Valerian and Laureline volume 14: The Living Weapons


By Méziéres &Christin, with colours by Evelyn Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-319-2

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that undoubtedly contentious statement. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling of Méziéres & Christin’s creation than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined. Now with a big budget movie of their own in the imminent offing, that surely unjust situation might finally be addressed and rectified…

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant smash-hit. The feature was soon retitled Valérian and Laureline as his feisty distaff sidekick rapidly developed into an equal partner and scene-stealing star through a string of fabulously fantastical, winningly sly and light-hearted time-travelling, space-warping romps.

Packed with cunningly satirical humanist action, challenging philosophy and astute political commentary, the mind-bending yarns struck a chord with the public and especially other creators who have been swiping, “homaging” and riffing off the series ever since.

Initially Valerian was an affably capable yet ploddingly by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology (at least as it affected humankind) by counteracting and correcting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When he travelled to 11th century France in debut tale Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), he was rescued from doom by a tempestuously formidable young woman named Laureline whom he had no choice but to bring back with him to Galaxity: the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the vast Terran Empire.

The indomitable female firebrand crash-trained as a Galaxity operative and accompanied him on subsequent missions – a beguiling succession of breezy, space-warping, social conscience-building epics. This so-sophisticated series always had room to propound a satirical, liberal ideology and agenda (best summed up as “why can’t we all just get along?”), constantly launching telling fusillades of commentary-by-example to underpin an astounding cascade of visually appealing, visionary space operas.

When first conceived every Valérian adventure started life as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but with this adventure from 1988, the publishing world shifted gears. This subtly harder-edged saga was debuted as an all-new, complete graphic novel with magazine serialisation relegated to minor and secondary function.

The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

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

In recent episodes, the time-bending immensity of Galaxity was eradicated from reality and our Spatio-Temporal Agents – along with a few trusted allies – were stranded on contemporary (late 20th century) Earth…

Now Les Armes Vivantes (the 14th Cinebook translation, first released Continentally in 1990) sees Valerian and Laureline forced to use their last assets – a damaged astroship, some leftover alien gadgets and their own training – to eke out a perilous existence as intergalactic, trans-temporal mercenaries.

Despite the misbehaviour of a few fractious inter-dimensional circuits in the much-travelled ship, tour celestial voyagers are en route to distant and disreputable planet Blopik where Valerian has agreed to hand-deliver some livestock-improvement supplies.

Moralist Laureline is deeply suspicious of the way her man is behaving: it’s as if he’s doing something he knows she will disapprove of…

After a pretty hairy landing, she explores the burned-out pest-hole on her own and makes the acquaintance of a trio of unique individuals: intergalactic performers stranded in their worst nightmare – a world without theatres and an absentee manager…

Before long they are all travelling together. The showbiz trio – malodorous metamorphic artiste Britibrit from Chab, indestructible rock-eater Doum A’goum and the indescribable Yfysania are looking for a venue to play and an appreciative audience to admire them, whilst taciturn Valerian is simply seeking the proposed purchaser of the wares in his case.

Laureline is, by now, frankly baffled. The centaurs who inhabit Blopik only understand and appreciate one thing – combat – and the planet’s cindered state is due to them setting fire to everything during the annual war between rival tribes. She can’t imagine what such folk would want with farming gear. For that matter, she also can’t imagine why Valerian keeps arguing with whatever he has in his travel-case…

Eventually, however, the alien Argonauts all reach a grassy plain to be met by a bombastic centaur general. By “met”, I actually mean attacked without warning, but the astounding abilities of the performers soon gives pause to the hooved hellions and warlord Rompf agrees to parlay. He’s a centaur with a Homeric dream and Shakespearean leanings as well as the proposed purchaser of the bio-weapon in Valerian’s case. The thing has come direct from Katubian arms dealers and Laureline is appalled that Val has sunk so low and been devious enough to keep her out of the loop…

Rompf has declared War on War. He wants to unify the tribes of Blopik by beating them all into submission and needs the flame-spitting, foul-mouthed Schniafer couriered here by the shamefaced former Spatio-Temporal peacekeeper. However, now that he’s seen what the offworld clowns can do, Rompf wants them too…

The various vaudevillians are not averse to the idea, but pride demands they put on a show too… and they even have ideas how Laureline can be part of the fun.

…And that gives Valerian a chance to redeem himself too…

This charming caper allowed writer Christin and artist Méziéres’ to reposition their tumultuous team in a new and rapidly evolving narrative universe and again ends with our heroes stranded on present-day Earth, with no idea what the future – any future – may hold.

Smart, subtle, complex and hilarious, the antics of Valerian and Laureline mix outrageous satire with blistering action, stirring the mix with wry humour to forge one of the most thrilling sci fi strips ever seen. If you’re not an addict yet, jump aboard now and be ready to impress all your friends with your perspicacity when the film comes out.
© Dargaud Paris, 1988 Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari volume 14: Lords of the Plains


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-318-5

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who chose the working name “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of the modern White Man. This year the 39th album was released: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence; at one with nature and generally free from strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can converse with all animals…

Derib – equally at home with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Originally released in 1987, Yakari et les seigneurs des plaines was the 13th European album (and Cinebook’s 14th translated tome), but – as always – the content is both stunningly simple and effectively timeless; offering total enjoyment for a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge…

This tale, however, has a necessarily dark edge as it deals with how the Sioux subsist and how their staple diet feels about it…

Th drama begins with a crucial tradition as the braves hunt buffalo and culminates with doughty Bare Blade killing a beast with a single merciful blow. As the squaws prepare the carcases – utilising every scrap of them – judiciously taken by the men, the aged chief reminds the gathered tribe of the bad old days when their foolish ancestors wastefully slaughtered far more animals than they needed or could use.

Now thanks to their pact with Great Spirit Wacondah, enlightened modern men have learned to respect the buffalo and only take what is needful…

Awed by the history lesson, little Yakari heads for bed and has another of his special dreams. In it he speaks with the gracious spirit of the cow whose skin he sleeps on every night since the day she died and he was born…

Next morning, still gripped by all things to do with the ponderous lords of the plains, Yakari heads his steed Little Thunder into the heart of the endless herd and makes a few new friends. He is astounded to discover the big beasts bear his kind no resentment and accept the role every creature plays in the life of the world…

Happily consorting with the thousands of blockbusting bovines, Yakari learns sage wisdom from the old bulls and wary lookouts, and even frolics with the sprightly calves as they learn to butt heads in the approved manner, before noticing one heavily pregnant cow lagging behind. Herd master Boulder Brow tells the lad that she will soon leave the morass and give birth somewhere quiet and isolated.

Sadly, an old diseased wolf is keenly aware of the fact and hungrily bides his time…

As the afternoon ends, Yakari heads home and sees the new mother and latest addition to the herd. Stopping to pay his respects, he spots an opportunistic predator making his move and instinctively intervenes with a well-aimed rock. Upon realising that mother and child are too weak to catch up with the ever-proceeding herd, the boy resolves to stay with them, lighting a guard fire to keep the still-stalking wolf at bay…

Eventually the hungry canine can wait no longer but his bold dash only leads to a seared tail and a determination to make boy, buffalo and baby pay for his pain and indignation…

As dawn breaks Yakari sees the herd has gone. As he heads home, mother and child follow their vastly extended family, unaware that the lone wolf has found the local pack and, by lying to them, created a vengeful army ready to avenge grievous insults and feast on deserving victims. The deciding argument was that the human cub was planning to wipe out all the wolves…

The sinister scheme might well have worked had not alert Little Thunder spotted the amassed pack and warned Yakari. Instantly understanding what has happened the little boy turns back towards the buffalo stragglers and arrives just in time to set the record straight with the rather reasonable pack and teach the rogue wolf a lesson…

Exotically enticing, entertainingly educational, compellingly dramatic and joyously inventive, this is a tale which allows Derib full rein to display his astounding artistic ability in a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the scale, power and majesty of the hard-headed hairy nomads. This yarn also shows Job’s big-hearted affection for the period and culture: another visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strip every conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and the Moomins.
Original edition © Le Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard S. A.) 2000 Derib + Job. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Captain America Epic Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Tuska, John Romita Sr. & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1176-X (HB)                   978-0-7851-4298-0 (TBP)

During the natal years of Marvel Comics in the early 1960’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby opted to mimic the game-plan which had paid off so successfully for National/DC Comics, albeit with mixed results.

From 1956 to 1960, Julie Schwartz had scored incredible, industry-altering hits by re-inventing the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed sensible to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days two decades previously.

A new Human Torch had premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a twenty-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo lead-feature in Strange Tales (from issue #101 on) and in #114 the flaming teen fought a larcenous acrobat pretending to be Captain America.

With reader-reaction strong, the real McCoy was promptly decanted in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, won his own series as half of a “split-book” with fellow Avenger and patriotic barnstormer Iron Man.

Gathered in this star-spangled celebration – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – are the stunning all-action adventures from Tales of Suspense #59-81 (cover-dates November 1964 to September 1966), which following the customary retrospective Introduction by author/Editor Stan Lee beginning with the eponymously initial outing ‘Captain America’.

Illustrated by the staggeringly perfect team of Jack Kirby & Chic Stone, the plot is non-existent, but what you do get is a phenomenal fight tale as an army of thugs invades Avengers Mansion because “only the one without superpowers” is at home. They soon learn the folly of that misapprehension…

The next issue held more of the same, as ‘The Army of Assassins Strikes!’ on behalf of evil arch enemy Zemo before ‘The Strength of the Sumo!’ proves insufficient after Cap invades Viet Nam to rescue a lost US airman. The Star-Spangled Swashbuckler then took on an entire prison to thwart a ‘Break-out in Cell Block 10!’

After these gloriously simplistic romps the series took an abrupt turn and began telling tales set in World War II. ‘The Origin of Captain America’, by Lee, Kirby & Frank Ray (AKA Giacoia) recounts how frail physical wreck Steve Rogers is selected to be the guinea pig for an experimental super-soldier serum, only to have the scientist responsible die in his arms, cut down by a Nazi bullet.

Now forever unique, he is given the task of becoming the fighting symbol and guardian of America, based as a regular soldier in a boot camp. It was there he is accidentally unmasked by Camp Mascot Bucky Barnes, who then blackmails the hero into making the kid his sidekick.

The next issue (Tales of Suspense #64) kicked off a string of spectacular episodic thrillers adapted from Golden Age classics as the heroes defeat Nazi spies Sando and Omar in ‘Among Us, Wreckers Dwell!’ and Chic Stone returned – as did Cap’s greatest foe – for the next tale ‘The Red Skull Strikes!’

‘The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull!’ found the series swinging into high gear – and original material – as sub-plots and characterisation were added to the all-out action and spectacle.

‘Lest Tyranny Triumph!’ and ‘The Sentinel and the Spy!’ (both inked by Giacoia) combined espionage and mad science with a plot to murder the head of Allied Command, and the heroic American duo stayed in England for moody gothic suspense shocker ‘Midnight in Greymoor Castle!’ (with art by Dick Ayers over Kirby’s layouts – which in case you ever wondered are very simple pencils that break down the story elements on a page).

The second chapter ‘If This be Treason!’ had Golden Age and Buck Rogers newspaper strip artist George Tuska perform the same function before the final part (and last wartime adventure) revealed ‘When You Lie Down with Dogs…!’ – the result is fantastic entertainment. Joe Sinnott inked that rousing conclusion to this frantic tale of traitors, madmen and terror-weapons.

It was back to the present for ToS #72 where Lee, Kirby & Tuska revealed that Cap had been telling war stories to his fellow Avengers for the last nine months. The reverie then triggered a long dormant memory as ‘The Sleeper Shall Awake!’ began a classic catastrophe romp with a Nazi super-robot activating twenty years after Germany’s defeat to exact a world-shattering vengeance.

Continuing in ‘Where Walks the Sleeper!’ and concluding in ‘The Final Sleep!’, this masterpiece of tense suspense perfectly demonstrates the indomitable nature of the perfect American hero.

Dick Ayers returned with John Tartaglione inking ‘30 Minutes to Live!’ which introduced both Gallic mercenary Batroc the Leaper and a mysterious girl who would eventually become Cap’s long-term girl-friend: S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter.

The taut 2-part countdown to disaster ends with ‘The Gladiator, The Girl and the Glory’, illustrated by John Romita: the first tale which had no artistic input from Kirby, although he did lay out the next issue (TOS #77) for Romita & Giacoia. ‘If a Hostage Should Die!’ again returned to WWII and hinted at both a lost romance and tragedy to come.

‘Them!’ saw Kirby return to full pencils and Giacoia to a regular inking spot as the Sentinel of liberty teamed with Nick Fury in the first of many missions as a (more-or-less) Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was followed by ‘The Red Skull Lives!’ as his arch nemesis escapes from the grave to menace the Free World again. He is initially aided by the subversive technology group AIM, but promptly steals their ultimate weapon in ‘He Who Holds the Cosmic Cube!’ (inked by Don Heck) and sets himself up as Emperor of Earth before his grip on omnipotence finally falters in ‘The Red Skull Supreme!’ (Giacoia inks).

This volume then concludes with mouth-watering extras in the form of original Kirby cover art and creator biographies.

These are tales of dauntless courage and unmatchable adventure, fast paced and superbly illustrated, which rightly returned Captain America to the heights his Golden Age compatriots the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic. Unmissable reading for the eternally young at heart.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Suicide Squad: The Silver Age


By Robert Kanigher, Howard Liss, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6343-0

The War that Time Forgot was a strange series which saw paratroopers and tanks of the “Question Mark Patrol” dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers ever returned. Assorted crack GIs discovered why when the operation was suddenly overrun by pterosaurs, tyrannosaurs and worse…

However, the combat-&-carnosaur creation was actually a spin-off of an earlier concept which hadn’t quite caught on with the comics-buying public. That wasn’t a problem for Writer/Editor Kanigher: a man well-versed in judicious recycling and reinvention…

Back in 1955 he had devised and written anthology adventure comic The Brave and the Bold which featured short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes: a format mirroring that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Issue #1 led with Roman swords-&-sandals epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was side-lined by the company’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title began its run of beta-tests in issue #25 (August/September 1959) with the fate-tempting Suicide Squad – code-named Task Force X by the US government to investigate uncanny mysteries and tackle unnatural threats.

The scary tales were all illustrated by Kanigher’s go-to team for fantastic fantasy Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and they clearly revelled at the chance to cut loose and show what they could do outside the staid whimsy of Wonder Woman and gritty realism of the war titles they usually handled…

The Brave and the Bold #25 introduced a quartet of merely human specialists – air ace war hero Colonel Rick Flag, combat medic Karin Grace and big-brained boffins Hugh Evans and Jess Price – all officially convened into a unit whose purpose was to tackle threats beyond conventional comprehension such as the interstellar phenomenon dubbed ‘The Three Waves of Doom!’

The quartet were built on a very shaky premise. All three men loved Karin. She only loved Rick but agreed to conceal her inclinations and sublimate her passions so Hugh and Jess would stay on the team of scientific death-cheaters…

In their first published exploit a cloud from outer space impacted Earth and created a super-heated tsunami which threated to broil America. With dashing derring-do, the trouble-shooters quenched the ambulatory heat wave only to have it spawn a colossal alien dragon emanating super-cold rays that could trigger a new ice age…

The only solution was to banish the beast back into space on a handy rocket headed for the sun, but sadly the ship need to be piloted…

Having heroically ended the invader, the team were back two months later as B&B #26 opened with an immediate continuation. ‘The Sun Curse’ saw our stranded astronauts struggling (in scenes eerily prescient and reminiscent of the Apollo 13 crisis a decade later) to return their ship to Earth. Uncannily, however, the trip bathes them in radiations which causes them to shrink to insect size…

Back on terra firma but now imperilled by everything around them, the team nonetheless manages to scuttle a proposed attack by a hostile totalitarian nation before regaining their regular stature…

A second, shorter tale then finds the quartet enjoying some downtime in Paris before the Metro is wrecked by an awakened dinosaur. Of course, the tourists are ready and able to stop the ‘Serpent in the Subway!’

In an entertainment era still dominated by monsters and aliens, with superheroes still only tentatively resurfacing, Task Force X were at the forefront of beastie-battles and their third and final try-out issue found them facing an evolutionary nightmare as a scientist vanished and the region around his lab was suddenly besieged by gigantic insects as well as a colossal reptilian humanoid the team dubbed ‘The Creature of Ghost Lake!’ (December 1959/January 1960). They destroyed the monster but never found the professor…

A rare failure for those excitingly experimental days, the Suicide Squad vanished after that triple try-out run, only to resurface months later for a second bite of the cherry…

The Brave and the Bold #37 (August/September 1961) opened with Karin displaying heretofore unsuspected psychic gifts and predicting an alien ‘Raid of the Dinosaurs!’ which pitted the team against hyper-intelligent saurian whilst ‘Threat of the Giant Eye!’ focussed on the retrieval of a downed military plane and lost super-weapon. The hunt took the Squad to an island of mythological mien where a living monocular monolith hunted people…

In #38 (October/November 1961) the team tackled the ‘Master of the Dinosaurs’ – an alien using Pteranodons to hunt like an Earthling would use falcons – after which the fabulous four fell afoul of extra-dimensional would-be conquerors but still had enough presence of mind and determination to defeat the ‘Menace of the Mirage People!’

B&B #39 (December 1961/January 1962) called “time” on Task Force X after ‘Prisoners of the Dinosaur Zoo!’ saw the team uncover an ancient extraterrestrial ark caching antediluvian flora and fauna and ‘Rain of Fire!’ found them crushing a macabre criminal entombing crime-busters in liquid metal. That was it for the Squad until 1986 when a new iteration of the concept was launched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Or was it? Superhero fans are notoriously clannish and insular so they might not have noticed how one creative powerhouse refused to take “no thanks” for an answer…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, horror stories, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and other genres too numerous to cover here. He also scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the very first story of the Silver Age – which introduced Barry Allen AKA the Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932 and wrote for the theatre, film and radio before joining the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945, he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainous femme fatales Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting female super-hero.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into espionage, adventure, westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas sampled in the back of this stunning hardback collection…

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and even used the uncanny but formulaic adventure arena of The War that Time Forgot as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot and many other teams and characters first appeared in the lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally (extra)ordinary G.I .Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The War that Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960) and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…).

Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “the Land That Time Forgot”) provided everything baby-boomer boys could dream of: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

In the summer of 1963, a fresh Suicide Squad debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, a giant albino gorilla decided that mammals should stick together…

The huge hairy beast was also the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ in #111 as the unnamed Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggled to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll…

In SSWS #116 (August/September 1964) a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ – the big difference being that Morgan and Mace were more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ in #117 bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly and extremely cute baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s barely suppressed animosity, after which ‘The Plane-Eater!’ in #118 found the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the little leather-winged guy turned up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’ (February/March 1965) as yet another group of men-without-hope battled reptilian horrors and each other to the death, after which the un-killable Morgan and Mace returned with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur, who found a new companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggled to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

Issue #121 presented a diving drama when a UDT frogman won his Suicide Squad rep as a formidable fighter and ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’ Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller featuring the return of the G.I. Robot in stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit for a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125 (February/March 1965), after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea-saga in #127: ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’

This eclectic collection then tumultuously terminates as scripter Howard Liss and visual veteran Gene Colan craft a masterfully moving human drama from issue #128 which was astoundingly improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’ and the last tale in this volume).

Throughout this calamitous compilation of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on foibles and fallibility; with human heroes unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, the original Suicide Squad offers a kind of easy, no-commitment entertainment seldom seen these days and is a deliciously guilty pleasure for one and all…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

If You Weren’t a Hedgehog… If I Weren’t a Hemophiliac…


By Andrew Weldon (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-7971-8

Chocolate might be fattening but there’s no conclusive data one way or the other on scoping out hilarious cartoons. Ergo… with all those anti-social sweeties swamping the house during the holiday, why not hedge your bets and balance calorific over-indulgence with a little light reading?

I love cartoons. Not animated films, but short, visual (although most often text-enhanced) stylised drawings which tell a story or potently and pithily express a mood or tone. Most people do. That’s why many historians and sociologists use them as barometers of a defined time or era.

For nearly 200 years gag-panels and cartoon strips were a universal medium to disseminate wit, satire, mirth, criticism and cultural exchange. Sadly, after centuries of pre-eminence and ferocious power, these days the cartoon has been all but erased from printed newspapers – as indeed the physical publications themselves have dwindled in shops and on shelves.

However, thanks to the same internet which is killing print media, many graphic gagsters and drawing dramatists have enjoyed resurgence in an arena that doesn’t begrudge the space necessary to deliver a cartoon in all its fulsome glory…

Humorous cartoons remain an unmissable daily joy to a vast, frequently global readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even that ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Even those stuck-up, sticky-beak holdouts proudly boasting they have “never read a comic” certainly enjoy strips or panels: a golden bounty of brief amusement demanding no commitment other than a moment’s close attention. Truth be told, it’s probably in our genes…

And because that’s the contrary nature of things, those gags now get collected in spiffy collections (and also in eBook editions) like this mean, mirth-filled monochrome paperback to enjoy over and over again…

The Dutch reputedly discovered Australia in the 17th century (although as the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett pointedly pointed out, the indigenous natives had been doing so on a daily basis for thousands of years prior to the white chaps sailing up), before Captain Cook famously stuck a flag in the place and drew some maps in 1770.

Now it’s a place of amazing contradictions and boasts a sense of humour uniquely its own.

A prime example of that can be seen in this collection of gags from the observationally adrift and slightly warped Andrew Weldon, who sagely abandoned the disciplined world of architecture in Melbourne to apply his astute, irreverent imagination to scrawling wickedly barbed graphic questions and comments on whatever catches his attention for venues as widespread as various greetings cards as well as in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The Big Issue, Tango, The New Yorker, The Spectator and Private Eye.

Diversifying into children’s books, Weldon has written and illustrated The Kid with The Amazing Head and Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions, and this book and his other gag compendium – I’m Sorry Little Man, I Thought You Were a Hand Puppet – were published in Britain by Allen & Unwin.

If You Weren’t a Hedgehog… If I Weren’t a Hemophiliac… first surfaced in 2009 but is still fresh, strange and engagingly twisted enough to have you clutching your sides in approved cartoon manner…

The 232 deranged doodles explore not just the peculiarly inclusive arena of looking for love in all the wrong places but also includes fervent peeks and prognostications on perils of growing old disgracefully, the foibles of fashion and dieting, tattoo troubles and – because it’s Australia – observations of criminal conduct and the consumption of alcohol…

There are many mind-bending interactions with telephones, technological innovations and examinations to Tung Shui and other oral aids, visits to the horrific inner world of children and animals and a great line in ads for stuff that should exist but mercifully doesn’t yet…

You can gain new appreciation for the contributions to society of teachers, cops, doctors housewives – of either gender – and soldiers, experience a different view of drugs, bugs, music and goldfish, reconsider the pros and cons of beards, work and sport and learn far more than you’ll ever need to about genetic engineering…

Bringing up babies plays hard and heavy here, as does the satirical side of toilet paper, pets, tax claims and Christmas. And then there’s sex, religion, disease and death…

Outrageous, outspoken and uproarious, this is a tome to tickle the funny-bone and giggle glands of anyone prepared to plunge down under and view the world from a southern prospect…
© 2009 Andrew Weldon. All rights reserved.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 3


By Wally Wood, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta & various (IDW) ISBN: 978-1-61377-941-5                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-543-4

The meteoric lifespan and output of Tower Comics is one of the key creative moments in American comicbook history. The brief, bombastic saga of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and the era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s the Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly low key espionage genre. The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with the irresistible Man from U.N.C.L.E. (premiering in September 1964); bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten was commissioned to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics. He brought in creative maverick Wally Wood, who called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan, there was a magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen).

Samm Schwartz & Dan DeCarlo handled the funny funnybook – which outlasted everything else – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones, Gil Kane and Ralph Reese contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s other top talents to illustrate on the adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes growing in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seemed inescapable…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November). Better yet, all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-page Giant format, offering a huge amount of material in every issue.

All that being said these tales would not be so revered if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, subtly more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This third lush and lustrous compilation collects T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8-10 and includes the second sterling spin-off issue of Dynamo – all originally released between September and November 1966 – with the incomparably cool concept and characters going from strength to strength and a spirit of eccentric experimentation slipping in to sweeten the pot…

For those who came in late: When brilliant Professor Emil Jennings was attacked by the forces of the mysterious Warlord, the savant perished. Happily, UN troops salvaged some of his greatest inventions, including a belt that increased the density of the wearer’s body until it became as hard as steel, a cloak of invisibility and a brain-amplifier helmet…

The prototypes were divided between several agents to create a unit of super-operatives to counter increasingly bold attacks of multiple global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable, honest but far from brilliant file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the belt and codename Dynamo. Contributing scripter Len Brown had no idea illustrator/editor Wood had puckishly changed the hero’s civilian name as a last-minute gag until the comic rolled off the presses…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan was once aged Dr. Anthony Dunn who chose to have his mind transferred into an android body and was then gifted with the invisibility cape. If his artificial body was destroyed Dunn’s consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

Guy Gilbert of the crack Mission: Impossible style T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was asked to beta-test an experimental super-speed suit. Gung-ho Lightning was proud to do so, even if every use of the hyper-acceleration gimmick shortened his life-span…

John Janus seemed the perfect UN employee: a mental and physical marvel who easily passed all the tests necessary to wear the Jennings helmet. Sadly, he was also the Warlord’s mole, poised to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R. at the earliest opportunity. All plans went awry however, once he donned the helmet and became Menthor.

The device awakened his mind’s full potential, granting him telepathy, telekinesis and mind-reading powers, but it also drove all evil from his mind. Such was the redemptive effect that Janus actually gave his life to save his comrades: an event which astounded readers at the time…

This third intense Intelligence compendium opens with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8 as Dynamo is caught up in a huge multi-state power cut that turns out to be sabotage perpetrated by maverick Warlord Oro. Although the under-Earth evildoer leaves ‘Thunder in the Dark’ (by an unknown author and art by Wood, Adkins & Reese) he is unable to stave off the dogged, determined destruction dealt out by Dynamo…

Invisible agent NoMan then infiltrates ‘The Pyramid of the Warlords’ (Pearson, John Giunta & Joe Giella) and wipes out a hidden horde of the malevolent miscreants whilst super-speedster Lightning investigates tech-stealing ET ‘The Blue Alien’ (Steve Skeates, Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia) only to discover and old enemy using a new gimmick…

With the Warlords using anti-gravity gimmicks, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. bigwigs are forced to innovate and create a flying agent in ‘Enter the Raven’ (Skeates, & Tuska), but have second thoughts after unscrupulous former mercenary Craig Lawson proves to be the only contender capable of piloting the heavily-armed flight-kit…

Following a stunning ‘Warlord Pin-up’ by Wood & Reese, the issue ends with an ensemble team-up as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents unite in a ‘Final Encounter’ (Wood & Adkins over another anonymous script) that ranges from the bowels of the Earth to the edge of space and seemingly sees the death of the supreme Warlord…

A new era opened with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #9 as affable agent Len Brown is asked to go undercover on an army base in ‘Corporal Dynamo, USA’ (with art from Giunta & Wood). The hunt for traitors selling stolen weapons to subversive sect S.P.I.D.E.R. ends explosively and leads into Lightning’s solo pursuit of modern Prometheus ‘Andor’ (illustrated by Sekowsky, Giacoia & Giella).

Long ago the Warlords stole a human baby and spent decades turning the waif into a biological superman devoid of sentiment or compassion. Sadly, they lost all control of the living weapon once he met fellow mortals. Now, the pitiful misfit’s attempts to rejoin mankind are derailed when a surviving Subterranean re-establishes mental dominance and again tries to crush the surface world…

Giunta limns NoMan’s investigation of ‘The Secret of Scorpion Island’ wherein a UN vaccination program is hijacked to create a pool of chemically-enslaved cultists for a deranged mastermind after which the assembled T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents contest with numerous rival agencies to secure a lethal outer space threat concealed within ‘The Black Box of Doom’ (Adkins & Chic Stone)…

The issue then concludes with a peculiarly quirky tale very much of its time as winged wonder ‘Raven Battles Mayven the Poet’, written and illustrated by legendary craftsman Manny Stallman.

A star from the get-go, Dynamo quickly won his own blockbuster-sized solo title. With an October cover-date, #2 kicked off with the husky hero firmly trapped in ‘The Web of S.P.I.D.E.R.’ (Stone, Wood & Adkins) after he storms into the country the evil empire has illegally annexed. He’s not completely alone, however: sinister sultry siren Iron Maiden is on hand to offer temptation and salvation in equal amounts…

Evil never rests though and in ‘S.P.I.D.E.R. Strikes at Sea!’ (Wood & Adkins) the covert creeps swipe an atomic submarine aircraft carrier and only Len can save the day and return the super-weapon…

Dynamo proudly boasts he’s more brawn than brains which doesn’t help when he has to solve the mystery of ‘The Priceless Counterfeit!’ (Dick Ayers, Wood & Adkins) statue S.P.I.D.E.R. wants to smuggle out of America…

Following a brace of pin-ups – ‘Red Star’ by Sekowsky & Giacoia and ‘Andor’ by Adkins – Dynamo is targeted for assassination by the rival Red Star and S.P.I.D.E.R. gangs in ‘Between Two Enemies’ (Sekowsky & Stone) before T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Weed comedically wraps things up as his dreams of becoming a super-operative bring him into contention with howling maniac ‘The Hyena’ – a Tuska-illustrated gem sadly lacking an author credit as do so many of the tales in this collection…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #10 is the last issue compiled here and opens with Dynamo actually outclassed after S.P.I.D.E.R. springs a number of old foes from jail. Rendered by Wood, ‘Operation Armageddon’ finds T.H.U.N.D.E.R. on the ropes and the muscle-headed muscleman running for his life when personal nemesis Demo steals a machine that fires miniature atom bombs. Sadly the sick killer never realised affable Len Brown could be pushed too far…

Sekowsky, Giacoia & Giella then illustrate Lightning racing after the madman who invented ‘The Air Laser’ whilst Ogden Whitney signs in to draw a team-up of NoMan and Andor as the Warlord’s superhuman pawn hunts down his former masters but is captured once more and compelled to commit ‘Three Deeds of Evil’

When communist brainwashing turns a trusted T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent into a liability the heroes gather to save their comrade in ‘Kitten or Killer’ (Tuska art) and turn the tables before High Spy Raven brings the dramas to a close when ‘The Return of Mayven’ (Stallman) finds the poet and robotics expert again using exploding artificial children to sow chaos across America…

With stories all shaded in favour of fast pace, sparse dialogue, explosive action and big breathtaking visuals, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was decades ahead of its time and certainly informed everything in Fights ‘n’ Tights comics which came after it. These are truly timeless comic classics which improve with every reading, so do yourself a favour and add these landmark super-sagas to your collection.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 3 © 2014 Radiant Assets, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Left Bank Gang…


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-742-1

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Now his latest novella is released, rife with his signature surreality; populated with cinematic, darkly comic anthropomorphs and featuring more bewitching ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and lost modern chumps.

In this brief full-colour tract – originally released in France as Hemingway – Jason puts his quirkily-informed imagination into literary overdrive and postulates what might have been at a moment of intense intellectual cross-pollination.

It’s Paris in the 1920s and émigrés F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway are all struggling to make their marks on the world – and most especially on the other artistic Men and Women of Destiny congregated in the enclave of creative excellence that has grown up around the Latin Quarter.

As wannabe cartoonists their own meagre efforts seem paltry and trivial in comparison to the masterful comic books being produced by Dostoyevsky or Faulkner, whilst true artists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Man Ray all seem to have no trouble with their medium or message…

Worst of all Scott thinks something is bothering Zelda: she might even be cheating on him…

The disaffected Young Turks are all plagued by nightmares of the past and frustrated dreams of mediocre futures and everyday life keeps coming at them demanding vile money just to stay alive and keep on fruitlessly toiling. And then Hemingway says it: why not just rob a bank…?

Blending literary pretention and modern creative mythology with the iconography and ironic bombast of Reservoir Dogs is a stroke of genius no one else could pull off.

As always, this visual/verbal bon mot unfolds in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a stunning palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours.

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and unnatural to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still uncannily depict the subtlest emotions with devastating effect, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This wry mis-history lesson is strongly suggested for adults but makes us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the art form should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories and artwork © 2007 Editions de Tournon-Carabas/Jason. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1362-2 (HB)                    978-1-3023-7876-9 (HB)

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages, rivalling the creative powerhouse that was Fantastic Four. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

You know the story: Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he’d developed astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night, the Wondrous Wallcrawler has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

The rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties unfolded and, by the time of the tales in this sixth sterling celebration (re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #51-61 and Annual #4, originally released between August 1967 and June 1968), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

Issue #50 had introduced one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the blooming of romance between Parker and college classmate Gwen Stacy and re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with).

The saga also saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit before resolving to take up his heroic burden once more.

This volume opens with the second chapter as the wallcrawler is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ (by Lee & Romita), battling an army of thugs to save hostages Fred Foswell and J. Jonah Jameson but ultimately losing a fateful fight with the big boss before tragically triumphing in concluding clash ‘To Die a Hero!’

This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Mike Esposito (moonlighting from DC as Mickey DeMeo).

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie. Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…

From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars, sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ before superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.

Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’

A new multi-part saga began in #53 with ‘Enter: Dr. Octopus’ as the many-tentacled madman tries to steal a devastating new piece of technology. After being soundly routed the madman goes into hiding as a lodger at Aunt May’s house in ‘The Tentacles and the Trap!’, before regrouping and finally succeeding in ‘Doc Ock Wins!’

He even convinces a mind-wiped webslinger to join him before the astonishing conclusion in ‘Disaster!’ as, even bereft of memory, the Amazing Arachnid turns on his sinister subjugator and saves the day…

Shell-shocked and amnesiac, Spider-Man is lost in New York in #57 (with lay-outs by Romita, and pencils from the reassuring reliable Don Heck) until he clashes with Marvel’s own Tarzan clone in ‘The Coming of Ka-Zar!’ whilst in the follow-up ‘To Kill a Spider-Man!’ vengeance-crazed roboticist Professor Smythe convinces Jonah Jameson to finance another murderous mechanical Spider-Slayer

With Heck still in the artist’s chair, Amazing Spider-Man #59 sees the hero regain his memory and turn his attention to a wave of street-crime in ‘The Brand of the Brainwasher!’ as a new mob-mastermind begins taking control of the city by mind-controlling city leaders and prominent cops – including Gwen’s dad.

The drama continues as the schemer is revealed to be one of Spidey’s old foes in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ The revelation creates big problems for Peter and Gwen before concluding part ‘What a Tangled Web We Weave…!’ sees our hero save the day but still stagger away more victim than victor…

Spider-Man became a permanent and unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow.

Blending cultural authenticity with stunning narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Stan Lee’s Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You should be here too…
© 1967, 1968, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 7: The Blues in the Mud


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-183-9

Les Tuniques Bleues began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Western wonder man Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to comic rival Pilote. His rapidly-rendered replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more edgy and realistic – although still broadly comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and – after studying Fine Art in college – joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats Cauvin has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums in total. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the show are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy; hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued cavalry fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war).

All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, feigning death and even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other, easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

The Blues in the Mud was first seen on the continent in 1978 as 13th album Les Bleus dans la gadoue, and opens here with our surly stalwarts on patrol. Riding through glorious autumn countryside, they stop at a lake to wash off the dust and find another Union soldier already indulging. However, closer scrutiny soon reveals that this young man is actually a woman…

She tearfully shares her shameful secret with them. Dear brother John vanished soon after enlisting and – terrified that he has deserted and besmirched the Cassidy honour – she has secretly taken his place to search for him…

Although Blutch thinks she’s crazy, the tragic tale goes right to Chesterfield’s head and heart. He promises that they will look out for her as she looks out for her brother but, after teaching her a few tricks to avoid getting killed by Confederate gunfire or her own commanders’ idiotic orders, Blutch starts to wonder about their winsome protégé…

As the weather turns foul and torrents of rain turn battlefields into swamps and skirmishes into messy, inconclusive mud-baths, Chesterfield’s overprotective nature starts men and officers talking – particularly about how the grizzly non-com keeps making the new recruit cry…

Platonically besotted, the Sarge doesn’t notice how “Private Cassidy” keeps disappearing, and when Blutch testily points it out, only assumes she’s looking for that missing brother and her nervousness is just fear of being caught…

Alas for all concerned, the little corporal soon determines, any fear of being caught is due to the fact that she’s a spy who has the Sarge wrapped around her little finger…

Finally, however even Chesterfield has to face facts and in his righteous indignation makes Blutch help him ride right into the Confederate camp to arrest her…

After that gallant gesture goes horribly wrong the Bluecoats manage to get back to their own lines only to find that they’ve been charged with desertion and are being fitted up for a firing squad…

Is there anything or anyone that can possibly save them?

Another hugely amusing, savagely anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences, this tale is particularly trenchant on the pointless nature of the conflict, with a large portion of the tale devoted to depicting the grim hilarity of soldiers unable to stand in a constantly-shifting morass doing their utmost to kill their equally enmired opponents, even if they can’t actually tell friend from foe anymore…

Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1978 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 2


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6808-4

Batman: The Golden Age volume is another paperback-format feast (there’s also a weightier, pricier but more capacious hardback Omnibus available) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set out in original publishing release order, it forgoes glossy, high-definition paper and reproduction techniques in favour of a newsprint-adjacent feel and the same flat, bright-yet-muted colour palette which graced the originals. Those necessary details dealt with, what you really need to know is that this is a collection of Batman tales that see the character grow 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.

With the majority of material crafted by Bill Finger and illustrated by Bob Kane, there’s no fuss, fiddle or Foreword, and the book steams straight into the meat of the matter, representing the astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #46-56, Batman#4-7 and the Dynamic Duo’s stories from World’s Best Comics #1 and World’s Finest Comics #2-3; cumulatively covering all the groundbreaking escapades from December 1940 to November 1941

Plunging right in to the perilous procedures, Detective Comics #46 (inked by Kane and regular embellishers Jerry Robinson & George Roussos) features the return of Batman’s most formidable scientific adversary as the heroes must counteract the awesome effects of ‘Professor Strange’s Fear Dust’ after which issue #47 delivers drama on a more human scale in ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’.

This action-packed homily of parental expectation and the folly of greed leads into Batman #4 (Winter 1941) which features ‘The Joker’s Crime Circus’ and the piratical plunderings of ‘Blackbeard’s Crew and the Yacht Society’. Then ‘Public Enemy No.1’ tells a gangster fable in the manner of Jimmy Cagney’s movie Angels With Dirty Faces, and ‘Victory For the Dynamic Duo’ involves the pair in the treacherous world of sports gambling.

Detective Comics #48 finds them defending America’s bullion reserves in ‘The Secret Cavern’, and they face an old foe when ‘Clayface Walks Again’ (Detective Comics #49, March 1941), as the deranged horror actor resumes his passion for murder and re-attempts to kill Bruce Wayne’s old girlfriend Julie.

Detective Comics #50 pits Batman and Robin against acrobatic burglars in ‘The Case of the Three Devils’, leading neatly into Batman #5 (Spring 1941). Once again, the Joker plays lead villain in ‘The Riddle of the Missing Card’ before the heroes prove their versatility by solving a quixotic crime in Fairy Land via ‘The Book of Enchantment’.

‘The Case of the Honest Crook’ follows: one of the key stories of Batman’s early canon. When a mugger steals only $6 from a victim, leaving much more behind, his trail leads to a vicious gang who almost beat Robin to death. The vengeance-crazed Dark Knight goes on a rampage of terrible violence that still resonates in the character to this day.

The last story from Batman #5 ‘Crime does Not Pay’ once again deals with kids going bad and the potential for redemption, after which World’s Best Comics#1 (Spring 1941 – destined to become World’s Finest Comics with its second issue) offers an eerie murder mystery concerning ‘The Witch and the Manuscript of Doom’

With most stories still coming from unsung genius Finger and the art chores shared out between Kane, Robinson & Roussos, the team got a new top contributor as Fred Ray signed on to produce the fantastic World’s Finest covers.

‘The Case of the Mystery Carnival’, ‘The Secret of the Jade Box’ and ‘Viola Vane’ (Detective#51, 52 and 53 respectively) are mood-soaked crimebusting set-pieces featuring fairly run-of-the mill thugs, which serve as perfect palate-cleansers for ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Remember!’ from WF#2: a powerful character play and a baffling mystery that still packs a punch today.

‘Hook Morgan and his Harbor Pirates’ finds the Dynamic Duo cleaning up the docks whilst the four tales from Batman #6 (‘Murder on Parole’, ‘The Clock Maker’, ‘The Secret of the Iron Jungle’ and ‘Suicide Beat’) offer a broad range of yarns encompassing a prison-set human interest fables to the hunt for a crazed maniac to racket busting and back to the human side of being a cop.

Detective #54 went back to basics with spectacular mad scientist thriller ‘The Brain Burglar’ after which a visit to a ghost town results in an eerie romp ‘The Stone Idol’ (Detective#55) before World’s Finest#3 launches a classic villain with the first appearance of one of Batman’s greatest foes in ‘The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow’.

The volume ends with four grand tales from Batman#7. ‘Wanted: Practical Jokers’ again stars the psychotic Clown Prince of Crime, whilst ‘The Trouble Trap’ finds our heroes crushing a Spiritualist racket before heading for Lumberjack country to clear up ‘The North Woods Mystery’.

The last story is something of a landmark case, as well as being a powerful and emotional melodrama. ‘The People Vs. The Batman’ finds Bruce Wayne framed for murder and the Dynamic Duo finally sworn in as official police operatives. They would not be vigilantes again until the grim and gritty 1980’s…

Kane, Robinson and their compatriots created an iconography which carried the Batman feature well beyond its allotted life-span until later creators could re-invigorate it. They added a new dimension to children’s reading… and their work is still captivatingly accessible.

Moreover, these early stories set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these stories. Superman gave us the idea, but inspired and inspirational writers like Bill Finger refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter.

Where the Man of Steel was as much Social Force and juvenile wish-fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted to do most: teach bad people the lessons they richly deserved…

These are tales of elemental power and joyful exuberance, brimming with deep mood and addictive action. Comicbook heroics simply don’t come any better.
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