Twin Spica volume 7

New, expanded review

By Kou Yaginuma (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-12-4

The yearning, imagination and anticipation of space travel is paramount to this inspirational manga series from Kou Yaginuma, who first captured the hearts and minds of the public with his poignant short story 2015 Nen no Uchiage Hanabi (2015: Fireworks, published in Gekkan Comics Flapper, June 2000).

Following its unprecedented success, he expanded and enhanced the subject, themes and characters into a major epic combining hard science and humanist fiction with lyrical mysticism and traditional tales of school-days and growing up.

2024AD: teenaged Asumi Kamogawa has always dreamed of going into space. From her earliest moments the lonely child gazed up at the stars with her imaginary friend Mr. Lion, especially at the twinkling glow of Virgo and the alluring binary star Spica.

An isolated, serious child, she lived with her father, a common labourer who had once worked for the consortium which built the rockets for Japan’s Space Program.

When Asumi was a year old, the first Japanese launch ended in utter catastrophe after rocket-ship Shishigō (“The Lion”), exploded on its maiden flight: crashing to earth on the city of Yuigahama. Hundreds were killed and many more injured, including Asumi’s mother.

Maimed and comatose, the matron took years to die. The shock crushed her grieving husband and utterly traumatised infant Asumi.

In response to the disaster Japan set up an astronautics and space sciences training facility. After years of determined struggle, Asumi was accepted by the Tokyo National Space School. Slowly making friends like Shinnosuke Fuchuya (who used to bully her as child in Yuigahama), boisterous Kei Oumi, chilly and distant Marika Ukita and spooky, ultra-cool Shu Suzuki, Asumi daily moved closer to her unshakable dream of going to the stars.

Against all odds – she is small, looks weak and is very poor – Asumi endures. She still talks with Mr. Lion, who is apparently the ghost of an astronaut who died on the Shishigō

Individual episodes are divided into “Missions” all slowly forming a vast tapestry explaining the undisclosed interconnectedness of all the characters and volume seven comprises numbers 30-38, as well as a brace of enchanting autobiographical vignettes from the author’s own teenage years.

‘Mission: 30’ begins with Asumi and her classmates enjoying their seaside vacation in the largely restored resort town of Yuigahama – even Ukita. Nevertheless the still-quite-formal living enigma is plagued by feelings that she has been here before. These phantom memories increasingly draw her to a secluded shrine dedicated to the disaster.

As previously seen in a sequence of flashbacks, she has an ancient and inexplicable connection to a boy who grew up to be Mr. Lion…

Long ago in Yuigahama, a lad obsessed with rockets met a frail, sickly rich girl stuck in isolation in a big house. Her name was Marika Ukita and they became friends despite her condition and the constant interventions of her furious father.

She was beguiled by the boy’s tales of space flight and the history of exploration. In return she shared the only joyous moment in her tragic life, when her over-protective dad took her to see a play called Beauty and the Beast

During the big annual Fireworks Festival the boy made a lion-mask of the Beast to wear, but she never came. He had to break into the mansion to show her. She was very sick but wanted to dance with him…

Later the dying daughter had quietly rebelled when told she was being packed off to a Swiss sanatorium. She slipped out of the house when no-one was watching and vanished. The boy knew where she had gone and rushed off to save her…

‘Mission: 31’ finds Marika succumbing to her inner torment and wandering off to find the isolated commemoration monument. When she becomes dangerously lost and her mysterious medical malady overwhelms her, Asumi, moved by her own memory-ghosts, tracks her down just in time…

As they wait together to be found in ‘Mission: 32’, deep bonds are forged and Marika at last reveals that she is not a real person but “just a copy” of a sick and lonely girl who died long ago…

We are afforded a glimpse into events prior to and following the crash of the Shishigō and it becomes clear that both girls are afflicted with the same unquenchable need to escape Earth…

Asumi’s father Tomoro Kamogawa is no fan of the space program, having lost his wife, his engineering job and his pride to the race for space. In the wake of the catastrophe, despite being a grieving widower himself, he was assigned by his heartless bosses at the corporation who built the ship to lead the reparations committee.

Guilt-wracked and bereaved, the devastated widower had to visit and apologize to each and every survivor and victim’s family. He raised his daughter alone, working two and often three menial jobs at a time for over a decade…

Now with ‘Mission: 33’ the truth over those terrible events starts to unfold. His old engineering colleague Takahito Sano is now one of Asumi’s professors at the Space School and when they meet again, their men’s previous history and relationship is examined and reviewed for the first time in years…

As five young astronaut trainees further bond in an atmosphere of unravelling secrets and far too many persistent ghosts and memories, a potential cause of the crash is mooted. The years leading to the construction of the Lion are revealed to be littered with political in-fighting, unscrupulous double-dealing, thwarted ambitions and corporate cost-cutting.

Moreover both Sano and Kamogawa were extremely attached to the woman who became Asumi’s mother…

The second half of this book concentrates on the students’ return to school and their next semester of training. In ‘Mission: 34’ Asumi’s relationship with orphan student (and apparent anti-space program activist) Kiriu seems to be developing into more than mere friendship.

He volunteers at a hospice and is trying to learn the harmonica so that he can play to an old woman with dementia. He so very much reminds Asumi of her school friend Shimazu who died from cancer after the Yuigahama disaster…

Diffidently bonding, Kiriu tells her of a Sunday concert he’s playing a week hence and she promises to be there…

Elsewhere, the clone Ukita recalls how she began severing ties to the controlling dad who spent a fortune and broke the law to make her, and realises that her true home is with Asumi and her star-bound fellows…

‘Mission: 35’ focuses on school where the latest tests of strength, ingenuity and fortitude find the class divided into teams and transported to a decommissioned prison. Their task: to break free within seven days. Worried Asumi surprisingly convinces the teachers to drive them back to the city early if they all finish the task before Sunday…

The test continues in ‘Mission: 36’ as the jailed students face isolation and a seemingly insurmountable problem whilst back in the city a boy with a harmonica tries not to fixate on whether a certain girl will stand him up.

In his cell Fuchiya is also thinking about her: why he can never say what he wants to her and why he can’t see Mr. Lion…

In their shared dungeon Asumi, Kei and Marika are finally working together and have conceived an escape plan in ‘Mission: 37’. Not long after they are joined on the outside by Shi and Fucchy.

However in ‘Mission: 38’, even with things working her way there’s a snag in Asumi’s return to Tokyo and her date. Surprisingly, grouchy, unpredictable Fuchuya steps in to help the girl he spends so much time studiously annoying and ignoring…

Even with his brusque assistance she’s too late for the concert, but arriving despondent at the park she finds Kiriu waiting…

Even with her all her dreams coming true, however, Asumi is still sad. Despite appearances, the new boy is no Shimazu, whom she misses so very, very much…

To Be Continued…

The main event suspended, this moving tome then concludes with two more ‘Another Spica’ featurettes which find author Yaginuma in autobiographical mode again. Harking back to his ambition-free teens, the first reveals how a crappy job in refreshment retail afforded him time one Christmas to recall that special girl in school he tried to grow taller for, after which the summer drudgery of the job leads to memories of first dates, first drives and first loves…

These powerfully evocative tales originally appeared in 2004 as Futatsu no Supika 7 & 8 in Seinen manga magazine Gekkan Comic Flapper, aimed at male readers aged 18-30, but this ongoing, unfolding saga is perfect for any older kid with stars in their eyes…

Twin Spica filled 16 Japanese volumes from September 2001 to August 2009, tracing the trajectories of Asumi and friends from callow students to accomplished astronauts and has spawned both anime and live action TV series.

This compulsively addictive serial has everything: plenty of hard science to back up the savvy extrapolation, an ever-more engaging cast, enduring mystery, tender moments, isolation, teen angst and true friendships; all wrapped up in a joyous coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones and masses of sheer sentiment.

Utterly defining the siren call of the Starry Reaches for a new generation (and the older ones too) Twin Spica is quite simply too good to miss…

These books are printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format.
© 2011 by Kou Yaginuma. Translation © 2011 Vertical, Inc.

In the Shadow of the Derricks: Lucky Luke volume 5


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-17-5

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast quick-draw cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West on his super-smart horse Jolly Jumper, having light-hearted adventures and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

He’s probably the most popular Western star still active in the world today. His unbroken string of exploits over nearly seventy years has made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 albums selling in excess of 300 million copies in 30 languages thus far), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and even a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) for the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Prior to that, Morris met future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio and contributing caricatures to weekly magazine Le Moustique.

Morris quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” (The Gang of Four) which comprised creators Jijé, Will and Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Tintin Magazine.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West. That research resonates on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before teaming up with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith. Luke rapidly attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched teams, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death in 1977, after which Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), after which Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac took over the franchise, producing another five tales to date.

Moreover, apart from the initial adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone”…

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun and reappeared in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most successful attempt at bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves is the most recent. Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages if not the covers…) have translated 53 albums thus far. In the Shadow of the Derricks was the fifth, now available both on paper and as an e-book edition.

As À l’ombre des derricks, it was first published in 1962: the 18th European release and Goscinny’s ninth collaboration with Morris. It’s also one of the team’s many tales blending historical personages with their wandering hero’s action-comedy exploits and as such it’s a wry condemnation of the oil business both in terms of unchecked commercial adventurism and ecological impact and one of the earliest negative opinions of the trade in comics…

It all begins with a little history lesson on how a toxic contaminant farmers once hated and dreaded finding on their land rapidly became a treasured commodity able to turn rational souls into greed-crazed prospecting zombies, after pioneer Edwin Laurentine Drake (popularly known as Colonel Drake and notoriously renowned as the first man to drill for oil in America) set up shop in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1857.

Two years later his invention of the “Oil Derrick” triggers the first oil rush in history and prospectors come from far and wide to cash in on the new bonanza mineral. Terrified of the inrush of ne’er-do-wells and chancers, the Titusville City Council quickly telegraph for the greatest cowboy lawman in the world to come protect them…

By the time Lucky Luke rides in, the little city is a fetid sinkhole of greed and corruption which looks and smells as bad as it acts. The dignitaries who summoned him are now as enamoured of “black gold” as any transient prospector and the Deputy Mayor’s last official duty is to give Luke his sheriff’s badge before joining the deranged digging fraternity.

The crowning indignity comes when a passing prospector stops him from lighting a cigarette. The oil fumes are so prevalent and pernicious that one match might eradicate the entire town!

Setting to work, Lucky heads for the saloon and is accosted by a gang of thugs. The brutish Bingle is intent on scaring the lawman off but has completely underestimated his opponent…

Hauling the defeated desperado to jail Luke meets the only man in town immune to oil-fever. Old Sam Jigs loathes what the evil muck has made of his town and is happy to watch Bingle while Lucky goes to inspect Colonel Drake’s installation, meeting also the celebrity’s ingenious engineer Billy Smith.

The Colonel takes the sheriff on a tour of various claims and working wells, imploring him to try and restore some order to the wild and wicked region. However all the current fighting, feuding and wildcatting is as nothing to the growing depredations of smooth, slick, oily Texan lawyer Barry Blunt whom Luke first encounters when he stops a lynching.

The legal weasel has a plan to own every well in America and knows enough lawful dodges to trick or force all the other prospectors out of business before they’ve even begun. This is a new kind of opponent for the straight-shooter, who normally holds the Law in great esteem…

Blunt is inexorably forcing the independents to leave or sell up to him; his legion of legal wrangles and small-print scams backed up by a gang of ruthless cutthroats. One such is Bingle, whom the shady shyster tries to spring from jail, only to find that his hulking heavy doesn’t want to leave. He’s already struck oil while digging an escape tunnel…

When prospectors who won’t sell or quit start experiencing devastating oil-fires and unemployed townsfolk sell themselves into virtual slavery in Barry’s growing enterprises it’s time for drastic action, and Luke resolves to start using the spirit rather the letter of the law…

Soon Barry is in jail on trumped up charges and the villain shows his true colours. Busting out and setting the entire region ablaze, Blunt proves himself a suicidal madman: if he can’t own the oil, nobody will…

After the final showdown Lucky and Jolly Jumper resign, heading back home extremely relieved that goofy old Texas doesn’t have to put up with idiot oil hunters…

Cleverly barbed, wickedly ironic and spectacularly cynical, this witty romp is another grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff (perhaps Paint Your Wagon, Evil Roy Slade or Cat Ballou are more your style?), superbly executed by master storytellers as a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a strong probability that they’ll be addicted to Lucky Luke Albums…

© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.
English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped – the graphic novel


Adapted by Alan Grant & Cam Kennedy (Waverley Books)
ISBN: 978-1-902407-38-8

Practically as soon as comicbooks were invented, high-minded enterprising souls were using the new medium to get readers interested in great literature: paring down deathless prose whilst adding the sheer power of pictures in narrative sequence.

In most cases over the intervening decades these adaptations have been less than stellar, but every so often a piece of work emerges that is not just a mere distillation, adjunct or accommodation but actually works as well in comics terms as the original literary ones.

One sterling example of such graphic magic came out of the 2004 selection of Edinburgh as the first UNESCO City of Literature, when Scottish funnybook veterans Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy were invited to convert a brace of classic tales by Robert Louis Stevenson to publishing’s hottest medium…

With a bare minimum of abridgement or adulteration and astonishingly augmented by the stunning art and colours of the inimitable Kennedy, the timelessly classic tale unfolds beginning with seventeen year old David Balfour who in June 1751 strides away from rural Essendean and the only home he has even known into peril, terror and astounding adventure…

Upon his father’s death Davie receives a letter which reveals the existence of a relative he never knew he possessed, so he promptly walks all the way to Edinburgh and sees for the first time the dilapidated, broken-down but still imposing House of Shaws.

At a time when the oppressive English conquerors are still openly revelling in crushing the Jacobite Rebellion, his progress is slow and cautious. One day David reaches the manor but is not comforted nor relieved, having heard no good word from any he passed about Ebenezer Balfour and his “house built on blood”…

The Laird is an elderly, scared-seeming, guilt-wracked scoundrel who grudgingly takes David in after declaring himself his uncle. Soon, however, David comes to realise that not only has Ebenezer long ago swindled his deceased brother out of his inheritance but is prepared to kill his only kin to keep it…

Forewarned, outraged and wary, Davie nonetheless falls into a trap when he accompanies his uncle to the family lawyer Rankeillor – purportedly to make amends and square accounts – at Queen’s Ferry. The lad is tricked aboard the brig Covenant where he learns Ebenezer has paid villainous Captain Hoseason to transport him to the New World to be sold as a slave…

Clubbed unconscious and inescapably trapped, David plunges into despair and illness. His unwanted journey is marked with brutality and horror, but marginally improves after he witnesses the murder of the cabin boy Ransome and is compelled to become that poor soul’s replacement.

A week later everything changes after the Covenant collides with a smaller vessel in the fog and a survivor is hauled aboard. The small, ferocious and exceedingly dangerous-looking straggler is Alan Breck Stewart: an earnest Jacobite who spends his days collecting debts for the defeated Highland chiefs-in-exile and smuggling the money to them in France.

More avaricious than political, the captain agrees to ferry Breck to a friendly destination for sixty golden guineas but when David overhears Hoseasons and First Mate Mr. Shuan planning to murder the Highlander, he makes a fateful life-changing decision…

Allying himself with Breck, young Balfour gets his first taste of battle and bloodletting when the pair heroically confront the crew from a readymade fortress in the main cabin. With nine men dead or maimed, Hoseasons has no choice but to negotiate and sullenly agrees to put them both ashore at Linnhe Loch, but even before the Covenant can reach that outpost of relative safety, the ship founders on a reef with David and Breck lost over the side…

Cast away and lost he is eventually reunited with Breck, only to endure hardship, horror, pursuit and personal degradation as he and his contentious, complicated comrade are hunted by Royalist forces for the murder of Colin Roy Campbell, known and dreaded as King George’s agent “the Red Fox” who punishes and persecutes Highlanders and honest men, even selling them into slavery…

Their trials and tribulations as outlaws of the heather, their meetings with kindred spirits, strains on their newfound friendship and eventual bringing to justice of the conniving Ebenezer Balfour are all deliciously revealed in gripping form and glorious imagery (although purists might miss much of Breck’s more esoteric phraseology) as the novel comes to rousing life in an iteration certain to please both devotees and first time readers.

Moody, evocative, fast-paced and gripping, this graphic goldmine was also released in two local languages: translated and dialogued in Lowland Scots as Kidnappit by Matthew Fitt & James Robertson and as Fo Bhruid – a Gaelic iteration translated by Iain MacDhòmhnaill.
Adapted text © 2006 Alan Grant. Illustrations © 2006 Cam Kennedy. All rights reserved.

Vengeance of the Moon Knight volume 1: Shock and Awe


By Gregg Hurwitz & Jerome Opeña & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4106-8

Moon Knight is probably one of the most complex and convoluted heroes in comics. There’s also a lot of evidence to support the contention that he’s a certifiable loon…

He first appeared during the 1970s horror boom: a mercenary Batman knockoff hired by corporate villains to capture lycanthropic Jack Russell (AKA Werewolf by Night). Catching the readers attention, he then spun off into two trial issues of Marvel Spotlight and an exceedingly mature (for the times) back-up slot in the TV-inspired Hulk Magazine before graduating to a number of solo series.

His convoluted origin eventually revealed how multiple-personality afflicted CIA spook-turned-mercenary Marc Spector was murdered by his best-pal and comrade Raoul Bushman but apparently restored to life by the Egyptian deity Khonshu: god of the Moon and Justice, or perhaps simply Vengeance…

Over many years the solitary avenger and a select band of hand-picked helpers battled the darker threats more flamboyant superheroes neglected or avoided, ever-vacillating between pristine white knight and bloodthirsty killer-with-a-good-excuse…

At the time of this rocket-paced riot of action and suspense, resurgent villain and American Security Czar Norman Osborn was de facto ruler of America, using Federal power to wage war on heroes who refused to sign The Superhuman Registration Act. Those he couldn’t coerce or crush, he smeared…

As Moon Knight became more obviously frenzied and manic, Osborn framed the outlaw hero for murder ands numerous ferocious atrocities and, in response to seemingly overwhelming opposition, the out-of-control hero faked his own death, moved to Mexico and went about cleansing his ravaged mind and troubled soul.

The first and hardest part of the remedy was to eradicate every vestige of Marc Spector from his wardrobe of personalities…

Collecting Vengeance of the Moon Knight #1-6 (November 2009-May 2010) this spectacular breakneck thriller opens with the return of ‘The White Knight’ to New York City; (mostly) clear-headed and determined to reclaim his name and sullied reputation. That begins with a most public foiling of an extremely violent bank robbery, where, despite the utmost provocation and the watching citizenry’s fervent expectations, the silent Avenger kills absolutely nobody…

The astonished observers – including the hero’s former lover and confidante Marlene Alraune – would have been even more astonished to learn that throughout the shocking struggle a little godling had been whispering in Moon Knight’s ear…

Khonshu is displeased. He wants his chosen agent to exact full and final vengeance and is growing increasingly impatient over this sacrilegious “no killing” peccadillo…

Nights pass and Moon Knight, hunted by cops and Osborn’s agents alike, prowls the streets, quietly thinning out the predators who feed on the weakest members of society. His diligent pruning is interrupted however when the most powerful of Osborn’s super-operatives appears…

‘The Sentry’s Curse’ is that he is nigh-omnipotent, truly crazy and utterly unpredictable. As an old comrade, the golden giant grants Moon Knight a measure of leeway and one last chance, but Osborn is less sanguine about being defied and orders his mystic minion The Hood and telepathic snoop Profile to find and decisively deal with the returned rebel.

Now favouring his Jake Lockley and Steven Grant personas, the repentant paladin is visiting old associates and comrades whilst using his vast financial resources to upgrade the Moon Knight’s armoury. Being an outlaw, he has no problem employing the best criminal scientists money can buy…

The first felonious monster to fall to his renewed crusade is grotesque sin-peddler The Slug, and once again the cataclysmic clash is punctuated by his divine passenger screaming in his ear for blood. That distraction might be why the hero doesn’t notice Profile taking a reading and extracting the one secret that might end his ceaseless war on crime…

After tolerating years of appalling atrocities, Moon Knight eventually killed his greatest enemy and, in a fit of madness, cut off his fright-mask of a face. Now, thanks to the psychic’s reading and The Hood’s dark magic, the one foe Spector could never handle is dragged howling from his grave to pick up where he left off in ‘The Bushman Cometh’

The resurrected psychotic immediately hits the ground scheming and whilst Moon Knight wastes time trying to convince Spider-Man that’s he’s back – but he is also better – Raoul orchestrates a bloody raid on horrific sin-bin Ravencroft Asylum.

With fellow maniac Scarecrow, Bushman turns an institution full of criminal madmen into murderous slaves and even augments his army of the living damned with a cadre of autonomous and atrocious menaces such as Herman the German and The Great Wall

Never reticent, Bushman then unleashes his foul forces on sleeping Manhattan in the sure and certain knowledge that unremitting carnage and slaughter is bound to bring Moon Knight running…

With the city under siege even Spector’s oldest – and most betrayed – friend sees the need for action, and with “Frenchie” Du Champ once again piloting the awe-inspiring Moon Copter, the resurgent Knight takes on the entire legion of loons with devastating if non-lethal force under an unforgiving ‘Full Moon’

The battle goes into overwhelming overdrive in ‘Past is Prologue’ as Bushman finally confronts his ultimate antithesis, but as the chaos escalates the screaming of Khonshu for his chosen one to cross back over the line and fulfil his blood-letting destiny is almost too much for any mortal to resist.

…And even after resoundingly defeating his physical foes and restoring some semblance of sense to the city the gory god still calls and, at last, ‘Knight Falls’

With covers by Leinil Francis Yu and eight stunning variants by Alex Ross, David Finch, Yu and Francesco Mattina, this high-octane, explosively all-out psycho-thriller is compellingly scripted by Gregg Hurwitz and captivatingly illustrated by Jerome Opeña, Jay Leisten and Paul Mounts who combine to create one of the most memorable and enjoyable reboots of recent years.

Fast, dark and savagely entertaining, Shock and Awe is pure electric entertainment for testosterone junkies and Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics.
© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud Rockets to Stardom


By Goscinny and Tabary (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-092-4

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. 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 perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

In the wake of 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 detail 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 blackguard’s only successful heist.

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

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: for the youngsters it’s a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a-cropper, whilst older, wiser heads can revel in pun-filled, witty satires and marvellously surreal episodic comic capers.

This same magic formula made its more famous cousin Asterix a monolithic global success and, just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, the irresistibly addictive Arabian Nit was originally adapted into English by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to British tastes.

As always the deliciously malicious whimsy is heavily dosed with manic absurdity, cleverly contemporary cultural critiques and brilliantly delivered creative anachronisms which serve to keep the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and hilariously inventive.

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

The retooled debuted in 1968, and quickly became 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.

In 1977 after Goscinny’s death, Tabary began scripting his own sublimely stylish tales, switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

The fifth Dargaud collection (and the seventh volume published by Methuen in 1980), Des Astres pour Iznogoud, was originally released in 1969, and here it’s the eighth explosively outrageous Cinebook album, offering an astoundingly absurd quintet of short tales with the Vile Vizier on top form as he schemes to seize power from his sublimely oblivious Lord and Master.

The eternal struggle resumes with eponymously anachronistic Iznogoud Rockets to Stardom’, wherein the Vizier’s bumbling, strong-arm crony Wa’at Alahf is in the bazaar listening to a storyteller extolling the virtues of brilliant inventor Ahstroh Nautikhal. That clever old tinkerer has apparently built a machine which can travel to the stars…

After sharing the tale with his mean master, the big oaf is soon following the Vizier into the city as Iznogoud tracks down the rather insubordinate innovator. The little monster is delighted to hear that the machine works and even happier to find that Nautikhal has no way of bringing his towering rocket back to Earth…

Moreover the normally grudging Caliph is delighted at a thought of a trip to the edge of creation, but since he’s too lazy to walk to the rocket Iznogoud has to bring the five-storey high ship to the palace… by camel train…

And even after that mammoth feat of determined optimism the impatient villain still has to wrestle with the tricky and unpredictable black-powder propellant which never seems to ignite when it’s supposed to…

The pun-punctuated comedy of errors is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity entitled ‘Iznogoud’s Pupil’ as the Vizier conspires to become personal tutor to Prince B’oufaykhar, son of the incredible short-tempered and violent Sultan Pullmankar

The scheme is wickedly simple: if he makes the prince miserable, the Sultan will destroy the Caliph and he can take over. Unfortunately the Vizier has never met a brat as spoiled as B’oufaykhar nor anybody who possessed a genie like the formidable and terrifying Djinn Rummih

The broad slapstick gives way to mystic mayhem when far-travelled Klot Ed Krim of Tartary sells the infamous schemer an amulet that makes dreams come true. Sadly, the operating instructions for ‘The Tartar’s Talisman’ are rather specific and one can’t always dream about what one wants to, even if you eat the strangest things before bedtime…

On discovering an old law which states no Caliph may rule if he’s crazy, Iznogoud finds an assuredly infallible method to secure his ambitions in ‘My Hat!’. Getting hold of a magic hat which makes the wearer instantly insane is not a problem, but getting the Caliph to put it on is. In fact, as the dire deed is attempted at a birthday party it’s inevitable that the only one not to act like a mad hatter is happy-go-lucky Haroun Al Plassid…

The frantic antics conclude with a reality-warping riot as the Vile Vizier accidentally saves an ensorcelled wizard and is rewarded with a magic pencil. Whatever is rendered with the arcane implement will be forever banished to a desert island when the drawing is ripped up, and instantly Iznogoud begins capturing the Caliph’s likeness…

Sadly the upset usurper is no artist and his own ineptitude is Haroun’s greatest defence against ‘Dark Designs’ so there’s nothing for it but to get drawing lessons from the Caliphate’s greatest artist Tahbari al Tardi, a man far too eager and helpful for his own good…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently insufficient in inches (or should that be centimetres?).

Desiring to become “Caliph in the Caliph’s place” is a popular condemnation in French, targeting those perceived as overly-ambitious and, since 1992 the Prix Iznogoud is awarded annually to “a personality who failed to take the Caliph’s place”.

Its nominees are chosen from prominent French figures who have endured spectacular failures in any one year and been given to the likes of Édouard Balladur (1995) and Nicolas Sarkozy (1999). The jury panel is headed by politician André Santini, who gave himself one after failing to become president of Île-de-France in regional elections in 2004.

When first released in Britain during the late 1970s and 1980s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comicbook) these tales made little impression, but certainly now this snappy, wonderfully beguiling strip has finally and deservedly found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…

Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris, 1969 by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.

The Adventures of Buck Danny volume 3: Ghost Squadron


By Francis Bergése, colours by Frédéric Bergése translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 987-1-905460-85-4

Buck Danny premiered in Spirou in January 1947 and continues soaring across the Wild Blue Yonder to this day. The strip describes the improbably long yet historically significant career of the eponymous Navy pilot and his wing-men Sonny Tuckson and Jerry Tumbler. It is one of the world’s last aviation strips and a series which has always closely wedded itself to current affairs, from the Korean War to Afghanistan.

The US Naval Aviator was created by Georges Troisfontaines whilst he was director of Belgian publisher World Press Agency and initially depicted by Victor Hubinon before being handed to the multi-talented Jean-Michel Charlier, who was then working as a junior artist.

Charlier’s fascination with human-scale drama and rugged realism had been seen in such “true-war” strips as L’Agonie du Bismark (‘The Agony of the Bismark’- published in Spirou in 1946).

Charlier and René Goscinny were co-editors of Pistolin magazine from 1955 to 1958 and created Pilote in 1959. When they, with fellow creative legend Albert Uderzo, formed the Édifrance Agency to promote the specialised communication benefits of comic strips, he continued to script Buck Danny and did so until his death.

Thereafter his artistic collaborator Francis Bergése (who had replaced Hubinon in 1978) took complete charge of the adventures of the All-American Air Ace, on occasion working with other creators such as Jacques de Douhet.

Like so many artists involved in stories about flight, Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his twenties. Aged 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966), after which he produced his first aviation strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed by Amigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A, Michel dans la Course and many more.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he took the coveted job of illustrating the globally syndicated Buck Danny beginning with the 41st yarn ‘Apocalypse Mission’. He even found time in the 1990s to produce a few tales for the European interpretation of British icon Biggles before finally retiring in 2008, passing on the reins to illustrators Fabrice Lamy and Francis Winis and scripter Frédéric Zumbiehl.

Thus far the franchise has notched up 53 albums…

This third Cinebook volume is another astonishingly authentic yarn: a tense, rip-roaring and politically-charged contemporary war story originally published in 1996 as Buck Danny #46 (L’escadrille fantôme and coloured as ever by Frédéric Bergése), blending mind-boggling detail and technical veracity with good old fashioned blistering blockbuster derring-do.

It’s 1995 and, above Sarajevo, Tuckson and pioneer female fighter pilot Cindy McPherson are patrolling as part of the UN Protection Force. “UnProFor” is the West’s broad and criminally ineffectual coalition to stop the various factions in the region slaughtering each other.

The flight takes a dark turn when Cindy’s plane is hit by Serb rockets in contravention of the truce rules and incensed Tuckson peels off to open up with machine gun fire without obtaining the proper permissions.

Nursing Cindy’s burning plane back to their carrier in the Baltic, Sonny doesn’t care how much trouble he’s in, but rather than a Court Martial the impetuous lad’s punishment is rather unique…

Called to interview with the Admiral, the pilot expects at the very least to be thrown as food to the skipper’s vile dog O’Connor but instead meets the enigmatic Mr. Tenderman and is seconded to a top secret “Air Force/Navy Coordination” mission.

Buck meanwhile is part of an op to track down a strange radar echo in an area supposed to be neutral and empty…

After wishing Cindy a fond farewell and hinting at his big CIA secret posting, Sonny ships out by helicopter to land at Prevesa Airbase in Greece. Bewilderment is replaced with terror and rage once he unpacks and discovers O’Connor has stowed away in his kit…

Now stuck with the infernal, nastily nipping mutt, Sonny’s screams draw an old friend into his room: maverick test pilot and old partner in peril Slim Holden. The inveterate rule-breaker also has no idea what they’ve been roped into…

The next day the conundrum continues as they and a small group of other pilots with no idea of why they’re here or where they’re going are shipped to a secret base in the mountains. After the military’s usual “hurry up and wait” the wary fliers are greeted by a familiar face…

Buck is introduced as Colonel Y by the grimly competent General X who assigns each of the pilots a number from 1 to 16. All they know is that they have all committed serious breaches of military discipline which will be wiped from their records once the mission is over. Moreover, as long as they’re here they will only refer to each other by their code numbers…

Awaiting them are anonymous, unmarked F-16s without radios. They are to train in the jets in preparation for an unspecified single task under the strictest security conditions, until finally apprised of their specified purpose.

Days of exhausting preparation and pointless speculation are almost disrupted when an unidentified MiG-29 buzzes the base at extremely low altitude. Although Buck rapidly pursues, the quarry eludes him but the chase does reveal that their so-secret base is being covertly observed by a radar station on the Albanian border…

With no viable options Buck returns and the training continues at full pace. Inevitably the regimen results in a fatality. With the warning of more to come before the strafing and low-level bombing runs end, the practicing goes on and rumours mount over what the actual targets of their illicit ground-attack squadron might be…

Back at the official war zone, tensions mount when two US Navy F-18s are shot down over Bosnia – apparently by a flight of unidentified jets – whilst at the hidden base Buck’s security overflights still register radar tracks from an unknown source.

Buck and General X have no idea which of the many warring factions might be operating the MiGs or the mobile radar unit but have no choice except to proceed with their original plan. They might be far more concerned if they realised that one of the downed – official – combatants was Cindy McPherson…

With the situation worsening the word is given to go and the unofficial spectre squadron finally learn what they’re expected to do: take out the armoured concentrations and artillery emplacements relentlessly bombarding Sarajevo.

In the face of increasingly obvious NATO and UN impotence, it has been decided that the Pan-Serbian aggressors need to be taught a hard lesson about keeping their word regarding cease-fires…

The mission is unofficial, with no radio contact and disabled ejector seats. Moreover, they all have permission to respond in kind to any attack – even by American forces…

As the doomed Ghost Squadron roars across the Adriatic to their targets, the Navy mission to rescue or recover their downed reconnaissance pilots proceeds and an ever-vigilant AWACS plane picks up the inexplicable bogeys heading for Sarajevo.

Of course they reach the only conclusion possible…

When Major Tumbler and his Flight are despatched after the mystery jets an inconclusive dogfight leads him to suspect the nature and identities of some of his targets, but after breaking off hostilities the officially sanctioned Navy planes are ambushed by MiGs from a third faction…

Things look grim until NATO support arrives in the form of French Mirages and British Tornados. As the ghosts fly on to complete their punishment run, in the mad scramble behind them Tumbler tracks a MiG that has had enough and exposes a hidden Bosnian hangar housing a phantom flight of their own. Unfortunately they see him too and he is shot down…

The CIA covert mission has been a success and a massive catalyst. In the aftermath, planes from many of the surrounding nations are tearing up the skies and in the confusion Tumbler makes his way from his landing point into the MiG base to discover old enemy and maniac mercenary Lady X running the show. He also learns that a beloved comrade may well be a traitor in her pay but resolves to save his friend and let the chips fall where they may…

This is a stunning slice of old-fashioned razzle-dazzle that enthrals from the first page to the last panel and shows just why this brilliant series has lasted for so long. Complex politics, personal honour and dastardly schemes all seamlessly blend into a breakneck thriller suitable for older kids and “lads” of all ages.
© Dupuis, 1996 by Bergése. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Creeper by Steve Ditko


By Ditko, Don Segall, Denny O’Neil/Sergius O’Shaughnessy, Michael Fleisher, Mike Peppe, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2592-6

Steve Ditko is one of our industry’s greatest talents and amongst America’s least lauded. His fervent desire has always been to just get on with his job, tell stories the best way he can and let his work speak for him.

Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that attitude has been and will always be a minor consideration – or even actual stumbling block – for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funnybook output.

After Ditko’s legendary disagreements with Stan Lee led to his quitting Marvel – where his groundbreaking work made the reclusive genius (at least in comicbook terms) a household name – he found work at Warren Comics and resumed his long association with Charlton Comics.

That company’s laissez faire editorial attitudes had always offered him the most creative freedom, if not greatest financial reward, but in 1968 their wünderkind editor Dick Giordano was poached by the rapidly-slipping industry leader and he took some of his bullpen of key creators with him to DC Comics.

Whilst Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Frank McLaughlin and Denny O’Neil found a new and regular home, Ditko began only a sporadic – if phenomenally productive – association with DC.

It was during this heady if unsettled period that the first strips derived from Ditko’s interpretation of the Objectivist philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand began appearing in fanzines and independent press publications like Witzend and The Collector, whilst for the “over-ground” publishing colossus he devised a brace of cult classics with The Hawk and the Dove and the superbly captivating Beware The Creeper.

Later efforts would include Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker and The Odd Man plus truly unique interpretations of Man-Bat, the Legion of Super-Heroes and many more…

The auteur’s comings and goings also allowed him to revisit past triumphs and none more so than with The Creeper who kept periodically popping up like a mad, bad penny. This superb hardcover compilation gleefully gathers every Ditko-drafted and -delineated Creeper classic from a delirious decade for your delight, collecting tales from Showcase #73, Beware the Creeper #1-6, 1st Issue Special #7, World’s Finest Comics #249-255 and Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2/Showcase #106 (collectively spanning March/April 1968 to February/March 1979), and this spooky superhero spectacle kicks off with an effusive Introduction by Steve (30 Days of Night) Niles.

Ditko’s bizarre DC visions first exploded off the newsstands in try-out title Showcase #73 and ‘The Coming of the Creeper!!’, with veteran comics and TV scripter Don Segall putting the words to Ditko’s plot and illustrations.

The moodily macabre tale introduces suicidally-outspoken TV host Jack Ryder whose attitude to his show’s sponsors and cronies loses him his cushy job. His brazen attitude does impress the network’s security chief Bill Brane however and the gruff oldster offers him a job as an investigator and occasional bodyguard.

Jack’s first case involves tracking down recent Soviet defector Professor Yatz who has gone missing. The CIA suspect has been abducted by gangster Angel Devilin and sold to Red agent Major Smej

Displaying a natural affinity for detective work, Ryder tracks a lead to Devilin’s grand house and interrupts a costume party designed as a cover to make the trade. Promptly kicked out by thugs Ryder heads for a costume shop but can only find a box of garish odds and ends and lots of makeup.

Kitted himself out in strange psychedelic attire, he breaks back in but is caught and stabbed before being thrown into a cell with the missing Yatz. The scientist is also grievously wounded but is determined to keep his inventions out of the hands of evil men.

Those creations are an instant healing serum and a Molecular Transmuter, able to shunt whatever a person is wearing or carrying into and out of our universe. A fully equipped army could enter a country as harmless tourists and materialise a complete armoury before launching sneak attacks…

To preserve them Yatz buries the Transmuter inside Ryder’s knife wound before injecting him with the untested serum. The effect is instantaneous and doesn’t even leave a scar. He’s also faster, stronger and more agile…

When Jack presses a handheld activator, he is instantly naked and experimentation shows that he can make his motley costume appear and disappear just by pushing a button. Of course now, whenever it is activated, neither makeup nor wig, bodystocking, boots or gloves will come off. It’s like the crazy outfit has become a second skin…

When the gangsters come for their captives, Yatz is burning his notes and in the fracas that follows catches a fatal bullet. Furious, guilt-ridden and strangely euphoric, Ryder goes after the thugs and spies but by the time the cops arrive finds himself – or at least his canary yellow alter ego – blamed by Devilin for the chaos and even burglary.

The mobster has even given him a name… The Creeper…

As soon as the furore dies down the vengeful Ryder returns to exact justice for the professor and discovers his uncanny physical prowess and macabre, incessant unnerving laughter give him an unbeatable edge and win him a supernatural reputation…

After that single issue the haunting hero hurtled straight into his own bimonthly series and Beware the Creeper #1 debuted with a May/June cover-date.

Behind one of the most evocative covers of the decade – or ever – ‘Where Lurks the Menace?’ (scripted by Denny O’Neil under his occasional pen-name Sergius O’Shaughnessy) found Ryder and the Creeper hunting an acrobatic killer beating to death a number of shady types in a savage effort to take over the city’s gangs.

Jack’s relentless pursuit of the terror and careful piecing together of many disparate clues to his identity was only hindered by the introduction of publicity-hungry and obnoxious glamour-puss ‘Vera Sweet.

The TV weathergirl thought she had the right to monopolise Ryder’s time and attention even when he was ducking fists and bullets…

The remainder of the run featured a classic duel of opposites as a chameleonic criminal mastermind insinuated himself into the lives of Jack and the Brane bunch. It all began with ‘The Many Faces of Proteus!’ in issue #2 (Ditko & O’Shaughnessy) as a pompous do-gooder’s TV campaign against The Creeper is curtailed when the Golden Grotesque shows up at the studio throwing bombs.

Caught in the blast is the baffled and battered Jack Ryder and he’s even more bewildered when Bill Brane informs him that a tip has come in confirming the Creeper is working for gambler gangboss Legs Larsen

Dodging Vera, whose latest scheme involves a fake engagement, the real Creeper reaches Larsen’s gaming house in time to see a faceless man put a bullet into the prime suspect. In the ensuing panic the Laughing Terror transforms back into Ryder and strolls out carrying Larsen’s files, unaware that the faceless man is watching him leave and putting a few clues together himself…

The documents reveal that a lone player has been slowly consolidating a hold on the city’s underworld but discloses no concrete information, so the Creeper goes on a very public rampage against assorted criminals in hope of drawing “Proteus” out. The gambit works perfectly as a number of close friends try to kill Ryder, but only after he fends off a flamethrower-wielding Vera in his own apartment does the Creeper realise that Proteus is far more than a madman with a makeup kit…

A spectacular rooftop duel ends in a collapsed building and the apparent end of the protean plunderer, but there’s no body to be found in the rubble…

Beware the Creeper #3 finds our outré hero tearing the city’s thugs apart looking for Proteus but his one man spook-show is curtailed when Brane sends Jack Ryder to find Vera.

Little Miss Wonderful was determined to be the first to interview an island society that has been cut off from the world for over a century, but all contact has been lost since she arrived. Tracking her to ‘The Isle of Fear’ Jack finds her in the hands of a death cult.

More important to Ryder though is the fact that the Supreme One who leads the maniacs is actually a top criminal offering sanctuary to the Proteus flunkies he’d been scouring the city for…

Back in civilisation again, ‘Which Face Hides My Enemy?’ sees Ryder expose High Society guru and criminal mesmerist Yogi Birzerk’s unsuspected connection to Proteus. The cops drive the Creeper away before getting anything from the charlatan and when he dejectedly returns home Jack walks into an explosive booby trap in his new apartment.

The “warning” from Proteus heralds the arrival of Asian troubleshooters Bulldog Bird and Sumo who claim to be also pursuing the faceless villain. They reveal he was a high-ranking member of the government of Offalia who stole a chemical which alters the molecular composition of flesh before suggesting they all team up…

Heading back to Bizerk’s place it soon becomes clear that they are actually working for Proteus and that the faceless fiend knows Ryder is the Creeper…

With #5 inker Mike Peppe joins Ditko and O’Neil as the epic swings into high gear with ‘The Color of Rain is Death!’ Proteus makes his closing moves, attacking many of Jack’s associates and framing him again whilst preparing for the criminal masterstroke which will win him much of the city’s wealth.

Luring the Creeper into the sewers just as a major storm threatens to deluge the city, the face-shifter reveals a scheme to blow up the drainage system and cause a massive flood. After a brutal battle he also leaves The Creeper tied to a grating to drown…

The stunning saga closed with the final issue of Beware the Creeper #6 (March/April 1969), by which time Ditko had all but abandoned his creation. ‘A Time to Die’ saw everyman artist Jack Sparling pencil most of the story as the Creeper escapes his death-trap, deciphers the wily villain’s actual game-plan and delivers a crushing final defeat.

It was fun and thrilling and – unlike many series which folded at that troubled time – even provided an actual conclusion, but it somehow it wasn’t satisfactory and it wasn’t what we wanted.

This was a time when superheroes went into a steep decline with supernatural and genre material rapidly gaining prominence throughout the industry. With Fights ‘n’ Tights comics folding all over, Ditko concentrated again on Charlton’s mystery line, the occasional horror piece for Warren and his own projects…

In the years his own comic was dormant, the Creeper enjoyed many guest shots in other comics and it was established that the city he prowled was in fact Gotham. When Ditko returned to DC in the mid 1970s, tryout series 1st Issue Special was alternating new concepts with revivals of old characters.

Issue #7 (October 1975) gave the quirky crusader another shot at stardom in ‘Menace of the Human Firefly’ (written by Michael Fleisher, and inked by Mike Royer) and saw restored TV journalist Jack Ryder inspecting the fantastic felons in Gotham Penitentiary just as lifer Garfield Lynns broke jail to resume his interrupted costumed career as the master of lighting effects…

By the time the rogue’s brief but brilliant rampage was over the Creeper had discovered something extremely disturbing about his own ever-evolving abilities…

The story wasn’t enough to restart the rollercoaster but a few years later DC instituted a policy of giant-sized anthologies and the extra page counts allowed a number of lesser lights to secure back-up slots.

For World’s Finest Comics #249-255 (February/March 1978-February/March 1979) Ditko was invited to produce a series of 8-page vignettes starring his most iconic DC creation. This time he wrote as well as illustrated and the results are pure eccentric excellence.

The sequence began with ‘Moon Lady and the Monster’ as Jack Ryder – once again a security operative for Cosmic Broadcasting Network – had to ferret out a grotesque brute stalking a late night horror-movie hostess after which #250’s ‘Return of the Past’ reprised the origin as Angel Devilin got out of jail and went looking for revenge…

In WFC #251 ‘The Disruptor’ proved to be a blackmailer attempting to extort CBN by sabotaging programmes whilst ‘The Keeper of Secrets is Death!’ in the next issue followed the tragic murder of Dr. Joanne Russell who was accused on a sensationalistic TV of knowing the Creeper’s secret identity…

In #253 ‘The Wrecker’ was an actual grudge-bearing mad scientist who had built a most unconventional robot whilst ‘Beware Mr. Wrinkles!’ in #254 saw a villain with the power to age his victims. Neither, however, were a match for the tireless, spring-heeled Technicolor Tornado dubbed the Creeper and his too-short return culminated in a lethal duel with a knife throwing jewel thief in #255’s ‘Furious Fran and the Dagger Lady’

Until this volume that was it for Ditko devotees and Creeper collectors, but as the final delight in this splendid hardback colour compendium reveals, there was more. An ill-considered expansion was followed by the infamous “DC Implosion” in 1978 where a number of titles were shut down or cancelled before release. One of those was Showcase #106 which would have featured a new all-Ditko Creeper tale.

It was collected – with a number of other lost treasures – in a copyright-securing minimum print run, internal publication entitled Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Here, from #2 (1978) and presented in stark black & white, fans can see the Garish Gallant’s last Ditko-devised hurrah as ‘Enter Dr. Storme’ pits the Creeper (and cameo crimebuster The Odd Man) against a deranged aweatherman turned climactic conqueror with the power to manipulate the elements.

Fast, Fight-filled, furiously fun and devastatingly dynamic, Beware the Creeper was a high-point in skewed superhero sagas and this is a compendium no lovers of the genre can do without.
© 1968, 1969, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species


By Reginald Hudlin, Ken Lashley, Paul Neary & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3342-1

Regarded as the first black hero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since July 1966 when he attacked the Fantastic Four as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, was an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a miraculous alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – had enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland.

The tribal resources and the people had long been safeguarded by a cat-like human champion who derived physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb which ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult.

In recent years the mythology was retooled to reveal that the “Vibranium” mound had actually made the country a secret Superpower for centuries but now increasingly made Wakanda a target for subversion and incursion.

This slim, unassuming but extremely engaging Costumed Drama outing collects the first six issues of Black Panther volume 5 – April to September 2009 and was originally part of Marvel’s company-wide “Dark Reign” publishing event.

‘The Deadliest of the Species’ begins as new bride (and queen) Ororo nervously embarks on a goodwill tour. As a mutant – and far worse, an American – who has married the king, she is keenly aware of her tenuous position.

All thoughts of winning over the people are soon forgotten when T’Challa’s jet – which left only hours ago on a diplomatic mission – screams in and catastrophically crashes in the heart of the city despite all the weather goddess’ efforts to slow it down…

Unknown to all, five hours previously the Black Panther had secretly met with regal rival Namor the Sub-Mariner to hear an invitational offer from the Cabal of world-conquerors led by Norman Osborn but now the adored sovereign is near death. His formidable Dora Milaje bodyguards are gone, and once dragged from the wreckage burned and broken, T’Challa agonisingly reveals it was an ambush before lapsing into a coma…

As Queen Mother Ramonda and sister Shuri dash to the hospital, the ruling council are frantic; terrified that the assassination attempt is prelude to an invasion. Wakanda has always been ready for such assaults, but that was with a healthy Black Panther. Right now they are spiritually all but defenceless…

Even though the king is not quite dead, the Ministers advocate activating the protocols which will create a new Panther warrior… but the question is who will succeed?

Hours ago after Namor departed, a far less friendly potentate accosted T’Challa as he left the conference. Dr. Doom was also a member of the Cabal and took the Panther’s refusal to join the club very, very badly…

Back in the now, desperate meetings and Ororo’s refusal to undertake the mystic rituals result in Princess Shuri being reluctantly assigned – over the strenuous protests of her own mother – the role of Black Panther Apparent. As T’Challa’s older sister it’s a role she was destined for, but one her brother seized decades ago.

At that time she was away being schooled in the West when an invasion by American adventurer Ulysses Klaw resulted in the death of their father. With cruel circumstance demanding nothing less, the boy took the initiative, the role and the responsibility of defending his nation…

Now after years as an irrelevant spare, the flighty jet-setter is being asked to take up a destiny she neither wants nor feels capable of fulfilling. She is especially afraid of the part of the ceremony where she faces the Panther God and is judged…

T’Challa cannot reveal how the battle with Doom ended in brutal defeat and certain death had not his valiant Dora Milaje given their lives to get his maimed body back in the jet and home via auto-pilot. He is even unable to stay alive and as the world’s most up-to-date doctors slowly abandon hope, Ramonda convinces Queen Ororo to try something ancient instead…

Despite a pervasive cloak of secrecy bad new travels fast and across the continent adherents of the Panther Cult’s theological antithesis revel in Wakanda’s misfortune. The smug worshippers prepare arcane rituals to finally destroy their enemies and in a place far removed from the world, T’Challa awakes to meet his dead bodyguards once more…

In an isolated hut Queen and Queen Mother are bickering with sinister shaman Zawavari. He claims to be able to bring T’Challa back but gleefully warns that the price will be high…

Thanks to her years of training, Shuri is having no problem with the physical rigours of the Panther Protocols and foolishly grows in confidence. Far away, Wakanda’s enemies succeed in summoning Morlun, Devourer of Totems, but are unprepared for the voracious horror to consume them before turning his attention to more distant theological fodder…

And in Limbo, a succession of dead friends and family subtly and seductively attempt to convince T’Challa that his time is past and that he should lay down his regal burdens…

As Morlun makes his way to Wakanda, stopping only to destroy other petty pantheons such as the master of the Man-Ape sect, Death continues her campaign to convince T’Challa to surrender to the inevitable whilst Shuri faces her final test.

It does not end well. The puissant Panther God looks right through her ands declares her pitifully unworthy to wear his mantle or defend his worshippers. Despondent Shuri is despatched back to the physical world just as her sister-in-law arrives in Limbo, sent by Zawavari to retrieve her husband from Death’s clutches.

Ororo doesn’t want to tell her husband that this is their last meeting. The price of his passage back is her becoming his replacement…

In the real world Morlun has reached Wakanda’s borders, drawn inexorably to T’Challa’s (currently vacant) physical form, utterly invulnerable to everything in the nation’s super-scientific arsenal and leaving a mountain of corpses behind him.

With Armageddon manifesting all about them, the Royal Family and Ruling Council are out of options until sly Zawavari points out an odd inconsistency: the price for failing to become Wakanda’s living totem has always been instant death, but Shuri, although rejected, returned alive…

Realising both she and her country have one last chance, the newest Black Panther goes out to battle the totem-eater whilst in the land of the dead T’Challa and Ororo resolve to ignore the devil’s bargain and fight their way back to life.

And as the two hopeless battles proceed, Ramonda and Zawavari engage in a last-ditch ploy which will win both wars by bring all the combatants together…

Fast-paced, compelling and gloriously readable, this splendid blend of horror story, action epic, political thriller and coming-of-age tale comes with an impressive cover-&-variants gallery by J. Scott Campbell, Edgar Delgado, Michael Djurdjevic, Ken Lashley and Mitch Breitweiser.

If you don’t despise reboots and re-treads on unswerving principle and are prepared to give something new(ish) a go, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights farrago, so why not set your sights and hunt this down?
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Yakari and Great Eagle


By Derib & Job, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-004-5

Westerns of every sort have always captivated consumers in Europe and none more so than the assorted French-speaking sections who also read comics. Historically we Brits have also been big fans of sagebrush sagas and the plight of the “noble savage”…

In 1964, French-Swiss journalist André Jobin founded children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes and began writing stories for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired a young fellow French-Swiss artist named Claude de Ribaupierre, who had begun his career as an assistant at Studio Peyo, (home of Les Schtroumpfs) where the promising lad had worked on a number of Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou.

As “Derib”, Claude co-created with Job The Adventures of the Owl Pythagore for Le Crapaud à lunettes. Two years later they struck pure gleaming gold with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari told the compassionate, whimsical tale of a young Sioux boy on the Great Plains sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but long before the pillaging advent of the White Man to North America.

Delib, equally adept in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon big-foot style and a devastatingly evocative meta-realistic mannerism, went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific, celebrated, honoured and beloved artists – mostly of western-themed tales with astounding and magnificent geographical backdrops and landscapes – and Yakari is considered by many to be the feature that catapulted him to mega-stardom.

The eponymous first collected edition was released in 1973 and the strip rapidly rose to huge prominence. In 1978 it began running in Tintin, spawning two animated TV series (1983 and 2005), the usual merchandising spin-offs and monumental global sales of the 38 albums (in 17 languages) to date. The latest, Yakari et la tueuse des mers, was released in 2014.

In 2005 the translated first volume – Yakari et le grand aigle – was released by Cinebook as part of their opening salvo in converting British audiences to the joys and magic of Euro-comics and it’s still readily available for you and your family to enjoy.

Yakari and Great Eagle begins one quiet night on the plains whilst the little boy is deep in dreams. In that sunny world he is walking to meet his totem spirit who greets him with a grand flourish and presents him with huge feather that enables Yakari to soar like a bird. The rendezvous is tinged with joy and sadness as the big bird informs him that he will no longer come to him in dreams, but if the boy becomes as much like an eagle as possible they will meet again in the living world…

Awake and excited, Yakari rushes about the camp trying to decide what the riddle means. Hunt like a raptor? Wear a feather-filled war-bonnet? Every eager attempt leads to disappointment and embarrassment and sleepy loafer Eye-of Broth can’t even be bothered to wake up and share the benefit of his years of idle contemplation…

However when young friend Rainbow loses the puma cub she is carrying, Yakari gallantly dashes after it and only quick thinking saves them both from the baby’s furious mother…

The next day he asks his father Bold Gaze but the warriors are all too busy preparing to capture a new crop of wild horses. Sneaking off into the rocky desert with older boy Buffalo Seed to watch the roundup, Yakari wonderingly observes how nimble pinto Little Thunder easily avoids all the experienced wranglers’ traps.

When the adults herd the new intake back to the encampment, Yakari follows Little Thunder high into the rocky escarpments and frees the panicked pony from a rockslide that’s pinned a hind leg.

Great Eagle appears and for this selfless act awards the boy a feather, but when Yakari returns home his father takes it from him, admiring his imagination but explaining that only those who have accomplished great deeds – for which read grown-ups – have a right to wear one. Nothing the stern but loving parent can do will change the stubborn boy’s story that a talking eagle awarded him the singular honour…

Days pass and the despondent – featherless – lad wanders alone when he is suddenly engulfed in a stampede and trapped by a brushfire. Immediately Great Eagle is there, guiding him to safety and advising him that soon his father will return the feather to him. The lad is grateful but confused. How is he ever meant to become like his totem spirit? Moreover how will he ever find his way home from the strange region he finds himself in?

As the tribe searches for lost Yakari, the hungry lad has a close encounter with a bear and finds food by observing her cubs, falls into and subsequently escapes from a deep bear trap and narrowly escapes becoming supper for a lone wolf.

Eventually he finds a river and rides a makeshift canoe until he washes up on a shore where horses are drinking. Spotting Little Thunder, the boy tries to capture him but the tricks and tactics Yakari has seen working for his elders are useless against the wily horse.

The lad is utterly gobsmacked when Little Thunder refuses to be his captive but offers to be his friend…

With his new comrade it’s not long before Yakari comes riding proudly home out of the wilderness astride a pony no man can tame and justifiably reclaims his honour-feather… Thus begins the gloriously gentle and big-hearted saga of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world: a forty year parade of joyous, easygoing and inexpressibly fun adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

A true masterpiece of children’s comics literature, Yakari is a series no fan should be without and here is just the place to start…
Original edition © 1973 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Batman: the Dark Knight Archives volume 6


By Bob Kane, Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene, Mort Weisinger, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2547-6

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman in their Man of Tomorrow, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crimebusters were judged.

This sixth lavish hardback Archive Edition volume covers Batman #21-25 and again features exploits from the height of World War II – specifically February/March 1944 to October/November 1944.

These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger, pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded and surpassed Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Peerless Pair at the forefront of a vast army of superhero successes.

The sheer creativity exhibited in these adventures proved that the ever-expanding band of creators responsible for producing the bi-monthly adventures of the Dark Knight were hitting an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

Moreover with WWII finally turning in the Good Guys’ favour, the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging…

Following a Foreword from former bat-scribe Alvin Schwartz, the Home Front began to offer a brighter – but still crime-ridden – perspective with Batman #21, an all-Sprang art extravaganza which opened with the slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’ which saw the Caped Crusaders way out West solving a devilish mystery and crushing a gang of beef-stealing black-market black hats.

Cameron then described the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who conned a military historian into planning his capers, briefly bamboozling Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’ whilst Schwartz penned the delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which sees newly dapper, slim-line manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ (written by Joe Greene), which details the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits. The fiendish foray founders because he fails to take into account the time-sensitivity of his information and the dogged grit and ingenuity of the Gotham Gangbusters…

Batman #22 leads with ‘The Duped Domestics!’ by Schwartz, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson wherein a select number of Gotham’s butlers are targeted by a sultry seductress looking for easy inroads to swanky houses. Despite being an old enemy of Batman’s, “Belinda” more than meets her match when Alfred becomes her next patsy…

When the little rich boy secretly takes a menial job, his generous guardian is rightly baffled but after ‘Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy!’ (Finger, Burney & Robinson) exposes a criminal enterprise centred around Gotham Observatory, the method of his madness soon becomes clear.

Next a new solo series debuted as Mort Weisinger & Robinson launched ‘The Adventures of Alfred’ with ‘Conversational Clue!’ wherein Batman’s batman misapprehends an overheard word at the library and stumbles into a safecracking gang.

The issue concludes with ‘The Cavalier Rides Again!’ (Finger, Burnley & Charles Paris) as the Dashing Desperado mystifyingly begins bagging cheap imitations rather than authentic booty in his ongoing campaign to best the Batman…

The Joker led in issue #23 with Finger, Sprang & Gene McDonald’s eccentric thriller ‘The Upside Down Crimes!’ wherein the Harlequin of Hate turns the town topsy-turvy in his latest series of looting larcenies after which smitten Dick’s bold endeavours save classmate and ‘Damsel in Distress!’ (Cameron & Sprang) Marjory Davenport and her dad from gangster kidnappers.

Unfortunately for him, she soon has her head turned by flamboyant Robin and the Boy Wonder becomes his own rival…

Anonymously scripted but again rendered by Jerry Robinson, ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Borrowed Butler!’ found the domestic detective loaned out by Bruce Wayne to a snooty neighbour and accidentally uncovering an insider’s scheme to burgle the place.

Wrapping up this outing is another fact-packed “Police Division Story” with Batman and Robin joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop a vicious ring of fur bandits who have decided to forego robbing big city stores. Instead, the ‘Pelt Plunderers!’ (Joe Samachson & Sprang) head due north to steal directly from the trappers…

Batman #24 added a smidgen of science fiction flair and a dash of sheer whimsy to the regular mix as ‘It Happened in Rome’ (Samachson & Sprang) introduces Professor Carter Nichols who devises a method of time-travel which depends on deep hypnosis.

His first subjects are old friend Bruce Wayne and his ward who both wing back centuries for a sightseeing trip and end up saving a charioteer from race-fixers as Batmanus and Robin

Bruce also plays a pivotal role in ‘Convict Cargo!’ (Cameron & Sprang), pretending to be an embezzler in order to expose a ring of thugs offering perfect getaways to Gotham’s white-collar criminals. Happily when the villain vacations turn out to be one-way trips, Batman and Robin are on hand to mop up the pirates responsible.

Cameron & Robinson then describe how ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Police Line-Up!’ leads the bewildered butler into trailing the wrong crook but still nabbing a mob of bad eggs before portly purveyors of peril Tweedledum and Tweedledee connive their way into the position of ‘The Mayors of Yonville!’

Their flagrant abuse of civic power dumps the Dynamic Duo into jail but still isn’t enough to keep their goldmine scam from coming to light once the heroes bust out…

This superb hardback compendium concludes with Batman #25 as opening shot ‘Knights of Knavery’ (Cameron, Burnley& Robinson) sees arch rivals Penguin and Joker join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Dark Knight puts his own thinking cap on.

‘The Sheik of Gotham City!’ (Schwartz, Burnley & Robinson) then sees an Arabian refugee working as a cab driver in Gotham restored to rule his usurped desert kingdom after our heroes foil an assassination attempt, whilst ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Mesmerised Manhunter!’ (Cameron & Robinson) sees the off-duty domestic the plaything of a stage magician whilst simultaneously foiling a box office heist.

The action and suspense wrap up in spectacular style as Finger, Burnley& Robinson detail a saga of sabotage and redemption when the Dynamic Duo join the rough-and-ready electrical engineers known as ‘The Kilowatt Cowboys!’

As if the job of bringing the nation’s newest hydroelectric dam on line is not dangerous enough and a plague of thefts by murderous copper thieves isn’t cutting into productivity, most of Batman’s time is spent stopping rival wire men Jack and Alec from killing each other…

Accompanied by a stunning and iconic Sprang cover gallery and full creator ‘Biographies’, this sublime selection of classic comicbook action is a magnificent ride on the Wayback Machine to a time of high drama, low cunning and breathtaking excitement
© 1944, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.