By Go Nagai (First Publishing)
ISBN: 0-915419-46-7

If you’re any sort of manga or anime fan then the Mazinger premise and cartoonist/creator Go Nagai are names you will have heard. For the rest, suffice to say that this unflaggingly creative man (Mazinger Z, Great Mazinger, UFO Robo Grandizer, Cutey Honey, Devilman, Kinta the Young Pack Boy, Shameless School and literally hundreds of other comics and TV shows) took Japan and the wider world by storm from the end of the 1960s. Whether with horror (Devilman), comedy (Cutey Honey), satire (Shameless School), historical drama (Kinta, the Young Pack Boy) or many other genres and series ranging from mainstream to underground and alternative, he blazed a trail that made his contemporaries gasp, but with science-fiction, which was considered an unfitting subject for adults when he began, he revolutionised world comics.

Nagai was the man who invented giant robots that heroes could wear as high-tech suits of armour. Mazinger Z — or Majingā Zetto — which first appeared in the magazine Shueisha Shonen Jump in 1972, captivated audiences when adapted as television cartoons. He then invented robots that changed shape (Getta Robo) leading to the Transformers sub-genre. Like his creations this prolific artist never stops.

In 1988 First Comics, one of the earliest American publishers to import translated Japanese comics to the US market, commissioned Go Nagai to return to his roots with an all-new Mazinger graphic novel, in a Western format and full colour (even today the vast majority of manga work is produced in black and white). In a world devastated by permanent warfare Major Kabuto (the name of the original human hero in the old series) spends all his time in frantic combat. But when a cataclysmic explosion catapults him into a parallel universe he meets the beautiful Warrior-Princess Krishna, whose fairy-tale kingdom is on the verge of defeat by the monstrous reptilian Zards.

Love blossoms as the mighty mecha saves the humans but all gods are cruel and the lovers face an insurmountable obstacle. On this Earth Kabuto can only hold Krishna in his arms whilst riding Mazinger. Here all humans are over 100 feet tall…

A simple fantasy, told at breakneck speed and with startling virtuosity, this long out of print item is a wonderful slice of exotica that genre-fans would love to see.

© 1988 Go Nagai. English translation© 1988 First Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Vampire — Tales of the Multiverse

Batman: Vampire — Tales of the Multiverse
Batman: Vampire

By Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, John Beatty & Malcolm Jones III (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-645-0

Now that the 52 multiverse is established as “real continuity” and an accepted fact of the DC Universe, lots of discarded story concepts should be up for repackaging in the foreseeable future. This compendium collects a trilogy of tales that appeared under the Elseworlds banner in the 1990s and are now bona fide Batman stories that all began with another of those literary cross-pollinations that publishers seem so in love with.

Batman and Dracula: Red Rain is a genuinely creepy adventure of heroism and sacrifice as Dracula moves into Gotham City and the Dark Knight is forced to ally himself with “good vampires” in an attempt to stop him. Considering the title of this collected volume it’s presumably not a spoiler to reveal that he also has to sacrifice his life and his humanity before the threat to his beloved city.

This tale was a great success when it was first released in 1991; a minor gothic masterpiece, both philosophical and tension drenched, with the sleek, glossily distorted artwork of Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III creating a powerful aura of foredoomed predestination. It alone is well worth the price of admission

And that is a very good thing because the two sequels are ill-advised and, frankly, unwelcome and unnecessary.

Batman: Bloodstorm (1994, with the somehow more visually hygienic John Beatty replacing Malcolm Jones III as inker) sees Gotham City protected by a vampiric Batman who combines crime-fighting with dispatching those bloodsuckers who escaped the cataclysmic events of Red Rain. He is a tortured hero who struggles perpetually with his unholy thirst, but who is determined nonetheless never to drink human blood.

But when the Joker assumes command of the remaining vampires and attempts to take control of Gotham, not even the hero’s greatest friends and a lycanthropic Cat-Woman can forestall Batman’s final fate.

And yet Batman’s final rest is thwarted when the heartsick Alfred and desperate Commissioner Gordon recall the Batman from his final rest in Batman: Crimson Mist. Released in 1999, Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and John Beatty recount the grim but predictable tale of a city overrun by super-criminals since the caped Crusader went to his reward. So when his faithful manservant brings him back he is horrified to find the now corrupted hero a malevolent blood-hungry beast that plans to save Gotham by slaughtering every criminal in it. Only a bizarre alliance of good men and monstrous villains can rectify this situation before humanity itself pays the price…

These stories take the concept of Batman as scary beast to logical extremes – and beyond – but although well drawn and thoughtfully written the sequels lack the depth and intensity of the initial tale and feel too much like most sequels – just an attempt to make some more money. At least in this volume you have the real deal, so buy it and just treat the last two thirds as bonus material.

© 1991, 1994, 1999, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Latest Herman

The Latest Herman

By Jim Unger (Sheldon Press)
ISBN: 0-85969-481-X

Herman isn’t a person: Bear that in mind…

Jim Unger was born in London in 1927 and emigrated to Canada where he took up cartooning as a profession. Herman began in 1974 when he moved to Ottawa from Ontario. He won The National Cartoonist Society Newspaper Panel Cartoon Award in 1982 and 1987. In 1984 he moved to the Bahamas and in 1992 he retired.

Constantly nagged by friends and fans, he came out of retirement in 1997, reviving Herman on a piecemeal basis and overseeing an updated release of the long-running strip. Co-founder of INTRACA, an intranet feature using humour and cartoons on work-place computers, he is a keen proponent of the electronic dissemination of cartoon art. In 1990 he made cartoon history when Herman was the first US strip syndicated in East Germany.

Impressive, no?

Irrelevant. Herman is a superbly dry and wonderfully drawn old-fashioned gag-panel that covers all the old familiar subjects with trenchant wit and a mean eye. It is one of the funniest strips ever created and always worth a look. This particular collection was just the one nearest to hand.

And Herman? That’s actually anybody in the strip on the day. We’ve all been a bit Herman at times.

© 1981 Universal Press Syndicate. © 1997 United Media. All Rights Reserved.

JLA: Riddle of the Beast

JLA: Riddle of the Beast

By Alan Grant & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-84023-449-0 (Softcover) ISBN13: 978-1-5638-9867-9 (hardback)

The Justice League franchise lends itself to a lot of different interpretations, but this peculiar jam-session, taking its lead from the world fantasy boom triggered by the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, is perhaps one of the wildest.

Elfin Robin Drake, son of a dead hero, lives in the idyllic village of Haven and simply wants to marry his sweetheart and live a long life. But when the arachnoid seer The Riddler prophecies the return of The Beast his old life vanishes forever in flame and blood and a sea of devils.

One generation ago a monstrous evil conjured by a wizard nearly destroyed The World and only the entire force of the united Kingdoms and great heroism defeated it. Now those kingdoms are at each other’s throats and Robin must gather and reunite them if they are to have any chance against an evil that apparently cannot die.

JLA: Riddle of the Beast (Hardcover)

This is a rather formulaic saga-quest, given a boost by the character designs of Michael Kaluta, with the painted artwork parcelled out amongst Andrew Robinson, Hermann Mejia, Carl Critchlow, Alex Horley, Liam McCormick Sharpe, Martin T Williams, Glenn Fabry, Doug Alexander Gregory, Rafael Garres, Jon Foster, Saverio Tenuta, Jim Murray, John Watson, Gregg Staples and Simon Davis. Some of Kaluta’s designs are also included at the back.

Although not to everyone’s taste – and certainly not mine – this tale is full of wizards and heroes, and the fantasy analogues of the World’s Greatest Superheroes ranges from inspired to just plain daft, but all concerned give it their creative best and as such tales go it really isn’t as bad as it could be. You could do much worse. Professor Dumbledore’s School for Gifted Mutants; any takers?

© 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Garth: The Women of Galba

Garth: The Women of Galba

By Jim Edgar and Frank Bellamy (Titan Books)
ISBN: 0-907610-49-8

The second 1980s Titan Books collection of the Frank Bellamy Garth spans the period from 7th September 1972 to 25th October 1973 and shows the artist at the absolute peak of his powers. (These great old volumes are still available through some internet vendors such as – and I know because I just checked – but it never hurts to simply Google the title of a book if you’re interested in it)…

Garth was the British answer to America’s publishing phenomenon Superman and first appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of Steve Dowling and BBC producer Gordon Boshell, joining the regular comic strip features, Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and the irrepressible, morale-boosting glamour-puss Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was, just in time to save the entire populace from a tyrant. Boshell never actually wrote the series, so Dowling, who was also producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a writer could be found.

Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 until January 20th 1946) by introducing the studious jack-of-all-science Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the hero back through his past lives. In the next tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946 – July 20th 1946) his origin was revealed. Found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands, baby Garth was adopted by a kindly old couple. Growing to vigorous manhood he returned to the seas as a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943.

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland until Peter O’Donnell took over in 1953. He wrote 28 adventures but resigned in 1966 to devote more time to his own Modesty Blaise feature. His place was taken by Jim Edgar; who also wrote the western strips Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

In 1968 Dowling retired and his assistant John Allard took over the drawing until a permanent artist could be found. Allard had completed ten tales when Frank Bellamy came on board with the 13th instalment of ‘Sundance’ (see Garth: The Cloud of Balthus ISBN: 0-90761-034-X). Allard remained as background artist/assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

Professor Lumiere had discovered something which gave this strip its distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance: Garth was blessed – or cursed – with an involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives. This concept gave the strip infinite potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble origins as a Superman knock-off.

This volume begins with the eerie chiller ‘The People of the Abyss’ wherein Garth and sub-sea explorer Ed Neilson are captured by staggeringly beautiful – and naked! – women who drag their bathyscaphe to a city at the bottom of the Pacific where they are at war with horrendous aquatic monstrosities. But even that is merely the prelude to a tragic love affair with Cold War implications…

Next up is the eponymous space-opera romp ‘The Women of Galba’ wherein another alien tyrant learns to rue the day he abducted a giant Earthman to be a gladiator. Exotic locations, spectacular action and oodles of astonishingly beautiful females make this an unforgettable adventure.

“Ghost Town” is a western tale, and a very special one. When Garth, holidaying in Colorado, rides into ‘Gopherville’ an abandoned mining town, he is drawn back to a past life as Marshal Tom Barratt who lived, loved and died when the town was a hotspot of vice and money. When Bellamy died suddenly in 1976 this tale, long acknowledged as his favourite was rerun until Martin Asbury was ready to take over the strip.

The final adventure ‘The Mask of Atacama’ finds Garth and Professor Lumiere in Mexico City. In his sleep the hero is visited by the spirit of beautiful Princess Atacama who brings him through time to the Aztec City of Tenochtitlan where as the Sun God Axatl he hopes to save their civilisation from the marauding Conquistadores of Hernan Cortés, but neither he nor the Princess have reckoned on the jealousy of the Sun Priests and their High Priestess Tiahuaca…

Of especial interest in this volume are a draft synopsis and actual scripts for ‘The Women of Galba’, liberally illustrated, of course. There has never been a better adventure strip than Garth as drawn by Bellamy, combining action, glamour, mystery and the fantastic into a seamless blend of graphic wonderment. Of late, Titan Books has published a magical run of classic British strips and comics. I’m praying that Garth also is in their sights, and if he is it’s up to us to make sure that this time the books find a grateful, appreciative and huge audience…

© 1985 Mirror Group Newspapers/Syndication International. All Rights Reserved.

Buck Rogers: The First 60 Years in the 25th Century

Buck Rogers: The First 60 Years in the 25th Century

By various (TSR)
ISBN: 978-0-8803-8604-3

There’s not really a lot you can say about Buck Rogers that hasn’t been said before – and probably better – by the likes of such luminaries and fans as Ray Bradbury.

The feature began as a prose novella which appeared in the August 1928 issue of the “scienti-fiction” pulp magazine Amazing Stories. Written by Philip Francis Nowlan, Armageddon 2419A.D. told of Anthony Rogers, a retired US Army Air Corps officer who fell into a five-hundred-year coma whilst surveying a deep mine only to awaken to a world controlled by a Chinese Empire ruled by tyrants called Mongols or The Han.

The valiant battle to free America from oppression was another thinly-veiled “Yellow Peril” story, (this dubious prejudice, embarrassingly for us liberals, has produced some of the best escapist adventure fiction of the 20th Century) and something in the tale caught the public’s attention. Consequently John Flint Dille, head of National Newspaper Service Syndicate arranged for the author and artist Dick Calkins to produce the industry’s first action/drama continuity feature, as well as the first and most influential SF strip ever (space flight, television, even the atom bomb – all appeared in these panels long before their real world introductions) by securing the rights to adapt the tale into picture form. That prose story, which also introduced the very capable Wilma Deering and the all-knowing scientist Dr. Huer is reproduced in this fabulous if frustrating book.

The daily strip premiered on January 7th 1929, about the time that the prose sequel The Airlords of Han appeared in Amazing Stories (cover-dated March 1929) and the same day that the Tarzan newspaper strip debuted. The strip was a huge hit and the marketing genius of Dille made it a most profitable one. There was merchandise, premiums, giveaways, a radio show, books and even a movie serial. What we now consider as part and parcel of an entertainment franchise was all invented by Dille for the strip – which he renamed Buck Rogers.

This book was released as an anniversary tribute – and is still available through many internet book sellers – and features an extended sequence from each decade. As well as the strips it also offers biographies, a potted history, colour selections and a most fascinating timeline. For each decade there is a context page listing the high points in Dailey Life, Science, Politics and Culture.

But comics are what we love so what about them? From 1929 comes “Meeting the Mongols” by Nowlan and Calkins wherein the noble New Americans defy and defeat the overlords of Earth in their own Citadel. It should be noted however that Calkins, although a popular artist in his day, was never that impressive technically and is to many modern readers an acquired taste.

From the 1930s comes a selection of Sunday Colour Pages. In those early days when everything was new, many local papers often bought only one or the other of the Daily strips or Sunday pages. So to avoid confusion Buck Rogers only ran Monday to Saturday and the colour section featured separate tales of Buddy Deering (Wilma’s little brother) and his girlfriend Alura in outer space, although many other cast members such as Dr. Huer, Killer Kane, Princess Ardala and pirate-turned-pal Black Barney would frequently appear. The Sunday page began on March 30th 1930 and was originally produced by Russell Keaton although the Calkins by-line was the only credit to appear. In 1932 Rick Yager took over the page. He would one day take over writing and drawing the entire feature, aided by Len Dworkins and later Dick Locher.

From the end of the 1940s comes Dr. Modar of Saturn, written by Bob Barton and drawn by a young but immensely talented Murphy Anderson. By this time Buck was a sort of space cop, interplanetary if not intergalactic, and the parochial jingoism had been replaced by the kind of convivial paternalism that washed over all American popular fiction. After all weren’t they the Policeman of The World – and beyond?

The Vulcan Trouble-shooter comes from the 1950s, as Buck becomes Governor of the colony of Vulcan and the target of unscrupulous profiteers in a rather pedestrian tale by Barton, Anderson and latterly, new chief artist Len Dworkin. It was during this decade that relations between creators and syndicate became so acrimonious that it resulted in a court-case. The strip, which had been idling for some time, went into a sharp decline.

From the 1960s The Miss Solar System Beauty Pageant shows wonderful art from the underrated George Tuska, but a strip and character that bore no relation to the icon of futurity that he should have been. The strip was cancelled in 1967, with the final instalment published on July 8th of that year.

And there it would have ended if not for the television show which was created in the Space-Opera boom following the release of Star Wars. In 1979 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century returned to newspapers as a Sunday colour feature written by Jim Lawrence and illustrated by Gray Morrow. A selection of these make up the 1970s-1980s requirements in this volume. This time the strip ran until 1983 with Cary Bates replacing Lawrence in 1981.

This is an annoying book. It is large, beautifully expansive, contains clever and informative added-value features, and reprints stories that have seldom if ever been reprinted. But the editing is insane. Two of the adventures just stop dead in mid-story without even a written synopsis of how they conclude and even the selections seem atypical of the wealth of material that could have been used. I love this book because of what it means to comics but I hate this book for being less than it should be.

Hopefully with the 80th anniversary (which I take as the birth of the strip – not the publication of the novella) looming next year the current copyright holders will do a better job of it this time.

™ & © 1929-1969, 1988 The Dille Family Trust. All Rights Reserved.

The Story of Babar

The Story of Babar

By Jean de Brunhoff (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-3818-2

Babar the Elephant has been charming readers for generations and Egmont have re-released five of his earliest adventures for another bunch of children and adults to fall in love with.

This volume first appeared as L’Histoire de Babar in France in 1931 and was an instant hit. The English language version was launched in 1933, complete with introduction by A. A. Milne, bringing Jean de Brunhoff’s forthright and capable elephantine hero across the channel and thence across the Oceans to America and the Colonies. Apparently the initial tale was a bedtime story his wife Cecile created for their own children. De Brunhoff wrote and painted seven adventures before his death in 1937, two of them published posthumously. After World War II his son Laurent continued the franchise producing ten more adventures between 1946 and 1966.

The books have in their time been controversial. Many critics have seen them as being pro-colonialism, and as products of a more robust time, they could never be regarded as saccharine or anodyne, but they are sweet, alluring and irresistibly captivating.

When baby Babar is growing up in the jungle his mother is killed by white hunters. Terrified and sad the baby flees in a panic, eventually coming to a very un-African provincial city. He meets a kind old lady there who gives him money to buy a suit. As he adapts to city life he moves into her very large house and is educated in modern, civilised ways. But still, occasionally, he feels homesick and misses his jungle home.

After two years he meets his cousins Celeste and young Arthur wandering naked in the streets of the city and the Old Lady gets them clothes too. Soon though, their mothers come to fetch them and Babar decides to return with them and show the other elephants all the wonderful things he has experienced. Buying a motor-car and filling it with clothes and presents he returns just in time, because the King of all the Elephants has eaten a bad mushroom and is dying…

The political assumptions of adults are one thing, but the most valid truth is that these are magical books for the young, illustrated in a style that is fluid, humorously detailed and splendidly memorable. Even after 75 years and more they have the power to enthral and captivate and that charm is leavened with an underlying realism that is still worthy of note.

My only concern is that in an age of computer screens and instant messaging the cursive script of the text might deter a few readers. I applaud the publishers for not replacing it with block letters and hope I’m wrong, as usual, because these are wonderful books for the young of all ages and species.

2008 Edition. All Rights Reserved.

Elektra Lives Again

Elektra Lives Again

By Frank Miller & Lynn Varley (Marvel/Epic Comics)
ISBN (hardback):0-87135-738-0 ISBN13 (softcover): 978-0-7851-0890-0

I’m looking at the superb hardback released in 1990 but the most recent release was an oversized paperback in 2002 of this impressive and contemplative psychological thriller of obsession and loss.

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who fights crime and injustice as Daredevil, a costumed acrobat whose other senses are so super-sensitive he can track a bullet leaving a gun, hear pulse-rates across a street and even identify felons by their scent. In college he loved and lost a girl named Elektra whose father was murdered before her eyes. She left Matt and became a ninja assassin. Years later they briefly reunited before she was murdered by Bullseye, one of Daredevil’s greatest foes.

Her Ninja masters The Hand brought her back from death before Murdock granted her final redemption and peace. He was left not knowing if she was actually dead or alive.

Now plagued by nightmares in which her murdered victims are pursuing her, the blind Murdock is being driven mad by visions of Elektra. In the waking world The Hand are back and they plan to kill Bullseye and reanimate him as their Prime Assassin. Elektra is alive and intends to stop them…

This cold, lyrical tale of love and horror is a powerful example of Frank Miller’s ability to tell a story. Although an uncomfortable fit for the continuity-conscious, the bleak and desolate scenario, the balletic grace of the action sequences, superbly finished with the icy palette of Lynn Varley’s painted colours, and the sheer depth of characterisation makes this one of the best Daredevil stories ever told, although not one to read if unfamiliar with Elektra’s back-story.

Best to track down those stories first (most recently collected as Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller: Volume II , ISBN: 978-0-7851-0771-2) then …

© 1990 Epic Comics. © 2002 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Scottish Connection

Batman: The Scottish Connection
Batman: The Scottish Connection

By Alan Grant & Frank Quitely (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-5638-9372-8

Way, way back in Detective Comics #198, 1953 (“Lord of Bat-Manor” drawn by the legendary Dick Sprang) Batman was left a Scottish Castle. It was later established that Bruce Wayne’s ancestors came from Scotland. Don’t ask me why that bit of ephemera remains when so very much else has been rewritten over the years but it has, and professional Scots Alan Grant and Frank Quitely used that fact to craft this slim yet gripping little thriller.

On a visit to the Auld Country, Bruce Wayne stumbles onto a quasi-Masonic plot to locate the lost treasure of the Knights Templar; that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a revenge scheme hundreds of years in the making that involves beautiful tragic women, deadly plagues, ancient super-weapons, crazed claymore-waving maniacs and good old-fashioned Heid-cases and Barm-pots…

Beautifully illustrated, deftly scripted and brilliantly skirting the line between comedy and thriller, this is pure adventurous escapism from two consummate professionals. Go and get it, bonny lads and lassies.

© 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wild Adapter, Vol 1

Wild Adapter, Vol 1

By Kazuya Minekura (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59816-978-2

Despite a definite homoerotic subtext this tale of modern gangsters can be read as a crime story with the lone protagonist as the proverbial alienated outsider. Makota Kubota is cool. A High Schooler, he seems immune to all the pressures of a teenager’s existence. He only comes alive when playing Mah Jong.

When he is sought out by a local Yakuza boss to take charge of the local youth gang he goes along with it. He is told to keep all other gangs out of his area – he successfully complies. Makota is extremely capable, and can handle himself in a fight. There seems to be nothing he can’t do. And still, nothing seems to penetrate his aloof exterior…

Slowly though he establishes a relationship – almost a friendship – with another young Yakuza, Nobuo Komiya, and learns about a semi-mystical mutagenic drug that’s just reaching the streets. Wild Adapter is not just another narcotic. Some of the addicts are turning into strange animals and dying.

What is happening and what does Makota’s uncle, the famous detective, know about all this?

In this first volume, almost a prologue, Kazuya Minekura lays the groundwork for a fascinating adult crime thriller, but that’s all. The threads and settings are in place but there is no real narrative here yet. Engaging and intriguing, dripping with Gangster Chic and wonderfully drawn, it will still take a few more volumes before we know what’s going on and whether or not it’s worth pursuing.

This book is printed in the ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format, and carries a parental advisory notice of explicit content.

© 2000, 2001 Kazuya Minekura. All Rights Reserved.
English text © 2007 TOKYOPOP Inc.