The Strange Investigators 01: The Snake Job


By Luke Melia & Bobby Peñafiel
ISBN: 978-1-50581-207-7

At the luxury end of the self-publishing spectrum is this superbly high-end production number: a proper full-colour graphic novel in everything but page count.

Luke Melia and his collaborative artistic cohorts have been making superbly engaging contemporary genre stories for a while now (see Occulus and The White Room of the Asylum) and this light-hearted paranormal lark is the first chapter of their next graphic novel foray.

Complete in one issue, The Snake Job introduces young entrepreneurs Alex, Katelyn and Tony who have found a unique niche market for their services: so unique, in fact, that there’s no money in it and precious few customers.

The newly launched Strange Investigators – that’s a job description not a character assessment – aren’t having the best time getting the business on an even footing. Investigating “anything unusual or unexplained” hasn’t been the cash-cow they expected and they really need to make some money to pay for all the really expensive paranormal detection kit they’re using.

That’s why, after a long period of prevarication, Alex finally agrees to accept “the Snake Job” Katelyn’s had on her desk for weeks.

Alex claims there’s no mystery to how a big serpent got on to a tropical island beach, but Tony and Katelyn think his strident reluctance to take the case is simply because their CEO is afraid of wasps…

With the lights cut off and no other choice, three days later Alex and Tony are on an all-expenses-included jaunt paid for by a company eager to build an hotel on some nice unspoiled beaches.

The afflicted isle is pretty much as imagined, and the lads aren’t expecting much more than sand, sunburn and poking an adder with a high-tech stick. They couldn’t be more wrong…

This sucker is big, it’s proper supernatural and the natives aren’t especially keen to see some outsiders trying to kill it with flamethrowers and explosives…

Ranging from wryly trenchant to outright hilarious, this funny foray into fantastic worlds and humdrum zero-hours Contretemps of the Unknown promises to be another superb and unmissable treat.

© 2015 Luke Melia.
Self published and available to buy on Amazon in print and also as a PDF version to buy on Luke’s gumroad page ( https://gumroad.com/lukemelia) at “pay whatever you want – even free”.

Small Press Sundays

I started out in this game a little bit after the last Ice Age ended, making minicomics, collaborating on fanzines and concocting stripzines with fellow weirdoes, outcasts and comics addicts. Even today, seeing the raw stuff of creativity in hand-crafted paper pamphlets still gets me going in ways that threatens my tired old heart…

With that in mind here’s a selection of tantalising treats that have landed in my review tray recently…

Oink: Heaven’s Butcher


By John Mueller (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-590-0

From 1995 to 2000 budding artistic talent John Mueller produced a couple of miniseries for Kitchen Sink Press which became lost classics. Two decades later and now a far more seasoned creator, Mueller has returned to his first work, tinkering, tweaking and visually remastering it into an eye-popping painted saga of depravity, oppression, rebellion and survival for a new generation of fans.

The tale is brutally simple and begins in ‘Awakenings’ as a seasoned and unrepentant killer on Death Row unburdens himself to a concerned and devout cleric…

Once upon a time in a devastated, dystopian world, a slave in Public Slaughterhouse 628 began to think and to question. He wondered especially why the hogs he carved up for his and his masters’ nourishment looked so much like him and his fellow workers.

The crushing religious dogma and vicious punishments meted out by the Warden Superior and his cruelly bullying Angels offered no answers. Neither masters nor slaves had ever heard words like “gene-splicing” or “DNA”, which had worked arcane magic creating a separate species halfway between pigs and humans…

One day however, weary old worker Spigot screamed the questions Oink had painfully learned not to… and paid a terrible price…

In his dreams Oink had a vision of a god far different from the one he had been programmed to believe in. Realising he had been made as a cog in a horrible machine he took up his slaughter axe and decided to change his world one human at a time.

Of course he soon found ways to speed up the process – such as burning down the monstrous meat factory he was reared in…

‘Lies’ found him as the only subject of conversation in the houses of the unholy where the Warden ushers Judas and his savage posse the Angels of Mercy into the sanctum of the puissant Cardinal Bacaar. That formidable ecclesiastic is in every respect the creator and guiding light of this brutal existence…

As the rebel pig-man explores the world beyond the slaughterhouse he is soon cornered by the sadistic hunters, but the Angels have never faced a fugitive like Oink before and he quickly defeats and escapes them.

His flight takes him deep into the industrialised wasteland beyond church confines where he is taken in by an old woman named Mary and her hulking maimed and mute grandson Herbert.

She had been brutally blinded by the new regime but all their tactics haven’t robbed her of the memories of how the world used to be. She begins teaching Oink of the scientific travesties Cardinal Bacaar created, but neither the vengeful rebel nor Herbert are there when Judas and the Angels burst in and end her…

Pushed beyond all reason and tantalised by truths just out of reach, Oink – with the heartbroken Herbert at his side – determines to take the battle to the technological devil priest and liberate his own people from further horror in ‘Pigs’.

The suicide raid on the Cardinal’s Birthing Factory is ruthless and appallingly effective but it is only the penultimate step. There is still Bacaar to deal with and that can only end one way…

Harsh, barbarous, oppressive and Orwellian (as much Animal Farm as 1984), the slight narrative and familiar premise here is successfully bolstered by stunning artwork from Mueller, and this anniversary edition also includes his phenomenal ‘Oink Sketchbook’ featuring dozens of images over twelve pages of pencil drawings, painted roughs, panel details and more, plus ten further pig picture portraits in the ‘Oink Pin-up Gallery’ by Mueller, Tomoslav Torjanac, Justin “Coro” Kaufman, Mica Hendricks, Jason Minauro, Brett Parson and Nate Van Dyke.
© 1995, 2015 John Mueller. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 11: Seasons


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-375-8

Usagi Yojimbo first appeared in Stan Sakai’s The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, in 1984’s furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk-fest Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He soon graduated to a stirring solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and Munden’s Bar back-up strips in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Sakai was two years old, the family moved from Kyoto, Japan to Hawaii. Growing up in a cross-cultural paradise he graduated from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, before leaving the state to pursue further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, inspirationally transforming a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a peripatetic Lord-less samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (a bodyguard-for-hire – and, while we’re at it, “Usagi” literally translates as “rabbit”), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Edo Period of Japan – roughly 16th and 17th century AD by our reckoning – whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi to Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, considerate, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the tenets of Bushido, he is simply unable to turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

This evocative and enticing eleventh monochrome medieval masterpiece gathers Dark Horse Comics’ Usagi Yojimbo comicbook (volume 3) #7-12, and the hue-less, line art contents of Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #4 (Green Persimmon).

Following a fondly effusive Introduction from cartoonist Lynn (For Better or For Worse) Johnston, the ever-unfolding adventure resumes with ‘The Withered Field’ as our wandering hero watches swordmaster Nakamura Koji. The former fencing instructor to Lord Hikiji wants to test himself against Ueno, head of the Surodoi School, but the master is absent and his arrogant, haughty students refuse to summon him despite the old man’s succession of victories against them all…

Usagi had also desired to test his skills but instead listens to the incredibly dexterous Koji’s tragic story. Once an important warrior of impeccable status, he was bested in a duel by an unconventional itinerant samurai who rejected the traditional forms of fencing.

Shamed by the defeat Koji took up the Warrior’s Pilgrimage, travelling the land testing and perfecting his skill whilst preparing for a rematch.

As they chat sixteen Surodoi students ambush them, resolved to excise their failure by killing the wanderers. United against the dishonourable attackers, Usagi and Koji efficiently despatch them all and the swordmaster comments on his new friend’s unique combat style…

Once, Miyamoto was simply the son of a small-town magistrate before spending years learning the Way of Bushido from a stern, leonine master who was as much hermit as teacher. The lad learned not just superior technique and tactics, but also Katsuichi’s creed of justice and restraint which would serve him well throughout his turbulent life…

When Ueno returns he is outraged by his disciples’ presumption and further incensed after finding the bodies of his prodigal pupils. He seeks out Koji and finds him calmly walking with a rabbit ronin. Determined to restore his good name, he grants Koji the long-deferred honour of a duel…

The battle is a wonder of form, grace and precision but upon its grisly conclusion the victorious Koji turns upon Usagi. Having seen his companion fight, the swordmaster has recognised the style which defeated him so long ago and must test himself against it once more.

Unable to dissuade him, the rabbit gives his utmost but is resoundingly defeated. Koji has no intention of killing him and instead tasks Usagi with carrying a message and challenge to his reclusive sensei: the triumphant swordmaster will meet Katsuichi a year hence at a specified place to decide finally and forever whose skill is the greatest…

‘A Promise in the Snow’ then sees the rabbit rover stumble upon a robbery and prevent the death of a merchant. The trader is grievously wounded however and his little daughter Fumiye begs the ronin to carry the rapidly expiring Araki to his home a half-day’s journey away.

The task is an arduous one over avalanche-prone mountains with starving wild beasts and numbing cold sapping his energies and good intentions with every step. Despite nigh-overwhelming odds little Fumiye insistently urges Usagi on, but when he finally brings Araki to safety the rescuer receives a stunning shock…

Political intrigue blossoms once again when a wounded messenger carrying an astounding document staggers into a temple in ‘The Conspiracy of Eight’. Inside Usagi is visiting his new friend Sanshobo and is present when the priest finds a pledge signed by eight High Lords agreeing to rise up against the Shogun. The messenger wears the livery of “Shadow Lord” Hikiji and has been struck down by assassin’s arrows…

Ambitious Hikiji’s name is not amongst the signatories and his role in the scheme cannot be guessed, but Sanshobo knows that the letter will result in great bloodshed whether the conspirators, Shadow Lord or Shogun possesses it. Proof of his contention comes when a band of samurai lay siege to the temple compound, demanding the surrender of the messenger…

As snows fall and temperatures plummet, priest, postulants and ronin enact a furious defence of the sanctuary but ultimately a lone ninja steals the document and brings it to an unsuspected fourth party with her own reasons for keeping it quiet.

Neko ninja clan-chief Chizu secretly prays that this time her erstwhile ally Usagi will keep his nose out of her business …

‘Snakes and Blossoms’ offers a brace of flashback tales wherein the Yojimbo, calmly recuperating as Sanshobo’s guest, finds a moment to share some old stories with his new friend.

‘Hebi’ harks back to a time when the ronin and his crusty companion Gennosuké (an irascibly bombastic, money-mad, bounty-hunting, conniving thief-taking rhino with a heart of gold) were caught in a storm and took shelter in an almost abandoned temple. Gen had to kill a huge, vicious snake to get there but once inside things became even more dangerous as the beast’s demon wife impersonated a nun to get close enough to exact vengeance…

A far more educational parable follows as ‘The Courage of the Plum’ reveals how impulsive student Usagi learned a life-lesson from Katsuichi-sensei one cold spring just as the winter snows began to melt…

After a rousing pin-up the drama recommences with ‘Return to Adachi Plain’ (inked by Sergio Aragonés) as the perpetual nomad’s path brings him back to the battlefield where his karma was decided forever…

Mere months after completing his tutelage with Katsuichi, Usagi was recruited to the personal retinue of Great Lord Mifunė. He advanced quickly and was soon a trusted bodyguard too, serving beside the indomitable and legendary Gunichi. It was a time of great unrest and war was brewing…

In his third year of service, the castle was attacked by Neko ninja assassins and, although the doughty heroes managed to save their master, the Lord’s wife Kazumi and heir Tsuruichi were murdered. Realising ambitious rival Lord Hikiji was responsible, Mifunė declared war…

The epic conflict ended on the great Adachigahara Plain when Mifunė’s general Todo switched sides and the betrayed Great Lord fell. At the crucial moment Gunichi also broke, fleeing to save his own skin and leaving Usagi to preserve the fallen Lord’s head – and honour – from shameful desecration…

With no master to serve, Usagi became a ronin and began his endless Warrior Pilgrimage…

Far away another portentous interlude occurs as a simple peasant is saved by a dark stranger from a cruel and murderous samurai as they all shared passage between islands in ‘The Crossing’.

Jei is a veritable devil in mortal form, believing himself a “Blade of the Gods”, chosen by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The maniac makes a convincing case: when he first met Usagi the diabolical spearman was struck by lightning and still survived.

Still pursuing his crusade against evil, Jei has adopted an orphan girl Keiko to aid him, but after saving a life he then perceives it to be an evil one too – as apparently is every other passenger on the unlucky vessel…

A fascinating exploration of warrior spirit is depicted as a defeated general goes deep undercover as farmer in ‘The Patience of the Spider’. Ikeda and his most trusted lieutenants survived the fall of their Lord, adopted a peasant lifestyle and are biding their time until they can rise again to expunge their shameful defeat.

But months turn to decades and the General fully grows into his new role – perhaps too much so…

Usagi resurfaces again when a band of cutthroats at an inn initially select him as a prospective victim before switching sights to another, more affluent-seeming traveller. The rogues soon learn the error of their ways as the enigmatic Oyama Tadanori wipes them out with ease.

Later the stranger encounters Usagi and the ronin recognises ‘The Lord of the Owls’ as an infamous cursed warrior reputed to be able to see death in a person’s eyes. He is not happy to hear the taciturn figure warn him that they will meet again…

More secrets of the Conspiracy of Eight are revealed in ‘The First Tenet’ when Chizu’s deputy Kagemaru exposes her part in the incriminating letter’s theft to Hikiji’s untrustworthy facilitator Lord Hebi. Infuriatingly some wily ninja has doctored the document and the conspirators remain practically anonymous…

Later, as Hebi’s entourage is attacked by assassins, Kagemaru just happens to be nearby with a band of faithful ninjas who rapidly despatch the assailants. It’s not so much the surprise of the counterattack that routs the rogues as shock that the man who hired them is now leading the defence of Hebi…

Attention returns to the Yojimbo as he passes the devastated mansion of Lady Takagi and recalls how, in the aftermath of the Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, he, Gen and female warrior Tomoe were rushing back to inform benevolent young Lord Noriyuki that the crisis had been averted.

After battling their way past hostile forces they were offered a night’s respite by the noble lady but ‘The Obakéneko of the Geishu Clan’ was a were-beast intent on murder and worse and it took all the ronin’s might and plenty of luck to survive until daylight…

The spellbinding storytelling concludes with espionage mystery ‘Green Persimmon’ as a dying samurai of Noriyuki’s Geishu clan entrusts Usagi with a strangely glazed ceramic fruit which simply must reach the young Lord at all costs.

The fragile porcelain artefact attracts the attention of numerous thugs, cutthroats and hired killers but as the Yojimbo carves his way across the country he is unable to fathom its purpose. Only when he meets Tomoe does the Green Persimmon surrender its incredible secret…

This medieval monochrome masterwork concludes with a ‘Gallery’ of seven superb covers to wrap things up with artistic aplomb.

Despite changing publishers a few times the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with over 30 books and collections so far. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, Usagi Yojimbo also bristles with tension and thrills and frequently breaks your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, it is the perfect comics epic: a monolithic magical saga of irresistible appeal to delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened haters of “funny animal” stories.
© 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004 Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

The Chronicles of Legion volume 2: The Spawn of Dracula


By Fabien Nury, Mario Alberti, Zhang Xiaoyu & Tirso translated by Virgine Selavy (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-094-8

The epic war between immortal blood-drenched brothers continues in the second translated volume of Fabien (Once Upon a Time in France, I Am Legion) Nury’s inspired reinvigoration of the Dracula legend, with illustrators Mario Alberti, Zhang Xiaoyu and Tirso Cons each allocated a separate epoch of the centuries-spanning and intertwined vendetta.

The dread duel began in 2011 as Les Chroniques de Legion: a generational saga which put a new spin on the monster-myth, and The Spawn of Dracula further unravels a triptych of mysteries…

What You Need to Know: Vlad Tepes Dracula and his brother Radu possess the power to extend their lives beyond apparent death. Their consciousnesses are carried in their blood and by transferring the potent ichor to other living beings they can possess and dominate any number of victims infinitely.

Both have lived for centuries and for all that time they have hated each other…

Here the story expands in three theatres of war with their unceasing attempts to destroy each other centred in three separate eras, but rather than disparate clashes over time and space these duels are all part of an extended and never-ending campaign of terror with mere mortals their callously disposable tools, weapons and cannon fodder…

The opening act occurs in 1885 as gambling addict and thorough swine Victor Douglas Thorpe enters the palatial home of reclusive immensely wealthy aristocratic Lord Byron Cavendish. Should the upcoming interview go well the impoverished cad will soon be heir to the largest fortune in the Empire…

The conference goes exactly as the unseen benefactor intends. When the successful applicant returns to London, he bears a strange red mark and is no longer Victor Douglas Thorpe…

Centuries earlier in 1521, Gabriella, Doña Del La Fuente bore the same scarlet sigil as she was escorted through the green hell of the New World to a meeting with powerfully placed future husband Hernan Torres.

Guided by the conquistador’s enticingly masculine mulatto bastard Martin, the Doña’s party – rough soldier, cloying Spanish priests, avaricious self-important dignitaries and her loyal bodyguard Carlos – slowly make their way through the jungles until an uncanny sense warns of danger ahead.

Seconds later they are attacked by a horde of natives who seem immune to pain and mortal harm, fighting on even after holed by musket fire or even beheaded.

Moments before her body’s imminent demise Gabriella recognises her brother’s bloodmark on an attacker’s neck and, even as faithful, steadfast Carlos comes to her rescue, Vlad realises Radu has beaten her to this new continent and made himself at home.

Miles away, seeing through the dying eyes of his puppets, the other undying scion of Transylvania screams in fear and fury…

With daylight the much-diminished party struggles on towards Torres’ citadel and half-constructed cathedral with the bride-to-be increasingly succumbing to lust as she cares for her wounded and septic future son-in-law.

Once inside the Mission she is forced back into the role of diffident contract-bride, but Hernan Torres is no easy man to love. His thoughts are solely of preserving a legacy and creating a legitimate dynasty, and her bringing more grasping priests and fanatical Inquisitors to plague him has not endeared her to the Great Man.

Reduced to the status of closeted brood-mare, Gabriella has Carlos capture a huge eagle and, by allowing it to bite her, gains a mighty avian frame from which to view the world and survey her own inexorable rise to power…

As he slowly recovers Martin too falls under her spell, but this bewitching has nothing to do with her blood…

In late 19th century England an aristocrat’s estate burns in a vast and deliberate conflagration but the new Lord has no regrets and looks only forward, never back.

In 1812 a band of deserters from Napoleon’s army have reached Targovishte. Armand Malachie has led his faithful subordinates Kholya, Stern, Hartmann and Feraud to the Wallachian Mountains in search of the Lost Treasure of Vlad Dracula Tepes but the long-suffering peasants there quickly recognise who the dashing French Hussar is carrying inside him…

When an innkeeper passes on a message from Radu, arrogant Vlad disregards it but later engages in a pointless clash with a band of Cossacks which leads to the death of his mortal host…

As his men abandon his corpse to the snows, the embarrassed immortal summons his fading strength to reanimate the cadaver and follow in search of a new meat-home…

And in 1887 Victor Douglas Thorpe attends the funeral of his so-suddenly and suspiciously deceased benefactor and is accosted by the woman who carries his unborn child. Her entreaties go unacknowledged and, as he is driven away in his livered carriage, she bitterly damns him…

To Be Continued…

Unfolding in a luxurious oversized (211 x 282mm) full-colour hardback, superbly illustrated and beguiling told, this intoxicatingly absorbing jigsaw of terror and tragedy is a stunning and ambitious treat for all fans of fang and fear…
The Chronicles of Legion and all contents © Éditions Glénat 2011. Translated edition © Titan Comics, 2015

Iron Man 2.0 volume 1: Palmer Addley is Dead


By Nick Spencer, Barry Kitson, Kano, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ariel Olivetti & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3685-9

Supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his 1963 debut when, as a VIP visitor in a conflict zone observing the efficacy of weaponry he had designed, the arch-technocrat wünderkind was critically wounded and captured by a local warlord.

Put to work with the spurious promise of medical assistance upon completion, Stark instead built an electronic suit to keep his heart beating and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a small jump into a second career as a high-tech Knight in Shining Armour…

Ever since then the former armaments manufacturer has been a liberal capitalist, eco-warrior, space pioneer, civil servant, statesman, and even spy-chief: Director of the world’s most scientifically advanced spy agency, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.

For most of that period his best friend and frequent stand-in was James Rhodes, a former military man who acted as pilot, bodyguard, advisor, co-conspirator and occasional necessary conscience. “Rhodey” actually replaced Iron Man when Stark succumbed to alcoholism and eventually carved out his own chequered career as remorseless mechanised warrior and weapon of last resort War Machine

Along the way disagreements became fights and one day the pilot had enough and quit, going back into military service…

During the time when the Federal initiative known as the Super-Human Registration Act led to Civil War between costumed heroes, Stark was appointed the US government’s Security Czar: a “top cop” in sole charge of a beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom, tasked with overseeing every aspect of the legislation’s enactment. He became the absolute last word in all matters involving the USA’s vast metahuman community…

However his mismanagement of a succession of crises led to the arrest and assassination of Captain America and an unimaginable escalation of global tension and destruction, culminating in a so-nearly successful Secret Invasion by shape-shifting alien Skrulls.

Discredited and ostracised, Stark was replaced by ostensibly rehabilitated super-villain Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin), who assumed full control of America’s covert agencies and paramilitary resources.

Osborn disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed the nation under the aegis of his new umbrella organisation H.A.M.M.E.R. Publicly acclaimed as a recovering schizophrenic, he was still a deranged monster at his core and craved total power. Intending to appropriate all Stark’s resources, the “reformed” villain began stripping all of the ex-Avenger assets; financial, technological and even psychological.

Terrified that his weaponry and files – containing the secret identities of almost all of Earth’s heroes – would fall into a ruthless maniac’s hands, Stark systematically erased all his databases and did the same to his own memories, effectively lobotomising himself to save everything before going on the run in a hopeless but valiant attempt to give his few remaining allies time to pull off a miracle…

Spinning out of Iron Man #500 and the fall of Norman Osborn, this compilation reveals a reconciliation and bold new start for Stark’s ferociously independent ally James Rhodes as Iron Man: 2.0 #1-7 (April to September 2011, and scripted throughout by Nick Spencer) deals with the aftermath of the villain’s defeat in a prologue from Iron Man #500, illustrated by Barry Kitson, with colours from Matthew Wilson.

The tantalising flashback-riddled teaser finds the embattled Rhodey explaining a recent defeat – resulting in being caught in a nuclear detonation (by no means his first one!) – to his military supervisor General Babbage, whilst inter-cutting to scenes of rapprochement with Stark. This dual conference leads to the promise of a brand new suit of super-armour for the embattled veteran…

Iron Man: 2.0 #1-4 and ‘Palmer Addley is Dead’, (art by Kitson, Kano, Carmine Di Giandomenico & Wilson) begins prior to the prologue as Babbage orders his private War Machine to quell a series of baffling security glitches by leading with a rather hostile team of contracted investigators.

All the problems involve nanotech and programs devised by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) emergent-technology specialist Palmer Addley and each failure can only be sabotage. Addley looks like the only suspect for the global systems meltdown but, as he very publicly committed suicide six months previously, that’s a hard conclusion to prove…

Moreover each successive failure benefits assorted terrorist groups and Rhodey has been called in to provide some outside-the-box thinking. Just how outside is hard to imagine: the army have already consulted ultimate inventor Reed Richards, mutant telepaths from the X-Men and even Doctor Strange… just in case Addley’s ghost was the culprit…

After lengthy and diligent consideration of all the facts, Rhodey can only conclude that somewhere, Palmer Addley is still alive…

And in Ann Arbor, Michigan a quiet unassuming mom puts the finishing touches to the super-weapon she’s built in her garage…

When another terrorist strike wipes out Camp Liberty Victory Base in Baghdad, Rhodey calls in old associate Suzi Endo – über-hacker and former superhero Cybermancer – to give his team a few pointers on Extreme Data-Mining. Her contributions soon have War Machine jetting to an off-the-books Russian science city and into a trap.

On arrival, Rhodey finds all the military personnel slaughtered before being jumped by a figure who disables him with shocking ease. Warning him to tell his masters that “Palmer Addley is Dead”, the stranger detonates a nuke…

The third chapter opens five days later with Rhodes savagely wounded but slowly recovering from catching the edge of the blast as Stark’s factotum Pepper Potts takes over the case. The CEO of Stark Resilient has used her company’s phenomenal resources and discovered everything Babbage and the army knew about the dead technologist is a lie…

With Babbage cowed and SR now a fully accredited Private Security Contractor, Pepper transfers money and resources to Rhodey’ team and soon naive Kaylie Doran has been granted “eyes-only” access to Addley’s actual background file…

Elsewhere Stark and Rhodey are in conference and the result is the scrapping of War Machine. In its place the ultimate survivor is offered a unique, cutting-edge armour system that will make him truly Iron Man: 2.0…

The concluding chapter is illustrated by incoming regular artist Ariel Olivetti and finds Kaylie at the most secure records room in America to discover exactly what kind of brilliant sociopath the military hired to create weapons for them.

Apparently even after his High School killing spree, the boy’s talents were considered too important to waste…

With Palmer Addley still at large in some manner, matters of more pressing importance suddenly impinge and the remainder of this collection focuses on Rhodey’s part in cosmic event Fear Itself

Marvel’s 2011 multi-part, inter-company braided mega-saga revealed how an ancient Asgardian menace resurfaced, possessing a band of the planet’s mightiest mortals – good or evil – via mystic hammers and compelling them to wreak unimaginable death and destruction on the global population whilst he/it drank the terror the rampages generated.

Still illustrated by Olivetti, the story starts in the Chinese Hell known as The Eighth City where legendary Monkey King Sun Wukong is distracted from his usual entertainments by the thunderous arrival of a monstrous mallet which shatters the gate to the living world as well as much of the infernal metropolis…

In Washington DC, freshly kitted-out wonder warrior Jim Rhodes has joined other heroes to help with that city’s hammer-fuelled catastrophe. He is soon distracted by old comrade and martial arts paragon John Aman, Prince of Orphans who warns him of an even greater need for champions elsewhere.

With Hell ruptured, mystic guardians and Immortals Weapons Fat Cobra, Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother #1, Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter, The Immortal Iron Fist and Aman have been summoned to close the breach as it pours demons into downtown Beijing. However the mystic force policing the crisis has also arbitrarily included Iron Man: 2.0 in the preferred response team…

Iron Fist is already there, barely surviving against hammer-reforged amazon Titania and her brutal paramour Crusher Creel. The Absorbing Man is frantically demanding his transformative mallet but cannot find it. The sticky-fingered Sun Wukong has filched the colossal talisman and isn’t prepared to release his latest toy to anyone…

With the world shattering under twin assaults, the Immortal Weapons are keen to end the infernal incursion, but before they can send the demons back they first have to get Creel and Titania out of the Capital City of Hell…

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, another mystic mastermind is covertly manipulating events, the only one aware that Iron Fist has been possessed by an entirely different menace. Happily for Earth, Jim Rhodes and his modern martial technology don’t depend on hocus-pocus to solve world-threatening problems…

Brash, gripping, action-packed and stuffed with tense suspense, this splendid high-tech Fights ‘n’ Tights reboot comes with a covers-&-variants gallery by Salvador Larroca, Dheeraj Verma, Marko Djurdjevic, Frank D’Armata, Sebastian Fiumara & Wilson, a picture-packed potted history of Jim Rhodes career by John Rhett Thomas and original ink art pages by Kitson.
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Long John Silver volume II: Neptune


By Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-072-6

British and European comics have always been far more comfortable with period-piece strips than our American cousins and much more imaginative when reinterpreting classical fiction for jaded comicbook audiences. The happy combination of familiar exoticism, past lives and world-changing events blended with drama, action and, most frequently, broad comedy has resulted in a uniquely narrative art form suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes.

Our Franco-Belgian brethren in particular have made an astonishing success out of repackaging days-gone-by but this particularly enchanting older-readers yarn forgoes the broad bellylaughs whilst extending the adventures of literature’s greatest rogue into a particularly engaging realm of globe-girdling thriller.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was originally serialised from 1881-1882 in Young Folks magazine as Treasure Island or, the mutiny of the Hispaniola, pseudonymous penned by one “Captain George North”.

It was collected and published as a novel in May 1883 and has never been out of print since. A landmark of world storytelling, Treasure Island has been dramatised too many times to count and adapted into all forms of art. Most significantly, the book created a metafictional megastar – albeit at best an anti-hero – as immortal as King Arthur, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan or Superman. Almost everything the public “knows” about pirates devolves from the book and its unforgettable, show-stealing one-legged star…

Writer Xavier Dorison was born in Paris in 1970 and graduated business school before moving into storytelling. He works as an author, film writer, lecturer and movie script doctor. He began the award-winning Long John Silver in conjunction with preferred collaborator Mathieu (Prophet) Lauffay in 2006, with the last volume released in 2013.

Lauffay is also a Parisian born in 1970. He spends his days illustrating, drawing comics, crafting RPGs and working as a concept designer for movies. His art has graced such international items as Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars franchise, games like Alone in the Dark, the album Lyrics Verdun, February 21, 1916 – December 18, 1916, Tarzan and many more…

Their continuation of the piratical prince is a foray into far more mature arenas set some years after the affair of the Hispaniola and ranges far and wide: from foggy, oppressive England to the vast, brooding inner recesses of the Amazon.

What has Gone Before: 1785 and treasure-hunting Lord Byron Hastings has finally found the lost city of Guiana-Capac but now needs further funds to exploit this promising City of Gold.

In England, his profligate and wanton wife Lady Vivian has been enjoying herself too much and is with child by lecherous neighbour Lord Prisham. With a baby in her belly and a husband gone three years, she is considering having Byron declared dead and undertaking a hasty remarriage…

Suddenly shattering those plans is her despised brother-in-law who turns up with an old native named Moxtechica bearing a message and map from her long-lost husband. Prudish and cruel Royal Naval officer Edward Hastings delights in telling the scheming strumpet he abhors that his brother has succeeded and now orders her to sell everything… including all the treasured family possessions, manor house and lands she brought to the marriage…

Byron has named Edward sole Proxy and the martinet delights in giving the high-born trollop Vivian her marching orders. He strongly urges her to confine herself to a convent and save them all further shame and disgrace…

Raging in front of her conniving maid Elsie, the Lady considers a number of retaliatory tactics before settling upon the most bold, dangerous and potentially rewarding. After announcing to the stunned Edward that she will accompany him to South America and reunite with her beloved husband, the fallen noblewoman seeks out a doctor to take care of the “problem” she is – for the moment at least – still secretly carrying…

Dr. Livesay is a decent, god-fearing soul who has led a quiet, prosperous life since his adventures on Flint’s Island. However, it is not her current condition which has brought Vivian to the physician’s door, but rather persistent tales of a scurrilous former acquaintance; a formidable, peg-legged rogue with a reputation for making life’s difficulties disappear…

Against his better judgement, Livesay capitulates to Lady Vivian’s urgings, introducing her to retired sea-cook John Silver. Amidst the (alleged) ex-pirate’s inner circle of scary-looking confederates she relates the story of the Spaniard Pizarro’s discovery of a City of Gold and how, centuries later, her husband has reclaimed it.

The rest of her sorry tale tumbles out. She plans to travel there with a few capable men – and the far-from-willing Elsie – to make those riches her own. She needs Silver and his colleagues to infiltrate Edward’s crew, seize the ship he has chartered and complete the voyage under her command…

Unable to convince Vivian to desist or Silver to reject her offer, Livesay reluctantly joins them in vain hopes that he can keep the debased woman from mortal harm. Silver is hiding a debilitating and soon-to-be-fatal case of malaria, but still orchestrates his own hiring before packing the Neptune with suitable scoundrels and compelling Lady Vivian to sign a sacrosanct Pirates Contract. With all the various schemers believing their own plans are proceeding satisfactorily, the Neptune sets off for the Americas, but at the last moment Silver suffers a major setback when rival rogue Paris inveigles his way into the crew…

Volume two commences with the voyage well under way and the crew – Silver’s men, Paris’ contingent and even Captain Edward Hastings’ innocent hires – all slowly succumbing to the Sea Cook’s glib tongue and fascinating tales of the Red Brotherhood. Only Hastings’ lieutenants Dantzig and Van Horn have any inkling of the battle of wills occurring below decks, but the shaky détente is shattered after duplicitous Elsie tries to expose Lady Vivian’s plans only to suffer a tragic “accident” when a huge load of storage barrels falls upon her.

Hastings knows all too well that his ship is filled with men just waiting for him to pilot them to the mouth of incomprehensible wealth. Thus he rules with a rod of iron and full naval discipline just to stay alive.

Boy seaman Jack O’Kief is a protégé of Paris, but Silver has developed a fondness for the lad. That relationship is tested to the limit when Hastings declares Jack responsible for the maid’s death and has him brutally flogged to force the Sea Cook’s hand.

A vicious and prolonged battle of wills follows, pushing the crew to the edge of mutiny as Hastings stalls in making final landfall and Jack’s life slowly ebbs away…

Tensions come to a tragic head as a colossal storm pushes the Neptune inexorably towards its foregone destination and another death sparks the inevitable mutiny, appalling bloodshed and a red-handed settling of many scores…

Literally above it all, the shaman Moxtechica rides out the tempest above and the savage battle of the white men below, patiently waiting to see what the calm of dawn will bring…

To Be Continued…

Tense, evocative, suspenseful and shockingly powerful, these further exploits of Long John Silver are a modern masterpiece of adventure fiction worthy of Stevenson’s immortal adventure which should even convince a few more folks to actually read the original novel. © Darguad, Paris, 2008 by Dorison & Lauffray. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

Lenore: Pink Bellies


By Roman Dirge (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-131-0

Lenore is a sweet little girl who has cute, if somewhat surreal, little adventures. Did I mention that she is also dead and has been for quite some time? Well she is, and her friends are just as outré…

Wittily weird, aggressively eccentric and darkly hilarious comic strips featuring this edgy little charmer and her fluctuating coterie of arcane acquaintances have been entertaining audiences since 1992 when she first appeared in San Diego’s alternative arts magazine Xenophobe.

Slave Labor Graphics picked up “the Cute Little Dead Girl” and featured her eerie escapades in a proper comicbook from February 1998 to July 2007, which led to a series of 26 Flash-animation shorts on Sony’s ScreenBlast website in 2002. There’s toys, game merchandising stuff and a movie in the works…

In 2009 Titan Comics took up the publishing option on Lenore’s uniquely unreal print excursions and have subsequently repackaged and remastered her entire career in a series of hardcover chronicles.

This sixth collection (re-presenting issues #8-11 of the second volume) offers more mercurial madness and even an origin of sorts which all begins after an elucidatory Introduction from current editor David Leach, describing the author’s creative process. ‘Some Things Are Best Left Unseen’ highlights a big change in status for Lenore and her most enduring associates. Former vampire and current not-so-cuddly toy Ragamuffin, bucket-headed demon/on-sabbatical bounty hunter Pooty Applewater and indescribably enigmatic arms-length protector Taxidermy have been with the beguiling tot for ages now…

Lenore died a hundred years ago in the little town of Nevermore but Taxidermy’s story begins much earlier: either in 1880 when a very foolish French archaeologist opened the wrongest tomb in Egypt or else millennia before that when the almighty gods locked one of their own exalted pantheon within it.

Taxen-Ra was a small god dedicated to avenging small wrongs done to children. Over centuries he became busier redressing balances and grew mightier with each punishment, but eventually he was forgotten until a plague wiped out so many young ones that he snapped…

Determined to wreak bloody vengeance on everyone who had allowed children to suffer he attacked his fellow deities and had to be put away forever…

Once fame-hungry modern historians freed him, however, he resumed his task: an impossibly efficient serial killer dubbed “Orphanage” who slaughtered the parents and guardians of abused kids all over the world…

Now TV ghost-hunting show Ghosty Toasty has tracked Orphanage to Nevermore, and a dilapidated old house which none of the crew can see is occupied by a little dead girl and her friends.

Well, cameraman Big Joe can, but nobody will listen to him so he’s staying safely locked in the van whilst his butt-hole bosses all endure their well-deserved fates…

Always happy to indulge in a few high-spirited pranks and japes, the kids are blithely unaware that thanks to modern technology their antics as well as Taxidermy’s highly imaginative dispatch of the intruders has been streaming live to the entire planet…

More long-sought-for revelations are forthcoming in the three-chapter ‘Downfall’, beginning with ‘Part #1’ as the true circumstances of Lenore’s tragic demise are revisited.

The little miss quickly returned to her happy home after she passed and she has never accepted her beloved mama’s horrified rejection of her. All this time the frequently forgetful waif has been waiting for Mother’s inevitable return, unaware that Orphanage long ago ensured that it could never happen…

In the present – but over in France – a mysterious woman sends an army of well-equipped agents to capture Lenore and her chums but sadly the best that science and money can provide is less than effective against the unquiet – and rather mischievous – dead. The worst that happens is the pals experiencing the trippiest hallucination imaginable, before Lenore finds herself at the Rainbow Bridge explaining herself to every pet she’s ever accidentally killed (and in a century that’s a lot)…

The super-soldiers are just unleashing their next level of technological ingenuity when Taxidermy shows up, but before he can get going there’s a big bang and a couple of very annoyed Egyptian gods materialise…

‘Downfall Part #2: Downfall…ier’ escalates the craziness as Nevermore turns into a thaumaturgical ground zero impossible to describe, with outrageous gags trumping appalling supernatural carnage whilst Ragamuffin and Pooty argue over who’s going to tell Lenore the shocking secret they’ve just uncovered about her revenant rebirth…

Acting as grotesquely bad-taste scatological palate cleansers, short tales ‘Lenore in Old Mother Hubbard’ and ‘Lenore in Goldilocks and the 3 Bears’ gives those of us who still need oxygen a breathing space before everything comes to a spectacular conclusion in ‘Downfall Part #3: DownfalliestAlottaBunches’ with the warring gods ending their millennial duel in the only way they can before little Lenore reaches her own unique accommodation with all those unhappy inconvenient truths…

To Be Continued…

There’s still plenty of fun to be had however and ‘Bonus Section’ holds more variant and unused covers – 11 in total throughout this tome of terror – plus ‘inside cover-art’ from #8-11 and the death-affirming scene ‘Mr. Gosh Sucks’.

Also included is ‘Guest Art’ by Maxwell Vex, a crafty ‘Lenore Puppet Tutorial by Bonnie Burton’ (never run with scissors and be careful not to prick your fingers – you never knows who’s watching or hungry) and a selection of ‘Cover Concepts for #11’ closes out our Easter Eggs Incubated in Hell section…

Impossible to fairly describe but so absolutely necessary to read, these stories are richly dipped in the traditions of Charles Addams: scary, poignant, grossly frat-boy funny and appealing to the same skewed and twisted audiences who adore Jhonen Vasquez’s Squee! and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or goth-inspired series such as Gloom Cookie or Giffen & Roman’s i Luv Halloween – not to mention the animated films of Tim Burton.

These weird and wonderful fables are an unwholesome treat for those kids of all ages with a taste for the richer, darker and less wholesome flavours of life – and its inevitable end, if not cessation. Ever so much better for you than giving poisoned candy to kids who bang on your door.
Lenore is ™ & © 2015 Roman Dirge. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man Noir book 2: Eyes Without a Face


By David Hine & Carmine Di Giandomenico, with June Chung (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4450-2

When fictional heroes and villains become really popular – to the point where fans celebrate their births and deaths and dress up like them at the slightest opportunity or provocation – eventually a tendency develops to explore other potential character facets that the regular, cash-cow continuity might normally prohibit.

DC invented a whole company sub-strand of “Imaginary Stories” and Marvel asked “What If…?”, sharing glimpses of alternate realities. Even television series got into the act with shows like Star Trek, Roswell and Stargate SG-1 offering coolly jarring, different takes on their established stars and scenarios.

The nasty little gem of alternate continuity on view today stems from Marvel’s intriguing experiment of 2009 wherein many of their biggest stars were reconfigured and set back in time: populating a universe drenched in the tone, lore and ephemera of pulp fiction and Film Noir. This iconic 1930s milieu was a grim and grimy land where shiny gleaming super-powered heroes were replaced by stark, paranoid, deeply flawed and self-serving individuals just trying to get by as best they could…

Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without a Face is a sequel to an initial “origin” yarn and benefits from not having to explain or differentiate the so-similar seeming stars from the bastions of the regular continuity.

It ran as a 4-issue miniseries from February to May 2010, offering a glimpse into a moody world with no heroes, only varying shades of villainy. Nevertheless it still provides a satisfying slice of suspenseful entertainment for Fights ‘n’ Tights fans in search of something genuinely edgier than their regular fare. After all, the big draw for the jaded is that these folks might actually die and stay that way…

What You Need to Know: living in Depression-era New York City, the nephew of liberal activists Ben and May Parker was bitten by a strange tropical spider, developing rather strange attributes. The hot-headed radical used those newfound abilities and the files of reporter/extortionist Ben Urich to bring down the corrupt Mayor and his audacious criminal partner Norman Osborn AKA The Goblin.

Sadly the clearing-out of the town’s most powerful individuals only allowed a whole new echelon of murderous scum to come to the fore.

Now a junior photojournalist for the crusading Daily Bugle, Peter Parker moonlights as the trench-coated, wall crawling mystery man dubbed the Spider-Man, striving to keep the streets clean and give the little guys a break in an uncaring world of callous giants…

It all begins ‘Around Midnight’ in September 1933. The Spider-Man has prowled the dark streets for eight months but despite his best efforts crime is still rampant. Local Bureau of Investigation Chief Agent Jean De Wolfe is running out of informants as new underworld supremo Crime Master exerts growing control over the mobs, aided by his taciturn enforcer “The Sandman”.

When the Arachnid Avenger discovers a theatre full of slaughtered crooks he heads straight for his paramour and occasional ally Felicia Hardy, hopeful that she’s overheard something at her Black Cat Nightclub – a speakeasy regarded as neutral territory by crooks and cops alike.

She is less than forthcoming… at least with information…

Heading home to the Bowery Welfare Center in the grey morning light, Peter meets old friend and fellow agitator Robbie Robertson. The hothead is sounding off about new President Franklin Roosevelt and questioning how his proposed New Deal reforms will affect the situation of black people in America…

The brilliant and passionate young man works for the city’s segregated newspaper The Negro World and knows how things really work. Furthermore, Robbie shares with his old marching comrade suspicions that the government have something covert going on with prominent biologist Dr. Otto Octavius on Ellis Island. Being “a coloured”, Robbie has been refused an interview. Perhaps Peter could use his Bugle credentials to facilitate the matter?

Three days later the journalists are being greeted – albeit with exceeding different degrees of warmth – by the researcher’s assistant Curtis Connors before being ushered into a lab where wheelchair-bound and severely handicapped Octavius is finishing up appallingly sadistic experiments on a number of primates…

As they return to Manhattan, Robertson declares that something even worse is going on and resolves to go back for a look without the scientist’s Aryan-seeming minders tagging along. He doesn’t share his suspicions that the doctor’s passion for mind-control surgeries might be connected to a rash of disappearances of black citizens from Harlem…

‘Night Music’ follows escalating gang conflict as Crime Master tightens his stranglehold on the mobs and the Spider-Man spectacularly raids Harlem nightspot Seventh Heaven to discover what manager Fat Larry claims is just a faked-up dungeon room for clients with “exotic tastes”. It smells like the real thing to Peter…

Later, as Parker gloats over his first scoop for the Bugle, Robbie’s dad comes knocking. His proud, brilliant, too-inquisitive boy has gone missing…

Introducing his prospective daughter-in-law Gloria, the elder Robertson explains Robbie had been looking into reports of missing blacks and a possible white supremacy movement in New York. He was especially concerned about inroads into the government and possible links to Nazi Germany…

Having been roundly abused by the police when they tried to report him missing, the desperate family have come to Peter hoping he might have an idea.

He has only one and immediately rushes out to a nightclub in Harlem.

Elsewhere in town Octavius’ supplier of raw material and suitable test subjects is being carpeted by his clandestine backer Josef Ansell. Crime Master has no interest in the theories of the American Nazi party but revels in the power of his new position. He is not happy to hear his boss screaming over his performance and failure to deal with the Spider-Man.

Later, in the devil’s doctor’s fortress of obscene science, Octavius and Josef debate theories of racial purity and controlling the sub-human races through the creepily dispassionate butcher’s radical new surgical discovery. Today we call it lobotomising…

Berlin favours simply eradicating the lower orders but Octavius is convinced his scheme is better. Surely it’s more economically sensible to simply remove the capacity for rebellion and employ the sub-humans as tractable, ever-obedient slaves?

Considering the argument won he turns his attention back to Robbie, trussed up but awake on an operating table…

The Spider-Man, meanwhile, has reached Seventh Heaven to check out that dungeon again only to walk into a trap. Leading the overconfident army of thugs are Crime Master and his hulking Sandman, a brute seemingly oblivious to pain or injury…

Acting on a tip, De Wolfe and his team break in just in time to save the ambushed arachnoid from being beaten to death. As ‘Blues in the Night’ further unfolds, the battered vigilante shares his knowledge of the Negro disappearances and profound belief that Otto Octavius is behind them.

Still reeling, Peter then goes to Felicia for comfort and medical assistance but she can’t minister to him for long. She has a very important client coming who doesn’t like to share. However when she inadvertently questions her mystery high-roller about the Harlem abductions she tips her hand and the Crime Master sadistically makes her regret nosing into his business…

With his shielding veils of respectability and political secrecy tearing all around him, Josef frantically prepares to up stakes and relocate to somewhere more isolated and less troublesome like Tuskegee, Alabama, but the vengeful Arachnid is already deep within the Ellis Island facility and has seen what’s been done to Robbie…

The horrific pot of bubbling hatreds boil over in ‘Endless Night’ as obsessed Octavius rails against his backers whilst Crime Master and his goons ignore his protestations and get rid of the “livestock” and evidence of the doctor’s “scientific breakthroughs”.

By the time the Spider-Man joins the fight the supremacist thug and theoretician have almost killed each other but that doesn’t prevent the outraged avenger exacting his own measure of vengeance…

If he had known what Crime Master had left of Felicia, The Spider-Man might not have gone so easy on the monsters…

Bleak, gutsy, galvanising and trenchantly effective, this excellent period thriller by scripter David Hine & illustrator Carmine Di Giandomenico offers a stunningly suspenseful serving of dark drama and gripping action which would work equally well even if you had never heard of Marvel’s wondrous wallcrawler.

This pocketbook sized collection also includes a covers gallery by Di Giandomenico with variants by Dennis Calero as well as original art pages of variant options, inked art shot prior to the digital colouring stage and an extended script excerpt by Hine & Fabrice Sapolsky from issue #1, illustrated with character design sketches by Di Giandomenico.
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Comic Relief – Drawings from the Cartoonists Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project


By many and various (Henry Holt)
ISBN: 0-03-009093-8

No, not that one.

Once upon a time there was horrific famine and desperate privation in Africa – and gosh! How that’s changed! – so assorted talented people in the developed world organised themselves to raise money and help fix the immediate problem.

In Britain (Sir) Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure’s Band Aid set the ball rolling and USA for Africa swiftly followed as did many other projects across the wealthy bits of the world. The celebrity action promulgated the idea that us better-off folks – whether pop stars, plain Joe Public or even mere school pupils – could organise, contribute and save lives in deprived, impoverished or crisis-wracked parts of the planet: something governments had neither the stomach, resources nor political will to try…

The comicbook industry on both sides of the Atlantic joined the burgeoning movement, producing benefit publications such as Food For Thought, Heroes Against Hunger and Heroes For Hope, but to my mind the most impressive came from America’s newspaper cartoonist community.

In 1985 Milton Caniff, Charles Schulz and Garry Trudeau picked up their phones, wrote a few letters and talked to some friends and the Cartoonists Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project was born.

As explained in the Foreword by Kenny Rogers (spokesman for USA for Africa) and Trudeau’s own Introduction in this sparkling collection, the idea was to have cartoonists across the nation dedicate and tailor their regular strip or panel scheduled for publication on November 28th (Thanksgiving being a perennial event in US strips second only to Christmas Day) to highlight the famine in Africa.

The result was a universal and near-unanimous favourable response – with many politically astute gadflys also taking the opportunity to sock it to arch-conservative President Ronald Reagan who had ignominiously and disingenuously boasted at the time that “there is no hunger in America”…

Whether comedy asides, polemical statements, wry and trenchant barbs in humour strips or telling pokes and heartfelt pleas in drama and action strips, everybody involved turned their livelihoods into soapboxes and asked their readership to “do something…”

The move brought the problems of the world onto the traditionally turkey-laden tables of practically every home in the nation and whilst the net effect was impossible to gauge, a happy by-product was this powerfully evocative tome gathering a legion of brilliant creators and features ranging from global household names to purely local sensations all making a statement that needs repeating as much now as ever…

The sheer star-content is staggering and I’m going to list them all for their honourable service…

Hägar the Horrible by Dik Browne, Gasoline Alley – Dick Moores, Moon Mullins – Ferd & Tom Johnson, Howie by Howie Schneider, Drabble by Kevin Fagan, Robotman – Jim Meddick, The Far Side by Gary Larson, Ziggy by Tom Wilson, Motley’s Crew – Ben Templeton & Tom Forman, Wright Angles - Larry Wright, Steve Roper & Mike Nomad by Saunders & Matera and Babyman by Don Addis.

There’s The Family Circus by Bil Keane, Today’s World – David Brown, Captain Vincible by Ralph Smith, Tiger by Bud Blake, Steve Canyon from Caniff, Adam by Brian Basset, Cathy by Cathy Guisewite, Bringing Up Father by Frank Johnson, Marmaduke – Brad Anderson, (Ralph) Dunagin’s People, Sally Forth by Greg Howard, Agatha Crumm – Bill Hoest, Ellie by Ray Helle and Grubby by Warren Sattler.

A telling editorial panel from Caldwell and a Tom Key Hazel strip leads to Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker, Rose is Rose by Pat Brady and a staggeringly powerful assault on Reagonomics by Tony Auth from that day’s Philadelphia Enquirer, before Nancy by Jerry Scott, Alley Oop by Dave Graue, B.C. by Johnny Hart, Cheeverwood by Michael Fry and Jeff Danzinger’s McGonigle of the Chronicle pack on the pressure…

Those are followed by Scot Stantis’ Sydney, My Grandma… by Donna Sott, Bizarro by Dan Piraro, Popeye by Bud Sagendorf, The Crass Menagerie by Kyle Baker, Willie ‘n’ Ethel by Joe Martin, Leotoons by Leonard Bruce & Charles Durck, Boner’s Ark by Frank Johnson, Tim Tyler’s Luck by Bob Young, Benchley by Jerry Dumas & Mort Drucker and Ask Shagg by Peter Guren.

Jim Unger’s Herman is augmented by Brother Juniper from Fred McCarthy, Arlo and Janis by Jimmy Johnson, Captain Easy by Crooks & Casale, Crock by Bill Rechin & Don Wilder. Mr. Men & Little Miss by Hargreaves & Sellers, Shoe by Jeff McNally and Annie by Leonard Starr.

Bill Lee then shows how to fix the problem The Lee Way, after which Gino by Gene Machamer, Snake Tales by Sols, Mr. Abernathy by Frank Ridgeway, Miss Peach by Mell Lazarus, Eek & Meek by Howie Schneider and Brumsic Brandon Jr.’s Luther all contribute their own individualistic solutions.

Flash Gordon by Dan Barry, Belvedere by George Crenshaw, Off the Leash by W.B. Park, Sylvia by Nicole Hollander, The Small Society by Brickman and Yates, Winston by Burnett & Sajem, Hubert by Dick Winger, Ted Martin’s Pavlov and (Jim) Berry’s World all add fuel to the flames of indignation.

Further insights and titbits are offered by On the Fastrack by Bill Holbrook, Elwood (Templeton & Forman), John Darling by Batiuk & Shamray, Buz Sawyer by Jon Celardo, Henry by Dick Hodgins, Stockworth by Sterling & Selesnick, Grimsly by Harley Schwadron, Winetoons by Robert Platt and Spanish-language feature …Pero Pa’ Lante by Harold Jessurun.

Even more cartoon criticism comes from Funky Winkerbean by Tom Batiuk, Cooper by Mike Keefe & Tom Menees, Doctor Smock by George Lemont and an especially savage observation by Bill Day of the Detroit Free Press are followed by Miles to Go from Phil Frank, Executive Suite by William Wells & Jack Lindstrom, Brenda Starr by Ramona Fradon & Mary Schmich and The Underground Surrealists by Mick Cusimano.

Bob Schwete’s Laugh Time segues into historical panel Return With Us To… Caring (by Bill Owen & Don Sherwood) and a raucously potent Calvin and Hobbes outing from Bill Watterson, plus simian contemplation in William Overgards’s Rudy and subtly telling observations in Schulz’s Peanuts, Dahl Mikkelsens Ferd’nand, Buddy Hickerson’s The Quigmans and from Lee Holley’s teen queen Ponytail.

Dick Tracy is on the case thanks to Dick Lochner & Max Collins, as are Moose Miller by Bob Weber, the inimitable penguin Opus in Berke Breathed’s Bloom County, Animal Crackers by Roger Bollen, The Peter Principle by Peter & Wuerker, Good News – Bad News by Henry Martin, Jim Henson’s Muppets (by Guy & Brad Gilchrist), Downstown by Tim Downs, Arnold by Kevin McCormack and Twitch by How Rands.

Potently earnest pleas from K. Bowser’s Vidiots and Ed Morgan, Jr.’s It’s Just a Game are supplemented with Fenton by Wiley, Wee Pals by Morrie Turner, Farley by Phil Frank, Geech by Jerry Bittle, Frank and Ernest by Bob Thaves, Middle Ages by Ron Jaudon, The Better Half by Harris, Winnie Winkle by Frank Bolle, Marvin by Tom Armstrong and Stan Lee & Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man.

Still making a scene and making a point the cavalcade continues with Momma by Mell Lazarus, Virgil & Co. by Steve Ansul, Art Sansom’s The Born Loser, Stumpy Stumbler by Emil Abrahamian, Gumdrop by Jerry Scott, Sons of Liberty by Richard Lynn, Tank McNamara by Jeff Millar & Bill Hinds, Bears in Love by Eric Meese, Betty Boop and Felix by The Walker Brothers, Fred Basset by Alex Graham, Wizard of Id by Brant Parker & Johnny Hart and Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk & Fred Fredericks.

Perennial favourite Love Is… by Kim leads to Kit ‘n’ Carlyle by Larry Wright, Ug! by Tom Wilson Jr., The Phantom by Falk & Sy Barry, Sam and Silo by Jerry Dumas, Winthrop by Dick Cavalli, The Girls by Franklin Folger, THE Little MAN by Salmon, Hi and Lois by Mort Walker & Dik Browne, Rip Kirby by John Prentice & Fred Dickenson, Luann by Greg Evans and Russell Myers’ Perky & Beanz.

The damning testimony resumes with Judge Parker by Paul Nichols, The Evermores by Johnny Sajem, Garfield by Jim Davis, Conrad by Bill Schorr, Village Square by Chuck Stiles, ADventures by Vadun, Kudzu by Doug Marlette, Eb and Flo by Paul Sellers, For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston, Apartment 3-G by Alex Kotzky, Trudeau’s punishing Doonesbury of the day, Archie (by an unnamed artist who was probably Dan DeCarlo) and The Neighborhood by Jerry Van Amerongen.

Thereafter Jerry Mancus’ Trudy begins the final servings, followed by Nubbin from Boltinoff & Burnett, Secret Agent Corrigan by George Evans, Hartland by Rich Torrey, Brick Bradford by Paul Norris, Amy by Jack Tippet and a trenchant editorial panel by Ben Wicks.

Barney Google & Snuffy Smith by Fred Lasswell join the party, as do Tumbleweeds by Tom K. Ryan, Sugar by Robert Gill and the shopping list of public awareness picture-strips concludes with Peaches by Paul Ullrich, Blondie by Dean Young & Stan Drake, Quincy by Ted Shearer, Dollar$ and Non$en$e by Mankoff, Health Capsules by Michael A. Petti, M.D., Duffy by Bruce Hammond, Little Farmer by Kern Pederson, Broom-Hilda by Myers, Gil Thorp by Jack Berrill, Tyler Two by Leslie Harris, Bugs Bunny by “Warner Bros”, Rex Morgan M.D. by Dal Curtis and The Smith Family by Mr. and Mrs. George Smith…

This splendid compendium of hearts, mind, hands and art supplies working in concert towards a greater good is still largely available through online sellers and shows just what can be done if we’re prepared to make a little effort.

After reading this review why not track down Comic Relief and – if you’re in the UK – while waiting for it to arrive you can contribute to the British TV extravaganza dominating the airwaves tonight…

© 1986 Henry Holt and Company Inc. All strips, art, text features, and characters ©, ™ and/or ® their respective owners and All Rights very much Reserved.