The Shadow volume 3: The Light of the World


By Chris Roberson, Giovanni Timpano & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-461-9

In the early 1930s, The Shadow gave thrill-starved Americans their measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced pulp periodical novels, and over the mood-drenched airwaves through his own radio show.

“Pulps” were published in every style and genre in their hundreds every month, ranging from the truly excellent to the pitifully dire, but for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two stars who outshone all others. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier dark, relentless creature of the night dispensing terrifying grim justice was the putative hero under discussion here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante. After the runaway success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman, Howard Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage feature for an audience at last acknowledged as grown-up enough to handle more sophisticated fare.

This led to further, adult-oriented iterations (and even one cracking outing – Hitler’s Astrologer – from Marvel) before Dark Horse assumed the license of the quintessential grim avenger for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

Dynamite Entertainment secured the option in 2011 and, whilst reissuing much of those other publishers’ earlier efforts, began a series of new monthly Shadow comics.

Set in the turbulent 1930s and war years that followed, these were crafted by some of the top writers in the industry, each taking their shot at the immortal legend, and all winningly depicted by a succession of extremely gifted illustrators.

This third volume – collecting #13-18 of the monthly comicbook from 2013 – comes courtesy of author Chris Roberson (House of Mystery, iZombie, Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, Superman/Batman) and illustrator Giovanni Timpano, ably abetted by colourist Fabrício Guerra and letterer Rob Steen. This time the Master of the Dark prowls the bloody streets of New York in search of a fantastic vigilante as deadly and remorseless as himself…

The drama begins as yet another rich, powerful man is butchered whilst secretly indulging in sordid pleasures of the flesh. The perpetrator is rumoured to be a ghostly, sword-wielding “lady phantom”…

Very few know that the black-cloaked fist of final retribution known as The Shadow masquerades by day as abrasive, indolent playboy Lamont Cranston. Most are agents in his employ: all aware of his semi-mystical abilities to detect thoughts and cloud the minds of men. They are about to learn that there are other beings blessed with uncanny abilities, relentless determination and unshakeable agendas…

Cranston and his paramour/top operative Margo Lane begin their investigations at the prestigious Cobalt Club: pumping the wealthy patrons and Police Commissioner Weston in the guise of idle gossip-mongering and scandal-seeking…

The authorities, it seems, give little credence to the testimony of prostitutes – the only survivors of the attacks – and have dismissed reports of a vengeful woman as sole perpetrator. The Shadow’s operatives are far more astute and less prejudiced: information is gathered and soon after the Dispenser of Vengeance is on hand when the woman in white confronts her next victim…

As the first of a series of poignant flashbacks begins to reveal the secret of the bizarrely radiant swordswoman, in the modern moment of her confrontation with The Shadow, the Master of Men quickly realises this seeming angel of death is every inch his equal in the arts of combat. In fact, her ability to cast a blinding glow might well give her the edge…

After a brutal duel he manages to drive her off before she can finish off her latest victim, but, before he or the police can get any useful information from the survivor, the maimed man is silently butchered in his locked and guarded hospital room…

And thus the war between light and darkness progresses with The Shadow losing battles but gradually winning the war: inexorably closing in on The Light by pitting all his resources and risking his greatest assets to trap his glowing antithesis who works for the most pure, if misguided, of causes…

Dynamite publishes periodicals with a vast array of cover variants and here that gallery features a wealth of iconic alternate visions by Alex Ross, Francesco Francavilla, Tim Bradstreet, Paolo Rivera and Jason Shawn Alexander to delight any art lover’s eyes and heart.

Moody and brooding, The Light of the World is a solid pulp thriller with an intriguing history and premise for its “player on the other side” scenario, plenty of action and a spectacular cinematic climax at the top of New York’s steel-&-concrete canyons…

This is another superb addition to the annals of the original Dark Knight, and one no one addicted to action and mystery should miss.
The Shadow ® & © 2013 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast. All Rights Reserved.

America Gone Wild! – Cartoons by Ted Rall


By Ted Rall (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978- 0-7407-6045-7

You might have seen this quote before. Doesn’t mean it’s not still true…

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow.

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been scurrilous, impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all iniquities: pictorially haranguing the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Sometimes these artists have been just plain mean…

The cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

For this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds a pictorial gadfly’s mill. That’s never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

Frederick Theodore Rall III is interested and engaged and knows the risks.

Born in 1963, he is a respected and despised columnist, freelance editorial cartoonist, graphic novelist and war correspondent who homes in like a laser-sight on social ills, cultural stupidity and the venality of power elites – celebrities, businesses, organisations, religions and especially political demagogues. He is always accused of being a Liberal, and always hated (and probably feared) by whoever is in Office at the time…

Although his work has been seen in numerous publications such as Rolling Stone, Time, Fortune and the New York Times, this particular collection features cartoon panels and strips taken from a range of syndicated sources as well as publications such as the Charleston City Paper, Gear, Men’s Health, The Village Voice and Mad magazine amongst others: all crafted during the last Republican incumbency: a time of madness, war, terror, torture, hypocrisy and sheer greed.

It’s an era the new American president promises to in large part restore…

This sublime Weapon of Mass Deliberation comes as square, monochrome paperback (224 x 224 mm) and variable-sized eBook (now that’s democracy for you!) fronted by an evocative Foreword from our own pen-pushing one-man protest movement Steve Bell before Rall’s Prefaceincluding a Behind the Scenes Look at my Most Controversial Cartoons – offers background, context, reasons for his artistic decisions.

This includes intimate details and a truly terrifying selection of death threats, internet abuse messages and apologies from folks who were enraged at Rall’s screed du jour. Other inclusions show that many thought they were mad at him only to discover how they’d been misled, massaged or merely lied to by the mainstream commercial news outlets.  Surely not…?

Ted Rall pulls no punches and that attitude has won him a raft of awards, the loathing of fanatics of every stripe and persuasion plus lots of apologies whenever his peculiar passion – seeing all sides of issues which are almost never binary equations – is finally accepted by a public which usually only hears about his cartoons from agenda-based media outlets such as Fox News or New York Daily News.

This collection actually lets you see what trolls, drones and professional complainers are so disgracefully quick to react to: representing some of Rall’s most potent, memorable and effective graphic broadsides and strip scalpel-slashes from the war years of the G. W. Bush Administration. These include but are far from restricted to pithy exposés of media-hungry ‘Terror Widows’, ruminations over ‘The War on Judgment’ and explanation of resource-management in ‘Here’s Where We’ll get More Troops’

Some of the compulsive commentator’s most life-endangering panels are included here too. ‘Reagan in Hell’ generated an appalling storm of poison for the artist, as did ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabinet or, Black Man’s Burden’ and ‘Appropriate Punishments for Deposed Bushists’, but the most important thing to remember throughout this collection is that the picture and words result from genuine concern from a very smart, talented and INFORMED individual who actually bothers to check facts before sounding off…

Also making this final cut are such slyly fervent strips as ‘Free Speech Maniacs’, ‘Just Get Over It!’, ‘Let’s Meet Other Heroic Government Workers’, ‘Proxy Politics’, ‘Republicans on the Rampage!’, ‘Why we Spy on Americans Instead’ and ‘Ordnance sans Frontières’; satirical assaults like ‘Special Privileges for Blacks’, ‘Society at a Glance’, ‘The Left Gets Organized’, ‘Jury Selection Made E-Z’ and ‘Understanding Editorial Cartoons’ as well as less-emotionally charged, surreal snipes and contemporary cultural critiques including ‘Enroll in School of Bodily Fluid Arts’, ‘Jihad Slacker’, ‘Sometimes Love is Not Enough’ and ‘Freedom Marches On’

Presumably just to prove he’s not always proselytising, there are also splendid selections of comics on life-style, work and relationships from Men’s Health and outrageously strange strips from Mad focusing on high school (7 Periods) and superheroes (The Adventures of Fantabulaman) to keep you laughing when you’re not shouting or crying.

This is a superb slice of “Look Back in Anger” by an immensely talented proponent of the art, dedicated to the most revered principles of cartoon dissent and journalistic calling-to-account. His recent stuff is even better. As a new era dawned in US politics he released a “manifesto to topple Trumpism”. I can’t wait to see that as a graphic novel…
© 2006 Ted Rall. All rights reserved.

James Bond™ volume 1: VARGR


By Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, Guy Major & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-901-0

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel.

There are also some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never really found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is just one of the most recent, compiling the first six issues of a regular comicbook series from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment and quite possibly one of the top ten Bond adventures ever seen in any medium…

Dumping the decades of gaudy paraphernalia that’s grown around the brand, writer Warren Ellis, illustrator Jason Masters, colourist Guy Major and letterer Simon Bowland have opted for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

It begins after Bond’s return from a personal mission to Helsinki which culminated in the elimination of the assassin who recently killed 008. On returning to MI6, however, the infallible agent is carpeted by M.

With motions in progress to close the Double-O department, Bond is given a simple assignment: “dissuading” a small European drug dealer from distributing his latest recreational designer dope in the United Kingdom.

Of course, no job is ever simple…

The first snag is a new Home Office ruling depriving Bond of his gun whilst within British borders, but at least Q has few treats for him to use once he’s touched down on foreign soil…

Following an impromptu briefing on his contact – the Intel has come via a CIA informant used by old comrade Felix Leiter, so at least that’s reliable – Bond jets off for Berlin Station, only to narrowly escape being murdered by impossibly strong impostor-agent Dharma Reach as soon as he gets out of the airport…

Taking the near-miss in stride, 007 swiftly starts his surveillance by meeting the CIA’s asset, Serbian geneticist and medical pioneer Slaven Kurjak, who has been making astounding breakthroughs in both pharmaceuticals and powered prostheses.

The exceedingly eccentric doctor puts him on the trail of a minor local gang with a new method of processing cocaine, so Bond sets off on the trail of his new target, resolute but clearly suspicious…

Meanwhile in London, drug addicts begin exhibiting strange, horrific and ultimately fatal side-effects after their latest scores…

Kurjac obviously has his own agenda, but the methodical Bond opts to investigate this disquieting informant’s “information” first and is soon in the fight of his life after stumbling into a major drugs operation run by the huge Al-Zein cartel.

On returning – shaken, stirred but largely intact – to the MI6 office, he’s intercepted by Slaven’s most dangerous guinea pig Mr. Masters, moments after the chemically-corrupted killer has depopulated the entire Berlin Station. Attempts to lure Bond into a fresh trap have been anticipated, however, and 007 is more than ready when the killer makes his move. Masters’ agonised last words to Bond are “Vargr. Please. Vargr”…

A frustrating confrontation with Kurjac then reveals the shocking truth about the crazy doctor’s hideous plans for the tainted drugs on Britain’s streets, but ends with apparent defeat and Bond stuck in a seemingly inescapable death-trap…

Through his usual blend of ingenuity and inspired insanity Bond survives and returns to London for debriefing but is again ambushed by Dharma Reach. She inadvertently provides a clue to her boss’ whereabouts before explosively expiring…

With a clear target and destination – and determined to end the bloody shambles at any cost – Bond heads to Norway and a final confrontation with Kurjak. The resolution to the mystery of Vargr is cataclysmic and incomprehensibly bloody…

With a gallery of covers by Dom Reardon and 22 variants from Masters, Glenn Fabry, Francesco Francavilla, Gabriel Hardman, Jock, Stephen Mooney, Dan Panosian, Joe Jusko, Aaron Campbell, Timothy Lim, Dennis Calero, Robert Hack and Ben Oliver plus Concept Art from Masters featuring character designs and model sheets, this elegant espionage episode is fast, furious, dryly witty, superbly smart and impeccably stylish: in short, the perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2016 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Lighthouse


By Paco Roca, translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-056-0

Francisco Martínez Roca was born in Valencia in 1969: a time when Franco’s fascist government still controlled every aspect of Spanish life. Roca was part of an artistic explosion that benefited from the dictator’s death and a return to liberalising democracy, with his earliest efforts appearing in La Cupula in 1994. As Paco Roca, he contributed (with Rafa Fonteriz) erotic strips starring Peter Pan and Aladdin to Kiss Comics and with Juan Miguel Aguilera devised experimental 3D series ‘Road Cartoons’ for El Vibora.

His earliest serious works dealt with aspects of Spanish culture and history (El Juego Lúgubre in 2001 – his fictional yarn about Salvador Dali – and 2004’s Spanish Civil War tale El Faro).

These were followed by internationally acclaimed works Hijos de la Alhambra and 2007’s multi-award winning Wrinkles, which was adapted into an equally celebrated and critically-rewarded animated movie.

More astounding stuff you’ll definitely want to see includes Las Callas de Arena (Streets of Sand) and semi-autobiographical Sunday strip Memorias de un hombre en pyjama from newspaper Las Provincias or El invierno del dibujante, about comic creators working for the Bruguera magazine Tio Vivo in the 1950s.

When not astonishing folk with his mastery of graphic narrative and understanding of human nature, Roca can be found making animated films and hosting his own radio show in Valencia.

After the success of Wrinkles it was only a matter of time before his other works started being translated into English, so bravo to NBM for picking up this sublime and elegiacally esoteric little gem…

The Lighthouse is a digest-sized (234 x 157 mm) duotone hardback – or eBook if you’re digitally inclined – which magically celebrates the solace of imagination and recaptures the hope of liberation in a beguiling black, blue and white wave of perfectly sculpted images.

As the Civil War staggers to its end, wounded Francisco flees for his life. The victorious fascistas are gathering up the defeated foe and the wounded youngster has no intention of being interned or worse.

After a bloody and eventful flight, he makes it to the coast and after passing out finds himself bandaged and rested in someone’s bed. He is in a lighthouse, crammed with fascinating remnants and artefacts…

After some cautious poking about, he finally finds a garrulous old lighthouse keeper on the beach, joyously hauling ashore flotsam, jetsam and assorted treasures torn from unfortunate vessels during the last storm.

Telmo is a jolly giant, constantly quoting from his favourite books about the sea, although Francisco – a soldier since he was sixteen – barely understands what the old man is talking about…

The old man’s good humour is infectious and gradually even infects battle-scarred Francisco. Soon the boy-soldier is helping the incessantly cheerful senior maintain the great lamp and sharing his only anxiety, about when – if ever – the light will shine again. The government have been promising a new bulb for years and Telmo is convinced now peace reigns again, that moment will be any day now…

To pass the days the old man combs the beaches for useful finds and tends to his special project: building a fabulous boat to carry him across the waters to the impossibly wonderful island of Laputa

Gradually sullen Francisco – perpetually bombarded by the lighthouse keeper’s wondrous stories – loosens up and begins to share Telmo’s self-appointed tasks and dreams, but that all ends when the boy finds a letter and accidentally uncovers a web of lies…

However, just when the idyllic relationship seems destined to founder on the rocks of tawdry truth, the tirelessly-searching soldiers arrive and a tragic sacrifice in service of those endangered once-shared dreams is required…

A potently powerful tale delivered with deceptive gentleness and beguiling grace, The Lighthouse is both poignantly moving and rapturously uplifting: supplemented here by a lengthy prose postscript.

Roca’s ‘The Eternal Rewrite’ – packed with illustrations, model sheets, sketches and production art – reveals how the author is afflicted with Post-Release Meddling Syndrome, constantly editing, amending and reworking bits of his many publications, each time a new or fresh foreign edition is announced.

This short, sweet story about stories and imagination is a true delight and would be the perfect introduction for anyone still resistant to the idea of comics narrative as meaningful art form… or just read it yourself for the sheer wonder of it.
© 2004, 2009 Paco Roca. © 2014 Astiberri for the present edition. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

The Lighthouse will be published on February 17th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Valiant Masters: Shadowman volume 1: Spirits Within


By Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart, Bob Hall, Faye Perozich, Seaborn Adamson, Steve Ditko, David Lapham, Don Perlin, Mark Moretti, Jose Delbo & various (Valiant)
ISBN: 978-1-939346-01-8

The 1990s were a slow period in terms of comics creativity: the industry had become infested with collector/investors and was increasingly market-led, with spin-offs, fad-chasing, shiny gimmicks and multiple-covers events replacing imagination and good story-telling in far too many places.

One notable exception was a little outfit with some big names that clearly prized the merits of well-told stories illustrated by artists immune to the latest mis-proportioned, scratchy poseur styles, but one with enough business sense to play the industry at its own game.

Eschewing most of the more crass profiteering stunts Valiant Comics revived some old characters and proved once more that the basics never go out of fashion. As Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter had made Marvel the most profitable and high-profile they had ever been, and after his departure he used that writing skill and business acumen to transform some almost forgotten Silver-Age characters into contemporary gold.

Western Publishing had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed titles with a few home-grown heroes like Brain Boy, Turok, Son of Stone and M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War (created by Wally Wood). The company’s most notable stars were Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom and Russ Manning’s magnificent science fiction cautionary tale Magnus, Robot Fighter. When the parent company closed its original comic division in 1984 these masterful sagas vanished but never faded from comic fans’ collective memory.

As the 1990s opened – and with a licensed agreement to resurrect some, any or all of these four-colour veterans – Shooter and co-conspirator Bob Layton came to a bold decision and made those earlier adventures part-and-parcel of their refit: acutely aware that old fans don’t like having their childhood favourites bastardized, and that revivals need all the support they can get.

Thus the old days were canonical: they “happened” and the new company was off and running with an intrigued and interested older fan-base already in place. Hit after hit followed and the pantheon of heroes expanded until dire market conditions and corporate chicanery ended the company’s stellar expansion just before the century closed.

Valiant fractionated and disappeared. It and its string of captivating creations have come and gone many times since then. The characters are currently divided between numerous publishers…

A new Valiant emerged in 2012 and, as well as offering all new adventures of many of its venerable stable of stars, the company have been systematically republishing the original back-catalogue in a series of Valiant Masters trade paperback/eBook collections.

During the heyday of the early ‘90s Shooter and his team of upstarts were not content to simply revive and retrofit past glories. Once the older properties were firmly established, a legion of new characters was gradually added to the pantheon. One such was a voodoo-tainted, New Orleans-based wild man/daredevil named Jack Boniface

Here – following an informative Foreword from writer/artist Bob Hall – the sagas from Shadowman #1-7 (May-November 1992) are re-presented; preceded by the crucial contents of Shadowman #0 which were initially revealed in April 1994.

In ‘Shadowmen’ Bob Hall & inker Tom Ryder recap the origins of Boniface before plunging back in time to 1875 where necromancer Anton Quigley shared too much of his arcane knowledge with his disciple Darque

When Quigley later clashed with New Orleans gambler Maxim St. James, the mere mortal was murdered but revived by voodoo priestess Anjenetta who merged him with the power of the Loa as a Shadowman. Back from the grave and permanently furious, Maxim pursued his vengeance against Quigley even as the sorcerer demanded Darque surrender his adored sister Sandria to the demand of his master’s magic…

In the violent clash that followed, Quigley was destroyed whilst Darque ascended to a position of unassailable dominance, despite every effort of Nettie and Maxim to stop him. Over the intervening decades, Maxim was lost and the war stalled until the voodoo woman decided it was time to call forth another Shadowman…

After a truly seminal cameo in X-O Manowar #4 (not included here), musician Jack Boniface was properly introduced in 1992 in his own title. Shadowman premiered with ‘Jazz’, written by Shooter and Steve Englehart, illustrated by David Lapham and Joe Rubinstein.

The credits are a lot more complex that they might appear. Shooter famously used a communal brainstorming system to create characters and stories. The full credits for this collection read Plotters: Englehart, Shooter, Steve Ditko, David Lapham, Mark Moretti & Don Perlin; Writers: Englehart, Bob Hall, Faye Perozich, Shooter; Pencillers: Ditko, Lapham, Moretti and Inkers Charles Barnett III, Gonzalo Mayo, Rubinstein & Tom Ryder – and don’t get me started on the platoon of colourists, letterers and production people…

Boniface was a struggling session saxophonist trying to strike it rich in the Big Easy when he was seduced by Lydia, a mysterious woman he picked up in a club. Her sinister, trysting assault left him unconscious, amnesiac and forever altered by a bite to his neck. Unknown to Jack, she was an agent of the Spider Aliens who formed a covert keystone of the Valiant Universe, preying on humanity for millennia and indirectly responsible for creating many of the paranormal humans who secretly inhabit the world.

Alone in the morning light, Boniface discovered Lydia’s home was filled with half-digested corpses. Clearly he was intended as her next meal – but now has no idea how he survived or where she went. He cannot conceive of how much her bite has altered him…

Jack flees but later, as darkness falls, he feels agitated, restless, aggressive…

Roaming the streets he finds himself drawn back to Lydia’s home and stumbles upon a voodoo sacrifice. Attacked by the officiating priest the once-docile musician dons a Mardi Gras mask found at his feet and fights back with brutal abandon. Lydia has somehow turned him into a violent driven maniac, hungry for conflict – but only when the sun goes down…

In ‘Spirits Within’ (Perozich, Shooter, Lapham & Ryder) Jack’s own hunger for answers takes him to experts in both medicine and Obeah magic before his Shadowman self drags him into a confrontation with a Bayou axe murderer, whilst ‘The Beast and the Children’ (Perozich, Moretti & Barnett III) finds the increasingly off the rails music-man tackling mobsters and hit-men before destroying a well-connected super-powered child abuser.

With his heroic credentials fully established, issue #4 plunged Jack into the company’s first mega-crossover event. Unity gathered all Valiant’s disparate heroes – and many villains – in a timeless dimension where dinosaurs and cavemen existed side by side, fighting an endless war against quantum powered threat Mothergod until the trapped warriors could all get back to their times and places…

‘Sunburn’ by Lapham, Shooter, Perozich, Ryder & Maria Beccari saw Shadowman drawn to the Lost Land via a mystic tree deep in the bayou and made an unwilling spectator to the cosmic struggle. He forms a relationship with one of Mothergod’s warriors and is incinerated when the queen’s nemesis Solar attacks…

Futuristic super-science rebuilds Boniface in ‘No Love Lost’ (Lapham, Shooter, Layton, Paul Autio & Beccari) but he soon realises he might be fighting on the wrong side of this insane eternal war…

Frustratingly, the resolution of Unity is not included here but there’s a big change in Shadowman when he finally gets back to New Orleans. It’s not so much that Jack fell in love and lost his adored Elya, but rather that whilst in the temporal aberration he learned exactly when Jack Boniface would die…

Written by Shooter, Ditko, Don Perlin. Moretti and Hall with art by Ditko, Moretti and Gonzalo Mayo, ‘The Family That Slays Together’ pits Shadowman against a murderous clan of degenerate swamp-dwellers stealing women and children from local communities.

Bitter, merciless and now completely reckless since he believes he cannot die until his time is officially up, Shadowman is a relentless, remorseless, punishing force of nature. What a pity Jack Boniface is a helpless witness to every atrocity his night-self commits…

Hall, Jose Delbo, Don Perlin & John Dixon close out this section with ‘Run for your Death’ as the King of Shadows battles drug dealers and encounters ordinary citizens driven to commit blasphemous crimes for a mystery mastermind. He doesn’t know it yet, but the latest Shadowman is about to meet a very old enemy for the first time…

Also included in this introductory tome is text essay Darque Passages (from the January 1994 one-shot of the same name wherein writer Seaborn Adamson and an army of illustrators trace the Byzantine history and influence of the Valiant Universe’s ultimate villain), followed by a gallery of original art samples by Lapham, Ryder, Beccari & Autio, and concept sketches by Hall.

Combining the best elements of conflicted lone vigilantes and dark avengers such as Batman and Daredevil with an exotic locale and traditional horror elements, Shadowman offers a tense, unsettling counterpoint to the super-science and shining heroism of Valiant’s other titles, and despite the committee-like nature of its creation still delivers heaping helpings of moody mystery and arcane excitement. Well worth a moment of your time in your favourite darkened reading nook…
© 2013 Valiant Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Zorro: Matanzas


By Don McGregor, Mike Mayhew, Sam Parsons & John Costanza (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-147-2

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 for a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in All-Story Weekly for August 6th, running until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the serial in All-Story on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure as the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961), the ongoing comicbook series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it. The media corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This series and later iterations also resulted in comics and strips all over Europe from Disney and Marvel in the USA. During the 1990s, Topps Comics spearheaded Zorro’s return courtesy of Don McGregor & Mike Mayhew which led to a short-lived newspaper strip (illustrated by Thomas Yeates) and also incidentally and memorably introducing a salacious “bad-girl” sidekick in the unwisely-clad form of Lady Rawhide

And there were more movies, this time with an actual Spaniard playing the lead role (Antonio Banderas, in case you were wondering…)

In 2008 Dynamite Entertainment reintroduced the Fox in new yarns by Matt Wagner and as part of the package excavated this lost tale from the Topps iteration: an unpublished adventure by McGregor & Mayhew, with colours by Sam Parsons and letters by industry veteran John Costanza.

Zorro: Mantanzas has a chequered history. Part of a longer storyline begun during McGregor & Mayhew’s run on the Topps Comic in the 1990s, the tale was only completed in 2010 for the Dynamite run and released as 4-issue miniseries before being collected as a trade paperback and later an eBook. For all that, however, the lost episode offers a passionate and sophisticated portrayal of the quintessential champion risking his own security and happiness to thwart a macabre and complex villain: a struggle rendered even more appealing by the magnificent illustration of Mayhew and Parsons.

For the uninitiated: Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a grand house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Señor Zorro (the Fox) to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of a succession of military leaders and the colonial Governor determined to milk the populace of the growing township of Los Angeles for all they had.

Whenever Zorro struck he left his mark – a letter “Z” carved into walls, doors, faces…

Diego has a whole support structure in place. Although in this iteration his stiff-necked Hildalgo father is unaware of his double life the secret hero has a number of assistants who do. The most important is Bernardo (a deaf-mute manservant) and Jose of the Cocopahs – a native chief who often acts as stableman, decoy and body-double for the Masked Avenger. Diego also occasionally employs a retired, reformed one-eyed pirate named Bardoso to act as his spy amongst townsfolk and outlaws…

The settlement is basking in unaccustomed liberty after Zorro’s overthrow of the military governor, unaware that their new Regency Administrator Lucien Machete is a sadistic fiend with a nasty line in prosthetic weapons nursing a rabid grudge against Zorro – the man who made his replacement limb necessary…

The villain has struck up a friendship with Diego’s father Don Alejandro; an increasingly frustrated grandee who finds his son’s unseemly and unmanly behaviour more and more inexplicable and intolerable.

Infuriatingly, Machete is not talking advantage of the familial rift as ploy; he just likes the old man whilst despising his foppish son, blithely oblivious that the soft poltroon is the black-clad avenger who has thwarted his previous malevolent depredations…

Zorro knows – but cannot prove – that Machete’s credentials are forged and his claims to act as the Spanish King’s official representative are false. The Fox urgently seeks to expose the impostor before whatever vile plot he fosters can be completed. Thus he cannot let anything distract him…

The drama unfolds after Don Alejandro and Lucien attend the Matanza: an annual festival where the young men show off their strength and manhood by ceremonially butchering cattle and other livestock in a gory display of horsemanship and bloodletting. Diego has naturally declined to attend or participate, preferring to surreptitiously watch Machete.

He is wise to do so, for the maniac has malicious plans to sabotage the event with a new addition to his arm’s arsenal…

Taking up position above the killing grounds, Zorro and Bernardo have a perfect position to observe proceedings but their keen surveillance is disrupted by a huge bear attracted to the site by the smell of blood.

Its attack is devastating and leaves the secret champions battling for their lives. By the time they can again turn their attention to the Matanza, Lucien has done his dirty work: good men are dead or maimed and an horrific stampede is underway. Moreover, in the chaos personal tragedy has struck at the De La Vega household and Machete seems to be getting away with murder again, whilst El Zorro is painted as the blackest of monsters…

A simple tell well-told and lavishly illustrated, Zorro: Matanzas is packed with spectacular action and diabolical intrigue in the grand manner and incidentally offers a potted origin and discreet peek at the fabulous subterranean citadel covertly crafted by Diego and Bernardo to facilitate the Fox’s war on injustice.

Although more incident than main feature, this is a blistering romp every lover of human-scaled adventure will adore…
Zorro®: Matanzas, Volume One © 2014 Zorro Productions, Inc. All rights Reserved.

Snow


By Benjamin Rivers (Benjamin Rivers Inc.)
ISBN: 978-0-9813495-8-9

Life isn’t drama. Life is ordinary: dull, repetitive, anxiety-provoking, tedious, unsatisfactory and just a bit less good than everybody else’s.

Until it isn’t…

And then we make it a story. In a story you can mould reality into a shape you like and polish it to your own satisfaction. Then again, there are some stories which like to bend their own rules and aspire to being life-like…

If you’re a fan of high-tension thrillers or blockbuster epics, there doesn’t appear to be much going on in Snow: a miniseries-turned-graphic compilation detailing the overlapping and intersection of ordinary people living and/or working on Queen Street West, Toronto.

However, that either means you have a very glamorous lifestyle or you spend too much time submerged in fiction and not enough looking and listening to what’s going on around you…

Crafted by illustrator and games developer Benjamin Rivers (who somewhat shoots my argument in the foot by having turned this comics collation into both an Indy movie and computer game), Snow is delivered in stark, monochrome simplicity, centring on Dana, a rather nervous young woman who works in a bookstore.

Economically, times are tough and she’s fixating on the number of shops and businesses that are closing in the locality.

Dana doesn’t like change and she doesn’t like confrontation.

However, these days there’s an aura of tension everywhere – even in her former comfort zone at the store. Her co-workers are mostly ok, but old Mr. Abberline isn’t looking well and Dana can’t shift the suspicion that soon they’ll all be looking for new jobs. Even best friend Julia doesn’t get it though: it seems so easy for her to shut out such concerns and just party…

As she trudges along snowbound Queen Street to work and back, to the bar or the Laundromat, Dana can’t shift an oppressive sense of impending doom. Things come to a head abruptly when she overhears an argument in a closing-down, already shuttered CD store.

She can just about ignore that and go home, but after hearing a gunshot, Dana, in her unrushed, gradual manner, abandons the instincts of a lifetime and goes to investigate…

What she finds on entering the shop is the trigger to remaking her entire life, but change is so hard and so comes so painfully slowly…

Appearing cautious and careful, this deceptively simple and elegant saga offers a supremely understated exploration of how folk like you and me react to a shocking event and its aftermath: treating the extraordinary with the dismay and respect it deserves when it impinges on real lives.

Most importantly, just like life, although there are always questions asked, we seldom get all the answers we want or need before, in the end, life goes on…

Amongst the Bonus Material included here is the movie poster for the film adaptation, annotated creator’s notes and sketches, concept-&-character designs, an examination of the drawing process which resulted in the book’s signature visual style and the author’s reminiscent Afterword: Is It Still Snowing?, as well as a handy street guide and map of the ‘The World of Snow’.

Just like life, Snow is better experienced than fed to you second-hand or reprocessed, so please read this graphic novel if you’re looking for something a little different from what comics think of as normal…
© 2014 Benjamin Rivers. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Bob Powell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785145639

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The recovering powerhouse that was to become Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

So in retrospect the visual variety of the first few issues of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear seemed a risky venture indeed. Yes, the artists were all seasoned, talented veterans, but not to the young kids who were the audience. Most importantly, they just weren’t Kirby or Ditko, and new features need consistency and continuity…

Still, Lee and his rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet, and the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler can be enjoyed in this collection gathering the first 11 issues (spanning April 1964 to December 1965) into one effervescent package of thrills and spills which begins with ‘The Origin of Daredevil’

This much-retold tale recounts how young Matthew Murdock grew up in the slums, raised by his father Battling Jack Murdock, a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy will be something, the father extracts a solemn promise from his son that he will never fight. Mocked by other kids who sarcastically dub him “Daredevil”, Matt abides by his vow, but secretly trains his body to physical perfection.

One day he saves a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight is burned away forever but his other senses are super-humanly enhanced and he gains a sixth, “radar-sense”. He tells no-one, not even his dad.

The senior Murdock is in dire straits. As his career declined he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet Jack’s star started to shine again and his downward spiral reversed itself. Unaware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive he refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life. When his bullet-riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate FranklinFoggyNelson. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page and, with his life on track, young Matt now had time to solve his father’s murder… His promise stopped him from fighting but what if he became “somebody else”?

Scripted by Lee and moodily illustrated by the legendary Bill Everett (with assistance from Ditko) this is a rather nonsensical yet visually engaging yarn that just goes through the motions, barely hinting at the magic yet to come.

Plot-wise the second issue fares little better as Joe Orlando & Vince Colletta take over the art: ‘The Evil Menace of Electro!’ guest-stars the Fantastic Four and features a second-hand Spider-Man villain.

The FF call in lawyer Matt Murdock just as the electrical outlaw tries to break into their building and before long Daredevil deals with Electro by the numbers. Issue #3 finally offers the sightless crusader a super-foe of his own when he meets and trounces ‘The Owl, Ominous Overlord of Crime!’

Daredevil #4 was a turning point, and just in time. ‘Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!’ finally gave some character to the big, blind stiff as he strove to overcome a villain who could exert total control over anyone who saw him. Although Orlando & Colletta’s uncomfortable, over-busy art remained for one last episode Lee finally seemed to get a handle on the hero; just in time for a magician-in-waiting to elevate the series to spectacular heights.

With #5 Wally Wood assumed the art chores where his lush, lavish work brought power, grace and beauty to the series. At last this costumed acrobat seemed to spring and dance across the rooftops and pages. Wood’s contribution to the plotting didn’t hurt either. He actually got a cover plug on his first issue.

In ‘The Mysterious Masked Matador!’ a cool, no-nonsense hero who looked commanding and could handle anything started fighting hard and fast. The series began advancing the moribund romantic sub-plot (Foggy adores Karen, who only has eyes for Matt, who loves her, but won’t let her waste her life on a blind man) and actually started making sense and progress. Most importantly, the action scenes were intoxicating…

Although a bullfighter who used his skills for crime is frankly daft, the drawing makes it utterly convincing, and the following issue’s ‘Trapped by the Fellowship of Fear!’ is a minor classic as the Man Without Fear had to defeat not only the super-powered Ox and Eel (yet more recycled villains) but his own threat-specific foe Mr. Fear who could instil terror and panic in victims, courtesy of his deadly fear-gas gun.

Daredevil #7 is a true landmark: to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time. Lee & Wood concocted a true masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’

Prince Namor of Atlantis travels to the surface world to have his day in court and sue all Mankind, but discovers too late that his warlord, Krang, has usurped the throne in his absence. The fiery monarch cannot sit languishing in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom and the sea.

This story shows Murdock the lawyer to be a brilliant orator, whilst the hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows the dauntless courage of DD and nobility of the Sub-Mariner whilst most notably, with no fanfare at all, Wood replaced the original yellow-&-black costume with the iconic and beautiful all-red outfit we know today. As one pithy commentator stated “the original costume looked as if it had been designed by a blind man”.

Another all-new villain debuted in #8’s gripping industrial espionage thriller ‘The Stiltman Cometh!’ pitting the acrobat against a villain who towered above the skyscrapers after which Golden Age Great Bob Powell came aboard as penciller to Wood’s layouts and inks with #9’s ‘That He May See!’

Relentlessly badgered by Karen, Matt finally agrees to see an eye-specialist who might be able to cure his blindness, only to become embroiled in a plot to conquer the World by a Ruritanian maniac with a knights-in-armour fixation…

Wood was clearly chafing after a year on the book. The series’ first continued story ‘While the City Sleeps!’ was also scripted by him: a political thriller which first saw Foggy run for District Attorney of New York even as mysterious mastermind known as The Organizer and his animal-powered gang, Bird-Man, Frog-Man, Cat-Man and Ape-Man terrorised the city.

With Powell now on full pencils and Wood just inking, Lee was left to write the concluding ‘A Time to Unmask!’ as Daredevil pulled out all the stops to confound a devious power-grab scheme which saw the villains defeated, but only at great personal cost to Nelson & Murdock…

With a brace of glorious pin-ups by Wood, this sleek compendium offers a few bumpy false starts before blossoming into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration.

If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1964, 1965, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 4 – 1925-1926: “There is a Heppy Lend, Fur, Fur Awa-a-ay”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-386-7

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these glorious commemorative collected tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. It developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – and dealt with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it baffled far more than a few…

It was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and – later – Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse: rude crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which the smitten kitten invariably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung – by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour – from removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Also populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience. This fabulous forth tome – covering 1925-1926 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition returns the strip to its monochrome roots and offers added value as context, background and possible explanations are delivered by the much-missed Bill Blackbeard in his effusive essay ‘By George, It’s Krazy’ before a second text “found-feature” exploits Herriman’s journalistic gifts with contemporary movie reviews delivered by “Thet Ket” in ‘“The Gold Rush” as Seen by Krazy Kat’ and ‘Krazy Kat Sees Miss Davies in “Janice Meredith”’ as both prose and cartoon critiques…

On to the strips then: within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted in another land and time the unending drama plays out as usual, but with some of those intriguing supplementary characters increasing coming to the fore.

We open with the change of years bringing a few weeks’ worth of weird ruminations on the nature of time before Ignatz’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s copious coterie of confidence tricksters.

Of course the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

As well as increased roles for the Kat’s cousins Krazy Katfish and Krazy Katbird there is more involvement for Joe Stork, who expands out of the exclusive delivery of (generally unwanted) babies into the hooch-dissemination business during those heady days of Prohibition, as well the introduction of tail-less Manx Cat and a Krazy cow.

As expected there is a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration. Moreover in the Jazz Age of Technological Marvels the mouse frequently takes to the skies to deliver his brain-busting bon mots…

The dangerous delights of Piñatas are introduced to American readers and there’s a healthy dose of surrealism after certain elephantine geological features come to life, whilst Krazy’s Kool is at last lost once Ignatz begins baking his own bricks and cutting Kolin Kelly out of the mounting fiscal equation. Once rubber trees start popping up all over the landscape, nobody is truly safe from the consequences of escalating slapstick silliness…

The year then concludes with uncharacteristic chills and spills when Coconino is subjected to sudden squalls of snow which lead inevitably to too much water as 1926 opens cold and crisp and sodden…

Herriman incorporated his love of cinema here by introducing an itinerant film crew to the cast and began playing even more with his audience and the Fourth Wall after one of the cartoon regulars swiped all the black ink leaving the rest of the cast in a deeply diminished state of embellishment.

The infinitely inventive scribbler also created a bigger role for Mock Duck who temporarily quit the laundry business to set up as a psychic prognosticator and surly seer whilst poor Pupp began to slowly gain the upper paw in the turbulent triangular relationship…

Krazy, meanwhile, discovered a previously unsuspected – and apparently genetically predisposed – affinity for lighting and electricity which the rest of the cast were able to share but not enjoy…

Also always on offer are wry cartoon commentaries on the increasingly technological advancement of the nation, seasonal landmarks and the evergreen fodder of unwanted kids and illegal drinking as well as more pomposity punctured and penny-pinching money-making schemes from the town’s great and good always coming to nothing…

…And sometimes plain mischief rules, such as when Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, and inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2002 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Afrika


By Hermann (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-844-6 (HC)                    eISBN: 978-1-62115-865-3

Hermann Huppen is a master of comics storytelling, blending gritty tales of human travail and personal crisis with astoundingly enticing illustration and seamless storytelling. His past masterpieces include Bernard Prince, Comanche, Jeremiah, Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many others.

Far too little of his work exists in English translation but this brief yet potent contemporary excursion into the Heart of Darkness is undoubtedly one of his most evocative.

Delivered in an oversized full-colour hardback edition, stand-alone tale Afrika is set on a Tanzanian Wildlife preserve, tracing the final fate of irascible man of mystery Dario Ferrier.

This passionate and dedicated preserver of the continent’s most iconic animals is facing the prospect of outliving the magnificent creatures under his protection. All his team’s efforts mean nothing in the face of the constant depredations of well-funded poachers and the callous indifference of world governments.

Their slide into extinction is inexorable and the battle all but lost yet Dario carries on day after day, bolstered only by the passionate attentions of his woman Iseko and the determination of his comrades-in-arms. However even they are under constant pressure to abandon him…

When a headstrong but gullible European photo-journalist is foisted upon him, Dario sees the end in sight. Charlotte dogs his heels and challenges his cynical assumptions all across the veldt, but when she accidentally films atrocities and war-crimes perpetrated by unassailable people of wealth and authority, the stunned Europeans quickly find themselves the quarry in a pitiless hunt through the bush.

Sadly for the pursuers, however, they have no conception of how dangerous Dario truly is…

Determined to get Charlotte to safety, the world-weary guardian knows his own life is over: all he hopes for is to go out his way…

Plotted with deceptive subtlety, packed with visceral, uncompromising action and painted with breathtaking skill, this glorious tale is a phenomenal vision of modern infamy and the oldest of motivations.

Afrika is a truly perfect adventure comic.
© 2007 SAF Comics.