Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos Marvel Masterworks volume 1

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6792-1

Inspired by the James Bond films and pioneering TV shows like Danger Man, ultimate super-spy Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (December 1963): a grizzled and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of big adventures. In typical spook style, he craftily manipulated the First Family of Marvel superheroes into invading a sovereign nation, just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off.

What’s weird about that? Well, the gruffly capable everyman was already the star of the little company’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in – depending on whether you were American or European – the middle or beginning of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series (similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen) had launched in May of that year. Fury’s post-war self became a big-name star when espionage shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. became global sensations and the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales#135 (August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden, enemy-organisation Hydra: all with captivating Jack Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and, later, iconic imagineering from Jim Steranko whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the art form to a whole new level.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury seems to be a pure Jack Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places all grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies. However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Following another typically exuberant Stan Lee Introduction this first Trade Paperback (and eBook) memorial compendium re-presents the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1-13 (spanning May 1963 to December 1964) opening – just as you’d expect – with blistering premier ‘Sgt. Fury, and his Howling Commandoes’ (that’s how they speled it in the storree-title – altho knot ennyware else).

Crafted by Lee, Kirby and inker Dick Ayers the rip-snorting yarn is bursting with full page panels interrupted by ‘Meet the Howling Commandos’ – a double-page starring the seven members of First Attack Squad; Able Company. This comprised Fury himself, former circus strongman/Corporal “Dum-Dum” Dugan and Privates Robert “Rebel” Ralston (a jockey), former student Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, jazz trumpeter Gabriel Jones, mechanic Izzy Cohen and glamorous movie star Dino Manelli.

Controversially – even in the 1960s – this combat Rat Pack was an integrated unit with Jewish and black members as well as Catholics, Southern Baptists and New York white guys all merrily serving together. The Howling Commandos pushed envelopes and busted taboos from the very start…

The first mission was a non-stop action romp pitting ‘Seven Against the Nazis!’ and putting the squad through their various paces as the ragged band of indomitable warriors tackled hordes of square-necked Nazis and saving D-Day by rescuing a French resistance fighter carrying vital plans of the invasion. They even brought back a high-ranking “kraut” prisoner. There was even room for a Kirby fact-page comparing and contrasting six different side-arms of the period in ancillary feature ‘Weapons of War’

Issue #2 found the ‘7 Doomed Men!’ up to their ripped shirts in Germans as they first infiltrated a French coastal town to blow up a U-Boat base and got back to England just in time to be sent on another suicide mission. This time it was to destroy a secret facility at Heinemund in the heart of the Fatherland where Nazi scientists were doing something sinister and nefarious with “hard water”…

These overblown fustian thrillers always played fast and loose with history and logic, so if you crave veracity above all I’d steer clear, but if you can swallow a heaping helping of creative anachronism there’s always great fun to be had here – especially since nobody drew atomic explosions like Kirby…

This drama was topped off with more fact pages as ‘The Enemy That Was!’ explored the capabilities of ‘The German Infantryman’ whilst ‘Weapons of War: “Chatter Guns” of World War II’ details everything you need to know about submachine guns…

Rough and ready gallows humour and broad comedy became increasingly important to the series from #3 onwards, with home base rivalries and wry comradely sparring leavening the outrageous non-stop carnage of the missions. ‘Midnight on Massacre Mountain!’ finds the septet explosively invading Italy to rescue a US army division caught in a Nazi trap. Along the way they meet a brilliant OSS officer training partisan troops, and Fury thought that young Reed Richards would go far…

Supplementing this exploit is a fascinating feature revealing what ordnance and hardware cost in ‘America’s World War II Shopping List!’

‘Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh!’ in #4 began an inking tour of duty for George Bell (AKA 1950s Kirby studio-mate George “Inky” Roussos) and introduced a love interest for the Sarge, when he meets Red Cross volunteer Lady Pamela Hawley during an air raid in London. How cruel and tragic was fate then, that the Howlers’ very next mission took them to Berlin to kidnap a young British nobleman with the same name, acting as a crucial propaganda mouthpiece for the Wehrmacht…

The mission was a double disaster. Not only did Pamela’s ignoble brother perish but the debacle also cost the life of a Howler…

‘Weapons of War: Combat Rifles of World War II’ then ended this shocking, surprisingly grim and low-key melodrama…

Fury’s appearance in FF#21 – not included here – was released between that issue and #5, but no mention was made of it when the dark and cunning yarn introduces one of Marvel’s vilest, greatest villains. ‘At the Mercy of Baron Strucker’ sees Fury humiliated and defeated in personal combat against an Aryan nobleman before candid filmed footage is used as a propaganda tool of the Nazis. Only too late did dashing Dino pointed out how the nonplussed noncom had fallen for the oldest trick in Hollywood’s playbook…

The riotous rematch went rather better after which ‘Weapons of War: Light Machine Guns of World War II’ ends matters in a graphically educational manner, whilst ‘The Fangs of the Desert Fox!’ in #6 dumped the Squad in the desert to tackle the hordes of General Erwin Rommel in a mission foredoomed to fail…

‘The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury’ then provides a glimpse at the hard-bitten hero’s past and offers insights into his tempestuous relationship with immediate superior Captain Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer. Of course, to get that information we have to watch Fury endure a dramatic trial after seemingly sabotaging a mission and striking a commanding officer…

Although continuing to draw the magnificent, eye-catching covers, Kirby left the title with this issue. His astounding abilities were more profitably employed in the superhero titles, even as Lee began consolidating the ever-expanding Marvel Universe by utilising more WWII iterations of contemporary characters.

‘The Death Ray of Baron Zemo!’ in #8 pits the Howlers against a Captain America villain recently debuted in The Avengers. Ayers & Roussos capably depict the unit’s attempts to capture the Nazi scientist and a weapon which could shape the outcome of the entire war. The tale also introduced Junior Juniper’s replacement: a rather fruity caricature of a British soldier named Percival Pinkerton, resplendent in horn-rimmed specs, pencil moustache, fuchsia beret and impossibly utilitarian umbrella…

In #9 the implausibly audacious ‘Mission: Capture Adolf Hitler!’ goes awry after the latest Howlers’ invasion of Berlin again brings Fury face-to-face with Wolfgang von Strucker; leading to temporary capture and an astounding escape whilst ‘On to Okinawa!’ in #10 sees the squad achieve greater success when despatched to the Pacific to rescue a captured US colonel from the Japanese.

This tale also saw the debut of a bearded bombastic submarine commander who would become a series regular before eventually winning his own series (Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders) in 1967.

The pace had visibly slowed and melodramatic subplots increased by #11, with ‘The Crackdown of Capt. Flint!’ depicting Happy Sam briefly replaced by a spit-and-polish officer who soon learns the limitations of his ways, after which in #12, a raid on a V1 factory in the heart of Europe seemingly prompts Dino to join the Nazis ‘When a Howler Turns Traitor!’

It was just a pre-arranged ploy though, but sadly nobody told the American commander, who latterly stuck the star in front of a firing squad…

This issue also included a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of Fury by Ayers.

Closing the show on a true high, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #13 is arguably the best issue of the entire 167 issue run. The title says it all…

‘Fighting Side-by-Side with… Captain America and Bucky!’ reunited Lee, Kirby & Ayers in a blistering battle yarn as the Howlers crossed paths with the masked Sentinels of Liberty after both teams stumble across a top secret Nazi operation to build an invasion tunnel under the channel to England. To resort to the terms of the times: “Wah-Hoo!”…

Gilding this gladiatorial lily, the book signs off with several contemporary house ads, and full creator biographies.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, almost anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level if no other, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre. Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1963, 1964, 2013, 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

A Wish for Wings That Work

By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co.)
ISBN: 978-0-31610-758-7 (HB)                    978-0-31610 691-7 (PB)

For most of the 1980s and early 1990s Berké Breathed dominated the American newspaper comic strip scene with his astoundingly funny surreal political fantasy strip Bloom County – and latterly Outland – (both fully still available digitally – so don’t wait for my reviews, just get them now!).

At the top of his game he retired from strip cartooning and began to create a series of lavish children’s fantasy picture books – such as Red Ranger Came Calling and Mars Needs Moms! – that rank among the best America has ever produced.

That first foray into the field was A Wish for Wings That Work: a Christmas parable featuring Breathed’s signature character, and his most charmingly human. Opus is a talking penguin, reasonably educated (for America), archaically erudite yet ultimately emotionally vulnerable; insecure yet unfalteringly optimistic. His most fervent dream is that one day he might fly like a “real” bird…

As Christmas approaches his desperation and desolation grow, but he remains dolorously earthbound. And then on December 24th Santa Claus has an accident…

Breathed’s first children’s book is still in many ways his most poignant and joyous. It’s an old-fashioned Christmas miracle tale, laconically told and beautifully painted; stuffed with dry wit and uproarious belly-laughs to melt the hardest heart and it belongs on the bookshelf of every parent.

When the family have almost ruined the holiday, of if you find yourself somewhere other than where you’d want or expect to be, this is what you want to restore your spirits. Kids might like it too…
© 1991, 1995 Berkeley Breathed. All Rights Reserved.

Mega Robo Bros volume 2: Mega Robo Rumble

By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-81-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Future of Fun… 9/10

After far too long an interval, the second sterling all-ages outing for Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) Cameron’s marvellous metal and plastic paladins return to share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains!

It’s the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours Alex and his younger brother Freddie are (mostly) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s no big deal for them that they were constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus (before he vanished from all human knowledge) and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

They recently became super-secret agents too, but almost the entire world knows that…

It’s enough for the digital duo that Mum and Dad love them, even though the boys are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of the Mega Robo Routine combining boring lessons, fun with friends, playing games, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under RAID HQ…

When occasion demands, the lads undertake missions for bossy Baroness Farooq, head of government agency R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence). They think it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she employs…

However, although Dad may be just your average old guy it’s recently become clear that Mum is a bit extraordinary herself and, as renowned boffin Dr. Nita Sharma, harbours some surprising secrets of her own…

All the same, life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest. Of course, their parents’ other robot rescues can be a bit of a trial.

Baby triceratops Trikey with his dog-programming is ok, but French-speaking deranged ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing whilst gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quoting dead philosophers all the time makes most people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem …

Culled from the pages of fabulous UK weekly comic The Phoenix, this fistful of fun kicks off with ‘Chapter 1: Mega Robo Schooldays’ as Alex gets a hard time from classmates Mira and Taia. They used to be best friends, but with all his extra-curricular activities the girls are feeling a bit neglected. Alex’s guilt turns to something far worse on Monday at Oak Hill Primary School after a heated football match leads bully Jamal to make a startling accusation. But actually, how do we know if Alex is a Boy or a Girl…?

Deeply shaken the startled hero naturally asks Mum, and she’s never been more grateful for a sudden sneaky Surprise Giant Robot Attack…

In ‘Chapter 2: Mega Robo Underground’ Alex and Freddie are called in by Baroness Farooq, and jet over to Aldgate Tube Station to battle a colossal driller-droid. Further investigation leads the lads and a R.A.I.D. science team deep, deep into the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city.

Here they encounter an army of rejected and rebuilt robots all undertaking the bizarre agenda of a crazy bag-lady calling herself “The Caretaker”. When she abruptly loses control of her precious charges, all Hell breaks loose. After a massive fight, she escapes to an even more secret lair and an ongoing repair project with hidden ramifications that will have dire consequences for the bombastic boys and the entire world…

Freddie gets to see Mum’s stern side when she takes him – kicking and screaming – clothes shopping in ‘Chapter 3: Mega Robo Weekend’ after which shameful incident ‘Chapter 4: Mega Robo Celebrities’ zooms in on the price of fame when Prettiest Girl in School Jamila finally notices Alex.

With his shiny head all turned around, he’s in no mood for Freddie’s jealous response: candid home videos posted on VuTube. He’s even less chuffed when the postings go mega-viral but cheers up when Freddie’s celebrity bubble inevitably implodes in a most unfortunate manner…

Wrapping up with a spectacular big finish, ‘Chapter 5: Mega Robo Expo’ finds the kids – and their surprisingly famous mum – as guests of a massive Robot Show. After taking down obnoxious, fame-craving mech-makers Team Robotix in a gladiatorial contest, the lads think the action portion of the entertainment has ended, but then the Caretaker’s darkest secret bursts in with mass-murder in mind…

The huge rampaging robot quickly reinforces all humanity’s fears and anxieties about sentient mechanicals, but as the Mega Robo Bros drive the belligerent Wolfram off, Alex realises with alarm that Mum knows far more about the rogue – and her own “sons” – than she’s letting on…

To Be Continued…

Crafted by Cameron and his doughty colouring assistants Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea), this is another exceedingly engaging romp which rockets along like anti-gravity rollercoaster, blending mirth with warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic boys, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their antics strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What a movie this would make!

Unmissable excitement for kids of all ages and vintage, this is a true “must-have” item.
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2016. All rights reserved.

And while we’re talking perfect X-Mas gifts, why not pick up Mega Robo Bros volume 1 and enjoy the whole superb saga to date?

Oor Wullie & The Broons: Cooking Up Laughs!

By Robert Duncan Low, Dudley D. Watkins, Ken H. Harrison & various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-84535-614-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Fun and an Ideal Last-Minute Gift… 10/10

We always get a wee bit Caledonian come Christmas in Win Wonderworld, so here’s another loving look at a matched pair of Scotland’s greatest exports whilst simultaneously revelling in the Good Old Days of comics…

If you’re too busy to read yet more of my lecturing, hectoring blather, please feel free to skip the review… just as long as you buy these books for yourself or someone in severe need of a good cheering up and infectious laugh…

Published eternally in perfect tandem, The Broons and Oor Wullie are two of the longest-running newspaper strips in British history, having appeared continuously in the Scottish Sunday Post since their dual debuts in the March 8th 1936 edition.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging inner city clan were co-created by writer and Editor Robert Duncan Low (1895-1980) in conjunction with Dudley D. Watkins (1907-1969); DC Thomson’s greatest – and signature – artist.

Three years later the strips were collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals; alternating stars and years right up to the present day and remaining best-sellers every single time.

The shape and structure of British kids cartoon reading owes a huge debt to Robert Duncan Low who was probably DC Thomson’s greatest creative find.

He started at the Scottish publishing monolith as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publications where – between 1921 and 1933 – he conceived and launched the company’s “Big Five” story-papers for boys. Those rip-roaring illustrated prose periodicals comprised Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant idea resulted in The Fun Section: an 8-page pull-out supplement for Scottish national newspaper The Sunday Post consisting primarily of comic strips. The illustrated accessory premiered on 8th March and from the very outset The Broons and Oor Wullie – both rendered by the incomparable Watkins – were its indisputable stars…

Low’s shrewdest move was to devise both strips as domestic comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular. Ably supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

That came in December 1937 when Low launched DC Thomson’s first weekly pictorial comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 (Happy Anniversary, guys!) and early-reading title The Magic Comic the year after that.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed this strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture-papers. To supplement Beano and Dandy, the ball started rolling again with The Topper, closely followed by a host of new titles such as Beezer and Sparky.

Low’s greatest advantage was always his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style, more than any other, shaped the look of DC Thompson’s comics output until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Hailing from Manchester and Nottingham, Watkins was an artistic prodigy. He entered Glasgow College of Art in 1924 and before long was advised to get a job at Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the proposed Fun Section and, without missing a beat, Watkins added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, and The Beano’s placidly and seditiously outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable magnificence for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in illustration history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969. For all those astonishingly productive years he had unflaggingly drawn a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons every week.

His loss was a colossal blow to the company and DC Thomson’s top brass preferred to reprint old Watkins episodes in both the newspaper and the Annuals for seven long years before replacement artists were agreed upon. The Dandy reran his old Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the very start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) appeared in 1939, alternating with the first Oor Wullie book a year later (thanks to wartime paper restrictions, no annuals at all were published between 1943 and 1946) and for millions of readers no year can truly end without them.

Every kid who grew up reading comics has their own personal nostalgia-filled nirvana, and DC Thomson have always sagely left that choice to us whilst striving to keep all eras alive with carefully-tooled collectors’ albums like this substantial (225 x 300 mm) hardback Gift Book.

Bright and breezy, the compilation focuses on the characters’ relationship with food – particularly Scotland’s unique and evocative cuisine – through festive occasions, seasonal celebrations and in everyday contexts: especially in comedic situations as comfort or consolation or even hard-won prizes. It’s also jam-packed with some of the best-written and most impressively drawn strips ever conceived: superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

Moreover, rather than a chronological arc tracing from particularly bleak and fraught beginnings in British history through years of growth, exploration and cultural change, we’re treated to a splendid pick-&-mix protocol: a surprise on every turn of a page with Low and Watkins ably succeeded by Tom Lavery, Peter Davidson, Robert Nixon, Ken H. Harrison, Iain Reid, Tom Morton, Dave Donaldson, Morris Heggie and more.

So What’s the Set Up?: the Brown family dwell together in a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street in timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown Auchentogle (sometimes known as Auchenshoogle and based on the working class Auchenshuggle district of Glasgow).

As such it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing. And naturally, such a region was the perfect sounding board to portray all the social, cultural and economic changes that came after the war…

The adamant, unswerving cornerstone of the family feature is long-suffering, ever-understanding culinary commander-in-chief Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw and their battalion of stay-at-home kids. These comprise hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, gorgeous Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus a wee toddling lassie referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence yet always hanging around is sly, patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own cottage and constantly tries to impart his decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen?

Offering regular breaks from inner-city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the Highlands) to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl, farm-grown, temporary and touristic…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also launched on March 8th 1936 with his own collected Annual compilations subsequently and unfailingly appearing in the even years.

The premise is sublimely simply and eternally fresh: an overly-imaginative, impetuous scruff with a weakness for mischief, talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental or adult retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal good-hearted rascal with too much time on his hands who can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular supporting cast includes Ma and Pa, local beat-Bobby P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Boab, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others. As a grudging sign of changing times, in later years he’s been caught in the company of sensible schoolgirls like Rosie and Elizabeth

A compilation in monochrome – with some full-colour pages – Cooking Up Laughs! was released in 2016 as part of the admirable drive to keep early material available to fans: a lavishly sturdy hardback (still readily available through internet vendors) offering a tasty and tantalising selection curated with an emphasis on the eating habits of the stars.

Eating has always been a perennial and fundamental aspect of both strips (don’t get me started on the sociological value and importance of food in a communal or tribal setting: I’ve been to college twice and did all the reading they told me to!), and the topic has even generated a spin-off line of Maw Broon Cook Books

Divided by colour cover or title-pages from previous Annuals, the endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the happily standard fare: kids outsmarting older folk to score sweets and prohibited provender; pompous male adults making galling goofs and gaffes when cooking; family frolics and festival events: rules of rationing and home-grown garden gifts; etiquette outrages: the penalties of gorging; stolen candies, Christmas revels, how to drink Tea and even some full-colour puzzle pages to digest…

Also on show are Scots-specific treats and techniques such as Clootie Dumpling disasters; the mysteries of Fruit; the makings of “a Piece”; Fish Suppers and the miracle of Cheps; how to present Crofter’s Porridge; the marvel of Mince ‘n’ Tatties; better things to do with Neeps; dieting dos and don’ts and every manner of sweet and savoury sampling of succulence and sinfulness…

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to escape, the eternally affable humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive frolics make these superbly crafted strips an endlessly entertaining, superbly nostalgic treat.

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious homespun hilarity and deliriously domestic warmth, these examples of comedic certainty and convivial celebration are a sure cure for post-modern glums… and you can’t really have a happy holiday without that, can you?

© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2016.

Batman: The Golden Age Volume 3

By Bill Finger, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Thrilling and Totally Traditional… 10/10

The history of the American comicbook industry in most ways stems from the raw, vital and still compelling tales of two iconic creations published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in relatively cheap, and gloriously cheerful, compilations.

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman in their Man of Tomorrow, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there’s also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set out in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the major player who would inspire so many and develop the resilience to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes the coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #57-65, Batman #8-11 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #4-6, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from November 1941 to July 1942: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period two further scripters joined the team. Detective Comics #57 featured ‘Twenty-Four Hours to Live’, a tale of poisonings and Crimes of Passion whilst the perfidious Penguin returned in the next issue to make our heroes the victims of ‘One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups’

A few weeks later Batman #8 (now Bi-Monthly!) came out, cover-dated December 1941-January 1942. Such a meteoric rise and expansion during a time of extreme paper shortages gives evidence to the burgeoning popularity of the characters. Behind a superbly evocative “Infinity” cover by Fred Ray & Robinson lurked four striking tales of bravura adventure.

‘Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make’ is a brooding prison drama, followed by a rare foray into science fiction as a scientist abused by money-grubbing financial backers turns himself into a deadly radioactive marauder in ‘The Strange Case of Professor Radium.’ This tale was later radically revised and recycled by Finger & Kane as a sequence of the Batman daily newspaper strip from September 23rd – November 2nd

‘The Superstition Murders’ is an enthralling example of the “ABC Murders” – style plot and the issue wraps up on a high as ‘The Cross Country Crimes’ sees the Joker rampage across America in a classic blend of larceny and lunacy.

The Batman tale from Detective Comics #59 was written by Joseph Greene and details how the Penguin turns his formidable talents to bounty-hunting his fellow criminals in ‘The King of the Jungle’, and is followed here by rip-roaring modern cowboy yarn ‘The Ghost Gang Goes West’ which first appeared in the winter issue of World’s Finest Comics (#4).

Jack Schiff, who had a long and auspicious career as an editor at DC, scripted ‘The Case of the Costume-Clad Killers’ (Detective #60): another excursion into mania starring the Joker, leaving Bill Finger free to concentrate on the four fabulous tales comprising Batman #9 (February-March 1942) – one of the greatest single issues of the Golden Age and still a cracking parcel of joy today.

Behind possibly the most reproduced cover ever crafted by the brilliant Jack Burnley are ‘The Four Fates’: a dark and moving human interest drama featuring a quartet of fore-doomed mobsters; a maritime saga based on Moby Dick entitled ‘The White Whale’; another unforgettable Joker yarn ‘The Case of the Lucky Law-Breakers’, and the birth of a venerable tradition in an untitled story called here for expediency’s sake ‘Christmas’.

Over the decades, many of the Caped Crusaders’ best and finest adventures have had a Seasonal theme (and why there’s never been a Greatest Christmas Batman Stories is a mystery I’ve pondered for years!) and this touching – even heart-warming – story of petty skulduggery and little miracles is where it all really began.

There’s not a comic fan alive who won’t dab away a tear…

Next is another much-reprinted classic (aren’t they all?) from Detective Comics #61. ‘The Three Racketeers’ is the perfect example of a vintage Batman novella as a trio of criminal big-shots swap stories of the Gotham Guardians over a quiet game of cards, and the ripping yarn even conceals a sting-in-the-tail that still hits home 75 years later.

America had entered World War II by this period and the stories – especially the patriotic covers – went all-out to capture the imagination, comfort the down-hearted and bolster the nation’s morale.

One of the very best (and don’t just take my word for it – type “World’s Finest covers” into your preferred search engine and see for yourselves – go on, I’ll wait) designed and executed by the astounding Jerry Robinson precedes ‘Crime takes a Holiday’, (WFC #5, Spring 1942, by Finger, Kane & Robinson), a canny mystery yarn revealing how and why the criminal element of Gotham City suddenly “downs tools”. Naturally it’s all part of a devious master-plan and just as naturally our heroes soon get to the bottom of it…

The same creative team also produced ‘Laugh, Town Laugh!’ (Detective #62, April 1942) wherein the diabolical Joker goes on a murder-spree to prove to the nation’s comedians and entertainers who actually is the “King of Jesters”.

Cover-dated April-May 1942, Batman #10 follows with another four mini-masterpieces. Scripted by Greene ‘The Isle That Time Forgot’ sees the Dynamic Duo trapped in a land of dinosaurs and cavemen, whilst ‘Report Card Blues’ (also Greene) scripting, has the heroes inspire a wayward kid to return to his studies by crushing the mobsters he’s ditched school for.

Robinson soloed as illustrator and Jack Schiff typed the words for the classy jewel caper (oh, for those heady days when Bats wasn’t too grim and important to stop the odd robbery or two!) ‘The Princess of Plunder’ starring everyone’s favourite Feline Femme Fatale Catwoman, before the boys headed way out west to meet ‘The Sheriff of Ghost Town!’

This extremely impressive slice of contemporary Americana came courtesy of Finger, Kane & Robinson, who then went on to produce ‘A Gentleman in Gotham’ for Detective Comics #63.

Here the Caped Crusader has to confront tuxedoed International Man of Mystery Mr Baffle, before the Crime Clown again causes malignant mirthful mayhem in ‘The Joker Walks the Last Mile’ (Detective #64. June 1942).

Obviously, he didn’t since he was cover-featured and lead story in Batman #11 (June-July 1942). Finger is writer for ‘The Joker’s Advertising Campaign’ and ‘Payment in Full’ – a touching melodrama about the District Attorney and the vicious criminal to whom he owes his life, before ‘Bandits in Toyland’ features the scripting debut of pulp Sci Fi author Edmond Hamilton who details why a gang of thugs are stealing dolls and train-sets.

Finger then returns for ‘Four Birds of a Feather!’ which finds Batman in Miami to scotch the Penguin’s dreams of a crooked gambling empire…

There’s another cracking War cover and brilliant Bat-yarn from World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942) in ‘The Secret of Bruce Wayne!’ as Greene and Robinson provide a clandestine identity exposé tale that would become a standard plot of later years, before the volume closes with one more superb patriotic cover (this one by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon for Detective Comics #65) and a gripping crime-romp as Jack Burnley & George Roussos render Greene’s poignant and powerful North Woods thriller ‘The Cop who Hated Batman!’

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought temporary relief to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1941, 1942, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Omnibus volume 1

By Gaylord DuBois & Jesse Marsh with Robert P. Thompson (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-224-7                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-760-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic, Eternal Adventure… 9/10

I don’t know an awful lot about Jesse Marsh, other than that he was born on 27th July 1907 and died far too young: on April 28th 1966 from diabetic complications at the height of a TV Tarzan revival he was in some part responsible for. What I do know, however, is that to my unformed, pre-fanboy, kid’s mentality, his drawings were somehow better than most of the other artists and that every other kid who read comics in my school disagreed with me.

There’s a phrase we used to use at 2000AD that summed it up: “Artist’s artist”, which usually meant someone whose fan-mail divided equally into fanatical raves and bile-filled hate-mail. It seems there are some makers of comic strips that many readers simply don’t get.

It isn’t about the basic principles or artistic quality or even anything tangible – although you’ll hear some cracking justifications: “I don’t like his feet” (presumably the way he draws them) and “it just creeps me out” being my two favourites…

I simply got Jesse Marsh.

He was another Disney animator (beginning in 1939) who in 1945 moved sideways to become a full-time comics illustrator for the studio’s comicbook licensee Whitman Publishing. He never looked back and became the go-to guy for other ERB adaptations such as John Carter of Mars.

Situated on the West Coast, their Dell and Gold Key imprints rivalled DC and Marvel at the height of their powers, and they famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. No Dell Comics ever displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on the cover – they never needed to…

Marsh jobbed around the adapted movie properties – mostly on westerns like Gene Autry – until 1948 when Dell introduced the first all-new Tarzan comicbook. A newspaper strip had run since 1929 and all previous funnybook releases had featured expurgated reprints of those adventures. This changed with Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947) which featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P. Thompson, who wrote both the Tarzan radio show and the aforementioned syndicated strip.

‘Tarzan and the Devil Ogre’ is very much in the Burroughs tradition: the sometime John Clayton AKA Lord Greystoke and his friend Paul D’Arnot aid a young woman in rescuing her lost father from a hidden tribe ruled over by a monster, an engrossing yarn made magical by the simple, underplayed magic of a heavy brush line and absolutely unmatched design sense.

Marsh was unique in the way he positioned characters in space, using primitivist forms and hidden shapes to augment his backgrounds, and as the man was a fanatical researcher, his trees, rocks, and constructions were 100% accurate. His animals and natives, especially the children and women, were all distinct and recognisable – not the blacked-up stock figures in grass skirts even the greatest artists too often resorted to.

He also knew when to draw big and draw small: the internal dynamism of his work is spellbinding.

His Africa became mine, and of course the try-out comicbook was an instant hit. Marsh and Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a remarkable feat: Four Colour was a catch-all title showcasing in rotation literally hundreds of different licensed properties, often as many as ten separate issues per month. So rapid a return engagement meant pretty solid sales figures…

In ‘The Fires of Tohr’ (adapted by Thompson from an unsold radio script), Tarzan and D’Arnot rescue a stranded professor and his niece as they search for a fabulous lost city, only to fall foul of the crazed queen of that ancient race, whilst in follow-up tale ‘Tarzan and the Black Panther’ the Lord of the Jungle crushes a modern slave trader who thinks himself beyond the reach of justice.

Within six months the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January-February 1948), a swan-song for Thompson, but another unforgettable classic for Marsh – and the first of an unbroken run that would last until 1965: over 150 consecutive issues. In ‘Tarzan and the White Savages of Vari’ Greystoke rescued a lost prospector from a mountain kingdom of Neanderthals and the issue also featured the first of many pictorial glossaries, Tarzan’s Ape-English Dictionary, giving generations of youngsters another language to keep secrets in…

‘Tarzan and the Captives of Thunder Valley’ (Tarzan #2, March-April 1948) introduced a few more recurring characters such as Manu the monkey and noble great ape Gufta in the first of many tales written by Gaylord DuBois.

The Editor and prolific scripter (Lone Ranger, Lost in Space, Turok, Son of Stone, Brothers of the Spear and many more) would be Marsh’s creative collaborator for the next 19 years.

The story detailed how the Lord of the Jungle goes to the aid of an English boy searching for his father, a scientist specialising in radioactive ores. A sinister plot is duly uncovered that threatens to destabilise the entire world and concludes in a spectacular climax worthy of a Bond movie.

Issue #3 introduces Greystoke’s African family. In ‘Tarzan and the Dwarfs of Didona’ Jane is left to mind the store when Boy – later called Korak – plays with baboons and gets lost on an island in the Great Lake. Threatened with blood sacrifice by aggressive white pygmies, the dauntless lad can only wait for rescue – and a severe chastising…

In issue #4, (July-August 1948), ‘Tarzan and the Lone Hunter’ plunges the reader deeply into the fantastic worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs as old friend Om-At the cat man from the lost land of Pal-Ul-Don (introduced in 8th novel Tarzan the Terrible) comes looking for his stolen mate and accidentally embroils the Ape-Man and his brood in a deadly battle with a megalomaniacal witch-doctor…

Two months later ‘Tarzan and the Men of Greed’ clashes in #5, as American gangsters unite with Arab slaver Hassan to steal Atlantean gold hidden in the vaults of the lost city of Opar. Their first move is to take Jane and Boy hostage, but they quickly learn that Clayton’s greatest asset is not his mighty limbs or bestial allies, but a cunning, devious brain…

Issue #6 returns to the primeval region of dinosaurs in ‘Tarzan and the Outlaws of Pal-Ul-Don’. The Jungle Lord and Boy are drawn beyond the Great Thorn Desert after beast-men abduct Jane and their quest soon sees Tarzan embroiled in a brutal civil war shaking that savage land…

More dinosaur delights are on offer in ‘Tarzan in the Valley of Monsters’ (#7) which sees an unsanctioned hot air balloon excursion dump Boy and his Waziri playmate Dombie in a secret valley infested with giant lizards and other antediluvian menaces. When Tarzan and Dombie’s dad Muviro fly after them in a plane, catastrophe ensues and the humans are forced into an arduous trek home across terrifying vistas and through lethal natural hazards…

Morris Gollub began illuminating the covers with #8 as ‘Tarzan and the White Pygmies’ finds the Greystoke, Muviro, Boy and Dombie still stranded far from home. As they laboriously traverse an immense mountain range, they are befriended by diminutive albino warriors and save their undiscovered city of Lipona from an invasion of predatory vultures…

In #9 our heroes resurface in Pal-Ul-Don where ‘Tarzan and the Men of A-Lur’ unite to save a bastion of civilisation from brutal insurrection whereas issue #10 provides two shorter, complete tales. Safely back in his home range ‘Tarzan and the Treasure of the Bolgani’ finds the erstwhile English Lord aiding Muviro after a band of city-dwelling gorillas abduct his fellow tribesmen. Then, Boy ignores adult warnings to mind his manners with the volatile monkeys and ends up in painful distress as ‘The Baboon’s King’

The Ape-Man makes new friends in #11 as ‘Tarzan and the Sable Lion’ sees him domesticate a magnificent feline predator before joining wandering warrior Buto in saving his captured tribe from the marauding slavers of Abou Ben Ephraim. ‘Tarzan and the Price of Peace’ in #12 then relates how the displaced English peer plays matchmaker, helping lovesick Kolu secure a bride-price for his beloved Leelah. Of course, the rich chief she was promised to has objections and many armed servants determined to make trouble…

Tarzan #13 (January-February 1950) opens a new era as a run of photo-covers – starring then-current movie Ape-Man Lex Barker – begins. Inside, ‘Tarzan and the Knight of Lyonesse’ has the heroic stalwart ally with Hal Hogarth, a knight errant of lost Crusader colony Carmel, founded 900 years previously by the followers of Richard the Lionheart.

The man out of time is on a quest to beard the Saracens for the honour of a fair lady and needs all the help he can get when the beastly revenants of Opar ambush him…

Balancing the high drama ‘Tarzan and the Ape-Hunter’ sees Greystoke dealing harshly with a ruthless trapper attempting to capture specimens of rare wildlife, whilst in #14 a return to the Valley of Monsters leads to another encounter with living history with ‘Tarzan and the Lost Legion’ detailing the discovery of an unknown Roman outpost, complete with its own power-crazed Imperator…

Backing up the epic ‘Tarzan and the Flying Chief’ adds light humour as a bullying native headman absconds with a small plane he cannot pilot and learns a most life-altering lesson…

‘Tarzan and the Cave Men’ is the lead in #15, revealing how a leisurely trip to Opar drops Tarzan into a plot by gigantic troglodytes to kidnap sublime Queen La, supplemented by ‘Tarzan and the Hunter’s Reward’ in which the Jungle Lord comes to the aid of another maiden being sold off in unwanted marriage.

This stunning paperback (and digital) compilation concludes with #16 (July-August 1950) ‘Tarzan and the Beasts in Armor’ as the wandering Lord revisits old ally Om-At and teaches Boy the finer points of training a triceratops, just as white outworlders attempt to conquer the primeval region. Then the marvels draw to a close as the indefatigable adventurer adds a colossal antelope to his collection of livestock and ends a nasty outbreak of human sacrifice in ‘Tarzan and the Giant Eland’.

Scattered throughout the fantastic fiction are educational features, back-cover pin-ups and information pages such as ‘Tarzan’s Friends’, ‘Jungle Animals’, ‘Tarzan’s Ape-English Dictionary’ and ‘Jungle World’, offering charming sidebars into the world of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ greatest creation.

Although these are tales from a far-off, simpler time they have lost none of their passion, inclusivity and charm, whilst the artistic virtuosity of Jesse Marsh looks better than ever. Perhaps this time a few more people will “get” him…
Edgar Rice Burroughs® Tarzan®: The Jesse Marsh Years Omnibus volume 1 © 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 2009 2017, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. Tarzan ® Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. All rights reserved.

Steve Ditko Archives volume 2: Unexplored Worlds

By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-289-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Yule Yarn-Spinning… 9/10

Once upon a time the anthological title of short stand-alone stories was the sole staple of the comicbook profession, where the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular vehicle of expression seems all but lost to us today…

Steve Ditko is one of our industry’s greatest talents and one of America’s least lauded. His fervent desire to just get on with his job and to tell stories the best way he can – whilst the noblest of aspirations – has always been a minor consideration or even stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of comicbook output.

Before his time at Marvel, young Ditko perfected his craft creating short sharp yarns for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy today to be able to look at this work from such an innocent time when he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This superb full-colour series of hardback collections (also available as digital editions) has reprinted those early efforts (all of them here are from 1956-1957) with material produced after the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt.

Most are wonderfully baroque and bizarre supernatural or science fantasy stories, but there are also examples of Westerns, Crime and Humour: cunningly presented in the order he completed and sold them rather than the more logical but far-less-revealing chronological release dates. Moreover, they are all helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn – even the brace of tales done for Stan Lee’s pre-Marvel Atlas company.

Sadly, there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by the moody master…

This second sublime selection reprints another heaping helping of his ever-more impressive works: most of it courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics.

And whilst we’re being technically accurate, it’s also important to reiterate that the cited publication dates of these stories have very little to do with when Ditko crafted them: as Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem in buying material it could leave on a shelf for months – if not years – until the right moment arrived to print. The work is assembled and runs here in the order Ditko submitted it, rather than when it reached the grubby sweaty paws of us readers…

Following an historically informative Introduction and passionate advocacy by Blake Bell, concentrating on Ditko’s near-death experience in 1954 (when the artist contracted tuberculosis) and subsequent absence and recovery, the evocatively eccentric excursions open with a monochrome meander into the realms of satire with the faux fable – we’d call it a mockumentary – ‘Starlight Starbright’ as first seen in From Here to Insanity (volume 3 #1 April 1956) before normal service resumes with financial fable ‘They’ll Be Some Changes Made’ (scripted by Carl Wessler from Atlas’ Journey Into Mystery #33, April 1956) wherein a petty-minded pauper builds a time machine to steal the fortune his ancestors squandered, whilst a crook seeking to exploit a mystic pool finds himself the victim of fate’s justice in ‘Those Who Vanish’ (Journey Into Mystery #38, September 1956 and again scripted by Wessler).

Almost – if not all – the Charlton material was scripted by the astoundingly fast and prolific Joe Gill at this time, and records are spotty at best so let’s assume his collaboration on all the material here beginning with ‘The Man Who Could Never Be Killed’ from Strange Suspense Stories #31, published in February 1957. This tale of a circus performer with an incredible ethereal secret segues into ‘Adrift in Space’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #8 June 1958) wherein a veteran starship captain pushes his weary crew over the edge whereas ‘The King of Planetoid X’ – from the previous MoUW (February) details a crisis of conscience for a benevolent and ultimately wise potentate…

The cover of Strange Suspense Stories #31 (February 1957) leads into ‘The Gloomy One’ as a misery-loving alien intruder is destroyed by simple human joy before the cover to Out of This World #5 September 1957 heralds that issue’s ‘The Man Who Stepped Out of a Cloud’ and an alien whose abduction plans only seem sinister in intent…

Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 (October 1957) tells the story of a young ‘Stowaway’ who finds fulfilment aboard a harshly-run space ship after which the cover for Out of This World #3 (March 1957) leads to an apparent extraterrestrial paradise for weary star-men in ‘What Happened?’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest star characters. The title came from a radio show that Charlton licensed the rights to, with the lead/host/narrator acting more as voyeur than active participant. “The Mysterious Traveler” spoke directly to camera, asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human-interest yarns, all tinged with a hint of the weird or supernatural. When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the contents of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were always exotic and esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #2, February 1957, ‘What Wilbur Saw’ reveals the reward bestowed on a poverty-stricken country bumpkin who witnessed a modern-day miracle after which Out of This World #3 provides a cautionary tale of atomic mutation in ‘The Supermen’

The eerie cover to Out of This World #4 (June 1957) leads to a chilling encounter for two stranded sailors who briefly board the ‘Flying Dutchman’ and Strange Suspense Stories #32’s cover (May 1957) dabbles in magic art when a collector is victimised by a thief who foolishly stumbles into ‘A World of His Own’. From the same issue comes a salutary parable concerning a rich practical joker who goes too far before succumbing to ‘The Last Laugh’, after which ‘Mystery Planet’ (Strange Suspense Stories #36, March 1958) offers a dash of interplanetary derring-do as a valiant agent Bryan Bodine and his comely associate Nedra confounds an intergalactic pirate piloting a planet-eating weapon against Earth!

A similarly bold defender then saves ‘The Conquered Earth’ from alien subjugation (Out of This World #4, June 1957) whilst in ‘Assignment Treason’ (Outer Space #18. August 1958) the clean-cut hero goes undercover to save earth from the predatory Master of Space whilst in Out of This World #8 (May 1958) ‘The Secret of Capt. X’ reveals that the inimical alien tyrant threatening humanity is not what he seems to be…

The cover to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #3 (April 1957) gives way to a trio of fantastic thrillers beginning with ‘The Strange Guests of Tsaurus’ as an alien paradise proves to be anything but and ‘A World Where I Was King’ sees a clumsy janitor catapulted into a wondrous realm where he wins a kingdom he doesn’t want. Diverting slightly, Fightin’ Army #20 (May 1957) provides a comedic interlude as a civil war soldier finds himself constantly indebted to ‘Gavin’s Stupid Mule’ before ‘A Forgotten World’ wraps up the MoUW #3 contributions with a scary tale of invasion from the Earth’s core…

‘The Cheapest Steak in Nome’ turns out to be defrosted from something that died millions of years ago in a light-hearted yarn from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #7 (February 1958) after which the cover to MoUW #4 (July 1957) precedes more icy antediluvian preservations found in the ‘Valley in the Mist’ whilst the cover to Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August 1957) leads into a bizarre corporate outreach project as the ‘Director of the Board’ attempts to go where no other exploitative capitalist has gone before…

It’s back to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #3 for a brush with the mythological in ‘They Didn’t Believe Him’ before ‘Forever and Ever’ (Strange Suspense Stories #33) reveals an unforeseen downside to immortality and Out of This World #3 sees a stranger share ‘My Secret’ with ordinary folk despite – or because – of a scurrilous blackmailer…

cover Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 October 1957

‘A Dreamer’s World’ from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 (October 1957) follows the chilling cover thereof as a test pilot hits his aerial limit and discovers a whole new existence, before Unusual Tales #7 (May 1957) traces the tragic path of ‘The Man Who Could See Tomorrow’ whilst the cover of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #4 (August 1957) opens a mini-feast of the voyeur’s voyages beginning with that issue’s ‘The Desert’ a saga of polar privation and survival.

Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #3 (May 1957) offers the appropriate cover and a ‘Secret Mission’ for a spy parachuted into Prague after which TotMT #4 offers ‘Escape’ for an unemployed pilot dragged into a gun-running scam in a south American lost world; ‘Test of a Man’ sees a cruel animal trainer receive his just deserts and ‘Operation Blacksnake’ grittily reveals American venality in the ever-expanding Arabian oil trade…

Returning to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, ‘The Mirage’ torments an escaped convict who thinks he’s escaped his fate whilst Texas Rangers in Action #8 (July 1957) sees a ruthless rancher crushed by the weight of his own wicked actions in ‘The Only One’, after which the stunning covers to Unusual Tales #6 and 7 (February and May 1957) lead into our final vignette ‘The Man Who Painted on Air’: exposing and thwarting a unique talent to preserve humanity and make a few bucks on the side…

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, plots and stripped-down dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories display the sharp wit and contained comedic energy which made so many Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontations an unforgettable treat half a decade later, and this is another cracking collection not only superb in its own right but as a telling tribute to the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is something every serious comics fans would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archive Vol. 2. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2010 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

Flash: The Silver Age volume 2

By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7088-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Fun, Quick as You Like… 10/10

The second Flash triggered the Silver Age of American comicbooks and, for the first ten years or so, in terms of creative quality and sheer originality – it was always the book to watch.

Following his debut in Showcase #4 (October 1956), police scientist Barry Allen – transformed by a lightning strike and accidental chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity – was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash#105 (February-March 1959).

He never looked back, and by the time of this second commemorative compilation was very much the innovation mainstay of DC/National Comics burgeoning superhero universe. This second Trade Paperback (and digital) collection re-presents Flash #117-132 – spanning December 1960 through November 1962 – and tracks the Vizier of Velocity as he becomes the key figure in a stunning renaissance of comicbook super-heroics.

Shepherding the Scarlet Speedster’s meteoric rise to prominence, the majority of stories are written by the brilliant John Broome and all are pencilled by the infinitely impressive Carmine Infantino: slickly polished, coolly sophisticated rapid-fire short stories set in a comfortingly suburbanite milieu constantly threatened by super-thieves, sinister spies and marauding aliens with our affable new superhero always triumphant whilst ever expanding and establishing the broad parameters of an increasingly cohesive narrative universe.

The magic begins here with ‘Here Comes Captain Boomerang’ (inked by Murphy Anderson), introducing a mercenary Australian marauder who turns a legitimate job opportunity into a criminal career in what is still one of the most original origin tales ever concocted.

The ‘The Madcap Inventors of Central City’ then sees Gardner Fox (creator of the Golden Age Flash) join the creative bullpen with a perhaps ill-considered attempt to reintroduce 1940s comedy sidekicks Winky, Blinky and Noddy to the modern fans. The fact that you’ve never heard of them should indicate how well that went although the yarn, illustrated by Infantino & Joe Giella, is a fast, witty and enjoyably silly change of pace.

The Flash #118 highlighted the period’s (and DC’s) fascination with Hollywood in ‘The Doomed Scarecrow!’ (Anderson inks); a sharp, smart thriller featuring a minor villain with a unique reason to get rid of our hero. after which Wally West and a friend have to spend the night in a “haunted house” in Kid Flash chiller ‘The Midnight Peril!’

The pre-teenaged nephew of Barry’s fiancée Iris West, Wally had been caught in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Monarch of Motion. He naturally became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive and – when not being mentored by the human thunderbolt – enjoyed his own, smaller-scaled junior adventures in and around the rural township of Blue Valley, Nebraska….

In #119, Broome, Infantino & Anderson relate the adventure of ‘The Mirror-Master’s Magic Bullet’, which our hero narrowly evades, before ‘The Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap’ debuts vivacious newlywed Sue Dibny – calling our hero’s attention to a missing spouse and alien sub-sea slavers in a mysterious and stirring tale.

These earliest tales were historically vital to the development of our industry but, quite frankly, so what? The first exploits of The Flash should be judged solely on their merit, and on those terms, they are punchy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated and captivating thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. The title had gelled into a comfortable pattern of two tales per issue alternating with semi-regular book-length thrillers such as the glorious example from Flash #120 (May 1961).

‘Land of Golden Giants!’ is a minor masterpiece: a fanciful science fiction drama wherein a small expedition of explorers – including Iris, Barry and his protégé Wally – are catapulted back millennia to the very moment when the primal super-continent (or at least the parts that would become Africa and South America) begin splitting apart.

Flash stories always found a way to make cutting-edge science integral and interesting. A regular filler-feature was the speed-themed “Flash-Facts” which became a component of the stories themselves via quirky little footnotes.

How many fan-boys turned a “C” to a “B” by dint of their recreational reading? I know I certainly impressed the heck out of a few nuns at the convent school I attended! (But let’s not visualise; simply move on…)

Issue #121 saw the return of a novel old foe on another robbery rampage when ‘The Trickster Strikes Back!’ after which costumed criminality is counterbalanced by Cold War skulduggery in the gripping thriller ‘Secret of the Stolen Blueprint!’ (inked by Anderson).

Another contemporary zeitgeist undoubtedly led to ‘Beware the Atomic Grenade!’, a witty yarn which premiered a new member of Flash’s burgeoning Rogues Gallery when career criminal Roscoe Dillon graduates from second-rate thief to global extortionist The Top by means of a rather baroque thermonuclear device…

In counterpoint, Kid Flash deals with smaller scale catastrophe in ‘The Face Behind the Mask!’ A pop-star with a secret identity (based on a young David Soul who began his showbiz career as a folk singer known as “the Covered Man” because he performed wearing a mask) is blackmailed by a villainous gang of old school friends until whizz kid Wally steps in…

Gardner Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but those few he did were all dynamite. None more so than the full-length epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the pivotal multiversal structure of the DCU; Crisis on Infinite Earths and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking crossover sagas that grew from it. And, of course, where DC led, others followed…

During a charity benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds that the comicbook hero he’s based his own superhero identity upon actually exists. Every adventure Barry had absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his mystery-men comrades on (the controversially designated) Earth-2. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains – The Shade, Thinker and The Fiddler – make their own wicked comeback. And above all else, Flash #123 is a great read that still stands up today.

Still utterly unaware of the stir that was brewing in fandom’s ranks, it was business as usual with #124’s alien invasion romp ‘Space Boomerang Trap!’ featuring an uneasy alliance between the Scarlet Speedster, Elongated Man and opportunistic Captain Boomerang, before back-up ‘Vengeance Via Television!’ tests Flash’s wits after a mad scientist uses TV waves to expose his secret identity.

‘The Conquerors of Time!’ (Flash #125 December, 1961) is another mind-boggling classic exposing time-travelling aliens’ attempt to subjugate Earth in 2287AD by preventing fissionable elements from forming in 100,842,246 BC. Antediluvian lost races, another key role for Kid Flash (easily the most trusted and responsible sidekick of the Silver Age), the introduction of the insanely cool Cosmic Treadmill plus spectacular action make this a benchmark and landmark of quality graphic narrative.

The drama continues unabated in the next issue as Mirror Master resurfaces in ‘The Doom of the Mirror Flash!’ resulting in another shocking metamorphosis for the Monarch of Motion whilst the second story looks into Barry Allen’s past in ‘Snare of the Headline Huntress!’ Here childhood sweetheart Daphne Dean tries to rekindle Barry’s love to boost her flagging Hollywood profile….

In #127 ‘Reign of the Super-Gorilla!’ Grodd returns to Central City, using his telepathy to run for Governor (not as daft as it sounds, honest!) whilst Kid Flash resolved parental problems in ‘The Mystery of the Troubled Boy!’ after which Flash #128 sees the spectacular debut of time-travelling magician and psychotic egotist Abra Kadabra in ‘The Case of the Real-Gone Flash!’ yet still finds room for intriguing revelatory vignette ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’

Fox and Earth-2 returned in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ as Jay Garrick ventures to Earth-1 to save his own world from a doom comet, only to fall foul of Captain Cold and the Trickster. As well as double Flash action, this tale pictorially reintroduces veteran Justice Society stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

For the meantime though it was back to basics in #130 with ‘Who Doomed the Flash?’; an intriguing mystery seemingly pooling the talents and threats of Trickster, Captain Cold, the Top, Captain Boomerang and the Mirror Master in a superb comic-conundrum, brilliantly solved by the Vizier of Velocity even as his junior partner endures his own problems with the Weather Wizard in ‘Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man!’

RSVPing to a trendsetting guest-shot in Green Lantern #13 (‘Duel of the Super-Heroes!’ and not included here), the Emerald Crusader again joins with The Flash to defeat alien invaders in the engrossing feature-length epic ‘Captives of the Cosmic Ray!’ before this compelling compilation concludes with #132’s ‘The Heaviest Man Alive!’ – with the speedster revisiting the dimension of Gobdor (see ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ from #116 and the previous volume).

As well as action adventure and mystery, this tense, super-scientific teaser enjoys a sly poke at the new Television generation and leads into second tale ‘The Farewell Appearance of Daphne Dean’ as the repentant starlet returns to make amends in a quirky little tearjerker…

As always in tales of this vintage, the emphasis is on brains and learning, not gimmicks or abilities, which is why these tales still work nearly half-a-century later. Coupled with the astounding Infantino art, these tales are a captivating snap-shot of when science was our friend and the universe(s) was a place of infinite possibility.

These tales were crucial to the development of our art-form, but, more importantly they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers to amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old lags. This splendid selection is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of words-in-pictures.
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

By Dr. Seuss (Random House/Harper Collins Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-0-00717-024-1                  978-0-00736-554-8                 978-0-00717-304-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect. Just Perfect… 10/10

The son of a wealthy beermaker of German origins, Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield Massachusetts on March 2nd 1094. Some years later, he attended Dartmouth College, where he edited the college magazine, before graduating in 1925… despite a few narrow escapes from the college authorities.

Geisel liked to party and preferred drawing to his studies. It was apparently how he got his penname: after the Dean banned him from drawing after a particularly raucous binge, the young artist took pains to sign his work only with his middle name…

Theodore studied English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1927, where he met his first wife Helen. When they returned to America he became a cartoonist and illustrator, doing spot gags, political panels and covers for a variety of publishers. He produced weekly strip Birdsies and Beasties in prestigious humour magazine Judge and his work also appeared in Life, Vanity Fair, The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, PM among others.

He even briefly produced a newspaper strip – ‘Hejji’ – in 1935 and tried his hand at animation and advertising. During World War II Geisel turned to political cartooning, advocating a strong response to the Fascist threat. In 1943 he enlisted as a lead animator and director for the United States Army, winning an award in 1947 for the documentary Design For Death which explored Japanese cultural history.

He published his first poem/cartoon book And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937 but only truly and gradually became a literary god after the war when news reports about the relative illiteracy and lack of vocabulary in young children (particularly a damning report in Life, May 1954) led him to create a string of easy-reading masterpieces The Cat in the Hat’, Green Eggs and Ham, Gerald McBoing-Boing, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Horton Hears a Who! and 38 others before his death in 1991.

In 1957 he released the now-legendary How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a Yuletide evergreen, immortalized in a brilliant Chuck Jones animated short in 1966 and a so-so big budget movie in 2000. Over and above both of these the actual book still towers as a masterpiece of cartoon fiction and one I beg you to read if you already haven’t.

If you’re one of the three westerners who still don’t know the story…

The Grinch is a mean hermit who, for no special reason, loathes everything about the whole Christmas Season. So, one X-Mas Eve he creeps into all Who-houses in the nearby Who hamlet and nicks every trinket that Christmas espouses. No Trees, Tinsel, Presents or Tasty Treats are left: the nasty old codger has left Who-ville bereft.

But just at the moment when his triumph is paramount the Grinch sees what Christmas is actually all about. Heart bursting with joy and good feelings re-surging Grinch returns all the treats he was wickedly purging and joins Who-ville’s people in their grand feast – and even shares some of their glorious Roast Beast!

Seriously though; the simple heart-warming tale of the old monster – and his trusty, long-suffering and illogically faithful hound – as they fail to ruin Christmas, the miraculous change of heart and eventual redemption is the perfect examination of what the Season should mean. Moreover, it’s written in a captivating manner with bold rhyme and incredibly enthralling artwork that embeds itself within every reader. Wily, wise and wonderful, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is absolutely the best kid’s Christmas book ever created and one you simple have to read. If your house has kids (or not) but no copy, it must be brought up to code immediately and forthwith.

Doctor’s orders… so don’t make me put coal in your socks…
© 1957, 1985 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All rights reserved

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 3 1967-1968: The Masters of Evil

By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0410-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bombast and Astounding Action… 9/10

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk. The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars always regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which meant most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic…

This compilation – available in trade paperback and eBook iterations – collects Avengers #41-56, the first two Avengers Annuals, a crossover from X-Men #45 and pertinent vignettes from Not Brand Echh #5 and 8, collectively covering June 1967 to September 1967.

The first adventure is a historical and creative landmark as ‘Let Sleeping Dragons Lie!’ (inked by George Roussos) sees John Buscema assume the pencilling in an epic melange of monsters, insidious espionage and sheer villainy, as mad alchemist Diablo and enslaved artificial life-form Dragon Man attacks the team – Goliath, the Wasp, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and newly-recruited exile Olympian deity Hercules

The extended plotline continues in ‘The Plan… and the Power!’, as, with Diablo defeated, the team – now including Captain America – turn to rescuing reformed former soviet spy Black Widow from the Communist Chinese in #43’s ‘Color him… the Red Guardian!’

Having uncovered a world-threatening superweapon, the Avengers fight the battle of their lives as the saga climaxes in ‘The Valiant Also Die!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), a blistering all-out clash to save humanity from mental conquest.

Buscema had replaced Don Heck so the regular illustrator could concentrate on the debut Avengers Annual: a “49-page free-for-all” entitled ‘The Monstrous Master Plan of the Mandarin!’. Scripted by Thomas and inked by Roussos, this prodigious tribute to the golden Age Justice Society of America and All-Winners Squad saw Captain America, Goliath, Hawkeye, Hercules, Iron Man. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Thor and the Wasp compelled to battle against the Enchantress Executioner, Living Laser, Power Man, Swordsman and the bio-mechanical behemoth Ultimo across many continents to save humanity from the oriental outlaw overlord’s boldest scheme of subjugation. It’s everything a fan could want from a superhero tale: sheer escapism, perfectly handled.

Also included are the ‘Bombastic Bullpen Biography Dept.’ page, pin-ups of Hercules, Wasp, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow, Avenger Mansion cutaway diagram ‘More Than Meets the Eye!’ and a fabulous tableau contrasting the original and new Avengers line-ups.

The regular monthly storytelling resumes with Avengers #45 – a ‘Blitzkrieg in Central Park’ by Thomas, Heck & Colletta – wherein the triumphant team are ambushed by the power-stealing Super-Adaptoid, after which a treacherous murder attempt by an old foe nearly finishes Goliath and the Wasp.

‘The Agony and the Anthill!’ (with art by Buscema & Colletta) is a taut, human-scaled drama, which began a long period of superb collaborations that would change the face of team-up comics.

Thomas was quickly establishing himself as a major creative force in comics and his tense, bellicose yarns were propelling John Buscema to the forefront of fan-favourite artists. To supplement his already large team the writer began interweaving appearances by the founding stars: regularly showing up: giving the impression of a small army of costumed crusaders lurking in the wings at all times…

‘Magneto Walks the Earth!’ (Avengers #47, December 1967 and inked by George Tuska) finds the malign master of magnetism returned from enforced exile in space to put his old band back together. That means recruiting mutant Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch… whether they’re willing or otherwise…

Tuska takes on full art-chores for the second chapter ‘The Black Knight Lives Again!’, which introduces a brand-new Marvel Superhero, whilst furthering a sub-plot featuring Hercules’ return to an abandoned and devastated Olympus before #49 (pencilled and inked by Buscema) concludes the Mutant trilogy with ‘Mine is the Power!’

This clears the decks for the tempestuous 50th issue tussle as the team rejoins Hercules in restoring fallen Olympus by defeating the mythological menace of Typhon in ‘To Tame a Titan!’

In the aftermath the team is reduced to Hawkeye, the Wasp and a recently de-powered Goliath, and soon the Avengers find themselves ‘In the Clutches of the Collector!’ (#51 and illustrated by Buscema & Tuska), but the handy intervention of Iron Man and Thor swiftly sees the Master of Many Sizes regain his abilities. This is just in time to welcome new member Black Panther in the Vince Colletta inked ‘Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes’: a fast-paced murder mystery which also see the advent of obsessive super-psycho the Grim Reaper.

Next follows a slightly disconcerting cross-over and conclusion to an extended X-Men clash with Magneto (from issues #43-45 of their own title) which dovetails neatly into a grand Avengers/X-Men face-off.

In X-Men #43, arch-nemesis Magneto attacked the outcast teen heroes with reluctant confederates Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and the Toad, trapping them in his hidden island fortress. The next issue saw the Angel inexplicably escape and – after encountering a revived Golden Age Timely Comics hero – headed for America for Avenger reinforcements.

Those episodes aren’t included here but X-Men #45’s ‘When Mutants Clash!’ (Gary Friedrich, Don Heck, Werner Roth & John Tartaglione) sees Cyclops also break free, only to encounter and defeat the highly-conflicted Quicksilver…

The fight latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, Buscema & Tuska) details Magneto’s defeat by and apparent death after his scheme to trick mutants and superheroes into killing each other backfires.

Issue #54 kicked off a mini-renaissance in quality and creativity with ‘…And Deliver Us from the Masters of Evil!’, which brought back the new Black Knight – accidentally recruited to a revived team of scurrilous super-villains – and finally gave Avengers butler Edwin Jarvis a character and starring role.

This was merely a prelude to the second instalment which debuted the oppressively Oedipal threat of robotic tyrant Ultron-5 in ‘Mayhem Over Manhattan!’ (inked by the superbly slick George Klein).

Captain America’s introduction to the 1960s got a spectacular and thought-provoking reworking in Avengers #56 as ‘Death Be Not Proud!’ accidentally stranded him and his comrades in WWII on the fateful night when Bucky died. This adroitly segued into 1968’s Avengers Annual #2 (illustrated by Heck, Roth & Colletta).

‘…And Time, the Rushing River…’ reveals how Cap, Black Panther, Goliath, Wasp and Hawkeye return from the tragedy-drenched past to a divergent present where they must battle the original founding Avengers team of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant-Man and the Wasp to correct a reality manipulated by one of their deadliest foes in the new guise of the Scarlet Centurion.

Also included from that monumental release are a stunning Buscema pin-up of the entire team and fourth-wall shattering spoof ‘Avenjerks Assemble!’ by Thomas, Buscema & Frank Giacoia, revealing where the writer gets his ideas from…

The comedy hits keep coming as humour mag Not Brand Echh #5 offers the sterling saga of ‘The Revengers vs Charlie America’ by Thomas, Gene Colan & Tartaglione, reprising how – if not why – the heroes saved the Star-Spangled Simpleton of Liberty from icy entombment. The same creative culprits are responsible for ‘This Fan… This Forbush!’ from NBE #8 as the frankly feeble Forbush-Man joins the team to demolish time-bending baddie Dang the Conqueror

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are pages of original Buscema pencils, inked art and covers, a model sheet he produced in 1967 to get familiar with Cap and the team, plus unedited production photostats of pre-corrected covers. There’s even a Steve Ditko cover from Marvel Triple Action #47 (which reprinted Avengers #54) as well as Buscema’s cover from Avengers Annual #1; modified by painter Richard Isanove and used to front Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers volume 5.

Unceasingly enticing and always evergreen, these timeless sagas defined and cemented the Marvel experience and are a joy no fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction should deny themselves or their kids.
© 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.