Daredevil Epic Collection: The Man Without Fear


By Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Bob Powell, John Romita Sr., Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9548-1

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrate the strip.

DD battled thugs, gangsters, a plethora of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The recovering powerhouse that was to become Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

So in retrospect the visual variety of the first few issues of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear might have seemed a risky venture. Yes, the artists were all seasoned, talented veterans, but not to the young kids who were the audience. Most importantly, they just weren’t Kirby or Ditko, and new features need consistency and continuity…

Still, Lee and his rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet with the hugely under-appreciated Gene Colan and the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler can be enjoyed in this collection gathering the first 21 issues (spanning April 1964 to October 1966) into one effervescent package of thrills and spills which begins with ‘The Origin of Daredevil’

This much-retold tale recounts how young Matthew Murdock grew up in the slums, raised by his father Battling Jack Murdock, a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy will be something, the father extracts a solemn promise from his son that he will never fight. Mocked by other kids who sarcastically dub him “Daredevil”, Matt abides by his vow, but secretly trains his body to physical perfection.

One day he saves a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight is burned away forever but his other senses are super-humanly enhanced and he gains a sixth, “radar-sense”. He tells no-one, not even his dad.

The senior Murdock is in dire straits. As his career declined he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet Jack’s star started to shine again and his downward spiral reversed itself. Unaware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive he refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life. When his bullet-riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page and, with his life on track, young Matt now had time to solve his father’s murder… His promise stopped him from fighting but what if he became “somebody else”?

Scripted by Lee and moodily illustrated by the legendary Bill Everett (with assistance from Ditko) this is a rather nonsensical yet visually compelling yarn that just goes through the motions, barely hinting at the magic yet to come.

Plot-wise, the second issue fares little better as Joe Orlando & Vince Colletta take over the art: ‘The Evil Menace of Electro!’ guest-stars the Fantastic Four and features a second-hand Spider-Man villain.

The FF call in lawyer Matt Murdock just as the electrical outlaw tries to break into their building and before long Daredevil deals with Electro by the numbers. Issue #3 finally offers the sightless crusader a super-foe of his own when he meets and trounces former Wall Street financier ‘The Owl, Ominous Overlord of Crime!’

Daredevil #4 was a turning point, and just in time. ‘Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!’ finally gave some character to the big, blind stiff as he strove to overcome a villain who could exert total control over anyone who saw him. Although Orlando & Colletta’s uncomfortable, over-busy art remained for one last episode Lee finally seemed to get a handle on the hero; just in time for a magician-in-waiting to elevate the series to spectacular heights.

With #5 Wally Wood assumed the art chores where his lush, lavish work brought power, grace and beauty to the series. At last this costumed acrobat seemed to spring and dance across the rooftops and pages. Wood’s contribution to the plotting didn’t hurt either. He actually got a cover plug on his first issue.

In ‘The Mysterious Masked Matador!’ a cool, no-nonsense hero who looked commanding and could handle anything started fighting hard and fast. The series began advancing the moribund romantic sub-plot (Foggy adores Karen, who only has eyes for Matt, who loves her, but won’t let her waste her life on a blind man) and actually started making sense and progress. Most importantly, the action scenes were intoxicating…

Although a bullfighter who used his skills for crime is frankly daft, the drawing makes it utterly convincing, and the following issue’s ‘Trapped by the Fellowship of Fear!’ is a minor classic as the Man Without Fear has to defeat not only the super-powered Ox and Eel (yet more recycled villains) but his own threat-specific foe Mr. Fear who instils terror and panic in victims, courtesy of his deadly fear-gas gun.

Daredevil #7 is a true landmark: to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time. Lee & Wood concocted a true masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’

Prince Namor of Atlantis travels to the surface world to have his day in court and sue all Mankind, but discovers too late that his warlord, Krang, has usurped the throne in his absence. The fiery monarch cannot sit languishing in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom and the sea.

This cataclysmic classic shows Murdock the lawyer to be a brilliant orator, whilst the hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet proves the dauntless courage of DD and nobility of the Sub-Mariner. Most notably, with no fanfare at all, Wood replaced the original yellow-&-black costume with the iconic and beautiful all-red outfit we know today. As one pithy commentator stated “the original costume looked as if it had been designed by a blind man”.

Another villain debuted in #8’s gripping industrial espionage thriller ‘The Stiltman Cometh!’ pitting the acrobat against a villain who towered above the skyscrapers after which Golden Age Great Bob Powell came aboard as penciller to Wood’s layouts and inks with #9’s ‘That He May See!’

Relentlessly badgered by Karen, Matt finally agrees to see an eye-specialist who might be able to cure his blindness, only to become embroiled in a plot to conquer humanity by a Ruritanian maniac with a knights-in-armour fixation…

Wood was clearly chafing after a year on the book. He scripted Daredevil’s first continued story ‘While the City Sleeps!’: a political thriller which first saw Foggy run for District Attorney of New York even as mysterious mastermind The Organizer and his animal-powered gang, Bird-Man, Frog-Man, Cat-Man and Ape-Man terrorise the city.

With Powell now on full pencils and Wood just inking, Lee was left to write the concluding ‘A Time to Unmask!’ as Daredevil pulled out all the stops to confound a devious power-grab scheme which saw the villains defeated, but only at great personal cost to Nelson & Murdock…

With issue #12 Wood was gone, replaced by of an artist who was to eventually become Marvel’s top – and most loyal – star.

‘Sightless, in a Savage Land!’ was laid out by Jack Kirby and illustrated by John Romita, who had worked for Timely/Atlas in the 1950s before moving to relatively steady work on DC’s romance comics as well as freelance advertising.

He returned to take DD on an epic quest, guest-starring Tarzan-analogue Ka-Zar, that ranged from the dinosaur-haunted Savage Land via an extend battle with high-tech pirates led by The Plunderer to Jolly Olde England-land (#13’s ‘The Secret of Ka-Zar’s Origin!’) to a US Early Warning Base (#14, ‘If This be Justice…’, with what I’m sure is some un-credited assistance from George Tuska).

With this multi-part epic, Daredevil began to cement a persona as a wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler which would carry him all the way to the grim ‘n’ gritty Frank Miller days, far, far in the future.

Romita’s graceful, flamboyant style and expressiveness imparted new energy into the character (especially since Frank Ray Née Giacoia had been inking the series since # 14) and #15’s ‘…And Men Shall Call Him… Ox!’ showed his facility for explosive action superhero action as the dim strongman of issue #6 resurfaced, albeit in a new and sinister fashion as the lummox is made the subject of a brain-swapping experiment…

When a certain webslinger guest-starred in #16 little did anyone suspect how soon Romita would be leaving.

‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduced criminal mastermind, the Masked Marauder, who had big plans, the first of which was to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other.

With the next issue ‘None are so Blind…’ a sub-plot began that would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil after Spider-Man accuses Foggy of being the Man Without Fear!

Although the Wall-Crawler quickly realizes his mistake, others present don’t…

Issue #18’s ‘There Shall Come a Gladiator!’ introduced the manic armoured villain in a tale two-thirds scripted by legend-in-waiting Denny O’Neil, with Foggy trying to impress Karen by fostering the idea that he is Daredevil and almost perishing for the deception. Issue #19 saw the Masked Marauder ally with Gladiator in the action-packed big fight tale ‘Alone… Against the Underworld!’; a fitting farewell for Romita who was moving over to Amazing Spider-Man after Steve Ditko’s controversial departure.

Originally tipped for a fill-in issue, Gene Colan came aboard as penciller with #20’s ‘The Verdict is: Death!’, inked by Mike Esposito as Mickey DeMeo. Colan’s superbly humanistic drawing and facility with expressions was a little jarring at first since he drew Daredevil in a passable Romita imitation and everything else in his own manner, but he soon settled in and this two-part revenge thriller featuring the Owl (concluding with ‘The Trap is Sprung!’ inked by Giacoia, Dick Ayers & Bill Everett) is a fine beginning to his long, impressive run on the series, incorporating the Swashbuckler’s battle against his ferocious arch-foe, an army of thugs, deadly flying robots and even an exploding volcano to keep the readers on their toes….

Interspersed with glorious pin-ups by Wood, this bombastic full-colour compendium also offers a glimpse of original art pages by Everett and Romita & Giacoia; in-house ads; T-Shirt art and designs, layouts and sketches from Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Romita and Wood plus painted iterations by Dean White of Everett and Kirby art used for Marvel Masterworks covers.

Despite a few bumpy false starts Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 5


By Mark Waid, Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Brian Hitch, Mike S. Miller, Darryl Banks, Cliff Rathburn, J.H. Williams III, Javier Saltares, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, Steve Scott & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-14012-4750-8

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

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

The JLA were a phenomenally hot property at this time and got to star in an oversized new format. Moreover, thanks to author Waid and artists Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and colourist Laura DePuy, the content matched the packaging. JLA: Heaven’s Ladder precedes the monthly JLA issues #47-60 which comprise the majority of this fifth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) and collectively spanning October 2000 to January 2002.

Also packed into this blockbusting bonanza are snippets from JLA Secret Files #3: all combining to provide charming character yarns and astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

Heaven’s Ladder reveals how beings of truly cosmic scale face their ultimate dissolution by almost taking the rest of the universes with them when they go.

After adding Earth to a batch of planetary baubles strung together like a necklace, stored in an incomprehensibly huge starship, the hyper gods are tackled by the comparatively infinitesimal Justice League who discover the invaders have no concept of an afterlife and are infiltrating the mythologies of the galaxy’s lower lifeforms so they can build themselves one to repose in…

As if that’s not enough, a rebel faction – determined to die graciously without polluting themselves – violently opposes accepting the assistance of lowly bacteria like humanity…

Cosmic in conception and epic in scope and delivery, Heaven’s Ladder is an astounding example of big sky comics serving as a perfect appetiser to the wild dramas which follow, beginning with a dark fable illustrated by Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary introducing a supernatural hell-queen who makes fairy tales real – but not in a good way…

‘Into the Woods’ is an extended yarn describing how an evil empress of imagination escapes from fiction and reshapes reality to suit her vicious whims. Her crusade leaves the League nonplussed and helpless, but even though Batman is no longer a member, the Dark Knight is still pulling the heroes’ strings…

‘Truth is Stranger’ (with a portentous visit to Fairyland limned by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray) offers more horror and a glimmer of hope before Hitch, Neary, Javier Saltares and Chris Ivy bring it all to a conclusion as Fantasy and reality collide in the spectacular ‘Unhappily Ever After’

That brought up the celebratory 50th issue, and true to tradition it’s a tale resplendent with guest artists. ‘Dream Team’ reaffirmed and revitalised the heroes – who had developed a healthy distrust of Batman – through a series of pitched battles against nightmare-materialising old foe Doctor Destiny, with art from Hitch, Neary, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, Kevin Nowlan, Drew Geraci and Walden Wong, which segued neatly into another End-of-Days cosmic catastrophe, as a sixth-dimensional super-weapon is unleashed on our universe.

In ‘Man and Superman’ (illustrated by Mike S. Millar & Armando Durruthy) the extra-planar Cathexis come seeking the JLA’s help in recapturing their rogue wish-fulfilling “Sentergy: Id”. Sadly, it has already struck, separating Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man from their secret identities, rendering them into twelve incomplete and ineffectual half-men. As always, however, all is not as it seems…

Hitch & Neary resumed the art-chores as a wishing plague devastates Earth in ‘Element of Surprise’ with one unexpected benefit in the grotesque resurrection of dead hero Metamorpho, but the prognosis is poor until the now un-reformed thug Eel O’Brian (who turned over a new leaf to become the daftly heroic Plastic Man) sees which way the wind is blowing in ‘It Takes a Thief’ and leads the disjointed team’s resurgence in the apocalyptic climax ‘United we Fall’.

Th strictures of order firmly re-established and Batman back on the team, the JLA than endure a devilish attack dubbed ‘Terror Incognita’ as the sinister White Martians (who first reared their pallid, spiky heads in JLA: New World Order) return to transform Earth into their own recreational slaughterhouse.

Launching the campaign with a series of blistering personalised psychic assaults in ‘Came the Pale Riders’ (Waid, Hitch & Neary), their ever-intensifying efforts are met with valiant resistance in ‘The Harvest’ (Mike S. Miller & Dave Meikis), before Batman leads the counterpunch with plenty of guest-stars in tow, displaying ‘Mind Over Matter’ (Miller & Neary) and ultimately resulting in a calamitous crescendo and glorious triumph in ‘Dying Breath’

With no appreciable pause for breath the team are then drawn into a cross-company publishing event that saw “Jokerised” super-villains running amok throughout the DCU (see Batman: the Joker’s Last Laugh for further details).

Set deep in the icy Antarctic wastes, ‘Bipolar Disorder’ (scripted by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, with art from Darryl Banks & Wayne Faucher) sees magnetic malcontent and world-class loon Dr. Polaris made even crazier when infected by the Crazy Clown’s unique brand of insanity; stretching Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man to their utmost in a bid to preserve the planet …

This leads into a classy Christmas neo-classic as Plastic Man reveals how Santa Claus joined the JLA in the outrageously engrossing, frolicsome fable ‘Merry Christmas, Justice League… Now Die!’ by Waid, Cliff Rathburn & Paul Neary. In case you’re wondering, this one’s played for laughs, kids…

Inserted next to wrap up the proceedings are mini-treats from JLA Secret Files #3, beginning with ‘Lost Pages’ (Waid, Mark Propst & Tom McCraw), revealing the superhero community’s reactions when Batman was kicked off the team, after which Scott Beatty scripts a selection of villainous pin-up/fact file pages: ‘White Martians’ (illustrated by Dale Eaglesham &Andrew Hennessy), ‘Queen of Fables’ (Yanick Paquette), ‘The General’ (Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen). ‘Mageddon’ (Norm Breyfogle), ‘Qwsp’ (John McCrea & Tom Chiu) and ‘Queen Bee’ (Greg Land & Al Gordon).

Witty, engaging, challenging, beautiful and incredibly exciting, these are some of the best superhero adventures ever created: timeless, rewarding sagas that must be part of your permanent collection…
© 2000, 2001, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

X-Men Masterworks volume 6


By Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Tom Palmer, Sam Grainger, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2056-8(HB)                                  978-0-7851-8837-7(PB)

X-Men was never Marvel’s top seller but did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience. As the decade progressed the kids got edgier and more angst-ridden – as did the world around them and their readers – and the sense of pent-up aggression, isolation and alienation grew.

The core team still consisted of tragic leader Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast although they were now without Professor Charles Xavier, the wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior.

Jean Grey/Marvel Girl had recently taken up much of the professor’s role and the team was also occasionally supplemented by magnetic minx Polaris, although she was usually referred to as Lorna Dane

However, by the time of this final collection (re-presenting X-Men #54-66 from March 1969 to March 1970) of the turbulent teens’ original series, despite some of the most impressive and influential stories and art of the decade, the writing was definitely on the wall for Marvel’s misunderstood mutants…

The mayhem begins with ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive… Cyclops!’ by Arnold Drake, Don Heck & Vince Colletta, which introduces Scott’s kid brother Alex just in time for the lad to be kidnapped by Egyptian acolytes of emergent Homo Superior The Living Pharaoh. It appears the boy has a hidden power the Pharaoh covets, which necessitates framing the X-Men’s leader…

At that time the back of the X-Men comic was running “untold origins” of the team, and ‘The Million Dollar Angel’ (Drake & Werner Roth) began unfolding the background of Warren Worthington III, a precocious rich boy rushed off to prep school where he grew wings and concealed them by making himself the most despised and lonely person on campus…

Roy Thomas returned as scripter for #55’s ‘The Living Pharaoh!’ – illustrated by Don Heck, Roth & Colletta – as the full team follow the Summers brothers to the Valley of the Kings and soundly thrash the faux potentate’s minions, only to have the new mutant’s unsuspected power go wild.

Meanwhile, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ (Thomas, Roth & Sam Grainger) little Warren has left school and plans a superhero career until an atomic accident brings him into contact with a couple of kids code-named Cyclops and Iceman…

Nobody knew it at the time – and sales certainly didn’t reflect it – but with X-Men #56 superhero comics changed forever. Neal Adams had stunned the comics-buying public with his horror anthology work and revolutionary art on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman, but here, with writer Thomas in iconoclastic form, they began to expand the horizons of graphic narrative with a succession of boldly innovative, tensely paranoid dramas that pitted mutants against an increasingly hostile world.

Deliberately pitched at an older audience, a run of gripping, addictively beautiful epics captivated and enchanted a small band of amazed readers – and were completely ignored by the greater mass of the buying public. Without these tales, the modern X-phenomenon could not have existed, but they couldn’t save the series from cancellation. The cruellest phrase in comics is “ahead of its time…”

‘What is… the Power?’ (Thomas, Adams & inker extraordinaire Tom Palmer) reveals an uncanny connection between the Pharaoh and Alex and, as the Egyptian mastermind transformed into a colossal Living Monolith, the terrified boy’s mutant energies are unleashed with catastrophic results…

At the back, a chemically unbalanced Angel becomes ‘The Flying A-Bomb!’ but happily is defused in time to become the newest X-Man.

Issue #57 brought back the team’s most relentless adversaries in ‘The Sentinels Live!’ as a public witch-hunt prompts the mutant-hunting robots to pursue X-Men across the globe. Amongst the first victims are magnetic Lorna Dane and Alex but the sinister Sentinels have their unblinking optics set on all mutants…

That issue also saw a rundown on Marvel Girl’s abilities in the last back-up feature ‘The Female of the Species!’.

From the next issue on, Thomas and Adams would have an entire issue to play with…

‘Mission: Murder!’ ramps up the tension as the toll of fallen mutants increases, with Iceman, the Pharaoh, Angel and Mesmero all falling to the murderous mechanoids, but when their human controller discovers an unsuspected secret the automatons strike out on their own…

With all other mutants in the Marvel universe captured, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Beast are reduced to a suicidal frontal assault in ‘Do or Die, Baby!’; pulling off a spectacular victory, but only at the cost of Alex, now calling himself Havok

Badly injured, Alex is brought to an old colleague of Professor Xavier’s named Karl Lykos – a discreet physician hiding a dark secret. ‘In the Shadow of Sauron!’ reveals that as a child the not-so-good doctor had been bitten by Pterodactyls from the Antarctic Savage Land and become an energy vampire.

Now with a powerful mutant to feed on, his addiction fully manifests and a sated Lykos transforms into a winged saurian with hypnotic powers, determined to gorge himself on the other X-Men.

After a shattering struggle in ‘Monsters Also Weep!’ Lykos is defeated and instinctively flees South to the Savage Land to die. Drained of his power, he reverts to human form and when the X-Men track him down the tormented leech chooses suicide rather than become Sauron once more.

Searching for his body, Angel is also attacked by Pteranodons and crashes to the bottom of a vast crevasse, precipitating the mutants into another primordial encounter with wild man Ka-Zar as ‘Strangers …in a Savage Land!’

Marooned once more in a lost world, Angel is healed by the enigmatic Creator: a wounded genius protecting the Savage Land’s mutant population with his own team of X-Men counterparts.

As his team-mates search for him, the Winged Wonder switches allegiance, unaware that his benefactor is actually the X-Men’s oldest enemy…

‘War in the World Below!’ sees the villain’s plans revealed and finally thwarted by the heroes and Ka-Zar, leaving the returning team to tackle a controversial Japanese extremist in ‘The Coming of Sunfire!’ (#64, with veteran stalwart Don Heck doing an impressive fill-in job for Adams) whilst the next issue resurrects the long-dead Professor Xavier – only to nearly kill him again in the Denny O’Neil scripted alien-invasion yarn ‘Before I’d Be Slave…’: an astounding epic that ended Adams’ artistic tenure in grand style.

All the staffing changes were hints of a bigger shake-up. With X-Men #66 (March 1970), the series was cancelled, despite all the frantic and radical innovations crafted by a succession of supremely talented creators.

‘The Mutants and the Monster’, by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Grainger, sent the team hunting for Bruce Banner in an attempt to save Professor X from a coma induced by his psychic battle against the aliens. Unfortunately, when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an irate Incredible Hulk

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on the guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return, re-presenting early classics.

The Beast fared better than his buddies: riding a wave of monster titles, he was reinvented in a solo series as a response to the world horror boom which shifted general comicbook fare from bright shiny costumed heroes to dark and sinister monsters.

Blue, furry and misunderstood, he soldiered on in various venues until the X-Men stormed back in 1975, but that’s all meat for different collections…

Although a little scrappy in places, these disparate stories are wonderful comics sagas that were too radical for the readership of the times but have since been acknowledged as groundbreaking mini-masterpieces which reshaped the way we tell stories to this day: making this comprehensive collection an unquestionable treasure no fan should be without.
© 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex volume 6: Bullets Don’t Lie


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paulo Siqueira, Jordi Bernet, Darwyn Cooke, Mark Sparacio, J.H. Williams III, Rafa Garres & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2157-7

Always savvy enough to apply a broad variety of experimental approaches to this grittiest of human heroes, the assembled string of all-star artists working with scripters Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti on this incarnation of Jonah Hex deftly blended a blackly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available from the period.

In this sixth paperback (or digital, should you be so inclined) collection, reprinting issues #31-36 of the comic book series from 2006, these six stand-alone sagas serve to show the ravaged and determinedly dissolute bounty hunter yet again facing the worst that humanity can offer… or sink to…

Coloured by Rob Schwager and Dave Stewart, the six-gun sextet starts with a wry and devious manhunt illustrated by Paulo Siqueira & Amilton Santos wherein the greatest bounty hunter in the west is hired to bring in infamous outlaw ‘The Red Mask’.

Sadly, the entire affair is a set-up from start to finish – a fact Hex is aware of almost from the start…

Murder-mystery gives way to exotic macho mayhem and a deft tribute – limned by the legendary Jordi Bernet – to Sergio Leone’s signature “Spaghetti-Westerns” as Jonah is enticed to visit Mexico by a rich man who wants him to kill ‘The Matador’ who seduced his wife.

Having made the mistake of refusing the job, Hex endures the millionaire’s sadistic displeasure before uniting with his original target to hand out some US-style retribution…

Much-missed hyper-stylist Darwyn Cooke illustrates the shocking trials of sub-arctic survivalism as ‘The Hunting Trip’ takes Hex deep into Canada and up against vicious, corrupt Mounties, inadvertently teaching a young orphan boy the cruellest facts of life…

Even a cold-hearted killer like Jonah Hex has a breaking point and ‘Outrunning Shadows’ – with rather stiff and static painted art by Mark Sparacio – sees the bounty killer turn his back on slaughter to peacefully settle down.

Sadly, greed and human nature never change and before long he’s forced to drop his dreams and pick up his guns again…

After another particularly bloody job, Hex lets his guard down enough to accept the hospitality of the local lawman. After envying the childless couple’s domestic bliss, Jonah’s refusal of ‘A Crude Offer’ on their part leads to a situation gunplay won’t fix in a tense thriller pictured by J.H. Williams III.

Wrapping up the hard-hitting feast of thrills is a grimly uncompromising examination of racism and self-loathing illustrated by Rafa Garres. Wearing Confederate grey in the aftermath of the war always brought Hex trouble but never as much as this time when the sight of him terrifies a young negro girl into killing herself.

When the appalled, guilt-ridden gunslinger is lynched by her outraged kin and friends, Hex is saved by the recently-convened Ku Klux Klan who also attribute far too much to the clothes he wears and not the beliefs he holds…

After dealing with the white marauders in a manner they so richly deserve, Hex makes the sole survivor dig ‘Seven Graves Six Feet Deep’

With captivating covers from Richard Corben, Bernet, Cooke, Andy Kubert & Pete Carlsson, Williams III and Garres, Bullets Don’t Lie is an explosively grim, yet blackly comedic collection starring the very best Western anti-hero ever created: doling out a fabulously intoxicating blend of action and social commentary no fan of the genre or top-notch comics magic will want to miss.
© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Iron Man Epic Collection: By Force of Arms


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0011-3

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal the company was tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man was joined by patriotic cohort Captain America with issue #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

The company’s fortunes prospered – thanks in large part to Stan Lee’s gift for promotion, but primarily because of superbly engaging stories such as the ones collected in this enticing Epic Collection.

With a new distributor came a demand for more product and the stars of the split books were all given their own titles. When the division came, the armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collector’s Item First Issue” – after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules – and Cap retained the numbering of the original title; thus premiering in number #100.

Herein find contained in chronological order the remaining tales of the transitional period, reprinting Tales of Suspense #73-99, plus the pertinent portion of place-holding one-shot Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and at long last Iron Man #1. Also added in is the Sub-Mariner portion of Tales to Astonish #82, which held a key portion of an early comics crossover and a comedy short gleaned from Marvel’s comedy pastiche magazine Not Brand Echh #3, cumulatively covering January 1966 to May 1968.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World seemed inevitable. Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

This volume begins with Tales of Suspense #73 and picks up, soap opera fashion, on Iron Man, rushing to the bedside of his best friend Happy Hogan, who has been gravely wounded in an earlier battle against the Titanium Man, and now missing from his hospital bed.

‘My Life for Yours!’ by a veritable phalanx of creators including Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan & Jack Abel (in their Marvel modes of Adam Austin & Gary Michaels), Sol Brodsky, Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin, pitted the Avenger in final combat against the Black Knight to rescue Happy. After this the creative team stabilised as Lee, Colan & Abel, for ‘If this Guilt be Mine..!’ wherein Stark’s inventive intervention saves his friend’s life but transforms the patient into a terrifying monster.

Whilst in pitched battle against ‘The Fury of… the Freak!’ (who scared the stuffings out of me as a comic-crazed seven-year-old), Iron Man is helpless when the Mandarin attacks in #76’s ‘Here Lies Hidden…the Unspeakable Ultimo!’

The saga continues in ‘Ultimo Lives!’ and closes as the gigantic android goes bombastically berserk in ‘Crescendo!’, dooming itself and allowing our ferrous hero to escape home, only to face a Congressional Inquiry and a battle crazed Sub-Mariner in ‘Disaster!’

The Prince of Atlantis had been hunting his enemy Warlord Krang in his own series, and the path led straight to Stark’s factory, so when confronted with another old foe the amphibian over-reacts in his customary manner.

‘When Fall the Mighty!’ in ToS #80 is one colossal punch-up, which carries over into Tales to Astonish #82, where Thomas and Colan begin the conclusion before the penciller contracted flu after delivering only two pages. The inimitable Jack Kirby, inked by Dick Ayers, stepped in to produce some of the finest action-art of their entire Marvel career, fully displaying ‘The Power of Iron Man!’ as the battles rages on to a brutal if inconclusive conclusion.

TOS #81 then trumpeted ‘The Return of the Titanium Man!’ – and Gene Colan – as the Communist Colossus attacks the Golden Avenger on his way to Congress, and threatens all of Washington DC in the Frank Giacoia inked ‘By Force of Arms!’ before succumbing to superior fire power in ‘Victory!’

Stark’s controversial reputation is finally restored as the public finally learn that his life is only preserved by a metallic chest-plate which keep his maimed heart beating in ‘The Other Iron Man!’ – but nobody at all connects that hunk of steel to the identical one his Avenging “bodyguard” wears…

The Mandarin kidnaps the inventor’s recovering pal – temporarily wearing the armoured overalls – in another extended assault that begins with ‘Into the Jaws of Death’ as the still-ailing Stark flies to his rescue in ‘Death Duel for the Life of Happy Hogan!’

In #87-88 the Mole Man attacks, prompting a ‘Crisis… at the Earth’s Core!’ and ‘Beyond all Rescue!’, before another old B-List bad-guy takes his shot in ‘The Monstrous Menace of the Mysterious Melter!’ and its sequel ‘The Golden Ghost!’

‘The Uncanny Challenge of the Crusher!’ offers an all-action tale – possibly marred for modern audiences by a painful Commie-bustin’ sub-plot featuring a thinly disguised Fidel Castro – and the impressions of the on-going “Police Action” in Indo-China are also a little gung-ho (if completely understandable) when Iron Man goes hunting for a Red Menace called Half-Face ‘Within the Vastness of Viet Nam!’

The visit results in another clash with an incorrigible old foe in ‘The Golden Gladiator and… the Giant!’ before our hero snatches victory from Titanium jaws of defeat in ‘The Tragedy and the Triumph!’(this last inked by Dan Adkins).

A new cast member is introduced in #95 as eager-beaver preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell is assigned as security advisor to America’s most prominent weapons maker, just as old Thor villain the Grey Gargoyle attacks in ‘If a Man be Stone!’ and its summarily defeated in The Deadly Victory!’

Tales of Suspense #97 began an extended story-arc that would carry the series to the start of the solo-book and beyond, in which criminal cartel the Maggia schemes to move in on Stark’s company. Their campaign opens with the hero’s capture, ‘The Coming of… Whiplash!’, depicts the Golden Avenger cut to steely ribbons in ‘The Warrior and the Whip!’ and – as the magnificent Archie Goodwin assumes the scripting reins and EC legend Johnny Craig comes aboard as inker – and finds Iron Man trapped on a sinking submarine ‘At the Mercy of the Maggia’, just as the venerable Tales of Suspense ends with its 99th issue…

Of course, it was just changing its name to Captain America, as Tales to Astonish seamlessly transformed into The Incredible Hulk, but – due to a scheduling snafu – neither of the split-book co-stars had a home that month (April 1968). This situation led to the one-and-only Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1, and the concluding episode ‘The Torrent Without… The Tumult Within!’ wherein sinister super-scientists of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics, acronym-fans) snatch the Armoured Avenger from the Maggia’s submarine, intent on stealing the hero’s technical secrets.

Invincible Iron Man #1 finally appeared with a May 1968 cover-date, and triumphantly ended the extended sub-sea-saga as our hero stood ‘Alone against A.I.M.!’, a thrilling roller-coaster ride supplemented by ‘The Origin of Iron Man’: a revitalised re-telling that ended Colan’s long and impressive tenure on the character.

Supplementing and counterpointing the drama is a slice of period silliness from spoof comic Not Brand Echh #2 (September 1967) with Thomas, Heck & Adkins pitting clownish 20th century crusader the Unrinseable Ironed Man against a parody-prone 40th century stalwart fans will recognise even if here he’s known as ‘Magnut, Robot Biter!’

Also on offer are a 1965 T-Shirt design by Kirby and Chic Stone, a selection of original art pages and covers by Colan from the stories in this volume and a gallery of classic Kirby covers modified by painters Dean White and Richard Isanove, originally seen on assorted Marvel Masterworks edition…

Despite some rough patches this is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career and one that perfectly encapsulates the changes Marvel and America went through: seen through some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply stellar band of creators.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Loxleys and Confederation

New Revised Review

By Mark Zuehlke, Alexander Finbow, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Claude St. Aubin, Christopher Chuckry & Todd Klein & (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-9921-5089-1

The Dominion of Canada officially came into existence on July 1st 1867. With the 150th anniversary looming imminent, what better time to revisit how that happy circumstance came to be, especially as the fine folk at Turnaround Distribution have just sent me a splendid full-colour hardback book all about it…

As you’d expect from the residents of the largely sensible portion of the North American continent, the residents of Canada have been planning their celebrations for some time now. A few years ago, a superb graphic novel was produced by an independent creative outfit called Renegade Arts Entertainment which commemorated the anniversary and captivatingly explored how America and the British colonies clashed. The book was The Loxleys and the War of 1812: a welcoming fictionalisation of history for youngsters, examining the facts of the clash through the eyes and experiences of one extended family caught up in the conflict. You could read our review but you’d be far better off getting the book itself.

After enjoying great success the story was followed this magnificent sequel which recapitulates the fateful first European incursion into the vast northern regions, the (mostly) shameful interactions with the native peoples there and the complex, dramatic campaign which resulted in a disparate aggregation of fiercely independent colonies finally accepting that they were all stronger together…

Written by Canadian military historian Mark Zuehlke, with story contributions from Alexander Finbow and scholar, commentator, author, and advocate on Indigenous Issues Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, this compulsively engaging story is illustrated with captivating veracity by Claude St. Aubin with colours courtesy of Christopher Chuckry and lettering from Todd Klein.

The show opens with a character gallery of both the fictitious Loxleys and notable historic personages of the period and includes an impassioned Foreword by co-writer Finbow, before the graphic elucidation begins with a Prologue set in 1534.

In that landmark year French explorer Jacques Cartier sails up what will be later be called the St. Lawrence River. Sadly the “civilised” trailblazer then acts rather rudely towards the natives he finds there…

After that rather inauspicious start, grudging trades are made but when Cartier finally leaves he takes with him the two sons of local chief Donnacona. The Frenchman still wants treasure and insistently urges the native boys to direct him to a priceless valuable they call “Kanata”…

Skipping ahead to 1864 we find the Loxley clan has grown in numbers, prosperity and influence. It is August 1st and 13-year old Lillian is recording in her journal the event of the family’s first great gathering in years.

Amidst the usual chatter of aging, absences and ailments, the elders are preoccupied with a thorny political problem. The United States has been at war with itself for four years but that struggle is almost over and the local consensus is that many Yankee warhawks are eager to continue fighting; using their deplorable political tenet of “Manifest Destiny” to conquer and possess the entire continent, not only from East to West but also from South to North…

The only bulwark against such unvarnished empire-building is a unified nation to resist them rather than the loose association of independent British colonies that now exists. While talk of Confederation has been in the air for quite a while, little headway has been made in each colony’s obstinate, insular ruling assemblies…

Now, with invasion from the USA a serious prospect once more, and economic pressures also working against the disunited and isolated enclaves, the move towards a grand union of the regions and territories is more vital than ever and politicians are actually talking to each other and making progress.

The prospect is of particular interest to young Lillian, who is subsequently invited to accompany her illustrator mother and journalist grandfather as they journey first to Prince Edward Island, then Quebec and eventually all over and around the scattered colonies and even to England itself: following the prominent political movers and shakers seeking to build a safe, strong and resilient nation.

As the little group follows the torturous efforts to unify the imperilled regions, drama (and romance in the case of Lillian) is never far off. The debates perpetually appear to take one step forward and two back as regional issues and grudges always hold back the urgent drive to combine even as the outer world constantly impinges on what might seem to be a strictly colonial issue.

The Loxleys are in Washington and actual witnesses to the assassination of President Lincoln – the strongest voice against an invasion of Canada. They later witness for themselves the extent of anti-Canadian feeling which exhibits as the annulment of trade deals in the Capitol, and demagogic aggression and bombast in New York which results in a brutal raid on neighbouring cross-border township New Brunswick. The invasion is carried out by radical activist Fenians who believe they can parley such attacks on British possessions into independence for Ireland…

Of course, such an incursion can be seen only one way by the colonies previously holding out against an official union…

Thus unfolds an amazingly compelling lesson which traces a largely marginalised section of history, couched in absorbing human terms and rendered totally irresistible for being seen through the lens of an idealistic child’s eyes: a girl becoming a woman whilst her little bailiwick became a mighty nation…

Also woven into the tale – thanks to the input of Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair – is a telling examination and assessment of the shameful Official Policy of assimilation which legitimised the maltreatment of indigenous people throughout Canada’s history: a trend more fully probed in the Afterword: Looking for Kanata.

That sobering discussion follows further historically pertinent extracts ‘From the Dairy of Lillian Stock 1867’ which encapsulate events personal and national following the establishment of Canada as a nation-state.

Informative, engaging, even-handed and intensely gripping, this account of ordinary people at the core of grand historical accomplishments is an astonishingly readable chronicle which again proves one of my most fervently held beliefs: comics are the perfect means to wed learning with fun and a well-made graphic treatise is an unbeatable mode with which to Elucidate, Educate and Enjoy.

So buy this and do so…
The Loxleys and Confederation © 2015 Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd.

Popeye Classics volume 1


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-557-8                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-264-8

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

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

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

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

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

When Sagendorf took over, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. He wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years. He died in 1994 after which “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London took over.

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

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

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

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) are the first four 52-page quarterly funnybooks produced by the Young Master spanning February/April 1948 to November 1948/January 1949.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded by an effusively appreciative Introduction‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado and historian/publisher Craig Yoe and a fabulous collation of candid photos and letters plus strip proofs, original comicbook art and commissioned paintings, an Activity Book cover and greetings card designs contained in ‘A Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black and red) single page strips on the inside front and back covers. The initial instant episode finds mighty muscled, irrepressible “infink” Swee’ Pea enquiring ‘Were there ever any pirates around here?’ before doing a bit of digging, after which the full-coloured fun begins with ‘Shame on You! or Gentlemen Do Not Fight! or You’re a Ruffian, Sir!’

The salty swab earns a lucrative living as an occasional prize-fighter and here upcoming contender Kid Kabagge and his cunning manager Mr. Tillbox use a barrage of psychological tricks to put Popeye off his game. The key component is electing Olive Oyl President of the fake Anti-Fisticuff Society to convince her man to stop being a beastly ruffian and abandon violence. That only works until the fiery frail learns she’s been gulled…

Swee’ Pea then stars in ‘Map Back! Or Back Map!’ as sinister unprincipled villain Sam Snagg tattoos an invisible secret diagram onto the baby’s body but falls foul of the boy’s garrulous guardian when trying to reclaim the kid and divine the location of Spinachovia’s hidden treasures…

Wrapping up the full-length action is ‘Spinach Revolt’ as Popeye’s pater Poopdeck Pappy kicks up a fuss about constantly having to eat healthy food.

As the first Superman of comics, Popeye was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority, he was uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him); an aggressive troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society… and he wouldn’t want to be.

Time changed Popeye and made him tamer, but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed, so in 1936 Segar brought it back again…

A memorable and riotous sequence of Dailies introduced ancient, antisocial crusty reprobate Poopdeck Pappy. The elder mariner was a hard-bitten, grumpy lout quite prepared – even happy – to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line. He was Popeye’s prodigal dad and once that old goat was firmly established Segar set Olive and her Sailor Man the Herculean task of “Civilizing Poppa”. At the time of this tale that’s still very much a work in progress …

Fed up with eating spinach, Pappy hides his meals and steals the wherewithal to secretly subsist on a diet of candy, cakes and sodas. He even inveigles the lad next door into being the mule in his scurrilous scheme but cannot evade the digestive consequences of his acts…

The premiere outing ends with a brace of single pagers detailing how Swee’ Pea deals with persistent salesmen and a day’s fishing before issue #2 commences…

Master moocher Wellington J. Wimpy again has cause to declare ‘Sir! You are a cheapskate!’ before Swee’ Pea and Popeye are swept up in a controversial debate. In ‘That’s What I Yam!” or ‘I Yam! I Yam’ the sailor believes his baby boy tough enough to wander around town unsupervised but has reasons to revise his opinion after the kid vanishes. Moreover, when he does resurface, the tyke is subject to strange transformations and behaviours. It’s as if a class of trainee hypnotists have all been using the kid as a practise subject but forgot to bring him out of his trance afterward…

Pappy stars in ‘Easy Money’, with the greedy reprobate realising how much cash his sterling son earns for each boxing bout. Determined to get on the gravy train too, the oldster shaves off his beard and impersonates Popeye. By the time he catches wise, Pappy has conned Olive and Wimpy into his scheme and set up a punishing bout with a huge purse, so somebody is going to have to fight…

The issue ends with a two-tone short showing the hazards of bathing Swee’ Pea and another full colour back cover gag with a bullying neighbour realising the folly of trying to spank Popeye’s boy…

Popeye #3 leads with an epic 32-page spooky maritime epic as the superstitious sailor reluctantly agrees to transport 250 “ghosk” traps to ghastly, radish – and phantom – infested ‘Ghost Island’: a cunning yarn of mystery and over-zealous imagination starring many cast regulars and preceded by a hilarious map of the route replacing the inside-front cover gag…

Following up is an implausible account of Popeye apparently becoming a violent bully, beating up ordinary citizens in ‘Smash! or You Can Tell She’s My Girl, Because She’s Wearing Two Black Eyes!’ Happily, a doctor at the sailor’s trial is able to diagnose the incredible truth before things go too far, after which Swee’ Pea indulges in too much sugar in the red and black bit and learns the manly way to play with dolls on the colour back cover…

The final inclusion in this outrageous compilation begins with Wimpy up to his old tricks whilst Popeye hunts ducks before another extended odyssey finds the sailor and hangers-on Swee’ Pea, Olive and Wimpy heading West on safari to capture a rare Ipomoea from sagebrush hellhole ‘Dead Valley’

It’s a grim wilderness Popeye has endured before: an arid inferno no sane man would want to revisit unless a scientist hired him to. Sadly, that’s not the opinion of local bandit boss Dead Valley Joe who assigns all his scurvy gang the task of dissuading or despatching the uppity easterners before they uncover the region’s incredible secret…

Back home again, Olive Oyl receives a surprise ‘Gift from Uncle Ben!’ Sadly, the strange flying beast called a Zoop prefers Swee’ Pea’s company and her warm generosity in donating the beast takes a hard knock when a stranger offers a million dollars for it…

One final brace of Swee’ Pea shorts then sees the wily kid orchestrate free baseball views for his pals before indulging in food politics to win over a stray cat and wrap up in amiable style these jolly, captivating cartoon capers.

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. This book is definitely one of the latter and if you love lunacy, laughter and rollicking adventure you must now read this.
Popeye Classics volume 1 © 2013 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2013 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Clifton volume 7: Elementary, My Dear Clifton


By Rodrigue & de Groot, translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-198-3

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was created by Raymond Macherot for the weekly Tintin. The doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone hooked on spycraft…

After three albums of strip material – all compiled and released in little more than a year – Macherot defected to arch-rival Spirou and his bombastic British buffoon was benched. Tintin reactivated him at the height of the Sixties’ Swinging London scene and that aforementioned spy-craze, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Michel Régnier (code-named Greg to his millions of fans).

Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took another shot. They tinkered with the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot & illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder man. After ten more tales, in 1984 artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned de Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But You Only Die Twice… or thrice, or lots…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton strip returned yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, now the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. He became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon, where he met Liegeois, consequently began a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard before eventually inheriting Macherot’s moribund spy.

In 1989, de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Léonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and so much more.

Michel Rodrigue was born in Lyon in 1961 and really, really likes Rugby. He pursued higher education at the National School of Fine Arts, where he also studied medieval archaeology and from 1983-85 was part of the French Rugby team. In 1987, he designed France’s mascot for the World Cup.

His comics debut came in 1984 with sports (guess which one) strip Mézydugnac in Midi Olympique. After illustrating an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in 1986 he and collaborator Jean-Claude Vruble produced a volume of La Révolution Française, scripted by Patrick Cothias.

Rodrigue then joined Roger Brunel on Rugby en B.D., Du Monde dans la Coupe!, Concept, Le Rugby en Coupe and La Foot par la Bande.

For Tintin he drew Bom’s Les Conspirateurs and produced Rugbyman, the official monthly of the French Rugby Federation, amongst a welter of other strips. Along the way he began scripting too, and, after working with de Groot on Doggyguard joined him on the revived Clifton.

He also remains astonishingly creatively occupied, working on Ly-Noock with André Chéret, Brèves de Rugby, La Grande Trambouille des Fées for René Hausmann, Futurama comics, Cubitus with Pierre Aucaigne, and many more…

For Your Eyes Only: Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. He has great difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting Her Majesty’s Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises. He occupies his idle hours with as many good deeds as befits a man of his standing and service. He is particularly dedicated to sharing the benefits of organised Scouting with the younger generations…

Originally released as Elémentaire mon cher Clifton in 2006 this yarn is a little off the far-from-sedentary sleuth’s beaten paths. As the cover and title might lead you to deduce, Elementary, My Dear Clifton takes its lead from that unflinching bastion of British fiction Sherlock Holmes, but not quite in the way you might imagine…

This rollicking caper begins with the old soldier and his svelte sidekick Jade inspecting a fleet of outrageously expensive luxury cars before getting into a headbanging prang whilst driving home in Clifton’s own stylish sports-roadster.

When he regains consciousness, Jade is missing, abducted by a shadowy figure from the vintage car which forced him off the road…

After another frustrating and infuriating interview with Highway Code martinet and personal gadfly Constable Strawberry, Clifton sets in motion the wheels of protocol that will enable his intelligence community contacts to find the missing assistant, before staggering home to bed and passing out.

Next morning, he finds his multi-talented housekeeper Mrs. Partridge chatting with a distinguished gentleman. Clothed in outmoded attire, “the Doctor” claims to know what’s happened to Jade but if Clifton wants to save her he’ll have to return with him to October 7th 1912…

The physician claims that he and his partner – a certain unnamed consulting detective – were on the trail of a nefarious inventor named Professor Hamilton. That villain was nosing about the preparations for the gala celebrations of a Maharaja on the eve of a sumptuous nuptial event when the Doctor fortuitously trailed him to a warehouse and saw him vanish into a bizarre contraption. Having keenly observed, the stealthy stalker then followed and ended up here and now…

Refusing to believe the cock-and-bull story but equally unable to disprove the evidence before him Clifton eventually concedes defeat and follows the crime doctor back in time and into his strangest adventure ever…

What follows is a hilarious and gripping romp with eerie personal echoes and foreshadowings for our temporally-misplaced manhunter: a ripping yarn all devotees of crime capers and time travels will love…

Funny, fast and furiously thrill-packed, Elementary, My Dear Clifton reveals hidden depths to our Old Soldier whilst playing deliriously fast and loose with history in the grandly enticing manner of Nicholas Meyer’s Time after Time and Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits; a confection guaranteed to astound and delight thrill and laughter-addicts of every age.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 2006 by Rodrigue & De Groot. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

I Killed Adolf Hitler


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-828-2

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. A global star among the cognoscenti, he has won many major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

In this deliciously wry novella his signature surreality is marginally restrained in favour of a shaggy-dog-story plot, although the quirky tale is – as ever – populated with cinematic, darkly comic anthropomorphs and features more bewitching ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial archetypes and socially-lost modern chumps.

Here he puts his sedately fevered mind to an issue that has perplexed the intellects and consciences of many modern generations and produced – as you would imagine – the very last thing anybody expected…

This post-modern short-and-speculative fable unfolds through the usual beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions he favours but also resonates with the best of B-Movie Sci Fi shtick. The solidly formal page layouts are rendered in Jason’s minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style: solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by Hubert’s enticing but reductive palette of stark pastels and muted hues.

In a world much like our own, but where petty annoyances can be easily eradicated by one of the many contract killers legally plying their trade in shops and cafes, a certain hard-working hitman toils his weary way through the unchanging days.

The murder mechanic’s love life is troubled and the work-life balance tipped too far into the repetitive tedium of the next execution. He barely breaks a sweat as someone fails to erase him, and he’s pretty sure he knows who sent the gunman to kill him whilst he watched TV…

That missing spark rekindles the next day, however, when an old professor comes into the office. This old duffer wants him to kill Hitler and has even built a time machine to accomplish the task.

Soon the assassin is prowling the halls of the Berlin Chancellery but hasn’t reckoned on the fanatical devotion of the Fuehrer’s minions. That crucial first attempt spoiled, the job becomes impossible after Adolf steals the time machine and escapes to the future where he makes the best of his opportunity to start over…

Still, a job is a job and the hunter finds a way to persevere… and that’s when things get really complicated…

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and bizarre to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still effectively depicts the subtlest emotions with devastating flair, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This comic tale is best suited for adults but makes us all look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. While you’re at it, make room there for Werewolves of Montpellier, The Left Bank Gang and all the scintillating rest too…
All characters, stories and artwork© 2007 Editions de Tournon-Carabas/Jason. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic collection: The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8832-2

I’m partial to a bit of controversy so I’m going start off by saying that Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook of the last 75 years, behind Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age, and The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics (National Periodicals as it then was) and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force) Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas. He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed, but as always he did the best job possible and that genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

But his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the reader’s attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher Martin Goodman to order his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the JLA. The resulting team quickly took the fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners in peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

This full-colour compendium (also available as a digital download) collects the first 18 issues of progressive landmarks – spanning November 1961 to September 1963 – and

opens with ‘The Fantastic Four’ as seen in the ground-breaking premier issue.

It saw maverick scientist Reed Richards summon his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother before heading off on their first mission. They are all survivors of a private space-shot that went horribly wrong when Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben turned into a shambling, rocky freak. In ‘The Fantastic Four meet the Mole Man’ they quickly foil a plan by another outcast who controls monsters and slave humanoids from far beneath the Earth. This summation of the admittedly mediocre plot cannot do justice to the engrossing wonder of that breakthrough issue – we really have no awareness today of how different in tone, how shocking it all was.

“Different” doesn’t mean “better” even here, but the FF was like no other comic on the market at the time and buyers responded to it hungrily. The brash experiment continued with another old plot in #2. ‘The Skrulls from Outer Space’ were shape-changing aliens who framed the FF in the eyes of shocked humanity before the genius of Mister Fantastic bluffed them into abandoning their plans for conquering Earth. The issue concluded with a monstrous pin-up of the Thing, proudly touted as the first in a series…

Sure enough, there was a pin-up of the Human Torch in #3, which headlined ‘the Menace of the Miracle Man’ (inked by Sol Brodsky), whose omnipotent powers had a simple secret, but is more notable for the first appearance of their uniforms, and a shocking line-up change, leading directly into the next issue (continued stories were an innovation in themselves) which revived a golden-age great.

‘The Coming of the Sub-Mariner’ reintroduced the all-powerful amphibian Prince of Atlantis, a star of Timely’s Golden Age but one who had been lost for years.

A victim of amnesia, the relic recovered his memory thanks to some rather brusque treatment by the delinquent Human Torch. Namor then returned to his sub-sea home only to find it destroyed by atomic testing. A monarch without subjects, he swore vengeance on humanity and attacked New York City with a gigantic monster. This saga is when the series truly kicked into high-gear and Reed was the star of the pin-up section…

Until now the creative team – who had been in the business since it began – had been hedging their bets. Despite the innovations of a contemporary superhero experiment their antagonists had relied heavily on the trappings of popular trends in the media – and as reflected in their other titles. Aliens and especially monsters played a major part in the earlier tales but Fantastic Four #5 took a full-bite out of the Fights n’ Tights apple and introduced the first full-blown super-villain to the budding Marvel Universe.

No, I haven’t forgotten Mole Man: but that tragic little gargoyle, for all his plans of world conquest, wouldn’t truly acquire the persona of a costumed foe until his more refined second appearance in #22.

‘Prisoners of Doctor Doom’ (July 1962, and inked by the subtly slick Joe Sinnott) has it all. An attack by a mysterious enemy from Reed’s past; magic and super-science, lost treasure, time-travel, even pirates. Ha-Haar, me ‘earties!

Sheer magic! And the creators knew they were on to a winner as the deadly Doctor returned the very next issue, teamed with a reluctant Sub-Mariner to attack our heroes as ‘The Deadly Duo!’ inked by new regular embellisher Dick Ayers.

Alien kidnappers were the motivating force behind another FF frame-up resulting in the team becoming ‘Prisoners of Kurrgo, Master of Planet X’; a dark and grandiose off-world thriller in #7 (the first monthly issue), whilst a new returning villain and the introduction of a love-interest for the monstrous Ben Grimm were the breakthrough high-points in #8: ‘Prisoners of the Puppet Master!’ The saga was topped off with a Fantastic Four Feature Page explaining how the Torch’s powers work. The next issue offered another detailing with endearing mock-science ‘How the Human Torch Flies!’

That issue, #9, trumpeted ‘The End of the Fantastic Four’ as the Sub-Mariner returned to exploit another brilliant innovation in comic storytelling. When had a super-genius superhero ever messed up so much that the team had to declare bankruptcy? When had costumed crimefighters ever had money troubles at all? The eerily prescient solution was to “sell out” and make a blockbuster movie – giving Kirby a rare chance to demonstrate his talent for caricature…

1963 was a pivotal year in the development of Marvel. Lee and Kirby had proved that their new high concept – human heroes with flaws and tempers – had a willing audience. Now they would extend that concept to a new pantheon of heroes. Here is where the second innovation would come to the fore.

Previously, super-heroes were sufficient unto themselves and shared adventures were rare. Here, however, was a universe where characters often tripped over each other, sometimes even fighting each other’s enemies! The creators themselves might turn even up in a Marvel Comic! Fantastic Four #10 featured ‘The Return of Doctor Doom!’ wherein the arch villain used Stan and Jack to lure the Richards into a trap where his mind is switched with the bad Doctor’s. The tale was supplemented by a pin-up – at long-last – of ‘Sue Storm, the Glamorous Invisible Girl’

The innovations continued. Issue #11 had two short stories instead of the usual book-length yarn; ‘A Visit with the Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Impossible Man’, with a behind-the-scenes travelogue and a baddie-free, compellingly comedic tale, rounded out with an epic pin-up of the Sub-Mariner.

FF#12 featured an early crossover as the team were asked to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony and is followed by ‘Versus the Red Ghost and his Incredible Super Apes!’: a cold war thriller pitting them against a Soviet scientist in the race to reach the Moon: a tale notable both for the moody Steve Ditko inking (replacing the adroit Ayers for one glorious month) of Kirby’s artwork and the introduction of the cosmic voyeurs called The Watchers.

Issue #14 featured the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’ – with one vengeful fiend the unwitting mind-slave of the other – and was followed by ‘The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android!’, a chilling war of intellects between driven super-scientists with plenty of room for all-out action. The pin-up extra this time was a candid group-shot of the entire team.

Fantastic Four #16 revealed ‘The Micro-World of Doctor Doom!’ in a spectacular romp guest-starring new hero Ant-Man and also offered a Fantastic Four Feature Page outlining the powers and capabilities of the elastic Mister Fantastic. Despite his resounding defeat, the steel-shod villain returned with more infallible, deadly traps a month later in ‘Defeated by Doctor Doom!’

This astounding collection concludes with the tale of a shape-changing alien who battles the FF with their own powers when ‘A Skrull Walks Among Us!’: a prelude to the greater, cosmos-spanning sagas to come…

Although possibly – just, perhaps – a little dated in tone, these are still classics of comic story-telling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents approaching his mature peak. They are fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read. This comprehensive, joyous introduction (or even reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can and should be.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.