Barking (New Edition)


By Lucy Sullivan (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-76-9 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1783528806 (2020 Unbound HB)

You might not think it, but there’s a lot of guts and inner fortitude demanded of making your inner worlds real – especially in autobiographical comics. In 2020 animator Lucy Sullivan released her first graphic novel: “an exorcism” detailing a deepening depression and personal mental health crisis and the concomitant failings of our overstretched, cash-starved health services in one of the most potent, powerful and damning explorations ever seen of the plight of in-need individuals in a “money-first-& foremost” health system.

Barking set new critical standards for a growing subgenre of candid and intimate experiential biographies and after being lost in the global commercial convulsions of Covid-19, returns here in a new edition that will hopefully find the major audiences the book always deserved.

Rendered in staggeringly expressive stark monochrome artwork capturing a spiky mood of mania and madness and pitched as a chilling horror story, it’s set between a life-altering period of days (October 25th to November 5th, if you’re wondering) and begins with ‘Hounded’ as a terrified young woman flees from a monstrous black dog.

Desperate and defeated, she finds a bridge and seeks surcease in suicide, but as reality and her inner world converge and congeal, she is picked up by indifferent cops who apparently have far more important things to do, and dumped on a standard 72-hour hold under the Mental Health Act in ‘Commit to Me’. The dog is with her all the way, as is a gang of scary men and a cacophony of voices that never let her rest. Never mind, there are plenty of readily doled out drugs for that in the ‘Rot Box’

Alix might be in isolation but she’s not alone. Her passengers are delighted to keep telling her how bad and weak and useless she is. ‘Prone to Trouble’, she hears again how nobody wants her and why she lost her only friend. As treatment and assessments – dispassionate yet still somehow judgemental – continue, Alix enters the enforced society of fellow inmates/guests/ patients in ‘Just a (Rumination) Phase’, learning some harsh lessons pitched as vague threats and religious paternalism, all before being left to make her own recovery as best she can.

Between flashbacks, hallucinations and potentially lethal ward-companions her slipping back to ‘Unembodied Diamonic’ visions is inevitable. Fears that drive her regain their power and medical indifference, casually “phoned-in” care, too many drugs and economically driven treatments like group therapy and enforced isolation don’t deal with the personal demons. Nor do suggested cure-alls offered by her fellow inmates, but only war with Alix’s ever-present visions and in-situ inner tormentors in ‘Prognostication’, ‘Call of the Void’ and ‘Bruising the Fool’ before a gradual breakthrough and notional resumption of “normal service” augurs a return to stability and equilibrium during ‘Life Under Saturn’

A Foreword by comics doyen Nick Abadzis details how the project first materialised – and his involvement in it – precedes the tale itself and is mirrored by the author’s revelatory Afterword at the back. This describes how Sullivan’s allegorical extrapolation of a very low point also seeks to address greater issues surrounding this country’s growing mental health problems and our literally insane simultaneous starvation of funding required to fix the rot. It’s supplemented by a wonderfully uplifting, self-deprecating Postscript for this new edition describing the understandably shaky course of a creative project about fear, isolation and incarceration that was published during a global lockdown…

Also crucially germane here is a copious Acknowledgements section, underscoring how vital human contact and collaborative input is: not just in story-making but in all aspects of living in the modern world…

A visually disturbing and emotionally shocking exploration of how grief and depression self-destructively feed on each other and how the fix for spiralling mental chaos is not getting a grip but getting help, Barking is not just a worthy and necessary read, but one that will stay with you forever.

© Lucy Sullivan, 2020. All rights reserved.

Mighty Samson Archives volume 3


By Otto Binder, Gerry Boudreau, Jack Sparling, José Delbo, Jack Abel?, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-705-0 (HB)

As we have elections in Britain at the moment here’s another classic compilation focusing on Dystopias and why fiction remains so much less implausible than grim reality

These days all the attention in comics circles goes to big-hitters and headline-grabbing groundbreakers, but once upon a time, when funnybooks were cheap as well as plentiful, a kid (whatever their age) could afford to follow the pack and still find time and room to enjoy quirky outliers: B through Z listers, oddly off-kilter concepts and champions falling far short of the accepted parameters of standard super-types…

A classic example of that exuberant freedom of expression was the relatively angst-free dystopian tomorrow of Mighty Samson, who had a sporadic yet extended comics career of 32 issues spanning 1964 to 1982. In this volume the unearthed treasure come from issues #15 – 24 cover-dated August 1968 to June 1974. At the latter end of this time mass entertainment was filled with a fascination in post-disaster scenarios and revival of dystopian fiction. Comic books responded, with the most successful entries being Jack Kirby’s Kamandi at DC and Marvel contemporaneous Planet of the Apes adaptations.

Although set in the aftermath of an atomic Armageddon, the story of the survivors was a blend of updated myth, pioneer adventure and superhero shtick, liberally leavened with variations of those incredible creatures and sci fi monsters the industry thrived on back then.

Comics colossus Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history, but that didn’t matter one iota to kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product. Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman had been a crucial component of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915: drawing upon huge commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts. They even boasted a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949). From 1938, the affiliated companies’ comic book output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for younger children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

Western had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a vast tranche of licensed titles – including newspaper strips (like Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan and The Lone Ranger), TV tie-in and Disney titles with in-house originations such as Turok, Son of Stone, Brain Boy and Kona: Monarch of Monster Isle. Dell and Western split just as a comic book resurgence triggered a host of new titles and companies, and a superhero boom. Independent of Dell, new outfit Gold Key launched original adventure titles including Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom; Magnus – Robot Fighter; M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War; Space Family Robinson and many more. As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, frequently mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of the Silver Age superhero boom – although for many of us, the understated functionality of classics like Magnus and Doctor Solar or crime-fighting iterations of classic movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf were utterly irresistible. The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I shall reserve for a future occasion…

The post-dystopian wonder warrior had been anonymously created by industry giants Otto Binder & Frank Thorne in 1964. Binder was the quintessential jobbing writer: he and his brother Earl were early fans of science fiction, with their first professional sale to Amazing Stories in 1930. As “Eando Binder” their pulp-fiction and novels output continued well into the 1970s, with Otto rightly famed for his creation of primal robotic hero Adam Link. From 1939 onwards, Otto was also a prolific comic book scripter, most beloved and revered for the invention and perfection of a humorous blend of spectacular action, self-deprecating humour and gentle whimsy as characterised by the Fawcett Captain Marvel line of titles (and later in DC’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen). Binder was also constantly employed by many other publishers and amongst his most memorable inventions and innovations are Timely’s Young Allies, Mr. Mind, Brainiac, Super Dog Krypto and the Legion of Super-Heroes. In later life, he moved into editing, producing factual science books and writing for NASA.

This third splendid full-colour hardback compilation – printed on a reassuringly sturdy and comforting grainy old-school pulp stock rather than glossy paper – gathers Mighty Samson #15-24, spanning August 1968 to June 1974 and begins with a heady appreciation of the life and stellar career by author Dylan Williams in ‘Otto Binder: The Working Life of Comics’ Mightiest Dramatist’

His art partner for the tales in this volume was another experienced comics veteran. John Edmond “Jack” Sparling (June 21st 1916 – February 15th 1997) was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba but migrated young to the USA. After studying in New Orleans and at the Corcoran School of Art, he left a cartooning gig at the New Orleans Item-Tribune to create the strip Hap Hopper, Washington Correspondent for United Features Syndicate (1940) which was followed in 1943 by Claire Voyant. That strip ended in 1948 and thereafter Sparling concentrated on comic books, becoming a wandering regular whose work appeared in Classics Illustrated, Dell/Gold Key, Marvel, DC, Charlton and others on strips like Robin Hood, Captain America, Tiger Girl, Space Man, Neuro, Secret Six, Eclipso, The Day after Doomsday, Challengers of The Unknown, Unknown Soldier and more.

Ideally suited for short story and humorous fare, he worked continuously for Gold Key’s horror anthologies and was a key contributor when DC revived its House of Secrets and House of Mystery titles (co-creating with Bob Haney undying horror-host Cain in HoM #175). Sparling was particularly adept on licensed properties, illustrating Bomba, Family Affair, Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, Welcome Back, Kotter, Adam-12, Microbots, The Outer Limits ad nauseum…

What you need to know: Mighty Samson #1 (July 1964) had introduced the bombed-out metropolis of N’Yark: a dismal dangerous collection of enclaves and regions where human primitives clung to the ruins, scattered into rival tribes all striving daily against mutated plants and monsters as well as less easily identified blends somewhere in between…

One day when a toddler was grabbed by a predatory plant he casually tore the terror apart with his podgy little hands. Years passed and the child grew tall and clean-limbed, and it was clear that he too was a mutant: immensely strong, incredibly fast and improbably durable…

Impassioned by his mother’s dying words – “protect the weak from the powerful, the good from the evil” – Samson became the champion of his people; battling beasts and monsters imperilling the city. Sadly, those struggles were not without cost, and when he killed an immense Liobear, it cost the young hero his right eye…

The clash proved a turning point for Samson since his wounds were dressed by a stranger named Sharmaine. She and her father Mindor were voluntary outcasts in the city: shunning contact with superstitious tribes whilst gathering lost secrets of science. Already toiling constantly to bring humanity out of its second stone age and fired with inspiration, Samson joined their self-appointed mission: defending them from all manner of threat and menace as they carry out their work….

Now and here the Altered World odyssey resumes with Mighty Samson #15, cover-dated August 1968. Binder and Sparling were in top form for ‘The Plot of Gold’ and its sequel chapter ‘Danger in the Vaults’ as old enemy Queen Terra of Jerz attempts to seduce the tribes of N’Yark by reintroducing the concept of money. Of course she is the sole source of currency (gold from the buried US Mint) and tries to corner the market on the beguiling new means of expediting trade…

As confusion mounts and the primitives struggle to understand, Samson spends his precious time settling squabbles and battling rampaging beasts like the choke-foam monster and giant cave centipedes, before resolving to end the chaos by destroying Terra’s deadly booby-trapped repository. With Mindor and Sharmaine stubbornly beside him, that proves harder than expected…

With monsters so popular, the action is supplemented by another regular fact page in the Gold Key Club: enthusing readers with the lowdown on Dinosauria – Pterodactyl and an essay on ‘Lost Civilizations: Nomad Empire’, introducing kids to the lost tribe called Scythians…

Cover-dated November 1968, #16 brought new invaders to N’Yark. ‘The Smoky Realm’ saw fresh peril for the subterranean Undermen as brutal “Gnarly Men” attack the subway dwellers after being driven from their own realm deep below what was once the Radio City complex.

Eager to keep the peace, Samson and Co explore and find a fire breathing dragon has upset the status quo and determine that a concerted ‘The Call to Arms’ is the best way to proceed…

Sadly, the real problem is the ancient Radio City air conditioning system has malfunctioned, depriving the invaders of oxygen, forcing some quick thinking and patient re-engineering to solve the crisis.

The bonus material here offers Gold Key Club: Dinosauria – Plesiosaur and a Lost Civilizations tract on ‘Ur – Mother of Cities’ in advance of #17 (February 1969) seeing Terra sprinkling ‘Seeds of Disaster’ on Samson’s primal protectorate. Allied with roof dwelling hostile horticulturalists, the Queen almost destroys her enemies with deadly fast growing giant ‘Assassin Plants’ but yet again underestimates the power and determination of Mighty Samson. The issue closed Gold Key Club: Dinosauria – Triceratops and the lowdown on Hittites in prose expose ‘Forgotten Empire’.

On its quarterly schedule, the 18th tale was designated May and saw giant monster birds and mutant winged men blitz N’Yark, but King Zorr of ‘The Winged Raiders’ – although savage and cunning – was unprepared for the saviour strongman to confront the wingmen head on in ‘Battle in the Skies’ and helpless after his traitorous deputy Hawkarr became smitten with Sharmaine…

Flooding looked likely to inundate everyone in #19’s ‘Day of the Deluge’ as incessant rainfall triggers a human exodus and mass monster stampedes that reduce the relic metropolis to a enclave of canals. With the people trapped and starving on ramshackle rooftops whilst batwing pelicans, lightning eels and fire fish pick off stragglers, Samson looks for a way to transport stranded survivors out of N’Yark, only to discover the ungrateful mob have sold him out to the Queen  of Jerz…

However, once Terra finds a whole new population too much to handle or feed, she drives them all back to the strongman and ‘The Drowning City’…

Bonus features return in this issue with a Gold Key Club Readers Page Monsters selection of their own creepy critters and another educational read in ‘Lost Civilizations: Carthage’ prior to Mighty Samson #20 (November 1969) picking up the watery saga as the exiled expats return to N’Yark just in time endure an undersea assault by expansionist amphibian King Nepthoon whose merciless ‘Attack of the Fishmen’ further reduces the human population. Wielding whirlpools, mermen and mutant monsters, his ‘Dam of Doom’ has turned Manhattan into a permanent water feature… but only until Samson pulls the colossal plug and drains the pool…

Issues #21 (August 1972) & 22 (December 1973) were reprints – MS #7 & #2 respectively – and are represented here by the painted covers from the miraculous George Wilson plus text essay ‘Lost Civilizations: Atlantis: Fable or Fact?’ and comics fact page ‘Space Station’.

The long hiatus was caused by a combination of dwindling sales, changing tastes and a personal tragedy Binder suffered: all leading to the series’ “soft” cancellation.

A revival came mere months after the second reprint issue, bringing a flashy new logo and new costume for the strongman star. Cover-dated March 1974, Mighty Samson #23 is credited here to Jack Abel as writer, although later research suggests Gerry Boudreau as the scribe. There’s no doubt about the art as limned by José Delbo.

Argentinean illustrator José María Del Bó was born December 9th 1933 and became a professional comics artist aged 16 when he began drawing serial Poncho Negro. As Argentina became politically unstable, he migrated to Brazil in 1963 and two years later settled in the USA as José Delbo. He worked for Charlton Comics (Billy the Kid and genre shorts) but found his niche at Dell/Gold Key/Western Publishing, specialising in licensed titles. Amongst many titles he illustrated in his clean, no-nonsense realistic style were The Brady Bunch, Hogan’s Heroes, Mod Squad, The Monkees, Twilight Zone, The Lone Ranger and prestige specials Dwight D. Eisenhower and Yellow Submarine.

His first DC work was in The Spectre #9 (May/June 1969) and after taking on the revived Mighty Samson at Gold Key in 1974, Delbo settled at the home of Superman, drawing an epic 10-year run on Wonder Woman (#222-286: March 1976-December 1986) as well as on Batman Family, Jimmy Olsen in Superman Family, DC Comics Presents, World’s Finest Comics, and Batgirl in Detective Comics. His greatest impact and visibility came after moving to Marvel in 1986, where he drew more licensed product including NFL SuperPro, Brute Force, Thundercats and The Transformers.

He taught at the Joe Kubert School (1990-2005) and set up his own version (Delbo Cartoon Camp) for school-aged kids in Boca Raton, Florida. He died aged 90 on February 5th 2024.

‘In the Country of the Blind’ parts 1 & 2 sees Sharmaine kidnapped by a tribe of sightless hyper sensitive souls led by a seeing chief soon to breathe his last. Kouran needs a replacement to serve as his people’s eyes as they pursue a war with the rival Pan’m people and face monsters invisible to human eyes. The war goes badly however until Samson finds them and ends the strife in his own unique way

Closing this book, MS #24 begins with text piece ‘Lost Civilizations: The Phoenicians’ before accessing the then-ubiquitous kung fu craze for ‘The Manchu of C’nal Street – The Challenge of Chang’ as the heroic trio stumble onto previously unexplored Chinatown and discover relative modernity in an ancient building called Martial Arts Training Academy. Soon Samson is clashing with its hereditary champion unaware that Chang is already sworn to the service of Queen Terra. However, her treacherous nature, Chang’s conscience and an inevitable duel of skill against strength soon proves the cost of ‘Death Before Dishonor’ before one final comics fact page – ‘Satellites of the Future’ – and fulsome Creator Biographies bring the future frolics to a halt.

Bizarre, brilliantly off-kilter and outrageously bombastic, these myths of a rationalist brute battling atom-spawned titans and human devils offer stunning spectacle and thrill-a-minute wonderment from start to finish. Captivatingly limned by Sparling and Delbo, these lost gems from an era when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement are comics the way they were and perhaps might be again…
Mighty Samson ® Volume Three ™ & © 2010 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media LCC. All rights reserved. All other material, unless otherwise specified, © 2010 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Leonard & Larry 3: Extracts From the Ring Cycle at Royal Albert Hall


By Tim Barela (Palliard Press)
ISBN: 978-1-88456-805-3 (Album PB)

We live in an era where Pride events are world-wide and commonplace: where acceptance of LGBTQIA+ citizens is a given… at least in all the civilised countries where dog-whistle politicians, populist “hard men” totalitarian dictators (I’m laughing at a private dirty joke right now) and sundry organised religions are kept in their generally law-abiding places by their hunger for profitable acceptance and desperation to stay tax-exempt, scandal-free, rich and powerful.

There’s still too many places where it’s not so good to be Gay but at least Queer themes and scenes are no longer universally illegal and can be ubiquitously seen in entertainment media of all types and age ranges… and even on the streets of most cities. For all the injustices and oppressions, we’ve still come a long, long way and it’s and simply No Big Deal anymore. Let’s affirm that victory and all work harder to keep it that way…

Such was not always the case and, to be honest, the other team (with religions proudly egging them on and backing them up) are fighting hard and dirty to reclaim all the intolerant high ground they’ve lost thus far.

Incredibly, all that change and counteraction happened within the span of living memory (mine, in this case). For English-language comics, the shift from illicit pornography to homosexual inclusion in all drama, comedy, adventure and other genres started as late as the 1970s and matured in the 1980s – despite resistance from most western governments – thanks to the efforts of editors like Robert Triptow and Andy Mangels and cartoonists like Howard Cruse, Vaughn Bode, Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs. Gerard P. Donelan, Roberta Gregory, Touko Valio Laaksonen/“Tom of Finland” and Tim Barela.

A native of Los Angeles, Barela was born in 1954, and became a fundamentalist Christian in High School. He loved motorbikes and had dreams of becoming a cartoonist. He was also a gay kid struggling to come to terms with what was still judged illegal, wilfully mind-altering psychosis and perversion – if not actual genetic deviancy – and an appalling sin by his theological peers and close family…

In 1976, Barela began an untitled comic strip about working in a bike shop for Cycle News. Some characters then reappeared in later efforts Just Puttin (Biker, 1977-1978); Short Strokes (Cycle World, 1977-1979); Hard Tale (Choppers, 1978-1979) plus The Adventures of Rickie Racer, and cooking strip (!) The Puttin Gourmet… America’s Favorite Low-Life Epicurean in Biker Lifestyle and FTW News. Four years later, the cartoonist unsuccessfully pitched a domestic (AKA “family”) strip called Ozone to LGBTQA news periodical The Advocate. Among its proposed quotidian cast were literal and metaphorical straight man Rodger and openly gay Leonard Goldman… who had a “roommate” named Larry Evans

Gay Comix was an irregularly published anthology, edited at that time by Underground star Robert Triptow (Strip AIDs U.S.A.; Class Photo). He advised Barela to ditch the restrictive newspaper strip format in favour of longer complete episodes, and printed the first of these in Gay Comix #5 in 1984. The remodelled new feature was a huge success, included in many successive issues and became the solo star of Gay Comix Special #1 in 1992.

Leonard & Larry also showed up in prestigious benefit comic Strip AIDs U.S.A. before triumphantly relocating to The Advocate in 1988, and – from 1990 – to its rival publication Frontiers. The lads even moved into live drama in 1994: adapted by Theatre Rhinoceros of San Francisco as part of stage show Out of the Inkwell. In the 1990s their episodic exploits were gathered in a quartet of wonderfully oversized (220 x 280 mm) monochrome albums which gained a modicum of international stardom and some glittering prizes. This third compendium compiled by Palliard Press between 1996 -2000, follows Domesticity Isn’t Pretty and Kurt Cobain & Mozart Are Both Dead, whilst paving the way for last volume (to date) How Real Men Do It.

As previously stated, as well as featuring a multi-generational cast, Leonard & Larry is a strip that progressed in real time, with characters all aging and developing accordingly. The strips are not and never have been about sex – except in that the subject is a constant generator of hilarious jokes and outrageously embarrassing situations. Triumphantly skewering hypocrisy and rebuking ignorance with dry wit and superb drawing, episodes cover various couples’ home and work lives, constant parties, physical deterioration, social gaffes, rows, family revelations, holidays and even events like earthquakes and fanciful prognostications.

Following an Introduction from Animation historian Charles Solomon and Lief Wauters potted history of the strip ‘The Life and Times of Leonard & Larry’, a ‘Leonard & Larry Timeline’ provides a crucial curated recap in copious detail, including reintroducing the vast Byzantine, deftly interwoven cast, with past highlights and low points and reminds readers that this strip passes in real time and the players are aging just like we are…

Star couple Leonard Goldman and Larry Evans live together despite vast family circles and friend groups all apparently at odds with each other. The feature also prominently and increasing plays with fantasy as dream manifestations – or are they actual ghosts? – of composers Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and his bitter frenemy Johannes Brahms plague cast members: acting as a vanguard for even odder occurrences to come…

This family saga is primarily a comedy of manners, played out against social prejudices and grudging gradual popular acceptances, but it also has shocking moments of drama and tension and whole bunches of heartwarming sentiment set in and around West Hollywood.

The extensive Leonard & Larry clan comprise the former’s formidable unaccepting mother Esther – who still ambushes him with blind dates and nice Jewish girls – and the latter’s ex-wife Sharon and the sons of their 18-yeat marriage Richard and David. Teenaged Richard recently knocked up and wed equally school-aged Debbie, making the scrappy couple unwilling grandparents years (decades even!) before they were ready. The oldsters adore baby Lauren but didn’t need to relive all that aging trauma when Debbie announced there would soon be an older sister…

Maternal grandparents Phil and Barbra Dunbarton are ultra conservative and stridently Christian, spending a lot of time fretting over Debbie and Lauren’s souls and their own social standing. They’re particularly concerned over role models and what horrors she and her brother Michael are being exposed to whenever the gay guys babysit. Their appearances are always some of funniest and most satisfying as the deviant clan expands exponentially in this volume…

David Evans is as Queer as his dad, and works in Larry’s leather/fetish boutique store on Melrose Avenue. That iconic venue provides loads of quick, easy laughs and many edgy moments thanks to local developer/predatory expansionist Lillian Lynch who still wants the store at any cost. It’s also the meeting point for many other couples in Leonard & Larry’s eccentric orbit. Their friends/clients enjoy greater roles this time, offering other perspectives on LA life.

Flamboyant former aerospace engineer Frank Freeman lives with acclaimed concert pianist Bob Mendez and is saddled with an compulsive yen for uniforms. It comes in handy again when Bob’s sex-crazed celebrity stalker Fiona Birkenstock breaks jail to re-kidnap him – at least until she switches affection to a certain celebrity judge sentencing her…

Larry’s other employee is Jim Buchanan whose alarming dating history stabilised when he met a genuine cowboy at one of L & L’s parties. Merle Oberon was a newly “out” Texan trucker who added romance and stability to Jim’s lonely life. Sadly, it got complicated in other ways once Merle became a Hollywood soap star and his agents, managers and co-star convinced him his career needed Oberon back in that closet…

Jim, by the way, is the original and central focus of the overly-critical dead composers’ puckish visits…

Also catching attention this time are heated discussions on the supernatural as the ghost composers graduate from dream-based plot device to active participants, playing pranks on many more of the minor cast members. Their games re balanced with ever-kvetching aging-averse Larry painfully adapting to being a doting grandad/perennial babysitter. Jim and Merle meanwhile engage a psychic to exorcise their haunt housemates, blithely unaware that she’s an undercover tabloid hack looking for a juicy exposé…

Younger players take centre stage, offering the author opportunity to spike not just anti-gay bigots but take on good old-fashioned racism too, even delivering a gleefully potent poke at American fundamentalism when the “Christian Coalition” relentlessly pursues good old white, Texan celebrity Merle to be the face of their next “decency campaign” and just won’t take no for an answer…

A surprisingly hard-hitting – if deviously velvet-gloved – storyline sees Jim discovering he was adopted: in fact the child of an unwed catholic girl exploited by the Irish Church’s baby-selling scandal (you really should look up Ireland’s Mother & Baby Homes). Reeling and despondent, his downward spiral is resolved by Merle who secretly arranges a trip to Ireland and a family reunion no-one wanted but everyone benefitted from…

David is Larry’s gay son and not expected to cause chaos and consternation, but that ends when he and his bestie Collin help their lesbian roommate Nat get pregnant and our freaked out oldster contemplates becoming a grandfather yet again…

That hilariously potent arc is compounded when ex-wife Sharon attends one of their frequent dinner parties and gets off with the still-sore former spouse’s only straight acquaintance (classical violinist Gene Slatkin). The liaison sparks incomprehensible jealousy and primeval macho ownership behaviour in Larry, but it’s so much worse when he learns the result is geriatric pregnancy and his becoming an unpaid baby sitter for another family addition…

Extended saga ‘The Baby Shower’ finds the entire conflicted and in many parts intolerant extended family in one room and scoring points As first Sharon and then Nat go into labour it sparks fourth wall shenanigans as Larry again has a meltdown and flees from the hospital, archenemy Mike the midwife, all semblance of parental responsibility and general biological “ickiness”.

The feature provides plenty of moments of wild abandon too, such as when Larry loses a friend’s beloved dog and finds an enormous python with a very full stomach, fun with tarantulas and a startling dream sequence wherein grandkids (7-year-old Lauren and 3-year-old Michael) take over “creating” strip a few times, ultimately confirming grampy’s crazed conviction that he’s nothing but a character in a comic strip crafted by a sadist. Further hallucinogenic riffs – including cowboy antics and a rebellion of Barbie dolls – leads finally to a major emotional growth spurt and Larry’s return to the hospital just in time to join the happy events…

Leonard & Larry is a traditionally domestic marital sitcom/soap opera with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz – or more aptly, Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore – replaced by a hulking bearded “bear” with biker, cowboy and leather fetishes and a stylishly moustachioed, no-nonsense fashion photographer. Taken in total, it’s a love story about growing old together, but not gracefully or with any dignity. Populated by adorable, appetising fully fleshed out characters, Leonard & Larry was always about finding and then being yourself and remains an irresistible slice of gentle whimsy to nourish the spirit and beguile the jaded. If you feel like taking a Walk on the Mild Side now this tome is still at large through internet vendors. So why don’t you?
Excerpts from the Ring Cycle in Royal Albert Hall © 2000 Palliard Press. All artwork and strips © 2000 Tim Barela. All rights reserved The Life and Times of Leonard & Larry © 2000 Lief Wauters.

After decades of waiting, the entire ensemble is available again courtesy of Rattling Good Yarns Press. Sublimely hefty hardback uber-compilation Finally! The Complete Leonard & Larry Collection was released in 2021, reprinting the entire saga – including rare as hens’ teats last book How Real Men Do It (978-1955826051). It’s a little smaller in page dimensions (216 x280mm) and far harder to lift, but it’s Out There if you want it…

Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite


By Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Bob McLeod, Dave Hoover, Curt Swan, John Byrne, Kerry Gammill, Brett Breeding, Dennis Janke, Art Thibert, Scott Hanna & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-275-2 (TPB)

Although largely out of vogue these days as many varying decades of Superman mythology are assimilated into one overarching, all-inclusive multi-media DC franchise, the stripped-down, gritty, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Tomorrow – as re-imagined by John Byrne and marvellously built upon by a stunning succession of gifted comics craftsmen – produced a profusion of genuine comics classics.

Although controversial at the start, Byrne’s reboot of the world’s first superhero was rapidly acknowledged as a solid hit and the collaborative teams who complemented and followed him maintained the high quality, ensuring continued success. Over following years a vast, interlocking saga unfolded across a spread of titles which has only sporadically – and far too infrequently – been collected into graphic compilations. One of the best is this scarlet-themed selection gathering a key cross-title storyline plus a couple of choice solo stories in that fabled “never-ending battle”: presenting the contents of Action Comics #659-660, Adventures of Superman #472-473, 464-465 and Superman #49-50, and including a crossover component from Starman (volume 1 #28), all collectively occurring through cover-dates November and December 1990.

Almost as soon as the Byrne restart had stripped away most of the accreted mythology and iconography that had grown up around the Strange Visitor from Another World over 50 glorious years, successive teams spent a great deal of time and ingenuity putting much of it back, albeit in terms more accessible and agreeable to a cynical, well-informed audience far more sophisticated than their grandparents ever were.

One such was this notional tip of the hat to many memorably madcap tales revolving around both an irritating 5th Dimensional Imp and the bizarrely mutagenic mineral from Krypton which peppered and perplexed the Silver Age Superman’s life. However, the main story arc also served to advance two major plot threads which had grown from the soap opera styled stories: the imminent demise of Lex Luthor thanks to self-inflicted Green K poisoning and a blossoming romance between Clark Kent and dynamic fellow journalist/rival Lois Lane.

Those background details and more are discussed in Roger Stern’s Introduction before the stunning saga starts with ‘Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite: Part One’ (courtesy of Jerry Ordway & Dennis Janke  in Superman volume 2, #49) wherein Luthor – following the death of his only “heir” – ponders mortality in a cemetery until a talking red rock bops him on the back of his big, bald head.

The incensed billionaire quickly stifles his outrage as the scarlet stone resolves into cruelly devious trickster-sprite Mr. Mxyzptlk. Although currently preoccupied with another realm, the malign mischief-maker sees a chance to manufacture more mayhem in Metropolis with the Red Kryptonite he has magicked up: promising Lex it will make Man of Steel and mortal multi-millionaire “physical equals”…

Lex activates the rock expecting to gain the powers of a god – and just possibly a new lease on his rapidly expiring life – and is furious to realise he is still just human. However, across town Superman – having defeated bionic bandit Barrage – is transporting the supervillain to metahuman penitentiary Stryker’s Island when his abilities vanish and he plunges into vilely polluted Hobs Bay.

Crying foul, Luthor is again visited by Mxyzptlk who pettishly teleports the drowning Action Ace to Lex’s penthouse office where the evil industrialist can see what the spell has actually wrought…

After a brutal and strictly human-scaled tussle, a badly beaten, powerless Superman is ejected from Luthor’s HQ and staggers back to Kent’s home where he finds Lois waiting. The normally resolute reporter is badly shaken: her mother is dying from an apparently fatal illness – and Luthor is somehow responsible…

Dan Jurgens & Art Thibert’s ‘Clark Kent… Man of Steel!’ (Adventures of Superman #472) picks up the pace with our simply human hero about to be slaughtered by lethal lummox Mammoth. Kal-El is undergoing tests conducted by scientific advisor/close confidante Emil Hamilton into the cause of his malady, but when news of the giant thief’s robbery spree reaches him Superman dashes off to assist, equipped only with a hastily configured force field belt. It’s not nearly enough…

In the end wits, raw nerve and a simple bluff save the day, but with no solution in sight the Metropolis Marvel must admit he needs superhuman assistance if he is to survive…

At least on the domestic front his new fragility brings him closer to Lois…

The scene switches to Arizona where a recent acquaintance gets a phone call before ‘Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite: Part Two/A: The End of a Legend?’ (Roger Stern, Dave Hoover & Scott Hanna in Starman volume 1 #28) sees Stellar Sentinel Will Payton flying to the City of Tomorrow for a top secret rendezvous. A sun in human form, Payton had reenergised the Kryptonian’s cells with solar power once before when Superman’s powers were drained, but this time the sun-bath has no effect and almost fries desperate Kal-El during the process. With crime spiking, Starman sticks around and keep the peace, using his shapeshifting powers to perfectly mimic the Man of Steel. He even fools Luthor who, confronted by the somehow resurgent “Superman”, furiously throws the useless Red K at him…

With the mineral in Hamilton’s hands, stringent testing proves the mineral is only red rock with no radioactive properties and Superman is forced to think outside the box if he is to protect his city.

… And on Stryker’s Island, another old enemy is laying lethal plans to finally end the Man of Tomorrow…

Tension ratchets up in ‘Breakout!’ (Action Comics #659 by Stern, Bob McLeod & Brett Breeding) as Superman resorts to technological battle armour when murderous maniac Thaddeus Killgrave frees the inmates and takes control of Stryker’s, luring Starman-as-Superman into a deadly trap the neophyte hero cannot escape from. Meanwhile, in the highest corridors of financial power, Mxyzptlk personally briefs baffled bewildered Luthor on what’s happening…

Brave but not stupid, Superman calls in back-up for his raid on the penitentiary. Whilst cloned champion Golden Guardian and street vigilante Crimebuster tackle rank-&-file felons, the armoured Action Ace heads straight for Killgrave and a blistering confrontation which is mere prelude to the fateful finale of concluding chapter ‘The Human Factor’

Superman volume 2, #50 was a super-sized special by Ordway & Janke with celebratory anniversary contributions from Byrne, Curt Swan, Kerry Gammill, Breeding & Jurgens, opening with Clark unceremoniously ejected from Lexcorp Tower only to stumble upon the billionaire’s personal physician Dr. Gretchen Kelly acting oddly…

Heading home, the powerless hero is saved from a mutant rat by The Guardian and, after seeing Crimebuster thrashing street thugs, comes to a painful conclusion. Maybe Superman isn’t necessary any more. Maybe now he can have his own life and even ask Lois to marry him…

First though, there’s a little unfinished business and a simple phone call to Luthor gets the ball rolling. Offering to trade the Red K for a story, Clark inadvertently causes Lex to break the terms of his infernal pact with Mxyzptlk, thereby negating the whole power-sapping deal.

Ticked off, petulant and impatient to get back to mischief-making in another universe, the imp makes a personal appearance in monstrous form, but loads the blistering battle in the fully restored Man of Tomorrow’s favour just to get out of his self-imposed arcane contract quickly – albeit not without an astounding amount of collateral damage to Metropolis…

With the crisis over, however, Superman has made a life changing decision. Following the red-tinged resumption of his super status, the Action Ace is joined by a brace of green guest stars in ‘Rings of Fire’ (Jurgens & Thibert in Adventures of Superman #473). Even as Clark and Lois announce their engagement, Superman is fretting. He has been unable to tell his intended about his secret life, but is quickly distracted and drawn away when unconventional Green Lantern Guy Gardner blows into town looking for missing mentor Hal Jordan.

Earth’s “real GL” has been captured by a monolithic alien who has siphoned off his emerald energies to power a long-delayed return to the distant stars. Of course that departure will eradicate half of Wyoming…

After foiling the scheme, freeing a mesmerised Army General and defeating the alien’s thralls Psi-phon and Dreadnaught, Superman and the GLs are able to arrive at a far less destructive solution for all parties involved…

This titanic tome concludes with ‘Certain Death’ (by Stern, McLeod & Breeding from Action Comics #660) which seemingly ushers in the end of an era. For years Luthor has masqueraded as a billionaire philanthropist whilst dominating Metropolis and the world. Few people knew the unsavoury truth and the cunning villain kept Superman literally at arms-length by wearing a ring made from Green Kryptonite.

Subsequent stories revealed that K radiation gradually poisoned Luthor, initially causing the loss of his hand and eventually fatally irradiating his entire body. Now as his power and vitality wane, Luthor – knowing that his pitiful condition must inevitably become public knowledge – puts a final desperate plan into operation. During a high profile publicity stunt attempting to set a new air-speed record, the manipulative mogul seemingly commits suicide in a spectacular manner which only marks the beginning of a stupendous 7-year long extended plotline…

To Be So Continued…

Superman is comics’ champion crusader: the hero who originated the genre and, in nine decades since his spectacular launch in June 1938, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. As such, it’s always rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections.

Thrilling, funny action-packed and exquisitely entertaining: what more could dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights followers want?
© 1990, 1996 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels & Revolution

Version 1.0.0

By Manuel “Spain” Rodriguez (Burchfield Penney Art Center/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-782-2 (TPB)

Manuel Rodriguez was one of the most bombastic and well-known pioneering lights of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: a mainstay of the counterculture which subversively reshaped the nation’s psyche in the 1960s and 1970s. However, although always a left-leaning radical, infamous for his raucously hyper-violent, audaciously sexual urban vigilante Trashman, Spain was also a quietly dedicated craftsman, historian, educationalist and graphic biographer.

Born in Buffalo, New York state in 1940, the Hispanic kid spent a lot of time with notorious biker gang The Road Vultures and these experiences, as much as his political upbringing and formal education at the Silvermine Guild Art School in New Canaan, Connecticut (1957-1960), moulded and informed his entire creative career.

In the 1960s he became a regular contributor to landmark alternative magazine the East Village Other, which not only utilised his burgeoning talents as illustrator and designer but also commissioned, in 1968, his groundbreaking tabloid comic book Zodiac Mindwarp. That insert proved so successful that EVO subsequently sponsored a regular anthology publication. Gothic Blimp Works was a turning point and clarion call in the evolution of underground publishing.

However, the excessive exploits of Trashman – “Agent of the 6th International” – against a repressive dystopian American super-state were only the tip of the creative iceberg. Ardent left-winger Spain founded the trade organisation the United Cartoon Workers of America whilst contributing to many of the independent comics and magazines which exploded out of the burgeoning counterculture movement across the world. Manuel Rodriguez was also an erudite and questioning writer/artist with a lifelong interest in history – especially political struggle and major battlefield clashes, and much of his other work revealed a stunning ability to bring these subjects to vibrant life.

The breadth, depth and sheer variety of Spain’s work – from gritty urban autobiography (American Splendor, Cruisin’ with the Hound: the Life and Times of Fred Toote) to psycho-sexual sci fi (Zap Comix, Skull, Mean Bitch Thrills) is a testament to his incredible talent but the restless artist also found time to produce a wealth of other cartooning classics.

Amongst his dauntingly broad canon of comics are literary adaptations (Edgar Allen Poe, Sherlock Holmes’ Strangest Cases), historical treatises (War: The Human Cost) and biographies (Ché [Guevara]:a Graphic Biography, Devil Dog: the Amazing True Story of the Man who Saved America [Marine Major General Smedley Darlington Butler]) as well as educational and design works such as You Are a Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience and Nothing in This Book Is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are (both with Bob Frissell).

He also produced the ongoing comics serial The Dark Hotel for American current affairs, politics and media news aggregation website Salon.

In 2012 Spain finally lost a six-year battle against cancer and this superb book – actually the Exhibition catalogue for a career retrospective at the prestigious Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College – celebrates his tumultuous life and spectacular contribution to the art form of graphic narrative with a compelling series of essays as well as a superb selection of the great man’s best pieces including some little known lost treasures.

The appreciation begins with ‘Stand Up’ by Anthony Bannon (Executive Director, BPAC), before the biographical ‘Grease, Grit and Graphic Truth’ by Edmund Cardoni (Executive Director, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center) explores Spain’s past, whilst ‘Keep the Flames of Buffalo Burning’ by Don Metz examines his lasting effect on comics and society.

However, the true value of this chronicle is in the 60+ covers, designs, story-pages, roughs, panel excerpts and strips both vintage and recent, monochrome and full-colour which demonstrate the sheer talent and drive to communicate that fuelled Spain for his entire life.

The Partial Spain Bibliography 1969-2012 and Selected Spain Exhibitions only hint at the incredible depth and lasting legacy of his career and I’m praying that some enlightened publisher like Fantagraphics or Last Gasp is already toiling on a comprehensive series of “Complete Works of…” volumes…

Stark, shocking and always relevant, the communicative power of Spain is something no true lover of comics can afford to miss….
© 2012 Burchfield Penney Art Center. All rights reserved.

Safer Places


By Kit Anderson (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-77-6 (PB)

If you get a holiday this year and you’re one of those folk that like to read, here’s something a bit different that will certainly add to the desired sense of getting away from it all…

If you’re open to the idea, there’s wonder all around us. It’s not a new notion but remains a potently beguiling one that confirms its power in these interconnected vignettes exploring memory, imagination, inner worlds, nature, secrets, self-help solutions and isolation.

Explored over an initially undisclosed set of parameters and across myriad places and times, these are moments of shared-yet-exclusive realities that appear to be an example of a growing creative vogue/creative zeitgeist – as you’ll see when we imminently review similar but so different Avery Hill release Infinite Wheat Paste: Catalytic Conversions.

Here, however, cartoonist and tale-teller Kit Anderson merges mundane momentary travails with commonplace entertainment escape routes (wizard’s worlds, haunted houses, cyber-realities, alien mindscapes, fresh starts) to explore “liminal spaces and small magic”: digging deep to find the “something greater” we all crave and that must be waiting just out of our sight and other perceptions. Master of short form graphic narratives – you can just call them comics if you want – she hails from Boulder, Colorado but now lives near Zürich. Anderson was ceaselessly making graphic stories even before earning an MFA from The Center for Cartoon Studies in 2022. You can look for her stuff at Parsifal Press and The Rumpus for greater elucidation and edification…

Taking a year to complete, over 18 brief tales Safer Places melds inquisitive inspirations to contemplative cartooning and builds an interlocking sampling of other worlds, times and existences which all lead back to a common core. Blending pedestrian and surreal, employing a variety of art styles and colour palettes, it all begins with ‘Quest I’ as unseen critics speculate upon an old guy who seems to be a wizard who favours the wilds over civilisation, before a bereft boy looking for his cat finds something strange, wondrous and ultimately unsustainable in ‘The Basement’

Tantalising travelogue ‘Wonders of the Lost City’ carries us to ‘Sleep Tape: Country Lane’ and a loving couple under strain and in need of calming talk therapies before the wizard – still moving in mysterious ways – pops back into view for ‘Quest II’, after which a boy in very uncharted waters takes a revelatory ‘Deep Breath’

More calming tactics and rural idyls manifest in ‘Sleep Tape: Forest Walk’ for a woman too wedded to a Wi-Fi-enabled “Smart” world, whereas work pressure taking its toll on a watcher of post dystopian woodlands cannot be as readily assuaged in ‘Lookout Station’. At least the poetic ruminations of ‘Morning’, ‘Hills’ and ‘Waves’ carry us gently into ‘Quest III’ and the wizard’s dramatic interaction with a forest fox, prior to ‘Fallow’ detailing the shocking behaviour of an aged, burned out farmer making amends… and one last lifestyle change.

A computer nerd’s close encounter with digital ‘Wallpaper’ quietly segues into floral terrors as a student succumbs to transformative life-changing illness in ‘Weeds’ whilst ‘Quest IV’ sees a darker day dawn for the wizard before a harassed and lonely wage-slave finding solace and companionship thanks to ‘Sleep Tape: At the Seaside’

‘Whump’ offers a contemplative laugh before a solitary walking tour takes a lonely wanderer to ‘The World’s Biggest Ball of Twine’ even as another recluse escapes connections by grabbing a bike and going for a ‘Ride’, all before the wizard heads home to recharge in ‘Quest V’

Bemusing and seductive, these interlocking voyages reveal the cathartic force of creativity and therapeutic siren call of world-making. Come visit soon, yes?
© Kit Anderson 2024. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man Newspaper Strips volume 1: January 3rd 1977 – January 28th 1979

4 images (2 covers + 1 illo and a spare combined covers if the preferred don’t match up)


By Stan Lee & John Romita, with Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8561-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

It’s been a year since we lost genial giant John Romita. His work and life were inextricably woven into the Marvel canon: permeating and supporting the entire company’s output from top to tail, from before the House of Ideas even existed to the stellar Sixties to right now…

By 1977 Stan Lee had all but surrendered his role as editor and guiding light of Marvel Comics for that of a roving PR machine to hype-up the company he had turned into a powerhouse. In that year two events occurred that catapulted Marvel’s standout, signature character into the popular culture mainstream. One was the long-anticipated debut of The Amazing Spider-Man live action TV show (a mixed blessing and pyrrhic victory at best) whilst the other, and one much more in keeping with his humble origins, was the launch of a syndicated newspaper strip with the same hallowed title.

Both mass-audience outreach projects brought the character to a wider audience, but the latter offered at least a promise of editorial control – a crucial factor in keeping the wondrous wallcrawler’s identity and integrity intact. But even this closely-aligned creative medium dictated some tailoring of the Merry Marvel Madness before the hero was a suitable fit with the grown-up world of the “Funny Pages”.

Which is just my longwinded way of saying that completists, long-time fans and lovers of great artwork will absolutely enjoy this collection of periodical strips, as will any admirer of the stunning talents of the senior John Romita (latterly inked by the great Frank Giacoia) even though the stories are tame, bowdlerised and rather mediocre. Deprived of the support network of an overlapping Marvel Universe, they often struggled to find their wallcrawling feet and might feel a tad toned down and simplistic for readers familiar with the wider cast or long history. Those completists, however, might be keen on catching lost adventures featuring Wolverine, Doctor Strange and Daredevil, and it was always easier to import supervillains like Mysterio, The Kingpin and Doctor Doom into the alternate adventures of this Amazing Spider-Man.

Marvel Multiversal Continuity eventually caught up with the feature and it’s now designated Earth-77013 and a regular component of the “Spider-Verse” strand…

The strip was first posited and peddled around the papers in 1970 (Lee & Romita’s initial proposal and two weeks of trial continuities are included at the back of this book) but The Amazing Spider-Man only began on January 3rd 1977. It ran as a property of the Register and Tribune Syndicate until 1985, briefly switching to Cowles Media Company before becoming part of the King Features Syndicate in 1986. The strip went on hiatus following Lee’s death with the final new strip appearing on March 23rd 2019. Lee was still credited as writer even though Roy Thomas had been its ghost writer since 2000. It soon reappeared as reruns – until October 21st 2023 – before being replaced in syndicate packages by Flash Gordon.

One of the industry’s most polished stylists and a true cornerstone of the Marvel Comics phenomenon, the elder John Romita began his comics career in the late 1940s (ghosting for other artists) before striking out under his own colours, eventually illustrating horror and other anthology tales for Stan Lee at Timely/Atlas.

John Victor Romita was Brooklyn born and bred, entering the world on January 24th 1930. From Brooklyn Junior High School he moved to the famed if not legendary Manhattan School of Industrial Art, and graduated in 1947. After spending six months creating a medical exhibit for Manhattan General Hospital he moved into comics in 1949, working for Famous Funnies. A “day job” toiling at Forbes Lithograph was abandoned when a friend found him various inking and ghosting assignments, until he was drafted in 1951. Showing his portfolio to a US army art director, after boot camp at Fort Dix New Jersey, Romita was promoted to corporal, and stationed on Governors Island in New York Bay doing recruitment posters. He was allowed to live off-base in Brooklyn. During this period he started doing the rounds and struck up a freelancing acquaintance with Stan Lee at rapidly expanding genre factory Atlas Comics…

Romita illustrated horror, science fiction, war stories, westerns, Waku, Prince of the Bantu in Jungle Tales, a superb run of inviting cowboy adventures starring The Western Kid and was handed 1954’s abortive revival of Captain America and more, before an industry implosion derailed his – and many other – blossoming careers. He eventually found himself trapped in DC’s romance comics division – a job he hated – before – in 1965 – making a reluctant jump back to the resurgent House of Ideas. As well as steering the career of the wallcrawler and so many other Marvel stars, his greatest influence was felt when he became Art Director in July 1973 – a job he had been doing unofficially since 1968. He had a definitive hand in creating or shaping many key characters, such as Mary Jane Watson, Peggy Carter, The Kingpin, The Punisher, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Satana, ad infinitum. One story goes that it was Romita who suggested Gwen Stacy’s murder to Spidey scripter Gerry Conway…

Working from full scripts (not the acclaimed “Marvel Method”), Romita illustrated The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip for its first four years, after which Stan’s brother Larry Lieber (Rawhide Kid, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor) took on the pencilling. Unhappy with the deadline pressures, he soon left, and was replaced by Fred (Airboy, Captain Britain) Kida who soldiered on from August 1981 to July 1986. A brief interim with Dan (Flash Gordon, Airboy, Tarzan) Barry led to Leiber’s return, and he drew the feature for the next 32 years with a variety of inkers and ghosts such as Alex Saviuk.

Since 2015 the stories have also been collected in IDW’s The Library of American Comics as The Amazing Spider-Man: The Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection with five lavish hardback volumes released to date. This collection – available in landscape paperback and digital formats – is a modified rerelease of a hardback tome from 2008, offering extra editorial and commentary as it re-presents the first two years of the strip, with traditional single tier monochrome dailies accompanied by full-colour, full page Sunday strips. If the reader is steeped in the established folklore of the comic book Spider-Man, the serials here – solidly emphasising Peter Parker‘s personal relationships in the grand manner of strip soap opera drama – begin by introducing Dr. Doom and Dr. Octopus in heavy-handed potboilers light on action but intrinsically riffing on what has gone before in comic books.

However, for the presumed millions of neophyte readers the yarns must have been a tad confusing: presented as if all participants are already fully-established, with no development or real explanation of backstory. After the full-on Marvel villains are successively trounced, serpentine new baddie The Rattler stalks the city in search of increased powers, followed in turn by the more appropriate and understandable (for strips at least) gangster The Kingpin, who combines seditious politics with gun-toting thuggery.

Only then do the creators finally get around to a retelling of the origin, albeit one now based on that aforementioned TV show rather than the classic Lee/Ditko masterpiece. It’s safe to say that in those early years television informed the strip much (too much) more than monthly comic books.

A suitably revised Kraven the Hunter debuts next, presenting an opportunity to remove glamourous but shallow good-time girl Mary Jane Watson from the strip in favour of a string of temporary girl-friends, more in line with the TV iteration. This also signalled a reining-in of super-menaces in favour of less-fantastic or far-fetched opponents such as a middle-Eastern terrorist.

The launch of a Spider-Man movie (surely the most improbable of events!) then takes photojournalist Peter Parker to Hollywood and into a clash with a new version of deranged special-effects genius Mysterio, before Dr. Doom returns, attempting to derange our hero with robot pigeons and duplicates of Parker’s associates..

This is followed by an exceptional, emotionally-stirring run of episodes as three street thugs terrorise senior citizen Aunt May for her social security money, after which Spider-Man must foil a crazed fashion-model who has discovered his identity and blackmails him…

These drama-framed and human-scaled threats are a far more fitting use of the hero in this ostensibly more grown-up milieu – which pauses here with a protection racket romp set in the (feel free to shudder) discotheque owned by young entrepreneurs Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, courtesy of newly-returned corpulent crimelord Kingpin…

To Be Continued…

Adding to the time capsule of arachnid entertainment is that aforementioned proposal by Lee & Romita, archival interviews with both creators conducted by John Rhett Thomas and Alex Lear plus a gallery of six Sunday title panels (used to summarise events and set the tone for readers who only read the sabbath colour strips), as well as a classic Romita pin-up page starring the artist and his greatest co-creations…

Happily, although goofy stories predominate in this oddball collection, and time has not been gentle with much of the dialogue, the stunning artwork of John Romita in his prime helps to counteract the worst of the cultural excesses. Moreover, there remains a certain guilty pleasure to be derived from these tales if you don’t take your comics too seriously and are open to alternative existences…
© 1977, 1978, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Jack Kirby’s Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth volume 2


By Jack Kirby, D. Bruce Berry & Mike Royer with Gerry Conway, Steve Sherman, Paul Levitz & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-2171 (TPB/Digital edition)

With elections looming, it’s hard not to worry about the world that’s coming, and as usual I’m retreating into comics for emotional sustenance. Sadly the prevailing attitude is one of doom and gloom whoever wins, so – in anticipation of calamity unbounded – here’s a comforting look at another always-rewarding end of world scenario…

Other than Gotham City, Jack Kirby’s Earth AD (After Disaster) is DC’s most successful and inspirational Dystopia. It has migrated to television via numerous animated features and informs many aspects of the greater shared continuity. In so many ways it’s a far more enticing world than the one we currently inhabit… albeit not for much longer…

Jack Kirby (28th August 1917 – 6th February 1994) was – and nearly 30 years after his death, remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are innumerable accounts of and testaments to what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium. Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable child you were his for life. To be honest, that probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

Synonymous with larger than life characters and vast cosmic imaginings, “ The King” was an astute, spiritual man who had lived through poverty, prejudice, gangsterism, the Depression and World War II. He experienced Pre-War privation, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures, but always looked to the future while understanding human nature intimately. Beginning in the late 1930s, it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative collaborator Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comic book industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of influential monthly mag Blue Bolt, dashed off Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett, and – after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics – launched a host of iconic characters including Red Raven, Marvel Boy, Mercury/Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and million-selling mega-hit Captain America. When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook.

Bursting with ideas the staid industry leaders were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and awarded two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter. They turned both around virtually overnight and, once safely established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe & Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and Homefront iteration The Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comic pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business, and soon after left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby established their own publishing house: making comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom. Their small stable of magazines – generated for an association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry contracted throughout the 1950s, but had left future generations fascinating ventures such as Boys’ Ranch, Bullseye, Crime Does Not Pay, Black Magic, Boy Explorers, Fighting American and the entire genre of Romance Comics…

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, most publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Crime and Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of mature themes, political commentary, shock and gore even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished as adult sensibilities challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed. Suspense and horror were dialled back to the level of technological fairy tales and whimsical parables…

Simon left the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to safer, more conventional, less experimental companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics, working on bread-&-butter anthological mystery tales and revamping Green Arrow (at that time a back-up feature in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his passion project: newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force. During that period Kirby also re-packaged a super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956, Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown. Following three further test issues they won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry new partner in Stan Lee at the ailing Atlas Comics outfit (which had once been mighty Timely) and launched a revolution in comics storytelling…

After more than a decade of a continual innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the dying publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel, but that success had left him feeling trapped in a rut. Thus, he moved back to DC and generated another tidal wave of sheer imagination and pure invention. The result was experimental adult magazines Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob and a stunning reworking of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen – and by extension, all DC continuity. The latter was a prelude to his landmark Fourth World Saga (Forever People, New Gods and Mister Miracle): the very definition of something game-changing and far too far ahead of its time…

Kirby instinctively grasped the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and always strived diligently to combat the appalling prejudice regarding the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies world” they felt trapped in. After his grandiose, controversial Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby explored other projects that would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing ever more fickle. These included supernatural stalwart The Demon, traditional war stories starring established DC team The Losers, OMAC: One Man Army Corps and even a new metaphysically mighty Sandman – co-created with old pal Joe Simon and his biggest hit science fictional survival saga Kamandi.

However, although ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, a new Manhunter and Dingbats of Danger Street), once again editorial disputes took up too much of his time. Reluctantly, he left again, choosing to believe in promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

As early as 1974, worn down by a lack of editorial support and with his newest creations inexplicably tanking, Kirby considered returning to Marvel, but – ever the consummate professional – scrupulously carried out every detail of an increasingly onerous, emotionally unrewarding DC contract. The Demon was cancelled after 16 issues and he needed another title to maintain his Herculean commitments (legally obliged to deliver 15 completed pages of art and story per week!); Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth had found a solid and faithful audience. It also provided further scope to explore big concepts as seen in thematic companion OMAC: One Man Army Corps. Both series gave Kirby’s darkest assumptions and prognostications free rein, and his “World That’s Coming” has proved far too close to the World we’re frantically trying to fix or escape from today…

Here, as DC’s fanatically interconnected universe takes a distant back seat to amazement, adventure and satirical commentary for most of Kirby’s tenure, this frankly monstrous tome gathers the second half of arguably his boldest, most bombastic and certainly most successful 1970s DC creation. Re-presenting cover-dates October/November 1972 – April 1976, Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth #21-40 explores a shattered world that has grown from the rubble of Mankind’s achievements and mistakes, featuring every issue Kirby was involved with, although not the 19 issues that staggered on after under lesser creative lights once he had headed back to the House of Ideas…

A potent signature of the series was large panels, double-page tableaux and vast vistas, particularly spectacular and breathtaking double-page spreads (generally on the second & third pages  of almost every episode) adding an aspect of wide-screen cinematic bravura. It was especially effective in the first issue when a capable, well-armed teenager paddled through the sunken ruins of New York City. The explorer had just emerged from total isolation in a hermetically sealed bunker designated “Command D”, There he had been schooled by his grandfather, constantly accessing a vast library of microfilm and news recordings. The boy called himself “Kamandi”…

Having obliviously sat out a seemingly overnight decline and fall of humanity – in which atomic armageddon clearly played a major if not exclusive role – the boy constantly met incomprehensible change on every level resulting from a mysterious catastrophe called “The Great Disaster” by the recovering survivors. They were not what the lad had been expecting…

This new world was nothing like his education had promised. Wreckage and mutant monsters abound, the very geography has altered and humans had somehow devolved into savage, non-verbal brutes and beasts, hunted and exploited by many animal species who have gained intellect comparable to his own and the power of speech. Now jockeying for pole position in Humanity’s vacated niche in the world, most of them were engaged in wars for dominance, fuelled by territorial aggression and fuelled by the scavenged remnants of Man’s discarded technologies…

When the boy returned to the bunker, it had finally been breached and his grandfather was dead at the hands of opportunistic biped wolves far too much like men. Shocked, furious and utterly alone, Kamandi fought his way out of his former home and set off to find what else was out there in this scary new world…

As he roamed Earth AD seeking more of his own kind he found monstrous mutants and intelligent animals – such as tigers Grear Caesar, his heir Prince Tuftan, and their brilliant scientist/historian/advisor Dr. Canus who were locked into a struggle for dominance against talking gorillas and other hyper-evolved beasts. Ferocious rival civilisations were built on the salvaged discoveries of the mysterious vanished ancients who ruled before the Great Disaster, but he did eventually find rational men like those of his studies. However, Ben Boxer, Steve and Renzi turned out to be far, far from what was traditionally considered human…

The saga resumes as Kamandi flees the biggest disappointment of his young life. He believed he had found humans like himself in Chicago but the truth left him more lonely and broken than ever…

Exploring a rocky shore, Kamandi meets a new ally in ‘The Fish!’, as a dolphin and his support/assistance human enlist the boy’s aid in a vital mission. The charming cetacean’s subsurface civilisation is at war with ancestral enemy Killer Whales, and the wily foe has now perfected and unleashed an ultimate warrior: one who relentlessly patrols the seas and slays at will. When not fighting off marauding sea monsters, the dolphins are steadily failing to stop ‘The Red Baron’, even with the aid of Ben Boxer and his atomic brothers.

The nuclear mutants can transition from flesh & blood to organic steel by internal fission, and know many secrets of the new world, and have been recruited after crashing into the sea: aiding in exploring those vast territories behind a radiation barrier isolating what used to be Canada. Now, as Kamandi rapidly befriends and loses dolphin pals to the Orca’s trained human predator, the steely trio enact a dangerous plan. It works and ends the hunter, but in the aftermath ‘Kamandi and Goliath!’ finds both sides in the eternal sea war forced to face its savage costs and shattering emotional toll…

Adrift and possibly the sole survivor, in issue #24 battered, shellshocked Kamandi at last washes ashore, meeting a ragged troupe of travelling performers sheltering in a ramshackle old mansion. Schooled in human history during his early years in bunker Command D, he recognises it as a classical movie haunted house, especially once eerie lights and cruel poltergeist phenomena target elderly monkey ringmaster Flim-Flam and his three trained humans…

Terrified but always rational, Kamandi deduces who and what is really going on during ‘The Exorcism!’ before joining Flim-Flam’s ‘Freak Show!’ The ensemble is soon further enriched by Ben, Steve & Renzi, before an invasion of monsters forces a rapid evacuation of their shoreside sanctuary: a retreat taking them to ‘The Heights of Abraham!’ and the mystery land where Kamandi’s loyal bug steed/companion Kliklak had originally come from…

The region has been utterly transformed by the Great Disaster, and is a paradise of nature run riot. Sadly, this ‘Dominion of the Devils’ is under assault by the commercially voracious Sacker’s Company, harvesting its fauna and destroying its flora in a rabid quest for profit…

In the previous volume Kamandi had met the sister of his dead first love Flower and discovered a ruthless capitalist, plutocratic sentient snake had been training humans to talk as staff and livestock whilst he ruthlessly plundered Earth for the technological leavings of the ancients. The wanderers’ disgusted first response to stop the atrocity is only halted by the arrival of a ‘Mad Marine!’ in #27: a “Brittanek” bulldog who is advance guard to an armed force from what was once Europe. These cavalry-styled guardians (horses appear to be one species that never made the evolutionary leap to intellectual comprehension and personal autonomy) are sworn to ‘Enforce the Atlantic Testament!’, and marshal their animal armies to rout Sacker and restore this new world’s order.

Of course, that means immense bloodshed, valiant sacrifice and gallant stupidity on the part of the professional soldier, but Ben and Kamandi have no scruples in stopping Sacker’s forces by any means necessary…

Cover-dated May 1975, Kamandi #29 rapidly achieved cult status by apparently confirming the strip’s status as part of a greater DC Universe. This faith-fuelled fable sees Ben and Kamandi stumble upon a fanatical cult of gorillas awaiting the return of a mighty warrior who could leap over tall buildings, bend metal in his hands and was faster than a speeding bullet. The high priest holds in trust the fabled champion’s suit of blue and red cape, awaiting the day when a being would emulate his deeds and claim his birthright.

Outraged at gorillas appropriating humanity’s greatest cultural myth, Kamandi convinces Ben to become a Man of Steel and reclaim the garments of the ‘Mighty One!’

Canny cultural catastrophe is expanded via cosmic intrigue in #30 as the pair are suddenly scooped up by an extraterrestrial stranded on Earth for undetermined ages. ‘U.F.O. The Wildest Trip Ever!’ offers more clues as to how Man fell as the pair are dumped on a beach overflowing with human artefacts retrieved from across the globe. However, as ‘The Door!’ to another world opens and the artefacts start to vanish, Ben and Kamandi discover a suitcase atom bomb that has been primed to detonate since the night of the Great Disaster.

They barely get clear in time before the bomb shatters the portal, trapping an extremely angry alien far from home, but Boxer overdoses on the  radiation and is warped by ‘The Gulliver Effect!’ Reduced to a mindless metal colossus, he is made a monster just as Tuftan and Dr. Canus appear, exploiting a savage sea battle with the gorillas to look for their lost friends…

As that war bloodily expands, the dog boffin establishes contact with energy force Me!’ whilst Kamandi manipulates his giant pal into driving off the gorilla flotilla. When the ape navy resumes its assault, going after the mixed bag of tigers, dogs, humans and unknowns on the beach, the energy alien saves the day by driving off the simians.

Kamandi #32 was a giant-sized special that also reprinted the first issue beside other extras, which here manifests as photo-feature/interview ‘Jack Kirby – A Man With a Pencil’ by Steve Sherman and a new, extended double-page map of ‘Earth A.D.’, before resuming abnormal service in #33. In the enforced calm, Canus helps the alien stranger build a physical body in ‘Blood and Fire!’: conditions in great abundance offshore as Tuftan’s tigers and the gorillas mercilessly restart hostilities…

By this time Kirby was evidently riding out his contract and #34 (October 1975) saw him relinquish cover duties and the editor’s blue pencil. From this issue on Joe Kubert drew those front images and Gerry Conway edited whilst the King concentrated on interiors, introducing flamboyant, inquisitive and emotionally volatile ‘Pretty Pyra!’ – who promptly soared off to investigate the sea battle. Whilst “she” is distracted, Kamandi and Canus unwisely try to pilot her ship and stop the fight, but instead end up in space, encountering a Cold War holdover who had become a living horror. ‘The Soyuz Survivor!’ is determined to carry out his doomsday scenario instructions, so it’s a good thing Pyra comes looking for them…

Returning to Earth, the voyagers land in ex-Mexico, finding respite of sorts in ‘The Hotel!’ The resort is still a valued destination but now runs on purely Darwinian principles as administered by intelligent – but really mean – jaguars. Visitors can stay where they want and do what they wish, until some other person or group takes the rooms from them. When Kamandi witnesses a tribe of humans driven off, he uses crafty, cruel cunning to set crocodiles and wolves at each other’s throats…

Cover-dated January 1976, ‘The Crater People’ was Kirby’s final script, disclosing how the Last Boy stays to shepherd the hotel humans when Canus and Pyra go off exploring. The boy is soon captured again, this time by what appear to be normal, technologically astute humans. They are anything but…

Initially beguiled into joining them, Kamandi soon learns they too are mutants: living at a hyper-rapid pace and dying of old age in five years. They are harvesting wild human DNA in search of the secret of extended longevity and regard this intelligent, slow-aging homo sapiens from the old world as a genetic goldmine. If only they’d been completely honest with him, instead of trying to exploit the boy via honeytrap Arna

Kamandi #38 February 1976) was scripted by Conway and Mike Royer returned as inker with the story splitting focus between the plight of the crater people who overstepped their bounds and drove the appalled last boy away whilst in space, ‘Pyra Revealed’ details the truth about her world and mission…

Frantic fugitives, Kamandi and Arna are captured by intelligent lobsters and imprisoned in ‘The Airquarium’ run by a coalition of crustaceans, molluscs and sea snails, just as Canus and Pyra return to terra firma and encounter a nation of saurians. All this time, the tigers and gorillas have been engaging at sea and obliviously continue doing so, even as Kamandi engineers a mass breakout to liberate all the lobster league’s undersea playthings…

Issue #40 ended Kirby’s involvement entirely with the pencils for ‘The Lizard Lords of Los Lorraine!’ scripted by Conway and Paul Levitz. Kamandi & Arna and Canus & Pyra are gulled into stealing a heat-generating ‘Sun Machine’ for rival factions (lizards vs donkeys!) seeking absolute control of the rain forest region. Fast-paced but innocuous, it closed with the unlikely rivals reunited again and ready for fresh, non-Kirby adventures…

Rounding out this paper monolith are pertinent pages from Who’s Who in the DC Universe (Kamandi and Ben Boxer, illustrated by Kirby & Greg Theakston), before a selection of un-inked story pages reveal why ‘The Art of Jack Kirby’ is just so darn great.

For sheer fun and thrills, nothing in comics can match the inspirational joys of prime Jack Kirby. This is what words and pictures were meant for and if you love them you must read this.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2023 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Should you opt for complete full-on inundation in the world of Kamandi, all 40 tales in these two paperback tomes are available as the Kamandi by Jack Kirby Omnibus edition, but as there’s no digital iteration, you’ll need mutant muscles of steel to derive the best results…

The Flood That Did Come


By Patrick Wray (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-53-0 (PB)

We have a proud and hard-won and passionately defended tradition in this country of using fiction and fantasy – especially those presented in the form of kids’ books – to hold up a light to cultural iniquities, political malfeasance and social dystopias. It works for Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm and dozens more plus a wealth of comics and graphic novels from Judge Dredd to Flook. This is one more and it’s supremely, chillingly good at what it does.

Artist, writer and musician Patrick Wray studied at the Dartington College of Art and took a long time living before crafting this telling and subtle exploration of property laws and the role of the people in how they’re governed…

Mimicking the look and narrative tone of children’s reading primers (and kids’ comics) The Flood That Did Come is set in the hilltop village of Pennyworth in the year 2036. It’s all the home little Jenny and her brother Tom know, but their happy, innocent days end when it starts to rain heavily… and never stops.

Soon, all of Kingsby County and the entire country are under water, with only a few high-lying hamlets remaining above water. The kids and their friends make the best of the new normal and enjoy the changes to the wildlife around them, leaving the adults to worry about the details such as being resupplied by airdrops…

One day, however, the holiday ends when a sailing boat arrives from nearby industrialised town Brooks Falls. The youngsters aboard have come to warn Pennyworth residents that the adults of their drowned conurbation are coming, armed with the latest technologies and The Law. It transpires that long ago – back in 1851 – Pennyworth was merely an outlying district of the sprawling metropolis and still remains part of the greater whole. Now that it’s the only part above water, the Mayor and council of Brook Falls intend to move their entire operation here and carry on their business as usual…

Sadly, as always when politicians and big business want something, the rights and feelings of ordinary people don’t count for much…

Simple, breezy and chilling to the core, this tale of resistance and capitulation is made all the more effective by Wray’s cunning choice of art style and faux children’s story feel. The result is reminiscent of school workshops and protest marches supplied with stencil screens, or of street-rebel print slogans and tagging-inspired found imagery and marches of solidarity and protest.

The industrial-flavoured visuals magnificently disguise the potency of the political allegory making this a tale no tuned-in, socially aware grown up looking to make changes can afford to miss.
© 2020 Patrick Wray. All rights reserved.

Liebestrasse


By Greg Lockard, Tim Fish, Héctor Barros, Lucas Gattoni & various (Dark Horse/Greg Lockard-ComiXology Originals)
ISBN: 9781506724553 (TPB/Digital edition)

As we’re all mindful of D-Day, WWII and how the world changed after that, here’s a poignant fable set in those distant days about one of the things they were all fighting for – the right to love and be loved by whoever you choose…

The story opens covertly in the Land of the Free. It’s 1952 and an aging, wealthy man seeks solace and the company of “his own kind” in a very special bar…

The next day, Sam Wells visits a modern art exhibition where a brief encounter with a young man of similar tastes and disposition triggers memories and a potent flashback to an old friend. Soon after, Wells is flying to Berlin to establish new business contacts and, hopefully, relive some of the better moments of his past.

As he moves around the divided city, Wells’ mind flits back to 1932 when, as a young Mover & Shaker, he was posted to Germany to set up an overseas office for his company. For a young man of wealth and his particular proclivities, the Weimar Republic offered many opportunities and temptations. Crucially, it also allowed freedom from dangerous oversight. Nevertheless, there was also an inescapable sense of oppressive menace, especially after meeting audacious, outspoken Philip Adler and falling madly, passionately, head over heels in love.

Philip’s sister Hilde was already in the sights of the rising National Socialists for creating un-Aryan art, but his constant challenging of the party in words, and especially with his “degenerate” lifestyle, soon painted a target on all their backs, as well as on the numerous doomed-and-dancing-on-the-volcano’s-edge liberals Sam met at endless parties and in the music clubs…

As months passed, the affair intensified – as did the danger – and inevitably, the hammer fell. For Sam that meant a beating and deportation, but for Philip there was no such callous leniency. Now decades later, Wells is back and has to face Hilde again…

Set firmly in the footsteps of the Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, Liebestrasse is a tale of regret, thwarted love and “might-have-beens ” from writer Greg Lockard and artist Tim Fish, aided and abetted by Héctor Barros on colours with Lucas Gattoni providing letters and calligraphy. Forceful, frantic, passionate and deeply moving, it is a powerful testament to the abiding power and wonder of passion but also a sobering reminder of how far we’ve come: an irrefutable argument for live and let love…
LIEBESTRASSE © 2019 Greg Expectations, LLC & Timothy Poisson. All rights reserved.