parents who are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being.

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-saving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Plots akin to situation comedies often pertained, as in ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in author Seigel’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was simply unladylike.

Red Kryptonite, a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world and was a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets…

Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat (I’m not going to say a single bloody word…).

The drama continues and concludes – like this initial Silver Age compilation – with the next instalment ‘The Strange Bodies of Supergirl!’ wherein Linda Lee Danvers’ travails escalate after she grows a second head, gains death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and morphs into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a big change in the Maid of Might’s status but that’s a volume for another day…

Throughout her formative years Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that, these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the very last time a female super-character’s sexual allure wasn’t equated to sales potential and freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few truly strong and resilient female characters parents can still happily share with even their youngest children.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League International volume 2

By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, John Ostrander, Kevin Maguire, Bill Willingham, Luke McDonnell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2020-4 (TPB)

Way back in 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their then-vast, 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The draconian solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline and redefine whilst adding even more fresh characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman, the moribund and crucially un-commercial Justice League of America was earmarked for radical revision.

Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new super-team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up DC crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of newcomers and relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Guy Gardner/Green Lantern, Dr. Fate and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

As the often-silly saga unfolded the squad was supplemented by Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Dr. Light and Russian mecha-warrior Rocket Red. In many ways the most contemporary new pick was charismatic, filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the super-team…

The creators took their time, crafting a convoluted mystery over the first year and this second volume of the (as-was) All-New, All-Hilarious Justice League completes that saga as insidious entrepreneur and1980’s archetype Lord reshapes the World’s Greatest Super-team for his own mysterious purposes and is transformed himself in the process…

The stories gathered here (Justice League International #8-13, Justice League Annual #1, and corresponding crossover issue Suicide Squad #13) are taken from a period when comics publishers were first developing the marketing strategies of the “Braided Mega-Crossover Event.”

That hard-on-the-pockets innovation basically crafted really big stories involving every publication in a company’s stable, for a limited time period – so a compilation like this perforce includes adventures that seem confusing because there are in truth “middles” with no beginnings or endings.

In this case the problem is deftly solved by inserting (mercifully) brief text pages explaining what’s happened before and elsewhere. It also doesn’t hurt that being a comedy-adventure, plot isn’t as vital as character and dialogue in this instance…

The merriment begins with ‘Moving Day’ (deftly inked by regular embellisher Al Gordon), wherein the heroes endure a catalogue of disasters whilst taking possession of sundry new UN embassy premises: a slyly cynical tale of institutionalized ineptitude and arguably one of the funniest single stories in American comicbook history.

Here, the main episodes are supplemented by brief back-up vignettes drawn by Giffen and ‘Old News’ deals with the abrupt and precipitous closure of previous UN superhero resource The Dome – summarily axed when the League achieved international charter status. The dismissals leave a very sour taste in the mouths of previously valiant and devoted defenders of mankind…

‘Seeing Red’ is the first of two episodes forming part of the Millennium crossover hinted at above. Broadly, the Guardians of the Universe are attempting to create the next stage of human evolution, and their robotic enemies the Manhunters want to stop them. The heroes of Earth are asked to protect the Chosen Ones, but the robots have sleeper agents hidden among the friends and acquaintances of every hero on the planet.

Millennium was DC’s first weekly mini-series, and the monthly schedule of the other titles meant that a huge amount happened in the four weeks between their own tied-in issues: for example…

The Rocket Red attached to the JLI is in fact a Manhunter, who first tries to co-opt then destroy the team by sabotaging an oil refinery, but by the second part, ‘Soul of the Machine’, the JLI are jarringly transplanted to deep space and attacking the Manhunter homeworld as part of a Green Lantern strike force.

Nevertheless, the story is surprising coherent, and the all-out action is still well-leavened with superbly banter and hilarity.

The back-ups follow the suddenly unemployed Dome hero Jack O’Lantern as he travels to terrorist state Bialya in ‘Brief Encounter’ and then show an unfortunate training exercise for Blue Beetle and Mister Miracle in ‘…Back at the Ranch…’

JLI #11 started exposing all the mysteries of the first year by revealing the secret mastermind behind the League’s reformation. With ‘Constructions!’ – and the concluding ‘Who is Maxwell Lord?’ in #12 – the series came full circle, and the whacky humour proved to have been the veneer over a dark and subtle conspiracy plot worthy of the classic team.

The drama and action kicked into overdrive and the characters were seen to have evolved from shallow, albeit competent buffoons into a tightly knit team of world-beating super-stars – but still pretty darned addicted to buffoonery…

Giffen illustrated #13, wherein the team ran afoul of America’s highly covert Suicide Squad (convicted and imprisoned super-villains blackmailed by the government into becoming a tractable metahuman resource – and happily lacking the annoying morality of regular superheroes).

‘Collision Course’ found US agent Nemesis imprisoned in a Soviet jail with the UN-sponsored League forced into the uncomfortable position of having to – at least ostensibly – fight to keep him there even as the Suicide Squad seeks to bust him out.

Written by John Ostrander and illustrated by Luke McDonnell & Bob Lewis, concluding chapter ‘Battle Lines’ originated in Suicide Squad #13 and offers a grim and gritty essay in superpower Realpolitik which remains a powerful experience and chilling read decades later.

This volume wraps up with an out-of-chronology yarn from the first JLI Annual. Drawn by Bill Willingham and inked by Dennis Janke, P. Craig Russell, Bill Wray, R. Campanella, Bruce Patterson & Dick Giordano, ‘Germ Warfare’ is an uncharacteristically grim horror tale involving inhuman sacrifice and all-out war against sentient bacteria, with oodles of savage action and a tragic role for new team leader J’onn J’onzz…

This collection was – and still is – a breath of fresh air at a time where too many comicbooks are filled with over-long, convoluted epics that are stridently, oppressively angst-ridden. Here is great art, superb action and a light touch which mark this series as a true classic. So, read this book and then all the rest….
© 1987, 1992, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Footrot Flats volume 1

By Murray Ball (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-85286-335-7

You may or may not have heard of Footrot Flats. Created by Murray Ball on his return to his homeland of New Zealand, it ran from 1975 to 1994 in newspapers on four continents, yet for one of the most successfully syndicated strips in the world, it seems to have passed from common memory with staggering rapidity.

Once the series concluded, Ball – whilst running his own farm – continued to release books of new material until 2000, resulting in a total of 27 daily strip collections, 8 volumes of Sunday pages and 5 pocket books, plus ancillary publications such as calendars.

There was a stage musical, a theme park and a truly superb animated film Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tail Tale.

A well-travelled wanderer, Murray Ball moved to England in the early 1960s, becoming a cartoonist for Punch as well as drawing (ostensibly) children’s strips for DC Thompson and Fleetway as well as a more adult-oriented strip in Labour Weekly. Eventually home called and the artist headed back South. Resettling in New Zealand in 1974, Ball became busier than ever.

He bought a smallholding on the North Island and farmed in his spare time (for anyone not brought up in the country, that last bit was “sarcasm”). This inevitably led to the strip in question. Taking the adage “write what you know” to startling heights, the peripatetic artist promptly gave up sleeping altogether to craft these wickedly funny yarns about an oaf and his dog, and I for one will be eternally grateful. You might be old enough to remember it being syndicated here in the Today newspaper…

Then again, you might not be old enough to remember newspapers.

Wallace Footrot Cadwallader is a big, bluff farmer. He’s a regular bloke, likes his food; loves his Rugby. He owns a small sheep farm (the eponymous Footrot Flats) best described as “400 acres of swamp between Ureweras and the Sea”.

With his chief – and only – hand Cooch Windgrass, and a sheepdog who calls himself “Dog” Wal makes a living and is his own boss. Dog is the star (and narrator) of most of the strips: a cool know-all and blowhard, he’s utterly devoted to his scruffy, no-nonsense master – unless there’s food about or Jess (the sheepdog bitch from down the road) is in heat again.

Dry, surreal and wonderfully self-deprecating, the humour comes from the perfectly realised characters – human and otherwise – the tough life of a bachelor farmer and especially the country itself.

The cartooning is absolutely top-rate. Ball is one of those gifted few who can actually draw funnily. When combined with his sharp, incisive writing the result is pure magic. But be warned. Ball can also break your heart with a few terse words and the right confection of tightly-inked lines.

I’m reviewing the 1990 Titan Books edition, but the same material is readily available from a number of publishers and retailers although none of the varied volumes are particularly cheap. If any cartoon feature ever needed compiling in a comprehensive digital edition it’s this superb series.

Until then, If I’ve convinced you to give the Dog a go, your favourite search engine will be all the help you need…

Go on. Fetch!
© 1990 Diogenes Designs Ltd. All rights reserved.

Spidey volume 1: First Day

By Robbie Thompson, Nick Bradshaw, André Lima Araújo & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9675-4

Since its earliest days the company now known as Marvel has always courted the youngest comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Tessie the Typist, Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are on the wane and, with the Marvel Universe’s characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics as painless as possible.

In the 1980s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and in 2003 the company created a Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and mixed it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time.

In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: First Day – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by looking back and succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey #1-6 (originally released from February to July 2016), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem commences with a fresh introduction to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourists Jim Campbell & Rachelle Rosenberg

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still (or rather once again) a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between classes. He’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media when he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor.

Not only is she the hottest girl in school but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

Things really kick off later, on a field trip to techno-industrial wonderland Oscorp, when a madman calling himself Doctor Octopus busts in and the neophyte Spider-Man is compelled to intervene and drive the maniac away.

That’s when uber-creepy Norman Osborn introduces himself to Peter, predicting big things for Peter…

The really smart trick in this series is that battles with other supervillains such as Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio are backdrop: referenced simply as having occurred in other moments, allowing Peter Parker’s life and character room to develop, with only new battles dictating how certain villainous players have evolved from standard Spider-Man mythology…

A month later Peter is still coming to terms with his double life when ‘Enter the Sandman’ finds him battling a grittily shapeshifting bank robber, after which New York is overrun by tiny reptiles as old ally Dr. Curt Connors is once again tragically transformed into the ravenous ravening Lizard

In Spidey #4 André Lima Araújo assumes the art duties with ‘Doomsday Off!’ as Peter stumbles into an art robbery. He might even have stopped the thief… if the bad guy hadn’t been Doctor Doom! Tracking down the ultimate villain does no good and Spidey is once again soundly thrashed, but after the Amazing Arachnid gets a pep talk from a little kid, he tries again and achieves a partial victory…

‘Dead End’ (with Java Tartaglia joining the colouring squad) sees the first inconclusive confrontation with a major nut job called the Green Goblin after which the ebullient effervescent escapades conclude with a first team-up in ‘Making the Grade’, as the mysterious Spider-Man intervenes when flying felon The Vulture burgles Stark Industries.

The Invincible Iron Man shows up but naturally gets the wrong idea – as does SHIELD agent Phil Coulson – before the situation is straightened out. One crisis over and feeling cocky, the very junior hero – smitten with Gwen Stacy – even asks the Armoured Avenger for dating tips but that doesn’t go so well…

Featuring a covers and variants gallery by Bradshaw, Lima Araújo, Skottie Young, Humbert Ramos & Edgar Delgado, Oliver Coipel, Julian Totino Tedesco and Gyimah Gariba, this a sublimely refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon offering an intriguing and certainly more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists

By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-80-7

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that famous personages from the past are exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this thoughtfully themed collection opens with another scene-setting chat from your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) before we get to know a serried selection of “dead brilliant scientists” in what might well be their very own – post-mortem – words…

In order of date of demise our funny, fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon interviews in a tutorial from ‘Aristotle: Philosopher 384-322BCE’, supplemented by an in-depth peek into the world-changer’s educational practices in ‘School of Life’ after which noted streaker ‘Archimedes: Mathematician 287-212BCE’ shares his version of the infamous “eureka moment” and ingenious military inventions. The most lethal of these then get special attention in sidebar feature ‘Calculated Aggression’.

Muslim scholar ‘Al-Haytham: Natural Philosopher 965-1040’ discusses his service with the Caliph of Egypt and discoveries in optical science, and his greatest invention is examined in follow-up feature ‘Camera Obscura’. Tragic Italian genius ‘Galileo Galilei: Astronomer 1564-1642’ recounts his star-gazing triumphs and the response of the Catholic Church – augmented by a rapturous spread depicting ‘Secrets of the Solar System’ – and a grossly misused scientific pioneer who founded the principles of entomology (before being written out of history by male historians and scientists) tells her story in ‘Maria Sibylla Merian: Entomologist 1647-1717’ and describes the linked ‘Circle of Life’ she discovered by observing caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies…

Noted egomaniac ‘Isaac Newton: Natural Philosopher 1642-1727’ has his say next, with ancillary features on ‘Laying Down the Laws’ and ‘Newton’s Three Laws of Motion’, culminating in the instructions on how to make ‘A Home-made Hovercraft’

‘Edward Jenner: Physician 1749-1823’ describes how his observations led to the eradication of smallpox (with the process broken down into grotesquely captivating ‘Vaccination Stations’) after which forgotten woman ‘Mary Anning: Palaeontologist 1799-1847’ reveals the true history of fossil hunting and evolutionary observation – including a quick tour of ‘The Jurassic World’ – before ‘Lovelace & Babbage: Mathematicians 1815-1852 & 1791-1871’ delves deep into the lives of computer visionaries Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, who devised calculating machines and systems long before science and engineering had the facilities to construct them. Unable to physically enjoy the fruits of their labour, the dead clever thinkers can at least play here with a modern version of ‘The Difference Engine’ since built to honour them at London’s Science Museum….

‘Von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist, Geographer, Etc… 1769-1859’ was a true Renaissance man and master of many disciplines, which he used in his five-year voyage of scientific discovery. As well as the 3500 species of flora and fauna he catalogued in one trip he also formulated the concept of ‘Habitat Zones’ (perfectly explained here in graphic terms following his “piece to camera”).

You may have heard of revolutionary medical reformer ‘James Barry: Doctor 1790s-1865’ but did you know that she was actually Margaret Anne Bulkey, a young woman who refused to let her gender hinder her dreams in an exclusively male-dominated world. Her innovations and changes in military hospitals saved millions of soldiers and civilians, and her influence is celebrated in sidebar feature ‘A History of Infection’. Meanwhile, the world-shattering observations of ‘Charles Darwin: Naturalist 1809-1882’ whilst aboard HMS Beagle are interpreted in the savant’s own individualist manner, with a follow-up detailing his theories through ‘Darwin’s Finches’.

Russian superstar ‘Dmitri Mendeleev: Chemist 1834-1907’ outlines his epic struggle to classify, decipher and order the elements, complete with a fully-updated version of his ‘Periodic Table’ before the profound discoveries – and their personal cost – of ‘Marie Curie: Chemist & Physicist 1867-1934’ bring us into the modern age of intellectual endeavour, via a chilling warning of the repercussions of her ‘Killer Research’.

Born a slave and self-taught, ‘George Washington Carver: Botanist & Inventor 1860s-1943’ transformed America and the world with his discoveries in Agriculture. His astounding life is précised here and validated in supplemental feature ‘Nuts About Nuts!’ sharing the secret of making peanut butter…

Apparently the closest thing to an actual Mad Scientist the world has ever known, ‘Nikola Tesla: Inventor 1856-1943’ tries to clear his name and reputation whilst latterly describing his battle with his greatest rival in ‘Edison vs Tesla in… the War of the Currents’ after which the Digital Age begins thanks to the efforts of ‘Alan Turing: Computer Scientist 1912-1954’. His wartime work with decoding and cipher chasing is then commemorated in ‘An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery’ giving us all a chance to tinker with our own (simplified) Enigma Machine…

Last Big Brain in the box, ‘Albert Einstein: Physicist 1879-1955’ then gleefully explains one of his most universally misunderstood theories and laments the misuse of his work through his own personal history and ends the scientific history lessons on a high note with another in ‘It’s All Relative…’

Smart, irreverent, funny and splendidly factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just consult with any of the clever cadavers in question…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2017. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists will be released on 7th September 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Tiny Titans volume 1: Welcome to the Treehouse

By Art Baltazar & Franco (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2207-5

The links between animated features and comicbooks are long established and I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just entertainment in the end…

For quite some time at the beginning of this century, DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and worked to consolidate that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and many other video favourites.

The kids’ comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of the publisher’s proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content.

Perhaps the line’s finest release was a series ostensibly aimed at early-readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily all mooshed up together, Tiny Titans became a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (all together now: “erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…”) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the far greater boutique of the mainstream comicbooks – and eventually the entire DC Universe – to little kids and their parents/guardians in a wholesome kindergarten environment.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with multi-layered in-jokes, sight-gags and the beloved yet gently mocked trappings and paraphernalia generations of strip readers and screen-watchers can never forget….

Collecting issues #1-6 (April-September 2008) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this debut volume begins after an as-standard identifying roll-call page at ‘Sidekick City Elementary’ where new Principal Mr. Slade is revealed to be not only Deathstroke the Terminator but also poor Rose’s dad! How embarrassing…

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with the assorted characters getting by and trying to make sense of the great big world while having “Adventures in Awesomeness” like Beast Boy getting a new pet and becoming Man’s Dog’s Best Friend’

The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

Back in class Robin and Kid Flash tease a fellow student in ‘Speedy Quiz’ even as ‘Meanwhile in Titans Tower’ (the treehouse of the title) finds Wonder Girl, Bumblebee, Raven and Starfire discussing whether to let Batgirl Barbara Gordon join their circle…

Later they all meet up and help scary blob Plasmus cope with an ice cream crisis but shocks still abound at school. Raven’s dad is an antlered crimson devil from another universe but his most upsetting aspect is as the class’ new substitute teacher!

Happily, however, at the treehouse the kids can forget their worries, as Wonder Girl Cassie’s new casual look – after initial resistance – wins many admirers among the boys…

The original comics were filled with activity pages, puzzles and pin-ups, so ‘Help Best Boy Find his Puppy Friend!’ and awesome group-shot ‘Awwwww Yeah Titans!!!’, offers an artistic break before the shenanigans resume with ‘Ow’ as new girl Terra persists in throwing rocks at the boys but knows just how to make friends with the girls…

Not so much for the little lads though: they’ve got into another confrontation with mean kids Fearsome Five. Is the only way to determine who wins to keep ‘Just a-Swingin’’ and ignore those bullies…?

After teeny-weeny Little Teen Titan Kid Devil finds a delicious new way to use his heat power, Beast Boy becomes besotted by Terra in ‘Shadows of Love’, even though his obvious affection makes him act like an animal. While ‘Easy Bake Cyborg’ saves the day at snack time, the lovesick green kid follows some foolish advice and transforms into a ‘Beast Boy of Steel’,

At least Kid Devil is making friends by providing ‘Charbroiled Goodness’ for a local food vendor, just as the Fearsome Five show up again…

Following a pin-up of the bad kids and a brainteaser to ‘Match the Tiny Titans to their Action Accessories!’ a new school day finds science teacher Doctor Light losing control in ‘Zoology 101’ thanks to Beast Boy’s quick changes, after which ‘Sidekick’s Superheroes’ debate status and origins whilst Rose’s ‘Li’l Bro Jericho’ causes chaos and closes school for the day.

When Robin brings some pals home Alfred the Butler is reluctant to let them check out the ‘Batcave Action Playset’. He should have listened to his suspicions: that way there wouldn’t be so much mess or so many penguins…

After Aqualad’s suggestion ‘Let’s Play: Find Fluffy!’ the Boy Wonder has a strange day, starting with ‘Robin and the Robins’ and culminating in a new costume. Before that though, you can see ‘Beast Boy at the Dentist’, Wonder Girl enduring a ‘Babysittin’ Baby Makeover’, meet ‘Beast Boy’s Prize’ and experience hair gone wild in ‘Do the ‘Do’’.

Eventually, though, ‘It’s a Nightwing Thing’ revisits the exotic yesteryears of disco mania as Robin’s new outfit debuts to mixed reviews and reactions…

Once done testing your skill with the ‘Tiny Titans Match Game!’ and admiring a ‘Little Tiny Titans Bonus Pin-up’ there are big thrills in store when ‘Playground Invaders’ introduces annoying Titans from the East side of the communal games area…

Sadly, the Fearsome Five are still around to tease the former Robin in ‘Nightwing on Rye’ even whilst continuing epic ‘Enigma and Speedy’ sees the Boy Bowman trapped in a very one-sided battle of wits with the Riddler’s daughter…

Robin’s costume crisis continues to confuse in ‘May We Take a Bat-Message?’, resulting in a kid capitulation and ‘Back to Basics’ approach to the old look, after which ‘Tiny Titans Joke Time!’ and a ‘Tiny Titans East Bonus Pin-up’ segues neatly into ‘Meet Ya, Greet Ya’ with newcomers Supergirl and Blue Beetle turning up just ahead of a host of wannabee Titans (Power Boy, Zatara, Vulcan Jr., Hawk & Dove, Li’l Barda and Lagoon Boy)…

With the riotous regulars away camping, Raven opens her eyes to a potential daybreak disaster as ‘Home with the Trigons’ finds her dressed by her dad for a change. Meanwhile, ‘Let’s Do Lunch’ finds Blue Beetle losing a very public argument with his backpack and when the kids bring their super-animal pals in, it all goes horribly wrong. At least they decide that the “First Rule of Pet Club is: We Don’t Talk About Pet Club”…

This insanely addictive initial collection then wraps up with visual and word puzzles ‘How Many Beast Boy Alpacas Can You Count?’ and ‘Blue Beetle Backpack Language Translation!’, a huge and inclusive Pin-up of ‘The Tiny Titans of Sidekick City Elementary’ and a hilarious ‘Tiny Titans “Growth Chart”’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts or The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in pure American comic-bookery – are outrageously unforgettable yarns and gags no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating.
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Adventures: Sheriff of Bullet Valley (Gladstone Comic Album #5)

By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-04-4

From the 1940’s until the mid-1960s Carl Barks worked in productive seclusion, writing and drawing a brilliantly timeless treasure trove of comedic adventure yarns for kids, building a splendidly accessible Duck Universe filled with memorable – and highly bankable – stars such as Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Gladstone Gander, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose and Magica De Spell to augment the stable of cartoon properties from the Disney Studio. His most exciting works inevitably involved the rowdy, know-it-all nephews of Donald Duck: Huey, Dewey and Louie.

Although catalysts of comedic chaos in other situations when the mallard miser was around, the devilishly downy ducklings’ usual assigned roles were as smartly sensible, precocious and a just a little bit snotty kid-counterfoils to their “unca”, whose irascible nature caused him to act like an overgrown brat most of the time.

Nevertheless, all too often the kids reverted to type and fell prey to a perpetual temptation to raise a ruckus…

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing Barks material and a selection of other Disney comics strips in the late 1980s and this – still readily available – paperback album is another of the very best.

Whilst producing all that landmark comics material Barks was just a working guy, drawing unforgettable covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when necessary and infallibly contributing perfectly formed tales to the burgeoning canon of Donald Duck and other Big Screen characters. Barks’ output was incredible both in terms of quantity and especially in its unfailingly high quality.

Printed in the large European oversized format (278 x 223mm), this terrific tome reprints the lead tale from Dell Four Color Comics Series II #199 (October 1948) and draws much of its unflagging energy and trenchant whimsy from Barks’ own love of cowboy fiction – albeit seductively tempered with his self-deprecatory sense of absurdist humour. For example, a wanted poster on the jailhouse wall portrays the artist himself and offers the princely sum of $1000 and 50¢ for his inevitable capture…

Titular lead Donald Duck is also an expert on the Wild West – after all, he’s seen all the movies – so when he and the boys drive through scenic Bullet Valley, a wanted poster catches his eye and his imagination.

Soon he’s signed up and sworn in as a doughty deputy, determined to catch the rustlers who have been plaguing the locals. Unfortunately for him, the good old days never really existed and today’s bandits use radios, trucks and tommy-guns to achieve their nefarious ends. Can Donald’s impetuous boldness and the nephews’ collective brains and Junior Woodchuck training defeat the ruthless high-tech raiders?

Of course they can…

Also included here is a delightful comedy of farmyard errors from Daisy Duck’s Diary (Dell Four Color Comics Series II, #1150 December 1960), pitting the well-meaning old fussbudget against luck-drenched Gladstone Gander and consequently suffering from ‘Too Much Help’.

Donald and the nephews then return, finding themselves at odds with the self-same fowl of fabulous good-fortune in an untitled yarn from Walt Disney Comics & Stories #212 (May 1958), wherein our hard-luck hero and Gladstone race around the world in rocket-ships, cheerfully provided courtesy of that feathered modern Edison Gyro Gearloose. The diminutive ducky lads can only watch in nervous anticipation of inescapable disaster catching up to the feuding “adults”…

Even if you can’t find this specific volume (and trust me, you’ll be glad if you do) Barks’ work is now readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets and every one of his works is well worth reading. No matter what your age or temperament, if you’ve never experienced his captivating magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine.

Always remember, a fan’s got to do what a fan’s got to do…
© 1988, 1960, 1958, 1948 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.