Billy & Buddy volume 1: Remember This, Buddy?


By Jean Roba, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-91-5

Known as Boule et Bill on the Continent (or more accurately in the French speaking bits, as the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this timeless and immensely popular cartoon story of a boy and his dog debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of multinational Spirou.

It was the result of Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with the magazine’s Artistic Director/Ideas Man Maurice Rosy – who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during his decades long, productive career with the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill would quickly go its own way and carve out a unique personality all its own, becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

He tirelessly crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling idealised domestic comedy about a little lad and his rather clever Cocker Spaniel before – in 2003 – handing the art-chores over to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron. The substitute subsequently took over the writing too after the originator died in 2006.

Jean Roba was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium on July 28th 1930 and grew up reading primarily American reprint strips. He was particularly fond of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids. After the War he began working as a jobbing illustrator before adopting the loose, free-wheeling cartooning style known as the “Marcinelle School” and joining the Spirou crew.

He followed Uderzo on Sa majesté mon mari and perfected his comics craft under Franquin on Spirou et Fantasio before launching Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like our own Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was incredibly popular from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fanboys might also recognise the art as early episodes – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip has generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art gallery exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have a commemorative plaque and a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in 1980s, supplemented by a range of early reader books for the very young. Comics collections have been translated into fourteen languages and sold in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

Renamed Billy and Buddy, the strip debuted en Angleterre in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 on: introducing a standard sitcom nuclear family consisting of one bemused and long-suffering father, a warm, compassionate but painfully ditzy mother, a smart son and his genius dog which has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble…

The majority of this book – Tu te rappelles, Bill? – was originally the sixth collection before being cut down and reissued as volume 17 in Europe, but here acts as the ideal vehicle to set up the characters and settings for our delight and delectation.

Inside you’ll see a non-stop parade of quick-fire quips and jests as seven-year old Billy enjoys carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: digging up treasure on the beach, chasing cats, learning tricks to be useful around the house and generally baffling and annoying grown-ups.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative boy, although he’s overly fond of bones and rather protective of them. He also does not understand why everyone is so keen to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating vignettes range from heart-warming to hilarious: a charming tribute to and argument for a child for every pet and vice versa. This is a solid, family-oriented collection of comics no one trying to introduce youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2008 by Roba. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Tarzan versus the Nazis (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 3)


By Burne Hogarth with Don Garden & Rubén Moreira (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-319-1

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comicbooks) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations.

Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The full-blown dramatic adventure serial started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever.

The 1930s saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality of art, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this superb oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – which debuted in February 1937.

Once the four month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year old artist named Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts.

Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This third titanic tome begins with the prolifically illustrated ‘Hogarth on Burroughs’: George T. McWhorter’s interview with the master draughtsman from 1982’s Edgar Rice Burroughs Quarterly volume 1, #1, after which the timeless adventure resumes. At this time Hogarth had assumed the writing for the strip too, with veteran collaborator Don Garden leaving to pursue other, more patriotic pursuits…

‘Tarzan Against Kandullah and the Nazis’ (episodes #660-679; 30th October 1943 to March 12th 1944) is an explosive procession of coiled-spring action and crushing suspense as the Ape-Man, incessantly crisscrossing fabled, unexplored Africa returns to the lands of the Boers.

Here he discovers his old friends are being infiltrated by insidious Nazi deserters. The human monsters have seen that the tide of history is against them and instead of fighting on or surrendering are attempting to secure a desolate enclave from which they can rebuild a Fourth Reich to attack democracy again at some future date…

Their plan is to divide and conquer: fomenting strife between the native Mogalla tribe and the isolationist Afrikaaners. After narrowly averting that blood-stained crisis, Tarzan swears to deliver a military packet for a dying Allied airman, undertaking a staggering trek across the hostile lands before anonymously completing his mission and heading back into the veldt.

His travels next bring him into contention with a baroque and murderous slave-master in ‘Tarzan Against Don Macabre’ (pages #680-699, running from 19th March to 30th July). After rescuing beautiful captive Thaissa from his decadent clutches, the all-conquering Ape-Man decimates the Don’s menagerie of savage beasts – everything from a ravening bull to a giant octopus – and leads a slave revolt rebellion deep within his island citadel…

Once back on the mainland there was an extended return engagement for modern history’s most popular bad guys in ‘Tarzan Against the Nazis’ (#700-731) which ran from August 6th 1944 to March 11th 1945). This particular clash began innocuously enough with the Jungle Lord saving albino ape Bulak from his own dark-pelted tribe, before being distracted by sadistic Arabian hunter Korojak.

The wily stalker was trapping hundreds of animals for his master Emin-Nagra but secretly mistreating his prizes for his own sick amusement until Tarzan taught him the error of his ways. Sadly, it was not a lesson which stuck and before long both Bulak and the Ape-Man were part of the booty being transported to the golden-domed city of Bakhir

As Tarzan chafed in captivity as part of Emin-Nagra’s Circus, agents of Germany and Japan were negotiating for the oil under the cruel potentate’s pocket kingdom. They were pretty confident of a favourable deal, due to their column of storm troopers…

However, when Tarzan faced a tidal wave of starved jungle beasts in the Circus, he soon turned them into his personal army to bring down the despot. Then he turned his merciless attention to the Nazis and their nearby oil wells…

With the war winding down in the real world, escapist fantasy became a larger part of the Sunday strip environment. ‘Tarzan Against the Gorm-Bongara Monster’ (#732-748; 18th March to July 8th) saw the nomadic Ape-Man encounter a lost tribe of pygmies in a primordial valley, battling against them and latterly becoming their champion against a marauding, voracious dinosaur…

His inevitable victory led directly into ‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part One’ (#749-768, July 15th – November 25th) wherein landless prince Kurdu begged the Ape-Man’s assistance in overthrowing a usurper and saving his oppressed kingdom. The turbulent alliance offered privation, hardship, a quest for mystic relics and – for one of the heroes at least – the promise of true love…

This romantic epic is divided into separate chapters because from December 2nd 1945 onwards, Hogarth was replaced as illustrator by Rubén Moreira, who finished the tale from his predecessor’s scripts.

‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part Two’ (pages #769-778) concluded with the February 3rd 1946) instalment, after which Don Garden returned to provide fresh material for Moreira. You won’t find that here…

Hogarth was in dispute with the feature’s owners and moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago and United Features where he created comedy strip Miracle Jones. During that time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – also opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

After his two-year hiatus, Hogarth bombastically returned to the Lord of the Jungle in 1947, midway through an ongoing story.

For the sake of convenience Garden & Moreira’s ‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part One’ (#840-856, April 13th – 3rd August 1947) is included here, setting the scene as sassy Texan heiress Dallas Doyle journeys to the home of Tarzan and his mate Jane, determined to recruit the famed Ape-Man in her search for her long-missing father.

It takes a lot of persuading, but eventually Tarzan capitulates, due in no small part to the urgings of native mystic Maker of Ghosts

Following an old map of a diamond mine, the expedition proceeds slowly on until sneak thief Dirk Mungo and a wily river-boat skipper steal it and frame Tarzan. Thrown in jail by a corrupt police official, the Ape-Man then abandons the niceties of civilisation and breaks out, following the villains with Dallas and golden lion Jad-Bal-Ja rushing to keep up…

The trail takes them through all manner of incredible horror and culminates in an aeroplane dogfight. Surviving being shot down, the pursuers doggedly press on, until captured by pygmies who trade them to decadent priests…

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Two’ (#857-861, August 10th – 7th September 1947) saw Hogarth’s spectacular re-emergence, illustrating Garden’s script as the lost senior Doyle is finally found and rescued, just as the entire lost world he ruled succumbs to volcanic destruction…

Hogarth then took sole control again for the concluding instalments. ‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Three’ (#862-874, 14th September 7th – December 1947) swiftly wrapped up the saga as the hero saves his companions but almost loses his own life in the process. Wounded unto death, Tarzan is lost and dying and the rumours of his passing incite the various villains of the jungle lands to begin their raids and depredations again. However, saved by the tender ministrations of Manu the monkey and lumbering elephantine comrade Tantor, Tarzan soon storms back to restore his fair if heavy-handed peace…

To Be Concluded…

These tales are full of astounding, unremitting, unceasing action with Hogarth and the other contributors spinning page after page of blockbuster Technicolor action over months of non-stop wonder and exoticism. Plot was never as important as engendering a wild rush of rapt and rousing visceral responses, and every Sunday the strip delivered that in spades.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of populist writing and always his prose crackled with energy and imagination. Hogarth was an inspired intellectual and, as well as gradually instilling his pages with ferocious, unceasing action, layered the panels with subtle symbolism. Heroes looked noble, villains suitably vile and animals powerful and beautiful. Even vegetation, rocks and clouds looked spiky, edgy and liable to attack at a moment’s notice…

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Tarzan ® and Edgar Rice Burroughs™& © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images Edgar Rice Burroughs, 2015. All text copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc 2015.

Dr. Who: The Tenth Doctor volume 1: Revolutions of Terror


By Nick Abadzis, Elena Casagrande, Arianna Florean & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-384-0

Doctor Who first materialised through our black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’. Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree…

In recent years the strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth incarnations of the tricky and tumultuous Time Lord.

Scripted by the ever-excellent Nick Abadzis (Hugo Tate, Children of the Voyager, The Amazing Mr. Plebus, Laika) and illustrated by Elena Casagrande (Suicide Risk, Star Trek, X Files) & Arianna Florean – with art assistance from Luca Lamberti, Michele Pasta, Annapaolo Martello, Giorgio Sposito & Paolo Villanelli – these tales comprise the first five issues of the 2014 monthly comicbook and are set at the conclusion of the Fourth Season starring David Tennant, just after he lost his cherished (time) travelling Companion Donna Noble

‘Revolutions of Terror’ opens in picturesque Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where the locals are gearing up for Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Gabriella Gonzalez is less than joyous. A talented creative type, she wants to go to art school but her father is keeping her home to help in his restaurant and run his latest side-venture – a Laundromat. He is letting her go to night college though… but only to study accountancy and book-keeping…

When the washing machines all go crazy and spin out of control that day, prospective brother-in-law Hector is quick to pass on the blame to her, so Gabriella is feeling pretty annoyed and despondent. When the weird British-sounding guy turns up at the Castillo Mexicano for breakfast she barely notices him, what with grandma suddenly seeing ghosts and Hector being accosted by a demon…

Strange sights and uncanny apparitions continue throughout the day and Sunset Park is in no mood for celebrations as Gabby takes the subway to class, but when the train is attacked by monsters the weird Brit is there to fight the thing off with a buzzing blue flashlight…

Soon introductions are made and “The Doctor” has introduced her to an uncanny new universe she never believed possible… and one that might soon be ending thanks to an invasion by toxic-emotion devourers called The Silent. They are – apparently – voracious weaponised Cerebravores from another planet…

As she ingeniously holds the terrors at bay in the Laundromat, the Doctor visits their origin-world and, once he’s gained the knowledge he needs, returns with a plan to defeat them. Sadly it depends completely on Gabby’s artistic gifts and her family’s good mood…

Nevertheless global doom is averted, and the Doctor is preparing to slope off when Gabriella makes her big pitch to go with him…

Agreeing to just one quick trip, the Time Lord takes his new guest to the Pentaquoteque Gallery of Ououmos, one of the greatest collections of ‘The Arts in Space’ but, as Gabby’s cartoon strip journal shows, it’s much more of a pant-wetting scary adventure than a dry museum visit…

A driven artistic soul, Gabriella is naturally intoxicated with everything, but the real show-stopper is her introduction to puissant Zhe Ikiyuyu’s block transfer sculptures: a rare discipline which can manifest solid objects by mathematically manipulating Quantum Foam Harmonics through singing or chanting…

However the rapt fascination quickly turns into more terrified running after the Doctor takes her to Zhe’s private moon where they discover the compulsive creative artist has taken the ultimate step in her art and the creations now run the roost…

This racy, pacy, superbly authentic and in-touch little tome comes with a bunch of bonus material such as humorous strip extras by A. J, David Leach, Emma Price & Rachel Smith and a vast gallery of Gallifreyan alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Casagrande, Alice X. Zhang, Rob Farmer, Warren Pleece and Verity Glass. Also on offer is a behind-the-scenes peek at ‘Designing Gabby’ making this a splendid slice of comics magic starring an incontestable bulwark of British Fantasy.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. Revolutions of Terror is a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition April 2015.

Essential X-Men volume 1


By Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuniga & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2376-7

In 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced ScottCyclopsSummers, BobbyIcemanDrake, WarrenAngelWorthington, JeanMarvel GirlGrey and HankThe BeastMcCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

He was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentric and spectacular adventures the mutant misfits disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although their title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

This groundbreaking monochrome monolith of mutant mayhem first appeared in 1996, offering an economical, phonebook (remember those?) sized mass-market collection for newbies and neophytes catch-up to the sun-bright excitement of those exuberant and pivotal early stories.

Collecting Giant Size X-Men #1 and issues #94-119 of the definitely “All-New, All-Different” X-Men (spanning May 1975 to March 1978), this titanic tome traces the reinvigorated merry mutants from young, fresh and delightfully under-exposed innovations to the beginnings of their unstoppable ascendancy to ultimate comicbook icons…

Without pause or preamble, the epic voyage begins with a classic mystery monster mash from Giant Size X-Men #1. In ‘Second Genesis!’ Len Wein & Dave Cockrum (the artist hot from his stint reviving DC’s equally eclectic fan-fave super-team The Legion of Super-Heroes) detailed how the original squad – sans new Avengers recruit The Beast – had been lost in action, leaving Xavier to scour Earth and the entire Marvel Universe for replacements.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added a one-shot Hulk adversary dubbed the Wolverine, but the bulk of time and attention was lavished upon original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic-seeming German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin who could turn into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The second chapter of the epic introductory adventure ‘…And Then There Was One!’ reintroduced battered, depleted but unbowed team-leader Cyclops who swiftly drilled the newcomers into a semblance of readiness before leading them into primordial danger against the monolithic threat of ‘Krakoa… the Island That Walks Like a Man!’

Overcoming the phenomenal terror of a rampaging rapacious mutant eco-system and rescuing the “real” team should have led to another quarterly Giant-Size issue, but so great was the groundswell of support that the follow-up adventure was swiftly reworked into a two-part tale for the rapidly reconfigured comicbook which became a bimonthly home to the new team.

Those epic beginnings are supplanted by a trio of vignettes explaining how the heroes’ formidable abilities function, beginning with ‘Call Him… Cyclops’ from X-Men #43, revealing the secrets of his awesome eye-blasts in pithy quickie by Thomas, Werner Roth and John Verpoorten whilst Stan Lee, Arnold Drake, Roth & Verpoorten performed similar duties with ‘I, the Iceman!’ from #47.

Finally, from X-Men #57 comes a chattily entrancing rundown describing Marvel Girl’s psionic abilities in ‘The Female of the Species!’ from Thomas, Roth & Verpoorten.

X-Men #94 (August 1975) offered ‘The Doomsmith Scenario!’ – plotted by Editor Wein, scripted by Chris Claremont and with Bob McLeod inking man-on-fire Dave Cockrum – in a canny Armageddon-shocker as the newly pared-down strike-squad (minus Sunfire and still-recuperating Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Havok and Lorna Dane) were despatched by the Beast – calling in a favour from Avenger’s HQ – to stop criminal terrorist Count Nefaria starting an atomic war.

The insidious mastermind had invaded America’s Norad citadel with a gang of artificial superhumans and accidentally escalated a nuclear blackmail scheme into an inescapable countdown to holocaust, leaving the untrained, unprepared mutants to storm in to save the world in epic conclusion ‘Warhunt! (inked by Sam Grainger).

One of the new team didn’t make it back…

X-Men #96 saw Claremont take charge of the writing (albeit with some plotting input from Bill Mantlo) for ‘Night of the Demon!’ Guilt-wracked Cyclops blamed himself for the loss of his team-mate, and in his explosive rage accidentally unleashed a demonic antediluvian horror from earth’s dimmest prehistory for the heroes-in-training to thrash.

The infernal Nagarai would return over and again to bedevil mankind, but the biggest innovation in this issue was the introduction of gun-toting biologist/housekeeper Moira MacTaggert and the first inklings of the return of implacable old adversaries…

Issue #97 started a long-running, cosmically-widescreen storyline with ‘My Brother, My Enemy!’ as Xavier, tormented by visions of interstellar war, tried to take a vacation, just as Havok and Lorna (finally settling on superhero nom de guerre Polaris) attacked: apparently willing servants of a mysterious madman using Cyclops’ old undercover alter ego Eric the Red.

The devastating conflict segued into a spectacular, 3-part saga as pitiless robotic killers returned under the hate-filled auspices of mutantophobic Steven Lang and his mysterious backers of Project Armageddon. The action began with #98’s ‘Merry Christmas, X-Men…the Sentinels Have Returned!’

With coordinated attacks capturing semi-retired Marvel Girl plus Wolverine, Banshee and Xavier, Cyclops and the remaining heroes had to co-opt a space shuttle and storm Lang’s orbital HQ to rescue them in ‘Deathstar Rising!’ (inks by Frank Chiaramonte): another phenomenal all-action episode.

Accompanied by a magical pinup of portraits by Cockrum, the saga concludes on an agonising cliffhanger with the 100th issue anniversary tale. ‘Greater Love Hath no X-Man…’ (with Cockrum inking his own pencils) sees the new X-Men apparently battle the original team before overturning Lang’s monstrous schemes forever.

However, their catastrophic clash had destroyed the only means of escape and, as a colossal solar flare threatened to eradicate the satellite-station, the only chance of survival meant certain death for another X-Man.

As #101 unfolded, scripter Claremont & artist Cockrum were on the on the verge of utterly overturning the accepted status quo of women in comics forever…

The team consisted of old acquaintance and former foe Sean “Banshee” Cassidy, Wolverine, and new creations Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus, led by field-leader Cyclops and part-timer Jean Grey – still labouring under the nom-de guerre Marvel Girl… but not for much longer…

‘Like a Phoenix from the Ashes’ (inked by Frank Chiaramonte) saw a space-shuttle spectacularly crash into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men had safely travelled in a specially-shielded chamber but Marvel Girl had to needed manually pilot the vehicle, unprotected through a lethal radiation storm.

As the mutants fled the slowly sinking craft, a fantastic explosion propels the impossibly alive Jean into the air, clad in a strange gold and green uniform and screaming that she is “Fire and Life Incarnate… Phoenix!”

Immediately collapsing, the critically injured girl is rushed to hospital and a grim wait begins.

Unable to explain her survival and too preoccupied to spare time for teaching, Xavier packs Banshee, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm and Colossus off to the Irish mutant’s home in County Mayo for a vacation, blissfully unaware that Cassidy Keep has been compromised and is now a deadly trap for his new students…

Within the ancestral pile, Sean’s mutant cousin Black Tom has usurped control of the manor and its incredible secrets before – at Eric the Red’s behest – contriving an inescapable ambush, assisted by an old X-Men enemy.

‘Who Will Stop the Juggernaut?’ (Grainger inks) sees the inexperienced heroes in over their heads and fighting for their lives, but still finds room to reveal the origins of Storm and provide an explanation for her crippling claustrophobia, before ‘The Fall of the Tower’ cataclysmically concludes the tale with mutant heroes and the Keep’s Leprechaun colony (no, really!) uniting to expel the murderous usurpers.

Although bi-monthly at the time, the series kicked into confident top gear with ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Magneto’ as the weary warriors then divert to Scotland to check on Moira MacTaggert’s island lab: a secret facility containing many mutant menaces the X-Men have previously defeated.

It’s a very bad move since the ever-active Eric has restored the dormant master of magnetism to full power. The mutant terrorist had been turned into a baby – a strangely common fate for villains in those faraway days – but was all grown up again now… and indulging in one last temper tantrum…

Freshly arrived from America, Moira and Cyclops are only just in time to lead a desperate, humiliating retreat from the triumphant Master of Magnetism. Scott doesn’t care: he realises the entire affair has been a feint to draw the heroes away from Xavier and Jean…

He needn’t have worried. Although in ‘Phoenix Unleashed’ (inks by Bob Layton) Eric orchestrated an attack by Firelord – a cosmic flamethrower and former herald of Galactus much like the Silver Surfer – Jean is now fully evolved into a being of unimaginable power who readily holds the fiery marauder at bay…

In the interim a long-standing mystery is solved as the visions which had haunted Xavier are revealed as a psychic connection with a runaway princess from a distant alien empire. Lilandra of the Shi’ar had rebelled against her imperial brother and whilst fleeing had somehow telepathically locked onto her trans-galactic soul-mate Xavier.

As she made her circuitous way to Earth, embedded Shi’ar spy Shakari had assumed the role of Eric the Red and attempted to remove Lilandra’s potential champion before she arrived…

During the blistering battle which follows the X-Men’s dramatic arrival, Shakari snatches up Lilandra and drags her through a stargate to their home galaxy, and with the entire universe imperilled, Xavier urges his team to follow. All Jean has to do is re-open a wormhole to the other side of creation…

A minor digression follows as overstretched artist Cockrum gains a breather via fill-in “untold” tale of the new team featuring an attack by psychic clones of the original X-men in ‘Dark Shroud of the Past’ (by Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Tom Sutton, inside a framing sequence from Cockrum).

The regular story resumes in a wry tribute to Star Trek as ‘Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!’ (Claremont, Cockrum & Dan Green) finds the heroes stranded in another galaxy where they meet and are defeated by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of the Legion of Super Heroes), until bold interstellar rebel/freebooters the Starjammers bombastically arrive to turn the tables again and uncover a mad scheme to unmake the fabric of space-time.

Lilandra’s brother Emperor D’Ken is a deranged maniac who wants to activate a cosmic artefact known alternatively as the M’Kraan Crystal and “the End of All that Is” in his quest for ultimate power. He’s also spent time on Earth in the past and played a major role in the life of one of the X-Men…

This tale (from issue #107) was Cockrum’s last for years. He would eventually return to replace the man who replaced him. John Byrne not only illustrated but also began co-plotting the tales and as the team roster expanded the series rose to even greater heights. It would culminate in the landmark “Dark Phoenix” storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character and the departure of the team’s heart and soul. The epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne.

Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised Fantastic Four…

There and then though, the X-Men and Starjammers battled the Crystal’s astoundingly deadly automated guardians, as this final chapter saw the newly puissant Phoenix literally save Reality in a mind-blowing display of power and skill.

Trapped inside a staggering other-realm, and appalled and enthralled by the intoxicating, addictive nature of her own might, Phoenix rewove the fabric of Reality and for an encore brought the heroes home again.

The conclusion of this ambitious extended saga was drawn by Byrne and inked by Terry Austin and their visual virtuosity was to become an industry bench-mark as the X-Men grew in popularity and complexity.

However, even though the bravura high-octane thrills of “Armageddon Now” seemed an unrepeatable high-point, Claremont & Byrne had only started. The best was still to come…

In ‘Home Are the Heroes!’ Wolverine finally began to develop a back-history and some depth of character as technological wonder Weapon Alpha attacked the recuperating team in an attempt to force the enigmatic Logan to rejoin the Canadian Secret Service. Renamed Vindicator Alpha would later return with Alpha Flight – a Canadian super-team which would eventually graduate to their own eccentric high-profile series.

Next follows a rather limp and hasty fill-in as ‘The “X”-Sanction’ (illustrated by Tony DeZuniga & Cockrum), sees cyborg mercenary Warhawk infiltrating the mansion in search of “intel” for a mysterious, unspecified master before getting his shiny silver head handed to him…

After a magical pinup of the extended team by Arthur Adams (the cover of Classic X-Men #1 from 1986) the saga got back on track with ‘Mindgames’ (Claremont, Byrne & Austin) as Beast visits a circus in search of the new team which has been missing for weeks.

His presence disrupts a devilish scheme by Mesmero to subjugate the mutant heroes through false memories and implanted personalities but the reawakened team’s vengeance is forestalled when their greatest enemy ambushes them…

In X-Men #112 they fight and fail leaving ‘Magneto Triumphant!’ and his enemies helplessly imprisoned miles beneath Antarctica in the follow-up ‘Showdown!’ However, by the time the Homo Superior tyrant returns after terrorising the humans of Australia, the X-Men have broken free and are waiting for him…

In the apocalyptic battle which follows the base is utterly destroyed and Magneto grievously wounded. With boiling lava flooding everywhere, only Beast and Phoenix manage to reach the surface and in horror realise they are the only survivors…

They could not be more wrong. Unable to go up, the remaining mutants tunnelled downwards and ‘Desolation!’ turned to joy as they emerged into the antediluvian wilderness dubbed the Savage Land.

Linking up with old ally Ka-Zar, the team slowly recover in a dinosaur-filled paradise but the idyll is shattered when former foe Karl Lykos succumbs to an old addiction and absorbs their mutant energies to become lethal leather-winged predator Sauron

His ‘Visions of Death!’ are readily dispelled by the assembled heroes, but he’s just the first course in a campaign of terror after barbarian queen Zaladane revives proto-god Garokk as the figurehead of her army of conquest…

When their meddling disrupts the tropical climate of the sub-polar region, Ka-Zar and the X-Men invade their noxious citadel ‘To Save the Savage Land’ but the battle demands the best and worst from the young warriors before the job is done…

With the distasteful task completed, the mutants opt to try a perilous sea-passage back to the outside world…

X-Men #117 begins with their rescue by an Antarctic exploration vessel and slow torturous voyage to Japan, before lapsing into an untold tale of Charles Xavier before he lost the use of his legs. ‘Psi War!’ is full of clever in-filling insights as it details how the dispirited, restless young telepath fetched up in Cairo and met his first “Evil Mutant”…

Amahl Farouk used his psionic abilities to rule the city’s underworld: a depraved, debauched monster who thought he was beyond justice. The enraged, disgusted Xavier defeated the beast and in doing so found his life’s purpose…

This initial volume concludes with a revelatory two-part epic as the X-Men – still believed dead by Xavier, Jean and the wider world – arrive in Agarashima just as the port is being devastated by a vast firestorm. ‘The Submergence of Japan!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte) saw tectonic terrorist Moses Magnum undertake a most audacious blackmail scheme, countered by the valiant mutants who had briefly reunited with old – and still belligerently surly – comrade Sunfire.

Perhaps he was just surprised to discover Wolverine had unsuspected connections to Japan and had turned the head of local highborn maid Lady Mariko. A bigger surprise awaited the American specialist the government had consulted. Misty Knight was Jean Grey’s roommate in Manhattan and grieved with her at the X-Men’s deaths. Now she has to tell Cyclops his girl has moved on and Professor X has abandoned Earth for the Shi’ar Empire…

Of course all of that might be moot if they can’t stop Magnum and his Mandroid army sinking Japan into the Pacific, but after a catastrophic conflict inside a volcano there’s a seasonal reunion in store for all in the Austin inked ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…’

The immortal epics compiled here are available in numerous formats (including colour softcover editions and luxurious and enticing hardbacks) but there’s just something both immediate and emphatic about seeing them in stark, potent monochrome…

Entertaining, groundbreaking and incredibly intoxicating, these adventures are an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can be allowed to ignore.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1996 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc/Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tarzan Archives: The Joe Kubert Years volume 1


By Joe Kubert with Burne Hogarth (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-404-3

Soon after first publication in 1912 Tarzan of the Apes became a multi-media sensation and global star. More novels and many movies followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 and the Ape-Man inevitably carved out a solid slice of the comicbook market too once the industry was firmly established.

Western Publishing were a big publishing and printing outfit based on America’s West Coast, rivalling DC and Marvel at the height of their powers. They specialised in licensed properties and the jewels in their crown were all the comics starring the Walt Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

The publishers famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. Dell Comics – and latter imprints Gold Key and Whitman – never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers. They never needed to…

Dell also sought out other properties like movie or newspaper strip franchises, and would become inextricably associated with TV adaptations once the small screen monopolised modern homes.

In 1948 Dell produced the first all-new Tarzan comicbook. The newspaper strip had previously provided plenty of material for expurgated reprint editions until Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947).

This milestone featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P Thompson – who wrote both the Tarzan radio show and aforementioned syndicated strip – with art by the legendary Jesse Marsh.

Marsh & Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two further tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a frankly remarkable feat: Four Colour was a catch-all umbrella title that featured literally hundreds of different licensed properties – often as many as ten separate issues per month – so such a rapid return meant pretty solid sales figures.

Within six months the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January/February 1948), beginning an unbroken run that only ended in 1977, albeit by a convoluted route…

After decades as Whitman staples, licensing of Edgar Rice Burroughs properties was transferred to DC – not just Tarzan and his extended family, but also fantasy pioneers John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Pellucidar and others – with the new company continuing the original numbering.

Tarzan #207 had an April 1972 cover-date and the series carried on until February 1977 and issue #258. From then on Marvel, Malibu and Dark Horse extended the jungle Lord’s comicbook canon…

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National/DC Comics. As they slowly lost market-share to Marvel, they responded by producing controversial and landmark superhero material, but their greatest strength lay – as it always had – in the variety and quality of its genre divisions.

Mystery and Supernatural, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained strong or even thrived and the company’s eye for a strong brand was as keen as ever.

Tarzan had been a mainstay of Dell/Gold Key, and a global multi-media phenomenon, so when DC acquired rights they justifiably trumpeted it out, putting one of their top creators in sole charge of the legendary Ape-Man’s monthly exploits, as well as generating a boutique bunch of ERB titles in a variety of formats.

The DC incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans. For many of us, those years provided the definitive graphic Tarzan, thanks solely to the efforts of the Editor, publisher and illustrator who shepherded the Ape-man through the transition. They were all the same guy: Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn. According to his Introduction his earliest memory of cartooning was Hal Foster’s Tarzan Sunday strips…

Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943. A canny survivor of the Great Depression he also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets from 1965 to 1968. From then on he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks.

And then DC acquired Tarzan…

This first fabulous hardcover archive (also available in digital formats) collects the lead stories from Tarzan #207-214 (April-November 1972); a tour de force of passion transubstantiated into stunning comic art, with Kubert writing, illustrating and lettering. Moreover, the vibrant colours in this epic re-presentation is based on Tatjana Wood’s original guides, offering readers a superbly authentic and immersive experience whether you’re coming fresh to the material or joyously revisiting a beloved lost time.

The only disconcerting things about this stellar compilation are the cover reproductions, which appear in all their iconic glory but manipulated to remove DC’s trademark logos. The mightiest force in the modern jungle is still Intellectual Property lawyers…

The tense suspense begins with an adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and opens with a safari deep in the jungle. A pretty rich girl is driving her white guide and native bearers at a ferocious pace as she desperately hunts for her missing father.

When a bronzed god bursts into view battling a panther, she watches aghast as human impossibly triumphs over killer cat and then beats his chest whilst emitting an astounding scream. As the terrifying figure vanishes back into the green hell the girl’s questions are grudgingly answered by the old hunter who relates a legend he has heard…

‘Origin of Tarzan of the Apes’ depicts how, following a shipboard mutiny, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke and his wife Lady Alice are marooned on the African coast with all their possessions, including the vast library of books and Primers intended for their soon to be born baby…

Against appalling odds they persevered, with Greystoke building a fortified cabin to shelter them from marauding beasts, especially the curious and savage apes which roam the region. Despite the birth of a son, eventually the jungle won and the humans perished, but their son was saved by a grieving she-ape who adopted the baby to replace her own recently killed “Balu”…

The ugly, hairless boy thrived under Kala’s doting attentions, growing strong but increasingly aware that he was intrinsically different. He only discovered the how and why after years of diligent effort: through sheer intellectual effort and the remnants of his father’s books and papers, Tarzan learned to read and deduced that he was a M-A-N…

The tale within a tale continues in ‘A Son’s Vengeance: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 2’ as the boy rises to prominence amongst his hirsute tribe and through imagination and invention masters all the beasts of his savage environment. Eventually a brutal, nomadic tribe of natives settle in the area and Tarzan has his first contact with creatures he correctly identifies as being M-E-N like him…

The new situation leads to the greatest tragedy of his life as a hunter of M’Bonga’s tribe kills beloved, devoted Kala and Tarzan learns the shock of loss and overpowering hunger for revenge…

Issue #209 revealed how civilisation finally caught up with Tarzan as ‘A Mate For the Ape-Man: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 3’ saw him meet and save American Jane Porter, her elderly father and his own cousin.

Just as had happened years earlier, these unlucky voyagers were marooned by mutineers. Discovering John Clayton’s cabin, the castaways find the lost peer’s diary, which is of especial interest to William Clayton, the current Lord Greystoke. As tensions rise and humans die, Tarzan takes his golden haired mate deep into the impenetrable verdure…

Both tales conclude neatly and tantalisingly in ‘Civilisation: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 4’ as innately noble Tarzan returns Jane to her fiancé William Clayton in time for the westerners to be rescued by French Officer Paul D’Arnot.

When the dashing Lieutenant is captured and tortured by M’Bonga’s tribesmen, Tarzan rescues him and nurses the Frenchman back to health. In return the officer teaches him to speak the human languages that up until that moment he could only read and write in…

By then however the navy vessel and saved souls have all sailed away, each carrying their own secrets with them…

With no other options, lovelorn Tarzan agrees to accompany D’Arnot back to civilisation. The eternal comrades eventually settle in Paris with Tarzan practically indistinguishable from other men…

Even today ‘Origin of the Ape-Man’ is still the most faithful adaptation of ERB’s novel in any medium: potent and evocative, fiercely expressive, a loving and utterly visceral true translation of the landmark saga.

Kubert’s intent was to adapt all 24 Burroughs novels and intersperse them with short, complete tales, but the workload, coupled with his other editorial duties was crippling. To buy some time #211 combined old with new as ‘Land of the Giants’ partially adapted and incorporated Don Garden & Burne Hogarth’s newspaper strip tale ‘Tarzan and the Fatal Mountain’: Sunday strip pages #582-595 which had originally ran from May 3rd to August 2nd 1942 (you can see that saga in al its uncut glory by tracking down Tarzan versus the Barbarians (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 2).

Here a battle with crocodiles dumps Tarzan in a lost valley where giant natives are being persecuted by deformed, diminutive outworlder Martius Kalban who hungers for the secrets of their prodigious size and strength. Even after gaining his dark desire, Kalban finds himself no match for the outraged Ape-Man…

‘The Captive!’ is a latter-day exploit, beginning a run of yarns based on the short stories comprising ERB’s book Jungle Tales of Tarzan. Here the relationship between Ape-Man and the elephants is explored with each saving the other from the ever-present threat of the hunters of M’Bonga…

The Jungle Tales reworkings continue with ‘Balu of the Great Apes’ as childhood friends of Tarzan becomes incomprehensibly aggressive after the birth of their first baby and this first astounding compilation ends with ‘The Nightmare’ as starving Tarzan steals and gorges on meat and drink from the native village. The resultant food-poisoning takes him on a hallucinogenic journey he will never forget and almost costs his life when he can no longer tell phantasm from genuine threat…

Supplemented by full Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is a masterpiece of comics creation no lover of the medium or fantasy fan can afford to be without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan ® The Joe Kubert Years Volume One © 1972, 2005 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Tarzan ® is owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and used by permission.

Blake and Mortimer: Professor Satō’s Three Formulae Part 2 – Mortimer versus Mortimer


By Edgar P. Jacobs & Bob De Moor with colours by Paul-Serge Marssignac, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-303-1

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (March 30th 1904-February 20th 1987) is rightly considered one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised epic starring scientific adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish yet thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – in exactly the same way Dan Dare was for 1950s Britain.

Jacobs was born in Brussels, a precocious child perpetually drawing, but even more obsessed with music and the performing arts – especially opera. He attended a commercial school but loathed the idea of office work, so instead avidly pursued arts and drama on his graduation in 1919.

A succession of odd jobs at opera-houses (scene-painting, set decoration and even performing as both an acting and singing extra) supplemented his private performance studies, and in 1929 Jacobs won an award from the Government for classical singing.

His dreamed-of operatic career was thwarted by the Great Depression. When arts funding suffered massive cutbacks following the global stock market crash, he was compelled to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing.

Jacobs switched to commercial illustration in 1940, winning regular work in the magazine Bravo, as well as illustrating short stories and novels. He famously took over the syndicated Flash Gordon strip after the occupying German authorities banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero and the publishers desperately sought someone to satisfactorily complete the saga.

Jacobs’ ‘Stormer Gordon’ lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation fun-police, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U: a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

During this period Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip, the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring the original black and white strips of The Shooting Star (originally run in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was also contributing to the drawing too, working on the extended epic The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun.

After the war and liberation, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comicstrip stars to work for his proposed new venture. Founding publishing house Le Lombard, Leblanc also commissioned Le Journal de Tintin, an anthology comic with simultaneous editions in Belgium, France and Holland to be edited by Hergé and starring the intrepid boy reporter supplemented by a host of newer heroes.

Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, Le Journal de Tintin featured Paul Cuvelier’s ‘Corentin’ and Jacques Laudy’s ‘The Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers’.

As revealed in an enticing, photo-packed essay closing this Cinebook volume, Blake and Mortimer were a lucky compromise. Jacobs had wanted to create a period historical drama entitled Roland the Bold but changed genres due to an overabundance of such strips…

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs’ since their time together on Bravo, and the first instalment of the epic thriller serial ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred a bluff, gruff British scientist and an English Military Intelligence officer closely modelled on Laudy himself…

The initial storyline ran from issue #1 (26th September 1946) to September 8th 1949) and cemented Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right.

In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s first album release, with the concluding part published three years later. The volumes were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, in addition to a single omnibus edition released in 1964.

Hergé and Jacobs purportedly suffered a split in 1947 when the former refused to grant the latter a by-line on new Tintin material they had collaborated on, but since the two remained friends for life and Jacobs continued to produce Blake and Mortimer for the weekly comic, I think it’s fair to assume that if such was the case it was a pretty minor spat. I rather suspect that the Eccentric Englishmen were simply taking up more and more of the diligent artist’s time and attention…

In 1984 The Secret of the Swordfish was reformatted and repackaged for English translation as three volumes with additional material (mostly covers from the weekly Tintin added to the story as splash pages): part of a push to win some of the lucrative Tintin and Asterix market here. Sadly the tall tomes failed to find an audience and ended after seven magnificent if under-appreciated volumes.

Now happily Cinebook have finally made the Gentleman Heroes a bankable proposition, releasing all 23 extant albums with the most recent – due to the quirks of publishing – being the original twelfth and the last one that Jacobs was involved with.

For further details please check out yesterday’s review, but suffice to say that the concluding instalment of Professor Satō’s Three Formulae was a long time coming …

Les 3 formules du professeur SatōMortimer contre Mortimer was a tragically extended affair and only credited Jacobs as writer and layout artist. The eleventh album had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin after which the author simply abandoned his story due to failing health and other issues.

He died on February 20th 1987 and soon after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor (Bart de Scheepsjongen, Monsieur Tric, Cori le Moussaillon, Balthazar, Barelli and so many others) was commissioned by his family and estate to complete his final tale from Jacob’s pencils and notes.

The concluding album was finally released in March 1990, leading to a republishing of all the earlier exploits and eventually new adventures from a variety of creative teams…

Rather than make you wait eighteen years for the conclusion, here’s E.P Jacobs’ final foray starring the beloved tour de force scientific investigators.

As described yesterday, boisterous boffin Mortimer was in Japan when urgently contacted by robotics pioneer and cyberneticist supreme Professor Akira Satō. That savant had accomplished miracles in the mass-production of highly specialised mechanoids and androids, but his discoveries – parsed down into three crucial processes and deposited in three separate banks – were being targeted by a ruthless gang led by Blake and Mortimer’s greatest enemy.

The villains had infiltrated Satō’s home and laboratory and tried to murder Mortimer numerous times before creating a robot duplicate of the British scientist, but had been unable to stop a summons for help going out to his Secret Service ally. Now, with Blake imminently expected, the gang had to radically move up their timetable…

Captain Blake is watched from the moment he disembarks at Haneda Airport and the hidden enemies are already in place at the hotel where he is staying. The MI5 chief has the suite next to Mortimer’s, and although his old comrade is missing, finds plenty of clues as to what has happened to him. The diligent search also uncovers the video surveillance gear infesting both rooms and sets his watchers running for the exits in panic…

A hasty pursuit only leads to his own capture but, with fortune ever favouring the brave, Blake turns the tables on his foes in a deadly clash in the hotel garages and sends them all fleeing for their lives.

By the time he has connected with Police Superintendent Hasumi and briefed Colonel Mitsu of the Japanese Public Security Intelligence Agency, the assailants have vanished, but Blake is building a picture of what is going on. To end the Englishman’s threat forever, a diabolical and desperate scheme is devised: creating a second Mortimer robot to assassinate Blake…

Turncoat assistant Kim is nervous. Although he’s happy to use Professor Satō’s incredible inventions to detain Mortimer and his former employer, the traitor is not conversant enough with the production procedures to guarantee success. Nevertheless, soon a deadly doppelganger of the British Professor is despatched to kill Blake…

Meanwhile, the real Mortimer has not been idle. With Satō’s aid he has escaped the lab prison and rushes to intercept the android assassin, but is unaware that behind him, unqualified hands have meddled with the duplication processes and a legion of horrific misfit mechanoids are tumbling off the conveyor belts…

What follows is a succession of spectacular chases, frantic battles and a final shattering showdown between Blake, Mortimer and the man who has bedevilled their lives since the days of the Swordfish case – a fitting end to the epic adventures and, thanks to the graphic efforts of De Moor, a perfect, revitalising stepping stone for other creators to renew and continue the feature…

Rocket-paced, suspenseful and cathartically action-packed, this is an enthralling changing-of-the-guard building to an explosive conclusion and satisfying final flourish, resulting in another superbly stylish blockbuster to delight every adventure addict.

As well as the aforementioned historical overview – ‘Jacobs: 1946, the Swordfish, starting point of a masterful work’ – this Cinebook edition also includes excerpts from two other Blake & Mortimer albums plus a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard s. a.) 1990 by E.P. Jacobs & Bob De Moor. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Blake and Mortimer: Professor Satō’s Three Formulae Part 1 – Mortimer in Tokyo


By Edgar P. Jacobs, with colours by Paul-Serge Marssignac, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-292-8

Pre-eminent fantasy raconteur Edgar P. Jacobs devised one of the greatest heroic double acts in pulp fiction: pitting his distinguished scientific adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a broad variety of perils and menaces in a sequence of stellar action-thrillers which merged science fiction scope, detective mystery suspense and supernatural thrills. The magic was made perfect through his stunning illustrations, rendered in the timeless Ligne Claire style which had made intrepid boy-reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The Doughty Duo debuted in September 1946; gracing the pages of the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin. This was an ambitious international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland, edited by Hergé, with his eponymous, world famous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the rapidly-changing post-war world…

Les 3 formules du professeur Satō was a tragically extended affair and Jacob’s last hurrah. What became the eleventh album was serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin, after which the author abandoned his story due to failing health and other personal issues.

Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 and soon after Bob de Moor was commissioned by his family and estate to complete his final tale from Jacob’s pencil roughs and script notes. The concluding album was finally released in March 1990. This led to a republishing of all the earlier exploits and eventually fresh adventures from a variety of creative teams…

Here however the action opens at Haneda Airport, Tokyo where Air Traffic Controllers experience a unique problem as a UFO disrupts their carefully plotted flight courses. With disaster imminent two Starfighter jets are scrambled to pursue the meteoric anomaly and, just before they are destroyed, the pilots radio back they are being attacked by a dragon…

As the news filters around the world, renowned cyberneticist Professor Akira Satō argues with his assistant Dr. Kim, deeply remorseful that his latest breakthrough has been the cause of such tragedy. Kim only barely dissuades his Sensei from turning himself in to the authorities but is utterly unable to convince or prevent Satō from involving visiting colleague Philip Mortimer in his crisis of conscience…

The British Professor is in Kyoto attending a succession of scientific conferences, but when an ominous outsider hears of Satō’s intentions through hidden surveillance methods, the reaction is both explosive and potentially murderous…

The first Mortimer knows of the problem is when a gang of gunmen attempt to kidnap him off the streets, but after fighting them off and escaping the old warrior returns to his hotel and finds a telegram waiting for him…

An urgent request to join old friend Satō immediately seems impossible to accomplish due to stringencies of train timetabling, but an accommodating journalist overhears and offers a speedy compromise…

Mortimer is suspicious of the happy accident… but not suspicious enough…

Surviving another assassination attempt by sheer force of will, the professor is then lost in the wilds of Japan but eventually manages to battle his way to Satō’s lab outside Tokyo where he witnesses a series of astonishing sights.

His host has worked miracles in the fields of robotics – including the dragon which so recently and horrifically malfunctioned – but is at a loss to explain how his incredible creations have gone wrong at such a late stage.

Worldly-wise Mortimer soon deduces the causes: espionage and sabotage…

As the British boffin sends for his old comrade-in-arms Captain Blake, Satō is comforted by the fact that the key formulae for producing his mechanical marvels have been divided and deposited at three different banks in Tokyo. The Sensei breathes even easier after arranging that only Mortimer can retrieve them but this only prompts their hidden enemy to accelerate his plans and reveal himself as one of Mortimer’s greatest foes…

Unable to induce or force Mortimer to retrieve the scientific goldmine, the mastermind has an android double constructed to visit the banks but the rush-job breaks down before the task is completed. Now the vile villain has only more card to play before the formidable Blake arrives…

This Cinebook edition then concludes with excerpts from two other Blake & Mortimer albums (The Time Trap and a tantalising glimpse of Professor Satō’s Three Formulae Part 2) plus a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts to whet the appetite for further treats in store… Cunning and convoluted, this devilishly devious tale unfolds with potent authenticity and ever-escalating tension, building to an explosive conclusion which eventually took eighteen years to conclude. At least we don’t have to wait that near life-time for the epic denouement…
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1977 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Creepy Presents Steve Ditko


By Archie Goodwin, Steve Ditko, dddf & (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-216-9

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comicbook profession, where the intent was to deliver as much variety and entertainment fulfilment as possible to the reader. Sadly that particular discipline is 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 been and will always be a minor consideration or even stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long monopolised comics production and which still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funnybook output.

Before his time at Marvel, Ditko perfected his craft creating immaculately paced, staged and rendered short stories for a variety of companies; tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of over-intrusive editors.

Even after hitting the big time at Marvel and DC it’s a creative arena he stayed active in, and this collection gathers some of his rarest yet most accomplished examples, produced at a time when a hidebound industry was just starting to open up to new publishers and fresh themes.

After Ditko’s legendary disagreements with Stan Lee led to his quitting Marvel – where his groundbreaking work made the reclusive genius (at least in comicbook terms) a household name – he resumed his long association with Charlton Comics but also found work at Warren Publications under whiz-kid writer/Editor Archie Goodwin.

The details are fully recounted in Mark Evanier’s biographically informative Foreword, as are hints of the artist’s later spells of creative brilliance at DC Comics, the growing underground movement and nascent independent comics scene…

The erudite and economical Mr. Evanier even finds room to describe and critique the differing art techniques Ditko experimented with during his brief tenure…

Whilst working for Warren – between 1966 and 1967 – Ditko enjoyed a great deal of editorial freedom and cooperation. He produced sixteen moody monochrome masterpieces – most written by Goodwin – and all crafted without interference from the Comics Code Authority’s draconian and nonsensical rules. They ranged from wonderfully baroque and bizarre fantasy, spooky suspense and science fiction yarns, limited only by the bounds of good taste… or at least as far as horror tales can be…

And whilst we’re name-checking unsung heroes, it’s only fair to reveal that all were lettered by Ben Oda or Bill Yoshida.

The uncanny yarns appeared in black-&-white magazine anthologies Creepy and Eerie, affording Ditko time and room to experiment with not only a larger page, differing styles and media, but also dabble in then-unknown comics genres…

Those lost Warren stories have been gathered into a spectacular oversized (284 x 218 mm) hardback compendium – part of a series of all-star artist compilations which also includes Rich Corben and Bernie Wrightson amongst others – and begins here with the short shockers from Creepy.

From #9 and delivered in beguiling wash-tones, ‘The Spirit of the Thing!’ starts with shadows and screams, moves on to a dying man and reveals how teacher and student battle in a mind-bending phantasmagorical other-realm for possession of the same healthy body, whilst in #10 ‘Collector’s Edition!’ returns to crisp black line art to detail an obsessive bibliophile’s hunt for a mystic tome… and the reason he should have left well enough alone…

Gripping grey-tones reveal how a gullible prize-fighter is manipulated into becoming a bludgeoning ‘Beast Man!’ after which Creepy #12 saw a disturbed man turn to a psychoanalyst to cure his delusions in ‘Blood of the Werewolf!’ Of all the headshrinkers in all the world…

Throughout his time at Marvel – and especially on Doctor Strange – Ditko had been increasingly applauded for his astounding other-dimensional scenes and depictions. In ‘Second Chance!’, that facility is especially exercised as a wise guy regrets his earlier deal with the devil before ‘Where Sorcery Lives!’ pre-empts and anticipates the 1970s Sword-&-Sorcery boom (and Ditko’s own Stalker at DC) as quintessential barbarian hero Garth battles the ghastly legions of vile necromancer Salamand the Sorcerer

Creepy #15 introduced another sword-swinging proto-Conan in ‘Thane: City of Doom!’, wherein the unwashed warrior titanically thrashes thaumic terrors but nearly succumbs to the hidden threats of a comely queen…

Goodwin did not script the last Creepy yarn for Ditko in #16. ‘The Sands that Change!’ was devised by Clark Dimond & Terry Bisson who produced the self-referential tale of a comics artist and his wife falling victim to macabre forces on a desert vacation. Although the story is pedestrian, Ditko’s choice of materials to illustrate it elevate it to one of the most memorable in his uncanny canon…

The rest of this blockbusting terror-tome re-presents Ditko & Goodwin’s Eerie efforts, starting with ‘Room With a View!’ from #3. Again rendered in claustrophobic line art, it details how a tired, obnoxious traveller insists on taking residence in a cheap suite his hotelier would do anything not to rent…

From #4 ‘Shrieking Man!’ reveals how an incurable maniac is brought back from agonising insanity by a new doctor, much to the regret of the asylum chief who caused the condition, after which ‘Black Magic’ rolls back the years to mediaeval Europe and a final battle between sorcerer and apprentice…

An affluent but greedy jeweller learns to forever regret taking the ‘Deep Ruby!’ from a desperate hobo in Eerie #6, whilst an underworld plastic surgeon is unable to save his latest unsavoury patient from the depredations of ‘Fly!’ in issue #7.

‘Demon Sword!’ explores the darkest recesses of psychological transformation and temptation after which ‘Isle of the Beast!’ (Eerie #9) revisits the hoary Man-hunting-Men plot, but proves that you can never be too careful about who you pick as victim…

The scary sessions conclude with fantasy feast ‘Warrior of Death!’ as a barbarian warlord makes a deal with Death and learns that Higher Beings just cannot be trusted…

This voluminous volume has episodes which terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped down plots and a dark wit which lets 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 dark comedic energy which epitomised both Goodwin and Warren, channelled through Ditko’s astounding versatility and storytelling acumen: another cracking collection of his works not only superb in its own right but also a telling affirmation of the gifts of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill, die or be lost in a devil-dimension for…
Creepy, the Creepy logo and all contents © 1966, 1967, 2013 by New Comic Company. All rights reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 3


By Andi Watson, Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski, Joe Bennett, Hector Gomez, Christian Zanier, Cliff Richards, Jason Pearson & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-885-0

Although debuting as a motion picture starlet, Buffy the Vampire Slayer only really found her high-kicking feet after migrating to the small screen. Soon after securing her status as a certified media sensation, she won her own comicbook (in 1998), with smart, suspenseful, action-packed yarns exploding out of a monthly series, graphic novels, spin-off miniseries and short stories in showcase anthology Dark Horse Presents – all complementing the sensational, groundbreaking and so culturally crucial TV show.

Buffy Summers lives in small California hamlet Sunnydale, built over a paranormal portal to the Nether Realms dubbed The Hellmouth. Here, she and a small band of buddies battle devils, demons and all sorts of horrors inexorably drawn to the area and all regarding humanity as an appetiser and planet Earth an irresistible eldritch “fixer-upper” opportunity.

With Rupert Giles, scholarly mentor, father-figure and Watcher of all things unnatural, Buffy and her “Scooby Gang” sought to make the after-dark streets of Sunnydale safe for the largely-oblivious human morsels, ably abetted and occasionally aided by an enigmatic undead Himbo calling himself Angel

Collected here in the third of seven supremely scintillating Omnibus editions (and mirroring events on the show’s third season) are the contents of Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1-8, 12, 16, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Annual 1999, Dark Horse Extra #12-16 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Play with Fire – collectively spanning 1998-2004 – all re-presented for your delectation as a chronological continuity rather than in original publishing order: well-nigh 300 pages of full-colour mystery, merriment and mystical martial arts mayhem.

As recapitulated in series Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although the stories were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this Omnibus series offers them in strict chronological continuity order…

It all begins with the ‘Wu-Tang Fang’ (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1 by Andi Watson, Joe Bennett & Rick Ketcham) and starts following another tedious day at Sunnydale High School. Firm friends and comrades in adversity Willow, Xander and Buffy are blowing off steam at local club The Bronze when vampires attack.

The Slayer easily deals with the ill-conceived assault but afterwards is confronted by a mysterious oriental figure in a cloak and straw hat.

It disappears without incident but Xander, fed up with being saved by a girl and still reeling from an all-night kung fu movie marathon, enrols next day at a martial arts Dojo.

He soon painfully discovers his sensei is a bullying brute, even as Buffy and Giles are tracking a string of martial artists killed by vampires…

The standard searches of the Library’s lore-books turn up a name: San Sui of the Xiang River – an ancient wandering warrior who challenged fighters to duels and drank their blood when they lost…

Courtesy of the mysterious stranger, Xander’s brutal teacher soon meets just such a fate, but San Sui is totally unprepared for Buffy, who takes out the stored resentment over all the extra training she’s been forced to endure on his smug, undead ass…

‘Halloween’ (Watson, Bennett & Ketcham) then delightfully covers the annual arcane imbecility of Trick or Treating in Sunnydale; a night when vamps generally stay in, due to the hordes of happy people wandering about. This time, however, a pack of smart young dead things decide to stock up on tasty human titbits for their enforced staycation…

One of the abductees is scholarly stalwart Willow, snatched after storming out of an argument with her folks. Since, like most of the older high-schoolers, Buffy is stuck with chaperoning little kids on the night, nobody notices her BFF is missing until almost too late…

Of course the Slayer does her thing and rescues her gal-pal in time, but after a ferocious, vamp-eviscerating battle, Buffy’s concern for Willow causes her to miss one demon who manages to flee with severe – but not undeath-threatening – injuries. That will prove a costly oversight in months to come as grudge-bearing Selke slowly regains her power and feeds a burning hatred…

Jumping up a month, #3 goes ‘Cold Turkey’: continuing in sinister Seasonal fashion as Buffy is tasked by her mother with producing the traditional and daunting Thanksgivings Day fest. Stuck with necessarily late-night shopping in-between school and Slayer-ing, she and Giles are increasingly obsessing over that missing fourth Halloween human-hoarder…

Selke is hiding out and recuperating via the most degrading and disgusting means, but when she spots her hated enemy picking up turkey ‘n’ trimmings at the soul-destroying All-Nite-O-Mart, the damaged and depleted devil decides to surprise the Slayer and speed her own recovery with a hot meal.

Not her best idea ever, but despite a blistering graveyard confrontation, the irrepressible Queen of the Damned again escapes with most of her scurvy skin intact…

‘Dance with Me’ by Christopher Golden, Hector Gomez & Sandu Florea was produced for TV-Guide (November 21-27, 1998) and details The Slayer’s brief and final encounter with a boy who used to pester her at school functions. He’s a lot more forceful as a vampire, but still strikes out one last time…

Watson, Gomez & Florea reunited for Buffy #4 as ‘White Christmas’ sees the Slayer strapped for cash and forced to work at the local Mall to make money for gifts and a new party dress.

However, as Sunnydale is situated on The Hellmouth and Buffy is a certified weirdness magnet, her shifts at The Popsicle Parlor inevitably lead to demon-destroying overtime when she discovers creepy boss Mr. Richter spending all his idle moments in the Big Freezer, summoning infuriating ice imps and giant killer Frost Elementals…

Having survived that cataclysmic Yule duel relatively unscathed, the Scooby Gang – Willow, Cordelia, Oz, Xander and Buffy – look forward to a ‘Happy New Year’ complete with blood-free party, until dusty, crusty Lore Librarian Giles discovers a gigantic hell-hound raiding his book stacks and sets the crazy kids hot on its heels.

The trail leads to doomed, damned lovers, a guiltily romantic triangle and an ancient curse from witch-haunted Salem before the savage crescendo almost ends Willow’s life…

In ‘New Kid on the Block Part 1’ (co-written with Dan Brereton) Watson, Gomez & Florea depict Xander obsessing over pretty transfer student Cynthia with his pathetic, fawning, drooling attentions cruelly mocked by his best friends – and rightly so….

His infantile ardour is hardly halted when the girls decide to have a slumber party. Resolved not to miss out even though he’s not invited (and certainly not creepy at all), the hapless idiot sneaks into the night of nail varnish, romcoms and pink pyjamas and is horrified to discover that he’s not the only unwelcome intruder…

Buffy, exhausted from staking a new band of bloodsuckers plaguing the town, is almost too late to save the day in ‘New Kid on the Block Part 2’. However, after driving off the monster party-crashers, she confers with noble vampire boyfriend Angel and realises that even though able to move around in daylight, sweet little Cyn might not be all she seems…

‘Food Chain Part I’ by Golden, Gomez & Florea originated in Buffy #12 – where it was originally seen under the title ‘A Nice Girl Like You’ and revealed how new student Sandy inexplicably got involved with bad boy Brad Caulfield and his gang.

No one in the Scooby-Gang can understand what she sees in the local louts… until Buffy uncovers Sandy’s true nature and her nasty habit of feeding on the energy of young folk…

The same creative team produced ‘Play with Fire’ – a serialised saga gathered from promotional periodical Dark Horse Extra – in which Willow’s growing facility with and dependency on witchcraft draws the gang into a clash with an earthbound ghost and his demonic abusers…

‘Food Chain Part II’ (from Buffy #16 by Golden, Christian Zanier, Marvin Mariano, Draxhall Jump, Curtis P. Arnold, Jason Minor & Andy Owens) then concludes the sorry saga, revealing how poor Brad is still connected to the demonic Sandy’s monstrous master and is now killing in his name…

‘The Final Cut’ by Watson, Jason Pearson, Cliff Richards & Joe Pimentel originated in Buffy #8, and details how a student horror movie being made in town masks a demonic entity dwelling in the celluloid and feeding off the young stars. It should never have put Buffy in the spotlight…

Golden, Tom Sniegoski, Richards & Pimentel then wrap up the monster-mashing madness by reporting ‘The Latest Craze’ (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Annual 1999) wherein an avaricious old enemy introduces demonically-addictive toy “pets” to the impressionable Sunnydale kids. However, the wickedly adorable “Hooligans” are not only magical moonlight kleptomaniacs but also have a sinister agenda all their own…

Supplementing this compilation of mystic madness are copious photo, Title Page and Cover Galleries with material from Arthur Adams & Dave Stewart, Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend & Guy Major, Joe Bennett, Chynna Clugston, Gomez, Randy Green, Ketcham, Joyce Chin, Owens, Zanier and Fabio Laguna to complete the eerie excitement experience.

Visually impressive, winningly constructed and proceeding at a hell-for-leather pace, this arcane action fearfully funny fright-fest is utterly engaging even if you’re not familiar with the vast backstory: a creepy chronicle as easily enjoyed by the most callow neophyte as every dedicated devotee.

Moreover in this era of TV binge-watching, with the shows readily available on TV and DVD, if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ™ & © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 3


By Kelley Puckett, Paul Dini, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett with Michael Reaves, Bruce Timm, Matt Wagner, Klaus Janson, Dan DeCarlo, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5872-6

The brainchild of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and inevitably fed back into the printed iterations, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all eras of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form.

It entranced young fans whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years.

Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This third inclusive compendium gathers issues #21-27 of The Batman Adventures comicbook (originally published from June to December 1994) plus that year’s Batman Adventures Annual: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett and a few fellow-pros-turned-fans…

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. This skill has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional career was tragically short (1989 to 1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, frenetically fun-fuelled, animation-inspired style revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly material and merchandise at DC… and everywhere else in the comics publishing business.

The wall to wall wonderment begins with the contents of Batman Adventures Annual #1: a giant-sized gathering of industry stars illustrating Paul Dini’s episodic, interlinked saga ‘Going Straight’.

Illustrators Timm & Burchett set the ball rolling as jet-propelled bandit Roxy Rocket is released from prison, prompting Batman and faithful retainer Alfred to discuss whether any villains ever reform…

Apparently one who almost made it was Arnold Wesker, who played mute Ventriloquist to his malign dummy Scarface. Tragically in ‘Puppet Show’ (art by Parobeck & Matt Wagner) we see how even a good job and the best of intentions are no defence when Arnold’s new boss wants to exploit his criminal past…

Harley Quinn is insanely devoted to killer clown The Joker and Dan DeCarlo & Timm wordlessly expose her profound weakness for that bad boy as she’s released from Arkham Asylum but is seduced back into committing crazy crimes in just ‘24 Hours’

The Scarecrow’s return to terrorising the helpless resulted from his genuine desire to help a girl assaulted by her would-be boyfriend in the chilling, poignant ‘Study Hall’ (with art by Klaus Janson), after which ‘Going Straight’ concludes with Timm detailing how Roxy Rocket is framed by Catwoman and Batman has to separate the warring female furies…

The melange of mayhem even came with its own enthralling encore with The Joker solo-starring in ‘Laughter After Midnight’ as the Mountebank of Mirth goes on a spree in Gotham, courtesy of artists John Byrne & Burchett…

The Batman Adventures #21 then saw Michael Reaves join Kelley Puckett to script tense thriller ‘House of Dorian’ for Parobeck & Burchett as deranged geneticist Emile Dorian escapes from Arkham and immediately turns Kirk Langstrom back into the marauding Man-Bat.

Moreover, although the Mad Doctor’s freedom is bad news for Gotham, Langstrom and Dorian’s previous beast-man Tygrus; for a desperate fugitive afflicted with lycanthropy, the insane physician is his last chance at a cure for his curse…

Dorian couldn’t care less. All he wants is revenge on Batman and Selina Kyle…

Like the show, most stories were crafted as a three-act plays and the conceit resumes with #22 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett settle in for the long haul.

‘Good Face Bad Face’ sees the return of Two-Face; also busting out of Arkham in ‘Harvey Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ to settle scores with Gotham’s top mobster Rupert Thorne. His first move is to set free his gang in ‘Nor Iron Bars a Cage’, but this time Batman is waiting…

Poison Ivy is back in #23, spreading ‘Toxic Shock’ as she teams up with the Dark Knight in ‘Strange Bedfellows’ to save a famed botanist and ecologist dying from a mystery toxin. ‘Fighting Poison with Poison’, she and Batman search for a cure, forcing the mystery assassin into more prosaic methods in ‘How Deadly Was my Valley’

‘Grave Obligations’ sees the Gotham Guardian’s past come back to haunt him when a ninja clan invades the city. They seem more concerned with fighting each other in ‘Brother’s Keeper’, but a little digging reveals how one has come ‘From Tokyo, With Death’ in mind for Batman, and it takes the force of a much higher authority to halt the chaos in ‘Cancelled Debts’

An inevitable team-up graces Batman Adventures #25 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett reintroduce legendary ‘Super Friends’.

With Lex Luthor in town and bidding against Waynetech for a military contract, a mystery bombing campaign begins in ‘Tik, Tik, Tik…’

Even as unwelcome guest Superman horns in, Batman realises his old foe Maxie Zeus might be taking the credit but is certainly not to blame for the ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Zeus!’

A little deduction and a grudging alliance with the Caped Kryptonian results in the true scheme being unravelled in ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’ and Batman rejoices in having made a powerful friend and a remorseless and resourceful new enemy…

‘Tree of Knowledge’ focuses on college students Dick Grayson and Babs Gordon as they score top marks in a criminology course. ‘Pop Gun Quiz’ sees them singled out for special study by their impressed Professor Morton and on hand in ‘Careful What You Wish For’ to experience an impossible crime in the University Library. Despite all their investigations, it’s only as Robin and Batgirl that a devilish plot is unravelled and crucial ‘Lessons Learned’

The last tale in this terrific tome revisits the tragedy of Batman’s origins as ‘Survivor Syndrome’ sees an impostor risking his life on Gotham’s streets in search of justice or possibly his own death.

‘Brother, Brother’ reveals how athlete Tom Dalton’s wife was murdered and how he surrendered to a ‘Call to Vengeance’. Everything changes once the real Dark Knight takes charge of Tom and trains him to regain ‘The Upper Hand’

With a full compliment of covers by Timm and Parobeck & Burchett – plus a ‘Pin-Up Gallery’ with stunning images by Alex Toth, Dave Gibbons, Kelley Jones, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Chiarello, Mike Mignola, Matt Wagner and Chuck Dixon & Rick Burchett – all coloured by the astounding Rick Taylor – this is another stunning treat for superhero lovers of every age and vintage.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.