Long John Silver volume 1: Lady Vivian Hastings


By Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-062-7

British and European comics have always been much more comfortable and imaginative with period piece strips than our American cousins and far more comfortable 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 and this particularly enchanting older-readers yarn forgoes the laughs 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, written by the pseudonymous Captain George North.

It was collected and published as a novel on May 23rd 1883 and has never been out of print since. A landmark of world storytelling it has been dramatised innumerable times 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, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan or Superman.

Almost everything the public “knows” about pirates devolves out the book and its unforgettable, show-stealing star Long John Silver

Writer Xavier Dorison (Le Troisième Testament, Prophet, Sanctuaire, W.E.S.T.) was born in Paris in 1970 and graduated business school before moving into storytelling. He works as author, film writer, lecturer and movie script doctor. He began the award-winning Long John Silver in conjunction with Prophet collaborator Mathieu Lauffay (Oath of Amber, Axis Mundi) in 2006, with the fourth 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 much more…

Their continuation of the piratical prince is a foray into much darker, more mature fare which begins some years after the affair of the Hispaniola; opening in 1785 in the vast inner recesses of the Amazon.

Far upriver, the expedition of treasure-hunting Lord Byron Hastings appears to have finally foundered after years searching for the lost city of Guiana-Capac at the very moment of his greatest triumph.

Meanwhile in England, Hastings’ profligate and wanton wife Lady Vivian is pondering the shameful, daily growing evidence of her dalliance with wealthy and so-very-generous neighbour Lord Prisham. With a baby in her belly and a husband gone for three years, she is considering having Byron declared dead and a hasty remarriage…

Suddenly shattering all her plans is her despised brother-in-law who turns up at the door with an old native named Moxtechica bearing a message – and a map – apparently from her long-lost husband.

Prudish Royal Naval officer Edward Hastings delights in telling the scheming strumpet he abhors that his brother has succeeded but now needs more funds. She is to sell everything – including all the treasured family possessions, manor house and lands she brought to the marriage – to raise £100,000.

To ensure this the absentee Lord has named Edward as sole Proxy and the martinet delights in giving the high-born trollop 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, Lady Vivian considers a number of retaliatory tactics before settling upon the most bold and dangerous. 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, still secretly – carrying…

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

Against his better judgement, Livesay capitulates to the Lady’s urgings and takes her to Bristol to meet retired sea-cook and owner of the Spy Glass tavern, John Silver.

Amidst the (alleged) former 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 found it.

The rest of her sorry tale tumbles out and her plans to travel there with a few capable men – and the far from willing Elsie – to make the riches her own…

All she needs is for Silver and his colleagues to infiltrate Edward’s crew, seize the ship he intends to charter and complete the voyage under her command…

Livesay is outraged but, unable to convince Vivian to desist or Silver to reject her offer, the chivalrous sage joins them in a vain hope that he can keep the debased woman from mortal harm.

Edward has meanwhile commissioned a ship from the unsavoury Samir Razil. “The Ottoman” has his own plans in play but old associate Silver soon bloodily scuppers them. The sea-cook has never had any time or pity for slavers – even in the debilitated condition he strives so desperately to conceal from everyone around him…

With the Neptune now secretly under his control and having forced Lady Vivian to sign a sacrosanct Pirates Contract, the sinister scheme and the ramshackle vessel get underway with Captain Edward Hastings none the wiser. Livesay is increasingly concerned about Vivian’s pregnancy but the savage Moxtechica seems able to help her with strange brews that he concocts…

With all the players in place the Good Ship Neptune casts off into the icy channel under stormy skies, setting sail for the doom-laden Americas…

To Be Continued…

Moody, suspenseful and startlingly gripping, the further exploits of Long John Silver are a masterpiece of adventure fiction worthy of Stevenson’s masterpiece and might even convince a few more folks to actually read the original novel.
© Darguad, Paris, 2007 by Dorison & Lauffray. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2: War of Kings Book 1


By Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier, Brad Walker, Carlos Magno, Wes Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3339-1

Following twin cosmic catastrophes (the invasion of our cosmos by Annihilus and legions of Negative Zone monsters plus a subsequent assault on the shattered survivors by parasitical invading Phalanx techno-horrors) our corner of the universe was left reeling and frantically trying to rebuild.

During that period of instability and crisis, Star-Lord Peter Quill assembled a rag-tag team of alien warriors with the intention of acting as a pre-emptive peace-keeping and disaster management force.

They comprised Quill, Adam Warlock, Gamora “the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy”, Drax the Destroyer, latest Quasar Phyla-Vell, anamorphic adventurer Rocket Raccoon and gloriously whacky “Kirby Kritter” Groot, a constantly regenerating killer tree and one-time “Monarch of Planet X”.

The squad was supported by telepathic precog and failed Celestial Madonna Mantis and Cold War Soviet superdog Cosmo, both high in the controlling hierarchy of intergalactic research think-tank Knowhere, situated in the hollowed-out skull of a dead Celestial Space God…

Before too long they were battling on many fronts after discovering that the fabric of the cosmos – stretched, mauled, abused and abraded by continual crises – had begun to unravel in various hotspots, allowing access to things from outside reality: very nasty things that really, really wanted to come and play in our universe…

Whilst closing one such rift the team recovered a huge chunk of “limbo-ice” and found the temporal effluvia was encasing a chunk of Avengers Mansion, an appalling atrocity hungry for slaughter and a strange costumed hero holding Captain America’s legendary shield…

The amnesiac outcast alternately called himself Vance Astrovik and Major Victory, claiming to be part of a 30th century group of freedom-fighters called The Guardians of the Galaxy. He had travelled back from the future but could not remember what for, why or even if he had eventually arrived in the right universe…

Before the suspicious heroes could explore further, Knowhere and especially Astrovik were targeted by another future-born being – Starhawk – and the base was subject to infiltration by shapeshifting Skrulls.

In fighting off the attack Quill’s team accidentally discovered that when they initially convened, Star-Lord had urged Mantis to telepathically “nudge” the war-weary warriors into joining his proposed team.

Quite understandably on hearing this, they all quit…

Perhaps a better term would be mutinied as weeks later the majority were still putting out cosmic brush fires, but without the manipulative betrayer Star-Lord…

This particular collection – gathering Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 #7-12 spanning November 2008 to April 2009 – acts as prologue to yet another cosmos-rending crisis wherein the battered Shi’ar Empire, ruled at this time by mutant Vulcan (half brother of Scott and Alex Summers) battled for its very existence against the resurgent Kree, led at first by Ronan the Accuser but eventually Black Bolt of the earthborn genetic weapons known as Inhumans.

The convoluted saga involved a host of space-themed characters, crossed over into many titles and served to forge closer links between the Earth-based Marvel Universe and its far-flung intergalactic outliers, eventually encompassing and engulfing such diverse elements as the X-Men, Nova Corps, Darkhawk, Starjammers and many more…

Here however there is the barest inkling of what is to come as writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning describe ‘No Future’ (illustrated by Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar) wherein the constantly gender-shifting captive Starhawk shares his/her shaky memories of the future and the fall of tomorrow’s galactic guardians with telepathic canine émigré Cosmo whilst elsewhere Rocket, Groot, Mantis, Major Victory and Galactic Warrior Bug (from 1970’s phenomenon The Micronauts) struggle to prevent a Spartoi colony world from being ravaged by technologically enhanced undead monsters.

In a flash of memory Astrovik recognises them as precursors of the Badoon terror battalions he knows as “Zoms” just as he discovers a colossal factory churning out fresh horrors from the remains of the colony’s populace…

Half a galaxy away Adam Warlock and Gamora have invaded a citadel of the Universal Church of Truth responsible for the latest rips in the fabric of space/time whilst Drax and Phyla-Vell are searching a planet of spiritualists and get a disturbing message from someone long dead…

And, further still from any of them, Peter Quill wakes up a captive of bombastic tyrant Blastaar, deep inside the subspace hell of the Negative Zone…

How he got there is revealed in ‘Past Mistakes’ (with art by Brad Walker & Victor Olazaba), disclosing how the guilt-ridden Star-Lord returned to Kree homeworld Hala to aid their resistance only to be ambushed by notional leader Ronan who has commissioned the reconstruction of a lethal atrocity weapon dubbed the Babel Spire

Quill’s moral and physical objections were overruled by superior force before the fallen hero was cast into the N-Zone whilst all his erstwhile comrades soldiered on without him in their own sectors of a growing universal disaster…

The self-appointed lord of the Negative Zone and unlikely ally of the Accuser wants Quill’s help. King Blastaar has a plan to invade Earth again…

At that time Earth’s smartest minds had built an other-dimensional jail – codenamed 42 – where they unceremoniously dumped a wide variety of super-felons and enhanced maniacs. ‘Prison Break’ (Walker, Carlos Magno, Olazaba & Jack Purcell) found Blastaar pitting his armies against the supposedly impenetrable fortress, determined to capture its single portal back the positive matter universe…

The penitentiary, long abandoned by its correctional officers, was being run by some of the less crazy inmates such as vigilante and former Captain America sidekick Jack Flag who had organised a stiff resistance to Blastaar’s bloody, besieging legions.

Quill, sent in by Blastaar as an ambassador to convince the humans to surrender, instead links up with the cons and they hatch a plan to unlock the one-way transmat portal and ship the surviving cons back home, but dealing with maniacs like Gorilla-Man Arthur Nagan, hacker Skeleton Ki, winged killer Condor and mutated mauler Bison proves as fraught with peril as betraying Blastaar…

In the outer universe, whilst Drax and Quasar seek a way to reunite with dead and possessed champion Moondragon, Quill uses a captive telepath to send a message to his former comrades. In response Cosmo uses Knowhere’s tech to despatch Rocket, Bug, Groot, Mantis and Major Victory to his aid…

Unfortunately they materialise on the wrong side of the invading forces just as a traitor opens the doors to the killer king’s forces…

‘Blastaared!’ (Walker, Olazaba, Rodney Ramos & John Livesay) finds the reunited heroes battling for their lives inside 42 as, on the throneworld of the Universal Church of Truth, Warlock confronts his own appalling future before regretfully taking control over the merciless theocracy.

Pulling off a minor miracle, the Guardians and last penal survivors beam back to our reality, even as in a dark cell Starhawk realises that the war she/he had fought so hard to forestall is beginning…

The last two tales in this collection (illustrated by Wes Craig) yield focus to Drax and Phyla-Vell, beginning with ‘Welcome to Oblivion’ wherein the recently murdered duo awake in a deathlike dimension to be challenged by a number of deceased heroes and villains such as her father Mar-Vell and murderous maniac Maelstrom. The Avatar of Oblivion has been slowing leading the seekers to this pocket purgatory with psychic breadcrumbs of Moondragon’s essence in a scheme to escape back to the lands of the living…

The resurrection shuffle spectacularly concludes in ‘Sacrifice’ as ghostly champion Wendell Vaughn – the first Quasar – boldly appears to aid Drax and Phyla’s rescue of Moondragon before sending them all back to the world of breath and light.

However plots within plots are constantly unfolding and in truth a new Avatar of Death has manifested, allowing the cosmic entity known as Oblivion to anticipate a forthcoming “End War”…

This stunning stellar treasure-chest also includes a covers-&-variants gallery by Clint Langley, Jim Valentino, Brandon Peterson, David Yardin and Paul Renavo to complete a sharp, breathtaking adventure with loads of laughs and tremendous imagination.

On its own terms this is superb stuff well worth seeking out, but Fights ‘n’ Tights completists might be wise to remember this is only the tip of a cataclysmic cosmic iceberg and the full picture spans at least six other volumes…
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents Long Gone Don Book 1: The Monstrous Underworld


By The Etherington Brothers (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-04-9

Kids love to be scared and they thrive on imaginative adventure, especially if it comes liberally dosed with oodles of wry sardonic comedy. Such being the case it’s quite understandable how Long Gone Don came to be such a popular and enduring feature of British comics phenomenon The Phoenix, where it has run almost continuously from the first issue.

Since 2012 David Fickling Books have published a traditional weekly anthology comic for girls and boys which has successfully restored the glorious heyday of picture-story entertainment; embracing the full force of modernity whilst telling old-fashioned fun and thrilling stories.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, puzzles and educational strips and material in an exultation of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the people who really matter – the utterly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an app and is continually expanding its horizons…

As devilishly devised by The Etherington Brothers – Robin and Lorenzo, whose past efforts have included Malcolm Magic and Yore (in The Dandy), Monkey Nuts, Baggage and the brilliant puzzle-venturer Von Doogan – this thrilling and hilarious spooky romp stars unlucky Don Skelton, whose proper history doesn’t really begin until after an astounding concatenation of crazy circumstances leave the hapless schoolboy dead in a bowl of Oxtail Soup…

From there it’s a quick and disorienting drop into the netherest of Nether Regions where the bewildered waif discovers his unruly hair has turned milk-white and the fantastic, green-sanded landscape is dotted with familiar objects expanded to most unlikely proportions…

No sooner has he struggled out of the colossal bowl he’s splashed down into than Don is taken under the scabby wing of a rather lugubrious and excitable crow with an outrageous Spanish accent who tries to explain the unlikely situation to the stunned and incredulous lad…

Moreover the antsy avian – one Castanet, by name – strongly stresses the sense of urgency needed to get off the Arrival Plains as Brobdingnagian means of expiration tend to land with a crash every moment…

Having safely escorted the newcomer away from the region of plummeting dooms, Castanet then begins his introduction to the bizarre afterlife by taking Don to the chaotic pit of trouble dubbed Broilerdoom (“Afterlife of the Lost, the Damned and the Generally Terrifying”) where they are promptly robbed and forced to participate in a rigged election.

Don, however, manages to vote for the wrong guy, instantly setting off citywide alarms and immediately earning the undying enmity of monstrous dictator General Spode and his unctuous assistant Valush, if not the supreme dictator’s glamorous but bored consort Regina

Soon boy and bird are being hotly pursued through the grotty avenues and alleyways by the demonic yet incompetent soldiery but are only saved when an even bigger and scarier monster called Lewd makes his terrifying entrance.

The giant outlaw and his agile assistant Safina are no fans of Spode and, after duffing up the militia, take the fugitives deep into the sordid, sprawling slums of Krapookerville where they can catch their breath in relative safety…

Their current base is an inn of iniquity named The Demon Drink where, between brawls, the outlaws give Don a quick lesson in post-life geography and geopolitics. He soon learns his companions are more rebels than rogues and have taken his miscast vote as a sign to strike against the despotic General. Don then meets the freedom fighters’ inside agent…

Seen as catalysts for change, Don and Castanet are despatched to coax the city’s Great Hero Ripley out of retirement. The person Don mistakenly voted for has become a celebrity gardener and has no intention of facing Spode again but he does suggest another potential candidate and rallying point for the masses…

Soon the entire under region is aflame with unrest and rebellion and Don has made the acquaintance of one of the underworld’s most incredible and awe-inspiring entities whilst turning said underworld upside down…

Rocket-paced, spectacular, absorbing and utterly hilarious, this uncanny adventure is conceived and rendered in a gorgeous, loving pastiche of the magnificent style of Goscinny and Uderzo, a kind of Asterix in the Underworld meets Eric the Viking.

Fast, fun and funny, Long Gone Don is a superb serving of macabre mirth no lovers of daft or dark delights can afford to miss.

Text © Robin Etherington, 2014. Illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington, 2014. All rights reserved.
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk

Showcase Presents Enemy Ace


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Dennis O’Neil, John Severin, Howard Chaykin, Frank Thorne, Ed Davis, Russ Heath, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1721-1

The first recorded aerial dogfight between powered aircraft occurred sometime during the Battle of Cer sometime between August 15th and 24th 1914 in the skies over Serbia.

Enemy Ace first appeared as a back-up in DC’s flagship war comic Our Army at War: home of the instantly legendary Sergeant Rock. The tales, loosely based on “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, were a magnificent and thought-provoking examination of and tribute to the profession of soldiering whilst simultaneously condemning the madness of war, produced by the dream team of Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert during a period when the ongoing Vietnam conflict was beginning to tear American society apart.

An immediate if seminal hit, the series told bitter tales of valour and honour from the point of view of German WWI fighter pilot Hans Von Hammer: a hidebound but noble warrior fighting for his country in a conflict that was swiftly excising all trace of such outmoded concepts from the business of government sanctioned mass-killing.

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, as well as in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman plus other genres too numerous to cover here. A restlessly creative writer, he frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts.

Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, The War that Time Forgot, The Haunted Tank, The Losers and the controversial star of this stupendously compelling war-journal.

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

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and many sexily memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last turbulent temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting vigilante who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When the taste for mystery-men had faded at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved seamlessly into adventure yarns, westerns and war: becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles.

As well as scripting for All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War, he created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 before adding G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956. This was whilst still working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Viking Prince and a host of others.

In 1956 he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world. Drawn by Carmine Infantino, the risky experiment included multi-talented veteran Joe Kubert as inker for the crucially important debut issue…

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn.

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

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

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Beretsfrom 1965 to 1968.

This terrific monochrome tome re-presents the blockbusting exploits of Von Hammer from Our Army at War #151, 153, 155, Showcase #57-58, Star Spangled War Stories #138 -145, 147-150, 152, 158, 181-183, 200, Men of War #1-3, 8-10, 12-14, 19-20, The Unknown Soldier #251-253, 260-261, 265-267 plus an intriguing tribute from Detective Comics #404: a period spanning February 1965 to August 1982.

The canon encompasses a period during which superheroes were supplanted by horror stories before bouncing right back again, whereas the genre of combat chronicles soldiered on regardless and largely unbothered by vagaries of reader fashion.

To be brutally frank, the stories are infinite variations on the same theme and, despite being illustrated by many of the greatest artists of two generations, might feel a little samey. If so, just stop every now and then to cogitate a little. This isn’t a book to blaze through; its one to savour in sensible portions…

It all kicked off in the back of Our Army at War #151 ((cover-dated February 1965), which introduced the ‘Enemy Ace’ in a short, sharp shocker set in 1918 wherein celebrated aerial warrior Rittmeister Von Hammer was hospitalised after downing a succession of Allied aircraft.

The coldly stoic hero was simultaneously admired by comrades and nurses whilst being shunned and feared by them: they all inevitably came to characterise Germany’s greatest hero as cold and a “human killing machine”…

Von Hammer took recuperative solace in hunting the wilds of the Schwartzwald, where he met a solitary black wolf who seemed to understand and share his lonely life of death and honour…

When his wounds were fully healed the dark knight returned to prowl once more “the Killer Skies”…

That fifteen page yarn perfectly defined everything that could be said about the character but the public could not get enough, so Von Hammer returned in #153 as ‘Flaming Bait!’ Dialled back to 1917 now (scripter Kanigher was never slavishly tied to tight or formal continuity), the cautionary tale featured the superstitious Rittmeister’s attempts to offset a wave of deaths which occurred each time a photographer took a pilot’s picture…

Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) featured ‘Fokker Fury!’, which saw the fanatically fair and scrupulous air ace accidentally shoot down an unarmed British fighter. After some excoriating self-castigation, Von Hammer was compelled to reclaim his honour in a valiant display of mad bravado…

Mere months later, he was the star of a brace of full-length thrillers in prestigious tryout vehicle Showcase.Issue #57 (July/August 1965) offered ‘Killer of the Skies!’ which recapitulated all that had gone before whilst introducing  a potential equal in the form of Canadian ace “The Hunter”.

A new wrinkle had also been added to the mix as Von Hammer now perpetually agonised and bemoaned his inability to save the human conveyor belt of naive, foolish replacement pilots to his Jagdstaffel from killing themselves through enthusiasm, bravado and youthful stupidity…

The following issue (#58, September/October) explored ‘The Hunters – and the Hunted!’, detailing how, after a blazing succession of kills, Von Hammer took a recreational trip to his beloved Black Forest and renewed acquaintances with his lupine companion. Here he had a brief encounter with a beautiful lady whose passion for the celebrity hero died as she soon as apprehended his cold, apparently emotionless executioner’s nature…

With all forms of human warmth clearly denied him, the Hammer of Hell reluctantly returned to the aerial killing fields…

Things went quiet after that as Enemy Ace clearly didn’t sell highly enough to garner its own continuing feature. Time passed and anti-war sentiment increasingly gripped the nation. In 1968 bimonthly war-mag Star Spangled War Stories – a title with a reputation for and history of offbeat material (Mlle. Marie, The War that Time Forgot) – revived Von Hammer for a spectacular run of mesmerising tales which conclusively proved, time after time, that any War was Hell…

It began in #138 (April/May) with the visually intoxicating epic ‘The Slayers and the Slain!’, which introduced a French counterpart to the Teutonic Terror in the forbidding form of the masked and hooded, eerily anonymous Hangman.

This sombre sky-warrior flew a sinister coal-black Spad and threw the German pilots into a paralysing psychological funk, but a conclusive duel with Von Hammer was postponed until the German could recover from yet another bout of wounds won in the Killer Skies…

With room to explore their timeless theme of a good man forced into wicked actions, SSWS #139 flashed back to the boyhood of the Air Ace in ‘Death Whispers… Death Screams!’ Here the austere life of a noble Junker was revealed; the manly pursuits of a Junker in training drummed into young Hans by his severe but loving father.

That grizzled old warrior, from a proud family of patriotic heroes, inculcated in the last of his line an overarching dedication to duty and honour above all other considerations, beliefs which carried him in his present endeavours though the shock of being humiliatingly shot down by the Hangman.

When they met again in the skies it was the Frenchman who crashed to earth, but he too survived to fly another day…

Also included here is a superb Kubert pictorial fact feature Battle Album: Fokker DR-1 and Spad S.13 to add to the already technically overwhelming ambiance…

In #140 the next clash of equals hideously exposed ‘The Face of the Hangman’, resulting in both men crashing on the French side of the lines and becoming respectful intimates as Hammer recuperated in his rival’s chateau before the call of country and duty resulted in one final, fateful airborne showdown…

Star Spangled War Stories #141 was inked by Frank Giacoia & Joe Giella, taking a hard look at the men who flew with Von Hammer. ‘The Bull’ was an ambitious new flier in the Jagdstaffel who endangered and even killed his own comrades in a pitiless quest for fame and glory. Eventually the Rittmeister had to take decisive and fatalistic action…

‘Vengeance is a Harpy!’ then saw the impossible return of the Hangman to sow death and terror amongst the German pilots, forcing Von Hammer into a battle he did not want with a person he had come to admire, if not love…

In ‘The Devil’s General’, after more time spent with the wolf in the woods, the brooding Rittmeister returned to duty, harrying ground troops and spectacularly eradicating opposing fliers. His composure was soon blighted by elderly General Von Kleit, who forced his son Werner into the Squadron, expecting Von Hammer to keep the boy safe in the pitiless skies.

When the callow youth was shot down and captured, The Hammer of Hell moved Heaven and Earth to bring him back alive…

For #144 Kubert inked hot new penciller Neal Adams on ‘Death Takes No Holiday!’ wherein another death-dealing macabre French Ace – dressed as a skeleton – terrorised and slaughtered the Jagdstaffel’s pilots, forcing the German Ace into insane action to inspire his men and cure a young flier of fear-induced madness…

With Kubert back on solo art duties, SSWS #145 saw Von Hammer plagued by nightmares of his greatest opponent, as he attempted to school a trio of veteran pilots for the inevitable day when one would replace him. However the actual ‘Return of the Hangman’ shattered those plans forever…

Another baroque opponent surfaced in #147 as an obsessive English lunatic who believed himself St. George put on a suit of armour and shot down far too many of the Rittmeister’s pilots as part of his scheme to give the infallible Hammer of Hell ‘A Grave in the Sky!’ However that particular vendetta concluded on the ground with ancient swords drawn…

Kanigher was never above using wrenching melodrama and sheer sentimentality to his advantage. The moving saga in #148 describes how a little puppy becomes a mascot for solitary, isolated Von Hammer, but the cute little tyke’s inescapable horrific ending is just another hammer-blow of heartbreak in ‘Luck is a Puppy named Schatzi!’

Despite immense critical acclaim, the series was dwindling in popularity. Star Spangled War Stories 149 (February/March 1970) saw Viking Prince join the eclectic comic’s line up with Enemy Ace reduced to fifteen pages. ‘Reach for the Heavens’ – inked by Sid Greene – found Von Hammer meeting again with hated flying school rival Heinrich Müller, a complex sadistic killer who redeemed himself after committing war crimes in a tale tinged with supernatural overtones…

The run truly ended with #150 and ‘3 Graves to Home!’, as the Enemy Ace was shot down over rural France and had to fight his way back to his own lines. He encountered a succession of civilians all putting a human face on the war he usually fought so far above them, but his time in the sun was almost over…

With Star Spangled War Stories #151(June/July 1970), a new feature replaced Enemy Ace as star feature, running until the magazine changed its name with the 204th (February 1977) issue to reflect the newcomer’s popularity. As The Unknown Soldier, it continued for a further 64 episodes until it too died with #268 (October 1982).

Star Spangled War Stories #152 however offered one more uncompromising mission from which only the Hammer of Hell returned. ‘Rain Above… Mud Below!’, illustrated by Russ Heath, was supplemented by another informative Kubert Battle Album starring the Lafayette Escadrille

Although gone, the iconic German warrior was far from forgotten. SSWS #158 featured a stunning Kubert ‘Special Pin-up: Enemy Ace – the Hammer of Hell’ whilst issue #181-183 held a compelling 3 part back-up serial by Kanigher & Frank Thorne which pitted the noble intellectual against maverick American Ace Steve Savage – “The Balloon Buster” in ‘Hell’s Angels Part One: The Hammer of Hell!’, ‘Hell’s Angels Part Two: The Maverick Ace!’ and the savage but inconclusive finale ‘Hell’s Angels Part Three: To End in Flames!’(June/July to November/December 1974)…

Von Hammer resurfaced in the anniversary Star Spangled War Stories #200 (June/July 1976) in ‘Shooting Star’ written and drawn by Joe Kubert, as a German innovation in rocket-propelled aircraft catastrophically proved to be an invention whose time had not yet come…

A new anthology comicbook debuted inAugust 1977. Men of War starred Gravedigger, a black American GI in WWII, but had alternating back-ups. Enemy Ace copped the first slot in issues #1-3 (by Kanigher, Ed Davis & Juan Ortiz) as ‘Death is a Wild Beast!’ saw Von Hammer down a devil-themed British pilot who accomplished a miraculous ‘Return from Hell!’ before exhibiting ‘The Three Faces of Death’ in the final instalment.

As ever, the real meat of the macabre missions was the toll on the minds and bodies of the merely mortal fliers that died whilst Von Hammer lived on…

Another triptych featured in #8-10. ‘Silent Sky… Screaming Death!!’ – illustrated by Larry Hama & Bob Smith – began a trenchant tale of a family at war before Howard Chaykin took over the art as a duel in the sky resulted in attack by vengeful siblings and the return of Von Hammer’s father in ‘Brother Killers!’

It all ended badly in a fateful ‘Duel at Dawn!’

Men of War #12-14 offered more of the same as ‘Banner of Blood!’ saw the troubled Rittmeister strive to retrieve the Von Hammer family flag from a cunning French air ace who was an ancestral foe of ‘The Last Baron!’ The centuries-long vendetta with the Comtes de Burgundy finally ended in one last honourable ‘Duel!’

Issues #19-20 (August and September 1979) finished another run with one more tale of idiotic honour and wasted young lives as Von Hammer made ‘A Promise to the Dying’ and sought to return a contentious souvenir to its rightful owner in ‘Death Must Wait!’

In the May 1981 Unknown Soldier – #251 – Enemy Ace began an occasional series of adventures illustrated by the phenomenal John Severin.

First was ‘Hell in the Heavens Part One: I, the Executioner’ wherein Von Hammer’s whirlwind romance with Fraulein Ingrid Thiesse hit a bump after he told of the British boy pilot who died in his arms. Having sworn to find his valiant foe’s sister and return an heirloom, Hans soon found himself under attack in #252’s ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Two: the Midnight Spy’,before shocking answers were forthcoming in the concluding ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Three: Midnight and Murder’…

A far more imaginative yarn unfolded in #260 (February 1982) with ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part One: Stolen Face – Stolen Ace!’ when the German High Command brought in a doppelganger to replace the national hero Von Hammer as he recovered from wounds.

Unfortunately the impostor was not only a sadistic butcher but crazy as a loon and the real deal had to defy his doctors and military superiors before shooting the maniac out of the skies – for the sake of the country and his own besmirched good name – in #261’s ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part Two: Death of a Double!’

The last flight of the war-weary warrior came in Unknown Soldier #265-267 (July to September 1982) as the British Government put a huge price on Von Hammer’s head in ‘A Very Private Hell Part One: the Bounty Hunters!’

The resultant furore led to a return engagement for Yankee white trash Steve Savage in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Two: the Substitute Ace’ and the death of a brave but foolhardy fake ace before the drama ended – again inconclusively – in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Three: Debt of Blood’

Although the grim conflicts of the chivalrous cavalry of the clouds conclude here, this epic tome holds one last treat in reserve: a rather outré but definitively classy tribute to the Hammer of Hell which originally appeared Detective Comics #404 (October 1970).

‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano found the Masked Manhunter attempting to solve a series of impossible murders on the set of a film about German WWI fighter ace Hans von Hammer.

All evidence seemed to prove that the killer could only be a vengeful phantom, but in the killer skies over Central Spain the mighty Batman uncovered almost incontrovertible evidence of a malign human intelligence behind the deaths.

…Almost incontrovertible…

These often bizarre but always moving and utterly unforgettable stories reveal a true high point in the annals of combat comics: crafted by masters of the art form and who never failed to ram home the point that war is not a profession for anybody who enjoys it, and that only the lucky, the mad and the already-doomed have any chance of getting out at all…
© 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 2008 DC Comics All Rights Reserved.

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale


By Dan Parent & Rich Koslowski (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-23-5

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers to jump on the “mystery-man” bandwagon, concocting their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard mix of masked champions, two-fisted adventurers, prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) saw a gap in the blossoming but crowded market and in December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, He-Man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far from imposing hero; an ordinary teenager who would have ordinary adventures just like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work and, inspired by the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely pretty Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in the first story as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. The little tale was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own title. Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began a slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, so MLJ became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating best bud Jughead and scurrilous rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with the readership but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and created a culture-shifting multi-media brand which encompassed TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global summer smash hit.

Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

Archie is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door who loves the ginger goof, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…

The unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

This perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst many others), growing into an American institution and part of the American cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly and seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom contribute to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle when openly gay Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good looking and exceeding together lad who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. She was totally smitten with him whilst he was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead…

When Kevin finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became his best buddy: after all they had a lot of common – stylish clothes, shopping and boys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership and soon guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale collects the first four issues of the groundbreaking solo monthly and opens with handy text feature ‘Kevin Keller: Catch up with the Characters’ reintroducing the bonny lad, his dad (retired army colonel) Thomas, mum Kathy and sisters Denise and Patty.

The feature also brings newcomers up to speed on recent history before the mirth and merriment begins with ‘There’s a First Time for Everything’ from issue #1 wherein the much-travelled Army Brat finally begins settling in at Riverdale High.

In short order he is elected Class President, has his first commercial writing published and reveals a shocking secret…

For all his accomplishments Kevin has never gone on a date, and when a certain someone asks him out he turns to Betty for some confidence-boosting advice. He isn’t a complete neophyte and has had a date before, but due to his catastrophic nervousness it turned into a complete disaster…

Unfortunately Reggie overhears their huddled conversation and the self-proclaimed romance expert elects to give Kevin the benefit of his vast experience…

The exuberant preparations turns into a catalogue of horror and as more well-meaning friends get involved it looks certain that Kevin will repeat that horrific experience. Happily a few stabilising words from love-hating Jughead and an eventful morning with the remarkably understanding Colonel Keller soon restore some necessary calm and equilibrium…

The next tale moves from straight slapstick to heartwarming empathy as Class President Kevin is asked to organise a prom in ‘May I Have this Dance?’ and discovers that he has a secret admirer. Once Veronica finds out it’s not a secret for long…

As the seventies-themed fashion disaster begins to take shape, further furtive communications reveal that the clandestine wooer is someone still not fully at ease with his gender orientation, forcing Kevin to be at his most understanding and forgiving…

Contentious themes and prejudices are tackled in ‘Stranded in Paradise’ when the summer vacation begins and Kevin gets a job as a lifeguard.

The beach is the time-honoured hangout of the Riverdale kids, but when spoiled princess Cheryl Blossom and her rich Pembroke School cronies invade the space, sparks soon fly. The grubby “Townies” are challenged to a surfing contest for possession of the sands with Kevin star competitor for the home team, but he has completely underestimated the vicious tactics of loathsome homophobe Sloan

The comics portion of this tome concludes with an international epic set at the 2012 London Olympics. ‘Games People Play’ sees Colonel Keller – who has dual British and American citizenship – invited to be a torchbearer.

Having spent four years in England, Kevin is delighted to be going back for a visit and reconnecting with old pal Brian. He doesn’t even mind when shopping-crazy Veronica inveigles an invite to join the family.

However when nominated runner Dad falls foul of London’s Underground at a crucial moment, Kevin is ready and more-or-less willing to step in for what appears to be the unluckiest and most dangerous section of the entire torch route…

Following a moving and appreciative ‘Afterword’ by Dan Parent there’s also a splendid section of ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ including ‘Retro Fashion’ pages, ‘Kevin’s Prom Style’, ‘Kevin’s Summer Style with B & V’, ‘Kevin Keller & Friends Style’ and a triptych of ‘Unreleased Promotional Sketches’.

With a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century star, this is an superb, hilarious and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…

© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Guardians of the Galaxy


By Arnold Drake, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Bill Mantlo, Jim Valentino, Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Gene Colan, Mike Mignola, Timothy Green, Paul Pelletier & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-601-4

With another Marvel filmic franchise kicking off around the world, here’s a timely tie-in trade paperback collection designed to perfectly augment the cinematic exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

Part of the always rewarding Marvel Platinum/Definitive Edition series, this treasury of tales reprints intriguing landmarks and key moments from Marvel Super Heroes #18, Marvel Preview #11, Rocket Raccoon #1-4, Guardians of the Galaxy volume 1, #1, Annihilation Conquest: Star-Lord #1-4 and Guardians of the Galaxy volume 1, spanning January 1969-July 2008, and hopefully answering any questions the silver screen story might throw up whilst providing an immense amount of spectacularly bombastic fighting fun.

One thing to recall at all times though is that there are two distinct and separate iterations of the team. The film concentrates on the second but there are inescapable connections between them so pay attention here…

Moreover, in addition to the sparkling Brady Webb Foreword, this compendium contains text features detailing the secret history and statistics of Drax, Gamora, Groot, Rocket Raccoon and Star-Lord, plus Mike Conroy’s scholarly trawl through comicbook history in ‘The True Origin of the Guardians of the Galaxy’.

Although heralded since its genesis in the early 1960s with making superheroes more realistic, The House of Ideas has also always maintained its close connection with outlandish and outrageous cosmic calamity (as best exemplified in their pre-superhero “monster-mag” days), and their pantheon of much-travelled space stalwarts maintain that delightful “Anything Goes” attitude in all of their many and varied iterations.

This titanic tome’s blistering battle-fest begins with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome!’ first seen in combination new-concept try-out/Golden Age reprint vehicle Marvel Super Heroes #18 (cover-dated January 1969). The terse, gritty episode introduced a disparate band of freedom fighters battling to save Earth from occupation and humanity from extinction at the scaly hands of the sinister, reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon.

It all starts when Jovian militia-man Charlie-27 returns home from a six month tour of scout duty to find his entire colony subjugated by invading aliens. Fighting free, he jumps into a randomly programmed teleporter and emerges on Pluto, just in time to scotch the escape of crystaline scientist Martinex.

Both are examples of human genetic engineering: subspecies designed to populate and colonise Sol system’s outer planets but now potentially the last of their kinds. After helping the mineral man complete his mission of sabotage – blowing up potentially useful material before the Badoon can get their hands on it – the odd couple set the teleporter for Earth and jump…

Unfortunately the invaders have already taken the homeworld.

The Supreme Badoon Elite are there, busily mocking the oldest Earthman alive. Major Vance Astro had been the world’s first intersolar astronaut; solo flying in cold sleep to Alpha Centauri at a fraction of the speed of light.

When he got there 1000 years later, humanity was waiting for him, having cracked trans-luminal speeds a mere two centuries after he took off. Now he and Centauri aborigine Yondu were a comedy exhibit for the cruel reptilian conquerors who were eradicating both of their races…

The smug invaders were utterly overwhelmed when Astro broke free, utilising the psionic powers he had developed in hibernation before Yondu slaughtered them with the sound-controlled energy arrows he carried.

In their pell-mell flight the pair stumbled across the incoming Martinex and Charlie-27 and a new legend of valiant resistance was born…

The eccentric team, as originally envisioned by Arnold Drake, Gene Colan & Mike Esposito in 1968, were presented to an audience undergoing immense social change, with dissent in the air, riot in the streets and with the Vietnam War on their TV screens every night.

Perhaps the jingoistic militaristic overtones were off-putting or maybe the times were against the Guardians since costumed hero titles were entering a temporary downturn, but whatever the reason the feature was a rare “Miss” for Marvel and the futuristic freedom fighters were not seen again for years.

They floated in limbo until 1974 when Steve Gerber incorporated them into some of his assigned titles (Marvel Two-In-One and The Defenders), wherein assorted 20th century champions travelled a millennium into the future to ensure humanity’s survival. Rejuvenated by exposure the squad rededicated themselves to liberating star-scattered Mankind, and eventually gained a short-lived series in Marvel Presents (#3-12, February 1976-August 1977, but not represented here) before cancellation left them roaming the Marvel Universe as perennial guest-stars in such cosmically-tinged titles as Thor, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-in-One and most significantly The Avengers.

In June 1990 they secured a relatively successful relaunch (#62 issues + annuals and spin-off miniseries) before cancellation again claimed them in July 1995.

However before we get there this volume highlights two seemingly unrelated characters who made their debuts elsewhere in the 20th century Marvel Universe.

Starlord (without the hyphen) premiered in black-&-white mature-reader magazine Marvel Preview # 4 in 1976, appearing thrice more – in #11, 14 and 15 – during the height of the Star Wars inspired Science Fiction explosion.

Years previously a warrior prince of an interstellar empire was shot down over Colorado and had a brief fling with solitary Earther Meredith Quill. Despite his desire to remain in idyllic isolation, duty called the starman back to the battle and he left, leaving behind an unborn son and a unique weapon…

A decade later, the troubled boy saw his mother assassinated by alien lizard men. Peter Jason Quill vengefully slew the creatures with Meredith’s shotgun, before his home was explosively destroyed by a flying saucer.

The orphan awoke in hospital, his only possession a “toy” ray-gun his mother had hidden from him his entire life. Years later his destiny found him, as the half-breed scion was elevated by the divinity dubbed the “Master of the Sun”, becoming StarLord. Rejecting both Earth and his missing father Peter chose freedom, the pursuit of justice and the expanse of the cosmos.

In his second outing (Marvel Preview #11, Summer 1977) Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin crafted a classic space opera which saw the deity-appointed galactic policeman scupper a slaving ring and follow a string of clues back to his own incredible origins.

Presented here in the original monochrome, that tale opens on decimated agrarian planet ‘Windhölme’ where fisherman’s son Kip sees his entire community abducted like cattle by alien criminals. Aboard their vessel he is befriended by feisty fellow abductee Sandy but before they can enact their childish dreams of revenge the slaver dreadnought is attacked by Starlord and his sentient super vehicle “Ship”…

The traffickers are no match for the aggrieved heroes and, after the victims have been repatriated, psychic interrogation leads Kip, Sandy and the stellar paladin up the criminal chain to flesh-peddler and imperial favourite Kyras Shakti on his debauched pleasure world ‘Cinnibar’.

The monolithic battle there reveals even greater Royal involvement, drawing Starlord to ‘Sparta’, and a shocking family connection before ‘The Hollow Crown’ sees Quill uncover his true origins when he is unexpectedly reunited with his alien father. Despite renewed emotional ties the hero forswears a life of impossible luxury for the heavens, duty and justice…

Rocket Raccoon was a minor character who appeared in backup serial ‘The Sword in the Star’ (Marvel Preview #7 in 1976). He won a larger role in Incredible Hulk #271 (May 1982), and like Wolverine years before refused to go away quietly.

Reprinted here in its entirety is the 4-issue Rocket Raccoon miniseries (cover-dated May to August 1985 and crafted by Bill Mantlo, Mike Mignola, Al Gordon & Al Milgrom), a bizarre and baroque sci-fi fantasy which blended the charm of Pogo with the biting social satire of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest all whilst ostensibly describing a battle between Good and Evil in a sector of space crazy even by comicbook standards.

Rocket was one of many talking animals in the impenetrable, inescapable Keystone Quadrant; a Ranger in charge of keeping the peace as robots and anamorphic beasties went about their holy tasks of caring for the distinctly odd and carefree humans known as The Loonies on their idyllic, sybaritic planet Halfworld.

However when a brutal shooting war between voracious apex toymakers Judson Jakes and Lord Dyvyne led to Rocket’s girlfriend Lylla Otter being kidnapped, the planet went wild, or perhaps… ‘Animal Crackers’.

In rescuing her, Rocket and his faithful deputy Wal Rus had to contend with a murderous army of mechanised Killer Clowns, face an horrific, all-consuming bio-weapon at ‘The Masque of the Red Breath’, and even team up with arch-foe and disreputable mercenary bunny Blackjack O’Hare before uncovering the horrendous truth behind the mad society he so tirelessly defended in ‘The Book of Revelations!’

The final chapter then shook everything up as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ saw the end of The Loonies, allowing the Raccoon and his surviving companions to escape the confines of the eternally segregated Keystone Quadrant into the greater universe beyond…

Back on Earth, a speculator-fuelled boom in comics sales led to Marvel launching a bunch of new titles in the early 1990s. Amongst them was Guardians of the Galaxy volume 1, #1, once again focusing on the 31st century centurions.

Conceived, written and drawn by Jim Valentino – with Steve Montano inking – the debut issue reprinted here reprised the entire eccentric combined careers of Vance, Yondu, Charlie and Martinex (plus later recruits Mercurian Nikki and Starhawk – an alien god who shared a single body with his estranged wife Aleta) as the team set off on a quest.

They were following a string of ancient clues to recover Captain America’s legendary shield, only to fall foul of cyborg-enhanced warrior ‘Taserface!’

For the rest of that epic journey and their battle against the alien Stark race who had based their entire warrior culture on Iron Man’s armour, you’ll need to track down one of the many other GotG collections flooding out now…

In 2006 a massive crossover involved most of Marvel’s 21st century space specialists in a spectacular Annihilation Event, leading writing team Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning to confiscate and reconfigure the Guardians concept for modern times and tastes.

Among the stalwarts in the big event were Silver Surfer, Galactus, Firelord (and other previous heralds of the world-eater), Moondragon, Quasar, Star-Lord, Thanos, Super-Skrull, Rigellian Colonizer Tana Nile, Gamora (“Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy”), Ronan the Accuser, Nova, Drax (the Destroyer), a Watcher and many previously established alien civilisations such as the Kree, Skrulls, Xandarians, Shi’ar et al., all falling before an invasion of rapacious Negative Zone bugs and beasties unleashed by insectoid horror Annihilus..

After that shooting match subsided the decimated sectors and empires were left helpless as sentient, aggressive all-subsuming technological parasite The Phalanx struck, absorbing and thriving inside all the machines and electronic engines the shaken civilisations were using to rebuild in a follow-up apocalypse designated Annihilation: Conquest.

From that second sidereal saga came the beginnings of the Guardians the world has gone crazy over – specifically the side-bar miniseries Annihilation Conquest: Star-Lord #1-4 from September-December 2007 and which is reprinted here in full.

What You’ll Need to Know: in the scarred and war-torn realm of known space, still reeling from the chaos of the Annihilation Wave and its aftermath, both the Kree and Skrull empires are splintered, Xandar’s Nova Corps (the universal police force) has been reduced to a single agent, ancient gods are loose and a sizable number of the Negative Zone invaders have tenuously established themselves in territories stolen from the billions of dead sentients that once populated the cosmos.

The Supreme Intelligence is gone and arch-villain Ronan has become a surprisingly effective ruler of the Kree remnants. Cosmic Protector Quasar is dead and Phyla-Vell, daughter of the first Captain Marvel has inherited both his powers and name…

Whilst Phyla and psychic demi-goddess Moondragon were working with the pacifist Priests of Pama to relieve the suffering of starving survivors, Peter Quill (no longer Star-Lord) was working with Ronan and the pitiful Kree remnants on Hala to shore up the battered communal interstellar defences of the myriad races in the sector.

Quill had brokered an alliance with the Spaceknights of Galador (an old noble cyborg species most famously represented by 1980s hero Rom) which should enhance the all-pervasive etheric war-net, but once uploaded the data instantly causes disastrous problems throughout the system.

In seconds all technology in the region is compromised: overruled and overwritten by a ruthlessly efficient electronic sentience whose cybernetic credo is “peace and order through assimilation”. Once more organic life is facing total extinction…

On Pama, Phyla and Moondragon are targeted by repurposed Kree automatons as the Phalanx attempt to destroy any credible resistance before cutting off the entire quadrant from the rest of the universe.

If life was to survive this threat it must besaved by the champions trapped inside…

The 4-part miniseries Annihilation Conquest: Star-Lord - written by Keith Giffen and illustrated by Timothy Green II, Victor Olazaba & Nathan Fairbairn, finds the former Cosmic Avenger stripped of his powers and hi-tech enhancements – all liabilities when facing a predator species that infests electronic devices – and forcibly seconded to a Kree resistance division.

Here he is tasked with turning a bunch of Kree convicts into a Penal Strike Force (a highly engaging intergalactic Dirty Half-Dozen) to take out the complex where the Phalanx are perfecting an efficient way to assimilate organics into their electro-mechanistic hive-mind.

The Kree were once the major bad-guy race in the Marvel mainstream, so whoever they consider criminals look surprising like failed heroes to us. Firstly there’s Galactic Warrior Bug (originally from 1970’s phenomenon Micronauts), the current Captain Universe (ditto), the Shi’ar berserker Deathcry, failed Celestial Madonna Mantis, the so-very-far-from-home Rocket Raccoon and gloriously whacky “Kirby Kritter” Groot: a Walking Tree and one-time “Monarch of Planet X.”

With this reluctant team in tow and using natural abilities and decidedly primitive Earth weapons the squad invades Hala – central beachhead of the Phalanx – to discover and destroy the augmented assimilation project, but they have drastically underestimated the remorselessly callous creativity of the electronic invaders…

Happily the Phalanx have no grasp of the ingenuity, bloody-minded determination and willingness to die stupidly for a cause that afflicts organics and heroes…

Sharp, witty and engaging, this is a magnificent romp full of humour, shocks and thrills no comic fan could possibly resist…

The roaring success of all that intergalactic derring-do led to a new rootin’, tootin’, blaster-shootin’ conclave of outer space reprobates who formed a new 21st century iteration and this titanic tome concludes its comics cavalcade with Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2, #1, (July 2008) wherein some of those recently acquainted adventurers get back into the business of saving the universe…

‘Somebody’s Got To Do It’ – by Abnett, Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar – reveals how, due to fellow Earthling Nova’s prompting, Star-Lord forms a pro-active defence force to handle the next inevitable cosmic crisis as soon as – if not before – it starts.

To that end he convinces Phyla-Vell, Drax, Gamora, Groot, Warlock and the Raccoon to relocate with him to the pan-species science-station Knowhere (situated in the hollowed-out skull of a dead Celestial Space God) and start putting out a never-ending progression of interstellar brush-fires before they become really serious…

The station is guarded and run by Cosmo – an elderly Soviet dog with astounding telepathic abilities – and is where Mantis now works as chief medic. It also offers unlimited teleportational transport which the team soon needs as it tries to prevent an out-of-control Universal Church of Truth Templeship from crashing into a time/space distortion and shredding the fabric of reality…

Soon the surly scratch squad are battling savage, crazed missionary-zealots empowered by the worship of enslaved adherents channelled through the Templeship’s colossal Faith Generators whilst desperately attempting to divert the vessel before it impacts the fissure in space.

Such a collision would cause catastrophic destruction to the galaxy but the UCT crusaders only see heretics trying to interfere with their mission to convert unbelievers…

The crisis is exacerbated by another small problem: there are very nasty things on the other side of the fissure that really want to come and play in our universe, and when one of them breaks through the only thing to do is destroy the Templeship…

In the aftermath, Warlock reveals that the non-stop string of cosmic Armageddons since Annihilus’ invasion has fundamentally damaged the substance of space and inevitably more fissures will appear. He wants to repurpose the team to find and close them all before anything else escapes.

And on Sacrosanct, homeworld of the Universal Church of Truth, the Matriarch issues a decree for her Cardinals to deal with the interfering unbelievers…

With covers by Colan & Esposito, Ken Barr, Mignola & Gordon, Valentino, Nic Klein, and Clint Langley, this spectacular slice of riotous star-roving is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun and blockbuster action: another well-tailored, on-target tool to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnation and another solid sampling to entice the newcomers and charm even the most jaded slice ‘n’ dice fanatic.

© 2014 Marvel. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. British edition published by Panini UK.

The Phoenix Presents Gary’s Garden book 1


By Gary Northfield (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-09-4

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional-seeming weekly comic aimed at girls and boys which sought to revive the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

Every 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 Phoenix 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.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only UK strip publication started in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by releasing a digital edition available globally as an app and is still continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun. You should subscribe today…

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 periodical publishers’ surrender. There have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

This year – at long last – many of the favourite serials and series from The Phoenix joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums.

Two of them – Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey and Bunny vs. Monkey – were selected for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which began on July 12th): the first comic-books ever to have featured on the organisation’s Summer Reading Challenge List.

One of the most rewarding and captivating strips in the comic is marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure Gary’s Garden, crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs).

It is the fourth fabulous release to assuredly delight and enchant young an old alike…

The premise is beguilingly simple and utterly addictive: laggard grown-up Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in #2, and this initial collection opens with ‘Chompy’, a rather irascible, over- imaginative but under-achieving caterpillar who here has to set straight a worm with delusions of grandeur…

‘Practice Makes Perfect!’ then peeps in on an artistically pompous spider who makes his enwrapped prey all play in his make-shift orchestra whilst an old worm whinges about the ‘Noisy Neighbours’ in the apples adjacent to his, after which ‘Spring Clean!’ sees the obnoxious garden birds wreak playful havoc with Gary’s socks and smalls as they dry on the washing line…

‘Larry Ladybird, Lord of the Jungle!’ reveals the inner dreamer of an action hero inside a little spotty bug, whilst manic squirrel Rupert kicks into overdrive in ‘Acorn Antics’ when his prospective winter larder is endangered by strong winds and vegetarian mole Thelma. Absolutely no semblance of sanity then returns as the ever-vigilant birds raid Gary’s larder for junk food after suffering a ‘Snack Attack!’

In the pond, slow and sure Jennifer watches with poignant regret as all the tads grow their ‘First Legs’ and rush off pell-mell to join the metaphorical rat-race whilst in ‘Hide and Peek’ readers get a brilliant lesson in camouflage from a leaf bug, a butterfly and a stick…

Clearly a devotee of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mr. Northfield then wryly spoofs the Barsoomian Chronicles, when, in a moment of inspired madness we are introduced to ‘John Ladybird, of Mars’ as the self-appointed explorer crosses dimensions, vast gulfs and a garden trampoline for the journey of a lifetime.

Sadly, Chompy is not the most appreciative of audiences for such tales of wonder…

Birds are not the kindest of characters, but they’re not as dangerous as next door’s cat. Happily ‘Podgy Pigeon’ is smart enough to make fools of them all before heroic night stalkers ‘Boris & Monroe’ enter the picture.

The fox is a veteran ninja of darkness and only occasionally wonders if he was wise to take on excitable hedgehog Monroe as his apprentice…

‘Dream On, Chompy!’ finds our voracious idiot trying to rush nature in his eagerness to join his winged brothers in the sky, whilst an elderly spider tries – and generally fails – to remind everyone to take things easily in ‘“Mornin’ Henry!”’ after which frustrated country music star ‘Terrance the Snail’ makes his noisy debut and Jennifer in the pond makes a disturbing self-discovery in ‘Last Legs’

‘Ronald the Spider’ reveals his tap dancing gifts to a literally captive audience before it’s Flash Gordon’s a turn for a bit of leg pulling – all six of them – in ‘Zarpovia! Pt 1’ when Professor Ladybird Zarpov discovers an incredible alien world teeming with incomprehensibly strange life in Gary’s front room…

Recruiting bold adventurers Larry Ladybird, Lord of the Jungle and John Ladybird of Mars, the trio explore the glass-sided universe in the astounding ‘Zarpovia! Pt 2’, before those masters of darkness return in ‘Boris & Monroe: Bagsie Me First’, to prove that foolhardy bravery and astonishing agility are no substitute for a little caution…

There’s acrimony and dissent at a ‘Camouflage Club’ meeting, leading to a breakaway movement, but in the interim Gary gets a barracking from the birds in ‘Nice Hat’ and wily Humphrey Housefly lives another day after two ‘Grumpy Spiders’ can’t decide on who should eat him.

The splinter group ‘Mimicry Club’ barely survives its first meeting when mickey-taking poseurs gatecrash the event, after which sensitive Ladybird Melissa develops an abiding but unhealthy affection for the coldly distant, stoic ‘Mr Leaf’ to bring a close to our beastly cabaret.

But don’t fret because there’s one last treat in store. ‘Gary’s Garden: Top Chumps’ provides 34 fascinating pictorial Score Cards (also available as free printable download pages), revealing all the silly secrets and dreams of the quirkily quotidian cast.

The Phoenix Presents… Gary’s Garden is a truly laugh-out-loud comic treat: madcap, endearing and absurdly hilarious. Don’t miss out on the perfect opportunity to get back to – or get back at – Nature by…

Text and illustrations © Gary Northfield 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 6 books during the 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.

Disenchanted volume 1


By Simon Spurrier & German Erramouspe (Avatar Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59291-230-8

Where has all the Magic gone?

If Simon Spurrier and German Erramouspe are to be believed – and they should because they are quite convincing – it hopped and flew out of the rural hills and hedgerows of Albion to resettle in an abandoned tube station below and behind a derelict sex-shop in London…

Disenchanted launched in September 2013 as a web-comic serial, taking a long loving look at Britain’s ancient affiliation with fairies and elves, leprechauns and pixies and, after careful consideration, kneecapping the lot of them before finishing off the twee magic bastards with crowbars, broken bottles and DDT…

Once upon a time the assorted magic races collectively known as the Little People left their old haunts as the Vast Folk increasingly ignored and forgot them. The Goblins were first, moving to the stinking, smoky Big City and laying claim to mothballed and forgotten Wardour Street Station.

They became owners and landlords beneath the feet of mankind, scavenging, supervising and profiting from the sprawling construction of a vast metropolis, assembled from discarded human trash and detritus.

The building of the colossal favela – eventually housing a million disparate souls all struggling to get along and make a life for themselves far from their roots and culture – made the Gob elite rich.

Rich enough, indeed, to move to palatial, elevated exclusive heights because their hidden kingdom soon became a teeming mass of aggression, hostility, criminality and suppressed prejudice waiting to boil over. It’s still growing bigger every day…

Vermintown is the worst of all possible worlds, but now it is home to all kind of creatures who previously despised and shunned each other. The older ones still bemoan and cherish the past; clinging to old customs and beliefs, but their children and grandchildren are different creatures, knowing nothing but urban sprawl, jostling elbows, frayed tempers and cultural pick-and-mix…

Tibitha Leveret is a fairy, the eldest of her kind in Vermintown and regarded by the masses as a Spiritual Leader. However she is plagued by the unshakable conviction that a foolish act in her youth caused the change in Fey fortunes. Head of a large household, she is secretly addicted to drugs and lethally dangerous sexual practises…

Her daughter Sal is a dedicated member of the Vermintown Militia: the officially integrated, racially diverse police force. She is one of the few officers not on the take or on the make… yet.

Her brother Stote is not so morally upstanding, even though he is a Wayfinder and official Community Leader. The single father of two sons has monstrous debts, a crappy job, a growing addiction and a surging, nearly out-of-control hunger for cathartic liberating violence…

Fig and Tael are his boys. Neither has any notion or memory of life outside the city and each struggles in his own way to find an identity or meaning in a world that makes no sense and offers no hope…

I’m reluctant to say any more than that as this shocking, beguiling and oh-so-clever blend of fantasy fable, horror story and crime thriller unfolds like a top-of-the-line soap opera as the three generations of Leverets all struggle to make their way whilst the city inexorably drags them further and further apart and down.

Encompassing the death of wonder, street gangs, political chicanery, mutative killer drugs, organised crime, disenfranchisement, seething ethnic tensions and cultural disassociation, guilty regret, youthful rebellion, social Darwinism, the forbidden allure of unsanctioned and unwise sex and a spiralling, universal fall from grace, Disenchanted is a dark, savage, blackly humorous and ferociously compulsive allegory of urbanisation, enforced ethnic multiculturalism, compromise and survival that will appeal to every lover of modern fantasy with a pinch of brains and an ounce of imagination.

Impressively foul-mouthed, engagingly raunchy and action-packed, the book is bolstered by a series of articles and guidebook entries describing the evolution and make-up of the sleazy super-slum including ‘Vermintown, an Introduction’, ‘The Call to Safety’, ‘Behold: the Shitty City’, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Vermintown’, ‘The Gobfathers and the Founding of Vermintown’, ‘The Glamoured & the Vastfolk: a Comparative Treatise on Time and Scale’ plus a telling biography of ‘Tibitha Leveret’.

Imagine if On the Waterfront mugged Watership Down whilst hit-and-run victim the Sugarplum Fairy took refuge in Fort Apache: The Fey. Of course that will make no sense at all… unless you get this book…

© 2013 Avatar Press Inc. Disenchanted and all related properties ™ & © 2014 Avatar Press Inc.

Cork High and Bottle Deep


By Virgil Partch, Edited by Jonathan Barli (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-664-5

Virgil Parch is possibly the greatest of those almost forgotten key men of comedy cartooning: a pervasive creative force who worked away tirelessly for years, making people laugh and slowly, steadily changing the very look and nature of the industry.

Although largely forgotten these days, Virgil Franklin Partch II (1926-2004) is probably one of the most influential and successful of all American cartoonists.

His arch, absurd, rude, sly, subtle, skewed, whacky and astoundingly unique gags, strips, stories and animated shorts were generated with machine gun rapidity from a seemingly inexhaustible well of comedy excess, which could be rendered in a variety of styles which utterly revolutionised the American publishing from the moment in 1941 that the artist switched from a Walt Disney Studio ideas-man to freelance gag-maker.

He is most well regarded for his cavalier abandonment of traditional form and anatomy. Partch is the guy who liberated gag-cartooning from the bonds of slavish attention to body detail: replacing broadly human shape and proportion with a wildly free and frenetic corporeal expressionism – perhaps even symbolism – which captivated legions of fellow artists and generations of fun-starved readers. This is the guy who made 19 fingers on one hand work…

Following 2013’s VIP – The Mad World of Virgil Partch- asuperbly comprehensive art book/biography – comes this themed collection of his most arch, dark and absurd gag panels all devoted to his favourite hobby and avocation: the heroic and determined downing of strong liquor…

This glorious pocket-sized (174 x 174mm) hardback collection gathers – in colour and black-&-white – the vast majority of his hootch-flavoured (and, perhaps, often -inspired) party favours, ranging from the antics of barflies and boozy babes to the aggravated effects of a lifetime of dedicated tippling and how to offset or escape them…

Subtitled “Amidst the stormy seas of booze, with your faithful skipper, the mad Vipper” the first section focuses on the general run of alcohol-induced visions starring blurry, cheery, dreary, maudlin and dumbfounded imbibers of every class and station as well as the long-suffering worldly-wise barkeeps who attend them; an often (literally) staggering precession of invention, surreal acceptance and inevitable regret, ranging from atrocious visual puns to bewilderingly brilliant observations.

The general carousing is followed by a steady stream of themed sections beginning with an astoundingly visually inventive succession of suggestions on The Hangover… and Some Cures, complete with a sneaky subsection of .descriptive diagnoses of particular brain seizures ranging from the ‘Thirsty-Bedouin Hangover’ to the ‘God! Is that Me? or Hallucination Case’

Assuming you survive that, the blinding switch to full painted colour will shock you sober enough for ‘VIP Views The Drink as seen by…’; a savage selection of interested parties including The Bartender, The Wife and The Guy On the Wagon

Digging deeper, the artist then invites you to observe fizzy, happy people at ‘Dr. Freud’s Cocktail Party’ displaying Introversion, Exhibitionism , Wish Fulfilment, Hallucination, Rejection and a host of other “isms”, after another large round of general gags and panels runs into ‘VIP’s Tips: How to Taper Off…’

Virgil Partch possessed an eternally refilling reservoir of comedy imagination and a unique visual perspective which made him a true catalyst of cartoon change, and Fantagraphics Books have once again struck pure gold by reviving, commemorating and celebrating this lost legend of cartooning.

Best of all, this is an astoundingly funny collection: a wealth of outrageously funny, deliciously barbed funny drawings and clever ideas as powerfully hilarious now as they ever were, and all brilliantly rendered by a master draughtsman no connoisseur of comedy can afford to miss.

Cheers!

© 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents How to Make Awesome Comics (With Professor Panels & Art Monkey!)


By Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-03-2

Ah, Summer Holidays!

Are your kids driving you crazy yet?

I haven’t covered a “How To” book for ages and as this one’s entertaining, wonderfully fit for purpose, cheap and readily available there’s clearly no time like the present. This new release would well serve any budding artists and storytellers and will keep idle hands and minds amused, absorbed and entertained for hours…

There are a host of books, both academic and/or instructional, designed to inculcate a love of comics whilst offering tips, secrets and an education in how to make your own sequential narratives. There are precious few that do it with as much style, enthusiasm and cunning craft as this beguiling release from Neill Cameron under the all-ages aegis of The Phoenix.

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched 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 Phoenix 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.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an app and is continually expanding its horizons.

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

The publishers are also a fantastically inclusive bunch, always eager to get kids involved. ‘How to Make Awesome Comics’ by Neill Cameron has featured intermittently since issue #0, offering enticing insights and practical tips through the auspices of the know-it-all Professor Panels and his long-suffering collaborator Art Monkey.

Now as part of the company’s new line of graphic albums those invaluable observations and exercises have been superbly repackaged into a lexicon of hands-on instruction: a not-so-serious foundation course in cartoon wonder-making no aspiring comicbook genius can afford to be without.

Broken down into 21 easily assimilated lessons the book also makes full use of modern technologies, with exercises, cartoon cheats and spare drawing pages all downloadable from the internet.

Leaping straight in the tuition opens in Chapter 1 with Lessons 1 and 2: Anyone Can Make Awesome Comics and Awesome Comics can be about Anything; offering education from the Prof ranging from stick-figure first-concepts to fully inked and coloured final work, augmented by chances to create your own strips in the first of many Art Monkey Challenges.

Chapter 2 covers Lessons 3 through 6 and How to Have Awesome Ideas, How to Have Awesomer Ideas, How to Have Awesomest Ideas and ends with a treatise on Real Life Awesome (biographical comics) all accompanied by Art Monkey Challenges of increasing fun and complexity…

With the work-philosophy fully engaged, Chapter 3 then focuses on the basics with How Awesome Comics Work, How to Make Funny Comics Which are Awesome and some sound lettering tips in Awesome Words + Awesome Pictures before a welcome pause in which students can peruse a batch of bonus comic strips such as ‘Mecha Monkey Meltdown’, ‘Triceracop’, ‘Kung Fu Banana Squad’ and more…

Returning to learning, Chapter 4 deals with How to Draw Anything Awesomely, How to Draw Cartoons Awesomely, How to Draw Awesome Faces, How to Draw Awesome Robots, How to Draw Awesome Pirates and, of course How to Draw Awesome Monsters.

The truly important stuff is covered in Chapter 5 with How to Tell Awesome Stories, How to Create Awesome Heroes, How to Create Awesome Villains, Creating Awesome Drama and culminating with the big secret, Awesome Endings

Finally the practicalities of production and dissemination are revealed in Chapter 6 with How to Make Your Very Own Comics (…Which are Awesome), covering such arcane but crucial topics as folding, pagination and layout, copying and reproduction and getting your work into the hands of your readers…

Packed with superb examples, handy breakdown & layout tips, lots of practical exercises and offering tons of cool ideas plus a library of inspirational examples, this magical primer even includes a wealth of Awesome Appendices comprising a gallery of stock characters, Cool Robot Accessories, an Inventory of Pirate Moustachery, How to Draw Dinosaurs, Creepy Creatures and Penguins – all Step-by-Step – and ending with More Fun Comics and Pinups for the now-adept student to complete…

This bright and breezy album perfectly highlights all the core skills necessary to crafting picture-stories and cleverly doses them with an aura of rambunctious, addictive fun. With such a boost how can any prospective or neophyte storyteller fail to be galvanised into making their own magic?

Brilliantly colourful and with clear concise instructions covering the undeniable basics that every artist of any age needs to master, this book is an indispensable aid and a tremendously inspiring introduction for the aspiring Artist of Tomorrow.

Text and illustrations © 2014 Neill Cameron. All rights reserved.