Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


By Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (DC Comics)
Item ISBN: 0-930289-15-3,               current ISBN: 978-1-56389-342-1

I always feel a bit daft reviewing stuff that everyone already knows about, but I’m constantly being reminded that even though somebody talks about the classics of our art-form it doesn’t mean they actually have read them.

Moreover, the great thing about comics is that they’re meant to be re-experienced, over and over and over…

So here’s a quick look at Frank Miller’s most celebrated epic: a canny mix of iconoclastic bravura and contemporary dystopian angst blending urban anxiety with bleak wish-fulfilment power-fantasies and making all us whiny liberals love it anyway…

There had been many “Last Batman” stories over the decades since his creation in 1939 but none had the telling impact of the 4-issue “Prestige Format” miniseries which ran from February to June 1986, during a period when DC were creatively on fire and could do no wrong commercially…

The subsequent collection into a complete edition did much to kick off the still tentative graphic novel market, offering a plethora of different versions at the time: hardcover, paperback, bookstore editions, foreign language editions – and an Absolute Dark Knight edition, in 2008 – all proving how a single story could be successfully monetised to the benefit of all, except the poor bewildered fans who clung tenaciously to the cruelly punishing collectors’ credo “gotta have ‘em all”…

(There are a number of editions available to this day, but I’m concentrating here on my first edition hardback from 1986. Therefore, some of the ancillary features and articles might be omitted, augmented or replaced in later releases…)

The epic transformed the character as much as the industry, with writers adapting facets of the chaos and carnage-resisting, end-of-days Caped Crusader to subsequent in-continuity tales whilst the readership spent years looking for clues in the regular comics that the story would eventually become canonical…

After Alan Moore’s Introduction ‘The Mark of the Batman’ the challenge to a civilisation in crisis begins with ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ as Gotham swelters under a crippling heat wave and ubiquitous TV pundits jabber on incessantly, disseminating what the government allows to pass for news.

Aging playboy Bruce Wayne (55 and no longer counting) has narrowly escaped blazing death during a car race, street gang The Mutants have perpetrated another ghastly atrocity and long-past-it Police Commissioner James Gordon has challenged them to a showdown before his enforced retirement in four weeks.

It’s also the tenth anniversary of the last sighting of the fabled masked vigilante the Batman

Later that night Wayne and Gordon talk over old times but the billionaire’s journey home is interrupted by a pack of Mutants…

On the nightly News homicidal maniac Harvey Dent is paraded by arrogant surgeons and therapists as a shining example of their restorative and curative regimes. Two-Face is now a fully rehabilitated citizen ready to reclaim his place in the world…

Back at the Manor, as the TV disgorges a litany of tragedy and travesty, a grumbling urge that has been boiling in Wayne’s gut for a decade finally breaks loose and decrepit manservant Alfred realises with dismay and disgust that Bruce’s other self is coming back…

Whilst a storm breaks over Gotham the night is filled with the screams and the cracking of bones as a horde of violent thieves and thugs are brutalised. Wayward 13-year old Carrie Kelley is saved from a pack of Mutant chickenhawks by a merciless shadow and the News is filled with reports of gangsters reduced to cripples by a maniac “dressed like Dracula”…

When the savage shadow foils a bank raid, one of the hoodlums has a coin with the heads-side scarred and defaced.

…And in Arkham Asylum’s quiet-ward an old, mute cripple with fading green hair watches the News, smiling and laughing for the first time in a decade…

That night the public gets its first full view of the unfolding situation as Two-Face holds Gotham’s Twin Towers hostage and Batman spectacularly ends his campaign of explosive extortion…

‘The Dark Knight Triumphant’ opens to public and media uproar as the Batman’s latest exploits galvanise the Man in the Street, the cops and especially psychotic monsters like the leader of the Mutants – who offers a terrifying challenge to the citizens and their returned hero.

Carrie Kelley rises to that challenge, buying a Robin outfit and jumping over rooftops looking to help clean up the city. Batman doesn’t have time for nonsense and hot air. He’s an old man with a dodgy heart who knows his days are already numbered.

All he wants is to get through another night and punish the Mutants who kidnapped a little boy…

Government – Federal and local – remains stonily silent on the issue of Batman (the first masked hero to break ranks since the government outlawed them years ago) and tension and unrest only escalates when a subway commuter is blown up by the Mutants…

At long last the Mayor acts, appointing Captain Ellen Yindel as his new Commissioner of Police. Her first act is to issue an arrest warrant for The Batman on assault and sundry other charges.

The subject of the manhunt doesn’t care: he’s engaged in a savage battle with the Mutant Army, his bat-tank and gadgets decimating the feral thugs at the City Dump.

His big mistake is to engage their leader in hand-to-hand combat. The steroid and rage fuelled gangbanger is a hate-propelled mass of muscle and speed, half his age and utterly immune to the Dark Knight’s every fighting trick and stratagem.

He is moments from beating the old fool to death when Robin introduces herself to her hero by causing an explosive distraction and stealing the battered body. Guided back to the Batcave, she can only watch as Alfred stitches the broken sack of meat and bone back together for the millionth time…

In the White House the American President takes extreme action, sanctioning the colourful assistance of the Nation’s Kryptonian Secret Weapon whilst in Arkham Dr. Bartholomew Wolper – the man who “cured” Two-Face – continues his treatment of the newly reinvigorated inmate once known as The Joker, whilst in the streets a growing number of Batman imitators take the law into their own increasingly bloody hands.

Although not fully recovered, Batman and Robin are forced to strike again when the Mutant Leader murders the Mayor with his teeth. The old campaigner orchestrates a showdown in front of the entire Mutant nation who watch in astonishment as their unbeatable ruler is methodically taken apart and left a crippled wreck by the resurgent, unholy Warrior Bat…

The beginning of the End starts with ‘Hunt the Dark Knight’ as Gotham is beset by more urban violence as the Mutants splinter into smaller fringe gangs. More worrisome is the huge uptick in citizen violence as the ordinary, decent folk of Gotham get out their legally purchased guns and start shooting at anyone who threatens, frightens, annoys or disgusts them.

The strangest result of the leader’s fall is the declaration by a hard core of former Mutants who publicly convert to “Sons of the Bat”, dedicated to carrying on the Dark Knight’s work: channelling their need for violence into excessive force applied to all malefactors from murderers to jaywalkers…

The Government is far more concerned with the deteriorating international crisis and The Batman is otherwise occupied. As well as cleaning up street scum whilst avoiding the police trying to catch him, there is fresh hell unleashed when the Joker hijacks Gordon’s televised retirement party and incoming Commissioner Yindel’s moment of glory with an explosively gory statement of his own…

With Armageddon clearly coming, clandestine Federal operative Clark Kent takes time out from a very busy schedule of secretly thwarting Soviet military strikes across the world to give old comrade Bruce Wayne a very clear cease-and-desist-or-else message from the White House. Naturally he is utterly ignored…

When the Joker is interviewed on a hugely popular talk show, Yindel’s squads are ready for Batman’s inevitable intervention but not the appalling atrocity the Clown Prince has engineered. In the bloodbath that follows, the openly suicidal Harlequin of Hate pushes himself to even greater excesses after abducting High Society Madam Selina Kyle and instigating another murder spree…

With the gung-ho cops dogging Batman’s heels the bloody trail leads to Gotham County Fair and a horrific, breathtaking final confrontation…

The final chapter then opens with Batman as Public Enemy Number One and a desperate fugitive. The warrants now read “murder”…

Elsewhere Superman prevents nuclear devastation by diverting a Soviet mega-warhead but the explosion radically weakens him. Despite this the Good Soldier obeys his Commander-in-Chief’s next order… stop Batman…

The world is in total chaos as fallout and electromagnetic disturbances bring about a nuclear winter and fry most electrical systems. The Caped Crusader, however, has always been a planner and has an arsenal of weapons and a small core of converts ready for the world that survives.

He also has a hidden ally. Radical firebrand Oliver Queen used to be the heroic Green Arrow…until Superman maimed the intransigent rabble-rouser who refused to toe the Government line once too often…

All that’s left is the final apocalyptic duel between two old, broken and dying heroes defending to the death their respective visions of justice. Despite a phenomenal showing, at last ‘The Dark Knight Falls’, but there’s still one last surprise in store…

Peppered with barbed and biting cultural commentary courtesy of the perpetual vox-pop of talking heads incessantly interviewed by the caustically lampooned and satirised news media, bombarding the reader with key narrative information in subtly layered levels and periodically enhanced throughout by stunningly iconic and powerful full-page tableaux, The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a new style of storytelling and made comics something adults outside the comics industry simply had to acknowledge.

Mythic, challenging and staggeringly visceral, this is rightly the Batman book everyone has heard of. Why not read it at last and see why?
© 1986 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Glacial Period


By Nicolas De Crécy translated by Joe Johnson (NBM ComicsLit/Louvre: Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-855-0

In 2005 one of the greatest museums in the world began an intriguing ongoing project with the upstart art form of comics; inviting some of the world’s most accomplished masters of graphic narrative to create new works in response to the centuries of acquired treasures residing within the grand repository of arts, history and culture.

The tales are produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Louvre, and always push the envelope of what can be accomplished by master craftsman inspired by their creative antecedents and forebears. These are no thinly-concealed catalogues of exhibition contents gift-wrapped in cartoon terms to gull potential visitors off their couches and into a stuffy edifice of public culture, but vibrant and challenging comics events calculated to make you think again about what creativity and history mean…

The first of those stellar tomes, originally released as Période glaciaire, has been recently repackaged as a deluxe and lavish oversized (286 x 222mm) hardback edition by NBM giving a readers that rarest of things – a second bite of the cherry…

Born in Lyon in September 1966 into a large family of artistic overachievers,Nicolas de Crécy was, in 1987, part of the first graduating class of students from de l’école de Bande dessinée des Beaux-Arts d’Angoulême.

After working at Studios Disney at Montreuil, he published his first album Foligatto in 1991. Since then he has produced more than thirty albums; both one-off books such as Journal d’un fantôme, Escales, Plaisir de myope and La Nuit du grand méchant loup and series/serials such as Léon la came, Monsieur Fruit and Salvatore.

He is justly considered a wünderkind of French comics and his unique take on the role of the Louvre is – typically – boldly off-kilter, ingeniously amusing and fantastically sardonic…

Thousands of years from now Earth is a frozen dustheap. Scrabbling through its barren remains one day comes a turbulent group of scientists and archaeologists. The humans are a tendentious bunch, constantly bickering and pontificating on what the civilisation they are obsessed with understanding was like. Most have their own theories and perhaps only looking for finds to validate their views.

Far more open and philosophical are the tubby talking dogs who act as frontrunners; their hyper-keen noses sniffing out areas where potential finds are buried. Especially sensitive – in every meaning of the term – is Hulk.

The rotund canine rogue can feel the tension in the party and when he sleeps (as often as possible) he has strange dreams and visions of beautiful old things…

When he and official expedition leader Juliette are briefly separated from the group in a storm the ensuing calm reveals an ancient structure freshly uncovered. Soon the humans are all over the “temple” and making grand plans, but the irascible mutt knows this find is mere dross and rubbish…

Another angry discussion results in top historian Paul being left behind to research and catalogue the temple whilst the others press on to uncover the fabled lost metropolis buried somewhere in this desolate region…

Hulk isn’t fooled: he sees that imperious alpha male Gregor has designs on Juliette and is slowly isolating her from the others. After she ignores the canny canine’s warnings, Hulk wanders off into the cold night and next morning impatient Gregor convinces the party to go on without him.

Alone and no longer distracted, Hulk’s incredible faculties detects a faint scent and he begins to dig down. Before long he has broken into a stone vault filled with fascinating artefacts and, as ever, following his nose discovers a mesmerising maze of corridors, revealing incredible facts about the lost civilisation…

Under the cold light skies above, Juliette and Gregor clash over who is truly in charge and poor studious Joseph suffers for his chivalry when he intervenes. Further interpersonal violence is only prevented when the treacherously unstable landscape shifts and from the icy crust an ancient structure begins to inexorably rise.

Hysterically elated, Gregor drags the stunned archaeologists into the fabled metropolis and all are stunned by the images and artefacts they find. Soon they are frantically hypothesising, guessing and just plain spitballing as they plunge deeper and deeper into the still shaky and shifting edifice. Entranced and intoxicated by the panoply of pictures and statues, the humans’ imaginations are running amok…

Soon from outside Esteban calls out to them – he has spotted another glistening building forcing its way out of the snows…

The treasure trove seems unending: a final repository of ancient magnificence that leads them ever inward as the monumental mausoleum inexorably pushes upwards into the dying sunlight.

Elsewhere, deep below them, Hulk is making his own explorations and encounters something uncanny and bizarre. Soon he is conversing with the oldest statues and objet d’art in the vaults of history. The relics know that the Louvre is in its tectonic death throes and need his help to save all the wonderful “living” treasures which have waited here for patient millennia…

Sharing with him the true stories, mistakes and triumphs of the past races of man, dog and anxious, animated exhibits unite in a desperate attempt to save their quintessential timeless splendours from final obliteration…

Accompanied by a formidable and informative List of Works which feature most prominently in this captivating yarn, Glacial Period is a bemusing, wide-eyed and light-hearted epic as well as an utterly engrossing and darkly charming graphic discussion on the nature and value of art and our eternal ever-changing relationship to it. It is also an entrancing, witty literal shaggy dog story in comics form that reads superbly even if you wouldn’t be caught dead in a museum, French or otherwise.

Why not give it a go and see if your cool attitude thaws after all…?
© 2005 Futuropolis/Musée du Louvre Éditions. English Edition © 2006 NBM.

God is Dead Volume 1


By Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, Di Amorim & Rafael Ortiz (Avatar Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59291-229-2

Launched in September 2013, Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa’s God is Dead spectacularly began extrapolating on the age-old question “What if God(s) were real?” in a wry and deliciously dark summer blockbuster style.

Now the first six issues, illustrated by Di Amorim and others, have been collected into a bombastic bludgeoning bible of senses-shattering Apocalyptic apocrypha that begins one day in May 2015 when the pantheons of ancient Egypt, Greece, Viking Scandinavia, the Mayans and Hindu India all explosively return: shattering monuments, landscapes and nations whilst slaughtering millions of mortals, faithful and disbelievers alike…

Within two months the ineffable gods have fully re-established themselves, pushing rational, scientific mankind to the brink of extinction, reclaiming their old places of worship and terrified congregations of adherents.

On the run from the new faithful, Dr. Sebastian Reed is rescued from certain death by the stunning Gaby and joins The Collective, an underground think tank of fugitive scientists, even as the Gods savagely revel in their bloody return to power and glory.

In a secret bunker the suicide of the American President leaves an obsessively aggressive General in charge of the US military. He has no intention of letting any primitive usurper run roughshod over the Greatest Nation on Earth…

As rationalist deep thinkers and innocuous PhDs Thomas Mims, Airic Johnson and Henry Rhodes welcome the fresh recruit, in the heavens Odin convenes a grand congress to settle the final disposition of the mortal world and all its potential worshippers…

The fable resumes as the American Army goes nuclear. However, although the strike vaporises an army of mortal converts, it cannot harm sublime Quetzalcoatl and merely provokes a punishing response from the assembled and arrogant Lords of the Air.

Far beneath the earth the scientists are engaged in heated debate over the nature of their enemies. Eventually they agree that they have insufficient data and resolve to capture one of the returned gods…

In America resistance ends when the common soldiery convert to the Mayan religion and sacrifice their stubborn atheist general, but this only leads to greater strife as the Pantheons, with humanity subdued, now turn on each other. Gods are not creatures willing to share or be long bound by pacts and treaties…

Over the Himalayas Gaby and her security consultant dad Duke are ferrying the test tube jockeys when their irreplaceable jet is downed by a monstrous dragon even as, in newly holy sites around the globe, the war of the gods gorily eliminates one greedy pantheon after another.

It’s a blessed circumstance for the surviving scientists who find an immolated Hindu deity and promptly harvest the carcass for investigation and experimentation.

With mythological monsters increasingly repopulating the world, the gaggle of geniuses rapidly reverse-engineer the godly genetic soup and decide to make their own deities: Gods of Science to take back the world for rational men…

The first attempt is an unmitigated catastrophe, savagely eviscerating one of the boffins before Duke manages to kill it. Terrified but undaunted, Gaby leads the way to the next, inevitable step: human trials using what they have gleaned to transform themselves…

Up above the god-war is almost over and Odin, Thor and Loki turn their vastly depleted forces towards Mount Olympus and a showdown with Zeus who has until now kept out of the devastating internecine conflict.

The sole divine survivor of that staggering clash – now omnipotent on Earth – then discerns the experiment of the mortal inventors and flashes to their secret lab.

He is too late. The end results of the religion of rationality have already travelled to Olympus and when the ancient frustrated arrogant all-father returns, he is confronted by a triumvirate of new gods born of needles and serums, ready to finally decide who will rule the world…

That astoundingly vicious clash is then followed by a portentous Interlude (by Costa & Rafael Ortiz) which follows that oriental dragon into previously unseen China to meet entrepreneurial Sammi whose future seems ‘Gloriously Bright’, after which the newly re-emergent gods of that ‘Middle Kingdom’ have their own crucial confrontation with the golden Wyrm of the Heavens…

With additional art by Jacen Burroughs and Hickman, God is Dead provides a brutally engaging, uncompromising, brilliantly vicarious dark-edged romp to satisfy any action-loving adult’s need for comics carnage and breathtaking big-concept storytelling.
© 2014 Avatar Press Inc. God is Dead and all related properties ™ & © 2014 Jonathan Hickman and Avatar Press Inc.

Phantoms of the Louvre


By Enki Bilal translated by Joe Johnson (NBM ComicsLit/Louvre: Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-841-3

A few years ago the legendary Louvre Museum in Paris began an intriguing and extremely rewarding collaboration with the world of comics, and their latest beguiling translated bande dessinée is now available in English courtesy of those fine folks at NBM.

Phantoms of the Louvre is a lush and beautiful, oversized hardback graphic art book which reproduces the stunning results of master storyteller Bilal’s creative response to the collected treasures and even architecture of the prestigious institution.

The origins and details of the project are described in his Preface and the 22 artworks which resulted had their own exhibition in the Louvre in 2013.

The premise is delightfully simple: each item and place in the galleries is blessed or afflicted by a ghost somehow attached to an item which affected their lives or passing, and Bilal incorporates a photo of each artefact with an image of the ghost.

The story of every phantom is then told in poetic prose augmented by photos, sketches and designs of the revenant in question…

Enes Bilalović AKA Enki Bilal was born in Belgrade in 1951, breaking into French comics in 1972 with Le Bal Maudit for Pilote. Throughout the 1970s he grew in skill and fame, and achieved English-language celebrity once his work began appearing in America’s Heavy Metal magazine.

Best known for his self-scripted Nikopol Trilogy (Gods in Chaos, The Woman Trap and Cold Equator) his other bleakly beguiling and ferociously contemplative works include Ship of Stone, The Town That Didn’t Exist, Exterminator 17, Four?, Magma, Julia & Roem and many, many more. In recent years Bilal returned to contemporary political themes with his much-lauded, self-penned Hatzfeld Tetralogy…

As always, the work is produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Musée du Louvre, but this is no gosh-wow, “Night-at-the-Museum”, thinly-concealed catalogue of contents from a stuffy edifice of public culture. Rather, here is a gripping, intense, informative and insightful glimpse into the power of art and history as engines of imagination and personal obsession.

Weaving fact into an imaginary tapestry of fictions detailing the putative lives of those affected by or affecting the creation of the inspirational treasures, the stunning procession of lost souls leads off with ‘Aloyisias Alevratos’ inspired by The Winged Victory of Samothrace, detailing an ancient sculptor’s history whilst ‘Antonio Di Aquila’ recounts the short, tragic life of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s assistants/models during the period when the master painted the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco Del Giocondo, called Mona Lisa, La Gioconda or La Joconde

‘Enheduana Arwi-A’ was a remarkable woman who engraved part of the tablet containing The Code of Hammurabi whilst ‘Arjuna Asegaff’ turned a troubled life around to become a popular model who posed for Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin’s The return of Marcus Sextus and ‘Analia Avellaneda’ developed a new pigment which fascinated Doménikos Theotókopoulous, called “El Greco” during the creation of Saint Louis, King of France and a Page, but cost the tragic lady her life…

‘Ahmose Chepseset’ was a crazed vandal in ancient Egypt whose actions despoiled much of the relic dubbed Man’s Head, vengeful half-caste ‘Djeynaba’ was a near-supernatural blight who tainted the Red Rooms and unrepentant Nazi ‘Colonel Markus Dudke’ killed himself in The Grand Gallery

‘Lantelme Fouache’ was the brutal father whose murder inspired Eugene Delacriox’ The Orphan Girl at the Cemetery whilst fisherman ‘Jacobus Grobbendoeke’ was recovered from the sea and incorporated into The Fish Market (after) Frans Snyders, whilst illicit woman warrior ‘Hecuba’ wore the Corinthian-style helmet as part of her imposture of a male hoplite seven centuries before Christ.

A doomed childhood love touched ‘Melencoloia Hrasny’ and Albrecht Dürer which resulted in a famed Portrait of the Artist whereas ill-fated Janissary ‘Zvonimir Karakasevic’ suffered a slow death which led to his becoming a forgotten component of sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle’s Voltaire Nude. Poor farm boy ‘Lakshek’ had more affinity for the bovines which inspired the Human-headed Winged Bull than the cruel, callous men who carved it…

Roman soldier ‘Longinus’ used his spear to wound the crucified Messiah depicted as Christ Dead, the Amazon ‘Marpada’ adored her equine companions – as exemplified by the marble Horse Head – far more than men and ‘Gaius Livius Maximus’ was a doctor of Rome who ended his own life upon the ancient Bed on display here.

‘Bella De Montefalco’ was the childish accidental instigator of a grotesque crime of passion hinted at in The Shadows of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appear to Dante and Virgil by Ary Scheffer, but professional duellist ‘Lyubino Nuzri’ was a willing killer who met his fate in the forever after haunted Alcove Room, and the ‘The Regodesebes Twins’ mere tools of destiny whose cruel deaths only tangentially affected The Countess Del Carpio, Marquessa de La Solana as portrayed by Francisco de Goya y Lucietes shortly before her own demise…

A criminal and beast in human form, butcher ‘Willem Tümpeldt’ provided The Slaughtered Ox immortalised by Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn but Muslim artist ‘Doura Ximenez’ had to dress as a man and remain unknown to craft the anonymous Supposed Portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées and her sister the Duchess de Villars which concludes this tour of the night galleries…

With detailed floor plan maps showing where the art works, rooms and artefacts referenced are displayed, this is a truly magical collection that no art lover or devotee of the medium can afford to miss…

© 2012 Futuropolis/Musée du Louvre Éditions. © NBM 2014 for the English translation by Joe Johnson. All rights reserved.

Dark Reign Fantastic Four


By Jonathan Hickman, Sean Chen, Adi Granov & Lorenzo Ruggiero (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3908-9

When the draconian Federal mandate known as the Superhuman Registration Act led to Civil War between costumed heroes, Tony Stark was hastily appointed the American government’s Security Czar – a “top cop” in sole charge of the beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom. As Director of high-tech enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. he became the very last word in all matters involving metahumans and the USA’s vast costumed community…

Stark’s subsequent mismanagement of various crises led to the arrest and assassination of Captain America and an unimaginable escalation of global tension and destruction, culminating in an almost-successful Secret Invasion by shape-shifting alien Skrulls.

Discredited and ostracised, he was replaced by apparently rehabilitated, recovering schizophrenic Norman Osborn – the original Green Goblin – who assumed full control of the USA’s covert agencies and military resources, disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed the nation under the aegis of his own new organisation H.A.M.M.E.R.

The erstwhile villain had first begun his climb back to respectability after taking charge of the Thunderbolts Project; a penal program which offered a second chance to super-criminals who volunteered to undertake Federally-sanctioned missions…

Not content with legitimate political and personal power, Osborn also secretly conspired with a coalition of major malevolent masterminds to divvy up the world between them. The Cabal was a Star Chamber of super-villains working towards mutually self-serving goals, but such egomaniacal personalities could never play well together for long and cracks soon began to show, both in the criminal conspiracy and Osborn himself…

As another strand of his long-term plan, the Homeland Metahuman Security overlord fired Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers and created his own, more manageable team consisting of compliant turncoats, tractable replacements and outright impostors. Constantly courting public opinion, Osborn launched his Avengers whilst systematically building up a personally loyal high-tech paramilitary rapid-response force.

During his Dark Reign, the rapidly destabilising madman – through means fair and foul – officially worked to curb the unchecked power and threat of meta-humanity, whilst his clandestine cabal of dictators divvied up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections covering the entire Marvel Universe.

Reed Richards had been a major supporter of Stark and key proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act even though his actions tore his family apart; driving his wife Sue and brother-in-law Johnny Storm into the opposing camp of costumed resistors dubbed the Secret Avengers.

His best friend Ben Grimm – unwilling to choose sides – left the country to become an exile in France…

This collection compiles the 5-issue miniseries Dark Reign: Fantastic Four and Dark Reign: The Cabal (May to September 2009) and serves to explore and explain Mr. Fantastic’s side of the argument as well as the terrifying motivations which prompted his uncharacteristic behaviour even as the still-wounded family painfully try to reconcile in their old home The Baxter Building……

The drama begins a week after the Skrull invasion as the greatest mind on Earth constructs a colossal interdimensional transit threshold. ‘The Bridge’ (written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Sean Chen & Lorenzo Ruggiero) is a pathway to alternate Earths. Demoralised and confused, Richards wants to explore all the other Earths to see if the Civil War and subsequent tragedies which followed happened elsewhere and how other Mr. Fantastics dealt with it.

He needs to know how to prevent such a catastrophe ever happening again…

He has only just convinced Sue, Ben and Johnny that he must go before the metaphorical roof caves in…

Acting with sublime overconfidence and seemingly blessed by fortune, Osborn has chosen that moment to invade the Baxter Building with an army of H.A.M.M.E.R. troops, determined to shut down the Fantastic Four and confiscate all their incredible technologies.

Outraged and ready for trouble, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing head for the ground floor just as Osborn’s men cut power to the building. The resultant surge in energy interacts with Reed’s Bridge and when the elevator doors open they find themselves in another realm: a primitive jungle where men and dinosaurs and space gods exist side by side…

With the adults out of action, children Franklin and Valeria take charge of the situation, bluffing the H.A.M.M.E.R. heavies into leaving, but little Val knows its only a matter of time until Osborn comes in person. She might be only three, but she’s already as smart as her father…

Setting to, she begins repairing the building’s electrical and defence systems even as in a distant time her devoted guardians battle a horde of time-lost terrors and, in a place where all places meet, her father views universe after universe and sees few happy outcomes…

As hours pass in the normal world, Sue, Johnny and Ben are bounced from one bizarre alternity to the next, gradually a gathering a stout band of like-minded heroes about them.

In fact they are strange variations of themselves: a gentle, noble erudite Thing, chamberlain to the court of the Virgin Queen; a blazing pirate Torch on a flying galleon, sharp-shooting sheriff Black Susan from an extremely wild, Wild West frontier town and so many more, all assisting as they determinedly fight their way to somewhere they can get home from…

After a night on their own Val and Franklin are awoken by Security Czar Osborn and his forces, accompanied by Dark Avenger “heavy” Spider-Man (in truth deranged impostor Scorpion possessed by the Venom symbiote). In a moment of sublime bravado the forces of Big Bad Government are stalled and legally finessed by the really annoying little girl…

In Collapsed Time, Sue, Johnny and Ben inexorably carve their way through a cascade of colliding realities whilst, in No Space, Reed – having analysed an infinity of alternate Earths – is forced to accept a truly humbling hypothesis…

His switching off The Bridge instantly returns the displaced FF to the Baxter Building where Osborn, having lost all patience, is trying to shoot the kids. After a brief but brutal battle the Federal forces are routed, and when the Czar tries to shoot Reed in the back after surrendering, Franklin displays a burst of the dormant power which will make him the terror of reality in years to come…

In the tense aftermath of a temporary, portent-laden standoff, Mr. Fantastic dismantles The Bridge at Sue’s insistence, but keeps from her the incredible beings he met before returning and the new resolution he has made: a decision that will also have devastating repercussions for all the universes in the months to come…

Rounding out this spectacular segue into the unknown is a sinister snippet from Dark Reign: The Cabal.‘And I’ll Get the Land’ by Hickman & Adi Granov gives a salutary glimpse into the scary mind of Doctor Doom as he debates a side deal with fellow Cabal associate Sub-Mariner whilst pondering what to do with maniac upstart Norman Osborn once his usefulness is ended…

Fast-paced, action-drenched, furiously imaginative and wickedly funny, this sharp sortie into strange worlds also includes a covers-&-variants gallery by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi, Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig and Marko Djurdjevic to complete the perfect package for all tried-and-true Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionados.
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Corpse Talk Season 1


By Adam Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-01-8

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – hilariously undead…

The conceit in Adam Murphy’s wonderful (Horrible Histories inspired?) cartoon feature Corpse Talk is that famous personages from the past are exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Is (Was?) Your Life talk-show interview that, in Reithian terms, simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”…

It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

The third collected album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) opens with introductory page ‘And Here’s your Host…’ and a creepy contents section ‘In the Guest Graveyard This Season’.

Before the inspirational post-mortem autobiographies commence there’s also a splendidly informative archaeological burial-map entitled ‘Digging up the Bodies’ providing an effective contextual visual timeline for the likes of ‘Amelia Earhart’ and ‘Nikola Tesla’ to discuss their contributions to the modern world, whilst daring pirate ‘Anne Bonny’ provides a more lurid option for Careers Day, ably supplemented by an extra fact feature page ‘What a Drag!’ detailing one of the more unexpected problems for women dressing up as a male pirates…

Polar explorer ‘Ernest Shackleton’, national hero ‘Joan of Arc’ and go-getting statesman and consolidator ‘Genghis Khan’ then respectively plead their post mortem cases, after which largely unsung explorer and scientist ‘Alexander von Humboldt’ finally gets his moment in the limelight before ‘Marie Curie’ – also augmented by a fact-page on her daunting ‘Killer Research’ – and ‘Emmeline Pankhurst’ describe how their singular contributions changed the world forever.

Digging further back ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ discusses his inventions, boy Pharaoh Tutankhmun explains the strange reason for his many names in ‘King Tut’ and ‘Boudica’ reveals the shocking saga of her revolt against the Romans

Author Murphy captivatingly indulges himself with the history of artistic inspiration (Katsushika) ‘Hokusai’ – also expanded by a page dedicated to ‘A Brush with Greatness’ – after which famous figures ‘Marie Antoinette’ and ‘Dick Turpin’ dish the dirt on the truth behind their legends and ‘Florence Nightingale’ remembers the bad old days with a supplementary examination of her later ‘Duvet Days’

After ‘Grigori Rasputin’ and ‘Charles Dickens’ recount their own amazing careers a welcome break is offered in the form of a puzzle asking the reader to find and return the restless guests to their biers and sepulchres in ‘Body Count: the Graveyard’.

The cadaverous chat show resumes with ‘Winston Churchill’ and ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’ (complemented by ‘The Music Thief’ revealing the musical youth’s amazing powers of memory and discernment) after which ‘Mary Shelley’ discloses how her groundbreaking novel came about and ‘Julius Caesar’ details his rapid rise and fall.

The strips then expand to two pages each for the contribution of his infamous paramour ‘Cleopatra’, our own ‘Henry VIII’ and ‘Gandhi’, whilst literary icon ‘Jane Austen’ includes her own appendix in ‘The Lost Austen’ – revealing what her sister Cassandra did to all her letters upon the author’s passing…

Honest ‘Abe Lincoln’ reveals why he freed the slaves and ‘Albert Einstein’ discusses the nature of everything, whilst oddly merciful pirate ‘Blackbeard’ also offers extra bounty with the ghoulish catalogue of his death in ‘Dreaded, Deaded, Decapitated and Dunked’

The mean man behind the myth is exposed in ‘Richard the Lionheart’ before ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ takes four pages to detail their respective moments as queen, and Scots freedom fighter ‘William Wallace’ rousingly records his achievements before the interviews wrap up with the astounding journey of scientist, botanist and gentle hero ‘George Washington Carver’

To end the sessions on a fun note there then follows another quizzical corpse hunt in ‘Body Count: the Beach’ just to restore a little order to the proceeding.

Smart, irreverent, funny and splendidly factual throughout The Phoenix Presents… Corpse Talk Season 1 cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great and the good for the coming generation.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just check with the spirits in question…

Text and illustrations © Adam Murphy 2014. All rights reserved.

Wolverine First Class: Class Actions


By Peter David, Ronan Cliquet, Francis Portela, Dennis Calero & Scott Koblish (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3678-1

Charming, light action-comedy is not the first thing that snikts to mind when considering Marvel’s mutant wild man… which is probably why the sorely-missed series detailing Logan’s days as reluctant tutor to then-neophyte junior X-Man Kitty Pryde was such a delightful surprise for every rather rare reader who saw it.

The series launched in 2008, written by Fred Van Lente, but this final selection is scripted by veteran chortle-raiser Peter David who applies his deft, daft touch to the final five tales from Wolverine First Class #17-21 (September 2009 – January 2010).

The delicious pairing of surly, world-weary antihero and naïve, bubbly, keen-as-mustard, interminably chatty gamin has been comedy gold since the days of silent movies and is exploited to perfection in this hilarious but action-packed compilation which begins with ‘Two Wongs’ – illustrated by Ronan Cliquet.

This features Wolverine in his roguish persona as “Patch” investigating the son of a notorious, ruthless ganglord from outlaw island Madripoor whom the feral fury was sure he had permanently dealt with years before.

Patch is convinced that the apple doesn’t fall far from the shady tree, even though there’s no evidence that young Senatorial candidate Benjamin Wong is anything more than another idealistic hopeful looking to clean up the system…

Silly, innocent Kitty thinks otherwise and soon the argumentative pair are undercover and stealthily investigating as only two X-Men can (that is with lots of fights, chases and explosions), but they’re both in for a big surprise before all the votes are in…

Francis Portela handles the art for ‘Identity Crisis’ wherein student and master are on opposite sides of a knotty debate when Madrox the Multiple Man stops by the X-Mansion.

The young mutant needs Wolverine’s assistance to track down an errant copy of himself who doesn’t want to be reabsorbed. Unfortunately that runaway dupe has found a sympathetic ear in romantic soul Kitty who completely understands his need for independence and autonomy…

Too soon, however, events conspire to give everybody what they want, which only leaves the lass with a bitter taste of pointless tragedy…

Next up is an enthralling two part cosmic calamity as Dennis Calero limns ‘Discreet Invasion: Part One’ which finds Kitty waking up in a cunning copy of her bedroom aboard a spaceship.

Elsewhere on the vessel Professor Wolverine is enduring the tortures of the damned as the Super Skrull undertakes another plan of Earthly infiltration and conquest.

Discarding any potential threat from the stupid, puny earth girl, the Skrull is astounded to find her vanished and, soon after, all hell being let loose on his heavily fortified warship.

Things only get worse when Kree Protector of the Universe Captain Marvel bursts in…

The tension rises to blistering fever pitch in ‘Discreet Invasion: Conclusion’ as, amidst a catastrophic three-way tussle between the male heavies, Kitty displays her own shattering propensity for destruction.

It’s her innate smarts that win the day, however: when the Skrull plays his final card by becoming an exact duplicate of Wolverine, he cannot believe her solution to the age-old conundrum of who to shoot…

The series – and this volume – ends with #21 and ‘The Last Word’ (Scott Koblish art), as Kitty faces a terrifying graduation of sorts when Wolverine, apparently mind-controlled by Magneto, does everything in his power to slaughter her, just as her powers of intangibility stop working…

Also offering a lovely covers-&-variants gallery by Cameron Stewart, Skottie Young, Takeshi Miyazawa & David Williams, Class Actions is thrilling, engaging and filled with the much-missed humorous family camaraderie which made the early X-Men stories so irresistibly appealing.

What more could a Costume Dramas addict want?
© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Bunny vs. Monkey Book One


By Jamie Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-07-0

The other day I heaped much well-deserved praise upon Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey whilst congratulating David Fickling Books both on its superb weekly comic The Phoenix and new line of graphic albums.

I also noted that their first two book releases had made this year’s list for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which begins on 12th July): the first comic-books ever to have been awarded such an honour. It seems only fair then that I cover that other nominee – especially as it’s one of the funniest all-ages books I’ve seen in years.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture in The Phoenix from the very first issue, a madcap duel of animal arch rivals set amidst the idyllic arcadia of a more-or-less ordinary English Wood.

With precious little unnecessary build-up The Phoenix Presents… Bunny vs. Monkey opens with a ‘Prologue!’ introducing placid, wise, helpful Bunny and not-so-smart pals Pig and Weenie Squirrel.

The foolish innocents have found a hibernating bear and Bunny really wants them to stop trying to wake it up. Meanwhile, over the hill and not so faraway, a bunch of boffins are attempting to launch a really annoying monkey into space…

Year One: January to June then commences a barrage of seasonal silliness as the proposed launch goes hideously awry and the loud, stroppy, obnoxious simian lands in the snow covered glade and declares himself king of this strange alien world in with ‘Bunny vs. Monkey’

Monkey loves noise, strife, chaos and trouble and wants to raise a rumpus – everything genteel, contemplative Bunny abhors – so when the apish astronaut introduces techno music in ‘Keep it Down!’ the lines of battle are irrevocably drawn…

Thing escalate in February ‘When Monkey Met Skunky’: a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-inspired terror weapons such as the Cluck Cluck Zeppelin used to bomb the woods with 10-year old rotten eggs or the giant metal robot hands which give the destructive Monkey ‘Fists of Furry’

The winter draws on with ‘Soggy ‘n’ Froggy’ wherein a monstrous Frog-O-Saurus becomes the wicked duo’s latest Weapon of Meadow Destruction, after which poor little Pig is transformed into cyborg sensation Pig-O-Tron 5000 in ‘Robo-Chop’ and a simple change of pace sees Weenie and Pig put on a circus show to counter all the nasty animosity but get painfully caught ‘Clowning Around’

Up until now Monkey has been risking his own pelt road testing all Skunky’s inventions, but when a bewildered former stuntman turns up the sneaky simian is happy to leave all the dangerous stuff to ‘Action Beaver’

March leads to a profusion of beautiful buds and blossoms which delight the soul of nature loving Bunny.

Tragically they utterly disgust Monkey, who tries to eradicate all that flora in ‘Down with Spring!’ until he comes a-cropper thanks to a sack of spiky Hodgehegs, whilst in ‘Bonjour, Le Fox’ the spacy invader finally goes too far, forcing Bunny to align with a rather radical environmentalist possessed of a big, bushy tail and a French accent…

Some of Bunny’s friends are their own worst enemies. ‘Race to the Moon!’ sees Weenie and Pig build their own spaceship out of natural materials like moss and mushrooms only to have Monkey disastrously commandeer it, after which Skunky builds a terrifying cyber crocodile dubbed ‘Metal Steve!’ which promptly ignores its perfidious programming to spend the day swimming.

Such failures thus compel Monkey to steal a steamroller to personally get rid of all that hateful, ugly cherry blossom infesting the trees in ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’!’

The war against nature intensifies in April as ‘Eat Your Greens!’ finds Skunky’s Caterpillar-Zilla devouring the forest foliage until a real creepy crawly steps in, whilst ‘The Whuppabaloo!’ shows the niffy tinkerer’s softer side as he drags Monkey on a wilderness trek to track down the most amazing thing in nature…

‘Hide and Squark!’ depicts the rabbit’s fight back thanks to the double-dealing help of a certain giant parrot, after which a momentary détente for a spot of angling soon turns into another heated duel in ‘Fish Off!’

There’s a brief falling out of the axis of evil in May as ‘Invisi-Monkey’ sees the strident simian squabbling with Skunky to possess a sneaky stealth suit before reuniting to spoil a joyous game of Cake-Ball with their monolithic, monstrous ‘Mole-a-Rolla!’ After that Monkey attempts to turn the Wood into an oil field in ‘Black Gold’ before spoiling Bunny’s dream of a ‘Quiet Day!’ with a giant Robot Cockroach

Blazing June opens with ‘Bring Him Back!’ as Action Beaver attempts to retrieve watery wanderer Metal Steve whilst simple souls Weenie and Pig accidentally kick off an invention Armageddon which only gets worse when that long-slumbering ursine finally wakes up in ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bear?’

‘The Bat!’ apparently introduces a nasty new faction to the ongoing conflict (but all is not as it seems), and there’s no confusing the stakes when Bunny agrees to a winner-take-all fight in ‘Wrestlepocalypse!’ where Monkey learns that cheats never prosper…

Just when things seem likely to settle down fresh chaos ensue when a violent piratical rabbit with an eye-patch storms in to cause stir up trouble in ‘Bunny B!’ leaving us with the delightful prospect of more hair-raising, masterfully magical cartoon mayhem to come…

Endlessly inventive, sublimely funny and outrageously addictive, Bunny vs. Monkey is the kind of comic parents beg the kids to read to them. Don’t miss out on the next big thing.

Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2014. All rights reserved.

Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite


By Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Bob McLeod, Dave Hoover, Curt Swan, John Byrne, Kerry Gammill, Brett Breeding, Dennis Janke, Art Thibert & Scott Hanna (DC Comics/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-85286-752-3

Although largely out of favour these days as many decades of Superman mythology are relentlessly assimilated into one overarching, all-inclusive multi-media DC franchise, the stripped-down, gritty, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Tomorrow – as re-imagined by John Byrne and marvellously built upon by a stunning succession of gifted comics craftsmen – produced a profusion of genuine comics classics.

Although controversial at the start, Byrne’s reboot of the world’s first superhero was rapidly acknowledged as a solid hit and the collaborative teams who complemented and followed him maintained the high quality, ensuring continued success.

Over the following years a vast, interlocking saga unfolded which has only sporadically – and far too slowly – been collected into trade paperbacks and graphic compilations. One of the best is this scarlet-themed selection which gathered a key cross-title storyline and a couple of choice solo stories: specifically the contents of Action Comics #659-660, Adventures of Superman #472-473, 464-465 and Superman #49-50, plus a crossover component from Starman volume 1 #28, which collectively encompassed November and December 1990.

Almost as soon as the Byrne restart had stripped away most of the accreted mythology and iconography which had grown up around the Strange Visitor from Another World over fifty glorious years, successive teams spent a great deal of time and ingenuity putting much of it back, albeit in terms more accessible to a cynical and well-informed audience far more sophisticated than their grandparents ever were.

Once such was this notional tip of the hat to the many memorably madcap tales revolving around both an irritating 5th Dimensional Imp and the bizarrely mutagenic mineral from Krypton which peppered the Silver Age Superman’s life.

However the main story-arc also served to advance two major plot threads which had grown out of the never-ending battle: the imminent demise of Lex Luthor thanks to self-inflicted Green K poisoning and the blossoming romance of Clark Kent and his dynamic fellow journalist Lois Lane.

Those background details and more are discussed in Roger Stern’s Introduction before the stunning saga opens with ‘Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite: Part One’ by Jerry Ordway & Dennis Janke from Superman volume 2, #49 wherein Luthor – following the death of his only heir – ponders mortality in a cemetery until a talking red rock bops him on the back of his big, bald head.

The incensed billionaire quickly forgets his outrage as the scarlet stone resolves into the seeming of cruelly devious trickster-sprite Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Although currently preoccupied with another realm, the malign mischief-maker sees a chance to manufacture some mayhem in Metropolis with the Red Kryptonite he has magicked up; promising Lex that it would make Man of Steel and mortal multi-millionaire “physical equals”…

Lex activates the rock expecting to gain the powers of a god – and possibly a new lease on his rapidly expiring life – and is furious to realise he is still just human, but across town Superman, having defeated bionic bandit Barrage, is transporting the villain to the metahuman penitentiary Stryker’s Island when his abilities vanish and he plunges into vilely polluted Hobs Bay.

Crying foul, Luthor is again visited by Mxyzptlk who pettishly teleports the drowning Action Ace to Lex’s penthouse office where the evil industrialist can see what the spell has actually wrought…

After a brutal and strictly human-scaled tussle, a badly beaten, powerless Superman is ejected from Luthor’s HQ and staggers back to Kent’s home where he finds Lois waiting.

The normally resolute reporter is badly shaken: her mother is dying from an apparently fatal illness…and Luthor is somehow responsible…

‘Clark Kent… Man of Steel!’ by Dan Jurgens & Art Thibert(Adventures of Superman #472) picks up the story with the simply human hero about to be killed by lethal lummox Mammoth.

Kal-El had been undergoing tests conducted by scientific advisor and close confidante Emil Hamilton into the cause of his malady, but when news of the giant thief’s robbery spree reached him Superman dashed off to assist, equipped only with a hastily configured force field belt. It was not nearly enough…

In the end wits, raw nerve and a simple bluff saved the day, but with no solution in sight the Metropolis Marvel is forced to admit he needs superhuman assistance if he is to survive…

At least on the domestic front his new fragility was bringing him closer to Lois…

The scene jumps to Arizona where a recent acquaintance gets a phone call before

‘Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite: Part Two/A: The End of a Legend?’ (Stern, Dave Hoover & Scott Hanna; Starman volume 1 #28) finds Stellar Sentinel Will Payton flying to the City of Tomorrow for a top secret rendezvous.

A sun in human form, Payton had rapidly reenergised the Kryptonian’s cells with solar power once before when Superman’s powers were drained, but this time the sun-bath has no effect and almost fries the desperate Kal-El during the process.

With crime on the rise, Starman volunteers to stick around and keep the peace, using his shapeshifting powers to perfectly mimic the Man of Steel. He even fools Luthor who, confronted by the somehow resurgent “Superman”, furiously throws the useless Red K at him…

With the mineral in Hamilton’s hands, stringent tests soon prove that the mineral is only red rock with no radioactive properties and Superman is forced to think outside the box if he is to protect his city…

And on Stryker’s Island another old enemy is laying lethal plans to finally end the Man of Tomorrow…

The tension ratchets up in ‘Breakout!’ (Action Comics #659 Stern, Bob McLeod & Brett Breeding) as Superman resorts to technological battle armour when murderous maniac Thaddeus Killgrave frees all the inmates and takes control of Stryker’s, luring Starman-as-Superman into a deadly trap the neophyte hero cannot escape from.

And in the highest corridors of financial power, meanwhile, Mxyzptlk personally briefs the baffled Luthor on what is happening…

Brave but not stupid, Superman has called in back-up for his raid on the penitentiary. Whilst cloned champion Golden Guardian and street vigilante Crimebuster tackle the rank-and-file felons, the armoured Action Ace heads straight for Killgrave and a blistering confrontation which is mere prelude to the fateful finale of the concluding chapter ‘The Human Factor’

Superman volume 2, #50 was a super-sized special by Ordway & Janke with celebratory anniversary contributions from Byrne, Curt Swan, Kerry Gammill, Breeding & Jurgens, opening with Clark unceremoniously ejected from the Lexcorp Tower only to stumble upon the billionaire’s personal physician Dr. Gretchen Kelly acting oddly…

Heading home the powerless hero is saved from a mutant rat by the Guardian and, after seeing Crimebuster thrashing street thugs, comes to a painful conclusion. Maybe Superman isn’t necessary any more. Maybe now he can have his own life and even ask Lois to marry him…

First though there’s a little unfinished business and a simple phone call to Luthor gets the ball rolling. Offering to trade the Red K Rock for a story, Clark inadvertently causes Lex to break the terms of his infernal pact with Mxyzptlk, thereby negating the whole power-sapping deal.

Ticked off, petulant and impatient to get back to mischief making in another universe, the imp makes a personal appearance in monstrous form, but loads the blistering battle in the fully restored Man of Tomorrow’s favour just to get out of his self-imposed arcane contract quickly – although not without an astounding amount of collateral damage to Metropolis…

With the crisis over, however, Superman has made a life changing decision…

Following the red-tinged resumption of his super status, the Man of Steel was joined by a brace of green guest stars in ‘Rings of Fire’ (Jurgens & Thibert in Adventures of Superman #473).

Even as Clark and Lois announce their engagement, the Action Ace is fretting. He has somehow been unable to tell his intended about his secret life, but is quickly distracted and drawn away when unconventional Green Lantern Guy Gardner blows into town looking for the missing Hal Jordan.

Earth’s real GL has been captured by a monolithic alien who has siphoned off his emerald energies to power a long-delayed return to the distant stars. Of course that departure will eradicate half of Wyoming…

After foiling the scheme, freeing a mesmerised Army General and defeating the alien’s thralls Psi-phon and Dreadnaught, Superman and the GLs are able to arrive at a far less destructive solution for all parties involved…

This titanic tome concludes with ‘Certain Death’ (by Stern, McLeod & Breeding from Action Comics #660) which seemingly saw the end of an era…

For years Luthor had masqueraded as a billionaire philanthropist whilst dominating Metropolis and the world. Few people knew the unsavoury truth and the villain kept Superman literally at arms length by wearing a ring made from Green Kryptonite.

Subsequent stories revealed that the K radiation gradually poisoned Luthor, initially causing the loss of his hand and eventually fatally irradiating his entire body.

Now as his power and vitality wane Luthor, knowing that his pitiful condition must inevitably become public knowledge, puts a final desperate plan into operation.

During a high profile publicity stunt attempting to set a new air-speed record, the manipulative mogul seemingly commits suicide in a spectacular manner which only marked the beginning of a stupendous seven-year long extended plotline…

To Be So Continued…

Superman is comics’ champion crusader: the hero who started a genre and, in the decades since his spectacular launch in June 1938, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. As such it’s always rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections.

Thrilling, funny and exquisitely entertaining: what more could dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights devotees want?

©1990, 1996 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey


By Lorenzo Etherington (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-02-5

These days, young kids are far more likely to find their formative strip narrative experiences online or between the card-covers of specially tailored graphic novels rather than the comics and periodicals of my long-dead youth.

Once upon a time, however, the comics industry was a commercial colossus which thrived by producing copious amounts of gaudy, flimsy pamphlets in a multitude of subjects and sub-genre, all subdivided into a range of successful, self-propagating, seamlessly self-perpetuating age-specific publications.

Such eye-catching items generated innumerable tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate such well-defined target demographics as Toddler/Pre-school, Younger and Older Juvenile, General, Girls, Boys and even Young Teens, but today Britain can only manage to maintain a few paltry out-industry licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for a dwindling younger readership.

Where once cheap and prolific, strip magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dying – niche market, whilst the beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comics are more immediately disseminated via TV, movies and assorted interactive media.

There are one or two venerable, long-lived holdouts such as the Beano and 2000AD but overall the trend has been downwards for decades.

That maxim was happily turned on its head in January 2012 when Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched The Phoenix: a traditional-seeming anthology comic weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy and, in the years since its premiere, the comic has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was recently voted No.2in Time Magazine’sglobal list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have reached issue #100 (#129 and counting). The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an iPad application and is continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun.

Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost, in this country at least, old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.

With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from magazine makers’ surrender, and there have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

Happily at long last many of the serials and series in The Phoenix have finally joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums with the first two debuting in July 2014.

Both have already been selected for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which begins on 12th July): the first comic-books ever to have featured on a Summer Reading Challenge list.

The one we’re looking at today is The Phoenix Presents… Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey: a dazzling display of cartoon virtuosity and brain-bursting comic challenges composed by Lorenzo Etherington, originally seen as captivating, addictively challenging weekly instalments of The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan.

The serialcombines captivating cartoon narrative with observational tests, logic puzzles and other kids’ favourite brain-teasers, craftily taking readers and participants on a magnificently constructed progressive voyage of adventure and discovery in 37 clue, game, maze and mystery-packed episodes.

Von Doogan and his partner in peril Jake Wingnut are brilliant and intrepid young explorers with a keen sense of justice and an insatiable thirst for action who here tackle all manner of conundra and – with your help – track down a band of pirate cutthroats, battle a magical monster and rescue a fantastic treasure from obscurity by solving such imposing posers as ‘The Nine Locks’, ‘The Telltale Cell’, ‘A Knotty Problem’ and ‘Finding Captain Nemo’

Naturally we aren’t all as smart as Von Doogan or a six-year old so this spectacular colourful cornucopia comes with a page explaining ‘How the Book Works’, an ‘Equipment Checklist’ and a fulsome secret section giving extra help with ‘The Clues’ and thankfully ‘The Solutions’.

There’s even a free printable download page providing your own handy dandy copy of ‘Doogan’s Danger Kit’ to stop you cutting up the one in this mesmerising manuscript of mystery.

Story! Games! Action! …and all there in the irresistible shape of entertaining pictures. How much cooler can a book get?
Text and illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington 2014. All rights reserved.

The Reading Agency is a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged 4 to 11 to read six books during the long summer holiday.

Children can read whatever they like just as long as they are borrowed from the library. Every time children finish a book they get stickers and rewards and there’s a certificate for everyone who finishes. The Summer Reading Challenge is open to all school children and is designed for all reading abilities.

Visit www.readingagency.org.uk

To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk