Moon Mullins: Two Adventures


By Frank H. Willard (Dover)
ISBN: 978-0486232379

An immensely popular newspaper strip in its day, Moon Mullins grew out of gentle – if bucolically rambunctious – Irish ethnic humour to become the comedy soap opera (one of the very first of its kind) that absolutely everybody followed.

Create by Frank Willard – a two-fisted, no-nonsense type with a cracking ear for dialogue, an unerring eye for winning social faux pas and an incorrigible sense of fun – the strip debuted on June 19th 1923. Willard wrote and drew both monochrome dailies and flashy Sunday colour segments until his death in 1958, whereupon his assistant Ferdinand “Ferd” Johnson (who began working with Willard scant months after the strip launched, and continued even whilst working on his own strips Texas Slim and Lovey-Dovey) assumed full authorship until his own retirement in 1991 – a gloriously uninterrupted tenure of 68 years.

The feature was marketed around the globe by the mighty Chicago Tribune/New York News Syndicate, and recounted the rowdily raucous, ribald, hand-to-mouth, lowbrow life and tribulations of Moonshine Mullins, lovable rogue and unsuccessful prize-fighter who was just getting by in tough circumstances.

The doughty rapscallion spent his time in bars, on the streets (sometimes the gutters) and most tellingly at the pokey boarding house of Emmy Schmaltz, located at 1323 Wump Street. Mullins was amiable and good-natured, liked to fight, loved to gamble, was slick with the ladies and had the worst friends imaginable…

He also had an iconic little brother, named Kayo, who was the visual prototype for every one of those tough-kid heroes in Derby hats (“bowlers” to us Brits) populating Simon & Kirby’s early work.

Brooklyn and Scrapper and all those other two-fisted, langwitch-manglin’ cynical, sassy tykes took their cues from the kid who often had the last word. The other mainstay of the strip was lanky landlady Emmy Schmaltz; a nosy interfering busybody with inflated airs and graces and a grand line in infectious catchphrases.

Other regulars included Uncle Willie – Moon’s utterly dissolute bad relation; saucy, flighty flapper (Little) Egypt – our hero’s occasional girlfriend and a dead ringer for silent film sensation Louise Brooks (and, incomprehensibly, Emmy’s niece), plus Mushmouth – a black character who will make modern audiences wince with social guilt and societal horror – although to be fair, in this strip which celebrated and venerated working class culture, he was far more a friend than foil, stooge or patsy.

One final regular was affluent Lord Plushbottom, whose eye for the ladies – particularly Egypt – constantly brought him sniffing around the boarding house. At the period of the tales in this volume he is a jolly English bachelor, completely unaware that the spidery spinster has set her cap for him. In 1933, after a decade of hilarious pursuit, she finally got her man…

Surprisingly still readily available as a paperback book (surely, if ever anything was crying out to be suitably and permanently digitally archived it’s vintage strips such as this), Moon Mullins: Two Adventures collects and reprints two marvellous extended romps originally reformatted from the newspapers and released in 1929 and 1931 by Cupples & Leon – a publishing company which specialized in reprinting popular strips in lush, black and white albums; very much a precursor of both comicbooks and today’s graphic novels.

In the first story Mullins is given a car in payment for $30 he foolishly lent Emmy’s ne’er-do-well brother Ziggy, unaware the vehicle is stolen. This is a delightful shambolic, knockabout episode with striking slapstick and clever intrigues resulting in the entire cast behind bars at one time or another.

It should be remembered that the cops in these circumstances are always everybody’s enemy and fools unto themselves…

The second tale describes how Plushbottom treats Emmy and Egypt to a Florida holiday, unaware that he’s also paying for Moon and Mushmouth to join them after a brilliantly inventive and madcap road-trip.

Each adventure is delivered via the incredibly difficult method of one complete gag-strip per day combining to form an over-arching narrative… and they’re all wonderfully drawn and still funny. If you’re a fan of classic W.C. Fields, Marx Brothers and other giants of vintage comedy you must see this stuff…

Moon Mullins was one of the key strips in the development of both cartooning and graphic narrative; hugely influential, seditiously engaging, constantly entertaining and perfectly drawn. With such a wealth of brilliant material surely, it’s only a matter of time until some fine publisher releases a definitive series of collected editions…
© 1929, 1931 The Chicago Tribune. All rights reserved.

Diana Prince, Wonder Woman volume 1


By Mike Sekowsky, Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-776-1

With Wonder Woman once again a media darling and screen superstar, I think it’s high time I revisited a favourite trade paperback collection whilst conspicuously grinding an old axe of mine. Diana Prince, Wonder Woman was originally collected in the first decade of this century, celebrating a critical period in the long life of the amazing Amazon but has dropped out of print now and isn’t even available in a digital format. That’s just wrong, wrong, wrong… especially as it portrayed her as a mere mortal overcoming astounding odds with no more than wits, grace, training and a formidable fashion-sense…

I hope you’ll forgive me that heartfelt outburst, but with the movie hype in full blast, it’s about time DC Comics re-released one of the most appealing and memorable sequences in the long history of the most famous female comic character in the world…

In 1968 superhero comics were once again in decline and publishers were looking for ways to stay profitable – or even just in business – as audience tastes changed. Back then, with the entire industry dependent on newsstand sales, if you weren’t popular, you died. Handing over the hoary, venerable and increasingly moribund Wonder Woman title to Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky, the bosses sat back and waited for their eventual failure, and prepared to cancel the only female superhero in the marketplace…

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for decades, and he had also scored big with Man from Uncle fans at Gold Key and at Tower Comics with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and war comic Fight the Enemy!

His unique take on the Justice League of America had contributed to its overwhelming success, and now he was stretching himself with a number of experimental projects, focussed on the teen and youth-markets.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with the Easy Rider styled drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly hidebound Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. Sekowsky would ultimately work the same magic with Supergirl in Adventure Comics (another epic and intriguing run of tales long overdue for compilation).

This first volume (collecting Wonder Woman #178-184 of the comic book series, spanning October 1968 to October 1969) shows just how bold were those changes to the Amazing Amazon’s career. With neophyte scripter Denny O’Neil on board for the first four tales, we see the old star-spangled stalwart one last time as she clears long-time boyfriend Colonel Steve Trevor of a murder-plot in ‘Wonder Woman’s Rival’ before everything changes…

Issue #179 heralded huge changes as ‘Wonder Woman’s Last Battle’ saw the immortal Amazons of Paradise Island forced to abandon our dimensional plane, taking with them all their magic – including all Wonder Woman’s astounding gadgets and weapons such as the Invisible Plane and Golden Lasso – and even her mighty superpowers. Despite all that her love for Steve compels her to remain on Earth.

Effectively becoming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, she resolves to fight injustice as a mortal (#180 ‘A Death for Diana’, February 1969). A meeting with the blind Buddhist monk I Ching shows her how and she becomes his pupil; training as a martial artist, and quickly becoming embroiled in the schemes of a would-be world-conqueror after incurring ‘The Wrath of Doctor Cyber’. And then Steve Trevor is branded a traitor and disappears…

When Sekowsky took over the writing himself (with the fifth tale ‘A Time to Love, A Time to Die’) the rip-roaring adventures moved in some wildly diverse directions, including high-fashion and high fantasy…

In #183 (August 1969) older fans got a surprise treat after ‘Return to Paradise Island’ found Diana and Ching traversing myriad planes of existence to lost dimensions to join her sister Amazons and fabled heroes such as King Arthur, Lancelot, Siegfried and Roland in a cataclysmic clash against the monster-filled armies of the old adversary Mars, God of War, grimly culminating in ‘The Last Battle!’

With apparently nothing to lose, the switch to amateur espionage agent/peripatetic troubleshooter in the trendy footsteps of such popular TV characters as Emma Peel, The Girl from Uncle and Honey West – not to mention our own ultimate comic strip action-heroine Modesty Blaise – seemed like desperation, but the series was brilliantly written and fantastically drawn, with master inker Dick Giordano adding a sleek veneer of gloss and glamour to the oh-so-readable proceedings.

Steeped heavily in Hippie counter-culture and the Mod-fashion explosion, the New Wonder Woman quickly found a dedicated fan-base. Sales may not have rocketed but they stopped sliding and the character was one of the few frantic, scrabbling refits of that era (even Green Lantern/Green Arrow, X-Men and Silver Surfer not faring quite so well) to avoid cancellation…

Eventually, as times changed, the magical Amazons returned and Wonder Woman once again became a super-powerful creature, but that period of cool, hip, bravely human heroism and drama on an intimate scale stands out as a self-contained high-point of quality in a largely bland career.

That modern readers can’t readily experience this most enjoyable reading experiences is a truly sad state of affairs and one which hopefully be rectified as matter of extreme urgency…
© 1968, 1969, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers volume 1


By Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, Al Milgrom, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6687-0

With more Marvel Cinematic movies doing bonanza summer business around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback collection designed to perfectly augment cinematic exposure and cater to film fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience. If you want you can look at this on screen, too, through its digital edition…

This treasury of torrid tales gathers landmarks and key moments from Marvel Super Heroes #18, Marvel Two-In-One #4-5, Giant-Size Defenders #5, Defenders #26-29 and the time-busting team’s first solo series as it originally appeared in Marvel Presents #3-12, all monumentally spanning January 1969 to August 1977: a radically different set-up than that of the silver screen stars, but grand comicbook sci fi fare all the same…

One thing to recall at all times though is that there are two distinct and separate iterations of the team. The films concentrate on the second, but there are inescapable connections between them so pay close attention here…

Although heralded since its genesis in the early 1960s with making superheroes more realistic, The House of Ideas also always maintained a close connection with outlandish and outrageous cosmic calamity (as best exemplified in their pre-superhero “monsters-in-furry-underpants” days), and this pantheon of much-travelled space stalwarts maintain that delightful “Anything Goes” attitude in all of their many and varied iterations.

This titanic tome’s blistering battle-fest begins with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome!’: first seen in combination new-concept try-out/Golden Age reprint vehicle Marvel Super Heroes #18 (cover-dated January 1969).

The terse, grittily engaging episode introduces a disparate band of freedom fighters united to save Earth from occupation and humanity from extinction at the scaly hands of the sinister, reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon.

It all starts when Jovian militia-man Charlie-27 returns home from a six-month tour of scout duty to find his entire colony subjugated by invading aliens. Fighting free, he jumps into a randomly programmed teleporter and emerges on Pluto, just in time to scotch the escape of crystalline scientist Martinex.

Both are examples of radical human genetic engineering: subspecies carefully designed to populate and colonise Sol system’s outer planets but now possibly the last of their kinds. After helping the mineral man complete his mission of sabotage – blowing up potentially useful material before the Badoon can get their hands on it – the odd couple set the teleporter for Earth and jump…

Unfortunately, the invaders have already taken the homeworld…

The Supreme Badoon Elite are there, busily mocking the oldest Earthman alive. Major Vance Astro had been humanity’s first intersolar astronaut; solo flying in cold sleep to Alpha Centauri at a plodding fraction of the speed of light.

When he got there 1000 years later, humanity was waiting for him, having cracked trans-luminal speeds a mere two centuries after he took off. Now he and Centauri aborigine Yondu are a comedy exhibit for the cruel reptilian conquerors actively eradicating both of their races…

The smug invaders are utterly overwhelmed when Astro breaks free, utilising psionic powers he developed in hibernation, before Yondu butchers them with the sound-controlled energy arrows he carries.

In their pell-mell flight, the pair stumble across incoming Martinex and Charlie-27 and a new legend of valiant resistance was born…

The eccentric team, as originally envisioned by Arnold Drake, Gene Colan & Mike Esposito in 1968, were presented to an audience undergoing immense social change, with dissent in the air, riot in the streets and with the Vietnam War on their TV screens every night.

Perhaps the jingoistic militaristic overtones were off-putting or maybe the tenor of the times were against the Guardians, since costumed hero titles were entering a temporary downturn, but whatever the reason the feature was a rare “Miss” for Early Marvel and the futuristic freedom fighters were not seen again for years.

They floated in limbo until 1974 when Steve Gerber incorporated them into some of his assigned titles (Marvel Two-In-One and The Defenders), wherein assorted 20th century champions travelled a millennium into the future to ensure humanity’s survival…

From MTIO #4, ‘Doomsday 3014!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema & Frank Giacoia) finds Ben Grimm and Captain America catapulted into the 31st century to save Earth from enslavement by the reptilian Badoon, concluding an issue later as the Guardians of the Galaxy climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help the time-lost heroes liberate occupied New York before returning home.

The fabulous Future Force repaid that visit in Giant Sized Defenders #5: a diverse-hands production with the story ‘Eelar Moves in Mysterious Ways’ credited to Gerber, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Scott Edelman.

Dependable Don Heck & Mike Esposito drew the surprisingly satisfying cohesive results: how the Defenders met with future heroes Guardians of the Galaxy in a time-twisting disaster yarn where their very presence seemed to cause nature to run wild, which only set up the next continued epic arc for the monthly comicbook…

‘Savage Time’ (Defenders #26 August, by Gerber, Buscema & Colletta) saw Hulk, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk and Valkyrie accompany the Guardians back to 3015AD in a bold bid to liberate the last survivors of mankind from the all-conquering and genocidal Badoon: a mission which continued with ‘Three Worlds to Conquer!’, then became infinitely more complicated when ‘My Mother, The Badoon!’ revealed the sex-based divisions that so compellingly motivated the marauding lizard-men, before triumphantly climaxing in the rousingly impassioned ‘Let My Planet Go!’ Along the way they had picked up – or been unwillingly allied with – an enigmatic stellar powerhouse dubbed Starhawk: a glib and unfriendly type who called himself “one who knows” and infuriatingly usually did, even if he never shared any useful intel…

Rejuvenated by exposure the squad rededicated themselves to liberating star-scattered Mankind and having adventures, eventually winning a short-lived series in Marvel Presents (#3-12, February 1976-August 1977) before cancellation left them roaming the Marvel Universe as perennial guest-stars in such cosmically-tinged titles as Thor and the Avengers.

That run began with ‘Just Another Planet Story!’ by Gerber, Al Milgrom & Pablo Marcos with the Badoon removed from a triumphantly exultant Earth and the now purposeless Guardians realising that peace and freedom were not for them…

Unable to adapt to civilian life the team reassembled, stole their old starship The Captain America and rocketed off into the void…

Those episodes were augmented by text features ‘Readers Space’ episodically delineating the future history of Marvel Universe Mankind – using various company sci fi series as mile markers, way stations and signposts – and firmly establishing a timeline which would endure for decades.

Gerber & Milgrom descended ‘Into the Maw of Madness!’ in Marvel Presents #4 as the noble nomads picked up Nikki, a feisty teenage Mercurian survivor of the Badoon invasion, and detected the first inklings that something vast, alien and inimical was coming from “out there” to consume our galaxy…

They also met cosmic enigma Starhawk’s better half Aleta, a glamorous woman and mother of his three children, who just happened to be sharing his body…

When the intrepid star-farers and their ship are swallowed by the systems-wide monster Karanada they find a universe inside the undead beast and end up stranded on the ‘Planet of the Absurd’ (Gerber, Milgrom & Howard Chaykin) allowing the author to indulge his taste for political and social satire as our heroes seek to escape a society of vast species variety somehow mimicking 20th century Earth…

Escape achieved the fantastic fantasy escalates into high gear when the crash into the heart of the invading force and on a galaxy-sized planet in humanoid form. ‘The Topographical Man’ (Gerber, Milgrom & Terry Austin) holds all the answers they seek in a bizarre sidereal nunnery where Nikki is asked to make a supreme sacrifice that changes Vance’s life forever in ways he never imagined as they spiritually unite to ‘Embrace the Void!’ in a metaphysical rollercoaster (inked by Bob Wiacek) which finally ends the menace of the soul-sucking galactic devourer.

At this time deadlines were a critical problem and Marvel Presents #8 adapted a story from Silver Surfer #2 (1968) as the team picked up an old Badoon data-log and learned ‘Once Upon a Time… the Silver Surfer!’ saved Earth from alien predators in two-layered yarn correctly attributed to Gerber, Milgrom, Wiacek, Stan Lee, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott…

Back on track for MP #9, Gerber & Milgrom revealed that ‘Breaking Up is Death to Do!’ as the Guardians’ ship is ambushed by the predatory Reivers of Arcturus, leading into the long-awaited and shocking origins of Starhawk and Aleta and setting the assembled heroes on a doomed quest to save the bonded couple’s children from brainwashing, mutation and murder by their own grandfather in ‘Death-Bird Rising!’ and the concluding ‘At War with Arcturus!’ (both inked by Wiacek).

The series abruptly concluded just as new scripter Roger Stern signed on with ‘The Shipyard of Deep Space!’ as the bruised and battered team escape Arcturus and stumble onto a lost Earth vessel missing ever since the beginning of the Badoon invasion. Drydock is a mobile space station the size of a small moon, designed to maintain and repair Terran starships. However, what initially seems to be a moving reunion with lost comrades and actual survivors of the many genegineered human sub-species eradicated by the reptilian ravagers is quickly found to be just one more deadly snare for the Guardians of the Galaxy to overcome or escape…

This spectacular slice of riotous star-roving is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun, swingeing satire and blockbuster action: another well-tailored, on-target tool to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnation and another solid sampling to entice newcomers and charm even the most jaded interstellar Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic.
© 1968, 1974, 1976, 1977, 2014 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis: volume 1


By Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5712-0                  978-0-7851-5713-7(TPB)

When the Ultimate Comics Spider-Man died, writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel promised that a new hero would arise from the ashes…

Marvel’s Ultimates imprint began in 2000 with a new post-modern take on major characters and concepts to bring them into line with the tastes of 21st century readers – apparently a wholly different market from those baby-boomers and their descendants content to stick with the precepts sprung from founding talents Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee… or simply those unable or unwilling to deal with decades of continuity baggage (seven if you include the Golden Age/Timely Comics tales retroactively co-opted into the mix which saturated the originals).

Eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor and in 2008 the cleansing event “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of super-humans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

In the aftermath Peter Parker and his fellow meta-human survivors struggled to restore order to a dangerous new world. Spider-Man finally gained a measure of acceptance and was hailed a hero when he valiantly and very publicly met his end during a catastrophic super-villain confrontation…

This collection – published before the mega-crossover events Time Runs Out and Secret Wars which resulted in the merger of the Ultimate and mainstream Marvel Universe – re-presents the introductory teaser from Ultimate Comics Fallout #4 (August 2011) and follow-up Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Who is Miles Morales? #1-5) with a new and even younger Arachnid Avenger and describes how, just like his predecessor, a troubled boy learned the painful price of misusing the unique gifts fate had bestowed…

The epic opens with a skinny kid having the poor taste to parade around town in a cheap imitation costume of fallen hero Spider-Man encountering and somehow defeating vicious super-villain The Kangaroo. Then the revelations begin by spinning back to the relatively recent past where manic industrialist Norman Osborn repeats the genetic experiment which first gave Peter Parker his powers (see Ultimate Spider-Man volume 1: Power and Responsibility) via the bite of an artificially-mutated spider.

Unfortunately, the deranged mastermind didn’t expect a burglar to waltz in and accidentally carry off the latest test animal as part of his haul…

When grade-schooler Miles Morales gets into prestigious and life-changing Brooklyn Visions Academy Boarding School by the most callous of chances, the brilliant African American/Latino lad quickly and cynically realises life is pretty much a crap-shoot… and unfair to boot. Feeling guilty about his unjust success and sorry for the 697 other poor kids who don’t get his chance, he sneaks off to visit his uncle Aaron.

The visit has to be secret since his uncle is a “bad influence”: a career criminal dubbed The Prowler. Whilst there, a great big spider with a number on its back bites Miles and he begins to feel very odd…

For starters he starts fading from sight…

Suddenly super-fast and strong, able to leap huge distances and fade from view, Miles rushes over to see geeky pal Ganke, a brilliant nerd already attending Brooklyn Visions. Applying “scientific” testing, the boy also discovers Miles can deliver shocking, destructive charges through his hands. When Miles goes home Ganke continues online research and deduces a connection to Spider-Man; strenuously pushing his friend towards becoming a costumed crusader.

However, after Miles assists during a tenement fire, saving a mother and baby, shock sets in and he resolves never to use his powers again…

Time passes: Miles and Ganke are roommates at the Academy for almost a year when news of a major metahuman clash rocks the city. Troubled Miles heads out and is an accidental bystander at the scene of Spider-Man’s death.

Seeing a brave man perish so valiantly, Miles is again consumed by guilt: if he had used his own powers when they first manifested he might have been able to help; to save a true hero…

As part of the crowd attending Parker’s memorial Miles and Ganke talk to another mourner, a girl who actually knew Parker. Gwen Stacy offers quiet insights to the grieving child and a phrase which alters the course of his life forever: “with great power comes great responsibility…”

Clad in a Halloween Spidey costume borrowed from Ganke, Miles takes to the night streets for the first time and stops Kangaroo from committing murder…

His third night out the exhilarated 13-year old encounters the terrifying and furiously indignant Spider-Woman who thrashes and arrests him, before dragging him to Government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, where Hawkeye, Iron Man and master manipulator Nick Fury coldly assess him.

However, before they can reach a decision on Miles’ fate, murderous malcontent Electro breaks free of the Triskelion’s medical custody ward and goes on a rampage.

Despite easily defeating the seasoned heroes the voltage villain is completely unprepared for a new Spider-Man: especially as the boy has a range of extra powers including camouflage capabilities and an irresistible “venom-strike” sting…

As Miles considers the full implications of his victory, Fury imparts a staggeringly simple homily: “With great power…”

Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli crafted a stirring new chapter both engaging and intriguing and this stirring debut volume (available in Hardcover, Trade Paperback and digital editions) also contains a gallery of alternate covers by Marko Djurdjevic and Pichelli.

Tense, breathtaking, action-packed, evocative and full of the light-hearted, self-aware humour which blessed the original Lee/Ditko tales, this is a controversial but worthy way to continue and advance the legend Fights ‘n’ Tights addicts will admire and adore…
A British Edition ™ & © 2012, 2016 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

The Paper Man


By Milo Manara (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-022-2

The lush and sensuous art of Milo Manara has always outshone his scripting – at least to English speaking sensibilities – but on occasion his pared-down writing produces genuine comic gems. One such is the egregiously STILL OUT OF PRINT monochrome wonder The Paper Man.

A sparse and gritty epic of Love and Death on the American frontier, the lavishly rendered graphic spectacle ostensibly tells the tragic tale of a young man looking for his Truly Beloved in a relentless trek across Arizona, and his chance meetings with pop-culture mile-markers.

These include a weather-crazed Preacher, a demented veteran of the long-past War of Independence, and the erotic and sensual Sioux maiden White Rabbit, all depicted against a backdrop of the most hallowed tropes and clichés of the Western, exported as cultural icons from Hollywood to the rest of the world.

By following a rather inept and innocent everyman through increasingly harsh incidents with US cavalrymen, wagon-trains, drunken and malevolent cow-pokes – plus, of course, marauding “Injuns” – none of whom actually conform to their stereotypes, Manara looks at the commonplace in a fresh if somewhat reductionist manner, without losing sight of the fact that the reader always wants an enthralling story, beautifully rendered.

This untypical western with its starkly sumptuous art and crushingly tragic ‘final reel’ owes more to Brecht than to Ford or Huston, but nonetheless remains powerfully true to its roots, and is achingly easy on the eyes. Minimal but wonderful, lush and Spartan, this is a Wild West story for every adult to enjoy, regardless of when they last put on a cowboy hat.

…So, for Pete’s Sake can’t somebody puh-lease re-release an English-language version, even if only as an electronic edition?
© 1982 by Dargaud Editeur, Paris for Milo Manara. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 12


By Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, John Romita, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4214-0 (HB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a series that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. As the depressing weight of the Sordid Seventies continued, that feeling seemed to intensify with every issue…

By the time of these tales Stan Lee was easing out of writing and here replaces himself with 19-year-old science fiction author Gerry Conway. The scripts – aided in no small part by the plotting input and mentoring of resident illustrator John Romita – achieved a more contemporary tone (but, naturally feeling quite dated from here in the 21st century, Dude!): purportedly closely in tune with the times. Combined with the emphatic use of soap opera subplots which kept older readers glued to the series even when bombastic battle sequences didn’t, Amazing Spider-Man grew to ever greater heights of popularity.

Moreover, as a sign of the times a hint of cynical surrealism also began creeping in…

Thematically, there’s a decline in the use of old-fashioned gangsterism and a growing dependence on outlandish villains. The balance of costumed super-antagonists with thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, was gradually eroding and soon a global resurgence of interest in supernatural stories would result in more monsters and uncanny happenings…

Nevertheless, the wallcrawler was still indisputably mainstream comics’ voice of youth and defined being a teenager for young readers of the 1970s, tackling incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations.

Lonely High School nerd Peter Parker had grown up and gone to college. Because of his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too, but found true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #110-120 (originally released between July 1972 and May 1973) the astonishing tales in this titanic twelfth Masterworks tome begin with ‘The Birth of… the Gibbon!’ (by Lee & Romita) which finds a despondent and world-weary wallcrawler battling another shunned and lonely outcast. Orphaned drifter Martin Blank possessed an anthropoid frame which made him an outcast and brought out the cruel worst in humanity. When he reaches out in friendship and admiration to Spidey he is rebuffed again and savagely lashes out…

The Gibbon retuned a month later when psychopathic stalker Kraven the Hunter brainwashed the hapless outcast ‘To Stalk a Spider!’ in a tale which saw the beginning of Gerry Conway’s tenure on the title, after which #112 follows up with another periodic crisis of faith for Peter Parker as ‘Spidey Cops Out!’

The harassed and exhausted hero is ready to chuck it all in until another nightmarish old adversary resurfaces as part of a burgeoning gang war…

They Call the Doctor… Octopus!’ (Conway & Romita with art assistance from Tony Mortellaro and Jim Starlin) sees the city plunged into chaos when the multi-limbed madman squares off against mysterious gang-boss Hammerhead with a rededicated but fearfully overmatched Spider-Man caught in the middle…

The next chapter in a brutal and comparatively long-running duel for control of New York’s underworld played out in ‘Gang War, Schmang War! What I Want to Know is … Who the Heck is Hammerhead?’ by Conway, John Romita Sr., Mortellaro & Jim Starlin, with our angst-ridden arachnid trapped between the battling mobs of 1930s movie gangster pastiche Hammerhead and sworn nemesis Dr. Octopus; each seeking to top the other’s callous, staggering ruthlessness.

In the melee Spidey is captured by the bizarre newcomer and learns from the boastful braggart how an ordinary amnesiac gunsel was rebuilt into an unstoppable cyborg by a rogue scientist named Jonas Harrow.

Seconds from death, Spider-Man is driven to risk everything on a wild escape bid after he overhears that Ock will be meeting up with an old lady. The agonised wallcrawler fears that his beloved, befuddled, missing-for-months Aunt May is once more sheltering the many-armed menace…

Dashing into the Westchester countryside, he breaks in to Octavius’ HQ only to be brained with a vase by the terrified May Parker. Moments behind him are Hammerhead’s goons and, all too soon, ‘The Last Battle!’ is underway…

As the mobsters decimate each other, Spider-Man barely escapes being shot by his closest relative and is more than happy to disappear when the police show up to arrest (almost) everybody.

In the aftermath, however, the Widow Parker astounds everybody by revealing that she will be staying in Octopus’ mansion until he is released…

Amazing Spider-Man #116 began an extended political thriller as charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh opens a savvy campaign to become Mayor, only to be opposed and hunted by a brutish monster and hidden mastermind in Suddenly… the Smasher!’

Older fans will recognise much of the story and art since it was a recycled Lee, Romita & Jim Mooney monochrome saga from 1968’s Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine (augmented with additional art by Romita & Mortellaro and bridging scenes scripted by Conway): all neatly reconfigured to encompass new subplots regarding May’s absence and publisher J. Jonah Jameson’s involvement and obsession with Law-&-Order demagogue Raleigh…

The drama deepens with ‘The Deadly Designs of the Disruptor!’ as the monster’s masked master intensifies efforts to destroy the would-be Mayor – with only Spider-Man seemingly able to deter the maniac – before the affair finally culminates in a ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ wherein the true architect of the campaign of terror is exposed and destroyed…

Peter’s problems exponentially increased in #119 as a mysterious telegram for Aunt May calls him away to Canada to meet a lawyer named Rimbaud. Before he leaves, however, Peter’s best friend’s father has a disturbing episode.

Norman Osborn had been the maniacal Green Goblin until cured by hallucinogen-induced amnesia. Now as Parker readies himself for a trip to Montreal, Osborn seems to be recovering those obscured memories…

With no other option, our harried hero heads north, arriving in time to be caught in a city-wide panic as another verdant former sparring partner hits town. ‘The Gentleman’s Name is… Hulk’ (an all-Conway & Romita collaboration) saw the wallcrawler utterly overmatched but still striving to stop the rampaging green juggernaut, spectacularly culminating in ‘The Fight and the Fury!’ (illustrated by Gil Kane with Paul Reinman and inked by Romita & Mortellaro).

With the immediate threat averted, Peter at last rendezvous with Rimbaud only to see the secretive legal eagle murdered before he can share whatever he knows about May Parker…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced, fabulously far-fetched and full of innovative thrills, these tales again proved Spider-Man was bigger than any creator and was well on the way to becoming as real as Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan
© 1972, 1973, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Buster Brown: Early Strips in Full Color


By Richard F. Outcault with an introduction by August Derleth (Dover Publications)
ISBN: 978- 0-1-486-23006-1

Richard F. Outcault is credited with being the father (fans and historians are never going to stop debating this one, but Outcault is one of the most prime of all contenders) of the modern comic strip. His breakthrough was a scandalous creation dubbed The Yellow Kid for legendary newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1895 (the feature was actually entitled Hogan’s Alley) but the cartoon shenanigans captivated the reading public and even led to the coining of a new term: “Yellow Journalism”.

Outcault was notoriously fickle and quickly tired of his creation, and of the subsequent features he created for William Randolph Hearst in the New York Journal during a particularly grave period of bitter newspaper circulation warfare.

In 1902, he created a Little Lord Fauntleroy style moppet called Buster Brown, but the angelic looks actually acted as camouflage for a little boy perpetually wedded to mischief, pranks and poor decision making. Once again Outcault soon became bored and moved on, but this strip was another multi-media sensation, which captured public attention and spun off a plethora of franchises.

Buster was a merchandising bonanza. By a weird set of circumstances, Buster Brown Shoes became one of the biggest chain-stores in America, and in later years produced a periodical comicbook Premium (a giveaway magazine free to purchasers) packed with some of the greatest comic artists and adventure stories the industry had ever seen. Outcault may have dumped Buster, but the little devil darling never quit comics…

Way back in 1974 Dover Publications released this facsimile reproduction of an earlier collection from 1904, then entitled Buster Brown and his Resolutions, featuring fifteen glorious full-colour strips from the first two years of the run, and it’s about time they thought about doing it again – or even of publishing a far more comprehensive edition…

Until then however, let’s re-examine what we have here and meet the cherubic Hellion and his faithful dog Tige, and see that if indelicate or untoward happenstance doesn’t create another round of chaos in the ordered and genteel life of the well-to-do Mr. and Mrs. Brown, then little Buster is always happy to lend a hand.

Each lavish page, rendered in a delightfully classical, illustrative line style – like Cruickshank or perhaps Charles Dana Gibson – ends with a moral or resolution, but one that is subversively ambiguous.

As Buster himself is wont to comment, “People are usually good when there isn’t anything else to do.”

Historically pivotal, Buster Brown is also thematically a landmark in content, and a direct ancestor of the mischievous child strip that dominated the family market of the 20th century. Could Dennis the Menace (“Ours” or “Theirs”), Minnie the Minx or Bart Simpson have existed without Buster or his contemporary rivals The Katzenjammer Kids?

It’s pointless to speculate, but it’s no waste of time to find and enjoy this splendid strip.
© 1974 Dover Publications. All Rights Reserved.

American Vampire volume 1


By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Stephen King & various (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2830-9                  978-1-4012-2974-0 (SC)

In myth, literature and entertainment, there are many sorts of vampires. Here’s one species that’s a superbly grounded counterpoint to the scarlet deluge of lovey-dovey, kissey-poo tales of forbidden love between innocent modern maids and moody, tragic carriers of the Curse of the Night’s Children: one that uses for its themes Darwinian Survival of the Fittest, old-fashioned Revenge and the ultimate grisly example of Manifest Destiny; all played out against the chillingly familiar backdrop of the bloody birth of a modern nation…

In Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque’s first narrative arc, augmented and supplemented here by a stunning sidebar storyline from the functionally mythical Stephen King (who also provides a trenchant Introduction with ‘Suck on This’) – the kind of vampires that you should rightly beware of are introduced and explained, but although there are love stories in this series they’re probably not the sort you want your impressionable kids to read…

The sinister suspense begins with ‘Big Break’ as, in the Hollywood of 1925, struggling but popular and ambitious would-be starlets Pearl Jones and Hattie Hargrove follow their dream of celluloid stardom, working days as bit-players in movie mogul D. B. Bloch’s latest silent epic.

The girls have only been best friends for a short while but shared hardship makes them closer than sisters even if, too often, Pearl is distracted by itinerant musician Henry Preston and the aggravatingly persistent and obnoxious drifter who hangs out near their Ladies-Only boarding house.

The actresses’ careers seem destined to blossom when leading man Chase Hamilton invites the fame-hungry gamins to one of Bloch’s legendary Producer’s Parties. Despite shaded warnings from their laconic stalker, Pearl and Hattie attend but when the unctuous Chase takes the Jones girl aside to meet D. B. it isn’t the kind of assignation she expects…

Reeling with horror, the feisty actress finds herself a morsel and kickback-offering for a pack of wealthy European money-men who are literally blood-sucking monsters…

King & Albuquerque then take us back to the hoary days of 1880 and Sidewinder, Colorado, as veteran wordsmith Will Bunting relates the true story behind his novel ‘Bad Blood’ to a group of eager fans and historians…

The ancient scribbler recounts the fantastic yet apparently non-fictional tale of outlaw Skinner Sweet, a remorseless thief frustrating progress, killing good folks and stealing funds from sun-shy, Euro-trash millionaire railroad speculator Mr. Percy. When the psychotic bandit is finally captured by Pinkerton agent Jim Book and deputy Felix Camillo, the triumphant banker lays on a special train for a gaggle of journalists to record the victory of civilisation over lawlessness…

As the killer’s gang subsequently derails the train and massacres everyone who survived the crash, Skinner cruelly and casually takes time out to reveal how he killed Book’s wife…

Sweet then guns down Book and overwhelms Camillo, but is utterly unprepared for the attack of effete-seeming Percy who shrugs off fusillades of bullets before slaughtering them all. Skinner won’t die easily though, and in close combat with the fanged, gore-guzzling horror blows the European monstrosity’s eye out, consequently taking its blood into his own body before at last expiring…

Unknown to all, Bunting has seen everything and, as fully-healed Percy tends to Book and Camillo, wisely decides to say nothing of the horror he’s witnessed…

The Hollywood story then resumes with ‘Morning Star’ as Hattie and Henry discover Pearl is missing. Driving to the isolated mansion they discover her; ravaged, chewed to ribbons as if by some animal, yet inexplicably clinging to life.

Pearl wakes in the Morgue, having been visited by her mysterious stalker. Skinner Sweet has shared his unique blood with her and now, as the once-deceased actress listens in astonishment, the smirking ghoul explains some facts of life – and death – to her.

Like himself she has been attacked by ancient, old-world vampires, and by sharing their blood – accidentally in his case but quite deliberately when Sweet bestowed his own kiss upon her – Pearl has become a new kind of hybrid-bloodsucker, perfectly evolved to inhabit the New World, with completely different weaknesses to the old guard and, hopefully, sharing Sweet’s lust for revenge, taste for chaos and hunger for life…

After giving her a quick lesson on the differences between the European nosferatu who have carved themselves an almost unassailable position of closeted wealth and power in the young nation and the new American Vampires (now numbering two), the morally bankrupt wanderer takes off, leaving his hungry offspring to sink, swim or stand on her own shape-shifting, taloned feet…

He does leave a present, however: locked in her closet, Chase Hamilton quickly realises he is about to pay for all his many sins…

‘Deep Water’ finds author Will Bunting also in 1925, talking about the re-issue of his fantastic novel to a store full of avid fans. The tale, describing the iconic life of heroic Jim Book and his battle against vampire outlaw Skinner Sweet, resumes at the point when the infected owlhoot wakes up in his own grave. Far above him the cabal of expatriate vampires secretly dominating America’s nascent financial system continue accruing wealth and power and insouciantly turn the entire town of Sidewinder into Colorado’s latest reservoir and boating lake…

For nearly thirty years Book continues with his peacekeeping profession and eventually Camillo is elected Mayor of new town Lakeview. More worryingly Bunting had turned the tale of Sweet and the vampires into a popular dime-novel so sensation-seekers and treasure-hunters regularly dredge the man-made mere for souvenirs of the infamous outlaw…

One day in 1909 a couple of them unearth the now legendary badman’s buried, sunken coffin and unleash a rabid horror unlike anything ever seen in the world before: a leech unaffected by running water, stakes or sunlight. Hungry for revenge and sustenance Skinner Sweet emerges into a new America and starts hunting old “friends” he owes a debt to…

In Tinsel Town meanwhile, Pearl returns to her lodgings and tells shell-shocked Hattie to flee before continuing her own quest for vengeance in ‘Rough Cut’. The immortal Euro-cabal are, as usual, discussing what to do about their personal nemesis Sweet and his protracted annoyance, unaware they have a far more pressing problem. That all changes after the unstoppable and infinitely superior Pearl butchers three of them. Without knowing what could kill this New World species of vampire, the clique resorts to age-old stratagems even as Miss Jones – resuming mortal form – turns to Henry for a little comfort and support…

Just then the phone rings and Bloch demands that she surrender herself or Hattie will die horribly…

Back in 1909 Sweet’s ‘Blood Vengeance’ eliminates every human in Lakeview and proclaims his intentions to a horrified coterie of haughty, privileged, old-world bloodsuckers who previously believed themselves the planet’s apex predators. Even so, the resurgent outlaw has more pressing business. Before the last man in town died, Sweet made him send a telegram to Jim Book…

‘Double Exposure’ sees Pearl desperately negotiating for Hattie’s life, knowing surrender only leads her to becoming the cabal’s eternal, experimental lab rat. She is utterly unaware she has already been betrayed by someone close to her: someone pitifully greedy and unable to resist the subtle pressures and obvious blandishments of the European ancients.

However, even bushwhacked, mysteriously weakened and brutally assaulted, Pearl, with the aid of her last true friend, turns the tables and even destroys Bloch’s fortress before escaping to prepare for one last showdown…

The writer’s tale is also approaching a climax as ‘One Drop of Blood’ finds Book, Felix, the young Bunting and Camillo’s daughter Abilena hunting Sweet through the hellish ruins of Lakeview just as the bloodthirsty travesty discovers that his powers and energies are unaccountably waning. Watching unsuspected from a distant position of seclusion, “Euro-Vamps” bide their time and witness the shocking finale as the valiant comrades use dynamite to bury the debilitated devil in a deep mine-shaft under tons of unyielding rock – but not before the sadistic Skinner deliberately infects Book with his own tainted, mutagenic blood…

Pearl’s story in this first stunning volume concludes in a sustained spray of scarlet gore as she climactically confronts Bloch and his surviving comrades only to face one final tragic betrayal in ‘Curtain Call’ whilst ‘If Thy Right Hand Offend Thee…’ discloses Book’s climactic battle with the cursed thirst Sweet had inflicted upon him, even as unstoppable Skinner enjoys one last chat with the Euro-leech who created him…

The time-distanced yet parallel tales then coincide and conclude with a hint of foreboding; presaging more horrors in the days and decades to come…

This initial creepy, compelling chronicle also includes a pithy Afterword from Snyder, a welter of variant covers by Albuquerque, Jim Lee, Bernie Wrightson, Andy Kubert, JH Williams III and Paul Pope, a feature on the script-to-art process and 6 pages of designs and sketches by the supremely skilled and multi-faceted Albuquerque to delight and impress all fans of truly mature supernatural thrills and chills.

Far more True Blood than Twilight and substantially closer to Sam Peckinpah than John Ford or Tod Browning, this lightning-paced, sardonically gory excursion into blood and sand and love and death is a spectacular, absorbing thrill-riot by two of the industry’s best talents, backed up and covered by an absolute master of tone and terror, combining to craft a splendid, sordid, sexy and utterly spellbinding saga, riddled with far deeper metaphors than “unrequited love sucks”.

American Vampire offers solid screams and enchantingly fresh ideas all fear-fiends will find irresistible, making this modern classic an absolute “must-have” and a certain reminder that there are such things as monsters and some beasts just should not be tamed…
© 2010, Scott Snyder and Stephen King. All Rights Reserved.

DC Comics Classics Library: The Flash of Two Worlds


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2298-7

There’s a lot of truly splendid vintage comics material around these days in a lot of impressive formats and one of the most welcoming was DC’s Comics Classics Library. A series of top-end hardbacks, the portmanteau range was a remarkably accessible and collectible range of products, and one of the best is this stunning collection gathering some of the most influential and beloved stories of the Silver Age of American comicbooks.

Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in that epoch with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America – and more revivals – which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, and changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration gathering the first half dozen Barry Allen team-ups with his predecessor Jay Garrick; specifically the contents of The Flash #123, 129, 137, 151, 170 and 173, originally seen between September 1961 and September 1967…

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster were the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with key writers John Broome and Gardner Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever, and following an Introduction from Flash-Fanatic Geoff Johns you can see why…

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Joe Giella) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comicbook hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists.

Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either via annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters. Of those bold sallies only The Spectre graduated to his own title…

Received with tumultuous acclaim by the readership, the Earth-2 concept was revisited months later in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ (June 1962) which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from #137 (June 1963) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw both Flashes in action against 50,000-year-old tyrant Vandal Savage to save the shanghaied Justice Society of America: a tale which directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the subsequent creation of an annual team-up tradition.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age” but Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

A less well-known but superbly gripping team-up tale is ‘Invader from the Dark Dimension!’ (Flash #151, March 1965,): another full-length shocker wherein demonic super-bandit The Shade ambitiously invades Earth-1 as the first step in an avaricious attempt to plunder both worlds…

Flash #170 (May 1967) was scripted by John Broome and inked by the sublime Sid Greene, reuniting the Speedsters after a gap of two years to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’ with the Earth-1 Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick is visiting and calls on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following and concluding this cornucopia of cosmic chills, Flash #173 (September 1967, by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic triple team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly reveals devilish layers of intrigue since the sinister stalker’s Andromedan super-safari conceals a far more scurrilous purpose for the three speedy pawns before the wayward wanderers finally fight free and find their way home again…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here shaped American comics for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave of animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sleaze Castle: Directors Cut (Part #0)


By Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley with various (Cosmic Ray Gun Incorporated/Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-905692-93-4                  978-1-62098-068-2

I’m old, me. I’ve been around for a bit and met a few folks. So, as occurs when I’m reviewing something by people I’ve gone drinking with, I feel compelled to admit to potential conflicts of interest such as here.

The Society of Strip Illustrators/Comics Creators Guild used to meet on the last Thursday of every month in London. In highly refined and dignified surroundings old lags and aspiring talents rubbed scruffy, grimy, dandruffed – occasionally scrofulous – shoulders, talking comics old and new whilst showing off what we were up to.

Always a fun, laid-back evening, those occasions when the laconic Terry Wiley would turn up from Points North with copies of the latest self-published issue of Tales From Sleaze Castle were especially un-memorable: a combination of subsidised booze and the fact that most folks immediately buried their heads in the mesmerising, transcendentally British, trans-dimensional, time-busting kitchen sink comedy/drama/nostalgic fantasy buddy-movie of a comic and lost all power of speech until they’d finished…

It’s just that good – probably the very best home-grown comic saga you’ve never read – and it also holds strong claim to probably exploiting the very best and most appalling literary puns in all sequential narrative.

Scripted by the equally demi-mythical Dave McKinnon, the epic adventure is rendered pretty straightforward but also nearly indescribable. The story unfolds in a progression of mini-chapters and vignettes which act as diary and six-month countdown to an inescapable, predestined event…

After a rather bemused Introduction from author McKinnon, this edition of the monochrome masterpiece of wacky understatement starts with ‘Another Earth, Another Dimension, Another Reason to Go Shopping’ and a brace of ‘Prologues’ in which we meet incomprehensibly ancient Pandadomino Quartile, puissant albino Empress of another Realm of Reality and undisputed dominant resident of the incredible, infinite domicile dubbed Sleaze Castle.

Also brought to our attention are the thoroughly grounded though no less implausible Dribble family of Earth; mother Poppy, younger daughter Petra and her older sister Jocasta, befuddled student and co-star of our show…

As post-grad Jo returns to college in the astonishingly attractive if uncivilised Northern wilds of England and her ongoing M.A. in Televisual Studies, far away in soft, cosmopolitan London, the Queen (not ours, the other, alien one) goes shopping. It is ‘Sep. ’86: Castaway’ and there’s about to be a small hitch…

When the time/space door malfunctions Pandadomino is annoyingly stranded here. Establishing shaky communications with home she is assured that things will be fixed but it will take six months to retrieve her. Moreover, the portal will only appear in another location…

An incoming call then gives further details and instructions. It’s from herself who has literally just returned to Sleaze Castle and she has some advice for her younger, stranded self. It’s quite bizarre, paradoxical and tediously specific instructions on what to do for the next 178 days so she’d better get a pencil…

Jocasta Dribble is on ‘Autopilot 11:23’ as she makes her way from the railway station to her room in the Ethel Merman Hall of Residence at the University of Novocastria.

As usual the trip is fraught with wool-gathering and petty weirdnesses but eventually she slumps onto her term-time bed and makes the acquaintance of her new neighbour.

The oddly naive girl with the shock of black hair, exotic face and too much eye makeup is from Thailand.

Sandracall me PandaCastle has absolutely no idea about living in England so Jo takes her under her maternal wing, blithely oblivious that her new friend is an unwilling extraterrestrial immigrant, used to commanding vast armies and geniuses of various species, cunningly disguised with dyes and contact lenses. Moreover, the strange stranger has used all her wiles to cheat her way into the room next door which will, some months’ distant, very briefly become an inter-dimensional gateway before snapping shut forever…

And thus begins the gentle and seductively enchanting story of the growing relationship between two of the most well-realised women in comics. As geeky outsider Jo at last blossoms into a proper grown-up – she even finds a boyfriend, more than a decade after her precocious schoolgirl sister Petra – her instruction of the oddly sophisticated “Thai” into British civilisation and college life is simultaneously heart-warming, painful, hilarious, poignant and irresistibly addictive to watch.

It’s also deliciously inclusive and expansive: packed with what 21st century consumers apparently call “Easter Eggs”. These hidden nuggets of in-jokes, wry observations and oblique cultural and comics references are witty and funny enough in their own right, but if you were in any way part of the comics scene in the late 1980s they are also an instant key into golden times past, packed with outrageous guest-appearances by many of the upcoming stars and characters of the British cartooning and small press movement.

(Whilst the absolutely riveting scenes of Jo and Panda trying out both Novocastria’s Women Cartoonist Society and all-male Komik Klub are timeless slices of shtick to you lot, they were a solid reminder of times past and people I still owe Christmas cards to…)

Panda spends her first Christmas ever with the Dribbles and their ferociously Italian extended family but, as the days are counting down, the displaced millennia-old queen is beginning to wonder what will happen once she leaves…

Astoundingly there are people and places and things and people and one person in particularly who is apparently unique and irreplaceable even in the unending pan-cosmic Reality she owns. There’s this friend she’s really can’t bear to lose…

Beautifully scripted, alluringly paced and exquisitely rendered, this book would be paralysingly evocative for any Brit who went to college between 1975 and 1990, but what makes it all so astonishingly good is the fact that this delightful melange of all the things that contributed to our unique culture are effortlessly smooshed together as mere background for a captivating tale of two outsiders finding friendship through adversity and by perpetually lying to each other…

There have been comparisons to Los Bros Hernandez’ Love and Rockets but they’re superficial and unfair to both. I will say though that both are uniquely the product of their own time and regional geography…

This collection also includes a cover gallery and pin-ups as well as the additional plus of ‘And Finally… Three Lost Tales’ which features an aspect of the business I really miss.

A few of the self-publishing community cameoed in the Women Cartoonist Society and elsewhere – in a spirit of communal tit-for-tat – collaborated on side-bar stories featuring Panda, Jo and the rest during the comic’s initial run. With commentary from McKinnon they are happily re-presented here, so even after the cliffhanger story-pause you can still have a laugh with ‘The Rules of the Game part I’ by Lee Kennedy, ‘The Rules of the Game part II’ by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and what I’ll call ‘An Idea in a Book is Worth Two in the Head’ by Jeremy Dennis.

You’ll need to buy this book to realise why…

Made even better by a gallery of gripping covers, calendar art and more, this a superb collation by lovers of comics for lovers of comics, and now that I’ve read this brand-new e-Edition with its remastered pages and fresh snippets of original material I’m going to forgo re-reading the next three volumes in those well-worn Gratuitous Bunny Editions I bought years ago in favour of these safely unwrinkled-able, spunkily perky digital tomes too.

And if you have your own temporal retrieval system or a computer and a credit card – you can do likewise…
Sleaze Castle is ™ & © 1992, 2012 Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley. This edition ™ & © Dave McKinnon, Terry Wiley and Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved. Three Lost Tales © 1996, 2012 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Lee Kennedy and Jeremy Day.