Stabbed in the Front – Post-War General Elections through Political Cartoons


By Dr. Alan Mumford (Centre for the Study of Cartoons & Caricature, U of K, Canterbury)
ISBN: 978-1-90267-120-8

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

In Britain the cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

For this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds the pictorial gadfly’s mill. This gloriously informative book (sponsored by the marvellous Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature, University of Kent at Canterbury), offers a fantastic overview of political adaptability and cultural life as Britain moved from Empire to mere Nationhood in the latter half of the 20th century, examined through General Elections and the wealth of cunningly contrived images and pictorial iconography they provoked and inspired. It’s one of my favourite things ever and crucially in need of updating and re-release…

After an effusive Foreword by professional politician and celebrated cartoon aficionado (the Rt. Hon.) Lord Kenneth Baker of Dorking, author Alan Mumford – a specialist in management training – covers the basic semiology and working vocabulary of the medium in his copious Introduction.

Designating definitions and terms for his splendid treatise, he subdivides the territory into ‘Origins’, ‘Criteria for Selection’, ‘Newspapers and Magazines’, ‘The Longevity of Political Cartoonists’, ‘References, Symbols and Metaphors’, ‘The Impact of Cartoons on General Elections’ and ‘Savagery in Political Cartoons’ as a very effective foundation course in how to best contextualise and appreciate the plethora of carefully crafted mass-market messages which follow.

The format is extremely ergonomic and effective. Thus, Philip Zec’s iconic cartoon and caption/slogan “Here You Are. Don’t Lose it Again!” begins the Great Endeavour with historical background in The Run-up to the General Election of 1945, followed by Election Issues and the 1945 Campaign, Major Personalities of the 1945 General Election, Results of… and finally a nominated “Cartoonist of the Election” whose work most captured the spirit of, or affected the outcome of, a particular contest.

This methodology then proceeds to efficiently and comprehensively recreate the tone of each time, augmented whenever possible by a personal interview or remembrance from one of the campaigners involved. These telling vignettes include contributions from Frank Pakenham/Lord Longford, Barbara Castle, Edward Heath, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, Kenneth Baker again, Jim Callaghan, Jim Prior, Margaret Thatcher, David Steel, Norman Tebbit, John Major and Tony Blair

Each fact-packed, picture-filled chapter then dissects every succeeding campaign: 1950’s tame ‘Consolidation not Adventure’ which resulted in Labour and Clement Attlee’s second victory by the narrowest – practically unworkable – of margins, Churchill’s resurgence in 1951 as ‘The Grand Old Man Returns’ and a slow steady decline in fortunes and growth of a New Politics as Anthony Eden’s star rose for the 1955 General Election when ‘The Crown Prince Takes Over’

In an era of international unrest Harold McMillan eventually rose to become Tory top gun and in 1959 was ‘Supermac Triumphant’, but domestic troubles – race, unionism and the always struggling economy – wore away his energies. In a minor coup, he was ousted and Sir Alec Douglas Home took over mid-term, consequently losing to glib, charismatic new Labour leader Harold Wilson.

This entire era is one of aged and infirm Big Beasts passing away suddenly with too many lesser lights to succeed them; further complicated by both Labour and Conservative parties rent by infighting and jockeying for position with wannabe upstarts such as the Liberals cruising the room looking to pick up what scraps they could (so it’s not a new thing, OK?).

In 1966 “Labour Government Works” took Labour to a second term but social turmoil in the country, with unions demands spiralling out of control, enabled Edward Heath to lead the Conservatives into the most dangerous and turbulent decade in modern British history. The General Election of 1970 proved ‘Wilson Complacent, Heath Persistent’

There were two General Elections in 1974.

A massive ongoing crisis in industrial relations and the growing racial tension caused by maverick Tory Enoch Powell’s continual cries to “end Immigration or face rivers of blood in the streets” forced Prime Minister Heath to ask in February ‘Who Governs Britain?’ He was informed by the disaffected electorate “Not you, mate.”

Even though Wilson and Labour were returned to power, the majority was miniscule and by October the people were compelled to do it all again and ‘Vote for Peace and Quiet’.

Although he’d again narrowly led them to victory, Wilson’s time was done and he abruptly resigned in 1976 to be replaced by deputy Jim Callaghan.

Heath too was reduced to the ranks and relegated to the Tory Back Benches, replaced by a rising star from Finchley. As Britain staggered under terrifying economic woes in 1979, Callaghan called an election and lost to Margaret Thatcher who had famously said “No Woman in My Time” would ever be Prime Minister. I think that was the last time she ever admitted to being wrong…

Despite horrifying and sustained assaults on the fabric of British society – and great unpopularity – she enjoyed two more election victories: in 1983 “The Longest Suicide Note in History” and again in 1987 as ‘Thatcher Moves Forward’ before finally being turned on by her own bullied and harried Cabinet.

The best political cartooning comes from outrage, and the Tory administrations of the 1980’s provided one bloated, bile-filled easy mark after another. Just look at TV’s Spitting Image which grew fat and healthy off that government’s peccadilloes, indignities and iniquities (as well as Reagan’s America and the Royal Family) in just the way that millions of unemployed and disenfranchised workers, students and pensioners didn’t. The election cartoons reproduced here from that period come from a largely Tory Press, and whilst contextualised and accurate don’t approach the level of venom she engendered in certain sections.

For a more balanced view one should also see Plunder Woman Must Go! by Alan Hardman, Drain Pig and the Glow Boys in Critical Mess, You are Maggie Thatcher: a Dole-Playing Game or even Father Kissmass and Mother Claws by Bel Mooney & Gerald Scarfe, not to mention any collection of the excoriating Steve Bell’s If…

In 1992, the only thing stopping a Labour landslide was the party itself, which had so dissolved into factional infighting and ideological naval-gazing that not even the fiery oratory of Welsh Wizard Neil Kinnock could pull them together. Once again, however, the newspapers claimed the credit when Tory consensus/concession leader John Major pulled off a surprising ‘Triumph of the Soapbox?’

That Labour Landslide had to wait until 1997 and the ‘Teeth and Sleaze’ of Tony Blair (although at that time we all thought the latter term only applied to corrupt Tory MPs selling parliamentary time and attention to business interests) which brings this incredibly appealing tome to a close. I said it before and I’m saying it again: since then a whole lot has happened and I think its long past time for a new, revised and updated edition…

As well as making addictively accessible over half a century of venal demagoguery, hard work, murky manipulations, honest good intentions and the efforts of many men and women moved in equal parts by dedication and chicanery, this oversized monochrome tome is also literally stuffed with the best work some of the very best cartoonists ever to work in these Sceptred Isles.

The art, imagination, passion and vitriol of Abu, Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Dave Brown, Michael Cummings, Eccles, Emmwood, Stanley Franklin, George Gale, Nick Garland, the Davids Gaskill and Ghilchik, Les Gibbard, Charles Griffin, Graham High, Leslie Illingworth, Jak, John Jensen, Jon, Kal, David Low, Mac, Mahood, Norman Mansbridge, Sidney Moon, Bill Papas, Chris Riddell, Paul Rigby, Rodger, Stephen Roth, Martin Rowson, Willie Rushton, Peter Schrank, Ernest Shepard, Ralph Steadman, Sidney Strube, Trog, Vicky, Keith Waite, Zec and Zoke are timeless examples of the political pictorialist’s uncanny power and, as signs of the times, form a surprising effecting gestalt of the never happy nation’s feeling and character…

None of that actually matters now, since these cartoons have performed the task they were intended for: shaping the thoughts and intentions of generations of voters. That they have also stood the test of time and remain as beloved relics of a lethal art form is true testament to their power and passion, but – to be honest and whatever your political complexion – isn’t it just a guilty pleasure to see a really great villain get one more good kicking?

Stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering tastes of comic art no fan could resist, this colossal collection is a beautiful piece of cartoon history that will delight and tantalise all who read it… and it’s still readily available through the University of Kent’s website…
© 2001. Text © 2001 Alan Mumford. All illustrations © their respective holders or owners. All rights reserved.

The Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man

,”

By Ken Bulmer & Jesús Blasco (Titan Books)

ISBN: 978-1-84576-156-1 (HB)

So, I’ve just pulled an all-nighter to finish my latest book by deadline—an obsessive point of pride with me that will kill me someday soon—and I’m buzzing like a bucket of angry bees. So, too tired to sleep yet, I reach for one of my favourite books to mellow out and wonder again why the hell hasn’t this been rereleased or made available digitally. And why no follow-up releases? Surely, sheer quality must count for something?

One of the most fondlyremembered British strips of all time is the startlingly beautiful Steel Claw. From 1962 to 1973 the stunningly gifted Jesús Blasco and his small studio of family members thrilled the nation’s children, illustrating the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, secret agent and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell.

Initially written by science fiction novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by comic veteran Tom Tully.

Our eventual hero began as the assistant to the venerable Professor Barringer, working to create a germdestroying ray. Crandell is an embittered man, probably due to having lost his right hand, which has been replaced with a steel prosthetic. When the prof’s device explodes, Crandell receives a monumental electric shock which, rather than killing him, renders him invisible. Although he doesn’t stay unseen forever, this bodily transformation is permanent. Electric shocks cause all but his steel hand to disappear.

Kids, don’t try this at home!

Whether venal or simply deranged, Crandell goes on a rampage of terror against society,culminating in an attempt to blow up New York City before finally coming to his senses. The second adventure in this astounding oversized hardback volume pits the Claw against his therapist, who in an attempt to treat him is also exposed to Barringer’s ray, becoming a bestial ape-man who frames Crandell for a series of spectacular crimes.

Bulmer’s final tale begins our star’s shift from outlaw to hero as the recuperating Crandell becomes involved in a modernday pirate’s scheme to hijack an undersea weapons system

More than any other, the Steel Claw was a barometer for reading fashions. Starting out as a Quatermass style science fiction cautionary tale, the strip mimicked the trends of the greater world, becoming a James Bond-like super-spy strip with Crandall tricked out with outrageous gadgets, and latterly a masked and costumed super-doer when Batmania gripped the nation. When that bubble burst, he resorted to becoming a freelance adventurer,combating eerie menaces and vicious criminals.

The thrills of the writing are engrossing enough, but the real star of this feature is the artwork. Blasco’s classicist drawing, his moody staging and the sheer beauty of his subjects make this an absolute pleasure to look at. Buy it for the kids and read it too; this is a glorious book.

So, track it down and agitate for more of the same…

© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mort: A Discworld Big Comic


By Terry Pratchett & Graham Higgins (VG Graphics/Gollancz)
ISBN: 978-0-57505-697-8 (HB)                    978-0-57505-699-2 (PB)

Us old codgers have always maintained that a good comic needs a good artist and this superb adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s fourth Discworld novel proves that point.

Just in case you’ve been living on another world: The Discworld is a flat planet supported on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle swimming across the universe. Magic works there and the people are much too much like us.

This, of course, makes it an ideal location for spleen-venting, satire, slapstick and social commentary…

Scripted by the so-very-much-missed author and brilliantly illustrated by Graham Higgins, it tells a complex and darkly witty tale of Death (big grim chap, carries a scythe, nobody gets his jokes, always has the last laugh) and hapless, literal-minded, sort-of-useless young oaf Mort, whom he hires as his apprentice.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it, with sub-plots including an orphaned princess and her dangerously ambitious guardian, Death’s vacation, the daughter he adopted and the mystery of his most peculiar servant Albert to season a very impressive spin on a very familiar myth.

Higgin’s light, dry touch adds volumes of texture to the mix, and his deft sense of timing and comedy pacing – reminiscent of Hunt Emerson – marvellously match Pratchett’s unmistakable, acerbic dialogue and plot.

Incomprehensibly unavailable digitally and only physically in editions from the last century, if you have to have adaptations of great novels, this is how they should be done.
Text © 1994 Terry and Lyn Pratchett. Illustrations © 1994 Graham Higgins. All Rights Reserved

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-962-3

There are relatively few comic characters that have entered world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch. Elzie Crisler Segar had been producing the Thimble Theatre daily newspaper strip since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the ever-unfolding adventures of Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy on January 17th 1929, nobody suspected the heights that slouching walk-on would reach.

This third magnificent collection of Segar’s immortal – certainly unkillable – clay-footed reprobate reproduces one spectacular groundbreaking epic after another as the artist-auteur, in a whirlwind of creative inspiration, took the daily strip to new heights of cliffhanging thrills and absurdity. This he did whilst building unique and jovial character studies with the more humorous Sunday pages, generally set in the generic small seaside town of Sweethaven.

Following another erudite essay by Comics historian Donald Phelps, the daily delights (stretching from June 9th 1932 to December 9th 1933) begin with a rip-snorting mystery thriller full of action, tension, scares and laughs featuring a large portion of Thimble Theatre’s extensive cast. ‘The Eighth Sea’ finds Popeye, Castor, Olive, King Blozo of Nazilia and his idiot retainer Oscar all following the instructions of Oolong the Chinese Parrot to recover a fabulous lost treasure, aided by the incredible Merlock Jones, quick-change detective. This sinister sea saga was the one-and-only Segar tale to feature Popeye’s ultimate nemesis (in the animated cartoons at least) Bluto.

With breakneck pace – Segar never rested on his laurels or his plots – that adventure led the voyagers back to Nazilia for ‘Long Live the King or Gold and Goofs’ and a rematch with General Bunzo and his new Mata Hari Dinah Mow: a worldly-wise vamp even iron-willed Popeye couldn’t resisk…

After taking a well-aimed pop at popular democracy in ‘The Great Lection’ the old sea-dog sets up his own nation in ‘Popeye: King of Popilania’: another stinging satire which sees the increasingly irrepressible J. Wellington Wimpy expand beyond the Sunday pages to join the dailies cast, almost mooching the infant country away from its idealistic founder. Popilania’s problems are multiplied by an invasion of “furiners”, “emmygrunts” and even jungle-Neanderthals in ‘Wild Men and Wild Women’ before the well-meaning reformer learns his lesson. At least he never had to cope with Brexit…

The trenchant social commentary and barbed satire continued when he returns to America to become ‘Star Reporter’ for The Daily Blast, a periodical edited by Castor and “blessed” with Wimpy as photographer. This leads to the next big cast addition and our hero’s greatest advancement when a reader mails Popeye a baby in ‘Me Sweet Pea.’

Discovering the “infink’s” true history and heritage pits the sailor-man against some pretty ruthless types, and results in him suffering a serious brain injury in ‘Bonkus of the Konkus’ but his indomitable soul and noble heart win through as always in the turbulent desert debacle ‘Popeye’s Cure’

The Sunday Page selection follows a decidedly more domestic but no less riotous path. Running from 9th October to 23rd November 1933, the full-colour section was increasing given over to – or more correctly, appropriated – by the insidiously oleaginous Wimpy: ever hungry, always cadging, yet intellectually stimulating, casually charming and usually triumphant in all his mendicant missions.

Whilst still continuing his pugilistic shenanigans, the action of the Sunday strips moved away from Popeye hitting quite so much to alternately being outwitted by the unctuous moocher, and saving him from the vengeance of Diner owner Rough-house and passionately loathing George W. Geezil, an ethnic Jewish stereotype, who like all Segar’s characters swiftly developed beyond comedic archetype into a unique person with his own story… and another funny accent.

Wimpy was unstoppable – he even became a rival suitor for Olive Oyl’s scrawny favours – and his development owes a huge debt to his creator’s love and admiration of comedian W.C. Fields. A mercurial force of nature, the unflappable mendicant is the perfect foil for common-man-but-imperfect-champion, Popeye. Where the sailor is heart and spirit, unquestioning morality and self-sacrifice, indomitable defiance, brute force and no smarts at all, Wimpy is intellect and self-serving rapacious greed, freed from all ethical restraint or consideration, and gloriously devoid of any impulse-control.

Wimpy literally took candy from babies and food from the mouths of starving children, yet somehow Segar made us love him. He was Popeye’s other half: weld them together and you have an heroic ideal… (and yes, those stories are true: British Wimpy burger bars are built from the remnants of a 1950s international merchandising scheme that wanted to put a J Wellington Wimpy-themed restaurant in every town and city).

The gags and exploits of the two forces of human nature build riotously during this period, ever-more funny; increasingly outrageous. The laugh-out-loud antics seem impossible to top, and maybe Segar knew that. Either he was getting the stand-alone gag-stuff out of his system, or perhaps he was clearing the decks and setting the scene for a really big change.

Within weeks (or for us, next volume) the Thimble Theatre Sunday page changed forever. In a bold move, the blood-and-thunder serial-style adventure epics of the dailies transferred to the Technicolor splendour of the “family pages” and all stops would be pulled out…

Topper strip Sappo actually increased its page-share during this period, going from two to three tiers, as the unstoppable scientist O.G. Watasnozzle took the little feature into increasingly surreal and absurdist realms. On a rocket ship journey, Sappo and his insufferable but long-suffering wife Myrtle experienced incredible thrills, chills and spills during an extended trip around the solar system; experiencing all the goofy wonders and embarrassments Segar’s fevered mind could concoct.

Always innovating, the restless creator also began adding extra value for his readers: incorporating collector stamps, games and puzzles to his Sunday pages. In an era with no television – and indeed, with only the very first prototype comicbooks just starting to appear – radio-shows and Sunday pages were the home entertainment choices of most Americans. Many strips offered extras in their funny-pages and Segar excelled in creating paper-based toys and amusements.

In this book alone there are stamps, play money “lucky bucks”, cartooning tips, drawing lessons and ‘Funny Films’ – dioramic scenes through which continuous strips of cartooned “filmstrips” could be moved to create a home cinema!

As an especially welcome bonus, this volume concludes with an incredibly rare piece of Popeye memorabilia: one I’d heard of but never thought I’d ever see. In 1934 the Chicago World’s Fair was held in the Windy City, and for two weeks before, at the end of 1933, it was advertised and promoted in the Hearst papers with an original full-page, monochrome Popeye serial. That’s terrific enough but the extended yarn was given extra push by escaping the funny-pages ghetto to run for that fortnight in the Sports section, as Popeye and crew explored the wonders of the World’s Fair in a truly spectacular and irresistible enticing prom feature – possibly the first of its kind.

This work is among the finest strip narrative ever created: reading it should be on everybody’s bucket list, and even when you do there’s still more and better yet to come…

In this anniversary year, you owe it to yourself to make the acquaintance of this icon of cartooning.
© 2008 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2008 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Bluecoats volume 1: Robertsonville Prison


By Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-71-7

The mythology of the American West has never been better loved or more honourably treated than by Europeans. Hergé was a passionate devotee, and the range of incredible comics material from Tex Willer to Blueberry, Yakari to Lucky Luke display over and over again our fascination with all aspects of that legendary time and place.

Les Tuniques Bleues or Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, visually created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius and scripted by Raoul Colvin – who has also written the succeeding 62 volumes of this much-loved Belgian comedy western series. The strip was created on the fly to replace the aforementioned Lucky Luke when the gunslinger defected from prominent weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and is one of the most popular series on the Continent.

After its initial run, Bluecoats graduated to the collected album format (published by French publishing powerhouse Dupuis) that we’re all so familiar with in Un chariot dans l’OuestA Wagon in the West – in 1972).

Salvé was an artist proficient in the Gallic style of big-foot/big-nose humour cartooning, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually leavened the previous broad style with a more realistic – but still comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936, and after studying Fine Art, joined Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

In 1959 he created Sandy – about an Australian teen and a kangaroo – later self-parodying it and himself with Hobby and Koala and Panty et son kangaroo as well as creating the comics industry satire ‘Pauvre Lampil’.

Belgian writer Raoul Cauvin was born in 1938 and, after studying Lithography joined Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. His glittering and prolific writing career began soon after. Almost exclusively a humourist and always for Le Journal de Spirou, other than Bluecoats he has written at least 22 other long-running and award-winning series – more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold in the region of 20 million copies.

The protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, a hopeless double act of buffoons in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, or perhaps Abbot & Costello or our own Morecambe & Wise: two hapless and ill-starred cavalrymen posted to the wilds of the arid frontier.

The first strips were single-page gags based around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort but with the second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sorry soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this scenario was retconned in the 18th album Blue retro which described how the everyman chumps were first drafted into the military).

All subsequent adventures, although ranging all over the planet and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within that tragic conflict.

Blutch is your average little man in the street: work-shy, reluctant and ever-critical of the army – especially his inept commanders. Ducking, diving, deserting when he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other easier option is available. Chesterfield is a big man, a career soldier, who has bought into all the patriotism and esprit de corps. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Robertsonville Prison, the first release in the series from Cinebooks, is actually the sixth French volume. Available in paperback and digital formats, it’s loosely based on the actual Confederate-run Andersonville Prison compound in Georgia. It finds the irascible, inseparable pair captured after a calamitous battle and interned with many other Union soldiers. However, these two aren’t prepared to stay put – albeit for vastly differing reasons – and a series of increasingly bold and bonkers escape ploys eventually result in a crazy but appropriate reversal of fortunes…

The secret to the unbelievable success of Les Tuniques Bleues is that it is an anti-war comedy like M.A.S.H. or Catch 22, cleverly pitched at a young and less cynical audience. Historically authentic, uncompromising in terms of portrayed violence but always in good taste, the attitudes expressed by our oafish, down-to-earth anti-heroes never make glorious war anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and tellingly worthy, Bluecoats is the kind of battle book that any parent would be happy to let their children read – if they can bear to let go of it themselves…
© Dupuis 1975 by Lambil & Cauvin. English edition © 2008 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman volume 1


By Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Alvin Schwartz, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0758-8

Although we all think of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic creation as the epitome of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his launch in Action Comics #1 he became a multimedia star and far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read him – and yes, that does include the globally syndicated newspaper strip.

By the time his 20th anniversary rolled around he had become a mainstay of radio, starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons – plus two movies – and just ended his first smash live-action television serial.

In his future were many more (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville, Krypton et al), a stage musical, a franchise of stellar movies and an almost seamless succession of TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

It’s no wonder then that the tales from this Silver Age period should be so draped in the wholesome trappings of Tinseltown – even more so than most of celebrity-obsessed America. It didn’t hurt that editor Whitney Ellsworth was a part-time screenwriter, script editor and producer as well as National DC’s Hollywood point man.

However, that’s not all there is to these gloriously engaging super-sagas culled from Action Comics #241-257 and Superman #122-133, reliving the period June 1958 to November 1959 in crisp, clean black and white in this first economical Showcase Presents collection.

I’d love to plug more modern, full-colour archival editions here, but for some reason DC’s powers-that-be have been woefully slow in gathering this material – and the equally superb all-ages Superboy stuff. I’m not getting any younger but I still eagerly wait in hope – and so should you…

In the meantime, then…

By the mid-1950s The Man of Tomorrow had settled into an ordered existence. Nothing could really hurt him, nothing would ever change, and thrills seemed in short supply. With the TV show cementing the action, writers increasingly concentrated on supplying wonder, intrigue, imagination and, whenever possible, some laughs as well.

The adventure begins here with the lead tale from Action Comics #241 and ‘The Key to Fort Superman’: a fascinating, clever puzzle-play guest-featuring Batman, written by Jerry Coleman and illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, wherein an impossible intruder vexes the Man of Steel in his most sacrosanct sanctuary, after which Superman #122 (July, 1958) proffers 3 yarns by veteran scripter Otto Binder, beginning with ‘The Secret of the Space Souvenirs’ (illustrated by Al Plastino) as temporary madness seems to grip the Man of Steel while he gathers artefacts for a proposed time-capsule. ‘Superman in the White House’ is a fanciful dream by Jimmy Olsen also drawn by Plastino whilst the closing Boring/Kaye bamboozler finds the hero investigating an outbreak of super-powers at a US military base in ‘The Super-Sergeant’

That same month Binder & Plastino introduce both the greatest new villain and most expansive new character concept the series had seen in years with The Super-Duel in Space’ Action Comics #242) wherein an evil alien scientist named Brainiac tries to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale completely changed the mythology of the Man of Steel, by introducing Kandor, a city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac abducted them. Although Superman rescues his fellow survivors, the villain escapes to strike again, and it would be years before the hero could restore the Kandorians to their true size.

Superman #123 (August 1958) featured ‘The Girl of Steel’ by Binder, Dick Sprang & Kaye which tested the potential of a distaff Supergirl as part of a 3-chapter yarn involving a magic wishing totem, which tragically segued into ‘The Lost Super-Powers’ before granting the hero’s greatest dream and facilitating ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’.

Action #243 (Binder & Boring) sees Superman mysteriously transformed into a beast in ‘The Lady and the Lion’, after which Superman #124 provides the intriguing menace of ‘The Super-Sword’ by Coleman & Plastino, Binder & Kurt Schaffenberger’s delightful desert island drama wherein Lois Lane becomes ‘Mrs. Superman’ and Clark Kent’s investigation of construction industry corruption which compels him to become ‘The Steeplejack of Steel’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye).

Curt Swan pencilled Binder’s ‘Super-Merman of the Sea’ (inked by Kaye) in Action #244: a canny mystery wherein the Man of Steel abandons the surface world for an alien aquatic princess, before Boring & Kaye delineate Binder’s compelling thriller ‘The Shrinking Superman!’: featuring an insidious menace from the Bottle City of Kandor…

‘Lois Lane’s Super-Dream’ (Coleman & Schaffenberger) led in Superman #125 (October/November 1958) with another potentially offensive and certainly sexist parable wherein the plucky news-hen learns a salutary lesson about powers and responsibility, whilst ‘Clark Kent’s College Days’ (illustrated by Plastino) opened an occasional series of Untold Tales of Superman: revealing just how, when and why Superboy became the Man of Tomorrow, before Boring & Kaye conclude Coleman’s hat-trick with ‘Superman’s New Power’ as the hero gained new and incomprehensible abilities with catastrophic consequences…

Action #246 featured ‘Krypton on Earth!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) as a trip to tourist attraction “Krypton Island” reveals a crafty criminal scam, and #247 presented ‘Superman’s Lost Parents!’ (Binder & Plastino), wherein a criminal scheme to reveal the hero’s secret identity prompts an extreme face-saving solution. Superman #126 had Binder, Boring & Kaye reveal ‘Superman’s Hunt for Clark Kent’: a thrilling tale of amnesia and deduction whilst ‘The Spell of the Shandu Clock’ (Coleman, Boring & Kaye), provides spooky chills and clever ploys to outwit a malevolent mastermind and ‘The Two Faces of Superman’ (Coleman & Schaffenberger) again saw “conniving” Lois learn an – apparently – much-needed lesson in humility.

Action #248 (January 1959) was a rare contribution from Bill Finger, illustrated by Boring & Kaye wherein the Caped Kryptonian becomes ‘The Man No Prison Could Hold!’ to topple a war criminal tyrant, before Superman #127 opened with another Untold Tale of Superman, ‘When There Was No Clark Kent!’ (Coleman, Swan & Kaye) as an accident temporarily deprives the hero of his treasured alter ego, after which Coleman, Boring & Kaye expose ‘The Make-Believe Superman’ as a depressed dad tries to impress his son with a most preposterous fib. The issue closed with the debut of another hugely popular character in ‘Titano the Super-Ape!’. The chimpanzee who is transformed into a giant ape with Kryptonite vision was one of the most memorable “foes” of the period, courtesy of Binder, Boring & Kaye’s sublime treatment combining action, pathos and drama to superb effect.

‘The Kryptonite Man!’, by Binder & Plastino in Action #249, sees Lex Luthor deliberately irradiate himself with Green K to avoid capture, but his evil genius proves no match for our hero’s sharp wits, used with equal aplomb in ‘The Eye of Metropolis!’ (Finger & Boring) as a prominent TV journalist seeks to expose Superman’s secret identity in #250.

Finger scripted the entirety of #128 as ‘Superman versus the Futuremen’ (limned by Boring & Kaye) and ‘The Secret of the Futuremen’ finds the Metropolis Marvel framed for heinous crimes and hijacked to the impossible year of 2000AD, before outwitting his abductors and returning in time to encounter ‘The Sleeping Beauty from Krypton!’ – actually Lois in another hare-brained scheme to trap her beloved into marriage, and deliciously illustrated by the unmistakable and fiendishly whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

‘The Oldest Man in Metropolis!’ – Robert Bernstein & Plastino – reveals how an unfortunate lab accident ages Superman many decades overnight in Action#251, whilst Superman #129 (May 1959) reveals ‘The Ghost of Lois Lane’ (Coleman, Boring & Kaye) to be anything but before Binder & Plastino’s ‘Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel!’ depicts the reporter’s aggravating and hilarious “luck” as a temporary fire-fighter. Another major debut follows before introducing the bewitching mermaid Lori Lemaris in ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ – a moving Untold Tale of Superman (from Finger & Boring) which again refined the Man of Steel’s intriguing early life.

From the same month, Action Comics #252 would have been significant enough merely for introducing the threat of John Corben, a criminal whose crushed skeleton is replaced by a robot body and Kryptonite heart to become ‘The Menace of Metallo!’ (Bernstein & Plastino), but a new back-up strip also began in that issue which utterly revolutionised the Man of Tomorrow’s ongoing mythology.

‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ introduced Kal-El’s cousin Kara Zor-El in another captivating, groundbreaking yarn by Binder & Plastino. The Maid of Might would occupy the rear of Action and alternate covers for a decade and more to come, carving her own unique legend…

Issue #253 featured ‘The War Between Superman and Jimmy Olsen!’ by Alvin Schwartz, Swan & Kaye as an alien presence gives the boy reporter super-powers and a mania to conquer the world whilst Superman #130 presented ‘The Curse of Kryptonite!’ (Binder & Plastino), wherein the Action Ace relives his past experiences with the lethal mineral; ‘The Super-Servant of Crime!’ (Bernstein, Swan & John Sikela) which finds the hero turning the tables on a petty crook who thinks he’s fooled the Man of Tomorrow, and ‘The Town That Hated Superman!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) which happy hamlet has outlawed the hero. He simply has to know why…

‘The Battle with Bizarro!’(Action #254, by Binder & Plastino) re-introduces an imperfect duplicate super-being who had initially appeared in a well-received Superboy story (#68, from the previous year), courtesy of Luthor’s malfunctioning duplicator ray.

Even way back then high sales trumped death and so popular was the fatally-flawed character that the tale was continued over two issues, concluding with ‘The Bride of Bizarro!’ in #255 – an almost unheard-of luxury back then. Here that bombastic, traumatic conclusion is separated by the contents of Superman #131, which firstly reintroduces a long-vanished pestiferous annoyance with ‘The Menace of Mr. Mxyzptlk!’ by Coleman & Plastino, before Lois Lane is granted a tantalising glimpse of ‘Superman’s Future Wife’ (Bernstein & Schaffenberger) and ‘The Unknown Super-Deeds’ reveals hitherto hidden connections with the Daily Planet staff long before Superboy left Smallville in another Untold Tale… from Binder & Plastino.

Action #256 seemingly unleashes ‘The Superman of the Future’ (Binder, Swan & Kaye) whilst in Superman #132 (October 1959) Batman and the projections of a super-computer show what might have happened had Superman grown up on an unexploded Krypton in the 3-chapter epic ‘Superman’s Other Life’, ‘Futuro, Super-Hero of Krypton!’ and ‘The Superman of Two Worlds!’ by Binder, Boring & Kaye.

Action #257 reveals Clark Kent as ‘The Reporter of Steel!’ after he is hit by a ray from mad scientist Luthor in a cunning yarn by Binder, Boring & Kaye, before the contents of Superman #133 brings to a close this potent premier compendium with ‘The Super-Luck of Badge 77’ (Binder & Plastino) with the reporter trying his hand as a beat cop, before we can enjoy the first new tales by co-creator Jerry Siegel in nearly a decade: ‘How Perry White Hired Clark Kent’ (art by Plastino) and the wryly light-hearted ‘Superman Joins the Army!’ illustrated by Boring & Kaye.

Superman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence and with the character seemingly undergoing almost constant radical overhaul nowadays, these timeless tales of charm and joy and wholesome wit are more necessary than ever: not just as a reminder of great memories past but also as an all-ages primer of wonders still to come…
© 1959-1963, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Papyrus volume 2: Imhotep’s Transformation


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Colette De Geiter: translated by Luke Spear (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-50-2

Once you get a certain taste in your mind you just can’t stop – well I can’t – so here’s another all-ages Euro-classic saga just not available through American funnybooks these days – although you can now get it digitally…

British and European comics have always been happier with historical strips than our cousins across the pond (a pugnacious part of me wants to say that’s because we have so much more past to play with – and yes, I know they’re responsible for Prince Valiant, but it’s an exception, not a rule) and our Franco-Belgian brethren in particular have made an astonishing art form out of days gone by.

The happy combination of past lives and world-changing events blended with drama, action and especially broad humour has resulted in a genre uniquely suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes. Don’t take my word for it – just check out Asterix, Adèle Blanc-Sec, The Towers of Bois-Maury, Iznogoud or Thorgal to name the merest few which have made it into English, or even our own much missed classics such as Olac the Gladiator, Dick Turpin, Heros the Spartan or Wrath of the Gods …all long overdue for collection in mass market album form and on the interweb-tubes….

Papyrus is the spectacular magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It began in 1974 in the legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums, plus a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

The plucky “fellah” (look it up) was blessed by the gods and gifted with a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. His original brief was to free supreme Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and thereby restore peace to the Two Kingdoms. More immediately however the lad was also charged with protecting Pharaoh’s wilful and high-handed daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unmatchable talent for finding trouble…

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

He then joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs – AKA The Smurfs – and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy.

In the mid-1960s he created South Seas mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit even as Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, so De Gieter deep-sixed his Smurfs gig to expand his horizons producing work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst putting the finishing touches to his new project. This creation would occupy his full attention – and delight millions of fervent fans – for the next 40 years.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieus: blending boys-own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology, gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Throughout, these light fantasy romps depict a fearlessly forthright boy fisherman favoured by the gods as a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

Imhotep’s Transformation was the second Cinebook translation (and 8th yarn, originally released in 1985 as La Métamorphose d’Imhotep): opening with our hero and his one-legged friend Imhotep (no relation) paddling a canoe through the marshes of the Nile.

The peaceful idyll is wrecked when Theti-Cheri and her handmaidens hurtle by in their flashy boat, but the boys don’t mind as they have a message for the princess.

The new holy statue of her father has arrived from the Priests of Memphis and the daughter of Heaven is required at the ceremony to install it at the pyramid of Saqqara before the annual “Heb Sed” King’s Jubilee.

As the girls and boys race back, an old peasant is attacked by a crocodile. Diving after him, Papyrus wrestles the reptile away and is about to kill it when Sobek appears, beseeching him to spare it.

On the surface Theti-Cheri and her attendants are ministering to the aged victim and the princess can’t help noticing how he bears an uncanny resemblance to her dad…

By the time they all reach the pyramid, the monumental task of hauling the statue into place is well under way, but suddenly blood begins pouring out of the monolith’s eyes. Terrified workers panic and the colossal effigy slips, crashing to destruction. The populace are aghast and murmurs of curses and ill omens abound…

Rather than running away, Imhotep heads for the rubble and discovers the statue’s head is hollow. Moreover, inside there is a dead dwarf and a smashed flask which had held blood…

Papyrus is in the royal compound where the recent events have blighted the anticipation of the court. During Heb Sed, the Pharaoh has to run around the sacred pyramid three times and fire his bow at the four corners of the kingdoms to prove his fitness to rule, but now it appears the gods have turned against their chosen emissary on Earth…

Papyrus is not so sure and when he tries to speak to a royal server the man bolts. Giving chase, the lad is in time to prevent the attendant’s murder, but not his escape.

And then a cry goes up: Pharaoh has been poisoned…

Knowing there is no love lost between the Memphis Priests of Ptah and the loyal Theban clerics doctoring the fallen king, Papyrus warns of a possible plot, but has no proof. What is worse, Chepseska, leader of the Memphis faction, is of royal blood too and will inherit if Pharaoh is unable to complete the Heb Sed ritual…

As loyal physicians and priests struggle to save their overlord’s life, Theti-Cheri remembers the old man in the swamp. If only the crocodile bite has not left him too weak to run…

The doughty dotard is willing to try and also knows of a wise woman whose knowledge of herbs can cure Pharaoh, but ruthless Chepseska is on to the kids’ ploy and dispatches a band of killers to stop Papyrus and Imhotep.

The gods, however, are behind the brave lads and after the assassins fall to the ghastly judgement of Sobek, the boys rush an antidote back to Saqqara, only to fall into the lost tomb of Great Imhotep, first Pharaoh, builder-god and divine lord of the Ibis.

With time running out for his distant descendent, the resurrected ruler rouses himself to administer justice for Egypt and inflict the punishment of the gods upon the usurpers…

This is an amazing exploit to thrill and astound fans of fantastic fantasy and bombastic adventure. Papyrus is a brilliant addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who marry heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin or Asterix volumes would be wise beyond their years in acquiring these classic chronicles tales.

…And Cinebook would be smart to keep on translating these magical yarns, too…
© Dupuis, 1985 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Valerian – The Complete Collection volume 4


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-391-8

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent first took to the skies and timestream in 1967 in the November 9th edition of Pilote (#420): in an introductory tale which ran until February 15th 1968. Although a huge hit, graphic album compilations only began with second tale – The City of Shifting Waters – as the creators concerned considered the first yarn more a work-in-progress and not quite up to their preferred standard.

You can judge for yourself by getting hold of the first hardcover compilation volume in this cinematic tie-in sequence. Or you can consider yourself suitably forward-looking and acquire one of the eBook editions…

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction comics triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable hits of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and the cosmic excursions of Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane, which all with Valérian in the vanguard – boosted public reception of the genre and led, in 1977, to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant.

Valérian and Laureline (as the series became) was a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really so much), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political social commentary. The star – at least initially – was an affable, capably unimaginative by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal timelines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual, incautious or criminally minded chrononauts…

In the course of that debut escapade, Valerian picked up impetuous, sharp-witted peasant lass Laureline, who originated in the 11th century before becoming our hero’s assistant and deputy. In gratitude for truly invaluable assistance, he brought her back to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital, Galaxity, where the feisty firebrand took a crash course in spatiotemporal ops before accompanying him on his cases…. luckily for him.

This fabulous fourth oversized hardback compendium – also available digitally – once again boasts a wealth of text features, beginning with Stan Barets’ deconstructive assessment ‘Whimsical Stories with Strong Themes…’ More follows with further discourse, all supplemented with photos sketches, designs and reference material in ‘Towards the End of History?’, ‘Constantly Renewed Questions’ and retrospective overview ‘Châtelet Station: A Great Spatial and Temporal Shift’. Glittering prizes are assessed in ‘The Consecration of Angoulême’ and are followed by ‘Space Grunts’: a short complete war story from Metal Hurlant, highlighting the creative highpoints and methodology of author/illustrator Méziéres before the main event kicks off…

The opening shot in the series’ first truly extended saga, Châtelet Station Destination Cassiopeia, was originally serialised in the monthly Pilote (#M47 to M50: 21st March to June 27th 1978) before being collected later that year as 8th album Métro Châtelet Direction Cassiopée. The story concluded in follow-up album Brooklyn Line Terminus Cosmos which happily follows…

It all begins with the partners far apart in time and space. Laureline pensively journeys to the fabulous Cassiopeia system, just for once enjoying the many wonders of space as she travels at sub-light speed through the phenomenally populous yet cosmically fragile region.

Her trip to Solum is broken up by many stopovers as she cautiously gathers snippets of gossip which cohere to reveal an unsettling trend: subtly voiced concerns that some merchants are pushing strange and dangerous technologies on buyers extremely unsuited to possess them…

Although separated by centuries and light-years, Laureline and Valerian are enjoying impossibly intimate contact. Thanks to Terran ingenuity – and recent neurosurgeries – the partners are telepathically linked and sharing information on the mission.

His mission is playing out in Paris of 1980, where Valerian idly observes the variety of human types frequenting the café he impatiently haunts; constantly reminded how little he knows or understands the people and history of his birthworld.

Things aren’t helped by the volubly affable, infuriatingly unrushed and always tardy Mr. Albert. Galaxity’s man-in-the-moment is a sort of human X-Files: investigating, sifting and collating incalculable amounts of data on everything Fringe, Strange or Whacky which occurs in the 20th century he has adopted as a home-away-from-home.

Breaking contact with Laureline, Valerian learns from the verbose nerd that appalling, monstrous manifestations have been terrorising the world and now this city’s subway system. Sensing action at last, the impulsive hero rushes to the site of the latest occurrence, abandoning Albert to follow up on something which has piqued the elder’s scholarly curiosity. Both are blithely unaware that a suspect band of not-so-ordinary Parisians with similar interests are mere metres ahead of them…

What Valerian confronts is a horrific thing out of the inferno, but even it is not immune to the futuristic weaponry he’s carrying in kit form. All he has to do is assemble it before being eaten…

In the aftermath, Albert acts quickly to extract the wounded hero from hospital before doctors and cops start asking too many of the right questions. Later, over a luxurious dinner, the epicurean investigator shares a sheaf of files and clippings of monster and UFO sightings which only hint at why Valerian is stuck in a temporal backwater whilst his partner is covering colossal Cassiopeia alone…

Synching up again later despite constant headaches, Valerian hears Laureline tell of the incredible inhabitants of Solum and her candid interview with the living memory of the race, as well as sundry other wonders before contact is explosively ended by a phone call from Albert warning him that he is being watched…

After deftly dodging his tail, Valerian receives a most distressing communication from Laureline. Her pleasant chat with the memory of Solum has uncovered news of a planet which long ago endured a similar plague of mysterious manifestations. It doesn’t exist anymore…

Therefore, she’s off to incomprehensibly vile universal garbage dump Zomuk in pursuit of another promising lead, but before Val can warn her to stay away from the junk world, mind-contact is lost…

At that 20th century moment, Val and Mr. Albert are embarking on a bus ride to rural wetland idyll Doëre-la Rivière in search of marsh-monsters and dragons, only to surprisingly discover no accommodation available in the usually dead-in-the-off-season resort.

All rooms have been taken by scientists working for W.A.A.M (World American Advanced Machines): a mega-corporation in contention with the ubiquitous multinational Bellson & Gambler.

Both companies keep cropping up in Albert’s files of the weird and unexplained…

Soon the mismatched spatio-temporal operatives are trudging through acres of misty mire, encountering young Jean-René who offers to lead them to the infamous monster everybody is searching for.

When they find the Brobdingnagian beast, only Valerian’s disintegrator saves their lives. They quickly return to Albert’s paper-&-scrap-packed Paris flat, where the quirky researcher decides its time his impatient young colleague meets the secret source: a bizarre modern mystic and seer named Chatelard who cannily points out affinities between the manifestations met so far and the classical ancient concept of The Four Elements

He also points out that one could call highly ranked corporate businessmen the “hidden high priests of today’s world”, whilst mentioning that a pretty blonde woman from abroad recently offered him a lot of money for the same insights…

Later, as Albert sifts through the precious papers, reviewing all he has on Bellson & Gambler, frantic Valerian finally re-establishes contact with Laureline, just as she concludes an epic struggle against ghastly odds and enters a hidden shrine to gaze upon fantastic representations of Four Elemental Forces which underpin the universe…

Once again contact is broken and in a petulant rage the astral adventurer storms out into the Parisian night. Utterly oblivious to the fact that he is being followed by enigmatic figures in an expensive automobile, he accepts a lift from a pretty girl in a sports car…

To Be Concluded…

Bold, mind-boggling and moodily mysterious, this splendid change of pace accentuates the deadly dangers which underscore this astonishingly imaginative series; eschewing the usual concentration on witty japery and politico-philosophical trendiness in favour of mounting suspense, bubbling paranoia and stark suspense with mesmerising effect…

Brooklyn Line Terminus Cosmos was the tenth Cinebook translation: originally serialised in Pilote #M70 – M73 (March to June 1980) before being released as an album.

After a full recap the story resumes some relative hours later as Laureline finally wakes her slumbering, cosmically distant partner. She is psychically aware of the woman sleeping beside him and takes great pleasure in razzing him on his conquest “in the line of duty”…

Fun over, Laureline imparts crucial information: the puissant yet debased ancients of Zomuk now seemingly worship two strange new godlike beings and are sharing with them the awesome power of Elemental artefacts they have preserved for centuries. Sadly, she suspects the lordly strangers are far from divine and have extremely venal – if not outright criminal – motives for their attentiveness.

Moreover, when the deities started squabbling over the potent offerings, the native Zoms start smelling rats too…

As Laureline tracks the impostors deep into a region dominated by astral pirates and fugitives, Valerian returns to his new companion, suspicious that she also is not what she seems…

He’s not wrong. The highly competent Miss Cynthia Westerly is highly placed in one of the corporations pursuing the uncanny phenomena plaguing Paris, but is oblivious to the fact that the big oaf she thought safely seduced and abandoned is actually following when she heads for the Pompidou Centre to attempt capture of the next Elemental manifestation.

As he trails her, Valerian becomes aware that her rivals are in pursuit and plays a very deft trick to throw them all off guard…

Rendezvousing with Albert, the Spatio-Temporal Agent gets his hands on the surprisingly compact “Creature of Air and Dreams” before anybody else, but the brief contact leaves him changed and damaged…

As Albert hustles him away, Valerian slips into tenuous contact with Laureline but the communication is oddly garbled, since his consciousness is simultaneously wandering the timelines: glimpsing events from his past and many which have yet to occur…

His bewildering loss of temporal continuity continues even as Albert drags the dazed hero onto a jet, heading for a final confrontation with the warring corporate cliques. The entire journey is punctuated with bizarre visions which Laureline is forced to share, and on arrival in New York Albert takes the debilitated agent to see an old friend: aged Kabbalah scholar Schlomo Meilsheim who has some ideas on a remedy for the increasingly escalating condition…

The situation has not gone unnoticed by the voracious corporations either. With their grand schemes of profitable new proprietary energy sources threatened, they have instigated a mass convocation of every fringe scientist, modern mystic, seer, religious nut and new age quack in the country: a last-ditch attempt to regain control of those elemental forces currently tormenting Valerian…

Naturally Schlomo is invited too and brings his friends along to the desolate, snow-swept reaches of Brooklyn. When Val wanders off, terse communication with Laureline reveals the truth about his latest visions and the dangers she’s been battling single-handed in pursuit of the faux gods.

Now as Elementals catastrophically manifest amongst the massed mystics, she enacts a bold plan to cut off the problem at source; severing the uncanny connection between devastating forces devised by the Zoms and its unfortunate link to unwary, unhappy 20th century Earth…

Sly, subtle, brilliantly mind-boggling and moodily mysterious, this sharp saga is a trans-time tale of subtle power, dripping with devilish wit, but no matter how trenchant, barbed, culturally aware or ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline yarns never allow message to overshadow excitement or entertainment. This is one of the most memorable romps you could ever imagine and there’s even better to come…

Les Spectres d’Inverloch originally appeared in Pilote #M110-117, (spanning July 1983 to February 1984) and opens here as Laureline enjoys the comforts of a palatial manor in Scotland, somewhere at the tail end of the 20th century. Unflappable dowager Lady Charlotte is a most gracious host and happily shares every benefit of life in Clan McCullough, even though her young charge can’t help but wonder why she has to cool her heels with the old biddy in this odd time and place…

Once again, the Spatio-Temporal partners-in-peril are separated by eons and light years. Valerian is at the other end of everything: impatiently stuck on water-world Glapum’t, trying to capture a hulking aquatic beast who easily defies his every stratagem. Finally, once brute force, commando tactics and super-science have all proved ineffectual, the frustrated agent tries bribery. Naturally, the tasty morsels he offers are heavily drugged…

However, as he carries the second phase of his orders, a real problem crops up. Valerian can’t establish contact with Galaxity…

Far ago and elsewhere, London is enduring a paralysing wave of industrial actions. The strikes are particularly galling to volubly affable, infuriatingly unrushed and always tardy Mr. Albert. Galaxity’s 20th century information gatherer/sleeper operative is trying to get to Scotland, but wonders if he’s ever going to get out of the English capital…

On far-flung Rubanis, dictatorial secret police chief Colonel Tlocq is having a duel of wits with the engagingly ruthless data-brokers known as the Shingouz. Naturally, the spymaster is utterly outmanoeuvred by the devious little reptiles who gleefully take off with the secret they required. All-in-all, they are rather enjoying working for Earth…

Way back in West Virginia, Lady Charlotte’s husband Lord Seal is consulting with the CIA. The dapper Briton is a past master of “tradecraft” and remains unperturbed even after reviewing the terrifying situation facing both Communist Bloc and Free World. Something is making all persons in charge of nuclear weapons – politicians and military alike – go mad. There have been numerous near-misses and even a couple of swiftly hushed-up actual disasters on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Moreover, the Americans have got hold of strange little devices used to cause the insanity. Somebody is deliberately trying to spark atomic Armageddon…

Only the veteran spy’s swift actions prevent the entire assembly going the same way, when a concealed insanity-gadget goes off during their top-secret meeting…

As Seal jets off home, the scene switches to Galaxity. The super-city, impregnable bastion of human dominance, is deserted. Only its supreme master remains, and as the fortress and Terran empire start dissolving into nothingness, he makes a desperate jump into time…

On a clear autumn afternoon, Lady Charlotte and Laureline are enjoying the view from Castle Inverloch’s rear windows when the immaculate, lovingly-manicured-for-centuries lawns are wrecked by the crash-landing of a Shingouz shuttle. Naturally, the visitors are granted every gracious vestige of hospitality, even after Lord Seal arrives in flamboyantly bombastic fashion and sees what’s become of his beloved grass…

Aplomb and grace under pressure alone cannot account for the elderly couple’s acceptance, and when Albert pops in and Valerian shows up – much to the detriment of what remains of the lawns – it becomes clear that the elderly gentry know much more about the workings of the universe than everybody else in this century…

Even the previously-captive Glapumtian – who likes to be called “Ralph” – has a part to play in the baffling, pre-ordained proceedings.

What exactly that means starts to become clear after Lord and Lady Seal introduce their outré guests to the legendary ghost of Inverloch. Valerian usually just calls him “boss”…

Soon the Spatio-Temporal Agents are being made painfully aware of a monumental threat to the universe which has already unmade the events leading to the birth of Galaxity and the Terran Empire and which now poses a threat to all that is…

To Be Concluded…

Smart, subtle, complex and frequently hilarious, this sharp trans-time tale beguilingly lays the groundwork for an epic escapade. This is one of the most memorable romps Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, and heralded the start of a whole new way to enjoy the future…

The Wrath of Hypsis concludes a landmark tale and marks a turning point in the ongoing epic. Initially every Valérian adventure began as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but after this adventure from 1985, the publishing world shifted gears. From the next tale and every one thereafter, the mind-bending sagas were released as all-new complete graphic novels. The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

One clarification: canonically, “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

Les Foudres d’Hypsis originally appeared in Pilote #M128-135, (January to September 1985): an action-packed yet trenchant romp resetting a growing paradox that had been slowing building since The City of Shifting Waters

In previous volume The Ghosts of Inverloch, Galaxity was eradicated from reality by agents unknown, leaving only the Chief of the Spatio-Temporal Service to plunge back in time to 1986: the chronal crisis-point which triggered the disaster.

Spatio-Temporal partners-in-peril Valerian and Laureline joined him by extremely convoluted paths after gathering a trio of Shingouz traders and affable, aquatic super-mathematician Ralph from different eras and galactic backwaters.

They all met up at Inverloch Castle, far from escalating petty crises and a mounting unrest afflicting Earth that would soon peak with the melting of the polar ice-caps, destruction of modern human civilisation and consequent birth-pangs of Galaxity.

The Scottish citadel was home to British intelligence supremo Lord Seal, his brilliant wife Lady Charlotte and guest Mr. Albert. This distinguished, exceptional band had gathered to prevent Earth’s devastation but Galaxity’s sudden disappearance added even greater urgency to the mission…

The tale continues here as the strange crew review the worsening situation. Nuclear powers across Earth are experiencing inexplicable, potentially fatal malfunctions. Alien objects keep appearing in random locations and – thanks to the extraterrestrial input of Seals visitor’s – they can now lay blame upon the machinations of Hypsis: an enigmatic planet constantly perambulating from system to system, quadrant to quadrant…

Seal’s contacts have narrowed down the potential crisis point to one of a number of ships in the Arctic. Soon the odd allies are covertly heading north in British weather ship HMS Crosswinds

Thanks to Ralph’s talents and growing friendship with a pod of Orcas, the maritime search is gradually narrowed down and before long Crosswinds closes in on a quaint schooner named Hvexdet… and none too soon.

The time-displaced Chief has locked himself in his cabin, Valerian is wracked by nightmares of vanished Galaxity and numerous doomed Earths whilst the gambling-addicted Shingouz have almost won or traded everything aboard ship not bolted down or welded on…

Cornering the Hvexdet in a field of pack ice, dauntless Captain Merryweather gives orders to ram, spooking the schooner into blasting off into space and instituting devastating retaliation. It’s what the Chief has been waiting for. With Crosswinds sinking and the crew heading for the lifeboats, he orders Valerian, Laureline, Seal, Albert, the Shingouz and Ralph to join him in the astroship: following the invaders’ flight to find nomadic Hypsis…

Pursuit is erratic and convoluted until Valerian has the idea of linking Ralph to the ship’s systems to predict Hvexdet’s final destination. It works perfectly and before long the astroship touches down on a strange, rocky world with immense towers dotting the landscape.

And that’s where things get really strange as Valerian learns why Earth was scheduled for nuclear meltdown, meets the incredible true owners of the troubled birthplace of humanity and watches in astonishment as Albert, Laureline and the Shingouz negotiate an unbelievable deal which saves Earth, but not (necessarily) his beloved and much-missed home Galaxity…

Astute fans will realise that this ripping yarn was writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Méziéres’ way of rationalising the drowned Earth of 1986 (as seen in 1968 adventure The City of Shifting Waters) with the contemporary period that they were now working in. It also gave them an opportunity to send Valerian and Laureline in a new direction and uncharted creative waters…

To Be Continued…

Smart, subtle, complex and frequently hilarious, these sharp trans-time tales beguilingly blend outrageous satire with blistering action, and deft humour with cosmic apostasy: utterly reenergising what was already one of the most thrilling sci fi strips in comics. The Wrath of Hypsis and its successors are the most memorable romps Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, heralding the start of a whole new way to go back to the future…

These stories are some of the most influential comics in the world, timeless, thrilling, funny and just too good to be ignored. The time is now and there’s no space large enough to contain the sheer joy of Valerian and Laureline, so go see what all the fuss is about right now…
© Dargaud Paris, 2017 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.

Luba


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-960-9

In the 1980s a qualitative revolution forever destroyed the clichéd, stereotypical ways different genres of comic strips were regarded. Most prominent in destroying these comfy pigeonholes we’d built for ourselves were three guys from Oxnard, California; Jaime, Mario (occasionally) and Gilberto Hernandez.

Love and Rockets was an anthology comics magazine featuring the slick, intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks of punky young things Maggie and Hopeylas Locas – and the heart-warming, terrifying, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasy of Palomar. These gifted synthesists captivated us all with incredible stories that sampled a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers. The result was pictorial and narrative dynamite.

Palomar was the exclusive playground of Gilberto, created for the extended serial Heartbreak Soup: a poor Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life and death, adultery, magic, serial killing and especially gossip could happen in those meta-fictional environs, and did, as the artist explored his own influences. Fascinatingly they included post-punk, comics, all manner of music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics, in a style that seemed informed by everything from the Magical Realism of writers like Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez to Saturday morning cartoons and the Lucy Show.

Beto, as he signs himself, returned to the well of Palomar constantly, usually with tales centred around the formidable matriarch – or perhaps Earth Mother figure – Luba, who ran the village’s bath house, acted as Mayor (and sometimes police chief) as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population.

Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Concepcion. A passionate, fiery woman who speaks her mind and generally gets her own way, Luba keeps a small claw-hammer with her at all times…

Luba is a character who defies easy description and I don’t actually want to: As one of the most complex women in literature, let alone comics, she’s somebody you want to experience, not learn of second-hand. You will probably notice that she has absolutely enormous breasts. Deal with it. These stories are casually, graphically, sexually explicit. Luba’s story is about Life, and sex happens, constantly and often with the wrong people at the wrong time. If harsh language and cartoon nudity (male and female) are an insurmountable problem for you don’t read these tales. It is genuinely your loss.

After a run of spectacular stories (all of which have been collected in a variety of formats and like An American in Palomar, Human Diastrophism and Poison River), the magazine ended. Luba and her extended family graduated to a succession of mini-series which concentrated on her moving to the USA and reuniting with her half-sisters Rosalba (“Fritz”) and Petra, taken when her mother Maria fled from Palomar decades previously.

Which brings us to this delightfully massive and priceless tome: Luba collects in one monumental volume her later life as a proud immigrant who refuses to learn English (or does she?): over 80 stories covering 596 emphatically monochrome pages ranging from lengthy sagas to sparkling single-page skits which originally appeared in Luba, Luba’s Comics and Stories, Luba in America, Luba: The Book of Ofelia and Luba: Three Daughters. The tone and content ranges from surreal to sad to funny to thrilling. The entire world can be found in these pages…

Although in an ideal world you would read the older material first, there’s absolutely no need to. Reminiscence and memory are as much a part of this brilliant passion-play as family feeling, music, infidelity, survival, punk rock philosophy, and laughter – lots and lots of laughter. Brilliantly illustrated, these are human tales as coarse and earthy any as any of Chaucer’s Pilgrims could tell, as varied and appetising as any of Boccaccio’s Decameron and as universally human as the best of that bloke Shakespeare.

I’m probably more obtuse – just plain dense or blinkered – than most, but for years I thought this stuff was about the power of Family Ties, but it’s not: at least not fundamentally.

Luba is about love. Not the sappy, one-sided happy-ever after stuff in chick-flicks designed to anesthetise and brainwash, but LOVE: that overwhelming, hungry, sneaky beast that makes you always protect the child that betrays you, that has you look for a better partner whilst you’re in the arms of your one true love, and hate the place you wanted to live in all your life.

The love of cars and hair-cuts and biscuits and paper-cuts and stray cats that bite you or jump on your bloody keyboard just when you think you’re writing your best ever stuff: selfish, self-sacrificing, dutiful, urgent, patient, uncomprehending, a feeling beyond words.

Just like the love of a great comic.

Hunt this down and never let it go…
© 2009 Gilbert Hernandez. All Rights Reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 4: Asterix the Legionary; Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield; Asterix at the Olympic Games


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-428-1 (HB)                    978-1-44400-487-8 (PB)

Asterix the Gaul is one of Europe’s – more specifically France’s – most exciting and rewarding contributions to global culture: a cunning little paragon of the underdog spirit who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion bestowing incredible strength, speed and vitality. The savvy smarts are all his own…

One of the most-read comics in the world, his chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages (including Latin and ancient Greek for educational purposes); with 14 live-action and animated movies, 55 board and video games and even into his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris).

More than 370 million copies of 37 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo who were already masters of the form and at the peak of their creative powers. Although their perfect partnership ended in 1977 with the death of the terrifying prolific scripter Goscinny, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

Asterix launched in 1959 in the very first issue of Pilote (with a teaser premiere page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0). The feature was a massive hit from the start. Initially Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first epic escapade was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two books per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was, after much effort, convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes.

Like all great literary classics, the premise works on multiple levels: younger readers enjoying an action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts whilst crustier readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly and witty satire, enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light and innovative touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Personally, I still thrill to a perfectly delivered punch in the bracket as much as a painfully swingeing string of bad puns and dry cutting jibes…)

Asterix the Gaul is a cunning underdog who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion. The stories were set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast around the year 50 BCE, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resist all efforts of the Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French comics export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

In late 1966 they began Asterix the Legionary (running in Pilote #368-389), which was later adapted as half of the plot for the movie Asterix Vs Caesar (the other album incorporated into the animated epic being Asterix the Gladiator).

This clever romp introduced the destabilising concept of true romance to the doughty hero and his prodigious pal Obelix as, whilst boar hunting in the great forest around their unconquerable village, they encounter the fabulously beautiful Panacea picking mushrooms.

The little darling has freshly returned to the village after years away in Condatum, and the sheltered Obelix is instantly smitten. Dazed and confused by the only force that could ever affect him, the gentle giant is teased by Asterix and venerable druid Getafix, but innocently undaunted, Obelix begins bringing the oblivious lass a succession of inappropriate presents…

When the befuddled buffoon finds Panacea crying, he dashingly volunteers to mend her woes. Tragically for him, the problem is a boyfriend named Tragicomix, who has been pressed into military service with the Roman Army…

Where other men would take advantage of the hopeless situation, Obelix, afflicted with True Crush, determines to make her happy and rushes off to rescue her lost beau. Ever faithful, Asterix and diminutive canine companion Dogmatix accompany the big oaf… to keep him out of trouble…

In Condatum, they discover Tragicomix has already been shipped out to Africa where Caesar battles fellow Roman Scipio in a clandestine Civil War. Asterix realises the only way to find Tragicomix is to enlist in the Roman Army, too…

In Basic Training they meet a motley assortment of fellow recruits – all gently-contrived national stereotypes – allowing for a broad bombardment of friendly ethnic comedy and graphic accent humour. There was Neveratalos the Greek, Goths Allegoric and Hemispheric, Gastronomix from Belgium, Selectivemploymentax the Briton and poor Ptenisnet the Egyptian, who doesn’t know the language and thinks he joined a holiday package tour…

After lashings of their unique brand of anarchy disrupting regulation army life, Asterix, Obelix and crew ship out to Africa. When they arrive, the war is going badly for Caesar, but more importantly, Tragicomix has gone missing: believed captured by Scipio’s forces…

With magic potion in hand, Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix take matters in hand…

A hilariously engaging yarn with delicious overtones of the iconic British comedy Carry On Sergeant, this action-packed farce is big on laughs but harbours a bittersweet core that will tug at the heartstrings of young and old alike…

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield (originally entitled Le bouclier arverne) was the 11th epic outing for the Greatest French Hero of Them All: debuting in Pilote #399 and running until #421 in 1967. It acts as a tongue-in-cheek patriotic history lesson and opens years before the usual setting of Asterix tales as Gaulish over-chief Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar at the Battle of Alesia. This he does by throwing down his weapons and armour at the Conqueror’s feet. It’s the start of a lengthy running gag…

Such is the shame of the defeated Gauls that the location of the clash is excised from their memories. Now, nobody remembers where Alesia was…

After the battle, the accoutrements lay where they fell until a greedy Legionary stole the Great Shield, subsequently losing it in a game of dice. From there, the legendary buckler passes through many scurrilous hands before fading into legend…

Jumping to “modern” times, in the village of indomitable Gauls Chief Vitalstatistix is terribly ill: a sedentary life of over-indulgence has ruined his liver and since Getafix’s druidic potions can’t help him, he has to go to the spa town of Aqua Calidae (Arverne) for a rest-cure and diet.

It isn’t all bad though, since his forthright wife Impedimenta has to stay behind….

As a chief he needs an honour guard and Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix are happy to accompany him, especially as the chief uses the journey to test all the inns and taverns en route. Once there though, the warriors’ robust consumption and boisterous high jinks appals all the dieting dignitaries and impatient patients, so Asterix and Obelix are summarily kicked out of the Health Resort.

Footloose and fancy-free, the boys tour the local countryside of Gergovia, idly trying to find the lost site of Alesia until they encounter Roman envoy Noxius Vapus and his cohort. After indulging in their favourite sport of Roman-bashing, the lads befriend local merchant Winesandspirix – a veteran of Alesia – while Noxius hightails it to Rome to tell Caesar the Gauls are revolting…

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Set on putting the Gauls in their place and reminding them who’s boss, Caesar determines to hold a Roman Triumph with the shield of Vercingetorix as the centrepiece. He’s none too happy when he discovers it’s been missing for years…

And thus begins the second stage of this hilariously thrilling detective mystery as the Romans frantically hunt for the missing artefact and Asterix and Obelix set out to thwart them at every turn…

No prizes for guessing which faction succeeds and who scurries home in defeat and disgust in this marvellously slapstick saga with a delightfully daft twist ending…

Asterix at the Olympic Games first appeared weekly in Pilote #434-455, serialised in 1968 to coincide with and capitalise upon the Mexico City Games. The translated British album was released four years later, just before the 1972 Munich Olympiad.

The Romans of Aquarium garrison are in an ebullient mood. Their comrade Gluteus Maximus has been selected to represent Rome at the Greeks’ Great Games in Olympia. Centurion Gaius Veriambitius is happy too, because he knows if Gluteus wins, they can both write their ticket in Rome…

It all starts to go horribly wrong when the Roman superman is bested and humiliated by Asterix and Obelix whilst training in the Great Forest. His confidence shattered, Gluteus returns to Aquarium and only regains a modicum of his old form when Veriambitius reminds him that the potion-fuelled Gauls won’t be at the Games…

Meanwhile, the men of the village have decided to go to Olympia and have a go themselves…

There follows an uproarious and nigh-scandalous sequence of events as the unbeatable Greeks try to placate their Roman overlords; the Latin competitors undergo the tortures of the arrogant damned to cheat, wheedle and somehow exclude the all-conquering Gauls, whilst the basically honest and honourable Asterix devises a cunning yet fair way to beat the politically motivated, greed-inspired “sportsmen” and still uphold the best traditions and ideals of the Olympic Games.

Guess who wins…

Spoofing package tours, obnoxious tourists, self-serving sports authorities and doping scandals in equal proportion, this sparkling escapade features some of Uderzo’s most inspired art as he recreates the grandeur and glory of the Ancient World whilst simultaneously graphically lampooning the haughty elites of the Sporting World, the Military and Politics. A genuine classic far more valuable than any medal and a bit sturdier than laurel leaf crowns…

Asterix volumes are always stuffed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal action and splendidly addictive adventure, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1967-1969 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.