Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino


By Carmine Infantino, Gardner Fox, John Broome, Cary Bates, Gerry Conway, Don Kraar, Mike Barr, Geoff Johns & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4755-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Fun foe One and All … 9/10

Born on May 24th 1925, Carmine Michael Infantino was one of the greatest comic artists America ever produced; a multi-award-winning innovator who was there when comicbooks were born, reshaped the industry in the Silver Age and was still making fans when he died in 2013

As an artist he co-created and initially visualised The Black Canary, Detective Chimp, Pow-Wow Smith, the Silver Age Flash, Elongated Man, Deadman, Batgirl, Dial H for Hero and Human Target and revitalised characters such as Adam Strange and Batman. He worked for many companies, and at Marvel ushered in a new age by illustrating the licensed Star Wars comicbook and working on titles such as Avengers, Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Star-Lord and Spider-Woman

His work on two iterations of the Batman newspaper strip are fondly remembered and whilst acting as Art Director and Publisher of National DC oversaw the most critically acclaimed period in the company’s history, ushering in the “relevancy” era and poaching Jack Kirby from Marvel to create the Fourth World, Kamandi, The Demon and others…

Very much – and repeatedly – the right man in the right time and place, Infantino shaped American comicbook history like few others, and this hardcover compendium (and eBook) dedicated to his contributions to the lore of Batman collects the stunning covers from Detective Comics #327-347, 349, 351-371, 500 and Batman #166-175, 181, 183-185, 188-192, 194-199 plus the Bat-Saga stories he drew for Detective #327, 329, 331, 333, 335, 337, 339, 341, 343, 345, 347, 349, 351, 353, 357, 359, 361, 363, 366-367, 369, and 500.

Also included are the contents of The Brave and the Bold #172, 183, 190, 194 and DC Comics Presents: Batman #1: an artistic association cumulatively spanning May 1964 to September 2004.

I’m assuming everybody here loves comics and that we’ve all had the same unpleasant experience of trying to justify that passion to somebody. Excluding your partner (who is actually right – the living room floor is not the place to leave your $£#!D*&$£! funnybooks) even today, many people still have an entrenched and erroneous view of strip art, resulting in a frustrating and futile time as you tried to dissuade them from that opinion.

If so, this collection might be the book you want next time that confrontation occurs, offering breathtaking examples of the prolific association of one the industry’s greatest illustrators with possibly the artform’s greatest creation.

Many of these “Light Knight” sagas stem from a period which saw the Dynamic Duo, remoulded, reshaped and set up for global Stardom – and subsequent fearful castigation from fans – as the template for the Batman TV show of the 1960s. It should be noted, however, that the television producers and researchers took their creative impetus from stories of the era preceding the “New Look Batman” – as well as the original movie serial of the 1940s…

So, what happened?

By the end of 1963, Julius Schwartz had revived much of National/DC’s line – and the entire industry – with his modernization of the superhero, and was then asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusader.

Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, Schwartz stripped down the core-concept, downplaying aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales to bring a cool modern take to the capture of criminals: even overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent innovation was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol, but far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had re-entered the comfortable and absurdly abstract world of Gotham City.

Infantino was key to the changeover, which reshaped a legend – but this was while still pencilling Silver Age superstar The Flash – so, despite generating the majority of covers, Infantino’s interior art was limited to alternate issues of Detective Comics with the lion’s share of narrative handled by Bob Kane’s uncredited deputies Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Chic Stone & others, or occasional guest artists such as Gil Kane…

Punctuated throughout this collection by his chronologically sequenced covers, Infantino’s part in the storytelling revolution began then and kicks off here with Detective #327 – written by John Broome and inked by Joe Giella at the very peak of their own creative powers.

‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask! is a cunning “Howdunnit?”, long on action and moody peril, as discovery of a criminal “underground railroad” leads Caped Crusaders Batman and Robin to a common thug seemingly able to control the heroes with his thoughts…

‘Castle with Wall-To-Wall Danger!’ (Detective #329 with Broome and Giella in their respective roles) follows: a captivating international thriller which sees the heroes braving a deadly death-trap in Swinging England in pursuit of a dastardly thief.

A rare full-length story in #331 guest-starred Elongated Man (Detective Comics’ back-up feature: a costumed sleuth blending the charm of Nick “Thin Man” Charles with the outré heroic antics of Plastic Man).

The ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men’ (Broome & Infantino) teamed the eclectic enigma-solvers against a super-scientific felon, whilst in #333 Bat Man & Robin fought against a faux goddess and genuine telepaths in the ‘Hunters of the Elephants’ Graveyard!’, written by Gardner Fox and inked by Giella.

The same team revealed the ‘Trail of the Talking Mask!’ in #335, giving the Dynamic Duo an opportunity to reinforce their sci-fi credentials in a classy high-tech thriller guest-starring private detective Hugh Rankin (of Mystery Analysts of Gotham City fame) before ‘The Deep-Freeze Menace!’ (Detective #337 introduced a fearsome fantasy chiller pitting Batman against a super-powered caveman encased in ice for 50,000 years…

DC’s inexplicable (but deeply cool) long-running love-affair with gorillas resulted in a cracking doom-fable as ‘Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!’ in #339, highlighting the hero’s physical prowess in a duel of wits and muscles against a sinister, super-intelligent simian.

Up until this time the New Look Batman was forging his more realistic path, as the TV series was still in pre-production. The Batman television show (premiering on January 12th, 1966 and running for three seasons of 120 episodes in total) show aired twice weekly for its first two seasons, resulting in vast amount of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and the overkill phenomenon of “Batmania”.

No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to regard that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed boy scout as The Real Deal…

Regrettably this means that the comic stories published during that period have been similarly excoriated and maligned by most Bat-fans ever since. It is true that some tales were crafted with overtones of the “camp” fad, presumably to accommodate newer readers seduced by the arch silliness and coy irony of the show, but no editor of Julius Schwartz’s calibre would ever deviate far from the characterisation that had sustained Batman for nearly thirty years, or the then-recent re-launch which had revitalised the character sufficiently for television to take an interest at all.

Nor would such brilliant writers as John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher ever produce work which didn’t resonate on all the Batman’s intricate levels just for a quick laugh and a cheap thrill. The artists tasked with sustaining the visual intensity included Infantino, Moldoff, Stone, Giella, Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene, with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert supplementing Infantino’s stunning, trend-setting, fine-line masterpieces.

Most of the tales here reflect those gentler times and editorial policy of focusing on Batman’s reputation as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, so colourful, psychotic costumed super-villains are still in a minority, but there are first appearances for a number of exotic foes who would become regular menaces for the Dynamic Duo in years to come.

Broome & Infantino then detailed the screen-inspired, comedically-catastrophic campaign of ‘The Joker’s Comedy Capers!’ in #341 and the mayhem and mystery continued in Detective Comics #343 (September 1965) with ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’: a tense thriller pitting our hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals.

Detective #345 debuted a terrifying and tragic new villain in ‘The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City!’ (scripted by Fox). Here a monstrous giant with the mind of a child and the raw, physical power of a tank is constantly driven to madness at sight of Batman and only placated by the sight of Bruce Wayne

‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ (Fox, Detective# 347) saw the opening shot of habitual B-list villain the Bouncer in a bizarre experimental yarn which has to be seen to be believed, whereas it’s business as usual when monstrous, microcephalic man-brute returns in ‘The Blockbuster Breaks Loose!’: a blistering, action-fuelled thriller by Fox, Infantino & Giella from Detective #349. This tale sports a cover by Infantino’s colleague Joe Kubert whilst also hinting at the return of a long-forgotten foe…

Detective #351 premiered game-show host turned felonious impresario Arthur Brown in a twisty, puzzle-packed battle of wits detailing ‘The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sid Greene) after which the action continues with ‘The Weather Wizard’s Triple-Treasure Thefts!’ (Fox/Giella in #353).

The Dynamic Duo battle in spectacular opposition to the Flash’s meteorological arch-enemy: one of the first times a DC villain moved out of his usually stamping grounds whilst Detective #357 delivers a clever secret identity saving puzzler when – apparently – ‘Bruce Wayne Unmasks Batman!’ (Broome, Infantino & Giella) as prelude to big changes in the Batman mythos…

After three seasons (perhaps two and a half would be more accurate) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since the US premiere. The era ended but the series had had an undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new caped crusader who became an integral part of the DC universe.

The comic-book premiere of that aforementioned new character came in ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics#359, cover-dated January 1967). Gardner Fox provided art team supreme Infantino & Greene a ripping yarn to introduce Barbara Gordon: mousy librarian and daughter of the venerable Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. Thus, by the time the third season began on September 14th, 1967, she was well-established among comics fans at least….

A different Batgirl – Betty Kane, teenaged niece of the 1950s Batwoman – was already a nearly-forgotten comics fixture but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention was conveniently ignored to make room for a new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and the Girl From U.N.C.L.E. She was considered pretty hot too, which is always a plus for television…

Whereas she fought the Penguin on the small screen, her print origin features the no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today.

Editor Schwartz always preferred to play-up mysteries and crime conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best, especially as drawn by the now increasingly over-stretched Infantino and Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia; I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it…

Detective #363 was a full co-starring vehicle as the Dynamic Duo challenged the new Batgirl to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains in ‘The True-False Face of Batman!’ and led to a taut suspense thriller stretching across Detective #366 and 367 – an almost unheard-of event in those cautiously reader-friendly days…

As devised by Fox, Infantino & Greene ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ involves a diabolical murder-plot threatening to destroy Gotham’s worthiest citizens, with the tension peaking and the drama concluding in high style with ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a dark and deadly denouement barely marred by that dreadful title…

It was just a symptom of the times – as is Detective #369 (November 1967) – which somewhat reinforces boyhood prejudices about icky girls in the otherwise classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo!’

Here Robin seemingly abandons Batman for a curvy new partner, but the best of clandestine reasons, ignominiously signalling – other than for the occasional cover – the end of Infantino’s tenure as a bat-illustrator.

His next contribution on view here came in anniversary landmark Detective Comics #500 (March 1981): part of a huge creative jam-session: specifically examining the legend of the immortal hero in ‘What Happens When a Batman Dies?’

Scripted by Cary Bates and inked by Bob Smith, this chapter co-stars restless revenant Deadman as the Gotham Guardian hovers in a coma between this world and the next, yet still manages to find a way to save himself…

The cover is another collaborative effort with Dick Giordano, José Luis García-López, Joe Kubert and Tom Yeates all joining forces.

Next up; a quartet of tales from The Brave and the Bold, with Jim Aparo providing covers whilst Infantino handled interior art. Issue #172 (March 1981, and inked by Steve Mitchell) paired the Caped Crimebuster with Firestorm in the Gerry Conway scripted ‘Darkness and Dark Fire’, with the World’s Greatest Detective striving to solve the mystery of the Nuclear Man’s periodic mental blackouts, after which #183 (February 1982, written by Don Krarr and inked by Mike DeCarlo) sees our hero join forces with The Riddler to prevent ‘The Death of Batman!’

Scripter Mike Barr and inker Sal Trapani worked with Infantino on B&B #190 (September 1982) and #194 January 1993), respectively challenging the Dark Knight to visit planet Rann and find out ‘Who Killed Adam Strange?’ before subsequently working with the Flash against Doctor Double-X and the Rainbow Raider when they ‘Trade Heroes – And Win!’

One final Infantino fling comes from DC Comics Presents: Batman #1 (September 2004), courtesy of writer Geoff Johns, with inks by Giella and a retro cover from Ryan Hughes, as ‘Batman of Two Worlds’ gets real metaphysical with narrative boundaries as the modern Batman and Robin investigate murder on the set of the 1960s Batman TV show in a bizarrely engaging romp with a mystery villain to expose…

The visual cavalcade then ends on a nostalgic high with ‘Batman and Robin Retail poster’ – AKA the front cover of this titanic tome – possibly the most iconic bat-image of the era.

Whether you tend towards the anodyne light-heartedness of then, the socially acceptable psychopathy of the assorted movie franchises or actually just like the comicbook character, if you can make a potential convert sit down, shut up and actually read these wonderful adventures for all (reasonable) ages, you might find that the old adage “Quality will out” still holds true. And if you’re actually a fan who hasn’t read this classic stuff and revelled in the astounding timeless art, you have an absolute treat in store…
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1981, 1982, 1983, 2004, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 6


By Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, Yvel Guichet, Lewis La Rosa, Darryl Banks, Dietrich Smith & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5136-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster, No-Nonsense Entertainment… 8/10

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – was re-imagined and relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality.

With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be…

The reinvigorated super-squad were a phenomenally hot property at this time, with creative teams coming aboard and moving on with startling rapidity. Writer Joe Kelly’s run on the World’s Greatest Superheroes has some notable moments for drama and action lovers, all contained in this Sixth Deluxe Trade Paperback and eBook compilation.

Contained herein are JLA #61-76 which comprise the majority of this fifth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) and collectively spanning February 2002 to February 2003.

Illustrated by Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen, the wonderment kicks off with the stand-alone tale ‘Two-Minute Warning’, one of the best “day-in-the-life” type stories ever seen, blending sharp dialogue, spectacular art and a novel format to elevate it beyond the many other attempts to show what everyday means for such god-like beings…

Then 3-part disaster fable ‘Golden Perfect’ unfolds: a tale examining the nature of Truth itself. When Wonder Woman leads the team to the hidden kingdom of Jarhanpur to rescue a baby from a life of hereditary slavery, she encounters a despot whose philosophy counters her belief in objective or absolute truth.

The explosive dispute shatters her magical Golden Lasso of Hestia

All too soon this defeat has astounding repercussions for the entire universe. The broken lasso has destroyed objective truth completely. What people believe becomes the only arbiter of Reality.

The moon is made of green cheese, the world is flat, Earth is the centre of the universe…

As it all unravels, a devastated Amazon Princess must find a way to reconcile her beliefs within the new Reality while the rest of the JLA battle desperately to keep the cosmos alive.

A dynamic end-of-everything tale that challenges the mind as well as stirring the blood, the patented Kelly one-liners, especially from Plastic Man, leaven the tension and heighten the enjoyment in this cracking little epic.

Changing pace and cracking more smiles, ‘Bouncing Baby Boy’ is a wistful, genuinely funny team-up of the mismatched Batman and Plastic Man. This small story looks at the sad side of the eternal clown (that would be Plas, not Bats…), seen through the “cold and emotionless” eyes of the Dark Knight, and provides a welcome change from the Big Stories that increasingly all super-team books comprise.

An extremely potent example of such follows, spanning issues # 66-76. ‘The Obsidian Age’ is an ambitious epic designed to redefine the JLA which begins with ‘The Destroyers Part 1’ as peculiar water-based events and phenomena indicate that Aquaman – believed killed in a recent catastrophe which seemingly eradicated Atlantis – is actually alive and trying to contact his JLA comrades.

When the team are subsequently attacked by an ancient mystical warrior they get their first clue that it’s not “somewhere” but “some when”…

‘The Destroyers Part 2’ finds the heroes recovering from a second attack by the terrifying Tezumak and native shaman Manitou Raven, whose coordinated manipulations bring the JLA into the ruins of ‘Stillborn Atlantis’ and all-out combat with the deranged Ocean Master. When Tempest (the all-grown-up Aqualad, now a powerful magical adept himself) and a conclave of mystic champions, including Zatanna, Faust and Doctors Occult and Fate, are called in to assess the deteriorating situation in the no-longer sunken city, the assembled paladins of science and magic realise that something truly terrible is about to be unleashed….

Renewed assaults from the past indicate another growing global crisis and when the JLA discover a hidden message from Aquaman, they voyage back 3000 years to discover an unsuspected era of Atlantean domination.

With Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man gone, a stand-in team of heroes are appointed to guard the world, but the ancient mastermind behind the menace has also prepared a contemporary trap for the substitute JLA…

Illustrated by Yvel Guichet & Mark Propst, ‘New Blood’ features Zatanna and the Atom trying to stave off a concatenation of clearly unnatural natural disasters with the aid of Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, Firestorm, Jason Blood (with and without Etrigan the Demon), Hawkgirl, reformed villain and troubled soul Major Disaster, Nightwing and new find Faith. There’s even input and some hands-on help from the Justice Society of America uniting to form a desperate scratch-team woefully overmatched and under-trained…

Meanwhile and elsewhen, the strands of mystery are unravelled in ‘Revisionist History’ which finds the time-lost First Team in 1000BC, where an above-the-waves Atlantis leads a coalition of nations and super-warriors in a campaign to conquer the known world by sword and sorcery. This unrecorded episode of human history contravenes all known histories, and clandestine reconnaissance by the JLA reveals an enchantress named Gamemnae is behind the scheme.

However, her plans extend far beyond her own epoch and to that end she has kidnapped the 21st century water-breathing Atlanteans and enslaved their king Aquaman…

Fortunately, Gamemnae’s own team is far from united: Manitou Raven and his bride Dawn are deeply troubled by the venality of their allies and the obvious nobility of the Justice Leaguers…

Back in the future, focus returns to the new team in ‘Transition’ (with art again by Guichet & Propst) as the planet is ravaged by geological catastrophes and Gamemnae’s millennial booby-trap activates, designed to conquer the world of tomorrow by suborning its meta-human and mystic defenders…

In ‘History is Written By…’, Kelly, Mahnke & Nguyen reveal the JLA battling hopeless odds in ancient Atlantis whilst trying to liberate its enslaved, water-breathing, time-switched descendants, whilst in modern times ‘Last Call’ (Guichet & Propst) finds the replacement League faring badly against Gamemnae’s monstrous animated time-trap… until a ghostly message from the past enables them to turn the tide…

The tension mounts as ‘Obsidian’ follows the final tragic battle between the JLA and Gamemnae’s hyper-powered hit-squad The Ancients, revealing how her future assaults began even as Manitou finally succumbs to his conscience and changes sides.

‘Tragic Kingdom’ (by Mahnke, Guichet, Darryl Banks, Dietrich Smith and inkers Nguyen, Propst, Wayne Faucher & Sean Parsons) simultaneously provides the origin and final fall of the deadly Witch-Queen in a cataclysmic confrontation that bends times, breaks the barriers between life and death and costs one of the heroes everything…

In the aftermath the JLA gather to mourn one of their own who has fallen. ‘Picking up the Pieces’ (with art from Lewis LaRosa & Al Milgrom) sees the JLA conclude a 3000-year quest to restore their fallen comrade and re-jig their roster in the dread dire days following the adventure that has left them all forever changed…

By The Way: the action of Obsidian Age takes place immediately after the devastation of DC Crossover Event “Our Worlds At War” – wherein an alien doomsday device named Imperiex almost destroyed the planet – but there’s enough useful background and build-up in the chapters collected here to circumvent any possible confusion should that saga have passed you by…

Engaging, engrossing and especially entertaining, this is a superior superhero slugfest that will appeal to a lot of readers who thought the Fights ‘n’ Tights genre beyond or beneath them…
© 2002, 2003, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers


By Reginald Hudlin, Denys Cowan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4401-4

Everybody loves a solid sensibly sensational team-up and, if you’re a comicbook fan, “discovering” a slice of previously unrevealed secret history about your preferred fictive universe is an indescribable thrill. So, what better than if you can combine both guilty pleasures with enjoying a rollicking four-fisted action rollercoaster ride, well written and superbly rendered?

Just one such concatenation of good things in one basket is Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers by Reginald Hudlin & Denys Cowan. Comic continuity is ultimately fluid and this yarn – originally released as a 4-issue miniseries between June and September 2010 – reveals the secret and tumultuous first meeting between the patriotic symbols of two embattled nations, but only nit-picking, devoted fans-boys need quibble over which (of at least three) “first contacts” this riotous romp describes.

The rest of us can simply hang on as a fabulous all-action clash unfolds before our very eyes…

The Black Panther rules over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted and unmolested by European imperialism into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth.

The country has also never been conquered. The main reason for this is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard the nation. The other is a certain miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth…

In contemporary times that chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, feline-empowered, strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, beside costumed champions such as Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Thor and Captain America

However, long ago as World War II engulfed the world, another Black Panther – the grandfather of the one we know best – met a far younger and more impulsive Sentinel of Liberty…

With the first two chapters inked by Klaus Janson the action kicks off in the middle of a furious as Gabe Jones – the black guy in Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos – is just as startled as his white buddies to find a masked maniac dressed like an American flag pounding the crap out of the Nazis they’re being swamped by…

Although they initially think he’s a clown, the Howlers soon take to the naïve Star-Spangled Captain America. They have to, as the Top Brass think they complement each other and have ordered soldiers and superhero to work together from now on.

Meanwhile in Germany, Adolf Hitler orders his most elite warriors to invade a barely known African kingdom to secure supplies of a vibration-absorbing mineral crucial to the development of the Wehrmacht’s V-weapons. Arch-supremacist Baron von Strucker and his cronies expect no trouble from the primitive, sub-human non-Aryans, but the malign Red Skull has reservations…

When the Allies get word of the expedition, they quickly send their top team to stop the Nazis, but they are too late. The fabled Wakandans have already despatched the German expeditionary force with the ruthless silent efficiency that has kept their homeland unconquered for thousands of years…

As a shocked Captain America surveys the bloody handiwork, he is challenged by a warrior in a sleek black outfit, looking like a human panther…

Soon his amazement increases exponentially. Although seemingly barbaric and uncivilised, the Wakandans are technologically more advanced than America, capable enough to capture the Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos without a fight, and with a spy network that encompasses the world and has even gleaned his top secret civilian identity. Worst of all, the Black Panther kicks his butt when they inevitably clash…

Soon, however, the Americans are “guests” of the Wakandans, forced to watch as the next wave of Nazi conquerors attempt to overwhelm the nation. However, what nobody realises is that the Red Skull is in command now and the sacrifice of an entire tank division is part of his overall strategy to conquer the upstart Africans defying the might of the Third Reich…

Soon, the Howlers are on tricky ground: acting as unschooled diplomats and emissaries of their country and ideology. But Black Panther King Azzuri knows what they really want is a sample of precious, sacred Vibranium…

Until now Gabe has felt that he’s allied with the only non-racists in the US armed forces, but now Fury orders to get close to the Africans and secure some of the miracle metal at all costs. Stunned by the casual, unthinking racism of his superior and his white comrades, Gabe is torn by conflicting emotions. Especially as Azzuri has shown him great favour and a black-only promised land any negro living in America would die to live in…

The Nazis’ intent is also plain and the Skull’s true attack is not long in coming. As well as troops and planes, the Germans employ their own secret weapons – robotic war-suits and metahuman super-soldiers Master Man, Krieger Frau (Warrior Woman) and merciless sadist Armless Tiger Man. They are assisted by a traitor from Wakanda’s own dissident region: the mercilessly savage, cruelly ambitious Man-Ape

With issues #3 and 4 inked by Tom Palmer & Sandu Florea, the action roars into high gear as the German offensive achieves its goal of penetrating Wakanda’s defences and even sees the king’s sons T’Chaka and S’Yan (both future Black Panthers) attacked in the palace by a murderous assassin before being saved by the deeply conflicted Gabe…

And then it’s nothing but all-out war, picking up the pieces and adjusting to a new normal in a world that doesn’t know the meaning of the word…

Confronting head-on historical and contemporary issues of racism whilst telling a stunning tale of action and adventure is no mean feat, but Hudlin and Cowan pull it off here with staggering success. Flags of Our Fathers brilliantly contrasts the result of two national symbols in conflict and united in mutual benefit with style and wit, and still manages to tell a tale of breathtaking power and fun. Read it now and see for yourself.
© 2010, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow


By Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams, with Elliot Maggin, Frank Giacoia, Dick Giordano, Dan Adkins, Berni Wrightson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3517-8

After the successful revival of The Flash in 1956, DC (or National Comics as they then were) was keen to build on a seemingly resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit the stands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook (#108 if you’re the kind who keeps count) with the architects of the Silver Age – editor Julie Schwartz, writer John Broome and artists Gil Kane & Joe Giella – providing a Space Age reworking of a Golden-Age superhero who battled injustice with a magic ring.

Super-science replaced mysticism as Hal Jordan, a young test pilot in California, was transported to the side of a dying alien policeman who had crashed on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his power-ring – a device which could materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement ring-bearer; honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, it had selected Jordan and brought him to an appointment with destiny. The dying alien bequeathed the ring, a lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his noble profession to the astonished Earthman.

Having established the characters, scenario and narrative thrust of the series that would become the spine of DC continuity, a universe of wonder was opened to wide-eyed readers of all ages. However, after barely a decade of earthly crime-busting, interstellar intrigue and spectacular science fiction shenanigans, the Silver Age Green Lantern became one of the earliest big-name casualties of the downturn in superhero sales in 1969, prompting Editor Schwartz to try something extraordinary to rescue the series.

The result was a bold experiment which created a fad for socially relevant, ecologically aware, mature stories which spread throughout DC’s costumed hero comics and beyond; totally revolutionising the industry and nigh-radicalising many readers.

Tapping relatively youthful superstars-in-waiting Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams to produce the revolutionary fare, Schwartz watched in fascinated disbelief as the resultant thirteen groundbreaking, landmark issues captured the tone of the times, garnering critical praise, awards and valuable publicity from the outside world, whilst simultaneously registering such poor sales that the series was finally cancelled anyway, with the heroes unceremoniously packed off to the back of marginally less-endangered comicbook The Flash.

America at his time was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation. Everyone and everything were challenged on principle, and with issue #76 of Green Lantern (April 1970 and the first issue of the new decade) O’Neil & Adams utterly redefined super-heroism with “Issues”-driven stories transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the enigma of America.

At least the Ring-Slinger was able to perceive his faults, and was more or less willing to listen to new ideas…

Reprinting the contents of Green Lantern #76-87, 89 – barring the all-reprint #88 – and the emerald back-up strips from The Flash #217-219 and 226, this crucial Trade Paperback (and eBook) compiles all the legendary and lauded landmark tales in one spectacular and unmissable volume.

It all kicks off with ‘No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia): a true benchmark of the medium, utterly reinventing the concept of the costumed crusader as newly-minted, freshly-bankrupted millionaire Oliver Queen challenges his Justice League comrade’s cosy worldview. All too soon the lofty space-cop painfully discovers real villains wear business suits, have expense accounts, hurt people just because of skin colour and will happily poison their own nests for short-term gain…

The specific villain du jour is a wealthy landlord whose treatment of his poverty-stricken tenants isn’t actually illegal but certainly is wickedly immoral…

Of course, the fact that this yarn is also a brilliantly devious crime-thriller with science-fiction overtones doesn’t exactly hurt either…

‘Journey to Desolation’ in #77 was every bit as groundbreaking.

At the conclusion of the #76 an immortal Guardian of the Universe – known as “the Old Timer” is assigned to accompany the Emerald Duo on a voyage to “discover America”: a soul-searching social exploration into the dichotomies which divide the nation – and a tremendously popular pastime for the nation’s disaffected citizens back then.

The first stop brought the trio to a poverty-stricken mining town run as a private kingdom by a ruthless entrepreneur happy to use agent-provocateurs and Nazi war criminals to keep his wage slaves in line. When a young protest singer looks likely to become the next Bob Dylan and draw unwelcome publicity, he has to be eliminated – as do the three strangers who drive into town at just the wrong moment…

Although the heroes provide temporary solutions and put away viciously human criminals, these tales were always carefully heavy-handed in exposing bigger ills and issues which couldn’t be fixed with a wave of a Green Ring; invoking an aura of helplessness that was metaphorically emphasised during this story when Hal is summarily stripped of much of his power for no longer being the willing, unquestioning stooge of his officious, high-and-mighty alien masters…

The confused and merely-mortal Green Lantern discovers another unpalatable aspect of human nature in ‘A Kind of Loving, a Way of Death!’ when newly-widowed Black Canary joins the peripatetic cast. Seeking to renew her stalled relationship with Green Arrow, she is waylaid by bikers, grievously injured and taken in by a charismatic hippy guru.

Sadly, Joshua is more Manson than Messiah and his brand of Peace and Love only extends to white people: everybody else is simply target practise…

The continuing plight of Native Americans was stunningly highlighted in ‘Ulysses Star is Still Alive!’ as corporate logging interests attempt to deprive a mountain tribe of their very last scraps of heritage, once more causing the Green Knights to take extraordinarily differing courses of action to help…

GL/GA #80 then returns some science fictional gloss in a tale of judicial malfeasance when ‘Even an Immortal Can Die!’ (inked by Dick Giordano), after the Old Timer uses his powers to save Green Lantern rather than prevent a pollution catastrophe in the Pacific Northwest. For his selfish deed he is chastised by his fellow Guardians and dispatched to the planet Gallo for judgement by the supreme arbiters of Law in the universe.

His earthly friends accompany him there and find a disturbing new administration with a decidedly off-kilter view of justice…

Adams’ staggering facility for capturing likenesses added extra-piquancy to this yarn that we’re just not equipped to grasp all these decades later, with the usurping, overbearing villain derived from the Judge of the infamous trial of anti-war protesters “The Chicago Eight”.

Insight into the Guardians’ history underpins ‘Death Be My Destiny!’ when Lantern, Arrow and Canary travel with the now-sentenced and condemned Old Timer to the ancient planet Maltus (that’s a pun, son: just type Thomas Robert Malthus into your search engine of choice or even look in a book).

They arrive on a world literally choking on its own out-of-control population. The uncanny cause of the catastrophe casts an unlovely light on the perceived role and worth of women in modern society…

On a more traditional note #82 enquired ‘How Do You Fight a Nightmare?’ (with additional inks from Bernie Wrightson) as Green Lantern’s greatest foe unleashes Harpies, Alien Amazons and all manner of female furies on the hapless hero before Black Canary and Green Arrow can turn the tide, all whilst asking a few extremely pertinent questions about women’s rights…

‘…And a Child Shall Destroy Them!’ crept into Hitchcock country to reintroduce Hal’s old flame Carol Ferris and take a pop at education and discipline in the chilling tale of a supernal mutant in thrall to a petty and doctrinaire little martinet with delusions of ethical and moral grandeur.

Wrightson also inked #84’s ‘Peril in Plastic’: a staggering attack on out-of-control consumerism, shoddy cost-cutting and the seduction of bread and circuses with costumed villain Black Hand just along for the polemical ride, after which the comics world changed forever in the two-part saga ‘Snowbirds Don’t Fly’ and ‘They Say It’ll Kill Me…But They Won’t Say When!’

Depiction of drug abuse had been strictly proscribed in comicbooks since the advent of the Comics Code Authority, but by 1971 the elephant in the room was too big to ignore and both Marvel and DC addressed the issue in startlingly powerful tales that opened Pandora’s dirty box forever. When the Green Gladiators are drawn into conflict with a vicious heroin-smuggling gang Oliver Queen is horrified to discover his own sidekick had become an addict…

This sordid, nasty tale did more than merely preach or condemn, but actively sought to explain why young people turned to drugs, just what the consequences could be and even hinted at solutions older people and parents might not want to consider. Forty-five years on it might all seem a little naïve, but the earnest drive to do something and the sheer dark power of the story still delivers a stunning punch…

For all the critical acclaim and astonishingly innovative creative work done, sales of Green Lantern/Green Arrow were in a critical nosedive and nothing seemed able to stop the rot. Issue #87 featured two solo tales, the first of which ‘Beware My Power!’ introduced a bold new character to the DCU.

John Stewart is a radical activist: an angry black man always spoiling for a fight and prepared to take guff from no-one. Hal Jordan is convinced the Guardians have grievously erred when they appointed Stewart as Green Lantern’s official stand-in, but after seeing how his proposed substitute responds to an openly racist US presidential candidate trying to foment a race war the Emerald Gladiator is forced to change his tune.

Meanwhile, bankrupted millionaire Oliver Queen faces a difficult decision when the retiring Mayor of Star City invites him to run for his office. Written by Elliot Maggin ‘What Can One Man Do?’ poses fascinating questions for the proud rebel by inviting him to join “the establishment” he despises, and actually do some lasting good. His decision is muddied by well-meaning advice from his fellow superheroes and the tragic consequences of a senseless street riot…

Issue #88 was a collection of reprints (not included here) but the title went out on an evocative, allegorical high note in #89 as ‘…And Through Him Save a World…’ (inked by Adams) balances jobs and self-interest at Carol Ferris’ aviation company against clean air and pure streams in an naturalistic fable wherein an ecological Christ-figure makes the ultimate sacrifice to save our planet and where all the Green Heroes’ power cannot affect the tragic outcome…

Although the groundbreaking series folded there, the heroics resumed a few months later in the back of The Flash #217 (August-September 1972). ‘The Killing of an Archer!’ opens a run of short episodes which eventually led to Green Lantern regaining his own solo series. The O’Neil, Adams & Giordano thriller relates how Green Arrow makes a fatal misjudgement and accidentally ends the life of a criminal he is battling. Devastated, the broken swashbuckler abandons his life and heads for the wilderness to atone or die…

The next episode ramps up the tension as a plot against the Archer is uncovered by Green Lantern and Black Canary in ‘Green Arrow is Dead!’ whilst ‘The Fate of an Archer’ sees Canary critically injured and GL hunting down Oliver just in time to save her life…

Adams moved on to other projects then but returned for one last hurrah with O’Neil and Giordano in Flash #226 as ‘The Powerless Power Ring!’ reveals that the mightiest weapon in the universe is useless if the man wielding it is not up to the task…

As well as these magnificent, still-challenging epics – superbly recoloured by Cory Adams and Jack Adler – this chronicle also reprints the seven all-new Adams covers created for a 1983 reprint miniseries and completing the experience of challenging tales of social injustice which signalled the end of comics’ Silver Age. This volume closed one chapter in the life of Green Lantern and opened the doors to today’s sleek and stellar sentinel of the stars. It’s ageless and evergreen and should have pride of place on every Fights ‘n’ Tights Fanboy’s most accessible bookshelf.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1983, 1992, 1993, 2012, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Wolverton Bible – The Old Testament & Book of Revelation Through the Pen of Basil Wolverton


By Basil Wolverton with commentary by Monte Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-964-7

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind; a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others.

Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909, Wolverton worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist. Unlike most cartoonists of his time, he preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction and the swiftly-developing science fiction genre, Wolverton sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929. but the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck Rogers feature.

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material the young creative dynamo adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, and began working extensively in the new medium of comicbooks, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, plus a brace of minor hits and unabashed classics: the grimly imaginative (but unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk (for Target Comics) and Rockman – Underground Secret Agent for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

Apparently tireless and blessed with unlimited imagination, Wolverton also produced a seemingly endless supply of comedy features, ranging from extended series such as Superman/boxing parody Powerhouse Pepper to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as Bedtime Bunk, Culture Quickie and Bedtime Banter.

In 1946 he infamously won a national competition held by Al Capp – of Li‘l Abner fame – to visualise “Lena the Hyena”; that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom crafted some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton became a member of the Radio Church of God in 1941. The organisation was devised by Herbert W. Armstrong: a prototype televangelist of a then-burgeoning Christian fundamentalist movement. In 1956, Wolverton illustrated the founder’s pamphlet 1975 in Prophecy and two years later produced a stunning illustrative interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.

Soon after, he began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled The Bible Story: The Story of Man, which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. His association with the Radio Church of God endured for the rest of his life.

In 1973 the artist returned to comicbooks, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but the aging artist suffered a stroke the next year. Basil Wolverton died on December 31st 1978.

In many ways, his religious works are his most moving and powerful – as you will see in this astounding monochrome hardback or digital compilation. “A Collection of Basil Wolverton’s Artwork for the Worldwide Church of God from 1952 through 1974” gathers all the images the devout but always questioning artist created for Armstrong and offers – after a snazzy sample page of Powerhouse Pepper – history, context and candid illustrations, photographs and disclosures through the Foreword ‘A Shot in the Liver, a Shot to the Soul’ by Grant Geissman, plus an intimate portrait of the man, his devotion and his art courtesy of the Introduction ‘Wolverton and Armstrong’ by Basil’s son Monte Wolverton.

Blessed with a large degree of latitude, the artist was allowed to create his illustrations and accompanying text from his own readings of the biblical text. No matter what your spiritual beliefs might be, the results are frankly astonishing: mute, powerful, forceful even amusing in the appropriate place and – when dealing with wrath of God stuff – absolutely terrifying…

With an overview and commentary accompanying each chapter, the miracles begin with ‘Part 1: From Creation to Noah’ as the World is formed, beasts are born and Adam and Eve are force from the Garden of Eden. Through Cain and Abel, to humanity’s proliferation to the Great Flood, Wolverton’s imagination runs wild, inspirational but never sensationalistic, even at the most dreadful of moments when mankind drowns…

‘Part 2: From Abraham to Joseph’ follows the resurgence of humanity, touching upon Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar, Ishmael, the dreams of Jacob, and enslavement in Egypt.

Rendering fascinating maps to pinpoint the areas under scrutiny, Wolverton continues with ‘Part 3: From Moses to Joshua’ (including a complete visual catalogue of beasts considered “clean” or “unclean”), ‘Part 4: From Joshua to Ruth’, ‘Part 5: From Samuel to David’, ‘Part 6: From Solomon to Nehemiah’ before moving on to the most potent and memorable moments as depicted in ‘Part 7: The Apocalypse and Beyond’: an imaginative tour de force that has to be seen to be believed…

But that’s not all. Wolverton was arguably one of the funniest cartoonists ever born and Armstrong tapped his gifts for other aspects of the Worldwide Church of God, The Plain Truth and educational outreach project Ambassador College.

Leavening the apocalyptic warnings, ‘Part 8: Funny Stuff’ gathers spot illustrations for numerous articles and sermons, mastheads for publication features, gags, strips, caricatures faux informational instructions and much more: many of which would just as easily fit into Wolverton’s temporal grotesques-oeuvre in Mad or Plop!

A genuine monument to belief and artistic passion, The Wolverton Bible is a masterclass in the use of pen-&-ink and offers a stunning example of a creator working not just with hands and heart but with heart and soul. A must-have for anyone who ever wanted to draw.
The Wolverton Bible © 2009 the Worldwide Church of God. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 2


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-652-0                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-415-4

There are few comic characters that have entered communal world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 29th 1929, nobody suspected the giddy heights that walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the animated features brought Popeye to the entire world. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his supplies – introduced the kid to the master who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, Sagendorf took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the Go-To Guy, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. He wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years.

He died in 1994 and was succeeded by “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and – from 1948 onwards – exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) are issues #5-9 of the Popeye comicbooks produced by the irrepressible Bud, collectively spanning February/March to October/November 1949.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe and a fabulous collation of candid photos, strip proofs, original art and designs, foreign edition covers and greetings cards in another ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black & red) single-page strips on the inside front and back covers – which were always dynamic, surreal, silent sight gags of incredible whimsy and ingenuity.

We rejoin the parade of laughs and thrills one year later with #5 and a single-page duel of wits between Popeye and master moocher Wellington J. Wimpy over the price of water before main event ‘Moon Goon! or Goon on the Moon! or The Man in the Moon is a Goon!’ espies the scrappy sailor-man hired in dishonest circumstances to pilot a ship to our nearest celestial neighbour.

Once there, he and Wimpy meet a number of incredible races, discover the origins of their unsightly associate Alice the Goon and enjoy an astounding and perilous new means of locomotion to get them back down to Earth…

Short prose stories were a staple of these comics and ‘Swee’ Pea’s Dip in the Dark!’ details a frantic scramble for survival after the mighty muscled, irrepressible “infink” falls overboard during a sudden squall at sea, after which cartoon hilarity ensues as Wimpy tests the patience and resolve of diner chef Rough House in ‘Another Day, Another Breakfast!’ before deciding to grow his own burgers by raising cattle…

The interior end page then sees Olive Oyl fall foul of Swee’ Pea’s boisterous playtime whilst the full-colour back cover gag sees the little lad get down and dirty defending his pocket money…

Sporting a shark-themed cover #6 (April/May 1949) opens with a monochrome Popeye short involving bad dreams before lengthy sea-borne saga ‘Raft! or It’s a Long Drift Home! or Rafts are Boats, But Not So Comfortable!’ depicts Swee’ Pea and playmate Hink jerry-build a dubious wooden vessel and disappear down the river and out into the ocean…

When piratical rogue Captain Zato picks up the soggy waifs he thinks he has the secret of controlling Popeye and gaining vast wealth, but he’s made a terrible mistake…

‘Pappy Doesn’t Tell a Story!’ offers a prose poser as Popeye’s salty sire Poopdeck adamantly refuses to lull Swee’ Pea with a bedtime tale, after which that ravenous finagler J. W. Wimpy stars in ‘A Story of Hunger and Desert Madness entitled Food! Food! or May I Borrow Your Duck, Mister?’ dumped in a desert for his usual parsimonious behaviour (fare-dodging on a locomotive). As starvation looms, the chiseller encounters owlhoot bandit Terrific Tension and a grim battle begins for possession of the cowboy’s most treasured possession – a ham sandwich…

A Popeye and Olive end-page reveals how to keep the picnic dry before #7 (June/July) opens with a similar jape starring Wimpy bamboozling the overconfident Sailor-man. Then, in dazzling full-colour, ‘Help! or Sailor, Save My Baby!’ finds our grizzled hero acting as bodyguard to a millionaire’s little girl. Sadly, Olive is not happy since the precious Miss Pat Goldhold is old enough to pose a matrimonial threat, and is almost glad when thieves and a hulking man-monster turn up to rob her…

After getting the notion that people only like him because he’s tougher than them, Popeye feigns weakness and hosts a ‘Surprize Party!’ to test his theory. The result is quite an eye-opener and segues into text tale ‘Swee’ Pea and the Hungry Lady!’ with Wimpy resorting to drag to steal provender from a baby…

The master moocher exhibits even greater guile in ‘A Tale of Brains vs. Work entitled Who Won? or The Fleeter of Foot Emerges Victorious!’, again fooling Rough House and his customers with the old raffle dodge, before a Popeye closing gag finds Olive learning the finer points of manners from her brawling beau…

Issue #8 (August/September) sees the opener-strip back in black & red as Popeye decides Swee’ Pea’s new kite might a bit big for him, after which ‘On the House’ finds the sailor and the skiver go into business together as hamburger vendors. Happily, Swee’ Pea is on hand and on guard to ensure Wimpy’s carnivorous instincts are kept under control…

Sagendorf took his japery with alternate appellations to extreme limits with ‘I Am the Mayor!’) but I’m not playing anymore so just buy the book if you want to see the tale’s other titles) but the comedy is even sharper than usual as Swee’ Pea races across America to substitute for Popeye and save the town of Boghill from bullying entrepreneur and arms dealer Bull Branco…

‘Quiet Please’ offers prose diversions as the bombastic baby attempts to fix Poopdeck’s hammock and ensure a good night’s sleep for the veteran mariner after which Sagendorf’s old strip charges ‘Sappo and Wotasnozzle’ unexpectedly resurface. Here henpecked oaf John Sappo once more allows his mad scientist lodger Professor Wotasnozzle to make him a pasty after sampling the bonkers boffin’s food stretching breakfast additive. Of course, it’s not just the meal that elongates exponentially…

Black and white and red all over the Popeye and Olive Oyl end-page reveals the sailor’s breaking point when being asked to constantly rearrange furniture before the last issue in this outrageous compendium (#9, October/November) opens with the first half of the prose tale as opener. ‘Black Jack’ reveals the sheer stupidity of telling a kid like Swee’ Pea pirate stories at bedtime before main cartoon feature ‘Misermites! or I’d Rather Have Termites!’ details how the peaceful coastal town of Seawet is plagued by an invasion plundering dwarves. When the petty pilferers vanish back to their island with Swee’ Pea as part of their spoils, Popeye and Wimpy give chase and end up battling a really, really big secret weapon…

Then ‘Presenting John Sappo and the Experiment of the Sound Pills!’ finds the goony-eye genius and his long-suffering stooge enduring the gibes of Sappo’s little nephew and respond in typical over-the-top fashion after which the concluding part of ‘Black Jack’ wraps up this particular nautical compendium.

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. This book is definitely top tier and if you love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure you must add this treasure trove of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 2 © 2013 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2013 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Portugal

By Cyril Pedrosa with additional colour by Ruby; translated by Montana Kane (NBM/Fanfare)

ISBN: 978-1-68112-147-5 (NBM)                 978-1-91209-703-6 (Fanfare)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Perfect Family Holiday Getaway… 10/10

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some books are awful, many are pedestrian and the rest I endeavour to share with you. Of that remaining fraction most can be summarised, plot-pointed and précised to give you a clue about what you might be buying if I’ve done my job right.

Sometimes, however, all that kerfuffle is not only irrelevant but will actually impede your eventual enjoyment. This is one of those times…

Cyril Pedrosa was born in Poitiers in 1972, a child of Portuguese extraction. After pursuing science jobs and a career in animation (at Disney he worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules), in 1998 he moved into the world of comics with Ring Circus, following up with Les Aventures spatio-temporelles de Shaolin Moussaka, Three Shadows, Equinoxes and much more…

Since 2008 Pedrosa has devoted much of his time to fictionalised autobiography, beginning with with Autobio in Fluide Glacial, and that fresh string to his bow is at play in this newly translated, magnificently oversized (312 x 234 mm) hardcover (or digital edition): a moving and intoxicating graphic assessment of a crucial time in the illustrator’s life…

Through the vehicle of artistic analogue Simon Muchat, Pedrosa revisits a moment of his own history when he had lost the taste and verve for creative expression. In France, Simon’s relationship with his partner is breaking down; he’s living through a crippling writer’s block – and doesn’t care. Muchat makes a pittance teaching art or disconsolately doing little ad or design jobs. There seems no point to anything, but then he grudgingly attends a minor comics convention in Portugal and is suddenly reawakened to the intoxications of Existence…

Uncontrollably subject to recurring memory-snatches of childhood visits to his ancestors’ homes, Simon inexplicably beguiles himself into staying. His interest in storytelling is revived through one-sided conversations (he can’t remember much of the language) and before long he’s relocated to the sunny land of shiny, happy people…

Divided into three acts – ‘According to Simon’, ‘According to Jean’ and ‘According to Abel’ – the euphoric images cascade through picturesque hamlets and towns, country scenes and beaches – and bars of all types – as the gentle pace of life and friendly folk break down Muchat’s crust of indifference.

He even loses sight of his own troubles after gradually immersing himself in the cacophonous hurly-burly of his large extended Portuguese family and becomes increasing absorbed in discovering how and why his father moved to France.

That taciturn, work-obsessed worthy is still around (albeit, only in brief, breathless bursts between meetings) but has never and will never provide Simon with the answers he craves more than food or air…

And then, just when he thinks he’s made his peace with that onion-skin enigma, Simon finds another, deeper, more insoluble mystery to gnaw on…

This a truly breathtaking venture, a book full of humour, warmth and conflict, but one where nothing really happens. It does, however, happen with such joyous and compelling style and amiability that you cannot help but be swept along in its wake…

Enchanting, redemptive and captivatingly rewarding, Portugal is a book to chase away all winter blues and existential glums and a reading experience you must not deprive yourself – or your family – of.

© Dupuis 2011 by Pedrosa. Dupuis 2015 for the English translation.

Portugal will be released on December 1st 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

A UK edition from Fanfare will be available from November 30th.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Misty featuring Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve


By Pat Mills, Malcolm Shaw, John Armstrong, Brian Delaney, Shirley Bellwood & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-452-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Spooky Treats for Every Stocking… 9/10

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists and writers, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters, evil aliens or strange superheroes (all British superheroes were weird and off-kilter…).

I actually think – in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development – girls’ periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience, and I wish I’d paid more attention to Misty back then…

Thus, I’m overjoyed to see this superb first collection from what originating editor Pat Mills reveals in his Foreword was intended to be as iconoclastic and groundbreaking a publication as his previous creation.

You know the one… 2000AD

Despite never living up to his expectations – for all the traditional editorial reasons that have scuppered bold new visions since the days of Caxton – Misty was nothing like any other comic in the British marketplace: a Girls’ Juvenile periodical addressing modern issues through a lens of urban horror, science fictional and historical mysteries and tense suspenseful dramas. It was also one of the best drawn comics ever seen and featured stunningly beguiling covers by unsung legend Shirley Bellwood, a veteran illustrator who ought to be a household name because we’ve all admired her work in comics and books since the 1950s even if we’ve never been privileged to see her by-line…

Unlike most weeklies, Misty was created with specific themes in mind – fantasy, horror and mystery – and over its too-short existence introduced numerous self-contained features serialised like modern graphic novels, rather than the continuing adventures of star characters.

Although adulterated from Mill’s original design, the comic launched on February 4th 1978 and ran until January 1980 whereupon it merged with the division’s lead title Tammy, extending its lifeline until 1984. As was often the case, the brand also continued through Annuals and Specials, running from 1979 until 1986…

The first of a series working under the umbrella of The Treasury of British Comics, this compact monochrome softcover compilation offers two complete part-work novellas from the comic’s canon of nearly 70 strip sagas, starting with the gripping history of Moonchild. Scripted by Mills and illustrated by John Armstrong (Bella in Tammy; The Secret Gymnast in Bunty; Grange Hill), the eerie adventure was based on Stephen King’s Carrie, and ran as lead feature in issues #1-13.

The turbulent coming-of-age of abused and confused schoolgirl Rosemary Black: born into a family afflicted with an apparent curse. All the women who bore a hereditary crescent birthmark on their foreheads were eventually consumed by burgeoning psychokinetic powers…

Rosemary’s mother brutally and zealously tries to suppress her daughter’s growing abilities but with sociopathic mean girls Norma, Dawn and Freda making her a constant target for bullying and humiliation, the force inside Rosemary keeps expressing itself in ever more violent manner…

Moreover, when school physician Doctor Armstrong realises the truth about the girl so often sent to see him, he sees nothing but an opportunity to be exploited…

When Norma’s bullies embark on their most ambitious scheme to torture Rosemary, sheer disaster is barely averted when the Moonchild’s long missing grandmother suddenly appears with a shocking secret to reveal…

Following a handy hints feature – how to make a Witch’s Hat – The Four Faces of Eve carries on the chilling bewilderment.

Created by Malcolm Shaw (Misty’s Editor and writer of dozens of strips in Britain and Europe) & Brian Delaney (Hart to Hart; Grange Hill; The Professionals) this marvel of malign medical malpractice ran in issues 20-31, tracing the seemingly paranoid path of Eve Marshall, recently discharged from hospital still suffering partial amnesia.

Despite returning to her home and her high-powered scientist parents, Eve remains troubled, especially by horrifically vivid dreams of other girls who died painful, violent deaths…

Inconsolable and increasingly suspicious, Eve snoops around the house she doesn’t remember and discovers mounting evidence that the Marshalls are not her real parents. When the house is later burgled the police forensics team uncover another impossible anomaly: Eve’s fingerprints match a thief who died months ago…

Scared and haunted by traumatic dreams, Eve runs away and hides in a circus, only to be tracked down and dragged back home by her faux parents. However, the pieces are inexorably falling into place and she soon has to face the appalling truth she has deduced about herself and the monsters she lives with…

Also including a fulsome tribute to ‘Shirley Bellwood – An Unsung Heroine of British Comics’, creator biographies and one final activity page (‘Misty Says… Be a Devil – and Here’s How’) this slight but supremely engaging tome is a glorious and long-overdue celebration of a uniquely compelling phenomenon of British comics and one that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss this second chance to get in on something truly special and splendidly entertaining
Misty © Egmont UK Limited 1978. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Masterworks volume 3


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5953-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Everybody’s Truest Meaning of the Season… 10/10

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering November 1966 through September 1967 and re-presenting Daredevil #22-32 and Daredevil Annual #1, this third compilation (in both paperback and eBook formats) sees a marked improvement in overall story quality as scripter Stan Lee begins utilising longer soap operatic plot-threads to string together the unique fight scenes of the increasingly bold Colan, who gradually shook off the remnants of his predecessor’s art style.

In a very short time John Romita had made the Sightless Swashbuckler his own before graduating to Spider-Man, so when Colan took over on Daredevil he initially kept the clipped, solid, almost chunky lines whilst drawing the Man without Fear, but increasingly drew everything else in his loose, fluid, near-tonal manner. With these tales his warring styles coalesced and the result was literally poetry in non-stop motion…

Following a fond reminiscence from Colan himself – in an Introduction first written in 2005 -the action opens with ‘The Tri-Man Lives’ (Lee, Colan, Frank Giacoia and Dick Ayers), containing Gangland themes whilst sharing focus with super-menaces Masked Marauder and Gladiator, whose eponymous killer android proves less of a threat than expected…

The villains had sought control of crime organisation The Maggia but their plan to murder the Man without Fear to prove their worthiness goes badly awry after the kidnapped hero refuses to lie down and die…

Concluding in #23 with ‘DD Goes Wild!’ the ending found our hero trapped in Europe, but he soon makes his way to England and a violent reunion with Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar who has become the prime suspect in #24’s ‘The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker!’ This tale contains my vote for the Most Obnoxious Misrepresentation of England in Comic-books Award when a policeman – sorry, “Bobby” – warns, “STAY BACK, PLEASE! THE MILITIA WILL BE ARRIVING IN JIG TIME!”

After clearing the English hero’s name, Matt Murdock returns to America in time to enjoy the less-than-stellar debut of a certified second-rate super-villain as ‘Enter: The Leap-Frog!’ introduces a crook dressed like a frog with springs on his flippered feet (yes, really).

However, the big event of the issue is meeting Matt’s hip and groovy twin brother Mike

By the time of ‘Stilt-Man Strikes Again’ (DD #26, March 1967) Colan was fully in command of his vision and a leaner, moodier hero was emerging. The major push of the next few issues was to turn the hopeless romantic triangle of Matt Murdock, best friend and Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page into a whacky quadrangle by introducing a fictitious twin brother Mike, who would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Confused, much…?

Still skulking in the background was arch-villain Masked Marauder who was slowly closing in on DD’s alter ego. He gets a lot closer in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ (with Giacoia inks) after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder and the ever-fractious Spider-Man once more clashes with old frenemy Daredevil before the villains meet their apparent ends.

The Sightless Swashbuckler “enjoys” his first encounter with extraterrestrials in #28’s moody one-trick-pony ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Planet!’ – an Ayers-inked thriller wherein alien invaders’ blindness-inducing rays prove inexplicably ineffective against the Crimson Crimebuster.

John Tartaglione inked the next tale, a solid, action-packed gangster-thriller entitled ‘Unmasked!’ whilst issue #30 begins a protracted and impressive epic clash with old Thor foes the Cobra and Mister Hyde, complete with an Asgardian cameo in ‘…If There Should Be a Thunder God!’

Attempting to catch the super-criminals DD masquerades as Thor only to encounter the real McCoy. Unfortunately, the mortal hero is ambushed by the villains once the Thunderer departs and as a result of the battle that follows loses his compensating hyper-senses. Thus, he must perpetrate a ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ which almost fools Cobra and Hyde…

Sadly, it all goes wrong before it all comes right and against all odds Murdock regains his abilities just in time ‘…To Fight the Impossible Fight!’

Wrapping up the devilish derring-do is the first Daredevil Annual: a visually impressive but rather lacklustre rogues’ gallery riot from Lee, Colan & Tartaglione, detailing five old foes ganging up on Daredevil in ‘Electro and the Emissaries of Evil!’

The Man without Fear quickly puts a pretty definitive smack-down on the electric felon, plus his acrimonious allies the Matador, Gladiator, Stilt-Man and Leapfrog.

Of more interest are the ‘Inside Daredevil’ pages, explaining his powers, providing the ‘Blueprint for an All-Purpose Billy Club’ and recapping the Matt/Mike Murdock “Faked News” situation, plus offering stunning pin-ups of Karen, Foggy, Ka-Zar, DD and a host of old foes such as Gladiator, Leap Frog, The Owl and Masked Marauder.

Rounding out the experience is a short comedy tale ‘At the Stroke of Midnight!: an Actual Unrehearsed Story Conference with (and by) Stan and Gene!’ plus a gallery of original art pages by Colan, Giacoia, Ayers & Tartaglione.

Despite a few bumpy spots Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1966, 1967, 2012, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969


By Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-78565-325-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Truly Traditional Licence to Thrill… 9/10

There are sadly few British newspaper strips that can rival the influence and impact of the classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction. The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy or Flash Gordon, let alone Blondie, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye – and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good. You should really read them if you haven’t yet…

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? Garth? I’d hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve just didn’t seem to be in the business of creating household names.

Until the 1950’s…

Something happened in the Britain of the New Elizabethans – and I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did. Now we’re moving on.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics got carried along on the wave. Eagle, Lion, the regenerated Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into visually receptive high gear… and so did daily newspapers at a time when print was everyone’s major source of staying in touch with the world…

Thanks to another canny and comforting luxury repackaging – just in time for the Christmas presents rush! – I can once more communally reminisce about one of British strip-cartooning’s greatest triumphs, since Titan Books have a new addition to their line of lavish, oversized (294 x 277 mm) monochrome compilations of Ian Fleming’s immortal James Bond.

Debut 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958: initiating a sequence of paperback novel adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence (a jobbing writer for American features who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) signed on for The Man with the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the authorial canon to strip format.

When that mission was accomplished, Lawrence was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983.

Illustration of the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided art the until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and – although perhaps lacking in vivacity – the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members…

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on Golden Gun; instituting a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane vim and verve of the 1960’s. Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express ceased carrying Bond and the then-running case suddenly switched to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Here, however, the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death is at an all-time high in this addictively accessible fourth volume which finds the creators on top form as they reveal how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe and highly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly last-ditch double-dealings commence once superstar screenplay writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough; Die Another Day; Casino Royale; Quantum of Solace; Skyfall and Spectre as well as Johnny English) share some secrets and observations in their Introduction ‘Adapting Bond’.

Then ‘Octopussy’ (Daily Express 14th November 1966 – 27th May 1967) unfolds: a classic Ian Fleming tale. Originally a short story, under the skilful hands of Lawrence & Horak, a simple smuggling caper in the West Indies blossoms into a complex tale of Nazi Gold, murdered agents and exotic deaths in exotic locales as Bond pits his wits against deplorable rogue Major Smythe….

Bowing to the wave of popularity caused by the blockbuster films of the time, there are even a few Q Branch gadgets on offer. Horak excels at the extended underwater sequences and the action is frenetic and non-stop. Moreover, thanks to the enlarged landscape pages of this edition, every picturesque detail is there to be drooled over…

The sea also plays a major role in ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’ (29th May – 16th December 1967) which details the true fate of a new Royal Navy robot weapon which seemingly fails but has in fact been stolen by flamboyant millionaire and career sadist Milton Krest. At his most dashing undercover best, Bond infiltrates the wealthy sicko’s glamorous circle in a terrific tale full of innovation and intrigue. You won’t believe how many ways there are to kill with fish!

Having exhausted Fleming’s accumulated prose canon, all-original material begins with ‘The Harpies’ (4th October 1968 – 23rd June 1969) as Bond adopts he persona of ex-copper Mark Hazard to infiltrate defence contractor Simon Nero’s factory and rescue a kidnapped scientist whilst seeking to end the depredations of a deadly gang of female flying bandits.

Here Horak’s extreme design style and dynamic lines impart tremendous energy to scenes that must labour under the incredibly difficult restrictions of the 3-panel-a-day newspaper format.

Wrapping up the sinister espionage shenanigans is Lawrence’s second addition to 007 lore – and what a cracker it is! In ‘River of Death’ (24th June – 29th November 1969) Bond must penetrate the Amazon River stronghold of a maniacal oriental scientist and former Red Chinese torturer Dr. Cat. This latest madman is supplying trained animals to international criminals for the purposes of robbery, espionage and murder…

Horak’s intense illustration is approaching a career peak here and easily copes with action, mood, cutting edge science, beautiful women and exotic locales as diverse as the Alps, sultry Rain Forests, London’s underworld and Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time.

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel. Here, however, is James Bond at his suave and savage best and as close to his original conception and roots as you will ever find.

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and a wealth of exotic locales and ladies make this an unmissable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody does it better…

Octopussy © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1966. The Hildebrand Rarity © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1967. The Harpies © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1969. River of Death © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd. 1969. James Bond and 007 are ™ of Danjaq LLC used under licence by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969 will be published on November 24th and is available for pre-order now.