Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 4


By Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, David Anthony Kraft, Jan Strnad, John Byrne, Doug Moench, Ron Wilson, Alan Kupperberg & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6284-7

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing with or battling and frequently doing both – with less well-selling company characters was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the same deal DC had long prospered from with Batman in The Brave and the Bold.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, the company repeated the experiment with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12 before graduating him to his own guest-friendly title. This fourth and final economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #78-98 and 100 (the omitted #99 being a pairing with Space Knight Rom, no longer an active Marvel licensed property) plus Annuals #6 and 7, covering August 1981 to June 1983; a period which saw the clearly weary series and concept dwindle and die to make room for straight solo vehicle for the Thing.

The innate problem with team-up tales is always a lack of continuity – something Marvel always prided itself upon – and which writer/editor Marv Wolfman had sought to address during his tenure through the simple expedient of having stories link-up via evolving, overarching plots which took Ben from place to place and from guest to guest.

That policy remained in play until the end, and here sees the lovably lumpy lummox head to Hollywood to head-off a little copyright infringement in ‘Monster Man!’ by Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, Ron Wilson & Chic Stone. The sleazy producer to blame is actually alien Xemnu the Titan and Big Ben needs the help of budding actor Wonder Man to foil a subliminal mind-control scheme…

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 by Doug Moench, Wilson & Gene Day then introduces ‘An Eagle from America!’ as old pal Wyatt Wingfoot calls the Thing in to help in a battle between brothers involving Indian Tribal Land rights which had grown into open warfare and attempted murder.

The clash resulted in one sibling becoming new superhero ‘The American Eagle’, hunting his brother and a pack of greedy white killers to the Savage Land, consequently recruiting jungle lord Ka-Zar before ‘Never Break the Chain’ sees Ben catch up to them and join in a cataclysmic final clash against old enemy Klaw, Master of Sound in ‘…The Dinosaur Graveyard’

Marvel Two-In-One #79 reveals how cosmic entity ‘Shanga, the Star-Dancer!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & Stone) visits Earth and makes a lifelong commitment to decrepit WWII superhero Blue Diamond whilst in #80 ‘Call Him… Monster!’ sees Ben risk doom and damnation to prevent Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze from crossing the line with a pair of cheap punks…

Extended subplots return in ‘No Home for Heroes!’ as Bill (Giant-Man) Foster enters the final stages of his lingering death from radiation exposure. Ben, meanwhile, has been captured by deranged science experiment MODOK and subjected to a new bio-weapon, only to be rescued by old sparring partner Sub-Mariner. Before long ‘The Fatal Effects of Virus X!’ lay him low and he begins to mutate into an even more hideous gargoyle…

Helping him hunt for MODOK and a cure are Captain America and Giant-Man. Their success leads to super-genius Reed Richards taking over Bill’s treatment, resulting in the Thing heading north in #83 to ‘Where Stalks the Sasquatch!’

The most monstrous member of Alpha Flight is actually radiation researcher Dr. Walter Langkowski, but his impromptu medical consultation obliquely leads to the release of malign Indian spirit Ranark the Ravager and a Battle Royale which quickly escalates to include the entire team in ‘Cry for Beloved Canada!’

‘The Final Fate of Giant-Man!’ came in Marvel Two-In-One #85 as Spider-Woman teamed with the Thing to tackle Foster’s arch-nemesis Atom-Smasher, after which ‘Time Runs Like Sand!’ offered an astoundingly low key landmark as Ben and the sinister Sandman had a few bevies in a bar and turned the felon’s life around…

Also included was a short, sharp comedy vignette wherein Ben and godson Franklin have to deal with a bored Impossible Man and his equally obnoxious kids in ‘Farewell, My Lummox!’

The FF call in Ant-Man Scott Lang when Ben is kidnapped in #87, helping the rocky rogue defeat a duplicitous queen in the ‘Menace of the Microworld!’ after which David Anthony Kraft and Alan Kupperberg join Chic Stone in detailing a ‘Disaster at Diablo Reactor!’ with Ben and the Savage She-Hulk countering the nefarious Negator’s plans to turn Los Angeles into a cloud of radioactive vapour…

They then pit the Thing and Human Torch against deranged demagogues seeking to stamp out extremes of beauty, ugliness, weakness and strength in ‘The Last Word!’ before Jan Strnad, Kupperberg & Jim Mooney pit Spider-Man and Ben against time-bending chaos in ‘Eyes of the Sorcerer’. A new extended epic begins as DeFalco, Wilson & Jon D’Agostino reveal what lurks in ‘In the Shadow of the Sphinx!’

When mystic master Doctor Strange asks the thing to investigate a vision of Egypt, the bold battler falls into the clutches of immortal wizard The Sphinx who wants to recover his power-providing Ka-stone. On the voyage home Ben encounters robotic Avenger Jocasta, but not in time to stop her helplessly reviving Ultron in ‘This Evil Returning…!’ by DeFalco, Wilson & A. Sorted inkers…

When handmade hero Machine Man and his human assistants insert themselves into the crisis, they unexpectedly score a narrow win but not before ‘And One Shall Die…!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & D. Hands)…

Kraft, Wilson & Ricardo Villamonte then place a sympathetic and over-protective Ben in the path of Power Man & Iron Fist as they reluctantly hunt down a sad-sack fugitive the Thing has befriended in ‘The Power Trap!’ after which Kupperberg & Jon D’Agostino illustrate Kraft’s supernatural saga ‘The Power to Live… the Power to Die!’, wherein the Living Mummy helps Ben free his beloved Alicia from the glamours of an Egyptian sorcerer.

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 is a multi-starred battle bonanza with an Elder of the Universe visiting Earth determined to defeat the world’s greatest fighter in a boxing match. ‘And They Shall Call him… Champion!’ by DeFalco, Wilson and inkers Bob Camp, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green & Chic Stone sees Ben improbably remain after Thor, the Hulk, Sasquatch, Wonder Man, Doc Samson, Sub-Mariner and Colossus all fall, not because of superior strength but simply because he won’t lie down when beaten…

Following immediately on, MTIO #96 depicts Ben hospitalised and gradually recuperating in ‘Visiting Hours!’ (Esposito inks). Every villain in town thinks it’s the perfect moment for payback and reputation-building but singly or collectively never considered that Ben’s superhero friends might object…

In ‘Yesterdaze!’ (Michelinie, Wilson & D’Agostino), a lucrative offer from Hollywood lands Ben in a battle with dinosaurs that are definitely not special effects. Thankfully Iron Man is around to help minimise the carnage after which ‘Vid Wars!’ (Michelinie, Wilson & Giacoia) finds Mr Grimm and little Franklin transported to an alien realm where they are trapped in a planet-sized (nigh copyright-infringing) competition against vast, voracious Pac-Man like monsters…

As previously mentioned the penultimate team-up with Rom is not included here, so the series – and this collection – ends with a return to probably Marvel Two-In-One’s greatest triumph.

Anniversary issue #50 took a powerful and poignant look at the Thing’s formative months as a monster outcast and posited a few might-have-beens. Following another failure by Mr Fantastic to cure his rocky condition, Ben stole the chemicals and travelled into his own past, determined to use the remedy on his younger, less mutated self, but his bitter, brooding, brittle earlier incarnation was not prepared to listen to another monster and inevitably catastrophic combat ensued…

For #100, John Byrne, Wilson, Giacoia & Kevin Dzuban revisited the yarn as Ben returned to that timeline in ‘Aftermath!’ What he found was Earth in ruins. Because he had cured his alternate the world was later devastated when Galactus came to consume the planet. Here and now the last survivors of humanity are struggling for their lives against the minions of the fanatical Red Skull. Tormented by guilt, the Thing joins freedom fighter Ben Grimm in liberating the last of humanity from its greatest monster…

Although the company’s glory-days were undoubtedly the era of Lee, Kirby & Ditko leading through to the Adams, Buscema(s), Englehart, Gerber, Steranko and Windsor-Smith “Second Wave”, a lot of superb material came out the middle years when Marvel was transforming from inspirational small-business to corporate heavyweight.

This is not said to demean or denigrate the many fine creators who worked on the tide of titles published after that heady opening period, but only to indicate that after that time a certain revolutionary spontaneity was markedly absent from the line.

It should also be remembered that this was not deliberate. Every creator does the best job he/she can: posterity and critical response is the only arbiter of what is classic and what is simply one more comicbook. Certainly high sales don’t necessarily define a masterpiece – unless you’re a publisher…

This closing compendium is packed with simple, straightforward Fights ‘n’ Tights meet, greet and defeat episodes: entertaining and exciting with no hint of pretension and no real need to swot up on superfluous backstory.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to truly top-notch, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s plenty of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts-and-all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1981, 1982, 1983, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman: The Trial of Superman


By Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelinie, Roger Stern, Stuart Immonen, Jon Bogdanove, Ron Frenz, Tom & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-331-5 (DC)                    978-1-85286-856-2 (Titan)

The Man of Steel has proven to be all things to most fans since his dynamic debut in 1938. Although largely out of favour these days with all the myriad decades of accrued mythology being re-synthesised into an overarching all-inclusive multi-media film-favoured continuity, the stripped-down, gritty post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Action Ace, as re-imagined by John Byrne and built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen, resulted in some stunning highs…

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

Collecting Action Comics #716-717, Adventures of Superman #529-531, Superman volume 2, #106-108, Superman: Man of Steel #50-52 and Superman: Man of Tomorrow #3 (spanning November 1995 to January 1996), this hyper-charged space opera thriller reads best if taken in conjunction with a working knowledge of the characters, but outright newcomers can soon get up to speed by paying attention to the carefully administered snatches of expository dialogue, and if all you’re after is a heaping helping of far-flung Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy you’re in for a real treat…

The star-spanning saga begins with ‘Split Personality’ (by Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove & Dennis Janke from Superman: Man of Steel #50) as an alien armada approaches Earth. The Metropolis Marvel doesn’t notice. He’s busy losing a fight with murderous energy-eater the Parasite

The situation gives super-powered Alpha Centurion and his Team Luthor mercenaries an opportunity to move in. The Roman hero had spent two thousand years away from Earth winning intergalactic renown with his alien arsenal, and on his return home became a flirtatious rival for Lois Lane’s attention. Although generally a decent sort, he’s still always happy to prove his innate superiority to Superman…

He doesn’t get the chance, however, as a cadre of extraterrestrials beam in and arrest the power-drained Man of Steel. He’s so debilitated the hulking Brute brought along to subdue him is unnecessary. As they all fade away, Centurion returns to the battle with Parasite and can’t help but wonder what agents of the famed and just Tribunal want with Superman…

Aboard ship, the enervated hero is baffled to find himself accused of cosmic crimes but cannot find what exactly he’s supposed to have done. The confusion only increases when Brute tries to murder him by throwing the emaciated Kryptonian into the sun…

As Alpha Centurion finally defeats Parasite on Earth, 93,000,000 million miles away, Brute rectifies his mistake: battling with recapturing a now fully re-powered Superman, all the while thankfully babbling that now he’s proved his worth, his hostage “milk-brother won’t be executed”…

When they get back on the Tribunal ship, however, a panel of alien judges sentences Brute to death by solar incineration before getting around to charging Superman with a billion counts of murder and of causing the destruction of Krypton……

The confrontation continues in Superman #106 (Dan Jurgens, Ron Frenz & Joe Rubenstein) as the astounded Man of Tomorrow pleads ‘Not Guilty!’ The case is laid out by Tribunal Prime who relates that a distant ancestor of the Last Son of Krypton instilled a genetic flaw in his entire race by means of a miraculous device dubbed the Eradicator. It prevented them from ever leaving the planet and now Kem-L’s descendent Kal-El bears the responsibility for their extinction…

Aghast but unbowed, Superman struggles free but is easily pacified by a mysterious power of the Prime and dumped in a vast cell. That only exacerbates the crisis as one of the other inmates is brutal alien Massacre who instantly tries to slaughter his despised enemy…

When the catastrophic clash is broken up by the guards, Superman is horrified to witness the sadistic response the Tribunal considers to be justice served…

Back on Earth, Lois has been working on the Centurion. She wants the arrogant champion to use his super-spaceship Pax Romana to trace the avenging Eradicator Brute mentioned when Superman was initially abducted. After learning the eerie antihero (an uncanny merging of a dying human scientist with Kem-L’s recovered wonder-weapon) is no longer on-planet, Lois starts on the next stage of a rescue plan…

Karl Kesel, Stuart Immonen & José Marzán Jr. contribute the next chapter (Adventures of Superman #529) as, aboard the Tribunal flagship, Superman meets other inmates awaiting judgement/execution and makes unlikely new friends.

On Earth the now fully-engaged Centurion contacts some of the Action Ace’s old ones – Steel, Supergirl and Superboy – and sets off in pursuit of the Tribunal, even as, back in the cosmic adjudicators’ gigantic jail, Superman and his new chums stage a ‘Jail Break’

Having picked up Eradicator en route, Alpha Centurion’s rescue party surges on, unaware that the man they’ve come to liberate has crashed onto a distant planet where, thanks to one of his fellow escapees, they all find refuge in an inter-dimensional bolt-hole called Haven

When said fellow escapee then tries to take over the place, the runners experience surprisingly fair ‘Fugitive Justice!’ (Action Comics #716 David Michelinie, Kieron Dwyer & Denis Rodier)…

The Tribunal have not been idle. With their special Police Agents scouring the local systems, Prime engages the service of flamboyant bounty hunter Freelance who promptly locates and captures the harassed runners only to fall for one of them.

Earth’s finest are doing less well. The “S” symbol most of them wear is all over the interspacial networks and cash-hungry hunters from every star-faring species just assume they must also be ‘Wanted’ (Simonson, Bogdanove & Dick Giordano, Superman: Man of Steel #51)…

‘Bottled Up!’ (Superman #107, Jurgens, Frenz & Rubenstein) finds Superman’s Rescue Squad abandoned by the Centurion. Piling into a salvaged ship they head onwards to the Tribunal’s homeworld, unaware that the object of their concerns – and his fellow escapees – have all returned to Haven to save a wounded comrade.

The consultation with infamous wizard Tolos is deeply disturbing. The creepy mage has a thriving city in a jar and amiably offers to cure ailing Mope in return for a promise of future favours. That price comes due whilst far away the super friends are ambushed by avowed enemy Hank Henshaw, the undying Cyborg-Superman, who is apparently working for the intergalactic arbitrators…

Tolos plans to live forever. His bottles are filled with beings whose bodies he will inhabit and burn out, but with a Kryptonian in his sights, the wizard thinks he might have all he’ll ever need. He attacks but completely misjudges the resolve of the mighty Man of Steel…

In ‘Different Demons’ (Adventures of Superman #530 Kesel, Immonen & Marzán Jr.) the fugitive Superman is diverted by a mercy mission to a magical world to clear Mope’s name, whilst on the Tribunal world Alpha Centurion has been arrested and thrown in cell with Superboy… who believes the Roman is actually Henshaw in disguise…

As the far-flung Action Ace and Mope war with invisible aliens and more mages in ‘Fighting Back’ (Superman: Man of Tomorrow #3, Roger Stern, Tom Grummett & Brett Breeding), elsewhere, evidence of collusion between a high official and Henshaw starts to emerge…

Superman and Mope however have now moved on to fully-automated murder-metropolis ‘H’Tros City’ (Action Comics #717 Michelinie, Dwyer & Rodier), but as the cosmic conurbation continually attempts to eradicate them, the seemingly ubiquitous Henshaw take control of its programs to finish his enemy off in person.

The blockbuster battle instead goes Superman’s way, but the hero typically sacrifices his victory to save the cyborg and is rewarded with betrayal…

‘Crime and Punishment’ (Simonson, Bogdanove & Giordano, Superman: Man of Steel #52) once more finds the valiant champion in front of the triumphant Tribunal. Sentenced to immediate execution he battles on, but seems doomed until the impatient Henshaw – who always planned to double cross the judges – seizes control of the planet’s computers, inadvertently allowing the rescue squad to break out of jail and mount a last minute save…

In the aftermath of a shattering final battle the cyborg appears beaten at last but despite his clear guilt there’s ‘No Escape!’ (Superman #108 by Jurgens, Frenz & Rubenstein) for the Last Son of Krypton either…

The court of catastrophe explosively descends into all-out civil war and by the time the dust settles and our heroes head home there’s precious little ‘Justice!’ (Adventures of Superman #530 Kesel, Immonen & Marzán Jr.) to be seen anywhere…

Clever drama, spectacular action and rollercoaster pace, coupled with the usual high standard of character interplay, smart writing and fabulous art, all underscore this hugely enjoyable yet largely forgotten extraterrestrially epic diversion in the amazing life of Superman, but this starry saga is truly deserving of a second look and honest reappraisal.

A British Titan Books edition is also readily available from on-line sellers.
© 1995, 1996, 1997 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sub-Mariner & the Original Human Torch


By Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Rich Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9048-6

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the hybrid offspring of a sub-sea Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer; a being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and thrive above and below the waves. Created by young Bill Everett, Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the elementally electrifying Fire vs. Water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 and soon to become Marvel Mystery Comics) alongside the Human Torch, but had originally been seen in a truncated version in the monochrome Motion Picture Funnies, a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Quickly becoming one of the new company’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two), Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby began reinventing comic-books in 1961 with Fantastic Four, they revived the forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, yet decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero, understandably embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom which had seemingly been destroyed by American atomic testing.

He also became a dangerous bad-boy romantic interest: besotted with the FF’s golden-haired Sue Storm

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for few years, squabbling with assorted heroes such as Daredevil, the Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as part of “split-book” Tales to Astonish with fellow antisocial antihero the Incredible Hulk,

In 1988, as part of Marvel’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, that phenomenal half-century of comicbook history was abridged, amended, updated and generally précised by avowed fan and self-appointed keeper of the chronology Roy Thomas and his writing partner Dann Thomas who collaboratively commemorated the Avenging Son’s contribution in 12-part Limited Series miniseries The Saga of the Sub-Mariner. The saga was rapturously drawn by Rich Buckler.

Roy and Rich did the same with The Saga of the Original Human Torch – a 4-part series which ran from April to July 1990 – and both sides of the tempestuous coin are triumphantly tossed together in this splendidly all-encompassing, no-nonsense textbook of historic Fights ‘n’ Tights mythology…

It all begins thousands of years ago with ‘A Legend a-Borning’ from The Saga of the Sub-Mariner #1 (November 1988) with Buckler inked by Bob McLeod. A short history of the sinking of antediluvian Atlantis and its eventual reoccupation by nomadic tribes of water-breathing Homo Mermanus follows. The water-breathing wanderers splendidly flourish deep in the icy waters, and their story leads to a certain American research vessel which sails into icy waters in 1920…

Its depth-charging and icebreaking has horrendous consequences for the citizens of the depths and in response Emperor Thakorr organises a possibly punitive expedition. Instead his daughter Princess Fen uses experimental air-breathing serums to infiltrate the ship and forms a brief liaison with Captain Leonard McKenzie. They even marry but neither is aware that the voyage has been arranged by unscrupulous telepath Paul Destine who is drawn to the area by an uncanny device of ancient power and origins…

Whilst Destine is being buried under a catastrophic avalanche trying to excavate the artefact, a raiding party from Atlantis boards the ship and drags Fen back home. She believes her husband is killed in the attack…

Nine months later a strange, pink-skinned baby is born beneath the deep blue sea…

The story resumes years later with teenaged Namor experiencing prejudice firsthand as he plays with his blue-skinned chums and royal cousin Prince Byrrah. The passing of his callow years are interspersed with his grandfather’s disdain, his mother’s tales of the fabled “Americans” and the annoying girl Dorma who is always hanging around…

Every day seems to point out another way in which he differs from his people, such as his ever increasing strength, ability to live unaided on the surface and the wings on his ankles which give him the power of flight.

Life changes forever when the youngster is salvaging a sunken ship and shockingly encounters a brace of clunky mechanical men from the surface world doing the same.

In panic he attacks, severing the control cables which connect to a ship far above and proudly hauling them to Atlantis as a prize. For once grandfather is delighted: especially when the face plates are pried open and he sees dead surface-men within.

He’s ever more gleeful when Byrrah suggests Namor should go beard the Surfacers in their own realm to pay them back for the past destruction of Atlantis. Young, feisty and gullible, Namor sets off, ready to live up to his name which means ‘Avenging Son’

‘A Prince in New York’ spectacularly depicts the fantastic reign of terror and destruction Sub-Mariner wrought upon the city until distracted and talked down by plucky blonde policewoman Betty Dean. It then reveals how he learns to despise Nazi Germany’s maritime depredations before ‘A Fire on the Water’ details how New York Special Policeman the (original) Human Torch is deputised to stop him at all costs…

He never quite succeeds but the ongoing clash resulted in some of the most astonishing scraps in comics history. With the city almost wrecked by their battles Betty Dean again steps in to calm the boiling waters and the next chapter – inked by Richardson & Company – introduced the ‘Invaders!’ as Hitler incomprehensibly decides to eradicate Atlantis with depth charges and U-boats. The act of wanton hatred merely secures the Sub-Mariner’s fanatical aid for the Allied Powers.

With Thakorr wounded, the people elect Namor Emperor by popular acclaim before watching him swim off to crush the Axis and their super-powered servants. He fights with and beside the Torch, Captain America, Bucky, Spitfire and Union Jack. By the time the war is won and Namor returns to his realm, Byrrah and his crony Commander Krang have turned recuperating Thakorr against his interim emperor and Sub-Mariner finds himself banished. Only Lady Dorma’s impassioned intervention prevents the homecoming becoming a bloodbath…

With nowhere else to go Namor rejoins his surface superhero friends to create the post-war All-Winners Squad, before eventually being summoned home by his cousin Namora. Atlantis has been ravaged by air-breathing gangsters…

Seeking vengeance they team up with Betty for a short-lived crusade against criminals, madmen and monsters until again recalled to the rebuilt underwater kingdom.

Namor’s years away had gradually diminished his mighty hybrid abilities, but now-recovered Thakorr orders Atlantis’ greatest scientists to restore them so the Sub-Mariner can renew the Realm’s war against all surface-men…

Instead, Namor attempts diplomacy but his State Visit to the United Nations resulted in violent protests and the death of a bystander. He returns to his grandfather a bitter man, but still argues against war, no matter how hard General Krang and Byrrah urge it…

When Atlantis is wracked by seaquakes Namor leads a patrol to the polar cap above and discovers freshly-exhumed Paul Destine is responsible. The psychic had found a fantastic Helmet of Power which magnified his gifts exponentially and decided to test his new abilities on the closest population centre…

Enraged Namor’s physical might is useless against the tele-potent madman and in an instant Destine wipes his fishy foe’s memories and sends him to live as an amnesiac amongst the dregs of New York, blindly awaiting his future ‘Dark Destiny’ (McLeod inks)…

The epic history lesson reaches the dawn of the Marvel Age decades later as ‘Rage and Remembrance’ recaps the epochal events after new Human Torch Johnny Storm restores the memory of a weary derelict and unleashes the rage of the Sub-Mariner once again. With his mind and most of his memories back Namor instantly heads home to find Atlantis razed and his people scattered. Blaming the humans, he launches a series of blistering attacks on the Fantastic Four whilst attempting to win the heart of the clearly conflicted Invisible Girl

As months pass he discovers his people had relocated and rebuilt Atlantis. Namor is re-elected Emperor over the protests of Byrrah and betrothed to Lady Dorma, unknowingly earning the eternal enmity of Warlord Krang who has always wanted her…

His war against the surface-men continues, escalating into a brief invasion of New York, a turbulent alliance with the Hulk and clash with the ‘Avengers!’ (Mike Gustovich inks) which results in the revival of his now-forgotten Invaders comrade Captain America

Sub-Mariner’s pointless sorties against mankind continue as he forcefully adds the X-Men and Magneto to his roster of enemies whilst still trying to take Sue Storm away from Reed Richards.

After repelling an invasion by sub-sea barbarian Attuma he softens and again attempts to gain official recognition for Atlantis. Whilst he is making his embassage, however, Krang seizes control of Atlantis. After battling Daredevil, Namor returns too his kingdom, deals with the usurper and more-or-less dials back his campaign against the surface. Sadly this peace is interrupted as Destine again strikes inviting the new monarch to a ‘Rendezvous with Destiny!’ (McLeod inks).

Time and events telescope from now on as ‘Losses in Battle’ rapidly traces Namor’s showdown with the mental maniac, alliance with the Inhuman Triton and battles with Plantman, Dr. Dorcas, Tiger Shark, the Thing and a host of others, as well a reunion with Betty Prentiss (nee Dean) and rise of the sinister antediluvian Serpent Cult of Lemuria which first devised the formidable Helmet of Power in eons past.

Also revealed is how Namor’s marriage to Dorma is thwarted by murderous Lemurian LLyra and his subsequent agonising first and last meetings with his father…

‘Blood Ties’ then details his meeting with and adoption of Namora’s teenaged daughter Namorita, clashes with Doctor Doom and MODOK, an alliance of Byrrah and Llyra and origins of the Defenders before ‘Triumphs… and Tragedy!’ (inked by McLeod & Co) brings us to a cameo-packed conclusion, relating Namor’s enforced alliance with Doom, admission into the Mighty Avengers and loss of two of his greatest loves…

Although appearing a tad rushed, the writing is strong: offering fresh insights for those familiar with the original material whilst presenting the chronicles in an engaging and appetising manner for those coming to the stories for the first time. Moreover Buckler’s solidly dependable illustration capably handles a wide, wild and capacious cast with great style and verve.

Balancing the watery wonderment is the later and far shorter comics chronology of Sub-Mariner’s arch ally and favourite enemy as first seen in The Saga of the Original Human Torch.

It starts with ‘The Lighted Torch’ by Thomas, Buckler & Danny Bulanadi, which shows how the Flaming Fury burst into life as a malfunctioning humanoid devised by troubled and acquisitive Professor Phineas Horton. Instantly igniting into an uncontrollable fireball whenever exposed to air, the artificial innocent was consigned to entombment in concrete but escaped to accidentally imperil the metropolis until it/he fell into the hands of a malign mobster named Sardo.

When the crook’s attempts to use the android as a terror weapon dramatically backfired the hapless newborn was left a misunderstood fugitive – like a modern day Frankenstein’s monster. Even his creator only saw the fiery Prometheus as a means of making money.

Gradually gaining control of his flammability, the angry, perpetually rejected android decides to make his own way in the world…

Instinctively honest, the creature saw crime and wickedness everywhere and resolved to do something about it. Indistinguishable from human when not afire, he joined the police as Jim Hammond, tackling ordinary thugs even as his volcanic alter ego battled such outlandish bandits as Asbestos Lady. Before long the Torch met Betty Dean when New York City Chief of Police John C. Wilson asked him to stop the savage Sub-Mariner from destroying everything. The battles are spectacular but inconclusive but only end after Betty intervenes and brokers a tenuous ceasefire.

Later, a brusque reunion with Horton sets the Torch of the trail of his creator’s former assistant Fred Raymond. Hammond is too late to stop Asbestos Lady murdering the Raymonds in a train wreck but adopts their little boy Toro who gains the power to become a human torch as soon as he meets the artificial avenger. The partners in peril become a team who set ‘The World on Fire!’; battling beside Namor in the Invaders for the duration of WWII.

They even play a major role in ending the conflict in 1945 when they storm a Berlin bunker and incinerate Hitler, before rising ‘Out of the Ashes…’ (inked by Alfredo Alcala) by battling Homefront hostiles, exposing Machiavellian android mastermind Adam-II who, with knowledge of the future, attempts to assassinate a group of strangers who would all eventually be Presidents of the USA. The Fiery Furies formed the backbone of the All-Winners Squad, battling maniacs and conquerors from tomorrow, continuing their campaign against crime long after their comrades retired…

When a family crisis benches Toro, the Torch soldiers on with new sidekick Sun Girl until he returns. The reunion is destined to short and far from sweet…

The hot history lesson concludes in ‘The Flaming Fifties!’ (inked by Romeo Tanghal) as Jim Hammond bursts from a desert grave during a nuclear test explosion, revived from a chemically-induced coma mimicking death. His last memory was of being ambushed by gangsters and sprayed with a chemical which inhibited his flame and knocked him out. Blazing back to the ambush site he attacks his assailants and discovers four years have passed…

When they try the same solution again the compound no longer works on his atomically charged form and after a band of G-Men burst in the truth comes out. The Torch and Toro vanished in 1949 and when pressed the crooks admit to having got their chemical cosh from the Russians. More chillingly, they paid for it by handing Toro over to the Reds…

After spectacularly rescuing and deprogramming the Soviets’ flaming secret weapon, the Torch brings Toro home and they continue their anti-crime campaign against weird villains, Red menaces and an assortment of crooks and gangsters but before long tragedy again strikes as the atomic infusion finally reaches critical mass in Jim’s android body.

Realising he is about to flame out in a colossal nova, the Human Torch soars into the desert skies and detonates like a supernova…

The pre-Marvel Age adventures of the Torch end here but devotees already know Jim Hammond was resurrected a number of times in the convoluted continuity that underpinned the modern House of Ideas…

This substantial primer into the prehistory of the Marvel Universe also includes a quartet of original art covers plus a brace of full-colour, textless covers.

Fast, furious and fabulously action-packed, this is a lovely slice of authentic Marvel mastery to delight all lovers of Costumed dramas.
© 1988, 1989, 1990, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Booster Gold volume 4: Day of Death


By Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2643-5

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan-era.

A number of corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question were assimilated into DC’s roster with their own hotly hyped solo titles. There were even a couple of all-new big launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess such as Suicide Squad and a shiny, happy, headline-hungry hero named Booster Gold.

The blue and yellow paladin debuted amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title (cover-dated February 1986 – the first post-Crisis premiere of the freshly integrated superhero line) and presented a wholly different approach to the traditional DC costumed boy-scout.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious metahuman golden-boy jock who had set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis, actively seeking corporate sponsorships, selling endorsements and with a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

Accompanied everywhere by sentient flying-football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encountered high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and a host of super-villains, earning the ire of many sinister masterminds and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever fickle public…

His time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as a Justice Leaguer International where he became part of comics’ funniest double-act riffing off the aforementioned Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of Maxwell Lord’s Justice League International: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect. When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered but redefined himself as a true hero in the multiversal conflagrations of 52 and Countdown.

In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and ultimately Infinite Crisis, the intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – a hero traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad universal, multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster surrendered all his dreams of acclaim to save us all over and over and over again.

This fourth time-bending full-colour trade paperback collects Booster Gold volume 2 #20-25 and Brave and the Bold volume 3 #23 from July to December 2009, and continues reviewing catastrophic conflicts from the time-line guardian’s never-ending battle to keep history on track and mankind in existence.

The action opens with ‘Shadows of Tomorrow’ from Brave and the Bold volume 3 #23 July 2009, by Jurgens and inker Norm Rapmund as, in his citadel beyond chronology, Booster is shocked to see his mentor Rip rematerialise in a badly beaten state, muttering the name “Magog”. A little checking reveals the name belongs to a hulking horned metahuman: a hero – of sorts – and despite the recuperating Hunter’s pleas to leave well enough alone, Booster slips into the time-stream to confront the military-trained hardliner…

The trail leads to war-torn Kahndaq during the US occupation and a tenuous team-up with a colleague who is everything Booster despises: a self-righteous hero who thinks the ends justify the means, even with the lives of hostage children precariously in the balance…

Booster Gold #20 featured ‘1952 Pick Up’ (by Keith Giffen, Pat Oliffe & Rapmund) – a light-hearted homage to B-movie sci fi and the Fantastic Four as the time traveller fetches up in early 1950s Nevada on the site of a clandestine and forgotten American space shot…

Before long he’s captured by covert operatives Frank Rock and Karin Hughes from an invisible agency dubbed Task Force X and embroiled in a secret mission involving traitorous Russian rocket scientists… and if he’s not extremely careful Booster could erase the timeline of a close future-friend and colleague…

The major portion of this collection then moves on to cover some unexpected fallout of the murder of the Dark Knight.

The only non-Time Master to know Booster’s secret was Batman. His deductive skills were beyond par and after noticing recurring anomalies around the shooting of Barbara Gordon the Dark Detective intuited Booster had tried hundreds of times to prevent it. Batman held his tongue as well as many photographs which proved Booster was not just a flashy, sensation-seeking bumbler…

Now as ‘Day of Death’ begins Booster raids the Batcave to retrieve that evidence only to be jumped by the Gotham Guardian’s successor…

Before he can even attempt to explain, they are both ambushed by the mysterious chronal raider called Black Beetle continuing to carry out his campaign to unmake history. Pausing only to gloat for a second the Beetle vanishes, followed an instant later by the substitute Batman…

And in the background a second glass tube appears. They both contain the uniforms of Robins who died in battle…

As I’m sure you all recall: following an all-out invasion by the New Gods of Apokolips, the original Batman was apparently killed at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis. The world at large was unaware of the loss, leaving the superhero community to mourn in secret whilst a small, dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed the Network to police Gotham City in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original restored…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson (the first Robin and latterly Nightwing) as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them…

Now however Grayson has clearly been excised by Black Beetle and Booster has to rectify the situation before time unravels even further…

A new chapter opens with the Beetle conferring with a cloaked superior even as Booster consults his infinitely upgraded cybernetic companion who is keyed into to the ever-changing intricacies of the time-stream. Skeets informs Booster that the landmark first battle between the Teen Titans and the Ravager now ended with the young heroes’ deaths and like an intricate line of dominoes led to the eradication of most of Earth’s adult defenders… and worse…

Inserting himself into the appropriate moment to rectify the glitch, Booster is shocked to see Ravager’s terrifying father Deathstroke the Terminator aligned with Black Beetle to ensure the Titans’ doom…

Overwhelmed and beaten, Booster awakes to discover he’s failed again. The Teen Titans are dead and Rip Hunter is screaming at him. Also on the scene is mystic mystery Raven. She originally caused the Titans to unite, hoping to use them to stop her demonic sire Trigon conquering Earth, but now…

Hunter quickly ferries Booster and the witch to 2020AD to see what becomes of humanity. His actual plan is to find Black Beetle and try to glean the reason for his insane acts…

In that particular future Trigon idly presides over the last remnants of mankind with the Beetle at his side, but as Booster finds himself battling the demon lord, Hunter and Raven have united with a few strangely familiar characters in one glorious, last-ditch attempt to banish Trigon and unmake this fractured reality.

Although they are triumphant, the real battle is lost elsewhere as the Beetle raids Trigon’s treasure vault and steals the artefact he’s been after all along. Despite his best efforts Hunter is too slow to stop the Machiavellian monster stealing a scarlet scarab which promises unlimited power to the one who knows its secret…

With the greater game lost and the Beetle off the field, Booster finally has the leeway needed to fix the most urgent section of time and correct history, but is it all too little too late?

Everything is wrapped up and the scene set for the next catastrophic crisis when ‘Day of Death Aftermath’ sees Booster return to the Batcave for those photos and get the shock of his utterly unconventional life…

Fantastically absorbing and entertaining, this riotous romp is tragically a true fans’ story for die-hard comics mavens, with in-jokes and shared historical moments adding to the unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance of a classy time-busting tale. That’s a great pity since this is also a fabulously well-crafted story that a wider audience would certainly appreciate if only they had sufficient back-grounding.

I’m in touch with the continuity and still struggled occasionally but I’d love to be proved wrong and see if a total innocent could follow this nuanced little gem and get the buzz it gave me…

Who’s game to give it a go?
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari and the Wolves


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-29-8

Le Crapaud à lunettes is children’s magazine founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who’d begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the well-received Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure gold two years later with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a little Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime between introduction of horses by the Conquistadores and the coming of modern White Men.

Stuffed with bucolic whimsy, the beguiling series celebrates the generally simple and joyous existence of noble wanderers in tune with nature and free from strife. Things are punctuated with the odd crisis but usually resolved without fame or fanfare – usually by a little lad who is smart, compassionate and valiant, and can converse with all animals…

As “Derib”, de Ribaupierre – equally excellent in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style and with devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustration – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators through such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne).

Many of his stunning works over the fruitful decades have featured his beloved Western themes, built on magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, and Yakari is considered by fans and critics alike to be the feature which primed the gun. With the uncharacteristically moodily and atmospheric tale unfolding here, that transition to his more dramatic milieux has never been more evident…

Yakari au Pays des Loups was first serialised from June 1981 to April 1982 and promptly became the eighth European album, (and Cinebook’s sixth British Yakari release in 2008 and as always by being fabulously free of tight continuity, the epic encounter works perfectly read in isolation: easily accessible for young kids and/or their adult minders meeting the bold little Brave for the first time…

The tale begins as the seasons turn and winter hits the nomads. Moving camp, they return to a place one man knows too well. Three winters past he had a terrible experience and now becomes obsessed with expiating a long-carried burden of shame…

The kids are all delighted to be rambunctiously sporting in the snow, but when Yakari casually reports something he saw, Tormented Wolf rides off in a fury. The wary brave drives deeper into the snowy passes and soon finds what he dreaded: tracks of a large wolf with a limp…

Puzzled Yakari discusses the experience with many adults and his pony Little Thunder, and has real fright later when, gathering firewood, a grizzled old wolf with a limp starts eying him up…

Tormented Wolf again erupts onto the beast’s trail only to return once more, frustrated and angry. He isn’t staying, but only returned to get supplies and don his ceremonial hunting headdress. Yakari doesn’t really understand why the other grown-ups look upon his departure with pity…

That night, safe in his tent Yakari has one of his special dreams about wolves and their driven stalker. He awakes next morning to see the limping lupine’s tracks all around his tepee. Little Thunder absolutely refuses to take him into the foothills after the predator, so the lad gamely trudges off alone, even as far ahead, Tormented Wolf again replays in his head that fateful battle with a mighty opponent which left them both scarred and broken…

Far behind Yakari fearfully continues. For his entire life he has heard scary stories about wolves but when his totem Great Eagle appears with some sage words the boy begins to reassess his prejudices…

It’s a timely meeting, because as soon as the bird takes flight the limping wolf appears for a chat. “Three legs” then initiates Yakari into the secret world of the “Singing Clan” and shares their founding legend before inviting him to play with the pack’s new cubs…

He then asks the brave boy to arrange one final, fateful meeting between Tormented Wolf and the four-footed tribe he so remorselessly hunts, in the certain knowledge that this climactic confrontation will end the animosity forever…

Darker in tone than most Yakari yarns, this is also one of the most heart-warming and rewarding, with a subtle moral hiding inside a grand tale of redemption and reformation…  The evergreen exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic environment is an unmissable celebration of marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially warmth. These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © LE LOMBARD (Dargaud- Lombard s.a.) 1981, by Derib + Job. English translation 2008 © Cinebook Ltd.

Yoko Tsuno volume 4: Daughter of the Wind


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-94-6

Yoko Tsuno began first began gracing the pages of Spirou in September 1970 and is still going strong. As detailed by Roger Leloup, the astounding, all-action, uncannily edgy, excessively accessible exploits of the slim, slight Japanese scientific-adventurer are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

Leloup’s brainchild is an expansively globe-girdling, space-&-time spanning series devised by the monumentally talented Belgian maestro after leaving his job as a studio assistant on Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin to strike out on his own.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative but always solidly grounded in hyper-realistic settings which boast utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, these illustrated epics were at the vanguard of a wave of strips featuring competent, clever and brave female protagonists which revolutionised Continental comics from the 1970s onwards.

Happily they are as timelessly engaging and potently empowering now as they ever were.

The very first stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were brief introductory – and possibly beta-testing – vignettes before the superbly capable Miss Tsuno and her always awestruck and overwhelmed male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier extended saga Le trio de l’étrange which began in 1971 with the May 13th edition of Spirou

In the original European serialisations, Yoko’s adventures alternated between explosive escapades in exotic corners of the world and sinister deep-space sagas with the secretive and disaster-plagued alien colonists from Vinea, but for these current English translations, the extraterrestrial endeavours have been more often than not sidelined in favour of realistically intriguing Earthly exploits.

There have been 27 European albums to date and this one was first serialised in Spirou #2081-2100 (2nd March to July 13th 1978) before emerging the following year as exotically enthralling album La Fille du vent. A sublimely understated espionage epic with solid hard-science sci fi overtones, it was chronologically the ninth album, yet due the quirks of publishing reached us Brits as Cinebook’s fourth translated tome, offering readers a long-awaited glimpse into the history of the ultra-efficient oriental enigma…

The stupendous saga opens with Yoko calming Vic and Pol as their passenger flight makes its daunting landing at Hong Kong’s Kai-Tak Airport. They have taken a rushed flight because Yoko has received a worrying communiqué about her father, sent by the eminent Chen Wu Cheng

On arrival they are picked-up by a joint team of Chinese and Japanese intelligence operatives sharing a unique problem. Seiki Tsuno is a brilliant scientist; a geophysicist who has been working for decades to find a way to counter the horrific typhoons which regularly devastate coastal regions across the Pacific. He recently succeeded, but only after first discovering exactly how to create the catastrophic whirlwinds…

Now Yoko’s hosts inform her that her father’s financial backer Ito Kazuki has conspired with elements of the Japanese government and greedy business interests to steal the research with the intention of using the typhoon-making process as a weapon to restore Japan to its days of military glory and pre-eminence.

The elder Tsuno and Kazuki are now at war and the storms they make are wrecking the climate of the entire region. In their desperation these national agencies want Yoko to talk to her father and make him stop before it’s too late. Moreover, with all Kazuki’s resources in play, they need her to approach her dad secretly so as not to alert the enemy millionaire to the mission…

Thus this long, circuitous trip from the coast of China to Yoko’s family home, which eventually concludes with her being parachuted in from a high-altitude seaplane at night. Over strident objections from Vic and Pol, the “Daughter of the Wind” has accepted the mission, but it’s not until she’s actually plunging towards the giant statue of the Buddha and temple above her family home that Yoko act on the suspicions she’s been harbouring.

Disabling her electronic tracker, Yoko shifts orientation and lands far from her specified target site. Almost immediately her caution pays dividends as she spots armed masked men waiting around the area where she was supposed to land. Doffing her gear she quietly heads for the temple where a monk helps her avoid the faux ninjas and reach her father’s house.

There she is joyously reunited with aged Aoki: a former Imperial pilot who joined the household as a gardener and practically raised Yoko whilst her parents conducted their own, more important, adult affairs…

He reveals the truth: there is war between Kazuki and her father, but the millionaire plans to trap and use her as a bargaining chip over Seiki and ultimately achieve total control of Japan…

As Yoko radios Pol and Vic the ninjas strike and only familiarity with her father’s inventions allow her and Aoki to escape, aided by the sudden explosive appearance of her European friends. A hectic and explosive seaborne chase ensues but after Kazuki throws one of his typhoons at them Yoko and her friends are caught and taken by submarine to the mad millionaire’s near-sacrilegious undersea base whilst old Aoki is left clinging to a buoy…

Kazuki seems like a reasonable man and offers Yoko a position with his organisation – which she naturally declines – but does concede to run his TV and telecommunications equipment as he moves to his momentous endgame…

Whilst Yoko tells her incarcerated pals of her lonely neglected childhood and the tragic story of failed Kamikaze Aoki and how he came to live with her grandfather, Seiki Tsuno – who has picked up the aging gardener from the buoy – moves towards his final showdown with Kazuki: a very public duel between the madman’s typhoon-maker and his own whirlwind eradication process.

The researcher is confident of his invention’s efficacy but never expected Kazuki to cheat…

Yoko isn’t surprised at her captor’s double-dealing and when the would-be warlord is distracted by his recently created waterspout growing completely beyond his control, leads Pol and Vic in a daring escape back to her dad who has only one appalling solution to the rapidly-expanding super-storm…

Sadly it involves two pilots simultaneously flying into the typhoon with a massive explosive device and has only a remote chance of working…

Building to a thundering climax and truly tragic conclusion, this potent large-scale human drama showed both a softer side and more mature aspect of our star, confirming she was a truly multi-faceted adventurer, at home in all manner of scenarios and easily able to hold her own against the likes of James Bond, Modesty Blaise, Tintin or other genre-busting super-stars: as triumphantly capable facing spies and madmen as alien invaders, weird science or unchecked forces of nature…

As always the most effective asset in these breathtaking tales is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which superbly benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail, honed through years of working on Tintin.

This is a magnificently wide-screen thriller, tense, complex and evocative, which will appeal to any fan of blockbuster action fantasy or devious derring-do.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2009 © Cinebook Ltd.

Modesty Blaise: Ripper Jax


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-858-7

Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, knife-throwing, compulsively platonic partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations as infallible super-criminals heading underworld gang The Network before retiring young, rich and healthy. With honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from careers where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies – a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

When devious British Spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant sought them out they were slowly dying of boredom in England. The wily old bird offered them a chance to have fun, get back into harness and do a bit of good in the world. They jumped at his offer and have been cleaning up the dregs of society in their own unique manner ever since …

From that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the dynamic duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a perpetual storm of tense suspense and inspirational action for nearly forty years…

The inseparable associates debuted in The Evening Standard on 13th May 1963 and over the passing decades went on to star in some of the world’s most memorable crime fiction, all in approximately three panels a day.

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who had previously collaborated on Romeo Brown – a lost strip classic equally deserving of its own archive albums) produced a timeless treasure trove of brilliant graphic escapades until the illustrator’s tragic early death in 1970, whereupon Spanish artist Enric Badia Romero (and occasionally John Burns, Neville Colvin and Pat Wright) assumed the art reins, taking the partners-in-peril to even greater heights.

The series has been syndicated world-wide and Modesty has starred in 13 prose novels and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an original American graphic novel from DC and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001.

The serial exploits are a broad blend of hip adventuring lifestyle and cool capers, combining espionage, crime, intrigue and even – now and again – plausibly intriguing sci fi and supernaturally tinged horror genre fare, with ever-competent Modesty and Willie canny, deadly, yet all-too-fallibly human defenders of the helpless and avengers of the wronged…

Reproduced in stark and stunning monochrome – as is only right and fitting – Titan Books’ superbly scrupulous chronological serial re-presentations of the ultimate trouble-shooters resume here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering four more masterpieces of mood mystery sand mayhem only pausing for intriguing Introduction ‘Modest Morality’: an insightful overview of the wonder woman’s ethics and motivation from author and incurable fan-addict Simon Barnes (How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, The Sacred Coombe, Ten Million Aliens).

The suspenseful dramas open with Ripper Jax (originally run in The Evening Standard from May 4th to October 2nd 1995), wherein Modesty and Willie repay an old blood-debt to psychometricist and antiquarian bookseller Mr. Haley. The old gentleman has a daughter who’s a bit of a wild child and now she’s been kidnapped by psychotic, knife-throwing gang boss Ripper Jax.

The thoroughly nasty flesh-peddler is after two million pounds hidden by a thief who is beyond his usual means of coercion and persuasion, but for a man who can find things by mental divination all things are possible…

Naturally the Dynamic Duo leap to the distraught dad’s defence, but a little pre-raid intelligence-gathering around the villain’s medieval castle in Ireland not only reveals the huge odds arranged against them but also that it might not be a simple abduction and trade that’s going on…

Moreover, Jax soon knows the troubleshooters are coming but doesn’t care. He’s always wanted to test his knives and skill against the legendary bladesman Willie Garvin…

The scene shifts to the antipodes for The Maori Contact (3rd October 2nd 1995 – March 1st 1996) as Willie helps some old friends finish a magnificent, hand-carved traditional Waka. The 100-foot native war-canoe is the crowning triumph of British sculptor Jason Nash and his wife Carol, but they have no idea of the problems brewing…

In London, Modesty is just learning from Jason’s uncle Sir Gerald Tarrant that Carol has inherited millions of pounds from a crazy relative she had no notion of, even as Willie and Jason foil an abduction attempt which leaves one kidnapper dead and poor hubby with blood on his hands…

Rushing out on the first jet to New Zealand, Modesty and Tarrant are unaware that Carol’s sole rival for the inheritance is already on his way ahead to them, having hired one of the few criminal organisations in the world undaunted by the lethal reputations of Blaise and Garvin.

Not prepared to leave it at that, Carol’s unknown enemy also recruits an army of local riff raff to play back-up, but has completely underestimated the devious duo’s experience in whittling down overwhelming odds and uncanny ability to find helpful allies in the strangest places…

A startling glimpse into Modesty’s criminal days running The Network underpins Honeygun (March 4th to August 2nd 1996), revealing how her life was saved by a merciless mercenary killer.

Sadly the striking Eurasian assassin was too depraved and kill-hungry to be allowed to join Modesty’s gang and left in a huff with a solemn promise that Modesty owed her a debt which would one day be called in…

Years later that obligation becomes a deadly burden when Willie and “the Princess” are relaxing in their Tangiers home. Modesty is spending time with her occasional paramour Dr. Giles Pennyfeather when Honeygun resurfaces, orchestrating a heist which goes bloodily awry.

Trapped in the Kasbah with the cops closing in, the sociopathic killer calls in her debt and Modesty reluctantly spirits her away before the police can swoop…

Blaise’s misgivings over the rescue are soon proved true when Honeygun kills an Israeli diplomat and his chauffeur and subsequently abducts Giles from his hospital to remove a bullet from one of her henchmen wounded in the exchange of fire…

Torn by guilt, Modesty resolves to stop Honeygun for good. Before long she and Willie have tracked the crazy killer and her increasingly anxious army of hired guns to a derelict Roman fort and begun the perilous task of extracting Giles and cutting down the odds. With the worst storm in decades brewing, Modesty has to deal with one final hiccup when her darling doctor refuses to leave without his critically injured patient…

This catalogue of compelling crookedness and catastrophic crime-busting concludes with a gripping yarn wherein Modesty and Willie rush to the rescue of old friends Dinah and Stephen Collier in the raw heart of the Guatemalan jungle.

The professor and his blind, psychic wife were working for Blaise’s occasional lover John Dall, divining potential drill sites for the billionaire’s oil company when they were taken by a gang of rebels led by the charismatic maniac Durango (August 5th 1996 to January 3rd 1997)…

Rapidly swinging into action, Blaise and Garvin go native and attempt to infiltrate the band in the manner that’s worked so well so often, but things go south swiftly when Durango turns out to be old Network adversary Lazaya who instantly recognises them and decides to ransom them instead….

With everything going wrong the partners in peril have to think fast, act boldly and ruthlessly exploit every advantage to save their friends and themselves, but as always the final arbiter is a study in applied violence…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Unforgettable shock and suspense-stuffed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, the stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.
Modesty Blaise © 2014 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Modesty Blaise: Ripper Jax is available for pre-order now and will be published on March 4th 2016.

Silent Invasion Book One: Secret Affairs


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-0-91834-850-0

The 1980s were an immensely fertile time for English-language comics-creators. In America a fresh wave of creativity had started with the birth of dedicated comics shops and, as innovation-geared specialist retailers sprung up all over the country, operated by fans for fans, new publishers began to experiment with format and content, whilst eager readers celebrated the happy coincidence that everybody seemed to have a bit of extra cash to play with.

Consequently those new publishers were soon aggressively competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown resigned to getting their on-going picture stories from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European and Japanese material began creeping in and by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

New talent, established stars and fresh ideas all found a thriving forum to try something a little different both in terms of content and format. Even shoestring companies and foreign outfits had a fair shot at the big time and a much great material came – and, almost universally, just as quickly went – without getting the attention or success they warranted.

By avoiding the traditional family sales points such as newsstands, more mature material could be produced: not just increasingly violent and with nudity but also far more political and intellectually challenging too.

Moreover, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma had finally dissipated and America was catching up to the rest of the world in acknowledging sequential narrative as a for-real, actual Art-Form, so the door was wide open for gosh-darned foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the most critically acclaimed and just plain fun features came from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press which, spun out by a torturous and litigious process from Dave Sim’s Canadian Aardvark-Vanaheim enterprise, set up shop in the USA and began publishing at the very start of the black and white comics bubble in 1984. Renegade quickly established a reputation for excellence, picking up a surprisingly strong line of creator-based properties and some genuinely remarkable and impressive series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Normalman, Flaming Carrot, the first iteration of Al Davison’s stunning Spiral Cage and compulsive, stylish Cold War, flying-saucer paranoia-driven series The Silent Invasion amongst others.

That last was a stunningly stylish saga, bolting 1950s homeland terrors (invasion by Reds; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a truly fresh and enticing concept in the Reagan-era Eighties. I firmly believe that in this business nothing good stays lost, but now I’m fed up waiting for it to be rediscovered so I’m going to review my battered old copies as no one has tried to revive it yet. At least they’re still available…

This first superbly oversized monochrome tome – a whopping 298 x 2058 mm – gathers the lead story from the first three issues of The Silent Invasion with co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock concocting a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

The 1950s in American were a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incredible scientific and cultural advancements and great wealth inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft truly incisive and evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but more of that elsewhere…

Preceded by a terse and still topical Introduction from Frank Miller, this towering collection from 1988 kicks off with ‘Chapter One: Atomic Spies’ in a dark desert landscape 22 miles outside Union City in April 1952.

Private eye Dick Mallet sees a strange light in the skies and in the morning the cops find his crashed car. There’s no sign of the infamous and distinguished Dick…

A month later reporter Matt Sinkage is still unhappy with his piece on “The Truth Behind Flying Saucers” but his muttering and musing is interrupted by a hot blonde banging on the door of his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov.

Arriving at his desk on the Sentinel, Sinkage can’t believe the audacity of the Air Force’s official line about “marsh gas” and starts screaming at his Editor Frank Costello who just bawls him out – again – and sends him off to cover real news…

Instead Sinkage heads out to the site of the latest sighting and starts interviewing local yokels. That night fiancée Peggy cooks him a meal but his mind is elsewhere, on that night six months back in Albany when he saw a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a night everyone but him remembers…

Later, in a bar, Matt continues badgering Frank until the booze gets to him. Eventually Sinkage slinks back to his apartment. Ivan’s door is open and a quick glance reveals the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine and Matt realises they must be Reds! Atomic spies!

Before the reporter can react, Kalashnikov pulls a really strange gun and shoots. Next morning Sinkage awakes with another sore head and fuzzy memory…

Days later Matt again collides with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber, but fails to get another look at his neighbour’s place. Undeterred, he resorts to asking her out to lunch and somehow provokes the old guy into taking a sudden trip out of town. Things get even stranger when Gloria comes running to him, being chased by what she claims are Red agents…

Spiriting her away, Matt doesn’t hear the pursuers accosting his landlord, claming to be Federal Men…

‘Chapter Two: Secrets and Insidious Machinations’ finds the fugitives deep in the suburbs with Matt’s sedate brother Walter. The reporter is still seeing flying saucers and can’t understand why everybody else thinks they’re just jets, whilst back in Union City Frank is getting a grilling from FBI Agent Housley.

They’re old acquaintances: the G Man regularly pops by to suppress one news item or another…

This time though they want the vanished Sinkage and are not happy that Costello has no idea of the gadfly’s current location. Back in suburbia, things are none too comfortable either. Stuck-up sister-in-law Katie is convinced Matt and his new floozy are up to no good and wants them out. At least she doesn’t know the FBI are scouring the city for them. Enigmatic Gloria, however, is more concerned that Sinkage is sleepwalking and having strange nightmares… just like Kalashnikov feared he might…

Matt and Gloria are just heading out in Walter’s borrowed car when Peggy pops by. She can’t understand why her man is with a flashy trollop and pointedly won’t talk to her. Gloria has told Matt the real Reds are after Kalashnikov’s memoirs and convinced him to drive her to a quiet town in the desert where a “contact” will protect them both. Mr K meanwhile has called in his own heavies to chase the couple, unaware that the FBI have visited Walter and Katie. A net is closing around Sinkage and the mystery woman he implicitly trusts… but really shouldn’t.…

The tension mounts in this volume’s concluding ‘Chapter Three: The Stubbinsville Connection’ as a mysterious Council of shadowy men gather to discuss the Sinkage problem. As Housley’s report continues, it become clear the reporter was also involved in the Albany event and near-panic ensues…

In a cheap motel Matt’s suspicions are back. Gloria vanished from their room for a while during the night and hasn’t mentioned it…

They’re confirmed a little later when she helps Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abduct her and rough him up. Bach at Walter’s house the FBI turn up to interview them about Matt. They claim they’re the only Feds working on the case and no other government officials have been there before them…

Katie has had enough and spills all she knows. The agents instantly go into overdrive and organise all their forces to head for sleepy, remote Stubbinsville. Matt meanwhile has recovered and called the only guy he still trusts, his researcher Dan Maloney. That worthy warns him of the confusing profusion of agents all claiming to be working for the government, before sharing the same info with Frank Costello…

As Housley’s team fly in, Matt has decided to go on, hitchhiking to the rendezvous with a quirkily affable farmer who happily joins him in “pranking” the cops who have just arrested Zanini, Koldst and Gloria…

Reunited with his oddly-compliant mystery amour, Matt hurtles on to Stubbinsville in a stolen car but with less than 100 miles to go Gloria falls ill. She makes him promise to get her there at all costs…

As the assorted pursuers converge, she directs Matt to a lonely wilderness area, but the forces of law and order have spotted them and follow. As the net closes a fantastic and terrifying light show ignites the dark skies. By the time Housley reaches the specified target area, all he finds is a comatose Sinkage.

As days pass, Matt finds himself free with all charges dropped, but he’s oddly content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to who all the various parties hounding him actually were, he knows what he knows and wonders when Gloria will be back…

To Be Continued…

Potently evocative, impeccably unique and fabulously cool, The Silent Invasion is a boldly imagined and cunningly crafted adventure long-overdue for a modern revival: an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” which no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore.
© 1988 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. Introduction © 1988 Frank Miller. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 7: Barbed Wire on the Prairie


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-24-3

Lucky Luke is a good-natured, lightning-fast gunslinger who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper, interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures. His continued exploits over seven decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (over 80 collected books and more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and was first seen 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, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and joined weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist – which is probably why (to my eyes at least) his lone star hero looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many memorable mid-1940s B-movie Westerns.

Morris quickly became one of la Bande des quatre or “The Gang of Four” comprising Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose, free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which predominated in Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists on Tintin magazine.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited the USA, meeting American comics creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, linking up with fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the hero’s regular wordsmith as Luke 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 sides, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny eventually produced 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris himself died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus some spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others all taking a crack at the venerable franchise…

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

He was first seen in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun during the late 1950s and again 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 – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-mauled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…) and Ma Dalton was the seventh of their 58 (and counting) albums, now available both on paper and as e-books.

Chronologically the album Des barbelés sur la prairie, first appeared in 1967: Luke’s 29th chronicle and Goscinny’s 20th collaboration with Morris, offering an engagingly classic confrontation and deviously diabolically bloodless solution wherein all the laconic lawman’s legendary speed proved as nothing when battling bad men with numbers, tradition and intransigence on their side…

It all begins with a suitably mock-heroic paean to western mythology, eulogizing the role of cattle and birth of cowboys before introducing overfed, self-satisfied cattle baron Cass Casey, casually chowing down on cow meat in boisterous cow-town Cow Gulch.

The big man is blissfully unaware that salad-farmers Vernon and Annabelle Felps are currently building a home and planting their crops on the small parcel of the prairie they recently purchased. That means nothing to Casey’s men as they indifferently guide a mooing massive herd through house and garden alike…

When the vegetable man heads into town to remonstrate with the cattle king, Vernon would have killed for his impertinence but for the quiet yet lethally loaded intervention of a wanderer trying to eat his steak in peace…

Casey thinks he’s powerful enough to do whatever he wants, but within seconds he’s the only man drawing down on the legendary Lucky Luke. A little whilst the burly boss’ hand is healing, the Lone Rider is accompanying Vernon back to a home-cooked meal of tasty greens. He’s still there when vengeful Casey sends his thundering herd back to trample everything.

Not long after, Cass’ men are all trussed up, those steers are stampeding though Cow Gulch and Vernon has done the unthinkable…

As the authors brilliantly detail, back then the battle between settlers and ranchers reached obsessive fever pitch after barbed wire was invented. Despite being used to fence off legally owed property, the stuff was so contentious to free ranging cattlemen that shops stocking it would be destroyed and cowboys reacted with unimaginable fury when it was used…

The very mention of it causes local stores to shut for business but Vernon is implacable and mail-orders a few bales. In response, the coach carrying it to him is robbed and vandalised and the Felps’ house is razed to the ground… again.

Hating bullies, Luke adopts a cunning disguise and sneaks a shipment past the ever-vigilant vigilantes and before long the wide open prairie has its first enclosure…

Casey reacts in the expected manner and before long a full-fledged war is brewing.

When Luke organises and trains all the other crop-growing Settlers, Casey increases his night raids and shattering cattle stampedes.

Once Luke decides to get personally involved and bring in more wire, the Cow King calls in all the other cattle barons who congregate in town for a big dinner before taking decisive final action. The prognosis looks bleak for everybody…

And then the Western Wonder has a most intriguing notion which seems certain to end the mounting crisis in a bloodless manner and give all parties concerned an appetite for conciliation…

Fast-paced, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour beef up this splendidly trope-heavy tribute to classic westerns: another grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Cat Ballou, superbly executed by sublime storytellers and providing 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…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2007, Cinebook Ltd.

Hellboy volume 2: Wake the Devil


By Mike Mignola with James Sinclair & Pat Brosseau (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-095

Hellboy was first seen in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally debuting. That launch was in miniseries Seed of Destruction with John Byrne helping out his new “Legend” stable-mate, scripting over Mignola’s plot and art. Unquestionably the Devil-may-care demon hunter was the most singular, popular and long-lived of the imprint’s fascinating output.

This second outing was an all-Mike extravaganza (with James Sinclair contributing colours and Pat Brosseau printing all the words), as Wake the Devil offered a decidedly different take on the undying attraction of vampires. This particularly impressive Second Edition of the modern classic also has a few extras and leads off with a poetically incisive appreciation in Alan Moore’s Introduction

As a baby Hellboy was confiscated from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers who interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates on December 23rd 1944.

They were waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when the abominable infant with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. Raised by the Professor, the child grew into a mighty warrior fighting a never-ending secret war. Bruttenholm trained the infernal foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy supernatural threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” became its lead agent… the world’s most successful paranormal investigator…

In the previous volume Hellboy and his fellow outré BPRD investigators Elizabeth Sherman and Dr. Abraham Sapien lost their aged mentor, but uncovered and (possibly) frustrated a hellish scheme involving the mad monk Rasputin and the Elder Gods he served.

The undying wizard – agent for antediluvian infinite evil the seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who-sleeps-and-waits-to-be-reawakened – was responsible for initially summoning Hellboy to Earth as part of the Nazi’s Ragna Rok Project …

Now the Russian’s alliance with Himmler, Hitler and their mystic Nazi think-tank is further explored as somewhere deep inside Norway’s Arctic Circle region, a driven millionaire visits a hidden castle. He is seeking the arcane Aryans long-closeted within, eager to deliver a message from “The Master”. In return he wants sanctuary from the imminent end of civilisation…

In New York City a bloody robbery occurs in a tawdry mystic museum and the BPRD are soon being briefed on legendary Napoleonic soldier Vladimir Giurescu. The enigmatic warrior wasn’t particularly wedded to any side in that conflict and was probably much older than reports indicated…

More important is the folklore which suggests Giurescu was mortally wounded many times but, after retreating to a certain castle in his homeland, would always reappear, renewed refreshed and deadlier than ever.

In 1882 he was in England and clashed with Queen Victoria’s personal ghost-breaker Sir Edward Grey, who was the first to officially identify him as a “Vampire”. In 1944 Hitler met with Vladimir to convince the creature to join him but something went wrong and Himmler’s envoy Ilsa Haupstein was ordered to arrest Giurescu and his “family”. The creatures were despatched in the traditional manner and sealed in boxes… one of which has been stolen from that museum. Moreover, the murdered owner was once part of the Nazi group responsible for Ragna Rok…

The BPRD are always considering worst-case scenarios, and if that box actually contained vampire remains…

The location of the bloodsucker’s fabled castle is unknown, but with three prospects in Romania and only six agents available, three compact teams are deployed with Hellboy on his own to the most likely prospect…

Although not an active agent, Dr. Kate Corrigan wants Hellboy to take especial care. All the indications are that this vampire might be the Big One, even though nobody wants to use the “D” word…

In Romania, somehow still young Ilsa Haupstein is talking to a wooden box, whilst in Norway her slyly observing colleagues Kurtz and Kroenen are concerned. Once the most ardent of believers, she may have been turned from the path of Nazi resurgence and bloody vengeance…

Her former companions are no longer so enamoured of the Fuehrer’s old dream of a vampire army anyway. Leopold especially places more faith in the creatures he has been building and growing…

Over Romania, Hellboy leaps out of the plane and engages his jet-pack, wishing he was going on with one of the other teams and even more so after it flames out and dies…

He has the limited satisfaction of crashing into the very fortress Ilsa is occupying…

The battle with the witch-woman’s grotesque servants is short and savage and as the ancient edifice crumbles Chapter Two reveals how on the night Hellboy was born Rasputin suborned Ilsa and her two companions…

He made them his disciples for the forthcoming awakening of Ogdru-Jahad, saving them from Germany’s ignominious collapse. Now the Russian’s ghost appears to her and offers another prophecy and a great transformation…

Deep in the vaults, Hellboy comes to and meets a most garrulous dead man, unaware that in the village below the Keep the natives are recognising old signs and making all the old preparations again…

Hellboy’s conversation provides lots of useful background information but lulls him into a false sense of security, allowing the revenant to brutally attack and set him up for a confrontation with the ferocious forces responsible for the vampire’s power…

Battling for his life, the BPRD star is a stunned witness to Giurescu’s resurrection and cause of his latest demise, whilst far above Rasputin shares his own origins with acolyte Ilsa, revealing the night he met the infamous witch Baba Yaga

Nearly three hundred miles away Liz and her team are scouring the ruins of Castle Czege. There’s no sign of vampires but they do uncover a hidden alchemy lab with an incredible artefact in it…a stony homunculus. Idly touching the artificial man Liz is horrified when her pyrokinetic energies rush uncontrollably into the creature and it goes on a rampage…

With the situation escalating at Castle Giurescu, Hellboy decides to detonate a vast cache of explosives with the faint hope that he will be airlifted out before they go off, but is distracted by a most fetching monster who calls him by a name he doesn’t recognise before trying to kill him.

If she doesn’t, the catastrophic detonation might…

As the dust settles and civil war breaks out amongst the Norway Nazis, in Romania Ilsa makes a horrific transition and Hellboy awakes to face Rasputin, even as the BPRD rush to the rescue. Tragically Abe Sapien and his squad won’t make it before the revived and resplendent Giurescu takes his shot and the world’s most successful paranormal investigator is confronted and seduced by uncanny aspects of his long-hidden infernal ancestry…

With all hell breaking loose, the displaced devil must make a decision which will not only affect his life but dictate the course of humanity’s existence…

The explosive ending resets the game for Rasputin’s next scheme but the weird wonderment rolls on in a potent epilogue wherein the mad monk visits his macabre patron Baba Yaga for advice…

Bombastic, moody, suspenseful and explosively action-packed, this is a superb scary romp to delight one and all and the pot is sweetened with an Afterword from Mignola and another astounding Hellboy Gallery with pinups from our man Mike, Bruce Timm, P. Craig Russell, Derek Thompson, Dave Cooper, Jay Stevens and Olivier Vatine, rendering this a supernatural thriller no comics fan should be without.
© 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2003 Mike Mignola. Introduction © 1997 Alan Moore. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.