BETWEEN THE EYES


By Ralph Steadman (Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 0-224-02280-6

Ralph Steadman is arguably Britain’s greatest living artist, with works that range from the commercial arenas of Cartooning, Illustration, Caricature, Satire and Printmaking to novels, children’s books, stage and set design, animation, journalism, photography, painting, music and cultural commentary. If you’re a fan of modern comic books you’ve been enjoying the fruits of his far-reaching influence since the late 1980s…

If it’s creative he’s probably done it and uniquely well. The sod seems great at everything, and he’s got a sense of humour and a social conscience too.

This collection first appeared in that evocative year 1984, when he was 48 years old; less a retrospective than a manifesto of accomplishment thus far. Naturally it features hundreds of sketches, illustrations, paintings and drawings from this terrifyingly prolific creator, from sources as varied as Rolling Stone to Radio Times, but it also houses dozens of pieces of captivating writing, ranging from the drily (and here I mean witty not dusty) historical and autobiographical to the deepest introspection and well-considered philosophical judgement.

Steadman is a classical raconteur capable of imparting meaning to practically every sense. I suspect that if you bite him – and I’m not suggesting that you do – he’d even taste of heady tales and beguiling yarns. From his days with the nigh-mythical Hunter S. Thompson, his illustration of such classics as Alice in Wonderland, his collaborations with Ted Hughes and other poets, his reportage and especially those devastating caricatures and political sallies this book marks a solid half-way point in the prodigious career of an artist who truly knows no bounds.

There are simply too many books by Steadman to list – even his Wikipedia listing cites only a partial bibliography – and any one you find will blow your mind, but this is one of my favourites and well worth a renewed lease of life – not to mention a follow-up companion edition…
© 1984 Ralph Steadman. All Rights Reserved.

AX – A MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL


By Ernie Colón (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 87135-490-X

Ernie Colón is a largely unsung maestro of the American comics industry whose work has affected generations of readers. Whether as artist, writer, colourist or even editor his contributions have affected the youngest of comics consumer (Monster in My Pocket, Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost for Harvey Comics and his work on Marvel’s Star Comics imprint) to the most sophisticated connoisseur with strips such as his startling indie thriller Manimal.

His catalogue of “straight” comic-book work includes Battlestar Galactica, Damage Control and Doom 2099 for Marvel, Grim Ghost for Atlas/Seaboard, Arak, Son of Thunder, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld and The Medusa Chain graphic novel for DC where he also worked as a group editor, the Airboy revival for Eclipse, Magnus: Robot Fighter for Valiant and so very many others.

In 2006 with long-time collaborator Sid Jacobson he created a graphic novel of the 9/11 Commission Report entitled The 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation. In August 2008, they released a 160-page follow-up: After 9/11: America’s War on Terror. Born in 1931 he’s still hard at work on the strip SpyCat which has appeared in Weekly World News since 2005.

During the first wave of experimental creativity that gripped the late 1980s he released this totally self-generated (he even lettered it himself) fantasy/science fiction thriller through Marvel’s oversized Graphic Novels line. Intriguing, complex and multi-layered it is the parable of a young peasant boy named Ax who seems to have all the trappings of a new messiah to his Feudal overlord.

But in the manner of Moebius’ Airtight Garage all is not what it seems. Many eyes are watching the boy and not all of them are from the same level of reality…

Blending social commentary, Apocalyptic dystopian futurism and traditional sword-and sorcery with fierce intensity and stunning visuals, this is yet another lost gem that couldn’t find an audience on its release, but at least it’s readily available through many online retailers and deserves another shot. It’s pretty cheap from most dealers, too…
© 1988 Ernie Colón. All Rights Reserved.

HISTORY OF THE BRITISH NEWSPAPER STRIP


By Denis Gifford (Shire Publications)
ISBN: 0-85263-103-0

One of my most treasured old books is this slim unassuming tome that too briefly recalls the halcyon glories of British contributions to the world of newspaper comic strips. Maybe it’s because it was printed near where I grew up, but I rather suspect it’s the fact that it introduced me to a world of characters I had never seen (some I still haven’t but for their inclusion in these pages).

Cartoonist and historian Denis Gifford was often short on depth and sometimes even got the odd fact wrong, but he was the consummate master of enthusiastic nostalgia. He deeply loved the medium in concept and in all its execution, from slipshod and rushed to actual masterpieces with the same degree of passion and was capable of imparting – infecting almost – the casual reader with some of that wistful fire.

This lost gem from 1971 – a time when the British strip finally entered its full spiral of decline – evokes a more prolific and varied time, dividing the history and development of the cartoon feature into a general overview and more specific themes.

First of these is ‘the Jokers’; comedy strips such as John Millar Watt’s Pop, Walter Goetz’s Colonel Up and Mr. Down and Dab and Flounder, Rousen’s Boy Meets Girl, licensed strips such as ITMA by Arthur Ferrier, Hylda Baker’s Diary by Dennis Collins and a legion of other leg-pullers, irascible goons and japesters, closely followed and overlapped by ‘the Workers’ which deals with our national obsession: the little man’s avoidance of the rat-race.

J. F. Horrabin’s white-collar Dot and Carrie, Batchelor’s Office Hours, and Bristow by Frank Dickens, jostle with Reg Smythe’s immortal Andy Capp, Hugh Morren’s Wack and the surreal Northern genius of Bill Tidy’s The Fosdyke Saga, but there are many others I don’t have the space to recount here, and from the copious snippets supplied in this book they were all superb.

The Family’ was another rich vein of cartoon gold. Steve Dowling’s Ruggles and Keeping Up with the Joneses, Barry Appleby’s the Gambols (there’s enough collections out for a full review in future so expect one here soon) Jack Dunkley’s the Larks, Frank Langford’s Jack and Jill, Mel Calman’s Couples and dozens of others are fondly celebrated before we get to ‘the Kids’ such as Brian White’s The Nipper, Dowling’s Belinda Blue-Eyes and Tich, St. John Cooper’s The Home Page Kids and The Cooper Kids, Charles Holt’s His Nibs, Cyril Jacobs stylish Choochie and Twink and the sublime Perishers by Maurice Dodd and Dennis Collins (also long overdue for a review) among so many others.

Trailing behind the kids are ‘the Animals’; split into two chapters. In the first are such four-footed luminaries as Come On Steve by Roland Davies, Norman Thelwell’s Penelope, Peter Maddocks’ A Leg at Each Corner and Alex Graham’s Fred Bassett as well as an entire pack of canny cartoon canines, whilst the second part deals with strips for younger readers including both Charles Folkard’s and Arthur Potts’ versions of Teddy Tail, Austin Payne’s Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, Horrabin’s Japhet and Happy and The Arkubs. Harry Smith’s licensed Sooty strip, the amazing Timothy Tar by A.E. Beary and some fascinating early views of Rupert (the Bear if you insist on being formal) by Mary Tortel from 1920.

The Heroes’ come next, with Jack Monk’s Buck Ryan, Francis Durbridge’s Paul Temple as rendered by both Alfred Sindall in the hero’s radio days and latterly John Macnamara when the detective graduated to the small screen in the late 1960’s. As well as the almost forgotten Flint of the Flying Squad (George Davies), Jack Daniel and Davies Kit Conquest, Sindall’s Tug Transom and Hugh McClelland’s Scott Lanyard, there’s a too-brief roundup of key Cowboy features such as Tony Weare’s Matt Marriott, George Stokes’ Wes Slade and Harry Bishop’s Gun Law.

The stars aren’t neglected though as evidenced by the inclusion of Sidney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke, Space Rider, J. M. Burns’ The Seekers, James Bond by both John McCloskey and Horak, Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway’s brilliant Romeo Brown and of course the immortal Garth as illustrated by creator Steve Dowling.

The book concludes with a peek at our racy tradition of unadorned glamour with ‘The Girls’. Unlike America and many other countries, in Britain trivial nudity and a little sauciness was never considered as the rocky road to damnation, and a number of superb artists have cheered up generations of males readers – and ladies, too – with such treats as Alfred “Maz” Mazure’s run on Carmen and Co and Jane, Daughter of Jane, and there’s also a big display of her legendary mum, as drawn by Norman Pett and Michael Hubbard.

Although Jane is the unvarnished queen of this sub-genre other stars have occasionally challenged her supremacy. Sirens such as Pett’s dynamic Susie, Bob Hamilton’s Patti, Spotlight on Sally and Eve by the astounding Arthur Ferrier, Paula by Eric A. Parker, Judy by Julian Phipps, the tragically forgotten but wonderful Carol Day by Davis Wright and Ernest Ratcliff’s Lindy were all superb looking strips and could easily stand a comprehensive collection of their own, but the true stars really shone once the age of liberation dawned.

Pat Tourret’s fabulous Tiffany Jones, Luis Roca’s sexy sci-fi thriller Scarth and John Kent’s contagiously satirical Varoomshka all feature prominently but O’Donnell and Holdaway’s utterly perfect action-heroine Modesty Blaise is justifiably the biggest star here and thankfully Titan Books are still collecting her entire career for your reading enjoyment and edification.

Books about stuff are rarely as good as the items they’re plugging (and how much less so a blog about them?) but this pocket history needs reviving, expanding and republishing. No matter how knowledgeable or uninformed you are on this subject it has the ability to show you stuff that will intrigue and beguile, making you hungry for more.

Text © 1971 Denis Gifford.

LOOK AND LEARN ANNUAL 1974


By various (Fleetway)
No ISBN

One the most missed of publishing traditions in this country is the educational comic. From the features in the legendary Eagle to the small explosion of factual and socially responsible boys and girls papers in the late 1950s to the heady go-getting heydays of the 1960s and 1970 Britain had a healthy sub-culture of comics that informed, instructed and revealed – and don’t even get me started on sports comics!

Amongst many others Speed & Power, World of Wonder, Tell Me Why, and the greatest of them all Look and Learn spent decades making things clear and brought the marvels of the world to our childish but avid attentions with wit, style and thanks to the quality of the illustrators involved, astonishing beauty.

Look and Learn launched on 20th January 1962, the brainchild of Fleetway Publications Director of Juvenile Publications Leonard Matthews, and executed by Editor David Stone (almost instantly replaced by John Sanders), Sub-Editor Freddie Lidstone and Art Director Jack Parker.

For twenty years and 1049 issues the comic delighted children by bringing the marvels of the universe to their doors, and was one of the county’s most popular children’s weeklies. Naturally there were many spin-off tomes such as The Look and Learn Book of 1001 Questions and Answers, Look and Learn Book of Wonders of Nature, Look and Learn Book of Pets and Look and Learn Young Scientist as well as the totally engrossing Christmas treat The Look and Learn Book.

Selected simply because it was nearest to my grasping hand, this volume released for Christmas 1973 (as with almost all UK Annuals they were forward-dated) is a prime example of a lost form. Within this132 heavy-stock paged hard-back are 40 fascinating features on all aspects of human endeavour and natural wonder from Strange Creatures of the East, Birds in Legend, Arctic Trawler, Caves of Adventure, Petticoat Pirates, Arabian Nights Railway, Head-Hunters of Borneo, Unknown but Well-known and dozens more articles cannily designed to beguile, enthrall and above all else, inspire young minds.

Illustrated with photographs, diagrams and paintings and drawings by some of the world’s greatest commercial artists including such luminaries as Ron Embleton, Helen Haywood, Ron Turner, Ken Evans, Angus McBride and many others, these books were an utter delight for hungry minds to devour whilst the turkey and Christmas pudding slowly digested…

With the internet and TV I suppose their like is unnecessary and irrelevant, but nostalgia aside the glorious pictures in these volumes alone make them worth the effort of acquisition, and I defy any child of any age to not be sucked into the magic of learning this lovely…

Whilst researching this book review (mostly sitting comfortably and flicking through gigantic piles of beloved, worn books and comics, submerged in the totally unique smell of old and hallowed paper – interspersed with the occasional dabble with the old search engine) I came across this delightful open site and commend it to your attention if you’re at all interested in the subject.
http://books.littleoak.com.au/index.html

© 1973 IPC Magazines, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

DUNGEON: MONSTRES VOLUME 2

By Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim, Andreas & Stéphane Blanquet translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-540-5

This slim tome is yet another part of the eccentric, raucous and addictively wacky franchise that it’s best to experience rather than read about. As well as Parade, Dungeon also covers Zenith, Early Years and Twilight. There’s this magic castle, right, and it’s got a dungeon…

The inhabitants of this weirdly surreal universe include every kind of anthropomorphic beast and bug as well as monsters, demons, smart-alecs and stroppy women-folk. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite strange…

The nominal star is a duck with a magic sword which forces him to channel dead heroes and monsters, but by this stage Herbert of Craftiwich has risen to the rank of Grand Khan – though he’s not quite sure how – and is the bad-guy in charge when the entire world of Terra Amata explodes. This volume starts as the survivors cling to isolated islands chaotically afloat on a global sea of molten lava…

Comprising two translated albums this book kicks off with ‘The Great Map’ in which unlikely hero Marvin the Red – an unsavoury bunny in super-powered armour – is dispatched by the enemies of the Grand Khan to find a magic chart that can predict the paths and trajectories of each individual floating island.

Sadly Marvin is no one’s idea of a hero and the distractions provided by food, danger and available women – including the Khan’s daughter Zakutu –provide more distraction than he can competently cope with. Always drawn in a superbly individualistic style, this volume and the next are illustrated by guest artists: in this case the phenomenally gifted Andreas with Stéphane Blanquet handling the follow-up ‘The Dark Lord’.

As chaos intrudes on every aspect of life left on the burning world of Terra Amata Grand Khan feels his power as Dark Lord slipping from him – and frankly, he couldn’t be happier. Regrettably it’s not the kind of job you can simply retire from and if Craftiwich is to safely resume a simpler life he has to outmaneuver all his former lieutenants who quite fancy the job themselves. And that idiot Marvin still hasn’t secured the Great Map of the floating islands…

Surreal, earthy, sharp, poignant and brilliantly outlandish, this fantasy comedy is subtly addictive to read and the vibrant, wildly eccentric cartooning is an absolute marvel of wild, graphic style. Definitely not for the young reader, Dungeon is the kind of near-the-knuckle, illicit read that older kids and adults of all ages will adore, but for a fuller comprehension I’d advise buying all the previous incarnations.

© 2002, 2003 Delcourt Productions-Tronfheim-Sfar-Andreas-Blanquet. English translation © 2008 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

THE FOUR CONSTABLES

Four Constables
Four Constables

By Andy Seto & Tony Wong (DGN/DrMaster Publications)
ISBN13: 978-1-59796-162-2

Originally a crafted as a novel by Wen Rui-An this spectacular adaptation of a martial arts classic finds a quartet of superlative students tasked by their brilliant teacher to protect the land from all threats. In this repackaged first adventure, the heroes must foil an insidious plot against the Emperor using only their brains and assorted Kung Fu “super-powers.”

Master Zhuge Khen-Wo “the Little Flower” is chief bodyguard to the Emperor of China. He has four disciples in various stages of training whom he uses to handle missions and tasks beyond the capabilities or too sensitive for ordinary agents of the Crown. Uncovering an extended murder-plot that goes back decades and threatens the fabric of Imperial Society master Zhuge dispatches “Emotionless” Yayu Sheng, “Iron Hands” Yuxia Tie, “Life Snatcher” Lieshan Cui and “Cold Blooded” Lingqi Len to expose a cabal of thirteen murderers whose depredations have been revealed as a methodical scheme to remove the Emperor himself.

Spectacular fights and mind-boggling names for every punch, kick and eyebrow-twitch just add to the exotic charm of this superb martial arts comic which has the blessed bonus – for Western eyes, at least – of an intriguing and comprehensible plot, even if the tradition of ending a book on a cliff-hanger means we’ll have to wait for the magic to conclude.

Tony Wong is called the “Stan Lee of Hong Kong” and you might know superstar creator Andy Seto from the film made of his previous series “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Previously released in standard trade paperback format this new 144 page edition is published in glorious full colour in a Manga-digest size (127x178mm) and sports a new wrap-around cover by Seto.

© 2008 Jade Dynasty Publications Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

WALT KELLY’S SANTA CLAUS ADVENTURES

Santa Claus
Santa Claus

By Walt Kelly (Innovation)

No ISBN

Justifiably revered for his brilliant newspaper strip Pogo, and perhaps even his wonderful Our Gang tales, the incredible Walt Kelly also has a pretty strong claim to owning the traditional childhood Christmas. From 1942 until he abandoned comic-books for newsprint he produced stories and magazines dedicated to the season of Good Will for West Coast publishing giant Dell. Santa Claus Funnies and Christmas with Mother Goose were a Holidays institution in both their Four Color and Dell Giant incarnations and the sheer beauty and charm of Kelly’s work defined what Christmas should be for two generations. Kelly transferred his affinity for the best of all fantasy worlds to the immortal Pogo but still was especially associated with the Festive season. Many publications sought out his special touch. Even the Christmas 1955 edition of Newsweek starred Kelly and Co on the cover.

Thanks to Eclipse Comics some of this fabulous work resurfaced in the late 1980s and this slim book of reprints was put together after their collapse by the equally gone and just as much-missed Innovation outfit.

It starts as it positively must with an adaptation of Clement C. Moore’s inevitable classic poem ‘The Night Before Christmas’ before continuing with the delightful ‘Ticky Tack the Littlest Reindeer’ then the story of ‘Santa’s First Helper’ and the crazily captivating ‘Jeminy’s Christmas’ which proves that even farmyard animals need to be sure that they’re not naughty but nice. ‘Santa’s Story’ is a rather boisterous and action-packed romp with giants and fairy Queens which sets the scene for the concluding ‘How Santa Got his Red Suit’ which, augmented by a couple of pages of animal antics rhymes and celebratory articles by Betsy Curtis and Maggie Thompson, makes for a perfect Christmas package to start your kids on the road to comics addiction.

It absolutely baffles me that Kelly’s unique and universally top-notch Christmas tales – and Batman’s too for that matter – are not re-released every November for the Yule spending spree. Christmas is all about nostalgia and the good old days and there is no bigger sentimental sap on the planet than your average comics punter. And once these books are out there their supreme readability will quickly make converts of the rest of the world.

© 1990 the Estate of Walt Kelly. Cover art © 1990 the Innovative Corp.

ESSENTIAL AVENGERS vol. 1

ESSENTIAL AVENGERS vol. 1
ESSENTIAL AVENGERS vol. 1

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN 0-7851-1862-4

The concept of putting all your star eggs in one basket was not new when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took a bunch of the new super-characters of the burgeoning Marvel Universe and combined them as a force for justice and high sales, but seldom has it ever been done with such style and sheer exuberance. Cover dated September 1963 the Avengers #1 launched as an expansion package with two other titles, Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos and the X-Men, but with the advantage of a familiar if not totally successful cast.

‘The Coming of the Avengers’ is one of the cannier origin tales in comics. Instead of starting at a zero point and acting as if the reader knew nothing, creators Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers assumed that they had a least a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other titles, and wasted very little time or energy on introductions.

In Asgard Loki, god of evil, is imprisoned on a dank islet but still craves vengeance on his half brother the Mighty Thor. Observing Earth he finds the monstrous Hulk and engineers a situation wherein the man-brute goes on a rampage, the better to trick the Thunder God into battling the monster. When the Hulk’s sidekick Rick Jones radios the Fantastic Four for assistance Loki diverts the transmission so they cannot hear it and expects his mischief to quickly blossom. However other heroes do pick up the SOS – namely Iron Man, Ant Man and the Wasp.

As the heroes converge to search for the Hulk they realize that something’s amiss…

This terse and compelling yarn is Lee and Kirby at their bombastic best, and one of the greatest stories of the Silver Age (it’s certainly high in my own top ten Marvel Tales of all time!) and is followed by ‘the Space Phantom’ by Lee, Kirby and Paul Reinman, another classic, in which an alien shape-stealer almost destroys the team from within. Ever-changing, the tale ends with the volatile Hulk quitting the team only to return in #3 as the villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ This globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history.

Avengers #4 was a true landmark as Marvel’s biggest sensation of the Golden Age was revived. ‘Captain America joins the Avengers!’ has everything that made the company’s early tales so fresh and vital. The majesty of a legendary warrior returned in our time of greatest need, stark tragedy in the loss of his boon companion Bucky, aliens, gangsters, Sub-Mariner and even wry social commentary – this one’s on the list too.

‘The Invasion of the Lava Men’ was another brilliant tale as the team battled superhuman subterraneans and an incredible mutating mountain with the unwilling assistance of the Hulk, but it paled before the supreme shift in quality that was #6.

Chic Stone – possibly Kirby’s best Marvel inker – joined the team just as a classic arch–foe debuted. ‘The Masters of Evil!’ called Nazi super-scientist Baron Zemo out of the South American jungles he’d been skulking in to strike at his hated foe Captain America. To this end the villain recruited a gang of super-foes to attack New York and destroy the Avengers. The unforgettable clash between our heroes and Radioactive Man, Black Knight and the Melter is unsurpassed magic to this day!

Issue #7 followed up with two more malevolent recruits as the Enchantress and the Executioner joined Zemo just as Iron Man was suspended from the team due to misconduct occurring in his own series (this was the dawn of the close continuity era where events in one series were referenced and even built upon in others). That may have been ‘Their Darkest Hour!’ but Avengers #8 held the greatest triumph and tragedy as Jack Kirby relinquished his drawing role with the superb invasion-from-time thriller that introduced ‘Kang the Conqueror’ (inked with fitting circularity by Dick Ayers).

The Avengers was an entirely different package when the subtle humanity of Don Heck’s work replaced the larger-than-life bravura of Kirby. The series had rapidly advanced to monthly circulation and even The King could not draw the huge number of pages his workload demanded. Heck was a gifted and trusted artist with a formidable record for meeting deadlines and, under his pencil, sub-plots and character interplay finally got as much space as action and spectacle.

His first outing was the memorable tragedy ‘The Coming of the Wonder Man!’ (inked by Ayers) wherein the Masters of Evil planted a superhuman Trojan Horse within the ranks of the heroes and next issue the master of time Immortus was responsible when ‘The Avengers Break Up!’

After a glorious Kirby Captain America pin-up the wonderment herein contained continues with #11 with ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’, a tale inked by Chic Stone and featuring the return of Kang the Conqueror. Kang’s pin-up is by Heck and precedes a cracking end-of-the-world thriller with guest Fantastic Four villains Mole Man and the Red Ghost. ‘This Hostage Earth!’ is followed by a rare gangster drama that introduced another major bad-guy in #13’s ‘The Castle of Count Nefaria!’– ending on a tragic cliffhanger as the Wasp was left gunshot and dying…

Issue #14 told how ‘Even an Avenger Can Die!’ – although of course she didn’t – in a classy alien invader tale laid out by Kirby and drawn by Heck and Stone which whetted the appetite for a classic climactic confrontation as the team finally dealt with the Masters of Evil and Cap finally laid to rest the ghost of his dead partner.

‘Now by My Hand, Shall Die a Villain!’ and the concluding episode ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (issues #15 and 16) by Lee, Kirby, Heck, Mike Esposito and Ayers changed the set-up completely as all the big names were replaced by three erstwhile villains: Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Led by the old war-horse Captain America, this relatively powerless group with no outside titles to divide the attention could become another squabbling family of neuroses and sub-plots; a formula that readers of the time could not get enough of.

Acting on advice from the departing Iron Man the neophytes seek to recruit the Hulk to add some raw power to the team, only to encounter the Mole Man in #17’s ‘Four Against the Minotaur!’ by Lee, Heck and Ayers, and fall foul of a dastardly “commie” plot ‘When the Commissar Commands!’ These less than stellar tales are followed by an ever-improving run of mini-masterpieces that begins with a two part gem that provides an origin for Hawkeye and introduces a favourite hero/villain.

‘The Coming of the Swordsman!’ by the regular team of Lee, Heck and Ayers is followed by the superb ‘Vengeance is Ours!’ inked by the one-and-only Wally Wood and featuring the Avengers debut of another unforgettable mastermind.

Without pausing for creative breath, #21 launched another big-name villain in the form of Power Man in ‘The Bitter Dregs of Defeat!’ whose diabolical plan with the evil Enchantress was only narrowly foiled in the concluding ‘The Road Back.’

A two part Kang tale follows as the team is shanghaied into the far-future to battle against and with the Master of Time. Avengers #23 (incidentally, my vote for the best cover Jack Kirby ever drew) ‘Once an Avenger…’ is inked by the wonderful John Romita (senior) and the yarn and this volume concludes with the epic ‘From the Ashes of Defeat!’ by Lee, Heck and Ayers.

Page for page this is one of the best comicbook compilations ever produced. Riveting tales of action and adventure, a charismatic blend of established and new characters and some of the best illustrated narrative in Marvel’s history makes this economical black and white tome one of the best comics collections you could ever buy. So why don’t you?

© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sublife Volume 1

Sublife
Sublife

By John Pham (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56097-946-3

Self-publishing wizard and minicomic genius John Pham has joined with the wonderfully progressive Fantagraphics to release the first volume in a proposed twice-a-year book series dedicated to the sheer joy of pictorial storytelling in our modern, miracle-free world, which any adult fan just won’t be able to resist.

This initial offering, a sublimely designed landscape-format tome printed in quirky two-tone (Magenta and Cyan combined to produce a huge variety of colours welcomingly familiar to anybody who grew up reading Beano or Dandy) features a series of intertwined tales featuring the odd denizens of ‘221 Sycamore St.’

Poignant and surreal by turns, the lives of exhausted ‘Mildred Lee’, dubious stud ‘Vrej Sarkissian’, the tragic and disturbing religious studies teacher ‘Hubie Winters’ and those guys ‘Los Hermanos Macdonald’ are a captivating and laconic examination of the kind of people you probably wouldn’t like or make time for…

The silent, deadly pantomime of the house cat seeking safety outside is worth the price of admission alone, but when the abstract and symbol-stuffed existences on display here shuffle into your head and just sit there twitching, you too will wonder how you ever got on without this creator on your “must-read” list.

© 2008 John Pham. All Rights Reserved.