Mighty Avengers volume 2: Family Bonding


By Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti, Greg Land, Jay Leisten & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-607-6

The colossal Infinity storyline detailed a staggering two-pronged threat to humanity: intergalactic eradication via all-out attack by an impossibly ancient race dubbed The Builders and – whilst the Avengers mobilised most of their assemblage off-planet to thwart that armada – a separate savage invasion at the behest of Thanos of Titan, who took advantage of the dearth of metahuman defenders to crush mankind…

In the Avengers’ absence, family man Luke Cage led a spirited superhero resistance movement and in the aftermath as the planet rebuilt itself, elected to keep his Mighty Avengers together as a decidedly different kind of crusading team…

Opening a storefront operation in his old Gem Theatre office, Cage’s intention was to bring the Avengers back to ordinary people.

His bold new idea: opening the heroic volunteer brigade to the public who can come to them with meta-related problems or issues of injustice or help the costumed folk in any way they feel able.

The core empowered team comprises The Falcon, Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and Photon but now calling herself Spectrum), sidelined and forgotten 1960s black superman Dr. Adam Brashear AKA Blue Marvel, She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters, old comrade Iron Fist and a couple of promising if troubled new kids: VíctorPower Man 2.0Álvarez and Ava Ayala, the latest mortal to become the godly avatar White Tiger.

Also helpfully hanging around is a mystically savvy mystery hero who helped out in an early case and now borrows the hand-me-down guise and gear of masked marauder Ronin

Scripted by Al Ewing, Mighty Avengers volume 2 #6-10 (April-September 2014) opens with the first shots rendered by Valerio Schiti for a sinisterly seditious saga wherein Falcon tracks a far-right radical who has just torched an anti-capitalist bookshop.

Elsewhere Cage is having an uncomfortable conversation with Brashear.

Required in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to cease public activities lest his example harm the already torturous pace of racial integration in America, Blue Marvel has only recently returned to public life; stirred from a lengthy self-imposed exile due to the impending and building crises threatening Earth.

He doesn’t welcome veiled accusations that his past capitulation actually hindered progress and justice for his fellow African-Americans, but before the discussion can get anywhere meaningful, a cosmic alarm calls the mighty Marvel away …

All conversation is shelved when Ava joins the gathering. She has suffered intolerable personal losses in recent days, heaped atop a long-unsatisfied desire to avenge her murdered family and the chilling pact she has recently made with the primeval Tiger God who supplies her strength, speed and martial arts mastery – for a price. She cannot remember the last time she rested…

On Liberty Island Spectrum and She-Hulk are testing the junior Power Man’s limits before returning to base, but the evening goes into overdrive when Falcon radios in that his book burner was working for army renegade and paramilitary extremist Gideon Mace.

On a lonely rooftop Ava Ayala overhears that the man who slaughtered her family has been released from the psychiatric institution which kept him from her, and the White Tiger cries out to her broken soul…

The story resumes as the fury-filled girl allows her predatory patron deity to take full control of their shared body in return for the promise of justice. Her Avenger friends quickly mobilise to stop her from crossing a line there’s no coming back from, but Victor and Iron Fist are no match for her feral feline rage…

Mace has been adopted as the spokes-figure for a shady but powerful hard right lobbying organisation called the American Policy Research Initiative, and their despicable lawyers make it clear that should anything happen to their poster-boy, the repercussions would be litigious and catastrophic for the store front champions.

With no choice but to play bodyguard to a bloodthirsty, bigoted maniac, the Avengers are waiting when White Tiger attacks. Ava almost defeats them all before finally succumbing to overwhelming force.

She awakens securely bound in Kadesh – Brashear’s undersea super-science fortress – with her friends desperately trying to contact one of their numerous supernatural allies to loosen the Tiger God’s grip on her.

Although Blue Marvel compliantly vanished from America for fifty years, Brashear covertly carried on the good fight under a number of aliases in Europe, Asia and the greater universe. Now a distress call comes in alerting him that techno-terrorists and old enemies W.E.S.P.E. have sponsored an extra-dimensional incursion of devastating force. When the old soldier hurtles off to fix it, he is accompanied by Spectrum and She-Hulk.

Behind the catastrophe is flamboyant, novice mad scientist Dr. Positron who has a deeply personal score to settle with Brashear…

As the away team tackle his deadly robo-insects and the remaining Avengers bicker on over how best to help Ava, in her cell the indomitable captive White Tiger takes her fate into her own hands and finally puts her manipulative power-patron in his proper place…

On Positron’s base Brashear faces shock after shock as his deranged foe opens a portal to the astounding Neutral Zone (where matter and anti-matter collide yet somehow co-exist), liberating Marvel’s long lost son Kevin from a ghastly, torturous imprisonment…

Issue #9 (illustrated by Greg Land & Jay Leisten) opens with enigmatic eldritch warrior Ronin targeted by an increasingly varied army of ninja were-beasts, whilst on the island of Dr. Positron, Kevin Brashear – mutated to monstrous size and shape – gradually oozes though a cascading dimensional portal and Blue Marvel shares his most tragic secret.

From the 1970’s until the early years of the new superheroic age, “Doc Brashear” and his super-genius son clandestinely combatted a host of uncanny evils until one day their arch-nemesis Evald Skorpion opened a hole into infinity and Kevin was sucked into it.

To save the world, a doting parent resolutely sacrificed his son…

Now as the colossal thing that was Kevin ponderously squeezes out of the wormhole, the terrifying effects of that sojourn in other-space can be fully seen, compelling heroes and villain to unite in putting the tragic victim back there at all costs…

In New York meanwhile a flock of were-roosters and snake-ninjas have succeeded in battle against the mystery hero, exposing his shocking identity to the world as a prelude to their expediting the coming of the appalling Age of the Deathwalkers

The epic adventure concludes – for now – with an intoxicating Original Sin crossover (another mega-major publishing event which disclosed many of the Marvel Universe’s most closely guarded secrets) as Blue Marvel is summoned to the moon to comply with the last wishes of a dead friend.

Whilst Cage and Co. resist mounting mystical menaces in New York, Adam ponders an impossible situation. Over his many years of isolation and ostracization, the seemingly immortal superman somehow became close to the aloof, remote and unshakably distant cosmic entity known as Uatu the Watcher.

Now the omnipotent sidereal witness has been murdered by agents unknown and the deeply shaken defender of the Earth is further astounded and gratified when Uatu’s significant other Ulana gives their baby into his safekeeping…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Land & Leisten Family Bonding is a fast, furious, fabulously inventive and fantastically offbeat collection combining eerie horror, amazing action and outrageous humour into an unforgettable frolic no Fights ‘n’ Tights fanboy could possibly resist.
™ & © 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.

Papyrus volume 4: The Evil Mummies


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-84-000000

Papyrus is the masterfully evocative magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Spirou, running to more than 30 albums, consequently spawning a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ (fold-in, half-sized booklets) inserts for Spirou, starring his jovial little cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip ‘Poussy’.

In the 1960s De Gieter launched South Seas mermaid fantasy ‘Tôôôt et Puit’ whilst Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, deep-sixing the Smurfs gig to expand his horizons working for Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on ‘Mischa’ for Germany’s Primo, whilst applying the finishing touches to his latest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the next forty years.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, blending Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration, through means of light fantasy romps always leavened and flavoured with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

The named star is a fearlessly forthright peasant boy (more accurately a fisherman) favoured by the gods who rose to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

As a youngster the plucky Fellah was blessed by the gods and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. The lad’s first task was to free supreme god Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty was to protecting Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unparalleled gift for seeking out trouble…

The Evil Mummies is the fourth Cinebook translation (19th album in the run and originally released in 1996 as Les Momies maléfiques); a riotous rollercoaster of all-action fearsome fantasy which begins in the rocky fastnesses of the deep sands where Pharaoh’s headstrong daughter impatiently leads an expedition to retrieve the revered mummies of the fabled Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa from the lost Hammamat mines where they fell defending the nation from the invading Hyksos.

The bodies are to be returned in honour and interred in Thebes, but first they have to find them…

Amongst Theti-Cheri, her protector Papyrus and all the assorted, hurrying specialists is sometime court jester Puin in charge of the precious pack animals – although it would be more accurate to say that his phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot is actually guiding all those reins…

In their haste to finish the mission the party are shamefully negligent and forget to make proper obeisance to divine Seth, Master of the Desert Wastes. Soon a furious cloud image warns of the dark overlord’s wrath. Nervously shrugging it off, the expedition prepares for sleep but is suddenly devastated by a terrifying flash-flood which manifests from nowhere to scatter the impious intruders.

Papyrus awakes battered and bruised over a lofty precipice. He has been saved from crushing doom by a great silver falcon, favoured beast of mighty Horus

In trying to retrieve his magic sword the boy-hero triggers a flaming omen which points him a certain direction. Setting off into the scorching desert he slowly follows a treacherous trail and with the falcon’s timely aid uncovers a deep crevice and shaft into a deep, long-forgotten mine.

In a chamber far within the abandoned workings is a golden statue of Seth and ten roughly hewn coffins in a makeshift temple…

Curiosity overcoming caution, Papyrus uncovers a ghastly, poorly preserved mummy in one but the second – already opened – box holds Theti-Cheri herself: alive but bound and gagged.

When he cuts her loose she descends into utter panic, frantically warning that she had been captured by walking corpses: the angry archers of Sekenenre Taa…

He is suddenly saved from a lethal arrow by the ever-present falcon but in his panicked flight is separated from the princess, before plunging into open air and landing in the mine’s ancient water-filled well.

Recovering his wits, he trails Theti and finds her on and the bird on a rooftop. She claims to have been saved by Horus himself.

Sadly the awakened mummies are determined and unstoppable. With his magic sword useless against the already dead, the boy is about to be crushed by the restless revenants and is only rescued when the princess plunges one of the monsters’ own arrows into a dusty body…

Before long though, the buried temple is crawling with revived and raging mummy murderers and the terrified youths are again racing in panic…

Spotting a trickle of water on a stony rock face Papyrus smites the wall with his sword and a watery tumult catapults them to relative safety in the well.

With the water flooding away, however, the pair can see two huge golden statues of Horus at the bottom and reason that they must restore them to the temple to quiet the still marauding mummies…

Seth unleashes more magical mischief to deter the already overwhelmed children, but Papyrus’ defiance and the lucky appearance of Khamelot quickly turn the tables. The unthinking dead things mistake the donkey for their own ghastly long-eared, long-nosed dark lord and rapidly retreat…

With aid from the faithfully following pack animals the Horus statues are quickly restored to their rightful stations but Theti insists that the now-dormant archer mummies must be respectfully gathered up and transported to their to proper resting place in Thebes as per her father’s plans…

As the bizarre entourage makes its laborious way back across the burning sands, a number of further strange encounters plunges both princess and protector into another hidden tomb. This one holds the real, sacredly interred Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa. But if that’s the case, who or what then have they been shipping back at such tremendous, exhausting effort?

Solving that enigma, the pair still have to defeat an army of bandits and pillagers but the battle leads them to the impossible plain where the lost members of the original expedition have been enduring the slow punishment of Seth…

Epic, funny, enthralling and masterfully fast-paced, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to seek out all these classic chronicles.
© Dupuis, 1996 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ric Estrada, Joe Orlando, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Bob Smith & Vince Colletta (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4757-7

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry is greatly lacking for not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right can be seen in Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1 which gathers the licensed comicbook tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and angsty, soap opera melodrama.

Sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated; sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis.

The series then made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action television series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comicbook.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends into four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This bombastic black-&-white extravaganza collects Super Friends #1-24 (spanning November 1976 to September 1979) and opens with a crafty two-part caper by Bridwell, Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando.

‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ found heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredible astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery if not outright intellectual theft…

The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman, having auditioned a host of young criminals, are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps and Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper.

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs the heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champions split up to tackle the crises but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them.

As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Unluckily for them Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2 but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’

The incomparable Ramona Fradon – aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith – took over the pencilling with #3 as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ saw fifty intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who then combined their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror who utterly overwhelmed Earth’s heroic defenders. However he soon fell victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ found the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler.

It wasn’t too long before a pattern emerged and a criminal connection was confirmed…

Author Bridwell was justly famed as DC’s keeper of the continuity, possessing an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of DC’s publishing minutiae. ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining our heroes as they hosted a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurked in the wings, awaiting the perfect moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donators…

The Atom played a crucial role in stopping the dastardly depredations of an animal trainer who used beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change was unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’

TV is very different from comics. When the new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were gone, replaced without warning or explanation by alien shapeshifters Zan and Jayna and their elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek.

With more room – and consideration for the fans – Bridwell turned the sudden cast change into a bombastic battle to save Earth from total annihilation whilst properly introducing the adult heroes’ newest students in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl who can change into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come with an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has determined to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat…

To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva are performing similar duties on a life-eradicator in England and Flash and mighty-leaping Impala are dismantling uncatchable ordnance in South Africa…

Hawkman and Hawkwoman then join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wondertwins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a deadly device designed to decimate Japan even as in Ireland Green Lantern and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their target of technological terror.

In New Zealand time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids, but is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog who categorically prove they are ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols just before a legion of alien horrors arrives on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’ after which Kingslayer’ pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past then resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’

The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptured their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends were called in to prevent a potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy was tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and led to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist who revealed the secret history of civilisation and begged help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’ before its random burrowing shattered mankind’s cities…

Super Friends #14 opened with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they were possessed by ancient sprits and tasked with plundering the world by Overlord. When the heroes scotched the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retained their powers and determined to become a crime-fighting team dubbed The Elementals

The issue also contained a short back-up tale illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last revealed how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their own world – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful rocketship to Earth…

Big surprises were in store in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals began their battle against evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crimelord. All the heroes were blithely unaware that they were merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 was a grand, old fashioned alien invasion yarn, perfectly foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wondertwins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ found Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on Krypton in the days before it detonated and future water world Neryla in the hours before it was swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks in no small part to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-rol – the Super Friends used Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure methodologies to go after the Trapper in the riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (illustrated by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860AD, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

Issue #19 saw the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the beast-breaker boosted Gleek, intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into the perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil – writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy – teamed with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensued when the team tackled vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle got hold of Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern and tried to make a masterpiece on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’

Bridwell, Fradon & Smith were back in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ found the heroes travelling to Exor to combat a brace of super-criminals who could duplicate all their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Neil, Fradon & Smith) revealed how temporal bandit Chronos subjected the Super Friends to a time-delay treatment which made them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wondertwins out-thought him…

The Mirror Master divided and banished teachers and students in #23 but was unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the fleet-footed Flash. This episode also spent some time fleshing out the Wondertwin’s earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming

This splendid selection of super thrills then concludes with ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ by O’Neil, Fradon & Smith wherein Zan and Jayna’s faces are found engraved on a recently unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but are in fact criminals who have been fleeing Exorian justice for thousands of years.

How lucky then that the kids are perfect doubles the crooks can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid – once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Brilliantly entertaining, masterfully crafted and always utterly engaging, these stories are comics gold that will delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2014 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 8: Shades of Death


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-259-7

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which premiered in 1984 amongst the assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk in Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He subsequently graduated to a solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Stan Sakai was two years old, his family moved to Hawaii from Kyoto, Japan. He left the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer - before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, and transformed a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously peripatetic and expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a Lord-less wandering Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly the 17th century AD by our reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi and Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the spiritual tenets of Bushido.  He simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

The title was as much a nomad as its star. This guest-star stuffed eighth monochrome masterpiece marshals yarns released by Mirage Publishing as Usagi Yojimbo volume 2, #1-6, and also offers some short tales from #7-8.

Following an evocative Introduction from legendary illustrator and Dean of dinosauria William Stout, the medieval mystery play continues with the 3-part crossover epic ‘Shades of Green’ wherein Usagi and his crusty companion Gennosuké (an irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taking rhino with a heart of gold) are recruited by Kakera: a ratty shaman in dire need of protection from the dwindling remnants of the once-mighty Neko Ninja clan.

The former imperial favourites have fallen upon hard times since they and the Ronin Rabbit crushed the Dragon Bellow plot of rebel Lord Takamuro. Now, the bat assassins of the Komori Ninja clan are constantly harrying, harassing and actively trying to replace them in patron Lord Hikiji’s service…

Chunin (deputy leader) Gunji believes the rodent wizard would make a mighty slave, and is scheming to usurp the new – female – clan chief Chizu whilst acquiring him…

With the Neko’s trap closing around them all, the sensei summons the spirits of four fantastic fighters to aid Usagi and Gen. The phantoms promptly posses a quartet of little Kamé (tortoises) and are reshaped into adolescent amphibian Ninja Turtles, identifying themselves as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello.

Usagi has fought beside one of their number before…

The subsequent battles go badly and eventually Gunji’s forces make off with Kakera-sensei. As Usagi leads the remaining heroes in relentless pursuit, the conniving chunin makes his move. Gunji’s attempt to assassinate Chizu is bloodily and efficiently ended by the late-arriving Rabbit Ronin who is astounded to be told by the lady he has saved that the Neko’s lethal interest in him is now at an end…

With the shaman rescued and Gunji dead, the adventure closes with the turtle spirits returned to their own place and time, leaving Gen and Usagi to follow their own (temporarily) separate roads…

‘Jizo’ then offers a delightful interlude as a grieving mother dedicates a roadside shrine to her murdered child and mysterious Karma places the killers in the path of a certain justice-dispensing, long-eared wanderer before 2-part tale ‘Shi’ leads Usagi to the assistance of a valley of poor farmers under constant attack by bullies and brigands seeking to make them leave their impoverished homes.

The thugs are secretly employed by a local magistrate and his ruthless brother who have discovered gold under the peasants land and want to extract it without attracting the attention of the local Lord’s tax collectors.

When the Ronin’s formidable opposition stalls the brothers’ scheme they hire a quartet of assassins whose collective name means “death”, but the killers are far less trouble than the head farmer’s daughter Kimie who has never seen someone as glamorous or attractive as the soft-spoken samurai…

Although there are battles aplenty for Usagi, the remorseless greed of the brothers finishes them before the yojimbo can…

A delightful silent comedy follows as ‘The Lizard’s Tale’ sees the Ronin play unwilling Pied Piper and guardian to a wandering flock of tokagé lizards (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate the anthropomorphic world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem). The rambunctious trouble-magnets then repay the favour when the wanderer is ambushed in the snow-drowned mountains by an army of vengeful bandits…

The remainder of the stories offer elucidating glimpses of the rabbit’s boyhood. Once, Miyamoto Usagi was simply the son of a small-town magistrate sent to spend his formative years learning the Way of Bushido from a gruff and distant leonine hermit named Katsuichi.

The stern sensei taught not just superior technique and tactics, but also an ironclad creed of justice and restraint which would serve the Ronin well throughout his turbulent life.

In ‘Usagi’s Garden’ the pupil rebels against the arduous and undignified task of growing food until the lion delivers a subtle but life changing lesson, whilst in ‘Autumn’ a painful fall propels the lad into a nightmare confrontation with a monster who has trapped the changing of the seasons in a bamboo cage…

The 3-chapter fable ‘Battlefield’ then discloses a key moment and turning point in the trainee warrior’s life.

It begins when a mind-broken, fleeing soldier shatters the boy’s childish dreams of warrior glory. The fugitive is a survivor of the losing side in a mighty battle and his sorry state forces Usagi to rethink his preconceptions of war.

Eager to ram home the lesson, Katsuichi takes his student to the battlefield where peasants and scavengers are busy snatching up whatever they can from the scattered corpses. Usagi is horrified. To take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, but even so a little later he cannot stop himself picking up a fallen hero’s Wakizashi (short sword).

However, after concealing the blade in safe place, the boy is haunted by visions of the unquiet corpse and sneaks off to return the stolen steel soul.

He is caught by soldiers who think him a scavenger and looter. About to lose his thieving hands he is only saved by the intervention of victorious Great Lord Mifunė.

The noble looks into the boy’s face and sees something honest, honourable and perhaps, one day, useful…

This medieval monochrome masterwork also includes a gallery of covers to charm and delight one and all.

Despite changing publishers a few times the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, the saga alternately bristles with tension and thrills and often breaks your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is a perfect comics experience: a monolithic, magical saga of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories.

Sheer comicbook poetry by a sublime Comicbook Sensei…
Text and illustrations © 1993, 1994, 1997 Stan Sakai. All other material and registered characters are © and™ their respective owners. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud volume 5: A Carrot for Iznogoud


By Goscinny & Tabary,translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-021-4

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Incredibly, he still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery all proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to concoct the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud, who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; the first episode appearing in the January 15th issue in 1962. A minor hit, it subsequently jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a cropper for younger readers, whilst older, wiser heads revelled in the pun-filled, witty satire: the same magic formula which made its more famous cousin Asterix such a global success.

…And just like the saga of the indomitable little Gaul, this irresistibly addictive Arabian nonsense is adapted here by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to the English tongue.

Moreover the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly applied creative anachronism to keep the plots bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The revamped series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly becoming a massive European hit, with 29 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and even a live action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary added the scripting to his sublimely stylish illustration (from the 13th album onwards), moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified the collaborations.

This fifth Cinebook album was actually the seventh French album (released in 1971 as Une carotte pour Iznogoud) with the lead tale an exceptional, extended epic comprising half the book, bolstered by a triumvirate of shorter yarns and prefaced as ever with a handy catch-up profile page of the usual suspects…

The eponymous A Carrot for Iznogoud’, is a rare bird indeed as the verminous Vizier is all but absent from proceedings which commence when gentle, isolated and very dim Haroun Al Plassid finally gets an inkling of what his trusted deputy is truly like…

Stealing out into Baghdad disguised as an insurance salesman, the Caliph finally gets the message that his beloved people fear, despise and revile his precious Iznogoud. Shocked and dismayed he ponders what to do before – politely – accidentally aiding an ancient wizard (or perhaps crazy old coot…).

In gratitude the dotard tells him of a fabled vegetable that makes people nice. Desperately keen to redeem and “cure” his advisor, the Caliph instantly dashes off on a monumental solo voyage of discovery to secure some of the legendary “Carrot”.

The logic is simple: if eating carrots makes you nice all he has to do is find a place where people are pleasant, kind, honest and generous. The deed is nowhere near as simple as the thought – or indeed, the Caliph…

After exhausting and enraging the grocers and market sellers of his own lands, the search takes the determined Haroun Al Plassid to neighbouring kingdoms, across deserts and even oceans (where he encounters a certain band of pirates moonlighting from their damp and dangerous day jobs in Asterix), but everywhere all he finds are conmen, chancers, rude brutes and impatient surly types just like the ones at home in Baghdad.

He is almost ready to give up when he is sold as a slave to lordly Rhu’Barbfoul in distant Lastyearatmarienbad and sent to the kitchens to grate carrots for soup.

Excited beyond belief he begs his master to give him a carrot and release him, which after hearing the tale of woe and (perhaps) thanks to the steady diet of nice-making veg, the nervous lord does…

The journey home is no less dramatic or magical, though fraught with painful ironies, but even after the Caliph reclaims his vacated throne, the ameliorating herb he fought so hard to secure does not at the last find its way to its intended target…

Wry and deliciously surreal, the epic is an especial change of pace as the evil architect of all woes only appears in two panels over the 19 hilarious pages…

He is completely present for the three venal vignettes which follow, beginning with an outrageously bizarre close encounter in the desert entitled ‘Magic-Fiction’.

When Iznogoud and bumbling, long-suffering crony Wa’at Alahf are taking a break from the sorcery-besotted city of Baghdad they stumble across a couple of Martian explorers. The curious, affable alien explorers want facts and data for their records but, after seeing the power of their Spatial-Temporaliser ray-guns, all the Vizier can envisage is the effect the weapons would have on the royal simpleton he wants to replace: an indolent oaf who couldn’t answer a straight question if his dinner depended on it…

Sadly, after sneaking the E.T.’s back to the palace, Iznogoud’s intemperate temperament gets the better of him before his plan can succeed…

Baghdad is a city that suffers with an excess of heat but in ‘Iznogoud on Thin Ice’the vile vizier hears tell of a drinks seller whose wares are always freezing cold. Ever inquisitive and always looking for an angle he investigates and discovers that the unfortunate lady in charge is so unseemly that anyone who glimpses her face is frozen solid with shock. She just stacks the chilled out victims in her cellar and stores her drinks beside them…

The infernal imp’s heart soars! All he has to do is get the Caliph to peek under the appalling and enigmatic Gehtorehd’s ever-present veil and the throne is his…

Sadly her gift doesn’t work on anyone with an elevated temperature, so even after getting the gorgon into the palace Iznogoud has to wait for the doctors to cure the Caliph who has a touch of fever, All he has to do is wait a while, but Iznogoud is a very impatient potentate-in-waiting…

There’s more direct skulduggery afoot in ‘Tried and Tsetsed’ which closes this compilation of crazy criminality. When bribe-taking Iznogoud officially greets an embassage from Africa he is given the most dangerous beast they know as a placating present by the chief ambassador who came ill-prepared to grease palms.

He is less than impressed until he is advised that the dread Tsetse Fly can put victims into a permanent slumber with one little bite. Now seeing his dreams falling into place at last, the Vizier lays his plans to introduce the bug to his boss, but is distracted by his idiot servant Wa’at Alahf and releases the flying terror in the wrong room…

Snappy, fast-paced hi-jinks and abundantly stocked with gloriously agonising pun-ishments (see what I did there?), this mirthfully infectious series is a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently not that tall.

When first released in Britain in the 1970s, these tales made little impression, but hopefully this snappy, wonderfully moreish strip will finally find an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…
© 1971 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


By Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (DC Comics)
Item ISBN: 0-930289-15-3,               current ISBN: 978-1-56389-342-1

I always feel a bit daft reviewing stuff that everyone already knows about, but I’m constantly being reminded that even though somebody talks about the classics of our art-form it doesn’t mean they actually have read them.

Moreover, the great thing about comics is that they’re meant to be re-experienced, over and over and over…

So here’s a quick look at Frank Miller’s most celebrated epic: a canny mix of iconoclastic bravura and contemporary dystopian angst blending urban anxiety with bleak wish-fulfilment power-fantasies and making all us whiny liberals love it anyway…

There had been many “Last Batman” stories over the decades since his creation in 1939 but none had the telling impact of the 4-issue “Prestige Format” miniseries which ran from February to June 1986, during a period when DC were creatively on fire and could do no wrong commercially…

The subsequent collection into a complete edition did much to kick off the still tentative graphic novel market, offering a plethora of different versions at the time: hardcover, paperback, bookstore editions, foreign language editions – and an Absolute Dark Knight edition, in 2008 – all proving how a single story could be successfully monetised to the benefit of all, except the poor bewildered fans who clung tenaciously to the cruelly punishing collectors’ credo “gotta have ‘em all”…

(There are a number of editions available to this day, but I’m concentrating here on my first edition hardback from 1986. Therefore, some of the ancillary features and articles might be omitted, augmented or replaced in later releases…)

The epic transformed the character as much as the industry, with writers adapting facets of the chaos and carnage-resisting, end-of-days Caped Crusader to subsequent in-continuity tales whilst the readership spent years looking for clues in the regular comics that the story would eventually become canonical…

After Alan Moore’s Introduction ‘The Mark of the Batman’ the challenge to a civilisation in crisis begins with ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ as Gotham swelters under a crippling heat wave and ubiquitous TV pundits jabber on incessantly, disseminating what the government allows to pass for news.

Aging playboy Bruce Wayne (55 and no longer counting) has narrowly escaped blazing death during a car race, street gang The Mutants have perpetrated another ghastly atrocity and long-past-it Police Commissioner James Gordon has challenged them to a showdown before his enforced retirement in four weeks.

It’s also the tenth anniversary of the last sighting of the fabled masked vigilante the Batman

Later that night Wayne and Gordon talk over old times but the billionaire’s journey home is interrupted by a pack of Mutants…

On the nightly News homicidal maniac Harvey Dent is paraded by arrogant surgeons and therapists as a shining example of their restorative and curative regimes. Two-Face is now a fully rehabilitated citizen ready to reclaim his place in the world…

Back at the Manor, as the TV disgorges a litany of tragedy and travesty, a grumbling urge that has been boiling in Wayne’s gut for a decade finally breaks loose and decrepit manservant Alfred realises with dismay and disgust that Bruce’s other self is coming back…

Whilst a storm breaks over Gotham the night is filled with the screams and the cracking of bones as a horde of violent thieves and thugs are brutalised. Wayward 13-year old Carrie Kelley is saved from a pack of Mutant chickenhawks by a merciless shadow and the News is filled with reports of gangsters reduced to cripples by a maniac “dressed like Dracula”…

When the savage shadow foils a bank raid, one of the hoodlums has a coin with the heads-side scarred and defaced.

…And in Arkham Asylum’s quiet-ward an old, mute cripple with fading green hair watches the News, smiling and laughing for the first time in a decade…

That night the public gets its first full view of the unfolding situation as Two-Face holds Gotham’s Twin Towers hostage and Batman spectacularly ends his campaign of explosive extortion…

‘The Dark Knight Triumphant’ opens to public and media uproar as the Batman’s latest exploits galvanise the Man in the Street, the cops and especially psychotic monsters like the leader of the Mutants – who offers a terrifying challenge to the citizens and their returned hero.

Carrie Kelley rises to that challenge, buying a Robin outfit and jumping over rooftops looking to help clean up the city. Batman doesn’t have time for nonsense and hot air. He’s an old man with a dodgy heart who knows his days are already numbered.

All he wants is to get through another night and punish the Mutants who kidnapped a little boy…

Government – Federal and local – remains stonily silent on the issue of Batman (the first masked hero to break ranks since the government outlawed them years ago) and tension and unrest only escalates when a subway commuter is blown up by the Mutants…

At long last the Mayor acts, appointing Captain Ellen Yindel as his new Commissioner of Police. Her first act is to issue an arrest warrant for The Batman on assault and sundry other charges.

The subject of the manhunt doesn’t care: he’s engaged in a savage battle with the Mutant Army, his bat-tank and gadgets decimating the feral thugs at the City Dump.

His big mistake is to engage their leader in hand-to-hand combat. The steroid and rage fuelled gangbanger is a hate-propelled mass of muscle and speed, half his age and utterly immune to the Dark Knight’s every fighting trick and stratagem.

He is moments from beating the old fool to death when Robin introduces herself to her hero by causing an explosive distraction and stealing the battered body. Guided back to the Batcave, she can only watch as Alfred stitches the broken sack of meat and bone back together for the millionth time…

In the White House the American President takes extreme action, sanctioning the colourful assistance of the Nation’s Kryptonian Secret Weapon whilst in Arkham Dr. Bartholomew Wolper – the man who “cured” Two-Face – continues his treatment of the newly reinvigorated inmate once known as The Joker, whilst in the streets a growing number of Batman imitators take the law into their own increasingly bloody hands.

Although not fully recovered, Batman and Robin are forced to strike again when the Mutant Leader murders the Mayor with his teeth. The old campaigner orchestrates a showdown in front of the entire Mutant nation who watch in astonishment as their unbeatable ruler is methodically taken apart and left a crippled wreck by the resurgent, unholy Warrior Bat…

The beginning of the End starts with ‘Hunt the Dark Knight’ as Gotham is beset by more urban violence as the Mutants splinter into smaller fringe gangs. More worrisome is the huge uptick in citizen violence as the ordinary, decent folk of Gotham get out their legally purchased guns and start shooting at anyone who threatens, frightens, annoys or disgusts them.

The strangest result of the leader’s fall is the declaration by a hard core of former Mutants who publicly convert to “Sons of the Bat”, dedicated to carrying on the Dark Knight’s work: channelling their need for violence into excessive force applied to all malefactors from murderers to jaywalkers…

The Government is far more concerned with the deteriorating international crisis and The Batman is otherwise occupied. As well as cleaning up street scum whilst avoiding the police trying to catch him, there is fresh hell unleashed when the Joker hijacks Gordon’s televised retirement party and incoming Commissioner Yindel’s moment of glory with an explosively gory statement of his own…

With Armageddon clearly coming, clandestine Federal operative Clark Kent takes time out from a very busy schedule of secretly thwarting Soviet military strikes across the world to give old comrade Bruce Wayne a very clear cease-and-desist-or-else message from the White House. Naturally he is utterly ignored…

When the Joker is interviewed on a hugely popular talk show, Yindel’s squads are ready for Batman’s inevitable intervention but not the appalling atrocity the Clown Prince has engineered. In the bloodbath that follows, the openly suicidal Harlequin of Hate pushes himself to even greater excesses after abducting High Society Madam Selina Kyle and instigating another murder spree…

With the gung-ho cops dogging Batman’s heels the bloody trail leads to Gotham County Fair and a horrific, breathtaking final confrontation…

The final chapter then opens with Batman as Public Enemy Number One and a desperate fugitive. The warrants now read “murder”…

Elsewhere Superman prevents nuclear devastation by diverting a Soviet mega-warhead but the explosion radically weakens him. Despite this the Good Soldier obeys his Commander-in-Chief’s next order… stop Batman…

The world is in total chaos as fallout and electromagnetic disturbances bring about a nuclear winter and fry most electrical systems. The Caped Crusader, however, has always been a planner and has an arsenal of weapons and a small core of converts ready for the world that survives.

He also has a hidden ally. Radical firebrand Oliver Queen used to be the heroic Green Arrow…until Superman maimed the intransigent rabble-rouser who refused to toe the Government line once too often…

All that’s left is the final apocalyptic duel between two old, broken and dying heroes defending to the death their respective visions of justice. Despite a phenomenal showing, at last ‘The Dark Knight Falls’, but there’s still one last surprise in store…

Peppered with barbed and biting cultural commentary courtesy of the perpetual vox-pop of talking heads incessantly interviewed by the caustically lampooned and satirised news media, bombarding the reader with key narrative information in subtly layered levels and periodically enhanced throughout by stunningly iconic and powerful full-page tableaux, The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a new style of storytelling and made comics something adults outside the comics industry simply had to acknowledge.

Mythic, challenging and staggeringly visceral, this is rightly the Batman book everyone has heard of. Why not read it at last and see why?
© 1986 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Glacial Period


By Nicolas De Crécy translated by Joe Johnson (NBM ComicsLit/Louvre: Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-855-0

In 2005 one of the greatest museums in the world began an intriguing ongoing project with the upstart art form of comics; inviting some of the world’s most accomplished masters of graphic narrative to create new works in response to the centuries of acquired treasures residing within the grand repository of arts, history and culture.

The tales are produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Louvre, and always push the envelope of what can be accomplished by master craftsman inspired by their creative antecedents and forebears. These are no thinly-concealed catalogues of exhibition contents gift-wrapped in cartoon terms to gull potential visitors off their couches and into a stuffy edifice of public culture, but vibrant and challenging comics events calculated to make you think again about what creativity and history mean…

The first of those stellar tomes, originally released as Période glaciaire, has been recently repackaged as a deluxe and lavish oversized (286 x 222mm) hardback edition by NBM giving a readers that rarest of things – a second bite of the cherry…

Born in Lyon in September 1966 into a large family of artistic overachievers,Nicolas de Crécy was, in 1987, part of the first graduating class of students from de l’école de Bande dessinée des Beaux-Arts d’Angoulême.

After working at Studios Disney at Montreuil, he published his first album Foligatto in 1991. Since then he has produced more than thirty albums; both one-off books such as Journal d’un fantôme, Escales, Plaisir de myope and La Nuit du grand méchant loup and series/serials such as Léon la came, Monsieur Fruit and Salvatore.

He is justly considered a wünderkind of French comics and his unique take on the role of the Louvre is – typically – boldly off-kilter, ingeniously amusing and fantastically sardonic…

Thousands of years from now Earth is a frozen dustheap. Scrabbling through its barren remains one day comes a turbulent group of scientists and archaeologists. The humans are a tendentious bunch, constantly bickering and pontificating on what the civilisation they are obsessed with understanding was like. Most have their own theories and perhaps only looking for finds to validate their views.

Far more open and philosophical are the tubby talking dogs who act as frontrunners; their hyper-keen noses sniffing out areas where potential finds are buried. Especially sensitive – in every meaning of the term – is Hulk.

The rotund canine rogue can feel the tension in the party and when he sleeps (as often as possible) he has strange dreams and visions of beautiful old things…

When he and official expedition leader Juliette are briefly separated from the group in a storm the ensuing calm reveals an ancient structure freshly uncovered. Soon the humans are all over the “temple” and making grand plans, but the irascible mutt knows this find is mere dross and rubbish…

Another angry discussion results in top historian Paul being left behind to research and catalogue the temple whilst the others press on to uncover the fabled lost metropolis buried somewhere in this desolate region…

Hulk isn’t fooled: he sees that imperious alpha male Gregor has designs on Juliette and is slowly isolating her from the others. After she ignores the canny canine’s warnings, Hulk wanders off into the cold night and next morning impatient Gregor convinces the party to go on without him.

Alone and no longer distracted, Hulk’s incredible faculties detects a faint scent and he begins to dig down. Before long he has broken into a stone vault filled with fascinating artefacts and, as ever, following his nose discovers a mesmerising maze of corridors, revealing incredible facts about the lost civilisation…

Under the cold light skies above, Juliette and Gregor clash over who is truly in charge and poor studious Joseph suffers for his chivalry when he intervenes. Further interpersonal violence is only prevented when the treacherously unstable landscape shifts and from the icy crust an ancient structure begins to inexorably rise.

Hysterically elated, Gregor drags the stunned archaeologists into the fabled metropolis and all are stunned by the images and artefacts they find. Soon they are frantically hypothesising, guessing and just plain spitballing as they plunge deeper and deeper into the still shaky and shifting edifice. Entranced and intoxicated by the panoply of pictures and statues, the humans’ imaginations are running amok…

Soon from outside Esteban calls out to them – he has spotted another glistening building forcing its way out of the snows…

The treasure trove seems unending: a final repository of ancient magnificence that leads them ever inward as the monumental mausoleum inexorably pushes upwards into the dying sunlight.

Elsewhere, deep below them, Hulk is making his own explorations and encounters something uncanny and bizarre. Soon he is conversing with the oldest statues and objet d’art in the vaults of history. The relics know that the Louvre is in its tectonic death throes and need his help to save all the wonderful “living” treasures which have waited here for patient millennia…

Sharing with him the true stories, mistakes and triumphs of the past races of man, dog and anxious, animated exhibits unite in a desperate attempt to save their quintessential timeless splendours from final obliteration…

Accompanied by a formidable and informative List of Works which feature most prominently in this captivating yarn, Glacial Period is a bemusing, wide-eyed and light-hearted epic as well as an utterly engrossing and darkly charming graphic discussion on the nature and value of art and our eternal ever-changing relationship to it. It is also an entrancing, witty literal shaggy dog story in comics form that reads superbly even if you wouldn’t be caught dead in a museum, French or otherwise.

Why not give it a go and see if your cool attitude thaws after all…?
© 2005 Futuropolis/Musée du Louvre Éditions. English Edition © 2006 NBM.

God is Dead Volume 1


By Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, Di Amorim & Rafael Ortiz (Avatar Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59291-229-2

Launched in September 2013, Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa’s God is Dead spectacularly began extrapolating on the age-old question “What if God(s) were real?” in a wry and deliciously dark summer blockbuster style.

Now the first six issues, illustrated by Di Amorim and others, have been collected into a bombastic bludgeoning bible of senses-shattering Apocalyptic apocrypha that begins one day in May 2015 when the pantheons of ancient Egypt, Greece, Viking Scandinavia, the Mayans and Hindu India all explosively return: shattering monuments, landscapes and nations whilst slaughtering millions of mortals, faithful and disbelievers alike…

Within two months the ineffable gods have fully re-established themselves, pushing rational, scientific mankind to the brink of extinction, reclaiming their old places of worship and terrified congregations of adherents.

On the run from the new faithful, Dr. Sebastian Reed is rescued from certain death by the stunning Gaby and joins The Collective, an underground think tank of fugitive scientists, even as the Gods savagely revel in their bloody return to power and glory.

In a secret bunker the suicide of the American President leaves an obsessively aggressive General in charge of the US military. He has no intention of letting any primitive usurper run roughshod over the Greatest Nation on Earth…

As rationalist deep thinkers and innocuous PhDs Thomas Mims, Airic Johnson and Henry Rhodes welcome the fresh recruit, in the heavens Odin convenes a grand congress to settle the final disposition of the mortal world and all its potential worshippers…

The fable resumes as the American Army goes nuclear. However, although the strike vaporises an army of mortal converts, it cannot harm sublime Quetzalcoatl and merely provokes a punishing response from the assembled and arrogant Lords of the Air.

Far beneath the earth the scientists are engaged in heated debate over the nature of their enemies. Eventually they agree that they have insufficient data and resolve to capture one of the returned gods…

In America resistance ends when the common soldiery convert to the Mayan religion and sacrifice their stubborn atheist general, but this only leads to greater strife as the Pantheons, with humanity subdued, now turn on each other. Gods are not creatures willing to share or be long bound by pacts and treaties…

Over the Himalayas Gaby and her security consultant dad Duke are ferrying the test tube jockeys when their irreplaceable jet is downed by a monstrous dragon even as, in newly holy sites around the globe, the war of the gods gorily eliminates one greedy pantheon after another.

It’s a blessed circumstance for the surviving scientists who find an immolated Hindu deity and promptly harvest the carcass for investigation and experimentation.

With mythological monsters increasingly repopulating the world, the gaggle of geniuses rapidly reverse-engineer the godly genetic soup and decide to make their own deities: Gods of Science to take back the world for rational men…

The first attempt is an unmitigated catastrophe, savagely eviscerating one of the boffins before Duke manages to kill it. Terrified but undaunted, Gaby leads the way to the next, inevitable step: human trials using what they have gleaned to transform themselves…

Up above the god-war is almost over and Odin, Thor and Loki turn their vastly depleted forces towards Mount Olympus and a showdown with Zeus who has until now kept out of the devastating internecine conflict.

The sole divine survivor of that staggering clash – now omnipotent on Earth – then discerns the experiment of the mortal inventors and flashes to their secret lab.

He is too late. The end results of the religion of rationality have already travelled to Olympus and when the ancient frustrated arrogant all-father returns, he is confronted by a triumvirate of new gods born of needles and serums, ready to finally decide who will rule the world…

That astoundingly vicious clash is then followed by a portentous Interlude (by Costa & Rafael Ortiz) which follows that oriental dragon into previously unseen China to meet entrepreneurial Sammi whose future seems ‘Gloriously Bright’, after which the newly re-emergent gods of that ‘Middle Kingdom’ have their own crucial confrontation with the golden Wyrm of the Heavens…

With additional art by Jacen Burroughs and Hickman, God is Dead provides a brutally engaging, uncompromising, brilliantly vicarious dark-edged romp to satisfy any action-loving adult’s need for comics carnage and breathtaking big-concept storytelling.
© 2014 Avatar Press Inc. God is Dead and all related properties ™ & © 2014 Jonathan Hickman and Avatar Press Inc.

Phantoms of the Louvre


By Enki Bilal translated by Joe Johnson (NBM ComicsLit/Louvre: Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-841-3

A few years ago the legendary Louvre Museum in Paris began an intriguing and extremely rewarding collaboration with the world of comics, and their latest beguiling translated bande dessinée is now available in English courtesy of those fine folks at NBM.

Phantoms of the Louvre is a lush and beautiful, oversized hardback graphic art book which reproduces the stunning results of master storyteller Bilal’s creative response to the collected treasures and even architecture of the prestigious institution.

The origins and details of the project are described in his Preface and the 22 artworks which resulted had their own exhibition in the Louvre in 2013.

The premise is delightfully simple: each item and place in the galleries is blessed or afflicted by a ghost somehow attached to an item which affected their lives or passing, and Bilal incorporates a photo of each artefact with an image of the ghost.

The story of every phantom is then told in poetic prose augmented by photos, sketches and designs of the revenant in question…

Enes Bilalović AKA Enki Bilal was born in Belgrade in 1951, breaking into French comics in 1972 with Le Bal Maudit for Pilote. Throughout the 1970s he grew in skill and fame, and achieved English-language celebrity once his work began appearing in America’s Heavy Metal magazine.

Best known for his self-scripted Nikopol Trilogy (Gods in Chaos, The Woman Trap and Cold Equator) his other bleakly beguiling and ferociously contemplative works include Ship of Stone, The Town That Didn’t Exist, Exterminator 17, Four?, Magma, Julia & Roem and many, many more. In recent years Bilal returned to contemporary political themes with his much-lauded, self-penned Hatzfeld Tetralogy…

As always, the work is produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Musée du Louvre, but this is no gosh-wow, “Night-at-the-Museum”, thinly-concealed catalogue of contents from a stuffy edifice of public culture. Rather, here is a gripping, intense, informative and insightful glimpse into the power of art and history as engines of imagination and personal obsession.

Weaving fact into an imaginary tapestry of fictions detailing the putative lives of those affected by or affecting the creation of the inspirational treasures, the stunning procession of lost souls leads off with ‘Aloyisias Alevratos’ inspired by The Winged Victory of Samothrace, detailing an ancient sculptor’s history whilst ‘Antonio Di Aquila’ recounts the short, tragic life of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s assistants/models during the period when the master painted the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco Del Giocondo, called Mona Lisa, La Gioconda or La Joconde

‘Enheduana Arwi-A’ was a remarkable woman who engraved part of the tablet containing The Code of Hammurabi whilst ‘Arjuna Asegaff’ turned a troubled life around to become a popular model who posed for Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin’s The return of Marcus Sextus and ‘Analia Avellaneda’ developed a new pigment which fascinated Doménikos Theotókopoulous, called “El Greco” during the creation of Saint Louis, King of France and a Page, but cost the tragic lady her life…

‘Ahmose Chepseset’ was a crazed vandal in ancient Egypt whose actions despoiled much of the relic dubbed Man’s Head, vengeful half-caste ‘Djeynaba’ was a near-supernatural blight who tainted the Red Rooms and unrepentant Nazi ‘Colonel Markus Dudke’ killed himself in The Grand Gallery

‘Lantelme Fouache’ was the brutal father whose murder inspired Eugene Delacriox’ The Orphan Girl at the Cemetery whilst fisherman ‘Jacobus Grobbendoeke’ was recovered from the sea and incorporated into The Fish Market (after) Frans Snyders, whilst illicit woman warrior ‘Hecuba’ wore the Corinthian-style helmet as part of her imposture of a male hoplite seven centuries before Christ.

A doomed childhood love touched ‘Melencoloia Hrasny’ and Albrecht Dürer which resulted in a famed Portrait of the Artist whereas ill-fated Janissary ‘Zvonimir Karakasevic’ suffered a slow death which led to his becoming a forgotten component of sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle’s Voltaire Nude. Poor farm boy ‘Lakshek’ had more affinity for the bovines which inspired the Human-headed Winged Bull than the cruel, callous men who carved it…

Roman soldier ‘Longinus’ used his spear to wound the crucified Messiah depicted as Christ Dead, the Amazon ‘Marpada’ adored her equine companions – as exemplified by the marble Horse Head – far more than men and ‘Gaius Livius Maximus’ was a doctor of Rome who ended his own life upon the ancient Bed on display here.

‘Bella De Montefalco’ was the childish accidental instigator of a grotesque crime of passion hinted at in The Shadows of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appear to Dante and Virgil by Ary Scheffer, but professional duellist ‘Lyubino Nuzri’ was a willing killer who met his fate in the forever after haunted Alcove Room, and the ‘The Regodesebes Twins’ mere tools of destiny whose cruel deaths only tangentially affected The Countess Del Carpio, Marquessa de La Solana as portrayed by Francisco de Goya y Lucietes shortly before her own demise…

A criminal and beast in human form, butcher ‘Willem Tümpeldt’ provided The Slaughtered Ox immortalised by Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn but Muslim artist ‘Doura Ximenez’ had to dress as a man and remain unknown to craft the anonymous Supposed Portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées and her sister the Duchess de Villars which concludes this tour of the night galleries…

With detailed floor plan maps showing where the art works, rooms and artefacts referenced are displayed, this is a truly magical collection that no art lover or devotee of the medium can afford to miss…

© 2012 Futuropolis/Musée du Louvre Éditions. © NBM 2014 for the English translation by Joe Johnson. All rights reserved.

Dark Reign Fantastic Four


By Jonathan Hickman, Sean Chen, Adi Granov & Lorenzo Ruggiero (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3908-9

When the draconian Federal mandate known as the Superhuman Registration Act led to Civil War between costumed heroes, Tony Stark was hastily appointed the American government’s Security Czar – a “top cop” in sole charge of the beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom. As Director of high-tech enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. he became the very last word in all matters involving metahumans and the USA’s vast costumed community…

Stark’s subsequent mismanagement of various crises led to the arrest and assassination of Captain America and an unimaginable escalation of global tension and destruction, culminating in an almost-successful Secret Invasion by shape-shifting alien Skrulls.

Discredited and ostracised, he was replaced by apparently rehabilitated, recovering schizophrenic Norman Osborn – the original Green Goblin – who assumed full control of the USA’s covert agencies and military resources, disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed the nation under the aegis of his own new organisation H.A.M.M.E.R.

The erstwhile villain had first begun his climb back to respectability after taking charge of the Thunderbolts Project; a penal program which offered a second chance to super-criminals who volunteered to undertake Federally-sanctioned missions…

Not content with legitimate political and personal power, Osborn also secretly conspired with a coalition of major malevolent masterminds to divvy up the world between them. The Cabal was a Star Chamber of super-villains working towards mutually self-serving goals, but such egomaniacal personalities could never play well together for long and cracks soon began to show, both in the criminal conspiracy and Osborn himself…

As another strand of his long-term plan, the Homeland Metahuman Security overlord fired Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers and created his own, more manageable team consisting of compliant turncoats, tractable replacements and outright impostors. Constantly courting public opinion, Osborn launched his Avengers whilst systematically building up a personally loyal high-tech paramilitary rapid-response force.

During his Dark Reign, the rapidly destabilising madman – through means fair and foul – officially worked to curb the unchecked power and threat of meta-humanity, whilst his clandestine cabal of dictators divvied up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections covering the entire Marvel Universe.

Reed Richards had been a major supporter of Stark and key proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act even though his actions tore his family apart; driving his wife Sue and brother-in-law Johnny Storm into the opposing camp of costumed resistors dubbed the Secret Avengers.

His best friend Ben Grimm – unwilling to choose sides – left the country to become an exile in France…

This collection compiles the 5-issue miniseries Dark Reign: Fantastic Four and Dark Reign: The Cabal (May to September 2009) and serves to explore and explain Mr. Fantastic’s side of the argument as well as the terrifying motivations which prompted his uncharacteristic behaviour even as the still-wounded family painfully try to reconcile in their old home The Baxter Building……

The drama begins a week after the Skrull invasion as the greatest mind on Earth constructs a colossal interdimensional transit threshold. ‘The Bridge’ (written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Sean Chen & Lorenzo Ruggiero) is a pathway to alternate Earths. Demoralised and confused, Richards wants to explore all the other Earths to see if the Civil War and subsequent tragedies which followed happened elsewhere and how other Mr. Fantastics dealt with it.

He needs to know how to prevent such a catastrophe ever happening again…

He has only just convinced Sue, Ben and Johnny that he must go before the metaphorical roof caves in…

Acting with sublime overconfidence and seemingly blessed by fortune, Osborn has chosen that moment to invade the Baxter Building with an army of H.A.M.M.E.R. troops, determined to shut down the Fantastic Four and confiscate all their incredible technologies.

Outraged and ready for trouble, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing head for the ground floor just as Osborn’s men cut power to the building. The resultant surge in energy interacts with Reed’s Bridge and when the elevator doors open they find themselves in another realm: a primitive jungle where men and dinosaurs and space gods exist side by side…

With the adults out of action, children Franklin and Valeria take charge of the situation, bluffing the H.A.M.M.E.R. heavies into leaving, but little Val knows its only a matter of time until Osborn comes in person. She might be only three, but she’s already as smart as her father…

Setting to, she begins repairing the building’s electrical and defence systems even as in a distant time her devoted guardians battle a horde of time-lost terrors and, in a place where all places meet, her father views universe after universe and sees few happy outcomes…

As hours pass in the normal world, Sue, Johnny and Ben are bounced from one bizarre alternity to the next, gradually a gathering a stout band of like-minded heroes about them.

In fact they are strange variations of themselves: a gentle, noble erudite Thing, chamberlain to the court of the Virgin Queen; a blazing pirate Torch on a flying galleon, sharp-shooting sheriff Black Susan from an extremely wild, Wild West frontier town and so many more, all assisting as they determinedly fight their way to somewhere they can get home from…

After a night on their own Val and Franklin are awoken by Security Czar Osborn and his forces, accompanied by Dark Avenger “heavy” Spider-Man (in truth deranged impostor Scorpion possessed by the Venom symbiote). In a moment of sublime bravado the forces of Big Bad Government are stalled and legally finessed by the really annoying little girl…

In Collapsed Time, Sue, Johnny and Ben inexorably carve their way through a cascade of colliding realities whilst, in No Space, Reed – having analysed an infinity of alternate Earths – is forced to accept a truly humbling hypothesis…

His switching off The Bridge instantly returns the displaced FF to the Baxter Building where Osborn, having lost all patience, is trying to shoot the kids. After a brief but brutal battle the Federal forces are routed, and when the Czar tries to shoot Reed in the back after surrendering, Franklin displays a burst of the dormant power which will make him the terror of reality in years to come…

In the tense aftermath of a temporary, portent-laden standoff, Mr. Fantastic dismantles The Bridge at Sue’s insistence, but keeps from her the incredible beings he met before returning and the new resolution he has made: a decision that will also have devastating repercussions for all the universes in the months to come…

Rounding out this spectacular segue into the unknown is a sinister snippet from Dark Reign: The Cabal.‘And I’ll Get the Land’ by Hickman & Adi Granov gives a salutary glimpse into the scary mind of Doctor Doom as he debates a side deal with fellow Cabal associate Sub-Mariner whilst pondering what to do with maniac upstart Norman Osborn once his usefulness is ended…

Fast-paced, action-drenched, furiously imaginative and wickedly funny, this sharp sortie into strange worlds also includes a covers-&-variants gallery by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi, Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig and Marko Djurdjevic to complete the perfect package for all tried-and-true Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionados.
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.