Captain America: The Iron Nail


By Rick Remender, Nic Klein, Pascal Alixe & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-604-5

After spending twelve years in hellish Dimension Z, raising a child and saving the indigenous people from the depredations of insane Hitlerian über-geneticist Arnim Zola, Captain America finally returned to Earth with the experimenter’s turncoat daughter Jet Black to discover mere hours had passed in the “real” world.

The extra-dimensional incarceration had cost Steve Rogers too much. As well as many friends and comrades, his adopted son Ian and on-again-off-again girlfriend Sharon Carter had also perished in the rescue bid which returned him to a world he barely remembered and no longer felt a part of…

Purged of the last vestiges of Zola’s influence (Henry Pym and Bruce Banner having excised a virus which was growing a clone of the Nazi’s consciousness inside Rogers), the Sentinel of Liberty was despatched by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill to the eastern European state of Nrosvekistan where deranged, drug-dependent US super-soldier Frank Simpson, AKA Nuke, was very publicly slaughtering innocent men, women and children in America’s name…

The abused battle veteran was apparently part of an extended Weapon Plus military program: undergoing many top secret procedures to turn him into a Captain America for the Vietnam generation.

Sadly the result was a chemically-addled hyper-psychotic obsessed with American casualties who now wanted to win all the wars his proud nation had previously lost or walked away from… such as the recent peace-keeping mission to this Balkan backwater…

Elsewhere, former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and latter day messianic socialist Ran Shen had aroused a sleeping dragon for power to reshape the world to his liking. Now called the Iron Nail he was determined to destroy greedy, exploitative destructive capitalism using tools and techniques taught him by Nick Fury (Senior) and Chinese iconoclast Mao Zedong

Of course Ran Shen had already tried to oust the Chairman during his lifetime and failed, making him persona non grata just about everywhere…

Rogers won the Balkan battle of American ideological wonder warriors – at the cost of starting to doubt the point and purpose of his existence – and immediately resolved to learn what could turn a fellow patriot into such a monster.

Shen, ecstatic that his ambition to drive a spike into the heart of the West was succeeding, then detonated the captive Nuke like his namesake in the centre of The Hub, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most secure citadel.

This was merely preamble to his true goal: activating the long-dormant, extremely classified Weapon Minus test warrior. This was an LSD-dosed, psychedelic psychological super-soldier codenamed Dr. Mindbubble, ready, able and extremely willing to share his terrifying expanded sensibilities with the wider, corrupt Establishment world…

Collecting issues #16-20 of Captain America volume 7 (March – August 2014), the ongoing saga begins with a thematic break. In ‘The Iron Nail Prologue: A Choice’ (illustrated by Pascal Alixe), as her new guardian fights for survival in Nrosvekistan, Jet takes a slow disdainful reconnaissance of her new city only to be confronted by a coterie of her father’s erstwhile allies. Sadly for them, she is immune to the vile rantings of the Red Skull and declines the overtures of his insidious S-Men

The main event resumes in the first chapter of ‘The Iron Nail’ as deranged Dr. Mindbubble takes Nick Fury Jr. captive (long story short: he’s the African-American son of the original – see Battle Scars for further details) in the ruins of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility.

In New York, Steve is showing Jet the sights. The super-girl bred and trained for war saved his life in Dimension Z at great personal cost and he is determined to give her a decent life in New York, but when they interrupt an assassination attempt by agents of Ran Shen, he is shamed by the intolerant behaviour of the hedge fund rat-bastard they saved…

Thankfully Director Hill calls in just then urging him to get to the Hub as soon as possible.

As they assess the carnage left by Simpson’s death and detonation, Hill informs Cap of the missing Weapon Minus even as Jet’s super senses locate one of the few survivors, Cap’s partner The Falcon

Already disgusted with the procession of appalling creations his country has devised in the name of security, Cap’s peace of mind takes another hit when Hill reveals that Dr. Mindbubble was conceived as a potential countermeasure for rogue super soldiers – but the cure was then deemed worse than the affliction…

The so-very-mad doctor meanwhile has used his ability to seize minds through hallucination to force Fury to activate S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ultimate doomsday weapon. As Cap and Falcon reach the top-secret Sahara base, the Armageddon machine dubbed Gungnir is already active and they have no choice but to board the flying monolith as Mindbubble and Ran Shen aim it towards its destiny with mind-warped Maria Hill at the controls…

Even the full mobilised might of S.H.I.E.L.D. is unable to down the mechanized monster and Cap’s interior resistance is slowed by the horde of enslaved agents aboard. Iron Nail triumphantly shoots down all opposition and aims the colossal death machine towards Nrosvekistan.

His plan is to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. and American influence by having the commercial and political superpower act as a murdering bully before the eyes of the world…

Determined and alone, Captain America fights his greatest battle to save the hostages and a nation he embodies but no longer trusts, but although Mindbubble is (relatively) easy meat the dragon-based mystical powers of the Nail take a horrific toll on Liberty’s Greatest Champion.

What the Falcon rescues from the rubble of his greatest victory is no longer Captain America. In truth he is ‘Super-Soldier No More’

To Be Continued…

Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Nic Klein and Pascal Alixe, this staggering clash of ideologies and Fights ‘n’ Tights Realpolitik is augmented by a covers-and-variants gallery from Alixe, Klein, Glenn Fabry, Lee Bermejo, Chris Eliopoulos, Frank Kozik, Rags Morales and Mike Perkins.

Frantic, fast-paced and furiously action-packed, this examination of the heart of patriotic fervour delivers a killer punch and closing twist which will challenge and delight fans of both the comicbook and cinematic Star Spangled Avenger alike.
™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

The Star Wars


By George Lucas, J.W. Rinzler, Mike Mayhew & Rain Beredo (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-498-5

I’m sure we all know the modern mythology of Star Wars and its mindbendingly expansive continuity to a greater or lesser extent. The problem with any such monolithic achievement is an eventual loss of spontaneity and freshness, but now true disciples and occasional dabblers alike have another, new-old strand to follow…

In September 2013 Dark Horse Comics began a 9-issue adaptation (#0-8) of George Lucas’ 1974 original draft for a science fiction movie romp of epic scope, expanded and interpreted by scripter Jonathan W. Rinzler, illustrator Mike Mayhew and colour-artist Rain Beredo, which offered fans of both the franchise and action comics another bite from a very different cherry.

Sadly, what most die-hards will want is to seek out the similarities and differences but, as tempting as that is, I’d like to concentrate on what makes this a good graphic novel and leave the cinematic nitpicking to those more adept and so inclined…

If you had somehow come from another planet and picked up The Star Wars, what you would have is a grandiose space-opera thriller with quite a few similarities to Frank Hebert’s epochal Dune saga and redolent of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, jam-packed with valiant champions fighting a last-ditch rearguard action against an oppressive, tyrannical Empire which wants to run everything…

The warriors called Jedi-Bendu whose martial skills carved out a benevolent galactic coalition are in decline, hunted near to extinction by a rival cult known as the Knights of Sith. As the martial sects waged their war, the nature of politics changed and a new, rapacious government sought to consolidate a league of voluntarily participant systems into an overweening monument to iron-handed control.

On the fourth moon of Utapau aged, ravaged Kane Starkiller is training his sons in the all-but lost martial arts of Jedi-Bendu when the hunters who have eradicated almost all of his kind appear. When the family heroes finally escape the trap they are reduced to only Kane and his elder son Annikin

Heartbroken, they head for Aquilae, unaware that their homeworld has been targeted by the New Empire. The autonomous system is the last free star kingdom, all others having capitulated to pressure and been absorbed into the burgeoning governmental/commercial juggernaut.

The Emperor, Governor Hoedaack and taciturn General Vader don’t expect too much trouble with this last campaign, but tribunal member Vantoss Coll believes otherwise. He knows Aquilae’s planetary defences are commanded by the mythic Jedi-Bendu Luke Skywalker

It won’t be enough. Skywalker has the ears of King Kayos and Queen Breha but their parliament is riddled with cowards, appeasers and outright traitors like Count Sandage

When the attack comes it is in the form of a colossal, moon-sized space-station and Skywalker’s forces are overwhelmed, even with the help of the recently returned Kane and Annikin and a desperate warning from Aquilae’s top agent Clieg Whitsun who arrives moments before the first shattering assault.

With hell about to rain down Skywalker orders Annikin to collect and protect wayward heir Princess Leia whilst he leads the planet’s space forces against the encroaching death star. During the battle two argumentative imperial droids, Artwo and Threepio, eject from the station and meet up with Annikin and Leia in the deep deserts below.

With Kayos murdered, Sandage happily capitulates and orders Skywalker to surrender, but the old soldier refuses…

With Captain Whitsun in tow he absonds, choosing to save the young Princes Biggs and Windy by getting them off-planet. Intending to link up with Annikin at distant Gordon Spaceport where his old alien smuggler pal Han Solo lurks, their flight is harried by faceless waves of white armoured troopers but the real trouble starts when despicable Vader reluctantly accepts the advice and aid of formidable Sith legend Prince Valorum

After a stunning and non-stop procession of increasingly brutal fights – and with their numbers tragically reduced by the death of two valiant stars – the surviving fugitives get off-planet and make it to primitive frontier world Yavin where Skywalker and Annikin find not only danger and betrayal but an unlikely turncoat ally and a potential game-changing army of bellicose giant beasts called Wookies

Of course it’s all far more complex and intriguing than that, with young love, dastardly betrayals, tragic sacrifice, plentiful comedy moments and above all astounding, rocket-paced action to carry readers along, and lovers of blaster-blazing action will be well served by the raw energy and lovely artwork.

It would appear that there is an inexhaustible demand for stories from “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” but this time as another tale of noble rebels and dastardly Empires unfolds the big difference is that you don’t really know what’s coming next. If you’re a movie maven you could call it an alternate universe yarn if you wanted to, but this is a book no lover of great comics will want to miss.
The Star Wars and Star Wars © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All rights reserved. Used under authorisation. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are ©, 2013, 2014 Lucasfilm

David, we’re PREGNANT!


By Lynn Johnston (Meadowbrook Press)
ISBN: 978-0-67176-018-2

I suspect the world’s about to go into Celeb-Baby Meltdown again so here’s how I shamelessly cash in, since we can’t send nippers up chimneys or down mines anymore…

As Shakespeare would have it “the world must be peopled”, but if we must there’s always room for a little sensible advice and preparation, so here’s an old cartoon book to provide a few laughs along with all the useful tips and calming, shared experiences.

Of course it’s all actually just another excuse for me to bemoan the loss of those once-ubiquitous cheap ‘n’ cheerful gag-packed paperbacks which are now all-but-forgotten fossils of a once mighty industry; pushed to extinction by the more palatable-sounding graphic novels and trade paperback collections.

Lynn Johnston (née Ridgway) is a national treasure of Canada where her cartooning and narrative talents first came to the fore. Born in 1947 in Collingwood, she was raised in North Vancouver, attending Vancouver School of Art before beginning her career as an animator.

In 1969 she married and was working as a medical artist at McMaster University when this project began in most unlikely circumstances. As described by Dr. Murray W. Enkin in his Introduction to David, we’re Pregnant!, whilst he was attending her in the early days of her first pregnancy, she was staring up – as you apparently do – at his blank ceiling and offered to draw some cartoons to comfort and entertain her fellow mums-to-be during such necessary but rather discommoding and undignified moments.

The result was a huge success in his surgery and was transferred in 1973 to a petite cartoon book which became a huge global sensation. It spawned two sequels (Hi Mom! Hi Dad! and Do They Ever Grow Up?) and led in 1978 to her being invited by the mighty Universal Press Syndicate to create a family comic strip.

Enticed by a twenty year contract, she began the still-running For Better or For Worse, based on her own family and soon fame, through massive syndication, best-selling books, and popular TV and movies soon came knocking…

She is one of the most gifted and celebrated cartoonists in the business, with awards including a Reuben from the National Cartoonists Society, Pulitzer nominations, a Gemini Award and a basketful of Honorary Degrees and Doctorates. Johnston holds both The Order of Canada and membership in The Order of Manitoba. She has her own star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and was elected in 2008 to The National Cartoon Museum Hall of Fame.

David, we’re Pregnant! is a solid example of a lost art form: mature-themed gag-collections which were the last commercial gasp in a tradition of pictorial entertainments that began with Punch and evolved into a publishing standby of British and American life for nearly a century before fading away to loiter around bargain bins, jumble sales and junk shops…

As much social satire as self-help, this deliciously addictive art-party traces the vicissitudes of trying to get pregnant, the idiocies of first-time-fathers, “helpful” family members who’ve been there, doctors in all their glory and the shock of realising you’re going to be PARENTS…

Also raising alarm and smiles are panels on the then-revolutionary Lamaze classes, the reactions of older kids to a new sibling, pregnancy clothes, finances, food crazes, quitting smoking and the horrors of getting fat…

Through morning sickness, name selection, waiting for the first kick, expectant mothers-in-law and partners who think they’re funny to delivery and those early times of loud noises, bad smells and no sleep, this splendid tome keeps the entertainment quotient at maximum whilst delivering a bunch of trenchant and even useful home truths…

Cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly smart ideas, repeatedly poking our funny bones, pricking our pomposities, stroking our happy places and feeding our fascinations. This sort of thing used to be bread ‘n’ butter in our game, so why not find a shy, alluring little bookshelf and start filling it with marvellous evergreen material like this…

David, we’re Pregnant! is a superb example of a major artist in fiendishly clever and beguiling form, generating warmth and fun with easy charm and utter aplomb. If you find this book (or indeed any cartoon compilation) give it a try. They’re a dying breed and you really will miss them once they’re gone…
© 1975 Potlatch Publications. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man: The Gauntlet volume 1 – Electro and Sandman


By Mark Waid, Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente, Joe Kelly, Adam Kubert, Barry Kitson, Paul Azaceta, JM Ken Niimura, Javier Pulido & Stefano Gaudiano (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3871-6

Nerdy school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, whilst seeking to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy.

His beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered, and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in need. For years the brilliant young champion suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…

During a particularly hellish period a multitude of disasters seemed to ride hard on his heels and a veritable army of old enemies simultaneously resurfaced to attack him (an overlapping series of stories comprising and defined as “The Gauntlet”), before Parker’s recent tidal wave of woes was revealed to be the culmination of a sinister, slow-building scheme by the surviving family of one of his most implacable foes – and one who had long been despatched to his final reward.

Spanning January and February 2010, the first skirmishes in that campaign of terror are collected here, having originated in Dark Reign: The List – Amazing Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man #612-616 and as pertinent extracts from Web of Spider-Man #2, as old foes returned to trouble a hero already reeling from the fact that his most despised and crazy enemy has just been made the second most powerful man in America…

Officially psychotic Norman Osborn has bedevilled both Spider-Man and Peter for years. His abused son Harry was the misunderstood hero’s greatest friend but the stress and strain, over time, turned the Osborn heir into a drug addict, a costumed carbon copy of his old man and, latterly, a certifiable basket case.

Callously oblivious, Norman – through various machinations – became America’s Security Czar: the “top-cop” in sole charge of the beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom, especially in regard to the USA’s costumed community.

Capitalising on the Skrull Secret Invasion he rose to power on a tidal wave of public popularity but soon instituted an oppressive Dark Reign, driving the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes underground and forming his own team of deadly Dark Avengers, all in the grossly debased name of “national security”…

Not content with commanding all the covert and military resources of the USA, Osborn personally led the team, wearing a formidable suit of “requisitioned” Iron Man armour and calling himself the Iron Patriot, even whilst covertly conspiring with a coalition of major super-villains to divvy up the world between them.

From Dark Reign: The List – Amazing Spider-Man, ‘The Last Name’ by Dan Slott, Adam Kubert & Mark Morales finds the whiny media liberals of digital news-source Front Line (populated and staffed by all the ethical reporters from the former Daily Bugle) searching for ways to expose Osborn’s true nature and plans.

When Joe Robertson reminds Parker that no narcissist egomaniac ever destroyed anything he was in, the Astounding Arachnid invades the high tech Oscorp Tower and makes off with incriminating recordings of the former Green Goblin torturing prisoners and testing weapons on human subjects.

With his new position imperilled, Osborn dons the Iron Patriot Armour and gives chase, consequently devastating much of Midtown as he exultantly thrashes his greatest foe. However he’s too late to stop Parker from uploading the films to the world wide web and his brutal behaviour in front of the gathered witnesses is his first big mistake. Now the public are talking, wondering and starting to remember what he used to be…

‘Gauntlet Origins: Electro’ (written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Barry Kitson from Web of Spider-Man #2) then discloses just how blue collar electrical lineman Max Dillon came to grips with the power he developed after being hit by lightning. Stealing components from Stark Industries, being disdained and rejected by Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants all fostered his determination to be a big shot one day and make everybody pay…

Amazing Spider-Man #612-614 cumulatively bring ‘Power to the People’ (Mark Waid & Paul Azaceta) as, against a backdrop of rolling power outages and an economic downturn, Dillon makes his move after hiring the Mad Thinker to stabilise and augment his famously erratic electrical abilities.

Unfortunately that calls for more cash than he’s got and soon Electro is looking to make more – and quickly…

Rather than robbery, however, he cunningly opts for a very public crusade against skeevy and controversial publisher Dexter Bennett who has just been deemed too big to fail. Awarded a huge government bailout to keep his trashy newspaper The DB (nee Daily Bugle) open, the billionaire is clearly living large even as decent, hard working Americans are suffering the biggest recession in history…

The campaign leads to riots in the streets and Electro makes his move, offering Bennett the chance to buy off the electrical agitator with a quick cash injection.

…And that’s when Spider-Man tracks down the Thinker’s lair and spoils the perfect plan…

With his scheme in ruins, all that’s left for Dillon is revenge and destruction and death…

As the dust finally settles after a spectacular clash which demolishes a New York landmark, Dillon is visited in jail by an old ally who offers another chance for payback…

A backup in Amazing Spider-Man #612, ‘The Other Woman’ by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Niimura then cheekily examines the odd relationship of Spider-Man and amoral adventuress Black Cat, contrasting their commitment-free flings to Peter’s ongoing problems with old flames like Mary Jane Watson and intriguing new co-worker Norah Winters before ‘Keemia’s Castle’ (Amazing Spider-Man #615-616 by Van Lente & Javier Pulido) sees the start of another baffling mystery…

Carlie Cooper is a CI for the police and when robbery and murder evidence in her custody goes missing she turns to science whiz Peter Parker to clear her name. The trail leads the unlikely sleuth to the South Bronx and a missing girl named Keemia Alvarado.

Keemia’s mother was something of a prison groupie and her relationship with metamorphic felon Flint Markothe Sandman – apparently resulted in a child. After fact – and suspicion – checking with journalist Betty Brant, Spider-Man puts a few together and heads out to closed-for-the-winter Governors Island where he finds his reformed former foe and the missing girl.

Marko denies all knowledge of the crimes. All he wants is to spend time with his little princess and he uses his new power to create autonomous sandy doppelgangers to emphatically press home his point.

It’s only after defeating the outnumbered arachnid that the stunned Sandman realises that some of his duplicates are more autonomous – and bloodthirstily evil – than others…

Fast, furious, and easily combining frantic action with moving character vignettes and ferociously addictive soap opera melodrama, these tales are offbeat even by Spider-Man’s standards – which is no bad thing – but sometimes suffer from a surfeit of unaddressed backstory… which rather is.

Nonetheless, the stories here are clever, compelling and beautifully illustrated throughout, so art lovers and established fans have plenty to enjoy. Moreover the explosive, if occasionally confusing, Fights ‘n’ Tights rollercoaster is graced with an expansive gallery of covers-&-variants by Adam Kubert, Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, Marko Djurdjevic, Paolo Rivera, Frank Cho, Adi Granov, Ed McGuiness and Joe Quinones

All in all, this is that oddest and most disappointing of beasts: a great story but an unsatisfactory book…
© 2009, 2010, Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Gotham Central book 1: In the Line of Duty


By Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark & Stephen Gaudiano (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1923-9 (HC)        : 978-1-4012-2037-2 (SC)

One of the great joys of long-lasting, legendary comics characters is their potential for innovation and reinterpretation. There always seems to be another facet or corner to develop. Such a case was Gotham Central, wherein modern television sensibilities cannily combined with the deadly drudgery of the long-suffering boys in blue of the world’s most famous four-colour city.

Owing as much to shows such as Hill Street Blues, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Law & Order as it did to the baroque continuity of Batman, the series mixed gritty, authentic police action with a soft-underbelly peek at what the merely mortal guardians and peacekeepers had to put up with in a world of psychotic clowns, flying aliens and scumbag hairballs who just won’t stay dead.

This compilation – collecting Gotham Central #1-10 (February – October 2003, by writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka and sublimely illustrated by Michael Lark) – revisits those much-missed stories in either standard paperback or lavish hardcover format and starts off with an erudite and informative Introduction on ‘The Mean Streets of Gotham’ by celebrated crime author Lawrence Block.

Brubaker and Rucka co-wrote the eponymous two-part premier tale ‘In the Line of Duty’ wherein a desperate child-kidnap investigation by detectives Marcus Driver and Charlie Fields of ex-Commissioner Gordon’s hand-picked Major Crimes Unit leads them all unawares to the temporary hideout of murderous superfreak Mr Freeze.

The cold killer horrifically destroys Charlie and sadistically leaves Driver injured but alive as an object lesson.

The GCPD have a strange relationship with the Dark Knight. They all know he’s out there, but the official line is that he’s an urban myth and the Administration refuses to acknowledge his existence. Thus a civilian is employed to turn on the bat-signal on the roof when crises occur and the public are told the eerie light is simply used to keep the cowardly, superstitious underworld cowed…

In such circumstances all real cops are loath to ask for The Bat’s help so Driver and his grieving, angry colleagues pull out all the stops to find and capture Freeze before the masked vigilante insultingly finishes their job for them.

However, as night falls and the frozen bodycount rises, Marcus deduces what Freeze is planning and has no choice but to ask new Police Commissioner Akins to suspend his embargo and call in the whacko expert before hundreds more die…

From an era when comicbook noir was enjoying a superb renaissance, this classic take on the theme of the hunt for a cop-killer is a masterpiece of edgy and fast-paced tension whilst simultaneously perfectly introducing a large cast of splendidly realised new and very individual players…

Brubaker scripts the second story solo as ‘Motive’ finds the again fit-for-duty Driver and his temporary partner Romy Chandler using solid police work to solve the outstanding kidnap case, all the while under the gun as arson villain The Firebug dances on the horizon burning down the city one building at a time.

Fourteen year old babysitter Bonnie Lewis vanished while walking home from her yuppie client’s house and a subsequent ransom demand later proved to be a fake. Now, after her body is found, Driver and Chandler carefully re-examine the facts and discover that almost everybody involved has been lying…

As they methodically sift evidence, alibis and possible motives, they begin to realise that even this tragically normal crime has its roots in both common greed and the gaudy madness of Gotham’s metahuman menaces…

The gripping procedural drama then segues back to the city’s aristocracy of maniacs as Greg Rucka scripts ‘Half a Life’ with focus switching to Renee Montoya: a solid cop with too many secrets.

After her former partner Harvey Bullock was fired with extreme prejudice, tongues started wagging, but now an old case threatens to destroy her career and end her life…

When arresting rapist Marty Lipari, he tried to stab her, and she subdued him. Now her morning is ruined when the skel sues her for ten million dollars in damages.

It only gets worse when she and partner Crispus Allen get a bogus case dumped on them by the corrupt, lazy meatheads in Robbery Division, but the capper is dinner with her traditional, devout Catholic parents who still want her to settle down and have kids…

Her life begins to truly unravel when a photo of her kissing another woman does the round of colleagues, friends and family. Not all her fellow cops are homophobic bigots: but just enough that’s she kept her life private for years. Now, apparently outed by Lipari’s hired gumshoe Brian Selker, she is targeted by Internal Affairs when first the PI and then Lipari himself are shot to death.

With her lover Darla threatened, her gun identified as the murder weapon and a huge amount of illicit drugs found in her apartment, Renee is soon on her way to jail – another bad egg just like Bullock.

Nobody in MCU thinks she’s guilty but the evidence is overwhelming, and the crisis comes when en route she’s busted out by masked men and taken to the hidden citadel of one of Batman’s most nightmarish nemeses…

Utterly alone, in the unfriendliest job in the world, in the nastiest town on Earth, Montoya has to deal alone with a crazed maniac who’s destroyed her life just so he can be with her forever.

As a Major Crimes Detective she’s seen how bad The Bat’s enemies can get, but this time she’s the target, not the hunter or witness, and it’s not just her life at stake…

This engrossing drama never steps outside of human bounds irrespective of the nature of evil in Gotham, and the original comic presentation (from issues #6-10) won Eisner, Harvey, Eagle and Prism awards for Best Story in 2003.

Sadly not included in this volume are the two earlier tales from Renee’s past (Batman Chronicles #16 – Two Down, by Rucka & Jason Pearson & Cam Smith, and Detective Comics #747 – Happy Birthday Two You, by Rucka, William Rosado & Steve Mitchell) which explained that oblique connection to her obsessive suitor – although you can find then in the original 2005 trade paperback Gotham Central: Half a Life.

The appropriate quota of human drama, tension, stress and machismo all play well under Michael Lark’s deftly understated illustrations, adding a grimy patina of pseudo-reality to good old fashioned cops ‘n’ robbers stories, played out in what can only be described as the urban city of the damned.

The procedural cop thriller on the edge of hell is a stunning study in genre-crossing storytelling, and this edition includes a full cover gallery by Lark as well as a fulsome section of designs and character sketches in ‘Staffing the GCPD’.

Dark, suspenseful and so very addictive, this is a book no batfreak or crime buff can afford to miss.
© 2004, 2005, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Eldritch Kid: Whisky & Hate


By Christian Read & Michael Maier (Gestalt Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-980782-35-6

There was a time, not so very long ago, when all of popular fiction was bloated and engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians.

As always happens with such periodic populist phenomena – such as the Swinging Sixties’ Super-Spy Boom or the recent Vampire Boyfriend trend – there was a goodly amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few spectacular gems.

Most importantly, once such surges have petered out there’s also always a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad…

After World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the rapidly burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by Tales of the Old West; at that time already a firmly established standby of paperback publishing, movie serials and low-budget feature films.

I’ve often ruminated on how and why simultaneously, the dark, bleakly nigh-nihilistic and left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome rip-snorting range-&-rodeo revolution, seemingly only for a cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that the returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but perhaps that’s a thought for another time and a different review.

Even though comics had encompassed Western heroes from the get-go (there were cowboy strips in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics) the post-war boom years saw a vast outpouring of titles with new gun-toting heroes to replace the rapidly dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling.

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, Western strips have largely vanished from our funnybook pages: apparently unable to command enough mainstream support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and the furiously seductive future.

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist and produced some extremely impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre emphatically their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world for an avid audience still possessing a vast appetite for them…

Fantasy and Horror stories, on the other hand, have never really gone away and this superb entertaining entry from Australian graphic raconteurs Christian Read & Michael Maier superbly blends time honoured tropes of the wild west with sinister sorcerous sensibilities to create a bewitching alternate reality where dark bloody deeds are matched by dire demonic forces and the decent guys called upon to combat them have to dabble in the diabolical too…

Following the tantalising Introduction ‘Our shadow goes where we go’ from author K. J. Bishop, the full-colour mystic mayhem begins with the recollections of an Oxford-educated shaman detailing his life following his return to the land of his birth.

Spring 1877 and the great Indian Wars are over. Custer is dead but so is Crazy Horse. The Whites are greedily covering the entire country and an erudite, educated man with the wrong coloured skin is reduced to playing scout for a bunch of barely literate morons wagon-trekking across the plains to California. They need him but regard their supremely capable guide with suspicion, disdain and barely-disguised disgust…

One particular incident of second-guessing his decisions involves a detour around a stony butte that simply reeks of bad magic. Accusing him of leading them into an ambush and other dishonourable deeds, the lazy, work-shy Christians drive him to ignore his instincts and better judgement and reluctantly check out the pinnacle personally…

Wicasa Waken, outcast Shaman of the Oglala Lakota, Ten Shoes Dancing of the mighty Sioux and lately graduated Master of Arts and Literature, Oxford, England 1875, always knew devil magic when he smelled it but, since his teachers taught him to treasure human life, he remained faithful to their training and climbs a mountain into hell…

At the top he encounters five-headed snakes and zombies and a strange white man they were taking their time killing…

Losing their lands to the pale invaders has soured many of his people and allowed a growth of bad spirits and corrupted medicine like the long-fled Bloody Knife to control many points on the map, but the man these horrors are torturing jangle the shaman’s mystic senses in way nothing ever has before.

Piling in he begins killing monsters and the “victim”, once freed, eagerly joins in, his accursed guns making short work of the ravening Heyokas. Soon they are all dispatched and Ten Shoes Dancing – after exorcising and sanitising the spiritually defiled butte – realises he has made the rather prickly acquaintance of a modern Western Legend…

The settlers are ecstatic to have celebrated dime novel hero The Eldritch Kid join their party and, whilst still treating his rescuer like a barely housebroken monkey, fête the grim gunslinger like a messiah.

It’s hard for even the most enlightened man to watch a surly, taciturn, creepy freak basking in hero-worship, hot vittles and wanton female attention…

It’s not just this becoming-nation America that is awash with blood and wickedness. The entire world is swamped with boggles, spectres and worse, but since the War Between the States the Kid has achieved a certain notoriety for dealing harshly and permanently with all things supernatural and predatory.

Nevertheless he’s a mean, mercenary bastard and a tough man to like for the philosophically inclined, poetry-loving Ten Shoes until the wagons arrive at a thriving prairie town that the shaman knows wasn’t there a month previously.

Opting to investigate the bustling hamlet together, the mismatched heroes are soon fighting for their lives against an army of hungry ghosts and the Lakota learns that although his personal patron god Lord Hnaska is grossly offended by the crawling things that hunger for human morsels, he is more worried by the cold, dark deity who sponsors his avatar’s gun-toting partner in peril…

A loveless alliance is forged in that ghastly spirit-trap and, as the wagon train proceeds towards California, the kid finally opens up enough to share the history that made him the most feared gunhawk in the West.

The story began in 1865 at Camp Elmira, New Jersey where Confederate prisoners were held. The detention centre was a hellhole even by human standards, but when a ravenous demon began taking the inmates, one of the terrified, beaten sitting duck captives was offered a deal by an invading ancient northern god…

This grim King of Death was unhappy with the beasts and night things increasingly infesting the Earth and offered a trade: power for service…

After a suitably painful and gory “offering” the prisoner was given just enough of a supernatural advantage to kill the monsters – human and otherwise – and escape. He has been doing his Lord’s work ever since…

At trail’s end the settlers naturally bilk the generally good-natured Ten Shoes who chalks it up to experience. However his new associate still has many secrets unshared and exacts his own brand of instant karma.

…And thus is born another legend of the Wildest West Ever…

Bleak, moody, spectacularly action-packed and cathartic, Whisky & Hate is a smart, blackly funny yarn that will astound lovers of genre fiction and witty mash-ups.

The Western tale has long been a part of world culture and perhaps that fact has relegated the genre in too many minds to the status of a passé fascination of a bygone generation. However this fresh, hypnotically beguiling look at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fear-fans, lovers of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that this range-riding rollercoaster of thrills and macabre mystery proves that excitement and terror still lurk in those hills and on that horizon…

Black hats, white hats, alternate worlds, haunts and horrors, stunning visuals and macabre twists – what more could you possibly ask for?
© 2011 Christian Read, Michael Maier & Gestalt Publishing Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.

Loki Agent of Asgard: Trust Me


By Al Ewing, Lee Garbett & Nolan Woodard (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-600-7

One of Marvel’s richest seams of pure imagination, the Nine Realms impacted by the mighty races of Asgard and its satellites have always offered stirring, expansive tales of a non-traditional nature to comicbook readers.

As iconic a character as his adoptive sibling Thor, God of Evil Loki has worked his vile, self-serving machinations for millennia and was rightly deemed one of the most diabolical villains in creation.

Things are different now.

What you need to know: after millennia of doctrinaire double-dealing and abusive micro-management All-Father Odin is gone, and the governance of his puissant kingdom, having been briefly misruled by his sons Thor and Balder, has been left to his wife Freyja and sister goddesses Idunn and Gaea who act in concert as a co-operative “All-Mother”.

The city they rule from now resides on Earth a few paltry feet above the ground of Broxton, Oklahoma and has been renamed Asgardia

Moreover the eternally capricious and malign Loki has undergone some shocking changes too. Resurrected from death and hell by his eternally optimistic half-brother Thor, the trickster has recently endured life as a woman and been reborn again as an (ostensibly) innocent boy-child whilst his long-suffering and constantly betrayed family attempt one final gambit to reform the villain and raise a true and decent scion of Asgard.

Collecting Loki Agent of Asgard issues #1-5, published between April and August 2014 and captivatingly concocted by scripter Al Ewing, illustrator Lee Garbett and colour artist Nolan Woodard, this initial compilation traces the latest career path of the apparently reformed great trickster.

Now, after mooching around being generally benevolent and non-threatening as one of the Young Avengers, the former menace is approaching physical maturity and discovers that the All-Mother of Asgardia have a use for a smart young man who is still at heart the wily, devious God of Mischief – nor will they take nay for an answer…

Asgardians all understand the overwhelming, inescapable force and power generated by Stories, and the triumvirate have an intriguing proposition for Loki. In ‘Trust Me’, as payment for his performing certain tasks as a one-man Asgardian Secret Service, they will delete select portions of his appalling life history from every record in the Nine Realms, one insidious exploit per mission.

It’s a most tempting deal. For as long as that fearsome history remains it will always pull at him, dragging him back to what he once was, so the reincarnated godling is keen to diminish the temptations of his past, escape the heavy chains of reputation and prophecy and be his own man at last…

With the promise of becoming less potentially evil through each successive task, Loki sets out on his first case. Over the years there has been a slow, steady bleed of gods and artefacts from Asgard to the lesser realms and now the All-Mother wants those things back where they belong.

Thus the callow trickster invades Avengers Tower and battles Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, messing with their extensive database on him whilst extracting a horrific Asgardian monster secretly possessing noble Thor.

However, as always with the Trickster, things are not quite what they seem…

In ‘Loki and Lorelei, Sitting in a Tree’ he is despatched to retrieve the seductively wanton sorceress who has been preying on humans, gods and monsters for years and, during an unlikely night of Speed Dating, makes the charming acquaintance of Verity Willis, a mortal with the unfortunate gift of being able to see through any lie, subterfuge of illusion…

Lorelei’s trail leads to Monte Carlo and a monumental heist – which the Asgardian agent takes for his own – but he subsequently lets the witch go. The mischief-maker has a plan brewing and is putting together select crew. He might be working for the authorities now and trying to modify his behaviour, but he is still Loki…

Nobody is playing a straight game. In ‘Your Life is a Story I’ve Already Written’ the shocking identity of the vile spirit that possessed Thor is revealed. Despite being a prisoner of the All-Mother, the most wicked creature in the Nine Realms reveals thus how in ages past he deviously implicated the boy Odin in senseless murder and orchestrated the conditions whereby proto-god Sigurd the Ever-Glorious came to possess the unrelenting, unstoppable, truth-rending sword Gram.

As a result of many Machiavellian machinations, young Odin became Lord of all the Realms years before his time, Gram was safely locked away until Loki could claim it and Asgard grew to be mighty and all-conquering… but now the devil in his dungeon waits for the final pieces in his astoundingly long game to fall into place…

The saga returns to the present where ‘Lets You & Him Fight’ finds the long absent Sigurd attempting to reclaim the irresistible Gram from young Loki but subsequently press-ganged into the trickster’s secret service.

These diversions are also starting to gain the unwelcome attention of the All-Mother who have also tasked their Earthly Agent with bringing back in the millennially truant Sigurd.

To expedite matters they have cited the ferocious Exdesir as back-up, but a bunch of short-tempered Valkyries is the last thing Loki needs watching him at this fragile juncture.

…And that’s before arch tempter Mephisto involves himself in the scheme, seeking to gull a few unwary gods into signing infernal contracts of damnation by flaunting hidden truths like jewels…

All the crafty conniving results in a cosmic confrontation in Asgardia with ‘This Mission Will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds’ as Loki’s crew breach the mythical city-state in search of answers to the All-Mother’s increasingly off-kilter behaviour and the truth about the creature not so safely locked in the citadel’s deepest dungeon…

Sly, cool and witty, exceedingly engaging, fast and funny – like all the very best caper stories – this canny, time-bending chronicle succeeds in deftly delineating the reborn Loki as a sharp operator doing good deeds whilst never actually proving whether he’s really reformed or is still a subtle and beguiling Master of Evil…

This delicious Costumed Drama also offers digitally-diverting extra content for tech-savvy consumers courtesy of AR icon sections all accessible through a free digital code and the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices at Marvel’s Digital Comics Shop as well as a glorious covers-and-variants gallery by Jenny Frison, Frank Cho, Mike Del Mundo & Olivier Coipel.
™ and © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

The Phoenix Presents… Star Cat book 01


By James Turner (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-06-3

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional-seeming weekly comic aimed at girls and boys which sought to revive the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

Every issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy and, in the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only UK strip publication started in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by releasing a digital edition available globally as an app and is still continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun. You should subscribe today…

Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost (in this country at least), old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.

With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from periodical publishers’ surrender. There have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

This year – at long last – many of the favourite serials and series from The Phoenix joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums.

One of the wildest rides in the amazing anthology is Space Cat by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve). The strip began in issue #0 and has been popping back ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, featuring the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, an inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie dubbed The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half cat, half spaceship. What more do you need to know?

If you could think of something it would probably be answered by the astoundingly accurate Space Table of Space Contents, or the brilliant and informative cartoon cutaway and info-blurb page which reveals all the interior secrets of the mighty moggy cosmic craft and its motley crew in ‘Welcome Aboard the Star Cat’

With introductions over and readers up to speed, the wild rides begins with ‘Star Cat’ wherein the team are contacted by Chicken-with-a-mission The Space Mayor who tasks the solar swashbucklers with recapturing escaped felon Dark Rectangle before the two-dimensional tyrant can rob the Space Bank, a task only completed through sheer dumb luck and the Ginger rocket’s uncurbed predilection for Space Mice

The sinister shape of Dark Rectangle is next seen menacing the lost planet of Inflatia where his plans to deflate the universe are foiled by the team who have mistakenly fetched up there in search of critical stores on what they think is the Ice Cream Planet in ‘The Big Let Down’ after which ‘Nub’ sees the Star Cat ferrying the cutest, most endangered creatures in the galaxy – Nubchicks – to the safety of the Space Zoo.

Unfortunately that planar potentate Dark Rectangle needs the little darlings to power his new Universe Bomb…

When a number of planets are mysteriously drained of all energy, the Space Mayor has no choice but to assign Captain Spaceington and his substandard star warriors to the case, forcing Robot One to pit his transistorised wits against ‘The Horror of Mecha Dracula’, whilst in ‘The Art of Robbery’ the nefarious Rob-Ot’s scheme to swipe the Moona Lisa from the Space Museum of Space Art is foiled by the hapless stupidity of ever-hungry Plixx…

The mis-educated Science Officer’s addiction to cake also wrecks the space/time continuum and ticks off God after she messes up a chronal experiment with a ‘Turnip in Time’ before the good ship Star Cat is invaded by the wicked shapeshifting menace known as ‘The Thingy’ after which a mission to the far edge of space brings them all into contact with a most unpleasant omnipotent entity who tests our weird wanderers – and by extension our entire civilisation – with ‘Incorporeal Punishment’

‘With Friends Like These, Who Needs a Nemesis?’ sees the return of Dark Rectangle when the sorely lacking Spaceington finds his ship and crew requisitioned by the obnoxious, insufferably perfect Captain Starblaze “the Bravest Captain in all of Space”.

Surely it’s not jealousy that makes Spaceington attempt to sabotage his rival’s top secret mission?

Saving the best for last, this stellar saga concludes with a mercy mission that goes awry when the monumental moggy take a shortcut through the Spooky Quadrant and the crew unwisely clash with a ghastly Space Vampyr in ‘Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself (But Fear is Really, Really Scary)…’

The Phoenix Presents… Star Cat is a spectacularly hilarious comic treat: surreal, ingenious, wildly infectious fun. No pet owner, comedy connoisseur or lover of the Wild Black Yonder could afford to miss this brilliant cartoon cat treat.
Text and illustrations © James Turner 2014. All rights reserved.

Torn


By Andrew Constant, Nicola Scott & Joh James (Gestalt Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-9807823-7-0

If you think you’ve seen everything in werewolf comics think again. A wealth of graphic novels from Australian creative powerhouse Gestalt Publishing have just begun hitting our stores and one of the most intriguing features is a gripping, hyper-expressive take on the curse of lycanthropy that will delight fear aficionados.

Written by Andrew Constant (a man who’s worn many occupational hats in his life before settling on comics) ,Torn traces the hellish journey of a devoted father and provider whose cosy life is shattered when his family is slaughtered by a kill-crazy maniac.

As seen in the stunning prologue sequence by Nicola Scott (Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, Secret Six), the enraged parent takes bloody vengeance on the murderer, but in the struggle becomes infected with his curse.

The maniac was a man, and the wolf who kills him is soon transformed into one of the crazy, bipedal horrors too. Confused, mute and experiencing reality in a way he can’t process, the new creature instinctively heads for the city…

Joh James (Borderlands: Origins, Mars Attacks!) takes over the stark monochrome illustration for the body of the tale as the bewildered outsider forages in alleys and dumps encountering homeless street girl Sarah who takes pity on the naked, inarticulate weirdo.

When she is attacked by a gang who has been periodically raping and abusing her, the stranger turns on her assailants like a rabid animal…

Later, hiding together in a deserted house, the pair form a cautious bond as he scavenges food for her and slowly learns to communicate. Unfortunately, the leader of the packrats has not forgotten Sarah or her protector though, and comes looking for her armed with a big shiny knife…

When the confrontation comes our hero is again triumphant, keeping the blade and allowing his opponents their lives.

However, the shaggy horror who has been patiently stalking him since the woods is not so lenient, and soon gun-happy cops are mistakenly hunting the wild man for an act of incredible butchery.

The follower too was also fantastically transformed by the death of the human in the woods. However, the rage, jealousy and sadistic hunger for inflicting pain is all its own. This relentless hunter has a blood relationship to the manwolf and wants nothing less than to destroy any happiness or form of family his former pack-mate could find on four legs or two…

Vicious, visceral and supremely affecting, this examination of human and animal savagery is a ferociously compelling tragedy that will leave comics and horror fans panting for more.
© 2011 Andrew Constant and Gestalt Publishing, Pty Ltd.

X-Factor volume 8: Overtime


By Peter David, Valentine De Landro, Andrew Hennessey, Pat Davidson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3837-2

Since its debut in 1982, X-Factor has been a splendidly effective umbrella title for many uniquely off-kilter iterations of Marvel’s mutant phenomena. Undoubtedly the most impressive and enduring assemblage was created by writer Peter David in 2006; mixing starkly violent suspense with cool detective mystery, laugh-out-loud comedy and fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights action – and even slyly addressing social issues in a regular riot of superbly adult Costumed Drama.

The premise saw Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man – veteran of a formerly government-sponsored (and controlled) team – appropriating the name for his own specialist metahuman private detective agency: X-Factor Investigations.

Setting up shop in the wake of “The Decimation”, which had reduced the world’s mutant population to a couple of hundred empowered individuals and millions of distressingly humanised (ex) Homo Superior, he and a perpetually fluctuating team set out to discover why and how it had happened…

What Happened Was: crossover event House of M saw reality overwritten when mutant Avenger Scarlet Witch had a mental breakdown, changing history and reality so that mutantkind out-competed base-line humans, driving “sapiens” to the brink of extinction.

It took every hero on Earth, a huge helping of luck and a strange little girl named Layla Miller to correct that situation, but in the aftermath, the abhorred inheritor species had been winnowed to less than 200 super-powered souls …

Madrox later expanded his brief to specialise in strange cases and metahuman mysteries, but spent an awful lot of unprofitable time dealing with the machinations of insidious menaces like the Karma Project and scheming immortal Damian Tryp

This temporally-twisted tome collects X-Factor volume 3 #46-50 and X-Factor Special: Layla Miller (September 2009-December 2009), wrapping up a few long-running plot threads whilst answering some pertinent questions about the team’s most enigmatic member.

Madrox and Co. had relocated to scenic Detroit to avoid interference from old boss and Office of National Emergency bureaucrat Valerie Cooper but she and her Federal flunkies had pursued, and continued with attempts to put the team under government control.

Following the tragic loss of Madrox and TheresaRourke Cassidy’s (AKA Siryn) baby, the multiple man went off the deep end and on a monolithic bender which might have ended in his suicide or murder, if not for somehow fully-grown Layla Miller who suddenly popped up to drag him into a furious future where humans and mutants were engaged in a vicious struggle for survival dubbed The Summers Rebellion.

The detective had been summoned by the formidable Ruby Summers and her elderly but still scary dad Cyclops to find out why key members of their mutant army kept winking out of existence, but for Madrox it just felt like being abused and exploited by a different bunch of supposed friends…

Abandoned in the present, Theresa took charge at X-Factor Investigations, assigning de-powered Julio Richter (AKA Rictor) and astoundingly attractive Longshot as bodyguards for frightened former-mutant Lenore Wilkinson who was having problems with a stalker.

However, as GuidoStrong GuyCarosella, super-woman Monet St. Croix – AKA “M”Armando “Darwin” Muñoz and Shatterstar are subsequently called in to help protect the perpetually endangered Lenore, a new menace surfaces.

Psychic assassin Cortex is capable of dominating and warping even the most determined minds and before long the teammates are battling each other to the death even as, eighty years up-time, the nature of physical existence is failing and the embattled mutants are forced to consult a big brain to save everything else before they can save their species.

With few choices available Layla takes Madrox and Ruby to aged, senile Victor Von Doom who already knows quite a lot about their recurring reality problems, whilst in the past crafty, craven Cortex overextends himself trying to simultaneously mentally manipulate Shatterstar and Monet into killing their comrades.

Despite his diminished condition Doom knows the cause of the disappearances and tantalises his visitors with possible solutions to the a time-crisis, even as elsewhere, Future America’s Presidential Special Advisor Dr. Anthony Falcone ponders the expense of sending Cortex back to eradicate the ancestors of current Summers Rebellion mutants.

Somehow that simple covert task has morphed into pre-emptively dealing with X-Factor and the inexplicably pivotal Madrox…

Falcone’s ill timed and ill-advised intervention distracts his technologically-augmented chronal killer just as he is completing the mission, giving Shatterstar an opportunity to shrug off Cortex’s mind-lock and save the day…

Scripted throughout by David and illustrated by Valentine De Landro & Pat Davidson, the adventure continues with ‘X-It Strategies’ as the President loses confidence in Falcone’s plan to end America’s Mutant problem and tries to remove his now-unnecessary stooge.

The anti-mutant fanatic has been long-prepared for such a move and activates a contingency plan, taking personal control of the nation’s vast army of Sentinels, whilst in The Now Cortex regains the advantage, using his psychic slave Monet to press his attack.

In the future Doom discloses how he built the device used to alter history and gave it to Falcone, also letting slip that he has had a decades-long relationship with Layla, but the revelation is quickly sidelined when a trio of Omeganoid Sentinels blast in…

Cortex/M’s assault founders in old Detroit when Siryn arrives, but the spirited resistance falters when Sentinels materialise and – as per their programming – attack all the mutants in front of them…

In the future Madrox is experiencing relief and horror in equal amounts. They have just been saved by Ruby’s boyfriend Trevor Fitzroy whose portal-power has sent the trio of murderous mechanoids who knows where. Until this moment the Multiple Man only knew the charmingly cocky teen as a malevolent and rapacious – adult – evil mutant vampire who tried to destroy the X-Men numerous times…

Whilst Falcone uses battalions of Sentinel to secure his own ascension, in the past three that he no longer controls are blasting every mutant in sight. Unable to complete his mission in the growing chaos, Cortex is jumped by the miraculously lucky Longshot and their battle gives Monet the chance to forever throw off his technoid infection and influence…

Enraged beyond endurance she smashes into the killer and discovers he’s Madrox in a hoodie…

With the fabric of time unravelling ‘The Cortex Equation’ reveals a few secrets as the old enemy behind so many of Jamie’s problems is shown to be the power behind Falcone even as demented old Doom has a surprising confrontation with Cyclops.

In the present Siryn and Monet are still battling the apparently unbeatable Cortex who is exposed as one of Jamie’s “dupes”.

Madrox’s duplicates are autonomous facsimiles of him. Often displaying one particular aspect of his emotional makeup they can live their own lives for years until he touches them and they are reabsorbed – whether he or they want to. Being self-aware, some abscond, never wanting to come back and “die”. This one went to the future and fell into the hand of a truly evil genius…

Beaten but seemingly unkillable, Cortex teleports away from the furious women and goes after original target Lenore, but is interrupted by Darwin and the late arriving Guido, Rictor and Shatterstar who have just experienced a most elucidating (and sophisticatedly hilarious) road trip which encompassed angry priests, love-sick suicides, and some frank revelations about gender – and species – orientations.

After such a journey, they’re in the mood for some palate-cleansing violence…

Eighty years from then in Philadelphia, Falcone’s Sentinel brigade is ravaging the population – mutant and otherwise. When the Summers’ Army counterattack they are greeted as heroes by humanity.

However, even decrepit and out of his mind Doom is still Doom, and he betrays the alliance, plucking Cortex back to the future, overriding his command systems and ordering him to “kill all the mutants”…

X-Factor #50 (with additional art by Craig Yeung) spectacularly wraps up everything as Falcone and his sinister sponsor track Cortex and despatch Sentinels to wipe out the despised Homo Superior. They might not have time, though, as Doom’s new puppet is wreaking havoc amongst the mutant warriors.

First to die is Fitzroy, and the situation worsens when Doom takes control of Cyclops too…

Cortex meanwhile is stalking the apparently ineffectual Layla, but she takes off when Jamie appears for a final confrontation with his rogue appendage…

Distraught Ruby pleads with Layla to use her real power, and after much deliberation – and to save the time line – she finally acquiesces.

Although everyone thinks she’s some kind of prescient or precog, Miller’s actual mutant power is to raise the dead. It doesn’t matter much when she reanimates cats or butterflies, since nobody really notices when they come back without soul or conscience, but when someone like Fitzroy is resurrected as a being of selfish evil all humanity might suffer…

At that moment the Sentinels arrive and terrifyingly merge into one colossal unit designed to carry out Falcone’s long-planned mutant extinction. With everybody dying Fitzroy fatally drains Cortex and uses the stolen energies to open a portal sending the amalgamated Armageddon-Sentinel to where it can do the most harm…

In the shell-shocked aftermath Madrox and Layla use Doom’s time machine to rejoin X-Factor in the present, sensibly leaving the future to fend for itself.

A little later she tracks down her younger self and reveals just how the enigmatic young lady learned how to “know stuff”, starting the cycle again, for the first time…

Although intricate, action-packed, beguiling, cathartic and immensely enjoyable, X-Factor: Overtime is utterly impenetrable on its own and if you read it (and you really should) make sure it’s in conjunction with its immediate predecessor X-Factor: Time and a Half.

This supremely entertaining Fights ‘n’ Tights delight also includes the chillingly effective X-Factor Special: Layla Miller, which covers the beginning of the Summers Rebellion in that turbulent tomorrow, where a mute girl named Layla escapes from a mutant “Containment Centre” to link up with fugitive Homo Superior and begin the toppling of an oppressive totalitarian American in the powerfully evocative ‘Stuff Happens’ by David, De Landro, Andrew Hennessy & Davidson.

Augmented by a covers-&-variants gallery by David Yardin, Nathan Fairbairn, Paolo Raimondi, Brian Reber and Boo Cook, this volume is complex, compelling, compulsive and supremely funny in a way most adult comics just aren’t. X-Factor is a splendid example of mature Costume Dramas for everyone who needs wit to underpin their superhero soap opera shenanigans.
© 2008, 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.